A few news stories of late have caught my eye. Herewith a few comments:
Former Democratic press secretary Terry Michael penned “Lies of the Ethics Industry,” published at reason.com on April 30. Michael’s money quote: “Four groups now work to convince us we have the worst government money can buy: (1) an ethics industry spawned in Washington by Watergate, which features nonprofits lobbying for regulation of speech they don’t like; (2) journalists who collude with ethics purveyors, writing cheap-and-easy stories fitting a corruption narrative they create; (3) politicians, especially Democratic Progressive Era throwbacks, who think evil-doing can be stopped with new and better rules and who pander to the ethics industry, the media, and (ironically) to citizens convinced that Democrats are just as sleazy as Republicans; and (4) citizens, frustrated by the budget-busting consequences of the free lunches we accept from politicians.” The bigger point Michael makes, and with which I happen to agree, is that the old journalistic adage to “follow the money” is as lazy as it is cynical. The confluence of money and policy is not, ipso facto, a negative event that threatens Joe Sixpack or undermines American freedom. Money is a tool, and fetishizing the role of money as a chiefly nefarious motive for action is less a statement of fact than an admission to an overweening cynicism that makes every politician a crook and renders every campaign dollar a cut to Democracy’s carotid.
Peter Luke, a columnist and analyst covering Michigan politics, recently penned a defense of Michigan’s new bans against texting-while-driving and smoking in a bar or restaurant. Luke’s conclusion: “Just about everyone has a cell phone with a keyboard and those of a certain age think there’s nothing wrong with using it anywhere. Just like a smoker who would never light up in the office thinks nothing of doing so after work in the bar down the street. Distilled to their essence, the smoking and texting laws are a simple two-sentence response: You can’t. Not anymore.” Well, OK. His argument is that both texting-while-driving and smoking in bars generate negative externalities that some other citizens may occasionally bear — the fender-bender from inattentive driving, or tobacco scent on a sweater. The problem, though, is that the proper role of governmental regulation is not to preserve citizens from potential negative consequences. If I happen to be fiddling with my radio while driving, and I cause an accident, then I’m liable for my inattentiveness. I’d rather see a penalty for careless driving, such that contributors to carelessness are recognized in a citation, than to categorically assert that a lawful action is unlawful in a specific context merely because some people are occasionally negligent. Likewise with smoking: If I prefer not to be subject to a smoke-filled bar, then I will find a bar that has no smoke. Why must people who enjoy a cigar or cigarette while drinking be punished because non-smokers believe themselves entitled to go anywhere, anytime, and not encounter smoke?
Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review, penned a nice essay on the use of euphemism and dysphemism by the Obama administration. In a nutshell: The lecturer-in-chief has a penchant for using positive locutions for things he favors (e.g., “undocumented workers” instead of “illegal immigrants”) and negative ones for things he disdains (e.g., referring to principled opposition as “phony smoke and mirrors”). Words mean things. Amen, brother.
Apparently, the human brain is hardwired to multitask two items, but only two items, simultaneously. Anything more, and we lose the ability to track the risk/reward matrix for all tasks concurrently — or we reduce choices until a binary pair remains. Perhaps one day, the business world will internalize the wisdom of this and will create systems that reduce multitasking stress among employees.
David Sirota, in a media-criticism piece in Salon published April 16, suggests that the state of journalism as a profession is on the downswing. He suggests that journalists who are struggling for access, either to their sources for lucrative book rights, or to subjects for potential subsequent employment, are causing significant damage to the industry: “Are many of today’s opportunity maximizers destroying journalism? Clearly, yes — and unless the media sachems institute some basic ethics rules, the parasites within their ranks could end up making sure there’s no journalism industry left to save.”
On the “power of the purse” front: President Obama has ordered HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebilius to direct hospitals that receive reimbursement from Medicaid and Medicare to implement policies that allow same-sex partners to visit patients or to make decisions on their behalf. This seems like a gross overreach of federal authority, and one that Congress should consider revisiting. Legislating via executive directive may be convenient but it hardly comports with the principle of representative democracy.
Former Michigan governor John Engler, who was term-limited out of office in 2003 after three four-year terms, has purchased property in Michigan; after leaving office, he moved to Virginia to take over the National Manufacturers Association. Although confidants doubt he will seek further elective office, the 61-year-old could be an interesting candidate to take on Debbie Stabenow in 2012.
A Kalamazoo-based wrecker service, T&J Towing, is suing a Western Michigan University student for starting a “Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing” group on Facebook. The company is suing for $750,000 and requesting a cease-and-desist order, and the suit apparently includes Facebook. Reaction in the community was swift; there are more than 8,000 members of the Facebook group. T&J is accused of towing cars inappropriately. Commentators in the social-media space are sharing T&J horror stories. As a former WMU student, this humble blogger is acquainted with T&J and has little grounds to doubt the horror stories.
For the first time in 101 years, General Motors has dropped out of the top 10 of the Fortune 500 list. A tragedy, entirely avoidable. A few weeks ago, I was part of an interview process for a project manager who hailed from GM; he recounts how frequent and even normal it was for manager to scream at subordinates, throw things in the office and make vulgar threats. A change of culture at that venerable automaker is an absolute prerequisite to future success.
Kent County, citing financial constraints, is refusing to enforce a new state-wide ban on smoking; the county’s health department will not enforce the ban at any establishment that does not serve food or drinks, including Laundromats and hair salons. The state will have to manage enforcement in those facilities. Of course, perhaps instead of limited enforcement, it makes sense to move to no enforcement.
Paul Keep, the editor of The Grand Rapids Press, has seen fit to write a column praising his newspaper for making a difference. Claiming that the printed newspaper and MLive.com (a state-wide aggregation of local newspapers) reach 81 percent of adults in any given week, Keep believes his paper is performing a valuable public service. And perhaps it is. Yet I cannot help but notice that as senior, seasoned writers are disappearing from the staff roster, the quality of writing has declined substantially. Circulating more of a second-tier product may not be the best thing to crow about; it works for Wal-Mart but is less effective, perhaps, for a newspaper.
Speaking of local media, behold the power of self-selection. A new opinion column at The Rapidian (by its publisher, no less) amounts to a plea for engagement. Suggested story topics: Road delays, opinions on healthcare, eating organically, top parks for kite-flying. Yes, really. As a “new reporter” who receives weekly story ideas, I can say that the arts and “sustainability” are frequent subjects. All of which prompts the question: Is The Rapidian attempting to be a hyperlocal source of community news, or a hyperlocal source of progressive-left news? The first page includes stories on organic farming and a positive review of the anti-corporate manifesto Food Inc. I don’t see much by way of hard news or center-right commentary. This prompts the question of whether the experiment in local journalism will merely become an echo chamber.
I feel her pain, but this is ridiculous: Juanita Westaby, a self-appointed flagellant of the Catholic Church, “apologizes” for the Church’s sins even as she confesses that she is considering abandoning the Church. Her column contains the admonition, “Remember the mission.” If only she would, and if only the The Grand Rapids Press had the good grace to avoid elevating holier-than-thou laity to speak on behalf of the Church Universal.
An upbeat note … a prominent Pakistani cleric has declared a jihad on terrorism. Yes. It seems that some Islamic religious authorities are beginning to struggle against radical Islamism. This is a good thing, and we can all pray to the God of Abraham that their work meets with success.