Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Grand Old Plot Against the Tea Party

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 30, 2010

ONE dirty little secret of the 2010 election is that it won’t be a political tragedy for Democrats if a Tea Party icon like Sharron Angle or Joe Miller ends up in the United States Senate. Angle, now synonymous with racist ads sliming Hispanics, and Miller, already on record threatening a government shutdown, are fired up and ready to go as symbols of G.O.P. extremism for 2012 and beyond.

What’s not so secret is that some Republicans will be just as happy if some of these characters lose, and for the same reason.
But whatever Tuesday’s results, this much is certain: The Tea Party’s hopes for actually affecting change in Washington will start being dashed the morning after. The ordinary Americans in this movement lack the numbers and financial clout to muscle their way into the back rooms of Republican power no matter how well their candidates perform.
Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party’s Capitol Hill patron saint. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.” It’s the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client listthat includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.
Karl Rove outed the Republican elites’ contempt for Tea Partiers in the campaign’s final stretch. Much as Barack Obama thought he was safe soliloquizing about angry white Middle Americans clinging to “guns or religion” at a San Francisco fund-raiser in 2008, so Rove now parades his disdain for the same constituency when speaking to the European press. This month he told Der Spiegel that Tea Partiers are “not sophisticated,” and then scoffed, “It’s not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek.” Given that Glenn Beck has made a cause of putting Hayek’s dense 1944 antigovernment treatise “The Road to Serfdom” on the best-seller list and Tea Partiers widely claim to have read it, Rove could hardly have been more condescending to “these people.” Last week, for added insult, he mocked Sarah Palin’s imminent Discovery Channel reality show to London’s Daily Telegraph.
This animus has not gone unnoticed among those supposedly less sophisticated conservatives back home. Mike Huckabee, still steamed about Rove’s previous put-down of Christine O’Donnell, publicly lamented the Republican establishment’s “elitism” and “country club attitude.” This country club elite, he said, is happy for Tea Partiers to put up signs, work the phones and make “those pesky little trips” door-to-door that it finds a frightful inconvenience. But the members won’t let the hoi polloi dine with them in the club’s “main dining room” — any more than David H. Koch, the billionaire sugar daddy of the Republican right, will invite O’Donnell into his box at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center to take in “The Nutcracker.”
The main dining room remains reserved for Koch’s fellow oil barons, Lott’s clients, the corporate contributors (known and anonymous) to groups like Rove’s American Crossroads, and, of course, the large coterie of special interests underwriting John Boehner, the presumptive next speaker of the House. Boehner is the largest House recipient of Wall Street money this year — much of it from financial institutions bailed out by TARP.
His Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, will be certain to stop any Tea Party hillbillies from disrupting his chapter of the club (as he tried to stop Rand Paul in his own state’s G.O.P. primary). McConnell’s pets in his chamber’s freshman G.O.P. class will instead be old-school conservatives like Dan Coats (of Indiana), Rob Portman (of Ohio) and, if he squeaks in, Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania). The first two are former lobbyists; Toomey ranthe corporate interest group, the Club for Growth. They can be counted on to execute an efficient distribution of corporate favors and pork after they make their latest swing through Capitol Hill’s revolving door.
What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most — less government spending and smaller federal deficits — is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.’s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries. The party’s principal 2010 campaign document, its “Pledge to America,” doesn’t vow to cut even earmarks — which barely amount to a rounding error in the federal budget anyway. Boehner has also proposed a return to pre-crash 2008 levels in “nonsecurity” discretionary spending — another mere bagatelle ($105 billion) next to the current $1.3 trillion deficit. And that won’t be happening either, once the actual cuts in departments like Education, Transportation and Interior are specified to their constituencies.
Perhaps the campaign’s most telling exchange took place on Fox News two weeks ago, when the Tea Party-embracing Senate candidate in California, Carly Fiorina, was asked seven times by Chris Wallace to name “one single entitlement expenditure you’re willing to cut” in order “to extend all the Bush tax cuts, which would add 4 trillion to the deficit.”She never did. At least Angle and Paul have been honest about what they’d slash if in power — respectively Social Security and defense, where the big government spending actually resides.
That’s not happening either. McConnell has explained his only real priority for the new Congress with admirable candor. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,”he said, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Any assault on Social Security would defeat that goal, and a serious shake-up of the Pentagon budget would alienate the neoconservative ideologues and military contractors who are far more important to the G.O.P. establishment than the “don’t tread on me” crowd.
For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.
Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s. Typical of this smokescreen is a new book titled “Mad as Hell,” published this fall by a Murdoch imprint. In it, the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the case, as they recently put it in Politico, that the Tea Party is “the most powerful and potent force in America.”
They are expert at producing poll numbers to bear that out. By counting those with friends and family in the movement, Rasmussen has calculated that 29 percent of Americans are “tied to” the Tea Party. (If you factor in six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the number would surely double.) But cooler empirical data reveal the truth known by the G.O.P. establishment: An August CNN poll found that 2 percent of Americans consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.
That result was confirmed last weekend by The Washington Post, which published the fruits of its months-long effort to contact every Tea Party group in the country. To this end, it enlisted the help of Tea Party Patriots, the only Tea Party umbrella group that actually can claim to be a spontaneous, bottom-up, grass roots organization rather than a front for the same old fat cats of the Republican right, from the Koch brothers to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Tea Party Patriots has claimed anywhere from 2,300 to nearly 3,000 local affiliates, but even with its assistance, The Post could verify a total of only 647 Tea Party groups nationwide. Most had fewer than 50 members. The median amount of money each group had raised in 2010 was $800, nowhere near the entry fee for the country club.
But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Sanity of Our County Depends on Your Vote

What does it say about us that the most effective counterweight to the Tea Party is not a political party or leader, but a comedian?

Billy Wimsatt
October 29, 2010

My Fellow Sane Americans,
What does it say about us that the most effective counterweight to the Tea Party is not a political party or leader, but a comedian?
Will Jon Stewart's rally on Saturday impact the election on Tuesday? We hope so. Frankly, as professional sane people (cough cough), we have been slow to jump on this opportunity. Nearly one thousand rallies have been organized all over the country three days before the election, and the best part? We didn't even have to organize them! It's freaking amazing. All we have to do is show up and leverage the opportunity. But most of us are too busy doing our regularly scheduled Get Out The Vote activities to see this opportunity for what it is and seize the moment to make our message relevant in popular culture.
In the past few weeks, a bunch of us have pulled together some last minute actions. The goal is to transform Saturday events in people's minds from merely a giant Halloween party and comedy show on the mall into... a giant Halloween party and comedy show on the mall that inspires people to volunteer and vote between now and Tuesday.
We're calling our campaign VOTE SANITY. We have 50,000 large VOTE SANITY stickers and a bunch of signs for people to wear at the rally and then take home. We also have "I Voted Sanity" images for people to use as Facebook profile pictures, some hilarious videos and websites likeWelcome to Crazytown, and Young Voters: A Bigger Threat Than Bears, a Crazytown Quiz, and an actual ahem, totally scientific and unbiased vote that will be taking place in the crowd and online where people have the choice to "Vote Sanity" or "Vote Fear." It's all thrown together fast but the idea is still pretty cute. The website is sponsored by Republicorp. Then right after the rally, on Sunday, it's Halloween and Trick or Vote is ready with a huge nationwide canvass-in-costume.
Don't get us wrong. We have nothing against crazy people or scary monsters. Some of our best friends are crazy scary monsters. We just don't want to wake up on Wednesday morning and find out that they are in charge of our government again.
Vote Sanity is clearly a great message for all of us to be using right now. Not that we need to drop all our other messages. But we do need to become more nimble. I'm actually working 24/7 on another project right now called TheBallot.orgwhich aggregates all the local progressive voter guides in the country --it's a really important project. Every progressive voter in America needs a voter guide. I'm not about to drop this for Vote Sanity. But the beauty of Vote Sanity is that it connects perfectly with any other progressive message. See, here's a Vote Sanity logo with on the bottom. You can do the same thing.
On behalf of professional leftists everywhere, I apologize for not starting earlier. We could have printed five million stickers and posters, sent some to your town, gotten on TV and made this really big. In the meantime, we encourage you to spread these images online and make your own Vote Sanity stickers, signs, images, videos, designs and tweet them @votesanity.
( more )

Copyright 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

You’ve Heard the Lies, Now Believe the Facts

Gene Lyons
October 28th, 2010

Anybody seeking midterm-election predictions needs to look somewhere else. Here at the sprawling rural campus of Unsolicited Opinions Inc., company policy forbids palm-reading, crystal balls, tea leaves, bird augury and necromancy of all kinds. Weather forecasts can be useful; otherwise, it’s amazing how much time a person can save by skipping news stories about what may happen tomorrow.

That said, let’s face it: Any president who’d taken the oath of office last year would definitely be wading through what President Bush the Elder called “deep doo-doo” today. Given the economic catastrophe he inherited, it’s a wonder Barack Obama remains as popular as he is. A recent Newsweek poll showed his approval rating at 54 percent, up six points from September — a result so counterintuitive the magazine’s editors halfway implied they didn’t believe it.

Particularly at election time, nobody’s allowed to insult the American voter by wondering whether Obama’s surge in popularity might simply be a result of more TV time. “Oh yeah, that guy. Gee, he’s got a terrific smile.”

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, although a recent Pew survey showed that only 59 percent of Americans can name the vice-president. Just 72 percent realize which party currently controls Congress.

Even so, to paraphrase Will Rogers, when it comes to the economy the president’s biggest problem isn’t so much what voters don’t know as the things they know for sure that just ain’t so.

“The dirty little secret,” writes Washington Post financial columnist Steven Pearlstein, “is that most Americans don’t really know what they think about the issues that so animate the political conversation in Washington, and what they think they know about them is often wrong.”

The list of public misconceptions is long and politically crippling. Maybe the single most damaging is that the Obama administration has brought about an epidemic of government spending, tripling the yearly budget deficit and vastly increasing the national debt.

Never happened. History records that President George W. Bush, who inherited a $236 billion government surplus from the Clinton administration in 2001, handed President Obama a stacked deck eight years later.

The Congressional Budget Office’s projected budget deficit for FY2009, beginning four months before Obama took office, was already in excess of $1.3 trillion. Indeed, the 2011 budget deficit is projected to be ever-so-slightly lower than the one Bush left on the White House doorstep. Despite the one-time $787 billion economic stimulus (spread over three years), no huge growth in government spending has taken place on Obama’s watch.

Three proximate causes of the rising national debt remain: the Bush tax cuts of 2001, his unfunded Medicare drug benefit, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alas, stating these historical facts has been declared out of bounds. It’s playing the “blame game,” a formulation greatly persuasive to tea partiers and conservative talk-show hosts basically because it rhymes.

Yes, the United States needs to get its fiscal affairs back to where they were under the previous Democratic administration. But not by slashing spending and laying off government employees during an economic crisis, as it appears the British people, to their collective sorrow, are doomed to relearn.

People have heard Republicans say “the failed stimulus” so often that many believe it. Again, according to the CBO, the (clearly inadequate) American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan resulted in approximately 3 million jobs, the difference between a lingering recession and a full-blown depression, most economists would say.

Also, many people swear Obama raised their taxes. Actually, he cut them. Almost one-third of the stimulus consisted of tax cuts, not spending. But because the money reached people in small increments through decreased withholding, most don’t know it.

And, no, it wasn’t the Obama administration that bailed out Wall Street. The Bush administration enacted TARP in October 2008, although most Democrats (Obama included) voted for it. We’d all like to see more high-flying Wall Street fraudsters locked up, but TARP did succeed in saving the financial system while paying for itself.

Ditto the auto industry bailouts, an unfortunate necessity also first initiated by the Bush administration that’s basically worked. Do you really think Americans would be better off without General Motors?

No you don’t.

Even so, “Things could have been much worse” isn’t much of a campaign slogan. Moreover, Obama has only himself to blame for the oddly diffident way he’s gone about explaining himself. Far from being a condescending elitist, the president has tended to give voters a lot more credit than they deserve.

Hence many of the same dreamers who convinced themselves that the Merry-Go-Round of constantly rising real estate values would help them borrow their way to prosperity now trust that the simplistic nostrums of the tea party will lead us safely past Big Rock Candy Mountain and all the way back to Leave it to Beaver-Land.

© 2005 - 2010 Swift Communications, Inc.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Kiss of Death - Richard Hannah Endorsed by Rudy Giuliani!!! - NY-House 24

Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerk in former days before Kerk conviction.

Richard Hanna , candidate for the NY House-24th, recently received the endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. Hanna at one time had a lead in the polls 46% to 43% over Mike Arcuri. The recent poll has it 47% to 37% Arcuri over Hanna. It seems Giuliani "Kiss of Death" has had an effect on the race. The former mayor of New York City, "Mister 9-11" and a good friend of Bernie Kerk, has been offering his support to any republican candidate he can find.

"The evil that men do lives after their mayoral stints—and even 9/11"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sarah Palin: Diva and Political Whore

Description of Political Whore- A political figure who will sell out anyone for  personal enrichment and media attention  if it means they might get one step higher on the ladder.

Syrin's Blog
Wasilla, Alaska
OCT 21, 2010

Late last Friday afternoon, Palin’s political aide, Andy Davis, contacted officials with a competitive House campaign. Palin would be available Tuesday, Davis said.
As with Grassley, the reaction of the House campaign was to have Palin do a fundraiser.
“What [the candidate] needs more than anything else is money,” said a GOP source familiar with the situation.
No-go, replied Davis, indicating that not only did she not want to raise money, but she also didn’t want to do a rally. The preference was for something “low-key,” so Davis suggested visiting a factory or going door to door. But in doing so, the candidate would have to limit the exposure of the event. They could bring only one “trusted local reporter” along, Davis said, according to a source familiar with the exchange.
Without much media attention, such a grass-roots event would have done next to nothing for the candidate, said the source close to the situation. But the campaign — a lean operation, like those of most House candidates — scrambled to put together another plan that would accommodate Palin. They sent it to Davis on Saturday.
The campaign didn’t get word until Monday morning, the day before the event was to take place, that Palin’s schedule had changed. She couldn’t come. Palin offered no reason for the no-show.
After the experience, the campaign, filled with conservatives who thought well of Palin, began referring to her as “Princess Sarah,” said the source close to the situation.
Another House client of this same person had the same experience — little notice of availability and heavy restrictions on the nature of the event. This candidate, though, is still trying to land Palin for a rally, so few other details were divulged.
And the list goes on.
One major GOP Senate campaign sought Palin’s endorsement at the beginning of the year but didn’t know how to reach her. Out of desperation, they ended up sending a message to her Facebook page. Having never heard back, an operative for the campaign asked a reporter for the e-mail address of Palin’s representative at the time. The campaign got a noncommittal reply.
Then, one day months later, the campaign was told Palin was going to offer her endorsement. They waited for much of the day, frequently checking her Facebook and Twitter page. Finally, a consultant to the campaign put a call into somebody close to Palin and asked if the endorsement was still coming.
“We were told it was going to happen in an hour, and she was going to tweet it,” recounted an operative on the campaign. “But we waited and waited and waited, and it never happened. Then we never heard of it again.”
Some of the complaints are, as Palin sympathizers suggest, partly due to frustration from campaigns that they didn’t get touched.
A source close to losing GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum, for example, recounted a months-long process of trying to woo Palin only to get radio silence, flashes of hope and then signs that she may go with his primary opponent.
In some, but not all, cases, Palin charges campaigns for travel expenses. Georgia Republican gubernatorial hopeful Karen Handel, for example, shelled out nearly $100,000 from her campaign account to get Palin for a pre-runoff rally earlier this year.
“I don’t know of anyone else who does that,” said a longtime GOP consultant.  Palin is  in most of their races seen as toxic with independent thinking voters.
Copyright 2010 Syrin From Wasilla

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Behold! The Tea Party Darling!

Broadway Carl
Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christine O'Donnell doesn't know what's in the First Amendment of the Constitution the Tea Party claims it wants to return to.

The saddest part about the whole exchange is that smirk that comes across O'Donnell's face when the audience reacts. She thinks they're laughing with her, not at her.

Copyright 2010 Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Rage Won’t End on Election Day

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 16, 2010

CARL Paladino began his New York gubernatorial campaign bybragging he’d “clean out Albany with a baseball bat.” When an ally likened his main Albany target, the (Jewish) leader of the State Assembly, to “an antichrist or Hitler,” he enthusiastically endorsed the slur. We also learned of Paladino’s repertory of gag e-mails — among them a pornographic picture of a woman having sex with a horse and a photo of an African tribal ritual captioned “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal.” How blind we were not to recognize that his victory in a Republican primary under the proud Tea Party banner was inevitable.

A week ago New Yorkers were presented with a vivid reminder of how a bat can be used as a weapon. A pack of young thugs was charged with torturing three men in the Bronx for being gay, one of whom, The Times reported, was sodomized with “a small baseball bat.”
It’s probably safe to assume that no one in this lynching party has heard of Paladino. Presumably he has heard of them, but a man of Tea Party principles will not compromise, no matter what may be happening in the real world. Don’t tread on Carl! And so last Sunday, as the city was reeling from both the Bronx bloodbath and the earlier leap of a bullied gay Rutgers freshman off the George Washington Bridge, Paladino visited a fringe Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn to stand his ground. He attacked gays for supposedly plotting to brainwash children into accepting the validity of homosexuality.
We don’t know what will happen on Election Day, but one fairly safe bet is this: Paladino will not be the next governor of New York. However tardily, he’s been disowned not only by the state’s extant, if endangered, cadre of mainstream Republicans but even by some of the hard right. No one apparently told him that while bigotry isn’t always a disqualifier for public office, appearing on YouTube vowing to “take out” a reporter from Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post can be. As a rule, it’s career suicide to threaten to murder your own political base.
But if New Yorkers may take comfort from the pratfall of this particular barbarian at their gate, the national forecast is not so sunny. Paladino is no anomaly in American politics in 2010. He’s just the most clownish illustration of where things have been heading for two years and are still heading. Like the farcical Christine O’Donnell in another blue Northeastern state, he’s a political loss-leader, if you will, whose near-certain defeat on Nov. 2 allows us to indulge in a bit of denial about the level of rage still coursing, sometimes violently, through our national bloodstream.
That wave of anger began with the parallel 2008 cataclysms of the economy’s collapse and Barack Obama’s ascension. The mood has not subsided since. But in the final stretch of 2010, the radical right’s anger is becoming less focused, more free-floating — more likely to be aimed at “government” in general, whatever the location or officials in charge. The anger is also more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage. This is a significant and understandable shift, if hardly a salutary one. The mad-as-hell crowd in America, still not seeing any solid economic recovery on the horizon, will lash out at any convenient scapegoat.
The rage was easier to parse at the Tea Party’s birth, when, a month after Obama’s inauguration, its founding father, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, directed his rant at the ordinary American “losers” (as he called them) defaulting on their mortgages, and at those in Washington who proposed bailing the losers out. (Funny how the Bush-initiated bank bailouts went unmentioned.) Soon enough, the anger tilted toward Washington in general and the new president in particular. And it kept getting hotter. In June 2009, still just six months into the Obama presidency, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith broke with his own network’s party line to lament a rise in “amped up” Americans “taking the extra step and getting the gun out.” He viewed the killing of a guard by a neo-Nazi Obama hater at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as the apotheosis of the “more and more frightening” post-election e-mail surging into Fox.
The moment passed. Glenn Beck, also on Fox, spoke for most on the right when he dismissed the shooter as a “lone gunman nutjob.” Those who showed up with assault riflesat presidential health care rallies that summer were similarly minimized as either solitary oddballs or overzealous Second Amendment patriots. Few cared when The Boston Globe reported last fall that the Secret Service was overwhelmed by death threats against the president as well as a rise in racist hate groups and antigovernment fervor. It’s no better now. In a cover article last month, Barton Gellman wrote in Time that the magazine’s six-month investigation found that “the threat level against the president and other government targets” is at its highest since the antigovernment frenzy that preceded Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
While Obama-hatred remains a staple of the right, the ebbing of his political clout may have diminished him as a catchall for America’s roiling, inchoate rage. The president is no longer the sole personification of evil. For those who see government as Public Enemy No. 1, other targets will do, potentially some as remote from Washington as Oklahoma City.
Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who has written a new book on Beck, has been tracking the case of Byron Williams, a bank robber on parole who injured two California Highway Patrol officers in a July shootout. Williams was out to start a revolution, his mother said, because “Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.” But instead of picking Congress as his target, Williams was gunning for progressives closer to home, at the Tides Foundation and A.C.L.U. in San Francisco. The Tides Foundation? It’s an obscure nonprofit whose agenda includes education and AIDS prevention. But it’s not obscure to Beck fans, who heard him single it out for vilification 29 times in the 18 months before Williams grabbed his gun.
As Milbank has written, “it’s not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by his fans,” but he would nonetheless “do well to stop encouraging extremists.” The same could be said of the many politicians who are emulating the Beck template — especially given the tinderbox state of the nation. Whether it’s Sarah Palin instructing her acolytes to “reload” or a congressman yelling “baby killer!” at a colleague on the House floor or Sharron Angle, the Tea Party senatorial candidate from Nevada, proposing that citizens consider “Second Amendment remedies” to “protect themselves against a tyrannical government,” we know where this can lead.
Even Paladino’s short, crumbling campaign can take credit for a share of the real-world damage in New York’s civil war over the “ground zero mosque” this summer. Histelevision commercials calling the proposed Islamic center “a monument to those who attacked our country” helped push his primary campaign over the top, noticeably raising the city’s temperature. The fever peaked not quite three weeks after his ads first appeared, when a passenger slashed a New York cab driver in the face and throat simply because he was a Muslim.
Paladino’s fanning of Islamophobia was common among his national political brethren this summer. Equally common was the violence against Muslims and mosques that ensued, whether in TennesseeTexas or California. Paladino’s antediluvian brand of homophobia is also making a comeback, from O’Donnell, who has called homosexuality an “identity disorder,” to Carly Fiorina, the Senate candidate in California whose campaign is allied with the National Organization for Marriage, notorious for its fear-mongering horror-movie ads portraying same-sex marriage as the apocalypse. Two weeks ago, Jim DeMint, the South Carolina senator who serves as the G.O.P.’s Tea Party kingmaker, reiterated his desire to ban openly gay schoolteachers. Michele Bachmann, Tea Party doyenne of the House, refused to condemn Paladino’s homophobia when asked about it last week on the “Today” show. As Stephen Colbert observed last week, after the G.O.P. repudiated a Congressional candidate in Ohio for wearing an SS uniform, the only line you can’t cross as a Republican is dressing as a Nazi. (Though, as Colbert added, “dressing the president as a Nazi” is O.K.)
Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day — no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history — and not just American history — fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial “elites.”
So far neither party has offered a comprehensive antidote to our economic pain. The Democrats have fallen short, and the cynics leading the G.O.P. haven’t so much as tried. We shouldn’t be surprised that this year even a state as seemingly well-mannered as Connecticut has produced a senatorial candidate best known for marching into a wrestling ring to gratuitously kick a man in the groin.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010: The year of politicking insanely

The Washington Post
Friday, October 15, 2010

Okay, I want to make sure I understand. Two years ago, with the nation facing a host of complex and difficult problems, voters put a bunch of thoughtful, well-educated people in charge of the government. Now many of those same voters, unhappy and impatient, have decided that things will get better if some crazy, ignorant people are running the show? Seriously? 

I thought I had come to terms with the whole Tea Party thing, I really did. I convinced myself that it could be analyzed as a political phenomenon, an expression of disaffection, a reaction to economic, social and demographic change that leaves some Americans anxious and unsettled, blah blah blah. But then came Wednesday's debate in Delaware -- featuring Christine O'Donnell, uncut and uncensored -- and all my rationalizations crumbled. This isn't politics, it's insanity.

I know that O'Donnell is likely to lose to DemocratChris Coons. But until Election Day -- at least -- we're supposed to take her seriously as the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Sorry, but I just can't do it anymore.

Nor can I pretend that Carl Paladino, the raging bull from Buffalo, is qualified by experience or temperament to be governor of New York. Or that Sharron Angle, whose small-government philosophy is so extreme as to be incoherent, could possibly make a worthwhile contribution as a senator. Or that Rich Iott, whose idea of weekend fun is putting on a Nazi SS uniform and gamboling through the woods, is remotely acceptable as a candidate for the House.

When has there been an election with so many looney tunes running under the banner of one of our major parties? It's not that they are ultraconservative, or even that some of them believe their psychic powers let them know what the Founding Fathers would have thought about, say, stem-cell research. There are radical, small-government Republicans who are also intelligent and thoughtful. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is an example.

It's just that there is a difference between being smart but wrong and being O'Donnell.
She wasn't as bad as she might have been in Wednesday's debate -- which is part of the problem: Expectations were abysmally low. After all, we've learned about her sketchy past, after all the video clips of her indefensible statements, and after the first "I'm not a witch" television ad in American political history, O'Donnell could not possibly have underperformed.

But judged by any reasonable standard, she was mediocre and often ridiculous. Asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer whether she stood by her assertion that evolution is a "myth," O'Donnell said "local schools should make that decision" -- meaning, she explained, that she believes local schools should be able to teach creationism as an equally valid explanation of how we and our fellow creatures came to be.

But it's not. If you believe at all in science and the scientific method, then you believe in evolution. And if you think it's fine to deny American schoolchildren basic knowledge that all the rest of the world's schoolchildren routinely learn, then what use could you possibly be in the Senate? At a time when there is widespread legitimate concern about American competitiveness in the 21st century, O'Donnell would make our educational system dumber, not smarter.
O'Donnell told Fox News recently that if she is elected, she would like to serve on the Foreign Relations Committee. One imagines that Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao did not shudder.

In Wednesday's debate, the candidate displayed her mastery of geopolitics by saying nothing remotely thoughtful or insightful about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, except to parrot Republican talking points -- criticizing President Obama's timetable for withdrawal, insisting we have a responsibility to "finish the job" and betraying no evidence of having given the matter further thought.

Four years ago, in a failed Senate campaign, O'Donnell claimed that China had a "carefully thought-out and strategic plan to take over America" and said she knew of this via "classified information that I'm privy to." In the debate, she insisted that she had indeed received some "security briefs" while working with a humanitarian group that was planning a China trip. There are only two possibilities: She needs to be fitted for a tinfoil hat or she made the whole thing up.

I've had it. Let's be honest. If she's qualified to be a senator, I'm the king of Prussia.

Now, will somebody please warn her that she'll have trouble finding Prussia on the map?

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook Politicians Are Not Your Friends

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
October 9, 2010

“THE Social Network,” you’re understandably sick of hearing, is a brilliant movie about the Harvard upstart Mark Zuckerberg and the messy birth of his fabulous start-up, Facebook, circa 2004. From the noisy debate over its harsh portrait of Zuckerberg, you’d think it’s a documentary. It’s not. Its genre is historical fiction — with a sardonic undertow. The director David Fincher and the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are after bigger ironies than the riddle of Zuckerberg, a disconnected geek destined to spawn a virtual community of 500 million “friends.” You leave the movie with the sinking feeling that the democratic utopia breathlessly promised by Facebook and its Web brethren is already gone with the wind.

Nowhere, perhaps, is the gap between the romance and the reality of the Internet more evident than in our politics. In the idealized narrative of digital democracy, greater connectivity has bequeathed more governmental transparency, more grass-roots participation and even a more efficient rendering of political justice. Thanks to YouTube, which arrived just a year after Facebook, a senatorial candidate (George Allen of Virginia) caught on camera delivering a racial slur was brought down swiftly in 2006. Not long after, it was the miracle of social networking that helped enable Barack Obama’s small donors to overwhelm Hillary Clinton’s fat cats, and his online activists to out-organize her fearsome establishment pros.
But you can also construct a less salutary counternarrative. For all the Obama team’s digital bells and whistles, among them a lightning-fast site to debunk rumors during the campaign, Internet-fed myths still rage. In a Pew poll in August, 18 percent of Americans labeled the president a Muslim — up 7 points since March 2009. The explosion of accessible media and information on the Web, with its potential to give civic discourse a factual baseline and hold politicians accountable, has also given partisans license to find only the “facts” that fit their prejudices. Meanwhile, wealthy candidates like Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive running for Senate in California, have become adept at buying up prime Google-YouTube advertising real estate to compete with digital stink bombs tossed by the rabble.
The more recent miracle of Twitter theoretically encourages real-time interconnection between elected officials and the citizenry. But it too has been easily corrupted by politicians whose 140-character effusions areoften ghost-written by hired 20-somethings, just like those produced for pop stars like 50 Cent and Britney Spears. When the South Carolina governor Mark Sanford was pretending to hike on the Appalachian Trail during his hook-up with his mistress in Argentina last June, his staff gave him cover by feeding his Twitter accountwith musings about such uncarnal passions as “Washington D.C. financial recklessness.”
At least Obama and Ron Paul have admitted they don’t write the Twitter feeds in their names. It took journalists poring through financial disclosure forms to discover that Sarah Palin had paid a Los Angeles blogger $22,000 to script her “Internet messaging.” We must take it on faith that her former running mate, John McCain, an admitted computer illiterate who didn’t use e-mail just two years ago, is now such a Twitter maven that he dashes off aperçus about MTV’s Snooki to his followers.
Just as “The Social Network” hit the multiplexes, Malcolm Gladwell took to The New Yorker with a stinging takedown of social networks as vehicles for meaningful political and social action. He calculated that the nearly 1.3 million members of the Facebook page for the Save Darfur Coalition have donated an average of 9 cents each to their cause. He mocked American journalists’ glorification of Twitter’s supposedly pivotal role during last year’s short-lived uprising in Iran, suggesting that the rebels’ celebrated Twitter feeds — written in English, not Farsi — did more to titillate blogging technophiles in the West than to aid Iranians in their struggle against totalitarian rulers.
“With Facebook and Twitter and the like,” Gladwell wrote, “the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will” was supposed to be upended, so it would be “easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.” Instead, he concluded, we ended up with the reverse: social media increase the efficiency of the existing order rather than empowering dissidents. In his view, social networking is far less likely to recreate the civil rights movement of the 1960s than to track down missing cellphones for Wall Streeters.
Gladwell’s provocative Internet critique is complemented by a much-buzzed-about independent movie — in this case, an actual documentary — that was released shortly before “The Social Network.” No one will confuse this ham-fisted film, titled “Catfish,” with a Fincher-Sorkin production, but it’s highly unsettling nonetheless. It tells of a 25-year-old Manhattan photographer who strikes up a devoted Facebook friendship with a small-town Michigan family whose 8-year-old daughter is a painting prodigy. When the photographer seeks out his virtual friends in the real Michigan, it’s inevitable that he and the audience will learn the hard way, as the Times film critic A.O. Scott put it, that cyberspace is a “wild social ether where nobody knows who anybody is.”
Even if Gladwell and “Catfish” are overstating the case, they certainly have one if you look at the political environment in our election year of 2010. The Internet in general and social networking in particular have done little, if anything, to hobble those pursuing power with such traditional means as big lies and big money. Perhaps what’s most remarkable this year is the number of candidates who have tried to create fictitious avatars like the Facebook impostors in “Catfish.” These candidates and others often fashion their campaigns to avoid real reporters (and sometimes real voters). Some benefit from YouTube commercials paid for by impossible-to-trace anonymous donors. In this wild political ether where nobody knows who anybody is, the Internet provides cover, not transparency.
Go online, and you’ll discover that many of those now notorious false fronts for oil billionaires and other corporate political contributors have Facebook pages. We don’t know who has written checks to Crossroads GPS, the more shadowy wing of American Crossroads, the operation concocted in part by Karl Rove to raise $50 million to attack Democrats. (There’s already $32 million in the bank, $10 million more than was spent bySwift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.) But the American Crossroads page on Facebooksure looks like a bottom-up populist movement, festooned with photos of thousands of ordinary folk voting their “like” of the site. The Save Darfur Coalition page may have infinitely more friends, but it’s American Crossroads that has real clout in the real world even if nobody knows who is behind the screen.
What you might call our “Catfish” Congressional candidates are a perfect match for the phantom donors. The power of the Google search hardly deters those politicians intent on fictionalizing their identities. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senatorial candidate in Connecticut, repeatedly implied in public speeches that he had fought in the Vietnam War, though he’d served only stateside. Mark Kirk, the Republican senatorial candidate in Illinois, inflated his own military history, bragged of a nonexistent teaching career, andexaggerated his derring-do in a teenage boating accident. Ben Quayle, an Arizona G.O.P. Congressional candidate with no children but a history of writing under a nom-de-porn on a racy Web site, burnished his wholesome image with a campaign photo in which nieces stood in for his nonexistent daughters. In each of these cases it was old-fashioned analog reporters, most of them working for newspapers, who finally penetrated the falsehoods.
When Christine O’Donnell ran an ad last week with the improbable opening line “I’m not a witch,” we once again had to marvel at the Delaware primary triumph of a mystery candidate with a falsified résumé, no job, and apparently no campaign operation beyond out-of-state donors and out-of-state fans like Palin “writing” Twitter endorsements.O’Donnell’s Facebook page is by far the most palpable presence of an aspiring senator who shuns public events and the press in Delaware. In a brave new political world where candidates need only exist in virtual reality, it’s no wonder that Donald Trump believes he’s qualified for public office because of his relative gravitas as a heavy on a television “reality” show.
Sometimes I wonder if the most “real” candidate this year is the one most derided by Democrats, Republicans, the news media and late-night comics alike: Alvin Greene, a 33-year-old previously unknown military veteran who won the Democratic senatorial primary in South Carolina with 59 percent of the vote over a Charleston city councilman. Greene achieved his victory without giving any speeches, raising any money or stating any positions. As soon as he won, even South Carolina Democrats said his candidacy was a Republican prank. The most incriminating piece of evidence was the fact that he doesn’t own a computer.
As it turned out, Greene’s résumé actually is more authentic than those of O’Donnell, Blumenthal, Quayle and Kirk. He really is who he said he is — a genuine nobody with no apparent political views. That he drew 100,000 votes — more than three times O’Donnell’s tally in her Delaware victory — leaves you wondering if he’d have a shot at the presidency had he only been on Facebook.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company