Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Fading Of Keith

I can't say I was shocked to learn that Current sacked Keith Olbermann. Judging from earlier accounts, the relationship has been stormy to say the least, with Keith showing up for work on a non-regular basis, reportedly displeased with his situation at the relatively new gig. At this point, I for one have no idea who's to blame. Is Keith really the difficult prima donna he's being made out to be, or is he just a demanding professional that desires top quality in his work and from everyone involved to that end? Beats me, it may be a combination of both but we're very likely to learn more when the lawsuit unfolds.

It's really a shame. Keith Olbermann continues to fade. I've been watching Keith since his MSNBC stint and while he continued to be his inimitable self on Current, to me his show gradually became non-essential viewing. I would continue to tune in to hear what Keith had to say about the issues of the day, but it did seem as if he was increasingly mailing it in, offering up obligatory outrage when expected, but even that became a rare occasion.

In his defense, the Current show did not have an appealing look. It did appear low-budget and almost grainy to the eye, as if filmed using old cameras and poor lighting. All you had to do was flip over to MSNBC to see the contrast. That said it's very difficult to attract an audience when viewers must strain and wince to literally watch the program. Score one for Keith: Current apparently didn't invest enough in the production values of the show.

However, as I mentioned, Keith himself seemed to exude less energy over the last few months, perhaps realizing the inevitable was near. But I have to assume he had full say over who would be regular contributors on his show and apart from Matt Taibi, most were quite frankly boring and offered very little when it came to eye-opening insights or provocative commentary. Snore.

My favorite Countdown contributor from the MSNBC days was Jonathan Alter as he always provided very honest and rigorous commentary, saying what he thought in a very intelligent manner, not overly worrying about offending someone. That's not to say he was ever offensive, but rather he would not pull punches and justifiably pointed out wrongs and hypocrisy. He was refreshing and always made me tune in to see if he might be on the show.

With Current, the contributors became very young, and with that oddly enough more conventional in their commentary, voicing primarily dignified pap that while liberal was exceedingly sanitized. In that respect, score one for Current as Keith allowed the content of his show to slip, significantly.

Will Keith put a halt to this long, drawn-out fade and show up elsewhere, reinvigorated and better than ever? Who knows. It does seem evident that he is quite the volatile personality who ultimately may only succeed doing things 100% his way, on his own terms. To me that hints at a fee-based podcast of sorts, or something like Glenn Beck TV (oh, the irony).

Or maybe that's it, we never hear from Keith again, except for the occasional op-ed or book release. Lord knows he's made many millions in his career, allowing for early retirement.

But then who foresaw the Current gig post-MSNBC? He can surprise. In the meantime, the right-wing will have a field day with the Al Gore vs. Keith Olbermann pending lawsuit and back/forth war of words. It doesn't take much to get the knuckle-draggers worked up in a frothy lather....

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Romney/Seamus Incident: Just Ordinary?

I wrote last Sunday that the Romney/Seamus incident mattered. Three days later, Kevin Drum wrote on his blog:
Give me a break. I would guess that nearly every family that's ever taken a long road trip has tried to stick to a schedule and keep stops to a minimum. Was Romney a little stricter than average? Maybe. Does this offer a glimpse of Romney's "rigidity"? Please. The Seamus story came from Tagg Romney, and he doesn't suggest that any of the Romney kids felt especially downtrodden during the ride. Romney was just an ordinary guy trying to cram a 12-hour trip into a single day and he didn't want it to turn into a 14-hour trip. Shapiro had it right when he said this story has "no larger presidential significance." He should have stopped right there.
Initially I couldn't tell if Drum was being sarcastic, and frankly I remain befuddled.

Kevin has been my favorite blogger for many years, offering lucid posts with an obvious liberal slant but without going overboard. However, I've always felt that from time to time, he tends to poo-poo topics getting heavy airplay on the left as if to take some higher ground and rise above what he portrays as pointless gnashing-of-teeth chatter. He likes to come off as a "keeping it real" progressive, agreeing with most of the larger and more cerebral lefty positions of the day, but making sure to smack down what in his mind are excessively idealistic dust-ups that any right-minded (or left-minded?) person would do or believe.

In this case, if I'm not mistaken, Kevin's advising we back off the Romney dog incident, that it's been blown way out of proportion. I mean c'mon, any person would've done what Romney did, with a family and all, trying to make good time on a long drive.

Really? Any 38-year old father would've put the beloved family dog in a box, strap it to the car rooftop where it would withstand 60+ mph wind for 12 hours, and when the dog shits and it runs down the car window, said father pulls the car over at a gas station, quickly hoses the dog off, puts dog back in box, and speeds off, hoping to make back those lost precious minutes, pronto.

Oh yeah, that's normal, "ordinary" behavior. Did we ever find out if Romney hosed down his car to rid his window of the dog shit streaks? Or would that have taken too much time, possibly stretching a 12-hour trip into 14??

I standby my blog post that this incident does matter and says at least a few things about Romney (nothing good, obviously). I encourage everyone to Google away, read up about the awful episode, then draw your own conclusions. I know I didn't embellish anything, and Romney himself admits to it all (another political gaffe?).

It's troubling to hear those who implore that what he did with Seamus was no big deal, and that nothing meaningful can be gleaned about our potential next President. (What if it were cats instead of a dog, Kevin? Make a difference?). And mind you, I still come across people who have never heard of this incident and after hearing a quick summary are disturbed by it. It has impact. Also, a disclosure: I'm not a raving, I-wanted-Michael-Vick-executed pet lover.

But then again, as I said I may have completely misread Kevin's post. It happens. He may have laced the entry with wink-wink stuff and I'm too dense to notice. Let's hope anyway.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Catch-up Thoughts

  • I agree with Kevin Drum about the Greg Smith op-ed. It's hard to believe Goldman Sachs ever had a soul to lose, much less lost it in the last 10 years or so. But then again, Smith is likely a by-product of this gradual descent into cultural depravity. When he started at GS, he was young and quickly adapted over time to what is now the modern-day version of the "Vampire Squid." It went from bad to worse in that time and that's what Smith noticed: relative degradation, not absolute. It's like crying foul that Caligula became more profane in his later years.

  • Paul Krugman's "What Greece Means" is a lesson for the Tea Party (to the extent it still exists). Austerity doesn't work, better to grow out of the deficit via Keynesian stimulus, esp. with interest rates at record lows. Roads, bridges, infrastructure are in desperate need of repair and it's not something that can continuously be put off into the future. And at some point, people are going to die from this lack of up-keep. I've read that the cost of such projects doubles every five years, so why not invest in making upgrades now, when real interest rates are actually negative! Business schools teach that one should take on debt when the rate of return on the project surpasses the interest on the debt. Here we have real interest rates at below zero and the rate of return to be gained on these projects is absolutely greater than zero -- if not for anything else than for the cost savings alone (as I said, costs double every five years). It's a no-brainer, but unfortunately too many citizens on the right have been brainwashed, and of course Republicans do not want to do anything that is sensible and could actually help this country, believing it simply helps the Kenyan.

  • Bill Maher had Alexandra Pelosi show both of her brief films, the first showing Mississippi in all it's wonderful glory, and the other film showing what appeared to be welfare abuse occurring in NYC. Pelosi tries to make the point that these two films are opposite sides of a coin, one angering the right, the other pissing off the left.

    I don't agree. The film showing welfare recipients abusing the system in NYC is something that is wrong and could be fixed. It's repairable. Also, despite what the right believes, welfare abuse -- like voter fraud -- is nowhere near as big a problem as their propaganda makes it out to be. All too often, they take some isolated examples of fraud and suggest (citing no facts) that this relatively small problem is wrecking the country.

    However, the film on Mississippi shows a much larger problem, one that is indeed wrecking this country. It shows citizens who are ignorant, possessing beliefs based on prejudice and hate as opposed to anything rooted in fact or knowledge. It also shows people who are hypocrites. One guy hates big government but is on food stamps, when told of this dichotomy he quickly says he feels he "deserves" the food stamps, i.e. the free hand-out, the welfare. Much of what is shown in the video is seemingly irreparable and is destroying this country. Do these people have any clue that for every $1 in taxes paid, Mississippians receive $2 back from the government? Hedge funds would love that 100% return on investment. They are completely ignorant to their welfare-queen ways and if you watch the video I think you'll agree: there's not much hope in changing these people. They believe what they believe, they is what they is, period.

  • Randi Rhodes aired another example of why Fox News is clown central. She has footage of Fox defending GW Bush when gasoline prices were rising, with the clamoring talking heads saying back-off, ease up, it's not his fault, the President can't be blamed, he has little control or influence over the price at the pump -- AND what citizens should be doing is conserving energy. It's incredible. Then cut to present day, with gas prices rising and Obama in office. Suddenly Fox personalities believe it's all the President's fault, Obama is to blame. Outrageous, but not shocking. Fox viewers are once again taken for complete fools.

  • Maybe vanity will finally make global warming deniers believe....

  • Sunday, March 18, 2012

    The Seamus Incident Matters

    Yes, what Romney did to his dog Seamus is a valid campaign topic. For one, Mitt was 37 years old at the time, hardly a youthful indiscretion. Second, imagine what Republicans would've done during the 2008 race if Obama did the same. But more so, it's says much about Mitt the cyborg person, his lack of empathy, his inability to make a seemingly heartfelt decision as opposed to one that was expedient and coldly fit his needs.

    It's exactly this kind of anecdotal evidence that makes one wonder how a person will react or decide in the future. It's quite scary when you really think about it, and frankly I think even GW or dare I say Cheney (!!) would've elected to transport the dog by more humane means.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Not All Billionaires Lack A Conscience

    From Jeremy Grantham's 4Q investment letter (as always, insightful and without rationalization, a common means of denial by the very rich):
    It gets worse, for what capitalism has always had is money with which to try to buy influence. Today’s version of U.S. capitalism has died and gone to heaven on this issue. A company is now free to spend money to influence political outcomes and need tell no one, least of all its own shareholders, the technical owners. So, rich industries can exert so much political influence that they now have a dangerous degree of influence over Congress. And the issues they most influence are precisely the ones that matter most, the ones that are most important to society’s long-term well-being, indeed its very existence. Thus, taking huge benefits from Nature and damaging it in return is completely free and all attempts at government control are fought with costly lobbying and advertising. And one of the first victims in this campaign has been the truth. If scientific evidence suggests costs and limits be imposed on industry to protect the long-term environment, then science will be opposed by clever disinformation. It’s now getting to be an old and obvious story, but because their propaganda is good and despite the solidness of the data, half of the people believe the problem is a government run wild, mad to control everything. So the “industrial complex” (or parts of it) fights to increase the inherent weaknesses of capitalism. They deliberately make it ever harder to reach the very long-term decisions that will serve us all. The influence of the Tobacco companies in deliberately obscuring the science to protect profits at a huge cost to society in health costs and lives is a perfect analogy to the energy industries that work hard to confuse the public on scientific measures of damage to health and the environment.
    [W]ith natural resources, capitalism wants to eat into these precious, limited resources at an accelerating rate with the subtext that everyone on the planet has the right to live like the wasteful polluting developed countries do today. You don’t have to be a PhD mathematician to work out that if the average Chinese and Indian were to catch up with (the theoretically moving target of) the average American, then our planet’s goose is cooked, along with most other things. Indeed, scientists calculate that if they caught up, we would need at least three planets to be fully sustainable. But few listen to scientists these days. So, do you know how many economic theories treat resources as if they are finite? Well, the researchers at the O.E.C.D say “none” – that no such theory exists. Economic theory either ignores this little problem or assumes you reach out and take the needed resources given the normal workings of supply and demand and you can do it indefinitely. This is a lack of common sense on a par with “rational expectations,” that elegant theory that encouraged the ludicrous faith in deregulation and the wisdom of free markets, which brought us our recent financial fiascos.
    Capitalism, by ignoring the finite nature of resources and by neglecting the long-term well-being of the planet and its potentially crucial biodiversity, threatens our existence. Fifty and one-hundred-year horizons are important despite the “tyranny of the discount rate,” and grandchildren do have value. My conclusion is that capitalism does admittedly do a thousand things better than other systems: it only currently fails in two or three. Unfortunately for us all, even a single one of these failings may bring capitalism down and us with it.

    Saturday, March 03, 2012

    The False Equivalency Thing

    It didn't take long for the conspiracy theories to pop up concerning Andrew Breitbart's death. Reminds me of the Vince Foster suicide, with anti-Clinton conspiracy theories surfacing not long after his unfortunate death.

    Never mind that when many of us last saw Mr. Breitbart he was seemingly very drunk while screaming at a bunch of Occupiers, as if he was going through some sort of breakdown or personal episode.

    We may never know why he died, but for many they've already figured it out.

    What irks me most since Breitbart's passing is to hear the media once again trot out the false equivalency thing. You know how it goes by now, this desperate need to find personalities on the left to pair-up with the Limbaughs, Hannitys, and Breitbarts of the right.

    During a morning this week, I was listening to WBZ news radio and a one-minute-blurb commentator, Jon Keller, said:
    [W]hen Breitbart took the video of that Obama administration official’s speech and edited it to make it seem like she was being racist, that wasn’t acceptable journalism or political discourse.

    When lefty journalists speculate about whether or not Sarah Palin is the mother of her son, that’s just as bad if not worse.
    Really? Breitbart committed a journalistic wrong that actually cost someone their job and Keller deems this not "acceptable," but then equates Breitbart to nameless "lefty journalists" who may have committed a professional no-no "as bad if not worse." If not worse?! What?! Keller doesn't bother to identify any of these pinko journalists but goes further to slam any of them for doing something possibly worse than what Breitbart actually did, which had real repercussions!

    I shouldn't be surprised by this, it's become so commonplace. Hell, for a short stint not too long ago we observed the great Jon Stewart dabble with the both-sides-are-to-blame equivalency canard. But if memory serves, I believe Stewart woke up and quickly backed off his brief attempt at becoming Senor Above It All, realizing that what he was saying was horse sh*t, based on high-minded fiction as opposed to real-life ugly truth.

    But it unfortunately continues. Another example is Dr. Horace "Woody" Brock, holder of five academic degrees and author of recent book, American Gridlock. Obviously a smart man. His book professes to offer solutions that succeed in cutting through the right vs. left gridlock, yet even this brainiac appears to be guilty of the false equivalency disease. Early on in his book, he equates Rush Limbaugh (right-wing) with Paul Krugman (left-wing). Look, I can understand the partisan divide combined with fame between these two guys to make them likely targets for A=B, but c'mon, give me a break. One of them is an esteemed Nobel Prize winner and the other is an "entertainer" of expansive disrepute (!!). I mean the attempt-to-equate is completely absurd, esp. for someone with so many degrees.

    Unfortunately, it likely won't be the last time we get subjected to the false equivalency thing....