Jon Wiener | The Nation

Jon Wiener

Jon Wiener

Politics and pop, past and present.

NPR Station in LA Suspends Planned Parenthood Spots

One of two NPR stations in the Los Angeles area, KPCC-FM, suspended its regularly scheduled Planned Parenthood spots on Friday, in response to Republican demands that Congress eliminate federal funding for the family planning group.

Program director Craig Curtis explained in a Friday memo to staff members that “given that the budget debate in congress is focusing today on abortion in general and Planned Parenthood by extension,” running the spots “might raise questions in the mind of the reasonable listener regarding our editorial and sales practices.”

A “reasonable listener” might now have questions about the journalistic integrity of the station.

The memo was published in LAObserved.com, a media-watch website edited by Kevin Roderick.

“There is nothing wrong with the spots per se,” Curtis said in his memo. It’s just that the station doesn’t want to make Republicans unhappy.

Planned Parenthood has “a business relationship” with the NPR station, the memo said—which means the organization has a contract under which it pays the station as an underwriter to run the spots.

Did KPCC pull the Planned Parenthood spots in response to a directive from the NPR network, or was this strictly a local initiative? Bill Gray, director of communications for Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media, KPCC’s parent company, says KPCC “runs their own show, so no direction from us or anyone else on this.”

Was the station responding to Republican pressure on KPCC to drop its Planned Parenthood spots? Or were they responding to something they imagined might happen? KPCC’s Curtis said there was no outside political pressure. He called the decision “a routine procedural one.” The routine, he said, is that when an underwriter becomes “the center sof a major news story…our standard practice is to ‘bump’ or suspend credits to avoid the appearance of any conflict.”

That seems to mean that the next time Republicans go after Planned Parenthood—or any other group—KPCC will do the same thing.

Asked whether any other public radio stations had pulled Planned Parenthood spots this weekend, Curtis did not point to any. He said only that “many stations have similar policies.” Gray said that Minnesota Public Radio had no Planned Parenthood spots scheduled, so had not faced the issue.

There was comment elsewhere in Los Angeles: Marc Cooper, a faculty member at USC’s Annenberg School (and contributing editor of The Nation) wrote at his Facebook page, “The Role of The Journalist: To afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. And to cower in one’s own shadow.”

At his LA Weekly blog, Dennis Romero mocked the station, writing, “We’ve never even heard a Planned Parenthood spot on the station. Oops, maybe this one backfired. Now we know, KPCC, that you take money from Planned Parenthood…. Listen Craig, we wouldn’t have accused you of anything because we had no idea about your family planning ways.”

The station, broadcasting at 89.3 FM and www.scpr.org, is owned by the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio. Their license is held by Pasadena City College, which originally operated the station. It features an “intelligent talk” format.

KPCC afternoon host Patt Morrison was recently named “most valuable radio voice” of 2011 by The Nation’s John Nichols, who says she “raises the quality of the discourse with savvy and unexpected guests.” Morrison did not reply to an email asking for comment on pulling the Planned Parenthood spots.

In the leaked memo, Program Director Curtis told the staff, “let’s go ahead and plan to resume the Planned Parenthood spots on Monday. If we need to extend the suspension, I’ll let you know.”

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Wisconsin's Cronon Affair: The Power of a Simple Fact

More than a million people teach at colleges and universities in the United States, but only one faces a Republican demand for his e-mails: William Cronon, who teaches history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cronon is a brilliant historian. He’s the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant. He’s president-elect of the American Historical Association. His books on environmental history have won the biggest awards a historian can receive.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin last week filed an open records request demanding access to any e-mails Cronon sent or received since Jan. 1 containing the search terms “Republican,” “collective bargaining,” “rally,” “union” or the names of eight Republicans targeted for recall by liberal activists. That seems to be legal under the state’s version of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Of course this is a fishing expedition in search of something embarrassing. And of course there’s a big difference between an individual using Freedom of Information legislation to expose government misconduct, and the party in power using it to harass and intimidate a critic of the government.

What does it take to become the target of this kind of attack?

Many faculty members call themselves “Marxists” or “socialists,” and some describe themselves as “anarchists” or “revolutionaries”—but Cronon doesn’t. He’s not Bill Ayres, the education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who happily defends his Weatherman past. Cronon describes himself as a “centrist.” He says he’s never belonged to the Democratic (or the Republican) party. Yet he faces a Republican demand for his e-mail, while Bill Ayres never did.

Some commentators have suggested Cronon became a target because he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times, suggesting that Wisconsin’s Republicans were reviving McCarthyism. But the demand for Cronon’s e-mail came a couple of days before his column appeared.

What provoked the Republicans was Cronon’s first-ever blog post, published at his new website, “Scholar as Citizen.” The demand for his e-mail was filed right after that appeared; thus that blog post provides the key to understanding why the Republicans want to stop Bill Cronon. It was titled “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere?” Cronon’s post didn’t make a complex argument, the way his books do. Instead it presented a simple fact, pointing to a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model laws which are then introduced by Republicans in state legislatures—for example, laws eliminating collective bargaining with state employee unions. ALEC has been in operation since the seventies and claims its members introduce 1,000 pieces of legislation every year in all fifty states.

The power of this simple fact lies in the way it disrupts the Republicans’ explanation of what they are doing in Wisconsin. They say the new law there ending collective bargaining with public employee unions is an emergency response to this year’s fiscal crisis. They say it’s a response crafted by local Wisconsin state representatives to help their neighbors who are facing big new tax burdens. Cronon suggested that none of this is true: the law is not a response to the current fiscal crisis, it’s been a Republican priority for decades; it’s not a Wisconsin idea, it comes from a national Republican think tank. And the goal is not to protect the little guy in Wisconsin but rather to help the big corporations that fund Republican operations.

Doing research on conservative groups and strategies is nothing new—indeed, Cronon’s blog provides links to several other sources of good information. But the way he highlighted the simple fact about “who’s really behind recent Republican legislation” apparently touched a Republican nerve. Now we will see how successful the Republicans are at intimidating other faculty members from doing the kind of work Cronon undertook when he blogged about the “Scholar as Citizen.”

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Elizabeth Taylor, Al Jazeera and the Raid on Entebbe

When Elizabeth Taylor died, Al Jazeera English reported that her greatest role was Cleopatra.

They didn’t report that she had offered herself as a hostage at Entebbe in exchange for the 100 hijack victims held by terrorists at that airport in Uganda in 1976. The terrorists turned down the deal, and then Israeli commandos freed the hostages.

“The Jewish people will always remember” Taylor’s offer—that’s what the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz said in 1977, according to CNN

Taylor had converted to Judaism in 1959, when she was 27 years old—Time magazine reported that she had taken the Jewish name “Elisheba Rachel Taylor.” Raised as a Christian Scientist, Taylor converted in part under the influence of her third husband, producer Mike Todd—“born Avrom Goldbogen,” as Time explained, “grandson of a Polish rabbi.”

The year after her Entebbe hostage trade offer, 1977, she married John Warner, who then ran for the Senate from Virginia as a Republican—she campaigned for him actively, and her star power was credited with his narrow victory. Warner reportedly resented being called “Mr. Elizabeth Taylor.” 

But life as a Republican political wife in Washington made her “a drunk and a junkie,” she later said, and in 1983 she checked into the Betty Ford clinic.  The rest is history.

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Imagine No Religion: It's Coming True in Nine Countries

When John Lennon sang “Imagine there’s no heaven” in 1971, rock critics called the song “utopian.” But forty years later, researchers have found that religion is indeed disappearing in nine countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

The researchers failed to note that the Beatles played live concerts in five of the nine: Australia, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand. And they filmed part of Help! in a sixth, Austria. 

The scientific study, reported by the BBC, was based on historical census figures from countries where citizens were asked about their religious affiliation. The research, published online by Cornell University, does not consider the influence of the lads from Liverpool. Instead, according to the authors, it is based on “perturbation theory.”

"The idea is pretty simple," researcher Richard Wiener of the University of Arizona told the BBC. "It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.” 

Wiener (no relation), gave as an example the case of languages, where “there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru."  Similiarly, he said, “there's some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not."

The researchers found that the country with the highest percentage of non-religious people was the Czech Republic, where 60 percent reported having no religion. Of course Prague is famous for its “Lennon Wall” covered with graffiti—including “Zamisli da nema raja”—“Imagine there’s no heaven.”

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Professors Paid by Qaddafi: Providing 'Positive Public Relations'

Joseph Nye of Harvard’s Kennedy School wrote in The New Republic in 2007 that Muammar Qaddafi was interested in discussing “direct democracy.”

Anthony Giddens of the London School of Economics wrote in the Guardian the same year that Libya under Qaddafi could become “the Norway of North Africa.” 

Benjamin Barber of Rutgers University wrote in the Washington Post, also in 2007, that Libya under Qaddafi could become “the first Arab state to transition peacefully and without overt Western intervention to a stable, non-autocratic government.”

Great minds think alike? Actually, no: all were being paid by Libyan money, under a $3 million per year contract with a consulting group which promised to “enhance the profile of Libya and Muammar Quadhafi” in Britain and the US.

One more thing: none of them said in The New Republic, the Guardian, or the Washington Post that they were being paid by Libyan money. That seems to be a clear violation of journalistic ethics—at least that’s what the then-editor of The New Republic, Franklin Foer, told David Corn of Mother Jones about Nye: “If we had known that he was consulting for a firm paid by the government, we wouldn’t have run the piece.”

Documentation about their employer, the Monitor Group, founded by Harvard faculty members, was obtained from a Libyan dissent group by David Corn and published at MotherJones.com. A 2006 letter from the CEO of Monitor, Mark Fuller, to an official in the Libyan government, published by Corn, declared, “Libya has suffered from a deficit of positive public relations and adequate contact with a wide range of opinion-leaders and contemporary thinkers. This program aims to redress the balance in Libya’s favor.”

Benjamin Barber, now Walt Whitman professor emeritus at Rutgers and a senior fellow at Demos, a pro-democracy think tank (and a longtime contributor to The Nation—see “America’s Knowledge Deficit,” Nov. 10, 2010), is the author of many books on democracy, most recently Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole.

Barber’s op-ed for the Washington Post was headlined “Gaddafi's Libya: An Ally for America?” In it he described his meetings with the dictator, who he called “surprisingly flexible and pragmatic.” He said he was convinced Libya could become the first Arab state” with “direct democracy locally and efficient government centrally.”

When I asked Barber about the Libyan funding for his article, he replied, “I didn’t take money from Qaddafi. The money to Monitor was coming from the Qaddafi Foundation, funded by Saif [Qaddafi’s son], who was providing the impetus for reform.” But this turns out not to be true. Nothing in the Monitor documents that have been released mention the foundation. The Monitor documents David Corn obtained are all about PR for Qaddafi. And the Guardian obtained other documents showing that Monitor's PR deal with Libya was submitted to the head of military intelligence for Qaddafi, Abd Allah al-Sanusi—he has been held responsible for atrocities in the present uprising.

Defending his acceptance of Libyan money, Barber also said, “Everyone gets paid. Consultants get paid, and I was paid by Monitor. I’ve been paid by lots of different people—the Department of Education, the state of New Jersey.”

But wait a minute—isn’t there a difference between working for the State of New Jersey and working for the state of Libya, to burnish its image in the eyes of Americans?

Barber went on to say, “The pay isn’t the issue. The issue is what I was doing there: working to build democratic capacity.”

In fact, the issue is not what Barber told Libyans about democracy, but rather what he told Americans about Qaddafi

Barber also pointed out that the US was courting Qaddafi at the time, seeking his help in fighting Al Qaeda and opening Libya to American oil companies. “Nobody criticized Condi Rice for shaking hands with Qaddafi,” Barber told me. “But when somebody goes in saying ‘maybe we can create some democratic capacity,’ they say we were duped in a PR scheme to burnish the image of a dictator. I just don’t get it.”

But It’s not that hard to understand: people expect intellectual integrity from Ben Barber, and Tony Giddens and Joe Nye. They expect something different from Condi Rice—diplomatic double-speak in the pursuit of American strategic and corporate interests as defined by George Bush. So we don’t accuse her of hypocrisy—and we don’t think she was duped.

As for Nye, the Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard, he replied to my questions in an e-mail, in which he said he himself had “initiated” his article in The New Republic, rather than Monitor, because “I thought my impressions were worth reporting.” He added, “At no time have I supported the Qaddafi regime, and I am on record as hoping for their swift overthrow.”

Giddens, formerly head of the London School of Economics and now a member of the House of Lords, has not responded to requests from Mother Jones or the Guardian for comment.

Monitor also enlisted Harvard’s Robert Putnam, Princeton’s Bernard Lewis and Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins in the project.

Update, March 7: Joseph Nye has objected to my statement that he failed to say in his New Republic piece that he was “paid by Libyan money.”  He objected in particular to the quote from TNR’s then-editor Franklin Foer, who said, “If we had known that he was consulting for a firm paid by the government, we wouldn’t have run the piece.”  Nye did write, “I was in Libya at the invitation of the Monitor Group, a consulting company that is helping Libya open itself to the global economy,” and had added in his first draft that he was one of the people “whom Monitor hires as consultants.”

But that’s not the same thing as “I was being paid my Monitor, which had a contract with the Libyan government to ‘enhance the profile of Libya and Muammar Quadhafi.’”

Here, the plot thickens.  Nye wrote in an email, "I was not told the contract was to ‘enhance the profile of Qaddafi.’”  Instead, Monitor told him that "the contract was to help bring about reform in Libya."

You might say Nye -- and perhaps Barber and Giddens as well -- were duped by Monitor.  Or you might say Nye and the others should have asked Monitor what the Libyans had been told they would be getting for their money.

Reagan's Lesson for Obama: Invade Grenada

On what would have been Ronald Reagan’s hundredth birthday, we find the past offers lessons for the present: does the United States have to fight a war when it is attacked by a ruthless group of militant Islamic fundamentalists? Reagan’s response to attacks on US forces in Beirut in 1983 suggests a way out of the Afghan war for Obama: invade Grenada.

When Islamic fundamentalist militants attacked the US Marine barracks in Beirut with a truck bomb on October 23, 1983, they killed 241 American servicemen—the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility—they are now seen as a precursor to Hezbollah. (The Americans were in Beirut as part of an international peacekeeping force following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.)

Reagan could have sent 130,000 US troops to invade Lebanon. But he didn’t. Instead, he did something completely different: two days after the Beirut barracks bombing, Reagan sent 7,000 troops to invade Grenada, the smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere. He claimed to be fighting communism there, and to be “rescuing” 800 American medical students studying there (because they couldn’t get into American medical schools). The Americans killed fifty-nine Cubans and forty-five Grenadans, suffered nineteen casualties and declared victory after two days.

The UN voted 122-9 that the US invasion was a “flagrant violation of international law,” but it was a big hit with the American public, except for those of us on the left.

A few months later, Reagan withdrew all the marines from Beirut, without any retaliation against the Islamic militants responsible for the barracks bombing. Some on the right howled in protest, but as PBS’s American Experience later explained, “By the time of the 1984 election, the Grenada success replaced the bitter memory of the massacre at Lebanon.” Reagan won re-election in a landslide.

The US invasion of Grenada certainly was bad for the Grenadans. But now we can see that sending 7,000 troops to Grenada for a couple of weeks was a lot better for the United States than sending 130,000 troops to Lebanon for a decade.

A modest proposal: Obama should invade Grenada for a few days. Perhaps we have reports that Al Qaeda’s number-three man is vacationing there. Then Obama should pull out of Afghanistan. The right will howl in protest, but voters will happily re-elect him to a second term.

Professors With Guns: The Arizona Plan

The Arizona legislature is considering a proposal to authorize the carrying of weapons on campus by faculty members. The idea is simple—in case of trouble in the classroom, somebody needs to be able to blast away at problem students. But the question arises, should all faculty members be armed?

Adjuncts, for example—part-timers, "freeway fliers," paid by the course—are often burning with resentment over their low status and high student debt payments. They are more likely to be part of the problem on campus, more likely to need to be kept in line by others with guns. My suggestion would be that adjuncts and part-timers should be prohibited from carrying guns on campus.

And what about the assistant professors, the untenured junior faculty? They face a lot of stress and anxiety over the tenure process and the demands of the "publish or perish" system. Like the adjuncts, they are more likely to be part of the problem—and thus should be kept away from guns.

And then there are the women, the minorities, and the gays—always complaining about "underrepresentation" and "equity issues," always whining about pay differentials. Guns must be kept out of their hands, too.

The lesson is clear: guns on campus should be restricted to the hands of the senior professors—the old white men. They know the importance of preserving order.

Fortunately the legislature in Arizona is dominated by old white men. I am confident that, when it comes to deciding which faculty should carry guns on campus, they will do the right thing.

Top Ten Nixon Quotes of 2010

A new batch of Nixon White House tapes and documents were released by the National Archives in 2010, putting the former president back on page one. Herewith, the top ten:

10. “The Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks.”—to Chuck Colson,  White House hatchet man, Feb. 13, 1973.

9. “The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight. They are wonderful people, but.”—to Chuck Colson, Feb. 13, 1973. 

8. Nixon discussing who would get invited to a 1973 state dinner for Golda Meir: “I don’t want any Jew at that dinner who didn’t support us in that campaign. Is that clear? No Jew who did not support us.” —to Rose Mary Woods, his secretary, Feb. 3, 1973.

7. Nixon discussing the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade: “there are times when abortions are necessary. I know that. You know [unclear] you have a black and a white [unclear].”—to Chuck Colson, Jan. 23, 1973.

6. “If you look at the Canadian-Swedish contingent [of draft resisters in exile], they were very disproportionately Jewish. The deserters.”—to Chuck Colson, Feb. 13, 1973.

5. Kissinger to Nixon: “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” Nixon responded, “I know.   We can’t blow up the world because of it.” Mar. 1, 1973.

4. On the standoff at Wounded Knee with Native American militants: “I think we ought to move tanks, the whole goddamned thing. Put a division in there, if necessary, It's time for action on it. If some Indians get shot, that's too goddamned bad. If some Americans get shot, that's too bad, too."

3. Nixon ordered staff members to get Bill Moyers’s new show on PBS off the air: “It must not appear that you're trying to affect the network's news content. That's what you must do, but you must not appear to be doing that. That would be stupid.”

2. On the Vietnam war: "In order to counter-balance the sickenly [sic] pro-communist stories appearing in the New York Times from Tony Lewis we have to do far more than we are presently doing. I do not want to hear any of those objections to the effect that this may compromise a source and all that sort of thing."—memo to Kissinger, May 19, 1972.

1. “The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personalities. ... But they are able people.”—to Chuck Colson, Feb. 13, 1973.

Audio can be found online at http://nixontapes.org

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Lennon's Last Interview: 'The Sixties Showed Us the Possibility'

It was thirty years ago today: December 8, 1980, on what would turn out to be the last day of John Lennon's life, he did an interview promoting his new album, Double Fantasy. He talked about the sixties: "The thing the sixties did was show us the possibility and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility."

Interviewer Dave Sholin of RKO radio, who taped Lennon in his apartment at the Dakota in New York City, asked him about feminism. "I'm more feminist now than I was when I sang 'Woman Is the Nigger of the World,'" he said. "Isn't it time we destroyed the macho ethic?... Where has it gotten us all of these thousands of years? Are we still going to have to be clubbing each other to death? Do I have to arm-wrestle you to have a relationship with you as another male?... Can we not have a relationship on some other level?"

And he spoke about "the opening up of the sixties." "Maybe in the sixties we were naïve and like children and later everyone went back to their rooms and said, 'We didn't get a wonderful world of flowers and peace.... The world is a nasty horrible place because it didn't give us everything we cried for.' Right? Crying for it wasn't enough."

Lennon also talked about his song "Power to the People," which had been released in 1971, nine years earlier. "In retrospect," he said, "if I were trying to say the same thing again, I would say the people have the power. I don't mean the power of the gun. They have the power to make and create the society they want."


The RKO interview was his last. When he finished it, he did a photo shoot at the Dakota with Annie Liebowitz for Rolling Stone, then headed off to the Record Plant with Yoko to work on her song "Walking on Thin Ice." At 10:30 pm their limo took them back to the Dakota and dropped them off at the curb. That's when he was killed.

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How Sarah Palin Could Beat Obama in 2012

Sarah Palin could win the presidency in 2012—that’s what Frank Rich said in the New York Times on Sunday—but not in a two-person head-to-head race. For Palin to beat Obama, a third-party candidate would have to run, and take votes away from Obama. 

And we have a potential third-party spoiler, Rich says: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’s got the money, and he’s got the ambition. He ran for mayor as a Republican in 2006 but changed his registration the next year and won re-election as an independent.

Obama’s hope is that Republicans will pick Palin in 2012. The latest CNN poll shows him beating her 52-44 percent, but losing to Mitt Romney 50-45 and to Mike Huckabee 52-44. But those are all two-person races.

According to the Palin-wins scenario cited by Frank Rich, Bloomberg takes away from Obama the votes of moderates who think he’s been too liberal, who think the country needs a president who’s truly a centrist. Obama loses New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to Bloomberg, and loses moderate votes that gave him the majority in 2008 in key industrial states—Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana--where the white working class never liked Obama anyway, but gave him a chance in 2008. In 2012 they go to Bloomberg and Palin carries those states. Palin takes office in January 2013.

The Bloomberg-as-spoiler scenario may seem unlikely, but Obama is already worrying about it. He’s been courting Bloomberg big time, as John Heilemann pointed out in New York magazine: Obama invited Bloomberg to play golf when he was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard; he floated Bloomberg’s name as a potential Treasury secretary, he made a big deal of sending Joe Biden and Tim Geithner to “seek his economic counsel.”  

But how likely is it that Palin would be the beneficiary of a Bloomberg candidacy? Seems to me it’s more likely that Bloomberg would win the votes of Republicans who think Palin is a disaster, but couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Obama. They’d go for Bloomberg, who would thus serve as a spoiler for the Republican candidate rather than the Democratic one.

Evidence for that scenario comes from anxious Republicans, especially from Haley Barbour, Republican governor of Mississippi, who urged Bloomberg not to run. He told CNN on Friday that a third-party bid by Bloomberg would be "the best thing that can happen to President Obama" because he’s take votes away from the Republicans.

But will Bloomberg run? He considered running in 2008. He’s “surrounded by people urging him to run,” according to Heilemann. Reports are that he sees 2012 as his last chance, because he will be 68. 

The hard part for any third-party candidate is getting on the ballot in all fifty states. But there’s already a potential path for Bloomberg, called Americans Elect. It has a website promising a third-party candidate who would represent “the vital center of American public opinion.” According to Heilemann, it’s funded by “a wealthy private investor,” Peter Ackerman, who has already put $1.5 million into the project.

If the economy doesn’t recover, if Obama doesn’t rebound in the opinion polls and if the Republicans pick Palin, Bloomberg could conclude that neither party has what American voters want and need. He could spend a billion dollars of his own money on a campaign, or even two or three billion. No one is sure what would happen—that’s why both Haley Barbour and Barack Obama are trying to keep Bloomberg from running.

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