Friday Talking Points [30] -- "Mainstream Media Out To Lunch" Edition

[ Posted Friday, May 2nd, 2008 – 15:22 UTC ]

If every port on the West Coast of the United States of America was shut down because of a terrorist threat, do you think it would make the news?

So do I. Any event of this magnitude would be the lead story on every evening news broadcast in the nation. I say that with almost total certitude, knowing it to be true.

Yesterday, all 29 cargo ports on the West Coast were shut down, although it wasn't terrorism that did it. It was the longshoremen, in a one-day strike. Media coverage, beyond some local newspapers, was almost completely non-existent.

Why is this? I don't know for sure. It could have been because the unions said they were protesting the war in Iraq. It could have been because they may not have actually cared about the war in Iraq, but instead were taking a one-day holiday to show their strength during contract negotiations. It could be because Labor gets no respect at all from our corporate media. It could have been that celebrating May Day (known to the rest of the planet as "International Workers' Day") is still seen as a commie-pinko thing to do in America. It could have been the epidemic of recto-cranial inversion (having one's head up one's... well, you figure it out...) among television news networks, which shows no sign of abating any time soon. It could have been because Miley Cyrus' bare shoulderblades were nowhere to be seen.

Even liberal websites mostly missed it. I read about it myself on Drudge Report. So why this near-total blackout of the story? I have no idea.

Speaking of stories experiencing near-total news blackouts brings us directly to tomorrow's Democratic caucus on the tiny Pacific island of Guam. As with all island primary races, I long ago put in a travel request to selflessly go to Guam for a week or so to find out the will of the voters (or at least the ones near the hotel swimming pool), for the sole benefit of you, the reader. Apparently my request got lost in the mail or something, as the pre-paid tickets never arrived.


But unless the Reverend Jeremiah Wright jumps on a plane very soon and travels there (with media circus in tow), tiny Guam is going to be a non-story tomorrow. Or is it today? They're across the International Date Line (actual island motto: "Where America's Day Begins"), so while they are voting on "Saturday," I have no idea when that will actually be. They may, from my thumb-fingered calculations, already have started voting as I write this. But at some point in the next day or two (or three?), we will get results from their caucus.

And in my continuing efforts to accurately predict the races, I am calling Guam for Barack Obama. I will go even further, and predict he will win three of the four pledged delegates at stake. Since polling on Guam's electorate simply doesn't exist, I can confidently say that (this time, at least) I am entirely uninfluenced by any polling data whatsoever.

I base my prediction on two facts: Obama was born on an island in the Pacific (in Hawai'i), and Guam is the last caucus left -- all the other remaining contests are primaries for the Democrats. And Obama is usually pretty strong in caucuses.

These are thin facts on which to base a prediction, but they're all I've got to go on. So: Obama wins Guam in a landslide! You heard it here first!

Total correct Democratic picks so far: 35 for 51 -- 69%.
Total correct 2008 Republican picks: 37 for 50 -- 74%.
Total overall correct picks: 72 for 101 -- 71%.

[See my previous "picks" article for a full list of links to all the picks made so far.]


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

Both my state's Senators win Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week in a tie this week. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer were both a credit to their party last week, and deserve the award. But before you accuse me of bias, allow me to point out that neither one has ever won the coveted Golden Backbone before today, and in fact Boxer has won Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week once before -- and Feinstein has a total of three MDDOTW awards in her trophy case.

Senator Feinstein wins for her refusal to let the torture issue die. Just last week she got an amendment inserted into this year's intelligence authorization bill to restrict the CIA from using any interrogation techniques not found in the Army Field Manual. Read the full details from her Senate web page, or from the Associated Press. For boldly standing up to Bush once again, even in the face of a veto threat, Senator Feinstein has earned her MIDOTW award this week.

And Senator Boxer wins for sheer dynamism. Just in the past week, the diminutive Californian showed up in so many places it was hard to even keep track. She is trying to reform and update the FAA, in the face of a Bush veto (he doesn't want air traffic controllers to have unions). Boxer's response: "If the president wants to go toe-to-toe with us on that, I say fine, let's do it." She also denounced Bush on his environment speech, saying: "President Bush's speech on global warming last week was a disaster. Rather than setting ambitious goals for America to tackle the climate change threat head-on -- and lead the rest of the world towards a solution -- President Bush's 'plan' does absolutely nothing." This sort of spine-stiffening rhetoric is doubtlessly why she picked up an award this week for "Environmental Legislator Of The Year." Senator Boxer also found the time this week to hold hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency's dismal record on protecting Americans from toxic chemicals, which prompted her to warn them that Congress may just take control of the whole program away from the EPA and start banning these poisons themselves. Once again, in Boxer's own words: "If we don't see that happen, colleagues of mine are going to take matters into their own hands." And in her spare time last week, she took on the Bush administration to save the polar bear. Here are her whole remarks:

"Once again, the courts have found that the Bush Administration has been violating the law when it comes to protecting the environment. In this case, the Administration clearly missed the deadline for action to protect the polar bear -- a deadline they agreed to. Interior Secretary Kempthorne, like EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, has been stonewalling our Committee, and I am very pleased that the court has ordered the Interior Department to stop stalling and finalize its decision regarding polar bears. These magnificent creatures are in peril, and this Administration has no right to walk away from protecting them."

That, by any measure, is a pretty good week for a Democratic Senator to have. For showing the rest of them what Democrats are supposed to sound like, Barbara Boxer should feel proud to be awarded this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

So to both the Golden State's Democratic Senators, I say: Well done!

[Congratulate Senator Feinstein on her Senate contact page, and Senator Boxer on her Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

This one just about takes the cake. I mean, Washington politicians making friends "across the aisle" is not something to get angry about in general. Being civil in debate with your opponents is a worthwhile goal. And working with Republicans to get needed legislation passed is completely acceptible. Even hanging out with your buddies from the other party to relax is fine with me.

But raising money for vulnerable Republicans to get re-elected is beyond the pale. Way beyond the pale.

I introduce you to the Democratic Senator from Hawai'i, Daniel Inouye. Who just last week hosted a fundraiser for his buddy, Republican Senator Ted Stevens.

Now, some context is necessary here. Senator Stevens is known to most Americans as Senator "Bridge to Nowhere." He is known inside the Beltway as the unabashed King of Pork. He is known to the blogosphere as Senator "Tubes." For good reasons.

Senator Stevens used his seniority and his committee chairmanships to be sure that Alaska got so many pork-barrel dollars each year that it sometimes didn't know what to do with all the money. Even many in Alaska scratched their heads at his infamous "bridge to nowhere." And his comment that the internet is made of "tubes" when he sits on a crucial committee that regulates the internet was legendary and will not soon be forgotten.

But the real story is that even though he has been in office since approximately the Mesozoic Era, he is actually vulnerable this year. This is rare -- a long-time incumbent Republican that Democrats actually have a chance of beating in November. This is due entirely to the sleaze which Stevens reportedly oozes from every pore. He's the guy that got his house raided last year by the feds, who took pictures of his deck because Stevens is under investigation for accepting remodeling bribes from businesses for legislative favors. He's actually within the orbit of several ongoing investigations. And Alaskans are taking note of his corrupt behavior.

Which means, as I said, this is a rare chance for a Democratic challenger to unseat a Republican incumbent, and gain one more seat in the Senate for the party.

So why in the name of all that is holy is a Democrat hosting fundraisers for Stevens?!?

Daniel Inouye easily wins this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award, which is made entirely of pork products.

For shame, Senator, for shame.

[Contact Senator Inouye on his Senate contact page to let him know what you think of his actions. And since this is so odious, I am breaking my own rule for promoting candidates' web sites in order to bring you the link to the Democratic challenger to Stevens, Mark Begich. Good luck in November, Mark!]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 30 (5/2/08)


   Put your money where your mouth is, John McCain

John McCain, Republican candidate for president, unveiled his health care plan last week. It would end employer-based health care as we know it today. All Americans would be forced to go out on the open market and purchase their own individual health care, because we all know how well that's working out for everyone. And the insurance companies would still be free to reject anyone they didn't feel like covering. Because McCain, you see, is against a "big government" takeover of health care.

What exactly does it take for the media to start paying attention to the horse manure coming out of this man's mouth? I mean, he's a candidate for president and everything. And he is saying these things, not some aide or preacher. If the media did their job, the public would be up in arms about this ridiculous "plan" to make health care "better." Since they are not, it is up to Democrats to make the point to the media, and forcefully point out McCain's utter hypocrisy on the issue.

"Well, you know [insert name of vapid television interviewer here], if John McCain was in charge, he would completely do away with employer-based health care, and replace it with absolutely nothing -- meaning that every American would no longer qualify for a group health plan, and would instead be forced to purchase individual health care on the open market. This is outrageous, to say the least. But the true hypocrisy is that McCain decries 'big government' taking over health insurance, while he is currently covered by not one but two government-run health care plans -- the Veterans' Administration and his Congressional health care plan -- which are both directly paid for by American taxpayers. So since he's so big on everyone buying health care themselves, and he's so down on government health care, I openly challenge him to immediately opt out of both the VA and his Senate health care plan, and then publicly buy his health care on the open market. Since he has many pre-existing conditions, including a recent bout with cancer, I doubt he would be able to buy such insurance at any price. How about it, John McCain? Stop taking taxpayer money for your own health care if you think it's such a horrible thing to do. Put your money where your mouth is!"


   Bush. Bush. Bush.

President Bush set a record this week. 71% of all Americans don't think he's doing a good job. This is the first time any president has topped the 70% mark, although Bush's approval rating (28%) is still higher than Nixon (24%) and Truman (22%) on their worst days.

So please, please -- any Democrat who opens his mouth to a reporter on any question whatsoever -- invoke Bush's name in every sentence. This works no matter what you are talking about. Tie Bush to the Republican Party (and John McCain in particular) like an anchor chain wrapped around their necks. You simply cannot say "Bush" too often. Think of it like saving Tinkerbell -- every time you say "Bush" a voter decides to vote Democratic in November.

"Actually, what [John McCain / House Republicans / Senate Republicans / the Republican Party / my Republican opponent in the election] says is nothing more than a continuation of President Bush's disastrous policy. We've had to suffer through eight years of Bush and we can see the wreckage of [the American economy / foreign policy / America's standing in the world / the Constitution] as a result. Republicans have had their chance to run this country, and what Bush and his Republican friends did was to run this country into the ground. We can change that in November. Vote to change Bush's policies. Vote Democratic."


   Mission Accomplished?

Support for the war in Iraq has also plummeted to a record low (30%) in the same survey. Fortunately, there was an anniversary this week to mark the occasion. Demonstrators unveiled a 50-foot replica banner in front of the White House to remind everyone.

Dan Froomkin's White House Watch column at summed up this anniversary better than anyone else. I cannot improve upon his framing of the situation one bit:

Much has happened in the five years since President Bush flew aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in "Top Gun" style, stood under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" and proudly declared: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

Five years ago, 139 American troops had died in Iraq. Now that number is 4,064. Five years ago, 542 American troops had been wounded in Iraq. Now that number is 29,395.

Five years ago, the national debt was $6.5 trillion. Now it's $9.3 trillion. Five years ago, your average gallon of gas cost $1.44. Now it costs $3.57. Five years ago, Bush's job-approval rating was at 70 percent. Now it's at 28.

Five years ago, Bush's appearance on the carrier was widely hailed as a brilliant PR move, imbuing the president with the aura of a conquering hero. Now, it's possibly the single most potent image of Bush's hubris.

One thing that's not so different: Five years ago, there were about 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Now there are slightly more.


   I'd have to agree with Craig

Craig Ferguson hosted the yukfest known as the White House Correspondents' Dinner this year, and while not as scathing as Stephen Colbert was a few years ago, Ferguson got a few good lines off:

"I spoke to a lot of journalists, about how I should speak up here. And everyone -- all the journalists said: 'Craig, your duty is speak truth to power. That's what you do: You hold the truth up for everyone to see. . . . And I am sorry, I don't see it that way. That is your job. I am a late night television show guy."

"The New York Times unfortunately did not buy a table. They felt that this event 'undercuts the credibility of the press.' It's funny, you see, I thought that Jayson Blair and Judy Miller took care of that. What? . . . Did I go too far? Now let me try this: Shut the hell up, New York Times, you sanctimonious whining jerks!"

But his best line was something that deserves quoting immediately when an interviewer asks a monumentally stupid or trivial question:

"You know, I have here a quote from comedian Craig Ferguson, talking to the White House Correspondents shindig last week that I'd like to read, because that last question earned it. I quote Ferguson -- 'I want to talk tonight about the respect I have for the American media. It is your task to watch the government, to make sure they do not exceed their power. Well done on that, by the way, the last eight years.'"


   You want flowers? Ask some real questions for a change.

Blogger Micah Fitch is organizing an operation to send flowers to Helen Thomas. She is the intrepid White House reporter who actually, you know, asks questions. After asking a question on Bush's torture policy and getting the usual waffling response, Thomas reportedly turned to her fellow White House reporters in disgust, and said "Where is everybody?"

Now she's getting flowers by the dozen, from citizens who appreciate her. Again, this a great talking point for when reporters wander into the backwaters of irrelevancy.

"You know, if you would just ask the White House some tough questions about Constitutional and moral issues the way Helen Thomas recently did, maybe you would be flooded with flowers from an adoring public, too."


   Oil men in the White House

This soundbite is so easy, I am amazed no Democrats have made it on television with it.

"When President Bush took office, according to AAA, the price of gasoline was $1.49. A few months ago, Bush said he 'hadn't heard' that gas was going to hit four bucks a gallon soon. Now it seems like a day doesn't go by without another oil company announcing a record-breaking profit. I guess maybe putting two oil men in charge of the country wasn't such a bright thing to do, huh? Mission accomplished, I guess."


   The Bank of China credit card

I forget exactly where I heard this term, but I have started using it because it so accurately and succinctly sums up a large and complicated problem.

Because some politicians weren't happy with just handing out "free" money in an election year (those $600 checks you'll be getting in the mail soon), they are now proposing a "gas tax holiday" this summer. Ignoring the fact that the oil companies will just raise the price and the consumers won't see any difference at the pump, politically they think it's a good gimmick.

So I dream of someone standing up and saying the following:

"You know what the 'stimulus' checks did, and what the 'gas tax holiday' will do? They will put America farther into debt. And you know what happens when our debt gets bigger? Other countries push the dollar down. And you know what happens when the dollar is weak? Oil costs more -- a lot more. A third of the cost of gas in America right now is a direct result of the weak dollar. Politicians have got to realize that going on a spending spree with a 'Bank of China' credit card is no way to run a country."

However, since Democrats don't exactly have their hands clean on the issue, I realize this isn't going to happen any time soon.

Still, I can dream, can't I?


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


5 Comments on “Friday Talking Points [30] -- "Mainstream Media Out To Lunch" Edition”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    Hypocrisy and greed seems to be what politics is all about. I am not holding my breath that things are going to change anytime soon - even if the Democrats manage to win the Whitehouse. I am just hoping that they will not be as greedy and will think about the people now and then.


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The Newseum, the latest museum to open in Washington, D.C., sounds like a definite must see! In fact, it may soon be one of the few remaining places left in America where one may be able to find any traces of real journalism, relics as they appear increasingly destined to become. Irony does abound - even if the news people don’t get it!

    Al Eisele warned today, over at the Huffington Post, that journalists risk extinction if they do not become “MPCP’s, or multi-platform content providers.” In fact, journalists miss the point - AGAIN - if they believe that, in the age of the internet(s), they must simply become MPCP’s. Journalists must provide context or the content they provide is distorted and meaningless, at best, or dangerous, at worst. It will be the lack of context and the inability to inform the people about what they need to know that orchestrates the continuing demise of journalism and the further weakening of American democracy.

    These days, it is not nearly enough for the press to be free. It must be intelligent, too, if the
    democracy it serves is to survive and thrive.

    We should all make it our mission to highlight and celebrate the increasingly rare examples of real journalistic excellence, wherever they may be found, in an effort to promote and encourage more of the same, everywhere. Perhaps it is time to add another award to the Friday Talking Points column - Most Impressive Display of Journalistic Excellence Award...or something. Of course, the pickings would be pretty slim and so an ongoing contest to find the deserving candidates each week might save you a lot of time and effort.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    I may actually get to see the new Newseum this summer, as I will be in DC for a short visit. My wife saw the earlier location of the Newseum and loved it, so we may make time for this in our trip.

    But as you pointed out, a MIDOJE award might not be possible on a weekly basis, due to lack of qualified entries...


  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Here is my pick for the first candidate for consideration of the MIDOJE award. It is a four-part series on Iraq, The Rise of the Counterinsurgents by Spencer Ackerman im the Washington Independent.

    In the fourth part, the focus is on Muqtada al’Sadr: The Insurgent as Counterinsurgent. This is a very interesting piece. In fact, I think the gist of the article hits the proverbial nail squarely on the head. The only way out of this fiasco, for everyone involved, is political accommodation and, in that regard, Sadr is an INDISPENSIBLE player. The US could learn a lot from him, I would dare say.

    I am reminded of the recent hearings held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the way forward in Iraq. A panel of experts was asked who, in their opinion, are the leaders in Iraq who are capable of actually leading and making things happen. The experts agreed that Muqtada al’Sadr was the closest thing to that person and that the US needs to understand that the leaders who emerge in Iraq will probably not be the people who agree with US Iraq policy.

    According to various public statements made by Senator Biden, Sadr is the only major sectarian leader in Iraq who has not supported - publically or quietly - the Biden strategy to promote a sustainable political settlement based on federalism and Iraq's constitution.

    It is completely understandable that Sadr, who has been against the 'occupation' from the beginning - and that is really what it is - has been against any form of federalism. Under the yoke of occupation, federalism can easily be seen as a not so veiled attempt to divide and conquer, a tactic that part of the world has known too well over the course of its long history.

    I can actually see Sadr as a strong proponent of what Senator Biden is proposing - but we first need to get past the status quo of the current US military posture in Iraq, somehow or other. Of course, strong and competent US leadership would be required. Any bets on when or if that might occur?

  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    I will check the articles out, thanks. I enjoy reading clear-headed Iraq analyses, and I think you're right about Sadr. He's been the one to watch all along.

    I find it interesting that whenever his name comes up in the mainstream media, 9 times out of 10 he is referred to as "the anti-American cleric" or just "anti-American." It's interesting, because nobody else is referred to in this way, even though I would be willing to bet that "anti-American" would cover a lot of the players in Iraq. Sadr himself probably wouldn't quibble at the term, but from what I've seen, he's more accurately "anti-occupation."

    Sadr is definitely grooming himself for bigger things. He is currently receiving religious instruction to gain a higher Muslim title. This will mean he will have the authority to issue fatwas, for instance. Mainly, he's trying to step into his father's shoes, and for that he needs to have more religious authority. Kind of like an advanced university degree in this country.

    This is one of the reasons for his cease-fire, because he's been busy hitting the books, as it were. It's not the only reason, but it is one of them.

    In any case, he is definitely someone to watch. The irony of us "bringing democracy to the Middle East" is that the popular leaders in the Middle East are almost guaranteed to not be who we would choose to deal with, you are indeed right about that.


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