Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The stories you get to hear

So, apparently there was a pretty substantial outbreak of tuberculosis in Jacksonville, Florida, back in 2012. Were you aware that 13 people died? I'm guessing not. It turns out that reporting the story, even as a retrospective, was difficult, because reporters weren't given access or information.

File this one under "dawn breaks slowly":
The stories aren’t always as consequential or as dramatic as a TB outbreak, but Singer’s experience is shared by virtually every journalist on the government beat, from the White House on down. They can recite tales with similar outlines: An agency spokesman — frequently a political appointee — rejects the reporter’s request for interviews, offers partial or nonresponsive replies, or delays responding at all until after the journalist’s deadline has passed.

Interview requests that are granted are closely monitored, reporters say, with a press “minder” sitting in. Some agencies require reporters to pose their questions by e-mail, a tactic that enables officials to carefully craft and vet their replies.

Tensions between reporters and public information officers — “hacks and flacks” in the vernacular — aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give.

But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring “an unprecedented level of openness” to the federal government.
A few observations:

  • Yes, under Obama we do have an unprecedented level of openess. Essentially, we have none.
  • It's a little late in the game to start bitching about it, don't you think? We've seen the same things going on without interruption since 2009.
Hey, but they wrote him a letter:

The frustrations boiled over last summer in a letter to President Obama signed by 38 organizations representing journalists and press-freedom advocates. The letter decried “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies” by spokesmen. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the groups wrote.

They asked for “a clear directive” from Obama “telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.”

Obama hasn’t acted on the suggestion. 
Of course he hasn't. He doesn't want reporters, he wants stenographers. Another example, from the story:
When Dina Cappiello, until recently the national environment writer for the Associated Press, asked the Interior Department for federal data about bird deaths on wind-energy farms in 2013, she says, she met a stone wall. The industry-supplied information, the agency told her, was “protected” and couldn’t be released because it would harm a private interest.

Cappiello suspected a political motive for the department’s silence: The Obama administration supports the development of wind power, and release of the data might undercut public support if it showed that wind farms kill large numbers of protected species, such as eagles and falcons.

She filed a FOIA request for the records. No dice. “I still haven’t gotten an answer,” she said recently.
And yet another:
The reaction was even more aggressive when Cappiello began asking the Agriculture Department for interviews for a story about the environmental degradation caused by converting non-crop land into cornfields for ethanol production, another administration initiative.

The agency went on the offense, telling officials in the field not to talk to her and her co-writer. A public affairs official further instructed his colleagues not to provide the reporters with the names of farmers for interviews, as they had routinely done for other stories.

“We just want to have a consistent message on the topic,” the official, Jason Johnson, wrote in an e-mail. Cappiello filed another FOIA request for the directive — and noted the e-mail’s existence in her story about the land-conversion policy.

“I think the thread here is that all of these stories are questioning the goals and policies of the administration,” she said. “All of these have the potential to set off controversy.” While government press officials often talk about having “a consistent message,” Cappiello said, “they never seem to insist on having ‘a truthful message.’ I wonder why.”
Why? Because shut up. That's why.

This is all great, useful, muckracking from the Washington Post, the great newspaper that employed the reporters who helped to bring down Richard Nixon. But where does the article appear? Take a look:

It's the little blue type that matters

Yep -- the article is in the "Style" section. Not on page one, because that's reserved for stenography. Not even on the op-ed page, because that's reserved for the courtiers like E. J. Dionne. No, if you want to find out about the systematic stifling of the press, you need to go to the Style section, where the article is the fifth story listed, behind the latest dispatch on Justin Bieber and the fawning profile of Jon Stewart's replacement on the Daily Show. See for yourself -- here are the first three articles featured this morning:

And here are the next three:

These are editorial decisions. And the editors of the Washington Post apparently think it's more important for you to consider the career path of Justin Bieber than it is to consider how the Obama administration operates. If the Post had operated in the same manner 40 years ago, we'd have spent more time talking about Bobby Sherman than Watergate.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Because screw you. That's why.

More questions you shouldn't be asking:
Senate Republicans are renewing efforts to learn why Huma Abedin, a top assistant to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was allowed to keep working at the agency under a special, part-time status while also being employed at a politically-connected consulting firm.

The new requests are being made by Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, following revelations that both women used a private Internet server and email accounts for State Department correspondence.

Grassley says the earlier requests to the department have been largely ignored, so the new ones have gone to the department’s inspector general and to Secretary of State John Kerry, seeking their involvement.
They won't get an answer, though. A lot of people don't want to know the answer. So screw you.

My guess is that, someday, we'll find out the whole story, and it will go something like this -- Hillary Clinton green lighted her employer's insane foreign policy with the tacit understanding that she would be able to use her position to become insanely rich. The scandal won't really be about Benghazi as much as it's about the money. It usually is. And Huma was cashing in, too, because she was a friend and confidante of Hillary. It's nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, in Chicago

From his perch at the Chicago Tribune, John Kass asks the question:
The oligarchs who run Chicago don't want to consider the unthinkable — at least not publicly.

Yet as the campaign for mayor of Chicago between Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Mayor Rahm Emanuel enters its final week, some oligarchs are worried.

They're probably wondering: What if Rahm really loses this thing?
At this point, winning may not be that pleasant, either. Chicago is in a hell of a lot of trouble right now as the pensions and the corruption start to come home to roost, to paraphrase a famous Chicagoan that we're supposed to forget. More, a lot more, at the link.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Warhol and social media

In the future, everyone will be Emmanuel Goldstein for 15 minutes.

Point of order

We've been informed that Indiana is now the Worst Place in the World because it now has a Religious Freedom law that apparently compels every damned bakery in the entire state to deny gay couples wedding cakes or something.

So how many states have similar laws? Well, check out the map:

Somewhere, Orville Faubus is scratching his head
Maybe someone can explain to me why Indiana is such a horrible place now, while Rhode Island is not?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Houthi's March

How does an all-out, Sunni vs. Shia, war on the Arabian Peninsula sound to you?
The turmoil in Yemen grew into a regional conflict Thursday, with Saudi Arabia and its allies bombing Shiite rebels allied with Iran, while Egyptian officials said a ground assault will follow the airstrikes.

Iran denounced the Saudi-led air campaign, saying it "considers this action a dangerous step," and oil prices jumped in New York and London after the offensive.

The military action turned impoverished and chaotic Yemen into a new front in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Why would the oil prices jump? Take a look at a map of the region:

Location, location, location
You can do a lot to disrupt commerce on the Red Sea if you control Yemen. And for now, the Shias under the direction of Abdul Malik al-Houthi are making the standard threats:
Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi angrily accused the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel of launching a "criminal, unjust, brutal and sinful" campaign aimed at invading and occupying Yemen.

"Yemenis won't accept such humiliation," he said in a televised speech Thursday night, calling the Saudis "stupid" and "evil."

The Houthis, who have taken over much of the country, mobilized thousands of supporters to protest the airstrikes, with one speaker lashing out at the Saudi-led coalition and warning that Yemen "will be the tomb" of the aggressors.
The aim of his patrol is not a question rather droll. And, as Walter Russell Mead explains, the stakes are pretty high:
Events in Yemen continue to accelerate much faster than many experts predicted, and the potential for widespread sectarian war between Sunni and Shi’a grows more acute by the day. In some ways this portends even more trouble than ISIS’s fight against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq: that fight is both bloody and strategically important, but ISIS is also an enemy of the Sunni powers (whose rule it wants to overthrow). Now, the Saudis and their allies are clearly prepared to confront Iran’s allies head-on.
I don't see a lot of good options right now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Horticulture gone amok

I don't like cabbage, so this is truly horrifying:
A cabbage the size of a Buick won the annual statewide growing contest for third-graders, with the student grower watering the monster every day last summer to get it as big as possible.

Riley Olbrantz of Newman Catholic Elementary School/St. Anne in Wausau was named the winner in the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program, for growing a 28.6-pound beauty of the O.S. Cross cabbage variety.
Here's the winner:

The O.S. Cross Variety was also a very underrated Robert Ludlum novel.

We're ready

The tsunami drill is coming:
Coastal Californians will receive a tsunami alert Wednesday morning on television and radio that the NOAA says may or may not include the word “TEST.”

As part of National Tsunami Preparedness Week, officials will conduct a test of the tsunami warning system in the coastal regions of central and southern California at approximately 10:15 a.m. PDT.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) release states, “Some television systems are programmed to scroll a standard emergency alert text message and in some cases, the message may not contain the word “TEST.” An audio message will say that the message is only a test, but if the volume is turned down or otherwise unheard, viewers may not realize the message is a test.”
We aren't worried:

Tsunami? We got this!

Why Illinois can't have nice things

Pension reform? We've got yer pension reform right here, pal:
In the midst of Illinois’s worsening pension woes, here’s one egregiously odious example of abuse: a retired union lobbyist spent one day as a substitute teacher, and is now receiving a pension for it (at $31,485 per year) thanks to pals in the state’s General Assembly. The Chicago Tribune outed this arrangement back in 2011, whereupon the state reduced his benefits, but—get this—the man is now suing on the premise that the reduction was unconstitutional under state law, and if he wins, he’ll see his benefits increased. That’s on top of the other state pension he has from a job as a legislative aide.
If you've ever heard it suggested that it would be a better world if teachers were paid at the rate of professional athletes, this would be a way to make it happen.

So where does the money come from? Excellent question, since Illinois has a 12-figure pension liability -- over $100 billion -- that it's not going to be able to cover. Do you think the feds (meaning you and me and some dude in Fort Wayne) will come riding to the rescue? Not when the federal debt is in the trillions.

There is a solution:

Six signatures on the bill -- that should do it
I'm not positive, but one of those signatures appears to match Jack Lew's scrawl. That's 50 million deutschmarks, baby!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ted Cruz is running for president

In case you care. Not sure I do, but he's in. So who do you like? You can vote for more than one candidate. In fact, I encourage it.

Your preferred candidate for president in 2016 is?
pollcode.com free polls

Just as bad, really

No one should be surprised that Terry McAuliffe, the Dem operative who managed to become governor of Virginia, asked for and got special treatment from Homeland Security:
Not long before he became governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe received special treatment on behalf of his electric-car company from a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department. But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, “was unprecedented,” according to the report.

The long-anticipated report found no evidence of law-breaking. But members of the department’s staff perceived Mayorkas’s actions as “politically motivated,” and the report concluded that he had “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.”
Both parties did it, the Washington Post assures us. Here's the funny thing, though -- if you read through the article, they can't name a Republican who did benefit. About 23 paragraphs into the article, after we learn about favors for McAuliffe, Reid and longtime Pennsylvania politico Ed Rendell, we get this:
In addition to McAuliffe, Mississippi Republicans also pressed DHS officials for more rapid approval of the visas.
Pressing and getting are two different things, of course.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Our man in Jerusalem

I'm linking this article from The Hill for two reasons -- one, because it confirms something some of us suspected:
President Obama's role during the Israeli elections was larger than reported, according to a pollster for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

"What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu," John McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said in an interview on John Catsimatidis's "The Cats Roundtable" radio show broadcast Sunday on AM 970 in New York.

"There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations. And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu," McLaughlin said.
That might be why Obama has been so angry about the result. I'd also like to get clarification about the taxpayer dollars, but that's a subject for another time. I do want to call attention to the head honcho for V15, however (emphasis mine):
After Netanyahu's win, V15 co-founder Nimrod Dweck said in an interview with Ronan Farrow aired on MSNBC's "Jose Diaz-Balart" that "not a single cent" of State Department or taxpayer money had gone to their campaign.

"These are false allegations and they have nothing to do with reality," Dweck said.
Always trust content from Nimrod Dweck.

After all

"After all, the law is the law."

What does that comment mean to you?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Meanwhile, in Madison

If you thought that things were settling down, think again:
At Tuesday evening's Madison City Council meeting, Young, Gifted and Black Coalition leader Brandi Grayson spoke directly to Police Chief Mike Koval about the death of Tony Robinson: “We know the facts, and when they come out, this city will erupt. This city will f-ing erupt. And the blood and whatever takes place after that will be on your hands and the mayor’s hands.”
Does that sound like a threat to you? Koval thinks so:
Koval sat through the public comment period that City Council had added to its Tuesday agenda, saying later he has no problem with people questioning his department, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

But on Wednesday morning, he sent an email to all alders with a different tone.

“Last night, I sat patiently listening to people accusing MPD of everything from being sanctioned murderers to racists. Given the nature of the proceedings, I was left with no recourse to respond to any of these diatribes, falsehoods and shock value missives,” Koval wrote.

He wrote that people can attack him all they want, but he has a duty to speak up when the people who work for him “have to contend with unchecked, unilateral attacks on them and the legacy of the MPD.”

“I failed them by not being able to go to bat for them under the constraints of the hearing protocols last night,” Koval wrote. “In short, your collective silence is DEAFENING and that is why I chose to write to you today. Don’t think that I haven’t noticed or that my employees haven’t noticed—we have!”
Back to Grayson:
“What will happen after this non-indictment will mimic Ferguson, and that, my dear, will be on your hands,” Grayson said, again speaking directly to Koval. “And you can no longer scream that we are not Ferguson, 'cause we are Ferguson. We are the worst city in the nation for black people and every one of you should be ashamed of yourself.”
That sure sounds like a threat, and a patronizing one at that.

We've been writing about police conduct, and misconduct, a fair amount in recent days. We want our police to do better and be less intrusive in our daily lives. At the same time, we want them to protect us from people who would do us harm.

Are we being fair, or even consistent? It's a good question. There is every reason to believe that Ms. Grayson is planning to incite a riot on the streets of Madison. I have no idea if Madison is he worst city in the nation for black people, as she claims, but I would be curious how she came to that conclusion.

More to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Saint Amy's Amendment Dilemma

Poor Amy Klobuchar -- confounded by her own staff:
An aide to Sen. Amy Klobuchar knew about the controversial abortion language stuck into a bipartisan measure to help victims of human trafficking before her boss voted on it, but failed to say anything, a spokeswoman acknowledged Thursday.

The proposed measure, which had strong backing from members of both parties, stalled in the U.S. Senate last week when Democrats — including Sens. Klobuchar and Al Franken — say they discovered language in the bill that restricts federal funds for abortions and emergency contraception.

Both Klobuchar and Franken voted for the bill in late February on the Judiciary Committee. Franken has said he regrets his vote and believes the Republicans “slipped” in the abortion language, also called a Hyde Amendment. Klobuchar said she didn’t know the language was in the bill when she voted for it.
As always, you have to pass the bill to find out what's in it. A few observations:

  • This is a very old practice in Washington and the Democrats and Republicans have done it for years. The Hyde Amendment has been around for a very long time. Henry Hyde, an Illinois congressman who was a long-time pro-life champion, first added it to legislation in 1976. Democrats have been fighting to get rid of it ever since, because taxpayer funded abortions are hugely important to certain parts of the Democratic Party's coalition. Including, it would appear, Amy Klobuchar.
  • If you were around during the Reagan era, you probably remember the Boland Amendment. This was the brainchild of Edward Boland, a backbencher Democrat from Massachusetts who was a pal of Tip O'Neill, the legendary Boston pol who was Speaker of the House during the 1980s. The Boland Amendment barred the president from providing assistance to the Contras, who were fighting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The Democrats regularly added it to budget bills that gave President Reagan a choice -- either sign the bill and allow your hands to be tied, or veto it and shut the government down. The Boland Amendment was treated as holy writ, spoken of in reverent tone, When Reagan's team tried to bypass this poison pill, it led to the Iran-Contra scandal. You would hear Democrats say, "why, that monster Reagan, he's violating the Boland Amendment!"
  • Klobuchar is a few years older than I am and has made politics her life, so she's old enough to know all this.
While the "staffer" hasn't been officially thrown under the bus, you can hear the engine revving in the background:
“A staff member who reviewed the reintroduced bill had seen the Hyde provision in the bill but did not inform the senator. The senator was not aware that the provision was included until last Monday,” e-mailed Klobuchar’s spokeswoman Julia Krahe. “The senator takes responsibility for the work of her office and missing the provision and she is focused on moving forward to find a way to fix the bill and protect victims of trafficking.”
Klobuchar has been able to skate on a lot of topics for years because everyone "likes" her. She's particularly embarrassed on this one because she is a sponsor of the bill, so claiming ignorance seems a stretch. As the Star Tribune article mentions, she declined an interview request. We should keep asking the questions anyway.