Monday, May 31, 2010

A fascinating read

Plain and simple, take the time to read this.

As you know, I appreciate a well-written, analytical piece that makes you think about why events happen and what they might mean.

Is free speech protected...

...even when it is offensive?

That's the question the Supreme Court is expected to answer, after multiple Church-sponsored protests at military funerals.

This ABC report offers substantive background to the story; and while I appreciate the amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed by almost every state attorney general, I wonder how much of their friendliness is a shameless pandering to voters.

Interestingly, the daughter of the pastor at the center of the controversy is quoted in the above article as supporting the protesters. However, her brother sees it differently.

Free speech is free speech, and it -- however onerous it might be -- has found legal support provided that it isn't akin to "yelling fire in a crowded theater." In this case, that standard likely cannot be met: No one was put in danger by the words spoken or presence of the protesters.

That being said, sometimes the beauty of free speech is choosing not to exercise it.



Israel's attack on a flotilla, new post

I quote from this New York Times report about today's assault by Israeli Defense Forces of a flotilla purportedly delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza:

Mr. Netanyahu defended the Israeli military’s actions, saying the commandos were set upon by passengers on the ship and fired only in self-defense. The military released a video of the early moments of the raid to support that claim.

The Israeli Defense Forces said the naval personnel boarding the largest of the six ships in the aid convoy met with “live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs.” The naval forces then “employed riot dispersal means, including live fire,” the military said in a statement.

Let's set aside whether this is the series of events that took place. (Comments from Israeli forces that took part in the raid, not surprisingly, have endorsed this claim.) Instead, I ask this -- if you had a weapon, considered Israel an enemy and saw its military raiding a ship you were on...how might you react?

Returning to the more important issues:
1. Turkey has recalled its ambassador to Israel, a strong indicator that relations between the two nations are in free fall

2. Turkey also was the scene of intense protests in the hours after the raid; there were an estimated 400 Turkish citizens on the flotilla, according to al-Jazeera

3. President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu will not meet tomorrow and the Israeli prime minister has left Canada and returned home

4. The U-S led peace effort in the region also is under stress

5. The lead ship has arrived in Israel and the remaining people on board will be arrested or deported, according to Israeli media

An update on "licensing journalists could happen in..."

It turns out the author of the bill doesn't think his legislation has any chance of passing. So why did he do it? The Toledo Blade has the answer.

Sen. Bruce Patterson did say something that will generate conversation (or at least it ought to), and this quote is taken from the same Toledo Blade article referenced above:

"There are fewer legitimate reporters who cover the legislature all the time. I see stuff being written by people I never heard of, and I don't know whether they have any credentials.

"You have bloggers and editorial writers who write about what we are doing who never come up here and have no idea what's going on. If I need a plumber, I want one who has credentials and who is licensed by the state."

I take a bit of offense with Sen. Patterson's use of the word "legitimate" but he is certainly spot on in suggesting fewer reporters are covering state government. But to make the leap that there is a legitimate leap to be made to licensing journalists remains a specious one.

Moreover, his bill really worries me because of the reference to the "moral character" of journalists being a necessary requirement for receiving a license.

Israel's attack of a flotilla in international waters (4 x UPDATED)

5th UPDATE: 12:56 p.m. EDT: An Israeli ambassador says his government received information that the organizers of the aid flotilla had ties to al-Qaeda. This report does not indicate whether the ambassador elaborated on his comments.

4th UPDATE: 12:45 p.m. EDT: The Israeli Defense Forces has released video of its raid on the flotilla. Most of the video is a bit grainy and from a helicopter-like view.

3rd UPDATE: 12:35 p.m. EDT: This from Politico.com:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his visit to the White House in the aftermath of the Israeli military's action against a flotilla seeking access to Gaza, the AP reports. White House spokesman Bill Burton said in advance of Netanyahu's decision that the White House was currently "to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

Probably a wise decision. Mr. Netanyahu is at this point better off answering questions from the domestic media and the few international reporters stationed in Israel than he would be being bombarded by the White House press corps, not to mention bringing President Obama into the discussion.

2nd UPDATE: 9:15 a.m. EDT: Israel attempting to jam all communications, control message flow from attack area.

1st UPDATE: 9:10 a.m.: Additional video from the Israeli attack has appeared on BBC, but I believe this is Al-Jazeera video.

The White House also has made its first public comments, with a spokesman saying the Obama administration "deeply regrets" the loss of life.

And there is this "flash" from Reuters: U.N. Security Council to meet Monday afternoon over Gaza flotilla attack, no time set yet - U.N. diplomats

ORIGINAL POST: The first set of news reports, including this one from The Globe and Mail, suggest that Israel has a public-relations nightmare on its hands.

The Israeli military boarded a flotilla carrying aid destined for Gaza in international waters. That's the tipping point to this story, in my opinion.

Al-Jazeera has what I believe is the only journalist on board with the flotilla, and he filed a report soon after the assault began.

The political fallout has begun and it might continue. Consider this excerpt from the same report highlighted at the beginning of this paragraph:

The violent takeover also threatened to deal yet another blow to Israel's international image, already tarnished by war crimes accusations in Gaza and its blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory.

Various foreign governments already have spoken out against the attack.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Licensing journalists could happen in...

...Michigan.

Michigan Senator Bruce Patterson has introduced such a bill, which already has gathered media attention inside and outside the state.

And, not surprisingly, it's generating lots of conversation on the blogosphere.

The most interesting part of the bill is Section 8, which I have posted in full here:

ARTICLE 8

21 Sec. 801. As used in this article:
22 (a) "Media" means any electronic or written medium,
23 including, but not limited to, newspapers, television, radio, and
24 internet.
25 (b) "Reporter" means an individual engaging in any of the
26 following activities over the media:
27 (i) Writes a story that is published in a newspaper or on an
1 internet website.
2 (ii) Writes or reads a story broadcast on the radio.
3 (iii) Acts as the reporter for a story broadcast on television
4 or on an internet website.
5 (iv) Writes an editorial with or without a byline that is
6 published in a newspaper or on an internet website.
7 (v) Provides an opinion or commentary piece, with or without
8 a byline, that is broadcast on the radio, television, or
9 internet.
10 Sec. 803. There is created a board of Michigan registered
11 reporters.
12 Sec. 805. (1) The board may issue a registration to an
13 individual submitting a completed application accompanied by the
14 appropriate registration fee. The application shall demonstrate
15 eligibility for registration under the requirements described in
16 this section.
17 (2) In order to qualify, an applicant shall comply with the
18 following:
19 (a) Be of good moral character and demonstrate, by a signed
20 statement, knowledge of any acceptable industrywide ethics
21 standards acceptable to the board.
22 (b) Demonstrate any of the following in the form of a resume
23 or other format acceptable to the department:
24 (i) Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree
25 substantially equivalent to such a degree, as determined by the
26 department.
27 (ii) Not less than 3 years' experience as a reporter or any
1 other relevant background information.
2 (iii) Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.
3 (iv) Not fewer than 3 writing samples.
4 (v) Beginning 2 years after the effective date of the
5 amendatory act that added this article, at least 1 letter of
6 recommendation from an individual actively engaged as a
7 registered reporter.
8 (c) Pay the application fee and submit the appropriate
9 registration fee.
10 Sec. 807. (1) An applicant for registration under this
11 article shall submit a registration fee of $10.00.
12 (2) A registration under this article shall be issued by the
13 board for a term of 2 years.
14 Sec. 809. A person shall not use the term "Michigan
15 registered reporter" unless he or she is registered under this
16 article. However, a person is not required to become registered
17 under this article to be employed as, or use, the generic label
18 or title of reporter, broadcaster, member of the media, or other
19 similar term.

Okay, now let's dissect the pieces that I think are most important:

1. A board of Michigan registered reporters shall be created. I cannot see any qualified reporter agreeing to serve on such a politically established body. The cries of selling out (or worse) already can be heard. And if these board members are appointed by some governmental agency, the professional integrity of those journalists will (and should) be called into question.

2. An applicant shall be of good moral character with knowledge of applicable codes of ethics. Morals and ethics cannot be equated. Overly simplified, one is a personal set of beliefs, while the other is a professional set of responsible behaviors. Moreover, who (I'm presuming it will be this board referenced above) will set the standards for morality?

3. The applicant must have a degree in journalism or a substantial equivalent. Does this mean that student journalists cannot be licensed? What are the implications if they are not? What are substantial equivalent degrees?

4. The applicant must have three years professional experience. Does that mean only in Michigan? And would work done as a student journalist (through an internship or freelance opportunities) be applicable to this three years of experience?

5. A $10.00 registration fee is suggested, but Sen. Patterson never suggests where this money will go or what its purpose is. Moreover, the check would be written to what agency?

The idea of licensing journalists was discussed in a panel session that I moderated at the 2009 Broadcast Education Association national convention. I noted on this blog following that session that licensing of journalists was tossed aside by the panelists -- with the primary reason being the involvement of some government entity that could have a chilling effect on journalism.

However, a certification process generated both positive and negative responses. I call your attention to three paragraphs of my 2009 post -- and ask you to especially pay attention to the final sentence (and I recognize and apologize for the typo: "than" of course should be "then"):

The argument against certification can be broken down into a few manageable statements: who or what would be responsible for it? The market already ensures that certification isn't needed. An emphasis on media literacy would assist in the public in becoming even more critical consumers than it already is. Free speech, expression and the press in some form would be violated.

The argument for also can be broken down into a couple of manageable statements: Certification of other professions (i.e. the medical and legal communities) gives those who have it a credibility and ability to practice what they do. Are bloggers journalists? (If not, then why are standards being applied to them?)

There should be more to say about this process, and at least two of the panelists argued that if the professional and education communities do not hold this conversation now -- and come to a concrete resolution -- than at some point the government will step in and make it happen.

"The government will step in and make it happen." Now, just 13 months after that convention, such a move is happening.

Do I think Sen. Patterson's bill will become law? No. Do I want it to? Absolutely not. But let's acknowledge that he could strike a chord with other politicians in other states, where such a bill could become law.





What BP should say (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

An open letter from BP executives to residents of the United States and especially Louisiana:

Dear U.S. Citizens,

We continue to be embarrassed by our inability to plug the oil and gas that are spewing from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. You are aware of the multiple efforts we have tried over the past month to capture the oil and gas, but each of them has failed. We are sorry.

We also have failed to be a good neighbor to you, and we apologize also for that.

The truth is that no oil company has put in place plans to deal with the crisis such as the one we are dealing with now. We leave it to you to tell us if that was irresponsible business practice or if what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is one of those circumstances that no one could have prepared for.

The federal government is an important ally in our effort to find a solution, but it is BP's responsibility to find the answers and to pay for all the costs associated with what has happened in the Gulf. The blame is ours, and ours alone.

We hope that you believe us when we say we are working as hard as possible to get this crisis solved. We underestimated the complexity of the problem before, but we are doing our best to make up for that mistake.

Thank you.

UPDATE: 2:30 p.m. EDT:

BP's need to be blunt honest has been increased because of the information contained in this Los Angeles Times report:

A top Obama administration official warned Sunday that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill might not be stopped until late summer after BP's latest attempt to plug the leak failed.

The "American people need to know" that it's "possible we will have oil leaking from this well until August, when the relief wells will be finished," said Carol Browner, the White House energy advisor.

Browner said on CBS that Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a team of scientists on Saturday essentially put a halt to BP's attempt to cap the spewing well through a process known as "top kill." The administration team worried that the increasing pressure from heavy drilling mud being forced into the well to seal it actually would make the leak worse.

It's worth reading

This is a really good story from the Washington Post on Bill Clinton.

I urge you to pay special attention to the tension within the Democratic Party, which has had to grapple with the Clinton/centrist approach to leadership and the Obama/progressive approach. The infighting might not be as pronounced as the conservative and moderate fight within the Republican Party, but I think the Democrats' wounds are covered up because they are in power. Put them in the minority in Congress and out of the White House and watch the sparks fly.

And speaking of tension, Politico.com notes that Bill Clinton being in the news this time is not a good thing for Barack Obama.





Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reinventing journalism

The Federal Trade Commission has weighed in on the important discussion of what needs to be done to bring better journalism to American citizens.

Unfortunately, its report offers a too-strong endorsement of "old" media (especially the newspaper industry) and a too-little appreciation of "new" media (which in this context I'm broadly referring to information disseminated on the Web either by repackaging of "old" media information or original information prepared for Internet distribution). It also offers no endorsement for entrepreneurs seeking to radically (a carefully chosen word) alter the economics of the news media.

For me, one statement could have served as the formative jumping off point in recognizing the fundamental changes taking place in the media industry:

[N]ewspapers have not yet found a new, sustainable business model, and there is reason for concern that such a business model may not emerge. Therefore, it is not too soon to start considering policies that might encourage innovations to help support journalism into the future.

This point -- and it is a valid one -- should have opened discussion about whether the newspaper industry can continue to be the driving force of news in the future. (I remain skeptical. And, please, spare me the "aw, come on...there goes the broadcast guy picking on newspapers again." You and I know that is not true.)

Instead what I see is too much analysis and too many recommendations geared to the newspaper industry and its owners. As I read the report, I strained to find references to the "Internet," "blogs," "digital delivery" and similar terms that are integral parts of the future of journalism. They are not present in sufficient quantity to suggest that the FTC gets it -- with "it" referring to the changing preferences for news consumption, changing mechanisms for delivering information, and the ability for individual citizens to participate more fully than ever in news gathering and dissemination.

Perhaps the most controversial element of the report is the discussion about government-funded support for the newspaper industry. That's a bad idea. There is no polite way to say this -- politicians would not authorize these expenditures every year without some kind of rhetorical blast about media bias or the lack of professionalism. Let's keep the government out of this discussion, no matter the medium we are talking about. (And I also accept that government finding could lead to openly biased "news" as exists on at least two cable news networks; such nonsense doesn't advance journalism.)

I accept that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- a government program -- has worked and therefore serves as a potential model for any subsidy of the press. The quality of quantity of information available on PBS and NPR is consistent with advancing the health of democracy. Moreover, as the FTC report notes:

According to a recent national poll, CPB has succeeded in its mission – more than 75 percent of the public believe PBS addresses key news, public affairs, and social issues “very/moderately” well. This poll also named PBS the most trusted and unbiased institution among nationally known news organizations.

There are some recommendations that I find intriguing and that would be worth discussing in more depth. They include:

1. A 5 percent tax on consumer electronics [that] would generate approximately $4 billion annually. I'm not enthusiastic about this idea, but I would be willing to hear more about it.

2. Increase funding to the CPB.

3. Encourage changes to the federal legal structure that would entice more news operations to move to non-profit status.

The National Press Club will host a roundtable discussion about the report highlighted above on June 15.





Another liar...exposed

This from the Washington Post:

The Republican candidate for President Obama's old Senate seat has admitted to inaccurately claiming he received the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award for his service during NATO's conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s. Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.), a Navy reservist who was elected to Congress in 2001, acknowledged the error in his official biography after The Washington Post began looking into whether he had received the prestigious award, which is given by top Navy officials to a
single individual annually.


Perhaps Mr. Kirk ought to have a conversation with Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal about resume accuracy. Now.



"We have concluded that allegations...lack a basis in the law."

Here is the full text of White House Counsel Bob Bauer on the allegations that the White House acted illegally in discussing a position for Rep. Joe Sestak in return for him opting to not run for the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Pennsylvania.

This statement is complete, as far as the general facts are concerned. But still left unanswered is why the White House would want to hitch its wagon to an octogenarian senator who was a Democrat-before-he-became-a-Republican-before-he-became-a-Democrat in a volatile year for political incumbents.

Is the oil spill President Obama's Katrina moment?

The circumstances are eerily similar -- a disaster, Louisiana and a perceived (or real) ineffective government response.

For President Bush, a horrible response to Hurricane Katrina cemented in the minds of too many Americans that the president and his administration cared too much about fighting a war overseas and not enough about taking care of people in desperate need at home.

For President Obama, a so far confused response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is allowing too many Americans to draw comparisons that might not be fair. But they are being made.

There is at least one critical difference to consider -- the Katrina disaster was a human crisis; the oil spill is an ecological crisis. Now, bear with me here because I'm not about to argue that the ecology and the environment are unimportant.

Katrina caused thousands of people to lose their homes, their jobs, their connection to place and sadly in some cases their loved ones. The literal cries for help were visible in our living rooms every night. As Americans continued to look for the government to get involved with a massive, coordinated relief effort, we instead saw a president giving platitudes to people who didn't deserve them. The cause of the problem (the hurricane) was easy to see and the effects (lives and property lost, poor government response) were immediate.

The oil spill is proving far more complex. The Obama administration -- demonstrating yet again a trait that impresses admirers and baffles critics -- first played it cool: Let's give it some time and let's definitely not overreact is a defining theme of this administration.

Let's accept that the administration has played an integral role in attempting to fix the terribly complex problem taking place a mile down in the Gulf. But let's also accept that the cause (the explosion) is easy to see but the effects are less quickly definable and perhaps not as immediate.

Americans accept that the fragile eco-life in the Gulf will be affected, but we can't see it as readily as we can a mother crying. They accept that the coastline will be damaged, but they can't see it as quickly as they do a man crying because he has no place to live.

I'm not convinced the comparisons between the Bush response to Katrina and the Obama response to the oil spill can be equated with each other. But I can accept that the White House ripping BP on a regular basis is not going to work. I appreciate that it took responsibility for the on-going problem, but it is hard to understand why it has taken more than a month to get to this point.







Friday, May 28, 2010

Take one piece of the story...blow it up...

...and attempt to create a media controversy.

That's just wrong.

I read a report about Kentucky's Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul questioning granting legal status to children born in this country to parents who are illegal immigrants.

It would be easy to take that information and conclude that Paul was going off on another rant and by extension showing again that he's a bizarre political figure.

Yet, in this near 12-minute interview with a Russian television station, Mr. Paul's comments about this issue last about 10 seconds. Specifically, scroll to 9:38 and you will here Mr. Paul say:

"We're the only country I know of that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby, and then that baby becomes a citizen. And I think that should stop also."

That's it. Those are the words that have allowed some within the media (not to mention the blogosphere) go apoplectic about Mr. Paul.

Granted, what Mr. Paul is suggesting is unconstitutional. And it would be fair to question him about how he would attempt to change U.S. law to accomplish this goal. But the approach taken by some is inappropriate.



The end of the story? (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 7:05 p.m. EDT: Rep. Sestak met with the media late this afternoon, attempting to clarify the "bribe" accusations that have been swirling in recent days. Detailed remarks from him are contained in this NPR News story.

For Democrats, the comments from Rep. Sestak will be sufficient to end the controversy. For Republicans, the opinion will be different. But what is even more intriguing is how the media will react to what he said.

It bears watching what they report over the next couple of days.

ORIGINAL POST: So as I noted on this blog a couple of weeks ago, there was legitimacy to those rumors that the White House wanted Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak to not challenge Sen. Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for Senate.

Today (and let's deal with the timing issue later) we learn this (and it comes from The New York Times):

President Obama's chief of staff used former President Bill Clinton as an intermediary to see if Representative Joe Sestak would drop out of a Senate primary if given a prominent, but unpaid, advisory position, people briefed on the matter said Friday.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, asked Mr. Clinton to explore the possibilities last summer, according to the briefed individuals, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the politically charged situation. Mr. Sestak said no and went on to win last week's Pennsylvania Democratic primary against Senator Arlen Specter.


An unpaid, advisory position? That hardly seems worthy of checking out of a Senate race that Rep. Sestak knew he had an opportunity to win. In other words, I don't think this story has come to an end. In fact, it might take a statement from the president to calm these rough waters.

As you evaluate the story, please note that the timing of the release of this information is important. It happened late in the afternoon on a Friday of a holiday weekend. As I've stated on other places on this blog, Fridays (and especially those that fall on holiday weekends) are the PERFECT time for politicians (or anyone else for that matter) to acknowledge "bad" information.

The reasons are simple -- Americans are checking out for the holiday weekend and are less likely to pay attention to news. Moreover, news consumption falls over the weekend regardless of the weekend in question.

In short, for the White House to (finally) admit to the Sestak rumors on this day is a classic news management technique.



Who among us dies in war

This report from the Los Angeles Times is sure to open eyes (and likely raise some controversy).

This excerpt, for me, was the most powerful part of the story:

What would happen if the nation openly acknowledged the casualty gap? Would citizens rethink questions of war and peace? To find out, we conducted a series of original public opinion survey experiments with nationally representative samples of Americans. We found that citizens informed about the existence of a casualty gap were significantly more likely to oppose ongoing military operations and less willing to support future ones than were their peers who were not informed about casualty inequalities.

The editorial comes on the very day we learn that more than 1,000 American soldiers have died while fighting in Afghanistan.

A terrible attack in Pakistan

This from the Los Angeles Times:

Militants in the eastern city of Lahore lay siege on two mosques belonging to a minority sect Friday, killing at least 52 people in a pair of highly coordinated attacks that exposed the vulnerability of groups considered outside the mainstream of Pakistani society.

The sect targeted, the Ahmadis, is one of the country's most beleaguered minority groups. Numbering about 4 million, Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims but believe their late 19th century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet of God, a belief condemned by many Pakistani Muslims who regard Muhammad as Islam's final prophet. The group has been heavily discriminated against in Pakistan and is legally barred from calling themselves Muslims.




Laugh...at your own peril

Regular readers of this blog know that I have fundamental differences with many of the tenets of the Tea Party movement, which in many ways is still proving to be a movement of "no" rather than a party of ideas.

Rand Paul -- the Republican, but more Libertarian, Party nominee for the U.S. Senate -- has become the face of that movement, at least for now. And it is easy to laugh at him because of his ridiculous comments about the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But you laugh at your own peril.

The Tea Party movement has struck a chord with many potential voters. Granted, the hard-core right makes up just over 11% of the electorate, but the idea that the government and the deficit are growing too big will resonate with more than that small percentage of people.

Consider what is taking place in Arkansas -- where a middle-of-the-road Democrat is forced into a run-off election. There is nothing in Blanche Lincoln's political record that places her outside the mainstream middle, but in this election year she faces the challenge of defending her record.

So, what is the message as the summer of 2010 heats up? You laugh at the Tea Party movement and at the angry voter at your own peril -- whether you are a political candidate or a concerned voter.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It won't be Philadelphia

You can strike the City of Brotherly Love from the list of potential host cities for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

In a letter sent today to the Democratic National Committee, the city's mayor, Michael Nutter, says cost considerations make it impossible for Philadelphia to serve as host.

The decision is not surprising.

While I was in Washington last week at The Washington Center's academic seminar I heard more than once that Philadelphia was pushing back on any discussion about the convention. The cities that continue to bubble to the top in any conversation -- St. Louis and Charlotte.

The Democrats are not expected to announce their decision any time soon.

Now that's just plain dumb

This from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a move designed to save $2-million without cutting any jobs, Kean University will eliminate 38 department-chair positions, The Star-Ledger reported. Those 38 faculty members will move back into classroom teaching at the public institution in New Jersey, and their administrative duties will be assumed by "executive directors" and "program coordinators." The restructuring, which has been strongly opposed by the faculty union, will also eliminate majors in educational psychology, graphic communications, and mathematics education.

BP, we have a problem

This from the Los Angeles Times:

The blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico had been gushing at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, spewing at least 18 million to 28 million gallons of oil since the accident occurred, according to a revised flow rate released by the U.S. Geological Survey.

That would make the 36-day leak by far the worst in U.S. history, surpassing the Exxon Valdez disaster, which spilled 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

Run...Newt...Run!

Easy now...I haven't abandoned my Independent status and suddenly turned Republican (although that would thrill my in-laws and convince them that I might have finally come to my senses. Uh, Patty and Ray...ain't happenin'!)

Instead, the subject line of this post reflects what many Republicans are hoping (expecting?) to happen during the upcoming presidential cycle: Newt Gingrich as a presidential contender. And the man himself has dropped a provocative hint that he will be doing just that.

Mr. Gingrich is in -- surprise! -- Iowa, where he is promoting his new book (a link to it is available here)...


...that strongly attacks President Obama for moving the U.S. to the left.

I've noted at other times on this blog (see posts from October 2009, July 2009, and February 2009) that Gingrich represents something sorely missing from too many Republican politicians -- ideas that compel you to think. (Yes, too many Democratic politicians are equally vacuous.)

I especially like this New York Times piece on Gingrich, who remains an intriguing political character while subscribing to policies that remain decidedly conservative.

Will he run? Mr. Gingrich will be 70 years old when the 2012 presidential election takes place. If he opts not to, in my mind that will be the reason why. But if his health is not an issue, then the guess here is that he opts to make one last attempt at finishing his contract with America.

Ready for war?

The North Koreans are now the ones ratcheting up the rhetoric. They say any provocative action by the South can be equated to war, and they would be ready to respond.

The announcement comes as a regional summit begins tomorrow. The Chinese are attending and their position vis-a-vis sanctions against North Korea are sure to dominate the conversations. Meanwhile, in Washington conversations about North Korea include one overarching theme -- is the U.S. policy of "strategic patience" a mistake?

There has been a history of North Korean aggression against the South, though the torpedoing of a South Korean warship two months ago came almost 15 years after the last attack.

And for what it is worth -- North Korea has used rocket or missile tests as a way to generate headlines in the U.S. as the country celebrates a national holiday. As you know, this weekend begins the long Memorial Day holiday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

America's national security effort

Just one week ago, I was in Washington as a faculty leader for The Washington Center's "Top Secret" seminar that examined critical issues associated with national security.

One of our presenters was supposed to John Brennan, who is the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. His schedule was changed just before the seminar started and he was not able to speak to us. Today, Mr. Brennan spoke to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which hosted us during the seminar.

The themes relating to terrorism and America's national security he reviewed today were those he had planned to use if he had addressed the seminar.

Mr. Brennan indicated that the "enemy is not terrorism...is not terror...nor Jihadist or Islamist." Instead, he said, "Our enemy is al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates."

He reaffirmed that the U.S. remains at war with these groups and not with Islam. But this war cannot be fought simply with military might, Mr. Brennan noted. Sometimes a fight is fought with a "scalpel and not a hammer," he said. This approach is consistent with one of the themes that students at the TWC seminar heard -- the definition of war has changed, and it is neither wise nor possible to fight as America and its allies once did.

"The cancer of violent extremism" also must be dealt with, and Mr. Brennan said the "false hope" of jihad must be shown for what it is -- an empty promise. He noted that international partnerships must be used to "undermine the forces that can put the disillusioned" on the path to endorsing terrorism.

Mr. Brennan called "the new phase" of terrorism the growth of domestic terrorists. And combating them will become more important than ever before in this war, Mr. Brennan said.

The media are jumping on a point that deserves attention: President Obama's strategy provides additional evidence that the policies of the Bush administration no longer define how the U.S. will deal with terrorists.

Mr. Brennan said the "power of America's example" in spreading freedom and democracy explains why Bush-era practices such as "building defensive walls" and "brutal methods of interrogation" are not the way the U.S. will do business.

The president will address the topic on Thursday, though I expect the comments he will make in the early afternoon about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might overshadow his remarks.

You can watch Mr. Brennan's address here. A transcript also is available.



What politicians say...

...and what they mean:

1. "My opponent represented his country well during the war." (TRANSLATION: "I can't call him a draft dodging wimp.")

2. "We are working with our allies and closely monitoring the events." ("Nope, no one has a freaking clue what is happening. And we probably won't for several days.")

3. "If this bill becomes law, our nation will never recover." ("Look, mom, I'm on the news and making an a** of myself at the same time.")

4. "I am proud to have the endorsement of the _________." ("Dear Lord, what is this going to cost me in return?")

5. "I'm a champion for America's working women." ("Let me see, I've had an affair with that one...and that one. And, wow, that one over there.")

6. "I will not sacrifice my principles in order to win this election." ("Uh, I've already sacrificed my principles to get this far.")

7. "I'm thrilled to call President ________ my friend." ("God, I so want his job some day. But for now I'll smile big and wide and act like I actually care about this guy.")

8. "Washington is out of touch with real America." ("Washington rocks. It's so cool. I so want to be there.")

9. "________ is deeply committed to this issue." ("Get in line, people. Get in line.")

10. "I was hiking the Appalachian Trail." ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman.")

He's not a real Libertarian

What in the name of...of...well, something is going on in Kentucky?

Today a leading Libertarian from that state says the party might run a "real" Libertarian in the November general election for the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post reports Rand Paul, who won the Republican Party's nomination for the Senate, is proving to be too comfortable for some Libertarians with the mainstream political establishment. Moreover, his recent statements -- including questioning the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- have upset other Libertarians in the state.

Paul's campaign also is in retreat today on another front -- it has brought in a new campaign manager.

To the initial news report, I react this way -- so what. If the Libertarians or the Tea Party movement want to get another candidate on the ballot in Kentucky or any other state (and still have the time to do it), then there isn't much stopping them.

To the second news report, I attach more weight. It's indicative of a campaign eager to be more professional and more prepared. No, in fact I don't see the move as a campaign in desperation mode or otherwise trying to sacrifice someone for the ridiculous comments made by Mr. Paul last week. (He has stepped back from any suggestion that he would seek repeal of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but it has been my opinion that he must more clearly and completely state what he meant by his initial statements.)

Let's see which story the media opt to focus on during this news cycle. I think I know the answer, but I'm going to remain optimistic (or perhaps naive?).



Taking a bite out of Microsoft

This from The New York Times:

Apple, the maker of iPods, iPhones and iPads, overtook Microsoft, the computer software giant, on Wednesday to become the world's most valuable technology company.

In intraday trading in the afternoon session, Apple shares rose 1.8 percent, which gave the company a value of $227.1 billion. Shares of Microsoft declined about 1 percent, giving the company a market capitalization of $226.3 billion.

This changing of the guard caps one of the most stunning turnarounds in business history, as Apple had been given up for dead only a decade earlier. But the rapidly rising value attached to Apple by investors also heralds a cultural shift: Consumer tastes have overtaken the needs of business as the leading force shaping technology.

Patience is a virtue

Especially when it comes to dealing with North Korea. That was the message delivered today by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she visited with the president of South Korea.

The Chinese media also picked up on the meeting, noting that the Americans and the South Koreans remain vehement in their criticism of North Korea.

One reason why war is not being discussed (at least not publicly) is that it represents a significant risk to both sides.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Future job prospects

My School of Communication faculty held the first of our two-day curriculum meetings. During our dean's presentation, we were introduced to a series of Bureau of Labor statistics that forecast job prospects for various communications fields from 2008 through 2018.

I found the full report and chose to pull some of the figures that most interested me.

In percentage terms, there are expected to be by 2018:
-4.1% more broadcast analysts
-6.1% fewer radio and television announcers
-7.6% fewer broadcast reporters and correspondents
-7.8% more broadcast engineers
-11.5% more photographers
-14.1% more marketing and sales managers
-18.2% more technical writers
-24% more public relations practitioners

What can we extrapolate from these data? Perhaps that the ability to sell a message will become more important and that the messenger will become less important. Or perhaps that there will be fewer reporters on the streets with a corresponding additional number of people telling the public why certain information is important. Or perhaps the ability to be a more individual storyteller will become more valued.

Or maybe we just don't know for sure.





Let me $ee

I'm trying to figure out why the NFL would $end it$ mo$t important game -- the $uper Bowl to New Jer$ey.

What could po$$ibly prompt the idea of playing thi$ game in a cold, northern outdoor $tadium?

First, a short report from The New York Times:

National Football League owners, lured by playing the sport's biggest game on the largest stage, combined with the promise that snow would not grind the event to a halt, awarded the 2014 Super Bowl to New York on Tuesday afternoon, making the New Meadowlands Stadium the host of what will be the first cold-weather Super Bowl.

The New York-New Jersey bid beat out proposals from Tampa, Fla., and South Florida -- two traditional hosts -- in part to reward the Giants and the Jets for building a new billion-dollar stadium together, a tactic the N.F.L. has used when they have placed the game in Detroit, Dallas and Indianapolis.


Will someone tell me how the organizing committee will ensure that snow will not "grind the event to a halt"? More importantly, even if there is no snow that day (and let's also acknowledge that no one wants to see much of it during the week leading up to the game), how could the league's owners not recognize that New Jersey on a late February afternoon is probably not the best place to be when attempting to determine the best team in the league?

And let's also not ignore that the league's Pro Bowl game, now scheduled for the Sunday before the Super Bowl, also will be held in New Jersey. No offense to anyone, but I can't imagine any player being thrilled about playing that game there.

I'm not bashing New Jersey here. I'd be making the same "this is a stupid idea" comments whether it had been Philadelphia, Boston or Washington, geographically close to New York cities with outdoor football stadiums.

Granted, the league has held the Super Bowl in cold cities before (and will again in 2012), but those locations had domed stadiums that do not influence the play-calling and decision-making abilities of the coaches.

Let's remember that the Super Bowl is in large measure an opportunity for the league's marketers, business partners, owners and other VIPs to have an enjoyable week as they get ready for America's unofficial national holiday. The New York area without question will provide amenities comparable to any previous or future Super Bowl host city. And those "big shots" also will watch the game from a comfy stadium suite; they won't be freezing as the league's best teams battle for a championship.

Look, the league's owners made this decision simply because New York is New York. And as we know, you either love that city or you despise it.

Yup, that's what he said

Hmmm...if you listened to an Idaho political candidate make a recent speech and you thought 'gee, I think those words sound familiar,' then you are not alone.

This story highlights the recent remarks and their incredible likeness to those made by Sen. Barack Obama.



The tension grows between... (UPDATED)

...North and South Korea. This from The New York Times:

Relations between North and South Korea, already strained over the sinking of a South Korean warship, deteriorated to their worst point in years on Tuesday as the South Korean president redesignated the North as its archenemy, and the North said it would sever its few remaining ties with the South.

UPDATE: 2:45 p.m. EDT: Reuters reports the following from the state-run North Korean news agency which announced the decision to suspend ties with Seoul --

"The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, accordingly, formally declares that from now on it will put into force the resolute measures to totally freeze the inter-Korean relations, totally abrogate the agreement on non-aggression between the north and the south and completely halt the inter-Korean cooperation.

"In this connection, the following measures will be taken at the first phase:

"1. All relations with the puppet authorities will be severed.

"2. There will be neither dialogue nor contact between the authorities during (South Korean President) Lee Myung Bak's tenure of office.

"3. The work of the Panmunjom Red Cross liaison representatives will be completely suspended.

"4. All communication links between the north and the south will be cut off.

"5. The Consultative Office for North-South Economic Cooperation in the Kaesong Industrial Zone will be frozen and dismantled and all the personnel concerned of the south side will be expelled without delay.

"6. We will start all-out counterattack against the puppet group's 'psychological warfare against the north.'

"7. The passage of south Korean ships and airliners through the territorial waters and air of our side will be totally banned.

"8. All the issues arising in the inter-Korean relations will be handled under a wartime law.

"There is no need to show any mercy or patience for such confrontation maniacs, sycophants and traitors and wicked warmongers as the (South Korean President) Lee Myung Bak group."

The word boycott is not being used yet...

...but you can certainly see the natural leap to it.

Kurt Volker is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who argues in this editorial that the United States and the West must hold Russia's (political) feet to the fire before committing to participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Unfortunately, this is a specious argument. The notion of a boycott of the Olympics as a tool for political purposes was tried in 1980 and 1984, and these were proven to be empty in strength and value.

Now, let's be honest, the Russians are not the great diplomatic partner they are often cited as being by the Obama administration. But that misses the point -- the Olympic Games, while political in nature, offer little in the way of inducing a nation to uphold supposedly universal human values.
One need to look only at the sham that was the 2008 Beijing Games to realize that nations will say a lot to secure the Games and follow through on almost none of it.

To suggest that using a potential Olympic boycott as a means of getting Russia to be a better local and world partner is ridiculous. It won't work.



Monday, May 24, 2010

Someone is lying here

Either the blogger is a liar...or the politician is a denier.

The story developing in South Carolina today is a different one -- a blogger, Will Folks, is claiming that he had an affair with a politician who is running for governor.

The politician, Nikki Haley, says it is not true, plain and simple.

Making the story all the more surreal is that Sarah Palin is joining in the conversation. She's defending Ms. Haley, saying that what is happening to Ms. Haley is consistent with attempts to smear people who are prepared to upset the political apple cart. (I wonder what Rand Paul thinks of that.)

Oh, and just to finish off the house of laughs is that Mr. Folks used to be an aide to Mark Sanford. Yes, the same Sanford who went hiking on the Appalachian Trail...oops, I mean traveled to Argentina to visit his "soul mate" and told no one about it.

Absolutely bizarre.

Now, normally I wouldn't spend any time on such nonsense. But it is because of the occupation of the male that I am interested in this story. If he is lying, then he has disgraced himself and the journalism that he nominally claims to be involved in and presumably respects.

I could care less if Mr. Folks and Ms. Haley had a relationship. But I do care if they didn't and he's attempting to use his blogging credentials to validate a story that is a lie.

The ghost of Reagan...

...and why it could scare Republicans.

If you've followed the political scene in this country over the past three decades, then you know that Ronald Reagan remains THE MAN in the Republican Party.

Despite not being in the White House for more than two decades, Republican presidential hopefuls continue to drop his name as a means of proving they will be the kind of president he was.

Moreover, there has been book after book written about Reagan and the Revolution he led.

But how many people remember that before Reagan steamrolled to re-election in 1984 that he dealt with a revolt from the voters in 1982? Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer certainly remembers, and in this editorial he reminds the GOP that history could very well repeat itself later this year and in 2010. Indeed, it's not inconceivable that the Republicans will make significant gains in the House or Senate (perhaps both?) and perhaps take majority control of one.

And while the political winds favor the GOP in 2010, the party's leadership acknowledges that it could have a difficult time winning over the electorate. The like-it-or-despise-it attitude about the Tea Party movement also could be a drag on Republicans, and those concerns developed before Rand Paul opened his mouth and inserted foot (and continued all the way up to his calf) last week.

The reality is this -- the indicators are there for Republican success in 2010. But whether that means anything for what happens in 2012 is questionable (and for Republicans the lesson from 1984 might not be one they want to learn.)

When foul language enters the classroom...

...what can (or should) an instructor do?

It's an intriguing question; and at one community college in Mississippi, an answer might be needing soon.

Later today (specifically around 2:05 EDT), I'll be on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh to discuss this issue.

Without giving away too much of my argument now, I believe an instructor cannot punish a student for swearing -- especially if the words are an act of frustration. (And let's face it, all of us have uttered some combination of "the magic words", as I like to call them, at inopportune times. A sincere apology follows, and we should move on.) And in the Mississippi case, frustration appears to have boiled over. (Click here for the audio from the student's disciplinary hearing.)

But we begin to enter murky terrain when the instructor has to determine the intent. And we enter deeper challenges when we need to evaluate an exchange between students inside a classroom.

There is at least one Supreme Court case that is important to remember. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Cohen v California, ruled that states cannot censor public speech or expression so as to ensure society is not offended.

Writing for the majority (the vote was 5-4), Justice John Harlan wrote:

"Surely the State has no right to cleanse public debate to the point where it is grammatically palatable to the most squeamish among us. Yet no readily ascertainable general principle exists for stopping short of that result were we to affirm the judgment below. For, while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man's vulgarity is another's lyric. Indeed, we think it is largely because governmental officials cannot make principled distinctions in this area that the Constitution leaves matters of taste and style so largely to the individual."

I'll likely update this post after this afternoon's interview.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tightening the screws

The South Korean government has announced it is suspending trade with North Korea.

The decision ought not surprise you -- Seoul already has ratcheted up the rhetoric against Pyongyang because of the North's alleged role in torpedoing a South Korean warship, killing almost 50 people in the process.

The South Koreans also say
they will press their case with the U.N. for stronger sanctions against their Northern neighbors. They're already assured of support from the U.S.

.

Sarah Palin is right...

...when she says what is happening to Rand Paul bears a striking resemblance to what happened to her during the 2008 presidential race.

Today on FOX News (where else!) Ms. Palin said:

'Rand Paul is right in his clarifications. ... There is certainly a double standard here ... One thing that we can learn , ... that I have learned, and Rand Paul is learning now, is: Don't assume that you can engage in a hypothetical discussion about constitutional impacts with a reporter or a media personality who has an agenda -- who may be prejudiced before they even get into the interview in regards to what your answer may be, and then the opportunity that they seize to GITCHA. You know, they're looking for that gotcha moment.'

Paul, as you should know, won the Republican Party's nomination to the U.S. Senate last week, and then almost immediately he stepped into "it" by questioning the 1964 Civil Rights Act. His allegiance to the Tea Party movement ensures that he will be a lightning rod over the summer and into the fall general election. But more importantly, he's chosen to recoil from the media and has not said anything of substance in the past few days that would help to clarify exactly what he believes. That's a mistake.

Palin, as you might remember, was John McCain's running mate during the 2008 presidential race, and she created all kinds of confusion through her interviews and actions. (That being said, I've made no secret on this blog that the media's coverage of her during the campaign was unfair; she was treated with a lack of respect that no political candidate deserves.) She has maintained a conservative agenda that also meshes well with the Tea Party movement.

Ms. Palin's comment -- that the media are out to get certain people -- is a discussion point each semester in at least one class I teach. Is she right? (Yes, she's "right" -- oh, I know I am such a "pun"-ny guy sometimes.) I think she's correct. I think the media do play their favorites. But let's be careful about how we are using the term "media" here.

Anyone who fails to see the agenda that is part of FOX News or MSNBC cannot consider himself or herself an astute political or media observer. Moreover, anyone who listens to Rush Limbaugh cannot deny his pro-right agenda. It is because of this blatant agenda evident in all three that labeling them the "media" is appropriate but in doing so it also ensures that less or non-biased news agencies also are swept up into the name-game.

It's guilt by association: If one media organization is out to "GITCHA" then it must be true that all of them are.

"The day Antietam Creek ran red"

One of the darkest yet most historic days in American history occurred on Sept. 17, 1862 -- the battle at Antietam between Union and Confederate soldiers.

Today my family and I visited the Antietam National Battlefield site for the first time. It's amazing.

Of course, it is at Antietam Creek where the most poignant effect of the battle was seen -- history notes at least one soldier reporting that the creek "ran red" because of the blood from fallen and wounded soldiers.

My wife had always been hesitant to see Antietam; her fondness for the history of that period gave her enough stories that caused chills every time the thought came up. But our boys convinced her last week to take them.

The four of us were amazed.



Saturday, May 22, 2010

What an American journalist in China during the 1930s and 1940s...

...can teach us about objectivity.

I learned earlier this week that a research paper I submitted to the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication national convention, which is scheduled for later this year in Denver.

My paper examines the writings of journalist Edgar Snow, and how he came to understand that objectivity could not serve him as he reported from China in the 1930s and 1940s. Snow dealt with conflicting journalism values as he told the most complete story he could of a nation and a people that over time he came to love. Did his personal attachment mean that Snow was no longer objective? Yes, if one uses the classic definitions of the term. But was he a better journalist because of it?

If the answer is yes, then it provides an important lesson to the journalism industry, journalism educators, and the journalists of tomorrow. And if the answer is no, Snow’s example is nevertheless a valuable lesson for aspiring journalists because it demands that closer attention be paid to the notion of objectivity.

The paper draws a couple of conclusions, and the following might be the most important one:

"Objectivity does matter, and it is important. But Snow also reminds his readers that there are times when objectivity is not enough. A journalist does not need to get as emotionally involved in reporting as Snow did to recognize that being detached and neutral is not always possible. (A comparison to the loud, partisan and often personal attacks that substitute today on cable news networks for political commentary will not be considered here; such “reporting” makes no pretense of caring about being objective.) More importantly, remaining factual accurate but emotional barren ensures that reporting will not be complete, will not tell the fullest story possible, and will not benefit the audience, which relies on journalists to be their eyes and ears in places they cannot be."

I might update the paper before presenting it in August; I received valuable comments from the reviewers.







Reality amid the fun

My family and I spent the day at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport.

If you've been there, then you know there is an observation tower from where you can see flights come into and depart from that international airport.

And as I watched a few of those flights conclude or begin, I periodically thought about the Air India flight that crashed today, killing more than 150 people.

"Whiny reporters"

Leave it to a veteran Los Angeles newspaper reporter to best encapsule this story.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The "right" way to teach social studies

Today is perhaps the first day since my family and I left Texas five years ago that I am saying "Thank God I no longer live there."

Why? Because the state's Board of Education has opted to radically change the way social studies is taught to elementary and secondary students throughout Texas.

If your son or daughter attends a Texas school, his or her teacher will be asked to incorporate standards that "say the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated -- something most historians deny -- draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis's and Abraham Lincoln's inaugural addresses, say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty, and include a long list of Confederate officials that students must learn." (The Washington Post's complete report is available here.)

Indeed, the standards ensure that students will receive a "white"-washed version of social studies. The Houston Chronicle notes "[t]he document promotes traditional history, original documents, patriotism and free enterprise. The standards mention 'free enterprise' more than 80 times." (Here is the Chronicle's full report.)

Along the same lines, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reports "[m]inorities reiterated assertions that the standards ignored the role of Hispanics and African-Americans in Texas history and glossed over generations of abuses." (The paper's story, which is the most complete of the many I have read, can be accessed here.)

And lest you think that Texas' kids are the only ones who will be affected by this controversial decision, think again.

The Dallas Morning News notes "Texas standards often wind up being taught in other states because national publishers typically tailor their materials to Texas, one of the biggest textbook purchasers in the country." (Here's the link to the full story.)

With this curriculum change as a backdrop, it should come as no surprise to learn that almost six of every 10 likely voters in Texas say they support an Arizona-like immigration law for their state.

What is happening in Texas is the third wave of a growing pocket of angry Americans responding with a deep-rooted anger to perceived injustices. The first occurred last summer when the initial Tea Party movement protests took place. The second was the re-emerging attack on illegal immigration. What took place in Arizona is (so far) the defining moment of that attack. Now comes a party-line vote to ignore the cultural diversity of our nation's history. (Please remember that this vote simply didn't happen in an overnight, willy-nilly fashion; the move to bring them about started two years ago.)

What comes next?

He's tired

Kentucky's Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate is Rand Paul. He has opted out of a Sunday TV talk show appearance.

In this report from The New York Times, an aide purportedly told a producer for "Meet the Press" that Mr. Paul was declining the appearance because he "was tired after a long week."

I mean no disrespect, but if Mr. Paul is tired now then how is he going to handle the blistering heat of the summer and the intensity of the fall campaign?

Alright, sarcasm aside, the decision is a bad one. But let's face it, the choice to pull out is necessary -- the Paul campaign must regroup after comments made by the candidate earlier this week in which he called into question the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, if too much time is taken before the "what I meant to say was" comments are made, they might be too late.

Sure, Mr. Paul made his mistake at the right time -- he can still recover from his poorly chosen words (is that diplomatic enough for you?), but he'd better not wait too long.

A bipartisan commission...

...to investigate the BP oil spill. This comes from The Washington Post:

President Obama will appoint former EPA administrator William Reilly and former Florida senator Bob Graham to head an independent commission looking into the BP oil spill, sources familiar with the decision said Friday night. The commission will examine a number of issues, ranging from causes of last month's spill to federal oversight of offshore oil and gas drilling and the potential risks of such energy exploration.

Thinking about national security

As The Washington Center's "Top Secret" academic seminar winds down, I offer some thoughts, and in no particular order, on what I experienced this week.

1. National security always has been complex but it has become more so because of the development of non-state actors and their ability to create war and terror. The idea of a conventional war -- one state with allies and a traditional military fighting another state with its allies and traditional military is a misnomer. (Yes, you could argue that the U.S. is involved in a traditional war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but that misses the point -- conventional wars are expected less and less often in the future.) Moreover, state actors engaged in war don't consider terror to be a mechanism for success; they seek to win through conventional techniques. Non-state actors cannot play by these rules. They use fear and terrorism to seek credibility and victory because they lack the military resources to fight in the typical way.

2. National security also has become more complex because of the rapid improvement of technology. Consider that you are reading this blog through your computer connection or smartphone. But you could use those same technologies to access the Website of an extremist organization. That's just one example of the way modern technology has allowed for the dissemination and ingestion of information like never before. The Internet allows for "the bad guys" to spread their message of hate, and the international community is struggling with how to stop the spread of such messages. But technology can also allow for states such as China or Russia to attempt to disrupt the financial industries of the United States or the West. (And, yes, the U.S. could seek to do the same thing.) Granted, as more than one speaker suggested this week, we are not in a cyberwar. But we certainly are in an international environment in which a cyber-threat is out there. How the international community deals with that in the future is loaded with complexity.

3. Terrorism is a real war, but if we live in fear of it then we allow it to have more credibility than it deserves. I am reminded of something that National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leiter told our group on Thursday -- an average of 11 teenagers die every day in this country in car accidents, but since Sept. 11, 2001 a total of 14 Americans have died on home soil because of terrorism. No one is calling on the federal government to restrict the freedoms of teenagers to drive, but a significant majority of Americans want to attack terrorists on every possible front. Do not misunderstand me -- I'm not saying terrorism is a minor problem; what I am saying is that we need to keep in mind how unlikely we are when we are "home" to be affected by it. (And while we do that, let's be sure to thank the thousands of men and women who make that the case.)

4. The "war on terror" (and is that phrase now passe?) cannot be won through U.S. military force alone. "Soft power" is a fascinating and overused term, but it captures the many ways available to combat terror. Soft power includes (and this is not a full list) cultural exchanges, economic development, microgrants, educational programs and the like. In fact, hard power -- military force -- could lead to winning the battles but losing the wars if it is seen as an attempt to impose one's will on another country. America's young people need to be a mechanism for soft power; they need not be idealistic, but they do need to be committed to making a difference as they travel around the world.

5. Media coverage (especially through the broadcast media) of national security gets caught up far too often in what is happening right now and not often enough with in-depth reporting. I'll say little here because if you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know I often comment on the media's absence of depth and the overzealous attention on the frivolous. Suffice to say in this context that the media are abandoning their historical role of acting in the public's interest by its poor reporting of national security, terrorism and the complexities of the international world.

6. Failing states need significant attention to ensure that they don't become overwhelmed by young people (especially men) frustrated by a lack of economic opportunity. Here's your scenario -- a young man lacks a real chance to further his education in order to get a job. He is likely to fall through the cracks and grow angry. Into the breach comes a religious zealot promising a brotherhood/family, a commitment, a purpose and a chance to make a difference. (Here again, we see how modern technology can assist in that effort.) The U.S. and the West must commit itself to formal financial arrangements (including working with organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations) to bolster these nations and to give young people another view of their future.

We can approach our future with fear, or we look at it with the recognition that we have important issues that must be addressed. If we demand that our political leaders, our media, our economic agencies and the other industries that must work together keep the nation's interests and not their own at the top of their agenda, then we should envision the future with confidence and optimism.

To borrow a phrase, hold their collective feet to the fire. But also hold your own feet to the fire by staying engaged with these issues and understanding them through a variety of sources.

Human rights, civil liberties and the balance with national security

That was the title of the first morning session as the final day (bummer!) of The Washington Center's Top Secret program unfolded.

If you are passionate about human rights, this session was for you.

The presenters included Todd Hinnen, a deputy assistant attorney general with the Dept. of Justice (I could not find a bio for him on the DOJ Website); Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute; and Tom Parker, a policy director at Amnesty International (and I couldn't find his bio on the Amnesty International site).

The panel challenged the group to consider what it means to engage in a lengthy and unconventional war and not sacrifice human rights.

Mr. Parker reaffirmed one of the important themes of this week -- terrorism wins if it allows us to be fearful of it. "Get a grip," Mr. Parker added. "Al-Qaeda only poses a threat to our way of life if we allow it." (He's spot on here, by the way.)

He also questioned how much progress this country has made under the Obama administration in balancing the fight on terror and human rights. He asked why the White House continues to hold some suspected terrorists indefinitely, a hallmark of the Bush administration that in the minds of many people around the world contributed to the damaged U.S. image.

"The fruit of the poison tree is poisonous," Mr. Parker added.

Mr. Hinnen suggested the problem of human rights and national security has become more complex because of the spate of home-grown terrorists -- American citizens, often acting alone (though with some form of training from known terrorist organizations). These are people who are to be provided their legal rights, and yet we know the public furor that flows when that issue is raised.

Mr. Parker noted that the problem also is heightened because terrorist organizations use social media/new technology to spread their message. Those technologies also must be used in the fight against the terrorists, he added.

On the other hand, Mr. Wittes said there should be a simple answer -- abide by the values that define your society. In that circumstance, the Bush administration would not have done what it did, and the Obama administration would not continue some of the practices.

So, why does simplicity not work? It is in part because there is no certainty that the people you are dealing with hold the same values you do. In other words, what amount of risk of seeing a freed terrorist (suspected or otherwise) turning around and attacking again?

(One side note: a presenter earlier this week, Mr. Peter Singer, has written an intriguing report about the use of robots and other non-human technology in fighting wars. Read it! There are important human rights issues in the use of such technology.)