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The Critical Mass

Mitt Romney thinks you’re dumb

Since the first day of the Republican National Convention, the Romney campaign has been unspooling like a disaster-flick trailer. I can’t think of one positive tidbit of news that’s emerged about the dynamic duo of Romney-Ryan since then.

Character flaws? There are plenty. But I suspect there’s more to it. With the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, who never stood a chance, it’s simply unimaginable that any of the characters who were a part of the Republican Primary Circus could have been taken any more seriously than Romney. The idea seems outlandish now, but at one point or another the Republican frontrunners were Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

It’s the intellectual vacuity of the Republican platform that is behind this parade of mediocrity. It is impossible to argue, without short-circuiting the logic centers of your brain, that the deficit can be reduced and jobs created by cutting taxes for the rich and allowing banks and corporations to do as they please. This has never happened in the history of the world. In fact, the effect is the opposite, as the eight-year George W. Bush experiment proved.

It is impossible to argue that climate change is not real and intelligent design is responsible for the existence of humans. Science tells us otherwise. Anyone who denies climate change and evolution is operating on faith-based beliefs, and is holding back the rest of  society.

Any politician who accepts the Republican platform must explain, if abortion is murder, what the prison sentence should be for a woman who seeks to end her unwanted pregnancy. Even if that pregnancy is life-threatening, or the result of incest or rape.

Anyone supporting the Republican platform must explain why it is important to cut federal funding for education, yet increase military spending, including the purchase of weapon systems that even the Pentagon agrees it does not need.

Anyone in agreement with the Republican platform must explain how gays and lesbians cannot have the same rights as other Americans, including the right to marry who they love, yet we’ll still collect taxes from them.

Smart people can’t explain these positions, and many others.

Unless, those people actually are smart, and they just think you’re dumb.

The Romney campaign effectively self-destructed yesterday with the release of secretly recorded video of the candidate, in an unguarded moment while speaking to a small group of wealthy donors. “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney says. “All right – there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”

You know what? In the world we should be building, people should be entitled to health care, food and housing. Not just the rich, but the poor.

Romney also said of the 47 percent that, “my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The candidate’s position here has already been hacked to pieces by virtually every honest analysis available. There’s no need to list the falsehoods and discrimination that are not only the foundation of these indefensible comments, but that are at the heart of his entire campaign. I’ll just say this: My mother worked most of her adult life and will probably vote for Romney, out of habit. But as a senior citizen now, enjoying her well-earned retirement, but with no income other than her hard-earned entitlements of Social Security and Medicare, which she paid for, she’s in that 47 percent that Romney will not “worry” about. She’s one of those people who Romney says do not “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

How bad is it? Even Bill Kristol, the conservative pundit who was one of the biggest early supporters of Sarah Palin, and remains one, has called Romney’s comments “stupid and arrogant.” When a Palin acolyte recognizes stupid and arrogant, he must be looking upon an Everest of evidence.

The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Sept. 16

The coffee is Guatemalan. First music of the day: Danish jazz  trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, as close to a living Miles Davis as you’ll hear today.

1, In today’s top story, “After days of anti-American violence across the Muslim world, the White House is girding itself for an extended period of turmoil that will test the security of American diplomatic missions and President Obama’s ability to shape the forces of change in the Arab world.”

2, We lost a good man in the effort to work with the Muslim world when Libyan ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed last week. He was so willing to adopt the ways of the people he was among that he often signed letters “Krees,” the way Arabs pronounce his name, Chris. “Some people enjoy bureaucratic fighting in Washington,” one of Stevens’ former bosses said of the young diplomat that he knew in the 1990s, “but he wanted to be on the front lines where the fires burn.” Stevens also did not like have security forces around him, which may have led to his death. “Chris had fallen in love with Libya’s revolution,” The Times quotes an Iranian-born writer who met him. “At the end, those very forces whose influence he thought would be curbed had claimed his life.”

3, The political landscape has shifted dramatically since the Democratic convention. Polls show that three-quarters of Americans now trust Barack Obama over Mitt Romney with handling the future of Medicare.

4, Some Republican candidates are quietly pushing away the Tea Party’s confrontational ways. Even George Allen, running against Tim Kaine for the Virginia senate, after losing to Kaine last time around, has been talking about how much he enjoyed working with Hillary Rodham Clinton. But, as The Times notes, people tend to remember if you’ve said of Democrats, as Allen did at a convention of Virginia Republicans, “Let’s enjoy knocking their soft teeth down their whining throats.”

5, People who have written bad checks – in an example presented by The Times, a woman who unwittingly bounced one for $47.95 – are getting letters threatening them with imprisonment. But even though these letters appear to be coming from the local district attorney’s office, they’re actually from debt-collection agencies that have paid for the right to use the seal and signature of the DA. The letters often demand that the citizen take a “financial responsibility class,” a additional $180, some of which goes back to the DA’s office. Approximately 300 district attorney offices around the country are using this startling practice.

6, Tissue engineers are using plastic and the body’s ability to grow its own cells to create simple hollow organs, such as windpipes and bladders, for transplant. Researchers are working on more-complex organs such as kidneys and livers, as well as blood vessels.

7, Michael Wreszin, who specialized in writing biographies of American radicals, has died at age 85. Life as a liberal is not easy, The Times says Wreszin once conceded. “For those despairing souls who identify with the left,” he wrote in one of his books, “this is a history of a group of dedicated radical intellectuals who experience almost nothing but defeat, disillusionment and ultimate loss of hope. This story offers an example of the message in Albert Camus’ novel, The Plague. The struggle is endless and futile, but engaging in the struggle is what makes one human.”

8, Did you know more than 3,000 former NFL players are suing the league over concussions?

9, On the editorial page, The Times writes, “As the country approaches the first anniversary of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ on Sept. 20, politicians and others who warned of disastrous consequences if gay people were allowed to serve openly in the military are looking pretty foolish.” More foolishness in the years to come, I say.

10, Also on the editorial page, Michael Grunwald’s book The New New Deal is used to launch a very convincing argument that Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the stimulus – worked in a big way: saving or creating 2.5 million jobs, keeping unemployment from reaching 12 percent, helping the economy to grow by as much as 3.8 percent. “Republicans learned a lesson from  the stimulus that the Democrats didn’t expect,” The Times writes. “Unwavering opposition, distortion, deceit and ridicule actually work, especially when the opposition doesn’t put up a fight.”

11, “Death and the Civil War” is the next episode of the PBS series American Experience, airing Tuesday. “To lose the same proportion of the population today that died in the Civil War, the historian Drew Gilpin Faust says,” The Times reports on one of the brutal observations made, “would mean seven million deaths.”

12, Arts & Leisure takes on the impossible task of defining shock and the arts. Impossible, because the standards change with time, place and the individual. Amusingly, two essays on the subject both choose to open with a reminder that the 1913 premier of Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” was greeted with the audience breaking out into a brawl-filled riot. “Shock long ago went mainstream,” The Times writes, “raising the question: Can art still shock today?” Yes or no, it remains the duty of the artist to do so, seems to be the conclusion, “to reflect the real world back at itself.” As the ’90s performance-shock artist Karen Finley says, “You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to go out and try to shock people.’ It’s usually a much more subtle matter of time and place.” Critic Maggie Nelson adds that art needs “to say things the culture can’t allow itself to hear. But all shock is not created equal. Once the original ‘ugh’ is gone, you’ve got to look at what the next emotion is.”

13, An excellent short interview with writer Nicholson Baker in the book review. He’s overwhelmed by the sheer size of Barnes & Noble: “No More! Stop the presses!” He gently lampoons the promotional toils of today’s authors, who “seem to be able to work hard and finish big shiny books and keep going and complain about their hotels and give bouncy interviews and readings and do all the things you’re expected to do.” And then, he goes into a dark assessment of sending drones on  military missions: “We’re in the middle of a presidential administration in which one man in an office with velvet couches goes down a kill list. Our president has become an assassin. It sickens me and makes me want to stop writing altogether.”

14, Do not read page 10 of the Travel section if you rely on Taco Bell for your Mexican fix. Otherwise, only authentic street food will do as writer JJ Goode follows Roberto Santibanez, owner of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Fonda restaurants and author of Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales. He reports on tortillas rolled with chicken that is doused with “mole verde, a verdant, rich sauce from pumpkin seeds and thrilling from the mellow but persistent heat of cooked green chiles.” And  a “banana-leaf-wrapped tamal filled with mole verde, fragrant with the herb hoja santa.”

15, After you’ve enjoyed your tacos, in the Magazine we read in the bird world that not only do “baby Eurasian rollers – aka Coracias garralus – vomit on themselves when they sense danger, but the smell of the vomit sends their parents flying for cover. Scientists now think that the birds throw up not only to ward off predators but also to warn their doting caretakers not to return to the nest until the threat has passed. As the researcher Deseada Parejo noted, ‘They parents seem to be saving their own skin.'”

The Critical Mass

The party of Norris, Lovitz, Stein, Nugent and Williams Jr.

I see that the Republican Party has evolved into a homeless shelter for washed-up entertainers.

Despite his much-discussed conversation with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, we’ll leave Clint Eastwood out of this argument. He’s 82 and I can overlook a few late-season errors, because his spaghetti westerns, Play Misty For Me, Bird, and even a couple of those later movies – Gran Torino and the two Iwo Jima films – were quite thoughtful. Also, I was raised by a cranky old man. I get it.

Chuck Norris has no excuses. He’s a D-minus karate actor used as a stooge by both the Huckabee and Gingrich campaigns, which had him stand behind their dubious candidates like a cardboard cutout, nodding his head in agreement to their strange visions.

Norris and his wife, Gena, have just put up an anti-Obama video on YouTube. At one point, Gena quotes Ronald Reagan circa 1964, back when that faded actor was throwing his support behind Barry Goldwater for president:  “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into 1,000 years of darkness.” A victim of typecasting to the end, Norris stands beside his wife, nodding his head in agreement with this strange vision. He’s thinking maybe he can land a bit role in this new prequel he’s just heard about, Lord of the Rings: 1,000 Years of Darkness.

Jon Lovitz called Obama a “fucking asshole” on a podcast because the comedian doesn’t agree with the president’s tax policy. Then he refused to apologize, despite heavy criticism, because Obama’s “not king.” In a talk-show appearance later with another former Saturday Night Live Star, Dana Carvey, the two over-the-horizon stars commiserated on what a terrible world we now live in, a world where a comedian can’t crack a joke at the president’s expense. Neither acknowledged this obvious fact: If they want to earn a laugh, the joke has to be funny.

Ben Stein, the monotone actor, has resurrected his profile as a conservative commentator. At least he’s not a newcomer: He was a speech writer for Nixon. Stein’s schtick is arguing on behalf of dismissed ideologies, including creationism. He co-wrote and starred in a documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, that claims a belief in evolution may have led to the Holocaust. Really.

Ted Nugent. No one listens to his music anymore. So he screams for attention like a petulant child, threatening Obama and writing essays for a conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, that are filled with fact errors and distortions. He even went on Fox News’ Your World With Neil Cavuto a few years ago and lied about a conversation that he had with me. With me!

Hank Williams Jr., a continuing embarrassment to a great legacy, was at it again this week.“We’ve got a Muslim for a President who hates cowboys, hates cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays, and we hate him!” the country singer told a crowd  in Fort Worth, Texas. People cheered, some guy in the front waved a Confederate battle flag.

Williams’ words inspired an awesome Tweet by the actor Alec Baldwin. “If Hank Williams Jr wasn’t such a pathetic, wheezing fossil I’d have a talk with him. I think we need to call Hank Williams Jr what he is…. A broken-down, senile, racist coot.”

Get used to it. The party of Lincoln is now the party of Norris, Lovitz, Stein, Nugent and Williams Jr.

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