Baby, you can drive my car...


We've got a new Think Again column -- the first in a series actually -- called "The Bush Legacy: War on the Press" and you can find it here.

Yesterday in Washington, the CEOs of the big three automakers made their case to Congress for an industry bailout -- and they flew private jets! The mainstream media was all over this: CNN, Fox News, ABC News, The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, and many others headlined stories about the CEOs' extravagant mode of transportation. ABC News' headline read "First class not good enough for Auto Execs" before it was changed online; Diane Sawyer actually made an ABC News investigation package, which she led off thusly: "This morning, begging for money, while flying high. ABC News cameras catch the CEOs of big auto asking for a bailout, while flying on private jets."

Well, it was dumb, to be sure, but let's ask a question: Is Diane Sawyer really surprised to learn that CEOs travel in private jets? What does the head of ABC travel in? Hell, how about Diane, Charlie, George and all the rest of them. Ever see any of them in coach? These are people -- and I've heard it over and over -- who complain about having to "fly commercial." The talking heads on cable -- like Greta Van Susteren, who said "those CEOs must be out of their minds" -- are indignant only over the imagery. It's surely poor public relations, not to mention arrogant, at a time when the industry needs billions of dollars in public funds to stay afloat.

But are these journalists really angry about excessive executive compensation? I wish. Remember some of these stats I employed in Why We're Liberals?

According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the only taxpayers whose share of taxes declined in 2001 and 2002 were those in the top 0.1 percent, or Americans who earn more than $10 million a year. The following year their tax share declined by another million. These same lucky folks now pay a lesser share of their income in taxes than those making $100,000 to $200,000.

Meanwhile, the average hourly wage of a U.S. worker, according to the 2006 Economic Report of the President, fell, in constant 1982 dollars, from $8.21 in 1967 to $8.17 in 2005. This gap grew so large that a Fortune 500 CEO could expect to earn, in his first hour of his first day on the job, more than a minimum wage worker would make that entire year. (The CEOs of America's largest corporations [the Fortune 100] make an average of $17.6 million per year. That is $67,692 per day, or approximately $8,461 per hour. The federal minimum wage was, until 2007, $5.15 per hour or $10,712 per year for a 40-hour work week. It takes the average CEO 2 hours and 2 minutes to earn $10,712. The CEOs of Fortune 100 companies can earn $10,712 in an average of 1 hour and 16 minutes. See "Research Report: The Minimum Wage, CEO Pay and the Gap in Achieving the American Dream," Americans United for Change, January 2, 2007; David Cay Johnston, "Income Gap Is Widening, Data Shows," New York Times, March 29, 2007.)

Meanwhile, the Bush economic policies were deliberately designed to redistribute even more money to the extremely rich from the rest of us. Recall Vice President Cheney's response to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill when the latter complained that new tax cuts would bust the budget: "We won the midterms. It's our due." By "our" Cheney was clearly referring to the wealthiest swath of American society, particularly its corporate elite, who financed the political careers of the president, the vice president, and their political allies, including those who sat in the CEOs' offices of Detroit's Big Three.

Sure, we'd love to see more stories on the earnings of the Big Three CEOs and their top underlings vs. both skilled and unskilled workers, the rate at which each has grown (or not) over the past 10 years, and so on. I'd like to see that for executive vs. worker compensation nationwide. But Greta Van Susteren hasn't done that story, nor have many of the rest. But this cheap outrage from the network's own million-dollar babies, well, forgive us if we pass.

We wrote a Think Again in April about network news -- we've all had problems with coverage on the three networks, for sure, but it still provides some of the best television journalism we have in terms of range and quality of reporting. The networks prepare taped, edited correspondent packages, which afford more precision and depth than the manic coverage of the 24-hour cable networks. Well, it wasn't just the recent sit-down with the Obamas. Jacques Steinberg has a piece in today's New York Times about the recent success of 60 Minutes, the CBS newsmagazine that was the most-watched television program in the country over the past two weeks. Steinberg writes that the show has stepped up its hard news coverage, reporting regularly from Iraq and Afghanistan, doing 20-minute packages on unsexy but important topics like credit-default swaps. Steinberg says CBS has protected the program from the staff cuts common at virtually every other news organization. If the president-elect was deciding to reward such investment and initiative, well, then, bully for him.

To be fair, 60 Minutes is also benefiting from a lack of competition; NBC isn't running its newsmagazine, Dateline, nearly as much as it used to, and "To Catch a Predator" packages aren't exactly hard news anyhow. ABC is still doing 20/20, but this week, for example, the featured interview is with Eliot Spitzer's former high-priced call girl, which the network advertises as "a continuation of [Diane] Sawyer's recent and exclusive reporting on prostitution." (Exclusive?)

So, imagine that -- a news program doesn't cut back staff position, takes on serious topics, and gets high ratings. Who'da thunk it

One of the more popular talking points these days is that the average auto worker makes $70 an hour, which is the fault of the big bad unions, who, by the way, are also at fault for the crisis in the automotive sector.

Trouble is, as any auto worker is surely and painfully aware, they don't make $70 an hour, or anything close to it. Felix Salmon has the fact-check here. What's more, in every other Western industrialized nation, they can expect government-provided health care, while, here, it is part of their compensation package and an awful -- actually unbearable -- drag on these companies' ability to earn a profit against their unburdened foreign rivals

George Zornick writes: From the New York Observer, a great piece:

"How Did Hillary Clinton Get Reported Into the State Department? It Exploded -- From NBC's Andrea Mitchell to Huffington Post, But Did Reports Precipitate Reality? 'It's Confusing,' Says Ben Smith"

It's here

We were going to write about the two-part wet kiss The Washington Post is giving Henry Paulson -- the first installment, "A Conversion in 'This Storm' " features probing quotes from Paulson like "[I]f you take charge, people will follow...Someone has to pull it all together" -- but Dean Baker says it best:

The point is extremely simple. There was a huge housing bubble that should have been visible to any competent economic analyst. The bubble was fueled by an enormous chain of highly leveraged finance. (As head of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Paulson personally made hundreds of millions of dollars from this bubble.)

It was entirely predictable that the housing bubble would burst and that its collapse would have a huge impact on the financial system and the economy as a whole. There is zero excuse for Paulson being caught by surprise by a "storm" that he helped create. The Post should not be in the business of covering up for Paulson's massive failure.

What are the chances Deborah Howell addresses this in her ombudsman column?

From TomDispatch:

"It's the ultimate argument," Tom Engelhardt begins, "the final bastion against withdrawal, and over these last years, the Bush administration has made sure it would have plenty of heft. Ironically, its strength lies in the fact that it has nothing to do with the vicissitudes of Iraqi politics, the relative power of Shiites or Sunnis, the influence of Iran, or even the riptides of war. It really doesn't matter what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or oppositional cleric Muqtada al-Sadr think about it. In fact, it's an argument that has nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with us, with the American way of war (and life), which makes it almost unassailable."

He continues: "In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat." Think of us not as the Spartans of 21st century war, but as Athenians abroad on steroids. And this is the argument that, this very week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen -- the man President-elect Obama plans to call into the Oval Office as soon as he arrives -- wheeled into place and launched like a missile aimed at the heart of Obama's 16-month withdrawal plan for U.S. combat troops in Iraq.

In the rest of his most recent post at, Engelhardt explores the way in which former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Military Lite became a Military Heavy in Iraq and what key top military officials claim it will take to get all our troops and all our stuff, from helicopters and Humvees to ice-cream making machines and Porta Johns, out of that country. This argument has been the equivalent of a background hum in the withdrawal debate for the last two years. Now, it is sure to be a key part of what Barack Obama will hear when he meets his key military commanders and top Pentagon officials just after January 20, 2009.

Engelhardt concludes: "As Donald Rumsfeld so classically said, in reference to the looting of Baghdad in April 2003 after American troops entered the city, 'stuff happens.' How true that turns out to be. When it comes to withdrawal, the most militarily profligate administration in memory has seemingly ensured that the highest military priority in 2009 will be frugality -- that is, saving all American 'stuff' in Iraq. Irony hardly covers this one. The Bush administration may have succeeded in little else, but it did embed the U.S. so deeply in that country that leaving can now be portrayed as the profligate thing to do."

This week on Moyers: The Bill Moyers Journal and Exposé: America's Investigative Reports present an investigative story into tragic accidents resulting from natural gas explosions. The report is part of Blueprint America, a PBS-wide series on the nation's infrastructure. "Beneath the North Texas Dirt" follows Brett Shipp, a television reporter from WFAA in Dallas, who discovered that aging equipment connecting homeowners' gas lines to their gas meters was failing, causing horrific explosions. Shipp found evidence suggesting that for decades state regulators and local power companies ignored this fatal problem in the vital infrastructure that brings natural gas into hundreds of thousands of Dallas area homes

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ken Widmann
Davis, CA

Another absurd line in that Newsweek Obama = Antichrist? article is this: "The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they're not nuts" :..


Awesome stuff. The people who believe in flesh-eating Martians are perhaps jumping to conclusions..

Name: Ann
Amherst, NH


While various bishops make harsh comments about Obama and the Catholics who voted for him (Cardinal Stafford, as reported in a letter today), it is also true that over half of all Catholics voted for him. The Pope is a theologian, and I am sure he realizes how silly all this apocalyptic hyperbole is.

Also, note that, unlike the U.S. Bishops, the Vatican routinely recognizes that it has to work with those whose positions on abortion they may disagree. In 2005, Julian Hunte cast a deciding pro-choice vote in St. Lucia, but received a Papal Knighthood for his work with the United Nations. Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops routinely overlook politicians who support the Iraqi war, capital punishment, and torture -- all contrary to official Church positions. So few people realize that Catholic social teaching is so much broader than abortion; it is sometimes called the Catholic Church's best-kept secret

Name: Sam Nixon
Tempe, AZ

Dr. Alterman,

The Think Progress note on a potential investigation into the human rights violations of the Bush administration is right on and, to be sure, an inquiry is warranted. Alas, this is not the first mention of justice in the post-Bush era.

Although I shutter at the thought of an American president convicted of war crimes, such an investigation seems to be an issue of morality which parallels the purpose of the United Nations. It might be kind of nice to see that international laws also apply to those who devise them

Name: Ed Tracey
Lebanon, NH

Professor, I'll certainly "go there" as far as the Starland Vocal Band is concerned. No, they are not my music (yikes, not even close).

But they are geniuses! Any band that can win a Grammy for Best New Group, appeal to grandmothers and -- by the use of schmaltzy music of the first magnitude -- get away with salacious lyrics such as "But you've got some bait a-waitin' and I think I might try nibbling" and "Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?" ... well, I don't know about you.... but these are the sort of folks that I'd employ to solve the pressing problems of today

Name: Dave

Paul Simon's "American Tune" remains one of my all-time favorite songs even after all these years (and why did "Kodachrome" get all the love from that album, anyway?). It's been especially relevant lately, given the misadventures and malfeasances of the Bush administration. At any rate, Willie Nelson did a mighty fine cover of it several years back.

Eric replies: On Willie's best album, too....

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