Saturday, March 17, 2012

Too many homes

Poor Mitt.   He keeps being confronted by people who think he's too rich.   Not that people fault him for being successful  -- unless the current expose of Goldman Sachs perfidy in ripping off their own clients spills over to Mitt and his Bain Capital hard-nosed business practices.

What does seem to hurt him is how deeply engrained his rich-man out-of-touchness runs, so that he makes unthinking gaffes that point up his living in a different world.   Most people would have said, "I'll bet you $5 dollars -- or maybe even $100."    But in a debate with Rick Perry over which one was quoting Mitt's book accurately, he said "I'll bet you $10,000."    That's one of many.

And his attempts to joke or be folksy just keep backfiring.   It was bad enough that he began his speech last week in the South with "Howdy, y'all."   But then he compounded error by saying he had had some "cheesy grits" that morning.    No, Mittens.   Not cheesy.  Cheese grits.

This surfaced again this week with a political factoid.  It seems that Mitt Romney was on an early list as possible VP running mate with John McCain in 2008.

But McCain had just made headlines -- and headaches for his campaign -- when he blithely declared that he didn't know how many homes he and Cindy owned.   Turned out it was six.

So when they began vetting Mitt as VP and found out that he owns eight homes, that was just too much.   As top McCain aide and speechwriter Mark Salter said,
"We couldn't go to the country with a Republican ticket that owned 14 houses between the two of them."
That was the end of consideration of Mitt Romney as VP candidate.


Thanks to Newt

Of course, political trash rhetoric has been with us as long as there have been contests for the power of public office.  But Newt Gingrich is probably responsible, more than anyone else, for instituting systematic, calculated tactics that focus on how you say things, what words you use to make your demonizing your opponent more effective.

Remember back when he was revolutionizing the House with his Contract with America and advising fellow Republicans how to trash their opponents by putting out a list of certain words and phrases to use?  Karl Rove apparently has no love for Newt, but he learned that lesson well, adding to it the tactic of turning your opponent's strengths into liabilities.

Rick Santorum has learned both lessons well.   Although, more than most politicians, he seems to be motivated by genuinely held, passionate moral beliefs.  In this day of poll-driven positions on any issue, that's a bit refreshing -- if his particular beliefs were not so repugnant on so many counts and if he weren't trying to force his beliefs on the rest of us.

Here's the latest from Rick:   branding those who support marriage equality as "anti-marriage."    I suppose the idea is that same-sex couples getting married "destroys the institution of marriage."   

Which is not true, of course.   They like to cite the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal for a few years, and its declining rate of marriage.    The problem with that is that the rate of marriage is down all over Europe.

Look at the U.S.    Massachusetts has had gay marriage the longest (6 years, I believe).  And Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate of any state.    Oklahoma, one of the most reliably red, conservative states, has the highest divorce rate.    Doesn't prove anything -- except that their claim that it destroys marriage must be false.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Inside Wall Street

Gregory Smith, a mid-level executive at Goldman Sachs has resigned and written a blistering op-ed in yesterday's New York Times exposing the culture that pervades the top investment firm.
"I can honestly say that the environment [at Goldman Sachs] now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. . . .  I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

"I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. . . .  It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. . . .

"These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. . . .  

"Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore. I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. . . .  Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons."

"Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" landed like a bomb on Wall Street.   But to me, as a way-outside observer, it fits with everything we've seen in the investment bankers' response to the financial crisis of the past few years.

Here, however, we're not talking about how Wall Street has profited at the expense of Main Street.   We're talking about one of the very top investment firms ripping off its own clients, people they were being paid by for advice in investing their money profitably.  And what were they doing?

In one now infamous case, Goldman Sachs sold derivatives to clients and at the same time turned around and made their own investments that were predicated on those same assets losing money.  How's that for building trust in your clients?    Smith's point is that this is not only wrong but it will eventually destroy the firm.

It seems clear now that the pure market is a-moral, based on greed.   This is deception of the very people who have put their trust in you.   Where is the line between this and what Bernie Madoff did?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bad night for The Newt

The results of Alabama and Mississippi were close enough to blur any great advantage to any candidate.

Santorum          36%
Romney             29%   
Gingrich            29%   
  (Romney leading Gingrich by 55 votes, with 99% reporting)

Santorum          33%
Gingrich            31%
Romney            30%

Romney            45%
Santorum         25%
Paul                 18%
Gingrich           11%

     American Samoa
Romney won all 9 delegates;   no vote-numbers reported

Politically, however, it's a little different.   Even though polls in Alabama and Mississippi have little reliability historically, plus their volatility this year, there was some expectation that Gingrich would win AL, that Romney was strong in MS, and that it would be close among the three.

By winning both Alabama and Mississippi, Santorum gained the advantage of exceeding expectations and the sense of a groundswell for him as the very conservative, moral-values vote instead of Gingrich.   It shouldn't hurt Romney much, since the South is not his natural territory -- and he actually won the most delegates overall yesterday.

But it does hurt Gingrich not to win either of these deep-South states to add to his two wins in South Carolina and Georgia.

Evidence of the desperation of his campaign to find a reason to hang on are his floating possible "dream tickets,"  first with Rick Perry as his #2 last week;  and now today the "Dream Ticket" of Gingrich and Santorum.

Exactly what does Newt think he would bring to Santorum on a ticket, since Santorum is beating him in his own (proclaimed) backyard?  

No, it smells more of desperation.   That doesn't mean Newt is going to drop out if this doesn't catch on.    It does mean that he is grasping at straws.

When we look at delegates won yesterday, including his big wins in the Hawaii and American Samoan caucuses, it's actually Romney that won the day.

     Romney          41
     Santorum       35
     Gingrich         24
     Paul                  1


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The staff speaks out on Palin

The two most important staff people from John McCain's campaign who were most closely involved with Sarah Palin as the VP candidate, have now spoken out with some support for the film, "Game Change."

Steve Schmidt, the chief McCain strategist, said yesterday that the film was "a very accurate description" of the campaign.  He also said that the idea of a Sarah Palin presidency frightens him.   While not directly saying he felt guilty, he sounded defensive and apologetic in explaining:  "We were fueled by ambition to win."

Nicolle Wallace, who was assigned to Palin as her "handler," said yesterday on This Week, when asked how "true to life" the film is:  "True enough to make me squirm."   Later in an interview with Rachel Maddow she said she was still in shock at “how close we came to having somebody a heartbeat away from the presidency so fundamentally unprepared and unsuited for the job,” and she felt guilt about working to try to make that happen.

There you have it.    No more authentic sources than these two. 
 You betcha !!!


The new New Republic

Back in the 1970s and 80s, I subscribed to The New Republic, which was at that time a progressive news magazine that respected it's readers' intelligence and presented in depth articles of interest to me.   It was definitely considered a liberal, intelligent journal of news, culture, and opinion.   I felt in synch with it.

It's 98 year history was deeply entwined with Martin Peretz, its owner, publisher, and columnist from 1974 to 2005.  Peretz is a former Harvard professor and progressive thinker.  He hired a series of intelligent editors, including Andrew Sullivan, a gay man at a time when that was still very unusual.  Those were the good days.

Then it went through a more conservative phase, at least on some topics. My problem was with Perez himself, and I parted ways with TNR somewhere back in the 90s when he became increasingly strident in his denunciation of anyone who disagreed with him about Israel and its more right-wing, knee-jerk positions toward the Palestinians.   In print, he viciously attacked those who defended Muslims, and public opinion twice forced him to print apologies for bigoted and insulting comments about Muslims and those who showed any sympathy for them.   One long-term observer commented that Peretz "was born belligerent."

Eric Alterman, who writes for The Nation, wrote about Peretz:

"[D]uring his reign, Peretz has also done lasting damage to the cause of American liberalism. By turning TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed... [playing] a key role in defining the borders of "responsible" liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy. But he did so on the basis of a politics simultaneously so narrow and idiosyncratic — in thrall almost entirely to an Israel-centric neoconservatism."
Several years ago, Peretz sold his majority ownership interest in the financially struggling magazine.  Now comes the announcement that Chris Hughes has bought a controlling interest in The New Republic.  Hughes is 28 and a co-founder of Facebook along with Mark Zuckerberg -- and therefore wealthy enough to have bought himself a magazine.

This is not just a vanity purchase, however.  Hughes will assume the position of publisher and editor-in-chief, and there is good reason to be optimistic about the future of TNR.   First, Hughes has the financial resources to keep the magazine going at a time when long-form, print journalism in particular is losing economically.

Second, he brings the technical knowledge and vision to move the magazine into the digital age and plans to do so with an electronic version.

And, third, he has a history of progressive, liberal political thought and is committed to this form of journalism.   He joined the 2008 Obama campaign early on to spearhead its digital organizing.   Huffington Post reports:
While new ownership inevitably causes some wariness, staffers walked away from the hour-long meeting [with Hughes] pleased by what they heard . . .  Hughes said he plans to expand the staff, a marked difference from the contraction and layoffs the money-losing magazine has seen in recent years. And while Hughes sits on the progressive side of the fence, he suggested that the magazine shouldn't be in lock-step with any political agenda. While tilting left, the New Republic has a long tradition of contrarianism, even boasting top editors, like Andrew Sullivan years back, who identify as conservatives.
 Hughes' private comments about the New Republic's future [include]:
"I believe that the demand for long-form quality journalism is strong in our country and I think that, despite all the changes in technology over the past few years, people still want in-depth, rigorous reporting. . . .  The New Republic has been a place where that has happened and under my leadership, and the leadership of folks there, we'll double down on that."
This may turn out to be a good thing to save a venerable and valuable journal.   What I fear most in the turn to the internet for news and opinion is that in depth, investigative journalism will get lost in the rush to fill up the 24/7 news cycle -- which is sadly what's happened to cable TV news.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Shocking misinformation

Yes, I know there's all that blather about Obama's being a Muslim, not a native born American, a socialist, etc.  But the degree to which the demonization of Barack Obama has taken hold is shocking and absurd.

Public Policy Polling has asked "likely voters" in Republican primaries in Mississippi and Alabama what they believe Obama's religion is.   Here are the results:

                         Mississippi          Alabama       

Christian                12%                   14%
Muslim                   52%                   45%
Not sure                 36%                   41%

I don't suggest that any of the candidates' campaigns are pushing this, but they aren't doing anything to combat it -- like John McCain did in 2008, when he stopped a woman at one of his rallies and corrected her when she said Obama was a Muslim.

Instead, we get meanly-mouthed responses, like "He says he is a Christian."   "I have no proof that he's not."   And then there was the despicable Franklin Graham on TV casting doubt -- only later to issue a retraction and apology, but one of those "if I said anything that caused offense . . ." kind of non-apologies.

Of course, I want to jump in and say, "So what if he were a Muslim?   Is there something categorically wrong with that?"


Sunday, March 11, 2012

"True enough to make me squirm."

Nicolle Wallace, senior adviser to the 2008 John McCain campaign, was assigned as one of Sarah Palin's principle aides (sometimes referred to a bit crudely as her "handler").    This morning she was on This Week With George Stephanopolis" as a political strategist to give the Republican point of view on this week's news.

At the end of the program, Stephanopolis played a clip from last night's HBO movie Game Change, which involved an angry phone call between Wallace and Palin after her disastrous interview with Katie Couric.

Palin was angrily confronting Wallace, blaming her (Wallace) for her (Palin's) poor performance.  The (fictional) Wallace replies, "The interview “sucked” because you did not properly prepare," to which Palin shouts, “I am not your puppet!”

Stephanopoulos then asked Wallace how “true to life” the movie really was.   Wallace looked uncomfortable and a little sheepish and replied, "True enough to make me squirm."

For me, that pretty much confirms that there is a lot of truth in the portrayal of Palin as out of her element, difficult to work with, and increasingly trying to go her own way.  The movie reportedly also shows some sympathy for Palin;  it is not just a hatchet job.


Obama accused of racism

As racist politics go, it's pretty palid and pathetic.   Think back just a short way to the Willie Horton ad that helped Bush I defeat Michael Dukakis and to the rumor that John McCain fathered a black child (he and Cindy adopted a dark-skinned girl from Bangladesh) that helped Dubya defeat him in South Carolina in 2000.

BTW the slime-ball who made the Willie Horton ad is working for Mitt Romney's campaign.

But there it is, anyway.    Someone dug up a 22 year old video of Harvard law school student Barack Obama introducing and then hugging Derrick Bell, Harvard Law School's first tenured African-American professor.

So how is that racist?   One black man hugging another?   It takes a little explaining.   See, these days -- according to the right-wing nuts, anyway -- the only racists left in America are those genuine extremists on the right and . . . ahem . . . those extremists on the left who try to get rid of racism by calling attention to it and trying to change it.   If you just ignore it -- and have a few token blacks around to prove you're not racist -- then you're above it all.   Not racist.  Get it?

The occasion for Obama's introduction of Bell and the hug was a rally in support of Bell and his decision to take an unpaid leave of absence to protest Harvard Law School's failure to offer an African American woman a tenure-track position.

Now it's clear.  Right?    Bell was a racist for claiming that Harvard was being racist in not hiring this black woman.  Obama was in his corner.   That makes him a racist too.