Patterico's Pontifications

10/26/2007

A Note on Commenters

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:17 pm

Several people have expressed disgust at alphie and have asked me to ban him. As of right now, I don’t plan to do so.

alphie is reminiscent of actus, another commenter whose name began with a, was typed in all lower case, and tended towards drive-by commentary. I don’t think they are the same (and actus hasn’t posted here since January), but they are similar. People often asked me to ban actus. I never did.

alphie is more of a kick-sand-in-your-face jerk than actus. But actus made some decent points from time to time, and so does alphie. Let me quote steve, a valued commenter to whom I have considered giving posting privileges (if he’d want them):

I’m not grasping how this is “hijacking the thread”:

And the commentors who think TNR is staying silent to prevent any more punishment coming Beauchamp’s way, Paul?

Let’s wait until he’s discharged from the Army and out of harm’s way and see what he says.

Comment by alphie — 10/24/2007 @ 7:29 pm

#

Are we expected to believe that the guys who lied about Rusty Tillman’s death are above spinning this story, nk?

Comment by alphie — 10/24/2007 @ 8:06 pm

#

All it would take is for one of the Army guys to suggest to Beauchamp that he gets to spend the rest of his tour driving an unarmored mobile IED detector around Baghdad unless he shuts up, right.

Comment by alphie — 10/24/2007 @ 8:20 pm

The argument Beauchamp was coerced is all that stands between TNR and its complete humiliation. That aspect *should* be articulated and brought forward. Alphie is needling and inclined to quarrel. Is he the only one with those qualities?

I agree with steve and alphie to this extent: as I said in this comment, “It should be allowed for someone to raise the possibility that Beauchamp is being pressured by the military.” Unlike many of you, I don’t think that is a ridiculous possibility to be automatically discounted. I think it’s legitimate for someone to raise it and debate it. alphie does so in an extraordinarily irritating way — but, as steve notes, he is not the only person around who is irritating or spoiling for an argument.

I have seen a lot of blogs become echo chambers, on both sides. I don’t want to see that happen here. I am willing to go to great lengths to see that it doesn’t happen — including alienating long-time commenters. Yes, I am willing to ban people or restrict conversation in limited circumstances, but I prefer to err on the side of greater expression.

Does this mean that there is no line that can be crossed? Not at all. It’s hard to formulate a clear policy, but I’ll give you a couple of recent examples where I have banned people or deleted their comments. Hopefully it will give you an idea where I draw the line.

Weeks ago, I banned m.croche — who had commented here for years — after he left this comment:

Edwards spent his own money – of which he has plenty – as he saw fit. No one was harmed.

As opposed to the smart decisions of the genius who decided to fly his family (including two small children) on a cut-rate airline during one of the busiest times of the holiday season, with predictably disastrous results. Now that’s dumb.

“P.S. Never, ever fly AirTran. I know, I know; you get what you pay for. Spare me the recriminations. We feel bad enough as it is.”

http://patterico.com/2006/01/02/who-knows-faa-regulations/

That was it. m.croche will never comment here again.

I tolerated croche for years, even though every single comment he ever posted made one point: Patterico is a bad guy. The reason I tolerated his comments is because they were generally expressed in terms of my opinions: “Patterico is a bad guy because he argues x.” He always phrased the comments as a personal attack on me, but generally, he made a substantive point in there somewhere.

But when he chose to simply call me stupid — in a way that implied I had been neglectful to my children — he revoked his own commenting privileges.

Buh-bye.

Similarly, I posted about Radley Balko the other day. I disabled comments on the post, because I knew the comments I’d see if I enabled comments, and the point of view articulated therein had already been beaten to death on this blog. Yes, yes, I know: I supposedly declared Kathryn Johnston the Queen of All Evil, and canonized her killers as the Sainted Law Enforcement Agents who could not possibly have done anything wrong. (That’s bullshit, but I’m sick of the argument.) We’ve had that debate so many times that we’re all tired of it. Regardless, I invited people who couldn’t possibly restrain themselves to leave comments to that effect on one of the old threads. Because of my “Recent Comments” feature, any such comment would have been picked up anyway.

But still, an anonymous prick currently calling himself “Dude” (previously “King Christian X,” “Tefnut,” and any number of other aliases — which alone justifies banning) insisted on leaving a comment on a completely unrelated thread, crying huge tears at his inability to criticize me on the Balko post. His comment, which was 100% inappropriate to the post in question, was deleted without a second thought.

So I’m open to banning people and deleting comments, in appropriate situations. But quite frankly, my tendency is towards openness. And I really, really don’t want this blog to be an echo chamber.

This means I am willing to alienate people I otherwise respect, if they can’t deal with someone having the ability to comment who is both a) liberal and b) annoying. It’s a large price to pay — but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for a principle: that of having an open forum where people who aren’t deliberately insulting, and who are honest in their commenting practices, can express any opinion they like — even in an annoying and argumentative manner.

It’s not easy to draw that line, and alphie may cross it. But I hope this explains a bit better why I am reluctant to ban him.

And if he bothers you so much, then for God’s sake, just ignore him.

A Constitutional Method of Execution

Filed under: Crime — Patterico @ 7:40 pm

I have uncovered the one method of killing Death Row inmates that the liberals can’t possibly object to.

Cancer.

Just one downside: it takes 25 years.

A Post for Lawyers, or Those Who Play Them on TV

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:31 pm

Does it violate the Confrontation Clause to use a crime lab report at trial without calling a witness? Just slap down that report and call it evidence?

The issue is discussed here. I tend to think it does.

But the post seems to imply that you need the analyst who prepared the report to take the stand. That surely isn’t right. Another criminalist who can testify to the report through the business records exception should be good enough. (I’d explain all that to the non-lawyers, but then this wouldn’t be a three-paragraph post, and that’s all I want to write. Hence the post title.)

UPDATE: Thinking on it further, I’m not so sure that the answer to this is clear. For example, in California, we introduce certified printouts of criminal histories with no witnesses. BOOM! Mark it and it’s evidence!

But it is an interesting and potentially complicated question.

Since I’m on the subject, and Christy mentioned the Aluminum Tubes issue, I thought I’d mention what George Tenet had to say in his Memoirs on the issue:

Filed under: General — WLS @ 6:30 pm

Posted by WLS:

From Pg. 324-25:

“In early 2001, Iraq had been caught trying to clandestinely procure sixty thousand high-strength aluminum tubes manufactured to extraordinarily high tolerances. The tubes were seized in the Middle East. The Iraqi agent tried in vain to get the tubes released, claiming they were to be used in Lebanon to make race car components. Whatever their intended use, under UN sanctions, Saddam was prohibited from acquiring the tubes for any purpose. All agencies agreed that these tubes could be modified to make centrifuge rotors used in a nuclear program. CIA analysts believed that these tubes were intended for the enrichment of uranium. Others thought they were intended to make rockets. To test this theory, CIA brought together a “red team” of highly experienced experts from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory — people who had actually built centrifuges. Their assessment was that the tubes were more suited for nuclear use than anything else. The Department of Energy’s representative to the NFIB [National Foreign Intelligence Board — creators of the National Intelligence Estimate] delivered his own agency’s assessment that the tubes were probably not part of a nuclear program. He was not a technical expert, however, and, despite being given several opportunities, he was unable to explain the basis for his department’s view in anything approaching a convincing manner. About all we could take from his statement was that DOE did not disagree with the assessment that Saddam was trying to revive or “reconstitute” his nuclear weapons program — a program that was withing months of producing a weapon when it was interrupted at the time of the first Gulf War…..

With more time, I’m certain we would have delayed a decision on the aluminum tubes until greater clarification emerged — we were staring at a jumbled mess, basically — but in the end, the majority of agencies believed that the tubes were part of the evidence of nuclear reconstitution. But there was certainly no unanimity of thought.

The dissenting views were clearly and extensively laid out in the report. Not only did the Estimate make that point, but Colin Powell would go on to underline it in his UN speech the following February.”

I know there is lots of information and judgments made with the benefit of hindsight that the tubes were not ideally appropriate for use in nuclear facility, and were more likely destined for use in the production of rockets. But, you have to judge the Admin. for the judgment it made at the time it made it based on the information it had available.

Anyone else notice the curious “thud” with which Valerie Plame’s book arrived?

Filed under: General — WLS @ 5:28 pm

Posted by WLS:

Frankly, I didn’t even know it was scheduled for release until I saw the tease for the 60 Minutes interview. 

But, the attention it has gotten this week has been …. well, I’m still waiting.

They got Katie Couric on Sunday, and I saw she was on Hardball last night — wow, that was hard to predict. 

I’m reluctant to give her any un-warranted exposure, but my beef with msnbc Hardball last night — I didn’t watch it, I just read the transcript today — is Christy’s continuing trouble with the English alphabet.  He’s continuing to get his “s” and “b” mixed up.  I know they don’t look alike or sound alike, but he seems to substitute one for the other continually.   Here’ s the problem — one on which he has been corrected on time and again without any apparent impact.

In the State of the Union Speech in Jan. 2003, the President said:

“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently Sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

 Now, Christy goes on a blistering examination of Plame which includes the following questions:

“MATTHEWS:  There were two points made in the build-up to war about the nuclear weapons, the aluminum tubes and the trip to Niger, buying the yellowcake from Niger, the uranium material.  Did you know at the time that the president was making the claims about that in his State of the Union that those claims weren‘t true?

“MATTHEWS:  You heard from the vice president‘s office that the vice president wanted to know if there was, in fact, a deal by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium yellowcake from the government of Niger….  You know that that was checked out by your [husband].  Ultimately, he went to Niger, and he reported back there was no evidence of that deal, right? 

MATTHEWS:  And then you heard the vice president and the president attest that we faced a threat from nuclear weaponry in the hands of Saddam Hussein, based upon this African deal.  What did you think then?

MATTHEWS:  When your husband filed the story with “The New York Times” attesting the fact that he‘d gone on that trip to Niger and he‘d come back with nothing, that there wasn‘t evidence of a deal, he must have known, didn‘t he, he was going to light a match that would lead all the way to you, the fuse was just lit, they were coming to you?  Did you think that he wasn‘t going to—that match wasn‘t going to be lit?

I think Christy needs “Hooked On Phonics” as a Christmas gift this year, so he can practice distinguishing between “Sought” and “Bought”. 

Genarlow Wilson is Free

Filed under: Law — DRJ @ 4:39 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Genarlow Wilson, the Georgia 17-year-old who was imprisoned for sentenced to 10 years for oral sex with a 15-year-old girl, has been released pursuant to the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling that his sentence was cruel and unusual:

“The warden next contends that the habeas court erred in ruling that Wilson’s sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment. We disagree.

Under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and under Art. I, Sec. I, Par. XVII to the Georgia Constitution, a sentence is cruel and unusual if it “is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime.” Moreover, whether “a particular punishment is cruel and unusual is not a static concept, but instead changes in recognition of the ‘evolving standards of decency’ that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Legislative enactments are the clearest and best evidence of a society’s evolving standard of decency and of how contemporary society views a particular punishment. In determining whether a sentence set by the legislature is cruel and unusual, this Court has cited with approval Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in Harmelin v. Michigan. Under Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in Harmelin, as further developed in Ewing v. California, in order to determine if a sentence is grossly disproportionate, a court must first examine the “gravity of the offense compared to the harshness of the penalty” and determine whether a threshold inference of gross disproportionality is raised.

In 2006, the Georgia legislature changed the offense for which Wilson was convicted from a felony with a 10-year minimum sentence to a misdemeanor. “Evolving standards of decency” required more lenient treatment of minors who have sex in specific situations. As the Supreme Court stated:

“It is beyond dispute that these changes represent a seismic shift in the legislature’s view of the gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants. Acknowledging, as we must under Fleming, that no one has a better sense of the evolving standards of decency in this State than our elected
representatives
, we conclude that the amendments to § 16-6-4 and § 42-1-12 reflect a decision by the people of this State that the severe felony punishment and sex offender registration imposed on Wilson make no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment.”

Translation: Those legislators are really in tune with what Georgians want. We Supreme Court Justices better listen to them.

However, the legislature specifically refused to make the change in the law retroactive. I guess the Supreme Court thought the legislature wasn’t so tuned in to the community’s evolving standards when it came to retroactivity, explaining its position in footnote 41:

“Stated somewhat differently, the dissent equates retroactivity analysis with cruel and unusual punishment analysis; the two, however, must be, and are, analytically distinct. Thus, although this Court cannot apply the 2006 Amendment to § 16-6-4 retroactively, we can rely on that amendment as a factor representative of the evolving standard regarding the appropriate punishment for oral sex between teenagers.”

Evolving standards is an area with which the law routinely struggles, in part because the law is like the Colorado river as it slowly erodes the Grand Canyon while community standards are as changeable as the winds.

As a result of this decision, Wilson is not only free but his sex offender status has been expunged. Having served almost 3 years of his sentence, this may be justice and that’s a good thing but it sends a bad message. In the short run, everyone convicted in Georgia of teenage sex crimes will want to revisit their sentences. I suspect inmates convicted of drug offenses under prior felony statutes may also want to revisit their convictions, too.

H/T: NK.

— DRJ

FEMA uses Fake Reporters in California Press Conference

Filed under: Government — DRJ @ 2:59 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

I’m sure they teach students in Journalism 101 that it’s not good to use fake news or fake news reporters but apparently that’s a lesson some FEMA officials forgot:

“The White House scolded the Federal Emergency Management Agency today for staging a phony news conference about assistance to victims of wildfires in southern California. The agency — much maligned for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina over two years ago — arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of independent reporters Tuesday and ask questions of Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the agency’s deputy director.

The questions were predictably soft and gratuitous. “I’m very happy with FEMA’s response,” Johnson said in reply to one query from an agency employee.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said it was not appropriate that the questions were posed by agency staffers instead of reporters. FEMA was responsible for the “error in judgment,” she said, adding that the White House did not know about it beforehand and did not condone it.

“FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California,” Perino said. “It’s not something I would have condoned. And they — I’m sure — will not do it again.”

DHS Secretary Chertoff was not amused, saying: “Stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated.”

If FEMA wanted to get specific information out in a user-friendly way, I can’t imagine why they didn’t just provide a written statement in a question-and-answer format. It’s not just government, it’s everywhere. What has happened to common sense?

— DRJ

Crushing Free Speech, Southern-Style

Filed under: 2008 Election,Politics — DRJ @ 1:09 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Borrowing from the Instapundit, “They told me that if Bush were re-elected, government would be crushing speech it didn’t like.” And they were right:

A UNC-Chapel Hill professor says John Edwards’ staff tried to kill a student’s video story. The professor, retired political reporter Leroy Towns, writes on the journalism school’s Talk Politics blog that the Edwards’ campaign demanded a student journalist take down the video she had posted on YouTube.

The video focuses on Edwards’ campaign headquarters in Chapel Hill’s affluent Southern Village. It includes an interview with a columnist for the Daily Tar Heel, the UNC-CH student paper, who criticizes the location as contradictory to Edwards’ advocacy for the poor. The segment had been produced for the school’s Carolina Week television program, but student Carla Babb posted it online as an entry in an MTV contest.

Edwards staffers then tried to persuade the professor to kill the story, Towns writes. He declined.

Towns writes the experience was instructive: “The Carolina Week staff learned the importance of standing their ground against a disgruntled source, even when that source is a candidate for president. PR students saw firsthand how a public relations mistake can turn a small non-story into a potential national story. Very instructive.”

I guess John Edwards’ advocacy for the poor has its limits and for his campaign staff that limit is an address in the Southern Village.

— DRJ

TNR, Beauchamp & the Army

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 11:23 am

[Guest post by DRJ]

The New Republic has clarified its position:

“A Scott Beauchamp Update

Since our last statement on “Shock Troops,” a Diarist by Private Scott Thomas Beauchamp that we published in our July 23 issue, we have continued our investigation into the article’s veracity. On Wednesday, for a brief period, The Drudge Report posted several documents from the Army’s own investigation into Beauchamp’s claims. Among those documents was a transcript of a phone conversation that TNR Editor Franklin Foer and TNR Executive Editor J. Peter Scoblic had with Beauchamp on September 6—the first time the Army had granted TNR permission to speak with Beauchamp since it cut off outside contact with him on July 26. During this conversation, Beauchamp refused to discuss his article at all: “I’m not going to talk to anyone about anything,” he said. In light of that phone call, some have asked why The New Republic has not retracted “Shock Troops.”

The answer is simple: Since this controversy began, The New Republic’s sole objective has been to uncover the truth. As Scoblic said during the September 6 conversation: “[A]ll we want out of this, and the only way that it is going to end, is if we have the truth. And if it’s—if it’s certain parts of the story are bullshit, then we’ll end that way. If it’s proven to be true, it will end that way. But it’s only going to end with the truth.” The September 6 exchange was extremely frustrating; however, it was frustrating precisely because it did not add any new information to our investigation. Beauchamp’s refusal to defend himself certainly raised serious doubts. That said, Beauchamp’s words were being monitored: His squad leader was in the room as he spoke to us, as was a public affairs specialist, and it is now clear that the Army was recording the conversation for its files.

The next day, via his wife, we learned that Beauchamp did want to stand by his stories and wanted to communicate with us again. Two-and-a-half weeks later, Beauchamp telephoned Foer at home and, in an unmonitored conversation, told him that he continued to stand by every aspect of his story, except for the one inaccuracy he had previously admitted. He also told Foer that in the September 6 call he had spoken under duress, with the implicit threat that he would lose all the freedoms and privileges that his commanding officer had recently restored if he discussed the story with us.

On September 14, we also spoke at length with Major John Cross, who led the Army’s investigation into the Beauchamp case. Contrary to reports in The Weekly Standard and other outlets, Cross explicitly said that Beauchamp “did not recant” his article in the sworn statements he had given the Army. Moreover, although the Army’s investigation—which declared that the claims in “Shock Troops” were false—purported to be conclusive, Cross conceded that there were at least a dozen soldiers in Beauchamp’s platoon whom he had not interviewed. TNR pressed for clarification:

Scoblic: So you didn’t get statements from everyone in his platoon, then?

Cross: We got statements from everyone in his platoon that was available that day we were conducting the investigation.

Scoblic: At a later point did you follow up with any of the people that weren’t available that day?

Cross: No.

Faced with the fact that Beauchamp stood by his story and the fact that the Army investigation had serious gaps—as well as the fact that our earlier reporting had uncovered significant evidence corroborating Beauchamp’s accounts—The New Republic decided to continue its investigation. On August 10, we had filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of the Army for all documents pertaining to its investigation of Beauchamp, particularly any statements Beauchamp had signed. But it was not until October 10 that Central Command informed us that the FOIA request was finally under review by the appropriate office. We also repeatedly tried to get these documents directly from the First Infantry Division, to which Beauchamp is assigned, but we were told that they could be released only through a FOIA request. We also tried to get the statements from Beauchamp himself. However, when Beauchamp requested a copy of his own statements from an Army legal adviser, he was told that he first had to coordinate any dissemination of them with Army public affairs.

It was as we were awaiting the documentary record of the Army’s investigation that the Army leaked several documents, including the September 6 transcript, to The Drudge Report, which incorrectly reported that the documents show that Beauchamp had recanted. In fact, they show no such thing, and Drudge soon removed the supporting documents from its website, and later its entire report.

The New Republic is deeply frustrated by the Army’s behavior. TNR has endeavored with good faith to discover whether Beauchamp’s article contained inaccuracies and has repeatedly requested that the Army provide us with documentary evidence that it was fabricated or embellished. Instead of doing this, the Army leaked selective parts of the record—including a conversation that Beauchamp had with his lawyer—continuing a months-long pattern by which the Army has leaked information and misinformation to conservative bloggers while failing to help us with simple requests for documents.

We have worked hard to re-report this piece and will continue to do so. But this process has involved maddening delays compounded by bad faith on the part of at least some officials in the Army. Our investigation has taken far longer than we would like, but it is our obligation and promise to deliver a full account of our findings.

–The Editors”

I’ll leave it to others like Patterico, WLS, and Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee to parse this statement. As I read it, the implication is that other soldiers support Beauchamp’s story but they haven’t been interviewed. In addition, TNR won’t decide who to believe as long as Beauchamp and his wife tell TNR something different than Beauchamp says when he’s with Army personnel.

To summarize: Beauchamp tells different stories to different people and now he’s unwilling to stand by his story except in private phone calls with his wife and TNR. That doesn’t make Beauchamp sound like a truth-teller or even a whistle-blower. It makes him sound stuck in the middle and he can’t get out.

— DRJ


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