Friday, November 20, 2009

More Faux News Reporting

S. Robert Lichter writes an article titled Fox News: Fair And Balanced? in

As you might guess from the title, S. Robert Lichter's conclusion is 'yes'.

So who is S. Robert Lichter?

First hit on Google

  • "S. Robert Lichter is president of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs and a paid consultant to the Fox News Channel" [1]

  • So the only guy they can find to describe them as 'fair and balanced' is the same guy who they were paying as a consultant only last year? Surely a relevant disclosure to make in the circumstances?

    Filibuster tactics

    I was rather interested to read the latest tactical maneuvering on the health care bill.

    It is now clear that the initial GOP threat to force a reading of the whole bill has been neutralized. The best possible outcome for the Democrats at this point would be for Coburn to go through with his threat. The Democrats would then bring in a team of speedreaders to complete the reading over the thanksgiving recess while Coburn and some Democrat presiding miss their dinner, thus providing a highly visible proof of GOP obstruction.

    But the more interesting feature is a consequence of the possibility of multiple filibuster threats. In theory any Senate motion is subject to filibuster. But in practice use of the filibuster tends to be limited to final passage rather than the intermediate stages. There is a reason for that, it is really bad tactics for the minority to attempt to filibuster early in the process.

    As we saw earlier with discussion of the 'nuclear option', there are ways and means to get round Senate rules. A cloture motion sets out a time limit for debate on a motion. But there is no reason that the Democrats could not introduce a motion to change the rules of the Senate to introduce a time limit for debate on all future procedural motions for a bill. Such a motion would be subject to filibuster, but that is a one time event and a filibuster is not without benefit for those participating in breaking it. Whatever hardship the majority endures will be highly visible via local TV news and newspapers. Most would much rather spend a week sleeping in my office than on the campaign trail.

    Under such circumstances the dynamics of the health care debate become very different. All the concessions that the majority made to the minority earlier are lost and then some.

    And once there is one bill on the floor that is filibuster proof, it can be used as a vehicle for any purpose that garners a 50 Senate votes.

    Thursday, November 05, 2009

    The dillema of intelligence

    The seizure of a consignment of Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah demonstrates a particularly difficult problem of intelligence: it may not make any difference at all.

    While any action that reduces the amount of arms available to either the Iranian regime or their Hezbollah franchisees is good, this is clearly only a tactical victory at best. The arms factories will continue to churn out more weapons in Iran and some means will be found of delivering significant quantities to Hezbollah.

    Clearly Israel was acting on intelligence sources. So it is equally clear that Iran and Hezbollah will be moving to close the breach. Not knowing is bad, but even if you know you are unable to act on it without a significant risk of not knowing in future.

    Which makes me wonder quite why this particular interdiction took place. One possibility is that the Israelis knew that they would be loosing their source in any case, the source might be a defector.

    Another is that the timing is determined by Israeli politics. Netanyahu is in a pretty weak diplomatic position, Israel has only one major ally and under Obama the US is not prepared to underwrite the Likud line. I doubt that this is the case, while Netanyahu is certainly capable of that type of calculation, the Mossad people know this and would be expected to control access to information accordingly.

    Another possibility is that Israel would prefer to cause the Iranian regime to occupy itself with a mole hunt at the moment. Hunts for traitors can do an immense amount of damage in themselves. They can even cause defections of those previously loyal. If so, this would be rather interesting as Mossad is one of the few intelligence services that appears to have any useful internal knowledge of the Iranian regime. If they are prepared to risk losing sources it is likely because they consider the regime to be particularly vulnerable at this point in time.