Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Vacuous Television News Media

This article in the Columbia Journalism Review (Thanks, Atrios! Thanks, Media Matters!) is a nice summation of why the whole "Is the television news media 'liberal' or 'conservative'?" argument misses the more important point.

The television news media consists of highly paid middle managers whose main function is to trivialize politics and divert attention from citizen policy-making in a republic. There is no "memo" and no conspiracy to execute this function. It is just the way television developed starting in the late 1960s when network executives decided that the news was getting too serious, and NBC decided a guy named Tom Brokaw--a fundamentally dumb person who had nice hair--would become the archtype for television news readers.

From there, these so-called television journalists and pundits began to focus incessantly on tone and body language of candidates (Nixon being a prime guinea pig in this political vivisection), and on horse race analogies. When you watch or listen to these people on television, you realize after awhile most would fit more comfortably hosting beauty pageants or psycho-babble daytime talk shows.

If you check their backgrounds, they were largely Communications majors in college, or took vacuous Journalism courses--and they know very little about history, political systems or structures, economics, sociology, or even philosophy. They certainly are ignorant regarding math or science, which makes their environmental and biological reporting so alarmist when it is not simply dumb. And in the case of climate change, the "serious" media too often strive to find "equal" time for those who are deniers, not merely skeptical about the extent of climate change, when the scientific consensus is that humans do contribute to the weather. This bias for an "equal" time that is not justified by scientific consensus may also be because the media managers know their network sponsors and top bosses are invested in or on boards in the oil and gas industry, or in agribusiness.

In such an atmosphere, there should be no surprise, but only sadness that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher know far more about public policy issues than a Wolf Blitzer or the often ridiculous Candy Crowley, just to take two of so many, many examples in the so-called "serious" news media.

The television network news media are the true enemy of our Republic. Whether they are liberal or conservative is really not at issue. The news media elite have a bias, but its bias is "corporate," in that it reflects the top executives who operate the television, and radio, networks. And that corporate bias is "liberal" on things like stem cell research, abortion and gays, "conservative" on economics and labor unions--with a toss up about the environmnent which again shows why there is equal time to deny "climate change," and little "equal" time between voices supporting the opinions of labor union leaders compared to business leaders.

The bias one can live with, and filter. What is truly disconcerting and frustrating as a citizen is the shallowness and trivializing of public policy in favor of "reporting" more fit for Hollywood Access types of shows.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Europe has a better idea...

My problem with President Obama's overall idea about how to stimulate the economy is that it is fundamentally "supply-sided." What I mean is that Obama and his Treasury Secretary Geithner are giving taxpayer money to banks in the hope that they'll lend money instead of giving it to their management in the form of bonuses. This is the equivalent to giving income tax cuts to really super rich people in the hope they'll use the savings to invest in meaningful industries. As we know, that didn't work out so well...See also this article from the Democratic Leadership Council, which tends to be enablers of the supply-side tax cuts for the wealthy they are criticizing.

I have been arguing for a demand-sided stimulus, one that puts money in the hands of working folks and taxpayers in general--and protects homeowners directly. See here for my last soapbox post on the subject.

And now, the NY Times from March 26, 2009 reports that Europe seems to have a better sense of how to spend government money on the regular folks, and lo and behold, they don't need to give money to banks. The article describes how people are paid when they are furloughed in a "one week off work for one week on" type of job situation. That is an example of a demand-side government stimulus package. And of course, they already have national health insurance programs and other subsidies that help people in times like these.

The common sense (and uncommon sense) truth is that regular folks spend money when money is put into their hands. Rich folks tend to spend less of their income and what they spend on is at most frivolous, and worse ridiculous. Regular folks tend to buy basic goods and services with their money, which goes to help businesses providing those basic goods and services, thus stimulating more of the economy than a supply side solution.

Why this is so hard for the DC Villagers to understand is due to the fact that the financial industry has paid off too many politicians. The financial community has certainly increased its share of lobbying over the years, particularly during their full bodied (fat) years. That is the sad truth, though there is also the ideological aspect of the past thirty years where people really believe the supply side nonsense that bubbled up on Capitol Hill in DC back in the late 1970s, and won't really go away until that generation retires for good.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

In war, mercy is often the second casualty

The Israeli military behaved generally well in the latest war, but there were still war crimes committed by individual soldiers and even units (as one may expect to find in many wars). The question that must be asked is whether the cruelty and criminal behavior is suficiently systemic that would make the Israeli government liable for war crimes.

Gideon Levy in Haaretz says it is systemic, but I believe he pushes too far. The occupation creates these sort of atrocities after awhile and the occupation of the West Bank and indirect occupation of Gaza are what need to stop. And the systemic demolition of homes of Palestinians, which has overtones of religious- and mobster-style terrorism (visiting retribution on the families), needs to stop completely. Such actions help fuel the atmosphere of terror among the Palestinian people.

Still, in response to Levy, the fact that only half the casualties (the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says more like 65%*) were non-military and non-government forces civilians, in an attack that was in a densely populated area, shows some restraint that most nations, even our own, might not have been able to achieve. I don't say this with any pride, however, as the whole situation sickened me. For the Hamas leadership was continually pursuing a policy that went well beyond simply ending the occupation in Gaza and the West Bank, but actually threatened Israel's very existence. It refused to negotiate any real peace, talking only of cease fires and then in December saying there would be no more cease fires--only more war. The response they received was what they themselves demanded: more war.

Nonetheless, this article in the New York Times this morning gives us some reason to believe Gideon Levy may be right, but for somewhat different reasons. It appears that in the past two decades, there may have been a religious, nationalist impulse growing inside the Israeli military that undermined some of the ethical walls Israeli soldiers previously labored under in their military actions. The nationalist impulse is what drives the criminal behavior, but the religious overlay provides moral authority to commit those crimes.

In a war, truth is often the first casualty because the leaders in a war feel they need to lie about the violence that is about to unfold. Mercy is the second casualty following immediately behind and sometimes concurrently with the lies. The religious overlay to a nationalist impulse dehumanizes soldiers into believing there is justice in killing unarmed civilians. This religious overlay removes our moral hesitation and opposition to unncessary and unprovoked killing. Those who believe religion creates morality should also admit that human-led organized religion can also undermine the authority of morality. And those who support their nation ought to be humbled by any occupation of another people that undermines that nation's moral values.

* The Centre may well have included Hamas leaders in some of the civilian numbers, per this report from CBS News.


Friday, March 20, 2009

By all means tax the daylights out of the rich folks!

This morning, my Dad says, "Do you think the bill making its way through Congress putting a 90% income tax on the AIG bonuses is constitutional?"

I admit my initial reaction to my Dad was "Hmmm...sounds like a bill of attainder." However, I then said, we'll have to see what the language says. If it's general enough, it will pass constitutional muster, the way a windfall profits tax does.

Sure enough, there were people blogging about this earlier in the week. See this Atlantic magazine blog piece, and follow the links.

I think this is a constitutional bill, and I hope Obama signs it. Still, we're not yet focusing on the larger issue of wealth distribution in this nation--and maybe it's time to consider an overall a cap on income. Why should money be the only thing unlimited in scope and time in our lives? A cap on income can be done, but don't look for the Roberts Court (and even Clinton corporate Democrats Breyer and Ginsburg) to declare such a measure would be constitutional. Still, reading this post at Jack Balkin's legal blog does give me some hope that we can restore some balance through marginal tax increases at the top 1% of incomes out there.

And President Obama? Don't hesitate to sign this legislation. Sign it--and let's see what the Roberts Court does with it. I'd love to see the Roberts Court grit its teeth and go, "Well, okay..." It should, but again one wonders whether the corporate minds at our Supreme Court are capable of understanding that the Constitution is a far more open document when it comes to economic regulation than is often thought at elite levels these past thirty years.

Two old blog posts of mine explain my thoughts in a bit more detail...


ADDENDUM: Via Josh Marshall at Talking Points, here is Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) handing a hat to a pro-corporate shill on CNBCrap. Brad was my congressman at one time, and he is one of the truly smart people in the Village known as DC. He is an accountant and a lawyer, and knows his stuff. I hope he doesn't fall for the bill of attainder argument though...Stay strong, Brad, stay strong!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Alan Livingston: Father to the Baby Boomers

Alan Livingston passed away at the age of 91, but he should be remembered as the Father to the Baby Boom generation. This is the guy who signed the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Band to Capitol Records. And he created the character known as Bozo the Clown and the singalong and readalong children's records for Disney and Warner Bros. cartoon characters (with the incomparable Billy May leading the orchestra). And, as if that was not enough for one man, he was one of the leading forces behind the popular television show, "Bonanza," one of the few westerns which Baby Boomers would watch with their (our) parents.

Livingston also signed Sinatra to Capitol, and introduced Sinatra to Nelson Riddle--which was the Baby Boomers' equivalent to introducing Lennon to McCartney.

Livingston's brother, Jay, was a great songwriter in his own right, and Alan, well, he was the business mind who had a great artist's sensibility. Read the entire obit in the LA Times and the Wikipedia entry.

He even married well: His first wife was Betty Hutton, who I always adored, and his second wife and now widow is Nancy Olson, who graced us with the original Boomer favorite (at least when we were youngsters) film, The Absent Minded Professor, and a classic adored by pre-Boomers and Boomers: Sunset Boulevard.

A bow to Alan Livingston, and in the words of the Beatles, from me to you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jon Stewart channels Lenny Bruce and Edward R. Murrow; Shep Smith angling for a job at MSNBC?

Jon Stewart faces a contrite, almost pathetic Jim Creamer, reams Cramer and shows why most "serious" television journalists are as pathetic toadys-to-power as Cramer.

And what has gotten into Shepard Smith at FauxNews? He's gone off the reservation before, starting during Hurricane Katrina, when he was criticizing Bush's administration in a way others at the network were not. Something tells me Smith must know his days are numbered at FauxNews and he's decided to speak his mind about crazy Glenn Beck. I highly recommend that just-linked-to edited video, especially the exchange between Smith and the very creepy Chris Wallace, who would have made a particularly odious Bolshevik functionary...

Could we all be seeing Smith at MSNBC in a few months...?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

What we gotta do instead of giving more money to bankers

President Obama continues to act like George W. Bush, and yes, even Bill Clinton in thinking he has to directly prop up the financial industry. What the President needs to push Congress to do are the following:

* Declare a moritorium on foreclosures for 90 days;

* Have every State government provide a list of three major public works projects to the federal government, and then, the feds should start giving money to the States to fund those public works projects, as approved by the feds;

* Pass labor law reform to ensure the public works projects pay prevailing wages in every State and increase the ability of workers in the private sector to form unions in places like Wal-Mart and other service businesses to increase workers' purchasing power;

* Pass domestic content legislation and demand that more foreign manufacturers build plants here, starting in the Mid-West to give further incentive for people to move from the coasts and cities; and

* Give American taxpayers vouchers of up to $10,000 to buy American goods and services, listed by the federal government in the voucher plan, i.e. a Chrysler van, a computer made largely in the US, etc.

And please, nationalize the biggest banks with their hands out so we don't have to keep shoveling money out the federal government's door for nothing in return.

If this seems difficult to understand from an economic point of view, here is the incomparable Amartya Sen on something that seems academic, but helps us understand the primacy of the policy prescriptions I have just offered. Sen understands a nation is strong when it can buy what it builds, and builds what it buys. That's nation-building. That's nation-sustaining. And that's the issue, not some naive fealty to "free market" theory combined with a cynical belief that somehow government can't do anything to actually help people.

I was so pleased to hear Bill Maher say (at about 5 minutes into the clip) what I've said for years, which is that if we had a government health insurance system that was the equivalent to the US Post Office, it would be significantly more efficient in providing services to people than the private insurance companies.

I guess that's the end of that rant...


Thoughts on Prop 8 and the California Supreme Court

Yesterday, the LA Times' editorial page endorsed taking government out of the business of handing out "marriage" licenses, and instead just allow every adult who wants to join with another adult in a consensual relationship to apply for a civil union license. Let each church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other religious institution decide on its own whether to perform marriage ceremonies for those of the same sex or not.

Hmmmm....I wonder where we heard this before? I had to smile when I read the line in the LA Times' op-ed where it said, "The subject has come up repeatedly in blogs and conversations, but this was the first official, public forum to give it voice, and it shouldn't be the last."

Of course, I was not the first person to suggest the separation of marriage and state solution to the conundrum of allowing same sex marriages. Here is noted social historian Stephanie Coontz with an enlightening article stating that state-sanctioned marriage licenses are newer than we think in terms of history.

And here is a libertarian, David Boaz, writing in in 1997 (!) on this issue.

I must, however, say something else, and that involves the oral arguments at this past Thursday's hearing at the California Supreme Court. It looks like most of the Court is going to uphold Prop 8, if I read this article in the LA Times correctly. However, if the justices who wrote or supported the majority opinion last year in the Marriage Cases vote to uphold Prop 8, those justices owe the public an apology.

As readers of this blog know, I was not a supporter of the California Supreme Court's decision last year because I saw the decision as an elitist usurpation of the right of society to draw cultural distinctions such as "Civil unions for homosexuals, yes; marriage, no." I also thought the Court's majority opinion was too glib in opining there was no substantive difference between a "civil union" and "marriage" because the Court failed to respect the religious context in which people see the word "marriage."

It appears at least three of the four justices have gotten the public's message about there being a significant difference between civil unions and marriage. I noted the odious Ken Starr of Pepperdine University's opening point was that he was not interested in interpreting Prop 8 as outlawing "civil unions." Had he said Prop 8 did outlaw civil unions, the Court would have undoubtedly overturned Prop 8 and found it was a revision of so many laws as to be an unconstitutional proposition.

If, however, those justices who supported the majority decision in the Marriage Cases still think there is no difference between marriage and civil union, then why not overturn Prop 8 on the basis of the right to privacy (California Constitution, Article I, Section I), i.e., Prop 8 must be overturned because it negates the privacy rights of people to choose, as consenting adults, who they wish to marry? This was the argument the California Attorney General's office set forth in its friend-of-the-court brief. Yet, from reading the LA Times article, it looks like at least one of the justices from last year's majority opinion was suddenly stymied about whether there is a workable definition of the word "inailenable." As if the phrases "due process" and "equal protection" are so clearly understandable without real-life examples...

Whichever of the four justices who supported the Marriage Cases decision last year votes to uphold Proposition 8 is showing a lack of courage of conviction. Either "marriage" and "civil unions" are essentially the same and therefore people don't get to upend the rights of minorities' right to privacy any more than the legislature, or the words do in fact have different meanings.

And politically, do any of these four justices really think the religious right will leave them alone if they vote to uphold Proposition 8? I initially thought they might find protection if they vote to uphold the proposition, but at this point, I think they're kidding themselves if they think they are safe in voting to uphold Prop 8. This is a culture war and the religious zealots who pushed through Prop 8 are going to go directly after all four of those justices next year when they are up for elections.

All of this is why I had said, way back when the California Supreme Court held for same sex marriage, overturning Proposition 22 from 2000, that the Court was better off saying this is a non-justiciable "political question," and that we ought to let our society continue to sort this out. The irony of course is that our society will sort it out, and in a way the religious zealots won't like, either.