Archive for February 2009
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Mon, 02/16/2009 – 3:05pm
The “M” word came back over the weekend: Maverick.
“Well, what happened was Senator Gregg was very interested in serving in the Cabinet,” David Axelrod said on FOX News, “and I think that he had second thoughts. As he said — as you know, he’s quite the maverick in the Senate. He said that he finally concluded he didn’t belong in anyone’s Cabinet, and so he had second thoughts and he withdrew and we’re going to move on.”
Yes, Sen. Judd Gregg isn’t a total right-wing ideologue on some issues. But a maverick?
Compared to the original Maverick — John McCain — Gregg might be a maverick, but neither of them lately has fallen that far away from the GOP line.
Those who thought McCain was going to jump back into being a maverick, a role he gave up in 2006 in running for president, have been bitterly disappointed in his behavior.
McCain was a maverick in being the only one to vote NO on DC voting rights, when the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted 11-1. But going against Democrats and Republicans (all of whom voted the other way) is beyond ‘maverickdom.’
But otherwise, McCain has ridden alongside the GOP leadership, begging for the whip to get his right-wing horse to go even faster.
In particular, McCain went out of his way to emphasize that the stimulus package wasn’t bipartisan: “I hope the next time we will sit down together and conduct truly bipartisan negotiations. This was not a bipartisan bill.”
President Obama sought Republican input, an action much more gracious than any committed by George W. Bush. And Republicans got tax cuts, which aren’t stimulative. A true partisan bill would have had no tax cuts.
Webster defines maverick as “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” McCain and Gregg are Republicans who vote the extreme party line, but when they don’t go to the extremes (not as often as you might think), they are “mavericks.”
By that definition, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is a maverick, yet nobody calls him that. Maybe that is because apparently only Republicans can be “mavericks.”
Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins really were mavericks, voting against the party line amid huge backlash, especially for Specter. Yet the GOP doesn’t think of them as mavericks, but traitors.
Like many illusions of the Old West, the John McCain definition of maverick never really was true. Picking a few items here and there to go against the extremes of your party isn’t mavericky or all that risky. Redefining himself was only designed to mask his involvement in the Keating Five and nothing more.
The man who used the slogan “Country First” in running for president went with “Party First” on the stimulus package.
But senators and House members who put country ahead of party and ideology — they are mavericks. And they come in at least two flavors: Democratic and Republican.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Mon, 02/16/2009 – 12:25pm
Attn: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV): Want to know why it can be good to keep your word?
The latest Roland Burris saga (D-IL) — potential perjury charges — could have been avoided if the Democratic Senate leadership had stuck to its guns and not seated a senator until Rod Blagojevich was impeached.
Illinois would have been without a senator for approximately 23 days more than in the current reality, but a legitimate, untainted person could have been serving in that seat, picked by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
State Republicans have called for an investigation into possible perjury charges, and some have asked for his resignation. And it’s difficult to disagree with them.
Even if the situation were clean enough to eat off of, the Blagojevich taint would have remained.
Given that the subsequent forthcoming of Sen. Burris is likely linked to the fact that, as part of the federal investigation against Blagojevich, the feds may have conversations on tape that Burris did not mention when originally testifying before the Illinois House.
The backlash against Rod Blagojevich should have made it very easy for Reid to keep his promise not to seat anyone picked by Blagojevich. After all, if Reid had held to his guns, Illinois would have had a senator before Minnesota, and well before a vote on a stimulus package.
One of Reid’s responsibilities as the Democratic Party leader in the Senate is to work hard to keep Democratic seats remaining Democratic. Outside of his original stance, Reid has worked hard to do the complete opposite.
Illinois Republicans are not in a strong position to take any seat, but as recent state history teaches us, Peter Fitzgerald and Michael Flanagan were elected to Congress in seats held by troubled Democrats. So a transfer of power to the GOP is entirely possible.
Every Senate seat that belongs to Democrats is precious, and there is already pressure in 2010 to retain a number of seats that otherwise seemed safe (IL, NY, DE, CO). Sen. Reid should know this better than anyone, as his seat is one of those in danger in 2010.
By making the Illinois situation more difficult, Sen. Reid needs to take responsibility for his mistake, and learn that keeping your word gets you political benefits.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Fri, 02/13/2009 – 4:30pm
Imagine if you are Bonnie Newman. You think you have a really good shot at being named interim U.S. Senator to replace Judd Gregg. Then the roof caves in.
What was amazing was how much the pundits talked about how getting Gregg out of the seat, even if the seat was filled with a Republican, was good because Gregg would likely win re-election. From the start, that opinion seemed like a smoldering pile of horse apples.
Now that Gregg is back in his Senate seat, and likely prepared to vote NO on the stimulus package, he says he won’t even run for re-election.
Gregg may understand that the writing was on the wall long before the word Commerce entered his life. There is already one strong challenger from the Democratic aisle: Rep. Paul Hodes. There is a chance that Rep. Carol Shea Porter may join the race.
And Gregg may not have wanted to join the list of John Sununu, Lincoln Chafee, Chris Shays, and many more New England Republicans who were asked to leave by the voters.
The GOP can’t be happy about yet another open Senate seat (joining Mel Martinez, George Voinovich, Kit Bond, etc.). And the Judd Gregg fiasco gave the Democrats momentum to get the ball rolling, especially since if Gregg doesn’t run, there is no obvious challenger for the Republicans.
The Democrats are going to need extra napkins to wipe away the drool at such a prospect in 2010.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Thu, 02/12/2009 – 12:58pm
You lose your job. Many things go through your mind, but you figure one of the easier errands to do is file for unemployment. After all, you didn’t lose your job because you were stealing or committing some other flagrant abuse.
But more and more workers are finding when they get to the unemployment office that their benefits are being challenged — now more than a quarter of workers filing for unemployment.
Businesses can save money if they successfully dispute your benefits. Meanwhile, your bills are going unpaid, and you have to spend valuable time and energy fighting for your rightfully earned money, resources better spent trying to find another job.
This is going beyond those who felt compelled to quit, which in some cases still allows them to collect unemployment. Often, employees are asked to leave without thinking there is a problem, then discover that the employer has said different things to the unemployment agency.
Businesses have a responsibility to pay into the system, so it can be properly utilized when the time comes to dismiss or layoff workers. The unwritten contract (and often written contracts) is violated when businesses smear workers to try and avoid paying the benefits.
As anyone who has gone through the unemployment system can tell you, the design of the system was set up for work almost 100 years ago. Right this second isn’t the best time to change the process. But the new Secretary of Labor (can’t we just get Hilda Solis approved already?) should make the revamping of the unemployment system a significant priority.
Workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own face a number of gigantic challenges. Fighting for what little unemployment insurance gives them shouldn’t be one of those challenges.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Thu, 02/12/2009 – 10:27am
When I was a child, one of the more philosophical questions we asked was “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?”
The answer turned out to be 3. But the quest proves that we are anxious to get to the center. Think about a jelly donut: the jelly isn’t on the outside, it’s in the center. Those fancy chocolates in the box where you don’t know what you are actually eating until you bite it: the center is the best. And pizza lovers would rather have the center than the edges.
But when it comes to Congress, the center is bland with very little flavor and brings the experience down to a basic level. The center of Congress is like having only one ice cream flavor: vanilla. Or like having only one TV network, and Jay Leno is on half the time.
The damage that the center of Congress has done to the stimulus package is appalling. There is the reduction of money. After all, when the House bill is $820 billion and the Senate bill is $838 billion, the compromise is $829 billion, not the actual figure of $789 billion, a difference of $40 billion. This isn’t a compromise; this is a slice from that pizza hitting the ground, topping side down.
This isn’t just moderate Republicans that took unnecessary cuts into this package. Conservative Democrats can take their share of the credit. Watching Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on television this week was depressing.
Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to the UN Secretary-General and the founder and co-President of the Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger, was one of those smart people on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night. Sachs talked about how we have a $2 trillion hole in demand, and how we are trying to fill that hole with a $800 billion (now even less) package. Still leaves a lot of room, probably in the center of our problems.
Especially since school construction was one area where the centrists used their bowie knives and hatchets. We build things that improve our children’s education, and we have a pressing need for this work. That is a good thing, but not to the centrists. And state aid, since virtually every state is several billion in debt — centrists didn’t like that either.
This exercise in malpractice wouldn’t be as bad, except we didn’t have this kind of concern when the Bush people and Henry Paulson came by and said, “$700 billion or else.” Where were the centrists’ knives in that episode? In fact, to pass the damn bill, Congress stepped up and said, “No, we don’t want to spend $700 billion, we want to spend $850 billion.”
We have one bad piece of legislation, knife-free, and add $150 billion in earmarks to make them happy. Then we have a good piece of legislation with no earmarks, and we see the glimmer of light from the reflection of multiple knives.
Then we have the breakdown of the $789 billion: if every penny went to stimulus, to spending, it would meet less than 40% of the overall need. But the $300 million or so in tax cuts, which are not stimulative, introduced as a centrist move, brings the low 40% mark to less than 25% of the overall need.
Democracy experts could argue that sometimes centrists have a necessary role in making sure extreme legislation doesn’t go through. But last fall’s TARP bailout didn’t get that oversight. The economic mess that we are in didn’t get that oversight. When we go to fix the damage caused by this mess, the centrists have to get involved.
Let’s make a deal, centrists. Do your annoying magic all the time or none of the time. Be constantly involved or get out of the way.
Originally published on MediaPutz.com on February 12, 2009
Privacy is cherished, even if we can’t always agree on where the line should be drawn. We also generally agree that those in the position of power might have less privacy than regular folks.
Then there is the Bill O’Reilly standard for privacy. For Bill O, privacy is valuable unless you disagree with him: then privacy gets thrown out the window.
O’Reilly says: “the right to privacy is a basic Constitutional tenet, and that is not ridiculous at all.” Apparently this applies to celebrities, not people O’Reilly doesn’t like.
Jon Stewart’s take this week on “The Daily Show” (see above) was a culmination of a long-standing quest on O’Reilly’s part to invade the privacy of people with whom he disagrees. In typical O’Reilly cowardice, he does not do this work himself, but leaves the tacky, invasive behavior to lesser-paid producers.
O’Reilly sent his producer to chase down and invade the privacy of Columbia Journalism Review Editor Michael Hoyt. Why? Because Hoyt wouldn’t appear on O’Reilly’s show.
O’Reilly is clearly in favor (sometimes) of a Constitutional right to privacy, but may now know of the freedom of association: the individual right to meet with other individuals. By correlation, there is a freedom not to associate with people as well, as in Hoyt does not want to associate himself with Bill O’Reilly.
This is not an isolated incident: O’Reilly and his minions have done this numerous times over the years.
The bizarre nature of O’Reilly refusing to acknowledge the privacy of Americans with whom he disagrees is one thing, but his fascination with protecting celebrities from paparazzi — in direct hypocrisy to his otherwise opinion on the subject — is mind-boggling.
Stewart ends the segment by noting that O’Reilly thinks Angelina Jolie has a right to privacy, except when there was speculation that Jolie had banned FOX News from a movie premiere. Then O’Reilly sends a producer to go after Jolie. Or as Stewart put it, “For those of you at home who are studying law, America’s right to privacy is less than O’Reilly’s need to know.”
This anti-Bill Web site suggests any American whose privacy is invaded by one of O’Reilly’s peons to mention Andrea Mackris to ensure the video will never air. Mackris accused O’Reilly of more than one type of sexual harassment.
There are ways to find out information from people, even if they disagree with you. Respectable ways, decent ways. But O’Reilly has a different method: intimidation and invasion of privacy. And a lack of respect for constructive dialogue. For his continuing antics to degrade those with whom he disagrees and for the hypocrisy behind it all, Bill O’Reilly wins the Media Putz of the week award.
Originally published on BuzzFlash.com on Wed, 02/11/2009 – 10:47am
The Barack Obama show Monday night was a smash hit. When you combine the eight outlets (4 English broadcast networks, 3 cable news channels, and Spanish-language Univision) that carried the program, there were 49.5 million viewers, more than watched the inauguration. Of the four major English broadcast networks, there was a combined 36.9 million viewers.
And those numbers are even stronger when you consider that a number of people watched the press conference via the Internet.
But before the press conference, the networks were whining about the prospect of blowing off prime time programming for a presidential press conference. After all, George W. Bush didn’t have too many conferences, and they are concerned that Obama’s plans will throw off their schedules.
Normally, February would be a horrible time for the networks to lose prime-time programming since February is a major sweeps month. The Super Bowl, Grammys, and Oscars are just three of the major programs that are specifically designed to air in this sweeps period. After all, the Super Bowl used to be in January and the Oscars were in early April. But this year, due to the planned transition from analog TV to digital TV, the period isn’t as significant as usual.
Let’s look at the networks’ concern: they complained about having to blow off prime-time programs. FOX pulled an episode of “House”; ABC postponed its reality series “True Beauty”; NBC pre-empted “Chuck”; and CBS moved “The Big Bang Theory” in at 9:30 p.m. EST, replacing another comedy, delaying two comedies for a week.
Now, the networks cry that they lost money as a result. But that is a slight exaggeration: those episodes still exist. They can show them later, and somewhere down the road, a rerun might get bumped.
And some shows don’t do well in reruns. As an example, ABC announced it would temporarily remove “Ugly Betty” from the schedule, since reruns of the nighttime serial do quite poorly.
Networks also have little to complain about since they are programming fewer new episodes, especially shows that are actually written by someone. NBC has already announced that it will run five fewer hours a week of scripted programming to produce a rehashed Jay Leno show, essentially duplicating his current show in prime time 5 days a week.
The major reason networks shouldn’t be complaining is that they don’t own the airwaves with which they broadcast their shows: we do. Without us, the taxpayers and citizens of this country, giving them the airwaves, they wouldn’t be able to make boatloads of money.
News, and presidential press conferences fall in this category, qualifies as serving the public good. Networks get the right to make tons of money provided that they serve the public good. In theory, this is why we have a FCC. Though if you’ve tried lately to get a license revoked because a station is not serving the interests of the public, you know it’s virtually impossible.
And even with their harsh criticisms, President Obama’s numbers were actually pretty good: ABC (3.1/8), NBC (3.1/8), CBS (3.0/8), and FOX (2.2/6). (The first number is the rating, the second number the share.)
Let’s be fair to Obama: he ended right around 9 p.m. EST, so networks could go straight to their programming. The networks did a hurried reaction to the press conference because they were frantic to start entertainment programming.
The programs on NBC and FOX airing immediately after the press conference at 9 p.m. EST only did slightly better than the conference itself. In fact, Medium on NBC at 10 p.m. EST drew worse numbers than Obama.
Now, some of those numbers are thrown off since while the press conference aired live across the country, only the Eastern and Central time zones saw the conference in prime time. Prime time for viewers in the West wasn’t affected by the press conference.
Clearly, broadcast networks still have an important role in providing events such as this. Despite the influx of cable news channels and the Internet, 75% of those who watched the press conference Monday night on a television did so on an English over-the-air broadcast station. Even with cable as an option, the networks are the destination.
But there is a solution that might make everyone happy. Networks want to broadcast their shows, people want to watch presidential press conferences on broadcast TV, and citizens want to make sure democracy thrives on public airwaves that they own.
Digital TV allows you to broadcast on at least 4 different signals. So using an example in Chicago, the ABC station could broadcast the reality show “True Beauty” on 7-1, and the Barack Obama presidential press conference on 7-2. Cable companies should be required to carry all secondary digital signals as part of the basic cable package (though most probably do this right now).
If broadcast stations were encouraged, or perhaps even mandated, to utilize more of their airwaves for news and information, while still being able to show their crappy prime time programming, then all tastes are being satisfied.
Right now in Chicago, CBS and FOX don’t air a secondary channel. Perhaps the situation is better in smaller markets, but the broadcast stations would have to step up to pull that off. As far as the network’s profit margin, once they have multiple digital TV channels, running a presidential press conference costs them pennies and provides the people so much.
With analog TV, television stations had this quandary over entertainment vs. news programming. Now with digital TV, they don’t have to make that choice. And we get a choice: news or entertainment. Sounds like a much more democratic way to utilize our public airwaves.