Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boy, We Dodged One ...

There's been a lot of hand-wringing over the past year, year and a half over the relative effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- of the Obama administration.

Conservatives, aided by the corporate-funded Tea Party movement and Fox News, claims President Obama is a socialist foreigner who's out to destroy America. Liberals felt the administration and its congressional majorities didn't go far enough in landmark legislation such as health care reform, Wall Street reform and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

I'll admit, this page has participated in its fair share of the latter.

Independents and other voters who cannot be easily defined along partisan or ideological boundaries have developed an overall sense of disappointment with regards to the slow economic recovery and the persistent unemployment rate -- a phenomenon that always favors the party in the minority at the time.

But let's ... take a step backward for a moment and consider an alternate reality: specifically, one in which Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) was elected in 2008. I'm not even talking about the horrifying reality of Sarah Palin as Vice President (which could be its own separate blog post ... or book).

I mean Sen. McCain specifically.

In that vein, I offer this video clip from Monday night's edition of The Rachel Maddow Show. When watching this takedown of Sen. McCain's hypocrisy and the media's fascination with him, keep in mind ... some people wanted this man to be president!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

A Discussion of Media

Anyone who follows this blog knows that a) I studied journalism when I was in college, and b) even today, I have a keen interest in the shape and role of the media in today's society.

A lot of times, what I see in today's media -- between the struggling newspapers, the all-too-loud cable stations and sensationalistic websites -- is not what I learned at Old Dominion University, and that saddens me. Not just because I see people who aren't being good journalists taking journalism jobs away from people like me, but because I see what today's media is doing to our discourse -- both political and societal.

There are exceptions to the media climate that I support -- specifically, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell and such magazines as The Nation. Not necessarily because these are prominent liberal voices and I have become increasingly liberal with age, but because these prominent media voices live in a land of facts and reality -- a land sparsely populated in today's perpetual conflictinator, to borrow a phrase.

I also take a keen interest in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in large part because he was a big focus in a class I took at ODU surrounding the media and politics. Stewart is more than just an average funnyman, even if he won't admit it half the time, and I find his insights fascinating, even if I don't always agree with them.

Which brings me to Thursday night's interview between Stewart and Maddow on the latter's MSNBC show. The 50-minute discussion, which was cut to fit Maddow's airtime, centered largely around the role of the media -- 24-hour cable news in particular -- and how it affects public feeling and discourse.

I found it to be a fascinating discussion, even if I disagree with some of Stewart's points (sorry, Stewart, but Fox News is partisan and President Bush is a war criminal). Still, I recommend watching the interview and coming to your own conclusions.

Fair warning, though: this thing's long. But so worth it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All About The Bush Tax Cuts

In light of an interview White House senior adviser David Axelrod did with Howard Fineman and Sam Stein of The Huffington Post on Thursday, where he hinted the Obama administration might be willing to compromise on extending the Bush tax cuts -- only to have the White House deny Alexrod's words -- I figured I'd share a link I found from a Twitter follower (thanks, @madlolscientist!) that debunks the 10 lies Republicans peddle most often in arguing for a full extension of those cuts.

The cuts are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2011, unless Congress acts. President Obama and many Democrats have argued for extending the tax cuts for the middle class -- households making less than $250,000 a year -- while letting tax rates for higher earners revert back to Clinton-era levels (you know, back when we had a budget surplus).

Republicans, in all their corporate glory, want all the cuts extended -- deficit ballooning be damned.

So click on this link -- courtesy of Crooks and Liars. Fair warning, though ... it's long, and you'll be swimming in graphs, charts and links. But if you make it through, you will be thoroughly informed and better equipped to handle GOP talking points on this subject.

Oh, and my Twitter handle? @Cowboy_Witch.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Odds And Ends

A couple things I've stumbled upon tonight.

President George W. Bush apparently had his feelings hurt in 2005 when rapper Kanye West famously said he didn't care about black people -- so much so, he calls it the low point of his presidency in his just-released memoir, Decision Points. Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Princeton, frequent MSNBC guest and columnist for The Nation magazine, offers this deep, thought-provoking take.

Highly recommended reading.

Also, a pair of nuggets from The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. O'Donnell, a former Senate staffer and executive producer and writer for the old NBC drama The West Wing, is quickly finding his own as host of his own primetime commentary program on MSNBC. O'Donnell (not related to thrice-failed Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell) is intelligent, insightful and able to give an insider's view of how Congress works (or doesn't) that people like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow cannot.

Two video clips I wanted to share from Tuesday night's show -- starting with a defense of the word "liberal." Oddly enough, the poignant message came not from O'Donnell's lips on the set of his show; they came from his pen and through the lips of actor Jimmy Smits, during a debate taking place in The West Wing.

The setting might be fiction, but the words defending liberalism -- as a word and an idea -- are no less powerful.

And last, but not least ... in response to the predictable conservative frothing at O'Donnell's notion on Friday that he is a socialist, O'Donnell doubles down, and offers a stirring defense of socialism that everyone, regardless of political stripe, should watch.

Trust me, you might learn something. I know I did.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Time Now For the Sanity Break

In light of the past week, between the disappointing election results and Friday's saga involving Keith Olbermann and MSNBC, I figured it was appropriate to post Jon Stewart's closing remarks from this past Saturday's Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear in Washington, D.C.

They're incredibly poignant words. We'd be a far better country if we heeded them.

And yes, the title of this post is an ode to Olbermann. Though I feel he should be punished for violating MSNBC policy, I am still a fan of Countdown.

MSNBC Right to Suspend Olbermann

Anyone who follows this blog knows I'm a fan of Keith Olbermann and his show Countdown on MSNBC. I cite him frequently, as well as post video clips from his various shows when he highlights issues I feel are important.

It's still odd at times to see Olbermann talking politics, since I spent much of my childhood watching him host SportsCenter on ESPN, but Olbermann is right more often than not, and he's to be commended for sticking to his convictions regardless of the backlash.

You can criticize Olbermann for his biting sarcasm, for his name-calling of such conservative media figures as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs. You're well within your rights to do that, and I won't disagree with you -- particularly since I'm still operating under a Jon Stewart-induced cloud of sanity.

One thing's for sure, though. Olbermann's heart is always in the right place.

But his wallet wasn't.

Olbermann was suspended indefinitely without pay on Friday by MSNBC, after Politico reported that Olbermann made three personal donations to Democratic political campaigns. Olbermann's donations, while in private and not made in the context of his show, ran afoul of NBC News policy -- a policy that covers employees of both NBC News and MSNBC.

The policy states that employees have to have prior permission to give to political causes. While it's true that fellow MSNBC host Joe Scarborough (one of two prominent conservative voices on MSNBC) gave to Republican candidates in 2006, that was before the current policy was in effect.

Pat Buchanan (MSNBC's other prominent conservative voice) has donated thousands of dollars to candidates himself, but NBC News makes an exception for him because he is an analyst and contributor, not a host.

I call bullshit on that; if you work for NBC News/MSNBC, you should play by the same rule regardless of your role. If we're going to suspend Olbermann for his personal political donations, then we should do the same to Buchanan.

However, I do not think MSNBC is in the wrong for suspending Olbermann. Olbermann violated NBC News policy, and he should pay a price for it. You can argue the validity of the policy in today's media climate, you can argue the severity of the penalty, but Olbermann violated a policy and deserves to be held accountable for it.

Not only did Olbermann's donations run afoul of NBC News policy, they also look bad. Olbermann donated the legal maximum of $2,400 to Arizona's Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the night after he interviewed the Congressman on Countdown. Rep. Grijalva has been on Olbermann's show several times -- particularly in the last few months talking about Arizona's immigration law.

Olbermann also gave $2,400 to Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway, who was a guest on Countdown in May.

Add to that the fact that Olbermann anchored MSNBC's Election Night coverage on Tuesday, and Olbermann never disclosed his donations as results came in and he led the coverage consisting of five people on the desk (Olbermann, Chris Mathews, Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow and the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson) and Ed Schultz live in Las Vegas.

While that wasn't part of the official policy, it still looks bad from a journalism ethics standpoint. Olbermann isn't a traditional journalist; anyone who's watched Countdown knows that. But Olbermann does anchor hard news coverage on occasion (like election coverage and breaking news when warranted), and thus those standards apply.

Lack of disclosure, both to his bosses and to his viewers, was ultimately Olbermann's undoing.

I don't see this episode being the end of Olbermann's career with MSNBC -- his show is the highest-rated on the network, and his show's ratings have tripled in the past two years. Olbermann is largely responsible for the television success of Maddow and O'Donnell, and in a lot of circles, he's the face of MSNBC.

Still, this was a mistake on Olbermann's part, and he deserves to be held accountable for his actions. If nothing else, this episode illustrates yet again how MSNBC is not in fact the liberal equivalent of Fox News; whereas Fox News has no guideline against political donations, and even encourages the likes of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to shill for candidates on-air (be it television or radio), MSNBC does not.

Big picture, MSNBC is still showing some journalistic integrity. When Olbermann returns to his studio, both he and the network will be better off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Road Ahead

I'm not gonna lie; Tuesday night sucked.

While I wasn't surprised the Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate, I held out hope that voter turnout and other factors would stem the tide. But that didn't happen, leaving us with a divided government heading into 2012, and a bunch of questions I don't know the answers to.

Unlike the pundits, though, I admit that I don't know.

I suppose the first question to be asked is: what happened? How did Democrats lose so many seats just two years after a massive wave brought them into power? Was it voter turnout, anger over the economy, simple election patterns proven over the course of time?

Perhaps a little bit of everything. We know the majority party almost always loses seats in the first midterm election after a new presidential administration -- particularly when economic conditions are so poor -- just as we know midterm turnouts tend to be smaller and favor conservatives. These are trends and facts proven by history, and to some degree, they came to bear once again Tuesday night.

The problem isn't necessarily that the Democrats didn't do anything with their two years of power in the legislative and executive branches -- in fact, they did a whole bunch of stuff -- but we're talking politics, not policy.

So who's to blame? In a word, everyone.

President Obama is to blame for failing to use his immense personal popularity and his considerable communicative skills to truly accentuate just what the Democrats' accomplishments mean for people. Simply put, he lost the message.

Republicans in Congress are to blame for their constant, unbending obstruction. Constant filibusters, a steadfast refusal to compromise, even as Democrats adopted long-held GOP beliefs (individual health insurance mandate, anyone?) and the simple belief that they would win at the polls by simply saying "no" and letting the economy fester.

Blue Dog Democrats for muscling their way through Congress to further water down legislation -- in the House, they forced the stimulus to shrink and tried to shove stricter anti-choice measures into health care reform. In the Senate, they nearly tanked health care reform because of their opposition to the public option.

The rest of the Democrats are to blame for a) capitulating to the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, essentially taking the mandate given to them by the voters and throwing it in the trash, and b) for also failing to adequately articulate their accomplishments to the public.

Voters are to blame, either for staying home or for letting their anger over current conditions sway their vote away from sanity. I wonder how many disaffected progressives or young voters went out and voted for a Republican or a Tea Party candidate, simply because they were mad about how things were going.

Then there's the media, the perpetual conflictinator, to borrow a phrase. Corporate-owned and more interested in the daily battles of which party is winning which battle, instead of really focusing on the issues at hand. The pundits and bloggers can scratch their heads all they want over Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity this past Saturday, but ultimately, the Comedy Central funny man had a point.

See? Plenty of blame to go around. But blame really doesn't get us anywhere, aside from the short-term emotional satisfaction of just letting off some steam. The question remains: where does the country go from here?

Hell, where do progressives go from here?

There is some good news to be had from Tuesday night. Democrats did maintain control of the Senate -- though it's a wonder if that'll mean anything, given that chamber's 60-vote default thresholdto get anything done -- and there are a number of governors' races that swung blue. Jerry Brown beat Meg Whitman (and her oodles and oodles of cash) in California, while it appears Pat Quinn might win in Illinois.

Then there's Senator Harry Reid defeating Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, Chris Coons upending Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and an intriguing fight in Alaska that could sink Tea Party favorite Joe Miller in favor of ... write-in Lisa Murkowski?

By the way, the last time a write-in candidate won a Senate race, the Giants won the World Series. Guess who won the World Series this year. Just sayin' ...

Also, while the GOP won back the House, it did not acquire a veto-proof majority, so if the party makes good on its threat to repeal some of the accomplishments of the past two years, or look to do something as crazy as, say, abolish the Department of Education, President Obama can sink those proposals with the stroke of a pen.

It will be interesting going forward to see a) how Democrats handle the lame-duck session over the next two months, and b) how does Republican leadership handle the influx of Tea Party candidate?

Do Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reid work to push through some more legislative priorities before the new Congress is sworn in and we likely say hi to Speaker John Boehner (ugh, that hurt to write ...)? Do the Tea Partiers hold true to their beliefs, or can Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner corrall them into an effective governing body?

Or do we have gridlock for the next two years while the GOP tries everything it can to ensure President Obama doesn't win re-election in 2012?

I honestly have no idea.

But here's the pep talk version of this post. I know things suck right now, progressives and liberals. Last night stung, I won't lie. I was mad last night, and I wasn't really sure who to direct that anger toward. But Election Night 2010 was not the end of the road; it was but another step in this messy process we call politics.

We knew we'd possibly lose the House and see our majority in the Senate shrink. This isn't a shock. But where do we go from here?

Well, we appear to have our work cut out for us. The fact that we have to start calling people like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio "Senator" is a scary thought, but it's the reality we have -- just as we now have a Congress without the likes of Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold. We still have a voice, and we need to start putting that voice to good use again. We need to continue fighting for the causes and the candidates we believe in, whether that's through party establishment or through outside groups like

We have to hold our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not, accountable. We have to begin voter mobilization efforts now, to ensure that turnout isn't a problem again in 2012. The media will likely paint Tuesday's election results as a test for President Obama, and they're not wrong, but this will be a test for us as well.

We must remain strong, we must remain vigilant. We cannot let these results, expected as they were, to deter us from fighting for the change we voted for two years ago. We cannot let a Republican-controlled House of Representatives prevent us from fighting for the common man. Jobs, equal rights, affordable health care -- these are among our causes, and if we truly want to see them enacted, we have to keep fighting.

It won't be easy, it won't be quick. But what worth fighting ever is? We cannot sit on the sidelines and let things happen; we have to go out and make them happen. We have a future to shape in this country, and I refuse to sit back and let the regressive party be the one who does the molding.

I leave you with words from President Obama, words he delivered on Election Night in 2008, after he'd won the presidential nomination. They were appropriate then, and they are even more so now.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."