Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Something Rotten In The State Of Political Polling-- Has Strategic Visions Been making Up Polling Data?


-by Doug Kahn 
Over at today, Mark Blumenthal will probably explain why President Obama's 'favorable' rating is suddenly five percentage points better than it was yesterday. On Monday, Steve Singiser of DailyKos was saying how a 54.7%–37.5% favorability rating for Obama was no disaster, nothing portending a rout of House Democrats running for reelection, because he had a similar rating just before the November election. He used this chart, which no longer exists on So the President is plus-17% in the polls. Except today, the chart shows the President with a 56.8%–34.6% rating, or plus-22%. The difference is that today's chart is missing about 200,000 voters Rasmussen polled over the past 11 months.

Mark is one of the internet's top polling analysts, and recently he's been commenting on the controversy surrounding polling results released by Strategic Visions, a Republican consulting group. It seems possible they've been making up their results. Nate Silver of found anomalies in their published figures that make it clear it couldn't be the results of random polling. Certain digits were showing up more often in the last decimal place: 1, 2, and 3 occurred more frequently. So someone was just sitting around making up numbers. 

Someone pretty dumb, that is. Anyone who makes even a tiny effort to examine his/her own thinking will understand we all have favorite numbers. What's your favorite number from 0 to 9? And how could you possibly have a favorite number, anyway; are they like people? (I hope no one comes and takes me away for this, but to me all 10 digits have distinct personalities.) All of us have a certain amount of magical thinking going on upstairs. Feel free to discount this conclusion about all of us; my logic is compromised by my belief in magic. Or not.  

Anyway, the designated charlatan over at Strategic Visions didn't grok the concept that when you form the intention of making up random results, it causes the numbers you make up to not be random. Maybe your favorite number or numbers will come up more often, and maybe you'll make an effort to compensate for that, but your compensation won't be random. Even computerized 'random number generators' can't provide truly random results. What could be more obvious: you can't be intentionally or systematically random.
Back to Rasmussen: they report weekly on President Obama's favorability rating among likely voters, also on his job approval. The difference between the two somewhat eludes me, but I accept the results of hundreds of polls: we're more likely to feel favorably about someone than we are to approve of the job they're doing. I suppose that means liking them despite their faults. I try to resist that with the President, because when he's not doing a good job, it negatively affects the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Tens of millions of these people are on the brink of personal disaster, financially and otherwise. Whether I like the guy damn well better be vanishingly insignificant. 

Let me just say this directly: I believe that some of the polling numbers from Rasmussen Reports are really the result of deliberately skewed polling. I'm not saying they make up the numbers, I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying their 'methods' make Obama look less popular than he really is. Because they don't like him and his policies, and they don't like Democrats and Democratic policies. reports on the results of all the major polling firms, and then 'aggregates' the numbers in charts which show 18 months' worth of polling. These aggregates are considered reliable, and are very influential. (Steve Singiser wouldn't use them otherwise.) They do this even though each polling company uses somewhat different methodologies, and asks questions with slightly different wording. Presumably, aggregates make erroneous polls ['outliers', in the jargon of polling math] less influential, by overwhelming them with more accurate data. I'm skeptical. I think that lending legitimacy to funky polling by valuing the results on an equal basis with more rigorous mathematical analyses is something to be avoided, even if that means excluding certain polling firms.
Not expecting a response, I posted a 'suggestion' on the website:
August 9

"When the results of a single pollster (Rasmussen) among 10 raises the average disapproval figure by 4%(!), it's time to recognize that the single pollster isn't measuring the same question. You need to remove the Rasmussen result." 

August 10


Thanks for the feedback. For what it's worth, we've written about this issue previously, especially here and here ."

August 10


Having now seen the posts you sent me, and the comments by numerous mathematicians, I understand your reply to me is probably automated. If so, I don't blame you for it.
I'm no math whiz, so the following is a guess. Using a regression analysis, as you do, will tend to weigh more heavily the more numerous data points, like Rasmussen. That is, it has the effect of surmising that Rasmussen is more accurate because it is more frequent. A better method would take brownie points away from Rasmussen (and Gallup) for being so consistently outliers.
Let's be straightforward about the matter: the real question is whether the Rasmussen result belongs in the same class as the results of other pollsters, which is what you assume when you include their data points. Two questions arise: are they measuring the same thing, and are they measuring it in the same way? (Relatively speaking, of course, since methods vary among pollsters.)
Rasmussen assigns party identification in a different way when selecting its sample. I suggest you examine how much the Rasmussen results in the Democratic, Republican, and Independent segments differ from the larger group. You'll find the differences to be very small compared to the difference in the aggregated sample. Explain how you can conclude anything other than that Rasmussen exaggerates the Republican result.
Have they explained to you how their results always add up to 98, 99, or 100%?! May I suggest to you that they discard as nonresponsive many of the wishy-washy answers on the positive side, further skewing away from Democrats?
I think there's a high probability that Rasmussen is gaming you. If true, that will become quite a bit more obvious as time goes on. Since you have legitimate methodological reasons for excluding their results, I advise you to spare yourselves the embarassment, and the diminution of your professional reputations, by getting out in front of this." 



I assure you none of my email is automated (I wish), it's just that I get a lot of it and don't have time to re-argue points via email that we've already discussed on the blog. Sorry for that... The results Rasmussen releases omit a very small "no answer" category. They're included in the calculation but not in their daily release or tables." 



Thanks. No reason to apologize. Anyone carefully reading your site should reach the conclusion that you're committed to intellectual honesty.

The reason I pay attention to your analysis (the site itself) is your serious attention to the mathematical nuts and bolts of polling. It's the difference between real journalism (you) and all the wingnuttery available on the web. I know you're well aware of this, but it bears repeating: your reputation for honest analysis is bound to elicit false testimony.
It would be obvious to you if Rasmussen were straying from honesty. But what if they've simply leaned to one side or another of the allowable variations in methodology in a series of mathematical choices, each one affecting the previous slant, until in the end their result doesn't deserve to be aggregated with the other pollsters in your chart? (That's an exercise worth doing yourselves.) Whether they're doing so deliberately is almost beside the point. I wish you'd work from the premise that someone must be providing such a result (and with great frequency), simply because there's a 'market' for it.
When you talk about house effect, you're still implicitly accepting that the Rasmussen result is asking the 'same question'. (Not literally, of course.) Do they give you enough information about their practical application of professional standards to determine if they are producing a 'political' result? I'm well-acquainted, by experience, with the methods of firms who produce polling results for federal candidates.
I think you're influential enough that Rasmussen would have to comply with requests for information detailed enough so you can make a real judgment, so long as rejection of their result were a credible option." 



No Rasmussen presidential favorability for 9/13 through 9/20? It's been weekly." 



Thanks for noticing and contacting us about this. For some reason, they started labeling their 'favorable rating' with the labels normally used for their job approval question. We assume it was an error, but have a call in to check. That's the reason for the delay."
So that's all, except that on Tuesday, removed 47 weeks of Rasmussen polling results from the Obama favorability analysis and chart. Probability that Mark will explain that to us soon: 100%. 
The Singiser post is at:

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Alan Grayson's Candor & Honesty Irks GOP Obstructionists... Again


Goal ThermometerI know the difference between angry and mad. And when it comes to outspoken Orlando freshman Alan Grayson, Republicans are both. He's been the bane of their-- and their big donors'-- existence on the House Financial Services Committee, where he's been working effectively to put a crimp in a status quo that has presided over a concentration of wealth in this country that leaves the top 1% with more assets than the "bottom" 90%. Grayson came to Congress promising to be a tribune for working Florida families. What drives Republicans mad is that he has been exactly that.

Yesterday he was up on the floor of Congress calling out the GOP on their health care obstructionism. (See video above.) And did they flip out! GOP morning shill, Joe Scarborough, had reactionary sidekicks Pat Buchanan and Mika Brzezinski, comparing Grayson's well-reasoned and factual assault on Republican Party well-coordinated anti-working family obstructionism with the disgraceful outburst from secessionist lunatic Joe Wilson (R-SC). Some of the most extremist partisans among the obstructionist caucus took Grayson's criticism personally-- which makes sense. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose ProgressivePunch voting score since President Obama was elected is a big fat zero-- extreme even for the fringe Republicans-- demanded an apology. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), another goose-egg extremist-- with unanswered questions about a gay Republican triple homicide in Orlando involving one of his now dead lovers-- was up early twittering away and demanding Speaker Pelosi call a vote to reprimand him.

The NRCC has a childish site an intern or Patrick McHenry put up that demands Grayson agologize. Grayson is laughing at them.
"I stand by what I said," Grayson told reporters on Wednesday.

"I didn't violate any House rules. I didn't do anything inappropriate," he said. "I'm not under any pressure at all."

...Asked if he was worried about his re-election in an Orlando-based swing district, Grayson said his chances of winning are better.

"It improves them," he said. "People like elected officials with guts who say what they mean."

The GOP leadership got Price to withdraw his motion.

If Grayson made one mistake, it was blaming only Republicans for the way Congress is treating American families in the health care debate. Sure, every single Republican is catering to the special interests who line their pockets and fill their campaign coffers. But perhaps Grayson should have found a way of mentioning that it isn't just 100% of Republicans-- who, by the way, have often said that the Democratic plans for reform will kill granny, etc-- but that there are also a significant number of corrupt, bribe besotted Democrats-- from Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln to most of the Blue Dog caucus-- who also are trampling on the aspirations of working people in our country. Elijah Cummings stood up for Grayson to the vampiric Mika this morning. Georgia goofball Tom Price is introducing some kind of cockamamie resolution to condemn him.

Today might be a great time to donate to Alan Grayson's campaign fund. Aside from being one of Congress' absolute best members, let's keep in mind that the real reason Republicans do want people to die is because the funeral industry is a big source of funds for the GOP! Of all the current sitting senators who have gotten money from the funeral industry, McCain is #1, Alexander Lamar is #2 and Lindsey Graham is #3. Over in the House, Republican leaders Mike Pence (IN), Roy Blunt (MO), David Dreier (CA) are among the top recipients. And yes, Blackburn and McHenry have both taken money from the funeral industry. Grayson hasn't. Let's get Grayson's back.

UPDATE: Apology? Not to Republicans

Today Grayson apologized, not to the Republicans but for them... to the dead and their families. Watch him putting Wolf Blitzer in his place. Not just footdragging-- knuckledragging! Alan is so amazing. Watch this and think about donating.

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Obama's Political Opponents Are Calling For Coups And Encouraging Assassination


Over the weekend a friend sent me a link for a Facebook polling asking whether President Obama should be killed. I called a friend of mine who works at the Secret Service. They were already on the case. Yesterday People For the American Way broke a story that I found considerably more disturbing than Joe Wilson's "You lie" screech at the Joint Session of Congress. This outbreak was from another extreme right wing Republican congressional backbencher looking for some attention, Trent Franks, whose Arizona district stretches from the suburbs west of Phoenix through Glendale and Sun City and up to the northwest corner of the state. It includes the bandit polygamist communities around Colorado City, the Hopi Indian Reservation, Lake Havasu City (home of London Bridge). McCain ran up a hefty piece of his margin of victory last year in Franks' district which has a PVI of R +12.9. Franks was re-elected with 60% of the vote.

Arizona Republicans tend to be very conservative. And Franks is the worst of a bad batch, easily the most reactionary member of the state's congressional delegation. His overall, career-long ProgressivePunch score is 2.15 (out of 100) and since Obama was elected president his score sank down to a big fat zero. Franks is an angry and driven man who feels he was dealt a bad hand in life. He's filled with irrational paranoia, bigotry and hatred. And, of course, he's a birther. Normally the Republican leadership keeps him away from the cameras and microphones but this week he escaped from the reservation and found an opportunity to declare President Obama "an enemy of humanity." Watch:

"Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries...there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

-Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

Congressmen like Franks and Wilson enable the violent nuts the same way Republican hate-talkers Savage, Limbaugh, Hannity, Couler and Beck do. And sure, enough, yesterday evening John Perry from extreme rightist website Newsmax upped the ante:
There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic... Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a “family intervention,” with some form of limited, shared responsibility?

Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.

Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.

Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don’t shrug and say, “We can always worry about that later.”

In the 2008 election, that was the wistful, self-indulgent, indifferent reliance on abnegation of personal responsibility that has sunk the nation into this morass.

The people behind this revving up of violence and social unrest are the losers from last year's election-- the disgruntled, angry right-wing of the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Franks Is A Closet Case!

Franks is part of a circle of gay evangelical preachers and their pals. Sometimes you put up a post and you get the most interesting phone calls! It's funny-- it's so predictable that the most hysterical anti-gay maniacs are always the big closet queens.

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Will Arkansas Voters Decide They've Had Enough Of Blanche Lincoln?


Yesterday, as expected, Lincoln voted against the public option in the Senate Finance Committee-- twice. She has a history of always sticking with her campaign donors when what they want conflicts with what Arkansas voters want. In this case only 38% of Arkansas voters-- almost all of them Republicans-- oppose the public option. 81% of Arkansas Democrats support the public option-- as do 55% of all Arkansas voters. During the committee markup process yesterday John Ensign taunted the Democrats on the committee by asking them why they couldn't pass a public option in the Senate with such large majorities in the country wanting it. Unlike almost everything Ensign said yesterday, this is a worthwhile question to ponder.

In fact when polling companies have asked voters in conservative-leaning states and districts if they will be more or less likely to vote for a candidate who votes to kill the public option, the answer is consistently coming back that it would make them less likely to vote for that candidate. Lincoln can hardly afford to lose any of her base. Her unfavorability rating is 49% (favorables are down to 43%) and so far the only thing keeping her from joining the ranks of the political walking dead is the fact that the Republicans can't come up with a credible opponent. (In fact yesterday the first poll came out showing her actually losing to any Republican who runs against her.) No one is polling the impact of the two independents in the race, Trevor Drown and Green Party nominee John Gray. Gray, a single payer advocate didn't mince words in his analysis of what happened yesterday in the Senate:
I’m not at all surprised. She has a rather large campaign chest, almost half of which is from the medical industries. The fact that she is loyal to her sponsors is not at all surprising... Eliminate the health care insurance industry… and you would save enough money to cover every man woman and child in the United States. Nobody blinks an eyelash if we lay off 40,000 autoworkers, who actually produce something. These health insurance brokers, it’s hard to say what they produce.”

The answer to Ensign's question applies equally to Democrats and Republicans. Most of the Senators on the Finance Committee should be in prison for taking bribes. Some, like Baucus, Grassley and Lincoln, have allowed the special interests over whose fate they were sitting-- the Insurance Industry and the Medical-Industrial Complex-- to finance their political careers. Not having the ethical compass or the common decency to recuse themselves after finding themselves in a direct conflict of interest between their donors and their constituents should mean they spend the rest of their days behind bars. But it's America... so forget that.

This afternoon while Grassley was babbling on incoherently I took a short break and ran down to the Blue America P.O. Box where I found the latest report of our cable TV ads running, this time in Benton and Washington counties. The ads ran on a Thursday and Friday night when she was speaking in the area. They ran on Larry King Live, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Colbert Report, The O'Reilly Factor, Headline News, Countdown With Keith Olberman, Hardball, The Chainsaw Massacre, Anderson Cooper 360, Showbiz Tonight, The Ed Show, Fast Money, CNN Newsroom and lots of other similar programs-- Nancy Grace and Shepard Smith but no Glenn Beck.

Keep in mind that Tom Harkin told The Hill yesterday that he feels he has enough Democrats, now that Massachusetts has their second seat covered, to break the Republican filibuster, get a bill with a public option onto the floor and pass it with 51 votes. That isn't reconciliation; that's simple cloture and majority rule. Would anyone break from the party and vote with the Republicans to filibuster the bill? Look at the photo up top; those are the two. The more female-looking one is Senator Blanche Lincoln. (The less female-looking one is Ben Nelson.) Those are the only two who could conceivably keep the public option from even reaching the floor. Lincoln, who also opposes climate and energy legislation and has already declared that she will join the Republicans in filibustering Employee Free Choice, is not a good player. She doesn't deserve another term. You say, "neither do Nelson, Baucus or Conrad?" I agree. But they're not up for election in 2010. Lincoln is.

We'd like to run some more ads. In fact, we're going to. If we raise enough money we'll put them on network TV. If not, we'll keep running them on cable. The 3 ads are on the Blue America Campaign For Health Care Choice page, which is also where you can donate to the cost of running more spots if you're so inclined.

UPDATE: Bye-Bye Blanche?

Although Rasmussen has been discredited as a reliable source of polling data-- we have a post coming up at 2pm explaining this-- it's still worth noting that they are another firm, even if a compromised one, showing that Blanche Lincoln is likely to be looking for a new line of work next year.
Arkansas' Blanche Lambert Lincoln trails all four of her leading Republican challengers in the first Rasmussen Reports Election 2010 survey in the state.

Lincoln fails to get 50% of the vote in any of the match-ups, and any incumbent who falls short of that level is considered vulnerable.

And here's some of the right-leaning twisting of facts that has made Rasmussen a joke: "The two-term senator, who was reelected with 54% of the vote in 2004, is perhaps made more vulnerable by her seat on the Senate Finance Committee which is now wrestling with the national health care reform plan, a measure which is highly unpopular in Arkansas. Just today she voted against including in the bill the controversial “public option” being pushed by liberal senators in her party."

Unbiased polling firms have shown that Arkansas voters overwhelmingly favor a public option. The Republican Rasmussen firm implies the opposite and implies that Lincoln is failing because she is identified with "liberals." The monkey business of tampering with numbers is what we'll be discussing at 2pm (PT) though.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Messaging Publicly Financed Campaigns: Carrots and Sticks


by Barry Kendall

A successful messaging strategy needs to present the recipient with both reasons to dislike and reject the problem/status quo and reasons to care about and aspire to the solution. Sticks and carrots, in other words.

It is our sad good fortune that recent history has given us plenty of reasons to dislike the way that political campaigns are currently financed-- corporate contributions, pay-to-play, and of course, lobbyists. There are a couple of films coming out next year about Jack Abramoff -- one documentary from Participant Media, the other a feature film, both (oddly) called Casino Jack. They present good opportunities to "name the enemy" and mobilize public resentment against lobbyists.

The carrot, however, always seems harder. Why should ordinary citizens care? When compared with pressing needs like healthcare or crime prevention, or more aspirational programs like public education, what's so exciting about fixing the money in campaigns?

At the Tides Momentum conference a couple of weeks ago, I attended a breakout session on money and politics led by staff leaders from Maplight and Change Congress. One idea that I threw out to that group was a "contrast" message, a la the famous "I'm a Mac / I'm a PC" ads. (You may remember that CAP (Center For American Progress) and the Glaser Progress Foundation produced a couple of ads that used this same framework for progressive v conservative.) The contrast is between two state legislators (well, probably between two actors playing state legislators), one from a state that already has publicly financed elections (eg AZ, ME), and the other from a state that does not.
A: "I'm a state legislator."

B: "I'm a state legislator, too."

A: "My state has publicly financed campaigns."

B: "My state... doesn't."

A: "I spend my time talking with my constituents, and drafting legislation that will help make their lives better."

B: "I have to spend my time going to fundraisers. And listening to lobbyists."

A: "I promised my constituents that I'd look out for their interests, and I can deliver on that."

B: "I have to look out for my corporate donors' interests."

A: "Last year I sponsored legislation to clean up our water [or protect worker rights, or...]

B: "I wish I could do things like that!"


I think the tone of the "B" legislator shouldn't be defiant, but rather regretful-- the system *forces* them to play the special-interest game. The real point is the improved efficacy of the "A" legislator. This line of messaging could be persuasive with both legislators and their constituents-- a fundamentally aspirational "carrot" that could go well with the more well-known "stick" of dirty lobbyists.


Barry Kendall is the executive director of the Commonweal Institute, a think tank focused on building a more coordinated and effective progressive movement. He is also the Co-Chair of the Progressive Ideas Network, a nationwide alliance of multi-issue think tanks and activist organizations. Holding a doctorate from Stanford University, Barry is an expert on the role of religion in American culture and politics. He is a 2009 recipient of the "40 Under 40" Award from the New Leaders Council, and he is proud to serve as an adviser to Netroots Nation.


Who Let The (Blue) Dogs Out? Win A Platinum Record Award!


You remember "Who Let the Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men, right? Even before it was a worldwide super-hit, it was being used at sporting events where people where starting to throw things when Queen songscame on the loudspeakers. Mississippi State started the craze, although the Seattle Mariners and the Mets were soon fighting over who used it as a team anthem first. The Baltimore Ravens claim it helped them make it to the Super Bowl in 2000 and the Finnish ice hockey team, Espoo Blues, still uses it as their goalsong. A lot of hockey teams are drawn to it.

When we first started covering the Blue Dog beat at DWT I had the impression most people thought "Blue Dog" was a kind of descriptive, like "yellow dog," rather than what it is-- a House caucus made up of fiscally conservative Democrats, mostly from the Democratic Party's right-wing. It's a specific and structured group with a leadership team, rules, formal meetings, a recruitment process, a fundraising strategy, a special password, handshake, etc. Here's an up-to-date list of the actual membership.

Yesterday I went to visit an old friend whose husband was a major macher in the Music Biz. Actually he still is. She called up and offered to give me a dozen gold and platinum record awards to help Blue America raise money so, in her words, "we wind up with good Democrats not these [explitive deleted] Blue Dogs." So wasn't I thrilled to find that one of the dozen beautiful plaques is an incredible-looking official RIAA multi-platinum award for Who Let The Dogs Out by the Baha Men. Rather than sell it on eBay we're going to have a drawing for it. Everyone who donates-- regardless of how much-- at the BadDogs ActBlue page will be eligible to win the plaque. As soon as we cross $1,500 in total contributions, we'll put all the names into a hat-- whether that's one name or 200 names-- and pick one at random who will be the winner. If we cross the $1,500 mark today, we pick today. If we cross it in October, we pick then.

As for the Baha Men... old skool purists can find the original version here, but this remix is the one Heath Shuler, Congress' only Rugrats in Paris fanatic, reportedly plays in his office every Thursday afternoon before Steny Hoyer tells him its alright to go home.

Don't forget, here's the page-- and all it takes is a dollar to enter the contest. Right now we only have two registered candidates listed. Presumably there will soon be Democratic primary candidates running against Jim Cooper in Tennessee, Leonard Boswell in Iowa, and John Barrow in Georgia. And we'll be watching to see if others turn up as well. That's what the Blue America PAC box is doing on the page.

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Is the Republican The Most Liberal Candidate In The Three Way Race In Upstate NY's Special Election?


Doug Hoffman & Fred Thompson, wiping out the NY Republican Party

When Republican Congressman John McHugh was confirmed as Secretary of the Army, one of the last 3 House seats held by a Republican in New York state came into play. There will be a special election on November 3 to fill the seat in the North Country (NY-23), a sprawling rural district that went for Obama over McCain 51.8- 46.6%. The PVI (R +0.99) makes it a quintessential swing district, traditionally Republican but trending Democratic despite being one of the most Caucasian districts in the U.S.

Conventional wisdom gives the seat to Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican representing much of the area in the state Assembly. The Democrat is businessman/attorney Bill Owens and the Democrats are hoping to reenact the miracle that elected Democratic businessman Scott Murphy (who, I should mention, has gone on to quickly acquire the most reactionary voting record of any Democrat in the House. less in sync with his own party than two Republicans and more in line with hard core Southern conservatives than with real Democrats). But conventional wisdom is shifting.

The GOP is not united behind Scozzafava who is deemed not sufficiently anti-choice or anti-gay to be a good Republican. And national Republicans detect a pro-working family streak in her voting record. They would rather lose the seat than win it with a moderate. So right-wing GOP front groups like The Susan B. Anthony List and the fascist-oriented Club For Growth have joined rightist politicians in endorsing Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman, who is a registered Republican, an anti-choice fanatic, a homophobic maniac and a 100% dedicated hater of working families-- perfect for the neo-Confederates and Big Business shills who run the GOP nationally. Tennessee actor and politician Fred Thompson has endorsed Hoffman as "the true conservative" in the race.

Locally this should be a clear formula for a Democratic win-- if there was a real Democrat in the race. Owens is playing his cards close to his chest and won't even say if he's pro-choice or not. So far many Democrats are wondering if the best choice in the election might be Dede Scozzafava who has, in the past, been endorsed by the Working Families Party. Here's Hoffman's TV ad doing the job to defeat the Republican and electing the conservative Democrat:

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What's Wrong With Max Baucus And His Health Care Plan-- In 2 Minutes


Jerry Flanagan from teamed up with Brave New Films and put out a 2 minute video that gets right to the heart of the problems with Baucus' vision-- i.e., the Insurance Industry's vision-- for health care "reform:" give us your money and trust us... and give us your money.

He doesn't mention anywhere in the two minutes slot that Baucus has gobbled up $2,890,631 in thinly disguised bribes from the Medical-Industrial Complex during his disgraceful time in the Senate, and another $1,196,463 from the Insurance Industry, basically the same amount as Joe Lieberman, whose wife was an insurance industry lobbyist and who has a reputation of being one of the most corrupt characters to have ever served in the United States Senate. The only sitting senators to have taken more from the Insurance Industry Baucus are McCain, Dodd and Kerry, all of whom ran for president, and Ben Nelson, a former insurance industry executive, widely considered to be the industry's last line of kamikaze defense if everything else falls apart.

Yesterday ex-Cigna Insurance PR exec, Wendell Potter, wrote about some of the problems with what the Insurance Industry, through their boy Baucus, is proposing. He says that without a public option the whole exercise is a waste of everyone's time. And he reprints a letter he sent to Baucus last week that lays out what the senator should do if he were to decide that he works for his constituents rather than for his campaign donors:
As a former health insurance company executive, I am very concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the health insurance industry. That is why I urge you to incorporate Senator Rockefeller’s Amendments #C12 and #C13 into the America’s Healthy Future Act (AHFA), in particular with regard to the need for airtight regulations to protect consumer interests.

As proposed, AHFA will allow insurers to continue many of their most discriminatory practices without either transparency or real accountability: cost-shifting to their most vulnerable members through benefit designs that serve the needs of Wall Street; and rationing of care based on arbitrary opinions about what care is needed. In addition, there is no accountability for insurance companies to provide affordable and comprehensive health care coverage. A requirement that everyone buy health insurance accompanied by subsidies for people with low incomes does not ensure that Americans will have affordable care. The explosive cost growth in Massachusetts after health care reform is a case in point. And, AHFA has no mechanisms to enforce the insurance regulations that are included.

In addition, AHFA designates the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to write key regulations. This is of great concern to me because this proposal delegates to the NAIC, a private organization, with rule-making authority that is generally reserved for an agency of the federal government. Any institution given the authority to define the rules that will determine health insurance coverage for millions of Americans must be completely independent of the insurance industry and have a demonstrated record of putting the concerns of consumers first. The institution must also have the will and the resources to carry out the rulemaking process in a transparent and unbiased manner, with opportunity for input from all interested parties at each stage of the process. Based on its traditional manner of conducting business, the NAIC fails to meet any of these standards. The NAIC does not operate independently of the insurance industry. In fact, the NAIC is a private corporation, funded, in large part, by the insurance industry itself. Without industry dollars, the NAIC would not operate as it does today. In addition, eight of the last 10 NAIC presidents, as well as numerous commissioners, have gone directly from their posts to industry positions, creating the distinct impression that leadership positions at NAIC are mere stepping stones to more lucrative careers in the insurance industry.

For all these reasons, as well as my inside knowledge of how easily insurance companies circumvent existing regulations, I support Senator Rockefeller’s Amendments #C12 and #C13 to AHFA, which will:

*Create a grant program for state insurance departments to help them better enforce market rules and protect consumers.

*Establish a federal role for private health insurance oversight and provide resources for the Department of Health and Human Services to hire expert staff to carry out these functions and coordinate with state regulators.

* Require health insurance plans to disclose clear, accurate, and timely information on their policies and practices to ensure that they do not circumvent new federal health insurance regulations.

* Add needed transparency requirements such as: establishing fair grievance and appeals procedures by health insurers; clarifying information for health professionals and freeing up time for patients by establishing transparency standards relating to reimbursement arrangements between health plans and providers; and requiring advance notice of plan changes so consumers get what they pay.

*Establish America’s Health Insurance Trust, a nonprofit, independent, consumer-driven organization that will evaluate and give ratings to all health insurance products offered through the National Health Insurance Exchange. Annual insurance product ratings will be based on factors such as affordability, adequacy, transparency, consumer satisfaction, provider satisfaction, and quality.

* Ensure that ombudsman offices in each state are open to consumers at all stages of the appeal process to allow for early intervention and increase the likelihood of successful appeals.

Health insurance reform requires that we not only create strong new consumer protections. It also requires that those rules be effectively enforced. American families and businesses must have health insurance that is accountable to them, not to Wall Street.

Now, back to the two minutes with consumer advocate Jerry Flanagan:

You see why people say Baucus sucks? Damn, I wish BooMan was the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee instead of Baucus!

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Monday, September 28, 2009

How Barack Obama Lost Me: FISA


Of course I voted for him; he was running against some reactionary fossil whose only reason to live is to start a war. And the symbolism inherent in either an Obama or a Clinton win was so overwhelming that it was absolutely predetermined that I would rush to the polls and vote for either of them. But I was never under any illusions than Obama was a progressive. I once was under such an illusion, though. I met him twice when he was an Illinois state senator. I co-hosted fund-raisers for him twice when he was looking to make the jump from state Senator in Springfield renowned for playing poker with cigar chomping state pols to member of the American version of the House of Lords in Washington. He took me in completely. After one speech I tore up a $500 check I had written and doubled down. But that was the last time that happened.

As soon as Obama got to the Senate, I knew something was wrong. It went beyond picking Joe Lieberman as his mentor-- bad enough-- and beyond the fact that he was never-- not ever-- nearly as progressive a voter as Hillary Clinton, something I warned Obamabots about all during the campaign. The fact of the matter is, he was always down near the bottom of the barrel with the putrid likes of said Lieberman, as well as Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson, Tom Carper, Mary Landrieu, Kent Conrad... all the quasi-Democratic dreck seemingly sabotaging his agenda.

During the campaign, Obama said quite a few things that didn't thrill me, not the least of which was his tragic perspective on the occupation of Afghanistan. But there was something that came up during the campaign that clinched it for me-- that made me realize he might be great symbolically but he would likely be another in a long, long line of abysmal political hacks who have gotten into the White House. Hope and Change? Not. A. Chance. During the campaign, the FISA bill came up, along with the issue of retroactive immunity. Thanks to Glenn Greenwald it became an important and much-discussed issue. One thing led to another and Obama vowed to vote against any bill that included retroactive immunity. I guess the polling didn't work because when the bill came up for a vote he broke his pledge and voted for it. I never did ask Glenn if he voted for Obama in November. I did... but knowing full well what to expect.

The Blue America PAC never endorsed Obama and never raised any money for him. Instead we concentrated our efforts on progressives running for the House and Senate. One of our favorite candidates-- favorite in terms of proven commitment to progressive principles was Oregon House Speaker-- now U.S. Senator-- Jeff Merkley. And Senator Merkley has lived up to the promise of his candidacy as he's fought on the right side of every battle since being elected-- from Employee Free Choice to health care reform. So it came as no surprise today when his office sent out a release that he has co-authored legislation with Chris Dodd, Pat Leahy, and Russ Feingold to repeal the retroactive immunity provisions of the FISA Amendments Act. The new legislation seeks to repeal a provision that shields telecommunications companies from legal repercussions if they violate the law; clean and straightforward-- and all-American. Or is it only 76 year old Roman Polanski who has to go to jail for breaking the law?
“During the previous administration, telecommunications companies were granted retroactive immunity for violating the rights and privacy of millions of Americans,” said Merkley. “I am proud to join Senator Dodd and co-sponsor the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act to help restore accountability and increase oversight to protect the privacy rights that have been central to our nation since its inception.”

The Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act would amend the FISA Amendments Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush in 2008. The controversial legislation included a provision to shield companies from liability for illegally violating their customers’ privacy during the Bush Administration. 

Last week, Senator Merkley also signed on as an original co-sponsor of the Judicious Use of Surveillance Tools in Counterterrorism Efforts (JUSTICE) Act, introduced by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The JUSTICE Act would reform the USA Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and other surveillance authorities to help restore judicial oversight. The legislation would protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens while making sure intelligence and law enforcement agencies still have the tools they need to fight terrorism.

“We must reverse the decisions that allowed our government to intrude into the lives of American citizens. The JUSTICE Act will restore judicial oversight of surveillance activities in order to keep Americans safe while preserving our rights,” said Merkley.

Dodd, who will be doing a live video blogging session on the bill tomorrow (5pm, EST) at My Left Nutmeg, has spoken eloquently about the bill as well: "I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles. We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizen’s privacy and due process right and we must not allow that to stand.” I'm sure Obama will make an eloquent speech about it if he ever gets a chance to sign it. Or maybe he won't.

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Blanche Lincoln-- D-Day Approaches


Regular working families in Arkansas don't have anyone in the Senate looking after their interests-- but WalMart and other Big Businesses in that state have two, Mark Pryor-- who didn't even have a Republican opponent when he ran for re-election last year-- and Blanche Lincoln, who has to face the voters next year-- and has half a dozen Republicans, a Democrat and two independents who all want to challenge her. On and off all summer long Blue America has been running TV spots that have helped remind regular Arkansas families that Lincoln does not work for them. Please, watch the 3 cable TV spots. From the time we started running them until now, her job approval ratings have sunk like a stone. And smelling blood, other groups are moving in for the kill. Today just 43% of Arkansans approve and 49% disapprove. Independents have deserted her in droves-- only 39% approval-- and her Democratic base is starting to recognize that a corporate shill like Lincoln doesn't have anything to do with Democratic Party ideals or principles. Her approval rating among Democrats is down to 66%.

Similar to most southern states, a vocal minority, in the high 30 percentile, opposes meaningful health care reform-- primarily Republicans. That leaves 55% of Arkansas voters in favor of the public option. And that's a state that was among McCain's top half dozen electoral performances.

The media narrative, predictably, is not that Lincoln has betrayed working families in return for huge thinly disguised bribes from insurance companies and the medical-industrial complex. Rather, as exemplified in today's Politico it is that Republicans are able to take advantage of Obama's unpopularity in the state to harm her, without mentioning that she's among the Senate Democrats who works most diligently to sabotage Obama not just on health care reform but on all his major initiatives, from Employee Free Choice and fair tax policies to energy and environmental reform (which she opposes).

While working in the shadows to undermine meaningful reform-- she's on the health subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee-- Lincoln has been slick enough to always avoid answering questions about where she specifically stands on reform. That's about to end.
Next week Lincoln will have to put the debate to rest when an amendment in the Senate Finance Committee inserting a public plan in the Baucus bill is scheduled for action.

Lincoln has two things going for her as she faces dismal re-election prospects-- a massive campaign warchest funded by the corporations whose special interests she is always looking out for to the detriment of her constituents and the lack of a credible Republican opponent. The six clowns in the race against her so far look like a circus routine.

While Bush was president-- and Blanche senator-- the number of uninsured in Arkansas has increased from 415,000 to 505,000 (2001-2008). Almost a quarter of non-elderly Arkansans now have no health insurance and the percentage of people with employer-based coverage decreased from 63.9% of the population in 2001 to 57.9% in 2008. While Lincoln labors to enact legislative priorities for her Medical-Industrial Complex paymasters-- she's their second biggest electoral investment in the current cycle, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid-- the kinds of runaway insurance costs she supports are destroying Arkansas working families financially. If the kind of bill President Obama and the House passes-- the kind of legislation Lincoln adamantly, if surreptitiously, opposes here's how it will effect ordinary Arkansas families:
• Ending the Hidden Tax-- Saving You Money: Right now, providers in Arkansas lose over $656 million in bad debt which often gets passed along to families in the form of a hidden premium “tax.” Health insurance reform will tackle this financial burden by improving our health care system and covering the uninsured, allowing the 84 hospitals and the 6,684 physicians in Arkansas to better care for their patients.

• Health Insurance Premium Relief: Premiums for residents of Arkansas have risen 81% since 2000. Through health insurance reform, 452,000 to 518,100 middle class Arkansas residents will be eligible for premium credits to ease the burden of these high costs.

• Strengthening Small Businesses: 39,575 employers in Arkansas are small businesses. With tax credits and a health insurance exchange where they can shop for health plans, insurance coverage will become more affordable for them.

• Reforms that Reduce Your Costs: Under health insurance reform, insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.  Insurance companies will also have to abide by yearly limits on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses, helping 24,200 households in Arkansas struggling under the burden of high health care expenses.

• Insurance Stability and Security: Health insurance reform will strengthen our system of employer-based health insurance, with an additional 25,100 people in Arkansas potentially getting insurance through their work. Health insurance reform will also ensure that you will always have guaranteed choices of quality, affordable health insurance if you lose your job, switch jobs, move or get sick.

• Eliminating Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions, Health Status or Gender: 10% of people in Arkansas have diabetes, and 31% have high blood pressure-- two conditions that insurance companies could use as a reason to deny you health insurance. Health insurance reform will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on your health, and it will end discrimination that charges you more if you’re sick or a woman.

• One-Stop Shopping – Putting Families in Charge: With the new health insurance exchange, you can easily and simply compare insurance prices and health plans and decide which quality affordable option is right for you and your family. These proposals will help the 485,800 residents of Arkansas who currently do not have health insurance to obtain needed coverage, and it will also help the 127,600 Arkansas residents who currently purchase insurance in the individual insurance market.
• Guaranteeing Choices: The largest health insurer in Arkansas holds 69% of the market, which limits the choices that you have for finding coverage. With a competitive public insurance option, you will have more choices and increased competition that holds insurance companies accountable.

• Preventive Care for Better Health: 45% of Arkansas residents have not had a colorectal cancer screening, and 26% of women have not had a mammogram in the past 2 years. By requiring health plans to cover preventive services for everyone, investing in prevention and wellness, and promoting primary care, health insurance reform will work to create a system that prevents illness and disease instead of just treating it when it’s too late and costs more.

• Improving Care for Children and Seniors: 25% of children in Arkansas have not visited a dentist in the past year, and 28% of seniors did not receive a flu vaccine. Health reform will ensure coverage for kids’ dental, vision, and hearing needs, and will promote quality coverage for America’s seniors, including recommended immunizations.

What can you do about it? You can e-mail her. You can call her: 202-224-4843. You can fax her: 202-228-1371. And then there's the Blue America Campaign For Health Care Choice.

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No Means No Highlights 11 California Members Of Congress-- Down From 15


Last June, when the dust cleared, there were only 32 Democrats left-- down from 90, then down from 52-- willing to oppose not Bush but Obama on a war supplemental budget. 90 promised and 32 followed through and voted no. When the easy vote came up-- the one that had almost all the Republicans voting for Obama's war funding-- 15 California Democrats voted no:

Sam Farr
Bob Filner
Mike Honda
Barbara Lee
Zoe Lofgren
Doris Matsui
George Miller
Grace Flores Napolitano
Brad Sherman
Jackie Speier
Pete Stark
Mike Thompson
Diane Watson
Maxine Waters
Lynn Woolsey

It was "easy" to oppose Obama and the House Democratic leadership on this because the margin of victory was sure to be so overwhelming-- with all the GOP help-- that the administration didn't need to squeeze anyone who had campaigned on a peace plank. But after it passed Rahm Emanuel got greedy. He was sitting on a bill ugly enough that it was going to be hard to find anyone to vote for it: a bailout for the IMF. So he got the Senate to attach it to the supplemental and sent it back to the House. The Republicans dropped out of the deal and said they would vote "no" on the supplemental, not because they didn't support escalating the war-- they certainly did and still do-- but because they weren't voting to bail out more foreign banks with U.S. taxpayer dollars. Suddenly the administration could no longer afford to lose 52 Democrats and still pass the bill.

They looked at the California delegation, applied some friendly pressure and quickly peeled off Doris Matsui, George Miller, Grace Flores Napolitano, and Mike Thompson. As the vote drew closer, the pressure coming out of Emanuel's office grew less friendly. It was like the battle over NAFTA all over again, where he managed to beat up and bribe enough Democrats to pass a truly destructive Republican bill. He was at it again and he succeeded again. The bill passed 226-202 but 11 California Democrats held their ground:

Sam Farr
Bob Filner
Mike Honda
Barbara Lee
Zoe Lofgren
Brad Sherman
Jackie Speier
Pete Stark
Diane Watson
Maxine Waters
Lynn Woolsey

These 11 make up part of an initiative, No Means No!, that is embarking on an effort to nurture a progressive conversation about U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Last week Alan Grayson and Eric Massa helped kick off the effort with live blogging sessions at Crooks and Liars. The object is to raise consciousness about the occupation of and war in Afghanistan and to help figure out how to effect the real Change it's going to take to get our troops out of there.

We've been asking people to consider thanking the courageous men and women who already drew that line in the sand and stood by it, like the 11 California members. Please take a look at the No Means No page and consider donating to any-- or all-- of the members of Congress on that list.

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Ever Wonder What Mitt Romney's Been Up To Lately?


Mitt Romney considers himself the Republican Party's only plausible candidate for president in 2012, the only one even vaguely still attached to something recognizable as "mainstream." He's certainly the establishment candidate, at least so far. (And in Republicanland being the Establishment candidate, generally means being the candidate.) Yesterday's Hill reported that he was kissing up to his old rivals at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in Michigan. He praised Giuliani and will benefit from a fundraising dinner McCain is throwing for him.
Romney... is entering the race as the runner-up from the previous cycle and as a candidate who has modified his previous formula to match the winning formula that characterizes contemporary Republican nominees. The vocally socially conservative, understated economist that was Romney ‘08 was the inverse of a successful Republican nominee, but now that Romney has righted his ship, he appears to be on the same path that took two Bushes, a Dole, and a McCain to the nomination.

On the other hand, Romney is seen as one of the political losers in terms of the health care debate. Massachusetts' health care system is a template for some Democrats, despite the fact that it isn't exactly wildly popular among Bay State voters (a recent poll showed only 26% think it's successful) and a red flag in the eyes of the GOP right flank.
Three years ago, Romney was heralded for his innovative effort to institute near-universal health care in his state. But now that the issue has emerged as a partisan fault line and the Massachusetts plan has provided some guidance for Democratic reform efforts, Romney finds himself bruised and on the defensive as the GOP rallies around opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans.

When Romney came to Washington last week to speak to social conservative activists at the annual Value Voters Summit, his potential 2012 GOP rivals chewed him up in front of the same audience over his Massachusetts legacy.

Before he took the stage to criticize the president’s approach to foreign policy and the economy, the former governor was dinged by one of his opponents for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

“It’s going to bankrupt their entire budget,” former Arkansas GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee said of Romney’s health care program in his address to the summit. “The only thing inexpensive about the Massachusetts health care bill is that there you can get a $50 abortion.”

...Conservative attacks on his program have forced Romney to defend his once lauded achievement and to cede leadership to others in the party on one of his strongest policy areas... Romney’s status as the only governor in the country to have successfully negotiated for near-universal health care may have been an asset in 2008, said one top Republican strategist, but at the moment the issue stands to limit his appeal to GOP voters in the run-up to the next presidential election.

Romney hopes to get Republicans to stop thinking about him as the Republican who brought "socialized medicine" to Massachusetts by attacking Obama on foreign policy. Problem with that is that he has no cohesive vision on foreign policy that goes beyond hollow talking points and he's waiting to see which bandwagon looks like the best one for him to jump on. And if he fails again, maybe, like Mother Jones suggested last week, he can become Olympics Czar.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Will Rubio Drive Crist So far Right In The Primary That He Loses To Meek In The General?


Courtesy of Free Republic

Every time right wing extremist Marco Rubio wins another Republican Party straw poll, Charlie Crist is forced further away from the political mainstream. At the rate things are going the moderate Republican Florida Governor will be running around in a white sheet and hood before the campaign is over! This morning he was railing against Barack Obama-- someone he once saw as a partner in helping fix Florida's festering economic problems (among the very worst in the U.S.)-- and regurgitating last week's Republican talking points that Obama is Jimmy Carter and would only serve one term.

The problem for Crist isn't Jimmy Carter... or even Obama; it's Marco Rubio, a young, straight arrow, Glenn Beck kind of Republican, darling of the extremists and teabaggers nationwide and beloved of Republican Party activists in Florida. So beloved of party activists, in fact, that he's beaten the Republican governor in every single official GOP straw poll this year-- and it has never been close. Rubio keeps winning landslides against the NRSC-recruited and endorsed "front-runner." This week it was Marion County in North Central Florida, an economically hard-pressed rural area of rolling hills. When the Republican Party County Executive Committee met last week, they gave Crist another severe thumping. Rubio won Marion County's straw poll 40-8 with 4 abstentions. And that wasn't even Crist's worst performance! Here's the list of county executive committees that have voted so far.

Hernando County- Rubio 46, Crist 0
Gilchrist County- Rubio 11, Crist 1
Jefferson County- Rubio 30, Crist 6
Highlands County- Rubio 75, Crist 1
Pasco County- Rubio 73, Crist 9
Lee County- Rubio 60, Crist 9
Bay County- Rubio 23, Crist 2

College clubs and women's clubs are giving the same lopsided margins of victory to Rubio. It's an unprecedented and stunning slap in the face to Florida's highest ranking elected Republican. The coterie of establishment politicians and crooked lobbyists who make up his inner circle dismiss the executive committees as a bunch of lunatic fringe teabaggers out of touch with real voters. The executive committees claim it is Crist and his circle who are out of touch. This morning in his Washington Post column conservative scold George Will came down firmly on the side of Rubio's interpretation of what's going on among Florida Republicans. He predicts that Rubio will "probably win."
Crist appeared at a rally with Barack Obama promoting the $787 billion stimulus that got no votes from House Republicans and only three from Republican senators. He is a climate-change worrywart who wants to cap Florida's carbon emissions. He has chosen his former campaign manager to serve as a placeholder in the Senate during the crucial next 16 months.

And to reduce property insurance costs, especially for Floridians living near the nation's second-longest coastline, Crist expanded, and vetoed reform of, the state's reckless version of a property insurance "public option." It is government-run insurance that, by offering rates lower than rational assessments of risk would dictate, has driven private insurers to limit their business or even stop doing business in the state. When a huge hurricane hits, Florida-- and U.S.-- taxpayers might have to foot the bill, by which time Crist plans to be in Washington.

Rubio, who is 38 and in a decade might look that old, says that Crist will not be there. Crist, says Rubio, "never thought he'd have to run in a Republican primary again." Probably only about 20 percent of Florida's 4 million registered Republicans will vote in the closed primary in late August in a nonpresidential year. So, about 450,000 votes might win it. That many can come from Republicans who are attentive to politics even in late summer because they are ideologically driven.

As is Rubio, which is why National Review, the bimonthly encyclical of the church of conservatism, had him on a recent cover and why the Club for Growth, a group that contributes to Republicans friendly to free markets, should support him. Crist has a large lead in name recognition, and hence in polls. But where Rubio and he are both known, they are neck and neck.

While Republicans argue among themselves about who is best equipped to maintain the status quo and stand in the way of economic and social progress for ordinary working families, Floridians continue to sink into a swampy morass caused by years and years of Republican policies on both the national and state level. While the Bush Brothers ruled in Tallahassee and in DC, "the number of uninsured in Florida has increased from 2.8 million in 2001 to 3.6 million in 2008. The percent of non-elderly adults without insurance increased from 22 % to 26.3%. And of the 10 worst hit congressional districts in the U.S. in terms of home foreclosures, 6 are in Florida, including the worst of all, FL-14 (Connie Mack's district), where 116,979 are projected for foreclosure over the next 4 years. The third worst district in the U.S. is represented by lunatic fringe Republican Tom Rooney (FL-16) where the 4-year forecast predicts 85,003 foreclosures. All of these Republicans have one thing in common; they adamantly oppose government assistance for families in need and are basically unconcerned about predatory corporate practices that are driving hardworking families into financial insolvency.

Last year McCain only managed to take 48% of Florida votes against Barack Obama. And among the counties that McCain did win were all but one of the counties (Jefferson) where Rubio has trounced Crist. Florida Democrats are counting on crazy Republican extremists saddling their party with a kook like Rubio so that their own very weak candidate, Kendrick Meek, can slip into the Senate seat. Unless someone comes up with the pictures, Meek could never beat Crist, but moderate Floridians are unlikely to ever vote for a teabagging extremist like Rubio despite Meek's ethical shortcomings and well-earned reputation as a lightweight shill. Meanwhile Crist has absolutely refused to debate Rubio; I bet even a second place finish in a debate would be better for him than what HBO is about to serve up-- Outrage a film that exposes Crist's hypocrisy as an anti-gay practicing homosexual closet queen-- available all over Florida-- in English and Spanish-- for the month of October:

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Sunday Classics: Bach's faith rouses devotion, not ennui (or ridicule), in this nonbeliever -- his Jesus isn't the Right's "macho Jesus"


Baritone Matthias Goerne sings the second aria, "Schlummert ein," from Bach's Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug, with the Salzburg Camerata Academica conducted by Roger Norrington.
Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!

World, I will not remain here any longer,
I own no part of you
that could matter to my soul.
Here I must build up misery,
but there, there I will see
sweet peace, quiet rest.

"If I were setting out to 'sell' Bach, or even to try to sketch the Bach who most matters to me, I would start with the secular music -- with, say, the Brandenburg Concertos and the solo-cello suites. But the cantatas may be the place where one comes closest to encountering the soul of Bach."

by Ken

Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach. If the very name doesn't strike awe, maybe you aren't listening carefully.

The sheer quantity of music Bach (1685-1750) wrote is all but unimaginable. Scholars have speculated doubtfully as to how long it would have taken one person just to write out all that music, without even considering the act of creation -- not to mention the quality of it.

Here's another way of measuring the quantity. A few years ago among the new listings from my indispensable Berkshire Record Outlet I noticed the Hänssler Classics edition of the complete works of Bach, all 173 CDs' worth (171 audio plus 2 data), at a price so low that not only could I afford to buy it, I didn't see how I could afford not to. Figuring that BRO couldn't have a lot of copies of this mammoth set, and that every BRO customer with a grain of sense would want one, I had the sense to pounce, placing an immediate order.

When I received a shipping notice, beyond my enormous relief, for some reason what caught my attention was the shipping weight: 18 pounds. Ever since, I've thought of the Hänssler set as "18 pounds of Bach."

As to the quality of the music, it is if anything more awe-inspiring than the quantity. I wish it were possible to point to a piece here or there that appears "dashed off." That might make Bach appear more human. Not only does the quality never seem to lag, but large chunks of that 18 pounds of Bach remain at the core of the repertories they represent. For the next couple of centuries it would be hard to find a major composer who didn't consider Bach the master of them all. Far from any of this music being dashed off -- though one sometimes gets the feeling that old J.S.B. could toss off a four-voice fugue in his sleep (writing in his sleep would help explain how the man got all that music on paper) -- a sizable portion of it is among the most intellectually formidable music ever composed.

It's possible, though, and regrettable, to get carried away with the extraordinary intellectual content of Bach's music. Like every great musician, he had a compulsion to communicate, and his musical curiosity seems to have been insatiable. Unlike his exact contemporary Handel (1685-1759; the closest the music world would come to having another year like 1685 was 1813, when both Verdi and Wagner were born), he hardly traveled. Yet he managed to stay abreast of what was being done in music all over Europe, absorbing what suited him into his own musical personality.

To offset, or at least temper, the image of Bach the intellectual giant, is it possible to write music more meltingly beautiful than we have in the opening clip, the bass aria "Schlummert ein"? For all Bach's formidable intellectual powers, and the defining fact that he was by profession a church organist and composer, it would be a shame to overlook how deeply people-oriented his music was. I do believe he felt he was performing and composing in the service of God. Nevertheless, I have to believe that a crucial part of the mission his God intended for him when he set pen to music paper was to communicate with his fellow humans.

I have a slightly funny history with Cantata No. 82, Ich habe genug, long one of the most performed of Bach's nearly 200 sacred cantatas, in good part because of its unusual configuration -- a sequence of numbers written entirely for one vocal soloist, a bass. (It's really a baritone, but the distinction between baritones and basses hadn't yet come into play, so as far as Bach was concerned, he was just writing for a high bass.) It happens to have a close kin in Cantata No. 56, Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, and with the dawn of the LP era they became natural, even inevitable disc-mates.


cantata. A musical composition, often using a sacred text, comprising recitatives, arias, and choruses.

Well, there may be choruses or there may not. And there may also be duets, and purely instrumental movements (often including a "sinfonia," or overture). And there may be one vocal soloist, or two, or three, or four. The "often using a sacred text" point is important, because in Bach's case, going by the standard BWV numbering, all but a handful of Cantatas Nos. 1-200 are sacred, and then Nos. 201-216 are all secular. Other composers also wrote secular cantatas, but more often than not when we think of the form, we think of a setting, often written for a particular occasion in the church calendar, of texts either drawn from the Bible or commenting on it.

(Bach's cantatas, by the way, are generally known by a combination of their BWV number, which is to say the numbering in Wolfgang Schmieder's monumental 1950 Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or Catalogue of Bach Works, plus the first line of the first vocal number.)

One of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's most successful early recordings was a 1951 coupling of Cantatas Nos. 56 and 82, with that fine baroque specialist Karl Ristenpart conducting. Throughout his career Fischer-Dieskau performed a great deal of Bach, and with the advent of stereo it was only natural that Deutsche Grammophon would want him to redo the baritone-cantata coupling. The remake was undertaken with the then-reigning baroque star conductor Karl Richter and his Munich Bach Orchestra.

About 1971 I acquired my first tape deck with pretensions to any kind of fidelity, a cassette deck. Naturally I felt the need to have cassettes to play on it, and among the titles I bought was the DG Archiv cassette edition of that Fischer-Dieskau-Richter Bach 56/82. I bought lots of other stuff, but it was when I put on the Bach tape that, despite what must have been a significant hiss level (DG cassettes weren't yet using Dolby noise reduction), I stopped listening to the medium and simply heard music.

For some reason the music that sticks in my head from those days isn't Cantata No. 56, which must have been on the "A" side, but No. 82. Here is what I remember being overwhelmed by: Fischer-Dieskau and Richter performing the opening aria, "Ich habe genug."


When I've thought about Bach in connection with Sunday Classics, it never occurred to me that I might write first about the cantatas. Certainly if I were setting out to "sell" Bach, or even to try to sketch the Bach who most matters to me, I would start with the secular music -- with, say, the Brandenburg Concertos and the solo-cello suites, music that is as personal to me as any music there is.

It was another accident that got me thinking about the Bach cantatas. I must have been feeling guilty about neglecting my "18 pounds of Bach," and one morning, when it was time to choose some music for the subway journey to work, I decided to pick something from it at random. It's packaged in overstuffed jewel boxes of four CDs each, and the one I grabbed happened to be of cantatas (Nos. 103-114, to be specific). I almost allowed myself a do-over, on the ground that the cantatas were the one portion of the compendium I had actually listened to complete and in sequence when I got it. But then I decided, what the heck? It's not as if I'd listened carefully to all those cantatas that first time through. So Cantatas Nos. 103-114 it was. And I found that once I was immersed in the world of the Bach cantatas, it was hard to un-immerse myself. The cantatas may be the place where one comes closest to encountering the soul of Bach.

The second time I had occasion to interview then-New York Philharmonic music director Kurt Masur, the subject was Bach, in connection with his upcoming performance of the St. Matthew Passion. This is kind of a funny story in itself, although not of the "ha-ha" funny sort.

Masur of course had a long history in Leipzig, which was and is above all Bach's city. As longtime music director of the city's historic Gewandhaus Orchestra, he had frequently programmed Bach's great choral masterworks -- the two great Passions, the St. Matthew and St. John; the B minor Mass; and the Christmas Oratorio. But in New York, he was told by the orchestra's management, he couldn't do that. New York, you see, is "a Jewish city." And while Masur is known to have presided over the orchestra with typical Germanic absoluteness, he does seem to have been bullied quite a lot by the management, and probably quite wrongly -- I think he knew a great deal more about musical audiences than they did. And finally he had been allowed to schedule the St. Matthew.

In the interview, the Bach association Masur talked about first went back to childhood, to his first aural memories: the sounds of Bach's organ music in his small hometown church. This was the soundtrack that played in his head as he grew up, and somehow I've never been able to get that aural image out of my head. (I suppose I'm envious.) For Masur the experience led naturally to a desire to play the organ, which he learned to do in that church, and then to become a pianist, which he was working toward when a hand injury put an end to that.


I imagine there's a good chance that in addition to Bach's organ music, Masur heard at least some of Bach's sacred cantatas performed in his church. That's what they were written for, after all -- some of them for special occasions in the liturgical calendar, others for ordinary Sunday-service use. And the church cantatas occupy a special place among the composer's output.

Bach wrote a staggering quantity of staggering-quality secular music, but I don't think there's any question that the spirit of the sacred imbues all his work -- that as a musician he always thought of himself as in service to God, and this is perhaps nowhere expressed more personally than in the many hundreds of arias he wrote for the intimate performance circumstances of the church cantatas.

Of course there are also stupendous arias throughout the "big" choral masterworks. I don't know a more beautiful vocal performance of anything than the 1929 recording by the baritone Friedrich Schorr -- the supreme Wotan and Hans Sachs -- of the bass solo "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" from the B minor Mass (included on Preiser's second Schorr CD).While there's no clear demarcation between the arias written for the "big" choral works and those written for the cantatas (and indeed there was a certain amount of shuffling of arias back and forth; for that matter, the Christmas Oratorio itself is in fact a set of six cantatas), still the cantatas, by virtue of the compact scale of their format and occasion, have a particular intimacy of utterance.

Bach's arias are basically familiar in form; they're more or less standard baroque arias of the A-B-A form familiar from our discussion of Handel's "Lascia ch'io pinga" (Whether it's Handel or Wagner, the good old "A-B-A" form mirrors real-life experience): a main section, a middle section, and a repeat of the main section -- with a very little bit of text made to go a very long way thanks to considerable repetition.

Bach's arias do, however, have one powerful distinguishing quality. Although we think of the aria, logically enough, as the ultimate solo form for singers, Bach's arias are by and large not solos but duets.


How does a solo singer have a duet? Who with???

Well, how about your friendly nearby flutist, or oboist, or fiddler? Somebody from the small group of instrumental soloists Bach has included in the instrumentation for this cantata. (That instrumentation, by the way, varies widely from cantata to cantata. Bach generally chose the forces he wanted with careful consideration of what he planned to do in that particular canata.)

By way of illustration, here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau again, now in 1974, singing the section "Aber wer gen Himmel siehet" from the aria "Ächzen und embärmlich Weinen" from Cantata No. 13, Meine Seufzer, meine Tränen, a bass-and-violin duet with Yehudi Menuhin playing the violin part and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich providing the bass continuo line, and Menuhin providing voice-over commentary. And here is soprano Christine Schaefer, giving a lovely performance of a soprano-and-violin duet, "Bereite dir, Jesu" from one of the better-known cantatas, No 147, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Concentus Musicus.

Better still for our purposes, here is a soprano-and-oboe duet, "Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen," from Cantata No. 127, Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott, sung by Barbara Schlick, with oboist Ofer Frenkel and the Accademia Daniel directed by Shalev Ad-El:

The soul rests in Jesus’ hands,
when earth covers this body.
Ah, call me soon, you death-knell,
I am unafraid of death,
because my Jesus will awaken me again.

Inescapably, immersion in Bach's sacred music means immersion in the teachings and person of Jesus. As I contemplated writing about Bach's cantatas -- or rather specifically about Bach's cantata arias -- I found myself reflecting on this oddity: that I, who have never been a Christian of any sort, and haven't for many decades even pretended to subscribe to any clump of religious superstitions, am so prepared to be swallowed up in the depths of Bach's unflinching religious faith?

I actually thought I would write a piece explaining this. Ha! I can't offer an explanation, just some observations relative to the subject.


I once tried to explain to a friend, one of the wisest and most sensitive people I know, how it is that Handel's Messiah, which had once struck me as a pile of wheezy old religionist hooey, came to have deep personal meaning for me. In this space I took advantage of last Christmas season to express my wonder at Handel's sense of wonder at the miracle of birth (For Christmas Eve, savor the true miracle: "For unto us a child is born), and the sense of hope it brings, the sense of possibilities, of realizing who and what we can be.

Really, Handel gives us the feeling that that is the miracle: that a child is born (and a son given). Even when this particular child's future responsibilities are set out ("Wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father), note how Handel italicizes the additional role: "the Prince of Peace."

I tried to explain to my friend that I don't need to believe in a Redeemer in the Christian sense to take personally the soprano's great aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth." The aria is just as powerful if for me that Redeemer refers not to some mysterious external force but to the spark of goodness inside us which drives us to be the best people we can be -- against considerable opposing forces, both within and without. And I guess Bach's faith energizes me in much the same way.

(Parenthetically, I find it fascinating that two composers as dominant in their age as Bach and Handel, in so many ways so different, nevertheless so often cross-reference, complement, and even explain each other.)

Bach's belief in Jesus as a representation of the best in us, the fullest and most meaningful humanity of which we are capable, the Prince of Peace, doesn't require much of a stretch for me. In fact, that belief, not to mention the actual teachings of Jesus, is what makes me crazy in the incessant braying of modern-day crap Christianity. Longtime DWT readers have heard both Howie and me sound this theme frequently. The ignorant, lying, bellicose, immoral crap Christians not only seem blitheringly unaware of what Jesus actually preached, but represent something very close to the forces of oppression and inhumanity that were Jesus's lifelong antagonists.

By coincidence (or is it coincidence?), in the Introduction to Max Blumenthal's book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party,I just encountered this remarkable description of the "macho Jesus" central to "the authoritarian mindset driving the movement that has substantially taken over the modern Republican Party: the Christian right," as he experienced it personally in five years of interviewing hundreds of its leaders, attending dozens of rallies and conferences, listening to "countless hours" of radio broadcasts, and sitting "in movement-oriented houses of worship where no journalists were permitted."

As I explored the contours of the movement, I discovered a culture of personal crisis lurking behind the histrionics and expressions of social resentment. This culture is the mortar that bonds leaders and followers together. . . .

The movement's Jesus is the opposite of the prince of peace. He is a stern, overtly masculine patriarch charging into the fray with his sword raised against secular foes; he is "the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a horse, with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood," according to movement propagandist Steve Arterburn. Mark Driscoll, a pastor who operates an alternative Christian rock venue from his church, stirs the souls of twenty-something evangelical males with visions of "Ultimate Fighting Jesus." This same musclebound god-man starred in Mel Gibson's blood-drenched The Passion of the Christ, enduring bone-crushing punishment at the hands of Jews and pagans for two hours of unrelieved pornographic masochism.

A portrait of virility and violence, the movement's omnipotent macho Jesus represents the mirror inversion of the weak men who necessitated his creation. As [psychologist Erich] Fromm explained, "the lust for power is not rooted in strength but in weakness [italics in original]. It is the expression of the individual self to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking."

No indeed, Bach's Jesus has nothing in common with this macho Jesus. And I imagine Bach's deep Christian faith must be an irrelevance if not an outright outrage to the crap Christian worshippers of macho Jesus. Indeed, having come this far with Max, we need to continue on at least one more paragraph:
The movement's macho Jesus provided purpose to Tom DeLay, a dallying, alcoholic Texas legislator transformed through evangelical religion from "Hot Tub Tommy" into a dictatorial House majority leader known as "The Hammer." Macho Jesus was the god of Ted Haggard, a closet homosexual born-again and charismatic megachurch leader, risen to head of the National Association of Evangelicals, preaching the gospel of spiritual warfare and anti-gay crusades. And he was the god of Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., an eccentric millionaire whose inheritance of massive wealth literally drove him mad, prompting his institutionalization, who found relief as one of the far right's most reliable financial angels. Macho Jesus even transformed the serial killer Ted Bundy, murderer and rapist of dozens of women, who became a poster child for anti-pornography activists with his nationally televised death row confessional. . . .


Matthias Goerne's recording of Cantatas Nos. 56, 82, and 158 with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting is still available.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's stereo version of Nos. 56 and 82 with Karl Richter conducting, with one of the most famous of the cantatas, No. 4, Christ lag in Todesbaden, thrown in, is available as a mid-price CD.Fischer-Dieskau's mono version with Karl Ristenpart has been reissued on Hänssler's Profit label,with his 1950 Brahms Four Serious Songs accompanied by the fine pianist Hertha Klust thrown in.

The Hänssler complete Bach set is apparently currently unavailable. It's highly recommendable, but not for $599. Brilliant Classics has a 155-CD complete Bach,as usual assembled from a wide variety of sources, which you can find as low as $100. (Amazon lists it at present at $119.) The price is certainly right, but from the dabbling I've done in the set, the performance level is, shall we say, problematic.


Here is the updated list.

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