Drugs vs. democracy

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Barron's methodology may be screwed, but the point holds. This is a democracy of dollars, not votes. And as Jackie Calmes writes in the WSJ today, here ($), drug companies are pouring millions of dollars into close midterm races, giving some Republicans a financial edge out of fear of what a Democratic Congress could cost their interests. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) has already promised that the Democrats will rewrite the prescription-drug benefit to take away most of the advantages it handed to pharmaceutical companies within the first 100 days of a Democratic House. Through early September, drug-company PACs have given about $8.7 million to campaigns, compared with $7 million for all of 2002, according to Center for Responsive Politics. Employee contributions are up, too, rising to about $5 million from $3.3 million in 2002. About 69 percent of the industry's campaign contributions are going to Republicans.

Meanwhile, in his recent news conference, George Bush chose to "stand by" a lowball figure for Iraqi deaths since the invasion, one that he first used back in December 2005 -- 30,000. About this, Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com writes:

As it happens, the White House has had something of a predilection for the pleasantly round number of 30,000. In 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, in the President's State of the Union Address, he used that very number for Saddam's mythical stock of "munitions capable of delivering chemical agents"; and, post-invasion, for police put back on patrol in the streets of Iraq. In 2005, that number was cited both for "new businesses" started in Iraq and new teachers trained since the fall of Baghdad. In 2006, in the President's "Strategy for Victory," that was the number of square miles of their country that Iraqi forces were then primarily responsible for patrolling.

Engelhardt concludes: "For the President to 'stand by' his almost year-old figure in the casualty wars -- especially after this particular almost-year -- while claiming that the Lancet study's figures weren't 'credible,' is, on the face of it, absurd. It's hardly less absurd that nothing significant was made of this in the media, that George W. Bush was not called on the carpet for a figure that, even based on his own previous testimony, is close to criminally negligent."

All you need to know about corporate America: Tribune Co. has made sure that deferred pay and benefits for its top officers and other "highly compensated employees" are payable immediately in case of an ownership change. Adopting such amendments is "kind of a normal business practice for a company in our situation," says a Tribune senior veep. Here. (Really, what is there to add to that?)

All you need to know about The Note: Sean Hannity called Mark Halperin "a great American," Bill O'Reilly called Halperin "gutsy" last night, and Halperin is apparently proud of both of these comments.

First, Republicans play the race card in Tennessee. Now, they're playing the Sopranos card in New Jersey. But according to ABC, both Democrats and Republicans are playing dirty this campaign season. OK, actually, only Republicans, but the Democrats might:

As the races tighten in the next couple of weeks, the left will likely unleash its garbage as well.

See, folks? Everybody does it.

Awful lot of media hand-wringing these days about whether Dems, and Nancy Pelosi in particular, will be too partisan if they regain control of the House. Of course, when the Hastert Congress jacked up partisanship on steroids, the press chalked it up as old-fashioned hardball. A look at the newsroom double standard.

One, this is censorship, pure and simple. Two, I thought NPR didn't have ads.

More than any sane person could want to know about Spencer Ackerman's firing* here.

* (If true; after all, it's the Observer ...)

Joe stays the course after all.

Petite correction from Mark Lilla: "... I never worked for The American Spectator. I have enough sins to pay for, thank you very much."

From the Benton Foundation:

CWA SAYS FCC RULES MUST PROTECT AND PROMOTE MEDIA DIVERSITY [SOURCE: Communications Workers of America]

The Communications Workers of America filed comments in the latest FCC review regarding media ownership rules, urging the Commission to maintain remaining rules governing the diversity of local TV, radio and newspaper ownership. CWA continues to believe that the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule provides the strongest protection against undue concentration in a local media market for news and information. However, should the Commission modify that rule, it must do so according to the methodology laid out by the Court in Prometheus to avoid excessive media concentration. If mergers are to be considered, the burden of proof must lie with the merging parties "to demonstrate that the combination is in the public interest; and with the requirement that the commonly owned media outlets maintain separate newsrooms and editorial staff," CWA states. Media corporations are crying wolf when they claim that they must merge to survive, CWA said, noting that newspapers continue to earn profits in the range of 20 percent and local TV stations earn profits of 40 to 50 percent. "This proceeding is of profound importance to American democracy," CWA's executive summary concludes. "It is imperative that the Commission adopt strong structural rules to protect and promote against further consolidation of the media into fewer hands, an outcome that would do serious harm to the free flow of ideas that is so essential to civic participation in our democracy."

See comments here.

CATHOLIC BISHOPS URGE FCC TO RETAIN OWNERSHIP LIMITS [SOURCE: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]

The USCCB urges the Commission not only to retain current ownership limits, but to promulgate regulations to define digital television broadcasters' public interest obligations. Ownership of local broadcast stations by increasingly fewer companies over the past decades has ill served the needs and interests of the communities whose radio and television stations were licensed to serve, particularly their religious needs. This situation would be worsened if the already generous ownership regulations were loosened while there are no enforceable regulations defining how broadcast licensees must meet their statutory public interest obligations.

KIDTV ADVOCATES URGE FCC TO LIMIT TV STATION OWNERSHIP [SOURCE: The Children's Media Policy Coalition]

The Children's Media Policy Coalition urges the Federal Communications Commission to limit local broadcasters to one license in a given market in order to ensure sufficient original programming for children. Research shows that media consolidation diminishes the diversity and availability of programming for the child audience. It is essential that young viewers have access to diverse viewpoints in the television programming they so readily consume; limiting broadcasters to one license will help to maximize the amount and diversity of educational and informational (E/I) programming for children. The Coalition also argues that any relaxation of existing rules be accompanied by a requirement that the Commission analyze, according to specific guidelines, the impact of any proposed media mergers on kids served by the market. The Coalition is concerned that relaxation of the ownership rules will reduce competition, stifling innovation and increasing commercialism in children's programming. Children are particularly vulnerable to influences of commercialism and the Commission must consider the effects of consolidation on advertising aimed at children, as well as the content of children's programs.

TWO REPORTS BOLSTER ARGUMENT THAT MEDIA CONSOLIDATION HURTS THE PUBLIC [SOURCE: Common Cause]

Common Cause today released two reports refuting claims that consolidated media serves the public. The first, A Tale of Five Cities, describes the real-world harm that can result when one company owns the local newspaper and its dominant television and/or radio stations. The examples cited in the report show that cross-ownership can harm a community either by shutting out diverse voices or limiting access to unbiased news. The second, Citizens Speak: The Real World Impacts of Media Consolidation, is a distillation of the comments of individuals who spoke at town hall hearings on media consolidation in 2003. The hearings were held to discuss the importance of localism in media and gave people a forum for expressing, often in vivid terms, how media concentration had destroyed local radio, replacing it with bland and homogenized radio formats, robbed of any local color or talent, and had left them bereft of news about their own communities and responsive to their need for information in a democracy. Both reports were filed Monday with the Federal Communications Commission, as the Commission once again considers changing its ownership rules to increase media concentration.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ryan Scott
Hometown: Portland, OR

Just a note that's largely in response to Mr./Ms. Gifford of Iowa who wrote:

Be careful about falling all over yourself in praise of Barack Obama. Talk to some of us who live in his neck of the woods. Ask what he's done since he took office. Ask what his positions are. Five will get you ten the answer to either question will be "I don't know."

Barack Obama may be the best thing to hit the Democratic Party since FDR. But it's going to take longer than two years for him to establish the kind of track record that will make him electable.

I can counter with personal experience that's equally reliable. My family in Illinois loves him. Not likes, not admires, LOVES. And they are largely non-political, very moderate in every respect (Reagan Democrats, to the extent they are political at all). And since my parents are divorced, there's no cross-pollination of views between one side and the other.

If Sen. Obama is a cipher to most of the people around the country, that would change during the primaries. But people will be able to live with policy differences, if it means having a smart, genuine, compassionate, trustworthy and wise president in office. Sure, I'd love Gore as president. But Sen. Obama is magic.

And as you've pointed out, a track record in the Senate equals political death.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Your points about the potential for the Republicans to maintain a majority because of money and about the fact that national polling data is misleading are significant; they would be clinchers in any other election. In this one, though, we've got a very unusual set of circumstances converging. There's a groundswell of anger among a sizable majority of independent voters, and a large number of Republican ones. The absurdity of the latest round of Republican attack ads suggests that victory is not just predicated on volume of money but on the way one spends it. Osama bin Laden isn't going to be the poster-boy for Republican victory because his image simply reminds us that Bush has failed to capture him. They'll try to spin Saddam Hussein's verdict like a dervish, but 2,801 dead U.S. military to achieve a state of chaos outplays that. And the non-partisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America rankings of legislators on veteran support expose the hypocrisy of Republican claims of supporting the troops. Add in the Republican refusal to be held accountable, their decimation of the US military capability, the naked power grab, the assault on the Constitution, the fragile economy for the middle and working classes, and, oh yeah, the scandals (DeLay, Cunningham, Ney, Abramoff, Weldon, Hastert, and Foley -- heck of a list), there might not be enough Republican cash to reverse the trend.

The countervailing X-factors are ballot and vote counting irregularities like those we've seen in recent years. The loss of Jim Webb's full name on the Virginia ballot, for example, is untenable; if the DNC and his campaign don't go to court to reverse that, perhaps they don't deserve to win. As in 2000 and 2004, when Karl Rove predicts a "win," there's reason for Democrats and all defenders of the right of suffrage to be concerned. Somehow, though, if things follow the pattern of Florida and Ohio in the last two elections, I suspect we'll see more than just a shrug this time around. And of course, I've been wrong before.

Name: Todd Hedley
Hometown: San Antonio

I think there is a fatal flaw in Barron's assessment that the GOP will prevail:

"It's true that our formula isn't foolproof. In 1958, 1974 and 1994, the wave of anti-incumbent sentiment was so strong that money didn't trump voter outrage. We appreciate that voters in 2006 are hopping mad at the GOP because of the war and because of scandal. We just don't agree that the outrage has reached the level of those earlier times. The reason is that the economy in 2006 is healthier. And the economy is the only other factor that figures in our analysis."

I would argue that for most people, the economy is not going well. Most workers' wages have stagnated or actually fallen when inflation is taken into account.

Also, this article fails to take into account that the GOP is losing independent voters by the truckload, and that GOP enthusiasm has taken a huge hit, thanks to Foley and Iraq.

Finally, they admit voters are hopping mad, but not as mad as in 1994? Puh-lease, what was the big scandal then? Check-kiting? Are you kidding me? They actually believe people were angrier over check-kiting than Foley, Katrina and Iraq?

Money buys lots of things, but as a very wise man once wrote (& sang), it can't buy you love.

Name: Robert H. Fredian
Hometown: Arlington Heights, IL

Eric,

As a regular reader of Altercation and Huffington Post, I continue to be astonished at letters such as the one written by correspondent Randi Gifford that criticize Sen. Obama for "doing nothing" during his first two years in office.

Just what do these people expect from any freshman senator? Can they point to other freshmen senators who have "accomplished" something during their first two years in office? These critics seem to forget that there is a hyper-partisan Republican majority in the Senate that has shut Democrats out of the political process. God himself couldn't have accomplished anything with these wingnuts in charge.

As to Obama's "positions," we know he was against the war in Iraq from beginning. Although I haven't read the book, I understand that he states other positions in The Audacity of Hope. I also suggest that the critics review his speeches at the 2004 Democratic convention and 2005 commencement at Knox College to learn of Obama's ideas and ideals.

Given that they have to be scared witless about Obama's chances in 2008, we should fully expect the right-wing slime machine to do its work on Obama. But to have it come from our own side? Jeez, people, give the guy a chance. If he runs for president, you'll learn his positions on the important issues soon enough.

Name: John Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA

Well, here's this person Ken Silverstein writing about you. He is defending an article he wrote for the Village Voice in 1997 that criticized you. Silverstein writes:

The article focused on Alterman's hypocrisy in writing a book that attacked media pundits (Sound and Fury), then using that book as a springboard to a career as a pundit.

Right! It's true. If you *criticize* someone who's doing something, you must not then *do* the thing itself. Otherwise you are a hypocrite. For instance, think of all these Democrats who criticize the way Republican incumbents have done their job -- and then they want to become lawmakers themselves! I mean it's so hypocritical! Because if you really believed that there was something wrong with the way Republicans did their job, you wouldn't want to go and ruin it by taking their place. That would be hypocritical. Ken Silverstein "would find it interesting" that someone wanted to do that. He would think it was "ironical."

This is what happens when someone such as Mr. Silverstein is allowed to write. Commentary with all the insight and depth of a Dawson's Creek rerun.

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