Saturday, 30 May 2009

THE TRAGIC INDISPENSABILITY OF JAKE TAPPER

Ken Berwitz

Jake Tapper is a reporter/analyst for ABC News. He is becoming indispensable to anyone who cares about both sides of the story.  And that is a tragedy

It is a tragedy because Tapper is doing nothing other than reporting both sides -- which is what every journalist is supposed to do.   The fact that his neutrality is so rare today is an awful statement on where media have descended.

Here, courtesy of Scott Whitlock, writing for www.newsbusters.org, is an example of what I mean:

ABC Offers Skeptical Take on Obama's Stimulus Claims; CBS, NBC Uncritical

By Scott Whitlock (Bio | Archive)
May 29, 2009 - 12:15 ET

 On Friday's "Good Morning America," ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper provided a skeptical, challenging analysis of the Obama administration's claims about the economic stimulus bill. NBC's "Today" and CBS's "Early Show" on Thursday simply regurgitated White House statements that the "economy is looking much healthier these days" and that the President is "taking credit for writing the prescription." [Audio available here]

Tapper, in contrast, referenced a new administration report on the stimulus entitled "100 Days, 100 Projects" and wondered, "But, how much of this is real? And how much is hype?" He asserted, "Critics have long said the administration overstates the impact of the stimulus." After playing a clip of Obama claiming 150,000 jobs have been created by the stimulus bill, Tapper called that "a number based on theory, not fact." University of Maryland economist Peter Morici appeared briefly to point out, "It's simply an implausible statement to say that some 150,000 jobs were created by direct spending, indirect spending and so forth."

The ABC correspondent noted the government report claims $27 billion was used for "green improvement" to public housing in Washington D.C. Tapper dismissed, "But, that's not true. The stimulus paid for only two of [seven items listed in the report]. The other five were installed before the stimulus bill was even introduced in Congress." He went on to pointout that the $27 billion was the total the D.C. Housing Authority is getting. Only $44,000 came from stimulus money.

Finally, Tapper closed his piece by explaining that the White House, in its first quarterly report, stated $46 billion of the stimulus had been spent. The journalist noted, "They had to revise that figure. It's now $36 billion, which means that less than five percent of the stimulus has gone out the door."

In contrast, NBC and CBS's morning shows have done no such investigations. On Thursday's "Today," after reporting on a drop in unemployment numbers, Hoda Kotb simply added, "At a fund-raiser in Los Angeles last night the President said it was safe to say the economy is back from the brink. He said the stimulus bill is starting to improve the economy." The "Early Show" provided a similar unquestioning tone.

CBS anchor Chris Wragge recited, "President Obama says the ailing U.S. economy is looking much healthier these days and he's taking credit for writing the prescription." Reporter Susan Roberts proceeded to file a report on home sales and played a clip of the President at a fund-raiser in Beverly Hills.

On "Good Morning America," Thursday, guest news anchor Kate Snow delivered almost the same spin, explaining, "President Obama says the economy is back from the brink. At a fund-raiser in Beverly Hills last night, the President said a sense of calm has returned and he said the stimulus plan passed by Congress is beginning to work." However, "Good Morning America," to its credit, followed-up the next day with Jake Tapper's investigation.

A transcript of the May 29 Jake Tapper segment, which aired at 7:02am, follows:

ROBIN ROBERTS: But, we're going to turn now to the money trail. A new report today from the Commerce Department shows the economy shrank less than expected in the first quarter of 2009. The White House says that's in large part due to the $787 billion economic recovery plan. Senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper takes a look at those claims for us. Good morning, Jake.

ABC GRAPHIC: Follow the Money: Stimulus Claims/Stimulus Reality

JAKE TAPPER: Good morning, Robin. Well, that's right. The White House says that the stimulus plan is already starting to have an effect on job creation. And they listed a bunch of the jobs in their new report, "100 Days, 100 Projects." But, how much of this is real? And how much is hype? Green improvement to this public housing is project number one. Using $27 million, the report says, the Regency House installed solar panels, a green roof, a rainwater collection system, energy efficient lighting, as well as water conserving toilets, shower heads and faucets. But, that's not true. The stimulus paid for only two of those seven items. The other five were installed before the stimulus bill was even introduced in Congress. And $27 million? That's the total amount the D.C. Housing Authority is getting for all their projects. For this one?

MICHAEL WAYNE BROWN (Projects GM, D.C. Housing Authority): $44,000 for the roof. Solar panels is the only thing that's been paid for thus far.

TAPPER: The White House admitted the entry is not accurate, though it remains on the WhiteHouse.Gov.

ROBERT GIBBS: A mistake in that one took a series of different projects in a cut and paste into one.

TAPPER: Critics have long said the administration overstates the impact of the stimulus.

LARRY SUMMERS (Director, National Economic Council): You'll see the effects begin almost immediately.

TAPPER: In Las Vegas this week, President Obama played this card.

BARACK OBAMA: The American Recovery And Reinvestment Act has saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs.

TAPPER: But that's a number based on theory, not fact. And some critics say it's overstated.

PROFESSOR PETER MORICI (PHD, economist): It's simply an implausible statement to say that some 150,000 jobs were created by direct spending, indirect spending and so forth.

TAPPER: Without question, the stimulus is having an affect on some job creations. And of course, some of the reports, some of the projects listed in here are projects that are going to happen. But not yet one penny has been sent. One other bit of stimulus news, Diane. The administration in its first quarterly report on the stimulus says $46 billion has been spent. They had to revise that figure. It's now $36 billion, which means that less than five percent of the stimulus has gone out the door. Diane?

What exactly has Tapper done, other than look honestly at the claims being made by Barack Obama and his administration?  And what a stark contrast his reporting is to the others, who are clearly cheerleading everything the administration says.

For this reason, Tapper is indispensable. 

The others?  They're dispensable.  Very, very dispensable.


ARE MILK AND STRAWBERRIES DRUGS TOO?

Ken Berwitz

Want to see a classic case of bureaucracy gone wild?  Read this, from the Denver Post:

Cheerios is a drug, the FDA says

by David Migoya on May 26, 2009

Based on the long-time claim by General Mills that its Cheerios cereal can lower cholesterol by 4 percent in just six weeks when part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, of course the Food and Drug Administration has admonished the giant breakfast cereal producer and said those claims mean the little round os of oats are to be considered a drug.

 

Simply by indicating the cereal is intended for use as a cholesterol-lowering product, it now falls under the FDA regulations regarding drugs, and because its a new drug by definition never mind that the cholesterol ad has been around for about 2 years it must be approved via a drug application before General Mills can continue making the claim, the FDA told the company in a letter May 5.

 

Now, it seems Cheerios can indeed be marketed as a healthy choice in the fight against heart disease because the FDA already has regulations authorizing the claim by products with soluable fiber from whole grain oats.

 

The FDA goes on to attack Cheerios box labeling and associated claims of healty diet and the reduction of cholesterol on the company website. The bottom line: Cheerios cant say it reduces cholesterol without having gone through specific FDA-approved testing to back it up.

 

Make the claim and the FDA will regulate the cereal just like a drug.

 

So who got the FDA all up in arms about the cereal box labeling? The National Consumers League back in September flagged the feds to Cheerios drug-like claims, calling the ads magic bullet health claims that are impermissible under the law and properly reserved to cholesterol-lowering medications.

 

For its bit, General Mills issued a statement saying Cheerios soluble fiber heart health claim has been FDA-approved for 12 years. The science is not in questionand the clinical study supporting Cheerios cholesterol-lowering benefit is very strong. We are in dialog with the FDA.

 

The agency gave the Minneapolis-based company 15 days to come up with a decision on what to do.

Oh, brother. 

All my life I've been told that milk and strawberries are healthy for me too, just like Cheerios.  And a lot of people eat Cheerios with milk and strawberries, right?  So maybe they should be FDA approved also.

What next?  Will the FDA classify Ex-Lax as a torture device?

Remember, these are the same people who want to run the financial industry, auto industry and health care.  How comfortable does that make you feel?

Zeke Watch out ! ! ! .... Wonder Bread builds strong bodies Twelve Ways .... Is a Construction Permit required ? (05/30/09)


COOKIE COERCION

Ken Berwitz

From the redoubtable Steve Gilbert of www.sweetness-light.com:

Time Says Cookies Make Terrorists Talk

May 29th, 2009

From the former news magazine, Time:

How to Make Terrorists Talk

By Bobby Ghosh / Washington Fri May 29

The most successful interrogation of an Al-Qaeda operative by U.S. officials required no sleep deprivation, no slapping or "walling" and no waterboarding. All it took to soften up Abu Jandal, who had been closer to Osama bin Laden than any other terrorist ever captured, was a handful of sugar-free cookies.

Abu Jandal had been in a Yemeni prison for nearly a year when Ali Soufan of the FBI and Robert McFadden of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrived to interrogate him in the week after 9/11. Although there was already evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, American authorities needed conclusive proof, not least to satisfy skeptics like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whose support was essential for any action against the terrorist organization. U.S. intelligence agencies also needed a better understanding of al-Qaedas structure and leadership. Abu Jandal was the perfect source: the Yemeni who grew up in Saudi Arabia had been bin Ladens chief bodyguard, trusted not only to protect him but also to put a bullet in his head rather than let him be captured.

Abu Jandals guards were so intimidated by him, they wore masks to hide their identities and begged visitors not to refer to them by name in his presence. He had no intention of cooperating with the Americans; at their first meetings, he refused even to look at them and ranted about the evils of the West. Far from confirming al-Qaedas involvement in 9/11, he insisted the attacks had been orchestrated by Israels Mossad. While Abu Jandal was venting his spleen, Soufan noticed that he didnt touch any of the cookies that had been served with tea: "He was a diabetic and couldnt eat anything with sugar in it." At their next meeting, the Americans brought him some sugar-free cookies, a gesture that took the edge off Abu Jandals angry demeanor. "We had showed him respect, and we had done this nice thing for him," Soufan recalls. "So he started talking to us instead of giving us lectures."

It took more questioning, and some interrogators sleight of hand, before the Yemeni gave up a wealth of information about al-Qaeda - including the identities of seven of the 9/11 bombers - but the cookies were the turning point. "After that, he could no longer think of us as evil Americans," Soufan says. "Now he was thinking of us as human beings."

Soufan, now an international-security consultant, has emerged as a powerful critic of the George W. Bush - era interrogation techniques; he has testified against them in congressional hearings and is an expert witness in cases brought by detainees. He has described the techniques as "borderline torture" and "un-American." His larger argument is that methods like waterboarding are wholly unnecessary - traditional interrogation methods, a combination of guile and graft, are the best way to break down even the most stubborn subjects. He told a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that it was these methods, not the harsh techniques, that prompted al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah to give up the identities of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla. Bush Administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, had previously claimed that Abu Zubaydah supplied that information only after he was waterboarded. But Soufan says once the rough treatment began - administered by CIA-hired private contractors with no interrogation experience - Abu Zubaydah actually stopped cooperating

Each interrogator has his own idea of how to run an interrogation. Soufan likes to research his captive as thoroughly as possible before entering the interrogation room. "If you can get them to think you know almost everything to know about them - their families, their friends, their movements - then youve got an advantage," he says. "Because then theyre thinking, Well, this guy already knows so much, theres no point in resisting I might as well tell him everything." When Abu Zubaydah tried to conceal his identity after his capture, Soufan stunned him by using the nickname given to him by his mother. "Once I called him Hani, he knew the game was up," Soufan says.

To get Abu Jandals cooperation, Soufan and McFadden laid a trap. After palliating his rage with the sugar-free cookies, they got him to identify a number of al-Qaeda members from an album of photographs, including Mohamed Atta and six other 9/11 hijackers. Next they showed him a local newspaper headline that claimed (erroneously) that more than 200 Yemenis had been killed in the World Trade Center. Abu Jandal agreed that this was a terrible crime and said no Muslim could be behind the attacks. Then Soufan dropped the bombshell: some of the men Abu Jandal had identified in the album had been among the hijackers. Without realizing it, the Yemeni prisoner had admitted that al-Qaeda had been responsible for 9/11: For all his resistance, he had given the Americans what they wanted. "He was broken, completely shattered," Soufan says. From that moment on, Abu Jandal was completely cooperative, giving Soufan and McFadden reams of information - names and descriptions of scores of al-Qaeda operatives, details of training and tactics

Of course cookies that are not sugar-free might still be considered torture.

[Ali Soufan] told a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that it was these methods, not the harsh techniques, that prompted al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah to give up the identities of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla.

Er, never mind that this claim entirely contradicts the fabled CIA memos, which we thought were the medias latest gold standard for truth.

And never mind that, despite the implications of this article, Mr. Soufan has no special background in interrogation techniques.

In fact, according to the New Yorker, Mr. Soufan was the only Arab speaking FBI agent in New York right after 9/11 hit. And that is how he happened to get the job.

And speaking of credibility, the author of this piece, Aparisim Bobby Ghosh, is the fellow who along with Tim McGirk brought us Times notorious Haditha massacre scoop.

Just in case you were tempted to trust anything he writes or anyone he decides would choose as a source.

Indeed, this is the second Time article the Muslim born Mr. Ghosh has written about the thoughts of his hero, Ali Soufan.

Mr. Ghosh has also recently opined on the need for prosecution of the Bush administration for its war crimes.

Its almost as if he has an agenda.

This, folks, is what passes for journalism today.

But listen to them squeal like stuck pigs if you call them biased.


SOTOMAYOR - ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

Ken Berwitz

In the interests of fairness, I am posting Tom Goldstein's analysis of Judge Sotomayor's decisions in discrimination cases (www.scotusblog.com).  It is important that we see both sides of this nomination:

Judge Sotomayor and Race Results from the Full Data Set

Ive now completed the study of every one of Judge Sotomayors race-related cases that I mention in the post below.  Ill write more in the morning about particular cases, but here is what the data shows in sum:

Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals. 

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.  (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.)  Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge.  In the one divided panel opinion, the dissents point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case.  So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

Of the roughly 75 panel opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Judge Sotomayor dissented 2 times.  In Neilson v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 199 F.3d 642 (1999), she dissented from the affirmance of the district courts order appointing a guardian for the plaintiff, an issue unrelated to race.  In Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 195 F.3d 134 (1999), she would have allowed a black kindergartner to proceed with the claim that he was discriminated against in a school transfer.  A third dissent did not relate to race discrimination:  In Pappas v. Giuliani, 290 F.3d 143 (2002), she dissented from the majoritys holding that the NYPD could fire a white employee for distributing racist materials.

As noted in the post below, Judge Sotomayor was twice on panels reversing district court decisions agreeing with race-related claims - i.e., reversing a finding of impermissible race-based decisions.  Both were criminal cases involving jury selection.

The numbers relating to unpublished opinions continued to hold as well.  In the roughly 55 cases in which the panel affirmed district court decisions rejecting a claim of employment discrimination or retaliation, the panel published its opinion or order only 5 times.

In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times.  Only one case (Gant) in that entire eleven years actually involved the question whether race discrimination may have occurred.  (In another case (Pappas) she dissented to favor a white bigot.)  She participated in two other panels rejecting district court rulings agreeing with race-based jury-selection claims.  Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Very interesting, and then some.

I don't know much about Tom Goldstein, but there is his analysis for you to consider.   He, in essence, is telling us that while Sotomayor runs off her mouth regarding race and skin color, her judicial decisions are another story entirely.

Make of it what you will.


EZRA LEVANT & JEWISH REACTION TO CANADA'S "HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONS"

Ken Berwitz

Ezra Levant is a Canadian writer and publisher.  He is also a victim of the insane, arbitrary, censorious "human rights commissions" which seem to have replaced what used to be free speech in Canada. 

Levant eventually won his case - at huge personal and monetary cost - because the more public his inquisition became, the more embarrassing it was for the HRC and they finally had to sink back under their rock.

Here is an essay by Mr. Levant on how his attitude toward HRC's differs from those of at least one Jewish group, B'nai B'rith.  It is well worth reading:

B'nai Brith says without censorship laws there would be "anarchy"

By Ezra Levant on May 28, 2009 11:26 PM

When I was in Winnipeg three weeks ago, I had a brief book signing at the local McNally Robinson store. While I was chatting with patrons and signing books, I managed to simultaneously do an interview with the local Jewish newspaper, called The Jewish Post and News. They actually put the story right on their front page, and it continued onto page 3. You can read the whole story here, in .pdf.

I'm pleased that Shakedown has received so much interest from Jewish media and that I've been invited to speak to so many Jewish groups. It's a sign of confirmation of my thesis that the "Official Jews" who are for censorship do not speak for the mass of Canadian Jewry. I find that very encouraging.

The JP&N story was pretty sympathetic. Regular readers of this blog will have heard me make most of the points in it before. But what's new is that David Matas, legal counsel for the B'nai Brith, tries to defend human rights commissions. It makes for entertaining reading -- especially since the B'nai Brith itself has been subject to a five-year-long witch hunt by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission. My favourite detail about that fiasco is that B'nai Brith hasn't even been informed as to the identity of the complainant! Seriously, in what court in the world -- outside of totalitarian regimes like North Korea -- are cases brought by parties who remain secret? Actually, that's not fair to North Korea. They have secret trials there, to be sure, and they're sham trials, of course. But everyone knows who the prosecution is: it's the state. In Manitoba, the government has been hijacked by some secret party that the B'nai Brith doesn't even know. It's so absurd it would be funny, if it weren't so punitive.

And yet the B'nai Brith defends HRCs. I'm almost tempted to say they deserve everything they get, but I know that's not true. I believe that even murderers deserve a fair trial -- so surely politically correct lobby groups do, too.

Matas seems to agree that there ought to be some procedural changes made -- he points to outrageous delays in HRC cases, and to the fact that harassing complaints that abuse the system are not punished with costs being awarded against them. I agree with those criticisms, but even if the processes of HRCs were perfectly fair, I still wouldn't want them to have the power to censor political thought.

For me, it's not just the process that's abusive. It's the substance of the law -- the censorship of ideas.

Matas, who is a clever man, knows he has a difficult case to make, and he doesn't do a particularly good job of it. He says that the hijacking of HRCs by radical Muslims, such as Syed Soharwardy, could be stopped if the HRCs were merely "educated" about the risks of radical Islam. That's so naive it's cute. The HRCs are perfectly aware of the nature of radical Islam. They're happily doing the bidding of that illiberal fascism in the war against our western liberties. Matas actually thinks the HRCs don't know what they're doing. Well, tell that to Islamic fascist Arman Chak, happily working in the bosom of Alberta's HRC. I'm sure he'll turn right around after a little re-education session by Matas.

What would probably happen if Matas tried to re-educate Chak, is that Chak would try to re-educate Matas. And since Chak has the power of the law behind him, Chak would win. That's the problem with giving the state the power to censor -- and to re-educate. You can't always be sure you're going to be the one holding the stick, as opposed to getting beaten with the stick. The B'nai Brith and other Official Jews are so used to having Canada's HRCs do their bidding, they can't conceive of being its victims -- even as B'nai Brith has been victimized for five years, they still think that's an anomaly, rather than the natural, irresistable future of these censorship boards.

But my favourite line from Matas is his response to my call for the abolition of censorship laws altogether. Again, I'm opposed to both the process and the substance of such laws. Here's Matas's weird reply:

This [Levants argument] is an argument which can be used about any law. Israel is falsely accused of genocide. So there should be no law against genocide and so on. The defence against abuse of the laws is to stop the abuse, not repeal the laws."

Look at what Matas is trying -- very clumsily -- to do. He's comparing laws against speech to laws against mass murder. That's one logical flaw -- equating political offensiveness with real crimes. And he's wrapped it in another logical flaw: saying that the only reason I want to repeal such laws is because they're being abusively applied. But, of course, I'm against censorship because I'm against censorship -- not just because the censors are such abusive clowns.

This is the final line of defence I've seen for the handful of people who actually do try to defend HRCs: they always deliberately blur thought crimes with real crimes. Pearl Eliadis is a specialist at this -- she always tries to use words that imply real violence -- "assault", "drive-by", etc. -- when talking about merely offensive words. It's a tell -- a sign that the HRCs' defenders know they're defending the indefensible, so they're going to try to pretend they're against real crimes, not word crimes.

Let me end with my all-time favourite fear-mongering response. If we repeal the censorship provisions of Canada's HRCs (and the criminal code provisions against "hate propaganda"):

That sort of reaction is a prescription for anarchy. It is in everyones interest that we have a society living under the rule of law rather than living in a lawless society.

Anarchy! Ladies and gentlemen, the only thing standing between Canada's peace, order and good government, and riots in the street, a war of all against all, are these HRCs and their censorship laws! Canadians are so malevolent, so violent and lawless in their hearts, that were it not for people like Jennifer Lynch, we'd be at each others' throats!

I'm not interested in living in a lawless society. I rather like our laws, or most of them. I like the Criminal Code, though we could do without the hate propaganda sections -- and, given the infrequency with which those provisions are actually used, it seems like the police can do without those, too, without us lapsing into "anarchy".

But look again at what Matas has done: he has said that to repeal censorship laws is to make us lawless. No: it would simply remove the laws from our thoughts and our words, and keep the police focused on violent deeds.

I rather like the idea of living in a country with intellectual anarchy. And, given the fact that you are reading this on the Internet, I get the feeling that you do, too. The Internet is about as lawless a frontier as it gets, when it comes to ideas and information. You will read offensive things on the Internet. But you're a grown-up. So you can handle it.

I'd like to live in a country where I'm safe from real harm. But when it comes to ideas, thoughts, emotions and other harmless deeds -- yeah, anarchy sounds a lot better to me than living under the yoke of Canada's HRCs, including the one that has had Matas on the run for half a decade for B'nai Brith's word crimes.

B'nai B'rith in Canada reminds me a lot of some Israel-supporting groups in the USA, which don't know how to stop extolling Barack Obama, even as he turns further and further away from Israel. 

I wonder when - if may be the appropriate word - they will wake up and see what is in front of their eyes.


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