Monthly Archives: April 2009

Obama’s Popularity

Now is the time to force major, progressive changes.  It is not a time for timidity.

For the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public’s mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future.

Intensely worried about their personal finances and medical expenses, Americans nonetheless appear realistic about the time Obama might need to turn things around, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows most Americans consider their new president to be a strong, ethical and empathetic leader who is working to change Washington.

Now how to we get people like Sens. Harry Reid and Mark Warner out of the way?

Liberal CNBC!?

I’m not sure what CNBC’s Mary Thompson was trying to say in this piece.  At first, she suggests CNBC was among General Electric’s media properties criticized by shareholders for being too liberal!  CNBC?  Liberal?  But then she is asked about this by Maria Bartiromo and Thompson’s answer is muddled.  I think what she’s suggesting is that Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, was criticized by shareholders for telling his media outlets that they were too hard on Obama.  Well, we know he couldn’t haven’t been talking about MSNBC.  Maybe you can figure out what she’s saying.

And it is impossible to think that, if he was criticized for telling his media outlets they were too hard on Obama, he was talking about CNBC.  Listen to the report below which followed the one above.  It’s about corporate tax rates of U.S. companies operating abroad.  The conservative argument is invariably that to tax them as they would be taxed in the U.S. would mean the loss of U.S. jobs because these companies would move their HQ abroad.  Listen carefully for Maria Bartiromo’s editorial comments during the interview.

After Greg Valliere, who is opposed to corporate taxes, makes his comments, Bartiromo says, “You make a good point.”  And then she says in a accusatory manner to the hapless woman on the progressive side of this argument, “You said [Obama] should go ahead and do this!”

When Valliere criticizes tax equality, his ridiculous argument that people move from state to state to avoid taxes goes unchallenged by Bartiromo (or the hapless progressive — Nicole Tichon, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group — for that matter; I think CNBC tries to find the most feckless progressives to represent the side CNBC hates.) 

When Valliere makes the other well-worn canard that our corporate tax rates are the highest in the world, Bartiromo laughs.  Then when Tichon (now regaining her legs) says that’s debatable.  Bartiromo says “Whoa, Whoa, why is that debatable?” 

Tichon gives a halting but accurate answer, and then Valliere changes the subject, saying that companies won’t be able to create jobs,  Bartiromo says, “Right, Yep, Yep.”

Bartiromo wouldn’t know a journalistic ethic if hit her on her collagen inflated lips.

Why Elizabeth Warren is My Hero; Geithner Not So Much

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner gave a dismal performance this morning before the TARP Oversight Panel.  The chairwoman, Elizabeth Warren, asked the first question, which as I said this morning, was right on.  Geithner gave an answer that is sure to make Joe Six-Pack throw beer cans at the TV.  It was the kind of non-response that more than obfuscates the truth; it crystallizes for the listener that the inference of Warren’s question is obviously true:  The banks are getting a better deal than the American manufacturing worker.

I was never comfortable with Geithner as the architect of this economic recovery, and while he has improved his public performances in that he no longer looks like a deer in the headlights, he now just looks shifty.

Geithner Before TARP Oversight Committee

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor chairing the TARP oversight committee is now conducting hearing with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.  You can see it on CNBC.  She’s been profiled in a couple of places.  Here’s one

She’s a bit dorky but homes in on the critical point.  Her first question to Geithner:  Why was the auto industry held to harsh standards while the banks got very different treatment, and does Geithner think the banks were better managed?

The phone rang and I missed most of his answer, but I heard enough of it that it seemed to come down to “the banks are too big to fail.”

Obama Picks Another Fox to Guard the Hen House

President Obama has named Herbert Allison to head the bailout program.

Allison has known [Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner for years and served on an advisory council for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when Geithner was its president.

Allison spent most of his career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch before becoming president of the Wall Street company in 1997. After losing out on the firm’s top job in 1999, he became national finance chairman for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) first presidential campaign. He was chief executive of TIAA-CREF from 2002 to 2008.

Oh boy.

What Do the French Got That We Don’t? Balls!

Say what you will about the French, their workers have the balls ours don’t.

[W]hen managers at the U.S.-owned Caterpillar factory [in Grenoble, France] refused to negotiate under pressure, workers recalled, resentments that had built up during several years of increasingly sour labor relations suddenly boiled over. About 40 employees invaded the executive suite, locked five top bosses inside and said they would be released only after resuming talks on the strikers’ demands.

…The latest detention took place Thursday, when workers facing layoffs at a printer plant near Strasbourg run by Faure et Machet, a Hewlett-Packard contractor, confined their bosses in a meeting room for about 12 hours and forced them to continue negotiating on a severance package. Previously, a 3M executive in Pithiviers was held overnight after announcing layoffs, as were the head of Sony France in Pontoux-sur-Ardour and three expatriate British bosses in a Scapa Group adhesive tape plant at Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

Meanwhile, the UAW keeps asking Chrysler and GM, “How much more do you want us to cut our pay, Mr. Boss-man?  Beat me, beat me.”

The hostage-takings, a specifically French reaction to the worldwide crisis, have been denounced as illegal by President Nicolas Sarkozy. But they have been widely applauded among the French people — and in some instances have brought results. Most of all, they have dramatized the extent to which, in France perhaps more than anywhere else, the perspective of class struggle remains lodged in many people’s minds and shapes the way they view the economic crisis.

But we don’t have class struggle here, because the GOPers tell us that’s un-American.  The fact that upper 5% of Americans have seen their incomes soar while the middle class incomes have declined in the last 8 years, well, that’s because we haven’t given enough tax cuts to the rich so more crumbs can trickle down to the rest of us.

Beat me, beat me.

Culberson, Perry and All Things Texas

Texas Gov. Rick “No-Way-You’re-Running-to-the-Right-of-Me” Perry’s strategy to fend off Kay Bailey Hutchison’s  primary challenge is beginning to backfire.

It’s not that he suggested Texas may secede from the union.  It’s that he had Rep. John Culberson (R-Tx.) defending him on “Hardball” this afternoon.  The Congressman actually said not to take the governor too seriously; he was caught up in the moment.  Which was on a TV talk show – Larry Kudlow’s CNBC shout-fest every evening.  At the very least we know it wasn’t ambush journalism.  So whatever moment he was caught up in has caught up with him.  He’s been the butt of late-night show jokes, among the most reliable of social barometers.

But Perry began to look statesmen like when Culberson came to his defense.  The esteemed congressman from Texas said,

“Leave us alone.”

“We want the federal government out of our lives.”

“We treasure the right of Texans to run Texas.”

“The country is at a tipping point.”

“We see Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi trying to make this country into France.”

And my favorite,

“We Texans have a special feeling in our heart for what it means to be an American….  The government needs to get off of my back and get out of my way.” 

(Did I mention that as a congressman, he was part of the federal government?)

We now know that real Americans live in small towns (Sarah Palin’s analysis) and that the rest of them, or at least a large part of them, live in Texas.

I think, in one scene on “Hardball,” Culberson was hoping to win the Michelle Bachman Lifetime Achievement Award.

I lived in Texas for nearly a decade.  All the best things in my life happened to me in Texas.  But in just a few phrases, Culberson encapsulates why I was happy to get away from there.  (And I did so without getting the blame for taking the grand kids away; but that’s another story.)  That sense that Texans are a special breed and just a little better than other Americans was too much hubris for me.  Endless 90 degree days – in January – were also more than I could take.

While talking to Culberson, Chris Matthews focused on the 31% of Texans who said the state has the right to secede from the union.  He had a professor on with Culberson who said no, Texas couldn’t and cited cases, before Culberson, mesmerized by the national platform, stole the show.  Matthews asked a few more questions of Culberson before he realized he could shut up and let this guy, like Bachman, audition for You Tube infamy. 

The Rasmussen Report survey cited by Matthews also found that:

  • 75% of Lone Star State voters would no to secession
  • 18% would vote yes
  • 7% are not sure what they’d choose.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is probably thinking with those numbers, she‘ll buy the governor his own You Tube channel and run loops of his statement with links to Culberson’s.

But here at Commonwealth Commonsense, we have the exclusive look behind the Rasmussen numbers for a sharper (perhaps a poor choice of words) interpretation of what these numbers tell us about Texans. 

First, we found that of the 31% who were for it, 24% thought they were being asked if Texans had a right to succeed. 

Knowing this, we can interpret the vote numbers a little better for you.

25% would vote no because they know a lot of Texans who don’t deserve to succeed, in part because Texans gave us Culberson and W.

21% would vote no because they like the Dallas Cowboys and thought if they seceded their cable service would be cut off.

9% are not native Texans and hence had no exposure to Texas public schools.

On the other side,

12% remember hearing the word in high school but couldn’t remember what secession is.  This group also plays a lot of Texas Hold ‘Em, so they bluffed the pollster and said they’d vote yes because the word sounded nice. 

5.73% would vote yes because they are the aforementioned Texas “mis-hearers” and want to succeed, if the didn’t have to give up being Texans.

0.22% voted yes because their Texas roots go back a couple of centuries and there is no other excuse we can find for them other than they really want to secede.

6.995% know they don’t know what secession is, so they said they didn’t know.  We learned they’re also pissed because they think before they vote they might have to find out what it is and may even have to read something, probably for the first time in years.

0.005% Don’t know what they don’t know or don’t care that they don’t care.

Watch it … and weep.

Politico Defends Anonymous Quote

Mike Allen of Politico this morning is defending allowing a former Bush official to attack Obama’s decision to release torture memos.  Apparently, he was feeling stung by criticism from what he described as the “liberal blogosphere.”  (While I believe Andrew Sullivan supported Obama, his record hardly qualifies him as a liberal blogger.)  Allen’s defense is interesting on a couple of levels.

While I was writing the piece, a very well-known former Bush administration official e-mailed some caustic criticism of Obama’s decision to release the memos. I asked the former official to be quoted by name, but this person refused, e-mailing: "Please use only on background." I wasn’t surprised: While Karl Rove and former Vice President Dick Cheney have certainly let loose in public comments, most top Bush officials have been reluctant to go on the record criticizing Obama. They have new careers, and they know it’s a fight they’ll never win. He’s popular; they’re not — they get it. [emphasis added]

I figured that readers could decide whether the former Bush official’s comments sounded defensive or vindictive. [emphasis added] And POLITICO readers aren’t so delicate that we have to deceptively pretend there’s no other side to a major issue. So at the bottom of the Axelrod story, I tacked on an ellipsized excerpt of the former Bush official’s quotes, removing several ad hominem attacks on Obama. I quoted less than half of the comment and took out the most incendiary parts — a way to hint at the opposing view without giving an anonymous source free rein. I also added a final sentence with additional White House perspective, so the former Bush official wouldn’t have the last word. [emphasis added]

I’m not sure why, if the opposition knows it’s a battle they will lose, why a journalist then thinks he can cut them a break so they can have their cake and eat it too.  Helping sources preserve their careers isn’t usually included in the job descriptions of most journalists.  I would be unlikely to use somebody’s quote – a critical one at that – unless they gave it to me on the record.  So will Allen then keep going back to the guy as Obama’s popularity wanes, so the guy can burnish his GOP credentials when it’s safe to do so?

Letting readers decide if the quote is “defensive or vindictive” is a abdication of the journalists’ responsibility, although one could argue that it’s perfectly logical – indeed mandatory — for a stenographer to include the comments.  Here are the comments:

"It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are," the official said. "We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. . Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again – even in a ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake."

"I don’t believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either one, the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against."

The source is identified only as a “former top official in the [Bush] administration.”  That gives us precious little to go on to judge the guy’s comments.  Does this person really have the expertise to know that “these are techniques that worked”?  How does he know it does “grave damage to our national security”?  These are comments that not only are unsubstantiated but cannot be substantiated.  Yet, Allen defends their use.  Certainly, there are Bush officials who have a little courage of their convictions who would be willing to be quoted.  At least that way we’d know if it were someone who knows something about national security or is only a political operative.

Moreover, it is the journalists’ responsibility to judge why someone requesting anonymity would be making a comment and to not use them if the reporter felt it was a ad hominen attack.

Lastly, the next time a reporter tells you that who gets the last word in an article isn’t important, show them this admission that reporters believe it does and are mindful of how they end an article.  I tell clients that they want their point of view in the headline, lede and last graph – in that order.  If you’ve got all three, the rest of the auricle doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Texas To Secede?

I lived in Texas for nearly a decade.  I got to know the mindset there, the arrogance, the prejudice.  So I say with confidence, “Good riddance.”

That said, I married a Texan.

Ejected from a Ball Game for Bathroom Break During “God Bless America”

A baseball fan filed suit yesterday against the New York Yankees for ejecting him from a game last year during the singing of “God Bless America.”

I have never understood why we sing the national anthem at sporting events.  What’s so patriotic about a baseball or football game? 

The tradition began in the 1918 World Series, according to one source, when the live band during the seventh inning stretch erupted unprompted into the Star-Spangled Banner, which was not declared the national anthem until 1931.  Fans applauded and when the series returned to Boston from Chicago, the Red Sox owner scheduled the song to be played before the game.  But until WW II, it was only played during special games.  Once technology allowed for pre-recorded renditions and to support the troops, the song became a prelude to every baseball game.  Other sports eventually picked up the tradition.

Then after 9/11, teams started playing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.  But the Yankees took this forced display of patriotism one step further, forbidding fans from leaving their seats during its playing. 

Enter – or should I say exit — Bradford Campeau-Laurion.  According to his suit against the Yankees and the New York police, he left his seat to use the bathroom during a game last August and was stopped by New York police and thrown out of the stadium.

The ACLU has taken up his case.  He says he shouldn’t be forced to be patriotic according to others’ standards or to be religious.  He has good company.

Campeau-Laurion said in the interview he told the police “’I don’t care about ‘God Bless America.’ I don’t believe that’s grounds constitutionally for being dragged out of a baseball game.”

He declined to characterize himself as either an atheist or agnostic.

“I simply don’t have any religious beliefs,” he said.

Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America,” was an agnostic, according to “Irving Berlin: A Daughter’s Memoir,” written by his daughter Mary Ellin Barrett and published in 1994.

Try doing anything but stand quietly and look respectful during the singing of the anthem or “God Bless America.”  One is forced to display this contrived patriotism. 

It reminds me of our son’s high school policy regarding the moment of silence students are required to display before class starts.  No one, the school administration said, must adhere to the moment of silence, but they are asked instead to “remain quiet” during it.  In other words, you don’t have to be silent, just keep quiet.