Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday Mashup (7/20/11)

  • I honestly have been trying to avoid the whole Rupert Murdoch hacking scandal since it’s being covered pretty responsibly elsewhere, but I simply must comment on this unintentionally hilarious (in a darkly humorous vein) Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal today by Holman Jenkins, Jr. Basically, Jenkins’ premise is that the scandal reveals a “British Watergate” (yep, I suppose it was inevitable that that would be invoked at some point) in the “Scotland Yard corruption” sense.

    Oh, and did you know that, because of the scandal, “As Nixon did, the News of the World leaves the world a better place”?

    Yep, we are truly through the looking glass here, people…
    …Three names to keep in mind are Jonathan Rees, Steve Whittamore and Glenn Mulcaire, all private investigators long accused of having made a living selling illegally obtained information to the press.

    Rees was the subject of a 1999 police investigation, described in a detailed 2002 Guardian newspaper report. An official police summary was quoted as saying the Rees network of informants' "thirst for knowledge is driven by profit to be accrued from the media."

    Whittamore's files were seized in a 2003 raid by Britain's Information Commissioner, becoming the basis for his 2006 report on "The Unlawful Trade in Confidential Personal Information." So undeafening was the response, the commissioner followed up six months later by releasing a list of 31 publications "positively identified" as trafficking with Whittamore. Top of the list, 58 reporters or editors of the Daily Mail ordered up 952 information requests. News of the World, the now-closed tabloid owned by the Journal's parent, was fifth on the roster, with 19 employees in 152 transactions.

    Finally, Mulcaire. A former British pro football player, he was jailed in 2007, along with a News of the World reporter, for hacking phones of the royal household. His files, 11,000 of them, have been in the possession of Scotland Yard since 2006. The top police resignations that rocked the British Isles last week stem directly from Scotland Yard's uninterest in acting on this evidence.
    In response about Rees, this tells us that he was paid 150,000 pounds a year by the News of the World to dig up dirt as recently as 2008. Which begs the question, why was News of the World continuing this thoroughly odious practice if they actually cared about the illegality?

    And in April 2005, the News of the World was identified in open court as a private customer of the private investigator Steven Whittamore when he pleaded guilty to paying a civilian police worker to illegally obtain confidential information from a police national computer (Jenkins cites the 2003 bust by Britain’s Information Commissioner, though the illegal activity here, as with Rees, continued unabated afterwards).

    Next is Mulcaire, and even though he was jailed in 2007 for hacking, why did Murdoch keep paying him until recently (here)?

    And here is an example of Mulcaire’s handiwork…
    …with the help of its own full-time private investigator (Mulcaire), the News of the World started illegally intercepting mobile phone messages. Scotland Yard is now investigating evidence that the paper hacked directly into the voicemail of the (missing British schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s) own phone. As her friends and parents called and left messages imploring Milly to get in touch with them, the News of the World was listening and recording their every private word.

    But the journalists at the News of the World then encountered a problem. Milly's voicemail box filled up and would accept no more messages. Apparently thirsty for more information from more voicemails, the paper intervened – and deleted the messages that had been left in the first few days after her disappearance. According to one source, this had a devastating effect: when her friends and family called again and discovered that her voicemail had been cleared, they concluded that this must have been done by Milly herself and, therefore, that she must still be alive. But she was not. The interference created false hope and extra agony for those who were misled by it.

    The Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper's own intervention. Sally Dowler told the paper: "If Milly walked through the door, I don't think we'd be able to speak. We'd just weep tears of joy and give her a great big hug."

    The deletion of the messages also caused difficulties for the police by confusing the picture when they had few leads to pursue. It also potentially destroyed valuable evidence.
    Yes, the whole hacking scandal is making a lot of people look bad besides Murdoch, and they should face the proverbial music as well. But to imply that Murdoch was somehow responsible for exposing institutional police corruption and thus heroic in any way, shape, or form isn’t merely delusional, it is actually nauseating.

  • Returning to our shores, this bit of fluff at The Daily Tucker tells us the following…
    It is not a partisan issue to support photo voter ID laws. Former President Jimmy Carter, the co-chair of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, has urged lawmakers to support voter ID laws “that make it easy to vote but tough to cheat.” In the Supreme Court decision that upheld Indiana’s photo voter ID statute, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that “not only is the risk of voter fraud real but … it could affect the outcome of a close election.”

    Melanie Sloan and CREW have, yet again, weighed into a partisan debate, adding their voices to that of the national Democratic Party apparatus. (The Republican National Lawyers Association, which supports voter ID laws of course) is a political organization — and so is CREW, which should not continue to enjoy its 501(c)(3) tax status. Sloan is a Democratic operative and CREW is nothing more than a puppet of the DNC masquerading as a non-partisan organization. The IRS should take notice.
    Oh, and have you guessed that CREW quite rightly opposes voter ID (and I don’t think the Indiana ruling by Stevens was one of his finest moments by any means)? And with all due respect to President Carter, I think he’s trying to find a remedy in search of a problem, as they say, also (here).

    When someone presents to me a case of a ballot falsified by an actual voter at a polling station that ended up being entered into a vote count that affected an outcome, then I’ll take this supposed issue seriously. However, I’m a lot more concerned about the integrity of votes after they’re cast than before (though I'm highly concerned about the Repugs and their "voter caging" schemes also...and here is more anti-CREW propaganda).

    And if CREW is supposed to be doing the bidding of the Democratic Party, then please explain this.

  • Continuing, this story appeared in the New York Times today…
    WASHINGTON — Pakistan’s military, including its powerful spy agency, has spent $4 million over two decades in a covert attempt to tilt American policy against India’s control of much of Kashmir — including funneling campaign donations to members of Congress and presidential candidates, the F.B.I. claimed in court papers unsealed Tuesday.

    The allegations of a long-running plan to influence American elections and foreign policy come at a time of deep tensions between the United States and Pakistan — and in particular its spy agency — amid the fallout over the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound deep inside Pakistan on May 2.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation made the allegations in a 43-page affidavit filed in connection with the indictment of two United States citizens on charges that they failed to register with the Justice Department as agents of Pakistan, as required by law. One of the men, Zaheer Ahmad, is in Pakistan, but the other, Syed Fai, lives in Virginia and was arrested on Tuesday.

    Mr. Fai is the director of the Kashmiri American Council, a Washington-based group that lobbies for and holds conferences and media events to promote the cause of self-determination for Kashmir. According to the affidavit, the activities by the group, also called the Kashmiri Center, are largely financed by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, along with as much as $100,000 a year in related donations to political campaigns in the United States. Foreign governments are prohibited from making donations to American political candidates.

    “Mr. Fai is accused of a decades-long scheme with one purpose — to hide Pakistan’s involvement behind his efforts to influence the U.S. government’s position on Kashmir,” Neil MacBride, the United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, said. “His handlers in Pakistan allegedly funneled millions through the Kashmir Center to contribute to U.S. elected officials, fund high-profile conferences and pay for other efforts that promoted the Kashmiri cause to decision-makers in Washington.”
    And do you want to know who one of the beneficiaries was of the allegedly funneled funds?

    Why, none other than Pancake Joe Pitts himself (as well as Dan “Let’s Shoot The Vince Foster Pumpkin” Burton – here, #7).

    Oh, but not to worry; the story tells us that Pitts donated the $4 grand he received “to local charities in Pennsylvania on Tuesday” (good luck finding those charities or any mention of this story at Pitts’ web site).

    And it should be noted that, if Syed Fai had had the wherewithal to donate through the “U.S.” Chamber of Commerce instead, no one would have known a thing.

  • Finally, this story tells the following…
    Before he was named on Tuesday to lead the prominent but troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia (taking over for Justin Cardinal Rigali), Archbishop Charles J. Chaput spent the last 14 years in Denver establishing himself as one of the nation’s most prominent advocates of a politically engaged and conservative Catholicism.
    Yep, and here are the two “takeaways” for me from this story…
    He is among a minority of Roman Catholic bishops who have spoken in favor of denying communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. He helped defeat legislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in Colorado. And he condemned the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, for granting President Obama an honorary degree in 2009 because of his stance on abortion.
    Advocates for sexual abuse victims, however, bristle at the characterization of Archbishop Chaput as a reformer. They point out that he fought hard against legislation in Colorado that would have extended the statute of limitations for people who say they were sexually abused to sue the church.
    And I suppose it’s OK to be “politically engaged” in the Catholic Church of Pope Benny as long as your name isn’t, say, Robert Drinan.

    Seriously, though, could we have expected anything different from Rome than someone like Chaput?

    In the meantime, I’ll watch to see if those pews start filling up a little more on Sundays.

  • Update 7/29/11: Good question for Rigali and Chaput here...

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