Friday, April 24, 2015

I’m Shocked, Shocked

Capt RenaultI’m not mollified by the Clinton campaign denials that there is no quo to go with the quid that the Clinton Foundation got from dubious donors.  Even if everything is on the up and up, it’s still has the appearance of impropriety, and what is America all about if not appearances?

Neither am I impressed with the “both sides do it” mantra which seems to be keeping all but the most spittle-flecked of the Clinton haters from speaking up too loudly.  After all, the most the GOP can do is scoff at the allegation that the Clintons used a foundation to collect favor-seeking donations from interested parties, both foreign and domestic.  Foundations are so 1990’s.  The big money comes from tacky rich people like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers.  After Citizens United, why bother using a foundation as a shield?  You can go out there and sell yourself without all the paperwork.

You would have to be hopelessly naive to think that people who give money to a candidate or a candidate’s PAC or a candidate’s family’s foundation was doing it out of patriotism.  The bottom line, so to speak, for every campaign since the dawn of time and elections has been “What’s in it for me?”

So whether it’s Marco Rubio sucking up to some wizened denizen of casinos in Macau or Russians paying Bill Clinton half a million bucks to talk, the amount of money is less important than the fact that we consider it to be newsworthy or concerned that it might be “corrupting the electoral process.”  Quick, summon Captain Renault.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Things Go Better With Koch

That’s Scott Walker’s new campaign slogan.

Charles G. and David H. Koch, the influential and big-spending conservative donors, appear to have a favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker would be the Republican nominee.

“When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” Mr. Koch told the crowd, the billionaire brothers would support him, according to a spokeswoman. The remark drew laughter and applause from the audience of fellow donors and Republican activists, who had come to hear Mr. Walker speak earlier at the event, held at the Union League Club.

Two people who attended the event said they heard Mr. Koch go even further, indicating that Mr. Walker should be the Republican nominee. A spokeswoman disputed that wording, saying that Mr. Koch had pledged to remain officially neutral during the primary campaign.

But Mr. Koch’s remark left little doubt among attendees of where his heart is, and could effectively end one of the most closely watched contests in the “invisible primary,” a period where candidates crisscross the country seeking not the support of voters but the blessing of their party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers.

Well, at least they’re not being shy about it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Reading

Punching DownwardDoonesbury creator Garry Trudeau on free speech, satire, and the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo.

I, and most of my colleagues, have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris. As you know, the Muhammad cartoon controversy began eight years ago in Denmark, as a protest against “self-censorship,” one editor’s call to arms against what she felt was a suffocating political correctness. The idea behind the original drawings was not to entertain or to enlighten or to challenge authority—her charge to the cartoonists was specifically to provoke, and in that they were exceedingly successful. Not only was one cartoonist gunned down, but riots erupted around the world, resulting in the deaths of scores. No one could say toward what positive social end, yet free speech absolutists were unchastened. Using judgment and common sense in expressing oneself were denounced as antithetical to freedom of speech.

And now we are adrift in an even wider sea of pain. Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

As Seen on TV — Charlie Pierce on what happened in South Carolina.

No video, no crime.

That’s the simple truth of it. That’s all you know and all ye needs to know about the cold-blooded slaying of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. No video, and Slager drops his Taser by Scott’s body and probably gets away with what he did. No video, and Scott goes down as just another of the many semi-hoodlums that are occupational hazards to our brave men in blue. No video, and Slager’s doing three nights a week on Hannity’s show by next Monday. No video, and Slager’s half-a-hero, while Scott remains dead.

But there is a video and Slager is shown both killing Scott, and appearing to try to cover it up in that most ancient of cop ways — with a drop piece. He is seen handcuffing a dying man. So let us not have any explanation containing the phrase “isolated incident.” Let us have no talk of “split-second decisions” or the “heat of the moment.” What we see in the video is Slager’s almost instantaneous response to what he’s done. Drop a weapon. Concoct a story. Rely on your brother officers and ginned-up public opinion to mount your defense. Rely on the fact that you’re a white man with a badge and the person you killed was clearly neither one. In everything we see on the video, Michael Slager was following…procedure.

There is a video, so Michael Slager will face murder charges in this case, and that is as it should be, but the systemic problem goes merrily on.

North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.

The country has to decide what the function of its police forces actually is. Is it their function to protect and to serve all citizens, or is it to respond with overwhelming deadly force to placate the fears that one sector of the population nurses toward The Other? Are our police custodians of ordered liberty or some sort of Praetorian Guard of established privilege? I’m sympathetic enough to the average officer to believe that many of them want to be the former, but are trained too thoroughly in the techniques of the latter. I hope the villain of this piece doesn’t turn out to be the guy who took the video, but I’m not sure that won’t be the case. There shouldn’t have to be video, is what I’m saying.

In extremely related news, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri turned out in admirable numbers to begin to change the essential nature of their city government yesterday. For all the noise and bother, this is how you do it, one phone call at a time, one more door on which to knock. This is how the culture changes. This is how we get our police back.

The Spending Begins — Andy Borowitz on the unconscionable waste of money yet to come.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The two major political parties’ unconscionable waste of money officially commences this weekend, as Democrats and Republicans will soon begin spending an estimated five billion dollars of their corporate puppet masters’ assets in an unquenchable pursuit of power.

The billions, which could be spent rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, improving schools, or reducing the scourge of malaria in Africa, will instead be squandered in a heinous free-for-all of slander and personal destruction, alienating voters as never before.

The media will inevitably focus on the personalities of the bloated roster of narcissists lusting after the White House, but scant attention will be paid to the Wall Street bankers, industrial polluters, and casino magnates whose grip on American democracy will remain vise-like.

While attention this weekend turns to the Democrats, the Republicans remain quietly confident about their chances of purchasing the nation’s highest office. In the words of one top operative, “Our billionaires can beat their billionaires.”

Doonesbury — Sure-fire investment.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bought and Paid For

Of course the Republicans support Israel and would do anything to protect our ally.

As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.

But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.

As long as the checks clear.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Quid Pro Quo

It’s perfectly understandable that Mitt Romney would think President Obama won the election in 2012 by promising free stuff to black people; that’s what all Republicans think about how Democrats win.

Of course when Republicans win with the help of big money from oil companies, pharmaceutical conglomerates, or rich old men who own casinos, it’s freedom of speech and the American way.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sales Slip

Somebody at the Republican Governors Association let the cat out of the bag and now we all know which corporations gave how much to buy up the GOP.

[S]ometimes, a simple coding mistake can lay bare documents and data that were supposed to be concealed from the prying eyes of the public.

Such an error by the Republican Governors Association recently resulted in the disclosure of exactly the kind of information that political committees given tax-exempt status usually keep secret, namely their corporate donors and the size of their checks. That set off something of an online search war between the association and a Washington watchdog group that spilled other documents, Democratic and Republican, into the open.

[…]

“This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money, hidden from the American people, to buy influence, and how the governors association is selling it,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group that advocates more transparency and controls over political money.

The trove of documents, discovered by watchdogs at the Democrat-aligned Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, sheds light on the secretive world of 501(c)(4) political groups, just as the battle over their future intensifies. Unlike the Republican Governors Association, the tax-exempt Republican Governors Public Policy Committee is not required to disclose anything, even as donors hit the links, rub shoulders and trade policy talk with governors and their top staff members.

[…]

Among the R.G.A. documents is a 21-page schedule of the policy committee’s Carlsbad meeting last year that lists which companies attended, who represented them and what they contributed. The most elite group, known as the Statesmen, whose members donated $250,000, included Aetna; Coca-Cola; Exxon Mobil; Koch Companies Public Sector, the lobbying arm of the highly political Koch Industries; Microsoft; Pfizer; UnitedHealth Group; and Walmart. The $100,000 Cabinet level included Aflac, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Comcast, Hewlett-Packard, Novartis, Shell Oil, Verizon Communications and Walgreen.

Yeah, well, it’s not like we didn’t know this was going on, but it’s interesting to see how much they paid to suck up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Soft On Crime

Conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza gets a slap on the wrist and avoids the joint.

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza avoided prison on Tuesday when a U.S. judge sentenced him to serve eight months in a community confinement center after he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law.

D’Souza, 53, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan to live in a center, which would allow him to leave during non-residential hours for employment, for the first eight months of a five-year probationary period.

Berman also ordered D’Souza to perform one day of community service a week during probation, undergo weekly therapy and pay a $30,000 fine.

D’Souza, a frequent critic of U.S. President Barack Obama, admitted in May to illegally reimbursing two “straw donors” who donated $10,000 each to the unsuccessful 2012 U.S. Senate campaign in New York of Wendy Long, a Republican he had known since attending Dartmouth College in the early 1980s.

“It was a crazy idea, it was a bad idea,” D’Souza told Berman before being sentenced. “I regret breaking the law.”

His minions were all crying that he was being singled out by the evil Kenyan secret Muslim gay socialist dictator for daring to challenge his powers.  Actually, if Barack Obama had that much power, Mr. D’Souza would have disappeared without a trace long ago.  Now he can write a book about how hard life is in stir.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry meet with Arab leaders to build a coalition against ISIS.

European leaders agreed to tougher sanctions against Russia.

A newly-released video from Ferguson bolsters claims that Michael Brown was shot while surrendering.

What a surprise: Senate Republicans killed the Citizens United constitutional amendment.

Ted Cruz got booed off-stage by Arab Christians.

Tropical Update: Two areas of potential weather in the Atlantic are Invest 92L and TS Edouard.

The Tigers had a much-needed night off.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Citizens United Amendment Advances

A pleasant little surprise via TPM:

A Democratic-led constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and subsequent rulings loosening restrictions on money in politics moved forward in the Senate on Monday evening.

The procedural vote was 79 in favor, 18 against.

The vote means the Senate can begin debate on the measure. But it is highly unlikely to ultimately pass the chamber as it faces fierce Republican opposition. It would need to clear another 60-vote threshold in order to end debate and come to a final vote. And that final vote would require the support of two-thirds of senators to succeed.

The measure, proposed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), would restore the legal right of Congress to establish campaign spending limits. Approved by committee on a party line basis in July, it is one of several pre-election votes Senate Democrats are planning in an attempt to highlight the contrast between the two parties before Americans head to the polls.

It has zero chances of passing, but at least they’re going to talk about it, and it will get the Republicans to tell us exactly why they believe that corporations are people, my friend.

They will claim that it re-writes the First Amendment, which is bullshit.  The amendment gives Congress the power to regulate campaign finance.  It does not itself regulate campaign finance.  And it has a clause that specifically states the amendment does not change the First Amendment.  But the big money backers of the GOP will pull out all the stops, so this amendment will have the lifespan of a spider on a hot griddle.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How They’ll Win

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the Senate Minority Leader and is in a tough re-election campaign for his seat.  So he’s appealing to like-minded donors such as the Koch brothers to help him stay in office.  Of course he has to promise them something in return.

Via The Nation, Mr. McConnell told them and others that if he becomes the Senate Majority Leader, he’ll mess with every piece of legislation he can.

So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it…And we’re not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [sic]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things.

Charlie Pierce:

Dear Democrats: Here’s the thing.  A full 74 percent of Americans polled favored raising the minimum wage. Mitch McConnell just spit in their eye to curry favor with two Americans. A full 69 percent of Americans polled favored extending unemployment benefits. But none of them are named Charles Koch or David Koch, so Mitch McConnell believes they don’t count. Mitch McConnell has handed you a nice juicy steak out of which you can make a meal. Please don’t waste time waiting for the sauce.

Here’s another thing.  There are more Democrats in this country than there are Republicans.  In every race that is up for election in the Senate, Democrats outnumber Republicans, including states like Kentucky and Iowa and Michigan.  But those votes only count if they actually get out there and vote.  Republicans know this, which is why they have spent the last six years trying to make it harder for people who vote for Democrats to vote.

Do you see the point I’m making here?  If we don’t, they do.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Learn From The Best

The Democrats are raising a ton of money on the impeachment threat (I’m still getting e-mails from them), and the Republicans are crying foul.

As Steve M notes, their only grounds for complaint is that the DCCC stole the idea from them.

Excerpts from a National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising letter sent in May 2006:

It’s becoming clear that if the liberal Democrat leadership takes control of Congress, they will embark on a destructive agenda of politically motivated “investigations” of President Bush and his administration….

And it’s even likely that Democrats – should they take over the House and Senate – will try to impeach President Bush….

Just a few weeks ago on a national news program, Senator Durbin of Illinois, the second most powerful Democrat leader in the Senate, refused to rule out the eventual impeachment of President Bush.

It worked.  Patrick Ruffini, the head of e-mail campaigning for the RNC at the time, says it brought in two times the amount of cash than previous e-mail blasts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moneybegs

Winston Churchill said “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  That certainly has been the attitude among the various Democratic PAC’s and campaign committees ever since Speaker Boehner announced he was going to sue the president and the Orcosphere started tossing around impeachment.  My e-mail inbox has been flooded with missives from “Nancy Pelosi” to “Michelle Obama” with screaming subject lines about IMPEACHMENT! and HELP! in an attempt to get me to donate money to them.  I read them, I chuckle, and hit Delete.

It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to their plight; every political group wants money from like-minded donors, and the keeper of a liberal blog is an obvious target.  But I can’t help but think this whole scenario was dreamed up by fund-raising types on both sides.  The Republicans, naturally, are continuing their never-ending battle to deny the black president a second term, and the Democrats know that every time someone on the right says something stupid they can raise money off it.  They both have lots of pigeons to pluck.

What’s ironic about this latest campaign to get my money is that for all the scary headlines about Speaker Boehner and the road to impeachment is that the White House is positively delighted that it’s being talked about, even to the point that one of their top aides, Dan Pfeiffer, floated it out there so that it would get attention.  They know how well impeaching Bill Clinton went for the Republicans in 1998, and it would be a huge gift to the Democrats if the Republicans actually tried it now.

Not only is the White House not afraid of impeachment, they want it with candy and stripper.  It would solidify the disparate Democratic base, it would put the right-wing nutsery out there in all their 3-D Technicolor glory, and the cash would pour into the Democratic campaign coffers from people who think that the GOP could actually pull it off.  Hence the spam with cheese in my in-box.

But I’m hip to the game so I’ll continue to hit Delete.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keep It Up

The best fund raisers for Democrats are the Republicans.

The DCCC sent at least two emails in 24 hours about Palin’s remarks to supporters — one unsigned under the subject line “BREAKING: Impeachment” and another under House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s name.

In a third email to supporters with the subject line “Palin HUMILIATED,” the DCCC claimed it received nearly 10,000 donations in just 24 hours — double the committee’s typical donation rate.

The committee said as a result of the flood of grass-roots donations, it was just short of a $3 million fundraising goal it set after House Speaker John Boehner threatened to sue Obama late last month — although it’s unclear how much of the money raised was in direct response to the impeachment-related emails.

Maybe they could use some of that money to pay Sarah Palin to keep talking.

Oh, and speaking of unintended consequences, the plan by Speaker Boehner to sue the president over implementation of Obamacare is being met with shrugs by other Republicans.

Far from unanimously embracing the speaker’s plan, some prominent Republicans have been tepid in their support. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, said this week that while he believed in the lawsuit, he recognized that “in the end, it’s a symbolic gesture.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, was indifferent when asked whether he thought the House lawsuit was the best approach. He said that when Senate Republicans had wanted to challenge Mr. Obama’s recess appointments, they had done so not on their own but by signing on to a suit brought against the administration by a third party.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University whom Republicans called to testify, described an “uber presidency” that had evolved to become something far more powerful than the founders had envisioned. “It is always tempting when one person steps forward and says they can get the job done alone,” he said. “That’s the siren’s call that our founders warned us to resist.”

Democrats and their constitutional experts pointed out that the lawsuit could have consequences Republicans probably do not intend. If it is successful in challenging the administration’s move to delay parts of the health care law, for example, the result will be that the law is put into effect more quickly.

I’m still gigglesnorting over them suing the president for not implementing a law they voted to repeal fifty times.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Short Takes

President Obama is in Eastern Europe meeting with allies.

The White House apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein for not telling her in advance about the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began the process of debating a constitutional amendment to regulate campaign finance.

The Senate primary in Mississippi will end with a run-off.

Knew it wouldn’t last: The N.R.A. has apologized for calling open-carriers “weird.”

The Tigers lost to the Blue Jays 5-3.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Victim” D’Souza Pleads Guilty

Conservative pundit and anti-Obama filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty Tuesday to campaign law violations.

In January, D’Souza was indicted at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for his 2012 donations to Wendy Long’s unsuccessful Senate campaign against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The charges were that he had circumvented federal campaign finance limits by reimbursing associates for $20,000 worth of contributions made in their own names to Long’s campaign. He was also charged with making false statements to the Federal Election Commission in the straw donor scheme — a charge that will apparently be dropped as part of his plea agreement.

Conservatives from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Fox blatherer Sean Hannity rushed to his defense, claiming Mr. D’Souza was being singled out by the Obama administration for being annoying.

According to Media Matters, Fox News host Sean Hannity called D’Souza the “latest victim to be targeted” and put on President Obama’s “enemies list,” the hosts of The Five called the charges “politically motivated” and an example of liberals “rediscovering their inner Stalin,” and Neil Cavuto called it an example of “conservatives under attack.”

But prosecutors filed evidence with court demonstrating that D’Souza’s claims of selective prosecution were “entirely without merit,” including audio recordings made by the husband of one of the straw donors that showed his wife discussing D’Souza’s plans in the event that the illegal donations were discovered.

D’Souza told the federal court on Tuesday, “I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” adding, “I deeply regret my conduct.”

For all their talk about being the party of personal responsibility and not making excuses for failure, these folks sure are quick to join the culture of victimhood.  And if he had any integrity at all, Mr. D’Souza should have quietly told his supporters to shut up because it only makes them look all the more foolish for speaking up when he knew he was going to cop a plea.

But the way this works is that when he gets out of jail he’ll join G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North as folk heroes on the right who did time for being against The Man.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Reading

More Money, Less Voting — Ari Berman in The Nation on the Supreme Court’s ideology.

In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.

The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

Consider these stats from Demos on the impact of Citizens United in the 2012 election:

·  The top thirty-two Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 each.

·  Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.

·  It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.

That trend is only going to get worse in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.

Now consider what’s happened since Shelby County: eight states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “nine states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”

A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.

Why Local TV News Sucks — Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones explains.

Everybody knows that most local TV newscasts kind of suck. On television, if it bleeds it leads, and if it’s cheesy and trite it wins the night. Local news is a reliable source for late-night comedians—and The Simpsons has been lampooning it forever. Yet despite all of the genre’s shortcomings, local TV news still manages to reach 9 in 10 American adults, 46 percent of whom watch it “often.” It may come as a surprise to you internet junkies, but broadcast television still serves as Americans’ main source of news and information. Which is why it matters that hundreds of local TV news stations have been swept up in a massive new wave of media consolidation: It means that you, the viewer, are being fed an even more repetitive diet of dreck.

In terms of dollar value, more than 75 percent of the nearly 300 full-power local TV stations purchased last year were acquired by just three media giants. The largest, Sinclair Broadcasting, will reach almost 40 percent of the population if its latest purchases are approved by federal regulators. Sinclair’s CEO has said he wants to keep snapping up stations until the company’s market saturation hits 90 percent. (And that’s not a typo.)

Now here’s where things really get sketchy: Media conglomerates such as Sinclair have bought up multiple news stations in the same regions—in nearly half of America’s 210 television markets, one company owns or manages at least two local stations, and a lot of these stations now run very similar or even completely identical newscasts, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. One in four local stations relies entirely on shared content.

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission finally took steps to curb the practice. The commission’s rules have long prohibited companies from owning more than one of the four top-rated stations in a given market. But there was no rule preventing a single company from managing more than one station per market. Companies exploited this loophole by controlling stations through “joint sales agreements”—essentially shell companies formed just to hold the broadcast license. “Removal of the loophole helps ensure competition, localism, and diversity in local broadcast markets by preventing a practice that previously resulted in consolidation in excess of what is permitted under the Commission’s rules,” the FCC said in a press release.

Ad Some Love — Andrew Solomon at The New Yorker on how advertising is fighting the culture war.

For a long time, prejudice made a certain business sense. You could argue that it was immoral or wrong; others insisted that it was moral and godly. But there was little dispute about the business piece of it. Bill Clinton liked gay people, but he signed the Defense of Marriage Act nonetheless. Karl Rove knew it was smart to put all those anti-gay-marriage initiatives on the ballot. Coors beer could advertise in gay magazines while funding anti-gay interests and keeping any hint of the “non-traditional” out of the ads it ran for general audiences. The regressive side in the so-called culture wars was presumed to include a majority of American consumers; businesses, worried about their image, tended to defer to them.

Now, Honey Maid, that old-fashioned brand of graham crackers, has launched an ad that shows, in the most radical and moving way of any national campaign so far, how much that has changed. It shows a two-dad family, a rocker family, a single dad, an interracial family, a military family. The two-dad household is featured at some length; you cannot be distracted away from it. Most striking is the tagline of the ad: “No matter how things change, what makes us wholesome never will. Honey Maid. Everyday wholesome snacks for every wholesome family. This is wholesome.” The ad is deeply heartwarming—not simply because it shows diversity (which other companies have done) but because it labels these families with the word “wholesome,” which is exactly the kind of word that tends to get claimed by the evangelical right. People have long suggested that the new structures of the American family are “unwholesome” as a way of rationalizing intolerance. The idea of what is “against nature” has been central to messages of prejudice about both interracial relationships and homosexuality.

Honey Maid knew its ad would provoke controversy, and it did. So the company has made a follow-up spot that has been released on social media. “On March 10th, 2014, Honey Maid launched ‘This is wholesome,’ a commercial that celebrates all families,” the online short proclaims. “Some people didn’t agree with our message.” Viewers see close-ups of tweets and e-mails with remarks such as “Horrible, NOT ‘WHOLESOME,’” “DO NOT APPROVE!,” and “Disgusting!!” The title card says, “So we asked two artists to take the negative comments and turn them into something else.” We then see thirty-year-olds Linsey Burritt and Crystal Grover, who collaborate under the name INDO, taking a printout of each hateful comment and rolling it into a tube, then grouping the tubes at one end of a vast, industrial-looking space to create an assemblage that spells out “Love.” The artists appear to walk away, their work done. Then the online ad proclaims, “But the best part was all the positive messages we received. Over ten times as many.” Then we see e-mails with epithets such as “family is family” and “love the Honey Maid ad” and “this story of a beautiful family” and “most beautiful thing.” The entire room fills up with tubes made from these messages. Finally, we are told, “Proving that only one thing really matters when it comes to family … ,” and then we see the word “love” embraced by a roomful of paper tubes. The pacing of the spot is impeccable: the first half turns hatred into love, and the second half provides evidence of love itself. In its first day online, it garnered more than 1.5 million views.

[…]

Advertising both follows and leads to change. Marketers’ objective is to sell things, and they will seldom be brave enough to jeopardize their own interests, but their own interests appear to be changing. At some quiet moment when “Modern Family” was reaping good ratings, the mentality of corporate America began to change. Cheerios ran an ad last summer that showed an interracial family and received an astonishing amount of vitriol—nearly fifty years after Loving v. Virginia. Some of the responses to its posting on General Mills”s YouTube channel were so odious that General Mills actually disabled the comments. When General Mills did a second ad in the series featuring the same family, it hired screeners to sort through the YouTube comments and remove the most bilious. It debuted during the Super Bowl, in February.

[…]

But how crushing that in the same week that Honey Maid has made history, we have the passage, in Mississippi, of S.B. 2681, signed into law Thursday, which takes the same tack as the vetoed Arizona bill but in very careful terms, allowing those with religious rationales to act out their bigotry, and enjoining government from interfering when they do so. I suppose that Mississippi, which doesn’t have an N.F.L. team, didn’t worry about not getting the Super Bowl. The anti-L.G.B.T. Family Research Council has taken credit for the passage of the bill, writing that its efforts

helped to bring along the business community—which, in Arizona, was so deceived by the media and outside leftist groups.… Mississippi companies didn’t have that problem, because the state tuned out the propaganda.

Where Mississippi has gone, other states will likely follow. With no federal jobs or housing protections, with no ENDA, gay people are vulnerable to such oppression. Being good for business gets us only so far. What, then, of Honey Maid? What, then, of making the word love out of all that hatred? It will take more than a pair of talented installation artists to bring about such a transformation on a national scale.

Doonesbury — What an idea.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Short Takes

Iraq veteran kills himself and three others in shooting at Fort Hood.

Supreme Court strikes down campaign donation limits.

U.N. reports the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is 1 million.

Aftershocks cause more evacuations in Chile.

Yahoo adds more security to thwart surveillance.

The Tigers beat K.C. 2-1 in extra innings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

That Giant Sucking Sound

It wasn’t hard to miss: that sound was the entire Republican party and its 2016 hopefuls on their knees kissing the nether regions of Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the man who makes the money off the suckers at the crap tables and turns it into buying the votes of the rest of the suckers out there.

It’s hard to imagine a political spectacle more loathsome than the parade of Republican presidential candidates who spent the last few days bowing and scraping before the mighty bank account of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One by one, they stood at a microphone in Mr. Adelson’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas and spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition (also a wholly owned subsidiary of Mr. Adelson), hoping to sound sufficiently pro-Israel and pro-interventionist and philo-Semitic to win a portion of Mr. Adelson’s billions for their campaigns.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio made an unusually bold venture into foreign policy by calling for greater sanctions on Iran and Russia, and by announcing that the United States should not pressure Israel into a peace process. (Wild applause.) “Hey, listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me,” he said. “God bless you for what you do.”

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin brought up his father’s trip to Israel, and said he puts “a menorah candle” next to his Christmas tree. The name of his son, Matthew, actually comes from Hebrew, he pointed out.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey also described his trip to Israel, but then did something unthinkable. He referred to the West Bank as the “occupied territories.” A shocked whisper went through the crowd. How dare Mr. Christie implicitly acknowledge that Israel’s presence in the West Bank might be anything less than welcome to the Palestinians? Even before Mr. Christie left the stage, leaders of the group told him he had stumbled, badly.

And sure enough, a few hours later, Mr. Christie apologized directly to Mr. Adelson for his brief attack of truthfulness.

It’s not that I don’t get it that every politician running for office tries to curry favor with big donors to either party; that’s been going on forever.  But in this case it’s so blatantly clumsy and sycophantic that its embarrassing even for the GOP, a party that set the standard for shameless.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole lot of them signed up for the free introductory briss.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Short Takes

Putin reclaims Crimea as part of Russia.

State Department orders Syria to shut down diplomatic operations in the U.S.

Better Late Than Never — President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 servicemen.

Campaign finance shenanigans in Utah.

Tag You’re It — Florida lowers license plate fees just in time for Gov. Scott’s re-election campaign.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

At Least These Guys Are Sane

Democrats are benefiting from the shutdown backlash.

Not only have the Democratic campaign committees that back House and Senate candidates outraised their GOP counterparts, but unrestricted super PACs that support Democrats have pulled in close to three times what GOP super PACs have so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s a dramatic reversal from 2012, when conservative super PACs spent roughly 70 percent of the non-party outside money in the elections. In the first six months of this cycle, Democratic super PACs raised $23.9 million, compared with $8.9 million for GOP super PACs, according to the CRP. That’s almost a mirror image of the same point in the previous election, when Republican super PAC receipts stood at $29.5 million, swamping the $7.7 million that Democrat-friendly super PACs had raised.

As if that weren’t enough to justify Republican alarm, the latest CNN/ORC poll found that 54 percent of respondents said it was “bad for the country” that Republicans are in charge of the House. Few analysts speculate that Republicans, who as a whole represent strongly GOP districts, are in jeopardy of losing the House — yet. But while money cannot predict election outcomes, it can signal voter enthusiasm. And right now, Democratic donors are in a giving mood.

The Republicans, meanwhile, are finding their donors to be rather skittish.

“We should be worried,” said John Feehery, a former GOP leadership aide and president of the lobbying and PR shop of QGA Public Affairs. “I think the biggest worry for Republicans is the fratricide. When it’s Republican-on-Republican violence, the business community will look at Democrats and say: ‘At least these guys are sane.’”

Get the popcorn.