Sunday, July 31, 2005

national media and beaten horses

According to some people, it seems the media (& other right thinkin' people) are pissed that the bleeding heart libruls have forced them to cover the Latoyia Figeuroa disappearance when, according to one commenter, they clearly don't think the case worthy of any attention and resent wasting their time on it. Attractive scholarship students deserve hours of daily coverage, people who've made errors in judgment and/or aren't "attractive" can 'naff off, especially if they're dumb enough to live in the city.

I had no idea my initial suggestion that the local media have a responsibility to the community they serve to report the news was such a demanding and inappropriate one. I always thought the news would include reporting on cases of missing persons being investigated by the police. Apparently that idea is a novel concept supported only by "bed-wetting liberals" (this may explain why the national media was so slow on the uptake in reporting about the DSM and other critical political issues).

I don't know about you, but I think the media (especially the national TV media) have this tendency to beat the tar out of almost every "special/human interest" type story they cover. It annoys me to the point that I have actually gone through extended periods avoiding TV news programming. I can't be the only one who was practically shell-shocked by the round-the-clock coverage when JFK, Jr died in a plane crash and the extensive coverage of some of the anniversaries of the event (the same with Princess Diana's death). Yes, both people were well known public figures who had tragic deaths, but the extensive coverage was bordering on obscene. The coverage provided for some murders, some missing persons & some court cases (& I admit I loved Michael Jackson Puppet Theater and damn near peed myself at Dan Abrams coverage of Jackson's chimp doing housework) has become obnoxious to the point that I have flashbacks to the commercial for the 48 volume Time-Life series "The Grenada Experience".

Do I expect Latoyia Figueroa's disappearance to get the same coverage as Natalee Holloway's disappearance is getting? No, I don't - but then I don't expect Natalee Holloway's disappearance to be quite so overblown in the media. Both stories are compelling in their own right. Natalee disappeared the night before her return from a vaction to an island with a very low crime rate; the facts that she has a scholarship to UAB, she is pretty and her family was affluent enough for her to be able to afford such a trip for graduating from high school are not what make her story compelling. Other items that (legitimately) keep our interest include the extraordinary work and measures donated by Texas EquuSearch, the Aruban/Dutch Legal system (which is so very alien to Americans), and the fact that 3 people are highly suspected of involvement in her disappearance and yet no forensic evidence has been found to date (or acknowledged publically as of yet). Beth Holloway Twitty (Natalee's mother) has handled the stress of having no idea what's happened to her daughter while being away from home and facing the constant glare of the media exceptionally well; she is well spoken with a vulnerability to which everyone can relate combined with a strength that few of us think we could muster in a similar situation. People want a happy ending or, if not a happy ending, some concrete answers because Natalee's family deserves it and if anyone can will that to happen, Beth Twitty must be that person.

In contrast, Latoyia Figueroa is not a scholarship student who disappeared from a vaction paradise. She is a waitress who was a teen mother and is expecting her second child with a man who is neither her husband nor the father of her first child. She was raised in parts of a Philadelphia that are not gentrified or chic and neither her family nor friends are particularly well spoken. As an expectant mother, she is in a population that is twice as likely to be the victim of homicide as other women (regardless of age, race or socioeconomic background). None of this makes her any less valuable a human being than Natalee Holloway, Laci Peterson or any other missing person. She has vanished and nobody seems to have any clue as to where she could be. Everyone who knows her (except maybe her boyfriend) thinks for her to just disappear without a trace like this is completely out of character. The consensus is that if she were to just want to lay low because of problems with her boyfriend or current life stress, she would not remain out of touch with her 7 year old daughter.

Under normal circumstances I agree that Latoyia's case is not one that warrants national media coverage. It's unlikely she is outside the local geographic region and/or that someone who has information on her whereabouts would be reached by national coverage instead of via local coverage. The reason Philly area bloggers picked up on Latoyia's story and asked for additional coverage is because even the local coverage was minimal. The Philadelphia Daily News picked it up, it's sister paper the Philaldelphia Inquirer (which has the widest readership in the metro area) did not until after the national news media got involved. To say this is unacceptable is an understatement. The reason some bloggers suggested flooding national news outlets about the story is because Latoyia's disappearance shortly after some bloggers and some news outlets covered stories about the disproportionate coverage of affluent white women and pointed to Tamika Huston's disappearance a year prior to Natalee Holloway's as an example (Huston's aunt is a PR professional who did all she could to get some attention when the case was fresh but had little success). Sadly, Paris Hilton's missing dog got more media coverage than most missing people do (as it turned out, Hilton had just forgotten she'd left the dog with her grandparents).

The truth is, whether intentional or not, even the media has admitted that there seems to be an inordinate & disproportionate media fixation on "the white women"; even NPR has made hay of it (On The Media - White Noise & WWWA). The argument that's been put forward by the media is that the pretty, affluent, white women get the ratings and those ratings translate into cash. It's also been said that those pretty affluent, white women are the ones we can relate to and that's why they have such a draw and yet, people have commented on blogs and BBS threads that they're not too happy about what appears to be a bias in reporting. I believe I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: I can no more relate to Natalee Holloway than I can to Latoyia Figueroa. I can't relate to their lives, or the lives of their family & friends; what I can relate to is the fear, pain and anguish their family and friends are going through. Furthermore, even if reporting on missing people of color doesn't bring in as high ratings as reporting on the missing du jour, what is it that necessitates the stories be mutually exclusive? Is there some rule that you can only report on one missing person at at time? Good heavens, whatever will we do if there are two missing white women competing for media attention? What criteria will be used to determine which is the bigger ratings grabber and therefor more worth of attention? Is it truly wasteful to mention another compelling case when you already have the captive audience waiting with baited breath for you to announce there is no new information in the case célèbre?

For better or worse, timing is what made bloggers turn to national media and hopefully the fact that people are pissed off enough to fight about it will make both local and national media put more consideration into their coverage of public interest stories and the news.

UPDATE (9:00 PM ET): Dateline NBC will be covering the topic of which missing person cases are covered and which are not next Friday night (including coverage of Tamika Huston).

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Senator Spaztorum

George Stephanopolous hit the motherload with his interview of the sanctimonius senator from Virginia, Rick Santorum. Capitol Buzz has all the lowlights and a link to the spaztacular transcript. G-d bless him, Rick Santorum must really want a Democrat (and bona fide Pennsylvanian) to represent PA. Last I heard, Casey (aka Santorum-lite) had an 11 point lead on Santorum but the more spaztastic Santorum gets the more likely there's a chance that organizations that would normally support Chuck Pennachio will finally start doing so (I doubt that will happen, but a girl can dream can't she?).

Crooks & Liars has the video.

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I have a dream

In light of the enormous response from the posts folks about Latoyia Figeuroa's disappearance at ASZ, Philly Future, Tattered Coat, etc., mainstream media has not only picked up Latoyia's story but there has at least been discussion about differential coverage of missing persons by the media. This can only be a good thing as I've noticed that some of the discussion on threads in other places (including the message board at, where an expectant mom from Alabama picked up on the story and started a thread) and the comments show that the assumption that the viewing public would only pay attention to stories about missing people if they are "attractive", affluent & white may be wrong (in more ways than one).

Truth be told, it is the local media's responsibility to pick up a story of a local missing person when the police start investigating. A family in distress should not have to go begging for assistance to gain a little publicity in these matters (affluent families seem to be more media savvy, which is probably one of the reasons they do have an easier time obtaining coverage). In most cases, if there is a chance to locate someone (or provide details about something observed that "didn't seem quite right") that information would come from someone in a local geographic region. Mind you, depending on the metropolitan area and the amount of time that has lapsed, it's fully possible someone who's been kidnapped (or run away) could get out of the region pretty quickly, so national coverage of some sort could also be helpful in leading to recovery.

A missing person is not a liberal v. conservative issue; it's not a racial issue; it's not an issue of socio-economic class. A missing person is a human issue and even a person with significant misanthropic tendencies such as myself can sympathize with a family member/friend who fears the worst for someone they care about. I am sure those who've made light of Latoyia's situation and/or made derogatory comments on posts would shit the proverbial brick if someone they cared about just vanished without a trace one day (and I'm pretty damned sure that if they, themselves, were a victim, they'd be praying that someone would help find them without passing judgment on their worthiness).

So onto my dream, which is more of a nice day dream than a fantasy because it's doable. Lots of folks have blogads (I don't because there is no reason for me to have them). I suggest blog PSAs (public service announcements) for missing persons; yes, I'm suggesting blogs become today's milk cartons. My ultimate goal (with which I need help, since I have no idea how to do this myself) is for bloggers to be able to register somewhere so they can place missing person PSAs on their blog that will be generated randomly to rotate those currently on police/FBI blotters as missing persons. Yep, I'm thinking national: a blogger can input a zipcode that will autogenerate 2 or 3 local/regional missing persons + one from outside their region to maximize coverage. This way, my blog could have PSAs like the one for Latoyia, one for Khalid (if you're in South Philly, check him out, he's right below my profile), one for Richard Petrone & Danielle Imbo who are from the Philly metro area, and one for someone like Tamika Huston or any one of the whole host of other folks listed here.

The plan right now is to start locally. Howard & Karl at Philly Future, and Tulin at Politics Philly had similar ideas and we plan on contacting the Philly PD to pitch the idea (if they haven't done so already). Hopefully, we'll have some sort of RSS feed or something bloggers can just pick up on in the near future. Regardless of the outcome in the search for Latoyia, her legacy will be that the fight to obtain coverage for her disappearance lead to a new awareness that may help others in the future.

Join the campaign by contacting your local Police to get them to think about this idea.

I have to give a belated hat tip to Terrance Heath, since I first read Richard's letter to Nancy Grace at Republic of T.

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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Real "pro-lifers" are organ & tissue donors

During all the debate over Terri Schiavo, I (and many other people) reminded folks about the importance not only of advanced directives (aka "living wills") but also about discussing organ and tissue donation with your family so that if you die but have organs/tissues that can be used to help another family avoid the pain of loss yours, your family will be aware of and comfortable with a decision to donate. I also challenged those who make a claim to being "pro-life" to put their proverbial money where there mouth is.

Earlier today, Lindsey posted about Jazz musician Michael Brecker's battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Michael will need a bone marrow transplant (BMT) to survive this disease and it appears as though nobody in his family is a match. Michael is of Ashkenazic Jewish (German/Eastern European Jews) decent and his best chance at a match is another person of similar decent. There are a lot of people from mixed marriages or who may be completely unaware that their German/Eastern European families were Jews who converted many generations back, so if you do have ancestry from that region, you may well be a close enough match for Brecker.

Brecker is not the only person having difficulties finding a suitable match, so the more eligible people registered with
national bone marrow donor program the better (especially if we can increase the ranks of minority registrants). Those not eligible to donate marrow or who aren't a match can also help other folks out by being a blood and/or pheresis donor.

Other useful links:

The Mitzvah of Organ Donation

Does my Religion Approve of Organ Donation? - information about views of many major religions.

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Dan Abrams: not regular without summer fruit

It seems MSNBC's Dan Abrams is a bit unhappy with the irregularity he experiences when he's out of the office. Poor Dan's communication capabilities are technically stunted due to his lack of a Blackberry and not only is he bunched up about it, he may have a case of orchitis to boot.

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The public servant serves the public

When I was writing my post about the Evangelical/Catholic leaders decrying Dick Durbin's (D-IL) line of questioning when he asked Supreme Court nominee John Roberts how he, as a devout Catholic and a Supreme Court Justice, would handle an inconsistency between US Constitutional law and Catholic Church Doctrine, I debated whether to include references to the opposition of John F. Kennedy for President on the basis of his religion. At the time I decided against it because I figured most Americans were at least vaguely familiar with Kennedy's response as well as the outcome of that election. Since then, I heard a girl answer one of those "which US President. . ." questions on a local radio station with "Ben Franklin", Progressive Traditionalist made a reference to it in his comment to the post and Pam posted how the Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Pro-life Activities has gone on the offensive against Bill Frist (R-TN) who capitulated to scientific reasoning instead of ideological conjecture in the stem-cell debate. My first thought when reading Pam's post was that Frist should tell the Cardinal to naff off and that, as a Presbyterian, he doesn't have to abide by Vatican teaching but this is politics and Frist's actions are largely based on his political and financial bottom line. I decided, instead, to post John F. Kennedy's address to Southern Baptist Leaders as printed in the 13Sep60 issue of the NY Times. It was an important speech in its time and even more important now as, after great forward strides after Kennedy's day, we have taken giant leaps backword in more recent times [emphasis added]:

I am grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only ninety miles off the coast of Florida -- the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power -- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor's bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.

But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe -- a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test -- even by indirection -- for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none -- who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill -- and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened "the freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths, that denied office to members of less favored churches, when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today -- the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes and McCafferty and Bailey and Bedillio and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress -- on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I attended myself) -- and instead of doing this do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we have all seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here -- and always omitting of course, that statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts -- why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution at any time, by anyone, in any country.

And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland -- and the independence of such statesmen as de Gaulle and Adenauer.

But let me stress again that these are my views -- for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected -- on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office, and I hope any other conscientious public servant would do likewise.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election. If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate satisfied that I tried my best and was fairly judged.

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency -- practically identical, I might add with the oath I have taken for fourteen years in the Congress. For, without reservation, I can, and I quote "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution so help me God."

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Conservatives & Comic Strips - just a little monkey business

There are so many things in this country that just make me shake my head in disbelief. The newspaper battle of censoring comic strips on a partisan basis is one of them. Earlier this week, some papers edited or outright pulled "Doonesbury" because writer Gary Trudeau used President Bush's nickname for Karl Rove, "Turd Blossom", in a strip sequence satirizing the President's action (or inaction) toward administration staff members embroiled in scandal. The reason cited by editors for editing/pulling of the strip was the use of offensive/vulgar language in his use of the word "turd". On Wednesday, none of the papers who run the syndicated comic "Prickly City" pulled or edited the strip which used the word "poo" while lambasting Democrat Howard Dean as a "freak-show monkey boy". According to the Comics Reporter, this is not a new phenomenon. The cartoonists may have a liberal bias, but it seems as though the editors subscribe to the Faux News definition of "fair & balanced".

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A baby is a gift

After years of IVF with failed implantation attempts, about 37 weeks of pregnancy and 26+ hours of hard labor, my good friend Jen has a baby son. She, like most women who want to have a child, is elated (as are all of her friends and family). This marks what was the near end of a little baby boom (my nephew is due next week) now extended to February with my friend Lisa's email announcing she drank the water. These new and expectant mothers are women who chose to get pregant and, despite the fact some had to rely on assisted reproductive technology, decided at what point in their lives/marriages to have children by use of the contraceptive methods that suited them best when they were trying to avoid pregnancy. Most of us use/have used/will again use some form of hormonal contraception. Even Jen, whose first marriage crumbled after her first failed attempts with IVF and desperately wanted to have children and be a mother, used contraception between her two marriages (she is the only person I personally know of that had EC on hand "just in case").

People still have choices regarding contraception and reproduction in this country. How long that will continue for the average American is unknown but as those who wish to criminalize abortion have expanded their attack bu re-defining hormonal contraceptive agents as abortifacients, and the majority of elected Republican legislators walk lock-step in the President parade to endorse faith-based legislation, the duration of our freedom seems questionable.

Those who think criminalizing abortion will stop it need only to look at the morbidity & mortality data from botched and septic abortions in places/times the procedure was illegal and then compare it to current data where abortion is still legal - you don't have to be an epidemiologist to see there is a statistically significant difference.

Those who think adoption is the end-all be-all answer to an unintended and unwanted pregnancy need to review the shameful acts committed in the name of adoption in countries in which contraception/abortion were limited if not outright banned. There are an estimated 2 million couples waiting to adopt healthy babies while many healthy minority (black, latino, mixed race) babies are available almost immediately. American couples will go to Asia and Eastern Europe (and even parts of Latin America) preferentially to adopting a minority baby available right now without the need to obtain a visa, travel or long waiting periods. 60 minutes recently re-ran a February 2005 piece about those minority babies that are being adopted - by couples outside the US. While the increase in white babies will help those families who'd travel around the world to adopt a caucasian child (or one from an "acceptable" minority), what of the less desirable minority babies - will we need to start aggressively exporting them or let them languish in the system that can make them feel rejected/disenfranchised or worse? What about the increase in babies with significant potentially life-threatening health issues (the ones least likely to be adopted)? Will the state force them to be born just to let them die because the cost of medical care is prohibitive?

Even now, when contraception is still widely available and abortion is legal, some women who don't want to be mothers/can't handle the responsibility go to term but don't put the child up for adoption. Some states even have anonymous drop off laws/locations and yet, in this morning's NY Times, I read that a baby girl was found inside a gift bag that was hanging from a wire attached to a 10-foot high chain link fence under an elevated train. What will happen when if our legislators enact laws and this becomes commonplace?

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday Dog Blogging: food envy

Tenacious D eyes Mangy-cat's supper

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BushCo offers homeschool course on terrorism 101

In his infinite wisdom, Al "Bushie-bootlicker" Gonzalez has made the Al Qaeda Training Manual available online at the DOJ website. This will allow the extra busy terrorist-to-be complete a quick at-your-own-pace remote course so they are fully prepared for post-graduate training and real-world experience being offered overseas.

So we now have an answer to that question that's been on the collective mind of the country:
it is OK to put the nation's security at risk, but only if you're a member of the Bush Administration.

Hat tip to the former ballet dancer.

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What goes around, comes around

The Republican's actions to "get" Clinton during Whitewater may just bite them in the ass.

Maybe the real reason Frist flip-flopped on stem-cells was in the hopes all those Republicans could get treatment for all those cognitive and memory malfunctions.

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Blue Star Moms with Potty Mouths

or, more accurately, potty fingers since they sent an email telling the mother of a solider injured by a suicide bomber to "fuck off"

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Fast Eddie says not so fast

Typical. A bunch of state politicos do the right thing by voting against a controversial 16% pay increase (W only gave his beloved turdblossom a 2.5% pay hike) for state politicos and were rewarded for this vote by being demoted from positions as committee/sub-committee chairmen to vice-chairman roles . Gov. Ed Rendell doesn't think it's a good idea to penalize people for voting against the grain and that it may actually be "unfair and inappropriate" to do so.

The 15 naysayers have been replaced as committee/sub-committee chairmen by legislators who voted in favor of the pay increase. Mike Manzo, spokesman for state Democratic Leader H. William DeWeese, defended the action by stating that the demotions were not punitive or some form of retaliation against those who voted against the raise but were, instead, a reward for those who voted for the raise (yeah, he actually said it). Committee/sub-committee chairmen get an additional $4,050/year, lower level committee members do not get additional compensation.

I have a suggestion for a new slogan for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party "PA Dems: you didn't know we're Republican, did you?"

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Latoyia's disappearance gets some national coverage

The coverage on MSNBC has been a bit loaded starting with the bizarre discussion on The Situation with Tucker Carlson last night. [emphasis added]
"CARLSON: "All right, but we start with the tale of two missing women tonight, the first, of course, Natalee Holloway, missing in Aruba since May 30.

Authorities today drained a pond near the Marriott Hotel on the island, so far, apparently, to no avail.

The missing woman is 24-year-old Latoyia Figueroa. She’s pregnant and the mother of one. She disappeared nine days ago in Philadelphia. The search for Latoyia intensified after a man named Richard Blair began blogging about her because of her race and her background.

And his point was the obvious one. And it is that black women from city centers, from urban areas who disappear get none of the coverage that like Natalee Holloway get, who are obviously from a different demographic. And, you know, it’s impossible to deny the truth of this.

The point, I guess, I would make is, I think we may be overstating the effect of media attention on these cases. You can think of missing women cases, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, for that matter, that didn’t make all the difference. These women have not been found. They made all the difference for us in the press. We got great ratings. "

Carlson actually gets the big media picture and boldly admits it's all about ratings, and yet he completely misses a critical point: in cases of missing persons, time is of the essence. The media can still get great ratings by covering cases well past their expiration date without completely neglecting other emerging cases in the early stages of investigation. Would it really be so difficult and detrimental to their bottom line to use a small percentage of on-air time to discuss recent compelling cases in which additional media coverage could be helpful (especially cable news, which has been known to dedicate hours re-hashing the same information across multiple programs on a daily basis)?

CARLSON: "People who don’t—people who don’t work in the press who look at this and immediately draw the conclusion that people who work in the press are racist ought to know there’s another dynamic involved here. And it is this. Things that are unusual or perceived to be unusual are the ones that are considered news.

It’s like planes that land safely aren’t news. When someone, not just a black person or a Hispanic person, but someone who lives in a tough neighborhood, is injured in a crime, the feeling, right or not—or wrong—and it’s probably wrong—is, this is a more common occurrence than if it were to happen in a suburban area."
Sadly, in the US, homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women. New and expectant mothers are nearly twice as likely to die from homicide as other women, even when adjusted for race and age. I have a hard time believe that the raw data analyzed for studies doesn't include a sizable number of dead suburbanites. If those in the media can, like Carlson, recognize and articulate these "feelings"/perceptions, they should be able to address them and still get the ratings they so desire all while, possibly, lighting a fire under an investigation and *gasp* reporting some actual news. Carlson's promo at the end of The Abrams Report indicates he will, again, discuss Latoyia's disappearance tonight. I hope he and his producer can get Jim Cramer, who made the cogent point that drawing viewers in with the big story gives a show license to draw attention to smaller ones, to tone it down a bit tonight. . .the words "smacked ass" don't even begin to describe how he came off last night.

Speaking of The Abrams Report, Figueroa's father was interviewed after coverage of the search at Cobb's Creek Park, and he dropped some bombs of his own. Melvin Figueroa stated he doesn't really know her boyfriend and was very vocal in his discomfort with the man. Unfortunately, common sense would dictate that the first people that should be evaluated as potential suspects in Latoyia's disappearance would be her current boyfriend (father of her unborn child and the last person to see her alive) and her ex (father of her seven year old daughter). In all fairness, the police have stated that the boyfriend has been interogated and is not a suspect - plus, as the elder Figueroa noted, his daughter frequently pointed out that he had concerns about every guy she brought to meet him (how many fathers think a guy is good enough for their little girl - even more understandable considering Latoyia's 23-year old mother was murdered when Latoyia was 2). Melvin Figueroa also noted some problems with the boyfriend's ex-girlfriend who allegedly became confrontational after finding out Latoyia was pregnant. This was the first and only comments indicating that there may be someone with a motive and history of cagey interactions (may being the operative word, this is pure conjecture). Hopefully police will catch a break in the case soon. In the meantime, please consider making a donation to the fund Richard has set up for Latoyia.

UPDATE (8:50 PM ET): Coverage on Countdown (it was story #2)

UPDATE (9:45 PM ET): ASZ's Steve Reynolds more than held his own with the bow-tied one, pointing out (in response to Carlson's comments that there are a lot of crimes and how should media decide) that the news should cover news.

Carlson seemed to think this is a case of liberals complaining about the lack of coverage implying we think it's a right wing conspiracy. In truth, we're pointing out exactly what he admits the media is doing: showing a bias in coverage to the attractive, financially secure, white female in distress because it gets ratings/ generates profits (
continuing daily/hourly coverage even when there's nothing new to report in a case). Per Carlson, what is being shown is what people want to see vis-a-vis the ratings implying coverage of one somehow precludes coverage of the other.

Carlson advanced the point that people don't want to see those stories because they can't relate to victims other than the white women. There are two really weird implications to a statement such as this: working class people and people of color don't watch news programs (full disclosure: I may be middle class now, but I was raised in a working class family in which we all read the paper and watched the news daily); and (much more disturbing) working class people and/or people of color are somehow viewed as being of less value to society. [in making his statements, Carlson in no way implied that he agreed with this view - I think he made it clear that his own personal views are quite the contrary]

I have two questions rattling around my little head:
  1. Does the media really think that having an interest in, or being able to relate to, one type of victim necessarily translate into lack of interest in another?
  2. When it comes to news, how hard can it be to decide which story is more newsworthy when the choice is a new case of a missing person of color or a older case you cover daily in which there's no substantive new information to report?
UPDATE (29Jul05 6:00 AM ET): I actually caught part of the news this morning and they noted the Figueroa family was pretty upset (and understandably so) at statements made by Latoyia's boyfriend on Power 99 (WUSL; link is to station web-page they have no coverage of Latoyia on the page) in which he said he thought she was just taking some time away because she was under stress (a la the runaway bride). This, of course, is something Latoyia's family considers to be an outrageous statement (she was on her way to pick up her daughter when she left the boyfriend's house and has not used her phone or credit/debit cards since she was last seen). Today's Philadephia Daily News has some more coverage and a little bit of information about the altercation with Latoyia's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, who is also "having a baby with him".

The INKY finally covered the story today. The Inky, as a local paper, should have been reporting this from the moment Latoyia was considered a missing person by the police, let's hope they start reconsidering their policies as to what constitutes relevant news in the Delaware Valley.

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Zach's pending release from LIA/R gets coverage on GMA

I missed it, but Towleroad didn't. Hopefully, as the issue of "reparative therapy" gets the attention of main stream media, objective journalists will ask some hard hitting questions, not only about the long-term effects and recidivism rate but about the short term effects as well.

In order to avoid requirements related to licensing, organizations lay claim to their programs being spiritual/religious programs or retreats (at least in advertising that could easily be obtained by those not sympathetic to the fundagelical movement; I'm sure in context with a church/religious referral and during the intake process they do a great deal of time chatting up the benefits of the "treatment" they provide). John Smid recently told the NY Times that he was removing references to therapy from the LIA/R web-site because Refuge is a "spiritual", not counseling, program (how they can assist families in obtaining reimbursement from a medical/mental health insurance program for a religious program is beyond me, unless, of course, they claimed they did provide treatment and had those families commit insurance fraud).

Another issue of great concern is operating a program in which the very way a person thinks, feels and acts is scrutinized with an attempt at changing those things, when there is no sort of oversight or monitoring of the program and/or the "client's" emotional well being. It's one thing for an adult to willingly engage in such a program, it's another thing for an adolescent to do so as the latter is usually placed in the program at his/her parents behest. The rules at Refuge do not allow discussion of what's happened during sessions outside of the sessionsl this leaves the children enrolled in the program even more vulnerable, and it's quite possible that certain pressures and feelings will not be dealt with in an emotionally healthy way (if at all). This could leave those in a population already at high risk for depression and suicidal ideation in an untenable position since there is no safety net of objective, impartial monitoring by a counselor trained to notice and handle these situations. In the realm of risk assessment, these programs do not have an acceptable risk:benefit ratio that warrants operation without oversight, I hope the state of Tennessee agrees.

click here to search all DF posts related to Zach/LIA

Today in weird gay news (the stuff I usually read at Pam's): The AFA & FOF are targeting Johnson & Johnson, parent company of McNeil Pharmaceuticals that manufactures Tylenol brand products. This time they have a beef with an ad for Tylenol PM that ran in the 19 July issue of The Advocate that features 2 men in bed together with captions: The text over one reads: "His backache is keeping him up." Over the other: "His boyfriend's backache is keeping him up."

"A lot of corporate America has bought into the idea that they can secretly promote homosexuality without their consumers noticing out there," he said.

Mike Haley, director of the gender issues department at Focus on the Family, said the gay and lesbian community has a lot of expendable income, so they are targeting big corporations who are caving to their pressure.

"I think it's a critical issue," he said, "because it's one more way that the issue of homosexuality is being normalized and sent out as though it's not harmful—as though it's not against what God originally intended."

So what, exactly, were the folks at FOF & AFA doing reading a gay magazine? BlogACTIVE has a link so you can thank McNeil for letting the 'mos know that the safety & efficacy of Tylenol is not impacted by sexual orientation.

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One good thing comes about from recent terror attacks

It seems as though the IRA has finally given up on it's armed campaign.
This will take effect from 4 p.m. this afternoon. All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programs through exclusively peaceful means. Volunteers must not engage in any other activities whatsoever. [full text]

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Making a stand with a license plate - at the state's discretion

A judge in Utah has ruled that the state cannot block a woman from having a license plate on her car that says "GAYSROK". Administrative law judge, Jane Phan stated that the state has no legitimate reason to prevent Elizabeth Solomon from having the plate which could be intepretted as "gays are OK" or "gays rock" or one that reads "GAYRYTS".
“The narrow issue before us is whether a reasonable person would believe the terms ‘gays are OK’ and ‘gay rights’ are, themselves, offensive to good taste and decency. It is the conclusion of the commission that a reasonable person would not,” Phan wrote.
The state has 30 days to appeal the July 19 decision and is in discussions to determine if they will do so according to Barry Conover, Deputy Director of the state Tax Commission which overseas the bureau of motor vehicles
“It kind of opens up the door for all types of people who want to make a license plate a public forum, for every initiative,” he said.
It doesn't appear as though Utah is one of the many states that offer special group plates for anti-abortion groups or even to support "traditional marriage", but they do offer a wide variety of special group plates and allow for personalized plates (I searched to see if "PROLIFE" was available and received a message that it was not, which I take to mean someone probably has this plate). While I would guess that a gay rights plate may make someone's car a potential target in a state like Utah, the woman is not asking for the state to support a new gay rights support plate, just for 1 vanity plate that contains no obscenities (or something that can logically be implied to be obscene) and nothing that endorses/incites some negative action be taken against others. If the state does not want to allow people to use their license plates as a form of expression (political or otherwise) they should abandon the use of personalized "vanity" and special group plates altogether.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Catholic & Evangelical Leaders Call Foul on Conflict of Interest Questions

Religious leaders from Catholic and Evangelical Christian denominations complained that Supreme Court nominee John Roberts was asked how he would rule on cases involving issues the Catholic Church considers immoral. Completely disregarding the fact there are many cases in which secular law conflicts with religious doctrine, the clergymen claimed and questioning of the sort was a religious litmus test to prevent devout Christians from imposing religious law above secular law when there is an inconsistency in current case law public service.
Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, states, "It is extremely troubling that Judge Roberts would have to face any religious litmus test concerning his confirmation to the Supreme Court. This sadly reminds us that religious bigotry still exists in America and hearkens back to the days of political witch- hunts and racial discrimination. We would for members of the Senate Judiciary to make a public statement that any questions regarding Judge Roberts faith tradition are out of bounds."

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, comments, "There is no religious test for office in the United States, but what some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are saying is Judge Roberts, if you want to be on the Supreme Court, you better not take your Christian faith seriously. That's a religious test and this is unconstitutional."

Father Frank Pavone, National director of Priests for Life, responds, "Anyone familiar with American history and the United States Constitution should be embarrassed by the suggestion that a nominee for the Supreme Court has to run a religious gauntlet on his way to confirmation. Religious convictions are not excess baggage or obstacles on the road to public service."
Roberts' response was indicative that, unlike the clergymen above, he does recognize that he may well face situations in which secular law and religious doctrine do conflict while sitting on the bench. As a judge, his obligation will be to the country and upholding applicable constitutional law. As a practicing Catholic, his obligation is to adhere to church doctrine. If he were to disregard the US Constitution and rule based on Vatican teaching, he would be violating his obligation to the country and imposing Catholic religious law on non-adherents (a direct violation of the 1st amendment). As reported in the LA Times [emphasis added]
The exchange occurred during one of Roberts' informal discussions with senators last week. According to two people who attended the meeting, Roberts was asked by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) what he would do if the law required a ruling that his church considers immoral. Roberts is a devout Catholic and is married to an ardent pro-life activist. The Catholic Church considers abortion to be a sin, and various church leaders have stated that government officials supporting abortion should be denied religious rites such as communion. (Pope Benedict XVI is often cited as holding this strict view of the merging of a person's faith and public duties).

Renowned for his unflappable style in oral argument, Roberts appeared nonplused and, according to sources in the meeting, answered after a long pause that he would probably have to recuse himself.
Likewise, Roberts would have to consider recusing himself if a case in which Feminists For Life (and organization to which his wife is a prominent member who has supplied her legal advise) or involving either company for which Jane Sullivan Roberts works (or a competitor) because there would be good reason to expect a conflict of interest (even the appearance of such a conflict would be damaging). If Roberts had felt there was no chance for a conflict, he would not have answered by stating he'd probably have to recuse himself. In doing so, he clearly voices an understanding of the question as a legitimate one contradicting the assertions of the 3 clergymen above.

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Richard Cranium's big heart gets Latoyia coverage on CNN

It looks like the efforts of
All Spin Zone, Philly Future (check out the lovely letter written by the folks at SaveArdmoreCoaltion), etc. have paid off and that the disappearance of 24-year old Latoyia Figueroa is now being covered by CNN & will be Maybe we can increase exposure if MSNBC follows suit (write to the Abrams Report to get them to cover the story too). Abrams Report is putting something together for tomorrow; Tucker Carlson will discuss it tonight at 9.

There's still much to be done in the hopes of a happy ending. Richard has established a reward fund in conjunction with the Philly Citizen's Crime Commission for information on what's happened to Latoyia:
You can donate a couple of ways: send a check to “Latoyia Figueroa Fund”, addressed to:

Citizens Crime Commission
1218 Chestnut Street, Suite 406
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Or, since the Crime Commission does not have a way to electronically accept donations to this fund, I have set aside all fundraising activities for the moment, and every dime donated via PayPal (click on the PayPal icon in the right hand column, or PayPal directly to or through our dontation page will be directly sent to the Crime Commission in Latoyia's name. I'd love to see a $10,000 fund set up for her by the end of the week. As with any missing persons issue, time is of the essence. Sad to say, but on the street, money talks and bullshit walks. We need to get this reward on-air on Philly TV and radio ASAP.

Consider this as a social experiment. If Natalee Holloway rates a $1 Million reward, certainly, a missing mother (and mother-to-be) rates enough reward money to shake a few street rats out of the woodwork, and we should put our money where our mouth is. Five or ten bucks each from the thousands who are reading this post today will make a tremendous difference.
Update, 4:50PM - ASZ just received word that Abram's Report on MSNBC will be covering Latoyia tonight or tomorrow, depending on how quick they can put it together. (YAY)

Update, 8:25 PM - I just heard a promo on MSNBC and Tucker Carlson will be discussing Latoyia's disappearance on his show at 9:00 tonight. I'm guessing Abrams Report will follow up tomorrow.

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WH changes more rules

In addition to refusing to turn over documents related to Supremes nominee Jonh Roberts' timeas deputy solicitor general in Poppa Bush's administration, the WH also annouced Roberts' tax returns are also off-limits to Senate investigators. In a break with precedent, the IRS will provide a one-page summary to the Senate Judiciary Committee instead of tax returns covering the the past 3 years.

According to John Anthony Maltese, a Professor at the University of Georgia
"The only reason I can assume some members would be trying to seek these kinds of documents would be to get something embarrassing or awkward, or that would allow them to paint Roberts as extreme on some issue," he said.
Something embarrassing like failing to pay SS taxes on household help, perhaps?

Bush advisers yesterday were pressed to explain why documents generated when Roberts was a lawyer in the White House counsel's office were being disclosed but those from his work as a lawyer in the Justice Department's solicitor general office were not. McClellan said the difference was that documents from the counsel's office were covered by the Presidential Records Act, which calls for a presumption of disclosure, and those from the Solicitor General's Office were not.

Not all Republicans sounded so sure. Asked why some legal memos could be disclosed and others could not, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) said: "That's a weighty question which I would want to research before I answered."

BushCo changed the policy in 2001 to "reduce duplicative paperwork" and streamline the process, but failed to announce the change - or even mention it to many on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As far as the administration is concerned, if the IRS didn't notice irregularities or investigate anything in the past 3 years, there couldn't possibly be anything in the returns themselves that could be even remotely questionable. . . or could there?


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John Roberts: affirming rights or not

The Inky has a story about a 1997 interview with recent Supremes nominee John Roberts about a SCotUS decision regarding assisted suicide:
"I think it's important not to have too narrow a view of protecting personal rights," Roberts said on PBS's The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. "The right that was protected in the assisted-suicide case was the right of the people, through their legislatures, to articulate their own views on the policies that should apply in those cases of terminating life, and not to have the court interfering in those policy decisions. That's an important right."
Instead of arguing about Scripture or morality, Inky reporter Steve Henderson argues, Roberts' statement could be perceived as Roberts' support for the right of people to make their own decisions regarding termination of life and court deference to policy decisions based on the will of the people.

The remarks by Roberts - President Bush's nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court - are revealing, court watchers say. They speak to principles of judicial restraint and nonintervention that are evident in much of his record. Roberts sees limits on federal authority not just as a stricture carefully written into the Constitution but also as an affirmative protection of individual rights.

They could also be perceived as supporting the imposition of the will of the majority on the minority when it comes to legislating a ban or limiting rights. This statement serves as yet another example of a man with a reportedly brilliant legal mind who knows full well how to couch answers to the most loaded of questions, while keeping most people guessing how certain they are of his actual intent. We may not like what we expect his rulings will be on critical issues, but unlike the obvious idealogues, Roberts will be able to dazzle us with the sheer brilliance (and loop-hole mining) of decisions he renders. Then again, he may floor us with some suprises none of us quite expects.

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Novakula told twice not to use Plame's name

From today's WaPo [emphasis added]

Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.

Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.

Ah crap, just read the whole thing, ya'll know what I think.

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