Years ago, before the Internet was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye, when I read the newspaper or watched the news on TV, I was pretty much at the mercy of whatever reporter was doing the story. Now days, things have changed. Today I read or watch the news online - which gives me a powerful tool to determine the veracity of a news item. But a lot depends on how you use this tool, or for that matter, whether or not you are inclined to use it at all.
For fun, I thought I'd describe how I typically check out the facts behind a story. Here goes.
This morning the AJC had an article, "Cost of FAA shutdown could exceed $1billion", which calls attention to the central irony of the dispute between Congressional Republicans and Democrats over re-authorization of the FAA. Briefly, the whole thing started when House Republicans claimed they wanted to cut funding for the FAA at certain unprofitable rural airports before they would re-authorize the FAA. However, because Senate Democrats refused to go along, whatever minimal savings would have been gained by these relatively minor cuts (16.5 million annually), have been more than wiped out by lost revenues (125 million weekly) due to the lack of re-authorization.
Conscious of this ridiculous situation, House Republicans fired back with another re-authorization bill which does not contain these cuts. Which sounds reasonable, yet still Senate Democrats refuse to go along. Why wouldn't they? According to this description of the impasse, Republicans now seem entirely rational and conciliatory, which is most likely how the whole thing will be played out in the conservative media.
But wait. Senate Democrats claim the stalemate has nothing to do with minor cuts at all, but a provision in the House bill regarding unions. According to the AJC article:
"The labor provision would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes."
And I can see why anyone would object to this, as it virtually wipes out the fundamental rules which govern any election. To wit: in a democracy, we only count the votes of those responsible enough to go to the polls and actually vote. This rule mandates that you not only count as votes the number of those who didn't bother, but that you count them all as a vote for one, pre-determined side. It would be like government mandating that everyone in a district who doesn't vote, should be tallied up and added to the totals as either Republican or Democrat. Which pretty much destroys the whole point of having an election in the first place. Back to the article.
According to Representative John Mica, a Republican from Florida:
"Senate Democrats are also arguing that the House-passed extension is about a labor provision, but the fact is there is no labor provision in the extension..." (my underline).
This, if you will, is the crux of the issue. If Mr. Mica is telling the truth, why then it is the Senate Democrats who are being bull headed and obstructionist - and incidentally costing us taxpayers the no small sum of 125 million a week. On the other hand, if he is lying, we're paying that 125 million a week because Republicans want to add a rule which no sane person would view as anything but anti-democratic.
As I said before, without the Internet, you just have to make up your own mind about Mr. Mica's honesty, or lack thereof. But we don't have to do that, do we?
First, let's find the bill. Go to (Thomas) Library of Congress, then "Bills and Resolutions" and search the term "FAA". This takes a little practice, but eventually you will find the bill in question: H.R. 658. Scroll down to "Evaluation and Audit of Mediation Board", section 903, which says:
"Effective January 1, 2011, the rule prescribed by the National Mediation Board relating to representation election procedures published on May 11, 2010 (95 Fed. Reg. 26062) and revising sections 1202 and 1206 of title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, shall have no force or effect."
Copy "95 Fed. Reg. 26062" and paste it in your search bar, and you will find the Mediation Board's ruling as referred to in H.R. 658. Here's the summary of the ruling:
"As part of its ongoing efforts to further the statutory goals of the Railway Labor Act, the National Mediation Board (NMB or Board) is amending its Railway Labor Act rules to provide that, in representation disputes, a majority of valid ballots cast will determine the craft or class representative. This change to its election procedures will provide a more reliable measure/indicator of employee sentiment in representation disputes and provide employees with clear choices in representation matters." (again, my underline)
If you want, you can even scan through the Mediation Board's background material, which references the sound legal precedents which have been established through several Federal court rulings.
Now, all of this checking took me no more than a minute or two. But from it, I was a able to determine, independently, from reliable and unbiased sources, the actual facts behind the AJC news item - and that Representative Mica was lying about them.
Steve, this little bit is going to get spun all different ways in the media. It will probably turn into one of the thousands of anecdotal "facts" which underlie the average person's overall political viewpoint. Yet not one person in a hundred will make the least effort to determine if the spin he subscribes to is actually true or not.
This is what I mean when I say the circus going on in Washington today reflects so poorly on the voters who elected these clowns in the first place. We've become slaves to mediocre, biased and even self-contradictory reporting, despite the fact that we have at our fingertips a powerful tool to cut through the fog and establish the truth.
Maybe we'd rather live in whatever dreamworld of prejudice and ignorance which best suits our preconceptions. Or maybe we're just too lazy to make the effort. You decide.