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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mark Halperin Tells It Like It Is (and Gets Punished For Doing So).

I've had a pretty nice birthday so far today. One of the best presents I got was Mark Halperin’s exceptionally candid reaction to President Obama’s news conference. I was actually going to post a column today about the president’s disgraceful behavior at yesterday’s press conference, but I just can’t ignore the chain of events that unfolded after Halperin let loose on MSNBC today.
Let’s start with his exact words. At 5:07 a.m. CT on Morning Joe today, Halperin said of our president, "I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday." He added, "I think the president was posturing."
Before I go any further, let me say that I believe Halperin’s analysis was spot-on. The president behaved like a dick when he dumped on “corporate jet owners.” At least corporations pay for their jets. Our president gets two Boeing 747s to fly around in, courtesy of the American taxpayers. And, if it weren’t for many of those thriving corporations and their highly-paid executives, then our government’s coffers wouldn’t have near as much revenue to spend on our worthless commander-in-chief. It was dickish to say that he was “very amused when I start hearing comments about 'well, the President needs to show more leadership on this.'” To hear him tell it, Obama’s idea of “leadership” consists of calling other, unspecified “leaders” together and saying that “we have to get this done.” Oh, and to imply that Republicans wanted “to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship” and “stop funding certain grants for medical research” and compromise food safety in order to “keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires,” “corporate jet owners” and “oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars,” that goes far beyond dickishness.
Unfortunately, Halperin then proceeded to disappoint me by apologizing. But the story didn’t end there. The higher-ups at MSNBC can’t tolerate a cross word from someone on their payroll about our president, unless it’s some criticism of him for not governing even farther from the left. Here’s the statement from MSNBC:

Mark Halperin’s comments this morning were completely inappropriate and
unacceptable.  We apologize to the President, The White House and all of our
viewers. We strive for a high level of discourse and comments like these have no
place on our air. Therefore, Mark will be suspended indefinitely from his role
as an analyst.
Sadly, Halperin then had to go and prostrate himself with this statement:

I completely agree with everything in MSNBC’s statement about my remark. I
believe that the step they are taking in response is totally appropriate. Again,
I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the President, to my MSNBC
colleagues, and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret
Halperin’s other employer, TIME Magazine, chimed in with this:

Mark Halperin’s comments on air this morning were inappropriate and in no way
reflective of TIME’s views. We have issued a warning to him that such behavior
is unacceptable. Mark has appropriately apologized on air, via Twitter and on
The Page.
Just so we’re clear, I still like Mark Halperin. I think he’s one of the most moderate, unbiased political analysts out there. He offers his opinions but is very hard to peg politically. He’s one of the few sane, reasonable people on MSNBC, so it was probably just a matter of time (no pun intended) before they found some excuse to get rid of him. As for what he said about Obama this morning, look, it’s inappropriate for someone who’s billed as a non-partisan “senior political analyst” to say our president–any U.S. president–“was kind of a dick,” even if the president’s actions totally justify such a remark, which they definitely did in this case. That being said, prior to 2008, I never thought we would have a president as bad as we do now. This president has been an abomination. He has allowed his administration to run rife with corruption. His policies have wreaked havoc on this country’s economy, the government’s reputation, and our image abroad, but what really distinguishes him from past awful presidents—Carter, Hoover, Wilson, e.g.—is his attitude. He looks down on hoi polloi with a contempt that he doesn’t even try to hide. People who disagree with him are to be marginalized, derided and harassed by government, if possible. All others are potential supporters, but I doubt he respects more than a few of them. If they’ll vote for him and/or donate to his campaign, then that’s all he cares about.
I’m not sure if he despises or feels threatened by real leaders like Chris Christie and Paul Ryan. Perhaps it’s both. Whenever their courage and leadership is on display for the public to see, Obama must feel some sense of inadequacy. I can only imagine his immediate reaction to The Path to Prosperity or Christie's latest victory in Trenton: How dare they make me look feckless and cowardly by comparison! How DARE they call my bluff and demonstrate real leadership by tackling difficult issues and taking big political risks for the good of the country!
Had Obama chosen not to go into politics, had he remained a lawyer or law professor or whatever he was before he was in a position to cause real damage that affects millions of people, if he were just a neighbor or a colleague of mine, then I dare say we might have become friends. I’m sure I would have enjoyed arguing with him, but alas, the allure of power was just too much for him to resist. If you have a problem with my admittedly harsh words about our president, then please let me know. I can defend everything I’ve said about him in this article.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I'm Sick of This Already.

I honestly didn't think I would get fed up with this latest tit-for-tat between Jon Stewart and FOX News, but I'm starting to, so I'll keep this short and to-the-point.

Monday night on The O'Reilly Factor, veteran journalist and cantankerous old Jew Bernie Goldberg said this:

Starting right now, conservatives have to throw around the word "racism" as cavalierly as liberals have been doing it for years and years, so tonight, I am going to tell you that Jon Stewart, because of what he did, is a racist. I don't believe that, but I'm gonna tell you that anyway.

Bernie followed his comments up with this post on his web site. Then, on last night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart did this:

That's all I'm going to write on this for now. Besides, today's my birthday, and I've got a lot to pack into this 24 hours. Peace out, y'all!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Jon Stewart/FOX News Tit-for-Tat That Just Won't End

It's been nine days since diminuitive Jewish comedian Jon Stewart appeared on FOX News Sunday w/ Chris Wallace. If you haven't seen the whole interview, then I highly recommend you watch it here.
As much as FOX News hyped this interview, the pre-interview hype was nothing compared to the flurry of analysis that permeated the blogoshpere and TV airwaves, especially on cable, in the immediate aftermath. I would very much like to do a play-by-play breakdown of every pertinent segment on FOX News and The Daily Show since the interview, but that would be far too time-consuming to hold most people's attention. Instead, suffice it to say that, on the day after the interview aired, Stewart led his program with it. Apparently, he felt that the lead take-away from the interview was Chris Wallace's "admission" of FOX News's "bias." Stewart played a clip from the interview in which he asked Wallace if he thought "that FOX News is exactly the ideological equivalent of NBC News," and Chris responded that he thought FOX News was "the counterweight," saying, "I think that they have a liberal agenda, and I think we tell the other side of the story, but, since this is my show, I'm asking the questions."
In a hypertechnical and not-at-all funny critique of Wallace, Stewart tried to argue that by saying that FOX News tells "the other side of the story," C.W. had implicitly confessed that FOX News tells only one side of the story. According to Jon, "FOX News isn't fair and balanced. It's balancing the system, man!"
I should pause for a moment here and reveal a little bit about where I'm coming from. I started watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report at almost exactly the same time that I started watching FOX News regularly (late 2006). When I want to get the left-wing viewpoint, I prefer Stewart and Colbert to MSNBC (because they're not as visceral and vitriolic) and CNN (because they're more interesting). Frankly, I think Stewart is really funny when he wants to be, but like a lot of comedians, he falls flat when he lets his ideology infect his humor. He has a very creative staff of writers; the only cheap shot I'll take at him is that I think he's more dependent on his writers than Colbert, but I could be wrong. (He did all right during the writers' strike of '07-'08.)
As for FOX, I personally do not believe that FOX News has a right-wing bias, and no sane person can believe that it's a propaganda outfit (like MSNBC). However, I do think it would be good if FOX News had one hour-long opinion/news analysis program hosted by a left-winger. (Juan Williams occasionally hosting The O'Reilly Factor doesn't count.) I must also admit that I don't mind MSNBC operating as a propaganda network; I don't even mind its anchors' stubborn and at times laughable insistence that they work for a serious news organization. I watch MSNBC periodically for much the same reason(s) that people like to go to the zoo and watch lesser-evolved primates hurl their feces at one another.
Now, then, back to Stewart's latest pique with FNC. After the interview and Stewart's subsequent send-up, PolitiFact got involved. For those of you who aren't familiar with this organization, it's a non-partisan web site known for its "Truth-O-Meter"®, which it uses to rate the accuracy of political claims. PolitiFact National is run by editors and reporters from the St. Petersburg Times, a newspaper I read whenever I'm in St. Petersburg. The PolitiFact state sites are run by news organizations that have partnered with the Times. Their purported mission is "sorting out the truth in politics." I'm not prepared to assert that the site has a political bias, but several of its ratings have given me reason to doubt its credibility. (For example, on the June 26, 2011, edition of ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) said that Democrats "do not want to raise anybody's tax rates. That's never been on the table." PolitiFact rated Clyburn's blatantly false claim "Barely True," which, according to the Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter, means "an element of truth mixed with a lot of misinformation." Yet, this is the same rating it gave Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's demonstrably true claim that, "under Barack Obama, the last two years, the number of federal limousines for bureaucrats has increased 73 percent.") See, in his interview on FOX News Sunday, Jon stated emphatically that "FOX viewers" are "the most consistently misinformed media viewers," according to "every poll." PolitiFact rated Stewart's claim "False." Then, on last Tuesday's Daily Show, Jon Stewart accepted PolitiFact's "False" verdict and said, "I defer to their judgment, and I apologize for my mistake. To not do so would be irresponsible, and if I were to continue to [bla bla bla]." But alas, he just couldn't let it go. Stewart needed some sour grapes to wash the taste of crow out of his mouth, so he proceeded to fire off what he dubbed a "21-Lie Salute" to FOX News, rattling off a long list of claims seen/made on/by FOX News that received a "False" rating or worse. I spotted several issues with the items Stewart featured on his show, so I went to the PolitiFact web site to see how they explained their various classifications of what seemed to me to be either at least partially true statements or opinions that can't technically be assigned a truth value. There's a lot of material to go over, so I'll publish my criticism in a separate piece.
Anywho, Chris Wallace closed out his show this past Sunday by calling attention to Stewart's specious spin on his remark about telling "the other side of the story." Predictably, he told his viewers that "I wish I had said, 'the full story.'" (Stewart interpreted this as Wallace saying, "I accidentally told the truth and wish I could take it back.") He then proceeded to give a specific example of how FOX News tells both sides of the story when other networks don't, citing FOX News's coverage of the astonishingly poor response of the federal, state and local governments to the devastated Mississippi River Delta region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While the mainstream media was busy highlighting how FEMA dropped the ball (in what I'm sure was a bona fide attempt at hard-hitting journalism and not at all a cynical hit job on the Bush Administration), FOX News made sure its viewers were informed about who all bore responsibility for the abysmal response, including the bumbling mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin (D), and the administration of Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Stewart did not seem to care for that. The following night on The Daily Show, he played a few short clips of Wallace's comments and supplemented them with his own brand of derisive mockery. He tried to somehow bolster his by now thoroughly discredited claims that FOX News is not "fair & balanced" by playing a clip of William LaJeunesse reporting on the "Operation Fast and Furious" fiasco. Apparently, Jon took issue with LaJeunesse's remark that some say the operation was an innocent mistake. "Others believe it was allowed to happen to justify tougher gun laws in the U.S." Jon cut the clip off right after that last syllable. He was very excited. "Did you see that?" he exclaimed with childish delight. "He just threw it right in there. President Obama is either incompetent, making an innocent mistake, or the architect of an evil conspiracy to wreak violent carnage in Mexico as a way to take away Americans' guns." Flashing a cheesy grin, he added, "You know, both sides of the story." Then, feigning exasperation, he said, "Who said that America was involved in the type of conspiracy that, if true, could ultimately lead to the impeachment of a president? Who said it? [dumb voice] Others."
Yes, Jon, “others,” like NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. (Seriously, who told you to use that as an example? Do you know how easy it was for me to find someone who suggested that this could be part of an sinister plot by the Obama Administration to push a political agenda? I just typed "ATF agent fired" into a search engine. I wasn't even looking for someone who made that claim; I was just trying to get the name of the operation right. This was one of the first videos that popped up!)
Stewart took some more shots at Wallace and FOX News in general, but at this point, I'm actually feeling sorry for the little guy (despite him having nearly everything I want out of life but haven't attained yet, viz. a great job, his own TV show, an adoring fan base, a wife & kids). So, I'll close this out with his parting shot at the man he actually called "a friend of mine" as he insulted the man's employer. Said Stewart, "you know what this whole victim thing makes FOX? Well, perhaps this term a friend of mine used once to describe our current presidential administration is most apt."
Cut to: clip of Wallace telling Bill O'Reilly, "They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington."
Tomorrow: the back-and-forth continues as Bernie Goldberg calls Jon Stewart a racist, and Stewart ... well, he does something to himself "with his own mouth." That's all I'll tell you for now. I'll also have some boring commentary on economics or some crap.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Remains of the Day: 6/27/2011

've picked up on a lot of interesting stories इन थे न्यूज़ of late, and I'd like to comment on a few of them really quickly. First off, Republican dynamo Chris Christie appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday. Here's the video:

Now, David Gregory is not a good interviewer, but this was a terrific performance by Christie. His answers were direct and to-the-point; the only dodge I caught was his answer to the Afghanistan question. Basically, Gregory asked Christie if he thought that the president was "pulling troops out too fast," and the Gov said:

You know, David, as the governor of New Jersey, I got to tell you, I'm not going
to put my judgment in place of the president of the United States who is
briefed on this much more extensively than I am. And so I'm just not going
to go there with that.

He also said that Obama "knows a lot more about this than I do. I'm not going to go down that road." Am I the only one who thought he did that on purpose? Surely an astute guy like Christie has formed an opinion about our ongoing operations in Afghanistan. Not sharing it when prompted sure seems like a clever way to further convince skeptics that he has no interest in running for president.

Also, I must express my frustration with FOX News's excessive coverage of the Casey Anthony trial. I actually turned to MSNBC multiple times this week to quench my thirst for news and analysis of topics I want to see/hear more about. Get it together, FOX!

Lastly, in a follow-up to something I wrote about earlier this month, the Generic Congressional Ballot continues to provide comfort to Republicans. Every Generic Ballot poll I’ve seen in recent weeks has the GOP tied with or leading the Dems. The only exception was a Democracy Corps survey that gave the Democrats a statistically insignificant one-point lead (46%-45%). Now, the latest Democracy Corps poll finds the GOP leading the Democrats by three points, 47%-44%. This is further evidence that the Democrats’ cowardly, cynical attempts to demagogue the Republicans on entitlement reform and other issues are not working.

In other news:

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Margin-of-Error Guy

Take Mitt Romney, subtract the curate’s egg that is Romneycare, replace it with a few successful conservative reforms, add some serious foreign policy credentials, take away most of his name recognition and positive/negative press, and what do you get?

Answer: Jon Huntsman, Jr.

Okay, that’s a little too simplistic. Huntsman never rescued an Olympiad, and he doesn’t have near as much private-sector experience as Romney does. And, while Jon Huntsman, Sr.’s net worth dwarfs that of Romney, his eldest son is barely a tycoon by Republican standards. Then again, Huntsman’s background as a corporate executive isn’t nearly as ripe for distortion and attack. He’s also 13 years younger than Mitt and, in my opinion, is more charismatic. Maybe the better description would be: imagine a taller, younger Mitch Daniels with foreign policy experience.

Look, I’ll level with y’all. I normally avoid selling people on someone I don’t know personally, but the more I learn about Huntsman, the more bullish on him I become. I started touting him as a great potential candidate for president two years ago, which is why I was so mystified/disappointed when he accepted Obama’s appointment to be Ambassador to China. I remember thinking, What is that job going to consist of for the next four years, other than begging them to buy up more of our T-bills? On the plus side, it bolstered the former Utah governor’s already-impressive foreign policy creds. (In addition to running his family business's overseas operations in the Pacific Rim, he served as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore under the first President Bush and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative in the last administration.)

So, in a situation where I don’t know any of the candidates personally, I evaluate them on their records first, then on other factors, such as each one’s viability as the potential nominee. Huntsman clearly stood out from the rest of the pack on that first criterion, but should he decide to enter the race (as he is widely expected to do), he’ll have a lot of catching up to do before he attains "top-tier" status. He’s registering very little support (anywhere from 1 to 4 percent) in all of the polls I’ve seen. This is almost entirely due to his low name recognition, so we’ll have to see how well he does at introducing himself to most of the American public.

Of course, most of those polls have Sarah Palin, who I’ve repeatedly said will not run for president in 2012, and Rudy Giuliani, who isn’t even close to running, rounding out the top tier. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain are the only other candidates to draw double-digit support. Once the Republican primary electorate knows that Palin is out, there will be a wide opening for somebody to move up in the polls and rival Romney’s frontrunner status. Trouble is, that opening is already pretty wide, and the “Palin void” – as I’m going to call it – is likely to get jammed up with several candidates making an incremental rise in the polls, rather than one contender who breaks away from the rest and surges into the lead, or at least a statistical dead heat, to close out the year. There’s also the chance that Romney could see a sharp drop in his support, like Giuliani did in '07. Recall that the early 2008 primaries actually turned out better for the GOP than many where expecting, with the race quickly boiling down to a three-way tie between Huckabee, Romney and McCain, while Obama quickly caught up to and overtook Hillary on the Democratic side, throwing what was supposed to be a cakewalk into a prolonged, increasingly nasty fight that lasted until June. (I don’t want to get too far off topic, so let me just cut off this tangent by saying that I don’t expect Gingrich to mount a comeback like McCain did, and that means Romney will become the heir apparent to the Republican presidential nomination in short order.)

A few people on the right are already speaking out against a Huntsman candidacy. Last month on Hannity, Michelle Malkin said she was “not looking for McCain-Lites, like Jon Huntsman,” the folks over at Verum Serum produced this video mocking Huntsman as a RINO ... with an actual rhinoceros. The Conservapedia article on Jon Huntsman, Jr. describes him as “a RINO who was born into an extremely wealthy family in Utah.” When last I checked, that entry had gone unedited since June 4th.

Still, you have to admit that, on paper, Huntsman looks to be a formidable contender. He has a more conservative record than any of the ex-governors currently running. (It helped that he had a cooperative, overwhelmingly Republican state legislature to work with, but so did Tim Pawlenty during his first term, and I defy anyone to compare Pawlenty’s record with Huntsman’s.) He flattened the state’s income tax, taking it from one of the most steeply graduated progressive rate schedules in the country to a flat rate of 5%. He signed legislation protecting unborn children from abortion, red meat for social conservatives. Maybe the most impressive achievement during his governorship was the establishment of the first statewide school voucher system in the U.S. Nothing drives the Left crazy like wildly successful Republican policies that Democrats and their union cronies fought tooth-and-nail. During his tenure, Pew Research Center dubbed Utah the "Best Managed State in America", and last year Forbes Magazine recognized the Beehive State as having the "Best Financial Situation in the Country" and being "America's Best State to Live In." Also, he averred his unequivocal support for the Path to Prosperity before any of the declared Republican candidates did the same. (In fairness, Gary Johnson has advocated some arguably more austere entitlement reforms, as has Michele Bachmann, who voted for the plan when it came before the House, but she was not yet a candidate at that time.)

If Huntsman joins the fray, then I will probably vote for him, but I’ll vote for the Republican in the general election no matter who it is. As for those of you who aren’t sold, let me ask you this: who else can you think of that has Mitt Romney’s managerial finesse, Newt Gingrich’s intellect, Michele Bachmann’s conservative bona fides and Tim Pawlenty’s disarming, down-to-earth demeanor? Before you answer, consider that this should be someone willing to run, with a comparable degree of foreign policy experience. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?