The False God of Business

Rick Scott, our corporate-criminal governor here in sunny Florida, has said he wants the state’s colleges and universities to run more like businesses. This is a disease that is spreading to public education around the country.

I think this view would make Thomas Jefferson retch. So would being in the same room with Rick Scott.

Scott wants to charge less tuition for majors that prepare kids for jobs the economy needs now — engineering, technology, health care. On the surface it’s an intriguing idea. But it reduces education to job training, to providing work-units for business moguls.
Rick-Scott fraud

If students have to pay more for a history degree than a biology degree, fewer will study history. Or English. Or philosophy. Or government. “Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe,” Jefferson said. He believed that, as political storms blew the country from right to left and back again, an informed electorate would be the safeguard against extremism and tyranny. He believed American democracy would only work if citizens were educated and aware.

If we treat higher education as just job training, how will we develop an informed citizenry? How will people learn how to think critically, to separate political lies from the record of facts, to understand how our government and our world work?

There may not be a capital market for citizenship, but without citizenship this country will become just market segments for ad buyers.

Scott, as CEO of healthcare giant Columbia HCA, ran a company that defrauded the federal government (which means all of us, the taxpayers) by swindling Medicare, resulting in a $1.7 billion fine. Scott made out just fine though — when the HCA board dumped him because of the fraud, they gave him a $10 million severance package and $300 million in stock. No wonder he wants to run state government like he ran a business. And no wonder Mitt Romney, who made millions by, in many cases, leveraging companies into bankruptcy and stripping and shipping out jobs, thought business was a great model for government. Business is a fine game for the winners.

Didn’t a majority of American voters just spurn a businessman’s pitch to treat this country like a business? A majority of voters decided that business’s main goal of funneling profits to the tiny group of Romneyfolk who already have most of the wealth isn’t a good governing principle for the majority of us.

President Obama pointed out that, running a government, he has to think of all the people; those running a business have to think only of some.

Should the Grand Canyon or the Everglades be run more like a business? Should a sunset? The human body? A marriage? Diplomatic relations with another country? Poetry? Absolutely; poetry should be run more like business. And so should the wonder of a playful kitten. And one’s youth — that should surely be run more like a business.

Cretin. Philistine.

— Bruce Benidt

Bad info-tainment begets low information voters.

Ever since the right-wing entertainment bubble began expanding back in the early 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would take to pop it. Despite sharp, specific criticism from apostates like David Frum and others, I doubt this year’s ass-kicking will flush the misbegotten authority of self-interested hucksters from modern conservatives’ primary information conduits. The world outside the bubble of crazy-assed nonsense doesn’t have enough martial conflict.

The phenomena of “the conservative entertainment complex” has fascinated/obsessed me for years. Locally, I covered, got to know (and on some levels enjoyed) people like Jason Lewis and Bob Davis. And hell, “RINO” Sarah Janecek and I were, briefly, placeholders at a Bain Capital-owned Clear Channel station while it tried to lure Lewis back to town. (Officially we were there to offer a “new balance in political talk radio”, unofficially it was understood from the get-go we were toast as soon as Lewis signed.)

I’ve been face to face with national consultants explaining how the talk radio game works, ratings-wise. (Essentially; feed your average 40-something male just enough to let them have an opinion in an argument at work.) I’ve listened to station managers encouraging me to, “play back” and “let them win”, in terms of an ideal commercial model for a left v. right radio “debate”. I fielded hundreds of calls from obsessive, low-information listeners absolutely convinced of everything Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the usual characters had told them — about WMDs in Iraq, about “overtopped” levees in New Orleans, about … well, you get the idea.

Point being, I get the knucklehead factor. There are plenty of people out there who either don’t know much, or who desperately want people around them to believe they know a lot more than they actually do. Those people — predominantly white, male and middle-age to elderly  — are a highly exploitable demographic. By themselves they are enough to keep the hosts — the entertainers — in a nice living, even if, they add up to barely 10% of the population. More to the point, the hosts of these anger-stoking shows are actually in a better position in defeat, when they can level the full force of their invective at the opponents in the White House. Their message is founded on victimhood.

Post-election, what is astonishing — even to me — is that by all reports very highly paid operatives and consultants … and … the GOP’s two top candidates were also huffing the very thin air on “Bullshit Mountain”, as Jon Stewart calls it.

Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan claim to have been gobsmacked by the results. Are you kidding me?

The only way that happens is if they too dialed out “the reality based” world and invested their grandest ambitions and hundreds of millions in wealthy donor money in the alternate universe of conservative entertainment logic. That universe is a zone out beyond the Oort Cloud where among other things, Donald Trump was briefly a viable presidential contender, where anything Sarah Palin says is worth hearing, where women who want birth control through their health plans are “sluts”, where Barack Obama is still a Muslim, where Dick Morris has a regular audience, where “death panels” will decide Grandma’s fate, where Socialism is swamping capitalism in 21st century America, where climate change is a liberal hoax, where the simple math of poll aggregation matters less than anything cherry-picked off Rasmussen or phoned in to Laura Ingraham’s radio show and where the attack on the consulate Benghazi has spawned a cover-up as big as Watergate.

It’s a message that appeals most to an aging, anachronistic slice of the population … that happens to sustain a small class of entertainers (and their corporate shareholders).

At the moment it appears the conventional wisdom among the modern GOP’s intelligentsia is that every office seeker in the next election cycle must wear a sombrero and mutter a few lines of Spanish. Never mind creating substantially improved policies instead of vague verbiage. Such a revolution — which is what is needed —  would require risking the wrath of the lords of the entertainment complex. Almost no one has shown the guts to do that. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, currently refuting Romney’s claim that “gifts” to minorities swayed the election, will be an interesting test case for whether any Republican can maintain viability while out of step with Rush Limbaugh.

I meant to post a couple of post-election appearances — by yours truly —  before this.

Here’s your fourth-favorite Rowdy on Fox 9. And here’s the same seer on Christopher Gabriel’s show on WDAY radio up in Fargo. Bon appetit.

I’m not sure what went on with the Tea Party this campaign season. I think I’ve said before that if that “movement” had any true ideological fervor beyond beating the illegitimate black guy in the White House it would have parted ways with the GOP establishment the minute Rick Santorum conceded the last primary. Lovers of good conspiracy theories would like to know if any SuperPAC money was sprinkled around to the myriad Tea Party insurgencies to shut up and play along with Romney’s adventure? How else do they explain not exploiting their moment in the (pale) sunlight and running their own candidate?

But, bottom line, I fail to see how the GOP — truly, a “Mad Men” party in a “Modern Family” world — reestablishes broad-based appeal to minorities of any kind and women under the age of 65, not to mention people young enough to regard Jay-Z as a role model and not Ted Nugent or Pat Boone.

For those groups and everyone who has come to regard the party’s supplicant status to the “entertainment complex” as a kind of pathetic, sick joke there simply is no “there” to the much-parroted modern conservative message.

What does “limited government” mean in, you know, the real world?

What are you actually talking about when you campaign on “economic freedom” Who doesn’t want that?

Ditto “respect for social institutions” like the family. Does anyone believe the average Democrat is trying to undermine Mom, Dad and Thanksgiving dinner?

And “respect for national defense and law enforcement”? Just because your average wild-eyed liberal thinks the Pentagon is a sacred cow never to be challenged on waste, fraud and cronyism doesn’t mean we’re in favor of letting terrorists take over the New York Stock Exchange. (Hell, most of the worst economic terrorists are already working a couple blocks away.)

This election tore back the curtain on the buffoonery of the modern conservative information machine. But until the movement’s high priests on radio and TV — the crowd motivating their caucus and primary-goers —  are cancelled for lousy ratings, I don’t see any way the party can change.

Not that I’m complaining, you understand.

In the Light of the Morning After …

A few comments and questions on the morning after …

A: The “fight for the soul of the Republican party” requires that sober-minded pragmatists within the party have the guts to stand up to their radical, alienating insurgent wing. With two more Tea Party-driven losses in the Senate, (in Indiana and Missouri), common sense would suggest that the far … far … right should instantly and wholly lose credibility among the party’s “more moderate” leadership and major donors. But … unless the party somehow reworks its primary system and simultaneously de-legitimizes the influence of that wing’s primary thought-shapers — rich-as-Croesus evangelical ministries, talk radio and FoxNews — what few moderates there are will continue to live in fear of torpedoing their own careers if they don’t continue to pander to their party’s least-productive elements. Hell, even Mitch McConnell is worrying about a primary challenge from someone far to the right of him. Even this morning I’m getting e-mail from Tea Party groups arguing — predictably — that Romney, like Bob Dole and John McCain lost because “only real conservatives get elected”.

B: This fundamental strategic problem is umbilically-linked to the party’s lack of appeal among women and minorities, especially “illegals” as so many of them like to describe Hispanics, a group closing in on 20% of the population. What “soul-saver” among viable Republicans dares run with a message of protecting a woman’s individual rights AND compassionate immigration reform? Maybe Marco Rubio on the latter. (A favorite factoid from the last days of the campaign: Had Romney drawn George W. Bush’s numbers among Latinos, he’d have won several swing states.)

C: Barack Obama’s support among white women was the mirror image of his (lack of) support among white men. To which I ask, “How has the experience of white women been so much different/better with Obama — or black men — than that of white males?” My wife argues it’s because women, despite being 52% of the electorate still regard themselves as a minority, certainly in terms of holding political power. I suspect women are far less threatened by a black leader than white men.

D: The Catholic church did itself serious moral damage with its medieval-zealot push on the gay marriage amendment here and around the country. Coupled with the taint of evangelical “craziness” throughout the GOP primaries — and that irrationality’s effect on Romney’s credibility — the drift away from organized religion in this country will probably accelerate.

E:  In terms of 11th hour factors, Romney’s flagrant lies about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China had far more impact on “freezing his momentum” than superstorm Sandy. Moreover, had he wanted to counter the President’s leaderly posture overseeing disaster relief he could have written a personal check of several million dollars to the Red Cross, or coordinated with Karl Rove and other allies to do the same, rather than burning off excess cash on advertising in states where he had no chance in hell — like Minnesota. If you are as rich as Romney, the average guy/gal assumes you’ll step up when things get really bad. I doubt it even crossed his mind.

F: We have entered a new era in political polling, or at least the aggregation/collated end of polling. It is eery how accurate the “Nate Silver model” was last night. And this will only improve.

G: Post-victory and across the pundit spectrum this morning the sage counsel is that “the President must reach across the aisle”. As though he and he alone must “seek compromise”. Recognition of the 1000-pound gorilla presence of the GOP’s far-right insurgency is still not considered “balanced” among the vast majority of mainstream commentators. Good luck accurately reporting the story of the next two months if that’s your default ethic.

H: Finally — for now — the public appetite for a female presidential candidate in 2016 is palpable. I somehow doubt the GOP’s highest profile women — Michele Bachmann — have anything remotely approaching the broad-based appeal of Hillary Clinton (whose popularity has never been as high, but who may decide her time has passed) or freshly-elected Elizabeth Warren.

That said, I’m one happy guy today. And my prediction of a 1.5% popular/ “just under 300” electoral vote win for Obama was a pretty good B+ as calls go.

You Pays Your Money and You Makes Your Bets…

So…here it is.  Some people must feel this way anticipating the Super Bowl or the World Cup.  For me, it’s election night.

I’ll fire up the televisions that haven’t been out of their boxes in four years.  Connect the projector to one of the computers.  Since 2008, iPads have been added to the mix and there will be plenty of those lying around as well.

The fun will start early:

We should start seeing things by 6:00 pm (7:00 pm EST).  I suspect we won’t KNOW who wins, however, until sometime on Wednesday if then.  There’s a fair number of chances for recounts, lawsuits, etc. In fact, the post-election period promises to be almost as contentious as the fall campaign season has been.

As to who will win, I’m going with Obama.  No surprise there, of course, but – if you believe the polls – the conclusion is inescapable.  I very much agree with Nate Silver’s fact-based, logical analysis of the race.  If he’s wrong, then what you’ll see tomorrow is a true 1-in-8 longshot coming in. Not to say it doesn’t happen, it simply seems very unlikely at this point.

Here’s my bets:

Obama/Romney:  290-248 electoral votes, 50.1-48.9 popular vote.

Bellwethers: if they call Virginia or Florida or New Hampshire early for anybody, those are important indications of direction.  If Pennsylvania is too close to call for a long while (or goes for Romney) it’s a bad night for Obama.  If North Carolina stays uncalled, it’s a bad sign for Romney.

In the Midwest, we’re watching who gets Iowa.  In the mountain states, it’s Colorado.

Senate: Democrats retain a majority.  Maybe one party or the other picks up a seat, but the overall majority remains Democratic.  Warren wins in Massachusetts, McCaskill wins in Missouri, Donnelly wins in Indiana.  Here’s a good blow-by-blow if you’re interested.

House:  The GOP keeps the House, probably at roughly the same numbers.  Again, a good overview is here.

In other words, if my predictions are right, on Wednesday morning – assuming we’re done counting – the balance of power at the federal level will look a lot like it does now.

Here in the Land O’ Lakes, Senator Klobuchar wins by 30 points, maybe more.  Rick Nolan will make Chip Cravaack a one-term Congressman and we’ll still have Michelle Bachmann to embarrass us on the national stage as I expect Jim Graves’ challenge to fall short (but maybe not by much).  No changes in the rest of the Congressional delegation.  The marriage amendment fails and the voter ID amendment passes, but the latter will be much closer than polls have shown.

I don’t have a feel for the legislative races, but smarter people than me seem to think the Dems have a chance to reclaim the Senate majority.  I’ll go with that.

OK, that’s my predictions…what are yours?

– Austin

Mitt, for God’s Sake, the Flop Sweat … .

I don’t know why I thought the final hours might be different — better — than Mitt Romney’s previous six years of campaigning, but they’re not. They’re worse.

As the man prepares to draw the closing curtain on one of most disgraceful campaigns of the modern era, rather than summoning some reservoir of moral courage and leaving the stage with a semblance of self respect, Romney has gone out of his way to remind everyone who despises him, alleged political allies and half the voting public, that he really is someone incapable of the common decency of personal dignity.

Four years ago, John McCain ran a campaign that was, put simply, inept. The fundamental factor between him and Barack Obama was judgment, and McCain blew his feet off with the choice of Sarah Palin. He then traumatized the stumps with his confused, tremulous response to the financial collapse. But McCain at least had a reservoir of good will to draw down. For a time, on the Straight Talk Express, he was confident enough in his own thinking and brave enough to take flak to say what he was actually thinking.

Romney, on the other hand, isn’t a man anyone other than his own family appears to like, and he doesn’t have the confidence or courage to go on Bill O’Reilly’s show much less allow himself to take questions from an actual reporter. And now …

… after the truly painful-to-behold ads about Chrysler moving “all” Jeep production to China, (an assertion more flagrant for its desperation than its dishonesty)

… after getting slapped down by top executives from both Chrysler and GM,

… after his repeated non-response to his current thinking on FEMA, (which he said should be privatized),

… after that pathetic, bogus “storm relief” rally in Ohio

… and now after weekend full of talk about Obama seeking “revenge”, Romney has only 72 hours to promise everyone a pony, accuse Obama of conspiring with Mullah Omar to impose Sharia law, or take a bungee dive off Trump Tower in his magic underwear.

At this point he’s done and said everything else dishonest and absurd.

I’m not one of those who sees Chris Christie going over-the-top effusive in compliments for Barack Obama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg specifically mentioning Romney’s indifference to science and George W. Bush suddenly popping up at an investors conference in the Cayman Islands as happenstance.

Guys like that always calculate.

Christie needs federal help bad to save his career in New Jersey. But he didn’t have to go on … and on … like he did to keep FEMA focused. He knows Romney is a lost cause, and, I (very) strongly suspect he isn’t all that broken up about it. Sure 2016 looks like a cleaner shot with no Romney incumbency. But Christie, the uber Springsteen fan, prides himself in having a moral core, being loyal to the place he grew up and saying what he thinks. How much of ethical vacuum like Mitt Romney can a guy like that take before saying, “I’ve done enough for this team”?

Likewise, it may be years before we know what Bloomberg, the quintessential high finance politician, thinks of a guy who you and I imagine as a kind of peer-in-arms. But Bloomberg made a fat chunk of his dough in the news/media business, where reporting and interpreting reality is an essential virtue, not something to be ignored and distorted at will.

And then there was the business with Bain Capital and Delphi, the big auto parts supplier. A vulture move if there ever was one, but one that really begins to curdle in the wake of Romney’s revolving campaign duplicities.

As for George W., aka The Man Who No Republican Dares Ever Mention , several pundits thought it exceedingly curious that he would leave whatever gilded bunker he’s been in and show up … in The Cayman freakin’ Islands … practically dragging a banner behind his Gulfstream reminding voters that Mitt Romney’s entire fortune is based on slippery-to-sleazy and defiantly opaque tax manipulations.

Will anyone in the Bush family be all that sorry to see Romney defeated? Jeb’s options, such as they are considering intense, lingering Bush fatigue, are certainly brighter with no Romney to deal with.

The post-mortem on the Romney campaign will be far more interesting, and potentially illuminating, than McCain’s. Romney, a product of a highly insular “prosperity”-driven religious sect, with primary loyalties to its own kind, and an implicit discursiveness, bordering on misanthropic disdain for “others”, embodied almost nothing most Americans could relate to or admire… except of course that he wasn’t Barack Obama.

O-H-I-O. Not Just a Song By the Pretenders. Or CSNY.

Long-time readers of this blog – all two of you – might remember that in 2008 I was posting a lot in terms election prognosticating.  I haven’t done nearly so much this year.  Part of the difference is that I’ve been flat-out busy the last month or so with paying work and the other part is that I’ve concluded there’s almost zero value I can add to a discussion on this topic.  Everybody I know checks Nate Silver every morning (and afternoon and evening) along with Real Clear Politics, Votamatics and the other sites that aggregate, evaluate and weigh polling data.  What was once the purview of high-priced consultants and their client campaigns is now available to all of us for the price of a mouse click.

As of this morning, Silver is making the following predictions:


Continue reading “O-H-I-O. Not Just a Song By the Pretenders. Or CSNY.”

“Vision” and “leadership” with neither clarity or courage.

By the quaint standards of the “reality based” community, Barack Obama “won” last night’s debate handily. He offered a serious, nuanced view of how foreign policy works with ideological zealots like Iran — (News flash: It’s a wee bit more complicated than “projecting strength” or buying more boats for the Navy). But command of nuanced reality isn’t what matters in politics.

Mitt Romney’s people are sounding quite pleased that their guy once again avoided damage. And he did it as he always has, by maintaining a nearly completely opaque wall around what he would actually do about any of the serious problems of our times. … other than “keeping America strong and confident and creating 12 million new jobs” … details to follow … maybe … talk to my scheduling secretary.

Thanks to the heavily negotiated/litigated rules for these debates (and for the moderators), the mano a mano phase of the campaign has ended with no discussion at all of social issues, like abortion, the Republican machine’s anti-gay marriage and Voter ID initiatives and … oh, yeah … climate change. The latter of which might have some very serious impacts on “foreign policy” in the not at all distant future.

I’m certain that if Romney had been asked what he would do about carbon emissions he would have assured us that he has a “vision” to act with clarity, authority and strong leadership … without ever actually being clear, or demonstrating any kind of authoritative grasp of the subject matter and therefore betraying a profound lack of personal courage, a principal asset of leadership.

The fact there is a debate designated solely to foreign policy is because earnest thinkers believe presidents are never more presidential than when managing international conflicts and crises. This plays in the face of the fact that your average persuadable voter is far more interested in which guy will put more money in his pocket, and probably knows so little about international geography he thinks Iran and Syria share a common border. With that in mind the Romney strategy of avoiding mistakes — by again saying nothing and revealing nothing while suggesting something strong and leader-ly — pretty well satisfied their campaign needs for another night.

Since Obama clearly demonstrated both a willingness to debate the interlocking mechanics of foreign policy and remind voters of how he’s already pulled that off, I won’t bore you with a lot of moderator-bashing. Except to say … veteran journalist Bob Schieffer seemed content to play clock keeper and wallpaper. Schieffer knows enough about the nitty-gritty of foreign policy to have interjected a much deserved “and how, exactly … ” a couple dozen times last night. But as I say, his role has been negotiated down to an edge-less nub by strategists for the two campaigns.

My newest brain storm:  A channel that runs the debates on a five-minute delay with “real-time” fact-checking for your average “apology tour” and “private credit was available to GM” moments. That gimmick would have spared the crowd at our debate party last night a lot of spontaneous profanity. (I hope the friend of our friend from St. Paul wasn’t horrified when a scene from “Casino” broke out … three or four times.)

Barring an October surprise from one of the GOP’s leading intellectual lights — like Donald Trump — my prediction is Obama will win by something around 1.5% and a bit less than 300 electoral votes.

But as a kind of horror movie thought experiment consider the psycho-dynamics of a Romney presidency.

In George W.Bush liberals like myself saw a guy manifestly unequipped to be President of the United States. Intellectually lazy, glib to a fault, dismissive of any countering logic, content to be steered by authority figures out of a past generation and incapable of serious reflection and self-criticism. … but affable. A guy you probably would have a beer with. (Dick Cheney … well, only if I could slip sodium pentothal into his mug.) And all our original fears were born out in a genuinely disastrous administration. It was an eight year-run of reckless foreign adventurism and profligate spending that will require another 10 years of repair to set right … assuming we don’t reignite it.

But Bush had friends when he arrived in the White House. Not those who egged his limo on the way to the inauguration, but within his party. People who liked him, personally. Does Mitt Romney?

Based on the primary season I think we can conclude that Romney is despised nearly as much by his own party as a Democrats and liberals. His insular, highly deceptive “leadership style” has quite thoroughly infuriated his own party, and liberals, again judging from my contacts and the venom thrown at his image last night, deeply, genuinely and with multiple valid reasons hold him in utter contempt. I have to go back to Richard Nixon for a candidate whose personal ethic I find as loathsome as Mitt Romney’s.

And that would be his situation at the start … widespread contempt and deep mistrust, with abundant good reason —  before the first shell is lobbed in the political wars. And well before he could commence his vision to “bring America together” … through strength and clarity and leadership … details to follow.