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“Horse Race Journalism”: Dear Ben Carson, Remember Herman Cain?

Far be it from me to spoil the pleasure of others. Goodness knows, in this vale of tears, enjoyment should be derived wherever it can be found. So please don’t take what follows as the musings of a party pooper.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, Ben Carson has unseated Donald Trump from the top spot in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. I feel compelled to offer this unsolicited advice to Carson and his supporters: Don’t start dancing in the end zone, at least not before the opening-game kickoff.

The CBS/NYT poll conjures ghosts of past presidential primaries.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to years 2011 and 2007.

In the fall of 2011, with the Iowa caucuses set for January 2012, the country was treated to these headlines:

NBC/WSJ poll: Cain now leads GOP pack,”, Oct. 13, 2011.

Herman Cain tops Mitt Romney in latest CBS/NYT poll,” CBS News, Oct. 25, 2011.

Herman Cain Surges in the Polls as More Republicans Get to Know Him,” Huffington Post, Oct. 26, 2011.

Herman Cain leads as top GOP contender, edges out Mitt Romney, but needs to focus: pundits ,” New York Daily News, Nov. 12, 2011.

On Dec. 3, 2011, GOP front-runner Cain suspended his campaign amid charges of sexual misconduct, which he denied.

The road to the White House is filled with potholes.

In 2007, leading up to the Jan. 3, 2008, Iowa caucuses, the news was all about Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

Poll Shows Clinton With Solid Lead Among Democrats,” The Post, July 23, 2007.

Clinton Sustains Huge Lead in Democratic Nomination Race,” Gallup, Nov. 16, 2007. “48% of Democrats say they are most likely to support Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008, followed by Obama at 21%,” Gallup reported.

We know how that story ended.

This presidential campaign is unfolding the same old, same old way.

Once again, we in the news media, with the help of the campaigns, are hyping the hell out of an election that is many months away from producing results.

Our journalism is shaped by the need to (cliche coming) “fill air time and column inches.” Clueless about the final outcome, we, the media, focus instead on the horse-race aspect of the contest: “Who’s ahead? Who’s behind? Who’s catching up? Who’s falling back?”

Greg Marx, an editor with the Columbia Journalism Review, and John Sides, a George Washington University professor who writes for The Post’s Monkey Cage blog, have done incisive work on “horse-race journalism” and early campaign polling, respectively.

They would agree, I believe, that the combination of the news media’s horse-race mentality and the fixation on polls conducted months out from an election may add suspense and keep the public’s juices flowing, but they tell us little about how voters will behave on Election Day.

Nonetheless, we press on with our efforts to build excitement and (confession coming) our own reputations.

Then there’s the added attraction of the presidential debates, where the candidates get to audition for the roles of presidential nominee and media critic, and moderators try out as prosecutors hired to match wits with candidates suspected of having some degree of darkness in their pasts. Case in point: Wednesday night’s CNBC Republican debate.

Candidates unlikely to ever reach the Oval Office, except as invited guests — to wit: Carson, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum and George Pataki, along with Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley — thrive on debates, as they’re the only way for them to attract media attention.

For many in the viewing public, however, it’s all a great show, sort of like watching the lions vs. the Christians.

At this stage in the campaign season, the question of electability takes a back seat to a curiosity that borders on morbid.

Which brings us back to Carson. He will be repeating Cain’s mistake if he believes the polls suggest that he is being taken seriously. The results say no such thing.

Carson, like Cain, is a novelty candidate, someone unusual: he, a soft-spoken, self-effacing African American retired neurosurgeon and reactionary to the core; Cain, a gregarious African American former Burger King and Godfather’s Pizza executive and a 9-9-9 devotee.

Carson’s newness to Republican politics adds to his standing vis-à-vis a GOP field that is ideologically the same, mainly predictable and, in the case of several second-tier candidates, downright dull.

Today’s polls do not, and cannot, predict how the Republican electorate will vote in next year’s primaries and caucuses.

And that brings into play the old adage, “in politics, overnight is a lifetime.”

Carsonites, keep that in mind.


By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 30, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Herman Cain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enthusiasm Does Not Equal Organization”: Decentralized Political Organizing Could Be A Problem For Team Sanders

Journalists are just now coming to grips with this, and there’s always a danger on such subjects of buying campaign spin. But there does seem to be a growing recognition that Hillary Clinton’s campaign differs from its 2008 predecessor because of a pervasive emphasis on organization-building in the states.

WaPo’s Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy come at the story from a different angle today, noting that HRC’s high “burn rate” for contributions is being driven by systemic investments in campaign infrastructure:

Details in the newly filed reports paint a picture of a campaign harnessing the latest technological tools and constructing the kind of deep ground operation that Clinton lacked in her 2008 bid. That kind of organizing capability has gained importance as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, has drawn large crowds and gained ground in polls….

Clinton’s operation is paying rent in 25 cities across nine states, Federal Election Commission filings show. Along with about 340 staff members on the payroll, the campaign had hired nearly 60 field organizers by the end of June.

“It’s a sign that she’s approaching the campaign differently than the last time,” [David] Axelrod said. “They didn’t have as thoughtful an approach to laying the foundation for that campaign, and it ended up hurting them when it ended up being an organizational fight.”

At the “Politico Caucus” subsite, where there’s a sort of large focus group of early-state “Insiders,” the judgment is even clearer, per Katie Glueck:

Asked to assess what Clinton is doing right, and wrong, in their states, almost every Caucus participant — Democrats and Republicans — answered the question of what she’s doing right by saying Clinton has pulled together a strong staff and is doing all of the little things right when it comes to being organized for the early state contests and beyond.

“Doing right: building and investing in a monster field operation. Scares the hell out of this Republican knowing that many of those staff will easily pivot to organizing for the general election,” an Iowa Republican said.

“HRC is building a campaign rooted in organizing,” added a New Hampshire Democrat. “I’ve been to several house parties & campaign events and there are always new faces present — faces that weren’t involved in the 2012 presidential race. There is absolutely no one taking this primary race for granted whatsoever.”

“The organizing strategy is straight out of the Obama 2007 playbook,” an Iowa Democrat added. “The crew is enthusiastic and well-trained on the basics (pledge cards, pledge cards, pledge cards). Sanders and O’Malley will find it impossible to compete with the sheer size of the organizing.”

In New Hampshire, in particular, Democrats also largely lauded Clinton for visiting more rural parts of the state that are often overlooked. And across the board, her staff was praised for keeping cool amid the rise of Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, there’s also some recognition that the impressive enthusiasm that suffuses Bernie Sanders’ campaign is not automatically transmittable into a good organization, helpful as it is. At TNR earlier this week, Suzy Khimm suggested that the Occupy-influenced passion for decentralized political organizing could be a problem for Team Sanders:

Sanders is betting that passion will enable him to surmount the serious obstacles he faces in broadening his base of support. But that also means the campaign needs to find a way to corral popular enthusiasm into more traditional, on-the-ground organizing if Sanders wants a real shot at expanding his base beyond largely white, liberal enclaves. That means convincing more supporters to embrace a more centralized, hierarchical type of organizing, while still preserving the authentic, grassroots populism that Sanders embodies for his fans.

Iowa will be the acid test of this challenge. Caucus rules place an emphasis on local organizers knowing exactly what is expected of them in almost any circumstance, within the rubric of a Caucus Night strategy with some central direction. The epitome of the organization-outbids-enthusiam hypothesis occurred in 2004, when Howard Dean’s armies of orange-hatted volunteers may have done more to alienate than to organize Iowa Democrats, leading to a disastrous third-place finish despite strong poll numbers and an endorsement from Tom Harkin.

It’s all hypothetical at this point, of course. But neither crowd sizes nor expenditure numbers precisely capture the kind of qualities a campaign needs to win in a place like Iowa.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 17, 2015

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Circle Of Corruption”: Guess Who’s Profiting Most From Super PACs?

Candidates may raise the unprecedented sums of political cash being funneled through Super PACs this year, and media strategists may decide how to spend them – but the people who actually wind up pocketing much of the money are America’s television broadcasters. Since the Supreme Court voided limits on political donations in Citizens United, more money than ever is being devoted to negative TV ads. Industry analysts predict that upwards of $3 billion will be spent on political advertising this year – a surge of more than $500 million over 2008.

“Election season has turned into Black Friday for broadcasters,” says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which fights for transparency in elections. “It’s just a huge bonanza.”

While TV stations are required by law to offer discounted airtime to politicians, Super PACs have to pay market rates. With these outside groups expected to buy more than half the ads benefiting the Romney campaign, the increased competition to place ads in battleground states only serves to drive up the price. In a key market like Columbus, Ohio, where campaign spots are already airing at a record pace, the ad buys are expected to exceed the haul from 2008, when political ads made up half of all TV spots purchased during the final week of the election.

In essence, broadcasters are now profiteering from a vicious circle of corruption: Politicians are beholden to big donors because campaigns are so expensive, and campaigns are so expensive because they’re fought through television ads. The more cash that chases limited airtime, the more the ads will cost, and the more politicians must lean on deep-pocketed patrons. In short, the dirtier the system, the better for the bottom line at TV stations and cable systems. According to an analysis by Moody’s, political ads are expected to account for as much as seven cents of every dollar broadcasters earn over the full two-year election cycle for 2012.

The influx of political cash also means that TV news divisions have what Allison calls a “huge conflict of interest” when it comes to reporting on campaign finance. The profit motive stifles critical coverage of top donors and meaningful reforms, such as public financing of elections. “Broadcasters have an incentive not to see the system changed,” he says.

But while there’s no hope of curbing campaign spending in the near term, a new FCC rule could soon give the public real-time data about who is profiting from the Super PAC marathon. In April, the commission ruled that affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the nation’s 50 biggest markets must post their revenue from political ads online, for all to see. (Such records have long been public – just inaccessible, kept in paper form in files at each station.) The reform would help expose some of the “dark money” spending by mega-donors like the Koch brothers, but it’s only a modest start: Many communities in battleground states – like Fort Myers, Florida, and Reno, Nevada – are located in smaller markets that are not covered by the new rule. A study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group suggests that at least 40 percent of spending on over-the-airwaves presidential ads may remain exempt from disclosure.

But the rule’s shortcomings haven’t kept broadcasters and their GOP allies from going all out to stop it. In June, Republicans on the House Financial Services Subcommittee voted to block disclosure and enable donors to operate in secrecy. And on July 10th, the National Association of Broadcasters filed an emergency motion to postpone the rule, arguing that it will allow cable and other competitors to undercut their business. “Shifting even a small percentage of this advertising away from television,” the NAB confessed, would cost TV stations “millions of dollars in revenue.”

The rule is scheduled to go into effect in August – but the NAB move could delay it until well after the election. One bright spot: Time Warner has voluntarily begun posting online rec­ords of its political ad buys, even though the new FCC rule doesn’t apply to cable companies. Its records are not sortable by dollar amounts – so the public can’t quickly tally how much money the Obama campaign is spending on, say, ESPN2. But voters can now examine individual ad buys. In Columbus, for example, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, one of the largest and most notorious dark-money groups, has booked three daytime ads to run on Fox News during the last week of October. The spots may be designed to aid Romney and the GOP, but Time Warner will enjoy a tidy bit of political profiteering: The cable company is charging $24 per ad – a staggering 12 times what the same ads would have cost in May.


By: Tim Dickinson,, August 6, 2012 (This story is from the August 16th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone).

August 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Citizens United: A Further Overreach On Political Money

The spree of big-money political campaigning — and the corruption that comes with it — seemed guaranteed to worsen Thursday when a federal judge in Virginia ruled that corporations are now free to make direct donations to federal candidates.

District Court Judge James Cacheris claimed his decision was consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. But his interpretation of corporate free speech rights goes much further — and strains all credibility. The Supreme Court specifically said that the Citizens United ruling was about allowing corporate expenditures through independent campaign groups.

A separate Supreme Court decision from 2003, Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, still stands and leaves no doubt that the ban on corporate donations to candidates remains the law. Judge Cacheris would seem to twice overrule Supreme Court decisions — a hierarchical impossibility as any law student should know. (A federal judge in Minnesota previously ruled that the ban on corporate donations to candidates still stands.)

Of course, in politics there is the law of the land and there is the tireless frenzy for money. Whether Judge Cacheris — who issued his opinion, as he said, “for better or worse” — meant to blur the two remains to be seen. His decision deserves to be struck down on appeal for “equating apples and oranges,” as Mark Lytle, the prosecutor in the case, said of the judge’s overreach.

Judge Cacheris’s ruling struck down part of an indictment accusing two businessmen of illegally reimbursing employees for their donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for president and the Senate. They are charged with paying more than $180,000 to 43 fake donors in an effort to evade donation limits. Most of the indictment still stands, with a trial scheduled in July.

Campaign money bundlers will keep pushing the limits wherever and however they can — and the integrity of our electoral system will pay the price. The courts need to do a far better job of pushing back.


By: Editorial, The New York Times Opinion Pages, May 28, 2011

May 28, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Elections, Government, Ideology, Politics, Regulations, Right Wing, Supreme Court, Voters | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Forget The Rich: Tax The Poor And Middle Class

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, it used to be said, but in the madcap times we live in, even they’re up for grabs.

No matter what proof the White House provides that Osama bin Laden indeed has had his bucket kicked — and at this point even al Qaeda admits he’s dead — there still will be uncertainty. Whether they ever release those damned photos or not, a lunatic few will continue to insist that Osama’s alive and well and running a Papa John’s Pizza in Marrakesh.

As for taxes, having to pay them is no longer a sure thing either, especially if you’re a corporate giant like General Electric, with a thousand employees in its tax department, skilled in creative accounting. You’ll recall recent reports that although GE made profits last year of $5.1 billion in the United States and $14.2 billion worldwide they would pay not a penny of federal income tax. Chalk it up to billions of dollars of losses at GE Capital during the financial meltdown and a government tax break that allows companies to avoid paying US taxes on profits made overseas while “actively financing” different kinds of deals.

It gets worse. In 2009, Exxon-Mobil didn’t pay any taxes either, and last year, they had worldwide profits of $30.46 billion. Neither did Bank of America or Chevron or Boeing. According to a report last week from the office of the New York City Public Advocate, in 2009, the five companies, including GE, received a total of $3.7 billion in federal tax benefits.

As The New York Times‘ David Kocieniewski reported in March, “Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less… Such strategies, as well as changes in tax laws that encouraged some businesses and professionals to file as individuals, have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”

What’s greasing the wheels for these advantages is, hold on to your hats, cash. Over the last decade, according to the NYC public advocate’s report, those same five companies — GE, Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, Chevron and Boeing — gave more than $43.1 million to political campaigns. During the 2009-2010 election cycle, the five spent a combined $7.86 million in campaign contributions, a 7 percent jump over their 2007-2008 political spending.

“These tax breaks were put in place to promote growth and create jobs, not bankroll the political causes of corporate executives,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “… No company that can afford to spend millions of dollars to influence our elections should be pleading poverty come tax time.”

And by the way, those campaign cash figures don’t even include all the money those companies funneled into the 2010 campaigns via trade associations and tax-exempt non-profits. Thanks to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, we don’t know the numbers because, as per the court, the corporate biggies don’t have to tell us. Imagine them sticking out their tongues and wiggling their fingers in their ears and you have a pretty good idea of their official position on this.

Meanwhile, last week Republicans like Utah’s Orrin Hatch, ranking member of the US Senate Finance Committee, grabbed hold of an analysis by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation and wrestled it to the ground. The brief memorandum reported that in the 2009 tax year 51 percent of all American taxpayers had zero tax liability or received a refund. So why, the Republicans asked, are Democrats and others so mean, asking corporations and the rich to pay higher taxes when lots of other people — especially the poor and middle class — don’t pay taxes either?

Hatch told MSNBC, “Bastiat, the great economist of the past, said the place where you’ve got to get revenues has to come from the middle class. That’s the huge number of people that are there. So the system does need to be revamped… We have an unbalanced tax code that we’ve got to change.”

All of which flies in the face of reality. As Travis Waldron of the progressive ThinkProgress website explained, “The majority of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes don’t make enough money to qualify for even the lowest tax bracket, a problem made worse by the economic recession. That includes retired Americans, who don’t pay income taxes because they earn very little income, if they earn any at all.

“And while many low-income Americans don’t pay income taxes, they do pay taxes. Because of payroll and sales taxes — a large proportion of which are paid by low- and middle-income Americans — less than a quarter of the nation’s households don’t contribute to federal tax receipts — and the majority of the non-contributors are students, the elderly, or the unemployed.”

What’s more, ThinkProgress notes, “The top 400 taxpayers — who have more wealth than half of all Americans combined — are paying lower taxes than they have in a generation, as their tax responsibilities have slowly collapsed since the New Deal era.”  In the meantime, “working families have been asked to pay more and more.”

So maybe death and taxes are no longer certain, but one thing remains as immutable as the hills. In the words of another golden oldie, there’s nothing surer — the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

By: Michael Winship,, May 10, 2011

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democrats, Economy, Elections, General Electric, GOP, Government, Income Gap, Jobs, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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