Sunday, September 19, 2010

Whose Grass Roots?

Instead of talking about the new Republican star Christine O'Donnell we should be talking about the man who put her where she is, Sal Russo.

Russo, a Sacramento based Republican money man and creator of a long line of famous attack ads, is finally being outed as the power behind the supposedly grass roots tea bagger movement, and there are several new profiles of him out there -- just Google his name.

There are a variety of tea bagger groups, some of them well funded fronts for wealthy political elites, and Russo controls one of those, the Tea Party Express, which is registered as a political action committee, or PAC. And despite all the breathless media accounts of how tea baggers have taken over the Republican Party, or how tea baggers have suddenly become a potent political force, in the races where a tea bagger backed candidate has beat an incumbent, it was because Russo poured tons of money into the race; in Alaska pouring $600,000 into a small state to help tea bagger candidate Joe Miller beat incumbent Lisa Murkowski, spending almost $1 million so far to give Sharron Angle a viable shot at beating long-time Senator Harry Reid, now in Deleware, helping a perpetual fringe candidate upset a mainstream political veteran with a late $236,000 infusion, and earlier in Massachusets pouring in nearly $350,000 to help Republican Scott Brown win Ted Kennedy's old senate seat.

Russo is not new at creating fake grass roots groups, sometimes called astro turf groups. He created Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, the former Vietnam soldiers who questioned Senator John Kerry's war record during his 2004 presidential campaign. Russo assembled them, and created and funded the last minute attack ads in which they made accusations about Kerry, later proven to be false, that were given credit for swaying a close election in George Bush's favor.

In Russo's own words, according to a profile by Dan Morian in the Sacramento Bee, his secret is tapping into the "zeitgeist" of the times. In other words, he finds out what people are afraid of and then blames it on whatever opponent he wants to attack. These are times of fear; fear caused by a dismal economy and high unemployment, and, by what is rarely mentioned, our declining standards of living and the erosion of the "American Dream." The tea bagger movement is a reaction to those fears, and it is now being shown that the so called grass-roots movement is largely Sal Russo doing what he does, tapping into working class zeitgeist and manipulating it for financial gain and to pursue his own political ends.

Some of the legitimate tea baggers groups are getting hip to people like Russo. As Mark Meckler, co-founder and national coordinator of Tea Party patriots, an online network of local tea bagger groups, told the Los Angeles Times, "These are folks who have done what so many feared would be done. They tapped into the movement to raise money for their own interest." And indeed, federal campaign records show that Russo has paid himself more than a cool half million so far for work done on behalf of the Tea Party Express, besides pursuing a political agenda he sets himself.

The latest example of Russo influencing an election, and the tea baggers being credited, was in Christine O'Donnell's win in the Delaware Republican senate primary. Two weeks before the election everyone expected the mainstream Republican to win. But then Russo came in and bought more than $236,000 in last minute TV and radio ads for O'Donnell, and, according to the Delaware Republican Party, which has filed a Federal Elections Commission complaint against Russo, also provided direct assistance to her campaign, which is a violation of federal laws controlling PACS.

Credit also has been given to Sarah Palin's late endorsement of O'Donnell, but what is not mentioned, or maybe not known, is that Palin is on Russo's payroll, too, as a speaker at Tea Party Express events. Why did she suddenly endorse the unknown O'Donnel, while at precisely the same political moment Russo was beginning his intervention?

Also not mentioned in now emerging media profiles of Russo is his partner, Ed Rollins, whose name is more familiar. Russo and Rollins got their start in the business of promoting conservative Republicans by working for Ronald Reagan when he was getting his start in California politics. At the time, mainstream Republicans refused to back Reagan because he was an ill-informed crackpot. That attitude changed, of course, when, by adroitly tapping into the zeitgeist of those times, he brought the party back from its Watergate/Nixon induced oblivion. But Reagan then left office an unpopular president, and it was not until another PR campaign,
to restore Reagan's image, launched by another Republican operative who lives off PAC money, Grover Norquist, that Reagan began to be talked about within the party and in the media as a revered figure. And it is of course to Reagan and his manufactured legacy that the rank and file tea baggers are always pointed by their big-money directors.

Three questions are raised by all this. The one everyone is asking is whether the tea bagger insurgency, because it has resulted in unelectable fringe candidates who don't appeal to mainstream voters, will crush Republican hopes of regaining power. Another is whether, before that even happens, the tea baggers themselves will understand how they are being used. But the third and most important question is whether what is left of American democracy will ever be snatched from the jaws of big money, and the power that it buys.

Cockburn Can Dish It Out...

Alas. Alexander Cockburn, who with Jeffery St Clair puts out the online newsletter Counterpunch, is known as a contrarian. He often points out things others on the Left have overlooked, and takes issue with hypocrisy wherever he finds it, Left or Right, except in the case of black folks who, for whatever reason, he seems to let have a free pass. He also has a history of making vile attacks against those on the Left who disagree with him.

Now he has attacked Fidel Castro. Yes, Fidel, symbol and source of hope for millions, if not billions of people worldwide who admire the way he has devoted his life to trying to find a more just, egalitarian way to run a country, and for the way he has stood up against US imperialism for more than 50 years now.

Fidel, since retiring, has written regular columns called "Reflections of the Commander In Chief," in which he comments on world affairs. Recently he has devoted numerous columns to the danger of nuclear war as, over the  course of the summer, the US and Israel became more and more bellicose in their threats against Iran. Fidel has been successful in drawing attention to the danger this causes and the US and Israel have had to back off.

Fidel also has devoted a couple of recent columns to ruminations about the Bilderburg Group, which is basically an annual meeting of the world's most powerful capitalists and power brokers. Cockburn, in a column he calls "Autumn of the Driveler," calls Fidel's observations mad ravings and dismisses the Bilderbergers as if they have had no influence over anything, least of all the declining living standards of millions if not billions in the course of the great counterattack on the world's working class commonly known as neoliberalism.

Cockburn lashes out at El Comandante over this and several minor things and urges Fidel to shut up and stop assassinating his character, which accomplishes nothing except to further Cockburn's image of himself, whatever that may be.

Cockburn used to do some good investigative reporting, but now all he writes are his weekly columns for his newsletter, and they are always essentially the same thing. He rolls out his now familiar bag of clever expressions and hyperbolic takes on things and assembles them into his contrarian commentary of the week. They are entertaining, and informative when they point out things others have missed, but to humiliate and heap vitriol on an old man who, as I say, has devoted his life to the cause of justice, and is still carrying on despite his frailty, simply makes Cockburn seem small and bitter, and he seems to have been feeling very small and bitter about something this week.

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