Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Will Buck McKeon Ever Get An Oscar For Playing The Role Of A Seedy Career Politician?


Bill Moyers had a fascinating discussion with brilliant culture critic Neil Gabler this week. It's worth watching (above); they talk about the difference between heroes and celebrities and how it impacts politics and how popular culture-- particularly films-- influences our perceptions of the presidency.

In honor of the Academy Awards Sunday, Lee Rogers, the progressive Democrat from northeast L.A. County running against corrupt GOP incumbent Buck McKeon, did a send up on the United Republic Oscar send-up which highlights government corruption in movies. "As many of you know," he wrote, "Representative Howard 'Buck' McKeon has made a career out of taking special favors from lobbyists. We think he should win an Oscar for playing a career politician and being a Washington insider. We've taken the liberty of writing his acceptance speech:"
"First I want to thank loose campaign finance laws for allowing me to give my wife $550,000 in the past 10 years. I want to thank Countrywide Mortgage for my VIP loan. I want to thank the Defense Industry for funding my campaigns and my lifestyle. I want to thank the Drone Industry for allowing me to create a bogus caucus just to funnel more money into my friends' campaigns. I want to thank big oil for being such a close friend. (cue music) Oh, and I can't forget to thank the For-Profit Colleges for paying me to rip off students!"

Gabler makes it painfully clear how campaigns that are really about nothing but aesthetics leave us with candidates who are packaged into superficial, two-dimensional personas designed to appeal to both the electorate and the media. Like, for example, Akron's favorite son here...

Labels: , ,

What does it take for a cartoonist to break into "The New Yorker"? (Plus: The U.K.'s kiss-off of James Murdoch is our, er, gain?)


In breaking news, James M. puts London
in his rear-view mirror (see below)

"Hello? Beasts of the Field? This is Lou, over in Birds of
the Air. Anything funny going on over at your end?"

by Ken

"It's hard to believe that there was a time when there were no Jack Ziegler cartoons in The New Yorker," Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff writes in his newsletter-blogpost this week ("The Journey of a Thousand Cartoons"), "now that well over a thousand have been published." Above we see that very first cartoon bought by the magazine in 1973, presumably as it was published, which is to say with some modifications "requested" by then-Cartoon Editor Lee Lorenz:
I sat in the chair opposite him as he pulled my drawing from a fat pile of other people's work on his desk. It was a cartoon that had made me happy when I came up with the idea. Lee asked if I wouldn't mind if they bought it for the magazine, and if I'd be amenable to considering a few changes. It was my first exposure to the extremely polite ways of The New Yorker in conducting business with its contributors.

The caption and layout were fine, he said, but some adjustments would be required in the body of the drawing. Could I perhaps make the fellow on the phone older and a tad more Biblical? And the inner workings of the conveyer belt seemed, well, not quite mechanical enough. Just a few lines added onto the finished drawing should do it.

Jack tells this story -- recalling his long period of making "regular stops" at the magazine's offices "to drop off new material and pick up last week's returns and rejection slip" -- as the second cartoon-memoirist in a series Bob Mankoff began last week with Mick Stevens ("It's Nacht Just Musik"). You can read Mick's story for yourself, but here's the cartoon:

Mick Stevens and Jack Ziegler are part of what Bob calls "a new crew of young or at least youngish cartoonists" brought in by Lee Lorenz in the early 1970s. "Arriving before me was Jack Ziegler," he writes, "and quickly following were Mick Stevens, Michael Maslin [whose suggestions you may recall for Bob's quest for "the perfect cartoon"], and Roz Chast," adding: "We're the old or at least oldish guard now, but our memories of that first cartoon sale are still fresh." Bob told his own story of "How I Became a New Yorker Cartoonist" in September 2010, and now he's gotten his mates to share theirs.

I love both Mick's and Jack's stories, and can hardly wait for the others. But I have to say my favorite parts of Jack's story are the sequels.

(1) Jack learns from Lee Lorenz, after receiving $305 for the "Birds of the Air" cartoon -- "the largest payment and oddest amount I had yet received for a cartoon sale" -- but only $215 for his next sale at "The New Yorker paid strictly by the square centimeter, i.e., the amount of space a drawing would take up when it got published in the magazine." (Bob Mankoff adds: "The formula by which the payment for cartoons is determined has since been changed, but cannot be revealed, as it is considered a proprietary trade secret."*)

(2) Bob unearths a sublime story previously disclosed by Lee Lorenz in The Art of The New Yorker 1925-1995:
As Lee relates . . . despite the fact that Jack was selling regularly, he was not only not appearing regularly in the magazine, he wasn't appearing at all.

According to Lee, Carmine Peppe, who presided imperiously over the makeup team that layed out the magazine, had decided that Jack's work, which often used comic-strip conventions such as a heading instead of the usual gag line, didn’t mesh with Mr. Peppe’s conception of what a New Yorker cartoon should be:

And even when Lee himself told Mr. Peppe that The New Yorker did indeed wish to publish Jack's cartoons, the stubborn Mr. Peppe remained unmoved. It was only after [New Yorker editor] William Shawn intervened that he finally capitulated. The rest is cartoon history.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
*Bob makes one further disclosure about The New Yorker's cartoon payment system: "When I became cartoon editor, I suggested that it be by the dot. Suffice to say that suggestion was not taken." In case you've forgotten, here's what a typical Bob Mankoff cartoon looks like:

"And we will absolutely start lending again as
soon as we finish building our debtors' prison."


One's first response to the news might be: "One Murdoch down, one to go." Tthen one discovers that apparently as far as the News Corp. high command is concerned, James M. is merely coming to New York to do, you know, bigger and better things.

James Murdoch Gives Up Role at British Unit


LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch's media empire, News Corporation, announced on Wednesday that his son James had stepped down as executive chairman of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary that is embroiled in layers of overlapping police and judicial inquiries into phone hacking and illegal payments to the police.

A statement from News Corporation depicted the step as part of James Murdoch’s move to the company’s headquarters in New York, announced a year ago. But many media analysts said the move seemed to reflect the more recent travails of News International, whose newspapers include The Sun, The Times of London and The Sunday Times of London. . . .

At least stateside James -- and his dear old dad -- apparently don't have to worry about media and government gnats niggling them over some trifle or other in the way they gather and disseminate what they smilingly call "the news."

Labels: , ,

Warren Buffett On The Myth Of High Taxes On Corporations


There's a certain amount of wonkishness and numbers soup in the above video, but the most important takeaway is that Warren Buffett is calling bullshit on the unending Republican Party claim that American corporations pay too much in taxes. They don't; in fact, they don't pay nearly enough. They're not carrying their weight-- and that means the rest of us are carrying their weight. "The interesting thing about the corporate rate," explained Buffett, "is that corporate profits, as a percentage of GDP last year were the highest or just about the highest in the last 50 years. They were ten and a fraction percent of GDP. That’s higher than we’ve seen in 50 years. The corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP were 1.2 percent, $180 billion. That’s just about the lowest we’ve seen. So our corporate tax rate last year, effectively, in terms of taxes paid for the United States, was around 12 percent, which is well below those existing in most of the industrialized countries around the world. So it is a myth that American corporations are paying 35 percent or anything like it… Corporate taxes are not strangling American competitiveness."

Needless to say Joshua Holland had something to say essential to this discussion in his book The 15 Biggest Lies About The Economy. In fact, the whole book is essential to this discussion. But let's take just one aspect, the Republican Party lie that "tax cuts generate jobs." It's part of their crazy mantra that gets proven wrong over and over again but doesn't slow them down one bit.
The basic problem with the claim that “tax cuts stimulate the economy” is that “taxes” aren’t generic. You can cut taxes on companies or individuals or dole out cuts that fall more heavily on the rich or the poor. You can target tax cuts at investors or low-income families with young children. You can cut taxes on specific goods-- food or yachts-- and services, or in a specific geographic zone to encourage investment. And various recipients of those breaks-- whether companies or individuals-- will respond to those cuts with different kinds of changes in their economic behavior.

Yet another problem also exists... [T]here simply isn’t much correlation between various countries’ tax burdens and the relative strength of their economies. Some economic powerhouses have relatively low tax rates; others’ rates are relatively high.

...In 2008, [Larry] Beinhart took a look at a fog fact about taxes. He compared two sets of data, historic income tax and GDP growth rates in the United States, and concluded, “The brute facts” are as follows:

• High income taxes correlate with economic growth.
• Income tax increases are followed by economic growth.
• Moderate income tax cuts are followed by a flat economy.

Beinhart went through the specifics:

1. High taxes correlate with strong economic growth. The four periods of greatest economic growth in U.S. history, by pretty much any measure, are World War II (1941–1945): The top tax rate varied from 88 to 94 percent. Postwar under Truman and Eisenhower: The top rate bounced around from 81 to 92 percent. The Clinton years: Clinton raised Bush’s top rate of 31 percent to 37 percent and then to 39 percent. The first two Roosevelt administrations (1933–1940). When Roosevelt came into office, Hoover had already raised the tax rate in 1932 from 25 percent to 63 percent. Roosevelt raised it again in 1936 to 79 percent.

A lot of ink, sweat, and ranting have gone into proving that the New Deal did not end the Great Depression. Nonetheless, the economy grew 58 percent from the time Roosevelt came into office to when the United States entered the war. Some of that anti–New Deal rhetoric also claims that the recovery began under Hoover. Perhaps, but to say so is also to say that it began with tax hikes.

Likewise, many right-wing critics insist that the Clinton boom actually started under Bush the First. It is necessary to remember that Bush the First also raised taxes (from 28 percent to 31 percent) and was soundly thrashed by the conservatives for doing so. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute called it “The Crime of the Century” and explained at length how it had brought ruin to America.

2. Tax increases are followed by economic growth. Three of the four high-growth periods cited previously followed significant tax hikes. The fourth, the Truman-Eisenhower years, began with a top tax rate of 91 percent-- it couldn’t get much higher.

3. Moderate cuts are followed by flat growth. John F. Kennedy is generally credited with starting the tax-cut craze. He proposed it, but, as with all of his ideas, it was Lyndon Johnson who actually got it enacted. The top rate was cut from 91 percent to 77 percent, then to 70 percent, on all income more than $200,000 for a single person and more than $400,000 for a married couple. That’s where it stayed, through the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. The Dow Jones average was pretty much the same when that period ended as when it began. Median personal income stayed roughly the same.

Of course, just because B follows A doesn’t mean that A caused B to occur. Correlation isn’t the same as causation. Obviously, all kinds of factors other than the top tax rate helped drive those growth spurts. Just one example is the huge competitive advantage the United States enjoyed for several decades following World War II, simply by virtue of the fact that it had developed a ton of industrial capacity during the war, while its major competitors had seen half of their infrastructure blown to pieces. But if B stubbornly refuses to follow A in every circumstance, then you can be pretty sure that A isn’t responsible for B. A lack of correlation disproves causation.

So when Kennedy cut the top rate from 91 percent to 70 percent, that may have unleashed a lot of economic activity, but... all but the sketchiest economic thinkers agree that when George W. Bush cut it from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, he only succeeded in leaving a big hole in the budget.

Tax cuts, properly targeted, can be effective tools of public policy. The idea that cutting taxes always spurs growth, creates jobs, and leads to magic rainbows and puppies, on the other hand, is pure fantasy.

Labels: , , ,

Tommy Thompson... Serial Apologist


Tommy Thompson, who's running for the open Wisconsin Senate seat, will have just passed his 71st birthday on election day-- if he gets through a cutthroat primary of extreme right wing zealots also looking for that career step. He's leading the GOP field-- although is the third choice among Tea Party Republicans-- primarily because Wisconsin Republicans remember him as their 4-term governor (1987-2001)... and for his role in creating the BadgerCare health system, anathema to modern-day Republicans of the Paul Ryan school of Law of the Jungle Republicans. Running against the pack of extremists-- who are packed by shady, big money, far right groups-- Thompson has been pushed uncomfortably to the right, much the way Romney was pushed ever rightward-- and is now unacceptable to mainstream Americans-- by Gingrich, Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Cain, et al. Lately Thompson has taken to blasting President Obama for apologizing on behalf of the United States for the inadvertent burning of a Koran in Afghanistan by the American government.

As our friends at American Bridge pointed out to us, Thompson knows a lot about apologizing. Last time he ran for office-- president, I think-- he was forced to apologize for offensive comments to both Jews and the LGBT community. The President was fulfilling his duty as chief executive of the U.S. government in a diplomatic capacity. What was Tommy's excuse?

A faulty hearing aid, a cold, fatigue, a leaky bladder... anything but pandering to the nuts in his own party.

His Jewish problem stems from a 2007 series of clumsy boo-boos that offended Jewish leaders. He said making money is “part of the Jewish tradition,” called Israel Bonds “Jewish Bonds” and the Anti-Defamation League the “Jewish Defense League” at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s biennial Consultation on Conscience.
Ironically, though, it was one speaker’s botched joke about the stereotypical lack of poverty among Jews that ended up drawing a great deal of attention. Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson began his speech by saying that after 38 years in government, the former Wisconsin governor was for the first time in the private sector and earning money. That, he said, is ‘sort of part of the Jewish tradition, and I do not find anything wrong with that. I enjoy that.’ Once Thompson finished his half-hour talk, RAC director Rabbi David Saperstein alerted him to the crowd’s murmurings. Returning to the podium, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services said he didn’t "want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances." He said, rather, that he was referring to "the accomplishments of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. You have been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that and if anybody took what I said wrong, I apologize. I may have mischaracterized it. You are very successful. I applaud you for that."

He seemed bent out of shape when reporters questioned him about this later.
"I was tired, I made a mistake and I apologized," Thompson told a group of Politico reporters and editors in an interview.

"Have you ever made a mistake?," a testy Thompson demanded of this reporter.

Right around the same time, he was onto insulting gays and lesbians with his conservative stereotypes, claiming in a debate that employers who didn't like gays should be allowed to fire them without cause. That's patently illegal. As you can see in the video up top, he said it was because of a faulty hearing aid. The Associated Press also reported it was because he had to go pee-pee.
Tommy Thompson cited a dead hearing aid and an urgent need to use the bathroom in explaining on Saturday why he said at a GOP presidential debate that an employer should be allowed to fire a gay worker. Speaking to reporters after giving an address at the state GOP convention, Thompson also said he was suffering from the flu and bronchitis and had been admitted to a hospital emergency room three days prior to the May 3 debate. "Nobody knows that," Thompson said. "I’ve been very sick... I was very sick the day of the debate. I had all of the problems with the flu and bronchitis that you have, including running to the bathroom. I was just hanging on. I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom."

He also said he's deaf in one ear and the hearing aid in the other ear went dead. What a mess-- just like his campaign. He soon withdrew... without a ripple. So now he wants to run for the Senate seat left open by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. Kohl immediately endorsed Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who-- if she wins in November-- will be the first woman to hold a Senate seat from Wisconsin and the first openly gay person ever elected to the U.S. Senate from anywhere. If you'd like to make sure it's Tammy who holds that seat-- and not lumbering old Tommy Thompson, you can contribute to her campaign at the Blue America ActBlue page here.

Here's the ad the far right Club For Growth Is currently running in Wisconsin:

Labels: , , , ,

Everyone's Ganging Up On Poor Widdle Willard


Yes, as the press is reporting this morning, Willard averted a disaster in Michigan yesterday. He took 41.1% of the vote in the state where he grew up and where his father was a beloved governor. Santorum's extremism drove Republican women towards Romney. And in Arizona, Romney won every single county. But news of his two victories had to share the national headlines with Olympia Snowe's announcement that she's retiring next year and with a stupendous populist speech by President Obama to the UAW. And, what a great Obama speech it was! I wish he'd govern more the way he speaks-- at least when he speaks like this. And, notice, he never says "Romney," "Mitt," "Willard," or even "weird." But everyone knew exactly who he was talking about. Here's part of it:
You helped write America’s story. And today, you’re busy writing a proud new chapter. You’re reminding us that no matter how tough times get, Americans are tougher. No matter how many punches we take, we don’t give up. We get up, we fight back, we move forward, and we come out the other side stronger than before.
You are showing America what’s possible. So I’m here today to tell you one thing: you make me proud.
Take a minute to think about what you and the workers and families you represent have fought through. Just a few years ago, nearly one in five autoworkers were handed a pink slip.  00,000 jobs across this industry vanished the year before I took office. And as the financial crisis hit with its full fury, America faced a hard and once unimaginable reality: two of the Big Three-- GM and Chrysler-- were on the brink of failure.
The heartbeat of American manufacturing was flatlining. And we had a choice to make.
With the economy in complete freefall, there weren’t any private companies or investors willing to take a chance on the auto industry. Anyone in the financial sector could tell you that. So we could have kept giving billions of taxpayer dollars to the automakers without demanding real change or accountability in return. But that wouldn’t have solved anything. It would have just kicked the problem further on down the road. The other option we had was to do nothing, and allow these companies to fail. In fact, some politicians said we should. Some even said we should “let Detroit go bankrupt.”
Think about what that choice would have meant for this country. If we had turned our backs on you; if America had thrown in the towel; GM and Chrysler wouldn’t exist today. The suppliers and distributors that get their business from those companies would have died off, too. Then even Ford could have gone down as well. Production: shut down. Factories: shuttered. Once proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps. And all of you-- the men and women who built these companies with your own hands – would’ve been hung out to dry. 
More than one million Americans across the country would have lost their jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In communities across the Midwest, it would have been another Great Depression. Think about everyone who depends on you-- schoolteachers and small business owners; the server in the diner who knows your order and the bartender who’s waiting for you when you get off. Their livelihoods were at stake, too. 
And so was something else. How many of you who’ve worked the assembly line had fathers and grandfathers who worked that same line? Or sons and daughters who hope to? These jobs are worth more than just a paycheck. They’re a source of pride. They’re a ticket to a middle class life. They make it possible to own a home, to raise kids and send them to college, to retire. These companies are worth more than just the cars they build. They’re a symbol of American innovation; the source of our manufacturing might. And if that’s not worth fighting for, what is? 
So no, we were not going to take a knee and do nothing. We were not going to give up on your jobs, your families, and your communities. In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We said the auto industry would have to truly change, not just pretend that it did. We got labor and management to settle their differences. We got the industry to retool and restructure. Everyone involved made sacrifices. Everyone had some skin in the game. It wasn’t popular. And it wasn’t what I ran for President to do. But I ran to do the tough things-- the right things-- no matter the politics. 
And you know why I knew this rescue would succeed? It wasn’t because of anything the government did. It wasn’t just because of anything management did. It was because I believed in you. I placed my bet on American workers. And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. Because three years later, that bet is paying off for America. Three years later, the American auto industry is back.
Today, GM is back on top as the number one automaker in the world, with the highest profits in its 100-year history. Chrysler is growing faster in America than any other car company. Ford is investing billions in American plants and factories, and plans to bring thousands of jobs back home. All told, the entire industry has added more than 200,000 new jobs over the past two and a half years. 200,000 new jobs.   
And you’re not just building cars again. You’re building better cars. After three decades of inaction, we’re gradually putting in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history for our cars and pickups. That means the cars you build will average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade-- almost double what they get today. That means folks will be able to fill up every two weeks instead of every week, saving the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time. That means we’ll cut our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day. 

...Because I’ve got to admit, it’s been funny to watch some of these politicians completely rewrite history now that you’re back on your feet. These are the folks who said if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, “you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.” Now they’re saying they were right all along. Or worse, they’re saying that the problem is that you, the workers, made out like bandits in all of this; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions. Really? Even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you-know-what. About 700,000 retirees saw a reduction in the health care benefits they had earned. Many of you saw hours reduced, or pay and wages scaled back. You gave up some of your rights as workers. Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry, its workers, and their families. You want to talk about values? Hard work-- that’s a value. Looking out for one another-- that’s a value. The idea that we’re all in it together-- that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper-- that is a value.
But they’re still talking about you as if you’re some greedy special interest that needs to be beaten. Since when are hardworking men and women special interests?  Since when is the idea that we look out for each other a bad thing? To borrow a line from our old friend Ted Kennedy: what is it about working men and women they find so offensive?

 This notion that we should have let the auto industry die; that we should pursue anti-worker policies in hopes unions like yours will unravel-- it’s part of that same old you’re-on-your-own philosophy that says we should just leave everyone to fend for themselves. They think the best way to boost the economy is to undo the reforms we put in place to prevent another crisis, and let Wall Street write its own rules again. They think the best way to help families afford health care is to undo the reform we passed that’s already lowering costs for millions of Americans, and go back to the days when insurance companies could deny your coverage or jack up your rates whenever and however they pleased. They think we should keep cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans so that billionaires can keep paying lower tax rates than their secretaries. 
I don’t think so. That’s the philosophy that got us into this mess. And we can’t afford to go back.  Not now. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a long way to go before everyone who wants a good job can find one. We’ve got a long way to go before middle-class Americans regain the sense of security that’s been slipping away since long before the recession hit. But over the last two years, our businesses have added about 3.7 million new jobs. Manufacturing is coming back for the first time since the 1990s. Companies are bringing jobs back from overseas. The economy is getting stronger. The recovery is speeding up. And now is the time to keep our foot on the gas.
We will not settle for a country where a few people do really well, and everyone else struggles to get by. We’re fighting for an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony profits. We’re fighting for an economy that’s built to last-- one built on things like education, energy, manufacturing things the rest of the world wants to buy, and restoring the values that made this country great: Hard work. Fair play. The opportunity to make it if you try. And the responsibility to reach back and help someone else make it, too.

Any time Obama says anything about "an economy built to last," that's a slap in the face to the Romney predatory rape and pillage business model. But there are less subtle way to slap the shit-eating grin off Willard's face as well. Yesterday Gingrich had two of his campaign surrogates, both far right ex-congressman, Bob Walker (R-PA) and J.C. Watts (R-OK), sign a letter the campaign drafted for the media pointing out the dangers of letting a lowlife like Romney seize the White House. Is this how Republicans talk about each other these days? You bet!
Dear Publisher and Editorial Page Editor:

We write to you about what we regard as an existential threat to the integrity of the American political process.

First, however, we wish to make clear that although the signers of this letter are members of Newt Gingrich’s leadership team our immediate concern is not to seek your endorsement of his candidacy for the presidency, however much we might recommend and hope for such a result. Instead, our reason for this letter transcends any one candidate or election.

Over recent decades numerous voices have been raised about the dangers of massive amounts of money spent in the service of negative or false advertising, much has also been said about the threat that this might pose to voters’ right to accurate information about issues and candidates as well as to the civil discourse so essential to democracy.

And while obviously abuses of this sort have occurred, the fact remains that over time the truth has power and does tend to prevail. Furthermore, freedom of speech means having to sometimes tolerate the abuse of that right, any robust democratic system is by nature going to be flawed or untidy and unfair practices or untruthful claims sometimes have to be endured.

Still, when abuses of the democratic and electoral process happen that does not mean the voice of conscience shouldn’t be heard and heeded. Speaking out against attempts to corrupt the democratic process is historically a role that America’s newspapers have seen as their own. And it is in this capacity-- your role as democracy’s watchdogs-- we appeal to you now.

As you are aware Feb 7th saw a series of setbacks to the Republican front-runner Governor Romney. Indeed, the returns in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri were historic in nature. Never before had a GOP front-runner lost so badly this far into the nomination process, let alone in three states and on the same day. In Colorado, Governor Romney was not only defeated by 5 points in a state he won with 60% four years earlier but this setback came at the hands of a candidate whom he had outspent by 40 to 1.

These results were widely interpreted as voter rejection of Governor Romney’s "scorched earth" campaign tactics-- tactics that has meant $20 to $25 million spent in attacks on our own candidate, Speaker Gingrich. As you also know, these advertisements and a spending advantage of 5 to 1 are widely credited with having eliminated wide Gingrich leads both in Iowa and Florida. Moreover... Governor Romney’s tactics have deeply depressed voter turnout, with the only exception South Carolina where Speaker Gingrich’s victory in breaking through Governor Romney’s paid media storm resulted in a 22% increase in turnout. (So too, counties in Florida where Speaker Gingrich won showed an increase in voting while Governor Romney had the opposite effect.)

Now if these television advertisements had been an attack on the Gingrich record that would be one thing. Instead Governor Romney chose to run and temporarily profit from blatantly untrue TV spots, with one spot that Romney publicly defended drawing four "Pinocchios" from the Washington Post for false charges (e.g. Gingrich was "fined" for ethics violations as Speaker) or making claims like "Speaker Gingrich had to resign in disgrace" cited by the Wall Street Journal as false.

Governor Romney’s negative attack mentality, unfortunately, is a reflection of his own persona. We include documentation of numerous instances of Governor Romney resorting under pressure to the use of falsehoods-- five of them are from a single presidential debate in Jacksonville on Jan 26. Please understand, we believe that if you closely examine the record you will see that we are not discussing here lapses of memory. We are saying that the evidence is clear that Governor Romney has a near Pavlovian reflex of lapsing into falsehoods in order to rearrange reality to his liking. The record shows that when publicly challenged or at a loss for an answer, Governor Romney shows a deeply engrained habit of mendacity.

Nowhere is this better seen than in Governor Romney’s decision to follow the course suggested by attack-ad maestro Stu Stevens and opposition researcher Matt Rhoades and secure the nomination by means not of energizing party conservatives with policy positions but attack ads aimed at rivals and predicated on the politics of personal destruction.

As you are also probably also aware the Romney forces are purchasing massive amounts of advertising time in your own state to continue their false attacks.

Thus the purpose of this letter is to ask you to look at the facts we include and if you agree about the threat they pose to the integrity of the electoral process we ask that you use the mighty voice of America’s newspapers to warn voters about Governor Romney’s attempt to use money and mendacity to secure the Republican nomination.

We ask you to speak out against a candidate with a great sense of entitlement and very little sense of accountability. We ask you to protest a candidacy and a campaign without a conscience. We ask you to censure and thwart a way of politics that if left unchallenged could corrupt our electoral process and democratic system for a generation.

So, as we said and as expected, Mormons in Arizona helped Romney win big there-- 47.3%-- and he won narrowly (by around 3%) against Santorum in the Michigan popular vote, although may have actually lost to Santorum in terms of convention delegates. In the final days of the primary, Santorum scared Republican voters away with his unabashed fanaticism and religious-war rhetoric. This primary is going to go on for a lot longer than anyone expected and it seems to be helping one candidate and one candidate only: Barack Obama. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, even a cloddish Romney surrogate like Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, was on TV disagreeing with Romney's most basic economic stands:

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Babeu And Grimm... Grotesque Republican Corruption


The video above has nothing to do with either Arizona congressional candidate Sheriff Paul Babeu or Staten Island Republican Congressman/Mafioso Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm. Instead it's another real world tableau documenting the pervasive political corruption that reaches right up the Republican Party leadership chain. The doofus being interviewed by investigative journalist Lee Fang is third-ranking Republican in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). He lies right to Fang's face, claiming not to know about the Buck McKeon and Vern Buchanan scandals roiling their California and Florida districts.

So what does this have to do with Grimm and Babeu? Fang points out that the #2 House Republican, Eric Cantor, said he would have "zero tolerance" for corruption in the House GOP Caucus. Boehner was equally adamant when the Republicans won their majority in 2010. But neither is addressing the outrageous public scandals that both McKeon and Grimm are embroiled in-- with McKeon already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee (which informed McCarthy) and Grimm's case so serious that the NY Times demanded that the Justice Department start looking into it. As for Babeu... he's the favored Republican candidate in a deep red western Arizona district where he's up against incumbent (from another district) Paul Gosar. Or at least he was the favorite until it came out that... well, he came out-- or, more to the point, was outed... by his ex-lover, a Mexican immigrant he was trying to strong-arm and threatening to have deported.

When we first started covering Babeu we suggested that his time as headmaster of the DeSisto School was going to lead to very ugly places. And yesterday the media finally started confirming just that.
Pinal County Sheriff and U.S. Congressional candidate Paul Babeu was the school's Headmaster and Executive Director from 1999 to 2001.

He touts his experience there on his campaign website.

While Babeu ran the school, the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services launched an investigation into repeated allegations of abuse.

The ABC15 Investigators traveled across Massachusetts and tracked down reports that have never been released.

The documents show that during Babeu’s tenure the school was not licensed. Other allegations include detailed instances of physical and sexual abuse.

Holli Nielsen was a student of DeSisto while Babeu was Headmaster.

“It's not unreasonable to say we were cult-like,” said Nielsen.

The school's policy was "tough love" and it led to at least one death-- a boy forced out in a blizzard with no clothes, who froze to death-- and several rapes. And, Babeu, being Babeu, is going to have a lot more seedy crap associated with himself, of course. This is when we get to the part of the danger of these hypocritical Republican closet cases not being treated for their severe mental illness.
Several students we spoke with say they also knew a secret about Babeu.

It was a secret that Babeau’s older sister said she discovered one day after visiting his home.

Lucy Babeu told the ABC15 Investigators she confronted her brother after finding a student from DeSisto school living with Babeu.

“I said what is this student from Desisto doing here? He says, ‘Lucy, he's my boyfriend. I love him’.”

Lucy Babeu told us her brother was having a relationship with the male student.  

“I said Paul get a hold of yourself here,” said Lucy. “You were his teacher! You were his Executive Director! You can't do this.”

ABC15 is not identifying the former student. He has not responded to our interview requests.

At the time, he was 17 which is the legal age of consent in Massachusetts.

“He was of age. He would be what we considered a high school senior,” said Nielsen.

Holli says she knew the student personally.

“It was widely known but not discussed. People were aware of it,” said Nielsen. “It was kind of swept under the rug.”

Babeu left the school in 2001. Three years later, the state investigation forced DeSisto to shut down.

And Grimm? He wasn't having sex with young boys too, was he? Not that we know of... but we do know of a meeting he had at the Crow Bar with the owner, major New York crime figure-- now imprisoned for 30 years... our old friend "Gus" Kontogiannis. Yep... yesterday's New York Daily News published a story about the relationship between Grimm-- basically an astonishingly corrupt cop-gone-bad-- and Kontogiannis, one of the crime figures behind, among other things, the Duke Cunningham scandal. We've been talking about Kontogiannis (and "Mikey Suits" since 2005). Kontogiannis, among his many other crimes, gave Cunningham $400,000 to give George W. Bush in return for a pardon. Kontogiannis became too hot for a pardon but no one has ever accounted for the $400,000. I doubt the Daily News investigation will lead to it. What they came up with, though, was Grimm trying to get Kontogiannis off the hook another way.
Staten Island  Rep. Michael Grimm urged a federal judge to spare a New York-based developer with three bribery-related convictions from serving a day in prison, the Daily News has learned.

Grimm sought leniency for Thomas Kontogiannis in 2008, before Grimm entered Congress as a Republican and after he had left a career as an FBI agent. Kontogiannis then faced sentencing on his third conviction-- for helping funnel $1 million in bribe money to former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-Calif).

In a three-page letter, Grimm asked California Federal Judge Lawrence Burns to “be as lenient as the law will allow and your conscience accepts, granting him a noncustodial sentence.” Burns sentenced Kontogiannis to eight years [a sentence that has grown over the years].

A lot of people focus on the Republican Party for its ideological extremism and its aggressive international policies. But you never need to scratch too deeply on the surface of conservatism without finding the stench of corruption. They go hand-in-hand because of the adoration with which sociopathic, self-serving behavior is treated. Oh-- and Boehner isn't on Grimm's case either. Last we heard of an interaction between them was when Grimm suggested to the Speaker that Members of Congress be allowed to pack heat and Boehner promised to look into that great idea.

Labels: , , , , ,

Is everyone ready for the great Leap Day festivities?


"Poke your eyes, pull your hair, you forgot what clothes to wear." Liz gets the situationally mandated eye poke for failing to wear the Leap Day-appropriate yellow-and-blue from -- of all, er, people -- Lutz. Jack Donaghy will register astonishment that "the woman who watches all six pawn-shop reality shows" has never seen the classic film Leap Dave Williams, making her apparently the only American suffering such cultural deprivation. Watch the instant-classic "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock here.

"Leap Day's not a thing."
-- Liz Lemon, in the "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock

"We should live every day as if it's Leap Day, and every Leap Day as if it's your last."
-- at episode's end, the real Leap Day William?

by Ken

Politics is one of the uncommon fields in which it's not necessarily a godsend for an incoming officeholder to replace what we would call "an easy act to follow." Look how Barack Obama botched the sweet deal of taking the reins from Chimpy the Ex-Prez. Now there would have been a heap of perilous passage to maneuver based just on the interlocking network of cosmically fine messes the Bush regime psychos and thugs go us into, but it didn't help that the new president often seemed to forget that he wasn't the old one.

In other fields the transition should be easy as pie. Replacing Nancy Franklin as TV critic of The New Yorker, for example. This would have been a cushy gig for anyone from Rose the Talking Parrot to that plucky squirrel you watched climb a tree last weekend in the park. I'm still trying to get a fix on Emily, whose writing at New York magazine I'm unfamiliar with, but there's no question that it's an upgrade. How could it not be? (For the record, I see that New Yorker Editor David Remnick told WWD Media in September, "Nancy decided she was tired of writing for a while, and tired of writing about TV I expect, after she catches her breath, she'll begin writing for us again and I dearly hope so." I'll take the high road and refrain from obvious sarcastic comment, but don't let me stop you.)

I bring this up because just as I've been thinking about the amazing stride 30 Rock has maintained in its belatedly begun new season, I stumbled across a February 23 blogpost of Emily's {"In Defense of Liz Lemon"), in which I learned:
Judging from my Twitter feed, there's been a backlash to "30 Rock" this season, particularly the character of Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey. Here's one example of these anti-Lemon blog posts. [You'll find this link and the following ones onsite. I didn't read them, but you may want to. -- Ed.] Here's another. Here's another. The argument in all these pieces (many by writers I respect) is pretty much the same: "30 Rock" used to be funny, but now it's sour and negative. Liz Lemon was once our heroine -- a sassy, confident, if somewhat neurotic single career lady. Now she's become infantilized and dumb. She behaves as if Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) is her daddy. She doesn't trust her own judgment, she's bad at her job, and there's something awfully misogynist about all this! Liz Lemon is pathetic.

At the outset I had to override my instinctive prejudice against anyone who judges anything by anybody's Twitter feed. Emily went on to write:
Well, I can't get on board the hate train, especially after last week's tour-de-force episode, in which Liz morphed from a crazy old subway lady (every New Yorker's dream: she gets her way at every turn) into Heath Ledger's Joker. Someone needs to speak up for the Lemon, and for the Fey. Because from the beginning Liz Lemon was pathetic. That was what was enthralling, and even revolutionary, about the character. Unlike some other adorkable or slutty-fabulous characters I could name, Liz only superficially resembled the protagonist of a romantic comedy, ready to remove her glasses and be loved. Beneath that, she was something way more interesting: a strange, specific, workaholic, NPR-worshipping, white-guilt-infected, sardonic, curmudgeonly, hyper-nerdy New Yorker. In the first episode, Jack nails her on sight as "a New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says ‘healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for … a week." Even Liz had to admit he scored a point.

That was why the show worked: it rarely made Liz an empowering role model, although many women certainly identified with her. The show let her be the George Costanza, not the Mary Richards. And, refreshingly, this appeal had little to do with sex or relationships: a lot of it was about her job. Liz was professionally successful, but she was a sellout. . . .

I mostly kind of skimmed the piece, and there's a lot about women's roles on TV that I wouldn't be allowed to comment on in any event, since you can't unless you're a woman, but since I do frequently watch 30 Rock reruns from earlier seasons, I don't think there's any question that Emily has a better grasp of how the character of Liz Lemon began and subsequently evolved than the Twitterers she's taking issue with. For example, later she writes, "That has always been one of the most radical things about “30 Rock,” the way it has continually punctured Liz’s image of herself as a spunky brunette underdog." And later:
And the thing is, Liz’s confrontations with her worst qualities have actually strengthened her. That’s what so odd about the backlash. This season, Liz is happier than ever—and for once, she’s rejecting Jack’s influence, finding her own bliss, embracing her oddball nature, going on the Oprah-style vacations she feels like taking.

I'm not sure that Tina Fey would express quite such a pluckily cheery view of where and how Liz has wound up. She seems to be enjoying piling on poor Liz, perhaps relishing the ways in which her fictional alter-ego has stumbled down her Road Not Taken. But the Nussbaum piece is still worth a skim.


Kenneth the decommissioned NBC page does his much-admired rendering of Leap Day William. We'll find out that apparently he's not, as we (like Jack) would assume, wearing a bald cap.

There isn't much I can say that wouldn't detract from rather than add to the pleasures. It's true that Leap Day has been featured all over the TV dial -- or rather the cable and satellite program guide, but nobody nailed it the way the 30 Rock people did, making Liz Lemon the only noncelebrant in a world gone quadrennially Leap Day-mad. These days the show's writing is so thorough, intricate, and dazzling, and the characters are so ingrained in the writers' consciousness, that there really doesn't appear to be any separation between writing and acting.

Sure, the celebrity cameo roles can become gimmicky, and this episode was studded with them, but they're usually well done, and I thought one of them from this episode, the very last, with John Cullum at his most ineffably charming, dressed as -- what else? -- Leap Day William, who then reappears after the final commercial break as -- dare we imagine? -- the real Leap Day William:

"Well, I guess we all learned something tonight, about love, friendship, about taking chances, about the true meaning of Leap Day. But these lessons aren't just good for every four years. No-o-o! They're good every year, because we should live every day as if it's Leap Day, and every Leap Day as if it's your last. Oh, and if you should ever see an old man in a blue suit bustin' out of the middle of the ocean, take the time to say, "Howdy." It might just be [takes off his hat] worth your while [opens his mouth and reveals a mouthful of short but fanglike teeth.]"

Labels: , ,

GOP Staring Into A Big Black-- And Brown And Educated And Young-- Demographic Hole


It may sound paranoid, but the demographic shifts in the United States are such that the GOP-- which has so alienated non-whites and the non-elderly-- is desperate to drastically curtail democracy before it's too late for them. Since at least the French Revolution, the forces of the Right have fought against popular democracy every step of the way. At the founding of this country, conservatives were clear that they would sabotage the whole effort rather than permit universal suffrage to be adopted. Conservatives wanted to make sure that voting would be only allowed for white male property owners, the older the better. One of the Koch brothers' most virulent-- and effective--political arms, ALEC, has been working on the state legislative level to turn the ship of democracy around back in that direction. And in states where the Republicans have gained legislative majorities-- Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, New Hampshire, etc-- they have moved down the path of limiting the franchise in ways outlined for them by ALEC. If you do think this is paranoid, let me point you to Jonathan Chait's article in the new issue of New York, 2012 or Never.
“America is approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course,” announces the dark, old-timey preamble to Paul Ryan’s “The Roadmap Plan,” a statement of fiscal principles that shaped the budget outline approved last spring by 98 percent of the House Republican caucus. Rick Santorum warns his audiences, “We are reaching a tipping point, folks, when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority.” Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis-- that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care-- is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP-- the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes-- is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

...[T]he dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades. Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head. In the aftermath of George McGovern’s 1972 defeat, neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirkpatrick disdainfully identified his voters as “intellectuals enamored with righteousness and possibility, college students, for whom perfectionism is an occupational hazard; portions of the upper classes freed from concern with economic self-interest,” and so on, curiously neglecting to include racial minorities. All of them were, in essence, people who heard a term like “real American” and understood that in some way it did not apply to them. Today, cosmopolitan liberals may still feel like an embattled sect-- they certainly describe their political fights in those terms-- but time has transformed their rump minority into a collective majority. As conservative strategists will tell you, there are now more of “them” than “us.” What’s more, the disparity will continue to grow indefinitely. Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters-- more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.

...[I]n the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition-- to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

It's what helps explain the Republican Party's embrace of apocalyptic rhetoric-- or even the GOP-dominated Wyoming state legislature's decision to allow for the raising of a standing army... and an aircraft carrier!

Here in California Republican politicians have been dealing with this for a long time, as they turned off the rapidly growing Hispanic voters with their racist rhetoric. And as they've shrunken into a less and less relevant rump of a party, many of their leaders have simply dug in and doubled down. Bigoted Santa Clarita Congressman Buck McKeon is a great example. California's 25th District is a much more diverse district than when McKeon first became its congressman in 1992, both due to shifting demographics and redistricting. The district is now younger with more working families represented by labor unions. Now there is a 30% Latino population and growing African American and Asian/Pacific Islander populations. McKeon has been an ardent opponent to reasonable immigration reform. He opposed the federal DREAM Act and is leading the charge in the district to repeal California's state DREAM Act. McKeon is also anti-equality for gays and lesbians. He personally supported California Prop 8 with campaign funds, opposed the repeal of DADT, supported DOMA, and tried to outlaw same-sex marriage by chaplains in the military. The constituency in the 25th district is definitely moving in a more progressive direction away from McKeon's record, and by alienating such large groups of voters, we think this is the year he can lose his seat to a more mainstream candidate. That mainstream candidate is Dr. Lee Rogers, a young father in his 30s, a professional, married to a Latina and more in touch with the way the district is today (rather than in the 1950s). Please consider contributing to his campaign here.

Chait concludes his article by reminding us that even GOP "strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, 'a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote'.”

Labels: , , ,

Blue America Welcomes Ken Aden (D-AR)


At 11am (PT)-- 1pm in Arkansas-- Blue America will be hosting a live blogging session at Crooks and Liars with Ken Aden, our newest endorsee for Congress. Ken Aden is the only progressive candidate for Congress Blue America has endorsed this year in a deep red district. Arkansas' third CD, in the northwest corner of the state, has always been Republican as far as anyone can remember. The last Democrat who almost won was Bill Clinton... in 1974. And Ken is undaunted. As Digby hopes to explore with him at the live chat today is Ken's startling grassroots campaign. In fact, his effort should be a model for working class candidates-- who the DCCC refuses to support (they exclusively pick rich candidates or candidates with access to big money; i.e., not school teachers or truck drivers or almost anyone who's undergoing the same financial straits as the rest of us). Ken sees all the classic negatives, of course... and turns them into strengths and opportunities:
There is no question that our campaign will likely be outspent significantly. However, of all the races in the country today, few offer the kind of opportunity this race does. Our district offers the opportunity to run a true grassroots campaign that will engage voters, inform voters, and make headlines in a district that hasn’t seen a credible Democrat run for Congress in decades. Plus, the fact that it has been so long since voters have had a real choice combined with the fact that we will run visible field and media operations mean that this will not be just an ordinary Congressional campaign, but one that gains significant attention not just from local media but national media as well.

In the post-Citizens United environment, there are not a lot of candidates willing to face the kind of odds we face in this district. There are even fewer who do elect to run in races like this who even plan to mount a legitimate campaign-- much less run an aggressive field operation.

I’m running not just because I believe this race can be won, but because I believe voters deserve a choice between a Congressman in the pocket of every special interst from the Koch Brothers to the poultry industry and a person who will, when elected, actually look out for the people and not his corporate cronies.

One of the first times I spoke with Ken he was busy helping organize Occupy Northern Arkansas. "I am a staunch and proud supporter of the Occupy Wall Street Movement," he told me... This is a true grassroots movement made up of young people, veterans, students, and folks from across the middle class just like me who are sick and tired of irresponsible corporations buying politicians of both parties while many in the government stand idly by and give corporate America the keys to the proverbial candy store. It's truly nauseating to know that so many politicians can be so easily bought, and not even loose an ounce of sleep over the fact that they are destroying everything which we hold dear. I  firmly believe that more people need to become involved, and stand up for what is right! Corporate greed is the new pandemic in this country. The ratio of CEO pay to that of the average worker is a prime example of the kind of reckless behavior that corporations in this country are exercising on a daily basis. Just look at how many politicians Koch Industries has bought over the last ten years alone. As the next congressman from Arkansas I would support an amendment to destroy the destructive influence of Citizens United. The last time I checked, corporations are NOT and will never be real people.

If you can, please drop by today and meet Ken for yourself. Yesterday he formally filed to be on the ballot. Please take a look at the video of that above. If he's your kind of candidate and if you can help, you can do it at the Blue America page. As Digby wrote to our members Sunday: "Blue America endorsed Ken with great enthusiasm and we are spreading the good word about his grassroots strategic vision to progressive challengers across the country.  We believe that this kind of creativity and energy can pay off.  But he needs all the help we can give him to keep the campaign funded. He won't be able to match a corrupt Republican incumbent, not even close.  But he has a good chance to win if he can put this plan into practice and defeat him with sharp grassroots tactics and hard work. Please donate here if you can."

Labels: , ,

There's More Going On In Michigan Today Than Just A Primary Between GOP Extremists


Folks across the country are talking about the Republican Presidential primary in Michigan today and the attacks on women by Republicans on the stump. From contraception to maternity care, to a women's right to make choices about her own body the GOP is waging a War Against Women-- and I wish I could say every single Democrat was standing firm against this insanity. I wish. We've been keeping you updated about our friend Trevor Thomas, who is running against Tea Party Congressmen Justin Amash. Trevor is a fighting progressive and supports and is willing to fight for a women's right to choose.  

As Blogging for Michigan and EclectaBlog highlighted on Friday, Governor Jennifer Granholm endorsed Thomas at a time when there is so much anti-women sentiment out there right now:

"This endorsement comes at a crucial moment as the country is engaged in a 1960s debate about women's reproductive freedom and the availability (and even the obtainability!) of contraceptives. Granholm's bona fides with regards to the issues affecting American women will appeal to Democrats and Independents alike, giving them assurance that Thomas is on their side. Granholm, an Emily's List endorsee, has championed the rights of women and groups that support reproductive rights like Planned Parenthood. Thomas, a pro-Choice candidate, will be a stark contrast to the anti-woman, anti-Choice, "take-our-country-back(wards)" approach of Republican Justin Amash."

Today we now know Trevor will have a challenger for the Democratic nomination. Steve Pestka, who has started talking to the local media about his campaign, may be a nominal Democrats... but not when it comes to equality for women. This guy is an anti-Choice fanatic of the Bart Stupak school of misogyny. MIRS, the Michigan political news service, reported:

"Former [state] Rep. Steve PESTKA is considering a run against U.S. Rep. Justin AMASH (R-Kentwood) in the 3rd Congressional District, making him the second Democrat with interest in the West Michigan-based seat. 

"Pestka served in the House from 1999-2003. He lost a hotly contested state Senate race against former Sen. Bill HARDIMAN in 2002 and was appointed to the circuit court bench shortly thereafter by then-Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM. 

"We have an opportunity to win this time," Pestka said. "I'm sure Justin Amash is a fine individual, but his voting record does not represent Kent County. His past votes deserve a challenge and a discussion and we're thinking seriously about getting in." (MIRS, February 27, 2012)

We reported earlier this month about rumors that folks with the local Grand Rapids establishment were looking at an anti-Choice, multimillionaire conservative who'd run on the Democratic ticket. It's now clear they found Pestka. They apparently miss the fact that this election is going to be about the working and middle class families hurting right now-- not millionaires like Pestka and Amash-- and it's quickly now turning to the rights of women.

Trevor is the fighting progressive we need. He comes from a working class family and he has a record of helping to pass major federal legislation, namely the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But he needs our help to be the nominee against Amash. As we know, early dollars are critical. Let's help spread the word and work to stop this faux-Democratic challenge and stand by our party's platform to help protect women now. Please consider a contribution at our ActBlue page.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 27, 2012

Citizens United Comes Calling In Montana-- A Guest Post By Franke Wilmer


I have to admit something-- I have a special place in my heart for literate candidates. Give me a well-read candidate who knows how to read and write and I'm always happiest. The first time I ever wrote about Montana Democrat, Rep. Franke Wilmer, I compared her to Barbara Ehrenreich... in the title. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Montana supreme court decision to keep corporate money out of state politics, the first person I thought of calling for a guest post was Franke. Although she's busy running for Montana's open congressional seat, she worked on a post-- and she didn't disappoint. (Please consider contributing to Franke's campaign here at the Blue Amerca page.)

How Can You Speak Without Breathing?

-by Rep. Franke Wilmer

Try this experiment: Hold your breath. Now keep holding your breath and speak. You are, in this experiment, what Wyoming gunfighter trial lawyer Gerry Spence calls a “non-breather,” an entity with legal personality other than “breathing” human beings. Breathers can speak, associate, hold beliefs, and participate in the political process by voting or even running for office. But corporate entities-– non-breathers-- whether non-profit or for-profit, cannot vote or run for office.

Conflicting appellate court decisions have been asked whether the government possesses the power to restrict speech by “non-breathers,” and if so, on the grounds of what “compelling interest?” Speech freedom was clearly intended to apply to “breathers”-- human beings expressing political opinions. But when breathers associate for common purpose, as they do when they incorporate (whether non or for profit), does their association create an entity entitled to the same rights as individuals? Must their collective speech be protected, particularly when wealth buys “speech space?”

Constitutional protection of speech must be weighed against other democratic values and should transcend ideological differences. No one wants to restrict speech with which they agree. Unions, citizen action groups, and profit-making corporate businesses are all non-breathers.

The debate about Citizens United raises two important questions (1) is money spent to express political opinions protected by the First Amendment regardless of who is speaking (a breather or non-breather) and (2) if so, is there some compelling reason to restrict monied speech? My answer is “yes” to both questions.

Citizens United holds that fair access to the means of expressing of political opinions is not necessary to our democracy. It is wrong for two reasons. First, Citizens United may have reduced some “chilling effect” on corporate speech by creating a “chilling effect” on the speech of regular breathing people who cannot compete for access to “speech space” in a world where that space goes to the highest bidder. Wealthy non-breathers win. Citizens United gives a megaphone to the speaker with the most money to the point of being able to drown out virtually all other speakers and their opinions.

Second, campaign finance laws, including Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, restrict campaign contributions because direct contributions create a likelihood or appearance of corruption in the form of quid pro quo favors from the winning candidate. Do unlimited independent expenditures present the same risk of corruption raised by direct campaign contributions? In Citizens United the court simply found no evidence that it does.

The court is wrong. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy concludes that:
"[I]ndependent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy."

Really? The “appearance of influence or access” has been apparent for years, with only 9% of the electorate having a favorable view of Congress and recent opinion polls showing that the Citizens United decision is intensely unpopular. Sixty-two percent of Americans across the political spectrum oppose the ruling. The “appearance of influence or access” has already caused the electorate to lose faith in this democracy. What planet do the five justices concurring in the majority live on?

Most of the money candidates spend is to exercise “speech freedom” advocating their own positions and candidacy and tearing down their opponents’ records or suitability to serve. There are limits on the campaign contributions associations of citizens may make to a campaign, consequently limiting the candidate’s speech. How is this different when the “donor” expresses exactly the same speech but does not “collude” with the candidate by donating directly?

The potential for corruption when donors spend money to say what the candidate wants them to say and expect favorable treatment in return, and ability of the wealthiest speakers to drown out the rest, are serious concerns and apply to all non- breathing speakers.

Corporations are imperfect citizens. Corporations benefit from limited liability, cannot vote or run for office, they pay taxes, and enjoy speech freedoms. But in no way do they enjoy all the same fundamental freedoms, civil liberties, and responsibilities that living, breathing human citizens enjoy. Independent expenditures are not independent. They express a political opinion during a campaign that is intended to favor one candidate and defeat another. In return, the candidate they speak in favor of will inevitably be indebted to their efforts. And that is what is undermining “our faith in this democracy.”

Labels: , , ,

If we have "military Keynesianism," sez Willard Inc., why not "crony Keynesianism"? After all, aren't cronies people, just like corporations?


So THAT'S why we're in Afghanistan! It's "military Keynesianism"

"This is what the American dream has come to? Your founders warned you about this. Warned you that standing armies and unrestrained banks would cost you your freedom. And the sad thing is that most Americans are ok with it." (Ian Welsh, today -- see below)

"Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster."
-- Ian Welsh, in a recent blogpost,

"The bottom line is that a lot of consultants are making a lot of money from Mitt Romney with mixed results."
-- an "unaffiliated GOP campaign-finance attorney," speaking anonymously to WaPo's Dan Eggen "in order to be candid"

by Ken

I couldn't help but flash back to my belated discovery of the concept of "military Keynesianism" when I noticed this hilarious story this afternoon (presumably destined for tomorrow's paper):
Consultants benefit from Mitt Romney campaign

By Dan Eggen, Monday, February 27, 12:24 PM

Spencer J. Zwick started his career a decade ago as Mitt Romney's 22-year-old personal assistant at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, then went on to become a senior gubernatorial aide, co-founder of an equity fund with one of Romney's sons and a top fundraiser for Romney's 2008 campaign.

Now Zwick serves as Romney's finance chairman for the 2012 presidential election. But he doesn't actually work for the campaign. Instead, he is paid through a Boston company he created, SJZ Inc., which has taken in nearly $5 million for "fundraising consulting" from Romney so far this election season.

Zwick is among a close-knit and intertwined group of senior Romney advisers who work at firms that have collected millions of dollars in consulting fees from the campaign and, in some cases, from the pro-Romney "super PAC" that is assisting in his run for the White House, according to recent campaign disclosures.

The extent of the campaign's reliance on outside firms is unusual for a major presidential bid, experts say. And records show that most of the firms are staffed by longtime advisers or former employees from Romney's 2008 campaign.

The arrangement not only has benefitted several of those close to Romney, but it also makes it harder to determine how the candidate is spending his donors' money, since salaries and other details about the outside operations are kept under wraps.

Romney campaign officials, who declined to comment on the record, said their use of consultants is no different than that of numerous other candidates, including President Obama.

Most political campaigns use consultants to produce ads, run polling and perform other specialized work. Obama, for example, has a clutch of longtime advisers, such as David Axelrod, who run outside consulting shops that do business for the campaign.

But Romney's use of consultants extends to areas such as fundraising, which is common for congressional races but far less so for major presidential campaigns, according to experts and disclosure reports. Romney has paid $4.6 million to Zwick's firm for fundraising consulting, for example, compared to $75,000 reported by Obama for the same type of expenditure.

"The bottom line is that a lot of consultants are making a lot of money from Mitt Romney with mixed results," said one unaffiliated GOP campaign-finance attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be candid. . . .

There's lots more, but I think you get the general drift. And couldn't you just bust a gut laughing? I think this is simply high-larious! Whadja expect! That those fat COWs (Cronies of Willard) were going to have to sit on their butts waiting for Willard to make it to the White House to cash in? Why, that would be positively un-American. And anyone doesn't think so is just envious.

How did the Afghanistan adventure illustrate the working principles of military Keynesianism?
Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster.

This is the sad truth of America: the only acceptable form of Keynesian spending is military Keynesianism. Instead of hiring tens of thousands of teachers, building a high speed rail network across the country, refitting every building to be energy efficient and doing a massive solar and wind build-out to reduce dependence on oil, well, the US would rather turn Afghans and Pakistanis into a fine red mist.

That fine red mist is what’s keeping the American economy from going under entirely. And so, even if it’s the wrong thing to do, even if it’s the graveyard of America’s Empire, the war will continue.

And wouldn't you know, as soon as the new generation of austerity-packing deficit hatcheteers had the prospect of serious cuts in military spending thrown at them, they wailed in unison about the terrible hit the economy would take from the loss of all those jobs! These worthless sacks of doody who would have gleefully thrown their grandmas out of work -- well, maybe not their grandmas, but sure as shootin' yours -- in the name of "fiscal prudence," who bray at every opportunity that there ain't no such-a thing as government economic stimulus, 'cause as we all know government can't create jobs, turn out to be die-hard Keynesians, committed to the stimulative value of government spending, as long as it's on cool stuff like a war machine and actual wars.

Already I think we knew that Ian might have wished to expand his statement, "This is the sad truth of America: the only acceptable form of Keynesian spending is military Keynesianism," to encompass all forms of national-security spending, for which "fiscally prudent" right-wingers are always prepared to issue blank checks.

But now, thanks to our future real "CEO president" (not to be confused with the parody version we had before the present occupant), we learn that there's another form of what I learned in high school economics to call "priming the pump": shoving megabucks at your cronies. Just remember that all that campaign loot being shoveled into JRZ Inc., the company set up for the purpose by Willard Inc.'s old P.A. from the glory days of his Salt Lake City Olympics scamming, is available to be spent on jewelry and yachts and foie gras and whatnot, enabling the jewelers and yacht makers and vendors and duck- and goose-liver-stuffers to hire more staff and so on down the trickle chute.

I love it when grass-roots Republicans in primary states tell marauding journalists that they're leaning toward Willard Inc. because of his business background and understanding of how to get the economy going. Yeah, sure -- if you're a lucky COW.


From this afternoon:
Inquiry Leader Says Murdoch Papers Paid Off British Officials

Published: February 27, 2012

LONDON -- The officer leading a police investigation into Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers said on Monday that reporters and editors at The Sun tabloid had over the years paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for information not only to police officers but also to a "network of corrupted officials" in the military and the government.

The officer, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, said that e-mail records obtained by the police showed that there was a "culture at The Sun of illegal payments" that were authorized "at a very senior level within the newspaper" and involved "frequent and sometimes significant sums of money" paid to public officials in the Health Ministry and the prison service, among other agencies.

The testimony was a sharp new turn in a months-long judicial investigation of the behavior of Murdoch-owned and other newspapers, known as the Leveson inquiry. It detailed financial transactions that showed both the scale and the scope of alleged bribes, the covert nature of their payment and the seniority of newspaper executives accused of involvement. . . .

But of course the U.S. media properties of Master Rupert's News Corp. would never do anything like that here, would they? Probably the company has already investigated just to make sure, just the way the British News Corp. properties did.

Labels: , , , ,