The downfall of a blogger

Don Surber’s firing (or forced resignation, or whatever it was) is a shame. Not that it wasn’t deserved. The Daily Mail was doing the right thing by distancing itself from Surber’s caustic commentary that culminated in him referring to Michael Brown as an “animal” who “deserved to be put down” on his personal blog.

I say it’s a shame because Surber used to be a decent human being. I knew him years ago when I worked for The Charleston Gazette. We were competing editorial writers, and I rarely agreed with what he wrote, but he had a sense of humor and we got along pretty well, in a distant sort of way.

Then he started blogging. It pretty much went downhill from there. He earned the attention of some popular national right-wing bloggers, and, I think, began writing more for them than for his West Virginia audience. His point of view became more and more radical, and he was rewarded with the currency of the blogging realm: hits and visitors. I commented occasionally on his blog, at least until he banned me.

At some point, The Daily Mail shut down his official blog. The line he gave was that he was too busy for it. But I noticed that he had time to put as many items up on Facebook as he had been on the blog. I wondered (and still do) if his editors had become wary of his radicalization. The Daily Mail was always a conservative counterweight to the Gazette’s liberal editorial page, but it was far more moderate than Surber had become.

I hope this is a wake-up call for Surber. I don’t know if he actually believed half the crap he wrote on his blog, at least in the beginning, but I know he used to be a better person. Maybe losing his job will make realize he had already lost his journalistic soul.

USA Today runs a stunningly dishonest commentary

A recent commentary in USA Today is one of the most stunningly dishonest opinion pieces I’ve seen in a long time.

Ilya Somin, a law professor at Koch-funded George Mason University, wrote about several recent unanimous Supreme Court decisions that she claims served as a check against overreach by President Obama:

When a president pursues policies that require such expansive federal power that he can’t get a single justice to agree, something is probably amiss.

The problem? Every single case she mentioned, while decided by the Supreme Court in the last couple of years, actually originated during previous administrations. The facts in Horne v. Department of Agriculture date back to the Clinton Administration. Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency and Arkansas Game & Fish Administration v. United States both date back to the Bush administration. A unanimous decision regarding religious employees also dates back to the Bush Administration, as did United States v. Jones, dealing with whether a search warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car.

Every single example, in other words, dealt with a position originally taken by a previous administration then subsequently defended by the Justice Department as the case wound through the court system. Not one of these represented a policy pursued by Obama.

I presume that Somin knew this. If not, she should not be teaching law. If so, she should not be publishing commentaries in national newspapers. The editors at USA Today owe the readers they have allowed to be misinformed an apology. They should have fact-checked this piece before running it. The only ethical recourse left to them now is to retract it. Otherwise, readers will be left to wonder if they can trust the facts in any commentary that appears in the newspaper.

Cutting the cable

“Rescue Me” is what planted the seed for me. I’d never watched the engaging drama when if first aired, but a few months back I started watching it on Netflix Instant Watch through my AppleTV. It was an intriguing show, and it got me thinking about how much good TV I’ve never seen that’s now available at the touch of a button. I remember thinking that the Screenwriters Guild is in trouble. A writers’ strike will never have the same impact. There’s enough good television already available through Netflix and Hulu Plus to last a lifetime.

It was a short leap from there to wondering why we kept paying for cable TV. My family doesn’t watch much regular TV. My wife and I mostly watch movies and the Daily Show. My son watches cartoons on Netflix. I’m a Walking Dead fan and have been watching Season 2 of Game of Thrones on DVD. None of us are into televised sports, except maybe the Super Bowl, which I watch mostly for the commercials. Most of my television viewing lately has been catching up on series that I didn’t watch when they originally aired: Rescue Me, Breaking Bad, Mad Men.

I called up the cable company and asked how much it would chop off our monthly bill to shut down the TV and just keep Internet service. I was shocked when the operator told me it would save us about $100 a month. That’s with no premium channels. A subscription to Hulu Plus will cost about $8 a month and give us access to The Daily Show and a bunch of other television shows. We’re already paying for Netflix. The Walking Dead just wrapped up its season. When it starts up again, I’ll be able to get a season pass from iTunes for less than $50 — about half a month’s worth of cable for a season’s worth of episodes.

So we cut the cable. So far, the main impact is we no longer have a clock in the living room.

Though I will admit that last night, after a long day of work and driving and a long weekend working on the basement, I was tired and brain dead. When I sat down to veg in front of the TV, I didn’t really want to scroll through all the choices on Netflix or Hulu to find something to watch. What I really wanted was to channel surf. See if some movie I’ve seen a hundred times before (Roadhouse, Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard) was on. Something I could watch without thinking about it. Sure, I could have streamed any of those movies from my home computer, but that required more deliberation than I felt like exerting.

Yeah, there’s tons of great TV on Netflix, but I wasn’t in the mood for great TV. I was in the mood for mindless surfing. I settled on watching an episode of the old Mission Impossible television series.

I can’t say that I won’t miss cable at all. I’m sure, though, that I’ll figure out an alternative to mindless channel surfing.

A few days after I took the cable boxes back to Cox, I got a text from a friend of mine. He’d just started working for Cox, and one of his first jobs was switching off my television. “Small world,” he said. My thought was that he was probably going to have plenty of work to keep him busy.

At least for awhile.

The cable television industry — like the music industry, like the publishing industry, like the newspaper industry — has failed to adapt, to give customers what they want, how they want it, at a reasonable price. Lots of people are figuring out there’s an alternative.

Now if only there was more competition for high-speed Internet service.

Oh, that ‘liberal’ media

The Associated Press ran a bizarre “Fact Check” of the President Clinton’s brilliant convention speech.

First, it attacks Clinton’s completely on-target assertion that President Obama had repeatedly tried to cooperate with Republicans in Congress only to be shot down. I was struck by the “evidence” presented by the AP that Clinton had “cherry-picked facts or mischaracterized the opposition” in some of his examples. The article stated:

One of the more high-profile examples of a deal that fell apart was the outline of a proposed “grand bargain” budget agreement between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner in 2011.

The deal would have required compromise from both sides. It slashed domestic spending more than most Democrats wanted and would have raised some taxes, which most Republicans oppose.

Boehner couldn’t sell the plan to tea party factions in the House or to other conservative activists. And Obama found himself accused of going too far by some Democratic leaders. The deal died before it ever even came up for a vote.

In other words, Boehner couldn’t get his intransigent caucus to go along with the deal because it wasn’t conservative enough. Democratic leaders feared Obama had given up too much. Sounds to me like Obama was trying hard to find a workable compromise, and the House slapped him down for it. How does that in any way counter what Clinton said? But the AP wasn’t done:

In another instance, Obama appointed a bipartisan group, known as the Simpsons-Bowles Commission, to recommend ways to fix major fiscal problems like Social Security and Medicare. The commission issued its recommendations but fell three votes short of formally endorsing them. And Obama mostly walked away from the report. He later incorporated some of the less contentious proposals from the report into legislation he supported.

But that ensured the tough compromises would not get made.

Oddly, the AP didn’t mention which commission members didn’t vote for the plan, ensuring it would fall short of the super-majority required to pass a formal endorsement: House Republicans, led by no other than Rep. Paul Ryan, now the vice presidential nominee for the Republicans. So, House Republicans refuse to endorse a bipartisan agreement. Obama later incorporated some of the proposals of that report into legislation he supported and that ensured the tough compromises would not get made? Give me a break.

But the AP saves the most bizarre “fact check” for the very end:

CLINTON: “Their campaign pollster said, ‘We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.’ Now that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself — I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad.”

THE FACTS: Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were “legally accurate” but also allowed that he “misled people, including even my wife.”

I’m sorry. What?! Seriously? Dragging up Lewinsky in a fact check item that has nothing to do with the scandal that got Clinton impeached by House Republicans (but not convicted by the Senate)? What Clinton said about the Romney campaign was completely accurate. His tear-down of the welfare lie that has continued to dominate the Romney campaign was complete. This incredible non sequitur, especially when combined with the other flaws in the rest of the article completely invalidates this as an independent examination of Clinton’s speech. It could have come directly from the Romney campaign.

Women can’t be well-off without a man ‘in possession of a good fortune’?

James Taranto, the right-wing newspaper columnist and author of the daily “Best of the Web,” always struck me as a bit sexist, what with his constant references (borrowed from Limbaugh) to, for instance, a “blogress” when discussing a female blogger or “reporter-ette”. But the last item in today’s Best of the Web takes the cake. Discussing research that found an inverse correlation between obesity rates and the value of one’s home among women, but not men, Taranto concludes that researchers missed the obvious: Rich men apparently like hot (presumably thin) wives.

For each $238,000 drop in property value, the report found, obesity rates went up 80 percent among women. Taranto quotes various theories about why the effect would be more pronounced among women: Women are more influenced by the home environment; higher-priced homes tend to be in more walkable neighborhoods or closer to grocery stores; obesity in women is more related to financial insecurity.

All that overlooks what to Taranto seems obvious:

No one seems to have thought of the most obvious explanation. As Jane Austenobserved: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Imagine a man in possession of a good enough fortune to buy a snazzy house in Seattle. Now think about what his wife would look like.

I guess in Taranto’s world, the only women who live in nice houses are those married to men who were already “in possession of a good fortune.” Perhaps Taranto has already forgotten Cindy McCain who certainly did not need John McCain to afford too many snazzy houses to count. I guess the thought of a woman earning her own good fortune is just beyond Taranto’s ken.

PolitiFact’s ‘Lie of the Year’ is actually true

Here’s a head-slapper: PolitiFact, the ordinarily respected and Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking organization, picked a true statement as its “Lie of the Year.”

The PolitiFact “honor” went to the Democratic argument that Republicans voted to “end Medicare” when they voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan that would, yep, end Medicare.

Oh, sure, there would still be a program called Medicare. It just would bear no resemblance to the program that’s been providing health care coverage for seniors for nearly 50 years.

Today, we have a single-payer program that covers most health care costs. The Ryan plan would end that program and replace it with a voucher system that, by design, will eventually cover only about a third of senior’s health care costs.

Here is PolitiFact’s justification:

• They ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not affect people currently in Medicare — or even the people 55 to 65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.

• They used harsh terms such as “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.

• They used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan. The DCCC video that aired four days after the vote featured an elderly man who had to take a job as a stripper to pay his medical bills.

So, the fact that Democrats didn’t focus on the fact that Ryan would leave the current system in place for today’s seniors makes the claim that would end Medicare a lie? The use of “harsh” terms that  accurately portray the effect of ending a single-payer plan and replacing it with a private, voucher system that would intentionally leave tomorrow’s seniors without adequate coverage is damning why? Perhaps if they had time-stamped the images of elderly people hurt by the plan to make it clear they were talking about the future impact, it would be ok?

This is a charade. As Paul Krugman suggested, this is probably a lame attempt at “balance”:

[T]he people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear “balanced” — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.

Sadly, PolitiFact isn’t alone. FactCheck included the same truth in its “Whoppers of the Year” report. I don’t quite see the difference between the Democratic statement – Republicans voted to end Medicare – and what FactCheck describes as the “truth”: “The budget plan that Republicans pushed through the House in 2011 would have radically changed Medicare in the future — for workers now under age 55.” That radical change would end the current Medicare system and replace it with something completely different, and completely inadequate to cover senior’s health care costs. The fact that current seniors are, ahem, grandfathered in, doesn’t change the essential truth of the Democratic line of attack.

This is one of the incredible frustrations with the so-called “liberal media.” In its attempts at balance, it too often ends up obscuring the truth.

Taranto falls flat

I used to really enjoy James Taranto’s The Best of the Web. He’s a witty writer capable of wonderful snark, which I always appreciate even if it comes from the other side of the ideological divide. He does have a few irritating quirks, such as adopting Rush Limbaugh’s loathsome habit of using diminutive titles to refer to females – blogress instead of blogger, for instance. But I put up with that because, again, he was an entertaining writer and his analysis was interesting and enlightening.

Since Obama took office, though, Taranto has gone downhill. His attacks have become more partisan and talking-point oriented and less dependent on logic and reasoning – though he does a facile job of hiding that deficiency. Take for instance, his assessment of President Obama’s Monday speech on the debt ceiling crisis. Taranto said this:

A couple of other points on the Obama speech: The president said he rejected Boehner’s plan that “would temporarily extend the debt ceiling” because it “would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now.” Today the White House issued a written veto threat. Yet last night he praised Congress for raising the debt ceiling 18 times during Ronald Reagan’s presidency–once every 5.3 months on average.

In demanding an extension that would carry him through next year’s election, Obama is departing from the precedent he cites in support of his position. His anxiousness at the prospect of another such confrontation reflects his political weakness in this one.

Let me see now. What has happened between the time when debt ceiling increases were routine business and now? Oh, yes. One of the two major parties in this nation went insane and decided to use the debt ceiling increase to hold the nation hostage unless it gets its way. Taranto doesn’t address the fact that the Republican Party he almost always sides with created the current crisis by insisting that any debt-ceiling increase be accompanied by a deficit-reduction package consisting solely of spending reductions. This spectacle has already shaken faith in the security of Treasuries – up until now the most rock-solid investment across the globe. That could lead to higher interest rates – which will increase the deficit, by the way – and possibly even a downgrade of our sterling credit rating.

And Taranto really can’t understand why the current crisis might make Obama less than eager to face another debt ceiling increase during an election year, when Republicans will be even more stubborn – if that’s even possible.

Obama is not “departing from the precedent he cites in support of his position.” Republicans departed from the precedent he cites. That is why a temporary debt-increase plan is unacceptable. It is not what should be a routine increase in the debt ceiling that “would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now,” but the extreme likelihood that Republicans would once again use the debt ceiling increase to hold the nation hostage.

Taranto used to be worth reading. Sloppy, partisan analysis like this, though, makes him worthless to anyone but the Tea Party radicals he has apparently thrown in with whole-heartedly.



At Gannett, owners get the mine, workers get the shaft

From Jim Hightower, here’s a story that says much about the state of today’s media – and of the economy in general: For the past several years, Gannett has been laying off workers by the thousands, piling more and more duties on fewer and fewer people. In addition, those remaining workers have had a salary freeze in effect – in addition to up to four weeks of unpaid furlough per year – a month’s salary down the drain.

This year turned out to be no different. More furloughs; no raises. Gannett will save $17 million this year keeping these two punitive measures in place.

$17 million. Keep that figure in mind when you read the next paragraph from Hightower:

Only two months later, bonuses totaling $3 million were quietly bestowed on the top two. To add a cherry to this sweet delight, the duo also were awarded stock options and deferred pay totaling as much as $17 million.

$17 million in lost pay for 32,000 workers. Bonuses as high as $17 million for two top executives.

I would never advocate violence, but people lost their heads in the French Revolution over a hell of a lot less.

No one is worth $8.5 million a year, no matter what they may tell themselves – especially no one who is currently presiding over the decline of the once-great institution of the American press.

This ought to be a crime, and anyone working at Gannett ought to be looking for a new job, or a different line of work.

What happened to the liberal media?

For all the complaints about liberal bias in the media, the tilt on Sunday morning’s news shows – the week after the Obama administration found and killed Osama bin Laden – was definitely to the right, as Rachel Maddow pointed out yesterday (h/t Steve Benen):

Here it is: Republican Senator Dick Lugar; Republican former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani; Republican former Congressman Tom Davis; the Bush administration’s CIA director, General Michael Hayden; the Bush administration’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; the Bush administration’s homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff; the Bush administration’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld; the Bush administration’s vice president, Dick Cheney; the Bush administration’s vice president’s daughter, Liz Cheney — the week the Obama administration announces it has killed Osama bin Laden, that’s the guest list on the Sunday morning political talk shows to talk about it.

What is up with that? This is in no way unusual. The Sunday news shows feature way more Republicans and independent voices than Democrats, but on the heals of the most significant national security accomplishment since 9/11, why on Earth would the shows’ bookers only look in the GOP section of their Rolodex’s?

The liberal media is falling down on the job, badly.

When to yell, “Stop the presses!”

If you are The New York Times and you find out that Osama bin Laden has been found and killed, that might be a good time to tell the presses to stop running:

It fell to David Geary, the late editor on the news desk, to call the press guys — Robert Barnes, in charge of the National Edition network of 26 print sites, and Scott Morrison, assistant plant manager at the print facility in College Point, Queens — telling each of them: “Osama Bin Laden is dead. We need to stop the presses.”

Oh, and to post something to the Web:

Ms. Cooper then composed a two-paragraph news story saying Bin Laden had been “apprehended,” but she didn’t hit the send button. She thought of someone else who might confirm the report, called him at 10:34 and said, “I hear they caught Bin Laden.”

“Killed,” he responded. “Not caught.”

She changed “apprehended” to “killed” and sent the story to the desk, writing in the subject line, “URGENT POST ASAP.”

Times have changed, but when people want to know what’s happened, they still go to The New York Times – in enough numbers to make even its servers “gasp for air.”

I like that.