Monday, September 30, 2013

How Right Wing Is Right Wing Enough-- In Mississippi? Teabagger Steven Palazzo Gets A Primary


Steven Palazzo has represented southeast Mississippi (MS-04-- Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Biloxi, Laurel) since the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010 when he beat longtime incumbent Gene Taylor. Unless you live in some blood-red hellhole, you probably never met a public official as right-wing and extreme as Palazzo. Even though he represents a hurricane prone Gulf Coast area-- which was devastated by Katrina-- he was one of the few Republicans from coastal areas to vote against aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. The 4th has a PVI of R+21 and Romney beat Obama there, 199,354 (68%) to 92,127 (31%), Obama's worst performance of any of Mississippi's 4 districts.

One of the reddest counties in the reddest district is Pearl River, a hot bed of neo-fascist/Confederate level right-wing extremism and home to a powerful Tea Party movement which ousted the conservative Republicans in 2012 and took over the official party apparatus, putting a libertarian extremist college student, Tavish Kelly, in charge of the county executive committee. They grabbed control of 11 of the 15 seats on the executive committee board. Obama only won 19% of the vote there last year, as did Matthew Moore, the Democrat who ran against Palazzo. District-wide, Palazzo beat him 173,576 (64%) to 77,041 (29%).

But it isn't a Democrat that Palazzo has to worry about in his reelection plans. A member of Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus, the Club for Growth has been recruiting someone to run against him. They claim he isn't right-wing enough. And it looks like they found their man... Tavish Kelly. From his Tavish Kelly For Congress website:
The right to keep and bear arms is among the most important freedoms of any American, and the Second Amendment should be interpreted to prevent any and all Congressional legislation infringing upon that right.

Like many Mississippians, Tavish Kelly has used firearms for both sport and self-defense his entire life, and today he helps spread his passion through Kelly Firearms, a retailer and manufacturer of guns and ammunition in Picayune.

While in Congress, Tavish will actively work to repeal unconstitutional laws such as the National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act, and Brady Act, as well as prevent further incursions on the right to self-defense.

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TV Watch: As of now, the message from "Breaking Bad" to non-Blu-ray fans seems to be: Drop dead!


[Click to enlarge -- it gets really big!]

by Ken

I resorted to my Plan C last night and watched the Breaking Bad finale in real time, and then the finale of the final-half-season after-show, Talking Bad. They were fine. No complaints about them. They did what the situation called on them to do.

But I might explain that my Plan A was to schlepp to Astoria to watch the episode live on the movie screen of the Museum of the Moving Image. The series is so meticulously photographed and edited that I bet it would look fabulous in big-screen format. (As I've mentioned, this is how I was introduced to The Sopranos. via an MMI marathon.) And I thought it might be fun to group-watch the episode in a theaterful of BB fanatics. Alas, though I think I RSVP-ed within an hour of receipt of the e-invite, as I found out a couple of days later, that was apparently too late! Oh well. It would have meant about 2½ hours' round-trip travel time.

Plan B was trickier. As long as I was going to be home after all, I thought, maybe I'll catch one of the many Breaking Bad repeat airings and take advantage of the opportunity to watch the Good Wife season premiere in HD. (When I got my first HD TV, I made the decision to leave my DVR on a non-HD TV, so I can't record in HD.) But then it occurred to me that CBS might have its legendary "football shift" on, whereby if it has a late Sunday football game, its whole Sunday primet-time schedule can be pushed back to, well, whenever the hell they feel like running it. I believe the network markets its schedule officially as "Bunch o' Crap Sunday." Which meant that I would be foregoing the Breaking Bad finale, or possibly the new Boardwalk Empire episode or the Homeland season premiere, for a show that would start . . . well, who knew when.

So instead, I set my (non-HD) DVR to record The Good Wife, kicking in an extra hour of recording time "just in case." And I watched Breaking Bad and Talking Bad, and as I said, that was fine. I'll probably have something to say in an upcoming "TV Watch" piece. That's not what I want to talk about now, though.

All through the run of the Breaking Bad after-show, Talking Bad, though the second half of Season 5, host Chris Hardwick -- who, let me say once again, has done a bang-up job -- has been talking up this gonzo complete-series video release that's in the works. During last night's hour-long final Talking Bad outing, series creator Vince Gilligan said how proud he is of the package they've put together, and mentioned that the script for a scene he wrote for the final episode, which for reasons of money and time was never even shot, is included in the package. Yes!

Of course all this time I've been wondering what kind of mixture of genuinely worthwhile supplementary material and ridiculous garbage is being thrown into the package, and what sort of price it's going to carry. As it turns out, I didn't have to worry, as I'll explain in a moment.

As to what's in the package, here's a list that appears in the listing, to which, by the way, the Breaking Bad Shop links:
The Complete Series Collector's Set Includes:
• Collectible replica money barrel
• Over 55 hours of special features from all seasons
• All new two-hour documentary
• 16 page booklet with letter from Vince Gilligan
• Commemorative challenge coin designed by Vince Gilligan
• Los Pollos Hermanos apron
I'm certainly on board for the "over 55 hours of special features from all seasons," the "All new two-hour documentary," and (at least in theory) the "16 page booklet with letter from Vince Gilligan" (the obvious question being what's in the booklet). I don't want to be wasting money on the "collectible replica money barrel," the "commemorative challenge coin," or the Los Pollos Hermanos apron. (I have some sympathy for the idea of the apron, but my guess is that the actual object won't be durable enough to be used as an apron, and as a mere tchotchke it's of no interest to me.)

As it turns out, though, it appears to be academic. What's listed on Amazon is exclusively "Breaking Bad: The Complete Series (+UltraViolet Digital Copy) [Blu-ray]." The set isn't due out till November 26, and it's certainly possible that the full marketing plan hasn't been developed, but as of now all that's listed is this Blu-ray edition -- at $299.99 list, $209.99 (30 percent off) Amazon pre-order price. For non-Blu-ray fans, that's a net saving of $209.99 plus tax. Of course it also means no DVDs.

[Click to enlarge -- this gets really big too!]

There is a DVD alternative listed, supposedly comprising "Seasons 1-5," on 18 DVDs, but since this set is apparently already available, I'm guessing that in fact it contains Seasons 1-4 plus the first half of Season 5. Given the dishonest decision made by the network and/or producers to present what were really Seasons 5 and 6 as two halves of Season 5, it seems to me that the Breaking Bad producers and merchandisers have a particular obligtation to be crystal-clear about this. So far, what I'm seeing is murk. At the online Breaking Bad Shop there are separate listings for "Season 5" and "Final Season," the latter currently in pre-order. Apparently the marketing people seem determined to maximize confusion.

To make matters worse, as of this morning there were already 33 reviews up on the Amazon listing for the "Complete Series" package. This is pretty impressive considering that the item is almost two months away from existing. Of course most of the review are babbling on about the show. Anyone who imagines that at this point a review of the show is relevant to potential customers is someone I doubt very much I want to hear from about it. Even more nefariously, there were also 33 reviews -- the most conspicuous of which are the same reviews -- on the listing for the DVDs of "Seasons 1-5."

I assume the complete series will eventually be made available in some form to non-Blu-ray fans of the show, and as I noted, we're still almost two months away from the release date, and plans do evolve. But I have to say, I got a jolt when I went online today to check out the famous complete-series set I've been haring so much about. I thought all I was going to have to decide was whether the price was a budget-buster for me, and that in all likelihood I would be clicking on the "buy now" button.


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."

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Grayson Offers The GOP Terrorists A Face-Saving Way To Walk Back Off Their Cliff


Over the weekend, Barbara Lee (D-CA), an icon for peace, sent out an appeal to her supporters to back Alan Grayson. In 2001 Rep. Lee was the only Member of Congress to just say no to the Bush-Cheney request for authorization to attack Afghanistan. "In Alan Grayson," she wrote, "I see another Member of Congress who shares my love for peace."

As I explained to the National Journal last month, Barbara and Alan were the two strongest figures rallying the House to reject Military-Industrial Complex plans to bomb Syria and, perhaps, draw the U.S. into a war with Iran. She's not writing these kinds of endorsements for any garden variety Democrats, just for Grayson.

"We have worked hand-in-hand to try to prevent another U.S. military intervention in the Middle East," she explained in the video above. "We have labored arm-in-arm to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have fought side-by-side to take control of American foreign policy away from the military-industrial complex, and return it to 'We, the People.' Alan Grayson is an articulate, plain-spoken and eloquent champion for peace.

"From the time that Alan Grayson entered Congress, he and I have worked together to realize John Lennon's dream, imagining all the people of the world, living life in peace. Please join us in that dream, and contribute to Alan Grayson's campaign right now-- a campaign for justice, equality and peace." Good idea... and you can do it here.

And Grayson wants peace so much, he even wants peace with terrorists-- the terrorists who are holding America hostage and threatening to shut down the government and stop paying the debt for bills they've run up. [Think of all that $9 million Farmer Fincher (R-TN) has forced the government to borrow so they could subsidize his family farming operation. Now he doesn't want the government to pay back the folks who lent them the money so he could get his subsidies.] But, still Grayson is leading an effort to compromise with the Republicans-- not compromise the way Marc Warner has urged, giving in to their demands to curtain Social Security and Medicare benefits to working families and seniors-- but to offer a clean CR with no strings attached by anyone on either side of the aisle. Just after midnight (Sunday morning), he introduced a two-page bill that would fund the government through 2014, and end the debt ceiling brinksmanship in two-pages.

“The Fiscal Sanity Act of 2013 is a clean, even-handed, nonpartisan solution to the appropriations and debt ceiling issues,” said Grayson. “A vote for this bill is a vote for America’s well-being. We’re all in this together, and it’s time that we acted like it.”

His bill, H.R. 3213 would fund all federal agencies at the prescribed Budget Act levels through the end of the coming fiscal year, eliminating the need for continuing resolutions and stop-gap funding measures for the next twelve months. Grayson’s bill would also eliminate the need to raise the debt ceiling, through December 2014.

Grayson said he introduced the bill because he’s tired of the constant political brinksmanship by the Republican House Leadership. “Look, it doesn’t need to be so difficult,” he said. “Let’s stop with the theatrics, and return to the job of legislating. Speaker Boehner and the Republican House Leadership have lurched from one manufactured crisis to the next for years now, and the American people are sick of it. The American People don’t want the federal government to shut down merely because the Tea Party can’t repeal Obamacare. The American People don’t want to see the nation’s credit rating plummet-- or worse-- just to satisfy Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other Tea Party false idols. The American People want Congress to get back to work helping America get back to work, and that means that House Republicans have to stop acting like crisis junkies. They have to start creating solutions, not more problems.”

Grayson said his bill would give all Members of Congress the opportunity to put party politics aside, and show the American Public that Congress is capable of coming together for the good of the entire country. And it isn't just Grayson feeling the need to get beyond the frustration and move on as Americans not as partisans. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins sounds like she felt the same way about her party giving in to teabagger extremists and Hate Talk Radio hosts that Grayson does. She says she opposed the Affordable Care Act but said that she wouldn't support forcing a government shutdown with poison pill ObamaCare provisions. "I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government-a strategy that cannot possibly work," Collins said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. Perhaps Devin Nunes will back him?
[He]had choice words for fellow House Republicans who are willing to see the government shut down over their opposition to Obamacare: “Lemmings with suicide vests,” he called them.

“They have to be more than just a lemming. Because jumping to your death is not enough,” he said.
No, Nunes jumped over the cliff with the rest of the suicide vest-clad lemmings just hours after he made that statement! Cruz was proud!

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Is The Medical Device Tax A Big Enough Deal To Shut The Government Down Over? 17 Conservative Democrats Think So


Saturday night House Republicans passed 248-174 a repeal of a medical device tax as part of the CR that threatens to shut down the government. They are demanding a one year delay to the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax. Few people who don't listen to Hate Talk Radio even know what the medical device tax is or why Republicans think it's worth shutting down the government-- or risking the jobs of more than 30 swing district Republicans-- over. Sarah Kliff explained what it's all about for Washington Post readers on Saturday before the vote. First... what it is... and then why it's become so contentious:
The Affordable Care Act is expected to expand health insurance coverage to millions of Americans, which amounts to a windfall for health-care providers. The previously-uninsured will, all of a sudden, have health plans that cover trips to the doctor and hospital. That's expected to increase the consumption of health care.

When legislators drafted the Affordable Care Act, they asked each health industry to essentially give something up in return for the increased volume of patients they would now see. Health insurers, for example, agreed to pay an industry-wide fee that would generate $60.1 billion in revenue over the course of a decade. Pharmaceutical companies had a higher assessment of $80 billion.

As for medical device makers, they ended up with a 2.3 percent tax on sales. This will, according to the Congressional Budget Office, generate $29 billion in revenue over the course of a decade--which the health law plows back into expanding insurance coverage. The tax applies to devices such as defibrillators or pacemakers. Anything sold over-the-counter directly to consumers (think hearing aids, contact lenses and eyeglasses) is exempt.

The medical device makers say the tax is killing jobs. This has been the key contention from companies that make medical devices, such as hip joint replacements or heart stents, ever since the health-care law passed. One study from industry group AdvaMed concluded that 43,000 jobs would be shipped overseas in response to the fee.

"The tax will stifle innovation and cost thousands of high-paying jobs," one coalition of 400 device manufacturers wrote in a 2011 letter to Congress. "It will increase the effective tax rate for many medical technology companies, thereby reducing financial resources that should be used for R&D, clinical trials and investments in manufacturing."

Device manufacturers contend that the tax will be especially hard on smaller companies that may have a more difficult time shouldering the burden. And, last but not least, they argue that the costs of the tax will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher health-care costs.

The White House doesn't buy it, and opposes repealing the medical device tax. The Obama administration has opposed previous congressional attempts to repeal the medical device tax. "This excise tax is one of several designed so that industries that gain from the coverage expansion will help offset the cost of that expansion," the White House wrote in one repeal threat issued last summer.

Health law supporters have pushed back against the AdvaMed study and other arguments that jobs would go overseas. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that the tax applies to medical devices manufactured both here and abroad, which would dampen incentives to move out of the country. The tax does not apply to medical devices that are exported outside the country.

...The medical device tax community has been pushing for repeal for years now. Pretty much since the law passed, medical device lobbyists have been pushing for repeal. In 2012, industry group AdvaMed launched a print and online ad campaign in support of medical device tax repeal. During the 2012 election campaign, the group sent Republican Congressional candidates a fact-sheet explaining why they should oppose the tax. All told the medical supplier industry has spent over $150 million lobbying Congress since 2008.
As ace investigative journalist Lee Fang ponted out this morning at The Nation, the letter from 75 teabagger congressmen to Boehner demanding a repeal was actually written by shady medical device lobbyist Ryan Strandlund and not by any of the dim-witted teabaggers claiming authorship.
While repeal proponents claim the tax will hurt innovation and devastate American devicemakers, the reality is, medical device companies already pay very little in taxes and Obamacare will make up for the tax with an increase in demand. An analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice finds most major medical device companies pay a very low effective tax rate, with firms like Abbot Laboratories making use of some 32 tax havens. Moreover, despite the claims of industry lobbyists, the tax will not hamper American companies because it applies to imported devices as well.
The 17 Democrats who voted to include the repeal in the CR are all extremely conservative and all sleazy characters without political scruples. All of them are frequent supporters of the right-wing Republican agenda and none have earned reelection as Democrats. Ironically, the list reads like Steve Israel's DCCC Frontline roster of candidates, incumbents who are in trouble back home. When you contribute to the DCCC, these are the incumbents who get virtually all the money-- allowing them to keep voting for Republican priorities and stabbing working families in the back:
Ron Barber (New Dem-AZ)
John Barrow (New Dem/Blue Dog-GA)
Cheri Bustos (D-IL)
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)
Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
Bill Enyart (D-IL)
Dan Maffei (New Dem-NY)
Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY)
Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)
Mike McIntyre (New Dem/Blue Dog-NC)
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)
Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)
Bill Owens (New Dem-NY)
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)
Nick Rahall (D-WV)
Brad Schneider (New Dem-IL)
Kyrsten Sinema (New Dem-AZ)
This YES vote was recommended to these Members by the DCCC which is gambling-- once again-- that wooing conservatives is more important in elections than either doing the right thing or motivating the base to turn out. The DCCC was wrong in 2010-- ergo: the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse-- and they will be proven wrong again in 2014. Watch how many of these useless Members without backbone or conviction lose their seats next year.

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New Hampshire: Why Blue America Has Endorsed Carol Shea-Porter But Not Anne Kuster


New Hampshire has two House districts. The first district, represented by Carol Shea-Porter, is most of the eastern part of the state, including Manchester, Portsmouth and Dover. The second district, represented by Anne Kuster, encompasses the western and northern parts of the state from Nashua and Concord to Keene and Dixville Notch. NH-02 is strongly Democratic with a PVI of D+3. Obama beat McCain there 56-43% and beat Romney 54-44%. Last year Kuster beat the Republican incumbent, mainstream conservative Charlie Bass 168,954 (50%) to 151,858 (45%). NH-01 is a true swing district with a PVI of R+1 and Obama beat McCain 53-46% in 2008 and beat Romney last year 50-48%. Last year Carol Shea-Porter beat radical and deranged Tea Party incumbent Frank Guinta 171,356 (50%) to 158,482 (46%).

Last year Blue America endorsed both women. This year we're only endorsing one. Carol Shea-Porter has lived up to her promise to be an independent voice for working families. Anne Kuster has been a disappointing shill for Wall Street and corporate interests who does whatever she's told by Steve Israel and the DCCC. She's been a disgrace to the state and to the grassroots progressives who championed her and got her elected. Over the summer, she quit the Progressive Caucus and joined the corrupt, corporate-oriented New Dems (the Republican wing of the Democratic Party).

Kuster dodged a bullet when former House Speaker Bill O'Brien decided to move to Massachusetts and take a job there instead of running against her. Her opponent is some no-name ex-state senator. Carol Shea-Porter will face off against Guinta again in a very tough rematch. A local blogger explained why Shea-Porter has earned support from progressives and grassroots Democrats:
1)  Carol Shea-Porter is a staunch defender of Social Security and Medicare. Her likely opponent, Tea Party era Congressman Frank Guinta, voted to end Medicare by turning into a voucher system, and campaigned on abolishing Social Security.

2) Carol Shea-Porter worked hard in Congress to make the Affordable Care Act law. Her likely opponent, Tea Party era Congressman Frank Guinta, supports a government shutdown unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded.

3) Carol Shea-Porter, more than any member of New Hampshire’s federal delegation, stood up for the President’s commonsense plan to reduce gun violence in the wake of twenty murdered children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Her likely opponent, Tea Party era Congressman Frank Guinta, is the recipient of over $67,000 in NRA money.

4) Carol Shea-Porter has spent much of her third term in Congress highlighting the cruelty of the sequester and advocating for its repeal. Her likely opponent, Tea Party era Congressman Frank Guinta, voted for the sequester.

5) Carol Shea-Porter accepts no corporate PAC money for her campaigns, and relies on small dollar grassroots support. Her likely opponent, Tea Party era Congressman Frank Guinta, is under FEC investigation because he either can’t or won’t prove that $355,000 of money that went into his campaign was from his own bank account.

It’s rare to find a real grassroots-based progressive champion in Congress who also represents a tough district. Carol Shea-Porter is one.
So far there are only two incumbents on the Blue America Worthy Incumbents Act Blue page, Mike Honda and Carol Shea-Porter. Please consider contributing to her campaign. Meanwhile, you might be interested in reading an OpEd she penned for the Concord Monitor on Friday. It affords the reader a look at one of Congress' most dedicated champions of working families:
One of the most critical responsibilities of a legislative body is to keep the basic functions of government operating. Unfortunately, in the next few days, we may see Tea Party Republicans force a government shutdown. This will happen even though polling indicates almost 60 percent of the population opposes shutting down the government to defund health care reform.

The Affordable Care Act is a law that passed both houses of Congress, was signed by President Obama and upheld by the Supreme Court. Whether you agree or disagree with the law, the thing to do now is to fix the things that need fixing and make sure that we’re improving access to health care while reducing the costs. Rather than work together, congressional Republicans are engaging in what Charles Krauthammer refers to as a “suicide mission” to shut down the government, even though a shutdown would hurt the economy. They are ignoring the warning from the National Chamber of Commerce, which said, “It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or the American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy.”

Forcing the government to shut down due to ideological extremism would stop or delay many vital governmental functions. It would stop pay to all federal employees, including our military, limit veterans’ access to benefits and prevent new enrollees from getting Social Security checks. It would hurt our economy. All of this nonsense would actually increase the budget deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the Affordable Care Act would only increase the deficit, clearly not a good solution to our budget challenges.

This is an irresponsible ploy. We should be focused on finding common ground instead of holding the government hostage to Tea Party extremism. Former senator Judd Gregg recently wrote that, “Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should. The self-promotional babble of a few has become the mainstream of Republican political thought. It has marginalized the influence of the party to an appalling degree.”

It’s worth noting that it really is the Tea Party driving this crisis. Most Republicans have acknowledged they don’t have the votes to defund Obamacare in the Senate and that trying to shut the government down doesn’t make sense. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said shutting the government down over Obamacare was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Sen. John McCain does not support the idea. The Tea Party Republicans in the House are obsessed with repeal fever anyway. Last week, they voted for the 42nd time to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act. We haven’t passed a budget or a jobs bill, but we’ve found time to indulge in 42 futile and unnecessary votes.

We don’t have much time left for silly political games. The last thing our economy needs is another shock to its system from a government shutdown.

Instead of having an ideological fight that was settled in the last election, we should be debating jobs bills, improving our education system, and making the investments in science and infrastructure that we so desperately need. We need to reform the tax code so we can promote business growth and employment. We have environmental problems to solve, and so many other issues need our attention. I stand ready to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues on finding common ground and getting things moving here in Washington. Let’s just hope the Republican leadership is willing to ignore the Tea Party flank and work across the aisle, for the good of Americans everywhere.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Can An Ad Win An Election?


Politics as a bloodsport even predates Ted Cruz immigrating to the United States. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr weren't dueling over a damsel. That video above may win a congressional seat for Carl Sciortino because people like the message. No, not especially the messages on the Blue America billboards based on the video, although those are popular messages in MA-05. But it is the message of comity between an unabashed progressive and a Tea Party member that makes it so compelling. The moment I saw it, I sent it to Norman Lear, creator of All In The Family. Norman loved it, of course.

DWT and then Blue America endorsed Carl last February. Since then, there was a slow build as other progressives joined the fight on his behalf: Alan Grayson, People for the American Way, a plethora of Massachusetts progressive groups, Congressmen Mark Takano, Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Jared Polis... And then the ad came out. Suddenly the campaign was on everyone's radar. Several hundred thousand people viewed it online. It was played over and over on national and local news shows, Carl's contribution rate skyrocketed and his polling numbers started moving, especially among people who had seen the ad.

In their new book, Predisposed-- Liberals, Conservatives, And The Biology Of Political Differences, academics John Hibbing, Kevin Smith and John Alford, cite a definition of American's two political parties from Clinton Rossiter's classic work on political science, Parties and Politics in America:
Democrats: Sweaty, disorderly, offhand, imaginative, tolerant, skillful at give-and-take.
Republicans: Respectable, sober, purposeful, self-righteous, cut-and-dried, boring.
OK, this is before the advent of the Tea Party and before the Beltway Democratic Establishment transformed into "your father's Republican Party" in response to the Republicans transforming into a neo-fascist, anti-democracy operation. But travel back to 1968 for a second when ABC-TV hired conservative movement founder William F. Buckley and author Gore Vidal to serve as analysts-- and sparring partners-- at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The country was torn apart over Vietnam a the time and the debate was nothing like the lovable back-and-forth between Carl Sciortino and his father in the ad up top. Here's an infamous minute of it:

Predisposed characterized Buckley and Vidal as "smart and hyper-articulate, and their plummy, East Coast establishment tones made them seem so, well, civilized. Perhaps they could demonstrate a more mature way to deal with political differences. Or not.
In their most famous exchange, on April 27, 1978, Buckley asserted that Vidal was unqualified to say anything at all about politics, calling him "nothing more than a literary producer of perverted Hollywood-minded prose." Vidal retorted that Buckley "was always to the right, and always in the wrong," and accused him of imposing his "rather bloodthirsty neuroses on a political campaign."

After that the gloves came off.

"Shut up a minute," said Vidal. Buckley did not shut up. Vidal called him a "proto- or crypto-Nazi." Buckley was not happy with that. "Now listen you queer," he said. "Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddam face." Buckley went home in a huff and sued Vidal for libel. Vidal went home in a huff and, perhaps miffed that he didn't think of it first, counter-sued Buckley for libel.

So much for a civilized exchange of views.
Quite the contrast with the Sciortino ad and the follow-up appearances all over television with his father!

If you'd like to help Carl keep the ad running on TV, you can contribute to his campaign here... even if you're in the Tea Party.

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TV Watch: This new season can't be as terrifyingly bleak as it looks -- can it?


OMG, another season of Eastbound and Down? Can there be any more vivid or irrefutable proof that there is no god?

by Ken

I know there's a ritual to expressing scorn and sorrow at the new TV season, but really, I don't recall anything like this. It's true that I didn't exactly keep up to date on the networks' new-season announcements, but eventually I tried making up for lost effort by seeking out season previews, hoping to be directed to shows that at least somebody had hopes for. Instead I find shows I was being warned against -- as if I needed much more warning.

I realized this might be a season of epicly catastrophic proportions Thursday night when I found myself trying to decide how to handle the overlapping premieres of the new Robin Williams show and the new Michael J. Fox show, and finally watched a couple of minutes of the former and fled. My assumption had been that these guys, having been around the business a season or 20, wouldn't be subjecting themselves to this ordeal if somebody hadn't put together a show with at least a fighting chance. I realize now that this must have been an unwarranted unassumption.

Besides -- thinking for a moment like a TV programmer -- does anyone under the age of 50 even know who these guys are? What on earth was the point of dragging them into this process with shows thrown up around them which seemed to have been scooped out of cans of sitcom filling? Maybe it was just the heaps of development money that flow to everyone involved in the development process? With the thought that nobody knows why a show succeeds or fails, so maybe it'll stick anyway, and then there's be some bigger money?

Believe it or not, I watched parts of two episodes of Dads, on the strength of the presences of Martin Mull and Peter Riegert. Ay-yay-yay. I've seen the promos for Chuck Lorre's latest, Mom, and I'm hard put to imagine how Allison Janney got roped into making such a spectacle of herself. (A friend argued that she isn't funny, which I think is wrong. She has been intermittently hilarious in her previous TV assignments, but never by playing funny. Give her material that she can play legitimately, and she can nail it; watching her mug is painful.

I could go on and on about this season from hell. I mean, Master Chef Kids? Well, if Rachael and Guy can play with the small fry, I guess they're now fair game. How about putting them back in sweat shops where they belong? But then, unwatchability seems to be the watchword at Food Network -- if Alton Brown can be roped (shamed?) into participating in the likes of Cutthroat Kitchen, the only question left is how low can they aim?

So let me just put it to you, has anyone found anything they would actually go out of their way to watch again?

And based on the evidence of other returning shows, I'm even nervous about tonight's Good Wife season premiere. I'll give a pass (a C, say) to the How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory season double-premieres, but something lower (D? D-?) to Two Broke Girls and New Girl, plus an incomplete to Two and a Half Men -- on the ground that perhaps it will turn out that the writers had a reason for inventing a daughter of Charlie, by which I mean a reason that might lead to potentially interesting and, you know, humorous situations. (There was some potential in grandma Evelyn's response, but Holland Taylor seems able to make something of whatever the writers feed her. I don't know how far this can be milked, though.)

The Blue Bloods season premiere was an episode so bad it's worth talking about -- a little. This is a show I've wished would be better -- less mushy in its plotting and less sloppy-sentimental in the Reagan family portraitizing. So here they come with an episode that reduces everyone to stick figures. For its central dramatic situation seemed awfuly familiar: the family wracked by internal conflict, with prosecutor Erin (Bridget Moynihan) scorned for refusing to indict the suspect in a cop murder for the picky-picky reason that there is (oops!) no actual evidence. It seemed so familiar, in fact, that I actually checked the program guide to make sure this was really a new episode.

I guess I must have been thinking of the episode in which Danny's wife Linda (Amy Carlson), a nurse, refused to violate basic medical principles and allow Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) to interrogate a patient. But I can't help thinking even that wasn't the only time this plot device has been used. But this week's took the cake for preposterousness. The only "evidence" was a phony eyewitness identification of the suspect as having been at the scene. Erin recognized the flimsiness of the testimony of an elderly woman who didn't seem to have especiall good eyesight making an identification in the dark when she herself didn't seem convinced of anything more than that the suspect might be the man she saw.

And Erin didn't know the half of it. We actually saw Danny show the woman a photo array in which he proceeded to point out how all the men but one didn't match pieces of description she had offered, and even crossed out the photos that didn't match, until there was only one photo left. How the hell did this get on TV? You're not going to tell me that such things go on, are you? First off, how in hell was a photo array put together with five men who contradicted the witness's description? Then for a cop to manipulate the witness's response that way! As far as I can see, this goes beyond the unethical to the criminal. And when it came to the actual lineup, how the hell did Danny get away with coercing the witness from her tentative it-could-be-him it it's-him. And to top it all off, the slimeball has the unmitigated gall to treat his sister as if she's an eager cop-killer coddler -- and his family supports him!

And the situation on cable looks grim too . . .

HBO's Boardwalk Empire is back with a new season that suggests that the creative team thought and thought where to go from there, and never came up with an answer. Plus, I see there's yet another season of the unspeakably revolting Eastbound and Down, built on the premise that human beings are fecal matter, if not worse, and we're going to rub you nose in it, and you're going to laugh. And now I see that the HBO development geniuses have come up with the idea of having us laugh at Stephen Merchant being hopeless with women. I may eventually look at an episode, but on the whole I'm thinking, no sale.

With the return of Showtime's Homeland looming tonight, I realize I'm even less prepared to look at any more of it than I was with Dexter. I know there were people who never signed on to the Homeland ethos to being with, but Claire Danes wasn't always this grotesque a specimen of self-parody, was she? Just the though of watching her do more of those hideous faces gives me the willies.

Looking ahead, I see that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and House creator David Shore are collaborating on a show that CBS has bought for 2014-15 (with a 13-episode order!) --
based on a spec script that was written by Gilligan a decade ago. Shore is expected to do a second pass on the script to update it, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and will serve as showrunner on the series, while Gilligan is reportedly interested in directing the pilot.

Battle Creek centers on two detectives with very different world views who are teamed up. They must answer the question: is cynicism, guile and deception enough to clean up the semi-mean streets of Battle Creek, Michigan in the face of a complete lack of resources; or is the exact opposite true – it takes naïveté, trust and a boatload of resources?
Once upon a time I would have thought that with guys of the pedigree of Vince Gilligan and David Shore doing the creating, this can't be as dreadful as it sounds. Now I'm prepared to believe the worst.

It can't all be as bleak as it's looking now. There must be something watchable buried in the muck. But what this all says about the viewing audience, or the programmers' view of the viewing audience, is terrifying.


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."


Sunday Classics: In "I Pagliacci," we come now to a moment of high drama for Nedda and Tonio


Sine Bundgaard as Nedda and Fredrik Zetterström as Tonio in Copenhagen, December 2011 -- there are full English texts farther along in the post.

To deal for now with just the beginning:
When NEDDA finishes her Ballatella, she is startled to discover TONIO watching.

NEDDA [sharply interrupting her train of thought]: You're there? I thought you had gone.
TONIO: It's the fault of your singing.
Fascinated, I reveled in it.
NEDDA [mockingly]: Ha Ha! So much poetry!
TONIO: Don't laugh, Nedda!
NEDDA: Go! Go off to the inn!
TONIO: I know well that I am deformed,
I am contorted,
that I arouse only scorn and horror.
Yet my thoughts know dreams, desires,
a beating of the heart.
When so disdainfully you pass me by,
you don't know what tears
grief forces out of me!
Because, in spite of myself,
I've suffered enchantment,
I've been conquered by love!
[Moving closer to her]
Oh! let me tell you --
NEDDA [interrupting]: That you love me?
Ha ha ha ha!

Clara Petrella (s), Nedda; Afro Poli (b), Tonio; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Alberto Erede, cond. Decca, recorded 1953

Gabriella Tucci (s), Nedda; Cornell MacNeil (b), Tonio; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (Rome), Francesco Molnari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded 1958

Arta Florescu (s), Nedda; Nicolae Herlea (b), Tonio; Bucharest National Opera Orchestra, Mircea Popa, cond. Electrecord, recorded 1966

by Ken

The YouTube clip has the full Nedda-Tonio scene, which as you can see isn't a long one. In Friday night's preview, we got only as far as the audio clips above, through Tonio's declaration of love to Nedda, and at that we left out the first couple of lines.


We've reached the point in our look at the situation of poor Nedda in I Pagliacci, where she has to deal with this unwelcome suitor. I don't think we need to say much more about the scene, but just let it unfurl. It's not a pretty scene, and while Nedda can certainly be understood for her actions, since Tonio really leaves her little choice, refusing to abandon his suit. Still, one remembers that her immediate reaction to his pouring his guts out is ridicule and scorn.

Read more »

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Republican Base Loves Ted Cruz-- Party Leaders... Not So Much


This week, PPP found that Ted Cruz is now the number one choice of Republican voters to be their 2016 nominee. With 20%, he tops the libertarian choice, Rand Paul (17%), the Old Eastern Establishment choice, Chris Christie (14%), the less old, Southern Establishment choice, Jeb Bush (11%), and all the also-rans like Paul Ryan (10%), Marco Rubio (10%), Bobby Jindal (4%), Rick Santorum (3%) and Scott Walker (3%). Cruz is up 8 points in a month.
He's made himself the face of a government shutdown over Obamacare, and the Republican base supports that by a 64/20 margin. It's not surprising that Republicans identifying as 'very conservative' support a shutdown 75/10, but even the moderate wing of the party supports it by a 46/36 margin.

Cruz is leading the GOP field based especially on his appeal to 'very conservative' primary voters, who he gets 34% with t0 17% for Rand Paul and 12% for Paul Ryan. Voters who fall into that ideological group make up the largest portion of the Republican electorate at 39%. With moderates Cruz gets only 4% with Christie leading at 34% to 12% for Jeb Bush and 10% for Marco Rubio, but they only account for 18% of GOP voters and thus aren't all that relevant to Cruz's prospects for winning a Republican nomination.

Our numbers also suggest that Cruz is now viewed more broadly as the leader of the Republican Party. When asked whether they trust Cruz or GOP leader Mitch McConnell more, Cruz wins out 49/13. When it comes to who's more trusted between Cruz and Speaker John Boehner, Cruz has a 51/20 advantage. And when it comes to Cruz and 2008 GOP nominee and Senate colleague John McCain, Cruz wins out 52/31. He now has more credibility with the GOP base than the folks who have been leading the party for years.
And those folks who have been leading the party for years, hate his guts and think he's dragging their party over the cliff. He's the symbol of a purer, small, regional GOP that has great appeal in areas where rich old white men dominate. Republicans who see their party as a truly national operation that can reach out and win the presidency and win statewide outside of the Old Confederacy and the Mormon Empire, are not happy with Cruz and his tactics. At Slate this week, John Dickerson explained why his Senate colleagues "despise" him. And it's not for the same reasons Democrats and normal Americans despise him. And it goes beyond the unseemliness of being a junior senator who's grabbing the spotlight. After all, Elizabeth Warren is doing the same thing on the Democratic side of the aisle and most of her colleagues adore her. "Their affection for him this week," begins Dickerson, "became so qualified as to be indistinguishable from hatred... [I]t's likely that no senator has created as many enemies in his party in as short a time as the junior senator from Texas.  Sen. Cruz hasn’t been content to stop there. After angering his fellow GOP senators for days, he capped the week off by making fewer friends in the House. As Robert Costa of the National Review first reported, just as House Speaker John Boehner was cobbling together support for a measure to fund the government, Cruz advised Tea Party conservatives not to support him and they took his advice." Based on interviews with Cruz's colleagues, he's compiled a lengthy list of why Cruz is so hated on Capitol Hill.
He weakened the GOP’s position in the coming budget debates: Right now Republicans should be unified in their opposition to President Obama’s budget policies. The president’s approval rating is at the low end of his tenure, and the country supports the GOP’s position on reducing spending. Why did Sen. Cruz drive this enormous wedge in the Republican Party on the eve of big and important fights with the White House?

He’s fooled the grassroots: By suggesting that Obamacare could actually be defunded through his Senate action, he confused voters by setting expectations that could never be met. Furthermore, he was an enabler to interest groups who sold that “bill of goods,” as Sen. Tom Coburn put it, so that they might raise more money from the grassroots.

Pressure: Members of Congress are getting lots of heat from their constituents to support Cruz in his effort. He will be able to cause headaches in the future based on the permanent false distrust he has created between members and their constituents.

Jealousy: In a matter of months, Cruz has built a base of support that allowed him to act as the de facto Republican leader of the Senate. [Not to mention the House.]

Breaking Reagan’s Commandment: Cruz says he has not attacked Republicans specifically, but in his alliance with Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and now president of the Heritage Foundation, he has done something more powerful. He has helped raise money to run advertisements against incumbent Republican senators.

He wasted precious time: Republicans don’t want to get the blame for a government shutdown. By soaking up valuable Senate time with no-win maneuvers, Cruz has left House leaders with less time to follow their legislative strategy-- one that might have won limited concessions from White House. Or, with significantly more time, House Speaker Boehner might have been able to produce a funding bill that would have at least included a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act. That would have put Democrats up for re-election in vulnerable states in a tough spot; at the very least, red state Democrats would have had to take an unpopular vote. Now the GOP looks fractured, time is short, and Boehner may only be able to pass the funding bill passed by the Senate Democrats-- which he’ll almost certainly have to do with Democratic votes, offering even more leverage to the enemy.

Ego: He has used his colleagues to elevate himself in the furtherance of his 2016 presidential ambitions.

He made Obama’s critique look accurate: For years, President Obama has said a minority faction of zealots controls the Republican Party. By hijacking the system for a cause that had no chance of success, Cruz confirmed Obama’s cartoonish vision of a party controlled by a wing unconcerned about practical results.

He turned a tactical fight into a purity test: The majority of Republican senators agreed with Cruz on the importance of defunding Obamacare, but they disagreed with him on tactics. He characterized those with whom he had a tactical disagreement as ideological turncoats.

He blunted the GOP’s best plan of attack on Obamacare: The Affordable Care Act was falling under its own weight as stories of rickety implementation, layoffs, and companies dropping coverage of their employees continued to be published. By linking the “defunding effort” to continued funding of the government, Cruz distracted the public from Obamacare’s inherent problems. That distraction undermined Republican efforts to chip away at the legislation through smaller attacks, like a one-year delay that might have led to a full repeal if the GOP took back control of the Senate in 2014.
Saturday, the Dallas Morning News reminded Cruz's constituents that if he causes a government shutdown, he'll still be getting his paycheck. "U.S. Senate talkathon star and tea party darling Ted Cruz said Friday he has no plans to forfeit his paycheck if the federal government shuts down amid a nasty budget battle he’s helping wage." His Texas supporters don't care. Nor do they care that he's a mealy-mouthed liar and a typical politician speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Asked Friday about White House aspirations, Cruz responded: “My hands are full with the U.S. Senate.” He added that it was “100 percent of our focus.”

When a questioner wanted to know why he had already traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two places to vote in presidential primaries, Cruz said he was simply trying to build opposition to the health care law.
The L.A. Times published its very own Dr. Seuss poem to cap off Cruz's week:
Cruz does not like Obamacare
He doesn’t like to care or share
He doesn’t want to help the poor
He wants the rich to just have more
He likes to bully folks around
His own voice is his favorite sound
If Dr. Seuss had met Ted Cruz
He’d tell him, “Ted, I hope you lose.”

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The Political Victims Of The GOP "Let's Roll" Mentality Towards Shutting Down The Government: Swing District Republicans


On Saturday, John Culberson (R-TX), marched out of the GOP House caucus meeting that had resolved to shut down the government, shouting "Let's Roll," a true suicide-bombing terrorist. Except his neatly gerrymandered R+13 district (which Romney won 60-39%) won't extract any penalty from its harebrained congressman. [harebrained: ill-judged, rash, foolish, foolhardy, reckless, madcap, wild, silly, stupid, ridiculous, absurd, idiotic, asinine, imprudent, impracticable, unworkable, unrealistic, unconsidered, half-baked, ill-thought-out, ill-advised, ill-conceived... that covers it well enough, although perhaps I should remind you that Culberson is an official member of Michele Bachmann's Tea Party Caucus.] Many of the teabaggers are giving credit for their decision to shut down the government to Ted Cruz. Outside right-wing groups, like the American Conservative Union, with their own uniformly anti-family agendas, have encouraged the GOP to shut down the government. Al Cardenas, head of the ACU, is telling Republicans there will be no serious economic harm done by a government shutdown or failure to raise the debt ceiling-- despite a consensus among economists to the contrary.

Staten Island congressman Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm, already under federal investigation on a number of corruption charges, emerged from the same meeting and admitted to CNN that the GOP had decided to shut down the government, awkward messaging when Boehner and Cantor will spend the next few days halfheartedly trying to blame the government shutdown on the Senate and President Obama. Grimm is in a very different situation, politically, then Culbertson and the other Tea Party Republicans. Obama beat Romney in his district, 52-47% and the only thing that could save his ass this year is incompetent recruiting by Steve Israel. There are at least 32 Republicans who, unlike Culbertson, can't win reelection without independent voters. And, unlike Republicans, independent voters do not back this government shut down. Here's the least of the Republican incumbents who will most likely be walking the plank for the greater glory of Ted Cruz's presidential nomination:
Paul Ryan (WI)
Buck McKeon (CA)
Tom Reed (NY)
Tim Walberg (MI)
Frank Wolf (VA)
Michael Grimm (NY)
Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA)
Mike Rogers (MI)
Charlie Dent (PA)
John Kline (MN)
Scott Rigell (VA)
Pat Meehan (PA)
Erk Paulsen (MN)
Jim Gerlach (PA)
Sean Duffy (WI)
Reid Ribble (WI)
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
Bill Young (FL)
Dave Reichert (WA)
Jeff Denham (CA)
Fred Upton (MI)
Michael Fitzpatrick (PA)
Peter King (NY)
Jon Runyan (NJ)
Joe Heck (NV)
Tom Latham (IA)
Rodney Davis (IL)
Mike Coffman (CO)
Chris Gibson (NY)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ)
David Valadao (CA)
Gary Miller (CA)
Notice Charlie Dent is on that list above. Obama won his district 52-47% in 2008 and lost it 51-48% last year. Dent isn't ready to commit political suicide on behalf of Ted Cruz's political aspirations quite yet. "Let's see what the Senate sends back," he told HuffPo. "If they send back another clean CR, I suspect-- again, I'm not making a decision on what's going to be on the floor-- a clean CR would likely to be on the floor at some point. I'm prepared to vote for a clean CR," he said. "I don't want the government to shut down."

Earlier in the week, when all but one House Republican voted to shut down the government, Charlie Dent was not that Republican. Last night, Drnt voted for a government shut down again. Only two Republicans crossed he aisle and voted no, New Yorkers, Chris Gibson and Richard Hanna. They passed two reactionary Democrats crossing in the other direction, Blue Dogs Mike McIntyre (NC) and Jim Matheson (UT). Last word goes to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ):
"We are extremely disappointed that the Republican Party put the ideological demands of a few ahead of the needs of millions of working families. It's not enough for them to deny tens of millions of Americans health care; they are also deliberately preventing housing loans to low and middle income families in rural communities, halting important government research into life-threatening diseases, furloughing thousands of working Americans and stopping $1 billion in assistance to small businesses. The American people need a Congress that works for them, not against them. The Republican majority proved with their action today that working families are not their priority.”

UPDATE: Final Word On Dent

As we saw, he huffed and puffed about not wanting to shut down the government but when push came to shove on Saturday night, he didn't even have the guts to stick with Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) and differentiate himself from the teabaggers and terrorists he knew were wrong. He voted to shut down the government. Today he was whimpering to Pennsylvania voters that "I’m prepared to vote for a clean res. tomorrow. It’s time to govern. I don’t intend to support a fool’s errand." He already did-- and he knows it and he knew it before he did it. This guy has no courage, no conviction. He's even worse than a teabagger!

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

What if "The New Yorker" gave you a caption and asked you to come up with the image for a cartoon?


"We will always have Paris."

by Ken

Finally I can suggest why I love New Yorker carton editor Bob Mankoff. It's not because he does such a brilliant job as cartoon editor. Probably he does, but how would I know? And even if it's so, that wouldn't give me any strong feeling about him. But then he'll do stuff like declare the magazine's recent cliché cartoon contest "such a rousing success, discounting, of course, those who thought it was a rousing failure."

The context is Bob's announcement, in his latest weekly blogpost, "You'll Always Hve Paris (If You Entger This Contest)," of a new contest, which I imagine he's hoping will be jsut as rousing a success as well, or perhaps as rousing a failure.
Since our cliché cartoon contest was such a rousing success, discounting, of course, those who thought it was a rousing failure, I've devised another contest for all the cultivated wits who read this blog. This contest is the reverse of the caption contest that runs every week in the magazine. Rather than dreaming up a caption for the image, you have to dream up an image that goes with the caption.


In one of the magazine's annual Cartoon Issues, some of the pros were given a caption to create a cartoon for. Bob offers examples of the result:

"No wonder we could get tickets."

"No wonder we could get tickets."

"No wonder we could get tickets."


And the caption is:

"We will always have Paris."

"What," Bob asks, "would be a funny image to go with that caption?" And to get us going, he offers a published cartoon that used this very caption -- the one by Sam Gross that I've put at the top of this post.

Send your idea for a cartoon image to with the subject line “reverse caption contest.” Soon you’ll get to vote on our favorite entries, and we’ll have the best one drawn up.
Or maybe, if history is any guide, they'll have the best several drawn up. (Just a hunch. I've watched the way this fellow Mankoff operates.)


For a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."

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While Boehner Surrenders To Far Right Extremists Inside The GOP, Greece Arrests Its Fascist Leaders


Obama and Boehner are both victims of the rise of far right populism in the U.S. Boehner, much like the mainstream conservatives in Weimar Germany in the 1930s, has buckled under to it. Obama hasn't. The same exact strain of toxic right-wing populism-- whether you want to call it Tea Party, Nazi, Fascist or Golden Dawn-- has catapulted to the third biggest party in Greece, with 18 Deputies in Parliament. And over the weekend, Greek anti-terrorism police arrested party fuehrer Nikos Michaloliakos and rounded up many of his top lieutenants, including three sitting members of Parliament. They have been charged with forming a criminal organization.
Authorities said some 25 counter-terrorism units were trying to track down two other MPs almost nine hours after Michaloliakos was arrested in his Athens home at 7am. Greek media quoted the politician as telling police "what you are doing is not right. The truth will shine," as he was taken away in handcuffs.

Hundreds of Golden Dawn supporters, many wearing the party's black T-shirts, gathered outside Athens' police headquarters, spurred on a text message reportedly sent by the party to "support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system." Michaloliakos and his chief lieutenant, the party's spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, were inside the building.

Yesterday Kasidiaris, who became infamous with an assault on two female leftwing MPs during a live television debate last year, joked that "we are here to hand ourselves in" as the party launched a lawsuit against Pasok, the junior leftist party in Samaras' fragile coalition.

Police said weapons had been discovered in the crackdown. Three guns allegedly found in Michaloliakos' home were to undergo ballistics tests, the media reported.

Greece's third-biggest party, Golden Dawn has seen its popularity soar amid desperation and despair over the country's economy, becoming Europe's most extreme rightwing political force in the process. Human rights groups hold the party responsible for hundreds of attacks on dark-skinned immigrants in the three years since the debt-stricken country plunged into crisis.

Since being elected to parliament for the first time in June last year with 7% of the vote, Golden Dawn has been linked to a wave of violence directed mostly against migrants, gays and leftists on Greece's increasingly fractious political scene.

The fatal stabbing of Pavlos Fyssas, a hip hop star popular among anti-fascists earlier this month, prompted widespread outrage and finally galvanised the governing coalition into taking action. Amid revelations thatGolden Dawn had set up hit squads with the help of commandos in the special forces and openly colluded with the police, authorities launched a far-reaching inquiry into the group's activities. Two senior police generals resigned and several officers were suspended following allegations of links with the party. More than a dozen Golden Dawn members, including the 45-year-old man who confessed to murdering Fyssas, were rounded up.

It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting MPs have been arrested. "This is without precedent in Greek political life," said professor of constitutional law Kostas Chrysogonos. "Authorities are acting within the law but I also think it would have been constitutionally more correct if they had asked parliament to lift their [MPs] political immunity first."

Even if the MPs are imprisoned pending trial, they will still retain their standing as deputies, experts say.

This week Kasidiaris told a TV show that "they can arrest us, they can put us in prison, but we will still be MPs. We are not going to go back even one step."

Although Samaras' shaky coalition has been applauded for its tough stance-- with opinion polls showing a drop in support for Golden Dawn and a slight rise for his own conservative New Democracy party-- there are fears that the crackdown could ultimately have a boomerang effect on the government.

The radical left main opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras, gave voice to those fears this week saying the party should be confronted "within the law, not outside it."

Before the crackdown Golden Dawn was polling at around 15%, prompting it to boast it had "more than a million" supporters nationwide.

Earlier this week, Michaloliakos warned he might withdraw his 18-strong parliamentary group from Greece's 300-seat parliament-- a move that could unleash political instability in a country dependent on international rescue funds to survive.

The politician had also said that what he described as "mud-slinging and slander" against his party would also "open the gates of hell."

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