Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fine print

We all remember the ruckus when a while back the President let out with the comment that "the private sector's doing fine." The howls of indignant protest went up about a president who was out of touch, aloof, a man who did not feel our pain. Maybe some of the criticism the comment earned the President was warranted, while he was trying to parse a distinction worth noting (that what private sector recovery we do have is being factored back by the broad effect of austerity on public sector employment), he was losing the forest for noting the different species of tree. The big picture should be better. His job is to have some sense of that.

That said, I think it's almost poetic that President Obama's opposing number came out with words very much along the same lines this past week. Alex Klein writing for the Daily Beast describes "Romney's gaffe" this way:

Romney Thursday night declared—to a group of rich donors, no less—that “big business is doing fine in many places,” partly because these larger corporations “know how to find ways [to] save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world.”

Business doing "fine" —the political sonics of Romney's use of the word are every bit as ripe for exploitation in our political climate as when the President found himself excoriated for saying much the same thing. Klein points out:

Romney’s words on taxes play to practically all of his core, and major, political weaknesses. Highlighting “big business” success resonates with the corporate fat-cat caricature. Attributing that success to “low tax havens” is even worse: a reminder of Romney’s own vast global holdings – from Bermuda, to Switzerland, to the Cayman’s – which have allowed him to defer his tax burden and multiply investor wealth far from American shores.

But the worst part of "Romney's gaffe" —Klein notes— is that he is right.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I read the news today, oh boy

The other day I received a complimentary copy of a new local newspaper. It was Edition 1 of "The Middlesex Times" nicely tied off from the summer rain in a clear plastic bag and waiting there on my doorstep. Cool, I said to myself —I like to do crossword puzzles. But first there was the matter of the news stories, sizing up the whole of this new rag, maybe the publication even had an opinion page. It would be interesting to see if there was a new and distinct perspective in the offing —on current events, local, regional, national.

The top story, page 1 was an article on the announcement of a candidate for state rep in our area. Now, I'll admit this is a candidate I've already taken something of a dim view of —that's my bias. He ran for U.S. Congress recently, too, and I found him to be something of an empty sloganeer, someone who was big on selling disdain for the incumbent of the office he wanted, not so big on offering much coherent in the way of policy he would put into effect himself. He's struck me as something in the order of a Sarah Palin, but maybe without her level of intellectual rigor. But, like I said, that's my bias and news is news, so running with the headline about this candidate declaring his candidacy was fine.

I scanned the article though and found it was remarkably lacking in what a grouch like me might call journalistic integrity. It was the puff the candidate's campaign likely supplied. Hey, I said to myself, in a forgiving frame of mind, this sort of thing happens with small papers. They hunger for stories and sometimes pass stuff like this on as content without any real editorial scrutiny. Then I looked to the next story down, occupying the rest of the front page. That, too, was a story on this candidate and his agenda.

I opened to the center spread of the paper. This looked more like it. There was a "Letters to the Editor" section and a "Report from Beacon Hill" —oddly enough both were entirely focused upon the wrongs of the incumbent state rep that the candidate so prominently covered on page 1 was trying to unseat. There were a couple more stories on the opposite page, more of the same.

Just as I had hoped there was an editorial to be found there, too. But you had to be careful to notice it. Because if you just gave it a quick scan it didn't come off as an editorial at all, it looked for all the world like none other than U.S. Senator Scott Brown was endorsing this candidate. With a big headline reading that this candidate "Deserves Our Vote" and a picture of the candidate standing with Scott Brown, both of them grinning wide, the story reads very much as an endorsement concluding "we strongly believe" this candidate will be "the same type of leader for us at the State House." It's just that it is not signed by Scott Brown. He's not even quoted. The "we" who so strongly believe —these were the editors of this new paper. This was their editorial voice.

I turned to the last page of this new publication and found a full page spread of "People on the Street" supporting you'll never guess who for State Representative. And, maybe not surprisingly, on the bottom of the page was what was plainly an advertisement calling to elect this same candidate.

Alas, there was no crossword puzzle.

Nowhere on this publication is it stated that this material is campaign literature paid for by the candidate's election committee. Maybe it's not. Maybe there's some clever conceit here that allows for the slight of hand and it's all well and fine to pretend to be the local news, to blur and fog the line between journalism and vanity press. Maybe I shouldn't be bothered by this. I'm sure some of the philosophers among us will opine that the difference between this concoction —just some vaguely deceptive direct mail marketing— and the bought and sold media access of major campaigns is only a matter of degree and subtlety. Heck, maybe Scott Brown will eventually come around and endorse this candidate. Should we fault the dreamer (and "the editors" of the The Middlesex Times) for dreaming it first?

Who's to say?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ryan shrugged

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."

~Ayn Rand

I'm okay with Mitt Romney's choice of running mate. I actually think Paul Ryan will bring something of substance to the fore in our debate and that is good. There is "The Ryan Plan" after all. I may challenge certain of its assumptions and proposals, but at least they've been made explicit such that they can be challenged, subjected to the critique our political process is premised upon.

From what I've observed, Ryan's conservatism appears to be deeply and consistently founded —it's genuine conviction for him. And he respects ideas. For a while now I've been hearing him referred to as "the intellectual leader of the GOP" (which you've got to admit is a little like being called one of the great chefs of Ireland —but let's not go there.)

None of that is to say that I am swayed to support a Romney/Ryan ticket. (I know that comes as a shocker.) I am reminded of that point a few months back when Ryan's Budget Proposals were up for detailed scrutiny and groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that Ryan's plans would eventually end "everything from veterans' programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families." Ryan found his ever so clearly stated budget priorities challenged on their substance —and on basic moral grounds.

Georgetown University Faculty "welcomed" his visiting lecture at about that time "as an opportunity to discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in public policy" —but also noted:

"...we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – 'a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.' Catholic bishops recently wrote that 'the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.'

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love."

At the time Ryan didn't like being "pasted with the epistemology" of Ayn Rand. He quickly gave an interview to The National Review in which he stated, “I reject her [Rand's] philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview." When it comes to epistemology, he said, "give me Aquinas." (Of course he'd already been given Aquinas and a Papal Encyclical or two to boot.)

There was just one problem with Ryan's avid disavowal of Rand's philosophy, the intellectual leader of the GOP was on record with past comments just a little less fulltroated in terms of rejection. Stuff like:

"Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism."

That was one of his observations. And then there was this little testimonial:

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Back in 2003 Ryan had told the Weekly Standard, “I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well… I try to make my interns read it.” [Ha Ha Ha]

Maybe there's some droll witticism to giving an overlong atrociously written novel by an atheistic philosopher whose ideas are antithetical to your world view as Christmas presents to your interns — a philosopher famous for lines like "What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty" or "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction."

If there is some clever comment of understated complexity there I have to admit the humor is too subtle for me to understand. It goes beyond irony to the level of the absurd in my view.

I guess I'll just have to shrug.

The months ahead should be interesting anyway.