Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for July 2010

Barack Obama’s ‘View’ felt more like a rerun

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So much was made of President Barack Obama’s inaugural visit to “The View” — the first on-stage visit to a daytime talk show by a sitting president.

The fine print notes that this was Obama’s third visit to the program — Obama had thought it was the second, but realized his error. And we shouldn’t be surprised about this trend by Obama.

Barack Obama is an appropriate pick for being the first president to be on a daytime talk show geared toward a female audience, since Obama’s world is female-centric.

Obama grew up as a child with a single mother and a half-sister. Obama has always spoken of being married to a strong woman. And Obama is the father of two girls.

So being surrounded on stage, being the only male amongst 5 women, is territory where Obama is comfortable.

And I would even say that George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, for their various background experiences, also fall in this category.

The good news for Obama was that he was comfortable in this environment, and he showed off his combination of cool and milquetoast. Is this really the scary vision that justifies the Obama/Hitler signs carried by the teabaggers?

But a lot of the discussion was hashed in June 2009, December 2009, and June 2010. The conversation felt like a rerun. There wasn’t a whole lot new, except for Afghanistan, but even that felt like old copy.

One political note: Obama got a question asking why he didn’t do enough with the stimulus. Interestingly, the question wasn’t from Joy Behar (an Obama fan) but Elizabeth Hasselback (not an Obama fan). We aren’t surprised that Hassleback asked the question, but those from her political stripe worked really hard to weaken the stimulus and not extend unemployment benefits.

This could be a bipartisan question — Behar and Hasselback — to Obama that would have been enlightening. Behar’s only serious question dealt with all that the Obama Administration has done, yet hasn’t got sufficient credit. Regular readers gather that I’m not a fan of Hasselback — for way more than just a political view. But her question was better than the one from Behar, though both questions were important.

Watching Hasselback get upset about “saved jobs” would have been more impressive if she asked it a year ago. Even the GOP’s attack on that is about a year old.

Being a daytime talk show means you can’t be serious all the time. So Obama had to be “mocked” for his lack of pop culture knowledge. And just for the record, I didn’t know who “Snooki” was nor did I care even after I did the research. Interesting that we wonder how the president is going to solve tough problems, yet he should have time to waste on a useless reality TV show.

In watching this episode, you had to feel sorry for George Herbert Walker Bush. This is a president that wouldn’t have lasted too long in this modern TV world. Bush was clueless about the price scanners in a grocery store; and because of that, no president will ever be seen in a grocery store anymore. Politics aside, Bush was of a different generation — McCain fell into this somewhat of his own doing. And that time goes into a box, never to be opened again except for warmth of past memories.

Obama and the future presidents will have to be tech savvy and media aware. Obama communicates well when he takes control of the situation — just as he did on “The View” — but that makes his administration’s decisions to not have too many press conferences all the more bewildering.

George Walker Bush wasn’t good with the whole words thing, and President Obama is a whole lot better with words. Yet Obama’s handlers have kept him too protected.

Barack Obama is the best asset Barack Obama has to make his administration’s case. We could use more of that on television, not just because he is one particular political party. It’s true because Barack Obama is President of the United States, and in this modern era, Obama needs to be seen more regularly. The true test includes a visit to a daytime talk show, but one voice is still waiting for a chance to sit down with a sitting president: Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”

If the Obama team is smart, Stewart will get that chance before the midterm elections.


The underutilization of Tom Vilsack in fight for healthier school lunches

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The joke in Republican administrations is that the best job to have is the Secretary of Labor, since Republicans don’t care about Labor. You don’t have to be visible and you never get any press, good or bad.

Well, Democratic Cabinet members aren’t as visible as they need to be, even if they are more visible than their GOP counterparts. With attempts to increase school lunch funding, with a number of food issues, we have heard little from Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture.

Obviously, the Shirley Sherrod saga has thrust Vilsack into the spotlight, and not in a favorable way. To quote from my column in my sister blog,

Clearly, the White House and Secretary of Agriculture panicked when a clearly edited videotape was made to misrepresent Sherrod in a long ago speech. And given Andrew Breibart’s reputation, many questions should have been asked before taking the tape at face value.

But this isn’t the first time we should have seen Vilsack in the news. You have a president and First Lady interested in healthier school lunches, yet the Agriculture Secretary is mysteriously quiet. Those who advocated for Michael Pollan, or some similar figure for the post, have to be disillusioned.

Cabinet members serve the president: this is how the system works. But there is a feeling that cabinet members are an outlet in a particular category that should be more accessible to the public. After all, the president can’t be everywhere. Cabinet members can serve as an ambassador, listening to the people’s concerns.

But when you have a USDA that inspects food and promotes food — all under the same roof — conflicting duties are the least of the problems.

Maybe we need a Secretary of Food as well as a Secretary of Agriculture. And both secretaries need to be out in the public light a lot more often. Otherwise, we may judge them negatively if only scandal is attached to their name, and they’re not seen as fighting for the people who elected his boss.

For the full perspective on Vilsack, Sherrod, and more, read the item in

Written by democracysoup

July 26, 2010 at 8:34 am

Posted in food, nutrition

GOP’s ‘free market’ principles don’t apply to health insurance companies

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To my conservative, Republican, and Libertarian readers: you all believe in the free market system. Let the market decide and all will be right.

So help me out, okay. I want to buy some insurance. The insurance I seek isn’t for my auto or home or even life. Those I can find. Those send me literature in the mail, even if I don’t know them.

So how come I can’t buy health insurance?

This is a serious question. I have people knocking over themselves to sell me auto insurance, and I haven’t had a car since 2005. I don’t own a home, but I rent. People will gladly sell me renters insurance. Although I don’t have dependents, someone will eagerly sell me a life insurance policy.

But no one will sell me a health insurance policy.

Oh, someone will theoretically be interested in selling a policy. And they will be fairly polite to me in the conversation. But they have no intention of selling me a policy.

They might decide to sell me part of a policy, yet charge me full price. Sort of like selling me renters insurance, but not covering me for a fire or a tornado.

If you haven’t used health insurance in any significant way — significant being defined by the insurance company — then they would likely sell you a policy. Even some auto insurance companies will still take you in, even if you’ve had an accident.

But health insurance is unique in that if you’ve used it, they have no use for you. And if you’re unemployed, and your COBRA/state continuation has run out, in some states, tough.

Really. In the land of the free markets, the answer is “Sorry, none for you.”

I won’t bore you with the list of past ailments, or the medications I take. The list is probably similar to yours or someone you know. And unlike a lot of males my age, I have visited the doctor so I will feel better. Too bad that every visit means another reason that the insurance companies won’t sell you insurance.

Isn’t that brilliant? A man in his 40s can walk around with a fasting blood sugar of 300, and as long as he isn’t diagnosed, he can get health insurance. Now compare this to another man in his 40s who has had fasting blood sugar above 300, went to the doctor 6 years ago to fix it, and now has fasting blood sugar samples in the normal range. That person, who helped himself get better, can’t get health insurance.

High blood pressure can be enough to deny you insurance. And how many people have that “affliction”?

If you haven’t gone through this process, here’s a peek: You fill out a humiliating form, requiring information that you have no idea about, and yet it’s about you. For example, give us three blood pressure readings in the last year.

Even as you fill out your humiliating form, you realize that you aren’t likely to get approved, yet you still do so. Even if you get approved, it still may not be what you were looking for. And you get to pay for the right, that is, if they will take your money. At least with a dating service, you are probably going out on a date.

One of the interim solutions, since most of the health care solutions that the teabaggers are ranting about haven’t kicked in yet, was to have pools for people who need health insurance. Since there are a lot of people in this boat, why not have a pool (if you aren’t already sick of water analogies)?

The catch: you have to be uninsured for 6 months to qualify. If you have a “pre-existing condition,” you can’t afford to be without health insurance. So those people are out of luck until the next round of reforms comes years from now.

Of course, the best solution for conservatives, Republicans, and Libertarians is to have the free market system decide. Well, the free market system has “decided” to not sell insurance. So the people of these political stripes should clear the way for those people a chance to get insurance through the government. Unless they have a better answer.

Written by democracysoup

July 23, 2010 at 7:38 am

Carte Goodwin gets Robert Byrd’s seat, but could have been placed much sooner

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If you are scoring the U.S. Senate, mark Carte Goodwin in the West Virginia slot in for Robert C. Byrd. Goodwin is a 36-year-old attorney who is expected to be the caretaker for the seat until the special election.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin had two options to fill the seat after Byrd passed away: pick someone soon and force a November election, or wait and keep that senator until the November 2012 election. So which scenario did the Democratic governor pick?

Manchin waited and will likely set up the election for this November, when incumbents are in more significant trouble.

If Republicans were playing this game, they would have been more offensive with the seat, letting the interim stay around until 2012. And they would have been able to get away with it. Democrats don’t play the game that well.

Manchin wants to be the permanent senator, and wants to do so this fall. So with the Democratic Party being one vote short in the Senate, why did Manchin wait until now to appoint a replacement?

Unemployment benefits have been held ransom by the GOP, particularly in the Senate. Goodwin steps in to be the 59th vote, but he could have been there 2 weeks ago.

While governors have had the power to appoint interim senators since 1913, the MSM is suddenly taking interest in the process, stemming back to the replacements for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Democrats have had to replace Obama, Biden, Hillary Clinton, Ken Salazar, Ted Kennedy, and now Robert Byrd. Well, the governor would have replaced Kennedy, except the Democratic Party took that power away, fearing that Mitt Romney would pick a Republican to replace John Kerry.

Oops. This is what happens when you have short-sighted policies.

In most of the history since the 17th Amendment, interim senators have served without fanfare, and almost always, the party in question retained the seat. The MSM’ obsession has hurt Democrats. To be fair, Rod Blagojevich was part of the problem as well.

The Democratic Party needs to understand that it is in the game to win elections on all fronts. Yes, reigning in party discipline is like herding cats. But given that West Virginia will likely suffer after the 2010 census in terms of population, retaining the governor’s seat is important to the party.

Manchin could have had both scenarios if he had waited to fill Byrd’s seat, prolonging the election to November 2012. Manchin can’t run for governor again, thanks to term limits. Now there are two crucial elections in November 2010, and the Democratic Party needs to win both of them.

Manchin has taken an unusual gamble, and in West Virginia, his gamble might pay off. But in an election cycle where Scott Brown wins a special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s seat, the gamble might not be worth it.

The Democratic Party’s slogan in West Virginia needs to be “in Manchin we trust” — for the Senate race and the governor’s race.

Written by democracysoup

July 17, 2010 at 9:56 am

For art’s sake, FCC needs to serve adults in over-the-air programming

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The Federal Communications Commission has specific rules prohibiting indecent programming between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., holding out that obscene programming is prohibited 24 hours a day.

So theoretically, an over-the-air station could show an indecent program between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

But as we are seeing in our homes at the moment, stations are reluctant to run anything even remotely untame, even in hours the FCC allows for such programming. From the official FCC Web site:

The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.” Indecent programming contains patently offensive sexual or excretory material that does not rise to the level of obscenity.

The ruling this week from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York may lend a hand to the cause. The court struck down the FCC’s indecency prohibition as being “unconstitutionally vague” that created a “chilling effect” on the 1st Amendment.

Provided that the ruling can stand long-term, or force the FCC to adjust its policy, the change would help this real-life example:

A PBS station in Chicago broadcasts a documentary — “The Beaches of Agnès” — as part of its POV series. The film won the Cesar award for Best Documentary in 2009. So we’re talking pretty artsy stuff. The documentary examines the film career of Agnès Varda as a memoir of sorts.

Within the documentary, there are a few shots of nudity. Nothing inherently sexual, well maybe for one scene, and there is full frontal nudity, male and female. But even though the PBS station in Chicago shows the documentary at 12:30 in the morning, every bit of actual nudity is covered with opaque bubbles.

There are a few scenes of art where the “nudity” isn’t disguised, but actual non-painting nudity isn’t shown.

It might be reasonable to assume, even for the sake of argument, that the nudity in the documentary, while necessary, fits the standard of indecent programming, but not obscene programming.

The FCC specifically allows over-the-air stations to show indecent programming, yet virtually no station takes them up on it. Why?

When I was a child, a Chicago-based UHF station showed the movie “Network” in prime time, featuring a brief topless shot of Faye Dunaway. This was a long time ago, but likely some time in the 1980s. We haven’t come a long way, baby.

As free-thinking as I am, I can see where the limit is reasonable — “protect” children when you want to protect them, but allow adults a little more credit at a time when children should be asleep.

In the current realm, children aren’t really the issue; narrow-minded adults are the problem. They don’t want you to see anything they don’t approve of, but use children as the excuse.

There is financial pressure, especially on PBS stations that can’t afford to fight any potential fine, on stations not to air such programming, even if they are allowed to do so. The appeals court ruling recognizes this reality.

One issue is that the FCC won’t set guidelines and standards on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Whatever you might think about the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system, at least filmmakers can go on precedent.

Makes you wonder why the United States is considered the land of the free.

In Canada, language airs uncensored on over-the-air television. Europe shows nudity in advertising. Their societies haven’t collapsed as a result, though good thing they have universal health care should something go wrong.

Children are listening to worse language in their music than expletives in live programming. Our children are learning about sex before they learn about the beauty and artistic impression of nudity.

And parents have V-chips and the ability to turn off their own TVs, and even the ones they let kids keep in their rooms.

In the land of the free, adults should be free to watch programming for adults on adult time. Without it, we aren’t as free as we claim to be.

LeBron James extraordinarily gifted in being able to select where he works

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Given the hoops that millions of Americans are going through to try and get a job, it has been funny on some level to watch the courtship of LeBron James by several NBA teams. James had been invited to several cities — New York, Chicago, Miami, and his longtime team location — Cleveland.

And there were other cities who wanted James but couldn’t afford his services. Imagine a job prospect in 2010 being wined and dined, having people on the radio and around these cities hoping, wishing, and praying that he would come to work in their city.

Most job prospects also don’t get to announce their new job on ESPN, as LeBron James did yesterday, selecting New York/Chicago/Miami/Cleveland as his new home.

Money could have been part of the equation for James, but even the worst offer would have been more than what 99% of Americans make.

And people in real life are having to consider moving to other cities, but likely aren’t getting much help in relocating.

Yes, there is the free market philosophy that putting a basketball through a basket is a rare gift that people will want to come and watch. And James earns his money, not just on the court but off the court as well. Most of us could live off of the money he makes off the court.

People in non-athlete scenarios have great gifts too, but there are fewer places for them to show what they can do. They aren’t being wooed by multiple employers, much less one of them.

Their stories aren’t being debated on the radio; they are more worried about paying rent/mortgage on one place, not several.

The athletes aren’t worrying about their health insurance or security; whichever place James or the other NBA stars available for free agency picked — they would get enough money to live on for the rest of their lives.

People are begging for an opportunity to showcase what they can do, or what they might be able to do. But they don’t even have that chance.

But maybe the spirit of James rubbed off on one person. The New York Times, apparently not being able to find enough people who are really hurting in the job field, found a 24-year-old who turned down a $40,000 job in Boston:

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

People would line up from Chicago to Boston to have a chance at a $40,000 job, especially one that doesn’t involve significant physical labor or take an emotional toll.

The caption to the photo says:

“Scott Nicholson, 24, has not been able to find a job since he graduated from college in 2008.”

The photo caption should have read:

“Scott Nicholson, 24, found a job that paid $40,000 but decided it wasn’t worthwhile, and so he sits at home.”

Nicholson found a job; he just didn’t want it. For him, there was something “better.”

For millions, they would like to be as picky as James or Nicholson, but they have bills to pay and health insurance to get.

There is a significant threat that workers will feel undervalued over the next few years as their talents lay in waste since there is no outlet for their services. Sports teams have suffered because of declining attendance because people can’t afford to pay the often outrageous prices for the games. And James couldn’t make the kind of money he makes on the basketball court without the fine “donations” of the fans who support the sport.

Don’t worry about LeBron James; he’ll do just fine in Miami. And Scott Nicholson will figure something out. As for the rest of those who suffer from the giant unemployment cloud, hope they will find someone or something who will appreciate their talents. There just aren’t that many chances at the moment.

Written by democracysoup

July 9, 2010 at 8:06 am

Paul Krugman explains well why unemployment benefits are needed

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Many have tried to explain the virtues of needing unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, the hundreds who don’t think unemployment benefits are good for our country have power, and most of those people have (R) next to them and work in Congress representing their states.

Paul Krugman is one of the best at explaining why unemployment benefits are needed: money in the pockets of those who need it most and will instantly spend it into what is left of our economy.

“One of the most effective ways of getting spending power out there into the economy during this distressed time is to put money in the hands of people who desperately need the money and are going to spend it.”

Let’s not try and make the same mistakes of the 1930s, can we?

Paul Krugman was on the Colbert Report last night. And since you were probably feeding your face with hamburgers, hot dogs, and potato chips, the video link is there at the top.

And here is Krugman in the old school format in The New York Times on the same subject.