Nader's New Raiders
When opposites attract, it's not always a case of innocent bliss. During the month of April, donations to Ralph Nader's presidential campaign from contributors who have historically given to Republican candidates or the Republican Party spiked dramatically to 19 percent -- that's $18,000 -- according to a database search on OpenSecrects.org, a nonprofit Web site that tracks money in politics.
Back in March, Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater revealed that nearly 10 percent of contributions of $250 or more to Nader's campaign came from donors with a history of supporting the GOP. The Arizona Republic reported in early June that Republican money could also be funding a petition drive to ensure Nader's place on Arizona's presidential election ballot. While Nathan Sproul, the Republican consultant behind the rumor, denies the allegations, Arizona's state Democratic chairman says he has evidence that Sproul is "the primary source of money" for paying petition circulators.
So is a vast right-wing conspiracy outwitting the Democrats? When the donor story first broke, most of the conservative Nader backers told The Dallas Morning News and New York Times that, although they would never vote for Nader, they were genuinely interested in the independent's campaign. But what, exactly, were they interested in? Nader's plan to pull all troops out of Iraq? His call for more government regulation of businesses? Or was it his plan for universal health care that got them?
For his part, Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese argues that the conspiracy theory is bunk. "This isn't surprising at all," he says. "We expect more and more support from Republicans because the base is dissatisfied with [George W.] Bush." Some recent polls offer tenuous support to Zeese's claim that the Nader ticket will draw from both dissatisfied Democrats and Republicans. Funny thing, though; we don't see many Democratic operatives helping Nader get on ballots.
Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
Karl Rove is so desperate for votes from conservative Christians that he just might don a black preacher's robe and hit the pulpit.
In early June, Luke Bernstein, coalitions coordinator for the Bush campaign in Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to team leaders in the state, which was leaked to The Associated Press: "The Bush-Cheney '04 national headquarters ... has asked us to identify 1,600 'Friendly Congregations' in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis," it read.
There's just one problem: Churches are tax-exempt organizations, and they can lose that privilege if pastors campaign from the pulpit. The Bush campaign's letter made no mention of this fact. The story was met with much bad press, from both secular and religious media outlets. Indeed, it was an almost laughably egregious violation of the separation of church and state.
But the Bush team wasn't kidding around. Rather than issue a mea culpa after the Pennsylvania incident, conservative lawmakers set about to change the rules. On June 9, The Washington Post reported that House Republican leaders sneaked a provision into the American Jobs Creation Act that would allow clergy members to commit three "unintentional violations" of the tax rules on political activity each year without risking the loss of tax-exempt status. Called "Safe Harbor for Churches," the provision would allow religious leaders to preach politics as long as they make clear they are acting as private citizens.
But not many private citizens preach to a captive congregation on a weekly basis. Thankfully, even some conservative Christian leaders oppose changing the tax laws in time for the election. Southern Baptist church-state specialist Richard Land told House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a letter that the new provision presented "an unacceptable intrusion of the IRS into the business of a church."
The Social Life of Kerryites
About a year ago I got roped into the Friendster social-software system by an English friend. Originally designed to help people find dates through friends, it's mainly used by my circle of college chums to stay in touch despite living in far-flung metropoles. My Friendster message board used to be full of things like invitations to refer friends to an Asian dating game show or queries about where to go to get lamps repaired in Los Angeles.
Sometime in March, though, all of that ground to a halt. Today, my Friendster network has been taken over by John Kerry fund-raiser invitations.
The Kerry for President campaign has been more successful at raising funds than any Democratic presidential campaign in history, and it has raised a record percentage of that money in small amounts from nontraditional donors. And no wonder: If you are part of certain blue-state social circles, it can seem as if no one throws normal parties anymore, and everyone who's anyone is busy sponsoring or attending Kerry fund-raisers.
"It's only $15 online now. It's in Brooklyn. It's the future of your country and the whole friggin world, for chrissakes," implores one missive from a musician college pal inviting me to a "Concerts for Kerry" event in New York City. The Kerry Core low-dollar fund-raising team teases me by e-mail with the header "Bill Clinton & Natalie Portman, together at last" -- a D.C. Kerry benefit party featuring the former president and "desserts with Natalie Portman." Another friend sends a chipper note about a different upcoming festivity: "Hey kids -- It's time for another fun-filled social event -- a fundraiser for John Kerry!"
"Civil society has been suspended," jokes yet another friend. "From now until Nov. 2, there will be nothing but Kerry fundraisers." He himself helped sponsor the "AXIS OF GOOD First Quadrennial 'Mission: To Be Accomplished' John Kerry Fund-Raiser & Hoe-Down," featuring "FREE DRAFT MADE IN USA BEER FOR THE FIRST HOUR."
Not everyone's so keen on the all Kerry, all the time socializing, though. "I'm not sure if I'm comfortable without a layer between me and the state," says a friend, a political scientist worried about the erosion of nonpolitical social space.
Another friend who works in finance was invited to a $1,000 a plate luncheon for south Asian leaders for Kerry in New York, and planned to attend -- it was rescheduled because of Ronald Reagan's funeral -- even though she does not regularly vote and knows little about Kerry. "You're basically paying $1,000 to network," she says. "That's really why people are going."
By transforming blue-state social life with a relentless program of events and appeals, the Kerry campaign is creating pressures to donate that have nothing to do with Bush bashing and everything to do with being part of a trendy new see-and-be-seen scene.
Bill has survived.
Almost five years to the day after the Independent Counsel Act expired, former President Clinton released his memoir, My Life, which, properly enough, is none too kind to the zealous team of prosecutors assembled by Kenneth Starr.
But the erstwhile little Starrlets are doing fine, thank you very much, and many have received high-powered appointments from the Bush administration. Kevin Martin moved from his role as associate independent counsel onto George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, serving as deputy general counsel before being appointed as a Federal Communications Commission commissioner. From his new post, Martin has helped lead the recent anti-obscenity crusade, even before Janet Jackson strategically disrobed at the Super Bowl. And he still has that old Starr indifference to the existence of actual evidence. "Complaints [to the fcc] should no longer be denied because of a lack of tape, transcript, or significant excerpt," he has said.
Other Starr progeny have been plopped onto the federal bench: Amy St. Eve is now a district judge while Steven Colloton sits on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The third Starr retread currently wielding a gavel, District Judge John Bates, played a major role in stymieing a more substantive investigation than the one he pursued under Starr. The General Accounting Office (GAO) brought the first lawsuit in its 80-plus-year existence after Dick Cheney stonewalled its attempt to obtain information about the veep's 2001 energy task force. Bates, who provided the rationale for subpoenaing any woman to whom Clinton may have talked dirty about Whitewater, dismissed the GAO's effort to learn with whom Cheney's task force conferred.
The fourth -- and, we hope, final -- judicial nominee aligned with the Starrs is unlikely to be confirmed. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who recommended judicial nominees for the current administration before his Cheney-esque self-selection to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was seen as a "slap in the face" by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats. It was Kavanaugh who wrote the section of The Starr Report that outlined12 -- count 'em, 12 -- grounds for impeachment. (Asked point-blank by Senator Charles Schumer whether he would have voted "guilty" or "not guilty" on the two articles that eventually reached the Senate floor but were rejected, Kavanaugh refused to answer.) If confirmed, Kavanaugh, 39, would have had the least prior legal experience of any judge in the circuit's history, but for one: Kenneth Starr.
Ground Zero West
While New York's September 11 memorial as yet exists only in architectural renderings, another 9-11 monument, open for more than a year, has already drawn millions of visitors. To get there from Ground Zero, take the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey and drive for three days, keeping your eyes peeled for the next Empire State Building -- the one at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino, a scaled replica of the Manhattan skyline that bills itself as "The Greatest City in Las Vegas."
The curving, dark granite 9-11 memorial, which includes brass plaques with quotes from the president and first lady, sits in front of the casino's Statue of Liberty replica at the corner of "the Strip" and Tropicana Avenue. An orderly line of gamblers streams past to pay respects at all hours. In the days following the World Trade Center attacks, hoards of tourists created a makeshift memorial at Lady Liberty's feet. (The hotel's "skyline" never included the Twin Towers.) Faced with the dilemma of what to do with all the items, which included more than 3,000 T-shirts from police and fire departments in all 50 states, MGM Mirage, the company that owns the casino, decided to create a permanent monument.
The hotel enlisted the help of professor David Schwartz, coordinator of the Gaming Studies Research Center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to act as curator. Schwartz selected certain items to be part of the memorial display. The rest he archived at UNLV's Lied Library, just down the street from that other repository of Sin City's cultural heritage, the Liberace Museum. The understated (by Vegas standards) memorial was designed by local architect Marnell Carrao, whose chief claim to fame remains the Bellagio, just up the Strip.
Considering Vegas' reputation for escapism and disconnect from reality -- Sin City's official tourism slogan is "What happens here, stays here" -- the tribute to tragedy seems a mite odd. MGM Mirage never built a memorial to its own tragedy, the 1980 fire at the MGM Grand that claimed 87 lives. But what is most striking about the Vegas tribute is that it doesn't commemorate the actual victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks at all, but rather the country's immediate reaction to 9-11.
By holding the Republicans' upcoming convention in Manhattan just north of Ground Zero, Karl Rove and company will surely try to invoke the emotions of 9-11 to the advantage of the Bush campaign. But if they really want to convince Americans that the Bush administration deserves four more years, they need to conjure up the disconnect from reality that's required to erase all the administration's failures. Clearly, they picked the wrong New York, New York. Vegas would have been perfect.
Brave New Words
TORTURE Not, according to a Pentagon memo, "the infliction of pain or suffering per se." It's got to be severe. What's more, your "good faith belief" that you are inflicting non-severe pain "need not be a reasonable one" to get you off the hook. Torture, then, means something worse than what U.S. forces could inflict.
WITH ME Where George W. Bush told the Vatican's secretary of state he wants the American bishops to be, i.e., refusing communion to John Kerry and granting it to such abortion-rights Republican Catholics as Tom Ridge, George Pataki, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
REMARKABLE CHANGE German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's description of recent developments in U.S. foreign policy after meeting with Bush at the G8 summit. See also, SHAMELESS PANDERING.