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“Red Carpet For Ugly People”: White House Correspondents Dinner Has Nothing To Do With Journalism

Reading Peggy Noonan got me into a bad mood, and it was just terrible luck that the next cookie on the plate was this earnest Politico piece by Patrick Gavin on the anniversary of the “controversy” over the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. It seems Tom Brokaw has again broken the silence by expressing the quiet angst of the Beltway press corps at the pollution of this hallowed event by Hollywood celebrities:

Tom Brokaw blames it all on Lindsay Lohan.

Last year, Brokaw became one of the biggest critics of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner after he saw Washington buzzing around and about the troubled Hollywood actress, who was a guest of Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren.

“The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan,” Brokaw told POLITICO during a recent interview in his office in the NBC News Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York. “She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”

Reading the whole article, it’s unclear to me whether Brokaw is primarily concerned about gate-crashing by Hollywood types, or understands that the whole idiotic phenomenon of journalists dressing up like celebrities to schmooze with the rich and powerful people they are supposed to be writing critically about is itself a tad bit sick-making:

“They [the Great Unwashed] were making their own decisions in their own states, in their own communities, and the congressional ratings were plummeting,” he added. “The press corps wasn’t doing very well, either. And I thought, ‘This is one of the issues that we have to address. What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country? Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?’ And what comes through the screen on C-SPAN that night is the latter, and not the former.”

That is exactly right, but it has nothing to do with the admixture of entertainment industry figures in the proceedings. All the borrowed Hollywood glitter does is to make it clearer than ever that if politics is “show business for ugly people,” as the old saying goes, then the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is their red carpet event. Let the stars of E! take over the whole damn thing, and stop pretending it has anything to do with journalism.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 26, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Journalism, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Decider’s Poor Decisions”: George W Bush’s Legacy Keeps Getting Worse

In retrospect, George W. Bush’s legacy doesn’t look as bad as it did when he left office. It looks worse.

I join the nation in congratulating Bush on the opening of his presidential library in Dallas. Like many people, I find it much easier to honor, respect and even like the man — now that he’s no longer in the White House.

But anyone tempted to get sentimental should remember the actual record of the man who called himself The Decider. Begin with the indelible stain that one of his worst decisions left on our country’s honor: torture.

Hiding behind the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Bush made torture official U.S. policy. Just about every objective observer has agreed with this stark conclusion. The most recent assessment came this month in a 576-page report from a task force of the bipartisan Constitution Project, which stated that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.”

We knew about the torture before Bush left office — at least, we knew about the waterboarding of three “high-value” detainees involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. But the Constitution Project task force — which included such figures as Asa Hutchinson, who served in high-ranking posts in the Bush administration, and William Sessions, who was FBI director under three presidents — concluded that other forms of torture were used “in many instances” in a manner that was “directly counter to values of the Constitution and our nation.”

Bush administration apologists argue that even waterboarding does not necessarily constitute torture and that other coercive — and excruciatingly painful — interrogation methods, such as putting subjects in “stress positions” or exposing them to extreme temperatures, certainly do not. The task force strongly disagreed, citing U.S. laws and court rulings, international treaties and common decency.

The Senate intelligence committee has produced, but refuses to make public, a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s use of torture and the network of clandestine “black site” prisons the agency established under Bush. One of President Obama’s worst decisions upon taking office in 2009, in my view, was to decline to convene some kind of blue-ribbon “truth commission” to bring all the abuses to light.

It may be years before all the facts are known. But the decision to commit torture looks ever more shameful with the passage of time.

Bush’s decision to invade and conquer Iraq also looks, in hindsight, like an even bigger strategic error. Saddam Hussein’s purported weapons of mass destruction still have yet to be found; nearly 5,000 Americans and untold Iraqis sacrificed their lives to eliminate a threat that did not exist.

We knew this, of course, when Obama became president. It’s one of the main reasons he was elected. We knew, too, that Bush’s decision to turn to Iraq diverted focus and resources from Afghanistan. But I don’t think anyone fully grasped that giving the Taliban a long, healing respite would eventually make Afghanistan this country’s longest or second-longest war, depending on what date you choose as the beginning of hostilities in Vietnam.

And it’s clear that the Bush administration did not foresee how the Iraq experience would constrain future presidents in their use of military force. Syria is a good example. Like Saddam, Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who does not hesitate to massacre his own people. But unlike Saddam, Assad does have weapons of mass destruction. And unlike Saddam, Assad has alliances with the terrorist group Hezbollah and the nuclear-mad mullahs in Iran.

I do not advocate U.S. intervention in Syria, because I fear we might make things worse rather than better. But I wonder how I might feel — and what options Obama might have — if we had not squandered so much blood and treasure in Iraq.

Bush didn’t pay for his wars. The bills he racked up for military adventures, prescription-drug benefits, the bank bailout and other impulse purchases helped create the fiscal and financial crises he bequeathed to Obama. His profligacy also robbed the Republican Party establishment of small-government credibility, thus helping give birth to the tea party movement. Thanks a lot for that.

As I’ve written before, Bush did an enormous amount of good by making it possible for AIDS sufferers in Africa to receive antiretroviral drug therapy. This literally saved millions of lives and should weigh heavily on one side of the scale when we assess The Decider’s presidency. But the pile on the other side just keeps getting bigger.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 25, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mundane Posturing”: House GOP Kills Eric Cantor’s Ridiculous Health-Care Scheme

It looked like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had come up with a fairly clever scheme. Unfortunately for him, it died yesterday when his fellow House Republicans refused to go along.

The gambit was a little complicated, but in a nutshell, Cantor thought he’d come up with a way to severely undermine the Affordable Care Act — the House would pass a bill to strip federal funds from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps states set up the exchanges that are needed to make the ACA work. The proposal would then divert that money into existing-but- underfunded high-risk pools for the uninsured — a favorite GOP health care policy — that help people with pre-existing conditions buy subsidized coverage.

For Cantor, the plan checked a lot of boxes. If the exchanges are gutted, implementing “Obamacare” would be nearly impossible. At the same time, voters were supposed to see this and say, “See? House Republicans really are interested in providing solutions to problems people face in the real world.” As a matter of public policy, this was an awful idea, but the whole endeavor was billed as an element in the party’s “rebranding” campaign.

So what happened? Cantor’s plan failed miserably because his own allies balked.

On Wednesday, Republican leaders abruptly shelved one of the centerpieces of Mr. Cantor’s “Making Life Work” agenda — a bill to extend insurance coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions — in the face of a conservative revolt. […]

Items that Mr. Cantor had hoped would change the Republican Party’s look, if not its priorities, have been ignored, have been greeted with yawns or have only worsened Republican divisions.

Cantor expected Democratic opposition and he received it — House Dems immediately saw through the scheme and the White House issued a veto threat yesterday morning.

But that wasn’t the majority leader’s real problem. Rather, far-right lawmakers, activists, and organizations saw Cantor’s proposal as an effort to “fix” the Affordable Care Act by investing in high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.

For the left, Cantor’s “Helping Sick Americans Now Act” was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For the right, it was just a sheep to be slaughtered.

Republican leaders assumed that if they just explained the legislation to their own members — this was about cutting “Obamacare” off at the knees, not actually improving the law — they’d have enough support to pass the bill. But House Republicans wouldn’t listen, seeing this as a misguided effort to spend public funds in support of a provision within the health care law they’ve been told to despise.

The Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation and tea party groups have urged Republican lawmakers to oppose the bill, which was authored by GOP Reps. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Michael Burgess of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri. Club for Growth said it would include this vote in its annual rating of members of Congress.

Brent Bozell, a tea party leader, dubbed the bill “CantorCare” in a news release Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers privately fretted that the bill would bolster Obamacare, which the GOP has long tried to dismantle.

Cantor, humiliated, was forced to pull the bill from the floor, realizing it would lose if brought up for a vote. His office insisted that the proposal would be brought back after the leadership had more time to educate its caucus, but there’s no indication of when that might happen.

Remember, Cantor and his allies didn’t really expect this to become law; they only hoped to use this as a political scheme that made House Republicans look better. In practice, it had the opposite of the intended effect, and divided the caucus instead of uniting it.

This was, as NBC’s First Read put it, “mundane posturing,” which should have been easy for the far-right lawmakers, but which ended up backfiring.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 25, 2013

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Where Connections Trump Talent”: Is Washington The Worst Place On Earth?

Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works in Suck Up City, exposing all the awfulness of our nation’s capital. As Politico reports, “Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert’s 2008 funeral, where Washington’s self-obsession—and lack of self-awareness—was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington’s worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event.” Sounds about right.

In the past, I’ve offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like “moral sewer” and “festering cauldron of corruption.” In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don’t find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there’s “Washington,” an actual city where people live and work, and “Washington,” a rhetorical construct that embodies the things people don’t like about government and politics. But is Washington worse than anyplace else? It’s a tough call, but here are some reasons I think D.C. comes in for more of this kind of criticism:

Washington is small.

Part of the reason D.C. has no representation in Congress is that when it was established, it was thought that while the work of government would be carried out in the District, no one would live here. That may not be true anymore, but it’s still extremely small for the capital of the most important country on Earth, and that increases the extent to which it is defined by politics. There are other cities, like Los Angeles or Detroit, where one industry dominates. But with a little more than 600,000 people, Washington ranks No. 25 in population among U.S. cities, behind places like El Paso, Memphis, and Fort Worth. So even if the entertainment industry dominates L.A., there are still a few million people there whose work isn’t directly connected to it. Because D.C. is so small, it’s more dominated by its dominant industry than anywhere else.

What Washington does affects everyone, and not always in a good way.

To get back to the Los Angeles comparison, even if you think, say, the offerings on the Disney Channel are part of a plot to turn our nation’s tweens into a bunch of morons (I’m convinced this is true, I just don’t know who’s behind it or what they hope to achieve), its dominant industry probably produces things you love, too. Detroit may be a mess, but they make cars there, and you’ve probably had a car you loved. Despite the fact that Washington has produced some terrific things like Medicare and the Clean Air Act, it’s also the fount of a steady stream of misbegotten policies and political nastiness. And D.C.’s most horrible people can have an impact on all of our lives. There are no doubt people just as vile in other places, but it’s easy to just laugh at some Wall Street jerkwad or a despicable Hollywood agent. That disgusting congressman, on the other hand, is making the laws we all live under.

Washington gets more scrutiny.

The fact that politics gets the deserved attention it does means that ordinary people hear a lot not only about the consequences of policy but the ugly process of making it. The production of a movie may involve just as much pettiness, squabbling, and backstabbing as the passing of a law, but it doesn’t get as much attention, because there’s a smaller and more specialized press that covers it, compared to the armies of journalists that swarm Capitol Hill and the White House. That means that most of the ugliness is on full display.

Nowhere else do more people fail upward.

The fact that connections matter more than merit in getting ahead is true to some degree everywhere, but not to an identical extent, and nowhere is it more true than in Washington. Anyone who has worked here has encountered multiple incompetent fools who nevertheless managed to keep getting jobs with more and more authority, where they do an incredibly crappy job, only to be hired for another job at an even higher level, where their lack of talent will be even more apparent. That’s because more than anywhere else, jobs, consulting contracts, and the like are distributed based on who you know. Again, this is true everywhere, but in Washington, connections seem to trump talent every time. That doesn’t mean Washington isn’t brimming with extraordinarily talented people, because it is. But based on my unscientific survey, it has more hacks enjoying undeserved career advancement than anywhere else.

Washington has more short-timers.

OK, I’m not sure this is true, and I don’t know if anyone has the data to establish it. But it does seem that a huge number of people come to Washington, spend a few years working in the politics industry, and then leave to go somewhere else. There are people who love it here, but in my experience, there are few who love it here so much that they can’t imagine living anywhere else, unless it’s because they want to keep working in politics. In contrast, you’ll find lots and lots of people in places like New York or L.A. or San Francisco or Chicago who think it’s the best place in the world and don’t ever want to leave, no matter what they do for a living. That transient population keeps D.C.’s character defined by politics, which is the part that never changes.

That’s my list; you could probably come up with some other things. So is Washington worse than anyplace else? Does it really have a higher concentration of dreadful people doing dreadful things? I can’t say for sure. But maybe.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 27, 2013

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Are A Nation Of Immigrants”: Immigration Reform Is Both Compassionate And Practical

Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, is pushing immigration reform because he needs a major legislative accomplishment to cement his credentials as a rising GOP star.

Haley Barbour, former GOP governor of Mississippi, is campaigning for an immigration overhaul because he knows that the Republican Party will be doomed if it does not make peace with growing numbers of Latino voters.

John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator and former GOP presidential nominee, is once again advocating a path to citizenship for undocumented workers because, well, his ego won’t allow him to be outdone by a young upstart named Rubio.

Whatever their reasons, they have found the right cause: The time has come to offer an estimated 11 million people living in the shadows a path to citizenship. Political calculations can produce lasting accomplishments, and few issues are more in need of ambitious pols looking to burnish their resumes than immigration reform.

For decades now, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Indians, Koreans, and even a few Irish and Norwegians, among others, have lived and worked among us, paying taxes, buying homes, sending their children to school — all the while without the protections afforded by legal documents.

Their labors are easily exploited by greedy employers. They can’t drive or board airplanes legally. They are not eligible to collect Social Security upon retirement, even if they have paid into the system through fake papers. They live in fear of those routine disruptions that can spiral downward into devastation for those without proper documents: the routine traffic stop, which can lead to deportation; the death of a parent in a distant land, which urges travel across borders; the teenager’s approaching 16th birthday and its shattered promise of a driver’s license, which can’t be obtained.

Jose Antonio Vargas, a former reporter who has become an advocate for immigration reform, wrote about learning of his status as an undocumented immigrant only when he went to apply for a driver’s license as a teenager. His grandparents, who were naturalized citizens from the Philippines, had never told him that they had conspired to bring him into the country illegally in order to give him a better life. He was as American as any other California teenager, so he was shocked to learn he stood on the other side of an invisible line.

But some of the most compelling reasons to put people like Vargas, Americans in almost every respect, on the path to citizenship have to do with the benefits that would accrue to the rest of us. Yes, immigration reform is a compassionate policy. It’s also a very practical one that provides substantial assistance to the economy, which is good news for everyone.

Business executives already know that, which is why so many of them are campaigning for comprehensive immigration reform. They depend on well-educated immigrants for their science and engineering expertise; they also depend on low-skilled immigrants to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do, including farm work.

In addition, there is a broader benefit provided by immigrants, both legal and illegal: They have helped the United States to remain youthful, in contrast to its rapidly aging peers among industrialized nations.

Just look at Japan, a vast geriatric ward. A stunning 23 percent of its population is 65 or older. A cultural resistance to outsiders has exacerbated its problems: It remains hostile toward immigrants, despite the fact that it needs younger workers.

Several Western European countries haven’t fared much better. In Greece, for example, 19 percent of the population is 65 or older. That helps to explain its dismal economy, which doesn’t have enough younger workers paying taxes to support its retirees.

The United States, by contrast, sees itself as a nation of immigrants (despite the fact that history shows waves of discontent over the issue). Because of more recent waves of newcomers — whether they crossed the border with or without legal documents — this country’s retirees account for just 13 percent of the population. Just imagine how vicious the fights over cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be if we had fewer young workers to pay the tab.

Most of America’s undocumented workers have shown their allegiance to this country. We ought to show our appreciation by putting them on a path to citizenship. After all, we need them.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, April 27, 2013

April 27, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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