Complaints about the poor quality of customer service from big internet providers like Comcast or Time Warner are often punctuated with an exasperated variant of "I'm paying XX dollars every month, how can they get away with this?" The short answer is because they can, because in all likelihood there's no real broadband competition in your area, because cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner are strengthening their grip on broadband and aren't feeling much pressure to improve your service.
The salt in the wound is that even though you do pay quite a bit for connectivity to the internet, what you're getting in return probably isn't all that great, at least when compared to the rest of the developed world where faster, cheaper internet connections abound. But the mere adequacy of cable-delivered U.S. internet is not without its defenders. Richard Bennett of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) inked an op-ed for the New York Times this weekend arguing that we're actually doing pretty OK on the cable broadband front. Bennett's arguments, however, require a little scrutiny and clarification.
First and foremost, some disclosure is needed. Between 2009 and 2011 (the most recent data available) the ITIF received nearly $100,000 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the cable industry's chief lobbying group. (The NCTA's 990 forms for the relevant years can be found here, here, and here.) Over that same time period ITIF also received $122,500 from CTIA -- The Wireless Association, which lobbies on behalf of the wireless telecommunications industry. (990s here, here, and here.) The New York Times identified Bennett as a senior fellow at ITIF but did not disclose these donations, which are relevant given his promotion of America's broadband systems, which are dominated by the cable networks, and mobile broadband development.
UPDATE: The Times has responded to Media Matters' inquiries on the financial disclosure aspects of Bennett's op-ed: "We are entirely confident that this essay was handled correctly and we do not intend to comment further on it."
At various points throughout Breakthrough, the new memoir/manifesto by conservative "sting" video auteur James O'Keefe, the reader is informed that O'Keefe's mission is to "save democracy," "save the 2012 election," "revive investigative journalism," and, most ambitiously, "change the world." It's an outsized view of what one can accomplish with some silly costumes and cameras concealed in neckties. And by O'Keefe's account, he's been just about flawless in exposing the most sinister and corrupt establishments of the American political system.
Then there's the reality of what O'Keefe has actually accomplished. He has more than a few scalps -- an executive at NPR, the field director of Rep. Jim Moran's (D-VA) 2012 campaign, ACORN. He's been on TV quite a lot, he was honored by the House of Representatives, and New Hampshire passed a restrictive voter ID law as a consequence of his work. His penchant for trimming otherwise damning videos of exculpatory material has brought down scathing condemnations from journalists across the ideological spectrum.
Can any of this really be considered saving democracy? Did he save the 2012 election? Has he changed the world?
Unless, of course, you view the world as James O'Keefe does. In this terrifying alternate reality, ACORN "help[ed] bring the economy to its knees" in 2008 and was the "General Motors" of the "election fraud business." It's a world in which voter fraud is so rampant that Sen. Al Franken stole his 2008 election with the help of "more than a thousand ineligible felons" who "voted illegally." O'Keefe's existence is filled with "totalitarians" and "anti-journalists" who oppose him -- from President Obama to Media Matters to the administrative staff of Rutgers University -- and his only friend is the little voice that says: "All roads lead to truth. All roads lead to Breitbart. Go there."
Glenn Beck's new novel, The Eye Of Moloch (A Thriller), gives the reader plenty to think about.
One could dwell at length about how poorly written The Eye Of Moloch is. This incomprehensible disaster is the story of a Tea Party-like group of freedom fighters called, amusingly, the Founders' Keepers and their efforts to save America from an evil PR firm that is trying to frame these patriotic heroes for an act of terrorism that will tip the country towards chaos. The plot is poached without shame from its predecessor, The Overton Window, which saw the Founders' Keepers framed by the same PR firm for setting off a nuclear bomb in Nevada. Why was it necessary to further discredit the Founders' Keepers when they've already had an act of nuclear terrorism successfully laid at their feet? Because Beck and his ghostwriters, demonstrating an active hostility towards continuity and logic, decided between novels that the gigantic nuclear explosion had actually been covered up somehow.
One could focus on how drearily dull The Eye Of Moloch is. Beck clearly took to heart the many reviews that complained of The Overton Window's lack of action and inserted some rote gun battles into the sequel, but The Eye Of Moloch is still often quite boring. One of the protagonists, Hollis, spends the first 40 pages or so dramatically fighting off paramilitary skinheads, and then passes the next 200 doing nothing on an isolated ranch in Wyoming. Noah Gardner, the protagonist from The Overton Window, is wounded in a battle in the opening pages of The Eye Of Moloch, and then spends half the book lying in a hospital bed and going to work. Oh the thrills! The reason these characters don't do much is that high-speed chases and daring acts of espionage don't allow for the long limited-government homilies that stand in for dialogue and stretch out this tiresome slog to a punishing 400 pages.
The lack of action is a shame because Beck and his crew of ghost novelists created a number of characters who were constantly on the verge of being interesting. Beck introduces a government agent with one leg, but her disability never presents her with any obstacles to overcome. At the end of The Overton Window, Noah found himself in a torture session presided over by his own father. That's a bizarre emotional dynamic that, in the hands of a capable writer, could be explored to great effect. The Eye Of Moloch, however, gives us just one interaction between father and son, during which Noah snips at the man who physically tortured him: "Your apology is so unbelievably not accepted."
Instead we get characters who behave incomprehensibly as they stumble from one cliché to the next. Noah's father, the villain from The Overton Window, experiences a change of heart because of a terminal cancer diagnosis and meets his end after being pushed down an elevator shaft. The Eye Of Moloch's villain is a 132-year-old man (not a typo) who is overfond of grandiloquent declarations of his nefarious intent. Here's an actual line of dialogue from the maleficent supercentenarian: "Now then, before we enjoy our brunch, let us discuss how we shall finally bring the brief and teetering empire of the United States of America to an unceremonious close." That's pretty evil, even without factoring in the subtler evil of making his associate wait to enjoy what probably was a pretty good brunch.
"[T]ell me why the last torchbearer of the sad ideals of the American spirit, this Molly Ross, is now being contacted by a former co-conspirator who nearly spoiled all of my plans only last year, and who also happens to be the son of my right-hand man?" - The Eye Of Moloch's 132-year-old antagonist
Building on the runaway critical success of his 2010 debut novel The Overton Window ("a lurching, low-speed derailment," "an instructively bad book," "a plodding read"), Glenn Beck is back with a second installment: The Eye Of Moloch.
The one-dimensional characters, creepy libertarian sermonizing, and extended periods of dull inaction that marked The Overton Window have returned in The Eye Of Moloch, making for a read that is as baffling as it is boring. Media Matters has picked over the book and highlighted some of The Eye Of Moloch's absurd conspiracism and impossibly wide plot holes.
The plot to The Eye Of Moloch is, in many ways, the same as The Overton Window: an evil PR firm is trying to destroy America, and a scrappy Founding Fathers-obsessed resistance group called Founders' Keepers is working to foil the scheme. This time around, the villainous corporation, led by 132-year-old supervillain Aaron Doyle, is trying to pin a series of cross-country shootings on the Founders' Keepers. Those resistance fighters, led by The Overton Window's returning protagonists Noah Gardner and Molly Ross, are on the run and trying to infiltrate a super-secret archive that details every evil conspiracy perpetrated on the American people.
And there's still terrible writing. A lot of terrible writing.
The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel has written three columns in the last three weeks arguing that President Obama is culpable in the controversy over the IRS scrutinizing conservative non-profit groups because his public rhetoric sent signals to tax agency bureaucrats directing them to target his political opponents. We've taken to calling this phenomenon "Bureaucrat Whispering." Strassel has been its chief evangelist, and the theory has caught on with conservatives who are eager to tie the president to the IRS controversy but can't demonstrate an actual link.
In the latest iteration, Strassel argues that it can't be a coincidence that the IRS issued its August 2010 "Be On The Lookout" (BOLO) document that singled out conservative non-profits for additional scrutiny at the same time Obama was campaigning against "conservative groups that they claimed were rigging the electoral system." The fact that the IRS initiated the process of providing this scrutiny of conservative groups five months before the BOLO document was issued -- and five months before Strassel's first example of Obama supposedly setting "the context in which the targeting happened" -- does much to undermine the allegation.
Per Strassel's June 7 column:
Perhaps the only useful part of the inspector general's audit of the IRS was its timeline. We know that it was August 2010 when the IRS issued its first "Be On the Lookout" list, flagging applications containing key conservative words and issues. The criteria would expand in the months to come.
What else was happening in the summer and fall of 2010? The Obama administration and its allies continue to suggest the IRS was working in some political vacuum. What they'd rather everyone forget is that the IRS's first BOLO list coincided with their own attack against "shadowy" or "front" conservative groups that they claimed were rigging the electoral system.
Contrary to Strassel's assessment, there was one other useful tidbit in the inspector general's report: the timeline that identified "Around March 1, 2010" as the time when a manager at the IRS' office in Cincinnati "asked a specialist to search for other Tea Party or similar organizations' applications in order to determine the scope of the issue." That targeting began months before Strassel's first example of Obama sending secret nasty vibes to the IRS: an August 9, 2010, speech at a Democratic National Committee fundraising event.
If you've been casually paying attention to politics for the past few months, you're probably aware that the White House is dealing with a scandal of some sort involving last September's attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. You might also know that it has something to do with some talking points and some emails and who made some edits and when those edits were approved and by whom. And therein lies the reason why, despite enthusiastic efforts by Fox News and other axe-grinders on the right have to turn the editing of a sheet of talking points into a full-bore, front-page scandal for the Obama administration, it just hasn't taken off. Trying to coherently and accessibly explain why the average person who isn't a reflexive partisan should consider this a "scandal" is all but impossible.
President Obama's selection of Susan Rice to be the next National Security Adviser has given new life to the controversy, given that she was an unfortunate recipient of the much-discussed talking points. This morning, Karl Rove went on Fox News to try and explain why those talking points make Rice an unacceptable choice for the position. He threw out a bunch of already debunked lies and misdirections in doing so, which you can read about here, but watch this segment to see just how deep into the weeds Rove has to go in order to arrive at a muddled and uncertain conclusion.
Karl Rove is perhaps the nation's most prominent political communications strategist. He has spent nearly his entire professional life condensing complex issues into accessible narratives. And that was the best he could do. It's like trying to explain an inside joke to someone not on the inside. You have to go through the backstory and the details and mood-setting and digressions until you finally arrive at the joke, and invariably the listener will not find it as humorous as you do.
That's not to say that this is just a communications problem. The Benghazi emails and talking points reveal less a conspiracy to cover up information about the attack than they do interagency turf wars and bureaucratic squabbling. In some ways, getting lost in the Benghazi details helps to obscure the fact that right-wing critics don't really have anything to talk about -- they've spent nine months obsessing over a set of talking points at a time when the American people are far more interested in the economy.
But Rove et al keep plugging away at it because Benghazi was supposed to be the thing that took Obama down (Obama's Watergate). Or rather, the latest thing that was supposed to take Obama down (the latest in a long line of Obama's Watergates). Obviously it didn't, and the continued obsessive focus on Benghazi hasn't done much to erode the president's standing. But they'll just keep retelling the joke hoping that eventually someone will find it funny.
The right-wing scandal-mongering crowd has a potent ally in Bob Woodward. Of late, the Washington Post associate editor has been busily hyping -- or outright manufacturing -- White House "scandals," inviting observers to draw unfounded comparisons to Watergate. In some cases, Woodward has been directly making that comparison himself. And pundits and journalists are eager to take Woodward at his word, which is unfortunate since he's all too often wrong on the facts. Such was the case when Woodward appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on June 3 and lent credence to the idea that former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman's visits to the White House were somehow linked to the IRS's inappropriate scrutiny of conservative non-profit groups.
After the Fox News host introduced Woodward as one of the men who "drove the Watergate story for the Washington Post," Woodward told O'Reilly that the IRS controversy "needs to be investigated." He continued: "But you know who should lead the investigation? President Obama. And the White House put out his version of all of these things. I have found in recent weeks they still respond to questions. You say they aren't answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should. They should get on top of this story."
Here are a few facts Woodward could have -- and should have -- brought up. The 157 number itself is something of a canard, as it doesn't accurately reflect the number of times Shulman actually visited the president or other top White House officials. The vast majority of the former commissioner's visits were not to the actual White House but to office buildings that are part of the White House complex. Those visits were mostly meetings with administration staffers charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act, which the IRS plays an important role in administering. All of this information was available, and it goes a long way toward deflating O'Reilly's scandal narrative, but Woodward either didn't know or didn't care to bring it up.
Later in the segment, Woodward told O'Reilly: "I agree this is not Watergate at all. But the road to Watergate is concealment, is not coming clean [...] If [the Obama administration does] that they will dig themselves in a hole. And I think they have the moral and intellectual capacity to stop that." Saying "this is not Watergate" is well and good, since the idea behind O'Reilly's segment was to explicitly link the IRS controversy to Watergate in spite of the evidence. But Woodward should have laid out the reasons why O'Reilly was off base. Instead, he laid out the conditions under which the IRS controversy could become a new Watergate, which is pretty much what O'Reilly wanted in the first place.
Fred Barnes sees an Obama presidency in trouble. That's probably good news for President Obama.
The Weekly Standard executive editor and Fox News contributor took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to lay out his case for why "the Obama administration is in an unexpected and sharp state of decline." Barnes' bill of particulars is by this point cliché: scandalmania, inability to "lead," failure to magically bend the congressional Republicans to his will -- nothing we haven't seen many times before from countless Beltway pundits. What sets Barnes' analysis apart from the rest is his knack for studying the political present, gaming out what he thinks is the likely future, and getting it completely, fantastically wrong.
In 2004, shortly after George W. Bush won reelection, Barnes wrote a piece titled "Realignment, Now More Than Ever," in which he predicted that the Republican Party -- powered by Hispanic voters who "are attracted to the entrepreneurial bent and traditional values of Republicans" -- would enjoy "the next best thing to a permanent majority." Per Barnes: "Republican hegemony in America is now expected to last for years, maybe decades." Republicans were in the minority two years later and the support Bush enjoyed from Hispanic voters crumbled.
In 2006, as Bush's popularity plunged the summer before the midterm elections, Barnes wrote a piece on "The Bush Bounce." According to Barnes, Bush's "approval rating dropped to an artificially low 31 percent in the Gallup Poll, far below its natural zone between 40 percent and 50 percent." He added: "At worst, Bush has bottomed out. At best, he's on his way to renewed popularity." Bush's approval rating hit 44 percent in mid-September 2006. It dropped to 37 the next month and stayed under 40 for the remainder of his presidency, frequently dipping into the 20s.
In 2008, almost the entire punditry class looked at the political environment heading into the presidential election and predicted an easy victory for Barack Obama. Three days before the election, Fred Barnes predicted John McCain would win with 279 electoral votes. "We're a center-right country. He's [Obama] a northern liberal. They usually lose. Remember Walter Mondale, remember John Kerry, Mike Dukakis," said Barnes, wrongly.
Immigration reform is inching closer to reality, and conservatives standing in (thus far) fruitless opposition are careening ever further from it. That means that as the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" Senate bill worms its way towards passage, the anti-immigrant histrionics and nativism are going to spike and eventually crescendo. The June 3 Washington Times delivers one of those spikes in the form of an op-ed railing against dual-citizenship, naturalization, and immigrants in general.
"There is a common belief that if an immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, then he has become an American. It is a naive belief," writes Ian de Silva, whose degree of expertise in sociological matters can be gleaned from his author bio, reproduced here in full: "Ian de Silva is an engineer who has interests in politics and history." His first and best example of the unreliable character of the naturalized citizen is accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: "The Boston case exemplifies the sheer naivete of everything that liberals typically gush about immigrants -- they're peace-loving people who become loyal citizens." Usually nativist cranks take some care to disguise the reductive "one bad immigrant means all immigrants are bad" argument that undergirds their xenophobia. De Silva obviously couldn't be bothered.
But it's a curious argument for De Silva, of all people, to make given that later in the piece he reveals that he too is a naturalized American citizen:
I speak on this issue from personal experience. As a naturalized American, I relinquished my native citizenship when I became an American by adhering strictly to the oath of naturalization. It is not your naturalization certificate that makes you an American -- the certificate only makes you a U.S. citizen. Rather, what makes you an American is your unconditional belief this is your country.
Perhaps we should take De Silva at his word that he's a peace-loving and loyal citizen, but just a few paragraphs earlier he called such foolishness "sheer naiveté," and promised to teach us a lesson about the "liberal shibboleth about the loyalty of immigrants." What's an overly credulous liberal who doesn't assume murderous intentions of the foreign-born to do?
This past weekend on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace tossed up a softball for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): "Senator Graham, you say that President Obama may not have directly ordered the IRS to target conservative groups, but that there was a culture of political manipulation that filtered down from the White House. Explain what you mean." Wallace was describing Bureaucrat Whispering: the increasingly popular conservative theory that President Obama, while not directly involved in the IRS scandal, is still culpable because the tax agency employees subconsciously picked up on his anti-Tea Party vibes.
Wallace then confronted Durbin with a letter the senator wrote in October 2010 that Wallace suggested contributed to "this culture." Durbin defended the letter (a request that the IRS investigate the political activities of non-profit groups like Crossroads GPS) but Wallace was unmoved: "Why not, because we're now in the mess that we are in because of political targeting, why not send a letter that says, go after any group of any political persuasion?" Left unsaid by Wallace was the fact that the IRS began singling out Tea Party groups for scrutiny in March of 2010 -- a full seven months before Durbin sent that letter. That means the cultural ripples caused by Durbin's IRS dispatch would have had to be so potent that they tore the fabric of space-time.
This gets to the core of what Bureaucrat Whispering really is: a catch-all repository for conservatives eager to link the White House to the IRS scandal. It's a theory that can't be proved or disproved; how does one conclusively demonstrate that IRS underlings at a poorly managed office in Cincinnati were swept up in Obama-inspired anti-Tea Party fervor? So conservatives are just throwing whatever bugs them about Obama at the wall and hoping something will stick.