Friday, August 12, 2005

80 Million Reasons To Ignore Election Fraud

On July 25th, 2004, Matt Bai wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine entitled "Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy."

If you're a left-leaning Democrat, Progressive or Independent who is confused about why this liberal blogger spends so much time and energy in what seems to be an internecine battle I suggest you take the time to read (or re-read) that Sunday NY Times Magazine article and not just rely on the parts that I am excerpting.

I plan to devote a substantial amount of time at this blog fleshing out the reasons why I've been such a vocal critic of the left-of-center A-list bloggers who have formed their own political action committee in a quest, aided and abetted by a trio of supposedly progressive operatives and consultants - as I suspect and fear - to not only "grab a seat at the table" but to overturn and replace it.

Does this mean that I am taking my eyes off the prize? Does this mean I plan to overlook the crimes and almost-and-should-be crimes committed by the Bush Administration?

Hell no!

This blog only reaches a certain amount of readers (and every not-so-friendly fire post I write pushes more away than it draws readers in). The work I do with ePluribus Media, Raw Story, and many others travels further and has a higher potential of bypassing the gatekeepers of the mainstream media and reaching the ears of the Congressional leaders who are honestly committed to Democratic ideals.

Plus, my stories have less of a chance of being ripped off or plagiarized if they originate from a larger outlet.

This blog is not going to become a 7-days-a-week bash BlogPAC affair (the Iraq invasion, propaganda and plagiarism via the media, election reform, illegal detentions, and all the other issues I've often examined will still be covered), but it will take a while to post everything I've learned and everything I'm still looking into, so - for now - you can expect more to come like this.

As for concerns that I am fueling right wing propaganda, all I can say is that I've been a Democrat all my life, and any true reality-based liberal knows that much of the problems that our country (and the world) is facing stem from the actions of both major political parties.

I'm only human. I may make mistakes (I may be wrong on this). But I've always gone out of my way to face up to any mistakes I've made here - or throughout the blogosphere - and add a correction or apology if I felt it was warranted (at times...apologies have been extended not because of what I felt, but because of what another person or persons have felt because sometimes that's the right thing to do).

I won't be spreading my links around the blogosphere, and I certainly won't be e-mailing right wing bloggers or mainstream news outlets to give them the dibs on what I've dug up. And since I've written many, many, many articles against the A-listers the last six months, and not one of them has ever turned into a right wing talking point I wouldn't expect that to happen now. I'm an unabashed liberal blogger known for digging; the right wing blogs are certainly not going to do anything to spotlight my work, especially because this liberal blogger has also blogged an awful lot about the desire to reach "Real Republicans" and get them to realize that their party has been taken over by opportunistic and hypocritical fundamentalists and dangerous neocons.

I also think of myself as a journalist. An objective, if liberally biased, journalist. The truth means much, much more to me than partisanship, and I can't help it if people that are mostly on my side don't understand that.

"Why has election reform been ignored or pushed aside by the A-list blogs?" is a question I have asked on many an occasion.

For now, I have no smoking gun evidence. But I might very soon.

Matt Bai's "Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy" involves two key players who may be on the verge of becoming powerbrokers, unprecedented by anything this country has ever seen before (a third player will be addressed in future posts). These two people, Simon Rosenberg and Rob Stein, seem to want to do more than just reshape the Democrat Party. They apparently want to replace it.

But how far will they go, and, more importantly, how far did they go?

Matt Bai's story basically begins sometime in 2003 with a phone call to Andy Rappaport, a "political venture capitalist" and "an avid investor in liberal causes."

"Last summer, [Rappaport] got a call from Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a fund-raising and advocacy group in Washington. Would Rappaport mind sitting down for a confidential meeting with a veteran Democratic operative named Rob Stein? Sure, Rappaport replied. What Stein showed him when they met was a PowerPoint presentation that laid out step by step, in a series of diagrams a ninth-grader could understand, how conservatives, over a period of 30 years, had managed to build a ''message machine'' that today spends more than $300 million annually to promote its agenda."

"Rappaport was blown away by the half-hour-long presentation. ''Man,'' he said, ''that's all it took to buy the country?''"

"Stein and Rosenberg weren't asking Rappaport for money -- at least not yet. They wanted Democrats to know what they were up against, and they wanted them to stop thinking about politics only as a succession of elections. If Democrats were going to survive, Stein and Rosenberg explained, men like Rappaport were going to have to start making long-term investments in their political ideas, just as they did in their business ventures. The era of the all-powerful party was coming to an end, and political innovation, like technological innovation, would come from private-sector pioneers who were willing to take risks."

That was just the beginning.

"In March of [2004], Rappaport convened a meeting of wealthy Democrats at a Silicon Valley hotel so that they, too, could see Stein's presentation. Similar gatherings were already under way in Washington and New York, where the meetings included two of the most generous billionaires in the Democratic universe -- the financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, an Ohio insurance tycoon -- as well as Soros's son and Lewis's son. On the East Coast, the participants had begun referring to themselves as the Phoenix Group, as in rising from the ashes; Rappaport called his gathering the Band of Progressives. More recently, companion groups have come together in Boston and Los Angeles."

"What makes these meetings remarkable is that while everyone attending them wants John Kerry to win in November, they are focused well beyond the 2004 election. The plan is to gather investors from each city -- perhaps in one big meeting early next year -- and create a kind of venture-capital pipeline that would funnel money into a new political movement, working independently of the existing Democratic establishment. The dollar figure for investment being tossed around in private conversations is $100 million."

"''You're talking about raising a lot of money,'' I said doubtfully. Rappaport tilted his head to one side. He looked as if he felt sorry for me. ''A hundred million dollars,'' he said, ''is nothing.''"

Who is Rob Stein and what exactly is this PowerPoint presentation all about?

"By the time we met, in the middle of May, Stein estimated that some 700 people had seen his PowerPoint show. He told me his story and explained how he had ended up at the center of a minimovement. He had been a Democratic operative, rising to become chief of staff at the Commerce Department under the late Ron Brown. Then he managed a venture capital firm. After 2000, he, like a lot of Democrats, watched with growing alarm as his party ceded ground at every level of government. ''I literally woke up the day after the 2002 elections, picked up the paper, had breakfast and we were living in a one-party country,'' he said. ''And there it was. That was my wake-up call."

"''I said: 'O.K., there's now Republican dominance down the line. It's not only that they control the House and the Senate and the presidency. But it's growing. There's no end in sight.' It wasn't only that they had reached a milestone, but they were ascendant.''"

"Stein read a few reports that liberal research groups had published on the rise of the conservative movement. Then he began poring over tax forms from various conservative nonprofits and aggregating the data about fund-raising and expenditures. He spent hours online every night, between about 9 p.m. and 1 in the morning, reading sites like, which is devoted to tracing the roots of conservative groups and their effect on the media. To call this an obsession somehow seems too mundane; Stein spent much of the spring of 2003 consumed with connecting the dots of what Hillary Clinton famously called the ''vast right-wing conspiracy'' and then translating it into flow charts and bullet points."

"The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said."

There's certainly nothing wrong with studying the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" in order to learn from it or effectively battle it.

But to emulate it? That's something that doesn't sit well with this liberal blogger and shouldn't sit well with many others that think like me. While I'm not an out-and-out socialist I do believe that money is the defining answer for almost everything that has corrupted our government and infected both major political parties. Again, any true liberal should have deep concerns about the effect that money has on our political system. I'm a firm believer in stronger campaign finance laws, and while I'm not ready to assert that the 527s, which have sprouted from the legislation passed in recent years, are inherently evil, I certainly don't go out of my way to promote them.

But how does Rob Stein feel about the "vast right-wing conspiracy"?

"'What you need to understand about me is that I try to be respectful and objective about this,'' Stein went on. ''Not only is it a legitimate exercise in democracy, but I think they came up with some extraordinary ideas.''"

Who is Simon Rosenberg and what does he stand for and what are his goals? I couldn't even begin to address all of that in one post, many of the answers are still shrouded in mystery anyway, but, turning back to Bai's article:

"In the spring of 2003, a friend Stein knew from the Clinton White House arranged for him to meet Simon Rosenberg at the New Democrat Network. Ambitious and hyperarticulate, Rosenberg once worked for the Democratic Leadership Council, the centrist group that laid the groundwork for Clinton's '92 campaign, before splitting off and forming his own political-action committee in 1996. Although he made his name in the party as a centrist New Democrat, Rosenberg, now 40, saw opportunities for his organization -- and, naturally, for himself -- in the increasingly confrontational slant of the party's base during the Bush administration. He didn't agree with all of Howard Dean's positions, but Rosenberg was among the first centrist Democrats to embrace Dean, sensing early on the potential of Dean's following. While the Democratic Leadership Council attacked Dean for his angry brand of populism, Rosenberg looked for a way to tap into the genuine passion among Democrats for a more creative, more defiant kind of politics. He talked to donors around the country, like Andy Rappaport, who were angry at the Clintonesque rhetoric that obscured the sharp ideological divide between them and the Rush Limbaugh right; they were desperate for new policy ideas and for a more aggressive, coherent strategy."

"Rosenberg had hired a Silicon Valley consulting firm to suggest ways for the New Democrat Network to find a niche in this new world. One recommendation, which Rosenberg embraced, was to bring together a group of progressive contributors to talk about financing new kinds of ventures outside the party structure. It was Erica Payne, his New York director, who put a name to the fledgling project: the Phoenix Group. Payne, a business-school graduate and one-time Clinton campaign official, seized on the name one night after getting sucked into a Harry Potter book."

"To Rosenberg, then, Stein's presentation was like an elaborately wrapped gift on Christmas morning: the deeper into it he got, the more enthusiastic he became. Stein had given him, in 30 minutes' worth of slides, a jolting summary of the challenge that needed to be met if the Democratic Party was to avoid total collapse. And the idea was inherently neither centrist nor leftist. Here was something he could take to donors and say: This is why you're losing. Forget this election. Plan for the future."

Remember these unattributed words: "Forget this election. Plan for the future." Those words are a large reason why I believe the A-list bloggers have done little to advance the cause of election reform, and why they mostly ignored the work of Congressman Conyers (and many others in the blogosphere) in compiling evidence of possible/probable election fraud and disenfranchisement.

Getting back to Simon Rosenberg's agenda:

"What Rosenberg envisioned was a ''virtual marketplace,'' patterned very consciously after the kind of incubators that venture capitalists set up in the 90's, in which major investors could systematically get to know like-minded bright, young innovators. Then the investors, given a choice of ideas, could decide which projects they wanted to get behind."

It's going to take a long time to show what this is all about. I'm certain that many readers will disagree with my suspicions and conclusions, but, let's get this straight, the crux of the "vast not-really-liberal conspiracy" is not really the "grass roots Net." We're just fucking pawns in the hands of the big money donors. The money collected on the Internet with the aid of the A-list bloggers is a drop in the bucket. But it's the collection of that money, and the relationship between a few of the A-list bloggers and the "progressive" powerbrokers which attract the real revenue.

"''We will only succeed if we build an entrepreneurial culture in Democratic politics,'' Rosenberg said. ''What we are is this beleaguered group of badly funded, nonscalable nonprofits. You know, Luke Skywalker was able to kill the Death Star with his beleaguered band of warriors, but I'm not sure that that's the model we should shoot for -- shoot the thing down the middle of the tube and hope it blows up the Death Star. We need to build our own answer to the Death Star.''"

Those are not the words of a Jedi Knight, that's for sure.

Remember to keep in mind those words that I highlighted: "Forget this election. Plan for the future." Aside from those words, the following paragraph is the closet thing to a smoking gun that I'm drawing from this article:

"Given how desperately the activists behind the Phoenix Group want to dispatch Bush this November, the paradox is that their longer-term goals, from a purely tactical standpoint, may be better served if he wins. Millionaire Democrats are being driven to act by a perception of powerlessness and deterioration. If Kerry wins, some of the passion will likely drain away, and a lot of Democrats will tell themselves -- like gambling addicts after a hot streak at the blackjack table -- that everything is just fine and that, despite the statistics and the polling, the party remains as vibrant as ever. Raising $100 million for a bunch of think tanks might no longer be so easy."

Remember that 2002 phone call:

"Stein and Rosenberg weren't asking Rappaport for money -- at least not yet."

Many of my readers might still think everything I've alluded to is fine with them; since at least all the money raised will be directed toward Democrats.

But will it?

"The second potential outcome to which Dean alludes -- that the Democratic Party, per se, might not always exist in America -- might sound, coming from Dean, characteristically overwrought. But it does raise a significant question about the political venture capitalists: what if, in the future, they decided not to support Democrats at all? Suppose there came along an independent candidate, free from the baggage of Democratic Party politics, who espoused with conviction the kind of agenda that donors of the Phoenix Group or America Coming Together really wanted to hear? The forbidding barrier to independent candidates has always been money. But the 527's aren't tied to a party; they can provide unlimited amounts of money to support any cause they want, provided they adhere to certain legal technicalities."

"When I suggested this to Stern, the service employees' union president, he thought about it for a moment before answering. ''There is an incredible opportunity to have the infrastructure for a third party,'' he said. Stern assured me that he himself has no interest in that, but, he added, ''Anyone who could mobilize these groups would have the Democratic Party infrastructure, and they wouldn't need the Democratic Party.'"

Who do you think will hold more power in the new arrangement: grass roots activists/bloggers or million dollar donors? One scenario: If the Machiavellian powerbrokers view a future Democrat candidate as too liberal, and - in their view - unelectable, then they might put their stock behind a centrist insurgent or even a moderate Republican.

One last excerpt from Matt Bai's article:

"We tend to think of the two political parties that have ruled American politics for the last 150 years as being cemented into the framework of the Constitution. In fact, parties, like the political movements that sustain them, have shelf lives. In the 1840's and 1850's, the Whig Party, at various times, controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. By 1860, at a loss to coherently address slavery, the defining debate of the time, the Whigs vanished from the planet like a bunch of pterodactyls, replaced by Republicans. It is not unthinkable that the privatization of Democratic politics is a step toward institutional obsolescence. People like Andy Rappaport and Jonathan Soros might succeed in revitalizing progressive politics -- while at the same time destroying what we now call the Democratic Party."

Why did I use 80 million in the title of this post when the Bai article referred to 100 million?

The answer can be found in a Washington Post article published last Sunday called Rich Liberals Vow to Fund Think Tanks." In my next post, I'll continue with more on Thomas B. Edsall's WaPo article which bears a subtitle: "Aim Is to Compete With Conservatives."

Future installments will be devoted to the third powerbroker, Simon Rosenberg's stances on the illegal invasion of Iraq and liberal social matters, the incestuous relationships of a few of the A-list bloggers to the powerbroker troika, and more on why all of us should be very deeply concerned about the whole damn thing.


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