Politics: November 2005 Archives


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My duly elected state representatives refuse to directly supply me, their constituent, with information about what they are doing in the legislature. They simply will not do it.

Normally, I'd think that's ground for voting against them in the next election. But in this case, they don't do it because state law says it is illegal.

Because WA voters are hypersensitive about all things related to elections, in 1992 they voted into law a proposition that forbids most electronic or postal mail sent to constituents by legislators during the 12-month period before a general election.

Now, they can respond to direct personal requests -- in person, or by e-mail, apparently -- but no unsolicited or mass correspondence. This is, however, what many people rely on to actually get information about what their representative is doing, because the press doesn't do a very good job of covering most things in the state legislature.

I think this doesn't extend to the legislator's web site. Which means they could in theory have an RSS feed, which is not significantly different from e-mail anyway, so the law isn't even effective.

Oh, but they do have an exception for sending correspondence to award winners. (/me rolls his eyes) slashdot.org

War on Parenting

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Some people are telling me that I have no right to forbid the government from teaching sex to my children, no right to forbid retailers from selling porn to my children, and no right to forbid doctors from cutting holes in my children.

Is it inaccurate to say that those on the left who believe such things are engaged in war on parenting itself? I never really thought of it that way until this week, but it's incessant. It used to be that decisions parents made were merely criticized and second-guessed by them, but now they are actually denying parents have the right to make those decisions at all.

Today the Seattle Times printed an article directly implying that homeschooling should not be allowed. What's wrong with these people that they can't just let parents be parents? slashdot.org

Making Parties Looks Bad

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Rep. Randy Cunningham gave the GOP a black eye today as he confessed to various crimes relating to bribery and his public office.

Also in the news today is former U.S. Attorney General (under President Johnson) Ramsey Clark, who has defended such sweethearts as Slobodan Milosevic, the PLO (in the lawsuit against them brought by the Klinghoffer family), and Charles Taylor. He's been defending Saddam Hussein, and was yesterday admitted to his defense team.

I dunno about you, but I'd rather have Cunningham, and I am not willing to trade!

(And this is not an attack on defending unpopular crimes and criminals. This is about Ramsey Clark continually throughout his post-AG career being an opponent abroad of all things American.) slashdot.org

Parental Notification

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Here's a letter in response to some other letter. This is an issue that's bugged me for awhile, because of the clear attack it represents against parental rights.

The recent letter against parental notification for children wishing to have abortions is disingenuous.

There is no doubt that a serious concern in such matters is those situations when the parent is the cause of the pregnancy. But parental notification laws make exceptions in such cases, by allowing judges to intervene. To be against a law for a reason that is already taken into account makes little sense.

Indeed, even without such explicit exceptions, a judge can and should in such cases remove the child from the parent's custody, in which case parental notification would be moot anyway.

Abortion is not just something people do for fun: it is a serious medical procedure. A parent, guardian, or the court must nececssarily be involved before a doctor is allowed to perform any non-emergency medical procedure on a child, whether it's removal of tonsils or a fetus.

Children are not responsible for themselves. That responsibility falls to parents and guardians alone, and in a civilized society, only a court may revoke it. Down the parent-less abortion path lies the dissolution of all parental rights.

In the zeal to push the pro-choice agenda, take care to not throw out the proverbial baby with the real one.



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I just saw a journalist on TV compare the Bush administration's statements about Rep. Murtha to the Bush "smears on John Kerry, Max Cleland, and John McCain," referring to things like the Swift Boat Vets for Truth against Kerry, the ads against Cleland, and the rumors about McCain.

There is not one shred of evidence anyone's ever brought to the public that Bush, or anyone in his campaign or administration, had anything at all to do with any of those things.

(And what's worse, the ads against Cleland were actually very benign, and not at all what the popular press likes to pretend.)

So for those that think Bush was behind those things, fine, but there's not a jot of evidence of it, and you are believing it purely on faith. slashdot.org

Rep. Murtha is a Commie Coward

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OK, not really. I just didn't want to miss out on the heightened rhetoric and namecalling (which I should note Murtha himself has engaged in, to some degree, although to his credit, he backed down from his initial emotional reactions).


I think the characterization of Rep. Jack Murtha's plan to withdraw doesn't well-represent his actual plan. People are talking about it like he would bring all the troops home now. But that's not the case.

First, he's saying it should be a phased withdrawal on a tight timeline to begin now, and extend over the course of six months. Second, he would not bring them all home, but keep many of them in the region (a quick-reaction force, plus a Marine presence), just not actually in Iraq.

I don't agree with Murtha's plan, but only because of the merits, not the characterization. And I do think there's some good ideas there, especially in making the Iraqis step up their takeover of their own security by forcing the issue.

From the beginning, my desire has been to stabilize Iraq enough that we could leave. I don't know if we're at that point, but it's worth considering that we could speed up Iraq's progress toward self-sufficiency by a gradual removal of our troops, especially since our troops are often the target.

Another good idea is keeping significant forces in the region so they can aid the Iraqis if necessary. It's a middle position between staying in Iraq, and "abandoning" it entirely.

However, I don't think it should be done immediately: I think we should wait until the current political process is played out (remember, elections are coming up on December 15). Maybe at that time, it would make sense to begin pulling out, though I wouldn't think it should be done as quickly as Murtha suggests.

But really, isn't this what the military itself has been talking about, beginning a pullout next year, after the December elections? Murtha's plan is not all that different, except it calls for a return now, regardless of the stability on the ground, and over a shorter period of time.

I think the outrage here has been way overblown. There's some obvious differences between Murtha and the administration and the military on this, but his plan is not all that outrageous, that I can see. slashdot.org


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I saw this on Wikipedia recently:

Most homeschooling advocates are wary of the established educational institutions for various reasons. Some are religious conservatives who see nonreligious education as contrary to their moral or religious systems. Others feel that they can more effectively tailor a curriculum to suit an individual student's academic strengths and weaknesses, especially those with learning disabilities. Still others feel that the negative social pressures of schools (such as bullying, drugs, crime, and other school-related problems) are detrimental to a child's proper development.

How about "all of the above, and more"? (OK, I am not against nonreligious instruction for my children for religious reasons: I am against it for intellectual reasons. But still.)

Then there's this gem:

Opponents' stated concerns fall into several broad categories, including fears of poor academic quality, loss of income for the schools, and religious or social extremism. (For example, a creationist parent could remove a child from public school because the school's biology curriculum teaches evolution by natural selection.) Furthermore, some believe that removing children from the school environment could hamper their ability to socialize with peers their own age.

I love how people think any of those objections are reasonable. But Wikipedia is correct, they are common.

First, academic quality is relative and subjective. I might not teach much about gender issues that an "educator" might find important. Who gets to say what's important? (Hint: me.) Further, even the most poorly educated homeschooled children I've ever seen are more well-educated than the average public school child I've known. Sorry, but it's true.

Loss of income is the worst reason possible for being against homeschooling. The school gets that money for one reason only: to educate the particular child in question. If you don't have the child, you don't need the money. Duh. Why is this the worst reason, though? Because the other reasons at least are borne of some concern for the public good. This one is not. It's just nonsense.

"Extremism" is another terrible reason. I think the public school curriculum is often quite extreme. Who gets to decide what is best for the child? (Another hint: me. OK, it's not so much of a hint as a statement of fact, but if you really need a hint, a hint probably wouldn't help you.)

Socialization is another ridiculous concern. That's the exact same thing as saying, "I don't think the parents will teach their children how to read." It's called teaching and learning. Teaching socialization is no different, in the broad discussion of homeschooling, as anything else that is to be taught. Yes, it's true that many homeschoolers don't do socialization well, but -- and here's the funniest part -- neither do most public schools.

Now Playing: Green Day - Take Back

Bush Was Right (Gack)

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This PDF says so!

OK, I know, popular culture is one-sided. But is the answer spewing out shallow nonsense to combat shallow nonsense?

Maybe it is. But maybe we could just get kids to read a William F. Buckley book instead?

The song is just garbage, basically. The music and words are not remotely clever, and are actually rude, nasty, and combative. Even the guitar lick in the chorus is sophomoric ("nyah nyah nyah nyah").

I dunno, maybe I am too elitist, maybe we do need to get down to their level and treat kids like idiots. But if that's what's required, maybe such kids are beyond hope of rational thought anyway.

One of my main points in debating and arguing is that I don't try to actually convince anyone to change their mind or agree with me. Really. I might try to convince someone of a clear fact, but not of an interpretation of those facts. I'll try to convince you what Madison meant when he wrote the Tenth Amendment, but not of what that necessarily means in society today.

I'll instead convince you of why and how that informs my beliefs today; then, maybe they will come to agree with me, maybe not, and that's OK. As long as we understand each other better in the end, that's all I really care about. And juvenile, shallow, "Bush Was Right, nyah nyah nyah" doesn't seem to me to be exactly moving the cause of civil discourse and mutual understanding forward.

I think it would be better if we could instead teach those kids why such songs are shallow and useless as a means to greater understanding and knowledge. I think that's part of why Dylan was so popular. Sometimes he asserted truth fairly strongly, but more often than not he was asking questions, not providing answers.

This is one reason why sometimes I have trouble writing political songs. Not that it stops me. Here's a song called I Am Gonna, which is a very early demo of a work in progress (I've got more verses, more instrumentation, etc.). The last line is a bit too on-the-nose for me, I still think I want to change it. I don't know what line I'm gonna write ... slashdot.org

Dean Dean Dean

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There's so much that could be said about Dean's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday.

The funniest thing is that he refused to be on with the GOP's Ken Melhman, apparently ducking a joint appearance, which Mehlman subtly made note of during his time. So now people are calling him "Howard the Duck."

But that's a sideshow. As usual, Dean's appearance with Russert was catastrophically bad. As usual, he told a lot of lies, and wouldn't respond to a lot of questions.

He kept accusing Bush of lying, but offered no evidence of it. The point that Dean has nothing was made hilariously clear in this exchange:

MR. RUSSERT:  What did he withhold?
DR. DEAN:  He withheld--he knew, he knew that there was no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and he insisted on trying to make that case to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT:  But he never said Saddam was involved in September 11.
DR. DEAN:  He never actually came out and said just that, but ...

And this one:

DR. DEAN:  The intelligence was corrupted, not just because of the incompetence of the CIA; it was corrupted because it was being changed around before it was presented to Congress.  Stuff was taken out and not presented.  All of this business about weapons of mass destruction, there was significant and substantial evidence passed from the CIA and the State Department to, perhaps, the office of the vice president--we don't know just where--in the White House that said, "There is a strong body of opinion that says they don't have a nuclear program, nor do they have weapons of mass destruction."  And that intelligence was not given to the Congress of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT:  It was in the National Intelligence Estimate, as a caveat by the State Department.
DR. DEAN:  It was, a very small one, but ...

In other words: "OK, I am lying, but I am still right!" He never mentioned any other ways in which the President was "lying." He mentioned two ways, and then admitted that he was lying about both of them.

And on religion, it was just sickening:

DR. DEAN:  I am a Democrat because of my moral values, because I believe that we can't leave anybody behind, because I believe that what happened in New Orleans was appalling, because people died based frankly on their gender--excuse me, on their race, their age and their economic status. We need to do a better job, including everybody.

Is it a "moral value" and to lie and say that people died because they were black, implying that the Bush administration is racist?

I could go on -- Dean has a terrible problem with telling the truth -- but just read it yourself. There's really just one more quote I wish to highlight:

DR. DEAN:  I don't care who they supported.  They killed hundreds of nominations in the Supreme Court.  That is the most hypocritical nonsense.  As you know, hypocrisy is a feature of Washington's life daily.  That is nonsense.  They get no credit for voting for Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Breyer after killing hundreds of Clinton nominations and killing Harriet Miers.  How dare they have--I saw an ad the other day.  How dare they have an ad saying, "We want an up or down vote on Judge Alito" when they wouldn't give one to Harriet Miers?

First, it is of course ridiculous to assert that the Republicans killed hundreds of Supreme Court nominations. It's not possible. That's just more of Dean being stupid.

But his implication that the Republicans' treatment of Miers is hypocritical is just a lie. The Republicans never, at any time, in any place, asserted that you should not use political pressure for a nominee to be withdrawn. What they've asserted is merely that a minority of Senators should not prevent a vote that the majority wants, that a filibuster should not be used to permanently prevent a vote on a nominee.

He goes on, and I could, but there's not much point to it. The man's a lying moron. Which is probably why the Democrats are not raising much money right now. slashdot.org

Scott Adams +1 Insightful

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Scott Adams on Intelligent Design. Most of the comments don't get it, which is, of course, his point. slashdot.org

Democrats and Jesus

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All who read these words o' mine are well aware that the Democrats have a concerted effort going to inject religion more into their speeches and such, to try to woo back religious voters.

John Kerry said the other day, "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ ... that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."

I don't know what children's health care he is referring to, but I do know there is not one example anywhere of money being taken from poor people to give to wealthy people. Jesus did say to not lie, Senator.

But worse, Jesus did say we ought to cut children's health care, and other social programs. Jesus said to follow the law, and it is clearly unconstitutional for the federal government to spend money on those programs. slashdot.org

Oh Yeah One Thing

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That Ninth Circuit decision last week said: "We hold there is no free-standing fundamental right of parents 'to control the upbringing of their children by introducing them to matters of and relating to sex in accordance with their personal and religious values and beliefs' ... We conclude only that the parents are possess of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on [sex education] to their students in any forum or manner they select."

So if a school tells me that they will be teaching my child about sex, I cannot pull them out? That's clearly unlawful.

Or the school can teach my child about sex without informing the public? That, too, is clearly unlawful.

The right to prevent the schools from teaching my child about sex is necessarily implicit: I have the right as a taxpayer to know what they are teaching, and when, and I have the right to remove my child from school, at any time.

And I have the right to say Judge Steven Reinhardt is a moron.

And it's yet one more reason my children won't ever be public school students. slashdot.org

Mary Mapes Is Incompetent

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Mary Mapes was on CNN today, talking to Wolf Blitzer and Howard Kurtz.

She still maintains that Ben Barnes said he helped Bush get into the TANG. This is simply false: Barnes said he did not know if what he did helped Bush.

She still maintains she was entirely certain the documents were authentic, but she just can't prove it. That is: she has a religious belief about these documents, one that isn't warranted by the facts, that can only be accepted by faith.

She says she has a whole section in the book proving that proportional spacing existed in typewriters in the 1960s. Of course, all of us who followed the story know that only some people contested that proportional spacing did not exist; by the first day of the story, the argument had shifted to a more refined version of the argument, which was that the whole thing combined -- the spacing, the font, the superscript, all together -- did not exist on any typewriter that could have produced the memos in question.

After about a week of the story, no one heavily into the story was arguing that proportional spacing did not exist. Yes, proportional spacing existed, but none that looked like THAT. Yes, superscripts existed, but none that looked like THAT. Let alone putting it all together into one typewriter, let alone one that the TANG had access to.

That is, Mapes has a whole chapter attacking a straw man. Bravo!

She also claims Microsoft Word can't reproduce the documents, which is clearly false: it reproduces them perfectly, modulo the faxing and scanning and copying, unlike any existing typewriter anyone has ever found.

Howard Kurtz said to her that the story still has many problems, and that Mapes has not "come to grips with that." Indeed. She responded, "I disagree." Of course, she didn't answer the concerns he raised, because she has no answers.

I also saw Mapes on Good Morning America the other day, where she claimed that the "journalistic standard" is not to prove the documents are authentic, but for others to prove they are not. CBS responded, basically saying, "You heard what she just said. Do we really need to keep explaining why we fired her?"

Once again, she says, "I disagree." She won't actually address it.

She has no grasp of journalistic practices, let alone ethics. She is the most incompetent professional journalist -- even over Jeff Gannon -- that I've ever seen.

I know, this is an old issue, and a fairly sad one. But it interests me. Not enough to give Mapes any money, but she will be on Reliable Sources this Sunday, again with Howard Kurtz, and I will TiVo it. slashdot.org

Video Games

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I had a letter published in the Seattle P-I today.

Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, makes some good points about video games in his Oct. 30 letter. But his conclusion -- that industry, retailers and government have no responsibility in protecting children -- is not supported by his otherwise reasonable letter.

I have no problem with "mature" video games. I enjoyed "Max Payne," "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." But I'd never let my kids play them.

Parents today are expected to let their kids make their own decisions on the one hand, and are told they can't expect any help from society on the other. Nonsense. I expect stores to refuse to sell products with mature content to my children, and I favor legislation to that effect.

The game industry likes to crow about how no one should take the place of parents, but that is precisely what they do when they sell mature content to a minor without parental consent.

NOTE: If you are in the small minority of Americans who think that stores should be allowed to sell porn to minors, then obviously you won't possibly agree with me on this issue, so you may as well not bother. The notion that we can restrict adult content sales to minors is based on the notion that we can restrict porn to minors, and if you won't agree with that, then there's no point in discussing the issue further. slashdot.org


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There's a Rob Long bit where he talks about how contracts in Hollywood can have a "hard floor." you are given a certain fee, which can decrease over time, but not below the "hard floor."

A while ago, negotiating a deal with a studio, they wanted us to contribute to an existing project. Now, we had an agreement with that studio, and in that agreement, we had agreed to a hard floor. So when they wanted us to go lower that the hard floor on the existing project, it was time to redefine words like "hard" and "floor."

"Not much of a hard floor, is it?" I said to my agent.

"What are you talking about? It's a hard floor. No one's asking you to go below your hard floor."

"Well, they are now."

"They are now, yes. In this specific instance."

"But, if it's a hard floor, and I go below it now, what's to stop them from asking me to do it again?"

"They wouldn't do that. It's a hard floor. You never go below the hard floor."

"Except in this instance."

"Except in this instance, yes."

"So it's still a hard floor."

"Very much so."

"With a trap door somewhere, leading to a small crawlspace, where my new percentage is."

"You're fixating. It's a hard floor. It's in the contract. On this specific project, you're agreeing to go below the floor..."

"To the dirt."

"To the...why are you so negative? Look, your hard floor is your hard floor."

"They can't ask me to go below it on another project, can they?"

"Well, they can ask."

"But I'd say no, right?"


This reminds me of the current torture policy from the White House.

"Not much of a no-torture policy, is it?"

"What are you talking about? We do not torture. We will not allow anyone to torture."

"Well, except the CIA."

"The CIA, yes, in that specific instance."

"So it's still a no-torture policy."

"Very much so."

"With a trap door somewhere, leading to a small crawlspace, where we keep the really bad guys."

"Why are you so negative? Look, a no-torture policy is a no-torture policy."

The More I Think About It

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The more I think about it, the more I think McCain is the only real Republican choice for 2008, should he choose to run, and for a very simple reason: I think he's the only Republican who can either beat Hillary, or rein in federal spending. And I think he will do both.

Also, I was just informed by a friend that McCain just came out and said that we should not make torture illegal: the one in a million chance that it might be the right thing to do doesn't justify making it legal. If it's necessary, do it illegally, and take responsibility for it later.

Like Bush (and me), he thought threatening and even using force was a reasonable course of action. But he recognized a lot of mistakes being made, and even said so at the time. It took both intelligence and guts to speak out how he did, as very few other congresspeople spoke out as well he did, on either side of the aisle.

And on social issues ... why do people think Bush is more conservative? He's really not. People think Bush is the conservative one, but it's hard to figure out why. Maybe because they are not the issues he talks about most? Maybe because he doesn't nastily attack people or views he disagrees with? Regardless, this has been good for McCain, because it means the press and left have not made him out to be a rightwing monster, though it's hurt him in the party.

Even in the mess over judicial nominees, McCain is viewed as a villain in his own party, even though he is the man most responsible (after Bush) for getting those conservative judges on the bench, through his work with the "Gang of 14," and he has supported every single conservative nominee that Bush has offered.

I like McCain better than Bush on most issues, he is more conservative than Bush, he's smarter, he has more ability to get things done and bring people together, I think he will beat Hillary ... the only problem is his age and health. We'll see.


Stupid People

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There are a lot of ridiculously stupid people who vote.

There was a measure on the Washington statewide ballot this year, Senate Joint Resolution 8207, which modifies how members of the Commission on Judicial Conduct are selected.

I am not saying you are stupid if you voted for it, or against it. I don't care about that. But I heard not one word about it on TV or radio, saw nothing about it online, and saw barely anything about it in print. So I can't imagine that many others knew much more about it than I did.

Yet, it is passing overwhelmingly, so we have hundreds of thousands of voters voting for something they don't really know anything about, which isn't uncommon, except that this is a Constitutional Amendment. People are voting to amend the Constitution and they don't even know what they are voting for.

It's maddening. I'm ... well, not speechless, but close to it. People are so incredibly stupid. slashdot.org
Shield laws protecting journalists from a legal obgliation to reveal their sources are good for nothing, except selling stories that are devoid of meaning by putting journalists above the law.

Many journalists think a shield law is necessary because sources won't agree to speak unless anonymity can be guaranteed; especially when those sources are tied to the government, this is, the theory goes, important to a free society that watches its government.

But that line of reasoning is so full of holes it's hard to know where to begin. But I like a challenge, and I'll start with the nature of anonymous sources -- the very thing these laws are meant to protect -- because it is widely misunderstood.

Anonymous Sources Are Damaging

When the press uses an anonymous source, without any independent verification of the information, they are asking us to do one of two things: either trust the press, or ignore the story. As they are publishing the story, clearly they don't want us to ignore it. They want us to trust them. Can we?

Before Watergate, the press used anonymous sources sparingly, and then, pretty much only when the information they gave could be corroborated. Contrary to popular belief, that is how the Washington Post used Mark Felt (a.k.a. Deep Throat) in the Watergate scandal: he fed them information, which they used to uncover hard evidence that could independently verify what he told them. So the public wasn't asked to simply take the word of an anonymous source, or to blindly trust the paper: readers were given hard evidence that proved what the source was saying was accurate.

Since Watergate, however, journalists have increased their use of anonymous sources without regard to such standards, without obtaining or providing verification, to the point where such practice is the norm. We have Judith Miller feeding us, via the New York Times, many false stories about WMD in Iraq, with no verification, which only later, after the invasion, the Times admits were false. The editors, the publisher, and most of the readers didn't demand verification.

Yet still -- despite the personnel changes and public scandals at the paper -- not much has changed. The Times hired a Public Editor, Daniel Okrent, to help examine and facilitate change, and he proposed actual policies governing the use of anonymous sources, which would make them far more rare and reliable. Instead, anonymous sources were used more, with no substantive changes to increase their reliability. There's no reason to believe anonymous sources in the New York Times today are any more trustworthy than they were when Judith Miller wrote her false stories.

It's easy to see how this is damaging to society. Anonymity is often abused by the sources, and the information is incorrect: for example, the White House leaks a trial balloon and denies it later, under the cloak of anonymity. As the public can't verify the information, they are asked to simply take the paper's word for it, despite the fact that it very well could be wrong.

This lowers the trust we have in the press, because not only could they be wrong, but we all know they could be wrong, and they know we know they could be wrong, and yet they still ask us to believe it is true. Use of anonymous sources in this regard is a de facto violation of the public trust, and helps no one, except those looking to sell a story.

Shield Laws Don't Protect A Public Interest

No one I know, who is outside of the journalism business, really thinks the widespread use of anonymous sources such as we see in the Times is useful or good. The question we should be asking is whether this is a practice worth protecting: in what way is this useful to society?

Journalists will most often reply that without legal protection for anonymous sources, those sources will dry up. And before we can scoff at that and say what a good thing that would be, they quickly add, "because sometimes, there's a good story that the public 'needs to know.'"

The first claim is false, and self-evidently so. All one needs to do is look at places that have no shield law protections and see if there are a lot of anonymous sources available. And one is readily available: Washington, DC itself.

The District is so filled with anonymous government sources that visitors are offered complimentary ones as they cross the Potomac. Not a high-level Pentagon or White House source; for those you still need a press credential. But a family of four from Maryland can get a second-tier source from one of the minor departments, like HUD or State.

And yet, DC has no shield law. How could this possibly be? In part, it is because courts are loathe to send journalists to jail: they balance the importance of the information and the case against the importance of allowing the press to be independent. But there are scores of anonymous sources used every day in DC, and only a small percentage of journalists are ever subpoenaed, simply because the information from the anonymous sources isn't important or criminal (which raises the question of why the press bothers to promise confidentiality in the first place, let alone why they want protection for such a promise).

Most states do have shield laws, but in many of them, they do not protect sources in a criminal investigation. In California, Judith Miller may not be forced to tell who told her that Apple was coming out with a new iPod, but she likely would be forced to say who told her he saw O.J. Simpson outside his wife's condo just before midnight the evening she and her friend were killed.

And this brings us to the second claim: the public's "need to know." There is no doubt that the the public has the right to know as much as possible about what goes on in government; it is government of and by the people, after all.

But the public also has the right to information about a crime, which is when subpoenas for journalists come. So obviously there's tension here that must be resolved, and the journalists want it resolved in a way favorable to them not being held accountable by the government. But their interests are not necessarily the public's.

Again, the incidents where something is really important, that the public can only get access to by a promise of confidentiality to an anonymous source, are few and far between. Even Watergate is a poor example: we know now that because of who the source was -- the No. 2 man in the FBI -- there were plenty of legal channels he could have gone through, instead of leaking to the press.

Even assuming Felt couldn't have gotten the story out any other way, the question remains, which is worse? Too many anonymously sourced stories, many of which are wrong; or too few, missing some important and true stories (and risking jail time for those who do tell the stories)? Do we favor having stories that are false, or missing stories that are true?

But don't be too quick to answer. Remember Judith Miller. Her false stories, some claim, helped lead us to the Iraq war. Would we better off without her stories on Iraq, or without Woodward and Bernstein's stories on Watergate?

Seeking Alternative Solutions

Perhaps we don't have to choose, though. With shield laws, we get both kinds of stories, and there's little that can be done about it. But without shield laws, we can take steps to encourage the true stories, while diminishing the false ones.

The key, as in so much of problem solving, is to examine the related factors and their effects. If you have too much crime, you look for what causes and enables it, to diminsh those factors; at the same time, on the other side of the equation, you look for ways to better enforce the laws.

Much of what has gone on so far is looking for better "law enforcement": protecting the practice, changing newsroom policies, and so on. Some of those efforts are good, some are not. But there are other solutions too: if you decrease the need (perceived or otherwise) for anonymous sources, you decrease the press's reliance, and the public's acceptance, of them.

The best way to do this is to strengthen "government in sunshine" laws: require much more of government to be conducted in the open; require immediate online posting, in open formats, of government documents; enact stiff personal penalties for noncompliance; ensure the protection of whistleblowers for outing criminal behavior. More information will be made public, and what isn't (that legally should be) will constitute a crime automatically triggering whistleblower protections, so anonymity is not necessary.

Biting The Hand That Feeds

But the press don't like this option. It scares them, because it results in diminished control by and access for the press. They like being the gatekeepers, the people who get to rub elbows with the politicians and technocrats, who get to interpret the information for the public, and put their insightful spin on the story.

And the government loves it, because they get to manipulate the press, and thereby the public, without being held accountable.

This is obviously no good for the public, and not just because we have to go through the Press Priesthood to get our information, without the opportunity for independent investigation: it also skews the reports, because the journalists have to genuflect to the government officials to get access in the first place. We see this every Sunday morning, when congresspeople go on Meet the Press, and Tim Russert asks tough questions, but makes sure not to get too tough, lest the congresspeople don't come back next time.

It's the scariest part of all this: if the press is watching the government, but have the same interests as the government, who is watching the press, apart from Public Editors the press simply ignores anyway?

And shield laws only magnify this problem further by requiring the courts and legislatures to define who is, and is not, a journalist, and thus deserving of special protection. It is quite likely that journalists of all stripes will be less likely to be critical of a politician or judge who is reviewing whether or not to consider his profession (or his media, or himself) deserving of such special legal protection.

And that is a situation no journalist should ever be in, which is why many journalists do not hold stocks (or at least, manage their own holdings), do not contribute to political compaigns, even sometimes do not vote: by removing themselves from the system, they help create a separation conducive to the important role of being a government watchdog. But shield laws do the exact opposite: they make journalists a special part of the system, and beholden to it.

And just as information should be more available to the entire public, not just reporters through anonymous sources, so too should these special protections -- if they should exist at all -- be available to all citizens. If I am writing a simple piece on my web site, on what Constitutional basis is that any less valid than whether Judith Miller writes it in the New York Times?

The Constitution draws no such distinctions. It doesn't say the press is an anointed class of citizens, it focuses on the function of the press, which is to disseminate information to the public, which can be done as well (or, arguably, better) by me on my web site as by Judith Miller in the Times. It's the function of the press, not the individual employed by the press, that is protected by the Constitution.

Another argument in favor of shield laws is, as William Safire said recently on Meet the Press, "the press is not an arm of the law," and law enforcement shouldn't rely on the press for information gathering. If this is true, then why should law enforcement rely on *anyone* for information gathering?

The press has an acute blindness that makes invisible the notion that the First Amendment does not protect them as individuals, but rather protects the function of the press, which anyone, at any time, can participate in.

Trust, But Verify

In the end, as with all information, it comes down to trust. The problem is that anonymous sources do not contribute to trustworthiness; rather, they detract from it, by asking the news consumer to simply accept what is told without possibility of verification, the common practice of which increases the liklihood that the information itself is false, as no one is being held accountable for it.

And this problem is exacerbated by shield laws, which take away any accountability on the one hand, and make the press beholden to the government on the other, when it should be a watchdog of that government, and it does so all under the despicable notion that a special class of citizens exists who deserves extra rights. slashdot.org

Thought For The Day

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ALITO rhymes with AMIGO. slashdot.org

Wilson Is Lying Again

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On CNN last weekend, Joe Wilson claimed Fitzgerald confirmed that his wife was covert.*

But nonetheless, there's now clear evidence that Mr. Rove was leaking classified information. Mr. Fitzgerald made it very clear: my wife was a covert officer at the time that these people were leaking her name.

Once again, Wilson is lying. What Fitzgerald actually said is:

I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert. And anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002, forward.

I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. And all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent.

Wilson's wife may, indeed, have been a covert agent. But Fitzgerald did not confirm that (probably because whether she is covert is classified, and if he could not bring a charge that anyone intentionally outed a covert agent, there's no reason to confirm whether she is covert).

This makes me think Wilson leaked classified information this weekend. Since Fitzgerald did not confirm his wife was covert, if she was covert, and if Wilson knew she was, then Wilson was revealing classified information himself. And doing it only to make an attack against his political enemies. That is, it seems that Wilson this weekend, "[talked to] journalists and leak[ed] national security information," the very thing he is accusing Rove of doing. Oops. (Not that this in any way helps Libby [or Rove, if he is indicted]. I am not defending Libby or Rove or anyone else, who should be fired if they leaked classified information, and go to jail if it was a crime to do so; rather, I am attacking Wilson, because he is being made into a saint, quite undeservingly.)

Not that this is the only incorrect interpretation of Fitzgerald's words. There are many. For example, many pundits have said Fitzgerald has shown there was no conspiracy to release classified information, which is false. Instead, has refused to comment on such things. There very well could be additional indictments coming, against Rove or even Cheney, for outing a covert agent.

And while those on the left are correct to point this out, it is also true that such an event is unlikely, despite their deepest hopes. Fitzgerald said:

OK, is the investigation finished? It's not over, but I'll tell you this: very rarely do you bring a charge in a case that's going to be tried and would you ever end a grand jury investigation.

I can tell you, the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded. This grand jury's term has expired by statute; it could not be extended. But it's in ordinary course to keep a grand jury open to consider other matters, and that's what we will be doing.

Basically: he does not expect more indictments, but they are possible. This is far different from those who say they expect more indictments, when Fitzgerald himself doesn't. But it is also not an affirmation that there was no conspiracy, let alone that charges won't be brought.

[* Important note: in the CNN.com transcript, after the word "clear" they put a period, and a new paragraph, making those two separate thoughts. The transcript makes it seem like Wilson is not saying that Fitzgerald said his wife was covert, but that Wilson himself is adding that information.

But the CNN rendering is wrong. If you watch the video (linked to on that page, about 2 minutes in), there is no additional pause between the words "clear" and "my wife" which would imply such a rendering in the transcript. It seemed absolutely clear to me the first and several subsequent times that I watched it that Wilson was saying that Fitzgerald said "my wife was a covert officer."

If the CNN.com transcript is the accurate rendering of Wilson's meaning (which I have no reason to suspect is true), then Wilson's words "Fitzgerald made it very clear" have to refer to "there's now clear evidence that Mr. Rove was leaking classified information" if not "my wife was a covert officer at the time that these people were leaking her name." But Fitzgerald explicitly disavowed that he was saying either of these things. So Wilson is lying either way. ] slashdot.org
<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from November 2005.

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