Archive for 2012

Newt Opens a Can of Wup Ass in S.C. Smackdown

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Update: January 21, 8 p.m. Newt wins the primary big. A couple of quick thoughts:
–“Unleash the American people.” Really? “Unleash?” Who are we, bitches?
—Like we said, Newt could conceivably win the nomination but never the White House. Check out these numbers.
–Biggest shock from the exit polls: Newt won women and voters for whom electability was most important criteria.
— Also from the exits: Religion-minded voters killed Romney, the Mormon, and backed Grinch, not Rick Santorum, who had backing from the Southern evangels.
–Newt more and more recalling George Wallace and his “pointy headed intellectuals.”
–Number of times Newt used the word “elites” in victory speech: 6. Saul Alinsky (died 1972): 3
–Two Florida debates next week: Does Mitt have a shred of junkyard dog in him?
— Newt’s speech went sharply right — a bid for Santorum voters in Florida upcoming but a gift to Obama in the general.

Our earlier Post: Newt Gingrich won a bombastic, electrifying and overwhelming victory in Thursday night’s big pre-South Carolina primary debate.

Then came the next hour and 55 minutes of the CNN event.

Gingrich jumped all over moderator John King’s bad decision to open the two-hour debate with a question about the allegation by Newt’s (second) former wife that he wanted “an open marriage” – not only tearing King’s face off to the great delight of a howling, red-meat crowd in Charleston, but also preemptively knocking down what was being promoted as a bombshell interview with ex-spouse Marianne Gingrich, scheduled to air last night on ABC.

“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for office, and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,” Eye of Newt ranted at King. “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.”

“The story is false,” he added in passing.

After that, nothing else really mattered, which is kind of a shame because it was by far the most entertaining and interesting of the 3,613 GOP debates, at least since Rick Perry enshrined “oops” in the annals of American political history: Rick Santorum had his best night, time and again effectively presenting himself as the one true conservative in the race while landing a series of crisp shots on Gingrich and Mitt Romney alike; Romney once more fumbled and stumbled over questions about his tax returns in between laughing inappropriately and delivering endless oleaginous paens to vulture capitalism; Ron Paul again was, uh, Ron Paul.

King’s premature interrogation on the open-marriage issue left the other three candidates with little choice but to let the Grinch off the hook on the question, although Santorum did weakly offer that voters ought to consider all measures of character in deciding whom to support.  The net effect is likely to inoculate Eye of Newt in Saturday’s balloting, with voters already having taken into account his serial infidelities and overweening hypocrisy, and now having the handy excuse of dismissing the entire matter as the work of Evil Media Elites.

It’s also worth noting that all the candidates, especially Romney, have gone so far to the right on illegal immigration — flatly ruling out a path to citizenship for undocumented workers — that they can forget the Latino vote in 2012, assuming Barack Obama holds out a glimmer of hope to this huge potential bloc of voters.

Bottom line: Newt’s big night comes as all six polls taken in South Carolina this week show him in a dead heat with Romney. He sure didn’t hurt himself last night.

Babs and Difi Meet SOPA and PIPA: California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are fighting on the wrong side of history in the epic battle between New and Old Media being waged over the draconian internet censorship bills known as SOPA and PIPA.

Caught between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, two of their most powerful constituencies, Thelma and Louise so far are standing with the Motion Picture Association of America and its allies over Google and its All-Right-Thinking People coalition as the Senate considers the (inhale) Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (exhale), its version of the Stop Online Piracy Act, dubbed SOPA, pending in the House.

Amid this week’s widespread web black-out and protests by tens of thousands of sites, including Wikipedia, Reddit and Google, mega-kudos to Austin reporter Stephen Webster, who used the opensecrets.org data base of the Center for Responsive Politics to tote up campaign contributions from PIPA supporters to members of the Senate and discovered both Babs and Difi in the Top 10:

While Silicon Valley may have found their voice echos on Capitol Hill more loudly than expected, what remains after Wednesday’s protest is even more telling that what provoked it: Senate Democrats are now the core pillars of support for the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which has not otherwise engendered a strict partisan divide among lawmakers.

Far and away, the top beneficiary in the Senate from interest groups that support PIPA is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who’s taken in just short of a million dollars from those groups, according to data from OpenSecrets.org. She’s also the most recent Senator to co-sponsor PIPA, adding her name to the list on Dec. 12. The runner-up is Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who’s taken $777,383 from PIPA-supporting interest groups, and has co-sponsored the bill since May 2011.

In fact, a list of the top 20 beneficiaries of special interest money in favor of PIPA reads like a list of the Senate’s most influential Democrats: Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) in third; Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) in fourth; Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in fifth; Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill’s primary sponsor, in sixth; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in seventh; Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in eighth; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in ninth; and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) in tenth.

Feinstein, to her credit, at least made a failed effort to broker a compromise in the struggle. Here’s hoping she gives it another shot soon: Calbuzz stands second to no one in opposing online piracy, but we’re exactly the kind of little guy site that could get “disappeared” in a hurry, unjustly and with no right of appeal, under PIPA and SOPA, which represent a shotgun approach to dealing with a problem that wants a rifle.

Brother, can you spare a dime: Just when we thought we couldn’t get any more worked up over Mitt Romney’s wiggly effort to keep his tax returns secret comes word that there’s something even worse amid his personal finances than the loopholes, carried interest scams and offshore accounts that already have come to light.

Turns out he’s not only sneaky and greedy, but also really, really cheap to boot, as demonstrated by the lovely kicker on a NYT yarn about Monsieur Megamillions, in which the great man screws the county of San Diego out of a few bucks on his sprawling La Jolla villa:

When billed for $134,909 in property taxes on their beachside home in San Diego in 2009, the Romneys appealed the assessment, according to an official at the city property assessor’s office.

Mr. and Mrs. Romney won the appeal. The bill was reduced by $9,617, for a total of $125,292.

Nine grand? Seriously, Mitt? With gazillions in the counting house, you pay a lawyer to go down and sit at the Assessment Appeals Board to save nine grand?

Next up: Romney leaves a 5% tip for his Early Bird dinner tab at Denny’s.

It’s not you, it’s me: The decision by Jon Huntsman, every Democrats’ favorite Republican, to pull the plug on his barely-breathing campaign came just one day after The State, South Carolina’s largest and most influential newspaper, delivered its much-coveted primary endorsement to him.

In response, State editor Cindi Scoppe, who had written the enthusiastic endorsement, got a bit overwrought, describing the matter in terms that no doubt led to much gagging and eye-rolling around the city desk:

“It is rather like having gone through a courtship for some period of time and finally making love with a man, for him to suddenly turn around and say, ‘you know what, I think I’m gay’.”

P.S. The spurned State endorsed Romney today. Who says Mittens is everybody’s second choice?

GOP’s Manly Man Melee in South Carolina

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

After Rick Perry’s bold bid to jump start a second Civil War, his attack on a NATO ally’s government as “Islamic terrorists” and his stirring defense of the sacred right of Marines to pee on dead bodies, Newt Gingrich had no choice but to raise the stakes in the virility sweepstakes that is the South Carolina primary.

Oh sure, Eye of Newt did all he could to inflame racial tensions with his much-replayed set-to with Juan Williams at Monday’s Martin Luther King Day debate. But it was not until a campaign event the next morning that he showed the full-blown extent of his testosterone-fueled commitment to transforming the nation’s presidential election into a true dick-measuring contest.

At a town hall meeting of attended by about 200 people at the Art Trail Gallery, a supporter told Gingrich, “We’ve got to bloody Obama’s nose. You’ve mentioned challenging him to seven, three-hour debates … if he doesn’t agree to that, how do you plan to aggressively take the gloves off and go after him?” Gingrich responded, “I don’t want to argue with you about the analogy. I don’t want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out.”

 The audience applauded.

Of course they did.

Newt works out with the knife and the fork. Putting aside the practical matter that the mere physical effort of climbing into a ring with Obama would leave the corpulent demagogue gasping for air, his pugilistic fantasy life illustrates an important truth about the GOP primary contest and its electorate.

Far from just defeating a partisan opponent with whose policies they disagree, large segments of the Republican party’s base appear determined to punish, revile and humiliate him, as they angrily and aggressively seek to “take back our country” from the “food stamp president” whose, um, landslide election to the White House they have viewed as illegitimate from the start .

Not since Philadelphians booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game in the City of Brotherly Love has an audience displayed such barmy derangement as Monday night’s mob in South Carolina, which erupted when Ron Paul had the gall to suggest the Golden Rule might be a worthy principle of foreign policy.

The Golden Rule? Really?

Right meets right: But don’t take our word for it. No less an authority on the conservative mind than the National Review has noted the difficulties which the winguts in the GOP cuckoo caucus, whose howling histrionics were on full display at the South Carolina debate, present to the party’s effort to win back the White House.

The most acute division on the right — the one that will give Mitt Romney the most trouble — is not between moderates and hard-core right-wingers, between electability-minded pragmatists and ideologues, or between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. It is between those Republicans who disagree with Barack Obama, believing his policies to be mistaken, and those who hate Barack Obama, believing him to be wicked.

Mitt Romney is the candidate of the former, but is regarded with suspicion, or worse, by the latter. The former group of Republicans would be happy merely to win the presidential election, but the latter are after something more: a national repudiation of President Obama, of his governmental overreach, and of managerial progressivism mainly as practiced by Democrats but also as practiced by Republicans.

In his smart and trenchant analysis, Kevin D. Williamson explores the very different values and ideas of the two wings of the Republican party, helping to explain why Romney has struggled to close the deal, despite the stature and credentials elevating him above his political pygmy rivals.

To his credit, Williamson even acknowledges the role of race in deconstructing the views of those Republicans for whom merely winning the White House is not enough. While arguing that race is far less of a factor than many Democrats believe, Williamson nonetheless forgoes the see-no-evil insistence by most conservative commentators that they are shocked – shocked! – that anyone could even suggest the color of Obama’s skin has anything at all to do with the visceral feelings simmering among the GOP rank and file.

A different Democrat, or a Republican, would have put together a different kind of stimulus package, and probably (probably) a smaller one, but the wrongheaded thinking behind it is hardly revolutionary. Cash for Clunkers and Solyndra are the most characteristic of President Obama’s initiatives, marked as they are by fanciful thinking, cronyism, and futility.

But President Obama presses the Right’s buttons in more or less the same way President Bush pushed the Left’s, and that is about something other than (or in addition to) his policy choices. It is about who he is. At this point, Democrats will say, in that smug way of theirs: “And who he is is black, and that’s what this is all about.” I am not such a Pollyanna (or so deaf) as to believe that the tone of the president’s skin is a complete non-issue among his most bitter critics, but it is a much smaller issue than Democrats such as Eric Holder would have you believe.

Level heads and hot heads. By broaching such issues, which Romney no doubt would prefer be discussed in “quiet rooms,” NR not only elucidates the dynamics of the GOP primary contest but also provides a bracing dose of level-headed political reality for the hot-heads amid their conservative readership.

 For conservatives, it is a question of whether we choose a president based on who he is or based on what he can do. Those conservatives who believe that the way forward is to nominate the anti-Obama hold that Americans are so fed up with the president that they are ready to elevate a hardcore ideologue to the presidency. Andy McCarthy is representative of them when he writes that Gingrich is a “plausible candidate this time around, when in many cycles he would not be, because the main issue is Obama’s radicalism — the president has people frightened enough that what would appear to be insurmountable baggage in some elections could be cancelled out this time around.”

 But who are these frightened Americans for whom “the main issue” in 2012 is going to be Obama’s so-called radicalism? (And what do we call the 35 percent of Americans who support a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system? Insurgents?) Are we so sure of their support? In what states do they live, and why do they fail to show up in the polling data, which consistently find that voters’ main concerns are the economy, jobs, and related issues?

Bottom line: Alas for Williamson and like-minded Republican rationalists, the all-but-certain failure of the Gingrich-Perry-Santorum crowd to transform their bitterness and tantrums into a successful bid for their party’s nomination means that Romney will be forced to face off against Obama without the full force and energy of the GOP rank and file.

A new CNN poll shows that, just as the 2012 campaign begins in earnest and Romney has become all but inevitable, Democrats are closing the voter enthusiasm gap Republicans rode to their takeover of the House in 2010.

The enthusiasm numbers show that Romney may be hampered by his own issues. While he does do well with independent voters, many of whom are dissatisfied with Obama’s job performance, Romney can ill afford a depressed base if the election turns out to be very close.

Next up: Mitt challenges Obama to a duel at Fort Sumter.

Hot New Poll on Income Tax Proposals

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Calbuzz has come across a brand new FM3 poll for the Think Long Committee that tests the major competing tax measures (fairly described) for their fundamental acceptability among 800 likely voters. The results: California Federation of Teachers’ millionaire’s tax, 70-30%; Jerry Brown’s temporary income and sales tax increases, 62-37%; Think Long’s income tax cut and extend sales tax to services, 57-30%; Molly Munger’s income tax increase, 51-45%.

The Death of Truth in the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Arthur Brisbane, public editor of the New York Times, last week asked readers to tell him “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” In doing so, he not only set off a furious debate within the news industry, but also unwittingly waded into territory Calbuzz staked out back in July 2010, when we first explained the feckless role of the mainstream media in the Death of Truth.

Brisbane was immediately and vociferously excoriated  by readers, journalists and commenters across the internets whose responses added up to something along the lines of: “What are you, a fucking idiot?” (see Daily Kos here and here) His own executive editor, Jill Abramson, replied, “Of course we should and we do. The kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists.”

But even Ms. Abramson’s vaunted New York Times has failed – going back at least as far as Judith Miller’s pass-through prevarications about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction – to boldly and consistently identify and call a falsehood what it is.

What brings this so sharply into focus today is that we are in the thick of a big, juicy election season when truth is in short supply – especially in the camp of one of those Brisbane used as an example in his column: Willard Mitt Romney.

. . . on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

Damning dog whistles: It’s ironic that Brisbane should have used, as one of his examples, Romney’s lie about Obama apologizing for America. That’s actually been demonstrated to be false. Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, concluded nearly a year ago after an exhaustive examination of Obama’s speeches, that “the claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context.”

What Kessler and others have come to understand is that this is a nasty Romney dog-whistle – packaged in 2009 by Karl Rove — designed to suggest that Obama is fundamentally untrustworthy and unAmerican. Every time Romney says Obama has apologized for America (or implies it by saying he won’t do it), the reporter covering him should make it clear to the reader or viewer that it is untrue.

But Romney has told bigger lies and more of them. Take, as Exhibit A, Romney’s opening TV ad in New Hampshire, in which he quoted Obama from 2008 saying: “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

Pretty damning, right? Except what Obama had said was: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”

Politifact, which monitors the accuracy of campaign statements, gave the ad a “Pants on fire” rating.

Does it matter to Romney? Not yet. Because the mainstream media, like the New York Times, allow his lies and distortions to slip and slide in their daily stories, like water off the back of an Irish Setter on the top of a car on a 12-hour ride to Canada.

Jobs and jingoism: As we explained in our earlier examination of the Death of Truth, candidates like Romney (and we were writing about his pal eMeg Whitman back then) get away with it because of the gnat-like attention span of the average citizen, a mainstream media “strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand, false-equivalency,” and:

It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

Let’s review a few other recent Romney lies which have been only sporadically challenged, let alone debunked, by the MSM:

— 100,000 new jobs: the Wall Street Journal found that of the firms Bain Capital, his former company, invested in under Romney, 22 percent “either filed for bankruptcy or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses.” Which, as Robert Schlesinger of U.S. News wrote “is not really terribly surprising: Bain’s raison d’etre is not job creation but wealth creation for its investors.

The WaPo’s Kessler called the 100,000 jobs figure “untenable,” and said Romney and Bain “never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs.” Romney has made so much of the notion that he’s a job creator that the fiction now threatens his entire campaign narrative, Ryan Lizza argues in the New Yorker.

— Reversing Obama’s defense cuts: Romney has promised to “reverse President Obama’s massive defense cuts.” But Pentagon spending has gone up under Obama, to $666 billion from $594 billion*. Obama requested $739 billion in 2011.

— Entitlement society: Romney says Obama “is replacing our merit-based, opportunity society with an entitlement society,” where “everyone is handed the same rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk.” There is no evidence to support this assertion. Obama is not Karl Marx. This is utter bull.

— Obama, the job destroyer:  Romney told Time magazine that Obama “has not created any new jobs,” and he told Fox News that Obama has “lost” two million jobs as president. As Schlesinger reported, “When Obama took office, the economy was shedding jobs at a rate of nearly 1 million jobs per month, losing roughly 3 million during the first four months of 2009. But presidential policies don’t take effect as soon as the incoming chief takes his oath. Once Obama’s policies started to take effect, the trend turned. The country had added 3.2 million private sector jobs over the course of 22 straight months of private sector growth. By Romney’s definition, the president has created more than 3 million jobs.”

— Obama wants to grow government: Schlesinger again — The biggest drag on job growth is the 600,000 public sector jobs that have disappeared under the auspices of budget austerity. As Danielle Kurtzleben reported in September, “government jobs are being shed by the tens of thousands almost every month, hindering an already weak recovery.”

— “I’ve never called myself pro-choice:” Except in a 1994 Senate debate he said, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have, since the time when my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.” And in his 2002 GOP acceptance speech he said, “I respect and willfully protect a woman’s right to choose. That choice is a deeply personal one, and the women of our state should make it based on their beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.” How did lying about his past stands get downgraded to a flip-flop?

— Obama has no jobs program: As Benjy Sarlin of Talking Points Memo noted Monday night after Romney made this charge during the South Carolina GOP debate, this is simply not true. “President Obama has been pushing a bill called the American Jobs Act for months, a $447 billion package that includes billions in tax cuts, funding to prevent teacher layoffs, and investments in education and transportation infrastructure. You may remember it from the time he called a rare joint session of Congress in September to announce the legislation or from the many times the Senate debated its individual components throughout the rest of the year.”

Jay Rosen of NYU, a very smart guy, argues that the failure of the news media to routinely challenge falsehoods spewed by public officials was a gradual dolorous slide.

Something happened in our press over the last 40 years or so that never got acknowledged and to this day would be denied by a majority of newsroom professionals. Somewhere along the way, truth-telling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as “maintaining objectivity,” “not imposing a judgment,” “refusing to take sides” and sticking to what I have called the View from Nowhere.

No one knows exactly how it happened, for it’s not like a policy decision came down at some point. Rather, the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false. One way to describe it (and I believe this is the correct way) is that truth-telling moved down the list of newsroom priorities. Other things now ranked ahead of it.

Karl Rove’s reality: There’s some truth to that, certainly. But there are other factors, chief among them the rise of the Rovian Principle, aided by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and the rest of the Alternate Reality Network, which has emasculated traditional mainstream media.

Under the Rovian Principle, a political figure lays out a set of tailored assertions which he or she deems to be “facts.” These are hand-crafted ideas – John Kerry was not a war hero but a coward; Iraq has weapons of mass destruction; Barack Obama apologizes for America, etc. – that are repeated over and over and echoed as “fact” by hand-maidens in the Alternate Reality Network, seeping into the everyman bloodstream until they become accepted as true facts.

When someone in political life comes along and challenges them – saying Kerry is a war hero, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, Obama is not an apologist – that’s said to be presenting the “other side” – as if there were an “other side” to a fact. Which there is not. So the reader or viewer is left to agree with the “side” that fits his or her pre-conceived perceptions or to conclude that the “truth” must lie somewhere in the middle.

The traditional news media, afraid of being accused of taking sides in what is almost always an ideological or partisan argument, retreat to a neutral corner and create a false equivalency. “On the one hand, some people say the Earth is flat; on the other hand, some people say the Earth is round.” Climate change science is a good example: 99% of credible scientists on one side versus a handful of ideologues, kooks and mercenaries on the other.

With the rise of independent, widely-read and distributed reporting on the internet, the old mainstream order is breaking down. But the ultimate arbiters of “truth” – for now, at least — remain the major corporate newspapers, networks and magazines.

Bottom line: But here’s the catch:

Even if the New York Times and NBC News start including actual facts in stories where political figures are spewing lies – and reporting the lies is important when they’re exploded by facts – candidates with ample resources have proved, at least in California, that they will continue to put their lies in television ads and broadcast them without regard to the pestering news media.

eMeg Whitman tried this in California, and it might have worked if she hadn’t made so many other mistakes (like firing her Latina housekeeper and kicking her to the curb). Her mentor from Bain – Mitt Romney – seems intent on trying to use the same strategy, which seems weird since Romney’s chief consultant, Stuart Spencer — who ran the primary campaign for Steve Poizner that Whitman crushed – knows that the Whitman approach was ultimately a loser.

But it appears for now that as long as the mainstream news media continue to allow Romney (and all the other candidates, including Obama) to present the “facts” as they craft them, without ongoing, persistent and intrusive correction, the Death of Truth will govern Election 2012.

* number corrected from $59 — typo