Project Veritas’ latest investigation focuses on the publically-funded media organization, National Public Radio. PV investigative reporters, Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar posed as members of the Muslim Action Education Center, a non-existent group with a goal to “spread the acceptance of Sharia across the world.”
A man who appears to be a National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller, has been captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement.
“The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move,” declared Schiller, the head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, who last week announced his departure for the Aspen Institute.
In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”
On the tapes, Schiller wastes little time before attacking conservatives. The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been “hijacked by this group.” The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, “the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people.” Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism, saying that the Tea Party people aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
Check out this stunning video, shot undercover by two associates of James O’Keefe. The two posed as representatives of an organization founded by the Muslim Brotherhood that is trying “to spread acceptance of Sharia across the world.” That, plus their expressed interest in making a $5 million donation to NPR, got them a meeting at a Georgetown restaurant with Ron Schiller, the outgoing head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving.
I asked my booking producer to put in a request for NPR’s Vivian Schiller to appear on today’s program. Her staff first demanded to know what we wanted to talk about and then, after being told it was her speech yesterday, tunred us down and cited Schiller’s travel schedule.
If the GOP House leadership leaves one dime in the CPB’s account, it will be to their shame and it will not be forgotten by the base anymore than a failure to defund Planned parenthood will be forgiven. The majority of Americans are fed up with feeding the hard left interest groups in this country, no matter how nice their bump music or how self-satisfied and insular their hard-left leadership.
The pranksters were trying to trap Schiller into sounding anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, and I would defend Schiller for what he said in response to that prodding. What does look really bad, though, is his virulent hostility toward social conservatives and his twisted image of the people in the Tea Party movement. What’s completely predictable — we’re familiar with NPR — is the preening self-love of the liberal who’s so sure he and his people are the smart ones. Not smart enough not to get pranked, though.
Remember when Scott Walker got pranked the other day by a phone call purporting to be from David Koch? His opponents couldn’t get enough of calling him stupid for that, and even though he said nothing inconsistent with his public talking points and seemed the same as he is in public, they fine-tooth-combed his remarks to find little things they could blow up and portray as evil. Forget empathy and fairness — use whatever you find as brutally as you can.
Now here’s this choice new material from Schiller, giving conservatives the chance to punch back twice as hard (to use the old Obama WH motto).
Maybe I’m getting inured to this kind of thing, but for me the big screaming headline from the latest James O’Keefe undercover video isn’t that high-ranking NPR executive Ron Schiller bashes conservatives, Republicans, and the Tea Party as “white, gun-toting … xenophobic … seriously racist people.” The big news for me comes when Schiller, who thinks he’s meeting with representatives from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) to discuss a $5 million donation to NPR to help MEAC “spread Sharia worldwide,” that NPR would do better without federal funding. Just before this, Schiller tells the two undercover reporters that federal funding only accounts for 10% of their direct funding, but a sudden end to subsidies for public broadcasting would close a number of their stations, which gives a little more clearer explanation of their financial dependence on taxpayers.
I agree with HotAir’s Ed Morrissey that the most-interesting takeaway from the latest vid from James O’Keefe (he of ACORN fame) is that Ron Schiller of the NPR Foundation suggests that the media operation would be better off without taxpayer subsidies. I suspect many if not most Reason.com readers will disagree with much of what Schiller and his colleague say, but they don’t come off so bad.
Coincidentally, NPR just put out this: Davis Rehm, NPR’s senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement: “Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”
Too bad the Muslim Education Action Center Trust is a fake organization — Schiller would have made a perfect spokesman for them.
A number of the House GOP’s leading conservative members on Thursday will announce legislation that would cut $2.5 trillion over 10 years, which will be by far the most ambitious and far-reaching proposal by the new majority to cut federal government spending.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, will unveil the bill in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday morning.
Jordan’s bill, which will have a companion bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, would impose deep and broad cuts across the federal government. It includes both budget-wide cuts on non-defense discretionary spending back to 2006 levels and proposes the elimination or drastic reduction of more than 50 government programs.
Jordan, who serves as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said the SRA would immediately return spending to 2008 levels and eventually cut non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels, as well as implement a hard freeze through 2021.
“I have never seen the American people more ready for the tough-love measures needed to put our country back on a sustainable path,” Jordan said. “The question today is: Will the political class rise to the standard the American people have set the last year and a half? … I think the answer is yes.”
Jordan authored a Washington Examiner op-ed with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) detailing the proposal, which also eliminates unused stimulus money and severs the government’s ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
It’s one of several priorities for the RSC this year. Jordan reminded the Heritage audience that the RSC exists to ensure that Republicans act like Republicans.
Following shortly after the spending proposal, the RSC plans to unveil a Welfare Reform Act — something Jordan said he feels especially strongly about, as he ran for office in large part to strengthen the institution he considers the country’s bedrock: the family.
Known as the Spending Reduction Act, this bill makes major strides toward resolving the debt crisis by cutting $2.5 trillion of spending between now and 2021. Here’s how it works:
In the short term, the Spending Reduction Act makes $125 billion of immediate rescissions, which target money already approved by Congress, by cutting current spending back to 2008 levels and repealing the remaining funds from Obama’s failed “stimulus” package.
The largest step toward spending reduction begins with the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1. On that day, the bill further cuts non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels and implements a hard freeze through 2021.
This alone will save taxpayers $2.3 trillion. A portion of these savings come from reducing the size and cost of the civilian federal work force. Attrition will trim the work force by 15 percent, while salaries will go without automatic pay increases for the next five years.
Our plan’s overall reduction specifically targets more than 100 separate budget items and spending reforms, ranging from the elimination of duplicative education programs (saving $1.3 billion annually) to a 50 percent reduction of the federal travel budget (saving $7.5 billion annually).
These specific savings, when combined with additional reforms like ending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s taxpayer bailout, total approximately $376 billion over the next decade.
America’s debt problem wasn’t created overnight, and implementing a complete solution will take both time and perseverance. With a healthy dose of courage from elected leaders, however, we can get America moving on the right track again.
Over the long term, balancing the budget will require lasting private sector job creation and robust reforms to entitlement programs that still operate on outdated demographic assumptions.
After passing the Spending Reduction Act, Congress must work to tear down barriers to job creation and make our safety-net programs sustainable for the 21st century. Only when all Americans have ample opportunity to earn success and build prosperity on their own will we enjoy lasting fiscal and economic stability.
The proposal does what Republicans have been talking about for two years — “repeal” of remaining stimulus funds (now $45 billion), privatizing Fannie and Freddie ($30 billion), repealing Medicaid’ FMAP increase ($16.1 billion), and what they estimate at $330 billion in discretionary spending cuts. Highlights of these projected annual savings:
– Cutting the federal workforce by 15 percent through attrition, and do this by allowing only one new federal worker for every two who quit.
– Killing the “fund for Obamacare administrative costs” for $900 million
– Ending Amtrak subsidies for $1.565 billion
– Ending intercity and high speed rail grants for $2.5 billion
– Repealing Davis-Bacon for $1 billion
– Cutting annual general assistance to the District of Columbia by $210 million, and cutting the subsidy for DC’s transit authority by $150 million.
Reforms that go after their own perks:
– Cutting the Federal Travel Budget in half, for $7.5 billion
– Cutting the Federal Vehicle Budget by 1/5, for $600 million
– Halve funding for congressional printing – $47 million annual savings
– Ending the death gratuity for members of Congress
And cuts that get revenge for Juan Williams: $445 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $167.5 million from the NEA, and $167.5 million from the NEH.
“Everything on this list pales in importance to saving the country,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Ca.). “We are much closer to the Greece-Ireland-Spain precipice than any of us would like to believe.”
I’m still awaiting a more detailed breakdown of the proposal, which the RSC tells me won’t be released until later today or tomorrow, but in a press release and an op-ed by Sen. Jim DeMint, and Reps. Jim Jordan and Scott Garrett, they claim the proposal would save $2.5 trillion over 10 years. It’s not clear how they get to that number, but I would imagine it’s largely a result of the spending freeze, which would lower discretionary spending relative to projections. The problem with relying on spending freezes is that you still have to figure out down the road where the actual savings are coming from, especially as time goes by and inflation makes it more challenging to meet those annual spending targets. And as we know, we won’t get the long-term debt under control without a serious effort to reform entitlements. That said, at first blush, I don’t see anything in the above list that would not be worthwhile to cut.
As the authors acknowledge, “On its own, passing the Spending Reduction Act will not get us over the finish line — but we will get a $2.5 trillion head start.”
If you want to get serious about cutting spending, you can’t be talking about going back to 2008 levels, a favorite GOP ploy since it focuses attention on the Obama years. Yet as readers of this site well know, the ramp up started with George W. Bush and the GOP Congress.
The fact that the plan doesn’t even touch to two biggest items on the budget is troublesome, and it’s worth noting that $2.5 trillion over ten years amounts to no more than 6.5% of the total amount of anticipated Federal spending over that period. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly the solution to our problems. Nonethless, it’s a good start. Let’s see them put this in legislative action, get it passed, and dare the Senate not to be fiscally responsible.
Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims’ families as we express our sympathy.
I agree with the sentiments shared yesterday at the beautiful Catholic mass held in honor of the victims. The mass will hopefully help begin a healing process for the families touched by this tragedy and for our country.
Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.
There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.
Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.
President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.
The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.
Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.
There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.
As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.
No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.
Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House. It was a beautiful moment and more than simply “symbolic,” as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just “symbolic.” But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.
It is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values. Recall how the events of 9-11 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security. And so it is today.
Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country. In times like this we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides. We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves, or weaken our solid foundation, or provide a pretext to stifle debate.
America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country. May God bless America.
Palin’s statement is, I think, very good. It emphasizes, appropriately, the victims and the nation’s political process rather than politicians, demonstrating once again that Palin is less obsessed with Sarah than her enemies are. Overall, the statement comes across as mature, balanced, sympathetic and yet strong in its rejection of the left’s opportunism.
I should have said this a few days ago, when my friend Glenn Reynolds introduced the term to this debate. But I think that the use of this particular term in this context isn’t ideal. Historically, the term is almost invariably used to describe anti-Semitic myths about how Jews use blood — usually from children — in their rituals. I agree entirely with Glenn’s, and now Palin’s, larger point. But I’m not sure either of them intended to redefine the phrase, or that they should have.
Sarah Palin has called the post-Tucson campaign of vilification against her and her fellow travelers a “blood libel.” On the one hand, this is unfortunate, as Jonah Goldberg points out, because it threatens to redefine the phrase, plus, what is happening to her is not precisely the byproduct of a blood libel.
On the other hand, Sarah Palin is such an important political and cultural figure that her use of the term “blood libel” should introduce this very important historical phenomenon to a wide audience, and the ensuing discussion — about how Fox News is not actually Mendel Beilis — will serve to enlighten and inform. It is a moral necessity, I think, for Christians to understand the blood libel (Muslims, too — see the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840), not only because it is part of their history, but because the blood libel still has modern ramifications — Israel, after all, was founded as a reaction to Christian hatred, of which the blood libel was an obvious and murderous manifestation.
I mean it sincerely when I say I hope Sarah Palin, who regularly expresses love for Jews and Israel, takes the time to learn about the history of the blood libel, and shares what she has learned with her many admirers.
That seems to be how it works. And here are a bunch of examples of “blood libel” used in various contexts, by people as diverse as Andrew Sullivan and Ann Coulter, as well as Alex Beam, Michael Barone, Andrew Cohen of CBS, and Les Payne. Nobody cared, because Sarah Palin wasn’t involved. Heck, I used the term myself in my WSJ column. I got a grouchy email or two, but nobody else — even among the lefties who criticized it — seemed to care about the use of the term. This is the silliest hissyfit yet, and is itself evidence that there’s no substantive response.
Okay, it’s a little over the top for Sarah Palin to accuse her critics of “blood libel.” But she does have a basic point. She had nothing to do with Jared Loughner. He was not an extremist who embraced some radical version of her ideas. And her use of targets to identify districts Republicans were, um, targetting is not exceptional or prone to incite anybody.
What’s happening is that Palin has come to represent unhinged grassroots conservatism, and people in the media immediately (and incorrectly) associated Loughner with the far right. Moreover, the Republican establishment understands her potential candidacy as a liability and is looking to snuff it out. So you have this weird moment where Palin is on trial for something she has no connection with at all.
Last night on Twitter, Matthew Vadum and I both briefly noted a certain awkwardness with the term given its fairly precise etymology. I’m seeing critics like Jennifer Rubin point out that, while accurate, it’s inflammatory. That’s what started me to thinking about Palin’s use of the term death panels in the Obamacare debate. Isn’t she now doing very much the same thing – allegedly being inflammatory, but accurate? It is accurate. Even critics are conceding that.
shows her inflam. tendency=critics pt. she’s not serious, cert. not pres. – more G.Beck than Reagan … should note also it is tech. correct since accused of blood on her hands.. but still….
So, it’s inflammatory, but accurate – or, … how about, effective, assuming one is willing to fight the good fight for candor in honestly defining a bad health care policy, or a malicious slander meant to silence political speech?
And how in the Hell did we get to a place where a so called conservative pundit writing for the Washington Post thinks doing that is somehow not Presidential? Are we interested in leadership willing to lead, or merely wishing to please our senses? That’s not meant as necessarily backing Palin for President, or anything. I didn’t bring it up, Rubin did.
However uncomfortable it may make some feel, what Palin has done here is engage the debate candidly and head-on, just as she did during the health care debate when she invoked the term death panels.
Isn’t it possible that we need to be made to feel just a bit uncomfortable with what the Left has been doing in exploiting the Arizona tragedy in a manner which transcends simply being angry? Whatever the reason, I do believe using the term blood libel has a way of doing that, elevating the debate into one of substance, over simply feelings, or anger, as a matter of fact. That, despite its presumed inflammatory nature. Ironic, that.
Seems to me, if we’re going to now run away from that debate because it requires potentially inflammatory rhetoric to define it both precisely – and in terms with which we can win it – then how the hell are we ever to win it, hopefully stopping the Left from repeatedly using repugnant tactics just like the one they are using as regards the Arizona massacre?
I swear to God, I’m no Palin fanatic. And I’m as susceptible as the next guy or gal to the notion that she may not be the person to be America’s next President. I don’t know. But I do know that, once examined, whether through happenstance, or design, some of her tactics are absolutely brilliant, if one is willing to examine them in depth. Who knows, perhaps it’s just instinct? Nah, it can’t be that. That would almost make her Reaganesque!
One of the things that excited people about Sarah Palin was her apparent authenticity, her down-to-earthiness, her experience of working, living, dreaming, and achieving far from the conventional centers of power in American society. In a political age characterized by the telegenic intimacy of the 24-hour news channel, Palin seemed perfectly in synch with the sort of unmediated access viewers and voters crave. And only the most insulated chumps in the opinionating business (read: most of them) were put off by her insistence that when she graduated college she got a job, not a passport and a backpack.
But since her bravura entrance onto the national stage, virtually every interaction she has had with her public has been so tightly stage-managed and scripted that her main selling point has been swathed and suffocated in layers and layers of distance from anything approaching a real-time response to the world she lives in. When she resigned her governorship long before her first term was up, she signaled that she wasn’t so interested in being an actual legislator. Fair enough, and who can blame her? But she’s now getting to the point where she’s signaling that she is incapable of giving even her most sympathetic audience what it wants from her. Which means there’s one less interesting character on the public stage and her future, even as an entertainer, is dimmer than it once seemed.
… let me amplify something I said half-coherently in a live conversation with Guy Raz on All Things Considered a little while ago. My intended point was:
Shootings of political figures are by definition “political.” That’s how the target came to public notice; it is why we say “assassination” rather than plain murder.
But it is striking how rarely the “politics” of an assassination (or attempt) match up cleanly with the main issues for which a public figure has stood. Some killings reflect “pure” politics: John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln, the German officers who tried to kill Hitler and derail his war plans. We don’t know exactly why James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but it must have had a lot to do with civil rights.
There is a longer list of odder or murkier motives:
– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.
– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.
– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.
– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.
– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.
– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.
So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)
That’s the further political ramification here. We don’t know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we’ll never “understand.” But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac’s famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”
The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocents outside a Tucson Safeway has bolstered the ongoing argument that when speaking of things political, we should all avoid using inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery.
“Shooting Throws Spotlight on State of U.S. Political Rhetoric,” reports CNN. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” states the New York Times. Keith Olbermann clocked overtime on Saturday to deliver a commentary subtitled “The political rhetoric of the country must be changed to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” The home page of the Washington Post offered this headline to its story about the shooting: “Rampage Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discord.”
The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:
I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.
Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.
And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.
Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.
For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.
From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.
So apparently a pretty stupid Sarah Palin poster from last year in which gunsights were slapped over 20 districts carried by John McCain from which the Democratic incumbent had voted for Obamacare, is now to be considered the inspiration for this atrocity. Mrs Palin has some influence, but let’s not get carried away. For what it’s worth – and readers know that I’m hardly her greatest fan – I do not think she is very much more responsible for this abomination than Jodie Foster was for John Hinckley’s attempt to murder Ronald Reagan. In any case, Palin’s poster was only a souped-up version of a campaign trope that both parties have been happy to employ in the past. (That said, Palin Presidential Futures, already worth shorting, took another dive yesterday.)
But the sordid temptations of politics are such that people who argue there’s little sensible connection between Hollywood “violence” and real-world violence now suddenly insist that it just takes a silly poster and plenty of over-heated rhetoric to inspire America’s Top Kooks to come out of the closet, all guns blazing. And of course the reverse is also true: people happy to blame Grand Theft Auto for just about anything now insist there’s no connection at all between the tone of political discourse (“Second Amendment Solutions!”) and some nut taking these notions just a little bit too seriously.
Clearly, things are a little more complicated than that. While you cannot legislate for lunatics there’s also little need to give them any encouragement. But the more we learn about Jared Loughner the more it seems probable – at this stage – that he’s the kind of mentally unstable person who neither needed nor took any inspiration from Palin or the Tea Party or anything other than powerful fantasies that were his own creation.
And this too is normal. Political violence of this type is almost definitionally unhinged but it’s striking how rare it turns out to be the case that the perpetrators can be fitted into one neat political profile or another. And even when they can their targets are frequently so at odds with the meaning of their supposed “philosophy” that trying to “make sense” of such matters becomes an even more frustrating task.
Anyway, we may think these are unusually turbulent times, fanned by unusual quantities of cheap and phoney populism, scaremongering and hysteria but this is not in fact the case. ‘Twas ever thus and the 1960s offer a perspective that might be worth looking at if only, despite all the huffing and puffing, to appreciate how calm and at peace America is these days. Remember McKinley and Garfield too, if you want to go still further back. America ain’t tearing itself apart these days, no matter how much Paul Krugman tries to persuade you it must be. The paranoid style has rarely lacked followers and, just as significantly, the centre has also always had a healthy paranoia of its own. Sometimes, as is the case today or in the aftermath of any other act of grim violence, this will seem unusually plausible.
Most of the time, however, the scare stories about a new era of Militiamen or whatever are seriously over-cooked. The temper of these American times – despite what you will read everywhere today and tomorrow – is not unusually rebarbative or even uncommonly obtuse. (What might be said, mind you, is that the level of rhetoric is out of proportion to the stakes involved in the political game these days.)
The fact of the matter is that a country of 300 million people cannot help but be generously larded with oddballs, freaks, paranoids and assorted other nutters. Couple that with the American genius for self-realization and you soon begin to wonder why there isn’t more politically-themed violence than is actually the case
We’re going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about putting an end to anti-government rhetoric. I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.
But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)
I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.
That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.
There’s no question that the GOP and its proponents are more than ready to play a similar game. Any moral lapse by a Democrat, for instance, is an ethical rot that stems directly from the malefactor’s stance on the minimum wage or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, say, while hypocrites such as Sen. Larry Craig and Tom DeLay are ethical one-offs. The most-unbelievable response in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was longterm GOP activist Jerry Falwell’s announcement on Pat Robertson’s TV network that gays and women wearing pants etc. were responsible for radical Islamists killing 3,000 people (even more sadly, years after Falwell apologized for his self-evidently retarded statement, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza blew out the thesis into a full-length book). I’m not trying to be “fair and balanced” here by bringing up GOP stupidity; I’m trying to point out that we’re in a decade of this sort craptastic instantaneous spin that latches on to everything in its path. I say this as someone who was fingered as broadly responsible for the culture that produced “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.
Readers of this site know I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but to accuse her of complicity in the murderous spree of a clearly insane person is one of the main reasons that partisan political parties are losing market share. I had myself tweeted that blaming Palin for Jared Loughner’s mass killing would be like blaming J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon (and as Jesse Walker pointed out, in Chapman’s case, at least we could be sure Chapman had read Salinger). Given Loughner’s fixation on grammar and the supposed lack of literacy evinced by most Americans, maybe William Safire and S.I. Hayakawa should be held responsible.
Like Matt Welch and Jack Shafer, I don’t think that today’s political rhetoric is particularly overheated or vitriolic and, even if it were, I don’t think that would be a problem. I suspect that most people are like me in that they respond to folks who actually believe something and are willing to fight for it when it comes to a particular political issue. I don’t like bipartisanship, which usually means that all of us get screwed, but it’s easy enough to respect someone you virulently disagree with if you think they are arguing in good faith.
The problem isn’t with the current moment’s rhetoric, it’s with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there’s a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.
That sort of clearly calculated punditry helps explain one of last week’s other big stories, which is how both the Dems and the GOP have really bad brand loyalty these days. In its most recent survey of political self-identification, Gallup found that the Dems were at their lowest point in 22 years and that the GOP remains stuck below the one-third mark. The affiliation that has the highest marks for the past couple of decades on average and is growing now is independent. Faced with the way that the major parties and their partisans try to bend every news story, trend, box office hit or bomb, you name it, whether truly horrific (as Saturday’s shooting was) or totally banal, is it any wonder that fewer people want to be affiliated with the Dems and Reps? This is a long-term trend. Indeed, Harris Poll numbers that stretch back to the late ’60s show the same trend: Fewer and few folks want to view themselves as Democrats and the GOP has never been popular (even though far more people consider themselves “conservative” than “liberal”). And note what Gallup are Harris are talking about there is not party registration. It’s identification and self-affiliation; how you see yourself. It’s a cultural identity.
At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday—about eight hours before he allegedly killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson—Jared Lee Loughner phoned an old and close friend with whom he had gone to high school and college. The friend, Bryce Tierney, was up late watching TV, but he didn’t answer the call. When he later checked his voice mail, he heard a simple message from Loughner: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”
That was it. But later in the day, when Tierney first heard about the Tucson massacre, he had a sickening feeling: “They hadn’t released the name, but I said, ‘Holy shit, I think it’s Jared that did it.'” Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a “fake.” Loughner’s animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. He also describes Loughner as being obsessed with “lucid dreaming”—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became “more interested in this world than our reality.” Tierney adds, “I saw his dream journal once. That’s the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything.”
Liberals should stop acting like the Tea Party is guilty of inciting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting until proven innocent. That’s unfair. If someone finds evidence that violent anti-government, or anti-democratic, rhetoric helped trigger Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree, then the people making those statements should pay with their political careers. But so far, at least, there is no such evidence. Of course, Sarah Palin should stop using hunting metaphors to discuss her political opponents. She should stop doing that, and a dozen other idiotic things. But just as Tea Partiers are wrong to promiscuously throw around terms like “communist” and “death panels,” liberals should avoid promiscuously accusing people of being accessories to attempted murder. That’s too serious a charge to throw around unless you have the goods. I want Barack Obama to derail the congressional Republicans as much as anyone. But not this way.
The Giffords shooting doesn’t prove that Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. What it does prove is that when it comes to terrorism, people like Sarah Palin have a serious blind spot. On the political right, and at times even the political center, there is a casual assumption—so taken for granted that it is rarely even spoken—that the only terrorist threat America faces is from jihadist Islam. There was a lot of talk a couple of weeks back, you’ll remember, about a terrorist attack during the holiday season. And there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the threat of homegrown terrorists. Well, we’ve just experienced a terrorist attack over the holiday season, and it was indeed homegrown. Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah? There’s a tradition here. Historically, American elites, especially conservative American elites, have tended to reserve the term “terrorism” for political violence committed by foreigners. In the early 20th century, for instance, there was enormous fear, even hysteria, about the terrorist threat from anarchist and communist immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, people like Sacco and Vanzetti. In the aftermath of World War I, large numbers of immigrant radicals were arrested and deported. Nothing similar happened to members of the white, protestant Ku Klux Klan, even though its violence was more widespread.
Similarly today, the media spends the Christmas season worrying how another attack by radical Muslims might undermine President Obama’s national-security credentials. But when Jared Lee Loughner shoots 20 people at a Safeway, barely anyone even comments on what it says about the president’s anti-terror bona fides. And yet Loughner’s attack is, to a significant degree, what American terror looks like. Obviously, jihadists have committed their share of terrorism on American soil in the last couple of decades—from the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the 9/11 attacks to Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. But there have been at least as many attacks by white Americans angry at their own government or society. For almost two decades, culminating in 1995, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski sent mail bombs to people he considered complicit in industrial America’s assault on nature. (A surprising amount of recent American terrorism comes from militant environmentalists.) That same year, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the second-largest recent terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11. In 1996, Eric Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics to protest abortion and international socialism. According to the FBI, opposition to abortion also played a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (you know, the ones Dick Cheney were sure had been masterminded by Saddam Hussein). In 2009, Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered. (He had already been shot once, and his clinic had been bombed.) That same year octogenarian neo-Nazi James Wenneker von Brunn shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Last February, a man angry at the federal government flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.
None of this, of course, will ease the suffering of Giffords or her family, nor of any of the other individuals and families directly affected by this morning’s slaughter. For them, the process of grieving and recovering has barely begun. Loughner’s shooting might’ve been motivated by mental illness, but the people in that parking lot were motivated by democracy: It was a meeting between a congressional representative and those she represents. They were attacked for being good citizens, and nothing can ever put that right.
But one way that people might pay tribute is to follow their example and attend the next meeting held by their representative. It is so easy and safe to participate in the American political system that we sometimes take doing so for granted. Today was a horrifying look into a world in which that isn’t so, and it should leave us with renewed appreciation for, and determination to protect, the world we have. On this, Giffords was way ahead of us: When the 112th session of the House of Representatives convened to read the Constitution earlier this week, she chose to read the section guaranteeing Americans the right “peaceably to assemble.”
One of the most famous flawed studies ever conducted, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s now-retracted 1998 paper that linked vaccines to autism has been found to be not a scientific error, but a deliberate lie. BMJ, a British medical journal, has just published its investigation of the matter and concluded that Dr. Wakefield purposely falsified his data. They report that he was contracted by lawyers determined to sue the vaccine manufacturers, regardless of scientific truth.
A report by journalist Brian Deer in the British Journal of Medicine, the first in a series, reveals that the Wakefield study relied upon “bogus data” that was “manufactured” by those who conducted the study. Specifically, Deer found that the study’s authors misrepresented medical and other information about the children in the study, including the timing and appearance of relevant symptoms, creating a false impression of a vaccine-autism link that was not there.
The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.
Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross. Moreover, although the scale of the [General Medical Council’s] 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards. . . .
Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession. Although vaccination rates in the United Kingdom have recovered slightly from their 80% low in 2003–4, they are still below the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure herd immunity. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales. Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing.
Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers and was paid a total of £435 643, plus expenses. He “discovered” the autism-MMR link after being put on the payroll, but before doing any research at all.
The punchline, of course, is that parents panicked over Wakefield’s results and lots of them decided not to get their kids vaccinated. As a result:
Measles has surged since Wakefield’s paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.
The vaccine-autism quackery that Jenny McCarthy and her ilk continue to promote isn’t just harmless fun and games. It’s damaged untold children and might well have killed a few. It’s long past time for it to stop.
What psychological suffering this man caused in so many vulnerable parents of little children! For a scientist to subvert science — why don’t we have a much more intense feeling of horror about that? How dare those trained in science to misuse it and undermine the enterprise of science? Our shared interest in science is so strong – our need to rely on experts so great — that we should severely punish those who betray it. But we can’t, really, can we? If we tried, we might only exacerbate the pressures on scientists to toe the line and give us the answers we want, lest we target them for destruction.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely it’ll do much to convince the conspiracy-minded, who are positive the pharmaceutical industry is covering up the real evidence that autism is caused by vaccines; like birtherism and other nutty beliefs, fear of vaccination is about strong feelings and not really about evidence. Which is too bad. Babies are dying of vaccine-preventable diseases, and people like Andrew Wakefield need to be held responsible.
Clay Duke, 56, pulled a pistol during a Tuesday school board meeting in Panama City, Fla., and fired several shots, according to press accounts. A security officer for the school system shot and wounded Duke, who then fatally shot himself, police told reporters.
Before pulling the gun, Duke used a can of red spray-paint to make the letter “V” inside a circle on a wall of the meeting room. This was evidently a reference to the 2006 movie V for Vendetta, in which a character uses terrorist tactics to fight an oppressive government. While holding board members and the superintendent at gunpoint, Duke complained that his wife had been fired by the school system.
Mediaite questions both the decision to air the shooting spree at a Florida school board meeting and its reporting of the incident, but haven’t we passed the point of taste several years ago? It’s been at least that long since cable news networks started breathlessly covering high-speed police chases that have no relation to national news; locally, LA stations carried an infamous bank takeover live while police officers got shot more than a decade ago.
As it turns out, while CNN warns of “graphic images,” the only actual gunshot wound occurs off screen, as the gunman missed hitting anyone but got killed by a security guard — which did occur on camera. Glenn Davis says that the “graphic images” warning was more about “gluing eyeballs,” but considering the fact that the clip shows a man getting shot, it seems like a reasonable and fair warning to give, even if it’s not particularly gory
Clay Duke, the man who opened fire on a Florida school board Tuesday, posted a “last testament” on Facebook decrying the wealthy and linking to a slew of progressive sites including theprogressivemind.info and MediaMatters.org.
The chilling Facebook statement, posted under the “About Clay” section, talks about being born poor and how the rich “take turns fleecing us”:
My Testament: Some people (the government sponsored media) will say I was evil, a monster (V)… no… I was just born poor in a country where the Wealthy manipulate, use, abuse, and economically enslave 95% of the population. Rich Republicans, Rich Democrats… same-same… rich… they take turns fleecing us… our few dollars… pyramiding the wealth for themselves. The 95%… the us, in US of A, are the neo slaves of the Global South. Our Masters, the Wealthy, do, as they like to us…
In addition to the note, Duke also includes a reference to class warfare:
“There’s class warfare, all right, but its my class, the rich class that’s making war and we’re winning”
– Warren Buffet
And then issues a call to rise up, which seems to be from a poem titled “The Mask of Anarchy”:
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew.
Which in sleep has fallen on you.
Ye are many – they are few.
Besides the writings, Duke also includes an exhaustive list of links under the quote “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The page includes a link dedicated to Wikileaks, another to a progressive 9/11 truther site, and even Media Matters
What motivated him? Yes, his wife recently lost her job, but lots of people are losing their jobs without trying to kill innocent people.
Even absent any further details, you can be certain he wasn’t a Tea Party member or right-wing talk radio aficionado, or this would be all over the network news by now:
Clay Duke, the man who opened fire on a Florida school board Tuesday, posted a “last testament” on Facebook decrying the wealthy and linking to a slew of progressive sites including theprogressivemind.info and MediaMatters.org.
The chilling Facebook statement, posted under the “About Clay” section, talks about being born poor and how the rich “take turns fleecing us”:
Replace those sites with “Glenn Beck,” “Tea Party” or “Fox News” and you’d be looking at the lead story on all the nightly newscasts, with the actual shooting as a mere backdrop.
So who’s to blame for this shooting and suicide? Media Matters? Bernie Sanders? No — Clay Duke is to blame (I refuse to shed my “personal responsibility” streak as tempting as it can be at times).
Meanwhile, as Media Matters is still busy trumpeting how dangerous Glenn Beck’s “violent rhetoric” is, there’s not a mention on their site of the media that Clay Duke considered worthy of following. Some media just don’t matter when it comes to these things.
With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”
Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
Obama’s coordinated character assassination campaign against anyone who disagrees with him strikes of Soviet style politics. Saul Allinsky would be proud.
For perspective, the Koch brothers have been funding right-of-center and largely libertarian causes since the 1970’s. David Koch was the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 1980. That’s right — against Reagan. This is nothing new for the Koch family. Through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Koch’s have been politically engaged, sometimes even against Republican Presidents.
But Barack Obama is so used to demagoguing and is the first Democratic President to really believe the rich are evil, and not just preach it for the base, he needs an enemy. The Koch family will be that enemy.
The New Yorker has an eleven page, 6,000 word article on David and Charles Koch, who own Koch Industries. The article, “Covert Operations,” appears in the August 30, 2010 copy of the magazine. In other words, this article was being manufactured well before Mr. Obama launched the opening salvo on August 9, 2010.
Writing in yesterday’s Playbook, Mike Allen referenced the article, highlighting a passage that David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s advisor, is concerned about the Koch brothers. Mike Allen has more today.
Most troubling, the New Yorker cites as objective sources both the Center for American Progress and Media Matters without ever bothering to mention they are left-wing sources with biases and competing interests against those of the Koch brothers.
This is a coordinated character assassination against Koch Industries and the Koch brothers for daring to use their money to prevent the destruction of the American economy at the hand of a bunch of effete socialists in the White House.
I’m not sure about Erickson’s speculation, but it’s hard not to notice that Mayer’s article paints an grim portrait of the Koch brothers without actually reporting anything objectionable that they might have done. For instance, here is how the article (headline: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama”) describes the Kochs’ efforts to promote libertarianism:
In Washington, [David H.] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.
If that is how you describe peaceful, lawful activism, then what words are left to describe, for instance, the actions of al Qaeda, which funded an actual stealth attack on the federal government?
Later in the article, Mayer writes that “the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program ‘a slush fund…'”
Mayer is referring to Veronique de Rugy’s working paper. It is not accurate to claim that de Rugy was “forced to correct” the paper. A better description would be that she “voluntarily, in the spirit of transparency, improved the paper and found that her initial results still obtained.” You can read a less tendentious account of that episode here or de Rugy’s own explanation here.
I am a big admirer of Jane Mayer, and her article is worth reading for anyone who’s interested in the topic, but is seems a clear case of describing two apples with different adjectives because one smells funny (the George Soros paragraph in the article is a classic of the form). Whether the piece amounts to a kind of opening White House legal salvo against some of its biggest critics is something worth monitoring closely over the next two-plus months (and two-plus years). Given President Obama’s increasingly hysterical (and hypocritical) attacks against “the influence wielded by corporations and foreign entities,” it’s clear that the campaign will have rhetorical legs at the least.
Exactly how are the Koch brothers under the radar or underground? They show up every year in the Forbes super-rich lists. Charles Koch wrote a best-selling business book a year or two ago and makes no secret of his belief in free markets and limited government. David Koch ran for vice president of these United States on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 (where he helped Ed Clark pull over 900,000 votes, by far the highest total gained by the LP). Both are known for a wide range of philanthropic giving, whether to arts and medical outfits or think tanks or political action groups.
Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week. While I have never had more than brief interaction with either brother, I am perhaps overdue in thanking them on this blog for supporting my career at Reason, where I have argued in favor of gay marriage, drug legalization, non-interventionist foreign policy, open borders, sales in human organs, an end to corporate welfare, and a wide variety of other shamelessly libertarian policies.
While the Kochs are not publicity hounds, they certainly don’t hide their giving or their political agenda under a bushel basket. They are consistently in favor of smaller government (even if Koch Industries gave 15 percent of its political donations to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle). They may in fact be “out to destroy progessivism” but they are hardly using secret means to combat the growth and reach of government.You can argue whether The New Yorker story is “shameful,” but there’s no question that it is a great example of the demonization of opposing points of view (this happens on the right, too, where way too many liberals are labeled socialists or communists or whatever). It’s not enough that opponents believe different things, they must be cast as underhanded and duplicitous, acting out of only the most vulgar or awful of motives.
There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.
Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.
All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.
Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.
Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”
First of all most of what Rich wrote was but rehashed words from Jane Mayer’s slam against the Koch Brothers of New York. Three quarters of what Rich penned really came from Mayer’s New Yorker piece on the philanthropists. So, big demerits for Frank Rich for simply appropriating Mayer’s piece.
But the real point of Rich’s piece was to pile onto Mayer’s slanted attack piece with some echoed slams against the Tea Party movement in order to discredit it all. Rich is desperate to make the movement seem like a marionette show with rich “sugar daddies” funding it and controlling it from the top.
“There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising,” Rich says of the Tea Party events, “the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the ‘death panel’ warm-up acts of last summer.”
Rich then rehashes Mayer’s examples of where the Koch brothers put their money in the form of Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works, two nationwide, very active, and successful conservative advocacy groups.
Now, it is absolutely true that both AFP and Freedom Works have had the cash to put on large events in Washington D.C. and other cities. But it is not true that either of these groups controls and runs “the Tea Party” movement from above.
In fact, both AFP and Freedom Works were sort of caught unawares when the Tea Parties started forming spontaneously all across the nation in early 2009. Both had to rush to try and tap into that passion. Neither was initially prepared for the amazing energy that the Tea Party has unleashed.
Yes, these two organizations have held many events. But the number of evens that they have held, funded and had a hand in operating are but a small number compared to the hundreds if not thousands of Tea Party groups that started up all on their own, all with their own funding and members, all without the bankrolling of a “sugar daddy” named Koch.
To say that the Koch brothers, or Dick Armey, or Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips control the Tea Party movement is simply a lie. In fact, these advocacy groups are like the 80-pound child taking his 200-pound dog for a walk. The kid may seem like the owner, but it is the big dog in control of where the walk ends up heading! The Tea Party is the 200-pound dog that neither AFP, nor Freedom Woks can control. These groups are the 80-pound kid holding on for dear life, trying to stay relevant in the minds of the Tea Party movement.
And Rich makes a second mistake — or calculation — in addressing the Tea Party movement. He keeps saying “the Tea Party” as if it is a single entity. It is not. I have been interacting with, writing about, and attending rallies with various Tea Party groups since the first days of the movement. There is one thing that holds true throughout. They are not connected one to the other in any meaningful way.
But you see, if Rich and his anti-traditional American ideologues can make it appear as if “the Tea Party” is run from the back pocket of the Koch brothers, it is easier to discredit as a false front set up by secretive, shadowy forces. If it were all a Koch enterprise, now that is a strawman that Frank Rich could knock down. But if the Tea Party is understood as millions of individual Americans following their patriotic hearts, that is an impossible image to discredit.
So you can see why Rich and his cohorts are desperate to make it “the Tea Party” instead of revealing the truth.
Here’s more on the story I published this morning — a letter that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is sending around arguing that Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile treated the Kochs unfairly.
“The New Yorker article, and those pieces that have echoed it, rely heavily on innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions,” writes foundation president Richard Fink, who is the public face of the brothers’ ideological work. “Unnamed sources and those with a strong philosophical opposition to the Kochs – many of whom have no current or first-hand knowledge of Koch Industries, Koch Family Foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch – go unchallenged. Supporters of the Kochs are largely ignored (as evidenced by the fact that the reporter chose not to include the vast majority of supportive comments made by a number of people familiar with the Kochs and the organizations they support). On the other hand, those who reinforce the reporter’s preconceptions are given a free pass.”
Fink argues that Mayer treated the Kochs unfairly despite the access she received, but Mayer reports that she didn’t get face time with David or Charles. That’s the point I’m making — these attempts to keep the brothers out of the political fray just don’t work anymore.
All this is to say that I’m very comfortable with critiques of the rise of the right, including left-of-center critiques. Let’s just say I don’t think Rich is an authority on this subject. That said, I would never question his knowledge of the history of Broadway, Vaudeville, or theater more broadly.
I don’t doubt that a talented reporter could illuminate the worldview of the Kochs and the extent of their reach. But Mayer might be the most talented reporter writing today, and she’s written a piece that relies heavily on Gus diZerega, incendiary quotes from a wide range of scrupulously non-partisan but decidedly left-of-center think tanks, a credulous statement from a Soros spokesperson, a conversation with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, references to Andrew Goldman’s article in New York and Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, and something else I’m sure I’m missing. One possibility is that Mayer’s editors pressed for early publication of the Koch story, spurred by the fact that New York had published its piece in late July and the prospect of more articles on the Kochs in other magazines. If that is indeed the case, I think Mayer’s editors have done her a disservice.
As someone who has benefited from left-of-center and right-of-center foundations, I definitely have a bias here: I don’t think it’s a bad thing for rich people to devote some of their money to spreading ideas, including bad ideas. The U.S. economy is vast enough that I can’t imagine even the largest fortunes holding undue sway over our national political life, which could be Pollyannaish on my part. I’m not even all that threatened by the influence of the Ford Foundation, which, as David Bernstein observes, is considerable:
According to Mayer, the Kochs have spent “more than a hundred million dollars” on “right-wing” foundations since 1980. Let’s be aggressive, and assume arguendo the figure, adjusted for inflation, is four hundred million dollars. That’s a whole $13 million or so a year since 1980. By contrast, the Ford Foundation, one of many well-endowed “mainstream” liberal foundations, spends over $500 million a year, a decent fraction of which goes to left-wing organizations and causes. Any given major American university employs far more liberal academics in the social sciences annually than can possibly be employed on a $13 million budget. Soros’ Open Society Institute annually spends over $150 million to “support individuals and organizations advancing a more open, just, and equal society in the United States.”
I am definitely open to strong arguments that suggest the Ford Foundation or the Kochs are a danger to our democratic freedoms. I’m still waiting for them.
When Fox News and talk radio host Glenn Beck comes to Washington this weekend to headline a rally intended to “restore honor” to America, he will test the strength – and potentially expose the weaknesses – of a conservative grass-roots movement that remains an unpredictable force in the country’s politics.
Beck, who is both admired and assailed for his faith-based patriotism and his brash criticism of President Obama, plans in part to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as an American hero. He will speak on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, from the spot where King delivered it.
Some “tea party” activists say the event, at which former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is also scheduled to speak, will have a greater impact than last September’s “9/12” march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Though the attendance figures for that anti-tax rally are disputed, it was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and influence of the tea party movement.
But with just a few days before the Beck rally, basic questions linger, including how big it will be and whether the event, which Beck says is nonpolitical, will help or hurt Republicans in November. Also unanswered is whether Beck can pull off the connection to King without creating offense – or confrontation with another event the same day led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Glenn Beck’s 8/28 Restoring Honor Rally has already drawn all sorts of criticism. It’s scheduled to take place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech – which he delivered on the steps of the memorial in 1963. Given that Beck has said President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people,” some black civil rights feel the rally’s location and scheduling are offensive.
What’s gotten less attention, however, is the group that will financially benefit from the event, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF). All proceeds raised through Glenn Beck’s promotion of the event go to SOWF – once costs for the rally itself are covered.
The charity, founded in 1980, provides college scholarships for children of special operations personnel killed in action or in training. SOWF is very well-run, with low administrative costs and a four-star rating from the watchdog group Charity Navigator. Some 160 of its scholarship recipients have graduated from college in the past 30 years and there are more than 100 students in college now.
Beck claims he didn’t know Aug. 28 was the anniversary of King’s most famous speech when he chose the day, and I’m not sure what’s worse — that he’s lying, or that he’s telling the truth. My gut says he’s full of crap: You don’t schedule an event at the Lincoln Memorial, on the same day of one of the most famous events ever held there, and not know of the coincidence. Besides, Beck has been comparing himself to King, and his acolytes to civil rights strugglers, at least since the Obama administration began. He’s too big a megalomaniac not to know the symbolism of his choice.
But let’s say he’s telling the truth: Can someone who purports to be knowledgeable about our political and social history really not know about the 1963 March on Washington? Was Beck even paying attention when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver just two years ago, and every news organization in the world noted it happened to be on the 45th anniversary of the King speech — that’s right, Aug. 28. It’s hard to believe.
When the “coincidence” was called to his attention, Beck exhibited his trademark megalomania and paranoia. It was “divine providence,” he said — and besides, he snarled, “black people don’t own Martin Luther King!” It seems a little tone-deaf to talk about “owning” someone when King was fighting to undo the legacy of slavery, when African-Americans were literally owned by white people. A final fun fact: Beck insists he only chose the date because that was the only open Saturday before 9/12, and of course he couldn’t ask people to rally on a Sunday, “the Sabbath.” Of course, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, but I guess Jews weren’t high on the outreach list for Beck’s big event. But that’s our Beck, who has shown he subscribes to one of the ugliest anti-Semitic canards, that Jews bear the blame for killing Jesus.
We can’t ignore the controversy: Beck is holding the rally at a time and place that is sure to draw scorn from a multitude of people. He’s doing it in the middle of election season, adding additional political weight to his avowed apolitical rally. Beck is a huge talker, and talks a lot about things that no one else does.
But that’s just one side of the coin. There are a multitude of people who believe that Beck is perfectly justified in holding the rally at that time and place, and even consider it an well-executed move. He’s got solid Christian credentials, so even if the rally does leak into politics, he’s built a firm foundation on which to honor our troops and focus on values. And Beck’s talking isn’t just background noise: his audience of over 3 million cable viewers are dedicated to his cause, and eager to spread the word.
Most importantly, lets not loose sight of the forest in the trees. Beck is motivating hundreds of thousands of Americans to get off their couch and get inspired. He’s providing a venue to praise our military and focus on what’s important, and no matter what your view of his political maneuverings, he’s doing a very effective job.
Dems are gleefully noting to reporters that Beck intends to rally the faithful from the Lincoln Memorial — the very spot where King gave his speech 47 years ago. And with turnout estimates running as high as 300,000, Dems say they hope they can wrest some political advantage from what they hope will amount to a massive show of Tea Party force that’s rife with ugly Obama-bashing.
Though there are good reasons to wonder how effective it is, Dems have doubled down on a strategy of relentlessly elevating Tea Party whack-jobbery to turn moderates independents against the GOP. Several Dems cheerfully noted to me this morning that a raucus Tea Party rally staged on the anniversary of one of the turning points in the Civil Rights movement can only help in this regard.
To buttress the case that the rally is bad for the GOP, Dems are circulating a report in this morning’s Post claiming that officials with the Republican party committees are distancing themselves from the rally:
“In general, people coming to Washington, being organized and active is a good thing,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele.
“But I gotta be honest with you — I don’t know about any Glenn Beck event.”
Given the awful job numbers and the nation’s other myriad problems, it’s hard to imagine that using the Beck rally to tar the GOP will do much to alter the Dems’ electoral fortunes. But the sight of Beck trying to coopt the legacy of King while crazed Tea Partyers bash the first African American president in the ugliest of terms may well go down as an iconic moment in the history of this movement.
Yeah, because bashing the tea party has done them so much good so far. I remember the Democrats begging, begging for Sarah Palin to endorse Scott Brown in the January 2010 U.S. Senate special in Massachusetts, in the apparent hope that she’d pass her crazy cooties on to him. How’d that turn out for Senator Coakley?
Beck isn’t stupid, and he’s trying to cut down on the easy shots from liberals with a rule: No signs.
In a new promo posted on a “Producers’ Blog” at his website, Beck humbly places the rally in the context of the moon landing, the Montgomery bus boycott, Iwo Jima, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other landmark historical events. It also not-so-subtly suggests that Beck is following in the tradition of Martin Luther King (which is a farce), Abraham Lincoln, most of the Founding Fathers, Martha Washington, the Wright Brothers, and other notable historical figures.
To give you some sense of the egomania on display here, it starts with the line, “Every great achievement in human history has started with one person. One crazy idea.”
And it’s “brought to you by Goldline.”
Greg Sargent says that Democrats are gleeful about the “I Have A Nightmare” gathering because they think these people will expose themselves to America as the kooks they really are and the people will reject them. But what if they don’t? There’s ample historical precedent for kooks to break through into the mainstream and it can lead to some very unpleasant outcomes. Yes, Beck is nuts. But he’s also the most important figure in the Tea Party movement, which in case anyone hasn’t noticed is in the process of taking over one of the two major parties in the most powerful nation in the world. You can deride these people, as I do every day. But it’s a mistake to not take them seriously or underestimate their appeal in times like these.
No one should ever count on the people naturally seeing through demagogues. Their power lies in their ability to be convincing even when it doesn’t make rational sense and the truly talented ones can change the world. It remains to be see if Beck and his fellow travelers have that kind of juice. But I wouldn’t be so sanguine that they don’t.
In a demonstration of the overwhelming support of mainstream America for conservative principles, Glenn Beck’s ‘Restoring Honor’ rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is drawing ‘hundreds of thousands,’ according to McClatchy Newspapers.
Early reports indicate that so large is the crowd that attendees were having difficulty hearing the speakers. A quick scan of mainstream news outlets that have done actual estimates this morning indicates that attendance at this point is between 300,000 and 500,000 people.
And attendees are still arriving at the rally, which began some 90 minutes ago.
Michelle Malkin reports that as early as 7:30 AM there were already 100,000 peope gathered at the site.
Reporters on the ground, however, state that the claim of 500,000 attendees is grossly underestimated. A more accurate assessment of the crowd may well turn out to be between 500,000 and 1 million.
Speakers at the event represent a broad cross-section of America–civil rights leaders who were present at the Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in 1963, baseball manager Tony LaRusa, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a host of black preachers, and Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.
Update–Glenn Beck is speaking. Passionate, eloquent, fervent defense of the Founders’ vision of America–faith, liberty, truth.
Update 2–Beck concludes by saying our hope as a nation is in God–a concept that is entirely consistent with the numerous writings of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin. They may not have agreed on points of doctrine, but in one accord they looked to God as the author and sustainer of LIBERTY!
Update 3–Country singer JoDean Messina sings ‘America the Beautiful.’
After listening to the Beck rally this morning, though, I think the charges of racism were clearly over the top. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a political rally, though. Regardless of whatever Beck might say, the political undertones were rather obvious, and the degree to which it mixed religion and politics should quite honestly be disturbing to anyone who believes in the value of secularism in politics.
I’m not sure what the impact of this rally will be. I’m sure Beck has something more planned, he always seems to, stay tuned.
Her critics used to paint her as a scary Marxist. Now they cast her as a spoiled princess.
During the campaign, she was caricatured on the cover of The New Yorker as a fist-bumping, gun-toting Black Panther. Now she’s mocked by a New York Daily News blogger as a jet-setting, free-spending Marie Antoinette. (On Spain’s Costa del Sol with Sasha on her husband’s 49th birthday, she did, in effect, say let him eat cake — alone.)
Michelle Obama is the most popular figure in the administration, but last week she had her first brush with getting brushed back in the press.
Some of the women anchoring news shows on MSNBC debated whether the first lady was being “mean” to her husband by deserting him on his birthday for a girls’ getaway to Spain, and whether it was sort of sad, as one put it, that the president, drowning in troubles, had to go to Chicago to find friends (including Oprah) to celebrate with.
Andrea Tantaros, a Fox contributor and former Republican operative, wrote a harsh Daily News blog post calling the first lady a “material girl” for going on a glitzy vacation at a luxury resort in Marbella with a cavalcade of Secret Service agents, friends, children and staff, even as “most of the country is pinching pennies and downsizing summer sojourns — or forgoing them altogether.”
In politics and pop culture, optics are all. And Michelle’s optics sent a message that likely made some in the White House and the Democratic Party wince.
So Michelle Obama vacations in Spain with her daughter and an expensive posse, leaving her husband alone on his birthday and undermining his party’s political chances (bad recession ‘optics’). This is the sort of story on which I suspect there are three levels of perception:
1. Unsophisticated: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’
2. Sophisticated and well informed: At their level everyone is too smart and experienced to let any kind of spat affect state affairs. These things get planned out well ahead of time by staff. Only the unsophisticated jump to conclusions on the basis of crude external appearances.
3. Real Insider: Jeez, they must have had some kind of fight. She’s pissed! This is a big ‘screw you.’
Hey, who wouldn’t want a quarter-million-dollar, taxpayer-paid Spanish vacation? Some people just feel compelled to rain on parades, however, and the First Lady’s extravagant Spanish holiday provides a pretty big target. It’s no surprise to see a Republican strategist blast the Obamas for playing Marie Antoinette by spending almost $250,000 on a vacation outside of the US, but it’s not just Republicans scratching their heads at the “tone deaf” nature of such a high-profile outing during economic stagnation.
I must admit I was puzzled to learn that the First Lady was headed to Marbella this time of year. Isn’t it awfully hot on the Mediterranean in August? I gather that the hotel she and friends are staying at is isolated and luxurious, but Marbella itself — at least when I drove quickly through it in the summer of 1997 — is pretty tacky, with signs (“BANGERS AND MASH” “MAN U ON CABLE”) suggesting it’s full of downscale British tourists.
Michelle having made what most would agree to be the wrong choice about where to be on her husband’s 49th birthday seems to be a family trait. Maybe the First Lady was merely emulating a pattern Barack has repeatedly set forth as precedent: Never be where you should be. Exercise iconoclast attitudes and stun the world by doing the inappropriate
Take for instance the Spain-over-birthday attitude the President exhibited by observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in lieu of attending Ground Zero ceremonies in New York City on September 11, 2009, choosing to send Joe Biden in his stead.
Didn’t Barack Obama also spend free time vacationing, golfing, going to baseball games and entertaining a Beatle instead of addressing the crisis of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? A few days after the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion, instead of meeting with BP executives, Obama chose to eat barbeque with Michelle in Ashville, NC
Obama campaigned for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid in Las Vegas, not far from a southern border state under siege. The President, who flew to Copenhagen to pick up an unearned Nobel Peace Prize, chose to prosecute Arizona even before personally assessing the illegal war on the border Arizonans struggle against daily.
Suddenly Michelle’s ill-timed trip to Marbella pales in comparison.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Michelle Obama vacationing in Spain; they have the money, so why not? But I agree with Doug Mataconis that, while there’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s really quite unbelievably politically stupid. When we’re in the middle of the worst recession in living memory, it’s not a good idea to take a luxury vacation that most of your countrymen could never possibly afford in the best of times, at considerable taxpayer expense for the security, in a foreign country. Whether or not people should resent it, they will, and his party’s already in big enough trouble without reinforcing the Red State sense that this administration is full of out-of-touch elites. I’m astonished that Obama’s advisors gave this trip the green light.
Sure, the First Lady’s vacation is at most a symbolic activity (symbolic of what, exactly, is unclear, especially because the State Department had to hustle to remove warnings from its website that “racist prejudices could lead to the arrest of Afro-Americans who travel to Spain” before Mrs. Obama touched down). But the fact is that all politics is symbolic and pretty much any way you cut it, this trip is a symbol that something is rotten in DC and especially among the political class.
Way, way back in 2004, when the future was brighter than a brand-spanking new tube of Gleem toothpaste, the accomplished doctor-wife of insurgent candidate Howard Dean got it right when she pulled a Dennis Thatcher and refused to be a public player in her spouse’s campaign. That gesture of refusal took us back to the thrilling days of yore, when monarchs were deposed and limited-government, small-R republicanism was first created, a moment when originally stingy-with-the-public-purse-strings folks like Oliver Cromwell pledged not to live like kings on the public teat (boy, did that ever go wrong). Cromwell and his New Model Army, after all, had taken down a ruler who flaunted his tax-enabled excess via a court that was truly out of control (sadly, it took but a few years for Cromwell to get on that bandwagon himself). But there, for a brief, shining moment, was an idea that rulers should live like the people they govern because, after all, they weren’t any different. And the last thing you wanted was a partner who ran up the credit cards like Mary Todd Lincoln or sniffed about letting the little people eat cake.
Michelle Obama returned to Washington on Sunday from five days on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, taking a mother-daughter trip with Sasha, 9, that stirred controversy. A White House source told me, however, that Mrs. Obama traveled to Spain to help a grieving friend deal with the death of her father.
One of the women is a longtime Obama friend, Anita Blanchard, an obstetrician who delivered Sasha and big sister Malia, 12. Her husband is Marty Nesbitt, a close Obama friend and treasurer of Obama’s presidential campaign fund.
A White House source told me the Mrs. Obama was not able to attend the funeral for Blanchard’s father at the beginning of July. Blanchard, who was taking her daughter on a promised trip to Spain, asked the first lady and Sasha to come to Spain with her. (Malia is at overnight camp.) “She felt it was important as a dear friend to do this,” I was told.
Mrs. Obama and her friends paid for their hotel rooms and other personal expenses. All first ladies, however, get 24-hour security and transportation on military aircraft. When Mrs. Obama flies on personal business, she pays what amounts to a first-class fare, but taxpayers pick up most of the overhead costs for the plane and security.
A reason Mrs. Obama stayed at the ritzy Villa Padierna in Marbella was security, I was told. Agents were able to secure the lush resort and a nearby beach.
President Obama’s auto task force pressed General Motors and Chrysler to close scores of dealerships without adequately considering the jobs that would be lost or having a firm idea of the cost savings that would be achieved, an audit of the process has concluded.
The report by Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program of the Treasury Department, said both carmakers needed to shut down some underperforming dealerships. But it questioned whether the cuts should have been made so quickly, particularly during a recession. The report, released on Sunday, estimated that tens of thousands of jobs were lost as a result.
“It is not at all clear that the greatly accelerated pace of the dealership closings during one of the most severe economic downturns in our nation’s history was either necessary for the sake of the companies’ economic survival or prudent for the sake of the nation’s economic recovery,” the report said.
The report does not make any recommendations, and serves more as a review of the process. It does not carry the authority to initiate any corrective action.
But it comes at a politically delicate time for the Obama administration, which is facing skepticism from the public about the strength of the recovery and criticism from Republicans who are seizing on the economy — including the effectiveness of the federal bailout — as an issue heading into the midterm elections.
The SIGTARP report will further contend, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it is questionable whether the closings were “either necessary for the sake of the companies’ economic survival or prudent for the nation’s economic recovery.”
Issa, who has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the GM and Chrysler government takeovers, said the SIGTARP report should “serve as a wake-up call as to the implications of politically-orchestrated bailouts and how putting decisions about private enterprise in the hands of political appointees and bureaucrats can lead to costly and unintended consequences.”
The California Republican also said the fothcoming report will say “GM did not consistently follow its stated criteria and that there was little or no documentation of the decision-making process to terminate or retain dealerships with similar profiles, or of the appeals process” and that “making termination decisions with little or no transparency and making a review of many of these decisions impossible…”
This doesn’t come as any great shock. Barack Obama put Steve Rattner in charge of running his auto bailout program, a man who had just as much experience in the auto industry as Obama did: he drove a few cars. Rattner had to make a quick exit after just a few months when it became known that he was the target of a federal probe into questionable activities regarding the New York pension fund — and his replacement had just as much experience in the auto industry as Rattner did.
What was the main entry on Ron Bloom’s resume? He was a union negotiator.
Let’s keep this in mind when Democrats insist that government can run industries better than the markets themselves. Not only did the White House purposely evade bankruptcy laws in cutting sweet deals for unions during the bailout, but they also destroyed jobs in the process out of incompetency. I’d bet that a number of union members are none too pleased with that outcome, even if the union bosses are.
You are surprised? Obama’s notion that pristinely apolitical technocrats with great resumes can flip all the switches, turn the knobs, and get the economy purring is exploding before our eyes. The government doesn’t create wealth by massive spending, doesn’t do a better job than the private sector in running industries, and has an agenda based not on economics but on politics (e.g., protecting unions, sparing a vulnerable congressman).
More than the specific maladies of ObamaCare (which are many), this is the core problem with Obama’s great legislative “accomplishment”: it assumes that a centralized bureaucracy can do a better job of containing costs and maintaining quality care than the hundreds of millions of citizens making daily decisions with their doctors. With each revelation — for example, that choice in doctors will be severely restricted – the public gets an inkling that the one-size-fits-all federalized health-care system is going to be every bit as expensive and every bit as objectionable as the nationalized health-care systems that have been tried out in other Western democracies.
All of this is a fine argument for government to do less, not more. Much less.
The short version? Having the government do your restructuring for you isn’t necessarily the brightest thing in the world. Particularly when there’s a variety of conflicting objectives. At least, if what you’re trying to do is actually create a better version of your company; if your goal is to use government fiat to streamline the operations of your newly government-owned automobile manufacturer it apparently works out just fine.
The U.S. Treasury, obviously, doesn’t agree with Barofsky’s assessment. The Detroit Free Press quotes an anonymous source who points out that it was well known in the auto industry that Detroit automakers have too many dealers. Toyota, for instance, has a much smaller dealer body than GM. And the dealers Toyota does have average much higher sales volumes than dealers of domestic products. That theoretically leads to dealers with more marketing muscle in their perspective markets. Not all automaker executives wanted to shrink their dealer networks, either. Some feared the loss of sales that would follow shutting down retail outlets, but the task force reportedly felt those lost sales would be recouped within a few years
But while arguments can be made for or against shrinking the pool of retail outlets around the country, one fact is hard to ignore. A reported 35,000 dealer employees lost their jobs in 2009 and 2010, or over three percent of all dealership employees around the country – roughly equal to the 32,000 jobs lost within the industry.
Barofsky also touched on the process which both Chrysler and GM used to determine which dealers should stay and which should go. The auditor claimed that Chrysler stuck to its plan throughout, which is evidenced by the fact that only 28 dealers won their arbitration cases out of 789 stores that were closed last year. Barofsky claims that GM wasn’t so strict in determining which dealers to cut, and there wasn’t much documentation to show how and why the General cut its dealers. GM has since restated 666 of the 1,454 dealers it cut, though the company gave dealers more than a year to wind down operations, while Team Pentastar cut off its under-performing dealerships almost immediately.
The First Cut Is The Deepest
Nick Bunkley at NYT:
Mark Tapscott at Washington Examiner:
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
Moe Lane at Redstate:
Nick Gillespie at Reason
Chris Shrunk at Autoblog:
UPDATE: William Tate
Meredith Jessup at Townhall
Leave a comment
Filed under Economics, The Crisis
Tagged as Autoblog, Chris Shrunk, Commentary, Economics, Ed Morrissey, Financial Crisis, Jennifer Rubin, Mark Tapscott, Meredith Jessup, Moe Lane, New York Times, Nick Bunkley, Nick Gillespie, Reason, Redstate, Townhall, Washington Examiner, William Tate