Friday, February 26, 2010

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death -- as long as I can find my mittens

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Earlier this week, I posted the full text of the Tea Party Movement's Declaration of Independence. And there's no question the Tea Partiers take themselves seriously -- at 1,900 words, the Tea Party Decleration is nearly 50 percent longer than the original signed by our founding fathers

And both documents end the same way -- with a stirring promise to pledge "our Lives our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor" in the cause of liberty.

Well, guess what? It seems that sacred Honor doesn't get the roads salted. 

Yes, it's sad to say, but apparently, a Birthday Party for the Tea Party -- slated to be held in the North Hills tomorrow -- has been called off due to weather. I just got the following message from the Tea Party folks: 

The Anniversary Party of the First Pittsburgh Tea Party and Birthday Party of the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement has been cancelled due to the snowstorm. The event will be rescheduled at a different venue and details will follow ...

If you have already purchased food for the event, please invite your friends or neighbors over to your house for your own personal tea party.

Hold on a minute. I mean, I know it's slippy out. But you just issued a statement pledging to oppose those who wish "to impose a Socialist agenda on our Republic." According to your Declaration, there is nothing less at stake here than "socialist schemes designed to bankrupt us and put the American people in a position of dependence on the State, as peasants begging for their very sustenance." You have declared a willingness to put your lives on the line in order to keep us free of the yoke of oppression ... 

But you're gonna let a weather forecast turn you aside? 

Hey, Tea Partiers: You think George Washington gave up on Valley Forge because there might be a little snow? The guy crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve -- and you can't make it up McKnight Road on a Saturday? If you can't even defy Julie Bologna, how are you going to stand up to the tyrants and oppressors?

And remember: A lot of these winter-weather advisories come from the government, in the form of the National Weather Service. Since when are you gonna let some government bureaucrat tell you where to go? These are the same people who believe in global climate change, for God's sake. 

So get out there and celebrate your commitment to God-given freedom.  And if your Hummer ends up in a ditch, don't worry: The invisible hand of the free-market -- in the form of a towing service -- will be there to pull you out.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Students try to pressure Casey on college-loan debt

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 2:49 PM

When four University of Pittsburgh seniors traveled to Senator Bob Casey's office Downtown today, they weren't looking for extra credit. They were hoping, instead, for a bit less debt.

OK, I promise to swear off cheesy education-related metaphors for the rest of this blog post. Which is an object lesson -- sorry! -- in how tough it is to take on one of the nation's most powerful industries. 

The average college student graduates with debt of more than $20,000. In fact Krystal Mitchell, one of the students who came Downtown, racked up that much debt in her senior year alone. Paying for her final year of school compelled her to borrow $20,000 from PNC, doubling her debt load. "And I come from a two-parent, two-income household," said Mitchell, who as a Washington D.C. native pays Pitt's out-of-state tution.   

Mitchell and the other students were pressing Casey to suport House Resolution 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. That bill would make college more affordable by increasing the funding for financial aid programs like Pell Grants. It would also overhaul the current federally-funded student loan system.

Under the current set-up, banks issue loans to students, collecting fees and interest -- but if students default, the government guarantees to pay the banks off instead. HR 3221 would cut the banks out of the action: Since the government guarantees loans anyway, it would loan the money directly. That would save an estimated $8 billion a year currently being spent on private-sector administrative costs and stock dividends -- savings that would be plowed back into student aid. 

But while the bill is part of Barack Obama's ambitious legislative agenda, it's been languishing since last summer. After being approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, it ended up in the Senate's committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Casey sits on the committee, which has been no HELP at all.

Students said that while Casey's staff was sympathetic, they heard little in the way of promises. "Casey is in support of increasing Pell Grants, but he was still iffy on the direct loans -- which is the main thing," Nila Devanath says she was told. Among Casey's main concerns, students said, was the financial-sector job losses that would result if government took over lending. (After all, how are those folks going to pay back their student loans?) 

I've got a call in to verify the students' account of Casey's position. (UPDATE: Casey's office furnished me with a statement, sort of; it's in the comments below.) But it's consistent with Casey's previous actions. Last year, Casey proposed a variant of the Obama legislation: In his version, the banks wouldn't be cut out entirely. They'd originate the loan and then sell it to the government soon after -- with a handling charge tacked on.

That handling charge would cost an estimated $420 million a year, money that might otherwise be spent on educating students. But "We have an eye on the jobs" Casey spokesperson Larry Smar has explained.

Backers of the plan say it still gets Obama about 95 percent of the savings he hoped to realize, and it helps offset fears of a "government takeover." It also can't  hurt that student-lending behemoth Sallie Mae has a loan-servicing facility in Wilkes-Barre. That's just next door to Scranton, which is Bob Casey's hometown. It's also in the district of US Rep. Paul Kanjorski -- who just happens to sit on the House Financial Services Committee

I'm guessing there's at least one poli sci grad over at Sallie Mae. (ADDED: I guess I should mention -- in case you were wondering -- that Kanjorski was one of the very few Dems to vote against this bill in the house.) 

Still, the Pitt students held out some hope that Obama's bill could pass in the weeks ahead -- perhaps as part of the same reconciliation process that Democrats may use to pass health care.  

I wouldn't hold my breath. From what I can tell, the Senate won't even start talking about the bill until mid-March. And the ranking Republican on Casey's committee, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, has already warned that savings from HR 3221 have been overstated. "The more we learn about the fiscal implications of a government student loan monopoly, the more reason there is to be concerned," Enzi said last year. "Competition and free market solutions increase access to lending options."

So do pawn shops, of course. And the United States Student Association, which organized today's event, is planning future events to keep the issue in the public eye. But organizing students ain't easy. The Association's press relase promised "20-30 students" from area colleges. Yet other than a USSA representative, the only attendees were myself, the four Pitt students, and a guy who walked up and began asking us what was going on, explaining that he "just wanted to trash Ed Rendell." (Devanath explained that Thursdays are a heavy class day. As for the Rendell-bashing dude, I'm currently thinking about offering him a blog on our site.) 

And in some ways, the students in college were the lucky ones: At least they could find the money, even if they had to borrow it.

Marcus Simpson, of Pittsburgh's North Side, graduates this spring with $20,000 in debt. "It's not an excessive amount," he said. Especially when you consider "There are a lot of people in my neighborhood who can't afford the opportunity at all."

Poll Positions

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 1:56 PM

There's been some new polling on statewide races from Franklin & Marshall College. As the P-G has already noted, overall the results suggest that not much has changed: For one thing, massive numbers of people haven't picked a candidate for governor yet. 

But I'd like to hone in on one weird little finding in the race for U.S. Senate.  

That race will almost certainly feature Republican Pat Toomey facing the winner of this May's Democratic primary -- either incumbent Arlen Specter or challenger Joe Sestak. If you look at results among registered voters, things don't look so bad for the Dems. Here's how Franklin & Marshall breaks down the possible November match-ups: 

33% Specter, 29% Toomey
25% Toomey, 22% Sestak

But when F&M considers "likely voters," the result is much different

44% Toomey, 34% Specter
38% Toomey, 20% Sestak

See what happened there? The Dems did about the same among both groups of voters ... but when you focus on likely voters, Toomey got a double-digit percentage point increase. 

Others noticed the disparity as well. The DailyKos observed that "there is usually some gap between registered voters and likely voters, but this strikes me as more than a little absurd."

What's going on here? I put a call into Terry Madonna, F&M's polling guru. Madonna acknowledges there's "a big swing in those numbers," but that they reflect a race where a lot is in flux. "Polls are all over the place now," he says. But he adds that in any case, the numbers show an uphill climb for Dems. 

As noted here previously, there's no fixed definition of a "likely" voter -- different pollsters determine who is likely based on a variety of different questions and procedures. In this case, Madonna says he determined a voter was "likely" to vote based on previous voting history and how closely the voter claimed to be watching the campaign. 

Madonna then used a very narrow cohort of voters: The ones whose answers suggested they would vote in an election where turnout was only in the mid-30-percent range. That's "probably on the low end" of what turnout has been in similar contests, he says -- a somewhat less pessimistic forecast on turnout would have improved numbers for the Dems. But "To be candid, I don't have a clue about what turnout will be in November. So many things can happen between now and then." 

What the numbers reflect now, he says, is a serious "enthusiasm deficit" among Democratic voters. The voters signalling a strong interest in this race now are disproportionately Republican, which explains why Toomey does so much better among "likely" voters. 

"I think Democrats will lose lots of seats this year," Madonna predicts. "There are cycles in politics, and you can't usually reverse these trends completely. But if Democrats can increase their turnout, they can maybe mitigate some of the damage." 

I've raised the enthusiasm gap before. But I've cited it as a reason for why Sestak could be a larger threat to Toomey than Specter. Clearly, this poll only supports the first part of my argument. I mean, if Sestak were lighting people up, you'd think that he would fare better in a poll of likely voters as well.

There's no question the guy is trying -- he's been out here in western PA a lot more than Specter has, and his campaign staff is, well, highly dedicated. But I just don't see sign that he's getting much traction. 

If he's lucky, that's just because of the icy road conditions of recent weeks -- people might be too busy digging out their cars to dig into the issues. But the way these numbers are shaping up, there may be a bigger storm in the offing. 

Trib Total Media: Prepare to be assimilated

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 11:13 AM

It's hard not to notice that the Tribune-Review has undertaken a fairly pugnacious advertising campaign lately.

"Trib Total Media dominates the Pittsburgh market," blare advertisements slapped on billboards and buses."See what's next."

The first time I saw these ads, they were accompanied by the somewhat incongruous image of an ocean-going cargo vessel in the foreground, with the city skyline in the background. So what's next, I guess, is that Trib Total Media will be opening a seaport, perhaps near the Mon Wharf parking lot.  

In any case, the ad campaign is long on swagger. Another ad asserts that "Our circulation is growing -- the PG's is shrinking." And one of those billboards is posted along the Boulevard of the Allies Downtown -- just a stone's throw from the offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Oooh, snap.

Then there's the e-mail that Ralph Martin, the Trib's president, sent out to staffers. The e-mail asserts that 2010 "is going to be our year; the year of Trib Total Media. We have planned a series of what we consider monumental events, that will occur and that we will promote over the remainder of this year." Those events will concern "new marketing initiatives, new long-term relationships with other leading community businesses and organizations, new philanthropic endeavors and more."

Martin promises that these events will take place every 4 to 6 weeks throughout the summer. You might want to plan your vacation accordingly.

Then again, I can't help but wonder if Martin wanted his staff to leak this thing, so that other journos would look upon his e-mail and despair. His message begins, after all, by asserting that "We've been hearing from many of you that your friends and acquaintances that work for other media in town have been asking about our latest marketing campaign."

So perhaps just by talking about this, I've become a part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Which would mean that Trib Total Media really DOES dominate the Pittsburgh market! Repent! Repent!!!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tea Partiers declare their independence -- again

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Earlier today, I raised the possibility that conservative tea-baggers were setting themselves up for disappointment by entering the political arena. Serendipitously enough, the Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement -- a local affiliate of the national "Tea Party Patriots" organization -- sent out a blast e-mail "Declaration of Indendence" around lunchtime today.

[UPDATE:   Based on some e-mail complaints, I apologize for pasting the entire Declaration at the bottom of this post. I just did a word count, and the Tea Party Declaration of Independence was 1,913 words long.  The ORIGINAL Declaration of Independence was only 1,338 words long. Apparently, the Tea Party has nearly 50 percent more grievances with their government than the Founding Fathers had with King George III. I knew people were unhappy, but geez.]

The declaration reasserts the Tea Party's claim to transcend partisan politics in pursuit of its philosophical goals. Naturally, though, it dishes most of its vitriol onto Democrats. Dems are faulted for "seeking to impose a Socialist agenda on our Republic," while the GOP stands accused merely of trying to co-opt conservative principles.

I'll reprint the manifesto below, complete with ALL ITS CAPITAL LETTERS and its sneering disdain for the "educated classes." For now, I'll just point out an amusing idiosyncrasy. Towards the end, the manifesto suggests that embracing tea-party goals isn't just the right thing to do: It's good politics. The statement asserts:

Republican Party attempts to ignore the will of the Base, as it did in 1976, 1992, 1996, 2006 and 2008, resulted in disaster; when it embraces the will of the Base, as it did in 1980, 1984 and 1994, it wins historic victories.

Notice anything funny in this timeline? It omits all the Bush Presidencies. Maybe even the tea-partiers would like to forget that family's contribution to politics. You know it's bad when a movement will boast about putting Newt Gingrich in charge of Congress, but is too embarrassed to admit to electing you. 

In fairness, two of those Bush-family races were mixed bags. 1988 gave us moderate George H.W. Bush running as a hardliner. (Remember Willie Horton? "Read my lips: No new taxes"? "Card-carrying member of the ACLU"? ) 2000 was a muddle too: the outcome was razor-close, and Bush II was running as a "compassionate conservative." But 2004? Base strategy all the way. Which, given the results, is presumably what makes it too painful to talk about. 

As the manifesto acknowledges, the GOP has "manipulated its Conservative Base to win election after election and then betrayed everything that Base fought for and believed." That's why the declaration "insist[s] that the Tea Party Movement does NOT consider the election of Republicans in and of itself to be necessarily beneficial to our goals."

Well, we'll see.

When the tea party movement first kicked off, I was deeply suspicious of its origins. Too many of the usual suspects -- including longtime GOP standard-bearers like Dick Armey -- had their fingerprints all over the thing. Even now, I don't see how tea-partiers can be surprised by Scott Brown's decision to vote with Democrats on a jobs bill. As a Massachusetts state senator, Brown supported "socialized medicine." How could such a candidate pass a tea-party purity testl? Are we supposed to believe that, after being fooled in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 -- and just the other week -- this time they've really wised up?

In any case, here is their Declaration of Independence:

 

I. As the course of human events winds its way through History, it has found that some paths lead to Tyranny and some to Liberty. In seeking a path to Liberty, a great and powerful movement is now rising from every corner of our land. Created by the Will of the American People, it rejects unconstitutional domination by the Government that is supposed to be its servant. This movement has arisen, in large part, because our elected officials have failed us.

For much of its history the United States has been a land of prosperity and liberty. Sound policies such as fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and a belief in the free market have safeguarded this condition. In recent years, however, Congress, the President, the Federal Reserve Board and the Courts have replaced those practices with profligate government spending and expansion of the government power beyond what is constitutionally permissible. This course, if not reversed, can only lead to economic collapse and tyranny. Therefore, Individuals acting through the Tea Party Movement seek to restore the policies which are proven to safeguard liberty and prosperity for all. We will organize, demonstrate and vote until this restoration has been achieved. We will stay focused on this goal and remain INDEPENDENT from any persons or political parties who seek to distract us from this end. Many seek to define this Movement, to use it, to lead it, to co-opt it, to channel it, to control it, to defeat it.

WE WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.

The Tea Party Movement is in agreement with our Founders that the government that governs least governs best. We believe that Capitalism - NOT GOVERNMENT - is essential to the creation of wealth, and that a vastly reduced government provides the foundation for a thriving Capitalist system.

The Tea Party Movement of America embraces and serves people of all races, creeds, religions, and political affiliations, and we declare ourselves to be independent of all those forces that seek to manipulate our actions or control our destiny.

II.We Declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of the Democratic Party and its power-drunk junta in Washington DC, which is currently seeking to impose a Socialist agenda on our Republic.

We reject arrogant Left-wing politicians who furtively hide from public scrutiny, as they cut corrupt deals loaded with earmarks and pork in order to produce 2000-page pieces of legislation so purposely incomprehensible that they do not even bother to read them before foisting them upon us.

We reject the endless creation of myriad federal government agencies that drown free enterprise and local control in the swarms of education, energy, ecology, and commerce bureaucrats who style themselves "czars" sent to harass us. We reject the creation of federal government regulations and agencies which demand the States pay for unfunded Federal mandates.

We reject a Democratic Party which refuses to give credence to our demands for just redress of grievances, and which insults and seeks to demonize our legal right to peacefully protest the unjust laws it inflicts upon us.

We reject a profligate Government that is spending TRILLIONS of dollars on worthless socialist schemes designed to bankrupt us and put the American people in a position of dependence on the State, as peasants begging for their very sustenance from self-styled "educated classes" and so-called "experts".

We reject a foreign policy which bows and scrapes and apologizes before the world for America.

We reject an Attorney General of the United States who offers succor and rights to vicious terrorist murderers and seeks to protect them with a mock civilian trial when such enemy combatants, captured on the field of battle, should be tried in secure military courts.

We reject the claims of an un-elected Federal Judiciary to violate the separation of powers by demanding its decisions be enforced by the other coequal branches of government, regardless of how unconstitutional the other branches of government may think those decisions are.

We reject all acts that ignore or diminish the Second and Tenth Amendments to the US Constitution, and we seek to have all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution to be reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

III. We Declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of the Republican Party, which has in the past manipulated its Conservative Base to win election after election and then betrayed everything that Base fought for and believed.

We reject the idea that the electoral goals of the Republican Party are identical to the goals of the Tea Party Movement, or that this Movement is an adjunct to the Republican Party.

We reject the Republican Party professionals who now seek to use the Tea Party Movement for their corrupt and narrow political purposes.

We acknowledge that standing on our principles does not mean throwing out our common sense; we will NOT abandon our principles in the name of a nonexistent bipartisanship or a misguided devotion to an illusion of "pragmatism", which disguises a desire to betray us in its name.

We reject the scare tactics of the Republican Party, which seeks to herd us into voting for candidates who supposedly represent the "lesser of two evils" in the name of fealty to the principle of small government, and then having to suffer such candidates as they betray that principle. We are not well served by parasites whose livelihoods depend on the very State whose power to reward or sanction we elected them to limit and proscribe.

We insist that the Tea Party Movement does NOT consider the election of Republicans in and of itself to be necessarily beneficial to our goals.

We demand that the Republican Party understand our rejection of its attempts to co-opt us.

WE WILL WORK AGAINST THEM when they oppose our views by trying to force Republicans In Name Only (RINO) on us. When Republicans are in accord with their Conservative Base, as well as the Independent voters who align with it, IT WINS; when they are NOT in accord with the Conservative Base and the Independent voters who align with it, IT LOSES.

We reject RINO money; we reject RINO "advice"; we reject RINO "professional experience"; we reject RINO "progressivism"; we reject RINO support of Big Government; we reject RINO back room deal-making; we reject RINO pork spending; we reject false RINO professions of Conservative views; and we reject the RINO's statist subversion of the principles of small government for which the Republican Party is supposed to stand.

Republican Party attempts to ignore the will of the Base, as it did in 1976, 1992, 1996, 2006 and 2008, resulted in disaster; when it embraces the will of the Base, as it did in 1980, 1984 and 1994, it wins historic victories.

We demand the Republican Party recognize that while the Tea Party Movement cannot guarantee their aid will help them win elections, it is very likely WE CAN MAKE THEM LOSE if they are disdainful of our goals.

IV.We Declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of the Media, which has proved itself to be anything BUT a fair and balanced enterprise, and which focuses more on entertainment, fear mongering and shock value than investigation and unbiased fact.

We reject the fiction that an unbiased media still exists; there is friendly media, and there is unfriendly ENE-media. The Tea Party Movement refuses to give false credence to the self-aggrandizing, self-deluding lie that ANY PART of the Fourth Estate is free of the self-serving agendas of those who own them.

V.We Declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of self-styled "leaders" who claim to speak for the Tea Party Movement. This movement is not a brand name to be used to sell product, nor is it a logo to be used to justify profiting from its name.

We reject those who seek to capitalize personally on our popularity and momentum by trying to associate with our cause.

We reject the idea that the Tea Party Movement is "led" by anyone other than the millions of average citizens who make it up. The Tea Party Movement understands that as a Free People, we need to SAVE OURSELVES, BY OURSELVES, FOR OURSELVES.

The Tea Party Movement is not "led." The Tea Party Movement LEADS.

VI.We are united in our common belief in Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets. This threefold purpose is the source of our unity in the Tea Party Movement.

We reject the idea that the Individuals in the Tea Party Movement must be unanimous in our specific policy views in order to win. We recognize that the current situation requires us to come together in confederation to achieve the MANY MUTUAL GOALS we all seek to accomplish.

We recognize that the current situation requires that we concentrate on the many things we have in common, rather than those few things about which we may disagree. We are the Tea Party Movement of America and we believe in American Exceptionalism. We believe that American Exceptionalism is found in its devotion to the cause of Liberty.

We believe that Liberty is based in rational self-interest, in freedom of thought, in free markets, free association, free speech, a free press and the ability granted us under the Constitution TO DIRECT OUR OWN AFFAIRS FREE OF THE DICTATES OF AN EVER-EXPANDING FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, WHICH IS AS VORACIOUS IN ITS DESIRE FOR POWER AS IT IS INCOMPETENT AND DANGEROUS IN ITS EXERCISE.

We believe that either fate or history has chosen this Country to be a beacon of freedom and prosperity to the world because of America's belief in, and vigorous defense of, political and economic Liberty. The United States has been the instrument of Liberty against the many tyrannies that have threatened the people of this world.

The Tea Party Movement rejects the idea that America has to apologize to a far guiltier world that has been largely unappreciative of the sacrifices made on their behalf by the brave and noble members of our Armed Forces, whose sacrifice and patriotic service in our defense makes all else possible.

The Tea Party Movement rejects the imposition of "transformational change" performed on our Nation by smug elites who call themselves the "educated class."

The Tea Party Movement understands that our Nation is NOT the same thing as our government, and that America is much more than simply a militarily and economically-powerful State.

The Tea Party Movement sees America as something exceptional, as something unique, as something that came into existence to fulfill the hope of all previous generations that longed for freedom.

It came into existence because it is more than simply a country with land and population and riches and armaments. America came into existence because LIBERTY is an eternal con¬cept in the mind of both God AND Man.

The United States of America came into existence because Mankind needs freedom the same way it needs food, and air, and property, and security, and love.

And what is freedom other than the RIGHT to be free of the tyranny of Government and the elitist, self-styled aristocrats who seek to run it at our expense and to our detriment?

The Tea Party Movement will fight this danger to our Liberty as long as its members have breath in their bodies.

When America didn't exist, men and women were compelled to invent it BECAUSE MANKIND CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT FREEDOM AND STILL BE FULLY HUMAN.

To this goal we mutually pledge to each other, as our Founding Fathers did over two centuries ago, our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Pat Toomey: maybe those Wall Street bankers aren't so awful after all

Posted By on Wed, Feb 24, 2010 at 8:54 AM

Courtesy of Daily Kos, we've got this amusing e-mail invitation to a fundraiser for Republican Senatorial candidate Pat Toomey. The e-mail touts Toomey as being potentially "one of the most pro-business, pro-growth members of the Senate," while decrying his Democratic opponents for pursuing "a populist, anti-business agenda."

Got that, teabaggers? Pat Toomey doesn't want any populism in this campaign. One reason for that will become apparent in just a second.

It's no surprise to see Toomey's campaign coddling corporate America. That's where the money is and, among other things, Toomey formerly presided over the rampantly conservative Club for Growth. But the list of e-mail recipients deserves a closer look. 

toomeyinvite.jpg

OK, you've got your oil companies like Chevron and Marathon Oil. You've got Wal-Mart and Microsoft, and Coors (of course). There are a couple firms with Pittsburgh ties too: Westinghouse and Alcoa. I was interested to note a trade association for the gambling industry -- the American Gaming Association. Nothing but family values for Pat Toomey!

But here's the kicker for me. Included in the invitees are entities like Citigroup and the Financial Services Forum. Who is the FSF? It's "a non-partisan financial and economic policy organization comprising the CEOs of 18 of the largest and most diversified financial services institutions doing business in the United States."

Among its members are executives with Bank of America, AIG, and Goldman Sachs. 

Well, well, well. Toomey, of course, touts his opposition to bailing out financial institutions: "Bailouts reward companies that took too many risks and acted irresponsibly simply because they are large and hold sway in Washington." But Citigroup, Bank of America and AIG were all among the recipients of bailout money. Goldman Sachs benefited mightily as well, as did FSF members like Bank of New York Mellon and State Street Corp.

But don't worry, teabaggers: Surely this crop of conservatives will never renounce their principles like the last bunch did!

Oh, wait a minute ... 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dog-on-dog action alert: Where is Rick Santorum when you need him?

Posted By on Mon, Feb 22, 2010 at 2:55 PM

We'll have some Rick Santorum-related news later today,  based on his less-than-stellar performance before the conservative faithful this weekend. 

But for now, though, I want to alert him to a disturbing online feature hosted over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This story has bestiality, online pornography, the liberal media mocking Christian values ... everything you need to launch a right-wing campaign for President. 

The feature is "Puppy Cam," which was recently added to the P-G site. It features Xante, a golden retriever who apparently is in seeing-eye dog school. I stumbled across the feature earlier today, and in hopes that it would be as edifying as the Clementine exercise video, watched its live mid-day broadcast.

The camera is set up to show Xante's personal living space. And during much of the broadcast that I watched, Xante was asleep. (That's right: the Post-Gazette is one newspaper that lets sleeping dogs lie.) And the saddest part is that judging by the video counter, I was one of nearly four dozen people watching this.

Xante did wake up, eventually. I watched him drink from a bowl. There followed a brief hiatus, where a caretaker put up a sign that read, "Potty time -- back in 10." (I'm guessing they borrowed the sign from P-G columnist Jack Kelly's desk.)

But things got interesting in the last quarter-hour of today's 11 a.m.-to-1 p.m. broadcast. As news editor Charlie Deitch and I watched in horror, Xante literally began humping a stuffed animal in his living quarters. Sen. Santorum take note: This was your basic dog-on-dog action, only with an inanimate object. And it just got worse: Xante then grabbed the stuffed animal in his jaws, and began thrashing it from side to side.

And young children could see this! You didn't even have to click on an "Yes, I'm 18 years old" button to log in! Won't somebody think of the children?!? 

As a public service -- and in an effort to call attention to the P-G's shameless disregard for our values -- I am going to post a live blog of Xante's performance tomorrow from noon to 1 p.m. As a brave Senator once said, "When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Union demonstration marred by lack of unity

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 6:32 PM

When labor activists called a Feb. 18 press conference outside the Mellon Arena, they intended to complain about the treatment of arena employees. Instead, though, representatives of two rival unions ended up denouncing each other.

As City Paper first reported this week, 400 arena workers — representing concession stand and other employees — are being told they have to reapply for their jobs later this year, when the Pittsburgh Penguins leave the building and move across the street to the new Consol Energy Center.

That decision worried employees, and a press conference was organized by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. But as reporters looked on, it quickly became apparent the workers had other problems as well.

Since last year, Workers United has been in a pitched battle with UNITE HERE, which has traditionally represented the arena workers. Last March, workers voted on whether to leave UNITE HERE and join Workers United. The results of that election have been disputed ever since … and both unions are now claiming to represent arena employees.

The matter has been under review by the National Labor Relations Board for roughly six months. But the dispute bubbled into public view during the Feb. 18 event, staged on Centre Avenue.

Representative Sam Williamson began criticizing Aramark's tactics in front of a small group of reporters and a dozen other labor activists, several were wearing the purple colors of the SEIU. But he had barely launched into his speech when about a dozen other workers — these wearing the red, white and black of UNITE HERE — joined the rally and began disrupting it.

"SEIU is raiding our members!" shouted a UNITE HERE representative, Jen Blatz.

"That is not true!" shouted a member of Workers United.

For the next 10 minutes, both sides bickered over who represented them, as the demonstration's original message was lost.

The NLRB is supposed to determine which union has the proper claim to representing workers, but the agency's assistant regional director, Mark Wirick, says, "The facts are not cut and dry." Among the issues is whether the election was conducted correctly: Among other things, UNITE HERE claims that the ballots were unclear. (A copy of the ballot, provided to City Paper by the SEIU, reads as follows: "Local 57 resolves to remain affiliated with the PA Joint Board; disaffiliate from UNITE HERE; authorize the affiliation of the Local with a new organization of former UNITE HERE affiliates; and support an affiliation with SEIU." A "yes" vote was to join the union.) Workers United members claim the vote was conducted appropriately.

It's unclear when a decision will be reached. For now, the clear winner is Aramark, which has refused to work with either union since last spring. "Both unions have conflicting claims," says Aramark spokesperson Kristine Grow.

And the company may see an opportunity in the discord between workers. During her previous interview with City Paper, Grow said that compelling workers to reapply for their jobs was standard procedure when Aramark moves to a new venue. At the time, she made no mention of the ongoing union dispute. After the demonstration, however, she said "what you saw at the press conference is very central to what is happening at Mellon Arena. Because of [the dispute] we've been unable to continue negotiations" with any union.

 

We'll have further details in next week's edition of City Paper.

Is there some way Mary Beth Buchanan can run as the incumbent?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 2:40 PM

As Mary Beth Buchanan struggles to find her campaigning stride, she may find herself wishing she could emulate Arlen Specter.

The Republican-turned-Democratic Senator is, after all, notoriously irritable. But he's found a way to make sure no one sees him get rattled: Avoid broadcast debates if you can.

Specter has apparently declined an invitation to debate Sestak on Meet The Press.  His rival in the Democratic primary, Congressman Joe Sestak, recently sent out a press release calling Specter out.

"Arlen Specter's sense of entitlement is typical of a 30-year Washington insider," charges Sestak campaign spokesman Jonathon Dworkin in the release. "He thinks that just because he cut a deal in Washington he doesn't owe voters the time of day."

Of course, Sestak's release suggests a perfectly good reason for why Specter might decline. The release notes that Meet the Press has a tradition of hosting high-profile debates between Senatorial candidates. For proof, it cites eight such debates held in 2006 and 2008. The Sestak campaign doesn't call attention to it -- and maybe it doesn't have to -- but four of those debates involved incumbents facing challengers. Can you tell what else these four races have in common? 

PENNSYLVANIA Incumbent Senator Rick Santorum (R) vs. State Treasurer Bob Casey (D)

VIRGINIA Incumbent Senator George Allen (R) vs. former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb (D)

OHIO Incumbent Senator Mike DeWine (R) vs. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D)

MISSOURI Incumbent Senator Jim Talent (R) vs. State Auditor Claire McCaskill (D)

That's right: In each case, the incumbent ended up losing the election.

Not implying any causal relationship there. Just saying that debates generally don't help incumbents, and can only give added visibility to their lesser-known opponents. I honestly don't see too much sign that Sestak's campaign is catching on at this point -- which is too bad, because I think he'd be stronger in November. But it's probably unrealistic to expect Specter to help him prove it. 

Then again, Mary Beth Buchanan's foe, incumbent Jason Altmire, knows very well that opting out of debates isn't always a good strategy. Altmire won his Congressional seat in 2006, when he faced a Republican incumbent, Melissa Hart, who refused to debate him

And Altmire doesn't seem to be taking anything for granted this time. His campaign isn't ignoring Buchanan -- quite the opposite. Earlier today, Altmire sent out a release noting Buchanan's less-than-successful appearance on the Marty Griffin show this week. The release characterized her as a "controversial, ultra-partisan former Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney."

This gets back to a trend noted here before: Given increasing restlessness and disenchantment among voters, "If you're Jason Altmire, obviously, you'd much rather convince the voters it was still 2006 or 2008 ... [A] Buchanan candidacy would give us all a chance to bash the Bush years all over again. "

Seems to be working for Altmire so far. Now if he could just arrange to have a debate hosted by Marty Griffin ... 

The Persecuted Prosecutor

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2010 at 12:17 PM

As Dayvoe of the 2Political Junkies points out, Mary Beth Buchanan made a surprise campaign appearance on Marty Griffin's KDKA radio show this week. Buchanan, who is challenging Democrat Jason Altmire in PA's fourth Congressional District, called in after her nemesis, former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht, had been dogging her on Griffin's show. Wecht had asserted that her fruitless attempt to prosecute him had cost taxpayers $20 million.

Buchanan's call got attention mainly because, early on, she made an apparent threat to sue Griffin if he continued to float that number. But the entire phone call may be worth a listen, because it suggests she's not quite ready for primetime.

When Buchanan insisted $20 million was too high, there ensued the following exchange: 

Griffin: So you'll provide us all the salaries of every ADA [sic] that worked on that case. You'll provide all the salaries of all the staff that worked on that case. You'll provide the cost of all the documentation for that case.
Buchanan: Listen. We don't --
Griffin: Are you going to answer my question?
Buchanan: I am answering your question if you would shut up and let me talk.
Griffin: So this is how you're going to run: telling people to shut up and threatening them with lawsuits.
Buchanan: Listen: If you want the facts, I'm here to give them to you. If you want to hear yourself talk, then why do you even invite people to come on and be guests?
Griffin [chuckling]: Go ahead, Mary Beth.
Buchanan: Thank you.
Griffin: You sound very defensive to me. It’s a long road, Mary Beth, to run for office. This is just the beginning. This is just your toe in the water. But go ahead.

I'm sure Mary Beth Buchanan isn't the first talk-radio guest to wonder what she has to do to get a word in edgewise. (That part where Griffin says "Go ahead" and then interrupts her again would have put me over the top.) I also can't help but think his continuous reference to her as "Mary Beth" sounds a wee bit patronizing.

That said, Griffin has a point: This is a campaign, not a courtroom. Dealing with talk-radio assholes, and the self-interested misrepresentations made by political opponents, comes with the territory. (Usually, of course, the poiltics of talk radio dictate that it's the Democrats who have to deal with that.) If Buchanan is going to lose her cool every time that happens, it's gonna be a long campaign. 

For what it's worth, Buchanan had a pretty compelling argument: Her office's budget is only $9 million a year. But there's more than a bit of hypocrisy here. A few minutes later, Buchanan groused that Griffin didn't "even bother to try to find out what the facts are. You just want to keep repeating whatever sensationalism that somebody gives you."

But as I pointed out in a blog post yesterday, Buchanan's very first press release repeated a sensationalist charge -- about a vote Altmire took to create a national historic site in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Griffin and Buchanan ended the call with an agreement to have her back on the show. I wouldn't expect the same kind of fireworks next time: From what I can tell, Griffin is just as happy to be a lapdog as a Doberman. (I recently heard a segment on Braddock Hospital where his fawning treatment of a UPMC flack made me wince.)

Buchanan, meanwhile, will have some time to get a grip on herself, and realize that candidates can't afford to be this thin-skinned. She clearly knows how the game is played. It's just that, as a career prosecutor, she doesn't have much experience playing defense.

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