Leslie Savan | The Nation


Leslie Savan

Politics, media and the politics of media.

'Quit' Isn't How Anthony Weiner Rolls

New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is surrounded by opposing candidate signs. (AP Photo/Richard Dew)

Maybe Anthony Weiner really has quit his online sexual dalliances, however he defines or counts them, but he clearly hasn’t quit his more maddening tendency toward truthiness: he slides out of questions, twists meanings, plays the victim and otherwise pretends we’re all still hung up over his personal behavior, when it’s actually his public dishonesty that’s grossing people out.

Only weeks ago, Weiner had been polling in first- or second-place in the New York City mayoral race—proof that voters had gotten over the penis-pics scandal and even his cascade of lies about it. We believed, as he misled us to, that his sext life was “behind” him, that it had ended when he resigned from Congress, on June 16, 2011.

Oh, some old tweets might surface, he said, but the implication was that they were pre-resignation leftovers. But then, of course, “Carlos Danger” walked on stage, and we learned that Weiner had continued sexting for more a year after he left Congress, with Sydney Leathers, 23, and at least two other women. He’s sunk to fourth place and to asking for a third chance.

But despite the occasional out-of-control heckler, Weiner has been putting on some magnificent performances lately—throwing smoke bombs over the telltale timeline, wearing down interrogators and starting to look, almost, believable.

In an interview with WNBC’s Andrew Siff on Friday, Weiner seemed to be in such authentic pain that even I, wary of the victim shtick, started to feel sorry for him. But he lost me as he refused, yet again, to admit the obvious:

Siff: You don’t think that when you say, “I’ve been as honest with you as I possibly could be” that you weren’t as honest as you could have been when didn’t disclose the timeline—

Weiner: You may have wanted, you may have wanted me to say on this specific date I wrote this specific embarrassing thing—

Siff: Not a specific date, just that it continued beyond your resignation—

Weiner: You may have wanted me to say that, OK? What I did say was this has been going on for some time, that it’s behind me, and I’m moving forward.

His performance was most passionate, and wily, at a City Island Civic Association forum last week. The group’s president, Bill Stanton, tried to pin Weiner down, saying he lied and New Yorkers forgave him, but “then you go ahead and do it again. So the question is, When do you take a mirror” and ask yourself, “Is there someone better qualified than you to do this job?”

Weiner insisted that, like all his detractors, Stanton was hopelessly fixated on his “embarrassing personal behavior”: “If you believe that because you found out something embarrassing about my personal life it’s a reason not to listen to my ideas about improving housing, improving lowering taxes on the middle class, that’s your right.”

“You’re exactly right—I violated the trust to my wife,” Weiner said, instantly pivoting to misquote his challenger. “That was wrong and people have every right in the world to say that disqualifies me. But I’m not going to quit based on that.”

He pivots again: “And I’m a little curious: Why would you want me to?” This brings an “Amen!” and a few applause from the crowd. At different points, he has the room cheering him on: it’s him against the political establishment, the media and voters like Stanton who would “deny these people the right to vote for me if they want to.” (Watch the video here.)

It doesn’t always work, this willful muddling of issues, questions, subjects and predicates. Last week in Staten Island, Peg Brunda told Weiner that if she’d done what he did in her twenty-one years as a public school teacher and principal, she’d have been out of a job, no matter how many years had gone by. “I don’t quite understand,” she said, “how you would feel you have the moral authority, as the head administrator in the city, to oversee employees when your standard of conduct is so much lower than the standard of conduct that’s expected of us.”

Weiner’s response: “Are you not voting for me?” Having established she’s not, he ignores her legitimate question and practically accuses her of wanting to block the democratic process itself: “You’ve made your decision. You wouldn’t deny [your neighbors] the right to make theirs, would you?” This time, no one applauded, and a Fox reporter chimed in, “You didn’t answer her question.”

(A few days later Weiner did answer Brunda’s question, for at least one of his employees, communications director Barbara Morgan. After a former campaign intern wrote a tell-all in the Daily News, Morgan called the intern a “slutbag,” a “cunt” and a “fucking twat.” Asked if he’d keep Morgan, who apologized for her “inappropriate language,” Weiner said, “You bet.”)

Even when not challenged, as in his own web ad, Weiner can’t help but push his narcissistic narrative with a sleight of hand. He likens his struggle to be heard over the din he created with how New Yorkers must “fight through tough things.” Worse, conflating New Yorkers’ resilience over 9/11 with his own, he says, “Quit isn’t the way we roll.”

“No, no, no, no, no—you are not doing this. You are not 9/11-ing your dick pics,” John Oliver scolded him on The Daily Show. “No, no. There is a line and you just went over that line.”

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Weiner’s been crossing lines and then trying to erase them for years now, and not just on sexual matters, but on political issues, too, domestic and international.

A pattern began to emerge as far back as 1991. Running for City Council, shortly after the racially charged Crown Heights riots, Weiner anonymously distributed a flier that targeted his most progressive rival as an ally of the “DAVID DINKINS/JESSE JACKSON COALITION” and their “agenda.” Weiner “played the race card, and at a very sensitive time,” Steve Kornacki wrote at Salon two years ago. “Only after the ballots were counted [and he won by a slight margin] did he admit that he’d been behind the leaflets, claiming that ‘We didn’t want the source to be confused with the message.’ ” Oh, that’s why.

Asked about this recently, Weiner essentially said he had apologized to his rival but that he had nothing to apologize for. (See it below or on “Up w/ Steve Kornacki.”)

The medium then was leaflets, not tweets; the subject race, not sex, but in each case Weiner owned up only after his anonymity was busted, and only with explanations that chase their own tail.

Sure, most politicians obfuscate, some more than others, as we all do at times. But with Weiner, it seems to be a habit much tougher to break than whatever it is he does online.

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A Royal Pain

Tony Appleton, a town crier, announces the birth of the royal baby, outside St. Mary's Hospital exclusive Lindo Wing in London, Monday, July 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The royals and, more precisely, media coverage of the royals evoke in me a simple, blunt-force reaction: Stop. Turn off the TV, turn it off faster. I don’t care about the royals or anyone that cares about them. I don’t want to see adults who value royals’ lives more than others’ reaching through the gates of Buckingham Palace as if to get the cure for scrofula.

And I sure don’t want to see the already dumb-downed MSM gushing over the “news” of a baby. The headline of the British mag Private Eye had it right: “Woman Has Baby.” Call me a Kenyan anti-colonialist, if you must, but I don’t get the royal fixation. I have no insights into it. I just want it gone.

And yet if, like me in calmer moments, you might be open to more nuanced thoughts on the construct we call “royalty,” you should check out Hilary Mantel’s essay, “Royal Bodies,” in February’s London Review of Books. Her novels about the reign of Henry VIII, who beheaded two of his six wives and imprisoned two others for failing to produce a male heir, are hot stuff right now. But it’s the essay (which raised a rumpus in London when it first appeared) that takes on the absurdities of today’s royal fandom, while sympathizing with the actual humans who are its objects.  

Mantel starts off before we learn that Kate Middleton was pregnant:

In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth….

Royal persons are both gods and beasts. They are persons but they are supra-personal, carriers of a blood line: at the most basic, they are breeding stock, collections of organs.

As if on cue, British-born Tina Brown praised Kate, or rather her body, for producing a boy. “I mean, once again, she does the perfect thing,” Brown said yesterday on Morning Joe. “Although there’s the constitutional change that we can now have a girl as the first-born to be the monarch, nonetheless, she does the traditional thing, and she gives us a prince. She gives a king.”

CNN contributor Victoria Arbiter similarly hailed Kate’s organs for their smart marketing campaign: “My first thought, I have to say, this is how brilliant a royal Kate is. There are women throughout British royal family history that have panicked over not being able to deliver a boy, and here we are, Kate did it first time.”

As Mantel writes (of an author tickled to accept an award from the Prince of Wales), “This is what the royals have to contend with today: not real, principled opposition, but self-congratulatory chippiness.”

That can change into self-congratulatory “concern,” which it did, for instance, when BBC News devoted a discussion to whether it was safe for a pregnant Kate to “run a few paces” of hockey while visiting her old school. “It is sad to think,” Mantel writes,

that intelligent people could devote themselves to this topic with earnest furrowings of the brow, but that’s what discourse about royals comes to: a compulsion to comment, a discourse empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken. And in the same way one is compelled to look at them: to ask what they are made of, and is their substance the same as ours.

The flip side of such adulation is the desire to humiliate.

Along with the reverence and awe accorded to royal persons goes the conviction that the body of the monarch is public property. We are ready at any moment to rip away the veil of respect, and treat royal persons in an inhuman way, making them not more than us but less than us, not really human at all.

As Kate and William left the hospital Tuesday amid wild cheers and a million cameras, the press asked the usual dumb questions, like, How do you feel? After answering that “it’s very emotional” and a “special time,” Kate had the grace to add, “I think any parent will know what this feeling feels like.”

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Right, but non-royal parents suspect that Kate and William feel the feeling differently. And the media likes it that way.


Charles Koch on the Poor: Let Them Eat Economic Freedom

Charles Koch. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Mike Burley)

Quit whining, American poor people and refugees from the middle class. You’re actually part of the 1 percent.

That’s the laughably misleading claim in a new ad from right-wing multibillionaire Charles Koch. The $200,000 ad campaign, now running in Kansas, starts off like one of those breathless infomercials: “Are you in the 1 percent?” a male voiceover asks. “Well, if you earn over $34,000 a year, you are one of the wealthiest one percent”—he pauses slightly before the kicker—“in the world.”

That’s right, all you have to do is to look at the very big picture, and count your blessings that you live in free-market economy. “People in the most economically free countries,” the narrator tries to explain, “earn on average over eight times more than people in the least free. The poor earn ten times as much.”

And what is this “economic freedom” that lets you imagine you’re clinking martini glasses with hedge-fund managers at their penthouse soirées? Simply, it’s freedom from government regulations, the kind that so constrain Charles Koch and his brother David, the sixth richest men in the world (net worth each: $43.4 billion). Watch:

So, people, think global and act grateful—because you could be eating mud cakes in Haiti.

But let’s get real. A household income of $34,000 for a family of two parents and two children in America is close enough to the poverty level to qualify that family for federal subsidies, like food stamps. And according to the Economic Policy Institute, that family would need an income of $48,144 to cover its basic living expenses in Marshall County, Mississippi, one of the cheaper places to live, while $53,721 would keep it above water in the more expensive Wichita, Kansas, where Koch Industries is headquartered.

By torturing the Occupy term “1 percent” until it’s forced to include America’s poor, Charles Koch is simply promoting the Reagan, Romney, Limbaugh, and Hannity dogma that poor people (the “takers”) never had it so good. Citing a 2011 Heritage Foundation report finding that many poor people own appliances, Fox News’s Stu Varney complained that “99 percent of them have a refrigerator. 81 percent have a microwave.” (Colbert: “ A refrigerator and a microwave? They can preserve and heat food? Ooh, la la! I guess the poor are too good for mold and trichinosis.”)

And those overly entitled refrigerator owners are undoubtedly the same folks who think they’re entitled to vote (to Supreme Court Justice Scalia, the Voting Rights Act is a “perpetuation of racial entitlement”) or to walk home with Skittles without being stalked and killed.

Of course, the Koch ad isn’t really directed toward the poor or the middle class. It’s geared to the corporate elite, lobbyists and legislators to help them better rationalize their crusade to kill minimum wage increases, voting rights, Obamacare, environmental protections and other nuisances. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, the GOP-controlled House voted Thursday to completely eliminate funding for food stamps from the Farm Bill. The right doesn’t just want to starve the beast, it wants to feel morally upright even if it starves hundreds of thousands of souls along the way.

Charlie Koch’s 1 percent solution is only the latest excuse for this politics of cruelty. It’s like the right’s fake fretting—cue the violins!—that deficit spending “steals from future generations” (even as they steal from non-hypothetical children today), or that government assistance creates “a culture of dependency” (even as Koch Industries, to take one example, receives federal oil subsidies, government contracts and bailouts).

The power to delude is apparently stronger than the power of economic freedom. Charles Koch told The Wichita Eagle last week that he’d be “raising up the disadvantaged and the poorest in this country” by ridding them of a minimum wage.

What we’re saying is, we need to analyze all these additional policies, these subsidies, this cronyism, this avalanche of regulations, all these things that are creating a culture of dependency.… [the government keeps] throwing obstacles in their way. And so we’ve got to clear those out. Or the minimum wage. Or anything that reduces the mobility of labor.

But let’s get to the ad’s dubious, underlying claim that “across the board we see a strong relationship between economic freedom and people’s quality of life.” Like “the 1 percent,” the meaning of “economic freedom” and “quality of life” depend on who’s defining them. From the corporate and libertarian point of view, economic freedom essentially means the absence of regulations. From the vantage point of workers and the unemployed, it means, among other things, the education to get a job, the transportation to get to a job, safe and nondiscriminatory working conditions, and a living wage. That’s economic freedom.

The ad, which Koch says might expand to other states, also has an odd way of defining “quality of life.”

As Think Progress points out, the Koch-funded Fraser Institute report the ad is based on “interestingly ranks Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Chile ahead of the U.S. Those places all have government-run health care, which the Kochs adamantly oppose.” In fact, the Koch-funded, Tea Party–supporting Americans for Prosperity launched a $1 million ad campaign last week attacking the Affordable Care Act. Factcheck.org found its first ad out of the gate “misleading,” while David Firestone in The New York Times said it amounted to “outright lying.”

But when the Koch ad says that economic freedom helps promote a “clean environment,” well, that’s tar sands-toxic outright lying. The oil, gas, pipeline and chemical conglomerate Koch Industries is the world’s fifth-largest air polluter, according to the Political Economy Research Institute, and, with its multitude of front groups, it may be, says Democracy Now!, the single “biggest force behind the climate stalemate.”

Also toxic is the claim that “people in the most free countries have better protected civil rights.” That’s funny, because the number-one country in Koch’s economic-freedom graph is Singapore, which Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch has said is “the textbook example of a politically repressive state,” where “rights are only for those who reliably toe the government line.”

Here, civil rights are too often for those who toe the ALEC line. “For decades,” John Nichols writes, “the Koch brothers and their foundation have funded ALEC and other groups that are now driving the attack on voting rights in states across the country.” ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is the group that pushed “stand your ground” laws in more than two dozen states, including Florida. Last year, when other corporations were shamed into cutting their ties to ALEC because of the law’s association with the death of Trayvon Martin, Koch Industries refused to stand down. (ALEC has said it no longer deals with “non-economic issues.”)

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One small way to protest the Koch way of reframing reality is to sign this petition, asking PBS stations to air Citizen Koch, a film exposing how big money rules American politics. Public TV execs were ready to run the film—until they freaked out that it might cost them funds from PBS-donor David Koch.

But now that you’re part of the 1 percent, PBS will surely cave to your influence, too.

Got Koch? “Seven Products Fueling the Brothers’Right-Wing Agenda.”

Will Crossfire ‘Hurt America’ Again?

Jon Stewart isn’t out of the country for more than a few weeks and already CNN, the most Stewart-whipped cable news channel of them all, has decided to sneak its old Crossfire debate show back onto the air.

Back in 2004, Stewart seemed to single-handedly force the news channel to drop the classic left vs. right TV shouting match. Stewart famously told the two hosts, then the bow-tied young fuddy-duddy Tucker Carlson and Clinton loyalist Dem Paul Begala, that they were “partisan hacks” whose constant bickering was “hurting America.” He ended his appearance by pleading, “Please, please. Please stop.” Three months later CNN’s president at the time, Jonathan Klein, axed the show, saying, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.”

But last week, with Stewart spending the summer in the Middle East filming a movie, CNN’s new president, Jeff Zucker, announced that CNN will resurrect Crossfire this fall. This time, conservatives Newt Gingrich and S.E. Cupp (who works for Glenn Beck and until last week served as the token Republican on MSNBC’s The Cycle) will take turns facing off against former top Obama aides Stephanie Cutter and Van Jones. Will these new odd couples have a mandate to argue better and louder than, say, Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker did on CNN’s last, failed foray into frisson across the aisle?

Maybe CNN has figured out that as a programming chief for cable news, Jon Stewart is a total flop. Urging CNN to hush Crossfire and instead be a dispassionate teller of news stories can make for deadly TV. And one thing Stewart always tells CNN (and anyone aspiring to be half as cool as he is) is that they should listen to him because he knows what makes good TV.

But as Ian Crouch points out in The New Yorker, Stewart is not exactly the cable news-slayer of legend. Crossfire’s slide in the ratings began long before Stewart’s appearance and not because of “the public’s impatience with the tenor of its debates,” as Crouch says, but because that tenor was replicated on media all around them, including on Fox News and the rising MSNBC—not to mention The Daily Show itself:

Stewart’s basic premise—can’t you guys just be nice?—exaggerated the appetite of a wide audience for somber policy discussion, and skips over the fact that so many people turned to Stewart’s own comedy show as their only daily news source because of its subversive, cutting, and often cruel analysis.

That cruel analysis included savage mocking of CNN host Rick Sanchez, to the point where the man lashed back at Stewart and lost his job.

Stewart gave definition to his media critique in 2010, just as the Tea Party was about to take the equivalent of parliamentary rump power, at his Rally to Restore Sanity on the Washington, DC, mall, held three days before the midterm elections. He stood on stage in front of more than 200,000 people and portrayed Ed Schultz, Keith Olbermann, and MSNBC to be as extreme as Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Fox News. Pundits, he said, should be more like the drivers waiting at the crowded entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, who know that the only way to get through is to patiently take turns. “You go. Then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go,” Stewart said.

That sounds very civil. But it ignores the fact that one side of the political debate refuses to use the tunnel and just helicopters over it daily.

The basic frame Stewart puts on media politics tries to pretend that corporate journalism isn’t already advocacy journalism. He tries to split hairs about how this corporate journalist does a better job than that one, this one offers facts, that one lets himself be tasered on-air, this one wears an ascot, that one a bow-tie, etc. Some of these are worthy of ridicule, some aren’t.  But a preoccupation with media style neatly takes the focus off of media ownership, where the real power resides.

The question of who pays to set the parameters of public debate has become a front-burner of an issue ever since government leak cases began bursting out this spring. Corporate journalists like David Gregory and Andrew Ross Sorkin have suggested that it might be legit to arrest advocacy journalist Glenn Greenwald for covering Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. (Sorkin later apologized.) Somehow arrests are never suggested for members of their own tribe. David Sirota:

Why hasn’t David Gregory asked reporters at the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News the same question, considering their publication of similar leaks? Is it because Greenwald is seen as representing a form of journalism too adversarial toward the government, while those establishment outlets are still held in Good Standing by Washington?

Anyway, journalism should not be about making nice sounds—any more than it should be about letting one sound drown out all other news for days on end. (We’re talking about you, wall-to-wall cable coverage of the George Zimmerman trial, MSNBC included.)

What it should be about is tough questions to people about their policy views. CNN had at least one show that fit the bill in Soledad O’Brien’s morning show. Stewart himself has praised her dogged interviews. But the Atlanta-based net recently replaced O’Brien with a happy-face show, New Day. O’Brien announced on Monday that she’s joining Al Jazeera America, a move that takes guts in the first place.

The new Crossfire won’t be a substitute for fearless reporting, of course, but a bunch of lefties and righties arguing, obnoxiously or not, really won’t hurt America. Certainly no more than corporate media calls to arrest one of their indie competitors. All we are saying is give argument a chance.

Don't Try to Joke Around With Vladimir Putin

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland on June 17, 2013. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque) 

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama were sitting a frosty six feet from each other when, at the end of their tense news conference at the G8 summit on Monday, Obama tried a little levity.

“We compared notes on President Putin’s expertise in judo and my declining skills in basketball,” he said, “and we both agreed that as you get older it takes more time to recover.” But rather than play along, Putin kept a straight face, saying, “The president wants to relax me with his statement of age.”

Well, that was awkward. But Putin’s statement was actually one of the more honest things a world leader has ever said at a major photo op, where light banter and bonhomie are as obligatory as mumbling about “frank discussions.” Unintentionally perhaps, Putin had just deconstructed a tactic basic to all public relations: if you want to sell people something, first disarm their defenses.

Of course Obama wanted to relax Putin with his statements, on age or anything else. Obama, like most politicians, tries to disarm and charm his audiences all the time; his specialty is the self-depreciating joke. (How many times has he told us he’s under Michelle’s thumb?)

But, spymaster that he is, Putin saw through all that and called the technique a technique. He blurted out that the emperor wears PR. And, as one emperor facing down another, Putin wasn’t going to barter for power with self-depreciating jokes, any more than he was going to cave on arming Assad or imprisoning Pussy Riot.

Exceptions like Dick Cheney aside, most politicians find the banal joke, or any form of comic relief, extremely useful. So do corporate execs, TV anchors, advertisers, teachers, cops and writers, including me—at times everyone tries to relax other people with light, quasi-entertaining BS; it keeps society running and smoothes over friction. Forced social laughter, smiley face emoticons, movie characters who crack wise while hanging by a thread over a vat of boiling oil—half of communication, it seems, is trying to relax us with humor, verbal or physical.

It’s an animal thing—a dog cowering before the alpha dog wants to relax him with his stance. As social animals, we’ve created infinite ways to say, “I won’t hurt you, so please don’t hurt me.” As Obama tried with Putin.

By pointing out that Obama was doing just that, Putin not only broke O’s mojo, he broke the unspoken taboo that warns against stripping away this social nicety. (This whole episode, in fact, reminds me of Putin stripping off his shirt to reveal his pecs, as if he wants to make people tense with his statements of prowess.)

Obviously, relaxing people can be used for good (to negotiate in good faith, for instance) and for bad (to sell lies).

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I must say, I enjoyed Putin’s semiotics lesson. But would it really be so bad, Vlad, if you occasionally relaxed the world with a joke or two? And maybe relaxed that strongman grip of yours, too?

James Harkin chronicles the battle for Aleppo from behind rebel lines.

Media Yawn at Barbara Buono, the Only Dem Willing to Take On Chris Christie

Barbara Buono. (Wikimedia Commons)

State Senator Barbara Buono may be the only New Jersey Dem with the cojones to run for governor against the formidably popular Chris Christie, but she gets no respect from the media. And given the electoral chaos Christie’s whipped up with a $24 million special election to replace the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, she’ll probably be getting even less.

Buono, 59, a progressive who was the first woman majority leader in the state senate, is underfunded and thirty points down in the polls. And so for months, the national media have tended to bring up her name only to joke about how little they bring it up. When Politico’s Maggie Haberman said on The Daily Rundown, “Barbara Buono is barely registering in the polls right now against [Christie],” the substitute host Chris Cillizza cackled, “Barbara Buono thanks you for mentioning her on national television.”

The Beltway media have been so enthralled with Christie since he embraced Obama and barked at Fox News after Hurricane Sandy that they seem to wonder why Buono even bothers to challenge him when powerful players, like Newark mayor Cory Booker and state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, backed down. An emblematic interview came in April when Chris Matthews interrupted Buono fourteen times, mostly to ask about Christie, as the chyron at the bottom of the screen read “DAWN QUIXOTE.”

Still, you might think she would have gained some traction after Christie, angering both Republicans and Democrats, called for a special Senate election in October, just twenty days before he and Buono face off in the general on November 5. He could have simply merged the two elections and saved $24 million in taxpayer money—but that would put popular Cory Booker, the likely Democratic nominee, at the top of the November ballot and increase Democratic and African-American turnout, helping Buono and a whole legislature’s worth of down-ballot Democrats. Christie’s calendar so reeks of voter suppression—coming just weeks after he vetoed a bill to allow early voting, complaining of the $25 million price-tag—that you might think it would create a groundswell for a Christie-slayer.

In fact, just the opposite is happening. Right after doing a superb takedown of Christie’s special-election hypocrisy last week, Jon Stewart turned the punch-line on Buono:

The idea was to make Christie seem all the more absurd: You, tough guy, you’re afraid of this little lady? This lady who’s so low on the Jersey totem pole that to get name recognition she has to compare herself to a pop-culture clown like Sonny Bono? Stewart only has to make one of his I-can’t-believe-this-idiocy faces and the audience razzes her on cue. (Shades of Stewart bullying former CNN host Rick Sanchez for being uncool.)

Of course, if you watch Buono’s ad in full, you get a different message:

By equating herself with Cuomo, she suggests (as she details in other ads and her website) that the New York governor and she are in sync, while he and Christie are miles apart—on vital regional issues like climate change and transportation (she supported building the ARC tunnel and the thousands of jobs it would have created, while Christie made it the signature act of his first term to kill the project), as well as abortion rights, gun control, education funding, a minimum wage increase, a millionaire’s tax and marriage equality.

All good liberal issues, in line with the majority of voters in New Jersey, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 700,000—and all good reasons for Christie to lose. But the media know he won’t, so all that disappears in wide-eyed amazement at Christie’s cojones.

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He’s a showman who’s always given the media the good YouTube they want: melodrama, blood feuds, unhinged bullying and a sense, as long as they don’t dig too deep, of “bipartisanship.” As Star Ledger columnist Tom Moran writes, “National pundits who have obviously never been to New Jersey proclaim he has created a new heaven on earth where everyone works together under his wise leadership.”

And now, Moran adds, Christie’s timetable ensures that the media will ignore Buono even more. In the Senate primary in August, Democrat Booker and rival candidates Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and US Congressmen Rush Holt and Frank Pallone

will be competing, all scooping up money from liberal donors that might have gone to Buono. They will buy TV ads, argue in debates and shake hands at train stations. And that clatter will make it even harder for Buono to send a clear message through the din.

To be fair, it’s not just the media that heart Christie. Democrats in and out of the Jersey statehouse do, too. Major Democratic donors are “flocking” to him, and, beholden and/or fearful of him, many of Jersey’s establishment Dems have sided with Christie against Buono’s pro-union politics. Others are only nominally supporting her. Today, powerbroker Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo outright endorsed him. (See them literally holding hands here.)  

Still, Buono’s not as alone as it may seem. Saying the special election’s October date will suppress voter turnout in November’s gubernatorial election, Somerset County Democratic Party Chairwoman Peg Schaffer’s law firm filed suit to move it to November 5. And as John Nichols details, State Senator Shirley Turner is calling Christie’s bluff by introducing legislation to move the entire November election to October. UPDATE: A coalition of watchdog groups is now also trying to block the October election

As for Cory Booker, who has campaigned with Buono, he admits he won’t be up in his good friend Chris Christie’s face over his very special election. After formally announcing his Senate run on Saturday, Booker told reporters that as a mayor he “obviously would have preferred” not to spend the money on an extra election, but that he doesn’t intend to do anything about it.

Ari Berman writes about John Lewis's long fight for voting rights.

The Koch Influence

David Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

On the eve of our first Neo-Pleistocene summer, right-wing carbon barons David and Charles Koch seem to be everywhere, buying influence and trying to de-pollute their image.

The multibillionaire brothers are the potential new owners of the Tribune Company’s eight newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and Hoy, the nation’s second-largest Spanish-language daily. They’re helping to shape what gets on PBS; as Jane Mayer tells it, David Koch barely had to lift a goldfinger to get a public television company to censor itself and drop a documentary critical of him. They’re getting down with BuzzFeed; the Charles Koch Institute–sponsored a BuzzFeed Brews “immigration summit” a few weeks ago, with free beer and Ben Smith.

And, I’m approximating here, but in roughly 400,000 parts per million, the Kochs are all over the coming “climate-change wars,” as fights over EPA greenhouse-gas regulations and the (Koch-enriching) Keystone XL pipeline heat up, and, in Detroit, Koch Carbon’s mountain of “the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth” builds up, three stories high and counting.  

That last—an entire city-block of petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining Canadian oil sands—is also the dirtiest public face of the Kochs. But like any savvy corporate sponsor, they’re scrubbing it with philanthropy to present a clean, enlightened face, like the one greeting you at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where large signs tell you you’re standing on “the site of the new David H. Koch Plaza.” Originally the $65 million Dave gave to redo the plaza and fountains wasn’t going to result in naming rights, but somehow it did. And because of a $100 million donation, for the last five years you no longer attend the city ballet or opera at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center but at the David H. Koch Theater.

The Kochs are hardly the only .1 percenters whose wealth can make us hold our tongues and put aside our best-laid plans. But the brothers’ money, coming from the conglomerate Koch Industries, the nation’s second largest privately held company and fifth-largest air polluter (with businesses in oil, gas, chemicals, tar sand, pipelines and paper), casts longer shadows than your average oligarch’s.

Their wealth not only feeds a giant “Kochtopus” whose tentacles in think tanks, foundations, and Congress are strangling climate policy (see these Democracy Now! videos explaining how the Kochs may be the single “biggest force behind the climate stalemate”). But Koch money is even choking dissent from a respected indie-film funder, Independent Television Service (ITVS), that “prides itself on its resistance to outside pressure,” as Mayer puts it.

Her New Yorker story on the Koch Effect on two documentaries in ITVS’s popular Independent Lens series, details how plutocratic wealth deforms the space around it, even when no one wants it to.

The first doc, “Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream,” contrasts the lives of the fabulously wealthy residents at one end of Manhattan’s Park Avenue, most prominently David Koch, with those of working poor families at the other end. When PBS first aired it last November, Koch was on the board of PBS’s New York station WNET and was planning to make a “seven-figure” donation. The Alex Gibney film is critical of Koch (noting, for instance, that his “company had to pay what was then ‘the largest civil penalty in the E.P.A.’s history’ for its role in more than thirty oil spills in 2000,” as Mayer writes). When WNET president Neal Shapiro learned how critical, he tried to placate Koch, in part by letting Koch Industries issue a statement knocking the film immediately after it ran, a move “spokespeople at WNET and PBS conceded…was unprecedented,” Mayer writes. “Indeed, it was like appending Letters to the Editor to a front-page article.” Shapiro was so “livid” at ITVS that he threatened to stop carrying its films.

Although Park Avenue did air, fallout from it killed a second ITVS/Independent Lens project: Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Citizen Koch, on the Wisconsin public-sector unions’ battle with Governor Scott Walker, a recipient of Koch largesse (remember Walker buttering up a fake David Koch during a prank phone call?). ITVS was all on board with Citizen Koch—until Park Avenue aired. “Because of the whole thing with the Koch brothers,” Mayer quotes a source saying, “ITVS knew WNET would never air it. Never.”

Another source said ITVS executives had urged Lessin and Deal to drop the Koch name from the title, de-emphasize their politics, and cut a scene with Sarah Palin at a rally sponsored by the Kochs’ Tea Party-funding, tax-exempt “social welfare” organization, Americans for Prosperity.

At one point an ITVS vice-president spelled it out: “We live in a world where we have to be aware that people with power have power.” ITVS cancelled the project in April.

Kochfacts.com, Koch Industries’ defiant retort to bad press, complains that Mayer portrays Koch as trying to “exert influence over” WNET, even though, the site says, “no such influence ever occurred. On the contrary, Mr. Koch has been a generous benefactor of WNET and programming on other PBS affiliates WGBH and WETA.”

But being a benefactor isn’t contrary to influence, it is influence. That’s how self-censorship—the most enduring form of censorship—works. And in the end, Koch openly did exert influence—he resigned from WNET’s board, on May 16, and took his money with him, thus activating the threat latent in all corporate sponsorship.

Tracing big money’s influence, direct or indirect, isn’t always as clear as it is in the WNET/ITVS case. It’s usually murky.

Take Governor Chris Christie and his stormy relationship to climate change. Unlike most Republican leaders, he’s acknowledged that “climate change is real” and that “human activity plays a role.”

But the question is, what activities will humans, like him, take to fight it? And on that, Christie affects boredom, if not belligerence.

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A week before Christie's Tuesday tour of the post-Hurricane Sandy Jersey Shore with President Obama, a reporter from WNYC/ New Jersey Public Radio asked if he’d done enough to prepare state agencies for climate change:

“Well, first of all, I don’t agree with the premise of your question, because I don’t think there’s been any proof thus far that Sandy was caused by climate change,” Christie said [emphasis added], as residents and officials from Lavallette clapped. “But I would absolutely expect that that’s exactly what WNYC would say, because, you know, liberal public radio always has an agenda. And so since I disagree with the premise of your question, I don’t feel like I have to answer the rest of it.”

There’s also no proof that Koch influence—like David Koch having a chummy meeting with Christie and inviting him to be the keynote speaker at a super-exclusive Koch confab near Vail—“caused” climate-change believer Christie to suddenly pull out of a regional pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions in 2011.

Nor is there proof that anyone influenced Christie to hold such a simplistic understanding of climate change (“Of course, this isn’t about whether Sandy was ‘caused’ by climate change,” Rebecca Leber writes in ThinkProgress. “It’s about whether climate change and sea level rise are making such storms more frequent and much more destructive…and that is something we can plan for.”)

But that’s the nature of influence—it’s like climate change itself: You can’t always prove with spreadsheet certainty that it caused any one event—a cancelled documentary, a gubernatorial 180, a filibuster, an election result.

We do know, however, that money in politics and global warming are both man-made disasters that we’ve let get completely out of hand.

And if we stop the former, we might be able to slow the latter.

Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on the new film Koch Brothers Exposed.

3-2-1: Only the Suffering of the Wealthy Counts

(Associated Press)

Brilliant. The Daily Show’s Jason Jones interviews right-wing radio host Wayne Allyn Root, who says the IRS targeting of conservatives “is one of the biggest scandals in modern American political history, maybe in all-time political history.” But profiling folks for the color of their skin or their religion (i.e., Muslim) is “a completely, 100 percent different situation,” says Root, who has a tendency to exaggerate. That kind of profiling, he says, “has never ruined a human being’s life in the history of the world.”

Jones then brings on three people—a Muslim-American, an African-American and a Dominican-American—to tell how they’ve been profiled, but to Root, their stories are nada. Only when they become millionaires who get audited by the IRS, only then will they know true suffering.


Don't Get Sucked Into Obama Scandal–mania

President Barack Obama
Barack Obama has been rocked by scandals over Benghazi, the IRS and the DOJ. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.)

Benghazi, the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, the Department of Justice secretly seizing AP phone records: It’s a “trifecta” of scandals, Chuck Todd said. A “perfect storm,” Ron Fournier of National Journal wrote. “Obama’s Watergate?” Larry Kudlow’s CNBC show asked. And indeed Republicans, the mainstream media and all too many liberals have been getting emotionally swept up in the belief that no matter the merit of any one of these “scandals” (some more deserving of scare quotes than others), together they prove the Obama administration to be fatally scandal-prone, if not Nixonian, and predict flat-out second-term doom.

But let’s take a deep breath.

If they hadn’t converged within seven or so days in May, these scandals might have died of their own accord, as Fast and Furious did, as Solyndra did. Remember when the BP oil spill was deemed “Obama’s Hurricane Katrina,” even his “Iran Hostage Crisis”? As presidency-destroying scandals go, the IRS and AP crises rest on only slightly less flimsy ground than Benghazi: The IRS flap involves incompetence and short-term thinking by mid-level officials for whom Obama bears only the whiffiest responsibility. The DOJ investigation of a national security leak to the AP is a gross overreach, but it’s exactly the sort of leak-plugging that Republicans excoriated Obama for not doing aggressively enough.

So why is the media huffing in a paper bag in between speculating on his demise? Alone, each of these stories may have fizzled, but together their gaseous fumes ignite to reach escape velocity and overcome the gravity of facts altogether. Or as Stephen Colbert said, cracking out the champagne to celebrate the “chilling” IRS scandal, “This proves that everything I ever said about Obama is true.”

The triumphalism on the right may always be premature, but this time they do have an apology from the IRS to swing like a club, not to mention the sudden prostration of scandal-intoxicated Dems. “I’m sorry, Bob Woodward,” Mika Brzezinski said Tuesday. She was apologizing for once mocking Woodward for suggesting that a White House aide had threatened him for not towing the Obama line on sequestration. Back then, in February, Mika said, “Is he really afraid of a little aide that said that to him? Really? Are you kidding me?” But just twenty-four hours of trifecta hysteria had Mika convinced that “Maybe he was right.” (He wasn’t.)

“This is outrageous,” Democratic consultant and one-time John Edwards adviser Chris Kofinis said of the IRS controversy. “The administration and the president need to condemn this and act immediately. This is not a right-left issue.” (By last night, of course, Obama condemned it, again, and fired the IRS acting director.)

Most bitingly, Joe Klein wrote: “Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.”

In fact, so many media liberals were piling on Obama that Morning Joe’s Mike Barnicle declared, “I do not want to hear the phrase ‘liberal bias’ applied to the media when it comes to coverage of the Obama administration after the past couple of days.” (Greg Gutfeld of Fox News obliged, coming up instead with a new phrase: “The media is Obama’s scandal condom.”)

There’s something amusingly Lilliputian about the Republicans using all these slender threads to tie Obama down. But it’s scary, too, like waking up with Mitch McConnell standing on your nose, ranting at you.

So it’s important to separate these threads, and to see how in each case the GOP is framing the stories and encouraging us to jump to conclusions without waiting for buzzkills like facts or context.

Benghazi: Off the Fox/GOP scandal assembly line, this had been pretty much accepted as a “nothingburger.” Every time the right promises a bombshell, it’s defused, like the e-mail leaked to ABC’s Jonathan Karl that was supposed to reveal nefarious editing of Susan Rice’s talking points. Turns out, the leaked e-mail had itself been nefariously edited by Karl’s sources to make it look as if the White House was more focused on the talking points than it was.

And so far, the 100 pages of e-mails the White House released as damage-control yesterday look like a second helping of a nothingburger. That, or a long-form birth certificate.

Of course, there’s always Darryl Issa, though lately he’s been reduced to explaining that Obama covered up the Benghazi attack by calling it an “act of terror.” Obama’s semantics are a dead giveaway, Issa says, because “an ‘act of terror’ is different than a ‘terrorist attack.’ ” Please proceed, congressman.

The IRS: It’s clear now that the Cincinnati office of the IRS targeted conservative groups with words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names for extra scrutiny before granting them tax-exempt status. While these organizations weren’t rejected, their applications were often delayed by years, and some are still waiting for an answer. Worse, according to reporting in USA Today, the IRS approved liberal groups more quickly.

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So it’s bad, sure, but it apparently has nothing to do with Obama. In fact, liberals are beginning to realize that the right has been tying their hair to little pegs to keep them from moving, and they’re starting to yank free. Joe Klein stepped back from the brink the other day, saying, “I may have swung a bit too hard, putting Barack Obama’s Administration in the same league as Franklin Roosevelt’s and Richard Nixon’s when it comes to the Internal Revenue Service.”

The most important difference is that the Roosevelt and Nixon IRS depredations came from the White House. This mess seems to have percolated from the middle–the IRS’s Cincinnati office (a major facility, by the way)—up to the upper-middle. It was an overreaction, to be sure—but, as Ezra Klein explains, it was a response to a very real problem: how do you draw the line between political advocacy, which is a taxable activity, and policy advocacy, which is not, if the advocate organizes itself as a 501(c)4? Here’s Ezra.

The real scandal at the IRS, as my colleague Ari Berman says, “is how the Citizens United decision has unleashed a flood of secret spending in US elections that the IRS and other regulatory agencies in Washington…have been unwilling or unable to stem.”

In fact, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) had planned to hold hearings this June “to go after” such dark money groups, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, that have won tax-exempt status and the right to hide their donors by pretending to be 501c4 “social welfare” organizations. But because of the IRS scandal over the smaller-fish Tea Party groups, the investigation has been indefinitely delayed.

Anyway, misuse of the tax code is a bipartisan sin, as Harry Reid said Tuesday. “It wasn’t long ago that the IRS inappropriately targeted the NAACP, Greenpeace and a California church that was really progressive called the All Saints Church in Pasadena, California,” he told reporters. “At that time, we didn’t hear a single Republican grandstand the issue then. Where was their outrage when groups on the other side of the political spectrum were under attack?”

AP: In order to trace a leak of classified information about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen detailed in an AP story last year, the DOJ secretly seized a broad swath of reporter and editor phone records during two months of 2012. AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll says, “I’ve been in this business more than thirty years” and she and the AP’s lawyers have never “seen anything like this.” Attorney General Eric Holder counters, “I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976 and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. That’s not hyperbole.”

Progressives and journalists hate this kind of dragnet gumshoeing, and rightly so—it freezes out potential sources and whistleblowers, and Obama and his administration have acted, yes, scandalously in pursuing and punishing government leakers.

The Republicans have made a fine art out of demanding Obama do something, then attacking him when he does. During the campaign, Paul Ryan pretended to be outraged that Obama had saved $716 billion in the Medicare program, even though Ryan claimed the same cuts in his own plan. When Obama gave into GOP pressure by proposing the awful “chained CPI” cuts to Social Security benefits, a Republican congressman called it “a shocking betrayal of seniors.”

And now the same Republicans, like Joe Scarborough, who were screaming for Obama to shut down national security leaks like the one in Yemen, are now screaming that he’s trampling on free speech. (See Scarborough and former Obama adviser David Axelrod go at it over this here.)

After attempting damage control on Benghazi by releasing e-mails and the IRS by axing its acting director, the White House is now  trying to quell protests over spying on the press by asking Senator Chuck Schumer to reintroduce a 2009 press shield law that could protect journalists from revealing sources. The proposed law is full of loopholes, a Times editorial says, but as a “peace offering,” it’s a start.

It also dares the GOP to act on its supposed outrage, a way of saying, Blazing Saddles–style, “Stop, or press freedom gets it.”

Let’s fix these problems, then let’s come down from our scandal high and move on, as Joe Klein implies he did. “What is more dangerous to our democracy,” he writes, “the Obama Administration’s massaging of its mistakes or the Republicans’ constant campaign to paralyze our government through diversions like these?”  

Read Leslie Savan on the Cleveland kidnapping and what it says about violence against women.

The Cleveland Horror and a Week of Violence Against Women

A missing person poster for Amanda Berry, one of the three kidnapped women found alive in Cleveland. (Reuters/John Gress.)

In just the last few days, we’ve seen a series of news stories involving violence against women. The violence comes in different forms—physical, psychological, financial—and from different quarters—a former school-bus driver in Cleveland, the NRA convention in Houston, the military, Congress—and so it’s not surprising that the media, as usual, are delivering these stories as unrelated incidents. But arriving almost simultaneously, these tales of misogyny should jolt us all to connect the dots and to shine an unblinking light on the violence against women that’s always there, just below the surface.

The story of the three Cleveland women who were found alive after being held captive (and, by all accounts, raped, beaten and bound) in a neighbor’s house for ten years is the most shocking. The suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, reportedly let them outside only twice in all that time. Michelle Knight was 20 when she disappeared in 2002, Amanda Berry had been reported missing in 2003 when she was 16, and Gina DeJesus vanished at age 14 in 2004 on her way home from school. Berry’s mother died in 2006 of what friends say was “a broken heart” less than two years after a psychic on The Montel Williams Show told her Amanda was dead. DeJesus’s mother believed her daughter had been sold into the sex trade. On Monday, Berry and her 6-year-old daughter (possibly fathered by Castro) escaped with the help of neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. The other women came out shortly after. Berry and DeJesus are now home, while Knight remains in the hospital.

As this story unfolds, it will serve as fascinating cable TV filler: We’ll learn more of the horrific details and get to know the victims, their friends and families, and the suspect; we’ll urge neighbors to keep a closer eye on each other; and hopefully we’ll learn why the police didn’t follow earlier leads. But this shouldn’t be treated as just the latest incredibly sad and sensational crime story, as if it were devoid of social and political context—or unrelated to the other news of anti-women violence that accompanied it this week.

When I first saw the photo of a freed Amanda Berry with her sister and daughter, and tried to imagine the women’s unimaginable captivity, I couldn’t get another set of images out of my mind—that of “The Ex,” a target mannequin that squirts blood when you shoot her. “The Ex” (variously called “The Ex-Girlfriend” and “Alexa”) is a large-breasted white woman, her clothes party ripped off, blood dripping from her mouth down her cleavage, and she was sold with other “bleeding zombie targets” at the NRA convention in Houston last weekend. A target mannequin that looks like Obama painted green (one happy customer calls him “Barry” in a video that has been removed) also made the news. Buzzfeed reported that the NRA asked the vendor, Zombie Industries, to remove it from display, but it continued to be sold, a reminder of the racism that fuels the pro-gun paranoia. But the NRA didn’t object to displaying “The Ex,” and she still appears on the company’s website, where one commenter writes, “This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School.”

Here is “The Ex”:

And here she is after getting shot up:
(Zombie Industries.)

Up until yesterday Amazon was also selling the $89.99 product. (“Great for a bachelor party!” read the only five-star review. “This was a very original, cool way to kick off a bachelor party for a firearm enthusiast, such as myself.”)

Noting that “‘The Ex’ shooting target turns violence against women into a joke and promotes the idea that men should want to kill their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends,” the activist group Ultra Violet petitioned Amazon to stop selling it. In less than 24 hours, 63,000 people signed and “The Ex” was gone.  

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A similar, if real-life, ex target was Grimilda Figueroa, the former wife of kidnap suspect Ariel Castro. Castro was accused of beating Figueroa, breaking her nose twice, knocking out a tooth, dislocating her shoulders and threatening to kill her and their children, according to a filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. The filing also said that Castro “frequently abducts [his] daughters and keeps them from mother/petitioner/legal custodian.” [UPDATE re misogynists and mannequins, from AP: Castro kept a life-sized, wigged mannequin around to scare Figueroa and others. He'd sometimes drive around with it, and he once told a young nephew of his: "Act up again, you'll be in that back room with the mannequin."]  

Figueroa’s brother, Jose Figueroa, told RadarOnline that in 1996 Grimilda and her children with Castro fled from him to a battered women’s shelter. “If she stayed with Ariel, he would have killed her,” Jose said. “She had gone to the hospital and called the police many times but they never did anything.” (Grimilda remarried and moved out long before Castro allegedly kidnapped the three women; she died of cancer last year.)

If Jose Figueroa’s account is accurate, his sister may have saved her life and her children’s, as so many abused women do, by finding refuge in a women’s shelter. But, as we learned this week, men who abuse women will be able to corner them even more easily: The sequester is cutting some $20 million of funding for women’s shelters and protection programs over the next year.

Like all sequester cuts that don’t involve airplane delays, the cuts to shelters are not making the national news, but they are locally. From KSL.com in Utah:

Julee Smith, the director of Your Community Connection in Ogden, said she works with people every day who are running from violent situations. She said many abuse victims need a place to stay, and due to the lack of funding, she has had to start turning them away,

“We literally had a lady call, she had four children and begged to get in our shelter,” Smith said. “She said, ‘I have 45 minutes to get out.’ And we said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t have any room.’ And then the police call and say that she has been abused again.”

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones cites other shelters and domestic violence programs that are being reduced or completely eliminated in Louisiana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Oregon and other states. “The projections are bleak,” he writes.

Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) office estimates that 70,120 fewer domestic violence victims will have access to recovery programs and shelters; 35,900 fewer people will get help obtaining non-shelter services such as restraining orders and sexual assault treatment. Cuts to programs related to the Victims Against Crime Act will hurt another 310,574 people.

This increased danger to women has been made possible by the same pols, mostly Republicans, who are too scared of the NRA to pass an expansion of background checks, checks that would block sales of guns to anyone convicted of domestic violence, among other crimes.

And you know that big-shock Pentagon report released Tuesday that estimates 26,000 sexual assaults took place in the armed forces in 2012, a 37 percent increase over 2010? The report that also said fewer than 10 percent of the sex-assault cases end with a conviction at court-martial, while 62 percent of victims who dare to report an assault are rewarded with retaliation?

Well, expect those stats to get worse. The sequester is putting on hold Department of Defense plans to hire 829 “sexual assault response coordinators.” Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Ray Odierno told the Senate Armed Forces Committee last month that sequestration will hurt efforts to reduce sexual harassment and assault in the Army in many ways, from “slowing hiring actions to delaying lab results, which hinders our ability to provide resolution for victims.”

Of course, as we also learned this week, the value of some of those sexual assault response coordinators is questionable to begin with. On Sunday, Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, was arrested in a northern Virginia parking lot for sexual assault. A police report says that Krusinski, 41, was drunk and had grabbed a woman’s breast and buttocks. She fought him off, and his mug shot has the cuts to prove it.

While millions of men worldwide and the institutionalized male establishment at large still believe it’s their right to subjugate women, let’s not leave the impression that only women are victims. In the Pentagon report above, an estimated 13,900 of the 1.2 million active duty men said they had experienced some form of sexual assault in the past year (a far smaller portion than the active duty women). About a quarter of the victims of non-family child abductions are boys. And from 1994 to 2010, about four in five victims of intimate partner violence were female, according to the Bureau of Justice stats. But that leaves one in five victims to be men.

As if to prove the exception to the female-victim rule, there’s Jodi Arias. She was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder of her ex, Travis Alexander. It was a particularly gruesome murder, with a heavy sexual backstory. A media circus, led by CNN’s sister channel HLN, has been making ecstatic noises over the trial’s every salacious detail.

When the Cleveland story broke Monday, it was hard to tell if HLN resented it for overshadowing the climax of its Jodi Arias witch-burning or welcomed it as a replacement now that the Arias show is winding down.

But instead of another media circus over the story in Cleveland, let’s see if the media and its audience—that is, all of us—can more seriously address the violence against women that is woven into our culture and that politicians in Washington threaten to make worse.  

While the Senate moved quickly to end furloughs that were causing air traffic delays, most of the sequester's effects continue, under-reported and unseen, Leslie Savan writes.

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