Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Joe Biden for Vice President (Part Three)

See E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column in the Washington Post today, "A List Biden Belongs On".

Evading national security, says Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), would be a disastrous mistake. "The only way we lose this election is not to engage this issue head-on," Biden said during an interview in his Capitol office the day after Obama clinched the nomination. Democrats, Biden said, should be "proactive" and not "play defense on foreign affairs" because "the case against McCain and Bush on national security is so overwhelming. . . . It should be an essential part of the case for the Democratic nominee."

I visited with Biden because he should be at the top of any list of vice presidential picks for Obama. Why Biden? In part because of where he took our discussion: Few Democrats know more about foreign policy, and few would so relish the fight against McCain on international affairs. Few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the United States.

The worst thing in a running mate is the fear of muddying his or her image in political combat.
Biden would be a happy warrior.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Are the Cable Companies Counting on 6 million new customers (courtesy of John McCain)? Another Death of Free TV Update.

Here, from the International Herald Tribune, is the first article I found that actually estimates the number of televisions that will lose their signals -- even with converter boxes and antennas -- SIX MILLION.
The study by Centris, a market research firm in Los Angeles, found gaps in broadcast signals that may leave an estimated 5.9 million TV sets unable to receive as many channels as they did before the changeover. It may affect even those who bought government-approved converter boxes or new digital televisions. To keep broadcast reception, many viewers may have to buy new outdoor antennas, the study found.

The signals in my area that I am not receiving were addressed directly:

... [a] consultant hired to replace the broadcast antennas on the Empire State Building, found that digital signals did not travel as far as either model had predicted.
"For the people with rabbit-ear antennas, I would say at least 50 percent won't get the channels they were getting," Bendov said. "I would say a lot of people are going to be very unhappy."

Are the cable/satellite corporations simply assuming that the MILLIONS of us who lose our free television signals will finally give in and start writing them a monthly check? Has that been part of the plan since the earliest planning?

An Update on the Death of Free Television on 2/17/2009

Click here to see an interesting forum over at ConsumerReports.org about the current state of digital television (non-)reception over the air. It seems I'm not the only one who has hooked up my government-subsidized converter box but failed to find a signal using my existing indoor antenna (my failed autoscan on a Magnavox TB 100MG9 converter is shown in the attached shot from this morning).
The Consumer Reports article is much more honest than the ads being run on local stations, which make it seem the box alone will solve your DTV conversion problems. After going through a fair amount of detail about adding the box and better outdoor antennas, the Consumer Reports blog post states,

Unfortunately, there's a chance no antenna will work for you. Recent reports indicate that some households are in fringe areas with poor reception, and for them, off-air digital TV might not be a good option.
In any case, start soon. If you encounter problems, there will be plenty of time to resolve them before next February so you're not left out in the cold.

Since I can't install an outdoor antenna (and weren't they beautiful when forests of them did top the rooftops of the nation back in the sixties and seventies??), I expect not to be watching television at this time next year (unless you count DVDs on a computer screen as TV), but I think it's going to be a shock for a lot of people who don't have cable. Plus, I'm only in my apartment for a handful of waking hours a day. I can live without television. There are millions of others who shouldn't have to.
I put my personal case forward in the comments to the Consumer Reports article and the only answer I got was that I would need to get cable, but not to worry because there are basic plans for broadcast-only channels at about $15/month and other plans for only $40/month. Who is really benefiting from this DTV transition if thousands of people who are not currently paying a penny to the cable/satellite corporations will now be forced to pay a minimum of $180 - $480 per year to those companies if they want to continue receiving the most basic television services? (And remember that even if you do have cable, that second or third or fourth TV without cable that you watch in the kitchen or garage will be dead on 2/17/2009.)
OK, it's hard to think of a constituency that is less well-connected politically (or electronically) than the people who have no access to television other than the waves that are coming to them for free through the air, and this group probably didn't come up in conversation when John McCain and Vicki Iseman were discussing the transition to digital television in her clients' private jets. Even though the televisions of the uncabled won't start going black until next February 17th, there's nothing to stop the rest of us from spreading the word now that this Death-of-Free-TV bill bears a very heavy imprint of John McCain's, and that it was passed in the Senate by a 51-50 vote, with tie-breaking vote number 51 belonging to Richard "Dick" Cheney and the other 50 yea votes belonging to Republicans too.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Culture Wars of a Happier Time : Are You a Jerry or a Hef?

You've got to love how befuddled the poor suits look in this priceless video of the Grateful Dead playing Mountains of the Moon and St. Stephen for Hugh Hefner and his friends during a taping of Playboy After Dark in 1969!

At the one minute mark, be sure to catch Jerry explaining to Hugh, with appropriate smiles and hand gestures, "... they more chase each other around. It's kinda, it's like, it's like the serpent that eats its own tail, y'know. And it goes round and round like that and if you, if you could stand in between them, uh, they, they make uh big figure eights on their sides, in your head." Of course Jerry Garcia's elucidating why the Dead have two drummers, but Hugh seems to be having some trouble following this crystal-clear explanation.

So what side of this culture divide do (did) you come down on?
Would you rather be Hugh? Or Jerry?

(and don't you need to watch this conversation and hear this music to cleanse your soul after watching the video in my last post??)

WHIG of the Week Scott McClellan (Part Two, The Video)

I just watched more of Bill O'Reilly than I've seen in my life in watching this video, "O'Reilly Goes Ballistic on McClellan," but you can skip right to the 3'29" marker to hear the section that's most relevant to the purposes of the WHIGgate Update blog.

Here's the transcript of the section about "catapulting the propaganda" using the White House Iraq Group, as transcribed in Crooks and Liars:

Bill O’Reilly: You said they used propaganda and that is a loaded word.
Scott McClellan: The White House Iraq group, the White House Iraq Group was set up, it’s a marketing arm for selling the a war. That was a specific purpose that I talked about in the book
BO: Because they fervently believed that the guy was a danger and could hand his weapons off.
SM: No because the President had a bigger driving motivation which was to transform the middle east.
BO: You telling me that President Bush didn’t believe they had the,
SM: No, he did too. He believed that too.
BO:That’s not propaganda then, that’s not propaganda.
SM: It is when you package it all together—over sell it and over state it to the American people. That is propaganda.

Propaganda may be a loaded word in O'Reilly's mind, but Scott McClellan gets his definition of the word directly from his former boss:
... third time I've said that. (Laughter.) I'll probably say it three more times. See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda. (Applause.)

-- George W. Bush, 24 May 2005 (text and stage cues from the whitehouse.gov transcript)

You can see a video of the Catapult the Propaganda quote here.

If you can stand watching the whole interview video, it's also interesting to see the way that O'Reilly goes on about how "everyone" believed Iraq had WMDs because they read it in The New York Times; I just wish that Scott would have pointed out how Judith Miller of the Times was being used as a tool -- perhaps the key tool -- in the catapulting the propaganda about Saddam's scary aluminum tubes.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A New "WHIG of the Week", Scott McClellan

This is crossposted from WHIGgate Update at whiggate.org.

OK. I know that WHIGgate.org has been very inactive lately, but the fact is that it started with high hopes (and what turned out, of course, to have been false hopes) that the American people and their representatives in Congress and the "independent" flag-waving American mass media would come to their senses and hold the war criminals of the Bush Administration responsible for waging a war of aggression on manufactured evidence. The White House Iraq Group seemed like the perfect frame in which to tell the story of those lies, and the way they were sold to us.

Despite the fact that we seem to be OK with being lied to, I couldn't help posting this new entry for nobody to read when I ran across the following question and answer in the transcript of a Washington Post Book World online discussion from May 30:

Rhode Island: Hi. I hope this question doesn't sound confrontational. My understanding is that you didn't become press secretary until a year or so after the Iraq war began. Can you tell us about what your role was before that? Were you privy to high-level discussions in the lead-up to the war? Thanks.
Scott McClellan: I became press secretary on July 15, 2003, a few months after the initial invasion. Prior to that, I served as the principal deputy press secretary. I was not involved in the policy-making on Iraq or in developing the overall marketing strategy for selling the war to the public. I did fill in for my predecessor at times, and even participated in some White House Iraq Group, or WHIG meetings. WHIG was set up as the marketing arm for selling the war to the public.

I'm not sure that I've seen the White House Iraq Group referred to by name and by its WHIG designation so clearly by a White House official who took part in their meetings. I find it very impressive that the author of What Happened was not responding to a specific question about the Group or its role; Scott McClellan brought the names up unprompted, and followed up with the perfect one-sentence definition: "WHIG was set up as the marketing arm for selling the war to the public."

When America's Paper of Record, The New York Times, still has not mentioned the "White House Iraq Group" in its news pages [only in Frank Rich's columns], then it's not surprising that even some of us who track down these scattered references begin to doubt the group's existence and/or importance. Scott's nonchalant confirmation of its name and its role is striking (but not as striking as the continuing silence from the "liberal" Times). WHIGgate Update will come roaring back with another post if the Times ever writes about the Group in its news pages [click here to see if they do], but don't hold your breath. We don't expect to see anything until we're well into the Obama administration and they can treat this Bush-regime story in quaint historical context, not as a crime that demands immediate prosecution.

This is crossposted from WHIGgate Update at whiggate.org.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An Important Day

The Democratic Party found its 2008 standard bearer last night and I couldn't be happier. Up above is a picture from the beautiful fall evening in New York when I found that I had no doubts about who I was whole-heartingly supporting for President. I hope that every American voter gets a chance to see Barack Obama live, unfiltered by the media, at some point in the next five months.

Even on this historic day, I don't think we can imagine the joy that will break out around the world in early November when President Obama is elected.

They already realize that he's different from earlier American politicians for reasons other than the amount of melanin in his skin. This key sentence is from Le Monde's lead editorial, "Barack Hussein Obama," today:

Les électeurs qui lui ont apporté leurs voix dans les primaires, le million et demi de partisans qui ont contribué à sa campagne, dont la moitié avec des dons de 200 dollars (130 euros) ou moins, les responsables du parti qui l'ont soutenu, les médias qui ont rendu compte de son entreprise ont démontré que la démocratie américaine n'est pas vouée à être confisquée par une classe politique étroite, financée par des lobbies et pilotée par des experts de la communication.

Hillary Clinton's victory -- though historic in its own way -- certainly would not have been seen as the same kind of break (or any kind of break) from the powers of "that narrow political elite that's financed by lobbyists and piloted by spin doctors."

The general tenor of the first comments from readers of this editorial is one of praise for the USA and one of wondering how France can learn from us (it's not a tone that's been heard often in the European press during the Bush II regime).

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"Oh the Humanity!"

While not quite on the scale of the Nazi passenger aircraft that exploded in New Jersey and triggered the famous three words of our title, a quiet slow-motion financial catastrophe is beginning to affect the scum that floats at the top of New York's social pond. Anecdotal evidence about the current trials and tribulations of those with net worths from the mid-seven to low-ten figures is recounted in Christine Haughney's Fashion & Style article in The New York Times, "It's Not Easy Being Less Rich", where we find our quote of the day:

“A year ago, he would have only flown Gulfstreams. [...] Now it’s moving to the point where he’s flying Beech jets and Learjets.”

Give the poor guy another Republican tax cut! Stat!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Death of Free TV?

I live in an area where many (including myself) take the train to New York City, but it's a fringy area of television reception. If I adjust my indoor antenna correctly, I can currently get New York channels 2,4,5,7,9,11,13 (and sometimes 21 and some other UHF channels); I don't get any of them well enough to see a moving hockey puck or a golf ball on my cheap 13-inch set, and they're not always in color, but I can see any show that's on broadcast (analog) television by wiggling a rabbit ear.

Last weekend I used my $40 DTV coupon to buy a $49 digital converter box, a Magnavox TB100MG9. When I scan for digital channels, it finds nothing available in this area of Central New Jersey. When I check AntennaWeb, it becomes clear that from my zip code there are no digital stations that are currently available yet without a heavy-duty outdoor antenna. The new converter box confirms this; when I put it on autoscan, it finds no signals.

Because digital television is either on or off -- perfect or nonexistent -- there is no such thing as the fringy, fuzzy signal to which I've become accustomed. I cannot add an outdoor antenna on the roof of my apartment building (nor do I feel I should be asked to), and I have no desire to give any money to one of John McCain's campaign-contributing cable companies. So unless digital signals are strengthened or added before then, this is what I'll be looking at on February 17, 2009 when free analog television dies:
On the downside, I'll miss Bill Moyers and "Nova" and the occasional college football game, and "The Office" and "30 Rock" and "CBS Sunday Morning", and being able to check the weather before I leave the apartment in the morning. I'll miss these shows, but I'm not going to add a monthly bill to my budget to start receiving them again. Once they're gone, I'll just listen to more NPR (until radio is made digital) and play more guitar.

On the plus side, I'll no longer be tempted to flip past the combination of greed, bathos, peer pressure, and statistical stupidity that is Howie Mandel's "Deal or No Deal" just because I'm bored. I'm no longer going to know which automobile ad has resurrected (and therefore ruined) the coolest song from my childhood, and which car looks sleekest while speeding through closed coastal California curves under the guidance of a professional driver. I'm no longer going to believe that the purple pill will make me want to run through fields of wildflowers like it's 1968 again, and that the blue pill will find me an attractive sexual partner to lie down with me in that field. Which makes me wonder what Big Pharma and the (not quite so) Big Three think about losing access to a slice of their potential customers. Is it possible that there's going to be some push back from these powerful economic engines?

This was a bill pushed by all the cable and communications industries and passed 51-50 (with Richard "Dick" Cheney cast in the role of "The Decider") on December 21, 2005. Will it become less popular as other casual TV watchers -- and there are many who live farther from TV transmission antennas than I do -- and advertisers, find out just how many are affected by this change? Or will all the last holdouts (or almost all of them) simply give in and agree to begin paying extortion fees to the cable and satellite companies for something they used to get over the air for free?

Will John McCain's role as a major advocate for this change, and a tool of cable lobbyists, be an issue in the coming election? Or will it only be a big issue next February, when sets actually go black?