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Archive for October, 2007

October 31st 2007

Greenie Insanity And The Santiago Fire

Rick Moran at Right Wing Nuthouse, who’s opinions I value, has called me a idiot. I’m not sure if I still value his opinions quite as much …

Here’s what he said, writing of the rush to score political points as the SoCal wildfires burned:

It didn’t used to be like this. No one would have dreamed of trying to politicize tragedy prior to the presidency of George Bush. But we’re in a different political ballgame now with no boundaries and few rules to live by. So we can expect this kind of idiocy from both sides from now on.

Mea culpa. I did work to score a political point or two by (very gingerly) comparing the situation faced by the Superdome evacuees to the experience of the evacuees at Qualcomm. Says Moran of that:

First of all, anyone who tries to draw parallels between a Hurricane and a fire is an idiot.

There’s that “idiot” word again. But there were differences between Qualcomm and Superdome that cannot be explained by the differences between a hurricane and a firestorm, which I admitted were profound.

And it’s not about rich or poor, or the width of streets or the availability of transportation. It’s about an effective local government in San Diego, and how sharply that contrasted with a seriously dysfunctional (and since re-elected!) local government in New Orleans. (To his credit, Moran also make this point.)

Ray Nagin’s re-election stands as the most racist political act in this country in all the years since the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Moran took a shot or two at folks who harped on the enviros during the current fire, saying it was too early to cast those stones. I haven’t thrown those stones … yet … even though you can attribute at least some of the blame for the recent ferocity of fires on them.

Now, here comes the end of “not yet;” here come the stones.

It turns out, enshrined bureaucratic environmentalism did play a role in making the fire that threatened our home harder to fight. My friend Jim eagle-eyed this, way down in an OC Register story today:

Concerns over contaminated water supplies due to runoff from an abandoned silver mine kept helicopters from dropping water on flames along the top ridge along the northeast corner of the blaze.

Regulation run amok! Bureaucrats gone wild!

Because there is an old silver mine up on Saddleback Mountain, one can assume, can’t we, that silver is a naturally occurring element in our local environment?

And if the water were to be dropped, it would land on ground that was parched bone-dry — because that’s why we’re having a fire, right?

And if the soil is bone dry, what water that isn’t evaporated by the flames and happens to pick up a silver atom or two will be sucked up by the now-bare soil, right?

So if the ridiculously tiny counts of silver are back in the soil, aren’t they right back where they came from?

And if it rains like cats and dogs (Puhleeze God!) soon, and all that soil washes down the mountain, won’t it be diluted by cat-and-dog volumes of water, until it’s so diluted you could barely measure it?

In case you’re confused, the answer to all those questions is “YES!” In the face of towering flames, bureaucratic idiots (to borrow a term from Moran) are enforcing regulations about parts per trillion instead of facing realities about burning homes in the hundreds (well, not here at least, thank God, but it’s a nice turn of phrase).

So, dear bureaucrat, how many more tons of greenhouse gases were belched into the atmosphere because you denied the helicopters their water? And, in case you forgot that there are real human beings involved here, how many more hours will firefighters be placed at risk — all because you’re worried about concentrations of silver that are surely smaller than what Incredible Wife picks up through her skin when she slips on a silver bracelet?

So, Rick, all apologies, but I’m not waiting another moment. All barrels blazing here!

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October 31st 2007

When Americans Run Loose In Iraq

Amidst all the rancorous squabbling brought to us courtesy of the anti-war Dems, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that our only hope to avoid a long-running war against radical Islam is to jerk the Gap nations like Iraq and Somalia out of their economic and human rights misery and welcome them to the enlightened world of the Core nations.

Fortunately, Americans on the ground in Iraq don’t have to be reminded of this mission, as reported today by Nathan Ritzo in the Union Leader:

The best thing about my job on the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team is seeing ideas become reality and make a positive impact. It’s rewarding to visit places that have benefited from the ideas and hard work of American service members and civilians in Iraq and to see Iraqis adapt to their situation the Americans’ example of dedication to national unity against the forces of terrorism and tyranny.

The reconciliation of Sunnis and Shi’ites across Iraq in a national movement to reject al-Qaeda is an example of this and was made possible by the troop surge. The reconciliation movement is evident in an area north of Baghdad called Taji. Tom Burke, the team leader for the Taji Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team, or EPRT, calls this reconciliation the “Taji Awakening.”

“(The Taji Awakening) involves all the sheiks (in Taji), both Sunni and Shi’a. Over the period of four weeks now, it has gathered momentum,” Burke said. “The movement here has become dynamic.”

He said that the largest gathering of Sunni and Shi’a sheiks in Iraq occurred on Aug. 20 in the Taji area and that the terrorist forces in the area are now “on the run” because of the sectarian reconciliation. As a result, the overall quality of life in rural North Baghdad Province has improved, with marketplaces “flourishing” and critical infrastructure needs being met, according to Burke.

Did this happen because Sunni and Shi’a in the Taji area just decided one day to drop their age-old relationships with each other and try something new. No, of course not. It happened because we toppled Saddam Hussein and have occupied Iraq in order to teach them a better way:

Col. Mike Bridges, who heads up the governance section of the EPRT, concurs with Burke that progress has been made, but specifies that the reconciliation starts at the local level. “It really did start with our brigade commander’s philosophy in engaging the senior tribal sheiks,” said Bridges. He added that the brigade commander tired of his soldiers getting hurt and of good local people being terrorized when they tried to make changes in their community. The changes in Taji began with a simple outreach program using fliers to promote the idea of Iraqi national unity against terrorism with the support of Americans.

There you go. One man, one American, making a difference, turning back centuries of habitual hatred and distrust by introducing the American principles of a free press and freedom of speech. A few fliers, a few conversations, and it’s U.S. in and al-Qaeda out.

President Bush’s adaptation of the Perturbance Princple laid out by Thomas Barnett and others can still turn out to be the crowning glory of his presidency … if we are allowed to keep perturbing the powers that be in the Middle East. It is America’s destiny to be the country that pokes world leaders in the eye with the branch of the tree of freedom, and Iraq is increasingly our evidence that this approach will work.

Photo: This Jan. 2006 photo shows Lt. Col. John Cross, the commander of 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, greeting locals when the Army installed a new irrigation pump for a village in the Taji region — a nice, positive little act of perturbance.

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October 31st 2007

"America’s Sheriff" Indicted

I first met OC Sheriff Mike Carona a day or two after he was elected — and by all reports (except his), he was already corrupted by then.

If you believe the federal indictment unsealed yesterday — drawn largely from the testimony against him of his two closest supporters, who ratted him out on their own plea deals — even on that day, this smiling, warm future “America’s Sheriff” was fully corrupted, sunk in a conspiracy to use his new office to accumulate illegal wealth and intoxicating power.

And it wasn’t just Carona. It was also his senior aides, his wife … and his long-time mistress! Carona always positioned himself as a strong Christian, but apparently not that strong:

In an indictment unsealed today, federal investigators charged the county’s top lawman with seven felony counts for using his elected office to “enrich” himself and offer “favors to friends who paid bribes.” Carona illegally accepted money, high-priced gifts, tickets to exclusive sporting events and loans for his wife and for his “longtime mistress,” the indictment said.

Debbie Carona, along with Debra Hoffman, a Newport Beach attorney and investor identified in the indictment as Carona’s mistress, were also charged along with the sheriff. All three face conspiracy counts while Hoffman faces additional charges that she aided Carona and also committed bankruptcy fraud.

Carona, 52, also faces two counts of witness tampering, allegedly for attempting to persuade a former assistant sheriff to lie to the federal grand jury. (OC Register)

He didn’t seem like that kind of person back when I met him. He had a gentle disposition, but it was evident there was a lot of strength behind it. He seemed very centered and straightforward, even humble.

I recall him saying that while he was sheriff, crime would drop dramatically in OC … but he would have little or nothing to do with it. He went on to explain how demographic trends guaranteed that crime would drop because the last population peak had either weaned itself from crime or was in prison, and the next population peak was still in elementary school. “I’m just lucky enough to be sheriff at a time when the population of 17 to 25 year-olds will be relatively low,” he said.

I thought, “How refreshing — a politician that’s not taking credit that’s not due.”

Several years later, I reminded him of this conversation and he laughed, surprised that I remembered it so well. And once again, he gave the credit to demographics, because his prediction had turned out to be correct.

Among the most sordid of Carona’s inside circle was Don Haidl — you may remember that last name even if you live far from here — who was Carona’s money man, as summarized here by the Daily Pilot:

Corona del Mar businessman Don Haidl provided thousands of dollars in illegal payments to Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona in exchange for an assistant sheriff job and special treatment for his family and friends, according to an indictment unsealed on Tuesday.

The indictment of Carona — filed in October 2005 in United States District Court — alleges that Haidl repeatedly made payments to Carona that the sheriff failed to declare, made additional payments to a woman identified as Carona’s mistress, and rewarded Carona for his support by placing him on a previously nonexistent board of directors for a company owned by Haidl’s uncle.

That bit about “special treatment for his family” came in handy when Don Haidl’s son Greg was among a group of young men charged with drugging and gang-raping a 16 year old girl. Here’s the OC Weekly’s Haidl Gang Rape Archive for anyone who’s interested.) The case banged around forever before the three assailants finally got convicted in March 2005, and there was plenty of opportunity to point fingers at the Sheriff’s office for being less than aggressive.

I agreed. By then I’d seen enough of old school cronyism from Carona. His glory days, when he performed magnificently during the nationally covered, and ultimately tragic, search for Samantha Runion, were far behind him even then.

Today, he says he will be exonerated. Perhaps. But not in the eyes of the people who elected a guy we thought was straight — but even then wasn’t.

If you want to follow this story in a juicy way, well-written way, I suggest you set up a feed for Frank Mickadeit’s column in the OC Register. Frank’s a long-time acquaintance and Coto neighbor, and has a wicked pen. Here’s his lead today, that captures my feelings exactly:

The most shocking part of the indictment against Sheriff Mike Carona is just how well-planned the feds say the conspiracy was. If you believe the charges, what the sheriff did could never be mistaken for mere technical violations of campaign-finance law.

The overall sense I get from the indictment is that this was no case of a politician becoming arrogant with power over a period of years in office and gradually acquiring a sense of entitlement. That’s commonplace. These charges, however, emanate from alleged activities dating back to before Carona even took office.

Photo: OC Register

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October 31st 2007

Wednesday Reading

It looks like there’s some good reading in store for us this week, as Watcher’s posting of the Watcher’s Council nominees covers a range of topics by a bevy of exceptional observers. Here you go; enjoy; winners posted here Friday!

Council links:

  1. The Artificial Honkey
    Done With Mirrors
  2. Comparisons Are Odious
    The Glittering Eye
  3. Apologists
    Soccer Dad
  4. American Schools Avoid Responsibility At Levels Both Large and Small
    Bookworm Room
  5. Of Stonewalling and Blackwater
    Cheat Seeking Missiles
  6. A Matter of Death
    Rhymes With Right
  7. Mucking About With Mukasey
    Big Lizards
  8. Why Hate Crimes Are a Joke Part 5783, and Why the University of Delaware Digs ‘em
    The Colossus of Rhodey
  9. When Kids Grow Up Too Fast: The Maine Story
    The Education Wonks
  10. Syria’s Assad Caught With His Hands in the Nuclear Cookie Jar
    Joshuapundit
  11. The Race to Politicize Tragedy
    Right Wing Nut House
  12. The Iraq War — Coming To a Theater Near You
    ‘Okie’ on the Lam

Non-council links:

  1. Where Do You Stand in the New Culture Wars?
    Times Online
  2. The U.S. Media’s Admiration of Chancellor Merkel Is Suddenly Over
    The Moderate Voice
  3. The Unbearable Lightness of Optimism
    Simply Jews
  4. I’m Sorry… Was That Supposed To Be Journalism?
    Confederate Yankee
  5. Flag-folding Recitations Now Banned At National Cemeteries
    Flopping Aces
  6. Nevermind Alcohol, Is Living In Canada Haram?
    Kafir Canada
  7. Impossible to Take Seriously
    Power Line
  8. The Inscrutable Angst of Little Round Headed Kids
    By Benjamin Kerstein
  9. We Built This City On Pork and Bull
    Captain’s Quarters
  10. What’s Wrong with America?
    National Review Online
  11. Is This the State of Academics Today?
    The QandO Blog
  12. Stifling My Radical Libertarian Conservative Goldwater Liberalism
    Classical Values
  13. Helping the World Out of Its Misery
    Dr. Sanity
  14. Farewell Israel?
    Dodgeblogium
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October 30th 2007

Iraq Troop Deaths Down, But Not To Zero

AP reports this morning that U.S. military fatalities have dropped dramatically … but not to zero, as I previously posted.

The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 34 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend.

It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004, according to an Associated Press count based on military figures.

That would be the second consecutive drop in monthly figures, after 65 Americans died in September and 84 in August. …

By way of explanation, I heard a mention of 14 days without a combat fatality on a Fox News Radio program, and a couple days latter went to CentComm’s news release page and checked the news release section. There, 16 days had passed between news releases announcing single combat fatalities.

I’ve been seriously out of the news loop the last few weeks as the low volume of posts here on C-SM evidences, and I simply put two and two together and posted without doing a second check. I apologize for the error.

CentComm is an interesting source of news on the war, particularly of successful actions we don’t see covered by the MSM. I hesitate to use the data posted on anti-war body count sites, so I’m probably simply going out of the fatalities reporting business.

Let’s finish up the news, though:

Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, pointed to a number of likely reasons for the decline, including a U.S. security push that has driven militants out of former safe havens and a change in strategy that has placed troops closer to the population. That, in turn, has caused a rise in the number of tips from residents about roadside bombs and other dangers.

He also singled out the cease-fire call by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in August ordered his fighters to cease attacks against U.S.-led forces and other Iraqis for up to six months. Danielson said Iraqi forces also were increasingly taking charge of security operations.

He welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend.

“Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”

I think we have turned a corner and am wondering what will happen come February, when al-Sadr’s six month hiatus wraps up. I doubt that even if he wanted to call his militia back to arms, he wouldn’t be able to do so since he is not who he was, and Iraq is not what it was, when he scuttled his frightened butt off to Iran.

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October 29th 2007

Have You Heard Them, General Tom?

With apologies to David Bowie for the headline, and a quick answer “Yes” to the question, let’s get on with Gen. Tom McInerney’s statement today on Fox News regarding Saddam Hussein’s secret tapes.

I’d forgotten about them frankly, and in case you have too, here’s some background. They constitute at least twenty hours of Saddam acting like Nixon, recording his most secret conversations. Siezed after the fall of Baghdad, they have been mostly kept under wraps by the US command since then.

It’s evident from the limited translated transcripts that were released that Saddam was mad for WMDs and dedicated to trouncing UN efforts to get info on his programs, yet they stay buried in secrecy.

The Left is convinced they’re buried because they contain definitive proof that Saddam wasn’t pursuing WMDs — but they’re stuck in the denial quagmire. McInerney’s explanation is much more compelling: That Russia, China and other “allies” were so complicit in arming Saddam that we have decided to keep the tapes secret.

Well, fie on that! Let the truth be told, and let the cards lie where they fall.

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October 28th 2007

Sunday Scan

This is probably going to be more of a Fire Scan than a Sunday Scan, because there’s something about flames and smoke on the hillsides I’ve hiked not that far from myhome that focuses my attention away from other news.

Heroes From Cocoons

My computer is being rebuilt this weekend, so I can’t load videos to Blogger (don’t ask). Here, then, is the link to an NBC clip that tells the story behind the picture I posted a few days ago of the metallic cocoons that saved 8 firefighters in the Santiago Canyon fire. (By all accounts, it’s 8, not 12, which is the number NBC reports.)

It’s just over three minutes, so please watch it — if for no other reason than (1) you’ll see some heroes defiantly facing down death and (2) you’ll see a seasoned journalist show emotion and admit, a little self-consciously, that she prayed at that moment.

Hot Air

This John Trever cartoon captures the yakking and attacking that has followed the shellacking California got from these fires.

The Hill caught Pinky Reed claiming a global warming connection (for the moment, until pressed, when he wimped back, sniveling):

“One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday, stressing the need to pass the Democrats’ comprehensive energy package.

Moments later, when asked by a reporter if he really believed global warming caused the fires, he appeared to back away from his comments, saying there are many factors that contributed to the disaster.

Under the categories “Crime and Corruption” and “Terror Psyops,” hyper-paranoid blog Aftermath News apparently was busy making up the thoughts of San Diego evacuees:

Instead of praising Bush, evacuees said it is important to remember that the Bush administration censored reports on global warming. In San Diego County, the leaves and grasses were extremely dry from drought, creating prime conditions for fast spreading fires.

None of these evacuees are quoted by name, nor does Aftermath mention that it’s the land the enviros fought to keep out of development, along with land owned and managed by the state and the feds, that were the source of the tinder.

The Latino news service Prensa Latino picks up the global warming rant, helped along by that always objective and trustworthy alliance of Wobblies and Warmies:

Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, said over this radio and TV network that fires extend from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara, the most devastating fires in San Diego County and the Governor has declared a state of emergency.

Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist has found that wildfires are related to global warming. This is the kind of disaster that we see more and more of as we begin to change the basic physics and chemistry of the planet we live on, he said in an interview with Amy Goodman.

One of the San Diego authorities noted this is the driest in at least ninety years. Another scientist, Tom Swetnam has found that global warming has increased temperatures in the West about one degree, and that’s caused four times more fires.

Is there anything to make of this? Dr. Ricky Rood of wunderground thinks the conclusions are getting way ahead of the facts. First post:

The Santa Ana winds are not being caused by climate change. They’ve been around longer than Santa Ana. It’s wind falling down a hill, which warms the air, lowers the relative humidity, and sucks up moisture from the ground. Bad stuff for fire fighters. The fact that the fires are so damaging is that they are in places where people have built in very dry and very vulnerable places. And for the most part, people seem to set the fires one way or another. It’s mostly a land-use and land-management issue.

If, if, if there is anything to do with climate change it would be that the extended drought has warmer temperatures than similar droughts in the past, and hence, drying is worse. I cited some research earlier that made such a argument in a way that has some substance.

Second Rood quote, from OLTN Weather Update:

There have also been papers which make a compelling argument that wild fires in the western U.S. are increasing in intensity and duration. In the paper of Westerling et al. (Science, 2006), the conclusion is drawn that this is directly related to snow melt occurring earlier in the year, a hotter and drier forest, and hence, a longer burning season. Plus they isolate the impact to be at mid-elevations in the Rockies, and hence, relatively free of land-use changes. While many newspapers reported that this work showed an increase of wild fires due to climate change, I quote directly from their paper: “Whether the changes observed in western hydroclimate and wildfire are the result of greenhouse gas-induced global warming or only an unusual natural fluctuation is beyond the scope of this work”.

In other words, a little science, a lot of jumping to conclusions, and an unhealthy dose of hysteria — the Warmie formula for mixing up a batch of “news.”

Pensions and Pumpers

We were worried all week about the amount of equipment that would be available to fight our fire, given that significant firefighting resources were (rightfully) focused on LA and San Diego counties, where more homes were threatened than here. Rightfully or not, the OC Register lead editorial today makes a good point:

[F]irefighter unions are powerful, and fire budgets in recent years have been stressed as agencies, such as the Orange County Fire Authority, have expanded pensions. The more the agencies spend on salary and benefits, the less will be available for the latest equipment and other capital expenditures. Those who always call for more spending for public safety aren’t doing taxpayers a service – no government agency ever has the amount of money it would like to have, and wise public officials understand the need to balance the many demands on the treasury.

A few years back, the OC Board of Supervisors lost their collective spines in the face of employee unions and approved a new pension plan that we have no hope of financing in the real world.

We love our fire fighters all the more after the last week … but we still hate their greedy pension scheme.

Taking the Union’s Side

Not surprisingly, the LA Times has chosen to megaphone the union’s rhetoric in its lead story today, Shortages added fuel to OC fire. The main shortage, it appears, was union members.

Like most departments in the region, the Orange County Fire Authority was ready for trouble. Forecasts called for humidity in the single digits and hot Santa Ana winds roaring in from the desert.

[OC Fire Chief Chip] Prather put 30 extra crews on duty, roughly 100 firefighters. They added to the typical staffing of about 70 crews. He was paying firefighters overtime to have engines staffed and ready to go.

The size of those crews was one way that Orange County fell below the national standard. Most of the county’s engines were staffed with three people. Four per engine is the voluntary minimum standard from the National Fire Protection Assn., a private organization that writes fire safety guidelines.

Crews with three firefighters work more slowly than larger crews, according to a study by the Insurance Services Organization, a national group that evaluates fire departments.

“When you lose one person on the crew, you’re sacrificing safety,” said Afrack Vargas, a spokesman for the California State Firefighters’ Assn. “You’re sacrificing another set of eyes. You’re sacrificing another strong back to help in the incident. It makes a difficult situation that much more difficult.”

Our cartoonist who leads of this column should have added “Union Shills” to the wind machines that are attempting to fan a new fire from the one that’s burning up in the hills. Every union tries to write rules that require more union workers, from nurses on the hospital floor to machinists on the factory floor, and the fire unions are no different.

How obviously self-serving is the union argument? Far be it from the LA Times to ask the question:

Orange County, the sixth-wealthiest county in the state, has an annual firefighting budget of about $260 million. The Fire Authority has roughly one firefighter for every 1,100 people in the county’s coverage area. But that figure climbs dramatically — one firefighter for every 1,800 residents — if only full-time, professional firefighters are counted.

By comparison, Ventura County has twice as many firefighters per capita, approaching 900. Los Angeles County’s ratio of one firefighter per 1,500 residents is about 16% stronger than Orange County’s. (emphasis added)

The LAT fails to point out that Ventura County is ranked higher in per capita and household income than Orange County … but let’s not let fact get in the way of reporting.

Besides, what does truck manpower have to do with this:

Prather said that [calling up overtime fire fighters] left the Fire Authority with 15 more engine companies than usual, in addition to help from other departments if things got bad in Orange County. He thought that would be enough.

It wasn’t.

The Santiago fire broke out 13 hours later. By then, the 11 city fire departments in Orange County had also dispatched substantial forces to Malibu. That deprived Prather of the backup he would normally have relied on.

Plus, the state committed to buying 150 new engines after the 2003 fires, but so far has only ordered 19, none of which have been delivered.

But it’s all about not enough union workers. Who will be eligible for generous union pensions. And pay union dues to support their union bureaucracies.

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October 27th 2007

16 Days Without A US Combat Fatality In Iraq

Corrected: See this post, which reports data that disproves this post. I apologize for the error.

A U.S. soldier died Thursday, October 27 when he was hit with small arms fire in Salah ad Din, Iraq.

This is the first combat-related New Casualty Report posted on Cent-Comm since October 11, when a release was posted on a soldier who was killed in combat operations in Baghdad.

Two weeks and two days passed between one death and the other. Did the MSM notice? Do you recall seeing a raft of stories about success in Iraq? Let’s see.

Here’s a CBS story … from July. Here’s a McClatchy story from September. This USA Today story is a little hard to peg; there’s a note that it was updated “95d” ago, presumably in July, like the CBS story. Even this Fox News report from last Wednesday failed to note the fact.

These stories and many like them, right up to this WaPo editorial from October 11, are reporting on the general success of the surge, one measure of which has been the dramatically falling rate of combat deaths and injuries among not just US forces, but also Iraqi forces.

Have the Dems on Congress taken notice? Certainly, some of them have, but the leadership plods on in a quagmire of denial and defeatism.

Has the media noticed? Nowhere can I find a report that says that two weeks and two days went by without a single American dying in combat in Iraq. It seems like a newsworthy story … but what would I, a former reporter who’s spent 30 years in PR, know about newsworthiness?

Note: The photo at the top, from A Soldier’s Blog, doesn’t show a soldier grieving over a fallen comrade. It’s even more touching. Here’s the caption:

U.S. military police officer Brian Pacholski comforts his hometown friend and fellow officer David Borell, both from Toledo, Ohio, at the entrance of the military base in Balad, Iraq, about 30 miles northwest of Baghdad, on June 13. Borell broke down after seeing three Iraqi children who were brought to the base seeking medical help after they were injured while playing with and burning a powder that was inside a plastic bag near their farm.

These strong, tough men who break down when seeing an injured child … how noble they are; how different from our enemy, who plant bombs on children.

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October 27th 2007

Of Stonewalling and Blackwater

Bad news and snooping reporters are never greeted with welcoming arms. In my business — high-level public relations consulting — crises relating to bad news that my clients would rather not see are depressingly familiar affairs.

It’s hard work and clients come at it from different ways, with the best using “explain” as their strategy in a word, but others going for “delay” or even “cover up.” Only the last response is unethical, but neither of the last two are winners, so my clients get counsel that is based in “explaining.”

Too bad the State Department isn’t my client; look at this, from the LA Times today:

Even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her department’s oversight of private security contractors, new evidence surfaced Thursday that the U.S. sought to conceal details of Blackwater shootings of Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

In one instance, internal e-mails show that State Department officials tried to deflect a 2005 Los Angeles Times inquiry into an alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Blackwater guards.

Get it? Today’s efforts by State are being undermined by poor decisions made two years ago … reporters never forget. And agencies and corporation never remember that their emails aren’t private.

“Give [the Los Angeles Times] what we can and then dump the rest on Blackwater,” one State Department official wrote to another in the e-mails, which were obtained by ABC News. “We can’t win this one.”

One department official taking part in a chain of e-mails noted that the “findings of the investigation are to remain off-limits to the reporter.” Another recommended that there be no mention of the existence of a criminal investigation since such a reference would “raise questions and issues.”

The embarrassment of the moment seemed a compelling argument against disclosure in 2005, leading now to that embarrassment being compounded by stories of stonewalling and deceit by public officials.

What would have happened if State had come clean in 2005? Clearly, there would have been a scandal of sorts in 2005. But it would have been a scandal largely implicating Blackwater, not one that besmirched the administration itself.

And more important, a dozen or perhaps more people would still be alive today, because new policies would have been set in place two years earlier.

We had a case recently when a reporter went after one of our clients. He called every prior associate of the client he could find, looking for unfair business practices of some sort or another, because from the very outset he was convinced our client was a crook — not because of anything he knew about our client, but because of his preconceived negative attitudes about the client’s industry.

Of course he found stuff. You can’t be a big, far-flung, successful entrepreneur for 15 years and not have some soured business relationships or flopped endeavors in your background.

We spend two weeks furiously trying to shake the reporter back to reality by putting him in touch with dozens of new sources, and getting those involved in the negative news to explain that the client was playing straightforwardly, despite whatever may have happened at the time.

In the end, the reporter remained true to form, ignoring all the facts and writing his story the way he’d set out to do it in the first place. (Sorry, no link; it’s not in the client’s best interest.)

About a week later, the LA Times did a story on the same client, and it was a beautiful thing — overall quite positive, hitting most of our key messages, and none of the stuff that had so fixated the other reporter. It turned out so well in part because we were able to quickly disclose all from the outset, using the research we had pulled together for the reporter from the Daily Crapsheet.

The media live off people who never seem to learn these simple lessons and continue to fall into their trap. You would think that State — supposedly where the really smart people go, if they’re going into government — would be far too sophisticated to try to cheat their way through the news cycle, but again and again they prove that they are no smarter — even less smart — than the rest of us …

… but certainly smarter than the Kings of What Were They Thinking at FEMA, who have written a new chapter in Dealing Stoopid With The Media.

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October 26th 2007

These Nerve-Rattling Wildfires

Here’s an email I sent out earlier today:

Friends and family:

It’s been a worrying several days as we’ve watched the Santiago Canyon fire spread, threatening neighborhoods and burning down homes in areas just five or ten from our home. The last few days have been a God-send, with the winds dying down and the humidity inching up to about 14%.

The danger is still real, however. Were the winds to pick up and blow in our direction, the threat would increase dramatically. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that every house that has been lost has been older or remote and surrounded by trees – no new subdivision homes have burned because of our more fire-proof construction and the modifications they make to vegetation around the edges to give the firefighters more opportunity to knock down the fires.

Please look at this map of the Santiago Canyon fire. If you look at the bottom right, you’ll see a little triangle formed by two green lines coming up from the bottom – that’s the northern edge of our community, about 2.5 miles north of our home. You can see how each day the fire is spreading more and more in our general direction each day – but it’s still north and west of us, and the strong winds typically are east to west, not northeast to southwest, so that’s good … for us anyway.

Please keep us, the firefighters, the people at more risk, and the people who have lost homes in your prayers.

Here’s a recent update from the Register:

The fire was making some moves toward the south – and communities such as Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza. Firefighters were hoping to turn it back before then, and were holding a line along Ortega Highway.

The hellish Santa Ana winds that drove the fire earlier in the week had gone slack, but the flames were still moving fast as they devoured the forest and swept uphill. A crew of firefighters was forced into retreat overnight after the fire made a sudden rush up the mountain slope.

Not wanting to get trapped by the flames with only an uphill escape route, the firefighters pulled back around 6 p.m. They returned several hours later, after the fire had calmed down.

“It’s really dangerous to be uphill on a fire, trying to fight it,” said Ken Frederick, a spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center and a 13-year firefighter. “You just don’t want that fire below you.”

Those fire fighters are just amazing! God bless ‘em!

Here’s a hot on-the-Internet update from the LA Times about Silverado Canyon, one of the rare funky areas in OC, where narrow lanes wind along creeks and slopes are lined with rustic homes:

The Santiago fire raged this afternoon on Pine Canyon Ridge, with authorities estimating that the blaze was less than an hour from reaching Silverado Canyon. Firefighters scrambled to coat homes in the far reaches of the five-mile canyon with fire-resistant white gel and evacuate dozens of residents as thick plumes of smoke billowed into the sky.

Authorities are no longer allowing residents, media or even some firefighters to go more than three miles into the canyon. Nearby, a sign outside a community center reads, “God please save our canyon.”

It looks like a good chance that there’s going to be more heartbreak before this is over.

Photo: Bruce Chambers, OC Register

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With Obama winning the presidency by seven percent, we can't blame the media. Their laudatory coverage and refusal to extensively probe into Obama's background and [lack of] experience was at best responsible for five percent of his vote, the pundits tell us. Here is a compilation of over 100 significant instances of pro-Obama/anti-McCain bias during the 2008 campaign.

For all 'Media Bias 2008' – Click Here

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