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…and if you happen to be Michael Fletcher, writing for the Washington Post, you can’t please anybody. Depending on who you’re reading, Fletcher’s recent post on the newfound GOP majority’s agenda in the North Carolina statehouse is either “shoddy journalism, as likely to obscure as to inform people about the true state of affairs in North Carolina, serving among other things to paper over the excesses of a broadly unpopular agenda,” or it “paint[s] North Carolina as politically extreme” and furthers “the narrative that the liberal media loved to further last year during campaign season to alarm Democratic voters and bash Republicans as racists.”

The first characterization of Fletcher’s post comes from Jonathan Weiler, writing for the Huffington Post, who argues – vehemently – that the post is a travesty that bolsters Republican positions without articulating their true consequences, and belittles Democratic concerns:

The Washington Post this weekend offered a particularly dismaying entry in this regard in an article on the extraordinary developments in North Carolina. The article does note that since Pat McCrory took over the governor’s mansion in January, the state GOP has pushed North Carolina “hard to the right.” The ongoing legislative session in Raleigh has been a master class in venality, spite and contempt, resulting in, among many other things, the rejection of Medicaid expansion — thus denying half a million North Carolinians health insurance; extreme attacks on voting rights; proposals that would result in an historic shift in the tax burden away from the wealthy and toward the middle class and the poor; massive cuts in education to the university system, K-12 education and pre-K; and efforts to gut environmental regulations.

Author Michael Fletcher noted some of these proposed cuts, but repeatedly gave Republicans a platform to justify their proposals, while providing none for their Democratic opponents in state government nor offering any independent scrutiny of their claims.

The latter characterization of Fletcher’s post comes from Jeffrey Meyer, writing for the conservative, media-criticizing site NewsBusters, who argues that the post is a liberal diatribe, skewing the facts in favor of furthering a national liberal agenda, and unfairly criticizing the North Carolina GOP:

The May 26 edition of The Washington Post chose not to describe this as local politics in the Tar Heel State catching up with its federal voting patterns but rather an example of a “hard turn to the right.”

In a 25-paragraph front page article, author Michael Fletcher lamented the state’s changing political dynamic, highlighting the “dozens of liberal demonstrators” who are “subjecting themselves to arrest each Monday at the state legislature” before going into details of how the North Carolina GOP capitalized on the state’s poor economy during Democratic stewardship to capture the legislature and governorship.

After devoting several paragraphs to the legislative ambitions of the newly-minted GOP legislature, Fletcher then returned to hyping opposition to GOP control, including quotes from the liberal group the Advancement Project, which objects to new laws requiring a photo ID to vote.

The Post’s decision to label North Carolina as shifting hard to the right is likely language that was not used to describe states like Maryland who have seen strong shifts to the Left in recent years. Instead, the Post has chosen to paint North Carolina as politically extreme, with liberal groups such as the NAACP using, “some of the tactics of the civil rights movement” to oppose GOP policies in the state.

The dynamic juxtaposition of these two perspectives criticizing the same post for furthering for two diametrically opposed viewpoints was too rhetorically stimulating to pass up. As Matt Alby said, ‘I think it takes a special kind of rhetorical talent to draw an admonition from both of those groups at the same time.” It’s also a pretty good example of the enigmatic media manipulation tactic known as “spin,” and one can’t help but view the takeaway lesson of this as being the cynical reality that content and substance are secondary to agenda, at least for these two institutions. That, and the fact that the political situation in North Carolina is scalding hot to touch on the national stage, with both sides ready to pounce. If Pat McCrory had made the statement ‘I don’t like waffles,’ there would have been accusations of political connotations to it. What is getting lost a little bit here is the increasingly dire situation here in North Carolina, particularly for the poor, the facts of which are not really being argued. The point, of course, has been missed by the national media organizations.

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“Scandal” seems to be the watchword of politics lately, and if you’re to believe the mainstream media it seems that the only things being done in Washington this week are either the discovery of new scandals, or the reactions to/investigations of already-discovered scandals. But despite what would appear to be a plethora of wrongdoing in our current government, the whole things is a farce, devoid of any substance. As Ezra Klein wrote for the Washington Post, “absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don’t seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don’t reach high enough.” Scandals require “the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions.” So far, the reality of each scandal does not suggest this is the case.

Benghazi is the biggest farce, as the scandal surrounding a truly tragic incident has devolved into being not actually about anything. No one is arguing anything important to the actual event, or even anything important to the administration’s reaction to the event. The worst thing Obama has stood accused of – and it’s worth noting that this is still in dispute, and in some places has disintegrated into an argument over semantics – is not calling the incident an act of “terror” soon enough. It has also come down to accusations that the administration may have “air-brushed” its talking points, and its accusers are grasping so hard and reaching so far as to call this a more significant event than Watergate, and saying Obama will eventually have to resign, which makes their argument even more preposterous. Klein writes:

We’re long past the point where it’s obvious what the Benghazi scandal is supposed to be about. The inquiry has moved on from the events in Benghazi proper, tragic as they were, to the talking points about the events in Benghazi. And the release Wednesday night of 100 pages of internal e-mails on those talking points seems to show what my colleague Glenn Kessler suspected: This was a bureaucratic knife fight between the State Department and the CIA.

As for the White House’s role, well, the e-mails suggest there wasn’t much of one. “The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago,” report The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung.

The AP phone records scandal, while not as preposterous, does not actually include any wrongdoing or law-breaking. While this is true – and, in fact, because its true – what is troubling in this case is that something like this could happen without a law being broken. As a Washington Post heading stated, “the real scandal is what’s legal.” It seems like something must have gone wrong here. But from a legal standpoint, using this as an attack on the Obama administration does not hold water. Again from Klein:

This is the weirdest of the three [scandals]. There’s no evidence that the DoJ did anything illegal. Most people, in fact, think it was well within its rights to seize the phone records of Associated Press reporters. And if the Obama administration has been overzealous in prosecuting leakers, well, the GOP has been arguing that the White House hasn’t taken national security leaks seriously enough. The AP/DoJ fight has caused that position to flip, and now members of Congress are concerned that the DoJ is going after leaks too aggressively. But it’s hard for a political party to prosecute wrongdoing when they disagree with the potential remedies.

Insofar as there’s a “scandal” here, it’s more about what is legal than what isn’t. The DoJ simply has extraordinary power, under existing law, to spy on ordinary citizens — members of the media included. The White House is trying to change existing law by encouraging Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce the Media Shield Act. The Post’s Rachel Weiner has a good rundown of what the bill would do. It’s likely that the measure’s national security exemption would make it relatively toothless in this particular case, but if Congress is worried, they always can — and probably should — take that language out. Still, that legislation has been killed by Republicans before, and it’s likely to be killed by them again.

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Ezra Klein – who is generally a little more leftwardly-extremist than I care for – has made an interesting point. From the Washington Post:

As I understand it, the GOP has five basic goals in the budget talks:

1) Cut the deficit.

2) Cut entitlement spending.

3) Protect defense spending, and possibly even increase it.

4) Simplify the tax code by cleaning out deductions and loopholes.

5) Lower tax rates.

The White House is willing to cut a deal with Republicans that will accomplish 1, 2, 3 and 4. But Republicans don’t want that deal. They’d prefer the sequester to that deal. That means they will get less on 1, basically nothing 2, 4, and 5, and they will actively hurt themselves on 3. So, rather than accomplishing four of their five goals, they’re accomplishing part of one. Some trade.

I’ve asked some Republicans sources to explain their thinking to me. But none of the answers quite seems to add up.

One answer is that they’re hoping the sequester gives them so much leverage that the Democrats fold and accept an equivalent or larger package of spending cuts that Republicans prefer. But I can’t find any Republicans who actually believe that will happen.

Another explanation is that Republicans don’t want to cut tax deductions now — which is the key to any deal with the Democrats — because they want to use those deductions to pay for rate-lowering tax reform. But if they’re not open to new revenues, they’re not getting rate-lowering tax reform while President Obama remains in office. And if they take power after Obama leaves office, they can just lower tax rates without paying for it, as they’ve done many times before.

A third answer is that the anti-tax pledge holds that cutting deductions to reduce the deficit is a tax increase, and Republicans won’t vote for a tax increase, even if it results in a policy outcome they vastly prefer. In other words, it’s ratio-myopia.

And perhaps that’s the real answer. But it’s a bit hard to believe. Perhaps I’m missing something?

As has been said before, this new Republican party never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Last night’s State of the Union was many things to many people – and seemed intended to be all things to all people, indeed there was a little something for everyone, whether you were looking to laugh, cry, or scream – and whatever may come of it in the future, for the time being all things seem to be in their place.

A selection of responses to the SOTU:

From Harry Cheadle, writing for Vice:

Last night, we got to witness one of the least entertaining traditions in American politics: the State of the Union address. This is a speech that the president is (sort of) required by the Constitution to give to Congress every year. Normally, he uses that opportunity to go through a bunch of policies he’d like to enact (lots of paragraphs on jobs, a few on climate change, nothing at all on prisons), and everyone in attendance applauds periodically. Nothing really happens as a result of this speech—it’s mainly just an opportunity for Barack Obama to explain what he would do if he was king and not just president and for the Republicans to issue a response, which in this case consisted of Marco Rubio saying “cut taxes” 1,300 times and amusing the internet by drinking water. (Rand Paul delivered a response on behalf of the Tea Party; if anyone delivered a left-wing rebuttal to Obama’s speech, nobody paid attention, which probably tells you something about America’s politics.)

From Howard Fineman, writing for The Huffington Post:

In an effort organized by five Democrats from New York and New England — the region of Newtown — more than 30 members brought to the Capitol families that had experienced gun-related tragedies. It was powerful theater, especially when Obama himself paid homage to the parents of a victim from Chicago.

Using the call-and-response cadence of a church service, the president demanded that the Congress allow up-or-down votes on several gun measures. The idea was to put Republicans and wavering Democrats from Red States on the spot.

And it felt in the House Chamber Tuesday night that he had done so.

From Charlie Pierce, writing for Esquire magazine:

Some day, when we can look at it from a proper distance, the Obama Presidency is going to strike us all as more than passing odd in what appears to be its reckless, cockeyed optimism. Last night, the president delivered a State Of The Union address that was so wonkishly progressive, and so policy-laden, that he sounded like LBJ under the influence of some truly fine exotic mushrooms. My favorite line came when he was looking at a chamber full of climate-change denialists and half-baked creationists, and he started telling them all about the wonders of science.

Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.

OK, so Mitt Romney got a better return on his genome just by being born, it was still a very compelling case for the economic benefits of science, with just a touch of Isaac Asimov to dazzle (or terrify) the rubes. And there was more. Universal pre-K! Rebuild all our crumbling bridges! Control our nation’s love of its shootin’arn’s! Confront climate change the way Joe Lieberman and John McCain once did! Vote on stuff! Be a Congress again!

And from Dana Milbank, writing for the Washington Post:

There is something entirely appropriate about holding the State of the Union address on the same day as Mardi Gras.

One is a display of wretched excess, when giddy and rowdy participants give in to reckless and irresponsible behavior.

The other is a street festival in New Orleans.

There is, thankfully, less nudity in the House chamber for the president’s annual address, and (slightly) less inebriation. But what occurs beneath the Capitol Dome is as debauched as anything on Bourbon Street.

The State of the Union ritual is by now familiar to most Americans. President Obama leads the Democratic side of the chamber to a series of standing ovations for proposals that everybody knows won’t become law. Republicans show their seriousness of purpose by smirking or making stony faces — and by inviting as guests to the speech people such as rocker Ted Nugent, who has called the president a “piece of [excrement]” who should “suck on my machine gun.”

But this spectacle, unlike the one in Louisiana, is not all harmless fun. Obama made clear that he is not entertaining serious spending cuts or major entitlement reforms. Republicans, in their responses, repeated that they are not budging on taxes. The hard choices will have to wait for another day.

More coming later.

An argument that I thought had been more or less settled years ago has raised its ugly and nonsensical head, most vocally by a man who in so doing has been dubbed the Craziest Man On Earth – and rightfully so.

Stephen Marche at The Culture Blog says:

Common sense says as much as any study, though. Widespread mass slaughter by guns is an American disease. Everywhere else in the world consumes American culture voraciously, and yet they don’t have murder as a public-health problem. Canadians and Koreans play more video games than Americans, but manage to rein in their shooting impulses. Ever seen Japanese slasher movies? Or Japanese pornography? It redefines exploitation and disgust. Japan has virtually no gun deaths. Why? One answer — I’m just saying — is that it has virtually no guns.

The study Marche refers to, reported by the Atlantic Wire, concordantly backs him up:

26ae3fa8e130bd1a591e5bad36638189_623x330A more detailed, thorough report by The Washington Post concordantly backs the Atlantic Wire up:

So, what have we learned? That video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence. That countries where video games are popular also tend to be some of the world’s safest (probably because these countries are stable and developed, not because they have video games). And we also have learned, once again, that America’s rate of firearm-related homicides is extremely high for the developed world.

So, case settled. Again.

A typically excellent post today on The Politics Blog with Charlie Pierce at Esquire.com, describing the current dissolutive state of the Republican (anti-)party, and why Speaker Boehner has been put in the impossible situation he is in (after last night’s spectacular failure, which was doomed from the start).

There is no possible definition by which the Republicans can be considered an actual political party any more. They can be defined as a loose universe of inchoate hatreds, or a sprawling confederation of collected resentments, or an unwieldy conglomeration of self-negating orthodoxies, or an atonal choir of rabid complaint, or a cargo cult of quasi-religious politics and quasi-political religion, or simply the deafening abandoned YAWP of our bitter national Id. But they are not a political party because they have  rendered themselves incapable of politics.

Need a minute? I do. Even if you don’t, can we just pause for a minute and bask in the warm, delicious glow of that most excellent and profound exercise of metaphor? As after eating a good steak, I am full, sated, and satisfied.

Last night, [Boehner] couldn’t get the votes to pass a truly horrid plutocrat’s wet dream. He couldn’t get the votes to gut Obamacare or Wall Street reform. He couldn’t get the votes to throw children off food stamps and he couldn’t get the votes to throw the elderly off meals-on-wheels. He couldn’t get the votes for a simple, vicious stunt.  He couldn’t  get the votes because he couldn’t budge enough Republicans to support a tax increase in the upper .01 percent of taxpayers. He couldn’t do it because he had nothing with which to threaten people who look on governing the country as though they are running an evening-drive talk-radio program in Bugtussle. He couldn’t do it because he is a Republican pretending to be a fanatic who went hat in hand to a bunch of fanatics pretending to be Republicans.

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It turns out Republicans are in a pretty bad way. Worse than I thought. How bad? Well there was a certain election recently that went sufficiently badly for them that a disturbingly large contingent seem to be stubbornly continuing to deny reality (I also can’t help but mention that “republicans deny reality” popped up as a frequently used search term on Google, before I could finish typing it). And it put a canned ham-like face on the problem, while bringing Rational People the most entertaining and psychically satisfying few moments of television we’re likely to witness in our lifetimes. But the disturbingly large contingent had been denying reality since well before the election.

But no, I’m referring to a new Pew Research Center poll – which actually allows us to answer the question of ‘how bad’ quantifiably – released today that describes an American public increasingly frustrated with how the GOP has been conducting itself. The high notes are that Obama’s job approval is at 55%, up from 44% in January, and the highest it’s been since May 2011 when he announced the death of Osama bin Laden; and only 32% say Republican leaders are making a serious effort to reach an agreement on the budget deficit, while 57% say they aren’t, and 11% don’t know. 55% say Obama is making a serious effort. Pew asked some interesting questions and got some interesting statistics, such as approval for raising income taxes on incomes over 250,000 in order to reduce the national debt and deficit – 69% approved. 77% disapproved of reducing funding for education, and 58% disapproved of reducing funding “to help lower-income Americans.” All good signs.

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post has drawn some even more interesting and infinitely more important conclusions from this poll, and the election, and the GOP’s rejection of reality, should he turn out to be right. And from what I’ve seen, he very well may be, which means the GOP is in a pretty bad way.

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