DELUSIONS OF INSIGNIFICANCE

Posted in Rants on September 23rd, 2008 by Ed

In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll, 47% of respondents said that the Republicans are more to blame for the current economic mess. That makes sense, leaving us to wonder only about the logic of the remaining 53%.

Discounting the 8% who claimed that neither party is more responsible, we are left with a combined 44% of Americans who believe that the Democrats are more to blame (24%) or the parties share equal responsibility (20%). This might be the best evidence yet for one of Thomas Frank's favorite points (in both What's the Matter with Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew) – that the right has commandeered the language of victimhood, powerlessness, and anti-governmentism to the extent that these people do not even realize how long they have been in complete control of Washington. Somehow, no matter how many presidents they elect or how many decade-long Congressional majorities they have, the minority Democrats (whom the governing GOP treat worse than personae non grata) are somehow to blame.

Granted, 24% blaming the Democrats is unsurprising – this is the same 24% that voted for Alan Keyes in 2004. It is the same 24% level below which President Bush's approval rating will not fall. It is the 24% who would blame the Democrats if George Bush decided to invade Belgium tomorrow. These people, as Bill O'Reilly would say, are ideological zombies. Their opinions on politics are roughly as objective and valuable as Bill Swerski's opinions about Da Bears.

Since 1980, this country has lurched as far to the right on economic issues as any democratic nation has since the Industrial Revolution. Regulation and government have successfully been rebranded as the antichrist, the public has been conditioned to receive (so long as they maintain a steady flow of bitching) a new tax cut every five fucking minutes, and spending under "small government" conservatives has exploded to levels previously unimaginable – but that's probably all on "welfare" for the lazy colored folk, right?

This 44% will insist, even as things continue to get worse over the next 36 to 48 months, that the Democrats and nonspecific "liberals" are somehow to blame. Stuck in the 70s and unable to apply critical thinking skills to the arguments crammed down their throats by talk radio, they will blame this all on the big spending ways of left-wing Washington. Twelve years of a GOP Congress which reduced Clinton's role to a rubber stamp for milquetoasty "centrist" "new Democrat" free-market wanking and then did everything George W. Bush asked be damned. Eight years of Reagan and twelve of the Bushes be damned as well. The Democrats have been in control of the House (and at Lieberman's mercy in the one-seat majority Senate) for eighteen months! Doesn't that make them equally responsible?

I am seriously considering devoting a portion of my time to writing a handbook for liberal and progressive Americans entitled Stop Being Such a Goddamn Pussy. As we continue our march toward complete economic meltdown (The Dollar: Spend It, Or Burn It As Solid Fuel!tm) it is essential that this baseless, ridiculous argument that right-wing economic theory is somehow not responsible for our predicament be prevented from taking root. If you hear somebody make that claim, get about 18 inches from his face and tell him that he is brimming with shit. I, for one, have no intention of allowing anyone within my earshot of entertaining this delusion. I hate to say "We told you so", but…wait, no I don't. In fact I will get significant pleasure out of rubbing the right's nose in a simple set of facts: you did this. Your ideas. Your greed. Your leaders. Your ideology. Your childish insistence on believing what feels true rather than what can be supported by facts. Your insistence that the economic turmoil caused by repeated tax cuts during periods of runaway spending can be cured by more tax cuts.

This isn't a "difference of opinion" – it's the difference between correct and incorrect interpretations of basic facts. And if you wonder why I'm so aggressive about it, it's because I and everyone else who understands how full of shit these people are have to suffer the consequences of the toxic mess that three decades of supply-side leg-humping have created.

"I'M NOT A RACIST, BUT…"

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2008 by Ed

One of the great truisms in life (and a staple component of my oldest stand-up routine) is that anyone compelled to introduce a statement with "Now, I'm not a racist, but…" is about to say something really, really racist. Things that are not racist do not need "I'm not a racist" as a qualifier. In practice, of course, this is usually an intro to a statement along the lines of "…but I really think we need to start killing more Mexicans."

Similarly, I am entirely convinced that Our Leader's half-assed scheme is in fact a bailout simply by virture of the number of times we are being told it is not a bailout. A genuine Not Bailout would not have to be preceded consistently with "This is not a bailout." Were it not, it would not look and behave like one. Instead we have something that looks, feels, and acts like a bailout enveloped in reassurances that it isn't.

Here is how I interpret the proposal: the Treasury Department would be given authorization to spend nearly a trillion dollars buying worthless mortgages "at market value" without even a hint – literally, not one word – of new regulations to create the charade of trying to prevent this from recurring. This is right-wing economics in a nutshell – government regulation is the antichrist, but its handouts are demanded. The benevolent, Divinely Inspired hand of the market cannot accept government meddling and rules, but it sure as hell can accept government cash. Check that. It's actually your cash. This sort of thing happens around the world with some regularity (see Sweden's banks) but the response is usually for the government to take over the institutions and run them responsibly before ponying up to pay down the bad debt. This is just taking money out of your pocket, handing it to some jackasses who gave a crackhead a $300,000 mortgage, and telling them to go on their merry way. "Racketeering" might be a better term.

The problems here are so transparent that the bailout seems like some kind of joke. First, the entire problem is that people are refusing to accept "market value" (i.e., half of whatever over-inflated price they paid) for their homes. We have too many $500,000 mortgages on homes suddenly worth $225,000. Offering $225,000 isn't going to solve anything. What this will amount to is either very few mortgages being bought (unlikely) or the government bidding against itself until it pays far, far over "market value" for this worthless crap (very likely). Second, we don't have $700 billion. That's larger than the annual budget of the Pentagon. It's larger than the cost of the entire Iraq War. It's almost 20% of the entire Federal budget. The only way to create $700 billion out of thin air will involve A) selling more Treasury paper to China, as if they'd buy it, and/or B) whipping out the printing press and printing more money. Third, seriously? No new regulations? No promise to maybe consider looking into thinking about enforcing the ones already on the books? Just a hearty chuckle, telling the financial industry "You sure fucked that one up!" as we hand them a check for three-quarters of a trillion dollars?

What no one seems to understand (and what the GOP is in full crisis mode to delay until after November) is that these institutions need to be allowed to fail. The consequences will be dire, but the consequences of these idiotic schemes to keep the patient alive on the heart-lung machine for a few more weeks at a time will be far worse. The patient is going to die anyway, and this Mugabe-style "Debt? Just print more money!" plan is going to make things even harder on those stuck footing the bill when the inevitable happens. And when it does, whether it's 1929 all over again or something milder, of course we will see Mrs. Republican, Mr. Free Market Worshiper, Mr. More Tax Cuts, Mrs. Supply Side Economics, and Mr. Get Big Government Out of Our Lives front and center, hands outstretched, awaiting the handouts that inevitably follow the disasters that their policies cause.

NPF: SPECTACLES OF BRUTALITY

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 19th, 2008 by Ed

I'm going to try an experiment; tell me if you think this will work.

I'm going to the local animal shelter to buy a small puppy. This is not because I desire the companionship of a pet – I already have one. My pet alligator Snappy lives in a pool in the yard. The thing is, Snappy's awful hungry and, well, small mammals do the trick for a crocodilian at mealtime. Since I really enjoy watching living things suffer, I'm going to throw the puppy into Snappy's pool alive. Then I'll film it with my webcam and post the video on YouTube so all the other degenerates in the world can vicariously enjoy the spectacle.

What do you think? I don't see any problems here.

The reality is that if I adopted or purchased a dog for this purpose – and shared my Canine Snuff Film with the internet – I'd be explaining myself to a judge in short order. I would deserve the felony animal cruelty conviction I'd receive. Yet people do this every day with snakes and small mammals. I won't dignify the YouTube videos with links.

I am widely recognized as a bastard, about as warm and cuddly as a hungry wolverine holding a hand grenade, but there are two things in this world that turn me into a sentimental blob of happy: my sister's kids and pet Fancy Rats. Specifically, Liz's five rats. I greeted her decision to acquire them with great horror several years ago, but they quickly conquered all of my preconceived ideas. They are fabulous pets. I feel about them like you feel about your cat or dog. In fact they are like tiny dogs – full of personality, fun, always playing games – only considerably more intelligent.

For some reason we consider it socially acceptable to sell certain live animals for people to take home and stage their own gladitorial spectacles with other, larger animals. Well, there's no difference in me feeding your cat to an alligator and you feeding my rat to a snake. Yes, pet reptiles need to eat. That is why pet stores sell prepared rats who live to adulthood, are painlessly euthanized, and are frozen for storage. The snake doesn't care. Honest. This is why every single reputable reptile breeder, pet store, and pet-snake-lovers' community on Earth insists on frozen food. Aside from the base cruelty of throwing an animal in a small cage with its predator, live feeding is dangerous for snakes (a cornered adult rat can seriously fuck up or even kill a snake). Try joining an online group of reptile owners and asking where you can find live rats to feed Mr. Slithers. They will treat you like the idiot you are.

I understand your urge to put mousetraps in your garage and attic to keep the pests away. I don't expect that we can ever talk the world out of that even though it is unnecessary. Killing rodents for entertainment and disregarding the safety of your pet reptile at the same time is across the line, though. I'm not a person who readily adopts "causes" but I think I am ready to cast my lot with a movement against live animal feeding. You might think this is remarkably stupid. Nevertheless, I'm comfortable digging my heels in on this one unless and until you're ready to let me satiate Snappy's hunger with your cat – and watch the video.

SO THAT'S WHERE HANNITY COMES IN

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on September 18th, 2008 by Ed

I assume you've all seen this, but…McCain's campaign manager says that media will not have access to Sarah Palin (shocking!) until she is treated with "deference and respect." That would explain why her next interviewer was Sean Hannity, who will no doubt ask probing questions like "Does it hurt your feelings when liberals lie about you?"

I originally prepared a more substantive comment, but I'll condense it in the interest of efficiency: are you fucking kidding? There may not be precedent for a campaign with enough balls to explicitly state that the media lose access unless they agree to kiss the candidate's ass and promise not to ask any questions tougher than "Gee Sarah, is it hard to be so wonderful and important while raising five kids?"

SICK BURNAGE

Posted in Quick Hits on September 18th, 2008 by Ed

I never get tired of watching this: the sickest burn in debate history followed by the lamest comeback (attempt) since Franklin Pierce responded to critics by making fart noises with his mouth.**

**I may have made this up. But it's plausible.

FLEX YOUR HEAD

Posted in Election 2008 on September 18th, 2008 by Ed

It's a good day when I can introduce talk of polling with Minor Threat lyrics.

If you need to crystallize contemporary presidential politics you could do worse than pointing to the recent (9/10-9/11) Newsweek/Princeton survey questions about Sarah Palin:

"Based on what you have seen or heard about Sarah Palin so far, please tell me whether or not you think each of the following phrases describes Palin. What about [see below]? Does this describe Palin, or not?"
"Has taken on her own party to fight corruption in the Alaska state government"
"Has a record of opposing wasteful earmarks or 'pork barrel' government spending"
"Shares your views on the abortion issue"
"Shares your views about environmental policy and climate change"

Keep in mind, this poll is asking Americans (and we know how much substantive political information the man-in-the-street has) questions about someone they had never heard of five days prior. In short, aside from the abortion issue – on which her position was made front and center – an individual would have to be a voracious political junkie to answer any of these questions with information beyond the campaign PR that accompanied her nomination.

This reduces the system to the worst, most cynical brand of Newspeak: just introduce her as Sarah the Reformer and it'll stick more often than not. Sure, that strategy punts on the 25% of the population who will do some research to determine the veracity of that claim, but that's an acceptable consequence of firmly planting the idea in the remaining 75%. Don't bother finding a candidate who is a reformer or a feminist or whatever. Just nominate whoever you want and stick the label on 'em.

The question, in essence, is not asking "Do you think Sarah Palin fights corruption?" What the folks at Princeton and Newsweek are really asking (probably unwittingly) is "Of the marketing slogans hurled at you over the past week relative to Sarah Palin, which ones managed to stick?"

N.B. the Red Flag Polling No-No of prompting responses with information embedded in the questions. If they asked "What word comes to mind when I say Sarah Palin?" I wonder how many people would say "reformer?" On the other hand, I don't need to wonder how many will agree when the question is phrased, "Sarah Palin may be a reformer. Do you think she is?"

Tags:

THINGS I COULDN'T MAKE UP

Posted in Uncategorized on September 17th, 2008 by Ed

So of all the hypotheticals being thrown around during the General Election season, my favorite thus far was the friend who asked me "What happens if McCain dies before the election?" That's an obscure, interesting question to which I respond with another question – which election? The popular vote and the formal vote of the Electoral College are about six weeks apart, meaning that the correct response depends very much on when the nominee/candidate dies. And, believe it or not, there is precedent here. Seriously. I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.

If McCain/Obama died tomorrow, the candidates would be replaced according to the rules of their respective parties. For the Republicans, Rule #9 of the party bylaws states:

(The RNC) is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or…Vice President…as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

Assuming that they would not go through the logistical nightmare of re-staging the national convention, the RNC leadership would hold a meeting (with one week of public notice required) and make the call. Shooting from the hip, I imagine that the committee would choose someone based on name recognition and ability to foster a sympathy vote. Given that Sarah Palin isn't even allowed to talk to reporters, I doubt they'd thrust her into the captain's chair. A recycled name (Giuliani, Thompson, etc) would likely get the call.

For the Democrats, their charter describes a similar process. The Chairperson (in this case, Howard Dean) has the sole power to convene the National Committee and fill a void on a "National ticket." An Obama death would almost certainly be followed with the nomination of Hill-dawg, retaining Biden for continuity.

This has never happened. A candidate has never responded to a nomination by dying before the general election. The same cannot be said of responses to the election itself.

1872 was not a good year for Democrats (more accurately, 1860 to 1932 were not good years for the Democrats). In that year the party was literally unable to scrape up a nominee to run against incumbent Republican and most-popular-man-in-America Ulysses S. Grant. For shits and giggles, newspaper magnate Horace Greeley ran on the entirely made-up "Liberal Republican" ticket. Content to allow some eccentric millionaire to waste his own money rather than the party coffers, the Democratic Party simply endorsed Greeley's kamikaze run.

Predictably, Grant trounced his token opponent, although under the circumstances Greeley's 43% of the popular vote wildly exceeded expectations. Then Horace decided to die on November 29, weeks after the election but before electors cast their votes in early December. The Democratic electors, unconstrained by rules, scattered their votes among Thomas Hendricks of Indiana (future VP under Grover Cleveland) , Greeley's running mate B.G. Brown, and Georgia Governor Charles Jenkins.

That the dead candidate lost the election took much of the pressure off of the process; it really didn't matter for whom the Democratic electors voted. What if the victorious candidate died? The default option for electors would be the Vice President-Elect, but note well that this is not required. Electors could pick anyone, and in fact that is exactly how the system was originally intended to operate. Some very, very strange things could happen, and Americans could end up with a President who wasn't even a candidate at any point in the election. Or someone who was a candidate but got tossed on the reject pile.

The example of 1872 reminds us that, unbeknownst to most Americans, nearly any electoral oddity we can imagine (and disregard as improbable) happened at some point in the 19th Century.

BOOSH

Posted in Quick Hits on September 16th, 2008 by Ed

Single-day site traffic record was broken again on Tuesday. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to Big Mike at C&L.

h/t Spiro Agnew.

THE GHOST OF SPIRO AGNEW

Posted in Election 2008 on September 15th, 2008 by Ed

Among the political figures to whom Sarah Palin has been compared, Spiro T. Agnew is conspicuously absent. This is unsurprising from the GOP's perspective, as he resigned in disgrace because of the basest forms of corruption during his pre-VP political career (it's a common misconception that he went down with Watergate, but he was a felon without Nixon's help). On the other hand, his absence from the narrative is suprising given that Palin's nomination is a spitting image of Agnew's out-of-nowhere appearance on the national scene four decades ago. The two politicians are eerily similar and the scenario surrounding their nomination is downright identical: choose a neophyte who isn't qualified to run a kindergarten class and then turn the election into a pitched moral battle pitting Good Reg'lar Folk against that condescending liberal media.

Karl Rove has accurately opined that the Obama campaign forgets that its opponent is McCain, not Palin. That said, McCain needs to remember that he is running against Obama. Without that reminder, one would walk away from this race with the impression that he is running against the media. Scoring points off the tsunami of criticism directed at Palin is the campaign's newest strategy. But they didn't invent it.

This technique was pioneered by none other than Spiros Anagnostopoulos, spiritual godfather of the Liberal Media narrative (see Tom Lehmann's "The eyes of Spiro are upon you" from The Baffler). He was the suprise choice as Nixon's running mate after just 18 months as the Governor of Maryland. Before that his political experience consisted of four years as a shockingly corrupt mayor. Sound familiar yet? Like Palin, the Nixon campaign used its nominee as little more than a prop to inflame populist sentiments about "liberal elites" of whom the media are the living, omnipotent embodiment.


"I'm so Greek, it hurts."

The cultural myth of the liberal media was in its infancy in the 1960s and its proponents loved how Agnew was greeted with incredulity, sarcasm, and open hostility. How, the media wondered, can this corrupt hack with zero experience be a heartbeat away from the White House? Relying on every tired trick from Huey Long-style anti-intellectual populism, the GOP used this hostility to its advantage. It gave Agnew a believable martyr complex and plenty of appeal among empathetic voters. Attacking Agnew for his ignorance and inexperience was an attack on the Average Man. The conservative Southern voters Nixon so badly wanted had no trouble identifying with Spiro: "We too hate those know-it-alls, those east coast elites, those college professors who tell us we're wrong when we lynch negroes and mandate creationism."

Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson is the McCain campaign's effort to reanimate Spiro's corpse. In the interview, Palin was unable to answer a question about the Bush Doctrine because…well, she doesn't know what it is. With five years' teaching experience at a Big Ten school, my experience is that the average college sophomore can explain it. That someone who expects to be the VP cannot is front-page news, right? No, the story from that interview was not "PALIN UNABLE TO ANSWER HIGH SCHOOL-CALIBER FOREIGN POLICY QUESTION." The story is the media itself: "LOOK HOW MEAN CHARLIE GIBSON WAS TO OUR QUEEN." Palin must have looked bad because the media made her look bad, not because she doesn't know her ass from a tea kettle. That is Spiro's legacy: the story is not that a woman who wants to be one step from Commander in Chief is thunderingly stupid and has an infantile grasp of basic foreign policy concepts (no wonder all those reporters on her plane aren't allowed to talk to her). The story is that Charlie Gibson sneered at her. Of course the voters McCain-Palin is targeting can empathize – they too are ignorant of facts and details, they too have received that sneer. Thus a vote for McCain is a bold act of rebellion, an ego-boosting "fuck you" to the fancy book-learnin' crowd. No "damage control" is necessary – the whole point is for Americans who don't know shit to bond with one of their own.

Agnew is watching this from his recliner in hell and smiling. He channels Tom Joad, reminding all of his fellow Republicans: Wherever the media embarrass a talentless right-wing hack, I'll be there. Wherever two or more gather in my name, searching for ways to divert attention from lousy candidates, I'll be there. Wherever "regular folk" flip on Fox News in search of a candidate who reminds them of themselves – biased, ignorant, provincial in the extreme, and full of opinions unsupported by facts but which feel true – I'll be there.

FOR THE OHIOANS

Posted in Election 2008, Quick Hits on September 15th, 2008 by Ed

Since the GOP has literally created an industry centered on making sure people (young, brown, or poor ones, anyway) can't vote, I think it is important for Ohioans to realize that a failure to produce certain forms of identification does not preclude voting. According to our friends at the Franklin County (Columbus) Board of Elections, state law mandates:

Voters must bring identification to the polls in order to verify identity. Identification may include current and valid photo identification, a military identification, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document, other than this reminder or a voter registration notification that shows the voter's name and current address. Voters who do not provide one of these documents will still be able to vote by providing the last four digits of the voter's social security number and by casting a provisional ballot. Voters who do not have any of the above forms of identification, including a social security number, will still be able to vote by signing an affirmation swearing to the voter's identity under penalty of election falsification and by casting a provisional ballot.

Note that, aside from the list of acceptable ID being far more expansive than you've been led to believe, voters without any identification can still vote provisionally via affirmation. I don't have a list of 50 states' laws in front of me, but nearly every state has provisional balloting rules which require little more than an affidavit that a voter is not lying about his or her identity. In short, someone who tells you that you cannot vote is lying as long as you are registered.

Oh, and no matter how actively involved in politics you happen to be, there's still a decent chance that you're not properly registered at your current address. Do it now.