Buchanan the Loose Cannon

Former White House aide, three-time presidential candidate, commentator and magazine publisher Pat Buchanan told “The Washington Times” that “the conservative movement has passed into history. It doesn’t exist anymore as a unifying force.”

Buchanan’s definition of the term “conservative” is somewhere well to the right of Karl Rove’s. Here are a few choice quotes from the interview that illuminate Buchanan’s brand of radical conservatism.

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

“American culture has become toxic and poisonous. Take a look at what Hollywood produces today and what it produced in the 1950s. The alteration is dramatic.”

“We say we won a great victory by defeating gay marriage in 11 state-ballot referenda in November. But I think in the long run, that will be seen as a victory in defense of a citadel that eventually fell.”

“Frankly, you would not have a cultural war in this country if the Supreme Court had said, ‘Look, free speech is one thing, but pornography is not covered by the First Amendment. If the justices had stayed away from forced busing, if they had let the states decide abortion and gay rights, you would not have had the cultural war — and probably not have had the victories that the Republican Party had in the 1970s and ’80s.”

“Both major parties agreed that they would do nothing to defend the borders and that we ought to have amnesty for those who break in illegally. There was no choice. The president has abdicated his responsibility to defend America from a foreign invasion. We add half a million illegals to our population each year, most of whom come to work, some to commit crimes against American citizens. I say, look, the kind of immigrants we want are people who want to come here and become part of the American family … not just to work and then go back home.”

“Look, you’re going to have 100 million people of Hispanic, primarily Mexican, descent in the American Southwest by the middle of this century, and I think you are in danger of losing the American Southwest, de facto. I think this country is risking coming apart, like other countries in the world, over issues of language, culture and ethnicity.”

Away with DeLay

From the Public Campaign Action Fund, top 10 reasons Tom DeLay should be kicked out of Congress:

1. Tom DeLay violates ethics rules at will, making him a national embarrassment. Indeed, he has earned four formal ethics violations, a truly rare achievement, as only five Members of Congress have been chastised by the committee in the last six years..

• In May 1999, the House Ethics Committee issued a rare private rebuke to DeLay, for “badgering a lobbying organization over its hiring of a Democrat as its president.” DeLay had complained to the Electronic Industries Alliance and the GOP House leadership the October before about its hiring of a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, Dave McCurdy. After DeLay voiced his complaint, House leaders showed their displeasure with the group by postponing votes on an international treaty that the association wanted. (The New York Times, 5/14/99)

• In October 2004, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct admonished DeLay, saying he had gone too far, and violated rules on three separate occasions: “The promise of political support for a relative of a member goes beyond the boundaries of maintaining party discipline, and should not be used as the basis of a bargain for members to achieve their respective goals,” the House Ethics committee wrote in its report. The Committee also admonished him for using federal resources, the FAA, for political purposes and for the appearance of conflict of interest by raising money at a golf tournament from Westar while considering legislation that would impact the energy company. (House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; The New York Times, 10/1/04)

2. Tom DeLay embodies the worst of pay-to-play politics – he puts big donors like Enron ahead of the rest of us.

• DeLay’s rise in politics was fueled by Enron. The rogue company hosted the first fundraiser for his leadership PAC, raising $280,000 for him at the event. And DeLay fought hard for the company’s agenda of regulatory relief. Not only did Enron reward Delay with $32,700 over his years in Congress (making him its #8 top beneficiary overall), it gave two of his top aides a $750,000 consulting contract to do a “grassroots” campaign for the deregulation of energy markets, and paid his wife Christine $40,000 for a no-show job.

[…]

Bush EPA Official Admits Helping Developer Destroy Wetlands

In a move that places him squarely in the pantheon of Republican environmental “watchdogs,” Jimmy Palmer, chief of the southeastern region for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, testified against the agency and on behalf of a former client – a real estate developer – in a criminal trial. Under oath, Palmer, whose title is Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 Office, admitted advising the client to ignore EPA cease and desist orders regarding a real estate development in a wetlands area.

According to information released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Palmer peppered his testimony with criticisms of the EPA. Meanwhile, his former client, an unscrupulous developer who bucked the EPA, Mississippi state government and even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was found guilty.

Palmer was selected by President Bush to oversee EPA operations in the eight-state Southeastern Region in October 2001 and was sworn in following Senate confirmation the following January. At the time of his selection, Palmer was the lawyer for a Mississippi developer named Robert Lucas who sought Palmer’s help in subdividing land and installing septic tanks in a 2600-acre development called Big Hills Acres.

In March 2005, after a jury trial, Lucas was convicted for misrepresenting the habitability of the lots and installing septic systems in saturated wetland soils at Big Hill Acres, despite warnings from the state Department of Health that doing so created a public health threat. Lucas also ignored numerous warnings, as well as cease and desist orders, from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA because the deteriorating systems threatened to contaminate the local drinking water aquifer.

At the trial, Lucas called Palmer as a defense witness. Palmer, testifying on his own time under subpoena, confirmed his role in advising Lucas in how to sell lots for development despite official cease and desist orders. Palmer also admitted that he regarded EPA staff as “unethical” and overzealous in enforcing the Clean Water Act and aggressively resisted earlier enforcement efforts.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noted that during Palmer’s tenure the EPA has not vetoed a single development project for wetlands violations, or any other reason. There is little chance that trend will change in the southeastern region.

In his official capacity as EPA Regional Administrator, Palmer now has before him more than a score of questionable mega-projects that would destroy thousands of wetlands acres in endangered species habitat in order to build projects such as gated golf-course luxury condominium complexes. Palmer has signaled that he will greenlight every project, despite concerns about violations of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws that Palmer and his agency are supposed to be enforcing.

Read the trial transcript and supporting documents here.

Read Jimmy Palmer’s resume here.

The Blather Over Bloggers

(Disclaimer: I am not a paid political consultant and receive no remuneration from Pensito Review for my, ahem, contributions. Indeed, if my boss knew I was doing this at work, he’d probably DOCK MY PAY.)

A Forbes article by Steve McGookin explores the current quandry facing the Federal Elections Commission regarding the assumed power of Web logs to influence the political process. While the Internet consultancy Malchow Schlackman Hoppey and Cooper (which handled John Kerry’s on-line campaign) has submitted a letter calling for blogs to be granted the same exemption from election finance laws that “real” journalists enjoy, there remains the pesky issue of bloggers who are paid political advocates who do seem to influence election outcomes (not to mention journalists paid by the gubmint to promulgate policy, but that’s another matter).

While outlining the quagmire the FEC faces this summer, McGookin elucidates some of the questions the FEC is considering:

While a fundamental starting point, according to the FEC, is not to deter ordinary citizens from becoming involved in political activity, a big difficulty is placing any kind of accurate value on political activity conducted online. The Commission’s responsibility is to regulate only monetary exchanges, as opposed to intellectual, as well as deciding whether or not such activity even rises to a level where the FEC would be concerned in any case.

Most blog activity–political or otherwise–is carried out by individuals on what would charitably be described as a shoestring budget. But what about the increasing numbers of popular blogs that are using or adopting various structured business models?

Then there is the question of whether the FEC is limited to regulating only paid-for political advertising on blogs. Or is everything that supports or endorses a particular candidate appearing on a blog considered to fall under existing campaign contribution ceilings and, as such, subject to regulation?

To what extent are blogs–as distinct from mainstream media’s commercial online entities–protected, being primarily vehicles of individual personal opinion? Does the size of their audience make any difference?

Note that Pensito Review’s business plan consists of maybe someday hopefully getting a click-through deal with Amazon, and the estimated value of our combined “intellectual property” likely exempts us from any consideration of the “contribution” a PR endorsement would lend a hapless candidate. Size of audience? Let’s not go there.

That said, and the FEC’s concerns aside, there is other evidence that blogs just don’t matter that much, or at least no more than “real” media.

A Reuters article on a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project appears to suss out the fact that blogs just aren’t as powerful as the worry-worts at the FEC think they are.

Charting the discussion of issues during the 2004 presidential campaign, the study found political blogs — online opinion and information sites — played a similar, but not greater role, as the mainstream media in “creating buzz” around the candidates’ campaigns.

The study dispels the notion that blogs are replacing traditional media as the public’s primary source of information, said Michael Cornfield, a senior research consultant at Pew.

“Bloggers follow buzz as much as they make it,” said Cornfield. “Our research uncovered a complicated dynamic in which a hot topic of conversation could originate with the blogs or it could originate with the media or it could originate with the campaigns.

“We can say that if people still have that idea that the bloggers are the new fifth estate, that the bloggers are the new kingmakers, that’s not the case.”

Of course, the evidence is clear, if you follow Pew’s line of reasoning:

For example, it showed the Bush campaign paid more attention to an Osama bin Laden tape than did the blogs. At the same time, the Kerry campaign made more mention of missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq than the blogs. The mainstream media made more mention of Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter than either the blogs or the campaigns.

Well, that should answer the questions for the FEC. Except the thought that perhaps the 40 out of 1.6 million blogs Pew examined were investigating more interesting issues than Osama, WMD or Ms. Cheney.

So please, FEC Director Scott Thompson, don’t treat blogs differently than mainstream press. According to Pew, Pensito Review is equally as irrelevant as the “New York Times.” Honest.

Bill O’Reilly’s Innocence Unlost

In a commentary piece for something called the Creator’s Syndicate, Bill O’Reilly urges us to “Keep ‘diversity’ books out of kindergarten.” He frames his argument with gilded memories of a halcyon youth spent climbing trees, stealing second base and learning to read “Dick and Jane” books. Then, Bill recounts a recent news event that illustrates how lost our society has become.

Today, in Lexington, Mass., 6-year-olds have another book. It is called “Who’s in a Family?” This book features not only Dick and Jane but also Jennifer and Lauren and Charles and Henry. The pages tell little kids about different kinds of families: mixed-race, gay and lesbian, and even traditional family units. They are all discussed in very positive ways.

A father named David Parker took one look at the same-sex part of the book and made an appointment to see the principal of Estabrook Elementary School, a woman named Joni Jay. Parker asked Jay to inform him when the gay family stuff was going to be presented because he felt his little son was too young to learn about homosexuality, and he would keep him home that day. Sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast. Jay informed Parker that the family book had nothing to do with sexuality, so he was not entitled under the Massachusetts sex education law to get a heads-up. When Parker pointed out that same-sex situations contain the word “sex,” he was asked to leave the principal’s office. He refused. So the Lexington police arrested him on trespassing charges. See Dad get arrested. What does Jane think?

O’Reilly sees this as a symptom of “a massive mission of indoctrination going on in America.” He rails against 9-year-old girls with bare midrifts and third-grade boys wearing gold chains.

I think both Dick and Jane would agree that we should all back off and give the kids a break. Let’s bring back childhood in America, OK? No more “diversity” books for kindergartners ….
The world is a tough, nasty place, and children will learn that soon enough. Shouldn’t we make their first years fun years, free of political and social agendas? Why do some little kids these days look like Britney Spears and Kid Rock? What the deuce is wrong with us?

What’s wrong, Bill, is that Howdy Doody is off the air, coonskin caps are no longer in fashion and Beaver Cleaver is a chubby middle-ages has-been. This isn’t and can’t be the 1950s.

What’s right with us, Bill, is that white children go to school with black children, gay and lesbian couples can raise their own kids and even get lawfully wedded in some places, races and cultures are mixing in new and interesting ways, and the world is much more complicated and diverse than it was when “Father Knows Best” was popular.

Dick’s mommy has a new Latino boyfriend and his daddy only gets to see him every other weekend, while Jane has two mommies. Dick and Jane play “Grand Thefy Auto” on the computer and listen to Dirty Ol’ Bastard on the radio. Your nucular threat of the ’50s has been replaced by the terrorist threat of the 21st century. The world’s a far different place than when Sister Lurana taught you to read. Catch up, Bill.

Telephone Company Promotes Anti-Gay Agenda

“He who has ears, let him hear.”
– Jesus

The image of the boy with his fingers stuck in his ears to the right says a lot about what United American Technologies is up to. The company provides “filtered” internet access to the pious who are either so computer illiterate as to not understand simple parental controls, or who think that the Internet is Satan, period, and the only way to keep him off the family computer is through divine intervention.

Are you beginning to feel like you need to be protected when on the Internet? United American Technologies is dedicated to providing the luxury of the Internet without the hassle of unwanted content and information. We provide a clean outlet to the Internet for family, friends, employees and students.

UAT offers “DSL speeds at the price of dial-up,” as well as “filtered web browsing from pornography and other unsuitable content; filtered email from pornography and other unsolicited marketing emails; pop-up protection available with our High Speed Dialup service; unlike many of our competitors, we do not offer unfiltered Internet access for a single subscriber. We do not have double standards and do not support pornography in any way.”

But it is in the company’s telephone solicitations that their true intentions become clear. A fellow named Eugene Merman called an anti-gay marriage group and learned about UAT. For quality-control purposes, he recorded his conversations.

Merman called in to something called the Faith, Family and Freedom Campaign, whose prerecorded hold message says, in part: “Please do not hang up. Listen to my brief message and find out how you can help. This information will explain how the ACLU and gays are getting gay marriage in every state.”

The operator breaks in at this point, identifies herself as what sounds like “Kewpie,” and asks, “Eugene, did you press one to oppose same-sex marriages?”

After Merman has her on for a bit, and it’s clear that he is playing it to the hilt, Kewpie gets to the real pitch: “Mr. Merman, also, our organization is dedicated to people such as yourself that want to stop same-sex marriages and to quit doing business with companies that promote and profit from the homosexual lifestyle.”

She then goes on to smear the competition, claiming that AT&T owns the Hot Network, “which is a hard-core pronography channel,” and “they also give millions of dollars to the gay and lesbian alliance groups.”

Then Kewpie gets to the point: “Mr. Merman, there is a Christian-based telehone company in your area called United American Technologies … UAT, Mr. Merman, is the only carrier taking an active stand against same-sex marriages and hardcore child pornography.”

Kewpie goes on to explain how MCI “sponsors child pornography” through a Montreal-based “pedophile” Web site called MenWhoLoveBoys, and Verizon “trains their employees to accept the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”

All of which leads the feckless Mr. Merman to breathlessly exclaim, “Basically, God hates AT&T, MCI and Verizon!”

“Yes,” accedes Kewpie.

And Jesus said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

Study: Public Says Press Bad, Freedom Bad

A study released today by the University of Connecticut Department on Public Policy found (surprise!) a significant gap between the public and the press on details like freedom of speech and the government’s right to censor the press. Editor & Publisher offers an executive summary of the study, which found that 43% of the public says the press has too much freedom, while only 3% of journalists agree (who are those guys?). Shockingly (or not), only 14% of the public respondents could name “freedom of the press” as a guarantee in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

While many of the other findings are as predictably depressing as those, the study did mine some interesting data on blogs, and since this is a blog, we’ll concentrate on those data. The widest gap between the 1,000 regular folks and the 300 journalists polled opened between the 8 in 10 journalists who said they read blogs and the less than 1 in 10 others who read blogs. A majority of the news pros polled do not believe bloggers deserve to be called journalists (editor’s note: because they fear the POWER). But, of course, the journos’ greatest fear is irrelevance — the study found that 61% of non-journalist average Americans get most of their news from television (Thanks, Bill O’Reilly!), while only 20% read newspapers (Thanks, Wall Street Journal!).

A full 83% of journalists reported using blogs, with four in 10 claiming to use them at least once a week. Fifty-five percent of blog-using journalists said they use blogs when gathering news. And while 85% of the Fourth Estaters believe bloggers should enjoy First Amendment protections, three-quarters say bloggers are not journalists because they don’t adhere to “commonly held ethical standards” (whatever those are).

Finally, in what can only be seen as the triumph of technology over truth, “61% of the news pros say that the emergence of the Internet has made journalism better.”

We here at Pensito Review, unburdened as we are by commonly held or uncommonly held ethical standards, and blessedly protected as we are by the First Amendment, will continue to do our part to make journalism better, or, more to the point — make better journalism.

A Modest Proposal for the Florida Legislature

From the “Why I’m Glad They’re Only In Session Two Months of the Year” Department:

Florida, Water and Lobbyists
Toward a New State Capital

By ALAN FARAGO

Church is a good place for Sunday worship, but to contemplate the miracle of Creation, sometimes all you need to do is take a good walk.

The point of a good walk is obvious to anyone who has taken one. You start in one place and end up in another, even though you return where you started.

Which brings me to Tallahassee, a state capital so full of lobbyists you can’t do business without one handing you a towel when you finish.

Once I wrote critically of the pledge by Gov. Jeb Bush to empty Tallahassee of government superfluous to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But I’m coming around to a compromise.

I am for letting the whole place go to weeds. Like a flea-ridden mattress, Tallahassee just needs to be abandoned. Let’s start from scratch.

I hear the state’s largest land owner is building new cities in the Panhandle and that it is really sensitive to smart growth.

Let St. Joe build a smart capital in the Panhandle, surrounded by a wider moat and higher walls than Tallahassee.

Then, the governor and legislators shall remand all lobbyists to Georgia or Alabama, with a requirement to wear ankle bracelets for the duration of the session.

But the key to a functional government is not discrimination — but a good walk, without lobbyists, before the legislative session starts.

There is no better place to experience Florida — the thumb of the continent sticking into the ocean’s eye — than from the water.

The day before the session begins, our legislators and governor shall assemble in Key West, the southernmost point of the United States and the very point of the question.

With face masks, snorkels and life vests, they float over the coral reef that has virtually disappeared in the past decade — and now looks like a graveyard strewn with the bones of dead coral.

Treading water, they come up with their own theories and explanations. Before returning, they make a small ritual of throwing away cell phones.

By bus caravan, the government now proceeds northward on U.S. Highway 1 toward the new state capital.

They shall move at a deliberate pace, preferably at rush hour on a bad day, so all may contemplate what rule permitted so many buildings in the Keys and, once they hit Miami, why unbearable traffic is laying family life to waste.

The second stop is the reef tract off Palm Beach. It is blanketed by a nasty carpet of macro-algae and is lifeless except for supersized parrot fish hulking like hundred-pound babies baptized at McDonald’s and left for good by the fryer.

It is the effect, say some scientists — whose careers do not depend on state funding — of an underground flood of nitrogen pollution from Big Sugar — represented now by lobbyists jumping up and down in Georgia. Or Alabama.

What a tangle we have made of Creation, no doubt about it. Our government stares glumly out bus windows motoring across the Everglades, devoid of birds, to the other side of the state.

Now, the persuasions of technology, helicopter rides, Power Point presentations, planning matrixes and a dizzying array of acronyms induce melancholy and pity.

The confusion between smart engineering and intelligent design percolates through the minds of men and women given the consent of the governed.

For a blessed third time, they dip into water at the edge of Rookery Bay in Collier County, a growth-management failure that sticks like an urchin spine in the foot of the governor.

Expecting nothing, they are astonished by a profusion of wildlife around the freshwater spring bubbling from the bottom of Henderson Creek, recently reported by the Naples Daily News.

When all seemed lost, here is Creation firing on all 12 cylinders. Manatees, tarpon and snook crowd around looking sideways at the Legislature as if they only knew.

Humbled in the presence of Creation, with the sound of their breath in their ears, legislators and governor exhale like fish busting the surface at the same time.

But there is news.

Within a mile radius of the spring, Marco Island wants to double its aquifer storage and recovery wells already permitted by the state, injecting up to 6 million gallons per day — with no assurance and no idea whether what is left of God’s original plan can survive contamination through cracks and conduits underground.

This is the end of a good walk.

Once the Legislature arrives at the new capital, the bars and prayer groups, smoke- and lobbyist-free, fill with animated debate — for instance, which political party had more members who forgot to fasten their life vests.

But in all seriousness, were such a walk to take place, our Legislature and governor might resolve that when intelligent design is destroyed by smart engineering, polluters must pay and that, moreover, aquifers for drinking water that nourish Creation must not be violated.

But don’t count on that happening any time soon in Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida.

Can’t See the Forest for the Spin

Apparently, the Bush Admin didn’t learn its lesson about the imprudence of using outside public relations firms to spin its education message and is now trying to replace U.S. Forest Service information officers with PR consultants. (Disclosure: I am a PR consultant in the leisure travel industry.) According to the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the move to outsource spokesperson duties is the first step in Bush’s renewed effort to further gut the Forest Service and erode forest protections.

The U.S. Forest Service announced that it is weighing replacement of 100 of its public information staff with private public relations firms, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The move is motivated by pressure from the Bush White House to put more federal jobs out to bid by private contractors in order to “increase the cost-effectiveness of Forest Service work.”

According to agency memos, 100 of the agency’s 700 public affairs officers, public affairs specialists, writers, editors, graphic artists, illustrators and audio visual specialists will be reviewed by June 30 to determine whether the positions would be subject to bid by private firms. The agency plans to make decisions this fall and contractors could be in place by January.

Hundreds of other positions throughout the agency may be subject to similar bidding in 2006. In 2004, citing cost overruns and potential side effects, Congress severely restricted the Bush Administration efforts to outsource Forest Service and National Park Service jobs. Those restrictions, however, lapsed this past October and now the Bush Administration is again pushing its “Competitive Sourcing” initiative.

“Wag the Dog is coming to a national forest near you,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, referring to the movie about government use of PR firms to manipulate public perception of events. “Civil servants are under a legal obligation to tell the public the truth while PR firms specialize in shading it. Outsourcing the public information function risks putting a premium on spin at the expense of candor.”

President Bush promised to limit reliance on PR firms after recent controversy over federal agency payments to commentators for promoting Bush Administration programs. Through this “Competitive Sourcing” mechanism, these same firms can have a long-term role in shaping agency communication practices.

In 2004, the Forest Service spent $113,000 for a public relations firm to design a campaign to gain public acceptance of the agency plan to increase logging in California’s Sierra Nevadas. The campaign, titled “Forests With a Future,” sparked criticism but the Government Accountability Office ultimately ruled that the contract did not violate prohibitions on using taxpayer dollars to pay for “publicity or propaganda.”

Ironically, the Forest Service needs to retain contractors in order to prepare private sector competitions. Previous Bush competitive sourcing plans at the Forest Service involved possible contracting for law enforcement, biologist and sylviculturalist positions. The agency spent an estimated $100 million before Congress stepped in and put the effort on hold.

Find out more at http://www.peer.org/

EPIC: In the Year 2014

It’s 2014. “The New York Times” has gone off-line and is now a print-only newsletter for the elite and elderly, and EPIC is how you get everything, customized based on your consumption habits. Hey, it could happen, right? “EPIC” is an online film created by two fellows at the Poynter Institute, a well-respected journalism school in St. Petersburg, Fla. It tells the story of what has happened and what could (might? will??) happen to how we get our media and products in the near (immediate???) future. Besides being interesting intellectually, it also represents a cogent analysis of what has happened to the way news is disseminated over just the past six years. See the film here: Epic.