Bishop to Boycott Obama Commencement Speech
2009 College Grads: We're the Lucky Ones
Beer in Vending Machines -- What Drinking Age?
How The Press Can Remain Relevant
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Obama: You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry...
Obama to GOP: 'I Won, I'm The President'
Perhaps some journalists will head to work tomorrow (assuming they still have a job) rather relieved: A new bill, introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md, would allow struggling broadsides to declare themselves as "non-profit," pursuant to the U.S. Tax Code's guidelines for 501(c)(3) organizations.
In English: Newspapers could take the form of universities, as proposed on The New York Times' op-ed page in January, and similarly sustain their enterprises through endowments.
The analyses that have accompanied the news of Cardin's proposal have accurately attributed to the new business model one important downside: Newspapers who self-declare as "non-profit" cannot endorse political candidates for office, among other political activities. Unfortunately, that is hardly the only side effect of such a switch. Non-profit status, which has served some media outlets rather well, could actually prove quite harmful to newspapers in the long term. Here are two reasons why:
1. Investment incentives? -- If Zachary Seward's estimates are correct, it will require at least $114 billion to guarantee the short-term survival of every struggling American newspaper -- approximately one-seventh of what the United States conferred to homeowners in its recent stimulus package. Of course, the non-profit model proposes that private investors, not the federal government, would provide the funding to endow journalistic enterprise writ large.
But therein lies the problem.
Even if it's true that a cadre of news enthusiasts anticipate the opportunity to sustain the sagging "fourth estate," their philanthropy will hardly be even handed. The Times' tested college endowment analogy explains why: Despite a manifest concern for the future of higher education, philanthropists most commonly offer their coveted cash to colleges likely to produce notable successes and breakthroughs. In those academic settings, innovation underpins investment; investors have the greatest incentives to donate only to the best.
Applied to the news industry, however, it is hardly "the best" who require dire financial assistance. Both the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's collapse this year elucidate that it is the lack of innovation, not the incidence of it, contributing to the medium's decline. Therefore, if money flows in the direction of those most capable of evolving, small, local papers will still stand to suffer (a truth to which the American university system can also well attest). And that's the exact scenario Cardin designed his bill to reverse.
The difference between a newspaper and a press release from a senator's office is that the first usually contains the whole, objective truth, and the latter is full of spin and bias.
So it may be striking some political and media observers as odd that politicians have begun lining up to offer federal help to print journalism. The latest effort comes from Senator Benjamin Cardin, who on Tuesday introduced a bill that would allow newspapers to get a bunch of tax breaks if they work as nonprofits.
There is a catch, though -- they would be barred from political endorsements on their editorial pages.
Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said his effort is aimed at helping local papers, not big conglomerates that also dabble in TV and radio. Unprecedented numbers of newspapers big and small are on the verge of disappearing, and many have already declared bankruptcy or stopped printing -- like the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The cause is a deadly cocktail that is part terrible economy and part old business model, which relies almost solely on advertisements, which have been steadily declining for years.
"We are losing our newspaper industry," Cardin said. "The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."
In March 2003, then-President George W. Bush did the unthinkable: He snubbed Helen Thomas.
Indeed, contrary to established White House ritual, whereby Thomas concluded presidential press conferences with her signature "Thank you, Mr. President," Slate editor-at-large Jack Shafer noted at this particular Spring presser that "Bush denied her that supporting role, ending the conference with his own sign off, 'Thank you for your questions,' and flushing a decades-old White House custom."
To a press corps that is as much a part of Washington culture as the presidents they cover, Bush's misstep was pure anathema; journalists could not conceive of a previous abomination of equal impudence.
Their manifest perplexity, however, was not a function of Bush's audacity; rather, it was a byproduct of their short collective memory. Before Bush brazenly brushed-off Thomas, Ronald Reagan renounced press conferences and jipped journalists of due access to the United States' intervention in Grenada. After the impeached Richard Nixon realized he could profit from perceivably facile foreign interviews, the lore of which now lives in Oscar infamy, Bill Clinton sat cozy with critical columnists on his airplanes.
Of course, these abuses of the "fourth estate" varied in effect, duration and warrant. But they nonetheless represented repeated attempts by presidents to manhandle press-government relations and control the scope and tone of national political reportage.
Is it any surprise, then, that the Obama administration has employed a similar strategy to cordon journalists in 2009? The new president's pre-determined question lists exhibit a striking resemblance to his immediate predecessor's surprise seating rearrangements or follow-up question bans, among other silencing tactics. Add to the brewing controversy Obama's over-reported tendency to ignore conservative-leaning reporters and outlets, and it is easy to understand why journalists at large are growing increasingly upset with the new administration.
Three days into his presidency, Barack Obama visited the press corps in the White House briefing room to introduce himself and trade a few pleasantries. What he didn't expect was that one of them would still be on the job.
One of Politico's top reporters, Jonathan Martin, approached Obama and asked why he was nominating a former lobbyist for a top defense post, when he had promised that no former lobbyists would work in his administration.
The president laughed it off. "Ahh, see," he said, "I came down here to visit. See, this is what happens. I can't end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I'm going to get grilled every time I come down here."
The reporter tried again, repeating his question. Then Obama became agitated, placing his hand on Martin's shoulder and staring him down.
"All right, come on," the president glared. "We will be having a press conference, at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say 'hello' and introduce myself to you guys – that's all I was trying to do."
But unfortunately for Obama, making friends with the men and women who will cover his presidency isn't a dream that most of them share. White House reporters have a very specific job: to tell the public what Obama is doing, what he isn't doing and what he's hiding. There's nothing friendly about it.
The idea behind lowering the U.S. drinking age to 18 is that it will let police focus on enforcing more serious crimes, while simultaneously removing the stigma of consuming alcohol among the underage. One consequence, however, could be that waves and waves of newly legal drinkers will endanger their lives and others by being careless.
But look around the world.
The United States is one of just a few countries with a drinking age as high as 21 years old. Some of the oldest countries in the world have lower drinking ages -- and higher expectations for youth.
Take Japan, where I've been studying for almost two months now. Next to every other soda and potato chip vending machine on the corner is a similar display for different brands of beer and cigarettes. The country's drinking age is officially 20, but practically it's anyone with 230 yen (about $2.50). There is very little police enforcement, and no laws forbidding public consumption, although it happens rarely. The reason is because there is a high moral and social expectation that most people will be responsible.
In France, the heart of the world's wine community, the legal age is 16, and the same goes for Germany, Indonesia, Denmark, Italy and a variety of African countries.
What about Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand? No drinking age whatsoever, which is actually common in a lot of smaller countries and islands in Europe and Asia.
My colleague Megan Baker has a post up today proposing that the U.S. would be well-served by a lower age limit on alcohol consumption, in advance of a "60 Minutes" special airing Sunday which is sure to renew the national debate.
Critics of the current age limit are undoubtedly well-intentioned, but their focus is ill-advised. Lowering the age limit from 21 years of age to 18 would send precisely the wrong signal to young people across the country: that alcohol isn't as dangerous and serious a substance as has been suggested for the last twenty-five years, when the current limit was put into effect.
Rather than focusing energy on slightly modifying a somewhat arbitrary number, we should instead unite around effective education and prevention programs led by student ambassadors armed with the real facts. Too many alcohol education programs sound like they've been crafted by out-of-touch administrators instead of actual peers.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 changed the drinking age from 18 to the now legal age of 21. Over the past couple of years, there have been debates as to whether this makes sense anymore (see my colleague Joshua Sharp's take here). This will also be the topic of discussion on 60 Minutes on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
One of the major subjects will be Gordie Bailey, a young man who unfortunately died of alcohol poisoning during a fraternity initiation in 2004 at The University of Colorado at Boulder.
Despite tragedies like this, there has been a notable push to change the drinking age back to 18.
One of the most well known (and most recent) movements is the Amethyst Initiative, which is made up of chancellors and presidents of universities and colleges across the United States. The Amethyst Initiative (which is aptly named as the word "amethyst" ii derived from a word in Ancient Greek meaning "not intoxicated") aims to educate youth on responsible drinking rather than pretend that underage drinking is a non-issue.
The initiative is actually being supported by a large number of college presidents and chancellors including President Richard Brodhead of Duke University, President James E. Wright of Dartmouth College and most notably President Emeritus John M. McCardell Jr. of Middlebury College.
In 2004, President Emeritus McCardell submitted an op-ed piece to the New York Times that brought this debate back to the forefront. In the piece he said that college students are drinking regardless of age and regardless of the law, and anybody who ignores this fact is making a huge mistake.
"To lawmakers: the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law. It is astonishing that college students have thus far acquiesced in so egregious an abridgment of the age of majority. Unfortunately, this acquiescence has taken the form of binge drinking. Campuses have become, depending on the enthusiasm of local law enforcement, either arms of the law or havens from the law," McCardell said.
Since writing this piece, McCardell has been a big advocate of Choose Responsibility, a non-profit organization that is working to educate the public on the realities of underage drinking and the sensibility of lowering the drinking age to 18.
The president-elect is hard-pressed these days to find a good, diverse mix of people for his round table while being loyal to the many diverse groups that propelled his candidacy. Should he choose black people? Gay people? Labor supporters? College students playing Halo 3 all day?
Then there's ex-First Lady and glass-ceiling-skimmer Hillary Clinton, whom the world has decided would be a great secretary of state, presumably because of those dangerous sniper-fire-dodging missions to Bosnia. But is she the most qualified? I can think of a few people who carry more weight ... and less baggage.
1. Carmen Sandiego
Talk about street cred. Carmen Sandiego has more foreign-policy experience than Bill Richardson has facial hair. The international thief once stopped off in 15 countries in a single day after stealing a precious piece of artwork from the Louvre. She can name every country's capital, leader and probably the security codes for their garages.
Plus, she's practically impossible for the press to catch if she's ever in a bind. I once tried to chase her down for four hours, only to find myself dehydrated in Cairo with a red-herring clue I found in Addis Ababa.
Of course, with Sandiego comes her drooling entourage of bumbling henchmen. But there you save on Secret Service costs.
Joe the Plumber matters in this election. He has brought national attention to Obama's ludicrous tax policy, which would discourage investment in favor of mandating further redistribution of wealth. The top 50% of income-earners already pay 97% of all taxes. Telling people to "spread the wealth around" ignores what we've been doing for decades.
The national media has mostly given their favorite candidate a pass, despite this being a gaffe as potentially toxic as calling small-town Americans bitter, being proud of your country for the first time, or having a pastor who damns America. The media have instead targeted Joe the Plumber for asking a legitimate policy question.
He's not licensed. He owes back taxes. "Joe" isn't even his first name, he's actually Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher.
And here I thought this election might be a little different.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain is airing an ad that claims Barack Obama wants "a tax increase for everyone earning more than $42,000 a year." Pretty serious stuff. But it's not true, and the campaign can't back it up with any credible facts whatsoever.
And in her first national appearance as the fabled maverick's running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin told the country she opposed the famous "Bridge to Nowhere," a $400 million project widely ridiculed for wasteful spending. The only thing wrong with that is that she never backed away from taking the money until it became a clear symbol of pork-barrel spending that drew heated criticism from nearly everyone.
Of course, you would never know these things by reading the spun literature from conservatives, even some on this blog. (Perhaps Republican Joshua Sharp should have done more research and less complaining. Obama's claim that McCain voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time is true.)
My colleagues seem a bit ruffled by McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for VP. "Baffling," Megan Baker sighs. "[Biden] is going to crush her," a presumably overjoyed Matt Negrin squeals, before wondering if Alaska is part of the States. (Yes it is, Matt.)
But I couldn't be happier. Sarah Palin (pronounced PAY-lin) was the wild-card pick my Republican friends and I wanted McCain to make, but didn't know if he would or could.
In a state like Alaska, a cesspool of corruption, she took on members of her own party, fought to end the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," and resigned as the head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission to protest a corrupt state party chairman. The investigation which followed led to his resignation. She brings executive experience, energy expertise, and a record of reform that highlights McCain's own maverick track record.
The Senator who led an investigation of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff has found a perfect match in Sarah Palin. And conservatives are electrified.
On the same steps where Senator Barack Obama declared his candidacy 19 months ago, Obama introduced Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate on Saturday.
Biden - the former contender for the Democratic presidential nomination - was chosen 10 days ago while Obama was vacationing in Hawaii, according to The New York Times and was first made public through a text message to Obama supporters early Saturday morning.
Naysayers of the Biden choice were quick to highlight what they call a history of "insensitive, stupid, and counter-productive comments," his politics which are "more of the same," and a reputation that risks "alienating the working-class voters Obama so badly needs" (and those were just Bright Hall's own).
At the end of the day, though, Biden is the right choice to do what a vice president needs to do: bolster his running mate on policy issues without upstaging him and drawing away the spotlight.
The text message has been sent! Obiden '08 is the Democratic ticket! Our Bright Hall staffers weigh in on the decision. Click here for our Veepstakes archive.
Megan Baker: Biden's scathing remarks about Obama back in the good 'ol primary days are going to come back and bite Obama's campaign in the, well, you know...In fact, McCain's camp has already released an ad campaign featuring Biden saying he does not think Obama is "ready" to be president and that he would be "honored to run with or against McCain." Ouch. Biden has the foreign policy experience to help out Obama, but he is also more of the same, which will kind of hurt Obama's message of change. I still think Bayh would have been a better choice with his experience in economics, but Biden isn't too bad of a choice in the end. At least he didn't pick Hillary, right?
Joshua Sharp: Biden is a gift that keeps on giving -- for Republicans. His track record of insensitive, stupid, and counter-productive comments is well-known. More importantly, though, this pick shows that even Obama wants "Experience" over "Change." No matter who is president, the next Administration will have to fill positions in the White House, and Obama has shown he's willing to pick the ultimate "Washington insider" -- a Senator spanning four decades -- over any agent of change. Obama likes to allege that John McCain has been in Washington too long. Joe Biden has been there a decade longer.
Matt Negrin: The folly of the Biden selection lies only in who Obama passed over as his running mate. It is admirable in choosing someone from a non-battleground state, enforcing the idea that the Delaware senator's policies count more than his territory and political convenience. However, Biden's ideas are moot if the pair lose sin November, especially if states like Virginia (Kaine), Indiana (Bayh) and New Mexico (Richardson) and other western states don't vote Democrat.
I wouldn't be so concerned about Biden's previous and so-called gaffes in which he said Obama isn't ready to lead, or that he's the first clean and articulate black presidential candidate. I'd be more worried about his arrogance alienating the working-class voters Obama so badly needs.
Finally, Obama could have done worse. He could have gone with Clinton.
My colleague Matt Negrin's most recent post, "No Blacks Allowed on McCain's Bus?" smacks of dishonesty and race-baiting. The artful use of omissions, carefully-placed suggestions, and irrelevant side stories would be impressive if it wasn't so irresponsible. I received his permission to critique and inform readers here.
First, Negrin says a black reporter, Stephen Price, "was singled out and asked to leave ... by the John McCain campaign." This statement is hugely misleading and not supported by the facts. It was a member of the security detail which accompanies the campaign who asked Price to leave; that's quite different than if, say, top adviser Steve Schmidt had made the request.
But beyond that, there's no proof race had anything to do with it:
Rosa Parks would be proud.
A black reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat was singled out and asked to leave the media area by the John McCain campaign in Panama City, Fla. on Friday. Stephen Price, a senior reporter for the
Then another reporter asked why Price was being kicked out, and she too was booted.
So why all this fuss over a pit stop with the state's governor, Charlie Crist, and his fiancee aboard the bus? A McCain campaign worker, Jonathan Block, later said that access is "tightly controlled." Also, he said, "race had nothing to do with it."