Buzz Words

NosferatuI remember a day more than twenty years ago, back when I was a teaching assistant in a course on European cinema at a huge state university deep in the land of white bread and mayonnaise. The professor was lecturing on FW Murnau’s Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens.

I’m just paraphrasing here, but this is basically what he said:

Don’t think of the vampire as a literal monster who can turn into a bat and who sucks blood from his victims. Instead, think of the foreigner, the other, the stranger, the alien, the carrier of unfamiliar diseases and strange customs… the Jew.

I watched him make this statement, and saw that he was making an effort to look out over the entire lecture hall, but that as hard as he tried, by the time he got to the end of it, his eyes were focused right… on… me. All I could do was smile right back at him, and that was enough to jar him into averting his gaze.

I was reminded of that incident while watching the Republican convention last night. The major speakers didn’t bother with even a sliver of subtlety. They polished up their old culture war buzz words and held them up like they were eternal truths.

Mitt Romney jumped all over the “eastern elites,” and proclaimed that the sun was getting ready to rise in the west. He left out the fact that he holds two post-graduate degrees from Harvard University, that he’s a leader of the eastern financial elite, that he has homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in addition to Utah (and maybe a few places I’m not aware of), that he claimed in 1982 to be a moderate who hadn’t supported Reagan-Bush, and that his own father was born in Mexico because his family had lived there in exile for a few generations due to the fact that a major tenet of their religious beliefs was deemed alien, immoral, and illegal in the US.

Mike Huckabee warned us of “European ideas,” leaving out the fact that this nation was founded by idealists who hoped to build a nation based on the ideas of a couple of European philosophers.

And Rudy Giuliani, life-long New Yorker, adulterer and three-time groom, multi-millionaire orator and security consultant to folks like Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, a supporter of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, further warned us that those bi-coastal elites — Hollywood and the East coast media — just don’t understand the real America.

And every time they mentioned the media, Europe, or Hollywood, I’d look in their faces and see that professor (who grew up in Los Angeles, by the way) who just couldn’t keep his eyes off the one Jew in the room when he talked about the Other.

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Time to Hang It Up

Mitt Romney and oven mitts

Gotta keep the kitchen nice and tidy…

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Mitt Romney – Friend of the Working Class

Our boy Mitt is in his other-other-other home state of Michigan, where he’s expressing his view of the state’s unemployment problem — a view that differs greatly from that of John McCain. McCain is telling people that jobs that have been sent overseas are “not coming back,” but ever the optimist, Romney takes exception with McCain’s sad sack stance:

Romney wearing Ford cap and UAW pin

At an unscheduled press conference in front of a General Motors factory where 200 employees were recently laid off, Romney said that he wasn’t there to criticize GM for making a necessary business decision but that he was tired of Washington not doing enough for the domestic automobile industry.

“You hear some say that these are jobs that are just going away and we better get used to it, but where does it stop?” Romney asked. “Is there a point at which someone says you know that’s enough? Or are we gonna let the entire automobile industry — domestic manufacturer automotive industry — disappear and just say, ‘Well that was tough, that’s just the way it is.’ That’s not what I believe.”

As he has stumped around Michigan, Romney has been criticizing John McCain for saying that some lost automobile industry jobs are not going to come back to Michigan.

So it’s clear that Mitt stands strongly on the side of the American worker, right? Sure! And just to show you how much Mitt cares for the working class, I’d like to remind you of some of his professional history.

The Boston Phoenix

In fact, Bain Capital under Romney frequently rewarded those at the top, and paid itself millions in consulting fees (see, “Guaranteed Profits”), even when, beneath them, their companies turned to dust. Despite a reputation for wise corporate guidance — observers have always considered Bain Capital’s management-consulting prowess its strength compared with other LBO firms — many of its companies withered after Romney’s team cashed out. Stage Stores, DDi, KB Toys, Babbages, Holson-Burnes, Dade-Behring — they all collapsed. But by the time they did, Romney and his team had already made money for themselves, their investors, their executive teams, and their bankers, legal consultants, and accountants.

[snip]

While showering execs with bonuses and stock options, Bain was typically slashing costs elsewhere, through layoffs and budget reductions.

One of the best-known examples is Dallas-based American Pad & Paper (AmPad), which Bain Capital bought in 1992. During Romney’s unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate in 1994, Ted Kennedy assailed him for Bain’s ruthless firing of hundreds of AmPad employees — and then offering to rehire some of them at lower wages and fewer benefits.

Bain Capital and its investors made more than $100 million on AmPad, even though the company eventually filed for bankruptcy.

This was hardly atypical. Bain Capital’s record shows the same treatment for many companies: slashing jobs, benefits, research-and-development budgets, and other items to show quick profitability before selling or taking the company’s stock public.

The Los Angeles Times

From 1984 until 1999, Romney led Bain Capital, a Boston-based private equity group that earned jaw-dropping profits through leveraged buyouts, debt hedge funds, offshore tax havens and other financial strategies. In some cases, Romney’s team closed U.S. factories, causing hundreds of layoffs, or pocketed huge fees shortly before companies collapsed.

[snip]

Making his first bid for elected office, Romney boasted that he had helped create more than 10,000 jobs at companies he had retooled. But Kennedy painted him as someone “who puts profits over people,” and an ugly labor dispute soon helped sink Romney’s campaign.

Bain Capital had bought a controlling interest in a paper products company called Ampad for $5 million in 1992. Two years later, after Ampad bought a factory in Marion, Ind., the new management team dismissed about 200 workers, slashed salaries and benefits, and hired strikebreakers after the union called a walkout.

“We were just fired,” Randy Johnson, a former worker and union officer at the Marion plant, recalled in a telephone interview. “They came in and said, ‘You’re all fired. If you want to work for us, here’s an application.’ We had insurance until the end of the week. That was it. It was brutal.”

In October 1994, Johnson and other striking workers drove to Massachusetts to protest Romney’s Senate campaign. “We chased him everywhere,” Johnson recalled. “He took good jobs with benefits, and created low-wage, part-time, no-benefit jobs. That’s what he was creating with his investments.”

At first, Romney tried to justify the Indiana layoffs as necessary in “the real world.” He then sought to distance himself, arguing that he took a leave of absence from Bain Capital before Ampad bought the factory. The dispute proved potent, however, and Kennedy trounced him in the election.

The New York Times

Citing his business experience, Mr. Romney has urged voters to reject “lifetime politicians” who “have never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world.”

Mr. Romney, though, never ran a corner store or a traditional business. Instead, he excelled as a deal maker, a buyer and seller of companies, a master at the art of persuasion that he demonstrated in the talks that led to the forming of Bain Capital.

“Mitt ran a private equity firm, not a cement company,” Eric A. Kriss, a former Bain Capital partner, told The Times. “He was not a businessman in the sense of running a company,” Mr. Kriss said, adding, “He was a great presenter, a great spokesman and a great salesman.”

But leveraged buyouts often lead to layoffs, a business reality that has impinged on Mr. Romney’s political hopes at least once before. In his 1994 campaign for the Senate, Mr. Romney’s efforts to unseat Edward M. Kennedy were derailed in part because of accusations that Bain Capital had fired union workers at an Indiana company it controlled. Mr. Kennedy’s campaign cut a series of commercials, focusing on laid-off workers, that cut to the quick. (Those ads are available on The Huffington Post.) Mr. Romney has said that he had nothing to do with the firings.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Romney acknowledged that Bain Capital’s acquisitions has sometimes led to layoffs, but that he could explain them to voters.

“Sometimes the medicine is a little bitter but it is necessary to save the life of the patient,” he said. “My job was to try and make the enterprise successful, and in my view the best security a family can have is that the business they work for is strong.”

Yeah! Can you hear it? That sound rising from the factories and warehouses and docks of America… They’re calling your name, Mitt Romney, for you are the one true friend and hope of the worker! You are the Tom Joad of the 21st century!

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Concord Monitor: Anyone But Mitt

Mitt Romney‘Tis the season, as the saying goes, for newspapers, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, to publish their endorsements in the current political races. This time around, the Des Moines Register endorsed McCain and Clinton, and the Boston Globe (which is pretty widely read up in New Hampshire) went for McCain and Obama.

In New Hampshire itself, it appears that just about every newspaper leans to the right, so they generally only give their endorsement on the Republican side. The Union Leader of Manchester declared McCain “the man to lead America.” The Concord Monitor chose to do something I’ve never seen before: rather than endorsing a candidate, they asked their readers not to vote for one of them. And that one is the former governor of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, Willard Mitt Romney.

Romney’s been leading all the polls in New Hampshire since he announced his candidacy, and that was no surprise, given that a lot of people in NH commute down to Boston for their work. A generally conservative state like New Hampshire is bound to have an affinity for a Massachusetts Republican — especially one as pretty as Romney. But a poll in the Globe from a few days ago shows McCain closing the gap, coming within three percentage points of Romney. Do we see a trend here, kids?

So this Just Say No to Mitt editorial in the Monitor is just a thing of beauty, as far as I’m concerned. You should definitely click through and read the whole thing, but I’ll give you the first two paragraphs and the last two, just to wet your whistle.

Romney should not be the next president

If you were building a Republican presidential candidate from a kit, imagine what pieces you might use: an athletic build, ramrod posture, Reaganesque hair, a charismatic speaking style and a crisp dark suit. You’d add a beautiful wife and family, a wildly successful business career and just enough executive government experience. You’d pour in some old GOP bromides – spending cuts and lower taxes – plus some new positions for 2008: anti-immigrant rhetoric and a focus on faith.

Add it all up and you get Mitt Romney, a disquieting figure who sure looks like the next president and most surely must be stopped.

[snip]

When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidates up close, ask tough questions and see through the baloney. If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we’ll know it.

Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicans and independents must vote no.

I love it! Of course, it would be nice if they’d run a couple more editorials, one explaining that Giuliani is a lying sack of shit and the other pointing out that Huckabee is… well, he’s Huckabee. We already know Fred Thompson flashed before he even got into the pan, and Tancredo is gone, so what’s that leave us with? Ron Paul, who (sorry, interweb denizens) really doesn’t represent what the GOP has stood for since Reagan, and Duncan Hunter, who is such a hyper-Reaganite that even Reaganites find him comical.

I wonder — What if they held a Republican primary, and no one showed up?

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Romney’s Big Speech

Mitt Romney with haloIf you’re a regular reader here (as if) you know that I’ve got a bit of a problem with the strategy Mitt Romney is apparently using to deal with people who have a problem with the fact that he’s a Mormon. Basically, he’s stressing that he’s a person of faith, pointing out what he has in common with the majority of people. That would be more or less acceptable to me, but the rhetoric Romney uses very clearly alienates those of us who don’t adhere to any religious faith. I’ve written about this before.

Today, Romney gave a speech at the George Bush library at Texas A&M, the purpose of which was to assuage the fears of those who are worried about what it would mean to have a Mormon president — much like John Kennedy did in 1960, assuring people that as president, he wouldn’t be taking orders from the pope. You can read the entire transcript of the speech at the site of the Wall Street Journal, but I thought I’d give you my comments on a few excerpts. This is basically what I was shouting back at the eye of hell while Mitzi spoke.

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.

So I take it that means that those of us who don’t have a religion aren’t free, or can’t be free. Why is that?

As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s ‘political religion’ – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

This one’s a little odd. When Lincoln gave his Lyceum Speech on January 27, 1838 in Springfiield Illinois, his point was pretty much what Romney says: commitment to the rule of law. As such, it’s really got nothing to do with the real theme of Romney’s speech. It’s about faith in something strictly secular. Here’s an excerpt from Lincoln’s speech:

The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against [mob law]?” The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

Back to Romney:

Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience.

Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

I wonder if that includes all the beliefs he professed to the people of Massachusetts when he was running for office here.

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.

And yet he seems to be just fine with a more general religious test — if you adhere to a religion, you pass. If not, fuck off.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.’

Of course this is a reference to US currency and the pledge of allegiance, but “In God We Trust” was added to our money in 1864 and “under God” was added to the pledge in 1954, so this really has nothing at all to do with the Founders.

Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?

They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.

You wouldn’t ask those questions of a person who didn’t profess some faith? Why? Are you assuming the answers would be “no”?

These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours.

Assuming you have one, that is. If not, fuck off.

In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.

I guess I need to break this one down a bit… “…we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty…” Well, in some aspects of the cause of liberty, I suppose, but not all. A lot of school boards want the liberty to teach intelligent design. Reason finds that concept either laughable or disgusting.

“Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.” If he means one has to be a member of both of those groups to be his ally, I guess that’s OK. But those could certainly be two separate groups, and the sentence doesn’t indicate to me that he’s saying one has to be in both groups. I think it would be fair to say that I believe in religious liberty, but I’m not seeking Mitt’s support for my views, and it’s pretty clear he wouldn’t support them. And there are certainly many people who have “knelt in prayer to the Almighty” but aren’t Mitt’s kind of people. Those folks for whom Mitt says he wants to double the size of Gitmo come to mind, for example.

“And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.” We do not insist on a single strain of religion, but it appears we (that is, he and those to whom he’s pandering) do insist on some strain of religion. After all, in our nation’s symphony of faith, those of us who don’t have a faith don’t even get to sit with the orchestra.

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Romney’s Hipocrisy

When Mitt Romney was running for Governor of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he said a number of things I just couldn’t bring myself to trust.

When he was Governor, he put a good deal of effort into placing blame for problems on anyone but himself and taking credit for things that he didn’t really do.

When he decided to run for President, he started telling people that he’d basically been lying about a number of things the whole time he was running for and serving as Governor. How else could he get the support of the Republican base after telling everyone he’d be better for gay rights then Ted Kennedy?

Do I think Romney’s a hypocrite? How could anyone not? Now we get this little tidbit of information from the Democratic party’s site.

Oh, Mitt, Mitt, Mitt. Whatever are we going to do with you?

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Bill Maher on Religion and Politics

Have you seen this yet? Skip to about 2:30 (around 3:55 on the countdown timer) for the relevant part.

Maher makes some great points, one of which I pointed out early this year when Mitt Romney responded to someone saying he’d never vote for a Mormon.

One of the great things about this great land is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions, and I’m convinced that the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country.

Translation: you may not like my religion, but at least I’m not an atheist.

A few of Maher’s points don’t quite work for me, however. I don’t know where he got his data, but I don’t think nonbelievers (atheists and agnostics combined) make up 20% of the voting public in the US — or to be more precise, I don’t think enough nonbelievers would admit they are to bring our numbers up to 20%.

But the main problem is that, if as he points out 70% of Americans believe it’s important to have a president with strong religious beliefs, then you simply can’t compare nonbelievers (or “rationalists,” as he prefers to call us) to other minority groups. If a politician makes a point of telling the African American community that s/he’s on their side, that does not automatically equate to not being on the side of white people. You can support women without losing the male vote. There are enough straights who support gay rights that you can come out in favor of at least some semblance of equal rights for the GLBT community without losing the support of everyone else.

But about as close as you can come to supporting nonbelievers is one of those namby pamby statements about how the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion includes the freedom not to have one. You can’t say that there’s nothing wrong with the idea of an atheist president, although we’ve undoubtedly had some. If a candidate dared say they weren’t religious they’d be dead. It was only this year that a single member of the House, Pete Stark of California came out as a nontheist, and that’s after being in office for some 34 years.

Sorry Bill, but supporting us means losing support from the majority. That’s just the way it is.

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Does Mitt Know the Lord?

Mitt RomneyI found this at Crooks and Liars.

Mitt Romney was chatting up a group of people (I don’t know where this happened, but based on the pronunciation of the word “god” I’d say it has to be the Midwest, maybe Chicago) and one man indicated how important it was to him that he vote for “a man who stands for the lord Jesus Christ.” He then went on to say that he’d never vote for Romney because, as a Mormon, Mitt just doesn’t “know the lord.” He’s identified in the title of the video as a “heckler,” but as far as I can tell he was polite in the way he said what he said, whether you think the message was pleasant or not. The crowd booed. They’d have none of this religious persecution.

Romney’s response was so… American. Mitt understands that you don’t have to be a Methodist, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian or some such thing to be President of the US of A. Why, we’ve got freedom of religion! It brought a tear to my eye.

One of the great things about this great land is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions, and I’m convinced that the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country.

Translation: You may not like my religion, but at least I’m not some filthy atheist.

I love you too, Mitzi.

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