Saturday, December 31, 2005
For A Completely Different View on the NSA Spying Controversy ....
... here's the latest column by Paul McMasters of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center:
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that since shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 the National Security Agency, whose mission is to monitor the communications of foreigners outside our borders, has been focusing its futuristic spy technology on Americans.
The electronic eavesdropping was conducted under orders from the president and without benefit of warrants from the special court set up to make sure such domestic spying is necessary and lawful. Immediate reaction to the report proved its importance.
Political leaders from both parties condemned the warrantless surveillance. The president assailed the newspaper's report on the radio and in a press conference. Congress delayed a vote on renewal of the Patriot Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said he would conduct a hearing.
The Foreign Intelligence Service Act court that was circumvented in the NSA surveillance called for an immediate briefing by the administration; one member of the highly secretive court resigned. And defense attorneys for some terrorism suspects announced that the disclosures could lead to legal challenges on behalf of their clients.
Not surprisingly, the Times also came under blistering attack – from the president and other political leaders, intelligence officials, pundits and bloggers, even competing news organizations.
On one side, detractors claimed that the report had dangerously compromised national security. The New York Post headlined a Dec. 27 editorial with the suggestion that the Times was toying with treason.
On the other side, critics complained that the story should have been published much sooner; a Los Angeles Times article suggested that the Times’ motive for publishing had as much to do with a pending book deal as with news judgment.
Administration officials had tried for more than a year to keep the newspaper from publishing the story. The president himself even summoned Times officials to the White House to persuade them not to go ahead with the report. The newspaper agreed to withhold some information but not the story.
At a press conference two days after publication, President Bush accused the Times of committing a "shameful act" and of "helping the enemy."
It is a wonder that journalists dare bother. Yet they do. Here are just a few of the important issues brought to the public’s attention in just the past few weeks:
• The CIA has been dropping off terrorism suspects at secret prisons in Eastern European nations where interrogation can be conducted under less-stringent restrictions than our own policies allow.
• The Pentagon has been engaged in a massive initiative to collect, store and share data on thousands of American citizens involved in peaceful protests and demonstrations.
• The FBI has been using national security letters to secretly access the personal records of thousands of U.S. citizens.
• Federal, state and local law enforcement has been conducting surveillance and collecting data on a number of organizations and anti-war protesters.
Keep in mind, this is information the White House and federal agencies actively work to hide from us and that our elected representatives and the courts have failed to reveal or uncover. Indeed, a formidable barrier of official secrecy has made it very difficult for the press to bring these issues to light.
Americans will disagree over whether the press should report these highly sensitive matters. But all thinking citizens should agree that they need such news to participate fully and effectively in the public discourse that determines not only how their personal lives are affected but how their nation is defined.
We have learned the hard way that government power, no matter what individual, agency or party holds it, is abuse waiting to happen. That is why so many checks and balances have been built into the system. Ideally, each branch holds the others accountable. But the public must hold all of them accountable.
Obviously, in extraordinary times there will be assertions of extraordinary power for law enforcement and intelligence authorities. But when Congress and the courts are reluctant to exercise oversight, the people must step in. They are powerless to do that without the vital information that the press provides.
More and more, Americans are being forced to navigate the tricky terrain between the needs of government officials trying to make the nation safer and the needs of individual citizens for personal privacy and the right to engage in even mundane First Amendment activities without worrying whether their most innocent of utterances or casual of contacts might look sinister in a government dossier or database.
As government investigators peer and pry ever deeper into our private lives and terrorists fan our fears, essential elements of the democratic compact between a government and its citizenry become vulnerable. The rule of law fades. Security for speech and press freedom deteriorates.
When it ventures into areas so sensitive, the press should expect criticism, even attacks. Criticism of the press is one thing. But when government officials aggressively attempt to filter the news for the public, when the Pentagon pays for the publication of "news" in Iraqi newspapers, or when misinformation, disinformation and propaganda are actively pursued as antidotes for news, then the role of the press in a free society is in real danger.
Those who prefer to keep themselves and fellow Americans in the dark about these matters must confront at some point the possibility that ignorance is neither democratic nor American, neither security nor freedom.
We should count ourselves fortunate that we have a press that labors to penetrate the fog of an undefined, unlimited and possibly unending war to bring us news that informs us not only of how the battle is going but how freedom is faring.
Would The New York Times or The Washington Post Have Reported the Patton Secret Before D-Day?
Some in the Mainstream Media will no doubt protest that exposing the classified programs disclosed recently by The New York Times and The Washington Post did not threaten national security because none of the programs - singly or together - are of sufficient importance to endanger the success of the U.S. in the Global War Against Terrorism.
Considered in isolation, perhaps there will be some truth to that contention, but let's apply the same logic to some previous war-time situations.
First, it will be recalled that Gen. George Patton was used as a decoy to fool the German High Command into thinking the D-Day invasion would happen at a certain point and in a specifc manner. Would the Times or the Post have published the truth about Patton's status prior to D-Day had they been privy to such knowledge?
Using the current logic regarding the NSA and other classified anti-terrorist programs exposed by the two newspapers, we would argue that disclosure of one general's whereabouts certainly would not have told the Germans much of anything of substance. German strategists would have only been able to make inferences based upon the news reports.
That is true but it is far from the whole story. Had the Germans known they were wrong in thinking Patton would lead the allied invasion, they would have realized two vitally important facts.
First, their basis for thinking Patton would lead the allied invasion would be clearly exposed as mistaken. Rethinking their analyses in light of the new information might well have given the Germans a far more accurate basis for their contingency planning.
The consequence might well have been multiple Panzer divisions waiting to slaughter the allied troops as they came ashore at Normandy, with a result that such a crushing defeat would have lengthened the war by many years.
Second, knowing Patton would not lead the initial invasion would have logically raised an important question in the Germans' mind. What would Patton be doing if he is not leading the initial attack?
Forcing a revision in their analyses on the basis of that question might well have given the Germans sufficient insight into possible Allied post-beachhead strategy to allow the enemy to reconstitute his forces such that a breakout would be impossible or more easily contained by counter-attacks.
Again, the consequence would be a disastrous defeat for the Allies, though in this scenario the result might well have been achieved by the Germans by imposing a Gallipoli-like statemate rather than a quick, crushing defeat.
The fog of war is such that any random piece of information can be the piece of information that enables one commander of the other to gain the victory. Neither has to know the other's order of battle, only that key piece of knowledge that uncovers the rest through logic and inference.
Confirming for al Qaeda that we can listen to their communications in a certain way may not be such a key piece of information, but who at the Times or Post is qualified or authorized to reach such a conclusion?
And what if in fact telling al Qaeda that we have such a capability amounts to a contemporary equivalent of telling the Japanese that we had broken their code early in the war and had been reading their dispatches ever since?
Friday, December 30, 2005
Time for President Bush to Call His Critics' Bluff on Warrantless Anti-Terrorist Spy Programs
Yes, The Washington Post has another "Bush spying is out-of-control" story this morning, the latest installment in the mainstream media establishment's campaign to generate impeachment pressure against the Chief Executive.
The editorial leadership of the Post, The New York Times and their mainstream media allies, as well as the leadership of the Democrats in Congress and the virulently anti-Bush elements of the liberal advocacy community better hope the White House doesn't read Tony Snow's Townhall.com column today.
Snow, the current Fox News tv and radio news host and analyst and former Deputy Editorial Page Editor at The Detroit News and Editorial Page Editor The Washington Times, says it's time for Bush to call his critics' bluff:
"... the president ought to open his State of the Union Address by asking Congress to give him official authority to approve warrantless searches of known and identified terrorists, or of people in regular contact with those terrorists whom authorities reasonably suspect of plotting to commit acts of murder, terror or sabotage.
"These activities ought to be subject to monthly review by the attorney general. The administration also ought to be required each month to brief the top four congressional leaders, both intelligence committees and the head of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"The proposal would codify the status quo - but shorten the reporting periods to 30 days from 45 - and place the impeachment crowd in a sticky situation. The public would support both proposals overwhelmingly, leaving the president's most hysterical critics isolated utterly."
Snow points to one of the most under-reported aspects of the current controversy, which began in earnest with the Dec. 16 publication of this article in The New York Times:
"Note who has not spoken against the NSA program since the Times story broke. The list includes Harry Reid and Dick Durbin in the Senate; Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in the House; and members of both intelligence committees. In other words, Democrats in the know either have supported the surveillance program or just kept their mouths shut."
The SOTU gambit suggested by Snow would reorient the poles of the debate from the current "Bush is out-of-control versus Bush is just trying to defend America" context to the more accurate "Do the American people want Bush to use every available weapon to save innocent American lives or cower behind the Clintonistas' Sept. 10 legal foppery"?
"A straightforward vote would shut up the rest, highlighting vividly the gulf that separates a president responsible for national security from critics responsible to nobody. Civil libertarians are right to fret about abuses of government power, which is why successive administrations have brought Congress, the courts and the Justice Department into the review process. But the Great Bluff-Caller is right about an even more fundamental point: If we try to fight the war on terror with eyes shut and ears packed with wax, innocent people will die."
I think Snow has dotted the eyes and crossed the tees on how this debate should culminate. Mr. President, are you listening?
Speaking of calling bluffs, the U.S. Justice Department confirmed today that it is investigating the sources of the leaks that led to the Dec. 16 Times story. Michelle Malkin has an excellent roundup of predictions about what is likely to be the responses among the commentariat of the mainstream media, as well as a useful compilation of her previous posts on the issue.
Here's another piece of the puzzle that ought to give pause to those among the Bush critics who depend upon some form of public approval for their continued viability. The latest Gallup survey of most admired man and woman puts Bush on top among both Republicans and Independents and second among Democrats, trialing only Bill Clinton.
HT: Everything I Know is Wrong
Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is ready for the Justice Department "to put an end to this wholesale dismantling of the national defenses that have kept the US safe from attack for the past four years, and do it quickly."
It appears something very like that is exactly what is now being done by the Bush administration, which is why there are some very nervous folks in several of America's most famous newsrooms tonight.
Ed also focuses on the harsh irony involved: Bush is now only doing what The New York Times editorial page and numerous supporting choirs in the upper echelons of the Mainstream Media demanded in Plamegate - identify the leakers, frog march them out of their offices and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
Will any of the reporters who could now face jail time for not disclosing their sources be able to hold out as long as Judith Miller? Frankly, I doubt it, as Miller was caught up in a misguided Special Prosecutor drama that had everything but an actual crime.
This time around there is no question about serious crimes having been committed and only the most blindly obstinate professor of journalism will insist on the right of the relevant journalists at the Times, Post and elsewhere to protect the guilty parties.
I am generally a supporter of the strongest possible shield laws for journalists, but in these newest cases it seems most likely there will be no such legitimate place to afford cover for the recipients of the illegal leaks that almost certainly damaged national security and endangered the lives of thousands, possibly millions, of Americans.
Global War on Terror
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Now This is Mission Creep! And One Brave, Principled Florida Teen Doing Homework in Iraq
Trevor Bothwell at Democracy Project observes that an encounter between U.S. troops and an infant Iraqi girl born with a terrible defect demonstrates a fundamental truth about this country:
"Regardless of what you think about the Iraq war, it is indisputable that no nation in the history of the world has ever done as much as the United States when it comes to abiding by the rules of war, engaging the enemy with honor, minimizing civilian casualties, and doing just as much to rebuild countries as it did to destroy them. The moral compass of our country is directly reflected by the actions of our armed forces, and for that no country can be prouder."
Absolutely right. Go here for the rest of the story from Trevor and Michael Yon and CNN.
Then there is Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale who got himself to Baghdad via Kuwait and enroute completed a classroom assignment for which he ought to get an A++. Michelle Malkin has more details here from Breitbart/AP and, as usual, an observation that gets to the Occamite point of the thing.
Top 10 Ways Technology Transformed U.S. in 2005
J.D. Lasica charts the 10 biggest transformative technologies of 2005 and there are some eye openers on the list, even for those who keep track of such things. Did you know, for example, that there are now more than 50 million Skypers?
Why is that significant? Because, as J.D. points out, Skype "is singlehandedly deep-sixing the wires-and-switches telecommunications business and transforming us into a ubiquitous, always-on communication hive." We can't even begin to comprehend the implications of that fact for our politics, daily lives or future.
But my favorite of the trends is this: "Thanks to online fundraising efforts, relief agencies raised record donations for victims of the South Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina." We've only just scratched the surface of the possibilities there, too.
Go here for J.D.'s complete roundup. If you aren't reading New Media Musings regularly, you are missing the observations of one of the new media epoch's most prescient thinkers.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
How Will The Washington Post Handle This? Simple Corrections Won't Do it
Mainstream media giants like The Washington Post repeatedly claim to have layers and layers of editors and fact checkers to make sure only verified facts appear in the daily newspaper. This process is allegedly why MSMers are superior to bloggers in getting it first and getting it right.
But then along comes a big story like "Bloggers, Money Now Weapons in the Information War: U.S. Recruits Advocates to the Front; Pays Iraqi TV Stations for Coverage" by Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck, reporting from Baghdad earlier this week.
Finer and Struck are experienced journos but their reporting in this instance contains so many errors of basic fact that one has to wonder how on earth this example of their work made it into print.
Will the Post try to ascribe the Finer/Struck debacle to a complete breakdown in the newspaper's otherwise sterling editorial process that they simply cannot explain? Or will they admit they published a story that illustrates ideological blinders shaping the presentation of selected "facts" to create a pre-ordained conclusion in the reader's mind?
More likely, this story exemplifies some of the most characteristic and ultimately damaging flaws in the typical MSM newsroom. Whatever the explanation, the Post will have to go beyond mere corrections on this one.
Otherwise, it will be clear the editorial leadership is either not interested in making things right in their newsroom or refuse to see the seriousness of the problems illustrated by this article and how it points to their newspaper's continuing circulation decline.
Blogger Bill Roggio is a major focus of the Post story and he explains how many basic, easily verifiable facts were mis-stated by the newspaper. Note that getting facts as basic as these wrong is not uncommon with a recent J-school grad working on their first police beat story or obit, but not with a couple of veteran correspondents:
"There are several factual errors in this story, all of which could have been easily verified by direct questions to me, by reviewing my 'About' pages at either ThreatsWatch.org or The Fourth Rail, or by asking some questions within their own organization.
"I conducted an email interview with Mr. Finer from Iraq. This interview consisted of a single email exchange, and never once were the facts below addressed in any follow up questions. (Emphasis added)
"I am not a 'retired soldier,' as that would have required me to serve in the military for twenty plus years. I spent four years on active duty and two years in the National Guard. The article also indicates that I am currently in Iraq and embedded with the Marines in Western Anbar. I am not. I returned home on December 20th."
But wait, there are more errors:
"I was not credentialed by the American Enterprise Institute. This would be impossible as the needed press credentials must be provided by a media organization. A friend suggested I approach the American Enterprise Magazine, which is a periodical published by the American Enterprise Institute. We were unable to work out an agreement, so I searched for an alternative.
"Another friend suggested I contact The Weekly Standard. Richard Starr was happy to help and provided the necessary credentials to embed. Also, Rod Breakenridge of the Canadian talk radio show 'The World Tonight' kindly provided documentation for credentials as well. The two letters allowed me to successfully embed, and there were no questions about my credentials in Baghdad or elsewhere.
"The Weekly Standard or Mr. Breakenridge did not establish any preconditions for providing the credentials, nor did they fund my trip in any way. I wrote a single article for The Weekly Standard about Election Day in Barwana, and gave two phone interviews from Iraq to 'The World Tonight.'"
Even assuming the reporters have legitimate explanations for these rudimentary factual errors, where were the Post foreign desk editors after the story was filed? Did nobody there not know anything about the Pentagon's embedding process, despite the fact it has been around since 2002?
It should be noted that the Post is not typically where green rookie journalists begin their careers. By the time a reporter or desk editor is invited to work at the Post, he or she has typically spent perhaps as much as a decade compiling an impressive record of achievement in major city dailies and before that with medium and smaller circulation papers in other markets.
Put another way, one is supposed to have long since stopped making basic factual errors like these detailed by Roggio by the time your byline begins appearing in a distinguished MSM daily like the Post. This fact makes it extremely difficult to believe these errors appeared in the Post as a result of inexperience or as flukish deviations from systemic norms.
But amazingly Roggio goes on to detail more errors:
"In an email to Mr. Finer expressing my displeasure with being labeled a military information operation, Mr. Finer suggested I read the entire article. I assured him I did. The title and subtitle are not meaningless to the context of the article; it is implied I was a tool of the military, when in fact the military had no influence whatsoever in what I said from Iraq.
"The details of my embed are then followed with a discussion on military information operations, the Lincoln Group's activities in paying for positive articles to be published in Iraqi publications, and the military funding Iraqi radio stations.
"The implication is clear: a blogger embedding in Iraq must be part of a nefarious scheme by the military to influence the perceptions on Iraq.
"The truth is far more mundane. I wasn't paid a dime to report from Iraq by the Marines, nor was I influenced in any way in what I could or could not write about. I had full control over the where and when of my embeds. Never once was my work subject to the approval or review of the military. I wrote what I experienced, both the good and the bad."
Were it simply a matter of a poorly written headline and subhead, it might be possible to understand a reporter trying to turn away Roggio's critique, but the juxtaposition of the discussion of Roggio and the Lincoln Group angles is clearly an intentional equation by the reporters of the two elements as being analogous. That equation should never have gotten past the foreign desk editors.
Roggio also discusses how the Post reporters use of their straw man of DOD-controlled bloggers and flaks working in concert with al-Qaeda propaganda and disinformation campaigns is symptomatic of the disease of moral equivalence.
That disease blinds so many MSM journalists to the difference between a U.S. soldier defending Iraqi voters' right to cast ballots without being blown up and the Islamofascist rantings of a Zarqawi as he slices off an innocent American civilian's head.
How the Post's editorial leadership responds to Roggio's critique could become a positive turning point or it will reinforce the paper's decline. This is also an opportunity for Ombudsman Deborah Howell to make a positive mark. I know her to be a solid traditional journalist of integrity and I look forward to her assessment of the Finer/Struck story.
Hugh Hewitt points to some interesting background info on Finer and wants to know if the Post reporter was "as much a cheap-shot artist" when he was embedded with the Marines as he now appears to be with the piece on Roggio.
Bill Quick thinks the Post went after Roggio because he represents the MSM's worst nightmare - a blogger who goes into the field and demonstrates bloggers can report as well or better than traditional MSMers.
"Until bloggers like Roggio raise money from their own readers, buy their own equipment, and go out and cover the news as well as, or better than, the mainstream media journalists do. And this is only the first, tiniest trickle of what will eventually become the wave that threatens the very foundations of the mainstream media itself.
The blogosphere has thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of willing potential reporters - many with closer ties, better connections, and more expertise on any given story that the mainstream media can possibly hope to bring to bear. This is an immense resource the blogosphere is still trying to figure out how best to make use of."
Exactly. Like I said, it took the auto industry nearly a century to get from Henry Ford's Model T to the Ford GT. With no disrespect meant for Roggio or Michael Yon, both are the Blogosphere's Model Ts of foreign reporting. Just think where the Blogosphere's reporting capabilities will be a few years down the road from today.
Bill has much more to say of the Post travesty and I encourage to read his whole post.
Actually, Francis Turner, the Brit under the shadow of the olive tree, thinks the Post was doing FUD.
Radio Blogger has the full transcript of Roggio's interview with Hugh Hewitt. Among Roggio's many observations, this exchange strikes me as especially revealing:
"HH: Oh, and Bill, it's also...I meant to say this last hour, when Joshua Micah Marshall went up to cover the conventions last year, or the New Hampshire primary in 2004, I believe it was, he raised money to cover the trip. And it's fine. It's just how citizen journalism works. It's absolutely a model. But I have never seen anyone raise a question about that before The Washington Post story slamming you yesterday.
"BR: Yeah, it's astonishing. It's just a cheap tactic. I don't understand why people can't...I think the fact that what I tried to do...I think people find it very hard to believe that I have convictions, and I have the willingness to follow through. I mean, my job was in jeopardy. I made a...my family was very upset with me for going, until I explained to them the reasons why I went. It wasn't a very easy decision. I have three small...I have a five, a three, and a one year old at home."
Of course, TPM didn't invent the concept of reader-supported blogging. Remember the novelty when Andrew Sullivan started doing it?
Here's Andrew Kantor's response to Roggio, as indicated in the comments section of this post.
Bloggers Should Have a Prominent Place in New White House Press Room
Hugh Hewitt hopes the White House planners will include put bloggers on the front row of the remodelled press room "and lose the reserved seating for the dinosaurs from MSM."
Danny Glover at Beltway Blogroll thinks a reserved blogger row up front probably isn't in the cards but "it won't be long before the best of those citizen journalists start earning credentials to cover official Washington. It's better to plan for their arrival now than to have to scramble to make room for them later."
My question: How many bloggers have applied for White House press passes and made plans to actually cover the joint on a regular basis?
Covering the White House is not the glamorous assignment often envisioned by would-be Bob Woodwards but, like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio covering Iraq, there is no reason for there not to always be somebody from RedState.org, Pajamas Media, Little Green Footballs and Townhall.com being regular questioners during those press briefings by Scott McClellan and news conferences with the Chief Executive.
White House press corps
WPost Ombudsman Points to DOD Recruits Data Debate to Show Importance of Understanding Numbers' Context
Drat! In all the holiday hub-bub, I missed this excellent column Sunday by Ombudsman Deborah Howell of The Washington Post on the vital importance of context is assessing the data at the center of debate on DOD recruitment.
Monday, December 26, 2005
18th Carnival of Hurricane Relief Coming Dec. 29th
Over at You Big Mouth, You, proprietor Chuck Simmons is planning another Carnival of Hurricane Relief to appear here Dec. 29th. Chuck has done yeoman's labor in keeping the cause of getting relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Blogosphere and public eye.
If Time Magazine had named a Blog of the Year for 2005, You Big Mouth, You would have been an excellent nominee.
I will certainly have a contribution for the 18th Carnival of Hurricane Relief and you should, too.
HURRICANE KATRINA RECOVERY UPDATE: And We Want More Federal Bureaucracy?
Herb Strenz, Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Mass Communication at Drake University, points to these graphs in today's edition of The New York Times on the difference in how private contractors and federal bureaucrats are performing in the post-Katrina recovery. Note the emphasis of the bureaucrats on controlling the flow of information:
"In Biloxi, whole neighborhoods are now primed for new development. But in Pascagoula, 25 miles east, only about 25 residential lots have been cleared.
"Officials in Jackson County and Pascagoula cite numerous reasons for the delays.
"One is the complexity of the contract the Corps of Engineers has with Ashbritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that is overseeing the debris collection in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana.
"Its 192 pages include sections on the type of office paper the company uses and a ban on releasing information to the news media without the written permission of the Army Corps. (Ashbritt officials declined to comment for this article.)
"Simply getting an agreement from the Army Corps on the exact wording for the legal release document that residents must sign to authorize contractors to clear their homes took several weeks, officials said."
This is an important news report and not just for what it tells us about the pace of recovery on the Gulf Coast. Go here for the whole story.
New York Transit Strike a Glimpse of Coming Public Employee Pension Crises in State, Local Govts
Among the least-reported stories of recent decades has been the rise to power of public employee unions, particularly in the big cities, but also in the federal civil service and in state government workforces.
Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project has an excellent discussion of how last week's New York transit strike highlights the excessive pension benefits won by the public employee unions in recent decades.
As the Baby Boomers retire in huge numbers in coming years, the issue will be forced front and center in every major urban area in the country. And it's not simply retirement pensions at stake, as healthcare benefits are typically tied in as well. See Kesler's discussion of that aspect of the coming debate here.
Since there is no way to pay for those benefits - to say nothing of the unfairness of they represent - forcing the unions to accept reasonable cut backs is becoming the central battleground in urban politics and will be for the next several decades.
The same scenario is or soon will be played out in the academic world where the Children of the 1960s have held sway in teaching and administrative positions during the same period as the public employee unions and have often acted in concert with them.
What Kesler doesn't discuss is how the excessive pensions granted by Congress to itself and the federal workforce via the Civil Service Retirement System in the early 1970s set the pattern for the public sector unions elsewhere.
The conflicts now being addressed in places like New York City with the transit strike came to a head during the Reagan administration when Congress agreed to create a new system, the Federal Employee Retirement System, that became mandatory for all new hires in the mid-1980s. I was in the middle of this debate as a Reagan political appointee at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in my pre-journalism career days.
Where the CSRS was a defined benefit program that guaranteed retiring career bureaucrats 56 percent of their high-three year average salary and full retirement at age 55 with 30 years service, the FERS system was a change to the defined contribution model and allowed employees some 401(K)-like investment options.
But that was 20 years ago and the unfunded liabilities of the many public sector pensions modelled after CSRS have growing immensely, plus many more workers have compiled additional years of employeement and believe they are "owed" the generous benefits because they are guaranteed by contract.
These problems on the urban front, however, pale by comparison to those created by the Social Security and Medicare programs where the same underlying concept of guaranteed benefits have been magnified many multiple times.
To appreciate how little time is left to fix these problems, check this out.
Social Security reform
New York Transit Strike
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Thank You and Merry Christmas to Our Troops
It is early Christmas Eve morning and my house is quiet for now despite being full of family and friends. We are safe and warm, blessed and protected.
I cannot help but think of the many young men and women in the armed forces who wake up this morning in places that don't celebrate Christmas. There are not words sufficient to express the thanks I feel for these young Americans.
Peggy Noonan penned a couple of graphs in her column earlier this week, however, that come close and being of the age of those who were in college during the Viet Nam war these graphs immediately struck me:
"There's a thing a reporter told me the other day that makes me want to say thank you, too. She'd gone to interview mothers in Ohio who'd lost sons in Iraq. The mothers were as varied as their sons had been in terms of experience, personality, views. Some of the mothers were very much in support of Iraq. Some were not.
"One of those who'd come to oppose the war started to speak, in her interview, of her opposition. She faltered. A pro-war mother encouraged her. She said something like, 'We all have our right to our views, you go ahead, honey.'
"The reporter was pierced by the tenderness of it, the fairness of it, the very Americanness of it. Once again: What a country.
"One of the great and historic things about this war is that whatever you think of it, justified or not, the right decision or not, no one--no one--has decided it is right to emotionally abandon the fighters in the field.
"This, as we know, is different from what happened in Vietnam, when a generation of those who served were given in response the distanced disrespect of a certain portion of our country. Everyone feels bad about that, and should.
"But amazingly enough we seem to have learned from it. Almost everyone knows--and the very small number who don't know at least know enough to go off and be quiet--that the men and women on the field are fighting for us, serving us, that they are putting themselves in harm's way with courage, that they deserve to be patronized by no one, that they deserve honor from all."
Indeed. Merry Christmas to all.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Wizbang Adds Reuters Video News Stories
Think about this for a second: If I can go to a blog that includes traditional blog commentary, video news reports, rss feeds from mainstream media like AP, rss feeds from blogger news outlets like Blogger News Network, blogging podcasts and links to Internet radio sites, why would I ever again need to pay for a dead tree newspaper?
Clearly the Blogosphere is at about the same point in its development as the auto industry was when Henry Ford introduced the Model T. It put the world on wheels, but look how far we've come to get to the Ford GT.
Kevin Aylward's Wizbang just added the Wizbang News Channel, which is video news featuring Reuters-produced content. A Wizbang Podcast is just up and running. And Kevin promises more to come in the very near future. This is getting some distance away from the Blogosphere's Model T days.
Check it out here.
And don't think the mainstream media isn't noticing such developments. Doug Petch takes a look at a feature in today's Lexington Herald-Leader on social networking and the web.
No End-of-Year-Slowdown for John Hawkins and His Right Wing News Blog!
Ask any newspaper editor in America what is the toughest week of the year to publish and he or she will instantly tell you it's the week between Christmas and New Year's.
The staff is at bare-bones level. The news sources are mostly away and not answering telephones or emails. Nobody is actually committing news, except those who always do like police blotter regulars.
Bloggers are less susceptible to this end of the year crisis, though most of us probably post less often during the week. Lots of bloggers even post warnings that "blogging will be lighter than normal."
Not John Hawkins at Right Wing News!
The guy is an end-of-the-year publishing demon. He's got lists like "The 40 Most Obnoxious Quotes of 2005," marketing advice like "Who Says There's No Money in Blogging" and masterpieces of communications analysis like "The 12 Stages of Scandal."
And so very much more. By the way, Part II will be up Monday.
Set aside some real time to spend at Right Wing News during the holidays. I guarantee this will be among your most enjoyable blog readings of the year. John, thanks for all the work that went into "The Best of Right Wing News for 2005."
What the War on Christmas is Really All About (And Why He Won With Love)
Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season and there is indeed joy to the world in His birth. But there was anything but joy in His birth for some in this world. Amy Wellborn at NRO's The Corner lays it out in a wonderful meditation on a modern baptism and an ancient birth.
"There is an edge to Christmas, a harshness, and a different kind of promise than that implied by the easy words of peace and glad tidings. It is a mystery, all of it. The Word made flesh indeed, but into a world that was from the beginning set against it, that sought with every bit of strength at hand to stay in the darkness."
When you understand the reality of that fact, you truly marvel that He could love us so much that He would still come to this world, knowing that it would ultimately reject and kill Him. Thank God that was not the end of His story or ours. See Luke 23:67-69.
LaShawn Barber also has the Word for Christmas here.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
It Was the Year of Blogging Dangerously (and Successfully for National Journal's Blog Pioneers)
William Beutler, editor of National Journal's Blogometer, launched his blog earlier this year and has a lengthy run-down of what he views as the most significant developments of the year soon passing into the history books.
Danny Glover, editor of Beltway Blogroll, launched a little ahead of Blogometer and has been a spark behind much of the National Journal's plunge into the Blogosphere. His first post today is the start of a tracking project looking at candidate blogs for the 2006 election.
Beutler and Glover quickly established themselves as essential daily reading for many here in the nation's capitol and I congratulate them on a year of blog-launching successfully.
I am told from a credible source that Beutler actually launched his blog before Glover, but it was initially hidden behind National Journal's subscription-only access. Glover was the first to launch to the outside world.
Here is THE FINAL WORD on Legality of Bush NSA Surveillance; Powerline's John Hinderaker Examines the Constitution, Court Decisions, Laws
It's possibly the longest post in Powerline history but it is well-worth reading. I'm referring to John Hinderaker's "On the Legality of the NSA Electronic Intercept Program" post. That this post is published on a blog instead of in The New York Times or The Washington Post is indicative of how far from reality the mainstream media has strayed.
Hinderacker first examines the Constitution and what it means in Article II when it designates the President as the Commander-in-Chief and how that fact comports with the Fourth Amendment's guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure.
He reminds us that "the President has certain powers under the Constitution, and they cannot be taken away or limited by Congressional legislation any more than the President can limit the powers of Congress by executive order."
This fact underlies the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Fleming v Page that the President can employ the nation's military forces, including the intelligence agencies, "in the manner he may deem most effectual to harass and conquer and subdue the enemy."
He then looks at the three major decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court that bear directly on the constitionality of the Bush surveillance order: Katz v United States; United States v United States District Court, and Hamdi v Rumsfeld.
After noting the specifics of each decision that speak to the current controversy, Hinderaker summarizes his analysis by noting that "neither the language of the Constitution nor the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence can justify a claim that the NSA program is illegal. While the Court has never specifically ruled on the issue, its decisions are entirely consistent with the administration's view that the President has the inherent constitutional authority to obtain foreign intelligence information through warrantless searches."
Hinderaker next turns to the relevant decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeal, including: United States v [Cassius] Clay; United States v Butenko; United States v Buck, United States v Truong; United States v Duggan and Sealed Case No 02-001 (from FISA).
Again, according to Hinderaker, these decisions make crystal clear that the President "has the inherent constitutional authority to order warrantless searches for purposes of gathering foreign intelligence information, which includes information about terrorist threats. Furthermore, since this power is derived from Article II of the Constitution, the FISA Review Court has specifically recognized that it cannot be taken away or limited by Congressional action."
Next up for Hinderaker are the several laws passed in recent years, including the congressional authorization of military action following 9/11, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
In essence, Hinderaker's conclusion is that the statutes make clear Congress has never intended to limit intelligence surveillance outside the U.S. Thus, on the assumption that the surveillance authorized by Bush is conducted outside the country and is interception of known or suspected terrorists threats, there is no question about the legality of the President's post 9/11 "spying" order.
Hinderaker concludes with this question:
"Is it reasonable for the administration to do all it can to identify the people who are communicating with known terrorists overseas, via the terrorists’ cell phones and computers, and to learn what terrorist plots are being hatched by those persons?
"Is it reasonable to do so even when - rather, especially when - some portion of those communications come from people inside the United States? I don’t find it difficult to answer those questions; nor, if called upon to do so, would the Supreme Court."
Excellent roundup over at MSNBC's blog site by Clint Van Zant of common sense analysis, useful history and informed speculation about what the FBI and NSA seek to accomplish via the post 9/11 surveillance authorized by Bush.
HT: Hugh Hewitt
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: "Bridges to Nowhere" Bait and Switch Injures Credibility of Congress
Dr. Ron Utt, a Senior Research Fellow in The Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute, has a new web memo this morning arguing that politicians have undermined the victories against pork barrel spending gained earlier this year by removing the "Bridge to Nowhere" earmarks.
Something is being lost in the process that is even more important than the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that will still end up building the two bridges in Alaska, according to Utt:
"It is certain that these projects are a waste of federal taxpayers' money, but perhaps even more damaging is the appearance of insincerity and cynicism that this episode exposes. The public has grown increasingly skeptical about the integrity of the legislative process, and the appearance of a bait-and-switch on the bridges will not help Congress to restore its credibility."
Sometimes it appears the GOP majority in Congress is determined to pork barrel its way right out of power.
Go here for the rest of the Utt piece.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Bridge to Nowhere on CNN Tonight; House to Put Lobbying Disclosure Online
Two items of interest tonight:
First, CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" will include a segment on the controversy. A CNN film crew was in Alaska yesterday and the segment may make some news tonight. AC360 comes on at 10:00 P.M. EST.
Second, aides to House Administration Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Ney, R-OH, say the panel expects to make all Lobbying Disclosure Act forms available online to the public within six months or so. Beginning in January 2006, the forms must be filed electronically and as soon as bugs are worked out of that process, the public access will be made part of the system, according to the aides.
Ney, of course, is under fire for allegations of involvement with lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Clinton Used Spy Satellites on Okies in 95, Mainstream Media Yawns; NYTimes Reporter Answers Powerline's Johnson
Michelle Malkin has the details in her latest column here. And so many folks in the mainstream still don't get it when everybody else looks at stuff like this and notes the obvious double standard.
By the way, here's the original story from The McCurtain Daily Gazette documenting how President Bill Clinton utilized spy satellites to search for suspects at a White Supremacist encampment known as Elohim City following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
In case you are wondering, McCurtain County is in Oklahoma's far southeast corner in the extreme reaches of that part of the Sooner State known to locals as "Little Dixie." The northern part of the state was made up primarily of Unionists and Free Soilers from Kansas. This is why Oklahoma is known as a border state.
Little noted fact: The last Confederate General to surrender in 1865 was an Oklahoman, Gen. Stand Watie, who led a Cherokee calvary unit that fought with distinction at the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862.
Powerline's Scott Johnson is posting his exchange with Eric Lichtblau, reporter for The New York Times and author of the "scoop" about President Bush authorizing without benefit of a FISA warrant surveillance of telephone calls by American citizens in the U.S. to al Qaeda operatives overseas.
The exchange is particularly revealing of how clearly the reporter either consciously sought to create the appearance of illegality by Bush or he was completely ignorant when he wrote his story of basic facts about the case law that Johnson ably explicates. It's a clear case of the reporter ignoring inconvenient facts and mis-stating contrary court opinions.
As interesting as that element of the exchange is, the most striking element of it is the reporter's initial response:
"Mr. Lichtblau, in your reporting in the Times you appear to have tried to create the impression that the NSA's overseas intercept program is, or may be, illegal. I believe that position is foreclosed by all applicable federal court precedents.
"I assume, for example, that you are aware of the November 2002 decision of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in Sealed Case No. 02-001, where the court said:
"'The Truong court [United States v. Truong Dinh Hung, 4th Cir. 1980], as did all the other courts to have decided the issue, held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. *** We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power.'
"In view of the controlling federal court precedents, I do not see how an argument can be made in good faith that there is any doubt about the NSA program's legality. Therefore, I wonder whether you are somehow unaware of the relevant case law.
"If you know of some authority to support your implication that the intercepts are or may be illegal, I would be interested to know what that authority is. If you are aware of no such authority, I think that a correction is in order.
"Lichtblau to me:
"You must not have read to the end of our original story last Friday. It quotes from the FISA appellate decision that you cite."
Of course the citation the reporter is referencing has nothing to do with Johnson's point and the point of the case cited - that surveillance such as Bush is now criticized for is clearly legal under the chief executive's war powers as Commander-in-Chief.
But note the arch arrogance of Lichtblau's response, which all but says to Johnson "You stupid peasant, how dare you challenge me."
I am reminded of a scene in "Braveheart" when Longshanks is pondering what to do about Wallace's deprivations on York. Longshanks mutters to himself: "If he can take York, he can take London and then it will be my head in the basket."
Just then the homosexual lover of Longshanks' son boldly steps forward and offers his advice about how to handle Wallace.
Amazed, Longshanks whips around and asks "Who is this who dares to address me?" As soon as his son answers, Longshanks grabs the offender and tosses him out a window from a great height.
Do we not hear a similar impatience with a presumptuous inferior in Richtenblau's responses to Johnson?
And these people still don't understand why they are losing their audience.
War on Terrorism
Gillmor Forms Center for Citizen Media
Dan Gillmor has been trying to reach me for several days and we've missed each other. Now I know why he was calling. He's officially announced formation of the Center for Citizen Media. This is very good news for the Blogosphere, the mainstream media and the emerging Internet-based media.
Why? Let Dan explain:
"We need a thriving media and journalism ecosystem. We need what big institutions do so well, but we also need the bottom-up - or, more accurately, edge-in - knowledge and ideas of what I've called the 'former audience' that has become a vital part of the system. I'm also anxious to see that it's done honorably and in a way that helps foster a truly informed citizenry. I think I can help."
To which I reply: Amen, Brother!
Dan will be a teaching fellow at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. His main office will be on the west coast but he promises to be on the Harvard campus at least once a month. He also promises to hold events at both locations.
I've been a Dan Gillmor fan since I read his "We the Media," which inspired several Eureka! moments as I reflected on my own experiences as a newspaper journalist and then-aspiring blogger. If you haven't read it, you should order it now and make it part of your holiday reading plans.
Dan is also a newspaper guy at heart, which probably has something to do with why I place him among the genuinely serious people thinking and talking about the future of journalism who is consistently worth listening to and studying. Congrats, Dan!
Baltimore Sun's Morgan Freeman Story Demonstrates Cherry Picking Sources
LaShawn Barber was called by a reporter for The Baltimore Sun earlier this week and asked for a comment about actor Morgan Freeman's recent observations about Black History Month. Go here for LaShawn's discussion of her conversation with the reporter, Dan Than Thang, and the story (registration required) that followed.
Such cherry picking of sources is a common practice among mainstream media reporters because it allows them to pick and choose among the comments received to produce a report that is consistent with the reporter's original story concept.
Contrary to what they often say, all journalists begin a particular story with a particular "slant" in mind. They have to do so, otherwise they have no idea who should be interviewed, what research must be done or what are the potential angles for the news hook.
Frequently, reporters also must have a story concept in mind in order to sell their editor on the piece. Most reporters have to talk a potential story through with a desk editor before the story idea gets on the morning news tout (i.e. the schedule of stories being worked on in the newsroom that day). The "juicier" the story, the more space and play it will get.
If the editor doesn't buy the story concept, the reporter risks being assigned a different story and one that might not be of much interest. This interplay between reporters and editors is at the heart of the inherent newsroom friction that is key to punctuating the news process.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
MEMO TO MAYOR BLOOMBERG: Here's How President Reagan Fired Striking Public Employees
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn't facing a new problem in the strike by the city's unionized public transit employees. President Ronald Reagan faced a similar problem not long after taking office in 1981 when the unionized employees of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization struck.
Reagan gave them 48 hours to return to work, then fired those who refused. Ultimately, more than 11,000 PATCO members los their jobs. Among the ironies was the fact PATCO was among the few labor unions that had supported Reagan against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential contest.
But as Reagan later wrote in his presidential memoirs: "I supported unions and the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, but no president could tolerate an illegal strike by Federal employees."
Put another way, there is no right to strike against the public.
Here's the History Channel audio of Reagan making the announcement that striking against the public was a firing offense. And here is a detailed account of a crisis that provided Reagan with an early opportunity to demonstrate to everybody, including the Soviets who were watching him closely, that he meant business.
Banterist blog has put the strike into "Twas the Night Before Christmas" format. The final line says it all. Mr Mayor, are you listening?
New York City
Worse Than Giving a Kid Coal for Christmas
Somehow, I don't think saying "Merry Christmas" was on the minds of these union protestors at a Florida Wal-Mart. Somebody at WakeUpWalMart.com needs to wake up. Joel Mowbray has the story in The Washington Times today.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: The Bridge to Nowhere Is a Family Matter for Rep. Don Young, Alaska GOPer
Rep. Don Young, R-AK, has been pursuing federally funded bridges across Knik Arm near Anchorage and Gravina Island near Ketchikan for years. Not even a public outcry against the $452 million earmarked for the two projects as pork barrel spending has deterred the powerful Alaska Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Whatever the policy grounds underlying Young's determined advocacy of the projects, evidence has emerged that the issue is also a family matter, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Alaska paper reports that Young's son-in-law, Art Nelson, is a minority participant in a partnership that owns a prime 60-acre tract of land near the Knik Arm project. Nelson, who is also Chairman of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, owns a 10 percent share of Point Bluff LLC, which has four other members.
"To state Board of Fisheries chairman Art Nelson, Don Young's Way, the proposed Knik Arm crossing named after his father-in-law, is hardly a bridge to nowhere.
"For Nelson and his well-connected partners in Point Bluff LLC, Rep. Don Young's span is in fact a bridge to somewhere: their 60 acres of unobstructed view property on the Point MacKenzie side of Cook Inlet. The land sits directly across from Elmendorf Air Force Base, north of the Anchorage port and downtown.
"'It's beautiful property,' Nelson said.
"If a road were built to the land today, it would require about a two-hour commute to downtown Anchorage. But a bridge would change everything. Don Young's Way would mean a shorter drive to downtown than from the Anchorage Hillside - and make the land much more valuable."
Young has been a vocal advocate of the two projects since at least 2001. The Point Bluff LLC was formed in 2002.
Go here for the full story.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Interesting Book Recommendations at Instapundit, Just Right for Last-Minute But Thoughtful Gifts
Glen Reynolds asked for and has now received a raft of recommendations from folks who offer the books they found most entertaining, useful or profound during the rapidly fading year of 2005.
My favorite among the titles recommended is from Tigerhawk:
New Glory, by Ralph Peters. Beautifully written, Peters spares almost nobody in this analysis of American geopolitics. Whether on the inside of the Bush administration or to its left or right, there is something in this book that will challenge your assumptions and force you to confront your own biases.
As for my own recommendations, they are:
Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey. A professing Christian and philosopher, Pearcey tackles a tough subject - recognizing and explicating the influence of unstated, pre-theoretical suppositions on our thoughts and ideas - and makes it readily accessible and interesting for the intelligent non-philosopher. Open-minded non-believers will be particularly challenged, at least to consider the implications if Pearcey is right.
Born Fighting, James Webb. Could this be why every red-blooded American felt impelled somewhere deep within themselves to join in shouting "Wallace, Wallace" as Mel Gibson rallied the Scots before Sterling Bridge in "Braveheart"? An absolutely delightful, inspiring and thoughtful piece of historical analysis by an author who feels it in his own bones.
The Games Do Count, Brian Kilmeade. Yes, the Fox News morning host has lots of celebs and politicos but there is more than enough genuinely interesting recollections to make this one a worthwhile pleasure read for a snowy winter Saturday afternoon.
Thank God That America is Yet Blessed With Fathers and Sons Such as These
This was said earlier today on Mudville Gazette by the father of an American hero who died in Iraq in August:
"We miss him so much. We hurt inside. But we burst with pride in our son and brother. His memory will not fade nor will our love for him. When Mike was just becoming a teenager, I tried to imagine what he would be one day. I often told people I wasn't sure where life would take him, but I knew he would do something different and be very well known in his chosen field. I never dreamed he would become an American Hero who would serve his country so well."
Go here to read the whole moving memorial by Robert, father of Mike Stokely.
Let us all give thanks that America still has men like these.
HT: Hugh Hewitt
War in Iraq
War on Terror
Labor Department Forces NEA Disclosure of $25 Million in Political, Lobbying Activities
Teachers unions just represent the best interests of "the children," right? Well, maybe so if you think contributing millions to advance union, liberal and Democrat political causes, candidates and activism is good for your kids.
Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency continues his analysis of the National Education Association's latest financial disclosures, as now mandated by the revised LM-2 report to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Antonucci reports the NEA acknowledges more than $25 million in spending on political and lobbying activities, but notes that there are also millions of teachers dues dollars going to help fund many of the most familiar and fashionable causes on the Left, few of which have anything at all to do with compensation and employment rights of public schools teachers.
Here's a list of such NEA contributions, as compiled by Antonucci from the LM-2:
Valis Associates: $200,000. This lobbying firm was hired by NEA for the particular purpose of outreach to the Republican Party.
Amnesty International: $5,000
Aspira Association: $5,000
Center for Women Policy Studies: $5,000
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation: $39,940
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute: $35,000
Economic Policy Institute: $45,000
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies: $10,000
National Association for Bilingual Education: $5,000
National Council of La Raza: $7,900
National Women's Law Center: $5,000
National Alliance of Black School Educators: $30,000
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards: $5,000
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: $13,000
Center for Law and Education: $45,000
AIDS Walk Washington: $5,000
Human Rights Campaign: $15,000
HEROS, Inc.: $20,000
Everybody Wins! DC: $7,903
Rainbow PUSH Coalition: $5,000
United South and Eastern Tribes: $5,000
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN): $5,000
Rebuild America's Schools: $20,000
The Ripon Society: $10,000
Learning First Alliance: $51,350
Food Research and Action Center: $5,000
The King Center: $10,000
Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute: $20,000
Gephardt Legacy Fund: $10,000
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association: $30,000
Democratic Leadership Council: $25,750
Wellstone Memorial Fund: $5,000
Antonucci is and has for years been way ahead of the mainstream media, as well as those of us in the Blogosphere, in tracking the political and other activities of the NEA and other teachers unions, which are among the most reliable allies of liberal and Democrat causes and candidates.
Go here for more details from Antonucci on the latest disclosure from NEA.
NEWSFLASH! MSM Catching Up to Wizbang Reporting on Katrina, Storm Aftermath
No assessment of the performance of the mainstream media's reporting of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath will be complete or credible without a thorough inclusion of the work and critique of Wizbang.com's contributing editor, Paul.
Not being one to put to fine a point on things, Paul's latest post notes, with what must be a grim combination of frustration and professional pride, how major mainstream media and some familiar bloggers are catching up to his reporting on such issues as the ethnic distribution of fatalaties:
"Since the storm hit, I've repeatedly said that 80% of what the media was reporting was flat wrong. They're just now figuring that out. I knew 3 months ago that white people were disproportionally effected by the storm . And I was sitting in a hotel room in Memphis TN at the time. Over a week ago I blooged that More white people died per capita a fact just now getting around the blogosphere.
"It was a point I made so well, it got plagiarized here.
"Now the NY Times and the LA Times run front pages stories saying what I knew 3 months ago - that they were clueless all thru the storm."
Go here for Paul's full post.
I've had a few things to say about these issues, too, including here, here and here, among many others.
Two New Urban Histories Show Sprawl Didn't Start With "America's Love-Affair With Cars"
Pick at random an urban planner, environmental activist or mainstream media journalist, then ask him or her what is the most significant cause of suburban sprawl and odds are excellent that the answer will include the automobile.
Cars give people freedom to move about at will and one of the first things they do is their autos to flee the central city's congestion, pollution, noise and alienation.
Where do they end up? Living in a suburban development, of course, with a yard to mow, flowers, a backyard for the kids to play in, privacy from nosy neighbors, two cars in the garage and rest of the usual features of a typical home. It's the American Dream, right?
According to our modern day "experts, however, suburban sprawl naturally follows because all those people who fled the central city to live in the suburbs still have to have services provided by grocery stores, schools for the kids , churches for the family, bowling alleys, restraunts and, sooner or later, offices to work in, plus roads to get there.
The end result is traffic gridlock, despoilation of the natural environment, the breakdown of social, political and economic networks, loss of traditional ways of life like farming, destruction of historical landmarks and the growth of isolation and alienation as a result of the loss of the rootedness of city neighborhoods.
So it's all Henry Ford's fault for inventing that darn Model T that put America on wheels! And Ike for building those horrible interstates!! And McDonalds for putting a fast-food palace on every corner!!! And Wal-Mart for offering the lowest prices in the biggest box stores, always!!!!
Actually, no, at least according to a couple of new histories just published and described by U.S. News & World Report's Michael Barone on his blog. The books are Robert Bruegmann's "Sprawl: A Compact History" and Joel Kotkin's "The City: A Global History."
Turns out what we now call sprawl in Houston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles has been around since at least the days of Rome's golden oldies and people move to the suburbs because suburbs serve individual needs better than crowded cities.
Barone quotes Kotkin: "The needs and preferences of individuals, families, and businesses matter most. To attempt to understand sprawl from this perspective, of course, flies in the face of most academic 'urban theory' as well as the collected wisdom of most planners, architects, and the media."
Put another way, most of what is taken for granted by the mainstream media and throughout the vaunted precincts of America's "enlightened opinon-makers" - sprawl can only be "solved" with more publicly financed mass transit, stricter land use controls by all levels of government, more centralization of population and commerce - is based on myths, historical ignorance and ideological blinders.
Barone is far from alone in noting these two important books. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com fame reviewed Bruegmann a couple of weeks ago in his TechCentralStation.com column.
Also, The Planning Report, which bills itself as "the insider's guide to managed growth," has an interview with Kotkin that focuses primarily on Los Angeles and that provides him with lots of opportunities to explain how to deal with problems in the city that perhaps more than any other epitomizes the alleged sins of suburban sprawl.
So why do we keep listening to these pseudo-sophisticates and the preening politicians who dole out billions of tax dollars to support "solutions" that never work? And why does the mainstream media keep quoting them, almost always at the exclusion of contrary voices?
Cross-posted at Tapscott Behind the Wheel.
Mainstream Media's 10 Biggest Myths of 2005
Ever wonder what are the most often repeated myths among mainstream media journalists? The Media Research Center's Free Market Project has helpfully documented the 10 most frequent myths reported by mainstream media outlets during 2005.
For example, consider the Free Market Project's myth number eight, which holds that U.S. rejection of the Kyoto treaty is the root reason why global warming is on the rise and warmer oceans are spawning deadlier hurricanes than ever.
True or False? Here's the Free Market Project's explanation of why this is a myth:
"ABC's Bill Weir summed up that network's take on the 2005 hurricane season after his September 16 "Good Morning America" piece about Hurricane Ophelia: 'Scientists have long warned that global warming could make hurricanes increasingly destructive. They couldn’t prove it until now.'
“'CBS Evening News' reporter Jim Acosta ominously introduced his November 29 report: 'The experts have spoken, this hurricane season will go down as the biggest, baddest, deadliest, and costliest of all time.'
"Tell the Truth: Global warming is not causing stronger hurricanes. Scientists, including the hurricane experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have said it many times, yet broadcasters continued to suggest a connection.
"The New York Times reported the facts in Kenneth Chang’s Aug. 30, 2005, article: 'Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming. But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean.'
"And claims that this was the 'deadliest' season on record were far off base. According to NOAA, past hurricanes have killed more than 8,000 people in the United States and possibly more than 20,000 in the eastern Caribbean. Although the death toll for Hurricane Katrina stands at the tragic number of more than 1,000, it is false to say 2005 was the 'deadliest' season."
You can check out the original broadcasts for this myth at Audio Video. And you can read the other nine myths here.
Jackson Joins WakeUpWalMart.com Campaign
Hank Osborne writes at The Land of Ozz but he has the reality of what is behind the labor union campaign against Wal-Mart. Besides reporting the addition of Jesse Jackson to the ranks, Osborne does some basic math to determine what is at stake for WakeUpWalMart.com and finds it's about $300 million a year in new dues income for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Osborne also takes apart the union front's misuse of Scripture. Lots of interesting reading on an issue we are going to be hearing more about in coming months, at least in the mainstream media. Go here for Hank's full post. It is well worth the time spent reading it.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Too Much Court Secrecy is a Challenge to Justice
Paul McMasters' latest column is up at the Freedom Forum:
"Because nearly every matter of consequence and controversy in our society eventually winds up in court, Americans have a vital interest in staying informed about how well justice is delivered.
"Unfortunately, the judicial system is as susceptible as the other branches of government to reflexive secrecy. The courts are under enormous pressure to keep a vast array of information out of the sight -and thus away from oversight - of ordinary citizens.
"In the course of trying criminals and refereeing disputes between private parties, judges at the local, state and federal levels constantly are called on to protect personal safety and privacy. In addition, they worry about revealing national security information, disrupting ongoing law enforcement investigations or exposing corporate secrets.
So they shut the public out in many important ways. Judges regularly seal confidential information about defendants, plaintiffs, informants, witnesses and jurors. They issue orders muzzling the parties to legal action, they keep information off the public docket and they deny access to discovery material and settlements.
Go here for the rest of the column.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Do You Know the Story Behind This Statue?
I am told by an email correspondent that it was created by an Iraqi man who was responsible for many of the busts of Saddam Hussein before Iraq's liberation by the U.S. The man was so grateful for the liberation that he melted three heads of Saddam and created this work of art as a memorial thanks.
Anybody else familiar with this work?
Thanks to commenter antimedia for pointing out this Army Times story from January 2004 with part of the story behind the work of Iraqi sculptor Kalat. He really did melt down busts he had previously done of Hussein and made them into this memorial to the American soldiers who died liberating his country.
But there was more to the story and it's not so inspiring. A google search of Kalat's name turned this up: The Wall Street Journal reported in March 2004 (courtesy UrbanLegends.com) that Kalat was paid a substantial sum to do the statue and that he said he did it for the same reason he did the work for Hussein, for money to pay for his education.
It remains a moving piece of sculpture to be sure and Kalat may well be an unusually gifted artist, whatever his motives.
PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Sen. Tom Coburn on C-SPAN
Sen. Tom Coburn spoke Friday before the Conservative Women's Network Luncheon at The Heritage Foundation, which co-hosts the event with the Clare Boot Luce Policy Institute. The speech will be re-broadcast tomorrow. Here are the details from the C-SPAN Book TV program note:
On Sunday, December 18 at 12:40 am and at 9:00 am
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK
Description: In "Breach of Trust," Sen. Tom Coburn discusses his disdain for career politicians. The author wrote the book in 2003 after he left the House of Representatives in 2001 but before his return to politics as the Republican Senator of Oklahoma in 2004.
Senator Coburn stresses the importance of being as effective as possible in as short an amount of time as possible. The book also covers how some politicians are more concerned with personal perks and power as opposed to government reform. This event was hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
Author Bio: Tom Coburn (R-OK) was elected to the U.S. Senate November 2, 2004. He is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Indian Affairs Committee. Dr. Coburn represented Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995-2001. Sen. Tom Coburn is a practicing physician who has delivered almost 4,000 babies.
Publisher: Nelson Current PO Box 141000 Nashville, TN 37214