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Archive for March 2005

Who needs Gale Norton anyway?

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How nice of the nation’s secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, to support drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a.k.a. ANWR.

Sunday’s Times op-ed page carried Norton’s “Call of the Mild” commentary that argued technology would mitigate impacts on a “sliver” of ANWR. (Read her piece.)

Frankly, I’d expect this from the secretary of Commerce, not the Interior boss. But she’s from Colorado, and many Westerners think natural resources ought to be “utilized” rather than “preserved.”

Times readers shot back. (Read the letters.)

Environmentals say the amount of oil recoverable from ANWR amounts to about 10 days’ consumption in the U.S.

I doubt I’ll ever see the Alaskan refuge. But the image of wilderness, pristine and unspoiled, is a necessary antidote to the stresses of modern, “civilized” life.

I need to know it’s there. I don’t want to trade that knowledge for 10 days’ worth of oil.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 16, 2005 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Sunshine? What sunshine?

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Remember that scene in “Sneakers”? Redford and company playing Scrabble and arranging the tiles to read: No more secrets

Everyone has secrets. Every organization has secrets. Every Big Govmint and Corpokleptocracy has secrets. And every secret has a professed reason for being kept from those who want — or need — to know.

“I don’t want my parents to know.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“It’s proprietary information.”

“We don’t want the terrorists to have it.”

“Sorry. National security.”

At any societal level, people have reasons for keeping secrets. Not all of those reasons are justifiable, and disagreement over those reasons keeps lawyers running to the bank and journalists stewing over how to get secrets that they believe their readers need to know.

But many, if not most, secrets are kept simply to avoid embarrassment. Every proffered reason for keeping information secret most likely conceals incompetence that, if presented publicly, would reveal that we’ve elected or hired or allowed to “rule” us someone who is incompetent.

If elected or appointed officials — or executives of companies large and small — are incompetent, voters and consumers need to know that. If incompetent people set the standards for what information is “classified” or “proprietary,” then us common folk need to fight attempts to increase secrecy.

Which brings us to National Sunshine Week, the intent of which is to “spark a discussion about the importance of open government.” (See the Web site.) It’s a week that reminds us of the need for a strong Freedom of Information Act.

The sun is shining this week, and people are testifying before a Senate panel on “a bill Congress is considering that would strengthen the 1966 act in part by forcing government officials and agencies to respond more quickly to requests for information.

“Sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the bill would create an ombudsman at the Administrative Conference of the United States to review agency compliance with FOIA requests and recommend alternatives to litigation.” (See the Times story.)

Among those testifying is Walter Mears, a Pulitzer-winning, now retired Associated Press journalist and executive. He’s far more eloquent than me:

“Too often, security becomes an excuse for shielding embarrassing information and secrecy can conceal mismanagement or wrongdoing.

“Overdone secrecy raises, rather than reduces, the risk that really vital secrets will be breached. If everything is classified, then my colleagues are going to go after everything.”

Governmental and corporate ability to hide behind secrecy has, to no one’s surprise, increased since Sept. 11, 2001. Some of that secrecy is justifiable.

That does not mean we the people should turn a blind eye to the ferocity with which Big Govmint and the Corpokleptocracy hide their incompetent bungling from public view.

Support attempts to strengthen, not weaken, the Freedom of Information Act. Support Senate bill S394.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 16, 2005 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The death of print? Says who? And so what?

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“Daily papers face unprecedented competition, sometimes from their own Web sites,” shouts the page 19 story in the Feb. 28-March 6 Washington Post National Weekly Edition.

The lede:

“The venerable newspaper is in trouble. Under sustained assault from cable television, the Internet, all-news radio and lifestyles so cram-packed they leave little time for the daily paper, the industry is struggling to remake itself.”

Sure sounds like the news biz is trying stave off its imminent demise, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s not the whole story. The Post uses as examples of “daily newspapers,” or quotes executives of, itself (number 5 in circulation at 1,007,487), The New York Times (number 3 at 1,680,583), Houston Chronicle (number 10 at 737,580), The Boston Globe (number 12 at 707,813), The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer (number 20 at 462,920), Chicago Sun-Times (number 21 at 486,930, but we’ll ignore it because it cheated by inflating circulation figures), and the Shawnee, Okla., News-Star at an average weekday circulation of 9,688 , which ranks it somewhere around number 800. (See the ABC audit figures.)

In other words, the hype about the death of print resides in fears about the demise of Really Big Newspapers. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 6, 2005 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

More journalists? Or fewer? Who will decide?

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Who’s a journalist? Who will decide? Will bloggers rule the world? Will the First Amendment wither online? Do Big Govmint and Big Corpokleptocracy have motives for seeking to control the answers to these questions?

None of these questions can be considered in isolation. So let’s begin with a case little-noticed by the general public: “Three blogs which published sensitive information about upcoming Apple products could be made to disclose where the leaks came from. A California judge said in a preliminary ruling that bloggers should not have the same protection afforded to journalists under US law.” (Read the story.)

Argue pro or con if you wish. But consider: This ruling limits those who can call themselves journalists and, more important, who can seek protections under state shield laws allowing journalists to conceal their whistle-blowing sources.

Lost in the hue and cry over First Amendment rights to free speech and free press will be a very interesting numbers game.

(Read on at your peril.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 5, 2005 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized