A frustration with watching news interviews on television is the sorry lack of tough follow-up questions. Mainstream anchors instead seem to rely more on giving equal time to both sides of a political issue.
It's easier, it's less risky, and they can almost count on what type of response they'll get.
So-and-so gets the last word, and then it's up to the viewer to decide if what's been said is accurate or absurd.
It's even worse on some of the cable news channels. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell rarely bothers with follow-ups anymore. It seems it's more important for alternate views to be heard regardless of the content.
But CNN's Soledad O'Brien has become the queen of the follow-ups. O'Brien sunk her teeth into former New Hampshire governor and Mitt Romney supporter John Sununu recently. And judging from his reaction, he was none too pleased.
When she asked Sununu to explain how the Ryan Plan was different from Romney's budget plan, Sununu got personal in his attacks on O'Brien. And when he tried to assert that President Obama robbed more than $700 million out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, she challenged him again on his facts.
A similar scenario unfolded when O'Brien interviewed former Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell. The former Senate candidate asserted that Obama's policies are Marxist. When O'Brien probed O'Donnell to explain Marxism, she dodged the question, for fairly obvious reasons.
O'Brien also recently came down on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, over Vice President Joe Biden's recent "chains" quote.
"Don't tell me that if it were Romney, people wouldn't be going crazy," she said, almost mockingly.
If anyone needs an explanation for why public approval of Congress has plummeted to an all-time low, reporter and blogger Michael Grunwald gives an excellent account in his new book, "The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era."
Grunwald has been making the case for some time that President Obama has actually made good on his promise of bringing the hope and change he promised in his 2008 campaign. He has initiated far-reaching transformational changes that will over time benefit most Americans, Grunwald says.
For example, he says, despite the right-wing media machine's distortions about the stimulus bill, the facts show it was one of this administration's biggest successes. Before Obama took office, Grunwald writes, hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their jobs at an unprecedented pace. But the stimulus reversed that trend and stabilized the country long enough for a recovery to begin.
The disturbing part of the book is Grunwald's depiction of how Republicans in Congress planned to sabotage Obama even before he took office. This is not some sweeping conspiracy theory. Americans watched the plotting and scheming unfold in an almost Shakespearean manner, while the economy teetered in the balance.
Grunwald cites Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's cynical call for all-out resistance, and his secret meetings with House GOP Whip Eric Cantor.
Grunwald's interviews with both Republicans and Democrats in Washington expose just how far the Republican Party is willing to go to destroy Obama and regain power and control. After sweeping the 2010 elections, Republicans have proven themselves ineffectual, Grunwald writes.
The party that was going to shrink government and usher in jobs has spent most of its time passing personhood bills and voter ID laws.
Obstruction at any cost?
It's hard to put a price on trust because once it's lost, it's nearly impossible to regain. And a 12 percent approval rating, if the most recent polls are credible, says there's frighteningly little faith in this Congress.
As one reporter noted recently, even Castro is more popular in Cuba than this Congress is here.
Next week, the national Republican Party is set to adopt a platform that calls for a Constitutional amendment banning abortion. And some members of the party support a complete ban, even when a woman’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.
During an appearance this afternoon, however, Republican Congressional candidate Maggie Brooks sought to distance herself from the extreme end of her party.
“I’m a pro-life Republican, but I certainly agree with abortion in the case of incest or if the mother’s life is in danger or certainly rape,” Brooks said. “I mean, that’s not an extreme view, and it’s something I’ve been consistent about since I ran for county executive in 2003, when a lot of women political people in Monroe County criticized me then.”
Brooks has condemned recent remarks by Republican Representative Todd Akin, who said that the female body has ways to stop pregnancies from “legitimate rape.” The comment set off a massive backlash, as much for its factual inaccuracy as for the word choice.
“It was a ridiculous statement,” Brooks said today. “It was a stupid statement.”
Brooks has challenged incumbent Democrat Louise Slaughter to six debates, which she reiterated during this afternoon’s availability. The opponents have already agreed to one, and Brooks says Slaughter is sidestepping the additional challenges.
The war in Afghanistan is generating barely a whisper in the presidential election, says an Associated Press article published in papers this morning.
The article goes on the say that “Americans show more interest in the economy and taxes than the latest suicide bombings in a different, distant land.”
Some dots need to be connected here. The article claims that voters and candidates aren’t talking about the war, which is true. It hasn’t been a fixture of the 2012 campaigns like it, and the Iraq war, were in 2008. But if people are going to talk about taxes, they need to at least realize that the war is a factor.
The National Priorities Project keeps a real-time tab of the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Over the past 11 years, they’ve cost over $1.3 trillion. The Afghanistan war is responsible for more than $558.8 billion of that sum, and the cost is accruing at thousands of dollars per second.
That money all comes from taxpayers, or will at some point. An infographic on the White House website says that the wars are responsible for $1.4 trillion of the national debt. Taxes will pay back that debt, with interest.
In the midst of all the serious political news that's been breaking this week, it was nice to find a little humor. And so I give you my favorite quote of the week so far, from a Tuesday New York Times' editorial.
The subject: Augusta National Golf Club's decision to admit its first two women to membership.
The quote: "Now, with two women in the club, it has finally reached the point of token genderism."
Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment is getting flack not only from many women and from abortion-rights supporters but even from Republicans - some of whom are calling on Akin to pull out of his Senate race against Claire McCaskill.
Akin's also getting a lot of press. Here's Michelle Goldberg's good piece on The Daily Beast, providing more details about the far-right roots of his comments.
Goldberg notes, importantly, that however crazily Akin put things, we shouldn't lose sight of the context of his remarks: his opposition to abortion even in the case of rape.
And, Goldberg notes, Akin isn't alone. Numerous Republicans want to deny women the right to an abortion even if they've been raped. Among them: the Republicans' vice presidential hopeful, Paul Ryan.
Mitt Romney has distanced himself from Akin's statement, insisting that his administration would exclude rape victims from an anti-abortion measure. That's small comfort. If he's elected, Ryan will be second in line for the presidency.
And just as serious, I have no idea where Mitt Romney stands on much of anything, and what he'll do if he becomes president. Given his response to conservative pressure so far, I can't imagine he would push back at them from the White House.
It’s not a glamorous subject; agriculture often isn’t. But the yogurt boom is being talked about as a much-needed boost for New York’s dairy farmers. So much so that Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to amend a key set of dairy industry environmental regulations, which he says will make it easier for farmers to increase the size of their dairy herds. He announced his intentions during a state-convened yogurt summit held earlier this week.
Dairy farmers have long complained about a specific state permit that they need to get if they have more than 200 cattle. The concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) permit requires farmers to develop plans for managing nutrient pollution to prevent runoff. Cuomo wants to raise that threshold to 300 cattle, which would exempt more dairy farms from the requirement. The permit is cast as an obstacle to increasing milk production, and the state’s burgeoning Greek yogurt industry has a voracious need for milk.
Rochester school board members who are upset that Superintendent Bolgen Vargas hired a district critic still haven't been able to meet with her.
The board's staff tried to coordinate some meetings with Vargas's new chief of staff, Patty Malgieri, to discuss her role and her criticism of the district when she was deputy mayor. Malgieri responded, however, that she'll schedule her meetings with board members herself.
Some board members are still trying to decide what to do about Malgieri, and Vargas, too, for hiring her. There may even be some more fireworks at next Thursday's monthly board meeting. But frankly, the dust-up is probably over for now. The board has no way of blocking Malgieri from joining the district, and there isn't much they can do to Vargas, either.
It seems that they're stuck with one another, like it or not.
The future could go in a few different ways. Even with a hired gun like Malgieri, the district's problems could remain stubbornly entrenched. If Rochester's graduation rate is still hovering around 50 percent two years from now, Vargas may not fulfill his four-year contract.
Malgieri and some of her supporters at City Hall and in the business community may learn that the city and school district have different challenges. A broken sewer line can be repaired in a few days, but large numbers of children going to school stressed, tired, and hungry can't be fixed quickly or easily.
Another possibility: Malgieri, seeing the district operate from the inside, may be even more convinced that a change in governance is needed. And if the winds of mayoral control stir again, she may be better able to make the case for approving the legislation that would put the district under the mayor's thumb.
The third possibility is that Malgieri helps Vargas meet the challenges he's facing. This superintendent needs help, and Malgieri's operational skills might be exactly what he needs. How can he improve the district's graduation rate when thousands of kids aren't even going to school?
How can the district be effective if the data collected daily is bogged down in inefficiencies and is never used by teachers and administrators? And how is Vargas going to fund extended school hours and the music, art, and physical education programs he wants when student enrollment is declining? State funding is bound to decline with fewer students.
And Vargas is facing other serious concerns, such as school closings, new teacher evaluations, and school modernization.
If Malgieri can help him confront these issues successfully, not only will Vargas look good, but ironically, so will the school board.
Trying to learn more about the Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan, I've been gathering links to media reports on him. Here's one that liberals and conservatives alike may find interesting.
Ryan has said he's a devotee of Ayn Rand, but he breaks from her on key issues of civil liberties, Ben Adler writes in a Nation post.
The word of the moment for conservatives is outrage. We heard them use it most of the day yesterday, and it's likely we'll hear it again today.
In a campaign stop in Virginia yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden reminded the crowd that some government monitoring of the banking industry might help to prevent another financial catastrophe like the one that occurred at the end of George W. Bush's second term. The same one that brought about the Great Recession.
Biden warned the crowd that Governor Romney's plan to remove those regulations could "chain" Americans to another taxpayer-funded bailout. Conservatives gasped at the remark. There were African-Americans in the crowd, Joe Scarborough, said this morning. The MSNBC host of "Morning Joe" said, Biden knew he was using coded language.
Then the show's producers showed Romney speaking yesterday afternoon, sounding like he was delivering a eulogy on a Spanish soap opera. He denounced the smear tactics of the Obama campaign, and he moaned that the president has degraded the White House.
Biden later said he meant to use the word "unshackle" in reference to a remark made by Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. The comments from both men can be seen in this NPR report, and it's unlikely either was making an insensitive reference to race.
While the rest of the show's co-hosts feigned their disgust with Biden's comments, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart abruptly turned the conversation on its side. Where was the outrage from conservatives over the coded language used against this president during his entire first term in office, Capehart asked. Where was all of the indignation to references to Obama's birthplace, his alleged Muslim heritage, and his food stamp presidency?
Where was Romney's anger then?
Viewers did have a right to be outraged over this spectacle, Capehart said, but for a different reason. A conversation about what really happened in the banking industry - which nearly caused an international collapse of the financial markets - was side-stepped, he said And he's right.
It's outrageous that most Americans saw huge losses in their 401k accounts, while the folks culpable for the mess walked away with millions. While most Americans saw their retirement savings evaporate and their plans to send their children to college get postponed, the Wall Street set complained about not getting bonuses.
It's an outrage that the crowd with a half dozen homes was disgusted by middle-class Americans trying to leverage the meager equity out of their only home.
And it's an outrage that years later, no one associated with the financial collapse has been charged for any criminal wrongdoing. But the people who have the courage to protest against the actions of these robber barons and their Republican allies are often arrested.