Monday, November 01, 2010

India: Land of many cell phones, fewer toilets

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- The Mumbai slum of Rafiq Nagar has no clean water for its shacks made of ripped tarp and bamboo. No garbage pickup along the rocky, pocked earth that serves as a road. No power except from haphazard cables strung overhead illegally.

And not a single toilet or latrine for its 10,000 people.

Yet nearly every destitute family in the slum has a cell phone. Some have three.

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits India Nov. 6, he will find a country of startlingly uneven development and perplexing disparities, where more people have cell phones than access to a toilet, according to the United Nations.

It is a country buoyed by a vibrant business world of call centers and software developers, but hamstrung by a bloated, corrupt government that has failed to deliver the barest of services.

Its estimated growth rate of 8.5 percent a year is among the highest in the world, but its roads are crumbling.

It offers cheap, world-class medical care to Western tourists at private hospitals, yet has some of the worst child mortality and maternal death rates outside sub-Saharan Africa.

And while tens of millions have benefited from India's rise, many more remain mired in some of the worst poverty in the world.

Businessman Mukesh Ambani, the world's fourth-richest person, is just finishing off a new $1 billion skyscraper-house in Mumbai with 27 floors and three helipads, touted as the most expensive home on earth. Yet farmers still live in shacks of mud and cow dung.

The cell phone frenzy bridges all worlds. Cell phones are sold amid the Calvin Klein and Clinique stores under the soaring atriums of India's new malls, and in the crowded markets of its working-class neighborhoods. Bare shops in the slums sell pre-paid cards for as little as 20 cents next to packets of chewing tobacco, while street hawkers peddle car chargers at traffic lights.

The spartan Beecham's in New Delhi's Connaught Place, one of the country's seemingly ubiquitous mobile phone dealers, is overrun with lunchtime customers of all classes looking for everything from a 35,000 rupee ($790) Blackberry Torch to a basic 1,150 rupee ($26) Nokia.

Store manager Sanjeev Malhotra adds to a decades-old - and still unfulfilled - Hindi campaign slogan promising food, clothing and shelter. "Roti, kapda, makaan" and "mobile," he riffs, laughing. "Basic needs."

There were more than 670 million cell phone connections in India by the end of August, a number that has been growing by close to 20 million a month, according to government figures.

Yet U.N. figures show that only 366 million Indians have access to a private toilet or latrine, leaving 665 million to defecate in the open.

"At least tap water and sewage disposal - how can we talk about any development without these two fundamental things? How can we talk about development without health and education?" says Anita Patil-Deshmukhl, executive director of PUKAR, an organization that conducts research and outreach in the slums of Mumbai.

India's leaders say they are sympathetic to the problem.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an economist credited with unleashing India's private sector by loosening government regulation, talks about growth that benefits the masses of poor people as well as a burgeoning middle class of about 300 million. He describes a roaring Maoist insurgency in the east - which feeds in large part on the poor's discontent - as the country's biggest internal security threat.

Sonia Gandhi, chief of the ruling Congress Party, has pushed laws guaranteeing a right to food and education, as well as a gargantuan rural jobs program for nearly 100 million people. But as many as 800 million Indians still live on less than $2 a day, even as Mumbai's stock exchange sits near record highs.

Many fear the situation is unsustainable.

"Everybody understands the threat. Everybody recognizes that there is a gap, that this could be the thing that trips up this country," says Anand Mahindra, vice chairman and managing director of the Mahindra & Mahindra manufacturing company.

Private companies have tried to fill that gap, and Tata sells a 749 rupee ($16) water purifier for the poor. Mafias provide water and electricity to slumdwellers at a cost far higher than what wealthy Indians pay for basic services.

"For every little thing, we have to pay," says Nusrat Khan, a 35-year-old maid and single parent who raises her four children on less than 3,000 rupees ($67) a month and blames the government for her lack of access to water and a toilet.

The government is spending $350 million a year to build toilets in rural areas. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement, estimates the country needs about 120 million more latrines - likely the largest sanitation project in world history.

"Those in power, only they can change the situation," says Pathak, who claims to have helped build a million low-cost latrines across India over the past 40 years. "India can achieve this - if it desires."

In the slums of Mumbai, home to more than half the city's population of 14 million, the yearning for toilets is so great that enterprising residents have built makeshift outhouses on their own.

In Annabhau Sathe Nagar, a raised latrine of corrugated tin empties into a river of sewage that children splash in and adults wade across. The slum in east Mumbai has about 50,000 residents and a single toilet building, with 10 pay toilets for men and eight for women - two of which are broken.

With the wait for those toilets up to an hour even at 5 a.m., and the two-rupee (4-cent) fee too expensive for many, most people either use a field or wait to use the toilets at work, says Santosh Thorat, 32, a community organizer. Nearly 60 percent have developed piles from regularly waiting to defecate, he says.

Conditions are far worse in Rafiq Nagar, a crowded, 15-year-old slum on the lip of a 110-acre garbage dump.

Most of the slumdwellers are ragpickers who sort through heaps of trash for scraps of plastic, glass, metal, even bones, anything they can sell to recyclers for cash. A pungent brew of ripe garbage and sewage blows through the trash-strewn streets, as choking smoke from wood fires rolls out the doorways of windowless huts. Children, half clothed in rags, play hopscotch next to a mysterious gray liquid that has gathered in stagnant puddles weeks after the last rainfall.

Just beside the shacks, men and women defecate in separate areas behind rolling hills of green foliage that have sprung up over the garbage. Children run through those hills, flying kites.

Khatija Sheikh, 20, splurges to use a pay toilet in another neighborhood 10 minutes away, but is never sure what condition it will be in.

"Sometimes it's clean, sometimes it's dirty. It's totally dependent on the owner's mood," says Sheikh, whose two young children use the street. Her home is less than five feet from an elevated outhouse built by a neighbor that drops sewage next to her walls.

Since there are no water pipes or wells here, residents are forced to rely on the water mafia for water for cooking, washing clothes, bathing and drinking. The neighborhood is rife with skin infections, tuberculosis and other ailments.

A large blue barrel outside a home is filled with murky brown water, tiny white worms and an aluminum drinking cup. To fill up two jerry cans costs between 40 ($.90) and 50 ($1.10) rupees a day, about one-third of the average family's earnings here.

"If the government would give us water, we would pay that money to the government," said Suresh Pache, 41, a motorized rickshaw driver.

Instead, it has issued demolition notices throughout the slum, which sits illegally on government land. Pache, whose home was razed 10 times, jokes that the destruction is the only government service he can count on.

Yet the world of technology has embraced the slumdwellers with its cheap cell phones and cut-rate calling plans that charge a sliver of a penny a minute. Pache bought his first phone for 1,400 rupees ($31) four months ago. Since then, his wife, a ragpicker, found two other broken models as she scoured the garbage dump, and he paid to have them repaired.

He speaks with fluency about the different plans offered by Tata, Reliance and Idea that cost him a total of 300 rupees ($6.70) a month. Now, when his rickshaw breaks down, he can alert his wife with a call. She uses her phone to tell the recyclers where she is in the dump so they can drive out to her, saving her the time and effort of dragging her bag of scraps to them.

Mohan Singh, a 58-year-old bicycle repairman, says his son uses their 2,000 rupee ($45) Orpat phone to play music and talk to relatives. Thorat, the community organizer, shows photographs of his neighborhood and videos of a pre-school he started on his Nokia cameraphone, while his second phone rings in his pocket. Sushila Paten, who teaches at the pre-school, organizes a phone chain with her Samsung to instantly mobilize hundreds of people in the streets when violent thugs show up demanding "rent" from the squatters.

In fact, the spread of cell phones may end up bringing toilets.

R. Gopalakrishnan, executive director of Tata Sons, one of India's most revered companies, says the rising aspirations of the poor, buttressed by their growing access to communications and information, will put tremendous pressure on the government to start delivering.

People already are starting to challenge local officials who for generations answered to no one, he says.

"I think there are very, very dramatic changes happening," he says.

© 2010 The Associated Press.

The GREATEST 'first lady' in my lifetime!

Could Michelle Have Helped the Dems?

With approval ratings at 70 percent, the first lady is the Democrats’ most popular pol. Pity she wasn’t out louder and longer rallying the women’s vote.
At rallies today in Pennsylvania and Nevada, First Lady Michelle Obama—known as “The Closer” on the 2008 campaign trail—is making a last-ditch closing argument for the Democrats.

She's hit eight cities in the last two weeks, emerging from months of political hibernation—OK, speaking out for healthy food and better schools—in an 11th-hour push aimed at staving off a scheduled landslide. Making whistle stops in New York, California, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Washington State, she's determined to rally the base. “We can’t stop now; we’ve come too far,” she told a dinner crowd in Seattle—adding a “Yes we can!" fist pump as an afterthought.

If anybody can, Michelle can—at least on paper. At a time when her husband's approval rating has plummeted, hers stand strong at 70 percent—making her one of the most popular figures in Washington. And she appeals to a crucial constituency—female voters, a decisive bloc this fall. "She’s a terrific asset to Democrats this cycle,” says Jen Bluestein, communications director at Emily’s List. It helps that Mrs. Obama projects that purple glow her husband used to talk about. “She’s very popular with Democrats but she’s also increasingly popular with Republicans and Independents,” adds Hari Sevugan, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee.

The woman who conspicuously coined the term “mom-in-chief” has yet to embrace the trend toward unapologetic female political empowerment.

But at a time when a bumper crop of women candidates are on the ballot—10 for governor, six for the Senate, and 138 for the House—a disturbing number of women voters are either checked out of the election or forsaking the Democratic Party, according to recent polling by Gallup, CBS, and The New York Times.

Which raises a tough question: Could the country’s most popular female political figure have started earlier, shouted louder, and helped turn the straying sisters around? Or has the first lady—who famously coined the title “mom-in-chief”—relinquished the feminist brand, to the detriment of the Democrats?

As far as the East Wing is concerned, Obama has played ball. “She always wants to be value added toward what the administration is doing,” says Katherine McCormick-Lelyveld, Obama’s press secretary. “The midterms are a key part of that.”

But “She’s become perhaps more guarded and more cautious in her presentation,” says Patrice Yursik, a black beauty blogger who attended a California women’s conference at which Michelle Obama spoke last month. “There was no mention that we’re even in an election season.”

There’s no doubt the Dems need help. If the trendlines showing up in regional polling hold true on Election Day, the Republicans will be the party making gains with female voters and candidates. In 1992, there were 140 Democrats and 82 Republican women running for the House; in 2010, the GOP has fielded an equal number of women—many of whom are poised to win. Forget Christine O’Donnell: Gubernatorial candidates Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Susana Martinez of New Mexico and New Hampshire senator-in-waiting Kelly Ayotte are just three female politicians now expected to expand the GOP map.

Meanwhile, prominent Democratic women—senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Patty Murray in Washington—are on the ropes. First-term House members Betsey Markey and Ann Kirkpatrick face tough challenges as well. Kamala Harris, a rising Democratic star running for attorney general in California, is in the fight of her life.

The irony is that the losing team has long supported policies that help women. The White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have stepped up its rhetoric on women and the economy in the last two weeks. But Michelle Obama may have missed an opportunity to lead the charge.

The political potency of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has led progressive women to call for one of their own to match the ex-governor’s volume and reach. Writing in The New York Times, Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes sought “a smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women.” Palin has her “Mama Grizzly” candidates—why not “Obama Grizzlies?”

Members of the White House political team conceded that Republicans have regained ground in the suburbs, where many of Obama’s biggest fans reside. In Illinois, losses in counties ringing the first lady’s hometown have put the governorship and the president’s former Senate seat in jeopardy. What’s more, traditionally Democratic women are tuned out. “We always have trouble with lower-income women—they trend Democratic, but they have so many things to think about," says Dick Durbin, the senior senator from Illinois. Durbin added that Obama has been very effective in connecting with the economic and social needs of working women and families, in small groups at the White House.

But the woman who conspicuously coined the term “mom-in-chief” has yet to embrace the trend toward unapologetic female political empowerment.

Indeed, Obama’s current popularity rests on perceptions of her commitment to gauzy personal issues. “What we hear the most from the field is her commitment to helping families,” says Sevugan. “[Voters] see her as someone who has the same concerns, a regular person who’s a mom and who is a wife.”

“She is demonstrating a tremendous sensitivity to issues that one would consider to be extremely important to children,” adds House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn. “People love her for it.”

But her home-and-hearth appeal hasn’t closed the deal in this noisy campaign season. Murray, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senators Russ Feingold and Michael Bennet, and Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulas all rallied with the first lady, yet are even or trailing in recent polls.

Of course, Mrs. Obama isn’t a magician—she isn’t even an elected official. And there may only be so much any first lady can do to move the electoral needle. But while the Democrats have many female surrogates—Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, DNC Co-Chair Donna Brazile, even Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett—none have been able to pack the punch of Palin. (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguably the party’s most influential female leader, is legally barred from campaigning.) As not just mom but woman-in-chief, Obama seemed the most likely voice to break through.

Part of the difficulty in converting Obama’s warm fuzzies into Democratic votes is her general approach to campaigning. On the trail, she has tended to cast political arguments in terms of family. “When I think about the issues facing our nation right now, I think about what that means for our girls,” she told a crowd in Ohio, where she made her first joint appearance with the president since 2008. “I think about what that means for the world that we’re leaving for them and, quite frankly, for all of our children.” During the flurry of debate over Arizona’s controversial immigration policy, she deflected a question from a second grader whose mother was in the United States illegally with a “yes, sweetie.”

When she hit up an October women’s conference in California, capped by a debate between gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, she spoke for 25 minutes, not about the economy that’s driving voters from Democrats, but about military families—an area of deep commitment for both Obama and second lady Jill Biden. “Michelle Obama has become very astute about what the public is going to say about her and the reaction of their political opponents will be to things that she wears, things that she says, and especially appearances she makes,” says Yursik. “It was a genuine plea, but who in their right mind is going to say something negative about her talking about military families?”

Courtney Martin, writing in The American Prospect, took the critique further: “Unlike Palin, who is aggravating because she's all style and no substance, the first lady is driving many a feminist batty because she's got so much substance but is shrouding it in nonthreatening style.”

There are those in both the East and West wings who feel more aggressive politics would be inappropriate. “I think she’s been wise to be careful and cautious,” says Juleanna Glover Weiss, a Bush administration alumnus now consulting for the Ashcroft Group. “This is not her world, it’s her husband’s world.” What’s more, this behavior is not surprising for first ladies, who are typically “not involved in the sort of horse trading that you see when we’re talking about partisan politics,” says Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington bureau director and senior vice president for advocacy.

But the former nonprofit executive knows how to turn the screws when it counts. Behind the scenes of her hula-hooping and harvesting, Obama has been a tenacious lobbyist for healthy living policies to match her personal effort. When she invited members of Congress to the White House to discuss school lunch policy, they were skeptical that a bill could be passed in the face of food and soft drink industry opposition. But the first lady had done her homework—personally lobbying industry executives and including them in the conversation. “Last time we did a child nutrition bill, you couldn’t even discuss much less win a vote on the question of healthy foods and soda pop,” says Education Committee Chairman George Miller. “She was our icebreaker.”

And, in 2008, Obama was known for her willingness to “go there” when her husband could not. Nearly three years ago, she addressed a group of black women in South Carolina who were worried that her husband was too good to be true:

I equate it to that aunt or that grandmother that bought all that new furniture—spent her life savings on it and then what does she do? She puts plastic on it to protect it. That plastic gets yellow and scratches up your leg and it’s hot and sticky. But see grandma is just trying to protect that furniture—the problem is—it’s that she doesn’t get the full enjoyment—the benefit from the furniture because she’s trying to protect it. I think folks just want to protect us from the possibility of being let down—not by us—but by the world as it is. A world—they fear—is not ready for a decent man like Barack. Sometimes it seems better not to try at all than to try and fail.

The frank and funny speech was a hit, and marked the beginning of the surge in black voter support for her husband in the state that would lead to his securing the Democratic nomination for president.

The protective plastic is also a metaphor for Obama’s engagement since taking “office.” The mom-in-chief message just hasn’t roused the country—including its male half—that seems ready for strong women to lead well.

The DNC estimates that today’s rallies will draw tens of thousands more to hear Obama’s closing argument. It may be that 2010 hasn’t gotten the best of Obama. “She's done what she can but a lot of what she can do is limited by family—and that's not going to change," says senior White House adviser David Axelrod, who adds that 2012 will show a return to fighting form. “It's always different when you're campaigning for your husband."

And for Obama, it could be just the beginning: On one of the first lady’s summer trips to the Gulf Coast, residents waved “Michelle 2016” signs as a greeting.

Dayo Olopade is a political reporter for The Daily Beast and a Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation.

A New Search Engine, Where Less Is More


Start-ups and big companies alike have tried to take on Google by building a better search engine. That they have failed has not stopped brave new entrants.

The latest is Blekko, a search engine that will open to the public on Monday.

Rich Skrenta, Blekko’s co-founder and chief executive, says that since Google started, the Web has been overrun by unhelpful sites full of links and keywords that push them to the top of Google’s search results but offer little relevant information. Blekko aims to show search results from only useful, trustworthy sites.

“The goal is to clean up Web search and get all the spam out of it,” Mr. Skrenta said.

Blekko’s search engine scours three billion Web pages that it considers worthwhile, but it shows only the top results on any given topic. It calls its edited lists of Web sites slashtags. The engine also tries to weed out Web pages created by so-called content farms like Demand Media that determine popular Web search topics and then hire people at low pay to write articles on those topics for sites like

It is also drawing on a fruitful category of Web search — vertical search engines that offer results on specific topics. Many companies assume that Google won the contest to search the entire Web, so they have focused on topical search. Bing from Microsoft has search pages dedicated to travel and entertainment, and Yelp is a popular choice for searching local businesses.

People who search for a topic in one of seven categories that Blekko considers to be polluted with spamlike search results — health, recipes, autos, hotels, song lyrics, personal finance and colleges — automatically see edited results.

Users can also search for results from one site (“iPad/Amazon,” for instance, will search for iPads on, narrow searches by type (“June/people” shows people named June) or search by topic. “Climate change/conservative” shows results from right-leaning sites, and “Obama/humor” shows humor sites that mention the president. Blekko has made hundreds of these slashtags, and users can create their own and revise others.

Mr. Skrenta, who has been quietly building Blekko since 2007, has spent his career trying to improve Web search by relying on Web users to help sift through pages.

He started the Open Directory Project, a human-edited Web directory that competed with Yahoo in the 1990s and was acquired by Netscape in 1998. He ran three search properties at AOL and helped found Topix, the human-edited news site that was acquired in 2005 by Gannett, the Tribune Company and Knight-Ridder.

In some cases, Blekko’s top results are different from Google’s and more useful. Search “pregnancy tips,” for instance, and only one of the top 10 results,, is the same on each site. Blekko’s top results showed government sites, a nonprofit group and well-known parenting sites while Google’s included

“Google has a hard time telling whether two articles on the same topic are written by Demand Media, which paid 50 cents for it, or whether a doctor wrote it,” said Tim Connors, founder of PivotNorth Capital and an investor in Blekko. “Humans are pretty good at that.”

Still, for many other queries, the results are quite similar. Blekko’s challenge is that most people are happy with Google’s search results, which comScore says account for two-thirds of search queries in the United States.

“Most people aren’t saying, ‘I’m just overwhelmed with content farms,’ ” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land and an industry expert.

Google also enables people to easily search individual Web sites or set up a custom search of a group of Web sites, though it is a more complicated process.

Blekko is also taking aim at Google’s opacity about its algorithm for ranking search results. Blekko offers data like the number of inbound links to a site, where they come from and when Blekko last searched the content of a site.

Blekko has raised $24 million in venture capital from prominent investors like Marc Andreessen, Ron Conway and U.S. Venture Partners. It plans to sell Google-like search ads associated with keywords and slashtags.

Some start-ups that have taken on search have been folded into the big companies, like Powerset, which Microsoft bought in 2008. Others, like Cuil, a search engine started by former Google engineers in 2008, were flops. Blekko’s slashtags could be subject to spam since anyone can edit them, but Blekko says it will avoid that with an editor and Wikipedia-style policing by users.

“They have an interesting spin,” Mr. Sullivan said about Blekko. “It might take off with a small but loyal audience, but it won’t be a Google killer.”

The Grand Old Plot Against the Tea Party FRANK RICH NYTimes

ONE dirty little secret of the 2010 election is that it won’t be a political tragedy for Democrats if a Tea Party icon like Sharron Angle or Joe Miller ends up in the United States Senate.
Angle, now synonymous with racist ads sliming Hispanics, and Miller, already on record threatening a government shutdown, are fired up and ready to go as symbols of G.O.P. extremism for 2012 and beyond.

What’s not so secret is that some Republicans will be just as happy if some of these characters lose, and for the same reason.

But whatever Tuesday’s results, this much is certain: The Tea Party’s hopes for actually effecting change in Washington will start being dashed the morning after.
The ordinary Americans in this movement lack the numbers and financial clout to muscle their way into the back rooms of Republican power no matter how well their candidates perform.

Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. “We don’t need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples,” he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party’s Capitol Hill patron saint. “As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them.”
It’s the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client list that includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.

Karl Rove outed the Republican elites’ contempt for Tea Partiers in the campaign’s final stretch. Much as Barack Obama thought he was safe soliloquizing about angry white Middle Americans clinging to “guns or religion” at a San Francisco fund-raiser in 2008, so Rove now parades his disdain for the same constituency when speaking to the European press. This month he told Der Spiegel that Tea Partiers are “not sophisticated,” and then scoffed, “It’s not like these people have read the economist Friedrich August von Hayek.”
Given that Glenn Beck has made a cause of putting Hayek’s dense 1944 antigovernment treatise “The Road to Serfdom” on the best-seller list and Tea Partiers widely claim to have read it, Rove could hardly have been more condescending to “these people.” Last week, for added insult, he mocked Sarah Palin’s imminent Discovery Channel reality show to London’s Daily Telegraph.

This animus has not gone unnoticed among those supposedly less sophisticated conservatives back home. Mike Huckabee, still steamed about Rove’s previous put-down of Christine O’Donnell, publicly lamented the Republican establishment’s “elitism” and “country club attitude.” This country club elite, he said, is happy for Tea Partiers to put up signs, work the phones and make “those pesky little trips” door-to-door that it finds a frightful inconvenience.
But the members won’t let the hoi polloi dine with them in the club’s “main dining room” — any more than David H. Koch, the billionaire sugar daddy of the Republican right, will invite O’Donnell into his box at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center to take in “The Nutcracker.”

The main dining room remains reserved for Koch’s fellow oil barons, Lott’s clients, the corporate contributors (known and anonymous) to groups like Rove’s American Crossroads, and, of course, the large coterie of special interests underwriting John Boehner, the presumptive next speaker of the House. Boehner is the largest House recipient of Wall Street money this year — much of it from financial institutions bailed out by TARP.

His Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, will be certain to stop any Tea Party hillbillies from disrupting his chapter of the club (as he tried to stop Rand Paul in his own state’s G.O.P. primary). McConnell’s pets in his chamber’s freshman G.O.P. class will instead be old-school conservatives like Dan Coats (of Indiana), Rob Portman (of Ohio) and, if he squeaks in, Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania).
The first two are former lobbyists; Toomey ran the corporate interest group, the Club for Growth. They can be counted on to execute an efficient distribution of corporate favors and pork after they make their latest swing through Capitol Hill’s revolving door.

What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most — less government spending and smaller federal deficits — is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.’s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries. The party’s principal 2010 campaign document, its “Pledge to America,” doesn’t vow to cut even earmarks — which barely amount to a rounding error in the federal budget anyway.
Boehner has also proposed a return to pre-crash 2008 levels in “nonsecurity” discretionary spending — another mere bagatelle ($105 billion) next to the current $1.3 trillion deficit. And that won’t be happening either, once the actual cuts in departments like Education, Transportation and Interior are specified to their constituencies.

Perhaps the campaign’s most telling exchange took place on Fox News two weeks ago, when the Tea Party-embracing Senate candidate in California, Carly Fiorina, was asked seven times by Chris Wallace to name “one single entitlement expenditure you’re willing to cut” in order “to extend all the Bush tax cuts, which would add 4 trillion to the deficit.” She never did.
At least Angle and Paul have been honest about what they’d slash if in power — respectively Social Security and defense, where the big government spending actually resides.

That’s not happening either. McConnell has explained his only real priority for the new Congress with admirable candor. “The single most important thing we want to achieve,” he said, “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Any assault on Social Security would defeat that goal, and a serious shake-up of the Pentagon budget would alienate the neoconservative ideologues and military contractors who are far more important to the G.O.P. establishment than the “don’t tread on me” crowd.

For sure, the Republican elites found the Tea Party invaluable on the way to this Election Day. And not merely, as Huckabee has it, because they wanted its foot soldiers. What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday.

Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s.
Typical of this smokescreen is a new book titled “Mad as Hell,” published this fall by a Murdoch imprint. In it, the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen make the case, as they recently put it in Politico, that the Tea Party is “the most powerful and potent force in America.”

They are expert at producing poll numbers to bear that out. By counting those with friends and family in the movement, Rasmussen has calculated that 29 percent of Americans are “tied to” the Tea Party. (If you factor in six degrees of Kevin Bacon, the number would surely double.) But cooler empirical data reveal the truth known by the G.O.P. establishment: An August CNN poll found that 2 percent of Americans consider themselves active members of the Tea Party.

That result was confirmed last weekend by The Washington Post, which published the fruits of its months-long effort to contact every Tea Party group in the country. To this end, it enlisted the help of Tea Party Patriots, the only Tea Party umbrella group that actually can claim to be a spontaneous, bottom-up, grass roots organization rather than a front for the same old fat cats of the Republican right, from the Koch brothers to Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks.
Tea Party Patriots has claimed anywhere from 2,300 to nearly 3,000 local affiliates, but even with its assistance, The Post could verify a total of only 647 Tea Party groups nationwide. Most had fewer than 50 members. The median amount of money each group had raised in 2010 was $800, nowhere near the entry fee for the country club.

But those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment’s panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to “take back America” not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her.
By then — after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis — the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.

Sorry State of Gun Control AND THE VILOENCE KEEPS GOING UP - N R A is soooo PROUD!

As a new Congress looms, we suggest lawmakers travel to Washington by way of West Virginia and an obscure federal building called the National Tracing Center.
There they can see workers laboring through unmanageably high backlogs of handwritten paper records submitted by the nation’s gun dealers.
This is Congress’s handiwork — at the behest of the gun lobby and to the detriment of public safety.

Each year the center receives 300,000 inquiries from police officers’ trying to track weapons from tens of thousands of gun deaths. But it is prohibited, by law, from collecting gun ownership records through a modern computerized database.
Instead, paper prevails in assorted scraps. Workers huddle over desks with tape and magnifying glass, while crime marches on.

The center’s plight was described in a Washington Post report detailing the insidious roadblocks and lethal damage wrought by bipartisan pandering to the gun lobby.
Congress’s failure is also clear in the underfinancing and short staffing at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Beleaguered enforcement agents must monitor 115,000 firearms dealers with 600 agents — the same number as three decades ago.

Gun dealers can go as long as eight years between visits from inspectors. Meanwhile, the criminal minority of dealers who repeatedly claim “lost” and “stolen” inventory — less than 2 percent of retailers — are rarely shut down since lawbreakers are allowed to “sell” their businesses to family members.

The A.T.F. bureau has also been denied a permanent director as the Senate cowers before the gun lobby. Congress’s budgetary directives for the F.B.I. and D.E.A. total less than a score each. The A.T.F. gets 87.

Congress’s obstructionism doesn’t end there. Until seven years ago, police were able to consult the A.T.F. archives of gun traces from dealer to owner. No more. Congress has also effectively barred cities and individuals from suing the firearms industry for damages.
A wad of fresh obstructions awaits the next Congress, devilishly titled “A.T.F. Reform and Firearms Modernization Act.” This would provide violators with bullet-proof protection — requiring not just evidence, but state-of-mind proof of a crooked dealer’s premeditation to break the law. Lawmakers need to ask: Is this really why I was elected?

"We're going to have a big night on Tuesday night - a really big night." QUOTATION OF THE DAY

Rep John Boehner Next Speaker of the House?
WATCH us become: Corporate State America(CSA)
Long live greed & avarice!

BCS Rankings 01 Nov 10

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15 Arizona
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25 North Carolina State