Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Rich got Richer in Congress!

The wealthiest members of Congress grew richer in 2009 even as the economy struggled to recover from a deep recession.

The 50 wealthiest lawmakers were worth almost $1.4 billion in 2009, about $85.1 million more than 12 months earlier, according to The Hill’s annual review of lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) tops the list for the second year in a row. His minimum net worth was $188.6 million at the end of 2009, up by more than $20 million from 2008, according to his financial disclosure form.

While the economy struggled through a recession during much of 2009 and the nation’s unemployment rate soared to 10 percent, the stock market rebounded, helping lawmakers with large investments. The S&P 500 rose by about 28 percent in 2009.

Total assets for the 50 wealthiest lawmakers in 2009 was $1.5 billion — that’s actually a nearly $36 million drop from a year ago. But lawmakers reduced their liabilities by even more, cutting debts by $120 million last year.

There are various reasons why asset values dropped. Some lawmakers saw their real estate holdings fall as the housing crisis intensified. A handful of lawmakers also had other investments or businesses that turned sour.

The only newcomer to the Top 10 list is Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who came straight in at No. 5. He replaced Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.), the 10th wealthiest member in 2008. Teague fell off the top 50 list after the value of a company he has a stake in — Teaco Energy Services Inc. — fell in value from $39.6 million in 2008 to at the least $1 million in 2009.

There were a few other new faces in the Top 50, including Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who received an inheritance after his late father, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), died in 2009.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) also made the list.

Twenty-seven Democrats along with 23 Republicans make up the 50 richest in Congress; 30 House members and 20 senators are on the list.

The bulk of Kerry’s wealth is credited to his spouse, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars after her late husband, the ketchup heir Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), died in a plane crash in 1991.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), with a net worth of $160.1 million, is the second-richest member of Congress under The Hill’s formula, even though his wealth declined by more than $4 million in 2009.

He is followed by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), who saw her net wealth leap to $152.3 million, a jump of more than $40 million from a year ago.

The rest of the top 10 are Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), McCaul, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

To calculate its rankings, The Hill used only the lawmakers’ financial disclosure forms that cover the 2009 calendar year.

Lawmakers are only required to report their finances in broad ranges. For example, a $2.5 million vacation home in Aspen, Colo., would be reported as being valued at between $1 and $5 million on a congressional financial disclosure form.

To come up with the most conservative estimate for each lawmaker’s wealth, researchers took the bottom number of each range reported. Then, to calculate the minimum net worth for each senator and member, the sum of liabilities was subtracted from the sum of assets.

As a result, the methodology used to find the Top 50 wealthiest in Congress can miss some of the richest lawmakers.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is certainly one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill. As owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Kohl has a $254 million asset on his hands, according to Forbes magazine.

But under The Hill’s methodology, his team ownership only counts for $50 million, the highest range reported on the congressional financial disclosure form. Because of high liabilities on his 2009 form, Kohl actually is listed as being more than $4.6 million in debt on the 2009 form.

—Walter Alarkon, Richard Barry, Silla Brush, Jordan Fabian, Beth Hawley, Michaela Martens and Eden Stiffman all contributed to this report.

Glenn Beck's generic God

Fox News host Glenn Beck muddled biblical references with fragments of American history, recreating a pottage of civil religion that says America has a divine destiny and claiming that a national revival is beginning.

At the very beginning of the "Restoring Honor" Rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Beck proclaimed, "Something beyond imagination is happening. Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God."
Forty-seven years ago to the date, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech," a historical note that Beck and others played off.

"The story of America is the story of human kind. Five thousand years ago...God's chosen people were led out of bondage...Man first began to recognize God and God's law. The chosen people listened to the Lord. At the same time those things were happening, on this side on this land another group of people were gathered here. And they too were listening to God," said Beck.

As he spoke, two Native Americans appeared behind him to stand next to a rabbi. They were followed by a white preacher.

Facing these three individuals with arms outreached, Beck said, "God's chosen people, the Native Americans and the pilgrims."

Beck claimed, "When people came together of different faiths... the first thing they did was to pray together."

Some two hours later, during his lengthy, disjointed speech, Beck said, "This day is a day that we can start the heart of America again. And it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God...turning our faith back to the values and principles that made us great."

Warning that Americans were at a crossroad and had to decide what they believed, Beck said, "Abraham Lincoln found God in the stars of Gettysburg. He was baptized and gave the second inaugural. He looked to God and set men free. America awakened again."

He soon segued to Moses.

"Moses freed them. Then they forget. They wander until they remember that God is the answer. He always has been. And then they begin to trust," said Beck.

"Have trust in the Lord. And recognize that Moses and Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were men. They were just like you...Man makes a difference. What is it that these men have that you don't?...The answer is nothing...They relied on God...America is great because America is good...We as individuals must be good so America can be great. America is at a crossroads...Look to God," pled the TV talk-show host.

He told the audience of religious and Tea Party conservatives: "If you find out who God truly is, I warn you, I warn you, if you know who he is, it will be the biggest blessing in your life. But it will also be the biggest curse in your life."

Saying that America needed to go to "God's boot camp," Beck said, "We must insist that our churches stand for things that we know are true because they are universal and endless in nature."

Having recalled earlier how disciples had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus' arrest, Beck returned to that theme of slumber. He said that the nation and its churches had fallen asleep.

Beck said that 240 years ago America had the "black-robed regiment," preachers who opposed the British and were among the first killed by the British.

"The black-robed regiment is back again today," said Beck.

On cue, 240 men and women marched up and stood behind him. Obediently with arms linked on the front row were Southern Baptist Convention official Richard Land and fundamentalist pastor John Hagee. Religious-right mythmaker David Barton stood next to Sarah Palin.

"America, it is time to start the heart of this nation again. And put it where it belongs. Our heart with God," proclaimed Beck.

Claiming these clergy represented the thousands of clergy in the audience who represented 180 million people, Beck said, "We can disagree on politics. We can disagree on so much. These men and women don't agree on fundamentals. They don't agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is that God is the answer."

He called for a group of bagpipers to play "Amazing Grace."

Mixing Christian faith with military images, the rally included video clips of soldiers, flags and eagles. The Bible was also read.

C. L. Jackson, pastor of Houston's Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, prayed for the "ministry of Glenn Beck."

The crowd - as viewed on Beck's own streaming video broadcast - had very, very few people of color.

The white audience listened at one point as two African-American men read different passages from the Bible and two Africa-American women sang solos with recorded tracks.

Another African-American woman, Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., gave a sermon, referencing "Uncle Martin," failing public education, the "womb war" and hope that prayer would one day be welcomed back in public schools.

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck's civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the "American scripture" - such as the Gettysburg Address - as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God - God generically - not a specific understanding of God revealed in the biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic. He does not listen to the God of the Bible who calls for the practice of social justice, the pursuit of peacemaking, the protection of the poor in the formation of community. Beck has little room for God's warning about national idolatry and rejection of fabricated religion.

For Beck, God-generic is a unifying theme and religion is a unifying force for what appears to be his revivalist agenda for Americanism - blended nationalism and individualism.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, where this essay first ran, and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Oval Office makeover

WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama addresses the nation on Iraq Tuesday night, his Oval Office setting will be sporting a new look - and one that pays homage to Martin Luther King Jr. and four previous presidents.

While the president and his family were away on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, workers installed new wallpaper, a new rug, new sofas, lamps and a coffee table. Officials gave photographers a look hours before the speech was to be delivered at 8 p.m. EST.

The rug - an oval-shaped wheat, cream and blue carpet woven by the Scott Group of Grand Rapids, Mich. - was made with 25 percent recycled wool, the White House said. Officials said it was donated by the manufacturer, which also made Bill Clinton's Oval Office rug.

The excerpts on the rug include some of the most famous words ever spoken by Americans:

- "GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE" - From Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, among the most famous words ever spoken by a president.

- "NO PROBLEM OF HUMAN DESTINY IS BEYOND HUMAN BEINGS" - From JFK's American University speech June 10, 1963.

- "THE WELFARE OF EACH OF US IS DEPENDENT FUNDAMENTALLY ON THE WELFARE OF ALL OF US" - From a speech Teddy Roosevelt gave at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, N.Y., on Sept. 7, 1903.

- "THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF" - From FDR's inaugural speech March 4, 1933.

- "THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE" - These words from King's address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Aug. 16, 1967, are easily Obama's favorite King quotation.

The White House declined to reveal the overall cost of the new look, but a statement said it was "in line with the amount spent by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush on the redesigns of their Oval Office. The statement said funds would come from Obama's inaugural committee and the nonprofit White House Historical Association.

Presidents typically put their own touches on the Oval Office early in their terms. Bush brought in a rug designed by his wife, Laura. It included radiating stripes, which he often said suggested to him the optimism of a sunrise.

In Obama's makeover, the embroidered wingback chairs that Bush and visiting leaders sat on in front of the fireplace have been reupholstered, and covered in caramel-colored leather.

The sofas flanking the fireplace are new: and covered with a light-brown cotton fabric.

There's also a new coffee table. Again, it's got an up-to-date look- rectangular, and covered with marble-look tiles made of walnut and mica.

And finally, Obama has new brown-leather chair behind his desk.

Many items, though, have not changed. They range from the painting of George Washington over the fireplace to the Resolute Desk, built from the timbers of a British warship. A gift to President Rutherford B. Hayes, the desk was installed in the Oval Office by John F. Kennedy, and since has been used by presidents Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

We’ve Seen This Movie Before


‘ground zero mosque’, islamophobia, michael enright, timothy mcveigh

In the first column I ever wrote for this newspaper (“How the Right Hijacked the Magic Words”), I analyzed the shift in the rhetoric surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing once it became clear that the perpetrator was Timothy McVeigh, who at one point acknowledged that “The Turner Diaries,” a racist anti-government tract popular in Christian Identity circles, was his bible.

Associated Press An evidence photo of Timothy McVeigh taken April 19, 1995, just hours after the Oklahoma City bombing.In the brief period between the bombing and the emergence of McVeigh, speculation had centered on Arab terrorists and the culture of violence that was said to be woven into the fabric of the religion of Islam.

But when it turned out that a white guy (with the help of a few of his friends) had done it, talk of “culture” suddenly ceased and was replaced by the vocabulary and mantras of individualism: each of us is a single, free agent; blaming something called “culture” was just a way of off-loading responsibility for the deeds we commit; in America, individuals, not groups, act; and individuals, not groups, should be held accountable. McVeigh may have looked like a whole lot of other guys who dressed up in camouflage and carried guns and marched in the woods, but, we were told by the same people who had been mouthing off about Islam earlier, he was just a lone nut, a kook, and generalizations about some “militia” culture alive and flourishing in the heartland were entirely unwarranted.

This switch from “malign culture” talk to “individual choice” talk was instantaneous and no one felt obliged to explain it. Now, in 2010, it’s happening again around the intersection of what the right wing calls the “Ground Zero mosque” (a geographical exaggeration if there ever is one) and the attack last week on a Muslim cab driver by (it is alleged) 21-year-old knife-wielding Michael Enright.

First the mosque. It is wrong, we hear, to regard the proposed mosque or community center as an ordinary exercise of free enterprise and freedom of religion by the private owners of a piece of property. It is, rather, a thumb in the eye or a slap in the face of the 9/11 victims and their families, a potential clearinghouse for international terrorist activities, a “victory mosque” memorializing a great triumph of jihad and a monument to the religion in whose name and by whose adherents the dreadful deed was done.

But according to the same folks who oppose the mosque because of what it stands for, Michael Enright’s act doesn’t stand for anything and is certainly not the product of what Time magazine calls a growing “American strain of Islamophobia.” Instead, The New York Post declares, the stabbing is “the act of a disturbed individual who is now in custody,” and across the fold of the page columnist Jonah Goldberg says that “one assault doesn’t a national trend make” and insists that “we shouldn’t let anyone suggest that this criminal reflects anybody but himself.”

The formula is simple and foolproof (although those who deploy it so facilely seem to think we are all fools): If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon.

The only thing more breathtaking than the effrontery of the move is the ease with which so many fall in with it. I guess it’s because both those who perform it and those who eagerly consume it save themselves the trouble of serious thought.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Glen BECK is a Mormom Now we know why he's anti OBAMA!

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck voiced sharper criticism of President Obama's religious beliefs on Sunday than he and other speakers offered from the podium of the rally Beck organized at the Lincoln Memorial a day earlier.

During an interview on "Fox News Sunday," which was filmed after Saturday's rally, Beck claimed that Obama "is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor-and-victim."

"People aren't recognizing his version of Christianity," Beck added.

(On Faith: Beck's Mormon faith often viewed skeptically)

Beck's attacks represent a continuing attempt to characterize Obama as a radical, an approach that has prompted anxiety among some Republicans, who worry that Beck's rhetoric could backfire. The White House has all but ignored his accusations, but some Democrats have pointed to the Fox News host to portray Republicans as extreme and out of touch.

Beck made the remarks in answer to a question about his previous accusation that Obama was a "racist" who has "a deep-seated hatred for white people." He contended that that statement "was not accurate" and that he had "miscast" Obama's religious beliefs as racism.

Obama told NBC's Brian Williams on Sunday that he hadn't watched the Lincoln Memorial event but that he supported the right of Beck and his supporters to rally.

Obama said that given the country's economic and national security woes, "it's not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country."

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the onetime pastor of Obama's former church in Chicago, is an adherent of black liberation theology, which centers on the struggles of African Americans and the importance of empowering the oppressed. Obama severed ties with Wright during the presidential campaign after some of the minister's inflammatory language drew controversy.

Beck, on his Fox News show last Tuesday, said that liberation theology is at the core of Obama's "belief structure."

"You see, it's all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don't know what that is, other than it's not Muslim, it's not Christian. It's a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it," Beck said.

Earlier this month, a Pew Research Center survey revealed widespread confusion over Obama's religion. A plurality of the poll's respondents, 43 percent, said they did not know which religion Obama practices. The White House responded in a statement after the poll's release, reiterating that Obama "is a committed Christian."

Obama, asked on NBC about polls showing confusion over his religion, pointed to "a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly."

(See video of Obama discussing his faith in NBC interview.)

In the wake of Saturday's rally, Democrats have gone on the offensive against Republicans by claiming that the event was evidence that the GOP has been overtaken by extreme elements in the party. Republicans have taken a more muted approach to the event, with some avoiding any mention of it altogether.

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said that the rally made clear that "there is a raging battle going on within the Republican Party for the heart and soul of the Republican Party."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association, responded that the rally was a reaction to the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, who he said "have taken the biggest lurch to the left in policy in American history."

Estimates on the size of the rally have varied widely. According to one commissioned by CBS News, 87,000 people attended the event. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R), who also spoke at the event, told a reporter afterward that she thought more than 100,000 people had attended.

Beck said that the crowd was between 300,000 and 650,000, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), speaking at her own event after the rally, said that no fewer than 1 million people had been in attendance.

Also in Sunday's interview, Beck dispelled rumors that he might be considering a run for president in 2012, with Palin as his running mate.

"Not a chance. I don't know what Sarah is doing. I hope to be on vacation," Beck said, adding: "I don't think that I would be electable."

Obama Citizen? Muslim? Islamic Center?

Obama Not Worried by Muslim 'Rumors'

Unfortunately, most people who actually believe President Obama is a Muslim were on their way home from the Glenn Beck rally and missed it: Obama addressed a recent poll that showed 18 percent of Americans think he’s a Muslim in an interview with NBC News on Sunday night. "It's not something that I can, I think, spend all my time worrying about it," he said. Asked why he thinks the misinformation about his religion persists, Obama said, "There is, a mechanism, a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly.” He also addressed the birthers too, saying, “I can’t spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead.” And he reiterated his support for the Islamic center being built near Ground Zero. “If you can build a church on that site,” he said, “if you can build a synagogue on that site or a Hindu temple on that site, then we can’t treat people of the Islamic faith differently, who are Americans. Who are American citizens. That is central to who we are.”

The "Ground Zero Mosque" Owner's Tough Business Style

Emerging details paint a very different picture of Sharif El-Gamal, owner of the property to be the site of the "Ground Zero mosque," than the Horatio Alger story previously told. These revelations could form a wedge between El-Gamal and Park51's Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf. Florida court records show that Sharif and his brother, "Sammy," have a long history with debt and tax problems, The Daily Beast's Asra Q. Nomani reports. Sharif even once told the court that he didn't hit a tenant who was late on his rent, but his "face could have run into my hand." The ambitious Rauf is not a good match for the domineering Sharif. They face a huge back tax bill in New York and are dogged by a private investigator in Florida. In light of these and other facts, Nomani writes that it looks unlikely the mosque will be built in its proposed location and will be built somewhere else.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

BECK draws 87,000 which looks like 500,000!!!!

Beck-Palin rally shows their drawing power, but one-half of duo has 'zero desire' to be president

The two draw a big crowd but won't be looking to pair up for 2012, Beck tells 'Fox News Sunday': 'There are far too many people that are far smarter than me to be president.'

WASHINGTON — Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin had a message to deliver that the nation was at a dire crossroads, and thousands showed up Saturday at the National Mall to receive it. But Sunday, Beck reiterated that the pair would not join forces in 2012, leading a national ticket for president and vice president.

"Not a chance," Beck said in an appearance on " Fox News Sunday," on the same network that broadcasts the radio and TV host's popular daily show. "I have no desire to be president of the United States. Zero desire. I don't think that I would be electable."

He added: "And there are far too many people that are far smarter than me to be president."

Palin, whose appearance on the National Mall came nearly two years to the day after she was introduced as John McCain's running mate, told Politico in a brief interview that she and Beck "like what we're doing now." However, Palin, who resigned after two years as Alaska's governor, is widely presumed to have national political ambitions.

Estimates of the crowd size at Saturday's "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial vary. A CBS News count based on aerial photography pegged attendance at 87,000. Organizers said it was closer to 500,000, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), chairwoman of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, argued it approached 1 million.

Beck stirred controversy with his choice of date and location for the rally, which coincided with the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Beck called it a coincidence and "divine providence."

He continued to downplay the notion that Saturday's demonstration had political intent. Still, he said a mass gathering like that spoke to the fact that Americans were concerned over the direction of the nation.

"You don't get that many people to come to Washington and stand there and have that kind of a moment without signs, without any political messages, for no reason," he said in the Fox interview. That's "the first message" that politicians should get, he said. "People aren't really happy with things."

Beck also said he regretted but would not retract his controversial statement from 2009 saying Obama had "a deep-seated hatred for white people."

"It was poorly said. I have a big fat mouth sometimes and I say things," he said, "and that's just not the way people should behave. And it was not accurate."

Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Plan B for Trapped Chilean Miners

Engineers at the Chilean mining company GeoTech are bringing in a special drill usually used for boring water holes to drill an escape tunnel to the 33 trapped miners.
Ideally, the new plan would take approximately two months, half the time people say the current solution will take. The miners have been trapped since the mine collapsed on August 5.
In the meantime, doctors are advising the miners on how to keep their 50-square-meter living space clean, such as using a shaft connected to the main chamber as a latrine, and NASA is sending a team to Chile to consult on nutritional and psychological problems the miners will likely face.
A recent video showed the miners faring better than previously thought. "Oh, you're sleeping on a box-spring bed," joked one of the miners to another who was lying on a pile of rocks.

Read it at CNN

Glenn Beck's Hypocritical Revival

The talk sensation looked more like a televangelist at his “Restoring Honor” rally this weekend, but his preaching about unity only proved that his biggest adversary is himself.

The Rev. Glenn Beck staged a religious revival on the National Mall in Washington yesterday.

His “Restoring Honor” rally sidestepped politics, instead offering a tribute to the troops and calls for a new Great Awakening, proclaiming “We’ve got to go to God Bootcamp,” to the applause of hundreds of thousand of followers.

But the most striking thing about Beck’s heartfelt evangelism was its hypocrisy.

“We’re dividing ourselves,” Beck lamented. “There is growing hatred in the country. We must be better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us, no matter what smears or lies are thrown our way… we must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with.”

It made me wonder if Glenn Beck has ever watched the Glenn Beck show.

The man offers a daily drumbeat of division for a living, earning $32 million last year selling his paranoid snake oil. It’s almost impossible to keep up with Beck’s serial fearmongering, though a stroll through Media Matters will give an authoritative sampling. Just a few of his greatest hits include:

• “We are a country that is headed toward socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest imagination.”
• “There is a coup going on. There is a stealing of America… done through the guise of an election.”
• “The president is a Marxist... who is setting up a class system.”
• “The government is a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state."
• “The health-care bill is reparations. It's the beginning of reparations."
• And of course, speaking of President Obama, “I believe this guy is a racist” with “a deep-seated hatred of white people.”

You can’t profit from fear and division all week and then denounce them one Saturday on the National Mall in Washington and hope nobody notices.

But Beck sure tried, offering a string of aphorisms in a rambling speech that was equal parts sermon, history lesson, and motivational seminar: “We, as individuals, must be good so that America can be great;” “We must not just explore outer space; we must explore inner space;” “Somewhere in this crowd is the next George Washington;” “What you gaze upon you become;” “I testify to you now that one man can change the world!”; “There is a lot that we can disagree on. But it is values and principles that unite us;” “We must not have fear and we must not get lost in politics.”

What accounts for this split personality? I’ve argued in the past that there is a Good Beck and a Bad Beck, and they are usually struggling for supremacy inside his head.

The Good Beck is genuinely patriotic and deeply religious, ascribing his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to his family and his newfound Mormon faith.

• John Avlon: Glenn Beck’s “I Have a Nightmare”

• John Batchelor: The Beck Rally is HarmlessThe Bad Beck is such a talented broadcaster that he knows how to manipulate an audience’s emotions. He uses conflict, tension, fear and resentment to keep their attention day after day, buying his books, attending his rallies.

The two coexist uneasily under the justification that the Bad Beck promotes the Good Beck. He is advancing himself in order to advance a greater cause. And I can only imagine that in the Beck-centric universe, yesterday was supposed to represent the triumph of the Good Beck over the Bad. The fact that his 100-year Plan for America was abandoned in favor of “faith, hope and charity” set to an Aaron Copland score, symbolizes the elevation of religion over political ambition.

But you can’t just escape your past, even if you’re selling redemption. A gospel choir singing “unity” only goes so far. For all Beck’s exhortations about the importance of personal responsibility and telling the truth, those principles apparently do not extend to his professional life.

The biggest pre-rally controversy was the question of whether Beck was qualified to “reclaim the civil-rights movement” and carry the mantle of Martin Luther King (and this was before LittleGreenFootballs.com unearthed a clip of Beck calling MLK a socialist earlier this year). In a taped video tribute to King, Beck visually compared Tea Party protesters to civil-rights marchers, and quoted MLK self-referentially, saying “We must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” The irony was compounded when signs of hate at Little Rock were flashed on the screen, reading “Race-Mixing is Communism” and “Stop Race-Mixing—March of the Antichrist.” The photo offers fleeting evidence of a continuum between those who embraced hate during the civil-rights movement and those who encourage Obama Derangement Syndrome today.

But the Bad Beck who fear-mongers for fun and profit was nowhere in sight yesterday. Instead, there was charity for a great organization, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The crowd was broad and peaceful, with none of the anger associated with last summer’s protests. Even Sarah Palin was on her best behavior, speaking as a soldier’s mom rather than a politician, and firing off only one thinly veiled dig at President Obama: “We must not ‘fundamentally transform’ America as some would want. We must restore America!”

Restoring America. Reclaiming the civil-rights movement. Restoring honor. This is the language of “taking our country back.” Each of these apparently uplifting statements pushes off the idea that something has been lost in America since the election of Barack Obama—not just jobs, but the character of the nation itself. They are slogans that would divide America into God-fearing patriots and secular socialists, creating the emotional argument beneath hyper-partisanship—an all-or-nothing struggle that pits “us” against “them,” with the fate of the nation at stake. In other words, exactly the dynamic that Beck spent so much time trying to disavow.

At the end of his three-hour revival meeting, Beck asked the crowd to keep the spirit of faith, hope, and charity alive in their actions, warning, “This wakeup call will fade if it was just about today, and the critics will be right.” And so I’ll be watching, waiting to see if Beck keeps faith with his call to “get the poison of hatred out of us.” It will presumably mean no longer demonizing people who disagree with him, no longer using fear or hate as a recruiting tool to pump up ratings. Beck told his audience to attend any house of worship, provided “that [it] is not preaching hate and division”—it is a standard that will have to apply to his own televangelism as well.

John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and a CNN contributor. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The Beck Rally Is Harmless

T.V. host Glenn Beck The Fox personality and Sarah Palin take the stage for a controversial rally on the Washington Mall today, but John Batchelor says that he is just a harmless entertainer—and his success is our failure to address real problems.

The celebrity Glenn Beck has organized a festive and apparently harmless public event for the Washington Mall that he calls “Restoring Honor.” This theme is so deeply bland that it invites us partisans to look for inner meaning, such as the fact that August 28 is the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s revolutionary March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, or such as Beck’s Fox News Channel seeking a low-budget reality show to sell for the dog days of summer programming.

The trick here may be that Beck’s event, which will feature the celebrity Sarah Palin, is not about anything at all. It is a farce of an event in the way the bookish Karl Marx meant it, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

Beck is an entertainer, and he does his job with hambone energy and handfuls of self-mockery. There is no threat here.

The original Martin Luther King event was the opening act of a tragedy that hurtled America toward violence and King’s murder five years later. This makes the Glenn Beck event exactly what Beck says it is: not King-significant, not partisan, not strident, not Tea Party—a lot of “not” about this or that. Beck admits to his ignorance of the day, “I had no idea August 28th was the day of the MLK speech when we booked it... I'm sorry, media, that I forgot the, oh, so important detail of the date.” Beck also denies a partisan logic, “Well, it's not a political event because I haven't found a lot of honor when it's followed by an 'R' or a 'D.'”

It would be tidy just to leave the event be—a well-organized gathering of amiable, energetic, kindly citizens, and friends on a sunny, dry, lucky day in a space designed for hundreds of thousands of people to enter and leave swiftly.

• John Avlon: I Have a Nightmare Yet this is not the whole story, and the part of Glenn Beck that is a natural performer knows it, which is why he adds oddly discordant remarks to his explanation of the event. “I've been examining the problems of this country and I've been trying to come up with ways out,” Beck observes. “We're entering our last exit, last exit. We need to get off this highway.” Later he warns, “Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don't want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.”

What is Beck talking about? What is it that the folk who watch his afternoon TV show hear when he starts prophesying about “ways out” and “the sun is setting” and “the fire of truth”? The answer may be disappointingly simple. Beck isn’t talking about anything historical, that is, genuinely threatening, since he is not politically astute, intellectually curious, or even much of a kvetch. Beck is an entertainer, and he does his job with hambone energy and handfuls of self-mockery. There is no threat here. Beck is bootlessly earnest, as he says; Beck is pleasantly harmless, as he says. Beck is a fool in the manner of a court jester, a fool whom FNC properly features as foolish—a braniac with a pipe in-mouth, or a lecturer-in-chief with chalk in hand, or a handsome lad mugging to the camera as if he'd just dropped his own birthday cake in his lap. I think of him now and again as Quasimodo Lite, a deaf bell-ringer swinging from the Notre Dame of Fox, a man who is eager to confess his own unsightly warts—“I’ve screwed up most of my life”—and who is also heroically delighted to be our slightly stooped “Pope of Fools,” because this accidental role, in this Festival of Fools called 2010, wins the cheers of the crowd.

Listen to Beck’s monologues on the videos posted on the “Restoring Honor” site. Beck mutters random famous names like pop brands and offers a deal of extemporaneous sighing about loss, regret, children, monuments. It takes a strong man not to break down laughing at the tinkling piano soundtrack as Beck rambles, “People say, all the time, that trying to fix Washington, we need a George Washington, or, or, or we need a Thomas Jefferson or a Ben Franklin. Where are they? I haven’t seen them. But then I realize, it’s because, we haven’t grown them in an awfully long time...”

That Glenn Beck continues to ape revolutionaries and pontificators is not a measure of Beck, who is a hard-working stunt artist, but a measure of the moment of this jobless, deflating “Great Stall,” the virulence of want and doubt, when it is easier for us to debate an actor babbling nonsensical metaphors about a highway exit than it is to do the labor of robust conversation that leads to resolve and prosperity.

As for the August 28 event, it makes me smile that Quasimodo Lite will be on the stage with his Esmeralda again, this time played by Sarah Palin, and that the cheers of the crowd will convince both Beck and Palin that they are listened to. In the original tragedy, you will recall, the king ordered Esmeralda hanged as a witch, and it was many years later that they found the corpse of Quasimodo curled up next to her grave, starved to death rather than leave the one woman who ever showed him kindness. Victor Hugo understood our appetite for stern romance. Beck and Palin understand our desire for cushy sentimentality. Their fates are likely to be much sunnier than those of Quasimodo and Esmeralda, as we celebrate our fools until the commercial break.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: The Tillman Story

This powerful doc looks at the U.S. Army's exploitation of a football-pro-turned-soldier.
Pat Tillman [http://tillmanstory.com] had it all: square-jawed good looks, a loving wife, a multimillion-dollar contract to play for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. So when the football star enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 2002 - just eight months after 9/11 - people noticed.

Pat Tillman was a walking armyrecruitment ad: a guy who renounced the pampered life of a pro football player so he could take on the Taliban.
Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. secretary of defence at the time, sent Tillman a personal letter of congratulations, thanking him for signing up. Here was a recruitment ad beyond anyone's wildest dreams: a gridiron warrior renouncing the pampered life of a pro athlete so he could take on the Taliban.

The U.S. government and military were loath to discard that storyline, even when the worst-case scenario unfolded in 2004. After he perished in Afghanistan, the Army told the family that he had died while fighting the enemy, sacrificing himself to save the lives of fellow soldiers.

It was an outright lie, designed to cover up the embarrassing circumstances surrounding the death of America's best-known enlisted man, who had actually been the victim of friendly fire. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star (for valour facing the enemy); key evidence, including his uniform, was burned; and several of his Army Ranger colleagues were ordered not to divulge the truth.

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev [http://www.cbc.ca/arts/tiff/features/tiffmykid.html], The Tillman Story is a moving study of how the football player's family has worked tirelessly to uncover the facts of the friendly fire incident, and who was responsible for the subsequent coverup. One month after Tillman's death, the army was forced to acknowledge that the original tale of sacrifice in battle wasn't accurate. They claimed to have bungled the initial investigation, but Pat's parents - lawyer Pat Sr. and teacher Dannie - suspected that the Tillman-as-heroic-martyr story was a nefarious fabrication, and not the result of bureaucratic incompetence.

They didn't appreciate the fact that their dead son was used as a propaganda tool - especially since the Hollywood-style myth-making was contrary to Tillman's self-effacing manner. Pat Sr. and Dannie felt that the best way to remember Pat would be to discover the truth - as Dannie says, "What they said happened didn't happen, and so you have to set the record straight." Clearly, this was the wrong family to mess with.

Unlike Standard Operating Procedure [http://www.cbc.ca/arts/film/story/2008/04/30/f-standard-operating-procedure.html] (2008), Errol Morris's equally damning indictment of the U.S. military in the George W. Bush era, The Tillman Story isn't stylistically groundbreaking.Bar-Lev relies on solid investigative journalism and taut editing to shape his narrative. At one point, Dannie Tillman describes poring over 3,000 pages of redacted text in an attempt to piece together what happened on that fateful day in Afghanistan. This might sound dry, but in Bar-Lev's hands, the sequence plays like a conspiracy thriller. Dannie's persistent research ultimately leads her family to a showdown - of sorts - in the U.S. House of Representatives with some current and former high-ranking military officials.

The Tillman Story is largely about a mother's quest for certainty under the most trying circumstances imaginable. In archival footage, we catch a few glimpses of her son. The unconventional football star was a consummate team player who stood out from the pro athlete tribe by deflecting any praise thrown his way, riding his bike to practice and not owning a cell phone.

His decision to enlist in the army, alongside his brother Kevin, is never fully explained, although one assumes that it was due in part to the seismic events of 9/11. That can't be confirmed, however, because Tillman never publicly divulged the reasons for his retirement from pro football.

Bar-Lev allows Pat to remain inscrutable; the director resists cheap hagiography, as did Pat Sr. and Dannie. Instead, he asks some fascinating questions about the role of heroism in modern-day war, showing how it can be co-opted, manipulated, even manufactured. In the process, he creates an eloquent tribute to a fallen soldier and an unforgettable portrait of a family's grief.

The Tillman Story opens in Toronto on Aug. 27.

Greig Dymond writes about the arts for CBC News.

Muslim until proven Christian

Is Barack Obama a Muslim?


He's a Christian. Nevertheless, that question has been a background whisper to the right-wing narrative about Barack Obama even before he became a candidate for president -- Obama made his announcement almost a month after the false InsightMag.com report that he attended an Indonesian madrassa as a child.

That whisper became more of a shout in the past week after some thoroughly depressing polling was released showing that disproportionately large percentages of the American public either believe (contrary to established fact) that the president is a Muslim, or are unsure (in spite of intense media scrutiny) of which faith he adheres. This can't be seen as anything but a huge victory for the right, which has, for the better part of three years, made sure to take every opportunity to use "Obama" and "Islam" in the same sentence. Sometimes it's more explicit, like when Franklin Graham proclaims that Obama was "born a Muslim." Other times it's slightly less explicit, like when the Washington Times' Jeffrey Kuhner -- who was editor of InsightMag.com when it made the false Obama-madrassa claim -- callsObama a "cultural Muslim" and the Times Photoshops a star and crescent onto his face.

Either way, the end goal is the same -- to portray Obama as different, dangerous, "other."

Given that they've worked so hard at fostering this image, one would think that the release of polling showing that more and more Americans buy into their bogus storyline would be cause for celebration. That, however, is not the case, as the right is eager to disown responsibility for this bigoted line of attack and place it squarely on Obama's shoulders.

Stephen Hayes suspects that the Muslim rumor persists because of Obama's "outreach to what he calls the Muslim world." Rush Limbaugh claims Obama hasn't been "obvious" about his Christianity, while Glenn Beck faults the president for practicing "a Christianity that most Americans just don't recognize." Byron York wrote a blame-the-victim masterpiece for the Washington Examiner in which he traced responsibility for the Muslim falsehood all the way to Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father.

The logic is amusing -- the default setting for most people is to think Obama is a scary Muslim, and it's his responsibility to convince them otherwise. In practice, the argument is devious. These right-wingers give the appearance that they're rebutting the false Muslim rumor, but at the same time forward it by attacking Obama for doing things that make him seem like a Muslim. They absolve themselves of responsibility while reaping the benefits of smearing their ideological adversary.

But it's not just the president who's getting a bad shake. Implicit in this smear is that being a Muslim is an undesirable trait, something to be feared and loathed. And that has the potential to make difficult the lives of American Muslims.

One need not look any further than the ongoing, increasingly ludicrous row over the Park51 Islamic center -- currently suffering under the ignominious "Ground Zero mosque" misnomer. After weeks of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media blithely lumping Muslims together with terrorists, Nazis, and enemies of the state, the protests against Park51 have taken on a virulently xenophobic character, with protesters holding signs with slogans like: "Islam = Hate"; "Islam = terrorist"; "Islam = Killing."

But if we're going by the right wing's rules, then that's the fault of Muslims for not sufficiently proving they're not all hateful, murdering terrorists.

Simon Maloy is a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America.

Google continues the assault on the price of a phone call

By Rob Pegoraro Washington Post

What's a phone call worth these days?

A Verizon phone booth in a Metro station suggests one answer: 50 cents.

Another comes from Verizon's cheapest landline service option, which charges 10.2 cents a call.

If you use a cellphone or subscribe to a voice-over-Internet-Protocol calling plan, the number shrinks to a vanishingly tiny fraction of your monthly bill: maybe a few pennies each time you dial out?

But if you use Google's new, free phone-calling option (http://gmail.com/call), that figure drops to zero.

On Wednesday, the Web giant announced that American users of its Gmail Web service could call numbers in the United States and Canada for free from within their browsers. Calls elsewhere cost less than many traditional long-distance domestic calls: You pay 2 cents a minute to call Ireland, Korea, Argentina and many other countries. (Google's rates top out at 99 cents a minute for those calling the island nation of Nauru.)

The Skype Internet-calling service charges slightly more for international calls, but it also charges about 2 cents a minute for domestic calls.

Gmail's rates should be familiar to users of Google's free Google Voice service, a separate option that the Mountain View, Calif., company only opened to the public in June. But using Google Voice requires logging into a Web site or launching a program on your phone (if one's available for it) and, in some cases, waiting for Google to connect your call.

Calling from within Gmail, by contrast, requires nothing more than installing a small plug-in program (available for Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.4 or newer and some versions of Linux) and logging into Gmail. Click the "Call phone" link to the left of your inbox, type in a number, click the big blue "Call" button and things proceed as if you had just finished spinning a Bell System phone's rotary dial.

If you have a Google Voice account, the other person will see that number in their caller ID. You can also answer their calls from within Gmail; an incoming call will generate an alert in the bottom right corner of the Gmail window, which you can click to answer.

If you don't have a Voice account, the other party will see a special number Google has set up, 760-705-8888. Calls to that yield a message advertising the new Gmail feature.

Since Wednesday, I've used Google's voice calling from the Safari and Firefox browsers on a Mac, as well as copies of Firefox running in Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. Everything sounded fine to me, although one co-worker commented that my own voice sounded as if I were underwater.

(That may be the fault of the simple external microphone I used on my work desktop -- a giveaway from Skype's public-relations department.)

Google says more than 1 million calls were placed through Gmail in its first 24 hours. It's unclear how many of them consisted of people dialing their cellphones, recording a voicemail message to the effect of, "Hi, this is me calling through Gmail," and then hanging up.

Google won't say whether domestic calling will remain free, but it's structured this service and Google Voice to stay afloat based on the profit generated by international calling.

Unlike Gmail itself and many other Google applications, advertising doesn't factor into this -- a detail that its privacy policy ought to spell out but does not.

In other words, as spokesman Randall Sarafa wrote in an e-mail Thursday, "Google absolutely does not record or listen in on phone conversations."

Placing a call through a Web browser may not be for everybody. But the ability to do this could change how even the tech-averse make and pay for phone calls.

Think about what Gmail did for e-mail: By offering effectively unlimited storage and inviting users to hold on to their old e-mail forever-- after Microsoft and Yahoo had steadily cut back on the storage offered to users of their free Web-mail services -- Google pounded the market price for each message all the way down to $0.00.

Phone use has been edging in that direction for a while, coaxed along by steadily expanding blocks of unmetered domestic calling time on wireless plans and the growing allotments of "VoIP" services such as Skype and Vonage. Google's latest move can only accelerate that trend. Incumbent carriers will have to respond accordingly.

But don't feel too bad for the telecom firms. At least until Google or somebody else finds a way to sneak into that market, those companies seem secure in being able to charge an unhealthy premium for text messaging.

The Ann Coulter You Don't Know

The flap over Coulter’s speech to a gay Republican group shows that the right’s provocateur is a heck of a lot of more complicated than she’s made out to be.

“Wait until you hear what Ann Coulter did now” has become a cable news era cliché—up there with “fair and balanced,” “we report, you decide,” and “can I please get a word in edgewise, Mr. Carville?” So upon learning that Ann has found her way into another controversy—a sadly overused word when applied to Ms. Coulter—the natural temptation is to brace oneself. This, after all, is the woman who mused—in jest?—that perhaps America would be better off if women couldn't vote.

One of the carefully guarded secrets of Ann Coulter world is how much she is not hated and—dare one say it—even liked by many within the dreaded liberal elite.

No doubt to the surprise of Coulter haters—and "hate" is not too strong a word here—the supposed Bellatrix Lestrange of the Republican Party recently took a stand that the more rational among them might even applaud. When informed she could not participate in a political conference if she kept a commitment to speak to a group of gay Republicans, Ms. Coulter told organizers just what they could do with their conference. Noting that she speaks to all kinds of groups whose views she does not necessarily agree with—“the main thing I do is speak on college campuses, which is about the equivalent of speaking at an al Qaeda conference”—Coulter, in her own style, stood for something that conservatives are supposed to believe in: the free exchange of ideas. Few, of course, have exercised that particular privilege with more vigor than the woman who famously labeled Katie Couric “the affable Eva Braun” of the liberal movement.

Lately, in fact, Coulter has been making a habit of getting on the bad side of the right’s Dwight Schrutes, even at the risk of alienating some of her book buyers and website subscribers. She was, for example, an early and outspoken opponent of the Obama birther movement, calling its adherents a collection of “cranks.” And in response to commentator Bill Kristol’s haughty demand that Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele resign because Steele criticized the military surge in Afghanistan, Coulter turned the tables. “Bill Kristol Should Resign,” she wrote, thus fearlessly taking on one of the Grand Poobahs of today’s GOP and provoking a needed debate within the conservative movement over the dangers of supporting every military action at every time under every circumstance.

Tolerance for differing viewpoints…a willingness to stand up to the GOP’s titans…is this the Ann Coulter that liberals loathe and Republicans love? That is exactly her. But you’re not supposed to tell anyone. In fact, one of the carefully guarded secrets of Ann Coulter world is how much she is not hated and—dare one say it—even liked by many within the dreaded liberal elite. Well-credentialed members of the mainstream media privately extol her. Among her friends is the decidedly unconservative talk show host Bill Maher, on whose cable program she frequently appeared. “Unlike so many people in America, she was not afraid to get booed,” Mr. Maher once said of his pal. But at a quasi-debate with Maher, Coulter showed the limits of her affection. “Bill wants me to behave like a wife who laughs each time she hears her husband tell the same story,” she told her audience. (Predictably she did not oblige.) To the shock, awe, and dismay of many on the left, Coulter even has dated a number of liberal acolytes, including a one-time aide to Joe Biden and the former president of the New York City Council. There are even anecdotal cases of—brace yourselves—actual kindness.

I can attest to this unsettling phenomenon. Some years ago, a geeky political nerd from Michigan came to Capitol Hill with grandiose dreams and a debilitating shyness. Few among the great potentates and perennial climbers of the United States Senate had much time for the lugs at the bottom. But Ann did. Though a senior aide to a U.S. Senator, she took the time to get to know the rest of us, ask our opinions, share stories, and be a friend. Even then I knew that Coulter would not be long for the dreary rituals and bloviating self-absorption of Capitol Hill. Instead she became a media star.

More than a decade later, when I wrote a book about my experiences in Washington I asked my publisher if Ann could read it. I figured she wouldn’t remember me and expected a polite rebuff. Instead Ann got to it quickly and wrote a generous blurb. When the book received criticism from prominent Bush aides and some conservative friends waited out the deluge from a comfortable distance, Ann Coulter stood by with her support, even appearing on Fox News to lend a hand and correct the facts.

I jokingly told her that from here on out I’d punch anyone who attacked her in my presence. “You’re going to be pretty busy,” she instantly replied.

None of this is to say that Ann Coulter hasn’t deserved the animosity or opposition she has received over the years—and which she sometimes has shrewdly cultivated. She knew well what she was doing when she boldly criticized the 9/11 widows or poked fun at Senator John Edwards before that particular sport became a national pastime. And most likely she wouldn’t take back a single offending word she has ever uttered.

But there is a reason why all the latter-day Coulter imitators on cable news channels have been about as cutting edge as a J.C. Penney commercial. People—at least those who matter—usually are more complicated than their caricatures. It’s too bad that politics doesn’t allow us to see more public figures that way.

Matt Latimer is the author of the New York Times bestseller, SPEECH-LESS: Tales of a White House Survivor. He was deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush and chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Old GOP gizzer tries to be funny!

Groups call for Alan Simpson's resignation over 'sexist' letter

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), the outspoken co-chair of President Obama's debt commission, is in hot water with some advocacy groups after he sent an e-mail to National Older Women's League Executive Director Ashley Carson comparing Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million tits!"

The letter was a response to a column Carlson wrote for the Huffington Post in April defending the entitlement program titled "Enough with the Pink Panthers bit." From Simpson's letter:

There may be no group called the Pink Panthers working to protect Social Security but I sure as hell am! I've spent many years in public life trying to stabilize that system while people like you babble into the vapors about "disgusting attempts at ageism and sexism" and all the rest of that crap.
Simpson signs off by writing "Call when you get honest work!"

OWL on Wednesday launched an online petition calling for Simpson to resign from his position over the "offensive and sexist" e-mail. Fox News reports that Social Security Works has joined OWL in calling for Simpson's ouster.

Simpson, a longtime critic of Social Security, has come under fire previously for suggesting "greedy geezers" are trying to protect their retirement checks while their grandchildren face a mounting national debt.

The bipartisan fiscal commission is set to issue recommendations for reining in the national debt in December, after the midterm elections.

UPDATE: Simpson has apologized in a letter:

I apologize for what I wrote. I can see that my remarks have caused you anguish, and that was not my intention. I certainly did not intend to diminish your hard work for the Older Women's League. I know you care deeply about strengthening Social Security, and so do I, just as deeply. I remember your testimony at our public hearing in June about the importance of retirement security for women. Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two. To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, "It's a doozy!"
He said he didn't respond sooner because he's on vacation and suggested a meeting with Carlson.

2nd UPDATE: Astute reader W.A.D. points out that Simpson was repurposing H.L. Mencken, who criticized the New Deal as "a milk cow with 25 million teats."

Thank You NEWT SARAH RUSH GLENN Man Is Held in Anti-Muslim Stabbing of Cabdriver

A cabdriver was attacked Tuesday by a knife-wielding passenger who made anti-Muslim remarks, the police said.

The passenger, Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, N.Y., hailed the cab at Second Avenue and East 24th Street around 6 p.m. Tuesday, the police said. Twenty blocks north, they said, he slashed and stabbed the 43-year-old driver in his throat, face and arm.

The driver, identified by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers’ group, as Ahmed H. Sharif, 43, stopped the cab and approached a police officer on Third Avenue near 42nd Street. Mr. Enright was arrested at the scene.

According to the taxi workers’ alliance, Mr. Sharif’s fare started the ride asking him in a friendly way if he was Muslim, whether he was observing Ramadan, and how long he had been in the United States.

After falling silent for a few minutes, the passenger began cursing and screaming, and then yelled, “Assalamu alaikum — consider this a checkpoint!” and slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck, and then on the face from his nose to his upper lip, the alliance said. (“Assalamu alaikum” — “peace be with you” — is a traditional Muslim greeting.)

Both men were taken to Bellevue Hospital Center. The driver was in stable condition. A law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said Mr. Enright was “very drunk” at the time of the attack.

“I feel very sad,” Mr. Sharif said in a statement released by the taxi workers’ alliance. “I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before.”

He added that “right now, the public sentiment is very serious” because of tensions over Park51, the proposed Islamic center that some critics call the “ground zero mosque.”

The police charged Mr. Enright with attempted murder as a hate crime, assault, aggravated harassment and criminal possession of a weapon. He was awaiting arraignment on Wednesday.

Why the Tea Party is toxic

Why the Tea Party is toxic for the GOP

So the "summer of recovery" swelters on, with Democrats sun-blistered, pestered by bottle flies, sand in their swimsuits, water in their ears. Jobless claims increase, Republicans lead the generic congressional ballot, and George W. Bush is six points more popular than President Obama in "front-line" Democratic districts that are most vulnerable to a Republican takeover. Still, Democrats hug the hope that Obama is really the liberal Ronald Reagan -- but without wit, humor, an explainable ideology or an effective economic plan. Other than that, the resemblance is uncanny.

Yet the Republican Party suffers its own difficulty -- an untested ideology at the core of its appeal.

In the normal course of events, political movements begin as intellectual arguments, often conducted for years in serious books and journals. To study the Tea Party movement, future scholars will sift through the collected tweets of Sarah Palin. Without a history of clarifying, refining debates, Republicans need to ask three questions of candidates rising on the Tea Party wave:

First, do you believe that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional? This seems to be the unguarded view of Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck and other Tea Party advocates of "constitutionalism." It reflects a conviction that the federal government has only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution -- which doesn't mention retirement insurance or health care.

This view is logically consistent -- as well as historically uninformed, morally irresponsible and politically disastrous. The Constitution, in contrast to the Articles of Confederation, granted broad power to the federal government to impose taxes and spend funds to "provide for . . . the general welfare" -- at least if Alexander Hamilton and a number of Supreme Court rulings are to be believed. In practice, Social Security abolition would push perhaps 13 million elderly Americans into destitution, blurring the line between conservative idealism and Social Darwinism.

This approach undermines a large conservative achievement. Despite early misgivings about Social Security and the Civil Rights Act, Ronald Reagan moved Republicans past Alf Landon's resistance to the New Deal and Barry Goldwater's opposition to federal civil rights law, focusing instead on economic growth and national strength. A consistent "constitutionalism" would entangle Republicans in an endless, unfolding political gaffe -- opposing, in moments of candor, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, the federal highway system and the desegregation of lunch counters.

A second question of Tea Party candidates: Do you believe that American identity is undermined by immigration? An internal debate has broken out on this issue among Tea Party favorites. Tom Tancredo, running for Colorado governor, raises the prospect of bombing Mecca, urges the president to return to his Kenyan "homeland" and calls Miami a "Third World country" -- managing to offend people on four continents. Dick Armey of FreedomWorks appropriately criticizes Tancredo's "harsh and uncharitable and mean-spirited attitude on the immigration issue." But the extremes of the movement, during recent debates on birthright citizenship and the Manhattan mosque, seem intent on depicting Hispanics and Muslims as a fifth column.

There is no method more likely to create ethnic resentment and separatism than unfair suspicion. The nativist impulse is the enemy of assimilation. In a nation where minorities now comprise two-fifths of children under 18, Republicans should also understand that tolerating nativism would bring slow political asphyxiation.

Question three: Do you believe that gun rights are relevant to the health-care debate? Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle raised this issue by asserting that, "If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies." Far from reflecting the spirit of the Founders (who knew how to deal with the Whiskey Rebellion), the implied resort to political violence is an affectation -- more foolish than frightening. But it is toxic for the GOP to be associated with the armed and juvenile.

Most Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are understandably concerned about the size and reach of government. Their enthusiasm is a clear Republican advantage. But Tea Party populism is just as clearly incompatible with some conservative and Republican beliefs. It is at odds with Abraham Lincoln's inclusive tone and his conviction that government policies could empower individuals. It is inconsistent with religious teaching on government's responsibility to seek the common good and to care for the weak. It does not reflect a Burkean suspicion of radical social change.

The Democratic political nightmare is now obvious and overwhelming. The Republican challenge is different: building a majority on an unstable, slightly cracked foundation.


The Big Business of Battling Bed Bugs

Bug Infestations Mean Big Bucks For Pest Control Industry

In what some call America's most bedbug-infested city, a man named Frank reluctantly discussed the high cost of his bloodsucking guests.

"I had a bedbug-sniffing dog come out and then exterminator treatment," he said. "I spent $350 for the stupid dog and a few hundred dollars to send my clothing out for cleaning. That's more than $1,000 just to be safe."

Now the bugs were taking another bite out of Frank. He contemplated the ceiling-high display of mattress bedbug barriers priced between $59.99 and $99.99 at a Manhattan Bed Bath & Beyond store.

An entomologist appearing on a video as part of the display declared: "We're seeing an explosion of bedbugs!" Nearby, bright blue bottles of "Rest Easy Bedbug Spray" at $9.99 each dangled like ornaments above bedbug-proof box spring and mattress encasements. A Bed Bath & Beyond spokesman declined comment on sales.

From New York's handsome prewar buildings to the low-slung homes of the U.S. heartland, bedbug infestations are translating into big bucks for pest control companies and retailers selling protection against them.

"People are making a lot of money," said Larry Pinto, a Maryland-based pest control consultant and co-author of the Bed Bug Handbook. "Pest control companies specializing in bedbugs are making a lot of money. The ones that are good are making a lot of money. Probably the ones that are bad are, too. It is headache work. At the end of your day, you're totally, utterly exhausted."

This week, none other than extermination company Terminix ranked New York as the nation's bedbug capital. The firm based the ranking on the volume of calls to its offices around the country. New York surpassed Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati and Chicago, which rounded out the top five cities.

Over the last three years, Terminix said, the company's commercial bedbug business more than doubled, with a significantly higher number of calls from individual householders.

Overall, revenues from bedbug control jumped from $98 million in 2006 to $258 million last year, according to Missy Henriksen, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association. Still, that's just 5 percent of the $6.5 billion in total sales generated by the industry last year.

Well-Traveled Bugs
Terminix and independent pest control experts say international travel is partly to blame. The bugs have been reappearing decades after which they were believed eradicated.

The Big Apple had been hit hard. Former President Bill Clinton had an outbreak at his Harlem office, as did lingerie outlet Victoria's Secret, teen clothing store Hollister, the iconic Empire State Building, movie theaters, and countless hotels which lost thousands of dollars in revenue combating the bugs. Now the bugs are feasting on hapless sleepers across the nation. They feed exclusively on the blood of warm-blooded animals and humans. They dwell in furniture, clothing and luggage. Occasionally, they hitch rides in the suitcases of business travelers, pest control experts said. They breed along wide swaths that stretch to the U.S. heartland.

"Now they're winding up in places without beds," Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland. "It's a boon and a bane because these things are not easy to control."

While they do not spread disease-causing germs, bedbugs can cause painful irritation and itching. They are hard and expensive to eradicate, often requiring the application of insecticides by pest control specialists or special steam treatments, according to experts. In rare cases, residents must leave their homes for weeks.

In the heavily traveled corridor between Texas and Louisiana, which is dotted with hotels, James Self has exterminated pests for three decades.

"I don't know if I'd say it's an epidemic or not," said Self, owner of Ameritex Pest Control in Beaumont, Texas. "I never actually had a call to go treat for any bedbug until about four years ago. In the last year and half, I'm getting three to five calls a month. Sometimes, I'll get 10 calls in a week. Bedbugs are great hitchhikers." His initial inspection is free, Self said. "I'm kind of unusual at that. A lot of guys charge $100, $200 for an inspection." His fee to treat an infestation: $500 minimum. "I use a product that mixes with water and then you spray," said Self, declining to reveal the ingredients. "I have an aerosol I use on mattresses and couches." A small town of 15,000, Beaumont, with eight pest control operators, is a competitive market, according to Self. "I bid on a small, four-apartment complex for 2,000 bucks but a guy came in behind me at $600 for all of them. Sometimes you get what you pay for."

Bed Bug Concierge Service
Douglas Stern, managing partner of New Jersey-based Stern Environmental Group, started a new division of his extermination business six months ago in response to the growing number of infestations.

His company's new "bed-bug-prep concierge service" helps large-scale clients prepare infested furniture, large objects and spaces for extermination. Stern said he's worked with a number of high-profile clients including airlines and department stores. About half of the firm's business now is bedbug related and Stern said plans are in the works to expand into other cities.

"This is just the beginning," Stern said. "What we're experiencing in New York City other cities are not yet seeing. The problem is spreading."

Copyright © 2010 ABC News

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

the final frontier for evolution?

Space is the final frontier for evolution, study claims
By Howard Falcon-Lang
Science reporter, BBC News

Mammals had plenty of space in which to thrive after the extinction of the dinosaurs Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution.

He imagined a world in which organisms battled for supremacy and only the fittest survived.

But new research identifies the availability of "living space", rather than competition, as being of key importance for evolution.

Findings question the old adage of "nature red in tooth and claw".

The study conducted by PhD student Sarda Sahney and colleagues at the University of Bristol is published in Biology Letters.

The research team used fossils to study evolutionary patterns over 400 million years of history.

Focusing on land animals - amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds - the scientists showed that the amount of biodiversity closely matched the availability of "living space" through time.
Competition did not play a big role in the overall pattern of evolution”
End Quote Professor Michael Benton

Bristol University
Living space - more formally known as the "ecological niche concept" by biologists - refers to the particular requirements of an organism to thrive. It includes factors like the availability of food and a favourable habitat.

'Lucky break'

The new study proposes that really big evolutionary changes happen when animals move into empty areas of living space, not occupied by other animals.

For example, when birds evolved the ability to fly, that opened up a vast range of new possibilities not available to other animals. Suddenly the skies were quite literally the limit, triggering a new evolutionary burst.

Similarly, the extinction of the dinosaurs left areas of living space wide open, giving mammals their lucky break.

This concept challenges the idea that intense competition for resources in overcrowded habitats is the major driving force of evolution.

Start Quote
What is the impetus to occupy new portions of ecological space if not to avoid competition?”
End Quote Professor Stephen Stearns

Yale University
Professor Mike Benton, a co-author on the study, explained that "competition did not play a big role in the overall pattern of evolution".

"For example, even though mammals lived beside dinosaurs for 60 million years, they were not able to out-compete the dominant reptiles. But when the dinosaurs went extinct, mammals quickly filled the empty niches they left and today mammals dominate the land," he told BBC News.

Alternative view

However, Professor Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, US, told BBC News he "found the patterns interesting, but the interpretation problematic".

He explained: "To give one example, if the reptiles had not been competitively superior to the mammals during the Mesozoic (era), then why did the mammals only expand after the large reptiles went extinct at the end of the Mesozoic?"

"And in general, what is the impetus to occupy new portions of ecological space if not to avoid competition with the species in the space already occupied?"

Monday, August 23, 2010

About The NYC Mosque! Ron Paul

Ron Paul to Sunshine Patriots: Stop Your Demagogy About The NYC Mosque!

Congressman Ron Paul today released the following statement on the controversy concerning the construction of an Islamic Center and Mosque in New York City:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

Just think of what might (not) have happened if the whole issue had been ignored and the national debate stuck with war, peace, and prosperity. There certainly would have been a lot less emotionalism on both sides. The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom?

In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars. A select quote from soldiers from in Afghanistan and Iraq expressing concern over the mosque is pure propaganda and an affront to their bravery and sacrifice.

The claim is that we are in the Middle East to protect our liberties is misleading. To continue this charade, millions of Muslims are indicted and we are obligated to rescue them from their religious and political leaders. And, we’re supposed to believe that abusing our liberties here at home and pursuing unconstitutional wars overseas will solve our problems.

The nineteen suicide bombers didn’t come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran. Fifteen came from our ally Saudi Arabia, a country that harbors strong American resentment, yet we invade and occupy Iraq where no al Qaeda existed prior to 9/11.

Many fellow conservatives say they understand the property rights and 1st Amendment issues and don’t want a legal ban on building the mosque. They just want everybody to be “sensitive” and force, through public pressure, cancellation of the mosque construction.

This sentiment seems to confirm that Islam itself is to be made the issue, and radical religious Islamic views were the only reasons for 9/11. If it became known that 9/11 resulted in part from a desire to retaliate against what many Muslims saw as American aggression and occupation, the need to demonize Islam would be difficult if not impossible.

There is no doubt that a small portion of radical, angry Islamists do want to kill us but the question remains, what exactly motivates this hatred?

If Islam is further discredited by making the building of the mosque the issue, then the false justification for our wars in the Middle East will continue to be acceptable.

The justification to ban the mosque is no more rational than banning a soccer field in the same place because all the suicide bombers loved to play soccer.

Conservatives are once again, unfortunately, failing to defend private property rights, a policy we claim to cherish. In addition conservatives missed a chance to challenge the hypocrisy of the left which now claims they defend property rights of Muslims, yet rarely if ever, the property rights of American private businesses.

Defending the controversial use of property should be no more difficult than defending the 1st Amendment principle of defending controversial speech. But many conservatives and liberals do not want to diminish the hatred for Islam–the driving emotion that keeps us in the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society—protecting liberty.

The outcry over the building of the mosque, near ground zero, implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. According to those who are condemning the building of the mosque, the nineteen suicide terrorists on 9/11 spoke for all Muslims. This is like blaming all Christians for the wars of aggression and occupation because some Christians supported the neo-conservatives’ aggressive wars.

The House Speaker is now treading on a slippery slope by demanding a Congressional investigation to find out just who is funding the mosque—a bold rejection of property rights, 1st Amendment rights, and the Rule of Law—in order to look tough against Islam.

This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.

We now have an epidemic of “sunshine patriots” on both the right and the left who are all for freedom, as long as there’s no controversy and nobody is offended.

Political demagoguery rules when truth and liberty are ignored.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Press and punditry stampede tramples good judgment

Press and punditry stampede tramples good judgment, and often the facts, too

When the New York Times published a story last December about plans for a Muslim prayer space near the World Trade Center site, there was little reaction.

After all, the imam in charge was quoted as saying the building was an effort to "push back against the extremists" in the shadow of the terrorist attacks. Only months later did a conservative assault on the project morph into the most incendiary issue on the media landscape.

The herd was stampeding again.

You hear their thundering hooves on cable shows and talk radio, watch the gathering dust on the blogs. They trample everything in their path. Passivity is impossible: Everyone must form an immediate opinion on the matter at hand and defend it passionately.

The quickly labeled Ground Zero mosque -- an Islamic cultural center neither at Ground Zero nor specifically a mosque -- is a classic case. It is a symbolic slugfest that lacks the maddening complexity of health care legislation or banking reform -- "Don't you care about religious freedom?" "Don't you care about the families of 9/11 victims?" -- and is tailor-made for the sound-bite stampede.

The media herd loves to chase stories with colorful personalities that we can either love or hate, defend or denounce. Blago fit the bill: The jury deadlocks on 23 of 24 counts and the insta-punditry begins. Did the government blow the case? Were the jurors out to lunch? Could Rod Blagojevich actually have been . . . innocent?

When prosecutors first released the tawdry tapes, the media mob reached the obvious conclusion, that the Illinois governor was a sleazy operator. He was selling Barack Obama's Senate seat! But as he raced from one television studio to the next, less attention was paid to whether he could be convicted in court. The herd likes morality plays, not legal strategizing. Hey, didja see Blago got bounced off "Celebrity Apprentice"?

What about the facts?

Such lemming-like behavior was also on display in the case of Steven Slater. It's August, you see, and media folks so much wanted to make the JetBlue hothead into an overnight folk hero that they loaded up the story with sociological baggage. This wasn't just a matter of an erratic flight attendant sliding down the emergency chute, it was a clarion call for fed-up workers everywhere! "The last-straw moment a lot of people identify with," said NBC's Ann Curry. "He did what a lot of Americans would have done," said MSNBC's Ed Schultz.

The story soared even as Slater's account was falling apart. Passengers told reporters that he had been rude, that he hadn't been provoked, that he'd gotten a bump on his head before the flight began. But by then the herd was heading off in another direction.

The herd isn't dumb, but it moves so quickly that snap judgments prevail and nuance gets lost. It decided within hours that Shirley Sherrod was a racist, then concluded just as forcefully that she had been framed. The first charge took place over a maliciously edited videotape, the second after the release of the full tape. Having belatedly vindicated her, the herd began a furious debate over the role of the White House, Andrew Breitbart and Fox News.

Some stories appear naturally in the pack's path; others are planted there by people with agendas, as with the Breitbart snippet of a speech by the Agriculture Department staffer. Controversies favored by the right are often pumped up by the Drudge Report, Fox and Rush Limbaugh; liberal crusades get picked up by the Huffington Post and MSNBC. The escalating rhetoric pushes the dispute onto op-ed pages and network newscasts, and there it remains until some countervailing force knocks it off.

At times, the early noise gives way to serious debate. When the BP oil well blew up, plenty of newly minted experts held forth on the advisability of a "top kill" or "junk shot" or other esoteric approaches, not to mention the nonstop argument over whether the president was responding with sufficient emotion. But as journalists gradually educated themselves, the country got a lesson in the risks of offshore oil drilling and the shortcomings of federal regulation.

More commonly, though, the media crowd doesn't stick around long enough to do more than stomp around. There was a furious argument over Obama giving General Motors a $50 billion bailout; now that the company is profitable and preparing a stock offering, the herd is MIA.


It always needs something new to chew on: Is Elena Kagan qualified despite never having been a judge -- and what about those rumors about her personal life? And the herd loses interest when the outcome isn't in doubt. Once it became clear that Republicans wouldn't block Kagan's Supreme Court confirmation, the coverage dwindled dramatically.

The herd is easily distracted by whatever buzzes by. Dr. Laura using the N-word? Was she racially insensitive or just trying to make a point about who gets to use such language? Never mind, she's quitting already. Wait -- Sarah Palin is defending her?

The media treated the withdrawal of the final American combat units from Iraq last week as a one-day story, despite the bloody toll of the 7 1/2 -year conflict. Yes, it was symbolic, the war isn't over and 50,000 U.S. troops remain behind, but the conflict dominated our politics for years -- and claimed the lives of more than 4,400 service members and untold Iraqi civilians. Except on MSNBC, which carried embedded correspondent Richard Engel reporting from the scene for hours, and a few front-page stories, the herd seemed disengaged. The pullout was expected; the new battlefront is Afghanistan.

The controversy over the mosque got a big-time boost when Obama called it a matter of religious freedom, then told CNN's Ed Henry the next day that he wasn't saying the project should be built. But little attention was paid to a Politico report that organizers of the $100 million center have raised only $18,255 -- making it unlikely that it will ever be built. To dwell on that, of course, would spoil the herd's fun.

Media morsels

-- Newsweek is undergoing a talent drain as it waits for 92-year-old Sidney Harman to close on buying the magazine from The Washington Post Co. With Editor Jon Meacham, Mike Isikoff and Evan Thomas already gone or leaving, columnist Fareed Zakaria has jumped to Time. He already hosts a show on CNN, part of Time's parent company.

-- Fox's Greta Van Susteren has challenged her colleague Glenn Beck's plan for a Lincoln Memorial rally Saturday on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech: "Yes, he has a First Amendment right to do it . . . but what about the wisdom of it?" she blogged. Her solution: Move Beck's event to another location, and move the Manhattan Islamic project as well. "It does not help heal the country on so many fronts if we poke a stick in eyes."

-- Village Voice reporter Elizabeth Dwoskin broke the story about Citibank staffer Debrahlee Lorenzana, who filed a claim -- denied by the company -- that the bank fired her because her bosses found her voluptuous body too distracting. While it was "extremely pleasurable" to watch the tale go viral, she writes in Columbia Journalism Review, it was also "slightly disturbing. As a journalist, you spend so much time plugging away at stories that you hope will impact society. Then, suddenly, you hit on a sexy banker who lost her job, and, delighted as you are, you also can't help but wonder: Is this what it takes to be talked about all over the world?"

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

Incendiary rant exposes Dr. Laura MEDIA MATTERS updater

Media Matters: Incendiary rant exposes Dr. Laura (again)

The year was 1998, and radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger's celebrity was soaring. A media group had recently paid $71.5 million for her program -- the biggest radio deal at the time -- and the Los Angeles Times reported that she had the "fastest-growing show in radio history, a program now aired on 450 stations in the United States, 30 in Canada -- where she is the No. 1 talk radio personality -- and in South Africa." Schlessinger would soon begin discussions on hosting her own national TV show.

Just a few years later, Schlessinger began to stumble. In 2001, her syndicated Paramount television show was cancelled after a brief run, and in 2002, the New York Daily News reported that Schlessinger's radio audience had lost several million listeners.

Schlessinger's troubles then -- just like now -- began with incendiary remarks aimed at a minority group. During the 1990s, Schlesinger blasted "homosexuality" as "a biological error," "deviant behavior, a dysfunctional behavior," and linked gay men to pedophilia and child molestation. Schlessinger also touted "therapies which have been successful in helping a reasonable number of people become heterosexual."

When Paramount announced it had signed Schlessinger to a TV talk show for the fall of 2000, the group StopDrLaura.com successfully "waged a campaign to dissuade companies from sponsoring the show." Dr. Laura debuted to "disappointing" ratings and Paramount "had difficulty attracting national sponsors to the show," forcing the studio to sell ads at reduced rates (LA Times, 9/22/00).

In the spring of 2001, Dr. Laura -- to no one's surprise -- was cancelled. Schlessinger blamed the cancellation on gay rights groups such as StopDrLaura.com and Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), telling Larry King that "political correctness" "overpowers and overwhelms the United States of America today. ... This was strictly about trying to destroy my voice." Schlessinger defenders claimed that critics were trying to silence her "1st amendment" rights.

Nearly ten years later, the same controversy over Schlessinger played out again -- this time over racially tinged remarks to an African-American caller.

To give you a refresher, during the August 10 edition of her program, Schlessinger took a call from an African-American woman seeking advice on dealing with the resentment she felt when her white husband didn't speak out about racist comments his friends made. During the discussion, Schlessinger used the n-word 11 times, and told the caller that she had a "chip on [her] shoulder." Schlessinger added that "a lot of blacks voted for Obama" due to race and said that the caller shouldn't "marry out of [her] race" if she didn't "have a sense of humor."

After Media Matters posted audio of Schlessinger's racial rant, groups such as GLAAD, Women's Media Center, and UNITY Journalists of Color joined Media Matters to hold Schlessinger's "advertisers accountable and find out exactly where they stand."

Like in 2001, Schlessinger appeared on Larry King Live to claim that her "First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don't want to debate. They want to eliminate." Schlessinger announced that she was ending her radio show to "move on to other venues where I could say my piece and not have to live in fear anymore that sponsors and their families are going to be upset, radio stations are going to be upset, my peeps, as I call them, are going to be upset."

Some conservatives predictably rallied around Schlessinger. Michelle Malkin lauded Schlessinger for having "battled political correctness for years." Sarah Palin -- who's scheduled to join Fox News colleague Glenn Beck at his 8-28 rally to "reclaim" the civil rights movement -- defended Schlessinger's n-word rant by claiming Schlessinger has been "shackled" by her critics, and took to Twitter to tell Schlessinger, "Don't retreat... reload" after her "1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist."

The First Amendment argument is as silly now as it was ten years ago. "Censorship, in the legal sense, really only occurs when the government is trying to prevent you from saying something. I think that actions that GLAAD has taken regarding Dr. Laura is the way we in the American system expect the system to work, and Dr. Laura has a right to say what she's doing," explained Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press executive director Lucy Dalglish on the June 15, 2000, edition of PBS's NewsHour.

The purported media critics at NewsBusters, meanwhile, bizarrely accused Media Matters of censorship because we were part of a campaign targeting advertisers. The criticism is strange considering NewsBusters and its parent, Media Research Center, also target advertisers of content they view as offensive. Indeed, MRC president Brent Bozell told the LA Times in 2000 that while he didn't approve of the anti-Dr. Laura cause, "It's perfectly acceptable for an organization to lobby to cancel a program they think is inappropriate. I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all."

At the end of the day, however, Schlessinger's racial rant is only the latest in recent public displays of racially loaded rhetoric by right-wing media figures. The question, as it was in 2000, is whether the audiences will hold figures responsible for their rhetoric.

Shouldn't the GOP be paying Fox?

In April, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of Fox News parent company News Corp., responded to a question from Media Matters' Ari Rabin-Havt by stating that he doesn't "think we should be supporting the tea party, or any other party." Yet on Monday, Bloomberg News reported that News Corp. contributed $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. The large donation caps off more than a year and a half of pro-Republican activism during the Obama administration by Fox News hosts, reporters, and "political analysts."

Because it might be hard to keep track of Fox News' pro-GOP activism in all 50 states, here's a brief recap:

GOP fundraisers / events. Fox News hosts and "political analysts" have frequently spoken at or hosted fundraisers or events for Republican organizations and candidates. Recently, Fox News employee Dick Morris -- who's received money from GOP parties -- announced that he's planning to stump for more than 40 Republican candidates.
On-air endorsements. Fox Newsers regularly make on-air endorsements for Republicans. Fox Business host Eric Bolling, for example, told viewers they could "save" the country in 2012 by putting "a Republican in there. Turn it over in 2010."
Endorsing statements. Fox Newsers regularly release statements in support of candidates through their political organizations or social media accounts. Sarah Palin, for example, makes endorsements through her Facebook page, while Mike Huckabee endorses candidates on his Huck PAC website. Fox News has promoted both Huckabee and Palin's outside ventures.
Behind-the-scenes / campaign roles. Last year, Dick Morris worked as a paid consultant for unsuccessful Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos. Fox News contributor Karl Rove, meanwhile, has been offering campaign advice to Republicans, such as the House Republican Conference and Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul.
Political fundraising groups. Fox News hosts and contributors are raising money for Republican candidates and causes using political action committees, 527 and 501(c)(4) organizations. These fundraising groups are also promoted on Fox News.
Frequent softball candidate promotions. Fox News has frequently opened its airwaves to promote Republican candidates such as Republican gubernatorial candidates Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, and Senate candidates Marco Rubio, Mark Kirk, Scott Brown, Sharron Angle, and Rand Paul. Angle summarized Fox News' friendly haven for GOP candidates when she suggested that she prefers to appear on Fox because they let her raise money.
GOP in exile. Fox News boasts a long roster of possible 2012 presidential candidates on its payroll, such as Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Fox News, in turn, gives them exposure and air time while they decide whether they want to run for office.
GOP issue advocacy. Fox News has frequently pushed conservative misinformation about the Obama administration and various other issues. Perhaps most notably, Fox News became the voice of the opposition against health care reform earlier this year.
GOP events advocacy. Fox News has heavily promoted pro-Republican and anti-Democrat events such as the April 15 Tax Day Tea Parties, the Tea Party Express bus tour, and Rep. Michele Bachmann's anti-health care reform rallies.
As The Daily Show's Jon Stewart noted, "If anything, the Republicans should be paying Fox News millions and millions of dollars."

This weekly wrap-up was compiled by Media Matters research fellow Eric Hananoki.