The Problem with Bipartisanship

Josh Gottheimer is co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus and one of the most bipartisan lawmakers in the House of Representatives. These aren’t necessarily things to be touted, though, and his attempts to strong-arm Nancy Pelosi into making rule changes definitely shouldn’t be commended. (Photo Credit: FCC/Wikipedia)

Note: This post was first published before any meetings between Nancy Pelosi and the Problem Solvers Caucus. The two sides have reportedly cut a deal on proposed rule changes.

I’m not the biggest fan of Nancy Pelosi personally. Even I, though, have to balk at the recent attempts to challenge her prospective leadership as Speaker of the House.

In particular, a no-vote of confidence from members of the Problem Solvers Caucus seems to be, well, a problem, or at least a distraction. The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of representatives that seeks to create cooperation among members of both major parties on key policy issues. In practice, it is a centrist committee.

For the purposes of this challenge’s to Pelosi’s authority, Jim Costa (CA), Vicente González (TX), Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Stephanie Murphy (FL), Tom O’Halleran (AZ), Kurt Schrader (OR), Darren Soto (FL), and Tom Suozzi (NY) are the Democrats who are making their support contingent on the eventual Speaker’s acceptance of certain rule changes.

As Gottheimer, caucus co-chair, identified, these #BreaktheGridlock changes involve 1) legislation going to the House floor for debate and a vote when co-sponsored by at least three-fifths of Congress, 2) an amendment to legislation getting a debate and vote with at least 20 Democratic and 20 Republican co-sponsors, and 3) each member of Congress being allowed to introduce a bill for debate and vote on a committee he or she serves on once a congressional term.

In principle, these proposals designed to “break the gridlock” are worth considering in the name of procedural reform. The timing and very public nature of this threat to Pelosi’s leadership, however, as well as the take-it-or-leave attitude accompanying it, are concerning. What’s more, when considered alongside existing feelings that the Democratic Party needs to be taken in a “new direction,” the overall picture is one of party discord at a time when gains in the House should perhaps have the Dems thinking more harmoniously.

What’s additionally striking about this turn of events is that it has come at the behest of members of a caucus that tout their bipartisan credentials, not long after Pelosi herself vowed the House would move toward greater bipartisanship. Of course, this in itself drew criticism elsewhere. That Nancy Pelosi—damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

Amid a spirit of partisan acrimony and congressional ineffectiveness, bipartisanship would seem to be exactly what we’d want or need. Everybody gets along, Congress actually gets meaningful things done—sounds good, right? The problem with bipartisanship as an ideal, however, is that it may be overrated, if not counterproductive.

Lew Blank, editor-in-chief of The Outsider, an independent, student-led online publication devoted to telling stories from outside the mainstream media bubble and the two-party binary, wrote in a detailed post last year (with helpful charts and graphs!) about how bipartisanship is, well, a myth. Firstly, there’s the matter of how the goal of bipartisanship tends to reduce matters to “debates” in the name of balance when there should be no room for debate. Blank starts his article thusly:

What America considers a debate is pretty messed up. Apparently, the existence of climate change is a “debate.” Allowing 33,000 Americans to die every year because they can’t afford health care is a “debate.” Continuing to arm ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria is a “debate.”

And yet, there’s one singular issue that seems to read “case closed” in the minds of millions of Americans, both red and blue: bipartisanship. Somehow, we have wound up in a world where saying “we should stop literally arming terrorists” is an opinion, but lauding the glories of bipartisan politics is unbiased and impartial.

On top of this, and more to the point, finding bipartisan legislative solutions tends to involve compromises that skew to the political right. As Blank characterizes this relationship, centrist Democrats often strive for policies that are “both (a) conservative enough to get Republican support, and (b) liberal enough to like.”

Viewing Obama-era policy directives through this lens, however, very few, if any, of them actually ticked both boxes. Either they were too conservative for liberals to like (e.g. extending the Bush tax cuts), too liberal for conservatives to pass or support after Obama was gone (e.g. the Paris Agreement), or neither very liberal nor supported by the GOP (e.g. military expansion that still saw Obama’s critics calling him “soft on terrorism”). The wrench in compromising and finding a middle ground, as many on the left might expect, is the uncompromising position Republicans take on issue after issue. In Blank’s words, their failure to “support anything with even a tinge of progressivism” means trying to bend over backward to appease them is a non-starter.

The true solution for Democrats, then, is to run to the left. Only from this position can they negotiate and get something close to what they really want. Per Blank:

This is compromise 101. If you get an offer of $50 for a painting and you ask for $60 instead, you may come away with a solid $55. If you go the “moderate” route and raise to $51 instead, you’re missing out on a potential four dollars.

What’s more, the statistics seem to bear out that running further to the left is the better strategy from an electoral perspective. How else to explain the enduring popularity of someone like Bernie Sanders and the lingering unpopularity of someone like Hillary Clinton? Of course, popularity and social media fervor don’t necessarily equate to votes cast. Then again, capitulation is not a very sexy approach to attracting voters, especially in the context of a general election, so why not go for the gusto?

Noting the refusal of Republicans to yield on policy matters in recent years, examples of bipartisan cooperation on the part of moderate Democrats might actually be more disconcerting than anything. As alluded to before, increased military spending has continued to be approved by Congress despite the cost of human life and despite the notion this focus on “defense” dwarfs the spending on domestic programs the GOP claims we can’t afford. The Dodd-Frank rollback aided and abetted by “Blue Dog” Dems like Gottheimer also jumps to mind as one of those points of accord between parties that should inspire fear more than confidence. Coming together is all well and good when we’re paving the road to another economic collapse.

For any number of reasons, therefore, bipartisanship may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Not the least of which is, if you ask this writer, that at 14 letters, the word bipartisanship is already too long.


As with “civility,” calls for bipartisanship are only as good as the individual or individuals making such an appeal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell caught flak for an op-ed for FOX News in which he asked whether the Democrats will work with Republicans, or “simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?” The irony was not lost on, er, pretty much anyone who knows McConnell. The Republican senator from Kentucky has been the proverbial poster child for partisan obstructionism in recent years. Accordingly, the prevailing response seemed to be “Merrick Garland” and some sort of invective or gesture not printable in this space. How’s that for bipartisanship, Mr. McConnell?

Nancy Pelosi, in her stated preference to work in a bipartisan manner within Congress and with President Trump, may have been similarly full of shit—at least outwardly. That is, she may genuinely wish to work in a partnership with Trump and the GOP, but knowing his and his party’s demands, this is functionally impossible. In this respect, Pelosi’s conviviality appears to be a show of rationality and goodwill in the face of a White House that lacks it so as to make her and her party look more reasonable. Even in jest, however, the sentiment is one whose sharing has the power to boil progressives’ blood.

I’m a resident of New Jersey’s ninth congressional district, but I’m a friend of a number of progressive-minded residents of the fifth where Josh Gottheimer calls home (by crossing from one town into the next, you’re entering into a different district). And I can tell you this much: while they’re plenty relieved to have someone like Gottheimer rather than someone like John McCann or his predecessor Scott Garrett in office, they’re disappointed in this display of brazenness from the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

This isn’t the first time he’s disappointed them either, whether it’s because he voted with the GOP or because he has avoided making his stance clear so as to not risk a backlash. On one hand, there’s the political “reality” that he represents a district which has its clearly blue and red segments, so his bipartisan mentality may have its advantages.

On the other hand, as a Democratic supporter, it makes you wonder what lines someone like Gottheimer won’t cross. A number of these friends either voted to endorse him or campaigned for him in the midterms. Their reward? Little, if any, expressed gratitude and an overt attempt to undermine their party’s leadership. It should be no surprise that there’s already talk of wanting a primary challenge to Gottheimer’s seat in the House. For my part, I think all incumbents should be challenged as a matter of procedure and because it makes for better party platforms, but I sympathize with this desire.

Though it may go without saying at this point, there’s a financial aspect to this effort to contest Pelosi’s leadership heretofore unmentioned. As Ryan Grim of The Intercept reports, political/corporate consultant Mark Penn and No Labels, a bipartisan group funded by wealthy donors, are the driving force behind this revolt. Gottheimer and Penn, described by Grim as “one of the most toxic and notorious partisan warriors the Democratic Party has produced in the past three decades,” have a history together dating back to the Bill Clinton White House.

Members of no Labels, described by critics as “aggressively” centrist, have had an ax to grind against Pelosi for some time now. While they may have softened their position to make her Public Enemy #1—when in doubt, Bernie Sanders makes a convenient target—that ill will has evidently lingered.

There’s ample room for debate whether or not Nancy Pelosi, a seeming epitome of the “old guard” of Democratic Party leadership, is the right person for the role of Speaker of the House come January. Certainly, though, this attack on her from the Problem Solvers Caucus is one to be disparaged, as their insistence on “breaking the gridlock” purely as a function of their moderate ideology rings hollow.

In all, the Democrats’ commitment to bipartisanship without any show of good faith from the Republican Party is a questionable tack to take. It’s bad negotiating on top of poor electoral strategy, and its effectiveness as a tool to rally the base is similarly suspect. With the Dems needing a big win in 2020 to continue their momentum, that’s a problem.

Trump’s Military Parade Is a Colossal Waste of Money

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Well, I mean, that says it all. (Image retrieved from newsweek.com.)

In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from January of this year, the U.S. military was the only institution for which a majority of respondents (53%) expressed “a great deal of confidence.” When considering favorability—either with respect to “a great deal” of confidence or “quite a lot” of it—that rate soars to 87%. Compared to the other institutions named in this survey, the military stands head and shoulders above the rest. The next-best choice, in terms of highest confidence, is the FBI, garnering only a 24% mark of great confidence, and in terms of overall favorability, the Supreme Court is the top also-ran at 59%. Also striking about these polling statistics is that approval rating for the U.S. military has increased markedly over the last 40 years, rising some 30% (57% to 87%) in that time, likely in response to the draft being abolished and fewer Americans knowing someone or having a direct connection to someone in the Armed Forces.

Perhaps no institution, then, inspires the same kind of knee-jerk defense as the military. For evidence of this, we need look no further than the seemingly never-ending kerfuffle over the National Anthem protests in the NFL. What began as a statement by Colin Kaepernick and other players as a response to racial injustice in this country, especially as it intersects with the treatment of blacks at the hands of police and the criminal justice system—a protest that was discussed with Nate Boyer, former NFL long snapper and Army Green Beret, as a more respectful alternative than sitting during the Anthem—was quickly co-opted by Donald Trump and other people of a conservative mindset and turned into a commentary on the military and supposed disrespect for men and women in uniform. To borrow from football parlance, Trump and Co. ran an end-around, changing the conversation from a topic they actively try to suppress and dismiss in civil rights and racial equality, to one with which they and the jingoists among us could take and run.

Since last fall, reports have surfaced of President Trump’s desire to hold a military parade in the United States akin to France’s celebratory display for Bastille Day after witnessing it first-hand last summer; in fact, Trump inquired with the Pentagon about the use of armored vehicles for his Inauguration, and expressed desire to see the military on parade during his tenure back in January 2017. Now, apparently, he’s getting his wish. According to multiple new reports this week, the Pentagon has agreed to hold a parade to coincide with this year’s Veterans Day celebrations.

If estimates provided by Office of Management and Budget director and interim Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Mick Mulvaney are accurate, the cost for this big show could run anywhere from $10 million to $30 million, with the higher price tag attributable to Trump’s vision of tanks being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue. There won’t be tanks, according to a memo from Navy Capt. Hallock Mohler, executive secretary in the office of the Secretary of Defense, to Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but there will be aircraft and period uniforms. In other words, for the big baby in the White House, there’ll be plenty of toys on hand.

As with the Anthem protest to-do, here is a situation that is liable to be divisive depending on your feelings toward the military and the U-S-of-A. I’m sure many will see this planned parade as a wonderful show of admiration for our great nation and for the men and women who serve and have served for its ideals. Don’t get me wrong—I love this country. This is United States of Joe, not, say, Canada of Joe. At the same time, though, I and others of a like mind are left to question whether it’s worth it to hold a military display such as this. Ryan Sit, writing for Newsweek, tells of a recent analysis by the publication that finds, for the same money to be spent on this parade, the nation’s homeless veterans could be fed three meals a day for two weeks. While acknowledging the difficulties in making calculations based on the estimated costs associated with the parade and the transient life that many homeless veterans lead, Sit also reports that even by conservative counts, these figures tell an important story about the priorities of the Trump administration.

But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at the numbers, as cited within the Newsweek piece. The most recent statistics of homeless veterans in the U.S. compiled by the Bureau of Housing and Urban Development from the end of 2017 puts the overall tally at just over 40,000, up 1.5% from the previous year. As per the non-profit hunger relief organization Feeding America, as well as information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies, the average cost of a meal is $2.94 in the United States (as of 2015, the source of the latest-updated data), with the lowest tally identified as $2.04 and the highest $5.61. Using Mick Mulvaney’s $10 million estimate, which is on the low end of the cost spectrum, and the highest cost of a meal, that’s three meals a day for 14.8 days, or two weeks. Keeping with the $10 million amount but using merely the average cost per meal figure, homeless veterans could eat three meals a day for roughly twice as long, 28.3 days.

Though all of Donald Trump’s public statements should be taken with a grain or two or 100 of salt, the President said the parade wouldn’t be held if the cost were “exorbitant.” Meanwhile, the memo sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff specified that the military showcase to be integrated with the annual Veterans Day parade will emphasize “the price of freedom.” While we’re questioning the ultimate worth of these proceedings, in light of what else the money could be spent on—Lord knows there are any number of things on which it could be spent, but let’s keep the conversation within the purview of those who have served—the very meaning of the phrase “price of freedom” merits scrutiny. If we’re talking purely financial costs, the implication here is that we need a strong military to protect us and our freedoms, so that’s just the cost of being the greatest military force on the planet. Then again, it’s sort of Trump’s thing to run up a bill on someone else’s tab. Just thinking about his umpteen trips to Mar-a-Lago is enough to make my blood boil.

If we’re talking the human price of freedom, however, how many homeless veterans is too many? Is 40,000+ (and rising) an “exorbitant” cost, as if you can put a price on a human life? And this concern about the fate of those who have served the United States only scratches the surface of the true nature of our ongoing armed conflicts and “peacekeeping” missions abroad. How many lives have been lost since we became embroiled in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how many more stand to be lost in pursuit of al-Qaeda, ISIS/ISIL, or in the fight for a free Syria? Speaking of Syria, how many more civilians must be killed as a result of military operations for a larger audience to understand the types of atrocities residents of war-torn lands must face? Or are we supposed to care less because they are Muslims or brown or what-have-you? To borrow from the words of Bob Dylan, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

What makes the concept of a multi-million-dollar military parade all the more egregious is the notion that most Americans don’t seem to want or need one, especially those connected to the military in some capacity. Back in February, Military Times, a news outlet that reports on the Armed Forces for service-members and their families, launched a poll on its website soliciting users’ thoughts on the question, “Should there be a parade showing troops and military equipment in Washington, D.C.?” Within a day of the poll’s launch, it garnered over 50,000 responses, and an overwhelming majority (89%) answered, “No, it’s a waste of money and troops are too busy.” And this is coming from people who are arguably the best-qualified to comment on these matters.

Assuming you are not someone who falls within Military Times’s key demographic, odds are you agree that the time, money, and effort to be allocated for the purposes of a military showcase could well be used more constructively. Granted, the Department of Defense has not exhibited a penchant in recent times for managing its money very efficiently—and I’m being kind with my diplomatic language here. Still, it’s frustratingly odd that the Pentagon would seemingly acquiesce to the whims of one man, even if he is President of these United States, and carry out a whole military display that costs tens of millions of dollars.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis notably dodged a question in a press briefing last month about why resources should be diverted for this purpose by reiterating the need for Congress to commit to fully funding the military and speaking to Donald Trump’s “fondness for the military.” So Pres. Trump is fond of the military. Children are fond of ice cream, but that doesn’t mean you should allow them to eat it for dinner. In this context, #45 is dining on a sundae full of ice cream, and it costs upward of $10 million for that one sundae. No amount of cherries, sprinkles, and whipped cream can make that palatable for those of us watching at home.


Now that it’s evidently a done deal, what makes this military parade all the more unnerving is the kind of images it invokes. As numerous critics have suggested, military showcases like the one planned for this November are of the sort that you would be more apt to see in China, North Korea, and Russia, nations noted for their authoritarian leadership style. The United States is obviously not at this point yet, and aside from the lack of tanks or ICBMs on hand, a major difference is that the members of the military on hand for America’s celebration, which coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, will feature servicemen and servicewomen who enlisted voluntarily, as opposed to the conscripts in those foreign armies.

That said, this is not the first time Donald Trump has done or said something which would lead one to believe he is a would-be dictator, leading some to make allusions (however overblown) to Adolf Hitler. He’s made the media, an institution which routinely gives him the attention he seeks—and one which is among the worst in terms of inspiring confidence, hearkening back to the aforementioned NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll—an enemy to be threatened and undermined. He and his shameless Republican supporters have attacked the credibility of the country’s intelligence community. Aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell, he’s gotten his pick of the conservative justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court to fill the void left by Antonin Scalia. He’s aligned himself with people who are renowned anti-Semites, homophobes, and/or racists, and plays to people’s fears about immigration and terrorism, as well as their dislike of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Heck, he even suggested Xi Jinping’s recent move to end presidential term limits in China is a “great” idea. The parade set to kick off in roughly eight months to appease Trump is just another bullet point on his autocratic checklist.

While we commemorate those who died while serving the United States specifically on Memorial Day, Veterans Day is nonetheless a time when solemn reflection is encouraged. Returning to the concept of the “price of freedom,” that the date of its celebration coincides with the cessation of hostilities in World War I, a conflict which easily saw over 10 million deaths between soldiers and civilians, should only further communicate an understanding of the profound loss attributable to war. For someone like President Trump, however, who has never served and whose remarks about Democrats being “treasonous” in refusing to clap during his State of the Union address prompted Sen. Tammy Duckworth to derisively refer to him as “Cadet Bone Spurs,” one does not get the sense he comprehends that sacrifice or the very meaning of the word. Not when he belittled John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war. Not when he verbally attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of Humayun Khan, a captain in the United States Army killed while serving in Iraq. Not when he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, widow of Gold Star Army Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson, that Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” Trump doesn’t understand the depths of these emotions behind these events, because he can’t.

Nor can he grasp the gravity of the homelessness faced by thousands of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, not that you or I can likely fully appreciate this either. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie, and anyway you slice them, Trump’s military parade is a colossal waste of money when considering where else the money can be spent.

To view this post as it appears on Citizen Truth, click here. Citizen Truth is an independent and alternative media organization dedicated to finding the truth, ending the left-right paradigm and widening the scope of viewpoints represented in media and our daily conversations. For more on CT, please visit citizentruth.org.

Do We Care about the National Debt?

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Yup, that’s a lot of debt. (Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Alongside the immigration issue, the topic of the GOP tax overhaul is likely to be a prevailing theme leading up to the 2018 midterm elections in November. Republican candidates will be looking to tout its successes, and possibly the Trump White House’s political and economic agenda. Democrats will be looking to hammer their Republican counterparts over the idea the tax cut is intended to primarily benefit the wealthiest of the wealthiest Americans, not to mention corporations, which—and this seemingly can’t be stressed enough—are not people. In both cases, talk about our skyrocketing national debt will apparently be sparing as far as the national consciousness is concerned.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the more immediate tangible benefits that American families might experience, and in doing so, not be as dismissive as some Democratic leaders might be. Numerous companies have cited the GOP tax cut as the impetus for bonuses allotted for their employees, and one-time giveaways aside, many workers may have noticed appreciable increases in their take-home pay related to the tax law changes. Even when accounting for context, however, the public comments made by key Democrats don’t seem to assuage the contention coming from conservative circles that the Democratic Party is out of touch with the rank-and-file of the country. Nancy Pelosi, in particular, has been assailed for likening the $1,000 bonuses some people have received to “crumbs” relative to the gains wealthy individuals and large businesses will expect to receive as a result of this policy shift. My girl Debbie Wasserman Schultz (sarcasm intended) also caught flak for her comments as the same event that she wasn’t sure $1,000 goes far for almost anyone. Maybe, ahem, not to the likes of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Wasserman Schultz, but $1,000 isn’t exactly chump change.

So, yeah, the positive aspects of the tax cut are not something to merely brush aside with a wave of the hand. Like crumbs. Or “deplorables,” recalling Hillary Clinton’s epic-fail gaffe. That said, if and how these bonuses apply for the average worker in the short term, and some real global economic concerns over the long term, serve to place the boasts of Donald Trump and Republican Party congressional leadership in a bit of a different light. According to a report by David Goldman and Jeanne Sahadi for CNN and citing a recent survey by Morgan Stanley analysts, only 13% of businesses’ tax cuts will go to bonuses, employee benefits, and pay raises, while 43% of the cuts will go to investors in the form of dividends and stock buybacks, which undoubtedly will involve some executives who are compensated in terms of stock incentives. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not to say that the American worker is a priority in this respect. The CNN report also cites statistics indicating that while companies have announced tax-cut-related bonuses and raises affecting some 3.5 million U.S. workers, that’s less than 3% of the 125.5 million U.S. workers in the employ of a company. Again, not nothing, but it imaginably might seem more like winning the lottery to those who don’t receive such rewards. And God forbid if you are underemployed, unemployed, or “work in the home” and don’t receive a traditional wage.

The obvious rebuttal to this criticism is that the tax cut was just recently put into effect, so it will take time for the economy to grow in proportion to its benefits, and for businesses to hire more and invest within the United States. Based on the way the law was written, however, there are plenty of red flags to be had. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 paves the way for permanent tax cuts for corporations, but on the individual taxation side of things, the modified rates are set to sunset by 2026. This means an extension of the Act’s provisions will need to be ratified by then, and seeing as Congress can’t seem to agree on anything these days except throwing ungodly sums of money at the military, this seems all but certain. In other words, the benefits of the tax cut—if they are to be enjoyed by as many members of the general public as the White House avers they will—are temporary, much like the one-time bonuses that companies are awarding to their employees.

And then there is the matter of our ever-escalating national debt. Annie Lowrey, writing for The Atlantic, probes the intersection of U.S. deficit spending with the GOP tax cut in relation to conservative Republican ideologies. In the onset, Lowrey speaks to the seeming strangeness of Donald Trump to make America’s debt a glaring omission from his State of the Union speech. She writes:

ISIS, tax cuts, public trust. Race, immigration, the Empire State Building. Civil-service reform, North Korea, manufacturing. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech addressed a broad sweep of issues. But one central economic topic went notably missing: the country’s growing annual deficits and its increasing burden of debt. The omission was a sign of the remarkable volte-face the Republican Party has taken on the country’s fiscal situation in just a few years. Republicans spent the early years of the recovery obsessed with the national debt, castigating Democrats for their supposed irresponsibility, warning about the dangers of the almighty bond market, and helping to construct complicated mechanisms to slash federal outlays. They are now spending what might very well be the late years of the recovery ignoring it, having passed a tax plan that will add more to the debt than President Obama’s stimulus package did and having forgotten their once-urgent plans to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

While this trend may prompt deficit hawks like Rand Paul to sob gently to themselves, Lowrey seeks not to be abjectly critical of Republicans in this regard, but rather to underscore just how much of a 180 this position is from the Tea Party fever which ushered so many Republicans into office and paved the way for a decade of legislative defeats for the Democratic Party. While Trump is not your average Republican and all politicians are liable to break their campaign promises—Trump, despite not being a lifelong politician, is a salesman and pathological liar, so somehow even more liable to do so—even he ran on a campaign of reducing our annual deficits and balancing the budget. If there is criticism to be leveled on Lowrey’s part, it is more so on the side of the Republicans’ past obsession with spending that sent the federal government into shutdown mode at least once and gave GOP members of Congress ample opportunity to rail against the Obama administration’s supposed largesse.

Now with Donald Trump as President and Commander-in-Chief on top of Republican control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the shoe is on the other foot, and with the change has come the aforementioned commensurate reversal on the topic of deficit spending. While a minority of American workers are presently receiving one-time gains or improvements to the benefits they receive from their employers, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation cited by Annie Lowrey in the article, the tax cut would add $1.8 trillion to the national debt over the 2018 to 2027 span. Not million. Not billion. Trillion. While the magnitude of the addition to the debt might be vaguely surprising, though, the mechanism should not. By effecting a tax cut, it’s a direct drain on revenue paid directly to the government. At the same time, meanwhile, Republicans have more recently shied away from the entitlement reform and domestic program cuts that have previously been a rallying cry for the party, and have further turned the dial up on this trend with calls for more military spending. Mentions of deficits and debt during congressional proceedings, too, have largely decreased since peaking in 2011, and the Trump administration, ever the depiction of tumult, is even more loath to broach the subject, and when it does, as Lowrey notes, its officials do so “with little sense of outrage or concern.”

Is this attitudinal change with respect to the national debt indicative of a seemingly inherent hypocrisy in major-party politics—i.e. when we’re in office/the majority, the same rules need not apply—or simply reflective of a sea change regarding how all of us have come to regard deficit spending? To be honest, it’s probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B. As one Obama-era economic adviser quoted in Lowrey’s piece believes, Republicans’ prior importance placed upon the debt was merely a tactic to garner short-term political capital. To boot, retrospective thinking from experts on the trouble the United States might face in relation to its debt suggests worries based on European credit crises like the one notably faced by Greece may have been overstated, not to mention concerns about how deeply the American public is invested in this topic.

On the latter count, and citing a study by the Pew Research Center, Lowrey notes that whereas 72% of respondents named reducing federal deficits a top priority in 2013, today, fewer than half of those surveyed do. That the U.S. economy is performing well overall at the moment is an important factor herein, but also playing a role is growing attention other political and social issues, namely drug addiction/the opioid crisis, the environment, and improving the nation’s infrastructure and transportation. From our perspective, then, it may not be a case so much of not caring about economic issues like the national debt as much having a lot on our plates. Besides a majority of Americans still viewing the economy as a pivotal priority, fears about terrorism and preoccupations of the state of education in the United States weigh heavily on people’s minds.

Again, though, this isn’t solely a knock on Republicans. If Democrats were in power, there is every indication they’d be running up the country’s debt and not expressing outward reservations about doing so. This is not to say that all deficit spending is inherently bad; investments made which can lead to future growth or prevent future calamity come with a cost. That said, as with personal debt—a subject with which a seemingly increasing number of Americans have become familiar—the national debt is a “drag on the economy,” as a representative of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, quoted in Lowrey’s piece, highlights. Meanwhile, even if GOP leaders have temporarily put aside talk of dismantling core components of the U.S. social safety net, this is not to say that these programs do not need improving. With next year’s annual budget deficit set to top $1 trillion and concern for the sustainability of this arrangement seemingly on the decline, if what Annie Lowrey and other observers say is true, things are likely to get worse before they get better on the debt front. Just how bad, and whether or not a bursting of this bubble might produce a credit catastrophe, unfortunately remains to be seen.


Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been signed into law and we have ample time to actually stop and think and wax philosophical about it, the Republican Party’s strategy is not altogether unsound from the perspective of manipulating public opinion. By the time the individual provisions of the tax cut are to sunset, we’ll be at least two more presidential election cycles down the road. Thus, the GOP can likely reap the rewards of the short-term political gains they’ve helped foster presently, and by the time Donald Trump is out of office (hopefully long before 2024, but these days, given the political atmosphere, I don’t like to get my hopes up) and Democrats have gained a majority in one or more wings of Congress or control the White House, they can defray any ill will they might have incurred related to the tax cut by pointing to the disastrous economic and social policies of the liberal left. In a 24-hour news cycle where viewers are already primed to quickly forget what just happened, it’s a fair bet that many of us will forget who the architects of this concession to corporate executives and wealthy benefactors even were.

This, to those of us insistent on documenting this chapter in American history, is rather obviously a long con. And I do mean con. In effect, it’s part of an even longer-term confidence trick that conservatives and neo-liberals have been imposing on the American public. Though officially titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the GOP tax cut is dyed-in-the-wool trickle-down economic theory. The primary beneficiaries of its amendments to tax law are corporations and business owners, under the idea that fewer taxes paid means more money to be invested in creating jobs and improving conditions for workers. The reality is that numerous corporations, financial experts and firms making use of the carried interest loophole, and pass-through entities have been taking advantage of favorable aspects of the tax code for years, and that the insistence from critics on the right that regulation and taxation is killing American industry tends to be overstated. There are a number of complex factors that go into why businesses succeed or fail, including changing social norms and advances in computer/automated technology, but consumer demand and discretionary spending are a crucial part of this mix. As for the employment side of the equation specifically, if firms are offering bonuses and other incentives to their workers, it is most likely not a sign of their generosity, but rather a competitive strategic move. In a tight job market, when companies like Walmart are raising wages, it’s an indication they’re doing so because they feel they have to survive.

Moreover, with the lowering of the top individual tax rate and the permanent slashing of the top corporate rate, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, given its signaled priorities, is very clearly class warfare. The GOP tax cut, ostensibly a boon for the middle class, working class, retired Americans, and the poor, is visibly skewed toward the most profitable companies and wealthiest individuals, and with caps on deductions for state and local taxes and property taxes, as well as the elimination of the personal exemption, the emphasis is not only on limiting the ability of the rank-and-file to alleviate their tax burdens, but to punish states like California, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York—states that all went blue in the 2016 election, it should be noted—that feature higher-than-average tax rates and were more liable to take advantage of superior SALT deduction policies. As alluded to before, too, Republicans’ success in passing tax “reform” legislation greases the wheels of attempts at entitlement “reform.” Which essentially means cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, because all that lost tax revenue is going to have to be made up somewhere else, and in all probability, it will not be coming from the untold sums stashed by the wealthy in offshore banking accounts and other tax havens.

The national debt is a real concern. However, it’s not a politically sexy topic right now, and with the stock market seeing record highs (when it’s not seeing dips related to fears about rising interest rates), it is seemingly of less interest to many of us as well. As yearly deficits continue to mount, and as questions of sustainability persist, it begs the question: how much longer can we continue to ignore that $20+ trillion elephant in the room?

The DoD Can’t Manage Its Money, So Sure—Let’s Just Throw Money at It

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Does anyone else see this picture and think of M. Bison from the “Street Fighter” series? No? Just me? Sorry, these are the things I think about. (Photo Credit: Kevin Dietsch/UPI)

You may have heard about President Trump’s plan to increase military spending in his outline for next fiscal year’s budget. According to a February 27 report by Andrew Taylor and Julie Pace for the Associated Press, the 2018 fiscal year budget proposal would increase defense spending at the expense of programs like the EPA and foreign aid programs. Programs like Medicare and Social Security are not included in the proposed cuts, though knowing of the plans of Paul Ryan and other prominent Republican lawmakers to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a credible replacement, privatize Medicare, turn Medicaid into block grants, and defund Planned Parenthood, this might yet be coming, just from a different angle. Alex Lockie, an associate news editor and military/defense blogger at Business Insider, in conjunction with reporting by Reuters, helps flesh out the details with a report from that same day. Some $54 billion would be earmarked for the Department of Defense, and indeed, matching cuts would indeed be proposed with the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. On the side of the proposed funding to be slashed, these cuts shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. When you nominate Scott Pruitt, a man who sued the EPA over 10 times as attorney general of Oklahoma, to head that department, and Rex Tillerson, a man with close ties to Russia, no foreign diplomacy experience, and whose dedication to curbing climate change was nil as the CEO of Exxon-freaking-Mobil, to be Secretary of State, you get the sense Donald Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the authority of these divisions of the Cabinet.

Before we get to the idea of whether or not the Department of Defense is overfunded relative to other programs—a valid and worthy question, I might add—let me begin by providing two fairly recent anecdotes concerning why the mere notion of how the DoD accounts for and spends it money may be a problem right off the bat. Back in 2015, this tidbit of news made the rounds on national and international news, but soon got buried in the avalanche of other stories inherently created by the global, multimodal 24-hour news cycle: the United States spent $43 million on building and operating Afghanistan’s first compressed gas station and helping develop the natural gas market in Afghanistan. OK—that sounds pretty expensive for a gas station, but is it really? Maybe there’s things about natural gas or working in Afghanistan that we don’t understand.

Nope—it turns it was really f**king expensive for a gas station. According to SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, that’s 140 times as much as it should have cost. 140 times! Any number of harsh language might have been used by John Sopko, the special inspector general, and—lo and behold he did—troubling, ill-conceived, gratuitous, extreme, and outrageous were all adjectives that came directly from the man himself. There was “no indication” that a study was done prior to construction to assess the feasibility or viability of the project, or what kind of difficulties might be faced in trying to complete this endeavor. Sopko could safely attribute this lack of care to sheer stupidity, and even hinted it could be related to corruption or fraud, but—get this—the DoD couldn’t cooperate with enough information to even make that determination. Per SIGAR, the Department of Defense initially responded to a request for more information with the idea it lacked the requisite experience to comment following the closure of the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFSBO). Apparently, someone forgot to save the data, and/or everyone after him or her is a complete f**king idiot. John Sopko wouldn’t go as far as to claim “obstruction” on the part of the DoD, but noted the unreasonableness of its official response, as the task force had only shut down a few months prior. On this issue, the Department of Defense was not accountable, and what’s more, it didn’t care to go to any lengths to even pretend like it was. It becomes all the worse when you consider we, the taxpayers, are the ones on the hook for catastrophic blunders such as this.

Did you enjoy that story? No? Too bad—here’s another bag of dicks to wrap your mind around. (First, wrap your mind around the wrapping of your mind around a bag of dicks in the abstract. I’ll wait.) In 2016, the Pentagon’s inspector general discovered that for the 2015 fiscal year, the Department of Defense had reported $6.5 trillion in accounting adjustments. Once again, it sounds bad, but is it? Yes, it is. When your department’s entire budget is just over $600 billion, yes, it f**king is. In defense of the Department of Defense, the magnitude of these errors is compounded by the notion that improper recordings were likely made the first time, and based on the double-entry nature of accounting, multiple accounts would stand to be affected. Still, when you’re off by multiple trillions of dollars, and when the inspector general finds that you made several unsupported adjustments, that records were mysteriously missing, that financial statements are inaccurate, and that much went documented and that there are insufficient data for an audit trail, your department is pretty much just plain wrong.

As Dave Lindorff in a piece for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) explains, the Pentagon has a long history of noncompliance with federally-mandated standards for accounting and auditability. Yet it doesn’t seem to feel the weight of any formal censure by the appropriate authorities, nor did it receive nearly the amount of media attention the super-expensive Afghanistan gas station did—and even that news story received limited play. Per Lindorff, while two articles appeared on Reuters related to the scandal, at the time of the publication of his article—September 2 of last year—both the New York Times and the Washington Post had yet to cover this story. Sounds bad, right? Like apparently everything else in this post, it is exactly as bad as it sounds. The DoD inspector general’s report was dated July 26, 2016. In other words, they had over a month to investigate and report on this, or even to respond to Dave Lindorff’s requests for a response. But they didn’t. Trillions of dollars in errors, and barely a peep from the mainstream media.

Which brings us to where we are today with the Trump administration and the prospective 2018 budget. The enacted FY 2016 budget, per the Defense.gov website, was $521.7 billion. Barack Obama, in his final defense budget proposal, put forth a proposal for a $582.7 billion FY 2017 budget, citing changes and threats in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, including China throwing its weight around in the Pacific, the continued fight to bring down ISIS, Iran and North Korea, you know, still being Iran and North Korea, and Russian aggression. President Trump, for FY 2018, has proposed a defense budget of $610 billion, which he has claimed is about a 10% increase and, like, the biggest in history. Whether we’re talking about his Inauguration crowds, or his electoral victory, or even his hands or likely his, ahem, presidential staff, we should gather that the size is overstated. According to an NBC News report penned by Phil McCausland, the White House’s calculation of a $54 billion increase is relative to the budget cap which Obama’s proposed FY 2017 budget already exceeded by about $35 billion. So, Trump’s proposed increase for FY 2018 is actually fairly modest by comparison: only about 3.1% more. Donald Trump is trying to sound like the strongman he is, and quite possibly take attention away from all the Russian drama that surrounds his administration and his own finances with the help of some patriotic bombast. With each new revelation (e.g. Jeff Sessions apparently lying under oath about speaking with a Russian diplomat before Trump was elected), this proves difficult, if not impossible, but if anyone can make you believe in the impossible, it’s a man who had no business winning a presidential race.

The Afghani money pit and the multi-trillion dollar oopsy happened before Donald Trump even was sworn in. Coupling these Obama-era SNAFUs with the notion Trump’s proposed defense budget increase is overstated and thereby more modest, why bother coming at the current President about it? First of all, I don’t even know that I need much of a reason to come at Pres. Trump under the premise of it being just for general principles, but let’s talk Trump’s campaign promises, which already are somewhat infamous in Democratic circles and likely have even independents and some Republicans confused or upset. As is oft cited, Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp,” and part of realization of that platform, one might presume, would involve eliminating government waste. Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, agrees with this sentiment. As de Rugy notes, Trump, through various executive orders, has already signed orders that require federal agencies to establish regulation watchdogs and cut two regulations for every new one enacted. However, curbing government waste involves more than just cutting regulations, and de Rugy insists the President instead should focus on improper payments by government agencies, suggesting he begin with the Medicare fee-for-service program, which makes $137 billion in improper payments per year, and to expand the profile and authority of the Recovery Audit Contractor program, which exists for the very purpose of uncovering fraud, and which Democrats and Republicans alike have acted to undermine in deference to their special interests.

This would be a great place for Donald Trump to dig in and help distinguish himself from his predecessor. However, as we understand too well only a month and change into his presidency, Trump doesn’t seem to mind too much playing fast and loose with other people’s money. Every time he takes a trip to his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach estate, it costs taxpayers $3 million. Reportedly, it costs the city of New York $1 million a day to protect Trump and his family. Eric Trump even cost taxpayers nearly $100,000 for a trip to Uruguay on behalf of the Trump Organization to pay for Secret Service members and embassy staff—not even for matters of true diplomacy, but to enlarge the profits of the business from which Donald Trump enriches himself. These are galling enough, and when we consider President Trump’s proposed increase for the Department of Defense as a subset of his administration’s adversarial approach to certain non-defense programs, his hawkish tone takes on a more sinister aspect, as with his administration’s increased focus on deportation, which, by the numbers, isn’t wildly out of line with Obama’s record, but because it vastly expands the powers of ICE agents and because undocumented immigrants without a history of violent crime are apparently being specifically targeted for removal (Google “Daniela Vargas” and prepare to be disheartened), seems comparatively that much worse.

We could go on about Donald Trump’s war on immigrants, much as we could or maybe even should go on about Jeff Sessions, Russia, and the tangled web prominent Washington figures have woven with respect to Vladimir Putin and his country, but let me make my point about Trump’s separate war against programs that are reviled by his base. As noted earlier, Trump wants to slash funding for the EPA and has lined his Cabinet with climate change deniers, or at least those who evidently have no problem rolling back environmental regulations at the expense of flora and fauna (see also newly-confirmed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s decision to bring back the use of lead ammunition in national parks and refuges). Along these lines, the President wants to cut funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s leading climate change research department, by 17%, roughly a sixth of its current budget. Reportedly, he also wants to decrease funding to the already-beleaguered Internal Revenue Service, a move which not only is geared primarily to benefitting other rich assholes like himself, but is patently self-defeating. A central point of the IRS—the Internal Revenue Service—by its namesake, is to generate revenue. If it can’t properly fund and staff its intended functions such as conducting audits or going after tax shelters, that’s needed money that the United States can’t access. Especially if Trump and congressional Republicans want to lower taxes and yet still somehow expand defense spending and address our crumbling infrastructure. If you keep spending more than you take in as a nation, eventually, you’re going to have a problem.

Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” as President, but by now, it’s painfully obvious he’s only intent on feeding its alligators, and then after feeding those alligators, apparently killing them off by de-funding all the environmental organizations that help protect their numbers. If Trump really wanted to separate himself from Barack Obama and help the little guy, he could start by curbing waste at the Department of Defense, which I see as the poster child for government inefficiency, rather than boasting about vastly increasing its funding, but let him only try to keep up appearances as being a commanding Commander-in-Chief, much as he tried to maintain his image as someone who didn’t support the Iraq War like Hillary Clinton did—even though he totally f**king did. In other words, Trump can’t have it both ways. He can’t be a champion of the people and of his rich, white conservative base at the same time. Donald Trump wants to augment the Department of Defense, but simply put, there’s no defense for him in this regard.

The Death Dance of the Mainstream Media

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Soledad O’Brien had to come back to CNN recently to verbally bitch-slap her former employer over their “shoddy” coverage of Donald Trump. Sadly, this seems to be a microcosm of mainstream news media’s woeful coverage of the 2016 election. (Image Credit: CNN)

A few days ago, NBC News aired a Commander-in-Chief Forum with presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump prominently featured, and to say it was not well received would be a bit of an understatement. To be fair, NBC News and MSNBC chairman Andy Lack—not to be confused with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck—singularly praised moderator Matt Lauer’s performance during this television special, and the presentation did garner some 15 million viewers. To be less fair, however, Lack’s lauding of Lauer’s handling of the forum may be singular in that he seems to be the only person who thought the whole shebang was capably handled. Members of the press, officials from past presidential administrations, pundits, and social media critics alike blasted Matt Lauer’s handling of the admittedly-limited thirty minutes devoted to interviewing both Clinton and Trump. Among the points of contention from the dissatisfied peanut gallery:

  • Lauer spent about a third of his time with Hillary Clinton talking about her ongoing E-mail scandal, while glossing over a number of arguably more important topics, such as national security.
  • Lauer did not fact-check Donald Trump when he made the claim that he never supported the Iraq War, even when most of the audience seemed to be aware he totally f**king did.
  • Lauer appeared to let Trump be, you know, himself and talk over the person asking him the questions, while frequently interrupting Clinton, inspiring allegations of sexism.
  • Lauer did not press Trump more strongly on stupid shit he said or has said in the past, such as the Republican Party nominee’s Tweet which evidently suggested it’s women’s fault by enlisting in the first place for getting sexually assaulted in the U.S. military, or his assertion that he knows more about ISIS than the actual American generals in charge of combat operations in the Middle East, or even his continued support for Vladimir Putin, a man who was instrumental in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and who may or may not be behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
  • In other words, Lauer more critically interviewed Olympic swimmer and professional moron Ryan Lochte than he did a man who might actually become President of the United f**king States.

Perhaps it is no great wonder with public relations disasters such as the Commander-in-Chief Forum in mind to hear news such as this report back from June from Gallup that Americans’ confidence in newspapers has gone down 10% in the past decade from 30% to 20%, and that their faith in television news has likewise declined by 10% from 31% to 21%. It should be noted that other institutions asked about in this same survey have their own confidence problems, including churches/organized religion (down 11% to 41%), banks (down 22% to 27%), and Congress (down 10% to a mere 9%). Still, Americans’ distaste for and mistrust of the news media is real, something that neither bodes well for the success and continued survival of various news outlets, nor augurs particularly auspiciously for an informed public, at that. Seeing these statistics in a vacuum, it’s hard to tell, in chicken-egg fashion, whether flagging confidence in the mainstream media has fueled the downturn of newspapers and cable TV, whether public interest has waned in response to an inferior product already on the decline, or, like the ouroboros—the snake eating its own tail—these two trends exist not within a linear cause-effect relationship, but rather as part of a circular duality that feeds on itself. If the last case is indeed true to reality, this is doubly bad, for not only does this set of circumstances likely accelerate the process of disintegration, but if we are still thinking of serpents after the last metaphor, we are likely profoundly scared in an Indiana Jones-like way. DAMMIT! I HATE SNAKES, AND I HATE MSNBC!

On the subject of the decline of newspapers as a source of information, undoubtedly, the rise of television and later the Internet meant there was only so much consumer attention to go around, and online content and news providers have an added leg up on newspapers in being able to tailor advertising to individual users, which hurts print media’s ability to generate valuable ad revenue. From a cost perspective, too, newspapers fight a losing battle in trying to limit expenses in light of the burden of overhead, with clear disadvantages in the price of physical circulation, printing each edition, or even rewarding writers and other employees for their services. There are additional challenges faced by newspapers and all media for that matter, such as the fragmentation of the market to reflect niche interests, the social media requirement faced by businesses irrespective of industry, and the lingering economic effects of the Great Recession, to consider. All in all, it’s a potent brew of negative influences on newspapers’ ability to thrive today, and a number of publications serving major metropolitan areas have been forced to limit print circulation or fold altogether over the years.

Meanwhile, on the matter of television news networks, while recently the networks have enjoyed ratings coups owing to people tuning in to witness the shit-show that is the 2016 presidential election, on the long-term whole, as of May 2015, cable news has seen its overall median daily audience shrink 11% since 2008, according to Pew Research. Potentially outmoded statistics aside, many reason what happened to newspapers vis-à-vis cable news will repeat itself with the likes of CNN, FOX News and MSNBC relative to blogs and other online media. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, outlines, prime-time cable news shows are heavily reliant on an aging audience, and face obvious competition from online news sources better served to meet the needs and desires of younger generations. Meaning that while the network that professes to offer “news” but really just utilizes fear-mongering, prejudices and unsubstantiated claims to gin up its viewers is enjoying a long-standing run atop the charts, even it might have trouble sooner than later. And not just because the GOP is a shell of its former self and has been co-opted by idiots and white supremacists.

Indeed, going forward, the traditional news media has its work cut out for it if it wants to stay afloat in a sea of competing interests. To this end, various media outlets need to generate clicks, ratings and subscriptions, and to do this, they have to find some hook with the consumer-user. How these news services achieve this end, and whether or not this will only guarantee them a worse fate in light of the public’s fragile confidence in them, is the multi-billion dollar question. Right now, as noted, the corporate media is riding high. After all, almost 15 million viewers tuned into NBC News’s Commander-in-Chief debacle—and that wasn’t even a debate! Whether or not the American people will actually turn out to vote in November is another story, but in the lead-up to the election, there certainly seems to be a great deal of interest in who stands to become our next President and what sort of damage he or she might inflict on the country should he or she win. At the end of the campaign season, though, and following the election and even inauguration, it almost seems inevitable there will be a drop-off in interest, and in the post-election hangover in which America will find itself after months of a tiresome primary/debate schedule, the traditional media may discover it has less clout and more competition than it might otherwise have considered.

From the swivel chair on which I’m sitting, news media has not done a good job of covering the 2016 presidential election cycle. Nor has it done a fair job, or even a “Needs Work” kind of job, as a child might see on his or her grade-school assignment. No, the mainstream media has done a piss-poor job of serving the public interest when it comes to the campaign season. (I perhaps would’ve referred to it as a “deplorable” job, but Hillary has ruined that word for the foreseeable future—and may have even done damage to her election bid with her “basket of deplorables” turn of phrase.) The powers-that-be behind today’s remaining major newspapers and big-name news networks would be apt to protest this characterization, and furthermore, would insist they are providing fair and balanced coverage that considers all viewpoints. While under most circumstances, objectivity in reporting is highly advisable, when the situation warrants a firmer hand in steering the discussion, particularly when representing all angles means to give a voice to elements whose arguments are little more than bigotry and deliberate misrepresentation of reality, the refusal of the news to intervene is a failure, and a seemingly cowardly one at that, or else it values ad revenue over integrity.

Former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien recently took her old employer to task over its lack of discretion in reporting on the U.S. presidential election. O’Brien’s takedown of CNN’s coverage, particularly in the network’s kowtowing to the more reprehensible voices on Donald Trump’s side of the fence, is to be commended for its directness as well as its consideration of the implications not only for the outcome election, but for the fate of CNN and television journalism itself. What most agree are the critical points of Soledad’s impassioned remarks:

On giving white supremacists a platform because they are Trump supporters/delegates…

“I’ve seen on-air, white supremacists being interviewed because they are Trump delegates. And they do a five minute segment, the first minute or so talking about what they believe as white supremacists. So you have normalized that. And then Donald Trump will say, ‘Hillary Clinton, she’s a bigot.’ And it’s covered, the journalist part comes in, ‘They trade barbs. He said she’s a bigot and she points out that he might be appealing to racists.’ It only becomes ‘he said, she said.’ When in actuality, the fact that Donald Trump said she’s a bigot without the long laundry list of evidence, which if you looked at Hillary Clinton’s speech, she actually did have a lot of really good factual evidence that we would all agree that are things that have happened and do exist. They are treated as if they are equal. That’s where journalists are failing: the contortions to try to make it seem fair.”

And on CNN and others building up Donald Trump for ratings…

“Hateful speech brings a really interested, angry audience. ‘This is genius! We should do this more often. What shall we do when this election is over? We’re going to have to think about ways to really rile people up, make them angry and divide them.’ Because that is something that cable news, frankly, and everybody can cover really well. So, I find it very frustrating. I believe he was over-covered at the beginning. Now, it is ‘he said, she said’ all the time. We have lost context. We actually don’t even cover the details of something. We just cover the back and forth of it. It’s funny to watch if it weren’t our own country and our own government actually operating.”

What supposed “bigot” Hillary Clinton believes at heart about the key voting demographics to which she panders, one can’t be sure, but Soledad O’Brien is right: at least she has not made attacks on minorities the cornerstone of her campaign the way Donald Trump has his. Furthermore, I’d argue she’s deadly accurate on what the media has done, by and large, to frame the ultimate showdown between Clinton and Trump. Make no mistake—a winner-take-all electoral competition between Hill and Don is exactly what print media and the major news networks wanted. The aggregate favorability rating of the Democratic Party and Republican Party nominee is an almost-historically low one, if not the lowest altogether, such that viewers and even the supporting casts related to each campaign themselves have strong feelings one way or another. Throw in the apparent belief of media outlets that their audiences are stupid, don’t care about “the issues,” and would rather see these party heads squabble than speak substantively on important subjects, and you’ve hit on, to a large extent, the news media’s approach to covering this election.

Indeed, the mainstream media is trying to dance precariously between two functions, and the discussion of whether or not their routine is a winning one is accordingly worthwhile. On the one hand, America’s major news outlets, like many concerned citizens, don’t have a death wish. Donald Trump, who hasn’t been good at very much in his 70 years—let’s be honest—would make an even worse President of the United States than the shady businessman the more informed among us know him to be. Hillary Clinton, by proxy, is made to look through headlines and clickable, shareable content that much stronger as a candidate on matters of policy, aside from her obviously superior experience after years in politics. On the other hand, however, said outlets really, really like the ratings and traffic the mere mention of Trump’s name generates, including that which derives from the man’s more, shall we say, outspoken supporters, and so, despite their better judgment, they all but waive their editorial discretion in the name of “fairness.” The result is that both candidates have not been pressed by the press as strongly as they could or perhaps should be questioned, and as a result, the detractors of both Clinton and Trump can claim the media is letting them off the hook. To a certain extent, they’re all right.


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Mr. Trump, where in the holy hell are your tax returns? (Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

If I were in Matt Lauer’s shoes, granted, I would be likely be a bit apprehensive about confronting the two biggest figures in American politics right now, and I would also have to balance the probing nature of journalistic intent with the direction of the NBC brass—you know, provided I wanted to remain employed. All this aside, if I were to have the opportunity to interview  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would want to pose these types of questions:

HILLARY CLINTON

1) OK, we get ityou regret voting for the Iraq War. Now that you’ve adequately expressed your remorse for political purposes, what do we do about our continued entanglements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere abroad? What is our timetable for a meaningful reduction in military spending, or for that matter, a reduction in the number of American troops deployed in combat areas, if at all?

Dating back to the party primary season and even during the Democratic National Convention, Hillary caught a lot of flak from Bernie Sanders supporters and surrogates from her stances on the Iraq War and her perceived hawkishness. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton seems to be a bit right of center on the subject of the use of the military and spending to accomplish its goals, so these are worthwhile questions, especially for those who got behind the Sanders campaign and support more progressive aims of the Democratic Party. With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 just behind us and talk of “we will never forget,” it seems ironic to employ such verbiage when the U.S. still is invested heavily in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thus can’t forget a War on Terror still ongoing. More like “we will never get out,” if you ask me.

2) Unless you’re hard up for donations—and judging by your big-ticket fundraisers and speaking fees, you have plenty of cash at your disposal—why should the Clinton Foundation wait until after winning the election to stop accepting monies from corporations and foreign interests?

Hillary Clinton already has a bit of an optics problem regarding trustworthiness in light of her ongoing E-mail imbroglio, concerns about where monies are going after they reach the Hillary Victory Fund, and other scandals which may be somewhat trumped up by Republicans but otherwise do reflect legitimate character concerns. The Clinton Foundation, which has come under fire recently for insinuations it is emblematic of a pay-to-play paradigm which coincided with her affairs as head of the State Department and thus may have crossed ethical lines, and has been characterized by some vocal dissenters as more or less a money laundering operation, by these tokens, is not helping matters.

Among others, Robert Reich, who avidly supported Bernie Sanders until Clinton won the Democratic Party nomination, and now has put his influence behind Hillary because of his recognition of the danger of a Donald Trump presidency, recommends the Clinton Family divest itself of operational ties to its namesake charitable organization, in the interest of propriety and transparency. If Hillary Clinton and her campaign were smart, they wouldn’t wait to effect these changes, and certainly wouldn’t make them contingent on an election victory, but this a major-party presidential campaign we’re talking about here—sound judgment often falls by the wayside.

 3) Don’t you think it a bit douche-y to wear a $12,000 Giorgio Armani jacket and talk about income inequality?

I’ve brought this up before, but I would have to ask HRC directly just to gauge her reaction. Follow-up question: why did you or anyone pay so much for something that looks so hideous?

4) Why exactly were aides of yours smashing devices with hammers? What reasonable explanation is there for this that does not involve wanting to hide or obscure information?

Like Tom Brady smashing his phone in the midst of the Deflategate controversy, this is pretty much a rhetorical question, but I’d like to see and hear her explain why so many Blackberries and iPads had to be obliterated. Though I will admit it was probably oddly pleasurable for the person or persons tasked with doing the destroying. But still.

5) At this point, what does it matter whether the DNC and your campaign were hacked by Russia, or by Guccifer 2.0 acting independently, or by aliens, as Susan Sarandon jokingly suggested? What does it matter, Mrs. Clinton?

OK, so getting hacked is obviously a concern for any organization, and thus society as a whole, as is the theoretical publication of private information of individuals pursuant to matters of privacy in various data leaks. Still, the Democrats seem a little eager to point to Russia and shout, “Look what they did!” when the content itself of the leaked messages is objectionable. Whether it’s intentional bias against the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign or the influence of money on leadership within the party or even in government as a whole, these connections give the public a clearer picture of the kinds of people and institutions with whom/which they are dealing, and how democracy continues to be constrained by party politics and corporate/individual wealth. To this end, the DNC Leaks et al. are a public service, even if the manner in which they were obtained is suspect. Confessedly, though, as much as I feel I’m making a valid point, I kind of just wanted to take a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s semi-infamous “What does it matter?” moment from the hearings of Benghazi. When Americans die, in a potentially avoidable way, and the public is misinformed as to whether or not the attack was terroristic in nature, it does matter. Perhaps not as much as to warrant the extent of the costly investigation into the events surrounding Benghazi to date, but it does.

DONALD TRUMP

1) Why won’t you release your tax returns?

I’ve also discussed this before, musing as to why Donald Trump so obstinately has refused to acquiesce on this count. Some suspect it is because of his supposed ties to Russian businesses (though the Clintons have profited in their own right from Russia, including through the sale of uranium), but I suspect, perhaps more benignly, that Trump wants either to conceal the likely situation that he pays little to no taxes through loopholes, or—even worse in his eyes—that he doesn’t have nearly as much money as he says he does. This may not sound terrible to you or I, but when your entire brand is built on the image of you as a successful entrepreneur able to afford a lavish lifestyle, losing this appearance of obscene wealth could be devastating to this myth. It would be like the storied emperor with no clothes—and I’m immediately sorry for any mental images you now own because of this comparison.

2) How do you explain the immense rent increase for the Trump campaign headquarters in Trump Tower in July after you started receiving considerable funding from donors and weren’t just “financing your own campaign?”

The Trump campaign has explained the nearly four-times spike in its rent expense at Trump Tower resulting from adding “two more levels to its existing space,” whatever that means. While there’s no proof of anything shady, that purchases leading to greater expenses are synchronous with the addition of benefactors, and that Trump stands to indirectly benefit from this arrangement, is enough to raise one or more eyebrows. The deflection that the Clinton camp pays more on rent doesn’t assuage potential culpability either. Saying you spent less than Hillary Clinton on rent is like saying you smoke less weed than Tommy Chong. It’s not exactly something to hang your hat on.

3) Do you care to comment on reports that a number of key staffers in your campaign left after not getting paid, or that you have a history of doing to this people in your personal and professional lives?

One thing the press has not discussed nearly enough regarding Donald Trump’s business dealings is that he has repeatedly screwed people out of money, and then has shielded himself behind the cloak of litigation or has relied upon the auspices of bankruptcy law to avoid having to pay all his bills. If Trump can’t pay his staffers as he should, why should we expect him to do what’s right for America’s finances, or for that matter, give him the keys to the country?

4) Would you like to personally apologize to Jersey City, and in particular, its Muslim population, for making claims about thousands of people cheering in the streets when the Towers fell, even though this has been thoroughly debunked?

OK, I gotta say this one’s for me. When even Crazy Rudy Giuliani disagreed with Trump’s steadfast assertion that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center, you knew the man was full of shit, and anyone else who sides with Trump on this issue is either full of shit too, or has spent too much time watching Fox News and has had the parts of their brain devoted to higher-order thinking and encoding of memory eaten away by the stupidity. I don’t care if you’re talking about Muslims, undocumented Mexican immigrants, or members of the Borg collective—if they’re from New Jersey, step the f**k off.

5) Seriously, though, release your f**king tax returns.

Not really a question anymore, but then again, it shouldn’t be. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no problem complying. Shit, even Crooked Hillary obliged on this front. You don’t want to be worse than Hillary at something, do you, Donald?


Returning to the theme of journalistic accountability in the mainstream media and perceptions of bias, even before the events of this election cycle and the rise of online content/social media, a core group of outspoken Americans took to distrusting the “liberal media” and its leftist agenda. How dare they believe in concepts like gender and race equality? How come their “facts” don’t match what I know deep down in my gut? Why do they insist on telling me I’m wrong for hating gays and transgender people and telling them they can’t buy wedding cakes in our shops or pee in our bathrooms? TOO MUCH POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! TOO MANY BIG WORDS! AAAAAHHHH! This kind of mentality, I believe, has helped fuel the rise of the alt-right and eschewing of more reputable news sources for airheads such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and even conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones. Which, though it may chagrin network executives and digital content managers, might not be a huge loss for the rest of the viewing population. Not for nothing, but the fewer trolls we have on Comments sections of major news providers’ sites criticizing “libtards” and demeaning them as a bunch of whiny, sissy babies, I feel, is a good thing.

However, in news media’s indiscriminate push for ratings and revenue, that liberals and conservatives alike can be alienated by CNN, or The New York Times, or even Huffington Post, suggests that corporate-owned media outlets, buoyed by short-term successes, may only be riding a road to ruin in the long term. For libertarians, progressives, skinny people, fat people, people who try to ford the river or caulk it and float it, there are umpteen options, and while not all of them are winners (many, indeed, are not), by appealing to a more provincial audience, they stand to draw away attention from the big players in the mass media market. Again, when survival is anything but assured, prominent networks and newspapers are justifiably desperate for the public’s consumption. Catering to a lower common denominator, however, or failing to curb those who pander to a more deleterious element, seriously risks undermining the public’s trust and guaranteeing that they won’t come back. After all, when trust is gone, what else is left worth keeping?