Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ed Murrow, Where Are You When We Need You?

Presumably I'm not the only news junkie who sees the relocation of CBS News' programs enmasse to Miami, in order to cross-plug its Superbowl coverage, as yet further evidence that that division has now been relegated to the role of shill for its parent corporation's other interests. (See my Show Biz post of 1/5/10).

All us big kids are well aware that journalism is a business, subject to the same tyranny of the bottom line as any other enterprise; but the press has tried -- in its recent history, at least -- to construct an impervious wall between its editorial and business arms, albeit not always with unmitigated success.

To be charitable, perhaps this just the way CBS News is repaying its debt to the NFL for those terrific Sunday lead-ins that have helped to keep 60 Minutes at the top of the ratings heap all these years.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Forwarded Without Comment

Wherever the citizenry may stand on Healthcare Reform, we all know where the Health Insurance industry stands. The Hill website ( ) informs us that the industry aggregately upped its ante by almost 25% in 2009 over 2008 to a total of about $30,000,000.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Military Iron(y)

One approaches any third rail, metaphorical or actual, with extreme caution. This column is no exception, but occasionally, having come across a story so irresistibly ironic, it goes out on a limb.
Social Security has long reigned as the third rail of American polititics, but that cachet is being challenged on the blogosphere by the perceived infiltration of government and the military by Christian Fundamentalists. This week's flashpoint: Trijicon.

A maker of gunsights for hunters and the military, Trijicon has, for 30 years, been etching biblical citations (e.g., JN8:12, 2COR4:6, etc.) into the base of their scopes. The Pentagon seems (a) not to have noticed, or (b) to have been collusive (depending upon who you read) in the uncritical deployment of several hundred thousand of these devices into the hands of our soldiers and marines fighting an Islamic enemy in the Middle East.

Here we have a classic 1st Amendment paradox wherein the right of free speech collides with the separation of church and state.

But before one rushes to the judgement that -- as conspiracy theorists would have it -- the military is in cahoots with the religious right to proselytize the entire world, we note that General David Petraeus, head of Central Command in the middle east and arguably the most high-profile military figure in the country, has termed the matter "disturbing" and of "serious concern".

The upshot: Trijicon has now "voluntarily" agreed to halt its practice and to pay for the retrofix of all existing equipment.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Economics 2010

As a media maven, I read a lot about what the press is reporting and a lot less about what it isn't reporting; or at least not reporting comprehensively. It is said that Economics is the dismal science, and that's largely the reason why mainstream publishers, editors and reporters shy away from it; they're not in business to put their readers to sleep.

The Nieman Center for Journalism at Harvard recently published an eye-opening article about the parlous state of the economy -- and the press's under-reportage thereof -- that not only won't put you to sleep, but may keep you up nights for a while. Read it at:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Supremes

Those who uncritically subscribe to Anatole France's dictum that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges...", will be heartened by the Supreme Court's decision yesterday to undercut the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2110 (McCain-Feingold) by ruling in favor of virtually unfettered corporate donations to congressional campaigns. That the ruling also frees labor unions to do the same merely highlights the yawning inequality between corporate wealth and that of unions; hence my allusion to M. France's sardonic observation.

In Thursday's Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Court held that the 1st Amendment is absolute; that it applies to corporate "speech" as well as that of individuals; and reiterated earlier rulings that corporations are persons (First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti and NAACP v. Button). That this contention has its roots in English common law--which informed our Constitution-- is widely accepted, but not by dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens, who opined that corporations are not actual members of society, pointing out that:

"they cannot vote or run for office. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it."

The Citizens United case was about the FEC's denial of that lobbyist's request to air a corporately-underwritten anti-Hillary video. SCOTUS ruled the FCC's decision to be unconstitutional prior-restraint. In actuality, Citizens turned out to be a test case for the Court's [successsful] overturning of its more liberal verdict in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce which held that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity. That ruling was intended to "prevent the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of [corporate] wealth...that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

Thursday's decision argued-- in Justice Kennedy's words -- that while such "speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials [it] does not mean that those officials are corrupt and the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy [emphasis mine]." I don't know to which planet Mr. Kennedy repairs at the end of a long day on the bench, but it is a rosy view of human nature indeed to posit that special-interest money is not a pernicious influence on the political process. I would venture that my opinion on this is shared by the majority of my fellow citizens, whatever their political persuasion.

As Democrats scrambled to craft restorative legislation, Sen. Russ Feingold derided today's SCOTUS decision as "a terrible mistake", while loyal Republican John McCain merely said he was "disappointed". One has to wonder how Senator-elect Scott Brown will vote on any such future bill given his need--as the new kid--to toe the party line (see Mitch McConnell on the subject), versus his stated admiration for Sen. McCain.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


STRATFOR continues to inform us objectively about the ongoing jihadist threat in an article today outlining how counter-terrorism authorities go about profiling possible suicide bombers and their ilk.

In a way, it is a cautionary tale, since profiling, by its very nature, tends to narrow the focus, thereby risking the exluding of statistical "outliers" who defy the profile and who, therefore, might well be recruited expressly because they are outliers.

Read more about it at:

Politics As Usual

Anyone seeking an example of the hyper-partisan GOP obstructionism to which I referred in my last post need look no further than today's news that Erroll Southers, the president's nominee to head the Transportation Security Agency (a key component of Homeland Security), has withdrawn his name from further consideration after having had his nomination held up by the Senate for the past five months.

That hold has been the personal handiwork of South Carolina's mossback Senator Jim DeMint, on the grounds that, regardless of Southers' otherwise sterling credentials, he might conceivably have bowed to political pressure to unionize TSA employees. One simply cannot top the exquisite irony that Senator DeMint was one of the first in line to lambaste the president for not having had a TSA head on the job at the time of the fizzled Christmas Day terrorist bomb threat.

You might wish to link to Foreign Affairs magazine to read a balanced article concerning the other 176 nominations still pending. Many of these holdups are, to be sure, the consequence of the often dilatory legislative process dictated by compliance with Constitutional checks and balances between the executive and the legislative branches, but too many are simply being held hostage to Senatorial horse-trading.


Nobody Asked Me, But...

That this week -- and beyond -- will produce a blogospheric maelstrom of triumphalism, recrimination, finger-pointing, dire prognistication and hindsight punditry vis a vis yesterday's election is already as obvious as could have been predicted, and your reporter dips his pen into that gurgitation with more than a little reluctance.

That the Democrats' humiliating defeat in Massachusetts will have political consequences well beyond the Commonwealth goes without saying, as does the fact that the GOP has again outfoxed, outmaneuvered and snookered the hapless Democrats by smartly infusing a local contest between two unexceptional candidates with the simmering national concern over the gridlock in Washington.

That the GOP has caused that gridlock is beyond irony, with a Republican establishment grimly prepared to throw out the baby (the country) with the bathwater (the adminstration) by whatever means necessary to discredit the president and his program. Republican counter-arguments that Democratic revanchists tried to do the same to G.W. Bush have some merit, but fail to reflect the vast difference in motive and malignity.

That the president shares in the blame is equally evident. Undeterred when the GOP threw back in his face his initial overture to jointly devise an economic stimulus plan, he has doggedly continued his foredoomed and futile effort to foster political consensus on issues vital to the commonweal.

I submit that the Cold War strategy of containment and isolation is as valid on the Potomac as it is geopolitically, and it's time for Mr. Obama to aggressively forward his progressive agenda without further regard to the sniping and obstructionism of an opposition admittedly committed to bringing him down.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Recommended Reading

Browsing through the Political Science section of a bookstore, one might be forgiven for assuming that a book with the provocative title, The Death of Conservatism, would be yet another liberal polemic. Such an assumption would be wrong.

What author Sam Tanenhaus laments is the death of classic enlightened conservatism (as preached by Burke and Disraeli, its ideological progenitors) at the hands of present-day movement conservatives, aka the New Right.

Progressive centrists like your reporter (and, I believe, President Obama) would heartily agree with Tanenhaus's contention that: "Most of us are liberal and conservative: we cling to the past in some ways, push forward into the future in others, and seek to reconcile our most cherished notions and beliefs with the demands of unanticipated events. Politics is the public expression of this drama...".

Some might find that statement a squishy panglossianism, but it illuminates a central truth of human nature, and would be equally at home in the Enlightenment writings of Rousseau and the republican councils of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Politics 101

It is being widely reported -- and rightly crowed over by the conservative blogosphere -- that when Martha Coakley was asked by a reporter why she was running such a lackluster campaign, she replied, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?”

Shaking voters' hands is, of course, Politics 101, and if she loses on Tuesday, it may well have been because of her lofty disconnect with the man in the street.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Brown v. Coakley and the 17th Amendment

Today's Cape Cod Times editorializes on Tuesday's upcoming special senatorial election by noting that "this election is about representing the people of Massachusetts on all things."

Amendment XVII notwithstanding, it was not always thus. Ratification of the nascent Constitution emerging from the Convention of 1787 was hostage to the small states' fear of domination by the larger states and of the House's popular electoral base. They insisted on the protection of equal representation in an upper body having a loftier, more statesmanlike agenda than simply relecting the majority will of their own constituencies.

Consequently, the French political and social observer Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the Senate in session in 1832 could later write that it was "composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose arguments would do honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe."

Regrettably, human nature intervened, and the election of senators by state legisislatures subsequently devolved into such a factional and party-riven contest for political advantage that progressives were able -- in 1913 -- to push through an amendment that would, more democratically, put upper-chamber power into the hands of the people by allowing for direct election of senators.

Not all -- surely including DeToqueville -- would agree that the result has been consistently salutary.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blue State Blues

The Massachusetts Democratic party, having been gobsmacked by Scott Brown's masterful implementation of the RNC's hobgoblin strategy, is bracing for possible defeat on Tuesday if Martha Coakley's lackluster campaign fails and thus derails Ted Kennedy's long-sought goal of coaxing a skeptical electorate into healthcare-reform Nirvana.

Fret not, fellow Liberals. Should Brown win -- stll a long-shot in this bluest of blue states, despite polls to the contrary -- the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate will counter the consequent loss of its 60 vote supermajority by implementing the reconciliation procedural rule. This arcane rule derives from an accounting term having to do with balancing budgets.

The Library of Congress website advises that "the chief purpose of the reconciliation process is to enhance Congress’s ability to change current law in order to bring revenue, spending, and debt-limit levels into conformity with the policies of the annual budget resolution", a process requiring only a simple majority.

Wikipedia reminds Republicans who might cry foul that "until 1996 reconciliation was limited to deficit reduction; but in 1996 the Senate's Republican majority adopted a precedent to apply reconciliation to any legislation affecting the budget, even legislation that would increase the deficit. Under the administration of George W. Bush, Congress used reconciliation to enact three major tax cuts. These tax cuts were set to lapse after 10 years to satisfy the Byrd Rule. Efforts to use reconciliation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling failed".

See you at the polls.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tempest in a Tea Party II

For those of you not intimately familiar with received reporter/source protocol -- and sufficiently interested to want to find out -- Marc Ambinder, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, has put together a primer on the differences between "on the record", "on background", "on deep background" and "off-the record". This might be useful in helping you to sort out whether, as suggested in my previous post on this subject, Harry Reid might have been blindsided into making his tone-deaf remark about Barack Obama. The "tea party" reference in my original title has rapidly become unrelevant as the story enters the third day of its news cycle and outraged cries of "double-standard!" have migrated from the conservative fringe to the GOP mainstream, while the far juicier tidbits in Game Change have been eclipsed by the Reid tempest.

USA v. Abdulmutallab, AQ, et al

For a cool-headed strategic evaluation of the ongoing jihadist threat, one could do worse than to read STRATFOR's latest take on the issue, at:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tempest in a Tea Party

Not to defend Harry Reid who was -- at best -- mind-bendingly impolitic in his remarks about Obama, but Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon, describes the source book, Game Change, thusly:

"...the book is filled with the type of petty, catty, gossipy, trashy sniping that is the staple of sleazy tabloids and reality TV shows, and it has been assembled through anonymous gossip, accountability-free attributions, and contrived melodramatic dialogue masquerading as 'reporting'."

Now, Glenn Greenwald is no poster-boy for political centrism, so we must await the consensus view of Game Change, but it is not an insignificant fact that its co-author, Mark Halperin, is as far to the right as Greenwald is to the left. The Reid remark is unsourced, in line with the authors' note that all interviews were conducted on "deep background", and the fact that Reid has not disowned his unfortunate remark is telling; but it does not rule out the possibility that he was blind-sided. That the GOP is having a revanchist field-day over the issue was predictable, but their attempt to compare this with the party-engineered political demise of Trent Lott is merely embarrassing.

Read Greenwald's column at:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Metaphoric Medley

We have free-lance writer William Ecenberger and Smithsonian magazine to thank for a delightful parody of the cliches showered upon us by politicians and reverberated by the press.
Read it at:

The Stone Chronicles

Revisionist historian Oliver Stone is reported to have made known to the Television Crtics Association that he is going to give actual historians something to chew on by producing a 10-part series for Showtime entitled Secret History of America. His stated premise is that "Stalin, Hitler, Mao, McCarthy -- these people have been vilified pretty thoroughly by history", and, "Stalin has a complete other story", and, "Hitler is an easy scapegoat." He modestly refrained from adding his own name to the list of rogues thus unfairly demonized.

In fairness to Mr. Stone, he is a compelling storyteller despite a tendency to conflate fact with fiction.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Kirk to the Mast

To readers unfamiliar with the one-party domination of Massachusetts politics, Paul Kirk is not exactly a household name. An old friend of the Kennedy family, he was appointed by our governor as an interim replacement for the late Senator Ted Kennedy after a highly partisan political squabble that was resolved by his agreeing not to run in the subsequent special election.

He also had to agree not to endorse any candidate in that election, lest the power inherent in his incumbency unduly influence some voters. Now -- in direct contravention of the resolution that got him the job -- the senator has publicly endorsed the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley. Not content with seizing the moral low ground, he dismissed entirely-justified Republican criticisms by averring that his views were no surprise to anyone; hardly the point and hardly a defense of such blatant dissing of the legislature. He may well argue that the operative resolution was -- in fact -- non-binding, but this is a mealy-mouthed evasion, not likely to satisfy the ever-vocal critics of the Kennedys in particular and of us Massachusetts Democrats in general.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Show Biz Notes

One reads to one's dismay the below-linked AP item advising us that Morgan Freeman's voice has now replaced Walter Cronkite's as introducer of the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric. Lest there might have been any any doubt previously, it seems clear that CBS News has now -- psychically at least -- migrated to the network's Entertainment division.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Health Care Legislation Unconstitutional?

In today's Cape Cod Times, local Republican politician Jeffrey Perry attacked the proposed -- or, for that matter, any -- health care legislation as being an unconstitutional exercise of power by Congress. He dragged out as evidence the old "enumerated powers" argument that has been the refuge of progress-averse conservatives since the era of the Anti-federalists.

For Perry to cavalierly dismiss the Congress’ authority to legislate for "the general Welfare of the United States” as being "simply a preamble to the Article I section 8 enumerated powers", is to read that article in a manner so jaundiced as to nullify his subsequent conclusions.

Far from being simply a preamble, the opening paragraph of Article I also gives Congress the power "to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, and to provide for the common defense"; powers which Mr. Perry would presumably not venture to deny. It is hardly the superfluous expository preamble that Mr. Perry would have it.

Constitutional promotion of "the general welfare" (a term self-evidently descriptive of universal health care) is, furthermore, a phrase echoed in the document's actual Preamble, a statement of intent so existential to the American ethos that generations have been willing to put their lives at risk to defend it. While there may be valid political reasons for opposing healthcare reform, distorting the Constitution to validate them is not the way to go.