Maybe we should discount much of the brouhaha over the proposal to build a Muslim activity center near Ground Zero as the sort of media furor that fills the August news vacuum. But we fear that Republicans long ago left behind any sense of shame.

The Muslim-bashing and sanctification of Ground Zero by Fox News and Republican pols comes just a few weeks after all but 12 House Republicans on July 29 voted against paying health-care costs of 9/11 responders and residents near Ground Zero who have respiratory issues caused by toxic dust inhaled in the days following the attack. Republican procedural maneuvers stopped the bill. But they style themselves as the protectors of Ground Zero.

We think the Park 51 Muslim center, two blocks from Ground Zero, could play an important role in educating people that neither the Quran nor mainstream Islam supports terrorist activities, which are the work of Islamic extremists. That appears to be one of the motives of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is heading the plans for the Islamic center. At this writing he was on a tour of the Middle East sponsored by the State Department to promote American constitutional values. (He went on similar trips for the Bush administration.)

American Muslims should not be blamed for the 9/11 attacks any more than American Christians should be blamed for fundamentalist Christians who murder abortion providers or picket the funerals of American soldiers because they think God is punishing the US for tolerating gays.

The Bill of Rights makes our democracy stand out among the nations — but only as long as we enforce those freedoms. Our great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland to Boston in 1846 in time to be harassed by members of the Native American Party (originally formed in New York in 1843 as the American Republican Party), also known as the “Know Nothings.” They were violently opposed to Irish and German Catholic immigrants whom, they believed, were foreign agents of the Pope and not to be trusted, much less granted citizenship. The nativists attacked Catholic churches until Irish parishioners formed self-defense groups, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians (see Gangs of New York). The Irish have long memories. Some Irish Americans apparently less so.

CALL IT WHAT IT IS. Give props to Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican and Tea Party favorite from Texas, who condemned his “fellow conservatives” (8/23) for opposing the proposed Park 51 Islamic community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. The outcry over the center “implies that Islam alone was responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” Paul said, explaining that the rights of minorities must be protected, even when it’s unpopular. Ultimately, Paul argues that the opposition to the mosque “is all about hate and Islamaphobia,” stoked by “neo-conservatives” who “never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill-conceived preventative wars.” He added, “It is repeatedly said that 64% of the people, after listening to the political demagogues, don’t want the mosque to be built. What would we do if 75% of the people insist that no more Catholic churches be built in New York City? The point being is that majorities can become oppressors of minority rights as well as individual dictators. Statistics of support is irrelevant when it comes to the purpose of government in a free society — protecting liberty. ... This is all about hate and Islamaphobia.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), also made the case for the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, In The Oregonian, Merkley asked (8/22), “what makes a mosque near ground zero offensive?” The premise that a mosque near the World Trader Center site is insensitive makes sense only if we hold American Muslims responsible for foreign terrorists, he said.

“Such an association is a profound error. Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day. Many of our Muslim neighbors, including thousands of Oregon citizens, serve our country in war zones abroad and our communities at home with dedication and distinction.

“Some have also argued that the construction of the mosque would hand a propaganda victory to Osama bin Laden. I think the opposite is true. Al-Qaida justifies its murder by painting America as a nation at war with Islam. Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans’ place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida’s ideology of hate and division. We strengthen America by distinguishing, clearly and unequivocally, between our al-Qaida enemy and our Muslim neighbors ...”

FOX IN CHARGE OF TERROR HOUSE? After Fox News pundit Dick Morris suggested (8/19) that the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero could actually be a “terrorist command center,” but he left it to other Fox pundits to connect the dots (8/23) about how the Kingdom Foundation is a Saudi organization that “funds radical madrassas all over the world,” as well as Imam Rauf. Left unsaid, Jon Stewart noted on Comedy Central’s Daily Show (8/23), was that the head of the Kingdom Foundation is none other than Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, who is also a part owner of News Corp., which operates Fox News. Stewart concluded, “If we want to cut off funding to the ‘terror mosque,’ we must -– together as a nation — stop watching Fox. It’s the only way!”

As irony would have it, ArabNews.com published a picture (8/24) of Prince al-Waleed meeting with News Corp. executives to discuss how to “further strengthen the strategic corporate alliance” between his Rotana Holding Co. and News Corp., ThinkProgress.org noted.

It remains to be seen whether the Republican Governors Association will feel compelled to return the $1 mln that it got from News Corp. The Democratic Governors Association has asked Fox News to run a disclaimer on its political coverage that “News Corp., parent company of Fox News, provided $1 million to defeat Democratic governors in November.” This was before Fox News pundits outlined the Fox-terror connection.

SENATE RACES TO WATCH. About 10 weeks before the midterm election, with Dems plus two allied independents holding a 59-41 majority, the following are expected to be key races:

Arkansas (now held by D): Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) managed to beat Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a primary runoff but polls show her trailing Rep. John Boozman by double digits.

California (D): Carly Fiorina (R) was ousted as Hewlett Packard CEO for poor performance but is challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).

Colorado (D): Teabagger Ken Buck upset former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton in the GOP primary, a break for incumbent Sen. Michael Bennett (D), who survived a strong primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.

Connecticut (D): Atty. Gen. Dick Blumenthal (D) is favored against wrestling impresario Linda McMahon, but Dems still need to get out the vote.

Delaware (D): New Castle County Executive Chris Coons (D) should have a leg up in winning Joe Biden’s old seat, but Rep. Mike Castle (R) has a moderate image despite his tracking with the right-wing leadership in this Congress.

Florida (R): Dems are split between Rep. Kendrick Meek, the likely Dem nominee, and Gov. Charlie Crist, former R now running as an independent. Crist leads in most three-way polls with Meek and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), the teabagger favorite.

Illinois (D): In the race for Obama’s old seat, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is progressive but he is saddled with the collapse of his family’s bank while Rep. Mark Kirk (R) not only is a lackey of big banks and corporations, but he has been caught misrepresenting his military record.

Indiana (D): Former Sen. Dan Coats (R) is a former lobbyist but he’ll be hard to beat in a state that voted for Obama but seems to have swung back to the GOP. Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) has center-right creds but voted for the bank bailout and the health care bill put a target on him.

Iowa (R): Populists have one of their best upset opportunities in Roxanne Conlin, a lawyer who has made a career of suing big business on behalf of poor and working-class people, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) submerged his conservative populist streak and stuck with the right-wing program in attempting to scuttle health-care and Wall Street reform.

Kentucky (R): Teabagger Rand Paul (R) has hit some bumps with his criticism of government regulation of mines, offshore oil wells and drugs, but he still hopes to beat Atty. Gen. Jack Conway (D) for the seat Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is giving up.

Louisiana (R): Sen. David Vitter (R) should be in serious trouble after admitting to patronizing prostitutes and reports that his aide who handled women’s issues had been arrested for attacking his girlfriend with a knife, but this is Louisiana ... Still, Rep. Charlie Melancon is a center-right Dem who can run strong, particularly if Vitter gets beaten up in the GOP primary with former state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor.

Missouri (R): Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) is depicting Rep. Roy Blunt (R) as an architect of the 2008 bank bailout bill, in a race to succeed Sen. Kit Bond (R).

Nevada (D): Republicans had high hopes of beating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) before teabagger Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman, upset the establishment candidate but left a parade of far-right public policy positions for Reid to publicize.

New Hampshire (R): Paul Hodes (D) is progressive but faces long odds, particularly if former Atty. Gen. Kelly Ayotte wins GOP primary.

North Carolina (R): Elaine Marshall (R) faces long odds in unseating Richard Burr (R), but he is vulnerable and she is progressive.

North Dakota (D): Actually the GOP’s most certain pickup, with polls showing popular Gov. John Hoeven (R) swamping state Sen. Tracy Potter (D) for retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D)’s seat.

Ohio (R): Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) hopes former Rep. Rob Portman (R)’s ties to former President George W. Bush will swing a race to succeed Sen. George Voinovich (R).

Pennsylvania (D): Rep. Joe Sestak upset Sen. Arlen Specter, a recently converted Dem, in the primary and now faces former Rep. Pat Toomey (R), a former derivatives trader.

South Carolina (R): Sen. Jim DeMint (R) is a prohibitive favorite, particularly after Alvin Greene (D), an unknown, unemployed pornography suspect, beat a former circuit judge in the Democratic primary under suspicious circumstances, but Greens have a bona fide candidate in Tom Clements, a populist and environmentalist who has worked with Friends of the Earth.

Washington (D): polls show former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) in a dead heat with Sen. Patty Murray (D).

Wisconsin (D): Rightwing Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson (R) is expected to give Sen. Russ Feingold (D) all the race he can handle.

HOUSE RACES THAT MATTER. Mike Lux of OpenLeft.com ranked House races that he thinks matters most to progressives (8/23):

1. VA-5. Tom Perriello (D) vs. Robert Hurt (R) ... “symbolically the most important race of the year: can a Democrat who voted with progressives on virtually every major issue from this kind of southern conservative working-class district win in a year like this? The odds are long, and Tom is behind right now, but if anyone can do it, he can. Perriello is a great campaigner who has raised a ton of money, and his appeal to values-based economic populism is compelling.”

2. WI-7. Open seat formerly held by Dave Obey (D-Wis.). Julie Lassa (D) is a progressive populist in the Obey mold, except unlike Obey she is also pro-choice. “This is a challenging working-class district, though, and she needs a lot of financial help quickly to compete. It would be a real shame to have progressive populist Dave Obey’s seat go to a right-wing Republican.”

3. NH-1. Carol Shea-Porter (D) “the strong progressive who upset the party establishment favorite in the primary in 2006, then went on to upset the heavily favored Republican in the general election without a dime from the DCCC. Her district is the more conservative of the two New Hampshire districts, and she has a serious challenge this year. Since she rejects all money from lobbyists and corporate PACs, she will really need our help.”

4. OH-15. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) in one of the most competitive districts and races in the country, “has been a strong supporter of progressive reform legislation, and is opposed by a bank lobbyist and Boehner protégé. Given that Kilroy was a key player in making the financial reform bill more progressive, the bankers are gunning for her with big money.”

5. IL-10. Dan Seals (D) in Rep. Mark Kirk (R)’s old seat. “Seals almost took Kirk out in 2008, and is running a strong race to win the open seat. It’s a suburban Chicago district, less populist than some, but I’m impressed with the campaign dan is running. However, it is the Chicago media market, and he needs to raise a lot of money.”

6. FL-25. Joe Garcia (D) “is a friend of progressive groups in Florida, and has been a leader in working to bring the Cuban-American community out of the right-wing Republican politics of the past. Joe came so close to beating the incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart in 2008 that Diaz-Balart switched to a safer district.”

7. NY-19. John Hall (D) “was a professional musician before running for Congress, and has been a strong populist reformer in spite of a very marginal district. He is facing a very strong, very wealthy self-funding opponent, and really needs to raise some money.”

8. OH-16. John Boccieri (D) “came through for us on health care reform when many people with districts not as tough as his chickened out. He is also facing a self-funding right-wing candidate in a tough, working-class district alienated from Obama.”

9. OH-13. Betty Sutton (D), “Another candidate from a tough working-class district. Also facing a self-funding right winger (yes, there are some trends here). This is Sherrod Brown’s old district, and Betty is a protégé of his. Enough said, as far as I am concerned.”

10. DE At-Large. John Carney (D) for the seat Rep. Mike Castle (R) is giving up to run for Senate. “Delaware is a pretty Democratic state, and Carney seems like a quality guy. His Republican opponent will probably be another self-funder out of the banking industry.”

11. PA-07. Bryan Lentz (D) for the seat Rep. Joe Sestak (D) gave up to run for Senate, “one of the most competitive swing districts in the country, and Lentz is as solid progressive candidate.”

12. PA-06. Manan Trivedi (D). “Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach has survived a series of close challenges, but the district leans Dem and Manan is a strong progressive running a good campaign. Gerlach is another candidate we need to finally beat.”

13. CA-45. Steve Pougnet (D). “This is a district carried by Obama in 2008, and Steve (the Palm Springs mayor) is running a solid race. He would be the first openly gay dad in Congress, as well as the first legally married gay man elected to Congress. Mary Bono Mack has always had some vulnerabilities, and it’s time to take her out.”

14. CA-44. Bill Hedrick (D). “This is a district carried by Obama, and Hedrick is a solid candidate, and John Campbell is awful — a classic corporate conservative.”

15. FL-08. Alan Grayson (D). “Progressives need to be there for our most gutsy and outspoken progressive champion. His district is very competitive, and while he has raised a lot of money, he still needs support.”

16. KS-3. Stephene Moore (D). “This is an open seat formerly held by Dennis Moore [her husband]. Stephene Moore is the Democratic candidate. This suburban Kansas City district is very competitive. I have talked to Moore and her campaign team. They are solidly committed to progressive reform causes, and seem to be running a strong race. I think we can keep this seat, but it will take a quick infusion of cash as she is being battered by the Republican attack machine.”

TEABAGGERS WILL TARGET SOFT R’S. Former House Majority Leader and de facto leader of the Tea Party Movement Dick Armey (R-Texas) said lawmakers who have not signed onto ranking Budget Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the budget lacked “courage” and could be targeted by the conservative Tea Party movement as a result. “All Paul Ryan is saying is let Social Security be voluntary, let Medicare be voluntary,” Armey said on Meet the Press (8/22). “The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats — the difference between being a co-sponsor of Ryan or not is a thing called courage.”

PASSING THE HAT. Our appeal in the 8/15/10 TPP for financial assistance as we try to close the gap on higher costs and prepare for the next postal rate increase brought in 32 donations totalling $1,881 during the first two weeks. Excluding one extra-generous check for $1,000, the average donation has been $28.42. All amounts are welcome. If you have a few bucks to spare, send a check and/or names of potential subscribers to: Progressive Populist, PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652. Or phone 512-828-7245 or email populist@usa.net.

GETTING GOV’T OUT OF YOUR BREAKFAST. As a recall of factory-farm-laid eggs expanded, Paul Waldman of Prospect.org saw a case of small-government conservatism in action. Between 2003 and 2006, the Associated Press reported in 2007, food safety inspections dropped 47%, according to a database analysis of federal records at that time. The analysis also showed there were 12% fewer Food and Drug Administration employees in field offices who worked on food issues, safety tests for US-produced food had dropped nearly 75% and the agency inspected only 1.3% of food imports in 2006.

According to a recent study, 5,000 Americans die every year because of food-borne illnesses, and the total cost of treating those illnesses is $152 bln, Waldman noted. “Think about that the next time someone talks to you about getting government off your back.”

The Obama administration in July put new rules into effect that require producers to do more testing for salmonella and take other precautions. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the egg salmonella outbreak and has sent letters to the farms, the Agriculture Department and the FDA, seeking information, AP reported (8/23).

N.Y. STOPS PRISON GERRYMANDERING. New York’s legislature in August enacted a law that stops the gerrymandering of legislative districts with prison inmates. The new law requires that inmates be counted at their homes when state and local legislative districts are redrawn next year. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund noted that 66% of the state’s prisoners come from New York City, but 91% of them — over 43,000 — are held upstate, in more rural districts. Seven New York state Senate districts probably will have to be redrawn because of the population shifts. Maryland and Delaware have passed similar laws. The Prison Policy Initiative (prisonpolicy.org) has found 21 counties in the US where at least one in five people were actually inmates from another county. In Anamosa, Iowa (population 5,700), a city councilman in 2008 was elected with only two write-in votes — from his wife and a neighbor — because his ward includes a prison with 1,300 inmates who were ineligible to vote, leaving only 58 nonprisoners in the ward.

CREDIT CARDS CAN STILL GOUGE, WITH NOTICE. Interest rates continued to fall for the US Treasury, large corporations and homebuyers, but for many of the nation’s 381 mln credit card accounts, interest rates moved up in August, the Wall Street Journal noted (8/23). Credit-card rules that took effect 8/22 limit banks’ ability to charge penalty fees. Previously, banks were restricted in their ability to adjust rates on the fly. So issuers have pushed card rates to the highest level in nine years. The average interest rate on existing cards reached 14.7%, the highest level since 2001. Meanwhile, the prime rate — the benchmark against which card rates are supposed to be set — remained 3.25%. The difference of 11.45 points is the largest in at least 22 years, the research firm Synovate reported.

Some of the good changes: Late fees can no longer be larger than the minimum payment that was due, you can’t be charged multiple fees for a single transgression, most penalty fees will be limited to $25, credit card companies no longer will be able to charge an “inactivity fee” if you don’t use the card and consumers will get 45 days advance notice of higher interest rates.

SBA CHAOS STYMIED NEW ORLEANS REBUILDING. Five years after the backwash from Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Jay Young is still haunted by the desperate voices on the telephone crying and begging for help. Young, who was based in Fort Worth, Texas, told Mitch Weiss of the Associated Press (8/24) he was forced to turn away many qualified applicants because of pressure from his supervisors to close files quickly. An AP investigation found that despite obvious need, 55% of homeowners and businesses that applied for help after hurricanes Katrina and Rita were turned away. Only 60% of loan money approved by the SBA ultimately reached applicants. Among the findings:

Country clubs, yacht clubs, exclusive private schools and megachurches received millions in loans from the agency founded in 1953 with a mission to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns.”

Homeowners and businesses in higher-income areas were more likely to get a loan than those in lower-income areas, according to AP’s analysis of SBA data by ZIP code.

A disparity also existed along racial lines. For example, the predominantly white, wealthier Lakeview section of New Orleans had the city’s highest ratio of approvals to rejections, while the lowest approval rates were in poorer, mostly black areas like the Lower 9th Ward.

But AP found a racial disparity was clear even among economically similar areas. The SBA approved nearly 66% of loan applications in a predominantly white part of suburban St. Bernard Parish but approved only 42.1% in a predominantly black, adjacent section of eastern New Orleans with comparable median household income. SBA officials said they don’t collect information about race on loan applications but try to reach out to applicants in poor neighborhoods.

During the past five years, SBA officials say, they have added staff, improved technology and simplified the loan process to push money out quickly to disaster victims.

But recent reports by government watchdog groups and some critics have slammed the SBA for being too slow to implement measures that could improve an agency with a troubled past.

Congressional investigators and SBA whistleblowers question whether the agency is any better equipped for a major disaster today, as the region grapples with the oil-spill-related assault on three pillars of its economy — seafood, tourism and offshore drilling.

FAITH QUESTIONED AT THE WHITE HOUSE. The imbroglio over the Islamic center near Ground Zero offered an opportunity for opponents of President Obama to question his Christian faith because he didn’t have a home church any more since leaving the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago after more than 20 years of membership there. Few right-wing pundits noted that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, let people assume that he was a devout Christian who read the Bible every night, but seldom attended church as president. [And we note that he apparently failed to absorb many lessons from the Gospels.] Among the reasons given for Bush staying away from public services, Amy Sullivan reported at Beliefnet.com (9/04), was that the security precautions would be too onerous. “This, it should be noted, is the exact same excuse Ronald Reagan proferred for not attending church at all,” she noted.

Sullivan added that Bill Clinton was a regular member of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, which Sullivan also attended, without much interference from security, and Jimmy Carter found time to teach Sunday School at a local Baptist church when he was president.

Obama sampled a few churches in Washington after moving into the White House, Sullivan wrote at Time.com (6/29/09) but he eventually decided to worship at Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David — which ended up as Bush’s primary place of worship as well.

AUSSIES GRIND OUT ELECTION. A Green member could tip the balance of power in the Australian Parliament, but it could take a while to sort things out. With 78.8% of the ballots counted four days after the election (8/25), the ruling Labor Party held 71 seats, the center-right Coalition had 71 seats, independents won four seats and one went to a Green candidate with three seats undetermined, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

REPORT: GOP SUBSIDIZES CON BLOGGERS. Does the Republican Party subsidize conservative bloggers? Jonathan Strong reports at Tucker Carlson’s DailyCaller.com (8/23) that increasingly many bloggers are secretly feeding on cash from political campaigns in a form of partisan payola that erases the line between journalism and paid endorsement. “It’s standard operating procedure” to pay bloggers for favorable coverage, a Republican campaign operative told Strong. A GOP blogger-for-hire estimates that “at least half the bloggers that are out there” on the Republican side “are getting remuneration in some way beyond ad sales.” According to Strong, a strategist for former California gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner hired a blogger named Aaron Park as a “consultant,” although Park did not disclose this fact at “Red County,” the conservative blog he wrote for. Which was smart, considering Red County had, in fact, received $20,000 from the campaign of Poizner’s opponent, Meg Whitman.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2010


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