What Dead Afghans?

Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin poses the question nobody is asking: If 15 to 18 people really were killed in Afghan riots sparked by Newsweek’s story about a Koran being flushed down the toilet by U.S. military interrogators in Guantanamo, who are they?

Farah claims to have scoured every available document in Lexis-Nexis, as well as the entire Internet, and talked to an anonymous source (gotta love those) and has been unable to find a single mention of a name of one of the dead anywhere. Indeed, he can find no substantive proof that the riots in fact ocurred.

Then there were riots in Afghanistan, the Far East and the Palestinian Authority – all, the international media reported, connected to the Newsweek story.

Later, many who had first-hand knowledge of the disturbances said they were planned months in advance and had little or no connection to the Newsweek story.

But now there’s a new twist.

Virtually every major news agency in the world has reported without verification that between 15 and 18 Afghanis were killed in the riots.

There’s just one problem. There is no more evidence for these deaths than there is that a U.S. interrogator flushed a Quran down the toilet.

Not a single name of even one victim has been released. No details of the circumstances of the riots were released from any official sources – either U.S. or Afghan.

Who were these victims? Were they rioters killed by police or military forces? Were they innocent victims attacked by fanatics? Were they Afghanis? Were they relief workers?

Farah claims he has queried both U.S. and Afghan official sources for details about “these alleged deaths.” but has been stonewalled, forcing him to rely on that old chestnut, unnamed sources.

Now, some sources inside the U.S. government are saying off the record that they believe the death toll may have been deliberately exaggerated by Islamists – perhaps even some Afghan government officials – who want to make a point about the grievous nature of the supposed Quran desecration.

Hmm, what if there were no dead Afghans ….

McClellan Lies About Lying About Newsweek Story’s Effect

Editor & Publisher published a report that uses White House press conference transcripts to show Press Secretary Scott McClellan is a (surprise!) liar. McClellan claims that he did not say that people died in the riots in Afganistan following the Newsweek article on abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo, Cuba.

He also claimed that he had never said it did, even though a check of transcripts disputes that. On May 16, for example, he said, “people have lost their lives.” On May 17, he said, “People did lose their lives,” and, “People lost their lives” due to the Newsweek report.

Here is part of the transcript from the latest White House press briefing which shows McClellan in full BS mode:

Q: One other question. Karzai was quite definite in saying that he didn’t believe that the violence in Afghanistan was directly tied to the Newsweek article about Koran desecration. Yet, from this podium, you have made that link. So —

McCLELLAN: Actually, I don’t think you’re actually characterizing what was said accurately.

Q: By whom?

McCLELLAN: As I said last week, and as President Karzai said today, and as General Myers had said previously, the protest may well have been pre-staged. The discredited report was damaging. It was used to incite violence. But those who espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression and murder don’t need an excuse to incite violence. But the reports from the region showed how this story was used to incite violence.

Today’s Sign of the End of Civilization as We Know It

“Crazy Frog Axel F,” a cell phone ringtone, is set to top the British singles pop charts by this Sunday, knocking off Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound,” the band’s first single in two years. Retail-sales tracker HMV said Crazy Frog would be the first hit ringtone to cross over into the singles charts. According to HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo:

“Music purists might not be too happy at the prospect of the Crazy Frog outselling Coldplay. But it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise when you consider its huge novelty appeal and the massive amount of exposure it’s currently getting.

“Kids obviously find it cute and cool, but students and even office workers seem to be drawn to its rather kitsch, ironic appeal. The only real issue is whether the record label can press enough copies to keep up with the huge demand that we’re seeing right now.”

Who Blinked?

In the aftermath of the fillibuster finagle, the most common theme seems to be to say one side or the other “blinked.” Here’s one of the more twisted analyses so far, excerpted from an e-blast from that paragon of hyperconservative hyperbole, Richard Viguerie:

There is no question that, over the last 40 years, the federal courts have been the greatest threat to conservative values. And last night, the Republicans cancelled a vote to reign in the liberal judiciary.

The vote in the US Senate to abolish the filibuster for judicial appointments if successful, would have been the closest America has ever come to having a vote on the direction for one third of our federal government.

The so-called “compromise” on judicial nominations is nothing more than the liberal Democrats getting most everything they wanted, namely the right to filibuster conservative judges with impunity.

For the better part of a year, the Republicans talked and talked, promised and promised, threatened and threatened, and then in the final minutes of the battle blinked and called off the vote, allowing liberals to live and fight again.

This “deal” proves the weakness of the Republican leadership and a lack of respect for the grassroots conservatives and the “values voters” that put Republicans in power. For decades, conservatives have carried the water in the Republican Party while that same party ignores our issues. Its conservative issues, work, and money that elect Republicans.

But conservatives also must remember that we also live and will fight again – and that there is a political solution available to remedy Republicans failure to get control of the judiciary – GOP primary challenges and the November 2006 congressional elections.

Buffalo Gay Chorus Buffaloed by Jewish Homophobes

Homophobia is alive and well in the Buffalo, New York, Jewish community, as evidenced by a local Jewish newspaper’s refusal to run an ad for a Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus performance at Temple Beth Zion in January. As a result, the synagogue has withdrawn its weekly advertising from the “Buffalo Jewish Review.”

Months of discussions between the temple and the newspaper resulted in Temple Beth Zion Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld and board president Stuart G. Lerman sending a letter of explanation to members May 10:

“The reason given was that the paper did not want to condone homosexual behavior,” they wrote. “The editor made it clear that, in her opinion, publishing the ad would offend subscribers.”

Rosenfeld and Lerman also said that “to exclude or oppress members of our community because of their sexual orientation would be denying their humanity.”

But the really interesting stuff comes from the owners of the newspaper, Rita and Arnold Weiss.

The Weisses said they chose not to publish the ad because it might encourage young people to experiment with a sexual lifestyle that could be harmful to their health.

“On a very practical basis,” [Rita Weiss] said, “there is the possibility of influencing some young people whose sexual development is not yet complete. They could get AIDS. They could try out a lifestyle that is life-threatening.”

In addition to AIDS, Weiss said, she is also concerned about “the perpetuation of the Jewish people” in the face of demographic trends, including young Jews who stay in the gay lifestyle.

“They can’t produce children,” she said. “And you can’t build a people with adoption.”

Weiss said Jews everywhere are concerned about assimilation and the demographic numbers that show a decline in the growth of the Jewish community outside Israel.

“All of the Jewish organizations are concerned,” she said, “because we’re going to need support in the future for all of the needs of our aging population. There are so many ramifications — there won’t be support for old people or for our institutions or for the State of Israel.”

Message: Intolerance is okay if it’s for a higher purpose, like supporting old Jewish people or the Israeli police state.

God Is Gay and More Fun with Intelligent Design

Writing on AlterNet, David Morris offers some suggestions for high school science teachers to comply with the edict to teach “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution while teaching meddling school board administrators a lesson in unintended consequences. Morris notes that many school boards across the country require science teachers to offer a critique of evolution and suggest alternative theories about the origin of life. He suggests approaching the task with creativity and impish subversion.

Then there’s the question of male homosexuality. From a Darwinian perspective, it’s a puzzle. The theory of natural selection should guarantee the disappearance of males that don’t reproduce. But they keep hanging around, in considerable numbers, in every culture and every era.

Evolutionists have their theories. Psychologist Louis A. Berman argues that it has to do with embryonic development. Medical doctor Lorne Warneke suggests that homosexuality actually offers a natural advantage. Homosexuals instill a more cooperative impulse that helps perpetuate the kinship group and tribe.

A good science teacher will follow the school board’s guidance and propose intelligent design as an alternative explanation for male homosexuality. Could there be an intelligent power that has created and nurtured male homosexuality? Does that mean God is gay?

Morris tackles the female organism (useless in Darwinism, but makes sense in intellgent design — if the designer is female) and the origin of life on the planet (intelligent design meets evolution when Erich von Daniken’s space aliens mate with our ancestors) using sex and spacemen — topics sure to garner the attention of adolescents.

It’s an interesting suggestion — take one’s frustration at having to teach mumbo-jumbo and critique accepted science and turn it into a creative synthesis that just might make students more aware, and dare we suggest, smarter.

Buchanan the Loose Cannon

Former White House aide, three-time presidential candidate, commentator and magazine publisher Pat Buchanan told “The Washington Times” that “the conservative movement has passed into history. It doesn’t exist anymore as a unifying force.”

Buchanan’s definition of the term “conservative” is somewhere well to the right of Karl Rove’s. Here are a few choice quotes from the interview that illuminate Buchanan’s brand of radical conservatism.

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

“American culture has become toxic and poisonous. Take a look at what Hollywood produces today and what it produced in the 1950s. The alteration is dramatic.”

“We say we won a great victory by defeating gay marriage in 11 state-ballot referenda in November. But I think in the long run, that will be seen as a victory in defense of a citadel that eventually fell.”

“Frankly, you would not have a cultural war in this country if the Supreme Court had said, ‘Look, free speech is one thing, but pornography is not covered by the First Amendment. If the justices had stayed away from forced busing, if they had let the states decide abortion and gay rights, you would not have had the cultural war — and probably not have had the victories that the Republican Party had in the 1970s and ’80s.”

“Both major parties agreed that they would do nothing to defend the borders and that we ought to have amnesty for those who break in illegally. There was no choice. The president has abdicated his responsibility to defend America from a foreign invasion. We add half a million illegals to our population each year, most of whom come to work, some to commit crimes against American citizens. I say, look, the kind of immigrants we want are people who want to come here and become part of the American family … not just to work and then go back home.”

“Look, you’re going to have 100 million people of Hispanic, primarily Mexican, descent in the American Southwest by the middle of this century, and I think you are in danger of losing the American Southwest, de facto. I think this country is risking coming apart, like other countries in the world, over issues of language, culture and ethnicity.”

Away with DeLay

From the Public Campaign Action Fund, top 10 reasons Tom DeLay should be kicked out of Congress:

1. Tom DeLay violates ethics rules at will, making him a national embarrassment. Indeed, he has earned four formal ethics violations, a truly rare achievement, as only five Members of Congress have been chastised by the committee in the last six years..

• In May 1999, the House Ethics Committee issued a rare private rebuke to DeLay, for “badgering a lobbying organization over its hiring of a Democrat as its president.” DeLay had complained to the Electronic Industries Alliance and the GOP House leadership the October before about its hiring of a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, Dave McCurdy. After DeLay voiced his complaint, House leaders showed their displeasure with the group by postponing votes on an international treaty that the association wanted. (The New York Times, 5/14/99)

• In October 2004, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct admonished DeLay, saying he had gone too far, and violated rules on three separate occasions: “The promise of political support for a relative of a member goes beyond the boundaries of maintaining party discipline, and should not be used as the basis of a bargain for members to achieve their respective goals,” the House Ethics committee wrote in its report. The Committee also admonished him for using federal resources, the FAA, for political purposes and for the appearance of conflict of interest by raising money at a golf tournament from Westar while considering legislation that would impact the energy company. (House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; The New York Times, 10/1/04)

2. Tom DeLay embodies the worst of pay-to-play politics – he puts big donors like Enron ahead of the rest of us.

• DeLay’s rise in politics was fueled by Enron. The rogue company hosted the first fundraiser for his leadership PAC, raising $280,000 for him at the event. And DeLay fought hard for the company’s agenda of regulatory relief. Not only did Enron reward Delay with $32,700 over his years in Congress (making him its #8 top beneficiary overall), it gave two of his top aides a $750,000 consulting contract to do a “grassroots” campaign for the deregulation of energy markets, and paid his wife Christine $40,000 for a no-show job.

[…]

Bush EPA Official Admits Helping Developer Destroy Wetlands

In a move that places him squarely in the pantheon of Republican environmental “watchdogs,” Jimmy Palmer, chief of the southeastern region for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, testified against the agency and on behalf of a former client – a real estate developer – in a criminal trial. Under oath, Palmer, whose title is Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 Office, admitted advising the client to ignore EPA cease and desist orders regarding a real estate development in a wetlands area.

According to information released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Palmer peppered his testimony with criticisms of the EPA. Meanwhile, his former client, an unscrupulous developer who bucked the EPA, Mississippi state government and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was found guilty.

Palmer was selected by President Bush to oversee EPA operations in the eight-state Southeastern Region in October 2001 and was sworn in following Senate confirmation the following January. At the time of his selection, Palmer was the lawyer for a Mississippi developer named Robert Lucas who sought Palmer’s help in subdividing land and installing septic tanks in a 2600-acre development called Big Hills Acres.

In March 2005, after a jury trial, Lucas was convicted for misrepresenting the habitability of the lots and installing septic systems in saturated wetland soils at Big Hill Acres, despite warnings from the state Department of Health that doing so created a public health threat. Lucas also ignored numerous warnings, as well as cease and desist orders, from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA because the deteriorating systems threatened to contaminate the local drinking water aquifer.

At the trial, Lucas called Palmer as a defense witness. Palmer, testifying on his own time under subpoena, confirmed his role in advising Lucas in how to sell lots for development despite official cease and desist orders. Palmer also admitted that he regarded EPA staff as “unethical” and overzealous in enforcing the Clean Water Act and aggressively resisted earlier enforcement efforts.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noted that during Palmer’s tenure the EPA has not vetoed a single development project for wetlands violations, or any other reason. There is little chance that trend will change in the southeastern region.

In his official capacity as EPA Regional Administrator, Palmer now has before him more than a score of questionable mega-projects that would destroy thousands of wetlands acres in endangered species habitat in order to build projects such as gated golf-course luxury condominium complexes. Palmer has signaled that he will greenlight every project, despite concerns about violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws that Palmer and his agency are supposed to be enforcing.

Read the trial transcript and supporting documents here.

Read Jimmy Palmer’s resume here.

The Blather Over Bloggers

(Disclaimer: I am not a paid political consultant and receive no remuneration from Pensito Review for my, ahem, contributions. Indeed, if my boss knew I was doing this at work, he’d probably DOCK MY PAY.)

A Forbes article by Steve McGookin explores the current quandry facing the Federal Elections Commission regarding the assumed power of Web logs to influence the political process. While the Internet consultancy Malchow Schlackman Hoppey and Cooper (which handled John Kerry’s on-line campaign) has submitted a letter calling for blogs to be granted the same exemption from election finance laws that “real” journalists enjoy, there remains the pesky issue of bloggers who are paid political advocates who do seem to influence election outcomes (not to mention journalists paid by the gubmint to promulgate policy, but that’s another matter).

While outlining the quagmire the FEC faces this summer, McGookin elucidates some of the questions the FEC is considering:

While a fundamental starting point, according to the FEC, is not to deter ordinary citizens from becoming involved in political activity, a big difficulty is placing any kind of accurate value on political activity conducted online. The Commission’s responsibility is to regulate only monetary exchanges, as opposed to intellectual, as well as deciding whether or not such activity even rises to a level where the FEC would be concerned in any case.

Most blog activity–political or otherwise–is carried out by individuals on what would charitably be described as a shoestring budget. But what about the increasing numbers of popular blogs that are using or adopting various structured business models?

Then there is the question of whether the FEC is limited to regulating only paid-for political advertising on blogs. Or is everything that supports or endorses a particular candidate appearing on a blog considered to fall under existing campaign contribution ceilings and, as such, subject to regulation?

To what extent are blogs–as distinct from mainstream media’s commercial online entities–protected, being primarily vehicles of individual personal opinion? Does the size of their audience make any difference?

Note that Pensito Review’s business plan consists of maybe someday hopefully getting a click-through deal with Amazon, and the estimated value of our combined “intellectual property” likely exempts us from any consideration of the “contribution” a PR endorsement would lend a hapless candidate. Size of audience? Let’s not go there.

That said, and the FEC’s concerns aside, there is other evidence that blogs just don’t matter that much, or at least no more than “real” media.

A Reuters article on a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project appears to suss out the fact that blogs just aren’t as powerful as the worry-worts at the FEC think they are.

Charting the discussion of issues during the 2004 presidential campaign, the study found political blogs — online opinion and information sites — played a similar, but not greater role, as the mainstream media in “creating buzz” around the candidates’ campaigns.

The study dispels the notion that blogs are replacing traditional media as the public’s primary source of information, said Michael Cornfield, a senior research consultant at Pew.

“Bloggers follow buzz as much as they make it,” said Cornfield. “Our research uncovered a complicated dynamic in which a hot topic of conversation could originate with the blogs or it could originate with the media or it could originate with the campaigns.

“We can say that if people still have that idea that the bloggers are the new fifth estate, that the bloggers are the new kingmakers, that’s not the case.”

Of course, the evidence is clear, if you follow Pew’s line of reasoning:

For example, it showed the Bush campaign paid more attention to an Osama bin Laden tape than did the blogs. At the same time, the Kerry campaign made more mention of missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than the blogs. The mainstream media made more mention of Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter than either the blogs or the campaigns.

Well, that should answer the questions for the FEC. Except the thought that perhaps the 40 out of 1.6 million blogs Pew examined were investigating more interesting issues than Osama, WMD or Ms. Cheney.

So please, FEC Director Scott Thompson, don’t treat blogs differently than mainstream press. According to Pew, Pensito Review is equally as irrelevant as the “New York Times.” Honest.