Friday, May 31, 2013

Shut Up And Drive Forward

Change is not always something our staff members enjoy.

The Chicago Sun-Times committed one of those stupid acts of senseless change on Thursday, as they made one of the most idiotic moves we've seen in years, in either business or journalism, when they fired their entire photography staff. That's saying a lot, considering some of the less-than-brilliant choices made by former employers and clients our staff members have had.

So with that frustrating thought about change percolating in our heads, we thought it more important than ever today to focus on a story about change that might actually give our readers a bit more hope for the weekend, and beyond.

We found that story, thanks in part to our resident tech geek, who pointed us towards a fantastic announcement by Tesla Motors on Thursday. With another roadtrip looming on the horizon this weekend for one of our staffers, we weren't exactly looking forward to playing the blame game with the gas pump again.

The most recent chapter of this story, in case you missed it, began last week when Tesla Motors - the all-electric, all-American car company helmed by SpaceX founder and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk - paid back it's half-billion dollar U.S. government loan nine years early. Unsurprisingly, some of our media colleagues on the right instantly found the found dark cloud under the silver lining, insisting Tesla paying back the money early was a bad thing, that America could have made more money on the loan.

Of course, as Brad Plumer of Wonkblog and Jonathan Silver of Thirdway pointed out, those detractors don't seem to get what the Federal government's clean-energy loans are supposed to be for.

At least one reason those loans exist became crystal clear on Thursday, when Mr. Musk and his company used the Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference as a venue to announce one of the most ambitious expansion programs for electric charging stations in the nation. Within six months, owners of a Tesla automobile should be able to drive all the way across the country, from New York to L.A. Within two years, drivers should be able to cover the entire country, and even into Mexico and Canada.

What's more, Musk confirmed his company's plans are on target to have an affordable, all electric car - priced around $30,000 - within three to five years.

Tesla isn't the only one racing forward.

Hybrid gas-electric cars are also making huge inroads in the U.S., with old-guard companies like Ford making evolutionary changes to how they make products and conduct business - while earning huge gains in sales. All of these advances in technology, and the secondary effects these new kinds of vehicles will have on alternative energies, reduced pollution, better transportation, and job creation only make us smile more, even as we're about to hit the road again.

We can all imagine, in the not-too-distant future, being able to hit the road for a long weekend drive, and not having to worry about gas prices at all.

When it's done right, change isn't a bad thing.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Invisible Americans

There are times when we look at the topics our colleagues in the broader media choose to cover, and then look at the topics regular Americans across the nation care about, and we have no trouble at all understanding why some Americans simply ignore news and information-based media.

We can guarantee you that today some in the media will still be talking about Rep. Michele Bachmann's announcement that she won't run for re-election in 2014, or how Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has chosen to join the Democratic Party. Likewise, there will still be those trying to stir up ratings with "scandal" stories about Eric Holder or new stories about James Comey, President Obama's nominee to head the FBI.

There may even be a few stories about the economy, though they will likely focus on how a strong stock market and steadily rebounding housing market are helping America's recovery, even in the face of austerity.

What you're far less likely to see - other than here - are stories about how millions of Americans still need decent paying jobs, since both Republicans and Democrats continue to walk away from the issue, a story many in the media still don't find "sexy enough" to cover very often.

You're also unlikely to see piles of stories talking about the still-growing inequality in America, and how tax cuts for the rich actually make it worse. There also aren't many stories about how poor Americans are getting screwed by both Republicans and Democrats as Congress pushes towards gutting food stamps, or about how women are now the primary "breadwinners" in forty percent of American homes - not because they want to be, but often because they have to be.

Don't look for many stories on the sequester either, since statistics say it really hasn't hit DC that hard - or, more specifically, it hasn't hit people who work in the national media in DC, New York, and LA that hard.

We almost feel that the pessimistic opinion a friend of ours has been repeating for several years may be on the verge of coming true: that the news has, in fact, been cancelled.

We're willing to admit that news gathering is incredibly difficult today - especially when blind, ignorant executives in corporate media continue to gut their own companies of the people who actually create the products they're trying to sell.

Further, many of the stories we've referenced above are worthy of reading, both on their own, and as parts of larger narratives about topics like politics, government and the economy.

However, the core of those larger narratives still needs far more reporting, from media organizations much larger and more well-staffed than ours, so that issues like the millions of Americans still out of work won't be ignored by both major political parties. After all, as the Quinnipiac poll released this morning proves, what Americans really care about are jobs and the economy.

It's true that President Obama and Ben Bernanke have done a surprisingly good job keeping the economy moving forward in an incredibly difficult environment - and things are significantly better than they were four years ago.

That said, both major national political parties are still walking away from millions of Americans who are still out of work - and the media isn't paying enough attention either.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The First Step...

As the adherents of just about any twelve-step program will tell you, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

For the past half-decade, we've been among the voices trying to coax the modern Republican Party toward step one, multiple times - even before our current archive system existed. Unfortunately, to the detriment of both their own political party and the American people, the only steps the Republican party seems willing to take are off the edge of an ideological cliff.

When we read Greg Sargent's headline Tuesday - which echoed one we wrote two years ago this week - we realized parts of today's Republican Party have been on their current version of a political death march since before this century began.

With both GOP legend Bob Dole and recently retired Senator Olympia Snowe calling out the GOP as desperately in need of rethinking their priorities, we were once again reminded that the current Republican Party is in almost exactly the same position as the Democratic Party was in the mid-1980s - a comparison we've been making for years now.

Indeed, it's the same comparison Molly Ball outlined last week in The Atlantic. While the parallels between then and now are both eerie and startlingly sad, the differences remind us even more how far the GOP has fallen into their own madness.

It's not just that no progress can be made in Washington anymore, regardless of what President Obama does or says, as Steve Benen pointed out on Tuesday.

It's that even when President Obama goes so far as to put on a purely symbolic "charm offensive," the Republicans in Congress - led by the ideological extremists in the tea party wing - destroy any potential for actually governing. Greg Sargent made this point abundantly clear to anyone who may have still doubted - today's GOP is fundamentally unserious about governing.

If it weren't both a painful spectacle to behold and deeply damaging to the nation, we would almost be tempted to sit back and laugh as the Republican Party keeps on marching right over the edge, into political oblivion.

The problem is, like any other addict, when the GOP keeps falling down, they also drag down everyone else around them - and as with any other addict, until the majority of members of the Republican Party want to make things better themselves, we can keep pointing the way to the beginning of  a political recovery program but they have to take the first step themselves.

For now, we're just hoping they hit bottom sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Light Over Heat: Credibility Matters

Today we hope you were able to return to work refreshed and recharged - though maybe a bit sunburned - from an extended Memorial Day weekend. We also hope you took a moment to remember the reason for the holiday, and honored America's fallen heroes, as President Obama did Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The world didn't stop though, even if you took an extra day off. Fighting in Syria heated up, even as matters regarding Syria became even more complicated. Sequestration cuts are really starting to bite, even as House Republicans ignore the sequester, and instead insist they're going to push forward on the IRS mess during Congress' break this week - even as it appears that IRS staffers were right to give a second look to many of the applications from politically oriented groups.

In fact, as many of our colleagues in media struggle back to work today, we're almost certain that a sub-section of our lazy cohorts will attempt to fire up the "scandal" machine instead of tackling a fresh new subject, or sharply recapping what readers may have missed over the weekend. We'd be willing to bet that many in the media will be covering the James Rosen/DOJ "scandal" again this week, just as many kept busy last week trying to shove Jesus off the cross so they could put Rosen in his place.

Sadly, many of those we respect in the media have blindly gone along with Rosen's cries of persecution.

Too many people running around with their head on fire also seem to have forgotten - even if the Justice Department's treatment of Rosen has been ugly and unethical, the DOJ’s actions appear to be legal. The same can’t yet be said about what Rosen may have done.

As the case stands now, the Department of Justice announced Saturday that it notified News Corp. more than two years ago about its seizure of Rosen's phone records. Sources at Fox News have since come forward saying they've known about the Justice Department investigation for least three years. Meanwhile, Fox's parent News Corp. is both denying they have any record of the DOJ's subpoena, while at the same time obliquely acknowledging that the Justice Department sent them a subpoena.

In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus clearly laid out a timeline of the known facts in the ongoing Rosen media scandal that anyone concerned with honest media should read. The DOJ could have acted unethically in this case - and we wouldn't be surprised if they did. But, as Pincus points out, "…the First Amendment covers the right to publish information, but it does not grant blanket immunity for how that information is gathered."

Meaning that Rosen, the reporter from Fox, may have easily broken the law in his hubris -which is what the Department of Justice is tasked with prosecuting.

A media organization's credibility is a key factor that changes the organization from simply "media" to "news," in the same way a member of the media becomes a "journalist" in the eyes of his or her peers. Simply being first doesn't add credibility, if the individual or organization isn't right. Further, organizations that have proven records of violating the law to gather information - like News Corp., the parent of Fox - have less credibility because they've been proven both liars and lawbreakers in the past. Finally, as it stands in America right now, having the right to publish or broadcast doesn't mean one can violate the law to obtain their source material.

Which, of course, is Rosen's problem. He can set his head on fire screaming about his First Amendment rights - and we'll stand behind his right to do so, no question, even if those he works for and with are vile and lack credibility.

However, if Rosen broke the law and the DOJ did not, it's not just Rosen's credibility that will be up in smoke - it's the credibility of all those in the media who blindly supported Rosen, and attempted to paint him as a symbol for everyone in the media, before they had all the facts. To us, Rosen's mere association with a discreditied organization like Fox is reason enough to doubt his credibility. That Fox and News Corp. can't seem to get their story straight lends even more doubt to Rosen, in our minds.

The DOJ doesn't always have to be ethical about what they do.

To have credibility, journalists always do.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What Have We Learned?

As we put the final touches on today's work and get ready to enjoy three days off, we have three things on our minds: the school year is ending, this is Memorial Day weekend, and President Obama's speech on national security and the drone program on Thursday was a stunningly frank and necessary next step in America's path forward.

What Americans hopefully learned from the President on Thursday reminds us of some of the parting words of wisdom we've given or received at the end of school years past. Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly may have been the first major member of the media to understand those words of wisdom that President Obama was imparting - wisdom many Americans have yet to truly grasp.

Whatever your personal political beliefs are, based on both the speech on Thursday and the series of actions the President has set in motion – drafting an official drone policy, admitting responsibility for killing innocents with our drones, publicly taking responsibility for initiating the end to Guantanamo – it should be obvious to anyone with a solid grasp of foreign policy that the era of "perpetual war" in America is finally coming to an end.

This era won't be ended by President Obama alone, though.

As Dave Weigel brusquely but accurately pointed out Thursday afternoon, President Obama called out Congress for their laziness, cowardice, and incompetence in mishandling their responsibilities for ending this era. Congress has known about these drone strikes - "every strike," as President Obama admitted on Thursday - yet has done almost nothing to increase their oversight over the program.

Congress has also done nothing to curtail the document that is at the root of this perpetual war state, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the AUMF - until recently, when Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff stepped up. Instead, they've wasted their time attacking the President and playing politics, making our security situation weaker by gutting necessary security funding, while making it nearly impossible to settle already complex problems like Guantanamo.

As Greg Sargent and others have rightly noted, President Obama's speech and actions are a massive, yet ultimately imperfect, attempt to finally reconcile America's national security policies and actions with the values we claim to have. Yet it's an effort no one else on the national level has had the courage to seriously attempt since those policies and actions were split in 2001. Presient Obama's reconcilliation effort is being punctuated sharply by his plan to end this era not by increasing the powers of his office, but by actually LIMITING the powers of the office of the President, through actions like increased oversight of the drone program by Congress.

There's one other thing Americans learned from President Obama yesterday, with some help from anti-war protester Medea Benjamin.

Ms. Benjamin interrupted Mr. Obama three times during one of the most important policy delivery speeches this President has ever made. While he may have been a bit frustrated by her interruptions, he LISTENED to her, and even directly addressed some of her questions.

In addressing Ms. Benjamin's questions about civilians and the costs of the lives of those we've killed through drone strikes, President Obama said, "It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in every war. And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live…" That includes the death of the 16 year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

That the President of the United States would not only show respect to a common citizen who interrupted him during a major speech, but that he answered her questions with humility, honesty and humanity is a lesson that every one of us should never forget: We are NEVER too important, no matter who we are, to address the honest concerns of those for whom we are responsible.

The era of perpetual war is ending. This is not the same country it was thirteen years ago. Hopefully, we can all take what we've learned and make it better.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer's Here, The Time Is Right...

To the members of our staff, music isn't just something to set the mood for day, but certain songs also fit into certain times of the year. Whether it's for personal or historic reasons, when summer begins to make its presence known, the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" often finds its way onto our stereos and iPods.

Somehow, that seems appropriate today, in light of the surprising battles that have begun to move forward outside of the major media spotlights.

As Slate's Dave Weigel notes, the filibuster reform battle appears to have kicked open the metaphorical coffin and returned from the dead with a vengeance. Both Sahil Kapur and Greg Sargent also make it clear that the U.S. Senate could easily be "going nuclear" this July, if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid actually goes through with his threat of filibuster reform  this time.

Reid currently appears to be waiting until immigration reform clears the Senate, since "nuking" the Senate would mean forcing a majority-only vote, which - if successful - would change the Senate rules. In most cases, the minority party then would be unable to block the ability of the Executive Branch - and by extension, the Judicial Branch - to function properly, by indiscriminately filibustering Presidential nominees.

While it would be surprising if Reid actually followed through this time, the truly unusual alliances have been popping up elsewhere.

The online sales tax battle has had Republicans in Congress beginning yet another intra-party battle, primarily to see who will get taxed and who can exempt themselves from the tax.

While the American people clearly don't want a broader online sales tax law, the Senate already passed a somewhat bipartisan version of the proposed tax bill earlier this month. Now, the GOP-led House is attempting to push the bill through - and Republicans are being blocked by other Republicans. Major conservative groups have now lined up on both sides of the bill, with big corporations and states hungry for tax revenue on one side, and small businesses and major lobbying groups allied on the other.

Don't think Democrats aren't having their own intra-party battles.

Today, President Obama will give a major address on civil liberties, Guantanamo, and drones. The President is going to fight against Congress - and some members of his own party - as he restarts transfers of detainees from Guantanamo, part of his long-term goal to shut down one of the greatest legal and humanitarian disasters of the Bush era.

At the same time, Attorney General Eric holder released a letter to members of Congress Wednesday, acknowledging the deaths of four American citizens, including terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, all killed by drones during the Obama era.

These two issues will be guaranteed to have Democrats battling with each other about civil liberties and legal procedures with just as much venom as Republicans will be fighting with their own party members over taxes.

None of these battle reports have included the massive public outcry in Chicago where the Board of Education, at the direction of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, voted to close fifty public schools. Or Longmont, Colorado, where a suspect whipped out his AR-15 in the street, in broad daylight, and shot at police. They also haven't included the brutal and bloody public beheading of a soldier by radical extremists in London. Talk about your street fightin' men.

Welcome to summer, folks. It looks like it's gonna be a hot one.

Maybe we'll just stay inside with our laptops for a while, where both the temperature and the tempers are likely to be a bit cooler.

Just don't charge us any sales tax, or we'll have to take things outside.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Party Out Of Gas

As some of our staff get ready to travel this Memorial Day weekend, we've begun to look at the gas prices around the nation - and cringed.

It should be absolutely no surprise that gas prices are spiking right before Memorial Day. Gas prices go up before Memorial Day every year, as they have for as long as we can remember. This year, it's hitting our Midwest staff especially hard, since gas prices in the entire middle section of the country, from Colorado on the Western edge, to Ohio on the Eastern edge, and from Minnesota southward, all the way to Oklahoma are higher than virtually anywhere else in the country.

Of course, the folks responsible for robbing us all at the pump have the same excuses they've always had: The oil prices are up, or there are refinery problems, or there's tension in the Middle East, or some other lame excuse. Those same tired old excuses may have finally ran out of gas, though, as Americans appear to be moving to hybrids and plug-in electric cars in ever higher numbers. Plug-in sales tripled last year, and both electric and hybrid vehicle sales have had a record year, so far.

It seems Americans are finally tired enough of the oil executives' lies that, as a society, we've moved on to the "tune it out" stage of revulsion.

Which, it seems, Americans are also doing with the scandal-obsessed GOP.

As Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Kevin Drum, and others have been warning for a while now, the Republican Party's constant focus on scandals is on the verge of locking them into a 1998-style setup for the 2014 elections.

Indeed, even Charlie Cook has now noticed that the GOP's fixation on scandals of little or no interest to the public has effectively tied the GOP down to a series of politically dead issues. That's not just the perception of a few members of the media.

As Steve Benen notes, several polls this week from CNN, Pew Research Center, and USA Today, as well as the Washington Post/ABC News poll, all say the same thing. While Democrats keep their attention focused on legislation like the immigration bill - and have earned surprisingly favorable ratings from the American people for doing so - Republicans' slavish devotion to scandalmania has the American people thinking less favorably of the GOP than they have in at least two decades.

Scandalmania 2013 hasn't particularly hurt President Obama either. His approval ratings in multiple polls have nudged up a little recently, not down - a factor that's likely due to the continuing improvement of the U.S. economy, as Nate Silver smoothly lays out.

In our opinion, though, the biggest reason Americans are simply beginning to ignore Republicans is the desperation factor highlighted by Drum, Benen, and Sargent. Even some young GOP Congressional staffers are mocking the delusional witch-hunt tactics of the Congresspeople they work for as crazy.

As every new supposed outrage against President Obama is greeted with hyper-partisan cries for impeachment from Republicans and right-wing media, the American people have just begun to tune out conservatives and the political right.

The same fact now applies to Republicans that applies to the 'muggers' at the gas pump: Americans don't need a whole series of excuses and lies to know the real reason Republicans keep acting the way they do.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No Act Of God

In case you missed it, on Monday, a massive tornado - likely an EF-5 on the enhanced Fujita scale - ripped a 15-to-20 mile long path, up to two miles wide, through suburban Oklahoma with sustained winds at or near 200 mph. Already, this tornado is being classified as one of the worst in history.

As a staff filled with those who've lived many years in the Midwest, the damage in Oklahoma is worse than anything we can ever remember seeing. We have friends in Oklahoma, and Paul has a longstanding relationship with the award-winning weekly newspaper the Oklahoma Gazette. For many of our Nebraska readers, there are also still many longstanding ties to Oklahoma, the longtime collegiate rivals of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

In short, this disaster is personal for us.

So it's with a great deal of anger that we read about the recent comments of imbeciles like Minnesota state Senator Glenn Gruenhagen, or Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, and his asinine opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday. Frankly, we don't have much time today for people like writer Andrew Leonard either, who before the body count in Oklahoma even reached above 25, was already waving the gutless white flag of surrender and delay on climate change.

Most scientists - and indeed most people in the world - agree that climate change is real. Whether man caused climate change, or has simply increased its rate of acceleration matters very little to the potential 100 million people, worldwide, likely to be killed by climate change related disasters in the next 17 years.

There are those who will point out that climate change has not been definitively linked to tornados - and we won't argue with that. However, as Greg Sargent notes today, "Why not use this as an occasion for an argument over climate change? ...Why shouldn’t major events such as tornados or mass shootings prompt policy — or, yes, political — arguments over how we should respond to them? Policy matters. How we collectively respond to disasters matters. What lessons we draw from disasters about larger questions — such as whether climate change is linked to extreme weather, and if so, what should we do about it — matters."

The folks who make their living on facts and numbers even more than we do - insurers - are VERY certain about climate change. And those businesses and insurance companies worldwide, are incredibly concerned about climate change.

For insurers, costs have risen from hundreds of billions of dollars annually to more than a trillion dollars last year. $70 billion in damages alone was just from Superstorm Sandy. Want to know why your homeowners or business insurance went up last year? Don't just blame President Obama. Blame the clowns in Congress for refusing to increase energy efficiency long ago, and for continuing to coddle the ignorant climate deniers while continuing to subsidize carbon-creating corporations with more than a trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money. Blame the multi-national corporations too, with their eyes on the next fiscal quarter, instead of the next quarter century - which is actually very bad business.

From agriculture to fishing, the world's food supply is also in serious danger. Estimates from organizations like DARA and Oxfam International say the political costs around the world over the next two decades will be mindblowing. Imagine a worldwide depression, including every nation, with no potential end in sight - and heat waves all year long. Then you've gotten somewhere into the ballpark of what experts think things may look like.

As we have tried to make clear many times before, weather is not the same thing as climate. That said, a repeated pattern of increasingly bad weather around the world IS a measurable sign of climate change. And the deadly storm in Oklahoma is just another example of this phenomenon.

It is long past time, regardless of the initiating cause, that every human on Earth do whatever possible to stop rapid climate change, NOW. This isn't some kind of act of God, that is beyond the influence of humankind.

It's long past time to stop placating the doubters and act.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What You Really Should Fear

As another week begins, some of our colleagues in the national media unfortunately already seem intent on continuing to drag forward the news leftovers from last week - even though the blast of supposed "scandals" resulted in exactly no political damage to President Obama, much to the consternation of Republicans. 

That kind of political dysfunction, as E.J. Dionne notes, has a growing number of people worried about the state of democracies around the world. What those same people should be worried about is that too often, the voters in those democracies are no longer hearing the kinds of news items from the media they need to make informed, educated decisions - including right here in America.

For example, over the weekend, it was confirmed that Republican Rep. Darrell Issa - one of the chief screamers about the IRS controversy - apparently knew about the IRS investigation nearly a year ago, in July 2012. Yet, when Issa grills former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman this week, we can bet the Congressman will conveniently forget that little fact.

Instead, Issa will likely concentrate on the fact that some Tea Party groups drew the interest of the IRS - though we highly doubt Issa will mention the history of serial cheating and tax code abuse some of these groups were already guilty of. Issa and others like him also aren't likely to mention that many nonprofit journalism groups with clean histories were also put under scrutiny by the IRS over the past few years.

If we believed in conspiracies, we might even be led to think that the U.S. government may have been trying to silence certain members of the media through both the IRS and AP/DOJ controversies for some time now. Sadly, the conditions for media freedom in America don't look to be getting much better anytime soon.

Yes, President Obama did have Sen. Chuck Schumer reintroduce a Federal shield law for journalists last week, that in some cases would protect members of the media from releasing their sources to the government. That action, however, is long overdue - and sadly, is not nearly enough. It's been confirmed the Schumer/Obama shield bill would not have protected the AP from the Department of Justice's recent grab of their phone records. Further, just proposing a bill does not make it law.

It's not just the Justice department that's taking aim at privacy issues.

The FBI has a new plan they're pushing forward, that would legally expand their powers to eavesdrop on what have previously been considered private internet communications, which might make it easier for them to catch "bad guys" around the world. However, it would also allow the FBI to spy on Americans easier than ever, including members of the media.

The fact is, the Justice Department already has similar legal allowances to those the FBI is attempting to acquire. The CEO of the AP insisted this weekend on CBS' Face The Nation program that the Justice Department's actions in grabbing the AP's phone records were unconstitutional - which is sadly, untrue. What the DOJ did was legal, albeit unethical.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Going Bulworth

For those of us lucky and blessed enough to still have weekends away from our primary employment, Fridays are almost always a good day to let things get a little bit loose, and even daydream a little bit about how we wish things were, instead of how they really are.

After all, it's been a long week filled with crazy controversies and fake scandals. When the week began, the right-wing tea partiers were insisting President Obama might be impeached "for real" this time. By the end of the week, the scandals were falling apart, evaporating, and even beginning to hurt Republicans, as the dueling schizophrenic right-wing Obama-hate narratives cancelled each other out.

It's enough stress to make any sane person want to "go Bulworth" - or at least fantasize about doing so, as the New York Times' Peter Baker revealed President Obama does from time to time.

"Going Bulworth," as Wonkblog's Ezra Klein revealed to the uninitiated, is "a reference to the 1998 movie in which Sen. Jay Bulworth, played by Warren Beatty, drops all pretense and begins saying exactly what he thinks" - and we think that's just the prescription for levity we could all use on a Friday.

After all, there's not much more we'd love to see than if some of the paranoid fears of the tea party fools really did come to life. The extremist nuts would get chased down the street by the IRS, the DOJ, the legal authorities, and maybe even the hand of God. We get it, wingnuts - you hate Obama because he's black, and because he undeniably beat your ignorant asses in back-to-back presidential elections. That said? He's the President, you lost, get over it. We survived eight years of George W. Bush, you'll survive eight years of Obama.

To the hacks in the media who think that Obama is somehow both a "power hungry leader" and a "weak onlooker"? You people are idiots, as Steve Benen, Greg Sargent, and Jonathan Chait all pointed out - though they generally used more civil language to label you than we just did.

We're still not as bad as the moron restaurant owners Samy and Amy Bouzaglo of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The Bouzaglos made their fame this week by also "going Bulworth" - on their customers, both in person and online. We don't think it's going too far when we say it's likely that whatever goodwill and business the Bouzaglo's had left after an ugly national TV appearance was destroyed when they got on Facebook, Yelp, and Reddit, and began telling their customers and anyone else exactly what they thought of them IN ALL CAPS - and with expletives. To make things worse, the couple lied about their heinous actions later, blaming their behavior on a random computer hacker.

Next Monday, when we all get back to work for one more full week - before a glorious Memorial Day weekend - we fully expect to be addressing real and serious topics like the sexual assault crisis in the U.S. military, immigration reform, and the always important fact that while the economy is better, millions of Americans still need a job, five years after the great recession.

For now, in a way President Obama can only dream of, we may just keep up our Bulworth-ing this weekend - at least until our spouses decide they've had enough of our attitudes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Missing The Target Entirely

In a week filled with fake scandals and hyperventilating politicians, we've often found it good practice over the years to step away during the worst of the media frenzy to see what effect the actions of those in the media, like us, are having on "regular" Americans - and what stories we and others in the media are missing.

What the media at large is missing is a lot.

The budget cuts from sequestration keep rolling on, with states cutting back both efforts to prepare for wildfire season, and for flood warning systems across the U.S. Older Americans are still suffering too, as the hits to programs like Meals on Wheels keep coming. Even the IRS is getting hit with a five day shutdown in the middle of their current mess - though you're unlikely to hear most of our colleagues even mention one of these stories.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post seems just as frustrated as we are about all of the clearly important issues being buried under the rubric of the "scandal" narrative.

The fact is, right now, many of the "villagers" of the DC media elite are no better than the politicians they consistently denounce, on either side of the aisle - effectively killing those they're supposed to protect, while entirely missing their target.

Take the self-aggrandizing team of Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei at Politico, for example.

The two men wrote a piece for Politico on Wednesday, denouncing President Obama, and falsely claiming that the entire DC media corps was "turning on President Obama."

As Greg Sargent - definitely not a hack - points out at The Plum Line, the VandeAllen piece makes abundantly clear how out of touch and self-obsessed folks like Allen and VandeHei really are. Obviously, VandeHei and Allen must have forgotten about Fox News, blogs like RedState, right-wing talk radio, and notorious right-wing rags like the Washington Times, which all are part of that Washington media corps. None of those media organizations ever turned toward President Obama in the first place - so how could they be "turning on President Obama" now?

The bigger point, though, is that the kind of professional navel-gazing Allen and VandeHei engaged in tends to lose the real news in the fake, and turns potential news media consumers into people who've tuned out the entire media industry.

Real stories like the unprecedented rise in sexual assaults in the U.S. military, or the firing of acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller by President Obama last night get lost in the narrative of "scandal" and the petty politics of revenge.

If the source you turn to for news didn't also point out the growing number of fast food worker strikes across America - including the one in Wisconsin yesterday - or the win against austerity that opened schools back up in Saginaw, Michigan on Wednesday, or all the other stories we've mentioned here today, you might want to reconsider your support of those "news sources."

If they can't even hit what they claim to be aiming at, what kind of mess are they really creating?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight

It's good to be right, and we're more than happy today to cram our right-ness down the throats of those who told us the IRS "scandal" just couldn't possibly be incompetence, as we noted it to be early Tuesday morning. While we can't take full credit for the idea that the IRS kerfuffle was just incompetence and not malice, as of publication time today, it appears that our analysis of that non-scandal was fairly spot on.

Of course, no matter what the obvious facts and official investigations find, we can almost guarantee the tea bagger extremists won't accept the results - or the fact that the tea party's own extremism appears to be what made them the target of the IRS in the first place.

CNN's Jake Tapper added further insult to the already wounded pride of the tea partiers on Tuesday afternoon, when he effectively shot down whatever tatters of the Benghazi "scandal" remained, and most of the media moved on.

There are, in fact, real, true, and very serious scandals going on in both the IRS case and the AP case - though both point nowhere near the White House or President Obama, which is making the tea party extremists bitter, to say the least.

In the IRS case, the Inspector General's report came out last night, and it proves the White House did not drive that investigation. The report further stated that the behavior of the IRS staffers responsible for the categorizing of 501c4 applicants was "not politically biased."

The real scandal in the IRS case is that the legal standards for which groups are allowed to file for - and are granted - 501c4 tax exempt status are incredibly vague. The culprits responsible for that failure in judgment shouldn't surprise anyone - the corporate-friendly Roberts Court and the politically constipated Congress. Thanks to their irresponsible actions regarding the Citizens United case, those individuals at the IRS who were stuck with the responsibility for judging whether a 501c4 applicant was involved with politics are people who have little to no political experience - and in fact, are supposed to be apolitical. As the Inspector General's report made clear, the IRS workers who made these decisions had little to no idea their actions were against their own agency's rules.

In the AP case, Attorney General Holder recused himself from the decision to seize the AP's phone records, in order to keep the case as unbiased as possible. Further, as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed, the President hadn't even been notified of what the Justice Department had been doing on the AP case until the past few days. The White House Council's office was only notified themselves a few weeks ago of what the DOJ has found - and according to Holder, the person leaking information to media organizations is a serious threat. There IS definitely a problem - both with how the DOJ dealt with the AP, and a definite security leak. To the dismay of Republicans, though, the facts prove neither problem originated in the White House.

So now, while the tea party sulks, and Republicans in Congress desperately cling to talking points that have already been debunked, real scandals remain to be dealt with.

For example, the major sexual assault problem in the U.S. military, where the coordinator of the Army's sexual assault prevention office joins his colleague from the Air Force - where both men have been arrested and legally accused of sexually assaulting different women within the last ten days.

Somehow, we doubt you'll hear the Tea Party faithful crying out for immediate justice to be done on that issue.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Zombies And Scandals

With all the non-scandals popping up in Washington, DC, not to mention the potentially real ones, we'll forgive you for thinking the far right is in some sort of climax of sedition, with all their anti-Obama scandals lined up in a row.

As one of our staff members was reminded on Monday, "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." Even Napoleon knew the difference between a scandal and a bunch of fools running loose.

Sadly, the nutcases in the right-wing media and currently in control of the GOP don't seem to understand such subtleties - nor do they seem to care. Apparently, they'd rather drag around the same old zombie lies about Benghazi, than take a look at what the real problems and potential scandals are in our government.

For example, the IRS "scandal" that blew up over the weekend, may not be much of a scandal at all if, like us, you believe Rick Ungar of Forbes. As Ezra Klein noted on Monday, there are some very legitimate reasons for the IRS's dumb mistake. In short, over the last few years - since Karl Rove began flaunting the tax code loophole - massive numbers of political groups have been applying for status as tax-exempt 501c4 groups. The IRS must review thousands of these applications, and needs some shortcuts to try to determine which organizations are legitimate, and which should be subjected to greater scrutiny.

The key, as Greg Sargent and Jamelle Bouie both pointed out on Monday, is that we now need a serious probe of what happened at the IRS - and the media needs to handle all of these "scandal" stories with caution, instead of racing to unsupported judgments.

Of course, Monday afternoon also saw yet another "scandal," as the AP admitted the Justice Department has obtained a large number of phone records tracking AP reporters and editors, for an as-yet unknown reason. As journalists, and members of the media, we certainly believe the Department of Justice needs to answer why they subpoenaed the phone records of the AP, and what their reason is for their highly unusual actions.

What we do not believe, specifically, is that it is President Obama's job to rein in his Attorney General. While Americans may have become accustomed to a White House directing the actions of the DOJ during the first eight years of this century, that kind of relationship is specifically contrary to the proper rules of independent conduct between the President and the AG's office.

As Jonathan Bernstein pointed out at The Washington Post's Plum Line blog on Monday, if the media really, truly wanted a scandal, they should try "the continuing, and possibly accelerating, obstruction of executive branch nominees by Senate Republicans." What Bernstein is talking about, in a word, is sedition. Some of the delays now being forced upon the Federal government by Republicans in Congress may even pass the Brandenburg test soon, in certain circumstances - though in a broader sense, Congressional Republicans have long ago passed the basic hallmarks for seditious behavior.

There's no question that the current American media and political atmosphere is currently ripe for scandals aimed at the White House - both real and perceived - as political scientist Brendan Nyhan recently calculated.

However, as Joan Walsh and Jill Lawrence both remind us, if Republicans just keep dragging around their zombie all-scandal playbook from the 90s, the heads that will roll in the 2014 and 2016 elections will most likely have an "R" stamped at the base of the skull.

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Ill Wind Blowing

As the Beltway media continued blathering on this weekend about the ridiculous Benghazi baloney, we looked ahead at the forecast for a ninety degree Tuesday for our Nebraska office and had a thought similar to the one Greg Sargent of the Washington Post had last Friday afternoon.

Maybe it's time we talk about climate change. Again.

Last Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Mauna Loa, Hawaii science station confirmed the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere just recently passed the 400 parts-per-million range - a higher level than has ever been recorded in history. As Steve Benen astutely noted, "The last time the planet topped 400 ppm, there were no humans. What's more, there has never been an increase comparable to the accelerated increases we're seeing now."

Of course, if you're like some members of our staff, your immediate reaction - after a stunned expletive or two - won't be just to toss another pointless idea into the wind. You're probably wondering what can actually be done about the problem.

At least in Nebraska, something can be done to fight one of the causes of climate change.

Carbon-based fossil fuel power generation, around the world, is one of the biggest large-scale causes of man-made carbon pollution today. Whether it's coal or natural gas generated, neither method of power generation is as clean as wind power - a resource Nebraska has year-round, in virtually every kind of weather.

Sadly, even though Nebraska is one of the top five windiest states in the country, state tax and business laws haven't kept pace with the brisk growth of the wind power industry.

Recently, Omaha resident Warren Buffett recently decided to make a huge investment in wind energy, through his MidAmerican energy company. But Buffett poured $1.9 billion into wind farms in neighboring Iowa, not Nebraska, because of the backward-looking laws in his home state. With new, more efficient wind power generation systems - like SheerWind's Invelox system - Buffet's investment could make a very comfortable return while lowering the carbon levels Iowans are generating to power their lives.

Nebraska's legislature has finally started to get with the program on changing its dated and ineffective wind energy tax laws by pushing towards final passage of LB 104. That wasn't soon enough, though, as Facebook already chose to put a multi-billion dollar data center in Iowa, because of Iowa's wind power advantage.

There are those who are continuing to fight against LB 104, like extremist Republican state senator Charlie Janssen and Gov. Dave Heineman. That's in addition to private power interests who claim that their corporate short-term profits will be hurt by the new tax incentives given to wind power companies. We don't doubt that's the case - though we point to the carbon data from NOAA to note that short-term profits for a select few (who are already wealthy) mean nothing if there is no long-term for the human race.

With that idea in mind, we hope you'll contact the Nebraska Legislature today - especially if you're a Nebraska resident to help push forward wind power in Nebraska. If you live outside the state capitol of Lincoln, call the Nebraska Legislative hotline, (800) 742-7456 and leave them a brief message, telling them you support LB 104.

When the phone lines and e-mail boxes of legislators get stuffed, they likely won't be simply turning your messages into paper airplanes - and you may just help do something about climate change.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Digging The Advice From Mom

With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, there's a few things on our mind - not the least of which is that we need to make sure the gifts and flowers for our mothers get to their proper places.

Of course, we also want to wish all mothers everywhere a happy Mothers Day. Even if you aren't a mother, you had a mom or a mother figure growing up - so we hope you honor and thank that individual. If she's like most moms, she probably put up with far more shenanigans from you than you remember.

If your mom was anything like our mothers, she also likely gave you some good advice. One note of council that "strangely" every member of our staff received from their mom was the old saw about holes. "If you find yourself in a hole," they'd tell us, "quit digging."

We're not sure what happened with the mothers of many of the current Republican members of Congress, but apparently, they either didn't share the same wisdom our mothers all imparted, or their children never listened to them. Frankly, we're inclined to think it's the latter - especially as it pertains to this ridiculous Benghazi baloney.

There shouldn't be any question why we haven't devoted serious column inches to that foolish hearing on Capitol Hill this week, especially if you've looked at the aggregated links on this topic in our expanded daily editions.

As we've written more than once this week, there are no new stunning, game-changing facts to have come out of this week's pointless digging exercise by Republicans. That hasn't kept Republicans in Congress from digging though - hence our concern for their mothers' advice.

The fact is, all this empty digging by Republicans about Benghazi is, as Eugene Robinson so adroitly puts it, "…to sully [Hillary] Clinton’s record as secretary of state in case she runs for president in 2016."

Of course, as Eugene's co-worker at The Washington Post, Stephen Stromberg also points out, that well of alleged undiscovered facts about the Benghazi attack is pretty dry. The former Secretary of State, former U.S. Senator, and former First Lady is one of the most investigated people alive, yet she continues to enjoy the popular approval of roughly two-thirds of the nation. This is after almost twenty years of hate and attacks by those on the far right.

The fact is, Republicans in Congress need to take the motherly advice now - about both Ms. Clinton and Benghazi - that they've been ignoring for years: When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Sure, there are other gems of motherly advice we wish those same obtuse Republican members of Congress (and a few Democrats too) would have picked up over the years: Learn to share. Learn to compromise. Watch what you say. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Don't put your thing there, you don't know where that's been. Put that other thing back, it doesn't belong to you.

Even if they didn't pay attention to any of that advice, if they'd at least learn to stop digging when there isn't any point, that would be nice.

Or, if they're going to dig, the least they could do is dig with a real purpose. For example, maybe they could plant some flowers for their mothers instead.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Real Education

For several years now - even before she was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts - Elizabeth Warren has been one of our favorite policy wonks,  for a whole host of reasons.

As the children and grandchildren of a few our friends graduate college this month, Sen. Warren and a few others on Capitol Hill are looking to help them - and us - with a huge and growing problem nobody wants left on their doorstep.

While the economy continues improving, and college grads are faring surprisingly well in the job market - as they did even through the great recession - the facts are still fairly brutal. As Brad Plumer of Wonkblog pointed out recently, if your child didn't get a post-secondary education, the economy isn't getting any better.

Even for hundreds of thousands of recent college graduates, the promise that a higher education would lead to higher wages and a better life has proven to be false, a version of the American social contract that our nation has broken, leaving thousands of people - if not millions - with piles of college debt and no way to pay it back.

So it was with great excitement Wednesday, that we watched Senator Elizabeth Warren present her first official bill, an idea that might allow more Americans to finish college without those piles of debt, while repairing the credibility of America's social contract.

Senator Warren is not alone. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and even The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also appear to be ready to give some of the banks behind the student loan squeeze a real education in ethical financial practices.

The CFPB - the government organization Sen. Warren helped to start - also issued a group of proposals Wednesday, designed to help the millions of Americans being buried by private student loan debt. In short, the CFPB loan plans would force the private banks and institutions that lend money to students to be more flexible with their repayment plans. Further, the CFPB's new proposals also push the banks and bank regulators towards new industry reforms.

That's where Sen. Warren's bill comes into play. Warren, proposing her bill on the floor of the Senate, made herself clear, stating that students who get government subsidized student loans should get the same extremely low discount rate banks get from the Federal Reserve. That's currently around 0.75%, instead of the approximately 7% rate students and grads are hit with now.

The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has also begun attacking the problem, with its recent decision in April. The Court's decision effectively forces back the draconian standard passed in 1976, when student loans were disallowed from being discharged under the bankruptcy code. In short, the court seems to have found their initial restriction to be ridiculous, which may finally open back up the ability - under limited circumstances - for graduates to be able to get rid of their outstanding student debt through bankruptcy.

The combination of the three actions, if enacted and used in other bankruptcy cases, might actually force Wall Street and other banks to stop preying on college graduates and start treating them like the adults they are.

All of which will likely get those same young people out of their parent's houses and onto their own path forward in life significantly faster.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Chickenhawk Distractions

On a day when Wall Street will still be swooning over record highs, some Republicans will be attempting to gloat over a special election in South Carolina, and the long neglected issue of sexual assault in the U.S. military has finally received a small bit of attention, what you won't likely hear enough about today is the real issue Americans need to pay attention to in the Middle East - Syria.

We're well aware of what the right-wing extremists will be screaming about today, including those in Congress who will be holding yet another pointless hearing on Capitol Hill. For all the pearl-clutching and empty threats the right-wing nuts have thrown at President Obama, the facts behind the Benghazi, Libya incident of 2012 still don't rise to the level of a cover-up - and have less to do with Obama in 2013 than they do Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The truly important focus point in the Middle East right now - the one where both neo-con chickenhawks and liberal interventionists are squawking at President Obama that he should jump into another war - is already beginning to to be aimed towards a resolution in Moscow.

In case you missed it, Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Moscow Monday. By Tuesday, Kerry and Russia's current Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, had already announced a diplomatic conference in the coming weeks to push the warring factions in Syria into peace.

Few Americans seem to understand Russia's position in the Middle East is very similar to the U.S. position, politically. That hasn't changed much, even with the end of the Cold War, and the changes inside the Kremlin. While the U.S. held up dictators like Mubarak in Egypt for 30 years, the Russians have propped up the Assad family in Syria for just as long.

The difference now, however, is that the biggest political players in the region are no longer just Russia and the U.S.

Hezbollah has made significant political gains in the region over the last few years, thanks in large part to Iran. Militant Islamic groups like Al Qaeda have also gained power in the region over the past few years, as has Israel, the dominant power in the area at the moment.

All of this adds up to a political conflict that isn't simply a proxy war between two groups of old intelligence members - a group of old Russians and a group of old Americans, many of whom are still fighting the Cold War. Instead, helping settle the Syrian conflict has become a multi-team challenge, with plenty of extra wild cards in the deck.

There are plenty of reasons for President Obama to be both cautious and skeptical of involving the U.S in Syria, not the least of which is the still ongoing military mess in Afghanistan.

Some of the best reasons though, were outlined by the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who asked all the armchair chickenhawk generals the questions they've tried hardest to avoid.

Most importantly, Robinson asks, "Have we learned nothing at all," from the last decade-plus of war?

It seems that President Obama may have learned a least a few of those lessons, even if the chickenhawks urging him to go to war haven't learned a thing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hungering For Action

While the right-wing media feedback loop is having a pointless apoplectic fit about Libya - as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out on Monday - all their screaming and hollering won't change the facts on that subject, as we outlined them six months ago.

It also won't change what Congress will be working on this week - and it won't change the fact that millions of older, low income, often housebound Americans, will go hungry today.

Air traffic controllers, some defense department employees, and many federal regulatory employees - from meat inspectors to seasonal archeologists - have all been exempted from the biting sequestration cuts that keep hurting more and more Americans. Meanwhile, one of America's key nutrition programs, Meals on Wheels, is limping around on fiscal flat tires. Unlike the breathless hype that's become a key feature surrounding so many other budget issues - like the deficit - hungry old people just don't seem to merit the concerns of Congress today.

For those concerned about what the sequester cuts are doing to America's elderly, food isn't the only thing they're hungering for.

Across the nation, older Americans affected by the inaction of Congress to fix the federal budget cuts - cuts that were caused by Congress' budgetary inaction in the first place - can't seem to score a moment on national TV, a minute on national radio, or a more than a short story in most newspapers.

The reason for this limited focus is partly obvious. Older, somewhat reclusive individuals don't have their own multi-billion dollar lobby to fight for them, like American 'brick and mortar' retail companies, who got the Senate to pass the sales tax bill they wanted on Monday.

Typical users of Meals on Wheels also aren't exactly the strange, inflammatory, seditious, ratings grabbers from the annual NRA convention, so the cable "news" networks aren't exactly looking to talk about the hungry old people, or help anyone do anything about them.

In large part, that's the problem Meals on Wheels was set up to solve, as those who usually benefit from the program are most often quiet individuals who no longer can get up and raise hell. Many can't even get out of their homes.

For all the screaming about debt and deficits we've heard over the years from the Republicans in Congress - and a few Democrats too - we've heard virtually nothing from those same publicity-happy members of Congress as the news recently came out that the Federal government can now afford to pay down the debt for the first time in six years. You might even think if America can pay off our collective debts that we could help our elderly at least not starve. Reality seems to say otherwise.

We're sure the thought that America can finally begin to pay off the debts that our nation's government ran up during the Bush years is a comforting idea to the elderly Americans who are struggling today to get through another day with little or nothing to eat.