Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What is the world coming to?

See this story about the gang rape of a young girl and the handful of people who apparently stood around and watched. What is the world coming to?

Atlanta may elect its first White Mayor in more than 30 years

The Wall Street Journal reports that Atlanta is poised to elect its first white mayor in 30 years.

The news here is not that blacks are voting for a white person. That's been going on for ever. The news is that notwithstanding the fact that blacks are a majority in Atlanta, the white candidate has more support among the black community that the black candidates.
This raises for me a couple of questions that the article did not answer: (a)are white atlantans voting as a bloc in favor the white candidate or any one of the black candidates? (b) what happens if this race goes to a run-off between the leading white candidate and a black candidate, does it become racialized?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's Wrong with CNN?

CNN is the least-watched network in primetime (see this NY Times report here). CNN is even getting beaten by HLN. HLN? I am saddened by CNN's apparent demise, though I think it is well-justified.

I'm saddened because CNN was the only place (other than PBS) that one could go to for hardcore news. I once considered myself a CNN devotee. Though CNN thinks its slide is due to the fact that it does hard news, it is sadly mistaken.

First, CNN does less hard news in primetime than either MSNBC or FOX. In fact, when I'm desperate for political news or analysis, I'm more likely to go to FOX or MSNBC as painful as those choices are for me. I could not believe the amount of airtime CNN devoted to Michael Jackson or balloon boy and other soft news stories. I think the sad truth is, whatever one may think of FOX and MSNBC they often address hardcore news issues in primetime. So, the truth of the matter is that viewers are willing to

Second, CNN's format is not very informative. They tend to have an anchor surrounded by either partisan analysts/pundits or politicos. They often mix-in with those reporters such as Candy Crowley or Joe Johns. The result is just blather. The partisans (whether pundits or politicos) just end up yelling predictable talking points at each other and whatever insights one could get from their very thoughtful reporters are just lost. Quite frankly, I find the format unwatchable.

Third, CNN has come to rely too much on gimmicks: ireporters, twitter, graphics that convey little information etc. The important exceptions here are Fareed Zakaria's GPS, the best show of television, Christiane Amanpour's Amanpour, John King's, State of the Union and to some extent, interestingly enough, Lou Dobbs (though his show is too sensationalist). The format on those shows are generally different and you actually learn something.

CNN needs to return to hard news. My prediction is that if CNN does not reverse course it will stop being the place to go for important national news such as elections.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bad Obama: why the administration is wrong to go after Fox News

The Obama administration has come under attack quite a bit from its perennial foes. Some of those attacks have been fair and others unfair. Unlike the administration's constant critics, I think the administration should be praised when they do something praiseworthy. And unlike its blind cheerleaders, the administration should be criticized when there is something to criticize. As a strong supporter of the Obama administration, I am more apt to praise than blame. But where blame is called for, well . . . blame I shall. In that spirit, I will always praise and blame. First, the blame.

I don't often agree with Charles Krauthammer. In fact, I can't recall the last time I agreed with much of what he had to say. But I agree almost completely with this column in the Washington Post criticizing the administration for unfairly targeting Fox News. The administration has explicitly tried to freeze out Fox News because of a lot of the drivel that goes on in the rest of the network. The administration's position, which in my view is not tenable, is that Fox News is not a legitimate news network. It reached this conclusion, on the basis of its own reasoning, because of the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. On the basis of that justification, the administration might as well freeze out NBC News. Does anyone really believe that Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow are serious news people? They're certainly smart and serious commentators, but newspeople, they're not. Is Keith Olberman's worst person in the world segment anything but partisan hackery? Yes, is true that Beck is not a serious analyst and it is also true that Fox as a whole (I would argue including the news division) pitches everything from the right. But if we're going to judge a news organization by its opinion section and we're going to freeze out all news entities with a bias, the rest of mainstream media is on notice that the White House is coming after them.

Of course the White House is not coming after them and Krauthammer's column makes clear why. The White House is clearly peeved that Fox has been a persistent (and effective) critic. The White House does not want Fox to set the baseline and have everyone follow. This is a very smart and devious. But it is also wrong.

The state should not try to punish private news organizations because the state does not like what they are saying. One might establish exceptions to this principle at the margins but the case would have to be extremely compelling. In this case, the White House is trying to punish Fox News because it does not like the fact that it is being covered negatively by the network as a whole. In my view, this is not something that can be defended and I'm surprised that liberals like Glenn Greenwald, with whom I almost always agree, are bending over backwards to defend the White House here. As an aside, suppose that the President signed an executive order keeping Fox News out of all White House briefings and press conferences, would we be so ready to defend the White House?

Greenwald argues that Bush's actions with respect to the media were much worse and the right's complaint about Obama is hypocrisy. But that's beside the point. It does not matter whether Bush was worse and I hope that does not become our baseline. The point is whether the Obama administration is right to try to punish (and delegitimize) a news organization because the administration does not like the way it is being covered by the network. I think what the Obama administration is trying to do with Fox is wrong and liberals, who often believe that they stand for principle, should say so.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pat Buchanan's White Delusion

Pat Buchanan has veritably lost his mind and it's not clear to me why anyone takes him seriously. In this column, Mr. Buchanan writes that traditional white Americans believe that they are losing their country and they are right to be scared. In a response in the Atlantic Monthly, Andrew Sullivan call's the column stupid. It may be that but it is also extremely perverse.

Responses to Buchanan have focused on educating Buchanan on the contributions to America by non-whites (see for example here) and have argued that non-whites as much claim to the country as Buchanan and other whites do (see here).

I don't think Buchanan is stupid, nor do I think he is unaware of the contributions of people of color or their claim to this country. Buchanan is a perverse and dangerous panderer. If some whites feel that America is no longer their America, that is a serious issue that must be addressed seriously. But is not a justification to promote "Oath Keepers," armed civilians willing to take up arms against their countrywomen and countrymen. That is the type of dangerous perverse pandering that can lead to armed civilians attacking public officials and other citizens. Buchanan is a demagogue and it is unfortunate that he continues to have such a prominent public platform.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

The big question on the surprise announcement that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize is whether he did anything to earn the prize. I think commentators that argue that President Obama earned the prize because of his accomplishments as president are disingenuous. One cannot name a single international problem that the President has solved. This is not a knock on the President, it is simply a recognition that he is a new arrival on the world stage and has not yet had the time to make his mark such that he would be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is not to say that the Norwegian Committee was wrong to award the prize to the President.

By awarding the prize to the President, the Committee has put him on the spot on the international stage. For example, his decision on further troop buildup in Afghanistan is not just a domestic decision with international implications, it also becomes an international decision. The Committee has given the world a voice for retrospective evaluations of a plethora of Mr. Obama's decisions. These include not only Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East, but obviously climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, international monetary policy and the like.
The Committee's decision is a very nifty political move. It is political not because the left-wingers on the nominating committee was rewarding one that they viewed as their own and making a statement on the Bush years. That may have been part of the politics. But the important part of the politics is putting the President in a position that makes his actions more accountable that it was previously to the international community. The President clearly recognizes this problem/opportunity. If he can live up to those expectations this will be good for him and even for us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Charlie Rangel Should Resign his Chairmanship and the Black Caucus Should Butt Out

Charlie Rangel, the legendary congressman from Harlem and founder of the Congressional Black Caucus is facing an ethics investigation by a house ethics panel. Mr. Rangel, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee is being investigated among other charges for failure to pay taxes on a vacation home and illegally maintained multiple rent-controlled apartments in NY City. The Republicans are putting pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip Mr. Rangel of his chairmanship. The Congressional Black Caucus is putting pressure on the Speaker to at the very least provide Mr. Rangel with a fair hearing. Mr. Rangel should resign his chairmanship and the CBC should stay out of this fight.

The bottom line is that the Mr. Rangel, who as chairman of the powerful Ways & Means Committee is chiefly responsible for establishing the tax policies originating out of the House but stands accused of failing to pay taxes on all of his income. We know that he has underreported his income and has had to go back and file amended disclosures. The principle here is very simple: the least that we should expect of our lawmakers is that they obey the laws of the land. Mr. Rangel did not; therefore, at the very least, he should not counted among the Congressional leaders. Whether he should resign his seat is a slightly different question. But he should not chair a congressional committee if he cannot abide by the laws that he helped put in place that govern others.

The Speaker should also ignore the CBC on this one. The CBC has the dubious distinction of defending former Representative William Jefferson who was recently convicted of bribery among other crimes. The CBC defended Mr. Jefferson even when it became clear that his actions were indefensible. The principle of the CBC on these issues seem to extend only to defending their own without considerations for rule of law issues. This is not the principle to which the Speaker should defer.

I'm sympathetic to Mr. Rangel. He has been a champion of civil rights; he is one of the lions of the House; he has worked hard to create power for legislators of color. But he has also crossed the line, apparently many times. As sympathetic as one can be, we cannot defend his actions.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Why Eugene Robinson is Wrong on General McChrystal

Eugene Robinson has written this op-ed for the Post in which he criticizes General McChrystal, the Commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for publicly making the case for more troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Robinson is completely wrong on this one.

Robinson's argues that the decision of whether to send more troops to Afghanistan or not is a political choice that military officers should not be making. The decision is the President's and Congress' as elected officials. But it is precisely because this is a political choice that we the public need to hear as much of the facts and arguments as can be aired in public.

First, in order to hold our political leaders accountable for the political choices that they make, we have to know, as best as we can, as much about the facts and choices that they face. Relatedly, it is best to hear the facts and to have a public debate ex-ante as opposed to ex-post after the troops are already committed and we come to learn that they were no weapons of mass destruction. Second, we cannot trust our political leaders to be honest with us about the choices they face. We cannot trust them to be forthright about the facts and to give us the pros and cons of various options. Further, they have an incentive to read the facts in a way that will best further their political careers or limit the political consequences. Thus, they have an incentive in limiting our ability to hold them accountable. Consequently, we ought to encourage practices that promote information and the public airing of political choices as opposed to a culture that promotes secrecy.

There is a world of difference between a scenario in which military leaders refuse to obey the lawful commands of the civilian leadership and a scenario in which military leaders make the case in favor or against military action. They ought to have their say so that we can make informed choices and they ought to respect the decision of the civilian leadership.

There are reasons for secrecy. But Mr. Robinson has not made the case. Indeed, the principle upon which he relies counsels in the very opposite direction of his conclusion. So, General McCrystal, continue to speak-up, inquiring minds want to know.