Thursday, September 30, 2010

There’s always next time...

It’s about time we checked out some of the Tea Party winners and how their campaigns are chugging along, mostly without the exuberance and yelling that was brought to the rallies that were staged before the primaries.
First up is Christine O’Donnell of Delaware Senate race fame.  Remember, this is the third time that Christine has tried.  The first time was in 2006 when she was beaten in the GOP primary, but ran a losing write-in campaign in the general election against Thomas Carper.    In 2008 she ran unopposed in the GOP primary against Joe Biden and as everyone on the planet knows, she lost that one, too. 

This year she approached the GOP primary fully prepared with full Tea Party and Sarah Palin support and, to most everyone’s surprise, beat popular ex-governor Mike Castle for the nomination.  
(Wikipedia’s biography of O’Donnell [Here] said that an O’Donnell consulting firm released a video suggesting that Mike Castle was having a gay affair.  She distanced herself from the video but then went on a radio show and repeated some ugly and suggestive remarks, among which she charged that Castle was using “unmanly tactics” and added that “this is not a bake-off, put your man-pants on.”)     
Since winning the GOP primary and receiving last minute Palin and Jim DeMint endorsements, things have become unravelled for McDonnell.  Folks outside of Delaware had a chance to become acquainted with her Nineteenth Century views on sex and religion--no masturbation, no abortions, chastity before marriage, God is running my campaign and so on.  
That was Act One of her Senate 2010 campaign.  Then Act Two opened with Bill Maher promising to release clips of previous O’Donnell appearances on his Politically Incorrect show until she appeared on his present program.  The clips have been widely distributed and are devastatingly stupid and juvenile.  One was her description of a date she had had as a teenager with a witch.  Another Maher clip showed O”Donnell claiming that scientists had bred mice with fully functioning human brains.  She also declared that evolution is a myth.  Maher promises to add week by week to this group of video goodies.   
Act Three is the slow unraveling of her educational biography, which is loaded with half-truths and downright lies.  First her vitae listed her as a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson 1989-1993 [Here] although she did not receive a diploma until September of this year. [Here]  She said that she attended Oxford University, when she only attended a quick summer course offered by another group on Oxford’s property.  Some biographies had her attending graduate school at Princeton, which she now admits never happened.  
The only thing that we have learned about Christine from Act Three and her various biogs is that she would like us to believe that she attended some pretty fine universities, but, poor dear, never managed to.  There is another subplot in Act Three and that is O’Donnell finances.  There are claims that she has used campaign money for her personal use and living.  I suspect that that will not be resolved until the Final Act.
Wikipedia quotes a Fox News Poll that suggests that O’Donnell is not doing well and is trailing Democratic candidate Chris Coons by 15 points.  (54% to 39% with only 5% of the voters undecided.)      
While there is a little over month to go and anything can happen in our current volatile political and economic climate, things are looking very hopeful for Chris Coons and the Democrats in Delaware.  It looks as if the teabags are getting weaker and weaker in Joe Biden’s home state.
Isn’t it nice to have some good news for a change?... 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More Oval Office Words...

The Rolling Stone has done it again with a very long Oval Office interview of the President by the magazine’s co-founder and publisher, Jann Werner.  Titled “Obama In Command: The Rolling Stone Interview,” the article went online on Thursday [Here] and will appear in the October 15th edition of the mag.
The piece is very long, detailed and is presented in question and answer form.  It is clearly meant to be Obama’s summary of the progress that has been made during the first two years of his presidency.  In effect, it is Obama’s  apologia.    
At the end of the article, Werner tells us that aides called the President away, breaking the interview, but he returned a few minutes later with a final statement, delivered, Werner tells us, with “passion and intensity.”  It is a beautifully honed statement that I have slightly cut but not changed.  (If you believe that Obama’s final words are an off-the-cuff, extemporaneous statement, please stay away from folks who are selling bridges to Brooklyn at bargain prices.)  Here it is:
One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election.  There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises.  But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.
The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible...
...And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from...
We have to get folks off the sidelines.  People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up.  Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign.  It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it.  But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.
If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.
This article sounds as if Obama is ready to put down the basketball and do some fighting.  His recent speech [Here] at the Un. of Wisconsin at Madison sounded as if he is trying to stir some enthusiasm and shake up his supporters of two years ago.
However, the lethargy that needs to be thrown off is not from us, but is radiating from the White House itself.  And it is not just lethargy that we are feeling.  It is a deep lack of sympathy and empathy for the folks who are hurting--the poor, the homeless, the jobless, the hopeless.  We need a rhetoric that will stir the conscience of America.  We need a voice that will resound in our hearts, as F.D.R.’s did, as Martin Luther King’s did, and John F. Kennedy’s did.

With 23 million Americans living in poverty and almost 10% unemployed, stirring folks up shouldn’t be hard.  We don’t need lectures, Mr. President.  We certainly don’t need marching orders.  We need heartfelt sympathy, concern and outrage--from you! 
We need leadership...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Paladino--Not in My Backyard...

Tip O’Neill told us that “all politics is local.”  It certainly is and we’d better pay attention, lest some of these wingnuts, who are running for public office, turn around and try to bite us. 
It’s becoming clear that one of the oddest of the odd candidates is the Tea Party/Republican choice for New York State Governor, Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino.  He’s already promised that if he is elected, “there’ll be blood on the floor.” [Here]  His campaign is weird, his public statements are weird and we are learning things about his personal life that could only be described as low-down, if not weird.  We must conclude that that is precisely the way Carl wants to present himself to the voters of the State of New York.
We could make a long list of the foolish and distasteful things that Carl Paladino has said, but the most sober and responsible commentator so far about Paladino is Bob Herbert in Tuesday’s NYTimes.  [Here]  Herbert has taken on the issue of the pile of vile emails that Paladino sent to a wide swath of folks.  Most are so offensive that editors have simply alluded to them.  
Herbert doesn’t play coy, but punches through to the heart of the issue: [Here]
The e-mails raise legitimate questions about the fitness of the sender to hold the highest office in the state, and Mr. Paladino should feel an obligation to put those questions to rest.
Michael Caputo, Paladino’s campaign manager, has simply said that his boss has apologized a number of times and said what the candidate has repeated, viz. that he used “bad judgment.”  With that statement, Mr. Caputo acts as if the case is closed. 
It isn’t nor should it be.  Bad judgment, Mr. Caputo?  One email was a picture of a large airplane, either taking off or landing, with a group of black men scrambling to get out of its path.  The caption under the picture said, “Run niggers, Run."  This was not a judgment call, but a flat out racist remark.  The bad judgment was in demonstrating so vividly one’s racism. 
There were other emails, including a video of a nude couple having sex, titled “Miss France,” a woman copulating with a horse, and so on.  
Bad judgment, Mr. Paladino?  Certainly, but that’s not all.  I’d say these showed his true stripes as a sexist and a racist.  When one adds these emails to other comments that Paladino has made in the past, a picture of a crude boor emerges with comments such as this one to the Buffalo News when he said, “I go after all of them.  I don’t care if they’re a Dago or a Polack.” [Here]  (He also needs a grammar lesson.)
A few days ago the NYPost published an interview with Mrs. Mary Catherine Paladino and she revealed to us another unpleasant chapter in Carl’s life.  [Here] About a year ago their 29-year old son was killed in an automobile accident.  Shortly after that tragic shock (the Post tells us "hours"), Carl informed his wife that he had fathered a 10-year old daughter by another woman.  He added that everyone in their family and most of their friends already knew.  (Yes, the poor wife was the last to know.)
Carl is certainly a nasty piece of work.  I certainly hope that he will not be the governor of my state any time soon.  If elected, he promises to slash the state budget, particularly medicaid.  He also promises not to work with the most powerful person in the state legislature, Sheldon Silver.  (Nifty, eh?)  He’s against all abortions with the only exception to preserve the life of the mother.  He also has proposed to use prisons as dorms for welfare recipients and to retrain the guards as counselors. 
I’ll stop here.  And let’s hope the voters of the State of New York with stop him, too.  
One last question: How in the world did he get this far?...

Monday, September 27, 2010

R.I.N.O.s vs E.I.P.O.s...

The upcoming midterm Congressional race seems to be growing more and more ominous as we get more information about who is bankrolling the rightwing.  We’ve written before about the 501(c)4 organizations which are being used as conduits to funnel huge amounts of money to various conservative activities--rallies, ad campaigns and so on. 
Yes, it is distressing to think that the Democrats might lose control of the House and even the Senate, but, more important, is the question to whom the Democrats might actually lose and why.  My fear is that if the Democrats lose control of Congress, they will lose to a Republican Party that is Republican in name only.  What we all--Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Partyers--are in danger of losing is our national identity, lock, stock and barrel, to the large international corporationists.  
This year the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates for corporations to engage in direct election activity through unrestrained corporate funding of ad campaigns.  (And how else do we learn about our candidates?)  Mr. Deeds-- Jimmy Stewart--who wants to be elected and who should be elected, has little hope today against Mr. Moneybags who is backed by seemingly limitless corporate money and who can run political ads night and day.
There are a few hopeful signs, though.  Salon, the online progressive magazine, posted a fascinating analysis by radio host, tv pundit, and until a few months ago, Republican, Michael Smerconish.  [Here] He writes about a war that is currently being waged within the GOP between what Smerconish calls the RINOs and the EIPOs.  (RINOs are Republican In Name Only and EIPOs are Electable In Primaries Only.) 
It’s a fascinating point of view.  I bet you could fill out the dance cards.  Prominent RINOs are politicians such as ex-Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, soon-to-be ex-Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania, and Rep. Mike Castle of Pennsylvania.  Smerconish slipped in this interesting historical reminder: [Here]
When Sen. Specter first arrived in the U.S. Senate in 1980, the Wednesday Lunch Club, a weekly meeting of moderate legislators, included: Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood of Oregon, Bob Stafford of Vermont, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, Bill Cohen of Maine, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Jack Danforth of Missouri, Charles Percy of Illinois, and Charles Mathias of Maryland.
(Just the inclusion of some of these boys in today’s Senate would be refreshing, with the exception of Alan Simpson from whom we shall soon hear far too much.)
Smerconish says that the likes of these men (yep, all men), have disappeared from the national GOP scene, certainly from the Senate’s GOP.  Many have now been replaced by EIPOs.  A case in point, of course, is in Delaware where Christine O’Donnell has beaten Rep. Mike Castle in the GOP primary.  All polls indicated that Mike Castle would have beaten the Democratic nominee Chris Coons for the Senate seat, but that is a might-have-been.  Smerconish quotes a very recent CNN/Time poll that has Coons beating McDonnell by 16 points.  (Yes, indeed, EIPO--Electable In Primary Only.)
Thus, as the GOP turns to the right and the Tea Party billionaire backers swallow the GOP, the electorate just might not follow suit.
Meanwhile, there are some interesting and encouraging signs from the two important races in California, one for Governor and one for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat. [Here]  The good news is that at the moment Jerry Brown  is leading Meg Whitman 49% to 44% for Governor, according to a very recent LATimes poll.  It’s still very close with many voters reporting “undecided.”  But this latest is encouraging.  
The best news, though, is from the Boxer/Fiorina contest for Senator where Boxer’s lead is widening, 51% to 43%.
Meanwhile, it appears that the Republican “Pledge to America” has fallen flat.  As the Republican propaganda machine under the aegis of various political operatives, such as Karl Rove, crank out their ads and robot calls, it will be crucial for the Democrats to get out the word about who is bankrolling the conservative movement in this country.  The Party needs to get the message out to everyone, particularly to the boys down at the Village firehouse.
They won’t like it one bit...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Witt Rule...

Most people who heard on Friday that Margaret Witt, an ex-Air Force Major and decorated Flight Nurse, had been ordered by a federal court judge to be reinstated were happy for her and for a further eroding of this stupid DADT policy that polls tell us a majority of Americans don’t agree with and would like to see revoked. 
We should be cautious about writing "a majority of Americans", though, because it depends on the wording that the pollsters use.  A few months ago a most curious result was reported by Dalia Sussman in The Caucus Blog of the NYTimes. [Here]  It seems that if you ask if gays should serve openly in the military, more folks than not will answer yes.  However, if you change the word “gay” to “homosexual,” you get a more negative reply.
The wording of the question proved to make a difference. Seven in 10 respondents said they favor allowing “gay men and lesbians” to serve in the military, including nearly 6 in 10 who said they should be allowed to serve openly. But support was somewhat lower among those who were asked about allowing “homosexuals” to serve, with 59 percent in favor, including 44 percent who support allowing them to serve openly.
Is the word “gay” less threatening or less sexual than “homosexual?  Whatever the quirky reasoning, there is continuing evidence that American public opinion is shifting more and more to acceptance.  The pace must seem glacially slow to those gay men and women in the military, but at least the shift is in the more accepting direction.

As we noted above, last Friday Federal Court Judge Ronald Leighton reinstated an Air Force major who had been discharged and ordered that she be returned to her unit as soon as “practicable.”  Major Margaret Witt had been an exemplary and decorated Air Force Reserve officer who was suspended in 2004 and eventually discharged in 2007 after 17 years of service.  
During the discharging process, she sued to be reinstated.  At that time Judge Leighton threw out her case, stating that her rights had not been violated.  Witt fought back and appealed his ruling.  Her suit was heard by the Ninth District Court of Appeals who threw the case back down to Judge Leighton, saying that the only reason a service man or woman can be discharged under DADT is if the discharge would further “military interests.”  Judge Leighton thus had a new lens to view the case. 
Judge Leighton ruled: [Here]
The application of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' to Major Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government's interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion...Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a Flight Nurse with the 446th AES as soon as is practicable, subject to meeting applicable regulations touching upon qualifications necessary for continued service.
Leighton went even further, stating that her discharge actually hurt the military: 
The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit's ability to carry out its mission...Good flight nurses are hard to find.
This ruling has given birth to what is being referred to as the “Witt rule,” viz. does the individual’s discharge harm the military?
Rachel Maddow managed to snare Major Margaret Witt for her first national interview on Friday.  [See the video Here] Major Witt appeared with Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach who is also facing discharge under DADT.  We shall see in the coming months if the “Witt rule” will help Col. Fehrenbach.  We certainly hope that it will.  
This ruling follows another judicial ruling earlier this month by Judge Virginia A. Philips in a federal District Court in California which declared DADT unconstitutional. [Here]  It seems that the only branch of government that has courage and intelligence these days is the federal judiciary.  It also suggests that today’s toxic climate saps Congressional members and the executive of intelligence, integrity and spine.
We are reminded that judicial leadership was the way that racial discrimination was finally broken in this country.  It was through decisions such as Brown v. Bd of Education that showed Congress the way out of the nightmare world of Jim Crow and finally to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
Can we hope?...  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Party of Duh...

There were two essays in Saturday’s NYTimes by two different writers about two very different stories and focused on two places in two different parts of the country but if one digs only a little, their messages were the same, viz. there is something fundamentally flawed with our national priorities and the way we govern ourselves.
The first column titled “Unhold us, Senators,” was by Gail Collins and involves a bill about a National Women’s History Museum that is currently stalled in the Senate.  [Here]   The bill would allow a group called--yep, you guessed--National Women’s History Museum to buy a piece of federal land on D.C.‘s Independence Avenue, a site which Collins described as “unlovely.”  The group promises to pay “fair market value” for the land and would raise all the money for construction.  If for some unforseen reason the group cannot raise all the money and does not break ground within five years, the unused money and property would revert back to the government.
Have you ever heard of a better win/win deal?  Meryl Streep was in Washington to kick off a fundraiser for the project and has already donated $1 million dollars to the project.  So it has high profile attention and support.  So what’s the matter?  What’s holding it all up?
Two Senators, Jim DeMint (R, SC) and Tom Coburn (R, OK) have put holds on the bill and it‘s hard to figure out why.  The bill has already passed unanimously in the House and a similar bill (same purpose, but different site) unanimously passed the Senate in a previous session.  
Why DeMint is against the bill is a puzzlement.  Maybe he was just too busy to pay much attention and let a staffer handle it.  (And with the new GOP Pledge To America written by a staffer, we have a clue as to the reach of staffers' power.) 
And as for the reasons for Tom Coburn’s hold on the bill, the Senator’s office replied that he was concerned that if the women couldn’t raise the money that was needed, taxpayers would have to contribute.  (Heavens to Betsy!)  Coburn’s office also sent a note to Gail Collins which said that this project replicates other projects already in existence, such as the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas, and so on.  (Does it strike you that there are times when these Senate boys behave as if they are auditioning for Comedy Central?)
Maybe the boys will sober up and take this project seriously when they realize that Streep flew off to England to star in a new movie about Margaret Thatcher, the English Conservative Party’s iconic Prime Minister.
The second opinion piece in Saturday’s NYTimes was by the excellent Bob Herbert, titled “We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet.” [Here]  Herbert reported on a visit he made to a soup kitchen and resource center called Master’s Manna in Wallingford, Conn., which is inland along the Quinnipiac River, just northeast of that tony, gated community in Greenwich where the President went to fundraise last week.  
The clients of Master’s Manna are the folks whose existence the GOP would like to deny.  If forced to acknowledge them, the GOP leadership claim they are lazy or are gaming the system.  Herbert quoted Cheryl Bedore who runs the program as saying: [Here]
The minute you open the doors, it’s like a wave of desperation that’s hitting you...People are depressed, despondent. They’re on the edge, especially those who have never had to ask for help before.
In recent weeks she reports that homeless folks have been parking overnight in back and sleeping in their cars.  And the local police have allowed them to stay.  Recently two cars with children have driven up.  We must wonder what they will do as the cold New England winter approaches. 
Ms. Bedore pointed out that while many people have lost their jobs, others have lost the 40-hour work week or full-time employment.  She added:
Kids are going back to school now, so they need clothes and school supplies.  Where is the money for that to come from?  The people we’re seeing never expected things to turn out like this — not at this stage of their lives. Not in the United States. The middle class is quickly slipping into a lower class.
This sad picture is not restricted to the Quinnipiac River Valley in Connecticut, as you know.  The economic recession has stretched across the country and little political attention from either party is addressing the issue of poverty.  Certainly the GOP is not.  The Collins essay shows us clearly that the rules of the Senate need changing if obstruction becomes the single driving motive of one of our political parties.  And Bob Herbert once again reminds us of the forgotten poor in our society.  
Yes, two different essays but the warning to us is the same.  Beware of a party who only knows “NO!”  

And beware of a system that lets them get away with it...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fearing Difference...

Are you familiar with Timothy Egan’s column that occasionally appears as an Opinionator piece in the NY Times?  The paper says that his essays are “on American politics and life, as seen from the West.”  [Here]  Egan’s writing adheres to that formula and his essays are often refreshingly different from the usual mindset coming from New York or Washington.  
In 2001 Egan was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his work on a series How Race is Lived in America.  [Here]  Among the six non-fiction books that Egan has written is The Worst Hard Time, an account of people who had lived through the Dust Bowl of the ’30’s.  His latest book, The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America, recounts the 191o forest fire that destroyed about three million acres of forest land in the West and prompted the building of the present forestry service.
Those are Egan’s recent writings and are evidence of his very impressive liberal credentials.   And so it was with particular interest that I read his September 21st column, Curse of the Scorned Class, datelined Milan, Italy.  Egan described being warned in the train stations in Northern Italy of the supposedly old gypsy trick of having a baby thrust into your arms while another gypsy steals your wallet.  He was warned again in Turkey of another trick.  This time it was an old female gypsy who would bump against you while another would steal that same wallet.
The gypsies or Roma, as they are also called, form a large European underclass.  Eagan quotes the English publication, The Economist, as declaring that the Roma constitute “the continent’s worst and most ill-managed social problem.”  [Here]  It seems that now France is joining other European countries (Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Austria) in trying to expel their Roma. 
The Roma have been the focus of vicious discrimination before.  The Nazis tried to exterminate them all.  Thousands died in the death camps and, according to Egan, 30,000 were shot in German occupied-Russia and the Baltic states. [Here]
Egan tells us that the French President Sarkozy is riding this deportation theme to bolster his own sagging leadership numbers.  Sound familiar?
Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona leaps to mind, doesn’t she?  She, too, was caught with her popularity sagging.  After all, she only got the governorship because Janet Napolitano was picked by Obama to head up Homeland Security.  Brewer grabbed at the nearest and easiest racist target and is riding it to an election victory--at least that’s what the polls tell us.  She made up some scary stories, such as beheaded Mexican bodies found in the desert.  When the stories turned up to be total fantasy, she shrugged her shoulders and walked away.  

But her payoff?  She not only has the GOP nomination for Governor, but the polls show that she will probably beat Democrat Terry Goddard by a wide margin in November.[Here]    

I have had no direct personal experience with the Roma.  I do remember when I was a small child in suburban New York many, many, many years ago, my mother one day snatched me up from our backyard where I was playing and rushed me into the house.  She locked all the exterior doors and pulled down the front shades.  (I can still remember Mother’s fright and agitation.)  When I asked her what was happening, she simply said, “The gypsies are coming!”  That phrase puzzled me then and puzzles me today.  Way back then, the incident bolstered my growing suspicion which continues to this day that sometimes adults act idiotically.
Unfortunately, they can also act callously and hurtfully and even criminally, as seen today by our attitudes towards our newest immigrant population, our Mexican neighbors.  The Village always has trouble dealing with folks who look and talk differently.  We played those games with the Irish and then the Eastern European Jews, Slavs, Puerto Ricans and now Mexicans and Moslems.
When will we ever learn?...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back To The Past...

I was planning to write about the GOP's Pledge To America and so I conscientiously read the pdf that was circulated on Wednesday evening. [Here]  I was actually looking forward to what the GOP was going to roll out to recapture the hearts and minds and wallets and votes of Americans, mostly the wallets and votes.  However, the more I read, the more I yawned.  The answer, my friends, is, “Ho-Hum.”  No matter how they package this one, this plan of the GOP is “New Day?--Same old Stuff.”  It really and truly is “Back to the Past.”  But then, what else did I expect?  Today’s GOP might call themselves the Grand Old Party, although it isn’t so grand anymore.  It is simply the same old tired, sticky pablum, but repackaged by the cleverest men and women that money can buy.
Huffpost’s Sam Stein helps us by giving us some background as to the authorship of the Pledge To America.  [Here]  It seems that the Director of this GOP public relations document is an experienced rightwing lobbyist, Brian Wild.  Recently, Stein tells us, Wild has worked as a member of House Minority leader Rep. Boehner’s staff and as such, has worked to create a website called AmericaSpeakingOut.com [Here] which is still very buggy, and looks as if it were created by a thirteen-year-old for his Social Studies homework when he really wanted to be throwing a football around with his pals.  It’s replete with grammatical errors, there for their, for example.  (C+, Mr. Wild) 
Before Brian Wild master-minded that website and the Pledge To America pdf, he was a major lobbyist for the Nickles Group, an outfit set up by the former Senator from Oklahoma, Don Nickles.  (You remember Don Nickles, don’t you?  He was a four-term Senator from Oklahoma(1981-2005) and part of that time, he was Majority Whip and Minority Whip under Trent Lott.  By the way, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). 
Lobbying for the Nickles Group was very lucrative.  Stein listed some of Brian West’s earnings: [Here]
...[Wild] was paid $740,000 in lobbying contracts from AIG, the former insurance company at the heart of the financial collapse; $800,000 from energy giant Andarko Petroleum; more than $1.1 million from Comcast, more than $1.3 million from Exxon Mobil; and $625,000 from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.
This gives one a glimpse into the wonderful world of influence peddling, Washington-style, except the peddlers are now called “lobbyists.”  And this man wrote the GOP pledge to the American public.  Gulp.
Wild also worked on Rep. Pat Toomey’s (R, PA) staff as legislative director.  (Toomey is the current GOP candidate for the Senate from Pennsylvania.)  He also worked as a deputy staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney.  
Do you get the picture?  West is a very well-connected, experienced staffer, the kind of person who works in the shadows connecting dots, as well as connecting movers-and-shakers.  He knows the oilmen, big drug interests, cable folks and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
We didn’t expect the “Pledge To America” to be written by troop 54 of the Boy Scouts of America, but aren’t you surprised that it was written by so blatant and well-paid a servant of Big Business?  I wonder how many of those screaming Tea Partyers know that they are non-paid shills for Big Business and the Twenty-first Century editions of the Robber Barons?
Yes, indeedy.  Back to the past...
            

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What’s the matter with Arkansas?...

Yes, indeed, what’s the matter with Arkansas and Maine and a few other states that I could also mention?  Yesterday, the Senate’s Democratic leadership tried to steer a passage of a huge Defense Appropriation bill, which included two simple civil rights measures.  The Democratic majority was shy four votes to end debate, thus opening the Senate floor to a Republican filibuster.  The two measures would have extended civil rights to groups who serve in the military or who would like to serve.  The first group, of course, are gay men and lesbians who would like to serve openly in their country’s military and perhaps even die in its service, but are excluded because of their life style.  The second group is comprised of young men and women who arrived in this country while young but without proper documentation.  The amendments to the appropriation bill would have eliminated the discrimination against the first group and the undocumented workers in the second group would have been eligible to become citizens by serving in this country’s military or by attending college.
Neither proposal is earth-shaking or strange.  In fact, a federal judge in California has recently ruled that the military’s current policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a violation of freedom of speech.  [Here]  The interesting thing about that California case was that it was brought to court by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group. 
The Senate vote was not directly about these two matters.  I guess nothing in D.C. is straightforward.  The vote was about the issue of cloture, the parliamentary motion to end debate.  Without ending debate, there was to be a promised Republican-led endless filibuster, preventing a vote on the bill and its amendments.  The Democratic effort failed with a vote of  56-43 with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska not voting.  (60 votes were needed.)
  
The Senate vote was strictly along party lines with the GOP voting en masse to keep the hot air flowing and thus keep the issues, including the appropriation bill, from coming to a vote.
All the Democrats voted to end the debate with the exception of both Arkansas Senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, who voted with the GOP.  I bet that Bill Clinton is sorry that he spent so much time campaigning throughout Arkansas for her Democratic nomination.  What a waste of Clinton’s time!

Yes, my question remains.  What in the world is wrong with Arkansas?  Is there some problem with the water down there that turns folks nasty and ornery and stupid?  Did Blanche really think that she would have a better chance of reelection if she turned against the leadership of her own party?  Or does she and fellow Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor believe that this is what Democratic voters in her state wish?
The NYTimes has an interesting take on the trajectory of the battle to win equality for homosexuals.  John Schwartz, the paper’s National Legal Correspondent, pointed out [Here] that while the legal battle in the Senate might have stalled for the moment, the fight within the federal courts system is continuing.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the California ban on same sex marriage, as well as DADT, have all been declared unconstitutional in recent months within the federal court system and are being appealed upward towards the Supreme Court.
In recent years the climate of opinion towards homosexual life styles has shifted dramatically throughout this country to a point where Gallup reports [Here] that a majority of those polled do not believe that homosexual relations are wrong.  This no doubt also reflects a seismic shift in the attitudes of our young people today.
If the White House is looking for ways to reenergize its progressive and liberal base, some open WH support for eliminating DADT would be a fine way to start.  Wouldn’t it be grand to see some happy, cheering faces and some of them in our nation’s uniforms?
I’ve polished up my marching shoes (and cane.)  I’m ready.  
How about you?... 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Ca. Ballot Initiative...

California has another ballot initiative that’s being promoted by out-of-state oil and financial interests.  (Quite frankly, if I lived in California, I’d be outraged at being forced into the position of having to spend taxpayer money for these election initiatives that satisfy very specific financial self-interests.)  According to a NYTimes editorial, the sponsors are “a  well-financed coalition of right-wing ideologues, out-of-state oil and gas companies and climate-change skeptics,” including the Brothers Koch whom we have recently written about and who keep turning up like bad pennies every time we discuss a rightwing ideological bugaboo.     
In 2006 California passed a law, called AB 32, that is targeting greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.  The goal was to reduce these emissions by 2020 to 1990 levels and then cut them in half by 2050.  To effect these changes, the state has been drawing up new regulations which will affect everyone--businesses and new houses and car emissions and so on.  Obviously, big oil companies don’t like the prospect of these changes and wish to stop them.  As for the Koch brothers, they are concerned because the new regs will most probably affect their natural gas industry.  They also do not believe in climate change and believe that it is a leftwing fantasy.
The editorial pointed out that AB 32 has a surprising champion, George Schultz, who served in various capacities in Nixon and Reagan’s cabinet.  Schultz is an active supporter of AB 32 and has cited the innovative designs and plans that it has already engendered.  The Atlantic is running a story [Here] [h/t Huffpost] about how some large businesses have been supporting the initiative because many see green industries as the future for business in California.  It will be most interesting to see if the coalition of environmentalists and new industry advocates can beat back the big money from the anti-environmentalists.
The Times has also given us [Here] an important lesson in the current art of political funding through 501(c)(4) groups, which do not have to disclose their donors.  In fact, the Times tells us that many of these newly created funding siphons will not report to the IRS until after the election is over.  These 501(C)(4) groups are supposed to spend most of their money on non-political issues and events, but who’s checking?  The paper noted that most of these recently spouted organizations are simple conduits of money for Republican causes.   
Note: The following are all tax-exempt organizations but with differences:  501(c)(3) is not-for-profit, tax exempt, non-partisan and donors may claim charitable tax deductions; 501(c)(4) is tax-exempt & lobbying is allowed; 501(c)(5) is for labor unions and they may lobby; 501(c)(6) is for trade associations and they, too, may lobby. 
The Times quoted Marcus S. Owens, an attorney and a former head of the I.R.S. division that oversees these tax-exempt organizations.  He said that the particular I.R.S. section that oversees and monitors this section of the code “... is understaffed, underfunded and operating under a tax system designed to collect taxes, [and not operate] ... as a regulatory mechanism.” 
Isn’t that great news!  That’s how it’s done, folks.  That’s how the likes of Koch Industries, the huge conglomerate that is privately owned by Charles and David Koch, can pour money into whatever political campaign they wish and never be named as a major supporter.  They just must simply create a 501 (c)(4) and they’re in play.   Add to this picture the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, and one has an image of money flowing freely from corporations into (mostly) Republican front groups and then into vicious ad campaigns.
I find myself humming an old Pete Seeger tune but with new lyrics:
Where has all the integrity gone?  
Long time passing
Where has all the integrity gone?
Long time ago...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Selfish Dingbats Rampant...

Yes, it’s official.  The political right wingnuts are daft.  The question that looms before us is: will the entire Village dance to their tune and sing their songs?
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the Delaware Republican voters’ choice of Christine O’Donnell over Mike Castle for their candidate for the Senate.  She’s run so often for Delaware Senatorial openings that she’s not exactly a fresh face to the good people of the state.  She was as nutty in 2006 and 2008 as she is today, except perhaps as time has gone by, we have learned more about her and the nut and acorn pile has grown.
Then yesterday I read something that I had to reread a couple of times to believe.  It was Mike Huckabee’s statement the other day at the Value Voters Summit in which he said that he didn’t believe that the new health insurance plan should include folks with pre-existing conditions.  Good Old Mike likened insuring people with pre-existing conditions to insuring houses that have burned down. (I’m not making this up.)  He explained it this way: [Here]
It sounds so good, and it's such a warm message to say we're not gonna deny anyone from a preexisting condition..Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [to] our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, "I'd like to buy some insurance for my house." He'd say, "Tell me about your house." "Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I'd like to insure it today." And he'll say "I'm sorry, but we can't insure it after it's already burned." Well, no preexisting conditions.
Huckabee’s analysis is pretty interesting, isn’t it?  It was as if Huck was comparing an eight-year old child with diabetes with a burned out house or a mother of three young children with breast cancer to a broken down barn?  Nifty, eh?  I bet those value voters just ate it up.
Basic to this kind of Huckabee thinking is a fundamental selfishness and it’s rampant right now.  Sanity, a sense of citizenship, compassion and humanity have fled the collective consciousness of these wingnuts.  Paul Krugman pointed this out in his Monday NYTimes column titled “The Angry Rich.”
And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago. 
Of course, what has enraged the well-to-do is the prospect of Congress allowing the Bush tax cuts to the rich to return to where the rates were during the Clinton years.  As Krugman pointed out, for a while GOP strategists were trying to sell us on the old Hoover idea that money of the rich “trickles down” to the lower income folks or as Alan Simpson calls us, the “lesser people.”  Of course, that plan didn’t work for Hoover and today it appears that even the present GOP strategists have been forsaking that tired old line.  
The new line from the GOP, even heard on the House floor, is that half a million isn’t so much money because look at one’s expenses--upkeep on one’s mansion, high property taxes, private school tuition, cars, vacation homes and so on. 
Yes, this is a terrible line and an even worse morality.  It is particularly heartless when unemployment rates are at about 10% with 43 million Americans living below the poverty line.  The question is: will the GOP get away with it?
What say you?...  

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Case Study: How not to treat your friends...

Last Thursday evening President Obama attended a fund-raising dinner in Greenwich, Connecticut in a gated-community called Conyers Farm.  It’s been years since I’ve been in Greenwich so I have to believe what I read about the setting.  Glenn Greenwald wrote that the dinner was hosted by Richard and Ellen Richman and the cost to the dinner guests was $30,000.00 a plate.  Conyers Farm, we are told, is a 1500-acre community where Republican Senatorial candidate Linda McMahon also lives. Yes, indeed--small world.  The $16 million dollar Richman estate is on 20-acres quite near the McMahon home.  McMahon’s opponent in the Senate race, Richard Blumenthal, was also at the dinner.  (These gated communities make for strange neighbors and probably quite a few uncommon bedfellows.)
We are told that the evening raised $1 million dollars for the DNC and was attended by high profile folks, such as Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau and wife, television journalist Jane Pauley, as well as film director Ron Howard.  The Democratic candidate for governor, Dan Malloy, was seated near the front.  So with Blumenthal there, too, the two top Connecticut Democratic hopefuls were present and accounted for.
With this high profile group before him, what did the President choose to say?  After some general comments about the sorry state the country was in when he took office and how he’s got a terrific education Secretary and a great health care reform going, he said this: [Here]
OBAMA: Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get — to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there.  If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that.  And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.)  I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.)  We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.
I’ve quoted these Obama remarks from Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake [Here] who was a leading cheerleader for the public option and obviously felt that Obama’s remarks were a stunning rebuke for her hours of hard work for what she had thought was an Obama goal.  It was certainly an Obama campaign pledge.  [Read Obama’s entire speech from another source. Here.] 
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald [Here] was stung by the same rebuke and printed the above passage, too, but he also added a number of important anti-Obama statements from a number of writers on a number of other topics that ranged from the legal rights of Afghan detainees to Obama’s position on same-sex marriage.
These statements and essays are not solely from “the-glass-is-half-full” liberals, but from a number of writers, such as the NYTimes’s Bob Herbert, the ACLU, HuffPost, The Hill, and WaPo.  All represent cogent disagreements on a range of policy issues and all represent points of view from his Democratic base!!!!.  All of the issues need to be addressed or at least acknowledged by Obama and his WH team.  
Laughing at one’s base, however warmly, is not the way to lead, particularly when there are more than 43 million Americans living in poverty and the country is suffering with a 10% unemployment rate.  
The country needs action, not self-congratulation.  We need F.D.R., not George Gobel. 
But Molly Ivins would do...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Corporation Shills?...

It’s very easy to become mesmerized by the Tea Party shenanigans.   For instance, can you remember the last time that masturbation (for or against) was a serious policy issue for a candidate for the United States Senate?  What about chastity before or after marriage?  What about the right to carry your favorite assault weapon into church or the local high school football game?  And have you thought about a state’s ability to nullify federal laws?  (Aside from the fact that I thought we had fought a war over that idiocy, imagine giving the New York State Senate more power to do anything?)
These are just some of the great ideas that have boiled up in the tea party rallies.  I haven’t even mentioned that old problem about  taxes which the baggers also hate.  Everyone on the planet dislikes paying taxes, but in our soberer moments we know that money is necessary to pay to pave, plow and maintain our roads, pay and equip our police, pay for our armies and our defense and provide other essential services, such as fire engines.  
Once we finally agree that there has to be taxes,  the question for all of us, Tea Baggers included, is who pays and how much.  The Republican Party now wants the Bush tax cuts for the rich to continue, while screaming about how awful the national debt is.  (Paul Krugman estimated (here) that continuing the Bush tax cuts would increase the national debt by $700 billion over the next ten years.)  The Democrats wish to let the tax cuts to the rich expire but extend some tax relief to the suffering middle class and the poor.  And if the baggers were really interested in the interests of “the people,” wouldn’t you think that they’d be on this Democratic bandwagon?  
Logic doesn’t seem to play in these political waters these days.  Since the Democratic response has been so tepid and timid, that rightwing folks seem to be able to say most anything without anyone holding them accountable.
Carl Paladino, a Teabagger who has won the Republican nomination for Governor of New York, is a case in point.  He is a multimillionaire from Buffalo whose real estate empire leases office space to government agencies.  His personal yearly take from those rentals is estimated at several million a year.  Yet, he is running on a platform of cutting state spending and state services--20% the first year.
Bob Herbert, one of the few journalists who have been continually calling our attention to the economic disparity within our society, has once again written passionately about the plight of the poor and the utter lack of attention being paid by politicians in this election cycle.  As he wrote in his Saturday NYTimes column:[Here]
...there is nothing that society’s leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.
Herbert went on to write that 44 million people are living in poverty in this country, an increase of 4 million from the previous year, and yet no national leadership is taking up this issue with any force.  And the baggers are screaming and yelling for precisely what the corporations want--lower taxes and deregulation.  Yet these corporationists and bankers are the boys who got us into this economic mess.
Let me end with Herbert’s final exhortation:
What is desperately needed is leadership that recognizes the depth and intensity of the economic crisis facing so many ordinary Americans.  It’s time for the movers and shakers to lift the shroud of oblivion and reach out to those many millions of Americans trapped in a world of hurt. 
Amen, Mr. Herbert...

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some NY State hijinks...

Before we comment on the current papal state visit to the United Kingdom, a few reactions about the recent primary elections are in order.  Months ago when the first Tea Party events occurred,  our instinct was to dismiss them as public theater, paid for by some unnamed, deep-pocketed corporate sponsors.  Then ex-Governor Sarah Palin hitched her old beauty float to their express buses and the movement took off.  
The election results in the few primaries that have recently been held in some states, including Alaska, have been shocking.  Lisa Murkowski was knocked out of the Republican Senate line in favor of a Palin-endorsed newcomer.  In Delaware a popular ex-Governor and Congressman, Mike Castle, was knocked out of the running by an extremely conservative young woman who has had absolutely no governmental experience, but has run for the Senate twice before.  (Yes, O’Donnell has made running for the Senate a complete career for herself.)
The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg commented this week about New York’s primaries and particularly NY State’s Republican Party that used to be what he called “one of the glories of the nation.”  Hertzberg reminded us that it was the party of Teddy Roosevelt, William Seward, Fiorello LaGuardia, Jake Javits, John Lindsay, Nelson Rockefeller and Thomas E. Dewey.   Hertzberg noted that from his liberal viewpoint there has been a steady decline in the party and the quality of its public servants.  (Regardless of one’s political bias, compare George Pataki to Thomas E. Dewey or Rudy Giuliani to Fiorello LaGuardia.)
Continuing their downward trajectory, the New York State GOP hit a new low last Tuesday when they chose a multimillionaire  Buffalo businessman,  Carl Palidino, who was Tea Party endorsed.   He was picked in last Tuesday’s statewide primary over ex-Congressman Rick Lazio, a moderate.  The NYTimes characterized Palidino as: [Here]
... a volatile newcomer who has forwarded e-mails to friends containing racist jokes and pornographic images, espoused turning prisons into dormitories where welfare recipients could be given classes on hygiene, and defended an ally’s comparison of the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who is Jewish, to 'an Antichrist or a Hitler.'
Gulp.  Volatile, indeed.  Let us hope that the Democrats make him eat every single one of those insults and do it in public again and again.
By the way, when do you suppose Andrew Cuomo will begin campaigning or is he still on vacation?
One last factoid from the NYTimes.  Palidino campaigned all over the state with a pit bull named Duke.  Classy, eh?
It should be an interesting campaign.  Cuomo has amassed an enormous campaign fund.  It will be fascinating to see how the two men spend their money...
On a more congenial note, Pope Benedict XVI continues his papal visit to England amid new concerns for security after 5 Algerians were arrested by British police for allegedly planning some harm or disruption during the visit.  This is the first state visit ever made by a pope since Henry VIII broke with church at Rome.  In 1981 Pope John Paul II made what is described as a pastoral visit during which he only met privately with the queen.  This time around, however, all the stops were pulled out. [Here]
On Friday afternoon the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict are scheduled to pray together in Westminster Abbey.  One wonders what good any of this will do for Anglican/Catholic relations, but both men love attention.  
They also get to wear those lovely dress-up clothes...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Odds and Ends--again...

It’s certainly time for some odds and ends, isn’t it?  Aside from the regular depressing news from Afghanistan, we’ve been inundated with news from primary elections and all manner of nonsense from the Sarah and Glenn Dog and Pony Show.  (Could someone please tell me which one is the pony?)  
There have been a few bright spots, only a few, but the bright ones shine through the murky gloom like lasers.  I’m thinking particularly of the reports that Obama has finally gotten around to appointing Elizabeth Warren as a special advisor to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the bureau that was her idea to begin with. [Here] What took him so long?  Every liberal and progressive group that I know of has been urging this appointment for months.  I know that I’ve signed petitions and written notes but until this report, the only response that we read was a rumor that Timothy Geithner wouldn’t like to have her appointed but that he thought she was “well-qualified.”
According to some of the stories that I’ve read, Warren will set up the Bureau, reporting directly to the President and, some have added, to Geithner.  Since the agency was Warren’s brain child to begin with and she’s been around Washington long enough to know all the necessary tricks of the trade to get the job done, she is precisely the person to get this bureau up and running.  
We still don’t know if this will be just an interim appointment or whether she will be appointed as the permanent head of the agency.  Whichever it is, the move is a good one, but, I repeat, what took him so long?  The delay engendered much bad feeling among Obama’s base, something that this administration does not need right now.  Bad tastes take time to disappear and the memory of them linger.  We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.
On to another odds and ends, and this one is indeed odd.  A few days ago we wrote about Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who run Koch Industries, a private conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas.  Janet Mayer, the splendid staff writer for the The New Yorker, wrote a long piece for the magazine’s August 30th edition about the brothers, their backgrounds and libertarian political views. [Here] Mayer also went into detail about the Koch brothers’ early involvement with the Tea Party movement.  (If you are interested in even more Koch details, Frank Rich added some in his weekly column for the NYTimes. [Here])
It didn’t take long for a pro-Koch defensive response.  After all, there aren’t many young writers who can turn away from an opportunity to cozy up to the very, very, very rich--and generous.  And where was the pro-Koch piece placed, you might ask?  The Daily Beast--and Beast editor Tina Brown should have known better.  After all, Brown was editor of the New Yorker (1992-1998) and should have checked on a few facts with Mayer herself before putting out this fluff on the internet.  The piece, titled “Tea Party Billionaire Fires Back,” was written by Elaine Lafferty, whose biography tells us that she was a Hillary supporter before she became a consultant for the McCain/Palin campaign and a co-author of a book with Fox pundit Greta Van Susteren.  Ahem. 
What does Ms. Lafferty tell us?  She starts off by writing that Charles Koch is very, very, very angry and to tell us that for Mayer to  say that Koch is a funder of conservative causes is “simplistic.”  Yes, that’s what Ms. Lafferty says.  Simplistic.  And to call Koch Industries a polluter might be true but then, she adds:
...the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Center describes Koch Industries as a top polluter.  But then its polluters list seems to include almost any company that still manufactures stuff in the U.S., including Ford Motor, General Motors, GE, Pfizer, Eastman Kodak, Sony, Honeywell, Berkshire Hathaway, Kimberly Clark, Anheuser Busch, and Goodyear.”
I guess Ms. Lafferty is telling us that all manufacturers of “stuff” are polluters so that fact makes Koch Industries just fine.  Forget about them.    
Also, in an editor’s note way at the bottom, the Daily Beast admits that they didn’t check with Jane Mayer before they posted the Latterty piece, but they did leave some telephone and email questions with the New Yorker offices.  How’s that for great journalism?
Let’s hope that the folks who read this know that the Daily Beast is Huffpost Lite and should only read it for a chuckle.  We do.
In the meantime, let’s keep our eyes on the Pope’s visit to England.  That should keep us busy for a while.
My money is on the Queen...