Blogs > HNN > Covering Dissenters

Aug 28, 2009 1:40 pm

Covering Dissenters

I have heard a lot of criticism of late, primarily from liberals, about the way television news has been lavishing disproportionate attention on the most uncivil attendees at the town-hall meetings whose only apparent goal is to block reasoned debate. This is what happened during the Vietnam era when the media, looking for telegenic stories, focused their attention on the most bizarre-looking participants and the most violent rhetoric (and sometimes actions), when, in fact, most of the time most of those at the meetings and demonstrations were non-violent and civil. Indeed, virtually all opponents of the war abhorred the relative handful of such radicals whom, they felt, damaged their cause. Journalists knew, however, that coverage of those antiwarriors who comprised the decorous majority at the events did not make for compelling television.

What is disturbing to me these days is that while the media’s focus on the violent actions and rhetoric of a few during the Vietnam era led many undecided Americans to support the presidents because they did not like the looks of those they saw on television opposing administration policy, the undemocratic neo-Marcusian rowdies at the health-care sessions have not received much criticism from conservatives, have been cheered on by elected officials and radio talkers, and, apparently, have produced more and not less support for their opposition. At the least, that is what the public opinion polls suggest. And this is one reason why I reject the facile comparisons between the undemocratic tactics of some on the left in the sixties and comparable tactics employed by some on the right today.

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Mike A Mainello - 9/16/2009

Your correct, but here is more information on the size. It was way more than 50,000 ti 60,000,

Jonathan Dresner - 9/16/2009

Mr. Mainello, that article is about Obama's inauguration.

Mike A Mainello - 9/16/2009

"David Barna, a Park Service spokesman, said the agency did not conduct its own count. Instead, it will use a Washington Post account that said 1.8 million people gathered on the US Capitol grounds, National Mall, and parade route."

I guess I underestimated by just a little.

Mike A Mainello - 9/16/2009

Mr. Dresner, I believe I used to read your blog and you were a fairly open minded individual, what changed? The administration and its lapdog media wants this to go away.

Next I watched some of it on CSPAN and the numbers tens of thousands was an early estimate and grossly underestimated the final total, but believe what you will..

In addition, no arrests and little garbage.

It is your right to have your opinion, I just hope you keep underestimating the opposition.

Jonathan Dresner - 9/15/2009

I think you've overstated the numbers by a factor of ten, understated the degree of astroturf, and have swallowed a myth about "good, clean people" and another one about the "silent, neglected majority."

Mike A Mainello - 9/15/2009

I can say I was very impressed with the 500K to 1 Million Tea Party Patriots in DC over the weekend. No arrests, no vandalism, very little trash, no one paid them to attend and very little coverage by the media.

What do you think?

Mike A Mainello - 9/9/2009

Your pro-health care and so was the biter, hence your party. Just because he might have felt threatened, he should not of hurt his opponent. I have begun to use the logic of the left.

I don't want to jettison SS and Medicare, I just want choice. Why not give me the option to place part of my money into private investments or private insurance for reduced benefits? Isn't more choice better? Isn't that what the left wants with the public option?

It has been proven many times that infant mortality is measured differently by country. In some countries infants that don't live at least one day are not counted as even being born.

Most people are covered by some type of insurance. If congress wants to address the existing conditions coverage I applaud that, but to scrap the system is wrong. However, it will be difficult to change the mindset of the person that puts off health care insurance to save money. If congress would lift the ban on state mandates and encourage the Whole Foods model, it would address both of these issues.

Lastly many countries around the world utilize our medicines. When was the last time that you heard about Denmark's medical breakthroughs? Yeah I can't name one either.

Thanks for responding back.

Melvin Small - 9/9/2009

Damn it Mike, you keep on provoking me to respond because of your personal attacks.

First of all, the biter is not necessarily from my "party." More important, virtually all of the accounts of the incident that I can find on the net are unclear as to what happened but most suggest that the person who was bitten was the initiator of physical conflict. In any event, I don't understand what my alleged support for terrorists' rights, which you have implied without any evidence, has anything to do with the incident.

As for the last part of your post, would you like to jettison Social Security and Medicare to name a few government programs that are bringing us down? I understand the American exceptionalist position, but we remain the only industrialized nation that does not recognize health care as a responsibility of the community.
And, the "greatest health care system in the world", the mantra of the opponents of socialized medicine, is not among the leaders in positive health-care outcomes such as longevity and infant mortality.

I lived in Denmark for two years where my family and I were victimized by socialized medicine as I assume you were during your years in the military served by another government-run medical program.

Mike A Mainello - 9/8/2009

Just a follow up on you Progressive types.

You get upset and work yourself into a rage over a terrorist rights, but when an American is hurt by your party, you laugh it off by saying at least it was covered by a "government health plan".

Please get your priorities straight.

Personal responsibility and hard-work made this country great. Social justice metered out by the government will be our downfall.

Mike A Mainello - 9/7/2009

Ah yes, you are correct it was fixed by Government insurance. An insurance all working people pay into; an insurance that is under-funded despite this large, mandatory payment pool; an insurance that is riddled with fraud waste and abuse; and finally an insurance that has wiped out any primary insurance providers for people of this age group.

Good luck on covering the dissenters, though unlike the main stream coverage, the supporters are well funded by the unions and they are the militant ones.

Maarja Krusten - 9/6/2009

Dr. Small, I'm looking at this much more broadly. If POTUS were a political party on HNN instead of a blog, it never could win any elections. There's no party building, little engagement, hasn't been in years. The nation went through an exciting election last year but posts at POTUS were few and far between even then. I just don't see much effort, if any, at "party building," of drawing people to the blog and engaging with them. It largely seems like a place where people occasionally drop essays, then maybe wander back (or not) to see if anyone reacted. (It's hard to tell given the lack of engagement between authors and readers.)

Some of that is due to the heavy workload of the authors. But there's got to be more to it than that. Younger history bloggers, such as doctoral candidate Jeremy Young, still manage some back and forth on their blogs. And you know doctoral candidates are swamped with work.

Initially, this was a single author blog, Rick Shenkman's. A few years ago, it became a collective blog, in theory. In practice, very few people listed as contributors or contributing editors posted here. Some never have done so. For a while, in 2006, Jefferey Kimball pretty much was the only one who posted here. His posts drew responses from two posters, Mr. Mainello and occasionally from me. Eventually, Dr. Kimball stopped doing here.

In January of 2006, Mr. Mainello and I discussed this lack of activity and engagement in a thread that drew almost no participation from the people listed as content providers for the blog.

What mystifies me is why this has happened with a history blog centering on the Presidency. How could a blog named POTUS have gone nearly moribund after moving to a collective blog, and between 2007 and 2009. Look at what was going on: voters considered whom to select as candidates, went to the polls, then inaugurated a President during a time of economic upheavel. And Rick Shenkman published a book about civic ignorance. Surely there's more of a role for historians than is evident here.

Melvin Small - 9/6/2009

I'll bite.

It is not out of fear of dissent that I have remained silent as the two of you engage in an interesting discussion, but all good things must come to an end. Moreover, I covered a lot of this in my book, Covering Dissent:The Media and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement (1994).

And if I remember the biting incident correctly, the bitee's finger was attended to under his government insurance, a bit of ironic info left out of the last post.

Mike A Mainello - 9/4/2009

Don't you remember, most of these guys don't like dissent.

Also, I thought it was ironic to this post, but a Pro-Health scare supporter bit the finger off of the anti-health scare supporter.

Maarja Krusten - 9/3/2009

An interesting topic, especially for people who have studied or who lived through the Sixties. Too bad the author of the essay did not follow up or was unable to take it further.

Maarja Krusten - 8/30/2009

Of course, there always has been demagoguery in politics. Public affairs programming on television in the 1960s consisted of programs such as the Sunday morning talk shows, news features, and documentaries (such as "Harvest of Shame.") These didn't rely on shouting and bluster to the extent that many talk shows do these days.

Internet forums also have contributed to the coarsening of public discourse. Calling someone "moron" or worse simply for holding a differing world view occurs all too frequently on newspapers' online forums. Thoughts that people once exchanged in bars now are on public display.

All in all, much has changed. As Joel Achenbach, an online columnist at the Washington Post, noted in 2008, "The demands of punditry disallow intellectual modesty. Certainly we see that in the world of TV and radio, where we've created a political culture dominated by a certain kind of loud, angry, chest-beating male. The culture of bluster is driven by ratings -- and, online, by page views. The moderated opinion, nuanced and open-minded, is a field mouse in a land patrolled by raptors.

Punditry increasingly is the province of partisans, table-pounders, the permanently outraged, the congenitally ungenerous."

Maarja Krusten - 8/30/2009

I can’t touch on all the political aspects of your question, as I’m a fed. However, as an historian, I can point to some cultural changes since the days when LBJ and RN were President.

When voters responded to Nixon’s appeal to a “Silent Majority,” it was against a backdrop of widespread concern about civic disorder. Not only had citizens been watching anti-war protests and occasional battles between demonstrators and the police (as at the 1968 Democratic convention), they also had seen riots in some economically and socially distressed urban areas, such as Watts. It was a very anxious time but the issues were different from the ones which polls suggest are capturing voters’ attention nowadays. More importantly, the norms of public discourse have changed since then.

By 1969, when Nixon gave his “Silent Majority” speech, the anti-war movement had started using Moratoriums, which drew support from across a wide cross section of citizens. The civil rights movement had splintered into factions, some still believing in Dr. King’s vision of non-violence and John Lewis’s vision of a “beloved community,” others more militant, such as the Black Panthers. The focus of the civil rights movement had shifted from voting rights to open housing (Rick Perlstein captures some of the fears that surrounded the latter issue very well in his book, Nixonland.)

Against a backdrop of change and disorder, law and order was a powerful part of Nixon’s appeal to voters in 1968, as it was part of Reagan’s appeal to voters in the California gubernatorial election in 1966. Many members of the “Silent Majority” yearned for stability and quiet. The President promised them he would work to achieve it.

Both political parties have changed since then. Aside from shifts in outlook issues, look at what else has changed since then. During the 1980s and 1990s, TV and radio, which in the 1960s largely aired polite, largely civilized discourse, even sober White Papers and documentaries (remember David Wolper?), began to be filled with political shoutfests (Crossfire) and talk shows that depended on sensationalism, such as Jerry Springer. Name-calling, shouting, exaggeration and hyperbole filled the airwaves in ways unimaginable in Nixon’s day. For many advocates, polite, civilized discourse now may seem quaint and ineffective. Some norms for advocacy may have shifted since the 1960s, simply because public discourse has coarsened and bipartisanship seems less valued than in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

I have been there a few times. It is a very humbling and awe inspiring place.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

With regards to both of your points, I am probably less conservative than most, I guess my democrat roots are showing.

I believe in a gay civil union. Call it marriage if you want. What I am against is forcing any religion to recognize a couple against their belief. If a church wants to accept gay marriage, OK, but the government should not force them.

With regards to pro-choice, I support it in many cases and believe it should remain between a patient and a doctor. I am really pro-adoption. I want the government to help clarify and simplify adoption procedures. I think there would be less abortion if you knew your child would be adopted into a family right after birth. It is much more humane. I can't help but think what my 19 year old mother might have done if abortion had been an easy option.

I believe the hardcore religious right is over blown by the media. We are taught to love our fellow human because we are all imperfect.

Maarja Krusten - 8/29/2009

My apologies, Mike, for the various typos and misrenderings (I see I had my fingers on the keyboard wrong in one of my earlier postings). I'm posting while watching the Kennedy burial coverage on TV and obviously am not very good at multi-tasking! I live in the DC area, in fact, I once lived a few blocks from Arlington National Cemetary, it nearly was my backyard. I've visited the graves of the Kennedy brothers frequently over the decades, as well as the gravesites of many other people buried there (military veterans, the astronauts who died in the Apollo One fire, and others). It's a place that has a lot of meaning to me.

Maarja Krusten - 8/29/2009

When I say fiscally conservative and for a strong national defense, but socially progressive, I mean they are sympathetic to proponents of gay marriage or legal partnerships, for what is called a woman's right to chose, and so forth. I suppose they are the type of people who in the past might have been called Rockefeller or even Nixon, rather than Goldwater, Republicans, but may no longer fit present-day litmus tests and demands for across the board orthodoxy. It's not surprising that such people still exist, they once ven were part of the Republican party (in earlier incarnations, some supported early civil rights efforts in the late 1950s and early 1960s). If you examine some of Nixon's positions, many of them seem "moderate" nowadays, such as his consideration of a Guaranteed Annual Income proposal, his establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, his interested in health care issues, and so forth. Nixon even predicted in 1970 that the U.S. would have gay marriage by 2000. Yes, reallY!

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

"I know people who are fiscally conservative, for a strong national defense posture, and progressive or liberal on social issues"

This is a convenient, undefinable statement. What is "liberal" on social issues? Conservatives believe in health care reform, we just don't think the government should run it. If your fiscally conservative, but believe in government health care, then that person is confused. The term little bit pregnant keeps ringing in my head.

"44% of voters in last year's exit polls described themselves as moderate"

I will give you a similar answer, the voter needs to develop consistent values. These voters were the ones that Senator McCain attempted to woo, but President Obama's fuzzy campaign coupled with the lap dog media allowed them to justify their vote. These are the same people that all of a sudden see the danger of what it means to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

"value voters ...vehemently opposed the Iraq War as unnecessary and wasteful of blood and treasure."

These people really bother me. They probably wondered why President Bush didn't stop 9-11 in the first place, initially supported his efforts, and then when it wasn't fixed fast enough turned on him. I believe that he will go down in history very favorably for his consistent leadership in this one area. I wish domestically he and his people had been as focused on housing, health care and domestic spending.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

Mr. Bartlett's conversion to political independent has always been a curious one to me. Who knows maybe he is just a frustrated conservative democrat like myself.

Though he his a supply-sider, I found the analysis rather shallow. One point in particular is the temporary versus permanent tax cuts. President Bush wanted to make them permanent but was blocked in the senate.

The housing crisis is another misleading point. The Community Re-investment Act forced banks to loan to less qualified individuals to try and rectify some perceived social injustice was a major cause of the problem. It was multiplied by the democrat controlled Freddie and Fannie policies pushing for more sub-prime loans to buy from the banks. President Bush's administration submitted many requests for reform, but was ignored or rebuffed by congress. Unlike this current power hungry, Czar crazy Administration, he tried to work with congress.

Oh yeah, President Reagan and the tax increase. He is correct, but leaves out that President Reagan agreed to the tax increase because congress agreed to spending cuts. Guess which happened and which one didn't. Congress lied as usual.

Was President Bush or Reagan perfect, no, but I prefer them to what we have today.

Maarja Krusten - 8/29/2009

Hi, Mike, thanks for the interesting response, I appreciate it. I'm curious, in what sense do you see nuance as being a political term? I use it in the sense that people do not always align neatly into solely conservative or solely liberal, that some of them are leaners or members of a persuadable middle. For example, I know people who are fiscally conservative, for a strong national defense posture, and progressive or liberal on social issues. I also know people who would seem to fit in strongly into the category of what are called "values voters" (they are genuinely conservative on social issues) but who vehemently opposed the Iraq War as unnecessary and wasteful of blood and treasure. Such people obviously don't fit traditional right and left framing.

Moreover, there is a substantial center in the country (44% of voters in last year's exit polls described themselves as moderate rather than liberal or conservative). Such people are difficult to pigeonhole and appealing to them is tricky for both parties. They are less responsive to so-called "dog whistle" sloganeering than the base of either party. When I use the term nuanced, I mostly mean people who have concerns about wars or spending or other issues but wouldn't becessarukt fit any single party's litmus tests. I've heard that there are people (not you) who sneer that moderates don't have opinions. But that's not the case. They simply calibrate some issues somewhat differently than do pure ideologues on either side.

Thanks for the kind words about my work with Vietnam era records! It's been a while, I hope you're doing well.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

Please do not read more into what I wrote.

First, nuance is a very political term. The protesters made there point and the policy was changed to an all volunteer army. I personally agree with the policy.

The fact that Julie Eisenhower supported President Obama is a non-fact as far as I am concerned. It is her right to support whoever she wants. She can even call herself a republican, my opinion does not matter. I believe myself to be a conservative democrat that supports the majority of republican candidates.

The irony I find in this current health care debate is the protesters of the sixties have grown up to become liberal democrats. Instead of wanting the government to butt out their business, they want to raid the treasury in the name of Social Justice. As you can tell by my writing I find this term ludicrous. I tried to raise my family to be self sufficient and productive, that is social justice, not placing a burden on future generations to assuage my guilt.

You have studied politics as a historian and I respect that, but I believe the Republican party, as I see it as a conservative democrat, has tried moving to the middle, but it did not work. There base was upset with the over spending by congress and the shifting of the party to the center. Senator McCain believed he could peel off some moderate supporters and retain his base. Unfortunately he had to compete against an untested democrat candidate and a supporting media. He came much closer than I thought he would.

Thanks for your Vietnam Era points I enjoy reading them.

Maarja Krusten - 8/29/2009

If you haven't read it, you might find interesting this recent essay by Reagan era economic specialist Bruce Bartlett regarding what he calls the GOP's misplaced rage. His analysis of what GWB did and what Bill Clinton and Reagan did is far from kneejerk. See

Maarja Krusten - 8/29/2009

Mike, in looking at Vietnam and the present, you overlook people with unresolved concerns about complex issues who are in the middle. Left and right framing and focusing just on activists doesn't explain the present any more than it does the past. Not everyone who protested the Vietnam War was a freeloader or a lawbreaker.

I supported and voted for Nixon but even then, I never equated all protestors against the war with radicals. I differentiated between people who did not understand why young men had to be placed in harm's way in Southeast Asia and the people on the extreme fringes of the anti-war movement. Over the course of my employment at the National Archives, my views became even more nuanced, as I studied during my public disclosure review work many of the letters that ordinary Americans sent to President Nixon. It was a fascinating counter to my other assignments, which included listening to Nixon and Kissinger and other aides discuss public relations and Vietnam and other policy issues on the then largely secret White House tapes.

In general, from a tactical viewpoint, I don’t see how one cannot argue that protestors against the policy initiative of a Democratic President merely are exercising their first amendment rights and that protestors against a Republican one are lawbreakers. Anyone who tries to do that weakens their argument rather than strengthen it. The best way to advocate for the rights of the former is to advocate for the rights of the latter while one’s party is in office, as well.

As to the idea that the nation is divided into hard working authentic Americans and freeloaders, Michael Gerson, a former aide to George W. Bush, recently argued in an article co-authored with Peter Wehner that "anger, personal attack, and extreme language do nothing to expand the appeal of a party in trouble. Unfortunately, this point has been lost on some members of the Religious Right, whose scolding approach has created a significant backlash, especially among young people (including young Christians). It has also been lost on the party’s more abrasive populists, with their habit of pitting the heartland—aka the “real” America—against the denizens of the coasts. This not only vitiates their own claim to seriousness; it almost willfully alienates the very groups and regions that Republicans need to attract. There is no magic formula when it comes to dealing with such matters of tone, temperament, and the right use of language. They are admittedly delicate things to measure, but they are no less crucial for that."

For more on Gerson’s and Wehner’s thoughts on a possible Republican revival, see

Finally, I do not see how you can say that the same people who protested the Vietnam war and hated Nixon now want to take over the country, whatever you mean by that. If that were so, how do you explain Julie Nixon Eisenhower's support for Barack Obama during the election last year? That she contributed financially to his campaign suggests that you are missing many of the nuances in the political situation, then and now.

Keep in mind that Mrs. Eisenhower, of all people, knew and remembered the protestors of the Nixon era. As the author of a political science thesis wrote in 1998,

"Retreating from Smith and Amherst for Julie and David would prove yet another challenge in their young marriage. Neither Julie nor David was able to attend their graduation ceremonies in June of 1970 for safety reasons. As Julie recounts,

'Four hundred fifty colleges and universities were now on strike, among them Smith and Amherst, and classes and study were suspended. Several weeks before graduation, the head of my Secret Service detail had asked if he could talk to David and me. Formally he told us what we already had heard as campus scuttlebutt: if we or my parents or any of David's family attended either the Smith or Amherst graduation at the end of the month, the campus organizers were boasting they could swell protesters ranks to 200,000 people by busing students from the enclave of colleges around Boston and other points in the East. College officials at Smith and Amherst had made it clear to both the Eisenhower family and my Secret Service detail that they could not guarantee our safety at graduation ceremonies. Emotions were running high. The demonstrators' usual chants were "Hell, no, we won't go," "Peace now," "One, two, three, four, we don't want your [expletive deleted] war."

But recently the Northhampton Hampshire Gazette had reported that at an antiwar rally the crowd had screamed a new chant, "[Expletive deleted] Julie, [Expletive deleted] David.'"

(Tabitha Alissa Warters, a Political Science student at Virginia Tech, Master’s Thesis, "Political Roles of Presidential Children," 1998]

Someone who experienced that, and supported Obama in 2008, as Nrs. Eisenhower, daughter of Richard Nixon did, clearly is not aligned with Nixon era radicals. Nor do I think things fall so neatly into place for other voters, as well.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

Some points.

The initial growth of the deficit were tax cuts to stimulate the economy from the recession that began under President Clinton. In spite of 9-11, the recession ended relatively quickly

A lot of the additional spending was on rebuilding defense. President Clinton severely restricted the growth of defense during his term. My last 8 years of active military duty were under this President.

Spending on the Iraq war was expensive, but I believe money well spent.

Stimulating of the economy did not work for FDR or Hoover. Please read this link from 2 economists from UCLA.

Tax cuts for business will make us more competitive around the world and help lead us out of recession. President Bush's deficits were reducing considerably until the housing crisis. This crisis was exacerbated by the blocking of reforms by the democrat minority in congress over Freddie and Fannie and a weak republican congress that didn't force the minority to filibuster. In addition, the social justice policies under President Clinton forced banks to reduce credit criteria to lenders if they wanted to grow.

Oscar Chamberlain - 8/29/2009

On the last point:

In most of the extended coverage that I have read or heard, the current increases in the deficit are placed in the context of stimulating the economy.

That strikes me as logical reporting. Increasing the deficit to stimulate the economy is not irrational. That doesn't meant that it's irrational to disagree with the policy, but it is something that is being done for a specific reason.

The growth of the deficit under President Bush--at least prior to 2007 or 2008--was far less rational because, in large measure, it emerged from the Bush Administration's unwillingness to address the costs of the Iraq War directly.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

Boy did you hit the nail on the head.

My links on media bias are quite extensive. The news media has lost all objectivity and turned to cheer leading and non-reporting.

Not to start a new line of discussion, but I wonder why the media is not up in arms that the new 10 year budget deficit projection was increased by over 25% to $10 Trillion and does not include the proposed health care costs. This years budget deficit is almost 4 times greater than the worst Bush years. Not saying this is right or wrong, it should just be covered and not slid under the table.

Melvin Small - 8/29/2009

Thanks but let's refine it a bit further. There may be shouting down from both sides but television news seems to be covering only those shouters who oppose the legislation.

Mike A Mainello - 8/29/2009

Point taken, but the shouting down is from both sides of the argument, not just the pro-free market side.

Melvin Small - 8/29/2009

My issue is far more limited than the one you are responding to. I am concerned about opponents of a policy refusing to permit speakers representing that policy to present their positions by trying to shout them down. It didn't seem fair to me when State Department representatives were shouted down on college campuses in the sixties and it does not seem fair when congressional supporters of health-care reform are stopped by uncivil rowdies from discussing their position at town halls today.

Mike A Mainello - 8/28/2009

You sir are wrong. The anti-Obama care protesters are vocal, but they are far from violent. There are many cases where the union thugs bused to the meetings are intimidating and striking protesters. One congressman even held his town hall meeting in a union hall right after a union meeting. Talk about in the pocket of your constituent.

The Vietnam protesters broke the law through vandalism and draft dodging. They protested even though the president they elected, Johnson, escalated the war and the president they hated, Nixon, ended the war.

These same people that protested the war and the man are the ones that are now trying to take over every aspect of America that they can get there hands into.

The health care protesters are trying to stop a government take over of 1/6th of our economy. They have contributed to making this country and are fighting to restore this country and arrest this decent into a nanny state. Most of us just want to be left alone to live our lives, raise our families and make our community a better place to live.

I am proud to be a protester. The 60's radicals are free loaders. They wanted Free Love, Peace on Earth, no cares or responsibilities and now they want free health care from the government. Guess what, we are tired of listening to your whining and I am glad that we have a chance to stop it.