Sunday, June 30, 2013

David Gregory, Glenn Greewald, and the Question of Journalism

Jay Rosen looks at the exchange between David Gregory, Glenn Greenwald, and the issue of 'who is a journalist?'

While the question may seem irrelevant, the press like to point out that their profession is specifically mentioned as deserving of special protection in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Journalists argue that protections for reporters against, for example requiring them to reveal their sources, benefit society in the same way such confidentiality protections do for lawyers, doctors, and ministers. The President himself recently endorsed a press shield law. Nevertheless, defining 'who is a journalist' is more difficult than many in the official press like to think it is, particularly in an age of online publishing.

If David Gregory thinks Glenn Greenwald should be charged with a crime, he should say so. On the other hand, the term "criminalizing journalism," is a term largely without meaning. Journalism is properly protected by the Constitution, but neither does an action become immune to prosecution merely because it is designated "journalism." Like any other person, a journalist may, or may not commit a crime ni the course of doing their job,' but to prosecute reporters merely for receiving classified information is properly and widely regarded an as dangerous in a functioning representative democracy.

Jay Rosen's analysis is excellent; but I would like to highlight a habit of David Gregory's that his method of interviewing : his use of the passive voice to inject certain opinions into his show.  I have little doubt Gregory himself thinks of this method as both hard-hitting and incisive; he probably cannot see what he is doing, parroting and giving credence to Beltway chatter. He usually does this by vaguely announcing “There’s a question" and repeating what he insists "people are saying," important people, naturally.


"The question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you’re doing"

“There’s a question about his role in this, The Guardian’s role in all of this. It is actually part of the debate,"

"Some people think that security is more important, or that secrecy should be decided by democratically-elected officials and not by individual whistleblowers"

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Colonial Historians Solve a Crime From 1624

Colonial historians may have not only have identified a man found killed from a gunshot wound in 1624, but the person who shot him. Apparently the circumstances of the shooting, a duel, were recorded in documents in Jamestown colony archives.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

U.S. Government Targeted and Killed American Citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi

In a letter to Congress, Attorney General Eric Holder states that U.S. government specifically targeted and killed American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi after a "thorough and careful review" and determining that he posed an imminent threat to Americans on U.S. soil.

He states that the U.S. government found al-Aulaqi posed an imminent threat of a violent attack and that his capture was not feasible. 

For example, Holder writes, al-Aulaqi instructed the so-called "underwear bomber" to blow up a plane when it was over American soil.
Describing the legal basis for these actions, a subject of much recent discussion, he writes that the Constitution does not prohibit government from killing American terrorists who hide in faraway countries and plot against homeland.

The letter states that Lethal force may be used when a person poses a continuing, imminent threat, capture is not feasible, no other reasonable means of addressing the threat exist. 

Holder also tells us that the government also killed three other U.S. citizens, who were not specifically targeted.

He also said that Obama will speak soon on legal and policy justifications for targeted killing.

Here is a link to the letter from Holder

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Last Two Speakers of Dying Language Refuse to Talk to Each Other

Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist, sums up their relationship succinctly: “They don’t have a lot in common.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Michelle Bachmann and the Truth

 “Here's the truth that the president won't tell you. Of every dollar that you hold in your hands, 70 cents of that dollar that's supposed to go to the poor doesn't. It actually goes to benefit the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. 70 cents on the dollar. 

- Rep. Michelle Bachmann, (R-MN) March 16, 2013.

 The Washington Post's fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, examines Rep. Michelle Bachmann's accuracy here.

Bachmann's source is a speech from 1990, citing a government report from 1986 (when Ronald Reagan was President.) She also misleadingly relies on a report from a Cato Institute scholar.

According to Kessler, "staff salaries amount to one-third of 1 percent of USDA’s budget for food and nutrition programs."

He concludes:
"Bachmann yet again earns Four Pinocchios. But there really aren’t enough Pinocchios for such misleading use of statistics in a major speech."

Shouldn't we expect more truth from our elected officials?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Truth and the Doctrine of False Equivalence

James Fallows in The Atlantic 

  • The Washington Post's analysts, plus anyone who has looked at a budget, point out that the Obama Administration's budget proposals involve less in tax increases, and more in spending cuts, than what previously seemed perfectly "centrist" proposals. That is, what the administration is now proposing is what most centrist-minded people would have endorsed as a "reasonable compromise" two or three years ago;
  • Reporters from the Post, and from everywhere else, make clear that much of the GOP leadership and rank-and-file want the sequester to occur and are simply not interested in a last-minute compromise;
 That's the landscape. And what is the Post's editorial conclusion? You guessed it! The president is to blame, for not "leading" the way to a compromise.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saturday, February 02, 2013

On Skeetgate

Via Twitter:

The news site I want would say: This is too stupid to pay attention to. You may safely ignore it. If anything changes, we will let you know.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Should the President Be Elected by Congressional District?

William Jacobsen, Associate Clinical Professor at Cornell Law School, defends changing the way American elects its President by awarding electoral college votes by Congressional district rather than by state: 
As things stand now, the Electoral College favors Democrats because they are all but guaranteed to win a small number of large winner take all states, such as California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, plus a coalition of hopelessly blue states.

Democrats start off close to victory because of winner-take-all voting in those states, even if they win those states by a small margin in each state.
He notes these proposals come from Republicans (presumably in response to losing 6 out of 8 elections) and claims the "the system currently is 'rigged' to favor Democrats," but also states the change "may favor Republicans, or it may not, depending on the state and the presidential candidate."

More importantly, he writes: "Awarding electoral votes by district may have a positive impact of forcing candidates to campaign outside the large cities and bring a more geographically diverse electorate into the voting booth for them." 

To equate such efforts with cheating, he says, is "constitutionally ignorant." It's not entirely clear if he is endorsing the change, or defending the idea from the charge of cheating, and rigging the system. He also writes,

 "If [Balloon Juice and Maddow Blog ] are against it, it’s almost certainly good for the nation." 

In any case, the power to alter they way votes are counted to benefit your party in the next election is part of democracy.
The push and pull of redistricting as a result of state-level elections is part of the process, and if it impacts the Electoral College, so be it. Elections have consequences.  Including at the state level.
It does seem troubling at first that a party, having trouble winning elections, would resort to changing the elections rules. But this is certainly less so if the current method - and the electoral college is certainly peculiar - is in some unfairly tilted toward one party or disenfranchises, de facto, large numbers of people. The current system currently guarantees that Presidential candidates will barely campaign in certain states, while giving outsize attention to others - the 'swing states' in a winner-take-all election. Likewise, Prof. Jacobsen suggests certain areas with states ("large cities") receive more attention that others. This is presumably because there more people in a smaller geographic area in the cities. If one looks are winners of statewide elections (Governor, Attorney General, U.S. Senator) is this true? Do those candidates disproportionately spend more time campaigning in the cities? If so, is this an unfair situation which needs to be rectified? In addition, even if these rules changes are implemented, it's not clear that candidates will spend much more time in rural areas. After all, it will still be 'easier' to reach more people in shorter period of time, with less travel, in an urban area. However, if electoral college votes were distributed by Congressional district, it might change the policy positions emphasized by candidates - as with ethanol and the key primary state of Iowa (or it might not).

Another option, of course, would be to elect the President by counting national votes, just as members of Congress, Governors, Mayors, and others are elected by gathering the most votes in their respective districts or states . This would likely have the effect of further "nationalizing" elections, rendering them more about larger ideological issues and large national constituencies and less about local concerns.