Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

The next terrorist attack, Obama’s Medicare cuts, and the gun lobby

By Steven Brill
January 22, 2013

1. The next terrorist attack may turn your lights out for weeks:

Or it may cause a dozen planes to crash at once because the air traffic control system goes haywire. Or it could play havoc with our email, e-commerce, use of credit cards, and the stock markets. Or do all of the above.

Because I’m on the Department of Homeland Security’s press release list, I’m forever seeing announcements of one DHS official or another speaking at some conference on protecting our critical infrastructure. Last week, DHS’s “National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Office of Emergency Communications Region IV Coordinator” spoke at one in Tampa, and two other officials will be speaking at conferences on Jan. 23. The problem is that while there are endless forums about the threats, little is being done to deal with them.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, many news organizations went back and looked at the scant attention paid to a commission chaired by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman that delivered a report to the Bush Administration on Jan. 31, 2001, warning that if the country didn’t start shoring up its intelligence and defenses, “America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not help us.” Last fall, a series of measures to protect our critical infrastructure – everything from the power grid to electronic systems enabling air traffic control – failed to make it out of Congress despite warnings from Homeland Security and Pentagon officials that, as with the Hart-Rudman prediction, a devastating cyber-attack on our infrastructure was now a matter of when, not if.

Concerned that their systems would be subject to costly new security standards and regulation, the big businesses that operate most of our infrastructure successfully deployed their lobbyists to block congressional action. There was some press coverage of the wrangling on Capitol Hill but not much.

Rather than repeat the 9/11 sequence and do a bunch of stories after a catastrophic cyber-attack chronicling Washington’s failure to act and finding the culprits among all the lobbyists and the interests they represent, why not do the stories now? Why not get out there and spotlight some illustrative vulnerabilities and put the heat on those companies and legislators whose continuing neglect virtually ensures an attack that will cause mass casualties and shut down the economy? The reporting should be specific. Rather than quoting terrorism experts and their general calls for action, take us to the scene of some disaster waiting to happen and describe what the consequences would be, what needs to be done, and who’s neglecting to do it and why. After the attack this will all be headline news for months. Why not before?

2. What’s the plan, Mr. President?

Can’t some White House reporter take it upon himself or herself to ask White House Press Secretary Jay Carney every day at every press briefing what the president’s specific plan is to cut Medicare entitlements and other expenditures? We were told that President Barack Obama put some proposals on the table during his grand bargain negotiations last year with Speaker John Boehner, and the president and his staff have been telling us ever since that he’s willing to make cuts. Where and how?  We now know exactly what he wants to do about guns, just as we knew exactly what Lyndon Johnson wanted to do about Civil Rights. But what about the deficit?

When Carney deflects the question with generalities (such as “the administration supports a balanced approach along the lines of Simpson-Bowles”), the reporter should press him for specifics. And then do the same thing the next day and every day after. Meantime the reporter’s news outlet (let’s hope it’s one less predictable than Fox News) should post a ticker online and in print or on the TV screen counting the number of days the president has refused to tell us what his proposal is for addressing the country’s most pressing problem.

3. Who’s who in the gun industry?

Amid the renewed debate on gun control there have been scattered reports about the gun industry, such as this one  and many others like it about how a major venture capital firm that owns the company that made the Bushmaster deployed in Newtown has put its investment up for sale. But I’ve been waiting for a major feature somewhere that really sheds light on the gun industry in America. Who are the leading players in both handguns and long guns? Who are the CEOs, and what do they say about the products they sell?

How much do they really help to fund the NRA and similar anti-gun control groups and how?  Are there other blue chip venture firms – run perhaps by people who otherwise proudly grace the financial or even the society pages for their charitable activities – tied up in the industry?

What are their most profitable products? Do the same players sell the armor-piercing bullets and the multi-round magazines now under attack from the gun controllers? How has the recent surge in gun sales and this related equipment (apparently because gun enthusiasts are afraid their right to purchase it is going to be curtailed) boosted their profits? Is the NRA’s “slippery slope” argument that President Obama’s limited proposals are the beginning of a gun confiscation program part of an industry-inspired campaign to boost sales by encouraging a run on all guns before confiscation happens? Can someone find some sources inside the companies to tell us about that or maybe even provide strategy memos?

This Huffington Post article spotlights the National Shooting Sports Foundation (based, ironically, in Newtown) as the industry’s primary trade association. Its 2011 tax return  shows no expenses for lobbying but $2.5 million in 2011 for “government relations.”  What exactly are its activities in Washington and state capitols? Are there other trade associations or groups that fund the industry’s advocacy in Washington? The foundation doesn’t appear to have given any money to the NRA, but to what extent do the individual companies or perhaps some other industry-related group fund the NRA and through what channels?

This piece , also from the Huffington Post, asserts that “the NRA is primarily a front group for the nation’s gun manufacturers.” But the NRA’s tax return for 2010 (the 2011 return seems long overdue, which is itself an interesting line of inquiry) only lists $58.5 million in “contributions, gifts, grants,” whereas $100.5 million is recorded for “membership dues.” That’s still $50 million that could be from the gun makers, and there’s also $20.9 million in advertising revenue (most of which is presumably for the NRA’s monthly magazine) that probably comes mostly from the industry. But those are simply hints from a two-year-old tax return. It would be great to see a full, detailed picture of who the gun industry is, how much money they make on what, and the extent to which they use that money to hold back gun control.

PHOTO: The logo of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reflected in the spectacles of an analyst working in a watch and warning center of a cyber security defense lab at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho September 29, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Comments
8 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The House of Representatives is the branch designated to address spending bills. So, let us hear from the House leadership, yes, the Speaker of the House! I can understand the apprehension particularly as the GOP faces the mid-term elections but that is not what this is all about. The GOP held back economic recovery in hopes a GOP’er would replace the President but instead lost support of the populous for their recalcitrance.
They “nailed themselves to the hate cross” so now it is time to bear it “for the citizens” not the “party” that was planned but never happened. How about doing something for the U.S. Citizens – no matter how poor they are.
Thomas E. Shafovaloff

Posted by ThomasShaf | Report as abusive
 

This government is doing a lot to prevent cyber attacks right now, after caving in to a few bank “black mails.” What we are not told about does not mean it hasn’t happened already.
So, you want DIA to do more monitoring of citizens? Those [mostly] fakers have more effort in justifying their own existence [and government retirement] than protecting the citizen’s hard earned privacy and freedoms.
I guess you radical rich conservative writers want your assets protected – at the expense of the poor public.

Posted by ThomasShaf | Report as abusive
 

#2 – each media outlet has its own agenda and ideology, most of them liberal, so you are not going to have any but the most foolhardy reporters ask the tough questions of Obama regarding cuts to Medicare.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive
 

Mr Brill…please.

1) The Bushmaster AR15 was _not_ deployed in Newton.

2) Armor piercing bullets _are_ illegal to manufacture or import in the United States.

3) Hectic sales of firearms are _not_ a plot by the NRA to sell guns, merely a continuing unintended consequence of liberal attacks on tools rather than perpetrators.

4) The NRA is the _only_ national organization giving gun owners a voice in Washington and as such is a “Front” for millions of law-abiding American gun owners

What I’d like to see a story on is why so many in the media feel zero responsibility to report truth and can so blithely repeat bald faced lies and still go home and look at themselves in the mirror as if they’d done a good job that day.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive
 

Maybe the next ‘terrorist attack’ will actually be an attack perpetrated by actual terrorists. That would be a real shocker.

Posted by UnderRated | Report as abusive
 

I would like to see an news article that traces the historical parallels between research on cigarette smoking and cancer, vis-a-vis research linking video game violence to mass shootings; for decades tobacco lobbyists argued scientific proof was simply lacking, just as the entertainment media lobbyists are doing now.

For that matter, how about coverage investigating the possible relationship between Governor Cuomo’s unusually restrictive gun bill (which effectively bans the majority of handguns now in production and common usage) in juxtaposition with his extension of tax credits for television production companies moving to N.Y.

Unlike video games, the linkage between violent television and violence is well-documented and has been accepted in the behavioral sciences for decades.

Along these lines, I think it would really be funny if evidence surfaced that gun control, which some people perceive as a push to abrogate the Second Amendment, turned out to be little more than deflecting blame away from the motion picture industry, for the sake of attracting highly-paid, highly-unionized local jobs.

(Well, that plus the ability for Democratic presidential candidates to hold $10,000-plate Hollywood fundraisers into perpetuity. If I were a journalist I might be curious about those.)

;-)

Posted by Javert | Report as abusive
 

I retract my first point with apologies Mr. Brill http://www.ct.gov/despp/cwp/view.asp?Q=5 17284

The rest stands.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive
 

We already have an asset tax of 2% or so. It’s called inflation.

Posted by catherinalucy | Report as abusive
 

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