Last Christmas, Sears had a brisk seller in the Bionic Wrench, an award-winning, patented tool with spiffy lime green accents. This holiday season, though, Sears has a special display for its own wrench, in the red and black colors of its house brand, Craftsman.
One customer who recently spotted the new Craftsman tool, called the Max Axess wrench, thought it was an obvious knockoff, right down to the try-me packaging.
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From nearly the beginning, Julian Assange was saying that, sooner or later, he and his merry band of publish-all-secrets conspirators would have "blood on our hands." WikiLeaks was founded on the principle that the larger good of posting mostly unfiltered information on line would outweigh such necessary sacrifices. If innocent lives are endangered, that would simply be a regrettable price that had to be paid.
Two years ago, the comparison became obvious. Their first careless efforts were opposite and equal to Karl Rove's decisions during the Bush administration. It was okay to reveal the identity of a secret CIA operative because her husband, independently, had discovered that a major reason for invading Iraq was simply not the truth. Joe Wilson had become famous as a US ambassador to the Middle East when he stood up to personal threats from Saddam Hussein. Now a former ambassador, Wilson toured Africa and found that the sources of uranium for Saddam's atomic weapons had given him ... nothing. The mushroom clouds argument for starting the Iraq war had been a convenient falsehood.
So Rove declared Wilson's secret CIA wife, Valarie Plame, "fair game." Her Middle East contacts, all those who had given information to her, were in danger. But that was okay, because exposing her identity was for the greater good. Rove later escaped by inches being arrested in the matter.
The comparison was reinforced when it became plain that WikiLeaks had published information about ordinary individuals in the Middle East who had gone to US authorities with information about developing terrorist attacks. WikiLeaks had blacked out their names, but had left in other identifying information.
The most recent huge leak has also put ordinary people in danger, people who had stumbled over information about terrorist attacks, who had taken some deadly risk by giving information to US authorities about stopping those attacks.
For reasons known only to him, Republican Congressional Representative Darrell Issa guessed that hearings involving classified information might reveal some scandal about the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi.
During the hearings, State Department officials displayed in public carefully sanitized satellite photos of the Benghazi compound. Dana Milbank was there. A Republican colleague of Issa, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), hadn't been clued in. He objected, on television, to showing classified photos on sensitive matters that he had been specifically warned were never to be revealed.
I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.
Well, that's certainly keeping things secret, now isn't it?
So, naturally, Issa made a show of ordering the sanitized photos, now already in the hands of the public, in fact on television at that moment, to be taken down. But he first felt compelled to disclose their significance:
In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.
Now, you might imagine that with any further discussion about top secret warnings and "may still be" a facility and "more facilities" that they "should not ever talk about", the committee might immediately go into closed session, or at least sit down and shut up until they were in private.
Instead, they continued to talk about operational control, other possible CIA operations, and the number of operatives in a CIA "rapid response force." Eventually, it occurred to Issa that maybe the session ought to be closed. But first, he had to announce why. He suggested on camera that "the entire committee have a classified briefing as to any and all other assets that were not drawn upon but could have been drawn upon."
It was a classified hearing run by Curly and Larry, chaired by Moe. "We are not going to reveal the contents of the classified document that says..."
It doesn't end there. Foreign Policy Magazine picks it up.
A week later, Issa posted on the internet 166 pages of sensitive materials. He apparently thought there was some chance of implicating the Obama administration in something. The pages included the actual names of Libyans working for the US, as well as those of several local residents taking heroic risks.
One is an anti-violence activist. She came to the United States for help and guidance. That entire relationship has now been revealed by Darrell Issa. A Benghazi port manager working with the US on security was also named by the Chairman. There were more, many more. Nobody the Congressman would consider important. Just ordinary Libyan citizens taking extraordinary life-and-death risks. Betrayed by a Representative with a security clearance.
Perhaps Representative Issa should enlist Julian Assange to help him with the next public dump of sensitive data. Assange is careless with information that puts ordinary people in danger, but he might at least redact the actual names.
Shortly after President Obama took office, not quite four years ago, an entirely non-controversial bill came before Congress. It dealt with the orderly transition from analog to digital television. It had been on its way to passage by unanimous voice vote. President Obama happened to mention it in passing, and Republicans suddenly opposed it in Congress, right down to the last representative.
And so began a 4 year pattern of pointless opposition to everything, everything, everything. At the time, I observed that the GOP was in a downward spiral. It was the first time, I think, that I referred to the Republican decline as a sociological phenomenon.
The decline of the GOP can be seen, at least in part, as something other than a morality play. It is also a sociological phenomenon. A vital part, perhaps the key part, of the great shrinking, is the constant pounding into the faithful that nothing is really wrong. No corrective moderation is needed. The renewal that any losing party has undergone in the past is postponed for Republicans, perhaps forever.
I eventually came to the conclusion that the GOP was in a process that had no reasonable stopping point. And if the process did not stop at some reasonable point, it would end at the only apparent unreasonable point: the demise of the Republican Party as a national force. Among my friends, a few voices are still raised in vigorous objection, but I remain unable to entice from them any actual argument beyond derision. It isn't so because ... well ... it just can't be.
Shortly after the Republican 2010 army of victorious legislators took office, I stubbornly kept on. I suggested six easy to understand steps leading inexorably to the vanishing of the GOP as a party of any real national influence. I had a request to anyone who disagreed with my analysis. Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, please tell me which step will not lead to the next. At what point will the Republican Party leave the trail I have mapped. At what point can it?
If GOP candidates get few enough votes in enough elections, the party will disappear.
If the GOP grows extreme enough, it will attract fewer voters, thus fulfilling Number 1.
If less conservative members continue to leave the party, the party will become increasingly extreme. Thus fulfilling number 2, which makes number 1 a certainty.
If more conservative members of the party continue to believe ideological purity is the key to victory, they will continue to make the GOP a less and less hospitable home for mainstream conservatives. Thus fulfilling number 3, thus making numbers 2 and 1 a certainty.
If extreme conservatives listen to what they are being told by conservative media, they will become increasingly certain that any setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Thus fulfilling number 4, making number 3, 2, and 1 a certainty.
- If conservative media stop telling extremists they are right, extreme conservatives now have the easy ability to find other more conservative media alternatives. Thus making it all come together in a very happy, yellow-brick-road ending.
In the past, a series of decisive elections would have interrupted the process. This happened to Democrats after 1988, and Bill Clinton was the 1992 result. Republicans, having failed to get the most votes in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, have shown no inclination toward soul searching. In fact, each day brings some new instance that justifies what should be a constant Democratic bumper sticker:
We're not perfect, but they're nuts.
Right after confirming his re-election Tuesday night, President Obama placed courtesy phone calls to both Republican Congressional leaders. Representative John Boehner was sleeping and could not be disturbed. Senator Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, was sleeping and could not be disturbed. Both later indicated they were quite willing to work with the reelected President, as long as he met certain conditions. The main condition was essentially that he become a Republican on the signature tax-the-wealthy issue on which he had campaigned and won.
Stories about the closed off reaction of Republican opinion leaders to the election have blossomed like flowers in early Spring. One of the best can be found at Salon, where Alex Massie has compiled public statements of nationally known conservatives. Anger, denial, shock minus the awe. Very little reconsideration of political or policy direction. My favorite is the single word reaction of Grover Norquist: "Onward."
The temptation is to claim a bit of vindication. Certainly this is a clear case of the conservative information-proof echo chamber pot. Right?
Well, not so much.
While conservative agonistes are a guilty pleasure to a penitent Christian mind (Lord, please guide me to a better way. Just not quite yet), the portrait, beautiful as it is, proves nothing, at least not as of today.
The GOP decline, fall, and vanishing, if it does indeed happen, will not come as a result of strategic mistakes or rash reactions on the part of conservative leadership. It will come from the cocoon-like environment that technology makes available to rank-and-file.
If on-the-street Republicans begin to engage in the painful self-examination they have avoided so far, step four will be the point of destructus interruptus, the party will find a path to recovery, and the Party of Lincoln will be on the way of becoming, well, the Party of Lincoln.
I won't bet my shoes on it.
The officer is pompous. "Surprise is half the battle." I did enjoy the movie The Untouchables.
Elliot Ness all but rolls his eyes as he responds in mock agreement. "Surprise is half the battle. Many things are half the battle. Losing is half the battle. Let's think about what is all the battle."
Listening to pundits since Tuesday night has been surreal. They explain why they were wrong about the extent of Democratic triumph, then pivot and tell us what message voters were sending.
It's a mandate, it's not a mandate, it doesn't matter if it's a mandate.
It's jobs, it's the deficit, it's women, it's gay rights, it's a reaction against anti-Latino bigotry, it's you-pick-it.
The American electorate is not monolithic. Even the majority, the majority who voted for Democrats, the majority who voted for gay rights, the majority who voted for Obama, is not a monolith. Each member of that majority is an individual with many competing motivations.
So those who translate for us the message voters just sent, those who explain voters to the voters who just voted, especially those who ... oops ... got it wrong, or partly wrong, or partly right, or even preternaturally right, are not to be believed. I listened to one talking head explain that voters had sent a clear message that the President should embrace Simpson-Bowles. Seriously. As if any but a small percentage of voters would know that we're not talking about an O.J. owned ten pin alley.
We can't say what voters have said, beyond that most wanted Obama to stay in office, and for Democrats to take more seats.
We can say a few things we hope are true.
We can hope that the most blatant public lies backfired, and that there will be a disincentive against the most egregious possible falsehoods in the future. If there is a hesitation about just making things up, the Italian-conspiracy-to-send-jobs-to-China level of lie, the abolition-of-work-requirements-for-welfare, that hesitation will be a healthy push toward virtue.
But who knows?
We can hope that the type of social conservatism aimed at what Republicans presumed to be Archie Bunker voters, the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-freedom intolerance backfired, and that there will be a disincentive against bigotry in the future. If there is hesitation about treating anyone as less than having equal rights, that hesitation will be a healthy push toward virtue.
But who knows?
"Guess what! The rape guy lost!" "Which one?" We can hope that that dialogue is clearly recognized as an indication of a losing political path.
And we can hope, we can fervently hope, we can hope for the sake of democracy itself, that a strategy that involves putting barriers between legitimate voters and the ballot box can be counted on to produce a profound rage on the part of suppression targets. If the illegitimate offspring of Jim Crow, James Crow, Jr., Esq, is seen as a toxic ally, then perhaps we will derail a clear track laid down by Banana Republicans. What voters had lost from 2008's sometimes naive hope, many seemed to make up in barely restrained fury. In line Tuesday morning, I did sense, amid the joyful camaraderie, a measure of indignation. How dare they.
But we simply don't know if that anger is a reliable reaction to future voter suppression.
What we do know is that the strategy of what we euphemistically call cultural conservatism, the strategy of the most in-your-face advertising untruths, the strategy of cynical voting prevention, all combined into a Republican focus on half the battle.
Losing was half the battle.
At the moment, it looks good for the re-election of the President. If late evening indications hold, Democrats are not reckless in our optimism. We look at the exclusionary tactics and the falsehoods generated by the opposition and it is hard not to anticipate the opportunity for a sort of crude celebratory day after.
And yet, and yet ... a piece I wrote for election day four years ago still seems to me to pertain.
It was 1938 and Joe Louis was about to enter the ring to box Max Schmeling. It was, perhaps, the most famous boxing match of all time. Schmeling, who was German and part of what Hitler called the Aryan race, had beaten Joe Louis, who was black, just two years before. The Nazis had trumpeted Schmeling's victory as a triumph of racial supremacy.
Jimmy Carter tells a boyhood story of that night. His father held the racist views common to rural Georgia. He was okay with black folks who knew their place. He owned the only radio in the area, so it was no surprise when 40 or so of his black neighbors asked to join as he listened to the fight. He agreed.
For a few seconds, it looked as if Schmeling might repeat his 1936 victory, providing another conquest for white racism. But Louis forced Schmeling against the ropes and pummeled him. He knocked the champion down once, then twice. In the Carter house there was complete silence. When Louis knocked Schmeling down for the third time, the Germans in his corner threw in the towel, ending the fight. Joe Louis was the new champion of the world.
In Georgia back then, a black man's inadequate respect of a white man, even if accidental, carried the possibility of an informally executed death penalty. And Earl Carter was a racist and proud of it. From the black audience in the Carter home, the victory of Joe Louis over Max Schmeling provoked a predictable reaction: Nothing. Nothing at all. The 40 guests filed silently out. As Jimmy Carter later recall it, "they walked home and as soon as they crossed the tracks, there was an explosion. They celebrated until dawn."
When triumph comes our way at the expense of another, it seems common sense and plain courtesy to be a bit circumspect. Today's election will validate deeply held values of one side, and repudiate those of the other. That is not easy for some to take. I remember witnessing a conversation in 1972. A business friend of my father asked him who he supported. His answer: "I've thought about it, and I feel strongly that we should talk about something else." The fellow laughed and backed off.
We all have relationships, work, family, social, religious, that can be disturbed by political shock. I am happy to see my ideas put up for a fair vote. If the other side prevails, as will happen from time to time, I am willing to wait for the next election. If we lose this time, it will be disappointing, but I'm resolved to amiably allow some of my associates their own thrill of victory.
If our side wins, I've pretty much decided to wait for my own celebration until I've gotten to the other side of the tracks.
Lots of eventful things have happened in Ohio this season.
Election officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep legitimate voters from casting ballots. This began as a prevent-voter-fraud campaign against non-existent voter fraud. Eventually the effort degenerated into procedural obstacles that even the most paranoid conservative would have had trouble justifying as addressing voter fraud. Voting hours were extended in Republican areas and reduced in Democratic areas.
Ohio's top election official went to court to insist that voters told by poll workers to go to an incorrect voting booth should have their ballot for President, and all other offices, invalidated. That court case went the other way, the court saying that voters guilty of nothing more than following instruction could not have their votes thrown out.
So a last minute substitute order was issued. A voter who brings the required assortment of identification papers must fill out a form with check boxes for the different sorts of ID. If a voter misidentifies the identification, that legitimate vote is to be thrown out. So here we go again.
The wafer thin pretense, that of battling the voter fraud that never was, has been abandoned. The only reason for these new barriers is to keep as many voters in urban and minority areas as possible from casting ballots, and for those who can vote to prevent the ballots of as many as possible from counting.
It appears the heavy handed tactics may be back firing. Long, long lines in Ohio are part of the success in forcing some voters to give up and go home. But those lines also reflect the anger of others who may have stayed at home on their own if those suppression tactics had not provoked them.
Ohio is at the epicenter of electoral politics in the Midwest. If President Obama succeeds in winning Ohio, but loses the national popular vote, many will see it as a loss of legitimacy. Even that may ultimately prove a cause for celebration for those who value democracy. It could, at long last, provoke even conservatives to move against an electoral college system that is little more than a remnant of slave days.
Ohio is more than a national voting center. It may also become the leading edge of a new and overdue reform in the ethics of journalism.
For too long, journalists have flocked to what has been for most an irresistible standard of balance. It is a standard that has served well in the majority of cases: those in which truth is ambiguous, when facts are unavailable or subject to varying interpretations.
We-report-you-decide does not work well when truth is unambiguously documented, when it can be determined to conclusively be on one side or the other. In those cases, he-said/she-said/we-can't-tell-you reporting lends a false impression: an aura of legitimacy that surrounds demonstrable falsehood. When truth is held to be, by default, between two extremes, it provides a perverse incentive to extremism. If journalism is determined to place fairness at the fifty yard line, the obvious strategy of any advocacy is to move that point by pushing a goalpost. When no foul is called, foul play predominates.
The twin evil of the he-said/she-said/who-knows is invoked when it becomes impossible to maintain the fiction that truth cannot be found. It is assumed equivalency. Everybody does it. Pox on all houses. He's guilty, but she did something wrong too.
Candy Crowley was criticized by conservatives for not maintaining journalistic neutrality during the final Obama rout of Romney debate. What is almost lost is her vain, instinctive attempt to right that wrong. After mumbling, "He did call it an act of terror," she immediately appended: "It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that." It was a weak try, bereft of credibility after the careless blurting of fact. But it illustrates the reflexive nature of the journalistic ethic: the conscious sacrifice of truth for balance.
In Ohio, Mitt Romney went too far. Journalists were all truth-in-the-middle on foreign policy. The lie about Obama ending welfare requirements was he-said/you-decide. But when Mitt Romney went to Obama-conspires-with-Italians-to-send-auto-manufacturing-jobs-to-China, the falsehoods had gone too far.
Newspapers like the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and Columbus Dispatch led off the true reporting. The Toledo Blade quickly followed and the avalanche was on. Broadcasting centers joined in. It may have been that reporters and editors had simply had enough. Strong unequivocal statements by official corporate spokespeople may have provided a freer hand to journalists to abandon balance, in this one instance, for truth.
Wouldn't it be something if a trend began, of journalists reporting truth, even if facts unfairly favor one side, even if truth is not always equivalent?
If journalism takes the gloves off when documented, unambiguous lies become pretty much in-your-face, politicians may face a political price when they actually flat out lie. It might even be possible that truth in politics could have its own reward.
Or not. It could be a simple visionary hope that will blow away like dust in the wind. Journalists, like most of us, love safety and value a paycheck earned with less effort.
Still, this, and other, fond dreams do live on.
For example, if voter suppression ended up costing those political thugs in pinstriped suits ... that would be something.
Who knows? Ohio could become famous, not only for an election result, but for something more.
Voters Waiting Up To 7 Hours to Cast Ballots - This is no accident:
From The Atlantic Monthly:
No matter who wins the presidential race, no matter which party controls Congress, can we at least agree as reasonable adults that when it comes to voting itself the election of 2012 is a national disgrace?
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Republicans, Good Lord bless them, have come up with another patriotism argument.
If Mitt Romney is elected he will be able to end obstructionism and get things done, things everyone agrees need to be done to revive the economy. If Barack Obama is re-elected, that won't happen.
The claim rests on an interesting proposition. Democrats in Congress will be willing to cooperate with a President of the opposing party for the good of the country. Republicans won't.
It's not a new contention. It's a variation on one they came up with retroactively after the 2001 attacks. It struck me as strange then. It impresses me as weird now.
The argument then was that the closeness of the 2000 election, the Florida recounts that were stopped, the split Supreme Court decision, all combined to form a blessing from a beneficent God to a wounded country. That blessing came to us in the person of President George W. Bush. After terrorists killed thousands who they saw as guilty of going to work in America, President Bush was able to rally the country into a firm unity. If Al Gore had taken office, conservatives would never have joined that unity.
Conservatives might not have been as aggressive in advancing that argument if it had occurred to them that the hard core center rested on the firm conviction that Democrats possessed a love of country that was entirely alien to Republicans, that GOP members of national government were, not to put too fine a point on it, not patriots at all. I rejected that proposition. Of course a President Gore would have rallied the country. And conservatives would have responded.
Conservative David Brooks articulates a similar case more capably than most. He suggests a more contemporary version of the Republicans-have-no-patriotism argument. He does not put it that way. It's possible he does not perceive the logical premise of the case he tries to make.
He envisions the beginning of an Obama term. The reelected President goes to Senate and House Republicans with one proposal after another that Brooks characterizes as "a moderate and sensible agenda." Brooks summarizes the President's approach: “Look, we’re stuck with each other. Let’s cut a deal for the sake of the country.” A few Republican Senators respond out of a well considered patriotism. Members of the House have a one word answer. It isn't yes. Not even maybe.
But as President Mitt Romney takes office in January, he will be more successful if he attempts to offer to Democrats a less severe agenda. Democrats will go along with proposals when they depart from the extreme programs candidate Romney currently says he will insist upon. Democrats are, after all, patriots.
There is some historical evidence to back the argument advanced by Brooks and others. It is true that Republican legislators aborted every consideration, even urgent support for the safety of American troops in combat areas, for an openly declared agenda of denying President Obama any victory.
But President Obama has offered what, at heart, is a more thoughtful picture of Republican sensibilities. He thinks that, once the objective of defeating the incumbent President becomes mute, the fever will break and Republican patriotism will come to fore.
President Obama has more faith in Republican patriotism than do conservatives.
Many things puzzle me about things electoral. I am bemused by undecided voters. There are, of course, those who carefully weigh every side to every issue and cannot come to a conclusion until the last minute. They are vastly outnumbered, as I see it, by those who stand slack jawed at checkout lines pondering whether to buy The Globe or the National Enquirer. Both are outnumbered by folks who have indeed made up their minds and are unlikely to change them.
Still, I understand those who are undecided simply because they have given no thought at all to anything political. It is not outside my comprehension that folks have other priorities that exclude outside thoughts.
Other mysteries are beyond me. For example, I do not understand the heated reaction of partisans to opinion polling.
Nate Silver was eerily prescient 4 years ago, predicting the Presidential winner in 49 of 50 states. Maybe he was just lucky. Maybe 2008 can be most accurately seen as a wave election, thereby making state-by-state results more predictable. Maybe a lot of things, including the possibility that he knew what he was talking about.
This year he thinks President Obama is the heavy favorite, but not the certain winner, next Tuesday.
The hostility directed toward Nate Silver is a riddle to me. It is as if a prediction of how voters will decide causes voters to decide by following the prediction.
Most of the vitriol seems to come from the right. E.J. Dionne quotes a professional pollster on the difference.
“When you give conservatives bad news in your polls, they want to kill you,” he said. “When you give liberals bad news in your polls, they want to kill themselves."
The dread experienced by folks on my side is a little overblown, I think. If the country rejects those I think are right, there is always another election. We'll try to present a better case then. But at least I understand the anxiety.
The reaction of at least some conservatives seems to go somewhere over the edge of the abyss. It is as if, by not believing in what they see as a good outcome, we are preventing that outcome. We have nothing to fear but skepticism itself. So skepticism is the object of derision.
The case they seem to make to voters is a tale-wags-the-dog sort of argument. You should vote for our guy because polls show you'll vote for our guy.
Reactions to another stat also puzzle me, although not to the same degree. Every month the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases unemployment figures from the previous month. In a rational world those figures would be most meaningful to economists and policy wonks. They help reveal what governmental actions work and what don't.
But partisans react as if measurement of economic well being, not economic well being itself, affects how voters will cast their ballots.
My age and sometimes uncertain health dictate a regular visit to my doctor. Checkups no longer wait for the turn of the year. And we have a standing lame joke with each visit.
"So how are you today?" he asks.
And I answer, "That's what you'll be telling me."
He gave me a courtesy laugh the first time. Now, it doesn't even rate a sympathy chuckle. Still, it is a ritual, and we follow it.
Arguments about whether economic statistical measurements are skewed are raised as if those statistics determine elections. Whether we can pay our bills, how we can maintain the house, how the future looks at work are the subjects of financial discussions in BurrLand. My loved one and I are unusual in that we have a more acute interest than most couples in economic policy. It is only in that respect that we discuss whether unemployment is at 7.8 percent or 7.9.
Do partisans seriously believe voters wait anxiously to find out what statistics say the economy was like last month? Or decide who to support based on the latest polls? "Gosh, Mid Rummy is only a point behind Bronco Bama. I'd better vote Republican next week."
How I feel on any given day is very much influenced by my temperature. But I do not hold debates with my thermometer.
It is unusual for a corporation, any corporation that makes a profit or even hopes to make a profit, to become directly and publicly involved in a political campaign. One unfortunate aspect of civil law is that corporations can get involved in funding others who are involved in political life. Unless every shareholder is in agreement, it is a form of legalized corporate theft.
But direct involvement? Doesn't happen. At least not often.
So it was exceptional for two, that would be two, auto makers to essentially call Mitt Romney a deliberate liar. At issue is a deceptive Romney ad that suggests the companies will be firing American workers to ship jobs to China. The operative part of the ad says this:
Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.
The CEO of Chrysler commented directly in an email to employees:
I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China... Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.
He announced plans to hire 1100 more US workers as the Jeep SUV, "which will be produced in Toledo, is introduced for global distribution in the second quarter of 2013."
Separately, GM also attacked the Romney statements.
We've clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.
The Romney campaign responded with a new set of radio ads repeating the falsehoods:
Barack Obama says he saved the auto industry. But for who? Ohio or China? Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in, you guessed it, China.
The Romney ad campaign centers in Ohio and has drawn unusual fire from local press, which typically reports such controversy in he said/she said format. This has proven to be too much. Ohio reporters are taking blowtorches to the Romney candidacy.
As that controversy continues, the Romney campaign has brought back an old campaign falsehood, this one the complete opposite of the truth.
Republican governors had asked for permission to depart from workfare requirements. Workfare is a program to put welfare recipients back in the workforce. The governors said they wanted to develop more and better ways to get people employed. The Obama administration agreed but with the written requirement that any change the governors proposed would have to put more people into jobs than the existing setup. It looked like a winner all the way around.
The Romney campaign has re-introduced ads accusing the administration of doing the direct opposite of what is being done, saying that President Obama "gutted the work requirement for welfare." Yeah, that's a direct quote.
Yesterday, conservative Joe Scarborough repeated his long standing criticism of Republicans, most especially Mitt Romney. Romney, he said, should put aside the distortions and run as a straight forward, unapologetic conservative.
Here's how Scarborough put it a month ago.
I’m actually telling them we will lose if you don’t start running as a conservative: If you don’t start telling people what you believe — if you really do, in fact, believe in anything.
The Romney campaign represents the new face of Republican moderation. Actual policies, real governmental approaches, are identical with the most severe conservatives of the GOP. The difference is in presentation.
Scarborough conservatives actually believe extreme conservatism, the hairpin turn of the party to the right, is what the American public has been yearning for.
Romney conservatives agree on policy direction. They have confidence in conservative policy.
But they don't have confidence in conservative political argument.
They believe the path to the ballot box requires a different approach, and they have a strategy they seem to believe will carry them to victory.
To win, they have to lie.
The failures of government during the Katrina disaster were manifest. There was no lack of precedent. It doesn't take a rabid partisan to recognize the contrast between the multiple failures of federal disaster relief during successive Republican administrations and effectiveness during Democratic presidencies. Surely it cannot be entirely a matter of personality.
We can achieve a certain sympathy for public officials trapped by their own policies. A philosophy that says government can only be a problem does not provide an ideal organizing principle for an agency that saves lives. Some of the public demonstrations of calloused disregard for human suffering could be seen as the inevitable result of disorganization and unpreparedness.
FEMA had been a shining star during the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton had pretty much brought it to life. But the incoming Bush administration had a famed low regard for all things Clinton. From food and drug regulation to warnings about al Qaeda, Clinton preoccupations were regarded with amused dismissal by ascendent conservatives. A special unit of the FBI had been established to analyze recent actions of terrorists, anticipating possible points of attack. It was disbanded with derision. The FBI was not a "Federal Bureau of Analysis."
FEMA was no exception to the more general dismissive view. It was relegated as the final staffing point for political loyalists needing employment. Competence was not a consideration.
The appointee as the new head of the agency was a poster child for the new approach. The previous high point in the career of Michael Brown was his tenure as Judges and Stewards Commissioner of the Arabian Horse Association. He was commended for his strict enforcement of rules regarding equine surgery.
In his new job leading an agency assigned the task of human rescue, he was a lost soul. If he had simply been in over his head, sympathy for his helplessness would be an easy assignment. But of everyone involved with the tragedy of Katrina, he is perhaps the hardest one for whom to find any mitigation. Email correspondence later revealed a pattern that went beyond startling into the realm of shock. He leaps from the pages of any dictionary under the heading of sociopath.
He worried endlessly, agonizing over priority decisions. He sent urgent messages to those he trusted for critical advice. What shirt should he wear to his next television appearance? Should he button the cuffs? Or should he roll up the sleeves?
As those interviews shared television screens with pictures of the New Orleans Superdome, the makeshift shelter of last resort for those who escaped raging waters, he begged for insight on what he should do about the next crisis: What restaurant would be a suitable dining place for someone of his rank?
It was a Nero heroism at the burning of Rome. If Brown had possessed a violin, he would have been fiddling at the edge of the flooding. The magnitude of the tragedy was all that kept Brownie's performance from becoming a comedy routine. There is little humor to be found in death through careless neglect.
He resigned month later, and we can hope that God will bestow on him a blessing for leaving so soon.
Michael Brown is not beyond learning from his experience. He is a wiser man, educated by the harsh and bitter trials of the past. He offers his perspective as Sandy pounds the Northeast regions. He tries to be gentle in his criticism of President Obama. But it is clear to him that the leader of the Republic is off to a bad start.
The President went into action as the storm gathered its astonishing force and approached populated areas. Obama held press conferences and launched efforts of assistance as state and local officials braced. He was on the telephone to offer assurances of continuous help. His directives within the executive branch were clear. Agencies were to cut red tape. Paperwork and technicalities would not stop the saving of human life.
Michael Brown explained to the Denver Westword Press how the President is doing it all wrong.
Obama, says Brown, has been moving too fast.
Eighty six months can be forever in the consciousness of the American public. Daily life crowds out memories.
But even over time, we still remember those things whose effects persist. We remember the financial crisis because good people still hurt. We remember the invasions because combat heroes are still in harm's way.
We also remember the horrific events. Emblazoned on our minds will forever be the September attacks on American buildings filled with people.
And we remember, from eighty four months ago, the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The icons persist, refusing to fade. Those terrible pictures of floating bodies, the temporary shelter of a dome that became an ongoing hell for those who waited and waited for help. An agency that could not overcome its own red tape. The I-can-see-my-house photo of President Bush looking out from Air Force One. The HeckavaJobBrownie moments, from the birthday party for John McCain while adults and children died, to Condi Rice shopping for shoes. And Brownie himself, the Horse Show manager turned disaster relief disaster. When his email messages were later revealed, they showed a mind preoccupied with his choice of cufflinks as he readied for television interviews.
What is forgotten is the oscillating nature of FEMA since its formulation in the late 1970s. It seemed like a shining example of federal accomplishment at first. Disparate agencies and bureaus were pulled together, combined into a single unified rescue force. But during the Reagan and Bush administrations, FEMA became the destination of do-nothing retirees. Like an ambassadorship to some quiet tropical paradise, it was a patronage reward for countless contributors and out-of-office pols.
In 1992, the final full year of the Presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida like a sledge hammer. FEMA, sluggish with political cronies, searched in vain for its tail. The beleaguered local management director for one county became briefly famous for her on air frustration. "Where in HELL is the cavalry?" It wasn't the first instance of an agency that seemed the victim of bureaucratic arteriosclerosis. When Hurricane Hugo had pounded South Carolina three years before, FEMA couldn't get out of its own way.
When Bill Clinton took over, FEMA was a favorite target of his wonkish obsession with policy. He appointed James Lee Witt to direct the agency. By the time the two got through with it, layers of obstructionist management had been removed and the patronage part of FEMA had been replaced with professionals. Hundreds of local disasters were handled quickly and effectively. The 1997 Red River flood in Minnesota and South Dakota was a sort of acid test, and FEMA established a sterling reputation. Praise came from every direction.
But President George W. Bush let it all go. Katrina was just the icing on Senator McCain's birthday cake.
President Obama is getting high marks for now as Sandy, the Super Storm accused of excessive steroid use, begins to vent Republican-like rage on the upper east coast. GOP officials join in praising FEMA and the Commander in Chief.
If you see a bit of a pattern, it seems to me to be no accident. It is not a matter of competence as much as philosophy. Putting rabidly anti-government people in charge of government is useful only to the extent that government is not useful. It is akin to hiring a PETA activist, a militant vegetarian, to cook a steak. You simply cannot expect a happy ending.
Mitt Romney is a candidate who lusts after loopholes, even as Bain Capital lusts after the pensions of unsuspecting workers. While President Obama is in the White House Situation Room checking with local officials on disaster survival efforts, Governor Romney deals with the disaster from a different perspective. He is trying hard to escape his earlier stands. FEMA? He never wanted to abolish FEMA. He loves FEMA. He merely wants FEMA to fully utilize the resources of state and county experts who know the local terrain. That's all.
Last year, in a CNN debate with fellow severe conservatives, Governor Romney was asked about what agencies should be cut. How about FEMA? His answer began this way:
"Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut -- we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we're doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we're doing that we don't have to do? And those things we've got to stop doing"
His philosophical flight was interrupted with a request for specifics. "Including disaster relief, though?"
He replied, "We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids." Well, that answered that.
The transcript is thoughtfully published by CNN.
Today the Romney campaign insists he was not advocating any degradation of disaster relief. He merely wanted a prudent reliance on local expertise. "As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA." Well, silly us for getting him all wrong.
Mitt Romney struggles toward a political center that, for him, is its own strange terrain. He has dwelled for a very long time in a country in which New Orleans circa 2005 is the rescue model of choice. It is a conservative land of every man for himself, every woman for herself, every child left to fend.
When a natural disaster calls for every hand on deck, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, like government itself, is in good hands. For the present.
Chrysler managers may have been surprised when they read news accounts of a Mitt Romney campaign appearance in Defiance, Ohio. Apparently, Governor Romney had gotten word of an impending corporate move even corporate officials didn't know about.
I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China. I will fight for every good job in America, I'm going to fight to make sure trade is fair, and if it's fair, America will win.
- - Mitt Romney, October 25, 2012
So, that same day, Chrysler put out a clarification, pretty much repeating what they had been saying all along. No Jobs would be moved to China from the United States.
In fact, the company had already announced that 1,100 new jobs would be added in the United States, just to build more Jeep Grand Cherokees.
They were happy about increasing world demand for Jeep SUVs. They sensed some opportunities to sell more in China. So, on the possibility that more SUVs could be sold in China, the company was looking into how to put a Jeep factory in China in order to build those new SUVs.
The Chrysler statement seemed to express some frustration with those "unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments."
So was it a lie?
Well, it was a falsehood. But a lie, to be a lie, pretty much has to be intentional. At least that's the way most folks look at it. For example, Stephanie Cutter, on behalf of the Obama campaign, passed on information to the press about the tragic deaths of an American ambassador and diplomatic workers in Benghazi, as it came from US intelligence sources. The main thrust of that information was wrong. So she told a falsehood. Was it a lie?
Even Presidential candidates can get their facts wrong from time to time. A stray comment about automobile production could be based on sloppy staff work. And you only have to look at Mitt Romney's foreign trip to see that his staff can have unfortunate experiences with factual fidelity.
Mitt Romney may have been handed a staff summary of a poorly written article appearing in the usually top notch Bloomberg Press. It starts off referring to a revival of Jeep production that had been closed down in China. One subsidiary of Chrysler "plans to return Jeep output to China" and "may eventually make all of its models in that country"
Only a few paragraphs later does the article mention that Chrysler itself is expanding and expanding and expanding production in the United States. After discussion of targets for sales of half a million vehicles outside the United States, and a more than tripling of production, comes this: "Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China."
Okay, so if a staffer had just looked at the headline, "Fiat Says Jeep Output May Return to China as Demand Rises" and scanned the first few sentences, the Governor could have been handed a note saying that Jeep was moving everything to China. Pretty scary news that he would want to relay to his audience.
And if we're going to say Stephanie Cutter wasn't lying when she passed on information as she got it, can we cut Governor Romney some slack for prematurely reacting to false information passed on to him by his staff?
I mean, Chrysler quickly issued a press release correcting Governor Romney, although with some pointed comments about fantasies. Countless news programs reported that Romney was wrong, wrong. So no harm, no foul, and most important, no lie.
There is no lie if the falsehood is unintentional, regardless of the corporation's irritation with the Romney misstatement.
On Saturday, after the false Romney statement, after the Chrysler public statement, after the news reports. Now comes a campaign advertisement paid for by the Romney campaign, now being run on television in Ohio:
Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.
It ends with "I'm Mitt Romney. And I approved this message."
Okay, I give up. It's a deliberate lie.
Just throw it on that huge pile over there.