Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Absentee Senator Pat Roberts Survives, But Bruised by Tea Party in Kansas Primary

The Huffington Post, 8-6-14

On Tuesday night, the Tea Party lost its last, best chance to knock off an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator this year. By a margin of 48-41 percent, three-term Kansas Senator Pat Roberts prevailed over Milton Wolf, a radiologist and first-time candidate who was mostly known for being Barack Obama's conservative second cousin.

Milton Wolf confronts Pat Roberts on July 30

Roberts appeared vulnerable earlier this year after questions were raised about his residency in Kansas, similar to what helped defeat veteran Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) two years ago. The New York Times reported in February that Roberts was renting space from a supporter in order to maintain his voter registration in Kansas, an address where neighbors hadn't seen him in years. He compounded his problems with a verbal slip last month, when he admitted in a radio interview that he returns to Kansas "every time I have an opponent."

Home of Pat Roberts' supporters in Kansas where he is registered to vote

And Wolf was extreme enough to be a credible Tea Party standard bearer. While parlaying his family ties and far right wing views into frequent guest spots on Fox News and a column for the Washington Times, over the past few years Wolf repeatedly compared Obama and liberal Democrats to Hitler and the Nazis. He insisted "(Sarah) Palin indeed was right...death panels are all too real," about supposed secret provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

According to Wolf, the Act's requirement that people who choose not to buy health insurance be modestly fined (since by doing so, they risk burdening society with future emergency health care costs) was reminiscent of "Stalin's iron-fisted gulags." And he pledged to replace the ACA with his own "PatientCare" initiative, which would effectively destroy Medicaid by block-granting it to the states and changing it to a "premium-support plan" that would generously "afford the needy the ability to purchase their own private insurance."

These nut-job ideas helped him attract the support of Tea Party groups including former S.C. Senator Jim DeMin's Senate Conservatives Fund (now led by defeated Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli), who spent $580,000 backing Wolf; Fight for Tomorrow; the Madison Action Fund; and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, who paid for a last-minute ad falsely accusing Roberts of improperly "taking a special exemption from ObamaCare."

But Roberts hit back hard and early, helped by his far superior campaign war chest. He refused to debate Wolf, which a week before the primary led to a memorable confrontation between the two when Wolf ambushed the Senator on the street prior to a campaign event.

Roberts' ads attacked Wolf over revelations that he had posted gunshot victims' X-rays to Facebook in 2010, accompanied by snarky, joking comments that Wolf was eventually forced to admit were "insensitive." And highlighted other missteps like Wolf's failure to vote regularly in local or state elections.

Except for an ad questioning Wolf's conservative credentials with an out-of-context clip of him saying he wanted to see Barack Obama succeed, Roberts refused to argue over policies, instead making the primary a referendum on Wolf's personal character. It was the same playbook that worked for other incumbent Senators who successfully fended off Tea Party challengers this cycle, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who beat back a well-funded campaign by businessman Matt Bevin. And Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), whose defeated opponent is still challenging Cochran's 7,667-vote runoff win on June 24 in their ugly primary fight.

Wolf was a flawed candidate, but he held Roberts to under 50% of the vote. His failed primary challenge effectively made the case to many Kansas voters that Roberts has been in Washington for too long. Roberts first went to D.C. in the 1960's as a congressional aide, was elected to the House in 1980, and moved up to the Senate in 1996.

Recent polls have shown a closer-than-expected race between Roberts and his Democratic opponent in the fall. Chad Taylor is the sitting District Attorney of Shawnee County, the county that includes Topeka, the capitol of Kansas. The telegenic, 40-year old Taylor was first elected in 2008, and re-elected in 2012 after facing no opposition. He won his own primary Tuesday night by a margin of 53-47%, beating a former U.S. Senate candidate with statewide name recognition. Taylor was endorsed by the Kansas City Star, who called his candidacy "impressive," listed his priorities as "growing jobs and the economy," and said he "promises pragmatic, bipartisan work."

Taylor has won accolades for eliminating his office's backlog of over 4,000 cases that he inherited from his predecessor. He made national headlines in 2011, when to draw attention to budget cuts, his office stopped prosecuting domestic violence cases, calling on the city of Topeka to provide funding. In a surprise response that was widely criticized, Topeka actually repealed its ordinance outlawing domestic abuse, which led Taylor to announce that his office would resume prosecuting such cases.

Last month, one SurveyUSA poll showed Taylor within five points of Roberts. This caused Steve Kraske, political correspondent for the Kansas City Star, to declare "something...dramatic is going on in Kansas politics," and said it "may be the closest a Democrat has been to a sitting Republican senator since Herbert Hoover bade farewell to the White House."

Roberts is also facing other headwinds. Kansas is experiencing a Brownback backlash, after current Republican Governor Sam Brownback swung the state hard to the right once being elected in 2010. Brownback, a staunch religious conservative and longtime Koch brothers ally, formerly served beside Roberts in the U.S. Senate, and ran for President in 2008, dropping out before the primaries began. While in the Senate, Brownback co-sponsored the Constitution Restoration Act of 2005, which would have forbidden courts from ruling on matters involving church/state issues, and stated that judges who did hear such cases would be subject to impeachment and prosecution.

As Governor, Brownback has pushed through drastic cuts to state education spending. He declared that life begins "at fertizilation," and signed five anti-abortion bills, including a May, 2011 law that forbids insurance companies to offer health care coverage for abortions except to save a woman's life, with no exceptions for rape or incest. He also blew a hole in the state's budget by slashing the top income tax rates in Kansas. In response, last April the state's debt rating was downgraded by Moody's Investor Service.

All year, polls have shown a tight race between Brownback and his current challenger, Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Unhappiness with Brownback's term has led nearly 100 Republican current and former officeholders from Kansas to endorse Davis.

In his classic 2004 book What's The Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank explored the rise of anti-elitist conservatism, and how the radical right had managed to hijack populism in our country's heartland. It detailed how long before the Tea Party came to national prominence, the state's far-right conservatives were waging war with moderates for control of the Republican Party. Ten years later, extreme right-wing craziness and heartless social policies may have finally gone too far even for a bastion of red state America like Kansas.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

War Weary Public Rejects Attacking Syria

The Huffington Post, OpEdNews, 9-12-13

Twelve years after 9/11, Americans are sick of war. In poll after poll, majorities say the war in Iraq was a mistake and our troops should come home as soon as possible from Afghanistan. According to a CNN poll released yesterday, seven out of 10 said "they didn't see how a strike on Syria would serve the national interest," and three-quarters said the U.S. shouldn't be the world's police force.

Gallup polling conducted Sept. 3-4 found only 36% of Americans supported U.S. military action against Syria, far lower than the 59% who favored war with Iraq in February, 2003, or the 82% who rallied behind invading Afghanistan in October, 2001. In Gallup pollster Andrew Dugan's words, "currently...much of the nation would rather sit this one out."

President Obama's ill-conceived push for an immediate military response to Syria's use of chemical weapons (in its brazen August 21 attack on opposition-controlled areas that the U.S. determined killed as many as 1,429 civilians) ran up against this buzzsaw of public opinion. And he found few allies abroad who were willing to go along with the plan. When the British Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron's proposal to join the United States in military action, Obama was forced to slow down.

Seeking political cover, but also recognizing the public's growing anti-war sentiment, the President announced he would ask for Congressional approval authorizing a "limited, proportional" use of force. He explicitly ruled out putting American "boots on the ground." The initial resolution that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved stated this "does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations." Even Sen. John McCain, a fervent supporter of bombing Syria, said Obama would be impeached if he deployed troops there.

And then, members of Congress got slammed with a tsunami of citizens saying "Hell, No" to any new war adventure in Syria. From red states to blue states, conservatives and liberals found common cause in opposition to a military strike. "Ninety-five percent of my constituents have indicated to me in emails and phone calls that they do not want to see the United States getting involved in a bloody and complicated civil war in Syria - and that certainly has some influence on me," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT). "My phone calls, emails, and faxes are running 96% no," said Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas). "I've never encountered an issue where you had 96% agreement...our phones are ringing off the wall." Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) claimed calls to his office opposing an attack on Syria outnumbered those supporting it by 753-10.

From the beginning, it was highly probable that the President would lose a vote on Syria in the Republican-controlled House. This week, it became clear he could also lose the Senate. So it was a lucky break for Obama, and all of us, that an off-the-cuff comment by Secretary of State Kerry was seized on by the Russians as a potential way to defuse the crisis. Is Russia acting in its own self-interest by trying to head off an attack on its ally, trading partner and weapons client? Without a doubt. Is Syria prepared to willingly hand over all its chemical weapons stocks to international inspectors? Probably not. But the Global War on Terror (brought to us by Bush & Co.) has consumed more than enough U.S. blood and treasure in the past twelve years for every American to welcome any delay in the march towards more war.

In recent days, some commentators like Washington Post syndicated columnist Robert J. Samuelson have pooh-poohed the concept of war weariness. He reminds us that according to the Congressional Budget Office, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost a combined $1.4 trillion from 2001-2012, but rationalizes that this sum "pales next to all federal spending," $33.3 trillion during the same period.

How many schools could we have built in the U.S. for $1.4 trillion? How many affordable housing developments? How many vacant factories could have been rehabbed and repurposed into start-up incubators for small businesses? What kinds of public transportation projects could we have invested those resources towards? Our nation's infrastructure has been crumbling for decades, and instead of fixing it we've been shoveling cash into the furnaces of the war machine.

To those who would slam Obama for bowing to public pressure on Syria, it's worth remembering that when George W. Bush was in the White House, public opinion didn't count for squat. Our entire nation was strapped into a car with a drunk driver at the wheel, convinced The Decider knew best. And if John McCain, Mitt Romney, or God forbid, President Palin were currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the chances of any of them slowing down a rush to war would be pretty slim.

America never saw the peace dividend that was supposed to come with the end of the Cold War. Instead, George H.W. Bush sent us back to war for oil, and we spent the next decade propping up desert dictatorships to keep the black gold flowing. These policies allowed the military-industrial complex to stay humming, stoked anti-American sentiments in the Middle East, and created fertile ground for extremists like Osama bin Laden to recruit a generation of jihadists to fight us. Which led to another decade of conflict. We can be thankful that twelve years after the horrific events of 9/11, the American public has grown tired of endless war, and is finally daring to imagine a different world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

GOP Relies on Shady Operative Nathan Sproul to Block The Vote

Last week, cross-posted a story by independent investigative journalist and blogger Brad Friedman detailing the arrest of a 23-year old Republican operative named Colin Small on charges of destroying voter registration forms in Virginia.

"He was first Strategic Allied Consulting, the firm owned by the disgraced GOP operative and paid Mitt Romney political consultant Nathan Sproul. Even before this year’s registration fraud scandal, which began with Strategic in Florida, Sproul’s companies have long been accused of, though never charged with, destroying Democratic voter registrations in election after election and state after state, going back to at least 2004. Despite that, Sproul was hired by the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004, by the McCain/Palin Campaign in 2008, and by Romney during the Republican Primary cycle. Strategic Allied Consulting...was hired by the RNC in August for more than $3 million, reportedly as its sole voter registration company this cycle. His company was said to have been fired by the RNC and five different battleground state Republican parties several weeks ago, after fraudulent voter registrations began to emerge across Florida."

Nathan Sproul's consulting firms have been paid $21.2 million by Republicans since 2003 to register voters and engage in GOTV work, turning out Republicans at the polls. Looks like the voter fraud GOP elected officials have been tripping over themselves trying to pass Voter ID laws to stop is real after's just being perpetrated by operatives on GOP payrolls, designed to block the Democratic vote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Most Sane Americans Wouldn't Buy a Used Car From Tea Party Crazies, Let Alone Trust Them To Run the Country

With a week to go before this year's midterms, sane Americans are shaking their heads at all the madness that's been brewing this election cycle. Sensing a banner year, the GOP has nominated a crop of Tea Party-flavored, far right-wing nuts, flakes, and crazies for House and Senate seats all over the country.

Where to start? The GOP'ers gunning for Senate seats are the ones who could do the most damage in six-year terms. Tea Party diva Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell in Delaware, who doesn't believe in evolution, condoms' ability to prevent AIDS, or the separation of church and state. Crazy Sharron Angle in Nevada, who thinks Social Security and Medicare are symptoms of America's "wicked ways."

Wealthy businessman John Raese, running for Sen. Robert Byrd's former seat in West Virginia on a platform of eliminating the minimum wage. Former Club for Growth head Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, whose views are so far-right he's like a real life version of Bob Roberts, minus the guitar and fascist folk songs.

But you've got to give folks like Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) credit for stepping up to the plate and helping some of these wingnuts win their primaries, because it's going to cost Republicans control of the Senate.

Those two meddling fools flushed a guaranteed pickup of Joe Biden's old seat in Delaware down the toilet by endorsing O'Donnell. They were undoubtedly impressed by her willingness to stoop as low as necessary to win by gay-baiting moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle out of the running. This Palin clone's rise to national ridicule may be helping save another seat for the Dems, because the Delaware media market overlaps with Philadelphia. Democratic nominee Joe Sestak has clawed his way back into the race, partly by reminding voters that his opponent Pat Toomey and O'Donnell share the same warped political beliefs.

Most of these extreme right-wing candidates normally wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of being elected to Congress. But all bets are off for 2010. In any low-turnout midterm election, it's the party out of power that has momentum on its side. And with a Democrat newly elected to the White House who just happens to be the first black President, the GOP has successfully scared up a tidal wave of right-wing rage with a decidedly racist tinge. Despite Democratic efforts to re-energize Obama's winning '08 coalition by boosting turnout levels among black, Latino, liberal, and young voters, this year's electorate is going to be older, whiter, and more conservative than America overall.

And to seal the deal, anonymous, filthy rich right-wingers are funding an avalanche of propaganda designed to sway the election for the Republicans. Shadowy GOP front groups have sprouted up like rotten mushrooms after the Supreme Court opened the shady money floodgates with its Citizen United decision.

Besides the big players, like Karl Rove's American Crossroads, and the American Action Network, headed by former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, there are lots of lesser known GOP gremlins doing the party's dirty work. Such as the patriotic-sounding, doublespeak-named Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Job Security, who are fighting to make the ultra-rich richer at everyone else's expense. And the 60 Plus Association, a particularly nasty front group that masquerades as an alternative to the AARP while agitating for privatization of Social Security. Then there's the Restore America's Voice PAC, based in Pittsburgh, which has set up dozens of fundraising websites to funnel cash from online donors to newly-minted right-wing celebrity candidates including Angle and O'Donnell.

We'll soon see what happens on Election Day, but the left has gotten caught napping this year, and things are not looking good for incumbent Democrats up and down the ballot. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile broke it down nicely when she recently said, "We should not have been in this position." The Tea Party crazies "crept in and took over the vacuum. Basically, we have danced to their negative drumbeat since. There's a lot of hands that need to be spanked when this is over with."


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