Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fairness My Foot

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh dedicated the entire third hour of his radio program to a "women's forum." This was a schtick where women were supposed to call in and tell Rush Limbaugh why they didn't like him, or why they find him offensive, or why other women they know find him offensive. Silly, really, since he could ask his ex-wives and probably get quite a personal earful. But here's a question for you: if the fairness doctrine were still around, would the station be required to give free air time to women who adore Rush Limbaugh (since for an hour there was talk of all his faults)? And an even more important question: Could Rush have taken that without an explosion of his already somewhat swelled-up head?

No, these are not really the things I ponder when I think of the fairness doctrine. 

I was actually trying to figure out what the fairness doctrine really was, to be honest. While I'm not really a spring chicken, the fairness doctrine was in effect before I was interested in paying attention to anything resembling news on the radio or television. (Yes, there actually was a time when I didn't have a high level of interest in current events - can you believe it?) So... a little mini-refresher course on the "fairness doctrine." 

First of all, it was quite poorly named as there really wasn't anything "fair" about it. The basic idea was that stations were required to air controversial issues of public interest (regardless of their chosen format) and were supposed to air them in a balanced manner. Sounds fair, right? One problem, though, is that it required that stations provide free air time for responses to any controversial opinions which were broadcast. 

Define "controversial" for me, will you? Isn't it any opinion which is likely to give rise to public disagreement? Wouldn't that be every opinion? I could say that it's chilly outside today and some people would disagree. 

Another question: Is there anybody out there who watches any news channel and thinks that the newscasters are simply reporting the news without any personal bias? Did anybody watch Peter Jennings when he was covering the election of 2000? 2004? As George W. Bush was winning, Mr. Jennings was almost visibly sucking on a lemon. Can anybody say with a straight face that Chris Matthews of "Hardball" is balanced? (I don't know that there are too many people who would even declare that man mentally balanced, much less say that he presents news in a balanced fashion. Especially since his leg started feeling shivers in 2008.) 

So, if group A gathers funds to air a spot on a topic near and dear to them - say, even, that they're wanting to air a spot to promote something as stupid as the "fairness doctrine" - and they finally get enough money to do so. They go through the work of making the spot, they pay for its airing, and the station gets a complaint from group B which says it's "controversial" and group B wants to be allowed to air a rebuttal. Why should group B get to air their rebuttal for free? How is this fair? 

It was the FCC under the Reagan Administration that ended up revoking the Fairness Doctrine. Reagan was advised at the time that it was politically unwise for him to do so as the "Fairness Doctrine" was "the only thing that really protects you from the savageness of the three networks." Regardless, Reagan supported the effort to repeal it. 

The Doctrine was officially abolished in August of 1987 with a 4-0 vote. According to the FCC at the time, "the intrusion by government into the content of programming occasioned by the enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine restricts the journalistic freedom of broadcasters... and actually inhibits the presentation of controversial issues of public importance to the detriment of the public and the degradation of the editorial prerogative of broadcast journalists." It's good to know that there was a bureaucracy that, at one point, made a statement that made some sense. 

The Democrat-controlled Congress, in June of 1987, tried to preempt the decision by the FCC and wrote the Fairness Doctrine into law, but Reagan vetoed it. The Democrats tried one more time in 1991, but it didn't even make it to the President's desk as George H.W. Bush promised to veto it if it did. In 2005, the Democrats tried once again to introduce a "Fairness and Accountability in Broadcasting Act" which would have shortened a license term and gave a requirement that "the license holder cover important issues fairly, hold public hearings about its coverage twice a year, and document to the FCC how it was meeting its obligations." This didn't make it out of committee. During that same year, another Democrat introduced H.R. 3302, the "Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005" which was intended to "restore the fairness doctrine." 

I guess Sinclair Broadcast Group during the 2004 election cycle had "pre-election plans to force its 62 stations to preempt prime-time programming in favor of airing the blatantly anti-John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal." Supposedly, the company reversed its decision to do so as their stock declined. (Info taken from This same article states that, "Sinclair's history of one-sided editorializing and right-wing water-carrying, which long preceded its Stolen Honor ploy, puts it in the company of political talk radio, where right-wing opinion is the rule, locally and nationally. Together, they are part of a growing trend that sees movement conservatives and Republican partisans using the publicly owned airwaves as a political megaphone - one that goes largely unanswered by any regular opposing perspective. It's an imbalance that begs for a remedy." 

Frankly, this cracks me up. If we need a remedy to balance out talk radio, then how about a remedy to balance out the liberals on television? Are we going to balance out Keith Olbermann? Chris Matthews? Matt Lauer, for goodness sake? Katie Couric? Larry King? Bill Maher? 

How about some balance on paper? Can we balance out Gail Collins, Roger Cohen, Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, and Paul Krugman at the New York Times with more than just David Brooks? What is it that makes the airwaves so much more subject to "balance" and control than the print media? What about the computer? Should the Huffington Post be required to post authors who aren't certifiably liberal? 

Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is, for all intents and purposes, patently unfair. If it would truly bring fairness to the playing field of ideas, everybody would be in favor of it. Frankly, the conservatives have two media outlets. Talk radio is, by far, dominated by conservative thought. And FOX News, while being "fair and balanced" by giving liberals time to air their views, is generally dominated by conservative thought as well. All the other airwaves are dominated by liberal thought (including public television, which is funded by our tax dollars). 

I thus must conclude that those wishing to see the "fairness doctrine" (or some form of it) imposed are suffering from a serious case of sour grapes. As William F. Buckley Jr. said so well, "Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views." Since 1987, it has been shown that there are, indeed, other views in the world - and since 1987, liberals have been shocked and offended by the airing of these views. They've been trying to shut them up ever since. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

A New Declaration

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before... The good news, I suppose if you want to see a silver lining, is the problems are big enough that they lend themselves to ideas from both parties for the solution... it's not an argument about big government vs. small government, but more effective government... Five of the reforms that we seek: One in health care, would be in the area that deals with cost control as a principle and expansion of coverage. Energy, with both independence and alternatives. In the area of taxes, fairness as well as simplicity. In the area of education, there's gotta be fundamental reforms there as it relates to making sure that we are effectively training the workforce... Lastly, financial regulatory overhaul, with the principles of both transparency and accountability." -Rahm Emanuel.

Not to be over-the-top-conspiracy-theorist driven, but really -- when people say out loud what they're thinking, wouldn't we be smart to listen? President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, made his statement shortly after the election in November. Now, the President tours the country, talking crisis and catastrophe, and pushing a leftist agenda through congress like a drug peddler pushing heroin. Of course, Obama warns that a failure to act immediately to push the bill through congress was going to "turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession." Nothing like using the panic of people to gain political points. "Millions more jobs will be lost. More businesses will be shuttered. More dreams will be deferred." Oy. 

I've recently come to the realization that I'm not just a typical capitalist. I'm a darned radical capitalist. And it's kind of funny to think of myself, sitting here in my jeans and sweatshirt, as a radical. But I am. I really think that government has gotten so out of control huge and meddlesome that the only hope for fixing things and maintaining any level of capitalistic freedom is to scrap the whole lot of them and start over. It sounds like a messy and tasteless business, but I'm all for it. 

Do you remember the tenth amendment to our beloved Constitution? It states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." This is a blanket statement that shows how bloated and grotesque our federal government has become. There is no place I can find in the Constitution that talks of federal governance over the financial welfare of the people. No place does the Constitution give the federal government the power to control the education of our children. And the list can go on and on... 

I think we might need a new "Declaration of Independence." Ah, yes... a completely radical thought. But how many people know what radicals our founding fathers really were? Listen to what they wrote in their Declaration of Independence from England:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. 

Truly, these were some radical dudes. 

I suppose it would behoove me to say, at this point, that I'm not trying to call men to arms and march on Congress. (Although it would be quite a show, wouldn't it? Can you imagine the look on Pelosi's face?) But I am suggesting that we need to get creative and fight back. Frankly, the lunatics are running the asylum right now -- and that's a scary place to be. 

I think the best way of fighting back right now is to simply be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. And, in preparing for the "unthinkable" (as Glenn Beck would say), we can act decisively rather than irrationally if and when what was previously unthinkable occurs. 

My plea to everyone is to remember history. If that takes sitting down and discovering history for the first time, take the time to do so. History will tell us so much about what we can expect in the future. 

Then, after we've remembered our history, we need to look at the present. Listen to what leaders are saying. Keep in mind that half the reason we suffered as much from terrorism as we have is because we refuse to listen to what the terrorists say. When somebody says they want to kill us, we should be paying attention. But, it appears that the American people would rather feel comfortable than hear what Russia, Iran, Syria, and various other disturbing foes are saying. 

We also need to listen to the words of our own leaders. When Rahm Emanuel says that one should never waste a crisis, we should understand full well that Obama is following that advice to a T during our present one. This might make us feel like terrible, cynical people, I suppose. But no matter how we feel, in reality it makes us realists. Lets get off the feelings train and start dealing in reality. Then, and only then, will we be prepared to defend our freedoms against tyranny. 

No matter the circumstances, all struggles for power begin in the human mind. How prepared are you?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mortgage Madness

"I'm here today to talk about a crisis unlike we've ever known." - Barack Obama, beginning his speech to introduce his mortgage bailout plan.

"The plan I'm announcing focuses on rescuing families who played by the rules and acted responsibly... I want to be very clear about what this plan will not do. It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans. It will not help speculators... It's going to allow millions of families, stuck with loans at a higher rate to refinance. And the estimated cost to taxpayers would be roughly zero." - Barack Obama.

So his holiness the President of the United States goes to Mesa, AZ to introduce his plan to "help struggling homeowners." Strategically chosen, I suppose, because the Phoenix area was hard hit when the housing bubble popped. Funny thing, though... there was significant protest in the area over this speech. People holding signs reading:

"Give Me Pelosi's Plane"
"I want... a house (crossed off) a car (crossed off) a president with ethics and honor"
"Gimme-nomics - Give Me A Baby Grand Piano"
"Annual Passes to Disneyland"
"Fund Bikini Wax Now"
"Stimulate the Economy: Give Me A Tummy Tuck"
"Give Me Liberty OR At Least A Big Screen TV"
"Can I Have Free Gas With My Free Rent"
"I Need A Beach Front Condo"
"Free Beer For My Horses"
"Mr. President!! Before we're forced to Hades can you get me a Mercedes!!"

I have to say, although I'm sure I sound cold and cruel, I have a very hard time with the government "rescuing" anybody from a foreclosure. Yes, even though Obama's plan supposedly focuses on rescuing families who "played by the rules and acted responsibly." First of all, playing "by the rules" does not necessarily mean that they "acted responsibly." Just because the rules said that you could take out a mortgage up to 110% of the value of the home doesn't mean it was the responsible thing to do. The rules made it perfectly okay to take the equity out of your home to buy a big screen television and a new car, but that wasn't exactly the responsible route to take, either. The "rules" also required banks to lend to people who were extremely high risk (or, in other words - people the banks knew wouldn't be able to repay). This was not responsible on the part of either the banks or the people taking out the loans. 

I think it's pretty apparent, too, that Obama was blowing more sunshine up our collective derrieres when he stated that his plan was going to help millions of deserving families refinance at lower rates at a cost to taxpayers of roughly zero. I know that Obama has a messiah complex, but this is getting ridiculous. It's like he's into loaves and fishes now or something... If there's a plan out there that is going to "help" people get a better deal than they currently have, somebody has to eat the difference. Whether the government is going to fund that on the books, or whether they're going to force the banks to eat it -- the taxpayer is ultimately going to pay. In some way, shape, or form -- the piper will be paid. Unfortunately for Obama, if he's going to force mama dollar and papa dollar to make many baby dollars to spread around, he's going to have to actually print that money. He's not capable of pulling it out of the sky.

Rick Santelli of CNBC said, "The government is promoting bad behavior, because we certainly don't want to put stimulus forth and give people a whopping eight or ten dollars in their check and think that they ought to save it! ...I have an idea. The new administration is big on computers and technology. How about this, President and new administration. Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages? Or would we like to at least buy cars, buy houses in foreclosure, and give them to people who might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water? This is AMERICA!! How many people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgages that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? President Obama, are you listening? You know Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they're driving '54 Chevys (maybe the last great car to come out of Detroit)... We're thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up at Lake Michigan, I'm gonna start organizing. If you read our founding fathers, people like Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson, what we're doing in this country now is making them roll over in their graves."

Can I get a resounding amen to that?

The basic bones of Obama's plan is three-fold. The first part would - get this - "help homeowners who are still current on their payments, but who are paying high interest rates and cannot refinance because they do not have enough equity in their homes." (NYT, Feb. 28, 2009) Don't get me wrong... it would be a huge bummer to be in this position. I do have a measure of sympathy for people who feel stuck like this. But the fact is that nobody forced people to buy the biggest and best house for which they could qualify. What about the Americans who purchased a house and left that equity alone... lived a modest lifestyle in a modest home because it was easily within their means? Why should those people have to fork over money to the folks in the next neighborhood over who decided to take their equity and upgrade their house and lifestyle off it? Why punish the responsible? The savers of society? Why reward the debtors? What sort of message does this send?

The second part of the plan is supposed to "provide incentives to lenders who alter the terms of loans to make them affordable for troubled borrowers." This is basically the portion of the plan that will help folks "at risk" of going into foreclosure. I assume this to mean that this portion of the plan is for people who are currently behind in their payments but have not been served with a foreclosure notice yet. 

Then, there's the third part of the plan - and this might be the best part yet. Get this... we're going to give $200 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Can I take you back to September of 2008? Remember when the Treasury Department announced it was going to effectively take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? They were "critically wounded, government-sponsored mortgage behemoths." September 8, ABC News online had a story that said, "The federal takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will likely lower the cost of a mortgage for buyers with good credit, but it will also likely stick U.S. taxpayers with a bill in the tens of billions of dollars, analysts have concluded." Isn't it strange how just a few short months ago, we were wringing our hands over "tens of billions" and today we're shrugging off two hundred billion? 

So we've come down the road far enough that the government has a $275 billion dollar mortgage rescue plan. But, according to the NYT, "analysts and administration officials alike cautioned that it would not come close to halting the tidal wave of foreclosures. Nor would it provide much help to millions of homeowners who are 'under water,' or holding mortgages that are bigger than the market value of their houses." 

Obama said in his speech, "This plan will not save every home, but it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild." Okay... so then what is the point, exactly? We do still live in America, right? The land of opportunity? I'm pretty sure we all need to "rebuild" a bit... and it's high time we take responsibility for doing so. For if we don't, the consequences will be disastrous. We will pay for our "prosperity" with our freedom. And mark my words... once freedom is gone, prosperity will follow it out the door.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Dumbfounded, But Entertained

I'm dumbfounded. 

Henrietta Hughes in Florida was at a "town hall meeting" with Barack Obama. When she had her turn at the microphone she said with trembling in her voice, "I have a urgent... need. Unemployment and homelessness. A very small vehicle for my family and I to live in. We need urgent... and housing authorities have two years waiting lists and we need something more than a vehicle and parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom... Please help."

Obama's response? He got her name and then said that they were going to do everything they could to help. He then gave her a kiss... and after he kissed her, you could see a lady off to the left mouthing, "I love you, Barack." Ewwww....

Then there's the McDonald's guy. Have you heard this? Julio Osegueda was the last question of the meeting... "Oh, it's such a blessing to see you Mr. President! Thank you for taking time out of your DAY!! Oh, GRACIOUS GOD, thank you so much!" No, I'm not kidding. This is really what the guy said. Obama responded while chuckling lightly, "Alright, what's the question?" Julio asked, "Mr. President, my name is Julio Osegueda and I'm currently a student at Edison State College in my second semester and... okay. I've been at the same job which is McDonald's for four and a half years because of the fact that I can't find another job. Now, with the fact that I've been there for as long as I've been there, do you have any plan or any idea of making one that has been there for a long time receive any better benefits than what they've already received?" Sadly, Julio is majoring in communications and would like a career in radio or television. Let's  hope Edison State is capable of taking that one on...

Obama says that the fact that Julio is working as hard as he's working at a job that doesn't always pay as well as other jobs is a source of pride for him (Julio). Never mind the fact that Obama has no clue how hard Julio works while he's at McDonald's. And never mind that one can get a pretty reasonable idea as to why Julio can't find another job simply from listening to him speak... Obama says that Julio will actually benefit from the tax breaks that they're passing. Obama says he wants to reform the health care system for Julio. And Obama wants to make it easier for Julio to go to college by giving him a refundable tax credit for his tuition. Uh... earth to Obama. Julio is already IN college.

A retired school teacher asks Obama what he's going to do about getting out a stimulus to the American people who are notoriously impatient. Obama hopes that the American people expect from him the same thing that he expects from himself. He just wants us to feel like he and his staff everyday are thinking about us and our lives. They're talking to the most knowledgeable people, they're making the best decisions for what's good for working families and middle class (not just the wealthy, powerful and well connected), they're open to any idea (whether it comes from Democrat, Republican, Vegetarian...-Obama's humor, not mine), and that they're working as hard as they can to solve our problems. 

I know that people aren't just going crazy now... they must have been crazy before, too. But it does seem like all the crazies are coming out of the woodwork... and they're going to Obama's town hall meetings. Like I said, I'm dumbfounded. But on a positive note, it certainly does provide for some good, free entertainment.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Attitude Adjustment Needed

There's an article in the New York Times today on which I just HAVE to comment. Possibly quite extensively.

Titled, "In Florida, Despair and Foreclosures," I went into the article expecting a bleak picture, to be sure. And don't worry... I wasn't disappointed. So many devastating quotes to choose from: "221 families waiting for free bread at Faith Lutheran Church..." "...laid off construction workers in flannel shirts scavenged through trash bags at a home foreclosure, grabbing wires, CDs, anything that could be sold..." "homes are selling at 80 percent off their peak prices" "Only two years after there were more jobs than people to work them, fast-food restaurants are laying people off or closing." "Crime is up, school enrollment is down, and one in four residents received food stamps in December..." 

According to the article, there are a "host of troubles that follow unemployment" and hunger is chief among them. Okay... I can bite on that, I guess. Truly, though, it doesn't help that the pictures and video they show are a bunch of fat people sitting around a table. Yes, I know that chubby people get hungry, too... but it's just hard to swallow that there's a starvation epidemic out there at this point when America is still quite enlarged. But they go on to say, "The organizations offering food in Lehigh Acres have seen demand increase by as much as 75 percent in the last year. And the people being served are no longer just the chronic poor." They then go on to list some of the newer arrivals to the food line:

Fred Csifortos, 62, living on $650 per month in disability payments, was there because the free food "left more money for his medications." But, see... Fred's situation has probably not recently changed (except in that he now has access to free food where before he did not). 

Luis Oquendo, 38, has been coming for free food since last fall when his full-time construction work "disappeared." 

But the kicker is Megan Brown who was waiting in line for the free food with her two daughters, aged 2 and 4. Why was she there? Because she "feared the worst." According to her, her husband still had his job but "things are getting more and more tight." Seriously??? Her husband is still working, they still have income, but she doesn't have as much spending money so she's in the food line? Don't people have any pride anymore?

Of course, all that said the people running the food line consider themselves to be successful "not just because it has helped more families but also because organizers believe that the links they are forming will be the foundation of a tighter community." No offense, but I don't think that forming links with a bunch of freeloaders is the way to a tight community... at least not any community of which I'd care to be a part.

Team Rescue, the group organizing the food distribution, is "trying to figure out how to curb the spread of desperation." But "Most recently the group has been struggling with a growing wave of families that either visit multiple food pantries using aliases or return the food to supermarkets for money or other items." Oh, yeah. That's tight.

So now the group is blacking out the UPC symbols on cans so grocery stores won't accept them as returns. But the lady running things says that she can't be sure she wouldn't do the same thing if she were a single parent and her kids were hungry... HUH? Why in the heck, if your kids are hungry, are you going to return stuff to the grocery store to buy something else? Don't people think anymore? No pride... no common sense... scary.

Then there's a very telling paragraph: "And then there is Ms. Chilson. She lost her house partly because of the boom (if not for easy credit, she might not have refinanced her mortgage a few years ago), the bust (which led to her husband being laid off from his pest control job) and overspending (which led to more than $20,000 in credit card debt)." No this isn't good. And I guess there's a part of me that feels really bad for the lady. She gave in to her want-it-gotta-have-it feelings and now she's paying for it. It's a hard lesson to learn. 

But it tells something about the general character of America at this time. People aren't willing to suck it up and learn the lesson. They aren't willing to pay the ultimate piper right now, just as they weren't willing to pay their bills they saddled themselves with before. And everybody is out looking for some kind of handout. Yes, even people who have not yet lost their jobs -- they're in line with the rest of them because they're so worried they might need to be there later. 

What's up with that?