Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

This was the first live chat I’ve helped plan and participated in. Although I got bumped from my afternoon slot to the end of the night by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, I did succeed in getting him to comment on my review of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Here was the chat line up:

10 am to 10:30 am: Kamau Bell, comedian
10:30 am to 11 am: Nick Baumann, Mother Jones
11 am to 11:30 am: Dave Levinthal, Center for Responsive Politics
11:30 am to 12 noon: Craig Newmark, Craigslist
12 noon to 12:30 pm: Staci Kramer, PaidContent
12:30 pm to 1 pm: Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation


5 pm to 5:30 pm: Anthony Calabrese, MediaShift data viz
5:30 pm to 6 pm: JD Lasica, SocialMedia.biz
6 pm to 6:30 pm: Steven Davy, MediaShift
6:30 pm to 7 pm: Corbin Hiar, MediaShift
7 pm to 7:30 pm: Heather Gold, Subvert.com

Click here to see what we had to say.

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This piece, which I wanted to call “The Digitally Driven Rise of the Tea Party,” was originally about how the right was using new media to oppose climate protection regulations. The idea for the piece grew out of earlier conversations I’d had with climate activists about what made their organizations different from right wing groups. But when I handed it in, my editor asked me to chop it down by taking out the climate angle.

I’m happy with the end result. My boss was invited onto New Hampshire Public Radio to talk about my reporting and the rest of PoliticalShift 2010, the series of stories about politics and social media we published in the run up to the midterm elections.

The biggest story of the U.S. midterm election has been the growing influence of the Tea Party movement. Since their first rallies in early 2009, these vocal, visible conservatives have succeeded in shifting the center of American political discourse to the right. This election cycle, Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against moderate Republicans like Delaware’s Mike Castle. So how has this confederation of online, conservative activists used new media to build their growing political base?

Think locally, organize nationally

First and foremost, the Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting local groups to the national conversation.

“I didn’t really start using Facebook and Twitter until I got involved with the Tea Party movement,” said Ana Puig, the 38-year-old leader of Pennsylvania’s Kitchen Table Patriots (KTP).

Puig said much of KTP’s online organizing would not have been possible without the help of two prominent, national conservative organizations: FreedomWorks and American Majority. These well-financed operations provide local Tea Party groups with the new media training and focus group-tested political messaging needed to get results.

Using what she learned from these national organizations, Puig and co-founder Anastasia Przybylski set up the KTP’s rudimentary website, which has proved effective in establishing the group’s digital presence and in attracting new members. Puig said KTP has an email list of a couple thousand people and has attracted over 400 fans to its Facebook page since she created it a month ago.

These personalized digital resources have enabled KTP to stage dozens of rallies since it was founded in February 2009. They’ve also organized an online boycott of Dawn after it advertised during a MSNBC Tea Party documentary and are currently running get-out-the-vote operations for conservative candidates across the state.

Digital tools

Brendan Steinhauser, FreedomWorks’ director for federal and state campaigns, hinted at another way the Tea Party has grown its online political clout: By sharing digital tools.

“We see our new model at FreedomWorks as a service center for the grassroots,” he explains.

This approach is based in part on the success Steinhauser had using Yahoo Groups and viral videos to revive the University of Texas chapter of the state’s Young Conservatives organization in the years before YouTube was launched or Facebook became an open network. After his graduation in 2005, Steinhauser used the same tools to help found the Young Conservatives of California. He also published a book about his campus organizing experiences, The Conservative Revolution, and launched a blog with the same name.

Steinhauser was one of a handful of FreedomWorks staffers who have shown Puig, and many others like her, the digital ropes.

“A lot of it is training,” Steinhauser explained. “Most of these people are new to politics.”

In addition to seminars on the background and basics of political campaigning — from the tactics of the American civil rights movement to tips on how to stage an interesting meeting — FreedomWorks has sessions on social media.

“It’s very basic stuff, but it goes a long way toward making an impact” with the older members of the Tea Party movement, he said.

FreedomWorks also offers more sophisticated digital resources to its network of 650,000 online conservative activists. Puig initially contacted the organization to have one of the KTP’s rallies listed on a national Google Map that FreedomWorks created to share information about local Tea Party events. Steinhauser’s group also helped fire-charge the Congressional town halls in summer of 2009 by featuring on their website an “August Recess Action Kit” to aid supporters in exposing “the real intentions and the economic ramifications of the of the Cap and Tax and health care reform legislation on the table,” as Mother Jones reported at the time.

Click here to read more about FreedomWorks’ digital arsenal and the “guerrilla tactics” of American Majority’s online activist training sessions or to comment on the PBS MediaShift story.

Photo credit: (Astro)Turf Wars

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The Prospect liked my previous pieces enough that they gave me the opportunity to take a follow-up writing test. This time around, they requested that I pitch a story for the mid-term elections and write three posts that could have been featured on the magazine’s group blog TAPPED. For the blog pieces, which I am posting on Hiar Learning, I tried to emphasize my analytical strengths in selecting the topics I chose to blog about. This first post has a slight environmental bent.

The Center for Public Integrity has published the results of a thought-provoking survey of vacant government oversight positions by John Solomon. The Center’s journalist-in-residence compiled a list of 73 inspectors general, chief auditors, or whistleblower protection positions across government and found that at least 15 are currently unfilled or being covered by acting officials.

Solomon makes a compelling argument that if the Obama administration intends to live up to its professed commitment to transparency, it must work to fill these important positions as soon as possible. “Over the years, government watchdogs have produced some memorable investigations, uncovering federal workers who watched pornography from government computers, revealing that federal housing vouchers were still being paid to dead Americans, and disclosing the FBI’s illegal gathering of phone records,” he notes.

There is nothing stopping the administration from immediately hiring inspectors general at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Communications Commission, the Labor Relations Authority, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Senate confirmation is not required to fill IG posts at these four agencies and, possibly the Federal Housing Finance Agency, too. (In the text of the report, it says the agency’s IG nominee is awaiting confirmation, but on CPI’s spreadsheet, it says the FHFAIG doesn’t require confirmation.) Since December, the House of Representatives has also had its own IG position to fill.

Why are the administration and Congress dragging their feet about these oversight openings? (more…)

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This was a self-selected Prospect article critique for my application to their fellowship program. See this post for more information.

They probably won’t vote for it. But by including GOP ideas in the finance bill, Democrats can make it difficult for Republicans to effectively campaign against it.

Tim Fernholz believes the best strategy for Democrats to win the fight over re-regulating Wall Street is to learn from the lessons of the health care reform. The question is, what exactly are the takeaways from that successful legislative battle?

The first lesson, Fernholz says, is to be assertive. In the wake of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, congressional Democrats realized they would have to take a strong, cohesive stance to enact health care reform. And with that decision made, they rallied together and passed a controversial bill. Fernholz notes that their assertiveness has boosted both the popularity of their health care reform overhaul and, if the breathless reporting of POLITICO is to be believed, the party’s midterm reelection chances.

Fernholz’s other lesson is that Republicans cannot be counted on to cooperate. “If Democrats want to replicate their health-care success,” Fernholz suggests, “the best strategy for strong reform is to bring a tough bill to the floor and dare Republicans to filibuster it.” But Republicans don’t need too much taunting to call a filibuster. Indeed, with little substantive provocation, the minority party has set a new record for obstinacy this congressional session. And, as Fernholz notes, this is a strategy Republicans have doubled down on in the wake of their crushing health care defeat.

By focusing primarily on the assertiveness Democrats showed at the last moment and the stonewalling of the GOP, Fernholz overlooks perhaps the most important lesson from the battle for health care: the importance of co-opting the best Republican ideas. (more…)

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Cover Of The 2/18/09 Issue: The death of conservatism

This was written as a part of my application for TNR‘s once sought-after reporter-researcher position while I was wrapping up my web internship at The Nation. In the past, the year-long position has been an important career springboard for many accomplished journalists. Now I’ve heard TNR, the venerable Washington institution, can only afford to pay some $5,000 a year to whomever is selected. In 2009, I didn’t even score an interview. In 2010, I wasn’t even interested in applying. Oh, the sorry state of journalism…

As far as the actual analysis goes, I think it’s held up pretty well. Maybe I wrote a bad cover letter. Who knows? Any critiques are welcome in the comments section below.


The most important argument against nationalization raised in the lead editorial is that “absent clear conditions… nationalization could easily provoke a panicked sell-off.”  The news that has come out of the Treasury since the editorial was published has been anything but “clear.”  Geithner’s widely derided speech outlining the disbursement of the second round of Trouble Asset Relief Program funds lost the confidence of the markets, which will likely limit his ability to take any action more bold than simply handing out money to banks.  This timid approach that TNR editorial rightly suggested would be the “worst course of action” appears to be the direction in which the Obama economic team is leading the US.

The first act of the “Geithner-Summers psychodrama” was especially interesting to read in light of these disappointing developments.  The next scene is no doubt well into production.  The muddled TARP II (re-branded as the Financial Stability Plan) speech did not clear up how the administration plans to dispose of the toxic assets eating away at banks’ balance sheets or who is really directing the financial clean up.  The combination of Geithner’s tax-tarnished confirmation and now his expectation management failure have made him appear as anything but an “Obama-like perma-cool” leader, as Scheiber put it.  Scheiber also missed the opening salvos of the State/Treasury border skirmishes: Geithner foolishly accused China of “manipulating” its currency in his written responses to the Senate Finance Committee’s confirmation questionnaire.

The financial troubles that Geithner, et al., are struggling to resolve will present a serious challenge to health care reform that was not discussed in Cohn’s otherwise excellent feature.  The hopeful confluence of public opinion in favor of reform with the rise of broad-based interest groups like “Divided We Fail” was thoroughly examined, as was the argument against health care reform (which he had previously identified as “the best case against universal health care”).  However, Cohn did not address what will likely be the loudest case Republicans make in their inevitable opposition to comprehensive reform: the ballooning budget deficit.  The right used their recent conversion to fiscal discipline as justification for trimming the much-needed stimulus program.  They are likely to use the same shrill scare tactics to minimize change to the broken health care system.

Russia too is suffering from the worldwide recession.  While I found the exposé of the Kremlin’s p.r. ploys fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they have the attention and budget necessary to continue with pricey consultants, “self-laudatory” summits, and Russia Today propaganda broadcasts given the collapse in the price of oil and, with it, the living standards of the formerly docile Russian people.  The p.r. offensive may be too costly a distraction for an increasingly embattled Russian government.


The cover story on the history and future of conservatism provides a useful lens through which to view the divergent paths of David Frum and Norm Coleman.  (more…)

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A week of heat from the IRS was all it took for this corrupt GOP congressman to decided he wanted to spend more time with his family. And his lawyer, presumably.

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), who has recently come under fire for his shady charity, won’t seek reelection in the fall. In a statement released this afternoon, the nine-term GOP congressmen attributed the abrupt annoucement “to the recent diagnosis of my wife” with an “‘incurable’ autoimmune disease.” No mention was made of allegations made surrounding the Frontier Foundation, a six-year-old educational nonprofit that has bankrolled golfing trips for the congressman instead of handing out scholarships. The Internal Revenue Service is still determining whether to investigate Frontier and Buyer, its “honorary chairman.”

While Buyer’s decision can be read as a victory for government accountability groups, it is less clear what effect it will have on voters in Indiana. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson crowed to The Hill, “Instead of drinking Eric Cantor and the NRCC’s Kool-Aid, House Republicans continue to show a lack of confidence in their ability to take back the House as Republican retirements are mounting and their own members refuse to invest in the [National Republican Congressional Committee].” Questions about the foundation did little to damage Buyer’s lead in the opinion polls—Republicans maintain a 14-point edge in his district. With a less ethically challenged candidate, it now seems even more likely that the GOP will hold Buyer’s seat in the 2010 midterm elections.

Click here to see the MoJo post or to make a comment.

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I wrote this quick MoJo blog post while I was waiting to hear back from sources for another story. My editor liked it and immediately promoted it to the Must Read section. While I appreciate the praise, she did chop out both a fun golf reference–that’s about par for the course for the golf-loving congressman’s shady charity–and a section culled from my interview of the CREW executive director that I’ve pasted below the jump. (The asterisk* in the text denotes where it would have gone.)

UPDATE: This post was picked up by Bear Market News.

Indiana Republican Rep. Steve Buyer formed the Frontier Foundation in 2003 to provide scholarships to students in his state—and since then his charity has raised an impressive $880,000 in corporate donations. Unfortunately, none of that money has found its way to needy undergrads. It has, however, paid for a lot of Buyer’s swanky golf junkets. Speaking recently with CBS Evening News about his foundation, the eight-term congressman—a graduate of the Citadel with a degree in business administration and Frontier’s “honorary chairman”—suggested that he “was so focused on making sure that we were legal, that I probably didn’t pay as close attention as I should have on, quote, appearances.”

And the appearances aren’t pretty. After a thorough review of Frontier’s tax filings, the government accountability organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has recommended that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) investigate Buyer and what they refer to as his “so-called charity.” CREW alleges Buyer has used Frontier “to foot golf fundraisers at exclusive resorts where he hobnobs with corporate donors—who also contribute to his campaign committee and leadership [political action committee].” In 2008, the most recent year for which tax returns were available, the foundation wrote off over $25,000 in expenses for “meals” and “travel for fund-raising.” These fundraising outings got the golf-loving Republican onto the links at Disney World, the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, and the Phoenix-area Boulders resort.

Most of the $10,500 in donations that the foundation has made in its seven-year history went not to college scholarships but to the National Rifle Association and “a charity run by a pharmaceutical company lobbyist.” And Buyer’s family benefited too: both his son and daughter were paid to serve as directors at the charity, which until recently shared its headquarters with the congressman’s campaign office. “It is hard to imagine something more callous than playing golf on the backs of poor students—at least one of whom surely could have gone to college on the money Frontier spent on Rep. Buyer’s golf trips,” CREW’s director, Melanie Sloan, said in a statement.

And who were the lobbyists that Buyer was courting? According to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical industry—which is regulated by the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, of which Buyer is a member—has been the congressman’s second largest campaign contributor. Only health professionals like doctors have contributed more over the course of Buyer’s political career. Buyer’s son was also hired directly out of college to lobby for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association.

Details of the foundation’s activities were unearthed by Indiana’s Lafayette Journal and Constitution in October 2009—too late for Buyer to merit inclusion on CREW’s annual list of the most corrupt lawmakers.* Sloan told me that she is confident that IRS will take CREW’s allegations seriously. But she has less faith that Buyer’s colleagues on the OCE will hold him accountable. “I don’t think Ethics will examine in depth if Buyer misused his seat on Energy and Commerce,” she said.

Nor does there seem to be much in the way of public pressure on Buyer to step down. The day before CREW filed its complaints—and nearly three months since the congressman’s phony foundation scandal first broke in Indiana—the Swing State Project published its latest 2010 election forecast for the fourth district of Indiana, which Buyer represents. Prediction: safe GOP hold.


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