A joke that could have turned deadly

In the entertainment-starved Persian Gulf, telling a U.S. Navy vessel that you're coming after it and the ship will explode in a few minutes is apparently what passes for humor.

It turns out that the voice that passed that spurious warning to three Navy ships as they were being approached by Iranian speedboats is a notorious maritime heckler who has come to be known as the Filipino Monkey after his racist insults to Filipinos.

The stampeding media herd

Two incidents of unintended consequences this week compel us to revisit just how wrong things can go in the herd journalism that has spread faster than mad cow disease along the 2008 presidential campaign trail.

While both occurred during the week of the Michigan Republican presidential primary, neither really had anything to do with that event. One was about yet another mindless stampede of the media herd covering the Democratic presidential candidates campaigning in Nevada and South Carolina. (And we'll get to that one later.)

Hello? Hello? Anybody home?

Yoo-hoo, anyone home at the Federal Election Commission?

We're in the midst of the most expensive campaign season in recorded history but the panel that is supposed to keep watch over contributors and spending — and spank those who break the rules — has so many vacancies it can't even meet.

Currently, only two of six commission seats are filled, and an ongoing spat between the Democratically controlled Congress and the White House over the qualifications of one nominee means there's no end in sight to the vacancies.

Two versions of the same war

Consider two versions of our war in Iraq:

The first is the one that we know best, the "war of choice" that many Americans objected to from the beginning. It began in March 2003, more or less in reaction to the 9/11 attacks, even though many people knew, even then, that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11.

Do vets come home murderers?

A study conducted by The New York Times has found 121 murder cases in the United States, which involve veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars following their return from the front.

The newspaper said that in many cases, combat trauma and stress from overseas deployment appear to have set the stage for the killings, along with alcohol abuse and family problems.

Joint Chiefs boss: Time to close Gitmo

The chief of the U.S. military said he favors closing the prison here as soon as possible because he believes negative publicity worldwide about treatment of terrorist suspects has been "pretty damaging" to the image of the United States.

"I'd like to see it shut down," Adm. Mike Mullen said Sunday in an interview with three reporters who toured the detention center with him on his first visit since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last October.

No free minutes for the feds

This had to be terribly embarrassing to the image-conscious FBI.

An audit by the Justice Department's inspector general found that telephone companies have cut off FBI wiretaps in sensitive criminal and intelligence investigations because the bureau neglected to pay its phone bills.

"We also found that late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence," said the audit report.

Spilling our blood to protect their oil

With oil hovering at the $100-a-barrel mark, we're inundated by calls for a "Manhattan Project" on alternative energy, more regulation of major oil companies and an end to our military presence in the Gulf.

The assumptions are that America's energy demand drives prices, the "majors" determine supply and instability in the Middle East explains recent spikes. So, if this is all our doing, then it can all be our undoing as well.

Would that Washington was so eminently in control of global energy markets.

‘Your papers please!’

Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964, will have to get more secure driver’s licenses in the next six years under ambitious post-9/11 security rules to be unveiled Friday by federal officials.

The Homeland Security Department has spent years crafting the final regulations for the REAL ID Act, a law designed to make it harder for terrorists, illegal immigrants and con artists to get government-issued identification. The effort once envisioned to take effect in 2008 has been pushed back in the hopes of winning over skeptical state officials.

What took so long?

Recession, like menopause, is a retrospective diagnosis. You don’t know you’re in one until you’ve been in it for at least two quarters (referring to a recession) or a year (for menopause). The question for me is not: Are we hitting a recession in 2008? It is: What has made the economy so buoyant that we didn’t submerge into a recession several years ago?