Sunday, January 31, 2010

They're guilty... (UPDATE)

UPDATE: And now the Russian judicial system is under an even more acute spotlight -- how will it handle the cases surrounding anti-Kremlin protests that took place today. The Moscow Times points out the unusual nature of today's protests.

ORIGINAL POST: ...and will be brought to justice.

It's hard from where I sit to take the Russian government or judicial system seriously when it says it will get a guilty conviction against the men accused of killing Russian journalist. Anna Politkovskaya.

Nevertheless, the statements made this week from Moscow offer a powerful hint that the Russian government wants a guilt verdict. That very public posture likely guarantees a conviction.

But is that justice? In other words, is an orchestrated guilty verdict really a verdict?

The 49 states of the United States of America?

Uh, Anthony...you goofed. It's 50.

'How could he possibly make that mistake?' you ask.

I didn't. It could be 49, if a group of Vermonters get their way.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A big day for Pack 28

The Pack 28 2010 Pinewood Derby was a big success.



Almost everyone from my Pack had their car registered and took part in the event. What was especially impressive to me...



...is that our race and trophy winners came from each of the dens.



The day was capped off with the news that one of my Tigers became an older brother this morning! Not a bad day at all!!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The president...the Supreme Court justice...

...and the national media.

Oh, you knew it would happen. And on some level it's like an impending train wreck -- you don't want to watch, but...

...you can't avert your eyes as more and more media organizations, including the Washington Post, examine President Obama's criticism of the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address and the reaction Justice Samuel Alito had to those comments.

The following comes from the daily Political Bulletin put out by U.S. News:

ABC World News and the two other broadcast networks are among those reporting on "the moment in the speech last night, the State of the Union, that had everyone talking" on Thursday: President Obama's criticism of "the Supreme Court decision to let corporations spend unlimited amounts of money for ads about political candidates" and the visible reaction from Justice Alito. The coverage comes from several directions, asking if the President's comment and Alito's reaction were appropriate, as well as asking if the President's assertion that the ruling could "open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections" was true. Several sources ask if the justices will return for next year's State of the Union.
As ABC's Terry Moran reported, "Presidents just don't call out the Supreme Court in their State of the Union speeches. In the last 97 of these speeches, it's only happened three times, Presidents Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and Reagan, and none of them criticized a fresh, recent decision. And President Obama seemed to know he was coming right up to the line," as he "ad libbed" the phrase "all due deference," which was "not in his prepared text."
The CBS Evening News reported, "We haven't seen a president take on the court like this since FDR." The justices "always sit silent and stone-faced through these speeches but last night the President's slap at the court was apparently too much for conservative Justice Samuel Alito. He can be seen shaking his heads and mouthing the words, 'simply not true.'"
The AP also says "it was an odd time and place for Obama to deliver a Supreme Court smackdown." The Washington Post says legal experts "said they had never seen anything quite like it, a rare and unvarnished showdown between two political branches during what is usually the careful choreography of the State of the Union address."


Then there is this from Glenn Thrush of Politico.com:

Democratic senators have a message for Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who professed fealty to stare decisis during their confirmations: You lied!

In his State of the Union, President Barack Obama rebuked the Roberts court for shattering precedent in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, a 5-4 decision which rolled back restrictions on many corporate contributions.

Alito mouthed 'not true' in the chamber, which has prompted a round of recrimination -– and a little tushie-covering -- from Senate Democrats, who say the duo 'misled' them by telling them they would respect precedent.

DO-OVER? Three of those experiencing buyer's remorse supported Roberts: Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), POLITICO's Manu Raju reports.

'You bet they misled,' said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was a double no.

Bingaman, who backed Roberts, said he thought the chief justice would be 'more of a mainstream justice' and has been 'disappointed on how conservative and ideological his decisions have proven to be.'

Landrieu said that what she knows now 'might have influenced me a little differently' on Roberts.


I reiterate what I posted yesterday: If you are willing to say the president can call out the Supreme Court, then a Supreme Court justice can react to it. In other words, either both men were right...or both were wrong.

Now, let's move on to more important matters.

And now for the spin

This report from the Financial Times is sure to lead to the political spin game this afternoon and throughout the weekend news cycle.

The US economy grew at the fastest rate in six years during the fourth quarter, offering hope that the recovery is gaining sustainable momentum, official figures showed on Friday.

US gross domestic product grew at an adjusted annual rate of 5.7 per cent in the last quarter of 2009, the commerce department said, a sharp acceleration from the 2.2 per cent increase in the prior quarter.

Here's a rarity in local television news

An anchor team that has been together for 20 years.

The many station general managers and news directors who have come through WPXI in this time deserve credit for not splitting these two anchors; the temptation too often today is for new managers to come in and do something, often just for the sake of doing something.

As I read this story, I was reminded of the news anchor team from Lubbock I met when I lived there. I invited Abner Euresti and Karin McCay to speak to one of my classes, not realizing they had been together for almost 25 years at that time. Their friendship was instantly apparent to me, but what was more intriguing (the so-called "teaching moment") was that neither had an ego or a presumption of superiority.

Abner and Karin were two of the many, many reasons my family and I enjoyed our two years in Lubbock and at Texas Tech University. Some of the nicest people we've ever met call that fantastic community their home.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A teacher's union tries to bully...

...a high school journalism student.

Look, I'm not anti-union, but the actions of one Nevada teacher's union are asinine. No one appears to be denying the content of a potential news story, but the union wants to prevent the story from being published.

Too bad.

Do they get a national championship football team with that?

Incoming students to one of the top college journalism programs will be REQUIRED to buy a MAC, beginning next year.

Instant (and therefore perhaps flawed) analysis -- bold. We'll leave it at that.

24 years ago today...

...the Challenger exploded.

I don't know if you can "trust" the Taliban...

...but you can give them a "trust fund."

Of course, bringing the Taliban into any power-sharing agreement will not fully defuse the tension within South Asia.

A Supreme Court justice in the spotlight

There is no question Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito reacted negatively to President Obama during last night's State of the Union address.

This YouTube clip shows Justice Alito (back row, left) shaking his head and mouthing what appears to be "not true" as the president criticized a decision the Supreme Court made last week that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in campaign ads.

The Washington Post is among many newspapers also discussing what happened. The basics of the report are found in that article.

All media are not as impartial. Salon's Glenn Greenwald argues that Justice's Alito's actions undermined the tradition of Court members attending the State of the Union address but offering no reaction (positive or negative) to anything the president says.

Not so fast, according to the Associated Press. It (correctly) points out that the president also broke with tradition in opting to criticize a Supreme Court decision during his State of the Union.

Nevertheless, as we are forced to agree that Justice Alito reacted, can't we also agree that whatever he did was a minor sideshow to the State of the Union? Moreover, there would be little politically that President Obama and Justice Alito would agree upon. But more importantly, there is no other way to view what happened last night than this -- either both men were right in what they said and did, or both men were wrong.

In my opinion, you cannot support the actions of one and criticize the actions of the other.

Now, let's move on to more important matters.

Kudos to a colleague...

Chris Rolinson is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at Point Park. He's a great guy...and a great photographer.

A story in today's PG captures that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The State of the Union address

President Obama cannot be accused of delivering a State of the Union address that lacked substance. Nor can anyone say he was not afraid to call out Democrats, Republicans or anyone else whom he thinks has caused the political situation in Washington and throughout the country to deteriorate.

Initial reactions to such addresses are incomplete assessments, but political pundits (and yes bloggers) are quick to offer such comments.

The president laid out what SHOULD be the theme of the year -- job creation. I say should because history tells us what presidents hope to make key agenda items and what actually becomes the agenda are not always the same.

If jobs become the theme of 2010, then there is the potential for Democrats and Republicans to claim success. And after a 2009 in which Democrats too often couldn't figure out what they wanted and in which Republicans said "no" more than anything else, anything that leads to the parties working together is a good thing.

Moreover, job creation is a theme that binds the American public; no one can make an argument that jobs are a bad thing. If you substitute "health care reform" for "job creation," you get a completely different political climate.

Speaking of health care reform, it's not dead. But the president's decision to discuss it some 35 minutes into his address was not accidental. It was a sign that he wants to see it happen, but he's not prepared to push for it in 2010. Similarly, he is not challenging Congress to push a program that the American public (sadly) remains skeptical about.

For the Republicans to suggest, as Virginia governor Bob McDonnell did in his GOP response to the president's address, that they are prepared to discuss health care reform is specious. They had almost 12 months to do that, and few showed a real willingness to do it.

The international agenda that a president must follow also will not be ignored in 2010. The media -- though not present in sufficient numbers in the world's hot spots -- are sure to report on progress (or lack of) in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Iran won't be forgotten, as the president said. Here, too, there are opportunities for the parties to work together, but a discussion cannot go far if the rhetoric from the Bush administration continues to spew from the mouths of Republicans.

The president offered multiple hints that he has moved toward the middle. Or perhaps it is more correct to say that President Obama warned his party that unless it moves to the center, it will find too many of its members moving out of Washington after November 2010. No, the liberal (or progressive, whatever your term of preference is) wing of the Democratic Party will not like what the president is saying. They will feel betrayed, arguing (correctly) that the man they voted for is not the same man now in the White House. But I would remind them the same thing I reminded the conservatives within the GOP during the 2008 presidential election -- if you really want to stay home on Election Day and doom your party's candidate to certain defeat, do that.

Let's put it another way: Liberals can be part of the solution, but only if they want to be.

In 2009, there were a couple of prominent themes: partisanship (and it stinks), and liberalism remains something most American voters are not comfortable endorsing. If they were not, then there would be broad support for the stimulus bill and for health care reform.

The theme of 2010 has yet to be written. The promise of a bi-partisan approach (which the president called for one year ago and again tonight) is sure to get lost when substantive discussions about programs are had. Moreover, members of Congress will continue to always have one ear tuned to their constituents -- the 2010 election is moving ever closer.

I read a variety of stories this week suggesting that President Obama and his party were guaranteed losers this year and again in 2012. They might very well turn out to be. But at least tonight, the president made clear that he has heard the voters -- the kind of change you wanted was not the kind of change my colleagues and I delivered in 2009. We're ready to do better in 2010.

The text of...

...The State of the Union. (Thanks, New York Times!)

I'll (not) drink...

...to this.

CBS won't back down

Good.

The network has announced that it will not pull a Super Bowl ad involving Florida Gators' quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother, despite pressure from a host of advocacy groups.

Twitter has a message...

...for those twits who are attempting to censor it.

The following comes from the Financial Times:

Twitter, the internet social network, is developing technology that it hopes will prevent the Chinese and Iranian governments from being able to censor its users. Evan Williams, the chief executive and co-founder of Twitter, which has been credited with helping anti-government protesters in Iran to organise resistance, said Twitter was working on ”interesting hacks” to stop any blocking by foreign governments.

Go Twitter!!

But as long as they get their job done...

...who cares if President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker of the House Pelosi can't get along?

I'm not trying to be flippant; rather what I'm suggesting is that the specific interests of the White House and Congress are not always going to be joined lock-step. Come to think of it, the lock-step approach that the Bush administration too often demanded was, in my opinion, a contributing factor to the destruction of the Republican Party in 2006 and 2008.

Sure, the discussions among the three people listed above would be better if they were in agreement about health care and other issues. They are not, but that ought not be seen as some kind of apocalyptic sign for the Democrats.

They'll work together, somehow, or they won't. They face the repercussions if they fail to get something done.

Everyone's got an opinion

As the president prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, media organizations and a whole host of advocacy groups are out in full force today telling you what his speech will mean.

As comedian Yakov Smirnoff so eloquently said: "What a country!"

One Washington Post report suggests the president will reset his agenda.

A Financial Times columnist suggests that after a "ghastly" 12 months, the president needs to re-establish himself as a leader.

The Heritage Foundation has applauded the president for his call for a spending freeze, arguing that "the U.S. government has an insatiable spending problem." Of course, his plans to rein in spending as created another problem -- many on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington are assessing exactly what it would do.

Oh, and the president might have to explain why he thought a spending freeze was a bad idea during the 2008 campaign but acceptable now.

Of course, underscoring everything is the "American people know what they don't like (about the nation's political and economic situation), which is: everything," the Washington Post's Joel Achenbach reminds us.

What a country, indeed.

Nancy Grace lives by the sword...

...but doesn't want to testify by the sword.

In a move that smacks of a double-standard (and hypocrisy), HLN's abrasive Nancy Grace is asking that television cameras not be allowed in a Florida courtroom where she is about to testify in her wrongful death suit.

Give me a break.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A few hundred million here...

...a few hundred million there. And soon enough you lose a lot of money broadcasting the Olympic Games.

He might be...he could be... (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Here's the e-mail Wolfson sent to his colleagues as he announced his decision to join Mayor Bloomberg's staff. The e-mail appeared on Mike Allen's Playbook on Politico.com:

'Colleagues and Friends: Seven years ago I got the opportunity of a lifetime: to join a small startup headquartered in Glover Park. We were a small group then, less than a dozen, shoehorned into shared space. But our dreams were big -- and over the last decade that little firm in Glover Park grew and grew, acquiring talented staff and bluechip clients. We quickly outpaced our initial space, and then the next one. Today we are physically far from Glover Park, but we remain true to the vision of that small startup: this firm still encourages and cultivates creativity and excellence from top to bottom. ... Today Mayor Bloomberg has announced that I will be joining his Administration as a senior advisor -- this position, of course, necessitates that I sever my ties to the private sector, and to GPG. I am thrilled to be joining the employ of a man I deeply respect and admire, working in the service of the City I love, but I already miss Glover Park. I am grateful for the friends I have made and for all that I have learned from you. There are many firms that do what we do -- but there is only one GPG. I look forward to seeing you all in New York. Howard.'
ORIGINAL POST: ...he isn't! (A
t least for now.)

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg says any talk about him running for president in 2012 is nonsense. Nevertheless, his decision to hire a former top-name Clinton administration strategist has opened some eyes.

Bloomberg would be an intriguing national candidate. Because of his experience as New York's mayor, he will be seen as a potent political player. (And before you think 'wait a minute...he's never been a governor or a member of Congress,' I would remind you the man who held this office before Bloomberg was viewed as a viable presidential candidate.)

Moreover, his deep pockets ensure that he could mount an effective, 50-state presidential campaign, even if he were to run as an independent (a decision that would ensure he would have no chance of being elected).

Finally, he will be viewed as a moderating voice to the Republican Party, which is an inevitable affiliation for him if he believes he has a chance of securing the White House.

A wee-bit of humor to brighten your day

A joke sent to me by my mother-in-law:

God was missing for six days. Eventually, Michael, the archangel, found him, resting on the seventh day.

He inquired, "Where have you been?"

God smiled deeply and proudly pointed downwards through the clouds, "Look Michael. Look what I've made."

Archangel Michael looked puzzled, and said, "What is it?"

"It's a planet," replied God, and I've put life on it. I'm going to call it Earth and it's going to be a place to test balance."

"Balance?" inquired Michael, "I'm still confused."

God explained, pointing to different parts of Earth. "For example, northern Europe will be a place of great opportunity and wealth, while southern Europe is going to be poor. Over here I've placed a continent of white people, and over there is a continent of black people. Balance in all things.

God continued pointing to different countries. "This one will be extremely hot, while this one will be very cold and covered in ice."

The Archangel , impressed by God's work, then pointed to a land area and said, "What's that one?"

"That's West Virginia , the most glorious place on earth. There are beautiful mountains, rivers and streams, lakes, forests, hills, and plains. The people from West Virginia are going to be handsome, modest, intelligent, and humorous, and they are going to travel the world. They will be extremely sociable, hardworking, high achieving, carriers of peace, and producers of good things."

Michael gasped in wonder and admiration, but then asked, "But what about balance, God? You said there would be balance."

God smiled, "Right next to West Virginia is Washington , DC . Wait till you see the idiots I put there."

Even if you win this argument...

...you lose.

The organizations pushing for CBS to drop a Super Bowl advertisement featuring Florida's Tim Tebow and his mother are making a mistake.

And for someone to suggest that Super Bowl Sunday is the "holiest" day of the year for sports fans is simplistic.

4 sports cut

Duquesne University has announced it is cutting four sports at the end of the academic year.

The four are men's teams.

Disgruntled parents and confused student-athletes are inevitable when these decisions are made. But what is happening at Duquesne is not unique -- consider that in the past two months Northeastern and Hofstra decided to abandon their football programs.

The expected "oh, this is being done just to stay in compliance with Title IX" argument will be heard; don't count me in that list of people who will jump to that conclusion. Instead, I see it as another sign of colleges under pressure to maximize what they can do with declining resources.

Consider my post from earlier this morning -- some colleges are moving to a streamlined admissions process and promising a quick decision for their applicants. They're doing so in an effort to lock in a commitment from students as early as possible.

That's not illegal and that's not unethical. It is simply, and pardon the choice of words, the cost of doing business.

I doubt any athletic director assumes his or her job relishing the thought of having to cut a team sport during his or her tenure. But it happens. If the decision is based on objective, reasonable evidence, then there is no problem defending what was done. For now, we have to assume what took place at Duquesne falls into that category.

Your college application...

...complete with only your signature!

Does that raise a red flag? College counselors at a few American high schools say it should.

I'm inclined to agree with them.

Let's be blunt here; and if you are part of higher education, you know this is true: All colleges compete for students. Some sell their academic history. Some sell their location. Some sell their "exclusive" rankings.

Regardless, there is competition for those students. And the past two years have made that competition more acute, as the economy and job losses are forcing parents to reconsider what they can afford.

Under those circumstances, a streamlined, free approach by colleges can seem enticing. But no approach is better than taking the time to study what their teenager wants, where that student feels most comfortable, and which schools can provide the most substantive financial aid package.

Consider this: Would you buy a car just because a dealer was offering to make the paperwork easier to complete?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Discretion(ary) is the better part of valor

Or something like that.

President Obama offered a strong hint that he (and perhaps his fellow Democrats in Congress) heard the voters in Massachusetts loudly and clearly, and are grasping the political polls with equally clarity.

In what could be the first of many signs offering evidence that liberal, big government policies are out and middle-of-the-road programs are in, the president announced tonight that he is ready to propose a 3-year freeze on almost all government spending.

The freeze on discretionary programs also will deny Republicans the chance to claim in this midterm election year that Democrats are more interested in advancing their agenda at the expense (pun intended) of the deficit and often common sense.

The Taliban -- in government posts?

That idea might sound crazy, but any argument against it in part must include a presumption that the government of Hamid Karzai is stable and not corrupt.

And that ends that discussion.

We should know this week whether the international community is interested in an idea that U.S. General Stanley McCrystal has -- bring the Taliban to the negotiating table to discuss peace and a power-sharing agreement.

Underscoring Gen. McCrystal's argument is a decision by the Afghan election commission to delay parliamentary elections until September. The fear of violence as the U.S.-led "surge" commences is the reason.

For his part, President Karzai appears to be on board the peace idea; he suggested to the BBC that his government was ready to offer money and jobs to Taliban fighters in an effort to end the war.

You can expect the war-weary British public to critically consider a peace deal after reading a (conveniently leaked) report that indicated British soldiers might need to spend five more years in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban.

Of course, there will be opposition to this idea, with the most vocal of President Obama's critics claiming any talk about peace is further evidence that he is a typical Democrat -- weak when it comes to issues of national security. Those voices deserve to be heard, and I suspect they most certainly will be on conservative talk radio.

For now, I'll disagree with those people. For now.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A weekend away

Dominic and I enjoyed a Parent-Son weekend at Heritage Reservation this weekend, and that trip marked his final visit to Heritage as a Webelo Scout.



Something unusual at the BB-range this year...the boys had a chance to fire away at small milk cartons. Dominic was the first in his group to blast one down.



Though we had no new snow, there was plenty of the white stuff on the ground and that ensured we could do some snow-shoeing...



...which neither of us had done before.



Yes, my favorite Scout had a good time.



And so did his favorite dad.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The grist for the political mill...

...has plenty after an eventful week.

Consider what has taken place this week:
1. A Massachusetts Republican was elected to the U.S. Senate
2. The potential for an aggressive health care reform bill was crushed
3. The president began his populist approach by attacking banks
4. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations can use an unlimited amount of funds for political advertising
5. A task force found that 50 detainees at Guantanamo should remain there indefinitely

The weekend talk shows ought to be interesting.

The Supreme Court blew this one

The decision to allow unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns was a bad move. You don't have to believe me, but perhaps you'll believe the New York Times.

The Court's 5-4 majority based its ruling on the right to free speech. Granted, that's important (readers of this blog know I'm one of the most determined free speech advocates you will find), but the decision not only ignored lower-court decisions, it also sets up a scenario in which lobbyists will become more potent.

The fears about what the Supreme Court's decision will mean for political advertising in some cases are overblown (as in this story and the comment about Wal-Mart).

Nevertheless, consider this excerpt from Politico.com's Martin Kady, writing in "The Huddle":

Republican campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg and his colleagues at Patton Boggs argued in a memo Thursday that the decision will dramatically empower outside groups, at the cost of political parties. 'Unless the laws change, the political party as we know it is threatened with extinction,' they wrote. 'With the limits on the amounts and sources of funds they can accept, the parties will be bit players compared to outside groups that can now conduct those core functions with unlimited funds from any source.'

Not everyone sees the Court's decision as a bad one. Not surprisingly, those are right-wing organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, which suggests the decision prevents government censorship of speech.

You decide.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is it possible...

...that Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts could be the linchpin that moves American politics toward the center?

I am the eternal optimist (well, sort of) when if comes to our political process, meaning that despite my disappointment and occasional anger at what passes for "leadership" in this country, I continue to believe that politicians will do the correct thing.

I've noted in the past on this blog that the debacle suffered by the Republican Party in 2006 and 2008 was, in my opinion, a direct result of it making a hard right move in its ideology. If that was dumb...

...then what the Democrats did in 2010 was dumberer. Instead of governing from the middle, they pushed for big-ticket, liberal-pleasing items. Sure, I'll admit that some of them I personally agree with -- most especially health care reform.

But the approach failed, and the voters in Massachusetts sent the Democrats a message the other night that only the most naive or arrogant person could fail to read -- slow down.

Yesterday's and today's news cycles have been filled with suggestions regarding what the president should do. One of the more interesting ones -- bag your idea of working with the Republicans and go populist.

Another idea -- keep the populist idea at arm's length by concentrating on the economy and job growth. A new report about job losses might spur the Democrats to adopt that idea.

Yet another idea -- scrap the aggressive health care reform plans.

Each of these ideas has merit, but only if it includes a bi-partisan approach. But that's the optimist in me talking.

An American is expelled from Israel

The Israeli government has booted an American citizen out of the country.

What makes this decision of interest to me is the man's occupation -- he's an editor at a Palestinian news agency.

The decision has received additional coverage in the Jerusalem Post, which notes the government is considering adopting a U.S.-style system of supplying visas to foreign journalists.

What I find intriguing about this story is that the man is not deemed to be a threat to Israeli society, nor has he been accused of plotting any act of terror. Instead, his dismissal from the country can be deemed valid only because he has been accused of lying to Israeli authorities about his real purpose for being in the country.

But what I find troubling about this story is that no American news agency or international organization that supports a free media has spoken out against the decision. An editorial in the Jerusalem Post challenges these organizations to explain that decision.

I do, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bingo!

This gem from Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, as he spoke to ABC's Jonathan Karl:

The only way we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates. Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Democratic party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country, that's not going to work too well.'

The comment appeared today in Mike Allen's Playbook on Politico.com.

President Obama...

...and his relationship with the media is under the microscope today.

The Los Angeles Times reports the White House press corps is becoming more uneasy about candidate Obama -- who promised openness -- and President Obama -- who is more reserved.

The Chicago Tribune might have found the cause of this problem: The president appears to be spending considerable time listening only to people from the New York-Washington corridor. In doing so, he is shuttering himself from the multiplicity of voices and perspectives that helped define his 2008 campaign.

But there could be another side to this story (gee, there's a surprise). Perhaps what is happening is a shift from Obama using the media to get his message across to Obama becoming more of a populist.

Regardless of how the president chooses to do it, he will be under increasing pressure to define even more clearly now than he tried to do in 2009 what his agenda is for the nation. He will do it with an increasingly skeptical press corps that will soon turn its attention to the Congressional and gubernatorial elections that will dominate the headlines and television news programs as the year progresses.

The win by Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senate race to replace the late Ted Kennedy complicates the president's plan. In fact, an argument could be made that the president abilities to inspire and lead are being truly tested for the first time.

Some answers, but plenty of questions

The New York Times confirmed this morning that it would begin charging its online readers for access to its content.

The fee structure will go into place next year; but as this story reports, there are still many questions the newspaper's executives need to answer.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The old reliables are coming out tonight

The polls in the last few days point to a sizable victory tonight by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy.

As the Democrats await the expected bad news and Republicans await the chance to savor victory, there are some old reliable election night events taking place.

One of them is blame. In other words, defeat certainly cannot be the result of the opponent doing the right thing; no, the loss happened because someone on your team blew it. And badly. Martha Coakley's advisers and top Democrats are pointing fingers all over the place tonight.

Remember, it was just 14 months ago that Sen. John McCain was shredded by Republicans for running a terrible campaign. Of course, the collapsing economy and the smooth campaign run by Barack Obama had little to do with who won the White House on that November 2008 evening. No, Mr. McCain obviously didn't know what the heck he was doing!!

Tonight, some members of Martha Coakley's team are blaming the White House for her expected defeat. Pardon me while I take a moment to stop laughing.

Next, there is the impending wailing in fear. Someone (actually more than one person) will suggest tonight that President Obama and the Democrats are doomed in 2010 and for the rest of his time in the White House. Certainly, if Massachusetts is about to send a Republican to the U.S. Senate, then the Democrats' Armageddon cannot be too far behind. One story I read actually suggested Mr. Brown's likely victory was a "tragedy of Greek proportions," in the words of one Democrat.

A tragedy? I don't mean to sound sarcastic, but no one died in this election. (And, please, no jabs about the number of people who will die because they won't get the health care they would have had if the Democrats had kept their 60 seat super-majority.)

At the same time there will be Republicans -- strategists, presidential aspirants and others -- who will be smug in their gloating tonight. I quote this Facebook post from a GOP operative from Ohio: "(Name omitted by me) is taking great pleasure tonight in seeing a Republican elected to the people's seat in Massachusetts for the first time in nearly six decades."

Also consider this "tweet" from Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz: "Mitt Romney basking in expected Brown victory on Fox. Didn't the former governor not campaign for the nominee?" Howard, you are correct.

I remind these people that just 14 months ago (and come to think of it in 2006 as well), your party was significantly repudiated by the American people.

Then there will be voices of reason, a camp to which I hope you believe I belong. Tonight's vote in Massachusetts, in my opinion, and in the opinion of people who understand the political process better than I is a continuation of a worrisome theme: voters showing their displeasure with Democrats and Republicans.

Our democracy doesn't win, in my opinion, when the electorate votes to punish the political party in power. However, I also believe that message needs to be delivered to Democrats and Republicans, both of whom are far more interested in self-interest and their lobbyists than they are in being effective leaders of the country.

This is journalism???

Are you kidding me? Is ESPN.com that desperate for a story (any story) about Tiger Woods that it would post this on its Website?

Hello, media ethics!

There are bad ideas...

...and there are bad ideas. A newspaper publisher holding private parties in which off-the-record discussions about health care would follow qualifies.

But don't get caught up in the (ridiculous) idea. Instead, recognize that ideas such as this are symptomatic of a newspaper industry that grapples with good and bad ideas that are designed to improve the overall financial health of the paper and the industry.

Talks will continue throughout the year on other (more or less good) ideas, including the (supposed) next best thing -- Apple's Tablet, which is scheduled to be released next week. Moreover, newspapers are moving closer to making decisions on whether to charge for online access to its material; the New York Times is expected soon to announce that it will.

For those who have lost everything, help cannot come soon enough

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon offers a first-hand account of what he saw while visiting Haiti.

Coinciding with Mr. Ban's editorial is a call by the UN to increase peacekeepers in Haiti.

One issue that has received consistent attention are Haiti's youngest people -- orphans and others who were about to be adopted by American families. Fifty of those children arrived this morning in Pittsburgh, where they will remain until the adoption process is finalized.

As educators, we attempt to impress upon students the idea of "localizing" a story. There can be no better example of this concept for journalism students throughout Pittsburgh today, and I trust many of them are covering the arrival of these young people.

Another issue that the media continue to cover (and should) is the role doctors who are journalists are playing in Haiti. As this story from the Los Angeles Times notes, there are some critical ethical questions that news organizations need to consider about a person who wears the doctor and journalist hat.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Desperate times... (UPDATED)

UPDATE: 7:43 p.m. EST: The Wall Street Journal, never a fan of political ideas that can be defined as liberal, says President Obama needs to look no further than Congressional liberals to identify why he and his party have seen their popularity come tumbling down.

Perhaps.

ORIGINAL POST:...call for desperate measures. From The New York Times:

The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders, scrambling for a backup plan to rescue their health care legislation if Republicans win the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday, are preparing to ask House Democrats to approve the Senate version of the bill, which would send the measure directly to President Obama for his
signature.


I've been a proponent of health care reform, but I find this approach by the Democrats to be the equivalent of moving in the middle of the night so as to avoid the landlord. Americans remain skeptical of the need for and benefits of health care; I blame a very effective and often underhanded approach by the right-wing for that unfortunate development.

Nevertheless, I believe the discussions the Democrats are having also deserves the label underhanded. And not reflective of how I would define leadership.

When news comes from the outside

...it has to be even more carefully vetted.

But in today's leaner newsrooms, that doesn't always happen.

Keep in mind that the news industry is always interested in monitoring itself, and for some reason I've never understood too many news organizations take an almost lustful delight in shredding the credibility of an industry already under fire from liberals and conservatives (not to mention big corporations that care first about the bottom line and second about journalistic values).

Of course, any time a news organization accepts a report from a person or a group not affiliated with it, there needs to be a higher level of scrutiny. Mistakes will be made; and when they are, they should be noted.

However, the strengths of such arrangements ought not be automatically dismissed.

Notre Dame has picked an NBC News anchor to be...

...its commencement speaker.

Call me cynical, but the selection of Brian Williams has nothing to do with NBC's contract that allows it to televise all Notre Dame home football games. Right?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not questioning the selection. But I would be curious to see how many ABC or CBS anchors have been invited to make such an address at the university since the television contract went in place. If the answer is "zero," then I hope some journalist asks Notre Dame officials why that is.

Your tax dollars...not at work

I understand that the governors of America's 50 states and the accompanying state legislatures have an incredibly difficult task. In these lean economic times, they need to establish financial priorities, and many states also have mandatory balanced budget requirements.

Nevertheless, I am befuddled by the number of states slashing spending for higher education.

More disappointing to me is that financial belt tightening is likely to be worse during the next academic year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yes, he's pragmatic...no, he's not. Is. Is not.

You can see the political sniping that will follow this Washington Post story.

The president can be pragmatic, Democrats will say. Not a chance, Republicans will counter. Moderates...uh, never mind, as we know they don't exist anymore.

And with the special Senate election in Massachusetts coming in two days, the pressure on the president to validate that he can deliver smaller government programs. In fact, a Republican win on Tuesday in almost always Democratic reliable Massachusetts would provide an important indicator that voters are more than ready to throw the brakes on the Obama initiatives.

Oh, and while moderates and Independents are considered a dying breed in the polarized American political universe, let's not forget that they are considered the critical swing vote in Tuesday's Massachusetts race.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that telling the president to "chill out" is not the same thing as telling Republicans "we like you." In fact, New York Times' columnist Frank Rich reminds his readers that the leadership of the GOP is hardly proving to be worthy of the nation's trust.

So, perhaps the political message right now goes something like this -- the Democrats are moving too far left, and the Republicans are still stuck too far to the right. In other words, nothing has changed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Big Sort

I just finished reading a fascinating book.

"The Big Sort" examines a provocative but disturbing trend: Over the past 30-40 years, Americans have become more intertwined with people like themselves.

Bill Bishop documents how (among other things) we have moved into communities of people who think like us, opted to attend churches with congregations that believe as we do and engaged with people whose political attitudes match our own. In short, our ever-increasing mobility has been distorted: We can move anywhere we want, but we opt to surround ourselves with people who almost always will agree with us. (Put another way, Thomas Friedman tells us with modern technology and increased economic power, the world has become "flat". But in reality, it has become more like Richard Florida's concept of "spikier," as like-clusters migrate toward each other.)

The ramifications of this sorting for our political process are therefore obvious -- people who think alike are going to develop ever-more-hardened opinions about social, economic, military and other policies. (Regardless of whether I'm left or right, I'm correct.) In such an environment, moderation disappears. Therefore, when they size up politicians, members of the public expect their elected officials to be as committed to their principles as they are.

A smart politician quickly realizes this and doesn't want to (and cannot) be seen talking to the enemy.

Bishop suggests that it is incorrect to believe that politicians such as Ronald Reagan and news networks such as FOX News created the polarization that exists in Washington and throughout the country. Rather, he asserts that polarization began in America's small communities and big cities in the mid-1960s. About 15 years later, Reagan channeled that fragmentation (and anger) into the so-called "Reagan Revolution." Moreover, Roger Ailes and FOX News took it a step further in the 1990s by establishing a cable news network that for 24 hours a day gave voice to people who already were feeling what FOX News began saying.

If you care about the political process, you need to read "The Big Sort;" and I encourage you to also read the books written by Friedman and Florida. Sure, surrounding yourself with people who pray, think and act as you do might seem tremendously appealing, but our democracy cannot survive if our differences cannot be talked about and compromises agreed to.

On the other hand, if you believe you are always correct and that your vision for America needs no examination, then please return to your closest sandbox in which you are playing and stick your head back into it.

Haiti, and TV coverage

This New York Times opinion piece is spot on -- television news programs need to be cognizant of the fine line between compassion and self-congratulation. And what is taking place in Haiti has at times put those journalists too close to that line. This, in my opinion, is one such example.

Owing to having a 10- and 6-year-old in our house, my wife and I deliberately have not watched the national news when the kids are awake. We decided the images from Haiti are not ones we want them to see. Instead, we do our best to discuss what is happening there, and why there are some very good people doing their best to help.

This absence of early-evening news means that we have gathered most of our television news about the earthquake from the BBC.

The ominous reports are starting to filter in, especially of machete-wielding men, looting and feared lawlessness. It's no wonder that the AFP reports: 'Haiti quake worst disaster ever confronted by UN: spokeswoman.' (The headline appeared on Mike Allen's Politico.com Playbook, from where I copied it.)

President Obama will appear on television this morning, as the White House continues its aggressive effort to help those in need. The president will be flanked by the two most recent occupants of that office -- President Bush and President Clinton -- who are assisting Mr. Obama with in the national campaign to help the earthquake victims.

The president also has an editorial in this week's Newsweek, in which he outlines America's relief campaign. He says the country must help for a variety of reasons. "But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America's leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up—whether it was rebuilding our former adversaries after World War II, dropping food and water to the people of Berlin, or helping the people of Bosnia and Kosovo rebuild their lives and their nations," President Obama writes.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It's got a left and a right...but no middle

From Bill Bishop's book "The Big Sort" (and quoting political science professor Alan Abramowitz) -- "In the mid-1970s, moderates filled 37 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. By 2005, only 8 percent of the House could be found in the moderate middle."

The President is "too left"

That's the opinion of syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, who has never missed any opportunity to criticize President Obama.

The argument might seem specious, but it is an important one to consider.

Americans have historically had a cool opinion of its federal government; and considering that this country was founded in large part as a reaction to the British government, that should come as no surprise.

But it also is worth noting that for more than a generation -- dating to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president -- there has been a particular disdain for Washington, which has been seen as too influential, too pervasive in people's lives.

I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a healthy opinion to have.

Compounding that has been the outgrowth of partisan politics, which voters appear to have little regard for but also do almost nothing about. The public's response in one poll to the discussions about health care reform provide a snippet of evidence in validating my first point. Another Pew Research Center poll offers additional evidence to the partisan divide.

There is nothing wrong with a politician, a member of the public or anyone else being a person of principle. But it is not acceptable, in my opinion, for that position of principle to be a mask hiding a blistering partisanship.

Before I am accused of straying from Mr. Krauthammer's editorial, I'll say this -- partisanship also is alive and well in the media. It's an anecdotal question, I admit, but how when was the last time you watched FOX News? I bet the answer to that is based on what your politics are.

My conservative, Republican and right friends love the messages they receive from the FOX News team. They reveled in the announcement that Sarah Palin was joining the network as an analyst, and they (and I'm guessing a few others) turned out en masse to watch her debut on Tuesday night. And, no, I have no idea how many of those people were drinking tea at the time.

Of course, my liberal, Democratic and left friends think FOX News is more propaganda than anything else. For them, the real fair and balanced message is delivered by MSNBC.

In this fractured environment, Mr. Krauthammer is therefore seen as delivering the truth, or he's a typical bloviator who has utter disdain for any policy that smacks of being non-laissez faire.

Is the president "too left?" For Mr. Krauthammer, he certainly is. For people I know, the president has not been as "progressive" as promised.

You decide.

A populist pitch

In the latest sign that Democrats are worrying about their electoral prospects later this year, the White House is taking an unusually frank and blunt approach with the banking industry -- it's the American people's money...you've got it...now give it back.

The populist approach is likely to be seen more often as the year goes by. Though they won't admit to taking a play from the Republicans' handbook, Democrats are keenly aware that the "tea party" types -- generally small in number but loud in message -- continue to assert their brand of populism.

On Tuesday, we should get a first important sign of how deep the concern is among voters toward Democrats. Politico.com's Martin Kady II explains:

Scott Brown may be on the verge of shocking the world.

It's hard to underestimate how big a blow it would be to Democrats if a little-known Republican state senator rolls in and snags Ted Kennedy's Senate seat -- as Congress struggles for final passage of Kennedy's lifelong cause of health care reform.

Brown has momentum in the polls, he's getting help from outside Republican forces and he's raising tons of money in the final days. His opponent Martha Coakley, the Democratic attorney general, has made gaffe after gaffe – including a badly timed fund raiser with lobbyists in Washington and making fun of Brown for working the crowds in the cold outside Fenway Park.

The Boston Democratic Party machine may very well pull this out by Tuesday's special election, but Republicans already feel like they've won a moral victory by making it close.

The 2014 and 2016 Olympic TV rights will go to...

...uh, you're going to need to wait a year for that answer.

This is a smart move by the International Olympic Committee. Make no mistake about it, television rights (especially from the United States) make up the lion share of the organization's income. In an economic climate in which U.S. television and advertising executives are less quick to make deep-pocket financial commitments, delaying the bidding is practical.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti

The two most recent occupants of the White House have agreed to assist its current resident with leading America's relief effort for Haiti.

As I mentioned yesterday, projecting a death toll is a difficult task because the number will fluctuate. However, it certainly is far above the estimated 7,000 people who have been laid to rest in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake.

Meanwhile the overwhelming relief that some people will feel upon learning that their loved ones and friends are alive also is part of the story. That is the case at many colleges and universities in this country.

But the theme of today is the ongoing attempt to prevent an "absolutely catastrophic" situation.

Self-censorship

When it happens, it's always an eye-opener.

If you have ever wanted to visit North Korea...

...well, you're in luck.

There were 22 million reasons...

...to move Jay Leno out of primetime. And you can probably guess what those 22 million reasons were.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti

National news broadcasts from Haiti are coming.

The earthquake in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, could match the intense anguish and empathy that Americans had after Hurricane Katrina. The dispatching of the three over-the-air news network anchors to the country will assist in highlighting the terrible devastation.

Pictures such as these, available on Time.com, document the destruction in the initial hours after the main jolt. But strong earthquakes will be followed by powerful aftershocks, and it is not impossible to have an earthquake like the one that hit to be the precursor to something even larger.

To quote death tolls at this point is difficult, not because they are unimportant, but because they will rapidly change.

Aid workers are an invaluable tool at a time such as this, and at the same time efforts are underway in Washington and other world capitals to assist in whatever form is needed.

Though an unfair comparison, I want to illustrate how technology is important in news gathering. You'll recall that last summer, internet video, blogs and other examples of "new media" assisted the mainstream media in the United States to describe what was happening in Iran. The protests that followed the disputed elections, in fact, largely were told by people from inside the country because journalists were kicked out by the government.

Now consider how few eyewitness, "new media" reports you are seeing from Haiti. Granted, the infrastructure is in terrible disarray because of the earthquake; but there also needs to be a recognition that the infrastructure cannot support "new media" the way it can in other nations.

By one estimate, about 11 percent of Haitians access the internet. That figure dwarfs the almost 75 percent of Americans who do, and is also smaller than the approximately 22 percent of Chinese. (These percentages, of course, are incomplete in and of themselves when you consider the population differences in these three nations.)

The earthquake will continue to be a dominant news story in the next few days. It should be.

If Google goes...

...then many "netizens" in China won't be happy.

As expected, there has been much written in today's media about the threat Google made late yesterday to pull out of China and its accusation that China had hacked into Google in an effort to gain access to the e-mail addresses of various Chinese citizens.

This Los Angeles Times report captures the general theme evident in reports I've read -- it's about time.

Of course, if you access the English-language Web site of CCTV, China's state-run broadcaster, you will see an entirely different story.

I doubt Google will remove itself from the lucrative and fast-growing China market. But its stance has won it admiration and some political ammunition across the globe.

The earthquake in Haiti

Having grown up in southern California, I'm aware of the immense power Mother Nature can carry when she delivers an earthquake.

This report from The New York Times highlights just how bad the devastation appears to be in Haiti, which yesterday was struck by a strong earthquake:

There was still no tally of how many had been killed in the earthquake, which had an estimated magnitude of 7.0, but as rescue workers struggled to reach survivors, thousands of people were believed to be dead, the Haitian president, René Préval, told the Miami Herald.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google takes a stand (finally)

Google might lose the lucrative China market because of an important (and in my opinion long-overdue) decision -- it will no longer allow censorship of its search engine within China.

Officials within the country suggest their anger has been raised after an alleged attempt to hack into its system (along with the systems of almost two dozen other companies). In a statement, Google says, "we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective."

Granted, Google is finally defying the Chinese government as part of a reactive instead of proactive reason; nevertheless, it is an important statement from a technology giant.

The tide is turning

The man leading America's war effort in Afghanistan says the international force -- led by the United States -- is making progress in defeating the Taliban.

As you attempt to understand the historical and current complexities of that nation, remember that another al-Qaeda hotbed -- Yemen -- is even more difficult to comprehend.

Unfortunately, as the aforementioned editorial reminds us, relying upon inaccurate or incomplete information to judge a country is a dangerous game to play.

You'll recall that when President Obama announced in December that there would be a "surge" for Afghanistan, he maintained that there would be an 18-month timetable on that effort. On Sunday, CNN's John King interviewed Republican Sen. John McCain and Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, both of whom had spent time in recent weeks in various Middle East and South Asian nations assessing the political and military climate. Sen. McCain was concerned about the setting of a deadline.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's the future for the media?

This story spotlights three books that provide some potential answers.

Challenging the traditional student newspaper

You knew it wouldn't take long for bloggers to take on student-run newspapers across America's college campuses.

This story points up the successes and failures these bloggers have. But what the article could have done more effectively is review whether college bloggers pose a legitimate long-term threat (for lack of a better term) to the good ol' college newspaper.

The answer to that question could have important ripple effects for journalism education programs.

He's spot on

CNN's Fareed Zakaria hits the mark with this editorial, suggesting that al-Qaeda wins if it causes the government and the American people to react in panic rather than common sense to any terror attempt.

Mr. Zakaria's editorial comes at an opportune time -- as the CIA continues to investigate and discuss the deaths of a group of its agents in Afghanistan. Those deaths are believed to have been caused by a Jordanian doctor turned suicide bomber.

Meanwhile, more airlines and airports are instituting even tougher security measures, in an effort to prevent another attempted terror attack like the one in Detroit on Christmas Day.

Of course, the mainstream media are going to focus on the lingering political arguments surrounding the Detroit incident. Those conversations too often will be framed through the lens of a political climate that remains fractured and in which blame will be assigned in advance of any reasonable conversation.

Palin and FOX

It's a perfect marriage.

It's day one of the semester...

...and that means I'll have time to blog later today. But not before then!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The challenges of leadership

I returned home yesterday from one week in Washington, where I served as a faculty leader for The Washington Center's Congress and Obama Presidency seminar.

Various themes developed during the week, but the one that I think stood out for than any other was the polarization in Congress. By extension, that polarization too often leads to politicians who follow the wishes of their party over the needs of their constituents and the country.

Over the past month or so, I've also been reading a couple of books that illustrate how America can and must lead as the 21st century unfolds. Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded explores how a green revolution is needed in a world that is running out of time to reduce its reliance on so-called dirty energy sources. Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World suggests that the rise of other countries leaves the United States as one of multiple economic powers as it remains the world's sole military giant.

A consistent theme to these books is that America can lead a green revolution, produce more and better products than any nation on Earth, create an international image in which the country is respected, and ensure that future generations can enjoy the benefits of capitalism. But all of these are predicated on a political environment in which innovation is encouraged and rewarded first by Washington's political leaders.

Can Washington do it? I wish I could be more optimistic.

You can argue all you want about global warming, corporate tax levels, innovation zones and other "political" issues, but you cannot argue that these conversations could be more fruitful if politicians could think beyond their party's self-interests.

At the same time, each of us has a responsibility to do more than go "Bowling Alone," the title of Robert Putnam's book. We need to break free of a mindset in which me is more important than we; a societal attitude in which Americans involve themselves in too few organizations and activities that build our "social capital," to borrow words from Putnam.

And remember that social networking and social capital are not the same thing.

If you can "Reid" this...

...then the message is simple: the Senate Majority Leader has a problem.

I have no idea what would prompt Sen. Harry Reid to call Barack Obama a "light skinned" African American who "lacked a Negro dialect," but he did.

And now the fallout is intense. So intense in fact that the senator might not have to worry about his re-election prospects later this year; he might not survive in the Senate that long.

The senator has apologized, but Republicans are smelling blood and want Reid out.

Interestingly, at least one prominent conservative -- George Will -- is coming to Reid's aid.

Is Roger Ailes worth $23 million per year?

Of course, the answer to that question depends on what you think about him. But this New York Times report discusses the influence that Ailes has in the business, media and political arena.

As an aside, I'm making the story required reading for one of my classes this semester.

The need to communicate a clear, coherent and consistent message is essential in politics, and the Obama administration is learning how challenging it can be. But FOX has the same problem: It is ostensibly a news network, but it cannot expect its people to adopt a singular political tone or message.

Political communication is fascinating to study. One of the many reasons is because the message that the sender wishes to convey might not be the one the receiver gets. He or she could interpret it in different ways.

Michael Steele's book is a winner...if...

...you agree with his politics. But it is the controversy surrounding the chair of the Republican Party that continues to generate more attention.

Friday, January 08, 2010

He's writing a book?

The Washington Post reports that Republican leaders had no idea that their party chairman, Michael Steele, was writing a book:

Republican congressional leaders were not told that their party's chairman, Michael S. Steele, was publishing a new book until it was released this week. Steele's book lays out a strategy for winning back control of Congress, but three top GOP aides said, "No one in the House or Senate leadership knew he had a book contract." The party chairman has been under fire for a series of controversial statements on his book tour.

If this is true, then perhaps the GOP needs to consider its communication skills.

A D.C. photo essay

I don't profess to be a photographer, but I would hope that
George Washington or Christopher Columbus would have appreciated
my attempts at capturing the beautiful afternoon in our nation's capital.

Union Station

is resplendent in the bright sun, though it is cold today. A light snow fell late last night and into this morning; but as I write this from inside Union Station, the sun is out and the snow has headed elsewhere. Union Station is filled with people, who are browsing, shopping or boarding a train to somewhere.

I suspect the members of the Supreme Court...

...the senators who occupy the Russell Senate Building...

...and the members of the 111th Congress would be unanimous in their opinion that today being outside feels good. (And to get Congress to agree these days is quite a feat. See, I'm doing my part to bring a bipartisan spirit to the nation's capital!)


And I also suspect if these squirrels could talk,


they would say you would be "nuts" not to enjoy being outside. Of course, you couldn't blame them if they attempted to bottle the bright sun and bury it, so that they could bring it out later this winter when dreary clouds dominate the sky.

In case you are wondering how clear it is,

you don't need anywhere near perfect vision in order to "C" "Delaware" from here. (Yes, there are times that I am a real "punny" guy.)

So, I close this photo essay letting you know I've had a "bell" of a time here this week.

Tomorrow, the weather could be sunny. It could be cloudy. It could be snowy. It wouldn't matter. Because tomorrow, I'm heading home!

The New York Times is getting out of...

...the blogging business. Sort of.

This decision has fascinating potential for journalism programs around the nation. If other newspapers were to adopt a similar plan, then there could be tremendous real-world applications for journalism programs.

Of course, some journalism programs are already doing that. The partnership, for example, between the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the School of Communication at Point Park University. That partnership includes the Point Park News Service, in which student work is delivered to a wide audience.

Leno -- back to late night?

The New York Times continues its reports, which first broke last night, that indicate Jay Leno is returning to late night television.

Illegal use of...

...the First Family.

This billboard in New York's Times Square should draw more controversy and media attention than it has.

You might have heard that the company that placed it did not receive permission from The White House. The photo was taken while the president was in China.

The problem goes deeper than that. PETA has placed two posters in Washington Metro stops highlighting four people who refuse to wear fur. Mrs. Obama is one of them, but again the First Lady did not give permission for her image to be used in those posters.

The Washington Post picks up the larger story and the potential implications for the misappropriation of the Obamas' images.

The NPR radio station in Pittsburgh is for sale

WDUQ is on the block.

Off the record

The students and faculty at The Washington Center's Congress and the Obama Presidency seminar are receiving an off-the-record account of the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui.

Therefore, I'm blogging about other items this morning.

The tide for Republicans is rolling (sort of)

From Politico.com's Martin Kady II:

In the few weeks that Congress has been out of session, the GOP has reclaimed the national security debate, landed several top candidate recruits, watched vulnerable Democrats drop out for 2010, reveled in Pelosi vs. Obama sniping on health care and embraced a poll that shows conservatives as the largest ideological group in the country.


Of course, that doesn't mean all is well with Republicans, who are eager to put a halt to recent comments by their party chairman Michael Steele, who has expressed concerns about the depth of likely success for Republicans at the ballot box later this year. His comments come as the party continues to seek its best candidates.

Texas Tech reaches out

When controversy surrounds the firing of a popular football coach, alumni relations goes into overdrive.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Another athlete turning into a politician?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for former NFL player Craig James.

First, it was allegations he made about the mistreatment of his son that led Texas Tech University to fire its football coach.

Now, James is suggesting he might be the latest former athlete to become a politician.

Is Leno heading back to late night?

It looks like. This report from The New York Times:

Pressed by affiliates and shrinking ratings, NBC has a plan
in the works to radically alter its late-night television lineup, restoring Jay Leno to his old spot at 11:35 each weeknight, while pushing the man who replaced him, Conan O'Brien, to a starting time of 12:05 a.m.

Now that was a good meeting!

About 20 students and a couple of faculty from The Washington Center's Congress and the Obama Presidency seminar spent an hour this afternoon at WJLA and Politico.com.

It was time well spent.

We met with WJLA's political reporter Scott Thuman and Politico's Andy Barr, who shared their insights about political reporting, the media business and Washington.

It didn't take long for the issue of media bias to come up in the question and answer session. It was Thuman's opinion that the charge that media lean left can be a good thing. He indicated if thinking about it forced him to review a script a second or third time to ensure he's not being unfair to anyone then it likely made him a better reporter.

Barr noted that with the number of sources of information from which the public can gather information, "no one has a megaphone anymore" and therefore no one can dominate news coverage as they might have in the pre-cable, pre-Internet days.

Mr. Thuman added that at the end of the day, "you have to take ownership of what you do." In other words, a journalist must be able to explain the words selected, the people interviewed and the tone of a story. That's true no matter what organization you work for.

Barr picked up on another theme -- the promised transparency of the Obama administration. He suggested that all presidents promise to be more open than the previous one, but in the end they cannot. "It's not to your advantage" to be as transparent as you would like, Mr. Barr said. "It's not in their interest."

The notion of the audience and a journalist's responsibility to it also was discussed. Mr. Thuman indicated that it is critical that no reporter just mail it in; he or she must continually remember that it is his or her obligation to give the audience a reason to turn to him or her each day.

Barr added that he sees his first and only responsibility is to his readers, and he strives to provide them with information they otherwise might not get anywhere else.

Though the students attending this site visit were not exclusively communications majors, I'm confident they gained a better appreciation for what the media do, and why.

Would heatlh care reform make a difference? (UPDATED CONSTANTLY)

If there is a theme for day four of The Washington Center's Congress and the Obama Presidency seminar, then it would be health care.

As a result, I'll be updating this post regularly as the speakers make their presentations.

Our first speaker is Dr. Marsha Regenstein, who is an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University. She is also the Director of the Department's Master of Science degree in Health Policy.

Dr. Regenstein noted that health care disparities continue to exist because of the racial and ethnic differences. Access to the care, the quality of that care, the diversity of the care provided and the cost of that care add to that problem. Later, she told a student that simply getting to the doctor's office (which for the poor can perhaps be done only through mass transportation) also cannot be ignored.

She added that a 2002 Institute of Medicine report confirmed that minorities get less care and lower quality care when compared to the majority population.

More ominously, Dr. Regenstein told students that Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic nursing home residents are more likely to be physically restrained in compared to whites. In addition, blacks are more likely than whites to leave the emergency room without being seen, and all minorities are less likely to receive the shots people need.

The acronym STEEEP is important in understanding the domains of quality:
Safety
Timeliness
Effectiveness
Efficiency
Equity
Patient-centeredness

In the end, why do disparities exist? Dr. Regenstein suggested poor quality providers, minorities living in poor quality areas and the potential for bias or stereotyping help to answer that question.

Dr. Regenstein suggested that the comprehensive health care reform bill working its way through Congress should lead to more people having health insurance and therefore reduce some of the disparities mentioned above (and others not included here). However, more effective data collection, seeing more minorities enter the health care workforce, ensuring that people receive training to understand dealing with minorities (i.e. treating people for whom English is not their first language) and improved research about disparities in health care all must continue.

To get more diversity into the health care workforce, she noted that more outreach programs need to be implemented in educational settings. Moreover, "the medical community needs to make a commitment" to ensure that the health care leadership is diverse. (This conversation began in the journalism field more than a decade ago, and it surprises me that the medical field has not had a robust discussion about the importance of it.)

Dr. Regenstein argued that the "mish-mosh" that exists in health care policy in this country cannot be ignored. She made that comment in response to a student's question about whether universal health care will become a legitimate part of the health care discussion in the future. She doubted that would happen; however, she urged students to recognize that other countries that have had the conversations taking place now in this country have opted for a universal system.

In response to another question, she reminded students that for people who have coverage (and are satisfied with it) that little, if anything, will change once comprehensive health care is enacted. She noted there might be some noticeable issues if that person attempted to transfer their care to another employer.

Dr. Regenstein agreed that fear has been an effective strategy in confusing people about what health care reform will and will not mean. She acknowledged that too many Americans are of the opinion that they will be forced to accept a certain form of health care, or that they will somehow see an explosion in what they pay for it. However, she added that there are countless numbers of people one lost paycheck or one catastrophic illness away from losing their coverage. She used that to reiterate her call for a legitimate and substantive conversation about a universal health care system.

To give you an idea of the importance of this topic -- and the quality of the questions asked by the students attending this seminar -- Dr. Regenstein was scheduled to speak until 10:00. The question and answer session extended until 10:15.

Later, Dr. Ross Baker, the Rutgers University political science professor who is serving as the faculty leader this week, told students that one of the important strands to universal health care is the tax level it would require. He said that he doubted Americans would accept the tax burden necessary for a universal program.

Dr. Baker added that there has been a long-standing tension (my word, not his) in the United States about what role Americans want the federal government to play in their lives. As such, health care is the latest example of that on-going discussion.

He reminded students that the enactment of the Social Security program in 1935 was for many people the first real connection or dealing they had with the federal government.

....

The conversation continues this morning with Gary Andres, who is providing the Republican perspective about the White House lobbying Congress. (You'll recall Patrick Griffin offered the Democratic perspective on Tuesday.) Mr. Andres is a vice chairman at Dutko World Wide, and last year he wrote a book titled Lobbying Reconsidered.

The White House has an Office of Legislative Affairs, in which Mr. Andres worked as a deputy assistant under President George H. W. Bush. He estimated that there are perhaps 15-20 people ("the foot soldiers," in Mr. Andres words) who assist the White House in dealing with Congress.

Its mission is "to be the eyes and ears for the president on Capitol Hill," Mr. Andres said. Attempts are made at establishing a two-way dialogue, so that each side has a feel for what the other branch is considering, what policies are bring advanced and like issues.

Mr. Andres returned to a familiar theme of this week's seminar -- polarization. He added that not only are more Democrats liberal and more Republicans conservative; but you also have no Republicans who can be seen as more liberal than any Democrat, any no Democrats who can be classified as more conservative than any Republicans. The effect over time is that it is become increasingly more difficult for any president to built bipartisan support for a policy he is pursuing.

At the same time, Mr. Andres reminded students that presidents such as Barack Obama, who has a strong majority of Democrats in both houses, should not assume that once their party controls Congress that they will see legislative successes.

When a president runs into problems with Congress, generally one of three conditions is evident:
1. Too many people want to present themselves as a Congressional affairs expert, meaning that members of Congress will attempt to directly talk to the president or deliver a message to the president instead of working through the Office of Legislative Affairs
2. The White House gets overwhelmed by the number of issues that Congress wants the president to address
3. A president who devotes too much time to one particular role (or who plays one role especially role), though this is less likely to happen when a president's party is also in the majority in Congress.

Mr. Andres was asked about how the media can affect what a president accomplishes. He suggested that presidents who are (either perceived as or actually) popular can have an easier time working with Congress. However, he doubted that the media can directly alter the political relationship between the White House and the Congress.

....

This afternoon my small group (and one other group) are heading to WJLA, the ABC-affiliate in Washington, and Politico.com. In 2008, I visited Politico.com, and I came away very impressed with the organization. It clearly is a resource I use for many of the posts you read on this blog, and I find its comprehensive political coverage to be the best in this city.

Either later today or tonight I'll blog about that visit.