Saturday, April 02, 2005

Tom Brazaitis 

I’m starting to feel like a log on death, but I’m moved by Eleanor Clift’s tribute to her husband, Tom Brazaitis. After spending time in El Salvador and witnessing the domestic scandals within the Church, seeing the last weeks of hype and craziness around Pinellas Park, and now the Jacko trial, my heart goes out to the simple human dignity of this couple.

Blogs and the FEC 

The Federal Election Commission has proposed a new set of regulations regarding use of the Internet and it’s relation to election campaigns. The Commission claims that it has no intention of attempting to restrict political speech on blogs, “if it is not coordinated with a political party or campaign.”

The claim is rather like saying, “We don’t care what you do, so long as it doesn’t bother or affect us.” Let’s examine, for a moment, the consequences of not specifically exempting blogs from regulation by giving press status to Internet journals and publications, but simply leaving this opening ajar.

Bloggers are an independent bunch, many link to campaign websites of candidates they endorse, parties they like and dislike, and fire both criticism and praise in tandem with others they agree with. The interconnectedness of the net is the flip side of the independence that comes with being able to write and create without a printing press, a distribution staff, and in many cases, without advertisers. Blogs are written wherever writers can reach a computer to post.

All of the above characteristics of independence are also ‘criteria’ by which several FEC Commissioners have publicly described blogs that might be considered to “coordinate with a political party or campaign.” Let’s take them one by one.

1— Linking to campaign sites. Count the number of blogs that you would consider to be worth reading that don’t at some point link to a campaign site, whether in criticism, praise, or endorsement. It’s rather like looking for a newspaper that doesn’t run a political ad or print an endorsement at election time.

2— Coordination with a campaign. Many bloggers are, like columnists, expressing their opinions and supporting political ideas, candidates, and parties, while running down those they disagree with. It reminds you of pamphleteers like Tom Paine, doesn’t it? Or perhaps it’s similar to many newspapers, or one particular cable news network today (which enjoys press status).

3— Posting from places other than one’s home. Guess how many bloggers never, ever, write at work, whether in their own office or at the company they work for, during lunch. Now imagine the rule being applied, as it already has in an FEC advisory opinion, that this activity (on ‘corporate’ equipment) constitutes an illegal corporate contribution to a campaign. How many bloggers do you think will have George Steinbrenner’s pull to get a Presidential pardon from that rap?

The FEC’s application of these specific ‘infractions’ of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation would, of course, be sparse and irregular. One can barely imagine a Jeff Gannon going to prison for illegally aiding the President’s campaign, or having his pay and expenses charged to the President's campaign. It’s not, however, difficult to envision circumstances under which a particularly strident gadfly of the right or left, or a blogger too supportive of unpopular public figures getting caught in an expensive and legally difficult struggle with the federal government. Imagine the bureaucrats chasing the links, funding, and posting places of a blogger after their reporting an explosive truth or accusation, if his/her blog were linked to a specific campaign or party. It shouldn't be hard to see how this would inhibit the free and easy cacaphony of the blogosphere.

What the laissez-faire approach to blog regulation will probably lead to is not a huge ‘crackdown.’ More likely is an occasional iconic enforcement (in a very few instances) of the FEC’s regulatory power; leaving a chilling effect on the blog community will serve just as well as more draconian measures.

A far better way to separate political flackery from independent thought in cyberspace is to let blogs do what they already do so well, ferret out lies, perfidy, and shills, exposing them in other blogs for what they are. Let the reader decide whom to trust by experience. The concept that the government can do it better is as laughable as the phrase ending with, “…and we’re here to help.”

Whether in the end, the independence required to keep freedom of expression on the internet free will require legislative clarification of bloggers’ journalistic status or not, the first volley needs to be fired at the FEC’s “Notice of Proposed Rule-Making,” linked to below in March 31st’s posting here. There are less than 30 days left to comment in this phase of the process. Freedom ISN’T free, but the price of a few minutes on the phone, or the price of a stamp doesn’t seem too high.

See Contacting the FEC to send them your comments on the rule.

Friday, April 01, 2005

...Stand Back, it's Actual Morality! 

Bob Herbert writes today about a real national scandal, one that has an effect on many lives, hence.... one that stands NO chance of getting Congress or the President out of bed in the middle of the night to pass or sign legislation.

Or will it? I suppose that if the judiciary eventually has the audacity to question the right of Donald Rumsfeld to void the Constitution and turn the military into a conscience-free zone, that will move DeLay and the President back into action.

This is the same President who didn’t get himself back from vacation in Crawford after seeing the “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” memo, but who paced through the night waiting for the Schiavo bill— and got himself across the country in the dead hours to stage a dramatic signing in the Oval Office…even though the legislation could have been signed from Crawford.

Aaaw, why bother… But doesn’t the show offend you?

Thursday, March 31, 2005

FEC Regulation of Internet 

Go here for Federal Election Commission “Notice of Proposed Rule-Making” on extending McCain-Feingold to the internet. I’d be curious to know what people make of the odds blogs will be explicitly excluded from regulation…it’s Agenda Document No. 05-16 on the linked page.

Reason Gone Mad 

Thanks to A Brooklyn Bridge, I’ve been turned on to Bill Shein’s blog, Reason Gone Mad.

Shein's entry yesterday says more about our priorities in a comparative listing of news items and # of hits per than is possible in actual prose.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pinellas Park 

The Big Diamond is back from a few days off. We were visiting the small diamonds in Florida, where hope springs eternal. It’s a new tradition: the second annual Red Sox Spring Training visit.

The Spring Training trip was a good time to take the pulse of a distinctly different American subculture than the one in our New York Petri Dish. While following the boys of summer down south in the spring, we stopped for breakfast in Pinellas Park, the epicenter of death and dying in public policy at this moment. It was my buddy Joe who looked around and said, “You really just have to air about a half-hour of video taken here for the whole Schiavo story make so much more sense.”

It’s different country. Pinellas Park, at least the parts of it we saw, is dotted with Baptist Churches, family restaurants, gun stores, and all manner of billboards making urgent points about living ‘right.’ There seem to be no lack of problems here, but one solution to them all is advertised heavily. Turning to God is the answer.

But despite the very socially conservative appearance of Pinellas Park, it seemed from the local media that there’s at least some diversity of opinion about the Schiavo case there. There's some debate in Tampa news about whether the invasion of their city by the forces of the hard core Social Right is good for the suburb. In our short stay, we didn’t hear anyone discuss the case over breakfast. People seemed content to go about their business and to eat the enormous meals served up in one of the family restaurants we stopped at. The Schiavo case is a frequent news item in the Tampa area, going back for years, so maybe it’s just overload, but it was a bit surprising to hear nothing on the street while it was all over the papers and television.

It was also instructive that there was no massive response from the call to fundamentalists in evidence as we drove around Pinellas Park, no thousands of protesters jamming the city streets. If our anecdotal view holds water, the Schiavo family’s tragedy is seen by most people as just that, not as the occasion for a revolt against the judiciary.

Perhaps in Pinellas Park, some people of even the most conservative backgrounds have the uneasy feeling that the country has been brought unwillingly into a battle that has more gray area than the culture war zealots want to admit. It could be that most folks want our public life to be about things the government and legislators can do to improve and save the lives of many, not merely to involve itself opportunistically in the struggle of one family at life’s sad ending.

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