Slouching Towards Tampa (Blab Four edition)

The absurdity is still compelling, but I just don’t find the Republican primary battle much fun anymore. I miss Michele Bachmann. I miss Rick Perry. I miss Herman Cain. I even miss Jon Huntsman, since it was always enjoyable to watch him standing onstage with his rivals while I hummed “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others” to myself.

Sure, there are still some laughs to be had. Last Wednesday’s CNN debate from Mesa, Arizona, for instance, provided a few. The first came 10 minutes before the debate got underway, when former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, playing pundit, said something to the effect of: If Rick Santorum can look presidential tonight, he could blow this thing wide open. Comedy gold, right?

And the candidates themselves did their best to turn my frown upside-down, beginning with Santorum accusing Romney of adopting Occupy Wall Street’s rhetoric. Even the live audience at the Mesa Arts Center tried to keep me amused, as when they reacted to moderator John King reading a viewer question asking which candidate believed in birth control, and if not, why, by booing lustily. It was a vivid snapshot of the Republican zeitgeist, AD 2012, and – hell, yes – I laughed. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Blab Four edition)

Take Five (Do Not Disturb edition)

ONE: Fired Up and Ready to Stay Home!

A couple of weeks back, Take Five looked at a CBS News poll which indicated that voter enthusiasm (meaning a lack thereof) could be a huge problem for the Republicans this year.

The Atlantic Wire recently examined other polls that pretty much confirm the hypothesis. A January 30 Pew poll, for example, pegged the number of Republicans happy with their field of candidates at 46%, while those dissatisfied with it were measured at 52%. As has become a cliché this election year, they can’t resist citing yet another Gallup poll purporting to demonstrate that Republicans remain more enthusiastic about this election than Democrats. The only problem with this is that the accumulating empirical evidence suggests it’s not true.

Nate Silver notes that among “Republican identifiers” only, turnout in Iowa was down 11% over 2008 and New Hampshire was down 15%, and while South Carolina’s turnout jumped 20% over the last presidential election cycle, driven by Gingrich zealots, Florida’s was down 16% from ’08. According to CNN, Nevada’s Republican numbers last Saturday were down by one-third from four years ago.

Watch for increasingly desperate and increasingly amusing spin about all this to emanate from Republican Party apparatchiks and pundits in the coming weeks, but they’ll have to really exert themselves to outdo Romney spokesmouth John H. Sununu, who said this with a resolutely straight and characteristically dour face on MSNBC Monday morning:

In an odd sense when turnout is down, contrary to what you are hearing, people are satisfied with the winning and the candidate that’s winning. They are satisfied with Mitt Romney.

Yeah, sure they are. I’m hoping they’re so satisfied they’ll all stay home in November, too. Sununu’s explanation for that will be priceless.

Ron Paul, seemingly unaware that he himself is a candidate, made some caustic remarks about the Nevada and Florida numbers:

“There’s a lot of people not satisfied with any of the candidates out there,” the Texas congressman said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “And that’s why in many ways we’re seeing a lower turnout right now…”

Mr. Paul said Republicans are wondering why they haven’t been offered someone else besides Mr. Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The last time I looked, Republicans were also being offered, aggressively, not only Ron Paul but also Rick Santorum, and not long ago they also had such choices as Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain, not to mention perplexingly premature dropout Tim Pawlenty and even perennial wingnut darling Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore. And then there was the contingent of maybes whose trial balloons, for the most part, never got any altitude: Chris Christie, Donald Trump, Mitch Daniels, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.

I apologize for taxing your digestive tract with this litany of names, gentle reader, but I think it points up the fact that GOP voters have had no shortage of choices; they’ve only had a shortage of remotely acceptable choices, even by famously lax Republican standards.

So Romney remains the frontrunner, his three remaining challengers – for various reasons – will hang around a while yet, and Republican voters are less than impressed with the whole spectacle. Hey, it’s nice to agree with Republicans about something, I guess.

TWO: Y’all don’t come back now, hear?

The Charleston Place Hotel has filed suit against the Southern Republican Leadership Conference for non-payment of a $227,872 bill. The SRLC disputes the charge and has declared its intention to launch a counterclaim. In a statement released Monday, the organization said:

“After prepaying over $235,000 to the Charleston Place Hotel, we at SRLC 2012 had an unprofessional experience that directly and indirectly breached our contract causing great harm and distraction to our attendees, sponsors, and staff. The Charleston Place’s attempt to mischaracterize this legitimate dispute as the SRLC’s walking away from a bill is in keeping with the pattern of deception and misrepresentation that is a significant part of our ongoing disagreement.

“We continue to seek a reasonable and equitable settlement even as the Charleston Place’s Management seeks to sensationalize. We sincerely hope that cooler heads at the Charleston Place will prevail and they will acknowledge serious errors and actions resulting in a fair agreement.”

The conference lined up a Jan. 19-22 stay… and booked nearly every room in the luxury hotel in the center of downtown Charleston, according to the lawsuit. Political consultant Robert Cahaly signed the agreement on behalf of the group…

The hotel wants to hold Cahaly and others personally responsible for the tab, arguing that the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is nothing but a corporate shell Cahaly uses to hide from his obligations, the lawsuit states.

Cahaly has kept a pretty low profile since threatening to sue the SC SLED before turning himself in on an arrest warrant last fall on charges of making illegal robocalls in half a dozen House Districts in the 2010 election. While there don’t seem to be any recent updates about that case, I’m already looking forward to this new one. If the hotel really has evidence that the SRLC is a corporate front for Cahaly, I can’t wait to read the details. It’s also going to be fascinating to see if the organization’s counterclaim is predicated on something more substantial and credible than Charleston Place management being unprofessional, deceptive, sensationalistic hotheads.

THREE: You’re Nobody ’til Rick Santorum Hates You

Fresh off of telling a seriously ill child and his mother that drug companies should be free to charge whatever the hell they want for the boy’s medication, Rick “Mr. Sensitive” Santorum told a gay Missouri man that he didn’t deserve the “privilege” of marriage. In doing so, Santorum briefly opened a wormhole into the strange and uncharted dimension that is his mind when he said:

“[Marriage is] not a right, it’s something that has existed since the beginning of human history as an institution where men and women come together for the purposes of forming a natural relationship as God made it to be. And for the purposes of having children and continuing that civilization. It is an intrinsic good… And as a result of that, we extend a privilege. We extend certain privileges to people who do that because we want to encourage that behavior…”

Actually, Senator, you don’t need to bother encouraging that behavior, since your enthusiastic advocacy of another type of behavior helps ensure that humans, gay or straight, won’t be around to mess up Creation much longer anyway:

A day before Republicans voice[d] their presidential preferences in the Colorado caucuses, Rick Santorum dismissed climate change as “a hoax” and advocated an energy plan heavy on fossil fuels.

True to form, Santorum couldn’t opine on this without dragging his close personal friend, God, into it:

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the earth’s benefit,” Santorum told an audience at the Colorado School of Mines where he was a guest speaker Monday at the Colorado Energy Summit.

“We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through that course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create…”

The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania argued that science has been hijacked by politicians on the left, and that climate change is “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life…

“I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face and yet we have politicians running into the ramparts, unfortunately politicians who happen to be running for the Republican nomination for president who bought into man-made global warming and bought into cap and trade…”

Small wonder that Sarah Palin’s star has faded; with Rick Santorum in the news, fans of nonsensical word salad can get their fill and more. At least until catastrophic climate change leads to their extinction, that is.

Oh, and about that “sauce” he mentioned… never mind. Continue reading Take Five (Do Not Disturb edition)

Slouching Towards Tampa (Where Are They Now edition)

Tomorrow’s Florida primary probably won’t result in Rick Santorum or Ron Paul heading for the exit sign, but it will move both of them a step closer to it.

That pleasant thought got me wondering what the other Republican dropouts were up to these days. Turns out they’re all keeping busy, though probably not without some regrets here and there about what they’re busy with.

Michele Bachmann has set her sights on another term representing the Minnesota 6th. Well, maybe:

Speaking on Fox News, Bachmann seemed caught off guard when asked directly if she’d be running for a fourth term.

“I, very — yes,” she said.

However, Bachmann quickly qualified her response to indicate that it was an option she would be considering.

“I believe I’ll be looking at that, very seriously looking at coming back for a fourth term.”

Her hesitance seems to be contagious:

The contentious nature of the primary season, coupled with some high-profile missteps, sent her back to Minnesota with a low favorability rating in her home state.

According to a statewide Public Policy Polling survey released on Tuesday, only 34 percent of those polled have a positive view of her, while 57 percent have an unfavorable view.

Only 37 percent said she should run for reelection.

She can look forward to some traveling, at least:

Former Republican presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has been named as a witness in a messy, multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit in Nashville.

Led by prominent Republican fundraiser and millionaire Bill Hemrick of Brentwood, a group of Middle Tennessee conservatives sued California businessman Anthony Loiacono for $19 million in November over a failed venture to create a television network devoted to the tea party movement. The plaintiffs claim Loiacono used their investments as his “personal bank account.”

Loiacono first responded by challenging Hemrick to a “lie detector challenge.” He has since formally responded to the lawsuit and claims Hemrick and co-plaintiff Mel Martin are primarily responsible for Tea Party HD’s demise. He has countersued the plaintiffs for $1 million alleging defamation and abuse of process.

He also filed a lengthy list of 50 anticipated witnesses in the case, including Bachmann and other prominent conservatives such as commentators Ann Coulter and Phil Valentine; Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips; and state lawmakers Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. Jack Johnson of Williamson County.

Great stuff. The report goes on to note that Tea Party HD produced Bachmann’s response to the 2011 SOTU. That was the response where she looked earnestly at a spot somewhere off-camera, as if she were speaking not to you, the viewer, but to your neighbors. Tea Party HD will be missed.

You’ll be delighted to know that the former candidate still finds time for fun, and one thing she’s always found fun is denying non-heterosexuals their rights:

Eagan, Minn. — Minnesota pastors and lawmakers who support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman aim to develop varied strategies to win voter support.

At a strategy session [Friday]… the Faith and Freedom coalition discussed ways to sell the marriage amendment to people who may not hold their fervent views.

… the room came to its feet for a last-minute appearance by Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who first proposed a marriage amendment when she was a state senator…

“I think if you want to talk to people who are not interested in talking about the morality you can also come at it as “should people be allowed to vote,” Bachmann said.

A minister in the back of the room offered up a prayer for Bachmann. A pastor from Minneapolis asked for advice on how to talk about the amendment with parishioners who are parents of gay children.

Bachmann said she wasn’t an expert, and switched back to her main line of argument, that people should get to decide the laws they live under.

Coincidentally, Bachmann had appeared on The O’Reilly Factor the night before to share her lack of expertise about running for the presidency. Some snippets:

I loved the debates. I wish I could have been a part of every single debate. I wanted to answer every question. It’s a wonderful process because it helps to explain positions to people across the United States and explain why Barack Obama can’t have a second term. It’s a wonderful process…

… if you go all the way back to August — whoever goes to the top, they don’t stay there very long and they go straight down. And people have a very short shelf life. And it’s almost like the voters have whiplash. They go from one candidate to another and they — they completely go with one candidate and then they’ll hear some information and they’ll move away. And so people are looking for perfection…

The fact on the ground is that you have to have money to be able to keep the mother ship going.

Bachmann’s not the only ex-candidate to return home with a tarnished reputation:

Governor Rick Perry has gotten a rocky welcome home to Texas, facing low poll numbers and criticism over state expenses related to his failed campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Travel for Perry’s security team cost the state nearly $800,000 between September and November, according to a new report from the state Department of Public Safety.

Money well spent, I’d say, since it indirectly helped the nation remain safe from a Perry presidency by keeping him on the stump week after uproarious week. Texas Democrats are demanding that he reimburse the state, but Perry’s probably more concerned over a different sort of fallout from his face-plant on the national stage: Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Where Are They Now edition)

Take Five (Take My Candidate, Please edition)

ONE: None of the Above, Thanks!

While I can no more imagine voting for a Republican than I can imagine myself conducting the Seoul Philharmonic or being named World Series MVP, that doesn’t mean I’m completely without sympathy for Republican voters. Mostly, sure, but not completely.

Last April, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed less than half of Republican and right-leaning independent respondents were satisfied with the nascent GOP crop of candidates. The poll’s “field” at the time consisted of Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty. Two of them never ultimately ran, two of them fizzled out, and one of them was flirting with a run solely for the sake of boosting the ratings of his extraordinarily dim reality show.

A Pew poll conducted the same week found that 53% of people surveyed couldn’t come up with a name – putative, purported, potential, preposterous or otherwise – when asked which candidate they’d been hearing most about.

Fast-forward to January 9, when a CBS News poll found that 58% of Republican respondents still wanted more choices for a nominee. And that was even before Bachmann, Huntsman and Perry dropped out, leaving sad-sack GOP voters with a narrow spectrum of options ranging from an ethics-impaired pseudo-intellectual clod to an antediluvian reptile masquerading as an advocate for liberty to a clueless empty suit who fancies himself a titan of free enterprise to a loathsome pipsqueak who spent more time crotch-sniffing than he ever spent conducting The People’s Business as a senator.

Yet the poll also indicated that 41% of GOP voters described themselves as more enthusiastic than in past elections, something only 21% of the Democrats and independents surveyed said about themselves. So what is it that they’re so enthusiastic about? Who the hell knows? Perhaps they’re enthusiastic about not voting:

The number of Republican voters taking part in the New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses dropped significantly this year, a Globe review of data shows.

The drop-off in Republican participation, compared with other years without a GOP incumbent, follows recent polls that indicate a high percentage of the party faithful is less than enthusiastic with the choices offered for the nomination. Analysts say there may be a combination of factors contributing to the decline in party faithful voting.

To paraphrase Saint Paul, Republicans are a piece of work, which passeth all understanding.

TWO: “Incredibly naive, almost stupid”

In the wake of Rick Perry’s decision to vamoose from the ol’ campaign trail, a Christian conservative conclave in Texas was left baffled, bewildered and basically befuddled. Who among the remaining claimants to the Republican nomination strikes the perfect balance between prurient, repressive social conservatism and absolute indifference to vicious capitalist depredation, a balance that so appeals to those who just love ‘em some Jesus and yet despise His message? Rick Santorum, come on down!

Fueled by prayer and passionate speeches, Christian conservative leaders meeting in Gov. Rick Perry’s home state reached a “strong consensus” to support former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said [January 14].

It took Perkins and his confreres three ballots to settle on Santorum, but I’m not even sure why there was any suspense involved. A few days before he and his mob met to bestow their blessings on a new standard bearer, a report in the Washington Post confirmed that Santorum is their dream candidate. The Post examined a charity Santorum had established to aid low-income Pennsylvanians. As it happens, “Operation Good Neighbor”:

… spent most of its money to run itself, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for fundraising, administration and office rental paid to Santorum’s political allies.

The charity also had significant overlap with the senator’s campaigns and his work on Capitol Hill. Among the leading donors to the foundation were Pennsylvania development and finance firms that had donated to his election efforts and had interests that Santorum had supported in the Senate…

Before it folded in 2007, the foundation raised $2.58 million, with 39 percent of that donated directly to groups helping the needy. By industry standards, such philanthropic groups should be donating nearly twice that, from 75 to 85 percent of their funds.

“That’s exceptionally poor,” Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a national organization that rates charitable groups, said of the Santorum group’s giving. “We would tell donors to run with fear from this organization.”

And well you might, Mr. Berger, but only because you don’t appreciate the intricate construct of hypocrisy, hard-heartedness and hellacious antipathy to truth that candidates like Rick Santorum (and sleazoid snake oil merchants like Tony Perkins) represent.

But there’s just a little more pious goodness to this story:

[Doug Wead,] a leading evangelical and former aide to President George H.W. Bush said he agreed with suspicions voiced by others at the meeting of evangelical and conservative Catholic activists that organizers “manipulated” the gathering and may even have stuffed the ballot to produce an endorsement of Mr. Santorum over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Santorum, who nearly upset Mr. Romney in the Iowa caucuses, won the first ballot ahead of Mr. Gingrich in Saturday’s Texas meeting but the margin was too slim for organizers to claim a consensus. It was not until the third ballot, taken after many people had left to catch flights back home, that Mr. Santorum won more than 70 percent of those still in attendance and claimed the endorsement…

Mr. Perkins strongly defended the Texas meeting as “a remarkable gathering of conservatives leaders.”

Yes, it certainly does sound remarkable. Last word to Mr. Wead:

… Mr. Wead, who said meeting participants were warned not to discuss the gathering in the media, was still upset and said the entire exercise was misguided.

“The idea of evangelicals meeting this late to select a candidate always struck me as incredibly naive, almost stupid. It is way too late for that,” he said.

Amen, sir. Amen.

THREE: Way Out West

If there’s one thing Arizona doesn’t need, it’s another hateful dolt in elected office. The state can’t even keep the ones it already has from appearing in cringe-worthy news stories.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for example, was recently named Arizona campaign chairman for Rick Perry, who dropped out of the race less than two weeks later, leaving Arpaio with nothing much to do except finalize his “cold case posse” investigation into President Obama’s eligibility to hold the office he’s held for three years and six days now.

Governor Jan Brewer, no slouch herself when it comes to hateful doltishness, mounted her own attack on President Obama just yesterday. Color the Arizona Republic chagrined:

President Obama arrived on Wednesday afternoon for a run-of-the-mill campaign speech using an Intel facility in Chandler as a backdrop. He was greeted by the usual assortment of local dignitaries, including Gov. Jan Brewer.

Which turned out to be Mistake No. 1.

Brewer handed the president a letter and apparently said something about the border and about the state’s economic recovery. Apparently, Obama said something about Brewer mischaracterizing their White House meeting in her book, Scorpions for Breakfast. Apparently, things went downhill from there. Apparently, the president and the governor couldn’t stop talking over each other’s words…

The image of Arizona’s governor wagging a scolding finger at the visiting president on the tarmac at Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport now pretty much defines this state’s relationship with Washington, D.C., to the world.

Far from offering contrition after her boorish display, all Brewer could talk about afterward was the scary black guy who climbed out of Air Force One:

“I felt a little bit threatened, if you will, and the attitude that he had because I was there to welcome him,” Brewer told reporters following the exchange.

But not so fast, Joe and Jan! For Arizona, the barrel now has a new bottom, and his name is JT Ready. And (as of January 13, 2012) he’s a Democrat: Continue reading Take Five (Take My Candidate, Please edition)

Slouching Towards Tampa (Incredible Shrinking Field edition)

Equipped with my special Political Blogger Kit (a double martini straight up with two olives, and a Mead 3″ by 5″ memo book and a ballpoint pen) I planted myself securely on the couch between our dogs Tuesday night, mere minutes before the start of what CNN grandly billed as its Southern Republican Debate. When I turned on the TV, CNN’s go-to alternative to dead air, Wolf Blitzer, was proclaiming giddily that the candidates would “come out swinging,” which struck me as pretty unlikely on the very day that Newt Gingrich’s second wife came forward with the story about her ex proposing an open marriage as an alternative to divorce.

As is their wont, CNN began with a montage conferring a ridiculous honorific on each of the participants: Mitt (“The Frontrunner!”) Romney, Newt (“On the Rise!”) Gingrich, Rick (“Increasing Momentum!”) Santorum and Ron (“The Insurgent!”) Paul. With that nonsense out of the way, a brief rundown of the debate rules and a handsome rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by Citadel cadets followed, and then each of the candidates got a chance to say “hey” to the audience and those of us watching at home.

Finally, at 8:08 pm, debate moderator John King posed the first question of the evening, about – surprise! – whether Newt had pushed wife #2 for an open marriage. I suwannee, few folks can bring the righteous indignation like Speaker Gingrich. The steam coming out of his ears could have cooked collard greens. Umbrage doesn’t get any more umber. And strangely enough, I agreed with him. Yes, it was in the news; no, it was inappropriate as a debate question.

After Gingrich got most of the high dudgeon out of his system (I always feel bad for the janitorial staff who have to mop up the high dudgeon after a Republican debate), Ron Paul used the first available opportunity to note that he and his wife have been together for 54 years. Classy, Dr. Paul.

Mitt Romney jumped at a chance to deride president Obama as a “crony capitalist” and used Solyndra and the Keystone XL pipeline as examples; a predictable Romney gumbo of lies and nonsense, in other words, ending with the applause line: “… it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong.” The audience obliged. After this nincompoopery, he segued into some states’ rights boilerplate and then tried to equate “ObamaCare” to Amtrak and the USPS.

At 8:43, Dr. Paul took us back to a simpler time:

“I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early ’60s, before we had any government.”

At 8:51, Rick Santorum told us he’s not flamboyant. Thanks, Rick. We hadn’t noticed. But he is nasty, as he proved when he started kicking Gingrich about the 1994 election. The two clashed with their differing versions of an era nobody cares about any more, and then a smiling Romney used the opportunity to portray himself as an outsider (a position Mitt often uses as cover for the fact that no one much likes him). For good measure, he mocked Gingrich’s attempts to portray himself as an heir to Ronald Reagan by pointing out that the Gipper’s diary mentions Newt only once, and then only as someone who had an idea Reagan didn’t like, adding:

“I mean, he mentions George Bush a hundred times. He even mentions my dad once.”

But scant minutes later, a retired broker in the audience asked the candidates as a group when they would release their tax returns. Gingrich jumped:

“An hour ago.”

Paul’s answer was slower and less nimble, but earned him some laughs and applause:

“Well — well, I hadn’t thought it — thought it through. I don’t have an intention of doing it, but for a different reason. I’d probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their incomes. I don’t want the embarrassment because I don’t have a greater income.”

Romney’s response was quintessentially Romneyesque. If you’re still wondering why even Republicans dislike him even as he seems poised to become their nominee, well, here you go:

“… I know that if I’m the nominee the president’s going to want to insist that I show what my income was this last year and so forth. When they’re completed this year in April I’ll release my returns in April, and probably for other years as well.

And I know that’s what’s going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to — to try and attack people because they’ve been successful, and I — and I have been successful. But let me tell you, the — the — the challenge in America is not people who have been successful. The challenge in America — and President Obama doesn’t want to talk about this — is you got a president who’s played 90 rounds of golf while there are 25 million Americans out of work. And — and — (cheers, applause) — and you’ve got — and — and while the price of gasoline has doubled, he said no to the Keystone pipeline. And while we’ve got 15 trillion (dollars) of debt, he said, look, I’m going to put another trillion of debt for ‘Obamacare.’ That’s the problem in America, not the attacks they make on people who have been successful…”

King countered:

“But some of the questions about when you’ll release your taxes have not come — the president has raised them — his campaign has raised them, you’re right on that. But so have some of your rivals up here. Speaker Gingrich has said you owe them to the people of South Carolina before they vote. Governor Perry made that point as well before he left the race. Why not should the people of South Carolina before this election see last year’s return?”

As the exchange continued, Romney began to sound a little, for want of a better word, Trumpish:

“Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama. And every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As — as has been done in the past, if I’m the nominee, I’ll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I obviously pay all full taxes. I’m honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed. And I pay a lot of taxes. I’ve been very successful. And I — when I have our — our taxes ready for this year, I’ll release them.”

Romney was reminded that his father had released 12 years of his own tax returns in a 1967 campaign. King described the release as “a groundbreaking standard in American politics” and asked Mitt:

“When you release yours, will you follow your father’s example?”

There were audible boos and catcalls (and not just in our living room) when Romney responded:

“Maybe. I — you know, I don’t know how many years I’ll release. I’ll take a look at what the — the — what our documents are. And I’ll release multiple years; I don’t know how many years. And — but I’ll be happy to do that.”

He then tried to hijack the discussion again, circling back around to how he’s not your ordinary fat cat; he’s a self-made fat cat:

“I didn’t inherit money from my parents. What I have, I earned. I worked hard, the American way.”

The cheering I could hear from the crowd had to be coming from Romney staffers; it’s hard to believe that anyone else in attendance believed this drivel. Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Incredible Shrinking Field edition)

Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

ONE: Hey, would you rather have fungus in your OJ?

Last week, Take Five coughed up a small hairball over the USDA’s recently announced downsizing, which will see 259 facilities and 7,000 employees slashed, a reduction Tom Vilsack was quick to claim “… will have no impact whatsoever on our ability to ensure food safety…”

Well, that’s very good news, Mr. Secretary. Just days after your announcement, the good people at PepsiCo Inc. noted that tests have found traces of carbendazim, a “potentially dangerous” fungicide, in their Tropicana brand orange juice. This follows rival Coca Cola’s announcement that shipments from Brazil intended for their Minute Maid brand juice had turned up carbendazim in quantities that were found to be below federal safety standards:

Carbendazim is used in Brazil to combat blossom blight and black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.

But in the United States, its use is limited to non-food items such as paints, textiles and ornamental trees, although U.S. authorities allow trace amounts of carbendazim in 31 food types including grains, nuts and some non-citrus fruits.

The FDA said low levels of carbendazim are not dangerous and the agency had no plans for a recall.

So far so good, then. Thanks to a sound regulatory regime and admirable compliance from the corporations being regulated, we can assume that no consumer has found his sperm development compromised, or her chromosomes damaged, which is nice. As originally noted in Pesticides News No. 57 in September 2002, carbendazim is:

… of major concern due to its suspected hormone disrupting effects. It has been highlighted by Friends of the Earth as one of their ‘filthy four’ pesticides as it could be harmful to human health and the environment.

For good measure, let’s also assume that not a single one of those 7,000 positions or 259 facilities soon to be eliminated ever had to deal with carbendazim. Everyone can sleep better that way, and start tomorrow with a refreshing glass of fungus-free orange juice.

TWO: The Voting Dead

Last week, Take Five looked on in disgust as South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and his boss Nikki Haley announced a lawsuit against the DOJ for its refusal to rubberstamp the state’s new voter ID law. In an incredible (as in “not even a tiny bit credible”) coincidence, last week Wilson asked the State Law Enforcement Commission to investigate what he claims is:

… the fact that over 900 persons, who were deceased at the time of [recent] elections, appear to have “voted” in those elections.

Wilson purportedly bases this claim on data provided by DMV Director Kevin Shwedo.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress succinctly summarized what invariably occurs when such allegations arise:

… while salacious accusations like Wilson’s grab headlines, the subsequent investigations that find no voter fraud rarely get as much attention. Indeed, no election would be complete without allegations of dead voters; yet each time, officials perform the same Scooby-Doo routine, investigating wild accusations before discovering a much simpler explanation for the discrepancies.

Keyes goes on to quote some illustrative examples from a paper on voter fraud commissioned by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, but I recommend you read the whole thing (PDF here). It pretty much puts paid to the notion that such a thing as voter fraud exists in any statistically meaningful sense. Keyes concludes by saying:

Whether it’s a spelling error, a check-in error, or simply a death shortly after Election Day, minor discrepancies do pop up during elections; zombie voters, less so.

Officials like Wilson would do well to apply Occam’s Razor in matters like these before spinning wild accusations.

Yes, they would, but of course Wilson needs to spin these wild accusations if he hopes to implement the new voter ID law in time to suppress Democratic votes this November. Barack Obama got 44.9 percent of the South Carolina vote in 2008, and what few forecasts there are to suggest he’ll do better this year strike me as mostly wishful thinking, but – as that old skunk Karl Rove himself would no doubt agree – when it comes to elections there’s really no such thing as an abundance of caution.

THREE: Talking (and Talking and Talking) Book

The Romney campaign site is currently touting an endorsement from Senator John McCain, the last Republican candidate to have his butt kicked by Barack Obama:

“Governor Romney offers us the commonsense reforms of government policy that are necessary to turn around our economy,” said Senator McCain. “His record of accomplishment in government and business are a testament to his leadership abilities. His commitment to a strong defense and principled diplomacy will earn the world’s respect for American leadership.”

Strangely, however, McCain’s 2008 campaign team didn’t share the Senator’s seeming respect for Romney’s “record of accomplishment” or his “leadership abilities” or anything else about him. In fact, they appear to have regarded him as the transparently phony jackass that he actually is.

Andrew Kaczynski at BuzzFeed has posted what appears to be the McCain campaign’s opposition research book on Mitt Romney. Snippets have surfaced before, but this is the first time the entire thing has been made available. It was worth the wait. There’s so much juicy stuff in here it should inspire Newt Gingrich and Romney’s other remaining primary rivals to wet dreams.

If you’re pressed for time, head straight to the “Top Hits” section on page 7, but it’s worth poking around some more if the thought of reading so much about Mitt Romney doesn’t make you too queasy. You’ll find the biographical timeline beginning on page 3 quite informative, and there are handy executive summaries of Romney and social issues (page 13), economic issues (page 45), foreign policy (page 66), domestic policy (page 87), Romney’s business record (page 135), his flip-flops (page 168) and miscellaneous political issues, including campaign ethics and “questionable Republican credentials” (page 179). Each summary prefaces pages of carefully sourced excerpts from letters, transcripts and other primary documents, press releases, news stories, editorials, commentary and analysis. What follows are a few items I particularly enjoyed.

About those business accomplishments:

Bain Capital financed 1988 buyout with junk bonds issued by Drexel Burnham – when SEC filed charges against the firm and CEO Michael Milken, Bain Capital maintained their business relationship; Romney later reminisced about “the glorious days of Drexel Burnham.” (page 135)

Romney has been criticized by experts for failing to deliver on issues of business development and economic growth after selling himself as the “CEO governor.” (page 8 )

Bain Capital owned company named Ampad that purchased an Indiana paper plant, fired its workers and offered to bring them back at drastically reduced salary and benefits – the firings became an issue in the 1994 Senate race when workers blamed Romney for their situation and appeared in Kennedy campaign ads. (page 135)

About those accomplishments in government:

In 1994, Romney opposed the Contract with America without even reading it. (page 179)

Romney’s spending decisions as chairman of the Republican Governors Association during 2006 election cycle “raised eyebrows” in light of his presidential aspirations. (page 179)

Romney took no position on estate tax issue in 2002 and signed 50% increase in state cremation fee, which observers call “hidden tax on the dead.” (page 9)

There’s even a fun section about Romney’s, um, consistent values and steadfast positions:

ABORTION: Romney Was Pro-Choice. Then Not Pro-Choice. Then Pro-Choice Again. Then Pro-Life (page 168)

SECOND AMENDMENT: Romney Once Bragged Of Opposing NRA. Promised Not To “Chip Away” At Tough Gun Laws But Now Seeks NRA Endorsement (page 171)

OWNING A GUN. Romney Said He Owned A Gun Himself. Then Admitted It Was Not His Gun (page 171)

CLIMATE CHANGE: Romney Once Claimed Global Warming Debate Was “Pretty Much Over” But Now Expresses Skepticism And Attacks His Opponents (page 172)

GAY MARRIAGE: In 2002, Romney Refused To Endorse Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage, Saying It Was Too Extreme, But Later Endorsed Amendment Banning Gay Marriage In 2006 (page 173)

STEM CELL RESEARCH: Romney Once Endorsed Embryonic Stem Cell Research And Promised To “Work and Fight” For It Before Changing His Position (page 174)

And the book doesn’t overlook the kind of stuff that’s really important to today’s voters:

FAVORITE BOOK: Romney Insisted L. Ron Hubbard’s “Battlefield Earth” Was His Favorite Novel, Then Said Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” Was His Favorite (page 174)

FAVORITE MOVIE: Romney Has Changed Positions On His Favorite Film In Recent Years (page 175)

Keep in mind that this happy compendium was put together four years ago, so it’s missing almost half a decade of new policy reversals, contradictions, exaggerations, lies, duplicity, scuzzy business dealings and miscellaneous Mittery. If the other remaining Republican candidates have a lick of sense (which I doubt) they’ve got their campaigns working overtime on the sequel to this blockbuster. Continue reading Take Five (Déjà Vu All Over Again edition)

Sunday Talks, 1/8/12

Center stage on this Sunday’s television talk shows is a special edition of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” which is joining Facebook to host the last Republican presidential debate before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

It will be the . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 1/8/12

Take Five (Yes, Virginia edition)

ONE: Suppose They Gave a Primary and Nobody Came

A funny thing happened on the way to March 6. That’s the date on which Virginians will cast their vote in the state’s Republican primary, and the funny thing is that Newt Gingrich, a Virginia resident who has recently been at or near the top in virtually all GOP polling, couldn’t come up with the signatures needed to get on the ballot. Just to add to the fun, neither could Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.

Instead, Virginia primary voters will have to choose between the only two candidates running campaigns savvy and organized enough to have qualified: Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. Their rivals simply couldn’t meet the state’s dauntingly stringent qualifying requirements, which include finding 10,000(!) Virginians conservative enough to sign a Republican nominating petition, with a minimum of 400(!) signatures gathered from each(!) of the state’s Congressional districts, a Sisyphean task made even harder by the shocking stipulation that those gathering signatures in the state must be qualified Virginia voters(!), just like Virginia resident Newt Gingrich.

The Perry team supposedly submitted almost 12,000 signatures by the filing deadline, while the Gingrich campaign claimed 11,050, but sufficient signatures were found to be invalid to sink both bids.

Gingrich, that longtime veteran of the Party of Personal Responsibility, immediately started pointing his surrogate’s finger at others. In a Facebook post which will live in infamy, campaign director Michael Krull stated:

“Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941. We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days – but in the end we will stand victorious.”

Hmm. Stirring stuff. Krull tersely noted that the campaign is “exploring alternate methods to compete in Virginia – stay tuned.” Actually, one such alternate method was invoked to no avail in a statement last weekend:

Krull said Gingrich… will pursue “an aggressive write-in campaign” to appear on the ballot.

The only problem with that being that write-ins are prohibited on Virginia primary ballots, something that Newt Gingrich (who – it bears repeating – is a Virginia resident) might have known if only he’d ever paid any attention to something other than himself.

But Krull’s larger point remained: Newt is not to blame! It’s society’s fault, man:

“Only a failed system excludes four out of the six major candidates seeking access to the ballot. Voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates.”

By yesterday, Newt must have realized the “failed system” gambit wasn’t working, so he abruptly switched scapegoats:

… the former House speaker said the “mistake” occurred because one of their workers committed fraud.

“We hired somebody who turned in false signatures. We turned in 11,100 – we needed 10,000 – 1,500 of them were by one guy who frankly committed fraud.”

At this rate, a few more days and he’ll be claiming to have uncovered evidence of an ACORN connection.

Mitt Romney hurried to ridicule his opponent:

“I think he compared that to Pearl Harbor,” Romney said of the Gingrich campaign’s failure to get on the Virginia ballot, which the former speaker’s adviser called a “set-back.”

“I think it’s more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory,” Romney said. “You’ve got to get it organized.”

Well, that’s clever enough, though as one CNN reader commented: “Nothing says relevance like references to a black & white, long off-the-air sitcom.” We’ll just leave Mitt to his cynicism. Krull has already reassured Gingrich’s Facebook followers that the campaign “will continue to learn and grow,” and I for one can’t wait. It’s over two months away, but next year’s Super Tuesday is already shaping up to be the most super ever!

TWO: A Candidate Named Sue

Unlike Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry’s not the sort of petulant guy who would throw an adolescent fit about not making the Virginia ballot. He’s the sort of petulant guy who would file a lawsuit over it:

“Gov. Perry greatly respects the citizens and history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and believes Virginia Republicans should have greater access to vote for one of the several candidates for President of the United States,” Perry campaign spokesperson Ray Sullivan said in a statement.

The suit challenges “the constitutional validity of the Virginia statute which regulates access to the ballot by presidential candidates and limits the rights of voters to vote for the candidate of their choice,” the campaign said.

Perry’s filing (PDF available here) claims:

20.              Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state imposes a severe burden on Plaintiffs’ [sic] freedoms of speech and association because it substantially limits the number of eligible petition circulators.

21.              Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state is a severe burden on Plaintiff’s freedoms of speech and association because it prohibits an otherwise qualified candidate for the Office of the President of the United States from circulating his own candidate petitions.

22.              Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state prohibited Plaintiff from recruiting petition circulators who live outside the Commonwealth of Virginia to circulate petitions on his behalf.

Amusingly, Exhibit F to the filing is a web page printout from foxnews.com featuring an AP report about Perry failing to make the ballot.

Now, I’m not one of those activist judges Perry’s always railing about except when he wants one to find in his favor. In fact, I’m not a judge at all, but if I were, my rulings with regard to the above would be pretty much as follows:

20.              Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state limits the number of eligible petition circulators to a maximum of roughly 5,000,000 people, based on available tallies by the Virginia State Board of Elections in 2008 and excluding several years of population growth, thereby imposing no demonstrable burden on the Plaintiff.

21.              The inability of the Plaintiff to find a sufficient number of petition circulators from a pool of roughly 5,000,000 people suggests that a significant number of Virginians might dispute the Plaintiff’s claim to be a “qualified candidate for the Office of the President of the United States.”

22.              It is undeniable that Virginia’s requirement for petition circulators to be either eligible or registered qualified voters in the state prohibited the Plaintiff from recruiting petition circulators who live outside the Commonwealth of Virginia to circulate petitions on his behalf, but the Court is frankly baffled by the Plaintiff’s willingness to believe that people from other states like him any better than Virginians do.

In layman’s terms, suck it up, Rick. Case dismissed.

THREE: Pop Charts

Gallup released its annual year-end “Most Admired” lists on Tuesday. Hillary Rodham Clinton tops the list of most admired women for the 10th consecutive year, earning a nod from 17% of survey respondents, while Barack Hussein Obama, also at 17%, is first on the men’s list for the fourth consecutive year.

The President had no meaningful competition for top slot; placing a very distant second on the men’s list, at 3%, was George W. Bush, which I interpret to signify that respondents were nearly six times more likely to admire someone who cleans up messes than someone who makes them.

Sharing 2% were Billy Graham, Bill Clinton and Warren Buffett. Steerage on this little ego voyage was occupied by Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Pope Benedict and Newt Gingrich with 1% each, along with President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Thomas Monson, a ranking not approached by the two Mormon presidential hopefuls.

Oprah Winfrey placed second to Secretary Clinton at 7%, with the First Lady a couple of points back at 5%. From there, the women’s list meanders down into murkier territory, with the bottom five names on the list each at 2%. These last include Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Thatcher, Ellen DeGeneres, Laura Bush and none other than Michele Bachmann, who makes the list for the first time, proving perhaps that if you’re in the news sometimes, by gosh, someone’s going to admire you. Continue reading Take Five (Yes, Virginia edition)

Slouching Towards Tampa (Cyberpunks edition, part 1)

John McCain had a campaign website four years ago, although there were conflicting stories about whether the candidate himself was computer-savvy enough to visit it without expert assistance. That was hardly the only issue McCain’s site had, of course. In June 2008, the Obama campaign site drew 3.3 million unique visitors, while McCain’s managed only 1.6 million, and the average time per visit on the Obama site was more than 11 minutes, against the McCain site average of five and a half.

So far this cycle, Republican web presence is generally better. Sure, most surfers are still going to spend less time at Rick Santorum’s or Jon Huntsman’s or Michele Bachmann’s little corner of cyberspace than they will at Funny or Die or The Gallery of Regrettable Food, but the candidates’ web teams deserve some credit, especially given the wretched products they’re trying to promote. Let’s take a look.

Michele Bachmann’s campaign site currently features a 25-second video of the candidate and four of her kids wishing us a Merry Christmas. Bachmann conscientiously cautions us not to forget the reason for the season. Curiously, however, she seems to have forgotten the reason for a campaign website; the sole link on the page leads to, well, the same page, where you can watch the video again and click the link and watch the video again and click the… well, you get the idea.

Grade: M (as in “Möbius”)

Compared to Bachmann’s Yule-themed visuals, Jon Huntsman’s site is mostly pretty sterile, but a big graphic alleges that the New York Times gives Huntsman a 71% chance of beating President Obama next year, as opposed to Bachmann’s feeble 12% chance. So there, Michele!

The graphic also favorably compares Huntsman’s odds to Herman Cain’s, but since Cain dropped out on December 3, this doesn’t strike me as something to brag about. Actually, boasting about nothing much seems to be a general theme of the site.  For instance, under the robustly enthusiastic headline “New Polls Show Huntsman Surging!” we learn that:

We have exciting news to share.

A newly released Suffolk University poll shows Governor Huntsman surging in New Hampshire, jumping into third place with 13 percent of the vote.

13%? Opa!

Still, Huntsman’s actually kind of a cool guy, by Republican standards. The site’s main page features recent Tweets from the candidate, one of which links to video of Huntsman sitting in on keys with the band on his recent Letterman appearance, where Dave also showed a 1979 photo of Huntsman’s band Wizard. Huntsman, of course, was easily recognizable as the one with the perfectly coiffed hair.

Grade: B (as in Jonny “B.” Goode)

The Gingrich campaign site is clean, attractive, straightforward and easy to navigate. So pretty much the exact opposite of Newt Gingrich himself.

Currently, there’s a slickly produced video featured, wherein Perfesser Newt tells us the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776. Gingrich knows about this stuff, you see, because he’s a historian, and (if you act now!) you can look forward to four or even eight years of tendentious lectures like this one coming to you direct from the Oval Office. The final dissolve from Gingrich’s face to a portrait of President Washington is intended to seal the deal, I guess, but it was a little like seeing Eric Cartmann’s visage morph into George Clooney’s.

Gingrich being such a famously devoted husband, I wasn’t surprised to find something called “Callista’s Canvas” on the front page. Mrs. Newt’s own little free speech zone features stories about her involvement with Mr. Newt’s bid for the nomination. In one, she is described as “chief morale officer” of the campaign. Now, I don’t know if that’s a paid position or not, but I hope the FEC is paying attention. “Money” plus “Gingrich” – historically speaking – equals “some sort of malfeasance.”

Oh, and I also learned that Callista plays the French horn, was once Chief Clerk of the House Committee on Agriculture, and lives with her husband.

Grade: WK (as in “Who knew?”) Continue reading Slouching Towards Tampa (Cyberpunks edition, part 1)

Sunday Talks, 12/18/11

Sigh… Yet another Sunday dominated by Republicans.

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney heads to “Fox News Sunday” this weekend for his first Sunday show interview in more than a year.

Also making the rounds ahead of the . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 12/18/11