Good Night, Good Luck: Thoughts on Murrow, Journalism and Responsibility

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Good Afternoon

Thursday night I watched the film Good Night and Good Luck, with David Strathairn and George Clooney. I am sure that many of you saw this film when it came out eight years ago. (Yes, that is 8 years…)

I saw it too back then, but I had not seen it in years…and I never saw the short featurette interviews with the real people portrayed in the film.  Joe and Shirley Wershba, Milo Radulovich, Ed Murrow’s son and Fred Friendly’s son discuss Murrow and give some thoughts on the use of television media during the time of the McCarthy hearings. I say television because Ed Murrow was concerned about how viewing the image or picture being broadcast on the screen would change the news story he was telling.

It is fortunate that I found this featurette on the web, it is only 15 minutes but if you can, watch it before you read the rest of my post.

Good Night, And Good Luck – Featurette | SPIKE

Fred Friendly’s widow states that Ed Murrow was, “dubious” about the change from his radio show, “Hear It Now” to the television version “See It Now.”  It was Murrow’s belief that the camera changed the story, that people processed visual information and news differently than they did when just listening to the words being said.  According to Murrow’s son, the camera invaded the news story, especially in those early days of news broadcast, with the lights and large equipment needed to air the programs, it changed the dynamics of the story in a real big way.

It was during this time the news took on an editorial flavor; there aren’t always two sides to a story. McCarthyism was destroying the country. Murrow got this message out to his viewers, knowing what was at stake.  It was personal and it was risky…

The Murrow team had been collecting film on Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy where ever he went…and used it when they got the evidence they needed. Murrow got to the truth of the story by taking McCarthy’s own words and actions and putting them on the air.

Joe Wershba says that Murrow knew the tremendous power of television media…he describes the agonizing question of whether Murrow had the right to use this power against McCarthy. Think about it…Here you have McCarthy, trampling the rights and civil liberties given by the Constitution, and yet McCarthy got all this power because of the very rights he was running over.

This is where Milo Radulovich comes in. Radulovich,

…was an American citizen (born in Detroit) of Serbian descent and former reserve Air Force lieutenant who was accused of being a security risk for maintaining a “close and continuing relationship”[1] with his father and sister, in violation of Air Force regulation 35-62.[2] His case was publicized nationally by Edward Murrow on October 20, 1953, on Murrow’s program, See It Now:

That [Air Force regulation 35-62] is a regulation which states that ‘A man may be regarded as a security risk if he has close and continuing associations with communists or people believed to have communist sympathies.’ Lieutenant Radulovich was asked to resign in August. He declined. A board was called and heard his case. At the end, it was recommended that he be severed from the Air Force. Although it was also stated that there was no question whatever as to the Lieutenant’s loyalty.—Edward R. Murrow[3][4]

Murrow used Radulovich’s personal story to get the point across. And when the Air Force finally reinstated Radulovich, people realized just how powerful television journalism was, and Murrow felt the consequences would be great.

On the featurette, Fred Friendly’s son says that “overall climate of television news” today is frightening…and that his father would be horrified by it.

Well, this horrifying evolution of television news can be primarily shouldered by the corporations…specifically the advertising money these corporations brought in…the airwaves were originally thought of as the people’s airways…that the news had to be given to the public straight. But then the news programs became a money-maker, news stories became entertainment. And with this entertainment, the trust people had in broadcasters like Murrow disappeared.

Friendly’s son says in the interview up top, television was making more money doing its worst…than it did doing its best. (Ain’t that the truth!)

Shirley Wershba states how important it was to get the truth to the stories, they used McCarthy own words in their reports, pointing out the hypocrisies and the craziness of McCarthyism. They researched and were very careful with what they reported on the news. It is not like that today. We have seen too many times the mistakes, blatant ones at that, made by the press…they are careless with the facts.

Responsibility. It is something that both MSM broadcast news and the people watching it must take seriously.  Responsibility is vitally necessary to get the facts down right. George Clooney says at the end of the featurette he hopes the film Good Night and Good Luck will bring the issue of responsibility to the discussion and I agree with him; we need to talk about responsibility.

I guess my point with all this is just how important it is to question things.

Maybe that is why people like Jon Stewart, sites like Wikileaks, and those who blog and pick apart news reports are popular with folks who look for the big picture, the ones who don’t accept the cropped version as the final word. It is our responsibility to dig deeper than what we see, hear and read in news broadcast…and in journalism media today. I think too many people are not doing their homework. They take whatever bits and pieces they get from MSM and leave it at that. It is a shame, because this lack of attention is causing present day extremist the likes of McCarthy to flourish in our government and politics.

It is ironic, the very rights these extremist are out to destroy… are the ones that allow them to carry out their agenda. The difference between now and Murrow’s time comes down to this…us.

We…the public.

Were our standards were higher? Eh, I don’t know, but I do feel however that responsibility is key.

It seems that there are less Murrows and Friendlys out there who feel responsible to the people, and more importantly…it seems to me the public has become full of people who don’t feel responsible to truth. We get fed the news and opinions the corporations and sponsors want us to eat…but few question it.

I wish news outlets weren’t controlled by the money companies pay to advertise on their shows, websites or blogs. It makes me think about Murrow’s anxiety about the power of television. Think about how the internet has changed the news narrative. The internet is just another powerful technology…like television was in its day….only the web is instantaneous. It is distracting and full of things that manipulate our opinions.  But…the internet is also a tool we can use to be responsible to the truth, if we use it responsibly.

I wish people would question, research and look for truth behind every news report being told. I worry that there is no longer a responsible collective voice standing up for what is right or true….unlike the era of McCarthy, we do not have that voice…the sense of duty or obligation to stand up to the money men behind the corporations, politicians and the advertising and lobbying dollars they use to get what they want.  And, they have the ambitious McCarthys of today, to do the job for them.

The batshit crazy. It’s been going on for so many years…and my fear is it will keep on going.

Will it ever stop?

Keeping all this in mind, take a look at a few of these links:

Last week Glenn Greenwald had an article about Bob Woodward…you can read it here: Bob Woodward embodies US political culture in a single outburst

I want to bring this part of Greenwald’s post to your attention…where he mentions an essay written by Lewis Lapham back in 2008:

Bob Woodward fulfills an important function. Just as Tim Russert was long held up as the scary bulldog questioner who proved the existence of an adversarial TV press while the reality was that, as Harper’s [sic] Lewis Lapham famously put it, he maintained “the on-air persona of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter”, the decades-old Woodward lore plays a critical role in maintaining the fiction of a watchdog press corps even though he is one of the most faithful servants of the war machine and the national security and surveillance states. Every once and awhile, the mask falls, and it’s a good thing when it does.

This last paragraph stuck with me, and when I watched Good Night, and Good Luck last night…particularly the featurette, I went back to the Greenwald post and dug a little bit deeper.

Greenwald links to this Gawker post from Aug. 2008, A Careful Evisceration Of Tim Russert. Which I will highlight this statement:

…Lapham, sometimes slammed as insufferable bore, has spun a compelling essay out of his rough initial pronouncement that “1,000 people came to [Russert's] memorial service because essentially he was a shill for the government.”

This is little nugget from New York Magazine in July of 2008, again in reference to Lapham’s essay: Lewis Lapham Unhappy With Political Journalism, Including Tim Russert

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Well, here is the actual essay Greenwald is refering to: [Notebook] | Elegy for a Rubber Stamp, by Lewis Lapham | Harper’s Magazine

Please read the entire essay, but I just want to point out a few paragraphs to look out for:

Many people loved Russert, and I don’t doubt that they had reason to do so. I’m sure that most of what was said about him on camera was true: that he was a devoted father, a devout Catholic, and a faithful friend, generous in spirit and a joyful noise unto the Lord. I mean no disrespect to his widow or to his son, but if I have no reason to doubt his virtues as a man, neither do I have any reason to credit the miracle of Russert as a journalist eager to speak truth to power. In his professional as opposed to his personal character, his on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity, his modus operandi the same one that pointed Rameau’s obliging nephew to the roast pheasant and the coupe aux marrons in eighteenth-century Paris: “Butter people up, good God, butter them up.”

With the butter Russert was a master craftsman, his specialty the mixing of it with just the right drizzle of salt. The weekend videotapes, presumably intended to display Russert at the top of his game, deconstructed the recipe. To an important personage Russert asked one or two faintly impertinent questions, usually about a subject of little or no concern to anybody outside the rope lines around official Washington; sometimes he discovered a contradiction between a recently issued press release and one that was distributed by the same politician some months or years previously. No matter with which spoon Rus sert stirred the butter, the reply was of no interest to him, not worth his notice or further comment. He had sprinkled his trademark salt, his work was done. The important personage was free to choose from a menu offering three forms of response—silence, spin, rancid lie. If silence, Russert moved on to another topic; if spin, he nodded wisely; if rancid lie, he swallowed it.

A couple more:

The attitude doesn’t lead to the digging up of much news that might be of interest to the American people, but it endeared Russert to his patrons and clients. Madeleine Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton Administration, expressed her gratitude to Olbermann: “Tim was amazing because I can tell you that, as a public official, it was really, first of all, a treat to get on the show.” Two days later, over at NBC, Mary Matalin (former CBS and CNN talk-show host, former counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney) seconded the motion, attributing Russert’s profound knowledge of national politics to his superb qualities as a rubber stamp. “He respected politicians,” Matalin said. “He knew that they got blamed for everything, got credit for nothing. He knew how much they meant. He never treated them with the cynicism that attends some of these interviews. So they had a place to be loved.” Remembering Russert on ABC, Sam Donaldson explained why too much salt in the butter makes it harder to spread: “He [Russert] understood as well as anyone, maybe better than almost anyone, that the reason political reporters are there is not to speak truth to power . . . but to make those who say we have the truth—politicians—explain it.”

Speaking truth to power doesn’t make successful Sunday-morning television, leads to “jealousy, upsets, persecution,” doesn’t draw a salary of $5 million a year. The notion that journalists were once in the habit of doing so we borrow from the medium of print, from writers in the tradition of Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair,

H. L. Mencken, I. F. Stone, Hunter Thompson, and Walter Karp, who assumed that what was once known as “the press” received its accreditation as a fourth estate on the theory that it represented the interests of the citizenry as opposed to those of the government. Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

Indeed, it all comes down to the idea of truth in journalism according to the corporate sponsors…batshit crazy is now becoming symbolic of the myth that there is a “free press” in this country….when the obvious conclusion seems to me centered on one thing…the lack of responsibility from both the media journalist…and their viewing and reading public.

Batshit crazy…Will it ever stop?

In all honesty, the answer to my question above is simple.

No, it will never stop as long as we, the people, fail to hold our “free press” accountable to the responsibility of journalism.

It’s a very sorry sad situation…and it’s a damn shame.


Monday Reads

baby new yearHappy New Year’s Eve!!

Congress continues to drag us down its path of dysfunction.  This headline from Lindsey Graham should win him a congressional hearing for sedition.

But in an interview on Fox News Sunday this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) threatened to oppose this must-pass bill unless Social Security benefits are taken away from millions of future retirees:
I’m not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get serious about keeping the country from becoming Greece, saving Social Security and Medicare [sic]. So here’s what i would like: meaningful entitlement reform — not to turn Social Security into private accounts, not to take a voucher approach to Medicare — but, adjust the age for Social Security, CPI changes and means testing and look beyond the ten-year window. I cannot in good conscience raise the debt ceiling without addressing the long term debt problems of this country and I will not.

Unbelievable. We continue to see a series of really ridiculous memes spouted by the right. These included dragging Social Security into the debt crisis when it has nothing to do with the Federal budget, deficit or debt other than it is a primary investor in Treasury bills and bonds. We also continue hear about our country going the way of Greece or going bankrupt. We have the reserve currency of the world, a huge country filled with taxable assets and treasury bills and bonds under high demand. How many times do I have to call shenanigans on these cretins?

Graham isn’t the only republican willing to take the debt ceiling hostage to raise the age of social security. 

Two Republican senators want to use the threat of an economic meltdown to raise the retirement age and cut Medicare. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a plan today that would raise the federal debt limit by $1 trillion in exchange for $1 trillion in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as The Hill reported:

The Corker-Alexander dollar-for-dollar plan has several components.

It would structurally reform Medicare by creating competing private options giving seniors greater choice of healthcare plans. It would not, however, cap Medicare spending.

The plan would also give states more flexibility to manage Medicaid programs and prevent states from “gaming the federal share of the program with state tax charges.”

It would gradually raise the Social Security retirement age and use the “chained CPI” formula to calculate cost-of-living adjustments, curbing the growing cost of benefits.

In exchange, it would direct the debt limit be increased by the same amount as the savings generated from entitlement reform.

The U.S. will hit its debt limit  on or around December 31st. The Treasury Department estimates that, using extraordinary measures, it could avoid default for another two months or so. Allowing the U.S. to default on its debt via not raising the debt ceiling could cause a complete financial meltdown. The 2011 debt ceiling debacle — during which House Republicans nearly pushed the country into a default due to their intransigence on taxes — cost the country  about $19 billion in higher interest payments and  at least one million jobs.

So, here’s an interesting bit of history on its way to the British Museum.

The largest Viking ship ever found, a 118 foot troop carrier, is to go on display at the British museum 1,000 years after it helped King Canute control the seas of northern Europe.

The long boat, known as Roskilde 6 because it was part of a batch found in the Danish city, is slowly being dried out in giant steel tanks.

Once it is stabilised and fitted to a steel frame, it will travel to Britain to go on display at the British museum where it will be a star attraction at an exhibition.

The warship was discovered by chance in 1996 at Roskilde as the local ship museum was being extended.

It is believed it was deliberately sunk along with other ships to narrow the fjord and protect the approach to the former capital of Denmark.

It was an incredible example of ship technology in its day and would have taken up to 30,000 hours to build.

Once again, I agree with Paul Krugman who says that deficit reduction really isn’t the Republican goal in all of these fiscal cliff talks.  All we’d have to do is go back to the Eisenhower tax rates and we’d solve the problem pretty quickly which is why I hate it whenever I hear an idiot talk about bankrupting grandchildren’s future.  Again, World War 2 didn’t depress the 1950s or 1960s did it?  That level of debt and high, high tax rates didn’t bring about a second great depression.

Evan Soltas of Wonkblog and Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider both make the same point, in more detail, that I tried to make in my series on ONE TRILLION DOLLARS: the current budget deficit is overwhelmingly the result of the depressed economy, and it’s not clear that we have a structural budget problem at all, let alone the fundamental mismatch between what we want and what we’re willing to pay for that people like to claim exists.

Bush should’ve never been allowed to run two wars for decades without making people pay for it.

India’s outrage grows over the instances of gang rape and the death of one 23 year old woman.  Police are preparing arrest warrants in the case and will charge india protestssix men with murder.

The trial of the six, who allegedly assaulted the physiotherapy student in the back of a bus on Dec. 16, will start after police file charge documents on Jan. 3, Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said by phone today.

An Air India plane brought the woman’s body back from Singapore and it was cremated today, the Press Trust of India reported. Demonstrators gathered at the Jantar Mantar, an 18th- century observatory and traditional rallying point, demanding speedy punishment for the alleged rapists while some held placards calling for them to receive the death penalty.

Thousands joined protests and candlelit vigils to mark the death yesterday. Some protesters held placards calling for the improved treatment of women in India as they congregated in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Others braved the cold winter’s evening in New Delhi to carry candles or meet in quiet prayer.

So, that’s my offerings today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


There Should be a War on Faux News

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There is absolutely no reason why the Fox Propaganda and Lies Network should be allowed to call itself a News channel.  Even more evidence has come out today that FOX is more interested in Republican Politics than it is anything that remotely resembles journalism.

Bob Woodard dropped a little revelation on how Roger Ailes tried to recruit General Patreus as a presidential candidate in 2011.    There’s audio evidence so it’s not even a debatable story.

So in spring 2011, Ailes asked a Fox News analyst headed to Afghanistan to pass on his thoughts to Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. and coalition forces there. Petraeus, Ailes advised, should turn down an expected offer from President Obama to become CIA director and accept nothing less than the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military post. If Obama did not offer the Joint Chiefs post, Petraeus should resign from the military and run for president, Ailes suggested.

The Fox News chairman’s message was delivered to Petraeus by Kathleen T. McFarland, a Fox News national security analyst and former national security and Pentagon aide in three Republican administrations. She did so at the end of a 90-minute, unfiltered conversation with Petraeus that touched on the general’s future, his relationship with the media and his political aspirations — or lack thereof. The Washington Post has obtained a digital recording from the meeting, which took place in Petraeus’s office in Kabul.

McFarland also said that Ailes — who had a decades-long career as a Republican political consultant, advising Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — might resign as head of Fox to run a Petraeus presidential campaign. At one point, McFarland and Petraeus spoke about the possibility that Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp., which owns Fox News, would “bankroll” the campaign.

The analysis of this should be self-evident.  Eric Wemple has some great points to make.  Most of them come under the heading of Fox News is corrupt and nasty.

To listen to the exchange between McFarland and Petraeus is to come away with the distinct impression that McFarland was under specific and binding orders from Ailes. She repeatedly invokes Ailes’s name, his advice and his interest in the career of Petraeus. The mandate to return to Ailes’s New York office with a mouthful of feedback from Petraeus rings from these words of McFarland’s: “So what do I tell Roger when he says…?” She continues spelling out the rules of engagement — how she was supposed to present the advice, and how she was supposed to report back.

Given that dynamic, have a look at how Ailes responded when Woodward asked about the advice-giving mission:

In a telephone interview Monday, the wily and sharp-tongued Ailes said he did indeed ask McFarland to make the pitch to Petraeus. “It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have,” he said. “I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate.”

Ailes added, “It sounds like she thought she was on a secret mission in the Reagan administration. . . . She was way out of line. . . . It’s someone’s fantasy to make me a kingmaker. It’s not my job.” He said that McFarland was not an employee of Fox but a contributor paid less than $75,000 a year.

Such noble and classy details there from the head of Fox News. Woodward nails you sullying your employer and the industry of journalism, and you tar the messenger. That’s outrageous enough that it could dog someone as untouchable as Roger Ailes.

The details of the exchange are frankly beyond belief.  You can listen to them yourself .

Ailes’s craving for the respect and admiration of a military hotshot like Petraeus emerges with Memorex clarity in this recording. For instance, McFarland tells Petraeus that she has a request “directly from [Ailes] to you: First of all, is there anything Fox is doing right or wrong that you want to tell us to do differently.”

Unpacking the depravity in that one is a multi-part process.

No. 1: Real journalists don’t act as supplicants, no matter how wonderful and powerful may be the official they’re interviewing. Real journalists publish their journalism and move on to the next story. If people have problems with or plaudits for the work, they can send an e-mail.

No. 2: Note the promise in McFarland’s proffer. She invites the general to “tell us” to adjust coverage in whatever way he may see fit, in effect soliciting an order from a general. What an affirmation of journalistic independence.

No. 3: To which individuals has Ailes “indirectly” advanced this offer?

It’s no wonder the Brits are working to get Murdoch thrown out of the journalism business in the UK.  This is the behavior of a propagandist and kingmaker.

McFarland begins by promising Petraeus absolute discretion, saying that Ailes’s “deal with me was that I was only supposed to talk to you – and he is a little paranoid, so believe me.” However, the 90-minute conversation was recorded, and a digital copy of it somehow made its way into Woodward’s hands.

“I’ve got something to say to you directly from Roger Ailes,” McFarland is captured saying on the recording that has been posted in edited form on the Washington Post website. “I’m not running,” Petraeus snaps back.

McFarland, a Pentagon adviser to the Reagan administration, does not take no for an answer. The next time Petraeus is in New York, she says, he should come and “chat to Roger and Rupert Murdoch”, to which Petraeus, for whom this conversation is clearly not the first of its kind, replies: “Rupert’s after me as well.”

“Tell him if I ever ran … ” Petraeus laughingly says as the meeting is wrapping up. “I’d take him up on his offer. He said he would quit Fox.”

McFarland says that “the big boss” would “bankroll” the campaign – a clear reference to Murdoch. “The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger’s going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house.”

Something should be done about this, however, I’m not sure what can be done about it in a legal sense.  One hopes some of the Fox faithful would get the message but I’ve got no hopes there.   Any one who calls themselves a journalist–if they haven’t already–should disassociate themselves with this outfit quickly.  The rest of us just need to keep telling other people about  this business.  Fox news is biased, depraved, and deeply connected to right wing politics.  It is nothing more than a propaganda outpost for the worst of Republican policies.


Forging the Middle Path while taking Friendly Fire

I’ve seen several articles in Business Week recently bemoaning the loss of moderation in the Republican Party. I wonder where these folks were when hordes of evangelicals were overtaking county parties with orders written on recipe cards back in the 1980s?  I had a front row seat to the insanity.  I couldn’t get any one to listen back then.  However, now it’s a major topic in the press. The first article showed up in May. I got a pretty good laugh out of this quote by Dwight Eisenhower who was thought to be a Communist infiltrator by Daddy Koch and his John Birch Society.  They were marginalized back then and now are front and center at the leadership table.

“Their number is negligible and they are stupid,” Dwight Eisenhower once said of conservatives, according to another panelist, Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party. Alas, moderates have all but disappeared. “They might even be forced into breeding programs to keep them alive,” Kabaservice said, citing a recent Onion article. (Worth a click for the picture alone.)

The article discussed a panel that was wondering where all the moderate Republicans went.  I have a pretty good answer for that.  There’s been an ongoing purge since the 1980s.  Most of the state parties have a litmus test on several issues.  You’re made to suffer if you don’t goose step along to the evangelicals and voodoo economics true believers.  Any one not capable of lies or magical thinking is decidedly unwelcome and hounded out.

The second article of interest interviews some senators that are exiting because they can’t take the atmosphere any more. Here’s a few choice comments from retiring pro-choice Republican Olympia Snow. I used to write a lot of good sized checks to her campaigns in the 1980s.

BBW: Senator Snowe, you’ve deviated from your party more than just about anyone. What is it really like when you go against the leadership?

SNOWE: People within your party used to understand that it is essential. People have to represent either their district or their state on the issues that matter and take those positions accordingly. But today there is no reward for that. In fact, there is this party adherence, and as a result if we don’t get past the party platforms that are offered by either side of the political aisle, then we can’t solve the problem. And we are not transcending those differences. That is a huge departure from the past.

Here’s another interesting comment on the role of money and the Citizens United ruling by SCOTUS.  The other senators interviewed include Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota), and Congressmen Gary Ackerman (D-New York) and Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky).

BBW: What harms the process more, the media or money?

CONRAD: Money is a huge problem. There are really two reasons I decided not to run again. One is I really wanted to come here to do big things, and we haven’t been doing big things. The second was I saw super PACs coming and I knew as a centrist who was not particularly supported very strongly by any group, I could have [a super PAC] roll in and just dump a load of money on me and I’m not going to be able to answer.

DAVIS: I don’t believe we should check speech by any measure or merit, but left unchecked, you could end up with the 21st century version of Tammany Hall, where you have a small number of political bosses who control the flow of money around the country, limiting the discourse and debate for personal advantage, whether left, right, or center.

SNOWE: I regret that the Supreme Court rolled back 100 years of case law and precedence. It was my initial provision in the McCain-Feingold bill that was struck down a second time in the court. But then obviously they went quantum leaps further, unfortunately, and unraveled all the case law, allowing corporations and unions to dump unlimited money into these campaigns.

What Kent says is true. Because we are trying to build what I describe as a sensible center, you don’t have a base in terms of raising money. You are almost always confined to the MSNBC or the Fox News prism. That’s the way I describe it because it’s true. People see you in one channel or another and nothing in between.

ACKERMAN: We are probably the only ones who watch both Fox and MSNBC. The public watches either one or the other, and they watch one or the other hoping that the guys on my side will kill the guys on the other side. You can accuse any and every one of us, at least at times, of going for the ratings and doing and saying things that are popular or to try to raise more money so that we can get reelected. The media does that in spades. They really do.

These seem to be the same topics we spend a lot of time on here.  The media has taken sides in order to attract audiences and returns to stockholders.  The more partisan hoopla they can drum up, the better it is for them.  Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda channel and MSNBC is trying to find a niche offering up an alternative. Papers are so dumb downed and watered down these days that it’s hard to find much use for them.  Corporate money and profit seeking has completely gummed up the process and it uses the anger of specific interest groups like the fetus and gun obsessed to further its power and money grab.The Tea Party is totally orchestrated, yet, its members are so angry they can’t see the strings that pull them.

Reading basic obituaries of whatever was left of commonsense in the party of Lincoln is a saddening experience.  I say this as we watch Ron Paul’s delegates play the same game on the radical right that they played 30 years ago on the Rockefeller Republicans. Can you imagine the Republican party’s soul is up for grabs by Ayn Rand groupies now?  Basically, Republicans adhere to works of fiction and drive off any attempt to ground them in reality.

Paul has stopped actively campaigning and has conceded that Romney will be the GOP nominee. It’s unclear whether Paul’s name will be submitted for nomination; mathematically, he does not have the numbers to derail Romney. But his supporters can have an effect on the party in other ways.

“We want to have a real big voice on the platform; we want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, a Paul supporter who was pleased after the Saturday vote.

He was Paul’s state director in Iowa until Paul suspended his presidential bid in May, and he said that although he would love to see Paul awarded a prime speaking spot at the convention, his followers’ efforts are about more than one man.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party. That’s where my hopes are at and that’s my hope for this convention more than seeing Ron Paul do X, Y and Z,” Kurtinitis said.

What exactly happens to a republic built on a two party system when one of those parties becomes captured by purists? Perhaps, the Republican christofacist army is about to have its tables turned. I still have the feeling, however, that the corporate money will rule no matter what the platform says.

By working arcane rules at district, county and state gatherings around the country, his supporters have amassed an army of delegates who will try to ensure that his libertarian message about the economy, states’ rights and a noninterventionist foreign policy is loudly proclaimed.

Paul’s backers will also try to shape the party platform as they dare Republicans to take them for granted – much as social conservatives did years ago before they ascended in importance.

“We want to influence the direction of the party more than anything else,” said Joel Kurtinitis, who was Paul’s state director in Iowa until the congressman effectively ended his presidential bid in May. He said efforts by followers of Paul, a 76-year-old who will retire when his current term ends, are about more than him or his son Rand, a senator from Kentucky.

“We’re going to hold up our values and we’re going to bring conservatism back to the mainline of the Republican Party,” Kurtinitis said.

But others say the move by the Iowa GOP is a black eye for the state’s first-in-the-nation voting status and for Romney.

“Embarrassment is the word that comes to my mind,” said Jamie Johnson, who served as Santorum’s state coalitions director in Iowa. The former Pennsylvania senator, who endorsed Romney after ending his presidential bid in April, appears to have a solitary Iowa delegate heading into the convention.

There are far fewer of these insurgents than there were die-hard Hillary supporters last presidential election cycle.  Yet, they seem to be much more fanatical and organized.  Will they up end the dominance of the party by the Guns, God, and No-Gays fanatics that have ruled the party with Torquemada  like fanaticism since the Reagan years?
How do we survive this craziness? Seriously, I’ve gotten to the point where I think voting Republican is basically voting for the end of the country as we know it.  What needs to change?  I’m going to give the last word to the last word to the departing senators.

BBW: I’m going to give you one magic power. As you leave here, you can change one thing about the legislative process, about the federal government, anything you want. What would you do?

CONRAD: I would do away with super PACs. I think it’s a cancer.

DAVIS: It is critical that those who are being regulated in various constituencies—be it the business community, the job creators, or other institutions—need to be an active part of that dialogue. Great Britain revolutionized parts of their regulatory process by actually bringing the people who were going to be regulated to the table and suddenly found that they could solve the problems at a lot lower cost by, again, going back to the thing that tends to be most uninteresting, particularly in cable news, and looking at the actual process. Solve the problem or prevent the problem from happening.

SNOWE: We are not doing our jobs, frankly. If I was in charge, I would be canceling recess and getting everybody here and start focusing on the issues that matter to this country because we are at a tipping point.

Legislating isn’t easy on these complex matters. You can’t just instantaneously come up with solutions to problems. Somehow we have dumbed down the process. Somehow we think, “Oh gosh, are you for or against?” Well, geez, it just came up. Can I give it some thought? Can I think about it? Can I read about it? Maybe I should learn more about the facts on the issue. But there is no time, no deference paid to thoughtfulness in the legislative process today. We have got to get back to spending some time here to get the job done for the American people. That’s what it’s all about. The American people understand it. They see it because they see on TV on C-SPAN and they recognize, “Well, where are they?”

ACKERMAN: Inasmuch as it’s a magical power that you are bestowing I would do away with hypocrisy. [Laughter] Looking at it a little bit more realistically, we have to try to find some practical approaches. I came here so many years ago as a rather liberal kid from New York City. I’m still pretty liberal. I changed a little bit on foreign policy and worldview, but I came here as a pacifist. I disagreed with Ronald Reagan, who was the first president that I served with, but I didn’t want him to fail. This pacifist wound up voting for war under the guidance of two Republican presidents because we only have one president at a time, and if he fails, my country fails. That is not acceptable. The Congress, both houses, both parties have to act like grown-ups and say that this is about policy. If it is about the presidency or if it’s about the majority in my House or your House, then it is never going to be about policy. Somebody is going to have to—not the four of us, but somebody is going to have to walk that back a few steps.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

The Republicans continue to tear each other apart as the 2012 elections get closer.  Karl Rove considers Herman Cain “not up to the job”.   Bachmann’s former NH staff have released a letter that puts the candidate in a bad light.

“Team members were repeatedly ignored regarding simple requests, sometimes going weeks with little or no contact with the national team,” they wrote.

The former New Hampshire staffers said they maintained a sense of loyalty to Bachmann as a candidate and were willing to continue helping her despite lingering uncertainty about payment of wages.

“Sadly, they were deceived, constantly left out of the loop regarding key decisions, and relegated to second-class citizens within a campaign in which they were the original members,” the group said.

The ex-staffers laid out a timeline very different from the one put forth by the Bachmann campaign, claiming that the New Hampshire campaign manager, Jeff Chidester, resigned in an email 10 days ago. When nobody reached out to the other staffers to address their concerns, they called it quits.

Meanwhile, Cain and Gingrich are going rogue by trying to have their own debate in Texas with Tea Party activists.

Presidential rivals Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) will participate in a “Lincoln-Douglas” influenced debate hosted by Tea Party activists in Texas next month, National Review is reporting.

The debate will focus on fiscal issues and the economy, and will be moderated by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

“We initially wanted a forum with all of the candidates,” Bill O’Sullivan, treasurer for the Texas Tea Party Patriots, told National Review. “But when we heard Gingrich say he wanted a more serious debate, like the Lincoln–Douglas debates, we wanted to do that, especially since watching the recent superficial debates has been frustrating.”

Rick Perry has introduced his tax plan which is a flat tax plan of 20%.  As expected, it will give a huge tax break to the wealthy and to corporations.  It also would eliminate inheritance  and capital gains taxes.  Perry seems to think that middle class tax payers will  be able to appreciate those things too!  What a moron!  Here’s some of the plan’s major points.

  • “The plan starts with giving Americans a choice between a new, flat tax rate of 20% or their current income tax rate. The new flat tax preserves mortgage interest, charitable and state and local tax exemptions for families earning less than $500,000 annually, and it increases the standard deduction to $12,500 for individuals and dependents.”
  • Elimination of the estate tax
  • Cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent.
  • Temporarily lower corporate tax rate to 5.25 percent to encourage repatriation.
  • Transition to “territorial” tax system that only taxes in-country income.
  • Eliminates the tax on Social Security benefits
  • Eliminates the capital gains tax

I wanted to share the first of this Bloomberg series on bias and blindness by one of the father’s of behavioral finance Daniel Kahneman.  He explains some of the frames folks use that some times leads them to make bad decisions in the face of risk.  Optimism evidently leads to excessive risk taking.

The evidence suggests that an optimistic bias plays a role — sometimes the dominant role — whenever people or institutions voluntarily take on significant risks. More often than not, risk-takers underestimate the odds they face and, because they misread the risks, optimistic entrepreneurs often believe they are prudent, even when they are not. Their confidence sustains a positive mood that helps them obtain resources from others, raise the morale of their employees and enhance their prospects of prevailing. When action is needed, optimism, even of the mildly delusional variety, may be a good thing.

An optimistic temperament encourages persistence in the face of obstacles. But this persistence can be costly. A series of studies by Thomas Astebro shed light on what happens when optimists get bad news. (His data came from Canada’s Inventor’s Assistance Program — which provides inventors with objective assessments of the commercial prospects of their ideas. The forecasts of failure in this program are remarkably accurate.)

In Astebro’s studies, discouraging news led about half of the inventors to quit after receiving a grade that unequivocally predicted failure. However, 47 percent of them continued development efforts even after being told that their project was hopeless, and on average these individuals doubled their initial losses before giving up.

Many House Democrats don’t think the Obama plan to help homeowner’s with underwater mortgages goes far enough.

“It’s far too little, it’s just baby steps,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a longtime critic of the administration’s housing policies, said in a phone interview. “They’re still not getting it.”

Cardoza, who announced last week he’ll retire at the end of 2012, noted that the housing collapse was a leading cause of the recession but among the last to be addressed.

“We need to excise the cancer that caused the illness before the patient can recover,” he said.

Rep. Lois Capps, another California Democrat critical of the administration’s foreclosure-prevention efforts, echoed that concern Monday, saying “much more is needed” to stabilize the struggling housing market.

“Today’s announcement is an encouraging step forward, but it is only one of a number of steps needed to fully address the growing foreclosure crisis,” Capps said in an email.

Here’s some common sense from Bernie Sanders speaking on the Ed Show and a few comments on the President’s program.  Senator Sanders also thinks the plan does not go far enough

So, that should get us started today. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Backlash

The only positive thing to come out of the Tea Party, its John Birch Society Roots and funding sources, and its election of right wing reactionaries is the amount of backlash that is coming as a result of imposing their extremist policies.  Their agenda is obvious. Many of the states that are suffering at the hands of governors and legislators that are more interested in ideology than solutions for their state’s problems are looking at recalls. It seems there’s a huge amount of blow-back now.  Just check out some of these polls.

Public Policy Polling reports on “brutal numbers” for Ohio’s John Kasich.  Not only do independents and nonunion households support a recall of his collective-bargaining killing bill, they don’t support him. They want him gone.

Ohio Senate Bill 5 may not be in effect for very long…54% of voters in the state say they’d repeal it in an election later this year while just 31% say they’d vote to let the bill stand.

The support for repealing SB 5 is reflective of a high level of support for unions and workers in Ohio, more so than we saw in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago. 63% of voters in the state supportive collective bargaining for public employees to only 29% who oppose it. 52% of voters think public employees should have the right to strike, to 42% who think they should not. And 65% think public employees should have the same rights they do now- or more- while only 32% believe they should have fewer rights.

There are two things particularly notable in the crosstabs on all of these questions. The first is that non-union households are supportive of the public employees. 54% support their collective bargaining rights to 36% in opposition and 44% say they would vote to repeal SB 5 to 38% who would let it stand. Obviously that level of support is not nearly as high as among union households but it still shows that the workers have even most of the non-union public behind them.

The other thing that’s worth noting is the independents. A lot of attention has been given to the way what’s been going on in Ohio and Wisconsin is galvanizing the Democratic base, but it’s also turning independents who were strongly supportive of the GOP in the Midwest last year back against the party. 62% of independents support collective bargaining for public employees to 32% opposed and 53% support repeal of SB 5 to 32% who would let it stand.

All of this is having an absolutely brutal effect on John Kasich’s numbers. We find him with just a 35% approval rating and 54% of voters disapproving of him. His approval with people who voted for him is already all the way down to 71%, while he’s won over just 5% of folks who report having voted for Ted Strickland last fall. Particularly concerning for him is a 33/54 spread with independents.

The site calls this “significant buyer’s remorse”.  This is the pollster for DKos that has polled on the Wisconsin effort to recall at least 8 Republican State Senators.

Three Republican incumbents actually trail “generic Dem”: Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, and Dan Kapanke. Two more have very narrow leads and garner less than 50% support: Rob Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf. And one more, Alberta Darling, holds a clear lead but is still potentially vulnerable. (Two recall-eligible senators, Mary Lazich and Glenn Grothman, sit in extremely red districts and look to have safe leads.) These numbers suggest we have a chance to make five and possibly six recall races highly competitive.

David Weigel–now of Slate--reports on similar trends for Rick Scott and Scott Walker. Rasmussen has Governor Walker hanging in there with a 43% approval rating.  It’s interesting when you get the same results  from a less liberal-affiliated polling company.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won his job last November with 52% of the vote, but his popularity has slipped since then.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Wisconsin Voters finds that just 34% Strongly Approve of the job he is doing, while 48% Strongly Disapprove. Overall, including those who somewhat approve or disapprove, the new Republican governor earns positive reviews from 43% and negative reviews from 57% of voters statewide.

In addition to the usual partisan and demographic breakdowns, it’s interesting to note that Walker, now engaged in a budget battle with unionized state workers, receives a total approval rating of 46% from households with private sector union members. However, among households with a public sector union member, only 19% offer their approval. Among all other households in the state, opinion is nearly evenly divided—49% favorable and 51% unfavorable.

It’s also interesting to note that among households with children in the public school system, only 32% approve of the governor’s performance. Sixty-seven percent (67%) disapprove, including 54% who Strongly Disapprove.

Wiegel writes that Democratic strategist believe the blowback will have signficant positive effects for the re-election of Obama come 2012.

I was talking the other day to a Democrat who’d been battle-scarred by the 2010 Florida campaign, in which Democrats lost everything. Everything. Alan Grayson’s career died quickly. Kendrick Meek became a trivia question. One of the people Palin endorsed, Pam Bondi, actually won. And Rick Scott pipped Alex Sink, the most talented statewide Democratic candidate since Lawton Chiles, to become governor.

This Democrat’s spin was that Sink’s loss wasn’t so bad after all. Scott was pissing off too many people — the Orlando-Tampa train he’d killed was popular — and Democrats could win back independents in 2012, saving the state for Barack Obama.

Further evidence of the extremist elements in both the Tea Party and the current incarnation of the Republican party show up in other polls.  A CNN poll shows that most people do not want the government shut down over budget issues.  The folks that object are basically tea party-affiliated.

Nearly six in ten people questioned in the poll say that it would be a bad thing for the government to shut down for a few days because Congress did not pass a new spending bill, with 36 percent saying it would be a good thing for the country. And if a government shutdown lasted a few weeks, that figure would rise to 73 percent.

“But Republicans think a shut down that lasts a few days would be a good thing. And a majority of Tea Party supporters approve of a shutdown even if it lasts several weeks,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “That puts pressure on House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders to take a step which might hurt their standing with independents as well as some Republicans.”

The survey indicates wide partisan differences on the issue, with only 21 percent of Democrats saying a shutdown for a few days would be a good thing. That figure rises to 35 percent for independent voters, 53 percent for Republicans, and 62 percent for Tea Party supporters.

Couple this with a Gallup poll that shows that Huckabee and Bachmann have the most intense followers in the field of GOP presidential wannabes. There is definitely a crazy side to the Republican Party and it’s showing signs of taking the party into extreme positions supported by very few Americans. I personally can’t imagine voting for either of this people for dog catcher let alone president.  I don’t think they’re qualified to flip hamburgers, frankly.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee leads the field of possible GOP presidential candidates in “positive intensity” among Republicans nationwide with a score of +25 among Republicans who are familiar with him, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with a score of +20. Huckabee is recognized by 87% of Republicans, compared with Bachmann’s 52%. A number of other possible Republican presidential candidates trail these two in Positive Intensity Scores, including Sarah Palin, who is the best known of the group.

With these kinds of people rising to the top in party politics of one of the major parties, it’s no wonder we also have an ABC News-WAPO poll that shows Americans are not very confident in their system of government.

Only 26 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’re optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works,” down 7 points since October to the fewest in surveys dating to 1974. Almost as many, 23 percent, are pessimistic, the closest these measures ever have come. The rest, a record high, are “uncertain” about the system.

The causes are many. Despite a significant advance, more than half still say the economy has not yet begun to recover. And there’s trouble at the pump: Seventy-one percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, report financial hardship as a result of rising gas prices. Forty-four percent call it a “serious” hardship.

People are desperately unhappy with the results of the two party system.  It doesn’t even appear that voting for party gridlock works much any more.   The Republican notion of big government is a white daddy government that restricts women’s rights, worker’s rights, and transfers wealth to the already rich and powerful.  What exactly is the Democratic notion these days?  While this backlash will work to the benefit of the sitting President and the Democratic politicians, will they just ride the backlash or actually articulate and run on some kind of vision for a change?  Let me be more specific.  How about some actions that match those fancy speeches for a change?

We now seem stuck the worst features of the two party system   We try for gridlock but get bugfug crazy from the Republicans.  We try for social justice but the Democratic Party never seems to be able to coalesce around a vision or agenda that does much other than respond to Republicans by caving-in and playing up to party donors.  I’m not sure that I see that changing much given we can’t even get this current President off his historical position of voting present.

The challenges that we’re facing today seem as severe as those we faced during the Bush years.  There’s a melt down in strongman governments in the MENA area, we’ve had two major energy-related disasters, and we’ve still got an economy that’s barely sustaining a recovery with high unemployment.  If there ever was time for leadership and vision from some corner of national politics, it would be now.  Voters keep turning the reigns of government over to the Dubyas, the Walkers, and the Kasichs because they can’t get what they want from Democrats.  They emerge from each party’s rule appalled.  It seems like some one reasonable could take advantage of that situation.  Why do I feel that the Democratic Party will just blow this opportunity away too?