Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Shark's Been Jumped

Did everybody miss it, or am I imagining things?

In the wake of the historic 2008 election, a debate arose over the role of the internet in influencing the ultimate result, as well as the roll of internet news agregates and blog sites as being the natural successors – indeed, the usurpers, of traditional print journalism. Over the past two years, it’s almost become de rigueur for various commentators within the blogosphere to make pretty disparaging remarks about the mainstream media, recently re-dubbed the lamestream media by one who simultaneously suffers and benefits from its attention.

The 24/7 cable news talking heads, from both sides of the political spectrum, and their soulmates riding the waves of internet news reporting rule supreme and unduly influence both the critical thinking processes and opinions of a lot of folk who would do just as well as to open a book entitled Civics 101 before they open their mouths.

This is no longer a world of hard, substantiated fact, or even a world of opinion backe by undisputable fact. It has become, however, a world of opinion, presented as fact and lightly laced with the unsubstantiated variety.

We live for the sound bite of the moment, for the slightest change in a politco’s body language, in order to have this mercilessly parsed and reinterpreted again and again by an unrelenting and irresponsible media. The trivial and mundane have been so far elevated into the world of the sublime that major news stories regarding legislation which may affect us all as a whole are lost in a welter of the confused and often conflicting banter of people who love to speak only to hear the sound of their own voices and whose first allegiance is to their own self-promotion.

That countless testimonies to these icons’ veracity is documented daily on a plethora of internet sites in homage to the services rendered by these dubious souls is frightening.

The internet has offered an opportunity for people who, for some reason, otherwise have been unable to succeed in the world of bona fide print journalism, the chance to shine – never mind, the sort of tactics employed by said “journalist” would be held up to close scrutiny and then discarded highly irregular by more traditional professionals.

Just as we shouldn’t trust the stewardess to land an Airbus with the pilot passed out drunk, or Al Qaeda’s iontentions if it happens upon the Pakastani nuclear arsenal, so we should always view the “citizen journalist” with a janudiced eye.

Until recently, internet journalism’s apogee was reached during the Obama campaign, when Mayhill Fowler, a retired schoolteacher and failed writer attended a private fund-raising event, closed to the press. In simple parlance, “closed” meant “closed.” No reporters. A chance for the candidate to unwind and charm. The fact that a private citizen attended, armed with a small recording device and reported off-the-record remarks made by a political candidate was considered unscrupulous to the nth degree. That sort of thing would have cost a seasoned reporter his job and his reputation.

But this is the new era of “face-in-the-crowd” reporting, and quite often, these sort of eye-witness accounts wouldn’t be admissable in a court of law, because they – like the talking-heads, who subsequently parrot and publicize them – are skewed and coloured to fit the agenda of whatever internet aggregate is pushing the issue at hand.

The order of the day is cherry-picking, and not outside in the fresh air and the orchard. It’s cut-and-paste and hope for the best. Band-aid journalism that spins like a top.

Yesterday, Rightwing blogger Andrew Breitbart, writing in Tucker Carlson’s DailyCaller, highlighted a video clip of USDA official, Shirley Sherrod, addressing a meeting of a local branch of the NAACP, wherein she appeared to admit having shown racism toward an individual case regarding a white farmer and his wife, in Georgia. Ms Sherrod is African American.

Immediately, the meme was picked up and pushed by Fox News, as well as the other media suspects, resulting in a severe condemnation of Ms Sherrod’s remarks by NAACP President, Benjamin Jealous, and Ms Sherrod literally being sacked on the spot from her position within the USDA.

All on the evidence of a couple of minutes gleaned from a speech which lasted much longer. Noone bothered to listen to what was said before the fated line was spoken; no one bothered to listen to any dialogue spoken afterward. In dact, as Ms Sherrod said later, no one was interested in listening to her explanation at all.

They just reacted.

Twenty-four hours later, and the video of Ms Sherrod’s entire speech has surfaced, and in the context of that discourse, it’s been found that her remarks were anything but racist, that she helped the supplicants mentioned and that she and the white couple became firm friends. At this moment, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is contemplating reinstating Ms Sherrod.

And so he should. With a big apology, a promotion and a raise in pay.

Last Friday, a “reporter” for the Huffington Post, Shahien Nasiripour, posted an article, which stated categorically that Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, had effectively blocked the appoinment of Elizabeth Warren to head the new consumer protection agency to be established under the new financial regulation laws. Nasiripour cited some suitably ghostly anonymous source, said to be “familiar with Geithner’s mind, ” although he didn’t offer any direct quotations from said Mr Anonymous.

Familiar with Geithner’s mind? Granted, on Monday, after the media had picked up on this story and ran it like the favourite at the Preakness, it behooved Talking Points Memo to do some actual investigating. And so, they contacted some viable sources – peple with names and faces and voices … like David Axelrod.

Ax reported that no decision had yet been made as regards the person heading this new agency, that the decision was a Presidential one and, really, nothing to do with Secretary Geithner, and that, yes, Mrs Warrenwas a firm candidate. This, I might add, came after a weekend where Warren was put in the singularly embarrassing position of having to disclaim any knowledge of any of her supporters actively promoting her as a candidate to the White House.

In other words, Talking Points Memo proved the Huffington Post article to be a tissue of lies.

By yesterday, Nasiripour followed up his article, again quoting Mr Anonymous – or maybe it was another Mr Anonymous, because this one claimed to be familiar, only with Geithner’s opinions. This article, in no way, distanced itself from the original one. It sure as hell didn’t apologise for any error or lax reporting. Instead, it accompanied a couple of other blogs, one purporting to know why Obama “feared” Elizabeth Warren. The other was simply a veiled threat of the direst of circumstances that would befall this Administration, if Warren were not appointed.

And so it goes.

The entire purpose of this fabricated article, presented as fact, but not substantiated, yet still reported in the mecia as a whole, is twofold: first, it means to thoroughly discredit Tim Geithner, a Cabinet official for whom Arianna Huffington has an almost pathological dislike. Second, it’s meant to box the President into a lose-lose situation.

If he appoints Warren, after all the publicity the media have been giving this, the Republicans in Congress will simply batten down the hatches and fight to the death to eliminate her from the proceedings. All well and good; he could just then wait until the next lengthy recess and appoint her there and then. But it would be an appointment with a stench attached. And if he appoints someone else, he risks being pilloried mercilessly by Huffington, who revels, at the moment, in referring to him as a Nowhre Man.

I think he should appoint Warren. She’s the best candidate for the position by a mile. But he should also announce at the time of this appointment, that he made the decision based on the candidate’s impeccable qualifications and not onany pressur from the media or otherwise … and, oh by the way, the White House Press Association will be revoking the credentials of The Huffington Post, forthwith, effective immediately.

We used to have a media that was the envy of the world. Our media exposed Joe McCarthy, laid open Watergate and Irangate. now it bends over to propagate the whims and agendae of a failed Republican operative and a neocon neophyte failed journalist, a parvenue and an intellectual lightweight, both of whom are feted as serious political journalists.

I only hope, that in the one-eyed, purist world which purports to be internet journalism, that this shark has been jumped, and some professional regulations applied to future ventures. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be averse to seeing that shark take a chunk out of someone’s feta cheesed ass.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tango'd from the Tanning Bed

Yesterday morning, I opened my copy of The Guardian to learn that various tranches and services of the British National Health Service were being outsourced to private providers and, leading the fray for tenders, was none other than our old friend, Humana – AKA Bill Frist Inc.
I was drinking my coffee at the time. I didn’t have a Pepsi moment, and I didn’t vomit in my mouth. I simply smiled wryly, because I’d seen this coming.
The NHS has been an albatross around the neck of the Conservative Party in Britain since Maggie Thatcher chopped dental and optical services from its auspices back in the 1980s, and Cameron wanted to take this further. Last summer, there were stories abounding here of how the Tories intended on reforming the NHS, how it was working at a loss – things everyone had known as truisms for a long time, but things no one would think of addressing because, well, because the NHS here is the Third Rail of Third Rails.
And when the GOP started airing pejorative commercials in the US, railing against rationed medical treatments and long waiting lists, basically presenting the NHS and all like her in a pretty crass light, Cameron flip-flopped and came out fighting for the NHS. Well he should do, because his oldest child, who had recently died, was born with severe birth defects and had depended on the NHS for care and treatment. Then and there, Cameron vouchsafed the safety of the NHS under any potential Tory regime.
Well, the Tory regime is a reality – albeit, officially it’s a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; but more and more, instead of the pundits referring to a ConLib pact, they’re calling the coalition “ConDem” in a clever jeu des mots.
Because, under the guise of austerity moves, this government – cleverly caricatured by the resident Guardian cartoonist as consisting of Cameron as a louche and depraved version of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy wickedly enticing Nick Clegg, depicted as a rosy-cheeked and cheerfully ignorant version of Pinocchio, to come and play in his termite-infested sawmill – is systematically dismantling any and all entitlement schemes from the government.
This is Thatcherism Mach II: Trickledown – the Sequel.
When the coalition took control of things, once again Cameron reiterated that the NHS would suffer no cutback in services. Then, in the special emergency budget, Camerons Treasury wonk, George Osborne, an independently wealthy trust fund child who’s never worked a day in his life, blithely announced that all government departments must cut budgetary spending from between 25% and 40% – except the Defense Department, which would only suffer cutbacks of 10%. Of course.
And, of course, this would mean immense numbers of civil service and outsourced contractors being laid off prematurely – some permanently – in this age of recession.
Now, it’s not rocket science and I’m no economist, but saying that the NHS wouldn’t suffer any cutback in services, and then saying that that same department has to cut its budget by between 25 and 40% … doesn’t that kinda sorta mean that somewhere along the way, services are going to be cut? You can make as many paper-pushers redundant as you want in the NHS, it still stands to reason that x amount of nurses or doctors or some sort of specialist personnel won’t be being hired, that various forms of surgery/treatments/drug therapies won’t be implemented because of lack of funding.
As painful as it is for me to say it, and as many times as Progressives who don’t know have accused me of lying, the GOP’s commercials last summer did have a bare ring of truth about them; because here in the UK, in some areas, healthcare is rationed, there are waiting lists for surgeries and treatments. It’s simply a postcode lottery, and your quality of service reflects how well your health authority has managed its budget. My primary healthcare trust is a pretty good one, but a pregnant woman still has to have her labour monitered up to a certain point in one hospital, before she’s transferred, at breakneck speed, fourteen miles to another hospital in order, actually, to give birth.
The announcement that Humana were entrenching themselves in the tendering process confirmed suspicions I’d been having for the past few months, when every night on commercial television here, you see no less than five different advertisements for private health insurance, and when – out of the blue – commercials for Viagra have started to appear. (Contrary to life in the United States, prescription drug remedies aren’t advertised on television in the UK or in Europe.)
The NHS wouldn’t actually cut services to the public; instead, they would outsource them to private entities, probably for a fee. That would, at least, justify the increase in NHS contributions we’ve now had inflicted on us – yes, America, the NHS is NOT free; we pay an additional tax called the National Insurance to cover this – but the public was surreptitiously being edged and manipulated into buying into private health insurance schemes.
I’d love to give the clever ConDems the benefit of the doubt and say they’re gently edging us into a more French-like, hybrid system, but knowing Thatcher’s children as well as I do, I know this is nothing more or less than what it actually is … a CON. It’s incremental change that will inch along until one day someone will blink and realise that the good old NHS just ceased to exist somewhere in the first five-year fixed term (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) of Blueboy Cameron and Pinocchio Clegg.
The British public had been had. They had been, in local parlance, tango’d.
Last Sunday on Meet the Press (a venerable national treasure of a program which has managed to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the two years since the late Tim Russert’s death), Robert Gibbs, the President’s Press Secretary sounded a codified clarion call to Democrats, grassroots, elected and electable: there was a very real possibility that the Democratic Party could lose control of the House.
Immediately, he said that, the cable news boys and girls went into meltdown, along with the Wicked Witch of the West’s lovechild, Arianna Huffington. Like Chicken Littles rolling about in orgasmic frenzy, they all screeched simultaneously that Gibbs admitted weakness, he admitted weakness, there he goes, I heard him, he said it … You get the picture, illustrated with a myriad of nameless, anonymous sources, all offering different insight, opinion and second guesses.
The Fox minions affected the smug smirk of “I told you so”, intimating that this was all the more reason straight-thinking people should vote Republican in November. The MSNBC contingent and Mother Huffington huffed and puffed and clicked their teeth, not saying, but clearly intimating that it really wasn’t worth the bother at all to vote for such losers.
People still able to think for themselves (and to read Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post) got the message loud and clear, coming – not coincidentally – on the back of the President’s campaign trips to Missouri and Nevada in support of Robin Carnahan and Harry Reid, and the message is this: Nobody’s guaranteed a win, and the Democrats aren’t entitled to even assume they’ll retain control of the House. Just like on a sports team, intimating that players have to fight for a place in the starting eleven, makes them keen, hungry to attain it. So, the Democrats hoping to retain their House seats should go on the offensive. So, the Democrats hoping to win a House seat should drive that offensive home. So the grassroots supporters should turn OFF the cable guys, stop listening to the rhetoric of a Keith Olbermann who doesn’t vote, stop reckoning that Bill Maher always speaks the truth when he admits Obama’s achieved more legislatively than FDR at this point, but in the next breath says he’s done nothing and endorses Romney, and stop listening to Arianna Huffington’s purrings and subtle ad hominem musings about Barack Obama, mindful of the fact that she is, was and always will be a Republican at heart. (Listen, the original Damascene conversion was hearsay handed down at best; at least hers, which took place on November 3, 2004, was, first and foremost, a money-making venture to fill a niche against Matt Drudge). Voters have to think for themselves, and listen to the candidates.
It’s nerve-wracking that Nancy Pelosi allowed herself to fall prey to her own hubris in reacting to this message personally. It’s as though she didn’t see the forest for the trees.
The ammunititon is all there for the Democrats – the GOP’s refutation of Wall Street Reform, their determination to repeal that and the healthcare reform, their embracement, through Congressman Barton’s apology, of BP and big oil, the overt ambition of the Queen Mother of snake oil salesmen, Darrell Issa, to bring articles of impeachment against Obama.
But most of all, the big bazoomba is this: the Republicans are running without any iota of an alternative plan to put this country back together. They are running on NO and that’s running on empty. They are running on lies and innuendo and hate and something one drop short of out-and-out racism. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the people. It’s the power they want.
John Boehner can sip from a styrofoam cup and demand to know, “Where are the jobs?” But what is his answer? As a politician who questions, he should be questioned too. If he’s as dissatisfied with the jobs situation, as an elected official, he must have some inkling of an alternative, workable plan. It would be too much to believe in a conspiracy of dunces, to believe that private enterprise is holding off hiring and potentially restoring the economy a smidgeon, just to ensure that there might be a GOP victory in the House after November, thus making it look like a trump card held up the collective Republican sleeve … would it? And yet, how many of us remember the coincidence of Iran releasing hostages days after the inauguration of that Republican saint, Ronald Reagan.
As the Brits would say, pull the other one. It’s got bells.
So bells ought to be ringing, and the Democrats and their supporters should come out swinging. We have ample enough ammunition at our disposal – and also enough to shoot ourselves in the foot.
We can’t be had like the Brits were had in May by their sinister, yet cackhanded coalition. The big tent of the Democratic Party has to buck up, suck up and sure as hell not fuck up … or risk being tango’d from the tanning bed of John Boehner.