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July 26, 2003, 10:15 A.M.

This morning's NY Times has an article by Diana Jean Schemo with Secretary of Education Rod Paige's response to her earlier story about underreported dropout numbers in the Houston School District that he once headed. See PoP's previous post on this story here. Secretary Paige concedes in today's article that "there probably was" a serious dropout problem in Houston.

July 24, 2003, 9:05 A.M.

William Safire's column in the NY Times this morning blasts the attempt by what he calls the four horsemen of big media, (Disney/ABC), (Fox/Murdoch), (Viacom/CBS/UPN), and (GE/NBC) to bully the FCC into relaxing its rules and allow them to purchase smaller, independent stations. The House passed yesterday by a vote of 400-21 an amendment that blocks the FCC’s new ruling. The Senate recently sent a similar measure to the floor. In response to the House’s vote yesterday, the White House issued a policy statement that states: “"If this amendment were contained in the final legislation presented to the President, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill." The statement was signed by OMB director Joshua Bolton, but according to Safire, the man behind the curtain here is Stephen Friedman, a former investment banker who currently sits at the head of the president's National Economic Council. Safire spoke directly with Friedman, who told him that “Bush's senior advisers had focused on the question ‘Can you eliminate excessive regulation and have diversity and competition?’”

The National Economic Council? I don’t recall voting for members of the National Economic Council. This policy advisory board has recommended to the President that he allow the FCC to permit media giants to buy up smaller stations and thereby control the information, news, culture, etc. that Americans get through television and print media. Anyone out there remember Max Headroom and Network 23? This story by itself would be disturbing and worrisome, but when I look at it against the backdrop of other stories we’ve talked about recently, it becomes a bigger problem. Let’s review:

1. The Defense Policy Board, on which sit people with ties to defense contractors and who have a financial stake in the decisions of the board and the actions of the Defense Department that it advises. This is the group that recommended that we wage war on Iraq.

2. In a story in today’s Washington Post, Paul Wolfowitz, returning from a tour of Iraq to view post-war reconstruction efforts, acknowledged that the U.S. underestimated the task. The story reports that current and former military officials have complained that “[t]he reconstruction effort. . .was also undermined by unresolved logistical problems and secretive decision-making by the Defense Department civilians who led the planning.” This secretive and exclusive civilian body? The Office of Special Plans.

3. The Council for Environmental Quality, on which sit people with ties to polluting industry and who have a financial stake in the decisions of the board and the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency that it advises. This is the group that recommended that the White House remove references to human influences on global warming from the report recently issued by the EPA.

4. The National Economic Council. Another “advisory” board staffed with ”volunteers” who have close ties to the industry that they are advising the President about.

What is at stake here is independent media. The connection between the government and the fourth estate should never be so close as to threaten or suggest a threat to the concept of an independent media. This threat exists when media giants, concerned with maintaining good relations with the government so that they can influence regulation that affects them. are allowed to dominate all aspects of the media. This type of market domination smothers competition and stifles the critical and alternative voice. The net result is a media environment where an opinion that does not agree with that of the media giants or their government partners is dismissed. Too close a connection between the government and the media undermines our system of government just as the all-too-close relationship between business and government in the Defense Policy Board, for example, does. In a sense, however, this is worse because we are being deprived of thoughts and ideas and an independent, contrary voice when government and media owners are in bed together. Network 23 is not far off. Right, M-M-M-Max?

July 23, 2003, 11:30 A.M.

Here's an excerpt from today's Note with more on the Ways & Means meltdown a few days ago:

"Norm Ornstein tries to sort out the meaning of last week's House Ways & Means "spectacle" in the forthcoming issue of Roll Call . Ornstein finds "culpability and shameless behavior" on both sides of the aisle. But he saves his fiercest diatribe for Chairman Bill Thomas. Key excerpts:

'I actually have had a good and cordial relationship with Bill Thomas … . But he has let his control of the gavel take him way over the line in the arrogance and arrogation of power. His behavior here was just plain stupid.'

'To call out the police was rash and counterproductive. To misuse the gavel and declare unanimous consent when it clearly wasn't there was simply outrageous … .'

'It is time for Republican leaders to stage an intervention with Bill Thomas, in the same way friends and family confront an alcoholic. They need his talent, experience and knowledge … . But his disputes with House Democrats and Senate Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Bill Frist could easily lead to self-destruction and a larger problem for the House majority … .'"

July 23, 2003, 9:30 A.M.

Yesterday's Washington Post contains a very good editorial by Kenneth Pollack and Ronald Asmus contrasting neo-con and so-called "neo-lib" views on stabilizing the middle east region. I wonder if western-style democracy can be installed successfully in this part of the world, and wonder further how democracy in Iraq, for example, will work. Take the time to read it.

July 21, 2003, 11:30 A.M.

Salon has an excellent story today on a likely revolt by northeastern governors, Republican and Democrat alike, from the Bush administration's line on global warming. I was gratified to see New Hampshire Governor Craig Benson's name among those Republican governors contemplating a departure from the White House's inane position on this issue. Check it out. More on this later.

July 20, 2003, 7:30 A.M.

Where is Manuel Gehring? Gehring is the Concord, NH man whose two children were last seen with him leaving Concord's 4th of July fireworks display. Gehring showed up alone in California on July 10, when he was arrested on charges relating to interfering with child custody arrangements. He has a lawyer for that charge. Authorities have said that they believe the children to be dead, and Gehring has not yet been charged with their murder, and does not have a legal representation for any charges other than the custody charges. Gehring has been in police custody without a lawyer for 10 days as he apparantly "cooperates" with the search for the bodies of his children in an area of highway covering hundreds of miles from Ohio to Illinois. Latest newspaper accounts speculate that he may return to New Hampshire tomorrow. Prosecutors in New Hampshire claim to be "respecting" Gehring's constitutional rights. If that's so, I can't imagine what the purpose of this ten day (so far) journey has been. What gives?

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