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

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.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Digging For Nuts: The IRS and the Tea Party Probe

Whoever it was in the IRS who came up with the idea of looking deeply into Tea Party groups probably thought they were doing the right thing.  After all, once Citizens United came down from the Supreme Court, political action groups — both liberal and conservative and under any number of names and disguises — were going to pop up like mushrooms.  And they did.  But going after just the right-wingers — where there were bound to be more groups — was dumb, if only from a political-fallout perspective.  After all, everybody knows that no one screams louder and carries on like a banshee than bullies who get hit back.

Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post has a good summation on the story so far and points out that when it came to light that investigators were looking only in the Tea Party groups, they were told to stop.  They then broadened the scope to look at any group that might fall under the “political action” umbrella from both the left and the right.

On June 29, 2011, according to the documents, IRS staffers held a briefing with Lerner in which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” She raised an objection, and the agency adopted a more general set of standards. Lerner, who is a Democrat, is not a political appointee.

But six months later, the IRS applied a new political test to social welfare groups, the document says. On Jan. 15, 2012, the agency decided to look at “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the appendix in the IG’s report.

The agency did not appear to adopt a more neutral test for 501(c)(4) groups until May 17, 2012, according to the timeline in the report. At that point, the IRS again updated its criteria to focus on “organizations with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit.)”

That seems to sound like the agency was looking at any group that might be using the tax code to skirt the limits of the 501 (c) (4) rules, or just trying to separate gullible voters from their money under the disguise of a political action group when actually all they were doing was adding on to the villa in Antigua via an account in the Caymans.  And that, like it or not, is the job of the IRS.

From a political point of view, this is gold for the Republicans who have been pining for something to pin on the Obama administration.  Yippee!  They will bloom with outrage and horror at the idea of the jackbooted IRS coming after the teabaggers, conveniently forgetting that when they were in power, they had no qualms using the power of the audit to go after liberal groups or churches that dared to advocate against the war.  Here’s what happened to those thugs.

It is important to note that when the higher-ups in the IRS learned of the probes into the Tea Party groups, they were told to stop.  They did.  There was no attempt to cover it up, to shred the evidence, or out a secret source.  It was a mistake, a lapse of judgment, and they fixed it.  That is not a scandal.

But try telling that to the Very Serious Villagers on Morning Joe and Fox News.  Let the countdown to impeachment begin.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Who’s Against Chuck?

The New York Times looked into the groups that are mounting ad campaigns against the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.

A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States “a weaker country.”

The blitz against Mr. Hagel is of a sort that has generally been reserved for elections and some Supreme Court nominations.

Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay rights group but purchases its television time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Mr. Hagel as “anti-Gay,” “anti-woman” and “anti-Israel” in ads and mailers.

Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Mr. Hagel’s confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging. But the effort comes with a built-in consolation prize should it fail: depleting some of Mr. Obama’s political capital as he embarks on a new term with fresh momentum.

I get the first group; they sound like the kind that would crop up when a RINO runs for any kind of office, and they’re probably financed by the Koch brothers who have nothing better to do.

But what’s with the sock-puppet pseudo-liberal group that is buying the time through the GOP shop?  Is this some attempt to make it sound like the opposition to Mr. Hagel is bipartisan?  If so, that’s a pretty odd way to go about it.  I’m sure there are plenty of liberals who are disappointed that a Democratic president feels that he had to appoint a Republican — again — to the Pentagon.

My tin-foil-hat guess is this is a trial run for the next election cycle where we’ll see a bunch of liberal-sounding groups out there that are basically GOP PAC’s in drag.  Not only is the intention to conduct stealth campaigning, they’re counting on scamming Democrats into giving money to Republicans.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Big Money

Lee Fang at The Nation finds out who the big backers of Grover Norquist are.

I took a look at the last available budget numbers for Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist’s group. Though they do not reveal their donors, we can cobble together much of Norquist’s donors using foundations and other nonprofits that donate money to him.

The disclosures show that only two billionaire-backed groups have provided over 66 percent of Norquist’s funding:

The Center to Protect Patients Rights donated $4,189,000 to Americans for Tax Reform in 2010, 34 percent of the group’s budget that year.

Crossroads GPS donated $4,000,000 to Americans for Tax Reform in 2010, 32.46 percent of the group’s budget that year.

The Center to Protect Patients Rights is the foundation used by the billionaire clique led by the Koch brothers to distribute grants to allied groups. In 2010, wealthy moguls like Steve Bechtel of Bechtel Corporation and Steve Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group met behind closed doors to help lend money to these types of efforts.

Crossroads GPS is the undisclosed group run by Karl Rove. The only known donors are folks like Paul Singer, the “vulture” hedge fund king who benefits enormously from tax strategies like the carried interest loophole. Norquist’s pledge largely benefits billionaires like Singer and Schwarzman, who pay almost nothing in payroll taxes and likely pay a lower rate than their secretaries.

When Norquist promises consequences for the few GOP members willing to break with his pledge, what he’s really saying is that his donor network will retaliate with attack ads and money for primary challenges.

He’s all cackle but no eggs.  So when he rolls out threats of Tea Party 2.0 with more cranky old farts in funny hats on their Rascal scooters demanding the federal government keep its hands off Medicare, then we’ll all be vewy fwightened.

Not.

HT to Anne Laurie.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Reading

The To-Do List — Now that we’ve elected an openly gay senator and four states voted for marriage equality, what’s next?  Richard Socarides has some suggestions.

The election was three weeks ago, but gays, lesbians, and their supporters are still jubilant over the results—which many consider a turning point for the gay rights movement. Not only was the first pro-gay-marriage President reëlected but his support for gay rights helped put him over the top, energizing base constituencies and generating campaign contributions from liberal donors. That kind of success has one drawback. Gay-rights advocates worry that because they have been so successful over these past four years, they might be hard-pressed to come up with an equally bold and ambitious agenda for the second Obama term. Luckily, they have some ideas for the President.

First, to review: Voters in Wisconsin elected the first openly gay U.S. senator in history, Tammy Baldwin, and there are a number of new gay members in the House of Representatives. Most importantly, after losing over thirty state-ballot referenda on gay marriage, gay-rights advocates won all four such contests this year—in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington—increasing the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal to nine, and giving the Supreme Court a sign about where Americans stand on the issue as it considers several related cases. These dramatic victories were reflections of advances during Obama’s first term, including an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military.

So what now?

[...]

1. Appointing an openly gay person to the cabinet. This has never been done. Both the nomination and the confirmation hearings would mark a milestone. Right now, the leading candidates are the Export-Import Bank president Fred Hochberg to be Secretary of Commerce or John Berry, head of the Office of Personnel Management, to be Secretary of Interior, a department he served in during the Clinton Administration. Both would be safe picks. They are old Washington hands who have both been previously confirmed by the Senate. A bolder choice would be appointing the outgoing Congressman Barney Frank as Treasury Secretary. Obama also needs to put a openly gay senior policy person in charge of gay-rights at the White House.

2. The President’s signature on an executive order extending sexual-orientation nondiscrimination protections to employees of all federal contractors. This is an item held over from the first term. Because so many American companies do business with the government, this would protect a great many workers. It would also compensate for the Administration’s inability to move a long-stalled federal bill on employment non-discrimination, the Employment Non Discrimination Act (E.N.D.A.), through a republican-controlled House.

3. The promulgation of regulations that are inclusive of L.G.B.T. Americans, especially with respect to the rights of gay military families, health-care reform, and government-wide data collection (including the census, which still does not ask respondents their sexual orientation). A lot depends upon how the post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military treats gay families. The same is true with respect to health-care reform. And gays have long been neglected in data collection.

There are more, including the repeal of DOMA and pushing for a national gay civil rights bill.  It can’t happen if you don’t try.

Oh, The Irony — Democrats are learning to love Citizens United.

After a year Democrats mostly spent fretting, freaking out, and fulminating against Citizens United — the 2010 Supreme Court decision that unleashed this year’s flood of unfettered political spending — it was a bit unexpected to hear Michael Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO, say on Friday, “Super PACs are so awesome. It was long overdue that the Supreme Court recognized that corporations are people like everybody else.”

Podhorzer, who spoke on a panel at the RootsCamp left-wing organizing conference, was being sarcastic — sort of. Progressives still really hate Citizens United. But in one of the most ironic turns of the 2012 election, groups on the left were some of the most skilled exploiters of the 2010 court decision.

Take Podhorzer, who got a new title this year: executive director of Workers’ Voice, the super PAC the AFL-CIO started in April. Prior to Citizens United, under a 1947 law, unions were only allowed to communicate politically with their own members; they couldn’t campaign to the general public. When the Supreme Court was hearing Citizens United, the AFL-CIO actually filed an amicus brief aimed at this provision — and got its wish.

The result, Podhorzer said, was like “taking off the handcuffs.” The AFL-CIO and other unions conducted door-knocking, phone-banking and advertising campaigns this year aimed at the general public in elections they hoped to influence, and made a big difference.

It was a similar story for Credo, a for-profit phone company that supports progressive causes. As a corporation, it was subject to pre-Citizens United campaign-finance restrictions that prevented it from spending money on campaigns. But this election cycle, the company formed a super PAC and targeted 10 vulnerable Republican congressional incumbents with an intensive, volunteer-based campaign of field organizing in their districts. Five of them, including firebrand Florida Rep. Allen West, were defeated.

“Allen West raised $17 million, spent $13 million and lost by a couple thousand votes,” Becky Bond, political director of Credo Mobile and president of the Credo Super PAC, boasted. “With just a few hundred thousand [dollars], we made the difference.”

[...]

This may be one of the major takeaways of the 2012 campaign: When liberals learned to stop worrying and love Citizens United, they benefited from it more than the conservatives who supported the decision.

The Tampa Social Scene — Carl Hiaasen looks at the star of the Petraeus mess.

Jill Kelley, the mystery vixen in the David Petraeus scandal, is now flanked by a high-profile Washington attorney and a professional “crisis manager.”

This can only mean that she wants her own reality show, a book deal or both.

It was Kelley who received the anonymous e-mail warnings from Petraeus’ biographer-slash-mistress, Paula Broadwell, and it was Kelley who then contacted a friend in the FBI, Agent Frederic Humphries II.

(Humphries, an anti-terrorism specialist, once emailed to Kelley a shirtless photo of himself. Write your own joke.)

Broadwell thought Kelley was making a move on Petraeus, and told her to back off. Once the feds identified Broadwell as the source of the e-mails, her affair with Petraeus was exposed, he resigned as director of the CIA — and another distinguished public career ended in a sleazy Florida skid.

News organizations have described Kelley as a “Tampa socialite,” a term heard about as often as “Boston alligator-wrestler.” Recent media reports have demoted Kelley to “a Tampa hostess,” a phrase which calls to mind one of those upbeat greeters at the Olive Garden.

Doonesbury — Back home again.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Short Takes

There was a big benefit concert in for Sandy victims.

The New York City Marathon has been cancelled.

Some polls say Obama is ahead in Ohio, tied in Florida.

October jobs numbers look pretty good.

Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. tomorrow in the U.S. (except where they don’t have it.)

Today is the last day for early voting in Florida.

The Marlins have hired Mike Redmond as their new coach.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Desperate Times

By now you’ve probably heard the story: Mitt Romney read an article in Bloomberg News about Chrysler opening a Jeep plant in China.  Either his reading comprehension is really deficient or he’s even more cynical than we already knew, but he turned it into a stump speech about Chrysler shutting down Jeep production in the U.S. entirely and moving it all to China.  He blamed this, of course, on Barack Obama and the auto bailout.

And as we all know by now, it’s pure unadulterated 100% bullshit.  What the article said was that Chrysler was looking into opening a production facility in China in addition to the ones already in the U.S., including Toledo.  In fact, Chrysler is adding workers to the Jeep production facilities here in the U.S., and expanding the plant in Toledo.

But why let a steaming pile of crap stop them?  The Romney campaign came out with a campaign ad decrying the fictional shut-down of the Jeep plant in Toledo, and to compound the lie, stated that he had a plan to save the auto industry and that only he was the one that would never let Detroit go bankrupt.

The Obama campaign came back with an ad that called out the Romney ad for the blatant lie that it is, and the story about Romney’s lie is beginning to show some legs with the media.  And Chrysler, the innocent bystander in all of this, is punching back.

“There are times when the reading of a newswire report generates storms originated by a biased or predisposed approach,” Jeep wrote on its official blog.

This story will probably get buried by all the coverage of the storm on the East Coast, but it is good to see that even the press is finally coming around to calling bullshit on something when they’re up to their knees in it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012