Tales of the Sausage Factory

Have The Senate Democrats Finally Learned?

With the Protect America Act (aka FISA on ‘roids) set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the Senate deadlocked on the question of immunity for telcos, the Administration once again tried to employ its favorite strategy. Rather than support any kind of extension the Bush Administration is demanding that the Senate pass telco immunity or risk a veto. The conservative chorus brays how the Democrats are outing national security at risk. And why not play chicken with a vital issue of national security? This strategy has worked for Bush time and again, with no real consequences.

Still, the script did not go quite to schedule this time. When it became clear that the President could not force through the Senate Bill he wanted and get the needed changes in the House (the House Bill does not contain immunity for telcos), the President backed down and grudgingly agreed to a 15-day extension of the existing “Protect America Act.”

The question here is whether or not the Senate Democrats have learned that the temper of the country has changed. We all care about national security. But increasingly, the American people have grown disgusted with the way this Administration plays politics with national security and whittles away at civil liberties. But many Democratic leaders remain traumatized by the 2002 elections, when voters caught up in the post-9/11 scare and the hype in preparation for the invasion of Iraq decided to overlook things like the Enron and Worldcom scandals and voted out war heroes like Max Clealand who expressed even the slightest doubt about supporting our Commander in Chief in “this time of war.” And so, despite the election of anti-war Democrats in 2006, despite the President’s abysmal approval ratings, despite the fact that the majority of Americans now consider the Iraq War an enormous mistake and want to see it ended, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President’s media cheer leading squad continue to use the same rhetoric as if it were still 2002, and too many Democrats still tremble.

Let us be perfectly clear. The one issue delaying this bill is the question of retroactive immunity for Bush’s telco pals. While I understand why Bush would go to the wire for his buddies, why any Democrat would voluntarily so undermine the rule of law baffles me. The one conclusion I can reach is that too many of them remain mired in the belief that if the Democrats are seen as “playing politics with national security” then they will lose in ’08.

But as Chris Dodd and some other Senate Democrats understand, and as the House Democrats understood when they passed a bill without the telco immunity provision, the universe has changed since 2002. Even if political exigencies justified such an abandonment of principle as granting telcos retroactive immunity, too many Senate Democrats have the political calculation wrong. With the Democrats chosing among candidates determined to end the war and both of whom have promised to fight telco immunity, and with Republicans poised to nominate the man who has consistently defied the Administration on torture and other issues where the Administration has played the “national security” card, the message from the people should be clear: The free ride for the Administration to savage our civil liberties is over! The panic is past, and our natural distrust of a government granted unlimited power to “protect us” has returned.

I hope that the members of the Senate, particularly the Democratic members who have supported telco immunity, will take these two weeks to learn this valuable lesson. Because if you act as if it were still 2002, and give the President everything he asks for, you may indeed succeed in setting back the clock. In 2006, the American people proved we had enough of wireless wire tapping, and that enough of us were finally willing to vote out a party that supported an assault on our civil liberties. Must we prove that lesson again in 2008, by once again voting out a party that, to praphrase Benjamin Franklin, seeks to trade liberty for security only to discover it has neither?

All the rights they promise — all the wrongs they bring
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this king!

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Jenny Toomey Takes Over At Ford to Replace Becky Lentz — Excellent!

A brief bit of noteworthy good news. The Ford Foundation has hired Future of Music Coalition founder and Executive Director Jenny Toomey to take the place of Becky Lentz as the Program Officer for Ford’s Media and Culture Policy program.

This is absolutely unqualifiedly fantastic news. As you can see from Wikipedia entry, Jenny has had tons of experience as an indie rocker, indie prodcer, movement organizer, and “big vision” umm… visionizer. I’ve worked with Jenny for the last 6-7 years and cannot think of anyone I’d rather have in this spot. Because of her experience, Jenny has the rare combination of understanding what makes effective organizing in the field and what makes things happen in DC. She has put together major presentations that tour the country and break down these complicated issues into something people can understand — and see why it impacts their lives. At the same time, she has testified before Congress some ungodly number of times, talking the policy wonk talk with the best of them. She is unfazed by the industry tactics of obfuscation and intimidation, and knows damn well when they are trying to buy off the public interest for pennies.

So while I am sorry I will no longer bump into Jenny regularly here in Washington policy land, I expect real good things to happen from her going to Ford. Good luck Jenny, and keep rocking the world.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

This Genuine Commemorative 1993 Petition for Recon Available If You Act Within 30 Days

Back before I finished law school, my employer Media Access Project was arguing that broadcast stations that did nothing but air program-length commercials (aka the Home Shopping Network and its various clones) did not serve the public interest and therefore did not deserve one of the scarce licenses made available for broadcast television. This being back in the day when there was still some expectation that broadcasters needed to demonstrate that they served the “public interest, convenience and necessity” as required by the statute, you understand. i.e. a long time ago.

As part of the 1992 Cable Act, Congress forced the FCC to have a proceeding to determine if stations that did only home shopping served the public interest. Unsurprisingly, the FCC found that there is a vital public interest need for people who could not otherwise get zirconium diamonds or commemorative collectors plates.

And you wonder why we learned to treat the “public interest” as a joke?

Anyway, my boss, Andy Schwartzman, filed a petition for reconsideration after the FCC issued its decision in 1993. Under the statute, you must file a petition for reconsideration before going to court. So MAP filed, arguing that the Commission had not really done its job when it claimed that Home Shopping Network and other such stations served the local community, and that the Commission had failed to consider other valuable uses of the spectrum.

And there the matter sat — for fourteen bloody years! — with us unable to go to court until the Commission resolved the damn thing. It became something of a joke. Every year, Andy would have a meeting with the Chairman of the FCC, and every year would ask about this petition. Every time someone new got named as head of the FCC’s Media Bureau, we’d trundle over with our wish list of outstanding proceedings, and at the top of the list was always Petition for Reconsideration in Docket No. 93-8. And every time, the Chairman or the Chief of the Media Bureau would promise to look into the matter. And the matter sat….and sat…..and sat….

Until Kevin Martin, under pressure from the new Democratic Congress, started putting the squeeze on the FCC staff to get the damn backlog under control. And then — Wonder of Wonders, Miracle of Miracles! — the staff decided to address our pending Petition for Recon. Of course, by this time, the record had gotten a tad “stale” (more like “mummified”) so the Bureau issued a Public Notice soliciting comment to refresh the record.

Aside from my personal venting, however, why should anyone care? After all, how many home shopping channels are there at this point (not broadcasters who run infomercials from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., I mean broadcasters who only show home shopping)?

Because, as explained below, this proceeding actually provides an important opportunity to make two points. First, that the public interest really does matter. After years of neglect, there is (I hope) a body of very angry people ready to tell the FCC that the Commission cannot get away with treating the statutory requirement to serve the local community as a joke; that endless chances to buy adorable porceline figurines of kittens do not make up for the total absence of local programming and coverage of meaningful local news. Second, that there are plenty of more valuable uses for broadcast spectrum, like say opening it up for unlicensed use.

Read More »

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Media Ownership, Spectrum, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Book Review: Eric Klinenberg's Fighting For Air

Today marks the release of Eric Klinenberg’s Fighting for Air: The Battle To Control America’s Media. Timed for release with the National Conference on Media Reform, I expect attendees can pick up a copy there. Those of you who must, for whatever unfortunate reason, miss the big media ‘do in Memphis can order it from Amazon. (I have no idea if mainstream bookstores will carry it.)

Anyone who wants to understand the media reform movement should buy this book. More importantly, this is the book to give your friends and relatives so that they can understand why the media reform movement matters, and why it will succeed in transforming the media landscape despite the multi-billion dollar forces arrayed against it.

Review below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Updating” Media Ownership Rules — Is That Like Boiling a Frog?

It’s an old cliche that it’s easy to boil a frog. Don’t drop the frog in the boiling water — he’ll just climb out. Drop him in the pot and raise the temperature a little at a time. Before he knows it, he’ll be dead.

We have that with media consolidation and the non-stop relaxation of the rules. But instead of calling it “boiling,” proponents of consolidation call it “updating.” This attempt to describe relaxing the ownership rules to allow more consolidation as “updating,” when the evidence shows that the last round of consolidation kicked off by the 1996 deregulation has been a disaster for the industry and a disaster for democracy, came up again at yesterday’s media ownership hearings.

Powell tried to frame it as a debate about evidence v. “emotionalism.” He lost because the evidence did not justify his efforts to relax the rules. Now FCC Chairman Martin is trying to frame this as “updating” the rules, when a real “update” would mean forcing the biggest companies to sell off assets to scale back to a healthier size.

My analysis below . . .

Read More »

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Victory is SWEET!

I will have a lot more to say on this later, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its decision on the FCC’s media ownership deregulation that took place last summer.

The result is a near total victory for MAP and the other public interest clients and the American people. The FCC’s June 2, 2003, deregulatory Order is reversed as not supported by logical reasoning based on the record. The court reverses and remands to the FCC, keeping the old rules in effect until the FCC resolves this mess. The court rejects the FCC’s position that the provision of the 1996 Act that requires the FCC to conduct a review of its ownership rules is “deregulatory” or that it prohibits the FCC from making ownership regulations more stringent. Instead, the FCC is supposed to review its ownership rules and decide whether the public interest requires the FCC to keep the rule, relax the rule, eliminate the rule, or make the rule even more stringent.

More information at our website.

YEEEEEEHAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register