Tuesday, June 26, 2007

K.O. Karrow and the Art of Bully Politics

As the 2008 elections draw near, the eternal battle between Light & Darkness, Good & Evil, Right & Wrong, (and I’ll leave you to decide which side of The Force your political party is aligned with), begins to heat up as the job security of many full-time public officials treads on shaky poll-driven ground.

However, not all of the conflict takes place in that vast no-man’s-land of dubious ideology that supposedly exists between the two equally infallible political parties. High stakes primaries and changes in the power structure can create enemies among the most devoted party members. This is what the press likes to refer to as ‘infighting’. The fighting can be fierce, but is seldom physical.

But in New Jersey, where the weak are killed and eaten, infighting takes on a whole new meaning. This is especially true in the 23rd District, where the blows being traded by Marcia Karrow and Chris Harcar have escalated from sound bites to shoving matches. Harcar is currently down for the count due to unnecessary roughness, while Karrow is well on her way to establishing a new chapter of G.L.O.W., soon to be known as the GOP Ladies of Wrestling.

The friction between these two has been heating things up since 2002, when they chose to back different primary candidates. Harcar’s decision to cross party lines and support Democrat Jeff Marshall for Mayor in 2004 didn’t go over well with her Republican friends, and since then she’s been the Black Sheep of the Party. Adding to the animosity are an overturned drunk driving charge in 2005, and her unflinching support of ex-husband county Sheriff Peter Harcar, who resigned in a plea bargain after allegedly discharging his gun accidentally in a local health club last October. Land-grabbing real estate deals are always guaranteed to raise tempers, and Karrow’s recent attempts to move along the township’s acquisition of the Urbach farm drew sharp criticism from Harcar, and increased the rivalry between the two.

As can be expected, some local Republicans feel the need to keep their distance from Harcar. Karrow might have taken the desire a bit too recently, when she allegedly ejected Harcar from a volunteer-driven Republican phone bank with all the love and compassion of a strip club bouncer.

As could be expected, the story differs depending on who tells it. According to Karrow, she simply "informed Harcar she was not welcome" and took away phone script, after which she simply left. Harcar’s version includes some body checking before her untimely exit, as she claims Karrow shoved her up against a nearby podium a couple times hard enough to break her arm before throwing her out.

Just to sweeten the tea, Karrow also alleges that Harcar was “stinking drunk” when she ‘trespassed’, that she could smell a "strong odor of alcohol on her breath.", and that several witnesses can attest to Harcar being three sheets to the wind and rowdy as a rugby player. Not too surprisingly, GOP Chairman Henry Kuhl unflinchingly backs Karrow’s story. Did I mention the phone banks were being operated at Kuhl Corporation, Kuhl’s family business? Kuhl and Karrow, by the way, backed Tony Critelli in an unsuccessful primary bid for Hunterdon County Sheriff. He came in third behind Deborah Trout, who was backed by Harcar. See a pattern forming?

Also interesting was Karrow’s insistence to responding police that she wanted "this whole incident dropped."

Normally, this kind of nonsense isn’t even worthy of daytime television. Strip away the political affiliations, and you’ve got two soccer moms slap-fighting in the electronics section of Target. But add the strong-arm bullyboy tactics, slanderous accusations meant to take advantage of a recent controversy, and vicious power plays delivered with anything-goes gusto, and you have…

…well, New Jersey Politics. And I have a feeling that things aren’t going to slow down anytime soon.

Right Wing Radio Running Scared?

It’s almost sad how Right Wing Radio has been hunkered down in defensive mode for the past few months. Granted, they’re always in a perpetual state of self-appointed persecution, which is bound to happen when you spend the majority of your time insulting callers, smearing opponents, spreading misinformation, and downright lying to your audience. But lately, things are getting downright dangerous.

It all started back in April, when Imus bad mouthed the wrong black female basketball team and lost his job due to a sudden lack of advertising revenue. Racial slurs always guarantee you the most airtime (Just ask Kramer), and everybody gleefully ganged up on the sickly looking elderly cowboy wannabe in an effort to see who was more righteous and socially relevant.

Oddly enough, as soon as the words “Hate Speech” and “Talk Radio” starting cropping up, the world as a whole nearly gave itself whiplash looking over at the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter… the list is so long, it didn’t really take long to find a name whose angry ranting made Imus’ little ‘hoe’ slip up pale in comparison.

The spokespersons for Right Wing Radio, Right Wing Radio themselves, snapped into action by immediately blaming the ‘Left Wing Media’ for singling them out. They cried that they were the victims, and warned that the people criticizing them just wanted to control what you hear and think. They then held up the defunct Fairness Doctrine, warning that if the American public wasn’t careful, the LWM would bring it back. The warning backfired, however, as a rather large group of people shrugged and wondered why that would be an overly bad thing.

That’s where the waters get muddy, because they can’t tell the real reason the Fairness Doctrine sends a shiver down their spine. Forcing equal air time for these Right Wing Blowhards would essentially force them to debate their opponents. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but to people who have built their careers and reputations on a firm foundation of uncontested lies and misinformation, the presence of an educated opponent that you can’t shout over or cut the microphone on threatens the very fabric of their false cloak of legitimacy. The foundation on which the giant Talk Radio Empire has been built can be easily taken down by simply forcing it to adhere to the rules of an average high school debate team, and they know it.

Fortunately for them, the fires started by such minor racial slurs may blaze bright, but they burn out quickly. Things seemed to be getting back to normal recently, and Right Wing Talk Radio had settled back into its comfortable pattern of slandering Democratic Politicians and pretending that no one knows Lieberman is going to defect to the Right by 2008. Then, just when you thought it was safe to sing “Obama, the Magic Negro,” a report from the Center for American Progress titled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" told us what we already knew; 91% of the total daily talk radio programming is conservative. They also told us something that a lot of people probably didn’t know; 257 of the Right-leaning news/talk stations are owned by five organizations: Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel Broadcasting, Cumulus Media and Salem Communications.

Lord Limbaugh and his Errant Knights quickly leapt into action and declared victim status for themselves yet again. But the role of underdog is hard to assume when your legion of mouthpieces are all leashed by the same handful of corporate masters, and the Fairness Doctrine is once again the bogeyman of the day. Only this time, instead of screaming Freedom of Speech, the fall back argument has become the Free Market. This is America, the eagerly point out, and the Free Market always works things out. If people don’t really like Hannity and his ilk, they can easily listen to something else. Of course, the ‘listen to something else’ argument tends to fall flat when your owners have a stranglehold on the market so there isn’t anything else to listen to.

The Free Market argument does hold some truth, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you consider that outrage and controversy trump substance and accuracy when it comes to ratings. The Fairness Doctrine may feel a bit heavy-handed, but maybe it’s a lesser evil than allowing our Nation’s political discourse to align itself with the same broadcast philosophies of Howard Stern and American Idol.

Maybe the Right Wing Radio focus is just another distraction from the true culprit here, which is that the institutions that were once dedicated to seeking out the truth and reporting it to the people are now more dedicated to ratings sweeps and shareholders, or even more frighteningly, media robber barons doing their best to deliver their own ideological message while sidestepping the long-forgotten monopoly laws.

Asbestos and Mirrors

A lot of attention was given to today’s testimony at a congressional hearing about the environmental impact of the September 11th attacks. Much of the news coverage focused on the finger-pointing taking place between Former Environmental Protection Agency Chief and Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and Republican Primary Presidential Hopeful and Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani. None of it focused on the bigger picture behind the EPA fiasco, and who is really winning the Blame Game.

9/11 has been getting a revival in the news, in part due to “America’s Mayor” Rudy G., who has been running his campaign on an “I was Mayor during 9/11” platform. His false Hero status has been taking hits from unavoidable news events, such as the EPA hearings and the New York Firefighters rebellion against him, bringing plenty of debate and argumentation to an already hot-button issue.

Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko has also added fuel to the 9/11 flames, with his criticism of the US healthcare system and well-timed Cuba visit controversy drawing attention to the Ground Zero rescue workers, who were literally poisoned by the air they breathed during the prolonged rescue mission and following restoration.

So, with all of this attention being given to the specific question of who was responsible for monitoring the air quality after the Twin Towers collapsed, you would think a little attention would revert back to what we already know. Right?

Whitman blames Giuliani for not properly following EPA recommendations regarding respirator usage and exposure to the toxic air around the site. Giuliani’s staff says they did the best they could, and that Whitman’s just trying to divert the blame.

What no one is mentioning is that, according to a report released by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA back in 2003, the White House implicitly instructed the EPA to give the public misleading information regarding the air quality in the vicinity of the World Trade Center rubble, going as far as requiring all statements to the media to be cleared through the NSC first, which repeatedly resulted in scientific warnings about air toxicity and suggested cleaning procedures to be either toned down or deleted.

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around. Whitman released false statements regarding the safety of the air in New York City after 9/11, and didn’t make any attempt to correct false or misleading information after it was released. Giuliani knew enough about the false clean air assurances that he urged the city's Congressional delegation to limit the city's liability for Ground Zero illnesses to $350 million combined. But the EPA and Manhattan Island weren’t running the show, and the people with the power to set things right were calling the shots with the intent putting up a good front, at the cost of health and wellbeing of the people they expected to clean up the mess.

Its about time some fingers started pointing in the right direction.

Monday, June 25, 2007

When do we get around to posting a new Witchfinder General?

Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that Bush purposely does things just to stir up shit?

A couple of weeks ago, Bush gave the name of his choice for the next Surgeon General:

"Today, I have announced my intention to nominate James W. Holsinger, Jr., to serve as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Holsinger is an accomplished physician who has led one of our Nation's largest healthcare systems, the State of Kentucky's health care system, and the University of Kentucky's medical center. He also has taught at several American medical schools, and he served more than three decades in the United States Army Reserve, retiring in 1993 as a Major General."

What Bush fails to mention is that Holsinger is also a high-ranking official in the United Methodist Church, being one of the nine members of the United Methodist Judicial Council, the church's highest court.

It isn't too shocking that Bush willfully omitted this part of Holsinger's resume, seeing as how his constant hard-on for not-so-subtly injecting religion into governmental roles is constantly under fire.

But, to be totally rational, belonging to a church council shouldn't automatically void your ability to serve in a government position, should it? Of course not.

Let's look a little closer, shall we?

Holsinger and his wife are also the founders of the Hope Springs Community Church, a church with programs to help homeless people, and aid those suffering from addiction to drugs, alcohol, and even sex. Holsinger's pastor, the Rev. David Calhoun of Hope Springs Community Church in Lexington, also mentioned another habit that Holsinger's church helps people kick:

Hope Springs also ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian, Calhoun said.

"We see that as an issue not of orientation but of lifestyle," he said. "We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle."

That's right, Bush's proposed candidate for "America's Doctor" cures gay people.

What could I possibly add to that? Bush continues to write his own punchlines.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spanking the Donkey: New Jersey Politics At Their Finest

Just when you thought New Jersey politics couldn't get any more entertaining…

Last Friday afternoon, police in Flemington, New Jersey answered a call at the Liberty Village Premium Outlets. Two women at a bus stop at the popular shopping center reported to arriving officers that they had witnessed a man standing outside his minivan while “committing lewd acts.” A quick NJDMV license search and police lineup later, the lewd acting individual was identified as Christopher Daul.

Some quick background information might be needed for those unfamiliar with Mr. Daul. Christopher L. Daul is a 49-year-old lawyer and government official in Hunterdon County. He works for a management and consulting services firm, chairs the Delaware Township’s Planning Board, has served as a counsel to the to the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, an assistant counsel to the New Jersey State Senate, and on the last two Governor's Transition Teams for the state Department of Transportation.

And last Friday, he was caught masturbating in public wearing only socks, glasses, and a hands-free headset.

When I first read this story in the local papers, three questions immediately sprang to mind. First and foremost, were the socks black? Try as I might, I couldn't imagine this middle aged politician/professional business man standing there in white athletic tube socks. If he was going to keep the glasses on, then the socks had to be black. I was ready to put money on it.

Next, I was puzzled by the headset. Granted, I was relieved that such a busy individual was doing his part to drive responsibly by using a hands-free device for his cell phone, even if this particular use is not quite something the Bluetooth people would want to structure an ad campaign around. But his decision to leave it on while showing the women at the nearby bus stop exactly how fast he cold pop his cork made me wonder if he was using it at the same time. Was it possible that he was in the midst of an obscene phone call at the same time he was knuckle-shuffling for the Flemington shoppers? In such a fast paced technological age, it seems only fitting that even the sexual deviants have to multitask these days in order to make their perversion quotas. Then again, he might have simply been on the phone to his wife, an executive in the state Treasury Department, to let her know that he was running late and would pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.

My third and final question, of course, was whether or not he finished before fleeing the scene.

Of course, friends and coworkers of Daul’s did their best to express their displeasure with condemning the man, while at the same time sympathizing for him and his wife without excusing and belittling the crime at hand (pun painfully intended). You can’t really fault them for their awkward statements or unwillingness to respond to questions, though. Would any of us react differently if someone we had known for years was suddenly arrested for jerking off in front of some window shoppers in a mall parking lot? I think not.

Tempting as it is, it’s kind of hard to hold this whole event up as an example of the corruption inherent in politics today. Anti-gay religious leaders buying male prostitutes and crystal meth, politicians responsible for Internet Predator legislation being caught preying on underage boys on the Internet, and presidents bumming hummers off of impressionable secretaries are all great examples of the sort of hypocrisy and abuse of power that cranks up the righteous indignation loud enough to wake the neighbors. But a middle-aged lawyer exposing himself to a couple of women at a bus stop, then driving away buck naked in his minivan? Hell, we've all been there before.

And yes, the socks were black.