December 26, 2005

The Unions' Dilemma--and Ours

Once upon a time, unions fought against Big Business to stop abuses against workers, improve working conditions, and gain a larger share of business profits (in the form of higher wages and benefits) for the laborers that produced them.

Times have changed.

With private-sector union membership declining drastically, overall union membership is increasingly driven by public-employee unions. In 1953, the peak year for private-sector union participation, there were over 15 million union workers in the private sector, and less than 800 thousand union workers in the public sector. Today, with overall union participation rates at their lowest levels since World War II, the number of private-sector and public-sector union members is roughly even, at a bit over 8 million each. Unions have largely abandoned private-sector organizing [PDF] in favor of the dedicated base of public-sector employees, where the task is easier and where special-interest lobbying and politics so much more effective--and rewarding.

With private-sector unions under continuing pressure from globalization and the relentless ongoing shift away from a purely labor-based industrial American economy to a mobile and information-based world economy, the overall trend is towards an overwhelming public-sector domination by unions. More and more, unions are becoming the voice not of the American worker, but of the American bureaucratic rank-and-file. And the voices of the unions are increasingly aimed at guaranteeing that these bureaucracies enjoys wages and benefits far above and beyond those received by the people who pay for the public sector, a problem that is only likely to get worse.

More and more, the idea that unions are representing the "little guy" against Big Business is becoming a hollow joke. More and more, "union" means representing government employees directly against the government, and indirectly against the taxpayers. We saw this illustrated very well last week in the New York transit strike.

At what point will the unions and their lobbyists become the government, for most practical purposes and at all levels? And with unions more and more representing employees in areas exempt from any meaningful competition or market discipline, how long before it's the unions versus everyone else?

September 02, 2005

Shut Up And Give

From PhotoDude:

Shut Up And Give

These people need help from the government, for sure. But right now, they need our help. They need your help, and luckily, they need it from the one thing you control....And what are a lot of us doing? Whining....Look at the reports from New Orleans and Mississippi. If the sole effect Katrina has on you is some time in line to buy pricey gas, how freakin' lucky are you?

Read the whole thing.

If you have enough time to write specious finger-pointing partisan attacks, you have enough time to go to the local Red Cross and offer up a pint. You have enough time to write them a check while you're sitting there. You have enough time to find your local CERT team or MMRS team, and volunteer. You have enough time for the training required. You have enough time to answer phones or open mail at a local relief agency. You even have enough time to actually learn something about emergency preparedness and disaster response and logistics, and problems of scale and scope, and the layered heirarchy of local, state, and federal response systems. You have enough time to become part of the solution. Without a large cadre of trained volunteers, effective response to mass disaster is impossible. Even with them, it's very difficult. Over the last two years here I have repeatedly urged people to explore the above options (and many more) for supporting their communities and country in times of crisis. How big a kick in the ass do you need?

Or you can be a political looter, hovering over the wreckage and despair, scrabbling to snatch out some shiny baubles or little scraps of bloody meat for some kind of perverse personal or political satisfaction or advantage.

Cast your vote. I cast mine long ago, so I have to go now. I have work to do.

August 31, 2005


While Katrina has gone on and New Orleans managed to dodge the 200mph Armageddon wind bullet, it's still in a world of hurt. Other areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast were hit hard, and they're quickly already moving on into relief and clean-up phase as the waters recede. Volunteers and money and supplies will be sorely needed everywhere, and greatly appreciated.

The waters are NOT going down in New Orleans. At least two of the levees on Lake Pontchartrain have breached, and water in the city continues to rise. Some of the lowest spots are twenty feet deep. The city pumps are working, but as they send their output back into the lake that doesn't help much. There is surface flooding in all the parts that are actually below sea level, which is about 80% of the city. Both airports are under water. Rescue efforts are ongoing. The death toll will likely be in the hundreds. Much of the city will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps even months.

Juliette of Baldilocks Blog has a list of relief agencies that are on the job, courtesy of SignOnSanDiego. Cash is the biggest immediate need. As usual, if you want to be sure your donations go to a legitimate and focused effort, the American Red Cross is tops.

The call for volunteers with needed skills will also go out soon. Do not head to the area on your own to volunteer--go only with relief agency credentials. But even if you have zero or minimal experience you can also help by volunteering in your community, to fill in locally for those with training and experience who are going to the affected area. Check with your local community services agencies, and your local Red Cross.

UPDATE: The New Orleans Times-Picayune continues to publish! Electronic only, but their ongoing coverage is here.

UPDATE: The Superdome refugees are going to be moved to the Houston Astrodome.

July 03, 2005

July 4th

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refuted his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. --And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

--John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

July 02, 2005

Larry O'Donnell

How many times can Lawrence O'Donnell demonstrate that he's over the edge and falling?

Famous for his spittle-spewing attack on Swift Boat veteran John O'Neill and other over-the-top signs of not being able to tell his politics from his profession, O'Donnell went on record as saying the "leak" in the Plame case was Karl Rove. Informed sources are disagreeing--and the Michael Isikoff NEWSWEEK story that O'Donnell says would confirm him, didn't. Kaus says that he doesn't believe it, because O'Donnell is almost always wrong.

May 12, 2005

What's the Matter with Democrat Analysts?

We've spent a little time lately on voter demographics, one of my own applied professional fields. And we've spent a LOT of time over the last year on apparent contradictions between population demographics and party affiliation and voting trends. I have pointed out over and over again that one must beware of trying to make predictions or gain any serious insight to the electorate based on single correlations, and weak ones at that.

Democratic analysts (Thomas Frank leaps immediately to mind) seem to have real trouble understanding how "working people" in red states can vote Republican. A recent SLATE article by Timothy Noah, oh-so-charmingly titled Conservatism As Pathology: Are Bush supporters literally insane? is a case in point.

Now Steve Sailer of the Human Biodiversity Institute and has come up with an extremely insightful statistical analysis of the voting populace, one that goes well beyond the misleading and uni-dimensional analysis so beloved by some. No matter which side of the divide you're on, there's some good news and some bad news here. But most of all, it's one of the most informative examinations of the electorate that I've seen in years. If you really want to get a grip on what drives current voting trends in America, I highly recommend Sailer's article.

[As always, cross-posted to Centerfield.]

CBS--Can They Just Not Stop Themselves?

The rightie talk radio community and blogosphere is hopping mad today about a quote by Ken Starr used on CBS News. CBS interviewed Starr about the filibuster flap.

In what was apparently an in-context statement about the GOP's proposed use of the "nuclear option," Starr is shown on camera saying:
"This is a radical, radical departure from our history and from our traditions, and it amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government."

The problem? Starr wasn't talking about the "nuclear option" at all. He was talking about the Democrat's refusing to let judges come up for a vote because of their judicial philosophy.

Starr later said:
The 'radical departure from our history' snippet was specifically addressed to the practice of invoking judicial philosophy as a grounds for voting against a qualified nominee of integrity and experience. I said in sharp language that that practice was wrong.

He apparently went on in the interview to compare the current flap with the Republican's voting for the confirmation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court during the Clinton Administration.
I contrasted the current practice...with what occurred during Ruth Ginsburg's nomination process as numerous Republicans voted, rightly, to confirm a former ACLU staff worker. They disagreed with her positions as a lawyer but they voted -- again rightly -- to confirm her.

The broadcast that started the furor can be found here ("Filibuster Showdown"). CBS is refusing to release the complete tape of the Starr interview for review. And it wasn't even a Mary Mapes production.

[As always, cross-posted to Centerfield.]

May 05, 2005

DeLay Possessed

Or something like that. I can't think of anything but possession that accounts for this...

DeLay: To Serve Well is to Serve Humbly

Think of what we could accomplish if we checked our pride at the door, if collectively we all spent less time taking credit and more time deserving it. If we spent less time ducking responsibility and more time welcoming it. If we spent less time on our soapboxes and more time on our knees.

I am speechless.

May 03, 2005

Benefit "Cuts" For The Rich...The Horror! The Horror!

Bush has finally come up the first details of Social Security reform, and they include benefit "cuts" for the rich, and a sliding progressive scale-back for those in the middle. The poor would go on with the current schedules.

Naturally enough, Democrats are outraged.
Bush would "gut benefits for middle-class families," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said in a joint statement.

First, an obvious point. Benefits for those on the upper end would not actually be cut, the rate of growth in those benefits would be slowed down. Benefits for the wealthier among us in constant-dollar inflation-adjusted terms would not be reduced one dime from current levels. Benefits for the middle class would not be cut but would increase faster than inflation and thus would still rise in real terms. Benefits for the lower-income would rise as currently scheduled, and maybe even be enhanced.

This is the same shrill screeching we hear all the time about programs being "gutted" when they're actually getting more money than the year before, just not as much as they were previously scheduled for, or as much as they wanted.

Second, why is reducing federal expenditures (in a time of record deficits) on the rich and middle class a bad thing, but raising taxes on them a good thing?

As the mathematics of the Pozen proposal shows, much of the problem with future SS financing involves the steady growth of benefits at rates above inflation, and the effect of the proportion of those increased benefits going to the better-off. By establishing a baseline safety-net "floor" of benefits (as I've argued for here) and reining in the top-end expansions for those with more resources, a good chunk of the problem goes away. This is the mathematical "flip side" of the Democrat argument that the SS problem can be "solved" with "minor" tax increases.

UPDATE: House GOP Plans Social Security Draft

Soon to be seen on as "House GOP Plans Draft". Hey, be sure to get "GOP" and "Draft" together in that headline....nope, no subliminality there.

MORE UPDATE: Bush's Social Security Plan Cuts Benefits

Under Bush's approach, future Social Security checks would increase more quickly for the lowest-income retirees than for everyone else. Though Bush promised that middle- and upper-income retirees would get benefits "equal to or greater than the benefits enjoyed by today's seniors," they would be smaller than what the system is now promising for the future.

See point #1, above. Seems that Pelosi and Reid are writing the headlines for AP now.

April 25, 2005

Dueling Conservatisms

Andrew Sullivan describes the dueling factions of "conservatism."


Let me be rash and describe the fundamental divide within conservatism as a battle between two rival forms. The two forms I'm referring to are ideal types. I know very few conservatives who fit completely into one camp or the other; and these camps do not easily comport with the categories we have become used to deploying--categories like "libertarian," "social conservative," "paleoconservative," "fiscal conservative and social liberal," and so on. There is, I think, a deeper rift, and a more fundamental one....Call one the conservatism of faith and the other the conservatism of doubt.

Sully may not quite have hit a home run here, but he's sure as heck rounding third with a lead. And you can safely put me in the "type 2" category.

(As always, cross-posted to Centerfield--head on over!)

April 10, 2005

DeLay under the gun

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is saying that it's time for Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) to "come forward" and explain the actions that have led to accusations of ethical lapses and misconduct.
Sen. Rick Santorum's comments seem to reflect the nervousness among congressional Republicans about the fallout from the increased scrutiny into DeLay's way of doing business.

DeLay, R-Texas, has been dogged in recent months by reports of possible ethics violations. There have been questions about his overseas travel, campaign payments to family members and his connections to lobbyists who are under investigation.

"I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves," said Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

When those immediately behind you in line for the party leadership start handing you sharp objects and telling you to be careful, it's time to review your career options.

(As always, cross-posted to Centerfield. Go there to reply.)

April 05, 2005

Crossover Issues

Yes, I'm lousy at updating and cross-linking and my comment code is farked. Get over it. And go visit the community Centerfield blog for some thoughtful discussion of current issues.


It's easy to make the mistake that political topics are not highly interrelated, as we tend to examine them in isolation. There's very good reason to tackle issues one at a time in a democracy. Simply put, there is no feasible Grand Unified Field Solution in the democratic process. Democratic reform is by nature incremental, an uphill struggle against societal inertia. Trying to do everything at once is called "revolution," generally requires abrupt and deadly force, a forced disintegration of the social compact. Democracy is designed to avoid such abrupt violent revolution by substituting peaceful (if noisy and often bitter) incremental revolution in its place.

One of the biggest cop-outs in examining any political issue is to try to divert attention to another issue, saying "But what about X?" Social Security is a problem. But you're ignoring Medicare, which is a bigger problem. Illegal immigration is a problem. But deficit spending is a bigger problem--what about that? Sorry, but the Revolution isn't here yet. One step at a time, please, and quit changing the subject!

But, of course, many issues are highly interrelated. If they weren't, solutions would be much easier to find and implement. I've written often about the very good and sound practical reasons that both parties pay lip service to illegal immigration but don't ever seem to do much about it. Today, the New York Times shows that I'm not the only one who's noticed some of those reasons.

Illegal Immigrants Are Bolstering Social Security With Billions

Canada, Land of the Benevolent [CENSORED]

The hearings into the sponsorship scandal of the Liberal Party of Canada continue, and the judge in the case has issued a publication ban on the proceedings to keep otherwise open-court testimony out of the eye of the public.

Already a conservative U.S. blog is being accused of violating the Canadian law. Captain's Quarters has been noted by the Toronto Sun as having posted parts of the banned testimony, angering the Canadian court. And an all-news Canadian web site ( has been pressured into pulling its link to Captain's Quarters under threat of legal action.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit notes that Canada seems to be all in favor of the supremacy of international law and the United Nations--until it comes to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

O, Canada! Land glorious and free!

January 31, 2005

Good news from Iraq, Part 20

[Crossposted to the Centrist Coalition blog]

The regular Chrenkoff report on what you don't normally see on the 6 o'clock news.

Good news from Iraq, Part 20

Naturally, much on the elections, including the surprising show of voters in Falluja and Mosul. Also a few things on the election that I haven't found at all elsewhere, like the Turkish press report from the election observers.

Those Uber-Civilized Germans

[Crossposted to the Centrist Coalition blog]

'If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits'

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Euro-socialism, anyone?

UPDATE: At least partially urban myth, a "planted" story.

January 29, 2005

Health Care: The 800-lb Gorilla

[Cross posted to The Centrist Coalition blog.]

While the Democrats work overtime to shoot down a Social Security reform plan that hasn't even been proposed or detailed yet, there's another crisis waiting in the wings to explode. And for this one, there's no cushion of lead time.

Tax-Exempt Hospitals' Practices Challenged
46 Lawsuits Allege That Uninsured Pay the Most

As the cost of medical care continues to increase faster than economic growth, even the institutions that are supposed to help are taking a very hard line indeed on collecting bills from the uninsured--and charging them more to boot. While insurors negotiate steep price breaks on services, the uninsured are dunned for full "list" price, sometimes as much as six times what an insured patient's bill would be. In times past, the poor's charges would be written off as charity. Now even the non-profits are sending the bill collectors to dun minimum-wage workers for bills they can't possibly pay.

Malpractice suits, insurance companies, high drug costs, boutique clinics, corporate medicine--the list of things and people to blame is endless. But the bottom line is that the system is out of control, and rapidly becoming unaffordable to even those in the middle rungs of the ladder. Health insurance for a family of four has already passed the $10,000 a year mark, and that's NOT including deductibles and co-pays. By far the #1 cause of bankruptcy in America today is medical bills.

Social Security reform, while not cheap, is not complicated. The choices are fairly clear, the finances not all that ambiguous. If we act soon, it can be brought under control without the system imploding. But Medicare isn't running out of tax revenue in 2018. It's running out of revenue NOW, and the overall cost of the program in constant-dollar terms is expected to more than quadruple in the coming years. And that may be an optimistic estimate. One conclusion is inescapable--Medicare can not be reformed without reforming the overall health care system.

In the meantime, fewer and fewer employers are picking up the full tab for medical insurance. And even fewer pay anything at all for the employee's dependents--that's extra. The cost of insurance is severely retarding wage growth, and is the #1 factor cited in "outsourcing" decisions by employers.

Many defenders of the American health care system like to say that we have the finest health-care system in the world. And it's true that American health-care innovation is unrivaled, in drug and technology and treatment development. But outcomes are lagging, as large portions of the populace simply can't afford to access these innovations. We do indeed have the finest for-profit health care system in the world. It's the absolute finest at producing profits. But it's rapidly becoming second-rate at producing outcomes.

I have no easy answers. But I'd love to hear suggestions. How do we cage the 800-lb gorilla? And how can we afford to feed it?

January 25, 2005

Blizzard Blues

Many of the East coast blogs appear to be down this morning, including my favorite haunt of Centerfield.

Hang in there, folks! Two weeks ago I was chainsawing my way off the porch after the ice storm that dropped half the trees in Kansas on my front lawn. Things will get better. Today I'm doing some yardwork in jeans and a T-shirt.


January 14, 2005

The New Media Landscape

Over the last few years I've written several times abut the evolution of the modern media. These observations have come during discussions of media bias. With the advent of the Internet and cable television, the rise in popularity of conservative talk radio, and the easy accessability of alternative media, the main stream media (MSM) has lost traction. Many believe the media has become increasingly polarized. Others claim it is not. Many fingers have been pointed, blaming this and that and the other. They're mostly all wrong. The polarization of journalism is a natural result of market forces and changing technology.

What we think of as a neutral national media is an artifact of the advance of technology. A century and a half ago there was no discussion of media bias. It was simply a fact of life. Radio and television did not exist. ALL media markets were local. Newspapers served their markets and blatantly pandered to the politics of their readers. They were often even named The Democrat or The Republican. If the market was big enough there would be more than one paper so that minority views could also be served (and profited on). Even the rise of the media moguls such as Hearst did not change this--it simply consolidated the independents. National reporting was done by national chains, and by local papers selling each other articles for reprint. Even smaller cities had more than one newspaper.

By the 1970's that still applied only to large cities. When radio came along after WWI, followed by television after WWII, the nature of news reporting changed. Suddenly there was a market for standardized national news that could be profitably served, and the business success of a national media outlet was dependent on attracting the largest audience possible. This meant that news had to become more neutral and impartial, less biased, less slanted to the opinions of local markets. News became homogenized. And so began the journalistic tradition of neutral reporting as a standard, rather than an exception.

What resulted was a market oligopoly of national news. The big broadcast networks and the big newspaper chains ruled. Many local papers remained independent, but still relied on the wire services for their national news. Economics and technology had shaped the market--and the neutrality of journalistic ideology. Business is business, and in a capitalist economy formative forces lead to maximum market-seeking.

But once a market is seized, if there are no alternative sources of supply the oligopolist or monopolist can pretty much do what they want. And political bias began to creep back into the news. Not by leaps and bounds, but slowly, like water through a crack. By the late 1970's the national media establishment was solidly centrist to liberal, and conservatives began to grumble and complain and tune it out.

Time and technology march on. Along comes cable TV, and suddenly the barriers to entry in the national media market are much lower. Ted Turner leaps into the fray, not on ideological motives but pure profit motives, and CNN begins to erode the bottom lines of the Big Three. Rush Limbaugh hits the scene, demonstrating that there is a HUGE untapped market for right-of-center news and views. And along comes the Internet, with almost no barriers to entry at all. In steps Fox. And the Big Three begin to flounder.

The result of this was all predictable, and I've gone on at length about it here and in other places over the last few years. Having lost their oligopoly and under severe market pressures the media, ALL media, have begun to seek market niches to serve profitably. One-size-fits-all is simply not a profitable formula at the moment. The obvious result is that media news outlets have become more ideologically polarized as the news markets fragmented, and the ideal of objective and impartial journalism has taken a big hit.

As I mentioned there is much finger-pointing in the discussion of media bias, disagreement about who is biased how, the origins of bias, even the denial that this outlet or the other has a bias. But the fact is that the media do not shape the markets. The markets shape the media.

This long-winded background review of what I've said for years is leading into something, as you may have guessed. The release of the CBS report has brought the discussion of media bias back into the limelight. But for once, there are signs that some of the media are finally seeing beyond the spitball-throwing of the moment and noticing what has happened, and even figuring out the consequences, and starting to look ahead at what might be.

Some hate it--Howard Fineman, for example. Some like it--Peggy Noonan makes that case. And some, including Noonan and former CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter, see an opportunity for the phoenix to rise from the ashes. A chance for news media to re-assess their market positions and aim for the Big Prize of a stronger, healthier, less partisan reporting ethos that serves more than ideological niches and can capture the big central market through clear, fair, and accurate reporting.

Here's hoping they're right.