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Saturday, January 04, 2003

Kevin Drum, the Calpundit, tells the story of his service on a jury trying a drunk driving case.

Kevin felt the defendant to be guilty. The cops had him dead to rights weaving all over the street and the blood alcohol test came in at 1.1, over the legal limit of 0.8.

The defendant hired a very good defense lawyer who attacked the reliability of the blood test. When the jury retired, the initial vote was 10-2 to acquit. After a couple days of deliberation, Kevin and one other juror had convinced the others and the defendant was found guilty by the required unanimous 12-0 verdict.

We sometimes hear stories such as Kevin’s offered to demonstrate that juries often make “wrong” decisions (although Kevin has not made that argument). We always find it amusing when the example given of a “wrong” jury decision ends with the jury making the decision the storyteller felt was “right.” In essence, the argument is that juries must often make terrible decisions because in the one example given, the jury made the “right" decision but not sufficiently quickly.

Some people who favor tort reform argue that juries award substantial damages in cases that are frivolous. None of the people making that argument would, of course, ever award a dollar to a plaintiff in a frivolous case. In addition, none of the people on their blogroll would ever do so. Is it really likely that a jury has no political conservatives?

Tort reform is a fundamental plank of the conservative agenda. Many Republicans apparently believe that juries are likely to simply hand out money for absolutely no reason. If that belief was not prevalent, the GOP would not think that tort reform is a winning issue. Almost fifty million people voted for George Bush in 2000. Many of those 50 million people are, to their chagrin, eligible for jury duty.

Of course, if there is even one such person on the jury, no frivolous award will be granted because a verdict generally requires unanimity (in some states, judgment may enter with only ten of twelve jurors agreeing). Since a large award in a frivolous suit cannot happen if even one such person is on the jury, the argument is often made that such persons are systematically eliminated from juries.

That argument does not jibe with our experience. In a typical jury trial, we select the jury of 12 (plus an alternate or two) from a pool of 48 potential jurors. Typically, each side is allowed 6 preemptory strikes. Those strikes may be used to eliminate people from the jury without cause for any reason and are in fact used to eliminate potential jurors felt to be predisposed against one side or the other.

We “strike” the jury by alternate use of the preemptory strikes. After the preemptory strikes are exhausted, the first twelve remaining people are the jury.

Only the first 26 of those 48 (twelve jurors plus two alternates plus twelve preemptory strikes) are at all important because after the use of the strikes, the first twelve will form the jury.

If we represent the plaintiff, our goal is to eliminate the 6 most pro-defense jurors from that group of 26. The most we can ever do is eliminate one-quarter of the pool. The defense lawyer will strike the 6 most pro-plaintiff jurors thereby eliminating the one-quarter felt to be the most sympathetic to the plaintiff.

A former trial lawyer, Senator John Edwards has announced that he may run for President. The Republicans immediately attacked him as being a greedy trial lawyer. The Republicans must feel that that attack has some resonance with a large portion of the electorate. Surely, they were not taking their best shot at Edwards by appealing only to the most conservative 25% of the public.

In a state in which Gore beat Bush by a 60-40 landslide, if the jury pool is proportionately distributed, there will be 10 or 11 Bush voters of the relevant 26 potential jurors. The most the plaintiff’s lawyer can strike will be 6. That will leave four or five Bush voters on the jury.

If a plaintiff’s lawyer convinces four Republicans and eight Democrats that the plaintiff deserves a large award and that the defendant should have to pay a large judgment is it really likely that the case is frivolous?

Friday, January 03, 2003
Media Bias

Eriposte has updated his chart of media bias. Lots of new material has been added. The chart and commentary now document media bias from before the 2000 election. It appears that it is time to start a John Edwards file as well. Please have a look.

Tolerance Update

In Tolerance, we discussed where the Republican Party draws the line with regard to tolerating the insensitive and downright racist views of some within the Party. The line is now clear.

A Republican Senator who expresses a fondness for the days of the Jim Crow South may not be Majority Leader of the Senate but may be Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

Republican Senator Rick Santorum, who was in line for the powerful position, agreed to step aside so that Mr. Lott could “retain some institutional power.” The GOP went out of its way to make sure that a person with Trent Lott's views maintained a large measure of political power. That goes a bit beyond mere tolerance.

There will be no need for a “colored” entrance to the Rules Committee Hearing Room as there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate. Link via Atrios.

Update: The Better Rhetor thinks that we should not tolerate Crisco Johnny as Attorney General. And he plans to do something about it.

Hot Links

Kevin Drum endorses mandatory National Service:
This would, of course, be enormously difficult to manage and enormously expensive to implement. But it would be worth it. The last time anything like this happened was during World War II, and it provided a sense of national purpose that we have never since recovered.

Tom Spencer, a historian, is concerned that the Bush penchant for secrecy, a theme often appearing at PLA, is bad for historians and bad for the country:
I would argue there is nothing good that comes from a government that feels it necessary to do everything behind such a veil of secrecy. Why is such secrecy necessary? What constructive purpose does it truly serve? Historians should be concerned -- but everybody else should be as well.

Devra misses Bill Clinton. Be sure to read the comments as well.

Don’t you just love a good skippy rant? We do.

Thursday, January 02, 2003
Where Do They Find Them?

Candy Crowley of CNN just interviewed Senator John Edwards of North Carolina about the announcement that he may run for President. Shortly after that interview, Crowley posed a quiz.

Who was the last North Carolinian to run for President?

The choices offered were Senator Jesse Helms, former Senator Sam Ervin and Terry Sanford. Terry Sanford, now deceased, was Governor of North Carolina, a Senator and the former President of Duke University. He ran for President twice.

Crowley, we suppose, believes that Terry Sanford would be the correct answer to her quiz.

Has Candy Crowley ever heard of Elizabeth Dole? She ran for President in 2000 long after Sanford died. Dole is currently the Senator elect from North Carolina.

Why does CNN hire someone like Crowley who does not have even a passing knowledge of the subject she purports to cover?

The 2002 Koufax Award Winners Are….

Before announcing the winners, we must first offer thanks and congratulations as well as report some bad news.

The congratulations go to all of the winners and all of the nominees. The winners were all deserving of the award and the nominees who did not win also merit congratulations for great blogging.

Thanks to all who participated by nominating and/or voting. We had an overwhelming number of emails and quite a few comments. Thanks to all.

The bad news is in two parts. First, we are sorry to announce that our application to Richard Mellon Scaife for $5,000,000 to endow the Koufax Awards with a substantial monetary prize has not been approved. Maybe next year.

Secondly, the nomination process used this year was seriously flawed. We know that for three reasons. First, many have pointed it out to us by comment or email. Secondly, there were a large number of write-in votes. A good nomination process would have eliminated the need for write-in candidates.

Finally, we know that the nomination process was flawed because four blogs we consider essential reads were not nominated. Liberal Oasis should have been nominated for Best Blog as well as Best Single Issue Blog. Liberal Oasis has unsurpassed political commentary and its weekly Sunday Talkshow Breakdown relieves us of having to listen to the human banality that answers to the name “Tim Russert.”

It is also difficult to fathom that Avedon Carol's The Sideshow did not garner a nomination. The Sideshow combines an eclectic mix of politics, culture and science fiction. Her eye for interesting links is unsurpassed. When she has the time to pen longer pieces, her insight matches the high quality of her writing. Any process that did not nominate The Sideshow is seriously flawed.

Demosthenes also merited a nomination. He eschews the “link, quote, comment” formula for more in-depth and thoughtful posts. We suspect that the fact that his computer blew up just before the nomination season may explain his absence from the nominees.

If you enjoy a healthy dose of public policy along with your politics, there is none better than Mark Kleiman. He is a Public Policy Professor at UCLA and his writing reflects that expertise. His posts on drug policy merited a nomination for “Best Series” and he has the distinction of having educated Instapundit concerning the thimerosal/autism/Homeland Security issue.

If you have any ideas about how to better organize the nomination process, please leave a comment or drop us an email. Also, if you see a particularly good post that you think ought to be considered for an award, send us a link and we will keep it until the nominations next year.

And now for the winners:

Best Pro Blogger

In a landslide vote, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wins the Koufax for the Best Pro Blogger. His reporting on the Trent Lott matter, the bogus “voter fraud scandal” in South Dakota and his generally insightful political analysis were often cited by voters. Most forgave his near obsession with Gary Condit. Congratulation Josh.

Best Blog

The 2002 Koufax for Best Blog goes to Atrios of Eschaton. The comments of the voters are telling. Hesiod (who was also nominated in this category) voted for Atrios with the comment that “Atrios' blog is now liberal-Democrat central.”

The definitive reasons why Atrios deserves the Koufax for Best Blog were pointed out by Digby:
Atrios, for consistently having his finger on the pulse. He’s the Beatles of Blogging. It's spooky the way he sees the trend before anybody else.

Whereas professional online news gathering entities like “The Note” capture the CW of DC and offer reams of information and items of interest, Atrios seems to feel what the wider reaction will be. He hones in on the salient points and brings various spins and takes to his page with a real narrative flair.

His own voice is casual and wholly unpretentious; the blog itself tells the story through the pacing and interaction of the posts, links and commentary of other bloggers and readers. He culls the best of the print and online world, usually linked in a series of short, pointed comments and punctuated by infrequent but incisive longer original pieces until a theme or story reaches critical mass. His blog, rather than simply being a vehicle for commentary serves as a conduit and a clearinghouse for the online liberal zeitgeist.

That says it all. Congratulations Atrios.

Best Series

There were many worthy nominees for Best Series. The overwhelming choice, however, was Atrios’ series on Trent Lott.

How complete was Atrios' coverage of the Trent Lott story?

See, for instance, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this. Those links were one week of posts concerning Trent Lott.

Sam Heldman said of Atrios’ work that “having an impact on the world is good." Rea commented that “Atrios made a difference in the world.”

No award is more deserved than this one. Congratulations Atrios.

Best Writing

There were many worthy nominees for the Best Writing Koufax Award. Jeff Cooper commented that he was honored to have received a nomination for Best Writing. It was quite deserved, Jeff. We were privileged to be able to read your writing as the significant number of votes you received attests.

In the end, this was a race between Jeanne D’Arc of Body and Soul and Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review. In that contest, the readers are the true winners.

Jeanne D’Arc won in a very close vote. For a sampling of her fine writing, please look here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Read them all and you will see why Jeanne deserves the 2002 Koufax for Best Writing. As Jessica commented, Jeanne “always has something interesting and contemplative to say, and always says it beautifully.”

Congratulations Jeanne.

Best Post

It should come as no surprise that the 2002 Koufax for Best Post goes to Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review. The winning entry is Al Gore and the Alpha Girls. Peter commented, simply, that “Al Gore and the Alpha Girls was brilliant.”

Some of Jim’s other fine writing may be found here and here.

As usual, Digby had the definitive comment in this category:
What an incredible experience to read all of these pieces (some for the first time) one right after the other. That's some real … writing. (quote cleaned up. My mom reads this blog).

Congratulations Jim.

Best Single Issue Blog

The Koufax Award for Best Single Issue Blog was a contest between two political blogs and two law blogs. Daily Kos and Jerome Armstrong’s MyDD split the political blog vote while Sam Heldman’s Ignatz and Jeralyn Merritt’s Talk Left split the law blog vote. Many voters expressed difficulty in choosing and some split their vote. In the end, in a very close race, the 2002 Koufax Award for the Best Single Issue Blog goes to Jeralyn Merritt of Talk Left.

As one comment said:
Jeralyn deserves some special award for all those lonely cable news appearances in which she alone represents the essential values of Western humanism among all the ranters.

Digby summed up the competition this way:
I read every one of the nominated blogs pretty consistently because of the expertise they provide in each of their fields… Every lefty pundit ought to check these sites out before they venture before the camera. They'd sound a lot more original and a helluva lot smarter.

Congratulations Jeralyn.

Most Humorous Blog

The contest for Most Humorous Blog drew the most votes of any category. Humor is a matter of taste and all seven nominees had significant support. TBogg, Neal Pollack and Adam Felber drew the most votes. In then end, the 2002 Koufax for Most Humorous Blog goes to Adam Felber of Fanatical Apathy. Adam won on the strength of a get out the vote campaign as shown by this comment:
Felber and Fanatical Apathy all the way. Pollack has got the cool, but that don't make for funny. Alright, I can not tell a lie. Pollack is funny and I'll never be as cool as him and neither will you. But Pollack isn't my brother. I can not tell a lie.

Congratulations of Adam.

Most Humorous Post

There was also keen competition for the Koufax Award for Most Humorous Post. One nominee, Neal Pollack’s “Ow!” drew the comment from David T. that “They oughta make it into a movie.” If they do, we doubt that it will be G-rated.

Oliver Willis’s Warblogger parody made us laugh so hard, we had to delay meeting with a client for 10 minutes so as to regain a modicum of composure.

The winner of the 2002 Koufax Award for Most Humorous Post is Jesse Taylor of Pandagon for his parody of Peggy Noonan. As commenter John Casey said:
It ought not be possible to parody Noonan, self-parodist supreme that she is, but Pandagon triumphed.

Congratulations Jesse.

Best Commentor

The Best Commentor award was intended to recognize the person posting the best comments on other people’s blogs. One of the nominees, Rea, voted for Digby. Digby voted for Rea. The lefty portion of the blog world is full of nice people.

Digby wins the 2002 Koufax Award for Best Commentor. We suspect that he may be in the running for a Koufax for Best Blog next year as he has taken the plunge and started his own blog.

Tony B summed up the case for Digby as follows:
It is a pleasure to know that on any given day, I may get to read Digby.

That says it perfectly. Congratulations Digby.

Best New Blog

We had seven fine nominees for Best New Blog. They are all worth your time. We would like to call special attention to Wampum. She drew significant support in the voting. She is smart, knowledgeable and a good writer. She also knows more about scientific studies of autism than any other blogger.

The winner of the Best New Blog Koufax Award for 2002 is Roger Ailes. As one commenter put it, the “hairy charming one.”

We will allow our Best Commentor, Digby, tell you why Roger won:
I’ve been reading Roger Ailes' (no, not that Roger Ailes) writing since MWO days. He’s got some serious attitude and there just can't be enough of that in leftyland.

He is also quite funny and has a good eye for links. Congratulations Roger.

Best Special Effects

The 2002 Koufax Award for Best Special Effects goes to Blah 3 for its use of Flash movies. The Take Back the Media campaign starts here. The Question Mark series can be found here.

Uggabugga also received substantial support for its creative use of charts. Digby:
Uggabugga’s charts are not only mindblowingly effective, they are useful. I have actually printed them out to make points to Republicans who need pictures in order to comprehend difficult concepts…

In the end Blah 3 won the voting. Digby again:
Blah3. They were so good that they had certain stupid editorialists from conservative papers claiming that the Democratic Party was behind them (and had to eat their words).

Congratulations to Blah 3.

Best Design

The Koufax Award for Best Design was another close contest. One contestant, Jason Toney of Negroplease expressed dissatisfaction with his design and voted for someone else. Another nominee, Pandagon, changed design after being nominated. Those of us using off the shelf templates should be ashamed.

The winner of the 2002 Koufax Award for Best Design goes to Ampersand of Alas, A Blog.

Jeanne commented:

This is one of the toughest but -- Alas a blog (because it's not just a nice design, it's the way style and content work together.)


I laugh everytime I click on Alas, a Blog, so it must be the best.

Congratulations Barry.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Digby Has a Blog

Uber Commenter Digby has decided to take the plunge and start his own Blog. That is a long overdue step. Please stop by to say hello.

Update: It did not take Digby long to make a valuable contribution. Please go read his analysis of how Democrats should develop a strategy for getting their message through the media to a large audience. As usual, he is exactly correct.

The silly part of the Democrat's inability to effectively use the media is that the party includes some of the best media minds in the country. We suspect that Steven Speilberg and Tom Hanks could figure out a way to create a political show for television or radio that would interest the public and send a strong political message.

Edited typo

Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Special Interests vs. Public Interest

In a recent article in The New Republic, Jonathan Chait writes as follows:
Indeed, the simple rule for understanding Bush's economic policy is that in virtually every instance, whether tacking right or left, the president sides with whatever interest group has the strongest stake in the issue at hand. The result is an administration whose domestic actions persistently, almost uniformly, fail to uphold the broader public good.

Chait then gives numerous examples of the Bush administration bowing to the will of the lobbyists for various special interests including the accounting industry, the energy industry, credit card companies, companies opposed to tougher workplace standards, the telecommunication industry, the automotive industry, airlines, drug companies and HMOs.

Chait concludes:
In fact, if you look at the major economic issues of the Bush presidency, in every instance Bush's position has been identical to that of whichever interest group applied the heaviest political pressure.

W.R. Grace & Company provides another example. W.R. Grace & Company contributes to Republican causes. In the 2000 election cycle, it gave close to $250,000 in soft money contributions, 77% of which went to Republicans. In the 1998 election cycle more than 90% of Grace’s soft money contributions went to Republicans.

Among its other businesses, W.R. Grace sold insulation known as Zonolite.
W.R. Grace used the mineral vermiculite to make the insulation. W.R. Grace obtained the vermiculite from a mine located in Libby, Montana.

Thousands of miners and their families in Libby became sick or died. It was discovered that the vermiculite from the Libby mine contained a substance known as tremolite. Tremolite is a very lethal form of asbestos.

W.R. Grace’s insulation contained tremolite. That insulation was installed in millions of homes, schools and businesses. The Saint Louis Post Dispatch reports that between 15 and 35 million homes may contain insulation with potentially lethal tremolite. For instance, as many as 800,000 homes in Illinois, 700,000 homes in Michigan and 380,000 homes in Missouri have tremolite containing Zonolite insulation.

Like most asbestos containing products, Zonolite poses little risk unless disturbed. As the Post Dispatch says:
The asbestos fibers must be airborne to be inhaled. The fibers then become trapped in the lungs, where they may cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a fast-moving cancer of the lung's lining.

The EPA's files are filled with studies documenting the toxicity of tremolite, how even minor disruptions of the material by moving boxes, sweeping the floor or doing repairs in attics can generate asbestos fibers.

This also has been confirmed by simulations W.R. Grace ran in Weedsport, N.Y., in July 1977; by 1997 studies by the Canadian Department of National Defense; and by the U.S. Public Health Service, which reported in 2000, that "even minimal handling by workers or residents poses a substantial health risk."

So it appears than millions of homeowners maybe at risk of suffering asbestos related cancer or other health problems if they sweep out their attic, move stored boxes or otherwise disturb the insulation.

How did the current administration react to the dangers posed by the tainted insulation? The Saint Louis Post Dispatch again has the story:
The Environmental Protection Agency was on the verge of warning millions of Americans that their attics and walls might contain asbestos-contaminated insulation. But, at the last minute, the White House intervened, and the warning has never been issued.

The agency's refusal to share its knowledge of what is believed to be a widespread health risk has been criticized by a former EPA administrator under two Republican presidents, a Democratic U.S. senator and physicians and scientists who have treated victims of the contamination.

The Post Dispatch continues:
In a meeting in mid-March, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and Marianne Horinko, head of the Superfund program, met with Paul Peronard, the EPA coordinator of the Libby cleanup and his team of health specialists. Whitman and Horinko asked tough questions, and apparently got the answers they needed. They agreed they had to move ahead on a declaration, said a participant in the meeting.

By early April, the declaration was ready to go. News releases had been written and rewritten. Lists of governors to call and politicians to notify had been compiled. Internal e-mail shows that discussions had even been held on whether Whitman would go to Libby for the announcement.

But the declaration was never made.

Interviews and documents show that just days before the EPA was set to make the declaration, the plan was thwarted by the White House Office of Management and Budget, which had been told of the proposal months earlier.

Both the budget office and the EPA acknowledge that the White House agency was actively involved, but neither agency would discuss how or why.

The EPA's chief spokesman Joe Martyak said, "Contact OMB for the details."

Budget office spokesperson Amy Call said, "These questions will have to be addressed to the EPA." …

Former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus, who worked for Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, called the decision not to notify homeowners of the dangers posed by Zonolite insulation "the wrong thing to do."

"When the government comes across this kind of information and doesn't tell people about it, I just think it's wrong, unconscionable, not to do that," he said. "Your first obligation is to tell the people living in these homes of the possible danger.

They need the information so they can decide what actions are best for their family. What right does the government have to conceal these dangers? It just doesn't make sense."

Once again, it appears that the administration is more concerned with the narrow special interests than with the public interest. We think that the American people deserve an explanation of the White House’s action in preventing the warning from the EPA. Will one be forthcoming?

We have some advice that Mr. Bush will not give you. Be careful when you clean your attic.

Edited: 1/1/03

Monday, December 30, 2002
Julie Andrews and Ronald Reagan

The Sound of Music was on television last night. Every time we hear Julie Andrews sing about the “hills come alive” we think of President Ronald Reagan. We began a diligent search for the cause of that connection. In the PLA library, we located the source of our memory. The following is from Lou Cannon’s biography of Ronald Reagan titled The Role of a Lifetime, pp. 56-57.

On the afternoon before the 1983 economic summit of the world’s industrial democracies in Colonial Williamsburg, White House Chief of Staff James Baker stopped off at Providence Hall, where the Reagans were staying, bringing with him a thick briefing book on the upcoming meetings. Baker, then on his way to a tennis game, had carefully checked through the book to see that it contained everything Reagan needed to know without going into too much detail. He was concerned about Reagan’s performance at the summit, which had attracted hundreds of journalists from around the world and had been advertised in advance by the White House as an administration triumph. But when Baker returned to Providence Hall the next morning, he found the briefing book unopened on the table where he had deposited it. He knew immediately that Reagan hadn’t even glanced at it, and he couldn’t believe it. In an hour Reagan would be presiding over the first meeting of the economic summit, the only one held in the United States during his presidency. Uncharacteristically, Baker asked Reagan why he hadn’t cracked the briefing book. “Well, Jim, The Sound of Music was on last night,” Reagan said calmly.

That is why we think of Ronald Reagan whenever we hear Julie Andrews sing.

"From This Day Forward"

As we noted below, in his September 20, 2001, speech to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush promised that:
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

PLA reader Ted Thompson providing us with a link to this Washington Post story. According to the story, the African governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso provided aid and harbor to Al Qaeda operatives.

The President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, was paid $1 million to harbor Al Qaeda operatives. Those operatives remained in Liberia for months after the Twin Towers attack.

Both Liberia and Burkina Faso assisted Al Qaeda in converting assets into diamonds and gems so as to prevent US efforts to cut off funding for Al Qaeda. The Post reports:
The diamond-buying operation appears to have been hatched in response to a move by the United States in 1998 to freeze al Qaeda assets after attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa that were blamed on the organization. Senior European intelligence sources said they have been baffled by the lack of U.S. interest, particularly by the CIA, in their recent findings. The CIA, which in the past has downplayed reports of al Qaeda's diamond connections, declined to comment.

According to The New Republic, Charles Taylor assisted Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda in making millions of dollars smuggling diamonds from Africa and selling them in Europe. In addition, in 1998, Mr. Taylor’s forces attacked the United States Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia using AK-47s and a grenade launcher. One American was shot in that attack. Mr. Taylor also threatened to shoot down a U.S. helicopter.

In May of 2002, the UN voted to continue sanctions against Liberia for another year. Those sanctions include an arms embargo, restrictions on Mr. Taylor and his family travelling abroad and a ban on diamond sales from Liberia. Those sanctions were imposed as a result of Taylor's support for rebels fighting in Sierra Leone and not his support for Al Qaeda.

As far as we can tell, the U.S. has taken no overt action against Mr. Taylor for his support and harbor of Al Qaeda.

Charles Taylor and Liberia helped fund Al Qaeda. Liberia and its president harbored Al Qaeda operatives before and after September 11, 2001. The President promised to bring to justice nations that aid and harbor Al Qaeda. When may we expect him to make good on that promise?