Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mainstream Mouthpieces (Where are the Journalists?)

Remember when journalists used to question government officials?  Watching the Sunday morning network news shows it was hard to believe they're staffed by journalists and not paid government public information officers.  

The only reason we're having a worldwide discussion on cyber spying and the elimination of 4th Amendment rights in this country is because Edward Snowden told the world what the United States has been doing.   And as the government officials repeat over and over again how these programs are so carefully monitored and how they've been so successful at stopping terrorist attacks, the morning show hosts almost break their necks nodding in agreement.

Today on This Week, George asked a first-rate question.   Is the United States hacking computers in Hong Kong?   General Alexander didn't answer the question.   And in typical fashion, George didn't press him on it; George never asked for an answer to the important question.   George just let him slide so the General could continue going down the list of government talking points.  

Thank God for the Guardian where there are actual journalists who ask questions and ask for evidence. But apparently NBC's David Gregory thinks that's possibly a federal offense.   He asked Guardian reporter Glen  Greenwald why Greenwald shouldn't be charged with a crime.

Perhaps that is what it's coming to in this country.  Journalists who actually do what they're supposed to do, who question the government, who demand evidence, who don't simply play human microphone stand and blindly accept official spin,  will be charged with a crime.

The true crime is the failure of the networks to aggressively pursue the issue of our secret government and cyber spying years ago.

Since the United States says it can attack computer systems anywhere in the world in the name of national security we certainly can't object with any legitimacy or credibility to any other country taking the same approach.   The implications of that would make for a worthwhile discussion on a Sunday morning show, but that would require the hosts to ask direct questions, ask for evidence and not play national cheerleader.



Monday, June 17, 2013

Politicians Gutting the Public's Right to Know

Government runs on computer.   Where's the money, how is it spent, what does every contract, every invoice show, how much is every employee paid, who is getting bonuses, how much overtime is there, how many "emergency requisitions" are there and for what?   It's all on a government database somewhere.

California politicians want to reduce oversight and increase the likelihood for waste and fraud. They are planning significant changes to the state's public records law.  As the Mercury News reports, "Language inserted into a budget bill on Wednesday would allow local governments to turn down requests for records without citing a legal reason. It would no longer require government officials to respond to to records requests within 10 days or force them to help the public by describing what records exist."

One proposed change to the State's public records law truly says F#@* YOU to the citizens of California.   It states the public agency does NOT have to provide electronic records in electronic format.  Any database has the ability to export data in a variety of formats.   It's fast.  It's cheap.   Most importantly, it makes analysis immeasurably easier than having to wade through through thousands of paper records.

With this change, instead of providing an electronic file the public agency could provide thousands of printed pages.   It will cost more, take more time, and make any analysis far more difficult.  

As expected, those sponsoring the changes did not respond to the Mercury News' phone calls or emails asking for an explanation.   Every day in the paper and on its website, the Mercury News should be sure to post the pictures of the politicians sponsoring these changes along with a reminder that these are the politicians who want less oversight and more fraud and waste.




Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Con$titution

After Edward Snowden told the Guardian and the Guardian informed the world, U.S. Tech Companies are finally questioning programs they've cooperated with for years.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful had we but a single company as concerned with the Constitution as it is with profit?   Had that been the case, regardless of the Fisa orders requiring nondisclosure, the company still could have raised the issue of electronic surveillance for in depth public discussion.    But since these companies use the technology to gain as much information about users as possible, one can understand why the issue was not raised.   The issue would have conflicted with making as much money as possible.

The threat to American democracy does not come from terrorism.   It comes from government secrecy, corporate greed and the failure of the press to do its job.

The Constitution of the United States becomes a worthless document when corporate leaders, members of Congress and the press do relatively nothing as the 4th Amendment is sacrificed in the name of what, security?  Our security as a democracy is based on the Constitution, not the ability to electronically monitor millions of people.  

We had a war in Iraq because the press played cheerleader.   Years ago, we flushed the 4th Amendment down the toilet and the majority of the press didn't even question it.   Now, because of the actions of a single person, questions that should have been asked years ago are finally being raised.
The true traitors to democracy are those who fail to stand up for the Constitution when it is being threatened.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Silence of Kentucky Reporters

It's a simple question with lots of variations that any journalist asks over and over.   It's a simple question that human microphone stands currently filling too many newsrooms never ask.

The question:  how do you know that is true?

The variations:  what is your evidence?  What proof do you have?  What facts do you have to substantiate what you're saying?  Here, the journalist asks for SPECIFIC facts.   Often what happens when asked for specifics, the politician sidesteps the question.   Then the journalist politely says, "excuse me, you didn't answer the question; my question is what evidence do you have to support the accusation you're making?"   Journalists ask that question.   Human microphone stands do not.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes about the common and persistent problem for many current members of Congress of making the accusation, but providing no facts.   In "Accuse First, and Ask Questions Later," Milbank points out House Appropriations Committee chair Hal Rogers, a republican from Kentucky, says the White House has an "enemies list that rivals that of another president some time ago.”

Wow.   What's your evidence?  How do you know that is true?   There's no surprise that FOX NEWS didn't ask for any evidence.  But any journalist should.  Want a fun public service scavenger hunt or a quick assignment for any 8th grade journalism class?  Try to find a local newspaper or television reporter in Kentucky who called and asked for the evidence.  It's easy for today's politicians to get away with making statements supported by no facts because local reporters fail to hold them accountable.   They fail to do their job.

By the way, let me apologize in advance if a Kentucky news organization has asked and reported the evidence.  In my quick check of Kentucky newspapers and TV stations I couldn't find anything.  So if there is such a story where a reporter actually held the Congressman accountable, please send the URL and I will post.   If there's nothing, Kentucky voters and 8th grade journalism students should kick their newspaper publisher and TV general manager in the butt and ask them why their news organizations fail to hold their members of Congress accountable.