Thursday, January 13, 2011


More attack campaign ads were broadcast during the last election cycle than ever before, according to an analysis of nearly 5,000 spots by the Wesleyan Media Project.

The center found that 54 percent of political ads that aired between Sept. 1 and election day in House, Senate and gubernatorial races had an “attack” tone. In previous election cycles, levels of negativity were below 50 percent, the study’s authors said.

Republicans were more nasty than Democrats, the Wesleyan project said, with 57 percent of the GOP campaign commercials being negative, compared to 53 percent for Democrats. Ads were most likely to be negative if they were paid for by political parties or independent groups, not the candidates themselves.

Analyzing data on the frequency of advertising – date, time, market, station and the show during which each spot aired - researchers concluded that 2010 was “a record-breaking year for campaign advertising.”

Congressional races spurred close to 1.6 million airings, a 36 percent increase over the 2008 cycle, that cost an estimated $735 million - 61 percent more than was spent in the previous cycle. Gubernatorial elections in 37 states produced 1.3 million airings that cost a combined $697 million.

Advertising in the House races for the seats held by now-former Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), as well as Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), each cost more than $6 million, the Wesleyan analysis found. Most of that advertising, especially in the two races in which the incumbents lost, was done by Democrats.

The most expensive gubernatorial race was in California, where billionaire Republican Meg Whitman faced off against former Gov. Jerry Brown. There, the media project estimated, more than $118 million was spent on broadcast ads.

In a report accompanying the data, Erica Franklin Fowler, of Wesleyan University, and Travis Ridout of Washington State University, wrote that “…one nontrivial benefit of record spending and record airings this cycle is that many voters, whether they liked it or not, were undoubtedly exposed to more campaign information than in previous election cycles.”

They concluded that voters were “therefore were more likely to make informed choices at the ballot box.”

The tidal wave of negative advertising may have “some good consequences,” Fowler and Ridout wrote. Other studies have indicated that negative ads are more likely to discuss policy issues and “raise the stakes, motivating people to get out and vote.”

The analysis is based on 4,576 ads for congressional and gubernatorial candidates that aired on broadcast networks.

Spending also reached record levels, with broadcast ad spending costing campaigns an estimated $1.4 billion between Jan. 1 and election day, the project found.

“The high volume of advertising in 2010 suggests a greater potential for voter learning,” researchers wrote, “but the high levels of ad negativity could have had both positive and negative consequences on the electorate.”

The Wesleyan Media Project is a successor to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which tracked political advertising between 1998 and 2008. It is a collaboration between researches at Wesleyan, Bowdoin College and Washington State University.

© 2011 Capitol News POLITCO

In Tucson, words to bind a nation

The powerful elegy that President Obama delivered in Tucson was a big step toward his long-held goal of transforming the nation's choleric and dysfunctional political culture. Subsequent steps will be harder - but no longer seem impossible.

Listening to Obama's speech brought back memories of Obama the candidate, a mesmerizing orator with the power to summon visions of a better America. He seemed almost to transcend politics.

If you listened to what candidate Obama was saying, he often came back to a central theme: Our political system is mired in trench warfare, along battle lines that were established decades ago. We will only be able to move forward if we get beyond the arbitrary and obsolete divisions that keep us at one another's throats.

For the first two years of his administration, however, the ideological combat has escalated. Obama's political adversaries bear some of the responsibility; his allies bear their share as well.

So does the president. While he never stopped preaching his message of getting past the old dichotomies - progressive-conservative, left-right, Democrat-Republican - he also never devised a new template for political discourse. Washington quickly fell back into its old ways.

Wednesday night, in his moving tribute to those slain and injured in the Arizona shootings, the president created for himself another opportunity to bring about the transformation he seeks. It is fitting that the key passage came as Obama, the father of two daughters, was talking about the massacre's youngest victim: Christina Taylor Green, a 9-year-old who was there because she wanted to meet her congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

"I want to live up to her expectations," Obama said, his voice rising like that of a preacher nearing the end of his sermon. "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it."

He noted that Christina had been featured in a book about 50 children who were born on Sept. 11, 2001. "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today," Obama said. "And here on this Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."

That's a beginning. One thing we can all agree on is that we want to leave a better nation and a better world to our children but fear we will not. This could be part of a framework that's oriented not on a left-right axis but a temporal axis - what will be the effect of a certain measure now, and what will be the effect 20 years from now.

Don't smirk. I realize that every politician always claims to be acting on behalf of future generations - and some actually mean it. But for most of our country's history, Americans have been able to have confidence that our children will have better lives than our own, pretty much regardless of how we might screw things up. That's not true anymore.

As I said, the next steps will be hard. There are genuine, legitimate disagreements on a host of issues, and some look almost impossible to reconcile.

The Tucson tragedy presents an example. I believe passionately that the slayings illustrate, once again, the urgent need for sensible gun control laws that get assault weapons out of the stores and off the streets. There are those who believe with equal passion, however, that tough gun control measures would amount to trading away an unacceptable measure of freedom in exchange for more security.

I don't see it this way at all. But I do recall making a similar freedom-vs.-security argument in opposing some of the anti-terrorism measures that were enacted by the George W. Bush administration. Perhaps acknowledging that we at least share the same thinking process is a beginning, even as we argue our different opinions.

And argue them we must. President Obama's call for civility in our public discourse should not preclude vigorous debate, often in strong language. But if we can "question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country," as Obama asked us to do, we'll have taken another step along a newly promising road.


Lawyer advises foreclosed clients to break back into their homes

Michael Pines, who was baseball legend Lenny Dykstra's attorney, admits to breaking into homes at least half a dozen times, leaving clients to squat while he defends their legal right to possession.

The Earls, all 11 of them, had been evicted from their Simi Valley home. Attorney Michael T. Pines pleaded with a Ventura County Superior Court judge to let the family back in.

Jim and Danielle Earl had fallen behind on their mortgage payments after a business reversal. But the six-bedroom house that they shared with their brood had already been sold to an investment company, Judge Barbara A. Lane pointed out. The eviction would stand.

Incensed, Pines vowed to hire a locksmith and enter the vacant house illegally.

"I'm going back there," Pines declared, gripping the lectern. "And I hope I get arrested."

"I certainly hope not," Lane shot back. "That is a blatant disregard of this court's order."

With Pines, the threat at the October hearing couldn't be written off as courtroom theatrics. The 58-year-old attorney admits to breaking into homes at least half a dozen times, including one before with the Earls, leaving the clients to squat in their homes while he defends their legal right to possession. His unconventional methods have gotten him fined by a judge in San Diego, arrested in Newport Beach and threatened with contempt — and jail — in Ventura.

More foreclosure cases are headed for court, housing experts and legal analysts say, as troubled homeowners run out of options and lenders pick up the pace of evictions. But they also note that people who want to stay in their homes have limited options in states such as California, where a lender can seize a house without a court order. That has prompted Pines to pursue some radical tactics and might cause others to imitate him — if he ever manages to win.

"Homeowners have the right to seek relief in court," said Boston lawyer Gary Klein, who has sued several banks over lending practices, but Pines' break-in strategy "ups the ante considerably."

Ventura lawyer Doug Michie said, "Most attorneys won't admit it, but they admire his convictions."

"I certainly don't have the courage to do what he's doing," Michie said. "I'm afraid of getting arrested."

Pines' methods are provoking plenty of criticism.

"This attorney violates the canons of professional ethics in advising clients to break the law," said George Lefcoe, a USC real estate law professor. "What [his clients] are doing on his advice is not only going to prove costly to them and completely futile, it could lead to dangerous altercations with the true owners and law enforcement officers."

A spokeswoman for the State Bar of California declined to comment when asked whether it was looking into Pines' actions, citing its policy of neither confirming nor denying pending investigations.

Pines has yet to wrest a house back. His most high-profile client, baseball legend Lenny Dykstra, took Pines' advice last July to move back into his foreclosed Thousand Oaks mansion against a bankruptcy judge's orders. That move, followed by a victory party at the estate, brought an order barring the former outfielder from the property. Dykstra fired Pines after one month and lost the house in a foreclosure sale in November.

Pines, who has been a lawyer for more than 30 years, said his path to foreclosure activism grew from his own troubles.

Several years ago, the Pennsylvania native abandoned his legal career to become a real estate broker specializing in distressed properties. Pines contends that he became a victim of mortgage rip-offs and the housing market crash, which led him to investigate what he describes as unethical lending practices. Pines said he was inspired by the tales that he heard to take on clients again in 2010.

Pines has at least six properties in foreclosure, owes banks more than $2 million and has filed for bankruptcy protection. The trustee is trying to sell Pines' law offices in Encinitas, Calif., because the attorney hasn't made loan payments in more than a year.

"I filed bankruptcy myself because I stopped paying," Pines said. "I followed my own advice. I said I'm not going to let the banks steal from me."

Danielle Earl said her lawyer's financial struggles make him a perfect candidate to represent people facing foreclosure.

"If you've got someone going through the exact same thing that you're going through, they would be doing more research and would be more knowledgeable because they're going through it too," Earl said.

Although Pines advises his clients not to pay their lenders, he wants to be paid.

"I tell my clients that if you're living in a house for free, you should be able to afford to pay a lawyer," Pines said, adding that he usually charges an hourly rate of $650. Pines said the Earls became his clients after they were referred to him by another attorney.

The Earls' income came from a family-owned medical equipment firm and from taking in foster children. The family has adopted six of the 43 children they have taken in since 2001, Danielle Earl said, with Jim Earl staying at home to serve as their primary caregiver. They now live with those six children, ages 3 to 14, plus their three biological children, ages 18 to 23.

Danielle Earl said the family is no longer taking in foster children. In addition, the medical equipment company experienced financial difficulties. And refinancing to tap the home's equity had left the couple with large mortgage bills. The Earls went 18 months without making regular mortgage payments, instead paying large sums every five to six months. The couple stopped making payments entirely in April 2009, when they said they could not get a proper accounting and decided they had overpaid.

Pines advised the Earls that their home loan was originated and serviced improperly, which made their eviction last July illegal, and it was within their rights to retake the home.

In early October, with news cameras recording the event, the family broke back into the home, on Pines' advice. A week later, the new owner — investment firm Conejo Capital Partners — reclaimed the home while the family was away, putting their belongings in storage.

The family is now renting a home in the area. Pines didn't follow through on his courtroom threat to break into the home again, although his office put out a media advisory claiming he would do so.

Conejo Capital said Pines' legal antics were self-serving.

"It is extremely unfortunate that he is putting others in jeopardy as a way to create notoriety for himself," the company said in a statement.

At a hearing Tuesday, Conejo asked Judge Lane to hold the Earls and Pines in contempt of court. Lane, who said she would rule within two weeks, has the option of fining them $1,000 apiece for each of three alleged acts of contempt and jailing them for up to five days. The judge also could order payment of Conejo's attorney fees, which currently exceed $31,000.

Pines remains convinced that breaking the law is necessary to force courts to examine how banks do business with distressed homeowners.

"I felt like the kid with his finger in the dike saying, 'There's a hole here, there's a problem, someone pay attention before the whole thing collapses,' " he said. "Nobody would listen. And now they're listening, at least."


Boehner Skipped Memorial for Cocktails

Nothing will stand between House Speaker John Boehner and a stiff drink: He turned down an invitation from President Obama to fly with him to Tucson, opting instead to attend a cocktail event hosted by the RNC.

Boehner's spokesman's explanation: Since Nancy Pelosi was also going to Tucson, there would have been no leader of either party to attend an earlier service on the Hill on Wednesday.

But afterward, he attended a cocktail event for Maria Cino, whom he supports to chair the RNC. Boehner's spokesman says he spoke at Cino's event for three minutes, before leaving to watch Obama's speech.

Your Zodiac Sign May Have Changed!

Astronomers have restored the original Babylonian zodiac by recalculating the dates that correspond with each sign to accommodate millennia of subtle shifts in the Earth's axis. Prepare to have your minds blown, all you people with easily blowable minds.

Here is the zodiac as the ancient Babylonians intended it—with the dates corresponding to the times of the year that the sun is actually in each constellation's "house"—according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society's Parke Kunkle:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.
Pisces: March 11-April 18.
Aries: April 18-May 13.
Taurus: May 13-June 21.
Gemini: June 21-July 20.
Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.
Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Ophiuchus:* Nov. 29-Dec. 17.
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.

* Discarded by the Babylonians because they wanted 12 signs per year.

Palin grabs spotlight with video

On a day that political leaders in Washington and Arizona devoted to honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other victims of Saturday’s mass shooting in Tucson, Sarah Palin proved once again that her bully pulpit is second to none in commanding the attention and passions of the political world.

As Democratic and Republican lawmakers filed into the well of the House to offer prayers for the severely wounded Giffords and the six people who were killed, Palin’s eight-minute Facebook video — in which she accuses her opponents of “blood libel” — dominated the national political conversation.

The video, released shortly after 6 a.m., was the top topic on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Palin’s name had appeared 16 times on the front page of The Washington Post’s website by midafternoon, and “blood libel” was the No. 1 “hot” search on Google.

Jewish Democrats jumped on her for using that highly charged term, which refers to the lie, long used as an excuse for persecution, that Jews make matzo — an unleavened bread — using the blood of Christian children.

Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley, one of the House’s most prominent Jewish Democrats, described herself as “horrified and mystified” at Palin’s choice of words. “I’m horrified that she would use that phrase and mystified as to why.”

But for Palin backers, it was a long-overdue defense of a maligned conservative — and one they hoped would contrast well with President Barack Obama’s speech at a Tucson memorial service Wednesday night.

“Mr. President, here’s the bar that you have to clear. It’s a high one,” Moe Lane wrote on conservative website “What you really need to do is take note of the fact that she’s saying the things that the president should be saying right now about the need to come together, the glory of this country — and, yes, that the Democratic Party is acting like a bunch of [expletive deleted] right now and that they need to stop.”

Some Democratic officials and liberal opinion-makers have suggested that a political map that Palin’s political action committee used during the 2010 midterm elections contributed to a violent environment in Arizona because it included cross hairs to mark Democratic incumbents who had been targeted for defeat, including Giffords. The Arizona Democrat, who remains in critical condition, was shot in the head.

For days, Palin had been criticized for her reticence — and now she is being taken to task for offering such a staunch self-defense.

Beyond the risk of offending Jewish folks, some Democrats and Republicans said her timing struck them as poor: Why, they wondered, would she draw attention to herself on a day when other politicians took a break to mourn — especially when most Americans already said they believe harsh rhetoric had nothing to do with the mass murders in Tucson.

“What a dumb s---,” said one Republican House lawmaker who asked for anonymity in discussing Palin’s timing frankly. “It’s all about her, all the time, isn’t it?”

Palin’s allies believe she has been wronged, and even those who questioned her timing said that she has a right to defend herself against the implication that she somehow helped inspire mass murder.

The former Alaska governor warned in the video that such accusations could have a chilling effect on a core tenet of American democracy: free speech.

“If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas,” Palin said. “But especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, a potential 2012 Republican presidential primary adversary, defended Palin’s posting.

“Sarah Palin has every right to defend herself and to defend her reputation,” said Pence, who may run for governor rather than president. “The efforts to lay blame at the feet of Sarah Palin or anyone else are absurd.”

His remarks echoed those he made on the floor after paying tribute to Giffords.

“We should always refrain from engaging in personal verbal attacks against those with whom we differ on important questions of the day. But let me say, we must also resist, in these moments of heartache, the temptation to assign blame to those with whom we differ for the acts of others,” he said. “No expressed opinion, on the left or the right, was to blame for Saturday’s attack, and we must resist efforts to suggest otherwise because to do so has the potential to inhibit and erode our freedom.”

Asked about the “blood libel” remark, Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia — the highest-ranking Jewish Republican in Congress — said his boss is focused on the victims of the tragedy.

“Eric hopes that members, journalists and all Americans keep their hearts, prayers and hopes with Congresswoman Giffords, the victims of this horrific tragedy and their families, who are no doubt grieving today and in need of our collective support,” Dayspring said.

In her first comments on the tragedy in Tucson — issued Saturday — Palin had simply offered her prayers.

“My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting in Arizona,” she said in a statement. “On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families and for peace and justice.”

© 2011 Capitol News

Christina Taylor Green's slaying has profound impact on Tucson children

The bodies of the six dead will be buried here beginning Thursday, and the first in a series of ceremonies set to take place across this grieving city will be perhaps the most poignant.

A 9-year-old girl who was recently elected to the student council, who went to a supermarket last weekend to meet her congresswoman and learn more about government, will have her funeral at a Catholic church just a few miles from where a gunman took her life.

The slaying of Christina Taylor Green has had an especially profound impact on the children of this desert city. At memorials across Tucson, kids and their parents have left teddy bears and yellow daisies, candles and get-well-soon balloons. They've written cards, drawn peace signs and tied ribbons.

Adults have grappled with how to explain to confused children why a strange man would allegedly shoot and kill Christina for no apparent reason. At Mesa Verde Elementary School, teachers consoled Christina's distraught classmates, who have covered a fence near the jungle gym with messages for the third-grader.

"Christina, we love you from the bottom of are [sic] heart," read one.

"You were always a sister to me . . . and always will be," wrote her best friend, Serenity. She included a picture from their first sleepover.

Since Saturday's shooting rampage, children have passed by University Medical Center, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and other victims are being treated. At a vigil on the hospital's front lawn, kids have left letters that are testimonials to their innocence.

"Dear Gabrielle Giffords," sixth-grader Briana Aruizu wrote in pink ink. "I am sorry you got shot. I am glad you are safe in the hospital. . . . Christina Taylor Green is in heaven now. I did not know why all of this happened to you. I am so sorry."

Isabel Lopez, 11, left a note to Giffords in a blue box on her way to school Tuesday. Her class made a prayer chain Monday, and Isabel's message quoted Gandhi: "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

"I hope she can look out her window and see all of this," Isabel said. Her mother, Maria, tearfully looked down at Isabel. Earlier this week, after watching the news at home, Isabel asked her mother, "Are we safe in Tucson?"

"Yes," she told her. "It is just one sad individual."

Susie Huhn, executive director of Casa de Los Ninos, a nonprofit group that works with neglected children, said Tucson's young are asking, "Why is my world all of a sudden turned upside down?"

"People at this point in time are still very numb," Huhn said. "But I think the long-term feelings of how kids are going to react to it and what they'll feel about it we have yet to see."

In other parts of the country, some people searching for answers have linked the deadly events to gun violence. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), a longtime gun-control advocate, are proposing legislation to prohibit high-capacity magazines, such as the kind authorities say Jared Lee Loughner used Saturday.

But here in Arizona, home to some of the nation's most permissive gun laws, many people say the carnage must be blamed on a madman, not a weapon.

In classrooms throughout the Tucson area, teachers have talked with students honestly and simply about what happened. A team of psychologists went to Mesa Verde Elementary to help students especially troubled by the shootings, but school officials said most children have shown striking resilience.

Teachers have intentionally avoided direct discussions of guns, said Todd Jaeger, general counsel of Amphitheater Public Schools.

"Guns kill people the way spoons make people fat," Jaeger said.

Many children here grow up with firearms as a regular, and safe, facet of daily life. Four blocks from Giffords's district office, two gun shops - the Armory and Second Amendment Sports - coexisted peacefully with an elementary school for decades. They attracted notice only once, when a student tried to persuade a shop to remove a holiday sign depicting Santa with a pistol.

On Tuesday, as the city prepared for a visit by President Obama, Dan Cohen brought his 12-year-old daughter to a downtown shooting range to practice hitting targets with his M9 pistol. She learned to shoot two years ago, he said, and he takes her to practice once a week.

"I'd rather have a weapon at my side and not need it than need a weapon at my side and not have it," said Cohen, noting that guns are safely stored in their home.

At the hospital vigil, Angela DeSoto came by with her daughter, Nevaeh. They had watched the news unfold on television, and Nevaeh was troubled by the violent death of a child.

"I feel sad because [Christina] was only 9, and I am 8," Nevaeh said. "When we first heard about it, we prayed. . . . A couple of days ago, I saw her mom on TV, and I was sad for her."

The shooting "tugged on kids' hearts more," DeSoto said, but she found it difficult to find a balance between talking with Nevaeh about violence and wanting to protect her.

"You don't want them to grow up in a bubble, but you don't want them to become desensitized because they're overexposed," she said. "I wanted to show her she could be proactive - come, write a message, take a picture."

Washington Post

Did 'blood libel' hurt Palin for president?

Will Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel" hurt her chances if she decides to run for president in 2012?

That is the question being debated in political circles and the answers are mixed.

Palin attracted controversy by accusing her critics, particularly in the news media, of committing "blood libel" by blaming incendiary political rhetoric by her and other conservatives for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The term "blood libel" has been used to blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds a majority of those surveyed say the idea that political rhetoric is to blame for the rampage is an attempt to make conservatives look bad.

"The strongest way to rise above would have been to talk about suffering, tragedy, hope, strength and recovery," former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told Politico. "But instead she (Palin) followed the more conventional political route and made it about herself rather than the victims."

Palin's effectiveness at grabbing headlines is unparalleled, one GOP strategist says. The former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee "is now the dominant media presence on the Republican/Tea Party front," GOP strategist John Feehery told the Associated Press. "She can make news quicker and more effectively than any other conservative Republican."

But the format in which she makes news is an issue. Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who says he's not interested in running for president next year, told The New York Times that Palin's venue for communicating her thoughts about the Arizona rampage -- through a scripted video released on her Facebook page -- won't stand with voters who want to see politicians for themselves and the way they act in the public arena.

"People need to be judged by the way they conduct themselves in the public arena, in a way that is as minimally staged as possible," Christie said. "If Gov. Palin never does any of those things, she'll never be president, because people in America won't countenance that. They just won't."

On the Democratic side, political consultant Jim Jordan told the AP that Palin's comments on Wednesday help her with the GOP political base but turn off a broader electorate.

"Every time she pops off, she excites her narrowing band of partisans and probably makes herself more money, but she further alienates everyone else," Jordan said to AP.

USA TODAY's David Jackson reports in The Oval that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs would not get himself drawn into the debate Palin and her remarks.

A recent Gallup Poll shows Palin is the best known of any potential GOP presidential candidate for 2012, but lags behind Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in terms of image.


"If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost."
PRESIDENT OBAMA, speaking at a memorial service for the victims of the Tucson shooting rampage.