The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 19, 2013

Press 'shield law' is a bad idea


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Press ‘shield law’ is a bad idea

The Obama administration announced last week that it is throwing its support behind the press shield law that has been stalled in Congress since time immemorial. Critics insist that the administration, suddenly mired in scandal, is simply trying to curry favor with the news media, but the proposal deserves to be judged on its merits.

And on its merits, the shield law is a bad idea. Let me explain why.

The avowed purpose of the shield law is to make it difficult for the government to compel testimony from journalists. It is self-evident that being forced to disclose confidential information would make it harder for reporters to do their jobs. In effect, the risk of compelled disclosure increases the cost of journalism.

There are several versions of the shield law pending in Congress. The one that seems to have the most support is grandiloquently titled the “Free Flow of Information Act.” But this bill, much like the guidelines on which the Justice Department was supposed to rely before seizing telephone records of Associated Press reporters, is chock-full of exceptions — particularly for national security cases.

The statute, in any case, says only that the government can’t subpoena documents or testimony from journalists until it has exhausted other reasonable means of getting the same information. In a saner world, this would be a universal standard — but it probably wouldn’t be a significant change for the practice of journalism.

Put otherwise, the protections themselves might change the status quo only a little. And there is reason to think that the shield law, even if it existed, would have offered scant protection to the AP.

— Stephen Carter of Bloomberg News

Rich Should Give Up Social Security

In the aftermath of 9/11, many young, strong Americans enlisted, willingly agreeing to sacrifice their lives if necessary to protect our country’s interests. Today’s wealthiest Americans have the same opportunity to put their country’s interests before their own. Politicians should not shy away from asking them to put forth not their lives but what are, for them, their modest Social Security checks.

By Federal Reserve estimates, there is about $67 trillion of household wealth in the United States. According to the Congressional Research Service, 74 percent of this, or $50 trillion, is controlled by 10 percent of the population.

Some will say, “That’s my money; I paid into Social Security.” Here’s the counter to that: First, it is a gift to be fortunate enough to give back to your country.

Second, wealthy people have benefited greatly from the rise in general asset values over the decades. Third, entitlement spending on Social Security will increasingly crowd out public investments necessary to maintain a growing economy and stable society for future generations.

After Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine, Edward Murrow asked, “Who owns the vaccine?” The doctor answered, “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Even against the backdrop of hedge fund managers demanding that their income be taxed at capital gains rates or the carried-interest boondoggle, our leaders fail to ask for sacrifice among those who can most afford it.

— Jim Roumell, founder of Roumell Asset Management for Washington Post

Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev

For almost a week, the body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, remained at a funeral home in Massachusetts because no cemetery or community would accept it. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, D, was right when he said the search for a resting place had become a “circus” and a disservice to the victims of the April 15 bombing, which killed three people and left more than 260 wounded.

That’s why a handful of public officials and private citizens in Virginia deserve credit for ending the circus, both by providing a burial spot for Mr. Tsarnaev in a small Muslim cemetery north of Richmond and by tempering their public comments on an issue that could easily have become inflamed.

No one relishes the idea of playing host in perpetuity to a terrorist. And it’s fair to worry that his grave site could become a place of pilgrimage for jihadists — though they’d risk attracting FBI surveillance — or a draw for vandals.

A mental health counselor in Richmond, Martha Mullen, had made inquiries on her own initiative to find a place that would accept Mr. Tsarnaev for burial. She was put in touch with Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which runs the cemetery in Doswell. Officials of that group unequivocally condemned the Boston bombing but affirmed their duty to lay the alleged bomber’s body to rest.

Ms. Mullen, a Christian, said she had been the target of abuse for having acted to solve the problem. But she sounded a grace note. “Certainly [the Boston bombing] was a horrific act, but he’s dead and what happened is between him and God,” she told the Associated Press. “We just need to bury his body and move forward. People were making an issue and detracting from the healing that needed to take place.”

— The Washington Post.