Archive: May 2006

Life on a Pig Farm: Raising Pork and Marking Ears

This Memorial Day weekend, as we honor those who died fighting for the United States, it's worth considering also what our venerable system of government has become over the years. And so, after a pretty rough week, we find ourselves back on the subject of money and politics. The Debate has hit on the topic of earmarks briefly in the past; still, it's big, important and expensive, so seems about time to discuss it again. I won't bother getting preachy -- we all know there are some serious flaws in Congressional spending. But do we know just how bad it is? Harper's Magazine provides a stark illustration of the problem. Print it out -- it'll make great beach reading. The most important aspect of the Harper's piece deals with the fact that earmarks are inserted into bills anonymously, rendering accountability virtually impossible. Unsurprisingly, earmarks tend to show up in scandals...

By Emily Messner | May 26, 2006; 12:39 PM ET | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)

Thank You, Debaters!

I love you guys. Really, I do. Your kind words and reminiscences helped me get through a very tough time, and for that, you have my everlasting gratitude. You've also once again demonstrated that across the political spectrum -- liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist, those of us whose beliefs defy labeling -- we can always find common ground somewhere. To those Debaters who commented on my last entry: Thank you. Each one of your comments gave me comfort. I'm now looking for constructive ways to honor MoMo's memory -- and even though some might think that's silly, I know a lot of you understand completely. Droopy, Angel, China, Meowzers, Rebel, Baby and the rest of the furry companions you mentioned in your comments will always be with you, just as MoMo will be with me. Now, back to The Debate....

By Emily Messner | May 25, 2006; 12:26 PM ET | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Bye Bye, MoMo (A Personal Aside)

It's been a rough couple of weeks, and this weekend was the worst. Our beloved pup Monte Carlo (MoMo) died in my arms Saturday night. If I seem a little out of sorts -- or out of commission entirely -- over the next couple of days, please forgive me. For more of MoMo's story, read on. For more fun debatey-type-stuff, give me a day or two and I promise to bring you some fresh meat....

By Emily Messner | May 22, 2006; 11:52 AM ET | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)

Tommy Tutone's Dark Secret
'Jenny, I Got Your Number ... From the NSA!' *

When USA Today revealed that the NSA has been secretly collecting phone logs of millions of Americans, defenders of such programs argued our intelligence agencies ought to have as much information as possible to identify terrorist threats. It just makes sense, they said. Does it? As of four years ago, "the agency does not have adequate means to filter out the millions of bits of irrelevant information it scoops up each day." Remember the Sept. 10, 2001 intercepts that weren't translated until Sept. 12? Granted, it doesn't seem likely that having those messages two days earlier would have stopped the attacks. One would also hope there have been some equipment upgrades and new hires since then that allow faster procesing of information. Still, a compelling case can be made that more raw information is not the answer. Carefully targeted data collection would ensure better use of resources and would be...

By Emily Messner | May 19, 2006; 1:44 PM ET | Comments (213)

Quirks and Comments

Well, I'm kind of sad to see the permalinks to individual comments are gone in this new system. Alas. I'll try to make quick posts throughout the day referencing some of the individual comments and themes that ran through the thread. Thanks for a really lively and interesting discussion so far. One comment that made my jaw drop came from Debater Emilio: What if those "confidential sources" are in fact agents of terrorist organizations that use the free American press to (mis|dis)inform the average American? That is highly unlikely, mi casi-tocayo. Any organization that takes its journalism seriously also thoroughly checks out its sources. Particularly for the most consequential stories, they're not going to trust the word of just anyone; it's got to be someone who's really, verifiably in a position to know that key information. If U.S. intelligence agencies have agents of a terrorist organization working at such high...

By Emily Messner | May 19, 2006; 10:01 AM ET | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Never Underestimate the Fallability of Technology

I'm not saying that conspiracy theories are always bunk, but I do think that people assume nefarious intentions just a wee bit too quickly sometimes. Yes, comments have been appearing and disappearing at random over the last couple of days, but no, it wasn't an attempt at censorship. (If it were, it would have been an awfully clumsy one. One look at the pattern of deletions -- and the unpretty way we've managed to patch it all up -- makes that glaringly obvious.) I hope by now the regular Debaters know me well enough to see that it really matters to me what you have to say on the big issues we examine here. In fact, I spent a good chunk of yesterday copying and pasting comments into text files on my computer. As far as I could tell, there were 171 comments from the initial posting on May 15...

By Emily Messner | May 18, 2006; 9:41 AM ET | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)

Big Brother Is Watching ... Us???

ABC News reports that "the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources" -- this according to, well, ABC's confidential sources. According to the post at ABC's Blotter blog, sources also say the CIA leak investigation has included the examination of "phone calls and contacts" not just from ABC, but also from the New York Times and -- you guessed it -- The Washington Post. The writers of the story specifically say this is not a case of phone tapping, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter ... could provide valuable clues for leak investigators" about the identity of the reporter's confidential source. If true, this is doubleplusungood. Debaters?...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 12:43 PM ET | Comments (88)

Big Brother Is Watching ... Us???

ABC News reports that "the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources" -- this according to, well, ABC's confidential sources. According to the post at ABC's Blotter blog, sources also say the CIA leak investigation has included the examination of "phone calls and contacts" not just from ABC, but also from the New York Times and -- you guessed it -- The Washington Post. The writers of the story specifically say this is not a case of phone tapping, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter ... could provide valuable clues for leak investigators" about the identity of the reporter's confidential source. If true, this is doubleplusungood. Debaters? The Comments -- All Together Now!...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 12:43 PM ET | Comments (58)

Is Beating Bird Flu A Backward Plan?

When this story on responding to a global flu pandemic came out in the Post last Friday, I happened to be curled up in bed, thinking about how I used to love taking sick days back in high school. (I also happened to be pondering the unfortunate reality that they're not nearly as enjoyable when I'm actually sick.) Even though I got socked with some sort of ailment that, among other distasteful effects, made it highly uncomfortable to look at a computer screen -- particularly distressing for a blogger -- I managed to stay coherent enough to read the copy of the Post delivered to my door each morning. Coherent enough, in fact, to read the aforementioned story and conclude that perhaps the U.S. response plan isn't as well-thought-out as it could be. The first phase wisely calls for vaccinating healthcare workers. Brand new blog Wrapper's Rap argues taking it...

By Emily Messner | May 15, 2006; 7:56 AM ET | Comments (11)

Untaxing and Spending

Debater ErrinF hits the bulls eye in a response to a fellow Debater, PC Gorilla, who blamed victims of check diversion schemes for bouncing checks in the first place. "One wonders when was the last time PC Gorilla looked at our national debt or current deficit," ErrinF writes. Congress did recently raise the debt ceiling, but it's still a limit that is arbitrary and potentially harmful, according to Justin Fox of Forbes. Regardless of whether Congress had a choice in the matter (general consensus: it did not) $9 trillion is nonetheless a staggering figure. And I don't even want to think about the interest payments, which apparently are up by 12 percent. The Post reports on today's front page that the House and Senate have reached a deal on a tax package estimated to cost $70 billion over the next five years. With the deficit hovering around $300 billion, some...

By Emily Messner | May 10, 2006; 7:55 AM ET | Comments (202)

It's All Just a Little Bit of History Repeating

An analysis by the Post's Jeffrey H. Birnbaum explores "A Growing Wariness About Money in Politics." In the story, an expert is quoted as saying "that every 10 years or so there is an episode" of serious handwringing over the corrupting influence of lobbying on politicians. Seems to me these periods happen more like every 12 to 16 years, and coincide rather neatly with midterm elections. Going back to the early 1960s, ethics take center stage every few midterms. 1962 -- At President Kennedy's urging, Congress enacts P.L. 87-849 in October to get rid of redundancies and inconsistencies among existing governmental ethics laws. (See Title 18, Chapter 11 of the U.S. Code.) 1978 -- In the wake of Watergate, Congress passes the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. 1994 -- Newt Gingrich leads his Republican revolution, relying heavily on accusations that Democrats had been corrupted by four decades in the...

By Emily Messner | May 8, 2006; 10:59 AM ET | Comments (59)

Care About the Consumer? You're Not Alone

Pop Quiz! If you write a $20 check -- for, say, groceries -- and it bounces: A) Your bank is likely to charge you a fee of around $30 B) The store will probably charge you $25 or so C) A private debt collector may masquerade as the District Attorney's office, threaten you with criminal prosecution, and demand you pay fees well in excess of what state law allows D) The District Attorney could make a $15 to $30 profit off your mistake E) All of the above If you chose E, all of the above, you might already be aware of a deceptive debt collection tactic known as "check diversion". Check diversion works like this: A private collection agency makes a deal with a local prosecutor (such as a district attorney) to use his name and authority to collect on bad checks. The company then obtains records of returned...

By Emily Messner | May 3, 2006; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (227)

This Week's Debate: Money and Politics

Plenty of leeway this week to discuss all kinds of interesting tidbits and grand concepts. I was inspired by an issue involving some arguably unscrupulous debt collection tactics and the intense lobbying that's backing them up. (Details in an upcoming post.) We'll get into proposed lobbying reforms and the influence of big money on politicians over the next several days. Any specifics you'd like to discuss?...

By Emily Messner | May 2, 2006; 11:22 PM ET | Comments (4)

 

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