Saturday, October 31, 2009

Surprise, surprise … bloggers to be covered under the Senate version of the federal shield law

According to Editor & Publisher and other sources, the Senate has worked out the wrinkles of a federal shield law to protect news gatherers from being forced to reveal confidential sources. The issues holding it up were from the White House involving classified leaks and national security issues.

The major surprise however is it apparently covers freelancers and “citizen journalists,” a euphemism used to describe bloggers.

The negotiated compromise creates a fair standard to protect the public interest, journalists, the news media, bloggers, prosecutors and litigants," said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., a cosponsor of the Free Flow of Information Act.The revised bill would also extend protections for freelance or citizen journalists by defining a journalist by the nature of activity engaged in rather than by the organization that employs the reporter.

Earlier this year, the House passed its version of the bill. This is good news for citizen journalists.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fox News zings the White House with a new sign off --- now “Fair, Balanced and Unafraid”

If you didn’t notice it, Bret Baier of Fox News added a little zinger when he signed off tonight. Instead of “Fair and Balanced,” it was “Fair, Balanced and Unafraid.” It was an obvious reference to the threats coming from the White House.

The FCC should use its power to cut the legs out from under liberal news

In the days before deregulation, hordes of economists at the CAB and the ICC set tariffs and determined the “correct” amount of service on city pairs for the airline and trucking industry respectively. One of the few gifts Jimmy Carter gave us was to replace these clunky and inefficient regulatory agencies with a far more rational and efficient system that is market driven. Unfortunately we are about to lurch back into the past, though not necessarily in those industries.

The one agency that is jumping at the opportunity to reregulate the market is the FCC. With all its newfound zeal, it now has a perfect opportunity to redress a true market imbalance. There are five TV/Cable news operations: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News and CNN. 4 of the 5 are certifiably liberal and only one conservative. Yet the latest Gallup Poll shows there are twice as many conservatives as liberals (40% to 20%). Surely the FCC should use its club of license renewal to persuade say NBC and CBS to join the conservative club. Still, that would give only a 3 to 2 conservative preponderance, rather than a deserved 2 to 1, but we could live with that.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Obama’s thuggish tactic to intimidate the media … finally hits a snag

One shouldn’t underestimate the significance of yesterday's pushback by the members of the White House news pool over the exclusion of Fox News from the interview process with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. The unanimous decision of members of the pool (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CNN) to refuse any interviews without Fox’s presence had the White House quickly and dramatically reversing course. The announcement of the backdown came late in Bret Baier’s evening news segment on FNC. It was announced without acrimony, and without comment. There was no gloating. But all present with Baier realized its import. That the pliable media, so long in the bag for Obama, saw a bigger issue: the freedom of the press. And they stood firm.

The crisis reached its peak starting two weeks ago after a month of warfare against Fox News. Anita Dunn declared Fox News was “a wing of the Republican Party,” and was “opinion journalism masquerading as journalism.” Finally this past Sunday and Monday, senior White House officials in an unprecedented effort to emasculate a media organization, told the media they should ignore Fox.

From a Fox News report:

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN on Sunday [October 18] that President Obama does not want "the CNNs and the others in the world [to] basically be led in following Fox." Obama senior adviser David Axelrod went further by calling on media outlets to join the administration in declaring that Fox is "not a news organization. Other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way," Axelrod counseled ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "We're not going to treat them that way."

  On Tuesday at a White House press conference, press secretary Gibbs continued the theme started by Emmanuel and Axelrod. But he was challenged by Jake Tapper of ABC News, one of the few willing to directly confront the administration.

It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one …?

Gibbs of course refused to concede Tapper’s point. But then the warfare escalated even further as Obama himself joined the fray in an interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. From Fox News:

On Wednesday, Obama, speaking publicly for the first time about his administration's portrayal of Fox News as illegitimate, said he's not "losing sleep" over the controversy. "I think that what our advisers simply said is, is that we are going to take media as it comes," Obama said when asked about his advisers targeting the network openly. "And if media is operating, basically, as a talk radio format, then that's one thing. And if it's operating as a news outlet, then that's another. But it's not something I'm losing a lot of sleep over."

All of this was not only to marginalize Fox, but to set the stage to ensure the press pool would do the White House’s dirty work to exclude Fox. It didn’t work out that way.

But there is more at play than just Fox. The ACORN story was the first challenge to the media’s blackout strategy that “got legs.” I have written here, here and here about what appears to be a coordinated effort by the major media to deny coverage of stories antithetical to liberal/Democrat interests. Thanks to two young and courageous individuals, Andy Breitbart and Fox News, the media was stung in their attempt to hide the story. And that was in particular Breitbart’s aim.

But an interesting thing is happening. AP did cover the latest O’Keefe/Giles tapes of the Philadelphia ACORN office, as did many metro dailies. AP in particular is now covering stories that were untouchable in the past, as is the Washington Post. Surely the White House is noticing it. And with their thuggish tactics, they are trying intimidate the media back into line.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What happens when utopians fail? … Their best friends turn on them, and that is good.

I was struck by the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson opinion piece today entitled The Biggest Disappointment of the Obama Presidency. In it he berates Obama for giving short shrift to New Orleans when he visited Thursday. Of all the Post’s writers, Robinson has been the most supportive of Obama, seldom finding fault, but this time he skewers him.

President Obama's brief display of drive-by compassion Thursday in New Orleans was, for me, by far the worst outing of his presidency thus far -- and the biggest disappointment. 

I covered Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath -- the flood in New Orleans that drowned a great city, the storm surge in Mississippi that erased whole communities, the devastation, the agony. For weeks afterwards, I had trouble sleeping. I couldn't forget the scenes I'd witnessed or the stories I'd heard. 

More than a year later, I covered a Senate subcommittee hearing in New Orleans on the lagging reconstruction effort. I watched as a young senator who was thought to be considering a presidential run -- that would be Barack Obama -- used his Harvard Law skills to eviscerate Bush-era officials for not doing enough to rebuild and revive the Gulf Coast region. 

So it was strange and disheartening that Obama would wait nine months to make his first visit to New Orleans as president. It was stunning that he would spend only a few hours on the ground and that he wouldn't set foot in Mississippi or Alabama at all. But worst of all was the way he seemed to dismiss the idea that his administration could and should be doing much more.

The problem with utopian leaders or those carrying utopian messages is, once in power, they can never deliver on their promises. When that happens, they are subject to challenge or even ridicule. Holding on to power becomes more important than delivering utopia. So they attempt to silence critics who threaten them. The next phase is assuming total power and controlling all decisions from the top. With the best of intentions, all utopian states or sects devolve into failed enterprises. It has happened in Cuba with the Castros. It happened in the Soviet Union. It happened with Jim Jones’ People’s Temple (Jonestown) and in the innumerable utopian movements of the Burned-over District of New York in the 1800s.

The most important check to keep this from happening is a free and critical press. It is important that Fox and talk radio not lose their voice. But most important is the compliant old media must assume a more active role in critiquing government. Eugene Robinson’s article is an excellent start.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fattening Coca Cola vs. Fattening Orange Juice and the winner is …

Congress will probably pass a tax on sugared drinks as part of the health bill. The rationale is it will reduce caloric intake of “unhealthy” drinks. The real reason is simply to increase taxes, with a believable cover, like all other “sin taxes.”

I decided to do a comparison of Classic Coke to my favorite drink, freshly squeezed Florida orange juice. Well the Coke has 100 calories for an 8 oz. serving and the fresh orange juice a whopping 120. The OJ is probably better for you, but will make you chubbier.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Department of useless information: Lake Lanier is at Full Pool … Global Change is over.

Symbolic of Global Change in the Southeastern US have been the record low levels of Georgia’s Lake Lanier near Atlanta. They were caused by drought conditions that affected northern Georgia and the western Carolinas for the past several years. Lake Lanier is now at “full pool,” a level not seen since September 2005. It dropped to a record low of over 20 feet down in December 2007. And it took two Global Change events to reach Global Normal. They were downpours that caused major flooding in the area three weeks ago and heavy rains over the past three days.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Don’t believe the NIE … Iran will have a weapon far sooner, by following the South African model.

Iran most likely will develop a nuclear capability far sooner than the NIE timeline of around 2015 . They will do it because they likely already have the technology and they are in a hurry to close the window of vulnerability from an attack by the West. All they need is sufficient weapons grade uranium.

Iran will probably take the South African approach, where 25 years ago they developed a lightweight gun type weapon for the similar reasons. South Africa needed a weapon soon, not later because of a perceived threat from Soviet backed Cuban forces in nearby Angola. Much of the analysis both classified and from think tanks, mistakenly presupposes Iran will only pursue an implosion device. That’s what most nations would do and are doing. But most nations have different aims; deterrence and massive retaliation if attacked. Numbers of weapons are important. Iran on the other hand is more into terror and nuclear blackmail. For Iran numbers are less important than a credible threat.

There are two roads to nuclear explosives; one, highly enriched uranium (U-235), the other - plutonium. Uranium is the most difficult road, requiring massive centrifuge plants that use large amounts of electricity to concentrate the fissionable isotope U-235 to weapons grade (80-93%). The plants are difficult to hide from prying eyes.

Plutonium on the other hand is naturally produced in power and research reactors and can be extracted easily from spent fuel by simple chemical precipitation. Covert extraction of plutonium is far easier to hide than enriching uranium. Iran is pursuing the more difficult uranium road. North Korea is going for plutonium.

And there are also two roads for weapons design. One is an implosion device (used at Nagasaki) or a gun type (Hiroshima) where two subcritical masses are literally shot into each other to form a critical mass and a nuclear explosion. The former is more efficient and produces a bigger bang. For these reasons, most in the nuclear club have developed only implosion devices. On the other hand, the less efficient gun type device can be developed faster and is easier to design with a very high assurance of success even without testing (the Hiroshima device was never tested before it was used). A limiting factor for gun type weapons is they can not use more easily obtained plutonium, only uranium. But this limitation doesn’t affect Iran, which has begun enriching uranium on a massive scale.

The South African Experience

In the mid 1970’s feeling threatened by Soviet/Cuban intervention in Africa, the South African government started down the road to becoming a nuclear power. Similar to Iran today, they settled on the production of uranium as the fuel and developed a gun type of weapon. Between 1982 and 1989 they completed 6 lightweight (750 kg/1,650 lb) weapons with an estimated yield of 10-18 kt. (Hiroshima was 15 kt.). A seventh was partially completed when the South African government voluntarily made the decision to give up its nuclear aspirations. The weapons were deliverable by either their Buccaneer jet fighter-bombers or locally produced ballistic missiles.

There are serious parallels between Iranian and South African programs. Both use(d) uranium, giving the ability to make either implosion or gun devices. Iran sees time as the enemy, prolonging its window of vulnerability. The question is not whether they will develop the simpler gun type weapon, but why wouldn’t they? They can have their cake and eat it too. While it takes about three times as much uranium for a gun weapon, around 5 years down the road when they have an operational implosion system, they can use the fissile fuel from the earlier weapons for three of the new. It’s win, win.

In addition you can’t ignore the knowledge sharing going on between Iran and North Korea in both nuclear and missile technology. Iranian scientists were present at both N. Korean nuclear tests and most of their missile technology is N. Korean. The Koreans are doing the heavy lifting on implosion devices, but they are stumbling. Their first test was essentially a fizzle (less than 1 kt) and the second most likely only around 4 kt. That shouldn’t give the Iranians a lot of confidence.

No, they will pursue the low tech gun approach for an interim weapon and surprise us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fox News Special … Awesome Megyn Kelly takedown of Wade Rathke and Acorn

Out of habit I left the family room TV on after last night’s O’Reilly (hosted by Juan Williams) and moved to my den to catch up on happenings from the internet. I could hear but not see the next show which should have been Hannity. But it wasn’t. It was a Megyn Kelly interviewing Wade Rathke, founder and former and chief organizer of ACORN.

My initial impression was this was a very fair and objective interview by Kelly. She took him through his formative years of the radical 60s to the present. As the show went on Kelly, with the help of Stanley Kurtz and others, proceeded to eviscerate Rathke to the point he boiled over. It was devastating to ACORN because it exposed and documented visually their extortion techniques and the hard left political leanings of its founder. But the revelations were only half the story. The special was powerful because it relied heavily, very heavily, on the subtle audio and visual effects pioneered by CBS’s “60 Minutes.” So much so I thought I was listening to Leslie Stahl, not Megyn Kelly, on the voice-over of the historical video clips. Her voice-over had exactly the same cadence and remoteness, while the interview itself carried normal voice animation. The documenting clips started even handedly, but became more pointed as the special went on.

Someone at Fox did his/her homework analyzing the techniques that have made “60 Minutes” so powerful and authoritative. It isn’t just the subtle movement from even-handedness to pointed probing. It’s making the subject react. But the audio is the killer. Watch and listen to the whole show here. Congratulations Fox!