January 21, 2018

There’s no business like show business . . .and certainly not politics

Sam Smith – The other day I came across a poem I wrote about a week after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate (probably for Roll Call newspaper where I was working at the time):

I’ll Take My Candidate Without Cream or Sugar, Thank You

Pollster, spare that candidate
Give him a chance to run
Free from all percentage points
Safe from statistics’ gun.

Makeup men, leave them alone
Stop your foolish fixin’
Just look at the mess you  made
Painting Mr. Nix’n

Television man, you goofed,
You made the Veep too hot,
You brought poor Dick more age with
A misdirected spot.

Ghostwriters, I do not care
How you’d run the states;
Just let me hear the views of
Unhaunted candidates.

But Dick and John are hidden
A glance is all I see
With too damn many people
Between those two and me.

It turned out that what I would much later describe as the beginning of show business politics I had already sensed at the time. And as the pollsters reported, Nixon won the debates among radio listeners while Kennedy won it on TV. 

Now, some 58 years later, we are experiencing the dismal effects of having declared  politics and show business to be soulmates.   And our major mentor, the TV news media, is one that can’t even differentiate its own role from that of Hollywood or Broadway.  Compare clips of a TV news shouter of today and, say, Walter Cronkite and you’ll see what I mean.

This has been long time coming, and while Trump is clearly the worst beneficiary, it is an old story that just hasn’t been covered well. For example, when the Post in the 1960s changed its woman’s section into “Style” –a concept with which Washington wasn’t all that familiar – politicians found themselves becoming stars rather than servants of the people. And soon the Washington media followed.  

In reality, stars don’t exist. They are an act both on screen and in media coverage.  You have to read things like Radar or In Touch to get a feeling for what they are like off screen.  And since the Washington media increasingly has become a participant in the illusion, it can not offer much relief.

I first became conscious of the true cost of this illusion when during the 1992 primaries I began finding an extraordinary amount  of dirt in the Clinton story. Neither the  Clintons nor Arkansas were how they were described in the mainstream media. What was even more startling was the lack of interest in any of this information by the regular media. I even got banned from a couple of CSPAN appearances and from a Washington public radio station because of what I had reported.  

When Trump came along there was a much greater separation of fact and image, with the latter favored in this case not because the media liked him as they did Clinton, but because Trump was a media star whom you couldn’t really expose without raising questions about the media itself.

And there was something else, Clinton had actually run a government and so  had some important qualifications that Trump did not.

And what happened in the latter’s first year? Another star, Oprah Winfrey, was widely promoted in the media as a leading Democratic alternative. Admittedly, Winfrey was infinitely more decent, intelligent and honest than Trump, but neither of the two had any experience in building highways or preventing a war. 

But we had reached a point where stardom surpassed all other virtues and failures.  And even if there was no real business like show business – and certainly not politics – it no longer mattered.

Fortunately, there are still journalists covering news like it is still news rather than entertainment but we must learn to differentiate between such real coverage and that which seems to think that Donald Trump is still hosting a TV show.

Trump regime allows doctors and hospitals to deny service to transgendered

Boston Globe -This week, officials said they would allow medical professionals and institutions who claim religious objections to deny coverage to transgender people and other individuals.

To be clear, the administration isn’t talking about protecting doctors who don’t want to provide gender reassignment services or abortions, controversial procedures some individuals oppose on sincere religious grounds.

Instead, the sweeping move, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services, appears to open the way for a doctor or nurse to turn away a transgender individual with a broken arm — for no other reason than by their gender identity.

Hospitals working on making cheaper generic drugs

Time - Several major not-for-profit hospital groups are trying their own solution to drug shortages and high prices: creating a company to make cheaper generic drugs.

The plan follows years of shortages of generic injected medicines that are the workhorses of hospitals, along with some huge price increases for once-cheap generic drugs. Those problems drive up costs for hospitals, require staff time to find scarce drugs or devise alternatives, and sometimes mean patients don’t get the best choice.

The not-for-profit drug company initially will be backed by four hospital groups — Intermountain Health, Ascension and two Catholic health systems, Trinity Health and SSM Health — plus the VA health system.

Together, the five groups include more than 450 hospitals, nearly one-tenth of U.S. hospitals. They also run numerous clinics, nursing homes, doctors’ offices and other medical facilities, along with hospice and home care programs and an insurance plan. More health systems are expected to join soon.

Why the Trump disaster will last for years

Naked Capitalism =One year in, the Trump administration continues to set records for the discipline and efficiency with which it is seating federal judges– who have lifetime tenure, and will continue to serve long after the Donald is a bad memory.

As David Lat writes in Above the Law, the administration well understands that the success of advancing its agenda, in the longer term, depends in significant part on the composition of the federal judiciary. Trump cannot replace sitting judges, but he can make sure, going forward, that those who share a similar ideological approach, are ruling on his initiatives and those of his successors,
Many of President Trump’s initiatives might get stuck in Congress, struck down by courts, or undone by his successor — but his appointees to the federal bench, appointed for life, will be around for a long, long time (especially given the administration’s focus on youth  when selecting nominees).

Diary spills beans on Margaret Thatcher

This is a fascinating look by a high official writing about his prime minister.  Your editor has attributed part of the fall of the first American republic to Thatcher's role as Ronald Reagan' brain. 

Daily Mail, UK - Margaret Thatcher wanted to ‘push’ Vietnamese boat people into the sea, ‘loathed’ Germans, and believed South Africa should become a whites-only state.

She disliked men with moustaches because they ‘looked like hairdressers’ – and may have quit as Prime Minister because of husband Denis’s heavy drinking.

That is the controversial portrait painted of her in a new book by Sir Patrick Wright, who was head of the Diplomatic Service at the end of Thatcher’s Downing Street years and at the start of John Major’s term in office.


Percent of union workers low and unchanged

The Hill -New figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday show 10.7 percent of American workers are members of a labor union, unchanged from a year before.

Since 1983, the first year in which the Bureau collected labor union data as part of its Current Population Survey, union membership has declined by almost half. That year, 20.1 percent of American workers were members of a union.

Today, just over a third of public-sector workers are union members, compared with just 6.5 percent of private sector workers.

Department of Good Stuff: Drug war links


Ryan gets half million pay off from Koch Brothers after tax bill passage

Huffington Post -Just days after the House passed its version of the federal tax law slashing corporate tax rates, House Speaker Paul Ryan collected nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions from billionaire energy mogul Charles Koch and his wife, according to a recent campaign donor report.

Koch and his brother David spent millions of dollars to get the tax law passed and are spending millions more in a public relations campaign in an attempt to boost support for the law, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Jazz break