Bob Schwartz

Tag: Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney Midterm Mask

Mitt Romney Mask

When there’s not a big election with big characters, Halloween masks are not overwhelmingly political. Walking the Walgreens aisles a few days before the holiday, I saw only one official or candidate hanging from a hook: Mitt Romney at the bargain price of $9.99 (see above).

Best guess is that after 2012 there was a surplus of these, and with no big interest in anybody anyway right now, 2014 seemed like as good a time as any to dump them. Or maybe Walgreens is more politically savvy than most, and just wants to get on the latest Romney bandwagon first. Of course the mask doesn’t much look like Romney or anybody else in particular (maybe a bit like Prince Charles), so you could just wear it as a generic face, and when asked, take your pick.

As for Mitt Romney being  surrouneded on the shelf by scary skulls, sexy kittens, the Phantom of the Opera, etc., he does look out of place. But when Halloween 2016 rolls around, who knows?

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The Torah and the Supreme Court: Tazria and Scalia

Women of the Supreme Court

This week the portion of the Torah read in Jewish communities is Tazria (Leviticus 12:1–13:59). This week the Supreme Court heard arguments in the widely reported Hobby Lobby case. There is a significant but not obvious connection between the two.

Leviticus is the one of the Five Books of Moses that has the least action and the most rules. Lots of rules about the behavior of the Jewish people. In the thousands of years since those rules flowed into the processes of cultural and social oral tradition, and in the thousands of years since those traditions were set down in writing, different Jewish people and communities have determined which to honor and which to ignore. Those decisions are based on what exactly one thinks these rules are: God-given and inviolable, or ancient and subject to temporizing to suit modern philosophy and life. We should not wear clothing made from two different fabrics, Leviticus says. Non-literal interpretations of this have been conceived for centuries, but it says what it says, or rather, God says what God says. But what’s so wrong about a wrinkle-free, 60/40 cotton-poly blend shirt?

The Tazria portion begins:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be unclean seven days; she shall be unclean as at the time of her menstrual infirmity. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. If she bears a female, she shall be unclean two weeks as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days.

On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord and make expiation on her behalf; she shall then be clean from her flow of blood. Such are the rituals concerning her who bears a child, male or female. If, however, her means do not suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make expiation on her behalf, and she shall be clean.

 The attitude toward and treatment of this passage in a modern context ranges widely, depending on belief sets. Some express wholesale acceptance and obedience (except for the sheep and bird sacrifice). Some faithfully regard it as God’s word, but pass it through interpretive filters suitable for the times. Some see it as a reflection of ancient people making sense of the mysteries of God and life.

One of those mysteries, of course, is women. Especially for men. Especially for the strange and foreign ways that women “work”. No matter your ideology, no matter how much the passage is accepted or spun, it is not hard to read meaning. Women are different. Some of that difference renders them unclean, even if that part is functionally essential (e.g., sex, birth). That uncleanness can be fixed, but it will cost you (e.g., lambs, pigeons).

The Hobby Lobby cases (Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius) concern the interaction of two federal laws: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which aims to protect Americans from intrusion on their religious lives, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which, among other things, requires employers to offer health insurance that includes coverage for contraception. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the religious right of companies such as Hobby Lobby, which has Christian objections to providing that coverage, overcomes the particular requirement of the ACA.

The big legal issues are complex and significant. One arises every time religion is in the mix: we protect religion in this country, both in its expression and establishment, but in a nominally secular country, that is bound to clash with civil rights that may contravene religious belief. This isn’t easy to resolve, but resolve it we do. If, for example, your religion happens to believe that people of color are lesser human beings, and you are “commanded” to treat them accordingly, you still cannot follow that faith in the public square or the marketplace.

The other big legal issue is whether a company such as Hobby Lobby is a “person” able to enjoy religious liberties in the first place. We’ve seen this come up before and will again. Citizens United is the most recent and famous case deciding that enterprises may enjoy free speech, First Amendment rights, just as you do. Then there is Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate, who will forever be identified with his own legal interpretation of the issue: “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Besides these, the Hobby Lobby case is widely viewed as being about women, because practically it is. The ACA requirement that health insurance include contraceptives for women is a practically and realistically sound policy. A large majority of women use contraceptives, either for health reasons or, more frequently, to prevent conceiving as a result of sex. Preventing conception has a number of advantages, including avoiding unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. An advantage of this is that women do have sex, and do want to avoid pregnancy. It’s that basic. And then there’s this: many of those women who want to prevent conception are having sex with men.

The transcript of oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case shows, as usual, a deeply divided court. Beyond the interesting central arguments concerning religious freedom and the personhood of corporations, there is a subtle subtext (some might say not so subtle). To a certain extent, the law, and arguments about it, are clinical. To the greatest extent possible, questions about impact are subservient to questions about the law itself: what it says, what was intended, how it works with other laws and with the Constitution. The rule of law prevails over the rule of people, and if the impact is unfair or disproportionate but still constitutional and legal, well, change the law.

But that has never been, will never be, and can never be how it works. Everyone—judges, lawyers, litigants, citizens—comes to the table with histories, psyches, lives, all the riches and trash we can carry. That’s how a case that seems about one thing can be, at least in small part, about another. That’s how the Hobby Lobby case is about women, something the three women on the Supreme Court without question get, something the six men may or may not.

Do read the transcript of the argument and maybe a few of the almost one hundred appellate briefs filed in the cases. In the arguments, you won’t find any express misunderstanding of the lives and impact of the case on women, though you may if you read between the lines. The briefs, which come from just about every corner of American society and politics, are a little clearer on how this is about women in ways that are not just incidental.

This brings us back to Tazria. It is easy to dismiss the passage as archaic, particularly for those who have found ways to work through or around it. Similarly, you may consider the Hobby Lobby case one about important and respectable religious and legal doctrines, and it is.

It can’t be said often enough: Men don’t get it and they can’t. They don’t know what it’s like to menstruate or be capable of bearing children or of having children. They don’t know what’s it like to be treated as unclean because of all of that, and then to be hypocritically treated as enjoyable and useful for those very same reasons. They don’t know how it feels to have some very simple means of adjusting all that, and then to have those means treated as something both profound and trivial, but not important.

Men don’t know, even if they are at the pinnacle, writing scripture or dispensing justice. So pleading ignorance, a little humility, a little learning, and a little compassion might be in order.

Losers and Winners

 


In the first Presidential debate, which Barack Obama lost, Mitt Romney directly attacked the President on government support for energy innovators:

“Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. You put $90 billion — like 50 years’ worth of breaks — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said, you don’t just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers.”

Today, that “loser” Tesla won. The Tesla Model S was named by Automobile Magazine as the 2013 Automobile of the Year:

The auto industry is tough enough for a giant like General Motors. What we can say with this award is that Tesla deserves to succeed. It has managed to blend the innovation of a Silicon Valley start-up, the execution of a world-class automaker, and, yes, the chutzpah of its visionary leader [Elon Musk]. The result is the Model S. It’s not vaporware. It’s our Automobile of the Year.

Sometimes picking winners and loser is difficult. Sometimes it’s not.

Des Moines Register Endorses Richard Nixon

 


The story of the Des Moines Register’s endorsing Mitt Romney—the first time the newspaper has endorsed a Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972—has been covered with entirely the wrong emphasis.

The point is not Mitt Romney’s potential for success in the office or Barack Obama’s supposed failures.

The point is that the Des Moines Register endorsed Richard Nixon. Yes, that Richard Nixon.

The Register was far from alone among major newspapers endorsing Nixon that year. Unfortunately, no archive has been found with the particular words of praise and support the newspaper used, though the search continues. It would be lovely to read those words—and then to compare them to the actualities of Nixon’s truncated term in office.

Absent that record, it is a good guess that the Des Moines Register did not predict that Nixon would lead a criminal conspiracy from the Oval Office, and that the cover-up of that behavior would include the undermining of the U.S. Constitution. That would not make for a very effective endorsement. Nor did the newspaper likely mention his nickname “Tricky Dick”, an allusion to his reputation for deviousness and ruthlessness.

The well-known moniker began not with his 1968 presidential campaign, nor with his 1962 gubernatorial campaign, nor with his 1960 presidential campaign, nor with his 1952 vice-presidential campaign, but with his 1950 senatorial campaign. By the time of the 1972 campaign, Nixon had been touted by some respectable people as “Tricky Dick” for 22 years.

For whatever reason, the Des Moines Register refused to believe it. They endorsed Nixon, and though we can’t really blame them for the election results—the late George McGovern’s historic loss—they didn’t help, and the rest is history.

God’s Political Will

 

In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies….

Philosophy takes as its data the deliverances of our natural mental faculties: what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. These data can be accepted on the basis of the reliability of our natural faculties with respect to the natural world. Theology, on the other hand takes as its starting point the divine revelations contained in the Bible. These data can be accepted on the basis of divine authority, in a way analogous to the way in which we accept, for example, the claims made by a physics professor about the basic facts of physics.

 On this way of seeing the two disciplines, if at least one of the premises of an argument is derived from revelation, the argument falls in the domain of theology; otherwise it falls into philosophy’s domain.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Current American politics includes little study and application of philosophy. Some of our founders were steeped in philosophy, being educated sons of the Enlightenment. But even then, the struggling rebel nation was marked by pragmatism: there may be no atheists in foxholes, but there aren’t many philosophers either. Today, even when ideologues throw around the names of Mill or Burke, that is a rarity. Most of our politicians don’t know, can’t practice and don’t care about philosophy.

Theology is another story. Our government and the campaign trail seem to be overflowing with those who consider themselves theologians, whether they call themselves that or not. But even though the ground of theology is distinct from philosophy, the rigor and discipline required is exactly the same. The simplistic adoption of an isolated theological premise is no more sturdy than an isolated philosophical one. A solid theological conclusion must be supported from start to finish. If you can’t answer all (or at least most) of the consequent questions, you can’t be trusted to answer any.

And so when Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock announced that when a woman becomes pregnant through rape, the pregnancy is “God’s will,” the question isn’t whether that is true. The question is: assuming it is true, what else is God’s will?

Mr. Mourdock, and every other politician who claims to know God’s will, owes us a comprehensive list of those things that are and are not God’s will. In the case of Mr. Mourdock, if he is schooled in the fine points of Christian theology, that should be a straightforward matter.

For example: Are the outcomes of elections God’s will? If Mr. Mourdock’s opponent wins, will that be God’s will? If President Obama beats Mitt Romney, will that be God’s will?

There are a raft of sub-questions for the theologian. If God wills an election winner, how does it happen? Are some potential voters kept away from the polls by stormy weather or traffic jams? And how exactly does God decide who the winner should be? Is there a scorecard based on the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins? Does a high score on “bearing false witness” or “greed,” for example, make it difficult to get an endorsement?

In the event Mr. Mourdock does not win, it may be God’s will after all. Just a few miles from his home in Darmstadt, Indiana is an excellent school, Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. Trinity offers a number of degree programs and dozens of courses on theology. If his keen interest in theology continues, that could be just the way to spend his time.

Romney Needs Women

 


Mitt Romney’s talking about being handed “binders of women,” a quote from the second Presidential debate, is not on its face all that funny, no matter how much it’s gone viral. But as a signal of a bigger picture, it seems to people meaningful.

In the wonderful depths of Mad Men in dealing with personal and social issues of the 1960s, the very first episode of the Emmy-winning series is on point. The execs at Sterling Cooper are about to meet prospective client Menken’s Department Store. In advance, Don Draper asks whether there are any Jews at the agency, and Roger Sterling laughingly doubts it. But at the meeting, there appears “David Cohen from the Art Department”, a nebbish who Roger has actually dug up from the mailroom.

This probably isn’t exactly how it went when Romney realized that as the new chief executive of Massachusetts state government, it would be appropriate to fill some of the jobs with qualified women. But what people are keying on is that it sounds a little like that. Do we have any women around here who are really qualified for these demanding jobs? Does anybody here know where we start to look for them? Hence, the binders of women.

By 2003, Massachusetts had been known for more than two centuries as the home of extraordinary women. While Abigail Adams was long gone, she should have offered a hint of the possibility that one of the most educated and vital states in America might include women of note and achievement. If you believed that they were actually out there, and weren’t some rare and exotic creature like a unicorn. And if you had a clue where to look—outside the mailroom or the binders.

Presidential Debates Without Tears: Politics Isn’t Beanbag

 


You can’t expect objective evaluations of the first Presidential debate from either campaign. Republicans want to talk hyperbolically about a victory. Democrats may have candid ideas, but few outside the inner circles will hear them.

The significance of any competition, besides the actual win or loss, is lessons learned. After that first debate, four explanations appear:

The President and his campaign were complacent.
They misread the situation.
They could not strategize or execute effectively.
It was just a bad night.

It was probably a little of all of these. Some will think that last one is just an excuse made by losers, but if you’ve watched competitions of all kinds, sports and otherwise, you’ve seen it. It’s circumstances, it’s the moment. It’s a quantum thing.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the other three as explanations and lessons.

The most significant Republican politician of the last days of the 20th century—yes, that would be Newt Gingrich—said straight out during the halcyon days of the primaries that Mitt Romney was a liar. Whether that was said with admiration or dismay is hard to know.

During that same campaign, Romney observed that “Politics isn’t beanbag.” Detractors then and now focused on the absurdity of this reference to an obscure children’s game. It was like his mentions of trees or the Keystone Cops. Who talks like that, they scoffed.

The focus was on the wrong point of the statement. Strange as Romney may appear to many people, one thing that isn’t strange, and shouldn’t be, is his ambition. Few if any politicians have ever played beanbag, or seen a beanbag match, if that’s what it’s called. But every politician knows about fighting hard, with or without rules.

If a banner saying “Politics isn’t beanbag” isn’t hanging from the wall of the Obama debate headquarters, it should be. Everything the campaign needs to know about Mitt Romney is captured in those three words.

Mitt Romney Too Busy to Answer Questions from Kids

Mitt Romney has refused to appear on Nickelodeon to take questions from kids. He is too busy.

Here is the Hollywood Reporter story:

Mitt Romney Declines Nickelodeon’s Invitation for ‘Kids Pick the President’ Special

One spot Mitt Romney won’t be hitting on the campaign trail: the Nickelodeon studios.

The Republican presidential candidate declined an invitation from the children’s network to participate in its special “Kids Pick the President: The Candidates.” According to a release from Nickelodeon, Romney’s camp said he was unable to fit the taping into his schedule after multiple attempts from the network.

The special, part of Nick News With Linda Ellerbee, gives kids across the country the opportunity to ask questions of each candidate. It premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 15. On Oct. 22, Nickelodeon will reveal the results of its Kids’ Vote poll, which has correctly predicted the winner of five of the past six presidential elections.

President Barack Obama sat down for a taping in the White House, where he answered questions regarding gun control, jobs, immigration, same-sex marriage, outsourcing, bullying and obesity, as well as light-hearted questions including his most embarrassing moment. (“Running into the wall is par for the course for me,” he says. “I’m running into doors and desks all the time.”)

Romney still will be featured in the special, with producers selecting previously taped clips from the campaign trail in which Romney addresses various issues raised in the kids’ questions.

“By answering kids’ questions directly, candidates show respect for kids,” says Linda Ellerbee in a statement. “We are disappointed that Mitt Romney wouldn’t take the time to answer the questions but are thrilled that President Obama participated in the special.”

Now in its 21st year, Nick News — produced by Lucky Duck Productions — is the longest-running kids news program in television history.

Soylent Green, My Friend, Is People


Mother Jones has already changed the trajectory of the Presidential campaign with the “47%” video. It’s latest video find may not have the same effect, but it is still revealing.

It comes from a promotional Bain Capital CD-ROM from 1998. Along with other artifacts of the Bain culture at the time, it includes a video of Mitt Romney from 1985 explaining the Bain business model:

Bain Capital is an investment partnership which was formed to invest in startup companies and ongoing companies, then to take an active hand in managing them and hopefully, five to eight years later, to harvest them at a significant profit…The fund was formed on September 30th of last year. It’s been about 10 months then. It was formed with $37 million in invested cash. An additional $50 million or so of what I’ll call a call pool, which is money that we can call upon if the deals are large enough that they require more than a $2 or $3 million dollar initial investment. Why in the world did Bain and Company get involved in this kind of a business? We’re not particularly noted for having years and years of experience in financing. Three reasons. We recognized that we had the potential to develop a significant and proprietary flow of business opportunities. Secondly, we had concepts and experience which would allow us to identify potential value and hidden value in a particular investment candidate. And third, we had the consulting resources and management skills and management resources to become actively involved in the companies we invested in to help them realize their potential value.

It’s the “harvest” line that is getting the most attention, presumably because it suggests to some that the companies are viewed primarily as abstract opportunities that are optimized for profit, rather than enterprises that make particular things and where particular people work and build their lives.

Fans of sci-fi movies are burdened by seeing the “real” world through the lens of those films. So this line flashed two iconic and unforgettable scenes.

One is from The Matrix (1999), when we first see the humans being used as living batteries to power the world of the Matrix.

The other is from Soylent Green (1973). In 2022, the desperate population of overcrowded New York City is being kept alive by the nutritional drink Soylent Green. At the end, we learn the dark secret of Soylent Corporation, as screamed by Charlton Heston (spoiler alert): “Soylent Green is people!” Yes, it is processed from the oversupply of corpses.

All this probably has nothing to do with Bain Capital harvesting companies. Somehow, though, “Corporations, my friend, are people!” just got mixed up with “Soylent Green is people!”, Charleston Heston got mixed up with Clint Eastwood and Mitt Romney.

As noted in a post a few days ago, this campaign may not just be threatening to drive us—candidates and voters—mad. It may have done that already.

Victims of the Federalist Laboratories


This morning, a pundit again tried to square the circle by explaining how Mitt Romney can be both the heroic father of Romneycare in Massachusetts and the sworn enemy of Obamacare in the U.S. It goes like this: the states are political/social/economic “laboratories” in which 50 different experiments can produce 50 different solutions. (It isn’t clear why the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, etc., are not capable of conducting these experiments too.)

This is nonsense. Not as political theory or as Constitutional interpretation. It is nonsense because it makes no sense, or at best, tragic sense.

America’s most notorious state-by-state experiment was slavery. And if an experiment is judged by its results, slavery was in some ways an excellent economic solution for the states that tried it. No matter how much other states tried to convince them that it was flawed, those slavery laboratories kept on operating—right until the time that they were forced to close them down in a bloody war.

This is how experimental laboratories work. Different scientists race to solve essential problems. When one comes up with an effective solution, that doesn’t necessarily stop the others from continuing their work on better answers, or from criticizing competitors. But in the meantime, if the problem is critical, the solution is rolled out widely to relieve the situation, at least until something better comes along.

Let’s say that the Massachusetts laboratory developed a cure for cancer. After some clinical trials, it was deemed worthy to be given to the whole state. The benefit was positive and obvious. One of the developers went out of his way to make a high-profile public case for its success and his role in it.

But the other 49 states said: not so fast. They believed that there was a better solution to cancer, if not right around the corner, then soon. All they needed was more time, and in the meantime, they didn’t want the people of their state subjected to these wild experimental solutions.

That is a much more apt metaphor than merely talking about laboratories in general. Call it what you want—Heritagefoundationcare, Romneycare, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act—we have a proven solution. Standing in the way of it, promising to repeal it, simultaneously owning and disowning it, is unconscionable in the face of knowing that with it, people who are well can be kept well and that people who are sick can get better.

Anyone, from a Presidential candidate on down, who can look at people and tell them that they will just have to suffer a little longer while the political scientists of the 49 states tinker in their laboratories needs to look elsewhere. They need to look at themselves, and see where the real problem is.