Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
~Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Ok, Mitt…that’s it. For the most part, I have remained indifferent to this presidential election on here. But, I can no longer sit idly by and suffer this cluelessness and ineptitude. Romney has cavorted from flip-flopper to keenly out of touch to disingenuous and back. So, excuse my words, but they are deserved.

Just think of the last few weeks alone.  First, Mitt carelessly branded Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Then, he made his much ballyhooed jaunt to Britain, Israel and Poland, only to commit silly diplomatic gaffes upon gaffes. Later, Romney uttered the outrageous statement that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks” that savagely killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. Last week, when asked by George Stephanopolous whether $100,000 is considered middle income, he responded: “No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” Each time, the spin doctors emerged to try to quell the bleeding.

Now, at a $50,000-a-plate closeted fund raiser the former governor turned lifelong political candidate callously remarked that the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes are people who are: “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

He droned on dismissively to his “have more” base: “(M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It is crucial to remember this — Mitt’s lengthy rant was no brief blunder or momentary slip. No, we have all seen, heard, and maybe even done that. Instead, this was a premeditated discourse reflecting ingrained disdain for the common working man and woman. Romney was candidly sharing the wealthy elite’s long-held, shameful contempt for the unworthy masses. That is and was the overwhelming evidence. His speech alone, and the stream of GOP affirmations afterward are undeniable proof.

Those moochers, those serfs — real people like combat soldiers, college students, scholars, student athletes, public school teachers, seniors, farm workers, low rung researchers, child welfare and medicare recipients, social security beneficiaries, janitors, unpaid spouses, sale clerks, cooks, retirees, aides, mechanics, waiters, lower management, modestly paid workers, wounded veterans, laborers, welfare workers, low income families, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, and so on — just deserve no place in the GOP’s political calculus. According to Mitt’s mythical math, these freeloaders take pains to avoid paying federal income taxes and wallow around feeling victimized. Those good folks are just another of Romney’s many write-offs — lowly peasants undeserving of his concern.

By the way, what is it about contemptuously calling others “you people” and “those people,” Ann and Mitt? I suspect we all know.

Well, it always does take one of you people to know one of those people, Ann and Willard. Romney has by his own admission been “unemployed” for years choosing instead to carp and complain about others while hiding behind the lectern on his endless campaign trail. Ann does not work and has never paid federal income taxes from a job. Using a host of accountants and lawyers, Romney has also openly benefited from similar federal tax deductions, write-offs, credits and breaks that allow many “entitled” working Americans to avoid paying federal income taxes that would otherwise be due. In 2010 alone, a jobless Romney had a federal adjusted gross income of $21.6 million yet paid only $3 million in income taxes, a measly 13.9% of his annual income. Without the preferential investor treatment offered him under our tax code, Romney avoided federal income taxes at the top marginal rate of 35%, or $7.56 million — affording Mitt a tidy government subsidy on his federal income taxes for that year alone in the amount of $4.56 million.

This makes no mention of Mitt’s mother Lenore Romney’s words: “[George Romney] was a refugee from Mexico (and) was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities.” His own father was a public aid recipient as a child — just another one of those victims whose family believed he was “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” — the part of society’s dregs that Romney so fervently disses.

Seems one Paul Ryan was even tossed in that rank pleb bag with the other deplorable 47%, as an unemployed, student social security survivor beneficiary as well as flipping ­­burgers at McDonald’s, steering the Oscar Mayer wienermobile, and slinging cheap margaritas. But for politics, a slacker most of his life according to his running mate. Perhaps it’s time to peer into the mirrors again, Guv’nor and Robin, before you arrogantly fabricate reality.

Now the Romney campaign is in damage containment mode, feverishly shaking the campaign etch-a-sketch pad (again). Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidates in tight races have rapidly distanced themselves from their presidential ticket. Of course, there was no hint of apology or repentance from the Romney camp. Contrition, however slight, is just not part of their vocabulary. Ann Romney said her hubby’s comments were “taken out of context” and the notably subterranean Paul Ryan mentioned that his boss’ words were “inarticulate.” Right wing pundits used words like “confused,” “messed up,” “inartful,” less than “ideal language,” then inexplicably twirled to “factually accurate,” “the truth,” and a “win for Romney.” For his part, Romney first grinned saying that his comments were “not elegantly stated,” and “off the cuff,” then clumsily pirouetted to an argument against the redistribution of wealth, now asserting he believed in an America where “government steps in to help those in need,” because “we’re a compassionate people.” Really? Remember, Mitt, you spouted that those people on the back side are not worthy of your attention.

No amount of truth spinning or word warping can make this right. It is flat wrong, even insulting, to directly pander to the underprivileged, unemployed, and middle/lower income earners and then treat them with utter disdain behind closed doors. Romney has shown a merciless lack of empathy for and now has openly denigrated nearly half of the citizens of this nation. Apparently, that is just another plank in his bewildering and bleak political ideology that he prays will span to the White House (built by the 47%).

Seems a long simmering stew is in order.

RAGOUT D’AGNEAU PROVENCAL (LAMB STEW PROVENCAL)

4 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry thoroughly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T duck fat
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
3 medium heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C beef stock
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium eggplant, stemmed, cut into chunks
2 red peppers, seeded, roasted and cut into strips
2-3 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 300 F

Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Heat duck fat and olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the lamb nicely on both sides. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and cook the onions until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. While the onions are browning, peel, quarter and seed the tomatoes over a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reserve the tomatoes and juice. Pour the tomato juice into a 2 cup glass and then add enough red wine to fill. Deglaze the onions with the combined stocks, stirring up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add the wine and tomato juice mixture. Add the browned lamb, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and garlic.  Cover and bake about 1 hour 30 minutes.

While the lamb cooks, salt the eggplant and set in a colander to drain, about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.   Once the lamb has cooked as above, add the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, cover and cook for another 1 hour.

Then,  remove the lid, add the zucchini and cook another 30 minutes uncovered.

 Remove from the oven and discard the herbs. Spoon the lamb stew onto plates over artisinal noodles.

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“The truth is I’m getting old,” I said. “We already are old,” she said with a sigh. “What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it.”
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

A pathetic attempt at an empty chair stunt interspersed with a rambling monologue disguised as an endorsement speech at the Republican National Convention. There comes a time, Clint, and it was well before the other night.  (Just a suggestion–if you truly care tell him “no more, babe” on your reality TV spot, Dina.)

A strangely dawdling and disheveled Eastwood was not greeted by curtain calls or roses afterwards. Mocked and ridiculed, words like debacle, bizzare, odd, incoherent, surrealistic, clownish, and awkward welcomed him off stage, in print and on line. The Romney team distanced themselves from his crass, ad-libbed performance and accusations ensued. “Not me’s!” echoed through the convention halls.  Even nicely nice Ann offered a lukewarm review, branding it unique (translation?) and later suggesting she would have preferred the family scrapbook video as opposed to the The Outlaw Josie Wales backdrop for an intro. As NPR correspondent Mara Liasson remarked, seeing Ann Romney during the octogenarian’s address was like watching “the mother of the bride listening to a drunken wedding toast.” Some finger pointing was deserved as it seems Clint, who is no thespian by any stretch, was not prepped or vetted by any Romney advisor before his disastrous improvisation. Nor did he seem in the least bit prepared. He simply was furnished the bare prop, mumbled some hollow assurances, and then bombed on air.

A few words on the empty chair technique, in case you may not know, Clint and friends. A long used device in therapy and courtroom circles, it should be thoroughly thought out, choreographed, and rehearsed repeatedly as there are no re-shoots, cuts or edits.  A contrivance not to be undertaken half-assed, or…well, you saw.  Chair placement and angle, audience and speaker distances and positions should be properly portioned, aligned “on stage.” The empty chair should be an intimate, interactive, seemingly spontaneous moment where the onlooker engages in a role-played conversation with an imagined person (here, President Obama). Questions from the speaker must be carefully crafted: concise, pointed, pithy, curtly phrased with pregnant pauses, open ended yet slightly suggestive, collaborative, never rambling, with no obvious answers flagrantly offered by the orator. In a persuasive setting, non-verbal gestures are used to anchor the messages. While the audience chimes in, the missing soul in the empty chair is made to silently bear the story of his supposed culpability. Once that Harvey in the chair has been blamed, simply walk away or embrace depending on the scene. The audience’s feelings and catharsis, not the speaker’s, are paramount. On almost all counts, the gimmick failed and was a flop. With one exception–Clint’s aimless “speech” seemed metaphorical.  An old white man’s meandering rant at an imaginary black president.

Ironically, a few months ago in Detroit another old white man delivered what was originally billed as a cornerstone economic speech to a whole sea of empty chairs. Are there common threads?

Since you went ahead and made our day fellas, we can regale in some zesty fare down Yucatán way.

POLLO EN ESCABECHE (CHICKEN WITH VINEGAR)

8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 t whole black peppercorns
1/4 t allspice berries
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t cumin seeds
1 t dried oregano
Pinch of sea salt

1-2 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 t all purpose flour

3 1/2 C chicken stock
3 1/2 C cold water
2 1/2 lbs. (8) chicken thighs
1 medium carrot, thickly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 t coarsely ground black pepper
1 t cumin seeds
1 t dried oregano
3 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt

1 T all purpose flour
2 medium white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 anaheim peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into strips
2-3 T canola or extra virgin olive oil
3 T apple cider vinegar

Roast garlics in a heavy skillet over medium heat until soft inside, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan, allow to cool, then peel off and discard the skins. Mince and set aside. Roast the peppercorns, allspice, cloves, cumin and oregano in a small to medium heavy sauté pan until aromatic. Do not burn. Allow to cool and then grind in a spice grinder or coffee mill devoted to that purpose. Transfer to a small bowl and add salt. Mash the herbs and spices and garlic together to form a smooth paste, thoroughly working in the cider vinegar and flour. Let stand overnight in the refrigerator in a sealed container before using.

Bring stock and water to a boil in a large, heavy Dutch oven, and add chicken to cover. Skim off foam that rises during the first few minutes of simmering. Add carrot, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin, oregano, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic, and salt. Partially cover and simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, until the juices run clear when the thighs are pierced. Remove pan from the heat and with a slotted spoon, remove thighs from the broth, arrange in a baking dish, and tent with foil. Strain broth, skim fat and set aside about 2-3 cups.

Rub one-half of reserved spice paste over the skin side of the chicken and place in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours. Then, lightly dust the spice covered side of the chicken with flour, shaking off any excess.

Drizzle oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add chicken, skin side down, and sauté until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Drain, place in a baking dish and tent.

Return the pan to the heat and add onions and chilies. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, reserved broth and remaining spice paste, stirring to dissolve. Simmer for several minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasonings and add whatever is missing. Serve in shallow bowls, topped with a dollop of the onion mixture and some reserved broth.

Pleb Grub — Bean Stew

December 22, 2011

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.
~Hon. Louis Dembitz Brandeis, United States Supreme Court Justice

Given the season, a mirthful post seemed more in order, like prattling about some trendy or classic dish to grace the family’s holiday table. But, for the last few decades I have sadly read about and observed the parallel surges of excessive wealth and abject poverty which threaten to inexorably still this already declining young republic. America has allowed profligate inequality to flourish, and I felt an urge to disgorge and then stew.

America has become a blatantly entrenched plutocracy: 1% of the people take home nearly one quarter of the nation’s income, and 1% of the people control nearly 40% of the nation’s wealth.

Somber socio-economic stats, and there are more. From 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of the total increase in American income was allotted to the richest 1 percent. The ratio of the average income of the nation’s “upper crust” to the median household income has skyrocketed since The Gipper took office. The richest 1% of Americans’ household income rose 275% between 1979 and 2007, while the income of the poorest one-fifth grew 18% over the same period.

In 1965, the average CEO earned 24 times more than the average worker. Just forty years later, the average CEO in the United States receives 262 times the pay of the average worker. Starkly reduced to dollars and cents, Walmart’s CEO will earn more in the next hour than a new hourly employee will earn over the next year. Toward the end of GW’s reign, careless executives who selfishly brought our economy to brink of ruin, even those who presided over failed corporations, demanded prompt bailouts from the citizenry while continuing to gorge on obscene compensation packages including embarassingly lavish, undeserved “performance” bonuses. The financial arena, ie., Wall Street, has been particularly blameworthy. My father used to mutter that “no person is worth $1M per year.” While that sum may be a tad understated in today’s market, financial house and other CEO salaries and bonuses seem to bespeak of nothing more than bloated egos.

One third or more of Americans exist at or are precipitously close to the federal poverty level which is a paltry $22,350 for a family of four. That’s called plenty of nothing for no one. And on any given night, some 750,000 men, women, and children are homeless in this land.

When compared, income inequality in this country borders on downright shameful. The United States continues to outpace other developed economies with one of the greatest divides between rich and poor on earth. Our nation ranks near the bottom feeder end of the inequality scale keeping company with the likes of Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ecuador. Income levels here are more unequal than those in Russia, which in the last century alone has endured three popular revolutions to overthrow dreaded oligarchies, a devastating world war, and lengthy bread lines throughout. A more unequal distribution of wealth exists here than in those traditional banana republics we have so maligned in the past like Nicaragua or Venezuela. Simply put, income inequality is more severe in this country than in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

To worsen matters, while the income and wealth gaps grow here, this country continues to fall further behind other industrialized countries in education, research, health care, child well-being, technology and infrastructure investment. Lagging in these vitals, these fundamentals, while suffering from wealth disparity are ominous signs of a declining society.

The vexing schism between the ultra rich and the rest of the nation has undeniably broadened. An unsavory me-first mentality has emerged with short or no shrift given to notions of fairness and the social contract. Alex de Toqueville once observed that the genius of American society was founded upon “self interest properly understood.” This collective national empathy with an eye toward the common welfare has rapidly waned while wealth has been steadily concentrating in upper echelons. The sense of national identity in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community is on the verge of being lost. It has been replaced by a sense of inequity, sometimes even iniquity. As Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow remarked, “Vast inequalities of income weakens a society’s sense of mutual concern…The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization.”

There is precedent, as wealth inequalities existed in civilizations long since in ruin. Yet even the Roman Empire, a class structured society of haves and have nots (including slaves), had a more equitable distribution of income than current America. Historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen poured over papyri ledgers, previous scholarly estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages to assess income distribution in the Roman Empire. Much like this country, a story of two ancient Romes emerged, one hoarding substantial wealth and the other subsiding on meager wages or facing poverty. Those who barely got by were paid just enough to survive daily but never enough to prosper. Others starved.

Professors Schiedel and Friesen concluded that when the empire was at its population zenith (about 150 CE), the top 1% of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, contrasted with the top 1% of Americans controlling 40 percent. An imperial ancient empire ruled by an emperor and elite few, based upon conquests overseas, conceived of an expected inequality of income between classes and requiring a robust slave population had less wealth disparity than today’s United States.

The recent income and wealth disparities in this country were not happenstance. In 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell, a board member of the tobacco giant Philip Morris and soon a United States Supreme Court Justice, sent a confidential memorandum to his friends at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. In it, he railed against the “attack on the American free enterprise system” not just from a few “extremists of the left,” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society.” He urged the Chamber to place the media under surveillance and also advocated that political power must be “assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell envisaged new think tanks and legal foundations which when united with the Chamber and corporate America could wield immense political power. Once circulated amongst nation’s boardrooms, there was a call to arms and the Chamber arranged a task force of businesses whose charge was to coordinate this corporate crusade. The Chamber soon tripled its budget, aggressive conservative think tanks and foundations mushroomed, right-wing lobbying efforts were magnified, and political power was brandished to discourage economic equality and shared prosperity. The Repbulican Party would now begin to take a decidedly rightward lurch.

William Simon, who had served as Nixon’s secretary of the treasury, later published a manifesto entitled A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and “the heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He asked “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressives. With nearly limitless funds, they embarked on a jihad to embellish corporate rights, purchase candidates, curry legislative favor, procure lobbyists, garner power, espouse rightist ideologies, sway public opinion, amass the country’s wealth, etc. Imperiously, they have proclaimed “it worked!” But, truly did it or will it?

Economic studies suggest that rapacious income inequality leads to more financial distress. Stated otherwise, greater income equality positively correlates with stronger economic growth. An economy like America’s where each year commoners are doing worse, not better, will not succeed in the long run. This country’s income distribution has grown decidedly lopsided, and growing inequality has tranlated to shrinking opportunities. Discouragingly, the fundamental idea of upward mobility has faded, causing the proverbial American dream to disappear.

To suggest that such extreme financial inequity was neither contrived by the wealthy nor exists in today’s America are both opinions that range between naïveté and arrogant ignorance. These egregious inequalities are not only economically inimical but morally repulsive. Rapacious greed is not good—it is plunder. And please do not crassly slough fiscal inequality off as simply lower caste “envy” like a myopic, flip-flopping oligarch has. Yes, you Willard. The indigent should be take umbrage at and be righteously indignant about such haughty, heartless rhetoric.

Unless compromises are reached to explore and secure reforms to assuage this dire problem, I fear that our republic will be reduced to rubble too. Economic injustice tends to sire revolt. Equanimity and empathy, not egocentric upper class partisanship, are in desperate need.

Food calls. This is a divine winter stew that works in a pinch.

CHICKEN, SAUSAGE & BEAN STEW

2-3 Italian sausages, sliced 3/4″ thick, diagonally

5 lbs chicken parts (wings, backs, necks, gizzards, hearts)
1 1/2 lbs navy or white beans, picked over and rinsed
2 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in halves
2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped in halves
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped in halves
1 small turnip, peeled and chopped in quarters
1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped in half
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 C chicken stock
8 C cold water

Fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high. Add the sausage and brown, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook as they will be reheated later. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside. Wipe the pot out with a towel.

Put the chicken in same large pot, and add beans, onions, celery, carrots, turnip, parsnip, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper, stock and water. Bring to a boil, then skim the foam off the surface. Cover, reduce the heat to a lively simmer and cook about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. With tongs, remove the chicken pieces from pot and place in a bowl to cool some. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables, garlic and herbs. Discard the garlic and herbs only. Reserve the vegetables in a bowl too.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull off the meat and discard the skin and bones. There should be about 2 1/2 cups of meat. Coarsely chop the onions, celery, carrots, turnip, and parsnip. Slice the gizzards and hearts. Add the vegetables, chicken and sausage to the pot and carefully mix with the cooked beans. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until heated, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Serve in bowls garnished with fresh parsley.