So We Screw Up! Quit Griping!

Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle has had enough of the scandals involving the Exempt Media, especially those involving factual errors and inadequate sourcing. Does he take his fellow journalists to task for their shoddy and, in some cases, dishonest work? No — he’d rather tell the critics to shut up and listen regardless of whether reporters get the story right:

Look: Newspapers are a human enterprise run by fallible beings. Surgeons make mistakes; accountants make mistakes; journalists make mistakes. As Steven Winn pointed out last week, we apologize too darn much for making mistakes. Of course we’re sorry, but the quest for perfection is just that, a quest. We never get there. You never get there. We hate hate hate it when we get facts wrong, but we are actually after bigger game. …
The media are under attack because we try to find stuff out. We are under attack because we say what we believe to be true. (Even more annoyingly, we are protected by the Constitution.) We are a reality-based institution in a faith-based culture, and we are paying for it. Journalists die doing their jobs, which is more than you can say for lobbyists, TV commentators or corporate lawyers.
The problem is that we are fair-minded. We know that we make mistakes. We want to get better. The fair-minded have no chance against zealots. Zealots lie because the ends justify the means, and we say, “Oh, gosh, we’re going to investigate and strive and improve.” Are the zealots going to investigate and strive and improve? Of course not: They have an agenda, and the agenda does not include self-assessment. The zealots are working out of the Che Guevara handbook, friends.

The media are not under attack because they “find things out” — they’re under attack because all too often, they don’t bother to try to find things out, and instead print what they believe to be true. There’s nothing wrong with that in an editorial, but when journalists pass off their beliefs without any factual basis as “news”, it winds up misinforming the public.
Both Eason Jordan and Linda Foley probably really believe that the US military has orders somewhere to kill journalists in war zones. That doesn’t make it true — and it shouldn’t form the basis of allegations from news organizations or their management without substantiation. Carroll haughtily uses the death of journalists to out-flank critics who haven’t faced death, but wants to defend those journalistic critics of American servicemen who die in much greater numbers and percentages trying to defend civilian lives while attacking terrorists and armed enemies. The hypocrisy not only staggers the imagination, but sickens and disgusts as well.
Mary Mapes may have believed that the Killian memos were authentic, but that’s because they fit both her preconceived notions of George Bush’s TexANG service and her absolute lack of knowledge on military documents. Unlike the Eason Jordan and Linda Foley scandals, however, Mapes and CBS actually hired document examiners prior to publication, who told them not to use the memos — and they ignored the advice. Unlike Newsweek, who admitted their faulty report, CBS still claims that the Killian memos might eventually be authenticated despite the numerous typographic, format, and factual anachronisms their own document experts have identified.
In the end, Carroll’s screed amounts to this: we consumers of the Exempt Media have no business complaining about poor quality and deliberate deceptions perpetrated by its most celebrated members. While the media must be protected by the First Amendment at all times, any attempt by their customers to exercise freedom of speech by criticizing their performance amounts to “zealotry”, a conspiracy to destroy them by pointing out their flaws. How dare we question their work!
You really have to read the entire piece to believe it.

California Legislature Lightens Students’ Load

California has provided yet another Great Moment In Education with the Assembly mandating the length of textbooks for use in its public schools. According to the just-approved AB 756, no textbook used in California public schools can exceed 200 pages:

Lawmakers voted Thursday to ban school districts from purchasing textbooks longer than 200 pages.
The bill, believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, was hailed by supporters as a way to revolutionize education.
Critics lambasted Assembly Bill 756 as silly.
“This bill is really the epitome of micromanagement,” said Assemblyman Keith Richman, R-Northridge. “(It’s) absolutely ridiculous.” …
But Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, said critics are thinking too narrowly.

The Democrats in charge of the Assembly have decided that the value of a textbook lies in its bookshelf width, and they claim that the critics are thinking too narrowly? My native state has tried many silly ideas in education before, but cutting off textbooks by page count has to be one of the dumbest yet. Since when does a book’s value come in the number of pages it contains? What’s next — comic books instead of textbooks?
The result will either be that textbook publishers start producing their work in volumes for the California market, or they abridge the material enough to slide under the 200-page limit. The first option will result in higher costs, as the consumer will have to buy each volume separately and the unit cost will go up due to the extra covers, typesetting, editing, etc. The second option shortchanges education rather than pocketbooks. Neither of these reactions, nor AB 756, truly addresses the real issues behind California’s appalling educational performance: lack of competition and accountability in the government-mandated, union-run state educational monopoly.
Educated people already know that one cannot judge a book by its cover. We thought that the obvious corrolary of notjudging it by its page count would be understood implicitly. I’m sure we’re correct, for most places. The intellect-challenged state capitol in Sacramento appears to be an exception to that rule.

Chirac Sacks Raffarin, Names De Villepin As PM

Jacques Chirac, after his humiliating defeat this weekend on the proposed EU constitution he helped create and heavily promoted, responded by firing his Prime Minister and naming a familiar anti-American as his replacement. Dominuque de Villepin gained notoriety here in the United States by reversing course at the UN on Iraq after assuring Colin Powell that France would stand by the US:

Promotion of the loyal Villepin could be a sign Chirac intends to fight back after the referendum humiliation and keep open his options for seeking a third term in 2007.
A career diplomat, aristocrat and sometime poet, Villepin won applause at the United Nations and plaudits at home on the right and the left for opposing the U.S.-led war in Iraq, but angered and frustrated Washington.
Washington and Paris have since been rebuilding ties.

Raffarin’s departure was expected, as he has not been a popular PM in France during a period of economic stagnation. Unemployment is now over 10% and the budget shortfalls caused Raffarin to insist on some market-based reforms, none of which won him any friends in the streets of Paris. De Villepin will likely return to the common socialist approach that landed France in the mess it is today, an approach encouraged by the French ‘non’ to the EU charter.
Most people had expected Chirac to name Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the right-wing UMP, as PM. However, Sarkozy wants even more market-based reforms than Raffarin to cure France of its economic ills, and the Chirac government clearly has no stomach for that fight. Instead, Chirac wants to appease the madding crowds by giving them what they crave — a sense of French superiority as embodied by the poet-diplomat de Villepin, as well as a healthy dose of anti-Americanism. The BBC notes in contrast that he embodies the kind of elitism that French voters rejected in the referendum, and that his unfamiliarity with elections and his difficult relationship with Parliament will also handicap him in the weeks ahead.
De Villepin may be enough to keep calls for Chirac’s resignation at bay in the short run. However, the underlying economic problems in France won’t magically disappear through Gallic pride alone, and until the French start rethinking their Ponzi-schemed economic system, it’s guaranteed to get worse. By the time Chirac runs again in 2007 — probably against Sarkozy — even the French may have figured that out.

Not One Dime Goes National

Imagine my surprise when, after reading Howard Kurtz’ excellent profile of Jeff Jarvis in the first half of his lengthy column today, I scrolled down to see that he had linked CQ and the Not One Dime campaign. Kurtz quoted my post explaining the effort without comment, except to say that I have called for a financial boycott of GOP leadership.
For those who may come here for the first time from Kurtz’ link, the Not One Dime campaign urges people to withhold donations to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign until they eliminate the judicial filibusters and get President Bush’s nominations an up-or-down vote in the floor of the Senate. The NRSC raised millions of dollars from Republican voters by promising that judicial confirmations would be their highest domestic priority, but then after winning an eleven-seat majority, incomprehensibly dawdled for months before addressing the issue. That delay allowed the opposition to paint the effort to return to the 214-year tradition of majority rule on judicial confirmations as “extremist” and created the environment for the Seven Dwarves to betray their election-year promise to guarantee fair treatment to the judges nominated to the federal appellate bench.
The Not One Dime campaign does not encourage people to vote for Democrats or to withhold funds for all GOP candidates. It specifically targets the NRSC, as that typically comes under the control of the Senate GOP leadership — the same leadership that showed so little backbone and had to be forced by grassroots activists to finally start working on the nominations. We want people to save their money to contribute directly to those Republicans who don’t sacrifice the Constitution in the name of maintaining the clubbiness of the Senate. The money that goes to the NRSC maintains the current leadership in their positions of power, as incumbent Senators have to remain loyal to this failed management team in order to get their funding. No doubt some of the NRSC money would also wind up in the campaigns of the Seven Dwarves, and I for one will not ever contribute to their campaigns again for any reason.
Some who have questioned this effort claim that by attacking the NRSC and current Senate leadership, we will be cutting off our nose to spite our faces, a point Timothy Goddard graphically registered with a tongue-in-cheek logo submission. In response, I would ask people to assess where we stand in relation to the priorities that the GOP set at the election and at the beginning of the session. They’ve porked up the highway bill, gone nowhere on Social Security, and have caved into the Democrats on the issue that they claimed as their highest domestic priority and used for generating millions of dollars in contributions. Asking for even more money to win a larger majority, as I pointed out before, is analogous to buying your dog a Cadillac when you discover he can’t drive your Dodge Neo.
The problem isn’t the car, people. It’s the dog driving it.
Don’t forget about our logo contest for the Not One Dime campaign. I’ve received a number of submissions now, and I’m hoping to start posting a sampling of them in the next couple of days. The new URL for NOD is now active — — which for the moment just leads back here. Make your feelings known when the NRSC asks for your money; either contribute nine cents, or nothing at all, with an explanation why they won’t see any more from you until they fulfill their election pledges or elect leadership that can.

Grewal Tapes Contain Bribe Offer: CTV

The Canadian network CTV reports tonight that the complete transcript of the Grewal tapes contain much more than the curious dance conducted between Tim Murphy, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, and Tory MP Gurmant Grewal. Despite Liberal denials, the transcripts apparently contain a specific offer of a ministry for Grewal in exchange for his vote on May 19th:

CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reports that the Prime Minister knew of the negotiations.
According to Fife, the full four hours of transcripts of Grewal’s taped conversations with a top Martin aide and Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh show:
* Martin was ready to talk to Grewal about defecting like he did with Belinda Stronach
* Grewal was offered a government position two weeks after the vote
The transcripts could be released Tuesday. Conservative House Leader Jay Hill has said the party will be turning the tapes over to the RCMP soon.
The federal ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro is alsohave expected to announce Tuesday whether he will conduct an investigation into the alleged Liberal deal-making.

Could it be that Stephen Harper played “chicken” with Paul Martin on the Grewal tapes — and won when Martin didn’t flinch? If the CTV is accurate, it appears that the Tories have gaslighted the Liberals into demanding the release of information that will wind up indicting them, rather than exonerating them. Perhaps Murphy wasn’t as artful a dancer as first reported.

Is Religious Education An Official Government Duty?

CQ reader BR brings an unusual document related to the House travel kerfuffle to my attention. It appears that Caitlin O’Neill, who works for Nancy Pelosi, forgot to file her disclosure form (PDF) for a trip she took to Havana, Cuba. O’Neill, who BR says is the granddaughter of former Speaker Tip O’Neill, identifies the purpose of her trip — as an official duty of Congress — as “religious education”.
Has religious education become an official government duty? What would Pelosi’s allies at the ACLU say about that?
That’s not the end of the unusual aspects of this trip. Expenses totaled almost $1400 for the five-day trip to Havana, including $400 for meals. Of course, the American taxpayer didn’t get stuck with this bill, which is the reason O’Neill and Pelosi had to file the disclosure. The entire cost of O’Neill’s trip was borne by the Universal Life Church.
This is where the questions really start. From reading its website, the ULC doesn’t require much in terms of religious education for its membership or its clergy. In fact, the church openly states on its website that it grants ordination on line, instantly, for free:

You can become a legally ordained minister, instantly, online, at this website. The Universal Life Church is totally non-denominational, interfaith and welcomes all religions. After you fill out the ordination form, you will receive a pop-up instant credential, which serves as your receipt of your ordination. Print it immediately.
As a ULC (Universal Life Church) minister, you can officiate one wedding ceremony or you can make weddings, funerals, baptisms, house blessings, etc. your business. You can even start your own ministry. The Universal Life Church is interfaith and non-denominational.
We have, online, free training for ministers, an online, one-year seminary program, where you can receive a diploma to enhance your knowledge and your credibility, and a monk program.

So O’Neill claims to have pursued religious education as a government duty, in Cuba, where we oppose the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro. She says the Universal Life Church paid her way, despite their granting of free ordinations to anyone who signs up on their website. None of the services or training on their website requires acolytes to travel to Cuba for certification.
So perhaps the House Minority Leader can explain why Caitlin O’Neill went to Cuba in the middle of last December for five days as a guest of a fake church that issues mail-order ordinations. The explanation had better improve on the “religious education” that O’Neill claims. Otherwise, Pelosi and her caucus would be well advised to back off on criticisms of faith-based initiatives coming from the Bush administration.

Russia To Leave Georgia

Russia and Georgia finally completed an agreement that will end Russian military occupation of Georgian territory by 2008. Both governments have announced the successful conclusion of talks that were hastened by Georgian threats to declare Russian visas illegal:

Russia has agreed to withdraw its remaining troops from Georgia by 2008.
The deal was announced in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after he held talks there with Georgian counterpart Salome Zurabishvili.
Mrs Zurabishvili called it an “important and constructive step”, and said Georgia had achieved its goal.
Russia currently has two Soviet-era bases in Georgia, whose continued presence has been a source of tension between Moscow and Tbilisi.
The two bases are home to about 3,000 troops.

This will make the Russian battles against separatists in the Caucasus more difficult. Georgia’s bases have Russia a strategic anvil in the south against which they could press from the north. It also kept Chechen rebels from escaping Russian efforts by slipping over the southern border, or at least it gave the Russians some ability to screen for that.
Georgia, on the other hand, not only throws off the last vestiges of Russian/Soviet colonialism but also becomes more of a bystander in the Caucasus. The hard line of Vladimir Putin in the region threatens to set fire to the various ethnic segments. Georgia doesn’t need the headaches that come with “hosting” Russian regiments that will undoubtedly be targets for various kinds of terrorism and insurgent attacks.
Putin, however, rarely gives away the store, even when he has little choice. One has to wonder what Georgia promised in return for the Russian departure.

Did Democrats Take Drug Money In Exchange For Pardon?

I missed this at Patterico’s site the other day, but his intrepid and dogged work on exposing bias at the Los Angeles Times may have led to an even bigger story — one the Times may have covered up for political reasons. This story reaches back to the final days of the Clinton Administration, when a flurry of questionable pardons flowed from the Oval Office. The most notorious was the pardon of Marc Rich, who later turned out to be heavily involved in the Oil-For-Food scam.
However, a more damaging revelation never got published, thanks to the LA Times, which buried the story according to the LA Weekly. It centers on the pardon of Carlos Vignali, whose father donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to various Democrats who lobbied Clinton on the younger Vignali’s behalf. The father also hired Hillary Clinton’s brother, Hugh Rodham, as his representative for $200,000, which Rodham returned when the payment was made public. All of this got some press at the time, but later slid off the pages of most newspapers.
What made the LA Times more culpable than those? It had evidence in 2001 that the father also was suspected of drug trafficking by the DEA, but suppressed it until well after the furor died down. Read all of Patterico’s post for details. The LA Times has a lot for which to answer — and the Clintons and the Democrats need to explain why Vignali got a Get Out Of Jail Free card based on pusher money.

DeLay Travel Probe Reveals Massive Democrat Violations

The hounding of Tom DeLay continues to backfire on House Democrats, as the AP has discovered in a review of travel disclosures. Far from being a singular problem in the GOP Whip’s office, it turns out that a number of Pelosi’s comrades have also been remiss in disclosing their travel expenses and the people who paid them:

Scrutiny of Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s travel has led to the belated disclosure of at least 198 previously unreported special interest trips by House members and their aides, including eight years of travel by the second-ranking Democrat, an Associated Press review has found.
At least 43 House members and dozens of aides had failed to meet the one-month deadline in ethics rules for disclosing trips financed by organizations outside the U.S. government. …
While most of the previously undisclosed trips occurred in 2004, some date back to the late 1990s. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer recently disclosed 12 trips, the oldest dating back to 1997. … Hoyer’s undisclosed trips were nearly doubled by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., with 21. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., reported 20 past trips and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. reported 13. … Staff members for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., disclosed 11 prior trips, while staff members for DeLay, R-Texas, had 4. Rep. John Linder of Georgia, a former chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, belatedly filed 9 trips, as did Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Glass houses. Stones. Whoops.
Perhaps the Democrats might want to rethink this witch hunt. It appears that enough sorcerors abound on both sides of the aisle, and the Democrats can’t afford to lose their own leadership in an attempt to torpedo DeLay. They have enough problems as it is keeping up with the GOP.

Let’s Remember Them All

Longtime CQ readers will remember my friend Mike the Contractor, who spent a long time in Iraq both in the Seals and as a contractor. I’ve published some of Mike’s letters in the past, especially those to his young sons in explaining the war on terror. Today Mike sends this message to his friends and family, reminding us of the role that his contractor friends continue to play in protecting Americans and Iraqis in the most dangerous areas. Mike will return to Iraq in the near future to continue this work himself.
On this Memorial Day, we honor the military men and women who have been killed in action while defending our freedoms. After seeing fallen military brethren that I have served with receive official honors and family compensation, I thought it would be appropriate to honor some other comrades-in-arms, which are my contractor brothers who also paid the ultimate price over the last couple years.
This e-mail will go out to a couple hundred military friends as well as civilians. Many of you already know very intimately what armed contractors do and also what it is to lose someone who has gone into the fray with you.
For those who don’t, there are two (2) main kinds of contractors in war zones.
The kind that you have frequently seen on TV pitifully held hostage and beheaded on video are the un-armed kind. They generally work for companies like KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) or construction or oil companies and are the completely innocent people who are doing the major rebuilding and support work in Iraq. Their slayings are particularly heinous at all levels including the Islamic Qur’an that states “If you kill someone who is not himself a killer, it is as if you have killed all of mankind.”
The other kind of contractor is the kind that I was and served with. We are fully armed with American as well as foreign weapons. We work for government contracted security companies and/or specialized medical support companies that primarily hire former special operations personnel. Many of the men I worked with were on leave of absence from a Special Forces unit or like in my case a Reserve Navy SEAL unit. There is virtually no chance that any of us could ever be taken alive and to my knowledge, none of us have.
But no matter how well you plan or train, you can certainly die a violent death like anyone else. In fact as I look back over my 334 days in Iraq, I realize that there are well over a dozen contractors who I knew who died there. Scottie Helvenston, who was slain in Fallujah and hung on a bridge on March 31, 2004 is probably the only one with any public name recognition. American names like Roy Buckmaster and foreign names like Cristoph Kazka will only be remembered by their eternal friends and relatives and the Lord.
I will pick 2 men to profile here whom I worked with closely and who were killed a few short weeks after I returned home to the privileged surrealistic world we call America. I will state their names as they were released to the press but I will leave out the name of the agencies they worked for.
Todd Engstrom and Dave Randolph were not just shooters, they were Team Leaders and Program Managers for two different security companies operating at the same time out of a forward operating base near Fallujah. Because I was a medic, I was honored to work for and with both of them in the last months of a contract to secure and dispose of explosive ordnance. But it really didn’t matter who you worked for at this place, affectionately called “the Rock,” because we all felt like brothers in the same family and Todd and Dave made that happen. They were friends to all of us and obviously the closest of friends to each other.
Todd was qualified to teach the Sate Department Alpha & Bravo course, so he made sure that everyone on site had ample opportunity to qualify on his course even if they worked for a different company. Todd’s company set up combat shooting courses all the time even though temperatures went over 130 in the summer and their operational work schedule was oppressive. I remember one week where the course was a 12 station AK-47 shoot-on-the-move timed evolution. We were issued only Iraqi ammunition to shoot because it misfired so frequently (we always loaded good American or Russian ammo in our operational magazines) and required you to clear your weapon several times on the course. Guys from Todd’s company challenged guys from Dave’s company to compete against them. Dave showed up on the last day and set the course record on his first run.
Todd and Dave were just about the best leaders I have ever seen. You may have heard instructors or leaders say, “I will never ask you to do something I wouldn’t do myself.” Todd and Dave never said words like that (Dave rarely said anything without an F word in it). They didn’t have to. They were always right there with you doing it. And although they were both strong enthusiastic leaders, they were not reckless.
Whether it came to patrolling the outer regions of the FOB at night, clearing areas strewn with unexploded ordnance, or going on convoys outside the wire, both of them had only one thing in mind – bringing back their men alive. As such they made sure that everyone knew every job. Everyone had their own maps and knew all of the main routes as well as escape and evasion routes. Everyone had the communications plan, medevac plan, intelligence summaries, all of it. Because Todd and Dave literally led from the front, they made sure that they could be replaced by anyone of us if disaster struck.
While I was processing back into the U.S. at Fort Bliss Texas in October of 2004 I was notified of the death of Todd Engstrom who was in the lead vehicle when an improvised explosive device was detonated north of a place called Taji.
The following month, while I was home around Thanksgiving with my family, David Randolph was killed by an RPG that exploded into his lead vehicle on a convoy between Fallujah and Baghdad. Next to him was another man I worked with who I will call Avin. Although Avin was not his real name, it is close enough for those who know to remember. Avin’s brother is another SF contractor that I know and greatly respect. He was in country at the time and flew home with the remains of Avin and is now back in Iraq, which is why I leave his family names out of this.
In each tragedy, the remaining contractors instantly unleashed ‘violence of action’ to vanquish the enemy, cross-loaded their guntrucks with the bodies of their fallen leaders and friends and got out of the kill zone.
American contractors get paid OK on a daily basis, once we are actually working in the war zone. However, when a contractor is killed in action, there is no fanfare, no pension for the family, not much in the way of life insurance.
A memorial fund has been set up for the families of Todd Engstrom and David Randolph and Avin by their respective company. Dave & Avin have surviving children.[I will post the website for this as soon as I have it — CE]
“No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13
Coalition means partnership. This Memorial Day, please know that the Coalition Forces of Iraq who paid the ultimate price, be they men or women; military, government or civilian; American, Iraqi, British or more than 40 other nationalities, included all who love freedom as their partners and friends.
Michelle Malkin has an excellent roundup of other Memorial Day tributes.