Silence of the Libs

Silence of the Libs

Okay, I don’t read conspiracies into things.

(Except for the FACT that Kennedy was killed by Elvis in revenge for JFK forcing Marilyn to give up her and the King’s secret love child–who is, of course, Madonna—and then Elvis was kidnapped by the FBI who but a double in his place but the double cracked under the pressure, turned to drugs and booze and overdosed in his bathroom, the real King finally escaping from maximum security and living undercover working at an AM/PM mini-mart in Fargo, North Dakota.)

OK, at least not many. Where others see conspiracy I find the usually the explanation of simple incompetency suffices. Of course then the incompetent try to incompetently cover up their incompetence, producing conspiracies of stupidity.

But even I’ve got to scratch my head at the odd coincidence of KPBS canceling Full Focus and Clear Channel Communication preparing to pull the plug on its San Diego progressive talk station and local purveyor of Air America, KLSD, both in the same month.

Now I can conceive of no harder parallel to draw than one between KPBS and Clear Channel, Though I can imagine parallels in management thinking: popularity, productivity and profit being the three P’s of said parallel. But the impact of this one-two punch is undeniable: San Diego has now been stripped of its only two significant progressive broadcasts over public airwaves. Only CityBeat and, to a lesser extent, The Reader remain to contend as serious progressive champions in print and cyber, doing battle with that dinosaur of conservative thought, the UT.

Both KPBS and Clear Channel management claim market share and money drove their decisions. Such may be. But, given that San Diego’s voter registration breaks 39% Republican to 34% Democrat, with 22% independents, it strikes me that neither KPBS or Clear Channel invested enough time, effort and money in marketing their progressive media to a market potentially as large as that of the AM conservative stations.

The big surprise with Clear Channel is not their canceling of a progressive talk radio station. The big surprise was Clear Channel’s decision to air progressive talk in the first place. The greater disappointment is that KPBS cancelled Full Focus without scheduling any comparable replacement to fill the show’s critical niche in local reporting.

So what’s next? CityBeat and the Reader get bought out by Rupert Murdoch?

Don’t Know Much About History

It’s baaaack. Actually it never left. The ghost of Vietnam, that is. Except this time it’s the administration and defenders of its Iraq policy that are raising the zombie of Vietnam from its uneasy slumber in the dead sleep of history.

Okay, history is a Rorschach test for everyone to read their own meanings into. It’s yesterday’s tea leaves being used to predict tomorrow’s events. Fair enough. Everybody does it. But as subjective as history is, can we at least get the history straight that everyone basically agrees on. And in the right chronological order?

Take, for example, the claim made by the administration and echoed by its rah-rah Iraq media chorus that American withdrawal from Vietnam resulted in, amongst other calamities, added to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.”

The killing fields of Cambodia were a huge humanitarian horror, no doubt, the Pol Pot regime one of the most ideologically genocidal in history. But the killing fields of Cambodia did not occur because of US withdrawal from Vietnam. They occurred because the Nixon administration saw the bombing—and subsequent destabilization—of Cambodia in the early 1970s as acceptable collateral damage in its goal to drive North Vietnam to the peace table. The US actually never directly intervened in Cambodia – no US troops were committed to a strategy of permanently occupying the country, unlike in neighboring Vietnam.

The Killing Fields were a consequence of American intervention, not American de-intervention. And, for the record, it was the communist Government in Hanoi that intervened to stop the killing in the killing fields. Communist Cambodia was allied with China and was actually hostile to the Viet regime which suited American purposes just fine, thus the US did not seek to intervene to overthrow Pol Pot. That would be Realpolitik written large in real blood.

As for the reeducation camps and boat people, both horrors were consequences of American failure to plan for its withdrawal rather than the actual withdrawal itself. Nixon’s grand strategy on Vietnam was simple: bomb the hell out of the North Vietnamese to drive them to the negotiating table, then negotiate a gentlemen’s agreement in which we pull out in exchange for the North withholding a final invasion and conquest of the South until a decent interval of time had transpired. After we were gone, what happened in Vietnam stayed in Vietnam. If the South couldn’t hold on, it was their own fault. (Which is a rhetoric one increasingly hears in regards to Iraq today, least anyone miss it.) Nixon’s (and Ford’s) failure was to not realize the North Vietnamese might cheat and invade the South with its straw man army before the last Americans were safely away. The North wanted to humiliate the US as payback for twenty years of American meddling in their affairs. (And killing at least a million of their people, bye the bye.) And payback is a bee-atch.

The US cut and ran in Vietnam with little consideration of the impact on former erstwhile allies left behind. There was no systematic policy in place to relocate American loyalists in South Vietnam during the phase out period of 1973 to 1975. There was not a sufficient policy in place to deal with the two million pro-American refugees who predictably fled the country when it was overrun by the communist north.

And whose hands were on the tiller when this horrific debacle ensued –- the very same debacle President Bush now uses to justify continuing the debacle in Iraq? That would be current war architects Dick Cheney and Donny “Youngest Secretary of Defense in History and, Boy, Did It Show” Rumsfeld. Having botched the end of the Vietnam War, Cheney now seeks redemption in “winning” the war in Iraq. Except, having botched this war, too, winning (establishing a viable, stable, pro-American multi ethnic and sectarian democracy with a minimal continued cost to America in terms of money and men) seems less and less of an option.

Geez. How many times do you have to lose before everyone understands you are a Loser. Dick “0 & 2” Cheney?

Meanwhile his Loserness seems committed to repeating every mistake made in Vietnam, right down to having no contingency plan on how to avoid a sectarian blood bath should the US pull out of Iraq.

This has been this Administration’s fatal weakness since George W. decided to run for the Presidency: a systematic, deliberate distortion of history to support current political objectives, no matter what objective history says. The truly tragic (though perhaps the term “criminal” might be more apropos) irony in all of this is that, in their deliberate misrepresentation of past history, the Bush gang has held true to the old adage that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Unfortunately they are dragging the rest of us along for the ride.

Irony

Bob Filner flex’s his ego muscle Sunday night at Dulles airport. The next day the Queen of Ego, Leona “Only little people pay taxes” Helmsley shuffles off this mortal coil.

Oh, the irony. (Not to be confused with “iron knees” which I’m going to have to look into in the years ahead as my joints head south faster than the rest of me. They say the knees are the first to go, followed by the eyes and everything in between. They are right. I hate They. Let us track them down and smite them. But I digress.)

Helmsley was a classic case of—a titan of—the arrogance of power. Filner is more of a petty little blip. But both demonstrated manifestations of that all too human – and dangerous—condition. For Helmsley, great wealth meant great privilege—and exemption. Restrictions applied to other merer, poorer mortals and should not, could not apply to the gods and goddesses of the new American Mount Money Olympus. And how different was her attitude, strongly reviled by the public, from the whole attitude our wealthy classes over the last generation? Helmsley simply said publicly what others thought privately, lobbied for privately and got passed into law publicly. Let the little people pay taxes.

And, yes, the rich pay more in income and capital gains taxes than the rest of us – a higher percentage of their share of the national income, in fact. But when you take into account all taxes – social security withholding, state fees and sales taxes, etc., the tax burden falls more heavily on the working and middle classes. And the inequity in the distribution of the national obligation of taxation has grown substantially since 1980.

Just as the rich would have it, of course. It’s called the Arisotelean bias. Fitzgerald said the rich are different than you and I. According to the old Greek Fitzy was right. They’re richer because they’re smarter. You can’t argue with the logic. If the rich were dumb they wouldn’t be rich. (Okay, maybe you can argue with the logic. Two words: Paris Hilton. Two more words and an initial: George W. Bush.) And if the poor were smart they wouldn’t be poor. (Unless they were born too rich parents which is still the number one route to riches. See previous examples one and two.) Expo facto, leave the money and power to the rich and they will make society richer. Eventually that wealth would trickle down (sound familiar?) to everyone else. Aristocracy—the rule of the wise rich—was seen by Aristotle as a good system of government. Democracy—the rule of the stupid poor—was seen by Aristotle (and most political thinkers right into the 19th century) as disastrous.

We put that philosophy into practice in the 1980s with Reaganomics (cut taxes on the rich so they would invest in and grow the economy—which they did, though usually in East Asia or Latin America…). We did it with the defacto raise of the plutarchy of K Street, where big money buys big influence in government. We did it with the argument that, since the rich pay the taxes they should get to say what the laws are—and exempt themselves from them as much as possible. Laws, you see, are for the little people, too.

Filner’s arrogance of power is of a far diminished scale than Leona Helmsley who, everyday, treated her underlings with as little or less respect than Filner showed a United Airlines employee who tried to block his access to a restricted baggage area. And, in fairness to Filner, who hasn’t wanted to rebel against the Gestapo-state that air travel in America has become. But Filner didn’t react out of annoyance. He reacted out of outrage that his superior position as a Congressman was not being honored as it should be—that he was being held to the same standards as all the rest of the little people left crowding hopelessly around empty, turning luggage carrousels like souls damned to airport eternity.

In this Filner joins the proud ranks of other temper-tantrum political egoists like Congresspersons Chris Shays and Cynthia McKinney who pulled similar “flog the little person for getting in my majestic way” acts on Capitol Hill. Filner still remains in the minor leagues of power arrogance, however, not reaching the esteemed heights of ego gratification like Randy “I’m a Congressman, dammit. I deserve more money” Cunningham, who believed serving in Congress entitled him to a life style of the rich and greedy.

What do you expect? You surround our elected politicians with the rich and powerful some of that ‘ol Leona black magic is bound to rub off on them eventually. (Unless they were already rich and powerful before coming into office). That doesn’t excuse their behavior in any way, of course. Actions like Filner’s only underscores the need of the press and public to keep a close eye on all elected officials and watch out for signs of patricianitis, the greatest danger of which is for the elected officials of all the people to start feeling to much empathy with the aristocracy. God’s already blessed the rich. Government needs to look out for the rest of us. (That would we the people are the government, or at least supposed to be.

But Leona Helmsley and, to a lesser extent, Bob Filner are both manifestations of our cultural and political trend of the last generation to value the rich and powerful over the poor and average. That’s a trend that strikes right at the roots of democracy.

This and That

4MA

Election 2008 is shaping up to be a bit of a local yawn. For all the vitriol aimed his way, 4MA (that would be Much Maligned Mauling Mike Aguire – 4MA would be his handle if he were a rapper of song as opposed to municipal knuckes) seems to remain too intimidating a figure for anyone to challenge. This even with his poll numbers beginning to sag. Even his arch nemesis Scott Peters, soon t be politically unemployed due to term limits, has ruled out a challenge run. (So, if not City, where to now, SP? Perhaps biding time hoping for a Sanders’ meltdown opening up a run for Mayor in ’08?)

An Idea’s Whose Time Actually Came Decades Ago

Kudos to the Mayor’s Charter Review Committee for making several sensible suggestions (and any “sensible suggestions” coming out of City Hall these days is worthy of kudos simply because there’ve been so few of them in recent days/weeks/months/years) Expanding the City Council from eight to eleven Districts would end both the insane situation of having an even number of votes on a legislative body and provide for more hands-on local access and interchange between councilc members and their constituents.

Increasing the Council vote to override a mayoral veto from simple majority to two-thirds also makes imminent sense. As it is now the same majority that passes a resolution can override a veto – which makes no sense under any theory of government I’ve ever seen. Unless, of course, you just want to admit that this whole business about having created a Strong Mayor was a sham in the first place. Which many members of the City Council would just as soon admit. Fixing the current faux veto would be a be step forward in creating the checks and balance system the Strong Mayor was supposed to bring to City governance.

Now all we have to do is find a strong Mayor.

In His Own Words

Check out the Youtube video of Dick “Cakewalk” Cheney from back in 1994, justifying why the Bush I administration (or the “grownups” as I like to call them) chose not to march on Baghdad in 1991. So what changed between 1994 and 2003, one might wonder? The amazing thing is how, no matter how outrageous, disingenuous and just plain dangerous anything he says might be, Cheney can always keep a chillingly cold straight face.

Which leads me to wonder: Can you impeach someone for being a horse’s ass?

The Good, The Bad and The Uuug-Lee

A few quick comments on the doings around town and beyond.

The Good: California Republicans. Last month Republicans filed a state initiative for the June, 2008 primary to switch California from awarding its 55 electoral votes from a winner-take-all to apportioning them by Congressional District – which ever candidate wins a plurality in a particular district gets that district’s one electoral vote.

The motivations for the move by Republicans are obvious. Democratic Presidential nominees can count on winning all of California’s electoral votes under the current system. But George W. Bush won in 22 of California’s congressional districts in 2004. Under the proposed plan those electoral votes would go to a Republican candidate in 2008. As the Sacramento Bee points out, that’s like creating a new state the size of Ohio and giving it to Republican candidates.

If this change gets passed into law it is going to be that much harder for Democrats to take bake the White House.

Democrats are screaming that this is a naked Republican power grab. Duh. But since when are power grabs, naked or otherwise, illegal? What Democrats a really mad about is that they didn’t think to do this first – or to create a legal firewall before now to make it impossible to do what Republicans are doing. Like passing a law prohibiting changes to the California electoral system less than six months or a year prior to the election.

Meanwhile, Republicans, like ‘em or hate ‘em, you’ve gotta admire their moxy. And Dems – maybe you guys better smarten up. This is hard ball, for heaven’s sake

The Bad: California Democrats. Not only are they letting Republicans possibly steal their state’s electoral votes, Democrats in the state legislature are letting 14 Republicans in the State Senate publicly spank them over the budget while all they can muster in return is to cry like little girls. Yo, Fabian, Don – Republicans play hardball, you play hardball. When you return from your Iraqi parliament-like summer recess (California grinds to a fiscal halt while the legislature recreates) time to bust heads. Call both chambers into floor session, invoke quorum and keep all lawmakers chained to their desks for the duration (turning off the A/C would be a nice touch) until the combined peer pressure/hostility and lack of personal hygiene drives the renegade fourteen to their knees. And then, after the dust settles, strip each and every one of them of any and all powers you can, right done to reassigning their parking spaces to the far side of Mongolia.

Or you might just try and address the root cause of this calamity which is the system of safe gerrymandered districts you’ve adopted in a Faustian deal to give Democrats enough safe seats to keep control in the legislature without ever having the chance to get the two-thirds majority needed to really achieve an agenda. Maybe if State Dems got a little more spunk they’d make more Districts in California competitive. Sure, you might lose seats. But you might gain ‘em, too. Competition might actually give the Sacramento Democrats more spine, more spunk and more soul.

The Uugee: San Diego Government. Just when you thought San Diego couldn’t become more dysfunctional, word comes out (from much maligned Mike Aguirre, please note) that City Development Czar James “I didn’t read that memo” Waring continued lobbying to let Sunroad developers exceed FAA height standards right up through last week. In other words, weeks after the Mayor said that it was the City’s position that the building had to be reduced to FAA standards.

Just who’s in charge at City Hall, Mr. Mayor? It doesn’t look like you are. And, given all the Sunroad shenanigans, it doesn’t look like you’ve been for a while. Yes, Waring has resigned. But the fact the mayor had no clue what one of his chief staffers was up to – either last year or last week – when it comes to Sunroad makes one wonder just how far out of the loop he is on other issues.

Voters voted for Jerry thinking they were getting an affable, capable administrator. Looks like only the former was correct. As I wrote a few weeks ago, any more problems and Jerry might become a one term mayor. Looks like those problems keep mounting up.

Threads

There’s an excellent comment thread attached to Gloria Penner’s August 1 blog on the demise of KPBS’ FUll Focus. Click here for Gloria’s column and comments. Click here to listen to station manager Doug Myrland’s explantion of the cancellation.

Strikes me KPBS management is going to have to do some quick public relations mending between now and their next fundraising campaign.

Un-Focused

I was shocked, saddened and disappointed to learn of last week’s sudden termination of “Full Focus” and the immediate layoff of much of its staff. Having appeared on the show numerous times, I’ve gotten to know the Full Focus crew fairly well over the years. They are consummate professionals, each and every one. This was reflected in the quality of FF‘s coverage and the detail they could bring to the local stories they covered, details that could be found in no other local broadcast media.

Losing Full Focus from the airwaves will leave a huge gap in San Diego’s news coverage–one that many of the powers-that-be often caught in the FF headlamps probably won’t miss. Of course, most of San Diego won’t miss the show either, what with it’s purported 13,000 average viewers –though I think, in this TiVo/DVR age, that number is actually underreported. Still, what the powers-that-be at KPBS seemed to overlook were who those 13,000 viewers were. Full Focus was must-watch viewing for the San Diego political and business establishment – the local power elite. And as such it had an impact on the life of San Diego’s body politic disproportionate to its ratings numbers. (And, by the way, since when has KPBS become so ratings obsessed? This is public broadcasting, for cryin’ out loud.)

Sure, Full Focus was sometimes a bit, shall we say, esoteric. Like last week’s piece on “Surf Divas” or last spring’s report on the Folk Music Channel helping cancer survivors. I have to admit, when the topics veered far from politics my attention tended to veer as well. But even these pieces had more real news nutrition than the usual infotainment pablum that is served up by the commercial broadcast news each and every night. Full Focus provided the only forum in town where the movers and shakers in San Diego were regularly put on the interview hot seat. It provided the most in depth analysis of critical issues, from pension crises to Sunroad. Those in San Diego who didn’t like having their private antics brought into public focus are probably resting a whole lot more comfortably now.

One of the real delights about appearing on Full Focus was that the format allowed real time to address any particular topic. I’ve done hundreds of sound bite interviews for local media in which in depth coverage meant a six second blurb or two from me and maybe another expert or man in the street sandwiched into a minute or two piece high on sugary glib and glimmer but low on real news and analysis protein. On FF you used to get twenty minutes or so to talk about the issue (before they cut their segments down to five or ten minutes in an apparently vein attempt to capture more of our apparently increasingly A-D-D public). Even at that we would often only be able to dive a little under the surface of the issue. But it was diving deeper than any of the other broadcast media in town could typically go.

It would have been nice if KPBS management had thought to give the Full Focus crew a little heads up to the looming headsman’s axe. Indeed, whole business of canceling the show so abruptly is a tad suspicious to we conspiratorially-minded types. Could some external pressure have been brought to bear on this decision? This would be an excellent topic for a Full Focus report. Oh, wait! There ain’t no more Full Focus, is there. Be that as it may, wouldn’t it have been nice to give the Full Focus crew a chance to rally their viewers to their support – to have beaten the money bushes for a little additional cash to keep the show afloat?

I would suggest KPBS management give serious consideration to a reconsideration of Full Focus’ termination. At least keep the show on as a once a week, San Diego-in-review sort of program. They can air it Sundays amidst all the other network talking heads, when it can be DVR’d to the public’s content for latter viewing.

Meanwhile, I’ll miss Full Focus, whose departure is going to leave a bigger hole in the San Diego infosphere than KPBS management realizes. Special kudos to producer Pat Finn, show editor Grace Sevilla and, of course, the face of the show and San Diego institution, Gloria Penner. They managed to put on a professional production on a high school budget. One wonders just how things might have turned out if KPBS had thought to put more money into the show earlier on.