Posts Tagged ‘Theroux’

The ‘Collateral Damage’ of Protest Votes

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

The Naderesque argument that the Democratic presidential candidate is merely “the lesser of two evils” has been making an energetic comeback on progressive blogs. Liberals have become restive about a growing list of incursions on civil liberties and human rights that President Obama once vowed to oppose or overturn.

I’m not wild about Obama’s national security policy, either. But making “protest votes” for unelectable third-party candidates is an exercise in futility. Far from merely sending a principled message to Democrats that their capitulation to GOP militarism will no longer be tolerated, this strategy may permit Republican extremists to sabotage both our economy and our social contract. If this radical contingent succeeds, middle-class Americans may worry far more about economic disaster than government surveillance, political prisoners, or terrorists overseas.

The president couldn’t possibly have lived up to the rosy expectations that voters, disgusted by the Dubya years, had of his presidency. But now, scores of disgruntled Democrats have resolved to abandon the two-party system and become registered independents. Some plan to vote for Obama only if they reside in swing states; others who live in solid blue states may write in Ron Paul (seriously!) or vote for a third-party candidate like former Utah Gov.  Rocky Anderson. Obama critics on the left claim there’s very little space between Obama and Romney, because candidates from both parties depend on corporate donors and are thus beholden to the same interests.

Rob Kall of the progressive website OpEdNews declared in a recent column that he had personally decided to leave the Democratic Party. Some 200 of the site’s 55,000 members commented, professing fervent opposition to Obama’s expansion of Bush policies, including the limited use of remote-controlled Predator drones to support battlefield operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama went on to implement drones operated by CIA officers to kill suspected terrorists (among them, American citizens) “without a shred or whit of due process,” in the view of columnist Glenn Greenwald.

The CIA’s human quarry is tracked by U.S.-based “pilots” whose unmanned aircraft attack targets within the borders of sovereign nations. Drone strikes in Pakistan (which critics term “extrajudicial executions”) have been reported by observers to have killed numerous civilians near the pilots’ “marks” – indicating that these hits may not be as “surgical” as the CIA claims. The official record of “collateral damage” from May 2010 to August 2011? Militants: 600. Noncombatants: 0.

I personally deplore the barbarity of these strikes (and fear that we will eventually have to contend with terrorists acquiring this technology and once again blowing random New Yorkers to smithereens). I am also chagrined by the moral ambiguity of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which affirmed presidential authority over the indefinite military detention of prisoners without charge or trial. Other dubious offenses include the administration’s 2011 defense before the Supreme Court of GPS devices employed in warrantless surveillance; Obama’s failure to honor his inaugural promise to close Guantanamo Bay’s detention camp; his stepped-up policy of deporting undocumented immigrants at a far higher rate than Bush did; the continued use of military tribunals after vowing to try terrorism suspects in civil courts; and the ongoing militaristic fixation of our government.

Obama’s principled opposition to the Iraq War as a candidate for both the U.S. Senate and the presidency led me to foolishly imagine him as a pacifist. He did end the Iraq War, as he promised, but I don’t believe we should commit to staying in Afghanistan until 2024; no other culture, from the Mongols to the Soviets, ever succeeded in “unifying” Afghanistan’s warring tribes. Apparently we have forgotten the past and are condemned, as George Santayana observed, to repeat it.

Obama had to capitulate to certain political realities – the almost-universal opposition of both parties to allowing Guantanamo prisoners on American soil to be tried in civilian courts, as well as Obama’s apprehension about facing a military/national security “coup” if he attempted to prosecute Bush-era war crimes. With an intransigent GOP opposition obstructing his every move – and rejecting their own proposals once Obama endorsed them – the president had to drop the popular “public option” from health care, abandon comprehensive immigration reform, and limit financial regulation.

I remain a pragmatist willing to work within the current electoral system because I believe that a radical-right landslide would eclipse any Democratic failure. Once in office, Romney would repay his wealthy donors by doing the bidding of the Koch brothers, the House’s “Ayn Rand” faction, and the Christian right. He would follow the dictates of Grover Norquist on a regressive tax policy that would exacerbate income disparity. He would install Supreme Court justices who would ensure a conservative majority for a generation.

Do left-wing purists really want to see the Ryan budget passed, along with interminable “Kill at Will” gun laws, racist voting laws, and xenophobic immigration laws? Do they want to witness Roe V. Wade overturned and women subjected to personhood amendments and forced vaginal probes? A GOP Senate majority swept in on Romney’s coattails could conspire with the Republican House to turn back the clock on the rights of workers to the Industrial Age, of African-Americans to the Jim Crow era, of the unemployed to “Hoovervilles,” of the elderly to county poorhouses, and of women to medieval times.

The Cory Booker Contretemps

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

So I go out of town for one blissful three-day weekend with my baby granddaughter and return home to discover that all hell has broken loose on the Sunday morning bobblehead front.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker apparently sold out President Obama on Meet the Press while I was out of cable TV and RSS-feed range, and I had little occasion (between shape-sorting brightly colored blocks, spooning mashed zucchini into Dulcinea’s Kewpie-doll mouth, and taking roughly a gazillion photos) to surf my cell phone. By the time I returned to electronic “civilization,” Booker had already backtracked twice – once after the Obama campaign had very likely chewed him out for his shocking transgression (in a YouTube clarification that MSNBC’s Morning Joe dubbed “the hostage video”), and then more vehemently the following day, after the RNC put up an online petition asking voters to step up to the plate and pledge, in raging capitals, “I STAND WITH CORY.”

“Don’t Let The Obama Campaign Silence Support For Job Creation,” the petition lead-in began.

“Yesterday New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, a surrogate spokesman for the Obama campaign called the president’s attacks on the free market ‘ridiculous’. That’s right Mr. President, we aren’t going to let you destroy free enterprise. Stand up for America. Stand up for job creators.” (That’s verbatim; no courtesy corrections, not even for making Booker mayor of a state. I don’t think they deserve any.)

First of all, what a crock of crap! Can somber scenes of laid-off steelworkers recounting what Romney’s private-equity firm did to them really be viewed as “nauseating”? The ad shone a floodlight on how aptly Bain Capital’s notorious 1980s “money shot” (a spoof photo of Mitt and his colleagues brandishing $10 and $20 bills) depicted what the firm was doing when it shifted its focus from venture-capital investments in promising start-ups to leveraged private-equity buyouts of mature companies, which were designed to maximize Bain’s profits, not to either create or save jobs.

Secondly, what gives with Cory Booker and Harold Ford, Jr. (who said he wouldn’t have backed away from Booker’s original position)? Has Booker secretly signed on as a right-wing tool? Did RNC chair Reince Priebus co-opt Ford? Are both of them in the back pockets of Wall Street campaign donors with a big ax to grind against Obama for “scapegoating” Wall Street bankers over the recession and “demonizing” capitalism?

As it turns out, the award-winning blog ThinkProgress reported in 2002 that Booker and his slate of candidates received a total of $565,000 in donations from venture capitalists, investors, and Wall Street bankers during his first mayoral race – including $36,000 from Bain Capital. Ford, a former Tennessee congressman, worked for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley after leaving public office. Other Democrats who rushed to Bain’s defense after Booker spoke out on Meet the Press included former Obama economic adviser and “car czar” Steve Rattner, who spent his career working at Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a wealthy and successful venture capitalist before serving in public office. The Romney campaign has since turned the criticisms of Obama’s ad by Booker, Ford, and Rattner into a campaign ad.)

From all the cable TV chatter, you would think that this enormous gift to Mitt Romney from Cory Booker, et. al., was bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, or any number of GOP Super PACs. It appears, however, that Booker – described in The Washington Post as “more crazy like a fox” than merely crazy – may have done something that made progressives “livid” in order to please financial-sector donors and put some political distance between himself and Obama, to whom he is constantly compared.

But the truth about this huge brouhaha over campaign tactics may end up being that nothing really substantive has changed in the presidential race since last week, when Mitt responded to a reporter’s question about a nasty remark he had made weeks earlier to Sean Hannity on the topic of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.” Them’s not fightin’ words; them’s weasel words – classic Romney equivocation, deliberate ambiguity. Dancing on the head of a pin so no one can pin him down.

Pretending to “stand by” positions or “stand with” fellow politicians definitely has its downside for the Romney campaign, whose staffers have their hands full trying to stifle any off-the-cuff remarks and make sure he’s routinely “teleprompted.” The ludicrous “I STAND WITH CORY” contretemps is merely a smokescreen for the likelihood that Romney himself lacks an effective means of disputing what the Obama ad campaign reveals about him and the “business expertise” he touts as evidence that he’s a “job creator” – at least no means other than crying “character assassination” or taking advantage of Democratic gaffes.

Nevertheless, the bobbleheads persist in believing that this lapse in party unity spells doom for the president; it helps ward off any possible insinuation that they harbor the dreaded “liberal media bias” of which they are so often accused by the right wing. “The last time I saw the mainstream media this unified in their certainty that Obama had made a political blunder was the beginning of the ‘war on women’,” read a comment posted on a progressive blog. While the Democrats worry about damage to the president’s campaign, Mitt is floundering about trying to defend himself against both the ongoing Obama campaign to hold him accountable for his business practices and a new Priorities USA ad that consists of a running critique of Romney’s “vulture capitalism” by his former Republican rivals, who pulled no punches while each of them, in turn, tried like hell to overtake Mitt’s fairly steady 25 percent share of the primary vote.

“If Mitt Romney wants to talk about what a few Democrats have said about Bain, fine. We are going to talk about what prominent Republicans and ultraconservative superstars have said about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital,” proclaimed the progressive blog The People’s View. “Did the Republicans really think that exactly this wouldn’t be the response to their singing and dancing around Booker’s comments?” wrote the anonymous blogger. “This is the big leagues, Mr. Romney. This ain’t your Republican primary.”

Has public opinion changed since Cory Booker’s temporary defection gave Republicans a big fat bull’s-eye to pin to Obama’s back? It’s too early to tell, but The Star-Ledger’s website slyly predicts that “Cory Booker’s defense of Wall Street may hurt his status with liberals, but it won’t hurt his bank account.” And why does the paper think Booker may have stepped so far out on a limb in defiance of Obama in the first place? “The Newark mayor has taken at least $491,000 in political contributions from the financial services industry in the last nine months … according to campaign filings with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission and the Federal Election Commission.” For that matter, says a Princeton political history professor, Obama’s campaign coffers are also brimming with financial-sector loot – unless it’s true that, as the pundits claim, the president has recently been coming home from Wall Street fundraising forays with empty pockets.

From the lunatic fringe, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze posed a fascinating query: “But is the pubic [sic] behind the Obama team taking the campaign in this direction?”

Sorry, answer inscrutable. (You have to subscribe to “GBTV,” Beck’s live video network, if you want to actually watch his worthless video. I would sooner ingest the extruded pink sludge that an online “10-most-disgusting” list said chicken nuggets and hot dogs are made from than give a single dime to that revolting rodeo clown.) Warning: Whatever you do, don’t Google “really disgusting substances” – unless you’d like to experiment with bulimia.

There are worse things, of course, and Glenn Beck is one of them.

The Bain of Mitt’s Existence

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

By Emily Theroux
When Rick Perry was still in the running for the GOP Republican nomination, he called folks like Mitt Romney “vulture capitalists.”

The Mittster (half Mitt, half monster) made short work of Perry, as he later did of both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, by bombarding unfortunate primary states with brutal attack ads.

It’s quite true that Romney, as has often been said of him, lacks a certain basic empathy for other human beings, at least those to whom he is not related by blood or marriage. But as intensely repellent as I find Mitt Romney, even I thought that perhaps Perry was going about half a mile too far down one of those winding Texas roads when he compared Mitt with what we used to call a “turkey buzzard” in North Florida.

Then the Obama campaign released a powerful two-minute warning to those who believe that Romney’s “business credentials” are going to help him skip across the finish line in November. It came in the form of a new campaign ad featuring former steelworkers still bitterly angry that the jobs many of them had held down for 35 years had been callously slashed after Mitt the Ripper’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, announced to investors that they were going to Kansas City in 1993 to start hacking the dead wood from their newest “acquisition,” GST Steel.

“[Bain Capital] borrowed millions to modernize the facility, but it also used the borrowed funds to pay itself back for its initial investment in GST,” said Dave Helling of The Kansas City Star. “In 2001 – two years after Romney left Bain Capital – GST Steel declared bankruptcy, leaving more than 700 people out of work. … Obama supporters said Romney’s departure did not absolve him of responsibility for GST’s demise or its workers’ troubles, which included reduced health and pension benefits.”

“You load something up with debt – debt you know is going to cause it to fail – and you’re able to walk away from the misery you caused so many people,” Helling quoted David Foster, who negotiated for GST’s unionized workers, as saying. “That to me is all I need to know about the value statement of this particular candidate.”

“I am Mitt Romney, Destroyer of Livelihoods”
Romney is staking his entire campaign on his potential appeal to independent voters as a highly successful free-market business pioneer who “created tens of thousands of jobs” during his 15-year tenure as CEO of Bain. The conceit he wishes to project, however, relies on the willingness of the public to view him favorably as “Mitt Romney, Job Creator,” rather than “Mitt Romney, Destroyer of Livelihoods.” He’s happy to boast about Bain’s “success record” at bringing fledgling start-ups like Staples up to speed or nursing moribund companies like KB Toys and Totes, the umbrella company (which later merged with Isotoner), back to life, yet he has never been too keen on fessing up to the downside of the private equity racket. The tools in the raider’s toolkit include “roll-ups” (which force one or more firms in the same industry to merge in order to cut jobs, as Romney did with a company called Ampak in 1992), “drive-by-deals” (investing in a start-up with the goal of a quick exit strategy), and “buy, strip, and flip” (buying out a target firm, usually with a leveraged buyout, stripping most of the equity, and getting out quickly).

“I never thought of what I do for a living as ‘job creation,'” said Marc B. Walpow, a former managing partner at Bain. “The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors.”

That blunt reaction, from a business partner who knew Romney well, puts what such firms actually do in relatively matter-of-fact terms. Equity capitalism is by nature an opportunistic business model that oozed into the nasty little crevices left behind by Reaganomics’ “trickle-down” theory, after it failed utterly to dribble a scrap of anything down to the middle and lower classes. The faucets of opportunity ran bone-dry in working-class neighborhoods that bore the brunt of recession, decreasing tax revenues, and increasing unemployment, while fountains of obscene wealth were being showered on those who had already climbed the ladder (or were born on its top rung).

Returning to full employment in this country by creating the kinds of stable jobs that once paid a living wage – and provided much-needed benefits as well as a social safety net for retirees – is no longer even compatible with the interests of this new, radical brand of capitalism. Downsizing the workforce, outsourcing jobs, allowing the infrastructure to crumble, and drastically cutting spending on social programs are a sign of the times and the wave of the future. The jobs that Romney so heartlessly eliminated are not coming back – and don’t expect him to feel any compunction about it. Empathy is simply not in his vocabulary.

“Success” is measured by whoever is doing the measuring, and when they are doing it. A successful outcome in 1992 for Romney the businessman would have been manipulating the acquired company’s structure in such a configuration that it would “earn” the greatest possible amount of profit for investors, while a successful outcome in 2012 for Romney the candidate would be convincing independent voters that his true goal is creating thousands of well-paying jobs for unemployed workers. (A successful outcome for the former employees of failed companies like GST Steel and Ampac would have been convincing a stoic and unresponsive Romney, for the first time in his privileged life, to view workers, rather than corporations, as people.)

This breakthrough would require a level of heart and soul that Romney may not ultimately possess. Consider the following arresting fact, just for the sake of argument: An opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times titled “Capitalists and Other Psychopaths” revealed the startling results of two recent psychological studies. The first demonstrated that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” as opposed to only 1 percent of the general populace. The second study revealed that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat, and break the law.

People who are incapable of empathy or remorse, who make stuff up about their records and conceal wrongdoing they’ve engaged in throughout their lifetimes, people like the Enron Gang who commit accounting fraud, people who think (or know) they won’t get caught for tax evasion, people who participate in “toxic dumping, product safety violations, bid rigging, overbilling, and perjury” all fall under op-ed writer William Deresiewicz’s withering scrutiny.

No wonder Richard Cohen of The Washington Post said of Romney, “Lying isn’t a sin; it’s a business plan.” (And please note: neither Deresiewicz nor I called Mitt Romney a “psychopath.” His penchant for prevarication, however, has been widely observed and remarked upon by the press. Daniel Benen, formerly of Talking Points Memo and now writing for The Rachel Maddow Blog, has been keeping a weekly weblog recording the plethora of lies that Romney is caught telling every day – without even having access to all the ones he gets away with.)

‘What Do Psychopaths Want?’
But still it’s worth asking: What do psychopaths actually do? While there is no established psychiatric definition, certain personality characteristics predominate among people categorized as psychopathic:

1) Psychopaths have been observed to be almost entirely bereft of empathy and unable to appreciate other people’s experiences or motivations. (When Bain was in the process of shutting down a failed company, according to a former employee, Romney never suggested doing anything to save workers’ jobs. “It was very clinical,” he said. “Like a doctor. When the patient is dead, you just move on to the next patient.”)

2) Psychopaths tend to be intolerant, shallow, fearless, and unable to feel shame. (“I’m unemployed, too,” Mitt the Multimillionaire” told a group of jobless citizens; he failed to see why that statement wasn’t funny and might even be offensive. One former staffer said Romney had “a particular blind spot for people as people.”)

3) Psychopaths can be extremely anxious people. (“Mitt was always worried that things weren’t going to work out – he never took big risks,” said one of his colleagues. “Everything was very measurable. I think Mitt had a tremendous amount of insecurity and fear of failure.”)

4) Psychopaths can be pathological liars who frequenty exploit and manipulate other people. (“The president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending.” “We’ve got a president in office three years, and he does not have a jobs plan yet. I’ve got one out there already and I’m not even president, yet.” “I went off on my own. I didn’t inherit money from my parents.” Romney also said once “Obamacare” is implemented, “government at all levels” will “consume” 50 percent of the American economy.”)

5) Psychopaths can be impulsive and irresponsible, and often have a low tolerance for boredom. (“It is the opinion of some of Romney’s friends … that the repetitive business of campaigning simply bores him and that this boredom is responsible for the fairly sizable gap between the charismatic man they know in private and the battery-powered figure who often appears in public,” wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York magazine.)

6) Psychopaths frequently say strange and incoherent things. (All right, I’m still not making any accusations, but just consider the following statements: “I like to fire people who perform services to me.” “The trees here are just about the right height.” “Strange things are happening to me.” “Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?”)

But perhaps the most lasting effect Romney’s strange personality has made on an institution to date was his vainglorious self-regard and creepy propensity for inspiring other people to emulate him. “Bain partners think the profits they made are a sign of their brilliance,” said David Foster, a former steelworkers union official who negotiated labor contracts with GST management from 1994 until the company’s bankruptcy. “It’s not brilliance. It’s lurking around the corner and mugging somebody.”

Just wait and see if we fail to communicate our alarm about this strange bird to enough other people, what kind of mark a Romney presidency might leave on the White House.

Flash! Obama Evolves on Gay Marriage

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

My best friend, Jim, is a Georgia native who escaped the backwaters of the Deep South after growing up there, just as I did. Since 1996, when I wandered one summer afternoon into his Middletown quilt shop, Jim and I have shared a multitude of interests. We’ve walked miles together to stay in shape, collaborated on making pillows and curtains for clients, ranted about the sorry state of American politics, watched Rachel Maddow eviscerate conservatives, traded good books, and gossiped about everything from obnoxious acquaintances to attractive men. Jim taught me how to make quilts, and I helped him figure out how to navigate Facebook. We spend a solid hour or more on Skype every few days, planted in front of our computer screens only blocks apart.

Both of us are married – me for 15 years; Jim, technically, for three-quarters of one. My spouse is a man, and so is his. Last fall, after same-sex marriage became legal in New York, Jim was finally able to wed Gary, his longtime partner, on the 35th anniversary of the day they met.

Jim is a singular individual, not a demographic statistic or a societal scapegoat to be trotted out any time a televangelist needs a reason why God hates hurricane victims, or an office-seeker wants to scare “values voters” for political gain. Jim did not “choose” to be gay (as the ignorant and the powerful alike insist), and his identity encompasses a great deal more than his sexual orientation. In a blog Jim recently began writing, he summed up his reaction to being objectified by politicians who revile him and religious proselytizers who think they can change him: “To put it simply, I am tired of  ‘sitting in the back of the bus.’ I am tired of being labeled. I am tired of being discriminated against. I am tired of religious nutbags calling me ‘evil’ and ‘degenerate’ and blaming me for natural disasters. I am tired of political candidates using me by declaring that I am ‘morally depraved’ and responsible for destroying the ‘sacred family unit,’ while, at the same time, these politicians hide behind Jesus (I was taught that Jesus was all about love, not hate) to justify their relentless prejudices and religious intolerance. To everyone who thinks they’re ‘normal’ and I’m not: How the hell does my being married have any effect on your life?”

Both parties ‘categorize’ voters, but for different reasons

My friend sees himself as a person who happens to have diverse connections to all kinds of other people, not a “gay man” – a distinction that evades those who marginalize other people by assigning them to groups identified by a common race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. The resulting “demographics” have been used by members of both major political parties to make electoral calculations. Democrats tend to focus on “minority” social groups in order to help them succeed in a society steeped in exclusion of the powerless. While their motivations to help the less fortunate may indeed be genuine, Democratic politicians still hope to win the votes of members of the demographic groups they are assisting without losing those of “independents,” whom they cannot so readily categorize. Republicans often isolate targeted social groups in order to demonize them and thereby divide potential voters into “us” (primarily wealthy white businessmen, along with “low-information” voters who hope to emulate their success) versus “them” (Democrats, racial and ethnic minorities, feminists, gays and lesbians, and non-Christians).

A North Carolina amendment making same-sex marriage unconstitutional passed all too easily because it employed gay stereotypes to appeal to the ignorance and bigotry of the majority. Few who voted in favor of it knew that the amendment would also invalidate domestic unions between unmarried opposite-sex couples and dissolve domestic-violence protections. The Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said advocates of the law were asking the wrong question for a democracy – as often happens when civil rights issues are submitted to the popular vote of a poorly informed electorate that has already been brainwashed against the targeted group. “The question shouldn’t be, ‘How do you feel about same-sex marriage?’ but do you let the majority rule against the rights of the minority?”

The Democrats, although they don’t share the ruthless Republican agenda of targeting gays and lesbians to polarize the electorate, are not entirely blameless when it comes to politicizing them. In 1996, while running for the Illinois state senate, Barack Obama indicated on a survey that he favored legalizing gay marriage, but by the time he ran against black conservative Alan Keyes for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he began to voice “religious reservations.” Polls of churchgoing black voters revealed a general cultural disapproval of gay “sinners,” and Obama needed the vast majority of the black vote to win his Senate seat. When he announced his presidential bid in 2007, Obama said he opposed same-sex marriage but approved of civil unions. By 2011, a spokesman said Obama believed the issue was “best addressed by the states” (a loaded historical reference that angered even Obama’s gay campaign donors), while adding that committed same-sex couples should receive “equal protection under the law.”

Obama’s views on marriage equality ‘evolved’ at a snail’s pace

Critics roundly lambasted Obama for dragging his feet on the issue of marriage equality. There was no question that he had done more for LGBT Americans than any president ever had. Yet Obama continued to claim, with increasingly less credibility, that his position on same-sex marriage was “evolving.” Then Joe Biden opened his big mouth once again and told David Gregory on Meet the Press that he was “entirely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. The following day, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan echoed Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality. By that time, the president’s hesitation to follow the lead of his own administration had begun to look like “vacillation” or worse, “poor leadership.” Once the North Carolina ban passed, the pressure became overwhelming for Obama to make his position on marriage equality clear.

It was taking too long to “build a more perfect union,” as the president had promised in October 2010. So President Obama changed course rather abruptly by declaring during an interview that his evolution on the issue was complete, and that he was now in favor of full marriage equality.

Hostilities commence after president ‘declares war on marriage’

Now that the president has uttered the historic words, what happens next? The fear of alienating black voters must have long appeared well-founded to a man living in a virtual bubble. Yet one conservative blogger opined that, given the wretched state of the economy, open support for same-sex marriage probably wouldn’t cost Obama very many black votes. A surprising 60 percent of the vote in North Carolina counties with black majorities was cast in favor of banning same-sex marriage, but Barack Obama’s name was nowhere on the ballot.

Reaction from the right was fast and furious, though predictable. “Obama Flip Flops, Declares War on Marriage” shrieked Fox News Nation’s headline. Eric Cantor triumphantly tweeted, “With the economy in stagnation and crippling amounts of debt, the President seeks to further divide America by launching in [sic] a culture war.” The Log Cabin Republicans condemned Obama for being “a day late and a dollar short” by waiting to speak out until the day after LGBT activists lost the North Carolina vote.

My friend Jim, however, wasn’t so quick to condemn the president, even after waiting such an interminable length of time before at last seeing his position vindicated. “Finally!” Jim said. “Needless to say, I’m very happy that he has chosen to stand up for our civil rights, which is what it’s all about for me. I will certainly vote for him for president now.

“This issue was seriously affecting his presidency, and I think he just had to come to terms with it,” observed Jim, whose final assessment was blunt and to the point. The president’s choice, in the end, Jim said, “was to s**t or get off the pot, and he finally s**t.”

Stand fast, compatriots! The onslaught from the other side, an entire raft of it, has only just begun to fly.

The Twirling Mitt

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

One blogger called Mitt Romney’s miraculous conversion from Severely Conservative Xenophobe to Patron Saint of the Student Loan “a severely pandering flip.” Mitt’s Miraculous Pivot into Etch-a-Sketch Mode, after winning five northeastern primaries, may be a little pricklier than he expects when he floats back down to earth.

The pundit buzz so far suggests it might not be as easy as Romney previously anticipated to wriggle out of all those far-right primary stances he took in order to prove his conservative bona fides and clinch the Republican nomination. Mitt essentially promised conservative ideologues the moon. He bent over backwards and walked on his hands, vowing to perform impossible fiscal miracles: balancing the federal budget, cutting taxes to 17 percent of GDP, and capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP. He even sweetened the pot by throwing in all of that contentious social-policy mumbo-jumbo that really gets the wingnuts worked up. Romney championed mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, federal funding cuts to Planned Parenthood, the Blunt Amendment allowing employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception on moral grounds, and “personhood amendments” that would ban federal funding for most forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Romney proclaimed so insistently that he was now and had always been a conservative, it’s difficult to envision how the far right would ever allow him to back down from his extremist positions. However, Mitt and the GOP appear to have cooked up a master plan, which is clever, unprincipled, and absolutely brazen. You might call it “implausible deniability.” Despite the immutable evidence provided by videotape, All-of-the-Above Mitt has begun to disavow ever saying any of those extremist things that everyone heard him say. Just in time for the Big Pivot, Romney went into full vacillation posture. Out of the right side of his lying teeth, he assured House Republicans he was on board with heartlessly slashing $33 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. Out of the left side, he began pandering to poor people, who always want you to do something they aren’t conservative enough to do for themselves. (Isn’t that the GOP Golden Rule?)

By primary night, Romney abruptly stopped spinning all of that slash-and-burn rhetoric and began tracing his gradual arc toward the cheap seats. He didn’t say the word “conservative” a single time, and he actually pronounced the following words: “As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can’t get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart.” (Imagine that: few of us knew he had one.)

Mitt’s kinder, gentler “general-election-speak,” however, already has a razor-sharp spur “Pearcing” its right flank. Immigration spin can be a really sticky wicket, especially if the entire Southern Hemisphere is breathing down your neck for “absolutely” supporting Jan Brewer’s border-busting anti-immigration bill. The time had come for Mitt to saddle up his Missouri Foxtrotter, fetch his designer cowboy boots and Parisian riding crop, and bid “au revoir” as the missus cantered off on her Austrian warmblood to execute a few precise dressage pirouettes. Only then would Mitt be ready to gallop off into the Arizona sunset for a word with Russell Pearce, who thought the slippery candidate was still backing him 1,000 percent, like he had promised the day before.
You remember Pearce – that big, beefy state senator who sponsored Arizona’s “Papers, Please” Law, the one that lets troopers pull over suspicious-looking “perps” for a bald tire or a busted taillight and then demand four different kinds of ID if they look – well, you know, “illegal.” (Rep. Brian Bilbray said you can tell which ones are illicit because their shoes look different from other people’s.)

Mitt Romney said a few choice things about undocumented immigrants, too, when he was sucking up to the Tea Party so hard, he almost tripped and fell into Boston Harbor. Remember his solemn recommendation that all 12 million undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans simply “self-deport”? He also promised during a January debate that he would veto any version of the DREAM Act that offered a path to citizenship for Latino college graduates. Now, Florida fresman Senator Marco Rubio is working to draft a similar bill that would offer the college education without the guaranteed path to citizenship – although diehard Tea Partiers warn they may oppose it. I wonder if the trees are going to be “just the right height” in Arizona or if Mitt can find some “cheesy grits” in Florida (both places he and Rubio are going to have to spend lots of time puckering up in if Mitt’s going to have any hope of wriggling out of this unholy mess he’s blundered into).

The newly minted center-right candidate has several hurdles to climb in “making nice” with the conservative base he seems to be deserting. Before his campaign manager jostled the Etch-a-Sketch and wiped clean the slate of far-right talking points, Romney had been palling around with dubious characters like anti-immigration activist Kris Kobach, whom he now denies was a campaign adviser. After having followed anti-gay, anti-Mormon shock jock Bryan Fischer onto the CPAC stage last fall, Romney later riled the volatile Fischer when he first signaled his course change by hiring a gay foreign policy spokesman.

After the serious swivel began on primary night, Mitt genuflected shamelessly at the altar of general-election bywords: “urban children,” “veterans who need jobs,” and “moms and dads who never thought they’d be on food stamps” – the kinds of heresies that were unheard-of weeks earlier. Conservative leaders are generally holding their tongues about Romney’s new center-right drift, at least on minor policy matters, because they would rather have anyone in the White House than Barack Obama. House Republicans may be largely keeping mum on Mitt’s new centrist position on student loans, for instance, but they are adamant about their support for Paul Ryan’s Dickensian orthodoxy on the 2013 federal budget and its drastic cuts to social programs.
Back in March, “Willard Scrooge” had grumped, in response to a college student’s question at a town hall meeting, “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that … Don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.” Never one to covet popularity, Mitt had yet to experience it, and it looked at that point as if he probably never would.

Now, it appeared as if Miserly Mitt had been visited by three ghosts. On primary eve, he raced back to the teleprompters at the apparent urging of his campaign manger and did a full frontal flip-flop with a half-twist, contradicting his own previous position to such a radical extent that he now wholeheartedly agrees with his Democratic rival. “I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans,” Mitt stammered, scarcely able to believe such benevolent words were coming out of his mouth. “There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates … in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.”

Extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market? Urban children suffering in the snow? Homeless veterans shivering under bridges? Next thing you know, Compassionate Mitt will be stuffing the pockets of poor people, not hedge fund managers, with $100 bills, and proclaiming it’s Christmas morning in America. If it will get him elected, he’ll say any flip-flopping thing. But I don’t think, for some reason, that immigrants in Arizona – or excruciatingly severe conservatives like Bryan Fischer or Jacob Marley’s ghost – are going to climb aboard.

When Election Day finally rolls around, which Mitt Romney will show up to say whatever urban children want to hear?

The Mommy Wars

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

The “Mommy Wars of 2012” are over, a mere week after they began.

If you’re surprised, you’re giving Mitt Romney and his manufactured controversy operation too much credit. Approximately a week is about all it takes for Mitt to trip over the coattails of his own latest advantage in the presidential race. Mitt, you see, likes gloating so much that he inevitably blows it by simply opening his mouth again to utter unscripted speech.

After an early April poll revealed an 18-point gender gap between President Obama (54 percent) and Romney (36 percent) in 12 swing states, Romney turned to his wife, Ann, who continued to assure him that women were really interested in the national debt and the deficit, not in a raft of extremist Republican bills targeting women’s reproductive rights. Feeling his oats about what he considered a successful counterattack, Romney decided to hold a conference call between reporters and campaign staffers. The candidate, who tends to stray off-script during “press availabilities,” was wisely not included in what was touted as a confab about “issues of vital concern to women.” But simply not putting Romney himself on the line wasn’t enough of a “stop-gaffe” measure. When Sam Stein of The Huffington Post asked whether Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the line went dead for a full six seconds, before a staffer spluttered, “Sam, we’ll get back to you on that.”

Fortunately for the dumbstruck Romney camp, they didn’t have to wait long to seize the next opportunity for oneupsmanship that fell into their laps. Enter minor Democratic operative turned CNN commentator Hilary Rosen, who appeared that very night on CNN to offer the token liberal perspective on the equal pay flap. “Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life,” Rosen said when asked about the advisability of Romney having relied on his wife as an adviser on the economy and “women’s issues.” Most pundits left out what Rosen said next: “She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.”

The GOP, finding itself backed into a corner, simply changed the subject. It wasn’t a Republican war against women; it was a Democratic war against motherhood! The mainstream media, seeking fuel for their next ratings bonfire, followed the GOP’s lead over the cliff as fast as their little lemming-legs would carry them. Rosen struck a match, as one salivating women’s magazine editor later described it, and inadvertently ignited the media firestorm that was hailed for an entire week as “the new Mommy Wars.” Although Rosen has no connection to either the DNC or the Obama reelection campaign, conservative pundits called her an Obama campaign adviser. Chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told CNN’s John King, “She is actually your employee, not ours.” Both the president and the vice president got right out in front of the “issue,” deploring Rosen’s slights against stay-at-home mothers.

The TV machine was abuzz with tendentious commentary from the right about the trumped-up controversy. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, without a hint of irony, said that the left should respect women’s choices. A representative of Bill Donohoe’s Catholic League tweeted: “Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.” Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee, added his own nonsensical retort: “The Catholic League should be encouraging adoption, not demeaning the parents who are blessed to raise these children.”

The whole ruse was working brilliantly – at least until that perpetual gaffe machine, Mitt Romney, screwed up once more and forfeited whatever “moral” ascendancy over Obama had caused everyone in the known universe to throw poor Hilary Rosen under the bus. First, Mitt trotted out his wife to praise “all working moms” at an unlikely venue – the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. Next, an enterprising NBC reporter captured on audiotape the overly loud remarks of Motormouth Mitt, addressing wealthy supporters at a Florida fund-raiser about his plans for two cabinet departments viewed by conservatives as obstacles to the emerging plutocracy. Far from being genuinely outraged about Hilary Rosen’s criticism, Ann Romney revealed on the same tape that she was delighted by the controversy and considered it her “early birthday present.” Finally, both Romneys, during an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, appeared to be measuring the White House drapes when Mitt said Obama should “start packing” and Ann said, “I believe it’s Mitt’s time,” and “It’s our turn now.” No humility for America’s would-be “First Mom,” apparently.

The jury is still out on whether the phony Mommy Wars controversy boosted Romney or hurt Obama with women voters. While a Pew Research Center poll released on April 17 revealed that Obama’s lead among all women slipped five percentage points since March to 13 points, subgroup data suggest a staggering gender gap among younger women that could become truly daunting for Republicans in the future. Among women aged 18 to 29, Obama is leading Romney by 45 points (70 to 25 percent)! If you expand that group to include men of the same age, Obama still leads Romney by 28 points (61 to 33 percent). As Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post points out, “Not since 1988 has a Republican presidential candidate won the women’s vote (and George H.W. Bush won women by only a single point).”

Our children are weathering this cultural crucible admirably, recycling that timeworn battle cry of earlier generations: “Don’t trust any (Republicans) over 30!” (Looking back on it, that’s what we really meant all along. We were just too young to realize it.)

Chris Strikes Out

Monday, April 9th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

I’ve been sacked out on the couch for the past week, trying to recover from a nasty chest cold. As a result, I’ve been watching entirely too much cable television.

By last night, I was already dazed and confused by cough medicine and feeling downright irritable, when I happened upon Chris Matthews going all “Cold War” on a Cuban-American guest during a “Hardball” discussion of Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen’s recent remarks about Fidel Castro. Guillen has been widely reviled in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood in recent days for telling Time magazine that he “loved” Castro [Time’s translation] and adding, “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here.”

Guillen is not Cuban-American, although why he would utter such a careless and incendiary remark in a hypersensitive region like Little Havana remains hard to explain. Ironically, Guillen was hired in large part because of his reckless charm; as a genuine character and a fellow Latino, Guillen was expected to bolster the Marlins’ flagging image, especially among the Cuban-American population. The team built an expensive new stadium, hired star Dominican shortstop Jose Reyes, and brought in Guillen only months ago to manage the team.

In 2005, Guillen (who managed the Chicago White Sox for eight years) was lauded as the first Latino manager in major league history to win a World Series. Looking back on his career, however, the Marlins’ owners might have observed a penchant for blustery talk and coarse language. The team’s owners wanted a Latino coach, but they got a little more than they bargained for by hiring this cheeky Venezuelan who has described himself as “the Charlie Sheen of baseball minus the drugs and the prostitutes” and was quoted as saying, “When you have success, you can talk all the [crap] you want.”

Guillen’s career has been tarnished by previous political controversy. In 2006, he was fined and ordered to undergo sensitivity training for referring to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti with a homophobic slur. Guillen, an inveterate loudmouth, apologized to gays in general yet refused to express any remorse to Mariotti. When the White Sox won the Series, Guillen declined to participate in the traditional team visit to the White House, then occupied by George W. Bush. While he was criticized for holding up a Venezuelan flag during the trophy ceremony , Guillen became an American citizen a year later and has denied rumors  that he is politically supportive of pugnacious President Hugo Chávez. Now, the largely conservative Cuban-American expatriate community in Miami has erupted, calling for Guillen’s job and comparing him to baseball outcasts Al Campanis, John Rocker, and Marge Schott, all of whom were sanctioned for making racist remarks. Guillen – whom everyone acknowledges said nothing about race or ethnicity – has apologized and accepted his five-game suspension, but he insists that he was mistranslated and claims he was only expressing a sort of grudging respect for Castro because he has somehow managed to avoid assassination for the past five decades. A boycott is underway in Miami, and many sportswriters and pundits have predicted Guillen’s tenure in Miami will prove short-lived.

Chris Matthews waded into the controversy by inviting Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez to appear on his MSNBC show. After Suarez condemned Guillen’s remarks, Matthews, always ready to suck up to conservative guests to prove he doesn’t harbor any “liberal media bias,” jumped right in with: “Well, my view is that this guy bought the wrong ticket in the Cold War, and if the other side had won, if the Communists had won, that guy would have been standing in Central Park watching the execution of anybody with any political talent in this country. So I’m with you guys on this one. Castro was no good.”

Now I am no fan of Tweety, as progressive bloggers have long called Matthews because of the conspicuous shade of canary yellow he dyes his hair. The man has a well-documented propensity for a hale-fellow-well-met kind of “male bonding” with controversial conservative figureheads – among them, disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom Delay; Family Research Council President Tony Perkins; former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, and paleoconservative political analyst Pat Buchanan. During his interview with Suarez, Matthews bluntly remarked, “It’s not a capital offense; I mean, you’re not gonna torture the guy.” This offhand and absurd pander to his Republican guest is quintessential Tweety. It’s a stance he takes when he’s angling to be viewed as going mano a mano with an adversary, when he “likes the cut of the guy’s jib,” as he is fond of saying. How convenient for him that his guest this time was a conservative Cuban-American politician with whom Chris could presume to act macho and chummy over “commies.”

Neither Suarez nor Guillen was even a twinkle in his father’s eye when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. Matthews himself was a newborn in 1945. Still, nothing seems to prevent him from masquerading as an unparalleled expert on the era.

But perhaps Chris Matthews is right. Maybe the Red Scare really is on its way back. This week, notorious Tea Party Rep. Allen West announced that he’s “heard” that up to 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party.

This is how it starts – with a whisper campaign. When a Palm Beach Post reporter asked him to back up his assertion, West refused to “name names” – but a Fox News staffer later tweeted that West’s flack told him the congressman was referring to members of the House’s Progressive Caucus.

Chris Matthews will probably try to convince us that he had a sneaking suspicion about those Netroots types all along.

Emily Theroux, the newest member of  Zest of Orange, is a former magazine editor at The Times Herald-Record and writes occasional political commentary on social media sites.

The Widening Gender Gap

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

Dispute political polls if you like, but this one reveals a gender gap so wide that 18 women could stride through it shoulder-to-shoulder on their way to the polls that really matter: the voting booths in November.

On Monday, a Gallup/USA Today swing state poll disclosed that among women under 50 in a dozen battleground states, President Obama leads Mitt Romney by a 2-1 margin (with 60 percent favoring Obama and only 30 percent backing Romney – a  precipitous 14 percent drop in Romney’s support among younger women since a similar poll in February). Results of the new poll represent Obama’s largest lead over Romney to date: 51 to 42 percent among all registered voters in the 12 swing states, as opposed to Romney’s 48 to 46 percent lead over Obama in February. “While Romney has a slight lead among men, 48 percent to 47 percent, he lags by a whopping 18 points, 54 percent to 36 percent, in the women’s vote,” wrote Molly Ball in The Atlantic. “That means Obama’s nine-point lead over Romney in the poll can be entirely attributed to the women’s vote.”

When Romney found out how few women intend to vote for him if, as expected, he is nominated, his gut reaction was to deny the existence of a Republican war on women. I guess he figured it was worth a shot. After all, conservatives have spent several weeks auditioning a new scapegoat for the furor caused by the raft of misogynistic bills that members of the Republican majority in both Congress and numerous state legislatures have proposed since the 2010 election put them in power. After the titular head of the GOP, radio windbag Rush Limbaugh, was widely condemned for embarking on a three-day sexist rant against a law student who enraged him by testifying about contraceptives before a House subcommittee, Republican strategists struck back by pontificating about “Obama’s war on women.”

This flimsy ruse – which fell flat – was based on a premise that Rachel Maddow of MSNBC lampooned as “I Know I Am, But What Are You?” It goes like this: Because, a) HBO comic Bill Maher (who doesn’t even consider himself a “liberal”) had called Sarah Palin some very raunchy names during a comedy club performance and, b) Maher later donated $1 million to the Super PAC supporting the president’s re-election – listen carefully here and try to tease out the logic – therefore, it was, c) President Obama’s failure to return Maher’s tainted donation and not, d) the Republican Party’s relentless political agenda of relegating half the population to Dark Ages status that was the true instigator of the war on women.

After a puny punt in the direction of the ebbing tide of potential female voters, Mitt tried throwing a Hail Mary pass to his defenders in the Catholic Church hierarchy. After all, it was their “religious liberty” on the matter of choosing whether to cover female employees’ contraceptives that Republicans made such a stink about in the first place, after Obama mandated that health insurance plans provided by religious affiliated institutions would not be exempt from offering contraceptive coverage. (Later, the massive conservative outcry over denying bishops their First Amendment rights intimated Obama into changing his mind about requiring the church to provide contraceptives to female sinners free of charge. He announced that the insurance companies would leave the religious institutions entirely out of the equation and supply their employees with contraceptives directly.) “My goodness,” the Mittster later intoned, employing one of his favorite colloquial anachronisms – and totally ignoring Obama’s change of heart about the free birth control. “Under Obamacare,” Romney warned, “we’re going to tell the Catholic Church that it has to violate its religious conscience and provide insurance that gives free contraceptives, free sterilization, and free morning-after pills to their employees. … And if I am the president of the United States, I will protect our first right, the right of religious freedom.”

Mitt had to ask his wife, Ann, to elucidate an issue about which he is clearly clueless: “What Women Want,” which was the title of an asinine “chick flick” starring that inimitable champion of women’s rights, Mel Gibson. (Unlike the movie Mel, Mitt lacks the superhuman capacity to read women’s minds.) As he awkwardly replied to a question during a campaign event in Wisconsin,” Ann says that she’s going across the country and talking with women, and what they’re talking about is the debt that we’re leaving the next generation and the failure of this economy to put people back to work. … We have work to do, to make sure we take our message to the women of America, so they understand how we’re going to get good jobs and we’re going to have a bright economic future for them and for their kids,” Mitt stiffly intoned. “And make sure that these distortions that the Democrats throw in are clarified and the truth is heard.”

Too bad I wasn’t in that Wisconsin crowd. I would have “clarified” some “distortions” for him. First of all, most women aren’t any more concerned about the national debt or the deficit than anybody else is at the moment, other than right-wing ideologues. Trying to fill people’s heads with foreboding about their grandchildren’s future financial obligations has long been a false construct devised by the same folks who don’t care about the pitiful state their free-market, regulation-averse policies are going to leave the planet in by the time those same grandchildren inherit it. The swing-state poll found that the salient issue for women voters is health care. Ann Romney’s campaign talking points reflect how concerned her bewildered husband thinks women are about the deficit. “But according to this poll, that’s not really the case,” said Ball. “The deficit was fourth among women’s chief concerns. For both men and women, birth control was last among the six issues polled.”

Secondly, politicians and pundits from both political camps have blamed the GOP for the inevitable result of this poll. Liberal radio host Leslie Marshall stated in a recent column that, in her view, the Republican Party brought this on itself. “The more they spoke about contraceptives, the more it sounded like we were in the year 1712 rather than 2012,” Marshall wrote. “These poll numbers show that the GOP is alienating female voters in droves.” During an interview with USA Today, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina ventured that Romney had created “severe problems” for himself by vowing to defund Planned Parenthood and by supporting the Blunt amendment, a Senate measure that, had it not been defeated, would have enabled any employer to ban contraception coverage for reasons of conscience. “Romney’s run to the right may be winning him Tea Party votes,” Messina said. “American women can’t trust Romney to stand up for them.”

Even some Republicans blame the dramatic defection of women from Romney on the GOP’s ill-advised focus on social issues, which, ironically, originated as a Republican meme intended to distract voters from indications that the economy was actually improving on Obama’s watch. Republicans’ support by men “won’t be good enough if we’re losing women by nine points or 10 points,” said Republican strategist Sara Taylor Fagen. “The focus on contraception has not been a good one for us,” she noted, although she then added, “and Republicans have unfairly taken on water on this issue.” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who recently announced her retirement from the Senate, called the Republican focus on contraception “a retro-debate that (already) took place in the 1950s” and stated that Sandra Fluke – Limbaugh’s target – “should have been commended, not condemned, for her courage in expressing her own views and beliefs before members of Congress.” Romney’s denial of the fact that Republicans shot themselves in the foot while trying to storm the Democratic stronghold – coupled with his lame attempt to shift the blame to economic woes he falsely attributes to Democrats – are not going to help pull him out of the black hole of female disapprobation that his party’s policies (and his own failure to strongly condemn them) have backed him into.

With both women and, surprisingly, men under the age of 50 (who now support Obama by 53 to 41 percent) deserting Romney’s candidacy, his only consolation may be the grumpy old men who remain in his corner. “It’s older men, not younger women, who are the true outlier in the poll,” Molly Ball commented. “They’re the only group with which Romney has a lead, and it’s a big one, 56-38.”

Al Swearengen, who commented on a blog post about the Gallup/USA Today poll, said it best: “GOP: Grandpas-Only Party. The crankier, the better.”

ALEC and the 2nd Amendment

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

The National Rifle Association has long relied on a catchy bumper-sticker slogan to justify its campaign to defeat gun control and thereby help corporate giants like Walmart sell more guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

In Florida, unfortunately, the two opposing premises don’t cancel each other out. The state’s “Stand Your Ground” law makes it possible for people to kill people, using guns, and theoretically “get away with murder” (or manslaughter, or the “justifiable homicide” designations that tripled between 2006, the year the law went into effect, and 2010. As long as they claim they felt “threatened” in some indeterminate way and that they acted in self-defense, shooters are immune from civil suits and criminal prosecution.

It’s been one month since Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager walking alone through an unfamiliar gated community, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by self-designated “neighborhood watch captain” George Zimmerman, who maintained, in the absence of eyewitnesses, that he acted in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. Since that tragic night, a maelstrom of strident and conflicting opinions about whether the shooting was racially motivated and which man was the real “victim” have turned the case into a media circus.

This week, the news broke that lead investigator Chris Serino didn’t believe Zimmerman’s story from the outset and wanted to charge him with homicide or negligent manslaughter. The Seminole County State Attorney’s office informed Serino, however, that the “Stand Your Ground” law required more evidence than the investigator had yet gathered in order for him to make an arrest. The measure was signed into law by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. And that’s where the NRA – and a little-known legislative lobbying organization that spends as much as $7 million a year to spin conservative ideology into law – come into the picture.

If the NRA hadn’t collaborated for years with the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to lobby for passage by state legislatures of the “Stand Your Ground” law’s almost identically worded precursor, the “Castle Doctrine,” Zimmerman may not have even considered using deadly force against another human being whom he encountered in a public place. Last summer, the Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit investigative reporting group, put up its latest website,, to shed light on the shadowy group. ALEC officially masquerades as America’s largest group of state legislators, yet 98 percent of its budget comes from corporate donors like Walmart (the top seller of guns and ammunition in the country), Altria (the parent company of Philip Morris), Coors, Bell South, Verizon, and Koch Industries. ALEC’s activities are also underwritten by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. ALEC pushes its far-right agenda by drafting “model” bills, many of which are later adopted by state legislatures virtually as written – in one case, so hastily that the lawmaker who proposed the bill reportedly forgot to remove ALEC’s mission statement from the copy she submitted for a vote.

After New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made the connection between Trayvon Martin’s death and ALEC’s  “Stand Your Ground” model, I listened intently to that night’s cable TV commentary. My knee-jerk reaction was as follows: You could have heard the grubs foraging in the lawns around the headquarters of television broadcasting outlets. I didn’t hear a single left-leaning cable TV pundit bring up ALEC on that evening’s prime-time programming – not even Rachel Maddow, whose silence on the subject initially stunned me. Later, I typed “Any reaction to Paul Krugman’s column about ALEC?” into Google’s search engine. What surfaced first were a few comments by fellow economists and progressive bloggers, along with a handful of tweets from the Netroots faithful. Digging deeper, I discovered that John Nichols of “The Nation,” who had written extensively last summer about ALEC’s entanglement in other state laws, discussed his findings on Current TV’s “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann. In addition, Lawrence O’Donnell did a segment about ALEC’s model bills on his MSNBC show last May.

Nicole Belle of the progressive blog “Crooks and Liars” showered praise on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who delved into ALEC’s sponsorship of the “Stand Your Ground” law a day before Krugman’s column appeared. “While other Sunday morning bobbleheads contented themselves to debate whether President Obama was politicizing the Trayvon Martin death by speaking on it, Hayes opted to talk about something no other news outlet thus far has been brave enough to raise,” Belle wrote.

It’s true that programs like “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation,” and Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” don’t often venture into the netherworld of controversial organizations like ALEC – which, of course, denies that it has a partisan agenda. After all, the mainstream media have been accused of “liberal media bias” for so long by Fox News and right-wing radio hosts that they’ve overreacted by kowtowing to their critics and failing to challenge guests who answer direct questions by spouting evasive Republican talking points. The braver pundits cited above, however, dared to expose the underbelly of an organization that feeds on class and racial anxiety in order to scare more affluent citizens into arming themselves to the teeth.

The mainstream media have long maintained an uncomfortable truce with popular corporate mainstays like Coca-Cola, UPS, and AT&T, by declining to bring up their financial backing of right-wing political activities. (It’s not surprising that the same corporations support large media conglomerates by running advertisements, both in print and on the air.) “Big Think” blogger Kris Broughton recently applauded a local Omaha TV reporter for asking a Nebraska state senator why a bill he had sponsored sounded exactly like a model bill from the “ALEC Exposed” website. Broughton then speculated about “why NBC wastes good money on David Gregory and his lap dog routine” when feistier journalists are out on their beats demanding real answers.

On the right-wing blogs I visited, ugly invective against Paul Krugman surged like larvae from beneath a jagged rock. Like ALEC itself, the “creepy cronyism” Krugman described tends to shun the disinfecting power of sunlight. Meanwhile, at the “Rally for Trayvon Martin” being held tomorrow at high noon in front of ALEC’s D.C. headquarters, a coalition of gun-control advocates will wage yet another battle against what organizers are calling “Kill at Will” bills. The protesters stand to score a minor victory even if all they do is expose ALEC’s machinations to the flesh-and-blood world beyond the blogosphere – a world where, when lobbyists’ hypothetical guns are fired, real people die.

Note: Tomorrow’s rally is being sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy, the National Urban League, the NAACP,, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Common Cause, People for the American Way, and the National Council of Churches, among other organizations.

“The JOBS Act: Just Offer BS”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

By Emily Theroux

Two weeks ago, House Republicans made alphabet soup by stirring the unemployment crisis into their own hearty stew of Orwellian Newspeak. In the interim, between the passage of the 2012 “JOBS” Act in the House and the defeat of the thin gruel that detractors swapped out for it during yesterday’s Senate vote, enough lawmakers refused to eat the nasty stuff that the bill has now become a nondescript porridge that nobody wants to taste.

After the House passed the “JOBS” Act in a bipartisan vote of 390-23, President Obama urged the Senate to follow suit. During an election year, after all, who could oppose the first jobs legislation widely supported on both sides of the aisle of a contentious Congress? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Chuck Schumer led the bill’s Democratic cheering squad, but others feared the measure would scuttle regulatory protections for investors, particularly elderly people targeted by scam artists. The bill’s detractors offered a variation that proved more palatable to labor leaders, consumer advocates, securities experts, and pension fund managers. The watery broth that resulted made a splashy mess all over the Senate floor in a 55-44 defeat.

Shades of Eric Cantor! Can’t you just smell the piquant aroma of ambiguous right-wing talking points? The bill’s guarded family recipe calls for a teaspoon of feigned regard for the kitchen-table concerns of ordinary Americans, a pinch of  “small business” demagoguery, and a dollop of pandering about “job-killing regulations.” Simply whisk this equivocal mumbo-jumbo into a stockpot simmering with doctrinaire anti-regulatory fervor, and voila! Gumbo’s on!

The result is the 2012 JOBS Act, an unsavory dish that has proven relatively easy for Republicans to disguise as cooked to order by “job creators” – and for Democrats with campaign-dollar signs in their eyes to gag down. Forbes speculated about whether the bill might unleash fraud. New York Times columnist Gail Collins thought “JOBS” could really stand for the “Just Open Bucket Shops” Act. Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who declined to endorse the bill after Cantor, the House Majority Leader, sucked up to him, quipped, “I call it ‘Just Old Bills.’” But Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect, appearing on a “Countdown” segment, came up with the pithiest translation: “Just Offer BS.”

While the legislation promises to create jobs by removing that standard right-wing bogeyman, “burdensome regulations” – which its proponents claim prevent generously defined “small” business start-ups from going public – its detractors remain suspicious of its ingenious conservative acronym: J.O.B.S., which stands for “Jump-start Our Business Start-ups.” A recent New York Times editorial says the so-called “jobs” bill won’t create jobs; another points out that “reams of Congressional testimony, market analysis and academic research have shown that regulation has not been an impediment to raising capital.” If passed, the JOBS Act might well encourage the same type of frontier regulatory fiasco that led to the dot-com crash, the Enron debacle, and the mortgage meltdown, which ultimately caused massive unemployment.

In the “reality-based world,” this transparent Republican ploy doesn’t fly. Through the right-wing looking glass, however, words and phrases are easily twisted into a brand of doublespeak that turns the meaning of language on its head. Those evil geniuses who sit around in conservative think tanks and brainstorm the right wing’s ubiquitous dog-whistle code words really outdid themselves this time. If I had been a fly on the wall in one of those erstwhile “smoke-filled rooms” when the JOBS Act was being concocted, this is the kind of prattle I would have expected to hear:

“Let’s see … the Democrats keep ragging us about not passing a single piece of jobs legislation after we made jobs our campaign centerpiece in 2010 so we could swamp the House with Tea Party patriots. The lefties piss and moan that we’ve spent the past couple of years subduing immoral women, dumping geezer freeloaders from the cushy ‘social safety net,’ badgering lazy slobs who would rather be couch potatoes than get off their fat duffs and find a job, exposing welfare queens, blaming the ‘Democrat Party’ for increasing the national debt (and by the way, what’s that baloney about paying off debts we ran up last year? Oh, right – we’ve voted to raise the damn debt ceiling every time the president’s been one of ours, but far be it from any of us to say so), and tagging that uppity socialist Barack Obama with destroying America’s Triple A credit rating (don’t blame us – Mitt said it first!). So let’s pass a bill that secretly gets rid of even more regulations and guts SarBox (that’s what us conservatives call the Sarbanes-Oxley Act). Billion-dollar IPOs? No problem. Just call ’em ‘Mom & Pop start-ups.’ Then we can palm it off on the Dems as a ‘jobs bill’ by coming up with a wicked-cool acronym that hides what’s really in there. So what if ‘Jump-start Our Business Start-ups’ sounds a little forced? The true believers will decode our cues, Obama will chug it to improve his poll numbers, and the huddled masses will never know the difference.

“The real kicker is that almost every last one of those hungry House Dems is gonna swallow our hype whole. They can already taste the fear of those thundering attack ads sabotaging Independents’ brains come September. Now that I think of it, throw a few stones in that ‘crock’-pot, Mr. Cantor, and call it Lobster Bisque!”