"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Americans are still struggling to come to terms with the loss they felt as the wackier GOP candidates fell by the wayside. For pure entertainment value, the mendacity they offered on the campaign trail couldn’t be beat.
Who can forget Herman Cain worrying about how China, a member of the club for almost a half-century, is now “trying to develop nuclear capability”? How can one top the convincing specificity of Michele Bachmann’s claim that on “page 92” of the healthcare reform bill, it says “people can’t purchase private health insurance after a date certain, which means people will ultimately go into a single-payer plan”? We have to admit that we’ll miss Rick Perry telling us wild tales of Obama’s totalitarianism extending to “telling us what kind of light bulb we can use.”
Those kind of bizarre untruths were like a series of small gifts for political watchers and late-night comedy writers alike. But just because some of its more colorful wheels have come flying off, that doesn’t mean the GOP clown car isn’t still moving down the road toward the November elections.
We thought we’d take a look at some of the brazen falsehoods offered up by the candidates who remain standing today.
1. Mitt Romney: No Apologies
Mitt Romney wrote a book called “No Apology,” and has repeatedly said on the campaign trail that Obama took a world tour at the beginning of his presidency to issue mea culpas to dastardly foreigners everywhere. This lie is so brazen not only because it never happened, but also because Romney uses the talking-point in speech after speech.
Ironically, as James Taub noted in the New York Times, “In a major speech in Cairo in 2005, Condoleezza Rice, then Mr. Bush’s secretary of state, said that ‘for 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East — and we achieved neither.’ What was she doing if not apologizing on behalf of the United States — and vowing to put an end to a pattern of misguided policy?”
2. Newt Gingrich: Christmas Warrior
Why should the nutjobs at Fox News have all the fun? In Davenport, Iowa, on December 19, Gingrich revealed the results of something he said he’d “been investigating … for the last three days.” What was it?
Apparently if the president sends out Christmas cards, they are paid for the Democratic or Republican National Committees because no federal official at any level is currently allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ And the idea, I think, is that the government should be neutral. … I’m going to go back and find out how was this law written, when was it passed. We’ve had this whole — in my mind — very destructive attitude in the last 50 years that we have to drive religion out of public life.
Guess what? Yup – he just pulled that one out of… perhaps one of those mass emails your crazy right-wing uncle keeps forwarding you.
3. Ron Paul: New Poll Shows That Everyone Agrees With Me!
We’d guess that most Americans haven’t given much thought to Ron Paul’s quixotic quest to return the United States to the gold standard and the regular cycle of booms and crushing busts that long accompanied it.
But on January 3, Paul told his supporters, “today there was a national poll that came out and they were talking about how many people supported the gold standard. How long has it been since they’ve taken a national poll on the gold standard? And guess what? The majority of the American people believe we should have a gold standard and not a paper standard!”
Politifact asked Paul’s campaign to provide some documentation, and they were pointed to a column that referenced three polls showing slim majorities of respondents holding a favorable view of the idea, but they were polls of only Republicans and Republican leaners, and they were conducted in just three states. A real national poll, meanwhile, found that the gold standard is on the wish-list of a minority of Americans.
4. Santorum: A Dingo Is Eating Your Baby! (Or Something)
Rick Santorum is obviously a man who is fascinated with dead babies and inflammatory rhetoric.
Last March, he married the two in an attack on Obama at the Iowa Faith and Freedom conference. Speaking of a wingnutty bill that would require doctors to treat fetuses after “botched abortions,” Santorum said that Obama had opposed the measure when he was in the Illinois state senate, which was true, but then went on to claim that Obama had “said in fact that any child, prior to nine months of gestation would be able to be killed.” He added: “Think about that: any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed. Now, who’s the extremist in this abortion debate?”
There are some things that shouldn’t even need to be debunked. Obviously, no politician would ever go on record saying something so crazy – that’s just common sense.
But if you really need to verify that Obama never suggested anything of the sort, here’s the fact check.
5. Romney’s Tax Fairytales
Mitt Romney said he wouldn’t release his returns, then he said he’d release them in April and then Newt Gingrich gave him a hard time and he folded. It’s courage like that which makes one wonder how he’d deal with North Korea.
Anyway, the returns show that the “unemployed” candidate made over $40 million in 2010 and 2011, and paid 13.9 percent in taxes on those sums. A paltry figure, and Romney is responding to the criticism he’s received on the topic with two age-old and wholly dishonest conservative talking-points, and an additional sleight-of-hand, all rolled into one juicy bundle of mendacity.
Via Think Progress, this is what he told Univision’s Jorge Ramos in an interview this week:
ROMNEY: One of the reasons why we have a lower tax rate on capital gains is because capital gains are also being taxed at the corporate level. So as businesses earn profits, that’s taxed at 35 percent, then as they distribute those profits as dividends, that’s taxed at 15 percent more. So, all total, the tax rate is really closer to 45 or 50 percent.
RAMOS: But is it fair what you pay, 13 percent, while most pay much more than that?
ROMNEY: Well, again, I go back to the point that the, that the funds are being taxed twice at two different levels.
Mendacious talking point, the first: “double-taxation.” We don’t tax “funds” in this country, we tax transactions. If a company turns a profit on its transactions, it pays taxes on that profit. When it pays money out to investors as dividends, or when investors sell stock at a profit, those transactions are also taxed. No transaction is taxed twice.
Mendacious talking point, the second: that 35 percent tax rate. That’s the top corporate tax rate on the books, but because businesses take advantage of all manner of loopholes, the effective rate – what they actually pay — is actually far lower. It’s a classic conservative talking-point that we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, but the reality is that we collect less in corporate taxes than most developed countries. Studies of some of the biggest companies have shown their effective tax rates to be, on average, less than half of what’s on the books.
And the sleight-of-hand: Bain Capital is a Limited Liability Company. This is what’s known as a “pass-through” structure, meaning that the company pays zero in corporate income taxes – the partners’ shares are taxed as income or losses on their personal returns, and in this case, most of the gains are investment income taxed at 15 percent.
In other words, even if we bought the “double-taxation” nonsense and the 35 percent rate, his talking-point still wouldn’t be true.
6. “Nancy Pelosi May Destroy the Entire Gop With a Single Wave of Her Wand”
That headline is borrowed from Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, who reports on a dark conspiracy theory Mitt Romney has embraced to argue that Newt Gingrich is unelectable.
There seems to be a very persistent belief in some Republican and conservative circles that Nancy Pelosi is in possession of secret and damning information about Newt Gingrich that would immediately cause his presidential campaign to implode if she leaked it.
A little while ago, Pelosi said in an interview that she was familiar with “a thousand pages” of documents related to the ethics probe of Gingrich that got him bounced from Congress. That triggered the first round of right-wing conspiracy-mongering….
But, alas, she was just talking about the House Ethics Committee’s report on Gingrich’s corruption, which is already widely available. In fact, if you want to read Pelosi’s “secret” treasure-trove of damning info, it’s available online right here!
7: Gingrich: Conservative Republicans Are Secret Liberals
Speaking of which, Newt himself is offering a big lie about his ethics troubles. He said this week that he’d been wholly exonerated in the investigation – an odd claim given that he was sanctioned by the House and it fined him $300,000 to cover the costs of the investigation.
Perhaps that’s not as bad as the fib he offered gullible Fox News viewers in December. Gingrich told Greta Van Susteren that the House Ethics Committee (then called the Standards of Official Conduct Committee), “was a very partisan political committee and that the way I was dealt with related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than to ethics. And I think in that sense, [the campaign issue] actually helps me in getting people to understand, this was a Nancy Pelosi-driven effort.”
But, as Politifact noted in awarding Gingrich a “pants on fire” for the claim, three of the four Republicans on the committee voted to recommend that Gingrich be sanctioned, and then the “full House went on to pass the ethics report 395 to 28, with 196 Republicans voting for it and just 26 voting against it.”
8. Newt Lies About Food Stamps
Gingrich lies shamelessly about food stamps – it makes him look hip with the Ayn Rand crowd. He has said, repeatedly, that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” And while it’s true that the overall number of folks receiving nutritional assistance is at an all-time high, thanks to a crushing recession, Gingrich’s claim is simply false: 444,574 more people were added to the program under Bush than during Obama’s term.
But that one may not be as brazen as a claim he made in November in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “We now give [benefits] away as cash,” he said. “You don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don’t you want to be compassionate?”
This is just silly. According to the USDA’s rules, “households can use benefits to buy groceries or to buy seeds and plants which produce food. (In some places where subsistence fishing is the norm, such as remote areas of Alaska, recipients can also pay for nets, hooks, fishing line, rods, harpoons and knives.) And in some areas, restaurants can be authorized to accept SNAP benefits from qualified homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.”
As for the millionaires, no again. To be eligible for benefits a family can’t be earning more than 30 percent over the poverty line.
9. How Many Jobs Plans Have the GOP Blocked?
During a January 16 debate, Mitt Romney said of Obama, “Three years into office, he doesn’t have a jobs plan.”
We’re guessing this will be an oft-repeated talking point as the campaign progresses. It’s also a brazen bit of historical revisionism. As the AP notes, “Like them or not, Obama has proposed several plans intended to spur the economy and create jobs.”
From the stimulus to the payroll tax deal, Obama’s offered all sorts of plans that the GOP, eager to go into the election with a sluggish economy, has blocked. The most recent of these, as the AP notes, was offered just a few months ago:
In September, Obama introduced his most recent jobs plan, rolling it out in a speech to the full Congress in which he urged Congress to “pass it right away.” It included $450 billion in tax cuts and new spending, including greater cuts to payroll taxes and tax breaks for companies that hire those who’ve been out of work for six months or more. Almost none of it has been passed into law.
10. Romney’s Mythical War on Religion
Romney’s got a little problem: many of the evangelicals who have long served as the foot-soldiers in GOP campaigns really, really hate Mormons. So, Mitt’s trying desperately to shore up support by showing that he’s as dedicated to the culture wars as any good American right-winger.
Here’s what he said on a conference call with Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition on Wednesday:
Then of course there’s the assault on religion….now he’s gone forward and said that religious institutions, universities, hospitals and so forth, religious institutions have to provide free contraceptives to all their employees, even if that religious institution is opposed to the use of contraception, as in the case of the Catholic Church. Even in that regard, fighting to eliminate the conscience clause for healthcare workers who wish not to provide abortion services or contraceptives in their workplace, in their hospital for instance. It’s an assault on religion unlike anything we have seen.
There’s been an assault on marriage. I think he is very aggressively trying to pave the path to same-sex marriage.
Two problems here. First, much to the frustration of his LGBT supporters, Obama doesn’t favor gay marriage. Second, as Igor Volsky (who reported Romney’s comments for Think Progress) notes, “Federal regulations contain clear provisions in three separate laws shielding federally funded healthcare providers’ right of conscience.”
For instance, the1976 Church Amendment “prevents the government (as a condition of a federal grant) from requiring healthcare providers or institutions to perform or assist in abortion or sterilization procedures against their moral or religious convictions,” the Coats Amendment of 1996 prohibits the government from “discriminating” against medical residency programs or other entities that lose accreditation because they fail to provide or require training in abortion services” and the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment of 2004 “forbids federal, state and local governments from requiring any individual or institutional provider or payer to perform, provide, refer for, or pay for an abortion.”
These “conscience clauses” are also enshrined in Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act. So, thankfully, the Christian majority remains just as un-oppressed today as it has been in the past.
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)
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