More Evidence That Appealing To “Center” Is A Losing Strategy

In a May, 2011 post, Appealing To The “Center” Drives Away Voters I wrote that the traditional Democratic campaign strategy of taking positions perceived to be “between” the left and the right not only doesn’t appear to work, it actually might be costing Democrats.

The traditional idea, driven by Democratic campaign consultants, is that “independent” voters “swing” between parties. SO you can get them to “swing” your way by taking positions that are not those of the base of your own party, but instead creep over towards those of the other party. I wrote in that May post,

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My Local Paper – A Typical Day

Reading my local morning paper, I see that it is a typical day…
Front page story about the exponential growth in the crow population since a 1981 measurement, Counting crows: Number of black birds on the rise in Bay Area (‘Eden For Crows’ in the print edition), can’t find an explanation, but doesn’t bring up that the climate here is changing. 

An article about the anniversary of the Gabby Giffords shooting, A year after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, doesn’t mention that conservatives put on a gun show to mark the anniversary, doesn’t even mention the word ‘gun.’


The anniversary was marked not only by the traditional rituals of speechmaking and prayers, but also by organized sessions and designated spots for yoga, meditation, hugging, dancing and steel drum playing. There were campaigns promoting civility and community — people gathered at a park Saturday to sign a “Tucsonans Commit to Kindness” contract — that were notable in how they avoided any explicit mention of the events of a year ago.

An editorial cartoon blasting “Government Motors” for having a “Fire Sale” of Chevy Volts, showing the entire dealership burnt out from a car fire, doesn’t mention that there has not been a single car fire in a Volt, except after a special-circumstances crash test, and the cars are being recalled to fix the potential problem. Compare this with the following numbers for cars that run on … gasoline:


In 2002-2005, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 306,800 vehicle fires per year. These fires caused an average of 520 civilian deaths, 1,640 civilian injuries, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage.

What’s not in the paper?
Anything that informs people of the benefits of belonging to a union. Anything that talks about how our government helps us. Anything that goes up against Big Oil and King Coal and informs the public of just how serious the problems of global warming are and the need for immediate solutions, or that informs the public of the need to move away from oil and coal as our energy source. 

To sum it up: anything that informs the public of the harm caused by plutocratic, corporatist-captured government and the benefits of democracy and good government. 
 In other words, you find very little in today’s corporate-owned media that runs up against the agenda of the 1% and helps the 99%. 
 This is a fully-captured newspaper.

Jerry Brown’s State of the State Speech

Today’s State of the State speech lasted about 15 minutes. This was actually a speech that regular people would enjoy listening to:

The interesting thing about this speech is that it was clearly not “crafted” by speechwriters. It was Jerry being Jerry, straightforward, open, and to the point.
Summary: he said we need to get the budget straightened out, that we have a great opportunity to really go places as a state if we do this, that he has presented a plan to do this and wants to take the plan to the voters, and if anyone has a better idea please tell us what it is.
One notable thing about the speech was it was entirely about trying to get the Republicans to cooperate with anything at all. Republicans are trying to prevent taking Brown’s plan to the voters, prevent passing anything with any taxes, prevent any budget that allows the government to operate as a government, and prevent … everything.
So Brown spent most of the speech outlining why it is wrong to prevent the public from being allowed to vote. Following are a few notes paraphrasing what he said:

Under our form of government it would be unconscionable to tell the voters they can’t decide.
The state’s Constitution says all political power is inherent in the people.
“When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can’t say now is the time to block a vote of the people,”
The only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance.
If you want to block the people’s right to vote, stand up to say block that vote. (No one stood up.)
My plan to rebuild California requires a vote of the people, and frankly, I believe it would be irresponsible to exclude the people from this process. They have a right to vote on this plan. This state belongs to all of us, not just those in this chamber. Given the unique nature of the crisis and the serious impact our decisions will have on millions of Californians, whether it’s more cuts, extend taxes, the voters deserve to be heard.
It’s the best budget I can devise, if any of you have any suggestions on how it can be better please share them with me. No one has offered even one alternative solution.
If we can get our budget in order we are in a good position to take advantage of our assets.

Arnold and the Tea-bagger Movement

I always enjoy observing and participating in discussions with my friend and former colleague, the wonderful Sheila Kuehl. She is brilliant, observant, funny, wise and has outstanding politics. She has written an excellent piece that appeared in Monday’s LA Times and points the finger of blame for the state’s current mess directly and unequivocally at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. While I don’t disagree with her analysis that he has been a disaster for the state, the key factor that distinguishes the current situation from those of chief executives in the past, aside from Schwarzenegger’s incompetence is the extreme partisanship and rancor that have taken hold in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C. We’re seeing the right-wing extremists emerging into the debate at all levels with all their absurdities, dishonesty and plain ignorance, starting with Sarah Palin’s entry into the national political arena with her inexplicable nomination as the Republican Party’s Vice-Presidential nominee.
While Sheila’s examples are accurate and legitimate, this is a starkly different Sacramento than that of the past. The level of acrimony, irrationality and intractability this bitter, fear-mongering anti-government movement has generated simply cannot be overstated. Sheila contends that other governors have been able to deal with the problems of governing in spite of the structural deficiencies in our system of governance— like the minority rule provisions of budget and taxation which require a 2/3 super-majority; the creation of artificial and truncated legislative terms; the initiative process that allows anyone from anywhere to put a measure on the California ballot as long as they have the money; the infusion of enormous amount of corporate money—. the combination of all these factors has created the toxic stew that has slammed the doors on governing. But the spirit of compromise is now virtually non-existent.
Sheila is right-on that this Governor thought he could use his movie-star persona and public-relations ploys to “reform” the state. What he didn’t understand, and still doesn’t, is that politics is a unique process which requires respect, give-and-take and understanding of the goals and purposes for which it was created. While reform is a good thing when done right, “blowing up the boxes” when you have no idea which ones to blow up and how to replace them with something that functions in the best interests of the people is another thing.
That being said, the “tea-bagger” mentality has overtaken the Republican Party, and it started when Senator Kuehl and I served together in the Legislature. A seminal moment occurred in 2002 when then Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte announced to the Republican Caucus that any member who voted for the budget would be challenged in his next primary and “taken out” in the next election. While this intimidated most of the Republican members, the fact is that the few, brave and reasonable legislators who understood the importance of passing the budget and acknowledged that many compromises had been made to their ideology were all defeated in their primaries or literally harassed not to run for re-election. In my opinion, this was the beginning of the end of constructive politics as we know it in California. The message to the Republicans was clear and simple: You compromise, you’re out.
As long as we require this ridiculous super-majority to pass a budget in the legislature, thus allowing the minority to overrule the majority will of the people, the tactics of the right-wing will prevail. For proof, just look at the havoc created in Washington by the Senate Republicans who are employing the 60- vote filibuster rules to destroy efforts made by the majority to implement change in our country that the overwhelming number of Americans supported in 2008.
Schwarzenegger has been a disaster, and a Governor Whitman will clearly be the same. She has got no experience with government, hasn’t even bothered to vote for over twenty years and thinks the world will capitulate to her because of her money and her bullying tactics. She’s wrong, but until we fix the mess in Sacramento, it won’t really matter much.

“But” Watch

“But” Watch is when you see Republican junior propagandists write letters to the editor, call radio stations, etc. and begin them with, “I’m a Democrat, but…”

Today we have this comment to the post: Senator Reid: Why Should We Help You Win Re-election? | California Progress Report,

I’m a Democrat, but I appreciate that we have an opponent party. It’s too bad that both parties cannot work more harmoniously together. Bi-partisan is a funny word the way it’s usually interpreted…when one party is in the majority, it says that bi-partisanship is for the other to roll over dead.   

If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are with “pork” gong hog wild.Of course, they did not to a very good job of balancing the budget when they were in power under Bush.

More and more “pork” comes to the surface everyday. E.g., BART wants billions to build a not-needed train to the Oakland airport. Or, Fremont wants $385,000 federal dollars to study how to use the about-to-be empty NUMMI plant. If the city fathers and city staff are not capable of doing that, then they should be voted out of office or fired.

It’s interesting the liberal media don’t use the word “pork” anymore; they use the cleaner word: “earmarks;” or , more recently “stimulus.” In any case, it’s all “pork.”

This is from a “Democrat”? Seriously, how many Democrats talk about “the liberal media?”  

And considering that Republican deregulation caused the financial crisis this line is astonishing: “If it were not for the Republicans, we would be in a worse financial mess than we are.”

Nice try.  Didn’t work.

The Town Hall Disruptions Were A Corporate Strategy

In April we posted A Warning About The Tea Parties here.  The post warned:

They are not what they claim to be.  They are not “spontaneous” or
“grassroots.”  They are another corporate-funded campaign to trick
people into supporting more cut taxes for the rich.

. . . The events have been widely promoted by corporate-funded conservative
PR professionals who specialize in “astroturf.”  This is a term for the
use of money to create an appearance of widespread “grassroots”
support.  Currently the corporate-funded conservative lobbying groups Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity, are organizing the events and conservative media including talk radio and FOX News are widely promoting them.  Support appears to be coming from Koch Industries, the largest privately-owned company in the country.

Many blogs and organizations have conducted research into these “tea party” groups, and warned that this corporate-built group was put together by lobbyists, for lobbyists, to further the goals of their corporate clients.  The names of the lobbyist groups organizing these events were posted along with their own documents proving they were behind the groups. Their strategies were exposed.  The entire operation was laid out in advance.

Then we watched the operation unfold.  Over the summer summer the groups were sent to Congressional town hall meetings that discussed health care reform.  They were given specific instructions to disrupt the meetings, while presenting an appearance of being ordinary citizens who are upset and against the health care reform.  Copies of these instructions were posted on the web.  The instructions include:

– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat
early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out
and challenge the Rep’s statements early

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

These are the actual instructions given to these groups. They were instructed to disrupt the town hall meetings, and not let others speak.  And this is what they did, across the country.  The entire time, blogs and organizations tracked this, showed how the lobbyist organizations were organizing it, showed where their online calendars were sending people to the different meetings, posted photographs of the signs they carried, that were printed by the lobbyist organizations, and showed newsletters printed by these lobbyist organizations taking credit for their work.

Now the summer is over, and we are witnessing phase two of the strategy.  The lobbyists and Republican members of Congress are going on news programs and claiming that “the public” opposes the health care reforms, because of the disruptions and occurred at town hall meetings!  This is utterly transparent to anyone who follows the news.  It was set in stone that they would say this now, even before the first town hall meetings began, because this was the strategy all along.  The script was written before the first town hall meeting:  make it look like people are upset at the health care reform, then try to kill health care reform based on these manufactured corporate astroturf performances.

Legislators: do not fall for it.

The oil and coal corporations have already started organizing these groups to show up and disrupt meetings on climate-change legislation, again creating a false appearance of public opposition to efforts to fight global warming.  Bloggers and organizations are writing about this now.

A leaked memo sent by an oil industry group reveals a plan to create
astroturf rallies at which industry employees posing as “citizens” will
urge Congress to oppose climate change legislation. 

Do not be fooled when it happens again.  And if you allow this lobbyist strategy to succeed this will become “the new normal” for politics in this country.  If the corporations get away with organizing people to disrupt meetings and intimidate legislators of course they will continue to 

Are the bullies winning?

In recent weeks, the public discourse in this country has
moved from simple dishonesty to mob rule, exemplified by the threatening and
hysterical frenzy created by the right-wing talk shows.  This extremely disturbing development has
been orchestrated by former Congressman and Republican leader Dick Armey and
other politicians who are making millions as hired guns paid to fan the flames
of hatred, bigotry and frustration in both enthusiastic and unsuspecting pawns
in these extremist games.


The fury is stoked and blessed by an ideology that cares
little for the country and seeks to realize the dreams of Rush Limbaugh and his
ilk, i.e., to cause our President to fail. 
Most of the anger, however, arises from the failure of uncontrolled
right-wing politics and so-called “free-marketeering” that has put the nation
on the brink, cost so many American jobs and created economic uncertainty.


When discourse moves from lively and colorful discussion to
shouting, threats and violence, those who seek logical and fact-based debate
and respectful dialogue intended to produce constructive and meaningful
solutions are pushed aside as decibels of disruption are raised beyond
control.  How can participants in “town
hall” discussions exchange ideas when no one listens because they are too busy
shouting and insulting the speakers.


It is almost impossible to know where all this is
leading.  It is important, though, to
acknowledge how the debate has moved away from what is acceptable and what
we’re accustomed to as Americans and into a world ripe with anger, fear
irrationality and violence.


There are parallels to the behavior of Bill O’Reilly
inciting violence against Dr. George Tiller. 
Encouraging lunatics to commit acts of violence is itself criminal for
which people like O’Reilly should be held accountable.  Without accountability, incitement simply
continues.  Our President and other
leaders are hung in effigy, with swastikas smeared on signs bearing their
names, and people tote guns to meetings about health care reform with suggestions
that it is time to purge our country through revolution and blood letting.  This is not democracy; this is mob rule, and
it should not be tolerated.


There is a significant distinction between healthy debate
and disruptive dissent.  The issues
facing our country are too important and complex to be subjected to the fury
unleashed upon those who do not share the opinions of extremists.  Many of those who are angry and frustrated
have been fed a pile of misinformation and outright lies to protect insurance
companies and anti-Obamaites who care little for developing a true and
effective fix for our state and a broken health care system.  Their only goal is to inflict  mortal injury on government and the Obama
administration.  We can’t let that
happen. How we tone down the rhetoric and correct the lies and distortions is
no easy task, but it is one we must pursue. 

Tea Party Contradictions

Let’s take a look at yesterday’s tea parties.   I am hearing from people who attended tea parties around the country that the people who showed up were by and large good, honest Americans who are upset about the bailouts, deficits and general direction that things have been going for some time.  I say good for them for getting involved, speaking up and showing up.  We need more of that in this country, after so many decades of apathy.

There is a problem with the tea party events as presented, however, in that the sentiments and concerns of these regular people were largely hijacked by professional manipulators, who wanted to make it appear that the the people at the rallies support an anti-democracy, anti-government, pro-corporate and right wing agenda.  These were the FOX News and Rush Limbaugh audience, and the people from militias with racist signs, and paranoid people convinced that President Obama is a “fascist,” etc. and who claim that the economic distress we are experiencing is somehow the fault of Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies even though he only took office less than three months ago

There are distressing photos of these event-hijackers, and there was troubling and violent rhetoric at many of the rallies. The Governor of Texas actually talked about his state seceding from the union — the very definition of hating America and the kind of talk once that led to a savage civil war. (FOX News called such talk “patriotic.” One has to ask, “patriotic to what country?”)

An obviously focus-group-tested phrase was repeated at the rallies: “Obama is going to raise taxes on our kids by borrowing for unnecessary government spending now.” But what did the people at these rallies think us “liberals”
have been saying all this time about the effect of all the Republican borrowing to pay for these huge tax cuts they gave to the rich and corporations, and to pay for the Iraq war and other military spending increases? This is the reason we have these huge deficits!

And, of course, no one ever says which spending is “unnecessary.”  Do they mean unemployment checks? Bush made those necessary.  How about money to rebuild roads and bridges and schools? Bush made that necessary.  How about money to reduce our oil use? Bush and Cheney, both former oil company executives, made that necessary. How about money to continue funding the Iraq war? Bush made that necessary. The bailout money? To the extent that it was necessary (I don’t agree that it was) it certainly was not Obama who wrecked the economy.

Which spending in the stimulus plan, specifically, is “unnecessary,” and which was made necessary by the Republicans who messed things up so badly?

Some contradictions from the rallies: 

  • The people at the rallies were presented as protesting tax increases, yet in the current Obama budget only tax cuts have been proposed. (There are hints that there will be a request for a small tax increase on the very wealthy after a few years.)
  • Many at the rallies were protesting against “government spending,” but did not seem to understand where the government actually spends a huge portion of our budget, such as on military and huge subsidies for big oil, agriculture and other corporations (like Wall Street bailouts) — but instead were protesting against imagined spending like “welfare” and foreign aid, which add up to only a tiny fraction of the budget. 
  • Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts for the rich have created so much debt that we
    currently pay out over $500 billion to interest each year — paid to people who can
    afford to loan us trillions.  Now that is some serious government spending. 
  • Many rallies were rebranded by their corporate-funded organizers as “Fair Tax” rallies. But the so-called “Fair Tax” is really about cutting taxes on the rich and making up for it by raising taxes on everyone else. This is an example of corporate astroturf convincing people to support raising their own taxes or cutting their own benefits so that taxes on the wealthy and big corporations can be further reduced.  (You can’t cut taxes for that group without making up for it somewhere.)

This all brings to mind something that I have said about marketing: with good enough marketing you can convince people to kill
themselves.  Think about cigarettes and the comet-suicide cult and you’ll understand what I mean.

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The Budget Agreement

California finally passed a budget.  It is a bad budget, cutting essential
services, borrowing a tremendous amount, selling our lottery revenues and giving
a huge tax break to big out-of-state companies. 
Each of these came from demands by the very, very few Republicans who agreed
to vote for the budget at all will, of course, just get us through another year
while making it ever more difficult to pass future

California’s 2/3 requirement means that a few
corporate-funded extremists can hold the rest of us hostage.  So they had to make a terrible deal to get the
three Republican votes required by the 2/3 rule, or else lay of tens of
thousands and stop paying California’s bills. 
We the People of California were all held hostage to that threat. 

The resulting deal was that if We, the People want schools,
police, firefighters, roads & bridges, courts, all the things our
government does for us, we had to agree
to tax breaks for the big multinational corporations that kick in so much money
to help elect the anti-government extremists
. So the big companies – the kind
that come in and crush local California businesses – get a big tax break while
the rest of us have our taxes raised. 
Oh, and the oil companies can continue to take our oil out of the ground
for free and then sell it back to us.

Here are some reactions around the California netroots:

Dayen at Calitics

 “The cuts are going to be really, really bad:
10% across the board for education, huge cuts for public transit operations,
health care, etc.  The new revenues basically fill in the loss of revenue
from massive unemployment.

[. . .] The “single sales
factor apportionment,” which is the massive business tax cut, doesn’t kick
in until FY2011, predictably and conveniently after Gov. Schwarzenegger is out
of office and it will be someone else’s problem to make up the revenue!
 It’s almost like somebody planned it that way!”

Holober at Consumer Federation of California

 “The deal reported today does not call on all
California taxpayers to share in the sacrifice. Working Californians will face
billions in higher sales tax and income tax rates. But businesses win about one
billion dollars in new tax breaks.  $700 million in corporate tax cuts
result from a recalculation of how California taxes the profits of big
multinational corporations.   According to the Senate Analysis, the
windfall to multinational corporations, and the revenue loss to California will
eventually grow to $1.5 billion.”

Cruickshank at the Courage Campaign blog

“The only way out, and the first
reform that we must undertake – the tree blocking the tracks, the door that
opens the path to all other reforms – is eliminating the 2/3 rule that
gives conservatives veto power over the state and turns the majority Democrats
into a minority party on fiscal matters. It’s been talked about frequently on
Calitics and in what remains of the media’s coverage of state politics. So it
seemed time for an in-depth discussion of the issue and the prospects for
restoring majority rule to California.

M. Greenwald at California Progress Report

“Many Democrats and political
observers fear that Maldonado strong-arming the legislature may set a bad
precedent for future attempts at getting a budget on time.”

So here we are.  Our
structural problems have enabled extremists to increase … our structural
problems.  We are one more step down the
road to intentional ungovernability.

Over the next several months, we who love this state must act to fix this.  We must get rid of this 2/3 budget-vote requirement that allows extremists to hold us hostage.  An initiative changing the 2/3 vote requirement is long-overdue but we’ll need the support of every forward-thinking voter to make it happen.  Let’s work together to ensure that it does.

CA’s Budget Problem Is Paragraph 10

Today’s San Jose Mercury News front page story is about California’s budget problem: that they are still one vote short.  But Californians reading the story are not told why one more vote is required, not are they told who it is required from — until the 10th paragraph.  The 10th paragraph reads,

The votes were there in the
Assembly. But in the Senate, only two Republican senators were prepared
to buck party orthodoxy and vote to raise taxes. Three were needed.

Even in this 10th paragraph readers are not informed that every Democrat is voting for the budget. 

Before this paragraph, readers are told that “lawmakers” cannot agree and that “the deal still was held hostage by the thinnest of margins.” But there is nothing telling them who or why

The reason this is such a problem is that the people of California need this information, to help them play their part in the functioning of our state government.  The voters need to know who to hold accountable or they will not make their wishes known through calls to their Assemblymember’s or Senator’s office.  And they can’t make informed decisions at election time. 

This is typical of stories about the budget impasse — across the state the major newspapers, radio and TV stations are not giving the voters the information they need in order to participate in their government.  The result is that the state is becoming ungovernable — and going broke.

So let’s be clear about what is happening here.  California’s elected Republicans have all signed a “no-new-taxes” pledge with Grover Norquist’s organization.  (He’s the guy who says the plan is to make government small enough to “drown in a bathtub.”)  So now they see the budget crisis as an opportunity to force mass layoffs of state employees and reductions in support for people who need things like state-supplied oxygen tanks.  They call that “reducing government.”  And even with all the budget cuts that the Democrats have all voted for, they still will not vote to pass a budget.  They want more, and then more, and then they want the state government to go away.

This is ideology. They repeat an ideological mantra that will ruin the state.  And they say this is their goal — to get rid of government.  They say government is bad.  They say government spending is bad.  They say taxes are bad.  They say corporations are good.  Ideology.

California can not continue to fund our schools, universities, roads, public safety, firefighters, health services, services to
the poor, blind and elderly, provide funding for local government, etc.
without additional revenues.  Do the Math (George Skelton, LA Times):

It’s Republican dogma in the Capitol that to vote for a tax increase is
“career-ending.” Even if true — and there’s evidence both ways — so

These are folks, after all, who sermonize against making politics
a career, publicly pretend to worship term limits and preach the
virtues of private enterprise. You’d think they’d be eager to return to
the private sector. Yet, they’re afraid to risk losing out on their
next political job.

Another item not reported is that the Republicans demanded a huge tax cut for large corporations — the very kind that are killing off California’s smaller independent, job-creating businesses.
And they still won’t vote for the budget.  And the public still doesn’t have a chance to learn what is going on here.