James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Senate’

GOP may help Democrats by claiming Senate

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2014

It’s been tough to get excited about today’s elections, the most expensive midterms in history, for which turnout will be low. A constant barrage of ads from political hate groups may depress the vote. Conservative voter suppression efforts may have a limited effect on election results in some states, while voter fraud, as usual, will be virtually nonexistent and will have no effect whatsoever.

Republicans have found that running without a platform or ideas, while hiding from their jobs, is more effective than the Democratic tactic of running without a clue, while hiding from the president who heads their party.

That means that the most interested/extreme voices will have more influence than usual. I expect the GOP to claim the Senate, though we may not know the final results for weeks because of close results in Georgia and Louisiana. Actually, I expect we will know. Having watched very brief (all I could stand) segments of shows on Fox News and MSNBC last night, I saw commentators on both predicting that Republicans will gain seats in the Senate. We know that Fox News would predict big Republican wins regardless of the likely outcome, but if MSNBC is pessimistic about Dems’ chances, that confirms the likelihood of a GOP victory.

Of course, having the Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress will mean … probably squat. Since it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to accomplish anything, and since the GOP would fall short of that total if it won every single seat up for election this year, little will change.

If anything, the worst Congress ever may get even worse. There will be a new, equally obnoxious, Senate majority leader, and new committee heads, but Democrats won’t be any less obstructionist during the next two years than Republicans have been for the past six. Both parties will continue to promote war and ignore climate change. No immigration reform will occur, which will make Latinos even more likely to vote Democratic in four years. Republicans will continue to have meaningless show votes on the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to provide health care to increasing numbers of Americans.

I heard someone say last night that GOP control of the Senate means President Obama will be unable to get his nominations approved. Apparently that person hasn’t noticed the current state of the nominating process, where Republicans have left record numbers of judicial seats vacant and where, despite a supposed Ebola crisis, the GOP and its gun lobby puppeteers have kept the U.S. from having a surgeon general for the past year.

If GOP “control” of the Senate helps anyone, it likely will be the Democrats — who two years from now will be able to point out that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for two years without accomplishing anything. Obama can veto anything that Congress accidentally passes, of course, but with Senate Democrats manning the barricades in front of him, I doubt that the president will need to track down his veto pen.

Some interesting things will happen today, though, as usual, your vote won’t matter much in the Senate races. The GOP will expand its majority in the House, thanks to gerrymandering, though more Americans likely will once again vote for Democrats in the ill-named “people’s House.” Either party may gain a Governor’s seat. Most of the meaningful elections will occur at the state and local levels, and most Americans will neglect their own interests and ignore those elections.

Among other things, more people in Arkansas may get easier access to alcohol, and folks in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia may gain the right to legally smoke marijuana. They may need it, considering that campaigning for the 2016 election, which will be the new “most expensive election in history,” starts tomorrow.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 20 Comments »

Will Dems have the guts for budget reconciliation?

Posted by James McPherson on March 1, 2010

Though I’d be surprised by almost any evidence of a Democratic backbone, I do hope Congressional Democrats have the courage to go ahead and try to pass health care reform through reconciliation–a process that is far from “the nuclear option” that some Republicans and news commentators (and, naturally, Fox News in a “news” story) have wrongly called it.

In fact, the nuclear option is something that only Republicans have actually threatened to use, taking pride in the term a few years ago. Reconciliation is much closer to the “up-0r down vote” that Republicans also made popular at the same time they were threatening to nuke the filibuster process.

Ezra Klein offers a useful reconciliation primer, explaining what it is and how it has been used in the past (most often by Republicans, and often to make sweeping changes, including with health care, that would not have passed otherwise).

The Plum Line blog also offers a handy guide to Republicans who have voted for it in the past (including every Republican senator who attended last week’s health care summit). In the words of one Fox News writer, on this issue, “GOP objectors could not be more fundamentally hypocritical.”

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sexism & feminism make women winners & losers?

Posted by James McPherson on January 4, 2009

“When is it sexism?” asks a Daily Beast piece by Elizabeth Wurtzel, best known as the sometimes-controversial author of the books Prozac Nation (published when she was 26 and later turned into a straight-to-DVD Christina Ricci movie) and Bitch: In Defense of Difficult Women

Though the self-absorbed and one-time plagiarist Wurtzel apparently thinks she is a far more important cog in the overall scheme of feminism than she is, she does sometimes raise interesting questions about the nature of feminism–as with this piece, in which she determines that Sarah Palin’s “Wardrobegate” was “sorta” sexist, while questioning Caroline Bouvier Kennedy’s qualificatons is not (and yes, Wurtzel includes the middle name as a apparent “Hussein”-like punctuation of her central point).

Wurtzel writes that feminism is in “a fine mess,” thanks in part to prominent political women: “In 2000, New York elected Hillary Rodham Clinton to be its first female senator—and her primary qualification was her previous position as first lady. Now that she’s moving on, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy is likely to replace her—and her primary qualification is her previous position as first daughter.”

While I also don’t think Kennedy is the best choice to fill the vacant seat, I would point out that she has held several jobs. Like Wurtzel, she also attended law school (and apparently unlike Wurtzel, even passed her bar exam). Still, Wurtzel addresses an important overall theme when  it comes to working women:

The truth is, Kennedy long ago made choices that so many women make—she opted out of professional life, perhaps to be a mom and perhaps because she could—and now she’s hoping to reenter the commercial world at a level that far surpasses her exiting locale. All women who take time off to mother their children face similar sticker-shock when they decide to work again. Not only have they lost their qualifications by remaining dormant for a stretch, they also find that their earning power is much less than it was when they went into labor. In fact, studies show that there is salary penalty on motherhood: A woman with children will typically earn 10 percent less than any man doing the same job. In the meantime, a man with a stay-at-home wife gets a nice premium—he will usually earn 30 percent more than the husband of a working wife because he has “zero-drag” at home. Just the same, a woman who works a 40-hour week still spends about 86 percent as much time with her children as a nonworking mom—not much of a difference at all—and she is still the primary parent, delegating tasks to the father, who needs a list of instructions before he doles out child care.

Women should be hired and promoted based on their professional abilities, Wurtzel argues: “Women who want to succeed pretty much have to work as long and as hard as men typically do, and that’s that. What does Kennedy know of this hellishness? She hasn’t held a paid position since her children were born, nor did she have a proper job even before that.”

Still, aside from the question of what constitutes a “proper job,” I find it interesting that Wurtzel’s books seem to get more attention from reviewers than warranted by their insights–perhaps less because of her own hard work or academic qualifications than because of her own looks (which allowed her to pose provocatively for the cover photos of her books, apparently topless in at least three cases).

The fact that physical appearance matters is, of course, one of many complicating issues in regard to feminism. One of the respondents to the Daily Beast article applied some of the contradictions to Palin:

The problem with embracing Palin as a latter day sufferer of sexism is that ignores the object in favor of the symbol. Palin is one who used her sex whenever should get away with it to get ahead. Unlike so many women who have worked so hard to be appreciated for their skills and intelligence, Palin has often been content to get by with a wink and smile. Palin is a tough as nails politician and very ambitious, but beyond that it is hard to see what her skills are. Palin’s image is a throw back to the frontier woman who could both wield a weapon and satisfy her man -and cook moose stew, too! This image is what all these (mostly) old Republicans love. How this fits into idea of feminism that most of us grew up with is less clear. So, was Palin skewered in the press for her shopping spree because she was a woman or because she set herself up as a woman who was thrifty and had little use for East Coast types would call ‘fashionable’?

In truth, Palin would not have been chosen as John McCain’s running mate (nor would I have recommended that McCain choose her) if she were not a woman. I also happen to agree with Geraldine Ferraro that Barack Obama would not have been where he is if not for his race.

But so what? None of our previous presidents would have won the White House if they had not been white men. We likely would never have heard of John McCain after 1973, had he not been a former POW who left his wife to marry an heiress who could help fund his political ambitions. George W. Bush would be just another failed businessman if not for his father’s political clout–which came mostly because George H.W. Bush had been Ronald Reagan’s VP, not because of his own abilities.

Gender and race matter, in different ways at different times. But they are not the sole factors for anyone’s success or failure. Palin also would not have been tabbed by McCain if she hadn’t already been elected governor of Alaska, and Obama would not have just moved his family to Washington if he had not been a U.S. senator who ran a brilliant presidential campaign.

 Back to Wurtzel and feminism: Some critics have voiced similar criticism of another pretty face of “third-wave feminism,” former Al Gore advisor Naomi Wolf. But Wolf  is a former Rhodes scholar, a mother, and a lifelong explorer of ideas that range far beyond self-aggrandizement or even feminism to civil rights and citizenship.

To Wurtzel’s credit, at least she apparently recognizes the egocentricity of her own work, telling ABC: “I’m in on the joke. I know that it’s self-indulgent. I’m amazed that people don’t realize that I know what’s going on.”

So now that we all know she knows, I don’t suppose it’s sexist to start ignoring Wurtzel, as we look to the kind of women–including Wolf, Clinton, Kennedy, and Palin–more likely to make a meaningful difference for both women and men in America.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Hillary Clinton & John McCain joining ‘Obamanation’–of course

Posted by James McPherson on November 17, 2008

With the presidential election barely over and Barack Obama’s inauguration still a couple of months away, the president-elect and his vanquished rivals apparently are well on their way to patching up their differences. Many of those differences weren’t all that large to begin with, since both Obama and Hillary Clinton are more conservative than many think (and Obama will govern even more conservatively, I think and fear), and the pre-campaign McCain was a bit more liberal than the grumpy old conservative he became on the campaign trail.

Still, Obama and John McCain were never good friends in the Senate, and McCain and Clinton probably remains surprised by their losses. Nonetheless, this coming together to achieve a peaceful transition of power is one of the things about American politics that makes our system so strong. It’s also a political necessity, which is why we so often find ourselves puzzled when former enemies–even terrorist enemies–somehow become friends.

Of course, practical bipartisanship (largely absent during the past eight years, so we’ll see what happens from here) also is what most surprises some of those in other countries most unaccustomed to Democracy, and what makes even some rabid partisans in this country a bit crazy. But the middle has again shown that it matters most, so for now let’s hope that the far left and the far right stew in their juices. And let the racists hang themselves.

Despite the fact that Obama has yet to take office and the economy continues to crash (for which Rush Limbaugh has managed to blame Obama, while he and other nutjobs on the right try to capitalize on the historical ignorance of the populace and blame Obama or Bill Clinton for pretty much everything) you can tell many things are returning to normal.

After all, one of the two most popular stories for today’s Huffington Post is a meaningless piece from the New York Daily News (in the “gossip section,” as if the newspaper is ever much else) about Diane Sawyer (who also sang a duet with noted newsman Stephen Colbert on “Good Morning America”) landing an interview with Eliot Spitzer hooker Ashley Dupre.

Next day update: Despite the added “a bit crazy” link added above, more evidence of the forgiving nature of American national politics comes with today’s news that Joe Lieberman–thanks to the support of Obama–will keep his Senate leadership post.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Leaders & would-be leaders fail in bailout

Posted by James McPherson on September 29, 2008

George Bush, Barack Obama and John McCain all supported the bailout that failed today in the House of Representatives. Admittedly Obama and McCain are senators, but they clearly are not viewed as strong enough leaders to pursuade the House members of their own parties to vote convincingly for a bill that might have kept the economy from tanking.

And that whole reach-across-the-aisle thing? Ain’t happenin’. Some Republicans blamed a partison speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, though Barney Frank pointed out the self-centered goofiness of the claim: Because somebody hurt their feelings they decide to punish the country. … I mean, that’s hardly plausible … I’ll make an offer. Give me those 12 people’s names [12 more votes were needed to pass the bill] and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them.”

Considering the fall of the stock market, each of those 12 votes apparently was worth about 65 points on the Dow.

The situation is worse for Bush and McCain than for Obama, of course–at least the majority of Obama’s party voted for the bill. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about the bill, but as I’ve written before, Bush himself is to blame for the fact that people now know he can’t be trusted. When in doubt, people tend to favor doing nothing over potentially doing something wrong–especially if that wrong might enrich the same people who have been ripping us off for the past seven years.

As I’ve also pointed out, the news media also share the blame for the failing economy, and our pitiful understanding of it. On the other hand, if opponents of the “doomsday machine” are correct, we won’t have to worry about something as trivial as the world economy for long.

Assuming they’re wrong and the world doesn’t explode within the next few days, I’ll be back next week. I’m off tomorrow to a conference in Seattle, one of my favorite cities, and usually try to avoid blogging when I travel. We all need an occasional break, and I’m obsessive enough about it when I’m here–tomorrow will be only the fourth day this month that I didn’t post at least once, with more than one post on several days.

Same day update: The Dow closed lower today than when Bush took office. In short, if you invested money in the market when he was sworn in and haven’t touched it since then, you’ve actually managed to lose money in those seven years. Put another way, you would have done better by stuffing that same money in your mattress. Presidents usually get too much credit when the economy does well and too much blame when it does poorly, but in this case, thanks to the impact of Bush’s dishonesty, he deserves a bigger share than usual.

Same day update #2: The stock losses were estimated at $1.2 trillion, or $500 billion more than the bailout plan.

Have a great week, if you can. And if you’re interested in more while I’m gone, check out the links at right or some of my previous favorites below:

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

McCain’s ‘no-talk express’ going where unwanted to avoid rough road

In search of Sarah, and where Congress spends your money

Craig Ferguson: “If you don’t vote, you’re a moron”

GOP view of Palin: pit bull or pretty little lady?

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

McCain camp desperate, silly and sad

Posted by James McPherson on August 24, 2008

Affirming my observations of recent weeks that the John McCain campaign steadily becomes increasingly silly, increasingly desperate, and–despite recent polls–decreasingly likely to win the upcoming presidential election, the campaign is doing what it feels it must to have a prayer of victory.

Previously noted by many is how McCain now panders to the Religious Right figures whom he once termed “agents of intolerance.” At the same time that he engages in increasingly unchristian behavior, even to the point of adding to his own lies by refusing to criticize obvious lies from a man who has been one of McCain’s harshest critics. Nonetheless, his most recent ad must make “straight talk express” fans cringe when they hear the candidate intone, “I’m John McCain and I approved this message.”

This ad (the first clip below) asks why Hillary Clinton isn’t Barack Obama’s choice as running mate, and states that she was kept off the ticket “for telling the truth.” While that message might work with a few PUMAs, it seems likely that even many of them might be turned off by such blatantly pandering on the part of a man who consistently has done little on behalf of women–even if they believe that anyone in the McCain campaign knows the inner workings of their opponent’s operation.

McCain himself, it seems, once would have been embarrassed by such a commercial. Doesn’t he have some other means of attack other than to put his own face and voice in an ad that not only doesn’t say anything about himself or his candidacy but which actually promotes a losing candidate from the opposition party? Of course he obviously likes those folks, since he pals around with two-time loser Joe Lieberman. But isn’t McCain’s new language more befitting of Jon Stewart or bloggers than of a candidate for president? And does his new ad suggest that McCain like to replace sidekick Joe Lieberman with Clinton (a good idea if she’d go for it, but she’s far too smart for that).

One problem, I suppose, is that McCain has relatively few positive options because his own campaign message to voters might be boiled down to: “I was tortured before most of you were born (though if we do the same things now to scary Muslims I would no longer call it torture), I hate war but think we ought to engage in a lot more of it, I’m old, I’m cranky, and I disagree with almost everything else I said a year ago, back when I was still voting in the Senate–so elect me president before I die or before my rich wife leaves me for one of my lobbyist friends.”

Another somewhat silly McCain ad came out on the same day that Barack Obama announced what most followers had considered inevitable for days if not weeks, that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for vice president. That commercial (the second clip below) shows Biden criticizing Obama and complimenting McCain. The only problem with the ad is that it merely reflects the kind of rhetoric that happens in political races all the time–in fact, the third clip below is a version that might be used against McCain if he chooses Mitt Romney to be his running mate. Biden’s rhetoric also reflects the give-and-take nature of the Senate, reflecting why I was somewhat surprised when two Senators won their party’s nominations.

Obviously a current senator will become our next president, while another will go back to serving with Clinton in the Senate. Perhaps that’s why McCain is being so complimentary to her now–he figures she can remind him where things are in the Capitol once he gets back there. 

Posted in Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments »

“A dog’s life” or “Life’s a bitch”

Posted by James McPherson on June 17, 2008

CBS and other sources offer a headline stating, “Leona Helmsley’s Dog Loses $10 Million.” My first thought was to wonder if the dog (named “Trouble”) had a gambling problem. My second thought was, “This is more important than, oh, say, a thousand or so other stories?”

Yet I did read the story, finding that a judge had cut Trouble’s trust fund from $12 million to a mere $2 milion. The story also included an itemized list of the dog’s expenses, such as $60,000 a year for its guardian. That’s about $57,000 more than it would cost me to leave my dog at our regular kennel for a year. Trouble also “needs” $12,000 per month for food, a figure considerably above what is set by the U.S. Census as the poverty level for all of one person’s needs (food, shelter, etc.).

The pampered pooch’s guardian also listed $18,000 annually for medical care. At that rate, Trouble could get a total hip replacement–of both hips–twice a year and half several thousand dollars left over. Compare that to the average health plan for a family of four Americans, for which the employer contributes $12,100 and the employee chips in $3,300, for a total of $15,400–or $2,600 less than Trouble supposedly needs every year.

On the other hand, John McCain and the rest of the Senate have great health care plans. If you’re not a Congressman or a rich person’s dog, then whose fault is that?

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »