Archives for: January 2012
Reductio ad Absurdum arguments are among my favorites. They are a sort of refutation by contradiction. Goose and gander. If I make an argument and an opponent applies the same logic in a different direction, getting a result with which I disagree, I may be caught in a contradiction. The rhetorical technique is legitimate. It has been applied throughout history.
In 1870, states that had been part of the Old Confederacy were faced with a problem. Freed slaves were allowed to vote. The federal government had been run by those with such radical ideas as voting rights. In fact, Thaddeus Stevens and others had become known as Radical Republicans. So a few counter measures were taken.
Poll taxes were imposed. Some objected, but the reductio argument by proponents was simple. We charge for other licenses, don't we? Isn't voting just as important, just as much a privilege? If we were to object to poll taxes, why not object to all taxes?
Literacy tests were also imposed. The tests required intimate knowledge of the Constitution and the amendments. Those who had voted in previous elections, or whose grandfathers had voted, were exempted. The term "grandfathering in" comes from that practice. By some coincidence, that left mostly black people and poor folks to take the tests.
Testing offices were moved and assigned highly restricted hours. This tended to keep working people from leaving their jobs to take tests.
In 1964, nearly a hundred years later, the federal government, temporarily in the charge of liberals, abolished literacy tests. The reductio argument in favor of the tests was simple. We required testing for all sort of licenses, including licenses to drive. Wasn't it just as important to safeguard the right to vote from those unqualified? If we abolish literacy tests for voting, we should abolish tests for drivers licenses as well, right?
And today, a number of states in Republican control are passing laws requiring special photo IDs in order to vote. Those already with a license to drive are exempted, an interesting form of grandfathering. Drivers are said to already possess a valid voting pass. By some coincidence, this leaves mostly black people, poor folks, and retirees, who are required travel about getting documentation, then the photo IDs themselves. Those travelers happen to be mostly Democratic voters. Issuing offices are often moved and assigned highly restricted hours. Employees are forbidden from giving directions. Those who disobey, and provide information, are fired. Such conveniences as chairs for the elderly are removed during long waits. All this tends to keep those who rely on public transportation from making additional trips. As many as 5 million legitimate voters are targeted, being kept from voting.
The reductio as adsurdum argument is made here as well. "Why should we stop at opposing a picture ID for voting? I say we should oppose showing an ID for anything, including buying liquor, driving, staying at a hotel, boarding an airplane... everything!"
A spokesperson for Governor Rick Perry transmuted the reductio argument into an affirmative defense.
By applying to voting the same standard that is commonly applied in cashing a check or applying for a library card, Voter ID can ensure an accurate reflection of the will of the voters.
One counter to the reductio ad absurdum argument is to show a substantial difference between cases. You can't very well show that the same logic produces a bad result if the case doesn't really apply. So just show the difference.
For example, we could point out that the current voting ID system in place in pretty much every jurisdiction works pretty well. We could point to the fact that the incentive for voter fraud is low, the penalty is high, and the odds of being caught are substantial. We can show a substantial amount of research that has been unable to discover the type of voter fraud that a photo ID can affect.
These facts are not true with library cards, where penalties are low and book theft actually does happen. Even at that, photo IDs are not required for library cards in most jurisdictions. Cashing a fraudulent check involves a more substantial gain for those able to pull it off. Boarding an airline involves a substantial danger in those cases in which security precautions are not taken. Liquor is not sold to minors for coherent reasons, and not everyone is carded. Driving is held to be a privilege reserved for sober responsible adults. This is because the incentive to drive without a license is substantial enough, and the result can be deadly enough, to present a reasonable need.
For proponents of restrictive voting requirements, the fact that it keeps people from voting seems less of a bug than a feature. The same sorts of restrictive office hours as happened many decades ago, closed locations, and denied information, are a vivid reminder of days we thought we would never see again.
Occasionally, we'll find a strictly-split-the-difference sort of observer who regards such tactics as a normal level of simple partisanship. Fiddling around with basic rights strikes me as substantially more than that.
"As we all know," sneers a sarcastic correspondent, "requiring a photo ID for anything is prima facia evidence of racism. We can't tolerate this racism, which is obviously what conservatives want."
Well, no. The additional restriction is motivated by a simple desire to win. The racism is incidental.
Introduction, Traditional Service, January 15, 2012
St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Florissant, MO
We look outward. We search the scriptures.
We yearn for knowledge
that we may grow in God’s love.
And the knowledge that comes to us is humility,
that God is beyond what we can know.
We look inward. We search the human soul.
We yearn for wisdom
that we may grow in God’s love.
And the wisdom that comes to us is humility,
that God is beyond what we can imagine.
We look upward. We pray with heart and soul.
We yearn for the strength to grow in God’s love.
And the strength that comes to us in our humility,
comes from love beyond what we can hold.
Our strength is renewed.
And we continue the journey home.
Newer Version by John and Andrew Eastmond,
also based on Isaiah 40:31
Slant Right's John Houk is extremely upset at a legal ruling that a Christian church refusing to conduct a marriage ceremony for a gay couple is in violation of the law. He quotes the judge: "The respondent violated the [Law Against Discrimination] when it refused to conduct a civil-union ceremony for Ms. Bernstein and Ms. Paster." Oh my.
Actually, the judge is ... well ... misquoted. John usually tries to get these things right, but he must have been busy this week. He relies, instead, on World New Daily. In reality, the entire town of Ocean Grove, at least all that is public within it, is owned by a local Methodist group. That a town is owned by a church makes for an unusual situation. The Methodists agreed to make facilities open to all people in exchange for the right to tax exemptions. But they then told a gay couple they would not be allowed to use an open pavilion on a public beach. They broke their promises.
The judge ruled they had violated their agreement with the state. That's it. That's all of it. No mention of a requirement that the church conduct any ceremony was involved. The church is not even required to continue making the pavilion public to all, as they originally agreed. The ruling just said they can't keep the tax exemption if they refuse to keep their word.
In the interest of full disclosure. I am an active member of the Methodist Church. I am a vocal supporter of gay rights. My view. If my church wants to claim tax benefits beyond the normal church-state separation, it ought to keep the solemn vows it makes in exchange for those tax benefits.
In Providence, RI, a judge has ordered a banner in a public school, one with the "official" school prayer, removed. PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, chronicles the extreme reaction from my Christian brethren. Oh my. My own view, and the view of many other Christians, is that using public funds to promote a religion is immoral.
"El Pendejo" is a mild bit of Spanish profanity that, politely translated, means jackass. Manifesto Joe of Texas Blues applies the term to Governor Rick Perry, then documents it. Actually, Joe has already proven an extreme moral case against Perry, with the help of ... well ... me. The Governor ordered an innocent man executed because he didn't want to take the time to read a report by a forensic expert. Then he tried to cover it up. Joe begs Rick Perry to please come home. It must hurt to put it into words.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite fame analyzes that latest accusation by Newt Gingrich: that Mitt Romney can speak in French. He also mentions the doggie attack, but the French thing might have more teeth. In the interest of full disclosure: I know how to say "Chevrolet."
Dave Dubya smells a rat in efforts to stop voter fraud that doesn't seem to be actually happening. Seems the prevention just happens to make it a lot harder for lots of legitimate voters in lots of places to vote. Since a lot of those voters are Democrats and the problem doesn't actually exist, Dave suspects another motive.
Conservative James Wigderson surprises all by taking down Christmas decorations in January, and still has time to protest modest salary increases for school employees.
Erin Nanasi at Mad Mike's America finds remarkable the amount of vitriol aimed at the first lady. Remember long, long ago, when the President's wife was off limits to attack? Way back during the Bush White House years?
The Heathen Republican likes what unions have done in the distant past, but dislikes what he imagines they have become: money laundering operations for liberal politics. I have an idea. Ban all union money and corporate money from politics. Unions should bargain and corporations should make profits. Period. How about it?
For more than a decade, conservatives have been campaigning against rampant voter fraud. The remedy has been photo ID's. This would keep people from voting under assumed names. It is a popular measure. The remedy has been resisted by people like ... well ... me.
Like many things popular, it is intuitive, easy to understand, and not at all supported by actual evidence. The cost to photo IDs is that those who do not drive automobiles often do not have photo IDs. These tend to be poor folks, retired folks, people who ride buses to and from work, and students.
Proponents do go through the motions, at times, making alternate photo IDs available at no cost. But often, they have also gone through extraordinary efforts to make things inconvenient at best, often difficult. One fellow was fired for suggesting that state workers even tell folks that the free IDs were available. Offices have been closed, with alternatives miles away, requiring more bus rides. Chairs have been removed from areas where the elderly have been made to stand for long waits. The tiniest discrepancies have resulted in applicants being ordered to visit other offices for additional documents.
Things become hard enough to convince folks to give up. Reliable estimates are that as many as 5 million legal voters will be denied their right to vote through these efforts.
Vote fraud does happen. Elections are stolen. It happens with stuffing ballot boxes, miscounting voters, changing totals on voting machines, that type of thing. The things that photo IDs do not address.
But the type of voter fraud that might be affected by photo IDs is so rare as to be barely countable. One investigation after another has come up dry. Voter fraud that is preventable with photos just doesn't happen. The system of identification already in place works very well.
There are those of us who oppose making voting extra hard for the people that many conservatives don't happen to like. We point to two big reasons that sort of voter fraud pretty much doesn't ever happen.
It is very easy to get caught. Poll workers don't know everyone, but they know enough people to make that sort of fraud legally dangerous.
- Penalties for those caught are very high.
So nobody ever tries.
A video posted the day after the New Hampshire Primary from conservative gonzo James O’Keefe either exposes why voting laws are too lax or comes close to itself being voter fraud (or both), by obtaining the ballots of dead Granite Staters on primary day.
The video of conservatives committing voter fraud is becoming widely circulated. Expect to hear how it proves that voter fraud happens.
What the video does not show is this:
One of those posing as voters was caught by a voting supervisor. He fled just ahead of police, who were called by poll workers. The voting supervisor recognized the name that the fake was trying to use.
The Nashua City Clerk is talking about penalties.
He noted that under New Hampshire's state Constitution, any resident who commits voter fraud can permanently lose their right to vote.
"If these are New Hampshire residents they should lose their right to vote forever, in addition to fines or imprisonment. I take it seriously, and people shouldn't dismiss this as just a harmless stunt; it's not," Bergeron said.
James O’Keefe and others say the video proves that voter fraud is a serious problem, and that new, highly restrictive, laws are needed. So let's see just what has actually been proven.
It is very easy to get caught. Poll workers don't know everyone, but they know enough people to make that sort of fraud legally dangerous.
- Penalties for those caught are very high.
Which is kind of why new, restrictive ID requirements are not needed. Existing laws work pretty well.
The fact that proposed new requirements make it very hard for millions of legitimate voters to cast ballots? Well, hey, life is filled with little trade offs. That they happen to be mostly Democrats? Coincidence. Mere chance.
Would actual truth be unfair? Unbalanced? Unobjective?
Actual Article by Arthur S. Brisbane:
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation.
CITIZENS in the Spanish town of Júzcar have decided they should remain blue after going to the polls to settle the matter.
Located in the autonomous community of Andalusia, the town of 221 was first painted blue in June as part of a promotion to celebrate the release of The Smurfs movie.
The Post Dispatch story was greeted with hoots and derision from almost everyone in Missouri not a Republican. The state Democratic Party here called the politician "dishonest" and put together a video compilation of news coverage from around the state about "misleading" claims. PoliticMO needs no clever introduction. The straight report carried enough inherent humor to stand on its own.
When it went national, the mirth offered an alternative to the dysfunctional family show that the GOP nominating process seems to have become. "Oh man. This is just absolutely priceless," wrote Dave Nir of the Daily Kos. The National Journal termed it "a degree of difficulty." You'll see why.
Dave Spence is running for the Republican nomination for Governor. He wants to replace the current Governor, Democrat Jay Nixon. Nixon is very popular, so even if Spence becomes the GOP nominee, it won't be an easy thing to actually win office.
Spence is borrowing a page from the Romney playbook. He is advertising himself as a job creator and an expert on economic growth. His website even promotes his degree in Economics from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
Here's the problem. His degree was in Home Economics. The school proudly carries the history of the program, which began over a hundred years ago as a "department of household economics." The describe the origin this way: "The initial one-year program was designed for young women who wished to learn proper management of the home."
Okay. This sounds like, and is being played with some hilarity as, a shadow of Mitt Romney's fraudulent claims. The Spence campaign is rather humorless about it. They insist the website is entirely accurate. Home economics is still economics, after all. Missouri, along the way, also changed the name printed on the degree. So the Spence campaign points out that he did not, technically, get a degree in Home Economics. It was actually Consumer Economics. They also are striking back at the coverage as all part of Democratic opportunism: "sad political smear tactics."
Spence's main Republican opponent, Bill Randles, is trying to capitalize on the unexpected opportunity in a low key way. He announced he was releasing his own college transcripts, which are impressive.
I know this is an issue and I know the people of Missouri have a right to know. I am releasing the transcripts for all my degrees. I hold firm to the principle that has become a cornerstone of my political philosophy: sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Sooner or later, the misleading candidate and his campaign just might wake up to the fact that they are playing this all wrong. They don't have to deny anything. They can't, but even if they could, they shouldn't. They have a story they ought to want to embrace, promote, amplify, grasping madly at every last string of oddity.
They are not a loud and silly echo of Mitt Romney. They are Romney's negative.
Romney earned a prestigious degree and went on to make wild claims about job creation that have turned out to be bogus.
Spence had grades too low to get the degree he wanted, or even a second or third, or any choice. So he went for the only program available with virtually no academic qualification. Pretty funny, right?
Also more than a little inspirational.
The guy with the wild claims about the degree that never was, the fellow the big University said wasn't qualified to be an economics major, went on to wrangle a small business loan. He then used his knowledge and skills to build a wildly successful business from scratch. It has grown year after year under his stewardship. A phenomenally successful quarter century later, the firm employs more than 800 people today.
Spence really ought to
Fire his campaign manager NOW
- Make plans to run for President in 2016
All future Spence campaigns should celebrate the candidate as the guy who got a Home Economics degree because the giant University told him he wasn't qualified for anything else.
Rick Perry was calm, yesterday, but his words were Old Testament wrath. This was not the capitalism he had been defending all his life. He spoke derisively of the way companies like Romney's Bain conducted the asset acquisition that had cost thousands of workers their jobs, in many cases throwing entire families into a poverty they had never thought possible.
They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for the company to get sick, and then they sweep in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton.
The day before, like a prophet crying in the wilderness, Newt Gingrich made the road straight in preparation of the sort of capitalism he knew. He spoke on Fox News.
I’m for capitalism. I’m for honest entrepreneurs investing, I’m for people creating businesses. Now, Callista and I have created four small businesses in the last decade, I get it. But I’m not for looting.
Bain often engaged in leveraged buyouts that had both candidates breathing fire. That's where a division is made between the assets and liabilities of a company. The assets are sold off, sometimes for millions in quick profit. The liabilities are left to languish. Bills are unmet, obligations are cashed in for pennies on the dollar, workers are left pounding the pavement. As long as Bain did not carry the cost, and they didn't, they could ignore it, living happily on the other side of the ledger.
Both Gingrich and Perry spoke movingly, and with a sort of primal, barely restrained fury, about the real life costs that the GOP frontrunner had generated in his mad rush to financial glory.
There’s a company in The Wall Street Journal today that Bain put $30 million into, took $180 million out of and the company went bankrupt. And if you have to asked yourself, you know, was a six to one return really necessary, what if they only take $120 million out, will the company still be there with 1,700 families still have a job?
I think there’s a real difference between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.
Instead of trying to work with them to find a way to keep the jobs and to get them back on their feet, it’s all about how much money can we make, how quick can we make it, and then get out of town and find the next carcass to feed upon.
As conservatism struggles to find the Adam Smith supply and demand roots from whence it sprang, conservatives, at least some of them, pine for a free enterprise that does not acquire wealth by destroying homes and families, that does not make profits by throwing folks into poverty.
Romney does not share the simple Smallville virtues, the Andy of Mayberry care for others. His ruthlessness forced real people to the ground. It was an outrage.
Here's the problem with the rage.
Adam Smith, followed by generations of conservative advocates, never envisioned a capitalism powered by a concern for others. His vision never even depended on the virtue of its participants. The entire idea of unfettered capitalism was that unregulated individuals, all operating in their own interests, would create a world that benefits people in general. The selfish, power hungry, megalomaniac pushes for greater profits. He lowers prices, finding inefficiencies to root out, thus benefiting investors and customers. All that benefit is a predictable inadvertence: a happy, foreseeable accident.
That is the definition of Adam Smith's invisible hand.
In fact, the minor leader, the one person brain trust of the Congressional wing of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, is an avid follower of the late Ayn Rand. She not only denigrated unselfishness, she wrote a book about it, devoted herself to the cause. Selfishness was a virtue.
Mitt Romney followed that imperative. He had no moral obligation beyond following the law, refraining from personal dishonesty, and making a profit. To follow any other motive would have been the equivalent of corporate theft. He is right, while defending himself, to point out that his fellow conservative Republicans are arguing against the foundations of capitalism. They are. They argue against the flow of capitalism Newt directly sponsored while Perry whooped and hollered his support from Texas sidelines.
Mitt Romney is the creation of contemporary conservatism.
Newt Gingrich is his father.
Rick Perry is his uncle.
The moral obligation in business, beyond profits and a minimal sense of primal ethics, is to follow the law. That gives us the way to channel the unquestionably powerful force of human greed. A more realistic approach for Perry, a more honest approach for Gingrich, would be to stop attacking Romney, or anyone else playing successfully by the rules, and attack the game itself. If you don't like the low blows, the jabs, the fouls, then make them violations and then enforce the rules.
The invisible hand of Adam Smith sometimes hurts countless people in ways Perry and Gingrich, in their eloquence, are now bringing to the American view. Sometimes the invisible hand works best if joined by a very visible hand.
We already require employers to do some things they would not otherwise do. They pay unemployment compensation, they contribute a portion of social security. They have safety standards, a 40 hour week. If workers should be treated more fairly, or consumers protected, or communities safeguarded, that is the path to follow.
If Perry and Gingrich want to modify the playing field: to make the ruthless jab to the throat and the kick to the kneecap violations against a well considered rule, the debate will become reasonable and constructive. How can we regulate productively while not endangering the entrepreneurial spirit?
Answering that question in a meaningful way will put conservatives like Gingrich and Perry, and conservatism itself, on the side of history, on the side of ordinary people. In fact, there is already a word for conservatives who embrace that sort of thoughtful concern.
We know them as "liberals."
In the early 1840s Charles Dickens published a series of short stories in serial form. The protagonist was Little Nell, a virtuous little girl who stepped up to take care of her bumbling grandfather when he lost his little shop to an evil financier. She went in and out of adventures and relationships, always pursuing a safe haven for her beloved grandfather. It was a popular series, and folks throughout the British Isles and in America devoted themselves to following Little Nell through her travels.
Finally, the end of the series came, and Nell found a village and a home for her grandfather. Then, in frail health, she died a sad and dramatic death.
The sentimentality shook readers profoundly. During the series, people talked, opined over back fences. They speculated how she would endure, what her next step might be. At her death, grown people wept. One of those was the great Daniel O'Connell, the Irish patriot who fought long and hard for basic rights for Catholics. He was said to have thrown his copy of Little Nell's odyssey from a train in rage and grief. People took their fiction seriously back then.
Mitt Romney has me thinking about Little Nell as the voting nears in New Hampshire.
It is emotionally satisfying when an untruth teller gets tripped up in his own web. The eye roll provoking nature of the Mitt Romney campaign amplifies the euphoria when the fellow gets deflated from most any direction.
His ham handed attempts to cast himself as the common man leaves observers gaping wide enough, and long enough, to allow adenoid examinations. The latest was this past weekend.
I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.
Up until then, many of us thought the prize would go to the smarmy faux self-deprecation of his aw-shucks-how-did-I-get-here denial that he ever thought he might run for President:
I have to tell you: This chance to run for President of the United States, I never imagined I’d do it. This is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of.
I mean, I was just a high school kid like everybody else with skinny legs. And, you know, I imagined that I’d be, you know, in business all my career. And somehow I backed into the chance to do this.
Yeah. Only in America could a little kid with skinny legs dare such a dream. Yet, with nothing more than the shirt on his back, the meager contents of his little piggy bank, a small but sturdy credit card, and a father from a poor but honest background as the head of American Motors Corporation, the Governor of Michigan, Presidential candidate, and United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, little Mitt had managed to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Yes, he had come a long way from the little log cabin in the hardscrabble backwoods village of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he was raised.
In fairness, it can't be easy, even for a fabulously wealthy individual to run for President. It is a grueling, no-sleep, shake-every-hand marathon. But Mitt has been (come on, let's be charitable) ill at ease in his clumsy attempts to be one of the guys.
Other rich folks have become working class heroes. John F. Kennedy was deeply moved in 1960 while touring the mines of West Virginia. Franklin Roosevelt so profoundly touched the lives of ordinary people, he became the icon of ideal politics for most of America well after his passing. Neither felt compelled to claim a humble beginning that was not rightfully his.
Mitt is not the only person who seems awkward at times. Bobby Kennedy was never the grand, fluent orator that Jack was. His halting, sometimes stumbling, style became a rhetorical strength. The vulnerability was, more than anything, real. When he spoke of personal loss in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, nobody even thought to question his own journey through the valley of darkness. That was how his presence brought piece to Indianapolis that night. It is hard to imagine him claiming a background other than his own.
Every candidate has some flaw. Each member of this year's Republican crop seems to be an almost whole person. It is as if, were they somehow to be joined, there would emerge a sort of Über Candidate with a vision that would at least be coherent.
Rick Santorum gives us a wild extremism composed of homophobic fears.
Rick Perry offers to most of us our own perpetual inward cringe of anticipation of the next loopy slip. You get the feeling that tying his shoe is an exercise in multi-tasking. Every time he completes a sentence without crossing his eyes or dropping his teeth on the podium, we feel a sense of deep relief. Another dodge ball has missed.
Newt is the attack poodle. Defanged, but snarling, he runs at Mitt Romney and others, only to bounce harmlessly into some wall. It's okay. He isn't hurt. Just furious enough to take another bugle accompanied charge at the nearest amused target.
Individually, they are a pitiful lot. Joined magically together in some Percolate-a-tron 2012 Model, they could meld into a single credible alternative to President Obama. You be the heart. You be the brain. You be the courage. The Grand Oz Party.
Mitt could never join that composite mixture. His mendacious bent is too ingrained to be explained by a voracious desire to win. The stories he tells, sometimes elaborate, sometimes petty, hurl at us like road flies into the teeth of a helmetless biker. He tells little fibs when there is no apparent electoral purpose. The need is, has to be, inward.
His problem is not that his voter base does not like him. They don't, but Nixon won with the same baggage. The one, the only, answer that seems possible is that his most important constituency cannot abide his true character. He does not like himself.
And so he resorts to constant self-invention. He writes, then re-writes, himself as Little Nell. The maudlin, sentimental phoniness is not an asset. Every vote he scores comes to him, not because of, but in spite of it all.
The greatness of Charles Dickens did not come from his little serial writings, even though they produced a brief degree of commercial success. His greatness came later in life. Oscar Wilde finally offered the verdict that has lasted longer than that early sentimental effort.
"One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears of laughter."
If contemporary journalism had standards that involved truthfulness, the Romney campaign would be exhausting. Reporters and pundits would be falling over each other at the local bookstore. "Where can I find another word for 'Thesaurus'?" Finding ever more creative synonyms for "lie" would become a real test of intellectual depth.
Fortunately, journalistic truthfulness is replaced these days with balance. A form of balance is even imposed on candidates. At least these folks are required to be polite. After 24 hour a day Romney sponsor-and-staff created savagery poured over Newt Gingrich like a political replay of last year's Hungarian Red Sludge environmental accident, Gingrich appeared on the CBS Early show. It was the morning of the Iowa caucus. He was interviewed by Norah O'Donnell and Bob Schieffer.
Norah O'Donnell, the same Norah O'Donnell occasionally attacked by conservatives, explained carefully why she was forced by Gingrich's own statements to ask an awkward question. Gingrich had spoken truth to PAC power and criticized Romney's campaign for attacks, smears, and mud. O'Donnell briefly recounted all that and wound up with, "I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"
The brief pause was caused by electronic delay, for Newt was being interviewed remotely. Even with that, the answer was quick. "Yes."
Norah O'Donnell was visibly startled. Bob Schieffer looked as if he had just eaten something unpleasant and couldn't spit it out on television. He actually began shaking as if in shock. A family member thinks he was stifling laughter.
The camera cut away to Newt, calmly waiting for Norah O'Donnell to regain her composure and go on. She is ever the professional and snapped back. It was obvious she was surprised by the breach of acceptable conduct. "You're calling Mitt Romney a liar!" It was not really a question.
Gingrich was the most composed person on camera. "Well, you seem shocked by it."
The news that day was all anticipation. Television personalities were interviewing each other, reporting on bits and pieces of almost news. So the Newt interview was a big thing for a few hours, until actual voting began in Iowa and it got drowned out.
The Newt interview was reported and reported again. It was ground up and reformatted. After it was reported, the possible effect on the voting was reported. Then the history of Newt losing his temper was reported. Later, Newt's involvement in the court decision allowing massive anonymous attacks with no accountability was a minor story. It was a fair observation. The anonymous Romney supporter ads would not have succeeded without the change in law that Newt supported. In fact, I have noted the implied hypocrisy here. What made that aspect only a minor note was that it involved a few degrees of separation. Too much work for a one day story, and the story went underwater as the Iowa flood of reports overtook it.
What strikes me about the coverage is that whether Newt's charge was actually valid was of such low importance it was not deemed as newsworthy. Don't bother checking and reporting.
In fact, the falsehoods that stream from the Romney offices have become so routine, so voluminous, their lack of truthfulness is mostly ignored by news organizations. Why cover the same story over and over?
Consider just one claim.
Mitt Romney says almost daily that that he, he Mitt Romney, he personally, was responsible for more than 100,000 new jobs while in the private sector. This refers to his tenure at Bain, the financial manipulating company that put millions into the Romney bank account. His campaign, on deep background, substantiates that claim in two ways, depending on the day of the week.
They sometimes just count jobs created and ignore jobs abolished. "Give me a dollar, I'll give you ten cents. There. I just made you ten cents." That's a sort of ratchet measurement. "I fired half a million, but rehired 50. Hey, put out that I created 50 jobs. If I fire those 50 and rehire them, put out that I created 100 jobs."
More commonly, he includes jobs created in just three ventures. His company played at least some role in the start up of Staples, Domino’s and Sports Authority. The campaign is cherry picking. They pick out three out of the many hundreds of companies Bain invested in, ignoring the companies Bain bought and closed, throwing thousands out of work. It's like winning at the track three out of 30 days last month and claiming yourself a master horse handicapper.
The Bain investment role in Staples was minor, compared with other investors. Romney had no part in day to day management.
Domino's had been in business for 38 years. Bain bought the company and put in David A. Brandon as CEO. Brandon is credited with the eventual success of expanding Domino's. Romney had nothing to do with day-to-day operations.
Sports Authority was started with funding from 5 major investment houses. Bain was one of the five. Romney had nothing to do with day-to-day operations.
So Romney makes claims for job creation he had nothing to do with. And he does not include job losses at other companies his financial group raided.
Here's the clincher. His campaign office admits even including years and years of hiring and growth that happened after Romney had cleared off his desk and moved out of Bain. So he claims credit for jobs the creation of which he might better claim once he masters time travel.
In fact, the serial nature of falsehoods coming from the Romney campaign is breathtaking.
And breathtakingly underreported.
Every once in a while something happens that is so into outer space that it startles even "balanced" reporters. Romney ran, and defended, an ad that showed President Obama saying this: "If we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to lose." It was chopped up and edited to exclude something important. It was candidate Obama from the last Presidential election, before he became President Obama. He was quoting the McCain campaign. As in "Senator McCain`s campaign actually said, and I quote, 'If we keep talking about the economy, we`re going to lose.'"
Romney was finally called on something. He suddenly became obtuse: Blinking and saying, as if he didn't understand the falsehood, that what was good for the goose was good for the gander. A campaign staffer issued a statement on condition of anonymity. It was the yeah-we-lied-so-what defense:
First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.
The one incident was widely covered for a few days. The daily volume continues.
At some point, quantity affects quality. Mendacity, taken up a few quantum levels, becomes an indicator of the future. Newt is right.
We have had politicians lie. It happens all the time. We have had politicians lie, then lie about lying, hypocrisy being the tribute vice pays to virtue. We have had politicians lie, then get in trouble trying to cover it up.
But the Romney campaign actually boasts about lying. This is a new evolutionary step in Republican campaigning.
I suppose there is a sort of twisted honor in that: a liar being honest about lying.
It's still instinctive that journalists show shock that Gingrich would actually call Romney on it.
How crude of him.
Best Commercial Ad So Far in 2012
You wouldn't have thought a disaster like the Chester Upland School District could be a candidate for inspiration. Yet, there it is.
Chester has been the Pompeii-after-Vesuvius of Pennsylvania education. It has been a failure for which the terms "massive", "long term", and "total" seem way, way inadequate. A millennium from now, archeologists will find an electronic record and wonder at how such a thing could have happened, even a thousand years before. Could the ancients who called themselves Americans have possibly been that crazed? What sort of exotic drugs had been out into the water supply?
It's hard to pin the blame on only one political party. It seemed clear something had to be done. We can now safely say that a few specific ideas have not exactly been proven effective.
In 1994, Chester Upland was named by the state as the worst-performing school district in Pennsylvania. Now that's pretty bad. Pennsylvania has some pretty good schools. And, like most every state, it has some very poor schools. In this case a combination of children coming from economic deprivation and funding that was dramatically lower than most any other school district had taken it's toll. It was a statewide scandal.
It took a while, but the state stepped in. No, not with the massive funding the district needed. Instead, in 2000, Pennsylvania pretty much closed down the local school board and took over Chester's schools. Control by the locally elected school board was abolished and the schools were placed in the hands of a new appointed board of non-residents.
Perhaps we should offer a snarky sort of caveat. PolitiFact hasn't gotten into this, with some theory that abolishing a school board and replacing it with something, and still calling it a school board, is not really abolishing a school board. That was their logic with Medicare a few weeks ago, to the glee of conservatives. But the state didn't have the foresight to name the replacing, non-elected, controlling agency a "school board." So pretty much everyone knew that local control was ended.
A year later, student performance was still low, so privatization was tried. The theory was that a private entity would work a lot better than the stale old existing public structure. More efficient. More effective. So, in 2001, Edison Schools, Inc, was given the school budget in return for the promise of streamlined, budget controlled, efficient, effective learning.
And, no, that is not the inspirational part of the Chester story.
Edison Schools was the brain child of conservative Tom Ingram when he was Lamar Alexander's chief of staff when Alexander was US Secretary of Education when President George H. W. Bush was President (yes, the first President Bush). The move to abolish (replace? alter?) the Department of Education had not yet become central to the platform of the Republican Party.
But in the second year, Edison said it couldn't be done. The funding was just too low. Duh.
So the contract was renegotiated. Edison was given more money, and a lot of the maintenance duties were reassigned. So much for private efficiency.
Still, effectiveness should be the most important goal, right? So private enterprise paradigm Edison kept plugging away. Until sexual scandals hit involving accusations of misconduct by the private employees, and the no homework policy was discovered.
No homework? Yeah, it seems the private company reduced teacher hours, maximized profits, and increased popularity with students with a no homework policy. So Edison Schools, Inc. was kicked out and went on to fulfill fond visionary conservative fantasies elsewhere.
But privatizing still was the rage. So maybe the structure (or "model" in Gingrichese) needed adjustment. Students began getting the option of going to charter schools. And the impoverished school district was told to give up whatever proportion of the budget that matched the proportion of students going to charter schools.
The idea was that competition might be the key. Charter schools could compete for students in order to get the funding. The public schools would have an incentive to compete for students to keep the funding. That meant that funding was reduced for the existing schools to finance the charter schools. And the charter schools set their own admission standards. So they could keep out discipline problems and students who had academic problems. They could cherry pick. The charter schools were soon producing better test scores than the existing public schools. Duh.
As might be expected, there wasn't much inspirational there either.
Whispers turned into rumors which turned into accusations, then investigations, then actual evidence. Tests showing all those improved scores for charter schools had discoverable "statistical anomalies." The investigations became a little more intense. The common belief now is that at least some of the charter schools were, not to put too fine a point on it, cheating.
Magnet schools were added to the mix. They kind of work like charter schools, except on more rigid regulatory standards. Last year magnet school students went on symbolic protest walkouts at the level of learning in the Chester school district. Cost cutting had gotten classes to standing room only. Not enough chairs. Not enough teachers. Not even enough buses.
A variety of school policies were tried as state appointed superintendents came and went. One went heavily for prioritizing subjects, emphasizing some classes more than others. Reading is fundamental. So math classes got less resources, and teachers were ordered to put their efforts into reading.
No. That is not the inspirational part of the Chester school saga.
Math scores dropped like a stone. Except for a questionable exception in one school. Further investigation isolated the problem to suspiciously high scores in one classroom. That one class had an average math score that screwed up the entire statistical analysis.
The fifth grade teacher was interrogated until administrators got a confession. She finally admitted that she had sneaked around after hours, secretly teaching math to students in underground classes when nobody was looking.
Well, that's a bit inspirational, isn't it? Weird situation, but the teacher should be given an award. We're not quite at the inspirational part of the Chester epic drama, although that teacher gives us a clue about our eventual destination. Keep that teacher in mind.
Just when you think it's about as bad as it can get, with every pet theory having been thrown in willy-nilly, with little thought to predictable consequence, it gets absurdly worse.
The conservative Republican governor who took office last year, Tom Corbett, is into local control. So voters in the Chester Upland School District finally got to elect their own board. They have some limited power now, but the hope is that will increase. They are all Republican, which some of us might regard as a bad thing. However, that does imply some cooperation with the Governor.
No, that's not the inspirational part. Here's why.
Tom Corbitt has been on a cutting spree with education. Lots of waste there, and some things ought to be taken out. The exact reductions have been left to individual school administrations. This has caused a bit of a crisis in many areas. In nearby Harrisburg, 47 nurses have been let go, along with library assistants, nonteaching assistants, and secretaries. If that sounds as horrible as we can get, you haven't been thinking ahead.
The newly liberated Republican Chester Upland School Board can't pay its teachers. None of them. Zero. They have begged for an advance of 2012 funding to help them get it together, but the Governor's Education Secretary says he "cannot continue to direct taxpayer dollars to the district on demand when the district has failed to manage its financial operations, demonstrating instead a disregard for its budgetary and fiduciary responsibilities." Now, I'm all for blaming conservative Republican school boards for a lot of things, but this goes over from absurd to willfully silly.
So. No salaries to teachers in the schools composing the Chester Upland School District. Not even for the subversive who sneaked around teaching underground math classes.
Time for some muscle. And here it is. Along with the inspirational part.
The Chester local teacher's union got together and voted. They passed a resolution saying they would work at no pay "as long as we are individually able."
Now, you know a lot of them can't do it. Can you work at your job for long with no pay? Still, it tells us a little about the top shining surface of human nature at its best. And it does represent who cares about the students.
It happens to be one of those terrible labor unions so many governors across the country are trying to weaken or abolish. Composed of those government employees we like to denigrate.
Let's include that thought as we pray for our country during worship services this morning.
An exuberant reader forwards this to Burr with enthusiasm:
This should cheer you up
Celtic music was the foundation that American country music was built upon. The Scots and the Irish brought their simple instruments with them to the hills of Appalachia and entertained themselves with the music they remembered from their homelands. I hope this entertains you.
GUARANTEED to make your toes tap.
If it doesn't, I'm thinking you are DOA.
The Aussies and Brits are fun folks and a blast, but I think the Irish might just have a slight edge on them. I know my mom is watchin' and toe-tappin'.
Watch this and see what you think!
Conservative James Wigderson still likes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, even though he regards as loathsome those members of the administration not worthy of Walker's trust. He points out that Walker requested the investigation.
Dave Dubya finds encouraging the E.J. Dionne postulate that President Obama is closer to the sane conservatives we used to know than any Republican currently on stage.
In the wake of Iowa returns that did not become a landslide but most certainly were a mudslide for Mitt Romney, Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, has an angry piece at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST about political lies and Citizens United vs Anything Resembing Fair. He provides a list of fact checking sites. I'm with Jack with the possible exception of PolitiFact. My own reaction to the Citizens United decision focuses on its effect in sinking Newt.
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite fame covers Newt Gingrich trying to articulate how he is a victim alright, but not a victim of the Citizens United decision he himself helped advance.
So what was wrong is not that the rules now permit a secret group of millionaires to anonymously run dishonest attack ads. With us so far?
Newt is just outraged that Mitt Romney's staff organized a secret group of millionaires to anonymously run dishonest attack ads against Newt. See the difference? No? Maybe the short video will help.
Tommy's has it about right. Newt's mental pretzel like gymnastics are comical.
Slant Right's John Houk is distraught that Michele Bachmann is leaving the Presidential stage.
Anyone who reads Max's Dad will know his opinion of Michele Bachmann. So it's no surprise that he ran a tirade about her just before she dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination. The surprise is that he is ticked off on Bachmann's behalf.
And he's not kidding around.
And he makes a persuasive case.
And, as it turns out, he is completely correct in his outrage.
At Why do we have to do this, Sir? student papers on the day of the feast of the Epiphany end up in a discussion on who is responsible for bad grades. Our growing-in-faith spiritual leader goes a little nuts.
Infidel 753 finds a video that demonstrates the sinister side of Santa. Actually, the origins of the video seem to indicate it did not start out as a satire, and some Christian conservatives are taking it to heart. Someone better tell O'Reilly, quick.
Lydia McGrew at What’s Wrong with the World finds evidence in plain sight for the resurrection of Jesus. Since crucifixion was considered a shameful death it is unlikely early followers would make the story up. Lydia presents a compelling argument, beyond that of most debates, that Jesus lived, preached, and was executed by crucifixion. As I see it, the resurrection itself remains a matter of faith.
The Heathen Republican comes up with five pieces of advice for his fellow atheists as they contemplate the complete destruction of religious faith. He seems cautious. Unless atheists are careful, the results of a society without a deity will not all be good. Depending, I suppose, on how we are then to define "good."
Collin Hinds has been a citizen in Mad Mike's America for, I guess, about a year. I first came across his name as the author of advice for Christian believers like me. I was struck by the fact that he wrote sympathetically and that, unwittingly or not, his thoughts were quite biblically compatible. Now he poses an interesting observation on why some public officials believe that the voters they represent have a moral obligation to sacrifice health for insurance profits. They actually come pretty close to saying so explicitly.
- Chuck Thinks Right goes reductio ad absurdum over someone's proposal that some requirements for high school graduation violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Oh my.