Friday, October 23, 2009

Jon Stewart Skewers CNN - Fact Checking? (Oct. 12, 2009)

Jon Stewart skewered CNN Oct. 12, 2009 (rebroadcast Oct. 22, 2009) although, to be fair, he could have done the same to MSNBC, FOX, or, quite frankly, every news organization on TV. Perhaps the best, and most illustrative, clip comes near the end (around the 8 min. mark), when a CNN anchor asks the reporter if there is any way to check the numbers. The reporter's obvious surprise at even being asked such a question tells it all. Reporting has sunk so low that, today, it doesn't even occur to anchors or reporters that when someone they are interviewing throws out a statistic or says "the American people know" that, just maybe, they should check the facts.

Stewart Skewers CNN

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Best and Worst Questioners in Congress

When one watches House and Senate hearings, one soon notices several different methods of questioning:
1. The question that is a statement worded so that the person being questioned will/can answer only one way. These are generally self-motivated statements that are either thinly disguised praise of the policy or issue in question or even less thinly disguised disgust with the witness.

2. Written
I think everyone I've watched has, at some time or another, read prepared questions. But even here, there are differences. In some cases, Jim Bunning and Richard Shelby come to mind, they seem not to have read the questions beforehand and more than occasionally, don't seem to understand what they are reading.

3. Extemporaneous
The most engaged and brightest people in Congress usually ask questions without notes that demonstrate both their understanding of the issue at hand and their attention to the matters under discussion... which is not to say that a lot of dumb questions don't also get asked.

Best questioner: Dingell in the House. Whether he reads prepared questions or asks them off the cuff, they are almost always short, direct, and to the point. Most hearings could be cut in half if other members followed his lead.

Worst questioner: Emmanuel Cleaver, without question. Mr. Cleaver is one of those who rarely reads prepared questions but ought to because he hems and haws and doesn't seem to know when he starts a question, even if he has been present through most of the hearing, where he wants to go with it. Watching and listening to him is painful. He actually makes George W. Bush look good.

Alan Grayson comes in a close second. On the House banking committee he routinely embarrasses himself. Grayson thinks he knows how to read income statements and balance sheets. He doesn't. And the poor witnesses, usually financial experts of one sort or another, are faced with the unenviable task of trying to answer a question so stupid it is meaningless without telling a member of Congress that he is a blithering idiot.

Best Chairman in Congress? Barney Frank

I've been watching House and Senate hearings on C-SPAN almost incessantly this past year and while I've probably not seen every hearing, I think I've seen enough to be confident that Barney Frank is, hands down, the best Chair in either House. He may also be the smartest (intellectually and politically) politician in Congress.

Although Frank can be darn difficult at times to understand, he knows his subject, he knows the parliamentary rules, he knows the people on his committee, both Republican and Democrat. There is a limit to his patience with Republican shenanigans, and he has both a sharp tongue and a sharp wit.

Although I don't always agree with him, it is clear to me that often, when he veers rightward, he does so because he knows just how far the Dems can go and still get something passed.

I'm also coming to appreciate Stupak, who chairs a sub-committee for both the way he manages the committee and for the clarity and relative succinctness both of his opening statements and questions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Denmark - Not Socialism, Civilization

On Oprah's Oct. 21, 2009, she visits Denmark, Dubai, Rio, and Istanbul. In talking to two Danish women, Oprah commented that although Denmark is a democratic country, it is also socialized. The women responded that they didn't think of it as being socialism but civilization - that taking care of the old and the sick is what it means to be civilized. I like that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) - Most Sexist Senator

OK, it's obvious from discussions of various pieces of legislation that a lot of Senators are sexist, esp. the older male Senators.

But I've noticed something "special" about Bunning. When he questions women who appear before committees on which he is a member, he addresses them by their first names, although he uses titles or full names for the men who appear before him.

Sheila Bair (FDIC) is, thus, "Sheila" (accompanied by a paternal smile). And in an Oct. panel of experts on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry, Prof. Susan Wachter (Wharton) became "Dr. Susan".

I'm not sure which is worse: that he does it without knowing he does it or that he does it on purpose to indicate his lack of respect for female professionals.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alan Grayson - Idiot Representative Gets Media

Please, before you crown Grayson as the newest Democratic light in the House, watch some of Barney Frank's hearings on the financial mess. Grayson makes a fool of himself time and time again, asking questions about financial reports that prove only how little he understands them. One can see the amazement/distress in the eyes of people like Geithner and Bernanke who, faced with one of Grayson's illogical, ignorant questions, tries to figure out how to answer him without telling him that he's a blithering idiot.

Yes, he does get points for taking down Olympia Snowe - I, too, am damn upset that the health care system for the next two decades may be decided by Senators from Maine, Nebraska, Montana, and North Dakota - but he's a publicity hound who has discovered that politicians who make outrageous statements get air time while politicians who don't, don't.

Keith Olbermann - Hour Long, Self-Indulgent Rant on Health Care Reform

Wednesday night (Oct. 7, 2009), Olbermann outdid himself with an embarrassing, self-indulgent, hour-long rant supposedly in support of health care reform - brought about by his experience with his father's serious illness.

First off, he surely embarrassed his father with details of how the problem began - just a day or two after a comment that he had missed a number of shows because of his father's illness but didn't want to invade his father's privacy with details.

Second, it was quite clear that his father got excellent care, for which Olbermann is grateful and which, apparently, did point out to him how lucky he was in contrast to the experience of so many others without his financial resources.

That's fine. I would have given him 5 or 10 minutes to let us know why he is so emotional about the issue.

But the hyperbole went on and on and on and on - and he contributed zip to the conversation.

The media, focused as always on the politics of the issue, have been MIA when it comes to informing people about the details of the various bills and the various trade offs (e.g., why a mandate is necessary - to have a large pool in which to spread risk; the difficulties of establishing the "sweet point" for a fine: if the price is too low, it will be cheaper to pay the fine than buy health care; if too high, the risks of non-compliance, effect on employment, etc.).

I had hoped, when I first heard about his plans for an hour-long "special comment", that he might focus on the key issues. Silly me. Just an endless series of hyperbolic statements about health care being about death, speculations about how those less fortunate must feel in similar situations, repeated details about his experience, mention of his sister, more details about his father.

The whole hour was a waste, a self-referential, poorly written, poorly argued mess.

Anybody who truly cares about health reform must have writhed in pain at the thought of what they could have done with a full hour in which they need not interview anybody or present opposing opinions.

Why couldn't MSNBC have given the hour to Uwe Reinhardt, a brilliant speaker on health care reform who knows the facts and how to present them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Real health reform? Maybe in 2020?. Or 2030?

What most people don't realize is that even if the Congress passes some kind of weak health care reform package, none of the provisions will go into effect until 2013. (And in at least one version of the bill, the rate reforms will be phased in over 5 years!) That's right - until the start of Obama's second term. Apparently our politicians haven't considered what is going to happen if Obama declares victory in November and in January everybody sees their premiums going up. And people still lose their health insurance for pre-existing conditions. And still can't afford health insurance.

So, what will health insurance companies do between now and 2013? Everything they can, of course, to generate windfall profits so in 2013 they're sitting on pots of money.

Somewhere around 2020, then, Americans will realize that they were yet again snookered, just as they were in the 1990s with the Republican promise that HMOs would solve all our problems.

Luckily, I'll be on Medicare by then.

Jon Stewart - Second Home Run - Wall Street Again

After skewering the Democrats, Stewart turned his attention to Wall Street's latest method for making billions: high frequency trading. No doubt the Wall Street apologists will insist that these oomputer programs enhance the financial system but this is nothing but monopoly with real money and no assets. Nothing of value gets created.

High Frequency Trading

Jon Stewart Does it Again - On Our Pissant Democratic Majority

Stewart's September 30, 2009 broadcast hit two home runs right off the top. First, he skewers the Democratic Party, rightly so, for its inability to govern even with control of both houses and a super majority in the Senate.

On the Democratíc Party's Inability to Govern

And more:
How the Democratic Party Thinks

I've said it before: the Republican Party is a more effective Party than the Democratic Party and has been for almost 40 years now. Whether they are in the minority or the majority, whether there is a Republican or Democratic President, Republicans act as if they were in the majority. They don't care if they won the White House with the help of the Supreme Court. They don't care if they are, theoretically, "out in the wilderness". They believe in their principles and use every weapon at their disposal, no matter how outrageous, to achieve their ends.

The Democrats, however, ever since Jimmy Carter, have acted like scared rabbits. They are afraid of their shadows, afraid of being called "liberal" or "partisan". Even when they win, they act like losers.

It's even to drive a liberal insane. What do we have to do to elect people who actually will do what we want them to do?