Saturday, May 05, 2012

They told us Obama was a socialist, but would we listen?

Jon Stewart will never run out of material as long as right-wing bloggers continue to exist. In a breathless post a couple of days ago, the Gateway Pundit revealed that Barack Obama will officially launch his reelection bid on May 5th, today, which just happens to be Karl Marx's birthday.

Well, isn't that interesting? Obama's team is masking its radical intentions for America by hiding them in plain sight. How clever. How insidious.

You know who else was born on May 5th? Soren Kierkegaard (Danish philosopher); Blind Willie McTell (blues singer); Tyrone Power (actor); Tammy Wynette (country singer); and Brian Williams (news anchor).

I have no idea what that means, but I'm sure someone with nothing better to do will figure it out for me.

(Oh, and happy birthday, Karl!)

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Toronto's CN Tower

I have lived in Toronto for most of the past 32 years. It's my adopted home, after having been born and raised just north of New York City. While I consider myself, culturally, an American, I carry dual citizenship and feel a great deal of affection for Canada and my city.

Many cities have a clear landmark with which they are identified. Toronto has the CN Tower, this massive urban phallic symbol. I see it every day, so I thought I might do a little research.

Having arrived in the country five years after it was completed, I only know Toronto with this huge structure as a part of the landscape.

It is 1,815.4 feet high (553.33 metres). They used to say it was the world's tallest free-standing structure. I don't know is that is still true. I seem to recall that there are controversies about this.

Once upon a time, not recently, I walked up the beast as part of a United Way fundraiser. I will never do that again.

Just to get a couple of facts straight: construction on the tower was completed on February 22, 1974. The antenna was completed on April 2, 1975. It was opened to the public on June 26, 1976. The official opening was on October 1, 1976. It took approximately 40 months to finish. At the time, it cost $63 million to build.

Why was the CN Tower built, you may ask? According to this helpful website:

In the 1960s, Toronto's growing skyline created problems for radio and television transmission because the pre-skyscraper transmission towers were simply not high enough to broadcast over the buildings. The prime function of the Tower is a telecommunications hub and several Canadian radio and television channels broadcast from there.

There. I just learned something about my hometown. Oh, and the "CN" in the name stands for Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. That I already knew.

If you ever find yourself in Toronto, just remember that the CN Tower is on Lake Ontario, therefore, south of the downtown. That fact might help you if you get lost.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Swift Boating President Obama

There was a story recently at BuzzFeed that some 35 year old Iraqi War veteran with close Republican ties is encouraging other ex-military personal to come out against President Obama for taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Executive Director Joel Arends of something called "Veterans for a Strong America" said, "we're looking to [put together] a coalition, to field SEALs and other operatives that want to come out publicly." He also said that he has had "a lot of discussions with former SEALs and current SEALs. I've been talking to operatives in the community. There is palatable discontent."

Arends has already released an attack ad on May 1st, titled "Why Does President Obama Take So Much Credit for Killing bin Laden?"

So listen, asshole. Here's why. Because he's the fucking President of the United States and the Commander-in-Chief. That's why. It was his call. If it had failed, you and your friends, if you really have any, would have been the first to criticize him.

Everyone knows that Obama gave lavish praise to the brave Navy SEALs who carried out the mission. But the decision to go was a political decision and a tough one, considering that it violated sovereignty in a volatile part of the world.

In democracies, in matters regarding the use of armed force, there are two kinds of credit to be taken, political and military. When things go well, there is plenty of credit to go around. What, the Continental Congress doesn't get credit for the American Revolution, Lincoln doesn't get credit for the Civil War and FDR doesn't get credit for WWII? Is that what you're saying? I thought you radical right-wing nut jobs liked history, what with all the silly costumes you wear.

So go find yourself a few ex-military types who don't like Obama's politics and have them complain that the President didn't actually put any bullets into bin Laden himself.

Yeah, that'll work. "Swift Boat" away. Knock yourself out.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Scenes from the recovery: Not bad for a capitalism-hating president, eh?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Via twitter: 

FACT: April was the 26th straight month of private sector job gains. (link)

-- ThinkProgress (@thinkprogress)

But... but...

How is this possible with a job-destroying, market-hating Marxist-socialist thug in the White House?


Hey Mitt, I thought Obama was just making everything worse, actively preventing a lasting recovery with his anti-capitalist ways.

Can you explain yourself? Or are you just full of shit?

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This day in history - May 4, 1970: The Kent State shootings

By Richard K. Barry

Four unarmed students were killed and nine others wounded by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 at what many called the Kent State Massacre. The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds.

Some of the students shot were protesting the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon announced on April 30, 1970.

The good news from the event, if you can imagine there being any, is that it further eroded public opinion of the role of the United States in the Vietnam War.

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Behind the Ad: Attacks against Tim Kaine and Obama in Virginia

Who: Crossroads GPS (a.k.a. Karl Rove) on behalf of Republican Senate candidate George Allen.

Where: Virginia.

What's going on: Karl Rove's super PAC, Crossroads GPS, has produced ads to tie Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine to President Obama. The ad says they are both all about "reckless spending, red ink, and higher taxes." Allen, the Republican, in a race with no incumbent, even has billboards up calling Kaine "Obama's Senator, Not Virginia's."

Kaine doesn't seem all that concerned, saying:

It's time we reject this type of divisive politics. If you want a Senator who'll partner with the President to do what's best for the nation, I'm your guy.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this race is that everyone knows it will be very close. Most polls are within the margin of error. Both candidates are very well known in the state. There's not a lot of room to move votes between the two of them. Importantly, it will be a very hotly contested swing state for the presidential election with 13 electoral votes at stake, which means that the fate of these two Senate candidates may be tied to the presidential campaigns in a way even more pronounced than elsewhere. In other words, the margin of victory is almost certainly going to driven by the presidential candidate's coattails. As one observer put it:

"By election day, the Obama campaign will dwarf the Virginia Democratic Party itself and its infrastructure," says Quentin Kidd, a professor at Christopher Newport University and a Virginia political pollster. "Your ability as Tim Kaine, US Senate candidate, no matter how well positioned you are, you aren't well positioned enough to dominate the agenda that the Obama campaign is going to impose on Virginia. And I assume the Romney campaign is going to try to do the same thing."

Obama won the state by a 52.7-46.4% margin over John McCain. Bush won it convincingly over Kerry in 2004 (53.8%-45.6%). Current polling is close as well.

So, I suppose Karl Rove and his super PAC is cutting right to the chase by making no distinction between Kaine and Obama. Two for the price of one, that sort of thing. He may rue that decision.

Here's the ad:

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Munch's The Scream sells for record $119.9 million

As you may have heard, one of four versions of Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream, the only one in private hands (the others are in museums in Norway), sold for a whopping $119.9 million ($107 million plus the sale charge) at Sotheby's in New York on Wednesday.

The price attained by the Munch is remarkable. Not merely because of current economic conditions which, after all, seem not to be too onerous for the very rich. More because the work is not as singular as it seems.

It is the third of four versions of the subject Munch created (excluding lithographs). Two were created earlier, in 1893. This pastel was commissioned by the coffee magnate Arthur von Franquet in 1895.

It was not even painted in oils on canvas -- usually a prerequisite for high prices in the art market. It’s a frail-looking pastel on board...

But the work that sold last night has inherent qualities, too. Munch intended it as a definite statement of the theme after two more tentative attempts. The colors are brighter, more deliberately dissonant. 

As for the sale itself, New York had perhaps the best line: "The buyer's name has not been disclosed but the individual is believed to be someone with a ton of money."


(Makes you wonder, without trying to tarnish art with money, just how much, say the Mona Lisa would fetch on the open market. Or a rather famous document I saw at the British Library a few weeks ago, the Magna Carta. Or any of the magnificent manuscripts there, like the Lindisfarne Gospels. The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, a large room that houses the Library's most valuable items for public view, is unbelievably amazing.)


I used to blog about art history from time to time here, as it's long been an interest of mine, and I really should get back to it, in between all the political stuff.

And the artist I've blogged about the most is Munch, whom I absolutely love. I even posted The Scream (the version at at the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo) in this blog's 5,000th post, "Blogscream," back in July 2008. You can find a few other posts on Munch here, here, and here.


Munch gave the painting the German title Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature), while it is known in Norwegian as Skrik.

On January 22, 1892, Munch wrote these lines in his diary, the famous inspiration for his work:

I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Note: It's not the iconic figure who is screaming, despite the open mouth, it's nature -- or, really, it's an existential scream to which the figure is responding with a sudden overwhelming sense of terror.

It is truly an image that captures something fundamental to the human condition. It may have sold for almost $120 million, but, really, you can't put a price on it.

Thankfully, there are three other versions on public display. And personally I've got Oslo high on my list of must-go destinations.


I would note, as I have before, that there have been some excellent books written about Munch and The Scream, but I'd recommend these two:

-- Edvard Munch: Behind the Scream, by Sue Prideaux.

An excellent collection of Munch's work can be found in Edvard Munch: The Modern Life of the Soul, published by New York's Museum of Modern Art.

I'd also recommend Peter Watkins's magnificant film, Edvard Munch. I'd rank it among the best films of all time. Seriously. It's fantastic.

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Mitt Romney and Saturday Night Live

I've watched SNL over the years but haven't turned it on consistently in a long time. I just don't think it's that funny. To be fair, it's always been hit or miss, even in the early "glory days." Mostly, I've always felt that the whole SNL exercise was about proving, from the perspective of the audience, that you were "with it," that you got the joke. These are hip young performers riffing on the events of the day and that combination, in itself, is supposed to be enough for us all to tune in and nod, if not laugh, knowingly.

Still, in politics, it's important to show that you're cool enough to get the joke. Hell, even Nixon went on Laugh-In to say "sock it to me."

So far, the producers of SNL and Mitt Romney haven't been able to schedule an appearance, though Romney says he's open to the idea and SNL says the door is open, maybe in the fall.

As The Hill writes, "[t]he show frequently satirizes political elections, and can have a big impact cementing pre-existing narratives about the nature of the election and the candidates themselves."

If I were advising Romney, would I advise him to do the show? I'm not sure, but probably yes. What would they do, what kind of gag? Perhaps it would be something on his stiffness, his uncoolness, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Romney's team is slowly coming around to embracing their candidate's fundamental lack of charisma as a strength. You know, he's the prudent manager, the other guy is the rock star. Who do you want managing the economy?

I could see some very funny possibilities for a skit with that idea. In the grand scheme of things, Romney's best shot at humanizing himself has to be in self-parody.

SNL is a pretty good stage for that sort of thing. There, that's my advice, Mitt. Where do I send my bill?

Just for fun, here's Tricky Dick on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (Sept. 16, 1968). What a card.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The Electoral College system - how boring

By Richard K. Barry

There will be countless state-by-state polls between now and election day comparing President Obama's support to that of Mitt Romney's. And though it's basic political science, it's remarkable how few voters fully understand the Electoral College system and its, mostly, winner-take-all design. Get 51% of the vote in any given state (except a couple) and it's like every single person in that state voted for you. Get 49% and it's as if no one did. When it's a populous state, with many electoral votes, the implications are massive.

So, it's essential to pay close attention to state-level predictions in heavily populated so-called swing states, i.e., states that could go either way. Win by a hair in Florida and get a whack of electoral votes, as you will recall from 2000. Lose by a hair and, well, ask Al Gore.

In the current analysis, some of these swing states may be considered leaning towards supporting Obama or Romney. Some may be simply right on the line. But if they are in play at all, especially if they are rich in electoral votes, count on both campaigns spending heavily in time and money in them.

Wisconsin, which leans towards Obama, has just been polled by Marquette University. The poll finds that the president is ahead by a margin of 51-42% up from 48-43% in March. Obama's approval rating went up slightly from 48% to 50%, as did Romney's, which went up to 33% from a low of 27% in February. That's what makes it a state leaning towards Obama.

New polls by Quinnipiac have President Obama ahead of Romney in Ohio by a 44-42% margin, and Romney leading the president 44-43% in Florida, two states widely considered toss-ups. Obama leads Romney by a 47-39% margin in Pennsylvania, a state clearly leaning in the president's direction.

Available electoral votes in each of these states are: Wisconsin (10); Ohio (18); Florida (29); and Pennsylvania (20). Those are pretty chunky numbers in the world of electoral vote counting.

270 electoral votes are needed to win.

It's easy for one's eyes to glaze over with all the numbers, but that's the way the game is played. Fail to understand this, and you are really not grasping the contours of the election ahead of us. I'm just sayin'.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

If you want domestic terrorism, look to the right

Via twitter: 

Anti-Tank Grenades Found At Ariz. Neo-Nazi Massacre Site (link)

-- Josh Marshall (@joshtpm)

But of course there's no such thing as right-wing domestic terrorism, is there -- especially with elements resembling core components of both movement conservatism and the increasingly right-wing Republican Party?


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Tight race shaping up for Montana Senate seat

By Richard K. Barry

Daily Kos has a great summary of the Montana Senate race. Jon Tester is the Democratic incumbent. He's going up against Republican Denny Rehberg, who has been a state-wide member of Congress. By all accounts, it's going to be very close. 

Jon Tester (D)
As David Jarman writes: 

[Jon Tester] was elected in 2006 by only a few thousand votes in a red state, amidst a Dem wave year and against Conrad Burns, an unpopular, Abramoff-linked Republican opponent, [so] re-election in 2012 was always going to be a tough row for Jon Tester to hoe. In fact, with Ben Nelson's retirement, he's probably the most vulnerable Senate Dem incumbent up in 2012 (Claire McCaskill being his only real competition for that title). And needless to say, any path for the Republicans to take control of the Senate has to go through picking up Montana. 

Public Policy Polling (PPP) polled three times in the state in 2011 and in each case found Rep. Rehberg with a 2% lead. More recently, PPP did polling (May 1, 2012) that found Tester with a 5% lead. These are fairly gentle swings, with the margins of error generally in the 3% range. 

Denny Rehberg (R)
Jarman admits that there really hasn't been much in the way of significant events to impact the numbers in any real way over the past several months. He speculates that: 

The last poll was taken back in November, when the country's mood was a little more dismal; as economic improvement and the fallout from the Republican presidential primaries seemed to boost Barack Obama over the intervening months, so too may Tester have benefited. 

He also writes that independent voters are coming to Tester in the more recent poll, supporting him by 5 points in the 2011 poll, but by 12 points more recently. Tester also managed to get more of the Democrat vote in the recent poll than he had in the past, from 86 up to 90%, which is relevant because Democrats outnumber Republicans in Montana.

Very interesting overview by Mr. Jarman. In the vernacular of political wisdom through the ages, this one looks like it's a little too early to tell. Back to you, Kent. 

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Republican purification and the coming end of Richard Lugar

Steve Kornacki at Salon:

It sure doesn't look like Richard Lugar is long for the political world. The news that the major super PAC supporting his candidacy is bailing on him a week before the Republican primary reinforces a growing consensus that the six-term Indiana senator will likely be defeated next Tuesday by his conservative challenger, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

And there's a good chance Mourdock could win in November. The Democrats would have a better shot against him than against Lugar, to be sure, but, as Kornacki notes, Indiana is "a traditionally Republican state that's expected to land in the Romney column this fall," even though it went for Obama in '08.

The real significance of a Lugar loss, though, would extend far beyond November. The fact that he's now fighting for his political life in a GOP primary is a reflection of the endurance of the Tea Party phenomenon. The term itself may feel tired and even dated, a relic from 2009 or 2010, but it's really just a colorful synonym for "Republican Party base." And as Lugar's perilous standing shows, that base is waging the same kind of purity crusade in 2012 that it did in 2010.

(Read the whole thing. It's a good piece that delves into the dominance of party's right-wing base, "Tea Party" or otherwise.)

It's important not to ignore this, to overlook what's happened to the Republican Party over the past few years. It's easy to dismiss the Tea Party, but the mutual co-optation of the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party has resulted in the latter becoming even more extremist.

Long one of its most sensible members, appealing to the center and even to Democrats, particularly with respect to foreign affairs, Lugar is about to become the latest victim of the Republican Party's ongoing, and deepening, campaign of self-purification.

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My Challenge to Rush Limbaugh: Why don't you insult a union worker to his face?

Just as he despises women and minorities, Rush Limbaugh really has it in for labor unions. He is constantly bashing them (as Media Matters and other watchdog sites have noted over the years). Like most Republicans, Limbaugh is convinced that union workers are lazy, pampered, overpaid and leeches on society. He has even called union members "thugs" and questioned their patriotism.

I find it really rich that Limbaugh would consider union workers pampered and overpaid. This, coming from a mega-millionaire whose idea of "work" is to sit on his fat ass in his air-conditioned studio, spewing lies into a microphone for a few hours a day. No wonder Limbaugh pulls down hundreds of millions of dollars from anti-union corporate America.

Memo to Limbaugh: you don't have a f*cking clue as to what real work is. I'm talking about the sort of physically demanding work done every day by millions of ordinary blue collar union workers across America.

Maybe if Limbaugh had ever actually done any real physical work in his life, he wouldn't have the bloated physique of Jabba the Hutt.

I myself know a thing or two about physical labor, having worked in grueling blue collar jobs much of my life, often for little pay and crappy benefits. I once had a job leveling foundations, where I had to crawl underneath houses, lugging heavy equipment. I don't which was worse: the stifling heat, the claustrophobic conditions---or the snake that once slithered over my face while I was lying on my back underneath a house.

In later years, I worked on factory assembly lines -- but the work wasn't much easier. I once worked at a factory gate assembly job, where the razor-sharp gate components often sliced my fingers. At the end of a shift, my uniform was often so blood-splattered that anyone who saw me likely assumed I worked as a butcher.

Of course, I'm hardly alone in my experiences as a blue collar worker. Tens of millions of us toil away every day and we find that it's increasingly difficult to earn a living, no matter how hard we work.

There's only one way to know what it's like to struggle as a working-class person these days -- and that's to live the life first-hand. I suspect that people like Limbaugh (who came from a wealthy background) thinks he understands what it's like to be struggling and working-class in America. And if that's the case, he's even more delusional that his radio ramblings would indicate.

It really galls me when I hear this fat piece of sh*t Limbaugh spew out his anti-worker, anti-union diatribes. Limbaugh wouldn't know real work if it bit him on the ass. For that matter, people in Limbaugh's elite social circles never have any real face-to-face contact with ordinary working Americans. (It's laughable that Limbaugh claims to be a fan of Walmart -- does anyone really think he shops there?)

Which brings me to my challenge for Limbaugh.

Limbaugh: I challenge you to go to any factory in any mean, down-on-its-luck Rust Belt city. I challenge you to walk up to the assembly line and tell the union workers to their face that they're pampered, overpaid and that they're "thugs" and not patriotic.

Oh, and be sure to bring along a lot of OxyContin -- because when you insult these union workers, you're going to be in a lot of pain after they beat the sh*t out of you.

Of course, being the chickensh*t coward that you are, I'm sure that you'll never take me up on this challenge.

Instead, you'll continue to sit in one of your lavish mega-million-dollar mansions, smoking your fancy $200 cigars and drinking your $1,000 bottles of fine French wine. You'll continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for spewing your lies into a microphone and attacking ordinary people who do real work for a living.

Enjoy your lavish lifestyle while you can, Limbaugh. Someday it's all going to come crashing down on your head. History shows what happens in nations where millions of people grow increasingly hungry and desperate, while a pampered leech class rakes in obscene amounts of money, while presiding over (and controlling) a corrupt and out-of-touch political system. Just ask Marie Antoinette.

You can ignore my challenge, Limbaugh. But you're not going to be able to ignore the angry cries of the hungry mob when it comes crashing through your front gate some day.

(Cross-posted at BeggarsCanBeChoosers.)

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Behind the Ad: President Obama sings the praises of Elizabeth Warren

By Richard K. Barry

Who: Elizabeth Warren's Senate campaign.

Where: Massachusetts.

What's going on: Warren's campaign will start airing an ad, which will feature President Obama offering strong praise for the Democratic Senate candidate.

The president says:

She's a janitor's daughter who has become one of the country's fiercest advocates for the middle class. She came up with an idea for a new, independent agency that would have one simple, overriding mission: standing up for consumers and middle-class families.

According to Politico, Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe wrote that:

The move comes after Warren has been on defense over Sen. Scott Brown's efforts to describe her as an out-of-touch rich candidate, and over a flap about whether she used her Native American background during her hiring process at Harvard in the 1990s (she and a prominent faculty member say it never came up).

Obama's team would dearly like to get back this Senate seat, which should, by all rights, be in the Democratic column. It is fascinating how Wall Street-connected incumbent Republican Scott Brown can get away with calling anybody else out-of-touch and rich. I guess he's got to try.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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"Long Shot"? How About "No Shot"?

By Carl
I guess Newt's idea was to live fat off the hog of someone else's money for six months or so:

(CBS News) After bowing out from the Republican presidential race Wednesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is no worse off than he was before he ran for president, says CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, will likely have to deal with some of Gingrich's less-than-complimentary "sound bites" about him for the remainder of the campaign.

"Gingrich knew from the very beginning that this was a long shot, but he also knew what a lot of other Republicans know, that there are many, many Republicans on the right side of the party who simply don't like Mitt Romney, who don't believe that he is one of them, a true conservative," Schieffer told Charlie Rose Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

So basically, all Newt did was drink beer, take bus rides and give performances. Just living out the rock star dream, I suppose.

Oh. And throwing bombs. Never forget the bombs. The question becomes: what kind of damage has he inflicted on the Romney campaign?

I mean, it's not as though had Newt played nice all primary season long, Mitt would have jumped out to an imposing lead over Obama, and certainly there's plenty of time between now and the election for Obama to jump way ahead of Mitt and annoint his second term.

Newt, however, certainly put a damper on any reasonable attacks Romney might have attempted:

He (ed. note: Gingrich) [...] mercilessly condemned Romney as a man who “can’t be honest,” who “looted a company” and who “doesn’t seem capable of inspiring positive turnout.”

Calling the guy you're about to throw your considerable weight behind a boring, thieving liar is going to leave a lot of raw material for the Obama campaign to construct commercials around.

And you have to know that the Obama camp is dying to pick a fight with the right wing, particularly the uberconservatives, because of their dilletantist demeanor in his first term. He won't want to just beat them, he'll want to stomp a mudhole in them and then do a Mexican Hat Dance around the hole. Using Newt as their conduit will merely serve to make it that much sweeter, despite the fact that Newt all but agreed with the President on the Ryan tax plan.

Still, it was fun to have Gingrich to kick around: Callista's whore diamonds, bouncing checks, the revelation that any hotel room he stays in must have access to two bathrooms, no brown M&Ms in the candy dish...ok, I made that one up, still you get the point.

His withdrawal from the race and Schieffer's revelation that he was half-hearted to begin with, cast a whole new light on Gingrich's candidacy. It points out a positive and a negative.

The positive, of course, is that he was at least realistic that he was tilting at windmills and behaved accordingly. The negative is he disrespected the American (and particularly, Republican) electorate and mocked them with his very presence in the race and his lack of seriousness and discipline in committing to the office.

In a sense, he pre-ordained his failure by ordaining his levity.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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What's the deal with Ann Romney's $1K shirt?

There's a bit of a double standard at work in the coverage of Ann Romney's $1,000 bird shirt. It's a rather expensive piece of clothing, yes, but how much do you think the men's suits, including her husband's, cost? A lot, I suspect. At least, they look expensive.

And is that wrong? Really, would you expect a high 1%-er like Mitt to wear a cheap off-the-rack suit? Same for the president. Obama needs and wants to look good. Looking good can be expensive.

As for Ann's shirt, I'd say there are two problems, though:

1) As our friend Libby puts it:

I have no problem with Mrs. Romney paying almost a cool grand for only one shirt. Fashion designers need to make a living too, but paying that much for this shirt is a crime...

I figure she went with the eagle motif to relate to the patriotic proletariat likely to be watching, but it didn't work on any level. This is a shirt that might look good on a skinny, 20 something hipster. Definitely not meant for a 60 something aspiring FLOTUS.  

Actually, I'm not sure it would good on anyone. It's horrendous. Ann may know how to spend money with reckless abandon, but it would appear she has questionable taste to say the least. (She apparently doesn't have a stylist, so this was her decision.)

2) Maybe she didn't think it would ever be an issue, but even if there is a double standard she has to know that wearing such a stupidly expensive shirt that is so laughably ugly it was bound to attract attention isn't exactly the best way to help your out-of-touch privileged rich douchebag of a husband appeal to, you know, normal people. Or to appear in-touch yourself.

Then again, this is a Romney we're talking about. And when it comes to flaunting wealth, it's abundantly clear the Romneys have zero clue -- hence her husband's constant "Romneying" (as well as her own) -- about what appeals and what doesn't to those beneath them in the class system, which is to say, almost everyone.

All of which is to say, if you're going to wear stupidly expensive clothing, at least have some fucking taste.

Ann spent part of the interview trying to play Mitt up as some sort of wild and crazy guy, trying to make him seem, you know, human. That was awkward, pathetic, and embarrassing enough.

The shirt just made it all worse.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Newt Gingrich's $4.3 million campaign debt

By Richard K. Barry

Yahoo! News is reporting that Newt Gingrich will end his failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination with a $4.3 million debt.

While it's par for the course for candidates to wrack up debt, Newt, it seems, was particularly irresponsible. According to Craig Holman, a public affairs lobbyist for the watchdog group Citizen Union, "[h]e was wreckless in running up these bills, especially in the last month or so of the campaign when it was quite clear Romney would be the nominee."

Now a bunch of very nervous creditors are wondering when they are going to get paid. What makes it worse for Gingrich is that it's always harder to raise money when you have no elected office from which to help donors or influence policy, no quid pro quo.

I'm not going to pick on Newt for running up a debt; that's politics. But running up a debt with limited options to pay it back? That's hardly prudent fiscal management, the very thing you Republicans tell us you bring to the table. Guess not so much.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Behind the Ad: The new Obama/Biden attack ad

By Richard K. Barry

Who: The Obama/Biden Re-election Campaign.

Where: Ohio, Iowa, Virginia.

What's going on: The Obama campaign team just released a new ad that defends Obama's record and then attacks Mitt Romney for having a Swiss bank account while working as a corporate executive.

Here's the National Journal's take:

While defending the president on his clean energy initiatives, the ad goes after the oil industry's attacks on Obama as "over the top" and "erroneous." The narrator says, "President Obama’s clean energy initiatives have helped create jobs for projects across America, not overseas."

Then, shifting to his chief rival, the ad takes on Romney: "What about Mitt Romney? As a corporate CEO, he shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China. As Governor, he outsourced state jobs to a call center in India. He’s still pushing tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas." 

Politico is reporting that the ad, entitled Swiss Bank Account, will air in three swing states: Ohio, Iowa, and Virginia.

Politico also says that:

The Obama campaign has bought $458,883 in airtime so far in Ohio, $88,455 in Iowa and $72,845 in Virginia for ads running May 1 to May 7, a buyer source says.

Alex Burns at Politico writes that the formula of the ad is to "push back at anti-Obama claims by outside GOP groups and take a whack at Romney in the process."

On the issue of pushing back against lies, there's going to be a great need for that especially with all the third-party money involved.

On the main theme, I guess there is no limit to how much you should push your core message, which is that Romney is a rich guy, who is out of touch. Now, maybe I just pay way too much attention, but I'm starting to become weary of that message and it's only May. Still, I always cite one of the most important Carville-isms when it comes to political messaging, which is: tell them, tell them again, then tell them that you told them. Something like that.

And the corollary: By the time the initiated are absolutely sick of a campaign's core message, most voters are just starting to pay attention for the first time.

Oh, it's going to be a long six months.

Here's the new ad:

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Splitting tickets in West Virginia

By Richard K. Barry

A couple of days ago I wrote about the interesting phenomenon of good polling numbers for the leading Democrat in the North Dakota Senate race, Heidi Heitkamp, compared to dismal numbers for President Obama against Mitt Romney.

Those North Dakotans don't seem to mind splitting their tickets, and now we see that West Virginians might be viewing things the same way.

Daily Kos is reporting that a new survey from R.L. Repast & Partners on behalf of the Charleston Daily Mail finds Democratic incumbent Senator Joe Manchin up over Republican John Raese (the guy he beat in 2010) by an absurd 74-22 margin.

At the same time, Mitt Romney is out ahead of Obama by the very healthy margin of 54-37 in recent polling.

I get that Senator Manchin is a very popular guy, but that is some major league ticket splitting down there in West Virginia.

I guess if I had to choose one over the other, Imight pick the Senate seats over the available electoral votes. North Dakota has only 3 of those and West Virginia 5.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The Grenell affair: When anti-gay bigotry rules the Republican Party, including the Romney campaign

Anti-gay bigotry pervades the Republican Party and is apparently powerful enough a force to influence dramatically the Romney campaign.

As the WaPo's Jennifer Rubin is reporting:

Richard Grenell, the openly gay spokesman recently hired to sharpen the foreign policy message of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, has resigned in the wake of a full-court press by anti-gay conservatives.


The argument that Grenell could essentially not be openly gay and serve on a GOP presidential campaign was belied by the fact that Grenell has been a loyal Republican for many years, working for esteemed foreign policy figures including former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.

The ongoing pressure from social conservatives over his appointment and the reluctance of the Romney campaign to send Grenell out as a spokesman while controversy swirled left Grenell essentially with no job.


During the two weeks after Grenell's hiring was announced the Romney campaign did not put Grenell out to comment on national security matters and did not use him on a press foreign policy conference call. Despite the controversy in new media and in conservative circles, there was no public statement of support for Grenell by the campaign and no supportive social conservatives were enlisted to calm the waters.

Rubin is strongly pro-Romney, but she's being sensibly critical of the Romney campaign, which clearly deserves blame, if for different reasons, alongside the "social conservatives."

Being gay, you see, makes you not just un-Republicans but utterly anathema to the right, and of course the right, where anti-gay bigotry is de rigueur (and not just among "social conservatives"), wields enormous influence within the Republican Party. It hardly matters if you're actually a solid conservative with strong ideological credentials, like Grenell. If you're gay, you're fucked.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:

It has come to this. The GOP will have no gays within it unless they are prepared openly to oppose their own core rights and dignity. Romney has gone from promising to be more pro-gay in the Senate than Ted Kennedy than hanging a lone gay spokesman out to dry and pledging to write into the very constitution that gays are second class citizens.

If you're gay, or your friend, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt or uncle is gay, you just learned something about what the GOP now is. Do not forget it.

This wasn't about both sides doing it. It was about the right-wing bigots who run the Republican Party getting their way. And about the Romney campaign being scared shitless.

What else is new?

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Mitt Romney and the great unwashed masses

I have begged people to stop talking about Mitt Romney's sense of humor, but they just won't stop. Now his wife, Ann, wants to tell us that "there is a wild and crazy man inside there." Please stop. For god's sake, stop. Now I have to imagine Mitt doing a Dan Ackroyd - Steve Martin SNL routine circa 1978 around the Romney compound. Thanks for that.

As we know, the GOP wants voters to think Mitt is a regular guy with a regular good old fashioned sense of humour. They think this will help him connect with people and they with him.

But in the same story at The Hill, where Ann's comments are mentioned, Mitt talks about how he likes to sit down with individual families, without the cameras, to talk about what they are going through. He says at moments like this he feels connected with the issues and concerns of everyday Americans.

But, then, because he can't help himself, he says this: "I'm in this race because I'm very concerned about, if you will, the great bulk of America, the middle of America."

Come on. How close do you think he was, right there at that moment, to saying how much he cared about "the little people"?

"The great bulk of America?" "If you will?" Really?

I'm laughing, Mitt, but not with you.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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How Democratic Is That?

If I have a million dollars to spend on a candidate, and you have a dollar, then clearly the spirit of democracy is perverted. We are each one citizen in the nation, and so should have about equal say in matters.
However, if I have a million dollars and you have a million people with one dollar, the democracy works, but only a little bit better. You still have to persuade all those people to part with their dollar towards your cause, and that's not easy. It can be done, and as Barack Obama's early 2008 campaigning proved, it can be done effectively.
It's still easier for me to get my consensus of one to agree to spend the money, to whom and how. You'll probably have a million different, "Oh, by the ways" to deal with.
And of course, if I have one dollar and you have a million people with one dollar, we're on roughly equal footing in terms of the democratic process, for I can go out and enlist a million people too.
Similarly, if I have one vote and you have a million people with one vote, things are fair. Again, I can persuade people to vote with me.
Conservatives love to point out how this is a free speech issue, and I suppose there's some truth to that: if I own a larger share of the pie, I should have a bigger voice in what shapes my community. Plus, everyone still only has the one vote, the true measure of democracy.
Or is it? Money doesn't just buy access to votes and persuasion of citizens, it buys access to lawmakers, and indeed, disproportionate access. Some would say that's the way things should be, since those who have a bigger stake in the nation's future ought to have a bigger say in it.
But then we have to discard the illusion that we're a democracy. We've become a plutocracy or more accurately, a corporatocracy. Because corporations can't vote, the only way they can register their opinions and thoughts is through lobbying officeholders and candidates.
If you ascribe to the notion that corporations are people, too, then you see no problem with this, but there's a hidden problem. 
There's no accountability. We just saw this in the late 2000s, and undoubtedly will see it again, as regulations get passed with enough loopholes to drive ExxonMobil through. We saw it in the BP Gulf oil spill, when BP paid lip service to local and international concerns while covering up the mess as best they could (and failing, I should add.) 
If, as liberals believe, government is the bulwark against corporatism, that government is the third leg of the stool that supports America-- the others being citizenry and business-- and there's no check or balance against corporatism, democracy's days are numbered.
The only way any progress can be made is in the rare instance of a second term progressive President (note I don't specify Republican or Democrat. I suspect that pendulum may have started swinging for reasons I'll get to in a minute,) and a majority progressive Congress.
And even then, if the progressivists have members in their caucus like Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson, there will still be outsize influence with respect to an agenda that values citizens above corporations, and freedom above profit. Meanwhile, in the other caucus lay a few time bombs for them-- moderate Republicans who see the damage that's been inflicted not on Democrats, who caught up in the money game, but to the people of the nation in toto.
And as Teabaggers begin to get frustrated with losing the agenda arguments, they'll either likely retire or more certainly be less vociferous in their opposition. One can only have so many "stroke-rages" before the body shuts you down. I think this, above anything else, will be what renders all that corporate money useless, and it is at that point we ought to start thinking about Constitutional amendments.
Democrats only hold the center because the Republican party has deliberately given the nation the appearance of being more conservative than it is. By trying to pull the apparent center even further right...I mean, really? Life begins 2 weeks before the first missed period now, according to one proposal?...Republicans are scaring people, particularly women and Latinos, to the center.
By my count, it took the Democrats three elections to realize they had tacked too far to the left in the face of a changed landscape (e.g. cable news, the Religious Right, and other exogenous factors to politics and administration.) By my count, this will only be election number two that Republicans will have suffered an ignominious defeat before they, too, tack back towards the center.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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James Inhofe, like others on the right, slams Obama's Afghanistan trip, provides yet more evidence he's a relentless idiot, a shameless hyper-partisan hack, or some combination thereof

So, as you may know, President Obama is in Afghanistan -- or was, I'm not sure of his schedule, and he may very well have left already.

On the one-year anniversary of the remarkable mission that resulted in Obama bin Laden's death, which he himself ordered and for which he deserves enormous credit despite all the hypocritical whining from conservatives, he met with U.S. troops at Bagram air base, telling them that "when we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do," and also that, alas, "the battle's not yet over."

He also addressed the American people, and the world, saying that "we've traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of new day on the horizon," a message of hope in a place where there isn't much of it -- and where he himself has continued a war seemingly without purpose, even if he is also ending it.

He also met with President Karzai and signed a partnership agreement with the Afghan government for the post-withdrawal period.

The trip was unannounced but certainly made a lot of sense. It's something any U.S. president would have done, and the anniversary of the death of bin Laden provided an obvious opportunity.

But of course conservatives refuse to give Obama credit for anything, including bin Laden's killing, and criticize him for everything. It's what they've done throughout his first teram and they're doing just that over this trip, saying that he's politicizing -- that is, trying to score political points off, bin Laden's death. (As if Romney appearing with 9/11 self-mythologizer Giuliani at a fire station in New York is somehow... not political? Yes, Republicans' political posturing really is breathtakingly inconsistent.)

You can find countless examples of conservatives huffing and puffing -- and, really, just whining over Obama's massive success (like here) -- or you can just read what Republican Sen. James Infofe said, which in its grotesque idiocy pretty much sums it all up:

We've seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years," Inhofe said in a statement. "Similarly, this trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military."


"The security improvements and the killing of Osama bin Laden a year ago are great American victories that should not be politicized," he said.

So, basically, Obama shouldn't be allowed to campaign anywhere, shouldn't talk national security at all, and shouldn't even mention the killing of bin Laden. Not because these things are inherently wrong, mind you, but simply because he's a Democrat. You think Inhofe, or any of these other Republicans, would be criticizing a Republican president for doing any of this? Please. Did they criticize President Bush for his relentless politicizing of 9/11 and the "war on terror"? Of course not.

They're fucking hypocrites. And so transparently partisan, and in such a desperate way, as to be utterly ridiculous.

As usual.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Flight Lt. Alex Cassie (1916-2012)

Stalag Luft III

I've said before that I have resisted posting obituaries. I'm not sure why the aversion, but since they fascinate me and I'm the one doing the writing, why not?

One of my local newspapers, the Canadian Globe and Mail, used to have a "Lives Lived" section. It was usually about the passing of someone not famous. In fact, it was frequently about someone who would not merit an obituary in the main section of a major newspaper. It was always written by someone who knew the person and it was usually done very well. It was, in essence, about the kind of lives most of us lead.

On the other hand, there are obituaries about people most of us would know. That's fine too. Those things get plenty of coverage, not that there's anything wrong with that.

My interest tends to be somewhere in the middle: the person who, perhaps only fleetingly, had a role, perhaps quite small, in some aspect of our shared history or culture. In any case, it's about people we wouldn't generally consider famous, as subjective as the term "famous" is. It's about the person you might pass on the street or meet at a social gathering, who would be so interesting if you'd only bothered to ask. 

Alex Cassie
Take RAF Flight Lt. Alex Cassie, for example. Cassie was a prisoner of war in the supposedly escape-proof Stalag Luft III in Germany during WWII, beginning in the fall of 1942. An escape attempt from the compound was made famous by the 1963 movie The Great Escape.

Cassie's role in the break-out was to, along with several others, forge all the necessary documents that would be required by the men once they were outside the prison and making their way back to friendly territory.
The New York Times writes:

In their pockets, the escapees carried what looked like officially stamped documents, identification cards, business cards and even letters written in German from purported wives and sweethearts, all of which were intended to make it possible for them to befuddle a hapless guard or police officer stopping them on their way to freedom.

Knowing that he was claustrophobic and not wanting to slow the other men down as they made their way through the escape tunnel, Cassie opted to stay behind. As you may recall from the movie, of the 76 escapees, 73 were soon recaptured, and 50 were executed on orders from Hitler.
Cassie later said:

All five of my hut mates had been shot. Often I've asked myself, "Why didn't I go?" I can't shake off the vague feeling of guilt, that why should I have been the lucky one?

Clearly the risks taken to manufacture the required documentation make him a hero, but I suppose feelings of guilt under the circumstances are understandable.

As to how they made the documents, Cassie told The Sun:

We got the best of the paper from the flyleaves of books which arrived at the camp through the Red Cross. The rest — ink, photography, timetables, etc. — was bribed from the Germans. It was amazing what a few cigarettes could do.

He also said they somehow got hold of a typewriter with a German typeface and used cold tea to age documents. He etched official-looking stamps from boot heels.

No great surprise but Cassie also added that there was no "jaunty, baseball throwing, Steve McQueen-like American leading the breakout." No, that's Hollywood.

After the war, Cassie worked as a psychologist in the British military. He retired in 1976 as a senior principle psychologist. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Psychological Society.

He died recently at the age of 95 and is survived by a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren to whom he must have had stories to tell.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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