CATEGORY: The New Constitution

The New Constitution: comprehensive statement of principles (draft)

CATEGORY: The New ConstitutionThe original plan when we began this project was to offer the amendments individually, invite discussion, then produce a final document. The course of the process, though, has made a couple things clear. First, there needs to be a period to discuss the entire document in context, and second, while the original “Bill of Rights” approach perhaps had a certain formatic elegance about it, the project is better served by a less formalized articulation of general principles.

As a result, what follows is a restructured draft that accounts for the discussions so far and that also adds some new elements that have arisen since the process launched.

We will compile a final statement of principles out of this discussion.

_____

1)    Organization, Composition and Conduct of Government

a)     Proportional Representation

i)      No political party representing a significant minority of the electorate – and here we suggest five percent as a workable baseline – will be denied direct representation in the legislature.

ii)     All legislative bodies shall be comprised proportionally according to the populations represented and all elected officials should be selected by direct vote of the people.[1]

b)     Public Financing of Elections

i)      In order to eliminate the corrupting, anti-democratic influence of corporate and special interest money on the electoral process, all elections shall be publicly financed. No individual will be allowed to contribute more than a token sum to an official, candidate or political party (perhaps the cap could be in line with the current $2,000 limit for contributions to presidential candidates).

ii)     All corporate, commercial and other private or publicly held entities shall be forbidden from contributing directly to any official, candidate or political party.

iii)   All citizens and collective entities are free to designate a portion of their annual tax contributions to a general election fund.

iv)    No contributions to the electoral process shall be allowed by foreign interests, either individual or institutional.

v)     Election funds shall be administered on a non-partisan basis and no candidate or party demonstrating a reasonable expectation of electoral viability shall be denied access to funding.

c)     Secular Government

i)      The government of the people shall be expressly secular. No individual, religious or quasi-religious entity or collective engage or seek to influence the course of legislation or policy in accordance with theological creed.

ii)     No government edifice, document, collateral, communication, or other production, including currency, shall make reference to religious concepts, including “god.”

iii)   No one shall, in any legal context, including legal processes or oaths of office, swear upon a sacred text.

iv)    Oaths of office shall explicitly require officials to refrain from the use of religious language and dogma in the conduct of their duties.

v)     No government funds shall be spent to compensate employees who exist to serve religious functions. This includes, but is not limited to, the office of Chaplain in various military bodies.

vi)    No religious institution shall be eligible for tax exempt status.

d)     Oversight of Covert Activities

No governmental entity shall conduct secret or covert proceedings absent ongoing oversight by a multi-partisan body of popularly elected officials.[2]

e)     Federal Autonomy

No state or local government entity shall assert special privilege or exemption with respect to established rights granted by the Federal Constitution.

2)    Individual Freedoms

a)     Free Speech, Press and Religion

i)      No government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall abridge an individual’s legitimate exercise of free speech. This includes all political, social and civic speech activities, including those criticizing the government, corporations and business entities and other collective organizations.[3]

ii)     The right of the people peaceably to assemble, especially for purposes of protest, and to petition for a redress of grievances will not be infringed.

iii)   The health of the nation depends on a vital independent check against public and commercial power. As such, no government, corporation, commercial or private entity shall be allowed to abridge the rights of a free and unfettered press.

iv)    Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

b)     Equal Rights Under the Law

i)      No governmental, corporation or commercial interest, or other private organization shall deny to any enfranchised citizen the rights or privileges accorded to others.

ii)     The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

c)     Freedom from Surveillance

i)      All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance by governmental entities in the absence of a legally obtained warrant articulating probable cause against the individual.

ii)     The right of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, data, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

iii)   All individuals shall enjoy the right to privacy and freedom from systemic surveillance and data gathering by corporate, commercial or other private or public entities unless they have specifically opted into such programs.

d)     Basic Human Rights

All citizens shall enjoy the right to shelter, nourishment, healthcare and educational opportunity.

3)    Conduct of Business and Commercial Interests

a)     Legal Standing

No corporation, business interest or any other collective entity shall be accorded the rights and privileges attending citizenship, which are reserved expressly for individuals.[4]

b)     Public Interest Standard

No corporate, commercial or other private or governmental entity shall be licensed, accredited or incorporated absent a binding commitment to serve the public interest.[5]

c)     Lobbying Restrictions

i)      In order to further the public’s interest in a free and independent legislature, elected officials shall not be allowed petition the body in which they served, either on their own behalf or on behalf of the interests of a third party, for a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms.[6]

ii)     No person shall be allowed to assume a position charged with regulatory oversight of an industry in which they have worked in the past five years.

iii)   No elected official shall be allowed to assume a position on any legislative committee charged with oversight or regulation of an industry in which they have worked or held financial interest for the past five years.

d)     Collective Bargaining

i)      All workers shall have the right to organize for purposes of collective representation and bargaining.

ii)     In any publicly held commercial interest where a significant percentage of the workforce is represented by a union, the workers shall be entitled to representation on the corporate board of directors.[7]

4)    Citizen Responsibilities and Service

a)     Mandatory Service

i)      All citizens will, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces.

ii)     Enfranchisement will be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation and the world.

b)     Right to Arms

i)      The right of an individual who has completed a two-year military service commitment to keep and maintain firearms appropriate to the common defense should not be infringed. [8]

ii)     The Federal government will establish guidelines by which enfranchised citizens may obtain firearms for reasonable purposes of sport and self-defense.

5)    Justice System

a)     Due Process and Fair Trials

i)      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against him or herself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

ii)     In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed five hundred dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

iii)   In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of professional, trained adjudicators sanctioned by the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; defendants shall have the right to be confronted with the witnesses against them; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in their favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for their defense.

b)     Punishment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


[1] This disposes of the Electoral College.

[2] An alternative might be to entrust the public court system with the decision. Make all documents automatically become public in N years (and make destruction a federal felony) but the government can petition a federal court to hold them as secret. Court uses a strict scrutiny standard to continue secrecy, advocates for release present arguments and can appeal a secrecy decision (no appeal on orders to release). (Submitted by Evan Robinson.)

[3] This does not prevent said entities from policing explicitly illegal behavior, such as theft of proprietary information or sexual harassment. (Suggested by Carole McNall.)

[4] This item overturns the Citizens United case.

[5] This item eliminates the narrow “interest of the shareholders” doctrine emerging originally from Dodge vs. Ford.

[6] It is suggested by multiple commenters that “a significant period of time after the conclusion of their terms” might best be changed to “forever.” This is a perspective with some merit. In truth, though, we’re discussing a body of people who possess expertise that can, in the right circumstances, be of benefit to the people. A term of five years, for instance, might serve to rid the system of revolving-door corruption without permanently eliminating the possibility that a highly qualified individual may be able to contribute to the public good.

[7] This practice is common in Europe and promotes an environment of collaboration, instead of confrontation, between management and labor.

[8] Weapons systems are constantly evolving and we are now perhaps within a generation of the point where lasers, thermal lances and other currently experimental man-portable devices might be viable. The term “firearms” in this document should not be construed as limited to the sorts of projectile weapons we’re familiar with, but should instead be taken in a broader context. (Suggested by Rho Holden.)

Acknowledgments

The New Constitution has been a long time in the making, and it would be the height of arrogance to suggest that I reached this point on my own. In truth, I’m an intensely social, extroverted and associative thinker, which means that if I have an interesting idea, it probably emerged from interactions with one or more other people. This is why I work so hard to surround myself my folks who are as smart as possible. If they’re brighter than me, as is often the case, that’s all the better because that means there’s more opportunity to learn.

Some of the people in the list below are known to readers of S&R and others aren’t. Some have played a very direct and active role in my political thinking in recent years, and others contributed less obviously in conversations, in grad school classes, in arguments and debates over beers, and so on. In fact, there are undoubtedly some on the list who will be surprised to see their names, but trust me, each and every one of them helped me arrive at the present intellectual moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all endorse the project or want their names attached to it, so if there are things that aggravate you, please direct those comments at me and me alone.

All that said, many thanks to:

Brian Angliss

Frank Balsinger

Dr. Jim Booth

Dr. Will Bower

Dr. Robert Burr

Gavin Chait

Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

Dr. Erika Doss

Dr. Andrea Frantz

John Hanchette

Sam Hill

Rho Holden

Dr. Stuart Hoover

Dr. Douglas Kellner

Alexi Koltowicz

Dr. John Lawrence

Dr. Polly McLean

Carole McNall

Stuart O’Steen

Alex Palombo

Dr. Michael Pecaut

Dr. Wendy Worrall Redal

Evan Robinson

Sara Robinson

Kristina Ross

Dr. Willard Rowland

Dr. Geoffrey Rubinstein

Mike Sheehan

Dr. Greg Stene

Jeff Tiedrich

Dr. Michael Tracey

Dr. Robert Trager

Dr. Petr Vassiliev

Sue Vanstone

Angela Venturo

Dr. Frank Venturo

Pat Venturo

Russ Wellen

Cat White

Dr. Denny Wilkins

Lisa Wright

CATEGORY: Barack Obama

Bush III: Obama’s deteriorating legacy

Way back in March of 2008, as the campaign was running in high gear, I made clear that while I wasn’t in love with the Democratic frontrunners, the emerging alternative was worse: John McCain represented the third Bush presidency.

I was undoubtedly right. But… You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?

 

 

 

 

Poppy. Dubya. And now Barack. I was right – the 2008 election gave us the third installment in the Bush Dynasty.

Perhaps we’ll get to see Colin Powell back in front of the UN again soon…

Privacy

Prediction: President Obama announces NSA panel on…

If you caught my article about President Obama’s picks for the NSA review panel somewhere in the last 24 hours, or if you’ve spotted other posts on the subject elsewhere (a mixed bag, that), you might have noticed that the whole messy story is predicated on an unnamed source/single source blog post from ABC News. A quick review of a great many websites today has yet to reveal a single confirmation. By all means, please correct me if I’m mistaken.

Even stranger is the occasional silence surrounding the story. Who has had nothing to say (that I could find)?

CBS
NBC
CNN
Rush Limbaugh
Rachel Maddow
Glenn Beck
Chris Matthews
Drudge Report
Chris Hayes

Surely that motley crew can’t be in cahoots, right?

Who else has been silent? President Obama, as far as I can tell. ABC’s Levine indicated the announcement would come today. Today came and went with nary a word from the White House. Again, correct me if I missed the announcement for which I searched high and low. Now, why might we be waiting with baited breath for the real deal? Well, Obama, savvy political chess player that he is, has a well-developed habit of making unsavory announcements on Friday, so that we can all get distracted with all things weekend. Surely he’ll make his announcement tomorrow, right?

No, I don’t think so. I could be wrong (like that would be a first!), but there’s another Friday coming up that would be absolutely ideal, being both really, really close to today and leading right into a lovely three day vacation weekend of barbecues and a dire lack of giving shits. Naturally, I mean Labor Day.

Prediction: President Obama will announce the composition of his all insider outsider panel on August 30. Don’t worry, right as Cass Sunstein gets his uber-creepy day in the sun, we’ll be distracted from giving shits once again by something truly momentous like a drunken celebrity, or maybe even pictures of cats.

Who needs that annoying fourth amendment, anyway?

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Image credit: Spixey @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Image (1) obama_apocalypse.jpg for post 42896

Obama’s picks for “outsider” NSA review — looks like the fix is in

Spy vs. Spy

Spy vs. Spy

This just in via ABC News blogger Mike Levine:

White House Picks Panel to Review NSA Programs

I don’t know whether ABC’s Mike Levine just rubber-stamped brief bios of the panel picks or if there were any degree of research done, but here’s what I’ve come up with regarding what President Obama refers to as “outside experts.”

Right off the bat, let’s look at one detail fairly well buried in Levine’s blog post at ABC.

In 60 days, the review panel will provide an interim report to the director of national intelligence, who will then brief the president on the panel’s findings.

Note how Levine fails to mention James Clapper by name. Isn’t that just a touch odd in an article about such a momentous occasion, especially an article rife with names, especially when the name omitted is that of someone folks on both the left and right would like to see, by respectable majorities, prosecuted for perjury? That James Clapper will receive the interim report and brief the President. Feel better yet?

So let’s take a closer look at these “outsider” panel picks.

Michael Morell

ABC/Levine:

Morell was acting director of the CIA until March, when John Brennan was sworn in as director.

Morell has worked at the CIA since 1980, holding a variety of senior positions, according to the CIA. In fact, he was serving as President George W. Bush’s intelligence briefer on the day of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks.

Independent citizen “journalist” (read: me):

Morell’s bio at allgov.com had this to say:

Morell served as a presidential briefer, i.e., chief of the staff who presents the President’s Daily Brief, for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he was with President Bush on September 11, 2001. After serving as executive assistant to CIA Director George J. Tenet, from 2003 to 2006, during which time the CIA was engaged in torture [emphasis added], Morell took a secret assignment overseas, including in London, UK.

Just peachy.

Things really start to get interesting at Wikipedia, though.  The Wikipedia article shows that Morell only just recently retired from his post as Deputy Director of the CIA, and that he served as Acting Director twice. Why did her retire? According to Wikipedia, “to devote more time to his family and to pursue other professional opportunities.”

I did say that things only start to get interesting there, right?  What did The Atlantic Wire have to say about Morell’s resignation? Oh, nothing much, certainly nothing to suggest that he resigned because of his role in deleting mentions of terrorism in the Benghazi talking points. Oh, wait. I lie. That’s exactly what the article is about.

My takeaway? This “outsider” was an insider to no less than three presidents and their intelligence apparatus. Those presidents can be fairly classified as “neoliberal,” “neoconservative,” and “neoliberal” respectively. Take that how you list. Oh, and torture! And Benghazi! I managed to collect this much less flattering info in a matter of minutes. I dread to think what I might find if I actually had a massive media outlet’s resources at my disposal.

Richard Clarke

ABC/Levine:

Richard Clarke served the last three presidents as a senior White House adviser, including as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism, according to his private security firm’s website. He became a vocal critic of the Bush administration, causing consternation in some Republican circles.

He has been an on-air consultant on terrorism for ABC News.

Citizen “journalist”:

Really, Levine?  That’s all you could come up with?  According to Wikipedia, Clarke is “the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States.” He served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush. ABC’s blogger apparently loses track after three. To Clarke’s credit, he was critical of the Bush 43 administration for their approach to counter-terrorism and the war on Iraq. In all reality, Clarke may just be a bright spot on this panel. Then again, did he or did he not play a role in letting the bin Laden family out of the US on September 20, 2001? Would that matter? Does Clarke’s endorsement of President Obama for his second run at the White House compromise his impartiality? In any event, there’s a ton of information on Clarke, both laudatory and damning. ABC’s Levine doesn’t seem to think any of that relevant. Chalk this one up as another inside “outsider.”

Peter Swire

ABC/Levine:

Swire recently became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At the start of the Obama administration, he served as a special assistant to the president for economic policy and, during the Clinton administration, he served as the chief counselor for privacy.

Citizen “journalist”:

Swire, like Clarke, appears to be a good, if apparently unlikely, Obama pick for a place on the panel. Yet again, however, a not insignificant point here is Levine’s failure to do more by way of reportage. Another quick search on Wikipedia reveals more relevant information than ABC’s blogger does. Swire has served under two presidents, Clinton and Obama, sure. He’s an internationally recognized expert on privacy. He was instrumental in the creation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. He’s actively involved in the development of the World Wide Web Consortium’s effort to mediate a global Do Not Track standard.

Further, Swire is actively antagonistic to NSA abuses of section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. According to Indiana University News Room, Peter Swire is a co-signer of an amicus brief urging SCOTUS to overturn the FISC authorization for the NSA to collect “”all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon,” including calls wholly within the U.S. and calls between the U.S. and abroad.” If President Obama is trying to create a stacked deck, he’s got a funny way of going about it.  Nevertheless, this outsider is still an inside job, and that keeps me leery.

Cass Sunstein

ABC/Levine:

Sunstein left the White House a year ago as President Obama’s so-called “regulatory czar,” returning to Harvard Law School, according to the Center for American Progress, where Sunstein is also a senior fellow. As President Obama’s administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Sunstein’s post was considered one of the most powerful in Washington, given its ability to shape how laws were implemented.

Again, this is all ABC’s Levine can come up with? Your friendly neighborhood citizen “journalist,” relying once again on the most cursory attempts at fact-finding, and doing so mainly via Wikipedia (a big no-no, right?) still managed to find this out…

“Some view him as liberal, despite Sunstein’s public support for George W. Bush’s judicial nominees Michael W. McConnell and John G. Roberts…”

Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute. Would that be THE Chief Justice John Roberts, who single-handedly, and with no oversight or confirmation process, picks all the FISA judges until he dies or retires? THAT John Roberts?

This is the same Sunstein that has said:

There is no reason to believe that in the face of statutory ambiguity, the meaning of federal law should be settled by the inclinations and predispositions of federal judges. The outcome should instead depend on the commitments and beliefs of the President and those who operate under him.

Can you say, “Unitary Executive?” Can you say, “Cheney?”

This is the same Sunstein who thinks that thinks, “in light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.” That’s right.  Our free speech needs fiddling and tweaking, and he’s just the guy to do it.

Straight from good ol’ Wikipedia, Sunstein thinks that:

“[T]here is a need to reformulate First Amendment law. He thinks that the current formulation, based on Justice Holmes’conception of free speech as a marketplace “disserves the aspirations of those who wrote America’s founding document.” The purpose of this reformulation would be to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention [emphasis added] to public issues and greater diversity of views.”

Given some of his other views, I dread to think what Sunstein means by “ensuring greater attention.” A Clockwork Orange comes to mind. Oh, we don’t have to guess much. He just wants to nudge us, because what we need is more alternately neoconservative/neoliberal paternalism.

Last, but not least, (and remember, I barely even got my muckraking shovel dirty) Sunstein also thinks the government should “cognitively infiltrate” anti-government groups. That’s right, this guy, in a time of IRS ham-fisted SNAFUs, will have a say in the reports that go through the Official Liar Clapper before landing in Obama’s Chicago School lap.

My count?  Four insiders and one that’s so inside he could Tweet pictures of Obama’s appendix.  My gut instincts?  2 for the NSA programs, 2 against, and a ref who guarantees the fix is in.

Now, lest I show up to the choir only singing in my bitchy, whiny voice, I’d like to propose a completely different solution to this really tough problem of picking real outsiders in a way that might actually cause citizens to trust the government a bit more.  You know, exactly in a way that President Obama fails to do.  It’s simple.

We’ve got 50 states.  We’ve got 50 governors.  Each governor vets and nominates a candidate for the panel.  The governors then have a meeting (teleconference using AT&T would be AWESOME, right?) to vote on six.  The US House gets to pick one.  The US Senate gets to pick one.  These eight, if qualified, get the necessary clearances.  POTUS gets one.  Whatever comes out of such a group would almost necessarily be bi-partisan.  At the very least, it would create a tremendous appearance of genuine accountability to the people.

So what about it, ABC? You guys hiring? I know a guy who at least knows where the hell to find Wikipedia and Google when doing a quick and dirty takedown on a topic.

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Image credit: Spy vs. Spy by tr.robinson @ flikr.com. Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Congress

Work half time, earn $179K — welcome to Congress

… I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. — President Andrew Shepherd in The American President

After the 2012 elections, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leaders called in the freshmen for “orientation.” Leaders told the plebes how they were expected to spend their time. They would be “on duty” nine or 10 hours a day, they were told. Half of that time would be spent raising money. And lots of it.

A PowerPoint presentation obtained by Huffington Post outlined their day. Here’s the sked.

So, it appears, freshman legislators plan to spend half their time trying to keep their jobs instead of doing their jobs.

When you considered which candidate to support last year, did any congressional candidate tell you — at a “town hall” meeting, in an print ad, in a robocall, in a TV ad, on a campaign website, in a tweet, on Facebook — that he or she planned to be a representative in Congress who would only work part time on behalf on constituents and the good of the Republic?

Look at that schedule. They will be making four hours of phone calls every day to raise money. They will spend an additional hour in “strategic outreach” (perhaps that’s when they meet with the lobbyists). They’ll be on the house floor or in committee hearings for two hours. (That’s bullshit; unless a hearing will generate considerable — and favorable — news coverage, staff will attend those.) In fact, staff will read necessary documents (even proposed bills running hundreds, if not thousands of pages), and reduce them to a briefing paper of a few pages for the boss — including instructions on how to vote.

Where in these nine- to 10-hour days will these idiots members of Congress learn to negotiate and compromise with their colleagues, whether of same or opposing party? When will they actually legislate?

The fundraising efforts are more lucrative that you can imagine. Freshman representatives seek membership on the “cash committee” — the House Financial Services Committee. It is a committee on which one freshman, Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky, “has raised nearly as much money this year from political action committees run by major banks, credit unions and insurance companies as longtime lawmakers like Speaker John A. Boehner and other party leaders.” Barr has brought in $150,000.

Membership on the financial services committee is incredibly lucrative in terms of fundraising, reports Eric Lipton of The Times:

Political action committees — set up by lobbying firms, unions, corporations and other groups trying to push their agenda in Congress — have donated more money to Financial Services Committee members in the first six months of this year than to members of any other committee. The $9.4 million total is nearly $2 million more than the total for the Armed Services Committee, the only House panel with more members.

So many people want in, writes Lipton, that the “cash committee” has grown from 44 to 61 seats since 1980.

If criticized, every one of these clowns members of Congress will utter a daily mantra duly reported by the stenographic media: We are here to do the business of the American people.

Again, bullshit. We’re paying them $179,000 a year (and the average net worth of members of Congress is about $6.5 million for representatives and $11.9 million for senators).

So, according to their “model daily schedule,” they’re only working for us half time. As a collective of individuals, I doubt that the welfare of their constituents — or the good of the country — ranks high on their list of priorities.

Lipton’s Times story is illuminating. I highly recommend it.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Building my own news machine, whether I like it or not

I didn’t realize it until this morning. I have not watched CNN in more than five weeks. Since Ted Turner set loose the Chicken Noodle Network in June 1980, I have watched it daily — in the morning as I stumble through waking up, at the office, and in the evening when I return home. It has been a staple in how I gathered information I need for more than three decades.

But no more. It’s not CNN’s wall-to-wall Zimmerman coverage or the Zuckerization of the network that turned me away. Maybe it was the departure of Howard Kurtz from Reliable Sources. CNN has simply failed to help me address the two questions that matter most to me: How does the world work? Why does it work that way?

It’s not just CNN, either. As I reflect on how I used to gather news (instead of the content proferred today), I realized that as little as a few years ago, I still heavily depended on mainstream staples I grew up with — The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe (I’m a native New Englander). Add in the local newspaper in the places I’ve lived.

Like many people, I have come to look askance at the ability of these long-time sources of news to tell me what I need to know. As their ability to generate reliable profit sufficient to sustain credible news gathering has declined, I am left with a diet of what they believe I want to know.

And they are so wrong: I do not want false equivalence or false balance in reporting, or one-source stories, or anonymous-source stories, or government or corporate flack-based stories. I do not want geographically limited stories, either: Bring me the floods in Bangladesh, the difficulties facing Greece and Spain in managing their debt, the urgency of fighting malaria in Africa. And I do not want happy talk, celebrity journalism, or shoutfests on air or in print.

I grew up in a media world in which each day what I needed to know was decided for me in New York City at the budget meeting at The Times. Those decision informed the national and international news budgets of The Associated Press. In my newsroom days, that’s the slate of meaningful information from which I selected a diet for the readers of my hometown paper.

No more. First, the nation’s roughly 1,400 daily newspapers — down more than a sixth from just 20 years ago — no longer deliver what they once did reliably. The loss of thousands of newsroom editorial posts have deprived the industry of the ability to produce well-considered news stories in reliable quantity and quality. (Yet every corporate press release following the layoffs of journalists promises “the quality of our journalism, so very important to us, will not suffer.”)

That has a democratic cost: The moral imperative of newspapers to hold government accountable has been terribly weakened. In the coverage of government, access to “official” sources has trumped penetrating reporting. In the coverage of large, multinational corporations — which have become governments unto themselves — business reporting falters before the weight of corporate lobbying, advertising, and image-management budgets.

And now, two of my mainstays of information have been sold to corporate titans: The Post to billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon and The Globe to the billionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry.

Billionaires now own two of America’s once-great newspapers. Billionaires now routinely represent the money that best elects candidates to national office. How can we not view such developments as worrisome?

How are we to assess, now, how the world works and why it works that way? How can we do this, given that the newspapers of the past have morphed into “content providers” owned by entities that, frankly, I’ve always wanted news organizations to empower their journalists to probe at much greater depth?

I can only reflect on what I’ve done: I have evolved into my own wire editor. I still read The Times; I still read The Post; I still read The Globe. But so much less. Now, like many of you, I read Twitter, and, to a lesser extent, Facebook. I follow certain YouTube channels.

We’ve all been on these social media sites for years now. We have pruned our friends and followers to those we find useful.

We have constructed a web of people who routinely post either news they themselves have reported or links to information that we, over time, have come to find credible. Among the people I follow are former reporters and editors now running foundation-supported or non-profit journalism startups; brilliant people (like the “Newsosaur,” Alan Mutter) who assess the news industry; people who write books about subjects that interest me; people who travel and write blogs about places I’ve never been; students and former students who blog about the nature of being young today and the challenges they face; and, yes, politicians and lobbyists (you learn to sort the wheat from the chaff).

Most of this I do on my phone, usually in the morning and evening. Virtually all my “content consumption” is on my phone. CNN won’t be getting me back on a routine basis. Neither will these three major newspapers. As much as I like the smell of newsprint in the morning at a diner, those days are finito for me. My Kindle has breakfast with me.

I do not like this. It takes time to recreate a viable information system for myself. But the industry I toiled in for 20 years, and that I have now taught undergraduates about for nearly another 20 years, has lost its ability to reliably perform for me as needed.

Now, if I could only do something about my tendency toward confirmation bias …That’s the real problem in building your own news budget: You tend to lean toward intellectual agreement rather than challenge.

A final but important note: Only The Times gets money from me for a digital subscription. Frankly, we’re all screwed in terms of getting good journalism unless the “content provision” industry figures out how to get money out of me and you — so it can pay journalists sufficiently well and in sufficient numbers to do their jobs well on our behalf.

CATEGORY: The New Constitution

The New Constitution: Comment – on the appropriate specificity of amendment language

Over the past few days, the New Constitution series has generated some interesting discussion. Objections, defenses and counterpoints from myself and other readers, in some cases resulting in planned revisions to the document.

One particular issue, which I predicted in the prologue, has centered around the appropriate level of specificity employed in articulating the various rights and responsibilities. One of our regular commenters, rushmc, has taken the lead in arguing for greater specificity in general, and others have offered a similar critique with respect to particular amendments and clauses.

I thought it appropriate to haul that discussion out of the comment thread and address it as a separate issue this morning.

_____

As I’ve said before, I think some readers, perhaps understandably, want a level of detail and specificity here that isn’t appropriate for a Bill of Rights. They have seen wars over language in the original document and would like to be as clear as possible about intended meanings so as to fend off all the lawyering. Believe me, I sympathize.

I have made ample use of the original document in trying to hit the right notes, and I’m convinced that my version is at least as specific as the original. The nice thing about broader language is that it allows for flexibility and growth. We’re still using a pre-industrial constitution because the BoR’s refusal to get overly specific has allowed it to be reinterpreted (not always perfectly, to be sure) as the world changed around it.

I certainly understand why we’d want to make sure every word is nailed to the floor. We have both watched helplessly as generation after generation of lawyers, many of them employed by people as corrupt as the night is long, worked feverishly to undermine every positive impulse in our constitution. But if you get too specific at the BoR level, you actually create more opportunities for those people, not less.

Let me give you an example. The original gives us the term “freedom of the press.” Let’s say they were having the same battle over specificity that we are here. Critics say “what do you mean by freedom of the press?” and the guy writing says that I think we all know what that means. But no, we need to be very specific about what “freedom” means and what “the press” is.

You know what the press is, I argue. It’s people who write the news and opinions and publish them on their printing presses and sell them (or give them away) on street corners. Now, if we know the history of the time, then we’re well familiar with “journalists” who were as bad as (or worse than) FOX News is today. You didn’t need a brain or a soul to buy a printing press, just cash. So we might have wanted to be careful about affording those jackals too much “freedom” – they were as different from Ben Franklin as 2 Live Crew was Mozart and they served no observable social use at all.

When all is said and done, we wind up with a first amendment articulated so as to protect the rights of legitimate newsgatherers and commenters (and for the moment we’ll pretend that there isn’t an even larger argument to be had over “legitimate”) to investigate local, state, national and, insofar as is possible within the constraints of the laws of other sovereign nationalities, international events and to print and distribute the details of said events for distribution, either free or for profit.

We may have been able to screw it down even tighter for that, but for the sake of argument let’s say that we have done our best to take as much unhealthy fuzziness as possible out of the language. Ratified, and away we go.

Then some enterprising genius invents the radio. And not long after another one gives us television. And then, the gods help us, the Internet. But there’s a problem. The first amendment doesn’t apply to any of them since they aren’t printing and publishing.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that about 99% of what happens on radio, TV and the Internet isn’t worth an ounce of constitutional protection. But I hope you see where I’m going. At the level of legislation, intense, near-OCD specificity is a requirement, and if the world changes underneath it, well, the process exists to change laws quickly. But constitutions are another animal altogether and opening the doors to amending them is a process to be undertaken with caution. One wants to keep partisan hooliganism as far from the core statement of rights as possible, and the more tactical that document gets, the less likely it is that its integrity can be preserved against the whims of the moment.

One need on to look at the process by which various states amend their constitutions (think California or Colorado “ballot initiatives” here) to understand what a dumpster fire a constitution can become when it becomes a tactical/legislative document instead of a philosophical/strategic one.

Ho Lee Fuk: KTVU-TV demonstrates why getting it right is better than getting it first

If you haven’t see this video yet, strap in. Hilarity is a’fixin’ to ensue.

SFGate has the gory details here. The key, it seems, is this part:

KTVU Channel 2 News owned this breaking news story with a number of firsts!

- First on-air.
- First on-line.
- First with alerts to mobile devices.
- First on Twitter & Facebook.
- First with aerial shots from KTVU NewsChopper 2.
- First with a live reporter from the scene.
- First live interview with anyone connected to someone on the flight.

[KTVU news director Lee] Rosenthal is quoted in the promo: “Being first on air and on every platform in all aspects of our coverage was a great accomplishment, but being 100% accurate, effectively using our great sources and social media without putting a single piece of erroneous information on our air, is what we are most proud of as a newsroom.”

Yes. Especially that “without putting a single piece of erroneous information on our air” part.

Let’s be honest. We live in a society where the incentive isn’t for press agencies (and, for the heck of it, let’s include local broadcast outlets in that category) to get it right. The incentive is to get it first so they can use “first with breaking news” as part of their marketing. Ever since the first Gulf War we’ve been conditioned to value the scoop over everything else. After all, if you screw it up, you can always say “we’re now getting additional details” and thus you can cover up the fact that you got it completely fucking wrong with the “developing story” graphic.

In an-online apology, KTVU general manager Tom Raponi said “We are reviewing our procedures to ensure this type of error does not happen again.”

I wonder what those procedures will look like. Here’s a guess. This botch will have more or less zero impact on the station’s ratings, thereby ratifying their emphasis on first first first!!!

So the new procedure will probably look something like this:

Hey, guys, if a person in the story is named Rosie Palm, Anita Mann, Heywood Jablome, Dick Hertz, Jack Offenback, Eileen Dover, Pat Myckok, Phil Atio, Seymour Butts, Stacey Rhect, Titus Balsac, I.P. Freehly, Al Coholic, Oliver Clozoff, Jaques Strapp, Mike Rotch, Hugh Jass, Ivana Tinkle, Ollie Tabooger, Heywood U. Kuddulmee, Amanda Hugginkiss or Drew P. Wiener, get confirmation. Also, you know, Ho Lee Fuk.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Cost over quality: Chicago Sun-Times fires its photo staff, and journalism’s death spiral continues

That crashing sound you just heard from the Upper Midwest was the Chicago Sun-Times throwing its photography staff out the window. All 28 of them. Pulitzers and everything. The paper explained thusly:

The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.

This seems a clear and official acquiescence to the idea that the Sun-Times presence has now crossed the tipping point, that it is more about online than it is the traditional daily paper channel. And the logic about the value of video content in the online medium is solid enough if you’re a Marketing manager, I suppose. I personally don’t usually watch videos when they’re included with news stories online because the print tells me a lot more a lot faster, but I suspect I’m the exception to the rule there.

But I suspect that the official statement is more about misdirection than it is telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Apparently the S-T is going to rely on freelancers for stills, and also they’ll make their reporters more responsible for shots to accompany the stories they’re covering. Okay.

Nobody is actually saying it, but I’m also willing to bet that they’ll be “crowdsourcing” more “content” from “citizen journalists” with camera phones.

I bought my first camera and took up photography a year ago today, and since then have cultivated a tremendous respect for what pro shooters do. Unfortunately, now that everybody in the world has a decent quality little camera in their phone, our society seems to have concluded, as a culture, that everybody is a photographer. That’s just how we think here in the Postmodern age. Everybody can be a poet. Every scribble is art. And suggesting that people with experience and training are somehow better than everybody else, well, that’s elitism that borders on the fascist, isn’t it?

But the truth is that just anybody isn’t as good as a pro, especially one who’s good enough to have earned the profession’s highest honor. Pointing and clicking isn’t the same as framing a shot and understanding how light and shadow and composition can tell a compelling story.

CATEGORY: JournalismI suspect that the real story at the Sun-Times isn’t about “bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements” or “digitally savvy customers.” It’s about cash. Because these days, that’s what all large media organizations are about. Full-time professionals are expensive and freelancers aren’t. You pay them a few bucks for a shot and you’re not on the hook for salary or benefits. When you tell the reporter to bring back some shots, one employee is doing the work of two. And when you rely on that legion of citizen journalists, well, you can pimp them for free.

As Mickey Osterreicher at the National Press Photographers Association observes, “you may end up getting what you pay for.” No doubt. Some freelancers are pretty good, but since they’re, you know, freelancers, you’re not getting their full attention. Reporters grabbing a shot while they’re there? They’re not pro photojournalists, either, and when you’re trying to do two things instead of one, the likelihood is that both will suffer. And while I guess that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of iPhones would eventually reproduce the catalogue of Margaret Bourke-White, I’m not sure that’s a winning business model.

My S&R colleague Dr. Denny has been tracking the decline of journalism since we launched over six years ago, and if you’ve followed his reports and analysis there shouldn’t be anything here that surprises you. We can also expect other agencies around the country to follow suit, so if you’re a staff photographer at the New York Times or the Denver Post or the Winston-Salem Journal or the East Bumfuck Picayune, you need to get that résumé updated (although I don’t really know where you’re going to send it). The union is going to file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, but I think we know how that’s going to turn out, don’t we?

Denny has been telling us for years that eroding the integrity of the product you’re putting on the streets has a direct long-term effect on the success of that product (to say nothing of how it impacts the public’s knowledge of the important issues that shape our shared social lives). Once again, a major news agency is significantly compromising the quality of its journalism. It may produce more “content” and it may do so more cheaply, but when news organizations are driven by their Marketing and Finance departments, the result are predictable.

In the end, understand that a major US daily just fired a Pulitzer winner. It remains to be seem how many Pulitzers the new structure will win, but the over/under is zero.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Walter Pincus, the law, journalists … and the chilling effect of Obama’s war on whistleblowers

When Walter Pincus — Polk, Emmy, and Pulitzer winner — speaks about the intersection of national security, the First Amendment, and journalism, I listen. So should journalists who reacted as I did to the Department of Justice’s labeling of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “co-conspirator.”

Pincus, a national security reporter for The Washington Post, led a WashPo commentary with this:

When will journalists take responsibility for what they do without circling the wagons and shouting that the First Amendment is under attack?

Pincus, who received a Georgetown law degree when he was 68, dissected the Rosen case as a lawyer rather than a journalist in his piece bearing the hed Circling the media wagons. He wrote:

The case should be described as a State Department contract worker who signed a non-disclosure agreement, yet is alleged to have leaked Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) in violation of criminal law. He also is alleged to have lied to the FBI.

Search for a story analyzing damage to intelligence collection caused by the leak and what will emerge are stories about the threat to the First Amendment and journalists.

Pincus recounts the connections between Rosen and Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a senior intelligence adviser in the State Department’s Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation, almost hour by hour. Pincus differentiates between whistleblower and criminal act:

The person or persons who told the Associated Press about the CIA operation that infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Kim — or someone else — who informed Rosen about North Korea, were not whistleblowers exposing government misdeeds. They harmed national security and broke the law. [emphasis added]

For Pincus, the law clearly supports the DOJ’s decision to label Rosen as a potential criminal. He is, apparently, appalled that the bulk of the journalism community had a knee-jerk reaction to this as yet another threat to the First Amendment. The reaction of the journalism community, he suggested, may mirror the response of the White House Correspondents’ Association:

The White House Correspondents’ Association board issued a statement May 21 saying, “Reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs.” But it admitted, “We do not know all of the facts in these cases.” The board added: “Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of the press and nothing is more sacred to our profession.”

I worry that many other journalists think that last phrase should be “nothing is more sacred than our profession.” [emphasis in original]

Pincus is persuasive on the Rosen case as to the law. However …

The law supports the DOJ decision to label journalists such as Rosen “co-conspirators, aiders and abettors or accessories in criminal leak cases.” But that act is a decision — an investigative or prosecutorial decision — made by a human being. In Washington, D.C., such decision are often tinged with the odor of politics. Add to that odor the phrase “national security.” Who defines it has much to do with how investigations are run and interpreted.

Already the DOJ is stepping away from that decision in an attempt to seem more balanced or nuanced in handling such cases. Reported Politico:

The Justice Department began contacting D.C. bureau chiefs of major print and broadcast news organizations yesterday to set up a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss changes to the department’s guidelines for subpoenas to news organizations. A source close to Holder said that in retrospect, he regrets the breadth and wording of the investigation involving Fox’s James Rosen (which Holder approved), and recognizes that the subpoena for AP records (Holder had recused himself from that case) took in more phone lines than necessary.

Holder has represented the Obama administration in supporting a federal shield law for journalists:

There should be a shield law with regard to the press’s ability to gather information and to disseminate it. The focus should be on those people who break their oath and put the American people at risk, not reporters who gather this information.

When acts and words differ, believe the acts. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Eyal Press reported on another weapon in the Obama’s war against government employee leaks: a memo that would remove Civil Service protections from whistleblowers. Wrote Press:

Issued on Jan. 25, the memo instructs the director of national intelligence and the Office of Personnel Management to establish standards that would give federal agencies the power to fire employees, without appeal, deemed ineligible to hold “noncritical sensitive” jobs. It means giving them immense power to bypass civil service law, which is the foundation for all whistle-blower rights. … To understand the potential scope of the Jan. 25 memo, consider the case of Berry v. Conyers, involving two low-level Defense Department employees — one an accounting technician, the other a commissary stocker — who were suspended and demoted after their jobs were declared “noncritical sensitive.” The Jan. 25 memo was issued one day after a federal appeals court announced that it would review an earlier decision that went against the employees.

It is clear that President Obama’s first-term pledge to run the most transparent administration in American history has long been unfulfilled. Pincus, who has reported on national security for decades, no doubt knows far more about the tensions between legitimate government concerns for security and attempts to bury government incompetence or outright wrongdoing.

He would have been more persuasive if he had positioned his argument within that context. He could have dealt with the impact of the Rosen case on journalists’ ability to deal with holding government accountable for incompetence or wrongdoing.

The DOJ’s actions — not Holder’s words — have had their intended effect. Journalists’ relationships with government sources have grown much, much colder.

As I wrote before: That what you want, taxpayers?

CATEGORY: Journalism

How to stop journalists: Say they might be criminals

If you’re the guv’mint, and you want a journalist’s notes, emails, phone records, and such, and you don’t want to get a subpoena ’cause the journalist would be notified, no problemo.

Just cite Espionage Act. (All the while ignoring the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 that affords protections for journalists’ work products during criminal investigations.) Just tell a judge that the journalist is possibly a criminal. Tell the judge you think the journalist is a crook.

That’s how the U.S. Department of Justice nabbed the emails of James Rosen, a Washington correspondent for Fox News, following his reporting on North Korea based in part, it appears, on leaks. Writes Rob Tricchinelli of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The affidavits said that Rosen potentially committed a crime. By labeling him a “co-conspirator,” the Justice Department was able to fit into an exception to the PPA and proceed without getting a subpoena for the materials, which would have likely required giving notice to Rosen. … Media groups have spoken out against the DOJ’s investigation into Rosen, saying that the investigation improperly implies criminal activity taking place within ordinary news gathering.

Tricchinelli reports that the guv’mint never intended to charge Rosen.

And, as has become chillingly clear, the Obama administration hates leaks. Writes former Editor & Publisher editor Greg Mitchell in The Nation.:

[T]he mainstream media is finally flashing a Red Alert concerning the Obama administration’s snit-leaks campaign. They used to refer to it as simply a “war on whistleblowers.” Now, after the Associated Press and Rosen/Fox News probes, they see it as a “war on the press”—with consequences already quite apparent.

In the Rosen case, the Espionage Act circumvention amounted to criminalizing a professional, responsible action that underscores the value of journalists in a democracy: holding government accountable.

If the citizenry doesn’t mind the guv’mint attacking whistleblowers through criminalizing professional reporting, then it should collectively hold its nose.

And, if the guv’mint’s actions in the Rosen case become de rigueur, then the citizenry should not expect news stories on issues such as these:

Tuskegee Syphilis Study
the Pentagon Papers release.
• the Watergate excesses of Richard Nixon
cost overruns.
• no-bid, no-competition contracts for Iraq reconstruction.
• pre-9/11 errors by the FBI.
• an unsafe practice at a Kansas nuclear power station.
defective “bulletproof” vests for police officers.
fraudulent billing practices for government aircraft

Ask a journalist. Any journalist. “You deal with whistleblowers?”

Yes. They all do. Those “tip lines” (either phone or email) at the local paper or TV station? They result in “tips” from whistleblowers. But they’re generally called “tipsters.” If the Rosen case stands as SOP for the guv’mint, then journalists receiving those tips — a common professional reporting technique — may face accusations of criminal technique.

That would end penetrating, professional investigative reporting that holds government — at all levels — accountable for its actions.

That what you want, taxpayers?

Denver FOX News affiliate caught making shit up

Well, this is fun.

FOX31 reported Saturday that Daniele Perazzi, president of the world-famous Perazzi gun brand and grandson of its famous founder, was detained at the Colorado Gun Collectors Association show near 58th and Washington Street. FOX31 said a cab driver alerted police thinking Perazzi was a potential terrorist.

The gun company, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Taxis on Patrol and the Colorado Gun Collectors Association all claim the reported incident never happened.

The story has gone viral online and caused concern for gun rights supporters. 9NEWS has received numerous emails inquiring as to why the story isn’t being broadly covered.

The Perazzi company issued a statement in Italian on Tuesday denying the incident occurred. A US representative for the company said its founder, Daniele Perazzi died last year, and that he does not have a grandson named Daniele. The current CEO of the company is the founder’s son, Mauro. The Perazzi representative said the company did not have anyone in Denver over the weekend and called the story “totally fabricated.”

The FOX reporter responsible for the story went on a local radio show this morning to defend herself.

“I think that something did happen. I think there is some essential truth to it,” Hayden continued.

In other words, she’s almost certain that something must have happened. Otherwise, why would she have reported it. Or something.

Definitely give the video a look. And stay tuned. FOX being FOX, their next step will almost certain be to distract us from this fabrication by making up some even more outlandish shit.

Thx to Rho Holden for bringing this to our attention.

CATEGORY: Journalism

The time a source has to respond to request for comment? Virtually none.

The deadline is now.

Thirty years ago, I faced a deadline once a day. For any reporter today, the deadline is … well, now. The technological leap into the Internet era that changed the notion of deadlines has consequences, as I wrote three years ago:

Speed kills. Accuracy dies when hordes of people, each with an electronic device capable of transmitting a story, strive to be first to tell the world what they found out — without necessarily checking its veracity.

Context dies. Because speed is the premium of the Internet era, the patience for explaining what does this mean is vanishing.

Tweets kill. Successive waves of 140-character messages are unlikely to carefully convey context, meaning and depth and breadth of description. It’s ironic that a generation branded with a short-attention span waits breathlessly for a succession of tweets — about what? And why?

But there’s another, far more subtle consequence on the notion of fairness. In my dinosaur era of once-a-day deadlines, I’d call a source on Monday afternoon. If an answering machine greeted me, I’d leave my name, my affiliation, my reason for calling — and my deadline. I might even place a second call Monday evening and a third Tuesday morning. If she had not returned my call, I would write:

Jane Doe had not responded to three phone messages seeking comment by deadline.

Today, however, the time within which a source has to respond to a message is, well, now. A reporter may begin a story at 1 p.m. and expect to post it online within minutes (see context dies above). Consequently, a phone call (tweet, Facebook message, email) to a source may not draw an immediate response. Not everyone, even seasoned PR pros or institutional information gurus, checks FB, Twitter, or email phone messages minute to minute. (If they are, how often do they have opportunities to actually think on behalf of their employers?)

So the reporter, in the spirit of fairness, writes:

Jane Doe did not respond to a message seeking comment.

So, is this actually fair in the digital era?

In online news media large and small, I have seen did not respond and failed to respond. Both suggest an assumption that the source had received the message and chose not to respond. The phrase had not yet responded does not carry that same nuance of receiving and choosing.

It may be argued that in the digital era that sources sought by journalists must be able to receive and respond to requests for comments at a moment’s notice. Well, argue away: That does not mean that it is fair for a journalist to expect source callbacks within minutes just because the deadline is now.

I wish, in these stories written on deadlines of mere minutes, reporters would tell us more about their messages left for sources. Recall, please, that stories posted online usually have a time stamp: “Posted at 1:37 p.m.” If that were the case here, then I’d like the reporter to write this:

Jane Doe had not responded to a tweet (FB, email, phone message) left at 1:15 p.m.

That would allow the reader to determine whether Jane Doe has been fairly treated. After all, in this Age of New Media, Jane obviously should have responded to the reporter’s bidding within 22 minutes, right? Surely the reporter’s message explained that’s all the time she had within which to respond?

Yes, I know: When (or if) Jane returns the call, the reporter can always update the online story. But there’s no guarantee that all who read the copy posted first will return to check for updates.

The more I examine online journalism, the more examples I find of the dictum speed kills — and what speed kills. Fairness is becoming one such victim.

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology

UPDATED: Why do liberals hate science?

That is…

Shikha Dalmia at Reason.com had a few things to say about liberals and their penchant for ignoring inconvenient evidence in an article entitled, “The Myth of the Scientific Liberal.” Since part of the subject matter involves climate disruption, I’m sure Brian Angliss would ordinarily have much of weight and merit to contribute, but alas, time is short and even Superman can only save one world at a time. So I’ll be pinch-hitting, if only to shine a little light on Reason’s oxymoronic dereliction of integrity.

From Dalmia’s unfortunate lapse of reason:

For two decades, progressives have castigated those questioning global warming as “deniers.”

But the Economist, once firmly in the alarmist camp, recently acknowledged that global temperatures have remained stagnant for 15 years even as greenhouse-gas emissions have soared.

This may be because existing models have overestimated the planet’s sensitivity. Or because the heat generated is sinking to the ocean bottom. Or because of something else completely.

How should a scientifically inclined liberal react to this trend? By inhaling deeply and backing off on economy-busting mitigation measures till science offers clearer answers.

For starters, I’d like to share a little tradition I picked up from Wikipedia: [citation needed]

Why? Well, good lucking finding that reference in The Economist. If you have better luck with the search, by all means please share a link. A domain-restricted Google search for stagnant, further limited to results from the last year since Dalmia claims the acknowledgment is recent, turned up nothing useful. A search of The Economist for articles on climate change disruption actually turned up a piece far more favorable to the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate disruption. The closest thing I could find was a page of comments by one Mogumbo Gono, who, from what I can tell, isn’t actually affiliated with The Economist. Just who is Mogumbo Gono? Your guess is perhaps better than mine. My guess is just some person, at best, one that has registered to comment at a lot of websites, e.g., The Blaze. Make of it what you will.

A single, solitary reference would go far to substantiating Dalmia’s claim.

Secondly, Dalmia might want to look up cherry-picking.

Thirdly, Dalmia might want to look up single-study syndrome.

Perhaps the question isn’t, “Why do liberals hate science?” Maybe it should be, “Why does Reason hate rationality?”

Granted, I’m perhaps a rank amateur when it comes to critical thinking, but isn’t there something absurd about re-branding reason with this kind of nonsense? What other errors can you spot in Dalmia’s exercise in logical fallacy?

—-

Update

Thanks to Sam (in comments), we now have a link to the Economist article in question, “A Sensitive Matter.”  I apologize for my earlier sloppiness in not catching it. Sure enough, insofar as this may well be the article referenced by Dalmia, the first graf reads:

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

This might just solve the [citation needed] quandary. Of course, it does nothing to dispel my dismay at the presence of no less than two serious logical fallacies (cherry-picking and single-source syndrome) in Dalmia’s piece, especially since they serve to make the case that it’s the liberals who are intellectually dishonest on the issue.

But it gets so much better than this! As I understand it, Dr. Hansen is held in high esteem for his extensive work in climate science (thank you once again, Brian, for making such a wealth of information readily available). So when his words appear in what might be a truncated quotation out of context, I can’t resist the siren call of Google. Surely, if this is a verbatim quote I should be able to find something that will ease my perplexity. Neither Google nor Dr. Hansen disappoint.

Lo and behold, in Despite Rising Carbon Emissions – Global Mean Temperatures Have Been Flat, by Phil Covington at TriplePundit, we find:

In fact, the quote above which appeared in The Economist is actually incomplete. Hansen’s report actually says, “The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of net climate forcing.”

Then, after a brief explanation of climate forcing, Covington continues:

The Hansen report concludes that despite the slowdown in climate forcing effects, background global warming is continuing. The report says the 5-year running mean global temperatures may largely be a consequence of the first half of the past decade having predominantly El Niño (warming) conditions, while the second half had predominantly La Niña (cooling) conditions. The report also notes we have been in a period of a prolonged solar minimum – in turn having a cooling effect.

In addition, and this is important, the report points out that even though an observed flattening of temperatures has occurred, the “standstill” temperature is nonetheless at a much higher level than existed at any year in the prior decade except for 1998 (a strong El Niño year). Bottom line; the planet is still hotter.

It is therefore dangerous and incorrect to conclude that recent flattening of surface temperatures means climate change is over. Furthermore, the short period of observed temperature flattening is hardly a significant time scale in order to signify a change in trend. The University of Reading study (mentioned previously), shows actual temperatures are clearly trending in an upward direction since 1950 when their data begins. [emphasis added]

What’s the tally now? Dalmia at Reason engages in argument from authority by relying on the credibility of The Economist to make her point.  By failing to adequately cite, she also, unintentionally or otherwise, obscured the failings of the source. Then it turns out that The Economist starts out strong with a misrepresentation of Hansen’s analysis, which Dalmia either failed to catch or just failed to pass along for consideration. Whatever other flaws or merits The Economist exhibits, what remains is that Reason can’t seem to be trusted to reason when it comes to politically inconvenient facts.

If Reason’s credibility can be so easily brought into question on this one issue, on exactly what can they be trusted as a resource?

—-

Image credit: Daniel Lobo. Licensed under Creative Commons.

CATEGORY: Journalism

So you wanna be a citizen journalist? Good luck with that.

Citizen journalist. Citizen journalist?

How does that adjective modify journalist? What is a citizen journalist? How does a citizen journalist differ from a plain, ink-stained (or digitally adept), adjective-unfettered journalist?

CJs (let’s call them that; it sounds cool) are in demand. MSNBC wants them. It asks, “Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting everyone. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist ” on its website. But, MSNBC cautions: “MSNBC will not pay you for your Submission. MSNBC may remove your Submission at any time. “

A collaboration between CNN and IBN, the Indian Broadcasting Network, really wants CJs. It especially likes the whistle-blowing kind: “Do you know any cases of bad corporate governance, illegal business practices or corruption in a government scheme? Become a CJ and share your story with the world.”

CNN-IBA’s lawyers, however, appear to be less supportive. The disclaimers regarding citizen journalists (the “Parties,” of course, are CNN and IBA):

Under no circumstances will the Parties be liable in any way for any Content, including, but not limited to:

  • for any errors or omissions in any Content,
  • mistakes or inaccuracies of Content,
  • for any loss or damage of any kind incurred,
  • any interruption or cessation of transmission to or from the websites,
  • infringement of any third party rights

CNN, of course, runs the granddaddy of CJ operations with its “IReport” system. It really likes CJs (or IReporters, its preferred nomenclature): “Together, CNN and iReport can paint a more complete picture of the news. We’d love for you to join us. Jump on in, tell your story and see how it connects with someone on the other side of the world.”

CNN’s lawyers offer a different, fine-print view:

Users are solely responsible for anything contained in their submissions, message board and/or chat sessions. CNN does not verify, endorse or otherwise vouch for the contents of any submission, message board or chat room. Users may be held legally liable for the contents of their submissions, message board and chat sessions, and may be held legally liable if their submissions or chat sessions include, for example, material protected by copyright, trademark, patent or trade secret law or other proprietary right without permission of the author or owner, or defamatory comments.

And if that doesn’t impede your CJ career, read the 19-point “conduct” rules for IReporters, especially this: “You agree not to post or transmit through CNN iReport any material that is offensive to the online community, including blatant expressions of bigotry, racism, abusiveness, vulgarity or profanity …” [emphasis added]

Damned if I know what the “online community” would find “offensive.” So much for the commentary and analysis function of journalism. Stripped away by the adjective citizen in front of journalist.

Yahoo!, of course, welcomes CJs. It calls them “contributors” (and claims nearly 600,000 of them) or “voices.” But its legal backing of and confidence in these CJs is underwhelming:

Yahoo! Inc. (“Yahoo”) does not evaluate or guarantee the accuracy of any articles, videos or other posted information on the Yahoo! Contributor Network (“YCN”) (collectively, “YCN Content”). All YCN Content is provided by YCN Contributors in the YCN community, like you. None of the YCN content is written, or edited by Yahoo! employees. You agree that any use you make of such YCN Content is at your own risk and that Yahoo! is not responsible for any losses resulting from your reliance on any YCN Content on the YCN. YCN Content on the YCN Website should never be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified professional. [emphasis added]

Ouch. Your content, your neck. CJs get well paid for such risks, right?

Not really. Nearly eight years ago, Poynter’s Steve Outing, back in what he called the “very early days of citizen journalism,” said “psychic rewards” are insufficient compensation for CJs. Good work requires good pay, he said:

While most citJ content will remain uncompensated — because its quality isn’t high enough to get anyone to pay for it — the best of it will have a price tag. And publishers may have to adapt to paying for it. [emphasis added]

Remember how Arianna Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL for $315 million? Remember the details of the lawsuit? It claimed more than 9,000 people wrote uncompensated posts for HuffPo.

How many of these CJs can afford to be dedicated to a continual effort to further civil discourse on public issues supported by CJs’ continual research into their topics of coverage? How many of them have sufficient resources, both intellectual and financial, to keep their eyes on the ball, day after day, meeting after meeting, event after event, month after month, year after year?

No support, no corporate recognition beyond hype, no financial compensation. Citizen in front of journalist at the moment mostly means amateur.

The really good (or potentially good) CJs must figure out how to be compensated (beyond those “psychic rewards”), how to find more effective networks of promotion for their work, and how to find legal protections for their work (you know, like “shield laws”). When that happens, they’ll be just like the good folks at CNN and The New York Times and that little local daily in your home town.

They won’t be citizen journalists any more. They’ll just be journalists — and share the problems and opportunities professionals now face in a digitally mediated information universe.

CATEGORY: Journalism

Is CNN’s Howard Kurtz still credible? We’ll see.

How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.

Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for Politico, and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.

His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”

Given Kurtz’ decades-long body of work, which includes five books and, in his phrase, “millions of words,” so much might be an exaggeration. But given his profile — CNN’s media authority at “Reliable Sources” since 1998 — he faces a higher standard. And he said as much this morning. To be fair, he should be judged by that decades-long body of work, not on selected excerpts. But he’d better learn from this sensitivity fiasco. He’s becoming the Darryl Strawberry of media reporting in the past few years.

Should CNN fire Kurtz? No. He did nothing wrong on CNN’s dime and time. After all, CNN didn’t can Fareed Zakaria after his journalistic lapse (it’s called plagiarism). Why fire Howie? (It’s likely, however, this is Kurtz’s last contract with CNN. New honcho Jeff Zucker has been revamping, um, infotainment-ing, the network. Kurtz is a serious man doing a serious program about consequential matters. In the long run, he’s toast at ZNN … er, CNN.)

I’ve read and watched Kurtz for decades. I admire his skill. He’s first rate at what he does — reporting on the media. (He is, perhaps, not so skilled as a critic.) His face-the-music dance this morning — 15 minutes with no commercial breaks — required no small measure of guts. (Then again, CNN needed to do something to try to rehabilitate his reputation.)

Whether I continue to support him depends on whether he’s learned what he ought to from this insensitive episode: Speed is dangerous. He made errors of haste and carelessness (reminding me of some of my sophomores). He did not read the Collins piece in Sports Illustrated carefully. He made snap judgments about content and tone. He gave little time to careful consideration of what he wrote. Speed is dangerous.

So, Howie, here’s some advice.

  • Tweet less. Tweeting is about speed , and speed is dangerous. Twitter breeds haste. Cut back, Howie. Relentless tweeting breeds bad habits.
  • Shed some jobs. Decide what you most wish to do, then tackle it earnestly. Right now, you’re a walking bundle of conflicts of interest. You have too many deadlines at too many enterprises (which you shamelessly over-promote). That leads to … speed. Haste. Carelessness. As you said this morning:

Sometimes, under deadline pressure or when you’re doing something quick and short where it’s a little too hazy and decided when you should press a button.

Your problem, Howie, is that you have too many buttons to push. Rid yourself of a few. Get back to being the damn good reporter you used to be.

CATEGORY: Education

Why bad school rankings hurt our children (or, are you listening, US News Best High Schools Rankings?)

by J. Stephen O’Brien

The annual US News rankings of US high schools is out today. Here are the assessments of two high schools in two states.

High School #1

  • Reading proficiency score: 3.4
  • Math proficiency score: 3.1
  • Students proficient in reading: 92%
  • Students proficient in math: 92%

High School #2

  • Reading proficiency score: 2.9
  • Math proficiency score: 2.7
  • Students proficient in reading: 80%
  • Students proficient in math: 64%

Which high school would you want to send your children to? High school #1, right? Now, here’s some more information.

High School #1

Average SAT score: 39th percentile

High School #2

Average ACT score: 84th percentile

Now what do you think? But wait, it gets better. High school #1 sends fewer than the national average percentage of kids on to college, while high school #2 sends well above the national average to college. At high school #1, only the college-bound take the SAT. At high school #2, by state law, all students take the ACT, but only the college bound take the SAT. So, let’s look at that comparison, again using something closer to apples and apples.

High School #1

Average SAT score for college bound: 39th percentile

High School #2

Average SAT score for college bound: 90th percentile

Now where would you want your children to matriculate?  And what if I told you that high school #1 is in an area that has lost 20% of its non-agricultural, private-sector jobs in the past 10 years, primarily because employers cannot find labor well enough educated to train for today’s jobs? And what if I told you that high school #2 is in an area with very low unemployment, plenty of entrepreneurial start ups that locate here because of its skilled labor force, and typically has from 15-20 National Merit Scholars in a given year?

So what, you say? What does it matter if US News gets it so wrong? I’m glad you asked. You see, the county where high school #1 is located has the lowest mill levy (property tax rate) in its state, and though the schools beg residents to raise more money for education to replace, say, the antiquated wooden lab hoods (total of two) in the chemistry classes that make it impossible to safely conduct labs on certain chemical reactions, the answer is always, “We’re doing great! US News gave us an award!”

So, US News, keep hurting our children with your insipid high school rankings. It’s profitable, right? So why should you care?

CATEGORY: FreedomPrivacy2

What would you ban?

Book burningI’m gonna go a little bit out on a limb and ask about taboos with a little compare and contrast. And no, even though I start this out with an example about gun control, the point isn’t about that. It’s about taboo and how that might apply to other rights, their expression, and the rationale for that expression.

There’s a line of thinking that goes, “just because you have a right doesn’t mean you should go out of your way to express it to the extreme and cling to those extremes.” I think it’s where the left’s pejorative “gun fetishists” springs from. There may even be a hint of truth in it. Is it possible some folks own firearms and geek out on them the same way others geek out on cars, sports, or a million different hobbies? That they do it, “just because I can and *you* can’t stop me?” Never mind the whether it lacks in decorum. There may even be a bit of rockstar defiance in both the act and in the display. Is that inherently wrong?

The message I get from the sorts of folks that lob “gun fetishists” around like a cute and clever verbal grenade (high five!) is that there is something inherently perverse, something pathological, about the kind of person that cares more for his right to own semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, all behind a veil of privacy, more than the safety and security of children. Or innocent civilians. Or wolves. Or whatever the sacred cow du jour happens to be. The only reason, say the Moral Highgrounders, a person could feel that way is if there is something fundamentally wrong with them.

Where do we draw that line? Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

Pew study: Newspapers’ hard times continue

Shocked! Shocked we should be! But the latest report on the State of the Media by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism comes as no surprise. The bottom line: Fewer resources equals compromised journalism. From a PEJ press release summarizing the 2013 report‘s overview:

The report pinpoints multiple signs of shrinking reporting power. For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978. On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half and sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content. On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31%. And among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5% in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs. [For a quick look at the Pew findings, view its infographic overview]

The drop in newsroom employment has fallen precipitiously, particularly since 2007. That’s not news to S&R’s regular readers, as that’s been a principal topic of discussion here over the years. S&R has covered the reasons behind the firings (yep, “layoffs” is too soft a word for canning a pro) and posited on the consequences of a depleted journalism workforce. (See here, here, here, and here.)

The root cause? Loss of revenue. As the graphic below shows, print ad revenue is down dramatically (at 45 percent of 2006 revenues). Digital ad revenue is increasing, but at a far slower rate than print revenue is falling.

And now, Pew research has detailed the decline of journalistic expertise and ability.

This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.[emphasis added]

Pew placed particular emphasis on the one of 2012′s most significant stories — the most recent U.S. elections. Journalists underperformed, argues Pew:

So far, this trend has emerged most clearly in the political sphere, particularly with the biggest story of 2012—the presidential election. A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them. This is summarized in our special video report on our Election Research, only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans. That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half the statements originated with journalists and a third came from partisans. The campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.

Sadly, reports Pew, 60 percent of Americans have heard little, or nothing, about the news industry’s financial reversals. But a third of Americans know when they’re not getting what they used to: Pew reports that 31 percent of Americans have fled a particular news outlet because it no longer provides readers or viewers what it once did.

That’s particularly disturbing. A third of Americans, if you have faith in Pew’s arithmetic, seek new sources of information, particularly news. Sure, digital media offer those Americans choices — but how will they assess the quality and credibility of those sources? If information seekers flee to news aggregation sites, where the hell (with a few exceptions) do they think those aggregated stories originated?

And the blogs? How will the credibility of millions of blogs, many, if not most, operated and populated by untrained volunteers (or wing nuts with large chips on their shoulders), be assessed?

Good sources of reliable, credible information exist. Most are newspapers or originated with newspapers’ materials. Some are operated by foundations or Kickstarted into existence.

Newspaper circulation has begun to recover (or at least not decline further). But 44 million papers sold daily is a far cry from nearly 60 million in the early ’90s at the dawn of the World Wide Web. Those 16 million readers aren’t returning. (Many are dead, of course; newspaper circulation skews more older than younger these days.)

Is there hope that newspapers will survive long enough to return to some form of prosperity (defined either as financially healthy or journalistically sound)?

Rick Edmonds, a longtime newspaper analyst at The Poynter Institute, suggests the news industry is not dead despite its myriad problems.

Newspapers’ fortunes, admittedly from a rock-bottom base, have been looking up lately — Warren Buffett and others have bought papers, digital pay plans are boosting circulation revenue, and new lines of business like digital marketing services are taking root.

After wisely noting the “continued erosion of resources” in the industry, Edmonds offers this counsel:

  • Be present on the mobile platforms where news consumers are headed. Try, try again on advertising or related revenue possibilities. Find money to support development of new apps and experimentation, but pace the spending since today’s hot technology yields quickly to tomorrow’s.
  • Get reader/users to pay a share. Digital subscriptions and print + digital bundles have been the industry’s biggest success story of the last several years. The report found that 33 percent of the country’s 1,380 dailies “have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.” Of course, a corollary to asking readers to pay is giving them a news report that’s worth it in an era where free options are abundant.
  • Continue to develop “other” efforts — digital marketing, events, contract printing and sponsored content. And measure it — first indicators are that newspapers may be covering as much as half their print ad losses with circulation revenue increases and income from these new ventures.
  • As the new business models become established, focus on the net income they generate. Halting, or at least slowing revenue declines, has been the first order of business. However, New York Times Co. executive James Follo raised the relevant caution late last year: the margin on new circulation revenue and other activities may not be nearly as good as on selling more print advertising. [emphasis in original]

That’s good advice. Readers — and those who need information — should hope it’s not too little, too late.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Redistricting: by deceitfully moving a line, I can rule forever

In America, most — but probably not all — citizens who seek public office do so with initial good intent. They wish to perform a public service.

That quaint, altruistic notion lasts, on the national level, perhaps 10 minutes after the swearing-in ceremony.

Lobbyists descend. Party leaders demand fund-raising success now. The novice lawmaker is partnered with veteran D.C. good ol’ boys (and girls). And before casting a single vote, the political novitiate begins the daily grind of hours spent dialing for dollars.

And the new titles — Congressman, Senator — and their apparent conferred respect edge into the psyche. I like this, think the freshmen. People stand up when I enter a room. People with money — lots of money – offer me not-so-subtle favors. I like this.

The discovery of power breeds the lust to retain it. An individual politician may be a decent human being. He (or she) may not end up in sexual disarray or keep $90,000 in his freezer. But as a species, politicians place preservation of power at the center of their communal altar.

National politicians cheat, steal, connive, and kiss babies to stay in office. That we can live with. But we should no longer stomach the mind-numbingly boring — so mind-numbing far too many journalists ignore it — and tainted process of redistricting. We must demand its reform.

That’s because Machiavellian maneuvers in redistricting — manipulating lines on a map — is how these charlatans keep the power they use so ineptly and unwisely.

It’s no secret that re-election rates to Congress are astonishingly high. But too many of us in the governed class, myself included, have focused our attention on the ungodly sums of money these indeliberate deliberators raise.

It’s not, so much, the money anymore: It’s who draws the lines of congressional districts, how they are drawn, and with what motive.

Redistricting is the legally required process of equalizing the numbers of people in districts following the decennial census. This is done to ensure that House seats are fairly distributed. But gerrymandering — the redrawing of district lines with the motive of ensuring a “safe” district for an incumbent — has corrupted the process. Consider these few bizarre, convoluted examples of gerrymandered districts scattered through this post.

It’s quite simple, really. Legislatures in 34 states control redistricting. In other states, “independent” and “bipartisan” commissions draw the lines. It’s always been a partisan process, but in this era of childish political tantrums, the process serves only to maximize the power of those who rule, not distribute fairly the power of those who are ruled. Districts are packed, using unimaginable boundaries, with voters of one party to the maximum extent possible.

Now do you see why the re-election rates of incumbents in Congress are so damn high?

Despite the few successes in ’08, ’10, and ’12, voters find it difficult to “throw the bums out.”

Imagine the United States, if political wrangling over redistricting and unfettered spending on campaigns by millionaires and billionaires remains unchecked. Will the day come when members of Congress simply cannot be removed through the ballot box?

If that happens, it will make the doomsday-prepping wingnuts seem absolutely prescient.

Cast your eye over history. What has been the fate of nations when citizens could not peacefully remove their government?

As boring as it is, demand transparency in redistricting efforts. And demand media organizations cover them as ardently as they do the tragic OJ-Lite™ drama under way in South Africa.