08 November 2012

Cracking The Mirrored Marble

One of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands, on the topic of expanding one's mind.  
Completely off topic, Doug's guitar is exactly the same color and model as mine, except he seems to have nicer pickups.  I'd never noticed before.

Yesterday, Barack Obama was re-elected President.  From an electoral vote perspective, it wasn't really close.  I had been telling anyone who asked (and many who didn't) for weeks that Obama had a comfortably wide path to victory, even losing several key swing states.  Romney's path to victory was much narrower, needing to win most of the large swing states to have a chance of reaching the 270 EV threshold.  This seemed pretty elementary, being that Obama had scored 365 EV in 2008, so he could afford to lose 95 EVs from that map and still win, even if that would not be a strong way to win politically.  Needless to say, I wasn't sweating the final result too much.

My confidence also came from the fact that I'm a poll junkie, so I try to catch as much information about the polling as I can from as early on in the cycle as I can.  I watch the trends, within the different polling outfits, within the individual states, not so much on a national level, because that is not how we decide the Presidential election, but I watch those too.  Most importantly, I pay attention to the polling aggregators such as Nate Silver (aka "poblano") at FiveThirtyEight.com and Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium.  These guys, and others like them, take a wide sampling of the polls done by all of the dozens of pollsters in the field and crunch all of those numbers to come up with odds for certain election outcomes.  Nate Silver's background before doing this professionally was in baseball statistics (think Moneyball) where he was also quite successful in modelling predictions of future performance.

Silver gained great notoriety (and his New York Times gig) by his great accuracy in predicting the 2008 Democratic primaries and general election, where he called 49 of 50 states correctly (missing only Missouri, which was the closest race in the nation, taking several days to finally call for McCain).  Wang quietly predicted all 50 states correctly in 2008.  They have continued to tweak their models over the years so that they would be even more accurate predictors, and with not quite all of the returns in this year, they appear to have done just about as well (Silver got 50 of 50, Wang 49 missing only Florida, which is again the last state to call).

Of course, there were dozens of pundits on TV and with other media outlets who made predictions on the election outcome in the days prior to the vote.  Some did much better than others.  If you look at the linked predictions, you'll see that the right-wing pundits tended to give the race to Romney by varying margins (many of them laughable, especially in light of the 126 EV margin Obama ended up winning by).  Now, one could say that this was done somewhat cynically, in order to not depress Republican turnout and to give their guy a chance to win, but based on some of the WILD predictions, and some of the reactions when Obama ended up winning, I think that most of these people were genuinely shocked that Romney was not victorious.  How did the once mighty right-wing message machine come to ultimately believe their own bullshit?  

The successful Republican electoral majority of the last generation has always depended on the votes of large numbers of people whose economic interests were in direct conflict with the policies devised and espoused by the leadership of the party.  These "social conservatives" were never going to benefit from tax cuts for the rich or elimination of the estate tax or capital gains taxes, or truly any other tax shelter devised to benefit the wealthy, and would in fact lose out on the societal infrastructure benefits that would be cut to pay for those tax cuts.  But these social conservatives do love America, and they love freedom, and they love God, and they love unborn babies, and they hate Communists, and they hate liberals, and they hate homosexuals, and they're scared of black people and foreigners, and they distrust scientists and intellectuals and anyone who thinks or acts differently from them, and they respect and trust authority, and they stick together, and their religious faith makes them ready programmed to believe unbelievable stories and contradictory explanations for complex things.  They were the perfect foot soldiers for the conservative movement of the late 20th Century, and they were the greatest political force in America for over 20 years.

The problem was, they were a Frankenstein's Monster creation of the conservative economic and intellectual elite, and eventually the Monster was going to demand a part in the direction of the movement.  It began with the old guard of the Republican Party simply using them to get elected in the 1980s by promising social action that was either impossible to achieve or which they had no intention of acting upon.  Then in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich found that  if he could get a bunch of yes-men elected to Congress who would be 100% loyal to the Party, the Party would be much more unified and powerful, so his GOPAC trained recruits not to think about policy (Newt had that all taken care of himself), but simply to follow orders, vote as told, and repeat prescribed talking points.  FoxNews brought the orders and talking points to the masses, expanding the message beyond just the evangelical churches to a much wider conservative audience who could also now all be on the same page.  Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio icons brought the emotion to the message and taught the listeners not just what to think but how to feel about the issues.

By the 2000s, practically all dissension in the conservative movement had been eliminated, with policies coming from the White House, passed uniformly by the Republicans in Congress, and accepted as right and good by the Republican rank and file, regardless of contradictions from supposed principles of conservatism.  But like all centralized authoritarian movements, there is a short lifespan because it is not dynamic and alive with new leaders rising to replace the old.  What ended up happening was that the old puppet masters like Gingrich and Cheney and Bush Sr. started to be replaced by their yes-men like Dennis Hastert and John Boehner and Tom DeLay, men with no ideas, only the ability to keep other lesser minds in line.  

The final step in the demise of the modern conservative movement is the Tea Party, a group of credulous ignoramuses with reserves of anger that only needed to be focused by someone at something.  Like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the GOPAC kids, now the nominal leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement, thought they could control the minions like they had seen their masters do in the past.  But their kung fu was not strong enough, and the Teabaggers got themselves elected to Congress and would not be told what to do by these old, corrupted career politicians.  Now the Republican Party has not a great mind among them in elected office, and no real prospect of any coming up in the ranks.

Throughout all of this time though, outsiders always had this ominous sense that there were brains behind the scenes who knew the truth of the world and simply drew up the devious plans and lies and deceptions and fed them out into the world, laughing menacingly to themselves as the dupes of America unwittingly dug their own graves while bequeathing their meager fortunes to the men in the smoke-filled rooms.  What we appear to have witnessed in the past two years however is that there is no one left, even behind the scenes of the GOP, who has any idea what they are doing anymore, and they may in fact not even be aware of the truths of the world in order to fashion effective lies.  The Republican primaries of 2012 were a clown car of complete jokes of candidates, including the intelligent but morally repulsive Mr. Gingrich, none of whom should ever have been considered by anyone to be qualified for the highest office in the land.  Mitt Romney was winner of the nomination by default, due in large part to his good looks, great wealth (and wealthy backers), and his willingness to say absolutely anything to win votes and to destroy his opponents.  But when he finally had to face a real opponent in President Obama and his campaign organization, Romney and his campaign looked every bit the crew of amateurs and fuck-ups that they were.  If it weren't for Obama's unwillingness to call out Romney on his heavy stream of bullshit in the first televised debate, Romney would probably have never come within 5 points of Obama in the national polls, and the electoral blowout would have been even worse than it was, because even the slanted and deluded pollsters wouldn't have been able to keep it appearing close enough to keep hope alive among the Party rank and file.

Which brings me to the Republican information bubble.  It has gone by many names over the past ten years including "echo-chamber", "feedback loop" and "cone of silence".  The basic idea is that conservatives, with the advent of FoxNews and of right-wing radio and websites and newspapers, can happily go through their lives now without ever hearing any opposing viewpoints from the media, if they choose.  If any opposing or conflicting ideas do manage to creep in, the sources of that information are derided as the "liberal media", or some other ad hominem slur designed to deligitimize anything that source says or does.  Lies are created and repeated, thus reinforcing them because when you hear even false information from multiple sources it has the patina of truth, and attempts to correct the falsehoods are blocked out as being lies themselves, from conspiracies of liars outside the bubble.  It is such a strong analogy because the information originates in the bubble, bounces around, and the bubble effectively prevents any outside information from penetrating.  The thing is, life inside the bubble becomes a severe distortion of reality, often bearing no resemblance at all to reality outside the bubble, which is damaging to the people inside, but when those people choose to act upon the world outside based on their distorted worldview, it becomes dangerous to everyone.

Once upon a time, I became very interested in the nature of the mind and consciousness, especially the idea that one could expand one's consciousness through directed thoughts and actions.  I was engaged by the idea that people use only a small percentage of the powers of our brains and minds.  I was fascinated by the abilities of some people to be aware of things around them that most people did not ever notice.  I saw patterns in apparently random natural phenomena that some mathematicians were able to explain and approximate through computer models.  I did a lot of research, both academic and practical, on the subject of consciousness and developed numerous theories and metaphors for the relationships between the elements of the body, mind, and spirit with the rest of the physical world.

Critical in any discussion of mind and consciousness is the idea of perception, or how we experience ourselves and our surroundings.  I came to conceive of consciousness as an "I" (or "eye") inside the mind, through which all is experienced.  It experiences simultaneously the physical senses of sight, sound, touch and taste/smell, it experiences emotions, and it experiences memories through recall and remembrance.  I tended to view the I as a pair of poles, like the poles of a magnet, with a field passing between them, a field of experience, of perception, the passing of which we understand as the passage of time.  

(If you wish, you may think of the I as the "soul", that part of you that is most centrally you, but also most purely universal and like every other living thing.  A little drop of Godstuff connected by an infinitely thin thread to a tree of similar threads from other people, animals, plants, and all things, possibly to the great oversoul of the earth and the universe.  Your religious conceptions may vary...)

Our experience, our consciousness of this experiential field limited by two factors.  The first is the energy of the field, which I would illustrate by the distance between the two poles of the I (it's coincidental, but useful, that in my illustration the "I" is shaped like a capital letter I , with the top and bottom being the poles, and the field passing through between).  The more energy in the magnet of the I, the further apart the poles can be, and the more "experience" can pass between the poles.  This is an expansion of consciousness, greater awareness of yourself, your surroundings, your thoughts and senses.

The second limitation is the ego, and I illustrate the idea of the ego as a hollow, spherical glass that is darkened much like mirrored sunglasses.  All experience from the mind (the triangle of the senses, emotions and memory) first passes through the filter of the ego before it can pass through the I.  Over a lifetime, the ego sphere is burned and stained by the experiences of the individual, affecting and coloring all subsequent experience in ways that make your experience uniquely "yours".  In fact, most people are so colored by the ego filter that they identify themselves as the ego itself.  But as the Buddha and others of great expanded consciousness have told us throughout time, the ego is only an illusion of self, and a limitation on our experience of the truth of the universe.

In most people, in times of normal consciousness, the I is very small in relation to the ego in which it resides.  It floats around in what can seem like a massive sea of the experiential field, moving from sensation to sensation, thought to thought, feeling to feeling, grasping only small slices of the total experience of life at any given moment, and this can lead to the false perception of disintegration and isolation from the universe and other I's.  Many I's may have the perception that the inside of the ego sphere is the whole of the universe, not even conceiving of the fact that the field of experience about which they float is merely a filtered version of reality, colored by the ego and reflecting this false self.

But the great teachers have taught throughout history, and prehistory, that we can expand our consciousness to crack through the mirrored glass of the ego, to experience reality without the filter, and to be able to look back at the falsehood, the smallness, and the insignificance of the ego-self.  Yogis, shamans, prophets, and other spiritual adepts have devised techniques, exercises, meditations, concoctions, and other methods to enable expansion of consciousness as a way to be more in touch with the reality of the universe.  The experience of breaking through the ego filter is akin to having spent your entire life wearing sunglasses (scratched and dirty sunglasses at that) and then for the first time taking them off.  All experience is suddenly more immediate, more integrated, more clear, and more TRUE.

The wonderful thing about successfully achieving an extra-egotistical experience is that even if you cannot permanently hold on to that state of expanded consciousness (the way the great prophets attempt to achieve nirvana through the ultimate dissolution of the ego), it is an experience that you can take with you back to a more "normal" conscious state, allowing you to subsequently perceive life differently.  You remain aware of the existence of your ego, of its relatively insignificant place within yourself, and you remain aware of its flaws and stains and how those imperfections affect your perception of truth.  You have new perspective, because you have experienced life from the outside looking in, and the outside looking out, and you know that the tiny space you generally inhabit deep inside of your mind and ego is very small, and significant only to you.  It is merely your own personal distortion of reality.

Something quite remarkable occurred yesterday regarding all of those election predictions.  While the whole world was watching, Nate Silver and Sam Wang and those who tried as hard as they could to extract themselves from their predictions of the election, relying as much as humanly possible on numbers and data and mathematics and objective reality, proved that they were superior in their predictions of reality than so-called "experts" and "insiders" and "experienced political professionals" who had made careers of analyzing political contests through the filters of their egos.  They proved that, even in the world of politics, there is an objective reality, it is measurable, and it can produce predictable results.  And while I would be hopelessly optimistic to think that the reality of the lies and distortions of the FoxNews bubble will become evident to large numbers of those who willingly have placed themselves in that information cocoon, I do hope that there will be large numbers of people, especially in the non-Fox political media, who will finally come to recognize that the FoxNews bubble is not only insular, but it is distorted and perverted to the point where no information emanating from it can ever be trusted to be anything but hopelessly distorted and perverted.  Maybe, we'll get just a little more truth.

04 August 2012

Homelessness - Part I "My Hometown"

Before I begin, no, this is not going to be about actually having no roof over one's head.  I'm fortunate to have that, and being that there are more than 5 times as many vacant homes in the United States as there are those without homes, it is a problem that we should not have in a civilized country.  But we are not civilized, we are capitalists, and that is for another day...

No, I want to write about the more esoteric meaning of "home".  About how much of one's identity comes from that understanding of having a place in the world that is yours, and that you are its.  It's a feeling that I believe I've always sought, but which has eluded me for most of my life.  Somehow, my wife and I got speaking about this tonight, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, so I'm going to write it all down.

Despite the fact that I was fortunate enough to live in the same hometown and attend the same public school system for 13 years in my youth, "home" was not a single place or sense for me after I was nine years old or so.  Right at the end of third grade, we moved across town to a new house, and although it was technically in the same elementary school zone, for some reason my mother decided that it would be better for me to go to a different elementary school for fourth grade.  My little sister continued in the old school all the way through, but apparently there was something better, the gifted program perhaps, that it was important for me to be a part of and to separate from all of my friends that I had made over the previous four years.  I remember my mother telling me that when all the elementary school students joined back together for fifth grade at the intermediate school, it would be "like I was fluent in two languages" because I would know kids from both schools.  The fact is that I ended up feeling illiterate in two languages, because I was the new kid at the one school that I only attended for one year, and I became separated from my old friends for a full year, which caused a rift that never truly healed.  I knew kids from both schools, but never really belonged to either.

At this same time, my parents divorced.  My new house was affected before it could become my new home.  In fact, the central events in the divorce seem to have gone down during a week that I was attending a sleep-away soccer camp, the only time I ever went to sleep-away camp as a kid.  I came home, and "home" was dramatically different, in ways I could sense even if I couldn't fully intellectualize them at the time.  By the time my parents took me aside to tell me that they were getting divorced a few weeks later, I was not shocked, even though life had changed very little for me over those weeks, except that my dad was away, like on a very long business trip.  I knew, even though I didn't know.

So, three major life changes all happening within a few months to a nine year-old.  I guess I can add on top of that my mother going to work for the first time in my life, both sets of grandparents moving from their homes that same year (places that had a multigenerational "home" feeling for me), and both of my parents having new relationships and getting remarried within a few years.

With my parents divorced, it meant I was away with my dad every other weekend from that time forward, further separating me from my friends, who had experiences on the weekends I was away that I could not be a part of, and which made me feel less close to them.  I always felt like I was missing something when I was away, even if what I was doing was often objectively more fun and interesting than anything I might have missed.  It led me to have a deep insecurity about being on the outside, even in my groups of close friends.  As I got older, I always made it a point to stay until the end of the party so I would make sure I didn't miss the best part, even though the end of the party was more often than not relatively boring.  I chose not to take advantage of opportunities I had to travel abroad, first with my grandfather in high school, and later in college, for fear that I might miss something at home, and those are decisions that I very much regret.  I guess, at some level, I feared that if I went away for any period of time, I'd come home and everything would be changed and I wouldn't be able to understand why, or I would become an outsider to my old friends.

Eighth grade was probably the worst.  Surely, I'm far from the only person to ever say those words.  But my home-life had a few major changes at that time that made "home" more up in the air than ever for me.  My dad and step-mother bought a house much closer to where my mother lived.  Unlike my dad's old one-bedroom apartment, this was a very large house with many bedrooms for my sister and me, and within a year, a new baby brother.  My dad and step-mother truly made every effort to make their new house a home for me and my sister, they really did.  But despite having my own room and bed and some furniture and things there, it was never really my "home".  It was my dad's family's home, and I had a place there, but I was just a very frequent visitor.  I blame no one for this, it's just how I felt.  My little brother, and little sister born two years later, grew up in that house, and it was their home all the way through high school.  I really envy that, the stability, the permanence, the "home" of it.  I loved that house, and it was the home that stayed at most of the time when I was home from college and for the year after I graduated, but by that time, it was just a more comfortable place to be, where I had more personal space, than my mother's house.

At the same time, the summer after eighth grade, my mother got married.  My step-father had been living with us for some time before that, which was a change in my "home" in itself, but what really changed was that after they were married, his daughter came to live with us full time, not just as an occasional weekend guest.  At that time, she and I could not have been more different, and we did not get along at all.  I was very upset at the new arrangement, and I let that be known.  What had been a house where I already felt it difficult to find a space of my own, became that much more so.  It's not like it was a tiny house, or that we had to share bedrooms or anything like that, but there was just something about the design of that house that made it so that every sound echoed through every room, and there was no peace to be found.  My step-sister and I are cool now, but she was not a welcome addition to my home when I was 14.

I tried to spend as much time at sports practices or friends' houses as I could, coming home in time for dinner and bed.  My friends never came over to my house.  Part of that was because my house was the most distant from everywhere else we'd ever go, but a lot of it was that there was nowhere to be there, nowhere that my sisters weren't, and frankly there was nothing to do there.  My rooms in both of my homes were always rather spare and undecorated because all I ever did there was sleep or do homework.  I didn't want to spend time there, why would anyone else?  When I was allowed to borrow the car later in high school, it only increased my ability to not be at home.

Even after I had a car to use, my weekends with my dad made my high school years somewhat distant from my hometown.  I was away many weekends, and even when I had the ability to drive the 20 minutes back to my town, it seemed that so many years of my not being around contributed to my not being included, or invited, for many get togethers.  My best friends were always there for me, but I believe that I could have had a wider social circle had I not spent my teen years out of town half of the weekends.  I never met or knew a single kid from the town where my dad lived, and even my hometown was not fully home at the time in life when identification with your town and school seem to be the most important.

Now it's 20 years later.  My mother and step-father retired to New Mexico in 2004.  My father and step-mother retired to California in 2008.  My step-sister and her family live not too far from where I grew up, but I don't have any other remaining family in the area.  There is no more "home base" where I can stay if I ever travel back.  For this reason, between my step-sister's wedding in 2007 and my cousin's wedding in 2011, I never even set foot in the state.  I still have friends there, and many more friends who still have family there, whom I'd see at holidays and such, but I don't ever see them anymore, because even my hometown is no longer "home" in any way.

And me?  I keep moving...

To be continued in Part II "Never Going Back To My Old School".

17 July 2012


I appreciate your willingness to engage on this subject.  This deserves a well-planned and thorough response, and you shall have it.  I’m going to start with generalities, and I hope my arguments will become more persuasive and pointed as I finish.

Firstly, I have already read this article.  It was probably the top laughingstock opinion piece in Left Blogistan this morning.  Although David Gergen is far from the worst hack D.C. pundit (Alex Pareene seems to respect him enough to have not included him in either his “Hack 30” or “Hack 20” lists either of the past 2 years), he is a fine example of the Washington, D.C. “Village Elite” class of journalists.  In other words, he is someone who is entrenched in the establishment, and the way one becomes entrenched in the establishment is by jettisoning one’s journalistic sense of truth or falsehood and replacing it with a motivation to be “even-handed” and share the other side of the story, even if it is complete bunkum.  After all, you don’t get invited to all those swank Georgetown cocktail parties if you start pissing off the people throwing the parties, know what I mean?

OK, so the ad hominem portion of the program is complete, except for the fact that Gergen comes out directly in his second paragraph and states that HE IS BIASED in this area because of his numerous friends at Bain and his numerous financial dealings with them!  Yes, I suppose it is better for him to disclose these connections before writing an opinion piece on the subject, but it begs the question, “Wasn’t there some OTHER Senior Political Analyst at CNN who could have written on this topic, rather than the person in the bureau who is most in bed with the subject?”  It’s damned near impossible to take anything he says seriously after this confession.

But, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and see if he actually has any sense to make.  In his next paragraph, Gergen explains the nature of his bias in more detail.

I have come to admire and like the leaders of Bain Capital because I have learned firsthand that in a private equity industry, where there are obviously some predatory companies, Bain stands out for the respect in which it is generally held and for the generous philanthropy of some of its partners. Nothing I have seen so far has shaken that view.

So, David Gergen has met and knows several people associated with Bain, and he likes them, and they are charitable, and nothing he has read so far has shaken his view that his friends are nice and charitable, as far as vultures in the private equity business go.  That's high praise indeed, Mr. Gergen, but of course, it has nothing to do, one way or another, with any actual facts or evidence regarding Mitt Romney, his tenure with Bain Capital, or his statements from the stump or in SEC or FEC filings to the contrary.  But thank you very much for adding that little taste of honey for all your readers before you get into the serious stuff.

Gergen, to his credit, proceeds to fairly properly, if rather narrowly, lay out the nature of the controversy and the meaning behind it, by explaining that yes, it is proper to scrutinize Romney's Bain tenure (since he is basing his campaign almost entirely on his past experience as a business leader, in the most general sense), and that it would be a significant revelation if it turned out that Romney had in fact been involved in some of the unpopular outsourcing, job killing, and fetus disposal business that Bain is known to have engaged in during the period when Romney was primarily running the Olympics from February 1999 through August 2002.  Unfortunately, Gergen seems to imply that this is the ONLY possible significant revelation from the filings, statements, and other evidence that have come to light regarding Romney's tenure at Bain, both before 1999 and after, and regarding statements and testimony he has given in the past 10 years about it.  But I'll cover what Gergen neglects later.

The real hackery begins with the next section, where rather than diving right into the known and accepted facts of the matter, the Villager in him can't help but first ask whether Romeny has "handled the scrutiny well".  While this is interesting from a political angle, and may shed some light on the type of President Romney might make, who gives a shit, David?  Is this all just a game to you, a horse race, entertainment to fill programming hours on your network?  Your headline says that the FACTS don't support Obama's criticisms.  Well, I haven't seen FACT #1 yet, but you're already discussing whether Romney his handling the scrutiny well or not.  It would be hard to craft a better parody of D.C. insider wankery.  

Fortunately, he answers his stupid question correctly, and also answers his next slightly off-topic question correctly when he says that Romney should release his tax returns.  Not that anyone came to David Gergen, Moral Compass, to find out what a presidential candidate should or should not do, except that Gergen is a political analyst, so he gives his answer based on what would make for the best optics for the Romney campaign.  

As an aside, I have a feeling that Mitt Romney and his campaign team have already considered this imaginative solution, David, and they've come to the conclusion that unfortunately, the better optics are to NOT reveal what is in his last 10 to 15 years of tax returns.  Mitt Romney has many shortcomings as a candidate, but being stupid and uncalculating is not one of them.  As bad as it looks to stonewall, showing his tax returns would look worse.  I'll leave the reason for that to your imagination...  

In any case, Gergen has now completed the maneuver in Centrist non-Analysis that I like to call the "Sensibility Shuffle".  He has made several statements that are quite sensible to practically anyone in the political middle, and even leaned a touch to the left by weakly calling for more transparency from Romney.  Now he can feel free to shift to the right and say things that might not stand up to scrutiny on their own, except that he has given himself political cover by speaking some sensible centrist platitudes first.  I'm not going to simply follow the magician's hand, though.  Let's see what he actually does (and does not) say when we get to the actual issue he is claiming to address in this article.

Gergen asks the question, "Has Romney basically lied about when he actually departed Bain?  Has he tried to mislead the public or investors?"  He concludes that there is not sufficient evidence to support this.  I think, after all of the evidence that I have seen over the past few days, I might have to agree that Romney and Bain probably did not try to mislead their investors.  There was a offering brochure for one of their investments in 2000 that referred to Romney as being part-time (or something like that, I can't find it right now), and I think that is a fair disclosure to give to potential investors, and I have no reason to believe that other investments were not handled similarly.  But if we're going to discuss whether Romney has, at any time since 1999, tried to mislead the PUBLIC, you have to be willfully obtuse to come to any conclusion other then "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!"  Mitt Romney misleads the public with virtually every statement that comes out of his mouth.  For the past 25 WEEKS, Steve Benen has been Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity for the Maddow Blog, and he backs up all of his claims of Romney's lies with links to the truth.  It's a marvelous resource, if you're interested in truth.

The "investigation" by Gergen of the "facts" is pitiful by any standards of journalism.  He wants to know how it all went down at Bain during the period in question, and so he goes and asks some of his above mentioned Bain friends about what happened.  This is not an entirely useless exercise, as first-hand insider accounts add much color and detail to investigations like this.  But it is the ONLY investigation he did, and he took their accounts on their word, because he knows these people, and they are good and honorable men, who give money to charities and throw great parties, and would never dream of buying a company in 40:1 debt ratio leveraged buyout, pay themselves eight figures in management fees, and then declare bankruptcy leaving dozens or hundreds of people out of work.  

Oh, and how many of his Bain friends did he speak to?  "But based on relationships over several years, I trust his or her account."  ONE!?!  Did you speak with ONE person, David?  Or was it two, and you're just trying to hide whether it was one or more?  You clever investigative reporter, you.

But what corroborating evidence does Gergen present?  Why, he presents Factcheck.org!  And the article he cites "was co-written [CO-WRITTEN!!!] by a man who was once a top investigative journalist for CNN."  Wow!  The same organization that employs such stellar fact checkers as YOU, David?!?  Regardless of one's opinion of Factcheck.org, it is simply another analysts opinion that happens to agree with Gergen's.  It is not by any stretch "corroboration".  It is "self-validation", which may be great for Stuart Smalley, but does nothing for journalism.

Most importantly though, in focusing ENTIRELY on the question of whether Mitt Romney was "no longer actively managing the company," he completely misses the LIES that Mitt Romney has told, in both written and spoken testimony, in the years since.  

No informed liberal partisan has been arguing the strawman that Gergen refutes in this article, namely that Mitt Romeny, while simultaneously working 100 hours a week to save the SLC Olympics, was taking a concerted, active, day-to-day role in managing Bain Capital in Boston.  What we HAVE been saying is that THESE are the FACTS:

1) Mitt Romney left Bain in February 1999 to take over management of the, and in the two and a half years that followed, Bain's SEC filings listed Romney as the "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president".  Whether he was actually performing all of his duties under those extremely important titles, whether he was managing the operations of the company and its investments in depth on a regular basis, he was still, according to federal filings, the party legally (and from the Obama campaign's political perspective, morally) responsible for all of those operations and investment management.  This is probably the least important LIE exposed of late, but it sure looks bad when...

2) Mitt Romney collected a salary of (at least) $100,000 per year during the period of 1999 to 2002 for those "executive duties", apart from his earnings from investments and dividend.  Either he was actually doing SOME work under his numerous titles with Bain, or he was collecting a six figure salary for doing absolutely nothing.  While absolutely hideous from a political optics perspective, there's nothing illegal about drawing a salary for doing nothing.  Unfortunately for Mitt, there is quite a bit of evidence that he was doing more than nothing...

3) In June 2002, Mitt Romney testified before the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission in order to establish that he met the residency requirements to run for governor.  In that testimony that during his Olympic tenure, "[T]here were a number of social trips and business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meetings, Thanksgiving and so forth."  The testimony also disclosed that he "remained on the board of the Staples Corporation and Marriott International, the LifeLike Corporation," all Bain investments at the time.  Regarding the Staples board meetings, "I returned for most of those meetings. Others I attended by telephone if I could not return."  

And what did Romney's personal lawyer say about these matters at those MBLC hearings?  He said that Romney "continued to serve on the board of directors of a significant Massachusetts company and to return here for most of its board meetings," and, "Now while [the Olympics management] was going on, very much in the public eye, what happened to his private and public ties to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? And the answer is they continued unabated just as they had."

So, I think, even if Romney was not heavily involved in the management of Bain Capital during the period in question, his involvement was far from ZERO, and he certainly painted a much more involved picture when it served him to try to establish his residency in order to run for Governor.  This is the REALLY big problem, because...

4) On August 12, 2011, Romney filed his federal disclosure form with the FEC for his current presidential campaign, in which he ATTESTED under penalty of perjury, "Mr. Romney retired from Bain Capital on February 11, 1999 to head the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way." The 2002 testimony above directly contradicts this statement.  This is where the Obama campaign's charges of perjury stem from, and David Gergen didn't address this point AT ALL in his article in yesterday's Washington Post.

So did he lie under oath to the MBLC in 2002, or did he lie under oath to the FEC in 2011?  Both cannot be true, no matter what your definition of "is" is.

12 May 2012

Mitt Romney is a Born Leader

I really don't understand all the hubbub about Mitt Romney's alleged high school "bullying" incident reported this week in The Washington Post.  Honestly, I can't understand why Romney and his team aren't fully embracing the story as a prime example of how Mitt Romney is a born leader, a man who has been demonstrating that leadership since his youth.  A man who has been preparing his whole life to be the Republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States of America.

I mean, it's not like Mitt was some middling prep school son of privilege, skating through life, content to be just another elitist douchebag without a care about the lives of those who were seen as inferior to him.  From all reports, he appears to have endeavored from a young age to be the biggest, meanest elitist douchebag around, and was always going that extra mile to distinguish himself from his peers.  He appears to have been VERY interested in the lives of others, especially those "others" who were different from him and his circle of friends, in deviant and weird ways.  

According to the stories of his classmates, by his early teens, he had learned the fundamental lesson that all conservative comedy is based on the pain of others, and that Romney was the undisputed king of such "pranks" on his campus.  This particular story in the Post highlights the lengths to which young Mitt was willing to go to stand head-and-shoulders above his classmates in this regard.  Sometimes, to stand above your peers, it is necessary to kneel on the chest of one of your inferiors.  Mitt wasn't just some random entitled asshole joining into an ad hoc lynch mob to shear some nancyboy of his long, bleached locks.  Mitt was the LEADER of that ad hoc lynch mob, the inciter of the violence, and the wielder of the scissors of mob justice.  No mere follower was young Master Mitt.

I bet you can't even IMAGINE Barry Obama taking such a leadership role in his high school years.  No, Barry was too busy smoking pot on the beach with high school dropouts and riding the bench on a State Championship basketball team (not exactly the captain and commander in the making there).  

Or Newt Gingrich?  You think he was the kind of kid who was on the giving end of the knuckle sandwich in high school?  Hell, no!  He may be a pretty respectable bully as an adult, but I'd bet that little Newton was much more likely to find himself pinned down in the locker room and being poked in his pasty, fat belly by some completely heterosexual jocks until he giggled like the Pillsbury Doughboy.  Newt's adult bullying style is obviously just an example of him trying too hard to make up for his inability to be a proper bully in his school days.

From Cranbrook, to Bain, to the GOP Primary, Mitt Romney has consistently shown that he knows what it takes to gain and keep the respect of those in conservative political circles.  Just because he started life's game of "King of the Mountain" at the top, doesn't mean he doesn't understand how to ultimately win the game.  You can't just sit on your father's laurels and be content at the top of the hill.  You have to make sure you put in the effort to kick those approaching the top of the hill right in the chest and back down the slope if you want to stay there.  

Some people know their place, and some people don't.  Mitt Romney has always known that he belonged in the throne, and he has also been a lifelong crusader against those who obviously do not understand that their place is somewhere further down the hill.  Who could better represent the 21st Century Republican Party than the man who has been preparing for this moment his entire life?

22 February 2012

Mitt Romney Touched Me There

The above clip has been getting a lot of play on the comedy shows and blogs in the past week, and deservedly so.  Mitt is in super-stiff mode here, and Josh Marshall today referred to it as "the best Mitt video in history".  I have got to be the only person who found Mitt Romney's the "trees are the right height" remark genuinely endearing.

I grew up in suburban New York, which in its natural state is a lush forest.  That feeling is "home" to me.  Much of Michigan is a very similar type of forest, and while I've never been to suburban Detroit, I have been to Ann Arbor, and I imagine it's pretty much the same.

I've lived in Chicago, and Milwaukee, and Arizona, and now Omaha, and I have always said in my travels that the thing I miss most about where I grew up is the trees.  Illinois and southern Wisconsin are NOT forests.  Yes, there are trees, but those places are prairie, and the trees that grow there are of a variety that never get higher than about 30 or 40 feet tall.  No oaks and maples towering 100 feet into the sky.  No forests of trees too big to wrap your arms around.  Which reminds me, even the maples in the Midwest don't get the same kind of color that you get in the northeast.  It's always a pale imitation of autumn, as I remember it.

Arizona is obviously another world when it comes to nature and vegetation.  It's an almost alien environment for anyone not used to the desert southwest.  You have to journey to high altitudes to find any forest at all, and the trees are of completely different varieties than you'd find in the Northeast.

Omaha, strangely enough, is not like most of the Midwest.  There is an arm of what is known as the "upland forest" that reaches up the Missouri River valley to Omaha, and makes the hilly city feel much more like New York than Chicago or Milwaukee (which are both rather flat in comparison, especially Illinois).  This upland forest stretches southward down the river, across humid, forested Missouri, and up the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, to the east across Pennsylvania, New York and New England.  Omaha is just the westernmost outpost of this climactic region.  Travel 30 miles in any direction but south, and you're back in prairie or grassland.  It's one of the reasons I find Omaha comforting, despite the plainness of so many things.

So yeah, Mitt Romney is kind of a douche, and his policy positions are horrible (and apparently completely mutable), but that moment in an extremely awkward speech showed a little bit of his humanity to me.  I would not be exaggerating to say it was my favorite thing I've ever heard him say.

I saw another interesting website today that pulled some of the armor off of the Mittbot.  This page features numerous family pictures of Mitt with his wife and kids and grand-kids, and he looks like a normal (albeit wealthy) grandpa.  As John Cole remarked, "And I guess I just don’t get it. Look how happy he is in those pictures on the beach, playing with his grandkids. If I were in Mitt’s shoes, with a half a billion or however how much money he has, there is simply nothing you could do to make me go through the fresh hell of running for and then serving as President."  I have to agree.  He kind of reminded me of my own dad in those pictures, who is about the same age, and is very much enjoying his comfortable retirement.

In reading the responses to Cole's post, the explanations ranged from the caustic to the obvious to the genuinely sympathetic.  The most popular explanations involved variations on the theme of an egomaniacal elitist with the need to one-up his successful father.  A fair amateur psychological analysis, I suppose.  Many brought up the White Horse Prophecy and the pressure from the leadership of the LDS church that Mitt has felt for much of his adult life to be the one who would bring a Mormon to the White House.  This has got to play some part as well, I'd think.  I guess it's kind of mystery why anyone would want to go through what you need to go through in order to become President, and it's why it's so rare that a person deserving of the power and responsibility comes near to the goal.

My favorite comment however was one that compared Romney the politician to Hillary Clinton the politician.  "I remember wondering something similar about Hillary: By all accounts of anyone who actually knows her, a smart, wickedly funny, extremely nice woman who is fascinating to talk with in real situations, who seemed to give campaign speeches with a thought bubble over her head that read “Gee, they don’t LOOK like morons, but Mark Penn told me to talk to them like they are, so here goes …”"

It's the phoniness of Mitt Romney that will ultimately be his undoing.  I can't imagine there are many outside of the LDS community or the 1% who are enthusiastic backers of the man based on his policies.  Apart from showing a true dedication to protecting the wealth of the wealthy, he doesn't really seem to have any solid policy positions that he is not willing to revise in order to appeal to whomever his audience is at that moment.  This doesn't play to the Republican base, and it's not going to carry independents if he survives to the general election. 

The phoniness is perhaps so apparent when he speaks because he has such internal conflict with his very soul.  This is a devout man, and as odd as the Mormon beliefs may be, most Mormons are shockingly nice and honest people.  So when he must stand before a crowd and say things he doesn't really believe, there has to be some serious internal conflict, and he attempts to mask it by being the stiff Robo-Mitt that we have all come to know very well.  Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have no such issues, as they believe every crazy word that comes out of their mouths.  Conversely Newt Gingrich has no such internal conflict because he doesn't truly believe anything.

It's all particularly sad when considering that the father Mitt is trying to best was a man of deep conviction who would not sully himself by pandering to the crazy fringe of the right in order to advance politically.  He may have had regrets in his career, but selling his soul to win his party's nomination just so he could get his ass handed to him by his Democratic opponent could never have been one.  And now George Romney is forgotten to most outside of Michigan or the ranks of political junkies, and will most likely only be remembered as the father of the unprincipled, and yet strangely inept politician that is his youngest son.