I WANT YOU TO WANT ME

Freelance writing is not lucrative, generally. There are some publications that pay well – particularly if the piece runs in actual print – but overall a person trying to make a living on freelancing is going to have to piece together a whole bunch of $500-and-under checks. Big name writers probably don't have to worry as much, but nobody freelancing is ever truly financially secure. Imagine you're getting $2000 per piece – which, trust me, would be very rare – and you'd still have to crank out nearly two dozen pieces to hit the median household income for one year. That's a lot of pieces. That's not going to happen.

It is universally true, then, that freelancers live with financial stress. This is especially true of the vast number who, for a combination of professional and personal reasons, live in places like NY or DC. Just hitting the rent every month can be challenging. It is not hard to envision situations in which freelancers need money urgently. Let's just say that one checks the mailbox more aggressively than people who get a regular paycheck.

So it stands to reason that publications that drag their feet in paying freelancers develop very bad reputations very quickly. "Don't submit to X, it won't send your check until next year" gets around. In a lame stab at fairness, it's worth noting that this is usually (but not always) because said publication is on the brink of financial collapse. Nonetheless, people deserve to be paid for the work they do in the amount agreed upon. If the magazine is so hard-up that it can't honor commitments to its labor force then it needs to figure out a different business model or go under.

Given that freelancers are not paid much and often find themselves "a little tight" as the saying used to go, media companies are increasingly turning to services that turn getting paid into a payday loan scenario. You can have the money (which, to emphasize, is money the contributor has already earned by providing the agreed-upon service) now, but only if you give Shady PayCo a huge cut of it – 10 or 15 percent, minimum. From what I've read, not direct experience obviously, I understand that such arrangements are not uncommon in industries where people do day labor like construction.

Of course Shady PayCo argues that there is nothing predatory about this because the freelancer can wait to receive the full amount in 60 or 90 days. In fact it is a textbook example of the predatory practices of the financial industry. One publication I've submitted to used to handle its own accounts payable, and never, not once, did it take them longer than 30 days to pay me. Some publications like Dissent or The Baffler pay essentially immediately upon receipt of the invoice. But the financial appeal of having Shady PayCo handle it (which incidentally probably cost someone at the publication their job) saves a few bucks on the balance sheet.

But let's not kid ourselves, Shady PayCo isn't waiting to receive the money from X. It has the money and it's just holding it hostage for 60 days. To see if you, the contributor, are desperate enough to let them keep 15% of your payment to access it now. So we've come to the "Pay someone a decent chunk of the money you've earned for completing work in order to let you actually have the money" stage of capitalism. Here's your paycheck, but you gotta pay us before you can have it.

Since I still hold a regularly-paid job for a few more months, I can wait it out. Once that's not the case, it isn't difficult to see scenarios in which I, or anyone else, needs that money urgently enough that they're going to get that 15%.

This system clearly is working well and is indefinitely sustainable.

PUMP THE BRAKES

(Editor's Note: While the expression in the title is common, we remind you not to take it literally. If your car was made after, say, 1995 it has anti-lock brakes and they should not be "pumped" as older brake systems required to avoid seizing in emergencies. Just press your brake pedal. Also don't read this while driving.)

The president is too stupid to get out of his own way once again. Reports indicate that Mitch McConnell advised him against Kavanaugh for reasons of "baggage," so certainly people inside the GOP knew this was coming. And now he appears ready to stubbornly insist on sticking with him even though every day nearer to the election reduces the likelihood of this vote happening.

It would be easier to withdraw Kavanaugh and replace him with an equally awful human being and end up with the same outcomes ten years from now. If he sticks with him it only helps the Democrats – though it's worth pointing out that Schumer has not even put up a pretense of trying to delay this vote yet, so it's no sure thing he will ever start. It seems like there are some Republicans who are looking for a way out of voting for this guy. Starting over with another new nominee allows another week or two to run off the clock. If this goes into October, the odds that anyone 1) wants to be in DC and 2) wants to cast this vote 4 weeks before the election are both very slim.

A lot of this involves straw-grasping and speculation, but it's the first scenario I can see that plausibly (although not probably) ends with Kavanaugh not being confirmed. In the end, cynicism born of experience leads me to believe everyone calling for hearings is going to end up voting for him anyway. If there is any positive outcome to be found here, it will depend on Trump being too dumb to back down until it's too late.

MYSTERY SOLVED!

In the three weeks since its publication I've lost count of the number of legitimate journalists who have heaped praise on "The Mystery of Tucker Carlson" by Lyz Lenz for Columbia Journalism Review.

It is indeed a well written and thorough profile of the lil' guy's career. That said, its fundamental premise makes no sense.

To catch you up if you don't want to read a rather lengthy thing about Tucker Carlson, the argument is that a once "good" conservative pundit whose tone was Serious has turned into a shrieking, conspiracy-peddling white supremacist.

The first part of that argument is undermined by the fact that "good" conservative pundits – you know, the ones who can come on the shows without embarrassing everyone by braying like the Fox & Friends crew or Rush Limbaugh – are almost entirely a creation of the centrist media. Chuck Todd. Tim Russert. Chris Cillizza. You know, the Meet the Press types. They've been running out of Good conservatives lately, though. It's part of the reason they were so crushed when McCain died. There are very few Republicans they can bring on the show without ending up feeling bad about themselves.

So they anointed Carlson long ago as one of the Good ones on the basis of, I guess the fact that he wears a bowtie and has prep school manners. They did this with Jonah Goldberg too. But the thing is, both of them are actually very stupid people making much the same arguments – more politely and with bigger words – as Glenn Beck, Hannity, etc. Carlson is now and always has been a hack. He just played the George Will card; hacky arguments delivered through that leather-patches-on-elbows persona.

There is no doubt, though, that Carlson has gone off the deep end since he was hired by Fox News to replace O'Reilly in all but name. Rather than seeing this as a mystery, it underscores the more likely explanation: he is a grifter who will wear any metaphorical hat that enables him to cash in. When the non-Fox networks wanted George Will Jr., he dressed up like the biggest twerp on campus and got paid to do that. Now that times have changed – not to mention now that the juggernaut of right-wing media came calling – he's more than happy to change his tune.

Despite making a living off of what appear to be strongly held opinions, I'm convinced that most of these people will sing any song to any audience if it pays and elevates their profile. These aren't artists with an acoustic guitar and a story to tell; they're session musicians and frankly they don't give a shit what you ask them to play.

MONEY PIT

The role of money in campaigns is greatly overstated in the minds of most Americans who pay attention to politics. There is a threshold, an amount of money that candidates need to raise to be competitive in a given race. Money raised beyond that amount can be spent strategically, up to a point of diminishing returns. And beyond that point, additional spending doesn't bolster the candidate's chances. A simpler way to think of it is that once a candidate has spent money on all the "right" things that a successful campaign should spend money on, all additional spending is just blown on advertising. Buying more ads is what you do when you have money and can't think of anything more productive to do with it (this is, of course, assuming that quite a bit of spending on advertising has already been done).

We saw a great example of this in 2008 when the Obama campaign had so much cash on hand that they were, in the case of swing states like Ohio, buying every single ad spot in a 30 minute program. Believe it or not, once a viewer has seen an ad a dozen times, showing them the same ad several hundred more times has no additional benefits. It's just overkill at some point.

Nonetheless, there are useful ways to spend a million dollars in any competitive race in the country right now. So it isn't entirely clear why the Democratic Party is spending that million bucks trying to help an unpopular and by any measure (other than their favorite, "she's better than a Republican") a very bad incumbent win a primary. I refer to the Rhode Island gubernatorial race, which is one of those statewide races Democrats have to go out of their way to find a way to lose.

I don't expect that party organizations maintain neutrality during primaries. Parties endorse candidates and have always done things to help those favored by the party to win. I simply do not understand why at this very moment, anyone could look at the races happening across this country and conclude that "Let's give Raimondo a million bucks to maybe fend off a primary challenger, because seriously how bad do you have to be in a deep blue state to not be able to win your primary as the incumbent governor."

Could that not be more productively spent in, say, the Florida gubernatorial race in which a competitive Democrat has the potential to break 20 consecutive years of GOP control of that office? Maybe spend that money on ground teams to pound doors, drag voters to polling places, and so on? Which does the Democratic Party have a deeper interest in: protecting an incumbent from another Democrat who very likely would hold the office anyway, or taking back something the GOP has held for two decades?

Parties as organizations make decisions that are not always outwardly logical because people in the party are not all equally influential. If you're in the clurb, the party may do things to help you even when it's not strictly rational. The favor will be expected to be repaid later. That said, it seems so clear that more benefit is derived from bolstering a race against a Republican than from trying to sway a primary where a very bad Democratic incumbent is in danger of losing because of her own actions and nothing more.

LAST CHANCE

I'm down to the stragglers of the None of This is OK t-shirts and I'm hoping to clear them out so if there is another run in the future, the inventory is reset to zero when it begins.

Less than 5 each are available of each men's size S-XXL, and women's V-neck is down to Women's L or XL (one of each!). Go ahead if you've been dilly-dallying and order now. Once these are gone, you're SOL.


Domestic Orders (USA)




POST-HOC

At the moment when Anthony Kennedy retired, I wrote a piece for The Week with a title that largely saves you the time of reading it: "Democrats cannot win the fight to replace Justice Kennedy. They can only prepare for the next battle." Now that Kavanaugh's confirmation process has begun, everyone has that familiar, desperate "Oh shit" feeling that prompts a search for a last second heroic solution. There isn't one. Gumming up the works in the Senate won't stop one nomination (although it certainly could have helped, if only Schumer had a spine, push back the timeline on some lower court nominations who were instead fast-tracked for no reason whatsoever).

This highlights a problem with our political culture that I think about more and more lately; everything is very short-term oriented and nobody is playing an effective long game. Instead of focusing on some miracle scenario in which Kavanaugh isn't confirmed (spoiler: he will be) why would Democrats not focus on preventing some of the lower court nominations by dragging their procedural feet? Well, part of the problem is that the current leadership simply doesn't know how to fight, has internalized losing, and accepts anything the majority chooses to give it as a victory. The current state of Democratic leadership is not dissimilar to the sad state of GOP leadership in the decade prior to Newt Gingrich's takeover (think people like Bob Michel). Rank and file Republicans of that time complained constantly that their leadership was content to be the minority, to finish second, and to accept table scraps from the Democratic majority. They received in return lectures about how they should be thankful for the scraps and proud of the leadership for "winning" them.

Now the parties have reversed roles. And losing to Mitch McConnell is so deeply branded into the psyche of this current generation of Democratic leaders that I think we're going to have to wait until everyone involved is dead before any progress can be made.

Whether or not he succeeded, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would do absolutely anything – without limit from scruple or law – to stop the nomination process. Minority Leader Schumer doesn't have the same spirit. More importantly, McConnell has always had his eyes on prizes down the road in a way that the Democratic Party in Congress doesn't seem to have right now. Those lower court judges who just got fast tracked – perhaps one or two of whom could have been blocked with great effort – will bear fruit for Republicans down the road with the decisions they make. It would have been better strategically – and boy do Democratic insiders love them some strategizing 11th-degree chess – to recognize that Kavanaugh is a foregone conclusion and try to pave a better road in the future. Instead, they get nothing in the short term or the long term. Nothing is gained.

They seem, at the highest and therefore most self-destructive level, unable to let go of the 2004-era belief that voters will reward Democrats for playing nice. Reach across the aisle. Be the bigger people. They go low, we go high. And Schumer in particular keeps trying to wring moral victories out of caving to the GOP and hoping they'll do something nice in return. They won't. They never do.

Politics is, for people who say Decorum and Bipartisanship are important, entertainment. It is not. It is a blood sport, and people's lives are literally on the line. If you don't want Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, you have to stop that from happening at the beginning of a long process, not at its culmination. If you don't want kids in cages, you can't wait until the kids are in cages to figure out a solution. All the groundwork to getting kids in cages and a right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court was laid over the past 15 to 20 years.

There's just not a lot that can be done to fight the cancer once it has metastasized. We are now reaping the rewards of poor choices made during three decades of Democratic strategy focused on moving to the right to win people in the center while the GOP just kept moving farther, farther, and farther right, and the equally misguided strategy of assuming that in the name of honor and decorum there are certain depths to which conservatives would not sink (hint: there aren't). The best phrasing I've ever heard for their miscalculation is: The Democrats are pointing at the rule book screaming "A dog isn't allowed to play basketball!" while a dog dunks on them over and over again and the crowd goes wild. American voters don't give a shit about decorum, procedure, rules, and bipartisanship. If they did, Democrats wouldn't be the minority at almost every turn across the country right now.

If there is any hope for the future, it is in laying a better groundwork today and in the next decade to bear some fruit in the late 2020s and beyond. It's too late to stop what's happening in real time.

FEAR OF FIRE

To the delight of headline writers everywhere, a man named David Pecker turns out to be the editor of the National Enquirer and other trashy tabloid media outlets. We learned this last week when Mr. Pecker (snicker) was granted immunity in exchange for, presumably, answering questions about Donald Trump.

My father spent nearly three decades as a prosecutor. I enjoy having conversations with him about criminal investigations, high profile trials in the media, etc because he always seems to know what is going to happen. And over time he has confirmed all of the prosecutorial cliches about criminal matters – the foremost among them being that individuals refusing to testify against their colleagues in crime is almost entirely a creation of fiction writers and Hollywood. In real life, "First to talk, first to walk" applies almost without exception.

Trump seems legitimately upset about some of the people – including attorneys, former legal counsel, and fellow celebrity gossip column types whom he probably thought really, unironically were his friends. Oddly enough, all of these people like Pecker most likely are sincere believers in Trump and allies in whatever the Great Man has done throughout his life.

But here's the thing: just like all animals are innately afraid of fire, I believe all humans are innately terrified of prison. David Pecker probably never had any intention of spilling dirt on Trump, but I'd be willing to be David Pecker also never thought of himself as a person who might be charged with a serious crime. Unlike, say, a drug trafficker or a murderer who knows he/she has broken the law and is potentially in very deep shit, a lot of these white collar types live in a fantasy world in which nothing they have ever done is wrong. Or, more charitably, they may sincerely be unaware of white collar laws they've violated.

So here's David Pecker, Trump ally, sitting in a conference room somewhere with his high-priced lawyer and ten Federal prosecutors. The Feds explain to him, calmly and coldly, that they have enough evidence to charge him with a grab bag of felonies – violating IRS or SEC reporting requirements, for example. The kind of technical-details crimes that I'm assuming most of the truly wealthy could be charged with if some prosecutor were willing to dig hard enough.

And now David Pecker, Trump ally, who has lived a wealthy and "successful" and immensely privileged life and is now an old man, is for the first time in his life picturing himself in prison. Or even simply picturing himself in a courtroom facing the remote possibility of prison. It must be, in a way few of us can appreciate first-hand, terrifying. I believe without judgment that all of us would do just about anything to avoid going to prison. Because going to prison seems fucking horrible, minimum security white collar prison or not.

And so he talks. As soon as immunity is offered he jumps on it without a second thought, encouraged enthusiastically by his high priced attorney. What seems like yet another example of the total absence of loyalty among the rich is, in the cold light of reality, a natural reaction to a set of circumstances you or I would react to identically. If they were face to face, I have no doubt that Pecker could tell Trump without lying, "I like you, Donald, but I can't go to prison to protect you."

Everybody talks. And I understand completely why everybody talks, because I have no illusions that I would do the same thing in similar circumstances. I don't think that makes me a bad person; I think it makes me a human being who is afraid of things that are horribly unpleasant.

MASS FOR SHUT-INS EPISODE 8: SILENT SAM-DEMONIUM

I love the monthly "No, THIS is the best episode yet!" feeling of putting these podcasts together. Of course I am a little biased, but for Episode 008 I talk to a UNC graduate student and a political science professor at Mississippi State about Confederate monuments and Silent Sam in particular. Check the episode notes if you need a refresher on what Silent Sam is and why it has been all over the internet lately.

The story for this episode is also a fun one, something I've written about a few times on this website over the years: heists of art masterpieces, and what becomes of them after they're stolen. I only barely resisted the temptation to entitle that segment "Dude Where's My Vermeer."

Check it out and don't be afraid to 1) share it with your online pals and 2) leave a review on iTunes – the number of reviews positively affects Apple's algorithms that decide who and how many people will be exposed to the podcast in searches. It takes five seconds but helps me a lot.

WHITEWASH

Every major city has attempted to improve – in a "let's not actually address the problem" sort of way – community-police relations in recent years by establishing some sort of ostensibly civilian review or oversight board. In theory, this provides a layer of accountability over law enforcement who otherwise seem to act with impunity. In practice, these organizations are loaded up with carefully selected, inevitably very old or very white (preferably both) people whose reflex is to make excuses for police no matter what they do. When your Review and Accountability Board judges that every police-involved shooting is justified, it doesn't take people long to figure out that it might not be a source of independent oversight after all.

Seattle offers us an outstanding example of the phenomenon when its review board ruled not merely that the Seattle PD killing of 20 year old Tommy Le was justified because police "thought" he was holding a knife (it was a pen) but also that even if they HAD realized he was holding a pen it would have been justified anyway because a pen “can be used as an improvised weapon. Aimed at vulnerable parts of the body, like the face or throat, it can cause serious bodily injury if used to stab someone.”

The report similarly concluded that Le was advancing on the officers – a linchpin of their case for having used lethal force against him – without addressing the autopsy report indicating he was shot in the back twice.

Le clearly was on drugs when confronted – he was screaming and referring to himself as "The Creator" – so it's not inconceivable that he might have been hard to handle. But if police cannot handle a stoned kid holding a pen with anything short of shooting him three times, then that is a remarkable indictment of how bad the Seattle Police are at their jobs. It's certainly not a justification for their actions.

The review board's statement is exceptional here. It doesn't stop, as it could have, at whitewashing the shooting. Everyone expects that when police departments and their apologists investigate themselves they will conclude inevitably that the officers "feared for their safety" and thus had no choice but to shoot the suspect however many times they felt appropriate. But they go on to state that even if a set of circumstances that did not exist had existed, the shooting still would have been justified. The officers asserted all along that they believed he was holding a knife. Hey that's great, but even if you guys knew fully well that it was a pen you can still plug the kid because, hey, a pen can be a super dangerous weapon too, in certain scenarios we've seen in movies.

It's useful signaling to the police to let them know just how far the institutions that allegedly oversee them will go to cover for them.