Congress Overstepped Bounds In Grilling Media

The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman wrote an excellent summary of one an extremely appalling episode that happened earlier this month — the House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled officials from all the major television networks and the Associated Press over their mistakes in calling the election.

Certainly the media isn’t exactly to be admired for turning election night into a pseudo-sports cast, but as Chapman wrote, “Being instructed on fairness and accuracy by a member of Congress is a bit like being tutored in hygiene by a buzzard.”

It is interesting that the grilling of the media executives took place in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives with Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) acting as chief inquisitor and fellow Republican Steve Buyer (Ind.) informing the collected media representatives that, “You invite this when such huge mistakes are made.”

Can somebody track these two down and ask them to point out where exactly in the Constitution the House of Representatives is give the power to act as the nation’s editor-in-chief? In my opinion, such hearings were completely unconstitutional at worst and extraordinarily unseemly at best. Making media executives testify under oath is something I’d expect in Vladimir Putin’s Russia or maybe in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, but not in the United States Congress.

On the other hand, it is equally dismaying that not a single news agency that was called to testify had the guts to tell Rep. Tauzin what he could do with his committee’s request. As usual the media turn gutless when it really counts.


Who asked Congress to serve as editors? Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, February 18, 2001.

IRS to Accomplish what the KKK Couldn’t: Shutting Down The Chicago Defender

One of the components of George W. Bush’s tax relief plan was a repeal of the estate tax. While it initially looked to be an easy early victory, a campaign started a couple weeks ago by billionaires in favor of the estate tax gave Democrats and other opponents of the tax a temporary boost. The basic argument of the billionaires was that a) without the tax, rich people will leave their inheritance to their children which gives them an unfair advantage, and b) without the tax charitable giving will decline.

Perhaps in their next paid advertisements the billionaires will cite the plight of The Chicago Defender as the sort of thing that proves the wonders that can be had by the estate tax.

Earlier in the century, The Defender was the most popular black newspaper, period. Started in 1905 by RObert Abbott with a 25 cent investment and a 300 copy print run, The Defender was the premier black newspaper by World War I with a total readership of upwards of 500,000. For twenty years, Langston Hughes wrote a weekly column for the paper and it played an instrumental role in many of the social and political movements of its day. The paper was, for example, one of the primary advocates of the northern migration of blacks that occurred after World War I.

Abbott didn’t achieve that level of success without some powerful enemies. Because of its coverage of lynchings and other racially tinged issues, white distributors in the South refused to carry the newspaper. The KKK threatened anyone who dared cell the paper and occasionally tried to confiscate copies of the paper that made their way south.

Although the Defender doesn’t have the national impact it once did, today it does have a paid daily circulation of 230,000, making it the fourth largest daily paper in Chicago. Unfortunately it’s run into an enemy that might finally be able to do what the KKK couldn’t: shut The Defender down. The latest enemy is the Internal Revenue Service.

Abbott’s nephew, John Sengstacke, took over publication of the paper. Sengstacke expanded the reach of his uncle’s news empire by buying several other black newspapers. In addition Sengstacke founded the National Negro Publishers Association which is now known as the National Newspaper Publishers Association. But despite all his good works Sengstacke committed the one unforgivable sin in the eyes of the IRS — he died.

Because he died and because The Defender was completely privately owned. At his death Sengstacke’s estate was worth about $10 million, and the IRS wants his heirs to pay a $4 million inheritance tax. Sengstacke’s family would like to keep the newspaper business within the family, but the only way it could meet the $4 million bill the IRS has socked it with would be to sell the paper.

Conservative News Service reports that the family has tried to reach a compromise with the IRS for a deferred tax payment plan which would allow the family to keep the paper and pay the taxes gradually, but the IRS is insisting that they pay the full amount.

This is the reality of the death tax. People who started with nothing and build up relatively modest estates compared to the billionaires who so love the tax end up being unable to keep the small business they created within their families. Instead privately owned papers end up in the hands of large corporations who have the advantage of never dying.

The billionaires in favor of the death tax are essentially arguing that at death every successful small businessman such as Sengstacke should be required to liquidate his assets or else waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers who can set up foundations and other arrangements that avoid the estate tax penalty but still leave heirs in control of their wealth (this is how, for example, the heirs to Henry Ford maintained control over the Ford Motor Company without having to pay exorbitant death taxes).

It is simply not the government’s role to determine how the wealth of dead people could be best allocated. That role is best left to those who actually earned said wealth. The estate tax should be repealed.


Legendary black-owned newspaper threatened by death tax. Gene J. Koprowski, Conservative News Service, February 22, 2001.

The Chicago Defender. PBS, No Date Given.

XFL Ratings Continue Downward Slide

After last week’s XFL ratings were released, there were a number of stories with quotes from Vince McMahon and Dick Ebersol trying to spin the low ratings. I wonder how they’re going to spin the fact that the overnight ratings for this weekend’s game on NBC was a dismal 2.9.

Of course that rating couldn’t have been helped by a low-scoring game played under ugly weather conditions. NBC says it is definitely committed to a two year run, but look for chinks in that commitment. The other day McMahon was quoted to the effect that it might take a year longer than he thought for the league to hit profitability.

A good sign of a sinking ship is the rats lining up to jump off. Honda already decided against any further involvement with the XFL (Honda blamed the in-your-face attitude, but the low ratings probably had more to do with it).

The way things are going, by the middle of the XFL season (mid-March), ratings might be hovering closer to the 2.0 level and at that point NBC might be better off with their former Saturday Night Movie format.

Can Mites Smite Congo’s Cassava Problems?

Most people in the West have never heard of it, but in many parts of the developing world cassava is the most important food crop. In the war weary Democratic Republic of the Congo, cassava is a primary source of food for tens of millions of people.

Unfortunately, cassava crops in the Congo are under attack from the cassava green mite which, in many ways, is the cassava’s equivalent of the locust. Between the ongoing civil war and the green mite, cassava yields are down sharply threatening famine in Congo.

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture hopes to head off starvation by fighting fire with fire — or in this case mite with mite. The IITA hopes to send thousands of samples of high-yield strains of cassava to the Congo accompanied by thousands of predator mites which happen to think the green mite makes a great meal. The hope is that the predator mites can dispatch the green mites and avoid a humanitarian disaster.

The IITA’s Alfred Dixon told The BBC that the predator mite is safe. “It is perfectly safe. We have tested it in laboratory and field conditions — there is no harmful side effect.” Apparently after the run out of green mites to eat, the predator mites are likely to die off as there isn’t much else that it eats, aside from green mites, that can be found in the Congo.


Saving Congo’s cassava. The BBC, February 18, 2001.

Huntingdon Director Attacked by Thugs With Baseball Bats

Huntingdon Life Sciences managing director, Brian Cass, 53, was attacked by three people wearing balaclavas outside his house on Thursday, February 22.

The three attackers proceed to assault Cass with baseball bats in an incident that police are linking to numerous other acts of violence against HLS and its employees by animal rights activists.

Cass described the attack,

I turned around and saw three individuals with baseball bats raised above their heads about to hit me with them. I can’t remember what they said but it wasn’t pleasant and I held my briefcase in front of my face as some form of protection.

As I felt the cracking noise on my head, my partner, who realized something was going on outside, opened the door and I stumbled in. A passer-by got involved and started shouting and chasing the three people down the street but as he approached them they sprayed what I believe was CS gas into his face.

Cass required eight stitches for his head wound and sustained additional injuries on his arms and hands.


Animal lab chief denounces attackers as cowards. Ananova, February 23, 2001.

Executive of firm targeted by animal rights activists hit with baseball bat. Associated Press, February 23, 2001.

Of Course We Went to the Moon

Last week Fox ran a science-challenged “documentary” claiming that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration faked the 1968 moon landing. The claims were so absurd that no rational person with an understanding of physics would buy their arguments.

But then somebody I thought knew better linked to this site which offers a video purporting to prove that NASA faked the moon landing. Ugh.

Anyway, just one example of how tenuous the conspiracy folks hold on physical reality is. The site contains an article by James Collier (famous in conspiracy circles for his Votescam book which claim all U.S. elections are rigged by a power elite) outlining what he thinks is the best evidence against the moonshot. Specifically,

Earth’s atmosphere takes light and bends it, spreading it around objects. Light reflects off air molecules and lights up the dark sides of objects. It is atmosphere, bending the sun’s light, that makes the sky appear to be blue. However, on the moon there is no prism of atmosphere to diffuse or bend light so the sky is totally black.

On the moon, the sun’s light should be blinding. In fact, the astronauts wear gold tinted face plates on their helmets to cut down 95-percent of the light from the sun.

The dark side of objects in NASA photos should be pitch black, while the lit side should be hellishly bright. Yet, all NASA photos from the moon are softly lit, and they appear to be taken in Earth’s atmosphere.

There are a number of “there’s too much light in those photographs” arguments which all ignore the most salient point — the Sun is not the Moon’s only source of light.

Specifically the Earth is a major source of light. In fact the light. On the moon the light given off by the Earth is about 100 times brighter than the amount of light we see from a full moon. Add to that the light bouncing around the lunar surface itself, and the apparent diffusion and lack of totally dark shadows is hardly any great mystery.