Archive for January 2009
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on January 29, 2009
Gene Kranz, lead flight director for Mission Control, said during the Apollo 13 flight, “Failure is not an option.” To many, this describes the financial crisis of 2008-2009. But failure is not only an option for Rush Limbaugh, but also it’s a requirement.
George W. Bush tells us that history takes a long time to determine whether a presidency succeeded or not. By whatever standard you place on the Barack Obama Administration, Rush Limbaugh wants it to fail.
By Limbaugh’s standards, the Bush realm passed, so maybe it’s a psych-out reverse, parallel universe, opposites day. If Obama “fails,” we’ll have peace and prosperity in record time.
But no, in the time of gigantic financial peril, in great part due to the mess of the last eight years, Limbaugh wants Obama to fail, as in not having his programs succeed.
Limbaugh is like a troll that lives under the bridge. He spouts his rhetoric and runs back and hides under his bridge. But this time, someone responded with an attack back at him.
President Obama told GOP members at a meeting that “you can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”
Limbaugh responded by saying, “I think Obama wants me to fail.”
This exchange between a very popular president and a long-time pill-poppin’, former country music disc jockey might seem unfair on many levels. But Limbaugh is desperate. After all, he can’t ride high on personal access to the commander-in-chief nor be part of the MSM tidal wave against President Clinton.
Limbaugh is in panic mode, and it shows. Two days after Obama was elected, Limbaugh referred to the “Obama recession” a full 75 days before Obama took office. And now that Limbaugh has called for Obama to fail, he is tumbling down to depths not previously imagined.
When fellow conservative Bill Bennett says you’ve gone too far, you might want to rethink your rhetoric.
But Limbaugh is worried and short of substantial things to say. He doesn’t want to go back to Missouri and play country music. And so the harsh extreme rhetoric continues to flow.
Al Franken once told us that Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat idiot. Now we can add on frantic and hypocritical. Oh, and Rush Limbaugh is also as the Media Putz of the week.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 01/28/2009 – 11:45am
Amending the U.S. Constitution is supposed to be done when absolutely necessary, not an idle decision to be made hastily.
But we do have a new proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to revise the 17th Amendment to take away from governors the power to solely appoint replacements to the U.S. Senate.
“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people. I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute. As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon.”
But is that proposed amendment overkill or just the right kind of move to make?
Since 1913, governors, with certain exceptions, have had the universal power to make replacements to the U.S. Senate. Before the 17th Amendment, senators were not elected, but voted on by state legislatures. So the 17th Amendment was seen as a necessary improvement for democracy.
So we have 96 years of a track record to decide whether the 17th Amendment needs to be updated. But the discussion doesn’t involve 96 years of decisions. It only invokes one decision in 2008: Illinois.
Everyone agrees that the spectacle that has surrounded Illinois and its governor is a horrible scandal, and should not be repeated. But there was another recent case where a state ran into a controversy, and its solution might show some light on what we can do in lieu of a Constitutional amendment.
Frank Murkowski (R-AK) was a longtime U.S. Senator for almost 22 years until late 2002. Murkowski was elected governor of the state. And as governor, Murkowski picked his own Senate replacement, his daughter Lisa Murkowski.
The voters of Alaska were outraged as the audacity of the move. So what did the voters of Alaska do? Did they complain about a Constitutional Amendment?
No. They did something about it. First of all, they voted against Murkowski in the next primary in 2006. Murkowski came in third in a party primary with 19%. Not third in a general race, third in a primary (Who won that primary? Yes, it was Sarah Palin with 51%).
But that isn’t all the voters did. In fact, Alaska’s law on senatorial succession was changed twice in 2004 — legislatively and by ballot initiative. And both laws call for a special election within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy.
Say what you will about Alaska politics, but they were unhappy with the process. And so they did something about it.
In 1976, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson chose to pick himself to replace newly elected Vice President Walter Mondale in the Senate. How well did that go? Anderson was soundly defeated when he had to run again in 1978. Again, the voters decided.
Here is the portion of the 17th Amendment, which allows states to set up exceptions to the governor picks the replacement option.
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. (our emphasis)
There are 16 states that don’t give governors that direct power: 12 states require a special election. And there are four states — Hawaii, Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming — where governors must select a candidate from a list submitted by representatives of the departing incumbent’s political party. Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal utilized this latter form when Sen. Craig Thomas died in 2007.
California and New Jersey allow a gubernatorial option for a fast special election.
Perhaps Illinois will be the next state to change that law, followed by New York, Delaware, and Colorado. Or not.
Filling a vacancy with a special election becomes an easier idea when there are two years until the next major election. But under the 28th Amendment, in the Paul Wellstone case, a special election would be required to fill the last two months of a term. Is that a prudent use of taxpayer money?
Those who are concerned about the current state of affairs can be completely justified in their response. The Illinois situation was a complete fiasco, but perhaps if the state laws were better written, the governor could have been made to step aside, which would have significantly reduced the size of the mess. But critics of the New York and Delaware situations are making way more of this than needed.
David Paterson’s pick of Kirsten Gillibrand was convoluted, but he did say he wanted to pick a woman from Upstate all along, and he did. And Gillibrand is no better or worse than many other decisions made in the last 96 years that received much less publicity.
If critics of Paterson don’t like what he did, they can vote him and Gillibrand out of office in the next election. And in Delaware, they can choose not to vote for Beau Biden if they don’t like the way that seat was handled.
There are distinct differences between House seats and Senate seats, which require different rules. Senators are more important than Representatives, and the difference in time lost is more significant in the upper body. Insisting on all 50 states having special elections will create a solution worse than the problem.
Under the 17th Amendment, states are allowed to make their own rules. Yes, the governor can make temporary appointments but that is only “until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.” So the state legislatures can make a call, and so far, 18 states have done so.
And if people in the 32 other states aren’t happy with the current setup, they have the will to change the law without needing a Constitutional Amendment. The 17th Amendment gives them the option right now to change the rules. All they have to do is utilize the power if they want things to change.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 01/23/2009 – 2:28pm
Congratulations to Senator-designate Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), the replacement selected by New York Gov. David Paterson. Gillibrand comes to the Senate from slightly over one term in the U.S. House. But as we saw from her initial press conference, Gillibrand has a lot of ideas on what to do and where to go as a U.S. Senator.
One person who had been considered for the post is Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, and niece of Robert F. Kennedy, who held that seat from 1965 until his assassination in 1968.
Now, the possible nomination of Caroline Kennedy produced a maelstrom of controversy. She was criticized for a lack of experience and for her, um, well, you know, oratory skills.
There was hope for a possible new Sen. Kennedy for the positive reasons she would be considered: someone who is involved in important societal issues, someone who works hard, and quite frankly, someone who didn’t need the power of being a U.S. Senator.
For too long, we have seen politicians abuse their power for personal gain or disturbed philosophy. And many were looking for a change from the attack mode mentality that has invaded politics.
When I proposed Caroline Kennedy as a possible VP pick last summer (way before others jumped on the bandwagon), I did realize that perhaps I was using Kennedy as a symbol of wanting a new way of doing things. After a vice president such as Dick Cheney, Caroline Kennedy was the un-Cheney.
There definitely was a need to shake things up. And whether you were a Sarah Palin fan or not, she did represent a new way of doing things.
But it’s likely that in examining Kennedy for vice president or for Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, we were looking past the actual person in wanting to find what we think she represented.
In Caroline Kennedy, we wanted what we thought we saw in her. Despite her lack of experience, it did seem like she could have been a quality senator. But the one lesson Kennedy likely learned is this exchange is that while it’s good to shake things up, you still have to want it.
When thrust into the spotlight, Kennedy didn’t look ready, verbal stumbles aside. At her press conference, Senator-designate Gillibrand looked ready. And voters do like confidence in their political leaders.
The other intriguing critique for Kennedy is that she wasn’t qualified because she lacked experience in elected office. Well, Ted Kaufman (D-DE) was appointed the replacement senator though he had never been elected. And Valerie Jarrett was a name thrown out for Barack Obama’s replacement as Senator, though she had never been elected. Both Kaufman and Jarrett had more official political experience, but Kennedy was singled out for not having been elected.
And Senator-designate Gillibrand has slightly more than two years of elected experience, though she does have other official political experience.
We want our politicians to be new and different, but we want them to have political experience. If the Democratic primary had been purely about resumes, we’d be talking about President Bill Richardson. But it’s about more than resumes; it’s about leadership and purpose. The people selected Obama over John McCain even though he had less experience.
Those that supported Caroline Kennedy felt she could have risen to the top if given the chance. However, Kennedy is proof that we want change — with parameters.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 01/23/2009 – 11:23am
George W. Bush was the kind of person that even monks would make jokes about. There were so many areas with which to pick to attack or criticize.
But the man lived in a bubble for eight years. Well, he probably still lives in that bubble. But if he was aware that people didn’t like him, he never really let on. And certainly not when it mattered.
Andrew Jackson was a president who considered himself a man of the people. George W. Bush and his people went out of their way to make sure the groups he spoke in front of were ultra-friendly (just ask the Denver Three among many others).
But two people in eight years truly got past the barrier, and actually expressed to Bush the thoughts, views, and opinions expressed by citizens who weren’t otherwise able to penetrate the thick bubble: the shoe thrower in Iraq and Stephen Colbert.
The shoe-thrower in Iraq was for the most part non-verbal in his communication, was pretty specific in his area of concern, and allegedly paid the price physically. Colbert worked his way into several notable categories, was extremely verbal, getting in zingers without seeming menacing, and walked away without physical threat.
We have seen time and time again over the last eight years that the skin in the “boy in the bubble” is either thin, or those around him fear it is. Let’s take the story of Tyler Crotty, the kid in Orlando, FL who was yawning and desperately trying to stay awake for one of Bush’s speeches back in 2004. Crotty almost made the list of doing things to Bush’s face, but technically Crotty did so behind his back.
What some people might forget is that CNN rushed to Bush’s defense, saying the White House said the child was edited into the videotape. CNN later apologized for that statement. However, either the White House really did complain over a 13-year-old child, or CNN felt it necessary to lie that they did complain.
The pressure on Colbert was a lot tougher than it might have seemed. There were famous people who spoke out in the last eight years and suffered career losses as a result. Just ask the Dixie Chicks and Bill Maher.
David Letterman, in particular, has certainly expressed his feelings about Bush over the years. Certainly Keith Olbermann is not a favorite of the Bush team. But the television has an off button. And despite what Karl Rove has tried to impart in us, Bush isn’t much of a reader. And it’s more than likely that Bush doesn’t hit too many of the blogs, especially BuzzFlash.
There is a necessary level of protection between the president and the people. The president doesn’t drive a car, shop for groceries, and can’t go to a regular movie theater. But the president, despite living in such a sheltered environment, needs to understand where the wind blows in this country.
By Bush shutting himself in much more than previous presidents, Republican or Democratic, he also invites a more hostile reaction to his deeds (never mind that the deeds themselves get their own hostile reaction). In the modern era where 3 network newscasts are a small blip in the media world, presidents need to be less isolated to the media around them. Because when a president is confronted with something unkind, that person needs to know whether it’s a fluke or the initial wave of a tsunami of criticism.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on January 22, 2009
The corporate press
We had an end of an era this past week: watching George W. Bush go into the helicopter and fly away from the multiple levels of damage inflicted upon this country.
Bush had a lot of help in causing that damage: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al. But we would be remiss if we didn’t leave out a culpable, valuable part of this mess: the corporate press corps.
Don’t be modest. You had your hands in molding and shaping the impact that George W. Bush had on this country. After eight years of using every resource imaginable — whether factual or not — to make Bill Clinton’s presidency as miserable as possible, suddenly you got soft, laid-back, like a veteran protestor who knows to go limp when confronted by the police.
Then there was the way you let Bush off the hook for not preventing the September 11 attacks. Heck, you didn’t even point out how he dragged his feet on putting together the 9/11 Commission, and then watched as he ignored their recommendations.
Oh, and how you didn’t even criticize him for not caring about going after the guy who masterminded the attacks, Osama bin Laden, remember him?
So when Bush et al went after compiling reasons for going to war in Iraq that had no basis in reality, where was the diligent corporate press corps? They were changing into their cheerleading outfits, ready to Fight, Fight, Fight.
All those muscles you used to pick and claw at Clinton’s deeds and non-deeds have atrophied over the last eight years. Didn’t matter whether there was anything to the charges, if they involved Bill Clinton, the claws were out.
But Bush scandal after Bush scandal came flying by: destruction of the Fourth Amendment, horrible economic downturns, misguided war, inaccurate science, unnecessary death and destruction. And yet the corporate media couldn’t lift a finger in objection.
Oh, but there was Katrina. Yes, like Rip Van Winkle waking up from a multiple-year nap, the corporate media beat its chests proud over objecting to how things were handled in Katrina. Though to be fair, Katrina had two things going for it: 1) easy to describe on television, and 2) something tangible. People stranded on a rooftop or in a domed stadium is tangible; destruction of the Fourth Amendment is hard to show on the 6 o’clock news.
And even then, Bush never really got his due for his lack of leadership on multiple levels.
But what made the relationship between George W. Bush and the press fascinating was that Bush was rude and condescending to the press. The Adam Clymer story happened before the 2000 election. Yet, the press reacted meekly at every major turn. By contrast, Clinton was nice to the press, yet he remains the only president in recent times without a honeymoon from the press.
Then there was the strange turns where the Bush Administration gave money to get their words placed in the press (e.g., Armstrong Williams) and slipped in fake reporters known more for being a gay escort (e.g., Jeff Gannon).
Of all places, one of the best analysis of the press relationship with George W. Bush was on the Colbert Report, including an interview with then-NBC White House correspondent David Gregory. Then again, you wouldn’t expect a straightforward analysis in the corporate media.
Now that we have a new president in charge, we do expect the corporate press to suddenly become diligent. They will work hard, not because as Gregory noted to Colbert that “we will try to learn from the experience of the last eight years,” but because a Democrat is in charge and Bush is back in Texas.
So for not doing your job for the last eight years much to the detriment of your profession and this country, we gladly grant you the Media Putz of the week.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Tue, 01/20/2009 – 12:09pm
You wait for the big moment: you are about to be sworn in as President of the United States. But it takes two to swear-in a president: the president-elect and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Someone screwed up and it wasn’t Barack Obama.
The oath goes: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States.”
Chief Justice John Roberts messed up the line, saying “execute the office of President to the United States faithfully.” (Yes, he also used the wrong preposition. Why couldn’t he have had notes?)
English language teachers cringed nationwide: adverbs must directly modify verbs.
But in a true shift of education standards, Obama knew Roberts made a mistake. Unfortunately, Obama repeated the words as Roberts said them. But having a president who knows grammar is a sharp improvement over “Is our children learning?”
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Sun, 01/18/2009 – 12:19pm
This was the flyer passed out to customers who came to the Hyde Park location of Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop. Was the place up to the expectations of Barack Obama? Keep reading to find out.
You know Barack Obama in his many roles: U.S. Senator, President-elect, change artist. Now we find out there was a secret role all along: restaurant critic.
As it turns out, then state Sen. Barack Obama was a guest on one of the very first episodes taped of “Check Please,” a show where three average people pick a restaurant, and then the others go to those restaurants, and they come back to a TV studio to discuss what they liked and didn’t like about those dining establishments.
The episode, originally taped on August 14, 2001, had never aired until Friday night when WTTW, Chicago’s primary PBS station, finally aired the program. The station made the previously unaired episode the 100th episode of the program.
And having seen the previous 99 episodes, I felt an obligation to delve further into this previously unknown role.
The producer and creator, David Manilow, has said the episode didn’t originally air because he felt Obama dominated the conversation. That was true, but Obama was trying to help the other guests feel more comfortable. The firefighter on the show seemed particularly nervous and unsure, but he did warm up a little throughout the episode.
At two points in the show, the original host Amanda Puck (yes, sister-in-law of Wolfgang Puck) turned to Obama and asked him questions, knowing she would get good answers. And she did.
The episode suffers a bit because it was one of the first to be taped. It didn’t have the flow that later episodes would have. So perhaps timing was a factor as to not originally air the episode. If Obama’s opponents were wondering if Obama himself was the problem with the episode, there were no signs of that at all. He was incredibly smooth.
Now if you think the show suffered from having a “celebrity” on the program, actually the show has featured quite a few local celebrities on the program. Journalists Rick Kogan, Ray Hanania, Dan Berstein, Terry Armour, and Lucio Guerrero have been featured on the program. If Guerrero’s name sounds familiar, yes, the one-time Sun-Times reporter’s current day job is spokesman for Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The show even had an episode featuring three Chicago morning radio personalities Eric Ferguson, Sam Sylk, and Melissa Forman. But perhaps the most nationally famous person on the show before Obama was Steve Wilkos. If you aren’t familiar with Wilkos’ work, he became famous as a bodyguard on the “Jerry Springer” show, and even got his own talk show, “The Steve Wilkos Show.” Wilkos recommended a North Side fondue place in 2005.
And Obama is not the first politician to grace the show. Chicago Aldermen Manny Flores and Walter Burnett, Jr. were on the program. Each recommended a restaurant in their ward (though Flores’ pick coincidentally closed shortly after the episode aired). Obama’s selection, Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, was in his Senate district in 2001.
And having seen all the previous episodes, I have been inspired to try out several restaurants based on the recommendations of the panelists. Most have turned out good or okay, but it was always fun to try something different, especially in a city where we have tremendous dining options. And sometimes, they pick a place that I love or at least have been to previously.
In the spirit of the program, I decided to try out Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop in Hyde Park. Going the day after a restaurant is featured on the program isn’t always a true test of a place. But given the hype involved in this episode, I knew I would likely have a wait (reservations was a topic in the episode), but I didn’t care. I wanted to try out the place.
The restaurant has other locations, and it’s possible I ate at one of them years ago, but I couldn’t honestly remember anything from that time, so it felt brand new to me.
My instinct was to order what Obama ordered back in 2001: the Southern Sampler featuring gumbo, jambalaya, and red beans and rice. The apex would be the peach cobbler, as Obama told us to save room for the cobbler, and not to fill up on the johnnycakes they serve you.
The Hyde Park location is tucked away in a cul-de-sac off a busy stretch in the neighborhood. There are several tiny restaurants clustered together. You can’t stumble upon this place; you have to know it’s there. And that can be a good thing, since the diehards will always show up.
Well, the place was packed, and there was a long wait. The promised wait was 20-25 minutes, and it ended up being 30 minutes. Can’t complain, since well, the circumstances called for it, a Saturday night means extra busy, and seating capacity isn’t large.
During my wait, I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged black woman who said “this was the busiest I’d ever seen it.” I smiled and explained to her why it was so crowded. She did see the tail end of the episode, but hadn’t realized that Dixie Kitchen was part of the program. She ended up getting her food to go, blackened catfish, since her parking meter was running out of time.
Too bad, since she missed a great opportunity. The restaurant was offering a dine-in option: order the Southern Sampler AND a piece of peach cobbler for $9.95. Given that the sampler costs $10.95 normally, the offer was a dollar off AND a free piece of peach cobbler.
And I was getting hungry for that peach cobbler as I saw it being served on numerous tables. I almost could have had just the cobbler for dinner.
After my 30-minute wait, I was ready for the experience. The kitschy décor was a nice touch, and went well with the theme of the South, especially nice since we have had a cold winter.
My waiter came over, and I got right to the point: “I’ll take the Presidential Sampler.” Then I got the bad news. He explained that they were starting to pull that since they had just run out of peach cobbler. I asked him to go to the back and try to bring me a piece, saying I’ll take my dessert now. I would have gladly eaten it first.
He went back and returned dessert-free. “Nope, we’re out.” I was a little surprised, but he explained that they had sold 300 pieces of peach cobbler that day (this was just before 7 p.m.).
I wasn’t happy not so much that they had run out of peach cobbler (even though it was only 7), but that they were still promoting a deal in the front and not warning potential customers that this was going to disappear. But perhaps, they were really not prepared to run out or had no idea the response would be so huge.
The restaurant did try to take advantage of the extra publicity, hawking T-Shirts for $16.50 using Obama’s words on the T-shirt: “The price is right and the portions are good.” So they were ready for something.
But back to the food. The complimentary johnnycakes (corn pancakes) were warm and went nicely with the butter served alongside them. Since I wasn’t getting a peach cobbler, I did go a little nuts with them, despite Obama’s warning.
The sampler had a cup of gumbo, flanked by a small serving of jambalaya on the left and red beans and rice on the right. The gumbo and jambalaya were both served on white rice, and the meal came with a corn muffin.
The gumbo had the right amount of spice for my palette (I like it spicy). I could have eaten 3-4 bowls of the gumbo. The jambalaya was okay, a little bland for my tastes. The Andouille sausage seems tamer than I thought it would be. The red beans and rice were even tamer than the jambalaya.
Did I get value for the price as Obama promised? Obviously, the prices have gone up since 2001, but for $10.95, I thought it was an okay value. There was a lot of rice left unfinished by me, but there was a lot of rice to start, and if you ate all the rice, you would be even more full.
I did go to the front to ask about the missing peach cobbler. The first manager I dealt with said he couldn’t help me out. I said all I wanted was a certificate for a free piece since, well, that is what was promised. The second manager handed me a business card, saying we’ll take care of you. The business card, on the back, read “1 Free Peach Cobbler.” I said thank you, and pleasantly went on my way.
After I left, I realized that the deal was for $9.95, not $10.95, so I ended up paying a dollar more and still not getting the cobbler.
It’s difficult to judge a place the day after being on a TV show, especially one with this magnitude of having the next president of the United States on the program. I came away with an overall mixed impression. Overall, the Southern Sampler was a good way to try the place out, but if I came back, I could see myself ordering the gumbo and the blackened catfish on my next visit.
But I was still hankering for that peach cobbler.