Crazy-making: A look at 3 aspects of the news

The quality of news coverage itself is deteriorating, but worse is the decline in our ability to address topics as diverse as the ownership of the LA Dodgers, tax reform, and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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Afghan National Police in a training exercise.

The quality of news coverage itself is deteriorating, but worse is the decline in our ability to address topics as diverse as the ownership of the LA Dodgers, tax reform, and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I don't know about you, but there are things that drive me nuts.

I recently spent nearly 48 hours watching Fox News and MSNBC to the exclusion of other electronic news sources. Two supposed news channels peddling non-stop partisan and ideological propaganda.

The exercise was particularly painful for me because, in the old days, I had known both present Fox and MSNBC headliners in their earlier incarnations as old-style journalist and White House and legislative staff member, respectively. (I had been a frequent default guest on both networks in the 1990s because my D.C. office was minutes away from their studios and I could show up on short notice). Both men, in their networks' infancy, had been doing an objective, professional job.

Bothered by the two channels, I then began compiling a mental list of other things that were driving me nuts.  You may or may not share some of them.

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers sale: The so-called Magic Johnson group recently purchased the Dodgers for a record price of $2.35 billion — double the highest price previously paid for a professional sports franchise — from Frank McCourt, whose mismanagement and massive personal spending of team funds had sent the franchise into bankruptcy.

Part of the deal involved the purchasers' assumption of more than $400 million in debt run up by McCourt. At the end of the day, McCourt walked away with what amounted to nearly $1 billion for himself.

McCourt's unearned bounty was only the first reason for surprise, however. Research by New York Times  business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin disclosed that the real principal purchasers, Mark Walter and his firm Guggenheim Partners, were planning to use money for the purchase from Guggenheim Partners' insurance companies, some state-regulated. Was this a prudent or even permissible use of insurance-company funds? Walter earlier had been quoted in The Times as stating, "I don't want to realize a return on investment on buying the Dodgers." Say what?

The next highest bidder for the Dodgers, fund manager Steven Cohen, offered $500 million less than the Johnson/Walter group. Even Cohen's offer was considered extravagant and beyond the Dodgers' present and prospective value. One can envisage possible lawsuits from several directions over the transaction and, possibly, Securities and Exchange Commission and state-insurance commission inquiries.

Fox's Prime Ticket, which owns the Dodger TV rights, filed an objection Tuesday (April 10) in U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking written assurances that its competitor, Time Warner, was not contributing money for Guggenheim Baseball Management's purchase of the team and asked for parts of the purchase agreement not filed with the court. Major League Baseball also filed an objection, stating that the team had set aside only $322,000 to pay for its debt of at least $8 million to MLB.

A hearing to confirm the sale agreement is scheduled for Friday before a U.S. Bankruptcy judge. Did the lords of baseball perform due diligence in examining and discarding multiple offers before approving the Johnson/Walter group's? Commissioner Bud Selig, the former Milwaukee auto dealer who entered baseball by pirating the Pilots from Seattle, is known as an empty yes man for a small group of influential owners.  This is beyond his pay grade.

  • Dishonest political posturing on a marginal issue: Exhibit A at the moment is the dueling postures of President Barack Obama, and his Republican opposition, in debating the tax rate to be paid by the richest Americans.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, doing a little personal grandstanding, set all this off months ago by stating that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary — not surprising since most of Buffett's income, presumably, comes from investments while his secretary's no doubt comes from salary. Obama and congressional Democrats have run with the issue. A U.S. Senate vote will take place next Monday (as the income tax filing deadline comes up) on legislation to establish a 30 percent minimum tax rate on those earning more than $1 million per year.

The legislation is expected to fail but to provide grist for Democrats in their continuing emphasis on tax increases for the wealthy (and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on Dec. 31). Republicans argue that the minimum tax would impede job-creating investment by upper-income folk.

I have little patience for either argument. There are many ways for the wealthy, at any level, to shelter their taxable income and thus avoid the tax.  It also is questionable just how much job-creating investment would be stifled by the new rate for the $1-miilion-a-year and over crowd. Not much, is my guess. The ultimate irony lies in the fact that enactment of the so-called Buffett Rule would generate estimated revenue equaling less than 1 percent of the deficits projected in Obama budgets over the next 10 years.

I keep wondering why the GOP does not also support the legislation, since it means so little substantively. To appropriate the old description of college-faculty politics: The struggle is so intense because the stakes are so small. A far more serious and substantive argument, from all sides, should take place over Obama's current proposal to increase capital-gains tax rates. But, right now, debate about the trivial is overshadowing discussion of the significant.

  • Our continuing negotiations with the Afghan government about U.S. forces' continuing role after their official departure date in 2014: Already the present Afghan government, Taliban leaders, and regional tribal leaders are discussing how power and spoils will be divided in the short term. Why should we want to have forces present in 2014 and beyond? For what purpose? At what price?

President Obama is stuck with his publicly declared timetable for a U.S. disengagement. But he should welcome any reason for a clearout sooner. The end result is likely to be the same whether we withdraw tomorrow or several years from now. We have no vital interests at stake there and there is no justification for continuing expenditures of American lives and money. Our NATO partners will embarrass us by withdrawals well ahead of our own.

Neighboring Pakistan is important; so is neighboring Iran. But not Afghanistan. On considering its strategic importance, one is reminded of Henry Kissinger's famous description of Argentina's strategic importance: a dagger aimed at the heart of Antarctica.

Our presence in Afghanistan is no more necessary now than it was in Lebanon and Somalia when we cleared out of those places — and certainly less than it was in Iraq when we finally departed there. Even previously hawkish national Republican leaders are beginning to question our continuing Afghan role.

Obama should declare victory and leave the longest military engagement in our history.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of