By the time Walter Cronkite died at age 92 (7/17), his era had long passed. Judged “the most trusted man in America” in a 1972 poll, he anchored the CBS Evening News as it rose to become the top-rated network news program but he was pushed out in 1981 when he hit age 65 to make way for Dan Rather, as CBS executives hoped to attract a younger audience. Cronkite expected work as a special correspondent but, other than a short-lived magazine program called Walter Cronkite’s Universe, CBS wasted his experience.

Cronkite was an old-school newsman who had dropped out of the University of Texas in 1935 to take a job at the Houston Post and worked there and as a sportscaster before joining United Press in 1939. For the wire service, he covered World War II, including the D-Day invasion and bombing missions over Germany, as well as the war’s aftermath.

Cronkite turned down Edward R. Murrow’s offer of a job at CBS News in 1943, but he accepted Murrow’s second offer in 1950, at a time when many journalists viewed TV news with skepticism or disdain. As host of The Morning Show on CBS, Cronkite was paired with a puppet named Charlemagne. But Cronkite distinguished himself with his coverage of the 1952 and 1956 political conventions and as narrator of the documentary series 20th Century. In 1961, he took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News, which was then a 15-minute news summary that was a distant second to NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report. (ABC News, with the fewest affiliates, was an even more distant third.) In 1963, the CBS Evening News was expanded to 30 minutes and Cronkite was named managing editor, which gave him more influence over the content and coverage. Two months later, Cronkite broke into the afternoon soap opera, As the World Turns, to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas — and a few minutes later, that the president had died. The image of Cronkite, in his shirtsleeves, taking off his glasses and announcing Kennedy’s death as he struggled to maintain his composure is a classic TV news clip. In 1967, Cronkite passed Huntley-Brinkley in the ratings.

Someone born the year Cronkite retired would be 28 this year and would have no idea how influential he was. But on 2/27/68, after Cronkite returned from a tour of Vietnam after the Tet Offensive and compared what he heard and saw on the battlefront with the official government pronouncements, Cronkite included a rare commentary on the Evening News that called for a negotiated end to the war in Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson remarked that he had lost Middle America; a few weeks later he announced that he would not seek re-election and he started peace talks with the North Vietnamese. Unfortunately, Republican operatives encouraged South Vietnamese officials to resist any deals, promising a better deal if Richard Nixon was elected.

Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, noted that the war continued for five more years, and US forces even invaded Cambodia (under Nixon). “But a US ‘surge’ in troop levels — let alone the nuclear option — was no longer thinkable. American troops eventually started to come home as Vietnamization and negotiation (along with much aerial bombing) eventually took center stage,” Mitchell noted. He also noted that 35 years after Cronkite’s Vietnam commentary, he opposed the US invasion of Iraq in his syndicated column.

During the Apollo 11 flight to the moon, Cronkite was on the air for 27 of the 30 hours of the mission. When US astronauts walked on the moon the night of 7/20/69, an estimated 125 mln Americans watched on TV, with 45% watching Cronkite on CBS, 33% NBC and 12% ABC. On an average night in 1970, 8.5 mln households were tuned into Cronkite, 8 mln watched Huntley-Brinkley and 4.5 mln watched ABC. But that was before cable news and the Internet, as well as work schedules that made it harder to get home in time to watch the evening news. In 1984-85, 44.8% of households watched network affiliates and 3.6% watched basic cable. Basic cable surpassed network affiliates in 2003-04 — but many of those cable viewers are not tuning in the news at all. In July news rankings, NBC had 7.8 mln viewers, ABC 7 mln viewers, CBS 5.29 mln viewers, Fox News 1.4 mln, CNN 891,000, MSNBC 591,00.

OBAMA ON HEALTH REFORM: TRUST US. President Obama in a conference call (7/20) advised progressive bloggers not to be alarmed if House and Senate health bills are different and missing some key points. They will have to be reconciled in a conference committee, which is where the serious negotiation will take place, he noted. “Conference is where these differences will get ironed out,” he said. “And that’s where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren’t losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using. But I’m not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up. But I am going to be insisting we get something done.”

Obama also said he is open to using the reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to pass the health reform with a simple majority vote as long as it is considered part of the budget. Of course, he still prefers to proceed with at least 60 votes to shut down Republican filibusters under the regular order of business. “And I feel confident that we could pass a bill in the absence of reconciliation.” But just in case ...

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein divined from Obama’s comments that “the underlying argument was that liberals should have some faith that a disappointing draft out of the Senate Finance Committee is not the end of the process, and they should not lose heart.” In other words, “Trust us.” On the other hand, Klein noted, “actually getting health-care reform to conference would be further than any president has gotten ever. If the White House can shepherd this effort that far, maybe it will deserve some trust.”

GM JETTISONS RETIREE HEALTH COSTS. Unions are protesting a bankruptcy judge’s approval of a plan to allow the new GM to stop providing health coverage for 55,000 retirees at GM and GM Delphi plants. IUE-CWA, United Steelworkers and the Operating Engineers (IUOE) are appealing the plan. The unions sponsored a series of newspaper ads, featuring retirees like Debra Turner, a GM retiree who suffers from multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis but at 51 is not eligible for Medicare. Until now, GM paid most of the $3,400 a month in medicines she has to take, as the cost of insurance —$8,000 a year — is out of reach. UAW retirees at GM were able to keep their health care, but that union is backing the allied unions’ efforts.

James Parks at blog.aflcio.org noted (7/17) that the US Treasury Department, as purchaser of GM, determined which liabilities and assets would be transferred to the new company and which would stay behind in the bankrupt company. According to the union, a member of the administration’s auto taskforce told the bankruptcy hearing there was no “commercial necessity” for the new company to pick up the liability for these retirees. Court documents obtained during discovery also show that GM decided to cut retiree health care by 87% so it could leave executive pension and salaried health care largely intact with only 32% and 25% reductions, respectively, the unions claim. Steelworkers’ President Leo Gerard said the unions “hope our federal government will come to its senses on fairness for the former GM workers who contributed nothing less than the autoworkers to the fortunes of the company.”

‘CARD CHECK’ DROPPED FROM LABOR BILL. Democrats have dropped “card-check” from the Employee Free Choice Act in hopes of reviving the labor law reform bill that is the top priority of unions but is fiercely resisted by business groups. Several pro-business Democratic senators objected to “card check,” which would recognize a union when a majority of employees sign union cards. The union busters insist that employees should have the right to a secret ballot to prevent coercion. Under the new draft, as reported by the New York Times (7/17), elections would be held within 5-10 days after the union turned in cards signed by 30% of workers. In the meantime, workers could not be forced to attend mandatory meetings but unions could campaign on company property during the election period. If the employer fired union supporters, the union would be entitled to quicker relief than the current slow procedures of the National Labor Relations Board. And with recognition, employers would have to negotiate a first contract or submit to independent arbitration. Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), has led a group of six Dems who worked closely with labor to revamp the bill, Steve Greenhouse reported. The others are Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Thomas R. Carper (Del.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), and Arlen Specter (Pa.). AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale told Politico.com the labor federation is still “very optimistic about passing the strongest labor law reform since the Wagner Act [which set up the NLRB] — one that lets workers choose to join a union without intimidation or harassment, ensures that workers who join a union get a first contract, and has meaningful penalties for violations.” Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees, said he is still expecting a vote in both chambers on the card check provision, to get members on the record.

Former labor lawyer Nathan Newman noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com, “This is worlds away from the present situation where elections take well over a month at minimum and often far longer, while mandatory meetings and firings destroy union support and any penalties come in months and even years later for employer actions — and the costs to the employer from those penalties are so minimal that they act as no deterrence. If anyone wants a frame for this new labor law, it’s simple — cracking down on illegal corporate behavior during union elections. The bill becomes a “tough on crime” bill, pure and simple. It’s not everything labor wants and it’s a dramatic compromise to placate conservative Democrats, but it would be a major improvement for workers rights if it passed in this form.”

KRISTOL: ‘NO’ WORKS FOR GOP. Once again Republican operative Bill Kristol is urging the GOP to stand firm against health care reform. “With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible,” he wrote in the Weekly Standard. “My advice, for what it’s worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill.” Kristol correctly perceived that passage of health care reform in 1993 would have revived the reputation of the Democrats as the protector of middle-class interests. Blocking the Clinton administration’s efforts at health reform was the path to victory in the 1994 mid-term elections, when the GOP regained control of the House.

“The argument is much the same this year,” Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wrote (7/20). “And Kristol isn’t alone in his question. As Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said on a recent conference call with Conservatives for Patient Rights, ‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.’ But the question isn’t whether Republicans understand the power of successful opposition. It’s whether Democrats understand the dangers of failure. And that’s most true for the Democrats who are most likely to weaken the effort: The Democrats who are cool to health-care reform because they fear the conservative tilt of their state are the Democrats who will lose their seats if Obama loses his momentum and the Democratic majority begins to lose on its major initiatives. Legislative defeats will not threaten Henry Waxman’s seat. But it will imperil Mary Landrieu’s. And Ben Nelson’s.”

Klein concluded, “Bill Kristol is right that defeating Obama’s health-care plan is a first step for Republicans who want to pick off vulnerable Democrats in the 2010 midterms. But the converse is also true: Passing health-care reform is the first step for vulnerable Democrats who want to save their seats.”

Obama slammed the GOP’s obstructionism (7/20), singling out DeMint’s “Waterloo” comment: “Just the other day, one Republican senator said — and I’m quoting him now — ‘If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.’ Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America’s families, breaking America’s businesses, and breaking American’s economy. We can’t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care. Not this time, not now.”

BUDGET CUTS BREAK CAL IMPASSE. California Republicans forced the Democratic majority in the California legislature to submit to a deal that closed the state’s $26 bln deficit with spending cuts, accounting tricks and taking $4 bln from local governments. The state constitution, as amended by Proposition 13 in 1978, requires a two-thirds supermajority to approve any tax increase, so a minority of Republicans was able to prevent the Legislature from adopting the budget without massive cuts in state services. That forced the state to issue IOUs to state workers since early July, resulting in the state’s credit to be downgraded to near junk-bond status. Some of the cuts may lead to higher costs in the long term. For example, Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) proposed to eliminate home health car workers for the elderly. The cut is intended to save $170 mln, but healthcare advocates noted that any savings would be wiped out if 20% of the recipients are forced into nursing homes. Schwarzenegger also wanted to eliminate a welfare-to-work program, cut state workers’ pay 5% and he proposed to sell office buildings and lease them back. “Democrats have caved and given Arnold Schwarzenegger what he wanted — a cuts-only budget that does massive and lasting damage to the state of California, to the people who live here, and to our collective future,” Robert Cruikshank wrote at Calitics.com. “It’s taken 31 years, but Howard Jarvis [author of Proposition 13] is finally going to get the wholesale destruction of public services he always wanted.”

BANKS MISUSED BAILOUT FUNDS. Many of the banks that got federal aid to support increased lending have instead used the money to make investments, repay debts or buy other banks, the inspector general of the bank bailout reported, according to the Washington Post (7/20). Of 360 surveyed banks, 110 invested at least some of the money, 52 repaid debts and 15 used the funds to buy other banks. Roughly 80%, or 300 banks, said at least some of the money supported new lending. Since October, the government has invested more than $200 bln in more than 600 banks under the Troubled Assets Relief Program. The program was supposed to increase the capital reserves of healthy banks, allowing them to make more loans, but from the beginning the government invested in troubled banks, such as Citigroup, that had publicly announced intentions to reduce lending.

NEW GENERATION’S CHALLENGE: CLEAN ENERGY. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, which was remembered as a testament to the nation’s ability to rise up and meet the challenge set forth by President Kennedy and succeed in the “greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked,” ThinkProgress.org’s Lee Fang noted (7/20) that not all were united behind the Apollo effort. For example, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) denounced what he called the “extravagant spending for the man on the moon program.”

“In this century,” Fang wrote, “President Obama similarly issued a bold challenge for our generation. Obama has called for ‘affordable, renewable sources of energy’ to soon end our dependence on fossil fuels — the leading cause of climate change — and oil from the Middle East. But just as Kennedy had detractors in the form of legislators like Goldwater, Obama faces a chorus of entrenched special interests and conservative naysayers who hope to derail a clean energy economy by proclaiming American cannot accomplish it:

Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), called proponents of a cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon pollution “stuck on fantasies [...] Unfortunately, many of the supporters of green energy never mention that it is unrealistic.”

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) smeared clean energy reform, calling the notion of green jobs “as real as the Jolly Green giant.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has slammed clean energy reform as “unrealistic” and “expensive.”

But Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the Clean Energy bill, declared (7/20), “As with the space program, this new mission will revitalize our economy, create jobs, and spur research, development, and innovation.”

‘BIRTHER’ HOISTED ON DEPLOYMENT DOUBLE-CROSS. In the latest chapter of the “Birther” movement, which claims that Barack Obama is not eligible to be president because “Birthers” don’t believe he was born in Hawaii, a major in the US Army Reserve challenged the deployment to Afghanistan for which he had volunteered only two months earlier. Maj. Stefan Cook requested deployment to Afghanistan (5/8), but he sued in federal court in Georgia (7/9), claiming that his deployment to Afghanistan was illegal because of doubts about President Obama’s birthplace. Cook claims Obama was not born in the United States. Hawaii officials disagree, noting that Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961, two years after it became a state, as Obama’s birth certificate clearly attests. Cook’s attorney, Orly Taitz, who has challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency in other courts, sought a temporary restraining order and status as a conscientious objector for her client. But the Army noted that since Cook had volunteered for the duty, his orders were simply revoked. The federal court dismissed the suit. And Cook lost his defense contracting job with Simtech Inc. because of questions about his security clearance.

Taitz, a dentist in Laguna Niquel, Calif., and a native of the Soviet republic of Moldova who immigrated to the US in 1987 and got her law degree from an online academy, has called for an insurrection against Obama in her blog (1/17): “I hope that the men in this country, particularly in our military will finally revolt against this travesty of Justice,” she wrote.

PALIN BURNISHES RIGHT-WING CRED. Before she stepped down as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin signed a resolution passed by her state’s legislature that aligns her with the “state sovereignty” movement, a growing force on the right-wing fringe. In short, Alex Koppelman noted at Salon.com (7/21), the resolution refers to the Constitution’s 10th Amendment — the one that reserves any powers not expressly given to the federal government to the people or the states — and says that the feds have been encroaching on Alaska’s rights. “This resolution serves as Notice and Demand to the federal government to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.” Koppelman noted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports a similar resolution and supporters of the movement are often wrong about the law and what Congress is allowed to do under the Constitution. “Plus, the resolution is completely toothless.”

Perhaps not. Catherine Crabill, a Republican nominee for the Virginia House of Delegates, said Obama is destroying our freedom and conservatives will be forced to the “bullet box” if they can’t win at the “ballot box.” In a speech expressing support for the sovereignty movement, available at DailyKosTV.com (7/17), Crabill said she would follow the example of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and declare Virginia’s sovereignty from the United States. “What we need to decide here and now is not only what is worth living for, but what is worth dying for. And it is time to make that determination because we may very well be called to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. In fact, I think, I think that’s what the clarion call is for this day.”

REPUBS HAVE NO USE FOR EMPATHY. After Senate Republicans criticized Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s supposed excess of empathy and made it a talking point in criticizing her nomination to the Supreme Court, a friend noted the following quote from Capt. G.M. Gilbert, the Army psychologist assigned to watch Nazi defendants at the Nuremberg trials following World War II: “In my work with the defendants I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it: a lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

‘RESCUE’ FOUNDER WARNS OF ANTI-ABORTION TERRORISM. Randall Terry, founder of the right-wing extremist group Operation Rescue, warns that his supporters may engage in violent acts of terrorism unless Congress prohibits abortion services from being covered in the new health reform legislation. “If the government of this country tramples the faith and values of its citizens, history will hold those in power responsible for the violent convulsions that follow.”ThinkProgress.org noted (7/20) that while Terry is probably the first public figure to raise terrorism as a response to the health reform bill, many conservative lawmakers are pushing a “poison pill” amendment that would forbid any plan offered within a national health insurance exchange from providing coverage for abortion services. That despite a national survey conducted for the Naitnoal Women’s Law Center that found 71% of Americans oppose an amendment that would cut off women’s access to reproductive care.

OBAMA’S TIPPLING DRAWS ‘SCRUTINY.’ This just in: Republicans are complaining that Barack Obama takes a drink now and then. Amie Parnes reported at Politico.com (7/17) that Obama is “under scrutiny for drinking.” She noted that Obama has enjoyed beer, wine, martinis, sparkling wine and margaritas since moving into the Executive Mansion. She also noted that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, “refrained from cracking open a cold one in or out of the White House.” But after Obama was seen with a beer in hand at a Washington Wizards-Chicago Bulls basketball game in February, callers lit up the lines at WWL, a sports radio station in New Orleans, La.

“People are losing 5, 10, 20,000 dollars a day in the stock market, and he’s sitting there drinking a beer,” one caller said. “It’s insulting. There’s a lot of people suffering.” Another caller complained, “The president is the president 24 hours a day. I don’t think he should drink on the job.”

Dylan Matthews of TNR.com noted that the reason Bush didn’t drink is because he’s a recovering alcoholic. TNR.com’s Jonathan Chait recalled that Obama came “under scrutiny” last year because of reports he didn’t drink beer, which pundits said could alienate blue-collar voters.

GOP FED HOLDOVER TARGETS N.C. DEMS. US Attorney George Holding, a holdover appointee of former President George W. Bush, has been allowed to keep his job while he pursues investigations into some of the state’s top Democrats, including former Sen. John Edwards and former Gov. Mike Easley and his wife, Mike Baker of the Associated Press reported (7/17). Holding, a protege of late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) won’t confirm investigations in the Eastern District, but subpoenas indicate his office is looking into Easley’s travel and his wife’s job at North Carolina State University. And Edwards has acknowledged a federal probe into his presidential campaign funds. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) has recommended that the White House not replace Holding until he completes the ongoing investigations, AP reported.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2009

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