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Government shutdown played havoc on the food supply

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I had resisted the temptation to write about the government shutdown. This obviously one-sided battle was being masqueraded as an “Obama shutdown” once it became unpopular (which happened pretty quickly). The olé style of U.S. cable news allowed for the question: “Whose shutdown was this?”. The scores should have been along the line of “Which direction does the sun rise in the morning?” Then again, these days, you might only get 65% of Americans to tell you the sun rises in the east.

I even resisted writing about the shutdown in terms of the food supply for our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com since the whole idea of shutting down the government over not winning on Obamacare (which can help cure those suffering from obesity, as an example) seemed so clueless.

But after the allegation that Homeland Security actually shut down a farmers market for fear of protesters (that never happened in reality), well, couldn’t stop my fingers from typing fast enough.

Even if some of the stories felt invisible, the government shutdown affected thousands of lives, from salmonella victims to those who have trouble accessing food stamps money to South Dakota cattle ranchers who suffered an early blizzard and couldn’t get federal help.

For more on this 2+ weeks saga into our food supply in a government shutdown, check out this column from our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

Written by democracysoup

October 18, 2013 at 7:10 am

Keith Olbermann is back on sports TV, but politics world still needs him

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Keith Olbermann returned to television last week. Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t realize this. Olbermann is not on MSNBC or Current TV or Al-Jazeera or CNN. He is doing a show on some outlet called ESPN2.

That’s right: Olbermann is doing a sports show that is called “Olbermann,” but has the feel of “Countdown.” “Time Marches On” is the reel of odd videos from the Internet. And the Worst Persons are back, but they are sports-related, and Keith goes out of his way to ask the viewing audience to not take the list literally.

But this doesn’t feel right. Keith Olbermann should have been talking this week about whether to bomb Syria or the possible shutdown of the government. And he should be telling us who the worst people in the world really are.

I am of the generation that remembers the Big Show with tag-team partners and biscuits in baskets and players that are 206 years old. And the new show plays highlights of Olbermann from his earlier stint at ESPN and ESPN2. But I also remember the sports show he hosted on Fox Sports Net (yes, he worked for Rupert Murdoch) where he read these beautiful sports essays. And in those moments, many of which he has had on the air in the last couple of weeks, we find the amazing writing talent that is Keith Olbermann.

Admittedly, some of the potential sports fans were turned off by Olbermann’s politics and perhaps his anger. In politics, those that loved Olbermann for his politics liked that he got angry because they were angry. While sports draws more passion than politics, Olbermann isn’t as angry on this show … so far.

Olbermann gets enthused, passionate about what he is talking about (find the video where Olbermann talks about his father and Satchel Paige). The tone was similar to Olbermann talking about his father’s health care when he was in the hospital. But this Olbermann, so far, hasn’t been as angry. Sports matters, but politics is about real life. And so it’s good for Olbermann that he isn’t as angry as he was on Countdown, especially on Current TV.

When Keith got upset about concussions in the NFL and those players whose lives ended prematurely because of the impact of concussions, you saw some of the passion that was there on Countdown, especially the most recent MSNBC version. It’s great to have that passion and writing skill back on television. But you still feel, deep in the back of your heart, that he still belongs in talking about politics.

Previous coverage of Keith Olbermann on Democracy Soup

On occasion, sports is the topic, but the issues of the day are just underneath the surface. Olbermann spent Labor Day with a tribute to Marvin Miller, who won freedom from the reserve clause from MLB owners. Sure the talk was about players and money, but the labor market and freedom were there if your ears could pull in the proper frequency.

Olbermann was said not to have blown up bridges at ESPN, but to have napalmed them. True to that word, Olbermann does his show in Times Square in New York City, not in Bristol, CT. To be fair, when you can’t drive (Olbermann has a long-time eye injury that doesn’t allow him to drive), New York City makes more sense than Bristol. And ESPN hasn’t evaded Olbermann’s ire on sports topics, calling out his company when appropriate.

Olbermann started an episode obsessing about a New York newspaper sports columnist on some issue with the Jets quarterback situation that was picturesque Olbermann, except that outside New York City, no one cared about the topic. But the tone and controlled anger were sweet music, even if you didn’t care about the signal caller for the Jets.

Olbermann needs to be in a scenario where his anger is prevalent but controlled to an extent. Toward the end at MSNBC and throughout most of his time at Current TV, Olbermann was a little too angry. This made for beautiful TV, but his employers weren’t thrilled.

Tis better to have Keith Olbermann on television more than not having him on television, and sports is better off to have Keith critiquing that world. As a society, we were better off when Olbermann was going after the problems of the world. Keith seems to be very sincere in wanting to do a show about sports instead of politics.

In the first few minutes of his first episode, Olbermann made a joke at his own expense about Chris Christie’s reaction to a NFL-related story. Olbermann pointed out that Chris Christie was right … about the NFL. Perhaps that was a dig at those who love Keith but hate his politics. Or Olbermann’s way of saying “really, things are different.”

When Olbermann left MSNBC the first time, he went back to sports, so there is always a chance that he will go back somewhere someday. But the MSNBC landscape isn’t the same since he left, and Current TV is gone. That world still misses Keith Olbermann, even if he back on television. Sports, hope you appreciate what you have.

image credit: ESPN2

Way too soon to critique diversity in Obama second-term Cabinet

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President Barack Obama finally got a strong bipartisan consensus on a move that he has made. The situation wasn’t easy, and maybe some people in each party can live with the decision that Obama has made, but the extremes in both parties are not happy with Obama’s decision.

That’s right, Obama has bipartisan consensus … against Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, is disliked by the right because he wasn’t conservative enough. He’s from Nebraska; how “liberal” could he be?

The choice of Hagel is disliked on the left for his remarks about gays. Barney Frank, who want to be John Kerry’s interim replacement, initially went against Hagel but changed his mind. Oh, and this annoying trait of Democratic centrist presidents choosing Republicans to run defense.

For the centrist Obama, Hagel is the choice that makes the most sense to him, but is one of those decisions that Obama makes that alienates his base but doesn’t give him any credit from the other side.

Obama took the token symbolism of picking a squishy centrist person from the other party for the cabinet and cranked it up. Obama kept Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, added Ray LaHood for transportation, something Dems actually care about, and wanted (foolishly) to pick Judd Gregg for Commerce. How many points did Obama score with the GOP and the MSM? Zero.

Leon Panetta wasn’t a great defense secretary, but Panetta was the first Democratic defense secretary since 1997. Still waiting for the first Republican president to put a Democratic person in charge of defense.

Yes, Bill Clinton and Obama showed they could work with people on the other side of the glass. The moves haven’t been complimented by actions from the other side. Yes, critics could cite Norman Mineta, but if you don’t remember who Mineta is or what he did, then it wasn’t that memorable, was it?

The pick of Hagel, along with a few preliminary Cabinet selections, has led the MSM to create a false scandal and some outlets to invoke the “binders of women” on Obama. WTF?

The basis of this “scandal” is that four white men are the nominees for State, Defense, CIA, and Treasury. However, the current people in those positions and three white men and Hillary Clinton. So where’s the scandal?

Susan Rice could have been the State nominee but her name was pulled before a nomination thanks to bullying by McCain-Graham-Ayotte (MGA?). Michèle Flournoy is a very good contender for Defense, and the immediate thought if the Hagel nomination doesn’t go through the Senate. No woman has ever served as the head of Defense.

Lisa Jackson is leaving EPA and Hilda Solis just resigned as the head of Labor. Solis was the first Latina female in a Cabinet post. But the Obama Administration hasn’t announced replacements.

In terms of representation and competence within that, Obama’s numbers are off the charts. This isn’t to say Obama handled the Susan Rice situation well. But Rice is still the UN Ambassador, a rather important position.

If the end result is a significant loss of diversity, then feel free to criticize the president. One position change doesn’t amount to a scandal.

2012 Election Recap: A step up for Dems in the Senate

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Even if Florida doesn’t go for Barack Obama, he’ll have more electoral votes in both terms than George W. Bush and a larger percentage of the popular vote than anyone in 20 years. Yet the GOP and the media treated Obama as if he didn’t have a mandate in 2008 and are hinting the same treatment in 2012.

Obama has truly earned this. Treat him like any other president.

Teabaggers have a much easier time winning a House seat. Small amount of people, especially if the GOP has drawn redistricting to your advantage. The number of governors races the GOP won in 2010 meant more GOP House seats in 2012.

Republicans understand this, Dems are trying to catch up.

As we saw in 2010 and 2012, teabaggers are bad at running for Senate seats. Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock found ways not to get elected to the U.S. Senate.

The GOP could still hang onto the House in 2014, but without a significant change in the dynamic, either the teabaggers stop running for the Senate or society starts embracing the teabaggers, the House is the only area the GOP can find happiness.

The phrase that kept going in my head throughout Election Night was “step up.” Yes, the Dems picked up a few Senate seats, but they made some good trade-offs on seats that didn’t lose.

Chris Murphy over Joe Lieberman: step up. A potted plant over Joe Lieberman: step up. That was just Connecticut, a blue state. Tim Kaine over Jim Webb (Virginia): step up. Heidi Heitkamp over Kent Conrad (North Dakota): step up. Okay, Heitkamp isn’t so much a step up on Conrad, but she’ll have more enthusiasm to want to stay in the Senate.

Two other races involved moderate Republicans switching over to “Dems” in the middle. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Richard Lugar (Indiana) will trade out for Angus King (I-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN). They may not be pure votes on every topic, but will vote for the Dems on the big issues, such as Supreme Court nominees.

2006 and 2008 brought a bunch of new Democratic senators, and so 2012 and now 2014 will be big years for new Dems to defend their seats. Every Dem on his/her first term got re-elected.

Some of those senators may have been helped by Obama coattails in 2012. The ones running in 2014 won’t have that luxury.

Traditionally, the party in power doesn’t do well in the second term midterm. The economy might make the difference; the GOP will likely still hold the economy hostage.

Despite the screaming of the “fiscal cliff” — and the Canadian media seems even more worried about this than the U.S. media  — the temptation is to end all the Bush tax cuts, something Obama should have done in 2009, and let the automatic cuts kick in. Obama has tried not hard not to look angry, but he needs to look tough. As the late Bob Marley would have put it, “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your right.”

If Obama lets the Bush tax cuts go, then he can negotiate any “middle-class” tax cut.

Written by democracysoup

November 9, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Mitt Romney won’t release medical records or tax returns; American voters deserve full disclosure

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If Mitt Romney is elected, he would be the fourth oldest person (Ronald Reagan, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan) to be inaugurated. The issue of a 68-year-old becoming president was important in 2008 in part because of problems with cancer … and Sarah Palin.

Well, Romney is 65, and many find Paul Ryan more dangerous than Palin. Yes, Romney doesn’t drink, not even caffeine. In previous years, these concerns would be dealt with by releasing medical records. John McCain at 68 released his records somewhat and allowed only limited access. This was better than the standard for Palin, who got away with not releasing her medical records.

Medical records are magically not an issue in the 2012 race. No one seems to know why.

Heck, Romney didn’t want to release his tax returns beyond 2011 and 2012. His 2012 records had him underplaying his charitable contributions so his tax rate seemed somewhat more “normal” but still way under what average Americans pay. The fact that Romney hasn’t released any more (unlike other presidential nominees) does imply that he is hiding something.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to force Romney’s bluff. Reid could have looked extremely foolish, except for the fact that Romney never released those returns. The problem is that the MSM and most of the American public forgot that Romney never did release those records. The last media person I saw mention Romney’s tax returns was David Letterman, a late-night talk show host.

We had Donald Trump offer the sitting president of the United States, Barack Obama, to release his college records in exchange for a $5 million charitable contribution. We can’t get tax returns from the GOP nominee and Trump thinks something in college records, which no presidential candidate has had to release, is that valuable.

Trump said he’d be satisfied if Obama did this. No one believes this, not even Trump. While I couldn’t offer $5 million, we certainly could scrape up $10,000 — a typical Romney bet — to get Romney to release his tax returns.

George Romney released a dozen years of tax returns and he wasn’t even the party’s nominee. Like father, not like son.

The voters relied on a local journalist to uncover the DUI conviction of George W. Bush in 2000. Since the revelation came so late, the GOP felt like it was a last-minute trick. If the MSM had done their job, they would have found the DUI long before then.

You might think that DUI convictions, tax returns, medical files, and other personal information isn’t necessary to pick a presidential candidate. You might believe the information is important, but only if your opponent reveals that.

Unfortunately, there is no standard for what gets released and certainly no agreement on a penalty for not revealing information. The previous gentleman’s agreement philosophy has certainly been thrown out by the Republicans.

If Romney gets elected and we find out that he only paid 9% or 2% or really didn’t pay taxes in some or all of those years, we have ourselves to blame. If Paul Ryan has to take the oath of office because Romney had some medical condition and dies, well, we didn’t try hard enough to track this information down.

Past acts can’t guarantee what will happen in the future. But wanting to be president and vice president should lower your desire for privacy. In 2008, we had the candidate who was born in the United States release his long-form birth certificate. The guy who wasn’t born in the U.S. — he got a free pass.

If you want to be leader of the free world, you should let us know a few basic facts. The last thing we should want is a president or vice president who is more concerned about hiding something from the American people.

2012 debate III: Does Mitt Romney have a foreign policy?

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Watching Mitt Romney during the foreign policy debate reminded me of George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential debate with the mysterious pack on his back. The likelihood was that Bush was getting answers piped in so he could seem smarter in the debate with John Kerry.

Romney could have used some help, and not just because he thought Syria shared a border with Iran.

You had the feeling that Dan Quayle would have been more prepared than Romney for the foreign policy debate. Even Gov. Bush had a foreign policy philosophy in 2000. Of course, Bush threw that out the window in 2001; thousands of Americans and Iraqis would still be alive today if Bush had followed through.

Romney should have been wearing a shirt that said, “Me too.” Watching Romney describe his thought process about Syria, the informed viewer would have been sitting there saying, “Uh, that is what Obama is doing.”

Romney or President Barack Obama will have to deal with the whole world, not just the Middle East. You wouldn’t have known this from Bob Schieffer’s obsession with that area of the world.

Nothing about Canada, the U.S. largest trading partner and the source of that “North American energy independent” mantra. Nothing about Mexico: trade, guns, drugs, gangs. And where was the European Union in a foreign policy debate.

Schieffer didn’t help things by letting Romney and then Obama slip back into domestic policy. I like Schieffer overall; Jim Lehrer, too. But Martha Raddatz and Candy Crowley kicked far more butt in their performances.

This format cries for newspaper reporters, bloggers, and other respected journalists to open up the field to cover a wider variety of issues. Watching the folks at the Fox “News” Channel whine about questions in different areas during the town hall event shows that the debates don’t help people figure out who would make the better president.

Romney is taking advantage of this idea that if it works, will be used as political strategy for the next generation of politics. The Romney you see in the debates is remnant of George W. Bush, 2000. “Hey. I’m a reasonable guy. I’ll change once I’m elected. And the MSM won’t dare call me a liar or a flip-flopper.”

No matter who Indiana elects to the Senate, the missing piece on the GOP side will be the loss of Richard Lugar. By far on the Republican side of the aisle, Lugar showed the deepest knowledge of the world. Even if Lugar were still in the Senate, Romney likely wouldn’t heed his advice.

A lot was made four years ago that Obama didn’t know much about foreign policy. But even though Obama’s time in the U.S. Senate was quite brief, he learned to listen to people who knew what was going on.

Obama drilled this point home, contrasting his trips abroad as a candidate in 2008 vs. Romney’s impression of Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”

Obama picked Joe Biden to be his vice president. Kerry might be the next Secretary of State if Obama is elected. Hillary Clinton has made most of the world forget Condoleezza Rice’s less-than-stellar efforts at the State Department.

The vast majority of those helping the governor on foreign policy are Bushies, masters of tragic foreign policy decisions. If Romney is elected, he will have a foreign policy. But we saw what happened the last time a presidential candidate tried to improv on foreign policy. Worst. Foreign policy. Ever.

Romney had a much worse third debate than Obama had a first debate. That was ignored by the MSM as they continue to pound the message that Romney is plausible. In a battle of strong vs. plausible, strong should easily win. Either the MSM mentality is plausible in a Republican is better than strong in a Democratic, or plausible in a white president is better than strong in a black president. Either conclusion is abhorrent.

The consensus is that Obama didn’t have a good first debate because he wasn’t as attacking as Romney was. Well, Romney had fewer attacks in the foreign policy debate, had a near Gerald Ford moment, and copied off Obama’s paper in the foreign policy test. The deliberate blindness is why fewer people trust the media for rational, objective analysis.

2012 debate II: Mitt Romney can’t keep up with his multiple personalities

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If you were following Twitter and Facebook during the debate, you saw the rise of “binders full of women.” In watching the second presidential debate live, the line sneaked past me. When I saw “binders full of women” on social media, I realized I had missed something that was there all along.

John McCain had drafted Sarah Palin in part to appeal to those women frustrated by Hillary Clinton’s loss in the primary. Whatever you might think about McCain, Palin, or the McCain campaign, they were trying to get women to vote for them.

Soccer moms, security moms: these were the focus of past elections. Often ignored in the focus on women were single women. Married with children? Politicians cared. Single women? Uh, never mind.

President Barack Obama’s campaign has focused on single women with its policies, but the campaign people must realize that they are capturing single women by default. Transvaginal probes. Backlash against Sandra Fluke. The Mitt Romney campaign and the GOP have been driving away single women for the last two years. So even if you might wonder why “binders full of women” became such a big deal, this wasn’t about one comment in a debate; this has been building.

We found out later that Romney fudged when he said that this was his idea. An organization approached the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates with the idea of employing more women. Yes, it could get even worse.

The second debate spotlighted Romney telling Americans that he doesn’t believe in something and that isn’t his position. Then again, the accusations against Romney are his positions. This would be the sign of a particularly bad candidate, but there may be something more.

Three Faces of Eve, Sybil, depending on your generational perspective: Mitt Romney has many signs of multiple personalities. And the second debate proved conclusively that he is having trouble keeping them straight.

Romney says positions such as employers should have the right to deny women contraception through the insurance program (Blunt Amendment). In fact, Romney went out of his way to confirm that stand earlier this year. In the debate, when confronted with the reality of this stance, his reply was that of course he wasn’t in favor of that.

After the debate, the Romney campaign ran an ad from a former Obama supporter saying that she researched this and found out that Romney is in favor of contraception. To be fair, you can find that online. And you can also find that he doesn’t. The “doesn’t” speaks louder than the “does.”

The woman in the ad points out that Romney supports abortion exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Paul Ryan does not, and Romney said he would sign into law a provision that doesn’t allow for exceptions. Yes, we are dealing with multiple personalities at work.

“Moderate” Romney has shown up during the debates, and can’t believe he would be accused of doing what “Conservative” Romney has been doing behind “Moderate” Romney’s back. As soon as the TV lights go out, he’s back to being “Conservative” Romney.

This isn’t funny, not just because Romney might be president, but because he comes across as sincere when denying his own stances. This is really sad.

Speaking of women and debates, Candy Crowley and Martha Raddatz proved their gender strong in hosting debates. Crowley was the first women to host a presidential debate since Carole Simpson hosted the town hall debate in 1992.

You might remember that Katie Couric was supposed to host a Democratic primary debate in North Carolina in 2008. Hillary Clinton agreed to the debate, but Barack Obama said no to the April 27 date. To be fair, the objection from the Obama camp centered around doing a date before the Pennsylvania primary (April 22). The original April 19 date fell on the first night of Passover, so that idea was scrapped. And the original original date of December 2007 in Los Angeles fell through because no one wanted to cross the picket line when CBS journalists threatened to join the Hollywood writers strike.

Regular readers know of my strong dislike for Katie Couric’s attempts at real journalism. If Couric had done a debate, unfortunately for women, she would have set their gender back a decade.

The flaw with the current debate mode is that four people control what gets asked and what doesn’t in the presidential debate format: Jim Lehrer, Martha Raddatz, Candy Crowley, and Bob Schieffer. Having women in the mix offers some representation. You have an African-American man on stage as the incumbent president, and yet no journalists of color get to ask debate questions.

Having journalists correct obvious mistakes in a televised scenario would be an obviously good thing, especially when democracy is on the line. The situation is bad enough when obvious lies hit the transcript without so much as a bat of an eye. I remember covering politics with three GOP operatives hit the airwaves saying that George W. Bush wasn’t in charge on September 11, 2001, and none of them were corrected on the air.

We wish this nuance applied to minutia that comes down the pike, but when the lie is obvious, journalists have an obligation to speak up.

Candy Crowley did the right thing in the right moment. I wasn’t thrilled that she let Romney bully his way through the early part of the debate, and cut off President Obama in the middle of his answer. But at that moment, Crowley did what a journalist is supposed to do.

Not to take sides, but the GOP counts on journalists not doing their job more than Dems do. And Republicans freak out louder when journalists don’t act like a bullfighter as the charging lies — olé — pass by.

After not running on his record as governor of Massachusetts, Romney has decided to suddenly run on his record, but again only during the debates. Since Romney had not mentioned his record and Obama’s team didn’t say much about that, we don’t know much about what Romney did as Massachusetts governor.

The man has been running for governor for 5-6 years and we don’t know much about his stint as governor. The alternative press has done some digging, but the MSM is slow on this point. If Romney gets elected, he may set a new precedent for burying part of a candidate’s record: just don’t talk about it and see what happens.

The MSM has to react to a bell in order to chase the cheese. Remember how little effort they put into searching for George W. Bush’s DUI in 2000.

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