Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Tea Party Duped By NeoCons?

Capitol Hill Blue - which has as it's masthead line: "Because Nobody's Life, Liberty or Property is Safe While Congress is in Session or the White House is Occupied" - is the latest to express frustration with those freshmen Congressional Representatives they helped elect.

A May 23 post by Doug Thompson laments last year's campaign promises as "[j]ust more hypocritical political posturing." Why the negativity? Thompson's answer: "While talking the big plan to be fiscally responsible the Republican freshmen have packed a huge $553 billion spending bill with millions of pet defense projects for their home districts."

That is correct - $553 billion, most of which was for defense-related spending in the representatives' districts. This should come as a surprise to no one, and not simply because money corrupts and it does so most fiercely in the halls of Congress. This is no surprise because anyone who has been paying attention knows the Tea Party is funded primarily by individuals and corporations set to financially benefit from defense spending (for a good list of Tea Party financial backers see SourceWatch).

All of this begs two questions - did the "rank and file" Tea Party followers really think they were going to change the way the government does business? And will they turn on the GOP in 2012?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tough Week to be a Newt

It's impossible to muster sympathy for this clown, though as a post on Gawker notes, the pummeling Newt is taking draws one close to feeling bad for the campaign.

This morning Gingrich is in Waterloo, IA, asking supporters to appear in a video on his behalf. According to Gingrich, doing so "would be very helpful 'cause we have to sort of convince the Washington news media that actually the voters will decide when this election is over, not five or six pundits," the Des Moines Register is reporting.

During this appearance, Gingrich claimed President Obama does not understand the Middle East, focusing primarily on Pakistan. "We gave Pakistan $20 billion since 9/11," Gingrich said. "...Shouldn't the president be asking some pretty fundamental questions" about if bin Laden was protected by the Pakistani government? While this would seem a reasonable question it ignores the fact that as of now there is no evidence that top officials of the Pakistani government knew of bin Laden's presence. Additionally, the administration has said it will act to put funding at risk if evidence of government involvement emerges.

Meanwhile, as Gingrich continues to show a myopic disregard for unfolding circumstances, the President was delivering a forceful speech outlining Mideast policy and throwing American support behind the democracy movements in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria as well as other nations in the region. He also called for a two state solution in regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, creating a non-militarized Palestinian state along the borders established prior to 1967, according to the New York Times.

The President seems to have mastered opportunistic timing of late, killing bin Laden and then announcing the news in such a way as to drive Donald Trump from the race, and now making a mockery of Newt Gingrich's statements on this administrations Middle East policy.

Well played, Mr. President. Well played.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More on the Iowa Caucuses

Following the 5.15 Des Moines Register op-ed piece by Fergus Cullen of New Hampshire (linked in prior post), Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R) has done what one would expect the governor to do - defend his state. In a 5.17 DMR story, Branstad says he's never seen any Iowans in tinfoil hats, and that his primary election last year demonstrates that Iowa is a "full spectrum state."

I think the Governor is wrong to draw any broad conclusions from last year's primary and general election (for reasons listed in the previous post). I also think the Register's Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich is likewise wrong to dismiss this criticism as "rehashed." Yes, every four years we hear that Iowa does not adequately represent America demographically. She is also likely right that in the political events she covers she has never heard anyone bring up the President's birth certificate. But Public Policy Polling is very credible; if they say that "nearly half" of Iowa Republicans are "birthers," then I tend to believe them.

The Governor is right in not wanting candidates to write off Iowa; on that he and I agree. But to argue that Iowa Republicans are "full spectrum" is to ignore facts.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On The Diminishing Relevance of the Iowa GOP Caucuses

Two items in the Op-Ed pages of the May 15, 2011 Des Moines Register intrigued me enough to comment. There is a trend linking the two, though my guess is that the authors would disagree with me on that.

The first was a piece written by Fergus Cullen, the former Republican Party Chair for the State of New Hampshire. The article is titled Iowa losing clout because of people 'in tinfoil hats'? I have to admit, I am not sure why Cullen phrases this as a question; the “tinfoil hats” have absolutely established themselves as the controlling factor of the Republican caucuses, as the author goes on to prove in his essay.

For those not familiar with this political idiosyncrasy, the caucuses in Iowa are as demonstrative of the adage "all politics is local" as it is possible to be. They are face to face question and answer sessions to which candidates have to come prepared not only with any number of possible answers, but a healthy dose of honesty and sincerity. Glib glad-handers do not do well in Iowa – just ask the Mike Huckabee-singed Mitt Romney in 2008. Iowans pride themselves on their ability to solicit from the candidates a real picture of how they will respond if and when in office. To give you but one example, I saw Joe Biden respond to my question about an obscure Senate resolution regarding the Military Code of Justice and private military contractors with a knowledge that impressed everyone in the room. In states where larger populations require more ad buys than personal appearances, true pictures of candidates are harder to emerge. This is why Iowa and New Hampshire are so important to this process – we may not be truly representative of the American public, but there are no better first lines of defense in this battle that the Presidential process has become.

Cullen knows this, and he laments the diminution of the defense Iowa can offer this election cycle. To be clear, despite his being from New Hampshire, this essay does smugly assert that his state should supersede Iowa as first in the nation; Cullen seems perfectly fine with the arrangement as it is. Iowa and New Hampshire were, as Cullen calls them at the outset, "childhood friends," who only recently have grown apart.

Why has Iowa fallen as a power-broker in the Republican nominating process? Because of those wearing their "tinfoil hats." Cullen does not name names, but the leader of these folks is none other than Bob Vander Plaats. While Iowa has always had a significant evangelical element of the party (see Huckabee over Romney, for example), it is the recent success in not retaining three Iowa Supreme Court justices involved in the decision to legalize same sex marriage in the state that has emboldened this group and is therefore forcing any candidate seeking to win the Republican Presidential Caucuses to kowtow to the Vander Plaats-led crazy hordes. Forget biofuels; forget debt ceilings; forget the fight against terrorism. If you want to win Iowa you better see two men kissing as the single greatest threat this nation has ever encountered. And you best be prepared to go public with that sentiment. And that’s the problem; going public with this ultra-social conservative position in this state makes it quite difficult to move to the political center once the general election gets underway.

The easier route then, for any candidate wishing to strongly challenge President Obama is to skip Iowa. The state that basically put Jimmy Carter into office in 1976, and which gave Barack Obama a leg up on Hillary Clinton in 2008 (despite her taking New Hampshire that year), has rendered itself irrelevant this year because of its dogged adherence to the social, Christian conservative agenda.

But wait, you say. What about the election of the somewhat moderate Terry Branstad for Governor in 2010? Branstad was the beneficiary of a number of factors in his win. Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts, his challengers for the nomination, were behind from the start because of the former Governor’s widespread name recognition as well as the money he was able to accumulate from the moment he threw his hat into the proverbial ring. Once the general election came about – with the months since the caucus giving the former Governor ample opportunities to raise even more funds – Branstad benefitted by going up against Chet Culver, who may go down as one of, if not the worst campaigner in state history. It remains hard to imagine a more bumbling campaign than that run by Culver; even the John McCain choice of Sarah Palin for running mate pales in comparison to the missteps taken by the Culver camp. It is therefore inaccurate to believe that the Branstad victory proves Cullen wrong.

I said there were two things in the Sunday Register that were worth pointing out, and the second is a letter to the editor that just goes to prove Cullen’s assertions correct. One of the Register’s resident letter-writing cranks, and Third Reformed Church Elder Lyle D. Horman of Pella, Iowa – responds to a previous column wondering if there are any common political bonds among Iowans with a resounding "No." Horman writes: "Public reaction to the Varnum decision legalizing same-sex marriage is emblematic of a tear in Iowa's social fabric that will not be mended soon. But I see Varnum as more an effect of social disintegration than a cause. Only a culture already deeply corrupted could have produced such a ghastly outcome." He later goes on to wish that he could snap his fingers and have all liberals vanish so that "The social and political progress we would make would be breathtaking." I'm not sure what he means by social progress – I thought Varnum was social progress, but then I'm a raging liberal.

I am not going to address that last thought in this post though. My point in mentioning this letter is to demonstrate how correct Cullen is in illustrating the demise of relevance Iowa suffers this election cycle. And as a voter who did not caucus for Obama because I thought, despite the great symbolism of his campaign he was the most conservative of the Democrats seeking the nomination; but one who will vote for him in 2012, let me just say this: I could not be more delighted to see the Iowa Republican Party and caucus process in such disarray.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tone Def Jam by Jon Stewart

Brilliant take on Fox News' outrage over inviting Common to the White House. As Stewart says, this isn't even fun anymore; pointing out Fox News hypocrisy is just too easy since these clowns do not seem to have a clue.

Never Say I'm Not Fair...

The Washington Post has a lead story this morning discussing the argument over taxes paid by ExxonMobil.

In light of my bashing the oil giant in the previous post, I thought fairness dictated putting up this link (said the man who doesn't believe in objectivity; what has happened to me this morning?).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Corporate Domination of Education

Educators - especially those underpaid toilers in the humanities - have long lamented corporate influence creeping into higher education, even organizing teach-ins against this influence.

Florida State University though, has taken this egregious practice too far. Eager to accept a donation for their economics department from right-wing fanatics the Koch Brothers, FSU ceded hiring approval for a new program "promoting political economy and free enterprise" to Charles Koch's representatives according to this story.

I understand the need to get research funded, and even the desire to guide ideology in the classroom (see the tagline under blog name above). But ceding what should be decisions by academic departments, provosts, and human resources in pursuit of relatively small funding sources ($1.5 million in this case) strikes me as a dangerous precedent.

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