Friday, January 20, 2012

Our Cringing Is Over

Governor Rick Perry has dropped out of the presidential race. But so has about 80 percent of the presidential race's entertainment value. The election fatigue has now set in so deeply, this might be my last post on politics for a while.

Now, I know I neglected to write anything when Perry crashed his comedic train into a wall of solid granite and delivered this tour de force, which I think I can say is a masterpiece of cringeworthiness:



And I left him well alone here, since this doddering "oops" performance was so well-publicized:



But a few days ago, he said that the Marines who were caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan had merely done a "stupid mistake." So, I guess I don't really miss Rick Perry that much, because the thought of him actually winning the Republican nomination would have given me nightmares, all his laugh-riot bloopers notwithstanding.

Perry's greatest achievement was actually his indirect responsibility for the following gem. Had he not run for president, this wouldn't exist, and our lives would be that much poorer. Had this been a real campaign video, however, I would have voted for him in a heartbeat:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to "Play Ball" With the Banks, Democrat-Style


Dear Mr. President:

Considering the depth of the financial crisis, the inordinate harm it has caused to America's middle class and poor people, and the fraudulent actions taken by banks on Wall Street that caused the housing bubble that brought on the crisis, I am asking you to investigate the banks...er...um...Oh, never mind:

Charlotte, N.C. -- President Obama plans to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in the open air of Bank of America Stadium on the final day of his party's convention here next summer, repeating a page from his 2008 convention playbook. [Emphasis added.][link to SFGate]

Well, at least you will actively seek the support of America's labor unions, as you yourself support labor unions since they give a decent quality of life for American workers and...er...um...Eh, strike two:

One of the contractors responsible for building Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. is "praising" President Obama and the Democratic Party for holding a convention event there, calling the stadium an "outstanding example" of the free enterprise system. 
Brett McMahon, president of the concrete construction firm Miller & Long DC and the spokesman for the anti-labor, pro-business group Halt the Assault, notes that the stadium where President Obama will formally accept the nomination was built by non-unionized workers. [link to Politico]

But isn't there more than a bit of irony here, Mr. President? Surely you and your party recognize that since...er...um...Harumph!

[Democrats] also don't think it's a big deal that President Barack Obama is slated to accept the Democratic presidential nomination at Bank of America Stadium, named for the bank that received a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis and sparked outrage by imposing a $5 monthly debit card fee on its customers. The fee was later dropped. [link to Huffington Post]

OK, well, at least you're doing it in a big stadium, regardless of which bailout-fattened bank's name may be on it, because the Democrats want as many working people as possible to be there...er...um...Damn! I give up:

Democratic officials are also downplaying reports that the real reason they're choosing to hold the final day of their convention at [the stadium] isn't because it means more seats for convention attendees, but because it would allow them to sell more skyboxes to wealthy donors.
...
A senior Democratic official was more blunt about the benefits of having more big-ticket contributors at the event. 
"Putting on a convention is expensive. The money has to come from somewhere," said this official. "It's not like you're going to have people bankrolling some of the convention." [link to Huffington Post]

Yours truly,

 A Democrat in the Wilderness

Monday, January 16, 2012

Huntsman's Gone

Jon Huntsman, the favored Republican here at stars eat toys due to his unabashed embrace of evolution, global warming, and Captain Beefheart and the greatest album in the history of rock--that's right, the Mascara Snake: Trout Mask Replica, has dropped out of the presidential race. When I say that Mitt Romney is not the "reasonable one" among the Republicans, it's because the Republicans already had Huntsman (and half of Ron Paul, the half that opposes imperialism, the war on drugs, and the surveillance state).

Huntsman's endorsement of Romney, however, doesn't sway me one bit toward accepting Romney, who just plain creeps me out. His endorsement of Romney actually takes away a lot from what has very recently made the Republican race interesting.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vulture Capitalism Redux

The anti-Romney "hit piece" I described in my previous post is apparently fact-challenged. FactCheck.org's lengthy analysis (via USA Today) has this in in its introduction:

Interspersed with appropriately eerie music, the video focuses on four Bain-financed companies and features heart-wrenching interviews with people who portray Romney and Bain as ruthless, quick-buck corporate raiders who reaped huge financial rewards at the expense of faithful employees.

OK, so one shouldn't generalize too much about Romney and Bain, in the way the the video does. Here's the very next paragraph:

But a closer look at the companies highlighted in the video reveals a murkier picture. The video often overstates, or outright distorts, Romney's culpability for job losses or bankruptcies. [Emphasis added.] [link]

It seems the video's most glaring error, according to FactCheck.org, is that it neglects to show that the businesses in question were harmed only after Romney's tenure as CEO. In other words, perhaps we can still think of Bain, if not Romney, as "ruthless, quick-buck corporate raiders."

Of course, I'm splitting hairs. The rest of FactCheck.org's analysis tells the complete story, and no, they don't suggest that we should think of either Romney or Bain as corpulent vultures. But I'll maintain that Romney is still pretty close to the ugly picture depicted in King of Bain. Why?

Reason #1
Even in examples in which the businesses went down after Romney's involvement, it was his involvement that began the destructive process--because that's simply how the leveraged-buyout game is played--such as the case with Ampad in Indiana. Read about that and the profitable private equity process generally in John Cassidy's "Rational Irrationality" in The New Yorker (1/13/12). It's also the case with GS Industries, Inc. in South Carolina, resulting in bankruptcy for the company and thousands of workers losing their jobs. Read about that at The Sacramento Bee (1/13/12). You'll see these and other examples listed by Andrew Sullivan here.


Bain's "success stories" are relatively few. "Romney's record at Bain Capital," according to FactCheck, "also includes some success stories (see Staples and Sports Authority, to name a few)...." [Emphasis added.] Romney and Bain still profited no matter what. It's the few bought-out companies that succeed that make up for the rest of the failures or near-failures. Again, I direct you to Cassidy at The New Yorker:

Most of the firms that Bain invested in didn't go bust. Some of them prospered mightily. In the private-equity game, a few big successes disguise a lot of mediocre investments, and even some duds....more than seventy per cent of Bain Capital's investment gains under Romney came from just ten of its investments, which turned out very well. [link]


Reason #2
FactCheck cannot verify Mitt Romney's boastful claim that he created 100,000 jobs while heading Bain Capital. Why? Because the Romney campaign either refuses to supply any facts to support the claim, or it points to the above-mentioned success stories as evidence enough:

When we [FactCheck] asked the Romney camp for support, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom sent us a list of jobs added at three companies in which Bain had invested, saying these three examples alone created over 100,000 jobs: Staples, which had 89,000 employees as of Dec. 31, 2010; The Sports Authority, which had 15,000 employees as of July 2011; and Domino's, which has added 7,900 since 1999. 
That's hardly a rigorous analysis.... And does Romney deserve credit for all of those jobs? Bain was but one of several investors.... [link]

And note the years of the job figures Fehrnstrom provided: All long after Romney was CEO. So, if they can attribute those jobs "created" to Romney retroactively, so can we attribute the scorched earth left by Bain and depicted in King of Bain equally to Romney as well.

Reason #3
The man who would treat a human being this callously and dismissively is one cold son-of-a-bitch:


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vulture Capitalism

I'm no fan of Newt Gingrich. But when I read that he was going after Mitt Romney, I was delighted. Mitt "Corporations 'R' People" Romney is a shell of a man. I mean, a hell of a man. He's got a "winning" grin that can make your stomach turn. How so, you might ask? Well, Gingrich's team really says it best in King of Bain, a stunning, quasi-Frontline-style video "ad" funded by the Winning Our Future super PAC. It's a 28-minute hit piece, and a much-needed one at that. The myth of Romney as the "reasonable guy" in the Republican field must end.

The voiceover opens with the line "Capitalism made America great." The film then proceeds to show how Romney has been working tirelessly to destroy it. Depicted are four stories of predatory buyouts perpetrated by Bain Capital, the company for whom Romney was CEO, and the devastation left over for small businesses and families in America. "The suffering began," the voiceover continues, "when Mitt Romney came to town."

How refreshing to see Gingrich engage in the "class warfare" he once decried. Or is it only class warfare when a Democrat takes notice that some people get rich at the expense of other people's livelihoods? In Newt Gingrich's world, the answer is yes. For the moment, however, we can appreciate the fruits of his labors.

screen shot from King of Bain.
Or can we? As of yesterday, Gingrich seems to have done an about-face. As reported at Politico, a questioner at a book signing pushed back against Gingrich's portrayal of Romney. "I want to beg you," said the questioner, "to redirect and go after [Romney's] obvious disingenuousness about his conservatism and lay off the corporatist versus the free market. I think it's nuanced." Dear reader, watch King of Bain and try as best as you can to find the "nuance."

Given this chance to stay on message and reinforce how Romney is a human vulture, Gingrich instead let his wimp flag fly and spouted this nonsense:

I agree with you. It's an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get into an echo effect. ...I agree with you entirely. [link]

Oh, right. It's Obama's fault. An "echo effect." Gingrich is saying quite explicitly that Obama has the power to force Gingrich to not speak rationally. By doing so, didn't Gingrich just write himself completely off the list of people who could possibly stand up to Obama in a debate, a quality that many a Republican hoped for in Mr. Speaker? Might as well add "evil wizard" to the list of paranoid attacks on Obama's character, such as foreigner, Muslim fifth columnist, fellow traveler of the Weather Underground, or Kenyan anti-colonialist, which is another Newt-generated smear. I guess he really can't be rational when discussing Obama.

But there's little irrationality I have found in King of Bain. Avid Ron Paul supporter "Mauibrad" over at Daily Paul seems to agree, albeit in a convoluted and semi-grammatical way:

Improper use of debt. This is Vulture Capitalism: Using excessive debt to finance the take over of a company that is targeted for intrinsic value, break it up to sell off it's assets and extract the equity goodwill of what was a going concern, and then selling it off, for it to eventually go bankrupt with that new excessive debt. This is not genuine capitalism.... [link]

Whew. If only I had a spare hour to figure out what the hell that all means. Fortunately, Mauibrad cuts to the chase in the next paragraph: "Romney is not worthy of our defense."

There is speculation that Gingrich will complete his apparent about-face and withdraw the video. His campaign denies that. How this plays out is actually making the Republican Party, for now, interesting to watch.

UPDATE 1/13/12: Andrew Sullivan gives a coherent explanation at The Daily Dish today as to just why Romney's capitalism is vulture-like:

Every one of [four major companies taken over by Bain between 1987 and 1995] went bankrupt, with the loss of many, many jobs. The question Romney has to answer is: how is it "capitalism" to make so much money from companies that went bankrupt? It's one thing to be a businessman and make money by building an enterprise. But Romney never managed a business, apart from Bain. He just made a large part of $250 million by investing in companies that went belly-up. [link]
UPDATE 4/24/14: I removed all links to the King of Bain movie in this post because now the URL (kingofbain.com) redirects to an Italian porn site. No thanks. But what will happen when Mitt runs in 2016? (You think he won't? I just saw a new cookbook by Ann Romney displayed at the public library.) Will someone revive King of Bain? Or does FactCheck.org have the last word?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Christian Insecurity

Photo credit: Scott Griessel (2006);
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong describes religion perfectly in an interview over at Religion Dispatches: "Religion is not about truth, it's about security."

Spong doesn't withdraw from being Christian, though he's not the kind of Christian I knew growing up. He seems to embrace what Alan Watts called "the wisdom of insecurity," and to him (Spong), Christianity in its essence is about embracing insecurity. It's existential. Spong's a non-theistic Christian. His latest book is called Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World.

I've written about him before, but this interview is as good an introduction to "Spongian theology" as any:

It seems to me that what the Christian faith says is that every life is holy, every life is loved, and every life is called and empowered to be all that it can be. That's not what you hear [when politicians invoke religion]. Christianity has been a religion of victimization if you look at its history. We victimized Jews during the Crusades. We victimized Muslims in the 14th century. We victimized heretics. We victimized people of color. We victimized women. We victimized homosexuals. We victimized the environment. We're currently victimizing immigrants. It's all the same mentality. 
What is it about Christianity that makes us constantly be a victimizer? I think it's because we've adopted a victimizing theology. We spend all our time in church talking about how sinful and evil human beings are. The only way you can tolerate listening to that is to pass it on. We have to pass on this hostility that we have. The idea that God killed Jesus because you were a sinner is a really strange idea. It makes God an ogre. It makes Jesus a sadomasochistic victim and it makes you and me guilt-laden. [link]

Source: Candace Chellew-Hodge. "The Bible Is a Good Book, But God Didn't Write It." Religion Dispatches (January 8, 2012).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Birthday, Elvis

I don't listen to Elvis much these days. But I do so like these:

John Cale "Heartbreak Hotel"



The Residents "Burning Love"



Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds "In the Ghetto"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sizing Up Ron Paul

A few weeks ago, I learned on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish of a racist outburst in Ron Paul's newsletter following the L.A. riots of 1992 (with reference to multiple, questionable "newsletters"). It seemed bad that Paul would have let this one get published. Reporters have called it "old news" since it broke in 2008, apparently. Actually, Paul's been questioned about it since the 90s.

Sullivan had given Paul a qualified endorsement for president (since withdrawn), with only a passing reference to some "creepy associations" of Paul's in the past. To illustrate this creepiness, the blogger at Et tu, Mr. Destructo? scanned and posted over 50 instances of either racist, homophobic, anti-Israel, or generally conspiracy-minded blurtings (written in first person) from Ron Paul's newsletter from the late 70s through the early 90s. How about this unnerving tidbit from a 1990 newsletter?

Boy, it sure burns me to have a national holiday for that pro-communist philanderer, Martin Luther King. I voted against this outrage time and time again as a Congressman. What an infamy that Ronald Reagan approved it! We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day. Listen to a black radio talk show in any major city. The racial hatred makes a KKK rally look tame.

Tame? Hate Whitey Day? Please. And actually, MLK should be a libertarian's hero for his oppostition not only to tyrannical state laws that enforced racial antipathy, but also for his non-interventionist policy position regarding the Vietnam War.

Then one of Paul's former longtime staffers wrote this revealing piece, half apologia, half exposé. Granted, one needs to take such an anecdotal account with a grain of salt, but none of it seems all that unrealistic. When you boil it down, Ron Paul is just a genuine social conservative who happens to have a libertarian political orientation. He's the Old Right.

I've often appreciated the fact that he's the only candidate of either major party to (1) acknowledge that the U.S. is an "empire," and (2) to accurately describe Obama not as a "socialist," but as a "corporatist." I am sympathetic to a non-interventionist foreign policy--especially while people in our own country are hungry and homeless--and I applaud Paul's strident call to end the surveillance state created even before the Patriot Act, as well as his desire to end the war on drugs.

He has distanced himself from the racist comments in the newsletter, and has claimed to not even have written them. I'm not so sure. Since learning about all this, I have thought that Paul should drop out of the race because, simply, if he didn't write those newsletters, then at best it only shows that his managerial abilities are abysmal. He didn't bother to read material attributed to him over an extended period of time; and this material was pretty incendiary. A 1992 newsletter opines that "order was restored in L.A. [during the time of the riots] when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." Is that fit for a chief executive?

Now, I don't think he needs to drop out. Why? Because he can do what he wants, of course. Moreover, his defense of civil liberties should not be silenced but amplified.

But I could never actually vote for someone who had his name on the above newsletter excerpts, or who dismisses, as Ron Paul does, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as an end to "liberty." Whose liberty, exactly? But again, Ron Paul is the Old Right.

Nonetheless, to size him up, consider these varying opinions from politically iconoclastic writers whom I generally find worthwhile:

Glenn Greenwald (Salon.com, 12/31/11): He argues that liberals and progressives are uncomfortable with Ron Paul precisely because he defends foreign policy positions they have long claimed are central to liberalism and progressivism: ending the wars, ending the surveillance state, and restoring habeas corpus, i.e., undoing the Bush-Cheney legacy. But Barack Obama has either done nothing to end that legacy or, worse, has entrenched it for another generation.

Robert Scheer (Truthdig.com, 12/29/11): Scheer asks: What is more racist, Paul's newsletters or the Fed that "enabled the banking swindle that wiped out 53 percent of the median wealth of African Americans and 66 percent for Latinos"?

Justin Raimondo (Antiwar.com, 12/21/11): A longtime libertarian stalwart of the "new" Old Right and friend of Ron Paul, Raimondo calls the newsletter excerpts "racist" in quotes where, frankly, no quotation marks are needed. Interestingly, he believes it's mainstream media hype, largely the result of a Republican/Fox News smear campaign that he (Raimondo) thought he had cleared up in 2008.

UPDATED 2/17/12.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"A Vote for Satan"

I have been wondering when the anti-Mormon backlash would start. It's already under way. This comes from yesterday's Religion News Service:
The good news for Mitt Romney: he won the Iowa caucuses. The bad news for Romney: evangelicals remain reluctant to support him.
...
A prominent Texas pastor (and Rick Perry supporter) has called Mormonism a non-Christian “cult.” A Florida pastor says a vote for Romney is “a vote for Satan.” The associate publisher of a leading evangelical magazine said a Romney presidency would “normalize the false teachings of Mormonism.” A former staffer for Newt Gingrich’s campaign said thousands of evangelical pastors stand ready to “expose the cult of Mormon."[link]
I have brought this up a couple of times in the last few months with a couple of liberal Democratic voters I know. They did not think it would make a big difference in either the primaries or the general election. But I recall listening to some talk radio--both of the conservative and the public-radio variety--back in '08, and Christians' comments about Mitt Romney's Mormonism were not pretty. They just can't trust a Mormon.

Source: Daniel Burke, "Mitt Romney's evangelical problem starts with theology," Religion News Service (January 4, 2012).