Sunday, January 31, 2010

The State of the Union Is Comatose

Frank Rich
New York Times
January 31, 2010

HANDS down, the State of the Union’s big moment was Barack Obama’s direct hit on the delicate sensibilities of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The president was right to blast the 5-to-4 decision giving corporate interests an even greater stranglehold over a government they already regard as a partially owned onshore subsidiary. How satisfying it was to watch him provoke Alito into a “You lie!” snit. Here was a fight we could believe in.

There was more to admire in Obama’s performance as well. He did not retreat into the bite-size initiatives — V-chips, school uniforms — embraced by an emasculated Bill Clinton after his midterm pummeling of 1994. The president’s big original goals — health care, economic recovery, financial reform — remained nominally intact, as did his sense of humor. In a rhetorical touch William Safire would have relished, Obama had the wit to rush the ritualistic “our union is strong” so it would not prompt the usual jingoistic ovation.

Good thing, too, since our union is not strong. It is paralyzed. Many Americans were more eagerly anticipating Steve Jobs’s address in San Francisco on Wednesday morning than the president’s that night because they have far more confidence in Apple than Washington to produce concrete change. One year into Obama’s term we still don’t know whether he has what it takes to get American governance functioning again. But we do know that no speech can do the job. The president must act. Only body blows to the legislative branch can move the country forward.

The historian Alan Brinkley has observed that we will soon enter the fourth decade in which Congress — and therefore government as a whole — has failed to deal with any major national problem, from infrastructure to education. The gridlock isn’t only a function of polarized politics and special interests. There’s also been a gaping leadership deficit.

In Obama’s speech, he kept circling back to a Senate where both parties are dysfunctional. The obstructionist Republicans, he observed, will say no to every single bill “just because they can.” But no less culpable are the Democrats, who maintain “the largest majority in decades” even after losing Teddy Kennedy’s seat — and yet would rather “run for the hills” than accomplish anything.

What does strong Senate leadership look like? That would be L.B.J. in the pre-Kennedy era. Operating with the narrowest of majorities and under an opposition president, he was able to transform a sleepy, seniority-hobbled, regionally polarized debating society into an often-progressive legislative factory. As Robert Caro tells the story in his book “Master of the Senate,” this Senate leader had determination, “a gift for grand strategy,” and a sixth sense for grabbing opportunities for action before they vanished for good. He could recognize “the key that might suddenly unlock votes that had seemed locked forever away” and turn it quickly. The horse trading with recalcitrant senators was often crude and cynical, but the job got done. L.B.J. knew how to reward — and how to punish.

We keep hearing that they just don’t make legislative giants like that anymore. In truth, the long drought has led us to forget what they look like and to define senatorial leadership down. L.B.J.’s current successor, Harry Reid, could be found yawning on camera Wednesday night. He might as well have just taken the whole nap. Here was this leader’s pronouncement last week on the future of the president and his party’s No. 1 priority: “We’re not on health care now. We’ve talked a lot about it in the past.” Yes, a lot of talk — a year’s worth, in fact — with nothing to show for it.

If Reid can serve as the face of Democratic fecklessness in the Senate, then John McCain epitomizes the unpatriotic opposition. On Wednesday night he could be seen sneering when Obama pointed out that most of the debt vilified by Republicans happened on the watch of a Republican president and Congress that never paid for “two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.” The president’s indictment could have been more lacerating. Crunching Congressional Budget Office numbers, David Leonhardt of The Times calculated that of the projected $2 trillion swing into the red between the Clinton surplus and 2012, some 33 percent could be attributed to Bush legislation and another 20 percent to Bush-initiated spending (Iraq, TARP) continued by Obama. Only 7 percent of the deficit could be credited to the Obama stimulus bill and 3 percent to his other initiatives. (The business cycle accounts for the other 37 percent.)

Perhaps McCain was sneering at Obama because of the Beltway’s newest unquestioned cliché: one year after a new president takes office he is required to stop blaming his predecessor for the calamities left behind. Who dreamed up that canard — Alito? F.D.R. never followed it. In an October 1936 speech, nearly four years after Hoover, Roosevelt was still railing against the “hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government” he had inherited. He reminded unemployed and destitute radio listeners that there had been “nine crazy years at the ticker” and “nine mad years of mirage” followed by three long years of bread lines and despair. F.D.R. soon won re-election in the greatest landslide the country had seen.

Obama should turn up the heat on both the G.O.P’s record of fiscal recklessness and its mad-dog obstructionism. He should stop paying lip service to the fantasy that his Congressional opposition has serious ideas to contribute to the cleanup. Better still, he should publicize exactly what those “ideas” are.

Yes, the Republicans were correct to laugh at one of the president’s own gimmicks on Wednesday night: a symbolic and pointless spending “freeze.” But their own alternatives are downright hilarious. When the G.O.P. House leadership last year announced its plan to cut federal spending by $75 billion annually, it enumerated specific new cuts of only $5 billion per year. A tax-cut-laden “stimulus plan” endorsed by Jim DeMint, the South Carolina senator and Tea Party hero, “would cost more than $3 trillion — more than triple the cost of Obama’s stimulus — over the next decade,” in the estimate of Jonathan Chait of The New Republic.

On State of the Union day, the Republican National Committee gathered at its winter meeting at Waikiki Beach to battle over a measure that would deny campaign funds to candidates who didn’t pass a Tea Party ideological purity test. Back in Washington, other party thinkers trotted out some more brilliant ideas. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman hailed as the Republicans’ new intellectual hope, laid out a lengthy “G.O.P. Road Map for America’s Future” on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page that proposed cutting taxes (disproportionately for the wealthy) and privatizing Medicare and Social Security but devoted no bullet point to creating jobs for Americans in urgent need. On the Hill that morning, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota led House colleagues in signing a “Declaration of Health Care Independence” to complement a bill that would let Americans “purchase insurance with their own tax-free money.” Gee, why did no else think of that ingenious fix for a health care system that leaves 46.3 million uninsured and whose runaway costs areon track to eat up one-fifth of the American economy?

It was a heartening breakthrough when Obama dismissed such idiocies repeatedly in his televised meeting with House Republicans on Friday. He mocked G.O.P. legislative snake oil that promises to lower all medical costs and “won’t cost anybody anything.” He must keep this up — and be equally tough on the slackers in his own party who stall his agenda. And he must be less foggy on the specifics of what that agenda is. Though on Wednesday night he asked Congress to “take another look” at the health care bill, even now it’s unclear what he believes that bill’s bedrock provisions should be. He also said he wouldn’t sign any financial regulatory bill that “does not meet the test of real reform,” yet tentatively praised a House bill compromised by a banking lobby that is in bed with Democrats and Republicans alike. The Senate, of course, has yet to produce any financial reform bill.

Americans like Obama far more than they like any Congressional leader. They might even like more of his policies if he spelled them out. But none of that matters if no Democrat fears him enough to do any of his bidding and no Republican believes there’s any price to be paid for always saying no.

A year in, we have learned that all the conciliatory rhetoric won’t cut it. But a president with a big megaphone and large legislative majorities has more powerful strings to pull, no matter what happened in one special election in Massachusetts. If he can’t get a working government, at least he can shake things up in November.

Just look at how a sharp public slap provoked Justice Alito, threw a spotlight on the court’s dubious jurisprudence and sparked an embarrassing over-the-top hissy fit on the right. A do-nothing Congress, at a time when ever more Americans are losing their jobs and homes, is an even riper target than the Supreme Court — and far more politically vulnerable. Without strong medicine from Obama, we can be certain of the same result: a heedless Congress will keep doing nothing. If he steps it up, there’s at least a shot that his presidency, and maybe even the country, will be pulled back from the brink.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Media Matters: Fox News volunteers for Scott Brown's campaign

Media Matters
MediaMatters for America
January 22, 2010 

Picking up where the network left off in 2009, Fox News jumped into its first political campaign of the year, this time setting its sights on the U.S. Senate to help elect Republican Scott Brown to the seat previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy. Fox News and other media conservatives anticipated and celebrated Brown's election with a hyperbolic fervor that would redden the faces of the "Obamaniacs" they most despised in 2008. As conservative media saw it, in defeating Democratic challenger Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Scott Brown took down Goliath, the 1980 Soviet Olympic hockey team, the Berlin Wall, and the British Empire. Before Brown assumed his seat in the Senate, he had been nominated by Drudge and Fox News to be our next president.

Fox News didn't simply cheer from the sidelines of this contest. Indeed, the network actively aided Brown's campaign. Fox News repeatedly hosted Brown in the days leading up to the election, and during each appearance, Brown directed viewers to his website to find out "how to help with donating and volunteering." Fox News political analyst Dick Morris took it upon himself to urge viewers to "go to ... to help elect Brown," because if "we win this fight, then there will never be another victory for Obama." When asked at a rally about "ethical questions" raised by Fox News' advocacy for Brown, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron fled, saying he didn't have time to answer. But he did have the time to autograph "Brown for Senate" campaign materials and pose for pictures with Brown's volunteers, as Think Progress documented.

Fox News also did Brown the favor of repeatedly misrepresenting remarks Coakley made to portray her as incompetent. America's News HQ anchor Gregg Jarrett stated on January 17, "Martha Coakley is out of step when she says things like terrorists are no longer in Afghanistan, or in the debate saying, quote, 'We need to get taxes up.' " Interpreting Coakley's remarks in this way requires a willing suspension of basic verbal reasoning skills; and that was Fox's "straight news" programming. On Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy actually claimed that Coakley "suggested the Taliban [are] gone from Afghanistan," and Michael Scheuer declared that Coakley "doesn't seem to mind" that "we are losing there." For his part, Glenn Beck accused Coakley of "religious bigotry" for saying that those who would "deny emergency contraception to a woman who came in who had been raped" probably "shouldn't work in the emergency room."

In case boosting Brown while attacking Coakley wasn't a sufficient strategy, Fox News baselessly fomented fears that Democrats would "cheat" to steal the election. Warning Fox News viewers not to become complacent before Election Day, Beck stated, "[Y]ou can imagine how ugly this thing will get if -- oh God help us all -- if it's too close to call." Beck displayed the ACORN logo and added, "[T]hey have friends in low places." Invoking the Florida recount, Beck asserted that Democrats "were so incompetent they didn't even know how to cheat. But don't worry -- they've gotten good at it now."
Fox even told viewers that they could strengthen their 401(k)s by electing Brown. Echoing CNBC's Jim Cramer, Fox Nation declared that "Brown Win Could Cause Huge Stock Rally." On Election Day, Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson introduced Fox business contributor Stuart Varney by stating, "Well, you may want to make a call to Massachusetts and get some people out to the polls. Well, that's because our next guest, and a friend, says that your portfolio could look much better if Scott Brown wins Ted Kennedy's vacant Senate seat." As Varney spoke, Fox & Friends displayed an on-screen text reading: "What can Brown do for you? A boost in your 401K may be in the cards." And over on Fox Business, Charles Payne asserted that a Brown win "fertilizes the soil for an incredible longer-term stock market rally."

But after closing up 115 points on January 19 before election results were in, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 122 points the day after Brown's victory and another 213 points the next day. Baffled by this turn of events, Beck said on his radio show, "I'm not sure why it's coming down" since "it made total sense to me" that the market would "go through the roof" if Brown won.

Predictably, conservative media saw no limit on what Brown's victory could signify and to what extent progressives and progressive policies could suffer. Media outlets converged on a few shallow narratives: The election was a referendum on Obama; Obama should move to the right; and voters have rejected health care reform. (Somehow, Americans hadn't reached these conclusions by January 10, when Coakley still held a comfortable lead.)

Exit polls, however, showed that a majority of Massachusetts voters approve of Obama's job performance. And contrary to the claim that Brown's victory means Congress should toss out health care reform, Massachusetts is not representative of the nation as a whole. Indeed, the state already passed a health care program that insures nearly all residents -- a unique situation that allowed Brown to argue that his state would not benefit from national reform. Brown, and the vast majority of Massachusetts, supported the state's 2006 reforms, which are widely seen as the model for the national plans currently under consideration in Congress.

In fact, Brown himself has rejected claims that the election was a "referendum" on Obama or on health care reform. But these facts were lost in the media's shallow analyses of the election.

© 2008 Media Matters for America

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Political reporting" means "royal court gossip"

Glenn Greenwald
Media Criticism
January 11, 2010

No event in recent memory has stimulated the excitment and interest of Washington political reporters like the release of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's new book, Game Change, and that reaction tells you all you need to know about our press corps.  By all accounts (includinga long, miserable excerpt they released), the book is filled with the type of petty, catty, gossipy, trashy sniping that is the staple of sleazy tabloids and reality TV shows, and it has been assembled through anonymous gossip, accountability-free attributions, and contrived melodramatic dialogue masquerading as "reporting."  And yet -- or, really, therefore -- Washington's journalist class is poring over, studying, and analyzing its contents as though it is the Dead Sea Scrolls, lavishing praise on its authors as though they committed some profound act of journalism, and displaying a level of genuine fascination and giddiness that stands in stark contrast to the boredom and above-it-all indifference they project in those rare instances when forced to talk about anything that actually matters.
This reaction has nicely illuminated what our press corps is.  The book is little more than royal court gossip, churned out by the leading practitioner of painfully sycophantic, Drudge-mimicking cattiness: Time's Mark Halperin.  And all of the courtiers, courtesans, court spokespeople (i.e., "journalists") and hangers-on who populate our decadent little Versailles on the Potomac can barely contain their glee over the opportunity to revel in this self-absorbed sleaze.  Virtually every "political news" TV show is hyping it.  D.C. reporters are boastingthat they obtained early previews and are excitedly touting howintensively they're studying its pages in order to identify the most crucial revelations.  Just try to contemplate how things would be if even a fraction of this media energy and interest level were devoted to scrutinizing the non-trivial things political leaders do.
Revealingly, one of the sections receiving the most attention is the microscopic examination of the sexual proclivities of John Edwards, his marital conflicts with his wife, and their various personality flaws.  That reaction is predictable and, obviously, predicted, which is why the lengthy excerpt they released focuses on those matters. Notably, the Edwards scandal was relentlessly pursued and first "broken" by The National Enquirer, and I defy anyone to read the book excerpt on Edwards (to the extent you can even get through it) and identify any differences between the book's tone, content and "reporting" methods and those found in the Enquirer.  Meanwhile, Matt Drudge -- crowned by Halperin and the co-author for his prior book, Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris, as The Ruler of The World of Political Journalists -- has been (in return) screamingly promoting the book non-stop for days, as has Drudge's cloned, adopted child, Politico
This is the most revealing aspect of this episode.  The National Enquirer, Matt Drudge and Politico aren't aberrational extremes in our press corps.  As Halperin and Harris correctly noted in calling Washington journalism "The Freak Show," they are at its epicenter, leading the way.  The reason there is such a complete merger of interest among low-life tabloids, Matt Drudge, reality shows and the Washington political press corps is precisely because they are indeed indistinguishable -- merged.  Even for people who thought that John Edwards' sexual activities were relevant when he was running for President or vying for a high administration position, at this point he is a completely destroyed, discredited non-entity with no political future, and mucking around in the life of him and his wife is pure sleazy voyeurism.  Subjecting the Edwards to this sort of vicious, judgmental scrutiny is a cost-free activity, which is why so many are so eager to engage in it.
The real value of a book like this lies in the opportunity it presents for Washington's elite class to distract themselves and everyone else from the oozing corruption, destruction, decaying and pillaging going on -- that these same Washington denizens have long enabled.  With some important exceptions, that is the primary purpose of establishment journalism generally.  Even better, the book lets our media and political elite -- and then the public generally -- feel good about themselves by morally condemning the trashy exploits of Rielle Hunter and the egoistic hypocrisies of the irrelevant John and Elizabeth Edwards.  As The Nation's Chris Hayes so perfectly put it:  "Just when you think the news cycle can't get any stupider, Mark Halperin publishes a book."  All imperial courts -- especially collapsing ones -- love to occupy themselves with insular, snotty trivialities.  As this book and the excitement it has produced demonstrates, providing that distraction is exactly what our press corps most loves to do and what it does best.  The media sleazebags who turned Bill Clinton's penile spots, cigars and semen stains into headline news for two straight years haven't gone anywhere; they're actually stronger and more dominant than ever.
Copyright ©2010 Salon Media Group, Inc. 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What's My Lie?

distributorcap  NY


Today on Good Morning America, America's Mayor - the one and only Rudy Giuliani, became the latest Republican operative fart bag to out-and-out lie on national television about 9/11.

Distributorcap blinking an eye, the has-been and loser candidate for President simply stated "We had no domestic attacks under Bush, we've had one under Obama."

There is no need to even explain or correct - enough blogs have done that already. Coming on the heels of similar comments from both Dana Perino and Mary Matalin (I have major trouble even typing the latter's name), it is quite apparent there is a planned Republican narrative circulating through the media world - it is always the other guy's (read Democrat's) fault. As I have stated many times before, Joseph Goebbels is smiling down at his protege Karl Rove - tell a lie big enough and often enough, people will inevitably believe it.

It is only a matter of time before we hear this one "George Bush left Obama a budget surplus and he squandered it."

Sad thing is most of this country is so stupid and so gullible, they probably believe anything that comes out of the mouths of the hero Rudy, the insider Mary and the former press secretary Dana.

21st century America is fast becoming one of the most misinformed and clueless societies on the planet. Years of neglecting education from the likes of Reagan and Bush coupled with the obsession over frivolous shit like balloon boys, runaway brides and 
American Idol, have taught people to take pride in their ignorance. These are the same people who (as Obama rightly said) "cling to their guns and religion" (and you can add in hate) and vote overwhelmingly Republican. Remember 2000? - vote for the guy you can have a beer with, not the stiff and straight laced nerd who just presided over eight solid years of prosperity. No wonder you have the current rapid worship of mental midgets like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, two people who actually make George Bush look smart.

As Rudy, Mary and Dana are showing, the game of 
What's My Lie? is working quite well for the GOP so far...why should they stop? They have always had Rush, Ann and Hannity to blast the lies to millions of their legions. Feeling empowered, the GOP hate mongers now readily hit the main stream shows to spout off. And with plenty of airtime to fill - those shows are all too willing to accommodate.

The failed underwear bomber gave the GOP gasbags their latest excuse to get back in the "Obama must fail" wrestling match.

As bad as the three stooges (Rudy, Dana and Mary) were with their blatant lies about 9/11 - what is actually far worse is the fact that the "news" media - in this case George Stephanopolous - does not bother to call these people out on their lies. If you watch the interview, Stephanopoulos not only let the 9/11 line go unchallenged, he wasn't even listening to Rudy's responses. You could see he was to busy thinking what his next softball question should be.

Stephanopolous' performance today was just another example demonstrating that real journalism is dead and entertainment is king. We don't have journalists - we have stenographers and ventriloquist's dummies, eager to sell lots of detergent and not alienate the guest. This is your left wing liberal media in all its glory.

We all know Rudy is a completely evil douchebag. Our 9/11 "hero" was the same mayor who was told not to put the NYC Disaster Control Center at the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing (but did it anyway) and was the same mayor who didn’t ensure that the police and fire departments had working radios. In the aftermath of the attack, Rudy (with no place to go since the Command Center was destroyed) marched around the city against anyone’s better judgment, knowing he could use this for his some political points down the road. What he brings to the discussion now is anybody's guest - but the talk shows just love this phony piece of scum.

For all his creepiness, Rudy Giuliani is a politician. It's his job to be pugnacious - lying is part of the political persona. Knowing this is the game, it is a requirement of someone like George Stephanopolous or Diane Sawyer or Rachel Maddow to question every statement from a politician - and delve for some semblance of the truth. Stephanopolous has been doing this for years, it should be second nature to him. If he really was a good journalist or reporter - it would have automatically dawned on him to stop Giuliani at that point and say, "But, that's not correct, what about ...." If he doesn't he is aiding and enabling the propaganda. And no after-the-fact retraction (on a blog that few people read) can take that back. Even Goebbels knew that - first impressions stick - well before everything remained forever on the internet.

Watch any "news" program today and it is the same melodramatic script, only with different characters. They all round up the same 10 usual 
 pundits, regurgitating the same old trash. There is never any surprises, never any real breakthroughs, you know exactly what they are going to say. There is just a lot yelling about how bad and weak and awful the other side is. And if you bring real hard facts - well you are relegated to speaking just as they have to go to a commercial break. CNN should be renamed CON (as in con job or Cable Opinion Network). The Onion has more integrity than the likes of Fox News (where all criminal politicians carry a "D" after their name).

When blatant (and unchalleneged) lies become the mainstay of political discourse - you know that it is only a matter of time before... well you fill in the blank.

But American doesn't have to worry. I can guarantee the next Tiger Woods or Casey Johnson is just a few news cycles away.

Copyright 2010 distributorcap  NY