The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Don't Have to Hate Mitt Romney to Vote Against Him

Look, let's be clear here. I'm in the tank for Obama, who, with certain reservations, I believe has done a quite creditable job under absurdly difficult circumstances.

Let's clarify something else: I think that Mitt Romney would not make a good president. First and foremost, I emphatically disagree with his proposed policies, which would raise taxes on working and middle class taxpayers, to reduce the taxes of the wealthy.

But I also have problems with the man, and not just his ideas. Romney's incredible willingness to reverse himself on just about any issue (including his signature achievement during his one term as a governor), his wholesale lying, and his willingness to borrow federal money, only to bilk the government he hopes to lead--all denote a man who is pretty clearly avid for profit and power. Tonight, according to Andrew Sullivan, who has read the advance text, Romney will tell some very brazen lies indeed: that Obama inherited an economy in which "Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team," and in which, although "That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections." (Emphasis in original). These facts also denote a man lacking in the kind of public virtue I believe to be important--a moral core in one's public life as well as in one's private life.

That is not to say that I think him an evil man, however.

The convention has tonight featured a series of speakers who have described specific instances of Romney's kindness in private life, to his co-religionists, to business colleagues and acquaintances. We have seen his wife speak of her love for him, and of their family. I have no reason to doubt that those sides of Romney exist, and are every bit as much a part of him as the too-eager-to-please-politician or the vulture capitalist that he sometimes plays on other stages--or the pastoral bishop, the loving father, the goofy guy whose jokes always misfire.

Robertson Davies wrote in Fifth Business, "I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him." Not all those sides are public property, nor does the public face explain all there is to know about the private. It's important to remember that the lives of public figures are more like our own than not; good at some things, terrible at others, a mix of impulses.

And the lying? It's galling of course to hear it directed at the side I support, and its brazenness is off-putting in the extreme (as well as dangerous). But I have to admit, I sometimes wonder if Romney isn't feeling, at the back of that well groomed facade, a little wiggling worm of doubt, and almost panic--"why aren't I leading in the polls yet? Why aren't even my own party members rallying to me enthusiastically--why is it all so--forced." And I wonder if he thinks of the cruel little epitaph Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee gave through a man very like H.L. Mencken to one very like William Jennings Bryan:
Something happens to an Also-Ran.
Something happens to the feet of a man
Who always comes in second in a foot-race.
He becomes a national unloved child,
A balding orphan, an aging adolescent
Who never got the biggest piece of candy.
And if that isn't Romney's fear, why, something else is. Everyone is afraid of something, and the pressure on both candidates must be excruciating--read C.P. Snow's The Masters to see it on a much, much smaller stage.

All of which is to say that I am fully committed to seeing Romney defeated at the polls. But not because I think he's some cipher out of Richard Condon, or a Tom Wolfe Master of the Universe. I've made some of those jokes, but let's get down to it, now. He's a man. Good, bad, indifferent, sometimes, no doubt, all three on one day. I'll vote for Obama, and against Romney because in my opinion, Obama is the right man, and Romney is very clearly not. I don't have to hate Romney to vote against him, though. And I don't.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Reminder

As the political passions rise, and the level of rhetoric grows ever more intense, it is very difficult not to get swept away with it. I admit that I sometimes fail in this regard, and allow my own ire and sarcasm to get the better of me. It's hard not to.

But then I stumble across Shaw's St Joan, and remember the reaction of the Chaplain, who, after vehemently advocating for Joan's death, goes to witness the event--and quickly runs back in:
The Chaplain staggers in from the courtyard like a demented creature, his face streaming with tears, making the piteous sounds that Warwick has heard. He stumbles to the prisoner's stool, and throws himself upon it with heartrending sobs.

WARWICK [going to him and patting him on the shoulder] What is it, Master John? What is the matter?

THE CHAPLAIN [clutching at his hand] My lord, my lord: for Christ's sake pray for my wretched guilty soul.

WARWICK [soothing him] Yes, yes: of course I will. Calmly, gently--

THE CHAPLAIN [blubbering miserably] I am not a bad man, my lord.

WARWICK. No, no: not at all.

THE CHAPLAIN. I meant no harm. I did not know what it would be like.

WARWICK [hardening] Oh! You saw it, then?

THE CHAPLAIN. I did not know what I was doing. I am a hotheaded fool; and I shall be damned to all eternity for it.

WARWICK. Nonsense! Very distressing, no doubt; but it was not your doing.

THE CHAPLAIN [lamentably] I let them do it. If I had known, I would have torn her from their hands. You don't know: you havnt seen: it is so easy to talk when you dont know. You madden yourself with words: you damn yourself because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of your own temper. But when it is brought home to you; when you see the thing you have done; when it is blinding your eyes, stifling your nostrils, tearing your heart, then--then--[Falling on his knees] O God, take away this sight from me! O Christ, deliver me from this fire that is consuming me! She cried to Thee in the midst of it: Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! She is in Thy bosom; and I am in hell for evermore.
The Chaplain is meant to be somewhat over the top, both in his antipathy toward Joan and here, but he makes an excellent observation when he says that we damn ourselves because it feels grand to throw oil on the flaming hell of our own temper."

I sometimes resemble that remark; I'll try to bear this stricture in mind and keep it on policy not personality.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Doctor Makes House Calls

...not that they all go well:

New season starts Saturday!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

Back when I started this blog, I had another where I ran all my political posts. I'm afraid that in the ferment of the political season, the pundit manque in me has risen to the surface, and threatens to overwhelm the more thoughtful, theologically oriented format I've tried to feature here.

I'll try to keep it in balance for the rest of the campaign. In the meantime, a palate cleanser:
This is the doctrine he was wont to teach,
How divers persons witness in each man,
Three souls which make up one soul: first, to wit,
A soul of each and all the bodily parts,
Seated therein, which works, and is what Does,
And has the use of earth, and ends the man
Downward: but, tending upward for advice,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the next soul, which, seated in the brain,
Useth the first with its collected use,
And feeleth, thinketh, willeth,—is what Knows:
Which, duly tending upward in its turn,
Grows into, and again is grown into
By the last soul, that uses both the first,
Subsisting whether they assist or no,
And, constituting man's self, is what Is—
And leans upon the former, makes it play,
As that played off the first: and, tending up,
Holds, is upheld by, God, and ends the man
Upward in that dread point of intercourse,
Nor needs a place, for it returns to Him.
What Does, what Knows, what Is; three souls, one man.
--Robert Browning, A Death in the Desert (1864), Robert Browning describing the belief of St. John. An evocative description of some of the mystics' conception of the relationship of the individual person--body, soul, all tending toward God, as described in W.R. Inge's Christian Mysticism (1899).

William Temple, in his marvelous Readings in St. John's Gospel describes "A Death in the Desert" as "the most penetrating interpretation of St. John that exists in the English language." (p. xvii.) I'm tempted to award that prize to Temple's own essay, even though it lacks the poetic beauty of Browning.

Race Matters

Let me fully endorse the sometimes-problematic Chris Matthews here:

Let me just add a couple notes to provide some context:

First,Reince Priebus's claim that Romney's "passport" line was clearly a joke, just "a little levity" is contrary to the reported understanding of the crowd before whom he made it--both pro and con Romney:
Few voters in the crowd believed that Mr. Romney was simply talking about his home state. “It was probably a contrast with Obama’s birth certificate issue, and second, that he was born in Michigan,” said Daryl Pender, 56, who owns a small business in town. “I can’t say what’s fair. But it wasn’t relevant to what I wanted to know. I want to hear about his vision for the future.”

Sylvia Kaponi, 65, a retired Ford Motor employee from Livonia, Mich., said there was no doubt in her mind as to what Mr. Romney was referring to — and she thought it was “great.”

“What I liked was that it was a mild way to touch on a touchy subject with no animosity,” she said.

Second, as I've already explained, the Romney campaign claim that the Obama Administration is "abolishing the work requirement" of welfare reform is, quite simply, and utter lie. Indeed, as NPR reports, "Republican Mitt Romney keeps saying that President Obama has gutted the law, every major fact-checking organization says the attacks are false." (Seriously--they have multiple links, even to the fairly Romney-frioendly Glenn Kessler, as well as to the more reliable Annenberg Center, and Politifact.

Hell, even Newt Gingrich admitted that "there's no proof" for the factual claims in the ad, but then went on to say it was justified because it's the sort of thing Obama would do, dye see?

Despite this, Romney has now released another ad claiming that he Obama Administration "is gutting welfare work requirements to shore up his base."

So why? As NPR reports (same link as above):
So why continue beating this drum?

Partly because people believe it.

"We think that the fact that the work requirement has been taken out of welfare is the wrong thing to do," said Peggy Testa, attending a Tuesday rally near Pittsburgh for Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan.

When told that's not actually what had happened, Testa replied: "At this point, [I] don't know exactly what is true and what isn't, OK? But what I do know is I trust the Romney-Ryan ticket, and I do not trust Obama."

This specific attack about welfare ties into a broader concern that many Republicans share: Romney often argues that Obama and the Democrats are making America a government-dependent society.

Pam Malcolm, who attended a Romney rally outside of Cleveland a few months ago, agreed.

"I really don't want to help somebody who just decides, 'Oh, well, I was raised on welfare. I can raise my children on welfare,' " Malcolm said. "I had a cousin who, she is a registered nurse and the stories she told me about people coming in there and having babies just so they could get more on their food stamps and more on their welfare. It's like no, I don't want to take care of those people."

Princeton University political scientist Martin Gilens, who wrote the book Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy, said there's another unspoken factor in all of this.

"I do think a lot of it has to do with race," he said.

Gillens said his research shows that Americans think about welfare in a way that aligns pretty neatly with their perceptions about race. For example, whites tend to believe that most poor people are black. But actually, poor people are more likely to be white than black or Hispanic.

Gillens said it's impossible to know whether the Romney campaign decided to play into a racial strategy or whether it's an accident. But in a way, it doesn't matter.

"Regardless of what their conscious motivations are, the impact of these kinds of attacks on welfare and, in particular, on the perceived lack of work ethic among welfare recipients, plays out racially and taps into Americans' views of blacks and other racial stereotypes," he said.
Birtherism is one coded manner in which white hostility to Obama's presidency has manifested; as Ta-Nehisi Coates has argued:
While Beck and Limbaugh have chosen direct racial assault, others choose simply to deny that a black president actually exists. One in four Americans (and more than half of all Republicans) believe Obama was not born in this country, and thus is an illegitimate president. More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced “birther bills” demanding proof of Obama’s citizenship as a condition for putting him on the 2012 ballot. Eighteen percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim. The goal of all this is to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. If Obama is not truly American, then America has still never had a black president.
(There's a lot to Coates's piece, some of which I think is spot on, some of which I am wrestling with, and some points where I think he misses the mark. It's a thoughtful read from an African-American perspective, and worth the read.)

Likewise, welfare--remember Reagan's fictional Cadillac-driving welfare queen? And his line about “about how upset workers must be to see an able-bodied man using food stamps at the grocery store. In the South — but not in the North — the food-stamp user became a ‘strapping young buck’ buying T-bone steaks”?

So, why this post? Because, frankly, I think the Republicans are quite prepared to do whatever it takes to squeeze out a win this year if they can. And if it's one last wave of the bloody shirt--why, that's just dandy with the remnants of the party of Lincoln.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Decline...and Fall?

When I was a boy, I was opinionated, mouthy, and weedy--bursting with excitement at all the wonderful things I was learning in my compulsive reading, and incapable of shutting up. In short, I was a right pain. (I'm not saying things have changed all that much you understand, though I like to think I've grown some protective coloration). I was most assuredly not a great fit for my local junior high school--a place so unpleasant that it was closed a mere five years after I attended 7th Grade there. My parents, recognizing this, sent me to St. Paul's School for Boys, an Episcopal school which occupied a gorgeous, Gothic hulk whose beauty caught my heart from the very first time I saw it. It was like nothing else I'd ever seen in real life, and precious few I'd ever read about--it reminded me of Carfax Abbey in Dracula, the only thing to which I could compare it. (The Chaplain in my time at St. Paul's, a gentle, kind priest, Fr. Donald Hood, didn't care for that comparison, and introduced me to R.F. Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days, thus introducing me to the first of the "first-class second-raters" who have enriched my reading life immeasurably, so a belated thanks Fr. Hood, for that and many other kindnesses).

We had regular chapel services, which introduced me to the Book of Common Prayer, and the beauty of Anglican worship performed well, but not pompously. (As a Roman Catholic--as I then was--I was barred by my parents from receiving communion there, and I skylarked by slipping thin novels into the Prayer Book and reading through Chapel, until, after a few months, the rhythms of the BCP caught me, planting a seed which would grow years later. But that's another story.)

St. Paul's was gloriously eccentric--we had a music teacher with a Bill Murray flippancy, concealing a passion for his subject, teachers good, bad and indifferent--including one Social Studies teacher, a former RC monk, whose impatience terrified me, but who could be surprisingly kind, and a math teacher who tried with desperate, never-ending optimism, to get me to see the beauty of algebra.

The headmaster seemed to me to be an eccentric himself; Doctor Casey, with whom I had only a few short (not unpleasant, mind you) encounters, who had--I believe I recall this correctly--a gorgeous but very large parrot loose in his study. (Dr Casey was a veterinarian so this is at least within the realm of possibility. And I know that this sounds like I'm pulling the longbow, but I swear the parrot got out at least once in my year there, and swooped through the gothic hallways like a bat through Carfax Abbey.)

St Paul's had its downside--hazing, teasing which could be quite cruel, and a certain upper-crust snobbery that some of the boarders had for us day boys. But there was an elegance, a tolerance for and even acceptance of eccentricity that was an education in itself. Its beauty opened a vision of a wider world to me, and was a critical stage in my education, readying me for the much more intensive, much more disciplined education I received at Chaminade High School.

I tell you all this because, now, alas, my vision of St. Paul's as the derelict abbey bought by Dracula in Stoker's novel has come to pass, and the abandoned halls are slowly caving in on themselves. It's a ruin worthy of the pen of Edgar Allen Poe:
The village came to own it in 1993, as part of a prized parcel of 48 acres it bought from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island for $7.25 million. The chief draw was the land’s vast expanse of athletic fields, and a mayor’s committee was formed to figure out how best to use St. Paul’s

Then the arguments began.

The building needed work. Leaks had riven the slate roof, interior mantelpieces had toppled and plaster chunks had crumbled in its stately halls and stained-glass-lined chapel. Restoration estimates proffered by the village — and contested by its opponents — ran into the tens of millions of dollars, which some village leaders felt taxpayers would not or should not shoulder. Public uses for the building — moving the library there, or the town hall, or a high school — were abandoned by village leaders in favor of possible private uses.


Through the years of acrimony, the building stood tall, still solid but beginning to give in to the ravages of time. The leaks worsened, more plaster littered the vast wooden floors and splintery holes appeared on the face of the soaring clock tower. In 2003, the Preservation League of New York State listed the school as an endangered site on its “Seven to Save” list.

St Paul's is, with the Cathedral of the Incarnation, one of the last remnants of a Long Island community that dreamed of being more than an ordinary suburb. If it indeed is lost, Garden City will take a giant step closer toward mundanity, toward the loss of individuality and specialness that marks the slow nationwide trend toward exurbia.

More importantly, a true work of beauty will be lost, forever beyond restoration. And we will all be the poorer for it.

(Photo: Anthony Clark)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Vagaries of Vagueness

As I've looked back on the blog's entries lately, I notice a lot of political entries (it is a presidential election year, though, so that makes sense), and that, further, a lot of those entries are fairly negative pieces. That's unfortunate, but rather hard to escape in this year, I think, because, in part, one of the campaigns has made a deliberate decision to avoid explaining its candidate's policies, and how they would be implemented should the candidate--Mitt Romney--prevail.

In late March, Romney gave an interview to Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard which Hayes described:
Mitt Romney wants to eliminate government programs and shutter cabinet agencies. Doing so, he says, is “the critical thing” that needs to be done in order to bring government books back into balance and to begin restoring the promise of America. “Actually eliminating programs is the most important way to keep Congress from stuffing the money back into them,” he told me in a 30-minute interview on March 21. It’s a smart answer and a deeply conservative one.

But Romney, ever cautious, is reluctant to get specific about the programs he would like to kill. He did this in his bid for the Senate 18 years ago and remembers the political ramifications.

“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”
Just last week, the Romney campaign reaffirmed this strategic axiom:
Advisers say the campaign has no plans to pivot from its previous view that diving into details during a general-election race would be suicidal.
The Romney strategy is simple: Hammer away at Obama for proposing cuts to Medicare and promise, in vague, aspirational ways, to protect the program for future retirees — but don’t get pulled into a public discussion of the most unpopular parts of the Ryan plan.
“The nature of running a presidential campaign is that you’re communicating direction to the American people,” a Romney adviser said. “Campaigns that are about specifics, particularly in today’s environment, get tripped up.”
So for all of the campaign's talk of wanting to have a policy debate, Romney and Ryan won't tell us what their proposed policies are and, just as important, how how they want to implement them--what cuts will be made to what programs, who will pay for the tax cuts they want to give the wealthiest Americans, how they intend to reform Medicare--maybe by turning it into, as Ryan has proposed, a voucher program, or where they stand on the widely unpopular GOP budget, or the details on any issue.

But governance is in the details. So for example, the Affordable Care Act seeks $716 billion in savings from Medicare, and tries to obtain them without cutting services, contrary to how the Romney camp has portrayed it. You may think this will lead some providers to not take Medicare patients, or to trim the non-required services they provide to attract patients. It may even work out that way, although the law tries to disincentivize providers from such behavior. But it's a real plan in the real world, and you can, if you have a mind to, get into the specifics.

You can't really do that with the Romney campaign, because they won't give you anything except bromides--we'll use business know how and common sense! We'll cut your taxes (in fact, he'll almost certainly raise them, unless you are quite well off), fix the deficits (although the 2011 Ryan Plan increases the deficit), and restore the economy without stimulus or any other government intervention (never mind that looming "lost decade" brought about by austerity policies in Europe). Just trust us. (Rather hard to do when the campaign is outright lying about Obama and welfare reform).

And here's where the whole thing just becomes not policy but theology. The Romney camp is asking we the people to accept vague premises, and abstract postulates, which do not provide any details as to what they want to do and who pays. And to the extent that they have provided specifics in the past, the effects they have promised do not hold up--the premises are faulty. But, more to the point, Romney doesn't want to tell you what he'll do if he gets elected, because he's sure you won't like it. It would be "suicidal" if he did tell you. Take the hint.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Filk for a Food Fight!

[Context: My friends Anthony Clark and Kevin Ryan are hosting a combination "Iron Chef" competition and political debate for their old school, St Aidan's in Mineola.

I am for this, not just out of friendship, but because many years ago, when the world was new (that is, between college and law school), I appeared in a production of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the community theater St. Aidan's sponsored, and got do a great song, "The Company Way," even though I had a small part.
Here's the original of that, by the way:

So, here's the promo I wanted to make for the FoodFight for St. Aidan's, but alas, the two stars don't seem interested.]

Well, Did You EV-AH?

Scene: A well furnished library/study backstage at what is suspiciously like the 2012 Vice Presidential debates. There are comfy chairs, a sofa, a full wet bar, book-lined shelves, and, unfortunately, the occupants of the room can sometimes hear their VP ticketmates flub a line or argument.

Those occupants, by the way, are fictional. One, BARRY, is our first African-American President, but not the real one. He is tall and thin, with slightly projecting ears, and is cool and analytical in demeanor. Therefore, totally unlike Barack Obama, who does not feature in this work of complete fiction. His equally fictional adversary, MITTENS, is somewhat older, graying at the temples, but with the rangy build and quick smile of the venture capitalist, who hasn’t decided whether you’re an investor or lunch—fellow predator, or prey. Nothing, in short, like the avuncular and charming Mitt Romney, and aren’t we lucky to have such paragons running for President this year?
Alas, for the moment, we must leave behind this happy state of affairs, and go backstage in the well-appointed room I have sketched out for you (and in what reality is such a room backstage, anyway?)

The two men are, quite sensibly, ignoring each other. BARRY is in one of the comfy leather chairs reading a heavy tome titled, FORGING GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS: COLD WAR ERA; MITTENS is re-reading an old favorite HELLO, HE LIED: A PRIMER.

Something said in the debate, though by whom is unclear, ruffles BARRY. He looks at MITTENS, and the orchestra impels him:

BARRY: Do you think that it’s a plan,
National government by Ayn Rand?

MITTENS (bored): Well, did you ever?
(sings): Just the veepstakes, my friend…

They pause. Something is said offstage; MITTENS is visibly irritated.

MITTENS: That last line’s not just a crock—
Joe stole it straight from Neil Kinnock.

BARRY: Well, did you evah?
(speaks) Sometimes he goes with the classics, champ.

[Together]: Can’t the veepstakes just end?

MITTENS: It’s all just, too, too tedious.

BARRY: I feel you Mittens.
MITTENS: Isn’t there anything in the news?

BARRY [sings]: Have you heard, it’s in the Press
Ryan and Clark are gonna host a fress.

MITTENS: Well, did you evah! What a swell party that is!

MITTENS [checks his IPhone 4.9]: And did you know, they’ll debate the news,
cooking up dishes to amuse.

BARRY: Well, did you evah?
What a swell party that is.

What meats! What fish!
All a redstater could wish!

BARRY: What veggies français!
Michelle'd call it OK!

BARRY This French
MITTENS (interjecting): Freedom!

BARRY (continuing) champagne,
too good, for the guy from Bain--

TOGETHER: We still won’t abstain
It’s all, too, too bipartisain—

TOGETHER-faster]: Have you heard out there on Mars, robots are flying stripes and stars!
Well, did you evah?
What a swell party this is

BARRY: And had you heard that the ACA
lived to fight another day!

MITTENS: Well, that's law (or politics!)
But what did Nino and Clarence say?

MITTENS: Buying tix is easy, though
BARRY: Just click the link right there below.
MITTENS: I might donate Rafalca’s medal…
BARRY: Didn’t you know--
MITTENS smiles; they both laugh.
TOGETHER: One thing’s clear
we all can cheer
St. Aidan’s Fundraising going on ‘round here
Well did you ever!

BARRY What a liberal
MITTENS: Business-like
BARRY: Community
MITTENS: investment—
TOGETHER: This is!

Forgive me Cole Porter, I knew not what I did. Don’t let it all be in vain—click the link and donate!

For the melody, and to check my lyrics, see this version:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Roger(s) That!

Here is John Rogers on Paul Ryan:
I'll defend to the death your right to have an opinion different from mine, but when you're just a mendacious hypocrite, well, life's too goddam short. Paul Ryan's family fortune was based on being paid by the government to build highways, he's never had a job other than "Congressman", none of his budget numbers add up -- at all -- and he's trying to push a budget that would raise taxes on the middle class, hand giant tax breaks to the rich, gut the country's infrastructure, and end Medicare -- which no matter what shit they sling at you is the plan because strangely, his plan doesn't apply to anybody over 55. Why not, if it's so awesome? Because old folk know bullshit when they smell it, that's why.

And why is he pursuing these policies? Because, well, "job creators."

You know what? I type for a living, and my stupid little typing creates a couple hundred jobs. I'm an actual job creator, which was the last damn thing anybody (including my perpetually surprised father) expected when I started telling jokes in bars. And I don't think that raising my tax rate by 3.4% (back the bad old Clinton Socialism Rate) so you, my fellow citizen, won't lose your fucking house when your kid gets cancer, or maybe we get a functioning power grid or roads that wouldn't be substandard in ZIMBABWE is "socialism". It's basic. Goddam. Decency.
Rogers, of course, coined the immortal, perfect, explanation of Ryan's long-time heart-throb, Ayn Rand:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Rogers, if by any chance you get over here, you and Leverage are kicking it in Season 5. Great work, great ride on the fun train.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Serving the Devil

with legal papers, I mean. How exactly would you do it?

Have you ever heard of the classic case United States ex rel. Mayo v. Satan and His Staff? This is, as we say on the Intertubes, a real thing in the world, a case in which a self-representing plaintiff (who was seeking to have court fees waived, and, possibly, appointed counsel, raised an interesting, and novel, legal claim: "He alleges that Satan has on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff, that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in his path and has caused plaintiff's downfall. Plaintiff alleges that by reason of these acts Satan has deprived him of his constitutional rights."

OK, so, you're a federal judge. In addressing the complaint, especially back in 1971, when this little beauty was decided, you must assume all the facts in the complaint to be true. So, what to do? A puzzler for many judges, but not for Judge Weber of the Western District of Pennsylvania:
We feel that the application to file and proceed in forma pauperis must be denied. Even if plaintiff's complaint reveals a prima facie recital of the infringement of the civil rights of a citizen of the United States, the Court has serious doubts that the complaint reveals a cause of action upon which relief can be granted by the court. We question whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district. The complaint contains no allegation of residence in this district. While the official reports disclose no case where this defendant has appeared as defendant there is an unofficial account of a trial in New Hampshire where this defendant filed an action of mortgage foreclosure as plaintiff. The defendant in that action was represented by the preeminent advocate of that day, and raised the defense that the plaintiff was a foreign prince with no standing to sue in an American Court. This defense was overcome by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whether or not this would raise an estoppel in the present case we are unable to determine at this time.
There's actually a record of the hearing in that case:

Tell us more, Judge Weber:
If such action were to be allowed we would also face the question of whether it may be maintained as a class action. It appears to meet the requirements of Fed.R. of Civ.P. 23 that the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, there are questions of law and fact common to the class, and the claims of the representative party is typical of the claims of the class. We cannot now determine if the representative party will fairly protect the interests of the class.
We note that the plaintiff has failed to include with his complaint the required form of instructions for the United States Marshal for directions as to service of process.
The class action bit ("yeah. You and everybody else, chum") is good, but that last bit is especially rich--telling the plaintiff he must direct the Marshals on how to serve the Devil. Or, even better, go to him himself...

And what's the point in suing Satan's Staff? I'm pretty sure that the Boss keeps all the assets.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Magna Est Veritas!

A fair number of my friends have noted that I have a fair amount to say regarding Mitt Romney and his shall we call it a penchant for untruthfulness?, but what about Harry Reid, whose statements regarding Romney's payment of taxes, or rather non-payment thereof over a ten-year period, have been rated maximally false by both Politifact ("Pants on Fire" rating)and the Washington Post Fact-checker, Glenn Kessler (the much-dreaded "Four Pinochios")?

Well, here's the thing. The fact-checkers are simply unaware of the truth--or falsity--of the statements at issue, and so are you, and so am I.

Here is what Reid originally said:
"His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son," Reid said, in reference to George Romney's standard-setting decision to turn over 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president in the late 1960s.

Saying he had "no problem with somebody being really, really wealthy," Reid sat up in his chair a bit before stirring the pot further. A month or so ago, he said, a person who had invested with Bain Capital called his office.

"Harry, he didn't pay any taxes for 10 years," Reid recounted the person as saying.

"He didn't pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," said Reid. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?

"You guys have said his wealth is $250 million," Reid went on. "Not a chance in the world. It's a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don't pay taxes for 10 years when you're making millions and millions of dollars."
To lie, according to the OED, is "to make a false statement with the intention to deceive." (Other definitions at the link refine it, but are broadly consistent.) If Reid did have the conversation with his source, then he is not guilty of that. He may be guilty of suggestio falsi--here, by using a true statement that contains within it a statement he does not believe to be true, but which he honestly reports as having been made to him, but he is not lying. Indeed,even his critics tacitly acknowledge--they raise the bar, requiring him to prove not the conversation with the source, but the accuracy of the source's information.

As Kessler admits, "Reid has refused to provide any evidence, except for the (unproven) fact that someone called him up and told him something that may be true — or simply a rumor." (My emphasis.) Politifact hinges its analysis on the improbability (not impossibility!) of the information provided by Reid's source, as does Kessler. In other words, they hold him to the very part of the statement he said he could not vouch for--that Romney had literally paid no income tax for ten years.

What Harry Reid is guilty of is what my late grandfather would have called "dirty pool." He is upping the pressure on Romney to release the tax returns by a sort of low-level psy-op--almost a con trick. Note that Reid didn't just try to give the story legs, he attacked Romney emotionally, invoking his father. (Surprisingly, that part of Reid's attack didn't draw much condemnation.) It's manipulative. It's tricky. It may even include a lie.

Or not.

"Hello," He Lied

OK, so, has anybody seen Romney's latest ad?

As per the course, it's a blatant lie. A blatant lie, in that the Administration has announced that it is encouraging the states to devise programs of their own which will achieve the goals of TANF, "particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment." As the Administration explained:
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) is interested in more efficient or effective means to promote employment entry, retention, advancement, or access to jobs that offer opportunities for earnings and advancement that will allow participants to avoid dependence on government benefits. The following are examples of projects that states may want to consider – these are illustrative only:
Projects that improve coordination with other components of the workforce investment system, including programs operated under the Workforce Investment Act, or to test an innovative approach to use performance-based contracts and management in order to improve employment outcomes.
Projects that demonstrate attainment of superior employment outcomes if a state is held accountable for negotiated employment outcomes in lieu of participation rate requirements.
Projects under which a state would count individuals in TANF-subsidized jobs but no longer receiving TANF assistance toward participation rates for a specified period of time in conjunction with an evaluation of the effectiveness of a subsidized jobs strategy.
Projects that improve collaboration with the workforce and/or post-secondary education systems to test multi-year career pathways models for TANF recipients that combine learning and work.
Projects that demonstrate strategies for more effectively serving individuals with disabilities, along with an alternative approach to measuring participation and outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
Projects that test the impact of a comprehensive universal engagement system in lieu of certain participation rate requirements.
Projects that test systematically extending the period in which vocational educational training or job search/readiness programs count toward participation rates, either generally or for particular subgroups, such as an extended training period for those pursuing a credential. The purpose of such a waiver would be to determine through evaluation whether a program that allows for longer periods in certain activities improves employment outcomes.
Note that this is not a comprehensive list, and HHS will consider other projects consistent with the statute and the guidance provided in this IM. HHS is especially interested in testing approaches that build on existing evidence on successful strategies for improving employment outcomes.
And, of course, as The Washington Post noted, "[t]he rules can’t be expanded to include people who don’t currently qualify. To get a waiver, a governor must pledge that his or her proposed plan will move 20 percent more people from welfare to work. If no progress towards that target is made in a year, the waiver will be revoked." And, to again quote the Post, "Five states, including two with Republican governors — Nevada and Utah — have asked the current Health and Human Services Department about waivers."

This of course is totally the same as abolishing the work requirement, amirite?

Well, no.

In fact, it's not even remotely the same. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities contends that it will strengthen welfare reform.

And--you knew this was coming, right?--guess who signed a letter from the Republican Governors Association advocating for the passage of the amendment that allowed the exercise of such waiver authority, stating that "Increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit and the ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work"?

You guessed Mittens? You were right!

The consummate hypocrisy of the man is breathtaking, really. He advocates before a GOP Congress that the President should have authority, the bill passes, and now the announcement that the Administration will consider requests to exercise that authority of course means that Obama wants to uncouple welfare from work--"Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.” I'm amazed they didn't add, "and a 40-ouncer!"

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Master Thespians

OK, I admit it; I grew up watching a lot of British drama on PBS--from Doctor Who to Doctor in the House, with many other examples, both sublime and ridiculous.

The ridiculous were often as much fun as the sublime--I'm thinking of Poldark, Winston Graham's long, tumultuous soap opera where the bloodlines, rivalries and betrayals got so confused that you could hear dialogue like:
ROSS: Yes, Francis, the embrocation given to Aunt Agatha was so that Elizabeth would not see George take the title deeds from your secretaire.

FRANCIS (in astonishment): Ecod!

ROSS: You may well say ecod, Francis.
I mean, come on. I was a teenager from Long Island, and even I knew this is bloody ridiculous.

And let's not forget the opening sequence, which is maybe one step up from the original Dark Shadows:

I mention this because would like me to know that the first three novels are available in e-book form.

Which means I can read them without anybody ever knowing...

(edited to put past tense observations in the, yknow, past tense)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Confidence Man: His Masquerade

I hate to be a buzzkill, but did you know that Mitt Romney's tax plan would raise taxes for 95% of Americans while lowering them for the top 5%?:
The report by researchers at the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, examined Romney’s suggestion of an across-the-board 20% income tax cut financed by closing existing loopholes and concluded there was no way to make the numbers work without burdening the vast majority of Americans with higher taxes.

Romney has not said which tax breaks he would end to finance his plan, but he has suggested that he would only look to breaks that benefit the wealthy. The report concluded that notion is a fantasy no matter how it’s constructed: There simply are too many middle class tax breaks on the table to avoid skewing the burden against the average American.

“Even if tax expenditures are eliminated in a way designed to make the resulting tax system as progressive as possible, there would still be a shift in the tax burden of roughly $86 billion from those making over $200,000 to those making less than that amount.”
You can read the full report here.

Does Romney have a response to this criticism? Of course; the magical boom economy which results whenever taxes are cut will generate a mystical flood of revenue that will even out the cost. And the Romney camp accuses the Tax Policy Center of being biased, as one of the co-authors was formerly one of President Obama's economic advisors. (Of course, another was one of George W. Bush's, for balance, but what would you?)

TPM notes that the TPC actually ran this highly unlikely scenario:
Apparently anticipating similar criticism from the right, the Tax Policy Center decided to humor them by including an alternate analysis in its study in which it assumed that Romney turns out to be correct and his tax proposals produce unexpected floods of new revenue. However, even that generous concession didn’t change its analysis.

“Although reasonable models would show that these tax changes would have little effect on growth, we show that even with implausibly large growth effects, revenue neutrality would still require large reductions in tax expenditures and would likely result in a net tax increase for lower- and middle-income households and tax cuts for high-income households,” the study concluded.
In sum, Romney wants to raise your taxes so that he can lower his own.

It's good to be the King!