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Archive for January, 2011

Sad Farewell to “Countdown with Keith Olbermann”

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

That is the full text of MSNBC’s official announcement of the abrupt cancellation of the network’s highest-rated show.

File Under “WTF?!”

Just about everyone seems surprised—even though Olbermann was briefly suspended in November after it was disclosed that without network approval he had contributed to the political campaigns of several Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2010 midterm elections (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in Tucson on Jan. 8). Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo, who was a guest on the program, titles his post “What the Hell Was That About?

I was just on in the opening segment of Olbermann tonight. And I get home and get this press release from NBC saying this was the last episode of Countdown. At first I figured it had to be a spoof email because, jeez, I was on and I didn’t have any sense that any other than a regular Friday evening show was on. But sure enough I pulled up the recording and now I’m watching his final sign off.

Comcast Purchase of NBC a “Disaster for Democracy”

The American press is vague as to the source of the decision—was it voluntary?—but Olbermann himself, in his brief but gracious farewell address, refers up front to “what I’ve been told, that this is the last edition of your show.” That’s pretty clear English to us. And, for more plain English, the Guardian (UK) says it was the network’s decision: “Keith Olbermann dropped by NBC: Keith Olbermann, the controversial MSNBC cable news host, has his contract abruptly terminated by parent company NBC.” Keith went on to thank his loyal audience:

My gratitude to you is boundless and if you think I’ve done any good here, imagine how it looked from this end. . . . This may be the only television program wherein the host was much more in awe of the audience than vice versa.

We tend to assume that network executives, whether or not they possess soul or conscience, are at least business-savvy. In this instance we pause to reconsider. Cancelling the highest-rated host, the anchor of the network’s prime time lineup, midway through a four-year contract? MSNBC denies any connection between the Countdown cancellation and the recently approved purchase of NBC Universal by Comcast (though not approved by Sen. Al Franken, a former NBC employee). Comcast, too, issued a statement denying any influence in the matter. Juan Cole points to the merger’s removal of Olbermann’s patron and protector Jeff Zucker, the former head of NBC programming.

New York Times media reporter Bill Carter quotes law professor Marvin Ammori, a former adviser to the nonprofit group Free Press, who opposed the merger as bad for democracy:

Keith Olbermann’s announcement tonight, the very same week that the government blessed the Comcast-NBC merger, raises serious concern for anyone who cares about free speech. Comcast proved expert in shaking down the government to approve its merger. Comcast’s shakedown of NBC has just begun.

Taking Countdown’s 8:00 p.m. slot will be The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (possibly to be retitled as it’s moving from 10:00 p.m.). Will the ratings plummet? What is the rapport between O’Donnell and the very popular Rachel Maddow? The “toss” from Keith to Rachel has a casual, friendly tone; what’s the relationship going to be now? (Click here for Rachel’s brief remarks on Real Time with Bill Maher.) Lawrence O’Donnell is knowledgeable about politics, and telegenic, but as a host and as an interviewer he has frequently come across as bullying, overbearing, and lacking in the self-deprecating sense of humor that Keith Olbermann often displayed (though he too tends to come on strong when he’s hot under the collar).

So, we wonder, will it be “liberal business as usual” around MSNBC? Is this indeed only the beginning of a shakedown? Who will be the next to go? Will the others feel a chill and thought-police themselves? We do not expect Rachel Maddow, for one, to curb her enthusiasm for progressive causes.

“Good Night, and Good Luck”

We regret the departure, not only for Mr. Olbermann personally, but also for his many, many viewers—who showed their love in November in demanding that MSNBC immediately bring him back on the air—and for the good causes he promoted. We salute him for drawing attention to critical issues many others shied away from: Keith Olbermann was the sole voice on mainstream TV demanding to know what exactly happened in the fishy “reelection” of George W. Bush in 2004, particularly in Ohio and with the suspect Diebold electronic voting machines. He kept the pressure on the Bush administration’s illegitimate war in Iraq and the arrogance of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Republican party’s shady dealings political and financial, when no one else in the mainstream media was speaking up. As David Brock, founder of Media Matters for America, writes:

For nearly eight years, Countdown with Keith Olbermann led the charge against conservative misinformation in prime time. He was one of the few voices in the media willing to hold the Bush administration accountable and fight the right-wing smears against progressives and their policies.

Levees Not War also applauds Keith Olbermann for his promotion of the Free Health Clinics in New Orleans, Little Rock, and Kansas City organized by the National Association of Free Clinics. His efforts helped raise $2 million for the free clinics, and he always praised the viewing audience for their life-saving generosity.

Toward the end of his last night on Countdown, Olbermann read a short story by James Thurber, as he often does on Friday evenings. (He had read Thurber stories to his father late last year when he was dying in the hospital; Mr. Olbermann suggested that Keith read the stories to his TV audience, too.) Keith read “The Scotty Who Knew Too Much” (1940), which ends with the moral, “It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers.”

Thank you, Keith Olbermann, for asking some of the hardest questions during some of the hardest times.

And good luck.

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Rev. King and Gun Violence: “Study War No More”

Monday, January 17th, 2011


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“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” April 4, 1967

Following the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson last weekend, we have been thinking about how the national addiction to guns is indistinguishable from America’s seemingly insatiable appetite (or tolerance) for war. What explains the sense of power, omnipotence, and what’s the source of the fear and insecurity that underlie the impulse to have and to hold firearms? (Some clues might be found in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine; Eugene Jarecki’s book The American Way of War and his film Why We Fight; Tom Engelhardt’s The American Way of War; and Robert J. Spitzer’s The Politics of Gun Control.)

This past week the Pentagon asserted that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would support the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, said on Jan. 13:

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

We don’t read King’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” in quite the same way Mr. Johnson seems to do. We invite you to read it yourself, and click on the video link below, and see how understanding of this 10-year war you think the Nobel Peace Prize–winning Reverend King would be.

Click here for a link to a detailed and revealing interview with Dr. King (a polite grilling, actually) about his antiwar views on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967. Toward the end King is asked whether he is a communist; his reply puts the question firmly to rest.

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On this day of national commemoration of the life and work of a man of peace who was slain by gunfire, and only two months after the anniversary of the assassination by gunfire of a peace-seeking president, we feel a strengthened commitment to speak out and work against the too-easy access to guns in our troubled nation, just as we are dedicated to working toward peace abroad and at home. “National security begins at home.”

Please phone members of Congress and urge them to support new common-sense gun control legislation being prepared by New York congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and by New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg. Rep. McCarthy’s (D-NY) bill would reinstate the ban on large-capacity clips for automatic weapons that expired in 2004. (The Republican-controlled Congress opted to let the ban lapse.) Ms. McCarthy’s husband was one of five passengers killed and her son was critically injured by a man carrying an automatic weapon on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.) This bill is a reasonable start, but even common-sense measures are routinely resisted by the gun rights lobby (NRA).

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•  Click here and here for previous tributes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

•  See our posting “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (July 7, 2010) about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of a “guns-in-church” bill that authorizes individuals who qualify to carry concealed weapons in “any church, synagogue, or mosque, or other similar place of worship.”

•  See also “‘Kill the Bill’ vs. ‘Stop the War’: A Tale of Two Protests



A Letter from Senator Mary Landrieu

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

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Landrieu on Her Reluctant Vote for the Republican Obama Tax Deal

In December during the fight against renewal of the Bush tax cuts (now the Republican Obama tax cuts) for millionaires and billionaires, we posted a tribute to Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s strong condemnation of the immoral giveaway and wrote to her to say thank you

for your strong words . . . against the Obama-McConnell tax plan. Levees Not War has posted a ‘tip of the hat” (“If we had three hats we’d tip them all to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu . . .”) and we’ve urged our readers to contact your office to thank you for standing up for “justice and doing what’s right.”

. . . We’re concerned that if the tax cuts are extended, their cost to the Treasury will be used (again) as a rationale for cutting Social Security, Medicare, health care reform, and other social safety-net programs. As Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont has written in his letter to Speaker Pelosi, “Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.” This is wicked policy and cannot be abetted by Democrats.

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Senator Landrieu sent a reply, and we wanted to share some of her remarks:

On December 17, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Authorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, extending the lower income tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2004 for two more years.

Although this tax package was not perfect, I strongly supported portions of the legislation directed towards extending tax relief to middle-class families and small businesses including the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the employer-provided child care tax credit, which were set to expire on December 31, 2010. You may be interested to know that this legislation provides income tax relief for more than 98% of Louisiana families. In addition, the legislation also contains a necessary extension of long-term unemployment benefits to help Americans who are out of work pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed their families while they look for a job. For these reasons I voted in favor of this legislation.

This bill also extended several Gulf Opportunity (GO) Zone tax provisions that will mean almost $1 billion in Gulf Coast construction activity and jobs. In the next Congress, I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass a bipartisan provision that will extend the GOZone Low-Income Housing Tax Credit through 2012 so that critical recovery projects will not be stalled or completely shelved.

Even with the benefits for the middle class and the people of Louisiana, this legislation has much room for improvement and I hope that changes can be made during the next Congress. Please rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress debates tax legislation in the future. . . .

P. S. : I am excited to announce that my office is launching new e-newsletters to keep you updated on what I am working on here in Washington, D.C.

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When Vermont senator Bernie Sanders held the floor of the Senate for eight and a half hours on Dec. 10 to denounce the tax cut extension—a diatribe so popular that it temporarily shut down the Senate’s web video server—Ms. Landrieu was one of the Democrats, along with Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who joined Mr. Sanders in speaking out against Obama’s misguided deal with Senate Republicans. We salute their stand. We vote for Democrats Who Fight.

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Now Entering 2011: Wishes + Promises for the New Year

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

“Here and now I want to make myself clear about those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls. They say that those on relief are not merely jobless—that they are worthless. Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation. To use the language of the stock broker, our needy unemployed would be care for when, as, and if, some fairy godmother should happen on the scene.

“You and I will continue to refuse to accept that estimate of our unemployed fellow Americans. Your Government is still on the same side of the street with the Good Samaritan and not with those who pass by on the other side.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, draft of “New Deal” speech accepting Democratic party nomination (1932); facsimile in When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy (Rizzoli, 2009), p. 20

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We wish you our readers a good new year in 2011: good luck, steady employment, safe travels, fun with family, and all those good things. We also wish for all a government both at the local and state level and at the national level that takes care of its people—particularly the poor and powerless. This is never the “given,” but the ideal we strive for.

Just as FDR in July 1932 pledged to the nation “a new deal for the American people” (see below), we on a much more modest level promise persistent efforts to push public officials to protect the people, the land, the nation with investments in infrastructure, environmental stewardship, public health and education programs, and so on—and to end the wars that are wasting our nation’s energies and resources, especially our human resources. (Yes, we have our work cut our for us, but we’re not alone.)

“We Must Rebuild Our Strength Here at Home”

So much remains to be done. As ever, we hold that “National Security Begins at Home.” We believe that deep down our president understands this, but he is pushed and driven by powerful forces insisting on War Forever. As Obama said at West Point in December 2009, “we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” We’re not sure how sincerely he meant that—or his semi-pledge to draw down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011—but we mean to hold him to his words.

We also mean to support the president when we can (actively, vocally), to give him the progressive backing to be all he can be. We want to help him because the opposition he’ll be facing in the new 112th Congress is likely to be incessant, poisonous, and directly opposed to the humane ideals that the Democratic Party at its best represents—values expressed above by President Roosevelt and stated eloquently the official version of his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in July 1932:

As we enter this new battle, let us keep always present with us some of the ideals of the Party: The fact that the Democratic Party by tradition and by the continuing logic of history, past and present, is the bearer of liberalism and of progress and at the same time of safety to our institutions. And if this appeal fails, remember well, my friends, that a resentment against the failure of Republican leadership . . . to solve our troubles may degenerate into unreasoning radicalism. . . .

What do the people of America want more than anything else? To my mind, they want two things: work, with all the moral and spiritual values that go with it; and with work, a reasonable measure of security–security for themselves and for their wives and children. Work and security—these are more than words. They are more than facts. They are the spiritual values, the true goal toward which our efforts of reconstruction should lead. . . .

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