Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »

99 posts from June 2006

June 28, 2006

Supreme Court rules Texas district invalid

SCOTUSblog on the Texas gerrymandering ruling that the Supreme Court handed down today:

The Supreme Court, splintering widely, on Wednesday found an insufficient claim of partisan gerrymandering in the Texas congressional redistricting. It also rejected a challenge to mid-decade congressional redistricting. It did not rule on whether all partisan gerrymander claims are beyond judicial review. The Court is split on that issue, and the division remains. It found the state's new District 23 invalid under the federal Voting Rights Act. District 24 was upheld against a Voting Rights Act challenge. The opinion can be found here.

The voting rights coalition eked out a small victory in getting a rotten borough invalidated. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts didn't even want to give them that much.

The Court voted 7-2 that legislators can redistrict as often as they want, not just once a decade.

The Constitution says states must adjust their congressional district lines every 10 years to account for population shifts. In Texas the boundaries were redrawn twice after the 2000 census, first by a court, then by state lawmakers in a second round promoted by DeLay after Republicans took control.

That was acceptable, the justices said. [WaPo]

The Court also left open the possibility of adjudicating partisan gerrymandering disputes in the future.

June 27, 2006

Deadly drool: Chewing tobacco in noodles sickens 30

We hear a lot about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but let's not overlook the dangers of second-hand chewing tobacco...

Chewing Tobacco in Noodles Sickens 30 PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Thirty Cambodians suffered food poisoning after eating homemade noodles contaminated with chewing tobacco that had dropped into the batter from the cook's mouth, police said Monday. [...]

Hillary Clinton hires Peter Daou as blog advisor

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post reports that Hillary Clinton has hired blogger Peter Daou of the The Daou Report as her chief blog consultant.

Daou was the director of blog operations for the Kerry campaign in 2004.

The White House's war on the press

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent analysis of the manufactured outrage over the NYT SWIFT story. He argues that the uproar is just another excuse to continue the administration's long-running war on the free press.

Politicians, pundits, and even journalists are demanding jail time for the reporters who described the Treasury Department's secret program to analyze the SWIFT international financial database for evidence of terrorist financing. As Glenn explains, the article didn't actually betray any national security secrets. It has been public knowledge for many years that the US government monitors "the money trail" of terrorist organizations. Nobody has boasted more about America's ability to monitor the finances of terrorists than the president himself.

The NYT hasn't revealed any information that terrorists didn't already know. The media coverage of the NSA wiretapping program and the SWIFT surveillance are informing the American public about the way the government is choosing to fight terrorism: The President insists on the right to wage the "war on terror" in complete secrecy outside of our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Why journalists should burn dishonest sources

Journalists have a duty to expose anonymous sources who knowingly deceive them. Anonymity is a quid pro quo, and ethical journalists only offer it in exchange for valuable information that they can't get any other way.

The promise of anonymity shouldn't be absolute. Anonymous sourcing sacrifices some transparency for the sake of important information. A source who knowingly peddles forgeries under the cover of anonymity is abusing the reporter's trust and the trust of his or her readers. That kind of behavior must have consequences.

The best remedy is to reveal the identity of the person who passed off the fraudulent information in bad faith. The only reason we tolerate anonymous sources is to get good information. By practicing deception under the cover of anonymity, dishonest informants thereby undermine whatever justification the reporter had for granting anonymity in the first place.

The public has a right to know who's shopping bogus stories to the press. We also have a right to know who duped the reporter in question. Granting anonymity is a journalistic judgement call. When a source turns out to be a fraud, we need to know who that source was so that we can assess whether the journalist granted anonymity responsibly. If it turns out that the reporter has been granting anonymity frivolously, or to blatantly untrustworthy sources, he or she shouldn't be allowed to simply blame the anonymous source and move on.

For example, it makes a big difference who Jason Zengerle of the New Republic was dealing with. If we don't know the identity of the informant who forwarded Zengerle the partially fabricated email, we have no way of knowing whether Zengerle was honestly duped or whether he was using anonymity to conceal the dubious quality of his source.

The policy of burning deliberately deceptive anonymous sources should be enforced at the editorial level. Once deception and bad faith have been established, it shouldn't be the reporter's decision. If, after consulting with the reporter, an editor is convinced that a source was deliberately deceptive, the source's identity should be revealed as a matter of institutional policy.

Anonymous sourcing is a necessary evil. Enforcing consequences for those who abuse a reporter's trust will improve the quality of anonymous sourcing overall.

June 26, 2006

Zengerle and Foer protect dishonest source

Steve Gilliard reports that Frank Foer, editor of The New Republic, emailed to say that he has no intention of asking Jason Zengerle to reveal the identity of a source who forwarded a bogus email attributed to Steve Gilliard.

Steve writes:

I have just received an e-mail from TNR editor Frank Foer which said they thought the apology is adequate and "they had nothing more to add". It was bad enough they tacked on Gilliard-gate to their mistake on their reporting. But now, they're defending a dishonest source, who sends e-mails withour any proof of their accuracy.

My question is simple: why are they protecting a dishonest source on a story? They know the person in question lied to them about my words, yet they continue to protect them. Why would they do this?

Apology or not, this is about credibility and their lack of it. How can anyone trust Jason Zengerle's words again? If they were to face legal action in the future, from an issue unrelated to this, counsel would surely contact me about this matter, as well as use it against them.

This isn't about me, except for those words. It is, however, about how badly and dishonestly this whole affair has been handled. It was sloppy, an embarassment and TNR cannot wish it away. Until they deal with this in a forthright manner, their critics will always say "how can you trust them, they posted that fake e-mail", regardless of the facts of the story.

Why is TNR protecting the person who sent them the fraudulent email? Is it because the source was so sketchy that Zengerle is embarrassed to admit that he trusted him or her in the first place? Could it be that the source of the emails isn't even a Townhouse member? The fact that the original source supplied these messages without headers or time stamps makes me suspicious.

It's also curious that both of the alleged Townhouse members whom Zengerle asked to vouch for the authenticity of the emails made the same "mistake"--correctly identifying two of the three emails as being authentic posts from June 18, but overlooking the fact that nobody posted anything resembling the fake-Gilliard email on the date in question (or ever).

Zengerle says he didn't know the dates of the emails from his original source. So, he would have had to ask at least one of his backup sources to look up the dates of all three emails in order to establish that the exchange took place on June 18. Zengerle claimed to know that all three emails were posted on June 18th. If he didn't get time stamps from his original source, he must have gotten them from one of his other sources. But the fake Steve Gilliard email didn't exist on Townhouse.

So, the question remains, where did Zengerle get the idea that this non-existent email was posted on June 18? His original source didn't give him any dates. The if the other two alleged Townhouse members were honest, they couldn't have told Zengerle the date of a non-existent email.

If I had to bet, I'd wager that Zengerle got burned by more than one of his sources on this story. I'd also bet that he didn't do much due diligence to establish the bona fides of the two alleged Townhouse members who supposedly vouched for all three emails, including that non-existent one.

I'm disappointed that Frank Foer is more concerned with circling the wagons against "blogofascism" than he is with preserving TNR's reputation.

Snow: "NYT has undermined Americans' right to live"

The President and his administration are furious at the New York Times and other media outlets for revealing details of the Treasury Department's secret program to monitor financial transactions.

Here's what Press Secretary Tony Snow had to say:

[T]he New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public’s right to know in some cases might override somebody’s right to live, and whether in fact the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.

Asked whether the White House attacks on the New York Times represented an effort “to create a chilling effect on media outlets,” Snow responded, “I don’t think so.” [ThinkProgress]

Watch the video of Snow's attack at ThinkProgress.

In other news, China may impose fines on journalists who report on disasters without permission.

Abramoff funneled money through non-profits

New documents released in the Jack Abramoff case reveal that the disgraced super-lobbyist funneled Republican campaign contributions through non-profit organizations, including Grover Norquist's "American's For Tax Reform":

Among the organizations used by Abramoff was Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. According to an investigative report on Abramoff's lobbying released last week by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Americans for Tax Reform served as a "conduit" for funds that flowed from Abramoff's clients to surreptitiously finance grass-roots lobbying campaigns. As the money passed through, Norquist's organization kept a small cut, e-mails show. [WaPo]

According to the WaPo article, Norquist not only knew what Abramoff was doing, he took a cut. Norquist wasn't the only one:

The Senate committee report also details Abramoff's dealings with two others from the College Republicans crowd: Ralph Reed, former Christian Coalition executive director; and Amy Moritz Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, which sponsored a golf trip in 2000 to Scotland for then-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). [WaPo]

Abramoff was very ecumenical with his cash:

E-mails show that Abramoff also moved client money through a conservative Jewish foundation called Toward Tradition, run by longtime Abramoff friend Rabbi Daniel Lapin. In January 2000, when Reed sent Abramoff an $867,000 invoice to be billed to a Choctaw official, Abramoff responded: "Ok, thanks. Please get me the groups we are using, since I want to give this to her all at once." Reed responded: "Amy, Grover, Lapin and one other I will get you." [WaPo]

More on this story at The Daily Muck

Zengerle burned badly

Jason Zengerle of The New Republic admits that he was taken for a ride.

On June 22, Zengerle published three emails that he claimed were from the Townhouse listerv, a mailing list for progressive bloggers.

Here's what he said about these emails:

At the risk of engendering more charges that I'm violating the off-the-record nature of "Townhouse" (which, by the way, I'm not, since I am not a member of "Townhouse" and therefore am not bound by any off-the-record agreements, in the same way that any reporter who's leaked "confidential" documents is not bound to protect their confidentiality), let me reprint some of the e-mails that were going to the "Townhouse" list, according to three sources, before Kos sent out the e-mail I quoted in my original post on this topic. [Emphasis added]

Zengerle claims that three sources asserted that the emails he published on the 22nd were sent to Townhouse before the Kos email that Zengerle blogged about on the 21st.

In his June 22 post, Zengerle reprints three emails which he claims were posted to Townhouse on June 18. The first is attributed to Mike Stark, the second to Glenn Greenwald, and the third to Steve Gilliard.

Now, Zengerle admits Steve Gilliard didn't write that email. In fact, the words that Zengerle attributed to Gilliard never appeared on Townhouse at all. Assuming they weren't completely fabricated, they came from some other source entirely.

Zengerle got burned badly.

Zengerle says he made "an error", which he goes on to make excuses for:

Here's how the error happened: A source forwarded The New Republic three emails purportedly written by members of the "Townhouse" list--Glenn Greenwald, Mike Stark, and Steve Gilliard--expressing concern about the Armstrong-SEC story. The emails lacked timestamps and headers, so TNR checked the emails with two other sources who belonged to "Townhouse." Both of these sources vouched for the authenticity of all three emails (and two of the emails, Greenwald's and Stark's, are indisputably authentic). After returning to these two sources this weekend, TNR learned that when initially shown the three emails, both sources immediately recognized the 181-word Greenwald email and the 389-word Stark email; having determined that those two emails were authentic, the sources just assumed the 22-word Gilliard email was authentic, as well. We now know it wasn't. These were clearly honest mistakes on the parts of the second and third sources; and TNR has been unable to determine why the first source--who has not responded to messages--included this one piece of incorrect information along with the accurate information the source sent us. [Emphasis added.]

Poor Jason. His one real source isn't returning his emails anymore.

Recall that Jason isn't a member of Townhouse, and that he claims that his original source sent him emails without date stamps. If his original source were a real member of Towhouse, you'd think that the source would be in a position to simply forward emails to Zengerle with the original date stamps and subject headers.

If the original source didn't supply the dates, then at least one of the other two sources would have had to cough up that information. Presumably, that person would have had to search their email records to determine whether these messages were sent to Townhouse, and if so, on what day. If either of the two alleged corroboraters had been able to determine (Zengerle's word) the authorship and dates of the Greenwald and Stark emails, he or she also should have been able to tell that Steve Gilliard didn't post the message Zengerle attributed to him (and that nobody else posted those words to Townhouse, either).

According to Steve Gilliard, Zengerle didn't confirm the authorship of the emails with any of alleged authors. Instead, it sounds like Zengerle ran with third-hand information "confirmed" by second hand sources (who don't exactly sound like they've got the inside track). If Zengerle had copies the original emails, he would have said so. It sounds like he got one remix, which he showed to two other alleged members of the group who allegedly recognized two out of the three emails.

I wonder how Zengerle thinks he knows that any of his sources are actually Townhouse members. None of them seem to be able to supply him with the kind of detailed info that you'd expect from an actual subscriber to the list. Although, maybe he just didn't bother to ask.

At any rate, Zengerle got burned badly, and it's time for him to burn back, or admit that he'll publish anything from anyone.

June 25, 2006

Greenland's ice sheet is slipping

The LA Times reports that Greenland's ice sheet is melting much faster than expected. Worse still, melting water is lubricating the ice sheets, causing them to slip. This, coupled with an increase in seismic activity poses a grave threat to the integrity of the polar ice, and by extension, to the world's climate.

The Greenland ice sheet — two miles thick and broad enough to blanket an area the size of Mexico — shapes the world's weather, matched in influence by only Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere.

[...]The ice is so massive that its weight presses the bedrock of Greenland below sea level, so all-concealing that not until recently did scientists discover that Greenland actually might be three islands.

Should all of the ice sheet ever thaw, the meltwater could raise sea level 21 feet and swamp the world's coastal cities, home to a billion people. It would cause higher tides, generate more powerful storm surges and, by altering ocean currents, drastically disrupt the global climate.

Climate experts have started to worry that the ice cap is disappearing in ways that computer models had not predicted.

By all accounts, the glaciers of Greenland are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago, even as the ice sheets of Antarctica — the world's largest reservoir of fresh water — also are shrinking, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February. [LAT]

Al Gore discusses the implications of melting Greenland ice in an Inconvenient Truth.