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April 17, 2003, 11:00 A.M.

Correction: We received a very nice note from Steve Clemons, Executive Vice President of the New America Foundation, about our reference to his piece in the New York Times in a recent POP post. Steve points out that the $8,000 figure that I used for Alaska oil dividends is per family, not per resident, as I incorrectly stated in my post. Steve adds:

”In fact, the amount of the dividend ranges over the last several years from between $1500 and $2000 per person. The figures are still important in the sense that such a fund would make a great positive impact on the average Iraqi citizen and family – and would go a long way in demonstrating that our main interest in Iraq was somewhat different than Halliburton’s.”
Thanks for writing, Steve. I hope that you keep an eye on POP in the future.

April 17, 2003, 10:15 A.M.

One of the more interesting aspects of life in New Hampshire is the access that ordinary folks have to presidential candidates. Dianne and I hosted a meet-the-candidate breakfast at our house in Laconia for Richard Gephardt on Monday morning. We had a nice visit with Congressman Gephardt, his lovely wife, Jane, and thirty or so new friends. Several of our guests who came undecided left as Gephardt supporters. As for POP, we are trying to help all of the Democratic candidates get their messages out, and we are not endorsing anyone yet. We hope to meet some of the other candidates soon.

I like Mr. Gephardt’s congenial manner. He warmed up the crowd by making the requisite prediction for ice out on Lake Winnipesaukee (April 30 – too early). He appeared to be very comfortable and sincere, and I enjoyed being able to speak with him. He was more animated than I expected him to be, and he actually got a little agitated when the conversation turned to President Bush’s economic policies and the deficit. I liked his proposed alternative to Bush’s tax-cut-for-the-wealthy: give rebates to small businesses to assist with health care costs, and allow them to provide better insurance coverage to more employees. This plan should provide economic stimulus where it’s needed and where it could do some good. Overall, we were impressed with Mr. Gephardt, and we plan to keep an eye on him.

Speaking of health care. . .The Anthem Blue Cross/LRGHealthcare problem is still not resolved and the real losers here are the patients. This dispute has many of us in the Lakes Region looking for new doctors or new insurers with the deadline looming. I think that LRGH President Tom Clairmont has some great ideas about the future of healthcare that deserve attention, but I also think that this dispute with Anthem needs to be put to bed. People in the Lakes Region are limited in their choices of insurers if they wish to use local healthcare services and Anthem’s coverage is the best bargain for small businesses. Anthem and LRGHealthcare must find a compromise, or neither company will be serving their customers.

April 14, 2003, 10:40 A.M.

Paige’s Public Education: The Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from creating or establishing a state religion. It has also been interpreted to forbid favoring one religion over another. Apparently Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige agrees with the concept of separation of church and state, he just thinks everybody ought to go to a school that teaches “Christian values.”

In an interview with the Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, Paige said: “All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith…In a religious environment the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.” These comments are fine for the Reverend Paige, a deacon at a Houston Baptist church, but they are way out of line for the Secretary of Education, a member of the executive branch of a government sworn to uphold the constitution, including the establishment clause. A Baltimore Sun editorial suggests that “the nation's chief advocate for public schools doesn't quite grasp the concept of "public." Further, he seems to think the Christian community has cornered the market on values that many others might argue are universal.”

Paige is not apologizing for his remarks; he is now trying to “clarify” them. His press secretary now claims that the remarks were intended to respond to a question about universities. So what? The guy was not speaking in favor of religious education in general, he was advocating for his own brand of religious education and that just isn’t right. In fact it is insulting and demeaning to families that make different choices about religion and faith than he happens to advocate. When asked in the Baptist Press interview to comment on those who disagree with his position that religion has a place in public schools, Paige replied: “I would offer critics my prayers.” I don’t want this guy to pray for me, I want him to resign!

In a response to this recent brouhaha, Paige’s press secretary said that the article was accurate. Paige has no intention of apologizing for the remarks because he sincerely believes them. That is the whole problem here. Paige does not see the problem with advocating for his own religious values while supposedly representing all Americans, of all faiths (or even no faith). To have the head of the Department of Education proselytizing Christian values is an indication that he is simply not competent to hold that post. There are other indications, not the least of which is his support for vouchers and for Bush’s No Child Left Behind fiasco.

Religious freedom and diversity are and always have been cornerstones of our system of public education. Paige’s offer of prayers to his critics indicates clearly that he is an ideologue, does not agree that there is value in diversity and that he has no intention of tempering his zeal. Like his boss, who also wears his faith on his sleeve, Paige has a penchant for peppering his remarks with religious references. Aside from being really irritating, this suggests that Paige is not able to see beyond his religious bias in setting educational policy, and it suggests that the current administration is sympathetic to religious extremists who want to supplant the nation’s educational system with a voucher-financed network of religious schools.

Paige recently called upon Christian religious leaders to be part of the solution to the problems of public education as he sees them. He said: “I urge you to be the gatekeepers of the educational process and to ensure that investment in the future of your community, your church and the nation." Clearly, Paige does not see value in religious and cultural diversity. If he did he would recognize that religious leaders have a role in a community and its system of public education but it certainly does not and should not rise to the level of gatekeeper, effectively filtering the process through the lens of one favored theology.

The diverse values and cultures which children bring to school with them should be shared, nurtured and celebrated. That is what the establishment clause is intended to ensure, not that the Secretary could establish his own as the national faith.

April 13, 2003, 10:25 A.M.

Just a reminder: al Qaeda is re-establishing itself in Afghanistan, bin Laden is still at large, no one knows where Saddam is and his government officials are scattering and finding sanctuary in neighboring countries. How is all that going to effect the terrorism threat level, Mr. Bush?

April 13, 2003, 10:15 A.M.

The Missing Link: I have said all along that there was a strong case to be made for war against Iraq, but that our government simply was not making it. The recent statement by CNN's Eason Jordan and the stories now coming out of Iraq about the ruthless nature of Saddam's regime bear this out. Instead of being told that there were real, compelling reasons to invade another country and overthrow its government, we were given a stupid grin and a lot of hyperbole: "smoke 'em out, round 'em up, bring 'em to justice" -- give me a break!

This country and our potential allies should have been given facts to support our government's position. Not such information as would jeopardize lives of sources, but people were suffering and dying anyway, why not just give us the facts. I have to conclude that convincing us didn't matter to the Bush administration, and that our government did not know much of what was going on. Instead of giving us evidence, they used the terrible tragedy of September 11 to fabricate a link between that event and Iraq. That link was not and could not be established.

April 13, 2003, 10:00 A.M.

It appears, based on the willingness of Iraqis to embrace U.S. troops as liberators, and to deface symbols of the regime of Saddam Hussein, that Saddam is no longer in control. Not only are these outward displays of relief and jubilation symbols of the collapse, so too are the more disturbing stories that are now being told about what went on under Saddam’s regime.

A recent CNN report from Basra showed former prisoners visiting a prison where they had been held, terrorized and tortured in squalid conditions. These men were happy to demonstrate the methods of torture and punishment used against them by their captors. The fact that these men felt that they could now tell their stories is compelling evidence of their belief that they are now safe from Saddam and his thugs.

This topic has also come up in an April 11, 2003 letter to the editor of the New York Times by CNN’s Eason Jordan. It seems that Mr. Jordan now feels sufficiently safe to unburden himself of his knowledge of oppression and torture in Saddam’s Iraq. His disclosure has, however, caused a brouhaha in the press, and sparked a debate over the role of journalists in places like Iraq and other closed societies. Much of this information should be viewed by us non-industry types with a jaundiced eye because there appears to be some sour grapes wrapped up in all of this.

Mr. Jordan explains in his letter that CNN deliberately did not report on incidents of torture, terror and treachery because of the effect that those reports would have had on individuals, on the network’s ability to stay in Baghdad, and to have access to Iraqi officials and other news sources. There are two different issues here, and both provide a degree of support for CNN’s position.

There is a legitimate argument (although not compelling) to be made that a news organization should make some compromises in order to have access to news sources. The extent to which stories are held back and compromises are made should always be questioned. Objectivity and veracity should not give way to compromised journalism. My point is that by not reporting on certain things, CNN and other major news agencies, were able to get at least some information. I don’t necessarily believe that the compromise is worth it if the result is that the news agency becomes an instrument of propaganda. If the compromise outweighs the value of the information that could be used and reported, CNN should have left Iraq.

The more compelling argument for holding back on stories is the very real harm to actual human beings that would result if the real story were told. If the men who gave prison tours in Basra had spoken out while Saddam was in control, they would have been tortured and killed. According to Mr. Jordan, reporting on such things would also result in similar actions against CNN employees and their sources. There is nothing philosophical about this decision. There are no hypotheticals; a report of torture or terror would result in retribution and possibly death. This is the right reason to hold back reports.

It seems as though news agencies in Iraq walked a fine line in order to remain there. While many in the press will criticize CNN and other news agencies that elected to remain in Baghdad despite constraints on their ability to report, the decision to choose the lives of sources and employees over complete reporting is hard to criticize even in hindsight. The question should be whether or not the news agencies should have remained despite the dangers to individuals and the journalistic constraints imposed by remaining in Iraq. If any degree of fair and objective reporting was gained, the answer is yes. Even the smallest window into the hell that was Saddam’s Iraq had to be kept open if only to balance the completely uninformed banter of news agencies that saw no value in learning what was really going on and that saw themselves merely as cheerleaders for the Bush administration.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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