Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Press Conference: Chuck Todd's Stupid Question

Usually, I post here first and then cross post at Daily Kos. This evening I did the reverse. I knew I'd get quick feedback at Daily Kos, so I started there. This is my diary, as it's called on that site, and if you'd like to see the comments that the Kos community added, you may go here.

With a few additional points, here is my response to MSNBC's Chuck Todd's stupid question during President Obama's Press Conference:

As Chris Matthews said, the reporters were "zombies" during the Obama news conference tonight.

And there was none "stupider" (my academic term) than Chuck Todd.

After a lot of lead up to Chuck's asking a question that had been solicited from "the public," all he could come up with was a question that compared the economic crisis to "war" and asked the American public for sacrifice.

Who asked this question? I was enraged with it.

Obama answered by stating that the American people, especially the military, have sacrificed an awful lot already.

It was a good answer.

If we're in this war, however, it's the economy against us! Americans suffer and sacrifice each and every day. How can we be asked to sacrifice more when we are the victims?!

Sacrifice? Give me a damn break. Get us out of this "war" and I will then make whatever "sacrifice" is requested.

Americans have lost their jobs, homes and health insurance, and Chuck is asking them to give up more?

I wonder what Chuck had in mind - something he'd be willing to give up? Where does he live? How much does he make? What kind of health insurance does he have to protect his family?

Give it up, Chuck. Once you make the sacrifice your talking about for this "war," then come back and see if you have the gall to ask that same question.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Anybody Listening to Our Children?

Last night, The News Hour reported on the video project of Michael Steinman's AP English class at Village Academy High School in Pomona, California. Steinman sensed that the economic downturn was impacting the lives of his students. So, when he asked them to write about their experiences with the current recession, he was stunned by the emotions and fear that filled their essays.

Steinman asked them if they would agree to be filmed while sharing their experiences on camera. They did so, and when the project was completed, he posted the result, "Is Anybody Listening?," on YouTube:

The students' fears for their families and their sense of abandonment personalize the unemployment and foreclosures in a state with some of the worst statistics in the country. After the New Hour's presentation of Steinman's video, Mark Shields stated a truism: "Unemployment rates don't bleed; statistics don't cry."

The response to "Is Anybody Listening?" has been extraordinary. Not only have national newscasts covered the story, but President Obama also referred to the project in his address to the Hispanic Chamber of Congress.

As a follow up to his speech, the president met with the students of Village Academy this week during his trip to California, and he personally answered their questions concerning the economy.

One thing that is clear to me is that President Obama is listening because he has presented plans to change the way we operate in our country regarding energy, health care and education.

But are other politicians and pundits listening? Or, are they only looking at the quantitative effects of the recession? Are they proposing failed approaches, such as tax cuts for the wealthy, which have failed in the past?

Many of those same politicos have stated that, as a country, we must confront the recession as "war." I would beg them not to treat our country's children as expendable, "collateral damage," in this "war of economics." If that were to happen, our country would continue to suffer the following long-term negative effects on this generation of children:
  • school absenteeism
  • low graduation rates
  • high teen pregnancy
  • high unemployment
  • low taxes
  • shattered dreams
The recent Japanese recession is often referred to as a "lost decade". Our country's economy is also in danger of suffering long-term negative consequences. On top of years of negative economic growth, I fear that we will continue the legacy of "lost generations" of young people.

But, how long will the recession last? How long will it be until the parents of these children once again have the security of a job and comfort of their own home? I am confident that the president is on the right path to solving our economic woes, but many - Republicans and Democrats - oppose him.

I encourage all politicians to watch this video, especially those Republican governors who have refused stimulus funds for their states and those Democrats who are threatening to block the changes President Obama is proposing. If they were to watch it, they would understand that their political decisions are failing those who need our care most desperately: our children.

What is particularly sad is that such a video could have been filmed in any state, any congressional district, of our country. The Village Academy students' tears grip our hearts and remind us that we must never ignore the faces of those who are suffering through this economic crisis, wherever they may reside.

We must lobby our congressional representatives to support President Obama's budget to bring about the change he has promised. I, for one, do not want to experience more lost generations of children.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recommendation: "Literary Obama"

Several weeks ago I wrote my first book review for Reflecting Obama. My plans are to write another one as soon as I've finished Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough.

If you are interested in following Obama in the literary world, you don't need to wait for me to get through my reading list. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a blog that dedicates itself entirely to Obama in the written word. When I first visited Literary Obama, Qiana Whitted's beautifully organized blog, I found myself scrolling from top to bottom and from page to page, savoring one morsel after another.

Qiana states that Literary Obama is "about President Barack Obama and the creative works that he inspires (or that have inspired him). My goal is simply to keep track of original writing by notable authors and everyday citizens as well as book reviews and essays, links, quotes, videos, and photographs that celebrate our 44th President’s love of reading. When possible, I also hope to include literary news about our First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha."

A university professor, Qiana writes in a clear, yet enjoyable fashion. Her articles are intelligently written and regularly vary in their topics.

Some of Literary Obama's recent posts include the following titles:
I feel very lucky to have found Literary Obama. I'll be returning on a regular basis, especially since I've already added it to my Google Reader RSS feed. I'm also following Qiana on Twitter. In addition, she invites her readers to find out what she's reading on Goodreads. I suggest you take her up on her offer!

One thing is certain, when you're hungry for information about our new president that goes beyond the usual punditry, head on over to Qiana Whitted's Literary Obama.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cramer Contrition on Daily Show

I feel I owe readers of "Reflecting Obama" an explanation as to why I have spent time writing about CNBC and their pundits. After all, what do they have to do with Obama, the theme of this blog?

In my extremely humble opinion, CNBC and pundits like Jim Cramer and Erin Burnett have been unfairly attacking President Obama regarding the downward trend in the stock market. They've blamed him for not exuding confidence (therefore the dow dropped) and for not focusing only on the economy (as if health care, budget and housing were not connected to our economic crisis).

One of the things I like about Obama is his ability to work in an organic, nonlinear, fashion. Unfortunately, the pundits are often unable to do that. Indeed, some of their approach is what got us into this crisis.

Yesterday, I discussed the questionable journalistic abilities of CNBC pundits Erin Burnett and Jim Cramer. At the end of my article I wondered out loud how the Jim Cramer visit to The Daily Show would actually play out. The "war of words" between Cramer, CNBC and Jon Stewart and been ongoing for eight days, so the direct confrontation was something to really look forward to.

I was somewhat surprised to find, hours in advance, reviews online in Huffington Post and USA Today. Neither article gave a lot of details, but they did say that Stewart had gotten the better of Cramer. This is exactly what I was waiting for.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed that the articles were published ahead of the event, since the anticipation was sort of destroyed - kind of like hearing the outcome of a ball game before it's actually played (although the show was taped yesterday afternoon). Nonetheless, I was still eager to watch the show, especially to see all the "plays" and the nuances and reactions of the "players."

So, how did it really play out, watching it live?

If you are interested in watching, check out this Daily Kos article by Jed Lewison that contains the links to the entire show. Basically, Stewart took Cramer "to school." Indeed, as Lewison states:

"Sometimes listening to Jon Stewart is like what you'd imagine it would be like to listen to a great journalism professor...except you're laughing so hard you've fallen out of your chair. In tonight's interview, Stewart makes the case for what CNBC should have been doing over the past few years: actual business reporting, instead of acting like they were an entertainment channel for the stock market."

This is exactly the point that I made yesterday: CNBC and its pundits have not been reporting about Wall Street, but rather they've been playing Wall Street cheerleaders. And, along the way, they watched the house of cards tumbled down around everyone.

The problem is that CNBC has tried to exonerate themselves from any responsibility for contributing to the mess we're in. My article -- and to a much greater extent The Daily Show -- has tried to criticize their brand of reporting and bring their irresponsible actions into the light.

My take on the interview has several angles: what was said, the psychological exchange, and the impact.

After the humorous and gracious start to the show, Stewart explained how the whole thing began with his criticism of CNBC's Rick Santelli for calling foreclosed home owners "losers." To Cramer's credit he criticized Santelli and called those folks "fighters."

Jim Cramer's approach was one of denial, justification and contrition. His message was to offer a mea culpa along with a justification of the way CNBC operates. He tried to hide behind a wall of innocence: "I would think you'd want people like me to reveal what is going on." Stewart answered that Cramer and CNBC had known all along what had been going on and remained silent.

Stewart fumed, "I know you want to make finance entertaining, but it's not a fucking game. When I watch that it makes me so angry because it tells me you all know... You can draw a straight line from these kinds of shenanigans to what went on at Bear [and] AIG..."

Once Stewart showed a 2006 clip of Cramer explaining off air how he manipulated his clients, it was all over. That clip was the "smoking gun" that destroyed any credibility Cramer may have been able to portray. The interview was, for all intents and purposes, over.

Each time that Cramer tried to explain what he does on his show, Stewart made a point of letting Cramer know, "It's not just about you." Early in the interview he said, "CNBC sells itself as financial experts... It's about the way your company does business."

Other memorable lines from Stewart were:
  • "At least we advertise our show as selling snake oil."
  • "You knew this was happening."
  • "The banking institutions were playing these games with our 401K's."
  • "You were promising something that couldn't be delivered."
  • "Who are you responsible to?"
Throughout, he returned to the issue of the question of responsibility - that CNBC needs to become more responsible in reporting information to the public.

In the end, Stewart told Cramer and CNBC not to live on the "commentator" laurel and become real reporters. And, with one last verbal swipe, Stewart asked CNBC to get rid of the show's promotional line: "In Cramer We Trust."

If my audio had gone out during the show, I still would have clearly picked up content of the interview. As a teacher, I've seen it a hundred times. A student shoves another to the ground in anger. I see the whole thing out my window and run out to confront the culprit. First, he denies having done it. When I say I saw the event, he says the other kid deserved it.

Then, after my prodding, he says he didn't mean to hurt the kid. Once he knows all's lost, he apologizes for his actions hoping the teacher will just drop it. But, it's not over, because there are still explanation of motive and personal change that must be dealt with. Once the student sees that I haven't just let go of the issue, he is forced to take these last steps.

All of these steps were evident last night, with Stewart playing the role of teacher dealing with Cramer, the culprit. Cramer was contrite, but like a good teacher, Stewart did not want to accept anything at face value. He delved deeper and deeper, until Cramer was wrung dry of excuses and had to move into the realm of personal change.

We'll see if the promised change actually comes about. For me, it will only be valid if Cramer and CNBC understand why it's important that they change.

First, they were involved in convincing the public to stay in the stock market game, even while it was tanking.

Second, all the emotion and hype of shows like Cramer's "Mad Money" actually coerce people into going further into the market, even though their rational mind says they should not.

Recently, Richard Peterson - a psychologist and economist - explained on "Radio Times" (on Philadelphia's public radio station, WHYY) - that it is not uncommon for the levels of dopamine to increase dramatically during multiple stock transactions. There is a physiological reaction to make people want to continue trading.

That's why, like with gambling, people must be extremely careful in the stock market. As Jon Stewart so brilliantly stated, "Its not a fucking game." Yet, for years it's been treated as a game, millions of people were getting high off it, and CNBC and its pundits simply added fuel to the fire - and made a bundle in the process.

Like Stewart, I implore CNBC to make the changes to bring honesty and professionalism to their financial programming, for their sake and ours. I also implore Americans to use this crisis to reconsider their own behavior, both with the stock market and televison shows that prod them along. As my wife - the wisest person I know - often says, "Just turn it off."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jim Cramer, CNBC to Face Jon Stewart

When I was a senior at Elkhart Central High School in Indiana, I took a journalism course with Mr. Mongion. He insisted that we stick to the facts, the who?, what?, where?, when?, how?, how many?, when reporting a story. He told us to avoid editorializing, to keep our own opinions and emotions out of a story when reporting. What my teacher instilled in his students was the journalistic norm for those times.

Unfortunately, reporting has changed a lot since then. A few decades later, news reporters regularly break those rules, particularly in bringing their own emotions and opinions into a story. During the current economic crisis, this type of reporting, unfortunately, simply ends up adding fuel to the fire. Instead of reporting the story, too often, financial reporters are now becoming the story -- which is exactly what Mr. Mongion warned us about. In so doing, these "reporters" have moved from the realm of journalism to the world of entertainment and lost their credibility in the process.

Two CNBC reporters have been violators of the basics of journalism: Erin Burnett with her opining, and Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli and their constant emoting. Whenever I watch them, I set aside my need for information and wait for the moment when they will entertain me by (a) putting their foot in their mouth, (b) making a fool of themselves, or (c) making me cringe.

Burnett, host of "Squawk Box," has requently misused her role of reporter. In recent times, she has intimated that toxic toys and food are a boon to the economy:

Even on other people's shows, Burnett can make a fool of herself. On March 6th, as a guest on Bill Maher's "Real Time," she used chocolate cookies as an example of innovation during the Great Depression and followed that irrational point with nationalistic condescension towards the Japanese:

(check around 7:30 in this clip)

Cramer and Santelli are best known for their ranting and raving. You'd think that two screamers might get along, but true to form, all they can do is yell at one another:

Well, maybe I shouldn't be surprised because it's CNBC's MO. In fact, Gabriel Winant at Salon, found that it's all they do. His editor gave him the task of watching CNBC for an entire day. Winant got tired of being yelled at all the time.

Personally, I'm getting fed up with such nonesense. It's why I appreciated Bill Maher and his guest, Peter Singer, calling Burnett out on her inappropriate comments. It's why I have enjoyed Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show," calling out CNBC and stars Cramer and Santelli for their over-the-top rantings. (I'll spare you these overplayed video clips...)

Cent Uygur, of "The Young Turks," nails Cramer for a basic journalistic responsibility -- checking your facts. Yes, dear Mr. Mongion insisted that we high school students make sure we had our facts straight. Why can't CNBC insist on similar basics?

Tonight, Jim Cramer will visit Jon Stewart on his show (on Comedy Central, 11:00 pm, ET):

Will Cramer try to make amends with his enemy? Will he admit he made some mistakes in his reporting? Will he state that from here on out he will follow the basics of journalism? Doubtful.

What I do hope Jim Cramer could admit is that he and Stewart share a means: entertainment. For Stewart, though, entertainment is also the objective of his show.

Cramer, on the other hand, must fess up to the fact that the outcome of his show has been much more than entertainment -- and much more dire, as well. It has been a deep financial hole dug in red soil that many people are struggling to dig out of.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Who's Limbaugh?

Josh Orton published an article on MyDD today called "Whose Limbaugh?" He discusses the argument that's all the rage right now as to whether the stinking Limbaugh mess is actually all a set up from the Democrats.

This is a fascinating discussion, but frankly I'm not up for all the finer points of political gamesmanship right now. I just look at Rush Limbaugh and my stomach begins to churn. He truly makes me sick to my innards.

But, hey, I should be somewhat fair, right? Let's look at what qualifies Rush for all this air time he's getting. Instead of Orton's question of "Whose Limbaugh," I need to answer the question "Who's Limbaugh?"

So, first a few facts about Rush's background. Born in 1951, he hails from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. His father was a lawyer and a fighter pilot who lived to the age of 104. Rush started in radio as a teenager in 1967, using the "air name" Rusty Sharpe. He graduated from high school in 1969 and attended Southeast Missouri State, but dropped out. His mother said, "He flunked everything. He just didn't seem interested in anything except radio." Hmm, some things never change. But, at least he's committed to a noble task.

These were the Vietnam years. Nobility and bravery would mean everything to our boy, Rush, right? Well, he ended up with a draft number of 175, so he was safe -- since no one over #125 was drafted. Nonetheless, our courageous talker would enlist, right? Too bad, he ended up 4-F, due to either a football injury or Pilonidal disease.

Huh?? In real terms, he either twisted his knee or had cysts on his butt.

I need go on and try to answer this simple question "Who's Limbaugh?" Instead, of reading the rest of his biography, I'd like to cut things short.

There's a question that's used on the street, when a kid's in the wrong neighborhood or when his head's getting a bit too big.

First, the kid's shoved in the chest and is simultaneously asked the confrontational questions: "Who are you?! Huh? Who do you think you are?!"

So, Limbaugh, "Who are you?! Who do you think you are?!"

What's the big deal??! You want Barack Obama and America to fail - so do Russia, Iran and N. Korea. You're keeping real good company, Rushie.

All the Dems are atwitter over your mouth, Rush. Isn't that great? You think you're now the leader of the Republicans? Go ahead, Punk! You're gettin' alotta air time on the cable channels. Real slick!

You got Republicans tripping over each other to apologize to you. Yeah, after Phil and Michael, who's next?

Hey, you're all tough over on your street, but here? Fuggeddit. You're a joke, man. There's even a site where your wingnut buddies, can go to make up apologies ahead of time for you. Easy, just like madlibs, fill in the blank. Real easy, Rushie, for guys like you.

Hey, Rush, David Brooks called Sarah Palin a "cancer on the Republican party." What's that make you, huh? Well, if Sarah's a cancer, Rushie, you're carryin' the friggin' casket, buddy! It's over...lights out.

What's your game, you loud mouth?! Whoo, you challenged the President to a debate - in your house. Wow, that takes courage. Real tough. Riiight.

There's only one word that describes you, Rush: Coward. You're a freakin' shame, man.

Yeah, you and your buddy, Billy O'Reilly, you're both the same. He screams and threatens, just like all you bigmouth wingnuts.

So, "Who's Limbaugh?" Huh??

Rush, you can rant all you want, but I'm a boy from Philly, and there's only one thing I have to say to you when you show up on my block:

"Get outta here. You ain't nobody, Punk."