This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight…
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Happy 40th to the Staggers Rail Act, Which Deregulated and Saved the U.S. Rail Industry

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight rail and saved it from looming oblivion.

At the time of passage, the U.S. economy muddled along amid ongoing malaise, and our rail industry teetered due to decades of overly bureaucratic sclerosis.  Many other domestic U.S. industries had disappeared, and our railroads faced the same fate.  But by passing the Staggers Rail Act, Congress restored a deregulatory approach that in the 1980s allowed other U.S. industries to thrive.  No longer would government determine what services railroads could offer, their rates or their routes, instead restoring greater authority to the railroads themselves based upon cost-efficiency.

Today, U.S. rail flourishes even amid the coronavirus pandemic…[more]

October 13, 2020 • 11:09 PM

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In Praise of James O’Keefe Print
By W. Thomas Humber
Thursday, February 04 2010
May the ghosts of muckrakers past smile upon you, James O’Keefe. Mostly identified as 'progressives,' Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair might not have liked your targets, but, boy, would they have loved your technique and cared very damn little about all the hand wringing over it.

Some four decades ago, this writer and several of his journalist colleagues working for a now-forgotten magazine prepared to go to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources regarding a criminal act about which we had published more than the authorities knew. 

With a former Assistant U.S. Attorney as one of the magazine’s co-editors, we knew the risk we were taking. The law provided neither shield nor gracious thanks for the information we had revealed.  We thus waited to be hauled away to the hoosegow with only a brief, intermediate stop before a Grand Jury.  It never happened; no one seemed to care what we knew or how we knew it.

There were, however, ample other attempts to put us out of business, entrap us, jail us, anything to silence us, mere mosquitoes dive-bombing the great woolly mammoth of government, fighting the windmills of our time with portable typewriters and tape recorders, working mostly out of bars and telephone booths. 

The counterattacks came from a President who ordered his White House Counsel to set the IRS upon us and an Attorney General who, to our delight, called the magazine “the most scurrilous rag in America.”  In his context, that’s what it was.  In our context, we were scruffing out the origins of gonzo journalism, throwing twisted new applications of classic muckraking into the established journalistic order.

It was thus that when James O’Keefe, the provocative young videographer best known for exposing the gross underbelly of ACORN, was arrested in the New Orleans office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu last week, this old geezer could not contain a certain knowing and wistful laughter. 

The laughter got louder as the mainstream media versions of the “story” tumbled out.  To date, it is largely based on inaccurate and incomplete information, much transparently intent on attacking a too-big-for-his-britches boyish conservative yet again daring to challenge the good old fogey liberal order of things.  MSNBC sent its sneering David Schuster to the scene of the “crime” for fang-bearing reports proclaiming the latest whatevergate. 

The New York Times, which only late and begrudgingly acknowledged the news of the ACORN scandal, front-paged the O’Keefe and chums rumpus, complete with jail jumpsuit photos, lest anyone question their common criminality, and, oh by the way, here’s a few thousand words or so on all their connections to conservative groups and figures.

At the rate O’Keefe is going, it won’t be long before he holds the individual record for most mainstream media retractions, perhaps more consequential and illuminating, in some ways, than his slight attempt to document how Senator Landrieu’s office was handling constituent calls would have been.  After all, frequently fallible media relying too heavily on authority is one of the reasons that readers and viewers in droves are seeking alternatives.

The long knives are out for O’Keefe, make no mistake about that.  As he continues his pathway, with starts and stops and assumptions of risk, to “expose corruption” and present his version of “truth,” he faces numerous hurdles, including his growing notoriety.  He’ll make mistakes; all journalists do.  How he deals with those mistakes is as much a test as how he proceeds with new projects, and what those projects yield.

But to those who sniff that what O’Keefe does is not “journalism,” first, says who, and second, who cares?  He wants to be considered a journalist, but when the story is the thing, you might as well call the discipline “Fred” and just keep on producing.  Did he get the ACORN story that he attempted?  Oh yeah.  Did he get a story that all those who appoint themselves “journalists” not get? For sure.  Did that story move the needle on investigations of ACORN?  Indubitably.

Will O’Keefe’s arrest hurt the credibility of his ACORN work?  In the world of perceptions – many of them manipulated – probably some.  Certainly, ACORN and its apologists are pushing and will continue to push that line, as they have since he exposed them.  But to those with a more objective approach to reality, the work is what it is, and it stands for what it shows.

To O’Keefe detractors as well as O’Keefe apologists who bemoan that “omigod, he broke the law” or might have, you might first wait to see if the facts support that contention.  Second, you might want to reflect on some, maybe more than a few, examples of mainstream media skirmishes with the law.  Judith Miller, employed by The New York Times, went to jail for refusing to reveal sources.  That is the most frequent type of law vs. journalism cases, but others abound. 

O’Keefe is also spot on in his recitation of the mainstream media’s use of undercover video recording, his current technique of choice.

There is and should be no get out of jail free card when journalists break the law, any law for any reason.  Each, whether individual or institution, must decide whether the story is important enough to justify the risk to self and reputation, and accept the consequences. 

When one is as irritating to the establishment as James O’Keefe is becoming, particularly when he announces he’s going after corruption, charges of breaking the law, justified or not, and even efforts to sucker him into it are going to become  part of his daily life.

May the ghosts of muckrakers past smile upon you, James O’Keefe.  Mostly identified as “progressives,” Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair might not have liked your targets, but, boy, would they have loved your technique and cared very damn little about all the hand wringing over it. 

Question of the Week   
Which one of the following individuals laid the ‘Golden Spike’ joining the Eastern and Western U.S. railroad lines to create the Transcontinental Railway?
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Quote of the Day   
"President Trump's recent executive order laying out his 'America-First Healthcare Plan' makes clear his continued commitment to the long-standing, bipartisan consensus that we should protect people with preexisting conditions. Unfortunately, the previous administration's attempt to make good on that consensus -- Obamacare -- has failed to deliver on its promises.Contrary to the prevailing media narrative…[more]
—Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator
— Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator
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