Bob Schieffer Believes in Journalism That Happened 40 Years Ago

Bob SchiefferD R Tucker over at Political Animal brought my attention to the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were on Face the Nation to chat with Bob Schieffer about Watergate 40 years later. Tucker was impressed with it, which amazes me. I’ve come to think rather highly of his work, but he missed it on this one. I realize that everyone is having a great good time this week dumping on Nixon, but we don’t want to let that blind us to our modern reality.

Let’s start with the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were on CBS. Schieffer notes at the beginning that the dynamic duo’s two books All the President’s Men and The Final Days had just been reissued by Simon & Schuster. And they just happened to be owned by CBS. Gee, I wonder why the guys weren’t over talking to George Stephanopoulos?

Shieffer starts with a really stupid observation that people found Watergate so hard to believe because it was so stupid. But the whole scandal was never really about the Watergate break-in. That was simply want led to the plumbers and the CCREEP slush fund and all the stuff that did matter. The real reason people found Watergate so hard to believe is that most people are a bunch of sheep who never want to think that the power elite would act so badly. The president couldn’t possibly be doing this kind of stuff because he was the right kind of person. (For the record conservatives: there is a big difference between being open to malfeasance by the president and just assuming it whenever the other party is in power. Bill Clinton had Vince Foster killed? Really?!)

Some of the interview is rather good. But it’s strange. Woodward says that the piston of the Nixon administration was hate. But later, when talking in more depth, it is clear that this isn’t true. Paranoia and resentment is more what drove him. Later, Woodward talks about how the Republicans put nation over party. That’s not true at all. And that’s what gets to the core of Watergate: if it hadn’t been for the tapes, Nixon wouldn’t have been forced to resign. It was only because there was a smoking gun that the Republicans turned on him.

But what I most hate about this is how self-congratulatory the whole thing is. I don’t mean that about any of the participants especially, but about journalism itself. The truth is that what Woodward and Bernstein did was great work. But can you imagine the Washington Post allowing reporters that kind of latitude today? And look at the work that Woodward does today: he’s just a Republican hack, although admittedly, a careful one because he actually has a reputation to protect.

Shieffer’s last question is whether it could happen again. A better question is whether the corporate controlled media would ever allow it again. As we see today, Glenn Greenwald is hated by most establishment journalists. And if the journalists are like that, you can imagine what their employers think. I believe that if there hadn’t been the tapes, Shieffer wouldn’t have had the segment today. There would have been 40 years of Republican disinformation to convince everyone that Nixon was totally innocent. And Shieffer wouldn’t be certain.

So yeah, now 40 years later, CBS runs a segment talking about the great success of journalism. Shieffer is there to say, “Go team!” But when it comes Edward Snowden who has provided us such important information about what the government is doing to its own people, Shieffer has been incredibly harsh. When it has come to NSA spying generally, he has been nothing short of an apologist. But looking back 40 years, sure: fight the power!

Congress Won’t Congratulate New Pope

Pope FrancisEvery Saturday, Steve Benen over at Maddow Blog does a nice roundup of religious news (focused on, but not exclusive to, its relationship with politics), This Week in God. The format is always the same: there is a feature story and then a bunch of short paragraphs about single news items. It is often fun and always informative. Steve Benen is a legend in the world of liberal blogging, but I actually find this little feature to be his greatest service to the world.

This week, he focused on a story that is actually not new to me: the continued difficulty of the House to pass its de rigueur “Congratulations on being named Pope!” resolution. You see, there’s never been a problem before. The widespread priest sexual abuse scandal that broke primary under Pope John Paul II, did not cause the House to balk at congratulating Cardinal Ratzinger on his election to Pope Benedict XVI. But what’s a bit (Okay, a lot!) of child rape between men? Am I right?! Anyway, congratulations to the Pope was a formal thing and it didn’t mean that Congress approved of everything about the Catholic Church or the Pope.

But somehow, it was different when Cardinal Bergoglio was elected to be Pope Francis. You see, he immediately started in with all that Jesus stuff with that nonsense of “he who is without sin” and humility and caring about the poor. Many members of the House will have none of it. Turning a blind eye to child rape is one thing, but expressing liberal ideas is quite another. This new Pope seems so, well, liberal. It’s like he’s actually read the New Testament!

Remember when Jesus quoted God (They were apparently inseparable!) saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”? Neither can much of the House of Representatives. And the resistance to the Congressional Congrats! card is coming almost exclusively from the supposedly pro-God party. Of the 221 co-sponsors of the House bill, 202 are Democrats. Now you might think, “No problem, a bill only needs 218 votes to pass.” But you must remember the Hastert “Rule”: votes are only allowed if the majority of the Majority wants it. That requires 118 Republicans, and since only 19 of them signed on to sponsor the bill, it’s pretty certain that there aren’t 118 Republicans who are willing to congratulate the new Pope.

So the bill was sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it could very well die. Benen explained the situation:

The unnamed Republican, who supports the resolution, said GOP lawmakers have complained that Pope Francis is “sounding like Obama” because he “talks about equality.” What’s more, the Pope has blasted “trickle-down economics,” rhetoric that many conservatives consider “politically charged.”

A Religion News Service report added, “[N]early half of all simple resolutions introduced in the last two years were passed, so it’s notable that one praising Pope Francis couldn’t even make it out of committee in this Congress.”

Ain’t that just like the Republicans? Religion is only real if it allows them to hate on the people they want to hate on. But they are right: what the Pope has said is politically charged. Everything every Pope has ever said is politically charged. My biggest complaint about John Paul II was the fact that he was forcefully telling the people of Africa that they shouldn’t use condoms. Of course, the Republicans wouldn’t see that as political, because it doesn’t get in the way of what they see as the purpose of politics: to take money from the lower classes and give it to the rich. But there could be no more political act than promoting a pandemic. Or allowing child rape to continue.

I have hope that after the midterm elections, the House will allow a vote on the resolution to congratulate Pope Francis. But that probably just shows what a terrible optimist I am.

Low Inflation Hurts Us the Same Way Deflation Does

Paul KrugmanI don’t often get a chance to say that Paul Krugman is wrong, so I’ll use italics: Paul Krugman is wrong. Okay, technically speaking, he is right in a blog post today, Meanwhile, in Europe. In it, he noted that inflation in Europe is dropping fast. Core inflation is below 1% and it does indeed seem to be headed for deflation: negative inflation. But Krugman is wrong to imply that this is a big deal.

Dean Baker is generally right on top of this stuff, and if I had to bet, I’d put some money on his writing about it in the next day. The problem is that inflation is just a measure of the prices of a basket of goods. So to really simplify, if inflation were 0% it would indicate that roughly half of the goods had gone up in price and half had gone down. This also means that when inflation is low, there is a bit more upward pressure on prices than downward pressure. When deflation is low, it is simply flipped. In other words, nothing magical happens at 0% inflation.

Note what I am not saying. I am not saying that deflation is just fine. I’m saying quite the opposite. Deflation is very bad. But I’m also saying that low inflation is bad. In fact, it is bad in the exact same way that deflation is bad, just not to as big an extent. This is important, because some people (most notably libertarians) claim that deflation is not a problem, and may actually be good. The argument is, “So what if the value of cash in your wallet goes up over time? Would you mind that?” Well, no; all else being equal, I wouldn’t mind that at all!

The problem is that all else is never equal and it is especially so in this case. If people can depend upon the value of their cash going up, they have a real incentive to hang onto it. This results in demand for stuff going down, and that leads to economic stagnation and increased unemployment. So if you are like most people, you depend upon a job to continue filling your wallet with cash. But if you already have all the cash you want, then deflation is super cool. This is why the rich tend to be obsessed with inflation, although I think it is shortsighted for them as well.

My main interest is in people having jobs. Thus, deflation and low inflation are bad things. And I think it is dangerous to make a big deal out deflation, as though the only real harm from low inflation is that it might lead to deflation. Of course, Paul Krugman is far more aware of this than I will ever be. He was just being careless. But I think it’s an important issue.

Three Elvis Costello Political Songs

Spike - Elvis CostelloI think my wife, or soon-to-be wife, bought the Elvis Costello album Spike for me for Christmas. It was a good present, because I was a big Costello fan. Since that time, I haven’t actively sought out his music. The albums before, King of America and Blood & Chocolate, are probably my favorites of his. Spike was a disappointment following them. I find it an uneven album. In particular, the hit off the album, “Veronica” is quite weak, and is indicative of Costello’s worst habits of songwriting with its kaleidoscopic melody and impenetrable lyrics that require him explaining them to you.

I’ve always been a big fan of Costello’s overtly political songs. The best, off Punch the Clock, is probably “Shipbuilding.” I just learned that the music for the song was not written by Costello but rather Clive Langer. That’s interesting because I’ve always thought it one of his best melodies.

Spike included two political gems. The first is “Tramp the Dirt Down.” I can’t be objective about that song. I despise Margaret Thatcher as much as Costello does. But in an objective light, if it hadn’t been her to bring social Darwinism to England, it would have been someone else. Sometimes, countries go on tilt and decide that the problem is that the poor are doing too well and the rich just aren’t rich enough. So they “choose” a despot. Thatcher’s defense of Augusto Pinochet was no accident; despots love each other, even if they appear different in long established “democracies” than they do in fragile South American military dictatorships.

But the song that most impressed me on Spike was, “Let Him Dangle.” It is about the execution of Derek Bentley and more generally the “angry mob” basis of the death penalty. The story is well known in England, but not so much here in the United States. Bentley was a marginally mentally retarded 19-year-old man. After losing a number of jobs due to physical problems and unsatisfactory work, he was refused military service because he was judged “mentally substandard.” Not that I place much credence in these tests, he had a 77 IQ score.

Bentley and his 16-year-old friend Christopher Craig attempted a burglary of a warehouse. They were seen and the police arrived. It all resulted in a shootout, where Craig killed one office and wounded another. Bentley didn’t use any weapons against any of the police. But according to them, he said, “Let him have it, Chris.” Now this is interesting because if Bentley and Craig had been in a James Cagney movie, that might might have meant, “Shoot the copper!” But this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Bentley supposedly said this after the officer Craig wounded, Frederick Fairfax, said, “Hand over the gun, lad.” Regardless, this led to the wound, not the death. So the claim that Bentley was culpable in the later shot that killed Constable Sidney Miles requires a number of jumps in the causation chain.

Regardless of all this, by English law, Craig could not be given the death penalty because he was younger than 18. So they killed Bentley. But it wasn’t as though there was a huge cry from the people or even the political establishment that Bentley should hang. Over 200 MPs signed a petition in favor of Queen Elizabeth’s formal plea for clemency. But the then Home Secretary, David Maxwell Fyfe, 1st Earl of Kilmuir, refused it. He was politically ambitious and I suspect it is somewhat like John Kerry’s vote to authorize the Iraq War. And in the end, he wasn’t alone. I dare say the majority were for it. Then Prime Minister Winston Churchill seems to have been. I only mean to say that Bentley did have his defenders.

In To Encourage the Others, David Yallop argues that it wasn’t Craig’s bullet that killed the police officer. According to him, it was rather a stray bullet from another police officer. This doesn’t really matter, of course. The logic of killing Bentley went like this: he said something that caused Craig to shoot; this leads to more shooting by Craig; this leads to Craig killing Miles. If Yallop is right, the logic simply changes: Bentley said something that caused Craig to shoot; this leads to more shooting by Craig; this leads to the police accidentally shooting Miles. By the logic of the time, Bentley is still put to death.

Bentley has since been given a posthumous pardon, which means exactly nothing to him since he has been dead at the hands of the state for over 60 years. I question how important that symbolic gesture is to society. There is no death penalty in the United Kingdom today. But when it was abolished, there were still a third of the MPs who voted to keep it. There will always be people who want to kill for killing. And every time there is a publicized atrocity, the pitchfork crowd is out baying for blood. I think this is perfectly captured in Elvis Costello’s song:

Here in California, we have the death penalty, and it is still pretty popular. In 2012, we had the opportunity to repeal it, and 52% of my fellow state citizens said no. I don’t think it has anything to do with justice in any particular case. For people who support the death penalty, each execution is a kind symbolic act to suppress the outrage about murder. So when someone is executed, they are not executed for their crimes, but for all our crimes. I know people aren’t aware of this thinking. They claim it is about justice and some of them reference the Bible. But if it really is “an eye for an eye” then why aren’t all murders killed? Of course, the most twisted of people think all murders should be killed and quite a lot more. But such people clearly need help and the kind of pity they seem incapable of.

Charles Darrow’s Monopoly

Charles DarrowOn this day in 1889, Charles Darrow was born. He is known for having invented the game Monopoly. The problem is that he didn’t. He did, however, get a government provided monopoly to sell the game: US Patent 2,026,082. This is ironic, right? A depression era game based upon the idea that capitalism is an unjust system for the distribution of resources was effectively stolen from its actual creators using the tools of the oligarchs.

In 1903, Elizabeth Magie developed The Landlord’s Game, which was designed to show the ill effects of monopolies. She self-published the game and it became rather popular. It was used by college professors to teach about monopolies and was even adapted into a Scottish game. After Parker Brothers released Monopoly in 1935, Magie was publicly critical of it. Parker Brothers had previously published her games, so apparently in a bid to shut her up, they published three more of her games, including The Landlord’s Game.

It’s important to remember that The Landlord’s Game is not Monopoly. How it became it is an interesting example of sociology. The Landlord’s Game was popular enough that people started making their own versions of the game. This led to the game Finance which was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s. (Parker Brothers eventually bought it and sold it into the 1960s.) Eventually, it made its way back to the east cost. One version, taught to Darrow by Charles Todd was localized for Atlantic City. This was Monopoly, and it is the game (including the misspelling of Marven Gardens) that Darrow patented.

Wikipedia notes, “Darrow was later promoted as the sole inventor of the game, though later research has shown that Magie, Jesse Raiford, Ruth Hoskins, Louis and Ferdinand Thun, and Daniel Layman, among others, were collectively responsible for virtually all of game’s significant elements.” But that isn’t to say that Darrow was just a thief. He packaged the game well, including hiring a graphic artists to jazz up the game with things like the Water Works image. There is something to be said for that.

The problem, of course, is that the system we have is not fundamental to the idea of capitalism. In fact, I think it is clear that it is a distortion of capitalism. The fact that Darrow was able to get a patent on the work of others, shows a fundamental flaw in our intellectual property law. But even if Darrow had added something substantially new to the work of the others (he didn’t), it doesn’t make sense for him to get all the reward. The fact that he does shows there is a very large random element in our economic system. And this does not create good economic incentives. But you already knew that—because you played Monopoly when you were a kid.

Happy birthday Charles Darrow!