Journalism

Local newspapers: fewer reporters = less content = declining revenue

Corporate owners treat news as “product.” As a result, the industry is on life support.

by Patrick Vecchio

I can’t remember how young I was when I fell in love with my local newspaper. It started with a comic strip: Mandrake the Magician. I would wait on our front porch for the newspaper boy, spread the paper on the floor and read Mandrake on my hands and knees. As I grew older, my interest expanded to different sections of the paper. By the time I reached high school, I was reading it from front to back. I loved it.

I never left my hometown, and after studying journalism in college, I began working as a reporter at a tiny daily newspaper about 20 miles away. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Journalism

The daily newspaper editorial: Make it weekly, please

Daily editorials, striving to not piss off anyone, have achieved ‘terminal neutrality’

Who — or what — killed the great American editorial? Wasn’t there a time when great newspaper editorials regularly thundered and whispered, sighed and screamed, were outraged or outraged others?

Paul Greenberg, the editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner, poses these questions on the website of the Association of Opinion Journalists.

Greenberg calls the forces that murdered the American newspaper editorial “as impersonal and characterless as many of the editorials themselves.” Among them are the goal of not pissing off anyone; “the stultifying editorial conference,” designed to drain life out of editorial positions; and hewing to “the party line or socio-economic fashion.” These forces produced, says Greenberg, “terminal neutrality.”

Although these forces had the daily newspaper editorial on its deathbed by the mid-1980s, Greenberg doesn’t reveal that I — yes, me! (gasp!) — pulled the plug on its life support. Yep, I pounded a few nails into the coffin of the daily newspaper editorial all by myself. Continue reading

Advertising

Advertising’s enticement: You must crave, therefore you must buy

Advertising may be evil, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil.

Despite my exposure to what a colleague estimates is nearly 100 million advertising impressions as I approach seven decades of life, I am not taller, I am not more attractive, I am not thinner, and I sure as hell don’t smell much better than I did in the 1950s.

I teach in a journalism school in which more students aspire to be advertising and PR madmen and madwomen than journalists. So I think about advertising often — mostly with disbelief and frequent outrage (the righteous kind, y’know).

The disbelief: I watch an ad in which a pricey luxury sedan maneuvers at night through lanes illuminated by paper lanterns. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Freedom

Edward Lucas “Snowdenista” piece in the Wall Street Journal is the most dishonest thing you’ll read today

Snowden, Assange, Greenwald, and anyone else who believes that NSA spying on American citizens is wrong is a tool for Mother Russia. Makes sense.

Edward Lucas of the Economist. #wanker

I just read Edward Lucas’s Wall Street Journal piece entitled “A Press Corps Full of Snowdenistas.” I can’t honestly say if Mr. Lucas is a liar, an idiot, or simply a guy who’s a little too captive to the security state party line to see past his own dogma. We’ll be charitable for the moment and assume the latter, although “wild-eyed apparatchik” is hardly something to aspire to.

The premise of his rant is more or less summed up with this: Continue reading

Steroids

Should Major League Baseball allow steroid users into the Hall of Fame? Yes, says Matt Record.

Part 1 of a series.

by Matt Record

Baseball has been marked by cheating forever. It’s hypocritical to draw a line now.

These are – in my opinion – the top 15 best position players in the history of baseball:

  • Babe Ruth
  • Barry Bonds
  • Willie Mays
  • Ted Williams
  • Ty Cobb
  • Hank Aaron
  • Tris Speaker
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Honus Wagner
  • Stan Musial
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Rogers Hornsby
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Eddie Collins
  • Mickey Mantle

The fact that two of the top 15 best hitters may never make the hall of fame is a  shame and a frustratingly meaningless shame at that. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Sports

Baseball Hall of Fame voters: it’s time to judge the judges

by Rafael Noboa y Rivera

Baseball writers in the Steroid Era had one job. And they failed at it.

Earlier this week, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) unveiled the newest Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. Baseball fans were paying particularly close attention to who made the cut, as they have the last few years, because many of the eligible players were star performers during baseball’s Steroid Era. Many of these writers show no mercy towards players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa. Players they once laureled as Olympian heroes are now condemned as cheats, unworthy of the game’s highest honor.

What is interesting is that even as they stake out the higher ground, piously commenting on how moral standards must be maintained, these same writers are pleading with us as baseball fans to give them a break, cut ‘em a little slack. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Black Thursday

Thanksgiving is now Black Thursday and Black Friday is upon us: what should America not be thankful for?

The nation gives thanks … for what?

I was never a William Burroughs fan, but I nonetheless find myself thinking about his 1986 “Thanksgiving Prayer,” surely one of the most caustic (and insightful) takes on our great American holiday. I’m in this sort of mood for a reason. Or two, or three.

First off, you may have noticed all the static around the news that more and more businesses will be open today, getting a jump on tomorrow’s appalling orgy of consumerism, Black Friday. That term originated in the early 1960s, apparently, with bus drivers and the police, who used it to describe the mayhem surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year. Continue reading

Beltway Zen: has the Washington Post ever met a liar it won’t publish?

At WashPo, the narrative is more important than the facts…

Earlier today a friend forwarded me, via e-mail, the text of an opinion piece that was ostensibly about the “new reality” on the right. It began well enough.

Following the recent tea party Tet Offensive — tactically disastrous but symbolically important — the Republican establishment has commenced counterinsurgency operations. Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee — both facing primary challenges from the right — are responding more forcefully to their populist opponents. Continue reading

CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

BBC blows climate coverage, again

This is dispiriting. Why the BBC, of all media, continues to do this defies reason—although there probably is a reason for it, just a really stupid one. As we all know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) started releasing its next round of reports last week. And as we all know, the global warming deniers—those that are left, anyway—are all set to denounce it. Except the BBC apparently couldn’t find any scientist in the UK who was prepared to do this. The Guardian’s John Ashton takes it from here, reporting that when the IPCC Summary came along last Friday:

At breakfast time, Radio 4’s Today programme informed listeners that despite extensive efforts, the BBC had been unable to find a single British scientist willing to challenge the IPCC’s findings. At that point the BBC might have concluded that the IPCC’s views represent an overwhelming consensus and left it at that.

So then what happened? Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment

Is James “The Liar” Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the way out?

I wonder if he can lie with his mouth closed?

Every once in a while, I like to check the Federal Register. This is a vice I should indulge more frequently, apparently. This evening I indulged, and discovered this:

Designation of Officers of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence To Act as Director of National Intelligence
A Presidential Document by the Executive Office of the President on 09/25/2013

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 3345 et seq. (the “Act”), it is hereby ordered that:

Section 1. Order of Succession. Subject to the provisions of sections 2 and 3 of this memorandum, and to the limitations set forth in the Act, the following officials of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in the order listed, shall act as and perform the functions and duties of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) during any period in which the DNI and the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence have died, resigned, or otherwise become unable to perform the functions and duties of the DNI:…

This couldn’t get much hotter off the press if it tried, and it strikes me as a very big deal, indeed. Surely someone in the media caught wind of this, right?

Not that I can find.

A variety of news searches using Google turned up nothing on today’s presidential memo on succession for the role of Director of National Intelligence. For that matter, nothing came up about the memo when I search my news sources and blog roll in InoReader (the tool I use now that Google’s Reader is caput). That, however, is not to say that there wasn’t anything relevant out there.

Marcy Wheeler’s emptywheel had this fresh, new content today:

Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

So DiFi’s [Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA] idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

I love it.  For that matter, Ms. Wheeler starts the piece off strong with:

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

Excellent. Ms. Wheeler might not have mentioned today’s succession memo, but perhaps Mr. Goodale did over at the Guardian?

To reform the NSA, fire officials who lie

This article is also from today, and it’s an excellent bit of reportage. Mr. Goodale ends it on this note:

Obviously, if this culture seeps into popular culture, lies and deceits will be easily tolerated – and we will all be the worse for it. President Obama should focus on this issue before it is too late. But it is not at all clear that he cares about it any more than Congress or the Justice Department do.

Interestingly, he also makes no mention of the memo hot off President Obama’s desk.

If this were a reshuffling of succession rules for just about any other agency, it would probably be among the dullest things ever. With James “The Liar” Clapper at the center of so much controversy, however, should we see this as just a bit of housekeeping minutiae? Or should we expect to see an announcement of Clapper’s resignation soon?

I hope so. Part of me will cheer. The dominant, cynical side of me will just wonder who will be signing Clapper’s checks next. My gut says he’ll still be an intelligence insider, just on a private contractor’s payroll.

—-

Image credit: Official portrait in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Cross-posted from Ars Skeptica

This “just” in: Jabhat al-Nusra rebels claim chemical weapons attack in Ghouta with an oops

StopJabhat al-Nusra Rebels Admit Responsibility for Chemical Weapons Attack
Paul Joseph Watson, Global Research/Centre for Research on Globalization
September 1, 2013

Militants tell AP reporter they mishandled Saudi-supplied chemical weapons, causing accident

 Syrian rebels in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta have admitted to Associated Press correspondent Dale Gavlak that they were responsible for last week’s chemical weapons incident which western powers have blamed on Bashar Al-Assad’s forces, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

This article also posted the following important update:

UPDATE: Associated Press contacted us to confirm that Dave Gavlak is an AP correspondent, but that her story was not published under the banner of the Associated Press. We didn’t claim this was the case, we merely pointed to Gavlak’s credentials to stress that she is a credible source, being not only an AP correspondent, but also having written for PBS, BBC and Salon.com.

By all means, take a few minutes to read the full article and peruse the ones linked below.

From a Google news search just now, Monday, September 2, 2013 2:42 AM MST, here is what amounts to full coverage of this claim at a first pass.

Saudi Prince Bandar behind chemical attack in Syria: report
Tehran Times, August 31, 2013

Syria: Rebel Groups, Not Assad, Behind Chemical Attacks Says Pat Buchanan
IBTimes, September 1, 2013

Saudi Bandar Provided Gouta Chemical Weapons, Militants Mishandled
Al-Manar TV Lebanon, August 31, 2013

Further, a search on Bandar chemical weapons turns up the these results.  One might say there is a dearth of Western coverage.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister on accusations over chemical weapons
Euronews.com, September 1, 2013

What passes for American coverage?  The New York Times does not disappoint.  By that, I mean if you expect selective silence and beating the drum for war, you’ll not be disappointed.

President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike
2 hours ago

To be certain, Saudi Prince Bandar is mentioned…in exactly one sentence.  That sentence, however, had absolutely nothing to do with the context presented above.  One might think, given the gravity of the allegations and, for that matter, the sheer mind-boggling nature of a terrorist organization issuing a mea culpa rather than a boast, as well as the implication of an AP reporter’s credibility in the matter, that maybe some mention would be made of these journalistic developments from the Middle East.

Naturally, a cosmic prank of this magnitude must come with a punchline.  Here it is, from three days ago.

EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack
MintPress News, August 29, 2013

Of note at the end of the MintPress article:

Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates . 

The same can be said, in spades, for US claims. See the FAIR analysis for examples.

With all the doubt flying around, let’s take just a moment to vet MintPress as a source, shall we?  Here’s their About page.  Here’s a write-up from MinnPost from nearly two years ago. Here is an excellent compare and contrast analysis from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Zero Hedge, a blog of mixed distinctions, was also on top of the MintPress story. Examiner.com covered the story from MintPress.

Here’s my burning question for you, dear reader.  Where else have you heard this coverage?

Whatever the truth is, before we go lobbing so much as one shot across the bow the American public would be well advised, whatever the short-term humanitarian cost, however horrible it is, to demand a full independent investigation to ascertain as well as possible just what the hell actually happened.  We have had far too many conflicting claims, far too many inconsistencies, and far, far too many weasel words, strong assurances, and empty platitudes compounded with nothing but circumstantial evidence and strident demands for trust from this administration to just sit back and let hawks from both the left and right railroad us into what may turn out to be a cataclysmic conflict.

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

Frost Nixon

RIP: David Frost and the rehabilitation of Richard Nixon

Frost NixonAdapted from a piece that originally ran in December 2011.

_____

When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal. -Richard Nixon to David Frost

British television journalist David Frost is dead at 74. While it isn’t necessarily clear that a man who spent time as a comedian and game show host ought to have his visage chiseled into Journalism Rushmore, there is simply no way to ignore his substantive moments, which are headlined by his famous interview series with disgraced former president Richard Nixon.

This is more about Nixon, perhaps, but as we reflect upon Frost’s career and the public reception of the play and film about their encounter, it has become nearly impossible to think of him in any other context, at least on this side of the Atlantic. And if a media personality is to be judged on one moment, what better one than the events commencing on March 23, 1977?

_____

After a community theatre performance in late 2011 of Frost/Nixon, my companions and I found ourselves discussing a topic that has come to intrigue me a great deal: the curious rehabilitation of Richard Nixon. Continue reading

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.

—-

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.