Archive for March 2009
Ronald Reagan was neither an intelligent nor a well-read man. When members of the Congress first met him in person, almost universally their first impression of him was that he was astoundingly ignorant. He knew nothing about how government actually operated, nothing about other countries, nothing about treaties, and little about the functions of his own agencies. In The Power Game (1989), Hedrick Smith draws a clear picture of a man who was extremely good at acting the role of a “president” yet lacked nearly all the knowledge and most of the governing skills one would consider minimum in the leader of the most powerful country on earth. Or any country, for that matter.
In other words, Ronald Reagan was pretty much a stooge/figurehead. He looked good on tv but the real work was being done by others. Reagan bragged about being a “delegator” and he was. He delegated virtually every responsibility of his office to others. On closer inspection his vaunted political skills, for instance, turn out to have been not his but Bush Family consiglieri James Baker’s, at least in the first term. Baker beat back his sillier ideas and protected him from his own political and intellectual stupidity. When Baker left in the second term to become Treas Sec his place was taken by a member of the California Mafia Reagan had brought with him to DC, Atty Gen Edwin Meese, who had been Reagan’s Chief of Staff when he was Gov of California. Meese was an ideologue, not a politician. Like most far-right ideologues, including Saint Ronnie, he looked down his nose at politicians and made no attempt to cultivate members of Congress. As a result of his arrogant naivete, Reagan’s so-called “political skills” deserted him in the second term and in pretty short order we had the public relations disasters and Constitutional crises of Bitburg, Reykjavik, and Iran/Contra. Among others.
But if his political skills actually belonged to someone else and his intellectual quotient was negligible, it’s undeniable that he looked good on television. He was the Grandad we never had, the old man whose pithy comments sounded like wisdom if you didn’t think about them for more than 12 seconds and who gave you quarters for ice cream cones when your parents wanted you to wait til after supper. He was sweet, he looked harmless, and if he said stupid stuff once in a while (OK, a lot), he was nevertheless kind and mostly harmless. We liked him. And we didn’t like it when the press kept picking on him, making fun of him for saying that trees pollute and debunking his funny stories, like the one about the welfare queen and her Cadillac. So what if it didn’t happen? So what if she didn’t even exist? So what if he heard it at a cocktail party for his rich corporate executive sponsors and believed it? What difference did that make? Leave the guy alone.
The reason for Reagan’s huge popularity has always escaped me. He struck me as an incompetent clown who had somehow escaped from the John Birch Society Circus. I could believe California could take a mental midget, raging right-wing fruitcake and professional corporate mouthpiece seriously – everybody in CA is nutz – but it never occurred to me that the country-at-large would do anything but tell him to shut up, go home, eat his porridge and quit bothering the grown-ups. I should have known better. We voted for Tricky Dick twice and he was a paranoid-schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur and a mean streak. But our feeling for Reagan went far beyond mere approval. It approached love, and that baffled me. Still does. But then as a director and actor I’m used to separating actors from the roles they play. The country clearly wasn’t. They fell for all of it, the whole childish performance, cowboy boots and all. In fact, they adored it. And him.
I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been looking in the right places or because there’s so much more of it around or because Barack Obama’s election made people – especially reporters and editors – braver about reporting this shit but there has been a mini-explosion of stories this week about racist cops, all of them ugly and all but one in the state of the union which I really wish we had let secede – Texas. Here are but three of them.
1. Take That, Granpaw
From The Field Negro comes a brutal and bewildering story out of Louisiana. You remember Louisiana, right? Jena? The nooses? The right-wing dismissing them as a “joke” or claiming racism doesn’t exist and it was all getting blown out of proportion? Well, this story from Homer may help put things in perspective.
HOMER, La.—On the last afternoon of his life, Bernard Monroe was hosting a cookout for family and friends in front of his dilapidated home on Adams Street in this small northern Louisiana town.
Throat cancer had robbed the 73-year-old retired electric utility worker of his voice years ago, but family members said Monroe was clearly enjoying the commotion of a dozen of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren cavorting around him in the dusty, grassless yard.
Then the Homer police showed up, two white officers whose arrival caused the participants at the black family gathering to quickly fall silent.
Within moments, Monroe lay dead, shot by one of the officers as his family looked on.
The SPI has been one of my favorite online papers for several years and regular readers of this and my other old blogs have probably noticed how often I link to it. There have been rumors swirling for weeks that the paper was about to go under, and last week it seemed that the only question left was “When?” The answer is…today.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will roll off the presses for the last time Tuesday.
The Hearst Corp. announced Monday that it would stop publishing the 146-year old newspaper, Seattle’s oldest business, and cease delivery to more than 117,600 weekday readers.
Though not quite at McClatchy’s level, the SPI has been a font of alternative (to the mass media) news and opinion that I relied heavily on in the early years of Bushism when the national news giants were busy kowtowing to Bush/Cheney hysteria and playing stenographer instead of, you know, reporting.
I have been afraid this day would come and sorry for it but I was wrong. For me, actually, it’s not coming. Hearst has done what Mark Gisleson at Norwegianity has been advocating for, I think, decades. They’re dumping paper and publishing exclusively online.
The company, however, said it would maintain seattlepi.com, making it the nation’s largest daily newspaper to shift to an entirely digital news product.
“Tonight we’ll be putting the paper to bed for the last time,” Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby told a silent newsroom Monday morning. “But the bloodline will live on.”
In a news release, Hearst CEO Frank Bennack Jr. said, “Our goal now is to turn seattlepi.com into the leading news and information portal in the region.”
The new operation will be more than a newspaper online, Steven Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers, said. The so-called “community platform” will feature breaking news, columns from prominent Seattle residents, community databases, photo galleries, 150 citizen bloggers and links to other journalistic outlets.
It may be that we’re about to find out just how viable Mark’s idea is. Advertising revenue for the website seems to be solid (more than it was for the paper edition) but the organization lost $14M last year, so Hearst isn’t going to risk more than it thinks it has to. They’re only going to keep 20 staffers for the online edition and another 20 to keep the advertising flowing. Everybody else is laid off, as of today (no actual number of lay-offs is given).
Some of the best-known writers and support staff will be going to the Seattle Times, but most will be unemployed. There isn’t a single word in the article about what will or might happen to the grunts at the publishing house who actually produced the physical paper. Even if the SPI farmed out the publishing to a commercial house, the loss of a contract like this has to hurt.
Hearst was at one point expected to buy the ST and simply shift people over but that didn’t happen and the reason it didn’t may say something about the future of news.
Hearst had long been expected to buy The Seattle Times, but it became clear in January that the idea had been abandoned. Swartz said that an acquisition wouldn’t be prudent, but the decision not to buy the Times was not specific to the Times’ finances.
“In no way do we feel that newspapers won’t turn around from where they are now, but when you’re looking at making acquisitions, you have to look at where could the cash flow fall before it turns,” he said. “In the current environment it just didn’t seem prudent to be bidding for any newspapers.”
Food for thought, eh?
Nobody seems to want to hire poor Gonzo and David Addington’s having trouble finding a job, too. In fact the whole Bush Gang seems to have been elevated to Pariah Status. SPI’s David Horsey offers one explanation.
Actually, in true Bushie fashion, the witch doctor is lying. He wasn’t Bush’s science advisor. He was Bush’s economics advisor. This is Bush’s science advisor:
Obama’s actions are, at best, a mixed blessing so far. He has surrounded himself with establishmentarian Blue Dogs and Democrat conservatives, from his powerful Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, to Treas Sec Timmy Geithner (a Wall Street Willie if ever there was one), Leon Panetta at the CIA, and Larry Summers as a Presidential Advisor. While he has talked eloquently about Wall Street’s responsibility for the mess, he insisted in $billions$ in bail-out money to moribund, clueless auto CEO’s and is about to hand over another $30B to AIG because, you know, it ran through the first $100B paying for parties and executive bonuses.
But all of that was prelude to the real danger. It puts in context a much more conservative agenda. In “Dump the Dems 6” I warned, “The Democrats aren’t pretending to be like the Pubs to get elected. They are like the Pubs.” Obama seems to be going out of his way to prove it. Glenn Greenwald again reports on the heels of Marcy Wheeler’s excellent summation of the recent moves by the Obama Admin to make exactly the same arguments of presidential power that Bush made.
[T]he Obama DOJ is now spouting the Cheney/Addington view of government in its purest and most radical expression.
The brief filed by Obama on Friday afternoon (.pdf) has to be read to believed. It is literally arguing that no court has the power to order that classified documents be used in a judicial proceeding; instead, it is the President — and the President alone — who possesses that decision-making power under Article II, and no court order is binding on the President to the extent it purports to direct that such information be made available for use in a judicial proceeding.
What I’ve been afraid of is happening right now. Obama and the conservative Democrat leadership are fighting to preserve the very same power Obama criticized Bush for taking, using the same autocratic arguments that Bush used. Does it make them right just because a Democrat says them?
Of course not.
“Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting…”
I am NOT making up this vulture stuff, OK? This is our society as it really is.
The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.
Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.
The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.
“I am out of work now, to be honest with you, and money is very tight for us,” one man declared on a recent phone call after he was apprised of his late mother-in-law’s $280 credit card bill. He promised to pay $15 a month.
Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.
That should read “token payments they don’t owe“. So completely out-of-control greedy has our amok-running banking industry become that they’re going after money they cheerfully and openly admit isn’t owed to them by the people they’re harassing.
Well, if you can “retaliate” against some country that didn’t do anything to you because there’s no profit in invading the country actually responsible for the attack on you, why not? But it doesn’t end there, no no no.