OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – December 5, 2007


Best of the Web Today – December 5, 2007


    Today’s Video on WSJ.com: Bret Stephens on perils to democracy in Russia and Venezuela.

    U.S. Goes Soft on Iran, Says U.N.
    So reports the New York Times:

    The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday publicly embraced the new American intelligence assessment stating that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons effort, but in truth the agency is taking a more cautious approach in drawing conclusions about Iran’s nuclear program.

    “To be frank, we are more skeptical,” a senior official close to the agency said. “We don’t buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran.”

    The official called the American assertion that Iran had “halted” its weapons program in 2003 “somewhat surprising.”

    That the nuclear watchdog agency based in Vienna is sounding a somewhat tougher line than the Bush administration is surprising, given that the administration has long criticized it for not pressuring Iran hard enough to curb its nuclear program.

    The Times editorial on the subject is called “Good and Bad News About Iran.” The good news first:

    President Bush has absolutely no excuse for going to war against Iran.

    Now the bad news:

    First, the report says “with high confidence” that Iran did have a secret nuclear weapons program and that it stopped only after it got caught and was threatened with international punishment. Even now, Tehran’s scientists are working to master the skills to make nuclear fuel — the hardest part of building a weapon.

    Anyone who wants to give the Iranians the full benefit of the doubt should read the last four years of reports from United Nations’ nuclear inspectors about Iran’s 18-year history of hiding and dissembling. Or last month’s report, which criticized Tehran for providing “diminishing” information and access to its current program. In one of those ironies that would be delicious if it didn’t involve nuclear weapons, an official close to the inspection agency told The Times yesterday that the new American assessment might be too generous to Iran.

    In other words, the bad news, per the Times, is that a lunatic theocracy may soon become a lunatic theocracy armed with nuclear weapons. The good news is that that there’s nothing President Bush can do to stop it.

    Blogger Richard Belzer has a genuinely optimistic take. News reports that focus on the political implications of the report, he argues, “miss two crucial risk assessment lessons one can infer from the unclassified summary”:

    1. The change in judgment is the result of new information recently obtained; it is claimed not to be a recalibration of judgment based on the same body of information that was available when the NIE on Iran was last updated in 2005.

    2. The Intelligence Community widely believes that this new information (whatever it is) is highly credible -so credible, in fact, that it overwhelms the IC’s prior consensus judgment based on all other information in the intelligence database.

    The first of these inferences seems to be a good thing, for it suggests that the Intelligence Community remains confident of its 2005 judgment based on the information that was available in 2005. That is, the IC has not been swayed by the pressures of competing risk management constituencies that want to either exaggerate or downplay the data in order to support alternative policy views.

    The second of these inferences is unambiguously good news. It is a fundamental principle of risk analysis that it is always a good thing when new, high-quality information reduces uncertainty. The reduction of uncertainty is the best reason for performing research in the first place; if research fails to reduce uncertainty, then it has little or no value for decision-making.

    But there’s a big caveat: “It is possible that the new information is not as powerful as the NIE suggests and that the existence of this new information is being used to change prior judgment without admitting so. Similarly, it is possible that the group dynamics within the IC have changed since 2005.”

    The Wall Street Journal reports in an editorial that “the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials,’ according to an intelligence source.” So it could be that when the media and Democratic politicians treat the NIE as a political document, that is exactly what its authors intended.

    Israeli intelligence is much less sanguine about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities, and in analyzing the reasons for the differences, the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz points to some other factors that can bias interpretations of ambiguous information:

    Both countries are also influenced by different political agendas. The Americans, for example, are still traumatized by the blatant intelligence failure vis-à-vis Iraq’s alleged WMD and, therefore, does not want to be caught crying wolf again. Israel, on the other hand, is traumatized by its failure to learn of Libya’s nuclear program before it was abandoned in a deal Col. Muammar Gaddafi struck with the US and UK.

    As a result of these traumas, both countries interpret the situation a little differently. Israel takes the more stringent track. As one defense official put it on Tuesday, “It is better to be safe than sorry.” However, in America, where there is an already-growing anti-war sentiment, the report is meant to send a message that the military option is, at least for now, off the table.

    (Israel might have known about Libya’s weapons before Katz says; a September 2002 Associated Press dispatch quotes then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as saying, “Libya may be the first [Arab] country with weapons of mass destruction.”)

    Page 5 of the NIE summary describes the terminology the intelligence community uses to indicate how much confidence it has in a finding:

  • High confidence generally indicates that our judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment. A “high confidence” judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.
  • Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.
  • Low confidence generally means that the information’s credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or that we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.

At this point, we’re inclined to give the NIE a “low confidence rating.”

Homer nods: Our item yesterday on this topic included a reference (since corrected) to “the Bush administration’s putatively aggressive approach to Iraq,” which of course should have read “. . . to Iran.” Such errors could be avoided if everyone would follow the New York Times’s lead vis-à-vis al Qaeda in Iraq and refer to the two countries as Mesopotamia and Persia.

Juggernaut or Jalopy?
Is Hillary Clinton inevitable? A series of media reports, as well as slip-ups by the erstwhile first lady herself, give ample reason to think she isn’t after all. Yesterday’s New York Times suggests Democrats in Middle America–a species once though near extinction–are panicked about the prospect of Mrs. Clinton as the nominee:

Some Democrats in Republican-leaning states and Congressional districts . . . fear that sharing the ticket with her could subject them to attack as too liberal and out of step with the values of their constituents.

Few incumbent Democrats face a greater challenge next year than [Rep. Nancy] Boyda, whose [Kansas] district delivered almost 60 percent of its votes to President Bush in 2004. . . .

While vulnerable Democrats like her are not likely to have an easy time even if Senator Barack Obama, John Edwards or any of the other Democratic presidential candidates wins the nomination, Republicans in Kansas say Mrs. Clinton’s presence on the ticket would unite their party in opposition to her and give dispirited conservatives a reason to get excited about the race.

While vulnerable Democrats like her are not likely to have an easy time even if Senator Barack Obama, John Edwards or any of the other Democratic presidential candidates wins the nomination, Republicans in Kansas say Mrs. Clinton’s presence on the ticket would unite their party in opposition to her and give dispirited conservatives a reason to get excited about the race.

Ms. Boyda is one of a group of House Democrats–including fellow freshmen like Zack Space of Ohio, Nick Lampson of Texas, Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana–who will be battling for re-election in Republican territory.

In the Senate, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana faces a similar challenge, and in an indication of what she and other Democrats, including Senators Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, could face, Republicans unveiled a Web commercial on Monday linking Ms. Landrieu directly to Mrs. Clinton. In the advertisement, Mrs. Clinton’s face morphs into Ms. Landrieu’s, and they are described as “two peas in a pod.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that Mrs. Clinton has been exaggerating her support in one key state:

[Mrs.] Clinton’s support from South Carolina’s black religious leaders may not be quite as extensive as her campaign suggests.

Clinton got a boost last week when she shared a South Carolina stage with dozens of supporters, accepting what organizers said were endorsements from nearly 90 ministers in the state. But an Associated Press review of an endorsement list supplied by the New York senator’s campaign found that some of the backers were affiliated with religious ministries and outreach groups rather than churches, some were wives of ministers, two were church elders and at least two were not members of the churches listed beside their names.

All told, about 50 different groups were represented, rather than more than 80 congregations as initially implied, the review found.

Then of course there’s the delicious story of her attack on Barack Obama for essays he supposedly wrote in kindergarten and third grade. As we noted yesterday, some readers have questioned whether kindergartners write essays. The answer seems to be: Well, sort of. One reader–who stipulates, “Please remove my name if you use this. Don’t want to come off as boastful”–says it’s highly unusual:

When I was in kindergarten (circa 1976) I wrote a three-sentence story for the teacher. We still have it, because the teacher gave it to my parents and told them it was the most amazing work she had ever seen. Trust me, it falls way short of an “essay.”

My son is now in kindergarten (also an elite, private school), and he reads children’s books pretty well. He is the only significant reader in the class. They rave about his advanced abilities–even bragged about his intelligence to a friend of mine who considered sending his daughter there. But my son has yet to write more than a sentence or two.

My question: Does the Clinton campaign really want to advertise that Barack was a boy-genius?

Reader David Schmitz, meanwhile, says there are essays and there are essays:

I have a couple of children who are now in first and third grades. They are very advanced in their reading levels–about the best in their classes. But I believe your readers might have a different concept of what an essay is all about in grade school.

Yes, children write “essays” in kindergarten. However, if I were to guess the essay in question was probably similar to this:

wen i grow up i want to be prezedent.

i want to mak peepul happy.

the prezidint can make peepul happy becuz peepul lissen to him.

There might have been pictures involved. Maybe it added up to a nice six-page essay booklet worth of material.

I did not see any direct quotes, only the teacher’s memory of it. I can see how one might remember a charming essay about being president so you can make people happy.

Now, the reason I made up a simulated kindergarten essay is this: How much sillier would Mrs. Clinton look criticizing Obama over something like the above example? If Obama can muster up that old essay and make it public, he would certainly embarrass Mrs. Clinton by really bringing your point home about picking on kindergartners!

USA Today reports (and YouTube has video) that Clinton aide Mark Penn has fallen back on the “It was only a joke!” defense–the one that worked so well for John Kerry the last time he slandered America’s troops. Reader Michael Garrett has an idea:

This raises new questions about Mrs. Clinton’s sense of humor. Maybe some of these were jokes as well:

  • “A vast right-wing conspiracy.”
  • “A five thousand dollar bond for every child.”
  • “Mysteriously appeared.”
  • “Following cattle futures in The Wall Street Journal.”
  • “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others . . .”

Mrs. Clinton can’t be happy that she’s turned into such an object of mockery. And yet this may all be helpful to her in the end. We’ve argued that one reason John Kerry lost in 2004 was that the media lulled him into overconfidence by failing to scrutinize his claims of being a “war hero.” Part of the reason this happened was unfortunate timing. As Mrs. Clinton is now discovering, the one time when Democratic-leaning reporters (no, wise guy, that’s not redudant–well, technically speaking, anyway) can raise serious questions about a Democratic candidate is when he is in a competitive primary race with other Democrats.

Kerry never really was in that situation. Until a few days before the Iowa caucuses, just about everyone (including this columnist) had written him off. By the time he won New Hampshire–if not immediately after Iowa–he was inevitable, and the liberal media closed ranks behind him. Mrs. Clinton probably still will be the nominee, and her brush with evitability may leave her better prepared for the rigors of a general election campaign than Kerry was.

Mown and Groan
One of the more dispiriting moments in last week’s CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate was an exchange between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney that followed Romney’s accusing Giuliani of having presided over a “sanctuary city” because of a policy against reporting illegal immigrants to the feds:

Giuliani: It’s unfortunate, but Mitt generally criticizes people in a situation in which he’s had far the–worst record. For example, in his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them.

There was even a sanctuary mansion. At his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed, not being turned into anybody or by anyone. . . .

Romney: Mayor, you know better than that. . . .

Giuliani: You did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn’t you?

Romney: No, I did not, so let’s just talk about that. Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor–because I think it is really kind of offensive actually to suggest, to say look, you know what, if you are a homeowner and you hire a company to come provide a service at your home–paint the home, put on the roof. If you hear someone that is working out there, not that you have employed, but that the company has.

If you hear someone with a funny accent, you, as a homeowner, are supposed to go out there and say, “I want to see your papers.” Is that what you’re suggesting?

It was a cheap shot on Giuliani’s part, but probably an effective one. It did succeed in putting Romney on the defensive. And the next day the Boston Globe paid a visit to Casa de Romney to pile on:

On Thursday, at least two illegal immigrants stepped out of a hulking maroon pickup truck in the driveway of Romney’s Belmont house, then proceeded to spend several hours raking leaves, clearing debris from Romney’s tennis court, and loading the refuse back on to the truck.

In fact, their work was part of a regular pattern. Despite a Globe story in Dec. 2006 that highlighted Romney’s use of illegal immigrants to tend to his lawn, Romney continued to employ the same landscaping company–until today. The landscaping company, in turn, continued to employ illegal immigrants.

Two of the workers confirmed in separate interviews with Globe reporters last week that they were in the country without documents. . . .

Later, the campaign issued a statement saying Romney had just learned–apparently from Globe reporters–of the company’s continued practice of employing illegal immigrants, and immediately fired it.

“After this same issue arose last year, I gave the company a second chance with very specific conditions,” Romney said in the statement. “They were instructed to make sure people working for the company were of legal status. We personally met with the company in order to inform them about the importance of this matter. The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward.

“The company’s failure to comply with the law is disappointing and inexcusable, and I believe it is important I take this action,” Romney said.

Three questions: If Romney doesn’t think policing the hiring practices of his lawn-maintenance company is his responsibility as a homeowner, why is he policing the hiring practices of his lawn-maintenance company?

Why would the workers tell a reporter that they are in the country illegally?

And when is some reporter going to schlep to Chappaqua, N.Y., to find out who does the Clintons’ lawn?

Da New York Timez
Today’s New York Times carries an obituary for Chad Butler, who “was found dead in a hotel room in West Hollywood, Calif., yesterday morning. . . . No cause was immediately announced.”

Who was Chad Butler? The headline of the Times obit actually uses his stage name: “Pimp C, Southern Hip-Hop Rapper, Dies at 33.” The obit is unwittingly hilarious, because the Times’s dignified writing style is so out of place in describing the subculture of gangsta rap:

Pimp C . . . formed [a group called] UGK with his partner, Bun B, in the late 1980s in Port Arthur, Tex. The group’s first nationally distributed album, “Too Hard to Swallow,” was released in 1992. The next year a song from the album was included on the soundtrack to the film “Menace II Society.” Called “Pocket Full of Stones,” it matched vivid lyrics about the crack-cocaine trade with a leisurely but tough-sounding beat that became the group’s trademark. . . .

The duo’s biggest moment came in 2000, when Jay-Z invited both rappers to contribute rhymes to “Big Pimpin’,” one of his biggest hits.

Pimp C’s entanglements with the law sometimes stymied UGK’s career.

“Entanglements with the law” is a Times euphemism for a prison sentence for aggravated assault (the obit doesn’t mention the circumstances, but apparently he brandished a gun during an argument with a woman at a shopping mall). The Times also reports that “in a much discussed piece for the Southern hip-hop magazine Ozone, he managed to offend the entire city of Atlanta; he later apologized.” The entire city of Atlanta could not be reached for comment.

Lord Halve Mercy
The Danville (Va.) Register & Bee has published one of the year’s strangest letters to the editor:

Religious intolerance of homosexuals is rife, no matter how it is masked, as in a minister’s recent letter to the editor. Having sung in a local church choir for years and my “closet” coming-out accepted by the entire congregation, I wonder if he would welcome me into his fold knowing that I am bisectional.


Did he really mean “bisectional,” or is he just being a cutup?

How About a Nice Hawaiian Punch?

  • “Islanders Seek Climate Summit Help”–headline, CNN.com, Dec. 4
  • “Islanders Still Thirst for Punch”–headline, New York Post, Dec. 4

We Blame Global Warming

  • “Ski Resorts Warmed by East’s First Big Snowfall”–headline, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, Dec. 4
  • “First Snow Prompts Schools to Close Early”–headline, WTOP-AM Web site (Washington), Dec. 5
  • “Snow Sets More Records in Grand Forks, Fargo”–healdine, Associated Press, Dec. 5
  • “Potland Ties 1890 Snow Record”–headline, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Dec. 4
  • “Coldest Winter in Years, Environment Canada Warns”–headline, CTV.ca, Nov. 30
  • “Record Home Foreclosures Cause Snow Removal Problems”–headline, KSTP-TV Web site (Minneapolis), Dec. 3

‘They’re Dumb as a . . .’
“Leahy Criticizes Vacant Posts”–headline, New York Times, Dec. 5

How Humiliating
“A stripper who dressed as a policeman in his act has been cleared of possessing offensive weapons.”–Daily Telegraph (London), Dec. 5

Will Mickey Rat?
“Court Sends Summons to Mickey Mouse”–headline, Associated Press, Dec. 4

What Would We Do Without Experts?
“Timing of Polls Matters in Politics: Experts”–headline, Reuters, Dec. 4

Breaking News From 1621
“Mayflower Flooding Effects Still Linger”–headline, Daily Iowan (University of Iowa), Dec. 5

News of the Tautological
“Former Mass. Governor Endorses Romney”–headline, Associated Press, Dec. 4

News You Can Use

Bottom Stories of the Day

  • “Stores See Usual Drop in Sales After Black Friday”–headline, MSNBC.com, Dec. 4
  • “Guantanamo Prisoner Cuts His Throat With Fingernail”–headline, New York Times, Dec. 5

Yankees vs. Indians
Yesterday we noted that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a minor-league baseball team from Pennsylvania, had changed the name of its mascot from PorkChop because local Pureto Ricans complained that this was a racial slur. A reader calls our attention to another minor-league mascot, whose name may be offensive to Indians–and that’s Indians as in Hindus, not Native Americans.

The Staten Island Yankees have a bovine trio of mascots, one of which is called Scooter the Holy Cow. This is a joke at the expense of Hinduism, which, as the PBS Web site notes, holds the cow to be “a holy animal that cannot be harmed”:

Although Hindus follow no single set of rules, reverence for cows can be found throughout the religion’s major texts. Some trace the cow’s sacred status back to Lord Krishna, one of the faith’s most important figures. He is said to have appeared 5,000 years ago as a cowherd, and is often described as bala-gopala, “the child who protects the cows.” Another of Krishna’s holy names, Govinda, means “one who brings satisfaction to the cows.” Other scriptures identify the cow as the “mother” of all civilization, its milk nurturing the population.

Tellingly, the Staten Island Yanks’ other mascots are called Huck and Red, names with no religious connotations that we can think of. They seem to think it’s just fine to mock Hinduism, but would they ever dare name a mascot Christ Our Lamb or Moo-hammad?

(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Michael Segal, Scott Wright, Monty Krieger, Joel Fine, Gary Pomeroy, Jim Orheim, Paul Dyck, Michael Garrett, Philip Ellison, Henry Mitchell, Sid Knowles, David Cincotta, Michael Smith, John Williamson, John Nernoff, Lionel Dyck, Pat Rowe, Bill Kelly, John Behrens, Brian Pleshek, William Malarkey, Alan Utter, Bruce Goldman, Joseph Abdy, Jay Holland, Mordecai Bobrowsky, Pete Yabro, Joseph Everard, Robert Gessner and Andrew Morton. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

URL for this article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110010948

Today on OpinionJournal:

  • Review & Outlook: “High confidence” games: The CIA’s flip-flop on Iran is hardly reassuring.
  • Holman Jenkins: What if everyone believes in global warmism only because everyone believes in global warmism?
  • Keith Burgess-Jackson (from TCSDaily.com): Why the subject of torture provokes so much yelling and so little argumentation.


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