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No virgins
We are all Danes now!

A deadly cocktail

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Christmas in Bethlehem

Date: 12/25/05
Show: NPR Hourly News

Sabbah and Arafat   Old friends: Latin Patriarch and PLO Chairman

Depending on who does the counting, between 18,000 to 30,000 pilgrims braved snow and ice this year to celebrate Christmas at the birthplace of Christianity, Bethlehem. While the number of visitors was 'dramatically' up from a recent low of 8,000, it is still a far cry from the millions of Christians visiting Bethlehem before the Palestinians launched the second intifada five years ago.

On the early morning newscast, NPR's Linda Gradstein described the festivities:

The streets of Bethlehem glowed with lights as thousands of pilgrims came for Christmas celebrations. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah said there is a real opportunity for peace as Israelis and Palestinians hold elections in the next few months. He said, "leaving all violence, all vengeance, freeing political prisoners, and putting the past behind can create a new land in which we can assure security for Israelis and give Palestinians liberty."

The Vatican envoy also criticized the barrier that Israel is building in and around the West Bank, which runs through the center of Bethlehem and seals the town of from Jerusalem. Israeli officials said that they eased restrictions to allow both Palestinian Christians and tourists to visit.

Gradstein is not the only Western reporter who had trouble locating the Israeli security fence this morning. Earlier, Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb claimed that "the gray concrete wall […] divides Bethlehem." In later reports, he corrected himself and placed the wall "at the edge of town."

There is no question about the location of the security fence — or apartheid wall in Palestinian parlance. Even maps on pro-Palestinian web sites show the barrier right between the suburbs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, not through the "center of the city." Gradstein, Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990, certainly must know this, but moving the fence a little further south makes the hardship for the Palestinian people seem so much more unbearable.

Few NPR listeners are aware of the fact that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is a Palestinian and long-time friend of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Knowing this, makes his plea for Palestinian liberty and demand for freeing political prisoners appear in a different light. Of course, what the envoy considers a political prisoner is for others a Palestinian terrorist and, as most students of the Middle East conflict can tell you, there are no Israelis in Palestinian prisons — they are murdered before they ever get there.


A deadly cocktail

We Are All Danes Now!

Date: 2/7/06 & 2/8/06
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

No more virgins!   ©Jylland-Posten

For a network that fearlessly calls the Bush administration criminal — talk about biting the hand that feeds you — NPR is remarkably timid when it comes to the sensibilities of Muslims. In a segment about U.S. newspapers and web sites reprinting a series of Danish cartoons about Muhammad, Media Correspondent David Folkenflik explained NPR's position:

The Washington Post decided not to print the cartoons saying it would have violated its standards. […] Senior news executives at NPR and its Web site,, similarly decided against reproducing the cartoons.

Whether a cartoon is offensive or not is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Evidently, to NPR executives, Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" depiction of Jesus in a jar of urine is not offensive while a friendly looking Muhammad advising a line of slightly mangled suicide bombers that he ran out of virgins is very much so. The cartoon of Allah's prophet, at least, has a real news context — the brutal murder of thousands of Jews and Christians by militant Islamists.

The next day, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep called Ahmed Abu-Laban, the Danish imam who incited the violence against Danish and other European interests and whose activities inspired death threats against the Jylland-Posten, the paper that first published the cartoons. Surely, the trips he organized to Egypt and the Lebanon had nothing to do with the riots; the good man merely wanted to receive guidance from the Grand Mufti in Cairo and learn from Lebanon's Christians and Muslims communities the ways of peaceful coexistence. If Inskeep had Bin Laden's number, he would give him a call and let him explain why September 11 was just one big misunderstanding.

The portfolio that Abu-Laban took with him included cartoons that were much more inflammatory than those the Jylland-Posten had printed. The Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet got hold of one that depicted Muhammad with pig's ears and snout — for Muslims, the worst possible insult since the swine is considered unclean. The Neandernews blog revealed that the picture was a fraud, a bad photocopy of a photo taken at the French pig-squealing championship in Trie-sur-Baise, featuring comedian Jacques Barrot as one of the contestants. Two other pictures, presumably also fabricated, showed the prophet as a pedophile and a Muslim engaging in bestiality with a dog.

An update

One reader rightly pointed out that NPR hosts do not necessarily share the opinions of their guests. I do not want to put words into Inskeep's mouth, but the fact that he did not respond to Lapham's characterization of the Bush administration as criminal with words like "do you really think so?" or "are you serious?" suggests to me that he must agree with Lapham. Also, this was the first in a series of "long views to mark the passage of time" during the last week of 2005. Why invite a well-known Bush hater for such a momentous occasion?

And Inskeep is certainly not the only NPR host to do so. You only have to listen to Terry Gross' Fresh Air a couple of times and you will get the impression that the Bush-hating Left is having a family reunion over there.

Ahmed Abu-Laban

Abu-Laban at a pro-Palestinian rally in Denmark [©]

But back to the interview with the Danish imam:

European terrorism experts say that Abu-Laben has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's second in command, is hailing from. Moreover, a profile of Abu-Laben on Danish television linked him to the Egyptian terrorist group Gamaa Islamiya.

I doubt that Inskeep was aware of the terrorism links of his distinguished guest. Nevertheless, what he should have known is that the imam has two faces. Speaking in English or Danish he says one thing while in Arabic he says something entirely different. Thus, in interviews with the Danish press he spoke out against the boycott of Danish goods while on Aljazeera, the premier Arab television news network, he praised the boycott. In this regard, he reminds me of another famous Palestinian who grew up in Cairo, chairman Yasser Arafat.

Religion of peace

"Religion of peace" demonstration in London [no attribution]

A month after the outbreak of the cartoon riots in the Islamic world, NPR still seems dazed and confused. On February 18, Debbie Elliott, host of All Things Considered, had this to say about the chain of events:

It's been five months since the original publication of the cartoons which lampooned the prophet Muhammad, and it's been nearly three weeks since they were re-published in some European newspapers, sparking the current round of protests.

Apart from the fact that only a few of the cartoons actually lampooned the prophet, she is totally wrong when she claims that the reprinting of the cartoons sparked the riots. It was the attacks on Danish and other Western interest in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran that prompted several European papers to publish the cartoons in solidarity with the Danish cartoonists. The riots came first, the re-publishing of the cartoons was second.

  • audio file Muhammad cartoon protests turn deadly again [ATC, 2/18/06]
  • Global Jihad: Cartoon-protest leader welcomed 9-11 [WorldNetDaily, 2/9/2006]
  • The Cartoon Jihad by Olivier Guitta [The Weekly Standard, 2/20/2006]
  • A Failure of the Press by William J. Bennett and Alan M. Dershowitz [Washington Post, 2/23/2006, registration required]
  • NPR Biography: Debbie Elliott, host of All Things Considered


NPR confidential

A Deadly Cocktail

Date: 4/25/06
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

From the organization that brought you the libel of the Jenin massacre, here is something new: an investigation on the way the death penalty is carried out in the United States. Human Rights Watch, like most activists these days, is dead set against the death penalty and, thus, the verdict of the study — the death penalty violates the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment — was a foregone conclusion. Most news outlets ignored the study, but not NPR. On Morning Edition, Jamie Fellner, director of Human Rights Watch USA, solemnly proclaimed:

It has pulled the cover off of what has really been a very secret process in the United States, the process by how we kill people.

The process that HRW laid bare is the method of lethal injection as it is practiced in 37 out of 38 states that apply the death penalty. The deadly cocktail consist of 3 drugs which are given in sequence: first, a hypnotic, sodium pentothal, which puts the prisoner to sleep; second, a muscle relaxant, pancuronium bromide, which stops the breathing; and, third, potassium chloride, which arrests the heart. The first two drugs are (or have been) routinely used in surgery. Potassium is employed in open-heart surgery to prevent the heart from beating while being operated on.

Death chamber   Florida death chamber [©Florida DOC]

I cannot think of a more humane way to put somebody to death. To their credit, very few death penalty opponents dispute this. What HRW claims to have uncovered is that the process is poorly executed in American prisons. Indeed, if the level of anesthesia is not deep enough, the condemned might experience pain during the injection of potassium chloride. Being paralyzed, he wouldn't even be able to express his discomfort.

To guard against the possibility that the prisoner is awake during the execution, the injection contains a huge overdose of sodium pentothal. A more likely explanation for the occasional breathing movements cited in the study is that the degree of muscle relaxation is inadequate. While this may delay death by a few minutes, it will not cause pain.

The question whether the condemned feels any pain during the execution is a clever question to ask, at least from the perspective of a death penalty opponent. After all, the condemned won't be able to say whether the procedure was painful or not. Nor is there a way to quantify the pain that he is experiencing, a fact all-too-well known to personal injury lawyers.

The best that an executioner can do under these circumstances is to make sure that the level of anesthesia is appropriate, but even that is hard to do. Health care professionals, who are qualified to make such an assessment, refuse to participate in executions out of fear that they could lose their license. The only way out, it seems, is for state legislatures to pass laws that prevent professional associations from retaliating against doctors or nurses who assist in lawful executions. As a clear majority of voters support the fair, timely, and safe application of the death penalty, this should be an easy piece of legislation to pass, especially in an election year.

An update

The next day, Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent, joined the jolly fray. Herself opposed to the death penalty except when it comes to Senator Helms and his kin, Totenberg falls for the most outrageous lie contained in the HRW report, the claim that dogs and cats are treated better than humans.

But the science of execution has not advanced over the decades. There have been cases of inmates convulsing before death, and the cocktail used in the 1970ties is so potentially painful that the American Veterinary Association bars its use to kill animals, as do 19 states.

Of course, what states and veterinarians frown upon is the use of potassium chloride as the sole means of putting an animal to death, not the combination with other drugs. The way that dogs and cats are killed in animal shelters is largely unregulated. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends injection of pentobarbital or gassing with compressed carbon monoxide. Still, many shelters put unwanted pets to death by forcing them to breathe motor exhaust.

red Herring   Spot the Red Herring [©2006 Susie Perring]

Later in the day, Totenberg digs up another red herring of the death penalty debate; the claim that the pentothal-induced anesthesia is short-lived, raising the specter that by the time potassium reaches the heart the inmate has regained consciousness. Indeed, at the low concentrations used in general anesthesia, the effect of pentothal is short-lived, but at the much higher concentrations used for executions, pentothal produces an irreversible coma. Death is caused by anoxia (lack of oxygen) resulting from the arrest of breathing and the standstill of the heart.

  • audio file High court hears lethal-injection case [ME, 4/26/06]
  • audio file Supreme Court weighs pain of deadly injection [ATC, 4/26/06]
  • Nina's Wish: Totenberg asks God to give Senator Helms AIDS


Ivan, the terrible

NPR Confidential

Date: 6/24/06
Show: Weekend Edition - Saturday (NPR)

I don't know what possessed NPR's Tom Goldman to jump into the fray about Lance Armstrong's alleged illegal drug use. Naturally, the story is huge in France where the hatred of everything Americain is equally big and Lance was never forgiven for winning Le Tour more often than local heroes Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault did.

The story is based on testimony from a lawsuit filed by Lance Armstrong against SCA Promotions, a Texas-based company that contractually agreed to pay Armstrong a $5 million bonus if he would win the Tour de France an unprecedented sixth time in 2004. When Armstrong won the race, SCA refused to pay on grounds that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs. The claim was based on a French book that was published just days before the start of the 2004 Tour, cleverly entitled "L.A. Confidentiel," the initials, of course, standing for Lance Armstrong.

LA Confidentiel   A French bestseller

The lawsuit was settled earlier this year by an arbitration panel. All three judges sided with the plaintiff, awarding Armstrong the $5 million bonus and an additional $2.5 million in punitive damages.

The settlement imposed strict confidentiality on the parties, which has been broken here. Since the transcripts leaked to the media contain testimony that appears to incriminate Armstrong, it is likely that the leak originated from the defendant in the trial, SCA Promotions. Threatened with additional civil penalties, the company maintains that it was not the source, while admitting that it shared trial testimony and exhibits with Dick Pound, chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Pound's animosity against US athletes in general and Lance Armstrong in particular is widely known.

Regardless of the circumstances of the leak, the story itself is hard to believe. Betsy Andreu, a former friend of Lance's first wife, testified that in 1996 two or more doctors — she can't remember the exact number — asked Armstrong whether he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. According to her, Lance gave them a whole list: growth hormone, cortisone, EPO, steroids, and testosterone.

The alleged incidence took place in a TV lounge at the Indiana University Medical Center where Armstrong and friends were watching a football game, only days after he had undergone brain surgery. Apart from the fact that no physician would ask such a question in the company of strangers, there was no medical reason to do so: the procedure had been done, previous use or non-use of drugs had nothing to do with Armstrong's condition, nor would it affect his treatment. Moreover, a patient's history is usually obtained after admission, not shortly before the discharge. And, to deliver a final coup de grâce to an already dead horse: in a sworn affidavit Armstrong's physician said that he never asked a question like that and medical records kept by the hospital do not mention any drug use, though they reveal that Armstrong was treated with EPO (erythropoietin), a hormone stimulating red blood cells, and a steroid, presumably to prevent swelling of the brain after the surgery.

Unlike many professional athletes, and much to the chagrin of his detractors, Armstrong never tested positive for any drugs. The closest he ever came to a doping charge was in 1999 when a urine sample revealed trace amounts of cortisone resulting from the topical use of a cream against saddle sores. The French press wrote that the prescription for the cream was backdated, a claim that was never backed up. As an aside, cortisone, while technically a steroid, can hardly be considered to enhance performance.

Just in time for the 2005 Tour, Armstrong's seventh and final triumph, the French sports daily L'Équipe trumpeted results of the French national doping laboratory, claiming that they had found EPO in frozen urine samples that they had kept from the 1999 Tour. The International Cycling Union commissioned an independent investigation which cleared Armstrong of the charges and severely criticized Pound's World Anti-Doping Agency for its handling of the case.

Bush with Armstrong   ©AP: Armstrong with Bush at the Crawford ranch

There is no good explanation why Betsy Andreu hates Lance Armstrong, though there is little doubt that she does: without a subpoena, she traveled to Dallas to testify against her onetime friend, carrying with her a note explaining how much she hated Lance. Even the investigator charged with gathering evidence for the doping complained of her constant phone calls and suggestions. She made more than a dozen trips to SCA Promotions to help with their defense. Her accusations laid the foundation to L.A. Confidentiel and she told the story of the supposedly spontaneous confession to anyone who was willing to listen and, at least in one case, to pay.

I do not know why NPR and the L.A. Times — the only other "reputable" news organization outside of France that published the leaked transcripts — hate Lance Armstrong. My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that President Bush is a great fan of Armstrong, a fellow Texan.

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Revised 1/30/07