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Friday, March 11, 2005

Dropping Anchor

Peter Hart offers a good dissembling of the right-wing nutcase argument that retired CBS anchor Dan Rather is an example of the left-wing media bias.

Reading that article reminded me of the jaw-dropping moment I had when he told David Letterman, on an appearance after the Sept. 11 attacks, that "wherever [Bush] wants me to line up, just tell me where". Having been a journalist for 20 years, I was aghast that the anchor of one of the major news organizations was talking like a soldier ready to take orders, which of course is not the role of a journalist.

Rather and the rest of the media turned into timid propagandists, allowing Bush and his cabal to portray Saddam Hussein as complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks and as armed with WMDs, including nukes, that he would give to terrorists so they could blow up US cities. While some experts and reporters tried in vain to argue that these claims were without merit, CBS, CNN and the others ignored their claims for the most part and instead repeated the now infamous "mushroom cloud" quotes like Bible verses.

Of course we now know better, yet Rather is not losing his job for kowtowing to a zealot, but for using a possibly forged memo as part of a larger story about Bush's National Guard record that in large part was never refuted by Bush. Even the person who typed the memo said that the contents of the memo, while more recently forged, reflected what the actual memos said.

Thanks Bush Voters

At the gas pump yesterday, premium was $2.28 a gallon.

Ironically, the increased gas prices fueled by Bush's reckless invasion of Iraq and subsequent destabilization of the region, means more money for Iran and Venezuela, two major oil suppliers that Bush likes to complain about.

Iran of course is part of Bush's "axis of evil," which confounds me because the three nations involved have no ties and two of them, Iran and Iraq, have been at war off and on for decades. Sounds like we're heading to Tehran next.

And Venezuela, under the democratically elected leadership of Hugo Chavez, is hated by Bush because Chavez wants to take back some of the profits the oil companies take out of the nation and spend it on social programs, like health care and education, for the poor people who comprise most of the population. For that Chavez is called a force of instability in the region, by Bush.

Now I read that Iran and Venezuela have teamed up on some oil projects and other enterprises, which means of course that Venezuela will soon become a member of the evil axis. But good news, soldiers, they've got good coffee in Caracas.

Why Does the Florida Legislature Hate America?

Now that the annual Florida Legislative pig fuck . . . er, I mean, session . . . is under way, the proposals to reduce our ability to get constitutional amendments passed is gaining steam. This is simply a power grab by the elected officials beholden to wealthy special interest groups that want to ensure state dollars are spent on their needs, not ours.

Here's how the legislature works: monied interests, from agribusiness to developers to sugar to telecom to banking, spends millions on campaign contributions to get people elected as representatives and senators, and then they spend millions more on lobbyists and perks for lawmakers to ensure that they'll vote they way the special interests want. Florida raises and spends billions of dollars ever year, and the special interests want to ensure most of it is spent to help them get really, really rich.

What throws a spanner into this machine are citizen-led initiative that require the state to spend money on things that help people, like smaller class sizes for school children so teachers can better educate them. Or on mandatory pre-K for all kids, so they can start learning earlier and poor parents can return to work before their kids enter a public school.

These initiatives cost a lot of money, which means a smaller pie to divvy up for the special interests. That's why Jeb!?! campaigned so hard to repeal the high-speed rail last year, successfully, and now wants voters to repeal the class size reductions.

The anti-initiative propaganda does not address specific problems with these initiatives, instead relying on arguments that we shouldn't muck up the state constitution.

My favorite bogeyman is the initiative passed several years ago protecting pregnant pigs, which is often used as the example of why citizen initiatives have run amok. No one ever talks about the specifics of the initiative, because just saying that the state constitution has "pregnant pigs" in it makes the idea of citizen initiatives sound wacky, and that's the intent.

However, there was a great reason for supporting this initiative – it prevents massive pig farming operations, which are one of the most polluting, obnoxious and disgusting types of farming operations out there – from locating in Florida. Ask anyone in North Carolina, where giant hog farms have ruined major water systems and threaten drinking water supplies. Worse, try getting within a few miles of one of these places – the smell and flies are horrible.

But I love this example because of its irony – lawmakers are using pigs as a reason to protect their own form of pork.

Thank goodness that any changes the legislature proposes must be approved by voters in 2006. Already there is a massive coalition of citizen groups gathered to fight this initiative.

Sure, the initiative process is not perfect and certainly not pretty, but no less perfect or pretty than the sausage made in the Legislature, which is usually done behind closed doors and at the behest of the rich and powerful interests than control state government.

If lawmakers don't want people pushing such initiatives, they need to be more responsive to people when they request the state to take these actions. And in almost every case, ballot initiatives followed intense efforts by citizens to get the Legislature to do the exact thing the initiative ended up forcing the legislature to do.