Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I only know what I read in the paper

by Larry Geller

For much of my life this was absolutely true. After leaving school, there was the New York Times, and if they printed it, it had to be so. The Sunday paper was heavy, like an encyclopedia. Its very weight gave it authority. And when I spoke to someone about an item in the paper, I had authority on my side.

Of course, today we know that news coverage may be slanted or even untrue. Editors not only have biases, but by their power of selection they influence what we know or don’t know. Just an example of the latter: allegations of weld problems in the Superferry raged on the blogs but never made it into the papers, nor very much about seasickness. So readers would not know about those things.

In today’s Advertiser there’s an editorial cartoon about Iran’s nukes. If that’s a reader’s only source of information, it would be truth that Iran was building nuclear weapons. The editors are either lying to you or just asleep at the computer screen, though, because if they were interested in truth they’d have to also let you know that

Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has a complete inspection regime conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s not been found to be in noncompliance. And yet, here we are condemning Iran for doing its job, declaring a facility, inviting inspectors in. And the conclusion it’s reached from this? That they’re producing nuclear weapons. [Democracy Now, Fmr. UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter Warns Against “Politically Motivated Hype” on Iran Nuke Program, 9/29/2009]

Although the cartoon is on the editorial page, it’s really a news item, since whether Iran is building nuclear weapons or not is subject to analysis of the evidence.

It’s a good thing I no longer believe everything I read in the papers.

On the other hand, Jerry Burris did many of us a favor in his column today, We must pay or lose state services.

Clearly, the straightforward solution to the crunch would be to raise taxes enough to keep government services going at current levels. But a tax increase has been deemed politically impossible, at least by the Lingle administration.

Of course, political columns may try to convince or convert. They offer opinions as well as facts (kind of like blogs), or they may just muse about the First Lady’s latest clothing style. Whatever.

In addition, though, they have a value unique to the columnist, I suggest. By discussing an issue, they give us permission, in a sense, to think about it and then discuss it ourselves. Jerry questioned whether taxes ought to be raised or services cut. Even our governor won’t engage in that discussion. Lingle is unwilling to consider tax increases but does cut services, without public discussion, by laying off the state workers who provide the services.

There’s no talk about whether that’s the right approach or not. So we end up discussing the cuts with no alternative. What will we do when school is closed on furlough days? There’s no “if,” just a “when.”

Jerry is willing to discuss alternatives, and so now I can too. It’s in the paper.

Read Jerry’s column. He introduced a viewpoint I have not heard anywhere else: that by providing alternative services on those days, we are in effect privatizing part of our educational system.

Essentially, what you end up with is subtle cost-shifting. The "savings" achieved by the state will by and large be taken up by others, either for altruistic reasons or for political gain. There really will be no true savings for the overall, whatever you wish to call it, gross national income of the state.

Yes, it really is ok to think about raising taxes, I can talk to my friends about it now. I can ask them to read Jerry’s column. It’s not just me talking, I’m no longer alone on this.

Check it out. Perhaps you might agree with me that this is Jerry Burris at his best. I felt that the Advertiser was well-served when he was editorial page editor. I’m thankful that he is willing to continue sharing his insight as a columnist.


"either for altruistic reasons or political gain..."

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