Archive for February, 2006

Working Families for Wal-Mart (02/28/06)

February 28, 2006

I was surprised to read an AP story in the Roanoke Times, that Andrew Young had become the Chairman of what appears to be an astroturf  campaign. ”Working Families for Wal-Mart”’, a national non-profit  organization  announced its formation on December 20, 2005 to counter crticism from groups, such as Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. The group’s greatest financial support comes from Wal-Mart, the  Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer, that corporation’s spokesperson, Sarah Clark, told the Associated Press , without providing details.Odd, it probably isn’t that the name is similar to the California-based Partnership for Working Families  formed by the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI), the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and Working Partnerships, U.S.A. (WPUSA). Like most legitimate groups, that one is glad to tell you where its money comes from–Ford Foundation,  and others.  

  According to the organization’s official website,

“Working Families for Wal-Mart is committed to fostering open and honest dialogue with elected officials, opinion makers and community leaders that conveys the positive contributions of Wal-Mart to working families.

“We believe that Wal-Mart provides value to its customers, to its associates and to the communities it serves.”

The group’s initial leader was Bishop Ira Combs Jr. of the Greater Bible Way Temple of the Apostolic Faith in Jackson, Michigan.

According to Lynda Edward’s December 22, 2005 story, “Wal-Mart chipping in for advocate”  in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette,  Combs said, “Some friends I worked with on the 2004 Bush campaign phoned me and asked me if I knew about any good things Wal-Mart was doing in my community…I said Wal-Mart is supplying jobs that may not pay a union wage but they pay twice the minimum wage. They asked me if I would be part of this group. Wal-Mart isn’t paying me.” 

One of the group’s members, Courtney Lynch, taught seminars at Wal-Mart headquarters on cultivating female leaders.  She states that she gets no salary as an advocate but estimated that her consulting firm got 7 percent of its revenue from Wal-Mart this year.

On February 27,  former Ambassador Andrew Young assumed duties as “the public spokesman for a group organized with backing from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that defends the world’s largest retailer against mounting attacks from its critics,” according to Associated Press business writer Marcus Kabel’s article .  In a telephone interview, he told Kabel that he is not being paid but that the organization that he currentlly heads, GoodWorks International, LLC, has a contract from Working Families for Wal-Mart for consulting work.  GoodWorks pairs corporations and governments on global issues. Working Families for Wal-Mart declined to disclose how much Wal-Mart contributes or what it is paying GoodWorks. 

Young, a former labor organizer, parts ways unions regarding Wal-Mart. “The union position is talking about the redistribution of wealth, but they’re not talking about generating new wealth. Wal-Mart is generating new wealth when it comes in. The pluses outweigh the minuses. They do give benefits, they do have health insurance.”

On January 5, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, saying  the union had been unable to garner Republican congressional support for a national solution, had announced a “Fair Share Health Care Campaign” in 33 states.  The campaign would work to pass state laws requiring large corporations to spend a certain percentage of their payrolls to provide health care benefits for employees or pay into a state Fair Share Health Care Fund. The percent of payroll would be set by the state legislature or based on the average percentage paid by large employers in the state.

Sweeney cited the example an Alliance, Ohio Wal-Mart employee who went on Medicaid when her wages would not cover the cost of the corporation’s health insurance. “Why should a company like Wal-Mart—which made $10 billion last year alone—be able to force taxpayers to foot the bill for their health care costs?” Sweeney asked

According to organization’s website, the advisory board in addition to Combs, Young (who is listed as the Chairman) and Lynch were:

*Charles W. Baird, Ph.D.–Professor of Economics at California State University, East Bay  and  Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Business and Economics

*Pat Boone–entertainer
*Honorable Jennifer Carroll–Florida House of Representatives (R-13)

*Tom Chung–CEO of Asian Rehabilitation Service, Inc

*Carroll Cocchia–Carroll Cocchia founder the Native American Chamber of Commerce in June, 2000.

*Lupita Colmenero–2005 President of the National Association of Hispanic Publications
*Maria de Lourdes Sobrino–Founder and CEO of Lulu’s Dessert Corporation
*Ron Galloway–investment advisor and producer of Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People C-R-A-Z-Y

*Barbara Kasoff–President and CEO, and Co-Founder,  Women Impacting Public Policy, Inc.
*Rev. Dr. Barbara L. King–Founder/Minister of Atlanta’s Hillside Chapel and Truth Center

*Chris Lewis—-Vice President of Public Education for the Wheelchair Foundation
*Betty Miller–retired Florida English teacher
*Martha Montoya–Founder and President of Los Kitos Entertainment LLC and  Board Member of the Latino Business Association.

*Catherine Smith–Vice President for iVilliage Inc. divisions of Diversity Best Practices, the Business Women’s Network and Best Practices in Corporate Communications.

The Washington, D. C.  public relations firm, Herald Group, LLC, directs the group’s campaign.  The firm opened in September 2005. One of the principals is former White House  spokesman Taylor Gross, 30, who coordinated Republican media coverage during the 2000 presidential election ballot recount  in Florida.  Gross also served as U. S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s media point man during Ashcroft’s nomination hearings.

According to Edward’s article,  The Citadel’s spring 2001 alumini magazine described him as “steeped in the cutthroat lifestyle of politics in Washington.”

Another principal is Matt Well, who resigned his position as Director of Public Affairs with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission June 30]], 2005.  Wells was the Republican Leadership Council’s director of issues advocacy during the 2000 campaign.  He also headed field operations for the American Tort Reform Association, which advocates caps to punitive damages awarded by courts.

The third co-founder is Doug McGinn, former Assistant Vice President for Dittus Communications.  He served on the staff of Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former Education Secretary William Bennett at Empower America, a nonprofit policy organization, as well as  as communications director and senior advisor to three members of Congress.

Reaction by Groups Critical of Wal-Mart

According to Edward’s story, the previous week, the group Wake Up Wal-Mart announced a campaign by 13 religious leaders from Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Colorado and Oklahoma to persuade Wal-Mart to adopt labor reforms. It’s spokesman, Chris Kofinis, expressed frustration by what he sees as a media chess game.

“It should be easy for Wal-Mart to reach out to genuine Republicans, patriotic Democrats and independents who can sit down together to find ways Wal-Mart can treat its workers and communities better…Instead, it hires right-wing attack dogs.”

In reaction to Young’s role with the organization, Paul Blank, campaign director for Wake Up Wal-Mart issued a statement February 27,  2006.

 We call on Ambassador Andrew Young to use his new position to help us change Wal-Mart for the better, rather than defend its abysmal record of child labor violations and poor health care. As a consultant to Wal-Mart, Ambassador Young is now in a unique position to reach out to Wal-Mart and CEO Lee Scott and urge them to change. We hope he will work with WakeUpWalMart.com and help our efforts to create a better Wal-Mart and build a better America.

Wake Up Wal-Mart is a campaign of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union launched April 5, 2005.

On December 20, 2005,  in response to the announcement of the organization, Wal-Mart Watch issued a statement inviting

 “this new group…to review the latest data on the company.

Some facts on Wal-Mart and working families:
*The average annual pay for a cashier is $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
*Wal-Mart fails to provide health insurance to over half of its 1.3 million U.S. employees.
*By its own admission, 46% of the children
of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured or covered by Medicaid.

Wal-Mart Watch, formed in the spring of 2005 is a joint project of The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, a non-profit  organization studying the impact of large corporations on society and its advocacy arm, Five Stones has a long list of partners including unions, environmental and social justice groups.

 You also might want to check out  the PR Newswire release on January 2006 poll commissioned by Working Families for Wal-Mart, as well as two December 2005 that appear to refute it–one by the Pew Research Center , sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts, and another by Zogby, sponsored by Wake Up Wal-Mart.

Entry for February 27, 2006: Alberto Rios

February 27, 2006

Alberto Álvaro Ríos‘  new book, The Theater of Night (1-55659-230-2) came out from Copper Canyon Press at the beginning of the month.  His 2002 Copper Canyon book, The Smallest Body in the Human Body was nominated for the National Book Award. 

This collection, set along the border between the U.S. and Mexico, traces the lives and loves of an elderly couple, Clemente and Ventura, from childhoods, to courtship and into marriage, maturity, old age, and death.

Here’s the poem from the book  that appeared at Poetry Daily  yesterday.

*

The Chair She Sits In 

I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house —

The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.

It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in

But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one

And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.

There’s no mystery — it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.

It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,

The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years — that’s how I understand.

It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.

*

You can read a couple of other poems from the book  at Copper Canyon website, “Clemente in Love, Speaks to Himself in the Mirror”  and “A Song of the Old Days .” 

Rios was named last year as a Historymaker  by  Arizona Historical Society Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, at Papago Park, Tempe, Arizona.   He is a Regents’ professor teaching poetry in the creative writing program at Arizona State University.  He is the author of nine books of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. Rios is the recipient of numerous awards, and his work is included in over 175 national and international literary anthologies. His work is regularly taught and translated and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music.  You also can read his bio at Copper Canyon’s site.  I also started a Wikipedia article  which lists his books.

*

While I was researching this I came across an interesting ranking of journals Jeffrey Bahr who also maintains a blog, Whimsy Speaks .  You can read his poems  and also his record of poems in 2005  he liked by others .  He got the idea from NY poet Jordan Davis .

*

I just keep making discoveries at The San Francisco Chronicle .  Their Mark Fiori does animations , too.

Check out Don Asmussen’s Bad Reporter strip

February 26, 2006

Cartoon from Bad Reporter for February 24, 2006 by Don Asmussen (email).

Just discovered “Bad Reporter” by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Don Asmussen. Uclick describes Asmussen as having the

uncanny ability to mix multiple news stories… [which reads] like some bizarrre cross of Saturday Night Live and THE ONION.

Bad Reporter appeared first on September 25, 2003 with the slogan, “The lies behind the truth, and the truth behind those lies that are behind that truth.” The first topic was the recall of Governor Gray Davis. The column had grown out of an earlier effort for the paper entitled “The San Francisco Comic Strip.”

There’s also an archive of all his work for the paper here and he has his own website of animation here , which started with 1999 collaboration with Mondo Media CEO , John Evershed. His 1997 comic at Salon, “The Hero Santon” is archived here .

Asmussen also produced a regular strip for Time magazine from 1996-2001. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, U.S. News and World Report, Mother Jones, and various other publications. He has been profiled in the New York Times, Communication Arts Magazine, and Step By Step Graphics.

Updates:

2/27/06–Asmussen had no article at Wikipedia so I added one .

2/28/06–Don’s reply when I wrote him for permission to use the above cartoon and to let him know about the wiki article:


Thanks Beth, that’s really sweet of you! Any help is much appreciated in this more and more crowded cartoon universe. I appreciated the Wikipedia article. I almost feel famous in a way… don a

Entry for February 26, 2006

February 26, 2006

Just discovered “Bad Reporter”  by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Don Asmussen.  Uclick describes it as an

 uncanny ability to mix multiple news stories… [which reads] like some bizarrre cross of Saturday Night Live and THE ONION.

 

Bad Reporter appeared first on September 25, 2003 with the slogan, “The lies behind the truth, and the truth behind those lies that are behind that truth.”  The first topic was the recall of Governor Gray Davis.  The column had grown out of an ealier effort for the paper entitled “The San Francisco Comic Strip.”

 There’s also an archive of all his work for the paper here  and he has his own website of animation  here , which started with 1999 collaboration with Mondo Media CEO , John Evershed.  His 1997  comic at Salon, “The Hero Santon” is archived here .

Asmussen also produced a regular strip for Time magazine from 1996-2001. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, U.S. News and World Report, Mother Jones, and various other  publications. He has been profiled in the New York Times, Communication Arts Magazine, and Step By Step Graphics.

Postscript:  2/27/06

Asmussen had no article at Wikipedia so I added one  .

Entry for February 25, 2006

February 25, 2006

I’m compiling this in a hurry and will add links Monday.  The editorial cartoon is from Nick Henderson, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner, from when he was with the Louisville Courrier- Journal.  As of February 15, he is the editorial cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle.  For me this cartoon shows the tight relationship between MSHA and the the mine operators. 

Despite the pressure for the miner’ lives to buy some new safety enforcement, things may  get worse  if the Senate confirms Bush’s nominee  Richard Strickler, a former mine operator with a poor safety record while he worked for 30 odd years at  Bethlehem Steel.

  As Charleston Gazette reporter Kem Ward, Jr. noted on January 29 in his article “3 died at operations managed by Bush nominee” the Marion County WV native :

Between 1980 and 1992, at least 13 miners died at Bethlehem Steel’s coal operations, according to MSHA records.

The three fatalities at mines Stickler managed occurred in 1984, 1990 and 1992 at operations in Pennsylvania. In each case, Stickler was listed as manager, chief health and safety officer or general superintendent of the operation where the accident occurred, records show.

The worst of the accidents, in June 1990, killed mechanic Donald J. Smith and injured eight workers at the Cambria Slope Mine No. 33 near Ebensburg, Pa.

The accident occurred when a portal bus derailed while carrying workers from a longwall section to a mine shaft bottom.

In its official report on the accident, MSHA said that BethEnergy Mines Inc. had not maintained the portal bus suspension system in proper working order. MSHA investigators concluded that the shock system on the bus provided an average of only 48 percent of its designed rebound. One shock was not attached properly.

“The accident occurred because the suspension system on the vehicle had deteriorated which would have provided considerably less stability than originally designed,” the report said. “The speed of the portal bus … may have contributed to the accident.”

MSHA also found that a similar accident occurred involving the same portal bus about a month earlier.

Another accident on Stickler’s watch occurred in April 1984 at the Mine No. 51 Somerset Portal, according to MSHA records.

Joseph J. Letecki, a laborer, was killed. Letecki and three co-workers were pouring concrete from two cars. An underground locomotive hit one of the cars, and Letecki was crushed between the car and the mine wall.

In its report, MSHA concluded that the accident occurred because the locomotive operator did not give an audible warning and did not stop before reaching the work area.

Then, in May 1992, equipment operator Frank Kovash was killed at the Cambria Slope Preparation Plant.

Kovash was operating a dozer that fell through a raw coal pile. Coal engulfed the dozer, trapping him inside the cab for 10 hours.

In its report, MSHA concluded that “the cause of the accident was management’s failure to develop, implement and enforce a plan to prevent mobile equipment from being operated over coal reclaim feeders.”

Strickler had  his hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on January 31.  More on that tomorrow. .

According to Ward, a lot of stonewalling (my term, not his) has gone on since  Bush nominated Strickler in September. Strickler  has evaded the press, declining interviews.   The White House has not returned telephone calls about the  nomination.  The  Labor Department has refused to  comment.

 David G. Dye, (he who angered Arlen Specter by walking out on hearings early)  has  has been acting assistant secretary and and head of MSHA since Dave D. Lauriski resigned  after Bush’s  re-election.  Lauriski had been criticized cozying up to the coal companies after his own  career as an operator.  Shades of Brownie, Dye  had joined MSHA just six months before being named the agency’s acting chief.

 Stickler was named director of Pennsylvania’s underground mine-safety agency in  March of 1997, a position he held until he retired in July of 2003.  UMW officials opposed Stickler’s nomination to that post, complaining that  the Bethlehem mines Stickler operated had injury rates  double the national average.

In December, Cecil Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers commented,

American’s coal miners don’t need a coal company executive in charge at MSHA.  We need a person who understands safety from the miner’s point of view, and is committed to making the health and safety of the miner the agency’s first priority once again.

*
 
Speaking of mine operators, yesterday I  found an interesting monthly  publication, Anvil Public Relations’  Crisis Counselor Newsletter, edited Noel L. Griese, who taught public relations at the Universities of Wisconsin and Georgia.

The February 15, 2005 issue has an article on ICG,”Case study: Crisis communication lessons of the Sago Mine disaster.  It repeats the misinformation or disinformation that ICG had just gained control of the mine, which has been researched and refuted by Ken Ward, Jr. and Mark Reutter.  I emailed my disappointment.  We’ll see if I get a reply.  The article  did comment

ICG surely was aware that the major problems with the mine could have been corrected if the company was willing to shut the mine down for a few months to take corrective action..

Another error was that the article attributed the press’s misreportage (that 12 miners were still alive) in part  to the “fact”  that West Virginia had no Bureau of Mines to provide a spokesperson. Actually there is an Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training  responsible for enforcement.  Actually, Ward and others have attributed the problems to MSHA, which in other other cases, has provide an information officer to serve as point person.  Here are the article’s  PR points:

1. When a crisis communication situation blows up, as it did in the Sago mine case, there’s usually a fatal flaw – an Achilles heel, the hubris that comes before downfall. What was the flaw in the Sago case? Failure to promptly correct misinformation. The tendency is human. Who wants to rain on a parade? Who wants to be the messenger transforming good news to bad? No one, of course, But in a crisis communication situation, where credibility is everything, prompt correction is essential. At the least, the Sago Mine communicators could have said immediately that they were treating the report that all 12 miners were alive with hope but needed corroboration.

2. …the importance of avoiding speculation in a crisis situation, no matter what the temptation, no matter what you hear.  Don’t say anything until you know it for a fact. If rumors arise, quash them, even if the rumors appear to be good news. Wait until the facts can be verified firsthand. Resist the temptation to put a positive face on things in response to the pleadings for more information from victims’ loved ones and relentless pressure from reporters. Don’t give in to speculation. Don’t announce anything until you are certain of the information,

3. Expect that the crisis will make related news far more important than it would normally be. …[The]  deaths after Sago normally would have been a news brief at best in most U.S dailies. Instead, each of the events became front-page news.   

4. A highly publicized crisis usually results in investigations and hearings by government organizations….

5. Investigations lead to legislation that may be corrective, may be punitive, or may be both….

6. Be careful when using euphemistic “code words” in a crisis situation. The Sago Mine communicators had told rescue team members to refer to the trapped miners as “items.” The problem with such code words is that they frequently end up in the hands of reporters and lawyers, and can make the communicators look bad indeed in retrospect.

7. When a preventable crisis occurs, the media will look for someone to blame

8. The media will be less likely to blame your organization if it has a reservoir of good will. If, on the other hand, it has a record of negligence, the media will likely be unmerciful….

9. Make sure the people who are speaking for the company are media trained, 

ICG chief executive Ben Hatfield, who did most of the talking for the mine owners, did a commendable job – right up until he failed to promptly correct the misinformation about 12 miners being alive when he knew almost immediately that they were dead. But the executive who really needed media training was the New York mine owner. When reporters got to him and pressed him about the meager $2 million that had been put together for survivors from company funds – with no contribution from his own personal fortune – public sentiment surely was swayed against the company. Once he was interviewed, there was little doubt there would be unsympathetic investigations of the company.

10 Even when a media circus is involved, the gaggle of reporters can get the story wrong.   Part of the reason for the media failure can be explained by the lateness of the hour, the exhaustion of everyone involved after two days of crisis and no defined chain of command for information. West Virginia has no Bureau of Mines to provide a spokesperson. [sic] There was no union presence, and the coal company had just taken over the mine a few weeks earlier. [sic] There was no control of information. Cell phones, which swiftly carried rumors to the families of the victims, were everywhere. But at the bottom of it, the reporters present took the governor’s uninformed “confirmation” of the rescue at face value. Using Gov. Manchin as the prime source of information for the rescue was a mistake. The media didn’t ask where Manchin got his information, but went right along with it, instead of playing Journalism 101 and finding another more reliable source to confirm the facts.

11.Although the public is becoming skeptical about public apologies…a mea culpa in this case was definietely in order. Ben Hatfield, chief executive of mine owner International Coal Group, delivered it on Jan. 4 on behalf of the owners for whom he works. “In the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have,” said a choked-up Hatfield. Another ICG executive, vice president Gene Kitts, suggested that the misunderstanding resulted because the rescuers who reached the victims in the mine were wearing full-face oxygen masks that distorted the radio messages they sent back to their base. Hatfield said that overnight, after it appeared that the miners might not be alive after all, the company sent word that the initial report of 12 survivors might have been wrong. But he said the message never got to the family members promptly. He said the mine company did the best it could under extreme stress and exhaustion, and the owners “sincerely regret” that the families were left to believe for so long their loved ones were alive.

12. The media will check records to see if the crisis has set a new one. While you might not be involved in the current crisis, you could be implicated in the sidebar.

Entry for February 24, 2006

February 24, 2006

The above illustration  on mine safety  is from Steve Benson , the Pulitzer-award winning cartoonist from the Arizona Republic .  It about says it all, doesn’t it?

February 13  House Democrats, including Nick J. Rahall (WV), Bobby Scott and Moran (VA) and George Miller (CA)  organized a  forum to hear from miners and surviving family members, not only from Sago, but also Alabama.  The  Republican leadership had refused to hold a hearing until the official MSHA investigation is complete.

Entry for February 23, 2006

February 23, 2006

The flip side to the squelching of dissent I wrote about yesterday, is the Bush administration’s public relations efforts.  The GAO just issued a report, “Media Contracts:  Activities and Financial Obligations for Seven Federal Departments”    The report looked at self-reports from staffs at Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security Interior, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

During the period from 2003 to March of 2005, these agencies admit to spending $1.68 billion dollars to sell federal programs.

Democrats requested that GAO conduct the study after last year’s evidence of covert propaganda” from public relations firms.    The report was released by the Democrats on February 13.  Said Representative Miller, who my readers may remember was one of the first to criticize MSHA and ask for hearing after the Sago Mine disaster,

The extent of the Bush Administration’s propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing. The fact is that after all the spin, the American people are stuck with high prescription drug prices, high gas prices, and high college costs.  This report raises serious questions about this Administration’s priorities for the country and I would hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would agree that changes need to be made to reign in the President’s propaganda machine.

This time last year,  on February 17,  Comptroller General David M. Walker had written  the heads of government departments and agengies warning that  the promotion of government policies through video news releases meant to look like TV news stories  violated  federal rules enacted since  1951  prohibiting  the use of appropriated funds for publicity or  propaganda.

 The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was criticized in for  a 2004 series of video news releases in which a narrator, identified as “Karen Ryan” or “Mike Morris,” said she or he was “reporting” on the office’s activities. The tapes were sent to local television stations for use in news programs.

Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services produced video news releases touting changes to Medicare  also narrated by “Karen Ryan” and were offered to local TV news operations.

In both cases, Walker wrote,

television-viewing audiences did not know that stories they watched on television news programs about the government were, in fact, prepared by the government. We concluded that those prepackaged news stories violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition.

The Department of Education had also paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on the radio and in his columns.

Entry for February 22, 2006

February 22, 2006

The above image at  www.Drooker.com  by artist Eric Drooker depicts censorship.  It would appear that the House Republicans’  pressure on CSR Director Mulholland which  I wrote about yesterday  may be having an effect.  Look at the example of the CRS ananlyst Lou Fisher,  who wrote a  report, National Security Whistleblowers .   On February 9, Roll Call’s John McArdle reported

One of the top analysts at the Congressional Research Service said that Director Daniel Mullhollan has ordered him to apologize by close of business Friday for writing a memorandum that criticized Congress’ nonpartisan research agency for an “incoherent” policy that advocates neutrality and suppresses the analytical skills of its researchers.

The dust-up started when Fisher commented on his findings from his CSR report for Chris Strohm’s article, “Report finds government whistleblowers lack adequate protections” in the January 10  Government Executive.  Strohm says Fisher told him that since September 11 Congress and the Courts had  deferred too much to the executive branch in  punishing whistleblowers and surpressing information. 

“I get the picture that people can do really awful things inside agencies and they never pay any price at all, and that’s really scary,” Fisher said. 

According to McArdle, CRS’s supervisor for the Government and Finance Division Robert Dilger rebuked Fisher for talking to Strohn, that it appeared 

to compromise your ability to be perceived as meeting CRS standards of impartiality and objectivity.

Fisher complained to Mulholland in a January memo, 

I have testified before congressional committees about 38 times … I am invited because I have an expert opinion to share. … I am certainly not partisan in my CRS work or in my outside writings. But I have always considered myself free to analyze an issue on the basis of all available information and reach a professional conclusion. That is what other analysts do. … That is what the people I work with on the Hill – Republican and Democrat – expect. Anything short of that would be mere descriptive writing.

Fisher wrote the an increasing push by CRS administrators for “neutrality” in analytical work violages the agency’s core mission. mission.

If we err on the side of caution at every turn, we risk legitimate and much more serious criticism that our products lack analytical rigor, interest, and value.

Fisher made it clear that he knew his outspoken views  could lead to punishment.

I imagine in my status as a Senior Specialist I have few if any rights.  Clearly the leverage is with you and your aides. You can take steps to fire me. … If it comes to that we can go through the process and see what happens.

Fisher sent letters to members of Congress reporting his problems.  Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV),  came to the specialist’s defense.

Lou Fisher is a scholar of integrity and insight,” Byrd said in a release today. “He has assisted me on many occasions. … The Republic needs people who understand the role of the Congress, who share a determination to protect the people’s liberties, and who are unafraid to point out when Congress abdicates that role or when another branch of government tries to steal it away. Quite simply, the Congress needs people like Lou Fisher with the brains and the backbone to help us do our work. I only wish that more people, including some who have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, shared his passion.

Yochi J. Dreazen’s February 9  Wall Street Journal  article, “Expert on Congress’s Power Claims He Was Muzzled for Faulting Bush” lays out a more complete time line.  According to a February 14 post on the blog MediaWatch ,  Dr. Nancy Kassop  , Chair of the Political Science Department  at SUNY New Paltz, who has written  about Fisher,  is asking folks to write Congress and CRS in support of Fisher.

By the way, the Congressional Research Service does not offer its reports to the public.  OpenCRS.org would like that changed, but until then, it asks folks to request copies of the various reports from their members of Congress in pdf format and upload them to the site.


 

Domestic Spying (02/21/06)

February 21, 2006

The above graphic is from Maine television station WCSH6 .  After writing on January 19, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Peter Hoekstra (R- MI) again took the Congressional Research Service (CRS)  to task February 1  for partisanship in concluding in two separate memos that the President had exceeded his authority in the NSA warrantless surviellance program.  He wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mulholland,  

Once again, I would appreciate your assistance in ensuring that CRS refrain from speculating with respect to highly sensitive national security matters on which it has no authoritative knowledge, as well as ensuring that CRS allows the position of Congress on policy issues relating to intelligence to bc determined by elected Members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, rather than by CRS staff.

Hoekstra copied his memo to the House Leader and Chairmen of the Administration and Appropriation Committees.  Was this an unveiled threat to the funding of the CRS, which is operated by the Library of Congress?

I’m not the only one who thinks so.  UPI’s Homeland and National Security Editor Shaun Waterman quotes Federation of American Scientists’s Steven Aftergood in his February 20 story, “CRS attacked again on wiretap bias.”   

Aftergood said that after the GOP got control of Congress in 1996, their leadership had closed down the non-partisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment for “being too independent.”

“The subtext of the current assault on the (congressional research service),” he said, was “You are next.”

On February 7 ,   Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA)  and Representative Jane Harman (D-CA and ranking member of House Intelligence) sent their own memo to Mulholland in support of CRS’s work.

Then on February 8 , Congressman James Sensenbrenner, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee wrote Mulholland, attaching letters by Law Professors Robert Alt and John C. Eastman.  Interesting that Alt is associated with the John Ashbrook Center  and Eastman with the Claremont Instituter, both dedicated to teaching the value of limited government, a catch-word for conservatives.  Ironic, that they support the imperial presidency, which the founding fathers would have found scary, I would think, having just seceded from a monarchy.

 By the way, Hoekstra had already jumped on Harman for letters to President Bush, asking for wider dissemination of information to Congress.  In a letter January 4 , he wrote,

I am surprised and somewhat bewildered at your request because, in my observation, you have never previously complained or stated concern about the limited number of people briefed on this program. Now you have written two letters to the President stating such concern, and, in fact, accusing the President of violating the law based on, what I consider, a strained analysis.

CSR is successor to the Legislative Reference Service, founded in 1914 to provide “nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues.”

On January 5 , analysts Elizabeth B. Bazan and Jennifer K. Elsea issued their memorandum entitled, “Presidential Authority to Conduct Warrantless Electronic Surveillance to Gather Foreign Intelligence Information.”  The memorandum concluded, “it appears unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly authorized the NSA electronic surveillance operations here under discussion, and it would likewise appear that, to the extent that those surveillances fall within the definition of ‘electronic surveillance’ within the meaning of FISA…Congress intended to cover the entire field with these statutes. To the extent that the NSA activity is not permitted…it may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb, in which case exclusive presidential control is sustainable only by ‘disabling Congress from acting upon the subject.’… no court has held squarely that the Constitution disables the Congress from endeavoring to set limits on that power. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has stated that Congress does indeed have power to regulate domestic surveillance….If the NSA surveillance program were to considered an intelligence collection program, limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight, which some Members who were briefed about the program contend, would appear to be inconsistent with the law, which requires that the ‘congressional intelligence committees be kept fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities,’ other than those involving covert actions.”

On January 18 ,  analyst Alfred Cumming issued his memorandum entitled “Statutory Procedures Under Which Congress Is To Be Informed of U.S. Intelligence Activities, Including Covert Actions.”  That report found that “Based upon publicly reported descriptions of the program, the NSA surveillance program would appear to fall more closely under the definition of an intelligence collection program, rather than qualify as a covert action program as defined by statute.”

To keep up on this issue and others regarding government secrecy, I highly recommend  Steven Aftergood  and Sabrina I. Pacifici  

Entry for February 20, 2006

February 20, 2006

The above picture,  Portland’s KATU TV,  is of  U.S. District Judge Judge James Robertson, who resigned from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) ccourt  to protest President Bush’s secret authorization of  domestic spying.

On February 16,   ranking member Jay Rockefeller  (D-WV) issued a press release, that  Senate Intelligence Committee  Chairman Pat Roberts  (R-KS) had used procedural rules to block a vote on Rockefeller’s proposal  that the Committee investigate the NSA warrantless surveillance program .

Accusing the committee of abdicating its responsibility, Rockefeller noted,

For four years, the Administration has kept the existence of the President’s warrantless surveillance program from the full committee.  Since the program’s disclosure two months ago, the Administration has continued to withhold essential details about the program’s legality, scope, and application that they are required to provide the committee…. 

It is apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job.  Although some members of this committee indicate they need more time to decide on what action to take, I believe this is another stalling tactic....  

For the past three years, the Senate intelligence committee has avoided carrying out its oversight of our nation’s intelligence programs whenever the White House becomes uncomfortable with the questions being asked.   

The very independence of this committee is called into question as we are continually prevented from having a full accounting of pre-war intelligence on Iraq, the CIA’s detention, interrogation, and rendition program, and, now, the NSA’s warrantless surveillance and eavesdropping program.

If we are prevented from fully understanding and evaluating the NSA program, our committee will continue its slide into irrelevance.