Friday, November 25, 2005

NY Review: The End of News? (MSM v. Bloggers, Et Al.)

An essay in the New York Review of Books by Michael Massing, a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, analyzing the current abysmal state of American media and ways to improve journalism, is the best look at reporting these days that I've read in many a moon.

Actually, the excerpts below, which address core issues dear to my heart, are from Massing's first part of a two-part series and I've read only the initial essay. Click here for part one, and here for the second installment.

[...]

But it is a third, technological innovation that, along with the rise of talk radio and cable news, has made the conservative attack on the press particularly damaging: blogs. [...]

At The Truth Laid Bear, a Web site that ranks political blogs according to their number of links with other sites, eight of the top ten blogs are conservative. The conservative sites include InstaPundit (University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds), Power Line (three lawyers), michellemalkin.com (a syndicated columnist whose recent book defends the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II), Free Republic (conservative activists), Captain's Quarters (run by a call-center manager), the Volokh Conspiracy (a UCLA law professor), and Little Green Footballs (commentary on foreign policy with a strong pro-Israel slant). Complementing them are a host of "milblogs," written by active-duty military personnel promoting vigorous pursuit of the GWOT (Global War on Terror). (By far the most-visited political blog is the left-of-center Daily Kos; its popularity is owing in part to its community-style approach, which allows registered readers to post their own comments as well as comment on the posts of others.)

In addition to being linked to one another, these blogs are regularly featured on more established right-of-center Web sites such as the Drudge Report (three billion visits a year), WorldNetDaily (which appeals to the Christian right), and Dow Jones's OpinionJournal, which features James Taranto's widely read "Best of the Web Today." These sites, in turn, are regularly trolled by commentators like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who then publicize many of their messages over TV, radio, and their own Web sites. NationalReviewOnline seeks out new conservative blogs and launches them with great fanfare. And the Bush administration actively supports these efforts. Last December, for instance, Lynne Cheney observed on the MSNBC program Hardball that she regularly reads Instapundit and Power Line—a powerful recruiting tool for those sites. [...]

Liberal bloggers have had some successes of their own. Partly as a result of their commentaries, for instance, the press has paid more attention to the so-called Downing Street memo of July 2002, in which Tony Blair and his advisers discussed the Bush administration's plans for war in Iraq. In addition to Daily Kos, prominent left-leaning blogs include Talking Points Memo, Eschaton, and, for commentary on Iraq, Informed Comment. While these sites are critical of the national press, their main fire is directed at the Bush administration. What's more, these sites are not supported by an interconnected system of talk radio programs and cable television commentary, and their influence therefore tends to be much more limited. [...]

Thursday, November 24, 2005

E&P: Are Media Using FOIA Enough for DoD Info?

Very nice pick up by Editor & Publisher today on the FOIA logs I pried loose from the Pentagon and the story by John Byrne at RawStory.com. Read it when you can.
Zzzzzz. NYT's Calame's New Blog Posting on Hockey

A short while back, I was praising the New York Times' public editor, Barney Calame, for using his web journal and occasional column in the paper to address concerns of readers, especially on the Judy Miller mess.

But now I'm over Calame and his growing laziness in addressing readers' complaints and questions.

The last time Calame posted anything on his web journal was two weeks ago, and the topic was identifying Alzheimer's patients. Calame wrote a brief introduction for a short exchange between a reader and the reporter of the story.

Calame on November 23 shared a posting, this time about a reader's complaint about the Times' coverage of Islander hockey games. The bulk of Calame's posting is a response to the reader from the sports editor. Yawn.

Sure do I wish knew why Calame's output on his web journal is so infrequent and rather inconsequential. Is he afraid of weighing in, and on more substantive matters, too often on the Times' site and being a more productive public editor?

This Times reader and shareholder wants the paper's readers' representative, and his assistant, to swallow a few pep pills and increase their output on the web.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

RawStory: Pentagon's FOIA Logs Released to Activist Blogger

If I do say so myself, John Byrne over at RawStory.com has written an excellent story about how I obtained FOIA logs from the Pentagon and what's contained in the logs.

Here are excerpts from Byrne's story:

>A listing of all requests made of the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act since 2000, acquired by RAW STORY, provides new insight into the aggressiveness of American news agencies.

>Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public can request records of government agencies. Records seen as jeopardizing national security or individual rights are typically exempted. All requests are public.

>The request for a list of all who made inquiries of the Pentagon was filed by Michael Petrelis (http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/, a San Francisco-based activist and blogger. He provided a copy to RAW STORY, which will be released in full next week.[...]

>The Pentagon’s records reveal that the law is broadly used—more than 10,000 requests have been made since 2000. But they also illuminate a seeming dearth of curiosity by news organizations about the internal files of the U.S. military establishment.

>This lack of curiosity appears particularly evident among the nation’s three largest newspapers.

>In total, the three papers with daily circulations greater than one million--USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times -- made just 36 requests of the Pentagon between 2000 and February 2005. USA Today made nine; the Journal, six; and the Times, 21.

>The Associated Press, the nation’s most widely used wire service, made 73 requests. Two other AP reporters made a handful of requests not identified by their employer.

>Leading print newspapers was the Los Angeles Times, with 42 inquiries. The Times recently ditched its national edition and announced last week it would lay off 85 newsroom staffers. Following the LA Times was the Washington Post, with 34—just shy of the total requests made by the three largest U.S. newspapers combined.[...]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gay Muslims: Silence from U.S. Gays Needed on Iran's Killings

Al Fatiha, a gay Muslim group, last week issued a press release about Iran's latest public executions of homosexuals and they requested the following:

"Individuals and organizations in the United States are asked to not contact the Iranian government directly or to hold protests to condemn the Iranian government. Given the hostile relationship between the United States and Iran such actions may have a negative backlash against marginalized communities in Iran."

I've never been one to stand silently by while a government anywhere uses the death penalty, especially against homosexuals, so I'm not in agreement whatsoever with Al Fatiha's calls to be mute and inactive over Iran's killings of gays.

What if those individuals who wanted to hit the streets or complain directly to Iranian government officials were Iranian expats living in the U.S.? Would Al Fatiha's request for sitting back apply then? They seem to be assuming that only crusaders for regime change by bombs will complain. Al Fatiha is also trying to force U.S. advocates, of all political and sexual persuasions, to meet their political litmus tests before we can publicly condemn Iran.

You may recall that back in September, Paula Ettelbrick, the executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, faced criticism for her group's lack of participation in street actions about Iran's gay executions and her behind-the-scenes approach.

Veteran journalist and gay human rights advocate Doug Ireland replied to her arguments in a terrific column in New York's Gay City News. Ireland rebutted her thinking with these important words, which I believe also apply to Al Fatiha's call for silence and inaction:

"A strategy of keeping silent about oppression, for fear of riling the oppressors, has never worked at any time in human history. Ettelbrick’s position reminds me of that of certain Jewish elites here just before and during World War II, who said that no public attention should be called to Hitler’s lethal depredations aimed at German Jews, because to do so would only increase Americans’ anti-Semitism. Such a strategy failed miserably then, and it will not succeed now."

And Ireland, I'm pleased to report, has not been the only writer of conscience taking Al Fatiha's and IGLHRC's convoluted reasoning, deconstructing it and then hitting the reject button.

Sean Bugg, editor of Washington, DC's Metro Weekly newspaper wrote a point-by-point response on his publication's blog to Faisil Alam, leader and founder of Al Fatih, and his essay in August questioning anyone in the U.S. raising their voice against the killing of two gay teenagers in Iran in July.

Among Bugg's numerous excellent points was this gem:

"I happen to think the death penalty in the U.S. is a grievous misuse of government power that should be abolished -- so why shouldn't I have an opinion on Iran's misuse of the same gruesome and immoral punishment?"

As far as I know, Alam didn't reply to Bugg.

I'm a proud graduate of the old ACT UP street activist school of social change and still believe the following is true, perhaps more than ever.

Silence = Death.
Three More Homosexuals Publicly Hanged in Iran

Friends in OutRage! UK have informed me that new reports out of Iran indicate three more possible homosexual men were publicly hanged this week.

How many such cases must we read about before U.S. gay groups, especially those with the words "human rights" in their names, deplore the killings in Iran and elsewhere, and take concrete action to stop the executions?

-

Iran Focus

Tehran, Iran, Nov. 21 – Three men were hanged to death in the city of Kermanshah, western Iran, a state-run daily reported on Monday.

The men, identified only by their first names, Youness, Hossein, and Ruhollah, were hanged at dawn in Diesel-Abad Prison on Friday, according to the daily Iran Newspaper.

The men were accused of kidnapping and raping a 19-year-old man.
Iran Has Executed Two More Gays

The New York-based Human Rights Watch reports today that Iran has executed two men for engaging in homosexual behavior. Interesting that Human Rights Watch doesn't mention the public hanging of two gay teenage boys in July in Mashad, in its announcement.

OutRage! UK called attention to the latest executions on November 14. Here is an excerpt from their release, along with the email address of Iran's president, to whom letters of protest should be sent:

>Two more young men were hanged in a public square in Iran after being found guilty of “lavat” (a homosexual relationship), according to reports in the semi-official daily newspaper, Kayhan, on 13 November.

>The two men, identified only as Mokhtar N. and Ali A., were aged respectively 24 and 25 years old.

>They were hanged in public in Shahid Bahonar Square in the northern city of Gorgan.

>The newspaper said the “criminal past” of the two young men included kidnapping and rape, but the press report made it clear that the “crime” for which they were hanged was “lavat”, which means sex between men or sodomy.

>Human rights groups point out that Iran often pins false charges of rape, kidnapping, spying, alcoholism and adultery on people it executes, in order to minimise public sympathy for the victims and discourage public protests.

>The UK LGBT human rights group OutRage! is urging people to email protests to the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

> ahmadinejad@president.ir

The following is excerpted from the Human Rights Watch release:

>Iran’s execution of two men last week for homosexual conduct highlights a pattern of persecution of gay men that stands in stark violation of the rights to life and privacy, Human Rights Watch said today.

>On Sunday, November 13, the semi-official Tehran daily Kayhan reported that the Iranian government publicly hung two men, Mokhtar N. (24 years old) and Ali A. (25 years old), in the Shahid Bahonar Square of the northern town of Gorgan.

>The government reportedly executed the two men for the crime of "lavat." Iran’s shari`a-based penal code defines lavat as penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts between men. Iranian law punishes all penetrative sexual acts between adult men with the death penalty. Non-penetrative sexual acts between men are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are punished with death. Sexual acts between women, which are defined differently, are punished with lashes until the fourth offense, when they are also punished with death. [...]

Monday, November 21, 2005

Rep. Mean Jean: Relative in Iraq?; Breaks "No Namecalling" Pledge

This is the question I've been trying to answer: Does Rep. "Mean" Jean Schmidt have any relatives, or friends even, who are serving in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq?

She makes no references to loved ones in the war zone on her official House site.

The listing for her at Wikipedia had no information about any soldier relatives, but it enlightened me to her maiden talk delivered way back on September 6, 2005, after being sworn in into office:

>I stand here today in the same shoes, though with a slightly higher heel, as thousands of Members who have taken the same oath before me. [...]

>I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price. [...]

>We have much work to do. In that spirit, I pledge to each of you that any disagreements we may have are just that and no more. Walking in each other's shoes takes effort and pause; however, it is my sincere hope that I never lose the patience to view each of you as human beings first, God's creatures, and foremost. [...]

What a load of lies that quickly came back to snap her in the butt. In light of her scathing remarks and toxic dump of personal vitriol on the House floor last week, targeting former Marine Rep. John Murtha, I'd say her promises of September showed her word is worthless.

Schmidt can also trade in her high heel for some combat boot any time she wants. I bet Murtha has a pair to give her.

You should give Wikipedia's entry on Mean Jean a read, if only to cast your eyes on the accompanying photo of her official family photo, with her heterosexual hubby standing behind her, and their teenage daughter at her side. Mother and daughter both hold one of the family dogs--fluffy white poodles with red ribbons on their heads, which would be loud clues about sexual orientation if we were discussing Michael Scanlon.

But we're not. We're talking about Schmidt, her dogged snarling at Murtha and her family's canines. She would be well advised to add a Doberman to her brood, to better reflect her true political nature. Mean Jean just ain't no poodle.

Anyone know if she's got relatives in Iraq?
American Prospect: He's Done. (Fork Stuck in Bush's Behind)

Time to tickle the political funny bone. Have a look at the cover of the latest issue of the American Prospect, then read Laura Rozen's insightful article on the end of the 9/11 presidency.
WH Transcript: Journos' Chopper Lifts in Iraq on Election Day

If freedom and democracy are truly taking hold in Iraq, why is it two and a half years after military operations began over there, reporters can't safely travel around the country?

In his November 18 "Ask the White House" online chat, David Satterfield, the deputy U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, announced an effort to transport journalists around Iraq on election day in December.

I have to wonder who will decide where reporters will be allowed to go that day. Will the coalition forces get reporters to areas they want to visit, or, will the military determine their destinations

-

Bob, from Irvine, California writes:

What is being done to get us more information on the progress being made in Iraq? Much of the news reports do not include the positive accomplishments being made in the country.

David Satterfield:

In Baghdad both the Embassy and Coalition Military Forces have a number of full-time public affairs operations, at various echelons, that conduct media briefings, respond to media queries, and organize media trips to see projects on the ground. Through them, we are doing a great deal to get out the news of our many accomplishments in Iraq, not just to American journalists, but also to international media outlets and to Iraq's own media. Of course, we face some challenges, such as security.

Except when they are "embedded" and travelling with Coalition Forces, security concerns do restrict the mobility of Western journalists. For the elections, to help overcome this handicap, we plan to organize helicopter lifts to take the media to various polling places around Iraq to see the voting up close. We will then bring them back to Baghdad promptly so that they can file.

All that being said, we don't control what the news organizations cover or ultimately provide to the viewer/reader. There are a number of embassy and military websites that post news of accomplishments.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Is Michael Scanlon Gay? NYT Skirts Question

I got around this afternoon to reading Anne E. Kornblut's profile of Michael Scanlon in Saturday's New York Times and felt she used much code to raise the possibility, to my queer mind, that Scanlon, who's been charged with conspiracy because of his work with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, may also be gay.

From the opening sentence, my gaydar was picking up clues.

>Even among the ambitious Republican aides driving the Clinton impeachment case in 1998, Michael Scanlon stood out.

Out. Such a loaded word for gays and he might have stood out to many gay men on Capitol Hill.

>He was 28, preppy, athletic.

Nothing wrong with any of that, and lots of straight men are preppy and engage in sports. Still, I am reminded of online gay personal ads.

>Hired as a spokesman for Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, Mr. Scanlon charmed reporters with his easy manner and willingness to trade gossip.

Preppy, athletic and likes to trade gossip? Interesting.

>But in private, Mr. Scanlon was ruthless.

Hmmm, the Times is delving into his private political life, and so high up in the story too, that it's odd other parts of his private life, like, does he have _any_ romantic entanglements or is he married, are not broached.

>Except for one silent appearance before the Senate in 2004 - during which Republican members excoriated him for his treatment of Indian tribes and his refusal to testify - Mr. Scanlon has all but vanished from public view over the last year, retreating to Rehoboth Beach, Del., a summer resort several hours from here.

Yes, it's accurate to describe the famous gay beach resort in terms of how far it is from Washington, but it doesn't begin to convey what really makes Rehoboth unique--it's a relaxing and accepting gathering spot for the gay tribe. And what's with this vanishing from public view phrasing? Sounds a bit like he went back into a closet.

> Documents, e-mail messages and interviews with his former colleagues suggest that Mr. Scanlon had an appeal similar to the title character in the film "The Talented Mr. Ripley" who drew people to his money-making schemes.

The gorgeous and hunk-o-lious Matt Damon, who's both openly heterosexual and supportive of gay rights, played Mr. Ripley as he was written: gay, but not exactly out and proudly waving the rainbow flag.

> Mr. Scanlon, more than Mr. Abramoff, was flamboyant with his earnings.

Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I remember when the Times wouldn't use the word gay when writing about homosexual males, who were often referenced as either flamboyant or avowed, so just seeing the word flamboyant used by the Times in what I believe is a story "inning" Scanlon, vividly registers on my gaydar. Did he perform fan dances with his millions? Of course, in my circle, flamboyant = fab-u-lous!

> A friend in Rehoboth was drawn into the Abramoff-Scanlon lobbying effort. David Grosh, a former lifeguard, was paid $2,500 to head a supposed research organization in Rehoboth and funneled large sums from Indian tribes back to Mr. Abramoff and his law firm.

Sure, on the surface there's nothing wrong with a surfer dude, whose sexual orientation is not publicly known, becoming ensnared in one of Scanlon's scams, but he's not just any lifeguard. He was the Lifeguard of the Year for 1997!

Looking at web photos of Scanlon and Grosh, my gaydar detects attractive younger men who could easily pass for gay in San Francisco and each man gives off vibes of overt metrosexuality.

Kornblut's profile of Scanlon in the Times, if only in a sentence or two, should have said something about his sexual orientation or romantic inclinations, regardless of whether he's gay or straight or swings both ways.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Blade Editor's Nondisclosure on Greens, in Zeese Story

I've been a registered Green Party voter and activist for a quite some time, and always try to support fellow Greens, so I hope what I have to say about Ken Sain, news editor of the Washington Blade, is not seen as an attack on him.

Sain is big Green Party advocate, something I didn't know until last weekend when I attended the National G/L Task Force's Creating Change conference in Oakland and picked up a copy of the Green Pages, our national newspaper.

It ran excerpts from Sain's blogging of the national party's annual meeting in Tulsa
, and this led me to his blog, where he proudly declares his commitment to the Greens and says he's the news editor at the Blade.

But what concerns me, as a media transparency advocate, is that Sain today writes a positive posting for the Blade blog on Friday about a Green, Kevin Zeese, who's launching an independent run for U.S. Senate from Maryland, and the Blade editor doesn't disclose his affiliation with the Green Party.

Some disclosure of my own. I've worked with Zeese on medical marijuana, DC statehood and Ralph Nader campaigns, and am very happy he's tossing his hemp hat into the Maryland senatorial ring.

The Blade should provide some transparency about Sain's link to Greens, especially when he writes about our party and its members. That not asking too much now, is it?
SF Chron: Bob Woodward's Plame Source is Jeff Gannon!

Ready to have your funny bone tickled?

-

This is from yesterday and needed to be moved up.

IRS Files: Bob Woodward's Foundation

Bob Woodward was interviewed in July 1996 for a PBS "Frontline" show on why America hates the press, and he was asked about "buckraking," which is described as a journalist becoming famous because of TV appearance, then hitting the lecture circuit for substantial fees.

Woodward replied: "I give lectures for money, but my wife and I have a foundation and all of the money goes into the foundation and all of the money from the foundation goes to charity. So, I make no money from it."

I didn't know he and his wife, Elsa Walsh, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, had a 501(c)3 foundation and to learn more about it, I checked out the IRS 990 forms for the Woodward Walsh Foundation.

The current tax filing, for 2004, shows the foundation had $143,170 in revenue, spent $1,228 for operating and administrative costs, and doled out only $20,000 to charities.

This is the breakdown of groups that received grants and the amounts:

Sidwell Friends School: $10,000

Uganda Children's Charity: $500

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance: $1,750

Little Folks School: $500

Intown Playgroup: $250

Martha's Table: $1,000

Literacy Partners: $1,000

Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia: $5,000

The Woodward Walsh Foundation claims no relationship with the Miller Center, which is not the case. Bob Woodward is a member of the governing council of the center.

I'll leave it media ethicists to determine if being an assistant managing editor of the Washington Post and serving as a top advisor to a major university is a conflict of interest or questionable.

The 2003 IRS 990 filing for Woodward's charity reveals $80,000 in revenue, $1,150 for operating costs, and $21,000 in grants.

Who received a grant that year?

College of Veterinary Medicine: $2,000

Center for the Study of Responsive Law: $2,000

Sidwell Friends School: $15,000

Washington Humane Society: $2,000

And for 2002, the Woodward Walsh Foundation reported $52,733 in revenue, $1,200 for administrative expenses, and a paltry $7,750 given to charities.

The contributions breakdown:

Little Folks School: $1,000

Central Asia Institute: $250

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance: $500

Washington Humane Society: $1,000

Sidwell Friends School: $5,000

You can verify these numbers by checking out the IRS 990 forms for the Woodward Walsh Foundation, as posted on GuideStar.org.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Woodward Paid $25K for Nov. Talk to Resort Developers

The Washington Post just isn't paying poor Bob Woodward enough money these days for his services. The poor man has taken to shaking his begging bowl with the Speakers Platform agency of San Francisco.

Woodward collects anywhere from $20,000 to $25,000, maybe more given his celebrity status, when anyone hires him through the agency.

Why, nearly two weeks ago he addressed the fall conference of the American Resort Development Association in Washington.

The ARDA web site had this to say about his talk
: "Bob Woodward, Assistant Managing Editor of the Washington Post and the national best selling author of non-fiction with nine number-one best sellers, effectively used words to paint a portrait of the events facing the U.S. and how the decisions being made in the White House today will set the future course for our nation and other nation’s [sic] around the world."

Is it really necessary for an assistant managing editor of the Washington Post to hire himself out to address resort developers and their lobbyists, in order to survive?

Be sure read the Post's article today on the headaches Woodward is causing the paper these days.
FOIAed: US Army White Phosphorus Use in Fallujah

Department of the Army
Freedom of Information and Privacy Office
7701 Telegraph Road, Suite 144
Alexandria, VA 22315-3905

By Email To: foia@rmda.belvoir.army.mil

Dear Sir or Madam:

Pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting copies of, or access to, the following records:

For the period July 1, 2004, through the date of this request, any and all memos, files, email exchanges, paper correspondence, digital photographs, videotapes and films, audio tapes, print photographs and munitions logs containing the words white phosphorus, chemical weapons, napalm and poisonous gas related to the U.S. Army's assault on Fallujah, Iraq, dating from October 1, 2004, through November 14, 2005.

Furthermore, as a news blogger journalist working on news stories that are of pressing public interest and request that this FOIA request be handled as quickly as possible, per the expedited provisions of FOIA.

Expedited treatment is based on my knowledge that the U.S. Army, as evidenced by William Arkin's blog posting on the Washington Post's web site, may have used chemical weapons in Fallujah, Iraq, and the public deserves to know what's in your archive on this important national security matter.

Therefore, I hope you will conclude that this request is entitled to expeditious handling that is allowed by law.

If you have any questions or need any additional information, you may reach by telephone at 415-621-6267.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and attention.

Sincerely,
Michael Petrelis

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Karen Hughes Hosts "Ask The White House"

MSNBC's Tucker Carlson is complaining today on his blog about Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who is also a super mom from Texas.

Carlson writes: "There aren't yet any detailed reports of what Hughes has said while in Pakistan, so it's hard at this point to criticize her trip. But if her appearances in the region last month are any guide, she's certain to embarrass America."

He's sort of wrong about lack of reports about her trip to Pakistan.

She held a press conference over there on November 14 with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz; Pfizer Chairman and CEO Hank McKinnell; Xerox Chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy; UPS Former Chairman and CEO Jim Kelly.

You can find the transcript of her press conference on her State Department page.

Also, she will be the guest tomorrow on the Ask the White House interactive program.

From the White House web site: "Karen Hughes, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, will discuss South Asia Earthquake Relief, her recent trip to the region and other public diplomacy issues Wednesday at 2pm ET."

I'm going to submit a question and ask that you do the same.
SF AIDS Cases Drop in 3Q Report, CDC to Release New HIV Stats

The latest AIDS surveillance report from the San Francisco Department of Public Health revealing full-blown cases for the third-quarter of 2005 fell slightly from last year, has been released and posted on the web. How do the latest third-quarter AIDS diagnoses compare with previous years? Favorably, because the number of new AIDS cases continues to fall. Here are third-quarter stats over the past seven years:

SF quarterly AIDS surveillance reports
January through September
Table 5

1999
324

2000
316

2001
302

2002
224

2003
188

2004
190

2005
181

As with so many positive developments regarding controlling HIV and AIDS in San Francisco, the health department and AIDS organizations are silent about the new AIDS stats. Falling numbers make it so much harder for the city to shake its begging bowl when asking the federal government for increases in funding for care and treatment. On the other hand, San Francisco still doesn't know how to use the declining HIV and AIDS rates to lobby for more federal funds for prevention programs. Success is not something AIDS experts here like to talk about.

Also, a good friend sent me this alert from the CDC. I hope to participate in the telephone press conference and look forward to scrutinizing new HIV stats from the CDC.

-

Contact: NCHSTP Office of Communications, (404) 639-8895

MEDIA ADVISORY - TELEPHONE PRESS BRIEFING

CDC to Announce New HIV Data for 33 U.S. States - Findings Provide
More Representative Picture of Magnitude of U.S. Epidemic

WHAT:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will hold a
telephone press briefing to announce new HIV surveillance data. Data
will be presented on HIV diagnoses from 2001 to 2004 in the 33 states
that have conducted confidential, name-based HIV case reporting for
at least four years. For the first time, the analysis will include
data from New York State, which accounted for approximately one-fifth
of all new diagnoses reported during the study period. The inclusion
of the large number of cases from New York State will provide a more
representative sample of U.S. diagnoses than prior analyses.

CDC officials will discuss the latest trends in diagnoses overall, as
well as the continued impact of HIV among African Americans and men
who have sex with men.


WHEN:
Thursday, November 17 at 12:00 PM (Noon) Eastern Standard Time (EST)

WHO:
Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD, MPH, Acting Director of CDC's National
Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention
Lisa M. Lee, PhD, senior epidemiologist in CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS
Prevention

EMBARGO:
These data are embargoed until Thursday, November 17 at 12:00 PM (Noon) EST

REGISTER:
To register for the briefing and receive the toll-free dial-in
number, please call (212) 584-5007

###

Monday, November 14, 2005

S.F. DPH: Straight Women's STD Up 61%, 34% for Str8 Men

The San Francisco health department recently released the latest monthly sexually transmitted disease report, and despite an alarming jump in gonorrhea cases, the report has received no media attention and health officials have not put out a news release about the surge in gonorrhea.

The reason for this lack of media coverage may be due to the fact that the skyrocketing gonorrhea rates are not for gay and bisexual men, but for heterosexual women and men, and the press may just not be all that concerned with straight people's sex lives.

Let's go over the editorial note in the September STD surveillance report.

>Reported cases of gonorrhea among heterosexuals were stable or decreasing in San Francisco from 2000 to 2004. However, in the first nine months of 2005 we observed a 61% increase in gonorrhea cases in women compared to the same time period in 2004 (160 to 257 cases).

A sixty-one percent jump in any STD among women in a major American city and it's not news, front page or in the local section? Compare this dearth of stories with the dozens of articles that appear when syphilis or gonorrhea climbs even two or three percentage points among gay men, frequently demonizing gay sexuality and public gay sex venues. I'm not saying that women and their sex lives should be demonized like gay men's, but it is odd, to say the least, that there has been a huge increase of gonorrhea among heterosexual women and no media outlet is paying attention to the surge.

>Among women aged 15-19 years, gonorrhea increased 73% (49 to 85 cases).

Here we have an more frightening number for younger heterosexual women, and again, no news stories or press conferences from SF DPH about the scary increase. My gut says that if young gay men were experiencing such a dramatic surge of gonorrhea, we'd see articles about it on the front page of many mainstream newspapers.

>Among known heterosexual men, gonorrhea cases increases 34% (115 to 154 cases), compared to only a 9% increase (861 to 940 cases) among known men who have sex with men (MSM).


Another big increase, this time for straight men, and nothing has been reported on it, but, that 9% climb among "known" gay men has made the papers. I find the use of the word "known" interesting. Why doesn't SF DPH just say heterosexual men? Also, why is it homosexual men are not identified as such, instead we are branded MSM? If gays are to be labeled men who have sex with men, then SF DPH should identify known heterosexual women as women who have sex with men, WSM. Same logic should apply to known heterosexual men, who should be described as men who have sex with women, MSW.

>In 2005, 23% (411, 1,786) of gonorrhea has occurred in women and known heterosexual men. Fifty percent (205/411) of cases in heterosexuals occurred among African-Americans.


More alarming statistics are the figures for black people in San Francisco, who don't comprise 50% of the population, yet they make up half of all known heterosexual gonorrhea cases. According to recent population statistics, blacks make up 8-9% of San Francisco's residents. We haven't read about the scary increase of black cases in the papers or seen it on the TV news.

>While substantially fewer gonorrhea cases are among heterosexuals than MSM in San Francisco, we have seen a marked increase among heterosexuals, particularly in adolescents and young adults.

Even with the "marked increase," SF DPH has not seen fit to alert the press to this awful development, but rest assured, if a similar surge were noticed among gay and bisexual men, loud alarms from the health department would be ringing, ringing, ringing.

>In response to this increase, SF STD Control and Prevention Services is focusing intervention efforts on young heterosexuals, particularly African Americans. Current recommendations to control the continued transmission of gonorrhea include timely treatment for patients and all sex partners within the past 60 days and re-screening of all gonorrhea case-patients at 3 months.


Let's hope SF DPH recommendations don't include the ones proposed in 2001 when HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco was supposedly increasing. These are some of the ideas that were debated in 2001, as reported in the November 2001 Washington Monthly magazine:

[...]Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention and Control Services in San Francisco, has suggested a number of measures, some coercive,which he thinks would slow the increase of new HIV infections among gay men. Among them: closing sex clubs and adult bookstores; enforcing no-sex ordinances in bars and clubs; enforcing no-drug policies in bars and clubs; and Internet-based outreach and education, particularly in chat rooms where many gay men meet new sexual partners.

Putting aside political realities when brainstorming on this subject, Klausner also raised the possibility of quarantining those who cannot control their infectivity---e.g., those barebackers who've infected 20 different people and still refuse to use condoms. Many of these measures would probably be infeasible in the current political climate. Still, this doesn't mean they shouldn't be discussed. After all, in an environment where there are no consequences for actions that threaten the public health, it may be necessary to create some. [...]


Finally, the September STD report doesn't mention HIV once in the summary on heterosexual increases of gonorrhea.

Yet whenever there is a surge of syphilis or gonorrhea among men who have sex with men, the SF DPH and other health officials are quick to say it may portend increases in HIV also.

Why is it no such corresponding claim is made when discussing skyrocketing gonorrhea among known heterosexuals? Are San Francisco heterosexuals, female and male, immune to HIV?

Surely the human immunodeficiency virus doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or other categories.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Times, UK: Doctors Baffled as HIV Man 'Cures' Himself

Needless to say, remarkable news, if Stimpson has indeed cured himself. Let's see what else comes out this week about his condition and any other tests he subjects himself to, to see if he is free of the virus.



The Sunday Times
November 13, 2005


Doctors baffled as HIV man ‘cures’ himself
By Sophie Kirkham

A MAN who tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes Aids, has subsequently shown up negative for the disease in a case that has mystified doctors.

It was claimed last night that Andrew Stimpson, 25, may have shaken off the virus with his own immune system after contracting HIV in 2002.

If proved, the NHS has said the case would be “medically remarkable”. It could provide vital information to researchers looking into treatments for HIV and Aids, which has killed about 3,800 people in Britain since the 1980s.

The worldwide annual death toll is more than 3m.

The Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS trust, which treated Stimpson, has said he needs to undergo more tests before it can be established how he apparently conquered HIV.

“These tests were accurate and they were his, but what we don’t know at the moment is why that has happened, and we want him to come back in for more tests,” said a spokeswoman. “It is potentially a fantastic thing.”

[...]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Slate: Photo of Limp-Wristed Pansy Sulzberger

That Jack Shafer, he's such an ardent and honest critic of the Gay, er, Gray Lady and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.!

I love when Shafer sharpens his skewer on the Times, like in his latest biting column rating Sulzberger's appearance and spin on Charlie Rose.

And check out this enlarged version of the incredibly queeny, limp-wristed photo of Pinch, pansified. Mare-eee!
NYT's Lawrence K. Altman = CDC Stenographer

The long, boring career of Lawrence K. Altman as the Centers for Disease Control's stenographer shows no signs of coming to an end any time soon. His latest act of anilingus for the CDC in the pages of the New York Times was on the coming flu season.

I don't know why Altman's editor, David Corcoran at the science desk, didn't just run the actual CDC transcript of yesterday's phone press conference with CDC honcho Julie Gerberding.

Altman, who once worked for the CDC, quoted Gerberding thirteen times. Other voices? In an Altman story about anything to do with the federal agency that once was his boss? Puh-leeze.

The Times really should put an end to this sort of stenography by Altman. His approach to any CDC story he writes can be summed up in two words: CDC says.

In her "let's honestly look at and trash Judy Miller" column, Maureen Dowd spoke truth to power: "But investigative reporting is not stenography."

Try telling that to Altman and his editor.

-

November 11, 2005

Top Official Is Assuring on Flu Vaccine
By Lawrence K. Altman


[...]

"The good news is that this year's flu season is not off to an aggressive start," said the official, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Gerberding noted that "we have less flu in the country this year than at the same time last year," when the shortage of influenza vaccine was more severe.

Outbreaks of influenza have been spotty, and "that is a good thing because it gives us more time to get the vaccine out there," Dr. Gerberding told reporters in a telephone news conference. "More vaccine is coming," she added.

Among those affected by the delay is Dr. Gerberding's mother, Bette Gerberding, of Brookings, S.D., who asked her daughter if she should go to a neighboring state to get a flu shot, Dr. Gerberding said.

Because there is no influenza outbreak in Brookings, and Mrs. Gerberding's doctor expects a shipment by the end of the month, Dr. Gerberding said she advised her mother, "Just wait and make your appointment so that you can get it when it's available."

While health officials suspect that more people want the vaccine this year, the disease control agency has no data to support that impression, Dr. Gerberding said.

[...]

About 81 million doses, just short of the record 83 million, will be distributed by the end of this month, Dr. Gerberding said.

[...]

Public health agencies and private vaccine manufacturers cooperate to provide influenza immunizations, and collaboration has been very good this year, Dr. Gerberding said.

A precise map of the shortages will not be available until her agency collects more information, Dr. Gerberding said.

[...]

One problem is that Chiron is not making as much vaccine as it expected and does not know how much it will produce, Dr. Gerberding said.

President Bush's proposal to spend $7.1 billion for a possible influenza pandemic will help manufacturers expand capacity and prevent shortages for regular influenza in the long run, Dr. Gerberding said.
Where's Sulzberger's Blog; Keller Promises Online Forums. When?

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Chairman
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Sulzberger:

I watched your chat with Charlie Rose last night and was glad you made reference to Al Siegel's report in May to Bill Keller--Preserving Our Readers' Trust. You claimed that many recommendations from Siegel and his committee have been implemented, but a few recommendations of keen interest to me have not been turned into reality.

Siegel wrote:

"III. Nytimes.com should conduct frequent Q & A forums with department heads and other senior editors and should set up mechanisms to give readers greater access to key source documents, interview transcripts and databases used in stories and graphics. The Web should also explore the possibility of creating a Times blog that promotes a give-and-take with readers while satisfying the standards of our journalism."

First, the online forums would be an excellent new method of communication between the Times and its audience, but the idea has not made it past the drawing board. Why is it taking so long for the Times to hold online chats with readers? In my opinion, you could easily follow the example of the Washington Post and its web forums with editors and reporters, which include live chats.

Next, the issue of interview transcripts needs to be addressed, and quickly. Right now, the transcript of an editorial board meeting on September 12 with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not available on the Times site, either for free or behind the TimesSelect wall.

However, the State Department posts its transcript of the meeting, for no cost, on the web. It's at State's site.

What's your reaction to the fact that the Times is not sharing a transcript of Rice's September 12 meeting, but the U.S. government is?

On the matter of a Times blog, it is odd, given the paper's deep and expanding interests in blogs (you yourself mentioned the blogosphere last night and its role in shaping current political discourse), that the Times has not yet created NYTimesblog.com.

Is the idea of a Times blog, maybe even a blog for you, dead and going nowhere?

I also wish to inquire about a promise executive editor Bill Keller made on June 23 in his response to the Siegel committee's recommendations.

Keller promised that, "On a regular basis -- every other week -- senior editors of The Times will be available to the public for Q & A forums on our website. (These will not be live, raw chat sessions, but thoughtful answers to serious questions.) 'Senior' means department heads on up to the executive editor, who herewith volunteers to take the first turn. We will announce these sessions in the paper and on the Website. We will designate someone at the Website to handle logistics, and someone in the newsroom to play choreographer."

Four months ago Keller promised he would start the forums, serving as the pioneer, and so far, he hasn't kept his promise.

Did Keller mean that the forums would start next year? By the time of midterm elections in 2006? When, exactly, did Keller expect to catch up with the Washington Post and hold online chats and forums with readers?

As always, a prompt reply is requested and appreciated.

Sincerely,
Michael Petrelis
NYTCo Stockholder
Judy Miller's New Editor Looks Great in Drag

America's most controversial reporter, Judy Miller, as we all know, left her job at the New York Times this week.

She's got a web site now and a new editor, Aaron Selverston, working to help her get her message out to the world.

I don't know much about Selverston, but there is one thing I like about him--he looks great in drag. Selverston sure knows how to wear a purple wig and matching outfit!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

POZ: Petrelis vs. SF DPH, AIDS Inc, Big Media on HIV Stats

My friends at POZ magazine have posted my new column on their site. Read it at POZ.com.

It's all about my long campaign to publicly examine the San Francisco's health department's HIV stats, and my objections to the hysteria stirred up by local media and AIDS Inc that demonized gay men and people living with AIDS.

And if you can lay your hands on a hard copy of POZ, look at the fantastic illustration accompanying my opinion piece because it more than sums up what was happening to me over the years when I addressed HIV stats in gay Mecca.

The illustration shows seven male figures ascending an escalator going up, their arms pointing in all directions; at each other, toward the sky or downward.

In front of them is a lone figure on a descending escalator. He's holding a chart with a solid red line heading south.

The perfect picture for my POZ column.
National Journal: NYT's Calame's "Pseudo-Blog"

Barney Calame
Public Editor
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Calame:

In case you don't read the National Journal's Blogometer on a regular basis and missed today's round-up, I'm sending an item related to your job at the Times:

>Michael Petrelis asks why New York Times public editor Byron Calame ran nothing on his pseudo-blog for 2 weeks, then posted an insubstantial reader e-mail about Alzheimer's and art therapy: "Surely there are other readers bringing issues of concern to Calame's attention, issues he could address either in his print column or through his web journal. Why the minimal output, Barney?"

Interesting that the Blogometer labels your web journal a pseudo-blog. They must also notice how infrequently you post to your page on the Times' site.

Any chance you can become more active with your web journal, maybe even posting something once or twice a day, instead of once every two weeks?

Regards,
Michael Petrelis

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pundits Bruce Cain, Larry Sabato Donated to Dems

Another election day has passed and two of the most frequently quoted pundits, Bruce Cain of the University of California at Berkeley and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, are all over the news, giving their supposedly unbiased opinions.

A quick search of Federal Election Commission records at NewsMeat.com reveals that Cain gave Sen. John Kerry $300 last year and Sabato donated $500 in 1999 to Utah Democrat James Matheson's winning run for a seat in the House.

Yet, good luck locating a single news story that quotes either man and references the political donations they've made.

Sabato's official site, the Crystal Ball, evaluates Rep. Matheson's race in 2006, and he doesn't mention his contribution to Matheson. I guess Sabato doesn't believe in full disclosure and transparency.

These are their FEC listings:

Cain, Bruce
San Rafael, CA 94901
UC Berkeley/Professor
KERRY, JOHN F (D)
JOHN KERRY FOR PRESIDENT INC
$300
07/26/04


SABATO, LARRY
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA 22901
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
MATHESON, JAMES DAVID (D)
House (UT 02)
MATHESON FOR CONGRESS
$500
05/21/99
NYT's Calame's New Web Posting; Minimal Output

At times, I forget about Barney Calame, the New York Times' public editor, because he weighs in on important matters so infrequently, especially on his web journal.

It's been nearly two weeks since he last posted to his journal and yesterday, what he posted wasn't all that meaty. Calame shared a letter from a reader who wrote to him about a story on Alzheimer's patients and a response from the Times reporter who penned the article.

Surely there are other readers bringing issues of concern to Calame's attention, issues he could address either in his print column or through his web journal. Why the minimal output, Barney?

-

bcalame - 5:38 PM ET November 8, 2005 (#21 of 21)

Alzheimer’s Patients and Privacy

An Oct. 30 article about Alzheimer’s patients and art therapy prompted Randy Alfred of San Francisco to raise some interesting questions about the intersection of journalism and privacy. Here is Mr. Alfred’s e-mail message to the public editor and the response of the reporter, Randy Kennedy, which indicates to me that the article was approached with appropriate care and thoughtfulness.
[snip]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blade: GOP Mehlman's Closet

Today's blog posting by Washington Blade editor Chris Crain on what's wrong with the Human Rights Campaign (plenty!), contains this throwaway line:

"But to read HRC's response to my editorial, you would think Ken Mehlman had finally come out and switched teams."

So the Blade is now calling attention to GOP chair Mehlman's closet. Good!

As a pro-outing activist who once was regularly attacked by the Blade for outing closet cases, who also recalls the paper's criticism of other outing activists in the past two years, it is very interesting to see the Blade now engaging in outing. Nice to see a gay paper's position on outing evolve over the years.

For more information about Mehlman's sexual orientation, go here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NYT's Labaton's Reply on Tomlinson, BBG Audit

Dear Mr. Labaton:

Thanks for your reply. Had a feeling you were well aware of that audit and that you may include its findings in a future story. Any chance you can also find out what the minutes show from the "closed session" meetings of the BBG? Frankly, I couldn't find a single BBG announcement about their meetings in the Federal Register where the meetings were open to the public. No doubt the BBG would likely provide you with the minutes and transcripts, if you were to file a Freedom of Information Act request.

Best,
Michael Petrelis

In a message dated 11/7/2005 8:25:54 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, slabaton@yahoo.com writes:

Dear Mr. Petrelis:

Thank you for passing on your research about the BBG. I had seen the FY 2004 Performance and Accountability Report and it certainly appears to fit into a broader pattern of financial irregularities. I've asked whether investigators see connections between the audit problems identified in the report and the inquiry into Mr. Tomlinson and have yet to get a straight answer. (It would be hard to believe there wouldn't be some connection) I will keep it in mind as I write more articles about the agency.
Thanks again for writing.

Best,

Stephen Labaton
CDC: Latest Flu Weekly Report & U.S. Map

Like many people living with AIDS and fewer than 300 t-cells, my doctor gives me a flu shot as soon as they arrive at the clinic. This year, I had my flu shot in early October and hope this coming winter will be flu-free for me.

Out of curiosity, lately I've been poking around the Centers for Disease Control's web page for flu information, just to monitor the federal government's prevention and surveillance of the flu.

One of the most interesting parts of the CDC's flu page and weekly updates is the map of the U.S., showing flu activity in shades of different colors, worthy of style queen.

Back in early October, there basically was no flu activity in any state, except Idaho, which was shaded in light purple, meaning there had been local cases reported to health authorities.

Now, fourteen states are shaded pastel green, indicating there's been sporadic flu activity.

I fear that as the flu season progresses, many more states will be colored dark red, signifying widespread flu cases.

Let's hope the CDC flu experts bring the weekly updated reports and U.S. map to the attention of policymakers in Washington. I'd hate to think this information is not closely monitored by the White House and Congress.
SF Chron French Riots Story Plagiarizes NYT?

It appears as though the San Francisco Chronicle today plagiarized from the New York Times' article about the riots in France. The first passage is from the NY Times, while the second is from the SF Chronicle's pick up of an LA Times story, with additional reporting from the Associated Press.

>"This is just the beginning," said Moussa Diallo, 22, a tall, unemployed French-African man in Clichy-sous-Bois, the working-class Parisian suburb where the violence started Oct. 27. "It's not going to end until there are two policemen dead." He did not say whether he had taken part in the vandalism.

>"This is just the beginning," said Moussa Diallo, 22, a tall, unemployed French African man in Clichy-sous-Bois. "It's not going to end until there are two policemen dead." Diallo did not admit to taking part in the vandalism himself.

I've checked the original LA Times article and the AP wire for the quote from Diallo and neither media outlet ran anything quoting him.

Maybe the SF Chronicle lifted the quote from the NY Times and simply forgot to credit the Gray Lady?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

50 Cent: "Being Gay Isn't Cool [...] Some Rappers Are Fruity"

This homophobe is more than entitled to use his First Amendment rights to express his views on gays and rap music, just as I'm free to not buy his records or not see his new movie.
From an interview with 50 Cent, rapper and movie star:

>50 CENT insists there's no place for gay men in rap because the genre is too aggressive for homosexuals.

Sounds like he buys into the stereotypical sissy limp-wristed fag. Has 50 Cent been living on Mars and missed all the butch gays parading around? I'd like to know if 50 Cent has scientific proof that homosexual males are immune from aggressive behavior, or if he's just incredibly ignorant.

>The rap superstar has nothing against gay men, but he can't foresee a time when a homosexual hip-hop star will make it big.

Sure, and some of his best friends are probably gay men, right?

>He says, "Being gay isn't cool - it's not what the music is based on. There's always been conflict at the centre of hip-hop, because it's all about which guy has the competitive edge, and you can't be that aggressive if you're gay.[...]

Hey, 50 Cent, you know what's not cool? Saying or believing gay isn't cool. Get with reality, dude.

>"I mean, some rappers are fruity, but they don't say they're gay out in the open."

And some rappers are nutty, intolerant and worthy of boycotting.
2004 Audit of Tomlinson, BBG; No Minutes of BBG Meetings

Stephen Labaton
slabaton@nytimes.com
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Labaton:

I was thoroughly fascinated by your front page article in today's New York Times about the inquiry by the State Department's Inspector General into accusations of improper use of federal funds and other possible misdeeds by Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

After reading your story, I searched the BBG's web site, looking for minutes of all the public meetings held by the board. To my dismay, no minutes or transcripts of these meetings were available.

This lack of minutes led me to search the web for any Federal Register announcements from the BBG about their public meetings. I found lots of announcements, but every single one stated the BBG meetings would be held in closed session.

"The members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) will meet in closed session to review and discuss a number of issues relating to U.S. Government-funded non-military international broadcasting. The will address internal procedural, budgetary, and personnel issues, as well as sensitive foreign policy issues relating to potential options in the U.S. international broadcasting field. This meeting is closed because if open it likely would either disclose matters that would be properly classified to be kept secret in the interest of foreign policy under the appropriate executive order (5 U.S.C. 552b. (c)(1)) or would disclose information the premature disclosure of which would be likely to significantly frustrate implementation of a proposed agency action.

Here are eleven listings for BBG meetings, stretching back to 2002, where the public was kept out: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.

Last and certainly not least, I'm sure you're aware of the most recent independent audit of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for FY 2004.

Among the audit's major findings, these were of particular interest to me:

- Inadequacies in internal control;

- Instances of noncompliance with selected provisions of applicable laws and regulations involving BBG's financial management system;

- BBG's internal control over its finances and accounting system was inadequate;

- Certain elements of the financial statements, principally property, plant and equipment, are developed from sources other than the general ledger;

- The use of sources other than the general ledger to generate elements of the financial statements increases the potential for omission of significant transactions;

- BBG has not codified its financial management operating procedures;

- Overall, BBG did not comply with a number of laws and regulations, including the Budget and Accounting Procedures Act of 1950, which requires an accounting system to provide full disclosure of the results of financial operations;

- BBG financial systems did not issue interim financial reports that could be used for effective management operations. (Audit link, pages 39 - 48.)

These troubling findings from a year ago, fit into the larger context of what you reported in the Times:

"Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, is the subject of an inquiry into accusations of misuse of federal money and the use of phantom or unqualified employees, officials involved in that examination said on Friday."

Having examined the 2004 audit of Tomlinson's fiscal leadership of the BBG, I do wonder if the investigation you wrote about is part of what may be a longstanding problem with his accounting and spending programs.

You might want to look at the audit and lack of publicly available minutes from BBG meetings, and include some the information in a story for the Times.

Regards,
Michael Petrelis

Friday, November 04, 2005

State Dept: Iraqi Rule of Law Programs "Fragile"

On October 26, the Inspector General of the State Department, Howard J. Krongard, very quietly issued a rather depressing report about U.S. taxpayer funded rule of law programs. Haven't been able to find any MSM stories, blogger postings or references in the alternative media after a few Google searches, which is why I'm calling attention to the report's findings.

The IG said nearly $400 million is being spent by several federal agencies for rule of law efforts in Iraq, on top of $1 billion more for police training. Out of the $4 million, $300 million went to constructing the country's physical infrastructure for justice, and the remaining $1 million was for assorted capacity-building programs

"Rule of law includes the entire legal complex of a modern state, from a constitution and legislation to courts, judges, police, prisons, a commercial code, and anticorruption mechanisms. To successfully implement an emerging rule of law, these activities must proceed somewhat sequentially and not randomly," the report stated.

Here are the major findings:

- "Most of the money for rule of law programs appears to have been well spent."

- "A fully integrated approach to rule of law programs in Iraq is essential and does not exist at present."

- "A new phase is beginning, in which the defining characteristics must be the successful transition from a U.S.-funded and directed program to a sustainable Iraqi-directed program."

- "There is less than optimal coordination within Washington, among U.S. elements in Iraq, and between Washington and Iraq."

- "There is also a need for a coordinator in Iraq to liaise with Washington and with U.S. organizations within Iraq."

- "Basic to the success of democracy and good governance is an effective anticorruption regime. Iraq's institutional framework for anticorruption activities is in place. However, the framework is fragile and untested and needs continued support."

- "Security requirements and logistics must be heavily factored into the current costs of activities in Iraq because these security issues detract from the efficiency and productivity of a project."

So, the State Department's IG starts off with just the appearance of the money being wisely used. That use of the word "appears" in the first finding is troubling.

But more unsettling is the lack of a fully functioning coordination in Washington. Hello, Bush administration? Why is this? There's no excuse for the GOP policymakers in DC on this matter. I could somewhat understand if that were said about the leadership in Iraq, after all, those over there face graver dangers just trying to get through every day, with a growing insurgency, so coordination there easily could be less than optimal. If we can't have optimal coordination from the crew that got us into this mess, one that has cost more than 2,000 American lives, then we need new leadership to deliver the coordination.

Finally, to learn that a framework for anticorruption is somewhat functioning and is "fragile and untested" gives me even more reason to be concerned about corporations like Halliburton and other friends of Veep Cheney. I wouldn't trust Dick's pals with anything fragile and untested.
CBS' Public Eye Spanks Drudge

If you're not reading the CBS Public Eye, an effort devoted to providing more transparency at CBS News and other media outlets, you're missing out on some very interesting analyses, like this one. Don't you just love it when Matt Drudge is taken to task for his hyperbole? I do and wish there were more criticism like this.

[Update: I just want to remind readers that everything posted below is from the CBS Public Eye.]
-

From the Public Eye:

>The Drudge Report today is featuring some comments made by CBS’ Andy Rooney on the “Imus” program this morning and it's getting some traction in the blogosphere. Here’s the one sentence that Drudge puts on his site:

>“I have a problem with the term African American ... The word negro is a perfectly good word. There is nothing wrong with that.”

>That happens to be an incorrect quote, one that serves Drudge’s need for hype.

>[...] The discussion began as host Don Imus was referencing a frequent guest, Congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) and noted that Ford is African-American. Here’s the transcript:

>Rooney: “I object every time I hear the words ‘African-American,’ you know? I don’t know why we have gotten caught with that.”

>Imus: “Yeah, I don’t either.”

>Rooney: “I mean, am I an ‘Irish-American?’”

>Imus: “What should I say, just ‘black’ right?”

>Rooney: “Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ‘black.’ Growing up, it’s funny how words get to be opprobrious. The word ‘negro,’ perfectly good word. It’s a strong word and a good word. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Mostly it’s not necessary to identify anyone by skin color. But I don’t care for ‘African-American.’”

>Imus: “I won’t use it anymore.”

>Drudge makes no comments, simply leaves snippets of the exchange hanging out there at the top of the page to give his many visitors an inaccurate impression of Rooney’s meaning. [...]

>His use of the word “negro” is what is striking many the wrong way, but he’s arguing for the strength of the word and remarking on the negative connotation it carries. He’s not advocating its return to the American lexicon.
NYT Deletes "Gay Bowel Syndrome" and Apologizes

The following email greeted me this morning and I've sent a thank you note back to Catherine Mathis at the Times. If she only knew how much I loathe any reference that legitimizes "gay bowel syndrome." I've checked the NYT's About.com Men's Health page and indeed, "gay bowel syndrome" has been removed.
-


Dear Mr. Petrelis,

We plan to remove mentions of Gay Bowel Syndrome from About.com. We
apologize for the use of the term.

Sincerely,

Catherine Mathis
VP, Corporate Communications
The New York Times Company

Thursday, November 03, 2005

NYT's About.com Must Delete "Gay Bowel Syndrome" Listing

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Chairman
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Sulzberger,

As a gay man, a shareholder and a reader, I ask that you immediately instruct your employees at About.com to delete the page on "gay bowel syndrome," a bogus disease long since debunked as legitimate.

It's beyond outrageous that any part of the New York Times Company gives any credence to this alleged syndrome.

Common decency also demands the Times Company and About.com issue an apology to gay men, for unjustly maligning us with the reprehensible information on the Men's Health page of your company's information portal.

I've waged a long campaign to eradicate "gay bowel syndrome" from the mainstream media and medical textbooks, and hope you will follow the example of other outlets quickly correcting the record when they erroneously promulgate the notion that the supposed syndrome is an actual disease.

A prompt deletion of the offensive page is requested.

Regards,
Michael Petrelis
San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blogs Buzz About Bush Adding Koran to Library; Correction From Me

The addition of the Koran to the White House bookshelves by Bush captured the attention of two more news bloggers today, BuzzFlash and AmericaBlog. Both sites predict fundamentalist anti-Islamists won't be happy learning the man the installed in the White House won't be happy about that. Not sure that the fundies even know Bush put the Koran in the library.

I have to correct something I alleged earlier today about no MSM had reported on Bush's action last month, during his now annual Ramadan dinner for American Moslems.

Turns out the San Francisco Chronicle reported on October 26 about the dinner: "Bush took the occasion to formally announce the addition of the very first Koran to the White House library."

Here's what the two of the politcal blogs wrote this evening:

From BuzzFlash.com

George Bush just added the Koran to the White House library. Nice gesture, but it will drive the fundies absolutely CRAZY. They hate it when Bush even vaguely suggests that Islam is anything but a religion of evil nutjob fanatics (yes, the irony is lost on them). So, this should make for some great theater. 11/2

And this was posted at AmericaBlog.com

Bush ? the Koran
by John in DC - 11/02/2005 04:17:00 PM


He put a copy of the Koran in the White House library AND apparently he's reading it. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But oh the fundies are gonna flip.

Check out this interview last month in which a Malaysian reporter interviews Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes:

KHAIDIR: Talking about books, President Bush in the Iftar in the White House – the White House finally has a Koran in the library….

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That’s right, he’s put a Koran in the library for the first time. [...]
Hughes: Bush Adds Koran to WH Library; He May Be Reading It

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen P. Hughes was interviewed last month by a reporter with Berita Harian newspaper in Malaysia and the State Department today posted a transcript of the interview. Have a look at this nugget of news:

[...]KHAIDIR: Talking about books, President Bush in the Iftar in the White House – the White House finally has a Koran in the library….

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: That’s right, he’s put a Koran in the library for the first time.

KHAIDIR: Has he started reading it yet?

UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: I don’t know! I know a lot of us - I know my husband and I started reading the Koran in the aftermath - I think after September 11th and after some of the discussions of, you know, after hearing some of what the terrorists were saying, and then hearing other Muslims saying that what the terrorists did, did not represent the Islamic faith, that a lot of Americans became very interested in learning more about Islam. And so I know I’ve read some of the Koran, and I’m sure the President has as well since he got the copy of the Koran to place in the White House library, so.

KHAIDIR: It’s good for him, because we have been misunderstood. [...]

I must have missed the MSM coverage in October when Bush placed a Koran in the White House library, which Hughes claims is the first instance of the book earning a spot on those shelves. Frankly, I find it hard to believe that up until last month, the White House library lacked a copy of the Koran.

Nice to learn of this news, and I sure wish a MSM reporter would ask Scott McClellan at a daily press briefing if the president has read some of the book.

By the way, I've Googled this phrase from Bush's announcement, "And for the first time in our nation's history, we have added a Koran to the White House Library," and no MSM hits for it were returned.
E&P: Bloggers and White House Press Briefings

Joe Strupp over at Editor & Publisher has posted a great thought-provoking column, all about bloggers and the White House press briefings, which you should read. Here's the letter I wrote to him this morning.
-

Dear Mr. Strupp:

Just read your column on bloggers and White House daily press briefings, and have a few comments and questions.

First, I wish you had asked me and other bloggers if we'd be interested in attending the briefings and asking questions of Scott McClellan. Nothing wrong with quoting MSM reporters on the Oval Office beat, but it seems to me political bloggers should have been asked why more of us have not applied for credentials and joined the pack of journalists in the briefing room.

Second, I'm very pleased you got comments from Garrett Graff and Eric Brewer, two bloggers who've attended some briefings and posed questions. If only more political bloggers in the Washington area would follow their example, get White House press credentials and inject some new blood into the proceedings, we might see more Americans paying attention to important issues raised at the briefings. After all, many people in the blogger audience are getting their news from bloggers and not the MSM.

Third, as blogger who lives in San Francisco and obviously can't physically be present at the daily briefing to raise my hand and ask questions, I'd like to propose that the White House press office and the White House Correspondents Association work with bloggers beyond the Beltway to find a way for us to pose questions.

Here's my proposal on this. The WHCA designates someone to whom bloggers outside the Beltway submit written questions and the White House agrees the designee is allowed to ask 5-6 questions from bloggers, every day, at the end of the daily briefings.

What questions would I submit for asking today? CBS News has appointed Sean McManus to run things and he last year contributed $250 to the Bush campaign. Does the White House hope CBS will now provide more favorable coverage of the president and his policies?

Also, would the president consider appointing an openly gay or lesbian advisor to his inner circle of White House confidants?

I applaud the White House deciding to grant bloggers press credentials and tried to use this breakthrough to persuade the State Department's press office to grant me a daily press pass back in the summer when I expected to be in Washington. My hope was to attend one or two State press briefings so I could ask the department about Iran's public hanging of two gay teenagers and other abuses of Iranian gays and lesbians.

Unfortunately, State denied my request for a press pass, as a blogger,
and, as far as I know, no federal agency has granted bloggers press credentials.

Then again, I'm not aware of other bloggers applying for press credentials or a day pass from the federal agencies. Perhaps it's time for bloggers to get organized on this and lobby all federal departments to open up their press briefings to political bloggers.

In any event, thanks for writing your column on bloggers and the White House and giving me food for thought.

Best,
Michael

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

US Marshals Withhold Judy Miller's Mug Shot; Appeal Filed

U.S. Department of Justice
United States Marshal Service
Office of General Council
Washington, DC 20531

October 25, 2005

Re: Freedom of Information Act Request No. 2006USMS8868

Dear Mr. Petrelis:

The United States Marshals Service is responding to your request for the mug shot of Judith Miller.

The Marshals Service is denying your request pursuant to exemption 7(c) of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552 (b). Exemption 7(c) allows an agency to withhold records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, to the extent that the production of such records or information could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. A discretionary release of this information would be in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. Section 552a. See also Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749 (1989).

If you are dissatisfied with my action on this request, you may appeal by writing to the Director, Office of Information and Privacy, United States Department of Justice, Flag Building, Suite 570, Washington, DC 20530, within 60 from the date of this letter. Both the letter and the envelope should be clearly marked "Freedom of Information Act Appeal."

In the event you are dissatisfied with the results of any such appeal, judicial review will thereafter be available to you in United States District Court for the judicial district in which you reside or have your principal place of business, or in the District of Columbia.

Sincerely,
William E. Bordley
FOI/PA Officer, Associate General Counsel
Office of General Counsel

-

November 1, 2005

Director
FOIA Office
Office of Information and Privacy
U.S. Department of Justice
Flag Building, Suite 579
Washington, DC 20530

Re: FOIA Appeal of Request No. 2006USMS8868

Dear Sir or Madam:

This letter is my formal appeal of the U.S. Marshals Service’s October 25 denial of my Freedom of Information Act request for New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s mug shot. The Marshals Service has assigned my FOIA request the following number: 2006USMS8868.

The denial letter from the Marshals Service states Miller’s mug shot can’t be released because of Exemption 7 (c) of FOIA, which allows a federal agency to withhold records or documents because release of them could constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

My appeal is based on several arguments, as listed below.

First of all, the web site for the Marshals Service posts photos of fugitives and several of the photos are mug shots taken by the service when the suspects were previously in the marshals’ custody.

Second, the 1996 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, Detroit Free Press v. Department of Justice, Nos. 94-1540/1720, upheld the release of mug shots by the Marshals Service under the provisions of FOIA.

And third, an important ruling reported in the September 19, 2005, Detroit Free Press said the paper “has won a partial victory in its legal battle to require the U.S. Marshals Service release photos of criminal defendants who appear in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

“But U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor declined a Free Press request Monday that the photos be processed by the Marshals Service in Detroit rather than at its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Her decision, in effect, means the Marshals Service can take 20 days to process the requests under the Federal Freedom of Information Act. Mug shots previously requested in Detroit usually were provided the same day.

“The Free Press and the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio sued the Marshals Service earlier this year after it stopped providing the photos on the grounds that government said in court documents that providing them would invade defendants’ privacy.

“The Marshals Service had previously honored such requests in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee based on a 1996 U.S. 6th Circuit Court decision resulting from a Free Press lawsuit. […]”

If the Marshals Service’s web site can use mug shots of fugitives from the Marshals Service, and there are two legal rulings upholding the release of mug shots taken by the Marshals Service, there is ample precedent for releasing Judith Miller’s mug shot to me, according to the provisions of FOIA.

I don’t think my FOIA request for Miller’s mug shot should be denied by the Marshals Service’s headquarters in Washington, DC, especially when the Detroit office of the Marshals Service has for some time, and still does, release mug shots.

There should be uniform application of the FOIA by all offices of the federal Marshals Service, including the headquarters in the District of Columbia, in relation to release of mug shots, not a patchwork of release policies. Different offices of the Marshals Service should not allow inconsistent adherence to FOIA provisions.

Therefore, I ask that my appeal be immediately granted and Judith Miller’s mug shot from the Marshal Service provided to me for noncommercial newsgathering purposes.

Regards,
Michael Petrelis
Here's some interesting stuff on the Alito kids that were found on the web.

Laura Alito has a page on this web site.

Today's New York Daily News reports:

Phil Alito, offspring of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, has quite the sense of humor. According to his editor's profile on the Web site of Colgate's student newspaper, The Forum: "I became interested in politics and got involved with Gary Condit (not like that). I served as a parking aide to Nancy Pelosi (I won't even start on her), but was fired when Barbara Boxer came onto me." Since when did college kids get so picky about sleeping with senators? No wonder the country's going to hell.

However, it appears as though Phil Alito's profile has been removed from Colgate's web site.

Googling Alito's quote in the Daily News, this was returned:

Forum
I served as a parking aide to Nancy Pelosi (I won't even start on her) but was
fired when Barbara Boxer came onto me. Eventually, I decided that my teeth ...
forum.collegepublisher.com/main.cfm?include=customPage&name=Bios - 33k - Supplemental Result - Cached - Similar pages

But when I clicked on the link, it did take me to the profiles for editors of The Forum, but Alito's profile is not there.

Did Colgate officials remove his page after reading the Daily News? Don't know.

It may just be that because Alito has transferred to the University of Virginia, and is no longer attending Colgate, the latter may have simply taken down his profile page since he's at another school.

Here's a link to a membership web page for Brown College at the UV
that lists a Philip Alito as a transfer student for the Fall 2005 semester.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Streisand: Bush = Worst. President. Ever.

People. People who need Barbra (and her political views). Are the luckiest people, in the world.

Posted last week on her site:

If there was ever a time in history to impeach a President of the United States, it would be now. In my opinion, it is two years too late. [...]

When does it stop? It stops with the indictment and impeachment of this corrupt, power-hungry, greedy group of incompetent leaders. How many more have to die before this happens? [...]

This President will go down as the worst president in American history. [...]

Just a reminder; Streisand loves her cutie-pie openly gay son, Jason Gould.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

FT: Damning Iraq Inspector General Report Issued

The October 30 edition of the Financial Times reports the following awful news (Is there any other kind out of Iraq?): "The US government had 'no comprehensive policy or regulatory guidelines' in place for staffing the management of postwar Iraq, according to the top government watchdog overseeing the country’s reconstruction.

"The lack of planning had plagued reconstruction since the US-led invasion, and been exacerbated by a 'general lack of co-ordination' between US government agencies charged with the rebuilding of Iraq, said Stuart Bowen, the special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report released on Sunday
."

Read Bowen's official bio at his site.

From his page explaining his responsibilities: "The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is required by law to provide a Quarterly Report to the U.S. Congress not later than 30 days following the end of each fiscal-year quarter to the appropriate committees of the Congress. This report is to summarize the activities of the Inspector General and the activities under the programs and operations funded by the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund."

The 114-page report referenced in the Financial Times
, which I'm in the processing of reading and digesting, is on the Inspector General's site in PDF.

Links to his other reports are also available, if you should be curious about earlier audits revealed.
NY Post Punches Pinch; FEC Files for Rival Golden

Ouch! Pinch sure gets punched, news-wise and pictorially, in Sunday's New York Post business section article by Peter Lauria.

He writes about Sulzberger Jr.'s myriad woes from the news room and the boardroom, and ponders who might replace him, if the extended Sulzberger cousins decide that's necessary.

Lauria reports: "The most frequently mentioned candidate to usurp Sulzberger's power is International Herald Tribune publisher and first cousin Michael Golden."

Now, you know me and I how feel about media names in the news--have to look at their FEC files. This is Golden's file, as listed on NewsMeat.com.

GOLDEN, MICHAEL
THE NEW YORK TIMES CO
MOYNIHAN, DANIEL PATRICK (D)
$1,000
12/01/93

GOLDEN, MICHAEL
NY TIMES WOMEN'S MAGAZINE
SASSER, JAMES RALPH (D)
$250
05/14/93

GOLDEN, MICHAEL
NEW YORK TIMES CO
MOYNIHAN, DANIEL PATRICK (D)
$500
11/30/92

GOLDEN, MICHAEL
NYT WOMENS MAGAZINES
MINETA, NORMAN Y (D)
$250
11/02/92

There is one other donation listed for a Michael Golden, but the listing doesn't say who his employer is, so it may not be a contribution from the Timesman, with that caveat, here's the information:

GOLDEN, MICHAEL
NEW YORK, NY 10024
DNC SERVICES CORPORATION/DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE (D)
$3,000
09/29/92

What can be gleaned from Golden's giving? Two glaring points. He donated only to Democrats, no real surprise there, and the checks were written out more than a decade ago.

So if the Sulzberger cousins tire of Arthur Jr. and his rocky, unprofitable ways, and Golden becomes chairman of the New York Times Company, based on his long-ago political contributions, I'd say he'd continue the liberal slant of the newspaper. Something that should give comfort to the extended family, many stockholders and a big chunk of readers.

Read his bio and check out his photo at his page at the NYTCo site.