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August 05, 2011

Media pundit Paul Begala: takes mainstream media to task for not providing context, history for debt ceiling crisis. CLICK TO ENLARGE
After reading Paul Begala’s piece at the end of July, we’d have to agree the Sky Valley Chronicle is probably, along with many other news joints, guilty as charged with never providing any (or enough) historical context during the infamous debt ceiling war in Washington.

Enough context so that voters understood what the hell was really going on and how the nation had arrived at that bizarre point in history.

How bizarre? That one political party could hold the nation - and its credit rating - hostage over a completely artificial construct; something that has virtually no substance other than the life breathed into by its creators.

A context that Begala argues was too often missing in the simplistic news coverage of what essentially was a hostage-taking incident (with scorched earth overtones) by the far right wing of the Republican Party.

A wing that is beginning to look more each day like a band of wild eyed invaders who could not care less if America goes down in flames if they do not get their way.

If someone had mentioned the prospect of a band of loonies running lose and controlling the Republican Party when the Tea Party was first stealthily funded, created and nurtured by the wacky Koch Brothers and all their money, we would not have believed that prospect.

When the Tea Party first emerged, as ugly and as confrontational as they were, they at least seemed to have some sound, basic conservative ideas about holding Washington more accountable. There is nothing wrong and everything right about holding those DC turf-protectors accountable.

But what we have witnessed from the Tea Partiers since those early days, and the candidates they got elected in the past year and the clout they now wield in Washington, convinces a good many normally intelligent adults that what we are seeing here is nothing less than a replay of the wacky far left nut cases from the 1960's and early 1970’s who took over the Democratic Party, only with a different angle; instead of the far left's desire to have government run everything, these crazies want to kill off government entirely so the country can go back 100 years to being run by the rich and large corporations for the benefit of the rich and large corporations, Tea Party populist rhetoric notwithstanding.

Some would argue the country is already there and it may be too late to take it back for Joe and Jill Sixpack.

What the Tea Partiers seek (by their actions, not what they say) is essentially a return to an America of long ago – pre New deal - where the only real classes of people were the poor, the rich and a sort of in-between class of folks a hair higher than poor called the business owner class (small shop owners).

Back to when there was no middle class.

No unions, no union protection, no union wages (read that livable wages), no health care or any other benefits, no old age pensions, no workers rights, no consumer rights, no pollution controls (free dumping of toxic wastes into rivers, streams and lakes) and an anything goes policy for the rich and their corporate pals.

Just like the Wild West George Bush and the Republican Party handed to Wall Street which brought about the Great Recession come-Depression that so many have suffered from and continue to suffer from.

The collapse of our economy was no mistake. Profits were privatized on Wall Street and risks were socialized (meaning heaped onto the taxpayer who is still paying for them and will continue to pay for a long time) when Republicans led the charge to give Wall Street the dismantling of the wall between investment and commercial banking which it had long sought.

Hey, the private sector needed to be “unleashed,” free from restrictions and oversight we were told to be able to create jobs and make us all rich and prosperous.

Well, how do you like those unleashed freedom apples now?

And Begala argues that is where the far right wing wants to take America back to, with the help of the news media that remains silent about history and context.

Editor’s Note: Since this piece was written, the Washington Post published a story August 6 that claimed the brinksmanship that brought America to the edge of debt default was not an accident and not just a snarling, run of the mill donnybrook between two political parties -- it was a carefully calculated and planned attack by the hard right wing of the GOP.

By Sunday August 7 the story had already generated close to 2,000 reader comments – a stunning number for a story that only had 24 hours worth of legs.

The story, written by three Post reporters and worked on by a total of eight reporters, says the plan was hatched back in mid January when newly installed as the GOP House majority leader, Virginia’s Eric Cantor rose to the podium in a hotel ballroom to “deliver a message to his troops, including the 87 newcomers who had given the party control of the House.”

The Post piece says the “frantic showdown” that followed, bringing the nation to the brink of default and appearing to be the “haphazard escalation of a typical partisan standoff,” was not that at all.

Not even close.

The reporters on the nightly news and in newspapers got the matter wrong. It wasn’t a straight up, run of the mill, standup political fight says the Post, it was instead the “natural outgrowth of a years-long effort by GOP recruiters to build a new majority and reverse the party’s fortunes. That effort began before the economy collapsed in 2008, before the government bailouts that followed, before the tea party rose in response to push its anti-tax, anti-spending message.”

You can read the full Post piece here

End of editor's note

Here is a news story about Begala’s piece that ran July 31, 2011.

(NATIONAL) -- While millions of Americans fume over what they see as bunch of overpaid, petulant teenagers who are slowly sending America toward another recession or something like it - in the fog of the no-compromise-my-way-or-the-highway approach toward letting the nation default on its financial obligations for the first time in history - bipartisan negotiators were racing against the clock Sunday morning to finalize some kind of a compromise – a compromise before a scheduled vote on a Democratic debt-ceiling plan which, without changes, stands little chance of doing anything.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid pushed back a vote on the plan until 10:00 a.m. Seattle time to give negotiators some elbow room to cut a new deal.

Lawmakers have until Aug. 2 to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling or risk the possibility of default. The government says after Tuesday, the Treasury can no longer pay all of America's bills.

Some reports indicate there may be a roughed out arrangement of sorts between the White House and Republicans that resembles the plan first put forward by House Speaker John Boehner before he massaged it to make the Tea Party hard liners happy.

This one reportedly would call for a debt-ceiling increase (perhaps $2.4 Trillion) designed to last until early 2013, which is a key demand of President Obama.

There would also be a roughly equal amount of deficit-reduction in that plan.

One source said the debt ceiling would be raised by as much as $2.4 trillion, with a roughly equal amount of deficit-reduction.


Meantime while that is underway, one man is echoing the sentiments and frustrations of many Americans these days who are angry there is not only not a deal but no historical context being offered by mainstream media in this unfolding drama that puts into focus and greater understanding for the average man and woman what really is going on and how we arrived at this point.

In a new piece in the Daily Beast called “HOW REPUBLICANS “SCREWED THE POOCH,” here ,Paul Begala, a frequent CNN political analyst, bemoans that Republicans are taking great pains to produce media theater that portrays themselves as saviors who “want to save the country from Obama’s reckless spending,” but notes it is rarely mentioned in the mainstream press that it’s the GOP’s own policies that have driven the nation into the ground.

“There it sits, lonely and forlorn on my shelf. A leather-bound copy of the 1999 Budget of the United States of America. A gift from President Clinton to the folks on his team, it was the first balanced budget in decades.

But it wasn't supposed to be the last. Indeed, experts projected surpluses as far as the eye could see. $5.7 trillion in surpluses, to be exact. The surpluses were so strong that deep into the future—in 2009—the entire national debt was going to be zero. For the first time since Andy Jackson was president, the United States of America would not owe a dime,” writes Begala.

But he says it never turned out that way because a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president who, along with some foolish Democrats, squandered the surplus then went on to spend the nation into catastrophe and in the process dismantled the economic and fiscal policies that produced the strongest economy and largest budget surplus in America’s history.

“As Washington seems paralyzed, our economy stagnates, and America's full faith and credit is on the brink, it is useful to recall how we got here. This was not an act of nature. There was no unforeseen earthquake, no tsunami, no hurricane that wiped out our surplus,” says Begala.

He says there are four things specifically the Republicans did that put America where it is today:

“Cut taxes (with a heavy tilt toward the rich), waged two wars on the national credit card (one of which was against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no serious threat to America), passed a prescription drug benefit with no pay-for (the first entitlement in American history without a revenue source), and deregulated Wall Street (which helped turn the American economy into a casino and touched off the Great Recession.)

I recap all that not to further depress you, Dear Reader. But it is striking how absent that history has been from the coverage of our current crisis. I can understand why the GOP doesn't want to remind folks of how they screwed the pooch. Indeed, they have a competing myth—that Washington went on a spending binge; radical young President Barack Obama went crazy with the national credit card. That, of course, is nonsense. But too few Democrats—and almost no media commentators—have countered the mendacious right-wing storyline,” says Begala.

He points out that just as bad as ignoring how we got here, Americans risk missing the story of precisely where the GOP wants to take the nation. In the coverage of the game (Will Boehner find the votes? Will the Tea Party really drive us off a cliff? Will Eric Cantor lead a revolt?) he says what is neglected by the media is the substance of the proposals.

Just what kind of country do the Republicans seek to build?

Begala again:

“Instead of seeing it as a bargaining chip, perhaps we should treat the GOP proposal as a serious governing document.

Bob Greenstein, the widely respected president of the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has done just that. His conclusion:

The Boehner-GOP plan is "tantamount to a form of ‘class warfare.’ If enacted, it could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship produced by any law in modern U.S. history."

Think about that.

As the economy teeters on the precipice of a double-dip recession, as millions of Americans search in vain for a job, as tens of millions of homeowners are underwater, as poverty soars and the middle class is hammered, the Speaker of the House is pushing a proposal that—let me repeat Greenstein's analysis—‘could well produce the greatest increase in poverty and hardship in modern U.S. history.’ Deep cuts in every domestic priority—from education for disabled children to food safety to homeland security to clean air and water. Followed by painful cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

But not a dollar in new revenue. Not one corporate loophole closed, not one billionaire asked to pay one penny in higher taxes.

Oh, and if they don't get their way they will cripple the Treasury's ability to pay the debt—the debt, I hasten to add, that their policies created.”

Begala says the logical conclusion to this past-begets-present is simple: the GOP seeks a “banana republic”-- a “toxic blend of right-wing populism, anti-intellectualism, debt defaults, and an end to the ladder of economic opportunity.”

A nation of, as he puts it, a few haves and many have-nots.


Curiously, economist Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times about the debt crisis news coverage also claims mainstream media has failed Americans but he attacks it from a different front.

He says the media is actually distorting the truth about what's happening as a by-product of a cult that is destroying America: “the cult that I see as reflecting a true moral failure is the cult of balance, of centrism,” says Krugman.

“Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.

The reality, of course, is that we already have a centrist president — actually a moderate conservative president. Once again, health reform — his only major change to government — was modeled on Republican plans, indeed plans coming from the Heritage Foundation. And everything else — including the wrongheaded emphasis on austerity in the face of high unemployment — is according to the conservative playbook,”
adds Krugman.

And what’s the meaning of all this distortion brought about by the cult of balance, of centrism?

What all this means, he says, is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.

He says we as Americans all have to ask what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the “convention that both sides are equally at fault.”

He concludes, rather grimly, this is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.

He calls it a moral issue, this “both sides are at fault” thing because the people who report it day in and day out have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their “treasured pose” of being above the fray.

Krugman says it is a terrible thing to watch, “and our nation will pay the price.”

TAGS: debt ceiling talks, media not doing its job, 1999 budget surplus



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