TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Hello, good morning, and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the political news prattling that will occupy the television for a few hours as we all wait for BREAKING BAD to come on. My name is Jason, and we are continuing along in this "slow news month" of August when I wish we could all just take a long vacation. Speaking of, actually, while I won't be on vacation, this liveblog shall be dormant next Sunday, the 18th of August, because I will be traveling between places and won't have access to soul-killing political talk shows. That should be the last Sunday for a while in which I pull a George Stephanopoulos, though. Thanks to all of you for being patient with me over this summer of many breaks. I promise it will pay off down the line when I don't have a Meet The Press-induced psychotic break as soon as you might expect.

As usual, here are fun things to do: converse in the comments, drop me a line if you need anything, follow me on Twitter if you're a glutton for punishment, and check out the "Sunday Reads" section of my Rebel Mouse page if you get bored waiting for me to update this blog. Cool? Okay, let's begin.


Wait, what am I doing? Well, some time ago, when I was lamenting the end of THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW, I asked you guys if I should get back to watching this show, since it's short and usually pretty schizo. To be honest, I don't know why I stopped watching it? I think that I went through this phase where I was like, "You know what? I think I should start taking Sunday morning political television really seriously." And because THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP usually featured a lot of dumb shouting, and digressions into space travel, and also I had to endure super-dummy Mort Zuckerman, I felt like the show wasn't up to snuff, like I was some kind of snob or something.

Now it's my only 30-minute option left, with THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW put out to pasture and FACE THE NATION deservedly getting extended to an hour. When I asked you guys what I should do, there was a lot of enthusiasm for recapping this show. I mean, there is also enthusiasm for recapping UP WITH, but I think deep down most of you recognize that the whole point of this thing is to recap the TERRIBLE shows, not the good ones.

There was, like, ONE dude who was like, "No, don't watch McLaughlin Group, it sucks." I guess I am going to disappoint that guy. Cheer up, though, I feel that on balance I am mostly a disappointment.

Also from time to time Ryan Grim is on this show and it will be fun to give him a hard time.

Okay, so lets get into the sharpest minds and the best sources and the hardest talk, because what I need right now is some hard talk. Hard as blood diamonds. Hard as the Perseid meteor shower. We begin with US-Russo relations, and whether or not they will "RESET OR RUPTURE." Can we GET WITH these Russians? Sppon them, with cuddles?

Probably not, because Barack Obama just cancelled a summit with the increasingly shirtless Vladimir Putin, a move that Julia Ioffe says is very smart, and that also caused Lawrence O'Donnell to yell at her, because he is an idiot. Fun fact: the very first person to ever get angry over this liveblog was Lawrence O'Donnell because he was on this show yelling about something and I was like, "Woah, woah, calm down there, Captain Loose Cannon," and he didn't like that at all, but what is he going to do about it? LOL, Nothing, that's what.

McLaughlin says that there are a bunch of "points of friction" between us and the Russians worth noting, including the whole Snowden fiasco and also the Russians taking the other side in both the Iranian nuclear-enrichment program and the Assad regime's "let's kill a bunch of Syrians" program.

But what is the Super King Of The Sticking Points? Pat Buchanan, who is still alive, I can now confirm, says that the latest thing, the Snowden thing, is the real bad thing at this point. Because, you know, if there was some dude from Russia hanging out in LaGuardia with a bunch of Putin's secrets, we would totally be like, "bros before disclose" and send that dude right on back home, and then Putin would take his shirt off and beckon, "Hey, guy, thanks for doing me a solid, come and get some. That's right. Firm, isn't it? Yeah, yeah, just get LOST in my pecs, bro. Stay there a year. It's your safe place."

Anyway, "coming out of Afghanistan we have to go through Soviet territory," Buchanan says, indicating that when we leave Afghanistan we will not just travel in space but travel in time, also. He thinks that "blowing off a summit" is serious business, because of all the other summits that we didn't blow off despite having really bad relations.

Eleanor Clift says that there were different stakes, then, because the two countries "were pretty evenly matched" and it was a meeting of "two superpowers." Since those days, Russia got a lot crappier, and the United States has followed suit, becoming a hollowed out crust of it's former sense where most people are on the brink of poverty.

Tim Carney, who is an improvement over Monica Crowley, reckons that the United States is nevertheless doing better than Russia economically, and that this is like Putin being the guy who is losing a race demanding a debate from the guy who is winning. (So Putin is Newt Gingrich.)

Morty is pretty sure that Putin is a "very very tough guy" and we "have to be very careful with this guy" and we "can't let him push us around."

Buchanan says that Russia is a "significant power" and Reagan and Nixon would never let is have a "rupture" with them. He is, I think, stuck in the Afghanistan time tunnel.

Because McLaughlin wants to show how obscure he can be, he makes sure there is a discussion on the Magnitsky Act and how much it annoys Putin. Then there is a seamless transition to a Jay Leno clip.

In the clip, Obama tells Leno that the Russians aren't all bad and sometimes they can be really cool, but other times they "slip back into that cold war thinking." It's like the old guy at the bar who remembers how awesome it was when his rock band played that bar. Basically, Vladimir Putin is living his own Hold Steady song. There are times when he thinks Viktor Chernomyrdin was right. Boys and girls in Russia have such a sad time together.

Mort is still like, "PUTIN IS TOUGH, HE IS TOUGH, SO TOUGH, TOUGH LIKE JERKY. AND NEARLY AS SALTY." Buchanan goes on a lengthy monologue about how Russia used to be so cool, and that we totally antagonized them. Carney quips: "It's the Pat Buchanan apology tour!" Then there is some yelling.

Will there be an arms reduction agreement with Russia? Eleanor Clift thinks so but no one else does, sorry Eleanor!

Now John McLaughlin wants to talk about that time the Jeff Bezos was rooting under his couch cushions and found enough money to buy the Washington Post. As McLaughlin remembers, there was that time a while back that the Post did something kind of cool. Remember that thing? WHAT a thing, right?

But now all their base are belong to the interwebs, and the newspaper is not doing so well, anymore. And neither are any newspapers! Which is why they are so cheap to buy. Okay, maybe the New York Times is "doing well" but they still spend so much money on columns from Maureen Dowd that are garbage! But maybe Jeff Bezos can use his Amazon magicks to save newspapers?

Mort, who also is a rich person who stupidly is stuck with a newspaper, says that these rich people will probably get stupidly stuck with a newspaper and be really sorry about it. He then mansplains the past fifteen years of media transition. "THERE IS THIS THING CALLED THE INTERNET, RRRRRNNGHHH? THERE NEEDS NEW THINKING, WITH BRAIN PEOPLE?" He describes how after failing to make "The Atlantic" work as a magazine, he sold it to David Bradley, who has made "The Atlantic" work as a series of conferences that flatter rich people.

McLaughlin asks Mort how much money the New York Times lost last year, which is not a thing that Mort knows.

Buchanan points out that the Post gives Bezos a platform for his regulatory needs. Clift says that the purchase of the Post was an "emotional wallop" in Washington, especially among people who were part of the Washington Post back when they did That Thing That Everyone Remembers.

Carney, who hates lobbyists like grim death, says Bezos isn't as terrible as many terrible lobbyists, and tends to lobby reactively, rather than just take the initiative himself and destroy America.

Now for some reason we are talking about Greece!

McLaughlin wants to know why the Greek prime minister was meeting with President Obama. Zuckerman explains that Greece is in terrible financial shape and so is Europe (except for Germany) and hasn't this been totally covered? Why did Zuckerman immediately jump up to be Captain Obvious?

Anyway I'm not sure anyone really has an answer to the question. Clift is noting that austerity in Europe has been a miserable failure, which is also really obvious, though maybe not to everyone. Carney points out an irony: that Obama has taken a position opposing austerity, but nevertheless went ahead and supported the re-imposition of payroll taxes. That needed to be done eventually, and it was something that EVERYONE on Capitol Hill supported, not just Obama. But, yeah, the payroll tax holiday should have been extended for at least another year.

Now it's time for everyone to make predictions. Buchanan says that as al Qaeda gets more prominent within the Syrian rebel forces, the United States will "pull back from the rebels." Clift says that Tea Party activists and their zeal for defunding Obamacare make it more likely that the government will be shut down. Carney reckons that House Republicans will kill the Senate's mortgage overhaul bill. Zuckerman predicts that Spain will soon endure a financial crisis. McLaughlin predicts that Edward Snowden will "never go to trial."

Wow, so that was a weird sort of fun, right?? And now, a painful sort of sad.


What fresh hell does Meet The Press have in store for us? It won't be as fresh a hell as This Week offered -- a 2016 themed colloquy with Donald Trump, of all people. This proves that there is some debasement that even I cannot watch. (ABC News is basically trolling for negative attention, anyway.)

David Gregory is going to talk about the "future of U.S. spying programs" with Michael McCaul and Barton Gellman and Ted Koppel, and then he's going to talk to Senator Claire McCaskill and Representative Steve King about some other nonsense and finally they'll have some sort of sad nostalgic game of grab-ass over the sale of the Washington Post.

First, we'll talk about the whole NSA story. Gellman says that Snowden has definitely "accomplished more than he'd believed possible." Apparently, he was thinking that it would be a brief story and the world would move on -- instead it's been a long story that's featured all kinds of debate.

Would the administration have welcomed the debate on their own? McCaul says that there's no evidence of that, and accuses the Obama administration for neither "adequately explaining or defending" these NSA programs.

But won't people die if they aren't spied upon the whole time? Koppel says that once you have the ability to do what the NSA does, it's hard to keep in check -- the president is left to say, "Hey just trust me." Koppel says, "It's unrealistic."

Similarly unrealistic, however, is expecting Congress to change any of this, and McCaul insists that going through the traditional legal process (by which he means having a reasonable oversight over things that now are essentially carried out with rubber stamps) would be too burdensome on the counter-terror process. SORRY WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO MAKE SURE WE SHOULDN'T BE LEAFING THROUGH YOUR JUNK JUST TRUST US.

Koppel has a piece he wrote read to him, in which he remarks that the climate of fear that al Qaeda would have wanted to impose on us, was imposed on us by ourselves. "Because al Qaeda had a conference call, we shut down twenty embassies," he points out.

"The terrorists have achieved more with one phone call than we have achieved with all of our responses," Koppel says.

McCaul decides that stuff is getting just too philosophical and reinjects politics, saying that Obama promised that al Qaeda was over, and that's a "pre 9/11 attitude" and what's really going on is that there is a SPIDERWEB, America. A SPIDERWEB OF INIQUITY, crawling across the globe and we are doooooomed.

Gregory is like, "HUH WHAT with that pre-9/11 attitude, I mean, we just closed a bunch of embassies which is really very post-9/11"...a total over-reaction, not negligence. McCaul thinks that we are not being "adult" enough, about terrorism, because he wants to have a big drawn out clash of ideologies, just killing terrorists isn't fun enough.

Koppel says that there will always be terrorism, sorry, and the ideology is that this is just "how the weak engages the strong," and the more we act nuts and continue to create fear bureaucracies, the more the "weak" in this construction wins.

McCaul signs off be saying BOOO SPIDERWEBS.

Now, Claire McCaskill is here to talk about sexual assaults in the military. Gregory points out that of some twenty-thousand incidents, only about 300 have gone on to become prosecutions. It's a piddling amount. McCaskill says that she doesn't know if the Pentagon's new rules on the matter will be sufficient. But the reforms that she is working on in Congress, she says, will be a significant change and a real break with the status quo.

At issue is whether or not victims go inside the chain of command, or go outside the chain of command. Here is where McCaskill differs with Senator Kirstin Gillibrand. McCaskill doesn't think that outside lawyers are the best and most efficient way to push cases forward, and that those going through the chain of command are doing a better job. McCaskill also thinks that victims would be better protected by officials close to their unit, as well. Gillibrand has contended that the people who are victimized in these crimes "just don't trust the chain of command," however.

Gregory seems to take Gillibrand's side, saying that the climate of fear that exists now keeps victims from reporting. McCaskill just insists that "it doesn't make any sense" to assume that "retaliation is going to go away" when the lawyers on the case are "half a world away."

Did the president miss an opportunity by not naming a woman as Secretary of Defense? McCaskill says that while it's true that as women advance in the military, this sort of nonsense will slowly fade, but that there are seven women on the Armed Services Committee who will hold the Pentagon to accounts.

Okay it's panel time with Bill Richardson and David Brooks and Ana Navarro and David Ignatius. I guess we are going to have some CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW bleed, as people like Ignatius end up on MEET THE PRESS panel. Panel gentrification will continue apace, I guess.

David Brooks is winding on about how the second term Obama has got a team now of people who get along with each other and work well together, but they don't have as many "BIG IDEAS" as the last group of totally dysfunctional assholes, featuring Larry Summers, that hung around the White House and, you know, TOTALLY saved the economy.

Brooks, who likes super-talented jerks above and beyond humble people who slowly achieve things, is really sad, because you always have to be doing "Big Projects" like ending Medicare and Social Security and Grand Bargains and Millenium Falcons, and it's like the Obama administration doesn't even WANT to do big things anymore. (Also, they really can't get any "Big Projects" done, David, because House Republicans exist.)

Navarro sort of takes this up, saying that there really isn't a unifying theory in the GOP anymore, where the big idea is "let's defund Obamacare or shut down the government." Of course, she also harshes on the White House, for the exceptions that the administration have made, all of which would not be exceptions if the Democrats in Congress could make targeted fixes to the law.

Richardson, of course, thinks that Obamacare is totally great, so chill, and that the Tea Party's government shutdown plan is a "suicidal mission."

Brooks is really excited about Obama "smacking down" Putin, despite the fact that he simultaneously believes that it's important to not activate Putin's "egomania" by making him feel like he is important to the machinery of global politics.

Richardson and Navarro briefly spar over whether it would be a good idea for Obama to meet Putin on a desert island, and I guess fight smoke monsters together.

Oh, lawzy, now here's Representative Steve King, to yammer about immigration, because of all the people you could get to talk about the BIG IDEA that is immigration reform, you should definitely get the guy who everyone agrees is a crazy-faced dingus. We could have had a substantive discussion, even with a critic of substance, but instead, King will come on and talk about cantaloupes.

Gregory, essentially, asks King, "What about your gaffes?" King says that he didn't make a gaffe, shut up. "Anyone who understands the language and the culture" gets what he was saying, King says.

Navarro says, "Congressman King should get some therapy for his melon fixation. I think there might be medication for that. I think he is a mediocre Congressman whose got no legislative record and the only he makes national press is when he comes out and says something offensive about the undocumented or Hispanics."

She goes on to say that he's being helpful to the debate in the narrow sense that he's emboldening other Republicans to speak out against him.

Maybe the thing that Navarro wants to say is "WHY ARE YOU BOOKING THIS CRETIN, MEET THE PRESS." Because that's part of the problem.

For whatever reason, Gregory kicks it back to King, because "AAAWWWWWWWWW, GOP INFIGHTING!!" Nevermind that this isn't particularly interesting, and it would have been best for Navarro to get the last word, here. King says that Navarro doesn't "understand the language," and then goes on to shame her for the millions of people who have died because of drug smugglers. He tells Navarro to not insult people, and she's all, "You want to talk to ME about not insulting people?"

Richardson has Navarro's back and says that what King is advocating is basically shameful. Ignatius says that "watching King speak" just demonstrates the problem the GOP has -- what he says resonates with the base, but not with the rest of the country. Navarro is left to say, we're not all like that, and Ignatius tells her that he understands that and that she was eloquent in her defense. The problem, though, is that the GOP base is more inclined to listen to King than Navarro.

There was a newspaper that once did a thing a long time ago and now they are a thing that was bought by a guy with a website and people have some Feels.

Kara Swisher, of All Things D, briefly quips about how he's the lone woman on a panel talking about journalism with a bunch of white people. Swisher is very cool -- she wrote, "to me the most important trick is to deeply inculcate the joy of internet journalism without losing actually restoring to some degree after recent cutbacks the great editorial values and breakthrough journalism of the Post, fusing the old media storytelling and news integrity values that I learned at the post with the internet values of speed and personality and, well, some level of fun at the right time, is critical."

I'm glad she recognizes that "fun" is important and that "fun" doesn't diminish the quality of things. She adds, "I think the issue is why you have to separate them and why you have to assume that everything on the internet is poorly done and everything in regular newspapers is well done. It's not the case at all."

Kara Swisher is the best guest this show has ever had!!

BROOKS: Yeah. I think the audience has changed online. I think there's been a return to authority. I used to read blogs and kind of be reading something interesting and then the blogger would write, well, I got to quit now, I'm going off to junior high. I'd been reading a 12-year-old. I think there has been a turn away from some of that, toward online, not in print. Toward people who make the calls. A return to that sort of stuff. I'm a little more of the belief that the old media is going to continue. Look at ebooks. They've hit a plateau. Look at online. It's hitting a plateau I think. I think we're going to be stunned by how much of the old media, whether it's delivered online or not, is going to be around as the audience returns.

SWISHER: You're using terms old media. Why are you doing that anymore? It's kind of like -- is it because you're old or whatever?

BROOKS: Not that old.

SWISHER: I'm also old. but the fact of the matter is the fact you're using terms old media and new media, it's changed completely. For example, we have a staff of six people covering tech. Small, lean staff. We pay our reporters very well. We broke a lot of the major news's not a function of cost, it's not necessarily a function of having this old institution. It's a function of embracing these tools and doing the same thing. I think people are just resistant to the change, and they have to say "blogs" as if it's an insult. They have to, like, separate them. and they're all this part of a living, breathing news organization that has to use these tools. It's like arguing against printing presses, you know, monks arguing against Guttenberg. I don't understand.

Kara Swisher wins!


I wrote a separate piece about this show. No, I don't plan on doing this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Anyway, soon you will have the extra-special recap and commentary and facepalm about THIS WEEK. In the meantime, I will take my leave. Thanks for another fun Sunday. I thought the McLaughlin Group was especially fun, actually. We'll keep doing that every few weeks or so. Again, I won't be liveblogging next weekend, but I will be back two Sundays from now. Until then, have a wonderful afternoon and fortnight to come!

[The Sunday Morning liveblog returns on August 25. While you wait, check out my Rebel Mouse page for fun things to read.]