Tag Archives: Democratic

Our National Debt.

Similar to what’s going on in Spain, Ireland and Greece,

the United States is trying to focus its budget on austerity measures rather than on growth. Growth, in the case of the U.S. means revenue growth – otherwise known as tax increases. God forbid!

The US Senate unanimously rejected President Barack Obama’s proposed 2013 budget Wednesday and shot down a series of Republican alternatives, assuring a prolonged election-year fiscal battle.

“With more than 500 members of Congress opposing his budget — and not a single one willing to support it — this president’s failures of leadership and fiscal responsibility are obvious to everyone,” Romney’s policy director Lanhee Chen said.

The president’s budget blueprint presented in February contained some $4 trillion in deficit reductions by 2022, combining tax increases for the rich with spending caps on some agencies. But, this wasn’t enough for the Republicans. Or, more to the point, it gave the Republicans the tax increase ammunition they needed to shoot it down.

An alternative Republican plan put forward this year by Representative Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, called for balancing the budget over three decades in part by deeply cutting some social safety services and reforming entitlement programs like Medicare. This plan wasn’t enough for the Democrats, who steadfastly protect social security and so-called entitlement programs with their political lives.

Of course, neither plan garnered any serious votes.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin said the Ryan plan “does not address what budget experts of all ideological stripes tell us we must address: the need for additional revenues.”

The deadly third rail of American politics continues to be tax increases. Even the Democrats won’t explain the very simple truth about this. If we want to continue to make good on the contracts with the American worker called Social Security and Medicare, we must raise taxes, cut spending elsewhere, or increase Federal revenue. We saw how painful and difficult it was to pass a simple JOBS act which is now drowning in the SEC. We’re not going to find many other job creation or revenue opportunities elsewhere, so cutting non-entitlement spending or raising taxes, or both, seems to be the obvious answer.

Although, as those who have seen the movie, “Titanic” can attest, obvious is relative.

So, let’ see. We have a $15.7 Trillion U.S. debt, which is now over 100% of GDP and upon which we pay interest of $454 Billion every year. In other words, our INTEREST payments are over half of our entire military budget, which is the largest in the world and over 5 times that of our nearest competitor, China.

I think we can all see where this is going. My simple explanation yesterday about families that carry $30,000 in credit card debt at 30% interest taking 15 years and $110,000 to pay that off should illuminate the problem. We could just print money. Or, we could just drop the whole partisan thing and do our freaking jobs!

Budgets that fail to make tough compromises between Democrats and Republicans may please the party faithful. They won’t, however, get us out of the deep fiscal hole both parties have had a hand in digging.

Compromises need to be made between competing priorities. No one can expect to get everything they want — with the other side making all the concessions. Moreover, those compromises must involve the thorniest points of contention: health care, Social Security, and taxes. They must also add up to substantial and sustained deficit reduction, not just a temporary fix.

The prescription for deficit reduction from Bowles and Simpson (who got it right by the way), who served as co-chairmen of the president’s bipartisan fiscal commission, begins with the premise that everything must be on the table: domestic spending, defense, entitlements, and revenues.

After the November presidential election, the Obama administration and Congress will have less than two months to make crucial decisions on taxes and the budget that could seriously hinder or help the country’s economic recovery.

What do you guess will be the outcome?


Crowdfunding Bill Passes Senate!

Senate passes small business investment bill.

I have posted 6 blogs about this topic since January. Thank you all for your letters to your Senators and Congressmen. I am sure your voices helped make this happen. This post is a little wonky, so if you don’t care about the grisly history of getting controversial legislation passed, just read the first few paragraphs.

President Barack Obama supports the measure, which stands to be one of the few bipartisan bills to pass Congress during this politically contentious election year.

Legislation to help startup companies raise capital by reducing some federal regulations won easy passage in the Senate last Thursday despite warnings from some Democrats that less government oversight would mean more abuse and scams.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., a leading sponsor of the legislation, said it “might be the most pro-growth measure that this body will consider, perhaps this whole year.”

Democrats did manage to pass one amendment to increase investor protections, so the legislation will still require another House vote. The House passed the measure two weeks ago on a 390-23 vote. The Senate vote was 73-26, with all the “no” votes coming from Democrats.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he would schedule a House vote next week “so we can get this bipartisan jobs bill to the president’s desk for his signature without delay.” That would be THIS week!

The legislation combines six smaller bills that change Securities and Exchange Commission rules so small businesses can attract investors and go public with less red tape and cost. It eases rules on advertising and permits startups to use the Internet and other social media to solicit a large number of small-scale investors.

The measure sailed through the House with almost no opposition but met resistance in the Senate after SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and numerous consumer and investor groups expressed concerns that it dismantles some of the protections put in place after the Enron scandal and the excesses of the dot-com era. Senate Democrats demanded that investor protections be added to the bill.

On Tuesday, the future of the bill seemed in doubt when Senate Republicans rejected Democratic attempts to add protections to the bill and link it to reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, an agency that helps U.S. companies finance their sales abroad. The Democratic leadership decided to move ahead after deciding on two amendments that addressed some, but not all, of the investor protection concerns.

That wasn’t enough for some Democrats. The Senate’s no. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said the bill would “allow companies to use billboards and cold calls to lure unsophisticated investors with the promise of making a quick buck investing in new companies.” Absolute NONSENSE.

“We are about to embark upon the most sweeping deregulatory effort and assault on investor protection in decades,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said.

The centerpiece of the bill is a measure to reduce costs for companies seeking to go public by phasing in over five years SEC regulations that apply to “emerging growth companies.” That status would be in effect for companies with annual gross revenue of less than $1 billion.

The measure would remove SEC regulations preventing small businesses from using advertisements to solicit investors, raise from 500 to 2,000 the number of shareholders a company or community bank can have before it must register with the SEC, and allow smaller companies to sell up to $50 million in shares, compared with $5 million now, without filing some SEC paperwork.

It also encourages the practice of “crowdfunding,” in which the Internet is used to raise capital from a large number of smaller investors. The measure as it passed the House limits individual contributions to $10,000 or 10 percent of the investor’s annual income.

Obama expressed his support for the original House legislation, but the White House also said it supported Senate Democratic efforts to add adequate safeguards for potential investors in light of any reduced government oversight of investment transactions.

The Senate passed, by 64-35, an amendment on crowdfunding that requires websites to register with the SEC, requires promoters who are paid by a company to reveal that fact and requires a company trying to raise money to provide information about its financial condition, business plan and shareholder risks. It limits investments to 5 percent of annual income for those earning under $100,000 a year, or 10 percent for those earning more than $100,000.

The less-regulated House version, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., one of the amendment sponsors with Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Col., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., is “simply a pathway to predatory scams.”

Crowdfunding is now banned because it is not legal to widely advertise and offer securities to the public without SEC registration.

A second amendment, promoted by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., would have tightened the definition of “shareholder” so that large companies don’t undercount the number of their shareholders in order to stay within the shareholder limit, set to rise from 5,000 to 2,000, for SEC registration. It fell on a voice vote.

White House press secretary Jay Carney praised the addition of the crowdfunding protections and said, “We will be vigilant in monitoring this and other elements to ensure the overall bill achieves its goal of helping entrepreneurs while maintaining protections for investors.”

HUGE victory for many small, grass-roots groups without whose efforts, this bill probably would never have been written or come to the floor of either chamber. So, we owe everything to these guys on their relentless pursuit of doing the right thing. What follows is an abridged story of how it happened:

When the Senate moved to vote on the House version of the JOBS bill last Thursday, it included a highly anticipated crowdfunding provision, the origins of which, appropriately, came from “the crowd.”

While there were many groups, companies and individuals involved in shaping the legislation, one of the most focused and sustained efforts pushing for the legalization of large-scale, ownership-based crowdfunding has come from an eclectic collection of internet-connected grassroots influencers: A blogger who first posted his idea on BoingBoing in 2009; the actor Whoopi Goldberg; a group of small business lawyers in Oakland, California; a trio of determined entrepreneursa small business group in Washington, D.C.; and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This group of influencers have helped push through a big rule change that many entrepreneurs hope could unlock that first stage of seed financing that evaporated with the onset of the recession.

The result of the legislation is that entrepreneurs will be able to test the viability of their ideas in a way that’s currently not possible by raising limited amounts of equity capital from large numbers of people who don’t have to be “accredited” by the Securities and Exchange Commission. And they could spread the word about their business ideas and solicit investors from their social networks online, which under current law is illegal without registering the business with all 50 state regulators.

That current state of affairs struck many in the small business and entrepreneurial community as absurd, at a time when projects on platforms like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter were garnering huge amounts of donations.

“If you try to offer equity to more than 35 members of your friends and family on Facebook, then you could go to jail,” said Woodie Neiss, an entrepreneur based in Miami who’s been working with two of his friends and building a movement for the past year to change the law. “That’s what we’re trying to say: This is silly. Let’s come up with a framework to enable this to work.”

Along with his friends, Neiss has been working with a San Francisco editor, a Washington, D.C. lobbying group for small businesses, and a loose coalition of entrepreneurs, lawyers and academics and the internet to build a grassroots lobbying campaign to influence public opinion and to change decades-old securities law to allow for experimentation with the idea of crowdfunding investments in startups.

Paul Spinrad, executive editor of Make in San Francisco, has worked with Neiss to lead the movement. A software developer and former section editor at WIRED, Spinrad had experimented with a crowdfunding prototype platform in 2003 called Premises, Premises. His later and (current) work at MAKE magazine inspired other business ideas, but he hasn’t had the time or money to invest in them. That led to a series of conversations with friends, and a December 2009 blog post on BoingBoing that solicited ideas from readers about how securities laws could be changed to allow equity-based crowdfunded investments. Spinrad’s initial idea was to persuade the SEC to carve out a regulatory exemption for any capital raising efforts under $10,000, and limited investor involvement of $100 per person.

It turned out that there were a lot of people who were interested in Spinrad’s idea. One group was the The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in Oakland, a group dedicated to promoting local community-oriented economic growth . Spinrad convinced its co-director Jenny Kassan to help him after reading one of her business columns in a local newspaper. Kassan herself was interested in the concept because she had a background in securities law and consults for small businesses on financing strategies.

At first, Spinrad and the SELC collaborated to petition the SEC to relax its rules on small business fundraising practices. Spinrad, Kassan and their colleagues raised $1,321 from 53 friends and associates in April 2010 to pay a token fee for the legal legwork on the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo. Spinrad documented the campaign’s progress at his personal blog “Change Crowdfunding Law,” and maintained a mailing list of about 200 people who had expressed interest in their campaign.

Over on the East Coast, Neiss and his two friends Jason Best and Zak Cassady-Dorion founded their own initiative called Startup Exemption, through which they hammered out the principles of a crowdfunding framework based on data garnered from the existing range of crowdfunding sites. They suggested a total fundraising limit of one million dollars for each small business, which the Small Business Administration defines as companies with average annual gross revenue of less than $5 million during each of the last three years, or since a business’ incorporation. Investors who aren’t wealthy enough to meet the SEC’s “accredited investor” standard would be limited to investing $10,000 or 10 percent of their adjusted gross income. Under the framework, state securities registration requirements would be pre-empted and entrepreneurs would have to register on a platform with their social security information, their real online identities on social networks, undergo a background check, and expose their business plan and idea to the public, which would thoroughly vet and discuss the idea online, as well as the business’ progress.

The two met in January last year after attending a small business forum convened by the SEC. While Spinrad writes and thinks out aloud on his blog about the nuances and implications of changing the law and tracks the progress of the campaign, Neiss and his friends have been lobbying public opinion and legislators on the issues. The duo have also been in touch with the White House Office of Science and Technology policy, which reached out to them last June: A senior policy advisor working the administration’s StartUp America initiative and doing outreach to the business community had been following Spinrad’s blog and asked the duo to come up with a two-page brief on their crowdfunding exemption idea.

Meanwhile, Neiss had also been working Capitol Hill, his network of friends and generating publicity for the idea. Last January, Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, helped Neiss land meetings at the SEC and with Rep. Patrick McHenry, (R-N.C.,) a member of both the House Financial Services and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committees. Several hearings were held throughout the course of the year on a bill that McHenry introduced that would legalize crowdfund investing. The House eventually voted to approve it for the first time last November, with full White House support. (President Obama touted his Startup America initiative in his State of the Union speech this year and reiterated his previous support to legalize crowdfunding.) Shortly after that, Neiss used IndieGoGo to raise money to organize a rally on Capitol Hill to publicize the issue and to urge the Senate to move the legislation, where it faced stuff opposition from state securities regulators and consumer groups.

Then, on December 9th, Whoopi Goldberg weighed in on her Facebook page on the issue, and asked her followers to sign Startup Exemption’s online petition to members of the senate to move the legislation.

“I was at a friend’s dinner in NYC,” Neiss explained in an e-mail. “I was talking about how hard it is to get capital for startups. One of the guys turned out to be President of Whoop Inc. He asked if there was anything they could do to spread the word. I met with them and they started to help spread the word.”

In the Senate, up until Tuesday, two versions of a crowdfund investing bill have been competing for legislators’ support: S. 1791, Sen. Scott Brown, (R-Mass.)’s Democratizing Access to Capital Act, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, (D-Oregon)’s Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act (CROWDFUND). Both were introduced in December. Brown’s was supported by crowdfunding boosters, while Merkley’s was supported by state securities regulators.

The political climate is on the crowdfunding supporters’ side. Both the administration and Congress want to be seen doing something to boost the economy in an election year.

Tim Rowe, founder and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center, testified in front of the senate banking committee last week generally in support of the idea, with his own suggestions on how to improve on the current proposals. Wefunder.com, a crowd investing platform for startups, which is a startup itself at the innovation center, has launched an online petition in support of Brown’s legislation. More than 2,800 people have signed it since it was launched at the end of January.

Both Spinrad and Neiss are excited.

“We don’t understand why everyone isn’t talking about this,” said Spinrad in an interview. “This is an amazing, fundamental change, and it’s something everyone can relate to. Everyone knows Kickstarter, and everyone knows of a local restaurant that needs to get funded.” :)

He hasn’t sat back on his laurels even though the legislative momentum appears to have been on his camp’s side. So what did he do? Launch another crowdfunded effort to fund another campaign, of course.

In mid-February, he and the American Sustainable Business Council launched a new campaign on a new crowdfunded media-buying platform called Loudsauce to raise $13,530 for a full-page POLITICO ad about crowdfunding legislation.

It’s happening, kids!


Hold Your Nose and Watch the Sausage.

 

Senate votes to move ahead on small business bill

As much as I cannot stand to watch this process and listen to the petty partisan bickering and ugly back-room deal making, this bill is so important to the future of peer-to-peer lending, small business access to capital and the future of our space, that I HAVE to watch it.

So, legislation making it easier for small businesses to raise money survived a test vote in the Senate yesterday, increasing the chances it could emerge as one of the few bipartisan bills to pass Congress during this election year.

The procedural vote was to cut off debate and move the measure toward passage. Only a day earlier, the legislation that had passed the House two weeks ago by an overwhelming margin appeared in danger of dying.

Senate Democrats met late Tuesday to discuss how to proceed after Republicans succeeded in blocking Democratic amendments that would have increased protections for those investing in small businesses and start-ups, and extended the life of the Export-Import Bank. Why can’t we stick to a single topic?

The 76-22 vote to move forward sets up a vote on final passage planned for Thursday after the Senate votes on two amendments addressing aspects of investor protection. Approval of those proposals would send the bill back to the House.

President Barack Obama has expressed his support for the legislation, which would ease some federal rules so small companies and innovators could more easily attract investors and go public. And, create JOBS!!! But the White House has said it supported Senate Democratic efforts for adequate safeguards for potential investors in light of any reduced government oversight over investment transactions.

Senate Republicans said the legislation was a bipartisan effort to eliminate federal red tape and create jobs, and they stuck together on the test vote.

“We need to show the American people that we can do this,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “This bill is exactly the kind of thing Americans have been asking for, greater freedom and greater flexibility.”

Democrats were split; some said they could not back the legislation because of inadequate investment protections.

“This bill would allow companies to advertise virtually unregulated stock offerings on television or on billboards,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. He said the House bill would let large companies with many shareholders avoid regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The head of the SEC, Mary Schapiro, has written Congress listing concerns about how the bill could open up investments to possible fraud and abuse. This is BOGUS and it is simply code for a bureaucrat trying to retain control. The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., has said the bill contains strong investor protections and that Senate Democratic objections were part of a “cynical campaign strategy of running against a so-called do-nothing Congress.”

The centerpiece of the bill is a measure to reduce the costs of companies seeking to go public by phasing in over five years SEC regulations that apply to what are categorized as “emerging growth companies.” That status would be in effect for companies with annual gross revenue of less than $1 billion.

The measure would remove SEC regulations preventing small businesses from using advertisements to solicit investors, raise from 500 to 2,000 the number of shareholders a company or community bank can have before it must register with the SEC, and allow smaller companies to sell up to $50 million in shares, compared with $5 million now, without filing some SEC paperwork.

It also encourages the practice of “crowdfunding,” where the Internet is used to raise capital from a large number of smaller investors. The measure limits individual contributions to $10,000 or 10 percent of the investor’s annual income.

Senate Democrats who sought to amend the crowdfunding provision said that without changes the practice could lead to fly-by-night schemes to attract vulnerable investors to risky or deceptive ventures.

The rejection of the amendment to extend and expand the life of the Ex-Im Bank also angered Democrats, who said that without the bank U.S. companies would lose a crucial means of financing overseas sales. The bank’s authority expires on May 31, and before that it will hit its lending limit of $100 billion. The Democratic proposal would have extended that authority for four years and raised the lending limit to $140 billion.

McConnell said Republicans were willing to take up the bank’s fate in separate legislation. While supported by most major business groups, the bank is opposed by conservative groups such as the Club for Growth.

So, if you haven’t yet, please tweet or e-mail or text your Senator and .beg him or her to get this passed. Thank you.

 


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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