Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thank You, Helen Frankenthaler

Yes, painter Helen Frankenthaler did influence Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland when she perfected a technique of pouring pigment directly on canvas. This later became known as Color Field painting. She would pour turpentine-thinner paint in washes onto raw canvas so it soaked into the weave. And, yes, Helen Frankenthaler was considered a second-generation Abstract expressionist. And yes,the painting that secured her fame was "Mountains and Seas", painted in 1952 and now hangs at the National Gallery of Art.

But none of this is why I liked Helen Frankenthaler. In fact, I think the facts mentioned above don't begin to do her paintings and lithographs justice. I guess you have to bring in her marriage to Robert Motherwell, her relationship with Clement Greenberg, her upper-class background and her Bennington years and that for her first museum show Frank O'Hara wrote the catalog to create the appropriate geneaology.

But I loved her painted screens. She took a common fixture and made it a work of art. I also loved all her painting after 1980. I felt it was richer and exhibited a depth of talent missing in her earlier works. I also loved her lithographs, etchings and screen prints. In the 1970s, she reintroduced woodcuts to their former place and revolutionized the techniques of the medium.

In my view, almost all her later work surpassed her early and middle years when she was known as one of the originals, one of those who graced the studios with the great Abstract Expressionists.

This has been a hard year for losing some of my favorites--Cy Twombley, Lucien Fraud and now Helen Frankenthaler. Thank you all. You've made my life alot richer.

Must Reading Before the 2012 Elections

Thomas Frank of "What's the Matter with Kansas?" fame is back with a new book that deserves a read so one can understand the bizarre and surprising comeback of the right in the United States. Pity the Billionaire:The Hard-Times swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (Metropolitan Books.) Thinner than his previous contributions, Frank reviews the reasons for the 2008 financial collapse and how and why conservatives didn't retreat but adopted an almost pure view of free market economics. Some of the issues I've written on in past posts--like the strange view conservatives hold that none of the past Republican administrations were conservative enough or embraced free market economics. In an age when our financial institutions were de-regulated and labor unions were eviscerated, how psychologically do you get to the point of blaming regulations and the government for the collapse of the economy, except if you say they didn't act--which was true. But to read the worst economic situation since the Depression as the clarion call to unfettered free market capitalism as the solution is very bizarre.

Frank does an excellent job is walking the reader through the strange mindset of the New Right and how its ideological commitment is very much like utopian leftists during the last Depression. Reality need not intrude. Frank is especially good on busting the myth of small business as a job creator since American small businesses have dramatically dwindled in size so that they are not that significant factor in our economy. He is also good about how the technocrats have failed us and how they provided the Greek chorus for the last generation of bubbles and derivatives and stock speculation.

Frank also writes how the Tea Party was an astro-turf movement created by insiders who were precisely the same people who brought the system down in the first place. Frank also takes up the issue that permeates his Wrecking Crew--how conservatives lost their way by monetizing their movement. He cites chapter and verse how people like Richard Viguerie and others made the Tea Party into a money-making venture.

There is a psychopathology to all this that few ever call out these people on. Frank refers to them as the depression people, people who now eulogize those people who went through the Depression as a type of spiritual renewal. In other words, the Right does not believe that the situation of the American people should be ameliorated in anyway but excerbated so that a purer American will emerge. The Forgotten Man is the businessman and that he alone symbolizes civic virtue. This helps explain how in a time of Depression Ayn Rand and Fountainhead makes an improbable comeback. A doctrine based on the virtue of selfishness becomes the supreme value. As Frank points out, any policy recommended by the New Right will have even more calamitous results than the previous supply-side economics.

Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson's The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (Oxford) is one of the few accounts of the tea party phenomenon, which is based on extensive fieldwork and interviews of local tea party leaders throughout the country. The two authors basically divide their findings up into the actual grassroots movement, the Koch-funded and corporate financed activities and the media coverage of the Tea Party via Fox News. What they found is that the media and the corporate funded components are at odds with the basic grassroots components of the Tea Party. They found what others have concluded that the Tea Party grassroots types are very conservative Republicans,better educated than most Americans, middle class or above and enjoying retirement, pensions, social security and Medicare. If you will, there is a generational warfare part of this phenomenon.

The authors found that the tea party types were not inherently racist, although very extreme right elements crept into local structures, and were dominated by small business types, who did identify with large corporate interests. The latter seems strange but the tea partiers felt that both elements of the private sector encountered the same problems and of course they were caused by Government and government regulation.

Their fixation was on the national debt and even though they were in part a reaction to George W. Bush, the prime target of their anumus is Barack Obama, who is "not one of us." On social issues, they are all over the map. Generally the identification of the tea party types with the religious right occurs according to region--particularly in the South. This book actually makes one understand how the campaign managers for Michelle Bachmann could easily switch sides to Ron Paul, something that would seem incompatible.

This book helped me understand how the tea party people will vote for Mitt Romney, precisely for the reasons many Americans will not--he's superrich from a field of dubious merit, doesn't pay alot of taxes, wants to eliminate corporate taxes and wants to cut out Medicare for younger people. In short, Mitt is what all the teabaggers aspire to.

The last must read is not about today except by historical analogy. Sally Denton The Plots against the President: FDR, A Nation In Crisis and the Rise of the American Right (Bloomsbury Press). It's hard to believe in the 21st century that American political leaders and captains of industry wants believed the most successful leader in the world was Benito Mussolini. At the tale end of the Hoover Administration, there was concern throughout the political system that American democracy was no longer viable and that America needed an El Duce to make it through the Depression. Sally Denton does a wonderful job of capturing the inadequacies of Herbert Hoover, the noblesse oblige of FDR, the atmosphere which fueled the rise of the radical Right with Father Coughlin and the populist Left with Huey Long. The book first explains the plot by Guiseppe Zangara, an Italian anarchist, who tried to shoot President-elect Roosevelt and ended up killing the Mayor of Chicago. Then the book details the Wall Street Putsch and the plot to involve two-time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler in "neutralizing FDR" and making him a figurehead President to be run by the likes of Howard Pew, Dow Chemical and insurance companies. While we read Seven Days in May in our youth, little did we know that it was based on a real plot during the FDR administration.

Denton's book recalls the rhetoric used against FDR, which is very similar to that used against President Obama. FDR was a socialist, a Communist, a fascist and under the control of Jewish bankers. And he was of the American elite so Barack Obama shouldn't complain. Also, the attacks on FDR from the Left remind one of the criticism of Barack Obama by liberals. And Denton does a great job in portraying FDR's cool, his noblesse oblige and his nonchalence in dealing with those demanding immediate answers to the country's crisis. I sympathize with those around FDR who found the waiting nerve-wracking. It's alot like people with high expectations of President Obama, wondering what he's going to do with the GOP obstructionism.

This short book reminds us that American democracy is not a sure thing,that it has been under seige many times in our history and frequently the most powerful were tempted to sacrifice it for their own good. What struck me was what temptations FDR avoided. Denton portrays a group of the leading bankers waiting on the new President to urge him to nationalize all the banks, something unheard of today. Like in the current financial crisis, the President did save the big banks and gradually restored the solvency of regional banks, much to the displeasure of the Left. At the same time, the wealthier classes were urging FDR to become a dictator like Mussolini, which he would not do even though he loved executive power.

And then there are the powerful monied interests. They thought FDR was a weak character, who could be bent to their purposes. They actually believed--during the two, not one coup attempt--that FDR would just succumb to their pressure and OK their plans to take over the government.

A good read and a reminder of where the most pernicious elements of the Right came from.

Last Call For Iowa

++The best poll I saw had four candidates tied with 17%. The Republican race has so turned me off that I hope they all tie.

++Newt Gingrich cried yesterday when talking about his mother. This did in Ed Muskie and then was seen as a liability for Hillary Clinton. But there has been no pushback on Newt for this. But hearing the remarks,you have to wonder if Newt was forced to consider long-term care, bipolar disorder, and alzheimer's as he said, then why does he not have any policies that address these things? Presumably, one's personal experience shapes your policy choices. For instance, the issue of why Barack Obama pressed his healthcare reform had less to do with ideology than the memory of his terminally ill mother filling out insurance forms. Why don't we see this type of response among the Republicans?

++Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute finally stood up for Ron Paul's foreign policy statements at and criticized the other candidates for simply following down the GOP line of the last decade, which led to the reckless loss of life, national bankruptcy and the militarization of our society.

++Mitt's son thought he would be cute and say that his father would release his tax returns when President Obama would release his birth certificate and his grades. Nice try, punk. President Obama tweeted that Mitt's son probably didn't buy the Obama 2012 mug with the birth certificate printed on the back. The Obama campaign fund-raised all day long on this idiocy. Mitt's son then tweeted,"My bad." He was just making a bad joke.

++But Mitt's tax returns are no joke. He actually told Andrea Mitchell that he might release his tax returns after he became President. Is it just me or does anyone else find Romney a condescending little rich guy who believes he doesn't have to play by the rules? The DNC released an internet ad on "What is Mitt hiding?" about the tax forms. The ad showed that every Republican president starting with Gerald Ford had released their tax returns. The kicker in my mind was the note that George Romney released his in 1968 when he was running against Nixon. I guess the son has alot more to hide.

++Josh Marshall at picked up the theme of the tax returns today and suggested not only will it show Mitt pays around 14% but that the returns will show perfectly legal but complex tax shelters, which will not go over in the time of Occupy Wall Street.

++Speaking of which, Romney claims he is not a "Wall Street guy in the classical sense." Since Romney is running as a "successful businessman", this statement really needs some investigation. Reporters are beginning to sense there is more here than just Bain Capital and leveraging businesses and forcing some to move overseas. Instead, we are beginning to hear that his first successful gig was managing the money for the Mormons and their institutions. Expect to hear ore of this as we move along through the year.

++For my friends who claim that Romney is not so bad because he really is a moderate,check out the articles on how Romney "became" pro-choice when he ran in Massachusetts because he consulted polls that showed a pro-lifer could not win. Only Jon Huntsman seems relentless in going after Romney on his say anything to get elected posture.

++Expect to see Romney's Super Pac use the same techniques they did against Newt against President Obama. So far, the contributors to this Super Pac are anonymous but their attack ads against Newt plunged him down in the polls while Mitt acted above the fray.

++With all the pundits saying that Romney will go for a knock out blow with Iowa and New Hampshire, it's useful to point out that he only gets to 25%--although leading with that--nationwide. It really is true that people don't like him but Republicans are being conditioned to accept him. 39% of Iowa Republicans now believe he will be the nominee.

++Beltway pundits are beginning to see Romney's bald-faced attacks on his opponents as simply reflecting his own weaknesses.Whether Romney can continue to use these attacks to deflect people from aking about his own dubious positions is up for grabs.

++The Save Social Security organization put out their report card on the GOP candidates and found all failed to support Social Security. For me, this raises the mystery why senior citizens favor the Republicans and ,in fact. Mitt Romney. It doesn't make any sense.

++It looks like we will see Michelle Bachmann leave the contest after Iowa. She has lost her key campaign organizers to Ron Paul and "nativist" Steve King of Iowa appeared at a function yesterday with her, which had more reporters than citizens. And the guy didn't even endorse her. Her old campaign manager Ed Rollins said the reason she never attacked Romney was that she wants to be his vice-president. Get it--the attack woman like Sarah Palin.

++Newt said he would consider having Sarah Palin on the ticket or make her secretary of energy. Consider that for a moment. We currently have Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu as our Energy Secretary. Despite the Solyandra mess, Chu has been probably the most distinguished energy secretary in my lifetime. He has pushed alternative energies, he has been making technological breakthroughs on actually creating "Clean Coal" and he will be the one responsible for making America energy independent by next term, if allowed to work. And you replace him with Sarah Palin? That is exactly what this election is about. Competence and excellence over incompetent ideologues.

++I can't really get into all the MSM criticism about Ron Paul's racism, homophobia and other eccentric views. Nobody wants to take on his position on the Fed, when recent articles indicate the reason we don't have a European crisis of our own is the fact we have a Fed. Instead, let's go after a 76-year oold man, who has no chance to become President. Why? To support Romney?

++Don't count Rick Perry out yet.He still is hitting double digits. Perry got some zingers in yesterday when he pointed out that Rick Santorum voted for the Bridge to Nowhere. Santorum backed his own record for ear-marking. Personally, I am for earmarking appropriations. What else is a congressperson to do?

++The Los Angeles Times reports that Iowa Democrats will cross lines to vote in the Republican Caucus and vote for Ron Paul. The other Democratic story there is that the Obama campaign is treating Iowa as a trial run for the general election and mobilizing people in force. It will be interesting to see how we will know how successful they will be.

++The Obama campaign still values organization over media. We saw the mixed results in 2010. In races, Organizing for America mobilized voters Democrats did not do badly. But last election it seemed to me the flood of corporate money changed the results. That is clearly what Republicans are thinking. Why else would you have the majority of GOP candidates fail to make the Virginia ballot and now the primary in Tennessee? There has been no emphasis on organization except among the Ron Paul and Romney campaigns. In a general election, I think this would be a major flaw.

++Does Iowa mean anything? If Romney wins, it gives him momentum and serves to condition Republican voters to accept him. If Paul wins, no it doesn't mean anything. What it may mean is that the evangelical vote--the religious Right, which has been the most vociferous critics of President Obama may find themselves with no champion of their own. This would not be the first time. For decades, the religious Right have been used by the republican establishment but then tossed aside when they are no longer useful. I am surprised that their religious leaders haven't caught wind of this and warned voters not to be used.

++Iowa was supposed to be the social conservative state. But polls show that the Iowa voter is concerned about: the national debt; the economy; and jobs in that order. Very few social issues even make it in the top ten.

++One of the funny things I've noticed about the Iowa Caucus is that Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish has been musings about the positive aspects of the Ron Paul candidacy as an antidote to the never-ending war, torture and greed policies of other candidates. I don't know whether Andrew was serious in endorsing Paul in Iowa but Forbes magazine took his writing seriously to report "Andrew Sullivan endorses Ron Paul".

++Conservatives are miffed about what they see is the Romney-Ann Coulter-Drudge nexus. It has been clear from the beginning that the Drudge website has been in the bag for Romney from the beginning because of Matt Drudge's relationship with a key Romney campaign manager. With Ann Coulter coming out for Romney, conservatives and the extreme right have gone nuts. And to make matters worse, Rep. Steven King of Iowa said the evangelical Christians will just have to learn to live with Mitt Romney.

++Beltway pundits have spend the year trying to say this or that constituency for President Obama is not supporting him or being less enthusiastic. For Republicans,this is not a problem apparently. 92% of Republican voters are white; but only 76% of the general electorate is. Apparently, this is not a problem. But when the Hispanic community was polled to measure the latest dissatisfaction with Obama,an amazing 72% said they were going to vote for him again and only 28% were considering the Republican. This is for a man who has deported over 900,000 mostly Hispanic illegals in his short-term. The 28% for the GOP would be the lowest in more than 4 elections. Generally, this would be the news-maker.

++The above is why I can not comprehend Willard Romney's persistent insistence on massive deportation of over 10 million undocumented immigrants. It is one of the few positions he has been consistent on. Rumors have him considering Marco Rubio and Governor Martinez of New Mexico as running mates. But even polling in the Hispanic community with these two added doesn't help him any.

++The comic touch this week was added by Chris Christie, who flew from New Jersey to Iowa on behalf of the Romney campaign, and basically threatened Iowa voters to vote for Romney or he would come back for them. Classy.

++Something is up when George Will is saying that 2012 will be a good year for conservatives, even if they don't beat President Obama. I like the pessimism.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Santorum Surges From Behind*

*There needs be no other comment.

The Iowa Caucus has become a multi-car wreck. Even the polls are now a mess. CNN projects Romney to win but their sample only included Republicans and not independents and Democrats who can cross the line to vote. Rasmussen is now clearly pulling his weight for Romney putting him in the lead. But others still show Ron Paul in the lead.

Michelle Bachmann is crying she can still win even though her chairperson walked right off the stage at one of her events and backed Ron Paul. She claimed he had been paid off.

The attack ads are out in force. This year Reagan's 11th Commandment--Don't attack a fellow Republican-- doesn't apply. A tone of hysteria has crept into the proceedings. Almost all the non-Mitt candidates are acting desparate. Dimissing this whole thing, one Republican thought it was "Andy Kaufman on a book tour."

The primary target now is Ron Paul. No, he's not anti-semitic. No, he is not totally against war. No, only a few lines in his newsletters were problematic. Even in New Hampshire, he was attacked by the Machester Leader-Guardian for his foreign policy views. Leaks from his former aides about his homophobia didn't offend Dan Savage. Savage said Paul was older than his father and came from an era that ostracized gays but to Paul's credit he thinks gays should have rights. Nah, it was nothing to worry about.

The major media is hyping Mitt Romney claiming huge crowds are greeting his bus tour. Even E.J. Dionne is falling prey to Romney-mania saying that if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire it's all over.

Willard claimed today that President Obama was like Marie Antoinette. Remember Mitt just finished a week of accusing Newt of being a flip-flopper. So I guess he just takes what applies to him and projects it against his opponent. Willard is now dumping millions into Iowa to win, even though he had written it off only weeks before.

Newt claims that Romney is the second most dangerous man in America. I'll let you guess who number one is. Newt was going to do an all-state bus tour but cancelled half the stops. He still doesn't have an organization.

Rick Perry accused President Obama of thinking about politics over his country. The reason--Obama did not sponsor parades for the soldiers returning from Iraq. Perry said that if he had to drop out of the race it was "God's will."

What's so interesting in this food fight is that six candidates are only separated by less than 10percentage points so it is still any one's game.

I have to admit I've never seen a presidential primary be as ridiculous as this one. As Huffington Post wrote yesterday the economy is almost nowhere on anyone's agenda. Rick Perry, for example, instead of talking about his Texas Miracle only emphasized that he had toughened his stance against abortion saying he would not even permit it even for incest or rape. Newt continued his war against the judiciary--which Ross Douhut of the Times seems to like. Newt said he would appoint his judges from the Federalist Society, Regent College, and Liberty University, all extreme right organizations.

At least the sane will have a chance to vote for former Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico on the libertarian line in the fall. Johnson was an extremely popular governor and had an amazing record on creating jobs in New Mexico. Known as the governor who vetoes more bills than any other in American history, he favors decriminalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage.

Or if you need someone else, you can vote for whomever America Elect comes up with. There was an excellent article at Washingtonmonthly about how America Elect will select their ideal centrist for the next election. As things develop, I'll write about this gang of 1%ers later in the year.

Iowa was supposed to be where you got so see the strengths and weaknesses of campaign organizations, the power of candidates' messages, and the qualities of a candidate as a retail politician. Instead this year it was the sight of a freakshow. Only two people had campaign organizations--Romney and Paul. The campaign was almost exclusively waged over the television. Now even the final vote will be announced at a private "undisclosed" location, raising questions about its fairness. This the Caucus, which was the most open of all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Always Kick a Man when He's Up--Tomasky on Romney

Michael Tomasky blasts Mitt Romney's idea that this election will be about entitlements vs. opportunity. Romney has already embraced the dismantling of Medicare and the Paul Ryan budget. And in his blast at President Obama's Kansas speech, he accused the President of not just wanting equality but also equal results. Of course, Romney can't quite explain President Obama's education program of "A Race to the Top". Michael Tomasky in today's Daily Beast says the Mitt new opportunity shtick is just a familiar trick from the GOP's well-thumbed playbook and it won't work this year.

Romney is trying to meld the more traditional wealthy Republicanism with Tea Party resentment. Romney plays on the Tea Party using all the dog-whistles the Republican Right have always used against the poor and minorities. He uses the term "government dependency" as his accusation against President Obama and claims the election will be between someone who wants government to look after every aspect of your life and the candidate who insists on your freedom to pursue wealth and liberate yourself from any obligation to those below you.

But Tomasky argues that there exists mountains of evidence that most Americans really don't think the way Republicans want them to. Romney is assuming like most Republicans that he talks for the "real Americans", while Democrats are in some way fake Americans. But the General Social Survey since 1972 still show by margins of two to one voters consistently saying that too little is spent on the poor, on education, health care and on drug treatments and it goes on and on.

Then spending on the middle class enjoys far greater support than even social programs for those poorer. While the Republicans rant now about Social Security, Medicare and the national debt, Middle America, as we have seen throughout this blog, simply do not agree with them. And it is by a really wide margin. As we saw in Obama's job bill, Americans with large majorities back each of his ideas, which went down in flames because of the obstructionism of the GOP Senate and House.

Romney, like the other Republican candidates, really believes the GOP primary voter represents the Middle Class and not the extremely right-wing fringe that has become the party's base. Romney is retro and he believes that majorities of Americans believe the Democrats are stealing money from them like in the 1980s. Despite Romney insisting that Obama is " stealing the soul of America", majorities actually like the President personally and most are actually pulling for the man.

Tomasky is on to something. If the American people weren't rooting for the President, his approval ratings would be in the dumpster but they aren't. He is at a five month high for Gallup and teetering near 50% in two other polls.

If you are as wealthy as Romney, your personal frame is going to be distorted. What the GOP considered welfare in the past has now graduated to essential programs for the middle-class such as Social Security and Medicare. Romney wouldn't know this because he is so far away from the reality of everyday Americans. The so-called Opportunity Society sounds great except if people start realizing that it is President Obama who is committed to opportunity and is the living incarnation of it, not a wealthy rich kid.

Somehow I think someone who won't release his tax returns will probably fail to persuade average Americans that Medicare needs to be changed into a voucher system. It's also going to be tough making the case against health insurance reform when you created it.

The dynamics of this year has changed from the intense reaction of 2010, when the extreme Republicans rebelled against the Obama presidency. Instead we have a political debate now shaped by the terms raised by the Occupy movement and a feeling that the financial system as managed by the Mitt Romneys of the world let the country down.

The Myth of Mitt Romney's Electability

At John Hawkins, a blogger and editor of Rightwing news, attacks the myth going around GOP circles that Mitt Romney is electable and therefore should be the nominee of the Republican Party. Hawkins points out that Romney had an unimpressive record as governor of Massachusetts and left office with an approval rating in the thirties. Hawkins asks what a Republican who's not conservative and can't even carry his own state brings to the table for GOP primary voters.

Here's Hawkins' 7 Reasons Romney's electability is a myth.

Number 1--People just don't like Mitt. If the entire GOP primary process has been centered around voters trying to find an alternative to Mitt Romney. Maybe there is a message there. Hawkins refutes the idea that moderates and independents will support Romney if they think conservatives hate him. I agree it doesn't work that way. But more importantly, people of all political opinions simply don't like Mitt. Take the first little flap about the Obama campaign suggesting Romney was weird, then we have the very awkward months of Romney trying to be a retail politician and acting like a robot, then we have morphed into Mitt the Liar, the stunning ability he has shown to lie--almost about anything. But the bottom line is that--yes--people don't like him. And Hawkins claims that this will dampen enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Number 2--He's Proven Political Loser. Romney left office the 48th most popular governor in America and would have lost if he ran again in 2006. He failed to capture the GOP nomination in 2008, losing a stunning number of primaries. Despite enormous financial and organizational advantages this time, he is still struggling. "Choosing Romney as the GOP nominee after running up his sort of track record would be like promotin a first baseman hitting .225 in AAA to the majors."

Number 3--Running weak in the southern states. Hawkins points out that Barack Obama won Virginia, North Carolina and Florida last time and is targeting them this time. Romney would be less likely than either Gingrich or Perry to carry any of these states. In 2008, for example, McCain and Huckabee dominated Romney in the southern primaries. Mitt didn't win a southern primary and wasn't competitive in North Carolina and Virginia. This year because of the rules fiasco Romney looks like he will win the Virginia primary by default. Hawkins says that losing those states in a close race would hand Obama the presidency.

Number 4--His advantages disappear in a general election. Hawkins is right when he says that Romney should be lapping the entire Republican field by 50 points already because he has been running for the President longer than anyone, he has more money and a better organization. The party establishment and the Beltway media are firmly in his corner. This explains why everyone else has been savaged by the media while Romney, like John McCain before him, has been allowed to skate through the primaries without receiving serious scrutiny.

Then--presto--in the general election every one of these things disappears. Obama will be the more experienced candidate in the race, will have more money and have a better organization than Mitt. Romney then will become the target of the Beltway pundits and the media.

Hawkins asks if you took all the advantages away from Romney, he'd be fighting with Jon Huntsman to stay out of last place. What happens when all the pillars that barely kept him propped up in Second Place are suddenly removed?

5. Bain Capital:Romney has not paid the price of getting wealthy with an equity fund. In the Republican primary, raw capitalism and the free market are virtues. But in the day of Occupy Wall Street and the prospects of Obama running a populist campaign Romney is a tailor made villain. Hawkins points out the obvious about Romney gutting companies and throwing Americans out of work. But he throws a nice curveball in. Bain Capital was rescued by a federal bailout of $10 million and Romney and others made $4 million off the deal. Hawkins basically supports Romney's work at Bain Capital but says it will end up either a very small asset or a large liability, depending on who defines it.

6. The Mormon Factor : Hawkins tries to handle this sensitively. But this is not the old Kennedy Catholic issue. Americans always believed Catholics were Christians, despite antagonism to their precepts and their hierarchy. A vast number of Americans believe Mormonism is a false religion and therefore significant number of Americans will not vote for a Mormon as President.

A surey by the Public Religion Research Institute released on Monday shows that nearly half of white evangelical Protestant voters don't believe Mormonism is a Christian faith and two-thirds say the LDS is different from their own faith. 67% of Americans want the president to be a Christian and only 52% believe Mormons to be Christian. More than 40% of Americans would be uncomfortable with a MorMon as President.

While majorities believe Mormon are moral people. Hawkins warns that in the general election more pointed questions will be raised that make Mormons look weird, racist, kooky and scary and very different. What he doesn't mention is what will people make of Mitt having been a Bishop of a cult.

7. He's a Flip-Flopper. Romney seems to enjoy running ads against Newt about the former Speaker's flip-flopping on issues but can't handle press interviews about his own wandering positions. Hawkins nails it with " There are a lot of issues with trying to run a candidate who doesn't seem to have any core principles." He believes this is even worse when people know Romney has no firm beliefs so Democrats can make him into a "right-wing death-beast" and Republicans will think that Romney will screw them over and Independents won;t know what to believe. As Hawkins concludes Mitt Romney has proven to be "a pasty grey pile of formless mush."


++The recent polls still have Ron Paul on top with Romney running a close second. Newt has been pulverized by the negative campaigning. The only candidate with more favorables than unfavorables is Frothy Mix himself, Rick Santorum. But Rick doesn't appear to be picking up any steam.

++I really don't understand the whole hubbub about Ron Paul's racist newsletters. It's not secret and his racist views have been known for years. In this particular GOP race,it hardly counts as a negative since minorities, African-Americans, gays and Muslims have regaularly been bashed throughout the debates.

++In another who cares note--Arthur Laffer of the infamous Laffer Curve and Supply Side Economics will endorse Newt today. The whole parade is looking like a bad version of "Where Have They Gone--Political Has-Beens."

++Mitt has been spending in Iowa like a drunken Mormon. The last minute ad campaign in Iowa has cost all candidates and their Super-Pacs over $10 million. Mitt is hoping to land a knock-out blow and to re-establish his mantle of inevitability. Beltway pundits are marvelling at his stealth campaign and his discipline.

++Mitt's tax returns are becoming a little issue. The Boston Globe writers believe the reason for his refusal to release is because he benefits from the "Interest carry" loophole for equity fund managers. Romney still receives a seven-figure check from Bain Capital all these years after leaving it. His base tax rate is a stunningly low 15%, a fact that would provoke backlash since almost every American pays a higher rate. But another factor has emerged also to explain Romney's reticience about releasing his tax returns. Apparently, shortly before Romney started attacking China in the debates, he began to receive the payments for his investments in China. During his days at Bain Capital, he closed American businesses and got them to move their facilities to China, where the Chinese authorities bought part ownership. This little wrinkle to the story might explain why Jon Hunstman has quietly circulated rumors about Romney's business deals with China.

++If Romney doesn't release his tax returns, he will be the first major candidate since Watergate to refuse.

++Meanwhile Rick Perry has run an ad blitz in Iowa and has been emphasizing social conservative issues. Perry also has filed suit to get on the Virginia primary ticket. Perry is floating around the double-digits in Iowa and needs a third-place finish to rationalize continuing.

++National polls still have Newt in a slight lead over Mitt and Paul is third. Basically, this is turning into a two man race. The Mormon vulture capitalist versus the disgraced Speaker of the House and ethically challenged lobbyist. It's no wonder that the National Review and William Kristol are still crying out for a new candidate.

++The polls in New Hampshire show Romney with a sizeable lead. But the thing to look at there is whether Romney hits the level of support he had in 2008.

++Remember the nominee will be who wins South Carolina. So far Newt has the lead.

++While the Republican race makes one's skin crawl, I'll leave you with the political rumor of the day documented in a new book. Richard Nixon had a gay affair with Bebe Rebozo. You can't get seamier than that.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Drips and Drabs Before the Holiday

++The Donald just changed his voter registration to Independent from Republican. I guess he was tired of being dissed by the RNC, Karl Rove and all the others for his failed Newsmax debate.

++Steve Benen at has an excellent piece trying to explain the three suicidal episodes of the Republicans in the House this year. The first was the vote for Paul Ryan's budget, which really would have eliminated Medicare, despite Polifact. The second was the debt ceiling debacle. And the third was the recent payroll-tax cut. He has alot of possible explanations for this, but I agree with the last one: They are just nuts.

++Paul Krugman had an op-ed yesterday about the Post-Truth Campaign, which skewers Mitt Romney's awesome capacity to lie and the fact he has been able to get away with it without the media hammering him about it.

++ For an anti-war candidate, Ron Paul's top three donor groups are Army veterans, Air Force veterans and Navy veterans. Of all the Republican candidates, Ron Paul has vastly more veteran donations than all the other candidates combined. What does that say about the mood of America's former military about our constant war making?

++Mitt Romney this week said he would not release his tax returns even if he won the Republican nomination. He didn't last go-around. When was the last presidential candidate who did not voluntarily release his tax returns? The last flap of this I can remember was the negotiations over Nelson Rockefeller becoming Vice President. Then it was the issue how to evaluate his mind-boogling wealth. It took a Senate committee to reach a compromise on his wealth. I can't understand Romney's campaign not understanding that this is a real political problem for their candidate. It's not like people think Romney is not very wealthy. After all that's his whole campaign.

++All you need to know about the health of a campaign's organization is to know that Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman did not get on the ballot in Virginia for the March 6th Super Tuesday primary. Newt blamed it on the new voter registration laws in Virginia.

++Eric Holder also is someone who believes America is exceptional. In a speech in Texas, Holder invoked our exceptionalism on our ability to vote. Holder opined that when you reach the voting age, you should automatically be able to vote. In a year, when Republican-run state governments are scrambling to restrict the right to vote, it seems the Attorney General is gearing up for battle. This week he blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina because it was discriminatory against racial minorities. Expect to see more of this throughout the coming year.

++Newt is claiming he had a miracle 4th Quarter fund-raising. We don't know the figures but we did hear from the Romney campaign that they raised $20 million this quarter, which would be their best quarter yet. But remember Obama raised $55 million last quarter.

++The next Congressional fight will be revisiting the millionaire's tax, which Harry Reid offered to pay for the unemployment insurance and payroll tax exemption this time. Before departing Washington, Reid said he was putting it back on the table in the next Congress.

++For the holiday season what a nicer story than the news that Rick Santorum, the original Family Guy, bought the endorsement from Iowa's religious right champion Mr. Van derPlaats. Van der Plaats urged other candidates like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry to drop out of the race when the religious Right could not unite around a single candidate. Apparently, you were asked to pony up $1 million for this endorsement. He even hit up the Romney campaign. The Focus on Your Family (Not Mine) decided not to endorse anyone. Now progressive groups in Iowa are demanding the FEC investigate the matter. It hasn't helped Santorum because the latest poll shows he is at the bottom of the food chain in Iowa.

++The Southern Baptists are having a tough time trying to reconcile the evangelical support for Newt Gingrich with their disdain for family man Mitt Romney. Apparently, Mormonism is still the issue and Republicans in South Carolina now proclaim it will be the issue in that state's primary.

++Remember the big clash on next year will be over the automatic defense cuts and the Medicare cuts mandated when the Super Committee failed.

++Ross Douhut was in despair over the House Republicans screw-up this week. Ross thought the GOP had the Democrats where they need them. He claimed that the big score in this debate was that the payroll tax cut showed that Social Security was not a self-funding program and that the GOP should have made this issue central. Boy, why not pick another Third Rail. This would have made issue 4 in suicidal episodes.

Aloha and Merry Christmas

President Obama signed the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and then, without answering questions, bid the press corps adieu by saying, "Aloha". Off to Hawaii, where he claimed he got a touch of "laziness" while growing up. The last comment made Drudge and Politico for another attack on the President.

If the President's attacks on Christmas weren't enough, he allowed a giant Menorah in the Mall and even lit candles at a Hanukah celebration. But if this wasn't enough, the President and the First Lady appeared for his weekly video talk to the nation and kept repeating Merry Christmas throughout his talk and even alluded to the Christmas story and its inspiration for his family. In fact, you might say the Obamas went a little overboard with the Christian allusions. Maybe he was subtly suggesting the country could wake up next year with a Mormon as President.

I am sure that his Christmas address will be attacked because he alluded to a Christian ethic of taking care of one another and volunteering to feed the hungry and help the homeless in the holiday season.

The President was exuberant because he knew he was finally getting out of town. Hopefully, we will see him body surfing in Hawaii. For history buffs, he and Ronald Reagan are the only two Presidents who were body-surfers.

He leaves a town where Republicans are still fighting--at least as late as last night--over the debacle of the last month. The Roadrunner got away again and the rock fell on Wily Coyote.

Have a Happy Holiday and rest up for some real body slamming early next year when politics is likely to get even uglier than this past year. At least for our returning men and women from Iraq, there will be peace for them this year. And , hopefully, for the rest of us a more prosperous and fair country.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The GOP Implodes

Throughout the year, it has been obvious that the GOP has obstructed almost anything the Obama Administration has proposed to stimulate the economy. But the extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax break for the Middle class seemed a no-brainer. The Senate Republicans extracted a concession on the XL Pipeline from the Democrats and the Senate bill passed 89-10 for the extension. And we could all go home for Christmas.

But strange things happened and they were disasterous for the Republicans. The Senate bill negotiated by Mitch McConnell was done with the active collaboration of John Boehner, who approved of all the Senate moves in advance. So naturally, the table was set for both sides to proclaim a great bipartisan victory and adjourn. Remember the extension is only for two months and both sides had agreed to recovene in January to negotiate a full year at that time. But the tea bag caucus in the House balked and Boehner was left trying to defend the indefensible.

In one swift moment, all the past year's obstructionism finally became obvious to the whole public and over 130 million Americans faced a tax increase of between $1,500 and $2,200. The great tax-cutting party now looked like they were OK with raising taxes on the middle-class, when they refused the millionaire tax to pay for the middle-class tax cut. Finally, the Obama Administration could zero in on the hypocrisy of the GOP and the very direct negative consequences their actions have on the average American. This has been clear all year to the broader public.

Throughout the week, Republicans began to eat themselves alive. Karl Rove denounced the House Republicans for losing the tax debate. John McCain said that House Republicans were damaging the GOP brand. Even Mitch McConnell had to weigh in calling on the House Republicans to fold. By week's end, the Tan Man looked pale and rumors from House GOP aides suggested Boehner's day as Speaker were limited. It was as if the polling of Congress as the worst ever came to focus on the House. Senate Republicans said that their own chances of taking the Senate back were fading.

Rachel Maddow returned to her thesis that John Boehner was incompetent and there was alot of evidence to support her view. Boehner didn't have the vote count accurate in his own Caucus and then was forced through a surrogate not to allow the Senate Bill to be voted on in the House because it would have passed with total support of the Democrats and a sufficient number of the House Republicans so that the GOP would looked divided.

Yes, the battle begins anew in January and one person commented in the Washington Post that this was all inside baseball and would soon be forgotten. I don't think so because all the Republican columnists waged war over this and the Wall Street Journal, the business side of the GOP,blasted House Republicans. It became very plain and the Democrats are exploiting this that the Republicans now really have come down on the side of the 1% against the 99%. With the change of the debate caused by the Occupy movement,the wind is now at the Democrats' back, partocularly President Obama.

One of the winners of this fracas was Willard "Mitt" Romney. The reason is that the news over the Boehner failure took away from Romney's astonishing weeks of lying. Romney claimed that President Obama has not created a single job and that Romney as head of Bain Capital created 100,000 jobs and he would pit that against Obama. Romney's campaign has systematically lied about when the great Recession began. His graphics blame all job loss on the Obama Administration and seems to imply that Obama was responsible for all events in 2007 and 2008. The problem with this is that we have Mitt on tape praising the President's stimulus plan.

The other problem with this is that we have had 21 straight months of private job growth. From 2010 through 2011, the private sector created 2.9 million jobs, or roughly three times the amount created during 8 years of President George W. Bush. Job creation this year has been the best since 2006 and the fragile green roots of the economy seem to suggest more job creation in 2012, if Europe doesn't collapse. That Mitt Romney, who was 47th of 50th governor in job creation, managing to eek out Louisiana who was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina,would like to criticize this is rather appalling.

But Mitt didn't stop there. In a sitdown interview, he said that it was great that President Obama got bin Laden but added that any President would make the same decision. The democrats immediately went aerial with an ad attacking Romney,splicing comments by Gates, Colin Powell and Rudy Guiliani suggesting Obama's decision took courage. And, by the way, Presidents Clinton and George W. didn't make the same decision, when they had the chance.

Mitt has spent the week trying to build moment by locking down Iowa after spending millions on attacks ads against Newt. With Ron Paul emerging as the Iowa front-runner, the news media is giving Paul the front-runner treatment and exacavating all his racist newsletters from the 1990s when he predicted a race war. Mitt is predicting a second-place finish, which would stem the tide of the anti-Mitt vote.

Romney picked up an incredibly lukewarm endorsement from President George H.W. Bush, who said he had favored Rick Perry but Mitt was the best the GOP could do for now. Also, old Iowa Senator and GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole weighed in on Mitt's behalf.

Iowa is seeing the slight rise in the fortunes of Frothy Mix Santorum, who nailed the endorsement of Van der Plaats, the evangelical leader who supported Mike Huckabee. Rick Perry is on a bust tour of the state and has dropped his homophobic ads for one with his wife.

It's all pretty unsavory. The Congressional Republicans acted and sounded like a bunch of chumps this week and the erstwhile Presidential candidates continued to embarrass.

It has not been a good week for conservatives. Brent Bozell of the right-wing Media Research group,tastefully referred to President Obama as "a skinny, ghetto crackhead". And that about sums up the current position on the right--Obama is the enemy and we have no new ideas and could care less about the public good.

President Obama continued his war against Christmas by sending people like me a Christmas card showing Bo lying in front of a fireplace, with a Poinsetta on the table surrounded by presents. I didn't know this was anti-Christmas until Fox News and Sarah Palin opined that Americans expected references to Christ. Although it seems that past Presidents, especially Republicans, neglected to mention Christ either. But we have to remember Obama is "the Other".

For his part, President Obama stayed home from his anticipated vacation in Hawaii, but he got criticized for planning on going to Hawaii anyway. A few polls showed him hitting 49% and roughly his average is around 46%, a nice range to begin the re-election year.

At least Jon Huntsman seemed to have a good week. He played Johnny B.Goode on the Letterman show and said he always wanted to be Paul Schaeffer when he grew up. And the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire endorsed him for that state's primary because he is relatively sane.

Gary Johnson decided to run on the libertarian ticket because no one would allow him to debate in the Republican contest. Interestingly enough, Johnson was the greatest job-creator in the field but his libertarian social views made him a paraiah.

Stephen Colbert of the Colbert report hit the right note when he offered $500,000 for the naming rights to the South Carolina Republican primary. And it looks like South Carolina might take him up on it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Conspiracy of Readers--In Memory of Vaclav Havel

This weekend Vaclav Havel died at the age of 75. His death brought back fond memories of his glorious triumph as the leader of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. A few years later he received the Freedom Award from Freedom House in an upper eastside townhouse. After dining with Woody Allen, Vaclav showed up to receive the award with Milos Foreman, the great film director and cinematographer in toe. Asked what he did the first thing he became the first President of a democratic Czecholovkia, he answered that he had his cabinet in the room and had the doors closed and then he told everybody,"Let's laugh!"

Havel felt it was utterly preposterous when he heard the Civic Forum put his name forth as President. It was even more preposterous when the new parliament first elected him unanimously. Later Havel would win a popular election.

If you hear democracy groups speak about the civil society these days, it is a legacy of Vaclav Havel and the Czech Velvet Revolution. British author John Keane first used the notion of the civil society to rejuvenate British labor politics but soon found his idol in Vaclav Havel, whom he projected more hopes on than Americans did on Barack Obama. Later Keane would become disillusioned with Havel because Havel turned out to be a democratic politician and not the leader of an international movement Keane wanted.

But Havel probably tricked Keane after all because once Havel left the Castle he continued to be outspoken on democracy and human rights around the world. In fact, as if to return the favor, he supported some programs of his old supporters in the United States when we embarked on other projects in countries far afield from Central Europe.

Recently a young German doctoral student interviewed me about the American role in fostering the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe. I had to disabuse her of the notion that this was a great triumph of American government policy. Some of us supported these revolutions because we came from backgrounds as freelance writers and great readers. People like Vaclav Havel were already considered great, even before writing Charter 77, for his literary works--his plays and his brilliant essays-- and he was lionized in the West by people like Tom Stoppard.

The Czech experience blended with the hipper moments of the counter culture in the United States. The Czech so-called Democracy movement had roots in the rise of jazz and rock clubs in the Czech Republic, the only space where citizens could go to be free. The crackdown on the rock group The Plastic People of the Universe sparked the larger struggle against the regime. None of this Washington understood or could ever understand. But this is the stuff which we found so appealing. Also it was cool that the Velvet revolution took its name from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

There was another aspect of this struggle that people looking back don't realize. None of the Americans--whether right, left or center (mostly left and center)--would dare think of telling any of these people what to do. The idea didn't cross anyone's mind. These were people we looked up to as talents, not just democratic fighters. We were envious of their literary and philosophical imaginations. And we were supremely confident that they knew what they were doing, even if afterwards they admitted they hadn't.

Havel's essay on Living in The Lie applied to our lives, just as much as it did to people living under Communism. This attitude of listening to those struggling in repressive regimes has been lost. Instead today's democracy practitioner reads his "lessons learned" and tells people who have endured so much more than him or her what they should do to become free. It's quite wonderful what you can learn from talking to someone like those Czechs who were struggling to be free. And besides they were often better read than you.

I had the unique privilege of working with people like a young Chris Kean who came to Freedom House from his time as the media outreach person for the Civic Forum and young Czech Jiri Pehe, who would later leave us to become a personal adviser to Vaclav Havel. Jiri was interviewed today on Radio Free Europe about his memories of Vaclav Havel.

Everyone who quietly supported the Velvet revolution in the United States did so without any official prompting. In fact, I don't know of anyone on my Freedom House Board who knew, except for the civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and he wouldn't tell. He thought it was terrific that a younger generation had their own heroes who were struggling for freedom. We actually thought it funny when Secretary of State James Baker bullied Vaclav Havel not to appoint Frank Zappa as his adviser since Havel had always revered the worldview of the great musician. Yes, can we finally admit Frank Zappa was a great musician, even if he warned everyone "Not to Eat The Yellow Snow". The United States government was clueless about whom they were dealing with. Baker even threatened to cut aid if Havel persevered with Zappa.

But looking back at the revolutions in Central Europe, those of us who supported them with the odds and ends of materials or writing the odd piece in support in the United States, the tremendous goodwill they generated was because of the good humor,literacy and general elan all the younger supporters demonstrated. It is amazing to consider that by the end Czechoslovakia, once the locale of the Prague Spring in 1968, was the most Stalinist of Central Europe. That a diffident playwright, who was made to work as a stoker and a janitor, should emerge as President was something out of a Charlie Chaplin movie. And more amazing still that his voice would be heard by all the world in defense of freedom for all.

I remember Vaclav Havel's quiet, and wise style. Slovakia was causing him and his aides troubles at the beginning. The younger aides were frantic about how to deal with these troublemakers. An American Alpha Male politician would have initiated a showdown, even threaten force. But Havel knew the stakes for his young fragile democracy were too high to prolong this trouble. Instead, he just let them go. And peacefully Slovakia was born with alot of anxiety among his American friends about its fate and its impact on the Czech Republic.

There are very few times in politics when you can say something is beautiful. Democratization is messy and clumsy and people you support often embarrass themselves and yourself. But in my mind the Velvet Revolution was a thing of beauty. The talent involved in its success and the creaton of a democratic Czech Republic was inspiring. The nearest we have come since is the campaign of President Barack Obama in the United States. These are rare moments to savour.

In summing up our interview, I told the German doctroal student that there were many people involved in assisting the Central European revolutions but when you boiled it all down, it was "A Conspiracy of Readers".

The Love Revolution Is Coming to Iowa and Newt Folds

Having been bombarded with attack ads before and after the last debate, Newt Gingrich has taken a real hit in the polls nationally and in Iowa in particular. The side beneficiary of this is Barack Obama, who with dismal approval ratings in recent polls, has come out on top in a new Purple Strategies poll of Swing States leading both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich by more than margins of error. The same swing state poll showed that only 29% of voters had a favorable impression of Mitt Romney.

It is true Bob Dole and the Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney. But the attacks ads and the endorsements are not what broke Gingrich in Iowa. Now is the crunch time in Iowa when every one in the state expects the canidates to actually be around. What does Gingrich do? He flies to Washington immediately after the debate, is present at his wife's book signing party at Mount Vernon and attends a concert where she is playing a French horn. Then Gingrich puts his foot to the pedal on Face the Nation yesterday and doubles down on his criticism of "activist" judges, says he will ignore any Supreme Court ruling he disagrees with and will order U.S. Marshalls to arrest judges he doesn't like. Gingrich then went off into the ozone on his immigration policies saying that over 7 million undocumented workers will freely leave the United States and go home under his presidency. All of this tends to influence people more than the ads and Romney's endorsements.

So today's PPP poll has Newt cratering back to a stunning 14% level, almost 20 pts within a week. Here is just above the 10% gang of Santorum, Perry and Bachmann.

The big beneficiary from this is Ron Paul and the Love Revolution. Paul has been winning the under 45 vote massively. At this rate Nate the Great Silver predicts Paul will win Iowa with a 44%, Romney with 32% chance and Newt now down to 15%. From around the state, reporters are picking up that Paul has the best organization and is likely to gain not lose support as we head to the finish line.

Romney stands right now at 20%,which is usually where he is anywhere in the country.

Nationally, Newt still leads and Romney has peaked to 24%. CNN reports that the Tea Party Patriots polled 23,000 of their members and Newt won the strawpoll. It would have been nice if CNN actually told someone the results.

The most telling poll recently was the Gallup poll that over 70% are tired of the campaign and want to vote in the general election now. Amen!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens R.I.P.

Militant pundit, slashing polemicist, essayist and author. Christopher Hitchens died yesterday from cancer at the age of 62. The England-born writer, who modelled his work after Tom Paine and George Orwell, managed to infuriate everyone from both the Left to the Right. His iconoclastic views were always couched in superb language. He was known to be democratic in the people he tolerated and argued with.

His last battle was an honest and open attempt to deal with the implications of his having a cancer that would prove to be terminal. He frankly filmed interviews of himself talking about the cancer treatment and his struggles to deal with the end of his life. This last battle triggered a wave of concerns about whether he would convert on his deathbed from his atheism. He assured all his friends that if they heard of such a thing then it was a very diseased brain speaking and to ignore it. Only a day before he died, the Daily Caller printed such a story about his embrace of Christ. No such thing happened.

Christopher Hitchens won the affection of the Left with his book about the trial of Henry Kissinger for war Crimes and his blast at Mother Theresa, whom he treated with his best acid tongue. He won acceptance among the Neoconservatives with his embrace of the Iraq War, which he insisted until the end was the right position.

Hitchens was prolific until the end, writing lengthy articles for Vanity Fair and printing his huge book of his last essays. Political Washington had a special affection for him as witnessed by today's eulogies on the House floor. The reason I suspect is that he was not identified with any one of the numerous subcultures in town and that he could be relied upon to make the outrageous statement or be offended by words and deeds deemed a violation of common decency. Privately, people treasured his gentility and consideration. This was especially true for younger political essayists, who needed advice and counsel.

It's hard to judge a writers's success or impact. But Christopher Hitchens can rest knowing that the New York Times literally stopped the presses so they could insert his obitrary on A1. That's not bad for an immigrant.

Pew Poll On Congress

As we undergo more water torture on whether the government will stay open and the payroll tax extended, we wonder whether any one will pay for the obstructionism of the last year. Will House Republicans be rewarded for their laundry list of anti-abortion laws, their endless attempt to gut the ERA, and their attempts to hold hostage almost anything the President suggests? So far there is no evidence that there will be a price to be paid even though the approval rating of Congress is at an historic low of 9%.

But Pew has released a poll, which raises a number of issue which should disturb Republicans.

Which Party takes the most extreme positions?
Republicans : 53%
Democrats: 33%

Who is more willing to work with the other side?
Republicans: 25%
Democrats: 51%

Who can better manage government?
Republicans: 35%
Democrats: 41%

Who are more honest and ethical?
Republicans: 28%
Democrats: 45%

While Democrats have a slight lead in the generic poll for Congress, it looks like the electoral chances of a turn-over in the House seem to be diminished with the new gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and Ohio, which sought to preserve the House freshmen, who are most vulnerable.

The War Is Over--If You Want It*

After 9 years,President Obama declared the Iraq War over yesterday. Over 1 million Americans served there,4,500 were killed, 32,000 were wounded and it cost $800 billion (not counting the interest, the cost of medical care for the future). Over 100,000 Iraqis were killed and another several million are in exile in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

This was the first of the pre-emptive wars waged by the United States and it violated the historical military doctrines going back to the founding of our country.

On Rachel Maddow's show, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Clin Powell's chief assistant, said that the Republican response to the end of the war "may cause me to leave my party". 77% of Americans support President Obama's decision to leave Iraq and that includes 61% of Republicans.

Republican politicians claim that the Obama Administration could have kept 25,000 -100,000 troops left behind, if it wanted. As Joe Biden pointed out on Rachel Maddow that this was not an option. The administration was open to the idea of keeping 10,000 troops maximum behind for training purposes but that the government would not agree to give these troops legal indemnity and "that was the deal-breaker." But even Leon Panetta weighed in that the administration never envisioned any large contingent of troops left behind. Mitt Romney stated that this was a strategic blunder by President Obama.

The most visceral reaction to the end of the war was John McCain's statement on the Senate floor," I believe history will judge Obama's leadership with the scorn and disdain it deserves."

Normally, you would expect that President Obama would get a slight bump in his approval ratings for ending a war that was divisive and that the American people had turned against. But like the killing of Osama bin Laden, any bump would be illusory. The President sent out an e-mail touting this as another promise he has kept.

Spookily, there has been no word from the biggest enthusaist for the Iraq War, George W. Bush. His name has vanished from the one event, which he said history would judge him by. Conservatives have started criticising President Obama for his fulsome praise of our troops as if the commander-in-chief should not speak at Fort Bragg. While there is an unease among the Right about the Iraq war at this moment,there are trying to lay the blame on President Obama if the violence escalates in the country.

By the end, the Iraqis didn't believe we would leave. Americans were considered occupiers and our military presence there was untenable. That the United States kept its word is significant and maybe will pacify the Iraqis in the near future. We leave behind a country with very fragile political institutions, sectarian and ethnic violence and rampant official corruption. But we did leave.

The Iraq War dominated a decade of our lives but in a very strange way. Very few of us were called to sacrifice for the war. The wealthy received tax breaks and we were told to go shopping. A very small percentage of Americans and their families will be changed by this event forever. If anything, this should teach us that prolonged wars can be waged now without the type of repercussions or social upheavals of the Vietnam period. That is the opposite purpose of the all-volunteer army, which was created to avoid prolonged war. While one should draw the lesson that such a war should be avoided at all cost and that it will hollow out our military in case we need it to defend against a real enemy, it seems some in Washington have drawn the opposite conclusion.

Secretary of Gates in his valedictory speech at West Point warned future Presidents not to get involved in another major war in the Middle East. he called the idea "crazy".

The good news about the war was that--by and large--the American military did an honorable job and served the country well. Luckily there is no residual resentment of those who served. But the war ends without an enemy surrendering, without the violence stopping, without a clear victory and not a sign of defeat. We are still a country mobilized for war. But the Iraq war seemed to go on for about five years without any clear purpose.
What should be an amazing triumph of President Obama, who opposed the war and campaigned on bringing it to an honorable end,looks like a hollow photo-op.

The American people now believe that there are 3 major accomplishments of the Obama presidency: Killing bin Laden; ending the Iraq war; and preventing another Depression. I would add a few like the health reform bill. But the almost decade-long war will soon vanish from our memory. But before it does, I hope our policy-makers reflect on the lessons it teaches.

Last Night's Debate in Sioux City--Before I Forget

The day started with Newt being pummelled by the Republican establishment and some conservatives as well. The local Washington Examiner endorsed Mitt Romney, even though their reporter the previous week eviscerated the former Governor on both healthcare and his lack of understanding of the European crisis. The National Review came out against Newt and next issue will be totally devoted to why Newt should not be elected. But they haven't endorsed anyone. The Rasmussen poll from Iowa showed Newt losing 15 points in the poll and Romney pulling ahead there, even though that conflicts with other polls like PPP which does show a Newt drop but no pick up for Romney.

So to the last debate before the Iowa Caucus.

Both newt and Mitt Romney decided not to go mano-a-mano but instead let the second tier candidates create the fuss. Both campaigns had been warned that Iowa likes nice and cringes at negative campaigning. The first part of the debate favored Romney since the moderators and Michelle Bachmann aimed their criticism at Newt Gingrich for his lobbying career. Newt fended the more serious charges off but was defensive. Romney acted in the first part as the chosen one and tried to don the mantle of Ronald Reagan. In fact I found Newt's answer on electability more convincing than Romney's. After Occupy Wall Street, I just can't think how claiming you are a businessman warms the hearts and minds of voters.

Washington Post bloggers felt that Romney won the debate. But other live bloggers throughout the political spectrum didn't think he actually improved his position. The Post bloggers kept saying that Romney was at the peak of his game. But in the second half of the debate Chris Wallace hammered Romney and made him squirm about his frequent changes in positions. Most viewers were aware of Joe Scarborough's comment that Chris Wallace "hates Mitt Romney". So alot of one's response was based on knowing the hostility of the moderator to Romney. But the same should have been true with his treatment of Ron Paul, whom he claimed the day before had no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

The winners of the debate were Mitt Romney by not being beaten, Michelle Bachmann, who took the fight to Newt, and --believe it or not--Rick Perry, who seems to be creeping up in the polls, and who got some solid points across in English and made some memorable jokes. The big losers were Jon Huntsman, who seems to shrink inside himself during the debate, and while the most sane of the group seemed dispirited; and Ron Paul. Ron Paul blew the debate when he went ballistic over all the Iran war talk by the other candidates, almost screaming "this is war propaganda".

On the day the Iraq War officially ended, you would expect some measure of reflection by the Republican candidates about what it means for this nation to go to war and for such a long time. There has been none. Not yesterday and not during the last three years. Instead, we were treated to attacks on President Obama as an appeaser to Iran and that Iran was now the biggest threat to the United States--not to the region or Israel--but the United States itself. The whole discussion seemed to be that now we are out of Iraq, let's use those troops to invade Iran.

Romney continued on his condescending tone to President Obama. He said "Pretty Please" about Obama requesting the downed drone back from Iran. President Obama yesterday brought multiple lawsuits against banks who laundered Hezbollah funds. It should be noted the Great Appeaser seems to be assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists,waging cyber warfare against the nuclear sites, and inciting mysterious explosions of long-range missile and nuclear facilities. President Obama has also solidified an international coalition to tighten economic, banking and oil sanctions against Iran. Today, Russia intervened and stop the shipment of nuclear materials to Iran. This, despite the resurgence of Putin at the Kremlin. Maybe not sufficient to deal with the problem but these are hardly the acts of an appeaser.

Republican war talk is disconcerting because it is never coached in lower case letters like "military options". Instead, the language used implies a full-scale invasion of Iran with all that implies--the proliferation of terrorism throughout the region,high casualties on both sides, regional warfare and enormous collateral damage. 77% of Americans support President Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq, 61% of Republicans also. So why do the Republicans believe, if they really do, that they are going to get tough on Iran. They didn't under George W and Dick Cheney. Despite their hawkish language, Iran barely got a mention in Cheney's autobiography and the Bush administration constantly negotiated with Tehran, even when that regime was shipping IEDs into Iraq to kill Americans. If anything, Obama is the real hawk here.

The other issue, which keeps returning, is immigration. Non-documented workers are down to 10.5 million and Jon Huntsman came up with the best line is that if the economy doesn't improve than the number of illegals will drop even more dramatically. Rick Perry did the whole border routine and how he alone is trying to stop illegals with the Texas Rangers and that the Obama administration is doing nothing. Newt tried to toughen his stance a little bit and was accused by Bachmann of pandering to Hispanics, which naturally no one should cultivate. Mitt Romney retained his draconian vision of deporting everyone, despite the total impossibility of such a thing.

By the way, most independent studies of illegal immigration show that the negatives to the economy and the plusses like conttributing to social security and paying taxes end up as a wash. Yet for the Republican base, this is still a hot button issue.

There has been alot of comment about Newt's vow to go against sitting judges with whom one disagrees. He cited Jefferson and FDR on this but admitted they had failed. To the outsider the argument sounded like gibberish, but remember Newt was addressing Iowa voters. Iowa voters actually voted to remove the judges on the Supreme Court, despite warnings of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who had approved same sex marriages. The campaign against these judges was funded in part by Newt Gingrich himself.

If you are disapointed with President Obama, I have two words for you--SUPREME COURT. The candidates were asked which judges on the Supreme Court they liked. All of them cited the extremely right trio of Clarence Thomas, Tony Scalia, and Alito. Rick Perry said his favorite judge was Clarence Thomas. Huntsman opined that he liked Roberts and Alito. These are the judges who brought us Citizens United.

Tweeters had a field day with all the historical references being thrown in. Rick Perry did note that yesterday was the anniversary of the Bill of Rights. No one else got that. Others tried to drop historical names. One Tweeter suggested that had mentioned almost everyone except Vasco Da Gama.

All the canidates were on their best behavior for their last joint appearance of the year. But there were some odd moments. For instance, in the last debate, Romney bragged that he would create 11.5 million jobs in his first term. This time he waffled--surprise!--claiming that the President really doesn't create jobs. Newt boasted about his private sector experience and even about private-public sector joint ventures saying they are good things. Newt even came out for credit unions.

But they all concluded saying that what the country really needed was leadership. This hammering on President Obama's so-called lack of leadership would be more convincing if they ever mentioned the plight of the middle class or the growing inequality of wealth in the country. All we get are crickets. Mitt Romney dared to say that he would end gridlock in D.C. because he had worked with Democrats in the past. Not to be outdone, Newt also talked about his work with Democrats and claimed it was his bipartisanship that led to the Clinton economic boom and the balanced budget. I guess he might get away with this if there weren't people who remember those days.

An interesting sidelight to the debate was Ron Paul's criticism that Newt avoided the Vietnam War, the son of a career officer. Newt's daughter countered that he had lectured for over twenty years to the military on strategy, apparently a true statement. But what was missing in this exchange was Mitt Romney's deferments as a Mormon minister and later as a student. Romney is now bragging that he knows what it is to live like a poorer person because of his days in Paris as a missionary. The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian ripped this apart by interviewing the head of the Mormon Institute in Paris saying that Romney lived in what is now the embassy of the United Arab Emirates, a virtual palace with a French cook for the missionaries there.

The debate also had its ritual moments where the candidates tried to demonstrate they were more pro-life than each other.

So the conclusion is that if you want to wage war against Iran,outlaw abortion,deport all aliens, increase the military budget, and hope for more jobs, then you should vote for one of these people. What was missing was any sense of the future. What should be done about energy self-sufficiency, the environment, the problems facing young people.

There were two new oddball issues--the Fast and Furious issue of the AFT agency selling weapons to Mexico and the XL Pipeline. On the first, the candidates demanded Eric Holder resign. By the way any time you hear calls for Eric Holder to resign by Republicans, it has less to do with some imagined scandal than it does with the possibility he might go after the voter suppression acts in various states. And on the second, if there is a scandal in the Obama administration, it was the conflict of interests surrounding the evaluation of the XL Pipeline. Obama did the right thing in postponing the decision until the State Department got it right.

The candidates returned to a more understated "Drill, Baby, Drill" stance in criticising President Obama's energy policy. I've written about this before. According to Baker-Hughes, there are more oil and gas rigs working in the United States today than at any time since they started counting, which was in 1984. The United States has become a major exporter of oil. But the real issue for the new Republicans is that there should be no alternative energy sources. This past week the House tried to get coal listed as an alternative energy source. Even with the Solyandra failure, our solar industry is booming and improvements are coming in this sector everyday.

So far I haven't heard anything new and interesting from the Republican candidates. The best that has emerged is Newt Gingrich talking about Alzheimer's treatments and the implications about curing the disease. However, he doesn't talk about that in the campaign.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Now For The Other Side--The Case For Obama's Re-Election

Hearing Dick Cheney return from the grave to lambast President Obama for muffing the Iraq withdrawal, being soft on Iran and failing to blow up the drone captured by Iran, a charge repeated by Romney today, I needed a break and read Alexis Simendinger's piece in Real Clear Politics on the arguments David Axelrod and Jim Messina made the other day about why Obama will win re-election.

Also Today the PPP poll on Virginia showed that Obama has a healthy lead in the Commonwealth against both Romney and Gingrich, despite have an approval rating of about 46%.

If you are deterministic about elections, the high unemployment and the turbulent wins buffeting President Obama should doom his chances of re-election after the sky-high expectations when he took office. For the record, his first two years were the most productive of any President in my lifetime, surpassing LBJ and John F. Kennedy. Yet you would never know it from the media. And this month will end the Iraq War, which he campaigned to end and he did, but any praise he may deserve is overshadowed by the dead-enders like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Dick Cheney who thought we could occupy that country forever.

But what are the arguments of Team Obama?

1. The Republican presidential candidates are "simply not in the mainstream on so many issues." The GOP contenders share the same trickle-down theory that governed the policies of the last decade and more importantly the 1920s and they led to disaster. We've already gotten a trial run of these ideas with the 2010 House Republicans who have yet to introduce legislation that would lead to the creation of any jobs.

2. The GOP primary calender could stretch well into 2012,which means that Republicans will be forced to champion right-wing positions far longer that they can not pivot to the general election in time. Messina noted that a full third of Republican delegates are at stake in May or June. David Axelrod said,"The longer this race goes the more you're going to see these Republican candidates mortgage their general election campaign to try to win the nomination."

3. Obama is the embattled incumbent. His team believes he can overcome high unemployment and low job approval by touting his policy achievements and experience to key constituencies; use the bully pulpit to impress on the public his jobs and economic message; sell a compelling vision for the future, and spar with an unpopular Congress to draw sharp contrasts and show some fight. Axelrod again commented that there exists a solid core for the President, some argue it is 44%, but a significant number of voters are up for grabs. But those voters do not have a positive view of today's Republican Party.

4. Obama intends to shore up support from his Democratic base with renewed passion on the issues affecting the Middle Class and the economy. By diving into the debate over extending the payroll tax holiday and extending the unemployment insurance ,the President hopes to reinforce the view that conservatives care about protecting the wealthy and special interests. Axelrod says that he doesn't think they will be punished for advocating for 160 million taxpayers.

5. To win in 2012, Obama intends to backstop his chances by plowing multiple paths to 270 electoral votes. I posted these five options the other day.

6.The President wants to enlarge the electorate as he did in 2008 but it could be more problematic this time because of the voter suppression legislation in many of the key swing states. Voter registration and a focus on shifting demographics are considered key. Also Messina noted that there are 8 million young Americans who weren't old enough to vote last time and their brothers and sisters started this and they're going to finish it."

7. Obama's campaign team has been building a ground force for the general election while the GOP canidates are focused on primaries. For example, the Obama campaign actually has more organizers on the ground in Iowa than the Republicans. When he starts the general campaign Obama will have more infrastructure in place in key states than his rival.

8. The president's campaign will once again target demographic groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics and young people. Asked about the independent voter who supported Obama but has shied away from him recently, Axelrod said these are still amenable to voting for the President, they have swung to the Republicans.

9. Axelrod said that the legislative and other battles in key states like the union-busting law in Ohio this year allowed the campaign to test theories about Democratic engagement and volunteer organizations. It was a trial run which produced helpful data and helped the creation of neighborhood teams.

10. The Obama campaign believes the president will have enough money and enough cutting-edge technology to outpace his challengers. The Third quarter saw him raise more than $70 million and this quarter should see $55 million with over 45% of the Obama's donors this cycle being new.

One failing I have noticed since Obama has been President is the failure at messaging. Almost all Americans have little knowledge about the string of his accomplishments. These rise up and gain notoriety for the mandated 15 minutes and then are forgotten. While President Obama did managed to brag a bit in his 60 Minutes interview it was clear he is uncomfortable about tooting his own horn. While I appreciate his team acting low-key in contrast to the screeching we hear from Republicans, sometimes I think all of them appear somnolent and not geared up for battle. I hope at some point they start sending out the zingers and have snappy comebacks.