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Friday, September 30, 2011

Charles Koch to Friedrich Hayek: Use Social Security!

Charles Koch to Friedrich Hayek: Use Social Security!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Tea Party Movement is a Pyramid Scheme

Mother Jones

Is the Tea Party Movement Like a Pyramid Scheme?

One of the movement’s leaders, Mark Meckler, was once a top operator in a company accused of conning consumers. Is he applying the same tactics to the tea party?

Tue Oct. 19, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

There's a book Mark Meckler likes to recommend to reporters and others seeking insight into the tea party juggernaut. Called The Starfish and the Spider, it explores the "unstoppable power" of decentralized and leaderless organizations. "We're like the starfish," Meckler, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said earlier this year. "There is no head, there is no leader of the organization. There are thousands of starfish out there and they are self-replicating in that way."

It's certainly an inspiring metaphor. If one tentacle is chopped off, the starfish grows a new one, making it a model of resilience. Yet there's another type of organization that's resilient, decentralized, and reminiscent of the Tea Party Patriots, a national umbrella organization that claims to represent 15 million activists and 2800 local affiliates. You can find it in companies like Amway, Herbalife, and others that rely on what's known as multilevel marketing (MLM), a business model some consider to be nothing but a pyramid scheme.

Like the tea party movement, these companies also operate as "leaderless," grassroots organizations. Organized by "networks," they espouse a bottom-up approach and depend on a neverending supply of people willing to work long hours with no assurance of pay. Meckler, it turns out, is intimately familiar with these types of outfits, having spent years at the highest ranks of one accused of preying on consumers with promises of easy money.

Meckler was a top distributor for Herbalife, a controversial company that peddles dubious nutritional supplements and weight loss programs by way of "direct selling" or "network marketing."

Few tea party activists—or journalists, for that matter—seem to know much about Meckler's life before he became one of the best-known faces of the movement. A regular TV presence and a veritable quote machine for the mainstream media, he's often identified in the media as an Internet lawyer, and the National Journal's Jonathan Rauch dubbed him "the closest thing the movement has to an organizational visionary." But before he became a go-to guy for the press and old-line conservative groups seeking a tutorial on the tea party movement, Meckler was a top distributor for Herbalife, a controversial company that peddles dubious nutritional supplements and weight loss programs by way of "direct selling" or "network marketing."

 Photo of Mark Meckler by Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Photo of Mark Meckler by Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press

The company has a long history of run-ins with state and federal regulators, as well as congressional investigators, for its business practices and products. As early as 1982, the Food and Drug Administration sent Herbalife a notice of adverse findings for falsely claiming that its nutritional products could cure pretty much any disease. As a result, the company ended up removing questionable ingredients from some products and promised to modify the claims that it made in sales materials. The FDA also received a host of complaints from consumers about noxious side effects from Herbalife's products as well. A few years later, in 1985, the state of California sued the company for making false claims about its products and for running a pyramid-style marketing scheme. Herbalife settled the case for $850,000 without admitting wrongdoing.

Becoming successful in Herbalife requires a certain ability to both persuade and suspend disbelief, given the need to recruit ever more distributors rather than simply sell weight-loss shakes. Herbalife distributors sell "opportunity," relying on a prospecting pitch that emphasizes the financial and personal freedom available to anyone who joins the business. Meckler was fluent in the pitch. In July 1999, he and his wife, Patty, wrote an article for Upline Magazine, a trade publication for "network marketers," that came right off the Herbalife script. They claimed that MLM work can provide a "lifestyle offering total time freedom" and an opportunity to build an "unlimited residual income stream." Meckler, who lists the Dale Carnegie-inspired motivational book Think and Grow Rich as a favorite on Facebook, advised readers looking for new prospects to get out there and hit up some lawyers like himself. "Don't be timid!" he coached.

His pitch was apparently convincing. By 2002, according to an Herbalife spokesperson, Meckler had qualified for the "president's team," a group that constitutes less than 1 percent of the company's distributors. To attain this elite status, distributors need to bring in at least $200,000 a month for several months running. One study of Herbalife's business model concluded that president's team members earned about $600,000 a year. Herbalife's in-house magazine profiled Meckler and his family when he qualified for the president's team. According to the story, as soon as the Mecklers started taking Herbalife products, Patty lost "a substantial amount of weight, while Mark gained weight after years of trying and experienced relief from his allergies and asthma. And the business took off too!"

While the Mecklers might have found great health benefits in the Herbalife products they were selling, dozens of people sued Herbalife alleging that its supplements had caused deaths, strokes, and heart attacks. That's because Herbalife was one of the biggest sellers of "natural" products made with ephedra. The herb is similar to the chemical ephedrine, an appetite suppressant and drug often used as an asthma treatment. It’s not too different from amphetamines. The dangers associated with ephedra, and the ensuing lawsuits, prompted many insurance companies to jack up the rates or drop companies like Herbalife that sold it.

The Mecklers claimed to be averaging more than $20,000 a month from their Herbalife business, which they said was giving them "newfound freedom" to be better parents and to spend more time with friends.

In mid-2002, the company reported that because of the wrongful death suits pending against it and the problems with ephedra, the company’s liability insurance premiums had jumped from $400,000 a year to $2.5 million a year, a move that ultimately prompted Herbalife to quit selling ephedra products soon after. In 2004, the FDA banned ephedra's use in supplements because of the reports of adverse affects.

Still, Meckler's business didn't seem to suffer from the bad publicity. In the 2002 magazine profile, the Mecklers claimed to be averaging more than $20,000 a month from their Herbalife business, which they said was giving them "newfound freedom" to be better parents and to spend more time with friends. "In this business, if you focus on taking care of people and helping them, the check will come and so will everything else you are trying to accomplish," Mark said.

Not everyone drawn in by the Herbalife pitch was quite as successful. In 2004, the company paid $6 million to settle a class action suit filed by 8,700 Herbalife distributors who alleged the company was a pyramid scheme. (Meckler was not named in the suit.) According to the lawsuit, many of the people induced to join up lost between $10,000 and $50,000; some were even forced into bankruptcy.

"Herbalife has virtually no customers and is not really in the direct selling business," explains Robert FitzPatrick, an expert in pyramid schemes who was a witness in the case. "It gets the great majority of its revenue directly from its salespeople who pay fees and buy marketing materials and products from Herbalife as part of the income scheme. Herbalife's real product is the income scheme, and its real customers are its salespeople."

He says the company annually churns through as many as 90 percent of the lowest level distributors, a figure Herbalife has disclosed in its SEC filings. The people who end up making money at Herbalife, says FitzPatrick, do it by "unscrupulously and aggressively telling people: 'You can make money.' If you're willing to say all that, do the script, you can build a network."

Meckler hasn't been an Herbalife distributor since 2004, according to the company, but he didn't stray far. Since at least 2007, he has worked as the general counsel and chief operating officer of UniqueLeads, a Florida-based company owned by Shai Pritz, another member of Herbalife's president's team. The company provides marketing and "lead generation" services to companies like Herbalife. Through a network of "affiliates"—usually web publishers, bloggers, or anyone who can put up a website—the company helps place ads across the Internet as a way of generating contact information lists for sales and other pitches. The firm has offered its affiliates the chance to place ads for organic hair growth products, colon cleansers, acai berry weight loss products, various "credit repair" sites, a teeth whitener, work-from-home offers, and even one for a dietary supplement that promises "slow down the aging process" and help you lose weight, too. Pritz also owns UniqueLists, a data management company that sells the contact information harvested through the online ads.

The companies are part of the Internet advertising industry known as affiliate marketing, which, like MLM, has a reputation for relying on unscrupulous practices. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission sued several entities that recruited affiliate marketers to market “government grants” on websites that displayed the President’s photo and purported to offer consumers a way to obtain money from the economic stimulus package. Visitors who signed up to receive grant information for a few dollars allege that they later found their credit cards charged monthly for memberships and services they didn't ask for. (A federal judge shut down several of the sites, and more charges were added in April. The case is ongoing.) The industry is plagued with allegations that affiliate marketers are infecting consumers' computers with spyware and adware to surreptitiously boost click revenues. In June, a federal grand jury indicted two of eBay's highest-producing affiliates, two men who raked in about $20 million from the company between 2006 and 2007 allegedly through an illicit scheme that generated thousands of ad clicks in the computers of unknowing users. (The case is still pending.)

Meckler's job, apparently, has been to keep UniqueLeads out of trouble with regulators through an in-house "compliance" program. Before he made his first public speech at a tea party event in 2009, Meckler was speaking at affiliate marketing conferences and writing advice columns on how to avoid run-ins with the law. In one column Meckler wrote in a trade publication, he warned affiliate marketers that the FTC was poised to crack down on companies that tricked people into giving up contact information and credit card numbers online with offers of "free" stuff that wasn't free at all. "After the FTC contacts you, it's too late, and the FTC is going to extract their pint of blood, in addition to forcing you to comply," he wrote.

Few of the tea party activists I spoke with for this story seemed to know what Meckler does for a living or about his work for Herbalife. (UniqueLeads.com owner Shai Pritz wouldn't comment on Meckler's work for his company, but Meckler still maintains a voicemail box there, and when I called his UniqueLeads office number in mid-October, a woman answered: "Mark Meckler's office.") Many have assumed that he was devoting all of his time to the tea party, largely because earlier this year he sent out an appeal to local tea partiers pleading poverty and asking for money.
Meckler's professional experience in the world of multilevel marketing seems to have translated quite well into the tea party movement.

The solicitation apparently raised some cash for the Mecklers, even while raising some eyebrows among local activists who, even without knowing about his MLM background, have begun raising red flags about what they see as Meckler's keen interest in the tea party movement's one real asset: its contact database. It's loaded with the names of highly politically engaged people who might be inclined to donate money to candidates—or, more cynically, people susceptible to conspiracy theories who might be interested in buying some overpriced gold, or perhaps a too-good-to-be-true weight-loss pill.

Meckler came under fire earlier this year when news broke that, in 2007, UniqueLeads had spun off another company called Opt-In Movement, in conjunction with a DC-based GOP consultant David All, to create a list-generation firm that catered to political campaigns. (All declined to comment, and the company appears to be inactive.) Tea party activists seized on the story as a sign that, far from being the grassroots activist Meckler claimed to be, he was actually an aspiring GOP consultant. Concerns over Meckler's intentions have also surrounded a $1 million anonymous donation recently received by the Patriots, which the group is divvying up via grants to its local affiliates. The grant criteria placed a high value on applications from groups that got a lot of members to register on the national TPP site, which meant turning over significant personal information.

Tensions over email harvesting and the lack of transparency in TPP's finances have been brewing under the surface of the movement for some time. But after the announcement of the grant criteria, Laura Boatright, a California tea party activist who has had a falling out with Meckler and TPP warned on her blog against providing contact info to the group: "The 'power/gravitas' of Tea Party Patriots is their ability to say that they 'represent' or 'have access to' 20 million 'contacts.' When it comes to campaigns, political parties, or issue causes (like California's initiative process, and/or petition drives) that large number gets them notice and access to people who would not otherwise pay Mark Meckler, [national coordinator] Jenny Beth Martin, or any other Board Members the time of day."

There's no evidence that TPP is selling its contact lists. But the Tea Party Patriots' own privacy policy indicates that it has the option. It says, "TPP may use Individual Information to advertise, directly or indirectly, to individuals using direct mail marketing or telemarketing using telephones and cell phones and such contact shall be deemed to be with the permission of individuals covered by this Privacy Policy." (Neither Meckler nor Martin returned repeated phone and email requests to explain the policy.)

Meanwhile, Meckler's professional experience in the world of multilevel marketing seems to have translated quite well into the tea party movement. The organizational structure of TPP, in fact, looks a lot like Herbalife's, with its heavy reliance on motivational rallies, weekly conference calls to keep people engaged, its widespread use of promotional lawn signs, and dependence on cheap, unpaid labor. And most importantly, its failure to produce measurable results other than the creation of the network itself. (See here for a list of comparisons between the tea party and Herbalife.)

While distinctly non-starfish-like organizations like Tea Party Express, which is run by a California GOP consulting firm and much maligned by Meckler for not being grassroots enough, have made a significant impact on elections in Delaware, Massachusetts, and Alaska, TPP has remained above the electoral fray. Though it formed a political action committee, and the midterm elections are quickly approaching, federal election records show that the PAC has never raised any money, nor has it endorsed any candidates. TPP is urging supporters to erect yard signs across the country to "brand" itself and will hold some get-out-the-vote rallies in the run up to the midterms. But its main claim to fame is really the size of its network, not anything the network has actually accomplished.

The parallels between the Tea Party Patriots and a multilevel marketing company don't surprise FitzPatrick, the pyramid scheme expert, who says that tea party rhetoric is similar to that of MLM companies. MLM operations and pyramid schemes, he says, "aren't just about money. They are about how you are part of an elite group of people who are enlightened." He says that in their recruiting, the top leaders of these types of companies often give a false narrative about eminent economic collapse, how Social Security won't be there to save you in old age, and how the government keeps the average guy from getting ahead. And when the companies draw scrutiny from regulators, they often invoke the same kind of language as the tea party about "jack-booted thugs" and oppressive regulation. The tea party and multilevel marketers, he says, are a perfect fit in many ways: "MLMs claim to represent freedom-lovers. They are an economic match to the Tea Party's political message."

Nonetheless, the Tea Party Patriots is "moving to the next level," as they say at Herbalife. In late September, its top organizers met with a secretive group of far-right movers and shakers to make a fundraising pitch for the group's multi-million-dollar "40-year-plan" to change the country. The group, the Council for National Policy, is funded heavily by the DeVos family, the owners of Amway, one of the largest MLM companies in the country. According to the TPP fundraising memo, the money would fund more rallies, to recruit more activists, to fund more rallies, to recruit more activists, to fund more rallies.

A condensed version of this story appears in the January/February 2011 issue of Mother Jones.

Stephanie Mencimer is a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. For more of her stories, click here. You can also follow her on twitter. Get Stephanie Mencimer's RSS feed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Rise of the Pro-Ignorance Right Wing Puts us All In Danger


Tea Party simpletons wrap themselves in prideful ignorance, and treat matters of life and death, like global warming, with dismissive derision.

September 25, 2011 |

As the old saying goes, "Every dog has his day." And so it has come to pass.

The nation's simpletons have leapt from the shadows, where they wisely hide, except for distinct and notable moments in human history; the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, late 19th-century Germany and the same country during the 1930s. During such times, when the conditions are just right, like they are now, dumb and dumber leap from the shadows and take center stage, claim their right to lead, and... well the results are history.

I only mention all this because it's true. Tea Party simpletons wrap themselves in prideful ignorance, and treat matters of life and death, like global warming, with dismissive derision. They scoff at the science that explains their very existence as a species. They say there are doubts about all that "science" stuff, but no doubt about the Spirit in the sky to whom they pledge mindless allegiance.

Instead of all that complicated, annoying and often inconvenient "book learnin' stuff, they offer "common sense solutions." Which would be fine, if their solutions were not so uncommonly and provably disastrous.

Here's the problem dealing with these simpletons; We can all argue about how things might turn out if we do this or that now, because this situation or that situation has not played itself out fully. It's much more difficult to argue with what actually happened when our ancestors did this or that back then. Those situations played out, for better or for worse.

Of course simpletons don't care much for all that. They are profoundly nearsighted. Besides, a knowledge of history requires a modicum of curiosity, and simpletons are also a profoundly un-curious lot. If mankind only produced simpletons we'd all still be sitting around in caves reinventing wheels and rediscovering fire.

Which is precisely what separates the enlightened from the simpleton. The simpleton seeks .... well.. simplicity. But hitching one's wagon to the simplest solutions at times of exploding complexity is like trying to navigate a maze with ones eyes closed. No, not a maze.. that's too benign a metaphor for these perilous times. It's more like navigating a mine field with eyes closed -- wearing logging boots while singing God Bless America.

Nevertheless, here they are, simpletons proudly and loudly marching through our 21st-century mine fields, clutching their 2000-year-old guidebook they claim was inspired by a "Prince of Peace," -- but who also cheer like a lynch mob at the mere mention of executions, and cheer at the idea of letting the uninsured die on hospital doorsteps.

Like the cycle that raises cicadas from the dark earth every 13-years, simpletons have risen -- again. History warns what follows. Yet no one seems to be able to figure out how to cram the simpleton genie back in the bottle. It's the Sorcerer's Apprentice come to life for GOP strategists who uncorked the simpleton bottle and now have no idea how to stop them. So, instead, they are running along beside them trying to keep up.

Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Debunking the Myth that Regulations on Big Business are "Job-Killers"


Debunking the Myth that Regulations on Big Business are "Job-Killers"

Experts say that no, regulations do not in fact destroy jobs--they shift jobs within the economy. So why do even Democrats repeat the Republican talking point?

It’s become a mantra on Capitol Hill and a rallying cry for industry groups: Get rid of the job-killing regulations. In recent days, with nearly every one of the GOP presidential candidates repeating that refrain, the political echo chamber has grown even louder. Earlier this month, President Obama also asked the Environmental Protection Agency to back off more stringent ozone regulations, citing the "importance of reducing regulatory burdens" during trying economic times.

But is the claim that regulation kills jobs true?

We asked experts, and most told us that while there is relatively little scholarship on the issue, the evidence so far is that the overall effect on jobs is minimal. Regulations do destroy some jobs, but they also create others. Mostly, they just shift jobs within the economy.

“The effects on jobs are negligible. They’re not job-creating or job-destroying on average,” said Richard Morgenstern, who served in the EPA from the Reagan to Clinton years and is now at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan think tank.

Almost a decade ago, Morgenstern and some colleagues published research on the effects of regulation [PDF] using ten years’ worth of Census data on four different polluting industries. They found that when new environmental regulation was applied, higher production costs pushed up prices, resulting in lost sales for businesses and some lost jobs, but the job losses were also offset by new jobs created in pollution abatement.

“There are many instances of regulation causing a specific industry to lose jobs,” said Roger Noll, co-director of the Program on Regulatory Policy at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Noll cited outright bans of products—such as choloroflorocarbons or leaded gasoline—as the clearest examples.

That’s supported by recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which shows employers attributing a small fraction of job losses to governmental regulations. In the first half of 2011, employers listed regulations as the cause of 0.2 to 0.3 percent of jobs lost as part of mass layoffs. But the data doesn’t track the other side of the equation: jobs created.

“The key point is that regulation affects the distribution of jobs among industries, but not the total number,” said Noll.

That point is also echoed by Richard Williams, a former FDA official who’s currently Director of Policy Research for the free-market oriented Mercatus Center at George Mason University. (The center has ties to Koch Industries, an energy conglomerate that’s spent tens of millions lobbying against regulations. Koch’s chairman and CEO, Charles Koch, sits on the Mercatus Center’s Board of Directors.)

Earlier this year, Williams sent a letter [PDF] to Rep. Darrell Issa, who’s been soliciting opinions from businesses, trade groups, and experts on which regulations kill jobs. Williams wrote: “The economic literature suggests that the effect of regulations is likely small at the macro level. However, at the micro level, the effect of regulations on job creation and sustainability of particular businesses can be great.”

In a phone conversation, Williams expanded on his point. “It’s certainly true, as people say, that regulation does create jobs,” he said. “It requires firms to do something that they’re not doing now, so often they need to hire.”

But according to Williams, the more important question is whether the jobs created by regulation are good jobs or more valuable jobs—a question he says hasn’t been adequately addressed by government analysis or by academic research.

Susan Dudley, the former White House regulatory chief under President George W. Bush and now director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, reiterated that point. Regulations can be counterproductive even if they result in more hiring.

“It would be easy to think of a regulation that ‘created jobs’ that didn’t benefit society,” Dudley said via email, such as “requiring that all construction be done with a teaspoon.”

In other words, counting jobs gained or lost is too narrow a prism through which to evaluate whether a regulation is good or bad. The real question is whether it improves waterways or lengthens lives or protects the public as promised.

“The issue in regulation always should be whether it delivers benefits that justify the cost,” said Noll. “The effect of regulation on jobs has nothing to do with the mess we’re in. The current rhetoric about regulation killing jobs is nothing more than not letting a good crisis go to waste.”

This story originally appeared at ProPublica

Marian Wang is ProPublica's lead reporter-blogger. She previously worked for Mother Jones, where she spearheaded the magazine's social media strategy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Republican Sweep in 2012?

September 17, 2011 at 09:48:58

A Republican Sweep in 2012?

By Arlen Grossman (about the author)

Significant trends point to a Republican Party sweep of the 2012 elections, bringing with it the most right-wing government in American history. Just as Scott Brown's upset win in the January 2010 Massachusetts Senate special election foretold the decisive GOP gains in the 2010 election later in the year, Republican Bob Turner's convincing win in the heavily blue 9th Congressional District in New York may be a predictor of looming disaster next year for the struggling and demoralized Democratic Party.


While we can't extrapolate from one clearly atypical Congressional district, the major trends that began in the 2010 election remain in place and signal continuing Republican electoral momentum across the nation. The GOP already controls the House, Democrats cling to a narrow majority in the Senate (but need to defend 23 of the 33 Senate races in play), and President Obama will have to run for re-election against the backdrop of a weak economy.

President Obama by AP Photo

Three major trends heavily favor the GOP:

1) MONEY. It was more than coincidence that the pivotal and anti-democratic Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 was followed by a huge Republican mid-term election victory. Because the Court ruled that corporations and other wealthy interests could contribute unlimited amounts of campaign spending, the deep-pocket GOP donors were able to pour money wherever needed in elections all over the country. While money may not have been the decisive factor in every race, the breadth of the conservative tide was wider than would ordinarily be expected.

Already, in anticipation of the 2012 election, multi-million dollar campaign contributions by conservative-oriented Super PACS, fueled with money from the billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy donors, have soared to record levels. Democratic candidates, relying on contributions from their less affluent business allies and weakened labor unions, are at a huge disadvantage against this onslaught of corporate pro-GOP fundraising.

2) MEDIA. With Fox News and nationwide conservative talk radio, Republicans have a built-in media advantage. In addition, the mainstream media, owned by a handful of giant corporations, are presenting the lies and crazy talk of Republican/Tea Party candidates as respectable viewpoints, even if a decade or two earlier these ideologues would have been marginalized as nut cases. That one of the two major parties in this country has been largely taken over by extremists, is ignored by the media. The major networks and most cable news channels desire balance and competition, and thus tend to treat the outright lies, unsubstantiated opinions, and bizarre talking points of the Tea Party candidates as serious points of view.

Unfounded assertions that "global warming is a hoax," the stimulus bill "created zero jobs," "Obama (pick one) is a socialist, Marxist, Muslim, foreigner, hates guns and America," often go unchallenged in the mainstream media.

3) ENTHUSIASM. The passion of Republicans and the apathy of Democrats will likely affect turnout in the 2012 election campaign. Conservatives will be, as they usually are, pumped up into a determined fervor by the right-wing media, and many typically see elections as biennial crusades against liberals. terrorists, homosexuals, godless heathens, illegal immigrants and "the others" who endanger traditional American values.

On the other side is a leaderless and feckless Democratic Party. President Obama is supposed to be the head of the party, but appears to reject that role, instead positioning himself as a moderate appealing to all Americans in order to win re-election. The President rarely names Republicans as the enemies of progress or points out the contrast between his and Republican policies, preferring instead to mildly scold the generic "Congress" for their ideas and inaction.

Nobody else is presented as a strong advocate of the Democratic Party, not in the way that GOP congressional leaders and their presidential candidates are. If Democrats do speak up, the media is less interested, with their mindset being that President Obama is the party's spokesman.

Many Democrats didn't bother to vote in 2010, and will likely be just as unmotivated for next year's election To make matters worse, by not fulfilling his promises of "hope and change" that fired up his base during the 2008 election, and by not standing strong for progressive principles, President Obama has left Democrats feeling dispirited and frustrated.

Tea Party Rally by treehugger.com

There are well over thirteen months left until the 2012 election. Should Democrats already be in panic mode? They better be. Unless the president and other party leaders pursue a major offensive and agressively challenge Republican and Tea Party ideas, Democrats will likely be swept out of office. Unless they figure out a way to neutralize the money factor and change the media landscape, their long-term prospects also look bleak.

The forces and trends against the Democratic Party are many and powerful, and Barack Obama has not demonstrated the kind of leadership necessary to overcome them nor the fighting spirit necessary to energize the party's faithful. Barring a major shift in President Obama's strategy and presentation, 2012 looks to be a dismal year for Democrats, and ultimately, our troubled nation.


Arlen Grossman is a writer/blogger in Monterey, CA. He blogs politics at thebigpicturereport.com, and writes "What's Your QQ?" (Quotation Quotient), a quotation quiz in the Monterey County Herald, The Foolish Times, and at quotationquotient.com. He (more...)

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

10 Signs God Is Furious With the Right


Whatever disaster strikes, there's always an upside in religious rightland, always somebody to point the finger at with glee. Let's turn the tables.

Editor's note: the following is satire... for the most part.

Why is it that whenever disaster strikes, right-wing religious nuts seem to have all the fun? Some might say it's just because they're sadists, but they always seem to find the silver lining. 9/11? God's calling on America to repent! (No, not for it's foreign policy, you dummy!) Hurricane Katrina? It was that darned homosexual parade the organizers forgot to tell anyone about!

Whatever disaster strikes, there's always an up-side in religious rightland, always somebody to point the finger at with glee. How come they get all the fun?

So when the East Coast got a one-two punch last month, earthquake-hurricane within a few days of one another, it got me thinking. When another hurricane followed up afterward, it was more than I could bear. And so, I offer you a list of God's Top 10 Targets from a not-so-right-but-possibly-more-righteous point of view.

There are at least three different ways to approach this subject, and we have examples of all three. First is to identify specific target groups for repeated offenses—sinners who just won't mend their ways. Second is to identify geographic targets for specific offenses—sin city or state, as the case may be. Third is to identify specific individuals.

1. Republicans, for bearing false witness.

It's not just one of the Ten Commandments -- the Bible has repeated warnings against slander, false testimony and plain old lying. But Republicans apparently think that God was talking to somebody else—the exact opposite of their usual assumption—especially since Barack Obama arrived on the scene. Obama was born in Kenya, he is a Muslim, he's a socialist, a Marxist, a fascist, he hates white people (like his mom and his grandparents), he hangs out with terrorists. It goes on and on and on.

God has repeatedly told them not to act like this—yet they pay Him no mind. It's not just Obama, either. When it comes to science, things get just as bad, be it evolution, global warming, reproductive health, or gender orientation; when the science isn't on their side, the lying and slander take up the slack. It's not just that the science is against them, you see. Scientists are fraudsters; they are always conspiring against God and his people, according to some of the more whacked out types—like GOP senators, for example. God may have a great deal of patience, but when folks start trying to drag Him into the mix, that's when the earthquakes and hurricanes begin.

2. The Religious Right, for ignoring Jesus on the separation of church and state.

More than 1,600 years before John Locke and 1,700 years before Thomas Jefferson weighed in on the subject, Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God those things which are God’s.” (What's more, he said that, in part, as a way of opting out of a tax revolt!) But the Religious Right defiantly continues to oppose Him. God's been extremely patient with them over the years, but that patience has finally run out, as the most anti-separationist elements of the Religious Right—known as dominionists—have come increasingly to the fore. Some might say they're embarrassing Him personally. Others will say it's starting to get really dangerous. Whatever the reason, God's had enough.

3. The nativist right and the GOP, for a rash of anti-immigrant laws.

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21 could not be clearer—unless, of course, we switched from the King James Bible to the New International Version: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

But for some in the GOP, them's fightin' words. All they can think about is disobeying God. They are positively possessed with the Satanic spirit of disobedience. It began with Arizona's SB-1070 last year. And while a number of states followed Arizona's lead with anti-immigrant laws of their own, the most notorious was Alabama, which faced "a historic outbreak of severe weather" in April.

The same day the law was signed, Alabama’s Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches filed a separate lawsuit, claiming the law unconstitutionally interferes with their right of religious freedom. Church leaders said the law “will make it a crime to follow God’s command.” Among other things, the suit said, “The bishops have reason to fear that administering of religious sacraments, which are central to the Christian faith, to known undocumented persons may be criminalized under this law.” If criminalizing Christian sacraments isn't inviting divine retribution, what is?

4. The predatory lending industry and all who enable them.

There are numerous Bible passages condemning usury. Typical of these is Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest." Naturally, the whole of modern capitalism is built on ignoring a broad reading of this. But predatory lending is a particularly egregious form of defiance. It's proved rather costly to our country as well.

A Wall Street Journal article on December 31, 2007 reported that Ameriquest Mortgage and Countrywide Financial, two of the largest U.S. mortgage lenders, spent $20.5 million and $8.7 million respectively in political donations, campaign contributions, and lobbying activities between 2002 and 2006 in order to defeat anti-predatory lending legislation. Such practices contributed significantly to the financial crisis that plunged us into the Great Recession. But it seems that wasn't a clear enough lesson, especially since those who lobbied most intensely benefited most from the bailouts as well, according to an IMF study. So earthquakes and hurricanes are an old school, Old Testament way for God to make his point.

5. The GOP, for its contempt for the poor.

For more than half a century, the GOP has attacked Democrats and liberals for their concern for the poor. At least since the 1980s, the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party has tried to distance themselves from the poor, and reposition the party as defenders of the middle class, instead. The GOP has responded with policies to impoverish the middle class as well, so that they can be safely demonized, too.

But the GOP's venom for all but the wealthy has reached new heights during the Great Recession. Not only should those who caused the crisis be taken care of while all others suffer—far too many national Democratic politicians seem to agree on that one—but a renewed rhetoric of contempt for the poor has emerged, in direct contradiction to what Jesus said, in Luke 6:20: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Increasingly, it seems, Republicans don't think poor people are even human. In January 2010, South Carolina Lt. Governor Andre Baurer (R) compared poor people to stray animals: He told an audience that his grandmother told him "as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed." He compared this to government assistance, which he said is "facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better." Then, in early August, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, the frontrunner for the GOP senate nomination, compared poor people to scavenging racoons. Talk like that is what causes earthquakes and hurricanes.

6. Privatized public utilities, for the worship of Mammon.

Public utilities are natural monopolies, totally unsuited to private enterprise, since there is no competitive marketplace. This, of course, makes them perfect targets for monopoly capitalists—Mammon's greatest worshipers.

Against them, God struck a mighty blow. In Mansfield, Massachusetts, which has had its own municipal power service since 1903, electrical service was restored for most customers within 24 hours after Irene hit, even though 4,000 out of 9,500 households had lost power—quite unlike what happened to nearby communities served by a commercial outfit. According to a local report, the storm “uprooted old trees and knocked down utility lines all over town.”

“Unlike homes and businesses in Easton, Norton and Foxboro, however, local customers did not have to wait for National Grid to respond with crews or listen to a recording on the telephone.... [M]uch of Easton waited three days for power to return and areas of communities such as Foxboro are still in the dark.” According to another report, about Foxborough, “The outrage expressed... is similar to the movie Network in the scene where people flung open their windows and said, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.'”

Then there are a couple of geographically specific targets:

7. Virginia.

Virginia was the site of the earthquake's epicenter and the second state where Irene made landfall, so the state is a target-rich environment.

There's House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. On God's bulls-eye scale, the epicenter near Mineral, Virginia is in Cantor's district—a direct hit. And in budget negotiations this year, Cantor's contempt for the poor came through loud and clear. He's been the most aggressive congressional leader when it comes to budget-cutting and pushing the economy as hard as possible over the cliff. Then, after the earthquake hit, Cantor said any federal relief would have to be offset with spending cuts, and quipped, “Obviously, the problem is that people in Virginia don’t have earthquake insurance.” He reiterated his demand for offsetting cuts when Hurricane Irene hit shortly afterward—even though he voted against such a provision after Tropical Storm Gaston hit the Richmond area in 2004.

Then there's Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. No way he escapes God's wrath. Cuccinelli's widely criticized witch-hunt against eminent climate scientist Michael Mann represents the most extreme right-wing attack on the mythical “climate-gate” scandal, which consisted primarily of scientists making snide remarks about ignoramuses like Cuccinelli. He's all wrapped up in sin of bearing false witness. Which is where Hurricane Irene comes in—although it surely doesn't help that Cuccinelli is suing to keep people sick, and has told Virginia's colleges and universities that they can't ban anti-gay discrimination.

And, of course, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has tried to have it both ways with God, as well as with the people of Virginia. On the one hand, all the way back in 1989, he wrote a Christian Reconstructionist M.A. thesis, “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade” at the College of Law at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. McDonnell's authorship of the thesis came to light during his 2009 campaign for governor, but because the establishment is in deep denial about Dominionism in general, and Christian Reconstructionism in particular, the full weight of his thesis never really sunk in. On the other hand, McDonnell has tried very assiduously to walk away from that past, given that almost no one wants to admit to such extreme views. He's wobbled back and forth on a number of issues, but generally tried to strike a reasonable demeanor—in sharp contrast to Cuccinelli. But God doesn't like folks who run hot and cold, which is why McDonnell's a target, too.

Finally, just to be a wee bit bipartisan about it, we need to include Virginia's Democratic Senator Mark Warner in our list—though with a bit of twist. On the day of the earthquake, Warner was scheduled to speak at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpepper, Virginia. He arrived about 10 minutes after the quake, according to the local Star Exponent, which reported:

    The building had been emptied of its staff and the approximate 75 people who came to hear Warner so the former governor talked from under a tree atop Mount Pony.

    “I was not going to mention the fact that one of the last times I was in Culpeper there was a tornado,” he said of an appearance years ago at CulpeperFest marked by wild weather. “If you don’t want me to come back, there’s an easier way to do this. If we start seeing frogs, it may be a sign of things to come,” he said.

So it's not that God is angry with Warner, exactly. He just targets Warner for amusement, to see what he'll say next. And, of course, because he, too, represents Virginia, truly a state of sin.

8. North Carolina.

Hurricane Irene could have barreled directly into South Carolina, but it delivered a stiff upper-cut to North Carolina instead. And why not? Governor Bev Perdue tried her darnedest to protect the state. She vetoed its draconian budget bill, only to see her veto over-ridden. It too was an attack on the poor -- the bill didn't just fail to balance spending cuts with tax increases, it actually let a temporary one-cent sales tax expire, along with some income taxes on high earners, while cutting $124 million in local education funding on top of $305 million cut in previous years. Perdue also vetoed a highly restrictive abortion law—one that, among other things, has a 24-hour waiting period, and force-feeds anti-abortion propaganda to women seeking an abortion—call it the “Bearing False Witness By Doctors Act.” But that veto was over-ridden as well—by a single vote in the state senate. So, really, God's hand was forced on this one. He had no choice but to strike North Carolina, and strike it hard.

Finally, there are two individual targets to consider:

9. Rick Perry.

While the one-two punch of the Virginia earthquake and Hurricane Irene were far removed from Texas Governor Rick Perry's stomping grounds, God had not forgotten Perry, but was merely preparing to toy with him. Perry, after all, had responded to a terrible drought in Texas not by implementing any long-term policy measures (which might make Texas better able to deal with the prospects of more severe droughts to come as global warming impacts increase), but by calling on Texans to pray.

Back in April, Perry proclaimed the "three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.” Since then, however, things have only gotten worse, as Timothy Egan noted in the NY Times “Opinionator” blog, "[A] rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the hottest month in recorded Texas history....Nearly all of Texas is now in 'extreme or exceptional' drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history. Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish.”

Somehow, though, it seemed like most folks outside of Texas had no idea of Perry's failed prayer initiative. That's where God came in, following up Irene with the tantalizing prospect of a Gulf of Mexico storm that would finally bring relief to the Longhorn state. But alas no. First Tropical Storm Jose petered out entirely, then Tropical Storm Lee turned to Louisiana instead. If you pray with Perry, you obviously take the Lord's name in vain. As one frustrated Texan wrote on Reddit, “Perry's prayer has been answered. The answer was 'No'.” God is making things perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon would say: If you want someone praying for America in the White House, Rick Perry is not your guy.

10 God.

Yes, it's true, God Himself was one of the main targets of God's wrath, particularly during the earthquake, which did remarkably little damage to the living. But, as Rob Kerby noted at BeliefNet, churches took some pretty hard hits:

    “Churches seemed to bear the brunt of Tuesday’s 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast.

    “Significant damage was reported to Washington, D.C.’s National Cathedral and St. Peter’s Catholic Church, historic St. Patrick’s Church near Baltimore, and two churches in Culpepper, Va., close to the epicenter — St. Stephen Episcopal Church and Culpepper Christian Assembly.”

Okay, so maybe God's not self-flagellating. Maybe it's the tenants who are being targeted. But who's to say, really? And if the God's wrath biz is all about appropriating authority to cast blame around, then why not think really big, and proclaim God Himself to be the target? Pat Robertson & company have monopolized this gig for far too long. If the rest of us are to have any hope of catching up, we're got to make ourselves a splash. And what better way to make a splash than proclaiming that God is the target?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

GOP Unleashes Pro-Pollution, Anti-Regulation Offensive


Published on Thursday, September 15, 2011 by STLtoday.com

WASHINGTON - Republicans in Congress opened an offensive this week against government regulations, a drive finding favor with polluting industries, small businesses and some Democrats who are especially fearful about the economy.

In this June 15, 2011 file photo, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Next week, the House is scheduled to start holding votes at regular intervals through the fall aimed at delaying a series of pro-environment regulations, from stronger anti-pollution requirements for power plants to new curbs on farm pollution. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) The GOP-run House, angry over government involvement in a Boeing Co. labor dispute, plans to take up legislation today that would prevent the National Labor Relations Board from taking strong action against companies that flout labor laws.

Next week, the House is scheduled to start holding votes at regular intervals through the fall aimed at delaying a series of pro-environment regulations, from stronger anti-pollution requirements for power plants to new curbs on farm pollution.

Meanwhile, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and 13 other Republicans introduced legislation this week labeled the "Regulatory Time-Out Act." It would impose a one-year freeze on significant new regulations with over $100 million in compliance costs.

"They're not in hyper speed, they're in ludicrous speed when you look at regulations coming out of this administration," Blunt asserted to reporters recently.

The GOP legislation is certain to encounter roadblocks in the Democratic-run Senate. But the anti-regulatory climate in Washington already is having an impact, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency to cancel plans this month to tighten rules on ozone pollution. And President Barack Obama last week vowed additional steps to rid the government of regulatory underbrush.

The fight against rules is being waged by Republicans, but some Democrats are sounding similar themes that could resonate with businesses and voters in the battered economy.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., likely to face a tough re-election battle next year, said government needs to be mindful that businesses are struggling.

"With these forces against them, only the most critical regulations should be pursued. Now is not the time for unnecessary regulations that have the potential to further depress our economy," she said in a statement.

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., laid out the schedule for attacking new regulations, he defined them as "job-destroying," an oft-repeated phrase in the Republicans' recent political playbook.

Complaints about government overreach are not new, and by some measurements, the burden imposed on businesses during Obama's administration isn't dramatically heavier than in the administration of President George W. Bush. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, an advocate of limited government, counted 408 significant rules in the first two years of Obama's administration compared with 338 in the last two years of Bush's.

But Obama critics note that enforcement of rules has been more robust and that many more rules are in the pipeline as a result of two broad pieces of legislation, the health care overhaul and the financial industry reform bill.

Last month, the White House released a plan to eliminate "redundancy and inconsistency" in regulations, estimating savings to businesses at $10 billion over the next five years.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the initiative but warned that it would be undermined by pending new regulations — some targeted by the House.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, said that when he meets with constituents, typically the second topic brought up after the economy deals with regulations.

"Job creators spend millions and millions of dollars to comply with these things knowing it's money they aren't able to recoup," he said.

"We're deadly serious about this," Luetkemeyer said of the House GOP plan. "We're not playing games on our side of the building."

The labor vote today stems from the National Labor Relations Board's actions after Boeing's decision to open its 787 Dreamliner production line this summer in right-to-work South Carolina. Boeing claims its decision was made for economic reasons. The NLRB contends the company was punishing unionized workers in Washington state and wants the work returned there.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, is among 16 House members targeted in a million-dollar radio and Web ad campaign by business groups leading up to the vote. The ads accuses "unaccountable bureaucrats" of overstepping their authority and urges support for the House effort to undercut the NLRB.

The GOP-drawn bills aim heavily at the EPA. Next week, the House plans to target two EPA efforts: a rule called maximum available control technology, which is designed to reduce mercury and other pollutants from power plant emissions by 2015; and the so-called cross state rule, requiring 27 states, including Missouri and Illinois, to remove additional sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollutants from the air.

Other EPA rules in the cross hairs include the government's effort to regulate coal ash and other wastes from coal-burning, a proposal that stems from the collapse of an impoundment in Tennessee in 2008.

EPA defenders and public health advocates argue that critics' simplistic narrative focused on cost does not factor in the benefits from new regulations. The mercury and cross-state rules alone could prevent as many as 25,300 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of lost workdays annually, they argue, citing EPA estimates.

Nor does the debate in Congress consider jobs created by regulations, they add. The EPA estimates that the mercury rule alone would create 40,000 jobs, 31,000 in construction and 9,000 in the electric utility sector.

John Walke, who directs the clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the GOP effort "the most concerted and reckless assault on public health and environmental safeguards we have witnessed in Washington."

The Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank and Democratic-aligned group, argues for tempering the release of new rules. Michael Mandel, the group's chief economic strategist, dates the expansion of government rule-making to the aftermath of 9/11 in Bush's administration. Rather than back off, he said, the Obama White House expanded into new areas.

"While we're still in this downturn, I think it makes sense to delay or alter regulations in order to provide breathing room for the economy," he said.

"Unemployment has health consequences as well," he said, responding to worries of environmental advocates.

G. Tracy Mehan, former head of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources who later became a top water official in Bush's EPA, said anti-regulatory sentiments always have been present. But today, he said, they are fueled by "a terrible economy that colors everybody's attitude toward any additional cost, even if its legitimate."

He added: "At the end of the day, most Americans would support the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Is there any kind of national consensus for repealing these laws or making them dysfunctional? Of course not. Environmental values are deeply ingrained in the American character these days."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When Did CNN Become a Shill for GOP Extremism and the Tea Party?


Tea Party Express is not a grassroots group; it's a registered political PAC that funds right-wing candidates. And CNN is helping them.

CNN, once known for its unflinching coverage of actual news events, last night decided to become a maker, not a chronicler, of news. When the cable news network decided to partner with the Tea Party Express for a debate among the Republican presidential candidates, it cast aside any ethical concerns a news organization might have about direct involvement in elections and active engagement in altering the dynamics of a political party.

You could say there was a bit of a payoff, after a fashion, for the American people in the bargain, though: an unvarnished look at who the rank-and-file of the Tea Party really are, and what they believe. The audience in Tampa was said to comprise members of 150 Tea Party groups from across the nation. True to form, they applauded at the notion of an uninsured person in a coma being left to die (as suggested by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas), and booed Texas Gov. Rick Perry for saying that undocumented citizens who were brought to this country as children, through no fault of their own, should be allowed to pursue a higher education here.

If the Tea Party Express was nothing more than a political constituency of the Republican Party, that would be bad enough. But it's not: it's a political action committee, directly involved in electioneering, and the CNN event promises to aid the fundraising efforts of the Tea Party Express PAC. CNN's co-sponsorship of the Tea Party Express debate amounts to an incalculable in-kind contribution to a far-right political PAC, elevating its brand name, providing free air time and event-staging, and conferring an aura of legitimacy on an organization that is essentially a fundraising operation for anti-government candidates. If this isn't illegal, it's time to scream from the rafters, why not?

In the 2010 midterm elections, Tea Party Express raised a total of $7.7 million, which it spent on the U.S. Senate campaigns of Christine ("I'm not a witch") O'Donnell, Del.; Sharron Angle, Nev.; Joe Miller, Alaska; and Marco Rubio, Fla., among others. In fact, Tea Party Express donated the maximum allowable amount to the congressional campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann, something that none of the other contenders at last night's debate can claim.

Of the millions raised by Tea Party Express in the last election cycle, much of the money was spent in "independent expenditures" (usually attack ads and mailings) designed to support the candidacies of primary challengers such as O'Donnell, Angle and Miller. So, what CNN is doing is deploying Wolf Blitzer, who moderated last night's debate, to alter the political dynamic of the Republican Party to move it even further to the right than it already is.

The partnership with Tea Party Express seems an act of desperation by CNN, eager to reclaim some of the audience it has lost to Fox News Channel, which has been a relentless promoter of the Tea Party Express bus tour. Over the course of the last year, CNN also added to its roster of paid analysts Erick Erickson, proprietor of the blog Red State, and the factually challenged Dana Loesch of Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism Web site. The cable channel has not, however, added analysts from the progressive movement, leaving the left to be represented by more establishment liberals, such as Donna Brazile and Jeffrey Toobin. (Great people, excellent analysts, but not exactly in the same place politically as, say, Van Jones and Amy Goodman.) So, CNN actively creates more opportunity for right-wing activists to push the GOP further to the right, while depriving progressives the opportunity to persuade Democrats to move in their direction.

In the videos CNN produced to promote the debate, Washington bureau chief Sam Feist [video] and moderator Wolf Blitzer never mention the name "Tea Party Express." Rather, they say, they are partnering with "the Tea Party." But there are more than a few Tea Partiers who want nothing to do with Tea Party Express. Last year, TPE was expelled from the National Tea Party Federation for a racist screed by then-spokesperson Mark Williams, who, according to Media Matters, penned "a fake letter from the NAACP calling Abraham Lincoln the 'greatest racist ever' for taking away the 'great gig' of slavery from African-Americans."

Last week, FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-allied group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, withdrew its support from the Tea Party Express bus tour because of TPE's inclusion of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a speaking event.

Tea Party Express was initially founded during the 2008 election campaign as an anti-Obama PAC called Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Once the Tea Party movement took off, PAC founders Sal Russo and Howard Kaloogian rebranded the PAC under the Tea Party Express name. Russo is a long-time Republican political operative; Kaloogian ran the Recall Grey Davis campaign that unseated the sitting California governor and paved the way for the victory of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not exactly your quaint grassroots types.

There's precedence, alas, for political meddling by cable news entities through debate partnerships with constituency groups, but never before with a PAC. In 2004 and 2008, Fox News Channel partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute for a Democratic candidates' forum, and CNN itself co-hosted a forum with the faux-progressive preacher Jim Wallis in 2007 in which the candidates bowed and scraped to prove their religiosity before a sanctimonious crowd. But neither of those groups is a political action committee. (The Congressional Black Caucus Institute is a separate organization from the Congressional Black Caucus, does operate a small PAC, but also has a much broader mission.)

Each time a news organization partners with a constituency group in a presidential debate, it accords that group a greater impact than competing constituencies -- and that's troubling enough. But when a news organization partners with a group that gives money directly to candidates and that makes attack ads against candidates it doesn't fancy, that news organization has crossed the line into electioneering. And that's just plain wrong.

If you watched the debate via the livestreamed Webcast, as I did, you saw a bit of unintentional video after the debate had ended, when Wolf Blitzer approached Rick Perry, saying he hoped they could "get together soon." Then Blitzer patted Perry on the shoulder. "You did an excellent job tonight," he said.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan