Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Don't Rile Up Taibbi

Matt Taibbi eviscerates Lara Logan of CBS after Logan blasts the RS article on McChrystal.
Lara Logan, come on down! You're the next guest on Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

I thought I'd seen everything when I read David Brooks saying out loud in a New York Times column that reporters should sit on damaging comments to save their sources from their own idiocy. But now we get CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan slamming our own Michael Hastings on CNN's "Reliable Sources" program, agreeing that the Rolling Stone reporter violated an "unspoken agreement" that journalists are not supposed to "embarrass [the troops] by reporting insults and banter."

Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn't mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here's CBS's chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that's killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag. And the part that really gets me is Logan bitching about how Hastings was dishonest to use human warmth and charm to build up enough of a rapport with his sources that they felt comfortable running their mouths off in front of him. According to Logan, that's sneaky — and journalists aren't supposed to be sneaky:

"What I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he's laid out there what his game is… That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do, who don't — I don't go around in my personal life pretending to be one thing and then being something else. I mean, I find it egregious that anyone would do that in their professional life."

When I first heard her say that, I thought to myself, "That has to be a joke. It's sarcasm, right?" But then I went back and replayed the clip – no sarcasm! She meant it! If I'm hearing Logan correctly, what Hastings is supposed to have done in that situation is interrupt these drunken assholes and say, "Excuse me, fellas, I know we're all having fun and all, but you're saying things that may not be in your best interest! As a reporter, it is my duty to inform you that you may end up looking like insubordinate douche bags in front of two million Rolling Stone readers if you don't shut your mouths this very instant!" I mean, where did Logan go to journalism school – the Burson-Marsteller agency?

But Logan goes even further that that. See, according to Logan, not only are reporters not supposed to disclose their agendas to sources at all times, but in the case of covering the military, one isn't even supposed to have an agenda that might upset the brass! Why? Because there is an "element of trust" that you're supposed to have when you hang around the likes of a McChrystal. You cover a war commander, he's got to be able to trust that you're not going to embarrass him. Otherwise, how can he possibly feel confident that the right message will get out?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Script is Confusing

Steve Benen zeroes in on the growing confusion on the right as to whether Obama is a bully or a wimp.
The tragically embarrassing Michael Barone has decided that President Obama has resorted to "thuggery" in dealing with BP and the oil spill disaster. That seems consistent with the broader far-right push against the president -- or at least half of it.

After all, what's the conservative message about Obama? He's not only a "thug," the president and his team are also "bullies." Obama isn't above a "Chicago-style political shakedown." Bachmann thinks he runs a "gangster government."

The president, we're told, is a hardball partisan operator, who doesn't believe in compromise. One can almost imagine Obama in the Oval Office, polishing his brass knuckles.

Except, as digby reminded us, conservatives are simultaneously arguing that the president has adopted the exact opposite persona: he's a professorial pushover. The conservative line includes phrases like "limp and weak" to describe the president. He's not tough enough. He bows too much. He doesn't instill enough fear.

Is it too much to ask that the right pick one? The president can be a vicious thug, intimidating his way into getting what he wants, or he can be a spineless weakling, intimidating to no one.

He can't, however, be both.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Your Liberal Press At Work

Eric Boehlert blames the press for enabling right-wing candidates to avoid serious interviews (h/t Steve Benen).
Why are they to blame for the two Republican candidates and their current refusal to talk openly to reporters who don't work for Fox News or some other RNC-friendly outlet? Journalists are to blame because Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky are simply following Sarah Palin's strategy of stiffing the press; an insulting approach that journalists themselves let happen and, in a collective act of cowardice, refused to protest.

I've been writing about Palin's press boycott for months now, simply because we've never seen anything like this. We've never seen a high-profile politician categorically refuse to engage with serious, independent journalists. And we've certainly never seen a politician stiff the press and then have the press lay down in response. We've never seen the press so willingly get steam-rolled before. But with Palin and her news media boycott, that's exactly what's happened: Palin refuses to acknowledge their existence (except to ridicule it) and in return they fawn over her. 

So why is anybody surprised that controversial senatorial candidates such as Angle and Paul, after having recently stepped in on the campaign trail, are now duplicating Palin's strategy and declining to  talk to legitimate, non-partisan reporters? That's right, we now have two major party candidates running for state-wide office who pretty much won't answer questions from reporters

This is beyond unprecedented. It's Bizarro World. 

But guess what? It's the press' fault. They opened this door when Palin told them to buzz off. And rather than fighting back, rather than calling Palin out for this timidity and her refusal to have an honest exchange via public dialogue, reporters reduced themselves to typing up her Facebook posts as news and launching a Twitter beg-a-thon. (Boy, that'll show her!) 
This election cycle it's Angle and Paul who have essentially opted out of the press pool. But next cycle we'll see more and more Republicans who decide they're also done talking to the press and will only sit down for Fox News and hold audience for the GOP Noise Machine. Obviously, the long-term implications for democracy here are alarming.

But again, this is all the press' fault. When confronted with Paliln's audacious blackout, journalists blinked.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Obama's Speech

Ezra on Obama's oil spill speech:
I'd go so far as to say that last night's speech got the worst reaction of any speech Obama has given since his address at the DNC convention in 2004. Ross Douthat rounds up some of the commentary, and to unexpected comic effect, here. But for all that, it wasn't that bad of a speech. It's more of a bad situation.
Start with the BP spill. I thought the president did all right in this section, but the reality is there's not a whole lot he can do. The oil gushing into the gulf is not going to be stopped by words, and it's not even clear that it'll be stopped by policies. If there were an obvious path forward, it would've been tried by now. Sarah Palin tried to claim otherwise, but even Bill O'Reilly wasn't credulous enough for that one. If they could stop this thing, they would.

Then there's a climate bill. There's no speech Obama could've given that would've gotten him to 60 votes, or anywhere near to it. Democrats pretty clearly believe that any tax or price on carbon is a loser for them, so any effort by the White House to set that out as a marker will just allow Republicans to beat them over the head with it. The end result is no carbon bill, and even less of a chance for one at some future date.

So operationally speaking, the gap between what people want to happen right now and what Barack Obama could do, or set in motion, with a speech was pretty large. But there was a hunger, I think, for Obama to convince us that he had some kind of plan. Particularly on a climate bill, very few got that sense. And that's where the frustration comes from.

As Brad Plumer writes, climate change is "arguably the biggest, most severe problem the world faces. And it's going to be incredibly tough to avert." The fact that there's not currently 60 votes for what we need to do doesn't change the fact that it needs to be done, and so it doesn't exempt us from figuring out a way to get from here to there. Like most everyone else, I don't know how to get from here to there. But then, I didn't run for president. And right now, I'm pretty glad of it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Approach to Taxes

Kevin Drum proposes a new twist on taxation as an intriguing sop to corporate interests
I figure Mark Halperin is useful for letting us know what the current DC conventional wisdom is, and today he says that the business community's love affair with Barack Obama is over. To be honest, I thought it was over sometime around January 21st of last year, but what do I know? In any case, Halperin writes that not only do the nation's CEOs hate the White House, but things are still going downhill:
The President's current priorities are all liable to make a now bad relationship that much worse. The financial regulation bill is viewed as a typically ignorant Washington overreach. The ongoing efforts to deal with the BP spill are seen as proof that Obama is an incompetent manager and serial scapegoater of large corporate interests. And the attempt to use the Gulf crisis to revive the stalled effort to get Congress to pass major energy legislation appears to many business types as a backdoor gambit to raise taxes on corporations, mom-and-pop enterprises and consumers.
Even by bizarro standards I don't get the "scapegoater of large corporate interests" thing at all. Is the business community upset that Obama is blaming BP for a blowout at BP's oil platform? Or what?
But forget that. The other two items suggest a way to take those business lemons and make lemonade out of them. Here's my idea: Obama should propose that the corporate income tax be abolished completely, to be replaced by a carbon tax and a financial services tax. And then sit back and see what happens.

Here's the pitch: corporate income taxes are a drag on businesses and are ultimately paid by consumers anyway. That's bad. Conversely, a tax on carbon would reduce our oil use and spur energy efficiency. That's good! Likewise, a tax on financial transactions would reduce speculative volatility and help stabilize the financial sector. Also good! So we'd trade one bad tax for two good Pigovian taxes.

What's more, although receipts from the corporate income tax are down right now thanks to the recession, within a couple of years they should be back up to around $400 billion a year. A financial services tax is probably worth around $100 billion a year, give or take, and that means we'd need a carbon tax of around $300 billion to keep everything revenue neutral. This is far higher than anything we could dream of without the grand corporate income tax bargain and holds out hope of being big enough to actually make a difference.

Am I serious about this? Why not? Everyone should love it. Taxing carbon and financial speculation is a lot more useful than taxing business activity, and I imagine the boffins on the appropriate committees could figure out ways to keep the distributional impacts fairly small. And getting rid of the corporate income tax would not only make business owners deliriously happy (or should, anyway), but it would remove forever Congress's ability to provide quiet subsidies and corporate welfare handouts for their buddies. Conventional wisdom says that the corporate tax code needs to be seriously overhauled every few decades, but why bother? Why not get rid of it altogether instead?