Rogue Times Two

 MIchele BachmannSarah Palin

Glenn Thrush  in Politico and The Minnesota Independent are reporting that Michele Bachmann will be heading to Nashville in February to hook up with Sarah Palin for a Tea Party event at the Opryland Hotel.

‘Organizers of the National Tea Party Convention tweeted that Bachmann would be a speaker at the Feb. 4–6 event in Nashville. Palin keynotes the convention, which is “aimed at bringing the Tea Party Movement leaders together from around the nation for the purpose of networking and supporting the movements’ multiple organizations principle goals.”’  -The Minnesota Independent

Palin and Bachmann and teabaggers, oh my.

Students Under Arrest In Iran

The theocracy in Iran continues to come crashing down on anyone who might stand in opposition to their puppet president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.    The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports that scores of students have been arrested and prosecuted in recent days in an apparent effort to curtail anti-government protests expected to occur during Student Day commemorations on December 7th.

Apparently alumni are also coming under the heavy fascist heel of the cleric led government.   On November 19th The Campaign for Human Rights reported that “Iranian authorities have arbitrarily arrested another member of the leading student alumni group ADVAR, and sentenced its spokesperson to an eight-year prison term, while other detained members are being mistreated, unfairly tried and sentenced to jail terms.”

Reuters reports that “thousands” have been arrested for their part in protests over the re-election of of Ahmadinejad.  The wire service reports that 81 have been sentenced to jail terms of up to 15 years and 5 have been sentenced to death.  No word on how many others may have died as the result of injuries suffered at the hands of theocracy-supported thugs, riding around Tehran on motorcycles and beating people at will.

Washington Post Closing Regional Bureaus

In another blow to an industry under siege, the Washington Post has announced that it’s closing regional bureaus in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  The paper, it’s owners and editors say, will focus more on politics and local news.

The Post is making cuts for the same reason cuts were carried out at the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.   Ad revenues continue to decline as advertising dollars are drained away by cable, satellite and the Internet, leaving newspapers less money to spend on news.   Remember news?   The kind of traditional journalism that requires weeks or months of digging by experienced reporters and editors?  The kind of credible, balanced and objective reporting we’ve come to rely on our major newspapers to provide?  And that of course, begs the question —  where will the news come from when the professional journalists who once went out and got it are no longer there?

The answer is that we will be getting less meat and potatoes news and more sugary and superficial “news lite.”   Fewer reporters and editors being told to do more with less will  mean less investigative reporting.  Fewer newspapers will go to the mat to pry open court proceedings to give us some idea of what’s happening inside our judicial system.    Newspapers will increasingly feature pool reports, wire service stories and even news releases disguised as news while more expensive investigative reporting is set aside.   And don’t look for more international news.  Many overseas bureaus have been shuttered and their correspondents called home.

While things aren’t what they used to be,  Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab reports that the problem isn’t that some papers aren’t still making money.  They are.  According to Nieman:  “The problem is that newspaper owners have leveraged their cash flow to the hilt to make risky, ill-considered acquisitions that have now put many of them at, or over, the brink of bankruptcy.  Their larger assets — most of the top 100 or so papers (those over 90,000 or so in circulation) —  are probably in the red on an operating revenue basis, because they lack the grass-roots small-business advertising support the small dailies have, and are saddled with expensive real estate, distribution arrangements and union contracts.  Hence threats to close papers like the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle.  But even if all the chains go bankrupt, operationally profitable assets like small-town dailies will be sold off intact, not shut down.”

Well okay, some of the small town dailies will survive,  those that are “operationally profitable,” but that doesn’t answer the question about the news vacuum that’s being created by cutbacks at every major paper from L.A. to New York.    I was on hand for three rounds of layoffs in four and one-half years at the Los Angeles Times as the Tribune Company slid into bankruptcy.  The editorial staff  kept getting smaller even though the Times is one of those Pulitzer Prize winning papers that goes out and does all the digging.  It’s one of the papers that come up with the stories that are tomorrow’s news on television, the wire services and the Internet.   It’s one of the papers that act as a societal watchdog in D.C. and the state capitol.  What if the Los Angeles Times and the other major papers get to a point where they can’t do the job we have come to expect?  Or are they already there?   According to “Newspaper Deathwatch,” the American newspaper industry is half the size it was in 2006.  A few of those small town dailies the Nieman Lab is writing about must have gone under after all?

In an article published in “The Nation” John Nichols and Robert Mcchesney contend that it’s not just newspapers that are in crisis,  “…it is the institution of journalism itself. By any measure, journalism is missing from most commercial radio. TV news operations have become celebrity- and weather-obsessed “profit centers” rather than the journalistic icons of the Murrow and Cronkite eras. Cable channels “fill the gap” with numberless pundits and “business reporters,” who got everything about the last decade wrong but now complain that the government doesn’t know how to set things right. Cable news is defensible only because of the occasional newspaper reporter moonlighting as a talking head. But what happens when the last reporter stops collecting a newspaper paycheck and goes into PR or lobbying? She’ll leave cable an empty vessel and take the public’s right to know anything more than a rhetorical flourish with her.”

Welcome to the future.  This new era of  “news lite” will be great for greedy corporate fatcats and shady politicians.   It will be a boon to anyone who fears the truth and justice that journalism brings to a culture.    I almost wrote “truth, justice and the American way.”  Well, if ever we needed Clark Kent, Lord knows we need him now.

Ron Olsen

Canada Pulls Batch Of Swine Flu Vaccine After 200 Deaths?

A vast difference in what several news organizations are reporting about the recall of a batch of swine flu vaccine in Canada.

The AP and AFP are both reporting that a batch has been recalled by GlaxoSmithKline, because it might be causing an allergic reaction is some people.  Specifically, the AP reports that the vaccine may have caused more allergic reactions than normal.”

However,  Euronews reports that “36 Canadians suffered severe allergic reactions” and that “200 others died.”  Severe reactions?  200 died?  You have to wonder if Euronews got it wrong, or if the AP and AFP both completely missed the story.

LA, MJ and $3.2 Million

Michael Jackson at White House in 1984

The City of Los Angeles wants it money back, or some of it at least.  That’s what the City spent on the Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center above and beyond the cost of the police and other city workers that would have been on duty anyway.   The Los Angeles Daily News reports that City Councilwoman Jan Perry is in talks with Staples Center owner, AEG, to try and work something out.  City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, is also going after the money but in a manner that Perry apparently does not appreciate.  Perry, says egos are involved.

“It’s coming from the City Attorney’s Office and it’s not necessary,” Perry said. “AEG has always shown itself to be a very good partner with the city, a good stakeholder…”  -LA Daily News

The Bird Is Loaded – But A Ride Home Is Included In The Deal

Paul Hurley, A local Irish bar and tavern owner in Manhattan  is bringing a new twist for the Thanksgiving Holiday by unveiling the nation’s first 100 proof turkey which is infused with fruit flavored and 100 proof Georgi vodka. The Turkey takes three days to prepare for the Holiday. 100 proof vodka is infused in the bird for three days before the final cooking. Peach, Raspberry, Cherry and Apple flavored vodka’s are also part of the turkeys base. 100 proof vodka is also lightly placed in the gravy as well. No one under 21 is allowed to join the feast. The bar is also including a free taxi ride in the city for those who order the holiday specialty.  The turkey will unveiled at a Media Conference with 100 proof vodka being infused on Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:45am at O’Casey’s Tavern on 22 East 41st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. 212-685-6807

Why The Dems Had Better Get It Done

 united states senate

 photo: u.s. senate

The majority Democrats are now at a point where the minority Republicans and a handful of turncoats from their own party are going to permit them to  open debate on health care reform in the Senate.   Is this really cause for celebration?  With a Democrat in the White House and a majority in both houses of Congress, this Democratic Party appears to be so weak that it’s barely able to open debate on a bill that nearly 60% of America wants?   And this, after the country gave them their majority on a promise of change?

With one-third of the Senate and all of the House up for re-election next year they would be well-advised to get something meaningful done or it could lead to a political Dunkirk at the polls.  It’s also possible that they could fail even if they succeed.

They could pass a bill with a public option that’s so watered down that it’s nearly meaningless.   That may not be enough for those millions of Americans who voted for change.  Real change, like a public option that squeezes the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries so hard that they are forced to lower their prices to more reasonable levels

One independent and a handful of what are being called “moderate” Democrats are standing in the way.  The moderate Democrats in this case are actually conservatives and nothing short of Republicans posing as members of the Democratic Party, so lets call them “Republicrats.”  Of course, this is an issue no one wants to address.    They can’t take the turncoats on because they need  these people to get their 60 votes and that will probably mean a compromise on the public option and that will mean watering down the bill.

The independent in this equation,  smilin’ Joe Lieberman, has 64,000 constituents working for insurance companies back in his home state of Connecticut, so you can forget about him doing anything but taking the company line handed down by his corporate bosses.

Then there are the three Republicrats posing as Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas – who voted to open debate on the bill even though they say they have serious problems with it and want substantive changes.  What changes?

It’s not single payer insurance (Medicare for all) that has them worried.   Nor are they up in arms over simply allowing  Americans to buy government-run insurance.  No, their big hang up is with a provision that would allow Americans to buy government-run insurance only if and when their individual states decide to “opt-in” and allow it.   It’s probably fair to assume that these three legislators are feeling a bit of pressure from 1) the health insurance and pharma industries that have contributed heavily to their campaigns and 2) the folks back home, older folks and Republicans in particular. And they need older voters and Republicans, if they want to stay in office.

Many of these older voters apparently continue to believe the big lie that passage of meaningful reform will lead to “death panels” and an end to Medicare.

For these three Dems then, it’s a question of  keeping older voters and Republican constituents happy by maintaining the status quo.   Seeing to it that the United States, one of the wealthiest nations on earth, remains the only industrialized nation without some form of meaningful universal health care.   Or, they could take the high road and risk losing their jobs by voting for meaningful health care reform.  In doing so, they would be supporting the majority of the people of the United States, their party and their President.   It’s their self-interest vs. the best interest of their party the nation.

57% of the American people want a public option in the new health care bill.  40% are opposed.  The cost of medical care is a factor in  half the home foreclosures in the U.S.

According to the Center for American Progress “The Congressional Budget Office projects that the cost of a family premium under employer-provided health insurance will increase by approximately 70 percent (after inflation) in the next nine years. This cost growth will have cascading effects across the economy as businesses trim benefits and workers lose their coverage.”

The first step down the road to economic recovery may involve containing and controlling the cost of health care.  It’s the charge the Democrats were put in office to carry out.   If they fail to do so, with a compromise that keeps the Republicrats in the Senate happy but leads to a feeble public option or no public option at all, they will in all likelihood be punished at the polls and Mr. Obama will be forced to serve out the remainder of his term being regarded as the President who lost the fight for meaningful health care reform because he was unable to garner the support of his own party.

Ron Olsen

The Fading Line Between Journalism And Entertainment

 tv camera

Interesting piece by Matea Gold in the Los Angeles Times on Brian Williams of NBC News showing his “lighter side.”   Gold reports that William’s move to loosen up and put in appearances on “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”  hasn’t done any damage to his ratings.  The story includes a quote from the former president of NBC News, Lawrence Grossman, who notes that crossing over into entertainment is a departure from traditional news values.

“It was frowned upon for the news anchors — who are supposed to pull the country together in times of crisis — to be to flip,” Grossman said. “I think we tolerate a lot more of that now than back in the day when network news was the holy grail. But it still requires some discipline and some boundary lines.”

Remember Peter Jennings or Walter Cronkite crossing over and doing comedy bits?  David Brinkley doin’ the old soft shoe?  I’m pretty sure it never happened.  Those who continue to act as advocates for credible journalism would undoubtedly condemn the mix of news with entertainment as being nothing more than a desperate grab for viewers at a time when network news ratings have taken a big slide.

I too am guilty of participating in this crossover from news to entertainment.  Years ago I was offered a cameo in a “Columbo” movie on tv and I accepted.   I was working in Hollywood, where taking a cameo in a movie or tv show was commonplace.  I later turned down a role as a reporter in the movie “Volcano.”   My reasoning for accepting one and rejecting the other was that an appearance in a classic show like “Columbo” (or what I believe will eventually be a classic) was of no damage to my reputation as a broadcast journalist.  Showing up in a film about a Volcano blowing its top all over Wilshire Boulevard in West LA, would be a different matter entirely.   Nevertheless, I’m probably in no position to be casting stones.

If the boundary that separates news from entertainment is becoming generally blurry, sometimes it’s being blown entirely away.  Again from the Los Angeles Times, a story about one of its own.   This time it’s entertainment reporter Dawn  Chmielewski, who kicks up her heels doing a salsa number as a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars.”  Okay, so the bit was staged so that the paper would be able to do a “first person” story that was not intended to go out over the air.   Even with that, it was not so very long ago that the newspaper would not have allowed one of its reporters to cross over and become a part of the story.  Now they’re not only giving it ink, they also provide a link so that people like me can embed a clip of  Chmieleswki doing her thing on the show.   Here it is, and whatever you may think of Chmielewski putting herself in the postion of a reporter becoming the story — the woman has more courage than I ever had.

Ron Olsen

Journalists Being Slaughtered In Mexico

The number of journalists murdered in Mexico, has hit a new high.   From Ioan Grillo in GlobalPost:

“According to a tally by El Universal, the country’s top-selling newspaper, 12 reporters, photographers, editors and radio hosts have been slain this year — two more than in the previous worst year of 2006. The deaths — all of Mexicans working for local media — make the country the most dangerous for the trade in the Western hemisphere.

There have also been dozens of cases of journalists being threatened, beaten and having offices attacked with gunfire and grenades.”

Man Arrested AT LAX With Lizards Strapped To His Chest

 Los Angeles International Airport

I did a double take on this one in the LA Times:

“In an apparently cold-blooded attempt at smuggling, a Lomita man was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport this week with more than a dozen wriggling lizards strapped to his chest.

Michael Plank, 40, was detained by U.S. Customs agents after they discovered 15 live lizards stuffed into his money belt, officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said Friday.”

Worth Reading

Although he comes down a bit too hard on the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, David Sirota’s piece on America turning into an “idiocracy”  deserves consideration.  Here’s a bit of it-

 “The trend is deeply disturbing. It’s one thing for talk-show-host wannabe Sarah Palin or carnival-barking provocateur Glenn Beck to glamorize willful ignorance—that’s been the narcissistic act of celebrity court jesters since the dawn of history. But it’s an entirely different thing when hostility to intelligence and to the basic process of thinking itself emanates from the very professional thinkers who lead the nation’s intelligentsia.”

Here’s a link to the article in “Truthdig.”

Moyers Leaving Weekly TV

The New York Times reports that one of the last great broadcast journalists standing, Bill Moyers, is leaving weekly tv.

According to the paper Moyers will “…end his Friday night public affairs show, “Bill Moyers Journal,” on April 30, 2010. That date will also be the last for “Now on PBS,” which has been canceled.

“I am 75 years old,” he said of the decision to end the series, which began in April 2007. The program has recently been having a “good run of it,” he added in a telephone interview on Friday, “so I feel it’s time.” He said he was not quitting television work, although he has no new projects planned.”

Here’s Moyers on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” posing an argument for single-payer health care.