The Not-So-Awful Monday

Everybody hates Mondays, but now and then one of them turns out to be not that bad. Monday, September 26 – after one of the most dismal weeks in the history of the stock market, the Dow rises slowly during the day and them, instead of the usual massive selloff in the last twenty minutes of trading, ends up 272 points. That nice, even if it doesn’t make up that much of all that had been lost the week before. And there was no reason for this happening. There were no new good economic reports floating around. Nothing about any economic conditions had changed. But the Europeans were talking about actual solutions to the problems there. Yes, Greece will still default one of these days, and the major European banks are holding lots of bad paper and woefully undercapitalized, and the whole of Western Europe could plunge into economic disaster and trip the world into a second Great Depression at any moment – but they do have some new ideas on how to deal with all this.

And that was enough to reassure the markets, foolish as that might be. Those guys over there always talk about new ideas to save the day, and nothing much has come of any of that talk before. But this particular Monday there seemed to be a general agreement to pretend they were serous and unified and organized this time. As the old Doobie Brothers song goes, what seems to be is always better than nothing. The name of the song is What a Fool Believes of course. But on another Monday what seemed to be would do just fine. And maybe everyone was just tired of constant gloom and doom – and tired of stormy Mondays, with Tuesdays just the same. Maybe things will work out. That’s as plausible a scenario as things falling apart. No one knows anyway. Despair is just as unreasonable as hope, and hope is more fun.

And then, after the markets closed, we found out that the Senate reached a deal to avert a total government shutdown at the end of the week – so for the third time this year we dodged that bullet. Of course the Senate did nothing, really. Earlier in the day FEMA had announced that they had figured out a way to rearrange and stretch out the funds they had on hand to get them through the end of the week, which is also the end of the fiscal year – Fiscal Year 2011 – so there was no need to argue over additional funds for FEMA, to cover emergency disaster relief for those wiped out by the spring tornadoes and the recent massive hurricane that ripped up the northeast. Over in the House the Republicans had come up with a bill to cover those costs – this was a matter of personal tragedy for many of course – but only if that money was precisely offset by cuts to that electric car and hybrid battery and technology research crap, and all programs that subsidize new manufacturing technology. In short, cut the green crap or these people will suffer, and states and municipalities will never recover – and it will all be your fault. Needless to say the Democratic Senate was having none of this. No one ever before demanded offsets for emergency disaster relief – ever – for people who, after all, had paid their taxes and expected a functioning government looking after the general welfare and all that. The Senate wasn’t going to be blackmailed, Fine, said the Republicans – people facing tragedy will know you did nothing for them because you just wouldn’t give up on all that silly green-vehicle-technology stuff.

But FEMA solved the problem. They have the funds to make it four more days, until the next fiscal year, when they have a new year’s budget to tap. So it all became moot. Not bad for a Monday.

Of course, and David Dayen note, nothing was really settled:

This is about setting a precedent of offsetting disaster relief funding, and nothing else. Republicans want to design a system where, every time there’s a natural disaster, some unrelated program has to pay the price. Democrats want the system as it has worked for the history of the Republic: the federal government pays for the needs of those hit by a natural disaster without smacking unrelated budgets, because it’s the right thing to do. Republicans see this purely as a matter of spending more or spending less. Democrats see it as an issue of basic morality and fairness. Should the next Katrina be offset?

This will come up again. It’s one more aspect of what we now call The New Normal – all though that really should be the name of a new and hopelessly hip ironic-art-rock group from Echo Park.

But there was a third aspect to the one not-so-awful Monday. CNN’s inside-baseball reporter on all things having to do with the news business, and associated media, Howard Kurtz, writing for Arianna Huffington’s Newsweek-Daily-Beast conglomerate tells us here that Roger Ailes really did decide to tone down Fox News Channel’s conservatism, if just a bit, over the last year, as Kurtz says many have noticed:

He calls it a “course correction,” quietly adopted at Fox over the last year. Glenn Beck’s inflammatory rhetoric – his ranting about Obama being a racist – “became a bit of a branding issue for us” before the hot-button host left in July, Ailes says. So too did Sarah Palin’s being widely promoted as the GOP’s potential savior – in large measure through her lucrative platform at Fox. Privately, Fox executives say the entire network took a hard right turn after Obama’s election, but, as the Tea Party’s popularity fades, is edging back toward the mainstream.

And Kurtz has his thesis – Fox News is a business whose programming is absurdly lucrative and wildly successful – rather than a political operation. Anyone can see that, or so Kurtz says. And that’s why Fox News is abandoning its politic slant, or at least moderating it. It’s not a political operation, although no one has ever heard the head of any another news outlet chat about the advice he gives presidential candidates, and the ways in which he drives his policy views onto the air. But Kurtz is a kiss-up in his thesis. And he slyly undermines what he knows is a questionable thesis with telling details:

The talk turns to terrorism. Ailes is angry about an Associated Press report that 29 worshipers were killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad’s largest Sunni mosque during prayers. “How do we know they were worshiping?” he demands. “I think the AP is so far over the hill, they’ve become left wing, antiwar. Gotta watch their copy.”

And Andrew Sullivan comments:

Take a few steps out. Ailes seems to believe that an assumption that Muslims in a Mosque were at prayer is a function of “left-liberalism” not empirical fact. Why? Because, presumably, the sacrilegious carnage would reflect badly on the aftermath of the Iraq war and occupation – showing that we had achieved almost nothing after so much sacrifice. This is wrong because it would be “anti-war,” and therefore “left wing”. Not because it’s untrue.

And there’s this:

Ailes has a blunt rejoinder to those who say he runs a biased outfit: “Every other network has given all their shows to liberals. We are the balance.”

Sullivan:

That was Chris Wallace’s position. Essentially, it means that because Ailes thinks the other networks are biased to the left, his is biased to the right. That’s fair enough and pretty clear from the words both have used. But say that and they will surreally deny it with straight faces once again.

And there’s this:

Ailes keeps a wary eye on anchor Shepard Smith, who occasionally backs aspects of the Obama record: “Every once in a while Shep Smith gets out there where the buses don’t run and we have a friendly talk.”

Sullivan:

If you want to understand why Fox News is now and has long been a propaganda, not a news, outlet, here’s a tiny little sliver of truth behind all of it. If facts and propaganda collide, propaganda always wins. If a journalist pursues news without such an agenda, well, he or she gets “a friendly talk.”

But as Ailes sees it, HIS cable news network isn’t “in someone’s pocket” – and he’s convinced that “the mainstream press” will push negative pieces about the Republican presidential candidates “as a precursor to killing them off.” And that’s just not fair – “America used to be able to get straight journalism.”

But then there’s this:

Even MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, “tacks to the center,” Ailes complains, and “doesn’t act like a conservative.”

And Steve Benen comments:

Ailes rejects allegations of bias, but he freely admits being the “balance” against “liberals,” and criticizes a former conservative congressman who gets three hours a day on MSNBC for not being conservative enough.

Yeah, well, maybe it wasn’t that good a Monday after all. And note this:

Ailes raises a Fox initiative that he cooked up: “Are our producers on board on this ‘Regulation Nation’ stuff? Are they ginned up and ready to go?” Ailes, who claims to be “hands off” in developing the series, later boasts that “no other network will cover that subject … I think regulations are totally out of control,” he adds, with bureaucrats hiring Ph.D.s to “sit in the basement and draw up regulations to try to ruin your life.” It is a message his troops cannot miss.

But he’s fair and balanced, as Howard Kurtz tells us. But if that is true then it’s the mainstream that’s moving, and not Fox News.

But in regard to that, Steve Kornacki at salon.com in this item suggests that if you’re wondering why Ailes, a veteran Republican operative from the Nixon days, might be worried about the tone that Fox is setting, you might want to consider what Obama said at a recent fundraiser:

Some of you here may be folks who actually used to be Republicans but are puzzled by what’s happened to that party, are puzzled by what’s happening to that party. I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change. It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.

That’s not reflective of who we are. This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country. 2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.

Kornacki says you can expect to hear a lot more of this from Obama:

With the economy unlikely to improve substantially in the next year, his best – and maybe only – route to a second term depends on persuading swing voters that, as frustrated as they are with him, the opposition party has simply gone off the deep end and is in no position to run the country.

And that connects back to Roger Ailes:

That this is a potentially viable strategy for Obama is a testament to what Ailes and his network have done to the GOP since the last election. It was Fox News, after all, that embraced the instant backlash that Obama’s win generated among the base of the Republican Party – a backlash that later became known as the Tea Party movement. As we now know, those who identify with the Tea Party voted for John McCain by an overwhelming margin in 2008. Functionally, they are Republican voters, and their angry, often hysterical and irrational response to Obama’s election was typical for the GOP base…

But Fox, which didn’t yet exist during Clinton’s first term, chose to celebrate the backlash, and in so doing has helped to define the Obama era Republican Party by it. This has meant that even Republicans who don’t necessarily relate to the Tea Party and its knee-jerk Obama rejectionism have felt compelled to pay lip service to it, lest they fall victim to a primary challenge. It’s why the GOP House brought the country to the brink of a government shutdown back in the spring and to the brink of a debt default over the summer – and why the shutdown talk is back again this week. And it’s why the GOP’s official platform next summer will probably be as far to the right as it’s ever been, no matter if Mitt Romney or Rick Perry or anyone else is the nominee. (It also has arguably produced a climate that encourages the audience outbursts that have marred three consecutive GOP presidential debates.)

So the idea here is all that the average swing-voter was in the mood to send Obama and his party a message – and not to think a whole lot about the Republican Party much at all. But that changed:

The showdowns that the GOP House has forced have seriously hurt the party’s image, which is now at its worst level since the Clinton impeachment saga in 1998. And the public’s view of the Tea Party has soured dramatically. Obama isn’t that popular right now – but the opposition party’s numbers are even worse. …

Toward the end of his remarks, the president presented himself as a voice for “fact-based” America. If he can build a winning campaign around this kind of contrast, Republicans like Roger Ailes will only have themselves to blame.

Well, maybe so, or that’s hopeful thinking. But despair is just as unreasonable as hope, and hope is more fun. And a Monday with two out of three good things – Fox News really isn’t changing – will do fine.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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