A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Romney’s failure to offer credible policy ideas will lead to more #RomneyShambles

by pdxblake

There are so many ways to make fun of Romney now, it has even started a cottage industry of #RomneyShambles, #Mitthitsthefan, and my favorite, #AmericanBorat tweets (perhaps Romney can help the economy after all, at the expense of his political future).  It appears that, despite being a politician since at least 2002 (when he became governor of Massachusetts) and a presidential candidate in 1946 2006, Romney has absolutely no intuition on when he should lie to spare a country’s feelings (not just lie to try and make an opponent look bad).

However, the policy Romney is not much different than the travelling Romney: they are both unwilling to realize that things have changed and he needs to change with them.  With his gaffe-tastic Day 1 outside of the US, he missed that he should speak about the Olympics and the English differently than he would when appearing on Fox News.  In a similar way, Ezra Klein describes how Romney has refused to modify any of the Bush Administration’s standard policy responses, despite the huge financial crash and recession that Bush left flaming on Obama’s doorstep that would for most people lead to a re-think of policy.

Lower taxes, fewer regulations, more domestic energy production, promises of deficit reduction that are quickly overwhelmed by increased defense spending and reduced tax revenues, and glossy rhetoric about economic freedom pretty much defined the Bush administration’s economic policy. And how did that economic policy work out?

It was a disaster.

The best chart (of the many good ones) in the post is from the Center for American Progress (full report here (PDF)) below.  It shows average monthly job growth by year for the last 3 economic cycles (1974 – 2007), not including the steep fall that followed the financial crisis in his final year in office.  Under Bush’s policies, which are incredibly similar to what Romney is advocating for, job growth was anemic compared to previous years when the economy was growing.  Romney is campaigning on the basis of his experience as an outsourcing pioneer job creator from when he was at Bain, yet says he will bring back the policies of George W. Bush, who has one of the worst track records in terms of job creation while he was in office.

With a track record like that for the specific policies that Romney supports, it’s no wonder Romney has to resort to just attacking Obama for things he never did or said.  His worst nightmare is that America might for a change have a serious discussion about the policies that led us into financial crisis like financial deregulation and realize that returning to those same old policies is a recipe for another crisis down the road, with little if any short term benefits.

London’s Burning With Romney Now

by evanmcmurry

Yesterday, en route to a big old piece of schadenfreude about Mitt Romney’s disastrous first twelve minutes in the UK, I asked why Obama couldn’t say howdy to a foreign leader without being accused of siding with Otherstan, but when Mitt skips across the pond to restore the “special relationship,” it’s a solemn and important mission. Why is one “global” (read: Muslim) and the other anglo-saxon “diplomatic” (read: What Nixon was good at)?

That was yesterday. Now that Mitt’s proven incapable of opening his mouth without embarrassing himself, and been told what-for by everybody from the Prime Minister to the British tabloids, the tune on the right has changed. Suddenly, gun-hating, socialized medicine-having England is the capital of Otherstan. How do you deal with the contradiction of having to condemn the very country you were, two days ago, just courting? We turn, as we always do with Mitt Romney and cognitive dissonance, to WaPo columnist Jennifer Rubin. Here’s Rubin on Tuesday:

The Obama campaign can’t bear the thought that the well-traveled Mitt Romney will make a nice impression on his overseas tour.

No doubt they were shaking in their commemorative “We’re Not George W Bush” boots. By the way, is that the same “well-traveled Romney” who regularly warns about the US becoming <spooky>Europe</spooky>? He must have well-traveled to some other Europe than the one he’s visiting right now.

Anyway, here’s Rubin today:

By the way, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology for the flag mix-up to the Great Leader’s gulag should give the American press a clue about this guy’s view of the world.

Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrre we go. Two days ago, we were restoring the “special relationship” with Britain. Now, England’s BFFs with North Korea. (Rubin also finds space in her column to sneer at the Olympics, the very concept of diplomacy, and pretty much the entire rest of the world.) But that’s how it goes: Mitt Romney will be president, even if it means relocating London to Pyongyang. (h/t Wonkette)

“Guns Don’t Kill People, I Do”

by evanmcmurry

Breaking, via WaPo:

Authorities have arrested a man who referred to himself as “a joker” and threatened to shoot people at his former workplace in Prince George’s County, investigators said Friday.

“I am a joker. I’m going to load my guns and blow everybody up,” the man said over the phone to a man at Pitney Bowes, according to a warrant.

[…] Police there found more than 20 rifles and handguns and 40 steel boxes of ammunition at his home, the investigators said.

The day he was arrested, he wore a T shirt that said “Guns don’t kill people. I do.”

Photo on the right shows the guns found in Mr. Joker’s house. They’re for hunting and target practice, I’m sure.

So it’s good to know that the NRA’s bumper-sticker argument against gun control is now being used as a bragging right of people who would attempt mass shootings. I would love to hear the NRA’s response to this, except they’ve somehow gotten a pass on saying anything about mass shootings; to my knowledge, the organization has yet to speak so much as a word about the Aurora, CO, shootings, including any comment on the fact that all of James Holmes’s weapons were purchased legally. So somehow the organization most responsible for people like James Holmes and our new friend having possession of automatic weapons used in mass shooting is also the organization held least responsible for the consequences. How does that work, again?

This is the second guy in a week to be arrested with an arsenal in his possession. He’s the second guy in three days to be stopped in the midst of planning a shooting following the Aurora spree. Have things maybe—maybe?—gotten to the point at which we can begin to put pressure on the NRA to explain, if they’re going to so aggressively fight any form of gun restrictions, whether they have any ideas on how to reduce gun violence, and if not, whether it might be time to reevaluate their influence in the gun debate?

The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, but even their power must have limits. Take a look at the photo above. Can we please make that the limit?

At Long Last, A Finance Magazine Tells Me Where The Cool Kids Are Chillin’

by drewnilsen

Once you’re explaining a joke, it’s no longer funny. Once you’re quantifying coolness, it’s not cool.

That arbiter of what’s hip, Forbes Magazine, is out with a list of the 20 coolest cities in America.

As I’ve discussed recently (here and here), online surveys purporting to tell me “Where I should move to” or what the next hot cities are have an inherent inability to capture the intangibles what what makes a place great.

I’ll reveal the findings below so you can pack your bags on the train to Bitchin’ville (unless Fortune Magazine drops its own dopeness bomb first). But first, the methodology.

Forbes used seven equally-weighted metrics. Multiple criteria were based on sports and recreation (number of sports teams, green space, outdoor recreational activities … like golf. Tré cool, Forbes). I like that they used number of non-chain restaurants, as TGI Friday’s hasn’t been a proxy for coolness in 40 years. Also factored in were cultural diversity, unemployment, and net migration. Notably absent — any mention of walkability (curious, since quantifiable Walk Scores are readily available for every neighborhood) or access to public transit.

No list of this sort is perfect, but it’s missing a human element. God help me for invoking the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series in support of my argument, but the original intent recognized that computers might not realize that 9-1 Oklahoma is actually way better than 10-0 Central Michigan. Thus, they balanced the computer rankings with the human element (coaches’ and media polls).

The human element is the missing link here. A panel of “experts” — everyone from urbanists and realtors to cultural mavens and sociologists — could have rendered their own coolest city picks, or weighted the rankings based on the data.

So, what’s the #1 coolest city in America? Brace yourself.

Houston. Just the other day, I noted that Houston gets a bad rap, and is underrated. In my years living in Texas, I came to admire Houston’s cultural diversity, arts, food, and fun, walkable neighborhoods inside the 610 Loop. Its affordability is an asset, as is its progressivism (I get more raised eyebrows — especially outside of Texas — by mentioning Houston’s second-term lesbian mayor, than I do from anything else I say about the place). All that said, it’s hard to believe that Houston would even get on the “Family Feud” board in a survey of average Americans asked to name the coolest cities.

And #2? Washington, DC. [Comments redacted since I live here now.]

There are a few good choices on this list — though whoever put Betheda, Maryland on there should be fired — but it demonstrates the limitations of trying to decipher what’s cool based exclusively on numbers. Math, in this case, isn’t cool.

Behold The Dumbest Article On Chick-Fil-A And Gay Rights You’ll Ever Read

by evanmcmurry

Jesus Christ over rice with white sauce, why is this Chick-Fil-A thing so fucking difficult? As I explained the other day, if you don’t like Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay marriage, don’t eat at the place. HOWEVER, you also don’t get to defend the head of multi-billion dollar corporation who is actively prohibiting a civil right by crying about the intolerance he’s facing from those choosing not to eat at his restaurant. Dan Cathy has the right to express his opinions, and we have the right not to eat at his chain because of those opinions. Why is this so hard?

Now meet Jonathan Merritt, writing in the Atlantic, who apparently just cannot stand the indignation directed at Chick-Fil-A. Hit it:

Dan Cathy, president of one of America’s largest express fast food chains, has been frying more than chicken filets this week.

Great lede! Ha ha ha…it’s funny cuz presidents of companies don’t actually work.

The Chick-fil-A executive infuriated gay and lesbian groups when he again defended his company’s anti-gay marriage position in an interview this week with a Christian news outlet.

And infuriated a lot of other people. This is gonna blow your mind, but more than gay and lesbian groups care about gay and lesbian rights. I hope you won’t make that mistake for the rest of your article.

Not surprisingly, his comments were met with fury by those who support same-sex marriage.

Better.

The company was labeled a “hate group” by many on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and drew promises of boycotts from notables including The Office star Ed Helms. Meanwhile, Americans who patronize the chain’s 1,600 locations were left wondering what to do. Should they swear off the legendary chicken sandwiches to support gay rights?

Chick-Fil-A’s sandwiches are not legendary. They’re better than they have a right to be. But let’s not get carried away.

Or could they eat one of the filets anyway, knowing their dollars would be but a drop in the bucket for a chain that has more than $4 billion in annual sales and donated a pittance to groups they may disagree with?

I don’t think you’re quite getting the point of boycotts. Part of the goal of a boycott is to financially impact the company so as to compel change in its policies. The other part is individually seated: if you are gay, or have a gay family member, or a gay friend, or just an active conscience, you are likely see the prohibition of same-sex marriage as a deal breaker, in the way that many saw segregation as a deal breaker, and choose not to eat at places that oppose same-sex marriage, out of a personal conviction not to contribute to something to which you strongly, almost molecularly, object. Over time, as friends say, “Hey, let’s go eat at Chick-Fil-A,” and you say, “Let’s eat somewhere else, I don’t want to support a place run by bigots,” your objection becomes a means of spreading your opinion. A friend of yours who may not have taken the issue of same-sex marriage that seriously now has cause to reflect that someone does take it seriously enough to make changes in daily habits over it. You don’t have to bring down the company to make a boycott effective.

Or, to put it more simply: if you were gay, would you ever eat at a Chick-Fil-A again, knowing its owner thinks you should be denied a basic human right? You probably wouldn’t, and your financial impact on the company wouldn’t sway you one bit. The same goes for people who know and care about gay people. That’s the point, or at least the motive, of a boycott.

I’d argue the latter — and this has nothing to do with my views on gay marriage.

Of course it doesn’t.

It’s because Chick-fil-A is a laudable organization on balance, and because I refuse to contribute to the ineffective boycott culture that’s springing up across America.

BOYCOTT THE BOYCOTTS! You see what I was JUST saying about the moral weight of withholding support, even when it doesn’t have a financial impact, as a means of spreading opinion? Thanks for backing me up on that. And in the same paragraph!

First of all, Chick-fil-A is not a hate group. In a statement released yesterday, company leaders made their commitment to equal service clear, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”

Well, that settles that. A corporation would never, ever dissemble in an official statement.

As a native Atlantan, I’ve dined at the chicken chain more than I’d like to admit over more than two decades and even interacted with its leadership team. I’ve never witnessed any customer refused service or even treated differently.

First of all, gross. Second of all, I’ve eaten at a lot of Denny’s in my road-tripping life, and never seen them discriminate against African Americans. That doesn’t mean they don’t do it. Merritt’s relying on a sliver of anecdotal evidence to characterize the behavior of a corporation he admitted a few paragraphs ago was so big it couldn’t be brought down by a concerted boycott. If Chick-Fil-A is bigger than a movement, it’s bigger than Merritt’s personal interactions with it, no matter how numerous.

On the contrary, Chick-fil-A is known for offering world-class customer service to each person that walks through one of the restaurant’s doors.

Where the fuck are these Chick-Fil-As this guy’s eating at?

Additionally, the organization gives millions of dollars each year to charitable causes — and not just to “pro-family” groups. It funds a large foster care program, several schools of a higher learning, and a children’s camp. It has provided thousands of scholarships for Chick-fil-A employees to attend college and grow past the service sector where they got their workplace start. (On Friday, the company provided free meals for Aurora, Colo., policemen.)

Good on them. Fair point.

And the company’s leaders claim to do all of this out of convictions rooted in the Christian faith. Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the company should know that it does not hide its commitment to biblical values. Its corporate statement of purpose since 1982 has begun, “To glorify God…”

Again, it’s their business, though you’re going to regret this paragraph later on.

Given this, that anyone was surprised by Cathy’s statements is, well, surprising.

You said earlier, “not surprisingly.”

Like many conservative Christians, he does not support gay marriage.

Bigots, too. A lot of bigots don’t support gay marriage. I wonder what a Ven diagram of conservative Christians and bigots would look like. Couple of circles making out, prolly.

I’m flummoxed that so many consumers are so quick these days to call for boycotts of any company that deviates from their personal or political views. For one thing, boycotts rarely cause actual pocketbook – rather than PR — damage. Most consumers don’t care enough to drive an extra mile to get the same product from someone else. 

Actually, a lot of people these days are driving the extra mile for food products based on moral concerns. It’s called the foodie movement. Wanna see a Ven diagram of foodies and people who support gay marriage?

And that’s especially the case for companies as large as Chick-fil-A, which has prime locations on many college campuses where there is little head-to-head competition.

Ha! Wanna see a Ven diagram of college students and people who support gay marriage? This potential boycott is looking bigger and bigger.

But my bigger question is this: In a nation that’s as divided as ours is,

Stop it.

do we really want our commercial lives and our political lives to be so wholly intermeshed?

I don’t know, douche, WHY DON’T YOU ASK THE PEOPLE WHO CAN’T GET MARRIED?

And is this really the kind of culture we want to create?

Nope. We want a culture in which two people in love can marry each other. Thanks for asking!

Culture war boycotts

Ah, there it is.

cut both ways and are much more likely to meet with success when prosecuted by large groups of people, such as Christian activists, who are more numerous than gays and lesbians and their more activist supporters.

Srsly? Merritt, who do you think’s winning el culture war? And not to put too fine a point on it, but they’re called “rights” because that word means one group more numerous than another can’t deprive that second group of the integers of citizenship. You just summed up exactly why the issue of same-sex marriage is so pressing that it calls for concerted actions like boycotts. Good job.

Gay and lesbian groups were famously rankled when pro-family activists reacted against Kraft for posting a photo of an Oreo cookie with rainbow-hued filling last month in honor of Gay Pride Month, and also when similar groups protested JCPenney for announcing lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres would be its next spokesperson.

So should the 45 percent of Americans who oppose gay marriage opt for Chips Ahoy! instead of Oreos?

Hmm. 45 is less than 50. What was the percentage of people who opposed gay marriage a few years ago? 57? Really? You guys are getting less numerous by the minute.

Should they begin shopping at Belk instead of JC Penny? If they did, it wouldn’t make any more sense than the endless failed calls for liberal consumers to boycott Urban Outfitters, because its owner is a conservative and Rick Santorum donor, or to not order from Domino’s Pizza, because it was founded by a Catholic conservative who helped fund anti-abortion causes.

Would that be Domino’s Pizza, the chain that recently ran an entire ad campaign based on the premise that it sucked so much it was reduced to running an campaign admitting it sucked? I don’t think abortions are the worst of Domino’s problems anymore.

On both sides of our latest culture war divide,

It’s not a culture war, dude. One side wants rights, the other wants to deprive them of rights. Your side calls it a culture war because you think it makes the petitioning for rights sound frivolous. Again, you’re losing that battle.

we must learn to have level-headed disagreements without resorting to accusations of hate speech and boycotts.

Deal! You give us gay marriage, and we’ll call off the boycotts. Oh, wait, that undermines your point.

As Josh Ozersky argued on TIME Thursday, “businesses should be judged by their products and their practices, not by their politics.”

Said the guy from TIME who can legally marry.

I agree: I don’t care how my dry cleaner votes. I just want to know if he/she can press my Oxfords without burning my sleeves.

Said the guy from the Atlantic who can legally marry. Also, nice class blindness.

I find no compelling reason to treat sandwiches differently than shirts.

That’s because you eat at Chick-Fil-A. Dear god, what do your shirts look like?

From a business standpoint, some might say Cathy’s comments were imprudent if not downright dumb.

Bigoted, too. You can be bigoted from a business standpoint. Unless your point is that business concerns automatically exclude moral concerns. In which case, Chick-Fil-A’s merit badge for Christian-based charity work goes out the window, too.

But in a society that desperately needs healthy public dialogue, we must resist creating a culture where consumers sort through all their purchases (fast food and otherwise) for an underlying politics not even expressed in the nature of the product itself.

Earlier you knocked people for not knowing about Chick-Fil-A’s Christian core: “Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of the company should know that it does not hide its commitment to biblical values.” Told you that you were going to regret that. More at the end of the article on this point. 

If white meat’s not your thing, try the Golden Arches.

STOP EATING FAST FOOD!

But if you want a perfectly fried chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A, will be happy to serve you — gay or straight. In this case, those who boycott are the ones missing out.

On marriage. We’ve been over this. That’s the point of the boycott.

Well, that was fun. Now: there’s a hidden binary in Merritt’s article that undergirds all of his fried-chicken logic: Christianity is moral, in Merritt’s world, and gay rights are political. He’s fine with holding up Chick-Fil-A as a laudable corporation for its Christian-based charity work (and rightly so), but then doesn’t think they should be held accountable for the bigoted views of the owner. The former is an example of a “laudable organization,” the latter an example of “underlying politics;” he’s obviously miffed that a lot of people didn’t know about Chick-Fil-A’s religious foundations, but doesn’t think people should pay one minute’s attention to its stances on anything else. Merritt clearly thinks that religious concerns have a legitimate role in business but that political ones do not, and he also clearly thinks that the gay rights movement’s non-voluntary inclusion in the “culture war” makes it political, and therefore irrelevant to Chick-Fil-A in a way that its religious motivations are not.

A debate can be had over those points, though Merritt would lose on both counts. The gay rights movement is not political, it’s moral, and, to the extent that it concerns how a human defines his or herself and is intrinsically changed by how he or she is defined by society, it’s practically existential. The idea that one’s sexual orientation is somehow less crucial, or less legitimate, than one’s faith, is specious in the first and last instance.

But if Merritt wants to have that debate, it would at least be interesting and generative, as opposed to the above article, which is stupid and stultifying. So, Merritt: any time, any place. In the meantime, good luck boycotting the boycotts.

The most dangerous chart

by pdxblake

The conventional line from Republican politicians and conservative economists is that the main thing holding back the US economy is too much government, the deficit or some other combination of those factor.

However, the chart below (ht Paul Krugman) shows how much this is not true, and how, despite private sector non-residential investment booming, the economy remains stuck in neutral in part because of cutbacks in government spending in the past 3 years.

The End Of The Fairy Tale

by evanmcmurry

Kristen Stewart blah blah blah, end of the fairy tale, blah blah blah. Honestly, every Twilighthead deserves all the disenchantment that’s coming to them and then some.* Go read Bram Stoker and study for your AP tests, kids.

But then we come to the real twist:

Even if she hadn’t been caught by photographers with her married director, Stewart would have had to face up to the limitations of the fairy tale at some point. The Twilight audience hasn’t followed Stewart to her smaller movies, all of which have done decidedly modest box office.

Ahahaha. If everybody thinks Bella cheating is disillusioning, wait until they get a load of what capitalism can do.

* Those of you who mistakenly purchased Twilight of the Elites are excused.

The Houston Astros May Break Their Own Futility Record This Year

by evanmcmurry

The Houston Astros set a franchise record last year for worst season ever, going 56-106 for a .346 win percentage. Now, after a 10 game losing streak, they’re on pace to 52-110 in 2012, or .321, if we’re rounding up. On the bright side, losing Hunter Pence only hurt them by four games, which seems to prove this theory.