Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 8:00 pm

That’s going to leave a mark

Paul Ryan, who gets way more credit than he deserves for even being able to count, let alone devise a deficit-reduction plan that actually, you know, reduces the deficit, says something remarkably ahistorical here:

We wonder if we will be the first generation in American history to leave our children with fewer opportunities and a less prosperous nation than the one we inherited.

Paul, son, never leave a curve ball hanging out over the plate like that, because if you do, Charlie Pierce is going to take you downtown:

Can this possibly be true? Didn’t parents in the depth of the Depression wonder the same thing? Didn’t the mothers and fathers who worked in the coal mines in the early years of the 20th century see pretty much the same future for their children and grandchildren? Didn’t the farmers ground up in the Panics of 1873 and 1837 — to name only two major events that occurred while the country pursued the policies that Ryan’s “budget” so deeply flattered — feel pretty damned hopeless of what would happen to their kids? Didn’t we ship kids west from the cities on orphan trains? Wasn’t this the normal state of affairs for generation after generation of African Americans?

You know when people began to feel that they could leave their children with more opportunities than they had? When government got involved, that’s when, and when common people began to feel that the government was on their side, and not the wholly owned subsidiary of the wealthy and the privileged. The farmers started to feel it when the Morrill Act established land grant colleges. The miners began to feel it when unionization fought to make their jobs slightly less hellish and when government got behind that effort. The farmers began to feel it when the Progressives began to force change at the beginning of the last century. Everybody felt it with the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the defeat of Hooverian economics, for which Paul Ryan seems overly nostalgic. And that feeling really took off in the 1950’s, when government passed the GI Bill and built the interstate highways, and made college affordable generally to the children and grandchildren of the people who won World War II like, say, me. And when we recognized that the death of a parent need not blight the hopes and dreams of his children, who would be allowed the opportunity of an education through the survivor benefits provided by Social Security, like, say, Paul Ryan was. The notion that we will leave a brighter day for our kids is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it is one that was not possible without the intervention of the government, and it is one from which Paul Ryan profited so handsomely that he is now in a position to claim a “moral obligation” to deny it to everyone else. What a country.

Man, that felt almost as good as hearing about bin Laden.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 8:55 pm

Another free-market fundamentalist admits he was wrong.

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Fortunately it was only about the Internet, not anything really important.

Monday, May 28, 2012 10:38 pm

Memorial Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Greetings. Not dead. Not even sick anymore. Life just happens. (If you follow me on Facebook, you have some inkling of this.)

But it is Memorial Day, which I take seriously. And because I take it seriously, and because I take seriously the appalling waste of the lives of our service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, the vet suicide rate (currently 18 per day, and more now in total than died in combat in OEF/OIF), the pure evil behind cutting VA funding, and the subject of war in general, I’ll refer you to this, which I wrote almost seven years ago and which remains, I believe, relevant.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 8:14 pm

Nah, there’s no war on women …

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:14 pm
Tags: , ,

… except where we’re killing them to preserve their fetuses:

A bill giving more legal protection to Kansas health care providers who refuse to participate in abortions was on its way Wednesday to Gov. Sam Brownback, despite concerns it would limit access to birth control and allow some professionals to block life-saving care. …

The measure extends “conscience” protections to clinics, doctor’s offices and other facilities other than hospitals. People are protected not only from being forced to participate in abortions but from referring patients for abortion services or participating in the prescription or administration of any drug that terminates a pregnancy.

The legal protections extend to any individual or institution that “reasonably believes” that the use of a drug terminates a pregnancy. Some critics said that provision will allow doctors and pharmacists to refuse to prescribe or dispense birth control.

They also said it could allow a doctor to refuse to provide chemotherapy to a pregnant cancer patient because it might end her pregnancy.

Furthermore, critics said, patients wouldn’t know about a provider’s moral objections until the provider refused to provide treatment or dispense a drug – and the provider wouldn’t have to refer the patient elsewhere.

But it’s aaaaalllll a figument of our imaginations.

Saturday, May 5, 2012 6:40 pm

Fire Robin Saul.

My friend Ed Cone has ragged on the News & Record in recent days because of its (lack of) coverage of Amendment One, the proposed amendment to our state constitution now before North Carolina voters that would deny legal recognition to any union except the marriage of one man and one woman. (If you’re not from around here and want to know more about the proposal, Google is your friend.)

He’s particularly annoyed that it hasn’t taken an editorial position on the issue. I’ve been annoyed, too, but only a little. First, the referendum isn’t ’til Tuesday, so I figured there was still time for the paper to take a stand. (Which stand is irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion, although obviously I have a preference.) Second, I left the N&R more than three years ago, and while I miss the people, I don’t miss the job. So I don’t worry overmuch about its internal politics. Third, the place is so short of resources now that major gaps in its coverage no longer surprise me.

So I wasn’t inclined to get involved in online discussions about the N&R’s coverage. What prompts my involvement now is that apparently, in the past few days, multiple people contacted media blogger Jim Romenesko, who for years covered media for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies before going out on his own several months ago. Could Jim inquire, they asked, why the N&R hasn’t yet run an editorial on Amendment One?

So Jim did.

This is the email I sent to [publisher Robin] Saul and editorial page editor Allen Johnson III:

Good afternoon Robin and Allen,

One of my readers sent this email:

“I would be grateful if you could get publisher Robin Saul on the record regarding whether he has banned editorials on ‘moral issues,’ including but not limited to the upcoming referendum on Amendment One, which would add a ban on all civil unions besides heterosexual marriage to North Carolina’s constitution.”

I’d appreciate a response to this.

Johnson sent this reply:

Jim, thanks for your note.

Here’s an official statement:

The News & Record editorial board could not come to a consensus on the marriage amendment issue. Therefore, we’ve elected not to officially support or oppose it. We’ll leave this highly personal decision to individual voters.

Note that the statement does not address the alleged “moral issues” ban.

* * *

I have a number of problems with the response Romenesko got. To explain why, I’ll provide a short bit of background for non-newspaper folks, starting with an explanation of what a newspaper editorial board is and does.

That board is the people who, at most medium-sized and large papers, determine a paper’s editorial position on an issue. (At smaller papers, it might be just one person — editorial-page editor, executive editor, even the publisher — who does this.) Who’s on the board varies from paper to paper, but at most papers with boards, the board includes everyone who writes editorials for the paper — the unsigned opinion pieces that represent the opinions of the paper as an institution. And it also typically includes the publisher. Some publishers take part in the daily discussion, some just want to know what the rest of the board has decided before anything goes to press, and some fall somewhere in the middle. Each paper and each publisher chooses the arrangement that seems to work best for the institution’s unique circumstances.

Editorial boards, particularly large ones dealing with complex issues, commonly fail to reach a consensus. But if the issue or election is of any import, lack of consensus is just a step in the process, because from the standpoints of journalism, ethics and business, ignoring the issue is not an option. The culture of newspapers says that on big issues, you find out all you can and you render a considered, informed opinion based on the facts and what you see as your public’s best interests because that’s why Jefferson, Madison et al. put freedom of the press into the First Amendment and the First Amendment into the Constitution.

So the board haggles until it reaches consensus, or the majority wins, or in extreme cases the publisher may break a tie or even overrule the majority. All these mechanisms are accepted and considered ethical in the business as mechanisms, even when a publisher overrules his united staff. People might disagree bitterly with the publisher on a particular issue, but everyone knows that he has the right to impose his viewpoint as the official, institutional opinion of the paper. What’s not an option, what’s not OK, what’s never acceptable, is to let a major issue slide by without comment and just hope that nobody notices.

So that’s the editorial board. Now a little bit about the job of publisher. Being a newspaper publisher in a market this size is a pretty sweet gig. Even as your paper in particular and the industry in general circle the drain, you get paid very well, and among the local establishment you’re considered a player, which is a benefit if that sort of thing matters to you. If you make your numbers, then generally you can keep the job as long as you like, and as long as you don’t actually commit fraud, no one whose opinion matters to you is going to care much how you make your numbers, even if it means destroying the paper’s credibility and laying a lot of people off and ruining their lives. Sucks for your employees and your readers, but for you, life, in short, is good.

But once every few years, a candidate or an issue comes along that a newspaper simply has to take a stand on — in its news pages, its editorial pages or both — or else it is committing malpractice and undercutting an intangible but very real part of its already-dwindling financial net worth. And that’s the one time when being the publisher can get sticky. The guy who runs the bank or the insurance company or the factory has his own problems, but at least he doesn’t have to deal with this one.  The newspaper publisher does, and in most of those situations, no matter what he does, he’s going to make a lot of people very angry, and some of those people may be quite wealthy and powerful. Most of the publishers I worked for during a quarter-century in journalism did a more than fair job of this, which is why, in general, I’ve never particularly begrudged the publishers I’ve worked for their pay and perks.

With that background perhaps you can begin to see where Robin Saul has gone wrong.

First, the decision not to publish an editorial on this proposal is cowardly. (As Ed notes in the comments on Romenesko’s piece, the story of a blanket ban on editorials on “moral issues” appears to have been just that: a story, and one intended only for internal consumption at that.) Amendment One is the most important statewide ballot initiative in my 52 years of living in this state; it could have serious and negative everyday implications for my fellow citizens and appears likely if enacted to generate a whole passel of lawsuits. As I just noted, newspaper publishers don’t get a pass on things like that.

But Robin Saul did just the opposite (and I’ll explain in a second why I single him out rather than blaming the paper as an institution). He took a pass. He chickened out. He dismissed as a “highly personal decision” what is in fact the most important public-policy issue to go before my state’s voters in more than half a century.

That’s bad enough. What’s more, by issuing the statement that the paper did, Saul is trying to deceive readers in such blatant fashion that one can’t avoid the inference that he thinks his readers are idiots. Now, here’s why I say this:

First, recall what I said above about editorial boards and their duties. Now note that the News & Record’s editorial board, according to the box on page A10 of Thursday’s print edition, consists of only three people: Robin Saul, editorial page editor Allen Johnson and editorial writer Doug Clark. Nobody else. Allen and Doug have taken individual stands in their respective signed columns. And those stands agreed. Therefore, if the editorial board “failed to reach consensus,” it was because Robin Saul disagreed with Allen and Doug and is overruling them not by making them run a pro-Amendment One editorial, which at least would be consistent with industry ethics, but by making the paper sit this one out.

That’s being a coward.

For Robin not only to obscure his role in this dynamic but also to dismiss Amendment One as a “highly personal decision” suggests that he thinks readers are stupid.

And if he had stopped there, that would have been bad enough. But he didn’t. Instead of taking a stand himself, accepting the responsibility that goes with the pay and perks, he sent Allen Johnson out to lie to Romenesko and the world for him.

That’s being a bully. Indeed, to paraphrase a federal prosecutor in the closing arguments of televangelist Jim Bakker’s fraud trial, it was the kind of thing only a person who is used to exploiting, manipulating and humiliating human being after human being, without ever suffering any consequences, would even have had the guts to try.

I haven’t talked to Allen about this. But he and I worked together for 22 years, disagreeing often but respectfully. Allen is smart, proud, dignified and honest, and I don’t care how bad things are at 200 East Market, he deserves better than this. What could he possibly have done to make Robin choose to humiliate him in this way?

Of course, almost no one will care. Journalists like to pretend otherwise, but the truth is that no one much cares what goes on in a newspaper office as long as the paper arrives on time, dry and accurate, and most days that’s only for the best. But this is not one of those days.

We now have incontrovertible evidence that the man running the News & Record is a liar, a coward, a menace to the human resources he is paid to steward and a man who believes his readers are idiots.

I quit mourning for the News & Record and the journalism business a long time ago; most of their wounds were self-inflicted anyway, and they started long before Robin Saul came to town. But outrage at bullying is an evergreen for me, one that transcends era, job, industry, geography, race, class, gender and all the other things that divide us. Bullying enrages me as much at age 52 as it did at age 12. And almost everything that’s wrong in this country today and that has gone wrong throughout our nation’s history essentially boils down to bullying, whether it’s slavery or driving the Cherokee to Oklahoma or robosigning mortgage documents or, for that matter, arrogating the power of a secular state government to tell gay couples they can’t have the same rights you enjoy, because the Bible says so.

And while Jesus had nothing to say on gay marriage, he was clear on bullying. He said the most important thing you can do is to love God, and that the way that you love God is by loving that part of God that is in every other human being you meet, even — especially — the people who are lower on the totem pole than you. That’s as clear a ban on bullying as you can find everyanywhere. And everything else, he said, depends on that, nothing else you do or refrain from doing matters unless you do that, and he made it that easy to understand because he knew how hard it would be for us to do, how very much against our paranoid, selfish, fearful, clannish, sinful natures it would be for us to obey those two simple laws.

And he was dead serious about it: When he came into the temple and found the banksters of his day ripping off the devout, the Prince of Peace put his sandaled foot up their asses.

I have no idea what religious beliefs, if any, Robin Saul holds. But if he thinks of himself as a Christian, he had better pray that Jesus doesn’t come back tomorrow. Otherwise, the fact that he ought to be fired will be the least of his problems.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 8:41 pm

Why I’d like to have a beer with Stephen King rather than George W. Bush — and might not even insist that he pay:

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:41 pm
Tags: ,

Stephen King: Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!:

Chris Christie may be fat, but he ain’t Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jersey’s governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jersey’s newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffett’s observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasn’t fair. “He should just write a check and shut up,” Christie responded, with his typical verve. “I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he’s got the ability to write a check—go ahead and write it.”

Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, “How come I’m not paying 50?” The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.

Cut a check and shut up, they said.

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

I’m not going to argue that King makes a great logical argument in favor of higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy. (And that’s OK; the Krugmans and Buffetts and DeLongs and Bakers of the country have that covered.) But he does at least three other worthwhile things here.

First, he leads by example. He and Tabby give away $4 million a year, and not to Deerfield Academy, either, but to local fire departments and such.

Second, although rich and influential himself, he’s using that wealth and influence to force people who don’t want to have this converation to have it anyway, which, in reverse, is what they’ve been doing to us for the past 35 years. Since the Reagan era, a lot of conservatives have implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, taken the position that anyone who disagrees with them on the merits of their policy goals shouldn’t even be allowed to be part of the conversation. To a frightening extent, particularly on economic policy, they’ve achieved that goal: It is not impossible, but it is very, very difficult, to get views other than the orthodoxy of the wealthy expressed, and issues covered, in 21st century America’s corporate-controlled mainstream media. And this fact alone is causing needless human suffering, because what this country needs to do right now to fix the particular set of economic problems we face is actually quite well known not only among economists but among a large subset of the subset of Americans who regularly pay attention to politics and policy. And yet those positions, compared with, say, pro-austerity arguments, get vanishingly little public-sphere display even as austerity is demonstrably making things worse. So it is heartening, to say the least, to watch King — who, while he may describe himself as “baby rich,” actually has what most of us would consider “f— you” money — wade into this argument and say: No. No, we’re NOT going to stop talking about this, because we’re right and you’re wrong and so the least you sorry, selfish sonsabitches can do is sit here and listen to us for a few minutes.

Second, he demolishes a particularly stupid argument against higher rates in a way that, because it’s simple and because it’s Stephen Effing King saying it, a lot of people are going to see who otherwise wouldn’t.

Third,  he restates forcefully and without apology a truth the Randian apologists desperately wish didn’t exist: We’re all in this together:

Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America.* That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.

*A subject I addressed recently here.

Stephen King won’t win this war singlehandedly. No one will; that’ll take all of us. But it is a war, even if most of us didn’t choose it and had no idea it was coming. And it’s nice to know that in a war against the side with all the weapons, the side that gets to make most of the rules, we at least have a few folks like Warren Buffett and Stephen King on our side.

So rich white guy Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks made a movie called “Runaway Slave.”

This will end well. I’m certain of it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 10:38 pm

Odds and ends, school break edition

I’m really enjoying not having to study, but I haven’t been hit by the inspiration for anything lengthy. So here’s what’s going on:

* * *

Pretty much everybody thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company. And, hell, we know that. But when Parliament thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company, well, that could have real-life, tangible, bottom-line consequences. Because the UK doesn’t let just any old thieving, lying, wiretapping raper of the hopes of the parents of kidnapped children own a media company the way the U.S. does. No, News Corp. could have to actually divest itself of its 40% share of BSkyB. Ouch.

* * *

So on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, Obama shows up in Afghanistan and commits this country to spend, at the current rate of $2 billion a week, one and a quarter trillion dollars over the next dozen years in that country. One and a quarter trillion dollars, I hasten to add, that the United States cannot spare. I mean no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, and a great deal of respect to the Americans who have had to fight the resulting military campaigns, when I ask: Tell me again who won the war on terror? and/or, Have you people never heard of Pyrrhus?

* * *

I see that not only do the Republicans want to wage war on women, they insist that only straight men can join the fight.

* * *

Finally, Fec reflects on MLK’s call for a national guaranteed minimum income, varieties of which have been endorsed by such wild-eyed liberals as Milton Friedman (who called it a “negative income tax”):

Consider, if you will, that the oligarchy, by virtue of access to the Fed’s ZIRP [zero interest rate policy -- free loans to banks], has already achieved the status of guaranteed income. Was MLK in reflection so terribly wrong? As we contemplate the end of unemployment benefits for 700k of our citizens, and underemployment for many more, do not the ravages of outsourcing and global corporatism render a circumstance where the least of us is just as entitled to at least a wage of existence as the bankster supping at the .25% discount window, especially as the proceeds are immediately fed into a gamed engine of guaranteed profit?

If we are bailing out the Europeans for their folly, is it nor more just to provide subsistence wages to our own whose only fault is absence of opportunity, particularly by design of the corporatists who enjoy the very same protections manifold?

Are we not finally at the point where Bernanke‘s famous helicopter drops cash upon the least of us, as it has surely rained bountifully upon our most fortunate?

I assure you that the poor have no wish for anarchy or the imposition of some stringent biblical reconstruction. They merely wish to enjoy those essential things we all aspire to: a full belly, a comfortable home and freedom from financial worry.

To those cretins who proclaim such an idea is socialism, I reply they are too late. Socialism is rife among the fortunate; it is merely those left out who have yet to commit this supposed sin. Is not the greatest act of fairness to now include everyone with income, given that the most criminal among us have already lined their pockets to the point of embarrassment?

If we are headed toward a great conflagration of currency devaluation and hyperinflation, is it not right that the poor finally be allowed to join the bacchanal before its end?

Actually, of this much I am sure: No matter exactly how this country goes down, it will go down never once having given any serious policy thought to the true needs of the least among us. That just isn’t how we roll.

(Also, although I am somewhat sympathetic to my friend’s view of the Occupy movement as it manifested itself today on what was supposed to be a big, national show of strength, I also am somewhat sympathetic to Charlie Pierce’s take: “From the start, I said that the best thing about the Occupy movement was that at least they were yelling at the right buildings. … What I do know is that, if it weren’t for the people in the streets last autumn, the Obama people would be running a very different campaign and Willard Romney wouldn’t look half as ridiculous as he does.”

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