Monday, November 28, 2011

Herman Cain’s very bad days

Excuse me. Excuuuuuse me. You know it’s hard out here for a motivational speaker and talk-show host with designs on the White House, especially one with a flair for self-aggrandizement and an apparent eye for the female form. The media won’t let him alone, neither will other candidates seeking the same office.

And neither, it seems, will the past. Today, the increasingly salacious five-spiral crash of the campaign of Herman Cain took another turn when Ginger White, an Atlanta businesswoman and single mother of two, came forward to claim that she and the candidate had been having an affair, that she’d been his outside woman.

For 13 years. Until eight months ago.

The lawyers are weighing in, or probably soon will; the punditburo is properly salivating; and goes without saying, the candidate himself is denying any of this ever happened. But this latest less-than- flattering perspective of Cain, from the latest in a series of apparently credible women professionals, further undercuts the rationale behind continuing to pursue something that was never better than a long shot to start with.

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The toppings started dropping off Cain’s pizza supreme on Oct. 31 when the Web site Politico broke the story that two women, former employees of the National Restaurant Association (once headed by Cain) accused him of acts of sexual harassment while he was in charge at the NRA in the 1990’s.

Politico reported that the story’s sources “describe episodes that … include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature.”

The political news site also reported that the women “reached agreements with the restaurant group that gave them financial payouts.”

Reader humuhumunukunukuapuaa speculated at The Huffington Post: “WikiLeaks is reporting the plaintiffs rejected the original settlement offer of $5,000 plus a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and a side order of breadsticks.”

Cain needed some extra media whoopass on the pizza he was preparing for the nation. And so … to the airwaves.

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Cain spoke to the National Press Club defending himself against the charges. And in an interview with Greta van Susteren on Fox News that night, he confirmed that a financial settlement was paid to one of the two accusers from his stint at the NRA. But he denied any sexual improprieties. “I have never sexually harassed anyone and those accusations are totally false ... It was concluded, after a thorough investigation, that it had no basis.”

“My general counsel said this started out where she and her lawyer were demanding a huge financial settlement … I don't remember a number … But then he said because there was no basis for this, we ended up settling for what would have been a termination settlement.”

Then Cain swung over to PBS' NewsHour, when Judy Woodruff doubled down on the details from the Politico story, pressing Cain for the details of the misunderstanding from his point of view.

According to Cain, something he said about one woman's height was the source of all the trouble. “One incident that I recall as the day has gone on. She was in my office one day, and I made a gesture, saying …’You're the same height as my wife,’ and brought my hand, didn't touch her, up to my chin and said, ‘You're the same height of my wife,’ because my wife comes up to my chin — my wife of 43 years. ...”

“I have never sexually harassed anyone. And so this false allegation to now come up is kind of baffling.”

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But Cain said something that revealed more than he probably intended — something that takes on a fresh importance given today’s bombshell from Atlanta.

"If more allegations come, I assure you, people will simply make them up," Cain told Fox on Oct. 31. "What you can expect from my campaign is for me to stay on message, for us to continue to do the things and execute our strategy in order to win the nomination," Cain said.

This, in retrospect, was clearly meant to be a Cain pre-emptive strike, but that’s exactly the problem. By issuing a blanket denial for anything in the past, Cain opens himself up to knowing that some of his behavior in the past was suspect, or maybe even criminal. A predictive denial begs the question of why you have to deny (in advance of any accusations) doing something you said you didn’t do in the first place.

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Clearly, Cain knew what was coming. On Nov. 2, an Iowa conservative talk-radio host alleged that Cain displayed inappropriate behavior toward one of the employees of his own staff when he showed up for an interview. That same day, GOP pollster and political consultant Chris Wilson told KTOK radio that he was a witness to Cain’s sexual harassment of a woman at a restaurant in Crystal City, Va.

Then on Nov. 7, things went south in a hurry. First, the scandalette acquired a name and a face. Sharon Bialek, a former member of the NRA’s education committee, accused Cain of what amounted to sexual assault, alleging that Cain forcefully pushed her head towards her crotch, and then made a direct connection between Cain receiving sexual favors and the prospects for Bialek’s employment at the NRA — if true, a textbook instance of sexual harassment. “I know what happened and he knows what happened,” she said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

Then, Karen Kraushaar, one of the women who filed a complaint against Cain when he was in charge at the NRA, became Public Face #2, coming forward after her name was leaked in the press. She repeated her assertions in an interview with The New York Times.

And oh yeah, to cap off the day, the Internal Revenue Service reported it had been asked by the watchdog org Center for Media and Democracy to investigate a Cain tax-exempt nonprofit organization for the possible misappropriation of money, namely, rerouting of funds from the nonprofit directly into the campaign — if true, a violation of laws governing tax-exempt groups and campaign financing.

And how the hell was your damn day?

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And now, Ginger White. “It was pretty simple,” White told Fox 5 Atlanta in an exclusive interview. “It wasn't complicated. I was aware that he was married. And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”

“He made it very intriguing,” White said. “It was fun. It was something that took me away from my humdrum life at the time. And it was exciting.”

In response, Cain did the predictive thing again, announcing on an interview with CNN — within hours of the Fox 5 Atlanta broadcast today — that White’s claims were untrue.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mitt Romney and the other currency

Slowly but steadily, the drumbeat’s getting louder. It’s the one that the Romney 2012 campaign is spending serious money for, the one that the former Massachusetts governor is sounding to win the war of perception — the war his campaign is fighting to further the idea that he is the presumptive Republican nominee.

If money was the only currency in this battle for the hearts & minds of primary voters, Romney would have already “won.” It’d be all over but the counting of first-place opinion polls in his corner and, starting in January, the counting of votes from Iowa and New Hampshire confirming the idea he’s furiously, if quietly, trying to put across.

But it’s not just about cash on hand. With five weeks before the Iowa caucuses and six before the New Hampshire primary, Romney is pedaling hard on a grade of road that’s occasionally been level, but rarely downhill. And as the Gingrich bid for the nomination has gained recent momentum, Team Romney may be discovering how the M word — Message — counts to the very primary voters he needs to gain the credibility, the validation he’s been seeking for the last four years.

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Romney’s bid for coronation in the primary season started some weeks ago, in comments at various campaign appearances, pithy statements reacting to one policy or proposal from the Obama White House, and in debate performances that managed to be both operationally flawless and emotionally bloodless.

Watching him in the debates, there’s a growing sense of an automaticity kicking in, a reflexive obeisance to the right wing that’s at odds with his earlier, more centrist sensibilities. He really introduced the new hard-line-right model Romney at Tuesday’s debate at Constitution Hall in Washington. And he had company. Judging from the applause for practically all of the candidates at the debate, they may as well have papered the room.

The debate, of course, was telecast by CNN, was also co-sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, and attended by any number of conservative Washington insiders, analysts, think-tank jefes and policy wonks. Given the audience, the lofty statements and the generous applause that followed were totally expected. The rightward rhetorical deliveries made by all the candidates were preaching to the amen corner, the equivalent of throwing raw meat into a pit-bull compound.

How all that trademark tough talk and saber-rattling play with a general election audience will be another matter entirely. But for Mitt Romney, there’s work to do with the people of that audience, and maybe more than he thought. The math already suggests that there may be no coronation. He’s going to have to win it. It’s a sound wager that he can. Don’t bet the mortgage that he will.

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Today’s report in The Huffington Post, written by Jon Ward and Mark Blumenthal, is a sound, well-researched analysis of what the Romney campaign faces. Their story points to how Romney needs an early knockout punch in Iowa or New Hampshire — and ideally Iowa and New Hampshire — to really reinforce any idea of having a lock on the nomination.

From the HuffPost story:

“The conventional wisdom has been that the primary will likely be decided on Jan. 31 in Florida, which goes fourth in the series of caucuses and primaries, and is the most expensive contest. Some think Romney could end things in Iowa on Jan. 3 if he wins those caucuses convincingly. Even if he places second or third there but goes on to win New Hampshire on Jan. 10, South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida, many think those victories could create the impression of inevitability.”

But, the story goes on, many of the delegates needed to win the nomination aren’t even up for grabs until later in the primary season.

“Some of the states with the most delegates won't vote until late spring or even as late as the summer,” the report says. “New York and Pennsylvania will award their 95 and 72 delegates, respectively, on April 24. California's mother lode of 172 delegates won't be up for grabs until June 5.”

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A total of 1,143 delegates will be needed to secure the nomination, out of an anticipated total of 2,284, according to HuffPost. Citing information from, HuffPost reported that only 334 delegates will be awarded through January and February, the months Romney needs to win. Super Tuesday, March 6, adds only 599 – “a total of just 41 percent of all delegates.”

And any Romney glide-path scenario assumes that he runs the table, winning all the delegates. Thanks to delegate rule changes made by the Republican National Committee, Texas (with 155 delegates) will divide delegate count based on statewide vote.

The Star-Telegram explained it in October: “If, say, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul equally split the primary vote in Texas next year, then each will get a third of the state's delegates.”

That doesn’t even factor in what awaits Romney between January and the March 6 primary in Texas.

“The February [primary] states are Maine, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona and Michigan,” HuffPost reported. “In 2008, Romney won all but Arizona, which was John McCain's home state.

“Yet, mathematically, it will be hard for Romney to argue after January and February that he is the putative nominee.

It’s clear, then, that any talk of Romney pitching a shutout in the four earliest contests may be premature. To top these challenges of the calendar, early and late, he’d have to be Justin Verlander on four days rest.

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The chronological spread of the 2012 primary season could actually work against Romney, depending on gaining those early wins … and on the persistence and power of any rival campaign. Given how crowded the field still is, on the doorstep of December, Romney can probably expect to scrap and claw into the new year and beyond.

As the first caucuses approach, the financially weaker campaigns and the ones showing no traction in the opinion polls (probably one and the same) will struggle to stay afloat. Sooner or later, these bottom-dwellers in the race will drop out.

Whoever’s left after that will be stronger by default. They’ll gain credibility in the eyes of the public and the media by virtue of just being around. They’ll be the beneficiaries of a narrative that places their campaigns in the context of being “in it for the long haul.” At least until Super Tuesday.

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And that works against Romney. The sense of inevitability his campaign hopes to project confronts the thorny problem of voters and key party figures dead set against not just any sense of Romney’s inevitability, but also the candidate himself as the party’s standard-bearer. For them, it's not just a matter of his inevitability. They don't want him around at all.

Revolution, phase 2: Egypt returns to the streets

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” Frederick Douglass once observed. “... The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

That wisdom from the 19th century has been alive and well and front and center all year in north Africa and the Middle East. In Yemen, longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh has resigned under pressure; Mohammed Bassendoua has been tapped to build a new government, according to al-Arabiya. He is expected to be the country's new prime minister. Libya is starting to shake its generational doldrums in a post-Gaddafi era; oil production there is returning to previous levels. Even Syria, bulwark of autocracy, is finding change difficult and painful to resist; Syrian security forces have seen their own troops turn on them, in support of the pro-democracy movement.

But Egypt has been the big show. That nation of 81 million people has been at the point of the spear of the region’s momentous changes before, this year, in February, when pharaoh manqué Hosni Mubarak was unceremoniously dismissed. Now, phase two is kicking in; the conflict between Egyptians and Mubarak’s autocratic rule of is now a battle between the people and the equally autocratic rule of the military that replaced him.

The violence that began on Nov. 19 with clashes between SCAF forces and the generally unarmed population, has led to at least 42 deaths and more than 3,200 wounded … and the return of people to the streets of Alexandria and Suez, and more than 100,000 people to the streets of Cairo, starting a new chapter in the narrative of the nation’s transformation — the first words of which might be “As we were saying ...”

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It was all thought to be a temporary thing. The Egyptian military, grandly titled the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), would take control of the country while it adjusted to life without Mubarak. Just for a while, as the country got back on its feet.

But the pace of change in the country whose citizens’ median age is 24 has been slow, despite promised reforms. In some cases, it’s been nonexistent. Egypt’s reviled emergency law, which permits military trials and stifling of dissent, will be in place until June next year, SCAF said on Sept. 21.

SCAF has refused to concede power to a civilian authority regardless of the outcome of the parliamentary elections — the first necessary step in re-creating the government.

Now, with parliamentary elections set for Monday, it’s coming to a boil.

Al Jazeera reported Saturday that Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a presumed candidate for the Egyptian presidency, has said he will abandon his bid for the office if SCAF lets him become the interim prime minister.

In a statement from his office, ElBaradei said he was "ready to renounce the idea of being a candidate in the presidential election if officially asked to form a cabinet," and that he was "willing to respond to the demands of the youth of the revolution and the political forces calling for a national salvation government that represents all the national forces."

The protesters support ElBaradei; maybe to drive their point home, they’ve planned another mass protest for today, an opportunity to repeat their rejection of Kamal al-Ganzouri, the man named to be the new prime minister — the 78-year-old veteran of the House of Mubarak, generally derided as a wannabe of his predecessor, Hosni Lite.

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And, as you’ve a right to expect, the Occupy movement supports the protesters. In a full-throated statement on its Web site, Occupy Wall Street said that “[a]s the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces escalates the use of force on protesters at Tahrir, we call for support and solidarity for our brothers and sisters of Tahrir Square. We also call for support and solidarity with our Egyptian American brothers and sisters.”

The stage is set for ... something happening today and Monday. Some are bracing for more of the violence that’s already gone down in and near Tahrir Square, the Egyptian movement’s HQ and emotional epicenter. Shadi Hamid, an analyst with Doha Brooking Institution, told Al Jazeera that “if there is violence, that will cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results [of the election].”

But there’s no reverse gear for what’s been set in motion for the second time in nine months. Shahir George knows this well.

“Whether we win or lose in this election, we'll keep going,” George, a pro-democracy activist and a candidate in Monday’s parliamentary vote, told Reuters. “We will evaluate our mistakes, learn from them and prepare for the next battle. There are still many to fight. The street will always be there.”

Image credits: Father and child in Cairo: CBS News. SCAF ruler televised statement: Egyptian state TV via CBS News. ElBaradei: IAEA photo. Egyptian anti-SCAF poster:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupying music and art

The diversities built into the Occupy movement have been probably the movement’s most refreshing and necessary feature; nowhere is that panorama of possibilities more obvious than in the range of artists enlisted to express those possibilities.

The movement’s various actions in New York, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and hundreds of other cities and towns have yielded a trove of striking posters and flyers advancing the Occupy concept.

The only consistency is in their inconsistency, the push against convention that defines the movement distilled in artwork that’s often moving and inspiring. The Occupy Wall Street site are a great place to glimpse posters and handbills from around the country, and the world.

Here’s a short sampler:

Meanwhile, the world of music isn’t being left out. On Wednesday, at The Huffington Post, “content creator” Greg Garry wrote about the song “Money,” the first single from the second album by the Ohio indie rock band The Drums. Garry said the song “seemed poised to be the poster song of our current financial armegeddon. It really is the "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime" for the new Depression.”

Whether you buy that bid for anthemhood or not is up to you. Garry did, however, include a YouTube video created by a Drums fan who used the music as a soundtrack to a series of OWS protest images. The combination of music and image is sometimes achingly effective.

Image credits: Occupy the Streets poster: via What Is Our One Demand poster: Adbusters. Sorry You're Occupied: Dan Cassaro. Occupy Cal: Fred Zaw.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Newt’s figment VI: The humane touch

For months now, the Newt Gingrich 2012 campaign was thought to be on life support, the low-hanging fruit ripe for abuse by the late-night shift, the political piñata that was bound to explode all by itself. With a variety of political and optical gaffes, the former House Speaker and presumptive conservative prefrontal cortex slipped on the banana peels he laid out for himself time and time again.

But in the ongoing game of Frontrunner of the Week, Gingrich is in the high chair now, in part because of a forthright statement of principle on immigration, one that flies in the face of the reflexive policies of surveillance and intolerance that are a hallmark of his party.

In the wake of solid performances in the candidate debates — most recently the one on Tuesday in Washington — there’s a narrative emerging that the Republican nomination for a rehabilitated Newt Gingrich need not be so wild a dream after all.


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On Tuesday we got the classic Newt debate persona: combative, analytical, emeritus, relentlessly on point, and largely of the same mind as his counterparts on the stage of the Constitution Hall. The debate focused on national security, and positions on Pakistan, the Middle East, radical Islam, foreign policy and the Patriot Act.

Gingrich advocated a moderate course on Iran, endorsing the idea of military strikes “[o]nly as a last recourse and only as a step towards replacing the regime. No bombing campaign which leaves the regime in charge is going to accomplish very much in the long run.”

At one point, CNN's moderator Wolf Blitzer brought the debate closer to home with a question about undocumented immigrants. “Back in the '80s … you voted for legislation that had a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants ... Some called it amnesty then; they still call it amnesty now. What would you do if you were President of the United States, with these millions of illegal immigrants, many of whom have been in this country for a long time?”

What followed — in responses to Blitzer and to his GOP challengers — was a thoughtful, even-handed, politically practical response.

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Gingrich said: “If you're here -- if you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. Period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out. …

“I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families and expel them. ...

“I don't see how the -- the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

That was not a series of typos; this was not a transmission from the bizzarro world; do not adjust your set. Newt Gingrich made a move to the center — not unlike the one he made in May, and renounced almost immediately, when he pushed back against his party’s call for wholesale changes in Medicare (“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate”).

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Among other things, Gingrich’s mainstream pivot forces former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to shift from a general campaign mien to a strategy of continuing to fight the battle for primary voters. And Romney, who’s lately navigated to a more right-wing posture on a range of topics, is vulnerable on that front.

For all the changes in frontrunner status we’ve seen over the last six months — Bachmann for a minute, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain — Romney has never capitalized, never punched through the 25 percent level of support he’s consistently drawn in early opinion polling.

The American Research Group poll released on Wednesday bears that out. In a survey of likely GOP caucusgoers in battleground Iowa, Romney (20 percent) trailed Gingrich (27 percent) in the ARG poll, taken before the Tuesday debate. That seven-point bulge for Newt is well outside the four-point margin of error.

Other polls say much the same thing: A new CNN/Opinion Research poll puts Romney in second place behind Gingrich with 20 percent support. A new Quinnipiac College poll has Romney in second place behind Gingrich with 22 percent support. The latest USA Today/Gallup poll has Romney in second place behind Gingrich with 21 percent support.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy: Symbols and substance

For the last five days it’s been the viral video that showed, starkly and painfully, just how much Us Versus Them has become an unwritten law of the land. A group of Occupy protesters sits locked arm in arm outside on the campus of the University of California at Davis. A police officer walks up to the group holding a can of pepper spray, a law enforcement staple whose main ingredient, oleoresin capsicum, is said to burn and irritate the eyes and mucus membranes with a brief but frightening fury.

In the video, the officer then methodically begins spraying the protesters, soaking them down with the ease and alacrity he might bring to the task of carpet-bombing the bougainvillea with insecticide in his own back yard.

The reaction to Friday's Scoville-scale corporal punishment was swift, spirited and eloquent; calls for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi started quickly, followed by an overdue reassessment of our nation’s police forces and their increasingly militaristic arsenal.

But the images in that video stay with you; in their own way they’re as powerful and potentially galvanizing as the grainy black-and-white footage of young black men and women being blasted by high-pressure water from firehoses in the Jim Crow South. And for many of the same reasons.

The Occupy movement is morphing from a protracted but spasmodic revolt into a true movement whose reordering of national priorities could yet usher in a pivot point of vast social change in America. Now the movement is crossing the symbolic Rubicon; among other reasons, you can thank the power of a visual culture for that.

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In recent weeks, the Occupy movement has crescendoed in the national conversation. City by city, encampment by encampment, it's becoming like something out of the "bonfire of the vanities" — not the 1987 Tom Wolfe novel that explored the lives of American haves and have-nots in uber-rich 1980’s New York, but the events in 1497 when supporters of Girolamo Savonarola gathered to burn objects of temptation and sin in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

On Thursday, Nov. 17, on a "Day of Action,” Occupy protesters turned their populist fire on the inanities of government and the banking system with street actions and encampments in New York, Seattle, Portland (Ore)., Los Angeles, Burlington (Vt)., Oakland, St. Louis, hundreds of other locations in the United States, and several more outside the U.S.

That night in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where it all started two months ago, the New York City Police Department physically threw people out of the park. The City's Finest did what they could to throw a cone of silence around things, imposing a media blackout and banning news copters from filming overhead.

But as you'd expect these days, cell phone cameras did what the mainstream media couldn't do: report what was happening. On Twitter and Facebook, and in the ultimate village square we call YouTube, there was evidence of a government attacking its citizens and preventing the other media from reporting it.

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Those clashes just reflect the social polarities that have long been a part of American society. Want another example? In a recent promo for the "Your Money, Your Vote" Republican candidates'  debate on (NBC-Dow Jones owned) CNBC, in a cynical mischaracterization of the Occupy objective, a voiceover asks, "How will candidates end the war on wealth?" The ad also includes images of the Occupy Wall Street protests:

But there’s proof that some of this literal rage against the machine is paying dividends. On Nov. 14, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved Resolution 31337, a measure in support of the Occupy movement “recognizing and supporting the peaceful and lawful exercise of the First Amendment as a cherished and fundamental right in the effort to seek solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal and local levels,”

From the resolution: “The City will review its banking and investment practices to ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community.

“The City will examine the number of home foreclosures in Seattle, the geographic neighborhoods in which the foreclosures are occurring, and lender information on homes involved in the foreclosure process.”

With the resolution, the city pledges to “continue to address economic inequality and wealth disparities by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender,” and to seek “maximum possible funding for Early Learning and Basic Education” programs from the state.

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This action, more than symbolic but less than substantive (at least right now), comes in the wake of recent Occupy protests at Chase and Bank of America branches in Seattle — protests that had results with bigger teeth.

A few weeks back, on Nov. 5, Bank Transfer Day, about 700 people switched their money from the major banks to the Boeing Employees Credit Union. Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien pulled his own money out of Wells Fargo.

Bank of America, reeling from customer withdrawals, had already decided on Nov. 1 to back off on imposing $5 debit fees for customers to use their own accounts. “Our customers' voices are most important to us. As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so,” said BofA co-chief operating officer David Darnell in a press release.

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But every good movement needs a literal symbol or two (and no, not the Guy Fawkes masks that have been around in protests since “V for Vendetta” was released in 2006). Something fresh. That was delivered on Thursday night in lower Manhattan, when protesters and the public looked up at the Verizon Building near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, and had a Bat-signal moment. There about midway up the building was what's apparently become The Logo of the Occupy movement, the figures “99%” in black against a light background. Citizens to corporate titan: Can you hear me now?

That was one potent expression of the power of symbol. Another one happened in Seattle on Tuesday night. Seattle police pepper-sprayed a group of protesters who, by all accounts, were acting peacefully before their encounter with the cops. In the incident, several people were overcome by the spray, including a pregnant woman, a priest and Dorli Rainey, a long-time activist who’s 84 years old.

Joshua Trujillo, a photographer from the news Web site, took a picture of Rainey being led away from the encounter, eyes streaming with the water used to wash out the police pepper spray.

Often, it takes a single image to bring big concepts down to earth, to give a movement a human dimension. The Rainey photograph may be that shot, the distilling Madonna image of the Occupy movement — in much the same way of the photograph of 84-year-old Milvirtha Hendricks, who sat covered by a blanket designed like the American flag, outside the New Orleans Convention Center the day after Hurricane Karina roared ashore in August 2005.

Rainey’s presence at the rally, where this incredibly plugged-in octogenarian was briefly rendered her sightless, puts the lie to the idea that the Occupy movement is the captive of the young: high-hormonal troublemakers in black hoodies adorned with the A-in-circle that stands for “anarchy.” Rainey’s presence there shows how a battle for the future — maybe the battle for the future — is going down not along the convenient dividers of generation and politics, but (like movements before this one) on the truer, deeper fault lines of right and wrong.

Her presence, along with hundreds of other senior citizens, baby boomers and others across a range of ages, may be the best kind of symbol for Occupy: a symbol that points to the substance underneath.

Image credits: 99 logo at night: Via Current TV. Direct Action poster: Occupy Seattle screengrab: KING5 Seattle. 99% on Manhattan skyline: © 2011 Amber McLinn. Dorli Rainey: Joshua Trujillo/

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Release the drones:
A future of journalism

We might have seen this coming sooner or later in our era of too much information and not enough.

After years of our being digitally observed at every stage of modern life (from the camera at the convenience store down the block to the one embedded in your bank ATM); after the Predator gun-camera images of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have made their way onto the evening news; after cities like New York and London have developed nonstop citywide surveillance that would give George Orwell pause; after downsized video cameras and the ubiquity of YouTube have made everyone a potential documentarian … the future may have got here for journalism, one that’s got the potential to be a game-changer for how we get the news.

This possible future has been arriving in fits and starts in recent months, more about which later. But it arrived, in a kind of a global maiden voyage, on Nov. 11, at the Independence Day protests in Warsaw. Police were mobilized to perform crowd control at the event, a combustible mix of ardent Polish nationalists and left-wing anarchists gathered to mark the anniversary of the birth of Poland as an independent state in 1918.

As police moved toward the site, people in the vicinity heard a loud buzzing sound overhead — the sound of a small helicopter carrying a video camera — a drone — recording a compelling overhead view of the chaos on the ground. The drone, built by RoboKopter Technologies Sp., swooped and zoomed over the protest site for several minutes, a noisy little bastard, buzzing the crowd like a Briggs & Stratton dragonfly.

The event was widely reported in Polish media and elsewhere around the world.

And this apparently wasn’t the first time. Back in May, CNN producer Aaron Brodie used a Parrot AR.Drone, made by a French manufacturer, to record storm damage near Tuscaloosa, Ala. The French quadricopter, who reportedly costs about $300, is controllable with an iPad or iPhone.

“It’s a bit challenging to fly, but when you get the hang of it you can get some nice aerial footage out of it,” Brodie told CNN’s Brett Roegiers. Brodie reportedly added a GoPro HD camera to the drone. Result? A newsgathering predator created for the relatively low cost of $550.

““This is really at the low end of what’s possible,” he reported. “There’s much more sophisticated drone technology out there that is now available to really anybody, including us in the news media, and I think this is going to continue to provide a whole new perspective on things.”

And News Corporation has been using drones in some of its reporting — given News Corp’s current troubles concerning surveillance of citizens, we shouldn’t be surprised — and even brags about it through “The Daily Drone,” a feature in News Corp’s iPad-only tabloid publication, The Daily.

Drone journalism raises the prospect for a new conflict between government and the media over access to information and application of the First Amendment.

On Nov. 17, for example, The New York Times reported that despite the often startlingly clear quality of the images over Warsaw, “it is unlikely that the New York Police Department, which closed the airspace above Lower Manhattan during Tuesday’s raid, would have taken kindly to a flock of drone journalists.”

But since when does the NYPD, or any other entity, control and monitor the tools by which journalists do their work?

This is what makes drone journalism such a potential game-changer for journalism. As the current Occupy protests around the country gain momentum, police departments in numerous cities have grappled with how to respond. In New York, police recently tried to control information on crowd control the old-fashioned way: by not letting the media in in the first place.

The advent of drone journalism could change this, in a hurry.

It’s true that any use of drone technology for newsgathering in the United States would have to grapple with regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration, which pretty much governs anything (except military aircraft) that flies in airspace above the United States.

In 1987, the FAA published Advisory Circular 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards, a regulation that sets guidelines for drone use for civilian and commercial purposes. Right now, hobbyists can fly drones at altitudes of no more than 400 feet.

“The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying [unmanned aircraft systems] with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating,” the agency said in a media notice underscoring the fact that AC 91-57 “specifically excludes [drone] use by persons or companies for business purposes.”

In an Aug. 2 e-mail, FAA spokesman Les Dorr told Forbes the agency was “examining The Daily’s use of a small unmanned aircraft to see if it was in accordance with FAA policies.”

◊ ◊ ◊

All that legal nomenclature just barely obscures questions of authority and precedent, questions sure to come up as drone technology evolves and reaches beyond the hobbyist market to include frequent use by news organizations.

In the midst of a breaking news event of obvious interest to a cross-section of Americans, which is controlling — Advisory Circular 91-57 or the First Amendment to the Constitution?

Why should news organizations be under any more obligation to report use of drones in newsgathering than they’re required to report the number of notebooks, tape recorders and other tools used by reporters to do their jobs?

Where’s the line drawn between drones for “business purposes,” which the FAA forbids, and drones for gathering the news, something the agency doesn’t specifically address?

Will the FAA entertain requests from news orgs for exemption from current regulations, on the basis of a constitutionally-protected right of journalists to report the news — and by extension, the public’s right to know?

◊ ◊ ◊

There’s clearly potential for abuse. The fact that News Corp (still navigating a scandal over telephone hacking of celebrities and private citizens) is at or near the forefront of this developing trend is proof of that. And you can imagine what madness the paparazzi might unleash with this (“Who’s that with Ashton Kutcher leaving the Ivy? Give me tighter scale on that, please…”).

But there’s clearly as much or more potential for drone journalism to put skeptical, professional eyes on a news event when it’s not possible to put boots on the ground where that event is happening. Drones could be used in place of reporters and videographers physically going into hazardous regions to get footage, saving lives and money in the process.

And in this role, its highest, best civic purpose, drones would be used to shed light in places where officialdom would often prefer the darkness — the same kind of informational darkness the New York City Police Department sought to invoke when it banned the media from the most recent eviction of Occupiers from Zuccotti Park.

Sometimes the future shows up on cat’s feet, sometimes with an explosion heard round the world. The future for breaking-news journalism may have arrived in the form of a annoying, buzzing aerial contraption that goes where breaking-news journalists sometimes can’t, and where American aviation law has never really been before.

Image credits: RoboKopter promotional, Warsaw police mobilizing: ©2011 RoboKopter Technologies, via YouTube. Independence Day street view: RoboKopter via ITN News. Logos are properties of their parent companies. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

New life for the STOCK Act

No doubt embarrassed by the Nov. 11 CNBC interview with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and alarmed by the Nov. 13 report on the matter on “60 Minutes,” some 61 House members have signed on to co-sponsor the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, a long-languishing piece of legislation that would stop members of Congress and their staffers from trading in securities of companies up for investigation by Congress.

The bill, championed principally by New York Rep. Louise Slaughter, will receive a congressional hearing by the House Financial Services Committee sometime after the Thanksgiving recess, according to a statement released Thursday on Slaughter’s official House Web site.

“I'm delighted that the House Financial Services Committee is going to hold a hearing on the STOCK Act and for the groundswell of support we've received in the past week,” said Slaughter, in the statement.

“... I'm particularly pleased because my colleagues are really starting to understand that light needs to be shed on insider trading and political intelligence which has been creeping into the halls of Congress for years now. There are 535 of us privileged enough to serve in this Congress and the fact that any one of us would think to personally profit off the information that's shared with us upsets me greatly.”

Slaughter’s Web site said that “[i]n the 24 hours after the 60 Minutes piece, 9 more members signed on and many more were on the way.”

“The STOCK Act now has 61 co-sponsors and for the first time several members of the Senate have indicated their support.”

Image credits: "60 Minutes" clock: © 2011 CBS News. Slaughter: Official House photograph (public domain).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buchanan still MIA at MSNBC

It’s been about three weeks since MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan has been on the air, and about that long from the start of a grassroots backlash against Buchanan and the thinly disguised racial and ethnic intolerance he’s elevated (or attempted to elevate) to the level of political discourse on MSNBC programming.

Since Oct. 22, the date of his last appearance, Buchanan has been MIA from the network, officially on a book tour to promote “Suicide of a Superpower,” his 11th book. But there are other signs that his absence may be longer than that.

In MSNBC’s new “The Place for Politics” promos (a leading indicator of the on-air talent expected to lead election coverage next year), the snapshots of MSNBC political heavy hitters are proudly displayed; they’re all there: Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz — even Al Sharpton, who just launched his own MSNBC news and commentary program in September, gets a spot in the honor roll.

Buchanan, a political analyst for the network since 2003, is conspicuous by his absence.

◊ ◊ ◊

We shouldn’t wonder., the social advocacy organization that launched an online petition drive to have Buchanan fired, has ramped up the pressure. On Tuesday, the organization announced that “[l]ast week, we delivered more than 275,000 petition signatures to MSNBC from ColorOfChange and CREDO Action members.

“ColorOfChange members are flooding MSNBC with phone calls, demanding that MSNBC break its silence and fire Pat Buchanan,” said the group, in a statement on its Web site.

From the statement: “Since more than 86,000 members called on MSNBC to fire Pat Buchanan there has been no sign of the right-wing correspondent on the airwaves. But MSNBC refuses to say whether Buchanan will return, and they seem to think they can hide him away for a while and let this blow over.

“MSNBC has continued to play dumb, keeping him off its broadcast in recent days but remaining silent about Buchanan's appearance on white supremacist radio and the extreme and hateful ideas in his new book. And they've refused to comment on whether he'll return to the air once his book tour draws to a close. …

“For too long Pat Buchanan has passed off racism and bigotry as legitimate political commentary and MSNBC continues to provide him a platform to do so. People are tired of turning to a trusted news source and getting hatred instead of real analysis.”

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s a given that Buchanan’s proven rhetorical and literary embraces of white Christian supremacist ideology complicate MSNBC’s drive for a fresh identity. But not for reasons of politics. This really isn’t a left or right political issue.

For colorofchange and others who complain both about Buchanan’s philosophy and his use of MSNBC as a platform for that philosophy, Buchanan’s thinking fails a basic moral test, crosses from enlightened dissent into attacks on the panorama of a rich and evolving American demography —people who don’t look and pray and think like he does — in a xenophobic, mean-spirited manner that scarcely deserves the label (or the cover) of “political analysis.”

One problem for Buchanan that can't be conveniently ignored or overlooked, is how he simply may have outlived his usefulness as an analyst for MSNBC. In previous years, especially during the time when the network was still struggling to establish itself in a then less-crowded mediascape, Buchanan was more vital as a conservative voice, and in the aftermath of Sept. 11, a more welcome one, as the country rallied round the flag and the conservative mindset was not just tolerated but embraced in a deeply troubled time.

Back then, Buchanan’s more ethnically intolerant statements and positions were likely dismissed or minimized as the deeply patriotic passion of a man whose xenophobia suddenly acquired a context that was, given the rush to the colors at the time, easier to overlook (and, no doubt for some, just as easy to forgive).

◊ ◊ ◊

What a difference a decade makes. In the midst of a rapidly changing political climate, closer scrutiny by an information-savvy public, a very different social demographic and a more aggressive conservative bloc, Buchanan isn’t the rara avis he used to be back in the day. There are any number of other conservative analysts — telegenic, informed and just as committed to the cause — who are filling the breach in Buchanan’s absence.

With conservative analysts and strategists like Joe Watkins, Mark McKinnon, John Feehery and Michael Steele (former chairman of the Republican National Committee, now an MSNBC political analyst) carrying the conservative message forward, it’s clear the network is actively exploring its options. Jettisoning Buchanan means the network maintains a leavening editorial balance in its news and political coverage, but without the vast baggage and record of intolerance that Buchanan brings to his every appearance on the air.

◊ ◊ ◊

The question is how long it takes MSNBC to understand this. As someone with long standing at a network that's not that old in the first place, Buchanan has presumably earned a measure of institutional loyalty; that’s almost certainly one reason for the deliberative process underway at MSNBC.

But that loyalty to one employee scarcely replaces or equals the network’s fidelity to its core values, its journalistic fidelity to its viewers, and the brand equity the MSNBC name has earned in the marketplace and the public eye since the network launched in July 1996.

(And anyway, it’s a safe bet that the day Buchanan exits MSNBC, whenever that is, he'll land a gig with Fox News, the right-wing combine directed by Roger Ailes, a Buchanan contemporary and a media consultant for Nixon and Reagan — the same two presidents Buchanan worked for).

◊ ◊ ◊

In 1987, while still White House communications director, Buchanan said “the greatest vacuum in American politics is to the right of Ronald Reagan." But there’s not a vacuum that far out there, just dangerously hot air.

And there’s no air at all for a network that’s otherwise fully solidifying its journalistic bona fides — the network that MSNBC President Phil Griffin told the Associated Press in June was “really the place to go for progressives and people who are looking for smart, thoughtful analysis.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, one of the network’s leading progressive lights, has not quite affectionately called Buchanan “Uncle Pat,” but pointedly told him in July 2009 that “you're living in the 1950’s.” The Buchanan xenophobe world view suggests he’s a captive of history farther back than that. A forward-thinking MSNBC deserves better. So do its viewers.

Image credits: Buchanan: Bbsrock. World Trade Center towers, Sept. 11, 2001: Unknown. Logos are properties of their respective parent companies.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Herman Cain, in vain

Rick Perry can rest easy. The Texas governor’s debate gaffe last week, when he failed to remember the third of the federal agencies he would abolish in the increasingly unlikely event that he becomes president, has just been eclipsed — by orders of magnitude — by a major lapse from Herman Cain, revealed on a video released hours ago by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a video going wicked viral on YouTube.

Cain, interviewed today by the editorial board of the Journal Sentinel, was asked at one point about the American response to the popular uprising in Libya, the firestorm of discontent that led to eight months of war and, about three weeks ago, the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi from the cares of this world.

The interview about what should have been done by the United States vis-à-vis Libya begins, as these things often do, with a simple question:

Journal Sentinel: So you agree with President Obama or not?

Cain’s eyes roll skyward. “OK, Libya,” he says, as though he were trying to recall the dates of the Peloponnesian War. His left hand slides a bottle of Aquafina water a few inches forward on the table.

“President Obama ... supported ... the uprising. Correct? President Obama called for the removal of … Gaddafi. Just wanna make sure we’re talking about the same thing before I say, ‘yes I agree’ or ‘no, I didn’t agree.’

Oh, yes sir, by all means, let’s absolutely be sure we’re talking about the same north African country named Libya.

“Um, I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons … um,” he says, eyes again cast upward, just in case the good folks at the Journal Sentinel wrote the answer on the ceiling. “No, no, that’s a different one,” he says, fidgeting with his conservative-red tie, shifting in his chair, crossing his legs, moving the chair to face his questioner directly, clutching his suit jacket.


“I gotta go back and see, uh ...”

More crickets.

“I got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Uh ...”

Cain bluffs his way through much of the rest of the theoretical Libyan discussion, finally finding a safe harbor in the unassailable position of saying he would have made sure he heard from all of his advisers before making a decision on how to proceed in Libya — the better to make an informed decision.

But after his serious screwup on China’s nuclear capability (they’re not trying to get nuclear weapons, they’ve only had them since 1964) and his dismissive comment on the need for knowing about other world leaders (“When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm going to say, ‘you know, I don't know.’”), the first minute and 10 seconds of the video are what lawyers call “dispositive.” All the backing and filling that comes later, the improvisational half-answers point to the inescapable: Herman Cain is winging it and has been from the jump.

Commenting on the video at YouTube, aaaaflasd sums up the Cain campaign perfectly:

Image credits: Cain top: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Newt’s figment V: Newt reboots. Again

The Messiah Flava of the Moment Sweepstakes that has captivated the Republican Party for the last six months looks to be about to crown another winner of a million in prizes: Newton Leroy Gingrich, come on down!

The chaotic fluctuations of the 2012 GOP presidential field have  led to a rise in support for the ideological pit bull, former House Speaker and current Tiffany’s supershopper, who’s been languishing in fourth place or worse, but lately making a surge in opinion polls.

One reason: the long strange trip of Herman Cain is showing all the signs of coming to an end. The gospel-singing pizza king’s still-percolating problems concerning sexual harassment allegations, combined with debate outings that haven’t exactly wowed the faithful, are eroding his once double-digit lead over his challengers.

◊ ◊ ◊

Another reason for Newt’s rise in the polls originates with Newt himself. His recent debate performances — long on provocative soundbites, high-handed policy prescriptions and reflexive snarling at the media — have prompted Republicans to give Gingrich a second look, thinking that maybe, just maybe the party had found a red-meat hurler they can believe in.

In the CBS News poll released today, sampling Americans on who would best handle an international crisis, Gingrich led all comers with 31 percent, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (19 percent) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with yet another third place finish (9 percent).

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of Republicans’ choice of a nominee puts Gingrich (with 22 percent) in a close second place behind Romney (with 24 percent). Given the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error, that’s effectively a tie. But what’s striking (and what should be worrying to Team Mitt) is the rate of climb for Gingrich, whose favorables jumped from 8 percent the month before.

And in a McClatchy/Marist poll of candidate preference released Friday, Gingrich (at 19 percent) was in a strong second place behind Romney (23 percent) — a showing well within the 5.5-point margin of error.

Unlike most of the others in the GOP nomination hunt, Gingrich has the virtue of being a known historical and political commodity. The public generally knows what Gingrich is about, for better or worse.

Newt has had three marriages and two divorces, and engaged in a messy extramarital affair at about the same time he was excoriating President Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky debacle. As the owner of enough personal baggage to fill an Amtrak train, Gingrich has issues that may not be ignored by conservative values voters — the kind that happen to live in Iowa.

There could be other problems for those voters. Back in May, Erick Erickson of told CNN that Gingrich’s conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholicism could create problems for him in Iowa — and in North Carolina and other Southern states where evangelicals are not to be taken lightly.

◊ ◊ ◊

But as the tag-team coronation of frontrunners has run its course, exhausted Republicans still seeking the anti-Romney are coming to Gingrich almost by default.

Whether he's got the juice to win in Iowa and beyond remains to be seen, but the candidate’s apparently up to the challenge. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, Major Garrett of National Journal said that the Gingrich campaign had just opened five offices in Iowa, the better to position himself for the caucuses set to start about 50 days from now.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blowing the whistle on the Capitol Hill Stock Exchange

Public support for Congress has been at an all-time low for months now, and thanks to the revelations of a K Street insider whose past relationship with Congress was cozy in the extreme, that public reaction’s likely to get a lot worse.

Time to welcome back an old favorite: the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff (he of the mail fraud and conspiracy conviction in 2006 and a conviction for corruption in 2008, he of the Boris Badenov wardrobe) has been out of federal prison since June 2010.

In his spare time — presumably the hours after working his shift at a kosher pizzeria in Baltimore, part of his halfway-house plea deal — Abramoff wrote “Capitol Punishment,” a book that chronicles his time as a Washington lobbyist.

In a Friday CNBC interview about the book, published on Nov. 7, Abramoff said that at least a dozen members of Congress are actively engaged in what amounts to insider trading of securities — buying and selling of equities based on their knowledge about what companies Congress may be investigating or planning to make the subject of congressional hearings in the future.

Abramoff also said that members of Congress and their staffs were taking advantage of pending disclosures by whistleblowers within a given company about to report uncomplimentary information about a company’s performance.

“These people should not be using whatever information they gain as public servants to benefit themselves, any more than they should be taking bribes," he told CNBC’s Eamon Javers.

In a separate CNBC interview, Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, said some senators have achieved a rate of return “12 percent higher” than that of ordinary investors. “For House members, it’s been 6 percent higher than the rest of us,” he said. “Either these members of Congress are geniuses or they know something we don’t know and they’re trading on that.

“Jack Abramoff talked about a dozen examples; it’s far more than that,” Holman said. “A third of senators are actively trading in stocks, 50 percent of the House members are actively trading in stocks. The problem is far more serious than Jack Abramoff told us.”

Holman also said that 72 congressional staffers are actively trading in securities involved in legislation on Capitol Hill.

◊ ◊ ◊

Apparently we can thank New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking member of the House Rules Committee, for fighting the good fight on this inside Congress. With Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz and former Washington state Rep. Brian Baird, Slaughter has reintroduced the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, which would bar Members of Congress and their staffs “from buying or selling securities, swaps, security based swaps, or commodity futures based on nonpublic information they obtain because of their status;” and stop Executive Branch employees “from buying or selling securities, swaps, security based swaps, or commodity futures based on nonpublic information they obtain because of their status ...”

It would also stop people from outside Congress from buying or selling stocks or commodity futures based on nonpublic information or tips from their buddies who work on the Hill.

The bill has been proposed in the House since 2006 but it’s gone nowhere, Holman said. “Not only has that legislation failed, it’s never got more than 14 co-sponsors. It [now] only has nine co-sponsors in the House. No hearing is scheduled, and no similar legislation has been introduced on the Senate side.”

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s clear that these disclosures have a purpose for Abramoff, besides helping him move copies of his book; they’re part of an obvious bid by Abramoff to restore his good name and return to society’s good graces. And fair enough: every felon deserves a chance once he’s back on the outside.

Time will tell whether the reintroduction of the STOCK Act will go any further this time than before. With the current impact of the Occupy movement across the country, the climate for serious reform of congressional investment ethics may be more favorable than it’s ever been before. A bill introduced during the heyday of the Bush #43 administration may actually have a shot this time.

In the 1987 film “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko tells us “greed is good.” That may be true, but on Capitol Hill, it’s illegal. Among others, we can thank the man in the black fedora for bringing that fact back into the light.

Image credits: Abramoff: open Abramoff book cover: © 2011 WND Books. Slaughter: House photograph (public domain).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rick Perry’s Energy dependence

It’s one of the more brutal aspects of life and visibility in the Internet age: When your picture or words are Out There, in the vast informational nethermaw of the modern world, kiss it goodbye. Whether through a blunder or a blooper on YouTube that circles the globe twice in the time it takes to get coffee, or a congressman’s in flagrante delicto tweet that ruins a promising career, our 24/media age imposes its own harsh prime directive: Thou Shalt Have No Second Chances at First Impressions. The first-blush response to your image or narrative or vision is likely to be the one that sticks.

The rolling train wreck that is the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is confronting that harsh truth yet again, in the wake of Gov. Goodhair’s epic faux pas last night at the CNBC candidates debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., the latest episode in the ongoing campaign sitcom series brought to you by the Republican Party.

Perry was holding his own for much of the evening, not stinking up the joint any more than his partners in ambition Mitt Romney (Let Italy go under, Europe can fend for itself! Punish China for currency manipulation!), Newt Gingrich (Fire Ben Bernanke! Repeal Dodd-Frank and housing will recover! Audit the Federal Reserve!), Ron Paul (Repeal the government! Spend nothing! Let the free market determine interest rates!) and Herman Cain (9-9-9! 9-9-9! 9-9-9! I don’t know who that woman is).

Then Perry broke formation, committing a blunder that will forever be enshrined in the American Political Blooper Reel.

◊ ◊ ◊

From almost the start of his feckless campaign, Perry has doubled down on the need for American energy independence and the broad deregulation he says is necessary to make that possible, in part by shutting down those pesky unneeded federal agencies — part of his early campaign pledge to “work every day to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.”

And back in October, at the Bloomberg-Washington Post Republican debate at Dartmouth College, Perry said he intended “to open up this treasure trove that America’s sitting on and getting America independent on the domestic energy side.”

Other, similar statements preceded and followed that one, enough to constitute a campaign platform, something he believed in deeply enough to politically internalize. So it stood to reason that Perry — deregulation cheerleader, energy nationalist, champion of offshore drilling — would have something to say on Wednesday night:

◊ ◊ ◊

Speaking about the favorability of Texas’ business climate, Perry said “… Americans are looking for … a tax plan that basically says, you are going to be able to keep more of what you work for. They are looking for a regulatory climate that does not strangle the life out of their businesses when they want to put those dollars out there to create the wealth.

“That's what Americans are looking for. I think we are getting all tangled up around an issue here about, can you work with Democrats or can you work with Republicans? Yes, we can all do that.

"But the fact of the matter is we better have a plan in place that Americans can get their hands around. And that's a reason my flat tax is the only one of all of the folks -- these good folks on the stage, it balance the budget in 2020. It does the things to the regulatory climate that has to happen. And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.

Paul: You need five.

Perry: Oh, five, OK. So Commerce, Education, and the...

(Unknown): EPA?

Perry: EPA, there you go.

Then with two fairly simple questions, one of the debate moderators, CNBC’s John Harwood, set Rick Perry on fire.

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