Sunday, January 24, 2010

Was the White House planning to use McCain-Feingold to silence Fox News?

The White House war on Fox News heated up in early October. It culminated, after almost 3 weeks of harassment, in an unsuccessful effort to exclude Fox, a member of the White House press pool, from an interview with pay czar Kenneth Feinberg. In a successful pushback, members of the press pool unanimously refused to conduct any interview, unless Fox was included. The White House backed down.

The language used to marginalize Fox was primarily “Fox is not a legitimate news organization” used by Gibbs on many occasions, and then Communications Director Anita Dunn’s “[T]he way we view it is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party” followed by “But let's not pretend they're a news network….” It was Dunn’s comments on CNN’s Reliable Sources that started the drumbeat that ostensibly ended in late October. But it hasn’t. Last Monday (Jan. 18), just two days prior to the to the Citizens United decision that wisely gutted the censorship provisions of McCain-Feingold, current Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer (and Anita Dunn’s husband) picked up the drumbeat again. We don't feel an obligation to treat [Fox News] like we would treat a CNN or an ABC or an NBC or a traditional news organization. But there are times when it would make sense to communicate with them and appear on the network.

 The cause for worry is the precise language used by the White House to demean Fox. It has been: “not a legitimate/traditional news organization/network,” and “a wing of the Republican Party.” McCain-Feingold bans electioneering communications by corporations and unions that mention federal candidates by name 30 days prior to primaries and 60 days prior to the general election. It carves out an exemption for the “institutional press” but disallows the exemption when a broadcast station is “owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate.”

Does Dunn’s contention that Fox is “a wing of the Republican Party” constitute “control” under McCain-Feingold? Would Gibbs’ “not a legitimate news organization” disqualify Fox News from the “institutional press” exemption? Would the FEC go along with these assertions and apply a gag order on Fox deep into the election cycle, making a stay impossible before Election Day? Fortunately the Supreme Court resolved the problem, so we will never know.

But the explosive response by Senator Schumer D-NY to the decision may give a clue to Democrat intentions. We must recognize the Obama administration has an “enemies list.” And unlike the Nixon administration, it makes no secret of who is on it. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are in their crosshairs.

The First Amendment has protected free and vibrant political speech for over 200 years, and will continue to do so if we are vigilant.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The rise of the Lilliputians … the decline of America

China just completed the world’s fastest high speed rail line, a 664 mile stretch between Wuhan in central China to Guangzhou, north of Hong Kong. The significant fact is not that it is the fastest rail link (217 mph average), but that it was built in less than four years.

If we were to commit the resources to a similar effort, we wouldn’t have completed the environmental impact statement much less resolved the innumerable lawsuits in the same amount of time. The Lilliputians have simply immobilized us. Lest anyone think such an effort was ever beyond our capabilities, in 1869 less than four years after construction began, we completed the 1,775 mile long transcontinental railroad, a great deal of it through mountains and hostile territory. Ironically much of the work done then was by Chinese laborers. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

The ability of obstructionists to delay and simply add indefinitely to costs makes large projects in the US like this, almost impossible. Private corporations that must operate at a profit simply cannot afford the delay. Stretching out a project for ten or fifteen years means interest incurred at the beginning just piles up before a revenue stream can hope to pay it off. In many cases it becomes an insurmountable burden.

Such was the case in the granddaddy of all obstructionist targets, the Shoreham nuclear plant on the north shore of Long Island. Twenty-two years after it was ordered, LILCO its owner threw in the towel and admitted defeat. The state of New York and Suffolk County had dragged their feet and saddled it with so many restrictions the debt burden made the project impossible. The final straw was Governor Cuomo’s refusal to allow the emergency evacuation drill, required by the NRC. They couldn’t pass the test because they weren’t allowed to take it.

By 1989, when LILCO gave up, the cost of the plant had balooned to $5.3 billion. By comparison, across Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Millstone II a similar size nuclear plant ordered in the same year as Shoreham (1967) cost $424 million and was producing full commercial power in 1975.

On the railroad side a “high speed” (115 mph) rail link between Washington DC and Charlotte NC has been “under study” since 1992 with little or no movement. It has received some funding under the stimulus program, but no plans to build the link have been proposed.

If we are to be competitive in the world economy, we don’t have the luxury of taking twenty years to complete a four year project. History will pass us by.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Is Maureen Dowd turning conservative?

In her op-ed piece today, entitled Captain Obvious Learns the Limits of Cool, Maureen Dowd simply eviscerates President Obama for his cluelessness in handling the panty bomber fiasco.

Here’s how it starts: Our president came down from the mountaintop.
He had applied the freshness of his independent thought to the critical matters at hand. He had convened his seminar, reviewed the reviews, analyzed the intelligence every which way, thought anew about everything, and lo and behold, he finally emerged to tell us some stuff we already knew. We are under attack. There is evil in the world. Yemen is a dangerous place that breeds people who want to kill us. Al Qaeda is determined to attack inside the United States. Al Qaeda is casting a wide recruiting net for vulnerable young men. Aspirational terrorists eventually become operational terrorists. Our airports are not safe. Metal detectors can’t detect nonmetal explosives sewn into underwear. Our incomplete no-fly lists are more like “Welcome aboard” lists. We still can’t connect the dots, even when the dots are flying at us like 3-D asteroids. The sun rises in the east. Two plus two equals four.

 Is this an epiphany on the order of St. Paul on the road to Damascus? Let’s take a look at the past two weeks. On December 27 she wrote of her Christmas Eve with her conservative brother. His thoughts were the dominant theme of her article. Were they perhaps hers also? Then three days later she let loose on Obama in a piece entitled: As the Nation’s Pulse Races, Obama Can’t Seem to Find His.

Or could it be the she started following the candidacy of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts’ special election? Perhaps she caught a glimpse of his photo in the centerfold of Cosmo magazine. Perhaps she is tired of whiney liberal beta males, and wants a shot at this alpha male.

Whatever the reason Maureen, we welcome your newfound perspective.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why folks question temperature data … Iced over sea areas running 6 to 7F degrees over freezing

Starting in early December the sea surface temperatures between Iceland and Greenland were reported significantly higher than normal. This pattern is a repetition of last year. Yet there is significant sea ice (95 to 100% coverage) where the sea surface temperatures are running 3.5 to 4C (6 to 7F) above normal, which means above freezing. And the sea ice extent is at or above norm for the area, implying colder than normal temperatures. Even my rum and Coke with just 50% ice cubes stays within a degree or two of freezing. Makes you scratch your head.