Tag Archives: Obama

Obama vs. Romney.

This time around, there is no great black hope, no chanting, “yes, we can.”, no Black-eyed Peas reminding us that the future can be different, if we are willing to elect a reasonable man or woman to the highest office in the land.

This time around, we have seen what 3+ years of a reasonable man can do in that office, and we are deflated, depressed and disenfranchised even further than we were under eight years of the Bush presidency. How could that be even possible?

Did we really just witness 3+ years of congress doing imitations of the ultimate fighting championships, promoted to kill any legislation that Obama was behind, just because he was behind it, regardless of its impact on the American people? Really? I thought the Clinton years were brutal, but those were kindergarten neener-neener nasty compared to this. And, they even included an impeachment.

I really can’t take any more of this. Even the thought of voting for Romney is crazy. Is that what people want? Back to No future III? The Bush years revisited, but with a Republican congress? You like this quarter’s jobs report? You’ll LOVE it under Romney. You like the state of housing? Romney will give you a boner. You like the cost of health care? Romney will make it even higher. You like social programs for those who are in trouble? Forget about it. You like rich guys being protected by the government and helped to get even richer? You will be in heaven.

Do we need to be reminded that our current predicament is the result of eight years of Bush policies? Really?

Deficit spending: higher under George Bush. Military spending: higher under George Bush. National Debt: higher under George Bush. Government employment: higher under George Bush. Pace of the increase in National debt: higher under George Bush. Authorization for  the biggest government handout in history: George Bush.

When Obama took office, the first thing he got to witness was the implementation of the most poorly thought out policy dictate in American history, an $887 billion bailout of the nation’s banks. Obama didn’t get a vote in this. It just was. And, guess what? It wasn’t enough. We needed to bail them out some more. Then, the banks hunkered down and we haven’t seen them since (except when trading derivatives and disclosing over-exposures to European trading partners). Credit? HA! You want credit? You get Yogi Berra credit. You can have all you want as long as you don’t need it. If you need it, you can’t have it.

Then the housing market crashed, but banks didn’t like the way they filled out those pesky loan documents, so they sort of delayed full disclosure on their exposures. Now, we all see their exposures and nobody likes it, especially the banks. Obama said, “Shouldn’t the banks be held to some accountability if we are going to keep them afloat?”, and congress laughed. That boy clearly doesn’t understand how the game is played, does he?

He tried to close Guantanamo like he promised, but congress said, “Hell no, boy. Don’t you understand people don’t want those ‘ragheads’ in their neighborhood prisons?” as if someone actually asked anybody what they wanted? Nope – not how it’s done.

He authorized a (relatively) small bailout for the auto industry and guess what happened? The industry is stronger now than it has ever been, and they all paid their loans back well before they were due. Detroit has jobs now. People are working in the auto industry again. Did you know that? Probably not, because Obama’s message seems to get drowned out in the air waves, or nobody seems to remember how bad it was, just 3 years ago. Or, how scary.

I think, based upon looking at the polls, people don’t remember anything that happened yesterday. This country polls hugely (above 65%) in favor of every component of what is now known as Obamacare, yet when asked whether they approve of Obamacare itself, they poll negative. How can that be? Oh, that’s right. The Kardashian’s are making $40 million a year and have renewed their insane reality show for another five years. Now, it all makes sense.

Obama tries to take credit for ridding the planet of the most dangerous terrorist that ever lived and people pretty much yawn.

What have you done for us lately, I guess? Seemed like a pretty big deal when Bush was in office. Whatever.

Jobs? Obama has clearly failed to create any new ones. But, when he actually does something to try and create new ones, he gets shot down in congress. The JOBS act struggled to get out of a Democratic controlled Senate with major revisions and is now stalled out in the SEC during implementation over petty issues surrounding accreditation of lenders. Come’ on, man! Is this what you people want?

How about at least prosecuting the ‘criminal’ banks? Are you kidding me? Not one banker does any jail time, yet they all played a major part in taking down the world’s financial system as we knew it, and it will probably get much worse. Instead, his AG gets rung up on contempt of congress on some nonsensical ATF screw-up that no one cares about, least of all the guys still looking for work in their 24th month of unemployment.

I mean really. This is what congress focuses on? This is way worse than re-arranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks.

A couple of inherited wars? Obama ended one and has begun to end the other, meanwhile avoiding the “crazies” in Iran and their brinkmanship. Silly people; they want their own nuclear bomb just like the big guys. Where do they get off? Israel? The peace process grinds along and Obama has done as much or as little to placate all sides as anyone before him, while trying to keep the Israelis in a state of reason.  But, no way is Obama a tough war president like Bush or that Romney guy, both of whom are delighted to send our young men and women into harm’s way, particularly if there is oil or other stuff we want. National security, you know.

Health care? Never mind that he risked almost all of his political capital to usher in the most revolutionary health care reform bill in history, and the people LOVED it (see above), but he also frightened the living skittles out of the insurance companies and lobbyists at the same time. How many times has your health insurance premiums gone up in the last twelve months? There is a reason for that, and yes, we are on the path to a single payer health plan … unless, of course Romney gets elected. In that case, Obamacare will be overturned (though it will be interesting to see how he actually does this) and 33 million Americans can return to having no health care, along with all of the college students now on their parent’s plans for a few more years. Pre-existing conditions? Forgetaboutit.

And then there’s the economy. Give me a break. If this election is won or lost based on the economy, Obama is history. The economy is lousy now, hasn’t improved in the slightest in the last 4 years, and is about to get really bad. The only thing we can be sure of is that we are hopelessly overexposed to Europe, the European bankers are even bigger liars than our own bankers, and when the sizzle finally hits the fan, the US banks and the US economy will be a disaster. The recent jobs report will look the same or worse for the rest of the year. Housing hasn’t budged and won’t, except to fall even further. All of that, we can be sure of.

But, the election shouldn’t be won or lost based on the economy. Generally reasonable people should conclude that no one individual, especially the president of the US, can actually do anything to alter this course, and that many complex factors must resolve themselves before any of this can begin moving in the right direction. Factors that rely on individuals at the levers of power to do things that are in the interests of the general well-being of mankind, as opposed to their own private interests.

Fixing this mess will require that the Fed and Treasury break some rules and force bankers to do truly radical things like forgiving all of the bad mortgage debt, for openers. Stop collecting bad debts. Open their credit drawers to small businesses and returning vets and people who used to have good credit. In other words, pitch in and help.

Our current situation is in many ways, reminiscent of World War II. A small group of evil men determined to wreak havoc on the rest of global society with the fiercest and most treacherous means available at their disposal. But, instead, a few good men stood tall and acted like the statesmen they were, and inspired the rest of us to carry on and fight the good fight. And, they called for immense sacrifice.

We went without – a lot of stuff – for a long time. Rules were broken and changed. There were very few sacred cows untarnished. The future of the world was on the line. And, because of all of that, the people banded together and prevailed.

This election also needs to be about statesmanship and leadership.

We face three major disasters today — the first being fallout from the financial recession of 2008 with respect to the balance sheets of consumers and government entities. The collapse of housing prices destroyed trillions in family assets. The median net worth of families in the United States dropped by 39 percent over a three year period — from $126,000 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010 – leaving family wealth back where it was in 1992, two decades before.

Second, the housing collapse led to permanent damage to our financial and banking system. Banks are not making normal loans because they still have a lot of bad debt on the books and they are uncertain about future regulatory requirements, and global financial developments. As much as I hate them, they are doing what is right for their shareholders. But, what they are doing is wrong for the world.

And third, our enormous government debt breeds uncertainty. No one has any idea how we can pay this debt down, and especially when Congress continues to do their UFC imitations and seems completely unable to function.

And, we face one huge potential disruptor – the coming financial fallout from the impending collapse of most of Europe and many of their most prestigious banking institutions. This event will create panic, banking disasters, it will plunge the economy even deeper into chaos and cause even greater job loss.

We can avoid all of this, but it will require a summit like no other and leadership rarely witnessed in history. It will require that we throw away all convention and determine to start anew at whatever cost and whatever pain to those most heavily invested. I once asked the head of Levi Strauss’s Jeanswear division why they decided to stop shipping product to China and he said, “The Haas brothers don’t need any more money.” Well, I think that reasoning applies aptly to a lot of people in power today as well.

How can we stop all this?

Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Conservative, Liberal or Libertarian, we need to vote for a leader and a statesman. The only man running, who is capable of delivering speeches to raise the spirit and pride of the American people, who is driven by reason and not by politics, who can conjure the presence and will of Roosevelt and Churchill, Kennedy and Lincoln, and who can summon our courage and strength when we will need it most. There is only one who can bring global leaders to a summit and get them to do the hard things that must be done to put a stop to this spiral. There’s only one statesman running, and his name isn’t Mitt Romney.


A Martian Class in Presidential Politics.

Let’s just say for shits and giggles, that I have no dog in the Presidential hunt and that I think that Bush and Obama both made fine Presidents.

Let’s also say that I just dropped in from Mars and heard a bunch of people in a crowd complaining about how terrible Obama has been as President, and how he is a big government socialist, can’t create private sector jobs, is destroying the country and our future by raising our national debt to historic levels, and has created an environment where both business and Wall Street are suffering.

Then someone rushed out of the crowd and showed me these charts:

In this chart, the blue line is state government employment. The green line is local government employment. And the red line is private employment. Bush is on the left, Obama is on the right:

private sector bush obama

As you can see, under Obama, private employment snapped back much better than it did during Bush’s first year.

State and local government employment, however, fell much harder under Obama than it did under Bush.

This is of course, exactly the opposite of the big government socialist stereotype that the Obama economy is portrayed as, but hey.

And here, just for the hell of it, is the same chart but with the performance of the S&P 500 (in orange) during each period:

image

Here’s a chart with the National Debt growth in it, represented by the black line. As you can see, the national debt has grown a little bit faster under Obama, but hardly any faster than under Bush, and the trajectory is almost identical:

image

Class over.


Lies, Damn Lies, and Republican Lies.

Do we have a dream team here? Ready for slashed spending? Are we scared yet?

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan appear to be basing their 2012 Presidential campaign upon the theory that Obama is a tax and spend President and that his “runaway spending” policies have been responsible for the biggest deficit and the fastest growing national debt in the history of the country.

The Republican ad machine tells us that were we to re-elect him, we would be endorsing more of the same, as well as increased spending for entitlements, that would push the deficit to historic levels and cost more jobs while creating an even larger national debt.

Oddly, the actual facts tell a very different story. Compared to George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Obama’s record in office shows that he has embraced fiscal conservatism more than any other president in recent history, with the exception of fellow Democrat Bill Clinton.

Economics Professor Mark Thoma provides a helpful chart on his blog that puts President Obama’s per capita spending into context, comparing it with the spending of every president in the last 40 years:

The data is going to be difficult for Obama’s critics, who have spent years hammering his administration for record spending and fiscal irresponsibility. The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson put it best: “Going by federal expenditures…it would seem that if Obama’s a socialist, Ronald Reagan is Karl Marx with an ICBM.”

Here’s a look at  public sector employment during the Obama Expanding Government era; the 1981, 1990 and 2001 recessions were under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. The red line is the 2007 Obama recession:

Or, how about a look at Obama’s big-government policies in action. They should have led to a massive growth in our bureaucracy, right? Well, believe it or not, there have been 607,000 jobs lost in the public sector, largely from state and local cutbacks due to no federal aid. Here’s what that looks like:

I could go on, and there are endless charts that all say the same thing, no matter how you slice and dice the data. This guy is a conservative.

At the end of the day, it is really, truly time for the myth about Big Spender Obama to die. If anything, it is remarkable that, after the worst recession in history and a private sector implosion, the public sector expanded less under this administration than it did under Bush or Reagan. Them’s the facts.


High-Yellow Trash.

Now that Obama has come right out and said he supports Gay marriage, the Republican Party must be beside itself. The issues that they want to keep front and center,i.e., “Economy and Jobs under Obama’s Presidency.” have taken a back seat for at least the last couple of days and now seem destined to remain there, in the wake of related equality stories emerging everywhere.

It seems we need to discuss whether marriage has ever meant anything other than between one man and one woman. We have religious leaders reminding us that the bible has stated clearly that the definition of marriage is one man and one woman, but fail to account for the Old Testament, where it states clearly its preference for many hundreds of wives and concubines for a man and often many husbands for a woman.

It also spells out very specifically that if the man refuses to care for his wives, they are free to leave, but of course, without any compensation. Clearly, this “law” wasn’t written in California. But, to be fair, the same law applies to women who refuse to care for their men. I actually think it is a Nevada law; do not get divorced in Nevada.

I guess all of these men of the cloth have chosen their own version of the bible when it comes to specific issues. And, Romney’s church? I think his own Grandfather had a few wives and Mitt, denounced this practice as barbaric, in a separate interview, forgetting apparently that his own family … oh well.

In January, a coalition of some 40 religious leaders, encompassing several faiths, released an open letter warning of the peril of legalizing same-sex unions. And this week, as we have seen, conservatives celebrated a victory in North Carolina, where voters banned same-sex unions by a 3-1 vote. Many of these voters were African-American, who generally share strong views against same-sex marriage. Bishop Harry Jackson, the African-American founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, says gay marriage is not a civil rights issue, but fundamentally about redefining the institution of marriage. He thinks the president has miscalculated his clout with the black faith community, which tends to skew conservative on social issues like gay marriage.

“We are concerned that this is a bridge too far. I think it will backlash on the president,” he said.

But not all black religious leaders agree. Bishop Leonard Goin, who heads a Pentecostal congregation in Philadelphia, said in published reports that although he doesn’t support the president’s views on same-sex marriage, he doesn’t think it will give black voters cause to vote against Obama in November.

The bottom line, says Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Church in Dallas, is that the fight over gay marriage goes much deeper than equal rights or political maneuvering. It’s about the fundamental building blocks of the country.

I wonder whether he, like so many of his Southern brethren are referring to the similar fundamental building blocks illustrated so vividly in the history of his region’s racial past. Maybe this passage from James Lee Burke’s Half of Paradise would be a good reminder of some fundamental building blocks that his ancestors used to build the South as we know it today. The same South that just overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on Gay Marriage.

                 “Who are you running against?” J.P. Said.

                “Jacob Arceneaux from New Orleans,” Lathrop said. “He’s French and he’s Catholic, and he’ll take most of the parishes in the southern part of the state unless we swing them              over.”

                “How are you going to do that?”

               “Nigger politics,” Virdo Hunnicut said. “Arceneaux has a reputation as a nigger lover. He hasn’t tried to stop the nigger kids from getting in the white schools, and it’s going to hurt him.”

                “We’re running on the segregation ticket,” Lathrop said. “We’re going to show these people in southern Louisiana what will happen when Arceneaux gets in office. Their children will be mixing with the colored children, and pretty soon they won’t be able to tell one from another. The future generations will be one race of high-yellow trash.”

 

There are some of those fundamental building blocks for you. High-yellow trash. This is the actual genesis of the anti-gay-marriage vote, for those of you having trouble understanding how this can happen in a country where 50% of those polled support gay marriage. Fear and ignorance are just as frightening today as they were back in 1957. It’s the same board, just different players. But, we make progress. Sort-of.


Gas Prices. Who’s Your Daddy?

If you listened to Romney’s stump speeches, you would think he is the “people’s” champion for lower gas prices.

Who ARE these people?

His supporters like “Drill-baby” McCain, have been trying to convince us for years that the simplest and fastest way to lower gas prices is to drill everywhere we can fit an oil rig in the U.S. His message is that Obama is a weak leader, influenced only by his elite, leftist, Harvard-educated friends, and that left to his devices, we will continue to kiss environmentalist behinds and keep the price of gas in the $4-5/gallon range forever.

Because after all, $5 gas is no sweat to Obama and his friends. McCain and Romney are only looking out for you, the little guy.

It turns out that high gas prices aren’t actually a problem for Romney either. They are in fact a a boon to his political fortunes.

Using the little guy’s pain at the pump for political purposes, is not the only way he and McCain et al, benefit from high gas prices. Big oil interests are among his most reliable and significant supporters — and when gas prices are high, so are their profits.

These record profits give oil executives even more cash than usual to spend on advancing their political agenda — and that begins with electing Romney. In fact, Big Oil executives pledged more than $200 million to aid Romney’s campaign, and to defeat Obama.

The quid pro quo? Big oil gets to keep its billions in special tax breaks every year. So not only does the little guy pay once – at the pump – but he gets to pay twice through his income taxes, some of which goes to subsidize an industry where the top 5 companies earned $137 billion in profits last year!

In keeping with a time-honored tradition, Big-oil has managed to get Harold Hamm, a billionaire oil executive appointed as Romney’s top energy adviser. This is the same Harold Hamm who declared in 2009 that cheap oil would be a “disaster,” and that “clean energy is a magical fantasy”.

Romney actually gets passionate about oil and gas prices. At a recent town hall meeting, he responded to a question about high gas prices by asserting that efforts to reduce the billions in tax breaks for big oil companies are “dangerous”, and described Paul Ryan’s budget which protects the oil subsidies while eliminating clean energy investments as a “bold and exciting effort.” This was followed by a Fox News debate in which he said that oil and gas executives tell him they had it “a whole lot better” under fellow oilman George W. Bush. You think?

It gets better. Instead of tapping American ingenuity to make our cars go farther on a gallon of gas, Romney has continually blasted improved fuel-efficiency standards — including the higher standards that Bush signed into law as president. He has declared that U.S. clean energy sources — like wind and solar power — are not “real energy,” and that burgeoning green technologies are nothing more than “expensive fads.” He thumbed his nose at the U.S. auto industry by mocking Chevy’s hybrid electric Volt as “an idea whose time has not come.”

Looks pretty cool to me!

Romney’s mutual admiration relationship with Big Oil comes down to this: Oil company executives see high gas prices as an opportunity to profit financially. Romney sees that high gas prices represent an opportunity to profit politically.

Rachel Maddow had an interesting chart on her “Chart Imitates Life” segment last night which depicted the relationship between income inequality and political partisanship in Congress as two lines almost hugging each other from the 1940’s until now.

    

The next time you slide your credit card into that gas pump, give a thought to that chart and to Romney’s true sympathies. He may want to bet you $10,000 that gas won’t go to $5/gallon this year. If Obama’s ahead in the polls, take it!

 


Crowdfunding Update!

This is a letter from the three guys at Startup Exemption, by the names of Sherwood Neiss, Jason Best, and Zak Cassady-Dorion, re-printed here with their permission, providing a status update on the Crowdfunding bill that Obama signed last week.

Thanks to these guys primarily, Steve Case (in the background) and many other individuals and groups, this legislation got through Congress in an amazing and relatively short period of time. You are also invited to participate in this process to insure that the bill gets implemented as planned. Enjoy!

President Obama signed Crowdfunding into law as part of the JOBS Act on April 5th. We did it!  It was an amazing experience to be at the White House and watch the President sign into law an idea we had to update the security laws.  To make it legal for entrepreneurs to use the Internet and Social Media to access funds from their friends and family to launch businesses and create jobs to help get us out of the recession.

This is a story about putting a stake in the ground, sticking to policy and out of politics, showing up and being present, being tenacious and never giving up.  It is a story about 3 entrepreneurs who were naive enough to think that just because they had a solution to the funding void facing startups and small businesses that they could actually change deeply entrenched 80 year-old security laws.  And when changing a law takes between 5 and 10 years, to have done it in 15 months, we’ve been told, is quite an accomplishment!

The reality is, we had good timing, a good story (it helps when entrepreneurs and not lobbyists show up to tell it), great teamwork and a true bipartisan desire to make a difference.  There were many people to thank along the way.  We’ve put together this list of folks that played an early and important role.  Without these people, we never would have made it to law.  They are Democrats and Republicans, politicians and staffers, businessmen and women, small and big business, authors, security lawyers and experts, entertainers, advocates, students and reporters.  But most importantly they are believers in what makes our country so great … Entrepreneurs.

What’s next?

While CrowdFund Investing might be signed into law, it won’t go into effect until 2013.  That’s because the SEC has 270 days to make the rules around which the legislation will operate in daily life.  We continue to play an active role in this process. A letter from a group of 13 top equity and debt crowdfunding platforms and industry experts was sent to the President the day of the bill signing.  In it we reiterate our desire to develop a transparent marketplace for crowdfunding where investor confidence is our number one priority.  The President acknowledged this group in his comments.

This group has quickly grown in size (100+) and at a meeting in New York City on April 18th formally organized around a Statement of Intent.  The group has chosen leaders which we endorsed to run this next leg of the race.  The group also formed a trade association (The Crowdfunding Global Professional Association, CFGPA) which will represent the voice of the industry, advocacy and education for both investors and entrepreneurs.  Another group (The Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Association, CFIRA) will focus on working with the SEC and potentially providing industry oversight . These are organizations ‘of the industry, for the industry.’  If you have any interest in being part of these associations run by those who have been part of the process all along, please register here.

This past week the group reached out to both FINRA and the SEC on working together to build a trustworthy partnership. Since the legislation mandates that all Crowdfunding websites be registered, the goal is to work with FINRA to see if there’s a way to develop a “Broker-Dealer Light” path for CrowdFund Investing intermediaries or facilitate the formation of a Self-Regulating Organization (SRO) that will oversee the industry.

What’s next for us?

 Lots of speaking engagements!  Sherwood recently spoke about Crowdfunding at the MIT Global Conference in Istanbul, Turkey and keynoted the Rutgers Entrepreneur Day.  Jason testified in front of a Congressional hearing this week about Crowdfunding and is off to speak about Crowdfunding at events in Germany, Sweden and Norway.  We have upcoming engagements in Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong.

People both in the USA and around the world are looking to us as we embark on Web 3.0.  We went from ‘investing for profit’ to ‘investing for social good’ and now we embark on ‘investing from the heart.’

If you or your organization has any interest in learning about CrowdFund Investing, how it will work, how to get involved, who can benefit from it, and what impact it will have globally, then feel free to reach out to us.

Again thank YOU for making this happen!
Regards,
Sherwood, Jason & Zak


Sherwood Neiss, sherwood@startupexemption.com

Jason Best, jason@startupexemption.com
Zak Cassady-Dorion, zak@startupexemption.com


Student Loan Debt. Can You Hear That Train A’Coming?

The federal student loan program seemed like a great idea back in 1965: Borrow to go to college now, pay it back later when you have a job. But back then, my tuition at Cal was $230 a year, so even with my first job offer as a junior copywriter at Hoefer, Dietrich and Brown, at that time the largest independent ad agency west of the Mississippi (John Hoefer, brilliant Creative Director third from left), I had income of $12,400 a year, of which I could have easily made that 2.36% payment and had that $920. paid off in like 4 years.

I didn’t need to though, because I didn’t borrow a student loan to pay for school, and didn’t know anyone who did. This was not due to some stupid pride thing, but the program wasn’t put in place until I was almost out of Berkeley.

Surging above $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt has surpassed credit card and auto-loan debt. This debt explosion jeopardizes the fragile recovery, increases the burden on taxpayers and possibly sets the stage for a new economic crisis. With a still-wobbly jobs market, these loans are increasingly hard to pay off. Unable to find work, many students have returned to school, further driving up their indebtedness.

It isn’t surprising that average student loan debt recently topped $25,000, up 25 percent in 10 years. And the mushrooming debt has direct implications for taxpayers, since 8 in 10 of these loans are government-issued or guaranteed. Yet, the primary driver for the problem, dramatically increasing public college tuition remains unchecked. For some reason, there are now more administrators and fewer teachers, and the gap ratio seems to be expanding. Public universities in the United States are suffering from administrative bloat, according to the Goldwater Institute. From 1993 to 2011, four-year public institutions of higher learning expanded their ratio of administrative staff per 100 students by 39%, while teaching and research staff levels grew by less than 10%. The same disparity did not apply to private universities, where the ratio growth of administrators and instructors was roughly the same (40%).

At some public universities, the disparity was particularly dramatic. Arizona State University increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 94% while reducing the number of faculty, research and service personnel by 2%. While this obviously drives up costs, it appears to do nothing to increase the quality of education, but that is the topic for another post.

In an attempt to address the growing problem with student loans, President Obama has offered a raft of proposals aimed at fine-tuning the system and making repayments easier. Yet the predicament of debt-burdened former students has failed to generate much notice in the GOP presidential campaign. Instead, the candidates are dismissive of government student loan programs in general and Obama’s proposals in particular.

Rick Santorum went so far as to label Obama “a snob” for urging all Americans to try to obtain some form of post-high-school education — even though some polls show over 90 percent of parents expect their children to go to college. Front-runner Mitt Romney denounces what he calls a “government takeover” of the program. Newt Gingrich calls student loans a “Ponzi scheme” under which students spend the borrowed money now but will “have to pay off the national debt” later in life as taxpayers. And Ron Paul wants to abolish the program entirely.

Lifting student debt higher and higher is the escalating cost of attending schools, with tuition increasing far faster than the rate of inflation. And enrollment has been rising for years, a trend that accelerated through the recent recession, fueling even more borrowing. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, argues that government loans and subsidies are not particularly cost-effective for taxpayers because “universities and colleges just raise their tuition. It doesn’t improve affordability and it doesn’t make it easier to go to college.”

“Of course, it’s very hard on the kids who have gone through this, because they’re on the hook,” Zandi added. “And they’re not going to be able to get off the hook.”

It’s not just young adults who are saddled.

“Parents and the federal government shoulder a substantial part of the postsecondary education bill,” said a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And some of the borrowers are baby boomers, near or at retirement age. The Fed research found that Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans.

Overall, nearly 3 in 10 of all student loans have past-due balances of 30 days or more, the report said.

Complicating the picture further: Like child support and income taxes, student loans usually can’t be discharged or reduced in bankruptcy proceedings, as can most other delinquent debt. This restriction was extended in 2005 to also include student loans made by banks and other private financial institutions.

“This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy,” said William Brewer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

“As bankruptcy lawyers, we’re the first to see the cracks in the foundation,” Brewer said. “We were warning of mortgage problems in 2006 and 2007. The industry was saying we’ve got it under control. Nobody had it under control. Now we’re seeing the same signs of distress. We’re seeing huge defaults on student loans and people driven into financial difficulties because of them.”

A report by his group noted that missing just one student loan payment puts a borrower in delinquent status. After nine months, the borrower is in default. Once a default occurs, the full amount of the loan is due immediately. For those with federal student loans, the government has vast collection powers, including the ability to garnishee a borrower’s wages and to seize tax refunds and Social Security and other federal benefit payments.

Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said the student loan crisis may not torpedo the financial sector as the mortgage meltdown nearly did in 2008, but it could slam taxpayers and the still-ailing housing market.

“When student loans don’t get repaid, debts are going to be transferred from the borrower to the taxpayer,” further raising federal deficits, he said. And overburdened student-loan borrowers may fail to qualify for mortgages and “stay much longer in their parents’ homes,” Gault said. Young adults forming households have historically been the bulk of first-time home buyers — and their scarcity could dampen any housing recovery. “When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college,” Obama said in his State of the Union address, asking Congress to extend a temporary cut — due to expire in July — in federal student-loan rates. The reduced federal rate is now 3.4 percent. It the cuts aren’t extended, it will rise to 6.8 percent.

Still, Obama said: “We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. We’ll run out of money.”

The Democratic minority on the House Education Committee and Workforce Committee released new figures showing that more than seven million students will incur an additional $6.3 billion in repayment costs for the 2012-2013 school year if student loan interest rates double on July 1. Obama also asked Congress to extend the current tuition tax credit, double work-study jobs over five years and let borrowers consolidate multiple student loans at reduced interest rates.

But in this intensely partisan year, any congressional action seems dubious.

“I wish I could tell you that there’s a place to find really cheap money or free money and pay for everyone’s education, but that’s just not going to happen,” Romney says. “Now the government is taking over the student loan business. I think you’ll get less competition.”

The government has not taken over the student loan business. The private loan industry is still writing student loans, usually at interest rates far above the government ones.

What the Republicans are zeroing in on is a section in Obama’s health care overhaul that eliminated big banks as middlemen in managing federal school-loan programs. Also, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is clamping down on the lightly regulated private student loan industry.

Santorum, who now says calling Obama a “snob” for promoting higher education was “probably not the smartest” choice of words, has been seeking to rally blue-collar support by emphasizing that many jobs do not require college degrees — and suggesting many colleges are liberal bastions. None of which goes anywhere toward solving our next financial crises. That would be $1Trillion, with a capital T. Can you hear the train a’coming? 


It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid.

Over the past few years it’s become fashionable in sophisticated political circles to argue that presidential campaigns themselves barely matter. What matters is the economic fundamentals. When the economy is strong, the incumbent party wins. When the economy is lousy, the incumbent party loses. All the rest is just a bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I’ve long had some problems with this attitude. I don’t think there’s any question that the state of the economy matters, and I agree that political journalists probably ought to pay more attention to this than they usually do. At the same time, it’s easy to go overboard. For one thing, political scientists have come up with a lot of different models, and they don’t all rely on the same economic measures. Nor do they make the same predictions. Nor do they even claim (in most cases, anyway) to explain more than about 60-70% of the variance in how well the parties do. So even if the models are accurate, there’s plenty of scope for other factors to influence presidential elections too.

But are they accurate? It’s easy to be impressed by a model that accounts for past election results with high accuracy. That’s a nice looking regression line, buddy.  But it’s quite another thing for your model to predict elections in advance, and that’s the acid test for any election model. Until now I’ve never seen anyone do a systematic review of actual predictions by the various models, but today Nate Silver filled that void, taking a look at model predictions since 1992.

The results aren’t pretty:

In total, 18 of the 58 models — more than 30 percent — missed by a margin outside their 95 percent confidence interval, something that is supposed to happen only one time in 20 (or about three times out of 58).

Across all 58 models, the standard error was 8 points of vote margin or 4.6 points of incumbent vote share. That was much larger than the error that the models claimed they would have — about twice as large, in fact.

The “fundamentals” models, in fact, have had almost no predictive power at all. Over this 16-year period, there has been no relationship between the vote they forecast for the incumbent candidate and how well he actually did.

Nate argues that the state of the economy does have some predictive power. He figures it at about 40%, but says that most current models don’t even do that well because they’re poorly designed. That doesn’t surprise me: this is a really hard subject with lots of hard-to-answer questions. What matters most, the absolute state of the economy or whether it’s on an upswing/downswing?

Should we look at GDP growth or unemployment? Or something else, like disposable income? Do voters respond to some variables, like inflation, only when they get above a certain level? Etc. This is hard stuff, and we don’t have a whole lot of data points to work with.

What’s more, common sense suggests that other things matter too. For example, I just can’t accept as coincidence that since 1950, incumbent parties have nearly always won after one term in office and nearly always lost after two terms. If I used that as my only rule, I’d have an accuracy rate of 87%. (Though only 80% if you count Al Gore as the popular-vote winner in 2000.)

All of this is one reason why I’m reasonably optimistic about Obama‘s chances in November. Yes, the economy is still in weak shape. But it’s improving (I think, or at least I continue to tell myself while I hold my breath), which I suspect is at least as important as its absolute level. What’s more, his party has been in power for only one term and he’s a strong candidate running against a weak Republican field. Put all that stuff together, and I think his odds look pretty good.

As long as Greece can keep the lie up for about eight more months and Merkel can keep persuading the good Germans to continue to be good Germans, and North Korea stays sedated, and Iran keeps rattling and not thrusting, and no other big bubble bursts (like the student loan bubble for instance), and oil doesn’t go to $150., and no other Soldier loses it in Afghanistan and blows away 20 or 30 innocents, and mexico isn’t taken over by drug gangs, and the rest of Europe can keep their pants on, and Iraq doesn’t erupt in civil war (which will clearly be Obama’s fault) and the Supreme Court doesn’t find the “Obamacare” mandate to be unconstitutional, or even if it does, and the Chinese, well you get the picture. Say again, why would anyone want this job?

Bottom line: the economy matters, but it’s probably wise not to get too deterministic about these things. Monocausal explanations are often appealing, but just as often wrong. The world is a very complicated place.


The Price of Gas, and a Reasonable Man.

Someone named Winghunter, called me Stevey and referred to my post, “Gas Prices Go Up Under Obama. Really?” (sic) with disdain, citing about 10 stories relating to the Obama Administration’s efforts to stop drilling for oil here in this country, and his opposition to the pipeline project which would of course, “create tens of thousands of jobs.”  He then assumed I am a left wing radical and closed his rant with “not expecting to hear from you” or something along those lines. Well, Winghunter, you SHOULD expect to hear from me,  and here it is.

To your surprise, I am not a left wing radical. I am actually a capitalist and a member of the 1% club. I voted for Reagan, Bush, Bush and Obama

I voted for Obama because he is a reasonable person (as my partner Tim Handley would say) and a really cool guy. This was after 8 years of being embarrassed by a really un-cool guy. I voted for Reagan and the Bush’s because I thought they were the best chance I had at protecting my earnings and keeping the tax rate the lowest. I was right. And, I was wrong.

I was raised in an Irish Catholic and Jewish household by parents who couldn’t be more opposed when it comes to politics and business. My Mother had worked hard at being a secretary to officers of the US Navy and finished her career as secretary to the base commander at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco. She was a self-described Jew, daughter of Hungarian immigrants, a conservative Democrat and capitalist. My father was the 12th child of Irish-Catholic immigrants, drove Yellow Cab in San Francisco for 38 years, was a Teamsters Union steward and thought of himself as a liberal Democrat. From the time I was old enough to remember, we had animated discussions over dinner, about politics, race, religion, taxes, education and movies.

My Father hung with a group of guys who drove cab like him. French, Irish, Albanian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek. No African-Americans allowed. They drank and smoked and shot pool and mostly liked working the night shift. My Mother hung with me. I grew up thinking that she was mostly right and he was mostly wrong.

I attended a Catholic elementary school (Our Lady of Angels) and a Catholic High School (Junipero Serra). I met my first African American at UC Berkeley. My Mother held a severely racist view of African Americans based on her experience managing “Negroes” at Hunter’s Point. She didn’t like Italians much better, and we never ate “Italian food”. Whether her stories were true or not, I walked out into life with roughly the same prejudicial inclination. It took ten years for me to lose the prejudice. I think I was lucky.

Somehow, my high school girlfriend became impregnated, so I had to turn down an appointment to the US Naval Academy that my Mother had worked hard to get me, and marry her. This did not make my Mother happy. Just to really slam it to her, I married an Italian later.

Me – Summer of 67

My first exposure to public protestation occurred when Mario Savio held free speech rallies on the UC Berkeley Campus during my freshman year. Our country was just getting going for real in Vietnam, but I was granted a 3A draft status because I had 2 children at the time, and was unable to participate. A couple of years later, the Chicago riots over the Vietnam war turned our National attention to the voice of the people, while Bobby Kennedy got shot and killed and the Summer of love kicked off the hippie movement in San Francisco. By this time, I had developed a social conscience and participated in all of that, including Woodstock a few years later. Divorced by then, I lived in a communal home in Los Altos Hills. An oxymoron, I know. But, through all of that, I never quit my job in the “establishment”.

Like almost every other Californian my age, I hated Ronald Reagan when he was Governor, but managed to get over it when I was making $250,000 a year in 1972, and voted for his second term. Someone once said that if you weren’t a liberal when you were in college and aren’t a conservative when you were in business, there was something wrong with you. But, that didn’t exactly apply to me.

The view that I have always held was tempered by the question, “What would a reasonable person do or think under these circumstances?” And, I think I owe this to watching and listening to my parents “debate” issues over dinner. Neither one of them was ever reasonable. It was sort of like watching John McCain argue with Nancy Pelosi. Though, my Mom and Dad were more articulate.

Was I a proponent of the power to the people movement in the 1960s and 70s? Sure. I saw then, just as I see now, a disproportionate distribution of attention, power and leverage to a small group of individuals at the expense of an increasingly disenfranchised majority of Americans. Nothing has changed in the way our government manages its business. Make love, not war? Give peace a chance? Of course. Was I a proponent of the hippie movement? Absolutely. Drugs and sexual freedom seemed like a great idea in 1967. Catholic, all male high school boy gets key to the city. Now, not so much.

So, here’s the deal Mr. Winghunter:

First fact, the POTUS has almost no control over the price of gas at the pump. Fact. Mr. Gingrich needs to stop it.

Second, if he agreed to go along with the Keystone pipeline from Canada to Texas, the bulk of that oil ends up being shipped to other places and it would have almost no effect on the price of gas at the pump. It would not create tens of thousands of jobs either (an independent study conducted by the Cornell ILR Global Labor Institute found that the Keystone Pipeline would result in 2,500 to 4,650 temporary construction jobs). It also crosses an active seismic zone and is the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available. The proposed route additionally crosses the Sandhills in Nebraska, the large wetland ecosystem, and the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest reserves of fresh water in the world. The Ogallala Aquifer spans eight states, provides drinking water for two million people, and supports $20 billion in agriculture. A leak could ruin drinking water and devastate the mid-western U.S. economy.

Third, The price of gas at the pump is affected mainly by commodity futures trading. Yes, the same 27 year-old MBA gamblers in pin-stripes and yellow neckties who took the economy down. Supply and demand, taxes, transportation, cost of crude, refining margins and competition make up the rest of the equation. Are the oil companies making a huge profit. Of course, and why not? As long as we stay stuck on this insane dependency on oil, they will continue to make huge profits.

So, commodity future trading based on the current supply in terms of output, especially the production quota set by OPEC, is the biggest single impact on the price of gas at the pump. If traders believe supply will decline based on say, threats to the straits of Hormuz, or a war with Iran, they bid the price up. If they believe supply will increase, the price falls. Another influence for traders is Oil reserves, including what is available in U.S. refineries and what is stored at the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. These reserves can be accessed very easily, and can add to the oil supply if prices get too high. Saudi Arabia also has a large reserve capacity. If it promises to tap those reserves, traders allow oil prices to fall. The last influence is Oil demand, particularly from the U.S. Demand usually rises during the summer vacation driving season. To predict summer-time demand, forecasts for travel from AAA are used to determine potential gasoline use. During the winter, weather forecasts are used to determine potential home heating oil use.

And, those are the facts, Mr. Winghunter. Facts. Not my opinion.

Mr. Obama is a reasonable man, has a great singing voice, is the ultimate in cool, has done a really good job of trying to lead this dysfunctional country during a time of unprecedented economic disaster, and I intend to vote of him again this November because I know that he will continue to resist terrible ideas like the Keystone Pipeline. As any reasonable man would.

Based on your call sign, Mr. Winghunter, I would guess you are a bird hunter, and like my brother-in-law, a proud owner of a large cache of guns and ammo. I have nothing against that and I applaud your ability to do so, but when the neighbors took me hunting when I was 10 years old, and I had an 8 point buck in my sights at 20 yards, I couldn’t pull the trigger. I personally don’t think it is reasonable for men to kill other living things when it is not necessary for survival. Just my view. Enjoy your day.


The Foxification Effect.

 

A survey of habitual Fox News viewers by Fairleigh Dickinson University revealed that they become poorly informed about current events. But mere statistics fail to reveal the causes of this effect. Does habitual Foxwatching, for example, trigger some kind of brain trauma or cellular loss akin to Alzheimer’s disease? Or is the damage emotional and psychological, like PTSD? To study the Foxification Effect, The Nation commissioned Marvin Kitman, a professional television critic who covered the box for thirty-five years at Newsday, to serve as a guinea pig in an experiment.

The terms were these: the subject would go on a strict Fox News diet for two weeks and record its effects on him. At the end of the experiment, he would submit a report of his experience and his conclusions about how Fox News achieves the effects it has had on the millions of Americans who make up its devoted audience. His study would then be sealed in a time capsule for six months, after which it would be published in The Nation. This way, they could test the accuracy of the network pundits.

They report that Kitman apparently suffered no permanent damage from his ordeal, though they continue to monitor his case. You can’t be too cautious about these experiments. Recall the filmmaker in the documentary Super Size Me, who ate only McDonald’s meals for thirty days. He ended up overweight and with heart palpitations. Or the heroic doctors in Dr. Walter Reed’s experiment (shown in the movie Yellow Jack), who let themselves be bitten to prove that mosquitoes were the carriers of yellow fever. They ended up dead.

Herewith, the relevant excerpts from Marvin Kitman’s Fox News Diary:

On Monday, September 12, at 5 o’clock, Fox News’s rating was increased by one. My first reaction: where the hell is Glenn Beck? I was actually looking forward to seeing this journalist who I had been hearing was out there where the buses don’t run. But he was gone.

It was widely reported that Beck was fired by Roger Ailes for being too extreme, or what we progressives commonly call “all that right-wing crap.” All that right-wing crap has been replaced by a news show called The Five, which consists of five people sitting around a table talking simultaneously. What the Fab Five was talking about, I was to discover as the week wore on, were the highlights of the right-wing crap:

There is a liberal mob in control of the Senate and the White House trying to force things down our throats, like jobs.

The Republicans have been prevented from fixing the nojobs situation by the Democrats, who appeared to have invented over-regulation and over-taxation. Furthermore, the president’s jobsjobsjobs bill is appalling.

They discussed Michele Bachman’s strategy in the coming GOP debate on CNN, and shrewdly concluded that most viewers would be watching Monday Night Football.

I think that’s what they were saying. With five people all yelling at the same time, it was hard to understand them. Five newspeople all arguing might not work as communication, but it is the closest I’ve seen to a real libertarian news show.

One night, four of the panelists—Greg Gutfeld, Eric Bolling, Dana Perino and Andrea Tantaros—agreed on one thing: that only the Republicans are trying to solve the Obama-created recession. Their solution: cut the deficit and don’t cut tax breaks for the rich. And the Democrats were blocking their effort. The dissenter on The Five was a political consultant named Bob Beckel. A member of the majority had ridiculed him for being on his cellphone talking to his bookmaker. Beckel accused his tormentor of being on Red Bull or some other high-energy drink.

By Wednesday, what was really exciting the think tank was the fight in New York’s 9th Congressional District, a Brooklyn-Queens borderline Democratic bastion. This was the special election, taking place the next day, for the hot seat vacated by Anthony Weiner, the man who had made the front pages of the New York Post for twelve days in June and whose jockey shorts will someday be enshrined in the Smithsonian beside Monica Lewinsky’s thong. An uncharismatic Democratic Party hack wearing a yarmulke, named Weprin, was being challenged by Republican stalwart Bob Turner, a former TV syndication executive whose claim to fame is having started The Jerry Springer Show. The majority agreed that a victory for a presumptive Representative Turner could be the biggest thing to happen in Washington since Abraham Lincoln went to Congress in 1847.

I was only listening with part of my brain when suddenly, out of all the verbal chaos, a strange word popped out: “Solyndra.” I eventually learned that this referred to a solar panel maker that seemed to be in some kind of fiscal hot water, proving that corruption and cronyism were rife in the Obama White House.

Whenever his colleagues later mentioned Solyndra, Beckel would cover his ears with his hands, shut his eyes and pretend to sleep. Maybe he needed a shot of Red Bull.

Brett Baier, the single anchor of The Special Report With Brett Baier, at six o’clock, looks like a real newsman, not an actor playing one on TV. Square-jawed like Dick Tracy, he was more insidious. I could actually understand him.

By and large, the first half-hour of Baier’s report passed for a regular news show. The administration is supplying guns to the Mexican drug cartels so it can trace the bad guys, but the bad guys are keeping the guns… The Post Office is losing $10 billion… One in six Americans is living below the poverty line… And it’s all Obama’s fault. Baier did report that one of the eight dwarfs in the Republican presidential debate debacle was ahead in the polls. Yes, folks, it looks like Michelle Bachmann will be the nominee. Baier reported that the Brooklyn-Queens border plebiscite was a national referendum on the Obama presidency. Then he brought up the Solyndra business.

And I had thought those five o’clock news clowns were horsing around when they talked up the importance of Solyndra. Now Baier confirms that it’s a “growing controversy.” A big Democrat fundraiser was backing the company. Despite the company’s assurance to the Obama administration that the solar panel business was going well, it filed for bankruptcy. The Washington Post uncovered interoffice e-mails that pointed fingers at Obama administration officials.

Baier walked across the stage to another set, where a panel of authorities had been assembled to give their opinions about the growing controversy over Solyndra. Every Fox News show seems to have a panel. I began to think the cable news network has so-called authorities from academia or conservative think tanks cryogenically frozen in the basement of Fox News Channel headquarters on Sixth Avenue. As needed, they are thrown in the microwave and thawed out in time for a debate with Charles Krauthammer, or any of the 135 in-house “on air personalities” on the Fox payroll for news emergencies requiring their analysis.

I had my doubts about the nefariousness of the Obama administration’s investment. After all, solar energy is a risky business. Everybody in Silicon Valley knew Solyndra picked the wrong technology in making solar panels. It isn’t the first company to guess wrong about new technology. What did Baier’s panel think about the growing controversy? “Lot of smoke,” Krauthammer said.

Afterward, it hit me that this may have been a secret signal telegraphing all Fox News show producers that this is the story du jour.

The Fox Report With Shepard Smith, the seven o’clock news, is the network’s showcase news hour. Meaning no disrespect to the dead, Shep is the Walter Cronkite of Fox News journalism. His report runs down the same news as Baier’s did. He does season it with humor. Reporting an uproar about SpongeBob SquarePants being a socialist agent, Shep quips, “This guy is on opposite us! Take him off!”

There’s breaking news tonight about the GOP presidential race. High-profile endorsements. Tim Pawlenty for Romney, Governor Bobby Jindal for Perry. Correspondent Carl Cameron analyzing Perry’s Social Security blooper on the previous night’s candidate debate. “One man’s clarification,” the witty Shep opines, “is another man’s flip-flop.”

With zest, Shep tackled the day’s big story: the growing controversy about Solyndra. More details have emerged about how the administration was bilking American taxpayers by investing in a green project. The more we learn about it, Shep in his ingratiating way was suggesting, the more Solyndra might be the big scandal we had been expecting (hoping for) since 2008. “And now you know the news,” Shep cheerfully signs off for the night.

The news-watching nights rolled on… Gradually, they merged in my mind like a dream. Or perhaps a nightmare, for I discovered that the Fox News Channel likes to frighten people. Nobody is more terrifying than Bill O’Reilly. No matter who the competition has sent in—the fearsome muscleman Anderson Cooper at CNN, the increasingly frenzied mad genius Keith Olbermann—no matter how many stakes progressives have tried to drive into Bill O’s so-called heart since 1996, nothing could stop the The O’Reilly Factor.

“You are about to enter the no-spin zone,” O’Reilly begins. “The spin stops here,” he later warns. Well, yes. Watching The O’Reilly Factor is like being in a laundromat with all the machines in the spin cycle. It’s all spin. O’Reilly’s spin.

The anchorman begins feeding the quarters into the machine this night with his opening segment, a regular feature he calls “Talking Points” about what irritates him. Tonight it’s that menace to society, Paul Krugman. Apparently, he wrote a blog for the New York Times the day before implying that some patriots were exploiting 9/11 commemorations for political motives. In O’Reilly’s opinion Krugman was even worse than a terrorist, besides being a scoundrel and a traitor. Not that O’Reilly doesn’t believe in free speech. Krugman can write whatever he wanted, O’Reilly handsomely granted.

With Krugman disposed of, Bill got back on message: the growing controversy over Solyndra, which he called “Enron Two,” implying it was up there with the worst scandals in history. The part of my brain still left after thirty-five years as a TV critic remembered some history I had learned at CCNY and asked, How does Solyndra compare with the Credit Mobilier scandal of 1873? Rutherford B. Hayes stealing the election of 1876? President Harding’s poker-playing friends who pulled off the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1923? Let’s see—all Republican administrations! How about Cheney and Halliburton?

Next comes the debate, which is always the highlight of O’Reilly’s Hour of Power. This faceoff, usually with some left-wing nut (on this night it was Alan Colmes, who is to the right of Snooki), gives Bill a chance to display his mastery of debater’s tricks, such as arguing the “facts” even when his are wrong. Another ploy is the Rhetorical Sidestep. When he is behind, he changes the subject. And then the Fast Cutoff: when he seems to be losing an argument, he says, “Well, that’s your opinion. Thanks for coming in.” As if he wasn’t presenting his opinion in the No Spin Zone.

I have a friend, a college graduate, now a headhunter on Wall Street, who thinks she will get a more balanced view of the news by watching not only O’Reilly but Sean Hannity. Now I see why: the Hannity news at nine o’clock offers diversity. Where O’Reilly is semi-demented, Hannity is a total madman. The only thing balanced about him is the part in the middle of his hair.

Tonight’s episode was promo’d as “The Road to 2012,” an in-depth analysis of the Republican primary race. The roadkill turned out to be “The Anointed One.” The anchorman can’t even bear mentioning Obama by name. What was the Anointed One up to today? You guessed it: the growing controversy about Solyndra. Hannity saw this scandal as another example of The Green Menace, and he proceeded to indict the whole ecology movement, and global warming, for which I think he blames the Chicago thugs who have taken over the administration.

Then Hannity thawed out another package of Authorities, whom he labels The Great American Panel. They listened as Hannity formulated the right side of the night’s big debate after a brief rundown of the other news.

Greta Van Susteren, Esq., anchor of On the Record With Greta Van Susteren, looked different from the last time I’d seen her, on CNN. Then I remembered reading that when she landed her job in 2002, she said she was so excited about the chance to do good journalism at Fox, she’d had a face-lift. Greta got “the get” of the night with her first guest—Sarah Palin! Well, not exactly. Sarah is on her porch in Wasilla, from which she keeps an eye on Russia, while Greta is still in the studio, from which she can see her Nielsen ratings going up.

It was not surprising that the hottest unannounced candidate in the GOP presidential primary gave Greta the laurel. Palin is a Fox News analyst on the same bench as such objective analysts as Karl Rove.

The big question, what all Fox News fans wanted to know: would she be running for president? If anyone could get her to open up, it would be ex–criminal defense and civil trial lawyer Greta. Under tough questioning Palin revealed that she was still talking it over with her friends, loved ones, trusted advisers and accountants. Could it be that she wanted to see how much money could be squeezed out of the star-struck media before withdrawing from the race? I don’t know. Nobody asked.

By the end of my stint as a hired Fox News–watcher, my takeaway was, first, that the Democrats invented corruption.

Second, regardless of different formats or different anchors, whatever else was going on in the world of news, each show featured the same big story. When I watched, it was the growing controversy about Solyndra.

How do the news people at Fox know what the big story of the day is? you might ask. They just look at the earlier Fox News shows. If they flag it, it must be important. Anyway, by the time the night is finished, it will be the big story. In fact, by the next day, or sooner, it goes viral, showing up on other networks and in the newspapers. Opinion-makers elsewhere are reluctant not to use it for fear of being judged “out of touch.”

How does Fox get its big story of the day? Several ways. I remember one coup regarding the Department of Agriculture official who gave a speech that made her seem racist. A video excerpt had fallen into Fox’s hands over the transom, as they say, and by the end of the day of repetition on Fox and elsewhere the official had been fired. That was enterprising investigative journalism at its finest.

When the whole speech was played, however, it turned out that the fired official actually had been making a strong civil rights statement. Somebody had performed a contextectomy. It was a clear violation of the Geneva Convention on TV Journalism, which calls for telling the whole truth, not just half or a quarter.

How could that story have gotten legs? It wasn’t true. Yes, but the more you repeat something on TV, the truer it becomes.

Third, I learned how people are Foxified: it comes from watching too much Fox News over a period of time. They fall asleep watching reruns of O’Reilly and Hannity, starting at 11 or midnight. Instead of turning into a cockroach like the guy in the Kafka story, they wake up as a right-wing ideologue, or as we progressives call them, nuts.

Now I understand what Ailes and his diabolical mind-benders are up to. At the Fox News Channel, they treat the news as a script. A more apt slogan than “Fair & Balanced” would be “Fox News—Based on a True Story.”

But that’s not being objective, you say.  Objectivity is a sham. Every time you pick one story from the smorgasbord of news coming in, you’re . Sorry, there’s no such thing as objective journalism.making a selective judgment. When Uncle Walt used to claim, “And that’s the way it is,” Ayn Rand, Ralph Nader, the Smothers Brothers (either Tom or Dick) could say, “No, that’s not the way it is.”

Fox News is news with an attitude. It’s proud to be American news with a lot of flag-waving.  It’s aimed at angry people who see good factory jobs disappearing overseas. It finds stories its audience didn’t even know they should be angry about until Fox News called their attention to them. Fox News is aimed at people who feel left out. People who feel the left-wing media controlling TV news don’t serve them the way talk-radio news does. It’s only a niche, but Roger Ailes has driven an eighteen-wheel Mack truck through it.

And it’s all the Anointed One’s fault.

 


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