Archive for 2011

Friday Press Clips: What ‘Occupy Calbuzz’ Wants

Friday, October 21st, 2011

PORTLAND — Leaving no stoner unturned, the Calbuzz National Affairs Desk this week embarked to Portland, scene of what Leading Experts agree is the “9th Angriest” encampment of Occupy Whatever protestors in the nation.

Our uncanny right place/right time instinct fully intact, it was here that we saw the ever-growing movement’s defining event unfold, when a local elected official unexpectedly showed up to help a group of anarchists, who are fiercely opposed to the very idea of elected officials, figure out what the hell they are demonstrating for.

The Rose City Oregonian’s Beth Slovic was on the scene:

Commissioner Amanda Fritz presided over a question-and-answer session this afternoon with protesters from Occupy Portland, telling them she’s “really proud” of their peaceful demonstration.

But Fritz, speaking from a megaphone across the street from Portland City Hall, also suggested to the 50-plus gathered people that the protesters might want to think about their specific goals. And she wondered aloud how long occupying Chapman and Lownsdale squares would be helpful to those goals.

Whatever they are.

As “the 99 percent movement” protests have spread swiftly, from the foot of Wall Street to 900 cities around the world, it has become clear that the global flash mob has admirably succeeded in shifting the political establishment’s attention away from the long-range problem of deficit reduction, and towards the immediate one of unemployment and its crucial connection to the issue of wealth disparity (astonishingly, they’ve been more successful at this than Calbuzz itself,  which has been spewing invective about the evils of plutocracy seemingly forever).

Any doubt about this accomplishment was erased by a terrific content analysis of MSM coverage of  economic issues produced by Zaid Jilani at Think Progress.com  (h/t Jason Linkins). And in a week when other first-rate blogospheric work also shed light on the demographics of the 99 percenters and identified the top 10 centers of Occupy enthusiasm, at least one multi-media, multi-platform, we-are-all-reporters-now type made a stab at answering the MSM’s eternal question – WTF Do These People Want? —  by employing revolutionary techniques of Tumblr URL deconstruction. Or something.

While motivations may remain murky, the economic condition and context that ignited the spontaneous worldwide outbreak of non-violent outrage was both  trenchantly and convincingly summed up by Henry Blodgett, proprietor of Business Insider, and winner of this week’s Little Pulitzer for Investigative Commentary.

Notwithstanding Blodget’s checkered past, and that whole securities fraud thing, he’s one smart fella’, and his splendid reductionist analysis of what is driving the protests – with visuals no less! — is nothing short of brilliant:

Here are the four key points:

(click on chart for larger image)

1. Unemployment is at the highest level since the Great Depression (with the exception of a brief blip in the early 1980s).
2. At the same time, corporate profits are at an all-time high, both in absolute dollars and as a share of the economy.
3. Wages as a percent of the economy are at an all-time low. In other words, corporate profits are at an all-time high, in part, because corporations are paying less of their revenue to employees than they ever have. There are lots of reasons for this, many of which are not the fault of the corporations. (It’s a global economy now, and 2-3 billion new low-cost employees in China, India, et al, have recently entered the global workforce. This is putting pressure on wages the world over.)
4. Income and wealth inequality in the US economy is near an all-time high: The owners of the country’s assets (capital) are winning, everyone else (labor) is losing.

As we endlessly complain, the bottom line that Blodget points too with all his very cool and concise data is , um, right on the money:

Importantly, the inequality that has developed in the economy over the past couple of decades is not just a moral issue. It’s a practical one. It is, as sociologists might say, “destabilizing.” It leads directly to the sort of social unrest that we’re seeing right now.

Take it to the bank.

P.S. In the interests of entertainment, if not our world-renowned fairness and balance, we also recommend a read of this fabulous ill-tempered, head-exploding right-wing rant rant, from Roger Kimball over at The New Criterion.

“Ninety-nine percent of what?” you ask. Good question! The idea, which the President obviously likes, is that the anarchists, Sid the Nazi, and all the other placard-waving folks down in Zuccotti Park represent 99 percent of the population while “Wall Street,” the “corporations”—a.k.a. “Jewish financiers” (talk about déjà vu all over again, Adolf!)—represent the rapacious 1 percent which controls the economy, the military industrial complex, the Amazonian rain forest, Bambi’s birth place, and God knows what else.

Hitler and Bambi, together again.

P.S. Good riddance, Gaddafi.

Perry Tries but Fails to Whack Mitt on Illegal Help

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

If you want to attack your opponent for hiring an illegal immigrant, you’ve got to have your research down. Because if you misfire, as Rick Perry did in the GOP debate Tuesday night, you come away looking mean, nasty and irresponsible.

Here in California, we know a thing or two about politicians who have actually hired illegal immigrants, from Dianne Feinstein to  Meg Whitman. It’s not quite the same if you hired a landscaping company which was employing some illegals, as Mitt Romney did, as outlined in a Boston Globe story back in 2006.

Especially, if you’re the governor of Texas and you’re under attack from the right because you allow children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition for college.

Our take: Gov. Nasty Pants looks like a desperate, insufferable bully.

Oh, and Herb Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan is now officially bad cheese.

Best performance: Mitt Romney. Winners: Anderson Cooper and Barack Obama.

For the highlights, see Talking Points Memo’s clip wrap.

P.S. Ron Paul, get a tailor. Michele Bachmann, the Sgt. Pepper look is just a bit out of date.



What Anti-Mormon Sentiment Means for Mitt Romney

Monday, October 17th, 2011

On March 3, 1863, Captain Philip Trounstine of the Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, in a letter to his commanding officer, resigned his post in the Union Army in protest against Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Order No. 11, which called for the expulsion of all Jews from his military district as part of a campaign against the black market in cotton.

“I cannot help feeling, that as I owe filial affection to my parents, devotion to my religion, and a deep regard for the opinion of my friends, and feeling that I can no longer bear the taunts and malice of those to whom my religious opinions are known, brought on by the effect that that order has instilled into their minds,” wrote Capt. Trounstine, an ancestral cousin to half of the Calbuzz team.

So we are not entirely strangers to the intrusion of religious prejudice in American public life. Which brings us to the Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church Dallas, who last week re-opened a nasty inter-religious sore by saying that while Mitt Romney, a Mormon, might be an upright, moral guy, he’s no Christian. In fact, he belongs to a cult (but he meant it in the nicest, theological way).

Let’s be clear about one thing. This is not a new position for evangelical Christians. Thirty years ago, when your Calbuzzards covered the Billy Graham Crusade in San Jose, we studied a copy of the Christian Workers Handbook in which Mormonism is defined as a cult – a stand that is wholly embraced by evangelicals still.

Christians have a better choice, Jeffress argued in one TV interview:

Rick Perry is a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Mitt Romney is a good moral person but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity. So it’s a difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.

Of course, Jeffress said he wasn’t telling anyone how to vote in the Republican primaries, but . . .

It’s always preferable to select a Christian who’s competent over a competent non-Christian. But when I was talking about a cult, I was talking about a theological cult, not a sociological cult like David Koresh. And when you look at Mormonism – it was founded 1,800 years after the Christian faith, it has its own leader, Joseph Smith, its own doctrines, its own book, the Book of Mormon, so it fits the definition of a theological cult. But I think your viewers would be interested to know that today USA Today cited a poll that said three out of four Protestant pastors don’t believe Mormons are Christians. This isn’t some bigoted Rev. Wright position, that has been a position — they’re good moral people, they’re just not Christians.

At least he wasn’t calling on his fellow true Christians to round up all the Mormons and expel them from their communities. In fact, Jeffress allowed, if it came down to it:

I would vote for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama. I think it’s better to have a non-Christian who embraces some Christian principles like Mitt, than a professing Christian who embraces un-Biblical position like abortion.

Bob Jeffress Meet Jerry Brown: So what was Jeffress up to and what’s he saying – and this was no dog whistle — to all his evangelical brothers and sisters?

It’s simple: Vote for Rick Perry in the GOP primaries because he’s the actual Christian. But if Perry doesn’t make it and that cultist Romney is the Republican nominee, vote for him against the Bible-defiling Obama.

Or, as the leading humorist in America, Andy Borowitz, explained  the dilemma Jeffress was addressing: “Potential Race Between Black Guy and Mormon Poses Dilemma for Bigots.”

To further understand the significance of the anti-Mormon leanings of the evangelical Republicans, Calbuzz called on a theologically trained, three-time presidential candidate – California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Some people say you shouldn’t be elected if you’re not a Christian, but these people forget many of the Founding Fathers were deists,” Brown told us.  (Some of them included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine.)

“These (anti-Mormon Christian evangelicals) are extreme elements in the Republican Party and they are not very representative of voters,” Brown said. “It seems to me rather marginal.”

On the other hand, he said, given the stresses of the economy, modernization and the undermining of common understandings, “We could be entering a more turbulent phase in American politics and a religious test would be only one measure of an extreme and unstable environment.”

Nevertheless, he concluded, “I may be understating their influence but I’d be very surprised if it affects Romney’s electoral prospects.”

Survey Says: Brown might be surprised to learn that in a variety of polls about one-fifth to one-third of respondents express anti-Mormon sentiments.

In a Gallup survey 22% said they wouldn’t vote for a Mormon, compared to 10% who would not vote for a Hispanic and fewer than 10 percent who would not vote for a Jew, Baptist, Catholic, female or black.

Gallup found that Democrats (27%) were more unlikely to support a Mormon than were Republicans (18%) – suggesting that in a general election, a Mormon’s hard-right views on gays, marriage, abortion and women’s rights might have more to do with resistance to an LDS candidate than religion itself.

A September poll from the Brookings Institution (p.33) titled “What It Means to be American,” found that Americans are less tolerant of Mormons than other religious groups. Sixty-seven percent of those polled reportedly expressed favorable views of Mormons, compared to 84% for Jews and 83% for Catholics.

In a Pew survey, 25% of adults said they’d be less likely to support a presidential candidate if he were Mormon. A Quinnipiac survey found 36% of voters saying they’d be uncomfortable with a Mormon president. In a Lawrence Research survey, 20% said they’d never consider voting for a Mormon. And a Poll Position survey, found 32% saying they would never support a Mormon for president.

What’s Real, Unreal? It’s hard to determine what, exactly, drives anti-Mormon sentiments – whether it’s what people know, what they don’t know or what they think they know.

Are they familiar with Joseph Smith Jr., the treasure digger from Palmyra, New York, who said he was visited by the angel Moroni in 1827 and guided to a box of golden plates which he said contained what is now known as the Book of Mormon, after he transcribed them from “reformed Egyptian”?

Are they thinking about the breakaway Mormons in HBO’s late great “Big Love” with Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplethorn, Chloe Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place and Amanda Seyfried? Maybe they think Mormons are all like Roman Grant, the evil self-proclaimed prophet and leader of the Juniper Creek Compound played by Harry Dean Stanton.

Or are they like one wag we know who argues that the only difference between Mormonism and Scientology is the choir?

But then again, if you want to pounce on logical improbabilities in religions, you’ve got your parting of the Red Sea and the burning bush, the immaculate conception and the resurrection and that passel of virgins waiting for you in Heaven. Pick your myth.

So it’s hard to know what drives antipathy toward Mormons, except for the evangelical complaint, which is quite specific.

But it’s also an argument of convenience, right now, as right-wing Christian Republicans are trying to boost the fortunes of one of their own – Perry – as their best choice to go up against Obama.

So far, Perry appears unable to take advantage of this or any other appeal to pull ahead of Romney among Republicans. Jerry Brown’s political analysis may be correct.

Whether voters who are affiliated with the Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God and other fundamentalist Christian sects will abandon Romney in a race against Obama remains unclear. It all depends on how strictly they decide to apply their religious test when faced with the prospect of four more years of the black anti-Christ.

P.S. The Lincoln administration rescinded Grant’s anti-Semitic order. In 1866 Capt. Trounstine married Mollie Wisebart, moved to Denver to manage a family clothing store and led the city’s first volunteer fire company.