Archive for August, 2010

Weak Tea in Washington

By • on August 31, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Labor Day is traditionally the time of year when people start to get interested in fall elections; with our all-mail ballot system, it’s not much time until ballots arrive in mid-October. In coming weeks, ETS! will look at the critical ballot measures on November’s ballot. First, let’s look at when people weren’t paying attention: this year’s somnambulent August primary, and what it revealed about the only statewide race for elected office this year, Patty Murray’s run for a fourth term as US Senator against Republican permacandidate Dino Rossi.

With mail-in ballots, there’s never any such thing as a truly final tally, but the percentages aren’t going to change: Murray got 46 percent, Rossi 33, and Tea Party candidate Clint Didier 12. That’s exactly what everyone expected. The big news, then, was the lack of news: the absence in Washington of the strong anti-incumbent fervor whose existence has dominated political Conventional Wisdom in 2010.

Primary votes–especially now that we hold them in August, when the weather is nice and most people are focused on anything other than politics–are low-turnout affairs. As such, they tend to skew more partisan (more highly motivated voters) and more conservative (more older, regular voters, who lean more conservative) than November voters. Both factors should have helped Didier. They obviously didn’t help much. Why?

Rossi, of course, had two huge advantages over Didier: money (much of it from national sources, as with Murray) and name familiarity. It also didn’t help that Didier’s the-federal-government-is-an-inherently-bad-thing message was undercut by the hilarious news that he’d received hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies over the years; he wasn’t exactly the most credible messenger for his message.

But that explains why Didier lost–not why he barely cracked double digits, and Rossi nearly tripled his total. For that, we need three other factors, all with implications for Dino’s chances in November.

The first is that Rossi when broke his long-standing policy of avoiding commenting on actual issues (a hallmark of his two gubernatorial runs), it was, ala John McCain, to ditch his image of a moderate and try to out-teabag Didier. Rossi became the first major Republican senatorial candidate in the country to call for outright repeal of the weak Wall Street reforms passed this summer by Congress–fitting for a man still making a living giving lectures on how to profit from real estate foreclosures (which Rossi was doing even this summer), and for one getting huge money contributions from Wall Street (ditto), but an odd political choice in this Year of Bashing Wall Street. He also copped, after years of avoiding the subject, to opposing reproductive freedom for women for “anything other than maybe rape, incest or life of the mother.” (“Maybe”??)

Rossi’s strategy, of course, will be to forget all that and run to the center now that it worked and he’s survived the primary. That’s normal strategy, but it’s underscored this year by the fact that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of passion to this year’s rumored Big Red Wave. August’s turnout was average for all-mail primaries, off two percent from 2008, when there was a governor but no US senator race on the primary ballot. No great crest of enthusiasm in our state this time, teabagging or otherwise.

Among those who did vote this year, however, the biggest other race on the ballot suggests problems for Rossi. Conservative State Supreme Court justice Jim Johnson won reelection with a whopping 62 percent of the vote over a strong challenger, Stan Rumbaugh.

That vote suggests the power of money and incumbency in judicial elections, but also that the primary skewed about as conservative as a statewide race in Washington will ever get. Didier’s crash-and-burn routine suggests that the Tea Party simply doesn’t have the impact among conservatives here that it does in, say, Alaska, where last week a little-known Palin endorsee upset incumbent Republican senator Lisa Murkowski in a primary.

To the extent it does thrive, teabaggers aren’t going to like Rossi’s tack to the middle in the next two months. But even if we assume that Didier’s 12 percent will almost all go to Rossi, Murray got more votes than both of them combined; how does Dino make up more votes among a more moderate November electorate? Rossi’s got a problem. All other things being equal, he’ll lose.

But Rossi has a secret weapon: he’s running against a Democrat, and Democrats have a long, storied history of being idiots. (In basketball, it’s called making “unforced errors.”) Enter Patty Murray.

On election day, there was Patty, hosting President Obama for a Seattle fundraiser for her campaign and wearing tennis shoes? When her companion and guest is the single most powerful man in the world. Why?

Because some clever Democratic consultant told her there’s an anti-incumbent mood afoot, so a woman who’s used her entire 18-year DC career to climb the party and Senate ladders and use her seniority to funnel money home–the insider’s insider–is reviving the “Mom in Tennis Shoes” schtick from her initial 1992 run for Senate.

Then, she was an obscure state senator from Shoreline, running to replace an incumbent (Brock Adams) accused of very nasty crimes against women. It made sense. And it worked. Now, two decades on, implying that Murray is still an outsider goes well beyond insulting the intelligence of voters. Given that Murray has produced little legislation (unlike her junior colleague, Maria Cantwell), and has with few exceptions voted as a party-line Democrat, it also undermines her only real achievements in her entire, long term in office.

If the election were today, Rossi would lose, and he’s a known quantity–few additional people will decide to vote for him during the coming weeks. But plenty could still be persuaded to vote against Murray. If she keeps up with the self-inflicting wounds, it’s going to be close. –Geov Parrish

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Thank You, Glenn Beck!

By • on August 31, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Last weekend brought us the August 28 anniversary of the March on Washington back in 1963. It was when Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech from the Lincoln Memorial. At least 250,000 people, 75-80 per cent black, rallied in the Mall. Each year when the anniversary rolls around, you’ll hear [...]

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Washington State Prepares to Kill

By • on August 31, 2010 at 10:05 pm

With the ongoing death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan, the floods in Pakistan, and countless other crises, it’s hard to get excited about one life–particularly when that life belongs to a man who brutally kidnapped and murdered a young woman. But we need to, because Cal Coburn Brown is scheduled to die, by lethal injection, [...]

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Don’t ask, don’t think

By • on August 28, 2010 at 4:05 am

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Fox y Republicans

By • on August 28, 2010 at 3:48 am

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Last scraps

By • on August 28, 2010 at 3:35 am

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August 27, 1977: Equal Rights Already!

By • on August 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

While many of the movements for positive social change first seen in the 1960s had either crested or crashed by 1977, the American second-wave feminist movement was approaching its peak that year, motivated mainly by the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. That summer, the ERA had been ratified by 35 states, including Washington, leaving it just [...]

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Scapegoating tactics have familiar odor

By • on August 24, 2010 at 4:28 am

It’s no great surprise that the right-fringe* would try to turn an innocuous matter of siting a Muslim community center in Manhattan into the latest National-Freakout-of-the-Month, but it’s a little surprising and embarrassing how successful this non-story was at becoming the Story-We-Couldn’t-Stop-Talking-About.

Creating scary stories about the Other has long been standard fare for the Right, but they’ve certainly been ramping up the rhetoric during the time we’ve had a president more easily Other-ized than usual. The PR dept. has been busy churning out stories of un-American enemies — from Van Jones, to ACORN, to unscrupulous climate scientists, to Muslims establishing a terrorist base at Ground Zero. In every instance, upon closer scrutiny, the factual basis for such stories is proven false, but the controversy succeeds in its desired effect — sowing seeds of fear and doubt into the populace. Always, of course, enabled by mainstream corporate media, which gleefully follows every fake controversy, no matter how unsubstantiated, until it becomes a real controversy.

We’re like a country that keeps falling for the same “pull-my-finger” gag over and over again….

As these scare stories become more familiar and less surprising with each new iteration, they should also be more alarming. Such virulent appeals to prejudice have familiar and disturbing historical parallels.

I don’t often recommend “educational films” made by the US military. But this one — “Don’t Be a Sucker,” from 1947 — is brilliant, and essential viewing for all Americans in 2010. (Only 17 minutes long!) Its purpose was to warn Americans against falling prey to simplistic appeals to prejudice.

Having just defeated fascism in Europe, the US government wanted to warn its citizens how to identify deceptive, proto-fascist propaganda tactics as they might appear in America. The primary strategy consists of dividing the country into various minority groups for purposes of vilification and creating hatred and conflict, separating “Real Americans” from Those People who pose a threat to the Real Americans.

Hmmm… Sound at all familiar?

Many of us are inclined to dismiss the superheated vitriol of Beck, Palin, the Teabaggers, et al., as merely the idiot ravings of fringe fanatics.

But as this lunatic fringe increasingly becomes the mainstream of a re-ascendant Republican Party, we would do well to heed the words of the Hungarian-immigrant-turned-American-citizen in this film who once worked as a professor in Berlin in the 1930s:

[As a professor in Berlin] I heard the same words we have heard today [from a soapbox speaker denouncing various minorities in America]. But I was a fool then. I thought Nazis were crazy people — stupid fanatics.

But unfortunately, it was not so. You see, they knew they were not strong enough to conquer a unified country, so they split Germany into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to cripple the nation.

As citizens of a nation increasingly crippled by prejudice and division, maybe it’s time to stand up and take notice?

I have this recurring fantasy that one day all the common folk duped by the retrograde rhetoric of right-wing demagogues will discover how they’ve been conned, and then take all the anger they had once directed toward Muslims, immigrants, gays, socialists, and other enemies du jour and redirect that anger toward the con-men who appeal to those prejudices to further their own interests. Nobody likes getting conned. Imagine if many among the duped masses came to realize that the people duping them were a much greater threat to their well-being than those they’d been fooled into hating. Hell hath no fury…! (Hey, a fella can dream, right?)

Again, it’s instructive to listen to the words of our film’s wise professor:

We human beings are not born with prejudices. Always they are made for us — made by someone who wants something.

Remember that when you hear this kind of talk. Somebody’s going to get something out of it, and it isn’t going to be you.

Demagogic rhetoric takes hold when people are frightened and insecure, as many Americans are today in this difficult and rapidly shifting economy. An increasing number of Americans seem to be getting “suckered” by (neo)con-men (and women — I’m looking at you Sarah! And you, Ann! And Gretchen, and Michelle …).

I’m surprised that amid the escalating hatefest being fomented by the right-fringe* lately, this video has not already gone viral. Let’s fix that. Let’s make it the talk of the town, the talk of the nation.

I especially encourage everyone to share this instructive film with any  friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who may be getting suckered by FOX Noise, the Teabaggers, and other demagogues. Perhaps the impeccably patriotic pedigree of this film can get their attention. Don’t let them be suckered.

It’s for their own good. And for the good of us all.

* “Right-fringe”: I’ve decided I will use the term “right-fringe” instead of “right-wing” in my writing so long as what was once considered a lunatic fringe continues to dominate the right wing and Republican Party.

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Targeting Target & making pro-democracy activism fun

By • on August 24, 2010 at 3:17 am

In case you’re not one of the nearly 1 million people who have watched the “Target Ain’t People” video in the 8 days since it was posted to YouTube, maybe it’s time you did.

The video depicts a flash-mob style protest action in a West Seattle Target store, organized by local rabble rousers, the Vashon Island-based Backbone Campaign. Backbone. “a grassroots effort to embolden citizens and elected officials to stand up for progressive values,” has been working on the issue corporate personhood for some time. With the supremely undemocratic “Citizens United” ruling by the US Supreme Court allowing unlimited corporate donations in elections, one of the last vestiges of citizen recourse against corporate meddling is to publicly expose such corporate donations to unpopular candidates.

Target recently donated $150,000 to an anti-gay, anti-worker candidate for governor in Minnesota. What better way to publicize this fact than with a flash-mob musical performance inside a Target store, filmed & posted to YouTube? Singing a song with the chorus, “Target ain’t people so why should it be allowed to play around with our democracy?,” the bit involved a brass band and choreographed dance moves by the assembled protesters.

Once posted to YouTube, the video apparently struck a nerve, quickly gaining lots of viewers. Soon was promoting it, and the video “went viral,” as they say, with over 900,000 views in the first eight days.

Good work, Backbone! May you inspire many more actions aimed at taking back our democracy from the corporate greed-heads.

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American “patriots”: The Taliban’s best friends

By • on August 22, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I’ve generally avoided commenting on the idiotic faux- (or is that Fox-) controversy over an Islamic community center to be located, like thousands of other buildings, in lower Manhattan. I’m not sure which is more repulsive, the blatant racism and religious bigotry on display by not just the fringe right but numerous Republican and Democratic opinion leaders; or the bedwetting, we-might-get-attacked-by-our-own-shadows-if-we’re-not-careful paranoia used to justify it. The whole spectacle is just plain sickening. It makes me embarrassed to live in this country. (Although, to be fair, a number of people, from President Obama on down, have distinguished themselves with their cogent calls for inclusiveness and sanity.)

However, in today’s New York Times the often spot-on Frank Rich makes an important point: this controversy, ginned up entirely for domestic political purposes by Republican operatives, is getting huge media coverage throughout the Muslim world beyond our shores. As such, you could scarcely want clearer or more jarring confirmation of one of the main propaganda narratives of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is that the West in general and the US in particular hates Islam and wants to eradicate it: the wars in Iraq (yes, we’re still in Iraq, photo ops notwithstanding), Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, et al. are in this telling all part of America’s Global War on Islam.

Sound ridiculous? Not if you then trot out the videos of esteemed senior American politicians like Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House) and Sarah Palin (2008 vice-presidential candidate, leading candidate for President in 2012) taking the entirely mundane clerical leadership of Cordoba House and calling them Nazis and terrorists and whatever else they can think of. If these Islamic leaders can be accused of stuff like that, anyone can be. And is. The message is fairly clear, and they’re not even bothering to dog-whistle it: All Muslims are terrorists. All Muslims are evil. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And kill them.

The irony, as Rich points out, is that the people making these arguments are mostly the same people who uncritically cheerlead every real and prospective American military adventure, and piously (literally) wrap themselves in the flag when such wars are criticized. But their Islamophobia is doing a lot to generate new terrorists – and new volunteers for the Taliban and the various Islamist militias battling US forces in places like Somalia and Yemen – and placing the soldiers they so dearly value directly in greater harms’ way.

In other words, they’re fucking hypocrites. Again. As well as cynics banking on their appeals to stomach-churning bigotry and racism to whip the morons into a fine froth just before an election. It’s all very predictable, and it’s very, very sad that this crap even gets taken seriously.

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