Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Old Wave

Avast me hearties. Just your little old whine maker, me trying to collect some enthusiasm to kick the last of this dun colored year to the curb. I didn't exactly lose my taste for politics this year so much as my desire to talk about it. Clearly, the Prez was racking up wins while the people paid to pay attention were paying attention mainly to themselves, and that's okay. Selfishness has been the paradigm since Ronnie breezed in from Cali, and the results of which, for some good but mostly ill, hoot at us from trees every day.

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I remarked on President's Obama's surfing skills, a natural outcome, I submit, of his Hawaiian birth and boyhood. And let me tell you, my aggrieved liberal buddies, I was way right.

Surfers do not make the wave, okay? They find one then they try to ride. There's a hell of a lot of judgment and skill needed to go far; it's hard to look good, and every so often you miss one (and I think I'm done belaboring this point.)

If the Prez seems to go out of his way to piss-off those supporters rather more to the left of the common body politic, it may well be to goad them into broader action and appeal, or demonstrate the limited capability of their swell. Either outcome is fine by me. I am not so high-minded as to insist about what could have been. Line up the votes, then flog the other side as hard as you can. Some might wonder with some justice if the Great Accommodater even does that much, which will be my subject for next time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Links All

Before launching back here in earnest (any day now), a little blogroll housekeeping. Out are a couple college pals who've not posted in months; in are two others well-met at Alma Mater.

Fluff Chance writes about clothes in a loving and deeply knowledgeable way, and can handle a pair of shears like nobody's biz. And, fresh off the high board, John "The Man Who Would Be" King has always been something of a problem (I could tell stories from long ago), but he was a big wheel in advertising in Chicago, and a colossal addict, until a few years ago when his lower lumbar started disintegrating. Sober now, on painkillers, he's writing about it all.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

#603

No real meaning to the title above, other than this post's position in the ongoing series here. And while I have been pleased to be wrong before in these pages, my long-standing call that the Democrats' line would bend, not break yesterday is about as wrong as I've been.

I find reasons to be cheerful however. Let us posit that a good number of wet and cowardly Dems went down to deserved defeats. Unwilling to campaign on the real accomplishments of this session, they got gassed in No Man's Land and it is their own fucking fault. So farewell, you Blue Dogs; I'm not sure we'll see your likes again.

For the liberal wing, Russ Feingold and Raul Grijalva, imho, played HCR too cute by half. There is a pretty solid line between idealism and grandstanding; and though they both ended by doing the right thing, must have left some former loyalists wondering why they were in Washington. Feingold was repaid with the most apathetic constituency in the nation, and a big fat L; right now it looks like Grijalva will eke out a 2-3% win.

I am sorry most about the Senate results in Illinois and Pennsylvania. But--trust me here--Giannoulias, as able as he might have been as a senator, was a poor candidate, bland and tainted. As for Joe Sestak, maybe if the Big Fat Slob reads this he can expound a bit in comments.

So much for the losers, the "winners" provide a more delectable dish to pick over, which I will do shortly. Until then, let me observe that I still think the GOP has been shattered to pieces, a grab bag of knaves supervised by idiots. Events will soon reveal the chaos that lurks. But right now I'll lay even odds Boehner won't be Speaker come summer recess; if, that is, he ever gets to be Speaker at all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wrong Right

I was braced to read (via Sullivan) of one conservative feeling very much like myself regarding the coming electoral contest. Being mainly:

Gaining 35 seats in the House is impressive, and it will be the second-largest turnover in my lifetime, but after the overhyping of Republican chances for the last year it will seem anticlimactic and unsatisfying.

I will add that the overhyping was as much a product of the progressive fever swamp, your Silvers, Marshalls, and Yglesiasi than the overheated vents over at FUX. The reasons are several: the surety of consensus in the light of historic trends (Matty and Josh), the need to attract eyeballs (Josh and Josh), the desire to appear knowing, and to please the new corporate underwriter (Nate); all aided, to be sure, by fractious and cowardly insecure Democratic elected officials, a no-shit, tough-shit economic landscape, and a chief executive as willing to frustrate his allies as undermine his enemies.

Ignored by people who should know better are the mitigating factors, frequently enumerated here, of big wheel demographic trends, GOP failure and brainlessness, a politico-infotainment media which pays attention only to itself, and the essential practicality of a broad electorate that has become less and less susceptible (my theory) to the blandishments of brain-dead political ads.

Weeks ago I insisted that Democratic losses would be on the low side of what's predicted, at the time something like 15-20, and that both houses would remain in trembling Democratic hands. I see no reason to change this view, even if the under has been upped to 35.

What very few in the business have bothered to consider, and what will be a big topic in a week's time, are the fatal implications for a GOP which has inhaled a bunch of belligerent nitwits without grasping the power needed to keep them from running amok, and the old party from flying to furious pieces.

Monday, October 18, 2010

As Promised

The weekend slipped away before I could make good on my promise (made in the comments to the last post) to follow-up a couple points from last time, main one being how no one in the "free" press is bothering to consider what will happen in the GOP should the blockheads fail to take the House as promised (w/ the Senate looking safer for the Dems by the day.)

I'll tell you what: a fucking bloodletting the likes of which haven't been seen since Lincoln's re-election. Not only are the furies set to devour the dim Bohner and the canting Cantor, but there is sure to be a viral host of T-P'ers injected into the body of the party at several levels (Personally, as a worshiper of the Aqua Boogie--the lad was surely confused on this point--I am rooting for Rand Paul) who will certainly bring a final air of disaster to the Grown Old Party.

Of course, the MSM will make the turmoil out to be a positive thing, the GOP will gain seats after all; but falling short of summer's lofty goals, after spending all that money, will NOT sit well for a bunch of Red constituencies which have been persuaded to hold fire until now. Also will dawn the reality that they are utterly screwed for '12.

One aspect of the Tea Party phenomenon also gone unremarked on is how it's really a breathtaking repudiation of the system of conferred majesty which rendered that squalid little man, you remember--the war criminal?, the nomination in 2000. That little twerp was massaged into the job starting right after his dad beat Dukakis, the inevitable, and fatal, political logic of which has been commented on here many times.

Nope, they may end up with Mike Huckabee and some desert state sheriff as his running mate in 2012, but by God, no more rich asshole sons of rich assholes.

For in sucking-in the Great White South a generation ago, the Republicans not only gained a couple generations of dependable electoral gains, they also took in an essentially populist, chip-on-the-shoulder, lost-cause white belligerence which tends to look terrible on television, especially when it is elderly, out-of-step, and losing.

I'd say any smart and poised conservative political movement could have made definitive gains this cycle, but you can't define shit when you don't stand for anything, beside anger at the present and power for its own sake. The GOP is a party shot-through with craven and dumb fuck-ups, bound to fuck-up in three weeks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels (cont.)

How can I forget you, my several readers? But what can I say? I wish we lived in more interesting times.

But wait, Will (I hear someone say) aren't the times interesting enough already? To which I'll reply that while we don't lack for incident, interest is sorely lacking. "Tis a dull circus indeed.

(You will have to pardon me, The History of Tom Jones is on the nightstand, and I find Fielding's high style contagious.)

Which is to say this has been the drearyist election season in ten years, thanks in large part to a media entertainment apparatus devoted to the fortunes of the Republican party, even as it burns, crackles and blows away. Precious little space is given anywhere to considering the outcome if the GOP does not win control of both houses, or even the House itself, an event which I still very much doubt. Instead we are given polls and profiles to understand, tactics and policies to bicker over, and a recent history of the Congress and Obama administration which no Democrat is entirely comfortable embracing or running from. Noise and anxiety predominate; and, I submit, that it isn't an accident that these are two products delivered most reliably via your TV set.

Which is to say the magic lantern is trying to reproduce the best possible conditions for magic lanterns. For just as surely as FUX has consumed the GOP, the entire political arena has been moved to the confines of the Box, where a reality prevails which, though familiar, bears no relation to what obtains in everyday life.

(Note that I avoid any notion of the "real world", as TV has ambitions of depicting that, and in truth a great many consider television to be as much a part of their real worlds as, oh, school, their jobs, or social lives.)

We don't vote on TV yet and, I believe, most people who take the right seriously enough to do so regularly, and reliably in an off-year, are not moved by their passions as much as TV would like us to believe. I also think Americans are still a fundamentally practical people who have at this late date also grown fairly sophisticated to the ways of advertising. Which is to say the two pillars of potential GOP success this season look a bit shakey to me.

Indeed one may consider all the money spent on TV ads to be a sign of how ineffective they are. Put simply: why run 100 if 10 will do the job? Consultants have an answer for that, of course, but it is self-serving.

Of course another, very big, reason why the season lacks excitement is an administration hellbent on promoting its brand of technocratic skill which mocks the passion, and several of the political ideals, which put it there in the first place. At best it is understandable and annoying, at worst--e.g. where it "works" to end DADT at one end of town while defending it in another--it is schizophrenic, enraging. In such an environment it is hard for Dems facing reelection to know who their friends really are.

UPDATE: Ambinder re: DADT (via Sullivan)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bets

It does not take a tremendous amount of foresight, or cynicism, to predict the rollout of the GOP's Pledge to America, slated for later today, will be a gassy disaster for the Party of the Rich. Let us count the reasons why:

It is old--since something like it worked so well the last time. Well, times have changed.

There is no need--a gimmick in search of a cause. Either they are going to retake the House or they are not. It smacks of a certain inner lack of confidence.

The devil is in the details--I have a hard time believing that after running from any stands regarding budget cuts for two years they will unveil a document which takes any firm positions on how they'll reduce the deficit. Hard details will draw all kinds of fire and more of the hazy same, in writing, can only attract some overdue criticism from sources so far inclined to let them slide.

They are a fractured bunch--and the document is certain to reflect policies designed to please everyone in such general language so as to make any needed clarification in the coming days dangerous.

Social issues are killing them--I think stiff-arming DADT one last time was a stealth disaster for any party that claims to carry "freedom" into the future. Any defense of marriage nonsense, or just say no platforms, in writing, six weeks before election day, will only alienate centrists and energize so-far apathetic lefties.

They are not very bright--It cannot be emphasized enough how much influence apparently very dumb (or narrow-minded, aggressive, and stubborn--which amounts to the same) men have in shaping the message and direction over there. There is bound to be something included somewhere in the document which, once unveiled, will make nearly everyone weep, in sorrow or with joy.

In sum: call me crazy, but I do believe the Red Team has more to lose than gain with something like this; a bid to show they are in control of their destiny when it is pretty clear they are not.

UPDATE: While I was writing the above, Ez Klein--a brighter, more knowledgeable lad than yr. obdt. hmbl. svt.--was writing this.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stale, Mate

To say current events resist interpretation is a tad lazy. While nuts, the scene is all too clear. I submit that facts on the ground are not only stubborn, but boring things, and that all of the noise about the coming midterms--which will see an adjustment to the Democrats' majorities but nothing like the realignment so breathlessly invoked--is pumped out by a relatively new politico-infotainment industry which sucks-in players from the most craven and soulless NRO huckster to the sincerest Kossac out there.

I meant to point you to the level-headed Al Giordano's take on the midterms weeks ago. Still holds.

While our political process has not been hijacked, the vast industry around it has been. But even that is putting it too baldly, because that money circus has been raging for generations. What has, I submit, changed is that the associated industry, ever a self-important endeavor, has become in our self-reflecting age more important to itself than following the needs of what used to be called the polis.

Put another way, the will, and movement, of the people has gradually become secondary, maybe tertiary, to the fierce desires of the commentariot.

Years ago, a good case could be made that polling and advertising could broadly find, and slightly direct, the public instinct in an election year. I'm not so sure that holds in our fractured and rather-more-cynical republic anymore. This whole season we've had to endure the scrim of national concerns held against a very broad base of local elections, where local issues and personalities will surely prevail.

Holding up that scrim is a hypertrophic news media/public relations apparatus that's become ever more ineffective the larger it gets, and is now desperate to run after events it once was able to form.

I do believe this will be a watershed election, not only for the fortunes of the rotted GOP, rent to pieces this past year (though no one wants to say so yet), but for a very expensive constellation of media doctors, actors, and salesmen who will need to figure out what went wrong with all their fundamental assumptions about their own importance.

To illustrate in miniature: while much has been made this past week about Forbes magazine's dumb, and unprecedented, cover assault on the president, none of those taking the magazine to task have mentioned its dire financial straights (and the desperate measures which that might encourage), and how it will be a miracle if it is still a going concern in January, 2013, when President Obama takes his second oath of office.

UPDATE: Like I was saying; from E J Dionne, 9/23/10

But something is haywire in our media and our politics. Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian whose new book is "The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History," observed in an interview that there is a "hall of mirrors" effect created by the rise of "niche" opinion media. They magnify small movements into powerhouses, while old-fashioned journalism, which is supposed to put such movements in perspective, reacts to the same niche incentives.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Sigh Of Things To Come

I thought I'd get back to at least weekly posting here, but honestly the poor tenor of recent events has given me a good case of the Why Bother?'s.

I am moved today just to note the monumental cowardice of Sen H. Reid (well on his way to returning to the senate, but no longer worthy of the majority leadership) and every single one of the Democratic trimmers regarding the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

Really, if you can't stand up for the Bill of Rights as a Democrat, then go join the agate-eyed cement heads over in the GOP. They need smart people badly, and a fresh infusion of amoral dissemblers, with a somewhat more central and clearheaded understanding of how the nation should conduct itself, would only help the party and nation.

For as much as the entertainment media, and sophisticated political bloggers, hate to admit it, the GOP's ongoing hatefest is not a strong hand, and its jackpot will be very meager. GOP gains will be on the low side of what's expected and of those, a certain percentage will be outright national embarrassments, ignored by all within weeks. Others--especially those who gain blue seats in mainly conservative districts--in the wake of close outcomes and less-than-sterling national results will be probably less interested in party unity. I will also submit that the bigger surprises election night will be those unexpected Republican losers, who thought a tide of ignorance is all they needed.

Now, don't get me wrong. Cultivating ignorance plays a central role in politics. The Democratic brand of ignorance tends more towards ideas of what should be, while the Republican variety exists merely to deny, deeply and angrily, what is. Be that as it may, a successful politician must also deliver the goods. In that department the disappointing Dems have done the far better job. The GOP delivers the goods only to those who can pay top dollar. The rest of their aging, white, and shrinking herd is left to feed on stupidity and endless, empty rage.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

All Systems Goo 2

A whole two months ago, I wrote:

If things haven't been exactly lively here of late, it's been because greater events, while not exactly slowing, have fallen into a predictable groove. In Washington, the president will propose, or support, something, the right will be completely outraged, the left partially disappointed, the press happy to slant coverage towards the mass of objections, and then the thing will pass.

Considering past as prologue: Kagan? Good morning, judge. Financial reform? Done. Climate and Immigration? Just you wait.


I bring this up to make two points. One being how little real news passes through our lives each loud and maddening day, and, Two, how fucking successful the administration of B. H. Obama has been, is, and is going to be.

Thing is: I don't quibble with results. Every single outcome mentioned above, along with the health care act and financial stimulus, were carried to completion in the face of relentless political opposition, often rock-headed institutional inertia from the president's own party, and ambivalent--in fact sometimes hostile and ill-informed--press coverage. The widespread notion among "thinkers" left and right that this remarkable success spells a shellacking for Dems this fall at the polls is as nonsensical as nearly every other glass gem the media's been hawking since Vince Foster killed himself.

(For the record, I'm keeping my three-month-old prediction for Democratic losses squarely on the low side of the under. Both houses stay blue--and even a few red patriots going down in unexpected flames.)

But more about the hilarious GOP collapse next time. I wanted this post to review what might be considered White House failures in regards to where the country stands.

Certainly if the Prez could have a do-over it would be the stimulus. As is all-too clear, that $700 bil., as predicted by several smart people, was not enough to do the trick. $1.3 tril. was the better number for Mr. Krugman, but no one wanted to fight for such a scary figure, and now steep unemployment, a situation which cannot surprise anyone who's been paying attention, is the goat at the birthday party.

This trimming of sails is characteristic of every gain the president's made. While I understand the need, and mainly applaud the results, the process encourages exhaustion and disappointment among the most dedicated. Sometimes a sense of command daring is needed, especially if the leaders have proven to be smart and good, and prone to good luck.

Now, honestly, health care reform was too important to court more risk than was already built-in. The stimulus was a triage situation, needed to be done with dispatch. The framing of an inclusive and tolerant military is moving about as fast as it can. I do believe more should have been gained from financial reform, but attempting so would have only torn open a congressional vipers' nest in an election year. Can't win'em all.

I am, for now, giving a pass on our military projects overseas, shitvats of vast proportions and antique features; and taking the Aug. '11 troop withdrawal deadline more seriously than most observers.

For me the administrations biggest failures are ones of omission. That Guantanamo prison remains open is a national disgrace (the whole base, now of zero strategic importance, should be reduced, detoxed, and given to the Cubans once the Castros are history); that some fair, and forgiving, accounting for war crimes has not been made is a rotting canker on the military and nation's soul that will not go away. And there's been zero action on transportation issues which recognizes the, yes, very real Peak Oil situation. (Man, the NSA reports on the Saudi reserves have to be eye-opening.)

From the start, my greatest cabinet-level disappointment was the appointment of Tom Vilsack as Agriculture secretary, guaranteeing policy support for a Big Ag. monoculture food chain which has killed rural life, enriched corporations, and greased the skids for America's population slide into obesity. An organic vegetable garden at the White House is swell (and Mrs. Obama is a ray of constant sunshine for me) but, wow, do we need more.

My advice is, Mr. President, once the elections are past, take your pick at one of the above, and start making some outlandish demands, see what unexpected things can be done. That Sec. Vilsack has just proven himself to be an utter jackass at Agriculture's helm, may be a hint where to begin.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All Systems Goo

I don't think I need to persuade most of you that we live in an era of widespread system failure. You can see it writ on the obese bodies of our fellow citizens, in the brackish Gulf of Mexico, where Pluto has intruded on the realm of Neptune; in California's finances, in the collapse of the GOP, in the paucity of economic improvement, in the. . . well, why go on?

Eighteen months past the regime of that squalid little man, and we are now on the killing floor, as Howlin' Wolf might have put it. The only way out is forward, and a lot of us, the ones looking back, the ones who slip on the grease of their own asinine understandings of what's happening, the one's who think that everything would be just fine if only the right people are in charge, won't get there.

There are two points-of-view which roughly prevail in our current political arena. Flashiest is the idea that "the people" can somehow "rise up" and "take back" the "country" from "them", those embodied so artfully by that thug-in-chief. Hard knowing exactly how many nitwits really believe this, though I'll chance a guess at a solid 20% of the electorate, inflated to 30% by publicity and thoughtfully crafted polls.

The opposite notion, in my view just as mistaken, is the idea that, in the face of hard times, the mistaken and inept can somehow prevail. Granted, apathy is as pernicious as stupidity (and as much a result of our failed educational system), and well-intentioned Democrats (those of similar stripe having been mainly driven from the GOP) do not have a easy row to hoe from here to election day. But their way, if not free of obstacles, is clear in view, and I might spend some time describing it next time.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Checking In

Remember me? I hope everyone has been enjoying their summer (as much as possible anyway.) I just wanted to say that I have not forgotten you, my beloved 14 readers; it's just that I have not had a whole lot new to add to the national debate. Lately however I've been forming some thoughts and might start knocking some out, little by little, over the next few days. In the meantime, stay cool.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Liberty Slips

The great white hope of the great white media has been that the highly-telegenic T-party demonstrations retain their entertainment value through the election season. The great white party, however, needs something a bit more meaningful than entertainment value come November--that is, a largish wave of convincing electoral victories. The twin goals are not necessarily conflicting, but neither are they built to run together flawlessly.

One of the mistakes the great white media made, and which the parties involved had no pressing need to correct, until a few days ago, was conflating the TPers with the libertarians. Though they have little to show for it, the latter have been at this for a while, and have evolved a number of pretty respectable and consistent views regarding the government and rights of the individual, some crackpot, others which beg a wider hearing and no small sympathy from informed citizens. That they might ride a goofy entertainment fad to electoral success bothered them not a jot.

Where the libertarian model collapses, as RaPaul and his reluctant hosts are now discovering, is mostly on the hustings, where the real world constantly interferes with all those reasoned arguments and clean categorical positions. Mr. Paul complains about being the target of liberals as if he is dismayed that such a scurvy thing would be part of an election, and wishes voters to share his pique.

The only informal debate I ever had with a libertarian (a Chicago lawyer--friend of a friend--at whose home I was a party guest) revolved around abortion rights. Let those jurisdictions that wish to criminalize abortions do so, he said, and people who find this onerous move to jurisdictions that allow it. Name me a jurisdiction today, I replied, where clinics are allowed to operate without local protest. His model would not work because abortion opponents would never allow it to.

He had no reply.

Norman Mailer, a writer whom regular readers know I admire greatly, ran for mayor of New York in 1969 on something like a libertarian platform. Among his various proposals was to center police oversight on neighborhoods, each localized force upholding the particular rules of that enclosure--perhaps hash bars and whore houses in the Village, strict shabbat observance in Williamsburg. Cool, right? A vast city lawfully arranged by traditions, mores and need. But, "Mr. Mailer," an elderly jewish man asked him at a campaign stop in Queens, "what happens when their police come after our police?"

The candidate, as Joe Flaherty recorded in Managing Mailer, had no answer.

The last thing the GOP needs this year is attention drawn to their harebrained, and utterly inconsistent, positions on government. This never happened when they were a brand; but now they are just one more failing enterprise in a nation littered with 'em. The earnest and clueless Mr. Paul is no help, nor is the conflicted, minority-driven electoral movement which delivered him.

In the previous post, I suspected that Paul would not be a team player, but in fact there is no GOP team anymore, just a bunch of pick-up minor leaguers and free-agents mainly interested in cash. The gamble is that the crackpot cadres, and those who promote them, will of themselves turn into broad returns at the polls. This morning this looks more doubtful than ever. The every-man-for-himself philosophy Repubs espoused for the larger republic for so long is at last screwing them no less than it did the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Loss Leaders cont.

Pardon me if I don't read a hell of a lot into last night's local elections. The search for meaning is a broad temptation for the national political media; and a handy narrative, good until it isn't anymore, shall be cobbled thereof.

I'm not sure the mood is, as the MSM would have it, anti-incumbent, in that most of the of people who did well last night are office holders looking to move up. The exception is Rand Paul, who has now become a living laboratory (honestly, someone tell me, for his sake, that he wasn't named for Ayn) for a certain type of pressure cooker crackpot politics. He might come around and be a team player, but I doubt it. I'll venture to say that even if he wins, and one suspects there's a likable Democrat somewhere in Kentucky, the GOP broadly loses.

Going into yesterday, what I could not understand--no, hang that, I do understand, rather what's most disappointing--was the level of support Arlen Spector got from the Dem establishment. Craven, elderly, and worst of all mean (for I recall his questioning of Anita Hill), he is the epitome of everything Democrats don't need for the future. I would have been surprised if Sestak lost; that a sizable number of otherwise sensible leaders bet the other way is a shame.

But, hey, now he's gone, and, no, I don't think he'll be a credible independent candidate.

By far the most interesting, if only moderately significant, outcome was the special election for John Murtha's old seat; one more loss for the GOP in an election that, you know, actually means something. I believe they are now 0 for 7 in such contests since November, '08.

UPDATE: S. Benen further considers PA-12.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stark Fable

If things haven't been exactly lively here of late, it's been because greater events, while not exactly slowing, have fallen into a predictable groove. In Washington, the president will propose, or support, something, the right will be completely outraged, the left partially disappointed, the press happy to slant coverage towards the mass of objections, and then the thing will pass.

Considering past as prologue: Kagan? Good morning, judge. Financial reform? Done. Climate and Immigration? Just you wait.

Now certainly there's plenty of room to quibble about details in all of the above, loopholes, lack of reach, unclear agendas, etc. But the point is that there is a ton of excellent policy bloggers who cover that sort of thing. Me, I'm a big picture guy, and the big picture is: Obama wins.

The big picture, and I promise to drop this trope just as soon as I can, is consequences. What is so exquisite, and scary, about the consequences unfurling now, in the Gulf, Europe, the GOP, the Media, is that they are the fruits of errors compounded over time, generations of bad ideas and policy fuck-ups, which no one sought to correct at the time, because times were too good.

Case in point: Daily newspapers have collapsed from digital competition and an atmosphere predicated on a population of attention deficient non-readers. We can, however, trace the decline back to competition from TV, which began killing the evening papers back in the 70s. Clearly, TV was the big culprit; the intertubes only swept away a dried journalistic enterprise. But recall that newspapers never really tried to compete with TV in the first place, while doing their best to promote viewership. Then recall that newspaper owners, in fact, tended to own a LOT of TV stations too. For a while this made a very tasty package, but then the package fell apart.

Similar assumptions of profit and power have worked for the GOP since Nix '68, but decades of bad ideas and stupid policies led them to the administration of that squalid little man, their own Gulf blowout which they will never clean up after. There's a plume of toxic sludge stretching from Arizona to Alaska which will choke the life out of the host party before it gets dispersed.

Forgive me for waxing too metaphorical, but it is instructive to note that BP was drilling so deeply in the Gulf because good returns in the oil business are now found only at the extremes, where the engineering is very risky. Best not to go there, but there they went anyway, a fable for our times.

UPDATE: (via Sullivan) The End of Magical Oil, in which the writer draws parallels between deep water drilling and the financial meltdown. Nice knowing I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Truth And Consequences

I am a small and petty man, which is why stories about natural disasters in Oklahoma and Tennessee leave me with a stern satisfaction I can only characterize as biblical. I see a picture of the Opryland stage under seven feet of water and can only think, Serves them fucking right.

This is, of course, pretty sloppy reasoning. "Them" in this case includes a lot of musicians, technicians, and stage hands whose only business in life is to make people happy. When enormous tornadoes scour Oklahoma, who pays the highest price but mainly poor people without the resources to provide four strong walls and a basement?

But I also think of the elected representatives in such places, and Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida, and all those culture-issue voters tuning-in to fine patriotic entertainment returning them to office, who have for decades not only stood in the way of sensible environmental legislation, and a more compassionate attitude towards what used to be called the biosphere, but actively mocked and stigmatized those in the minority who desired such things.

People are not stupid, but they are easily led. To those of you who can't quite see the distinction, I will stipulate that it is a matter of outcomes. So long as affluence and power kept margins fat, not only in the ledgers, but also in the realms of engineering error, then it was very easy to make a satisfactory case for pillaging the planet based on selfishness and good returns. It is when margins get stretched, and break, and the hard consequences flow thereupon, that people awaken to the sight of a lot of rich white assholes blaming each other, while taking no responsibility themselves, for the shitwaves.

Back when margins were fat, there was never any need to take responsibility; unlike the case with more modest empires--Japan, say, or England--which grew with traditional issues of scarcity or powerful rivals, an etiquette for contrition and amends has never been part of our ruling class culture.

But the shitwaves have started, folks, you can be sure. It is easy to note that the teaparty crowd is mainly congregated in those sunny parts of the land where the housing prices fell the hardest; let me add that it is not coincidental either that these places were mostly remote and arid exurbs which required a great deal of gasoline, electricity and water to keep even barely operable. Arizona only wishes its biggest problem is illegal Mexican yard workers.

The nature and mass of our problems--and let me predict a coming rupture, somewhere somehow, for big Agriculture, one to mirror the crisis in the oil industry--will come to dwarf the current shouting of the petty and enraged. Solutions will have to be both large-bore and small-grained, and like-it-or-not, guided by government. I'm inclined to feel good about that, but see little to celebrate for the foreseeable.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

And Their Heads Were Hot And Fat

Towards the end of an interview David Foster Wallace gave to a German TV book show in 2003, he observes:

The thing about it [rebelling] is that in America we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing, and that it involves, y'know, action, and force, and looks good. My guess is the forms of rebellion that will end up changing anything meaningfully here will be very quiet and very individual and, uh, probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside. I'm now hoping for less interesting rather than more interesting.

(The raw interview is available on You Tube in ten sections, clip below, question and answer start at 2:25; and really should be seen in its entirety. DFW's book of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, is, I gotta say, required reading.)

I bring up this very prescient observation now to mark how futile the T-Bag movement was from the get-go--old-fashioned made-for-TV kookyness, high in entertainment value, and utterly lacking any meaningful force. That an outlet so keen on reporting its details now calls its importance exaggerated, something clear from the start, is as fine an illustration of how the Hungry Ghost media devours its own empty stomach that I can think of right now.

Say, is it my imagination of did the whole GOP project just snap the last of its drive belts this past week? We had the story quoted above; a Senate candidate who repeated her ka-razy call to barter livestock and produce for medical care (and this from a citizen from one of the desert states); the senate minority leader erasing his line in the sand over financial reform legislation after about 36 hours; the risible GOP party chair telling the truth about the party's Southern Strategy; wingers seeking to out a GOP senator from South Carolina; the gov. of Fla. looking to leave the party; while Newt Gingrich, against all evidence to the contrary, is still regarded as smart; with everything wrapped into the merry bloggy debate (followed over at Matty's and Sully's blogs) regarding the closed epistemology loop of right-wing pundits, and the pure entertainment aims of their output.

Now a lot of this stuff has been grist of the old H&J mill here for quite some time. In the information age, the guidance of doctrinaire, and stupid, leaders goes from being a solid shield to a distinct liability. What Wallace's above observation should make clear is that the old rules of media engagement and direction cannot be applied anymore. If they did, as I am fond of repeating, then the ACA would not have passed, and McConnell and Cantor would be nattering successfully about bailouts to block financial reform. Nope, all that old GOP PR-driven, TV-based, group-focused magic stopped working a few years ago, and they are fucked.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kindling

My close friend, and Cliffhanger Press editor, Joe Gioia has decided to give the new paradigm a try and has released the first chapter of his nearly-completed book to Amazon's Kindle store.

The Temple of Music is a stand-alone chronicle of the strange goings-on at the 1901 Buffalo Pan American Exposition, something that Joe likes to call fugitive history; that is, a historic account of weird stuff that really happened, but was then quickly forgotten for being too weird.

He writes: "The Temple of Music" uncovers the strange and forgotten story of Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition; the summer when singing gondoliers mixed with ghost dancers, Geronimo charged five bucks to have his picture taken, Dreamland opened for business, an electrified indian walked the night sky, and William McKinley was shot down in the ornate Temple of Music--only to have the train that took his body back to Washington end up on an Elvis Presley single a half-century later.

Alright, then. I think it's a very entertaining and informative read, and certainly worth the $3.50 to while-away a plane ride or bout of insomnia. But honestly, I'm prejudiced.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Latest Book News

Word reached the office last week that one of the five copies of Divide's Guide I donated for sale to benefit the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library was placed in the library's permanent collection in the Grosvenor Room. That my little book now resides forever in the company of the manuscript of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a breathtaking honor.

And speaking of Twain and libraries. . .

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wave Goodbye

The usual apologies for my late absence here. I have been thinking, though. Sometime last fall I sort-of promised to handicap the 11/10 elections sometime in April, and I've been trying to come to grips with the currents, if, that is, such a thing is possible.

For god knows what reason, polling wizards, most significantly Nate Silver, last summer decided that 2010 was going to be a bad off-year for the Dems, and their predictions morphed into received wisdom, right and left, with breathtaking dispatch. For months now, hotshot bloggers like Matty have taken the approaching tidal wave as a done deal, the better of them chalking it up to a natural ebb and flow of our politics, the notion that the president's majority party always does badly in the first off-year referendum of his administration.

What I needed to know in thinking about all this is which numbers are connected to "bad", and which to "good". Those were a little harder to figure, until recently at 538 Silver when came up with a figure of 15 House losses at the low end, and upwards of 50 at the high for the Dems. So, okay.

My own, long-held belief--like, going back five years--is that 2010 would be the last for the GOP as a coherent national party, an utter trouncing that would break the back of their failed beast once and for all. After reviewing the landscape, I am not inclined to trim my sails (which might be my favorite mixed metaphor so far this year.)

The GOP strategy, as yesterday's line-in-the-sand stand against financial reform indicates, is apparently total resistance to anything Democratic, reliance on angry T-Party voters, and a confident assurance that "wave" history will send them to huge gains. While I do not track these things closely, this also seems to be the dominant narrative along cable alley, indeed a sure thing.

There are some problems with the above. First and foremost is that the GOP is still dominated, at nearly every post of legislative and administrative power, by exceptionally stupid men, as yesterday's line-in-the-sand stand against financial reform indicates. These guys have been wrong about everything for years, and have some impressive electoral and policy defeats to show for it.

This can't be emphasized enough. There has been for generations an institutional distrust of smart people, "pointy-heads" as they were once called, in the GOP which reached a terminal stage in the administration of that squalid little man, who was, as I am still fond of saying, the apotheosis of every country-club nitwit who ever got rich selling a business his father started. Stupidity at that level is a political statement, that one relies on the power of the system to keep one safe and protected from the consequences of dumb decisions.

Well, as most of us see, the system has changed, and I would point to the TP'ers as Exhibit A for that. Since when, exactly, has a major political party--not to mention one once based upon ideals of modesty, conformity, and devotion to authority--relied so heavily on the goofy apparatus of street theater? Even taking into account that these people are rather-more-exercised Republicans getting their freak on, and promoted as significant by the craven, rightest TV medium--those ding-dongs have yet to score ONE election victory in, let's see, six recent tries.

Now there is certain to be some shakeout in this election, retirements, poor campaigners, and jackass votes (Zack Space, I'm looking at YOU) to account for. There's a lot to be said too for sweeping away those representatives who go south when the chips are down. But whatever the under for the Republicans is, I'll take it. While I've not looked closely at the Senate (watch this space), I'm calling an overall loss of 10-15 for House Dems, which will include, besides some traditionally conservative seats reverting to form, a few districts formerly dependably-red going blue.

The GOP will realize at last it's true identity as an angry regional party, one of ever-shrinking demographics; the election results less a tidal wave than the wash left by a big ship going down.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Reader Writes. . .

Someone you might call a satisfied customer sent me this regarding Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I mean I really, really enjoyed it. I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. [....] [I]t was very much like attending a great dinner party and listening to someone so well versed on a subject that he can hold an entire table’s attention. Great style…great humor…great insight. I am passing my copy on to other good friends here.

In other news, Divide's Guide is available in Chicago at Quimby's Bookstore and, beginning later this week, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis.

You can, of course, also order it here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lost Art

I want to write more of these things, honest I do. But, you know, I get so tired of politics, especially the worn out American brand. Even our champion president, who I give more credit to than most poli-bloggers, is having a hell of a time dragging a fat and fearful nation in a better direction. No, the last thirty years have been too good for some, and too awful for others, and even those of us like yours truly, who made it through relatively unscathed, now need to come to grips with the damage, and we are old.

There's plenty left to come unglued. I do believe the only thing that can help us now is art, and art right now is not getting through--not enough anyway, to enough people. A great work of art, as Mr. Mailer was wont to say, makes you doubt the way you are living. Let me carry that forward a bit; such a challenge then gives meaning to the day. Our experience then becomes an adventure, maybe even a quest. This does not have to be an enormous, especially life-shattering shift, just a new way of seeing or feeling about something.

Art, and I use the term very broadly, then is the conduit of what's new. Bad art treads in very stale paths, trading for money in what was once new and is now mostly reassuring. Here let me say, reassurance is wonderful; everyone needs it, some of us need a lot of it. (If you need an example of a company that shuttles its products very expertly from art to reassurance, let me suggest Disney, which has been in the national reassurance business since the Great Depression.) Thing is, too much reassurance, the message that the world is fine exactly so, becomes a cultural monotone, dead to the sense of quest. Let me propose that this broadly social no-place is where we are stuck right now.

Bad art brings on boredom, which promotes numbness, which is then treated by any number of addictive measures. Our commercial media do nothing but reassure us, and are we a nation of addicts, right? At the risk of going too abstract here, allow me to say that the easiest response to this numbness is rage, violence. The human spirit needs to feel something, and the easiest thing to feel, our default setting, is fear and loathing of the other.

Which brings me back to our politics.

Both parties are heavily invested in the politics of reassurance, bad art if you will. BUT only one is actively hostile to the possibilities of good art, who altogether hates the idea of challenging, even in small ways, the daily assumptions of how we are supposed to live. It rages instead against the mainly imaginary threats against those assumptions. Imaginary in that though our way of life is under the stress of constant change, at a pace which appears to be speeding up, they have no bloody clue where those stresses really lie, or any idea how to begin to come to grips with them.

So you see, we need good art. But here's the problem. Traditionally, great art reaches us either from the top, by way of wealthy individuals who support it to make a lasting mark upon an otherwise indifferent world, or from underneath, from people who make it for themselves or their neighbors to add beauty and meaning to otherwise hard and dreary lives. For years now the rich have been paying dearly for as much reassurance as they can get, in the museums and from the GOP. And the poor folk (I use both words with all secondary and tertiary meanings in full) were bullied long ago to mainly disdain any true art of their own.

For about 100 years, a very creative commercial press brought pretty good art, stimulating, graphic, and creative, to a mass audience in this country. But that ended about 1980, when magazines gave up against TV. Even bad old TV had its own high art period lasting about 25 years, until about 1980, when executives realized it really didn't need to be any good, anywhere, at all. As for the movies in this country--don't get me fucking started.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Swell, Baby, Swell

Though the president's unexpected announcement to open up eastern coastal waters to offshore drilling has riled the predictable, right and left, and left behind a wary commentariot, let me slip in a couple points.

First, near as I can tell, the act merely removes a federal ban, leaving the states to allow the advent of the rigs offshore if they so choose. This not only knocks a talking point from the grasp of the Washington drill-baby-drill set, it also leaves the issue to the legislatures of, let's see. . . . South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, three states full of ding-dong GOP lawmakers (all of whom are challenging the constitutionality of the ACA) who for decades have gotten a free ride slagging environmentalists while keeping their coastal waters perfect for tourism.

Well now all those jerks have to decide, right?

In an election year where a badly-riven, and poorly-led GOP is going to need its shit together to take advantage of a roiled political climate, that Obama guy just goes and tosses them one more very charged issue they'll need to take sides on.

Bastard!

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents

Something happy

Friday, March 26, 2010

Program Note

The Big Fat Slob is back on the exclusive H&J blogroll! Go visit.

Midnight In The Garden of Goobers And Weasels cont.

In considering the looming fate of the brain-dead GOP, it might be useful to consider the condition of other conservative projects apart from the daily scrum of party politics, like evangelical empires:

The towering glass church, founded by Robert H. Schuller in the 1950s and home to an international ministry and the popular "Hour of Power" televangelist broadcast, has long been a symbol of success. But the church has struggled financially in the last two years, laying off workers and seeing revenues drop 27%.
snip
Church spokesman John Charles could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. But in January, he told The Times that the ministry was battered by the recession and suffering from declining television viewership and a drop in contributions from its aging congregation.
(R.J. Lopez, L.A. Times)

Or, in a story that has not quite hit the US, which Andrew Sullivan has done a peerless job highlighting these last few days:

What's fascinating in the steady onslaught of new incidences of previous cover-ups of child rape and molestation in the Catholic hierarchy is the notion that the hierarchs tended to see child rape as a sin rather than a crime.

Two datum points, to be sure, but big for what they have to say about US demographics, and the general nature of weird, blockhead, patriarchal hierarchies that have to collapse before they can change. Are Republicans paying attention? I don't think so.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Loss Leaders

Though I've long predicted the utter collapse of the Republican Party, on what you might broadly call sociological grounds, for the life of me I could not imagine what something as profound as that might look like in real time. Now I know.

A toxic (and by toxic I mean AWESOME) mix of anger, stupidity, delusion, and denial; the system-wide inability to admit error, or that times have changed; the eagerness to follow bad advisers over and over and over and over again; the depredations of con men; the rhetorical switching of Up for Down; and the radical over-estimation of one's powers and abilities--combined with the profound under-estimation of the capabilities of the rival--contributing to an all-in plan of action, the success of which is never doubted, and possible failure never planned.

But how did this happen? By way of the massive noise machine, of course, which, while trying to influence the wider MSM narrative had the unintended effect of shielding its operators from any sense of what's going on in the real world, or the consequences of their many errors of judgment and fact, until it is way too late.

David Frum gets it, and the NY Times today, in its silly and cautious way, tries to break the news gently. But if you read the Times story, you will see that none of the major players will have any of it, because they know they are right.

Anyone anticipating destined and substantial GOP gains in the mid-terms needs to say what exactly that would look like (I want a hard number) and if anything less--given the current status of those gains as a mortal lock--would be a victory for the Dems.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Little List

This morning I estimated there were seven Democratic cement heads who voted Nay contra the wishes of leadership. Turns out there were eight, one of whom being the fuckwit who thinks he can be governor of Alabama. TPM has the list.

Party Time

While I have been as exasperated as most of you over the brain-dead objections of Bart Stupak these last few weeks, I believe the utility of the final deal offered by leadership, reached with such drama yesterday, became clear when the representative rose in the chamber last night to make his stumbling rebuttal to the Republicans' attempt to turn back the reconciliation bill by invoking the anti-abortion measure which bears his name.

Clearly, Bart is not the brightest bulb on the marquee, but he managed to bring a sincerity to his brief remarks which the other side, for all their talk about ramming, socialism, and granny-killing, has remarkably lacked. Like it or not folks, the Democrats are the true big-tent party, and Bart--in over his head this past week and given a very decent means of saving face--did the right thing, unlike more than several of his colleagues.

I'd predicted something like 231 Yeas, mainly on assumptions of optics and basic party identity. I would not presume to know what Speaker Pelosi considered the optimum number, but 34 Nays is more than I'd accept, and it sets up an interesting dynamic for November. I'm thinking out loud here, but let's say 20 of those votes are stone Blue Dogs, and half the remainder were released by the majority leader for sincere re-election needs. That leaves about seven deadheads, seven active liabilities to the party who deserve primary challenges in districts which the Democrats can gamble with, and lose without undue cause for concern.

Because the real big thing which happened last week was how this vote came together as the defining act for a contemporary Democratic identity. Labor, Anti-abortionists, Progressives, Hispanics, and Women (and these constituencies certainly overlap) managed to hold together and accomplish something historic. The world changed last night, and while many in the MSM and GOP will pretend it most certainly has not, at least in regards to how they plan on conducting themselves for the foreseeable (and I plan on going over their fucked fortunes shortly), the Democrats, thanks to some brilliant leadership, are remade.

UPDATE: I swear to God, I hadn't read Josh Marshall's piece before writing the above.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Midnight In The Garden of Goobers And Weasels cont.

One of the stranger outcomes of the last year, for me anyway, was how closely the MSM stuck to the GOP. I'd predicted a gradual winnowing away, as news orgs came to realize that the dying Republicans had little to offer in terms of access, accomplishment, or advertising. That the dying MSM clung so warmly to the GOP brand finally came to make a certain amount of sense in that, as I've written here, both groups were firmly vested in a status quo which for various and similar reasons, in several spheres, is coming quickly unglued. The MSM needed the GOP and quid pro quo. It also didn't hurt that both are traditionally connected by a conservative public relations umbilical which hones talking points, gins up opinion polls, feeds reporters and moves a LOT of corporate money around DC. Certainly the assumption going forward since BHO took office was that the GOP would get a big pass with the understanding that they'd succeed in cutting down the new guy, and everything would return to normal in '12.

But here we are instead. After months of willful shallowness and obfuscation, the press is now obligated to report what really is in the new health care reform bill. After weeks of conventional wisdom humming about Dems in disarray and a desperate and embattled president, the story is now one of the greatest legislative achievements since Reconstruction; and Republicans, so damn sure they were in the driver's seat have to take a good look at their confident assumptions about November and feel more than a bit ill. Things are not working out as planned, and, really--FUX News reports to the contrary--have not been for quite some time.

I'll have a few posts kicking around in the next couple days (at this hour I'm still waiting to see if my call for the final Yea total--around 230--will be correct; if so, I plan on being insufferable), but right now let me propose that one of the remarkable developments in the unwinding of this great story is the genuine influence bloggers like Ez Klein and Kevin Drum had; knowledgeable, fact-based, current commentary that provided a crucial backstop, and mop, for the drivel the Republicans were committed to spew, and the MSM felt duty-bound to spred. The policy Bloggers may not have won any particular day, but overall they kept a lot of people focused and aware, and a number of reporters honest in spite of themselves.

Speaking Of. . .

On the morning of this great vote, on this great day for our Republic, I'd like to recall something I wrote, gee, about three-and-a-half years ago:

to underestimate Nancy Pelosi, to presume to grasp how she thinks or even assume how she'll react, are mistakes of the first water; mistakes you will never find me making.

And so onward.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Booked Solid

After no small editorial effort by the nimble Cliffhanger Press, I am very pleased to announce the publication of my readers guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first blog-published here last year. The Press is dedicated to a sort of popular criticism not much practiced anymore, clarifying looks at American writers meant for a general audience, the sort of critical journalism once advanced by H. L. Mencken and Edmund Wilson, now mainly gone from contemporary letters.

The hard-eyed among you might reasonably insist that any sentimental notion of contemporary American letters is a busted mill on a dusty plain, and you'd get no argument from me. However, there was very little to the idea when Twain first set pen to paper; and all his books were first sold door-to-door. So let us give people something they might enjoy, and take Mark as an example for what might follow, even in our digital time. Such things are born of impudence, style, and a certain amount of luck.

I am deeply grateful to Ms. Laura Sullivan of TypeStyle Graphics and Mr. Hugh Butler of Graphateria, both of Tallahassee, FL, for the marvelous job they did designing and printing Divide's Guide. Mr. J. Gioia was also a help, if only to keep my identity a secret.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Butter End

It seemed to me, on hearing the news a couple days ago that the House HCR vote will go ahead without catering to the anti-abortion caucus, that there really is no A-AC to speak of now; that leadership had whittled away at the Stupak dozen (or whatever) and now have the votes counted. Anything otherwise and it would not be brought to the floor. In fact, I suspect all the drama that awaits this week's vote will be nothing more than the sort of entertaining theater our elected official live to act in.

Way I see it, the question is how many defections for hard November reasons Speaker Pelosi will allow. Looking ahead, I suspect leadership will accept a close vote, but not that close. A mere 216 (or whatever) majority will play to the entirely made-up (albeit well market-tested and sold) narrative that the bill is deeply unpopular and only passed thanks to the worst sort of party head busting. No, I see passage with at least 15 votes to spare.

That number could even grow a bit depending how a No vote might be seen back home as a solid reason for a primary challenge. Yep, it's gut-check time, and I suspect more than a few of those spineless fawns are beginning to fear fellow Democrats more than Republicans. Which is the way it should be.

Which is to say November is shaping up nicely. Loyal readers will know I have not strayed from my long-held prediction of a disaster for the GOP at the polls this year, even as the prevailing narrative has been crowing for months about a definitive Repub comeback. Looks like the CW is beginning to reconsider the creeps chances; and I reserve the right to sketch out what this disaster might look like, and will do so, I hope, shortly. First let's see how close my vote count is.

UPDATE: Speaking of drama, this from Greg Sargent this AM:

But: The chief vote counter for House Dems flatly acknowledged on NBC this morning that the Dem leadership doesn’t have the votes to pass health care as of now. Asked whether Dems have the votes, Dem Rep James Clyburn said:

No, we don’t have them as of this morning. But we’ve been working this thing all weekend, we’ll be working it going into the week. I’m also very confident that we’ll get this done. I’ve been talking to members for a long time on this, and they have the will to do it.


Which, I believe, is to say they do have the votes, but are not sure, as of this morning, who gets to vote no if they really really have to.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Dollars And Nonsense

I've been meaning to write something about the gooey mess that is Eric Massa, once praised on these pages, but his story just gets weirder and weirder. So fuck it. Our times are not right and he will be a silly memory soon.

Rather I'd like to draw attention to something which has been nagging at me for weeks, and that maybe one of you can help me with; two figures I find irreconcilable.

First one is the supposed yearly profits of FUX News, generally stated, as in D. Carr's profile of R. Ailes to be in the nabe of $700 mil:

The division is on track to achieve $700 million in operating profit this year, according to analyst estimates that Mr. Ailes does not dispute.

Not income, mind you, profits.

Now consider their audience size, which is, by TV standards, laughably tiny, one to two mil. in prime time. (Here see, most recently, Mr. Drum and The Newsosaur.)

Which means that FOX News is supposed to make something over $2 per viewer per day. With their demographic? Allow me to opine: Ba-fucking-loney.

I am not saying there isn't $700 mil. sloshing around News Corp somewhere. They peddle sports on TV all over the world, while the movie division has done pretty well of late. And Rupe certainly isn't shy about moving money around the company to bolster the brand in his failing or low-return endeavors (see: the NY Post, and the WSJ, discussed by the Newsosaur above.)

This is just to say that the idea that FOX News (and I am calling them by their real name to attract search engines here) is a financial juggernaut, certainly something Mr. Ailes would like everyone to believe, strikes me as a colossal tower of horseshit. Who knows? Maybe there is more gold in them thar brain-dead hills than I could possibly imagine. What I am certain of is that no one in the MSM is going to be the first to bust the scam, indeed most will be pleased to play along for as long as possible.

Monday, March 01, 2010

About The Bag

While I agree with everything Mr. Carlin has to say in this very worthwhile vignette, (found at Chris Smith's very worthwhile Buffalo Geek blog), give a watch and see if you can spot the flaw in his reasoning.



Well, aside from the fact that a huge broadcast media company makes Carlin's collected works readily available on dvd (and here let me just say that you are speaking to someone who bought Carlin's first record, Take-Offs and Put-Ons, when it first came out); in fact, if the rulers of this country really had congress bought and paid for long ago there would be no need to spend billions lobbying it every year.

Point being that though the rich rule this country, the status of the bag keeps changing and they have to run like mad to keep up with it (there's a mixed metaphor in there somewhere.) Digital communication has now broken the century-long grip of the news brokers. And as far as healthcare reform is concerned, the steady and combined efforts of corporate communicators, along with all the silly knashing of teeth from the GOP, and the over-hyped yelling of the pathetic TPers, were not enough to stop passage in both houses and will not be enough to stop a final adjustment via reconciliation.

Here is the big news: not that HCR is in any danger of failing (and let me say I've never shared my big blog brothers doubts as to final passage--looking at YOU, Matty), but that if the big right-wing noise machine was all that effective (pace, Mr. Benen), HCR would have died long ago.

Fact is, people matter; shit gets done. No amount of advertising can disguise a broken system, or stupid arguments make most people ignore it. And though, looking toward November, I doubt the character of some members of the Dem caucus in the wake of the Coakley debacle (I tend to assume, naively perhaps, that elected representatives are mainly made of sterner stuff--but more of this later), Americans at heart are a very practical people, and the practicality of the fix by now is clear to all, even those doing their damnedest to prevent it.

UPDATE: Lots o' good stuff regarding HCR passage from Greg Sargent this morning.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Slaughter On Pennsylvania Ave.

Longtime readers are familiar with my high regard for western New York Representative Louise Slaughter. She is chair of the House Rules Committee and one of those VIPs without whom nothing advances in the Democratic caucus. Lately there's been some question regarding her enthusiasm for the Senate bill.



Consequently, it brings me great pleasure to pass along the clip above, a genuine highlight of today's healthcare conference. Sounds like she's on board.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Old Yellers

Mr. Drum hits upon something I've been harping upon for simply yonks.

. . . this is a disaster not just for small-government conservatives but for the GOP as well. Their earlier embrace of social fundamentalism was largely responsible for driving away young voters in the first place, and now, left only with a core of middle-aged and elderly voters that they need to keep loyal, they're likely to pursue policies that push the young even further away. This might produce occasional victories, but no political party can survive this kind of vicious cycle in the long run. Having long since alienated blacks, Hispanics, and virtually the entire Northeast, Republicans can hardly afford to permanently lose young voters as well. The white South and the elderly just aren't enough to sustain a national party.

Kev has the good taste not to add that the elderly excel at dying in droves everyday; to be replaced, I submit, by the new-elderly who are not nearly so dedicated to the party as the late lamented.

As a consequence of this trend, it's pretty clear to me that the broad GOP brand has decided to become an entertainment choice, with its own network and TV stars, which seems to be working well-enough right now. (Though I tend to question the punch FUX Snews really packs with the body politic, no question rival broadcasters show it a lot of respect.) The problem with this, long-term, is that entertainment choices have a definite, usually pretty short, shelf life. The audience inevitably moves on. Sarah Palin is a lot more Jessica Simpson than Eva Peron, and poor Jess is now mainly famous for gaining weight, and poor choices in men.

So sad.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mad Fad


Before we move on to other issues, I wanted to spend just a bit more time nattering about the TP movement; mainly to observe its faddish nature, and the actuarial condition of its makeup.

Notice anything about that photo? All those white guys, as angry and electorally-engaged as they might be, are also pretty damn old. (And I am, btw, speaking as someone who qualified for the AARP a few years ago.) Another anecdotal measure of the disorganized opposition came via a Sullivan post several weeks ago in which a reader told of his Palin-fiendly family, sketching them mainly as rural, overweight smokers, fond of guns and, the younger ones, prone to meth addiction.

I want to make clear right now: I am not saying this to mock these people. In fact, I consider it a national tragedy that 70 years of Big Ag. farm bills have wiped out rural communities to a terminal degree. While the Sullivan reader wrote to warn us of the real anger among real people out there, what I came away with was a snapshot of a rural society in the last stages of decay.

Which is all prologue to my proposition that this rightist uprising is not a new wave, but a last gasp.

Something else we might see in the photo above is a fashion choice that would have gotten Abbie Hoffman beaten by cops in most jurisdictions 40-some years ago. I'm not sure when exactly it became okay for some people who say they love the flag to turn it into loud shirts, ties, and head rags. Which causes me to observe, again, that what we are seeing is the far right's Summer of Love.

Just like the last time, this one has been picked-up and oversold by a media delighted in its ability to promote, then suck dry. I also think that the central observation of the "uprising" phenomenon has gone unsaid: that underlying it is the utter failure of what might be called the Reagan Morning in America Project. The decent and hard-working guys shown here were led to believe they were doing something useful 30 years ago putting RR in the White House and launching the conservative wave. To put it bluntly, they are still fucked, now more than ever. And they are angry about that.

Now we can shake our progressive noggins about how uninformed, how easily manipulated these guys have been. I suspect though that most of them know a royal screwing when they receive it. Thing is, it is easy to show you are angry, and really hard admitting you are wrong. And as much as the GOP would love to co-opt the TPers, I suspect a sizable percentage, now in their sunset years, are not buying it anymore.

**Photo: Matt Nager**

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Of Our Disconnect cont.

Some time ago here, while remarking upon the ongoing implosion of the GOP, I proposed that the same digital-media pressures which were wrecking the top-down model of the Republicans would also affect Democrats, though not as adversely. Their traditionally fractious nature would have a buffering effect as the party shook off some dead wood (which would find common cause with more moderate Republicans fleeing their former ranks) and mainly drifted leftwards towards younger, more progressive voters.

(If you don't believe me, start here.)

There's very little of the above I'd care to change right now. Rather let me observe how all the DC media buzz about a "a newly 'strengthened' conservative movement" is mostly self-serving. It juices the narrative for an election year and mainly supports the corporate business model of what remains of the mainstream fourth estate.

Let me offer another point-of-view.

The conservative project is now less a movement than a collection of rightist, often mutually antagonistic, groups; the best of whom are sincerely dedicated to granular, people-driven, small-govt aims, the worst being con men, paranoids, and racists. I'm guessing the latter outnumber the former by three, maybe four to one. While this makes great copy, I see very little of it translating into long-term political gain.

Lost in all the talk about S. Brown and S. Palin (who continues her ditsy transit, and slide in the polls) is the big news that a predominate majority of citizens have no problem at all with gay people serving their country as members of the armed forces. Add to that, a majority, in some polls, favor legalizing marijuana--along with a rising tide of some state-sanctioned use--and you can only see a certain type of social tide running very much against the traditional cops of what they liked to call the American way.

Which is to say that the social demographic is ever-slanting away from conservative ideology. The fact is, in spite of the Republican Party, we are becoming a kinder and more socially-tolerant nation, and have been for over 50 years. Once a majority come to appreciate an equitable, and progressive tax structure, all the GOP will have left is Jesus fighting Darwin in Alabama.

I'd say that the unity shown by the Republican minority (whose dim leaders, btw, have grown no smarter in the last two months) is less a matter of political strength than the realization of our vastly diminished resources. It is easy to make deals, to get along, when times are good. There is plenty of pie to go around. Let me suggest that the bipartisan age certain elderly commentators yearn for was also one of historic, world-leading national power and affluence. Those days are gone now, and the GOP is left fighting for the scraps of dinner they did their level best to push off the table in the first place.

Times continue to be hard, and I continue to believe that if Democratic candidates, with the help of our president, make an active case that they are working hard to fix what's broken, in the face of uninformed and reflexively mean political opposition they will, as a body, prevail. This depends a lot on the kinds of campaigners they have this year, of course; and if there's been one discouraging note in the last few months it is how callow and lazy too many Democrats are.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Out Of The Past


If my older readers have not re-read Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing: on the Campaign Trail '72 in a while, let me recommend doing so. A number of things will jump out at you immediately. First is how knowledgeable and skilled a political observer Hunter was. His writing is infused with a seriousness that after a while he was loath to admit to publicly. (In fact, the central tragedy of HST's life was the long-term care, passion, and supreme technical skill he invested in a calling he came to portray as an elaborate con.) But be that as it may. . .

The second thing you old readers might notice is how names which once loomed so large in politics and journalism have faded utterly away: your John Lindsey's and Shirley Chisolm's, Frank McGee's and John Chancellor's. Even George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey might require crib sheets for anyone under 40. (That sound you hear is me whistling past the graveyard.)

The third thing Thompson's time capsule reveals is just how much of a freak show the Democratic Party was in 1972, when politicians as diverse as Humphrey, Wallace, Chisolm, McGovern, and the strange Ed Muskie (the early, insider favorite that year) could make legitimate bids for the top spots on the ticket. This is the party that Nixon's southern strategy busted apart, to which I say: Yippee.

Finally, because this is not just an exercise in nostalgia, consider what Hunter had a ringside seat for that year: A centrist, anti-war, prairie state Democrat with a championship grassroots organization (that's George McGovern, for you tyros), stomped the party favorite in the primaries, earning the enmity of Dem bigwigs (H. Humphrey, R.J. Daley, G. Meany) who did everything they could to kneecap the challenger and deliver the (landslide) election to R. Nixon.

(And here, while we're at it, let's note the utter complicity of Meany's AFL-CIO in promoting the Republicans and their anti-labor agenda to a country just beginning its industrial decline. How'd that work out for you guys?)

Maybe you see where this is heading. Thirty-six years later, the (nominally) anti-war, centrist outsider won the nomination AND the election, which however has not prevented the rather more conservative elements of his own party from doing everything they can to undermine his agenda. Because even though our president is a process guy through and through, he still represents a break with the past which those Dems quite comfortable with what the old system delivered loathe and fear.

In this light we can better see the nature of the problem facing our chief executive (who may or may not be up to the task of addressing it.) He said he wanted to change the way Washington did business. It is not outlandish to think that an entrenched portion of his own party took him at his word, and now hate him for it.

Selah.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This Note's For You

I've been a bad blogger, and for that I apologize. It's just that whenever I get in the mood to write one of these things, something happens that makes me either question my grip on some issue, or realize I'd just be repeating myself.

Now I understand that both notions--along with a lack of eye candy and absence of any geeky obsessions with pets or science fiction--practically disqualify me from being your Main Street, big time blogger. Ah, well. Be that as it may. It's still free, and some days I have nothing better to do.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Meet And Bleet

I will try to be charitable here regarding the Republican House caucus' invitation to the president to speak at their meeting and then take questions. The televised exchange did the country a great service and two or three of the questioners sounded smart, engaged in policy, and frustrated with this past year's outcomes.

The balance of the audience, however, ranged from the clueless to the corrosively stupid, and illustrated--when one-on-one with a very bright, informed, and at ease chief executive--just how conniving and brainless the GOP has become. (If you have not seen it, you really must.)

And, given the Republicans' MO since Bill Clinton had the gall to replace Poppy B. in the WH, one can only assume that someone conceived yesterday's exercise as a means whereby they could trap the president--because, you know, he's not that smart, and is lost without the tele-promptor--in their midst and then wail on him for an hour in front of TV cameras. Great idea, right? Got him right where we want him. What could go wrong?

You gotta think that someone just lost his job for that. Not, I submit, because the Prez looked so good and the Rep. Reps so bad--there was in fact more light from their side of the isle, not a lot, but some, than I would have given them credit for--only that it highlighted so directly Obama's point about contemporary politics exactly. It gave him a stature of being both engaged and above-the-fray, which their PR klaxons have been blasting full vol. for a year to deny him.

What should be clear from Obama's very plain-spoken and relaxed State of the Union, is that he is much more interested in being president of the whole nation than leader of the Democratic Party. This has its good points and bad, both pretty obvious.

On the good side, broadly, is the country really needs a chief executive working and thinking that way. The bad side, broadly, is that sometimes--and especially in the past year--to do the most good for the most people, the president HAS to be the head of his party and smack some genuine fear into the souls of his enemies, both Republican and Democrat, to give them something to keep company with their hatred of him.

Does Obama get this now? Maybe; I'm not sure. Thing is, you are NEVER sure with that guy; that's mainly how he rolls. I like him a lot, though, and you have to admit he is fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Winter Of Our Disconnect cont.

My admiration for the regular, paid band of bloggers leapt immeasurably these past ten days as they found words to describe the situation once the Democratic caucus became unglued in the aftermath of the worst performance by a so-called public servant--for her party and her nation--that I can recall in 45 years of following politics.

That Martha Coakley had the gall to ridicule the need to shake hands with voters in cold and dreary neighborhoods, in the city where modern American politics was more or less invented (and I am thinking back to Elbridge Gerry); a city once ruled by such champion campaigners and fixers as John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (the grandfather of the man she had the temerity to want to replace in the U.S. Senate) and James Curley, only indicates the atrophy Massachusetts Democrats suffered under decades of reliable Kennedy returns.

The woman is a jackass and fool, and succeeded in launching her poor husband's last name into the dictionary, as a new adverb for fucking-up a sure thing. That said, the disgraceful reaction of elected Democratic officials once the results had been tabulated sounded a lot like fourth graders discovering a king snake on the school bus.

If nothing else, you figure, these people are professionals and should be able to spot a horseshit campaign and draw no further conclusions. But no, the charge to the rear was lead by a tired and emotional Barney Fraud, uhm, Frank, a top-tier drama queen, who immediately declared health care reform dead. Next day, after sobering up some sleep, he walked back his limbic reaction, but the damage was done.

Now, in truth, the collective lack of spine and overdose of dismay by the congressional Dems was so immediate and systemic that it could only have been simmering for weeks, if not months. And cooler heads have since prevailed. The freak-out was not pretty, and it certainly gave a ton of free chips to the GOP, but it may have saved us further weeks of hurt bickering, and called attention to an effectively rudderless majority.

This last I find inexcusable. Whether he likes it or not, the president is the party's leader, Harry Reid and Nan Pelosi his captains. I suspect he has limited influence over entrenched senators, and I don't expect him to win every battle with those baboons, BUT, neither do I see him trying awfully hard to shape events for his own and the nation's benefit.

In fact the most dismaying development dropped 36 hours ago, when the administration signaled a mainly pointless freeze on discretionary social spending, without a whisper of going after the hypertrophic military budget.

Christ. On. A. Fucking. Crutch.

I've been mainly sympathetic to the overall challenges of the game to this point. The big majorities notwithstanding, I know this shit is not easy. I can dig that a lot of small steps in education, law enforcement, and Pentagon reform are underway. And I can let a lot of the big stuff slide, like a war crimes truth commission, reforming the Department of Agriculture, a restructure of the finance industry, until health care is squared away. What I cannot abide is that at the first sign of trouble, the Obama administration spits out a stale GOP nostrum that does nothing so well as sanction an utterly bankrupt and discredited way of managing the country's affairs.

You probably hear this a lot, but if they've finally succeeded in antagonizing pragmatic and sympathetic me, the administration is risking a ton of friends when they need them the most.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Yo-yo MA

A few days ago my estimable colleague Prairie Weather and I had a brief discussion about the campaign in Massachusetts, and the nature of candidates today, which you can read here. I used to know a lot more about Massachusetts politics than I do now, so I can't judge the outcome of the special election for certain. I don't even know if the remainder of Ted's term is three years or five.

I will point out that Coakly won a primary, first in a field of four. Consequently I have a hard time seeing how her particular weakness as a candidate is at all the fault of "Democrats". As I said to PW, attorney generals are mainly not the sort of glad-handing, loud-talking pols who just love engaging people on the hustings. Oh well.

I will also observe that our current election industry seems geared for these high-drama ratings extravaganzas. Everyone from the pollsters to reporters to consultants have a deeply vested interest in making these things look close, even when they ain't. It aptly fits the national mood of belligerence and misunderstanding too.

Still, I'll venture to say it'll be close, but not that close. The president is popular in the state; he will certainly help turnout and maybe even say something that goes to the heart of our contemporary disorder that resonates from the North End to Stockbridge, and beyond. I don't sense a betrayal of Ted's legacy on the way.

That said, if Brown truly was smart, and ambitious, and his party flexible and secure, instead of a zoo of vicious numbskulls, he'd have announced last week that, if elected, he'd vote with the Democrats against any further cloture on health reform--modeled so closely on what has been achieved in the Bay State. He'd win going away, and would so launch a very interesting political career. So tell me, which party is stupider?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Notice

Lemmie tell you, don't fuck with this guy.

So, I know everybody in the media is all in a tizzy -- "Oh, what's this going to mean politically?" Well, let me tell you something. If Republicans want to campaign against what we've done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. (Applause.) If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument. What are they going to say? "Well, you know, the old system really worked well; let's go back to the way it was"? That's not going to appeal to seniors who are now seeing the possibility of that doughnut hole finally closing and so they can finally get discounts on their prescriptions. (Applause.) That's not going to appeal to the small businesses who find out all the tax credits that they're going to get for doing right by their employees -- something that they have been wanting to do, but may not have been able to afford. It's not going to be very appealing to Americans who for the first time are going to find out that they can provide coverage to their children, their dependents, all the way up to the age of 26 or 27.

And that's why I'll be out there waging a great campaign from one end of the country to the other, telling Americans with insurance or without what they stand to gain -- (applause); about the arsenal of consumer protections; about the long-awaited stability that they're going to begin to experience. And I'm going to tell them that I am proud we are putting the future of America before the politics of the moment -- the next generation before the next election. And that, after all, is what we were sent up here to do: standing up for the American people against the special interests; solve problems that we've been talking about for decades; make their lives a little bit better; make tough choices sometimes when they're unpopular. And that's something that every one of you who support this bill can be proud to campaign on in November.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tea Beggers

For weeks now I've been meaning to write something about the fractious tea party cadres, which are supposed to be the future of something or other, mainly to say that, as fundamentally constituted, all they are capable of doing is to fracture into smaller and smaller knots of soreheads (or maybe it's sores of knotheads). But I tarried too long, and instead of impressing you now with my perspicacity, I can only direct you to this link at TPM regarding a Maddow segment from last night.

The essential problem of the TP movement is how, at its most sincere, it is a collection of, oh, let's call them rugged individualists over-impressed with their reasoning skills. Earnest, bright without being especially smart, willing to work out whatever disappointment they feel about their lives by standing up for SOMEthing, as such they immediately fall into two temperamental camps: the cynical and the naive.

While I'd say both types are sincere in their anger, the cynical actors are, of course, looking to ride this into power--having perhaps no patience earlier for the moneyed mummery of the old GOP--and are willing to trade to get there. The naive are the the child crusaders, lit inside by ideals they can barely express beyond a yearning for the sort of freedom that is just not available to members of modern affluent societies, no matter what their status is, anymore.

Now apart from the temperamental differences, there are those of philosophy. Broadly this breaks down to libertarian TBers vs. control TBers, and racist TBers vs. those for whom race is not an issue. I will leave it to pollsters to determine the strength of each camp of the above, but these are sizable sub-categories.

Now divide them into regional groups, the shoal upon which the Detroit protest discussed in the link above foundered. NOW add on the circling wolves of the Grand Old Pooty, those looking to take pure financial advantage of the assembled believers, and the deforming attention of the national press, mix with people for whom compromise with others is anathema to start with, then stir.

All of the above should make you appreciate what a fine and sturdy thing a truly national political party is, and what a great job Democrats have done over the last half century to define and promote their dynamic, if sometimes aggravating, coalition. It should also help you see how totally fucked the Republicans are if they think they can use people who mainly can't agree with each other in order to advance an agenda no one can define.

UPDATE: Steve Benen dives in after me.