July 6th 2009 - Monday
Welcome On-board to KPHX-AM Phoenix
The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Hour One: "Are we addicted to war - is there no hope for peace?" Thom asks Michael Scheuer if he was encouraging an attack on the US. www.original.antiwar.com/scheuer
Hour Two: "Why do conservatives want to stop our houses from burning but don't care about our bodies burning down?" Thom mixes it up with Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women's Forum www.iwf.org
Hour Three: Is Sarah Palin stepping down just another symptom of the Republican Party harming America? Shannyn Moore Shannynmoore.wordpress.com
Plus... Fascism Coming Soon to a Court Near You
The prophet, the president, and American exceptionalism
July 4 weekend is a good time to think about great Americans. And if there's a great American thinker in 2009, I nominate Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who now teaches international relations at Boston University. Not only did Bacevich serve the nation in Vietnam and elsewhere around the globe, but his family made the ultimate sacrifice when his son -- also named Andrew Bacevich, a first lieutenant -- was killed in Iraq by an IED in 2007. By then, Bacevich, a self-described "Catholic conservative," had already been highly critical of the U.S. invasion, and the increasing role that militarism -- as opposed to diplomacy -- and a quest for American domination was playing in our national life.
I've kind of overdosed on Bacevich lately -- I was just finishing his outstanding book, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," this week when I heard most of his hour-long interview on WHYY's "Radio Times" (which you can listen to here). His writing speaks truly to neither classical, locked-in liberalism or conservatism, but seeks to find a rational role for America in the 21st Century, as opposed to untenable policies based on cheap oil and long -- endless, in fact -- wars.
"The Limits of Power" was written at the very start of the 2008 campaign and was published last summer. In its conclusion, Bacevich wrote something strikingly prophetic for 2009, when President Obama has been disappointing in several key areas in delivering the change he promised, sometimes because of external forces and sometimes for reasons that are self-inflicted.
Here's what he wrote last year, with hyperlinks from 2009 to illustrate the power of his prophecy:
The (Obama) agenda is an admirable one.Yet to imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing (or relecting) a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what the candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is toensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve it and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled in courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions.
No doubt the race for the presidency matters. It just doesn't matter as much as the media's obsessive coverage suggests. Whoever moves into the White House on Jan. 20, 2009, the fundamental problem facing the country -- a yawning disparity between what Americans expect and what they are willing to pay -- will remain stubbornly in place.
The subtitle of Bacevich's book is "The End of American Exceptionalism." That sure sounds like a downer, especially as we prepare for the pomp and fireworks of another Independence Day. But the truth is that it all depends on how you define "exceptionalism." I believe that all people are created equal with equal rights, regardless of which particular slab of this rock they're born onto. I don't think any nation is entitled to an outsized claim on the world's resources, for example, nor is empire something that is desirable or that has ever worked for very long in the history of humankind. But I do believe that America, and Americans as a people, have done some exceptional things over 233 years and can be even more exceptional in the future, by continuing to create a more perfect union that values human rights and freedom in a way that others will envy and copy. That is the eternal American quest that we celebrate on July 4 -- and every other day.
Whose Country is it anyway? A political-economic oligarchy has taken over the United States of America
By Prof. John Kozy
URL of this article: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14226
I thought that today's Dilbert strip catches on some of the problems in Washington. Primarily on how the defense industry has such a stronghold on our government by putting defense contracts in every state. Check it out:
After listening to the rebroadcast last Friday of “Rev.” Ken Pagano’s shibboleth about the “open-carry day” at his so-called church, another reason why it is so baffling is that while Kentucky has passed laws banning guns in school, bars and other public places, it never occurred to lawmakers to include churches, until this “God, Guns and Patriotism” harebrained character came along. Although “pioneers” may have brought their guns to church, Pagano didn’t follow the guidelines of his “forbears” who required parishioners to offload their arms in gun racks in the back.
This event, and the pronunciations of “national security” paranoids like Michael Scheuer who would invite an attack on the U.S. as a “wake-up” call, should remind us that whenever Americans—or more properly their leaders—during times of stress or national malaise “regenerate” themselves by finding enemies, usually dark-skinned peoples, or so posits Richard Slotkyn in his book “Regeneration Through Violence.” The U.S. “character” has in large part been built on a mountain of human bones—the bones of Native Americans, of African slaves, of Mexicans, of Moro Indians in the Philippines, of Central Americans, of Koreans, of Vietnamese, of Arabs. Unlike conflicts against the British, Germans and the Japanese, we had no legitimate reason for going to war and killing these people.
As a culture, America revels in violence as much as it condemns it. We see it in film and on TV; even shows like “Law and Order” manipulates viewers’ emotions with an exploitive fascination with violence, particularly gender-related. The American inclination to glorify violence is a matter of record and of history; those who do so in defense of “defense” are as guilty as the murderous psychopath. Those who defend most violently their so-called Second Amendment rights are perhaps the people most to be feared, since they not only oppose any regulation on weapons of any sort, but they are more likely to “prove” why it is “necessary” to own guns. In my view, guns are more an invitation to trouble than in preventing it.
Now that we’ve had all weekend to mull over the significance of the “event,” what can possibly explain the latest strange twist in the Sarah Palin saga? Better yet, why should we care? Sure, some might throw objectivity out the door with “go-girl” editorializing and proclaim this a new phase in Palin’s “rising star.” Perhaps an early start in her 2012 presidential run, to embark on a cross-country bullpucky express. At least she’ll have Harriet Christian’s anyone-but-a-male support—the more shrill and psychotic the better, I say.
Others might have a different opinion. While other governors are battling their budget crisis in this unstable economy, Palin is bailing. This is a potential “leader” of the free world when she doesn’t have the stamina to last out her own term as governor of small (by population) state? Because she couldn’t stand the “heat” from media hype she courted and was given a free ride to overnight sensationdom?
Palin and her husband also owe a half-million dollars in legal expenses; perhaps she is trying to head-off additional expenses from yet unreported revelations of corruption on the horizon, or more embarrassing family issues. Or perhaps being governor bores her, and the prospect of a speaking tour funded by wealthy right-wing donors will keep her in the spotlight she allegedly doesn’t crave, as well as lucrative. Or maybe there is the issue of competence; when Alaska was gushing with oil revenue, governing was easy because there so much money to play around with that every citizen received a dividend from the state oil fund (instead of being used for public education, for which Palin had refused stimulus money for. With the state joining the lower 48 in economic troubles, quitting at this juncture may either be an admittance of her lack of know-how, or her inability to work with legislators (not that she is alone; Lou Dobbs declining to run for governor of New Jersey was a tacit admission that he was all hot-air and no substance).
Palin for all the rope she has been given to prove herself a viable quantity, has demonstrated that she can’t be trusted to go the distance. I think that "Sarah Barracuda" is what she has always been: an individual who has a pathological lust for power for its own sake, and will tread on anyone who is in her way to get it. She is also someone who has an uncanny ability to incite a mob mentality with over-the-top "populist" rhetoric that appeals to the darkest instincts of human nature. Yet when she was required to be a leader, she abandoned the field like a coward—which makes her announcement on the eve of the Fourth of July seem just that more incomprehensible. For her own sake and ours, she should bail-out of politics altogether. As for the Republicans, if they see Palin as their future, be afraid—be very afraid, or at least they should.
can a class action suit be brought against goldman sach for the buble they created with the rising gas prices last year. because of goldman sach we all paid more at the pump
Well this reflects a very serious position for average people. You can bet
the Bears Stens guys won't change thier advice to the President. They will
Obama is looking more and more like a Clintonian corporate democrat. **sigh** I just need to move to Sweden because change is never going to come fast enough or be significant enough to catch up with European socialist democracies which are 30+ years ahead of us in developing a healthy society.
The Crooks Get Cash While the Poor Get Screwed
Posted on Jul 6, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Tearyan Brown became a father when he was 16. He did what a lot of inner-city kids desperate to make money do. He sold drugs. He was arrested and sent to jail three years later for dealing marijuana and PCP on the streets of Trenton, N.J., mostly to white kids driving in from the suburbs. It was a job which saw him robbed at gunpoint and stabbed in the chest. But it made him about $1,400 a week.
Brown, when he got out after three and a half years, was done with street life. He got a job as a security guard and then as a fork lift operator. He eventually made about $30,000 a year. He shepherded his son through high school, then college and a master’s degree. His boy, now 24, is a high school teacher in Texas. Brown would not leave the streets of Trenton but his son would. It made him proud. It gave him hope.
And then one morning in 2005 when he was visiting his mother’s house the cops showed up. He saw the cruiser and the officers standing on his mother’s porch. He hurried down the block toward the home to see what was wrong. What was wrong was him. On the basis of a police photograph, he had been identified by an 82-year-old woman as the man who had robbed her of $9 at gunpoint a few hours earlier. The only other witness to the crime insisted the elderly victim was confused. The witness told the police Brown was innocent. Brown’s friends said Brown was with them when the robbery took place.
“Why would I rob a woman for $9” he asks me. “I had been paid the day before. I had not committed a crime in 20 years. It didn’t make any sense.”
He was again sent to jail. But this time he was charged with armed robbery. If convicted, he would be locked away for many years. His grown son and his three young boys would live, as he had, without the presence of a father. The little ones—11-year-old twins and a 10-year-old—would be adults when he got out. When he met with his state-appointed attorney, the lawyer, like most state-appointed attorneys, pushed for accepting a plea bargain, one that would see him behind bars for at least the next decade. Brown pulled the pictures of his children out of his wallet, laid the pictures carefully on the table in front of the lawyer, looked at the faces of his children and broke down in tears. He shook and sobbed. It was a hard thing to do for a man who stands nearly 6 feet tall and weights 210 pounds and has coped with a lot in his life.
“I didn’t do nothing,’ ” he choked out to the lawyer.
He refused the plea bargain offer. He sat in jail for the next two years before getting a trial. It was a time of deep despair. Jail had changed since he had last been incarcerated. The facilities were overcrowded, with inmates sleeping in corridors and on the floor. The gangs taunted those who, like Brown, were not affiliated with a gang. Gang members knocked trays of food to the floor. They pissed on mattresses. They stole canteen items and commissary orders. And there was nothing the victims could do about it.
“See this,” he says to me in a dimly lit coffee shop in downtown Trenton as he rolls up the right sleeve of his T-shirt. “It’s the grim reaper. I got it in jail. I was so scared. I was scared I wouldn’t get out this time. I was scared I would not see my kids grow up. They make their own tattoo guns in jail with a toothbrush, a staple and the motor of a Walkman. It cost me $15, well, not really dollars. I had to give him about 10 soups and a package of cigarettes. On the street this would be three or four hundred dollars.”
Under the tattoo of the scythe-wielding, hooded figure are the words “Death Awaits.”
He had a trial after two years in jail and was found not guilty. The sheriff’s deputies in the courtroom said as he was walking out that they “had never seen anything like this.” He reaches into his baggy jeans and pulls out his thin brown wallet. He opens it to show me a folded piece of paper. The paper says, “Verdict: Defendant found not guilty on all charges.” It is dated Jan. 31, 2008.
But innocence and guilt are funny things in America. If you are rich and guilty, if you have defrauded banks and customers and investment firms of billions of dollars, as AIG or Citibank has, if you wear fancy suits and have degrees from elite universities that cost more per year than Brown used to make, you get taxpayer money. You get lots of it. You maintain the lavish lifestyle of jets and spas and million-dollar bonuses. You live a life of unchecked greed and have too much in a world where most have too little. If you are moral scum in America we take care of you. But if you are poor, if you are, say, Tearyan Brown and African-American and 39 years old with four kids and no job and you live in the inner city, you are in trouble. No one comes to help you. You don’t get a second chance. This is what being poor means.
Brown found that life had changed when he got out. He had lost his job as a fork lift operator. And there were no new jobs to be found. He had faithfully paid child support until his arrest but, with no income, he could not pay from jail and now he was being hauled into court by the state every few weeks for being in arrears for $13,000. The mother of his three youngest boys goes to court with him. She explains that he paid regularly while he had work. She explains that when she works on the weekends Brown takes the kids. She asks that he be forgiven until he can get a job and begin paying again. But there are no jobs.
“I would not be in arrears in child support if I had not been incarcerated for something I didn’t do,” he says. “I will never get above ground owing $13,000. How can I pay $120 a week when I don’t have a job?”
Brown lives on $200 a month in food stamps and $40 in cash. Welfare will pay his apartment for another four months. He is barely making it. I ask him what he will do when he loses the rent subsidy.
“I’ll be homeless,” he says.
“My son says come down to Texas,” he adds. “Start a new life with me. But what about my three little boys? I can’t leave them. I can’t leave them in Trenton. They need a father.”
Brown works out every day. He does calisthenics. He is a vegetarian. He volunteers at a food pantry. He attends the Jerusalem Baptist Church with his little boys. “They are church kids,” he tells me proudly. “They are pretty much raised by the church.”
He is trying to keep himself together. But he lives in a world that is falling apart. The gangs on the streets of Trenton carry Glock 9-millimeter pistols and AK-47 assault rifles. When the Trenton police stop a car or raid a house filled with suspected gang members they approach with loaded M-16s. A local newspaper, The Trentonian, reports the daily chronicle of crime, decay and neglect. The lead story in the day’s paper, which Brown has with him, is about a young man named James Deonte James, whose street name is “Lurch.” James was charged in the death of a 13-year-old girl during a gang shooting. He is reputed to be a “five star general in the Sex Money Murder set of the Bloods street gang.” In another story an ex-con and reputed mobster, Michael “Mickey Rome” Dimattia, was arrested in his car after a woman behind the wheel was seen driving erratically. “Mickey Rome,” dressed in a black bathrobe with a red scarf around his neck, was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with three guns stuck in his waistband, and had a crack pipe, crack cocaine and prescription pills in his pockets. He had been convicted in 1990 of killing a 17-year-old boy with a shotgun blast to the head. He served less than three years for the murder. A feature story on Page 4 of the paper is about a man with AIDS who raped his girlfriend’s son 55 times and infected the boy with the virus. The boy was 9 when the rapes took place.
“There are thousands more guns out there than when I was on the street,” Brown says. “It is easier to buy a gun than get liquor from a liquor store.”
He says he rarely goes out at night, even to the corner store. It is too dangerous.
The desperation is palpable. People don’t know where to turn. Benefits are running out. More and more people are out of work.
“You see things getting worse and worse,” he says. “You see people who wonder how they are going to eat and take care of themselves and their kids. You see people starting to do anything to get food, to hustle or rob, to go back to doing things they do not want to do. Good people start doin’ bad things. People are getting eviler.”
“All things are better with God,” he says softly, looking down at the tabletop.
He is reading a book about the Bible. It is about Jesus and God. It is about learning to trust in God’s help. In America that is about all the poor have left. And when God fails them, they are on their own.
Well duh, Mr. Biden...
Video clip #1 from today's MSNBC "Morning Meeting" on administration's "misreading" of the economy. Discussion by fmr. N.Y. attny. gen'l. and gov'r. Eliot Spitzer, Yale economist Robt. Schiller, hedge fund mgr. Bill Fleckenstein:
I don't have the numbers to be sure that I am right, but I have a gut feeling that if everyone who now has health insurance would pay their premiums to the federal government it would be more than enough to provide comprehensive health care for everyone in the United States.
Video clip #2:
Shorter version (~2 min.) of previous video clip:
You are right! We pay twice as much as other industrialized countries (who have single-payer healthcare or similar program) and have worse outcomes:
There's no anit-war movement because the corps. own and control everything. I think things will have to get very bad for most people before they (we) will rise up against the present structure (including wars we're fighting.)
We already tried to make changes the peaceful way, with the last 2 elections. The bureaucrats don't hear the anger of the American people (listen to the video clips I posted above.)
I think it will take more desperation and destitution that will, in turn, produce physical force before changes will occur.
I hope I am wrong.
HELLO? Anyone have a source of the JFK SPEECH on PEACE Thom played between second segment of the first hour? Thanks!
Listening to Carrie Lukas is becoming harder and harder to do. I'm beginning to agree with KMF by turning my sound off 'til that segment is over. 'Sorry.
'Reminds me of the Jack Nicholson line, 'Go peddle "crazy" somewhere else. We're full up here.'
WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
The Post Office is SNAFUd financially cuz a group of folks with R's after their names threw a war against folk that did not care that we were on the face of the planet just to drive up the price margins on oil AND refused to let them rise rates until they could squelch fourth class media mail to level the playing field for TIME Magazine and other Corporate Media outlets.
If my doctor or surgeon is practicing only for the money, then I don't want he or she treating or operating on me! We have two MD friends who moved to Nebraska in the 90's to practice medicine and both have moved back to Canada.
@Quark: I agree... week after week... she sits in Austria pumping out the same talking points.
An additional segment of Berlosconi-Watch would be more informative.
I have yet to meet an 'Independent Woman' that knows or agrees with the IWF.
Re. the "conservative" caller ...
His parting shot was the notion that he had won the argument. Seems like most conservatives (nowadays) believe that "volume", "repetition" and getting the last word are the criteria for winning arguments. They must be real difficult to live with.
Palin is working to avoid the FBI by bailing . . .
Sean Hannity isn't known as "Mr. Mensa," yet he's worth over $100 million:
That's probably a great ticket (for Dems. to run against) but OMG...I'll start screaming now! LOL
A PALIN THEORY INVOLVING THE DOMINIONISTS
I have a Palin theory: Could the Dominionists be putting her out there as a possibility for the first woman president? Remember, it didn't matter that Bush II was stupid, a dry drunk and went AWOL; the media backed the team behind Bush. SO WHO IS THE TEAM SARAH REPRESENTS? Is it the Dominionists? I think it would fit if the Dominionists put a woman's face on their anti-woman, supremacist , pro-slavery, 'crusading' theocratic team!
RE: Thom's segment on PEACE
Thanks. That was great!
I found the speech.
Here it is:
...a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived--yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.
What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children--not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women--not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.
Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles--which can only destroy and never create--is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace.
I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary rational end of rational men. I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war--and frequently the words of the pursuer fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task.
Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament--and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude--as individuals and as a Nation--for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward--by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.
First: Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable--that mankind is doomed--that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade--therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable--and we believe they can do it again.
I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal.
Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace-- based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions--on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace--no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process--a way of solving problems.
With such a peace, there will still be quarrels and conflicting interests, as there are within families and nations. World peace, like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbor--it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement. And history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbors.
So let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable, and war need not be inevitable. By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all peoples to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly toward it.
Kennedy's "secrecy" speech:
I have an epitaph for for Robert MacNamara it is from Henry V:
But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp'd off in a battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all,"We died at such a place"; some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the King that led them to it;
May he burn in hell
The son of a Vietnam veteran
This is such a blatant display collusion between the Corporate Media & those who can afford access (The Elite Ruling Class). It just confirms that we've officially lost our fourth estate/fifth column.
Access scandal echoes beyond Post
By: Michael Calderone and Andy Barr
July 3, 2009 02:29 PM EST
For embarrassed Washington Post executives — reeling from what the paper's own ombudsman called a public relations "disaster" over a flier promoting a "salon" for lobbyists to mingle with prominent newsmakers — there must be a sense of "Why us?"
The fact is the Post's clumsy effort to make money on its brand name and market its access to the powerful was a belated effort to follow in the steps of at least two other prominent news organizations: The Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine.
The Journal, for instance, is charging a $7,500 for its two-day CEO Council in November, an elite gathering that will include the paper's top editors and high-profile speakers like Tony Blair, Rupert Murdoch, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. And for a few thousand dollars, The Economist can open the door to intimate off-the-record meet-and-greets with world leaders.
These events illustrate how the basic transaction — charging big fees to special interests to arrange private, special-access encounters with powerful people — that caused the Post this week to be excoriated is a more endemic practice than many people in political and media circles realize. Some watchdogs hope this week’s Post scandal will help put an end to a hard-to-defend practice by revenue-hungry news organizations.
Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, said he thought the Post flier raised a red flag for news organizations to be wary of entering into a financial arrangement with people that you're covering.
"One has to ask," Rosenstiel said, "Is the amount of money you might generate from this worth damaging that bond with your readers?"
While the speakers at the Journal conference this November will be on the record, with ostensible benefits for Journal readers, Rosenstiel said the bigger problem is when newsmakers and top editorial staffers are offered up to guests with no press access whatsoever, as the Post was originally planning. By doing so, he said, news organizations are "encouraging the notion in the readers mind that [they're] part of some insider establishment that it considers more important than public knowledge."
The Journal arguably crossed that line in March, when the paper agreed to allow National Economic Adviser Larry Summers to conduct his talk, during a $5,000-a-head conference, as closed to press. All the other speakers at the Future of Finance Initiative conference, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, spoke on the record. But when it came time for Summers talk, Journal deputy managing editor Alan Murray, who's instrumental in organizing the paper's executive conferences, instructed attendees (and not reporters) to get in cars headed for White House. (The Journal declined to comment on this arrangement).
Changing the Summers talk from on to off the record and whisking executives over to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came up late in the process at the Journal. By contrast, The Economist, the British publication that has developed considerable readership on this side of the Atlantic, makes it clear from the start what the ground rules are for its conferences. And those have nothing to do with informing average readers.
The Economist has scheduled two off-the-record summits this year bringing together government officials and business leaders together in Mexico and Brazil. The magazine's website lists three aims for the summits, one of which is to foster an off-the-record, high-level debate between Mexican business leaders and key ministers on the policies and strategies of the current government. The price for the Mexico and Brazil summits are not listed, but prices for other events run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to nearly $4,000.
"The events are off the record because we have found it is the best way for our delegates and host governments to get value from the discussion," an Economist spokesperson wrote in an e-mail. “It also explicitly means that the event will not be covered by The Economist.
"We host events because they are a natural extension of the debate initiated by the magazine," the spokesperson added.
Rarely has a prestigious news organization found itself so much on the defensive about the practice as the Post was on Thursday following POLITICO's report on a marketing flier sent to lobbyists that offered exclusive, off-the-record access to the top of the Post's masthead, congressional leaders, Obama administration officials, and the paper's health care reporters in exchange for fees ranging from $25,000 for one event to $250,000 for ten.
Post executives — Katharine Weymouth and executive editor Marcus Brauchli — focused on the flier, which in particularly over-the top language promised a corporations a “seat at the table” with policymakers for a dinner that would have a certain type of mood. “Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it."
Weymouth and Brauchli said the flier not been vetted, adding that the newsroom would never have taken part in a pay-to-play scheme as described. But Weymouth did not repudiate the concept of charging corporate sponsors for off-the-record dinners and insisted that "there is a viable way to expand our expertise into live conferences and events."
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, said on POLITICO's Arena that the bottom line for the Post brass was money, "and when people start thinking money, they tend to forget to think about anything else."
"Let's hope that the Chinese wall between the news side and the business side doesn't crumble under current intense financial pressure as the industry transforms," Kanter said. "The bottom line, so to speak, is not what was said on the fliers about paying big bucks and getting a seat at Weymouth's dinner table. It is that the fliers were honest about the nature of the offering: contacts for cash."
For the Post, facing steep losses this year, such events have been part of a revenue-generating strategy for some time. As Weymouth told staffers in a memo last December, "to expand our revenue base and diversify our business model, we must look for opportunities to create new products, especially in the areas where business and policy intersect." One idea, she wrote at the time, was "hosting of specialized conferences for business decision makers with a stake in Washington policymaking."
Perhaps no one has perfected the art of bringing together ideas and debate in the public sphere while generating profits and prestige as Atlantic Media owner David Bradley. Microsoft has teamed up with National Journal for private dinners, and Bradley's annual schmoozefest, the Aspen Ideas Festival, brought together over one hundred speakers with leading positions in government, business, journalism, advocacy and the arts this past week.
Sponsored by the Aspen Institute and Atlantic, along with corporate support, the festival also features Cabinet members, the top editors and writers from Bradley's magazines, and a sundry media all-stars. (As coincidence would have it, Weymouth sat on a future of journalism panel in Aspen titled "What's the News Worth to You?")
The Atlantic editor James Bennet said that "the whole idea of the [festival] is to be on-the-record and in open conversation."
According to Bennet, "sponsors of the session here go to events and have the same opportunities to ask questions as everybody else." But the Atlantic, like other news organizations, charges big money for such gatherings, though anyone can head to the website for regular festival dispatches or clips of panels and interviews.
POLITICO has also collaborated with sponsors such as the ACLU and Yahoo in holding public events. But each has been open to the public and press — a critical distinction according to John F. Harris, POLITICO's editor-in-chief.
"My view is that it is the job of news organizations to illuminate public issues, and do so in a public way," Harris wrote in an e-mail. "Sponsored events, in which editors set the agenda and the proceedings are transparent, can do this effectively. It is not our job to serve as a kind of escort service to facilitate private encounters between special interests and public officials."
"Publisher Robert Allbritton agrees with this and has directed us to avoid events that revolve around these kind of transactions," Harris added.
© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC