Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The Rick Santelli ‘Tea Party’ Controversy: Article Kicks Up a Media Dust Storm

Posted in Barack Obama, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 4, 2009

Mark Ames & Yasha Levine, eXiled Online (h/t Alternet)

Image from eXiledonline.com

Image from eXiledonline.com

Last week, CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli rocketed from being a little-known second-string correspondent to a populist hero of the disenfranchised, a 21st-century Samuel Adams, the leader and symbol of the downtrodden American masses suffering under the onslaught of 21st century socialism and big government. Santelli’s “rant” last-week calling for a “Chicago Tea Party” to protest President Obama’s plans to help distressed American homeowners rapidly spread across the blogosphere and shot right up into White House spokesman Robert Gibbs’ craw, whose smackdown during a press conference was later characterized by Santelli as “a threat” from the White House. A nationwide “tea party” grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.

 

But was Santelli’s rant really so spontaneous? How did a minor-league TV figure, whose contract with CNBC is due this summer, get so quickly launched into a nationwide rightwing blog sensation? Why were there so many sites and organizations online and live within minutes or hours after his rant, leading to a nationwide protest just a week after his rant?

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

As you read this, Big Business is pouring tens of millions of dollars into their media machines in order to destroy just about every economic campaign promise Obama has made, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal. At stake isn’t the little guy’s fight against big government, as Santelli and his bot-supporters claim, but rather the “upper 2 percent”’s war to protect their wealth from the Obama Adminstration’s economic plans. When this Santelli “grassroots” campaign is peeled open, what’s revealed is a glimpse of what is ahead and what is bound to be a hallmark of his presidency.

Let’s go back to February 19th: Rick Santelli, live on CNBC, standing in the middle of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, launches into an attack on the just-announced $300 billion slated to stem rate of home foreclosures: “The government is promoting bad behavior! Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?! This is America! We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.”

Almost immediately, the clip and the unlikely “Chicago tea party” quote buried in the middle of the segment, zoomed across a well-worn path to headline fame in the Republican echo chamber, including red-alert headlines on Drudge.

Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.

ChicagoTeaParty.com was just one part of a larger network of Republican sleeper-cell-blogs set up over the course of the past few months, all of them tied to a shady rightwing advocacy group coincidentally named the“Sam Adams Alliance,” whose backers have until now been kept hidden from public. Cached google records that we discovered show that the Sam Adams Alliance took pains to scrub its deep links to the Koch family money as well as the fake-grassroots “tea party” protests going on today. All of these roads ultimately lead back to a more notorious rightwing advocacy group, FreedomWorks, a powerful PR organization headed by former Republican House Majority leader Dick Armey and funded by Koch money.

On the same day as Santelli’s rant, February 19, another site called Officialchicagoteaparty.com went live. This site was registered to Eric Odom, who turned out to be a veteran Republican new media operative specializing in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns. Last summer, Odom organized a twitter-led campaign centered around DontGo.com to pressure Congress and Nancy Pelosi to pass the offshore oil drilling bill, something that would greatly benefit Koch Industries, a major player in oil and gas. Now, six months later, Odom’s DontGo movement was resurrected to play a central role in promoting the “tea party” movement.

Up until last month, Odom was officially listed as the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance, a well-funded libertarian activist organization based in Chicago that was set up only recently. Samuel Adams the historical figure was famous for inspiring and leading the Boston Tea Party—so when the PR people from the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance abruptly leave in order to run Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party,” you know it wasn’t spontaneous. Odom certainly doesn’t want people to know about the link: his name was scrubbed from the Sam Adams Alliance website recently, strongly suggesting that they wanted to cover their tracks. Thanks to google caching, you can see the SAA’s before-after scrubbing.

Separated at Head Pubes?

 

Eric "The Dome" Odom

Rising Koch revolutionary Eric Odom…and embalmed Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin?

Even the Sam Adams’ January 31 announcement that Odom’s fake-grassroots group was “no longer sponsored by the Alliance” was shortly afterwards scrubbed.

But it’s the Alliance’s scrubbing of their link to Koch that is most telling. A cached page, erased on February 16, just three days before Santelli’s rant, shows that the Alliance also wanted to cover up its ties to the Koch family. The missing link was an announcement that students interested in applying for internships to the Sam Adams Alliance could also apply through the “Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program” through the Institute for Humane Studies, a Koch-funded rightwing institute designed to scout and nurture future leaders of corporate libertarian ideology. (See hi-resolution screenshots here.) The top two board directors at the Sam Adams Alliance include two figures with deep ties to Koch-funded programs: Eric O’Keefe, who previously served in Koch’s Institute for Humane Studies and the Club For Growth; and Joseph Lehman, a former communications VP at Koch’s Cato Institute.

All of these are ultimately linked up to Koch’s Freedom Works mega-beast. Freedomworks.org has drawn fire in the past for using fake grassroots internet campaigns, called “astroturfing,” to push for pet Koch projects such as privatizing social security. A New York Times investigation in 2005 revealed that a “regular single mom” paraded by Bush’s White House to advocate for privatizing social security was in fact FreedomWorks’ Iowa state director. The woman, Sandra Jacques, also fronted another Iowa fake-grassroots group called “For Our Grandchildren,” even though privatizing social security was really “For Koch And Wall Street Fat Cats.”

If you log into FreedomWorks.org today, its home page features a large photo of Rick Santelli pointing at the viewer like Uncle Sam, with the words: “Are you with Rick? We Are. Click here to learn more.”

FreedomWorks, along with scores of shady front organizations which don’t have to disclose their sponsors thanks to their 501 (c)(3) status, has been at the heart of today’s supposed grassroots, nonpartisan “tea party” protests across the country, supposedly fueled by scores of websites which masquerade as amateur/spontaneous projects, but are suspiciously well-crafted and surprisingly well-written. One slick site pushing the tea parties, Right.org claims, “Right.org is a grassroots online community created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts. So we gathered some talent and money and built this site. Please tell your friends, and if you have suggestions for improving it, please let us know. Respectfully, Evan and Duncan.” But funny enough, these regular guys are offering a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?

Even Facebook pages dedicated to a specific city “tea party” events, supposedly written by people connected only by a common emotion, obviously conformed to the same style. It was as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.

While it’s clear what is at stake for the Koch oligarch clan and their corporate and political allies—fighting to keep the hundreds of billions in surplus profits they’ve earned thanks to pro-rich economic policies over the past 30 years—what’s a little less obvious is Santelli’s link to all this. Why would he (and CNBC) risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign?

As noted above, Santelli’s contract with CNBC runs out in a few months. His 10 years with the network haven’t been remarkable, and he’ll enter a brutal downsizing media job market. Thanks to the “tea party” campaign, as the article notes, Santelli’s value has suddenly soared. If you look at the scores of blogs and fake-commenters on blogs (for example, Daily Blog, a slick new blog launched in January which is also based in Chicago) all puff up Santelli like he’s the greatest journalist in America, and the greatest hero known to mankind. Daily Bail, like so much of this “tea party” machine, is “headquartered nearby” to Santelli, that is, in Chicago. With Odom, the Sam Adams Alliance, and the whole “tea party” nexus: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own.  Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.”

It’s not difficult to imagine how Santelli hooked up with this crowd. A self-described “Ayn Rand-er,” one of Santelli’s colleagues at CNBC, Lawrence Kudlow, played a major role in both FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth.

So today’s protests show that the corporate war is on, and this is how they’ll fight it: hiding behind “objective” journalists and “grassroots” new media movements. Because in these times, if you want to push for policies that help the super-wealthy, you better do everything you can to make it seem like it’s “the people” who are “spontaneously” fighting your fight. As a 19th century slave management manual wrote, “The master should make it his business to show his slaves, that the advancement of his individual interest, is at the same time an advancement of theirs. Once they feel this, it will require little compulsion to make them act as becomes them.” (Southern Agriculturalist IX, 1836.) The question now is, will they get away with it, and will the rest of America advance the interests of Koch, Santelli, and the rest of the masters?

This article first appeared on Playboy.com on Feb. 27, 2009.

“Tea Party Movement” Planned Months Ago By GOP Billionaires?

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics, Tea Party Movement by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

Jeffrey Feldman 

billionaires(Please Note:  Since first posting this piece, some claims asserted in the Ames/Levine post cited herein have been responded to in a way that makes my initial reading of that article less certain. To reflect that, I have revised the title to include a “?”, added an UPDATE section at the bottom of the post, and included in-line links to that update section where relevant. Some questions were answered, some new questions have emerged, and so the conversation has grown.  –ed.)

Populist revolt against the U.S. government is all the rage in the Republican Party, these days.  As they tell the story, the public is so outraged by the recovery and reinvestment efforts of the Obama administration that Americans everywhere are turning out to overthrow the tyrannical king of the federal government by re-enacting the Boston Tea Party.  

Funny thing, though: it turns out this whole “populist” movement was a planned PR stunt funded by big-money right-wing backers of the GOP who specialize in faking grassroots movements to drum up opposition to Barack Obama. 

Everything about this so called “Tea Party” movement was pre-planned–from the supposedly “spontaneous rant” of CNBC stock market reporter, Rick Santelli, to the presumed ground-level organizing of protests all over the country.  Fake, fake, fake–like a product launch staged covertly to look like a spontaneous trend.  (please UPDATE below)

Playboy bloggers Mark Ames and Yasha Levine pulled together all the pieces of this puzzle in an incredible expose (Exposing The Rightwing PR Machine):

What hasn’t been reported until now is evidence linking Santelli’s “tea party” rant with some very familiar names in the Republican rightwing machine, from PR operatives who specialize in imitation-grassroots PR campaigns (called “astroturfing”) to bigwig politicians and notorious billionaire funders. As veteran Russia reporters, both of us spent years watching the Kremlin use fake grassroots movements to influence and control the political landscape. To us, the uncanny speed and direction the movement took and the players involved in promoting it had a strangely forced quality to it. If it seemed scripted, that’s because it was.

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.

It helps, in other words, to have field experience ferreting out Soviet propaganda to understand how Rick Santelli suddenly became the figurehead of a right-wing “grassroots” revolt against the United States government.   It is worth reading the entire post.  

The next time you hear that the Tea Party Republican revolt is “grassroots,” “spontaneous,” and “populist,” just swap out those PR keywords for the more accurate terms:  “planned,” “scripted,” “billionaire bigwigs.”  

All of this makes sense, of course.  Santelli’s philippic had all the hallmarks of a rehearsed piece of political theater–the pre-planned message launched of a viral marketing campaign. (please UPDATE below)

Not that any of this comes as a surprise, but…my goodness. 

Even though the curtain has been pulled back  on this astroturf marketing by GOP megabucks elite backers, it is important to keep in mind what the larger stakes are and how to respond.

Scripted or not–this Tea Party revolt needs to be treated as politically real.  People engaged in this agitation will not acknowledge ever that it is scripted, because these folks sincerely think they are engaged in some kind of revolution against their own government. They really want the country to evaluate whether or not an elected President and Congress are the same as a tyrannical king and whether a tax by fiat from the 18c is the same as a legislature approved public investment program from the 21c.  Those folks just want to make noise–lots of noise–to throw the debate off its tracks.

The big story to defend and advance, in other words, is a president advancing real solutions aimed at helping millions of Americans in serious economic trouble.  The agitation against it, whether it is scripted or not, is designed to stop those solutions from being discussed seriously, from unfolding, and then to weaken the president making them happen.  That is a basic confrontation between pragmatic action and ideological politics–between investment in people and inaction in the name of  dogma.

In the end, then, we need to make themselves aware of the massive resources the right is spending to block any effort by the American people to work together to repair the damage to our economy and restore our national confidence.  And after we have made ourselves aware of how far the opposition is willing to go, we need to get back to work making sure the debate states focused on the real issue at hand here:  millions and millions families who need help right now, and the greatness of a nation that stands together in times of need to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

: This Story Has Grown (3.3.09)
Well, that was fast:  this story, less than a week old, seems way out of date.  Among other things, there have been lots of answers to the claims posed in the Ames/Levine piece that it warrants opening up my initial title to a  bigger question about what exactly happened.  First and foremost, I have added a question mark (“?”) to the end of the post title to reflect how this story has grown since I first posted about the Ames/Levine piece on Rick Santelli.  Here is the list of events that I think are relevant for everyone to know:

1. Santelli finally made a statement about this whole thing here. This is his first paragraph:

First of all let me be clear that I have NO affiliation or association with any of the websites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the websites or movements. By the way of background, I am not and never have been a stockbroker. Not that there is anything wrong with being a stockbroker. The home I have lived in for 20 years is a 2,500-square foot ranch. Not that there is anything wrong with owning a larger, grander house. I am currently an on air editor with CNBC. Prior to my 10 years in this capacity I was a member in good standing on both the Chicago Futures Exchanges. My career in the futures industry spanned 20 years.

Seems like an answer, although I wish he had not used the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’–which makes him sound like he talked to a lawyer first. When people deny that they knew someone or were involved in something ‘to the best of my knowledge,’ that typically means they are concerned about accidentally committing perjury if a fact comes out later that shows they were in fact involved.  Does that mean Santelli might have been involved in something without knowing it?  I have no idea; I am not an attorney.   It could be that Santelli just adds that sentence as a routine part of insulating himself from accusations of financial conflicts of interests.  Since he reports from a trading floor, that kind of legalese could just be routine.  So, Santelli has spoken and that is where it ended up.

2. Whether or not CNBC actually asked Santelli if he was involved in any organizing is the obvious question.  As a result of filing that exact query, the Columbia School of Journalism’s blog Full Court Press(FCP) posted the following exchange they had with CNBC spokesman Brian Steel:

All this led Mark Ames and Yasha Levine to speculate at playboy.com that Santelli’s fifteen minutes were actually part of a right-wing Republican disinformation campaign to undermine Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy. Asked about this charge by FCP, CNBC spokesman Brian Steel sent an e-mail saying, “Rick Santelli’s comment clearly struck a nerve among a large portion of American citizens and sparked a debate which is something Rick has done for more than a decade as a commentator on CNBC. To try to make anything more of his comment than that is ridiculous and without basis in fact.”

FCP e-mailed back, “On the record: was he asked by his bosses if he was part of a larger organized effort? What “news” purpose was served by repeating this rant over and over again on CNBC, and promoting him (and it) on the Today Show?”

“We don’t comment on internal CNBC discussions,” Steel replied. Then, although FCP had specified that it was only interested in an on-the-record response, he added: “Off the record it strikes me that my first answer is unquivocal [sic] and should answer all your questions. Also off the record I am curious as to why CJR has written about it at least three times particularly since each time your readers via the comments section of your website have overwhelming disgreed [sic] with your views. It seems as if you are both tone deaf and hypocritcal [sic].”

So much for asking follow-up questions in the world of cable news.

Once the accusations of ‘hypocrisy’ come out, that tends to be a sign that nobody wants to have a grown-up conversation anymore.  Steel is clearly doing his job, which is to spread the chosen message that Santelli’s performance was consistent with his long history of making statements that spark widespread debate amongst American citizens.  In all fairness to Steel trying to get out CNBC’s message, the only example of Santelli sparking debate I can think of is the time he called for ‘Tea Parties’ last week.  So CNBC should probably issue a list of debates Santelli sparked if they want that message to take.

3.  Playboy took down the Ames/Levine post (as of Mar 2, from what I can tell).  They have not issued any kind of statement. 

4. Ames and Levine are sticking by their story, following up with a not-so-subtle piece titled CNBC Bitch-Slaps Santelli Into Line, FreedomWorks Admits It Organized “Grassroots” Tea Parties, Jon Stewart Cancels Santelli & Megan McArdle Queefs On Our Founding Fathers. 

5. Among other things, the Ames-Levine follow-up piece cites an AP article that they say backs up their initial claims.  The provide a link to a Star-Tribune article titled CNBC Says Ranting Rick Santelli is not Affiliated with Political Site that Uses his Name (David Bauer, Mar 2, 2009).  The article goes on to desccribe how the site reateaparty.com included enough references to Santelli for readers to conclue that Santelli was involved with the group–right up to an ‘About Rick Santelli’ page, but took down all the references when asked to do so by CNBC.

So, what can we conclude thus far?  The Tea Party folks would have us conclude that anyone who asked these questions about Santelli (me, for example) is an idiot leftie.  No surprise about that reaction, but there is more to be said.

In particular, I still wonder about two missing pieces of information: (1) why did Playboy take down the original post and (2) why did Santelli use the phrase ‘to the best of my knowledge’ in is rebuttal.   It seems fair to wonder about those things, given that the debate supposedly sparked by all this has led to cries of anti-government revolution (no small thing).

To speculate on the first:  Playboy probably took it down for fear of a boycott or of being sued or both.  Despite the racy content of the magazine, Playboy is still a relative newcomer to the world of political blogging.  They likely decided to just pull back and wait this thing out.

To speculate on the second: Santelli probably said ‘to the best of my knowledge’ because CNBC advised him to–which is perfectly legal, logical, reasonable, etc.  And CNBC probably advised him to say it because they had not yet figured out if Santelli was really involved with any of the sites that seemed to claim him as a participant.  CNBC then got to work examining all the free marketing they received as a result of Santelli’s performance, putting Santelli and their brand back in the bottle as much as they could (which is their legal right), and pushing back against questions from bloggers and journalists who were wondering (also fairly) about those connections.

And that brings us up to date.

The Ecstasy and the Agony

Posted in Barack Obama, corporations, Economy, politics by allisonkilkenny on March 1, 2009

Frank Rich, NYT

BARACK OBAMA must savor the moment while he can. It may never get better than this.#mce_temp_url#

As he stood before Congress on Tuesday night, the new president was armed with new job approval percentages in the 60s. After his speech, the numbers hit the stratosphere: CBS News found that support for his economic plans spiked from 63 percent to 80. Had more viewers hung on for the Republican response from Bobby Jindal, the unintentionally farcical governor of Louisiana, Obama might have aced a near-perfect score.

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

(Illustration by Barry Blitt)

His address was riveting because it delivered on the vision he had promised a battered populace during the campaign: Government must step in boldly when free markets run amok and when national crises fester unaddressed for decades. For all the echoes of F.D.R.’s first fireside chat, he also evoked his own memorably adult speech on race. Once again he walked us through a lucid step-by-step mini-lecture on “how we arrived” at an impasse that’s threatening America’s ability to move forward.

Obama’s race speech may have saved his campaign. His first Congressional address won’t rescue the economy. But it brings him to a significant early crossroads in his presidency — one full of perils as well as great opportunities. To get the full political picture, look beyond Obama’s popularity in last week’s polls to the two groups of Americans whose approval numbers are in the toilet. There is good news for Obama in these findings, but there’s also a stark indication of the unchecked populist rage that could still overrun his ambitious plans.

The first group in national disfavor is the G.O.P. In the latest New York Times/CBS News survey, 63 percent said that Congressional Republicans opposed the stimulus package mostly for political reasons; only 17 percent felt that the Republicans should stick with their own policies rather than cooperate with Obama and the Democrats. The second group of national villains is corporate recipients of taxpayer money: only 39 percent approve of a further bailout for banks, and only 22 percent want more money going to Detroit’s Big Three.

The good news for Obama is that he needn’t worry about the Republicans. They’re committing suicide. The morning-after conservative rationalization of Jindal’s flop was that his adenoidal delivery, not his words, did him in, and that media coaching could banish his resemblance to Kenneth the Page of “30 Rock.” That’s denial. For Jindal no less than Obama, form followed content.

The Louisiana governor, alternately smug and jejune, articulated precisely the ideology — those G.O.P. “policies” in the Times/CBS poll — that Americans reject: the conviction that government is useless and has no role in an emergency. Given that the most mismanaged federal operation in modern memory was inflicted by a Republican White House on Jindal’s own state, you’d think he’d change the subject altogether.

But like all zealots, Jindal is oblivious to how nonzealots see him. Pleading “principle,” he has actually turned down some $100 million in stimulus money for Louisiana. And, as he proudly explained on “Meet the Press” last weekend, he can’t wait to be judged on “the results” of his heroic frugality.

Good luck with that. He’s rejecting aid for a state that ranks fourth in children living below the poverty line and 46th in high school graduation rates, while struggling with a projected budget shortfall of more than $1.7 billion.

If you’re baffled why the G.O.P. would thrust Jindal into prime time, the answer is desperation. Eager to update its image without changing its antediluvian (or antebellum) substance, the party is trying to lock down its white country-club blowhards. The only other nonwhite face on tap, alas, is the unguided missile Michael Steele, its new national chairman. Steele has of late been busy promising to revive his party with an “off-the-hook” hip-hop P.R. campaign, presumably with the perennially tan House leader John Boehner leading the posse.

At least the G.O.P.’s newfound racial sensitivity saved it from choosing the white Southern governor often bracketed with Jindal as a rising “star,” Mark Sanford of South Carolina. That would have been an even bigger fiasco, for Sanford is from the same state as Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the junior high school student who sat in Michelle Obama’s box on Tuesday night and whose impassioned letter to Congresswas quoted by the president.

In her plea, the teenager begged for aid to her substandard rural school. Without basic tools, she poignantly wrote, she and her peers cannot “prove to the world” that they too might succeed at becoming “lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president.”

Her school is in Dillon, where the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, grew up. The school’s auditorium, now condemned, was the site of Bernanke’s high school graduation. Dillon is now so destitute that Bernanke’s middle-class childhood home was just auctioned off in a foreclosure sale. Unemployment is at 14.2 percent.

Governor Sanford’s response to such hardship — his state over all has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate — was not merely a threat to turn down federal funds but a trip to Washington to actively lobby against the stimulus bill. He accused the three Republican senators who voted for it of sabotaging “the future of our civilization.” In his mind the future of civilization has little to do with the future of students like Ty’Sheoma Bethea.

What such G.O.P. “stars” as Sanford and Jindal have in common, besides their callous neo-Hoover ideology, are their phony efforts to portray themselves as populist heroes. Their role model is W., that brush-clearing “rancher” by way of Andover, Yale and Harvard. Listening to Jindal talk Tuesday night about his immigrant father’s inability to pay for an obstetrician, you’d never guess that at the time his father was an engineer and his mother an L.S.U. doctoral candidate in nuclear physics. Sanford’s first political ad in 2002 told of how growing up on his “family’s farm” taught him “about hard work and responsibility.” That “farm,” the Charlotte Observer reported, was a historic plantation appraised at $1.5 million in the early 1980s. From that hardscrabble background, he struggled on to an internship at Goldman Sachs.

G.O.P. pseudopopulism ran riot last week as right-wing troops rallied around their latest Joe the Plumber: Rick Santelli, the ranting CNBC foe of Obama’s mortgage rescue program. Ann Coulter proposed a Santelli run for president, and Twitterers organized national “tea parties” to fuel his taxpayers’ revolt. Even with a boost from NBC, whose networks seized a promotional opening by incessantly recycling the Santelli “controversy,” the bonfire fizzled. It did so because — as last week’s polls also revealed — the mortgage bailout, with a 60-plus percent approval rating, is nearly as popular as Obama.

The Santelli revolution’s flameout was just another confirmation that hard-core Republican radicals are now the G.O.P.’s problem, not the president’s. Rahm Emanuel has it right when he says the administration must try bipartisanship, but it doesn’t have to succeed. Voters give Obama credit for trying, and he can even claim success with many Republican governors, from Schwarzenegger to Crist. Now he can move on and let his childish adversaries fight among themselves, with Rush Limbaugh as the arbitrating babysitter. (Last week he gave Jindal a thumb’s up.)

But that good news for Obama is countered by the bad. The genuine populist rage in the country — aimed at greedy C.E.O.’s, not at the busted homeowners mocked as “losers” by Santelli — cannot be ignored or finessed. Though Obama was crystal clear on Tuesday that there can be “no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis,” it was telling that he got fuzzy when he came to what he might do about it. He waited two days to drop that shoe in his budget: a potential $750 billion in banking “asset purchases” on top of the previous $700 billion bailout.

Therein lies the Catch-22 that could bring the recovery down. As Obama said, we can’t move forward without a functioning financial system. But voters of both parties will demand that their congressmen reject another costly rescue of it. Americans still don’t understand why many Wall Street malefactors remain in place or why the administration’s dithering banking policy lacks the boldness and clarity of Obama’s rhetoric.

Nor can a further bailout be easily sold by a Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, whose lax oversight of the guilty banks while at the New York Fed remains a subject of journalistic inquiry. In a damning 5,600-word article from Bloomberg last week, he is portrayed as a second banana, a timid protégé of the old boys who got us into this disaster. Everyone testifies to Geithner’s brilliance, but Jindal, a Rhodes scholar, was similarly hyped. Like the Louisiana governor, the Treasury secretary is a weak public speaker not because he lacks brains or vocal training but because his message doesn’t fly.

Among the highlights of Obama’s triumphant speech was his own populist jeremiad about the “fancy drapes” and private jets of Wall Street. But talk is not action. Two days later, as ABC News reported, the president of taxpayer- supported Bank of America took a private jet to New York to stonewall Andrew Cuomo’s inquest into $3.6 billion of suspect bonuses.

Handing more public money to the reckless banks that invented this culture and stuck us with the wreckage is the new third rail of American politics. If Obama doesn’t forge a better plan, neither his immense popularity nor even political foes as laughable as Jindal can insulate him from getting burned.

VIDEO: Fox News “War Games” the Coming Civil War

Posted in Barack Obama, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

glennbeck-cnn-11152006-01

Glenn Beck: Im in ur country, leadin ur revolution

Bill Clinton’s election in 1992 gave rise to the American “militia movement”:  hordes of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men from suburban and rural areas who convinced themselves they were defending the American way of lifefrom the “liberals” and “leftists” running the country by dressing up in military costumes on weekends, wobbling around together with guns, and play-acting the role of patriot-warriors.  Those theater groups — the cultural precursor to George Bush’s prancing 2003 performance dressed in a fighter pilot outfit on Mission Accomplished Day  — spawned the decade of the so-called “Angry White Male,” the movement behind the 1994 takeover of the U.S. Congress by Newt Gingrich and his band of federal-government-cursing, play-acting-tough-guy, pseudo-revolutionaries.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly “anti-government” movement was that — with some isolated and principled exceptions – it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory.  Even as Bush seized and used all of the powers which that movement claimed in the 1990s to find so tyrannical and unconstitutional — limitless, unchecked surveillance activities, detention powers with no oversight, expanding federal police powers, secret prison camps, even massively exploding and debt-financed domestic spending – they meekly submitted to all of it, even enthusiastically cheered it all on.  

They’re the same people who embraced and justified full-scale, impenetrable federal government secrecy and comprehensive domestic spying databases conducted in the dark and against the law when perpetrated by a Republican President — but have spent the last week flamboyantly pretending to be scandalized and outraged by the snooping which Bill Moyers did 45 years ago (literally) as part of a Democratic administration.  They’re the people who relentlessly opposed and impugned Clinton’s military deployments and then turned around and insisted that only those who are anti-American would question or oppose Bush’s decision to start wars. 

They’re the same people who believed that Bill Clinton’s use of the FISA court to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on Americans was a grave threat to liberty, but believed that George Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law was a profound defense of freedom.  In sum, they dressed up in warrior clothing to fight against Bill Clinton’s supposed tyranny, and then underwent a major costume change on January 20, 2001, thereafter dressing up in cheerleader costumes to glorify George Bush’s far more extreme acquisitions of federal power.

In doing so, they revealed themselves as motivated by no ideological principles or political values of any kind.  It was a purely tribalistic movement motivated by fear of losing its cultural and demographic supremacy.  In that sense — the only sense that mattered — George Bush was one of them, even though, with his actions, he did everything they long claimed to fear and despise.  Nonetheless, his mere occupancy of the White House was sufficient to pacify them and convert them almost overnight from limited-government militants into foot soldiers supporting the endless expansion of federal government power.

But now, only four weeks into the presidency of Barack Obama, they are back — angrier and more chest-beating than ever.  Actually, the mere threat of an Obama presidency was enough to revitalize them from their eight-year slumber, awaken them from their camouflaged, well-armed suburban caves.  The disturbingly ugly atmosphere that marked virtually every Sarah Palin rally had its roots in this cultural resentment, which is why her fear-mongering cultural warnings about his exotic, threatening otherness – he’s a Muslim-loving, Terrorist-embracing, Rev.-Wright-following Marxist:  who is the real Barack Obama? – resonated so stingingly with the rabid lynch mobs that cheered her on.

With Obama now actually in the Oval Office — and a financial crisis in full force that is generating the exact type of widespread, intense anxiety that typically inflames these cultural resentments — their mask is dropping, has dropped, and they’ve suddenly re-discovered their righteous “principles.”  The week-long CNBC Revolt of the Traders led by McCain voter Rick Santelli and the fledgling little Tea Party movement promoted by the Michelle Malkins of the world are obvious outgrowths of this 1990s mentality, now fortified by the most powerful fuel:  deep economic fear.  But as feisty and fire-breathing as those outbursts are, nothing can match — for pure, illustrative derangement — the discussion below from Glenn Beck’s new Fox show this week, in which he and an array of ex-military and CIA guests ponder (and plot and plan) “war games” for the coming Civil War against Obama-led tyranny.  It really has to be seen to be believed.

Before presenting that to you, a few caveats are in order:  There is nothing inherently wrong or illegitimate with citizens expressing extreme anger towards the Government and the ruling political class.  There isn’t even anything wrong or illegitimate with citizens organizing themselves into a movement that — whether by design or effect — is threatening to entrenched elites.  If anything, we’ve had too little of that.  In fact, it’s only a complete lack of fear of a meek, passive and impotent citizenry on the part of political and financial rulers — a certainty that there will be no consequences no matter what they do — that could have given rise to the endless corruption, deceit, lawbreaking, destruction, and outright thievery of the last eight years.  A political and financial elite that perceives itself as invulnerable from threat or consequence will inevitably vest itself with more power and more riches.  That’s what we’ve had and, largely, still have.

But this Rush-Limbaugh/Fox-News/nationalistic movement isn’t driven by anything noble or principled or even really anything political.  If it were, they would have been extra angry and threatening and rebellious during the Bush years instead of complicit and meek and supportive to the point of cult-like adoration.  Instead, they’re just basically Republican dead-enders (at least what remains of the regional/extremist GOP), grounded in tribal allegiances that are fueled by their cultural, ethnic and religious identities and by perceived threats to past prerogatives — now spiced with legitimate economic anxiety and an African-American President who, they were continuously warned for the last two years, is a Marxist, Terrorist-sympathizing black nationalist radical who wants to re-distribute their hard-earned money to welfare queens and illegal immigrants (and is now doing exactly that).

That’s the context for this Glenn Beck “War Games” show on Fox News this week — one promoted, with some mild and obligatory caveats, by Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air.  In the segment below, he convened a panel that includes former CIA officer Michael Scheuer and Ret. U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tim Strong.  They discuss a coming “civil war” led by American “Bubba” militias — Beck says he “believes we’re on this road” — and they contemplate whether the U.S. military would follow the President’s orders to subdue civil unrest or would instead join with “the people” in defense of their Constitutional rights against the Government (they agree that the U.S. military would be with “the people”):

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What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

Frank Rich

self-denialAND so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announcedanother 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims.

“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.”

Does it?

No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

This phenomenon could be seen in two TV exposés of the mortgage crisis broadcast on the eve of the stimulus signing. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” focused on the tawdry lending practices of Golden West Financial, built by Herb and Marion Sandler. On Monday, the CNBC documentary “House of Cards” served up another tranche of the subprime culture, typified by the now defunct company Quick Loan Funding and its huckster-in-chief, Daniel Sadek. Both reports were superbly done, but both could have been reruns.

The Sandlers and Sadek have been recurrently whipped at length in print and on television, as far back as 2007 in Sadek’s case (by Bloomberg); the Sandlers were even vilified in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last October. But still the larger message may not be entirely sinking in. “House of Cards” was littered with come-on commercials, including one hawking “risk-free” foreign-currency trading — yet another variation on Quick Loan Funding, promising credulous Americans something for nothing.

This cultural pattern of denial is hardly limited to the economic crisis. Anyone with eyes could have seen that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire resembled Macy’s parade balloons in their 1998 home-run derby, but it took years for many fans (not to mention Major League Baseball) to accept the sorry truth. It wasn’t until the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame saga caught fire in summer 2003, months after “Mission Accomplished,” that we began to confront the reality that we had gone to war in Iraq over imaginary W.M.D. Weapons inspectors and even some journalists (especially at Knight-Ridder newspapers) had been telling us exactly that for almost a year.

The writer Mark Danner, who early on chronicled the Bush administration’s practice of torture for The New York Review of Books, reminded me last week that that story first began to emerge in December 2002. That’s when The Washington Post reported on the “stress and duress” tactics used to interrogate terrorism suspects. But while similar reports followed, the notion that torture was official American policy didn’t start to sink in until after the Abu Ghraib photos emerged in April 2004. Torture wasn’t routinely called “torture” in Beltway debate until late 2005, when John McCain began to press for legislation banning it.

Steroids, torture, lies from the White House, civil war in Iraq, even recession: that’s just a partial glossary of the bad-news vocabulary that some of the country, sometimes in tandem with a passive news media, resisted for months on end before bowing to the obvious or the inevitable. “The needle,” as Danner put it, gets “stuck in the groove.”

For all the gloomy headlines we’ve absorbed since the fall, we still can’t quite accept the full depth of our economic abyss either. Nicole Gelinas, a financial analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, sees denial at play over a wide swath of America, reaching from the loftiest economic strata of Wall Street to the foreclosure-decimated boom developments in the Sun Belt.

When we spoke last week, she talked of would-be bankers who, upon graduating, plan “to travel in Asia and teach English for a year” and then pick up where they left off. Such graduates are dreaming, Gelinas says, because the over-the-top Wall Street money culture of the credit bubble isn’t coming back for a very long time, if ever. As she observes, it took decades after the Great Depression — until the 1980s — for Wall Street to fully reclaim its old swagger. Not until then was there “a new group of people without massive psychological scarring” from the 1929 crash.

In states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, Gelinas sees “huge neighborhoods that will become ghettos” as half their populations lose or abandon their homes, with an attendant collapse of public services and social order. “It will be like after Katrina,” she says, “but it’s no longer just the Lower Ninth Ward’s problem.” Writing in the current issue of The Atlantic, the urban theorist Richard Florida suggests we could be seeing “the end of a whole way of life.” The link between the American dream and home ownership, fostered by years of bipartisan public policy, may be irreparably broken.

Pity our new president. As he rolls out one recovery package after another, he can’t know for sure what will work. If he tells the whole story of what might be around the corner, he risks instilling fear itself among Americans who are already panicked. (Half the country, according to a new Associated Press poll, now fears unemployment.) But if the president airbrushes the picture too much, the country could be as angry about ensuing calamities as it was when the Bush administration’s repeated assertion of “success” in Iraq proved a sham. Managing America’s future shock is a task that will call for every last ounce of Obama’s brains, temperament and oratorical gifts.

The difficulty of walking this fine line can be seen in the drama surrounding the latest forbidden word to creep around the shadows for months before finally leaping into the open: nationalization. Until he started hedging a little last weekend, the president has pointedly said that nationalizing banks, while fine for Sweden, wouldn’t do in America, with its “different” (i.e., non-socialistic) culture and traditions. But the word nationalization, once mostly whispered by liberal economists, is now even being tossed around by Lindsey Graham and Alan Greenspan. It’s a clear indication that no one has a better idea.

The Obama White House may come up with euphemisms for nationalization (temporary receivership, anyone?). But whatever it’s called, what will it mean? The reason why the White House has been punting on the new installment of the bank rescue is not that the much-maligned Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, is incapable of getting his act together. What’s slowing the works are the huge political questions at stake, many of them with consequences potentially as toxic as the banks’ assets.

Will Obama concede aloud that some of our “too big to fail” banks have, in essence, already failed? If so, what will he do about it? What will it cost? And, most important, who will pay? No one knows the sum of the American banks’ losses, but the economist Nouriel Roubini, who has gotten much right about this crash, puts it at $1.8 trillion. That doesn’t count any defaults still to come on what had been considered “good” mortgages and myriad other debt, whether from auto loans or credit cards.

Americans are right to wonder why there has been scant punishment for the management and boards of bailed-out banks that recklessly sliced and diced all this debt into worthless gambling chips. They are also right to wonder why there is still little transparency in how TARP funds have been spent by these teetering institutions. If a CNBC commentator can stir up a populist dust storm by ranting that Obama’s new mortgage program (priced at $75 billion to $275 billion) is “promoting bad behavior,” imagine the tornado that would greet an even bigger bank bailout on top of the $700 billion already down the TARP drain.

Nationalization would likely mean wiping out the big banks’ managements and shareholders. It’s because that reckoning has mostly been avoided so far that those bankers may be the Americans in the greatest denial of all. Wall Street’s last barons still seem to believe that they can hang on to their old culture by scuttling corporate jets, rejecting bonuses or sounding contrite in public. Ask the former Citigroup wise man Robert Rubin how that strategy worked out.

We are now waiting to learn if Obama’s economic team, much of it drawn from the Wonderful World of Citi and Goldman Sachs, will have the will to make its own former cohort face the truth. But at a certain point, as in every other turn of our culture of denial, outside events will force the recognition of harsh realities. Nationalization, unmentionable only yesterday, has entered common usage not least because an even scarier word — depression — is next on America’s list to avoid.

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