Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part VII

Dateline: Atlanta, Ga.

At a family gathering yesterday, I actually found an undecided voter.

A little background, from the perspective of my cousins, who live here and are ardent Kerry supporters:

-- The local newspaper, the Journal-Constitution, has a conservative slant. From the stories I've read since Friday, I can't confirm this. President Bush gets a lot of respect, but Sen. Kerry wasn't mistreated -- and to boot, there was a feature on David Brock's Media Matters website.

-- Air America will not be found on your local radio dial. I did find, however, three radio channels airing conservative talk radio, and three others with a Christian bent (which, when they talk politics, no doubt side with the conservatives). The closest I found to "liberal" radio was a host who played 'hardball" with a conservative guest discussing election advertising. But then the host let the conservative talk unchecked, which defeats the purpose of a hard-hitting interview.

-- Among the sites we saw was a house which in the front lawn had a handful of trees positioned to form a half moon. The trees were each decorated with American flags. In the center of the display was a Bush-Cheney '04 sign, with footlights to illuminate it at night.

So this is not a home for many liberals. As my cousins said, you'll find Democrats in Atlanta proper, and not much of anywhere else. Bush is expected to win the state by more than 20 percentage points. Retiring Democratic Senator Zell Miller -- who after 9/11 went from conservative Democrat to "coward conservative," not so much supporting Bush as he was trashing the party he left -- is likely to be replaced by a Republican after the November election.

***

At the family gathering -- my cousin is getting married in October, and the bridal shower for his wife-to-be was held at my aunt and uncle's house -- I met an undecided voter. Such people are hard to find, and my experience with undecideds has been limited to the New York metropolitan area. In right-charging Georgia, I would imagine such folks are rare.

Anyway, this guy will likely vote for Kerry. His wife is a Democrat, and his kids are, too. But he's a businessman, and he has purposely not paid attention to the back-and-forth, deciding instead to watch the debates before deciding.

We had a 10-minute conversation, in which I basically asked what was left to decide. His take: the economy is improving, getting rid of Saddam was a good thing, although the war is far from done, and Kerry hasn't made a great impression on him. While he generally agrees with many policies advocated by the Democratic party -- and I took it he voted for Gore in 2000 and Clinton before that -- Kerry hasn't "closed the sale," as the pundits put it.

I didn't want to push him, because he clearly didn't want to get into a lengthy talk about politics, but I did offer that the tax cuts overwhelmingly benefited the rich. He agreed, but said that he thought they were helping the economy, albeit at a slower pace than expected. I retorted that a recent nonpartisan report suggested that each tax dollar cut had created about 64 cents of economic stimulus, but if Bush had funded state programs -- as promised -- that would have created nearly double the stimulus. "Well, that's not right," he said.

While we were eating, I made one other point. There was tuna among the items being served, and I asked where it came from. I was told Bumble Bee. "But where is the tuna caught?" I asked. Apparently, it's caught in Alaska. When asked why it matters -- I don't eat tuna -- I mentioned something Robert Kennedy Jr. told Sean Hannity recently about the high levels of mercury in Connecticut and Long Island, and how that had come about because of the removal of Clean Water Act provisions put into place under Clinton.

Those within earshot, including my undecided voter, were unaware of the problem, and weren't happy with the news.

Moral of the story -- if you are well-armed with facts, you can argue effectively on nearly any point, from Iraq to the economy to the environment to "liberal bias" in the media.

I just wonder what would happen here in Georgia (or fill in your favorite red state) if people were exposed to such facts on a regular basis, rather than getting more than their share of "news" from conservative and/or Christian talk radio.

David

Friday, August 27, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part VI

With our stay in Orlando coming to an end, a few highlights from the last 48 hours in the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

-- A family from Cleveland videotaped me, with the father providing commentary on how my shirt's script "got it." (The shirt read, "Clean air? Clean water? Clean Bush out of the White House.") He predicted that Ohio would vote for Kerry because of all the jobs lost in the Buckeye State under Bush's helm.

-- A woman from Colorado, with kids in tow, stopped me to read yesterday's shirt ("If GOP Spin was Money, Bush Could Balance the Budget.") She told me that she was offended that Bush, in Colorado, said the W stood for Women. When I said that Colorado was going to be an important state this November, she agreed, predicting a close race there.

Afterward, I said to Heather that I thought the race would be nip and tuck because of the heated Senate race between Democrat Ken Salazar and Republican Pete Coors. My take: Salazar will win in a close race, and his popularity will bring additional voters to Kerry. Will it be enough? I don't know. But I bet the presidential race is decided by just 1 or 2 points.

-- A Disney employee, from Pennsylvania but now living in Florida, plans to vote for Kerry. He said this will be the first election in which he's eligible to vote. He liked the GOP spin shirt.

-- Another Disney employee, also from Pennsylvania and also now living in Florida, gave me a big smile when he read the Clean air shirt. He said he was worried about the touch-screen voting machines to be used in November in Florida. I told him that the guy who runs the company that makes the machines is Bush's Ohio campaign chair. He said he couldn't talk politics -- a company rule that several Disney employees broke -- but then repeated what I said to another person in our line.

My non-scientific "shirt poll" suggests that among those who made their views known, a slight majority favored the shirts' messages. Among Disney employees -- and overwhelmingly, these people were under the age of say, 25 -- the reactions were positive at about a 3-1 ratio.

On to Georgia to visit family, and then the shirts will be on display when we hit Tennessee on Monday.

David

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part V

Dateline: Epcot and Disney/MGM Studios, Orlando, Fla.

Today's shirts:

David: "We need democracy, not an aristocracy."
Heather: "Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me ... you can't get fooled again. -- George W. Bush"
Alexander: "Even I know it's wrong to lie."

Maybe the crowds at these two Disney parks more closely follow politics. Maybe our shirts -- mine in particular -- were easier to read. I don't know. But collectively, the Marks got a much greater response today.

A family from Massachusetts actually applauded us as we walked by. A man from Wisconsin thanked us for our efforts. A woman (state unidentified) read our shirts and grinned.

Surprisingly, we got less enthusiastic reactions from a couple of Disney employees. One, a girl from Louisiana, asked to read the shirts, said she was disappointed that Heather's script wasn't a positive statement of personal relevance, and then said she couldn't discuss politics. Another employee, from Florida, sarcastically remarked, "Oh, it's the positive message group."

However, a third employee (state unidentified) quietly said to Heather, "I like the shirts," before quickly returning to his task of lining people up to take photos with Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

Overall, if I had to provide a scorecard thus far, I'd say it's a toss-up between those who I saw visibly approving of the shirts, and those that appeared angered by them. Nothing scientific, of course.

More results as they become available ...

David




Monday, August 23, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part IV

Dateline: Disney World, Orlando, Fla.

I wore my strongest anti-Bush/pro-Kerry shirt today: "Bush and Cheney: The half-truth, the whole half-truth, and nothing but the half-truth."

I didn't know what to expect. Would anyone notice? Would anyone say anything? I ran a half-dozen conversations through my head, prepared for any criticism or angry remark.

Heather and little Alexander wore shirts, too, but the messages weren't as directly anti-Bush. Still, the three of us walking about in similar shirts did draw some eye contact. A few negative glances, too. Heather said one man muttered something under his breath, not quite loud enough for her to hear, but clearly directed our way.

As we ate dinner, the hostess came over and said, "Let me read your shirt." I leaned back, and she read the script aloud. "Ah-hah," she said, then walked away. Heather and I weren't sure if she agreed with what she saw or was offended.

At the "Emporium," a gift shop along Main Street USA, a couple in their mid-20s stopped me at the cash register: "I just have to tell you," the guy said, "we've seen you three times today and we just wanted to know we love your shirt." Then his female companion added, "Where did you buy it?"

I said the shirt was home-made, and the woman replied, "Well, that's just great," then smacked the guy on the shoulder, as if to say that they should do the same.

I was happy as a clam as we headed out. As I told Heather as we walked to the monorail, "If five people read our shirts and think about it, that'll make me happy."

David

Sunday, August 22, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part III

Dateline: St. Simons Island, Ga.

This is my first visit here -- a grand place that was once frequented by J.P. Morgan and others of his standing. I'd been to Savannah a couple of times, but was turned onto this neck of the woods after watching news reports earlier this year covering the G-8 Summit.

I had envisioned resort-style hotels well outside our budget. Instead, I booked us at the local Hampton Inn, and here we are.

The media reports suggested that those protesting the G-8 Summit were kept on the other side of the bridge separating the islands from the rest of civilization.

But I got a different reaction after speaking to our hotel manager. After I told her my G-8 story, I asked a question I hadn't seen answered by the media: "What happened if someone from St. Simons Island wanted to protest? There must be what, four locals who wanted to protest?"

She laughed, and I wasn't sure whether that meant that St. Simons Island had a protest movement or not. "Most of the lcoals left," the hotel manager said, apparently because they didn't want to deal with the road blocks, armed police, car trunk searches and military planes overhead.

With the locals gone, and the protesters kept outside of town, business sunk. "You could get a parking space anywhere," she said -- a unique experience.

I wonder if the various officials attending the conference noticed.

David



Saturday, August 21, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part II

Dateline: Wilmington, N.C.

The Marks are wearing our home-made Kerry-Edwards shirts. We've made four for each of us, or 12 overall. Today, I'm wearing "We need democracy, not an aristocracy," Heather is donning one that has the Bill Clinton quote, "Strength and Wisdom are Not Opposing Values," and Alexander's says, "It's Time for a Real New England Patriot."

I'm not sure whether to be nervous or not, but this is Edwards country, after all. And I figure people have worn worse things at the North Carolina Aquarium.

***

We’re on NC 132 in Wilmington when we spot local firefighters at a traffic light, raising money for a local children's cause.

I roll down the window and hand over $2. “You have to promise that you'll all vote for Kerry," I plead, "because Bush isn’t supporting the police and firefighters.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” the firefighter says. “I’m a registered Republican, but I’m voting for Kerry. A bunch of us are. We know what Bush has done.”

We drive away, and Heather and I celebrate the moment.

David

Friday, August 20, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Part I

My family -- myself, my wife, Heather, and three-year-old son, Alexander -- are on a family vacation. From our home in New Jersey, we will spend the next two weeks primarily in "red states" -- Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. The purpose of these posts is not to denigrate the locals, for in fact I have family scattered about the South, and three of my favorite cities are New Orleans, Charleston and Memphis. Instead, what follows over the next few days are observations along the way. My regular fodder -- attacking examples of GOP spin and the conservative stranglehold on our media -- will continue upon our return to New Jersey Sept. 3rd.

Dateline: Southern Virginia

The Marks have stopped at a rest stop along Interstate 95, past Richmond, Va., but not quite at the North Carolina border. My three-year-old son, Alexander, needs to use the restroom, and he's asked for help from my wife, Heather.

I figured I'd fiddle with the AM dial and see if I could catch up with some news.

Easier said than done.

My choices were:

-- Two stations featuring Rush Limbaugh's mid-afternoon spew.

-- A local Rush wannabe, demanding that a caller trust the Swift Boat vets over those who served with John Kerry. The wannabe's reasoning? Two hundred fifty people have signed up with the Swift Boat vets. Kerry only had nine people backing him. "Who do you trust?" The guy says several times. I'm thinking that the caller agrees with me -- that it makes sense to trust Kerry, and not the guys backed by a Bush buddy -- and that must have irritated the heck out of the host.

-- Someone discussing The Gospels.

-- Two Spanish stations.

-- A local sports talk station, discussing football. I didn't stick around long enough to determine which team.

Now, sure, people have televisions and newspapers in these parts. But a lot of people -- truckers, salesmen, shopkeepers, cooks, bus drivers, etc. -- have the radio on all day. And while folks in Blue States like New York and New Jersey have a wide variety of choices falling under the heading of "news and information," in this stretch of Red State America, a listener would have little chance of hearing objective news, let alone news with a "liberal bias."

No wonder so many people in these parts support Bush-Cheney '04.

David

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Radio Clown Mark Levin Supports Violence

The "Mark Levin Comedy Hour" was offering full-throttle stupidity this evening.

It amazes me that people actually enjoy listening to this moron with a microphone. Levin is a classic "coward conservative," unwilling or incapable of defending the conservative values he claims to value.

On tonight's show, a 52-year-old caller, who said he serves in the armed forces from 1978 to 1982, took issue with remarks made by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), in which Harkin called Vice President Cheney a "coward" -- given that Cheney used five deferments to get out of Vietnam, but is part of an administration that has no problem calling up 68-year-old Alabama doctors to serve in Iraq.

The caller said that Harkin was a coward, and referencing what people in his unit did to settle disputes -- boxing -- suggested that he would gladly take on Harkin in a slugfest.

A rational host would cut Mr. Military off and move on. A true conservative would defend Cheney. But Mark Levin is neither a rational host nor a true conservative.

Levin started by making the unsubstantiated claim that Harkin had been lying about his military record for decades. Then he agreed that Harkin was a coward -- again, offering no rationale for himself or the caller -- and then, making a lame reference to Cheney's heart condition, said he would fight Harkin with "both arteries tied behind my back."

Levin then made reference to Cheney's three heart attacks -- although he failed to mention that those occurred after Cheney used those deferments.

To top it off, Levin reminded callers that liberals consider "BJ Bill Clinton" their hero -- in case you forgot that Clinton avoided Vietnam, too.

This is what passes for valuable conservative talk radio. Levin's work is so insightful that, buoyed by impressive ratings, WABC recently expanded his show from one hour to two. I guess there are a lot of listeners who enjoy this sad excuse for discourse.

Levin and his employers should be ashamed.

David

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Cheney Flip-Flops -- Turns Out He's "Sensitive," Too

Vice President Cheney has been trashing Sen. John Kerry -- by taking out of context the word "sensitive," which Kerry used in a speech last week.

Here's the key line from Kerry:

I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values and history.

Kerry, just like Bush and Cheney, believes in sensitivity to our allies and sensitivity to the issues. That's why he said "more sensitive," rather than just plain ol' sensitive.

But Cheney, on numerous campaign stops, twisted Kerry's sensitivity out of context to suggest Kerry wants to be sensitive toward Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

For example, while campaigning in Nevada on Saturday, Cheney said: The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.

Disingenuous and mean-spirited, Cheney has become a leader of the "coward conservatives" who spend more time distorting and exaggerating and denigrating. Cheney is among the first to say that it's wrong to politicize the "war on terror," but then does it himself.

Cheney can't simply present his version of the Bush-Cheney policy on terrorism and trust the voters -- he'd prefer to treat his partisan, hand-picked crowds like morons who must be lied to in order to command their allegiance. It's sad.

But what's sadder is that Cheney couldn't prevent himself from using that same word, "sensitive." Even as he's trashing Kerry, he's flip-flopping with the same word, in essentially the same usage as Kerry.

Here's a part of that Q&A, conducted by conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt last week:

HEWITT: Will the Najaf offensive continue until that city is subdued even if that means a siege of the Imam Ali shrine?

CHENEY: Well, from the standpoint of the shrine, obviously it is a sensitive area, and we are very much aware of its sensitivity.

Will the media notice this flip-flop from Cheney? Will the media be forced to look closely at the disingenuous, mean-spirited way that Cheney laughed at Kerry for saying something his own administration has been saying throughout the "war on terror"?

Or will voters be subject to more of this shameful display, and the subsequent reverberations through the conservative noise machine. Cheney and his cohorts are playing partisan listeners for fools. The media should grow a spine and offer the truth.

David


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Bush Plays Games With His Collegiate Memories

There's been a consensus among a segment of journalists, myself included, that President Bush and various other cabinet officers don't "lie." Instead, they make statements that are technically correct -- but misleading. Some observers actually think such statements are crafted with the aid of White House lawyers, to be sure they can't later be called lies.

For example, when President Bush -- in his "Mission Accomplished" speech -- said that by removing Saddam from power, the U.S.-led coalition had eliminated an "ally of Al Qaeda" and a "patron of terrorism," there was a gap between what Bush "meant" and what people "heard."

What Bush meant: Saddam is allied with Al Qaeda, in that they each hate the United States. He is a patron of terror, because he provided money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

What people heard: Saddam helped Al Qaeda with 9/11.

***

With that preface, let me share with you a lie from our president.

It's a fib, no doubt. But not an accident. And not a half-truth, either. An actual effort by the president to correct something that was true, and make it untrue.

Ironically, the source of this lie is the book "Ten Minutes From Normal," a recently published work written by loyal Bush aide Karen Hughes.

Hughes recounted a conversation with Bush after Russian President Vladimir Putin grilled him on his days at Yale University -- including Bush's efforts there playing rugby.

"President Putin knew you had played rugby, but he didn't have the context. I mean, you just played for one semester in college, right?" Hughes writes.

Bush corrected: "I played for a year, and it was the varsity."

But the New York Daily News confirmed with a Yale spokeswoman that there's no such thing as varsity rugby at Yale -- not when Bush was an undergrad in the 1960s and not today. (Note: You can read the Daily News column by clicking on this link: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/gossip/story/190209p-164529c.html)

Guess the White House lawyers weren't consulted ...

David


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Bush Talks Tough About "Tax Cheaters," but His Policies are Laughable

Watch President Bush on the campaign trail, before the hand-picked crowds at county fairs and town halls and so on, and you see two personas.

There's the tough-talking persona, demanding that the U.S. is safer and that its economy is "turning the corner" -- pleasing statements that are simplistic in nature, and thus can get a round of applause in spite of their inaccuracies.

And then there's the sometimes smirking, sometimes joking persona, the one that can make sarcastic -- and simplistic -- comments at Senator Kerry's expense, and get those happy Republicans in the crowd to slap their knees and go, "Dang, that there feller is one of us."

Which leads us to comments the president made Monday in Virginia. Speaking before 600 supporters at Northern Virginia Community College, Bush talked tough -- or was he smirking? -- when he said of Kerry's plan to roll back taxes for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, "the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway."

Dang, that feller is ... huh?

Using that kind of logic, I can't wait for some Bush spokesman to say that Bush was being consistent with earlier statements, such as an April 15 speech in Des Moines, where he said: "the tax code has got to be fair. And in my budget, I proposed a 10.7% increase to make sure that tax cheaters are found, make sure the IRS gets after those who don't pay taxes."

But like many things with this administration, what Bush says and what Bush does are different things.

Sure, it's great to talk tough about tax cheaters, but an independent analysis of the Internal Revenue Service showed that under President Bush, there were fewer audits, penalties and prosecutions, and virtually no prosecution of corporate tax crimes. The Washington Post reported that among corporations with at least $250 million of assets, just 29% were audited last year, compared with nearly 34% in 2002, and more than 50% in 1995.

CFO Magazine reports that "tax prosecutions resulting from IRS investigations are about half of what they were 10 years ago."

Dang, that feller is ... huh?

Why are less audits and prosecutions occurring? Perhaps because the IRS is underfunded. According to Center for American Progress: "At the beginning of this year, the IRS indicated its desire to do more audits to reduce tax cheating. But the president's 2005 budget severely underfunds tax enforcement."

That budget submission was made after the Des Moines speech, of course.

The IRS Oversight Board reported the White House's proposal "does not back up its goals on enforcement with the necessary resources to do the job." The IRS reported last week that it does not have the funds necessary to collect an estimated $311 billion a year in unpaid taxes."

Dang, that feller is ... huh?

So if the IRS isn't auditing or prosecuting corporations at a sufficient level, who is it auditing and prosecuting?

You guessed it -- those same hand-picked county fair and town hall crowds.

The Bush administration is increasing audits of the working poor. According to Gannett News Service, the administration has unveiled a plan "to conduct pre-certification audits for families claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the proposed documentation for school lunches." The EITC goes to the working poor, meaning more families will have to produce "pay stubs, rent receipts and school transcripts" in order to qualify for the tax credit.

Dang, that feller is ... huh?

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that Bush is once again talking tough in public, but privately having a good chuckle with his true hand-picked audience -- corporate America. The working poor? Some will vote against their economic interests for Bush, others will figure it out and go with Kerry. But the working poor aren't filling up the GOP campaign coffers the way corporate America can.

It's the final piece of the puzzle, as Bush tries to create a tax system that supports an aristocracy. So watch Bush talk tough about "tax cheaters," then have a good chuckle with his corporate friends, as they enjoy life without all those pesky IRS agents.

David

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Pundits Say "No Bounce." Maybe They Aren't Paying Attention

Viewers of shows such as "Hardball," "Meet the Press," and the array of shows on Fox News have been told that John Kerry got no bounce coming out of the Democratic National Convention.

Not the ridiculous 15-point bounce Bush flunky Matthew Dowd suggested in the e-mail heard around the world, nor the more modest 7-point bounce predicted by Pat Buchanan.

And from that starting point, the various pundits can then begin to question why the Democratic challenger failed to get a bounce. What's wrong with his message? Why isn't he registering with voters? Does Kerry's failure to get a bounce doom his chances?

It's a bunch of hooey. Polls go up, polls go down. But here's something I've noticed -- when the polls go down for Kerry, a lot of pundits start talking. And when they go up, suddenly those same pundits change the subject.

And since I haven't been hearing much about polls the past few days, it got me to thinking that maybe Kerry's numbers had actually bounced after all.

Take a look at two sets of polls of likely voters (as can be found on http://www.realclearpolitics.com), and you decide:

The first set of polls completed during or immediately after the Democratic National Convention (July 29-August 1).

Zogby: Kerry 48, Bush 43
ABC News/Washington Post: Kerry 49, Bush 48
CNN/Gallup/USA Today: Bush 51, Kerry 47

Average of those polls: Kerry 48, Bush 47.3

Now look at a second set of post-convention polls of likely voters (completed August 4-9):

Fox News: Kerry 48, Bush 43
Democracy Corps: Kerry 52, Bush 45
Rasmussen: Kerry 49, Bush 46

Average of those polls: Kerry 49.7, Bush 44.7

Now, I'm sure the conservatives will discount the Democracy Corps poll, since Democracy Corps is a partisan polling firm. Fine. Throw that one out. Kerry's lead shrinks to 48.5 to 44.5.

In other words, slightly more than a three-point bounce for Kerry.

Is that a big bounce? No. But look at the polling numbers, and you see that less than 5% of voters were undecided before the convention, and only slightly more voters were undecided afterward. How big a bounce can one expect when nearly 95 voters out of 100 polled have made up their minds.

The bounce, read differently, suggests that three Bush voters (on average) moved over to Kerry. And yes, the reverse could occur after the Republican convention, then reverse course again after the first debate, and so on.

But that's not the issue. The issue is, why is there an inverse relationship between Kerry's success in the post-conventon polls and the number of pundits discussing it?

***

For those of you who say, "The popular vote doesn't matter," check out realclearpolitics.com's state-by-state polling. If you look at the battleground states, and compare Kerry's numbers to Al Gore's in 2000, you'll find that Kerry picks up at least 25 electoral college votes. And that doesn't factor in Ohio, which has gone back and forth over the past few polls (Bush leads in the most recent poll).

In other words, tally up all the electoral votes, and Kerry wins with about 295-300 votes.

The pundits don't often discuss electoral college votes. There's a lot of math involved, and the numbers can fluctuate as new polling data is released. But still, to discuss Bush vs. Kerry without the context of the electoral college count would be like throwing up Bush-Kerry-Nader polls, even though Nader will likely only appear on the ballot in a handful of states.

But that's another story ...

David

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Matthews Doesn't Play "Hardball," and He Doesn't Play Fair, Either

Just who is Chris Matthews trying to fool?

Yesterday's "Hardball," featured a two-person panel, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for Time, and Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review.

So you have one reporter who serves as a nonpartisan correspondent, and another reporter working for a conservative magazine. I'm sorry, did the Nation correspondent get stuck in traffic?

Of course not. Chris Matthews doesn't believe in "fair and balanced" panels on Hardball.

Whether it's Peggy Noonan, Pat Buchanan, David Brooks, David Dreier, Tony Blankley or even Joe Scarborough, Matthews is more than happy to structure panels that feature a journalist from a mainstream newspaper or magazine and a conservative cheerleader.

What's the result? The conservative puts forth the agenda he or she believes in, and the journalist is positioned to fact check and modify. The journalist isn't there to espouse liberal views, but because they are placed up against a conservative, Matthews helps foster the conservative myth of a liberal press.

Conservatives are quick to ask whether Tumulty is a liberal. But that changes the subject. I don't know how Tumulty voted in the last election, but that's irrelevant. Tumulty is paid to be nonpartisan, to be objective. York is paid to promote conservative viewpoints. Inherently, the panel tilts right.

Faced with that argument, conservatives are quick to point out that Matthews once worked for Tip O'Neill. Again, that's irrelevant. Matthews' pedigree doesn't matter, not when on the air or in print interviews he offers admiration for William F. Buckley and negative comments directed at recent Democrats in the news, such as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore. It doesn't matter if Matthews is actually a Democrat -- when he offers right-tilting panels and fails to object when he hears obvious half-truths, better known as conservative spin.

Count the number of times Matthews agrees with York or offers jhis own right-leaning views:

On the number of undecided voters

MATTHEWS: OK. Can I ask you a brutal question, Byron? Why would anybody change their vote or commit, having been uncommitted, because the president came through town? I mean, are we that fickle? And would you stick to that new position when the other guy came through town?
YORK: Well, look, if you were actually undecided, you might be impressed by the power of the presidency. ... So the idea that presidential — sort of the impressive nature of the presidency might help is certainly—it‘s worth trying.
MATTHEWS: Like panache works.
YORK: It‘s worth trying.

On John Kerry's political positions

YORK: Well, now, it would help if he had better positions. The problem with the whole convention thing is that they devoted the whole thing to national security: I went to Vietnam. I‘ll protect you now. And his position on Iraq is just mushy. And it‘s not that different from Bush‘s.
MATTHEWS: We have a president who is very aggressive in foreign policy. We have a president who believes in lower taxes, which obviously affects most the people who pay the most in taxes. We know an awful lot about George Bush. There will be no surprises in the second term.
Can you beat a guy that you really know — at least he is real — with sort of a mirage, a non — sort of I‘m the alternative, I‘m the brand X candidacy? Does that ever work?
TUMULTY: It works if the public has decided they want somebody who isn‘t that person. And, in fact, the numbers right now for George Bush both on right track/wrong track and on the polling question of do you think it is time to turn presidency over to someone else, are pretty devastating for this White House.
MATTHEWS: But does that ever work, where you simply turn it over to brand X without deciding — remember Jimmy Carter? I worked for the guy. I know this. Reagan had some weaknesses, to say the least. But you knew where he stood. He came as a challenger with a clear record. I‘m going to cut taxes. I‘m going to fight the communists. I‘m going to spend more on defense. You knew clearly what he was going to do, Reagan. Dewey back in ‘48, running against Truman, he didn‘t say anything. I‘m beginning to think that Kerry is running a Dewey campaign, running nothing as an alternative to something.

On George Bush, the "underdog"

MATTHEWS: OK, what happens if the debates do well for Kerry and he wins, pick up three points coming out of the debates, and so does Edwards against Cheney? Everything goes well. They pick up three points, because that‘s as much as you pick up after these debates. Kennedy over Nixon was about three points, two points. And then you see the president of the United States out there. There‘s fresh stories in Time magazine, the scrappy president fights for his life, scrappy this. He goes—he‘s running around in West Virginia, running around New Hampshire. And people start to say, God, he‘s the underdog. He‘s the little guy that could. Doesn‘t he just win because he‘s the incumbent, unless we hate him?
TUMULTY: It depends on what things look like with the economy at that moment.
MATTHEWS: Yes.
TUMULTY: It depends on what things look like with the war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Are you afraid he couldn‘t just be—not afraid, obviously. You‘re with “The National Review.” But isn‘t it possible he could end up being the Harry Truman of this campaign, the comeback candidate?
YORK: It‘s entirely possible. The debates are really important. One really top Republican told me one time, watching Bush at debate is like watching a waiter walk across a lawn and he has got a tray full of drinks.
MATTHEWS: But he delivered last time.
YORK: And the drinks go like this all the time, but he gets to the other side.

***

Yes, Matthews certainly lived up to his liberal pedigree with his support of so many things York said. When Tumulty made a point, Matthews more often than not offered a counter. When York offered a point, more often than not, Matthews agreed -- and sometimes he furthered York's points with his own.

Matthews wonders about uncommitted voters, but he created the lopsided panel, and he aided the partisan pundit along. The GOP could show clips of last night's show as video news releases. You can almost hear them saying, "See, even Matthews gets it!"

Matthews wonders about uncommitted voters, but he calls Kerry a "mirage," and makes no effort to play Hardball with York when the conservative says that Kerry lacks solid positions, and is "mushy" on Iraq. Tumulty, a nonpartisan, has no interest in defending Kerry.

A liberal panelist would have stepped in and said, "Hey, Bush has moved toward Kerry's position on Iraq! Hey, Bush has flip-flopped on several issues on the war! Hey, Bush didn't plan well for establishing peace in Iraq! Hey, Bush has deceived voters about Kerry's positions on Iraq!"

Matthews, the "liberal," sat there and calls Kerry a "mirage." And the way he's stacked the deck against Kerry, I'm sure that makes perfect sense to him.

David

Monday, August 09, 2004

Cheney Lies to Minnesota Voters

Conservatives have, far and wide, been spinning a recent National Journal ranking of the U.S. Senate. The ranking found that for the limited number of votes cast by John Kerry and John Edwards in 2003 -- as they were each running for president -- Kerry was the most liberal Senator, and Edwards was 4th.

And presented that way, the facts are fine. Conservatives could go after the two Senators for having a very liberal voting record for one year.

But that's not the way spin works. The way spin works -- if you are a Sean Hannity or Ed Gillespie, or (unfortunately) if you are President Bush or Vice President Cheney -- is to distort that basic fact. And that truth then becomes a half-truth.

So instead of just saying, "Kerry was the most liberal Senator last year." Or, "Edwards was the fourth-most liberal Senator last year." The conservatives just say that the two men are ranked the first- and fourth-most liberal Senators. They don't offer the time frame.

In truth, Kerry is the 11th-most liberal Senator, if you look at the same National Journal rankings and consider lifetime voting record. And that would make for a fairly convincing argument by Bush and Cheney, or Hannity and Gillespie. It would be hard to deny the conservatives the right to call Kerry a "liberal."

But to do that, they would also have to use an apples-to-apples comparison for Edwards, who ranks 24th during his Senate lifetime -- a moderate Democrat. And in three of the five years Edwards has been ranked, he's held positions averaging close to 40th -- a conservative Democrat.

And thus, the need for spin.

Now, it's bad enough when conservatives offer half-truths. What Cheney did last week can only be described as an outright lie.

Campaigning on Friday in East Grand Forks, Minn., Cheney offered the following when asked about the differences between Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards:

"John Kerry is, by National Journal ratings, the most liberal member of the United States Senate. Ted Kennedy is the more conservative of the two senators from Massachusetts.

It's true. All you got to do is go look at the ratings systems. And that captures a lot, I think, in terms of somebody's philosophy. And it's not based on one vote, or one year, it's based on 20 years of service in the United States Senate. Perfectly legitimate view of the world, if that's the way he wants to view it.
"

In other words, not only was the truth not good enough for Cheney. The half-truth wasn't good enough for him, either.

Sort of makes you wonder where else Cheney has chosen that third option.

David


Sunday, August 08, 2004

Again, Matthews Hosts Unfair and Unbalanced Panel

I'm watching the opening of Chris Matthews' show this morning on NBC, and he introduces his panel:

-- Liz Marlantes, a journalist with the Christian Science Monitor (nonpartisan)
-- Pete Williams, a journalist with NBC News (nonpartisan, although he once worked for George H.W. Bush's administration)
-- Howard Fineman, a journalist with Newsweek (nonpartisan)
-- David Brooks, a right-wing columnist for the New York Times

What's wrong with this picture?

Unless Matthews positions himself as a liberal -- and he doesn't -- you have a right-tilting panel, and hence, a right-tilting presentation of the news. How hard would it be to sub in, or add on, a liberal panelist?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprsed, because this is how Matthews regularly structures his Sunday panel, mimicking the structure of panels on his nightly MSNBC show, "Hardball." If it's not David Brooks up against Howard Fineman, then its Peggy Noonan, or Tony Brinkley, or David Dreier, or Pat Buchanan. The panels far too often take the journalist/right-wing advocate structure.

This morning, practically the first words out of Brooks' mouth referenced the "wacko wing" of the Democratic Party. Matthews briefly discussed the discredited "swift boat veterans" advertisement, but there was no outrage expressed by any of the panelists.

Etc., etc.

Without diving too deep into the merits of this morning's show -- which concluded Bush had a better week than Kerry, and that a terrorist attack right before the election would help Bush's chances for re-election -- the journalist/right-wing advocate panel structure is unfair and unbalanced.

Matthews' Sunday show has higher ratings -- and I would assume draws a greater number of non-political junkies -- than "Hardball." But the rules of panel structuring are unaffected.

David

Friday, August 06, 2004

Job Growth Not "Turning The Corner"

President Bush keeps talking about how the economy is "turning the corner," and creating jobs in "high-growth, high-paying industries." But it just isn't true.

The economy created just 32,000 jobs in July, less than one-eighth of the 240,000 jobs forecast by the Bush administration.

It's important to remember that just to keep up with population growth, the economy has to create 150,000-175,000 jobs per month. In what the Bush administration would likely agree is the strongest stretch of economic growth since he became president -- starting with the third quarter of 2003 -- the administration has only surpassed that number three times. The low point came in December, when just 8,000 jobs were created.

Unable to tout the job-creation numbers, the Bush administration took comfort in the unemployment rate, which remarkably fell 1/10th of 1 percent, to 5.5%. That's the lowest level since October, 2001, and as Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said, that's lower than the average unemployment rate for the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. (I haven't been able to check this, but for now, I'll accept that bit of trivia).

The Bush administration also touted that 1.2 million jobs were created this year. Is that better than losing 1 million or more jobs per year? Sure, but 1.2 million jobs in seven months is just an average of 171,000 jobs/month -- which, given the aforementioned need caused by population growth, isn't all that impressive.

***

The media immediately focused on the low job growth total. It didn't spend much time, however, on the unemployment rate -- other than to suggest that jobs created is a better barometer for economic growth.

But I have to wonder about this statistical anomaly. And I have to go with the conventional wisdom, which suggests that the reason the unemployment rate has trickled downward is as much due to the unemployed stopping their job hunts -- or settling for part-time work -- rather than any positive related to economic growth.

***

The job news came on the heels of other discouraging news for workers. The Department of Labor published regulatory changes, scheduled to take effect August 23, that will strip the right to overtime pay for over 6 million workers. (Go to http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/briefingpapers_bp152 to read more about the changes planned by the Bush administration, and which types of workers would be affected).

Meanwhile, Bush this week touted proposals regarding "flex time" and "comp time." And while those names sound appealing -- especially for the "working mothers" the president has cited need such policy changes (I'm surprised he didn't call them "soccer moms") -- the rules are designed to allow employees to work more than 40 hours per week, and have their employers skirt the need to pay them overtime.

As discussed by the Center for American Progress, an employer and employee can create a schedule that has the employee working 50 hours one week and 30 hours the next, as long as the employer pays time-and-a-half for the extra hours in the first week.

The new "comp time" rules would allow the employee to choose time off instead of extra pay, but let's consider reality. What's to stop employers from giving overtime work to those willing to take comp time, thus reducing wages for all?

Meanwhile, "flex time" would allow employers to set 80-hour, two-week periods, which would allow employers to schedule overtime without paying for it. Using the aforementioned 50-hour, 30-hour format, an employer choosing "flex time" would never have to pay time-and-a-half for the 10 extra hours in week one. Again, the move would keep wages down.

***

The Bush administration will continue to throw out slogans and applause lines as it campaigns through "swing states" that have seen great job losses, such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The working class audiences listening to those speeches are in many cases the same people who will be hurt by the planned labor law changes. They're the same people who didn't see diddly from Bush's well-publicized tax cuts. The same people who are hurt most by rising tuition costs, higher property taxes, and inflation tied to everyday items like gasoline, milk and meat.

What happens if these people forget their feelings on, say, gay marriage, and decide to vote for their economic best interests?

You'd have a Kerry landslide.

David










Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Bush-Cheney '04 Guilty of Racial Profiling?

Here's a scandal that should be covered by the national media.

The Arizona Daily Star reported Saturday that Vice President Dick Cheney's staff insisted on knowing the race of a Star photographer, Mamta Popat. Cheney spoke Saturday in Pima County, Arizona.

The Star refused to provide the information. Journalists covering the president or vice president must undergo a background check and are required to provide their name, date of birth and Social Security number. The Star provided that information Thursday for Popat and a reporter.

A rally organizer, Christine Walton, reportedly asked Star managing editor Teri Hayt to provide the information. After Hayt refused, Walton called two other editors for the information, was rebuffed again, then reportedly called Hayt to say that Popat would ultimately be allowed to photograph Cheney.

***

One would assume such a scandal would make headlines nationwide. When local officials are accused of racial profiling, it is often a top story for newspapers, television and talk radio.

Not so with this story. After the Star filed its report, the competitor Arizona Republic did a story. Conservative blogger Matt Drudge picked up the story, but apparently it had no legs with the conservative talk radio crowd.

Is it possible the national media didn't hear the story? That would assume that the national reporters covering Cheney don't read the local papers. And that they don't read Drudge. And that the Star and Republic reporters, fresh from filing their stories, kept mum when talking with their national counterparts.

I don't buy it. I think the story didn't fit the "profile" of what the Republican Noise Machine wants in its Cheney coverage, and was quickly discarded. And a story that cries out for national coverage -- can you imagine of John Edwards' staff committed such absurdity? -- quickly fades from memory.

What is the Bush-Cheney '04 position on racial profiling? And was what happened in Arizona at odds with that position? I'd like to know, as I'm sure a lot of voters would.

David



Where's the "Truth Squad" When You Need It?

In the last election cycle, if Al Gore misspoke -- such as when he said he met with the Federal Emergency Management chair during a particular disaster, when in fact he'd met with the #2 at FEMA -- the GOP jumped all over it.

And when Gore didn't misspeak, the GOP was quick to invent a lie to fit the script of GORE THE LIAR. That's how Republican-driven lies about Gore -- that he said he "invented the Internet," and so on -- became part of the news cycle.

The media loves to expose a good lie. In New York, the local CBS television station has long run a popular "Shame on You" segment, and no doubt similar "gotcha" journalistic exploits can be found nationwide.

So why is it that when the president, on the campaign trail, outright lies to his audience, the press isn't jumping over themselves to expose it? Where's Lisa Myers' "Truth Squad" when you need it? Where's Geraldo Rivera (oh yeah, he's at Fox News ...)

Is it hyperbole to call the president a liar? I try to be careful. It's easy to take every mis-statement, every half-truth or distortion or spin made without context, and proclaim it a lie. But that in itself is liberal spin, and I think the non-converted become numb to such cries. And let's face it, Air America has 17 stations; conservatives have 1,308, a major news network and a wire service. Liberals who want to outspin the conservatives face a huge uphill battle.

But I don't think it's hyperbole to say that the president says this, while that is the actual fact. So you can understand my anger when the president, in his weekly radio address, told listeners that the "economy is gaining strength," when in fact the gross domestic product grew by 3% in the second quarter, below the 4.5% growth in the first quarter and the weakest growth since the second quarter of 2003.

Was the economy strong? For three quarters, there was excellent growth in the GDP. But just as the conservatives were jumping up and down last October after a fabulous third quarter -- the first tangible sign that the economy was, to quote the president, "turning the corner" -- the same conservatives should down be upset by the just-reported mediocre growth. If you can state success after one set of numbers (after several poor numbers), then the logic says you should also state failure after one set of numbers (after three excellent numbers). But the conservatives won't do that, and President Bush won't, either.

In Ohio on Saturday, President Bush pledged "we will not overspend your money." This is a farce. The projected fiscal year 2004 deficit is $445 billion, about 20% higher than the record FY 2003 deficit. The FY 2004 deficit is also significantly higher than the $307 billion projected deficit -- but then again, that projection suggested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be free. You might recall Bush came into office with a surplus.

Also on the campaign trail, Bush touted how the economy he is stewarding has created jobs in "high-growth, high-paying industries." But that's a pipe dream. Any nonpartisan report will tell you that low-paying jobs are being created at a faster rate than high-paying jobs. And a new government report said that 57% of workers who were laid off are being paid less at their new jobs than at their old ones. How much less? A report earlier this year, touted during the New Hampshire primary season, found workers in the Granite State were being paid 35% less, and with fewer health benefits, at the jobs they found after being laid off.

Bush saying that unemployment has "turned the corner" is also untrue. Unemployment has been stuck at 5.6% for several months, and the percentage of adults employed now is 2.1 percentage points lower than when Bush took office.

Now, these are facts. The government is aware of these statistics. There are, no doubt, GAO reports available. But does the average Bush supporter or Bush rally attendee know as much? Not if they are listening to Bush.

Which brings us back to our media. Hello? Where are you? The statistics get reported, of course. But the campaign coverage is handled by different reporters -- and too often these reports take the form of press releases. Reporters take great notes on what the President said and how many people were in attendance and whether it was sunny or rainy, but after that, a gaping hole appears that leaves the reader uninformed.

And while Lisa Myers is all too happy to sick her "Truth Squad" on those who attack the adminstration, she does not turn around and say "Shame on You" when the president lies to his supporters. But then again, hardly anyone in the media does.

David

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Manchurian Democrat

Zell Miller, the retiring Georgia Senator, spoke at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. But no more. Now, he plans to speak at the 2004 Republican National Convention -- following on the heels of a pro-Bush voting record since 9/11.

He has said nice things about Senator John Kerry in the past. But no more. Now, like some sort of zombie, Miller has adopted Republican spin points by the dozens. It's as if Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie re-wired Miller's brain with all the GOP half-truths and distortions that have become grist for this election season.

Yesterday, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Miller recited spin points with such frequency you would have thought he was a guest on some bizarro version of "Beat the Clock." And Tim Russert was more than happy to play the part of docile host, an unsettling trend in itself.

You have to question why Russert has interviewed Miller so often over the past three years. Certainly, Miller is far from the mainstream Democrat. Is Miller's presence merely to show that people leave their parties? Fine. But where's Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Senator who left the Republican party?

Here are snippets from the transcript. Following the bouncing ball as Miller recites GOP spin points -- truth be damned:

MILLER: I mean, on the issue of defense, here is Senator Kerry, who voted to send troops to Iraq and then turned around and voted against financing the equipment and the ammunition and the benefits for the dependents that these troops needed.

-- This is a half-truth. Kerry voted for one of two versions of the spending bill. President Bush supported the other version, which provided money for Iraq in the form of grants, rather than loans, a decision that increases the size of the deficit. Bush threatened to veto the bill Kerry wanted passed, which had the money for Iraq coming in the form of loans, and would have separated out just the money to be spent on equipment and ammunition ($67 billion) from the bill's other spending plans. So, in truth, Kerry wanted to support the troops, but did not want to hike up the deficit to do so.

MILLER: This is a man that voted against the weapons system that we're using to fight the war on terror. This is a man who voted against increases in intelligence funding. He wanted to cut intelligence funding.
RUSSERT: But on defense and intelligence authorization bills, you have the same voting record as John Kerry.
MILLER: I didn't try to cut--now ultimately he came along and voted for some, but I sure didn't try to cut this defense budget.

-- This is the one time Russert actually points out the obvious, that Kerry and Miller, as fiscally conservative Democrats, had nearly identical voting records in the late 80s/early 90s. Why? Because the Cold War was won, and following the advice of Bush I's Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, there was bipartisan support for scrapping weapons systems that were deemed out of date and unnecessary spending.

Miller the Democrat stood with Kerry. Miller the Manchurian Democrat uses the same votes as the basis of an attack.

MILLER: I'm not angry. I'm just disillusioned. I'm disillusioned with a party that has gone completely so far to the left that in the South we don't even have a chance of electing Democrats statewide anymore because they are associated with the National Democratic Party, they're associated with the Kerry-Edwards-Daschle wing of the Democratic Party.

-- This is ridiculous. John Edwards is a retiring Democratic Senator from North Carolina, and there's a better-than-even chance that he will be replaced by a fellow Democrat, Erskine Bowles. Louisiana re-elected Democrat Mary Landrieu to the Senate last year, giving that state two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. A Democrat, Inez Tannenbaum, should be competitive in her bid to win a Senate seat in South Carolina. Democrats have more than held their own in Florida. ... The only state where the Democrats are sure to lose this fall is Georgia, where a Republican is likely to replace the retiring Miller.

RUSSERT: John Edwards is from North Carolina, Southern senator.
MILLER: Oh, he's got a good ZIP code and he's got a good accent and he's got a good smile. But he has voted very similar to the way that John Kerry has voted.

-- The GOP has been spinning Kerry and Edwards as the "#1 and #4 most liberal Senators," but over their careers, Kerry is #11 and Edwards is #24. The GOP doesn't want to argue with facts -- even though they could still reasonably argue that Kerry is among the more liberal Senators -- because to do so would force them to admit Edwards is a moderate Democrat. (Further, Edwards in three of his first five years in the Senate was ranked among the most conservative Democrats.)

MILLER: You know, they talked about diversity at the Democratic convention. There was no diversity in ideology whatsoever. Can you remember when they wouldn't even let Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, governor of Pennsylvania-- wouldn't even let him speak at the convention in '92? They have completely pushed out any moderate to conservative Democrat.

-- This is a myth. Casey wasn't allowed to speak in 1992, according to numerous sources, because he wouldn't endorse Clinton-Gore. Several pro-life Democrats have spoken in subsequent conventions, such as ... Zell Miller of Georgia! Moderate and conservative Democrats have spoken, too, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, at the 2000 and 2004 convention.

***

Russert claimed in his recent autobiography, "Big Russ & Me," to be well-prepared for every interview. That leaves viewers with two choices: either Russert does not prepare well, or he is so enamored with GOP spin as to remain docile when he hears it.

Either way, Russert has shown time and time again that he is a Republican spinmeister's favorite type of journalist -- one who has a reputation as a "bulldog," but who doesn't deliver when talking with the conservative half of the political spectrum.

David



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