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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Byrd 'Fesses Up, He's the Democrat Who Put Hold on Coburn-Obama

Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat, released a statement confirming that he is the senator who put a second anonymous hold on S. 2590, the Coburn-Obama bill to establish a public Internet database of most federal spending.

Paul Kiel at TPMMuckraker has the statement and more details here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

And in the Earmarks Project News ....

Check out Porkoplis, the blog of Mario Delgaudo in Cinncinnati. Mario is providing a textbook demonstration of how bloggers can use the posted database of 1,800+ Labor-HHS appropriations bill earmarks to pressure Members of Congress and earmark recipient to come clean.

You can check out the Earmarks Database on the Examiner.com web site here. You can also give it a look at the database and some excellent charts breaking the data out by various factors by Porkbusters.org here.

You can get a superb graphic representation of the database via an earmarks map created by Sunlight Foundation here.

And you can scan the database at Citizens Against Government Waste by going here.

You will also find lots of useful background information about earmarks and advice on how to research the earmarks at each of the four sites that posted the Labor-HHS earmarks database earlier this month.

As Predicted - It's Ted Stevens; And He Wants a "Cost-Benefit Analysis;" Why Coburn Knew but Didn't Tell; A Democrat Has Also Placed An Anonymous Hold

Congrats to TPMuckraker's Paul Keil who got a spokesman for Sen. Ted. Stevens, R-AK, to confirm that the Alaska Republican is the senator who placed an anonymous hold on the Coburn-Obama bill to create an internet database of most federal spending.

Rebecca Carr at Cox News Washington Bureau has more details, including this knee-slapper that was undoubtedly delivered with a totally straight face by Stevens' aide:

"Aaron Saunders, spokesperson for Stevens, said [Sen. Tom] Coburn was informed two weeks ago that his [Saunders] boss had concerns about the bill. Namely, Stevens is concerned that the bill would create more bureaucracy. He wants to see a cost-benefit analysis."

If that obvious BS doesn't get Stevens hooted out the U.S. Senate .... How about we do a cost-benefit analysis of Stevens' tenure in the nation's capitol?

UPDATE: Beltway Blogroll assess the campaign

Beltway Blogroll's Danny Glover has a superb look at the secret hold campaign from its outset.

UPDATE II: CNN web site features Stevens unmasking

It's the top-rated story on the web site at the moment, which is an indication of attention to the issue among the general public. Go here for the CNN piece.

UPDATE III: Here's why Coburn didn't out Stevens

John Hart, Sen. Tom Coburn's communications director, confirmed for Tapscott's Copy Desk that the Oklahoma Republican senator who is the main force behind the Coburn-Obama bill, knew two weeks ago that Stevens placed the hold on the bill, as claimed earlier today by an aide to the Alaska Republican.

So why didn't Coburn simply announce that it was Stevens who placed the anonymous hold on the bill, S. 2590, the Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act?

"Coburn did know two weeks ago, but his position is that it is the responsibility of the senator placing the hold to reveal himself or herself," said Hart. "That's why Coburn didn't want to go after Stevens to put pressure on him to do it."

Hart acknowledged that Coburn also places holds on proposed legislation but emphasized that when he does he goes directly to the sponsor of the bill in question and explains his concerns about it. Stevens has yet to speak with Coburn about the bill, according to Hart.

"Coburn didn't find out it was Stevens until after the August recess began," Hart said. "The difference is that Stevens has avoided press and blogger calls and he refused to meet with us to discuss his concerns."

Hart said there is concern that a second anonymous hold may also be in play, but he said the Coburn staff has been unable to confirm it one way or the other.

FYI: The superb "Stevens busted" artwork topping this post is courtesy of Andy Roth and the mischievious crew at Club for Growth. The second and third pieces of artwork are by Karl Engenberger, who N.Z. Bear calls "the talented creator of the original Porkbusters logo."

UPDATE IV: Timeline shows Stevens actively avoided Coburn

After reviewing a detailed timeline of events beginning with the April 6 introduction of S. 2590 by Coburn, it seems clear that Stevens has done everything possible to avoid working with Coburn or his staff to address the Alaska senator's objections to the proposal. That avoidance strongly suggests that the purpose of the anonymous hold by Stevens was not to force a compromise with Coburn, but to kill the bill outright.

For example, on July 18, Coburn chaired a hearing of his subcommittee on the bill. Stevens could have attended the hearing and was invited but did not.

On July 20, members of Coburn's legislative staff invited Stevens via email to co-sponsor the bill. No response was ever received.

On July 27, the full Homeland Security Committee on which both Coburn and Stevens serve voted unanimously to report the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it be considered under unanimous consent, which would have cleared it for quick passage. Stevens did not attend the hearing, even though his staff, if not he himself, knew the agenda for the committee meeting.

On Aug. 2, S. 2590 was placed on the Senate calendar for consideration. Stevens and his staff must have known that fact but said nothing to Coburn.

On Aug. 3, S. 2590 was "hotlined" by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, seeking unanimous consent of Republican senators to approve the bill, and by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for the Democrats.

On Aug. 4, Coburn and his staff are informed by Frist staff that an anonymous hold has been placed on the bill but they are not told the identity of the responsible senator.

On Aug. 16, Coburn and his staff learn that Stevens placed the hold.

On Aug. 17 at 10:25 a.m., Coburn and his staff email Stevens and his staff asking to meet to discuss Stevens' reasons for placing the hold on the bill. No response was received.

At 5:17 p.m., Stevens' staff acknowledge that their boss placed the hold.

At 5:21 p.m., Coburn staff again email seeking meeting with Stevens.

On Aug. 18, Coburn staff again emails seeking meeting with Stevens. No response is received.

On Aug. 19, Coburn staff receives email from Stevens staff saying no meetig is possible because the lead aide is on "much-needed vacation" and no meeting will be possible until after the August recess is completed.

On Aug. 29, Coburn staff is told by Frist leadership staff that at least one Democrat senator has placed an anonymous hold on the bill.

On Aug. 30 at 11:39 a.m., Coburn staff emails fourth request for meeting with Stevens.

At 11:48 a.m., Stevens staff says he may be available later in the week.

At 12:12 p.m., Coburn staff requests meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Sept. 1.

At 12:29 p.m., Coburn staff is told by Stevens staff that lead aide is still on vacation and cannot commit to a meeting.

At 2:30 p.m., Stevens' aide confirms to reporters that Stevens placed the anonymous hold.

At 3:27 p.m., Coburn staff is again told by Frist leadership staff that a Democrat senator has placed an anonymous hold on the bill.

UPDATE V: How serious is Stevens about spend and bureaucracy? Hardly

One of my Hill sources did some digging and came up with these cites from the record:

As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Stevens has overseen the passage of 40 separate pieces of legislation in the 109 th Congress. Only 31 of those bills have been scored by CBO. According to those 31 official cost estimates, the legislation passed by Sen. Stevens' committee will increase federal spending by at least $89 billion over the next five years .

On March 16, 2006, only two hours after the Senate raised the nation's debt ceiling to nearly $9 trillion, Sen. Stevens' "hotlined" the Polar Bear Conservation and Management Act. When it was hotlined, the Polar Bear bill was estimated to cost $20 million over the next five years. In contrast, CBO estimates that S.2590 will cost $15 million.

S.2590, with 29 co-sponsors (and four additional co-sponsors to be added when Congress reconvenes), already has more co-sponsors than any bill passed by Sen. Stevens' Commerce Committee in the 109 th Congress according to information from the Legislative Information System.

The costs of hiding spending information from the public are well known; the benefits of hiding that information from the public are not. Numerous independent audits and investigations of Katrina spending have revealed rampant waste at all levels of government. Every dollar that is wasted is a dollar that does not go to someone in need. Greater transparency and oversight can only improve the way Congress and the federal government spend taxpayer dollars.

Existing databases of federal spending information are completely inadequate and difficult to use. For example, an August 1, 2006 article in Federal Times notes that shortcomings in the federal government's existing contracts database "are hindering policy makers and other users in their attempts to make procurement spending more efficient and responsible."

The CBO cost estimate of S.2590 notes that existing databases "do not comprise a comprehensive information source of all federal spending and reportedly are not timely nor easily queried for information"

UPDATE VI: The Best Stevens Post of the Day!

Rand Simberg of Transterrestrial Musings has it here.

UPDATE VII: Stevens career down the tubes?

Bulldog Pundit at AnkleBitingPundits wants to know!


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Frist Talks With Captain Ed About Secret Senate Hold; Senate Majority Leader Assesses Iran

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, was in Minneapolis earlier today and sat down for a lengthy interview with three of the Blogosphere's top intellects, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters and Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker of Powerline.

Naturally, Captain Ed made certain the conversation turned to the secret hold put on the Coburn-Obama Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act to establish a public internet Database of most federal spending.

As I have said from the beginning, Frist acknowledged that he knows or can find out who is behind the hold. But he makes a case for not forcing that senator to come out from behind the protection of anonymity:

"EM: Do you know who's holding the bill? Is that something that's within your knowledge?

"BF: I can find out, Ed. What a hold is - a lot of legislation has come to the floor and things are moving kind of fast - but what a hold is, is the ability of someone to say 'Slow down and protect me on the floor.' You hear all the arguments about last-minute holds or holds occurring right before a break, and people will say, 'Slow it down so we can take a look at it.' Part of it is that things come to us so quickly, and this particular bill probably most people didn't see it because we were doing so much those last two or three days. But an individual can't stop it or hold it from coming to the floor. What it does mean is 'Put a pause on it until I can see it and protect our rights on the floor.' It’s a way to support the comity of the Senate. It doesn't mean it can't be taken to the floor."

Go here for the rest of Frist's comments to Morrissey.

And go here for the Iran section of the Morrissey/Johnson/Hinderaker session with the Senate Majority Leader and here for the general politics section.

FEC Officially Votes to Silence Political Speech for Last Two Months of 06 Campaign

With a 3-3 vote featuring Democrat commissioners supporting the silencing of political speech against congressional incumbents and Republican commissioners in favoring of allowing it, the Federal Elections Commission has now made it official - As required by the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, there can be no paid political broadcast ads criticizing incumbent Members of Congress for the two months prior to the Nov. 7 election.

This is the ultimate form of Incumbent Protection Act, short of repealing elections.

Go here for Knoxnews comment and text of AP story reporting the FEC vote.

I say it again - if the Republican Party nominates Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, for president in 2008 without his official apology for and repudiation of McCain-Feingold, plus introduction of legislation to repeal that monstrous outrage against the First Amendment, no conservative, libertarian or honest liberal can support him for the White House.

There is NO room for compromise on this issue. Either you believe in the First Amendment right to freedom of speech or you don't.

Glenn Reynolds also adds these two reminders that put the FEC action in proper perspective - McCain has been actively courting the Blogosphere for months and the "massive public support" for campaign finance reform was nothing less than a convenient PR myth bought and paid for by liberal foundations.

UPDATE: CapitalEye has more

This is worse than even I thought. Turns out the FEC was considering a proposal by a coalition of groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO seeking an exemption from McCain-Feingold to let unions, corporations and advocacy groups to run broadcast ads so long as they met certain qualifications.

It was FEC member Hans von Spakovsky's motion to approve the request that was voted down 3-3 (Motions have to receive a majority in order to gain FEC approval).

CapitalEye explains:

"Under von Spakovsky's proposal, labor unions, corporations and other advocacy groups could have run television and radio ads that urge members of Congress to vote a certain way on a bill or that encourage the public to contact their elected representatives.

"The proposal restricted ads to mentioning only incumbents and prohibited critiques of the lawmakers' qualifications for office. Ads could not refer to an upcoming election and would have to cite verbatim quotations from the lawmaker discussing the issue.

"Ads that promoted, supported, attacked or opposed a candidate would not qualify for exemption from the blackout period. Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who voted against the proposal, said the definition of such ad content needed to be clearer."

This is exactly what the Founders intended to avoid - our political speech being at the sufferance of politicians and bureaucrats. McCain-Feingold is a textbook example: Congress passes legislation concerning political speech, which is approved by the Supreme Court and then administered by bureaucrats who are thereby authorized to slice and dice the nouns and verbs of every sentence of affected speech.

There is only one way to avoid this - Every word of McCain-Feingold must be repealed.

HT: Instapundit

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Editor & Publisher Editor in Flap Over Admission of Early Career Lie

Greg Mitchell is editor of the most widely read trade publication of the newspaper industry, Editor & Publisher. He is an aggressively liberal advocate of the traditional mainstream media and is often highly critical of bloggers.

Now it appears Mitchell may have misrepresented some key facts regarding his admission of decision to lie to his editors and readers during his first professional job with a newspaper. Dan Riehl explains:

"The facts seem to indicate he was a 21 year-old paid professional journalist, not the 19 year-old intern he allowed readers to believe. Mitchell has also previously acknowledged relevant facts he managed to get wrong in his mea culpa as highly memorable events.

"Given the additional discovery that he has now gone back three years after the fact to alter the article's lede, thereby reinforcing errors that diminish the significance of his lapse, some may find it difficult to conclude Mitchell's misreporting was anything other than an intentional act."

Go here for the rest of Riehl's post. AllahPundit first broke the story here. I've never met Mitchell and I often find myself disagreeing with him but I think he does have a genuine commitment to a journalism of truth and I hope there is more to be said on this flap.

UPDATE: Mary Katharine Ham explains everything

Fauxtography, Mitchell, MSM , everything, Here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Must Reading for the Weekend: The Economist on Who Killed the Newspaper

Jeff Jarvis points to a super package from one of the world's finest magazines. Go here. Read it all.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

McCain PAC Off the Straight and Narrow, Again

Jim Geraghty, proprietor of National Review Online's superb TKS blog, charter member of The Examiner's Blog Board of Contributors and chief "Geraghtyite" in the Hugh Hewitt political universe, has exposed another less-than-truthful - aka a lie - by GOP presidential aspirant and Arizona Senator John McCain's political action committee.

You will recall earlier this summer that Geraghty forced the McCain PAC - Straight Talk America - to admit publicly that it had retained blogger Patrick Hynes. The admission came after STA executive director Craig Goldman flatly denied knowing Hynes.

More recently, Geraghty asked STA and Goldman if the McCain PAC had an official relationship with former Dean campaign strategy Nicco Mele. Again, a flat denial. Then ... well, let's just let Jim pick up the story at this point:

"There's really no other way to look at this. For the second time in less than a month, I asked a direct question, and I received a direct answer, that was flatly incorrect. One time it's an accident, twice it's a pattern.

"I can understand that having Dean’s web guy on staff can create some headaches for a candidate for the Republican nomination. But that doesn’t excuse denials to direct inquiries that contradict the facts.

"Even a 'no comment' or 'I can’t talk about this because no decision on that has been made yet,' would have been fairer. Instead, I’m told that Mele is 'offering free advice' when in fact it’s the other way around, that according to the Hotline account, McCain’s people 'recruited' Mele."

Odd behavior coming from the head of a PAC bearing the name "Straight Talk America," no? But wait, there's more to this story because STA is working on behalf of a guy who increasingly acts like the presumptive GOP presidential nominee in 2008.

But if McCain wants to be the GOP nominee, why is his PAC paying a consultant whose clients read like a Favorite Lefty Causes index? Geraghty explains:

"The clients of Mele’s firm EchoDitto, by the way, include Air America Radio, Barack Obama’s Senate campaign, the Clinton Global Initiative, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John DeStefano in Connecticut, the campaign of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm in Michigan, NoIraqDraft.com, Rock the Vote, PurpleOcean.org which is the online activism hub of the Service Employees International Union, and Rosie.com, the personal blog of Rosie O'Donnell."

This sort of thing is known in journalism circles as being "factually challenged." And speaking of journalists, Geraghty encourages the nation's political scribes to be careful, be very careful with what they are told by STA:

"I would urge reporters who deal with Straight Talk America to double check and verify everything that they are told; it is entirely possible that what you are told by the organization, on basic matters such as who is working for them, is completely false."

What should happen now is a surge of stories by political reporters going back and re-checking things they were told by STAers, as well as a marked decrease in the fawning reporting to this point that has reflected the herd's assumptions about the Arizona senator being the straight-talking independent candidate who tells it like it is.

But I'm not holding my breath for that prediction's fulfillment any time soon.

UPDATE: Patrick Hynes has something to say

He was keeping a bit of a low profile regarding Mele, but no more. Go here at Ankle Biting Pundits for his complete post.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Will NHTSA, MSM Report New SUV Safety Data?

There is a lot of coverage this week of the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on traffic safety, particulary the increase in total fatalaties in highway accidents and experts citing the tremendous increase in the number of motorcyclists in recent years as the main cause.

As a long-time motorcyclist myself (06 Kawasaki Concours), I am encouraged to see new media attention being focused on the problem of motorcycle deaths and injuries, which are largely attributable to people in cars not seeing motorcyclists and thus turning left in front of them, pulling in front of them from side roads and changing lanes into them.

But there is another angle on the new data - the marked improvement in sport-utility vehicle safety. Ron Defore, communications director for SUV Owners of America, points out for whatever reason these notable developments from the data are not highlighted by NHTSA in the agency's official report:

  • Among all passenger vehicles, SUVs had the largest increase in registrations - up 11% (page 56 of the report)
  • The number of SUV rollover fatalities dropped 1.8 percent from 2,929 to 2,877.
  • SUVs had the largest decline in occupant fatality rate in rollover crashes - down 11% (page 91)
  • The overall occupant fatality rate for SUVs showed the greatest decline of all vehicle types - down 8.7% (page 61)
  • Occupants killed and injured in two vehicle crashes involving a passenger car and an LTV (pickup, van, SUV): passenger car deaths down 4.9%; LTV deaths down 3.0% (page 95)
You can view the NHTSA document here. Surely the folks at NHTSA didn't purposely ignore the improvement in SUV safety!

Frist Uses His Blog to Express Anger over FFATA Hold; But Why Wait Till September to Take Action, Senator?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, is upset that one or more of his colleagues placed the anonymous hold on S. 2590, the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act to put most federal spending on a searchable public Internet database.

Frist noted a post earlier this week by Andrew Stuttaford on National Review Online asking if the Senate Majority Leader was aware of the widespread anger in the Blogosphere about the anonymous hold and observed that he was very much in favor of Coburn-Obama:

"S. 2590 would create a single, easily searchable database capable of tracking approximately $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans. Pork thrives in Washington when it can hide from the bright light of public scrutiny - when it can be quickly slipped into massive appropriations bills with little transparency and no public debate. That's why the database proposed by this legislation would provide an invaluable tool for Americans frustrated with wasteful, unnecessary federal spending.

"Many in the blogosphere - left and right - have rallied to support this crucial legislation, which is fitting, for no group better knows the power of technologically empowered grassroots activism. And, for reasons of policy and politics, many bloggers are rightly outraged that S. 2590 was shot down when I attempted to bring it up for a vote prior to the August recess."

Frist then pledged that "as soon as the Senate returns in September, I will continue to fight to pass S. 2590 and other fiscal responsibility priorities."

That's fine, but here are two further questions for Frist:

First, Frist surely must know the identity of the senator or senators behind the anonymous hold. Why not call the holder or holders and tell them to withdraw it or the anonymity will end just as soon as the Majority Leader can get a post up on his blog exposing the senator or senators involved?

Second, why wait till September when Congress returns from its August recess? Here's a clear-cut opportunity to demonstrate leadership and make a concrete difference in advancing genuine, much-needed reform in Washington. What are you waiting for, Mr. Senate Majority Leader?

Go here for the full Frist post. Note that Stuttaford was reacting to this editorial in The Washington Examiner, which noted:

"Odds are slim that the real senator or senators behind the anonymous hold will ever come forward voluntarily, even though for years it has been customary in these arcane matters beyond the Senate cloakroom for the identity of such holders to be kept private only so long as necessary to force some sort of compromise on the legislation in question. Compromise is probably not the spirit behind the present anonymous hold."

But the Blogosphere - led by N.Z. Bear of Porkbusters.org - has made progress in identifying which senators are not behind the anonymous hold. Get the latest update here.

UPDATE: Unreasonable to Ask Frist to Move Now?

At least one commenter seems to think it is unreasonable to ask the Senate Majority Leader to move now on forcing the anonymous holder out into the open, rather than waiting till September.

It's my view that waiting till September is simply a way for Frist to appear to be aggressively in favor of the Coburn-Obama proposal while in fact not doing what is clearly within his perogative and ability to make passage of the bill possible.

Put another way, moving now rather than waiting is how Frist can demonstrate that he is not a typical Washington politician who uses procedural dodges to appear to be one thing while in fact functioning as another.

Politics as usual is the problem here, not the solution.

UPDATE II: Coburn Keeps Running Tab on Colleagues Earmarks

Human Events' Ivy Sellers was in Chicago this past weekend to hear Sen. Tom Coburn address the Americans for Limited Government Action Conference. Among much else, Sellers reports that Coburn disclosed that he keeps a running tab of how much each of his 99 Senate colleagues is spending via earmarks:

"The biggest spender in the Senate is Debbie Stabenow, D-MI. Coburn said that while she may look like a sweet, innocent grandmother, she sure doesn’t mind throwing her grandchildren's money - and future - down the drain.

How does he know? Coburn said he keeps a running total of each of his colleagues spending habits tucked away in his desk down near the Senate floor. That way when Sen. Dick Durbin , D-IL, tries to pass himself off as a fiscal conservative, he can ask him how that is possible when the record shows Durbin is the eighth highest spender in Congress."

You think Stabenow talks like a sweet old granny when she sees Coburn now?

UPDATE III: Human Events Tells Frist "We'll Hold you to that, Senator"

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist may be wishing he never posted anything about Coburn-Obama because now he's got Human Events promising to hold him to his promise. HE's associate editor Rob Bluey explains on Capital Briefs blog:

"I tend to agree with Mark's critique. August may be a month devoted to senators' spending time on the campaign trail, but that doesn't mean Frist can take a break from the job.

"That being said, I'm glad Senator Frist chose to respond to Stuttaford's question. But he needs to realize that bloggers will hold him to his promise - just like we won't forget about his commitment to confirming John Bolton and conservative judges."

Go here for Rob's full post.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Joe Rosenthal, RIP

Thanks, Joe.

HT: Scott Johnson at Powerline for the reminder and the tribute.

They Are Smokin' at Editor & Publisher

Not from the reporting, however. Check out the Letters to the Editor regarding a recent piece by David Perlmutter regarding the Fauxtography crisis.

Smart editors shouldn't have to be told when their gooses are cooked.

HT: Bruce Kesler at Democracyproject.com. Check out Bruce's take on the Perlmutter piece here.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Blogosphere Digging Into Finding the Senator Holding Coburn-Obama Spending Database Bill Hostage

Wow! On Wednesday, I wonder which senator (s) put the anonymous hold on S. 2590, the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act to establish a public database of federal spending.

Not quite two days later and legions of Blogospherians are calling their senators and asking them point-blank - Are you the senator who put a hold on Coburn-Obama. And gues who stepped forward to provide the central repository for responses? N.Z. Bear at Truth Laid Bear, of course!

You've got to see this if you haven't already. Just click on the senator's picture and you'll get the scoop on what's been learned so far. Then, if you haven't already, call your two senators and ask them - Are you the senator who put a hold on Coburn-Obama?

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal weighs in, too!

And on our side, naturally. Go here for the original. Go here for Glenn Reynolds' response to a beligerent Senate staffer unhappy that his or her boss is being asked to go public.

Was Earmarks Project a Conservative Conspiracy to Undermine Social Services Spending?

Among the most thoughtful responses to the Earmarks Project was that of Prof. Jay Rosen of New York University who is proprietor of the excellent PressThink blog.

Rosen understood immediately and described succinctly the potentially historic significance of the project in the development of networked journalism on the Internet.

Here's how Rosen put it:

"Today marks a key moment in the evolution of the Web as a reporting medium. The first left-right-center coalition of bloggers, activists, non-profits, citizens and journalists to investigate a story of national import: Congressional earmarks and those who sponsor and benefit from them.

"This is networked journalism ('professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story') beginning to come of age, and it's very much in the spirit in my initiative NewAssignment.Net."

He also provided a handy list of reasons why the Earmarks Project "is a significant marker in the history of web journalism:
  • "It's trying to bring new facts to light: 'which members of Congress sponsored the 1,867 secret spending earmarks worth more than $500 million in the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriation bill now before Congress.' That information is a secret right now.
  • "It's the work of a coalition that crosses partisan lines - from Zephyr Teachout to Glenn Reynolds, if you will.
  • "It's about a fundamental matter of accountability in elected government: will members of Congress own up to their concealed actions?
  • "The story is still in motion. As The Examiner said, 'Congress may still modify the bill, approve it as is or reject it.' This is journalism in time to make a difference. As Dan Gillmor notes, 'It could work to shame Congress people into at least telling the truth about their special favors.'
  • "It enlists Net users across the country in the collecting and sharing of information of vital public importance.
  • "Journalists in Washington do what they can do best ('Examiner reporters will be asking questions on Capitol Hill about many of these earmarks in coming days') citizen-reporters do what they do best - contacting their Representatives as concerned constituents demanding answers.
  • "It develops a pool of common data that different partners can interpret and talk about in their separate ways. Therefore they don't have to see eye-to-eye on everything, just the importance of bringing these facts to light.
  • "It has a clearly measurable goal by which to discern progress: More than 1,800 appropriations, the authors of which are unidentified. The more who are identified the more successful the project.
  • "It shows that in newspaper journalism Web innovations are more likely to come from outside the established players - in this case billionaire Philip Anschutz's Examiner chain (See Jack Shafer on Anschutz and innovation.)
  • "It couldn't be done without the Net."
Folks who have an interest in or need to understand where new media is headed would do well to spend some time reading and studying Rosen's post, including the After Matter section and the comments, plus Rosen's explanation of his NewAssignment.net proposal for a new kind of media organization.

In the meantime, I want to correct the record on a suggestion that appeared in the comments to the Rosen post that those of us involved in the Earmark Project specifically chose the Labor-HHS appropriations bill in an attempt to derail federal social service spending - i.e. Since the coalition members are mainly from the Right, the effort must be part and parcel of the heartless GOP's continuing effort to repeal the Great Society and throw the poor to the wolves.

Salon's Scott Rosenberg put forth the criticism this way:

"Why am I not surprised that the conservative Anschutz papers are looking at the earmarks in a social services appropriations bill? I'm sure there's plenty to find there, it's not a worthless effort, but ... the unfolding details of the Cunningham saga, as in the eye-opening confessions of Brent Wilkes in the Times, suggest that the most outrageous earmarking (a k a 'bribery') is happening in the military appropriations area. Let's see Anschutz go after that."

I posted this response to Rosenberg:

"Scott, The Examiner didn't initiate the examination of the Labor-HHS appropriation but we were excited about joining it because of the paper's commitment to transparency in government whenever and wherever possible, including at the Pentagon. If you are interested in further understanding where the Examiner editorial page is coming from, you should check out my congressional testimonies on the Cornyn-Leahy FOIA reform bill and the Coburn-Obama Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.

"Link to the Senate Cornyn-Leahy testimony.
"Link to the Coburn-Obama testimony. (Pdf)"

Then in subsequent comments, Mark Howard of NewsCorpse.com insisted that the coalition members could easily have picked a different appropriations bill to focus on but didn't as a result of ideological bias:

"While there is a valid argument that all sides in the earmarking debate support openness, that doesn't mean that there is no prejudice in the selection of this project. At the completion there will be conclusions drawn that reflect poorly on the earmarkers. And I suspect the results of this project would show a larger group of liberal or Democratic earmarkers than a project researching an energy bill or one for the military as Scott noted.

"The heavy representation of arch conservatives causes me to fear that there is a hidden motive to do damage to Democrats. That may not be the case, but the perception itself is the problem. That perception can have an impact on the participation of others, on funding, and perhaps even on the reporting. I can't be the only one to harbor such fears."

I was frankly dumbfounded by Mark's assertion of an ideological agenda in the selection of the Labor-HHS bill and responded with this needlessly nettlesome comment:

"Mark@News Corpse, you literally do not know what you are talking about. There was no 'selection.' None. Zero. The Labor-HHS bill was literally the only bill available. For the record, I would give both of my eye teeth to have a comprehensive listing of all the earmarks in all 13 appropriations bills, especially including the DOD measure.

"And that level of transparency will be achieved as long as there are smart, energetic people across the political spectrum who are not so blinded by ideological prejudice that they are incapable of seeing important common ground."

To which, Mark responded:

"Firstly, the Labor bill was not literally the only bill available. It may have been the only bill that fit your criteria. You could have selected a bill that had already passed, but that did not comply with your criteria. That is literally "selection," which you claimed there was none of. So I guess it's also not true that I literally don't know what I'm talking about."

At this point, I thought it best to continue the conversation off-line and emailed this query to Mark:

"Here's what you said: 'Firstly, the Labor bill was not literally the only bill available. It may have been the only bill that fit your criteria. You could have selected a bill that had already passed, but that did not comply with your criteria.'

"You appear to have access to information that I don't regarding what was available to the Earmark Coalition. Your response will be published."

I expected to be flamed in response, but instead received this thoughtful message from Mark:

"All appropriation bills that have passed are available to you with the earmarks they contain. The difference in this case was, as Zephyr Teachout said: 'This is the first list of earmarks any congressional source has provided to us to do such work on in advance of the bill passing.'

"The point I was making was that the bill selected for the earmarks project did not have to be one that had not yet passed. Exposing the sponsors of earmarks in a bill that had already passed would still serve the purpose of advancing transparency. The advantage to using a bill that has not yet passed is having the potential to derail it. That could be a desirable thing, but it is not requisite to the project."

Mark's first sentence is the key to the misunderstanding at the root of this exchange. It is not true that "all appropriation bills that have passed are available to you with the earmarks they contain." Here's why:

Only two other appropriations bill has been approved by both chambers in Congress and sent to the President, the Department of Homeland Security bill, which contains no earmarks, and the transportation bill, which is infested with earmarks.

Unfortunately, even with appropriation bills that do pass both chambers and receive a presidential signature, there is no section conveniently labelled "Earmarks Listed Here." The earmarks are obscured in legislative language throughout the text of the bill that becomes law and it requires a trained legislative eye hours and hours of close examination to ferret the earmarks out. Even the best such experts can often miss the earmarks.

Even so, Mark is still having none of it, insisting in a subsequent email that:

"You keep coming up with new justifications for your decision making. First it was having info for a bill in advance of its passing. Now it's convenience. So now it comes down to your having made the selection because it was easier - because you didn't have to dissect the bill yourself to identify the earmarks. I don't mean to trivialize that, I know that's a big job.

"But my point is still correct. A choice was made. Other choices were available but were not considered due to your criteria. It's that simple. What I am missing is how we can be debating whether a selection was made when the answer is so obvious.

"By the way, there are resources for obtaining lists of earmarks from previous bills. There are people and organization that have pretty much done the work for you. I'm pretty sure you're aware of at least one of those resources Citizens Against Government Waste."

Why do I reproduce this lengthy exchange? Because I think it highlights one of the most important reasons why Congress is able to abuse the earmarks so easily. The legislative process itself is too often an arcane, multi-level cacaphony of confusion to anybody without lots of experience inside it and it bears only the most superficial relationship to the civics book description students were once taught in high school.

Congress is able to hide behind its self-imposed complexity, much of which is hidden away from public view. As government gets bigger and more intrusive, the costs and potential dangers of decisions made behind closed doors increases exponentially. And that is why, my many liberal friends, big government is always and everywhere the enemy of transparency and accountability.

Now, if my conservative friends can also understand that limited government need not be small-minded nor blind to social injustice, perhaps all of us across the political and ideological spectrum can recover a friendly common ground upon which to have a reasonable non-partisan discussion about what to do with this monstrosity we have together created on the Potomac.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Which Senator (s) Is Behind the Secret Hold on Coburn-Obama Spending Database Bill? Can the Blogosphere Force the Offender Out in the Open?

Federal Times reports today that "an unknown number of senators have blocked legislation to create a public, searchable Web site of all federal grants and contracts. Senate rules permit any senator to anonymously block consideration of a bill on the floor, effectively killing the measure."

The measure is not necessarily dead because the offending senator or senators might withdraw their hold, or the Senate might even change its rules and require the identities of such holders to be made public.

In any case, the senator or senators who placed the anonymous hold on the measure are swimming against the tide of support for Coburn-Obama from more than 100 organizations that span the political spectrum.

As for which senator is the most likely candidate for being responsible, two come immediately to mind. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-AK, threw a temper tantrum and vowed to resign if funds for the proposed "Bridge to Nowhere" were killed.

Then there is former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-MS, who forever memorialized himself with this quote: "I'll just say this about the so-called Porkbusters. I'm getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble ever since Katrina."

Whoever it might actually be, the Blogosphere could be instrumental in uncovering the offending senator or senators identity by calling every senate office and asking if the boss is the one.

Let's keep a tally of the responses. Odds are, of course, that we will end up with a list of 100 senators who either said "no, it's not me" or "no comment," or senators' staff members who said "we don't know" or "we can't find out."

Who knows what might be the political consequences of being fingered as the senator who is so desperate to keep the American people from knowing how their government is spending their money that he or she would put a hold on Coburn-Obama and then hide in the dark shadows of anonymity provided by Senate rules.

UPDATE: Porkbusters.org Tracking Senators' Responses to The Question

The Question is did you put the secret hold on the Coburn-Obama bill to create a public, searchable database of all federal spending? N.Z. Bear, the genius behind Truth Laid Bear and (with Instapunditmeister Glenn Reynolds) Porkbusters.org, quickly whipped together a handy chart showing the name and telephone number for every U.S. senator.

Bear is asking people to call their senators, then email the results of the call to him at porkbusters@porkbusters.org. Regardless of the results of this particular campaign, I nominte Bear for the title of the Fastest Right Geek of the Blogosphere. This guy is awesome!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

PORKBUSTERS UPDATE: Citizen Journalism Project Aims to Expose Congressional Authors of 1,800+ Secret Earmarks

An unprecedented coalition of media, citizens activism groups spanning the ideological spectrum and bloggers today unveiled a database of more than secret 1,800 earmarks contained in the Labor-HHS Appropriation bill now before Congress and invited the public to help uncover the identities of the individual congressmen behind each earmark.

The unusual coalition includes The Examiner Newspapers' Examiner.com web site and its dailies in Baltimore, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the Sunlight Foundation, Porkbusters.org, Citizens Against Government Waste and Human Events Online. Also participating are the Club for Growth, The Heritage Foundation, the National Taxpayers Union, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters blog, Tim Chapman of Heritage, Mary Katharine Ham of Townhall.com blog and Tapscott's Copy Desk.

The purpose of the coalition's project is quite simply to join with the public in an investigation into the identities of the Members of Congress who inserted the earmarks in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill now pending before the House. A Senate version is also in the works and will likely include additional earmarks.

Congress typically considers 13 appropriations bills each year in order to fund the legions of federal departments, agencies, commissions and panels, though in recent years, a continuing resolution has often become the substitute when Members were unable to agree on the regular legislation.

The 1,800+ earmarks in the House bill are worth more than $502 million and average more than $268,000 each. There are multiple earmarks for every state, plus Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Every earmark was inserted anonymously during the House Appropriations Committee deliberations.

The coalition obtained from a congressional source a copy of the bill manager's amendments containing the earmarks. Members of the coalition then worked collaboratively to assemble all of the earmarks in a searchable database and are now encouraging members and readers to join the investigation as citizen journalists.

I believe this is the first-ever such citizen journalism project and it certainly is among the largest-ever efforts in the Blogosphere to focus the power of viral networking - aka called by James Suroweicki as "The Wisdom of Crowds" - in a demonstration of individual empowerment that Reynolds describes in his book, "An Army of Davids." The emergence of such citizen journalism projects was predicted years ago by Dan Gillmor in his book "We the Media."

Here's what The Examiner is asking its readers to do:

"Check out the earmarks for your state and then call your congressman and ask if he or she sponsored any of your state’s earmarks. If the answer is yes, ask why the congressman’s name isn’t on the earmark. If you recognize the institution designated to receive the earmarked tax dollars, call them and ask them what they intend to do with your money."

But the Examiner is also asking readers to share what they hear from their congressman by emailing the newspaper and notes that its own reporters will also be looking into the earmarks, seeking evidence for, among other things, abuses of the earmarks process such as directing federal funds to campaign donors:

"Then use info@examiner.com. to tell The Examiner what you found out (Be sure to put “Earmarks” in your subject line.) Examiner reporters will be asking questions on Capitol Hill about many of these earmarks in coming days and we’re confident many if not all of the congressional sponsors of these 1,867 earmarks will eventually be identified."

The result, according to the Examiner will be something that would make Honest Abe smile - the American people will have ALL the facts about these earmarks and will then be able to make informed decisions about whether their tax dollars should be spent by the Washington politicians in that way.

UPDATE: Blogs linking to the Earmarks Project

The Free State Foundation blog
Riehl World View
Center for Citizen Media blog

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

And in News From Tapscottia ...

The Other Joe

by John Berthoud
Posted Aug 09, 2006

Former Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman's loss in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary may have grabbed the headlines, but Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz's primary loss on Tuesday may create political waves just as big. Tim Walberg pulled off the rare feat of defeating an incumbent Congressman (by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin). The message from Michigan: the conservative base is tired of big-government Republicans.

Schwarz of course was backed or praised by much of the GOP establishment and business lobbying community. He also received help from liberal groups, labor unions, and the union-allied Republican Main Street Partnership. Schwarz's loss is one more indication of the large gulf between the Washington GOP establishment and Republicans outside the Beltway. Just how out of touch that establishment can be is shown by the Republican Main Street Partnership laughably calling Schwarz a "Reagan Republican," despite the fact that Schwarz had one of the worst fiscal records of any GOP Member in Congress.

Walberg received enormous backing from the Club for Growth and was endorsed by leading conservative and free market PACs (including NTU's affiliated PAC). But the key to Walberg's win lies in the conservative base, which recognized that as poor a record as Schwarz had compiled in his first term, it would only get worse if he beat back the expected primary challenge for his sophomore term. Schwarz's support for more spending and bigger government would only have grown in succeeding years.

By nominating Tim Walberg, the voters in Michigan's Seventh District sent a wake-up call to the GOP leadership in Washington about the importance of turning away from their profligate ways of recent years. Only time will tell if they hear it.


Dancing on Castro's Grave

Fidel Castro's continuing health problems and the prospect of imminent liberation of Cuba has South Florida Cuban community excited as never before. With so many of these folks having fled Cuba, their excitement about what happens following Castro's demise is understandable. But we aren't hearing much about this in the MSM, are we?

Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association and a member of The Examiner Newspapers' Blog Board of Contributors, is married to a Cuban whose family was among those lucky enough to get out of Cuba after Castro began turning that unhappy island into the Caribean's first and only enduring Marxist dictatorship.

In his latest Blog Board contribution, Cox tells "Eduardo's" story. One wonders how long it will be before the MSM gets around to reporting this part of the end days of Castro's dictatorship. Go here for the complete Cox piece.

Should Government Investigate the MSM?

Veteran NBC foreign correspondent Ike Seamans is dismayed by what he argues has become the norm for international reporting. The core problem, he argues in an important opinion piece at NBC6.net, is not simply bias:

"Because almost none of the American television networks have a vast stable of experienced reporters any longer who understand the region, they employ the old 'parachute them in' philosophy, i.e. dispatching perfectly good - and frequently very young - journalists, few of whom have any experience in covering this story and don’t stand a snowball's chance in Gaza of getting it right initially.

"They engage in what I call 'nerve end journalism.' reporting what they think they see in one of the most confusing places on earth, with very little context. Their movements are also very restricted by both sides."

Seamans goes on to note the way terrorist groups like Hezbollah use fear to keep reporters from reporting anything that deviates from approved scripts and he quotes from a fascinating confession by a Time magazine free lancer. Definitely a must-read. Be sure and email Seamans and thank him for speaking out.

Picking up on the Seamans piece, Democracy Project's Bruce Kesler says things have gotten so bad with the mainstream media that it's time for a no-holds-barred investigation to expose the rot and force reforms upon an otherwise dying industry. Kesler doesn't explicitly call for a government probe but:

"This goes beyond the arguable undermining of our internal security by revealing secrets. It has gotten to the unarguable point where the very external security of not only the United States but of its allies is directly undermined and, indeed, future peace made more remote.

"Nothing less will do than an independent, wholesale, public, expert examination of major media reporting procedures, and thorough follow-through reforms. That may be much to ask for, but aside from the airwaves still being public property, and various tax and shield benefits specific to newspapers, it is in the business interests of the major media to be forthcoming and vigorous in this effort or speed their decline."

Kesler's piece also includes a solid roundup of fake news photos.

Should the MSM be the focus of a government probe of its reporting techniques? My view is that a government probe is the worst thing that could happen because it would be inevitably followed by government regulation - which means censorship and prior restraint - of the reporting process. That would be an unmitigated disaster for the public's ability to know the truth about public affairs.

But what do you think?

UPDATE: Kesler doesn't want government probe

Bruce emails link to his earlier post in which he makes absolutely clear that a government probe is not what he is calling for to deal with these issues. My apologies to Bruce for missing that post. You can read it here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why Does Uncle Sam Keep Two Sets of Books?

Check out this quote from a Democrat in the House of Representatives:

"We're a bottom-line culture, and we've been hiding the bottom line from the American people," says Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., a former investment banker. "It's not fair to them, and it's delusional on our part."

Cooper is referring to the fact the federal government maintains two sets of budget books, one for public consumption - let's call it Rosy Scenario - and the other for government eyes only, which we will call The Rampaging Elephant in the Living Room.

In an example of the sort of aggressive reporting that is too rare in the mainstream media's approach to covering Big Government, USA Today's Dennis Cauchon has a superb front page piece highlighting Washington's two sets of financial books. This is essential reading for anybody who seeks to understand government finances.

Cooper and many other commentators on budget and spending issues approach these matters from the financial perspective, but there is another aspect that is even more important - when the public's right to know what our government is doing with our tax dollars is respected, it becomes vastly more difficult for officials to do things like keeping two sets of books.

This USA Today story also illustrates yet more evidence for the belief that Coburn-Obama - the Senate bill establishing a public Internet database of federal spending - is quite possibly the most significant legislation the current Congress will consider.

Go here to read the full USA Today story. Then send Cauchon a thank you note for doing this kind of reporting about Big Government. His email should be dcauchon@usatoday.com.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Survey Suggests Top Newspapers Are Beginning to Get it on Internet, Blogs, Other Tools

Four out of five of the top 100 circulation daily newspapers allow their reporters to have blogs and 63 of those blogs allow readers to react and post comments on posts by the authoring reporters, according to a survey by The Bivings Report.

Other results of the survey included the fact 76 of the 100 dailies have RSS feeds, though none included feeds of display or classified advertising, and video is the most common form of multi-media use on the papers' web sites.

Also, only 19 of the papers web sites allow readers to comment on news articles and only a third of the top 100 offer podcasts from their sites. A mere seven offered a bookmarking function.

There is much more to the survey, so to read it in its entirety, go here.

I am surprised that so many of the top dailies allow their reporters to blog on the papers' web sites and that so many allow readers to comment. The biggest concern among many MSM editors about blogs is what they view as a lack of editorial control or verification on content.

And with blogs authored by reporters, editors worry that their charges will give ammunition to critics who claim bias in the paper's news reports. There is also worry about the increased opportunity for a potentially libelous statement to be published.

Here's how the Bivings people assessed the role of blogs in these newspapers:

"In addition, it is interesting to note that in our research, blogs were just as common in the ten
most circulated newspapers as they were in the bottom ten newspapers. Nine papers in both the top 10 and bottom 10 categories included reporter blogs on their websites.

"Because of the growing popularity of blogs, offering reporter blogs is a key component of a
newspaper’s online strategy. Especially among the generations of younger adults, Web users
come to expect interactivity from websites.

"Thus, omitting reporter blogs from their websites would be a costly mistake on the part of newspapers."

What would be really interesting to know is how the editors of the papers that now allow their reporters to blog view the experience before and after and what value they see having been added to their publications as a result.

HT: Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Davis Says He's Willing to Ask House to Add Contracts to Spending Database

Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, who chairs the House Government Reform Committee, told The Washington Examiner today that he will be the lead House conferee if the Coburn-Obama spending database bill clears the Senate and goes into a conference committee meeting.

Davis was a leading proponent of a House-passed bill that would also establish on the Internet a federal spending database but, unlike Coburn-Obama, would include only federal grants, not grants and contracts.

Proponents of the Coburn-Obama bill have feared House insistence on not including federal contracts in the proposed database would kill the legislation that appears headed for easy passage by the Senate.

Asked by The Examiner if he would support inclusion of contracts in the database in the conference committee, Davis said "if the Senate has it, I would yield to it." Asked if he would encourage House colleagues to approve a conference report that includes contracts, Davis said "I don't have a problem going back to the House for it."

Davis did leave himself an out, saying he would have "to look at it, see how they do it" of the Senate bill but the Virginia congressman insisted that he favors transparency and competition in federal contracting. "The more competition you have, the better," Davis said.