Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Washington Post Bashes Bush Administration Secrecy

So some of you don't take this wrong, in a partisan way, it is quite obvious that the trends between the balance of openness and secrecy have dramatically shifted to secrecy during the Bush Administration. The Clinton Administration was remarkably open, and erred on the side of openness.

The Bush Administration, like its GOP predecessors George Bush (the elder), Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon, are about unparalleled levels of secrecy, back-room deals, and off-the-books military operations around the globe. The deals and operations that are going on in the dark wouldn't be going on in the light, and, for the most part, there's little defense for any of the scandals, from Nixon to Reagan's Iran-Contra scandal, to justify allowing these to happen without Congressional oversight and in denial of the balance of powers and the American way.
"It is no secret that government classifies too much information," Mr. Leonard [director of the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office] said. "What I find most troubling . . . is that some individual agencies have no idea how much information they generate is classified, whether the overall quantity is increasing or decreasing, what the explanations are for such changes . . . and most importantly of all, whether the changes are appropriate."

Mr. Leonard, in response to questioning from Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), added that the amount of material "that shouldn't be classified in the first place . . . over the past year is disturbingly increasing" and that on discretionary calls he feels the government gets it wrong more than half the time.

Ms. Haave [undersecretary of defense for counterintelligence and security] also candidly acknowledged that "I do believe that we over-classify information" and she described the problem as "extensive," though "not for the purpose of wanting to hide anything." Pushed by Mr. Shays to quantify the over-classifica tion, she said, "How about if I say 50-50?"

Unnecessary secrecy erodes public confidence in government. It makes it impossible to take at face value government assertions that information is genuinely sensitive -- even when it is. And in a post-Sept. 11 world, needless secrecy is downright dangerous insofar as it prevents the open sharing of information that ought to have many different pairs of eyes examining and analyzing it.

There are a lot of problems with secrecy. An emphasis on transparency, and the absence of secrecy, encourages more accountability from our leadership, as they will not be able to hide embarrassing or criminal activities, or facts and results of their operations that are failures.

Transparency also removes the cover from which corruption and cronyism thrive. All over the world, we are infected with an epidemic of elite deviance and malfeasance, as authority figures mix between business and politics and enrich themselves at the expense of the people, their interests, and even in many cases their freedom. We are no different here in America, with cases popping up recurrently, from the BCCI episode to today's Enron and Halliburton, and though we remain open enough in America to uncover some of these things, the trend is disturbing, and, in the case of Enron, we only found out after total failure, with the complicity (absence of action) from the President (a good friend of the leader of Enron), that Enron gamed the energy crisis in California and screwed us in the immediate aftermath of Bush's election (this never would have happened on Gore's watch).

Further, our society is divided in an unprecedented, and unhealthy, way. Conspiracies and myths thrive amongst the people. A commitment to transparency and the freedom of information would go a long way to dispelling conspiracies and beginning to heal the hearts and minds of Americans, and encourage reconciliation and recognition of common beliefs, goals, and challenges again, rather than the wedge demagoguery that holds American politics hostage today, along with our hearts and minds.

From this corner, this site, this man, you will never, ever sense a hint of surrender. I am going to keep banging on the doors, and using my little axe, to free the flow of information so that it goes both ways, from the people to the state and from the state to the people, and to knock down the tall trees of corruption and cynicism that infect not only America, but the globe.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Lao-Tzu Comments On Leadership
A leader is best
when people barely know
that he exists,
not so good
when people obey
and acclaim him,
worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
they fail to honor you”;
but of a good leader,
who talks little,
when his work is done,
his aim fulfilled,
they will say
“we did this ourselves.”

In other words, when 200,000 people are on the streets of New York wanting your removal, a leader does not dismiss them, or disparage them, or ignore them, but ought wonder how to engage them, why they scorn him, and mourn the failure to bring them together under more favorable circumstances, so they feel their will is being done, and not being trampled.

On Bush's Leadership Style

The Washington Post has done some thorough (and balanced) background work and analysis on Bush's leadership style:
Many of Bush's admirers describe him as a leader who asks tough, probing questions of advisers but also say he is a person who, once he picks a goal, never looks back. Even strong supporters sometimes worry that his curiosity and patience seem limited, while detractors see him as intellectually lazy and dependent on ideology and sloganeering instead of realism and clear thinking. Because he has a relatively small set of advisers, dissenting voices are effectively muffled.

Dissenting voices are muffled? Not the stuff of true leadership. This article has a few little anecdotes from Christine Whitman, for instance, former head of the EPA, complaining of not being heard and essentially shunted aside. With Bush's lack of interest in the environment, and its value to us and our children, this may not be so surprising, but it is not limited to what Bush may perceive as core liberal, anti-business issues.

Fred I. Greenstein, a Princeton University political scientist and authority on presidential leadership styles, said Bush's clarity of purpose reduces the tendency in government to let matters drift, but too often "results in a vision that may be simplistic or insufficiently examined or something that undermines itself."


In other cases, though, Bush has allowed crises to fester. Bush has never resolved deep disagreements within his war cabinet about how to deal with North Korea, with the result that the isolated nation, which had appeared close to a missile deal with the Clinton administration, has quadrupled its stockpile of nuclear weapons, from two to eight, during Bush's tenure.

On North Korea, Bush has been torn between the engagement recommended by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the no-compromise stance taken by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Often, insiders say, diplomatic initiatives are decided at the last minute, apparently on the basis of the position of the person who gets in the last word. The shifting script, foreign diplomats involved in the talks say, has often left other countries confused about the administration's approach -- and the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program unresolved.

It's this kind of myopia or narrow-sightedness on particular issues, like Iraq, while allowing other important crises and challenges to fester, like North Korea, Burma, and the environment, that seems to mark Bush's administration. As the leader of this administration, we have to judge him on it, and there seem to be many more failures than successes, and most of these might possibly be explained by his cavalier and ideologically restrained management and stifling of the free flow of information.

One of the most persistent criticisms of Bush is that he operates in a largely closed loop with little input from outside experts, relying on longtime confidants, many of whom came with him from Texas. Just as Bush has claimed to read mostly newspaper stories selected by his staff, he also relies on just a few people for most of his ideas about the world.

Again and again, people who know Bush refer to the filter around him. John M. Bridgeland, who was the first director of Bush's Domestic Policy Council and then ran USA Freedom Corps, the president's national-service initiative, said Bush "wants only the highly relevant information he needs to make an informed judgment."

The only problem with this is that when he is getting his information from known hysterics like Dick Cheney (sorry Dick, any credibility you may have had is now gone, with your Iraq WMD performance), and a packed truth squad of the likes of Douglas Feith, there's little wonder that Bush was not able to see the forest for the trees. Leadership demands that you ask the tough questions, from the pool of all available information, so that you are not blind-sided, and your efforts, which afterall represent the nation and the people you are leading, have the best chance of fitness and success, rather than catastrophic success and/or failure.

But critics say that Iraq illustrates the risks of an approach that narrows the definition of a problem and fails to look at the ramifications of a proposed solution. Accounts of Bush's decision-making about Saddam Hussein describe repeated and detailed briefings on plans for the military assault on Iraq. But no such attention appears to have been directed toward the ethnic and religious differences within that country or on plans for pacification after the hoped-for military victory. In recent interviews, Bush has acknowledged that he misjudged the political and social climate of Iraq and therefore was unprepared for the resistance that has cost so many American lives.

Some administration officials complained that one problem with Bush's reliance on his gut instincts is that often officials who have to sell or implement a policy are unsure how he arrived at it. The president told Woodward in "Bush at War": "I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel I owe anybody an explanation."

As for being unsure at how he arrives at his decisions, you can count the American people and world as well. For a while, half of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11, among other fanciful and numerous theories of why we went to war in Iraq. As a particular reason has been shot down, like WMD, it is merely replaced with one of other half-dozen reasons chosen. This may be effective for Lincoln-Douglass debate, but it is hardly the measure of a good leader, and flexibility ought to be reserved for action, and not rationalizations and excuses if a stubborn policy that doesn't consider changing course (or it's too late the course is committed) needs new reasons to support it.

A variety of academic researchers have conducted in-depth studies of Bush's decision-making style, and several of them have found that greater curiosity about the nitty-gritty details of policy substance, and less hasty decision-making, could have saved him considerable grief.

Greenstein, for one, said: "People no longer think he's dumb or not capable, but he clearly does not consider downsides and alternatives. Decisiveness is a good thing, unless you're leaping to the gun."

Alexander L. George, a Stanford University professor emeritus of political science and author of a text about presidential decisions, said Bush "does not look for complexity."

"He doesn't appear to have second thoughts about anything, which is worrisome when things aren't going so well," George said.
Senator Leahy Bashes Bush Administration On Secrecy, Defends Freedom of Information

Support just keeps coming in from all corners in the struggle for the freedom of information, transparency, and accountability. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy lights up the Bush Administration for excessive secrecy and non-cooperation with Congress in a cogent editorial in the Detroit Free Press:
The public's right to know is one of the foundations of our freedoms and our democracy. Knowing what our government is doing promotes accountability and trust and lubricates the checks and balances that make our system work.

That is why Congress' oversight role, reporting by a free press and tools like the Freedom of Information Act are so vital.

But the pendulum has swung so far away from openness in recent years that it is silently and steadily eroding the public's right to know. And when structural protections like FOIA are weakened, the erosion can be rapid, and lasting.

Ironically, at the same time government agencies are quietly...[gathering] more information about each of us, it is becoming harder for Americans to learn what government agencies are up to...rightly becom[ing] a serious concern for Americans, [and] sparking calls for greater openness.


[And]...when it comes to congressional oversight, cooperation from the current administration has been sparse and grudging...Oversight letters from Congress to the Justice Department have gone unanswered for months or even years...Attorney General John Ashcroft has been reluctant to appear before congressional oversight committees...and this, during a period when there is much to be accountable for.


We can count on government agencies to issue press releases when they do things right. We need the Freedom of Information Act so we also know when they do things wrong.


The free flow of information is a cornerstone of our democracy, and each generation of Americans must fiercely protect this right, for our own sake, and for the generations that will follow us.

Please go read the whole editorial. I've given about half of it here, and making edits was difficult to do, because the whole piece is nothing short of brilliantly stated, and deserves our full consideration.

God Bless Americans like Patrick Leahy.

Bush, Catastrophic Success, and John Edwards Making Me Laugh Out Loud

In the middle of the night, checking up on the news, getting ready to go to sleep, the last thing I expect to do, while reading a Washington Post story, is start busting out laughing...
Bush...acknowledged...that the administration did not anticipate the nature of the resistance in Iraq, and he said that was his greatest mistake in office. "Had we had to do it over again," he said, "we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success, being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."

Democrats tried Sunday to exploit that acknowledgment. "The president is now describing his Iraq policy as a catastrophic success," Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards said in Washington. "I, like most Americans, have no idea what that means, but it is long past time for this president to accept personal responsibility for his failures and for his performance." Edwards said the Iraq war "has clearly been a failure."

As funny as this is, in terms of Edwards' witty response, it also continues our discussion about leadership and accountability. Iraq has been, by and large, a terrible failure, or at least all or most of our main expectations and objectives have gone astray. That Bush finally seems to want to acknowledge this, on the eve of the Republican Convention, when people are really going to start paying attention, is not comforting. One only need look at all the failures and embarassment courtesy of the Defense Department to see where President Bush can put some proof in his leadership pudding and fire or accept the resignation of several top individuals.

Leadership and Accountability

Rudy Guilani seems to have a distorted view of leadership, at least as far as his speech will communicate tonight at the Republican Party Convention:
"In choosing a President, we really don't choose a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal. We choose a leader. And in times of danger, as we are now in, Americans should put leadership at the core of their decision. There are many qualities that make a great leader but having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader.

Now, there is something to be said for sticking to your beliefs, in good times and bad, but this alone cannot prove a great, or even good, leader. For, if the ship is astray, a leader needs to be able to change course, to hold those (including himself) accountable for mistakes that hurt the cause for which he/she leads, to transmit confidence in those of us who are looking to our leadership to guide, adapt and adjust to the changing times and circumstances, and most of all to prevent variations or embarrassments in terms of our strongly held beliefs and values. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorializes along these lines:

Two reports emanating from the Defense Department last week constitute a powerful indictment of the failure by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top aides to prevent the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons in Iraq and elsewhere. In fact, both reports assert that a failure of leadership helped to create the conditions that led to this scandal.

It is not enough that the atrocities should be documented, blame fixed, apologies offered and corrective action taken; those responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere need to be held accountable for their actions or their failure to act, no matter their rank. Otherwise, the damage inflicted by this affair - on its victims and on this country's reputation and moral standing around the world - will not be fully healed.

I and many others don't point this out primarily for any partisan political reasons either. We are concerned with the fabric of our society, the increasing trend towards secrecy and plausible deniability, the accompanying decline in accountability and citizen faith in our leadership and governance, not to mention the overall success in our endeavors (as opposed to failures). In America, this is a great scandal right now, that so many of us don't trust our leaders or government, and seemingly as a result we barely manage to get over 50% of the populace to vote, while calling ourselves the greatest democracy and free nation in the world, and also while mucking up so many of our adventures and objectives.

American's trust in government and business continues to falter, often at 40 percent or less according to Brookings, Pew, and others. Similar studies show that distrust is tied to deceptive and dishonest leaders, leaders who rely on myths to create a mantle of leadership. According to Steve Carney of Power Of We Consulting, there are three important leadership myths that cause distrust:

  • 1. It is often said that leadership is about delegation. Telling others what to do reflects a more authoritarian, power-based approach - leadership is not really defined by delegation.

  • 2. Many espouse that leadership is "Bold and decisive action." Cutting in front of another car might seem bold and decisive - it is also reckless and shows poor judgment.

  • 3. Executives and officials often claim, "I didn't know about it," posing as victims to avoid accountability. That is not leadership either.

    These statements are common among government and business executives, says Carney. They reflect a cafeteria-style approach to leadership where they choose the things they like (power, glory, status), and ignore the qualities they don't (performance, responsibility, accountability).

    According to Carney, management and workplace expert, a true leader is a team player who inspires excellence in achieving a mission or goal for their teams, customers, or citizens - the common good. True leaders use

  • persuasion rather than domination;
  • they plan strategically and exercise good judgment;
  • they empower others and recognize their teams' contributions;
  • they manage complexity and stay connected to what's going on; and
  • they rely on facts and information rather than beliefs.

    "True leaders lead with honesty and integrity; they are responsible for their decisions and accountable for their actions; they encourage and motivate rather than devalue and demean; they lead by example and avoid deception, manipulation, and scapegoating because they are committed to high standards for leadership.
  • There's more to Carney's assessment of leadership if you follow the link. If we do anything this election season, beyond getting out the vote and debating the issues, let's try and clearly define the essence and ideal of leadership so that we can try and cut through the BS and point straight to the heart of the matter.

    Sunday, August 29, 2004

    Emphasis on Secrecy Out of Control...And Terribly Expensive!

    As anyone who reads here will know, I am a fierce champion of the freedom of information, transparency, and accountability. To this cause, I marshall a number of arguments. Until recently, however, it's never occurred to me that an argument against secrecy could be made in regards to its operational costs. Read this, and then add operational costs of secrecy to the list (though, I would still not champion this as a primary argument, but it may be effective and worthy of reflection for those who aren't entirely convinced by the primary arguments):
    The 9/11 Commission, leaders in Congress -- even the government’s top secret-keeper -- all agree that Washington’s penchant for keeping information under wraps has grown out of control. Now, a coalition of watchdog groups has documented just how much it’s costing to keep all those records away from the public eye.

    During the 2003 fiscal year, the federal government spent more than $6.5 billion securing classified information, according to a new "Secrecy Report Card" from OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of government watchdog and civil liberties groups. That’s an increase of more than $800 million from the previous year, according to the group, and a nearly $2 billion jump since 2001. But it’s only a best guess, really; the report card’s accounting doesn’t include a penny from the Central Intelligence Agency, which keeps even its overall budget classified.

    Some of the rise is understandable, with the government’s increased focus on security since 9/11. But even some of Washington’s leading authorities on government secrecy were caught off-guard by just how fast classification is increasing -- and just how much money it’s taking to keep all that information locked away.

    "I thought the secrecy system would be in the $100 million range. Being in the billion-dollar range -- that’s astonishing," said Steven Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists. The group is one of more than 30 organizations that belong to OpenTheGovernment.org. "This documents in an empirical way what many people have been feeling intuitively: that the secrecy system is vast and growing."
    Open-Destination Teleportation

    Somehow I just accidentally stumbled upon this, while News Googling around, and feel compelled to give it a quick mention (or, at least subquote and link):
    An international team of physicists has entangled five photons for the first time in the world, reports Technology Research News in "Five photons linked". Why is this important? Because it's the minimum number of qubits needed for universal error correction in quantum computing. In other words, they found a way to check computational errors in future quantum computers.

    The physicists also demonstrated what they call 'open-destination teleportation,' a way to teleport quantum information within and between computers." "They teleported the unknown quantum state of a single photon onto a superposition of three photons. They were then able to read out this teleported state at any one of the three photons by performing a measurement on the other two photons," adds PhysicsWeb in "Entanglement breaks new record". This will be used in about ten to twenty years to move information among quantum networks.

    Seems we have little problem thinking out-of-the-box in terms of science and technology, why do we seemingly have so many problems, and so little success, if even actively engaged imagination, with novel reform of our political, social and economic arrangements and relations?

    The Prophetic Imagination and Criticism

    I've been meaning to do this post for sometime now. A while back, at the book store, I stumbled across Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination. Though this may not be for everybody, browsing through it spoke to me, and I made the purchase. For this I'm happy, for some of the insights of the book are stunning:
    How can we have enough freedom to imagine and articulate a real historical newness in our situation? That is not to ask...if this freedom is realistic or politically practical or economically viable. To begin with such questions is to concede everything to the royal consciousness before we begin. We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and coopted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.

    To me, this really rang true while coincidentally and concurrently in political debates with Democrats and Republicans about how we can truly affect real change in America. How we can make our organization and systems more participatory, responsive, and accountable, and true to freedom, liberalism, and democracy.

    As long as we buy into the 'way things are [done]', then there will be little power to transform them from the 'way things will always be'. If you win with the current tactics, if you rule the current system, if even squeezing your nose at the stench, what will inspire you to dare to change things, to do them differently, since this could threaten your superior position? Indeed, would only beauty or a desire for a clean olfactory environment encourage this change?

    History would seem to suggest that it is only from courage and clarity from the underdog, from those not in a superior position as pertains the system, that coherent and appealing visions for change arise. Though I may be oversimplifying, I'm just trying to share some of the revelations that came to mind while reading the above passage.


    For explanation of the Royal Consciousness, and a full review of the book, follow this link.

    Saturday, August 28, 2004

    Hey Big Media, Connect the Dots - Nine Impolite Questions for Big Media

    Don Williams has some questions for our beloved (and objective) Big Media:
    Yes you with the research assistants, cameras and sexy news-anchors there in Washington, New York and Atlanta. I know you try hard not to show liberal bias. In fact, I submit that you often bend over backwards. You betray your calling when you fail to connect the dots, or when you join in character assassination or shun your role as arbiter of what's true. You can do better. Here are nine questions from the heartland that might suggest how.

    * First, when quoting those Swift-boat Veterans for Truth over and over about what Kerry did between 1969 and 1972, doesn't balance demand that you recall President Bush's sketchy service record? Isn't it just as pertinent that some Air National Guard commanders never saw Bush report for duty? That there's a gap in his pay stubs? Aren't you ethically bound to remind the public that Bush stopped flying fighter jets in the spring of 1972, according to USA Today, and failed to take a physical exam required of all pilots, and that his sole medical treatments in the Guard were for dental fillings?

    * Second, if you're going to quote Bob Dole blasting Kerry's anti-war activities and Senate record isn't it pertinent to recount how Bush spent the same three decades?

    * You've replayed those tapes over and over in which Kerry catalogued atrocities in Vietnam. Don't you owe it to the public to point out that, while most veterans served honorably, history shows atrocities DID OCCUR? Shouldn't you mention My Lai? Operation Phoenix? Some three million Southeast Asians died in the Vietnam War. Is it possible Kerry had a point?

    Much more if you read the rest, it's Saturday night and I'm out of here.

    Friday, August 27, 2004

    Two Environmental Heavyweights Spar Over Nuclear Power

    There's a debate in the Independent today between Zac Goldsmith, editor of The Ecologist magazine, and James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia Hypothesis. I'll be the first to admit it seems odd, and challenging, that Mr. Lovelock is arguing for widespread adoption of nuclear power. And, as I read his case, strange statements like this can be found:
    Try to imagine the social consequences of hundreds of millions of homeless refugees seeking dry land on which to live. In the turmoil, they may look back and wonder how humans could have been so foolish as to bring so much misery upon themselves by the thoughtless burning of carbon fuels. They may then reflect regretfully that they could have avoided their miseries by the safe use of nuclear energy.

    Nuclear power, although potentially harmful to people, is a negligible danger to the planet. Natural ecosystems can stand levels of continuous radiation that would be intolerable in a city. The land around Chernobyl was evacuated because its high radiation intensity made it unsafe for people, but this radioactive land is now rich in wildlife, much more so than neighbouring areas.

    So, Lovelock seems to be concerned with people in one paragraph, and then in the next paragraph seems to be marketing the benefits of radioactivity on the local ecology (though NOT for humans). For someone who believes in the Gaia hypothesis, maybe it's a good thing that nuclear accidents will clear people out, yet allow the natural fauna and flora to flourish, but, for someone like me (who puts people first), that's a non-starter.

    I won't go into my views (in detail) in this post on nuclear power, just spotlight a few grafs from each of the debaters, but let it be known that I am 100% against conceiving of nuclear power as a positive development, and for many reasons, including security, non-proliferation, full-cost accounting, reliance on technocrats, human nature, history, warfare, democracy, human rights, a clean environment, and hypocrisy (can every nation freely develop nuclear power, or will some be hostage to those who are allowed?). Okay, on to Goldsmith's opposition:

    And so in panic, a number of high-profile commentators are calling for the widespread adoption of nuclear power. Greens, they say, have to choose between climate change and their old enemy - nuclear power.

    But it's a manufactured choice, peddled by an industry in the final spasm of a struggle to survive. Fundamentally, nuclear power is a problem, not a solution. And it's a problem on virtually every level.


    But with or without terrorists, the lives of countless British people dangle in the hands of the technocrats each and every day. And as we know, technocrats make mistakes. Last year, for instance, Sellafield came close to disaster when explosive gases were allowed to build up in tanks that store highly-radioactive nuclear waste. Amazingly, the BNFL staff on duty ignored warning alarms for nearly three hours. Even without potential disasters, routine radioactive emissions ensure cancer clusters around virtually every installation. Sellafield, for instance, boasts a cancer cluster 10 times the national average.

    Two years ago, Vice-President Dick Cheney lamented that the US government hadn't approved a single application for a new nuclear power plant for 20 years. What he didn't say was that there had been no application. Nuclear power is a bad investment. Without massive government involvement and incalculable public subsidies, it simply wouldn't exist. According to The Economist, OECD governments poured $159bn (£89bn) into nuclear research between 1974 and 1998. BNFL, meanwhile, has admitted it faces a bill of £34bn to clean up waste, and it expects that waste to increase by a minimum of 500 per cent over the next decade.

    On every level, nuclear is an unattractive option, unless you happen to belong to al-Qa'ida and want to close down an economy overnight. So for the industry to be granted a life-extension requires belief that it is the only solution to an even bigger problem - climate change.

    But even there, nuclear power is a false hope. The instinctively pro-nuclear Mr Blair was told last year by his own energy advisors that nuclear is a "red herring". "You can achieve a low-carbon economy without nuclear," they told him.

    I'll give Lovelock the last word (against Goldsmith at least...I'll have more to say):

    The fear of nuclear energy is understandable through its association in the mind with the horrors of nuclear warfare, but it is unjustified; nuclear power plants are not bombs. They are, in fact, built solidly enough to withstand even a direct hit by a plane in a terrorist attack, according to industry experts.

    What at first was a proper concern for safety has become a near-pathological anxiety. Much of the blame for this goes to the news media, the television and film industries, and fiction writers. All these have used the fear of things nuclear as a reliable prop to sell their wares. They, and the political disinformers who sought to discredit the nuclear industry as potential enemies, have been so successful at frightening the public that it is now impossible in many nations to propose a new nuclear power plant.

    No source of power is entirely safe, even windmills are not free of fatal accidents, but compared to nuclear power, the dangers of continuing to burn fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) as our main energy source are far greater and they threaten not just individuals but civilisation itself. Much of the First World behaves like an addicted smoker: we are so used to burning fossil fuels for our needs that we ignore their long-term risks.


    I hope that it is not too late for the world to emulate France and make nuclear power our principal source of energy. At present we have no other viable alternative.

    I ought to suggest to Mr. Lovelock that he not emphasize emulating France as part of his case, since his allies on this matter will be coming largely from the Right, and aren't high on the French. Perhaps the Japanese would be a better choice.

    Also, I suggest all of you read the whole debate, as Goldsmith clearly makes the more relevant and cogent case, while Lovelock, aside from the coherence of the graf I subquoted, mainly veers off into a defense of nuclear radioactivity that, though harmful to humans, has been part of the history of the planet since primordial times. Honestly, all of that is a red herring, because this debate is about people, our lives, health, freedom, and security, and how we live together (in terms of how we structure our institutions and relations).

    That said, my case is better than both of these men's, and I will be making it here in the next few days.

    For starters, imagine how much support for nuclear energy there would be if the location for the plant was held by lottery (so, conceivably, it could be placed adjacent to a middle-class or wealthy neighborhood)...

    Thursday, August 26, 2004

    Hold Officals Accountable For Abu Ghraib

    I'll be discussing this a bit more tomorrow or this weekend, as I'm still gathering my thoughts on this issue, of the extent we should expect and demand accountability, but here's James Ross of Human Rights Watch taking on the USA Today's editorial board:
    The two recent reports on U.S. military abuses of prisoners show the limits of Pentagon-appointed investigations for such a controversial issue. Both the Schlesinger commission and the internal Army review contain important and disturbing information on the torture and mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yet both reports shy away from the logical conclusion: High-level military and civilian officials must be fully investigated for their role in the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

    Actually, from the looks of it Ross is just going where the USA editors dare not suggest (but seem to hint at indecisively):

    Around the world, Abu Ghraib has become a symbol of an arrogant America that doesn't practice the respect for human rights that it preaches. The negative impression not only falsely portrays the U.S. as a nation that disregards international norms of behavior, but — more worrisome — it also helps al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups recruit.

    Correcting that impression is essential. The task begins with establishing a clear chain of accountability. The case for firing the top brass or the civilian leadership is less clear but certainly a possibility.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2004

    Politics As Boxing - Kerry Has Bush Up On The Ropes

    If we were to characterize the presidential campaign as a boxing match, it seems certain we would have to describe Kerry on the offensive, hammering Bush, and backing him up against the ropes. For awhile there, it didn't look that way, but suddenly in the past few days I've noticed a clear change of momentum.

    Bush came out cocky, throwing a lot of punches and playing his best dirty game. But John Kerry isn't your average fighter. He seems to have a plan, and a lot of resilience. Seemingly a bit lethargic in the beginning rounds, as Bush became more aggressive, suddenly Kerry has shifted gears, and is showing a lot more energy.

    Just in the last few days we've had a few resignations from Bush's election team because of irregularities with their participation in the Swift Boat debacle, which Bush has firmly denied being connected with, even though everyone knows that he really is. But even his plausible deniability has been punctured a bit, Kerry having pierced his defenses, and now following up with some severe body blows.

    For instance, now John Kerry is calling for Don Rumsfeld's resignation, enunciating and repeating a mantra of accountability for all to hear. Bush has no defense for this. Transparency and accountability are his achilles heels, where he is wide open to attack. His administration has been about unparalleled secrecy and back-room deals, and in almost every debacle that arises one after the next in terms of his administration there is always the appearance of a lack of accountability.

    Bush talks loyalty, which is a great trait, but as a leader and president it cannot trump accountability. The only people in his administration who have been held accountable, and fired, are those who were held accountable for not parroting the party line on whatever particular matter. For not being loyal enough. This is abominable.

    Kerry can hammer and hammer, since Bush cannot defend on accountability. He can talk loyalty all he wants, it's a great personal trait, but the bottom line is that we need some accountability from our leadership and organization, and we don't have that.

    Kerry is making sure everyone knows.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2004

    Human Fetuses At Risk? More Disturbing Evidence of Coal Burning Threat

    The other day, as I was reading The Emergence of Everything (a great book), I jotted down some notes after having a revelation in regards to amphibians, water, pollution, and disappearing frogs.
    frogs and amphibians are dying out possibly because of increasing water pollution, and the pollutive chemicals impact on amphibian embryos (which develop in water), since this is the most vulnerable period as we've seen even with humans. theories related to increased ozone radiation being the cause of killing amphibians may not make as much sense, and the failure to reproduce and/or for the embryos to survive and propagate may be the most reasonable...

    That is a verbatim transcription of my spur-of-the-moment notes while reading about the evolution from fish to amphibians, and, with this latest press release by the Earth Policy Institute, really has me wondering if instead of a color-coded system for terror threats we need one for ecological threats.

    Startling new research shows that one out of every six women of childbearing age in the United States may have blood mercury concentrations high enough to damage a developing fetus. This means that 630,000 of the 4 million babies born in the country each year are at risk of neurological damage because of exposure to dangerous mercury levels in the womb.

    Fetuses, infants, and young children are most at risk for mercury damage to their nervous systems. New studies show that mercury exposure may also damage cardiovascular, immune, and reproductive systems. Chronic low-level exposure prenatally or in the early years of life can delay development and hamper performance in tests of attention, fine motor skills, language, visual spatial skills, and verbal memory. At high concentrations, mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and even death.

    Humans are exposed to mercury primarily by eating contaminated fish. Forty-five of the 50 states have issued consumption advisories limiting the eating of fish caught locally because of their high mercury content. New analyses of fish samples collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 500 lakes and reservoirs across the country found mercury in every single sample. In 55 percent of them, mercury levels exceeded the EPA’s “safe” limit for a woman of average weight eating fish twice a week, and 76 percent exceeded limits for children under the age of three. Four out of five predator fish—those higher on the food chain, such as tuna or swordfish—exceeded the limits.

    Accuse me of being alarmist, but if we do not stand up for our own children, for our own progeny, let alone all children around the globe, then we have no right to call anyone evil, to declare ourselves good, or to smugly glow in saving civilization and our magnificent achievements and progress.

    Be sure to check out the whole update from the Earth Policy Institute, but, if you're short on time, suggestions for action boil down to this:

    Using coal, a hazardous nineteenth-century fuel, when we have twenty-first-century alternatives is hard to understand. Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, do not require dangerous mining or mountaintop removal, nor do they pollute the air, land, and water with a slew of toxic chemicals. Full-cost pricing of coal to include the environmental damages and the enormous health care burden of using it, combined with removing antiquated subsidies on all fossil fuels, could go a long way toward encouraging more investment in renewables.

    In addition, simple energy efficiency measures can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and save money, too. Research from the Alliance to Save Energy indicates that improving efficiency standards for household appliances in the United States could allow 127 power plants to close. More stringent air conditioner efficiency standards could shut down 93 power plants. And raising the efficiency standards of both new and existing buildings through mechanisms like tax credits and energy codes could close 380 power plants. Using these methods to shut down the 600 most polluting coal-fired power plants in the country would be a boon for public health.

    Several European countries have begun to lead the transition away from coal. (See data at www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update42_data.htm.) In Germany, coal use has been cut in half since 1990, while expanding wind electric generation is taking its place. Coal use in the United Kingdom has dropped by 46 percent over the same period, offset by efficiency gains and a shift toward natural gas. Plans are moving ahead for a huge expansion in wind energy in the U.K. and other European countries.

    By moving beyond coal, the United States could avoid a legacy of smog-filled skies, acid rain, polluted waterways, contaminated fish, and scarred landscapes. This could each year save some 25,000 lives, reduce respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, avert potential neurological damage for 630,000 babies, and erase a health care bill of over $160 billion.
    Damn That Liberal Media - The Berger Hysteria Versus The Khan Leak Silence

    Neil Hamilton over at the raw story points out the obvious. Only it's not that obvious to everyone. Especially not that liberal media.

    It seemed to be earth-shaking and apocalyptic news that the media seized upon late this past July thanks to a suspiciously timed leak. Just before the release of the 9/11 Commission’s final report, we learned that former Clinton National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, was under investigation for spiriting away classified documents from the National Archives which dealt with that administration’s reaction to terror threats...

    ...The media went on its characteristic feeding frenzy and dutifully gave plenty of Republican politicians an opportunity to immediately ascribe the most nefarious motives to Mr. Berger’s actions on-air. All sorts of wild and unsubstantiated allegations made by Republicans about Berger having stuffed the documents in his socks were treated as fact by a press seemingly excited by the possibility of a another Clinton-related scandal.

    Throughout the day the regular anchors on both stations gave updates about the case. Curiously, these debates and discussions stressed the more inflammatory and damning accusations made against Berger and downplayed some of the more exculpatory facts which would have mitigated the seriousness of the scandal. Republican Congressman like Saxby Chambliss were allowed to go on the air and make unproven assertions, and others like Dennis Hastert accused Berger of trying to “re-write history” by hiding some documents which would have reflected unkindly on the Clinton administrations efforts against terror.

    Lost in all the stentorian harrumphing and disingenuous concern of some of these political figures was the fact that it was reported that Berger had taken copies of these documents and that the originals still remained in the possession of the National Archives. On shows like Chris Matthew’s “Hardball,” this fact was lost in the din of all the overheated hyperventilation about Berger’s possible motivations.

    Thus, many different hypothetical scenarios were posited about why Berger did what he did. Some theorized ominously that he had been directed by Bill Clinton himself to eliminate all incriminating documents before the 9/11 Commission got their hands on them, while others thought that he might have been pilfering these documents so that he could surreptitiously give them to the Kerry Campaign. In all the commentary of the scandal it was rarely brought up how ridiculous both of these claims were.

    Yes, the media did go into a feeding frenzy during the Berger episode, and noone ought to question why. The Republicans staged the whole event - planned and implemented a media strategy to draw attention away from more politically damaging (to them) revelations.

    Meanwhile, when the Khan leak broke, aside from an initial comment from Howard Dean, we were met with near silence from the Democratic aisle when Reuters broke the story that U.S. insistence on the public release of Khan's arrest prematurely broke up a counter-terror sting being conducted by the Pakistanis and British, in cooperation with the CIA.

    Eager to justify Tom Ridge’s recent terror warnings, unnamed officials in the Bush administration revealed in a background briefing to journalists that the source of the new information behind Ridge’s announcement was Khan.

    Khan was an Al Qaeda computer expert who helped Osama bin Laden communicate with his terrorist network and had been “turned” by the Pakistanis after his arrest. He was being used by the Pakistanis in sting operations to break up terrorist cells in the U.S., Britain and around the world, but by blowing his cover the Bush administration effectively terminated his usefulness.

    After his name was leaked, counterterrorism officials saw a steep drop off in intercepted communications between suspected terrorists.

    In addition, the British MI5 were forced to hastily arrest 13 members of a London cell in the fear that they would flee after learning of Khan’s arrest. Another five who were targeted immediately went underground after hearing that Khan was in custody and have eluded arrest thanks in part to the administrations blunder. It has been exceedingly difficult to penetrate al Qaeda and finally there was a mole to help gather information that could lead to capture of more terrorists, and possibly bin Laden himself. The outing of this mole was an unmitigated disaster.

    What was the media’s response after another display of rank incompetence by this administration? It certainly wasn’t nearly as heated and intense as it was during the Berger affair despite the fact that this was far more damaging to U.S. security interests and has much more dire implications for the War on Terror. Other than a handful of senators (Schumer and Allen) voicing concern and politely asking for an explanation from the administration on Blitzer’s show, there has been a very muted reaction expressed through the press. There certainly hasn’t been nearly the amount of accusatory and finger pointing discussions and debates as there were during the previous controversy, and the scandal seems to be fading away without any calls for accountability on the part of those in the Bush administration.

    Conclusion? The Republicans play hardball, and the Democrats seem to play scared. I think it's a problem of Big Media, because where are our independent investigative journalists reporting on the Khan leak? Nowhere to be found. Big Media is led, not leading, and this is a continuing and disturbing trend that is likely the result of vertical and horizontal integration, mergers, and a desire to cut costs, combined with a lazy reliance on news releases and spin campaigns from self-interested, motivated actors with the wherewithal to assure the story gets out.

    As far as the Khan leak, the Republicans seemed to be as good at damage control as at unsubstantiated smear and spin, as even many Democrats seemed afraid of the story and urging caution at every juncture, as if a few Democrats would push the story, keep it in the limelight, and then find out it was all a big psych warfare campaign or the result of rogue Pakistanis. Well, I'll have more on that later, but there is indeed a rogue Pakistani, by all accounts, or there is not real cooperation with Pakistan, and since the administration is touting the latter, and not claiming the former, something is amiss, and it's not our media's job to try and parse through realist scenarios, but to report on stories.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2004

    Did The U.S. Blow An Al Qaeda Double Agent Working For Us?

    There's been a lot of speculation in the past few days about this, ever since the story broke on Friday night, but now it seems to have gone establishment, as AP has released a full story and everyone is running with it.
    The disclosure to reporters of the arrest of an al-Qaida computer expert jeopardized Pakistani efforts to capture more members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, government and security officials said Tuesday.

    Two senior Pakistani officials said initial reports in "Western media" last week of the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan had enabled other al-Qaida suspects to get away, but declined to say whether U.S. officials were to blame for the leak.

    "Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away," one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

    I've said in other forums that this news is an outright shock to me, especially if the worst explanations for this turn out to be true, and that the counter-intelligence operation was coopted by a combination of the recurring (and stupid) color-coded warnings and the personal political self-interest of the president and his administration. We'll still have to wait and see how this shakes out, but it would be a sad day if we've sunk to this level.

    What's clear is that the administration, and specifically Condoleeza Rice, did not seem prepared for this, thus seeming to discount any super-psychological strategies we're ninjaesquely trying to apply to Al Qaeda that would explain our ruining this counterintelligence operation.

    Indeed, this was reported earlier today:

    The Daily Telegraph reports that US officials have "hit back" against the criticism that they bungled the terror alert and blew the cover of the Al Qaeda mole. They released to Time magazine and to Newsweek more information on the plans for attacks in the US that were discovered on Khan's computers. An unnamed military official told Time that spreading panic in terrorist ranks could also bear fruit.
    "People get flushed out and when that happens other people get nervous. As they start to move, they talk and we hear them. It's like hunting birds: you scare 'em up, they run then you shoot them."

    Wow, that sounds almost like a Western, with President Bush as the leading man (or a leisurely weekend outing with Justice Scalia). But, first indications, as reported by Juan Cole, are that "CNN is suggesting that the outing of Khan has led to greater caution in al-Qaeda and similar groups about using electronic communications, which may make it more difficult to monitor them."

    The foregoing statement would seem to be backed up by the latest AP report:

    But the Pakistani officials said that after Khan's arrest, other al-Qaida suspects had abruptly changed their hide-outs and moved to unknown places.

    The first official described the initial publication of the news of Khan's arrest as "very disturbing."

    "We have checked. No Pakistani official made this intelligence leak," he said.

    Without naming any country, he said it was the responsibility of "coalition partners" to examine how a foreign journalist was able to have an access to the "classified information" about Khan's arrest.

    So, I'm not so sure about any grand strategy, but the suggestion there is one takes even further, as usual, into either outright condemnation of despicable behavior or undeniable acknowledgement of incompetence.  Neither of these are comfortable conclusions when considering one's leadership, especially in a war.

    As for these color-coded terror warnings, can we stop already?  It seems to be getting out-of-hand, as the children's story 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' would seem to suggest. Even if we allow for the color-coded warnings, there's a right way and a wrong way:

    Kevin Rosser, a security expert at the London-based consultancy Control Risks Group, said such a disclosure was "a risk that came with staging public alerts but that authorities were supposed to take special care not to ruin ongoing operations."
    "When these public announcements are made, they have to be supported with some evidence, and in addition to creating public anxiety and fatigue, you can risk revealing sources and methods of sensitive operations," he said.

    I don't want to go on and on, as I'm sure this story will develop further and we'll get more answers, like who told the NY Times what, when they told them, and if this was the 'background' that Rice was involved in.

    Did the Bush Administration confirm all of this information after the NY Times published, or before? All signs seem to point to before, and actually to being the primary source. Only the NY Times can fill us in.

    We'll be eagerly awaiting those answers, and, while we do, perhaps this all summed up best by this, and is worthy of reflection as far as evaluating our leadership:

    "The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse," said Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane's Defence publications [who was interviewed by Reuters]. "You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within Al Qaeda, when it's so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, running agents and so forth. It's not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it's on the front pages every time there's a development, is it?"

    Juan Cole also has a fresh late night update for your reading pleasure (or, in this case, pain), describing Jim Lobe's take on this dreadful situation.

    Monday, August 09, 2004

    Who's Afraid Of Big Media? Not Jack Shafer.

    I won't be taking any time (in this post) to evaluate or critique this rant by Jack Shafer in defense of Big Media (or in denial of it), but at first glance it seems to be a dissenting view from mine, and dissent is good and healthy, not to mention challenging.
    In the long run, competition and the dynamism of markets keep any five media conglomerates from dictating "what most citizens will learn." But corporate ownership of media so rankles Bagdikian that I doubt the variations of who's on top and who's slid into corporate oblivion make much difference to him. I'm sure my testament that for all the news media's faults, its quality and variety have never been greater, sounds Panglossian to Bagdikian. But I challenge him to name a time in America's history when the news media did a better job than it does today. Who longs for the days of William Randolph Hearst? Of three broadcast networks? Of the days before the Internet?

    As misguided as Bagdikian is about the perils of media conglomeration, he makes excellent sense when barking about the political games the corporate owners of radio and broadcast TV stations play. If only he'd continued that line of thought in the seventh edition. Nobody needs to apply to the government to buy paper and ink and print a publication or book. Nobody needs government approval to purchase computers and bandwidth to serve the public through the Internet. On the hunch that Bagdikian plans to write an eighth edition of The Media Monopoly, I invite him to read my next column about ending spectrum socialism and freeing the airwaves to true competition.

    There's much more to this obviously, the excerpt essentially being the conclusion, so feel free to check it out. I'll be weighing in on it myself in the next few days.

    For a dissenting view (though not directly) to Shafer, and you just can't wait, try Robert McChesney's Making Media Democratic.

    Imagine a world in which scores, even hundreds, of media firms operate in markets competitive enough to permit new entrants. Imagine a world with large numbers of public, community, and public access radio and television stations and networks, with enough funding to produce high quality products. Imagine a world where the public airwaves provide compelling journalism, children's programming, and political candidate information, with control vested in people dedicated to public service. Imagine a world where creative government fiscal policies enable small nonprofit and noncommercial media to sprout and prosper, providing some semblance of a democratic public sphere.

    Though imaginable, this world seems wholly implausible-and not only because of the political muscle of the corporate media and communications lobbies. Over the past generation, "free market" neoliberals have understood the importance of media as an instrument of social control far better than anyone else. The leading conservative foundations have devoted considerable resources to reducing journalistic autonomy and ideological diversity and pushing media in a more explicitly pro-business direction. The pro-market political right understood that if big business dominated the main fora for political education and debate, then public scrutiny of business would be markedly reduced. These same "free market" foundations fight any public interest component to media laws and regulations, oppose any form of noncommercial and nonprofit media, and lead the battle to ensure that public broadcasting stays within narrow ideological boundaries. In short, we had a major political battle over media for the past generation, but only one side showed up. The results are clear, and appalling.

    Saturday, August 07, 2004

    Ecogenomics - A New Approach

    Well, 'you learn something new everyday' isn't just an old saying. I discovered ecogenomics today. Fascinating. Here's a short explanation:

    Applications of genomics approaches have until now been restricted mostly to problems of medical science, pharmacology and plant breeding. We believe that environmental analysis and management can also strongly benefit from genomics approaches because environmental issues are often characterized by complex ecological interactions of diverse communities of organisms with the physical and chemical components of the environment.

    So that's takes us part of the way to defining ecogenomics. I'll go find another one for comparison:

    Microbes represent possibly the largest component of biodiversity, but lack of adequate tools for quantifying diversity, in either model or natural communities, has hindered progress in microbial ecology, especially microbial community ecology.

    Genomics and modern molecular methods have dramatically altered this situation and will enable community ecology to address questions that are important scientifically and result in a better understanding of environmental issues. The integration of genomics with ecology will provide dramatic advances in all areas of microbial ecology...

    ...[and] will help us predict the effects of environmental perturbation on microbial communities. Such perturbations include the major features of global change, including modifications of biogeochemical processes (e.g., enhanced levels of CO2 and doubled rates of N deposition), land use change, acidification, desertification, ozone depletion, and climate change.

    So, ecogenomics is pretty simply defined as "the intersection of ecology and genome science".

    I suppose the name sort of hints at that...


    Thursday, August 05, 2004

    The New Media Monopoly - Bagdikian Explains Why

    I just stumbled across this interview with Ben Bagdikian in the Berkeley Daily Planet, and decided to pass this piece of it along:
    “It wasn’t my idea. The publisher said I had to do a new edition because so much has changed. So the seventh edition is really 90 percent new. From 50 companies, ownership of media has shrunk to just five or six. But there’s an even bigger difference. In 1983 each company wanted a monopoly over just one medium—say magazines, or newspapers, or television. Now, these few companies try to control all media, so that the TV you watch, the radio, the newspaper, the magazines, the movies, the books — might all be owned and controlled by one corporation — Fox or Murdock or Disney. And these companies promote a far-right slant. What they have managed to do in 25 years is to shift what used to be called the ‘nutty right’ to the center. And the left has been pushed off the edge completely.”

    Bagdikian also is asked about his thoughts regarding the Internet:

    Is there hope in the Internet?

    “Yes. There’s lots of junk on it, but it’s still an outlet for an independent with no money but plenty of ingenuity and skill, like MoveOn.org. It’s not controlled by the corporations. Not yet. But the FCC, which is supposed to protect independent media, is Bush-appointed, and not a bit friendly.”

    Shining A Light On Secrecy - The 9-11 Commission

    Steven Aftergood (of the Federation of American Scientists) is meditating on the arcane (and some say insane) levels of secrecy we embrace, and whether it really shouldn't be just the opposite - with the presumption being on transparency and the freedom of information:

    The 9/11 Commission put it simply: The U.S. intelligence community is becoming increasingly complex and secretive - which can cost lives. Transforming the intelligence community's culture of secrecy into a culture of sharing should begin with transparency in the overall intelligence budget.

    Current security policies nurture over-classification and excessive compartmentalization of information among agencies. By highlighting this problem in its final report, the Commission has created a new opportunity to reverse the ever-expanding controls on public access to government information and to rethink the impediments to information sharing within government, helping to make this nation safer.

    For example, the U.S. intelligence services learned in the 1990s that al Qaeda had plans to hijack airplanes, and reported those plans in the President's Daily Brief (PDB).  However, this information was not shared widely with other government agencies, let alone Congress or the American public. Sharing the contents of this PDB with a wider group might have brought about permanent changes in domestic airport and airline security procedures.

    Aftergood goes on to explain that secrecy can be justified in very specific situations, but in a disturbing number of cases is made secret for other reasons, either of political self-interest, ignorance or hubris.  In a few cases, it even seems, as in the investigation of Abu Ghraib, that information was made classified seemingly for the purpose of hiding illegal activities - which is expressly forbidden under U.S. law regarding classification of information.

    The consequences of this overemphasis on secrecy are many, including financial and operational, by one estimate costing $7.5 billion a year taking into account all costs.

    The commission traced the root of the problem to an inappropriate reliance on the so-called "need to know" principle, which limits access to classified information to those who have a demonstrated "need to know" the information to perform their official duties.

    This approach assumes it is possible to know, in advance, who will need to use the information. Such a system implicitly assumes that the risk of inadvertent disclosure outweighs the benefits of wider sharing. According to the commission, those Cold War assumptions are no longer appropriate: "The culture of agencies feeling they own the information they gathered at taxpayer expense must be replaced by a culture in which the agencies instead feel they have a duty to [share] the information - to repay the taxpayers' investment by making that information available."

    To begin this cultural transformation, the commission proposed a very specific action, which will also serve as a test of policymakers' intentions: "To combat the secrecy and complexity we have described, the overall amounts of money being appropriated for national intelligence and to its component agencies should no longer be kept secret."

    This is an astute recommendation, since the amounts of intelligence agency budgets are not only intrinsically important for public policy, they are also an icon of unchecked secrecy that the CIA has gone to great lengths to withhold from the public (even implausibly claiming that historical budget figures from 50 years ago are still sensitive today).

    In light of this presumption of secrecy, the compelling evidence of cronyism and corruption, and the deteriorating fabric of American political discourse into competing conspiracy theories (fed by incomplete information), I go a step further than Aftergood, and for the past year have been advocating a constitutional amendment regarding the Freedom of Information, Transparency, and Accountability - to strengthen, expand and put explicitly into the Constitution the Freedom of Information Act, and to make a clear and compelling public statement of our values and desire to see America come together again.

    For more on government secrecy, visit the Project on Government Secrecy.

    Wednesday, August 04, 2004

    Ben Bagdikian Updates The Classic - The New Media Monopoly

    I'll have more on this tomorrow, but here's an excerpt from a short review by DIYMedia:

    Bagdikian asserts that much of the control over news content is implicit in nature. As a newspaper's advertising department becomes responsible for more and more pages, it's only natural that management makes news editors work with ad salesmen to insure 'proper' news is covered in 'proper' places within the paper.

    By its very nature, this method of newspapering leads to a reduction in coverage of controversial stories - and while the Head Office doesn't send down a memo to reporters laying down the new law of the land, Bagdikian cites several examples of reporters who got burned when they tried to cover 'real news' in opposition to their papers' advertising departments; such examples stick in the minds of other reporters and are often more effective in promoting self-censorship than any memo could ever be.

    Of course, some newspaper magnates have used their power to influence public opinion to their favor; Bagdikian cites the example of televangelist Billy Graham, whose post-World War Two rise to stature was completely funded and manufactured by two publishing magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce (then chief of Time, Inc.). By mandating that their publications cover Graham extensively, they built him into a household name - a level of stature he continues to enjoy to this day.

    The problem, concludes Bagdikian, is that any commercially-controlled media will become corrupted by the influence of money, even if aspiring media moguls begin their monopoly-building with the best of intentions.

    That corruption works its way from the top down, ultimately determining the news given to the American public. Chock full of statistics and studies to back up this conclusion, The Media Monopoly serves as one of the clearest warnings ever issued about the media's role in the erosion of American democracy - it's a shame that Bagdikian wrote this nearly 20 years ago, and since then the problem's still only gotten worse.

    Much, much more on the updated version of The New Media Monopoly in the days ahead.

    Ted Turner Has A Beef With Big Media

    I've been on sabbatical for awhile, but I'm back, and, as usual, putting the onus on Big Media. The latest to join in is Ted Turner, and here he is:

    Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox – fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.


    In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys – they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.

    But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap – even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.

    Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see – and what we don't see – will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition, consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn't have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it's like over-fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they're already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.



    Feels good to be back...so get ready for the usual on Big Media, the freedom of information, transparency, accountability, electoral reform, human rights, reason and compassion.