April 25, 2005
"Novak lied" theory apparently gathering strength
For some time, the big mystery in the Novak-Plame-gate scandal has been why douchebag of liberty Robert Novak has not been forced to reveal his source. Novak, as you'll recall, is the heroic journalist who first publicly disclosed Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative in order to further a Bush administration vendetta against Plame's husband. Yet it is not even clear whether Novak has actually spoken to investigators (although most observers think he has), while reporters Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller (who had the same info but who either wrote about it later (Cooper) or didn't write about it at all (Miller)) are now facing jail time for refusing to name the leaker unless the Supreme Court bails them out.
One possible explanation, which I floated here a few months back, goes roughly like this: Novak testified voluntarily about his source; he lied; the special prosecutor knows he lied; and therefore the special prosecutor needs Miller and Cooper's testimony to nail Novak for perjury as well as to accurately assess whether he can file criminal charges against the real leaker. I still haven't seen any other theory that successfully explains why the prosecutor is so desperate for Miller's and Cooper's testimony while simultaneously not seeming to care much about Novak. And let us remember that a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the special prosecutor had made a sufficient showing to overcome any privilege that the reporters might have the right to invoke - clearly, the prosecutor convinced the court that he isn't just pursuing these reporters for the sake of being nasty.
Now, according to the excellent reporting of Murray Waas (for whom well-placed sources in the Plame affair seem to sing like little birdies), the "Novak lied" theory seems to be gaining traction. Waas says that "federal investigators have for some time believed that columnist Novak has very likely lied to shield his sources from potential criminal culpability." Waas also reports that there was, indeed, a campaign within the Bush administration to discredit Plame's husband, and that the Plame leak was part of it. Fascinating. Waas's new blog has quickly become a must-read for those interested in what's really going on in this story.
I really, really hope that Miller and Cooper choose to testify rather than go to jail to protect their sources (although they've stated publicly that they won't). Simply put, this is a stupid case for them to martyr themselves on principle. The source that they are protecting is not worthy of protection - whether or not the leak was technically illegal, it was a profoundly unpatriotic act. The leaker did not disclose any information that furthers the public interest (in Judge Tatel's words (see p. 40 of his opinion), the leak "lacked significant news value"), but did manage to undermine America's ability to defend itself against terrorists. Nice work, jerk. Miller and Cooper may misguidedly believe that their going to jail protects America. It doesn't. It protects a leaker who did a really bad thing and should be punished for it (at least by losing his or her job), and it protects Bob Novak. Why they want to rot in jail for folks like that is beyond me.
UPDATE: Susan Gardner, an excellent diarist at Kos, has this interesting interview with Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame's husband, which is in part a response to Waas's story.
April 24, 2005
Boston: We're just a pathetic backwater now.
This ... thing ... in the NY Times today was flat-out garbage. "Boston's inferiority complex"? Because we lost a magazine? Riiiight. Not since October, baby.
And besides, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government (full disclosure: my wife is a grad) provides a sort of shadow government, anyway. The hacks always make it back up here. Hell, we got Larry Summers! Cool, huh?
April 22, 2005
A bad transit day on Earth Day
I waited 45 minutes for a #1 bus in the middle of the day today. Not cool. Then, of course, three line up right behind one another. Not a shiny happy people crowd on that first bus, let me tell you. Maybe it was the blizzard, I don't know.
There has simply got to be a better way of keeping track of buses. MBTA should have GPS tracking of all buses. And they should be able to run express, pass one another, and so forth. And the Charlie card (great name, wrong spelling) can't come soon enough -- it takes an absurd amount of time to get people on and off the bus. And all the traffic lights should be timed properly.
Today is Earth Day. I take public transit because 1. It's usually faster than walking, 2. I don't have to park, 3. I don't like to drive in Boston more than I have to, 4. I don't create the pollution that I would if I drove.
Regarding #4: Yes, that actually matters to me. That doesn't make me some weirdo hippie. It means I'm sentient, and have some idea what kinds of choices affect the environment. Like a fair number of people, I've organized my life around trying to be a decent (though decidedly not perfect) environmental citizen. That has less to do with my personal sense of virtue (pace Dick Cheney), and everything to do with an awareness the real effects that personal decisions, taken in the aggregate, have on the world at large.
It would behoove the powers that be to make such decisions easier for people, by fully supporting and vigorously overseeing public transit. Our public transit should be efficient, smart, innovative, wide-ranging, effective and affordable. Why should we settle for what we get now? I refuse to believe Newt Gingrich's despair in public institutions: that government can't get anything right, and therefore we shouldn't bother expecting anything from it. Nonsense. The politicians work for us, our institutions work for them, and I shouldn't have to wait 45 minutes for a bus. Period.
If we want to revive the environmental movement in the US, we could stand to hold our institutions to high standards. Environmentalists need to cluster their issues and look for ways to gain the cooperation of folks who have concurrent interests. Michael Shellenberger, co-author of the essay "The Death of Environmentalism," mentions in this story that environmentalists have concentrated on "their issues" at the expense of engaging the public about issues great and small. Well, I've got a partnership idea for the Sierra Club, et al: For starters, they should insist on public transit getting people to work on time.
I am a public transit voter. Hear me roar.
April 21, 2005
From BlogBeat via the Fray comes this breaking news. No sooner did the white smoke start wafting up from the Vatican than the brewers of Pope Benedict XVI's hometown in Bavaria set to work. And now, God be praised, we have:
We trust that Americans will give Papstbier a hearty welcome when it becomes available over here.
Breathe in the sweet smell...
... of idling traffic:
Poorly maintained and badly timed traffic signals are needlessly compounding gridlock and air pollution in American cities, according to a new national report...
The report, issued by a coalition of transportation agencies including the Federal Highway Administration, blames bad light timing for as much as 10 percent of all traffic delays nationally.
That adds up to about 50 wasted hours a year for people who drive two hours a day, according to the National Traffic Signal Report Card.
This is obvious to anyone who drives on Mass. Ave in Cambridge or Boston, Broadway in Cambridge, etc. etc. etc. As if driving around the maze of Boston streets weren't bad enough, you are thwarted by haphazardly timed lights. And we all have to breathe it in. It affects work productivity, too, in terms of timeliness.
It's an environmental issue, and a quality of life issue. It's also not brain surgery, just a matter of some decent civil engineering. (Ack, maybe that is too much to ask.)
(It's amazing how much the little things matter to the environment: California is now considering actions to encourage folks to use fully inflated tires, which would save immense amounts of pollution and $.)
April 20, 2005
Civil unions become law in Connecticut
Connecticut's Republican Governor, Jodi Rell, has signed a civil unions bill that guarantees full marriage-like rights for gay couples, while defining "marriage" as between a man and a woman. I think that this link gives a summary of the bill as finally enacted into law, and that this link is the bill itself. It's always hard to be sure with legislative websites that you've got the most up-to-date version, so I apologize if I linked to an incorrect version.
As I've noted before, I think that this is tremendously important news, because Connecticut is the first state to have granted full marriage-like benefits to gay couples without a court telling it to. Some will complain that the bill writes discrimination into law by defining marriage as between a man and a woman. My own preference would be that the bill not contain that language. But really, given the choice of full marriage benefits under a different name voluntarily adopted by the legislature and signed by the Governor, or nothing, isn't the former the right choice? In this case, the people's elected representatives have spoken, and they have spoken loudly and well.
Novak-Plame-gate reporters head to the Supremes
Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, the reporters facing jail time for their refusal disclose confidential sources in the Valerie Plame affair, have lost their bid for en banc review in the D.C. Circuit. The Court's order, with a concurring statement by Judge Tatel, is here. No judge wrote a dissenting opinion (which of course does not mean that no judge dissented).
The next and last stop, of course, is the Supreme Court - although the immediate question is whether Miller and Cooper will be successful in obtaining yet another stay of the District Court's contempt order, or whether they will instead have to head to the hoosegow while the Supremes consider their case. Editor & Publisher has some interesting comments from lawyers and others involved in the case.
So: will four Justices vote to grant certiorari in this case? Tough call. It does not seem terribly likely to me that the First Amendment issue is important enough, unless the Court is seriously considering overruling Branzburg v. Hayes outright - IMHO, the Branzburgian system we have now (whereby prosecutors sorta have to prove that they've exhausted all other leads before going after reporters) generally works pretty well, although it can go awry in individual cases (like any flexible standard). An absolute privilege would, in my view, be a mistake, and I doubt a majority of the Court would go that route. And the existence or non-existence of a "federal common law" privilege is important, but the problem there is that, as Judge Tatel's concurrence in the denial of en banc review points out, the issue was not squarely decided in the D.C. Circuit's original opinion. The narrowest of the four (!) opinions in the original case, Judge Henderson's, simply concluded that any privilege that might exist was qualified (rather than absolute), and any qualified privilege would have been overcome by the special prosecutor's showing in this case. So the D.C. Circuit really didn't decide the issue, and the Supremes usually don't like to decide issues that were passed on by the court below (of course, there are exceptions). So my guess: cert. denied. We'll see if they prove me wrong.
Sen. Kennedy reaches out to the netroots
It was pretty cool, really. There were Charley on the MTA and I, your humble Blue Mass. Groupers, on a conference call with about eight other blogger types (including real fancy ones like MyDD's Chris Bowers, Mr. Liberal Oasis, and Mr. Daou report). And then on comes Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) himself! Kennedy spoke for about ten minutes on what he sees as the Republicans' abuse of power in the Senate, total lack of accountability, and general arrogance, focusing in particular on the nucular option. Then he took about twenty minutes of questions from us. Charley and I are comparing notes and will try to get a more detailed summary of the call up shortly.
Part of the reason for reaching out to the netroots is that Senator Kennedy's office has set up a new website called TedKennedy.com. Kennedy hopes to use the site (which includes a blog) as, among other things, the internet clearinghouse for opposition to Bush's more extreme judicial nominations - at present, the site features a petition to oppose anti-environmentalist, tool-of-corporate-interests, and no-relevant-experience nominee William Myers (who has been nominated for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals). If you, like me, are still on John Kerry's email list, you probably just got an email urging you to sign the petition at the TedKennedy website.
After the conference call ended, I emailed this follow-up question:
One risk that I can see is that the public will perceive the filibuster rule as "inside baseball," and they will perceive shutting down the Senate as an overreaction, like Gingrich shutting down the government a decade ago. So there is a risk of backlash against the Democrats - the "party of obstruction," etc. Is there a Democratic strategy to explain to the public why the filibuster is important enough to risk bringing the Senate's business to a halt?
Senator Kennedy responded as follows:
It is possible the message has not come across as clear as it should. The truth of the matter is that Republicans will have shut down the Senate. If they move forward with the nuclear option, they will have breached the basic premise that the Senate was established with. They will have violated the trust of Americans by rewriting the rules to fit their current needs – and if Republicans continue that way, it will lead to the shutting down of the Senate.
Sounds to me like the Dems are serious. Good. Give 'em hell, Ted.
More candidates for Shannon's seat; election may not be until late summer
The Somerville News is reporting that Somerville Alderman Sean O'Donovan and Sean Fitzgerald, Sen. Shannon's chief of staff, are both in the race to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Shannon's death. The same News story reports that state Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford) will not run. The two Seans join already-declared candidate Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) in what looks certain to be a very crowded field.
The News also quotes an anonymous Beacon Hill source as saying that the dates for the special election to fill the seat will likely be August 30 for the primary and September 27 for the general election, although another source apparently said that the elections might be sooner.
Did Someone Ask for a Subway?
HONG KONG – There have in the past been occasional murmers of complaint about the quality of service on our MBTA. Those looking for models for improvement should consider the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway:
Corporate Organization. The government paid for the initial construction of the system in 1972. After it became fully operational, the company was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2000. The business has a 50-year exclusive franchise on operation of rail mass transit in Hong Kong. Its principle activities are transit, real estate development connected with its stations, and operation of its smart card payments system. The government owns about 76% of the company. The MTR made a profit of over US$500 million in 2004.
Fares. Fares vary depending on the distance traveled and range in price from US$0.50 to about $1.75. All payments are made using electronic fare cards. The wireless "Octopus" payments card technology allows debiting from a stored value card simply by waving the card over a reader. The card does not need to be removed from a purse or wallet. Numerous local businesses, from Starbucks to the separate bus company, have adopted this convenient payments technology, which provides revenue to the MTR.
Service. Over 2.5 million people use the system each weekday. Travel times are extremely reliable and can be calculated in advance.
Cleanliness. The stations and trains are spotless. Automatic
climate control doorways separate train tunnels from platforms; this
increases safety, and allows stations to be more efficiently heated and
Displays. Electronic displays in every carriage show the direction of travel and progress of the train from station to station.
Mobile telephones. Work throughout the system.