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Tom - The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting earlier this week took issue on their website with ABC's World News use of what they claim is a wildly misleading statistic regarding autoworkers' pay. According to FAIR, on the December 3 edition of the ABC newscast, reporter Chris Bury took aim at the supposed inflexibility of the United Auto Workers saying " Ford, Chrysler and GM pay union workers more than $73 an hour in wages and benefits. Japanese plants here shell out just over $44. For GM, that translates into $1,500 more per car more than Toyota has to pay." According to research from the Center for Automotive Research, average wages for workers at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors were just $28 per hour as of 2007." The much higher figure used by ABD comes from taking the cost of all employer-provided benefits--namely, health insurance and pensions--and then dividing by the number of workers." In other words, costs related to retired workers, who well outnumber current employees, are used to create an inflated figure that is misleadingly labeled as current labor costs.
Linda - Writing in Portfolio (11/18/08), Felix Salmon called the $73 dollar an hour figure a "ridiculous number," adding: "Now that GM's healthcare obligations are being moved to a UAW-run trust, even that fictitious number is going to fall sharply. But anybody who uses it as a rhetorical device suggesting that U.S. car companies are run inefficiently is being disingenuous." The Wall Street Journal reported recently that during the past three years, the UAW agreed to eliminate tens of thousands of production jobs, reduce healthcare coverage for union retirees and slash wages for new hires--moves that essentially level the playing field between the Big Three auto makers and their foreign-owned rivals. The paper went on to explain that these concessions are significant, noting: "Analysts believe the changes will bring the average cost of union labor to less than $50 an hour by 2010 or 2011, in line with Toyota Motor Corp.'s labor costs. The Harbour Report, a closely watched scorecard of auto-plant productivity, earlier this year found that in 2007 the average per-vehicle labor costs for the Big Three in 2007 was no more than $260 above Toyota's"--far from the $1,500 premium ABC claimed GM pays.
Tom - In media and civil liberties news, the New York Times is reporting that a Congressional oversight panel plans to ask the National Security Agency to start an investigation into new evidence that the agency illegally wiretapped a Muslim scholar in Northern Virginia and concealed the eavesdropping during a 2005 trial in which the scholar was convicted on terrorism charges. Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that he planned to ask the inspector general of the N.S.A. to open what would be the first formal investigation by the agency into whether its eavesdropping program had improperly interfered with an American’s right to a fair trial. Mr. Holt said he was responding to new evidence presented to him and other Congressional leaders by the Muslim scholar’s lawyer indicating that the Bush administration tried to hide the full extent of the government’s illegal spying in the criminal case. The scholar, Ali al-Timimi, once a spiritual leader in Northern Virginia and described by prosecutors as a “rock star” in the Islamic fundamentalist world, is now serving a life sentence in federal prison after he was convicted in 2005 on charges of inciting his Muslim followers to commit acts of violence overseas.
Linda - Mr. Timimi’s lawyers maintain that the N.S.A., without acquiring court-approved warrants, used the eavesdropping operation approved by President Bush weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to wiretap his communications, and that the interceptions might include evidence that would point to his innocence in what they regard as a free-speech case. They charge that the government has intentionally withheld that material despite repeated requests. The Justice Department has denied that it had any other evidence of eavesdropping against him other than what it turned over to his lawyers. But the federal judge in the case, Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., has expressed increasing annoyance over persistent questions about the N.S.A.’s possible role. In a recently unsealed transcript of an October closed-court hearing in the case, the judge stated that she believed that the government appeared to have committed violations of federal rules governing evidence and discovery. She also ordered the government to search for further evidence of its use of secret surveillance operations against Mr. Timimi. A spokesman for the N.S.A. declined to comment.
Tom - The Media Reform organization FreePress issued a press release this week praising President-elect Barack Obama’s vow to "renew our information superhighway" as part of a massive plan to invest in public infrastructure and stimulate America's failing economy. In his weekly address last summer the president elect noted that "It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption," "Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they'll get that chance when I'm president -- because that's how we'll strengthen America's competitiveness in the world."
Linda - The day before his address, the group InternetforEveryone.org -- a broad-based initiative to connect every American to a fast, open and affordable Internet -- sponsored its first interactive town hall meeting in Los Angeles where hundreds gathered to discuss ways to address the digital divide. This discussion will be combined with feedback from other meetings and a digital forum and delivered by InternetforEveryone.org to the Obama administration and Congress as a national guide to building a better Internet. Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press and the organizer of InternetforEveryone.org, issued the following statement: "We applaud President-elect Barack Obama's commitment to investing in Internet for everyone as a starting point for economic recovery. In our 21st-century society, having a connection to a fast and affordable Internet is no longer a luxury -- it's a public necessity. "But right now, more than 40 percent of American homes are not connected to broadband. This digital divide isn't just costing us our ranking as a global Internet leader -- it's costing us jobs and money at a time when both are urgently needed.”
Tom - The media watchdog group Media Matters noted this week on their website that in a November 27 report discussing US military efforts in Afghanistan, NBC's Nightly News included a clip of NBC News military analyst and retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey urging that “The answer is the Afghan security forces.” Neither McCaffrey nor NBC News disclosed during the report that McCaffrey is a member of the board of directors of DynCorp International, a company had been awarded an 18-month, $317.4 million contract with the State Department to "provide at least 580 civilian police advisors to advise, train, and mentor the Afghanistan National Police and the Ministry of Interior." According to a 2006 State Department "Fact Sheet," the "Afghan National Police" are one of two components of the "Afghanistan National Security Forces." At the time Nightly News aired McCaffrey's remarks stressing the importance of "Afghan security forces," NBC was aware of McCaffrey's ties to DynCorp. McCaffrey's bio on MSNBC's website reports that he "has been elected to: the Board of Directors of DynCorp International."
Linda - Additionally, in an April 20 New York Times article, investigative reporter David Barstow detailed the connections between media military analysts and the Pentagon and defense industries, and named McCaffrey as one of numerous military analysts who have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air. Barstow reported that McCaffrey had his "own consulting firm" and "sat on the boards of major military contractors." Before Nightly News' November 27 broadcast aired, NBC was also reportedly aware of a then-forthcoming follow-up article by Barstow focusing on McCaffrey's extensive ties to military contractors. In a December 1 post on his Salon.com blog, Glenn Greenwald reported that he had "obtained, from a very trustworthy source" emails dated November 20 and 21 "between NBC News executives and McCaffrey, reflecting the extensive collaboration between NBC and McCaffrey to formulate a coordinated response" to Barstow's article, which was published on November 29 and detailed McCaffrey's ties to DynCorp, among other companies.