Archive for November, 2009
I arrived at the Senate side of the Capitol at around noon and ran into the Billionaires for Wealthcare again. They attempted to join their “employees” in the Tea Party protest, but the Capitol Police thought it best if they kept the two groups separate. As time passed, it really did seem like the 5-6 Billionaires were a whole lot more exercised than the tea-partiers. The Billionaires were that loud… I’m not certain what occurred after I left, but while I was with them, the group was able to thank two of their “business partners” in the Senate, Bob Corker (R, TN) and Chuck Grassley (R, IA) in person. Corker seemed happy to see them, even thanking the Billionaires for being there; Grassley seemed a little less enthusiastic.
After a spell, I decided to start tracking down Senators in the office buildings. The place almost seemed haunted; it was empty. I did run into a few Senators, but I wasn’t able to do much reporting.
As the eight o’clock vote drew closer, I received an email alerting me to a post-vote press conference. I didn’t have a lot of time to conjure up a question, so I went with something I had been thinking about for a few days: what Democratic Senator wants to carry a legacy as the one that killed health care reform? After all, if you are one of sixty votes for the package and it turns into a big ol’ mess, you will have cover – you were just one of sixty. But as an obstructionist joining with the Republicans? Well, in that case, you would have distinguished yourself, and probably in the wrong way.
I ended up asking Harry Reid if he thinks history is on his side – will it help him round up the votes he needs?
Immediately after the press conference ended, I stepped outside. There were about 50-75 people lined up on the sidewalk in the area that the Senators exit when they are heading to their cars. Af first, I thought all these folks were tea-partiers, but that assumption was disproved when Chris Dodd (D, CT) emerged. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause and swarmed the Senator, thanking him and asking for his autograph. Someone asked the Senator, “In all of your years up here, have you ever seen anything like htis after a vote?” Dodd responded, “Not after a vote on a motion ot proceed!” Everyone laughed. Dodd was ebullient; his smile was broad and toothy. I went to record the moment, but my camera’s batteries had gone dead.
I quickly replaced them, but by the time I finished, Dodd had left for the airport. About twenty minutes later, Jay Rockefeller emerged. He too was surrounded by well-wishers and autograph seekers. Another 30 minutes passed and the scene was repeated for Senator Sherrod Brown.
In all, the day had definitely been won by the Democrats.
I am no expert on the ins and outs of the health care debate, but from what I’ve gathered, the Senate health care bill contains a mandate that will require individuals to purchase health care insurance or face a fine at tax time. However, there is also a state-based “opt-out” provision that would allow individual states to exempt themselves from the mandate.
I decided to ask reform opponents if they would encourage their state’s governors and legislators to exercise the opt-out clause if the bill passes “as-is”.
I think Wicker and Sessions make a fair point – it is probably impossible to fully “opt-out” of the reforms. To the extent there will be, at a minimum, new taxes on medical devices and elective plastic surgery and to the extent that Medicare reimbursement rates will in some case be reduced (without regard to a state’s opt-out status), states will face a choice: increase the tax burden and get nothing, or, increase the tax burden, impose a mandate and increase the number of insured in their state.
As I said, I’m no expert. I’d love to be corrected in the comments.
Senator Mitch McConnell:
Senator Joe Lieberman:
Senator Jeff Sessions:
Senator Roger Wicker:
Today I ran into Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, the Senators from Michigan, as well as Eric Massa, a representative from upstate New York. Each of them represent constituencies hit savagely hard by the current economic conditions. If they are concerned about the current economic team, they aren’t letting on. At the same time, none of them came out four-square behind the crew from Wall Street either.
Here’s Debbie Stabenow:
and Eric Massa:
That’s what Joe Lieberman says when asked if he’ll go on Rachel Maddow’s show to have an honest debate on health care. Evidently that’s a disqualifying attribute so far as Senator for Connecticut is concerned.
No word on why he feels comfortable appearing as a frequent guest on Sean Hannity’s programs.
When asked, Dodd offered some support for Ben Bernanke a week before his confirmation hearings, saying he’s done a better job recently. On the other hand, when it came to Geithner and Summers, Dodd would only say that their job security is up to the President… Which is almost exactly what John Ensign said…
On the other hand (I guess I’m up to three now, but who’s counting?), James Inhofe was pretty clear. He thinks it’s time for Geithner to go.
“Unemployment, when you look at the broader index, is approaching 20%. Foreclosures are at a record pace, still accelerating; we don’t see an end to that crisis… Credit markets are still stuck. Meanwhile, we’ve turned around Wall Street quite nicely; it’s record bonus season down there. At waht point do we begin to lose confidence in Bernanke, Geithner and Summers? When do we decide that their priorities are skewed and we may need a new team in there? Somebody that’s going to get change on Main Street and not just Wall Street?”
As you’ll hear in the video, I didn’t quite catch what Senator Nelson said to me at the end of this impromptu interview…
Here is the transcript of the last part of the video (thanks Dave!):
You asked me about the Constitution last week, it went out on a blog, I don’t talk to bloggers.
The conversation continued after I turned the camera off. I told him that I never asked him about the Constitution; that I did ask him if he knew how many of the people in his state went bankrupt because they could not pay their medical bills. But I never blogged that…
Anyway, this is another example of politicians hating the Fourth Estate. Notice that phrasing – I didn’t say they hate the institutional media. Nelson loves seeing himself on TV. He loves being the center of attention. He loves that the media fawns over “centrists” and can be counted on to assume that the best solution to any problem lies somewhere between the bat-shit insane position of the Glenn Beck-led Republican Party and whatever the far-left Tom Friedman is suggesting. And generally speaking, that’s exactly where Ben Nelson and the rest of the “centrists” (mostly Democrats these days) situate themselves.
The Fourth Estate exacts accountability. The institutional media (as it exists today) can be counted on to value access above all else. That means hard questions, pressing follow-ups, and reporting any facts that contradict the treasured “centrists” or demonstrate the transparent, vapid, and destructive substance of the “centrist” position… well, that species of reporter is quite rare today. A sort of evolution has occurred; today a new species is rising. They are called “bloggers”.
Hopefully we’ll displace the less adaptable media soon, along with the politicians that are doing everything they can to maintain the status quo.
Vitter graduated Tulane Law School in 1988. Loving v. Virginia, decided in 1967, was a unanimous Supreme Court decision that declared state anti-miscegenation (interracial marriage) laws unconstitutional. It is one of the bedrock civil rights cases, right up there with Brown. It is simply not credible for any lawyer to claim ignorance when asked about Loving.
Anyway, this question did not come out of the blue. Several weeks ago, I invited Senator Vitter to condemn the racist Lousiana judge that refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. Vitter passed, simply smiling at me as the elevator doors closed on him.
When other reporters asked about it, his press shop put out a statement:
First, Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along. Second, it would be amazing for anyone to do a story based on this fringe, left-wing political hack’s blog — he’s been handcuffed and detained in the past over his guerrilla tactics.”
Still not one word of criticism for the racist judge! (And yes, the latter half of the quote referred to yours truly, but that’s another story for another day. For now, just note the absence of the word “arrested”.)
So I decided to concentrate on the first half of the question. I emailed Vitter’s Press Secretary and asked if Vitter believed Loving had been decided correctly or if it was a case of unwarranted judicial activism. I let them know that if they sent me back a clarification, I wouldn’t have to ask the Senator on camera. Of course, if I did see the Senator before I received their statement, hopefully he would be prepared to answer the question.
Almost a month had passed when I ran into the Senator yesterday.
Here is the result:
When you see train-wrecks like this, I think it is only natural to look for some sort of explanation. Well… I think I may have found one. In the next video, shot from outside Vitter’s office, look closely at what is on the television:
To many of us following the continuing Wall Street scandal, it was appalling to learn that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, in his previous job as head of the NY Fed, brokered a deal in which the Wall Street investment banks received full value for the bad bets they placed and insured with AIG.
They didn’t do their due diligence, AIG failed and they should have been forced to take the same haircut they would have had to have taken if AIG unwound in a bankruptcy court. Instead, they got paid at par; they took no loss.
I asked the Secretary why he didn’t force the haircut. Of course, we don’t have a government accountable to the people, so he just ignored me. And continued to ignore me when I pointed out that he is a puppet of Wall Street – that he pays more attention to the fraudsters and banksters than he does to the people charged with passing laws to ensure that similar circumstances do not arise again.
With 40 Republicans, all it will take is one Democratic defection. Senator Nelson isn’t making the right noises if you are a public option supporter and he certainly seems put off by the idea of answering to a citizen press:
In an earlier post I mentioned this Politico article. Here are some excerpts:
Unflattering videos of senators trying to explain their votes have gone viral on the Internet, including one of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) swatting away a hand-held video camera held by a liberal blogger questioning his vote against the amendment.
Privately, GOP sources acknowledge that they failed to anticipate the political consequences of a “no” vote on the amendment.
It has circulated a Web video that used a clip from Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show to target three senators who face reelection in 2010: Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
“I think the whole purpose of that amendment in my opinion was to create a vote which they could use to attack Republicans,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who was himself confronted by a liberal blogger with a video camera questioning his vote.
First, here are my videos for those of you trying to track them down…
But I think it’s worth saying a few words about this as well…
Why did Republicans miscalculate? Could it possibly be because they felt confident that there wouldn’t be any media around to hold them accountable? God knows that outside the blogosphere, this is the first “mainstream” news story I’ve seen on the topic. Kudos to Politico for covering this, but where were they after the vote was cast?
Would this be a story without my videos? After all, they mention three of my videos in their story.
Why didn’t they link to this “liberal blogger”? I’m not one to bash the Politico (too much) because I think they do a fairly decent job of covering the Hill and they are a critical resource for me. But hell, don’t they think their readers would have wanted to see these “viral” videos? Don’t they think their readers might like to know where to find more work in a similar vein?
Finally, a word about the “elitism” I spoke of in my previous post. This demonstrates what I mean vividly.
Here I am, wearing out my shoe-leather trying to get a story. And I’ve been doing this for several months now.
In an effort to increase my ability to do this kind of reporting, I’ve exchanged contact information with several Democratic Press Secretaries. I’ve explained that I am a progressive news service and that my goal is to quench a thirst for timely progressive news… that it’s not enough to complain about Fox, Nedra Pickler, John Solomen or an inability to get your message out… that growing a progressive media requires cooperation from the news-makers that want to see the progressive media grow…
Perhaps I’m too impatient… But the truth is that I’m having a really difficult time getting my calls returned from most offices.
That’s something I’d understand if my web videos hadn’t been viewed nearly 500,000 times. But hell, it’s clear my work is reaching people, so it’s difficult for me not to see a certain form of elitism in the Democratic communications establishment.
I’m fairly certain that staid and “safe” publications like The Politico have no trouble getting their calls returned. You return the calls of the folks you see at black-tie dinners; sneaker-wearing bloggers… not so much.
I’m an optimist. I know things will change over time… But you’d think these folks would be eager to see a more responsible and responsive media covering stories that build the progressive narrative.