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History > 2012 > USA > Politics (I)





The Road We've Traveled Official Trailer - Obama for America 2012

Remember how far we've come. From the Academy Award® winning director

of An Inconvenient Truth: "The Road We've Traveled".


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YouTube > added by BarackObamadotcom    March 7, 2012

















Sharp Response

Meets Return of Protesters


March 19, 2012
The New York Times


In September they began to gather, their encampment growing by the week. The police, confronted with a populist movement that put down roots in the financial district, were unsure of how to respond to Occupy Wall Street. At some marches, protesters were arrested for veering off the sidewalk into the street; at others, the police ordered protesters off the sidewalk.

Tents were banned early on, then tolerated, then banned again. The mayor said he was going to clear the encampment in October to clean up Zuccotti Park, then balked before finally going through with it a month later, when he sent the police in to clear the camp, in the middle of the night, with little warning.

Now, with Occupy Wall Street’s resurgence, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s response to the protest movement has not been ambivalent. Asked at a news conference on Monday if he had a strategy to prevent large-scale arrests of protesters, Mr. Bloomberg said: “You want to get arrested? We’ll accommodate you.”

While saying that the protests make for “great theater,” he dismissed them as ineffective. “If you have something, really, to say, that would be a great contribution, nobody can hear you when everybody’s yelling and screaming and pushing and shoving,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

On Saturday, the first major conflict between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the New York Police Department since Jan. 1 took place, with the police arresting 76 protesters. Many of those happened after the police declared the park closed on Saturday night, and ordered everyone out.

On Monday, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said he was going to ask the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, to hold hearings to review the police actions. He said he also believed that the Police Department was “using brutal excessive force against peaceful people” during some of the arrests.

Another councilman, Jumaane Williams, questioned whether the police had the authority to close the park on Saturday night, an act that led to many of the arrests. A law enforcement official said the Police Department had decided to declare the park closed because of concerns about vandalism. The official said several electrical outlets at the park had been damaged, though on Saturday night the police told protesters that the park was being cleared so that it could be cleaned.

While most of the arrests were for misdemeanors, three people were charged with felonies: a 23-year old Wisconsin woman accused of elbowing a police officer in the face; a man accused of trying to snatch a gun and a radio from a police sergeant; and a 25-year-old California man accused of pushing an officer, the police said.

On Monday afternoon, a dozen uniformed officers ringed the park in groups of three and four, watching as a smattering of protesters and tourists mingled. One officer said he was not even aware that there had been any arrests over the weekend. There was little indication that the officers on duty — who were detailed to the park from precincts in the Rockaways, the East Village and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn — had received new instructions differing from those in effect last fall.

One officer said that as far as he knew there was only one special rule that the police were enforcing. “Right now, the only rule is you can’t stay overnight,” he said, adding, “No tents, and no tarps or sleeping bags.”

The officer said that beyond that, the police were there just to ensure that there were no fights and to respond to crime. He gestured at a nearby protester, 38-year-old Justin Stone-Diaz, who was at that moment yelling, “Off the buses and into the park!” at a passing bus.

“That guy there — the one yelling — he’s all right,” the officer said. “He’s not bothering anyone.”

A police spokeswoman, Deputy Inspector Kim Y. Royster, said police operations at Zuccotti Park were “assessed daily.”


Colin Moynihan and Kate Taylor contributed reporting.

    Sharp Response Meets Return of Protesters, NYT, 19.3.2012,






With Video, Obama Looks

to Expand Campaign’s Reach

Through Social Media


March 14, 2012
The New York Times


When presidential candidates have a message they want voters to hear far and wide, they have typically turned to that old campaign standby: the television ad.

But as President Obama and his advisers prepare to begin their general election push, they are turning first not to a 30-second commercial but a 17-minute online documentary that they hope will be shared and spread online through social networks and e-mail.

When the Tom Hanks-narrated, Hollywood-style documentary, called “The Road We’ve Traveled,” is set to go online Thursday night, it will appear on a new YouTube platform that enables the Obama campaign to turn the passive experience of watching a video into an organizing and fund-raising tool. The technology will allow viewers to post campaign content to their Facebook pages, volunteer and donate all without having to leave Mr. Obama’s dedicated YouTube page.

Eventually campaign strategists hope to use the new software to focus on people in highly specific ways. For example, if someone watches a video about a certain geographic location, like Florida, a list of that person’s Facebook friends in Florida would appear alongside the video with a message from the campaign that suggests recommending the video to them.

The Obama campaign’s efforts underscore the importance that political campaigns now attach to Web video and the role the medium will probably play in the coming election. Once best known in politics as the venue for viral parodies and hastily produced response efforts, online video is vital in the way campaigns communicate with and persuade voters.

“The importance of video is so new for campaigns, even relative to ’08,” said Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director. “Now it’s in some ways the primary way our digital operation communicates with supporters. And increasingly it will be the primary way we communicate with undecided voters.”

Television is likely to remain the dominant way campaigns reach voters for the foreseeable future. Experts predict that about 10 percent of the campaigns’ advertising budgets this year will be spent on the Web. But online video offers campaigns a way to connect with people they know are engaged and not fast-forwarding through messages on their DVR players or flipping channels during commercials.

And, perhaps more important, it offers them a way to disseminate their messages into online communities where friends and family members share, discuss and debate. Campaigns believe that helps elevate their messages beyond propaganda.

“This year it’s all about getting your message into those trusted networks because everyone is suspicious about politicians,” said Darrell West, of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution. “It’s hard to be persuasive through a direct advertisement. But if you can get people to share videos, it adds a degree of credibility because a friend is endorsing it. People will take it more seriously.”

“The Road We’ve Traveled” was conceived and produced by the campaign to stand out from standard political video fare. For starters, it was directed by Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director whose film credits include “Waiting for Superman” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” It features interviews with Obama administration officials past and present, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff. Former President Bill Clinton makes an appearance as well, hailing Mr. Obama’s decision to kill Osama bin Laden as one he hoped he would have had the courage to make as president.

The new YouTube platform that the Obama campaign will use to release the documentary gives anyone visiting the president’s YouTube page a number of options to share the content or pledge support, the kind of one-click approach that campaigns now see as an integral part of their digital strategies.

Mitt Romney’s campaign is using similar technology with its Web videos. Visitors can donate, volunteer and share content, all within Mr. Romney’s YouTube page. The campaign has worked to keep its video offerings dynamic, producing roughly two a week over the course of the campaign.

The Obama campaign has taken a similar one-stop-shopping approach to streamline online donations. Borrowing a technique from online merchants like Amazon and Fresh Direct, repeat donors do not need to resubmit their credit card information to make a pledge. The campaign saves it on file, and all the donor has to do is click.

Where online video offers some of the most potential, strategists say, is in modernizing the traditional aspects of campaigning, like get-out-the-vote efforts and responses to attacks from opponents.

“It’s the ability to get your message out quickly that makes all the difference,” said Zac Moffatt, the Romney campaign’s digital director. “And that’s really where I think YouTube has found a niche in politics.”

Some strategists said what has changed in this election is the ability to turn Web video into something people act on. “One of the biggest challenges with YouTube is giving people a clear action to take after viewing,” said Stephen Muller, the Obama campaign’s video director. “The goal is to bring our engagement tools to our supporters.”

    With Video, Obama Looks to Expand Campaign’s Reach Through Social Media, NYT, 14.3.2012,






In New York, a Pep Talk to Big Donors


March 14, 2012
The New York Times


A day after losing Mississippi and Alabama to Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney took his campaign to a state where he had no public schedule, no time carved out to mingle with voters, and no rallies or town halls.

While Mr. Santorum and Newt Gingrich hunted for votes in Puerto Rico and Illinois, Mr. Romney traveled to New York City to raise money and reassure top Republican donors — a constituency that favors his candidacy, and one perhaps most rattled by his inability to win the confidence of the party’s conservative base.

Mr. Romney has raised more than $63 million, twice as much as his nearest rival, with about a fifth of his money coming from the New York area, home to many of the financial industry executives whose cause Mr. Romney has championed on the campaign trail. Mr. Romney has used that huge cash advantage to hammer his rivals in everything from television advertisements to on-the-ground mailers.

But many donors remain frustrated with the narrative that has begun to crystallize around Mr. Romney as an out-of-touch, gaffe-prone politician who cannot connect with voters. Some said they did not understand why he was not able to surge ahead after his win in Florida, and others wished he had invested more time and money in Mississippi, where they said a victory Tuesday night was within Mr. Romney’s reach and could have halted Mr. Santorum’s momentum.

Mr. Romney’s pitch to donors Wednesday was similar to the one he made to his finance and political teams in Boston after Super Tuesday. “It’s going to be a long tough road, but we’re going to rough it out, and we’re going to be the nominee,” said John Catsimatidis, a supermarket magnate who organized one of Wednesday’s fund-raisers.

But while the events — breakfast and lunch fund-raisers at the Waldorf-Astoria and an evening gala in Connecticut — raised about $3 million, Mr. Romney faced lingering questions about his candidacy.

“Are you still able to pick up delegates when you don’t win a state?” asked one worried guest at the breakfast event. Of course, Mr. Romney assured him.

“You may not be declared the winner, but in these proportional states, you still pick up delegates,” Mr. Romney said, according to people who attended the event.

Mr. Romney also sought to ease donor concerns by returning to the delegate math, a pitch his campaign also made in a memo that went out Wednesday morning. He pointed to victories Tuesday in Hawaii and American Samoa that increased his delegate lead, as well as the delegates he still picked up in the two states he lost.

But Mr. Romney needs money to collect the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the nomination.

“In order to win against Barack Obama, our nominee needs to have the resources to be competitive,” said Matt Rhoades, Mr. Romney’s campaign manager. “Our fund-raising events provide us with the resources to continue our paid media and voter contact efforts in primaries and caucuses across the country.”

While donors privately worry about Mr. Romney’s ability to relate to average Americans, the finance and corporate executives he mingled with Wednesday are perhaps the group with whom he feels most comfortable — and who are equally enthusiastic about him.

“Don’t forget, New York is a town of businesspeople, investment bankers, bankers, and they respond to him whether they’re Republican or Reagan Democrats or businesspeople who used to be Clinton Democrats,” Mr. Catsimatidis said. “They love this guy because he’s a straight arrow, he’s level-headed, and he’s going to do the right thing for our country.”

Mr. Romney’s experience at Bain Capital creates a natural bond between him and his top-dollar supporters.

“Many donors are small-business owners, and they understand how bad their business has been hurt under the last three or four years of President Obama,” said Austin Barbour, one of Mr. Romney’s national finance chairmen.

While Mr. Romney has had a major cash advantage for most of the nominating campaign, the long duration and growing cost of the contest has depleted much of the money he had banked before the Iowa caucuses and has raised pressure on his donors to refill his coffers.

“It’s going to be a slog,” said Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and a member of Mr. Romney’s national finance committee. “It means we have to continue raising the money. We thought it’d be over much earlier.”

    In New York, a Pep Talk to Big Donors, NYT, 14.3.2012,






Super Tuesday


March 6, 2012
The New York Times


Long before Super Tuesday, the Republican Party had cemented itself on the distant right of American politics, with a primary campaign that has been relentlessly nasty, divisive and vapid. Barbara Bush, the former first lady, was so repelled that on Tuesday she called it the worst she’d ever seen. We feel the same way.

This country has serious economic problems and profound national security challenges. But the Republican candidates are so deep in the trenches of cultural and religious warfare that they aren’t offering any solutions.

The results Tuesday night did not settle the race. Republican voters will have to go on for some time choosing between a candidate, Mitt Romney, who stands for nothing except country-club capitalism, and a candidate, Rick Santorum, so blinkered by his ideology that it’s hard to imagine him considering any alternative ideas or listening to any dissenting voice.

There are differences. Mr. Santorum is usually more extreme in his statements than Mr. Romney, especially in his intolerance of gay and lesbian Americans and his belief that religion — his religion — should define policy and politics. Mr. Santorum’s remark about wanting to vomit when he reread John F. Kennedy’s remarkable speech in 1960 about the separation of church and state is one of the lowest points of modern-day electoral politics.

Mr. Romney has been slightly more temperate. But, in his desperation to prove himself to the ultraright, he has joined in the attacks on same-sex marriage, abortion and even birth control. He has never called Mr. Santorum on his more bigoted rants. Neither politician is offering hard-hit American workers anything beyond long discredited trickle-down economics, more tax cuts for the rich, a weakening of the social safety net and more of the deregulation that nearly crashed the system in 2008.

There is also no space between Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum in the way they distort reality to attack Mr. Obama for everything he says, no matter how sensible, and oppose everything he wants, no matter how necessary. Rising gas prices? Blame the president’s sound environmental policies. Never mind that oil prices are set on world markets and driven up by soaring demand in China and Middle East unrest.

They also have peddled the canard that the president is weak on foreign policy. Mr. Romney on Tuesday called President Obama “America’s most feckless president since Carter.” Never mind that Mr. Obama ordered the successful raid to kill Osama bin Laden and has pummeled Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, all without the Republicans’ noxious dead-or-alive swagger. Now, for the sake of scoring political points, Mr. Romney, Mr. Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who is hanging on only thanks to one backer’s millions, seem determined to push Israel toward a reckless attack on Iran.

Republican politicians have pursued their assault on Mr. Obama, the left and any American who disagrees with them for years now. There are finally signs that they may pay a price for the casual cruelty with which they attack whole segments of society. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican of Alaska, said on Tuesday that the Republicans have left people thinking they are at war with women. Women are right to think that.

A new Pew Research poll shows that 3 in 10 voters say their opinion of the Republicans has worsened during the primaries. Among Democrats, 49 percent said watching the primaries have made them more likely to vote for Mr. Obama. That is up from 36 percent in December, which shows that Mr. Obama has risen as the Republicans have fallen.

But the president, who can be frustratingly inert at times, still has a long way to go.

    Super Tuesday, NYT, 6.3.2012,






Andrew Breitbart, Conservative Blogger, Dies at 43


March 1, 2012
The New York Times


Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger and activist who built a national media persona by putting undercover video on the Internet to bring discredit and disgrace to his liberal targets, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 43.

The cause was apparently a heart attack, said his father-in-law, the actor Orson Bean. Someone saw Mr. Breitbart collapse on the sidewalk, Mr. Bean added, and when the paramedics arrived they were unable to revive him. Mr. Bean said he believed Mr. Breitbart had a history of heart problems.

Mr. Breitbart was as polarizing as he was popular. On the political right he was hailed in the same breath with Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge as a truth-teller who exposed bias and corruption. On the left, he was derided by many as a provocateur who played fast and loose with the facts to further his agenda.

Among his biggest coups was forcing the resignation of a New York congressman, Anthony D. Weiner. Someone in Mr. Breitbart’s network of tipsters and fans had e-mailed him sexually explicit photos that Mr. Weiner had taken of himself and sent to women online. Mr. Breitbart published some of the photos on his Web site, BigGovernment.com, igniting a firestorm that reached to the highest levels of Congress.

The move displayed two of Mr. Breitbart’s defining features as a media personality: an eagerness to flout authority, and an innate sense for the viral news story. With the Weiner scandal, Mr. Breitbart, already a cult figure, only solidified his status as a force in his own right.

On Thursday, many of the luminaries he looked up to as a young man paid homage to him. Mr. Limbaugh called him “an indefatigable bulldog for the conservative cause.”

Mr. Breitbart was one of the most aggressive — and controversial — users of blogs to disseminate political information and rumors, and his video methods were new in conservative media. What Mr. Limbaugh was to radio and what Mr. Drudge was to the Internet, Mr. Breitbart was to online video and images.

Mr. Breitbart worked with Mr. Drudge early in his career, helping him staff The Drudge Report. But another media star, Arianna Huffington, gave Mr. Breitbart what turned out to be his biggest break. She hired him in 1997 when she was a conservative commentator in need of research help. She gave Mr. Breitbart a title, director of research, and what he described in his book “Righteous Indignation” as a “bizarre and cloistered office” in her Los Angeles home.

It did not take long for Ms. Huffington to see his value as a tireless employee. He struck up a friendship with her and her mother, who came to regard him as almost a son of her own.

“She would say, ‘Andrew, you’ve got to sleep, got to stop,’ ” Ms. Huffington said in an interview on Thursday. “You could sort of see the destructive side of his incredible passion for whatever he believed in at the time. It was all-consuming.”

Mr. Breitbart was instrumental in helping Ms. Huffington create an early Web presence with a site called Arianna Online. After he left her for The Drudge Report, she reached out to him again. He wrote in his book that he got a call one day in 2004. It was Ms. Huffington. “Do you have any ideas for a Web site?” he quoted her as asking. Mr. Breitbart went on to work with Ms. Huffington and her business partners Kenneth Lerer and Jonah Peretti for the next seven months creating the now heavily trafficked news site The Huffington Post.

Andrew James Breitbart was born on Feb. 1, 1969, in Los Angeles, a month before Gerry and Arlene Breitbart adopted him. He grew up in the exclusive Brentwood section of Los Angeles, an experience he called disjointing.

“Even though it was very much a keep-up-with-the-Joneses enclave, my parents seemed oblivious to all that,” he wrote. “When the first sushi restaurant popped up in our neighborhood in the early 1980s, we had meat loaf that night.”

He was a graduate of Tulane University, having majored in American studies.

Though he described his parents as Republican, he said they were not overtly political. “They came from the Silent Generation,” he said.

Silent Mr. Breitbart was not. As a conservative commentator he was a frequent presence on cable television shoutfests. He seemed to thrive on conflict.

In 2009, Mr. Breitbart started the first in a series of “Big” blogs with names like “Big Journalism,” “Big Hollywood” and “Big Government.” The Web sites gave Mr. Breitbart a big online perch of his own from which to unleash his assaults on liberal causes and figures.

One target, in 2009, was the community organizing group Acorn. A young conservative activist named James O’Keefe had come to Mr. Breitbart with undercover video of Acorn workers apparently offering advice on how to evade taxes and conceal child prostitution. In videotaping the encounter, Mr. O’Keefe and a companion had posed as a pimp and a prostitute. Mr. Breitbart eagerly published the tapes, and they went viral. In response, Congress ended grants to Acorn, and federal agencies severed ties with the group.

Mr. Breitbart earned a reputation for being playful but also selective with the facts. In an infamous case in 2010, he helped instigate the firing of an Agriculture Department official, Shirley Sherrod, by publishing a heavily edited video clip of her speaking at an N.A.A.C.P. event. Her comments, as edited, suggested that she had discriminated against a white farmer more than two decades ago.

In the full video, however, she could be heard saying that she had eventually helped the farmer and that she had learned from the experience — that all people must overcome their prejudices. At Mr. Breitbart’s death, she was suing him for defamation.

Many on the left, like the liberal Web site Media Matters, often portrayed Mr. Breitbart as a caricature. Indeed, there was an element of performance art to what Mr. Breitbart did that could make him seem coarse and crude. He was often profane, and it was not uncommon to find him in rumpled shirts and torn jeans.

But in reality he was a more complex figure. He supported gay rights and once served on the board of GOProud, an organization for conservatives dedicated to gay and lesbian causes. His friends described him as a deeply committed father to his four children and a loyal husband to his wife, Susie.

And while he often railed against what he called corrupt mainstream media, he also knew that he needed them to further his own legitimacy. When he released the Weiner photos, he partnered with ABC News because, he said, he knew it would lend an imprimatur of authority.

He is survived by his wife; a daughter, Mia; and three sons, Samson, Charlie and William Buckley.

He was true to his reputation right up until he died. At 11:25 p.m. on Wednesday he sent out a Twitter message to someone who had taken issue with one of his comments. Mr. Breitbart had referred to him using a vulgarity “cause I thought you were being intentionally disingenuous,” he wrote. “If not I apologize.”


Ian Lovett, Brian Stelter and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

    Andrew Breitbart, Conservative Blogger, Dies at 43, NYT, 1.3.2012,






Theocracy and Its Discontents


February 23, 2012
9:00 pm
The New York Times

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.


Ah, the founders, those starch-collared English souls planting liberty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century. For those who didn’t follow rules handed down by God through man, these New World authorities could cut out your tongue, slice off your ears or execute you. O.K., Puritans, wrong role-model founders.

Then let’s look west, beyond the Wasatch Mountains in the 19th century, where Brigham Young built a Mormon empire in which church rule and civil law were one and the same — the press, a military brigade and the courts all controlled by the Seer and Revelator of a homegrown religion. Oops, wrong founders again.

American political bedrock — God’s house and the people’s government guiding separate worlds — wasn’t always in place. Reason ultimately won out. But theocracy certainly had its colonies and its advocates; it might have prevailed but for a few outstanding voices.

One of those voices was Roger Williams’s. Banished by the Puritans, he established what became Rhode Island and created in 1636 “the first government in the world which broke church and state apart,” as John M. Barry writes in “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul,” a new book on this founding episode.

The idea that civil law and religious law are separate has coursed through American society ever since. It was a radical thought in 1636. It’s written in the Constitution now. And yet, with Rick Santorum riding high in the Republican primaries, it looks as if this issue will get another go-round.

Santorum, who makes Mitt Romney look blandly secular by comparison, has a well-known animus against accepted sexual practices that he believes defy “God’s law” — his words, not mine. He opposes sex for reasons other than producing babies, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, prenatal testing, and on and on. Contraception, he has said, gives people “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Erik S. Lesser/European Pressphoto AgencyRick Santorum and his family prayed with a pastor at a campaign rally in a Cumming, Ga. church on Feb. 19.

Most Americans won’t begrudge him his beliefs; he’s free to practice them, and imbue his children with them, as he did by home-schooling his family. But most Americans also will part ways with him when he advocates that civil code should adhere to his religious beliefs.

“God gave us laws that we must abide by,” he said early on the campaign. Notably, Santorum, a far-right Catholic, has taken issue with President John F. Kennedy, a moderate Catholic, for having said that his presidency would not be dictated by his faith. This view, Santorum said in 2010, has caused “great harm to America.”

So, bring on the argument, once again, with history as the guide. Williams was a Puritan convert who left Britain to escape religious persecution by a king who was head of state and head of the Church of England. After initially being welcomed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he was persecuted for his more enlightened views and put on trial. He faced the possibility of torture, or execution. Ultimately, he was banished.

In founding Providence as a place of religious tolerance, Williams drew Jews, Quakers and nonbelievers to his new colony, and gave up trying to convert the Indians. “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils,” he said.

In Barry’s book, Williams is charismatic and heroic, but also far ahead of his time. “The Bay leaders, both lay and clergy, firmly believed that the state must enforce all of God’s laws,” Barry writes. Williams “believed that humans, being imperfect, would inevitably err in applying God’s laws.” And certainly, those heretics who were hanged in New England paid the ultimate price for such errors.

The Mormons, for all the cheery optimism of their present state, were birthed in brutal theocracy, first in Nauvoo, Ill., and later in the State of Deseret, as their settlement in present-day Utah was called. The Constitution, separating church from state, press from government, had no place in either stronghold. And it took a threat to march the United States Army out to the rogue settlement around the Great Salt Lake to persuade Mormon leaders that their control did not extend beyond matters of the soul.

Santorum is itching to add another chapter to this book. Last weekend, he seemed to question President Obama’s faith, alluding to a “phony theology” that supposedly guides his presidency. Who knew there was a religious test through the gates of the White House?

He also used his Biblical beliefs to deny climate change, saying, “We are put on this earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth.” You may think he’s running for chief deacon, and should swap his sweater vest for a clerical collar.

But his followers know exactly what he’s talking about. In Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona, Santorum defended his religious-themed campaign: “Just because I talk about it doesn’t mean I want a government program to fix it.” But in fact, he does. Santorum has long tried to get his Biblical principles taught to children in public schools — insisting that “creationism” should be in every American classroom, and trying to enforce that through riders to education bills when he was a senator. Better yet, the kids should read about Roger Williams, a man of faith, and of reason — the American model that will prevail long after Santorum has left the pulpit.

    Theocracy and Its Discontents, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Donors With Agendas


February 23, 2012
The New York Times


The presidential primary season is being brought to you by a handful of multimillionaires and companies who have propped up the candidates with enormous donations to their “super PACs.” Just two dozen or so individuals, couples and companies have given more than 80 percent of the money collected by super PACs, or $54 million, according to disclosure forms released on Monday.

Freed of nearly all regulations or good sense by Citizens United and other court decisions, the super PACs are raising money in ludicrously large sums. The $10 million from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to Winning Our Future, which has sustained Newt Gingrich’s trailing campaign, is the biggest single donation to a candidate. But every candidate now has his own millionaire supporter, and the concentration of wealth in the campaign is growing.

The people writing these outsize checks are committed to defeating President Obama, but their interests don’t stop there. Many are involved in businesses or ideological causes that have clear policy agendas with the federal government. Their huge influence on individual candidates demonstrates the potential for corruption inherent in the super PAC era. Among the biggest givers:

¶Harold Simmons, a billionaire corporate raider, has given $1 million to Mr. Gingrich’s political action committee, $1.1 million to Rick Perry’s PAC, $100,000 to Mitt Romney’s PAC, and $10 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC advised by Karl Rove that is supporting many Republican candidates. Mr. Simmons’s companies make metals, paints and chemicals, among other things, and have gotten into trouble over lead and uranium emissions from previous decades. He also runs a radioactive waste dump in Texas that has clashed with environmental regulators over its proximity to a nearby aquifer. He controls Waste Control Specialists, which has contracts to clean up federal hazardous waste sites, including emissions from other companies he controls.

¶Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an outspoken libertarian, gave $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s PAC. In 2009, he wrote that the 1920s were the last decade when one could be optimistic about American politics, lamenting the subsequent rise of the welfare state that he blamed in part on giving women the right to vote.

¶Foster Friess, who gave $1 million to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue PAC, is a mutual fund manager who recently declared that aspirin used to be an effective contraceptive when women put it between their knees. He is a former president of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club of some of the country’s most powerful conservatives, which opposes unions, same-sex marriage and government regulation.

In addition, six-figure checks were given to Mr. Romney by seven executives at hedge funds or investment firms. Leaders of this industry are interested in fewer regulations and a low tax rate for their type of income.

President Obama’s super PAC, Priorities USA Action, received only two seven-figure checks last year, one from the Service Employees International Union for $1 million, and one from the movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg for $2 million. (Mr. Katzenberg said last month that he was disappointed with Mr. Obama’s opposition to antipiracy legislation but would continue to raise money for him.)

Until a few weeks ago, the president might have credibly campaigned against the undue influence of special interests on his Republican rivals. He can no longer make the case because, after his PAC received only $58,816 last month, Mr. Obama invited donors to give without limits. And all but the most privileged Americans will pay the price if the nation’s wealthiest can buy elections.

    Donors With Agendas, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Rick’s Religious Fanaticism


February 21, 2012
The New York Times



Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.

That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.

“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” the conservative presidential candidate warned in 2008. “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”

When, in heaven’s name, did sensuality become a vice? Next he’ll be banning Barry White.

Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war, but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago. “The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my über-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology”).

Santorum didn’t go as far as evangelist Franklin Graham, who heinously doubted the president’s Christianity on “Morning Joe.”

Mullah Rick, who has turned prayer into a career move, told ABC News’s Jake Tapper that he disagreed with the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on contraception. And, in October, he insisted that contraception is “not O.K. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Senator Sanitarium, as he was once dubbed on “The Sopranos,” sometimes tries to temper his retrogressive sermons so as not to drive away independent and Republican women who like to work, see their kids taught by professionals and wear Victoria’s Secret.

He told The Washington Post on Friday that, while he doesn’t want to fund contraception through Planned Parenthood, he wouldn’t ban it: “The idea that I’m coming after your birth control is absurd. I was making a statement about my moral beliefs, but I won’t impose them on anyone else in this case.”

That doesn’t comfort me much. I’ve spent a career watching candidates deny they would do things that they went on to do as president, and watching presidents let their personal beliefs, desires and insecurities shape policy decisions.

Mullah Rick is casting doubt on issues of women’s health and safety that were settled a long time ago. We’re supposed to believe that if he got more power he’d drop his crusade?

The Huffington Post reports that Santorum told Philadelphia Magazine in 1995 that he “was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress.” Then, he said, he read the “scientific literature.”

He seems to have decided that electoral gold lies in the ruthless exploitation of social and cultural wedge issues. Unlike the Bushes, he has no middle man to pander to prejudices; he turns the knife himself.

Why is it that Republicans don’t want government involved when it comes to the economy (opposing the auto bailouts) but do want government involved when it comes to telling people how to live their lives?

In a party always misty for bygone times bristling with ugly inequities, Santorum is successful because he’s not ashamed to admit that he wants to take the country backward.

Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, touted as a vice presidential prospect, also wants to drag women back into a cave.

This week, public outrage forced the Virginia Legislature to pause on its way to passing a creepy bill forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, which, for early procedures, would require a wand being inserted into the vagina — an invasion that anti-abortion groups hope would shame some women into changing their minds once they saw or heard about traits of the fetus.

Democratic Delegate Lionell Spruill hotly argued that the bill would force “legal rape.” “I cannot believe that you would disrespect women and mothers in such a way,” he chided colleagues. “This legislation is simply mean-spirited, and it is bullying, bullying women simply because you can.”

While the Democratic-controlled Maryland House of Delegates just passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage, the Republican-controlled Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing private adoption agencies to discriminate against gays who want to be parents.

The Potomac River dividing those states seems to be getting wider by the day.

    Rick’s Religious Fanaticism, NYT, 21.2.2012,






In Republican Race, a New Breed of Superdonor


The New York Times
February 21, 2012


Last June, Harold C. Simmons, a wealthy Texas businessman, sent a $100,000 check to Americans for Rick Perry, a “super PAC” preparing for Mr. Perry’s entry into the presidential race. A few months later, he donated $1 million to a different pro-Perry group through his company. In December, as Mr. Perry’s fortunes waned, Mr. Simmons wrote another check, this one for $500,000, to Winning Our Future, a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich.

But Mr. Simmons was not done. In mid-January, as Mr. Gingrich was headed toward a victory in the South Carolina primary, Mr. Simmons wrote a $100,000 check to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. And toward the end of the month, as Restore Our Future used his money to help bludgeon Mr. Gingrich with attack ads in Florida, Mr. Simmons sent yet another $500,000 check to Mr. Gingrich’s super PAC.

“He generally supports conservative Republican candidates,” said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Mr. Simmons. “I assume he was just trying to be helpful.”

Mr. Simmons’s contributions — all told, he has given more than $14 million to Republican super PACs so far this cycle — make him the exemplar of a new breed of superdonor in presidential politics. About two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year, an exclusive club empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings to pool their money into federal political committees and pour it directly into this year’s presidential campaign.

Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle, making them easily the most influential and powerful political donors in politics today. They have relatively few Democratic counterparts so far, with most of the leading liberal donors from past years giving relatively small amounts — or not at all — to the Democratic super PACs.

And unlike in past years, when wealthy donors of both parties donated chiefly to groups that were active in the general election campaign, the top Republican donors are contributing money far earlier, in contests that will determine the party’s presidential nominee.

“What unites them? They’re economic conservatives,” said Christopher J. LaCivita, a Republican strategist who helped advise Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a forerunner of this cycle’s super PACs, and who in 2008 co-founded another Republican advocacy group, the American Issues Project, that ran advertisements against President Obama.

“Most of these guys are serious business tycoons,” Mr. LaCivita added. “They’ve built something big — usually something bigger than themselves.”

Some of the superdonors, like Mr. Simmons and Robert J. Perry, a Texas homebuilder, are longtime backers of independent groups that were active in past campaigns, like the Swift Boat group, which in 2004 challenged the Vietnam War record of Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.

Several attend the exclusive, secretive gatherings of wealthy conservative donors hosted twice a year by the billionaire Koch brothers. Many move in the same social or political circles: Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino executive who is close to Mr. Gingrich, serves on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition with Paul Singer, a hedge fund executive and a top contributor to Restore Our Future.

Some of the million-dollar-plus donors, however, are relatively new to the world of big-league political giving and appear to be motivated by personal connections to particular candidates. Paul B. Edgerley and his wife, Sandra, for example, together gave $1 million to the pro-Romney super PAC. Mr. Edgerley is an executive at Bain Capital, Mr. Romney’s former firm.

A few of the megadonors gave through limited liability companies, shielding their identity. One $1 million donation to Restore Our Future came from F8 LLC, a company whose listed address in Utah leads to an accounting firm. A charitable foundation linked to Sandra N. Tillotson, co-founder of the skin care company Nu Skin, uses the same address. Ms. Tillotson was reimbursed by Restore Our Future in July for what appeared to be costs associated with a fund-raiser at her New York apartment. But Ms. Tillotson said in an e-mail Wednesday that she did not know who the owner of F8 LLC was and had not made a donation backing Mr. Romney's campaign.

But the superdonors all have one thing in common: they are by definition deep-pocketed, willing and ready to give far more than the $2,500 checks that donors to candidates are limited to writing. Some of them have almost singlehandedly financed super PACs that support favored candidates.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, has given Endorse Liberty, a super PAC supporting Representative Ron Paul of Texas, at least $2.6 million, the bulk of the group’s donations so far. Mr. Adelson and his family have contributed over $10 million to Winning Our Future, the group supporting Mr. Gingrich.

“I might give $10 million or $100 million to Gingrich,” Mr. Adelson said in a coming profile in Forbes magazine.

The motivation and logistics behind these large contributions remain something of a mystery. Most megadonors and the campaigns they support are reluctant to talk about the hidden scaffolding of high-level political giving. But glimpses of it emerge in public records.

Mr. Perry, who has donated $3.5 million to Republican causes in the current cycle, rarely speaks publicly about his contributions. However, he testified in a 2007 lawsuit that he occasionally got calls directly from candidates asking for money, and that he sometimes decided to write a check after reading or hearing about a promising politician.

Saying that his “habits are to give more aggressively as we go into the election,” Mr. Perry said that in addition to supporting candidates on the national level and in Texas, he liked to give to governor’s races in “other states that are not so big, so that my contributions can make a difference.”

The lawsuit was brought against the Republican Governors Association by a Democratic candidate for governor in Texas, who said the group did not comply with state campaign disclosure rules in 2006. A judge ruled against the association, which has appealed; Mr. Perry was not a defendant.

Several of the biggest donors to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Mr. Romney, share the candidate’s Mormon faith. A quartet of companies connected to Melaleuca, a company based in Idaho that makes nutritional supplements and home care products, donated a combined $1 million to Restore Our Future.

The company is headed by Frank VanderSloot, a national finance co-chairman of the Romney campaign and a graduate of Brigham Young University, Mr. Romney’s alma mater. “I am very concerned about the direction of the country and especially the administration’s constant attacks on free enterprise,” Mr. VanderSloot said in an e-mail.

Many of the biggest givers to the pro-Romney super PAC hail from the world of finance, particularly private equity and hedge funds. Julian H. Robertson Jr., who has given at least $1.25 million to Restore Our Future, is considered one of the godfathers of the hedge fund industry.

A few of the superdonors are friends: Foster S. Friess, the chief donor to the Red White and Blue Fund, a super PAC backing Rick Santorum, occasionally spars with Mr. Adelson over his support for Mr. Gingrich’s super PAC. “Sheldon’s prime motivation is his love for Israel, which I share,” Mr. Friess said, adding that he had spoken to Mr. Adelson recently. “But my motivation is, I owe this country so much.”


Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting.

    In Republican Race, a New Breed of Superdonor, NYT, 21.2.2012,






Police Evict Occupy Newark Protesters


February 15, 2012
The New York Times


NEWARK — Authorities swept in shortly after midnight Wednesday and ended what appeared to be a relatively harmonious co-existence between the city of Newark and its occupiers.

At Military Park, the site of Occupy Newark, about two dozen police officers and fire fighters disassembled what was left of the movement’s encampment and loaded much of into the back of a city truck: more than a dozen tents, a canopy, a sofa, pallets, blankets and other items.

Deputy Chief Tracy Glover of the Newark Police Department told protesters that if they did not have a permit that allowed them to be in the park after a 9 p.m. curfew, they had to leave immediately. By 1:30 a.m., most of the site had been removed. No arrests were made, although about a dozen protesters in the park taunted the officers as they worked.

“Carjackings are up 62 percent, but the tents are down,” said Teacher Iovino, 43. At its height, Occupy Newark was a cluster of tents that included a kitchen and an information area. About 30 people stayed overnight at the encampment, most of which was set up in November, and 50 to 60 people would be there during the day, said Anthony Batalla, 20, who has been there since November.

The eviction marked a shift in the city’s approach to the protesters. In November, the city’s police chief agreed to waive a permit required to assemble in Military Park. Mayor Cory A. Booker brought them doughnuts and coffee. A municipal councilman stayed there overnight, said one protester, Ibraheem Awadallah, 27.

Last Tuesday, the city sent a letter to the encampment, said Cass Zang, 42, who has been coming there since November.

“It said that they’ve decided not to continue lifting the ban” on the curfew, Ms. Zang said, paraphrasing the note. “It said, ‘Respectfully, we appreciate working together, but this is over.’”

    Police Evict Occupy Newark Protesters, NYT, 15.2.2012,






A Juggling Act for Obama in the Land of Big Wallets


February 14, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Election years always bring with them tough balancing efforts for presidential candidates trying to stay on the good side of powerful constituencies. But few can come close to the high-wire act that President Obama must perform in the next two days as he seeks to soothe Hollywood, that longtime bastion of fund-raising dollars for Democrats, while not alienating the high-tech industry that has itself surged to the top of the Obama money list.

First, the soothing. Mr. Obama is flying to Los Angeles on Wednesday to attend three fund-raisers, including one hosted by the actor Will Ferrell and Bradley Bell, a soap opera executive (“The Bold and the Beautiful”). The Foo Fighters will be on hand to perform; expect to see a number of other glitterati.

Problem: Mr. Obama is in the doghouse with the show-business people, who are mad because the White House didn’t support them on the antipiracy bill that got squashed in Congress in January after Google and other Internet high fliers descended on Washington to pressure the White House and Congress to oppose it in a standoff that left Hollywood reeling. But the president has also come to rely on cash from Hollywood, which contributed $9.2 million to his 2008 campaign coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Christopher J. Dodd, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, created a stir — and ruffled White House feathers — just after the drubbing last month when he threatened to turn off the spigot, saying in an interview with Fox News: “Those who count on quote Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them.” The White House acknowledged privately that his comment was not received warmly.

But, as if to prove Mr. Dodd’s point, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that money for Mr. Obama from Hollywood was down last year, coming in at just $1.2 million, compared with $2.8 million during the same period in 2008.

White House officials have been doing some stroking of Hollywood to prevent a further erosion; Mr. Obama began the effort during his State of the Union speech last month when he threw the motion picture association a bone, promising to work to protect intellectual property in China. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. picked up the effort on Tuesday, using a lunchtime toast at the State Department with China’s vice president, Xi Jinping, to further raise the intellectual property protection issue — giving his boss the perfect entrée to say at Mr. Ferrell’s fund-raiser that the White House is fighting hard for Hollywood.

But at the same time, administration officials say they don’t plan to reverse their position that major elements of the piracy legislation sought by Hollywood go too far.

On that battle, Google and the techies, so far, have been the clear-cut winner, and they will be able to thank Mr. Obama on Thursday when he heads to San Francisco for Part 2 of his balancing act: he is headlining a fund-raiser at the home of Nicola Miner, daughter of the Oracle co-founder Robert Miner.

And there, Mr. Obama must assure well-heeled attendees that he will take the interests of the new economy to heart. And the high-tech industry at the heart of that new economy has surpassed Hollywood in fund-raising muscle, not to mention overall contribution to the national economy.

In many ways, the fight puts Mr. Obama in a script that could be conceived only in Hollywood. An online piracy bill backed by the big studios was chugging along until it ran into a firestorm in January when Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to the legislation through Internet blackouts. The White House had a few days earlier released a statement that some parts of the bill went too far, adding wind to the Web storm. By the time the dust cleared, lawmakers had backed off, and the old guard in Hollywood was fuming.

“It’s the Rebellion versus the Empire,” said Donnie Fowler, a Democratic consultant who was Al Gore’s national field director in the 2000 campaign, with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook as Luke Skywalker and Mr. Dodd as Darth Vader.

“The problem for Hollywood here,” Mr. Fowler said, “is that they contribute only about 1/10th as much to the national economy” as technology. “Plus their stars and starlets can’t match up against hundreds of thousands of netizens who go nuts when their Wikipedia and Google go dark for a day.”

Despite Mr. Dodd’s comments about payback, some political observers note that at the end of the day, it is unlikely that Hollywood will suddenly turn to the Republicans.

“I think this is yet another large industry that has been a consistent supporter of Obama, that has to handle some disappointment from time to time,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president at Third Way, a Democratic policy institute. “They’ll swallow hard and contribute.”

But they may not contribute quite so much.

Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Dodd’s spokeswoman, did offer up a clarification of his remarks. Mr. Dodd, she said, “was making the obvious point that people tend to support politicians whose views tend to match their own.”

Mr. Dodd himself has since been more circumspect. “We hope the president will use this opportunity in both communities,” he said in an e-mailed statement, “to reiterate the important point that he made in the State of the Union: that online content theft is a problem, that it harms U.S. workers and U.S. business and that now is the time to come together to find meaningful solutions to protect American intellectual property from foreign criminals.”

He added that Hollywood and the tech industry “need each other to succeed and grow.”

    A Juggling Act for Obama in the Land of Big Wallets, NYT, 14.2.2012,






Hundreds Held in Oakland Occupy Protest


January 29, 2012
The New York Times


About 400 people were arrested and three police officers were injured after a weekend protest by members of the Occupy movement in Oakland, Calif., turned into a violent confrontation with law enforcement officers that led to an assault on City Hall.

The clashes began about 3 p.m. on Saturday when protesters marched toward the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center and began to tear down construction barricades, and the violence extended into early Sunday. The Oakland Police Department said in a statement that the crowd was ordered to disperse after protesters “began destroying construction equipment and fencing.”

“Officers were pelted with bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices and burning flares,” the police statement said. Officers responded by firing smoke and tear gas canisters and beanbags, and they initially arrested 20 people.

Several hours later, some protesters broke into City Hall, the police said, although some of the demonstrators said they found the building’s door ajar. Mayor Jean Quan surveyed the damage there on Sunday, and the city administrator, Deanna J. Santana, said at a news conference that the protesters had broken a window and damaged a historic model of the building. Flags were stolen, she said, and one of them was burned in front of City Hall.

Omar Yassin, 42, a member of the group’s media committee, said the vandalism was “not something I would have done.”

“But I do understand that people were enraged by the brutality that they had already seen,” he said. “There were children in that crowd; there were families in that crowd.”

Chief Howard Jordan of the Oakland Police Department said the protesters’ objective “was not to peacefully assemble and march, but to seek opportunity to further criminal acts, confront police and repeatedly attempt to illegally occupy buildings.”

Protesters planned a series of events for Sunday night, but many hoped to avoid another round of confrontation. Caitlin Manning, 55, a film professor and member of the movement, said on Sunday afternoon that only a handful of officers were visible at the group’s gathering at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.

“It looks like they’re going to let us do our thing here today,” she said.

According to the movement’s Web site, a poetry and music festival would be held Sunday evening. The site included a message seeking donations to help bail protesters out of jail.

Protesters in other cities rallied to show their support for Occupy Oakland.

Demonstrators who left from Washington Square Park in Manhattan on Sunday evening chanted “New York is Oakland, Oakland is New York” as they moved through the streets. Several were arrested.

In Washington, one protester was subdued with a Taser and arrested Sunday, the United States Park Police said, as a pivotal deadline loomed: At noon on Monday, the police have said, they will begin enforcing a ban on overnight camping.

Most of the Oakland arrests occurred late Saturday, when large groups were corralled in front of the downtown Y.M.C.A. on Broadway.

Joshua Hewitt, 20, of San Leandro, Calif., said he was arrested as he attempted to follow the police instructions to disperse but was caught between two rows of officers. “There was no way we could leave,” he said.

The Occupy Oakland Media Committee issued a statement on Sunday that accused officers of violating the Police Department’s code of conduct for dealing with protesters and said the mass arrests were illegal.

“The police actions tonight cost the City of Oakland hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they repeatedly violated their own crowd-control guidelines and protesters’ civil rights,” the statement said. “With all the problems in our city, should preventing activists from putting a vacant building to better use be their highest priority? Was it worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent?”

On a live broadcast on the Web site oakfosho.com, dozens of protesters could be seen sitting cross-legged in the darkness in front of the Y.M.C.A. Their hands appeared to be bound behind them while officers stood watch. They occasionally sang or cheered. In a statement on Sunday afternoon, the police said the marchers “invaded” the Y.M.C.A.

Ms. Manning said protesters had been invited into the Y.M.C.A. to escape being boxed in on Broadway, but ended up being prevented by the police from leaving through a rear door.

The events were part of a demonstration dubbed “Move-In Day,” a plan by protesters to take over the vacant convention center and use it as a communelike command center, according to the Web site occupyoaklandmoveinday.org.

In an open letter to Ms. Quan on the Move-In Day site, the group also said it was considering “blockading the airport indefinitely, occupying City Hall indefinitely” and “shutting down the Oakland ports.” Occupy protesters did briefly shut down the city’s port in November.

In a statement issued before the march, Ms. Quan said that “the residents of Oakland are wearying of the constant focus and cost to our city.” On Saturday night, she added, “The Bay Area Occupy movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground.”

Ms. Quan has spent her first term embattled by Occupy protesters who set up camp at the Ogawa Plaza in October. After initially embracing the protest, she ordered the camp removed.

After a series of violent episodes, Ms. Quan relented and permitted the protesters to return. But two weeks later, she ordered the plaza to be cleared.


Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.

    Hundreds Held in Oakland Occupy Protest, NYT, 29.1.2012,






The Power Broker


January 23, 2012
The New York Times


After weeks of temporizing, Mitt Romney said he plans to release a small slice of his tax records on Tuesday — his 2010 returns and an estimate for his 2011 taxes. It is not enough. American voters need to know a lot more about the business interests that Mr. Romney says make him the best candidate to be president. (President Obama, after all, released eight years’ worth of tax records during the 2008 campaign; Mr. Romney’s father, George, released 12 years’ worth when he ran for president in 1968.)

Mr. Romney’s main rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich — after a lot of pious declarations about how Mr. Romney needed to come clean — has released only one year’s worth of his tax records. He did so not because of any real dedication to transparency, but because he wanted to increase the pressure on Mr. Romney and to show that he had paid an effective tax rate of 31.7 percent, roughly twice the rate that Mr. Romney has said he paid.

There is lot more than that to be learned from Mr. Gingrich’s documents, starting with the mockery they make of his claim to be an insurgent Washington outsider, the supposed anti-establishment candidate.

After he was drummed out of the House speaker’s office in 1998, Mr. Gingrich set about creating a lucrative living, by trading on his political connections. In 2010, he reported a total income of $3.16 million (including a tidy $76,200 Congressional pension).

Most of Mr. Gingrich’s income has come from helping corporate clients gain access and solicitous treatment from Washington’s power elite. One of his consulting groups, the Center for Health Transformation, gave clients advice in reaching what it called “top transformational leadership across industry and government.”

His services, according to news accounts, included helping his clients formulate arguments to get lawmakers to incorporate their interests in legislation. Over the years, that included up to $1.8 million in “consulting fees” to him and his firm from Freddie Mac, the lending company that Mr. Gingrich has accused of helping to cause the housing crisis.

Mr. Gingrich insists that none of this highly paid work is lobbying. “I was never a lobbyist,” he said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “I never did any lobbying.”

That is true, in the sense that Mr. Gingrich never registered as a lobbyist — someone who is paid to go to Congressional or government offices and make specific pitches on behalf of special pleaders to influence legislation. But people of his stature never register. They develop strategy and use their contacts to open doors and then leave the appointment-making to more junior people who are registered as lobbyists.

According to The Washington Post, the Gingrich brand generated $100 million in revenue over the past decade for a collection of for-profit enterprises, including that health care group, which charged six-figure dues to large corporations.

So Mr. Gingrich can claim he was never a lobbyist, but there is no way he can claim that he is anything but a Washington insider who has made millions by trading on his political connections for more than a decade. He’s a shrewd broker of Washington influence, and about as “establishment” — and cynical — as you can get.

    The Power Broker, NYT, 23.1.2012,






‘Super PAC’ for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion


January 23, 2012
The New York Times


A wealthy backer of Newt Gingrich will inject $5 million into a “super PAC” supporting his presidential bid, two people with knowledge of the contribution said on Monday, providing a major boost to Mr. Gingrich as he seeks to fend off aggressive attacks from Mitt Romney, his main Republican rival.

The supporter, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and a patron who this month contributed $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future. Dr. Adelson’s check will bring the couple’s total contributions to Winning Our Future to $10 million, a figure that could substantially neutralize the millions of dollars already being spent in Florida by Mr. Romney and Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting him.

Mr. Adelson’s initial check financed a barrage of negative ads against Mr. Romney in South Carolina, helping Mr. Gingrich to an upset victory in Saturday’s Republican primary there. But those attacks, which focused on Mr. Romney’s wealth and private equity career, also drew condemnation from many conservatives, who said Mr. Gingrich’s allies were undercutting free-market capitalism and amplifying class-warfare arguments being made by Democrats and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

In making the couple’s second $5 million contribution, Dr. Adelson expressed a wish to Winning Our Future officials that the money be used “to continue the pro-Newt message,” one of the people familiar with the contribution said, rather than attack Mr. Romney.

The Adelsons’ contributions on Mr. Gingrich’s behalf illustrate how rapidly a new era of unlimited political money is reshaping the rules of presidential politics and empowering individual donors to a degree unseen since before the Watergate scandals.

The wealth of a single couple has now leveled the playing field in two critical primary states for Mr. Gingrich, a candidate who ended September more than $1 million in debt, finished out of the running in Iowa and New Hampshire and, unlike Mr. Romney, has yet to attract the broad network of hard-money donors and bundlers that traditionally propel presidential campaigns.

The contribution also underscored how the advantages built by Mr. Romney’s campaign, including a potent get-out-the-vote operation in Florida and tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions raised in chunks of no more than $2,500, are being challenged by new forces, including the high-profile debates that have elevated Mr. Gingrich and the emergence of new campaign finance rules in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling.

That decision paved the way for super PACs, including the kind that have spent more than $30 million in the Republican primary so far: political committees run by each candidate’s former aides and financed by a few wealthy supporters. Because they are technically independent of the candidate, the groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, rendering less relevant the limits that Congress imposed in the 1970s on contributions to candidates.

The decision has been hailed by advocates of looser campaign regulation, who see Citizens United as a victory for robust debate and a long overdue roll-back of years of encroachment on political speech. But critics warn that the new rules have reopened avenues for the very wealthy to exert undue influence over campaigns and candidates.

“To me, the amounts of money and the directness with which wealthy individuals give it is even more excessive than it was in the days of Watergate,” said Ellen S. Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for tighter restrictions on political money. “The contributions that spurred those reform bills were few and far between. What we are seeing now is a systematic breaking of the floodgates, effectively eliminating any firewalls between candidates and unlimited political giving.”

Rick Tyler, a longtime Gingrich aide and now a senior adviser for Winning Our Future, declined to comment on the latest contribution. But the prospects of the group’s getting another cash infusion from the Adelsons appeared in doubt as recently as Sunday night, when Mr. Tyler said he would like to spend $10 million in Florida to aid Mr. Gingrich but did not have the money to do so.

And early Monday, as Mr. Romney and his allies signaled the start of an aggressive anti-Gingrich effort in Florida, Winning Our Future placed only a small, short-term advertising buy: $392,000, relatively little in a state with large numbers of expensive media markets.

News of the contribution came in a Twitter message on Monday evening by Jon Ralston, a columnist for The Las Vegas Sun.

Dr. Adelson’s contribution was made after days of public and private pressure from allies of Mr. Romney, who hoped to stem the flow of money to Mr. Gingrich and viewed Mr. Adelson’s continued help as potentially devastating to Mr. Romney’s chances.

One of Mr. Romney’s chief backers, John H. Sununu, a former New Hampshire governor, referred to Mr. Adelson in a recent television interview as “not so bright” and suggested that he would face retribution from investors in his casino empire. “Does he think people don’t remember when you attack them and pay for the attacks in the primary? Especially when one of the parties receiving that attack is the same investment community that he likes to go to to finance his expansions?” he said.

Just how dependent Winning Our Future is on the Adelsons’ money is impossible to say. Federal Election Commission rules do not require Winning Our Future and other candidate-specific super PACs to publicly report donors until Jan. 31— the same day as Florida’s Republican primary.

Through Monday, the group had reported spending $3.9 million in the primaries, three-quarters of it on advertisements attacking Mr. Romney.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mr. Romney and run by a trio of his former aides, has spent far more: about $11.1 million through Monday, including millions of dollars on ads in Iowa against Mr. Gingrich widely credited with crippling his campaign there. On Monday, the group booked several million dollars’ worth of additional advertising time in Florida.

It is unclear if the group has attracted contributions at the Adelsons’ level; through the end of June, when it filed a midyear disclosure report with the commission, the group’s largest donors had given checks of $1 million.


Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.

    ‘Super PAC’ for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion, NYT, 23.1.2012,






As Race Moves to Florida,

Facing Political Implications of a Housing Crisis


January 23, 2012
The New York Times


ORMOND BEACH, Fla.— When Mitt Romney swept into the contentious battleground state of Florida on Sunday, the first local issue he raised was the nation’s mortgage foreclosure crisis, which is arguably at its worst here, from this city on the northern coast to the ghost-town developments in what used to be farmland south of Miami.

He offered no new policy prescriptions to help people whose homes are worth less than they owe, and suggested that the best remedy was a stronger economy. But in contrast to earlier statements he and other Republican candidates have made about letting the market correct itself by first hitting bottom, Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, instead offered a reassuring if vague message: “People in Florida have seen home values go down,” he said, striking an empathetic tone. “It’s time to turn that around.”

Among those cheering for Mr. Romney was Eric Brandon, 41, a nurse who paid close to half a million dollars for his two-story, four-bedroom home in Palm Coast, Fla., in 2005. Now it is worth only about $130,000, he said. And he felt that Mr. Romney, as a successful businessman, was best poised to confront the problem.

“As long as people have jobs, they will be able to buy houses,” he said “The economy is my issue, and I know Romney is strong on that.”

The Republican presidential campaign is now moving into a state consumed by the housing crisis, perhaps the most enduring legacy of the economic downturn, and the primary battle is the first serious test of how it plays out as a political issue in the race. For Republicans, it is an especially tricky topic, forcing them to balance their free-market instincts against intense demand among homeowners for more to be done.

The candidates have not offered detailed plans of how to respond to the crisis, although Mr. Romney has opposed giving help to homeowners facing the loss of their homes, while Mr. Gingrich has faulted banks for being too quick to foreclose.

But seeing an opening to win over Florida voters on an issue that hits home, Mr. Romney on Monday attacked Newt Gingrich’s ties to the giant mortgage lender Freddie Mac, saying Mr. Gingrich had profited while homeowners suffered.

In interviews across Florida over the last several days, likely Republican primary voters echoed sentiments similar to Mr. Brandon’s, indicating that in a state where one in every 360 housing units is in foreclosure, and where the economy is lagging behind much of the rest of the nation, Mr. Romney’s business background could serve him well because of perceptions that he might have a better sense of how the economy works than his Republican rivals.

But his past statements about allowing market forces to address the problem continue to be a challenge for Mr. Romney. Since arriving in Florida on Sunday, Mr. Romney has been slightly moderating his tone on foreclosures, telling people in Tampa Bay on Monday that “the idea that somehow this is going to cure itself all by itself is unreal” and, “There’s going to have to be a much more concerted effort to work with the lending institutions and help them take action.”

That is a shift in emphasis from an interview in October with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he said, “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process,” adding, “let it run its course and hit the bottom.”

Mr. Gingrich has criticized banks as profiting from foreclosures, and has said he would like to repeal policies stemming from the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, which he says are keeping small banks from making loans. He wants to change the rules to encourage banks to do more short sales of so-called underwater properties.

Some of the anger over the foreclosure crisis is directed at President Obama, who many say has not done enough to address the issue.

In parts of Florida such as Homestead and Florida City, the anger driving some of the Republican vote is visible on the street. For several hours Saturday, Carols Castellano Triana, the owner of a painting business, held a hand-painted sign saying, “Vote Republican” at the busy intersection of Palm Avenue and Dixie Highway in Florida City, an area that has been ravaged by the housing implosion.

Mr. Triana is a renter with aspirations of owning a home. He is an undecided voter, but said he would most likely vote for Mr. Romney.

“I’m going to stand here every weekend until Obama’s gone,” said Mr. Triana, sweating in the blistering sun. “My sign was going to be more nasty, but my family said, ‘Somebody’s going to shoot you.’ ”

He continued, “I can’t explain the housing crisis, but I know that if the economy was better, everything would be better.”

In the condominium development where she lives in Homestead, Fla., south of Miami, Patricia Newlan said that 10 of 87 units are in foreclosure, which has driven up maintenance fees for everyone else and caused other problems. “Honestly, I’m not sure what Romney intends to do specifically on that issue, but I’m leaning toward him,” she said. “He comes across as a smart businessman.”

John Briggs, a nuclear plant worker who lives in Islamorada, Fla., agreed, saying: “I would like to hear what his plan is, but he’s had an impressive career. I have more faith in him than the others to turn the economy around.”

Chris Vellanti, who lives in Tampa, is a real estate investor still recovering from the loss of three of his five properties to foreclosure in 2009. “I’m going to vote for Romney by default,” he said. “I’m a product of my environment, being born and raised by staunch Republicans. I’m a believer in laissez-faire. And I’ll take any Republican over Obama.”

Mr. Vellanti continued: “My brother is a Realtor, and I don’t think he’s sold a house in a year. I blame the recession on the Democrats in Congress that wanted everyone to own a home, even if they couldn’t afford it.”

Analysts expect downward pressure on home prices and foreclosures to hamper the Florida real estate market for at least the next two years.

“The fact is that there’s no easy answer, no magic bullet that some candidate is going to think of,” said Brad Hunter, a chief economist for Metrostudy, a firm that analyzes housing and development across the country. “A candidate talking to Floridians is going to be asked, ‘What are you going to do to help us?’ And there’s no easy answer.”

For the moment, Mr. Romney seems to be relying on optimism.

“It will get better,” he said at a round-table discussion on Monday morning in Tampa, speaking to a woman at risk of losing her home. “It won’t always be like this. This is a detour.”

    As Race Moves to Florida, Facing Political Implications of a Housing Crisis, NYT, 23.1.2012,






The Theological Differences

Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney


January 14, 2012
The New York Times


The Rev. R. Philip Roberts, the president of a Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Mo., is an evangelist with a particular goal: countering Mormon beliefs.

Mr. Roberts has traveled throughout the United States, and to some countries abroad, preaching that Mormonism is heretical to Christianity. His message is a theological one, but theology is about to land squarely in the middle of the Republican presidential primary campaign.

As the Republican voting moves South, with primaries in South Carolina on Saturday and in Florida on Jan. 31, the religion of Mitt Romney, the front-runner, may be an inescapable issue in many voters’ minds. In South Carolina, where about 60 percent of Republican voters are evangelical Christians, Mr. Romney, a devout Mormon and a former bishop in the church, faces an electorate that has been exposed over the years to preachers like Mr. Roberts who teach that the Mormon faith is apostasy.

Many evangelicals have numerous reasons, other than religion, for objecting to Mr. Romney. But to understand just how hard it is for some to coalesce around his candidacy, it is important to understand the gravity of their theological qualms.

“I don’t have any concerns about Mitt Romney using his position as either a candidate or as president of the United States to push Mormonism,” said Mr. Roberts, an author of “Mormonism Unmasked” and president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who said he had no plans to travel to South Carolina before the voting. “The concern among evangelicals is that the Mormon Church will use his position around the world as a calling card for legitimizing their church and proselytizing people.”

Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.

“Mormonism is a distinctive religion,” David Campbell, a Mormon and an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in religion and politics. “It’s not the same as Presbyterianism or Methodism. But at the same time, there have been efforts on the part of the church to emphasize the commonality with other Christian faiths, and that’s a tricky balance to strike for the church.”

On the most fundamental issue, traditional Christians believe in the Trinity: that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all rolled into one.

Mormons reject this as a non-biblical creed that emerged in the fourth and fifth centuries. They believe that God the Father and Jesus are separate physical beings, and that God has a wife whom they call Heavenly Mother.

It is not only evangelical Christians who object to these ideas.

“That’s just not Christian,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, a liberal Protestant seminary in New York City. “God and Jesus are not separate physical beings. That would be anathema. At the end of the day, all the other stuff doesn’t matter except the divinity of Jesus.”

The Mormon Church says that in the early 1800s, its first prophet, Joseph Smith, had revelations that restored Christianity to its true path, a course correction necessary because previous Christian churches had corrupted the faith. Smith bequeathed to his church volumes of revelations contained in scripture used only by Mormons: “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” “The Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price.”

Traditional Christians do not recognize any of those as Scripture.

Another big sticking point concerns the afterlife. Early Mormon apostles gave talks asserting that human beings would become like gods and inherit their own planets — language now regularly held up to ridicule by critics of Mormonism.

But Kathleen Flake, a Mormon who is a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explained that the planets notion had been de-emphasized in modern times in favor of a less concrete explanation: people who die embark on an “eternal progression” that allows them “to partake in God’s glory.”

“Mormons think of God as a parent,” she said. “God makes the world in order to give that world to his children. It’s like sending your child to Harvard — God gives his children every possible opportunity to progress towards this higher life that God possesses. When Mormons say ‘Heavenly Father,’ they mean it. It’s not a metaphor.”

It is the blurring of the lines between God, Jesus and human beings that is hard for evangelicals to swallow, said Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif., who has been involved in a dialogue group between evangelicals and Mormons for 12 years and has a deep understanding of theology as Mormons see it.

“Both Christians and Jews, on the basis of our common Scriptures, we’d all agree that God is God and we are not,” Mr. Mouw said. “There’s a huge ontological gap between the Creator and the creature. So any religious perspective that reduces that gap, you think, oh, wow, that could never be called Christian.”

Mormons tend to explain the doctrinal differences more gently. Lane Williams, a Mormon and a professor of communications at Brigham Young University-Idaho, a Mormon institution, said the way he understands it, “it’s not a ‘we’re right and they’re wrong’ kind of approach. But it’s as though we feel we have a broader circle of truth.

“My daily life tries to be about Jesus Christ,” he said. “And in that way, I don’t think I’m much different from my Protestant friends.”

In a Pew poll released in late November, about two-thirds of mainline Protestants and Catholics said Mormonism is Christian, compared with only about a third of white evangelicals. By contrast, 97 percent of Mormons said their religion is Christian in a different Pew poll released this month.

Mr. Mouw said that only a month ago he was called to Salt Lake City to mediate a theological discussion about Mormonism among four evangelical leaders who had collaborated with Mormon leaders to pass the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage in California. After two and a half days of discussions, the group was divided on Mormon theology, Mr. Mouw said.

“Two concluded that while Mormons are good people, they don’t worship the same God,” Mr. Mouw said. “Two concluded that Mormons love Jesus just as the evangelicals do, and they accepted the Mormons as brothers and sisters in Christ.

“That’s the split,” Mr. Mouw said, “and it’s very basic.”

    The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney, NYT, 14.1.2012,






Obama Raised $42 Million in Last Quarter,

Far More Than G.O.P. Rivals


January 12, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s campaign raised $42 million in the final three months of 2011, easily besting his Republican rivals and matching where President George W. Bush was at the same point in his re-election bid.

In an e-mail to supporters on Thursday morning, Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, reported that the Democratic National Committee also raised an additional $24 million during the quarter for a combined total of $66 million that can be used for the campaign.

“That’s a pretty good start,” Mr. Messina said in a video on the campaign’s Web site. He added that 583,000 people donated to the campaign in the quarter, including more than 200,000 who had never contributed to Mr. Obama in the past.

Mr. Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee have raised about $244 million so far in this election cycle, a total that is sure to grow substantially once Republicans settle on a nominee.

Mitt Romney, the leading contender in the Republican contest, raised $24 million in the final three months of last year and a total of $56 million since he entered the race last summer. Mr. Romney, a former venture capital executive, raised far more money than any of his party’s rivals. The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, raised $27 million in the fourth quarter of the year.

If Mr. Romney becomes the nominee, he is sure to increase his fund-raising sharply as conservative donors who have been helping to finance other Republican candidates rally around the party’s pick to try to turn Mr. Obama out of office.

Mr. Romney’s financial advisers have already been quietly courting donors for Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Some of Mr. Perry’s donors have said they have given up on his White House chances but are wary of publicly abandoning him because he will still be governor even if he drops out of the presidential contest.

But the battle for dollars between Mr. Obama and his Republican rival will play out against the backdrop of a new money chase by third-party groups known as “super PACs.”

Already, groups on both sides have pledged to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from corporations and wealthy individuals — a practice made legal by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago. The impact of the decision has been felt in the Republican primary in the last two weeks as wealthy interests have begun to pay for attack ads against Mr. Romney and Newt Gingrich.

For Mr. Obama, the fund-raising announcement suggests he remains a prolific financial draw. The only recent campaign to come close to those numbers was Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, which raised about $239 million in cooperation with the Republican National Committee in 2003.

But the fact that Mr. Obama’s total was not significantly higher than Mr. Bush’s may indicate how much harder it is to raise money in an economic downturn.

In any event, contributions to the Obama campaign are helping to finance a huge, national infrastructure that the president’s team is building even as the Republican contest to pick a nominee is fully under way.

At a fund-raiser in Chicago on Wednesday night, Mr. Obama told donors and supporters, “I’m going to need all of you just as much now, more now than I needed you in 2008.”

He added, “The main message I’ve got is that if you guys are willing to invest the same kind of blood, sweat and tears as we invested in 2008, I’m confident we’re going to win.”

The president’s Republican rivals have repeatedly cited the specter of a billion-dollar Democratic re-election campaign as a way to motivate their supporters to donate. Mr. Messina has used expletives to reject the notion that the president would raise $1 billion, and on Thursday morning again he said the idea was “just wrong.” He suggested that it was contributing to a problem for the president’s fund-raisers: supporters who think that the campaign does not need their money.

“Too many Obama supporters genuinely believe that this campaign doesn’t really need their donations, or doesn’t need them yet, in order to compete and win,” Mr. Messina said in the e-mail. “That’s wrong.”

    Obama Raised $42 Million in Last Quarter, Far More Than G.O.P. Rivals, NYT, 12.1.2012,






Struggling, Perry Finds Place Where His Message Sticks


January 11, 2012
The New York Times


GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jack Boyer’s father died when Mr. Boyer was 8. Raised by a single mother, he “lived a wicked life,” married at 19 and, two years later, after “she and the Lord straightened me out,” accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Almost four decades later, he is pastor of a Baptist church in the northwest part of this state.

On Monday evening, Mr. Boyer and his wife drove to Stax’s Original Restaurant here to hear Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whom he is supporting in the presidential race. “I prayed about my decision about him,” he said. “I already knew what I wanted, and I found it in him.” He cannot think of a single issue, he said, where he disagrees with Mr. Perry.

Mr. Perry is still in the doldrums here in the latest polls, and it is not yet clear whether his recent decision to stay in the presidential race and compete here will prove smart. With poor showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and recent polls, he barely met the hurdle for qualification for the Jan. 19 CNN debate in Charleston, two days before the South Carolina primary.

Despite those setbacks, Mr. Perry seems to have found in South Carolina a place where he can connect with some crowds, with stump speeches, sometimes before a hundred people, that preach reverence for Jesus Christ and for the military. He appears looser and more confident than he has been for some time, perhaps since the days when he was considered a front-runner, which ended with his string of poor debate performances.

Now, though, he has more humor and humility as he courts the votes of South Carolinians. He recounts a journey from “walking down the aisle of my church and giving my heart to Jesus Christ when I was 14 years old” to “standing up for the Ten Commandments on the grounds of our Capitol in Texas.”

“The fight never ends,” he says.

It is a contrast to his experience in New Hampshire. There, despite an investment of time and effort, he often got skeptical questions, charmed some but won over few, limped out of the state weeks before Tuesday’s primary and received fewer than 2,000 votes.

In Iowa, where social conservatives are more powerful, he drew crowds in rural areas, but even after hearing him speak, many folks would still tick off all their options — Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — unsure of their choice.

Here, though, the crowds who have come to see him the past few days in the more socially conservative parts of the state have seemed to like more of what he believes in. That often has had more to do with how he and his wife, Anita, come across personally than with any particular piece of policy.

“What you see is what you get, and he stands on the same foundation that I stand on,” said Patty Whetsell, a Republican activist in Greenville who was at Stax’s. “He acknowledges God in his life, and without God, where would we be? He’s not like some pastors who think they own their church. He acknowledges those around him. And his wife is a great asset. She’s submissive to him, as she should be.”

While the warmer reception may be lifting his spirits, the question is whether it will boost his electoral prospects, still spiraling downward as of the latest poll: last week a survey by CNN, Time and ORC International found that he had just 5 percent of support from likely South Carolina primary voters, compared with 8 percent a month earlier. That drop is all the more surprising because Mrs. Bachmann, who had also invested a lot of time here and was thought to have similar appeal to social conservatives, left the race before the survey was conducted.

Part of the explanation is plain: many of Mrs. Bachmann’s supporters — and, it would seem, some of Mr. Perry’s, too — have migrated to Rick Santorum. In response, Mr. Perry has been attacking Mr. Santorum as the “King of Earmarks.” He has also outdone another rival, Newt Gingrich, in delivering the most caustic attack on Mitt Romney’s leveraged-buyout career, calling him a “vulture” who picked the bones of companies clean.

Mr. Perry still has influential Republican backers here working for him, including Representative Mick Mulvaney and the former state party chairman Katon Dawson, and a small-government, hawkish platform that should play well with a lot of voters here. But even so, others in the party say, the debates will most likely prove too much to live down.

“A lot of South Carolinians were eager to like him, but then they got a good look in those early debates and decided that he wasn’t presidential timber,” said Chad Walldorf, a business owner who helped lead the transition team of Gov. Nikki R. Haley, who has endorsed Mr. Romney. “You get one chance to make a first impression.”

Mr. Perry will not say whether he will pull out of the race, as is widely expected, if he has another poor showing at the Jan. 21 primary. “That’s trying to call the game in the first quarter,” he said, adding, “I’m not here to come in second.”

    Struggling, Perry Finds Place Where His Message Sticks, NYT, 11.1.2012,






The Republican Contest


January 10, 2012
The New York Times


Where the Iowa caucuses illuminated the dark essence of social conservatism, the New Hampshire primary was a journey into the dingy, cramped quarters of the right wing’s economic policies.

The Republicans ritually denounced President Obama as hostile to capitalism, disdainful of individual enterprise and lacking in ideas for reviving the economy. All they had to offer were economic ideas that not only are inadequate for that purpose but were instrumental in creating the nation’s current economic problems.

In a flailing effort to address the pain of the middle class, the Republicans repeated familiar charges that Mr. Obama advocates a redistribution of wealth. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas outright called him a socialist. Newt Gingrich tried to focus national anger about income inequality with a faux populist assault on Mitt Romney’s participation in the frenzied world of leveraged buyouts.

It was all exactly backward. Americans are angry about income redistribution — from the middle class to the tiny sliver at the top, not from the top down. Leveraged buyouts were only one factor in the growth of the income gap. Also to blame was a host of benighted economic policies advocated by Republicans for the last 30 years.

This fight will continue in South Carolina on Jan. 21. Mr. Romney did not win the New Hampshire primary by enough to knock out his rivals because Representative Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were never expected to win and Jon Huntsman Jr. did surprisingly well.

The candidates’ economic arguments were disturbingly disconnected from economic reality. They spoke of government spending as if it were the sole cause of the federal budget deficit and cutting it the sole solution. In reality, it was tax cuts for the wealthy, an assault on social programs and a deregulatory zeal that allowed a recklessness that led to near economic collapse.

The solution is policies that promote growth and help the middle class, not what the Republican hopefuls want. Mr. Obama said it well on Monday night: “We can’t go back to this brand of you’re-on-your-own economics.” You couldn’t tell that by listening to Mr. Romney prattle about a merit-based economy and call for lowering taxes and cutting spending.

Like some others, Mr. Gingrich talked about income inequality, but it was a tactical move. A “super PAC” that supports him plans to run a documentary this weekend, with the help of a casino billionaire of all people, that paints Mr. Romney as a rapacious corporate raider for his leadership of the leveraged buyout firm Bain Capital. The message is that those buyouts were to blame for income inequality. Those buyouts were not the only cause of income inequality, and certainly not the Great Recession.

Economic growth and rising productivity are needed for broadly shared prosperity, but rising living standards require policies that ensure regular increases in the minimum wage, which peaked in 1968; greater investment in the social safety net; full employment as a government priority; progressive taxation; and effective financial regulation to avoid overgrowth followed by collapse.

These kinds of policies dominated from the late-1940s to the 1970s, a time of broadly shared prosperity and a strong middle class. Those policies were then systematically reversed, income inequality began to explode and productivity growth slowed. Tax cuts for the rich and assaults on programs for the poor and middle class worsened inequality during the years of George W. Bush.

The answer is not more of the same failed policies. The solution is to revive the successful ones, along with policies to stimulate the economy and stop foreclosures. Mr. Obama understands this. The Republican hopefuls are deluding themselves and trying to delude the voters.

    The Republican Contest, NYT, 10.1.2012,






Romney Wins G.O.P. Primary in New Hampshire


January 10, 2012
The New York Times


MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney swept to victory in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, turning back a ferocious assault from rivals who sought to disqualify him in the eyes of conservatives, in a contest that failed to anoint a strong opponent to slow his march to the Republican nomination.

Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, won by a double-digit margin, a validation of his strategy to use his neighboring state to cement his standing as the front-runner. The candidates who had hoped to use the primary to emerge as his leading rival fared poorly, leaving a fractured Republican opposition.

“Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we go back to work,” said Mr. Romney, who strode into his victory party at Southern New Hampshire University less than 30 minutes after the final polls closed to present himself as the candidate to beat for the Republican nomination.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas, whose candidacy has never concerned Mr. Romney, finished second. Former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, who staked his entire campaign here, placed a distant third but pledged to fight on.

A week after winning the Iowa caucuses by just eight votes, Mr. Romney pieced together a coalition of moderate and conservative voters. The margin was more comfortable than commanding, but he will benefit handsomely by having five rivals still competing against one another to emerge as his main opponent as the race moves to South Carolina.

Mr. Romney, who struggled in the final hours of the campaign here to ward off attacks from rivals portraying him as an elitist who killed jobs during his high-flying days at a corporate takeover firm, delivered a pointed message to his fellow Republican candidates. He warned them not to play into President Obama’s hands by trying to destroy his candidacy.

“In the last few days, we have seen some desperate Republicans join forces with him,” Mr. Romney said. “This is such a mistake for our party and for our nation. This country already has a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy.”

His words were directed squarely at Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who accused Mr. Romney of presiding over the “looting” of companies. The attacks did not seem to help elevate Mr. Gingrich’s candidacy. He was locked in a close race for fourth place with former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who refrained from adding his voice to the attacks on Mr. Romney’s business background.

A prevailing sense among New Hampshire primary voters that Mr. Romney is the Republican candidate most likely to defeat Mr. Obama helped lift him to victory. He did well among those who consider the economy the most important issue, according to exit polls, and among Catholics and more affluent voters.

Mr. Romney moved to quickly set the tone of the night, accepting victory and delivering a speech with broad themes of the general election, well before the size of his winning margin was known. It was an attempt to take control of the race before confronting his biggest test in the first Southern primary.

“Tonight, we are asking the good people of South Carolina to join the citizens of New Hampshire and make 2012 the year he runs out of time,” Mr. Romney said, referring again and again to Mr. Obama, but not acknowledging any of his Republican opponents by name.

Mr. Romney intends to convey his muscle in the race on Wednesday by announcing his fund-raising figure from the final three months of last year, when he raised at least $23 million. He is set to roll out endorsements and advertisements during the 10-day spring toward the South Carolina primary, even as he begins his push for the Florida primary on Jan. 31.

The result of the New Hampshire primary left the rest of the field in such disarray — particularly given the poor showings of Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Santorum — that it was hard to see the day as anything short of a major victory for Mr. Romney. His aides have long made clear that they would welcome running against Mr. Paul, whose support is largely built around his libertarian views.

Mr. Paul, the only Republican candidate to rival Mr. Romney in the breadth of his organization across the country, congratulated Mr. Romney on his triumph and pledged to press forward with his campaign, declaring, “We have had a victory for the cause of liberty tonight.”

Mr. Huntsman, who logged more miles in New Hampshire than any other candidate, vowed to stay in the race. His advisers conceded that his bank account was dry and his path to victory was unclear, but he vowed to continue to South Carolina.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’re in the hunt,” Mr. Huntsman said, speaking to his supporters in Manchester. “I’d say third place is a ticket to ride, ladies and gentlemen. Hello, South Carolina.”

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich delivered speeches at the same time on Tuesday evening, not conceding defeat, but arguing that the race was only beginning. They thanked the voters of New Hampshire before dashing off to South Carolina, where they hoped the electorate would be more welcoming to their message.

“We have an opportunity to be the true conservative to do what’s necessary,” said Mr. Santorum, who had hoped his strong second-place finish in Iowa would keep his candidacy alive. He reassured his supporters, “We can win this race.”

Mr. Gingrich, who came under withering criticism from influential Republicans, showed no signs of relenting in his attacks on Mr. Romney. A “super PAC” supporting his candidacy is airing television advertisements bolstering his argument against Mr. Romney in South Carolina.

“I believe we can reach out and create a majority that will shock the country and a majority that will continue to put us on the right track,” Mr. Gingrich said. “It is doable. It is a daunting challenge, but consider the alternative.”

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who abandoned his effort in New Hampshire to try to salvage his candidacy in South Carolina, argued at a campaign stop on Tuesday that corporate takeover firms like Mr. Romney’s Bain Capital were “vultures” that pick struggling companies clean and leave local communities to pick up the pieces.

“They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick,” Mr. Perry told a crowd in Fort Mill, S.C. “And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.”

The results of surveys of voters leaving the polls in New Hampshire found that nearly half of the primary voters on Tuesday identify themselves as independents and half consider themselves Republican. Just over half of the voters said they were conservative on most political matters, while more than one-third said they were moderate.

Mr. Romney, who owns a house in the state and spent four years as the governor of neighboring Massachusetts, was considered a favorite son here. His advantages were abundant, but there was one obstacle that loomed larger than any of his Republican rivals: the inclination of New Hampshire to knock a front-runner down to size.

Yet that did not happen.

Kevin Kobylinski, a manager at a medical company, said he voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 when he lived in California. But he decided to vote for Mr. Romney in the Republican primary here, declaring, “I would like to see a competitive election.”


Reporting was contributed by Trip Gabriel

and Nicholas Confessore in Manchester, N.H.,

and Dalia Sussman and Allison Kopicki in New York.

    Romney Wins G.O.P. Primary in New Hampshire, NYT, 10.1.2012,






The Corporate Candidates


January 9, 2012
The New York Times


The more Mitt Romney pretends to empathize with the millions of Americans who are struggling in this economy, the less he seems to understand their despair. And the rest of the Republican field seems to have no more insight into the concerns of most voters than he does.

Mr. Romney claims his background as a businessman provides him with an understanding of the economy and the ability to fix it. His opponents — particularly Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Rick Perry — say their political experience provides the same advantage. In truth, none have offered anything but tired or extremist economic prescriptions, providing little evidence that they can relate to those at the middle or bottom of the ladder.

The problem with Mr. Romney’s pitch is the kind of businessman he was: specifically, a buyer of flailing companies who squeezed out the inefficiencies (often known as employees) and then sold or merged them for a hefty profit. More than a fifth of them later went bankrupt, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. This kind of leveraged capitalism, which first caught fire in the 1980s, is one of the reasons for the growth in the income gap, tipping the wealth in the economy toward the people at the top.

Mr. Romney doesn’t like to talk about the precise nature of his business experience. Instead, he prefers to claim his occupation as a leveraged buyout king actually benefited ordinary workers, even casting himself as one of them. “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired,” Mr. Romney said, astonishingly, on Sunday. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.” Mr. Romney, the son of privilege and power, has never known personal economic fear, and said later that he was referring to his early days at Bain Capital, the investment firm he would later run.

He has, however, been responsible for issuing many a pink slip while leading Bain. The firm bought Dade International, a medical supplier, and collected eight times its investment but laid off 1,700 workers, The New York Times has reported. Reuters reported last week that a steel mill in Kansas City, Mo., was shuttered less than a decade after Bain bought it, and its 750 laid-off workers got no severance pay.

Mr. Romney dismisses these layoffs, and thousands more, as the cost of capitalism. He claims that, over all, Bain’s investments produced a net gain of 100,000 jobs. But his campaign and his former firm have refused to provide any documentation for that number, showing exactly how many people were laid off and how many hired as a result of Bain’s investments during his period there. The claim cannot be taken seriously until he does so.

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry have sharply criticized Mr. Romney for his buyout work, but some of those attacks ring hollow. Mr. Gingrich himself was on an advisory board for Forstmann Little, another private equity firm with a business model similar to Bain’s. Mr. Perry simply seems opportunistic. He criticized Mr. Romney for ruthlessly practicing modern-day capitalism a day after he called Mr. Obama “a socialist.”

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum have avoided talking about their own financial histories, having become multimillionaires by peddling their influence to big corporations after leaving Congressional office. For voters worried about the economy, neither a past record of buyouts nor lobbying should inspire any confidence.

    The Corporate Candidates, NYT, 9.1.2012,






Romney Wins Iowa Caucus by 8 Votes


January 3, 2012
The New York Times


DES MOINES — Mitt Romney’s quest to swiftly lock down the Republican presidential nomination with a commanding finish in the Iowa caucuses was undercut on Tuesday night by the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum, who fought him to a draw on a shoestring budget by winning over conservatives who remain skeptical of Mr. Romney.

In the first Republican contest of the season, the two candidates were separated much of the night by only a sliver of votes, with Mr. Romney being declared the winner by eight ballots early Wednesday morning. But the outcome offered Mr. Santorum a chance to emerge as the alternative to Mr. Romney as the race moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina without Gov. Rick Perry, who announced that he was returning to Texas to assess his candidacy.

“Being here in Iowa has made me a better candidate,” Mr. Santorum said, arriving at a caucus in Clive, where he urged Republicans to vote their conscience. “Don’t sell America short. Don’t put someone out there from Iowa who isn’t capable of doing what America needs done.”

The Iowa caucuses did not deliver a clean answer to what type of candidate Republicans intend to rally behind to try to defeat President Obama and win back the White House. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney, whose views represent the polar sides of the party, each had 24.6 percent.

“Onto New Hampshire, let’s get that job done!” Mr. Romney told supporters at a late-night rally, when he was five votes shy of Mr. Santorum. “Come visit us there, we’ve got some work ahead.”

The last time the Iowa caucuses produced such a close outcome was in 1980, when George Bush beat Ronald Reagan by two percentage points.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas was a close third on Tuesday with 21 percent of the caucus votes.

“We will go on,” he said in an upbeat speech. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”

The Iowa caucuses, which sounded the opening bell of the Republican contest, did not bring the clarity to the nominating fight as Mr. Romney had hoped.

But even though he did not secure the authoritative victory that he had fought for in the last week, he handily dispatched two rivals who were once seen as his biggest threats, Mr. Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And Mr. Romney is poised on Wednesday to collect the endorsement of Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Mr. Gingrich was in fourth place with 13 percent of the votes, followed by Mr. Perry with 10 percent and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with 5 percent. More than 120,000 Republicans took part in the caucus, a turnout that was slightly higher than four years ago.

With Mr. Perry heading back to Texas, Mr. Gingrich pledged to press forward and be on the stage at the next debate on Saturday in New Hampshire.

“There will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama,” Mr. Gingrich said, pledging to raise the intensity of his criticism of Mr. Romney before the next contests. He offered a glimpse at his approach, calling Mr. Romney a liar whose conservative credentials could not be trusted.

The determined band of Republicans caucusgoers streamed into firehouses, gymnasiums and even a few living rooms across Iowa for the precinct meetings. The caucuses do not award any of the 1,150 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination, but the result began reshaping the race as the campaign shifted to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

A snapshot of the Republican mind-set, according to polls of voters as they entered caucus sites, found that Mr. Romney had won the most support among those who said defeating Mr. Obama was the most important quality in a candidate.

Mr. Romney’s business experience, which is the spine of his candidacy, was a draw for voters concerned about the economy. Among voters who said the economy was the issue that mattered most in deciding whom to support, a plurality — about a third — said they would support Mr. Romney.

In one of the most conservative pockets in the state, the northwestern Iowa town of Alton, a supporter of Mr. Romney urged Republicans gathered at a firehouse to resist “throwing your vote away.”

“I didn’t vote for Mitt Romney in the last caucus, and I wish things had turned out differently,” said Dan Ruppert, who rose to deliver a testimonial for Mr. Romney. “I’m definitely going to vote for Mitt Romney now.”

The surveys found that Mr. Paul had far outpaced his rivals among caucusgoers under 40. But he dropped behind Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum among voters 40 and older. Even though older caucusgoers made up a much larger portion of the electorate, Mr. Paul’s outsize lead among younger voters kept him competitive.

In the survey of voters arriving at their caucuses, which was conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press, nearly four in 10 said they had never attended a caucus before. Those new attendees supported Mr. Paul over any other candidate.

Many caucusgoers did not make up their minds until late; entrance polls indicated that nearly half had decided whom to support within the last few days. Mr. Santorum was the candidate who benefited the most from these late-deciders — a third of them backed him.

Nearly six in 10 voters consider themselves evangelical or born-again Christians, the poll found, which illustrated the surge for Mr. Santorum in the closing days of the campaign here.

Mr. Santotrum celebrated late Tuesday by recalling how he had campaigned in all 99 Iowa counties. “Thank you so much Iowa,” he told the crowd at a rally in Johnston. “By standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading, leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step in taking back this country.”

Mr. Santorum now faces a challenge of trying to broaden his campaign organization on the fly to compete with the structure that Mr. Romney has spent years building. His aides said he will campaign this week in New Hampshire and South Carolina, vowing to compete with Mr. Romney everywhere.

In polls of Republicans entering the caucus sites, just more than four in 10 said the most important issue was the economy, while about one-third said the federal budget deficit was their chief concern. Asked what quality was the most important in a candidate, about three in 10 voters said the ability to defeat Mr. Obama, while about a quarter said someone who was a true conservative and another quarter said someone who had strong moral character.

As Republicans turned out across the state to render the first judgment of the candidates, some voters conceded that they were still wrestling with selecting someone who stands the best chance of winning in November or one who is fully aligned with conservative principles.

Don Lutz, who works in real estate, arrived early and called himself a “Newt guy.” But he said he would not cast his vote that way. He said he was supporting Mr. Romney.

“I don’t want to have a vote for nothing,” Mr. Lutz said in an interview at his caucus meeting in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines. “I just don’t think that Newt is going to be there in the end. When I look at the business side of things, Mitt is probably the most qualified.”

The fissures in the party, particularly among social and economic conservatives, have been exposed during the early stage of the presidential nominating battle. But while Republicans have yet to unite behind a single candidate, they are united in their determination to defeat Mr. Obama.

While Republicans were the focus of the night, thousands of Democrats gathered at their caucus meetings, too. Mr. Obama addressed supporters via video, urging them to come to his defense in the general election.

“It’s going to be a big battle, though,” Mr. Obama said. “I hope you guys are geared up.”

A woman piped in from Cedar Rapids: “How do you respond to people who say you haven’t done enough?”

“That’s why we need four more years,” Mr. Obama said.

The Iowa campaign, which provided a laboratory for the unregulated money from outside groups that will course through the presidential campaign, quickly moved on to New Hampshire, which will hold its primary next Tuesday, followed by South Carolina on Jan. 21 and Florida on Jan. 31.

While the New Hampshire primary has traditionally drawn the lion’s share of attention after the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Romney’s strong lead in polls in the state has changed the strategy of some candidates, and South Carolina was quickly emerging as a focal point of the race.

Mrs. Bachmann, whose political fortunes have declined since she won the Iowa straw poll in August, said the caucuses were the beginning of the race for president, not the end of the road for candidates who finish at the bottom of the pack.

“The people of Iowa have spoken, and they have written the very first chapter in this long campaign,” she said, not elaborating on her plans. “There are many more paths to be written on the path to the nomination.”


Reporting was contributed by A.G. Sulzberger in Alton, Iowa;

Susan Saulny in Clive, Iowa; and Dalia Sussman and Allison Kopecki in New York.

    Romney Wins Iowa Caucus by 8 Votes, NYT, 3.1.2012,






The Slush Funds of Iowa


January 2, 2012
The New York Times


Turning on the television in Iowa recently has meant getting hit by an unrelenting arctic blast of campaign ads stunning in volume and ferocity. Residents here say they have never seen anything like the constant negativity in decades of witnessing the quadrennial combat of the state presidential caucuses. The ads have transformed the Republican race for a simple reason: a new landscape of unlimited contributions to “independent” groups that was created by the Supreme Court.

To influence the small fraction of Iowa voters who will participate in Tuesday’s caucuses, the candidates and their supporters will have spent $12.5 million, an unprecedented amount. Only a third of that was spent by the candidates themselves; the rest comes from the “super PACs” that most of the candidates have allowed to be established. These political action committees are essentially septic tanks into which wealthy individuals and corporations can drop unlimited amounts of money, which is then processed into ads that are theoretically made independently of the candidates.

But the PACs are, in fact, a vital part of the campaigns’ strategy. They are run by intimates of each candidate, and whether they actually communicate in detail about the timing and content of particular ads is beside the point. In many cases, the PACs (most of which have not disclosed their donors) have clearly been assigned the dirty work of tearing down a candidate’s opponent, while the candidate gets to hide behind sunny, stirring ads ending with a statement of approval of the message.

The best example is Mitt Romney, whose campaign has spent more than $1 million on upbeat ads about his work in the private sector, his long marriage and his devotion to his church. One even featured his wife, Ann, talking about the importance of character in a candidate. Meanwhile, his PAC, Restore Our Future, has spent $2.85 million largely to attack other candidates, in particular Newt Gingrich. As Nicholas Confessore and Jim Rutenberg put it in The Times on Saturday, Mr. Romney “has effectively outsourced his negative advertising to a group that has raised millions of dollars from his donors to inundate his opponents with attacks.”

These ads, attacking Mr. Gingrich for his government lobbying and ethics violations, are the major reason why his support has tumbled since they were first broadcast a month ago. But they do not bear Mr. Romney’s fingerprints, and thus avoid the taint of voter disapproval that often accompanies negative ads. In one example, a Restore Our Future ad attacks both Mr. Gingrich and Rick Perry as “too liberal on immigration, too much baggage on ethics.” Mr. Romney’s name is never mentioned, and few viewers will realize that the ad’s producers are all close associates of his who worked on his campaign four years ago.

Mr. Gingrich has complained about the assault, but a few days ago his super PAC, Winning Our Future, began running ads saying the attack ads were “falsehoods.” It also has been urging viewers not to let “the liberal Republican establishment pick our candidate,” presumably a reference to Mr. Romney.

These primary ads, of course, are just a preview of what lies in store when the heavy armament is rolled out for the general election. President Obama already has a Super PAC, Priorities USA, that hopes to raise at least $100 million and can be expected to return the fire already coming from the Republican PACs. The president, too, will not be heard saying he approves of their messages.

As bad as the 2010 midterm elections were for the influence of big money, this year’s presidential campaign — the first since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision two years ago — is shaping up to be worse. There are no limits to the dollars involved, and no accountability for the candidates those dollars are buying.

    The Slush Funds of Iowa, NYT, 2.1.2012,






In Iowa, a Time to Vote, and, for Many, to Settle


January 1, 2012
The New York Times


DES MOINES — After months of inspecting potential presidents like melons, Iowa Republicans spent the weekend settling on their final specimens — and showing how acquainted they were with their bruises as well as their sweet spots.

“There’s no perfect candidate,” Jeff Mullen, a politically active pastor, said after speaking at services on Sunday morning at Point of Grace, an evangelical church in the heavily Republican suburbs outside Des Moines. “The question is what flaws can you put up with.”

It is almost time for the “Flaws You Can Put Up With” caucus. Final conversations with voters here yield appreciation followed by inevitable qualifiers:

Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts is solid but not as dazzling as the once trendy noncandidates, like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or even Herman Cain, the pizza entrepreneur who quit the race last month. Likewise, Newt Gingrich’s supporters laud the former House speaker as brilliant but freighted with baggage.

Rick Santorum fans point to the former Pennsylvania senator’s closing momentum but concede he has little money; Rick Perry voters say he is a charmer in person but the Texas governor probably killed his chances with woeful debate showings; and Representative Ron Paul is revered by his followers even as they acknowledge that he has little chance of being nominated.

As such, veterans of Iowa politics say the size and tenor of this year’s Republican crowds across the state have not come close to those in the final days of campaigning by the 2008 candidates — particularly the eventual caucus winners, Barack Obama for the Democrats and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, for the Republicans.

“There was more energy four years ago for Huckabee — and even with the last Romney campaign,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa.

Still, this has not stopped the 2012 version of Mr. Romney from trying to pump up the size and noise of his audiences beyond the decent-size reality of them. Campaigns often try to inflate their crowd estimates and over-marvel at their spectacles to convey a sense of excitement. But Mr. Romney is the rare candidate who actually does this from the stage.

“We should have rented a bigger room, my goodness!” Mr. Romney exclaimed Saturday night in Sioux City, admiring the sight of a few hundred viewers in a spillover space. Nor is he the best counter in the world: “There are over a thousand people — I guess, 1,500 people here!” he said outside a West Des Moines supermarket Friday. It was closer to 500, The Des Moines Register reported, generously.

“You’re getting crushed by camera people,” Mr. Romney said Sunday at a crowded restaurant in Atlantic, Iowa, a not-so-subtle nod to the packed-in event as well as to the abundant media attention the perceived front-runner is attracting. (In fairness, Mr. Romney’s crowds swelled considerably over the weekend, including two overflow events Sunday.)

When asked who the last Republican presidential candidate they were truly excited to support was, voters typically say Ronald Reagan, or sometimes George W. Bush. It underscores the dazzle-gap that has afflicted this year’s field, a point that was reinforced by the serial longing among Republicans for other candidates to run and the frantic speed-dating with alternating front-runners throughout.

In home-stretch interviews, prospective voters here portray President Obama as the true flashpoint of the race, as he was in the last one. He is often viewed as a Republican lightning rod rather than the Democratic luminary of four years ago who attracted four-digit crowds to his Iowa rallies — audiences that no Republican has come close to this year.

Voters are likely to express their admiration for their choice in fiercely pragmatic terms such as “most electable,” “solid,” or “someone who won’t embarrass us.”

“Jesus Christ is not running,” said Jim Hanksaker, a farmer from Radcliffe, Iowa. (Neither is Governor Christie, although he was in the state Friday, appearing with Mr. Romney outside a supermarket in West Des Moines.) By the same token: “I don’t see Gingrich as the antichrist,” said Mark Oltrogge of Calmar, who was in fact very much impressed with Mr. Gingrich’s talk at Mabe’s Pizza in Decorah last week and even dubs Mr. Gingrich “a rock star, kind of.”

“Rock star, kind of,” is typical of the conditional excitement that is marking these last prevoting days.

But passion can just as easily be experienced through contempt for the opponent as adoration for a hopeful, Republican voters said. It gets them to the same place, which is winning in November. “You hate to vote against someone, but that’s sometimes what elections are about,” said David Brewbaker, of Indianola, Iowa, who said he “held his nose” and voted for Senator John McCain against Mr. Obama in 2008.

Mr. Brewbaker was attending a noisy rally for Mr. Paul in Des Moines last week that drew 500 people, many of them veterans (a few of the noisier ones Occupy protesters).

It was one of the more raucous precaucus gatherings of the final days, as Mr. Paul’s supporters are typically the most ardent and committed of the Republican bunch. Indeed, supporters of Mr. Paul are far more likely to be exceptions to the “anyone but Obama” creed within Republican ranks. Many Paul people said there was no difference between Mr. Obama and the non-Paul Republicans, and they could very likely stay home in November rather than support a lesser-of-evil preference.

But for many Republicans across the state, the process of acceptance appears very much under way, if not complete. It is expressed in loud if dutiful cheers and at times elaborate philosophical metaphors.

Andrew Ball, of Boone, explains his likely preference for Mr. Romney in terms of his passion for ice cream. If he could order up his perfect sundae, Mr. Ball said he would have a big bowl of rocky road (with dollops of marshmallow, caramel and nuts).

In terms of candidates, he said, Mr. Paul comes closest to matching his rocky road ideal, as did the departed hopeful Mr. Cain.

But rocky road is not always on the menu — which Mr. Ball said was the case with Mr. Paul because he does not think he has a chance of winning. (Nor is fudge ripple, which Mr. Ball equated to Mr. Christie.)

Mr. Romney is vanilla, said Mr. Ball, who works for a magazine processing company and was a nose-holding voter for Mr. McCain in the general election of 2008. He was attending a rally for Mr. Romney in Ames last Thursday at which the candidate’s campaign bus literally pulled into the warehouse of a construction firm.

The former governor emerged from the bus and stood in pronounced awe over the size of the ample crowd, praised all comers and talked repeatedly about his love of America. Mr. Ball loves America too, if not vanilla ice cream.

“Vanilla would be much better than no ice cream at all,” he said with no hint of wistfulness, or maybe just a tiny bit.


A. G. Sulzberger contributed reporting.

In Iowa, a Time to Vote, and, for Many, to Settle,
NYT, 1.1.2012,




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