Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ben Bradlee (1921-2014)


Jason Robards Jr. as Ben Bradlee in All the President's Men (1976)

"He took The Post, then affluent and filled with underutilized potential, and made it a formidable national newspaper worthy of a head-to-head competition with the [New York] Times. He did it in a way that made the paper itself a joyous place to work. The paper reflected his personality. He was exuberant, competitive and combative if challenged. He made The Post a magnet for young reporters looking for a chance to play in a very high-stakes game."
-- David Halberstam, about Ben Bradlee, from "an
interview" quoted in Robert G. Kaiser's WaPo obit

by Ken

I don't know that I would have thought to write about Ben Bradlee, the longtime top editor of the Washington Post, who died yesterday at his home ("of natural causes") at age 93, if Howie hadn't sent me a link in case I planned to. Once I started thinking about it, it occurred to me that there must be something to say about an editor who presided over a major newspaper for a long period of time (26 years, for the record) and is remembered for, you know, his practice of journalism.

Okay, there's also the fact that he got played by Jason Robards Jr., in one of his classiest performances, in the film version of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men. (Of course nobody made out better in the movie than Woodward, who turned into Robert Redford. Bernstein had to settle for Dustin Hoffman -- a great actor, but you know . . . .)


That Bradlee's tenure at the Post is remembered almost entirely for his journalistic record is partly a tribute to Ben B, but much more a reminder of what's happened to both journalism generally and newspapers in particular in the decades since he handed over the reins of the paper's editorial operation in 1991 to Leonard Downie Jr., his managing editor since 1984. By then, his longtime boss, Katharine Graham, had turned the publisher's chair over to her son Donald. Here's what Robert G. Kaiser has to say in his WaPo obit about Bradlee's relationship with Katharine Graham, which he describes as having been "critical."
She allowed him to spend money, ultimately many millions of dollars, to build a great newspaper. At key moments — particularly the 1971 decision to publish excerpts from the Pentagon Papers and later during Watergate — she stood squarely behind him, defying the advice of her attorneys and business advisers and her powerful Washington friends.

Mr. Bradlee “was just what Kay needed — somebody who built her confidence and worked hard at it,” said the late Philip L. Geyelin, who was editor of The Post’s editorial page from 1968 to 1979. “He made her comfortable. He called her up and told her dirty jokes and told her the latest skinny. It was a wonderful relationship. I can’t remember any time they had any quarrel. She was nuts about him.”

Mrs. Graham had said as much herself. In one of the end-of-year letters she and Mr. Bradlee came to exchange annually — warm, intimate notes of mutual appreciation — she wrote: “Over the years, I have been spoiled by you and I hope most of the time, it’s been reciprocated, in sharing the best, most productive, rewarding working combo that I’ve had or even know of. And best of all, it’s been fun.”

She also teased him sometimes and criticized his erratic management of the newsroom, including impetuous hiring decisions that sometimes turned out badly. One year, she sent him a list of 15 names, his hiring “mistakes,” as she called them, and asked how he could avoid such errors in the future. But mostly she sang his praises, as in her end-of-1974 letter to Mr. Bradlee: “The things [about you] that people don’t know — that I know — are style, generosity, class and decency, as well as understanding of other people’s weaknesses.”

When Mrs. Graham died in July 2001, Mr. Bradlee spoke at her funeral. “She was a spectacular dame, and I loved her very much,” he said, looking down on the vast crowd from the lectern at the east end of Washington National Cathedral. Walking back to his pew, Mr. Bradlee took a slight detour to pass her coffin and give it an affectionate pat.
Leonard Downie remained executive editor till 2008, and a lot of his tenure too is remembered for journalism, but by the end the economic realities of running a paper like the Post were already taking a heavy toll on the operations of the newsroom. Though a lot of questions can be asked about his successors, it's almost unfair to compare their performance, which has been so much concerned with survival -- both their own and the paper's.

The Post has had to contend not just with the catastrophic decline of readership and advertising common to latter-day newspapers generally, but with its relationship to the federal government in a hometown that is so heavily a company town, which also means -- for the hometown paper of the Village -- its positioning in the rightward-lurching political cosmos. Uncharitable observers might utter the word "pandering." (The aforementioned link that Howie passed along was to a Pew Research survey, "Distrust of News Sources," which found the Post registering distrust levels of 26 precent among respondents of "mostly conservative" views and 39 percent among those of "consistently conservative" views -- as against, for example, significantly higher New York Times distrust figures of 33 and 50 percent.)

Now, granted that Ben Bradlee's stewardship of the paper's news operations was a major factor in its prosperity during most of his tenure, it's also true that he didn't have to figure out how to run his operation when that prosperity became past-tense.


Ben Bradlee as Ben Bradlee, in 1995

Obviously within the Post the assignment of the Bradlee obit was a a big deal, even given the revolution that has been taking place since its sale to Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos. Of course one also presumes that the choice of Robert Kaiser wasn't spur-of-the-moment; given the subject's age, one assumes that a basic obit text has been in place for, well, quite a while. Certainly Kaiser qualifies as a company guy -- there's hardly anyone around with truer-blue WaPo credentials. Prior to his retirement early this year, he worked at the Post for more than 50 years, the last 16 as associate editor and senior correspondent, following his tenure (1991-98) as Leonard Downie Jr.'s managing editor following his accession to the top job.

Kaiser is also a respected writer in his own right, and There are observations I'm still mulling writing about in his somewhat crotchety but often interesting review, in the current (November 5) issue of the New York Review of Books, of Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan and John Dean's The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, titled "Our Conservative, Criminal Politicians" (available free to subscribers only).

As Kaiser's comments on Bradlee's relationship with Kay Graham show, he's hardly uncritical. Noting that Bradlee's "strengths sometimes became weaknesses," he recalls the Janet Cooke debacle:
The editor who could inspire his troops to do some of the best journalism ever published in America also fell for an artful hoax by a young reporter, Janet Cooke. Cooke invented an 8-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy and wrote a moving story about him. After the story won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981, Cooke was exposed as an impostor who invented not only Jimmy but also her own life story.

When they realized that Cooke had concocted an imaginary résumé, Mr. Bradlee and his editors interrogated her and extracted a confession. Mr. Bradlee quickly returned the Pulitzer, then encouraged The Post’s ombudsman, Bill Green, to investigate and report how the incident could have happened. This was the biggest assignment ever given to the in-house reader’s representative. Mr. Bradlee had created the position in 1970, making The Post the first major paper to employ an independent, in-house critic.

Green produced a detailed, embarrassing report about a newsroom where the urge for journalistic impact overrode several experienced reporters’ doubts about Jimmy’s existence. “Bradlee was really hurt” by the Cooke affair, recalled Peter Silberman, who served under Mr. Bradlee as a senior editor.
Kaiser notes too that "Mr. Bradlee had a notoriously short attention span."
He rarely dug into the details of an issue himself, leaving that to the people he had hired. He managed The Post newsroom with a combination of viscera and intellect, often judging people by his personal reaction to them. He or she “makes me laugh” was perhaps Mr. Bradlee’s greatest compliment. He never enjoyed the minutiae of management and spent as little time on administrative work as he could get away with.


But Kaiser goes on to credit Bradlee with "cop[ing] successfully with many crises." And the obit begins with him crediting him with having "guided The Post's transformation into one of the world's leading newspapers."
From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

The most compelling story of Bradlee’s tenure, almost certainly the one of greatest consequence, was Watergate, a political scandal touched off by The Post’s reporting that ended in the only resignation of a president in U.S. history.

But Mr. Bradlee’s most important decision, made with Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher, may have been to print stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration went to court to try to quash those stories, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the New York Times and The Post to publish them.

The Post’s circulation nearly doubled while Mr. Bradlee was in charge of the newsroom — first as managing editor and then as executive editor — as did the size of its newsroom staff. And he gave the paper ambition.

Mr. Bradlee stationed correspondents around the globe, opened bureaus across the Washington region and from coast to coast in the United States, and he created sections and features — most notably Style, one of his proudest inventions — that were widely copied by others.

During his tenure, a paper that had previously won just four Pulitzer Prizes, only one of which was for reporting, won 17 more, including the Public Service award for the Watergate coverage. . . .
Kaiser concludes with the quote I've put at the top of this post from David Halberstam, whose journalistic career of course is mostly associated with the New York Times but who "devoted much of his book The Powers That Be to Mr. Bradlee's Washington Post. (The quote, which Kaiser describes as a "valedictory" is credited to "an interview" -- presumably one conducted by the author, presumably for this obit. Bear in mind that Halberstam died in 2007.)

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Republican Clowns Want You To Think Women Don't Have What It Takes To Protect America


Yesterday and again earlier today, we looked around the Republican Party war against women. Some interesting reporting from Toby Harden at Real Clear Politics, The CIA's Real Drone Queens, leads one to conclude there certainly is not discrimination against women in the CIA workplace-- and that the basis of the relentless Republican attacks against women's capacity is completely misplaced and just plain wrong, based on nothing but Bronze Age prejudices. Who's knew?
The CIA is now almost 50% female. Its director is a man but the next three posts below him are filled by women. They are instrumental in waging the CIA’s anti-terrorist war, playing a disproportionate role in some of the most lethal and morally ambiguous tasks of an organisation that has long been regarded as a bastion of outdated machismo.

More enlightened employment practices have contributed to this. But could it be, as some senior intelligence officers argue, that the true-life drone queens are simply better than men at stalking terrorists and deciding when and how they should die?

“It's a reality,” said Bruce Riedel, who spent 29 years in the CIA and later became an adviser to Obama. “Girl power. That’s what they call it within the CIA.” Women, he posited, tend to be better “at seeing connections than most of their male counterparts” when they are dealing with data.

“I’ve seen it, particularly on issues where there’s a tremendous need for precision in remembering enormous amounts of very detailed information. It seems there’s an advantage in having female chromosomes.”

Cindy Storer, formerly one of the CIA’s senior al-Qaeda analysts, was part of a “band of sisters”-- in the words of General Michael Hayden, the director from 2006-9-- who contributed to bin Laden’s demise. Bin Laden first came to her attention in 1992, when her job was to monitor jihadist veterans of the Afghan war with the Soviets.

“My role was to say, holy crap, this is a terrorist group and this is how they’re structured, this is what they do and this is where they are.” Storer believes that the success of female CIA officers could be down to “brain science.”

“Men tend to be linear thinkers-- it’s the hunter-gatherer thing, right? Women tend to be all over the place and can hold a whole bunch of different stuff in their minds at the same time. Some people will say that women tend to be more patient and tenacious . . . The men I worked with, I did see a difference, with women being more comfortable with ambiguity. A lot of the men wanted things to be in neat boxes.”

...Storer said she and her compatriots had sometimes been denigrated for adding a feminine touch to their austere workplaces. “After 9/11 . . . we still made birthday cakes for each other. It’s not like you stop being a woman.”

Avril Haines, 43, is the CIA’s deputy director. She studied judo in Japan, worked as a car mechanic in Chicago and once hosted erotica readings at a Baltimore cafe. As Obama’s top foreign policy lawyer, she would often be summoned in the middle of the night to help decide whether a terrorist on Obama’s “kill list” should be killed by a drone strike.

Now Haines can sometimes be seen at Starbucks, buying an iced latte. Waiting outside is a black armoured Jeep bristling with aerials and manned by security officers wearing earpieces. If need be, Haines can make secure phone calls from the vehicle and watch video of drone strikes.

Under Obama, 349 drone strikes in Pakistan have killed almost 4,000 people, an estimated quarter of them innocent civilians. It is five years since Obama’s visit to CIA headquarters to meet the real “drone queens” for the first time. Several have risen to more senior positions in the CIA’s killing apparatus.

The next time Obama authorises a strike in Pakistan, the odds are that it will be a woman who gives the green light moments before death is delivered from a drone stationed several miles away.

Now juxtapose what we just read with Heidi Przybyla's report for Bloomberg about how Republican Party hacks are manufacturing fears of women being too incompetent to deal with terrorism. The Republicans are trying to paint Democratic women, particularly Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kay Hagan, Michelle Nunn and Jeanne Shaheen as unable to deal with the fears the right wing media has been using to terrorize low-info voters, stuff like ISIL and Ebola particularly.
At least 60 terrorism-- or national security-related ads have aired in congressional contests in such states as Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina. They’re running with the most intensity since President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, when the airwaves were full of ads depicting Democrat John Kerry as weak on national security, data provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group show.

Of the top five Democratic targets, four are women.

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At The Root Of The Republican Party War Against Women-- Primitive Southern Baptists


Yesterday, inspired by George Will's latest kvetching about the anti-women record of his boy Cory Gardner (R-CO), we took another look at the Republican Party War on Women. Ken sent me a fascinating article by Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books, Texas: The Southern Baptists in Power and rather than update yesterday's post, let me share a couple of paragraphs that pertain to American women's Southern Baptist problem. We'll start with the 1980 evangelical conference in Dallas when Reagan won their hearts by declaring, "I know you can’t endorse me, but I want you to know that I endorse you."
Reagan and his advisers sensed that Texas Baptists were at the heart of a major change brewing in America. Talk about red states and the Tea Party suggests something new in the world but Reagan was joining the Baptists to reject pretty much everything "modern" to emerge in American culture and society over the last two centuries. The three that most disturbed the Bible Belt South were the end of slavery, the "theory" of evolution that cast doubt on the literal truth of the Bible, and the emancipation of women.

The goal of "the Christian Right" as it waded into American politics was not vanilla concern with good government, but something gem-hard and Bible-based. The word "inerrant" is unfamiliar to most Americans, who take a softer view of religion than Southern Baptists. Dressing up for church, helping the poor, praying for peace, the sweet hope of marriage vows, the solace of ashes to ashes and dust to dust at the graveside-- that seems to cover it for most Americans. Southern Baptists have an iron spine forged in a hotter fire: they believe salvation is what the universe is all about; the way to be saved is spelled out in the Bible; you can trust the Bible because everything in it is true, and that includes the story of Eden-- woman’s role in man’s fall.

At the SBC’s annual meeting in Kansas City in 1984 the fundamentalists pushed through a resolution barring the ordination of women "because the man was first in creation and the woman was first in the Edenic fall." With this measure the fundamentalists closed a perfect loop. Women were not allowed to be "over" men, which means they cannot teach men where religion is concerned, which means they cannot be ordained and serve as pastors, which means they cannot challenge the interpretation of the biblical verses that confine them to a secondary status. Driving the resolution was a fear held in common with their fundamentalist brothers in the Muslim and Jewish worlds-- fear of the loss of control of women.

The war over women, heating up through the 1970s as the Equal Rights Amendment moved state-by-state toward ratification, brought conservative Baptists into national politics, something they had traditionally avoided. [Author Robert] Wuthnow cites a crucial moment in November 1977 when two contending groups of politically active women met in Houston to battle for and against the ERA. The conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly had been accusing liberals of "trying to cram the Equal Rights Amendment down our throats with federal money." She called it "a grab for power" and vowed to defeat the ERA-- something that appeared almost impossible in 1977, when ratification by only a few additional states was needed to add the amendment to the Constitution.

In Houston the liberals were full of confidence and open to everything, not just the ERA. At the Pro-Life Rally in Houston where Schlafly was a keynote speaker she felt an instant change in public mood: the left went too far, she argued, and "sealed its own doom by deliberately hanging around its neck the albatross of abortion, lesbianism, pornography and federal control." Schlafly proved right; the percentage of American women backing the ERA fell from 67 in 1976 to 48 two years later, when Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were organizing their coup in the Southern Baptist Convention. Citing polls as he goes, Wuthnow charts the rise of the Republican right in Texas, eroding and then erasing support for the rights of women and minorities on a host of issues. Sometimes the right stumbled, as Clayton Williams did with a throwaway remark about rape during his campaign for governor against Ann Richards in 1990-- "As long as it is inevitable you might as well lie back and enjoy it." Williams lost but noted later that his campaign had a lasting effect-- "I made it OK for Bubba to vote Republican."
Running on a Southern Baptist platform, George W. Bush, with the support of Bubba, beat Richards in 1994 and helped turn Texas as red as a Communist flag. Powers reminds us that, more than almost any other state in the Union, "Texas is a state of dramatic inequalities-- between white and black, between Anglo and Latino, between rich and poor, between men and women. White male non-Hispanics with money run the show and have a history of vigorous action to retain control... Texans fought a civil war to keep their slaves, then excluded African-Americans from the vote with physical violence, poll taxes, intimidating literacy tests, and a legally sanctioned, whites-only Democratic primary. Voter ID laws enacted in recent years have the same transparent purpose-- to intimidate and exclude. Votes for women were resisted for decades and efforts by the state to discourage, limit, or ban abortion have been unrelenting and appear close to success."

Powers wraps it up that Wuthnow, in his book, Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State, is quite clear about what's roiling Texas in particular and the Bible Belt-- or Old Confederacy-- in general: "questions of political and social control. In the South, he finds, the new Republican Party wants exactly what the old Democratic Party wanted for a hundred years-- power to control people of color, Latinos, women, tax policy, who judges the law, who issues the regulations, who maps voting districts, and, oh yes, whether it’s okay to put a Nativity scene on the State House lawn."

UPDATE: A Few Words From Ken On Primitive Religions

One of the thoughts that has been percolating in my head from Tom Powers's piece is:

You take your Southern Baptists and your Catholics and your Mormons-- three gangs that through history were united only in their consuming hatred for one another-- and they now form a sort of United Front for Primitivism. Whether their religions are being used for justification or pretext, they have merged religion and politics in the interest of upholding the Ancient Verities of sexism, racism, and any other kind of social "other"-ism.

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If Ted Cruz Is A Reactionary And Obama And Clinton Are Conservatives, Do We Ever Get A Liberal?


Obama comes in a progressivism package but his record is conservative-- not reactionary like Ted Cruz or John McCain or Mitt Romney... conservative... like Hillary Clinton. Maybe not as bad as her, at least in terms of obsequiousness to Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex, but pretty bad. When they were both in the Senate together, her overall voting record was slightly better-- more progressive-- than his. But both were part of the DC conservative consensus. Neither is anything like the Elizabeth Warren Eugene Robinson wrote about yesterday.
The Massachusetts Democrat has become the brightest ideological and rhetorical light in a party whose prospects are dimmed by-- to use a word Jimmy Carter never uttered-- malaise. Her weekend swing through Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa to rally the faithful displayed something no other potential contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, including Hillary Clinton, seems able to present: a message.

“We can go through the list over and over, but at the end of every line is this: Republicans believe this country should work for those who are rich, those who are powerful, those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” she said Friday in Englewood, Colo. “I will tell you we can whimper about it, we can whine about it or we can fight back. I’m here with [Sen.] Mark Udall so we can fight back.”

Warren was making her second visit to the state in two months because Udall’s re-election race against Republican Cory Gardner is what Dan Rather used to call “tight as a tick.” If Democrats are to keep their majority in the Senate, the party’s base must break with form and turn out in large numbers for a midterm election. Voters won’t do this unless somebody gives them a reason.

Warren may be that somebody. Her grand theme is economic inequality and her critique, both populist and progressive, includes a searing indictment of Wall Street. Liberals eat it up.

“The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it,” she said Saturday at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. The line drew a huge ovation-- as did mention of legislation she has sponsored to allow students to refinance their student loans.

Later, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.-- a rare Democratic incumbent who is expected to cruise to re-election next month-- gave a heartfelt, if less-than-original, assessment of Warren’s performance: “She’s a rock star.”
Yes she is. Bernie Sanders' content is too. But he hasn't caught fire the way she has. Neither have other progressive stars like Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Alan Grayson (D-FL). Perhaps they will in time. But right now it looks like there is nothing that's going to stop the Democratic Party from nominating another confused conservative for president.

If you listen to a lot of Fox News or Hate Talk Radio-- or don't tune in to politics until 2 weeks before elections-- you may be wondering why I think Obama is a conservative. But we've been explaining that regularly since 2007. But don't just take my word for it. Remember Bruce Bartlett, the supply-side economics nut who worked for both Reagan and Poppy Bush? Lately he's been yammering on and on about how George W. Bush's neo-liberal corporate economics weren't really conservative at all. In 2006, he wrote Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. He's written that Bill Clinton's economic policies were more conservative than Bush's and now he's calling attention to the inherent conservatism apparent in Obama's record as president. This week, in an essay at the American Conservative, entitled Obama Is A Republican, he makes the case that Obama has more in common with Nixon than with Saul Alinsky.

He points out that in 2008 one in five conservatives voted for Obama over McCain and that big name Republican insiders like Ken Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff; Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general; Ken Adelman, director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for Reagan; Jeffrey Hart, longtime senior editor of National Review; Colin Powell, Reagan’s national security adviser and secretary of state for George W. Bush; and Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary backed him. He writes that Obama "has governed as a moderate conservative."
One of Obama’s first decisions after the election was to keep national-security policy essentially on automatic pilot from the Bush administration. He signaled this by announcing on November 25, 2008, that he planned to keep Robert M. Gates on as secretary of defense. Arguably, Gates had more to do with determining Republican policy on foreign and defense policy between the two Bush presidents than any other individual, serving successively as deputy national security adviser in the White House, director of Central Intelligence, and secretary of defense.

Another early indication of Obama’s hawkishness was naming his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state. During the campaign, Clinton ran well to his right on foreign policy, so much so that she earned the grudging endorsement of prominent neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol and David Brooks.

...After Obama named Clinton secretary of state, there was “a deep sigh” of relief among Republicans throughout Washington, according to reporting by the Daily Beast’s John Batchelor. He noted that not a single Republican voiced any public criticism of her appointment.

...With the economy collapsing, the first major issue confronting Obama in 2009 was some sort of economic stimulus. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, whose academic work at the University of California, Berkeley, frequently focused on the Great Depression, estimated that the stimulus needed to be in the range of $1.8 trillion, according to Noam Scheiber’s book The Escape Artists.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.

A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill-- $291 billion-- despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.

It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.

Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study-- but the improvement is real.

Republicans would have us believe that their tight-fisted approach to spending is what brought down the deficit. But in fact, Obama has been very conservative, fiscally, since day one, to the consternation of his own party. According to reporting by the Washington Post and New York Times, Obama actually endorsed much deeper cuts in spending and the deficit than did the Republicans during the 2011 budget negotiations, but Republicans walked away.

Obama’s economic conservatism extends to monetary policy as well. His Federal Reserve appointments have all been moderate to conservative, well within the economic mainstream. He even reappointed Republican Ben Bernanke as chairman in 2009. Many liberals have faulted Obama for not appointing board members willing to be more aggressive in using monetary policy to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.

Obama’s other economic appointments, such as Larry Summers at the National Economic Council and Tim Geithner at Treasury, were also moderate to conservative. Summers served on the Council of Economic Advisers staff in Reagan’s White House. Geithner joined the Treasury during the Reagan administration and served throughout the George H.W. Bush administration.

...Contrary to rants that Obama’s 2010 health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the most socialistic legislation in American history, the reality is that it is virtually textbook Republican health policy, with a pedigree from the Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

It’s important to remember that historically the left-Democratic approach to healthcare reform was always based on a fully government-run system such as Medicare or Medicaid. During debate on health reform in 2009, this approach was called “single payer,” with the government being the single payer. One benefit of this approach is cost control: the government could use its monopsony buying power to force down prices just as Walmart does with its suppliers.

Conservatives wanted to avoid too much government control and were adamantly opposed to single-payer. But they recognized that certain problems required more than a pure free-market solution. One problem in particular is covering people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions in ACA. The difficulty is that people may wait until they get sick before buying insurance and then expect full coverage for their conditions. Obviously, this free-rider problem would bankrupt the health-insurance system unless there was a fix.

The conservative solution was the individual mandate-- forcing people to buy private health insurance, with subsidies for the poor. This approach was first put forward by Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler in a 1989 paper, “A Framework for Reform,” published in a Heritage Foundation book, A National Health System for America. In it, Butler said the number one element of a conservative health system was this: “Every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health costs.” He went on to say:
Under this arrangement, all households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance or enrolling in a prepaid health plan. The degree of financial protection can be debated, but the principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.
...In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed an individual mandate in a speech to the National Press Club. “I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children,” he said. Even libertarian Ron Bailey, writing in Reason, conceded the necessity of a mandate in a November 2004 article titled, “Mandatory Health Insurance Now!” Said Bailey: “Why shouldn’t we require people who now get health care at the expense of the rest of us pay for their coverage themselves? … Mandatory health insurance would not be unlike the laws that require drivers to purchase auto insurance or pay into state-run risk pools.”

Other Rightward Policies

Below are a few other issues on which Obama has consistently tilted rightward:

Drugs: Although it has become blindingly obvious that throwing people in jail for marijuana use is insane policy and a number of states have moved to decriminalize its use, Obama continued the harsh anti-drug policy of previous administrations, and his Department of Justice continues to treat marijuana as a dangerous drug. As Time put it in 2012: “The Obama Administration is cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries and growers just as harshly as the Administration of George W. Bush did.”

National-security leaks: At least since Nixon, a hallmark of Republican administrations has been an obsession with leaks of unauthorized information, and pushing the envelope on government snooping. By all accounts, Obama’s penchant for secrecy and withholding information from the press is on a par with the worst Republican offenders. Journalist Dan Froomkin charges that Obama has essentially institutionalized George W. Bush’s policies. Nixon operative Roger Stone thinks Obama has actually gone beyond what his old boss tried to do.

Race: I think almost everyone, including me, thought the election of our first black president would lead to new efforts to improve the dismal economic condition of African-Americans. In fact, Obama has seldom touched on the issue of race, and when he has he has emphasized the conservative themes of responsibility and self-help. Even when Republicans have suppressed minority voting, in a grotesque campaign to fight nonexistent voter fraud, Obama has said and done nothing.

Gay marriage: Simply stating public support for gay marriage would seem to have been a no-brainer for Obama, but it took him two long years to speak out on the subject and only after being pressured to do so.

Corporate profits: Despite Republican harping about Obama being anti-business, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels during his administration. Even those progressives who defend Obama against critics on the left concede that he has bent over backward to protect corporate profits. As Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs put it: “In practice, [Obama] helped Wall Street avert financial catastrophe and furthered measures to support businesses and cater to mainstream public opinion...  He has always done so through specific policies that protect and further opportunities for businesses to make profits.”

I think Cornell West nailed it when he recently charged that Obama has never been a real progressive in the first place. “He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit,” West said. “We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency.”

I don’t expect any conservatives to recognize the truth of Obama’s fundamental conservatism for at least a couple of decades-- perhaps only after a real progressive presidency. In any case, today they are too invested in painting him as the devil incarnate in order to frighten grassroots Republicans into voting to keep Obama from confiscating all their guns, throwing them into FEMA re-education camps, and other nonsense that is believed by many Republicans. But just as they eventually came to appreciate Bill Clinton’s core conservatism, Republicans will someday see that Obama was no less conservative.
Whoopdie-doo. I voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. I hope I get the chance to vote for Bernie Sanders in 2016.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Unlike South Dakota, Australia Will Help China Seize Stolen Ex-Pat Funds


In the light of the Mike Rounds EB-5 visa-selling scandal that could throw the South Dakota senate race to outspoken progressive populist Rick Weiland, maybe it's time to go back to the June guest post Qiao Li did for us, China's Naked Officials. Short version: Chinese bureaucrats and government officials are illegally moving vast sums of wealth offshore for their own and their families' use. The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which analyses illicit financial flows, estimates that $2.83 trillion flowed illegally out of China from 2005 to 2011.

Yesterday, Reuters reported that China's Communist Party "will likely never open all the files on its recent painful past." And, presumably, they don't foresee a future without the Communist Party being in control. "Only a 'small number' of the party's historical files were still sealed, [Xie Chuntao, Director of the Party History Teaching and Research Department of the Party School] said. 'Some involve the state's core interests, and some are not convenient to be released,' Xie added. 'From a historical research it is to be hoped that it would be best if they are all opened. But I fear this cannot happen, and may never happen'."

So much for the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the death of Lin Biao in a plane crash as mysterious as the one Karl Rove used to murder Paul Wellstone. But what about Chinese deprecations that are happening today-- like the hacking of Apple's iCloud and, going back to the naked officials, the deal China made with Australia to seize their outsourced assets-- a very different kind of deal than the one South Dakota ex-Governor Mike Rounds made to get a cut of the stolen assets for himself.
Australian police have agreed to assist China in the extradition and seizure of assets of corrupt Chinese officials who have fled with hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit funds, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported on Monday.

The joint operation would make its first seizure of assets in Australia within weeks, the newspaper quoted Bruce Hill, manager of Australian Federal Police (AFP) operations in Asia, as saying in an interview.

AFP officials in Canberra had no immediate comment.

China announced in July an operation called Fox Hunt to go after corrupt officials who have fled overseas with their ill-gotten gains, part of President Xi Jinping's broader crackdown on graft.

Getting such cooperation from Australia would be a coup for Beijing, which has struggled to get its hands on suspects in Western countries, whose governments have been reluctant to hand over wanted Chinese because of concerns over whether they would get fair trials back home.

The United States, Canada and Australia are the three most popular destinations for suspected Chinese economic criminals, Chinese state media has said.

Australia and China had agreed on a priority list of alleged economic fugitives who have taken residence in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald said.

Among the suspects identified by the AFP were naturalized Australian citizens and permanent residents who for years had laundered money under the guise of being genuine investment or business migrants from China, it added. [This, of course, is exactly what Mike Rounds and his cronies in South Dakota have been doing.]

The priority list agreed between China's Ministry of Public Security and the AFP was culled from a broader list of "less than a 100 people," Hill told the paper, adding that the assets being pursued by China in Australia were in the "many hundreds of millions of dollars."

Australia and China don't have an extradition agreement, but the Australian attorney general can consider extradition requests for offences under the U.N. Convention against Corruption, which Canberra and Beijing are both parties to.
Interestingly, last week Australia started boosting a visa scheme like the one that got Mike Rounds into so much trouble that aims to lure "investment" from wealthy Chinese, including jumping the wealthy crooks to the front of the visa line, just the way Rounds did in South Dakota.

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As Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss returns from vacation, we look back at the temporary boss's management style


Does this boss need a vacation?


DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

by Ken

As all Dilbert fans know, today is the big day: Dilbert's Pointy-Haired Boss returned from vacation. So I thought this would be a good time to look back through this tumultuous week, in which the PHB deputized an unexpected fill-in. I've taken the liberty of placing the Sunday strip where it would seem to belong in the sequence.

Thursday -- "A soulless creature of questionable intelligence"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Sunday -- "Robots will never be intelligent like humans"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

Friday -- Temporary Robot Boss 1:
"I have come to micromanage you"

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Saturday -- Temporary Robot Boss 2:
Machine vs. Man er, Wally

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Monday -- Temporary Robot Boss 3:
A consultation with consultant Catbert

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

Tuesday -- He's ba-a-a-ack!

DILBERT     by Scott Adams

[Click to enlarge]

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Who Is Financing The Right Wing Jihad Against Mike Honda-- And Why?


Two weeks from today will likely be the last time anyone ever hears about Ro Khanna, unless he gets arrested for criminal activities up the road. His campaign is one ultra-expensive failure financed by conservatives-- both Republican conservatives and Democratic conservatives, all eager to replace progressive icon Mike Honda with a sleazy conservative disguised as a Democrat. Alexander Kaufman wrote up a report of the interview Politico did with Warren Buffet, the second richest man in America (after Bill Gates), worth $67.3 billion. Buffet says he thinks wealthy people like himself, you the multibillionaires particularly, shouldn't be paying taxes at lower rates than their servants. Some of the richest people in America pay as little as 10% on their income taxes, far less than when the middle class was being built and people paid 90% on income over a million dollars.
Buffett said his own tax rate was “certainly not too high.” He has frequently pointed out that his tax rate is lower than that of his secretary. Debbie Bosanek, his secretary since 1993, has been a symbol for tax inequality since Buffett began touting the disparity in their tax rates as far back as 2007. During a 2012 interview with ABC News, Bosanek said she paid a tax rate of 35.8 percent, while Buffett paid 17.4 percent.

...Buffett urged the federal government to charge higher tax rates on income earned from some stock dividends and capital gains. Currently, such income is taxed at rates far lower than ordinary income. This helps widen income inequality and is an example of one way that wealth gained from assets such as stocks and property grows much faster than wages or the actual economy, as French economist Thomas Piketty argued in his bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Up top is a new campaign ad from Mike Honda, one of the staunchest supporters of ordinary working families in the entire Congress. The ad contrasts Honda to Khanna, who is the quintessential handmaiden for the wealthy greed-hogs who don't want government services because they want lower taxes for themselves. Right wing billionaires, like extremist sociopaths John & Laura Arnold and Peter Thiel, as well as Romney's 47% dirt-bag Marc Leder, all of whom normally only give to Republicans, are maxing out to Khanna and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to slimy SuperPACs running smear campaigns against Honda on Khanna's behalf.

Why do these greed-obsessed billionaires love Khanna so much? Simple: Khanna insists that the current corporate tax rate is too high, adamantly opposes increasing taxes on the one percent and wants to tax capital gains income as ordinary income as well as lowering repatriation of profits taxes from companies that have hidden their assets overseas to avoid taxes. Oh, yeah-- and he wants to cut Social Security benefits. He has vociferously attacked Honda for proposing to increase Social Security benefits-- a position Honda has led on and shares with every progressive in Congress-- and insisted it was "just a campaign tactic." Khanna:
"We need to have an honest conversation about Social Security and Medicare. Mike Honda has been campaigning on increasing, increasing Social Security benefits beyond what the current cost of living adjustments will allow. He knows that's impossible, he knows he's never going to get the votes for it. He knows the budget doesn't work, but it's just a campaign tactic. And the reality is, we need to start having an honest conversation."
Does that sound like a Democrat to you? Khanna has been running for office ever since he was caught stealing an election for student body president at the University of Chicago in 1966. He also once lied to California voters, claiming that Bill Clinton had endorsed him. Clinton, who had been neutral in the primary, immediately endorsed his opponent, Congressman Tom Lantos, who proceeded to wipe the floor with Khanna. Khanna tried insinuating that President Obama was backing him too-- but Obama endorsed Honda in no uncertain terms:
"Congressman Mike Honda is the right leader for the 17th district. Together, we’ve worked hard these last four years to bring meaningful, positive change to our nation, but there is much more to do. As we continue rebuilding our economy from the middle out, we know expanding educational opportunities is critical. Congressman Honda's lifelong commitment to education and fierce advocacy for innovation and technology is exactly what this nation needs as we continue to move America forward. We need Congressman Mike Honda in the United States Congress, and I urge you to vote to keep him there."
Khanna's a liar and a creep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), the president of the congressional freshman class typifies the high regard in which his colleagues hold him:
Mike Honda is a great American, and one of our living icons in the Democratic ranks of the United States House of Representatives. In much the same way that Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is a living, breathing reminder of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Rep. Honda of California takes us back even further, to the 1940s of the Japanese-American internment camps. I often mention with pride that a Pennsylvanian, Justice Owen Roberts, dissented, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of the Executive Order creating those internment camps. Mike Honda, born in 1941, spent his early childhood years in an internment camp in California.

…Nelson Mandela once said that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Mike Honda could easily have turned to resentment or bitterness over the mind-boggling unfairness of his family’s wartime internment. Instead, he has devoted his life to the positive and uplifting work of making America a more just, more peaceful, and more progressive nation. I am deeply honored to be a fellow member of the House Democratic Caucus with Mike Honda, and even prouder to serve alongside him in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I urge my fellow Democrats to support Representative Honda’s reelection in whatever way you can.

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How The Republican Party Began Their War Against Women By Defeating The Equal Rights Amendment


It isn't news that George Will is using his skills as a right-wing propagandist to try to undermine the work of the Senate's #1 proponent of individual liberty against the encroachments of the CIA and NSA, Mark Udall. It's no secret which side of that existential battle Will and his ilk are on. In a Washington Post column last week datelined Denver, no less, Will takes on Udall not because he's the Senate's champion of privacy rights, but because he's a champion of women's rights.

"One of the wonders of this political moment," Will asserts, "is feminist contentment about the infantilization of women in the name of progressive politics." And, the whole war on women is completely made up, he insists. "Access to contraception has been a constitutional right for 49 years (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). The judiciary has controlled abortion policy for 41 years (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Yet the Democratic Party thinks women can be panicked into voting about mythical menaces to these things." Somehow Will forgot to mention that the Republican party has been working hard to overturn both and that his boy Cory has been a leader in that movement-- until he decided to run for statewide office. Now, says Will, Gardner is trying to make "amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional 'personhood' amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg. On this slender reed, Udall leans his overheated accusations that Gardner is bent on 'trampling on women’s rights,' is on a 'crusade' for 'eliminating' reproductive freedoms and would 'outlaw birth control'.”

The Republican Party hasn't always been the bastion of fear and loathing for women that Will is trying to claim it isn't-- despite all the evidence that it is, like the GOP unending battle against equal pay for equal work and the pandering to primitive religionists-- like the Southern Baptists-- who insist that women are property. In his new book, The Invisible Bridge, historian Rick Perstein shows how the Republican Party didn't launch its War Against Women until Richard Mellon Scaife's pet project, ALEC, and Phyllis Schlafly figured out how to make money for themselves with it.
[B]attles were raging for and against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex," ran its apparently anodyne text. The majority of the public supported the idea; respectable moderate Republican ladies being its main base of support, the Republicans had endorsed it in every one of their party platforms since 1944 and President Eisenhower had asked a joint session of Congress to approve it in 1958. They did so, finally, in 1972-- at which the movement to achieve the constitutional requirement in two-thirds of state legislatures, thirty-eight to be precise, took off like a rocket, with thirty ratifications by the end of 1973.

Then the progress became as slow as molasses.

Perlstein wrote that "Only four more states voted passage by the spring." The backward, reactionary states from the Old Confederacy had no intention of giving women any kind of equality and Perlstein points out that "a frantic right-wing movement" led by a crazed and militant Republican Party activist Phyllis "I'd like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight" Schlafly, always brimming with hatred and bile, stop the process. Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and, of course, Utah and Arizona all refused to ratify it and several increasingly right-wing oriented states, like Tennessee, Idaho, Nebraska and Kentucky, rescinded their ratification votes. Schlafly spent her time screeching about how the Amendment would lead women being drafted and to unisex bathrooms. Schlafly warned her fellow Republicans that giving women legal equality would lead to homosexuality and that it would "remake our laws, revise the marriage contract, restructure society, remold our children to conform to liberal values instead of God's values, and replace the image of a woman as virtue and mother with the image of prostiture, swinger, and lesbian."

One frightened conservative woman in Florida, typical of the kind of people who got taken in by Schlafly and other neo-Nazi activists within the Republican coalition said that "I do not want to share a public restroom with black or white hippie males." Florida never did ratify the ERA. No war on women here, though.

Perhaps next Will will take on the Hagan-Tillis race with his slick dunderheaded propaganda:

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Fred Upton Can't Hide From His Record-- Although He's Trying... As Well As Threatening Campaign Donors


There are a lot of reasons Fred Upton should be replaced as the congressman from southwest Michigan (MI-06). Not the least of them is the calibre of Paul Clements, the progressive Democrat running for the seat. But polling shows is that the two reasons that most resonate among the district’s voters are that Upton has changed since they first sent him to Congress in 1986— and not for the better. He’s twisted himself into knots trying to stay on the good side of the Confederate extremists who have so much say over the House Republicans. So much so, that his voting record is now far too extreme for a moderate district like the sixth.

And worse than his voting record itself, is his record of leadership— or lack of leadership— in the crucial issues that come before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that John Boehner gave him to chair. He’s taken immense sums of money from corporate lobbyists and directly from the very special interests over which he’s supposed to being exercising oversight. He truly has become the fox guarding the hen house.

Before the House Republicans shut down the government, Upton said he thought it would be a mistake and correctly predicted that it would hurt the most vulnerable Americans the worst. His predication came true but he didn’t even have the courage of his convictions to oppose it. He went right along with the Tea Party fanatics like Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman and Paul Broun in voting to shut down the government.

Now that polls show that 56% of MI-06 voters are less likely to vote for Upton because of that vote, he keeps trying to turn the discussion in a different direction— how he voted to reopen the government, never mentioning he had voted to shut it down over his crazy anti-Obamacare mania. Media in the district has been very clear that he made a big mistake. He refuses to acknowledge it and refuses to tell the voters he won’t do it again.

This week Blue America began another Google ads campaign reminding voters in MI-06 that Upton has changed and has already voted to shut down the government— and that he can’t be trusted to not do the same thing again after the midterms. The ad is up top and Blue America doesn’t get charged for the thousands of people who see it, only for the people in the district who watch at least 30 seconds of the spot itself. It’s a very cost-effective way to get the message out and we want to ask you to consider chipping in for the effort. We want to keep it running right up until November 4th. If you’d like to help, our Independent Expenditure Committee is right here… and there are no limitations on the amount you can contribute.

If you watched the now-notorious interview Upton did with the editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette your jaw may have dropped at many of Upton's self-serving lies. But there was one moment Ryan Grim caught yesterday for HuffPo readers that wasn't a lie-- Upton's pique at donors to Lawrence Lessig's crowd-sourced PAC. Some of the crowd were Silicon Valley tycoons and Upton has been treating them and their special interests very well on his important committee and is now threatening retaliation for the contributions to MayDay PAC. Ecuse me... Upton is too nice a guy to threaten anyone-- at least directly. He has a well-known political thug who's doing it for him, GOP slime bucket, former and future crooked lobbyist, Gary Andres. "Andres," wrote Grim, has been "personally... calling the CEOs of major Silicon Valley tech companies, hammering them for coming after Upton and spooking Mayday's donors, who worry their companies will get rougher treatment when and if Upton survives." Maybe they should double down. Blue America is going after Upton too-- and we can accept unlimited amounts here.
Upton himself has reached out to the donors, he told a local editorial board during a livestreamed interview on Friday. "I do know some of the folks that funded the PAC and, as I've talked to them, they are, or they were under the illusion that this was a group that was trying to focus on dysfunction and taking it out, getting people that can work together. And the people that I've talked to, some of them have put six figures into this PAC. They are really ashamed," Upton said in the interview. "They are distraught. They said they were taken for a ride. It's too late. They bought the stuff and it came out of the blue."

They may indeed be distraught. Upton has significant power as the chairman of the committee that regulates Silicon Valley, and the tech CEOs didn't anticipate having him on their bad side when they chipped in to the PAC. Yet any major effort to challenge the status quo was bound to run up against one power center or another.

..."Who do you think orchestrated Shayes-Meehan, the bipartisan bill? It was Fred Upton," Upton told the Kalamazoo Gazette editorial board. "I'm not a lawyer. I'm sorry that the Supreme Court struck quite a bit of it."

An adviser to the Mayday PAC countered that Upton, whatever his past support, has not signed on to any of the campaign finance reform bills, either Democratic or Republican ones, now in Congress. Upton also voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would have rolled back some of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision he says he disagreed with. (The Mayday adviser added that while the super PAC's spending against Upton has been reported as $1.5 million, it is in fact closer to $2 million.)

Upton told the editorial board he'd soon be willing to give the names of the CEOs who were ashamed of their contributions. "I don't wanna give you names yet. I'll be glad to," he said.

In his interview, Upton noted his support of immigration as well, adding that the super PAC's aim is inconsistent. "This is a PAC that's allegedly taking big money out of politics, yet they're spending a million and a half dollars against me. That's a little bit contrary to start with," he said.

The irony doesn't stop there. Upton was asked whether the sizable amount of corporate PAC contributions he takes makes him unable to independently oversee those corporations. He cited the Mayday PAC's spending, which is aimed at reducing the overall influence of money in politics, as an example of why he needs to raise so much money.

"I have to be prepared. I've always said, in a campaign, you've gotta be like a Boy Scout," he said. "We've gotta be prepared. We didn't know that this PAC was gonna come back with a million and a half dollars against me, literally in like a two week span, but we had to be ready for it, and you know what? We are."

What kind of campaign finance reform would Upton support?

"We need maybe a code of ethics," he said, in which organizations would pledge not to run negative ads.

Help us keep that ad up top in front of MI-06 voters right through election day. Any amount will help-- right here but Silicon Valley moguls, can I suggest $5,000 increments?

UPDATE: Clements Responds To Upton's Shady Tactics

"Chairman Upton's actions and those of his government employees are unacceptable. It's not enough that Fred Upton raises millions of dollars from the very companies he regulates, he then has the staff director of the Energy and Commerce Committee threaten the leaders of those companies when they support efforts to fix our broken campaign finance system.

"Members of Congress bullying the very companies they regulate to influence the political process is the definition of corruption. Fred Upton's behavior is a prime example of how our system is broken and a case study in corruption.

"It's no surprise that Congressman Upton refuses to debate me in Southwest Michigan, when he is spending his time in Washington making phone calls to Silicon Valley CEOs in order to chide them for donating to a good government group that supports me. Every day on the campaign trail, I hear how Congressman Upton has changed. This is just another example of how he is more concerned for his own future than the future of his constituents. Fred Upton needs to stop shaking down corporate donors and answer to the people of Michigan."

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Accepting Money From Lobbyists Is A Form Of Legalistic Bribery— And Everyone Knows It


This week PolitiFact asked a direct, simple question: Does Mitch McConnell receive more money from lobbyists than any other member of Congress?. It was based an the ascertain by Alison Lundergan Grimes on March 27— and disputed by McConnell operatives— that he does. What she said, precisely, is that McConnell is “the number one recipient of contributions from lobbyists this cycle.” There can be little dispute that he is, but that didn’t stop Team Mitch from disputing it. McConnell took $281,301 from lobbyists this cycle and the second most corrupt man in Congress, John Boehner (R-OH), too $2278,380. Politifacts’ verdict: “We rate it True.” Money in… favors done— everyone involved should be in prison— open and shut case. (By the way, the 10th most corrupt member lot Congress is Susan Collins, whose bribery from K Street lobbyists this cycle has amounted to $121,486.)
Lobbyists are people who are hired to persuade members of Congress on a particular issue. They are brought in by many different industries, from private companies like Microsoft or ExxonMobil, to associations representing local governments, to nonprofits focused on hot-button legislation. Some organizations have in-house lobbyists, and others hire large firms that lobby Congress on a variety of topics.

We first checked in with the Lundergan Grimes campaign to see where they got their numbers. They linked us to a report by Open Secrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog website run by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The report, titled "Sincere or Strategic, Lobbyists Give Big," looked at trends in donations from federally registered lobbyists. If a company or organization spends a certain amount of money lobbying Congress, they’re required to register with the federal government. Open Secrets checks this database against the campaign finance disclosure reports that candidates file.

Open Secrets found that the 25 lobbyists who have contributed the most money to campaigns this cycle have already donated $1.9 million. Contributions are not party exclusive; five of those 25 gave strictly to Republicans, 11 gave to Democrats and a handful gave to both.

Open Secrets also released a list of the members of Congress who have received the most donations from lobbyists during the campaign cycle (since the start of 2013).

With $281,301 in contributions from lobbyists, McConnell topped the list, followed closely by House Speaker John Boehner at $278,380. McConnell has also received another $50,000 from family members of lobbyists.

…McConnell isn’t just the top congressional recipient of donations from lobbyists. According to his Open Secrets profile, he has also received more money than any other lawmaker since 2013 from a number of industries.

He’s No. 1 in campaign donations from people who work in the fields of— deep breath here— agriculture services, air transportation, auto dealers and manufacturers, building materials, business associations, coal mining, commercial banks, commercial TV and radio stations, electric utilities, food and beverage, food stores, general contractors, health services, home builders, insurance, medical devices and supplies, mining, mortgage bankers and brokers, pharmaceutical and health products, railroads, retirees, steel production and trucking.

When he last ran for re-election in 2008, McConnell, who was minority leader at the time, topped the list in two industries, coal mining and tobacco. He was fourth in contributions from lobbyists.
George Costanza is sick of all this money in politics:

Since 1990, the K Street bribery industry spent $218,631,961 in federal elections, $179,476,017 of which went to incumbents. Removing members who also ran for president-- Hillary (the #1 all-time champion at $2,169,669), McCain, John Kerry, Barack Obama-- and people dead or retired, these are the dozen worst since 1990:
 Harry Reid (D-NV)- $1,741,621
 Miss McConnell (R-KY)- $1,312,771
 Ed Markey (D-MA)- $1,230,608
 Mary Landrieu (D-LA)- $1,165,822
 John Boehner (R-OH)- $1,162,921
 Patty Murray (D-WA)- $1,153,953
 Maria Cantwell (D-WA)- $1,064,696
 Chuck Schumer (D-NY)- $1,005,327
 Robert Menendez (D-NJ)- $1,000,062
 Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $972,682
 Orrin Hatch (R-UT)- $965,392
 Bill Nelson (D-FL)- $930,718
And if we just want to look at who the biggest crooks among current House members are, here's the dirty dozen (again, since 1990):
 John Boehner (R-OH)- $1,162,921
 Steny Hoyer (D-MD)- $972,682
 Jim Moran (D-VA)- $844,249
 Charlie Rangel (D-NY)- $838,853
 John Dingell (D-MI)- $831,311
 Don Young (R-AK)- $728,932
 Dave Camp (R-MI)- $597,945
 Pete Visclosky (D-IN)- $569,889
 Ed Pastor (D-AZ)- $546,989
 Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)- $509,519
 Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)- $490,940
 Patrick Tiberi (R-OH)- $489,827
You tell me— would America be better off without these people in Congress? And would America be better off if lobbyists who bribe politicians were arrested, tried and punished-- along with the bribe-takers?

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Don't be so sure that Pope Francis lost this round of squabbling with the bishops


The pope at the now-concluded Vatican synod on the family.

by Ken

On Friday I poked around the pushback being felt within and without the special synod of bishops gathered in the Vatican to ponder family issues. The synod seems clearly an initiative of Pope Francis to see where the boys in the hierarchi he inherited are standing on his initiatives to imbue Catholic family values with some measure of humanity.

By then the vocal and power-grubbing coterie of scumbag bishops had already begun watering down the draft document circulated on Monday, and the power-grubbers in the hierarchy as well as their power-grubbing movers in the laity were flexing their backward-looking muscles. On Saturday the final document that was released fell a heckuva lot short of that the Holy Father had in mind.

As the Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein reported:
A major meeting Pope Francis convened to help the Catholic Church improve its outreach to diverse modern families ended Saturday with a summary paper that removed earlier, revolutionary language that cited the value of same-sex and divorced families.

Critics of the pope were celebrating Saturday, with conservative Catholics cheering the reaffirmation that God prefers the traditional family.

The two-week meeting in Rome hadn’t been expected to result in changes to traditional doctrine, but the rare sight of cardinals from around the world debating matters such as whether same-sex couples can be called “partners” floored many Catholics. More liberal Catholics said Saturday that it was a victory for the church to even have such conversations, though many expressed disappointment with the paper.
This doesn't sound so bad.

But then we get:
“The language of compromise was eviscerated from Monday’s summary,” said Patrick Hornbeck, chair of theology at Fordham University, a Catholic institution. “The bishops who were more prophetic and progressive have found themselves drowned out by a chorus of hesitation and concern.”

Saturday’s summary reflected deep divisions in the world’s largest Christian church as it tries to reconnect with 21st-century families while sticking to its doctrine. Traditional bishops had spoken publicly and angrily in the past few days against the more open language in Monday’s draft document, saying it was a dangerous betrayal and potentially heretical. Some said the church could eventually be headed for division.
And even this is down-the-middle treatment that's a good deal more generous to the old pope than a lot of the noise being heard from the Catholic right-wing war parties, who seem positively exultant at kneecappping the puling pontiff.

Except that may not be what happened. It was, after all, the pope who pressed the synod to a swift conclusion, denying the bishops the opportunity to stall, obfuscate, and stultify, and it was the pope who insisted that in the interest of transparency, vote totals be released for every section of the proposed document, whether voted up or down -- and bear in mind that a two-thirds vote was required for adoption.

As Michelle Boorstein reports:
The Vatican on Saturday released the vote tallies for each section of the report, and [the international traditionalist conglomeration] Voice of the Family noted that the most contentious sections — encouraging a more welcoming attitude toward families who don’t conform to orthodox norms — weren’t overwhelmingly defeated.

“The voting numbers reveal that most Synod Fathers remain open to proposals contrary to Catholic teaching,” the statement said. “There has been much talk about ‘welcoming’ and ‘accompanying’ people, but this is impossible without the clarity of the truth.”
And of course it's the Inquisitionaries who are in sole possession of "the truth," and the clarity thereof.

Of course individual votes weren't made public, but everyone who participated in the voting is now answerable for his vote. (Isn't it handy that we don't have to worry about inserting gender-inclusive formulations like "his or her vote"?) Now I can't claim to speak for the pope, but a few things seem fairly clear:

• The pope has a lot of power, but he really can't take the Church anywhere it doesn't want to go, and he can hardly be unaware that the hierarchy isn't exactly the most enlightened. After all, for almost 35 unbroken years, his vile predecessors, the fake-saintly autocrat John Paul II and his even more unspeakable henchman, Cardinal Ratguts, later Pope Cardinal Ratguts, exercised total and ruthless control over hierarchical promotions, meaning that the whole shebang is now made up with their dregs -- a combination of reactionary power-grubbers and self-promoting toadies. As our friend John Puma pointed out in a comment on my Friday post, that very day one of the bulwarks of Catholic reaction, Cardinal Raymond Burke, was squealing like a pig about having been forced out of his high-level Vatican post.

• It's going to be some time, though, before Francis can have any significant impact on the overall makeup of the hierachy, and he doesn't know how much time he has. He has to be aware of the example of his great predecessor John XXIII, who was elevated to the papacy with a mandate to die soon but didn't, and caused all manner of trouble. Eventually he did die, though, and while it took the traditionalists decades to move the theological clock back, eventually they managed it. Both Francis and his enemies know that time can be a powerful obstacle to any meaningful reform.

So maybe it's time for the current pope to shake things up, to get people talking, and to make sure those people are aware that other people are listening.


is the take of the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart ("Pope Francis and gays will win by losing this round on synod draft"), which begins:

Headlines called it a “setback” for Pope Francis that the initial draft of the synod of bishops released last week that spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons” was silent on them in the final document. But I don’t see it that way at all. The pope let the genie out of the bottle. And, as we all know, it’s difficult to put him back in once released.
And Jonathan concludes:
I’m not saying the church or the pope will become a champion of LGBT rights. And I’m definitely not saying they are going to support marriage equality. What I am saying is that by talking about the humanity of gay and lesbian Catholics and worrying about their place in the church, Pope Francis is openly recognizing them as children of God. After centuries of demonization, that’s a revolutionary act that can’t be undone.

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