Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

A Mosque Too Far?

This post, in its original form, was previously posted at the Washington Examiner on Wednesday, August 11, 2010. The following post has been updated for today.

Plans to build an Islamic cultural center right next door to the site of the greatest attack on American soil have generated plenty of controversy. And as plans continue to move forward, more is promised still. Questions as to where the money is coming from to build it, and who exactly its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, really is are likely unresolvable, yet add fuel to the already contentious debate. In fact, today new questions were raised as to the connections of Rauf and his organization (the Cordoba Initiative) to Iran:

Two weeks ago the Cordoba Initiative website featured a photograph of the project’s chairman, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and Iranian Mohammad Javad Larijani at an event that the Initiative sponsored in Malaysia in 2008. This week, the photograph … has disappeared.

Larijani was the Iranian representative who defended Iran’s abysmal human rights record before the UN Human Rights Council in February and June of this year. Among other things, Larijani told the Council: “Torture is one thing and punishment is another thing. … This is a conceptual dispute. Some forms of these punishments should not be considered torture according to our law.” By which he meant flogging, amputation, stoning, and the criminalization of homosexuality, which are all part of Iranian legal standards. Larijani added: “Iran [has a] firm commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. … The Islamic Republic of Iran … is a democracy,” which would be news to the pro-democracy activists murdered or confined to Iranian prisons since last year’s fraudulent elections.

There may be nothing to these sorts of queries, and it may be that Mr. Rauf and his organization are earnest peace-seekers. Even so, the plan to place a $100 Million structure dedicated to Islam right next to Ground Zero has understandably caused a lot of questions to be asked, although few have elicited answers. Writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah think they can settle one of the burning issues, however: why a mosque at Ground Zero?

When we try to understand the reasoning behind building a mosque at the epicentre of the worst-ever attack on the U.S., we wonder why its proponents don’t build a monument to those who died in the attack?

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran. […]

Let’s not forget that a mosque is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims and not an inviting community centre. Most Americans are wary of mosques due to the hard core rhetoric that is used in pulpits. And rightly so. As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain.

The Koran implores Muslims to speak the truth, even if it hurts the one who utters the truth. Today we speak the truth, knowing very well Muslims have forgotten this crucial injunction from Allah.

The article’s writers are both authors about Islamic politics and culture as well as board members of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Now, I don’t know if Raza and Fatah are correct in their assertions, but I have a good reason to believe they may be. Several in fact, two of which I’ve seen personally.

I was once able to visit Istanbul and Jerusalem where I eagerly toured both the Hagia Sophia and the remains of what is believed to be Solomon’s Temple (typically referred to as the Western Wall). Both of these deeply religious sites have been converted to Muslim uses by the building of mosques.

The original Hagia Sophia was a church built by the Emperor Constantine some time in the fourth century, which was subsequently razed on a few different occasions. The Emperor Justinian I erected the current structure in the 530’s, and it still stands as one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in existence. However, when Constantinople finally became Istanbul for good, the Hagia Sophia saw a dramatic change:

… Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque.

Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. It became a model for many of the Ottoman mosques of Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque [ed. – which is within sight of of the Hagia Sophia], the Suleiman Mosque, the Shehzade Mosque and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

No major structural changes were made at first; the addition of a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret made a mosque out of the church. At some early point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. Various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.

In short, the conquerors replaced a mighty cultural symbol of the vanquished with one of their own. Fairly standard really, but I still found it a bit odd to walk into one of the oldest Christian churches in the world only to be confronted with giant symbols of Islam everywhere.

Visiting Jerusalem was just as puzzling. I knew that the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) was all that was left of Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount, but I had not realized that atop it sat not one, but two Islamic holy sites: The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. These two religious sites replaced and took over what is considered the holiest of all places on Earth by the Jews, who are forbidden from entering either.

There are, of course, other examples, but it’s not as if this sort of conquering behavior is the sole province of Muslims. Indeed, the al-Aqsa Mosque was itself taken over as a church for a brief time by Crusaders.

Even so, it cannot be denied that erecting mosques and other holy sites upon or near places of great cultural significance to their enemies is something to which Muslims seem historically inclined. And while most Muslims may not consider themselves at war with the West, or Americans as an enemy of Islam, those who took down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 most certainly did, and still do. That is why I think that Raza and Fatah may be right.

To erect a monument in the form of the Ground Zero Mosque to the nihilistic, death-loving 9/11 terrorists is a slap in the face of everyone they murdered on that day, those who gave up their lives to rescue the survivors, and all of their families and friends. It would be allowing a symbol of enemy victory to desecrate hallowed ground.

Bruce made a great argument as to why, despite whatever intentions the mosque’s benefactors may have, it’s an affront to individual property rights and the rule of law to use the government to prevent the Ground Zero Mosque from being built.

Basically, I think he’s right. But I can’t help thinking that if, say, a group of Japanese decided to by some property right next to Pearl Harbor in order to erect a monument or shrine, we as American citizens might find some peaceful and non-coercive way of stopping that from happening.

As for the Ground Zero Mosque, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Apparently things were just too darn transparent

So the solution, of course, is to make things a bit more opaque while still pretending to be “transparent”.  And how does one do that?  By kicking the guy dedicated to that job – the so-called “ethics czar” – upstairs, and shifting those responsiblities elsewhere.  Like to someone who is known not to favor transparency at all.

Obama transferred "ethics czar" Norm Eisen to the Czech Republic to serve as U.S. ambassador. Some of Eisen’s duties will be handed to Domestic Policy Council member Steven Croley, but most of them, it appears, will shift over to the already-full docket of White House Counsel Bob Bauer.

Bauer is an insider’s insider.  And in his own words and actions, doesn’t at all favor disclosure of public affairs, at least not like President Transparency promised:

Bauer’s own words — gathered by the diligent folks at the Sunlight Foundation — show disdain for openness and far greater belief in the good intentions of those in power than of those trying to check the powerful. In December 2006, when the Federal Election Commission proposed more precise disclosure requirements for parties, Bauer took aim at the practice of muckraking enabled by such disclosure.

On his blog, Bauer derided the notion "that politicians and parties are pictured as forever trying to get away with something," saying this was an idea for which "there is a market, its product cheaply manufactured and cheaply sold." In other words — we keep too close an eye on our leaders.

And there’s more:

In August 2006 Bauer blogged, "disclosure is a mostly unquestioned virtue deserving to be questioned." This is the man the White House has put in charge of making this the most open White House ever.

Most telling might have been Bauer’s statements about proposed regulations of 527 organizations: "If it’s not done with 527 activity as we have seen, it will be done in other ways," he told the Senate rules committee.

"There are other directions, to be sure, that people are actively considering as we speak. Without tipping my hand or those of others who are professionally creative, the money will find an outlet."

So there you go, another political promise from the man who gave us “hope” and “change” quietly changed so that it still conform with the letter of the promise – i.e. there’s still someone in charge of “transparency” – but not its spirit.

If this isn’t a Rahmbo (Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel) move, I don’t know what is. It has his fingerprints all over it.

I know – big surprise.

~McQ

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Turkey continues to sell gasoline to Iran despite sanctions

So now what?

We had the tough talk from Obama and the State Department about “new” sanctions designed to bring Iran to its knees over the development of nuclear weapons.

But now the administration is face with walking the walk concerning those sanctions.  And apparently Turkey isn’t at all worried or concerned about the US’s reaction:

Ankara will continue to permit Turkish companies to sell gasoline to Iran, despite US sanctions against fuel exports to Islamic regime, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

"If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them," said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.

Tupras, Turkey’s sole oil refiner and gasoline exporter, expressed little fear of retribution from US Treasury officials who have the power to ban sanctions violators from accessing the US banking system or receiving US contracts.

"For us, Iran is more important than America because we get crude oil from them. We don’t get anything from America," a Tupras official was quoted as saying.

It seems that Turkey has figured out that our new motto is “Speak loudly and carry no stick”.  No fear and certainly no respect is shown in the statement by the Tupras official.  And Minister Yildiz is obviously waving away any official concern with his statement.

Two things are demonstrated by their stance.  A) Turkey is “all in” in it’s support of the “Islamic world”.  It has obviously made a choice between the being a part of the coalition of Middle Eastern Islamic countries and the West and NATO.  B) Turkey has been given absolutely no reason to believe we’ll actually enforce our sanctions and thus demonstrates no respect for them or the US.

I’m not sure that would have been the case 2 short years ago.  While Turkey was certainly moving away from the Western orbit at the time, their overt hostility to the US wasn’t at all evident.  And my guess is they knew the US would enforce sanctions then.  However, they have deduced that the US is a weak horse right now, and they plan to build their credibility in Middle East at our expense.  Defying the “Great Satan” is a great way to do that. 

And, of course, there’s the China problem.  China too is shipping in gasoline.  So in order to enforce sanctions against Turkey the US would have to do the same against China.  Oh – and our “good friends” the Russians as well.  Yeah, that’s right, Russia and China are both selling gasoline to Iran, and have come to no harm.  What’s the risk of bucking the US?  Turkey figures it to be nil.  And, it appears, they’re right.

The tough “new” sanctions, it appears, are a farce and our “friends” see no risk it flouting them.  It sort of boils down to the old western adage of “if you’re going to wear a gun, you have to be ready to use it”.  Apparently these three have figured out the gun the administration is wearing is empty.

There’s something to be said for respect and fear in foreign policy – but you have to actually do something (or be willing to do it) before the world community will heed what you say.  This administration’s weapons are words, not deeds.  And the expected result is on display in this little scenario, a scenario that you can expect to see replayed over and over and over again as long as it is in power.

~McQ

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Stupidest Thing I Heard Today

Henceforth to be titled “STIHT”.

Almost every day I’m confronted with beyond-ridiculous statements that turn me sideways. I literally cringe when I hear/read them. A little monologue automatically goes off in my head (OK, and out loud once in awhile as well) that serves — for my purposes — to make the bad thing stop. Because the stupidity has become relentless, I feel the need to rant publicly. Hence STIHT.

So, as I’m finishing my day, leisurely pondering the conclusion of the TV show I was watching, that nasally, self-indulgent voice of Sex In The City’s primary protagonist wistfully bleats “Someone once said that two halves make a whole.” Let me tell you: the sinews, tendons and synapses controlling my fingers’ hasty dispatch of power to the source of such inanity were so swift as to make Mercury look like Kurt Rambis. My sanity was saved with a flick of the wrist.

Why? Well, allow me to rant.

No one, in the history of all intellectual life, has ever said “two halves make a whole”. Sure, someone has actually said those words. But I can assure you that, apart from the confines of the writer’s room for Sex In The City, no one who said them was met with anything less than a Potsie-perfect “Duh.”

Because the profound thing about the statement, to the extent there is anything, is not that two halves make a whole, but instead that a “whole” can be split into two halves. That wisdom has been known since at least the time of Ur, and probably for quite a bit before that.

Put simply, there is nothing remotely profound in the statement that “two halves make a whole” since the only revelatory thing of the entire statement is the complete converse — i.e. that a whole can be split into two equal parts called “halves.” That “someone once said” such an unenlightening statement may in fact be true, but it doesn’t prove anything apart from the utter vacuity of the person proposing such statement to have meaning at all.

Now for the anticipated FAQ’s:

“So what’s the point of your rant?”

Stupid things piss me off. Writing about their stupidity seems better than punching holes in walls (yeah, you’ve been there).

“But why do I care?”

Why would I know? Or care?

“I mean, why should I bother reading your rants?”

Don’t bother. I write them to keep down on my drywall and putty expenses (OK, and for entertainment purposes). Consider it like a reality show — public therapy.

“But would Snooki approve?”

No. Punching walls is mandatory in her world.

“Are there midgets involved?”

Oh, just wait until my next rant. I mean, they’re not even real people.

“Is Daniel Tosh funnier than you?” (See last link)

Who are you! Tell me your name! Who sent you! I have RIGHT to know who you are!

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Dale’s Observations For 2010-08-12

RT @dmataconis: Employment Picture Looking Even Bleaker http://bit.ly/aYtjrB #RecoverySummer #

Is this finally the economic collapse? http://bit.ly/avLkzW #

The average 30-year mortgage rate fell to 4.44 %, the lowest since Freddie Mac records began in 1971. http://bit.ly/cznNk1 #RecoverySummer #

Jobless claims jump to 5-month high, with 484,000 new claims for unemployment. http://bit.ly/aDoxgB #RecoverySummer #

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Dear GOP – don’t get too froggy thinking you’re the “solution”

Because most Americans don’t share your evaluation of yourself.  In fact, because of the dismal performance of the Democrats, you’re only slightly more “acceptable” than they are:

Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy and the war in Afghanistan, and are losing faith that Democrats have better solutions than Republicans, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Underpinning the gloom: Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the economy has yet to hit bottom, a sharply higher percentage than the 53% who felt that way in January.

The sour national mood appears all-encompassing and is dragging down ratings for the GOP too, suggesting voters above all are disenchanted with the political establishment in Washington.

In fact, just 24% have positive feelings about the GOP, which according to the WSJ, is a new low in the 21 year history of the poll.  In fact, the only reason you’re under any sort of consideration at all is because we’re stuck with a two-party system –something you and the Democrats have been careful to manage – and you’re the only other choice.

If you’re thinking “mandate” in November, I’d change my thinking.  I think it may be better described as “your last chance” … or maybe your “next to last chance”, the last chance coming on the heels of the 2012 presidential elections.

"The Republicans don’t have a message as to why people should vote for them, but it’s pretty clear why you shouldn’t vote for the Democrats," said poll respondent Tim Krsak, 33, a lawyer from Indianapolis and independent who has been unemployed since January. "So by default, you have to vote for the other guy."

Great reason to vote, isn’t it?

You guys better buy a clue (and if you do, use your own money).

~McQ

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The classy left: If you can’t beat ’em, just insult them

You know you have an opponent on the run when that opponent is reduced to puerile, schoolyard insults.  That would be the left.

The first indication that the Tea Party had their goat was when they decided to use a sexual slang as their mocking moniker – Tea Baggers.

Now they’ve managed a new low. Ben Smith at POLITICO has the story:

Last summer, Democrats argued that the Tea Party movement was the astroturf creation of corporate groups. Now that the grass-roots conservative resurgence has emerged as a clear force on the right, the left is making a different case: That tea parties are simply the enemy.

To that end, the Agenda Project, a new, progressive group with roots in New York’s fundraising scene and a goal of strengthening the progressive movement, has launched the "F.*.c.k. Tea project," which is aimed, the group’s founder Erica Payne wrote in an e-mail this morning, "to dismiss the Tea Party and promote the progressive cause."

""We will be launching new products in the next several months to help people all over the country F*ck Tea," Payne told POLITICO. "Products like a Glenn Beck Bowl Buddy (Beck B Scrubbin) and others are perfect holiday gifts or just a great way to say, ‘I love you and our country’ to your spouse, friend or family."

You know, I enjoy a clever turn of phrase as well as the next guy – an imaginative and witty answer to some question, etc.

This is just the left being the left.  And, of course, when it comes to their favorite ox being gored by the right, they’ll somehow manage to talk about “class and respect” with a straight face.

Amazing.

18 months ago they were the toast of the town, bringing “hope and change”.  Now they’ve self-destructed and are back to their old rude and crude selves.  How “progressive”.

~McQ

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Is the US bankrupt?

A good number of voices are beginning to say that technically, if not in fact, the country is bankrupt.

For instance:

America is a "Mickey Mouse economy" that is technically bankrupt, according to Jochen Wermuth, the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and managing partner at Wermuth Asset Management.

"America today looks like Russia in 1998. Consumers, companies and the government are all highly indebted. America as a result is a bankrupt Mickey Mouse economy," Wermuth told CNBC.

Wermuth goes on to say that if the same IMF team that managed the 1998 Russian financial crisis in Russia were to walk into the US Treasury today, “they would withdraw support for current US policy”.

And don’t forget Mort Zuckerman who called the present policies our “economic Katrina”.

But as bad as present policies are, they aren’t solely the reason we’re in the awful economic shape we’re in.  We have a history of that.

"Even before the (Troubled Asset Relief Program) and the expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, total US public and private debt as a percentage of GDP in the US stood at 290 percent, that figure is now far higher," Wermuth added.

Laurence Kotlikof explains it in terms of a “fiscal gap”. 

The fiscal gap is the value today (the present value) of the difference between projected spending (including servicing official debt) and projected revenue in all future years.

The IMF pointed out in its last report that the US must close this fiscal gap to “stabilize the debt to GDP ratio”.  The IMF estimates ““closing the fiscal gap requires a permanent annual fiscal adjustment equal to about 14 percent of U.S. GDP.”

So what does that mean in dollars?

To put 14 percent of gross domestic product in perspective, current federal revenue totals 14.9 percent of GDP. So the IMF is saying that closing the U.S. fiscal gap, from the revenue side, requires, roughly speaking, an immediate and permanent doubling of our personal-income, corporate and federal taxes as well as the payroll levy set down in the Federal Insurance Contribution Act.

Note the two words – “immediate” and “permanent”.  In order to pay off the huge debt our “betters” in Washington DC have run up over the years, strictly from the revenue side, our taxes would have to see an “immediate” and “permanent” doubling.

Sounds like bankruptcy to me.

Kotlikof also tells us about the shady book keeping Congress has been engaged in for decades and what the books probably really look like:

Based on the CBO’s data, I calculate a fiscal gap of $202 trillion, which is more than 15 times the official debt. This gargantuan discrepancy between our “official” debt and our actual net indebtedness isn’t surprising. It reflects what economists call the labeling problem. Congress has been very careful over the years to label most of its liabilities “unofficial” to keep them off the books and far in the future.

But of course, “official” or “unofficial” it is still debt.  Whether Congress will admit to it doesn’t change the fact that it is future debt that Congress has incurred through its profligate policies.

And what’s going to bring this all crashing down, despite the smooth and reassuring words of politicians without a clue?  Promises made with no fiscal ability to keep them because, in reality, they’re Ponzi schemes:

We have 78 million baby boomers who, when fully retired, will collect benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that, on average, exceed per-capita GDP. The annual costs of these entitlements will total about $4 trillion in today’s dollars. Yes, our economy will be bigger in 20 years, but not big enough to handle this size load year after year.

Got that – government promised $4 trillion a year that it doesn’t have and never has had.  And, thanks to Congressional Democrats, it just expanded that bill under ObamaCare.  The system, much like an engine running at hight RPMs with no oil, is going to stop and stop abruptly:

The first possibility is massive benefit cuts visited on the baby boomers in retirement. The second is astronomical tax increases that leave the young with little incentive to work and save. And the third is the government simply printing vast quantities of money to cover its bills.

The result of any of those, of course, would be economically catastrophic.  And the results among the citizens of this country would be horrible:

Most likely we will see a combination of all three responses with dramatic increases in poverty, tax, interest rates and consumer prices. This is an awful, downhill road to follow, but it’s the one we are on. And bond traders will kick us miles down our road once they wake up and realize the U.S. is in worse fiscal shape than Greece.

For years and years, politicians have claimed all is well with these programs, that we can afford them and that they’ll always be there for those who need them.  None of the above is or has been true since their inception.  If any private business operated as these programs have, the CEOs would be under the jail and wouldn’t see daylight until our sun exploded.

For years, the left and Democrats have made war on corporations and businesses all the while it has been government leading us to financial ruin.  This debt isn’t debt run up by the private side of the economy.  It is purely government’s doing.  Now, given the gravity of the situation, we have very few options and the future does not look bright.

Next time you see your Congressional representative or Senator, thank him or her for the mess they’ve had a hand in creating and ask them how they are going to fix it.  Don’t be surprised by the blank stare you receive in return.  They haven’t a clue.

~McQ

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No wonder Congressional Dems want to run against George Bush

Because, according to Rasmussen, their agenda is considered by a good majority of likely voters to be "extreme":

Most U.S. voters believe the Democratic congressional agenda is extreme, while a plurality describe the Republican agenda as mainstream.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 57% of Likely U.S. Voters think the agenda of Democrats in Congress is extreme. Thirty-four percent (34%) say it is more accurate to describe the Democratic agenda as mainstream.

That’s the message. And how is it received. Well, one of the more useful things Rasmussen does is also show us the poll of what it calls the "political class". I.e. our betters inside the beltway who certainly have a much better feeling of what is in our best interests than we do. Rasmussen compares the "Political Class" with the "Mainstream voters, and demonstrates the size of the disconnect we suffer under:

The Political Class, however, has dramatically different views of the agendas of the two parties from what Mainstream voters think. Ninety-one percent (91%) of the Political Class say the Democratic agenda in Congress is in the mainstream, but 70% of Mainstream voters see that agenda as extreme.

You may be asking yourself how it is 57% in one paragraph and 70% in the next.  The top number are Mainstream voters and the Political Class added together.  The second number is Mainstream voters alone.

And yes, the gulf is huge.  It explains the anger in America and the cluelessness in Washington.  The Political Class think they’re doing the people’s work.  The people think the Political Class is a bunch of elitists bent on taking more and more control and ignoring what the people actually want.

Moving on to the “Republican agenda” (which I’d love to see stated somewhere) the results are quite different:

Voters are more narrowly divided when it comes to the agenda of congressional Republicans. Forty-five percent (45%) of voters view the GOP agenda as mainstream, but nearly as many (40%) say it’s more accurate to call it extreme. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided.

But again, when you break it out by Mainstream voters and Political Class, the numbers widen:

While 53% of Mainstream voters see the Republican congressional agenda as in the mainstream, 81% of Political Class voters regard it as extreme.

So among Mainstream voters, the GOP agenda enjoys a slight majority.  Among the Political Class – not so much.  My guess is you would also find a close association between Mainstream voters and Political Class and Tea Parties and Progressives.

~McQ

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