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Impeach Bush

Democrats welcomed home as heroes and patriots
The Mercury News/Star Telegram
By John Moritz
Posted on Fri, May. 16, 2003

Welcomed home as heroes and patriots, the 51 rebel House Democrats returned to the steps of the Texas Capitol after a four-day absence Friday, downplaying talk of personal heroics while insisting that their flight to Oklahoma did more to preserve democracy than staying to fight in Texas would have.

"It's not like we risked our lives," said a weary state Rep. Lon Burnam after an all-night bus ride south on Interstate 35. "But some of them risked their political careers."

The bloc of Democrats, outnumbered 88-62 in the state House, high-tailed it across the Red River and out of reach of the Texas Rangers late Sunday to deny the Republicans a quorum and to stifle their plans to redraw the state's congressional district boundaries to ensure GOP domination in Washington, D.C.

Their pre-dawn return to Austin followed by a 7 a.m. rally in the shade of the Capitol dome came after the clock had run out on the resistricting plan. With just over two weeks left in the 140-day legislative session, the House is prohibited from considering any new legislative initiatives, including the redistricting effort spearheaded from Washington by Congressman Tom Delay of Houston, the U.S. House majority leader.

"Government is by the people, for the people," said state Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, the House Democratic caucus leader who help{ed} organize the exodus out of state. "We had to go to Oklahoma to say government is not for Tom DeLay."

About 200 people, many carrying hand-drawn signs hailing the so-called Killer Ds, whooped and cheered as several House Democrats told stories of being holed up at the Ardmore Holiday Inn while Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick and other state Republican leaders dispatched DPS troopers and the elite Texas Rangers to bring them back to Austin.

Craddick, a 34-year House veteran in his first term at the helm of the House because of the GOP takeover in last November's elections, denounced the absent members as "Chicken Ds" and blamed them for the likely death of hundreds of other pieces of legislation.

But the crowd at the Capitol was solidly in the camp of the Democrats.

"As a union man, I can appreciate what it takes for a man to put his job on the line for what he believes in," said Max Ladusch, an Austin retiree. "They may not want to call themselves heroes, but that's what I call them."

Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder. All Rights Reserved Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the express written consent of Knight Ridder is expressly prohibited.

Commentary:
If Texas Republicans were as obnoxious as national republicans in 1995 when they took power I can see why Democrats did what they did. You may recall Dick Armey telling President Clinton to either jump on their train or be run over by it.

Later, after President Clinton whomped them time and time again, they decided the only way to get back at him was to impeach him. The Senate of course found him innocent of all charges and we looked on our House of Representatives with contempt.

Democrats have a long history of being on the right side of history. During the Clinton years, republicans said we needed a line-item veto to balance the budget–they were wrong. They said we needed term limits to balance the budget—they were wrong. They said we needed a five-year plan and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget---and they were wrong. All we needed was a president who didn't borrow tons of money and give it away to the super rich and a president who didn't have to buy support to cement his place in history (recall Bush's attempt to buy Turkey's support for $30 billion of your money).

There's a reason why the US prospers under democrat leadership and it's very simple. Democrats, no matter how flawed and ball-less, understand we have to pay for what you spend (i.e. tax and spend). Conservatives (in both parties) borrow and spend, create massive debt and then pass it on to the next generation. Conservatism is the most flawed and failed political belief system since the fall of communism


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U.N. Pressing for Bigger Role in Iraq
AP/Yahoo News
By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer
Sat May 17,11:35 AM ET

UNITED NATIONS - If Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) wants a unanimous Security Council vote to lift sanctions against Iraq (news - web sites), the United States will have to make major concessions to Russia, China and France — giving the United Nations a bigger role in postwar Iraq.

The Bush administration is pressing for a vote next week on a resolution ending the punitive economic embargo, legitimizing the U.S. and British control of Iraq, and handing U.N. control of Iraq's oil wealth to the victorious allies who toppled Saddam Hussein .

"We want to get 15-0 in the Security Council," Powell said on Thursday.

But Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told the Interfax news agency after meeting China's Deputy Foreign Minister Yang Wenchang on Friday that both countries "believe that provisions in this draft resolution require serious amendments."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said Paris is also pushing for changes in the resolution, including a larger U.N. role in Iraq's reconstruction. "We are proposing a number of modifications, of amendments, that will make it most effective," he said in an interview with France Inter radio.

Despite the serious differences over U.S. plans for postwar Iraq, there has been no talk in the council about a veto.

By most counts, the United States already has the minimum nine "yes" votes needed to pass the resolution. But Washington, London and other key members have stressed the importance of getting unity in the battered council.

Council diplomats said they are waiting to see what the United States really wants in terms of votes.

"The fact is we want 15-0 but the timing will trump the votes," a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We're willing to take less than 15 in order to get a resolution passed soon."

When asked to define soon, the official didn't comment.

At a closed-door meeting late Friday, Security Council experts finished a paragraph-by-paragraph review of the draft resolution and many countries proposed changes.

Syria's deputy U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, said other Security Council members want a stronger U.N. role, more transparency in how the United States and Britain are going to run the country, and more specifics on procedures for the sale of Iraqi oil.

Some members suggested the United Nations organize a conference to establish an interim government for Iraq, Mekdad said. Several countries also suggested that a U.N. envoy produce a blueprint detailing a path toward elections and democratic government in Iraq.

"The co-sponsors promised to take all these remarks and to come back to us," the Syrian envoy said.

On Wednesday, Fedotov said Moscow's objective is to "bring to a minimum our economic losses and political losses from this resolution."

Russian companies have $4 billion in approved contracts to supply goods for the U.N. oil-for-food humanitarian program, which had been designed to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis under the embargo. The program would be phased out over four months under the resolution.

Russia "proceeds from the assumption that all approved contracts must be fulfilled or compensated in an appropriate way," Fedotov said.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
Copyright © 2003 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Commentary:
The world community needs to be frank. Colin Powell lied to the UN and the US went to war without the consent of the Security Council even though the US wasn't under any threat from Iraq. To give the US power over Iraq after breaking International Law simply rewards it for misbehaving. We can only hope the world community will see the err of its way and stop the US and Great Britain now and at every turn as long as Blair and Bush lead each.

Failing that, the UN will lose moral authority. It's this author's view that France MUST step up and stop the US again. The world is watching to see if the rule of law still has value. If law is valueless the UN might as well close down.


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Consumer Price Stall Ups Deflation Fears
Reuters/Yahoo News
By Eric Burroughs
Fri May 16, 5:24 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fresh evidence of flagging inflation and a slowdown in the robust housing market in April fanned fears on Friday that deflation could further undermine the already struggling U.S. economy.
   

The core Consumer Price Index rose by an unexpectedly weak 1.5 percent in April, its slowest year-over-year rate in 37 years and a fraction of last year's healthy 2.5 percent pace.

While the possibility of falling prices may appeal to consumers, deflation can cripple economies as businesses and individuals expect prices to keep falling and so refrain from investing or spending, causing asset values and incomes to shrink.

The specter of deflation, so far mostly confined to goods rather than services like medical care, has boosted speculation the Federal Reserve may have to cut interest rates sooner rather than later to prevent sliding prices from derailing the economy.

On a monthly basis, the core CPI was flat for a second straight month -- the first time since 1982 the core measure hasn't risen in any two consecutive months. Economists had expected core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, to rise 0.2 percent.

The overall index actually fell 0.3 percent in April but, like the big drop in wholesale prices reported a day earlier, it was driven down by a big slide in oil prices since the start of the Iraq war eased anxiety of supply disruptions.

Analysts said the figures raised the prospect that a further slide in prices could eventually ensnare the U.S. economy like it has in Japan, where a decade of economic stagnation has led to deflation for the last four years.

To counter the anxiety, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson said on Friday the central bank will be "on guard" against further declines in inflation and that the possibility of deflation is "quite remote."

"Quite simply, the United States has too many good things going for it to make a forecast of deflation credible," he said.

Still, the deflation worries sent the S&P 500 a quarter percent lower, while U.S. Treasuries kept up their rally. The topic is likely to be hot as finance ministers from the world's leading industrialized countries gather in France this weekend.

A further decline in inflation would enhance the return on fixed-coupon Treasuries, and on Friday the benchmark 10-year note yield fell to a new 45-year low of 3.42 percent.

The $10 trillion U.S. economy is also unlikely to get much help for growth and inflation from foreign demand of its goods and services, even as the dollar's sharp decline has made its exports cheaper. Data showed this week the economies of both Europe and Japan stalled in the first quarter.

THE DREADED "D" WORD

Last week the U.S. Federal Reserve said in its policy statement it was worried about an "unwelcome substantial fall in inflation," a historic departure from its long fight to bring down inflation.

The Fed's words stoked expectations the central bank could cut official interest rates when it next meets in June. The overnight federal funds rate, used by banks to lend to each other money, already stands at a four-decade low of 1.25 percent.

"The CPI report strengthens the case for a rate cut by the Fed at their June 24-25 meeting," said John Shin, an economist at Lehman Brothers.

In a ray of hope amid the gloomy data of late, consumer sentiment rebounded for a second straight month in May as the recent rise in stock markets made households feel more confident about the future.

   
The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment rose to 93.2 in May from 86.0, easily beating the forecasts of economists for a rise to 86.9. The survey found that for the first time since last June, more households were looking for better times ahead rather than worse.

Still, what matters more with consumers is their spending, which makes up two-thirds of the economy. In April, retail sales excluding automobiles posted their biggest drop since September 2001. A deeper retrenchment in consumer spending would undermine growth and cause inflation to slow even more.

A major factor causing deflation is the economy's vast unused production capacity. Without robust growth to absorb the slack, the pace of inflation will continue to decline.

The Fed said on Thursday capacity utilization at factories, utilities and mines fell to a 20-year low of 74.4 percent in April. The one missing ingredient for a full-fledged recovery is stronger capital spending as the economy still grapples with the hangover of the late-1990s investment bubble.

Friday's CPI report showed price declines almost across the board. Housing prices dipped 0.1 percent, the weakest reading since October 2001, right after the Sept. 11 attacks. Apparel costs slid 0.6 percent.

Even the roaring housing market cooled in April. Housing starts fell a surprisingly hefty 6.8 percent, largely due to a decrease in groundbreaking for new multifamily homes. But the housing news wasn't entirely bad. Permits, an indicator of builder confidence in future sales, rose 1.2 percent on the month.

"The core of housing is still very strong," said Joseph LaVornga, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
Copyright © 2003 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Commentary:
According to conservative group-think, the economy should be growing like a bat out of hell after all those tax cuts. Also, according to these same nuts, government revenue should be soaring and we should have massive surpluses. Needless to say, their beliefs seldom match reality and it no matter how many times they're proven wrong they continue to hold on these worn out beliefs.

I'm reminded of a moth being drawn to a fire. It can't help what it's doing because of instinct even though it will destroy itself. That is conservatism. But, not only is destroying itself (most of us know tax cuts cause massive deficits) but it's destroying the future our economy. Future generations will burdened with the taxes this generation gave away to the super rich.


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Fears growing that US economy faces risk of deflation
Financial Times (London) (UK)
By Jenny Wiggins in New York, Peronet Despeignes in Washington,and David Pilling in Tokyo
Published: May 17 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: May 17 2003 5:00

Fears of deflation in the US rose yesterday as stock prices fell and government bond yields dipped to 45-year lows after a key measure of inflation dropped to its lowest level in 37 years.

  
The concerns were heightened by reports that Japan's deflation gathered pace in the first quarter with prices down 3.5 per cent from a year ago, their fastest 12-month drop on record.

The fall may fuel concerns that the Japanese economy could be in a deflationary spiral. Japanese prices have been falling since 1995 at an average annual rate of 1 to 2 per cent. The latest figures showed deflation accelerating in the 2002 financial year to 2.2 per cent, a record for a full year.

In the US the yield on 10-year and 30-year US Treasury bonds fell to 3.44 per cent and 4.44 per cent at the close of trading.

Longer-dated US government bonds have rallied sharply this week, with investors convinced that inflation will remain subdued, having less of an impact on the value of long-term assets.

The labour department reported that the 12-month rise in its core consumer price index fell to 1.5 per cent in April, its slowest 12-month rate of increase since January 1966. But strategists said the subsequent fall in bond yields could be positive for the economy. "This what the Federal Reserve wants," said Dominic Konstam, head of interest rates products research at Credit Suisse First Boston.

Falling yields mean falling borrowing costs, which make it easier for businesses to borrow and homeowners to refinance mortgages and get extra cash - factors that have helped keep the economy afloat. But the sharp slowdown in inflation has inflamed talk of Japanese-style deflation.

Japan's deflation figures were released along with gross domestic product figures showing that growth in the first quarter fell to almost zero, leading some economists to conclude that the economy was on the brink of yet another recession. Nominal growth fell 0.6 per cent in the March quarter, or minus 2.5 per cent on an annualised basis.

Paul Sheard, economist at Lehman Brothers, said: "If you look at the chart it looks horrible. It looks as though deflation is going through the floor."

But the headline figure exaggerated the picture because the GDP deflator in the first quarter of 2002, when Japan began pulling out of recession, was positive, he noted. "It's something of a statistical fluke, though deflation is deflation and it is not a good sign."

Most economists in the US have dismissed deflationary risks as marginal. But the Fed said recently that the odds of an "unwelcome substantial" slowdown in inflation were now stronger than that of a rebound.

Concerns have also grown about a global deflation that the US could import, as western Europe flirts with recession and Japan looks more likely to enter a deflationary spiral.

But Roger Ferguson, vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the chance of a sustained deflation "remains quite remote" and the US had "too many good things going for it to make a forecast of deflation credible".

© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003.

Commentary:
It's important for readers to know there is no known solution to deflation. If it starts, it has to work its way through the economy and nothing will stop it. Inflation, on the other hand is easy to fix. All the Fed has to do is raise interest rates, force a recession and inflation dies (the 1981-1982 recession). Deflation has no magic bullet.

My best guess is the risk of deflation is still low but rising. We need another quarter or two to see if the economic bogeyman is out there. In the mean time be prepared to pull everything out of the stock market if it begins to spiral out of control.


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Texas Republicans Get Their Butts Kicked
Austin Texas Statesman
American Statesman
Thursday, May 15, 2003

The Texas House has adjourned, effectively killing the congressional redistricting plan that Democrats were refusing to show up to debate.

The House started its fourth straight day of nonbusiness Thursday as the 51 absent Democrats prepared to return to Austin and Republicans watched the clock tick toward a midnight deadline that will kill hundreds of bills.

House Speaker Tom Craddick, wanting committees to be able to consider Senate bills that still have time before they die, adjourned around 3:50 p.m. That means the redistricting bill will not be taken up, although a senator is now trying to move forward a version of the bill in that chamber. He faces tough odds.

Craddick said he won't allow the House to suspend its rules to revive House bills.

The House can still vote on Senate bills after the deadline, and many House members are working to revive their proposals as amendments to Senate bills if they don't already have an identical "companion" bill filed in the Senate.

Earlier Thursday, Craddick called the chamber to order, noted that they didn't have the necessary 100 members required for a quorum, then announced that the House will stand at ease until 3 p.m. That means the members could leave the chamber, but the House remains in session.

The 51 Democrats left the state Sunday to prevent the House from taking up a Republican-written congressional redistricting bill they say is unnecessary and unfair to Democrats. Republicans say the state's congressional map, which was drawn up by a federal court and gives Democrats a 17-15 edge, is artificially skewed against their party.

Craddick had refused to pull the redistricting bill from the calendar, so the Democrats have remained in Ardmore — beyond the reach of state troopers sent to arrest them and bring them back.

Copyright 2001-2003 Cox Texas Newspapers, L.P. All rights reserved.

Commentary:
Redistricting is a farce. Every state should do it as simple as possible, for example, every county would be one district, and large counties split exactly into halves or quarters or whatever is needed. Gerrymandering is unconstitutional but that never stopped either party, but republicans on the national level are trying to get states to fix the elections so they have more power. Have they no shame?


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Texas Democrats Leave State
The Washington Post
By Molly Ivins
Thursday, May 15, 2003; Page A29

AUSTIN -- Legislators on the lam. You can tell how grave this situation is by the news that Texas's last few remaining elected Democrats have bolted to Ardmore, Okla. If they were doin' this for fun they'd be in Mexico, drinkin' margaritas. This is serious.

Okay, so it's Texas politics and so naturally it's got this weird hitch in the get-along. But we are looking at something grave, portentous, weighty and fateful. (I just consulted the thesaurus.) Just because Texas always has this ridiculous pie-eyed quality of exaggeration (Ann Richards recently observed that the price of gasoline has gotten so high that Texas women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool) is no reason to ignore the deeper meaning in this semi-ludicrous caper. Creepin' fascism. That's what we're lookin' at.

All these years we've been listening to nutty right-wing preachers talking about creepin' socialism, and it turns out we've fixated on the wrong damn threat. It's a shame that it appears the proximate cause for the Big Bolt by the Texas legislators was a redistricting map. We must acknowledge, Republican and Democrat alike, that this map is a work of art. It's got districts that stretch for 300 miles and are two blocks wide.

Too bad redistricting is such an inside-baseball deal: Only wonks and political junkies care. But redistricting is the proverbial back-breaking straw here: The real reason Democrats are outta here is a session-long display of meanness and unfairness that finally became unbearable. The session was summed up by Rep. Senfronia Thompson when she carried the House rulebook up to the podium and dropped it on the floor. The legislative process has been shredded, rules ignored, points of order pointless. It's like a parody of the legislative process. Republicans, for the first time ever in the majority of both houses of our Legislature, have been voting in lockstep. No Democratic amendment, no matter how obvious or how sensible, is allowed to pollute Republican bills.

Faced with a $10 billion deficit, the Republicans decided to outlaw gay marriage. Then they kicked 250,000 poor children off a health insurance program that is mostly paid for by the feds in the first place. Picking on the weakest, the frailest, the youngest and oldest Texans has been the sport of choice this session. When the handicapped came to the capital to protest cuts in their services, the governor had them arrested. The combination of cruel budget choices and an unfair process made this the session from hell.

During a committee meeting, Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Houston) demanded earnestly, "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education? Free medical care? Free whatever? It comes from Moscow. From Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell." Rep. Joe Crabb (R-Atascocita) explained why no public hearings were held on the now-infamous redistricting bill: "The rest of us would have a very difficult time if we were out in an area -- other than Austin or other English-speaking areas -- to be able to have committee hearings to be able to converse with people that did not speak English." The guy's talking about South Texas.

What planet do these people come from? Carl Parker of Port Arthur used to say, "If you took all the fools out of the Legislature, it would not be a representative body anymore." When one confronts such people with facts -- such as that free education was established in the United States long before there was ever a Communist revolution in Russia, or that people in South Texas speak English quite fluently (some of them are even college graduates) -- it does no good. These folks are not stupid, they're like members of some weird cult. You can't dent their worldview with reality. It's like trying to talk to the people who followed David Koresh.

They are, at long last, the perfect unpoliticians -- they don't compromise, they don't deal, they don't look for the middle way, they don't give a damn about accommodating anybody else. Because they believe they're right. And they won't go out for a beer after work. They think it's them against evil. And everybody who ain't them is evil. These are Shiite Republicans.

Since all of y'all in the North think Texas is eternally screwed up, I'm not going to try to defend this lunacy (although it has causes), I'm just warning you: This is about to happen everywhere. A good country song says, "Lubbock on Everythang." Make it bigger, expand that. "Texas on Everythang." The whole country is being turned into the state whose proudest boast is that sometimes we're ahead of Mississippi.

When our governor, Rick "Goodhair" Perry (that's a head of hair every Texan can be proud of, regardless of party), asked New Mexico to arrest any escapees lurking there, the state's attorney general, Patricia Madrid, said, "I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care and against tax cuts for the wealthy."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Commentary:
Districts that are 300 miles long and two blocks wide is gerrymandering and gerrymandering is unconstitutional. When are the adults coming out to play?

Republicans know that any map they make (especially one this corrupt) will be fixed by the courts anyway. That's why we need decent judges and conservative judges care more about party power than fairness, law or the constitution.

Look back at the US Supreme Court decision in Bush vs. Gore. For the first time in US history a court ruled that counting and recounting votes by hand is unconstitutional. Anyone who's worked an election, regardless of party knows the Court got it wrong. You count until the numbers come out and if that means counting a 1000 times, you count a 1000 times.

The nice thing about Bush vs. Gore is that there isn't a single election worker in the country that has a problem with disregarding the high court. Regardless of party, election workers ignore the US Supreme Court.


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The Death of Local News
AlterNet.org
By Paul Schmelzer
April 23, 2003

Tune into the evening news on Madison, Wisconsin's Fox TV affiliate and behold the future of local news. In the program's concluding segment, "The Point," Mark Hyman rants against peace activists ("wack-jobs"), the French ("cheese-eating surrender monkeys"), progressives ("loony left") and the so-called liberal media, usually referred to as the "hate-America crowd" or the "Axis of Drivel." Colorful, if creatively anemic, this is TV's version of talk radio, with the precisely tanned Hyman playing a second-string Limbaugh.

Fox 47's right-wing rants may be the future of hometown news, but – believe it or not – it's not the program's blatant ideological bias that is most worrisome. Here's the real problem: Hyman isn't the station manager, a local crank, or even a journalist. He is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for the station's owner, the Sinclair Broadcast Group. And this segment of the local news isn't exactly local. Hyman's commentary is piped in from the home office in Baltimore, MD, and mixed in with locally-produced news. Sinclair aptly calls its innovative strategy "NewsCentral" - it is very likely to spell the demise of local news as we know it.

The Rise of Sinclair Broadcasting

Like many a media empire, Sinclair grew through a combination of acquisitions, clever manipulations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, and considerable lobbying campaigns. Starting out as a single UHF station in Baltimore in 1971, the company started its frenzied expansion in 1991 when it began using "local marketing agreements" as a way to circumvent FCC rules that bar a company from controlling two stations in a single market. These "LMAs" allow Sinclair to buy one station outright and control another by acquiring not its license but its assets. Today, Sinclair touts itself as "the nation's largest commercial television broadcasting company not owned by a network." You've probably never heard of them because the 62 stations they run – garnering 24 percent of the national TV audience – fly the flags of the networks they broadcast: ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and the WB.

TV Barn's Mark Jeffries calls Sinclair the "Clear Channel of local news," a reference to the San Antonio, Texas, media giant that has grown from 40 to more than 1,200 stations today thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which relaxed radio ownership rules. But the parallels extend beyond their growth strategies. Jeffries describes Sinclair as having a "fiercely right-wing approach that makes Fox News Channel look like a model of objectivity," while Clear Channel is best known for sponsoring pro-war "Rallies for America" during the Iraq conflict. And like Clear Channel's CEO L. Lowry Mays – a major Republican donor and onetime business associate of George W. Bush – the Sinclair family, board, and executives ply the GOP with big money. Since 1997, they have donated well over $200,000 to Republican candidates.

Sinclair's news department also takes a page out of Clear Channel's book of non-localized programming. According to Sinclair's website, NewsCentral is a "revolutionary news model" that introduces "local news in programming in markets that otherwise could not support news." Begun in 2002, it's being tested in five not-so-small markets: Minneapolis, Flint (MI), Oklahoma City (OK), Raleigh (NC), and Rochester (NY). (Hyman's segment, "The Point," however, is aired on all 62 of its stations.) In these five cities, the hour-long newscast combines local broadcasting with prepackaged news. To maintain the appearance of local news, the Baltimore on-air staff is coached on the intricacies of correct local pronunciations. Or the weatherman, safely removed from the thunderstorms in, say, Minneapolis, will often engage in scripted banter with the local anchor to maintain the pretense: "Should I bring an umbrella tomorrow, Don?" "You bet, Hal, it looks pretty ugly out there..."

Journalists have been pondering the specter of centralized news operations for some time, both because it affects the quality of news and because it could put them out of a job. "We should all be conscious of the dangers that are present when you have one newsroom producing the news," says John Nichols, associate editor at The Capital Times in Madison and co-author with Robert McChesney of the books "Our Media, Not Theirs," and "It's the Media, Stupid." "That's a real possibility. It's a very dangerous future, but Sinclair is already living in the dangerous future."

One Giant Newsroom

And that future's getting pretty crowded with media mega-empires jostling to "synergize" their operations. The Tribune Company is already cross-training reporters. Under the label of journalistic "synergy," the company owns most of Chicago's media outlets: The Chicago Tribune, WGN's TV and AM radio stations, Chicago Magazine, the AOL project Digital City Chicago, plus the Chicago Cubs (not to mention its 22 TV stations nationwide, 25 percent stake in the WB network, 14 newspapers, the syndication service Tribune Media Services, and 14 online publications including cars.com and apartments.com). A Tribune reporter – variously called a "multimedia reporter," a "backpack journalist," or merely a "content provider" – might attend a mayoral press conference, for example, armed with a digital audio recorder, a camera, and a notebook to provide stories for radio, print, online, and television news. While the debate rages over whether such journalists can consistently produce high quality news, the real fear is that only one voice will frame and tell a news story. It's a chilling thought when that lone perspective is shaped by a Sinclair or Fox worldview.

"Thomas Jefferson and James Madison believed that, in order to sustain democracy, media needed to be cacophonous and diverse," Nichols says. "Today we don't have that. Our range of debate is getting incredibly narrow: The mainstream discourse runs from right-wing to far right-wing."

This sentiment was echoed by David Croteau, Virginia Commonwealth University professor and author of "The Business of Media: Corporate Media and the Public Interest," during one of only two public hearings on the Federal Communications Commission's plan to radically relax rules governing media ownership. "We cannot, therefore, treat the media like any other industry. It's products are not widgets or toasters; they are culture, information, ideas, and viewpoints," he said.

Indeed, the issue of centralized news will be exacerbated after the FCC's June 2 vote on ownership. On the chopping block are six regulations that attempt to preserve a diversity of voices and local control of media – from the ban on owning both a TV station and newspaper in the same market to limits on how many radio stations one group can own in a given area.

Should the FCC vote to weaken these protections – as expected – more of our airwaves will be concentrated in the hands of a few corporations. Currently six companies control most of the country's media: AOL Time Warner, Disney, General Electric, News Corporation (Fox), Viacom, and Vivendi Universal. A study released in February by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Crunching data from 172 stations and 23,000 stories over five years, the report determined – to the ire of major media industry groups – that "smaller station groups tended to produce a higher quality of newscasts than networks owned by larger companies – by a significant margin." It also found that "local ownership offered some protection against newscasts being very poor."

When talking about media deregulation, Nichols takes issue with the word "deregulation." He sees it as a term used by conservatives to project a false image of free-market values and small government. In fact, he says, the recent FCC decisions do not eliminate regulations. They instead are "dismantled and then reassembled in a form that allows a handful of companies – like Sinclair – to get bigger and bigger and bigger." He says, "We still have a highly regulated media. The only thing that is changing is that it's now being regulated in the interests not of democracy or the people, but larger corporations."

The cooptation of words that accompanies the handover of the airwaves to corporations is proving effective. Only a third of all Americans realize that the public owns the airwaves, and about a tenth are aware that the FCC gives stations licenses for free, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Equally alarming are the results from the Project for Excellence in Journalism survey: 72 percent of Americans say they have "heard nothing at all" about the upcoming June 2 FCC vote on relaxing ownership rules.

Powell himself sees the airwaves not as conveyors of culture but as a commodity. When asked in 2001 what he thought the term "public interest" meant in the FCC's mission, Powell replied, "I have no idea ... I try to make the best judgment I can in ways that benefit consumers. Beyond that I don't know."

Paul Schmelzer is a Minneapolis-based writer and edits the Web site Eyeteeth: A Journal of Incisive Ideas

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© 2003 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Commentary:
Fair and balanced! Yeah right. Have you ever heard a republican tell the truth about anything? Be honest. If so, drop me a note and tell me when. Tax cuts do NOT pay for themselves, Bush didn't have proof of weapon's of mass destruction (if he did he would have given it to the UN inspectors and they would have destroyed it and we wouldn't have had to have a silly little war), there is no surplus, etc..

The sooner we rid our political system from these losers the better off we'll be. But we have to act fast--the deficit is growing at a record rate. In less than two years Bush has created over $700 billion of debt, or a $700 billion tax increase. Don't be fooled by the silliness that passes as news on the war networks, there is no such thing as a tax cut when we have deficits.


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Why worry about who ownes the media?
MoveOn Bulletin Op-Ed
by Eli Pariser
Friday, May 2, 2003

It's like something out of a nightmare, but it really happened: At 1:30 on a cold January night, a train containing hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic ammonia derails in Minot, North Dakota. Town officials try to sound the emergency alert system, but it isn't working. Desperate to warn townspeople about the poisonous white cloud bearing down on them, the officials call their local radio stations. But no one answers any of the phones for an hour and a half. According to the New York Times, three hundred people are hospitalized, some are partially blinded, and pets and livestock are killed.

Where were Minot's DJs on January 18th, 2002? Where was the late night station crew? As it turns out, six of the seven local radio stations had recently been purchased by Clear Channel Communications, a radio giant with over 1,200 stations nationwide. Economies of scale dictated that most of the local staff be cut: Minot stations ran more or less on auto pilot, the programming largely dictated from further up the Clear Channel food chain. No one answered the phone because hardly anyone worked at the stations any more; the songs played in Minot were the same as those played on Clear Channel stations across the Midwest.

Companies like Clear Channel argue that economies of scale allow them to cut costs while continuing to provide quality programming. But they do so at the expense of local coverage. It's not just about emergency warnings: media mergers are decreasing coverage of local political races, local small businesses, and local events. There are only a third as many owners of newspapers and TV stations as there were in the 1970s (about 600 now; over 1,500 then). It's harder and harder for Americans to find out what's going on in their own back yards.

On June 2, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering relaxing or getting rid of rules to allow much more media concentration. While the actual rule changes are under wraps, they could allow enormous changes in the American media environment. For example, one company could be allowed to own ABC, CBS, and NBC. Almost certainly, media companies will be allowed to own newspapers and TV stations in the same town. We could be entering a new era of media megaliths.

Do you want one or two big companies acting as gatekeepers and controlling your access to news and entertainment? Most of us don't. And the airwaves explicitly belong to us -- the American people. We allow media companies to use them in exchange for their assurance that they're serving the public interest, and it's the FCC's job to make sure that's so. For the future of American journalism, and for the preservation of a diverse and local media, we have the hold the FCC to its mission. Otherwise, Minot's nightmare may become our national reality.

MoveOn and MoveOn.org are trademarks of MoveOn.org

Commentary:
I can verify this story as being true. My sisters soon to be mother-in-law is from Minot, ND (an Air Force Base) and she was hospitalized after the train wreck. So here you are in the middle of night, no emergency broadcast system and the air outside is toxic. What do you do? Clear Channel Radio means you don't get an emergency broadcast system at night unless it's cost effective. BTW, in my opinion the military screwed up too. They have the knowledge and the tools to do just about anything. What took them so long?


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Cable Provider to Run Ad Critical of Bush
Excite News
May 13, 11:23 PM (ET)

PHOENIX (AP) - In an about-face, the local branch of cable provider Cox Communications (COX) has decided to air a TV commercial critical of President Bush's tax cut plan.

The spot - which re-enacts a blood plasma drive held to help pay a teacher's salary - was initially turned down because Cox officials in Phoenix found the commercial "in poor taste," said Andrea Katsenes, company spokeswoman.

But the company said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that after seeing the ad, it had decided to begin running it.

The ad recreates an event in Eugene, Ore., last month in which 50 parents lined up outside a clinic to sell their blood plasma to help pay a teacher's salary.

"George Bush's tax cuts for the rich" are to blame for shortfalls in education funding, the commercial contends.

Bush favors a $550 billion, 10-year tax cut passed by the Republican-controlled House. This week, the Senate is debating whether to approve a version of the proposal that would result in a $350 billion tax cut.

The commercial was produced for MoveOn.org, an online political activist group. It was slated to air about 10 times a day this week on cable systems in 23 cities, said Lanicia Shaw, an executive assistant for Zimmerman and Markman, an advertising agency handling the commercial.

Copyright © 2001-2003 The Excite Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

Commentary:
Did you ever think the US would fall this far, this fast? It's actually a news story these days when someone airs an anti-Bush ad. Good grief. We're doomed.

Those of you who've followed this site for awhile know the war networks banned anti-war ads before war with Iraq. In fact, I'm guessing most of you would be hard pressed to think of a single anti-war ad on tv, radio or in print.

Viacom, which owns CBS and MTV banned all anti-war ads, so did Fox and CNN. Then came the billboards, taxicabs and buses. In other words, those who favor war over diplomacy now control just about everything we see and hear. Kinda scary huh?

I became aware of this growing problem during the Clinton years, when the press ran with guesses and suppositions about Clinton and within days these guesses were called scandals. When Clinton was absolved of the media and republican lies, that was seldom reported or reported with little fan fair. Our press was getting used to lying to us and getting away with it.

Then in 2002, almost every news organization in the US supported Bush when he favored a military coup in Venezuela, instead of the freely elected democratic government. For some reason the US media (and the US president) forgot to support one of our most cherished ideals—democracy.

In just 24-hours, the new dictator dissolved the parliament, suspended the constitution and supreme court and also met with the US ambassador. Busy guy.

However, as luck would have it, Venezuela's president was re-installed and the coup ended after just 24-hours. Bush and the media (liberal, conservative, east coast and west), were forced to backtrack and say they really did support democracy. Shame on Bush and shame on the mindless media. Both should have condemned the coup within the first minute. Both failed us.


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Tax cuts--Winners, Losers and Gimmicks
Washington Post
Thursday, May 15, 2003; Page A28

PRESIDENT BUSH SAYS that, when crafting a tax plan, the government shouldn't be in the business of picking winners and losers. But the tax bills making their way through Congress do precisely that -- and you can probably guess how things are turning out.

The winners are those at the top of the income scale, and not just because they pay more taxes to begin with. Both the House and the Senate would speed up cuts in individual income tax rates passed in 2001. For three income brackets, rates would drop by 2 percentage points. But the top rate falls by 3.6 percentage points, from 38.6 percent to 35 percent. One argument for this is that it would help small businesses, many of which pay taxes at individual rates. But only 2 percent of taxpayers with small-business income pay the top rate -- and many of these are not mom-and-pop businesses but rather wealthy individuals with complex tax returns full of partnerships and royalty income and the like.

The losers are those near the bottom: low-income working families eligible to receive money under the Earned Income Tax Credit. The House bill approved last week accelerates a planned increase in the child tax credit and relief from the so-called marriage penalty -- for everyone except those who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The pending Senate bill accelerates child tax credits for some in this group, but like the House version it would provide no marriage penalty relief for EITC recipients -- who can face a particularly steep hit. Consider the situation of two single parents, each with one child and each earning $10,000. If they remain single, each receives about $2,500. If they marry, their total tax benefits fall by more than $1,000. As Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) argued without success in the Senate Finance Committee, leaving the penalty in place discourages marriage -- exactly the opposite of what conservatives who voted against the Jeffords amendment say they want.

As for gimmicks: We had thought the House measure -- with its laughable "sunsets" of rate reductions, child tax credits and marriage penalty provisions after a mere three years -- was about as phony as a tax bill could get. It pretends that these tax breaks will expire in three years, so the official long-term cost of the bill, $550 billion, is far lower than the likely true impact. Now the administration and some Senate Republicans are peddling a dividend tax proposal that threatens to make the House bill look responsible. It combines the best of tax trickery -- both slow phase-ins and artificial sunsets -- to make the cost of a dividend tax cut look lower and therefore allow Republicans to jam it into the Senate's $350 billion limit.

This is a charade; proponents of the cut have no intention of allowing it to expire. But some senators appear tempted to join this masquerade, which would give the administration enough votes to win Senate passage. Ohio Republican George V. Voinovich, who has talked tough about being a deficit hawk, can't keep those credentials while signing on to a tax package that will cost far more than the $350 billion he has insisted is his upper limit. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson said through a spokesman yesterday that he would support this dividend cut because it's big enough to "send the right message to Wall Street." It's big, yes, and also dishonest, unfair and unaffordable. Which message precisely is Mr. Nelson looking to send?

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Commentary:
I always get a kick out of how hypocritical conservatives can be. Bush promised us he wouldn't be picking winners or losers when he proposed his tax cut. Obviously, everything Bush said was a lie but the media didn't and doesn't care. Bush picked the rich to win and the debt he's creating proof of his inter-generational warfare. He's taking from the unborn and giving it to the super rich. Can you think of a more corrupt president? Tax cuts create deficits and deficits are future taxes.

You know what they say; fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Don't let GWB make a fool out of you.


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