BOBBY JINDAL, WITNESS YOUR FUTURE

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 27th, 2009 by Ed

First, I would like to apologize. I have a job interview coming up which has preoccupied me, and I feel like this week sucked.

Second, Bobby Jindal's performance on Tuesday evening reminded me so much of a ShamWow infomercial that I decided to do a post on the ShamWow Guy. I should begin by noting that his name is Vince Offer. He came out of the damn womb cleaning himself off with a ShamWow and ready to film an infomercial. You know all about the ShamWow ad by now, that magical German-made towel that can absorb anything. Never mind that it's really a big scam – the towel's "absorbent powers" are the product of clever editing. Perhaps you're also familiar with his new project, the Slap Chop, which he sells with the delightful, subtle, and delightfully subtle double entendre "You're gonna love my nuts." Oh, Vince. You whip.

Apparently Vince is an ex-Scientologist who has successfully sued the "church." This makes Mr. Offer remarkably OK in my book no matter how much of a barnacle he is on America's ass. Unfortunately long before he sued Scientology or slapped his nuts on national TV he also starred in and directed a film called Underground Comedy Movie. The New York Post called it the worst film ever made, while the New York Times noted that it "stands as a monument to ineptitude and self-delusion." The film is a series of unrelated, scatalogical skits starring Offer, Joey Buttafuoco, and Gina Lee Nolin (whose skit consists of her loudly defecating). And. AND. Michael Clarke Duncan, who apparently has never said "no" to anything. Offer sued the Farrelly Brothers for "stealing" his idea in There's Something About Mary and Anna Nicole Smith for $4 million for backing out of the film in a rare show of taste.

After making (possibly) the worst movie ever, the entreprenurial Mr. Offer reinvented himself as a pitchman when he discovered the towel that would become ShamWow at a flea market. I have to imagine that this guy hangs out at a lot of flea markets. You know, scouting for new products. And peddling meth. Congratulations, Vince Offer. I don't know how a no-talent troll like him managed to do it, but he is a household name – the Ron Popeil of the Aughts. With a headset. And more jokes about his ballsack.

DEATHWATCH UPDATE

Posted in Quick Hits on February 26th, 2009 by Ed

Holy shit. It's a matter of weeks now. I imagine that all the administration is doing at this point is calculating which will cost less: forking over $20 billion every couple of months or forcing them into Chapter 11 and giving them Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing. After all, who in the hell else is going to do it? It's not like there's a private bank willing or able to shovel $40 billion into a furnace.

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WILL: HALF NEOCON, HALF OWL, ALL ILLUSION

Posted in Rants on February 26th, 2009 by Ed

In some ways I am impressed by George Will. He has written an altogether enjoyable book about our national pastime. He keeps his discourse on the Buckley/Safire level as opposed to slogging around in the sewer, ankle-deep in human waste, like his fellow conservatives on Talk Radio. But most of all I am impressed by how thoroughly and for how long he has successfully perpetrated a masterful illusion, convincing the media and public that he is an intelligent person whose intellectual power gives weight to his opinions. As most of what he says is in fact quite retarded, he creates the illusion of brilliance with diction, demeanor, vocabulary, posture, and tie selection.


O RLY, KRUGMN?

Sure, he's far brighter than the Glenn Becks of the world, but this fact does not place him in select company. Like Formula One is the highbrow NASCAR and the Council of Conservative Citizens is the Klan for the cocktail party set, Will is little more than Sean Hannity after a year or two in finishing school. His writing is a proofread, erudite version of the same old horseshit delivered by everyone else in his neck of the political woods. Will is a way for bourgeois Republicans – bankers, lawyers, etc. – to get their fix without surrendering their pride and feelings of intellectual superiority. Let's be honest: well-educated people have to feel ashamed of themselves reading Pajamas or listening to Michael Savage. Listening to Will makes getting the GOP talking points feel like going to church or sitting in on a particularly interesting class at Georgetown. That's why he exists.

His fellow pundits treat him with incredible deference, no doubt because Mr. Will is a friendly and gracious person. His charm must be great, for it prevents anyone from disagreeing with him. Ever. Until Paul Krugman came along. Now that he's regularly matched up against Krugman he no longer shares the camera solely with people who will unquestioningly swallow anything delivered in a condescending baritone and with politely folded hands. Krugman makes him look, well, like a pundit. Krugman doles out facts while Will, for all his polish, is exposed as just another guy on TV saying what he thinks and acting like his opinion is fact. Will's only accomplishment is spewing made-up crap about global warming and slamming "the unions" without making listeners feel like they are being lectured by their drunken Uncle Larry after being cornered at Thanksgiving. That's more than we can say about the rest of the GOP punditry, but…

Infomercial scam artists learned many years ago that a lot of mouthbreathers will believe anything as long as it comes from a man in a white lab coat. How could a man who looks like a doctor be lying? George must have been taking notes. He has made a 30-year career out of repeating things other, dumber pundits say in a way that doesn't insult upper middle class intelligence – provided one focuses solely on the delivery and disregards the substance.

99-CENT BIN SAVIORS

Posted in Quick Hits on February 25th, 2009 by Ed

Several commenters on this site and thousands of people in the blogosphere have noted the serious threat that Bobby Jindal could pose as a Republican challenger in the near future. After seeing his high school Debate Team performance last night, his Sistene Chapel of over-acting and schmaltz, I have to ask: are you kidding? Seriously, this is the new Savior? Even David f'n Brooks called it "a disaster for the Republican Party."

His delivery was the perfect hybrid of Infomercial Host and "hostage reading speech into camcorder at gunpoint." I couldn't tell if he was getting ready to rebut the President or sell me a ShamWow.

BAD BETS

Posted in Rants on February 25th, 2009 by Ed

In politics, like in anything else, there are good risks and bad ones. It often is difficult to evaluate political risks until many years after the fact. Nevertheless I think it is safe to say that when betting one's immediate future on a movement, it is a good idea to make sure said movement exists.


This is not a joke

Having impolitely and poorly faked their way through about 15 days' worth of bipartisanship, the mask has fallen off of Congressional Republicans and they've lapsed into a faithful re-enactment of the Clinton Years. They're throwing down the gauntlet and making their opposition to everything the President has to say loud, clear, and obnoxious. Republican Governors from dogpatch states like Louisiana are vowing to reject Federal money their piss-poor constituents could probably use. This is quite a gamble. The number of people without jobs and at the end of their financial ropes is high. But the GOP is banking on massive, grassroots opposition to the President's quasi-Marxist legislation which is apparently looting Joe Six Pack's wallet. (I thought the package was 40% tax cuts, but…bah! Details.)

One problem: it doesn't exist. The President is popular right now. The Congressional GOP is slightly – and I emphasize slightly – more popular than dick cancer. The pricey stimulus legislation is going over well too. The Democrats are literally twice as trusted to handle the crisis as their opponents. The massive movement opposing the legislation is nothing more than the same 20% of the people who give George W. Bush a thumbs-up, the same people who would bitch and moan if Obama shit six tons of platinum and cured cancer. The pontificating and bloviating by Richard Shelby, Bobby Jindal, and the rest isn't convincing Americans to oppose the administration. It's a minstrel show, a song-and-dance to entertain the stale crowd of rubes, militiamen, fundies, and chickenhawks who make up their base. That said crowd predictably barks and slaps its flippers together in approval is beyond irrelevant.

Of course these levels of popular support for Obama and the Democrats will change quickly if the legislation fails and the economy remains in the toilet. But here's the thing, the big question that no one in the GOP seems smart enough to have considered: what happens if the stimulus works? Do they have any idea how fucked they're going to be if the country does not collapse into a rubble heap as they're all desperately and selfishly hoping it will?

The foolishness runs even deeper. It's the nature of our economic system to experience ups and downs. Politically, whoever is in office is saddled with (often undeserved) responsibility. A thinking man would gamble that the current recession is going to be followed by a recovery, a recovery which will probably manifest itself in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Who do the GOP think is going to get credit for that? Even if the stimulus does absolutely nothing, Obama is going to look like a hero if things get better on his watch. Having opposed him tooth-and-nail, having told the entire country that he's a communist who will destroy America, having made clear that only the Republican alternative could ever pull the country out of its malaise, how is the GOP going to respond when the economy inevitably turns around? How will Rush, even with his vast and wild imagination, dream up a way for the GOP to take credit for it?

Had the party offered at least token support for the legislation they could have hedged their bets. It would have provided an insurance policy, a way to say "All the good parts were our idea." It was obvious that the legislation would pass, so why not throw 30% of the House Republicans on board just in case? Instead they put on a meaningless show to entertain and get a round of applause from people who already vote Republican all the time, every time, no matter what. They have gone all in, betting everything that not only will the stimulus fail but the economy will not improve. That has all the wisdom of waiting until dark and then betting the farm that the sun will never rise again.

STRATEGIC SCHIZOPHRENIA

Posted in Rants on February 24th, 2009 by Ed

Matthew Kaminski has a half-decent piece at the WSJ on California's dire budgetary straits. Although the author can't help himself from lapsing into Journal boilerplate in a few places (it's always "the unions" and "spending") he does identify the crux of the problem. Californians, like all American voters, have an emphatic answer when asked if they want more government services or lower taxes: they want both. As one of the lawmakers states in the article,

The people say they want all these programs, then there's nothing they want to pay for," says Hector De La Torre, a Democratic assemblyman. "The schizophrenia in the legislature reflects the peoples'.

In other words, the Sacramento is giving voters exactly what they want – extensive government programs and a tax burden nowhere near large enough to cover the costs. This could easily turn into Exhibit #1001 in support of the broadly recognized fact that Americans are idiots. While I find no fault with that conclusion, the phenomenon of American stupidity is not a sufficient explanation in this situation. The real culprit, fittingly enough, has California roots.

Americans are not so dumb that they cannot understand that state services cost money and that the state's income, primarily from taxes, must be sufficient to pay the bill. It used to be that voters were required to face this reality, to recognize that if they wanted Social Security and a gleaming fleet of aircraft carriers it would be paid for with appropriate levels of taxation. Then, circa 1975, a telegenic California Governor came along and told Americans that basic logic and reality no longer applied.

The message was simple: government can do expensive things and cut your taxes at the same time! How? By eliminating "waste." Note the key rhetorical distinction. Tax cuts would not be justified with reduced spending – they'd be paid for by cutting only the "bad" spending. Many a Republican, including the current Governator, took office with the naive impression that he'd look at the budget and see items like "One billion dollars for ivory backscratchers!" which could be prudently excised until the budget was balanced.

That was the trick. That's all there is or ever was to Reaganism. It's the idea that there is this huge, amorphous, readily identifiable mass of waste in every government budget which, once eliminated, enables giving people tax breaks while still meeting their basic demands for old age programs, a War on Drugs, the military, and so on. Just cut out the waste and everything will balance.

That idea might actually have worked if governments really did have the huge, unquestionably wasteful mounds of garbage in their budgets. In practice, of course, "waste" was defined by each individual voter as any spending that did not benefit him or her directly. Farmers considered their subsidies absolutely essential. Social programs aimed at inner cities are pure waste, though! The other lasting legacy of Reaganism – scapegoating "welfare queens" and urban blacks who apparently consumed 75% of the GDP – was nothing but an effort to provide people with an Other who could be assailed as the recipient of all the wasteful spending that white, conservative America was certain existed.

The impending bankruptcy of the State of California is the logical result of the kind of delusional and selfish thinking that portions of the GOP have encouraged for thirty years. The message isn't "cut spending", i.e. all spending. It's "Cut waste." Cut everything that doesn't benefit Me. When I benefit it's a public service. When you benefit it's welfare. So California's (and the nation's) economic problems have little to do with a collective failure to understand that the state cannot spend more than it takes in. The intractability is rooted in the widespread belief that we can protect what is Ours in the budget and still get huge tax breaks by eliminating that which benefits You.

LARRY KUDLOW'S CRYSTAL BALL

Posted in Quick Hits on February 23rd, 2009 by Ed

Lawrence "Nostradomus" Kudlow in July 2008:

(Oil at $75/barrel) would drive the Dow to somewhere between 15,000 and 16,000, and it would have a huge tax-cut effect on the economy. And, of course, it could completely change the November election outlook in a highly favorable way for the GOP.

$75 and 16,000 is pretty close ($39, 7100). (h/t Putz)

SOLEMN VOWS

Posted in Election 2010 on February 23rd, 2009 by Ed

Imagine it is late May 1945. The American and Soviet armies are racing toward Berlin and the Third Reich is in its last days. Its leaders are busy destroying evidence of their atrocities or killing themselves. The German army's goal is no longer to fight but to avoid the Soviets and surrender to the Americans. Imagine now that just days before Hitler dies and Berlin falls, Die Fuhrer takes to the radio and tells the world "You know, if we win this war we are going to burn your countries to the ground. You're all screwed. Mark my words."

That didn't happen. But it would have been pretty funny, right? You would almost be tempted to pat him on the head and say "Aww, that's so cute! 'If we win this war'! Good one, Adolf!" Decimated and in the final stages of its complete collapse, well…it would be somewhere between delusional and comical to hear the Germans talking about what would happen if they won the war.

Now. Watch this video and tell me you don't want to pinch Congressman Louie Gohmert's cheeks when he talks about what the GOP is going to do to the stimulus legislation if they re-take the majority in 2010. Then, brushing up on addition and subtraction if necessary, check the math required for that to happen.

Oh, Louie. You card!

Every time I look at the 2010 Senate races I have to stop and give myself a lecture about hubris. Then I waste a lot of time trying to figure out if my analysis is biased. I try pretending that I'm a GOP strategist hired to put a good spin on his party's odds. I make up fantastical scenarios in which voters do things completely at odds with the last three decades worth of elections. And none of it is enough to convince me that the GOP can keep the status quo in 2010 let alone win back any of its nine-seat deficit.

Eighteen months is a long time. Who knows that will happen between now and then. Perhaps President Obama will do something awful or fail so spectacularly that the country will run screaming from the Democratic Party with a vigor we can scarcely imagine today. In order for the GOP to win ~10 Senate seats and about 80 in the House, I'm thinking Obama would have to turn our nuclear arsenal over to North Korea. And triple everyone's taxes. And strangle a puppy during the State of the Union. Without going into all the details (which will come in good time, for those who care) consider the following:

  • Four GOP incumbents are retiring, three of them in states (MO, FL, and OH) in which the other Senator is a Democrat. In contrast, one Democrat is retiring in a state, Delaware, in which the GOP might not even offer a challenger.
  • Two states the GOP considers a slam-dunk, Kansas and Oklahoma, will be contested by term limited and wildly popular Democratic Governors Kathleen Sebelius and Brad Henry. And the Kansas seat is open (Brownback retirement).
  • Roland Burris is likely to be ancient history by January 2010, ending GOP hopes that the candidate will be so terrible that they can pull off an improbable Illinois win (a la Peter Fitzgerald vs. Carol Mosley Braun).
  • The usual GOP fantasy scenarios in which they make high-profile races in California and New York competitive ("We have really good challengers this time, we swear!") are about as likely as me waking up tomorrow with stigmata.
  • Like Layne Staley, whose obituary was famously prepared and kept on file at Spin Magazine for over three years, four Republican incumbents have political epitaphs at the ready: Burr (who hasn't slept since the November election), Specter (Ed Rendell + Cancer = Bad), Bunning, and David "More Hookers, Please!" Vitter.
  • Two additional GOP incumbents are under heavy retirement speculation: Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg, the latter stating that he will "probably not" stand for re-election after the Cabinet appointment fiasco.

    Maybe things will change. Maybe every remotely competitive seat will have an outstanding Republican challenger who runs a great campaign. Maybe the Democrats will blow their existing advantage through sheer ineptitude. Maybe I'll look back at this post after a Red Tidal Wave of Awesomeness on November 2, 2010 and feel embarrassed that I short-changed the GOP juggernaut. Or maybe we'll wake up on November 3 with 63 Democrats in the Senate, wondering aloud what exactly it's going to take for the GOP to get the message.

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    15 ALBUMS

    Posted in No Politics Friday on February 20th, 2009 by Ed

    This 15 Albums that have changed one's life meme is floating around all of the social networking sites and I've decided to have a go at it. Having hundreds – hell, maybe thousands – of albums that I listen to, I was curious to see if I could narrow it down to fifteen and to think about which albums really affected me as opposed to just naming my favorite ones. The surprising thing as I look back over the list is how many of these albums were legitimately popular. Several actually went Platinum and beyond. Being someone who listens almost exclusively to unpopular and somewhat obscure music this was unexpected. But I suppose that it took exposure to an important handful of popular albums to start me down the path toward the obscure ones. That has always been my personality, to find something that appeals to me and then to start doing research to see where else it leads. Thus NIN led to Brainiac led to Trenchmouth led to Nomeansno. Nirvana begat the Jesus Lizard begat Shellac.

    This is the result, not that it really matters to you. Feel free to add your own in the comments. Or don't. For the record, it pains me to exclude some albums I really love (i.e., Exile in Guyvilleor Trenchmouth v. the Light of the Sun) because I couldn't call them influential. Sorry, no butt-rock. The 80s had almost no effect on me. I am a child of grunge and I retain an extensive collection of flannels.

    15. Rage Against the Machine, Evil Empire: It's easy as an adult to consider their politics sophomoric, but this album hit me pretty hard when I was 16 and thought Ayn Rand was cool. I think they deserve a hat-tip for exposing younger audiences to messages that, at least in the pre-Internet days, were not widely disseminated.

    14. Mindless Self Indulgence, Alienating our Audience: These guys/girls are just so unhinged and bizarre that I can't help but like them. They are my Captain Beefheart. Pure insanity. Falsetto, screaming, distorted guitar, odd time signatures, techno beats, lyrics mostly about hookers and blow…it's the perfect "We do not give a shit if you like this, this is what we do" album. Which, you know, kinda sums up TremFu.

    13. Local H, Pack up the Cats: I still insist that this is the most underrated album of the last 20 years. It's their Dark Side of the Moon. "500,000 Scovilles" into "What Can I Tell You" is probably this band's high water mark.

    12. Weezer, Pinkerton: Not going to lie, this album pretty much carried me through my first break-up and all of 1999.

    11. Tool, Ænima: Ditto. I still can't believe this album was popular. I still can't believe that a band got radio airplay for a single based on the theories of Carl Jung. I still can't believe how many high school football players and fratboys have headbanged to songs about gay sex without realizing it.

    10. Pixies, Surfer Rosa/Doolittle: Not everyone listened to the Pixies, but everyone who did joined a band.

    9. Shellac, At Action Park: Shellac and Brainiac successfully weaned me from popular music. Everything else here is a result of that. I also loved the idea that someone's guitar would intentionally sound like a food processor.

    8. McLusky, McLusky Do Dallas: Best album of the 00's, hands down. So simple, so inimitable. This is the kind of songwriting I wish I could do.

    7. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral: This band was essentially all I listened to in high school. The release of this album occupied the better part of 18 months of my life.

    6. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me: Such a great start-to-finish piece of music. Made me realize the importance of listening to albums as a whole, not picking out tracks like links of sausage.

    5. nomeansno, Wrong: 1989! So far ahead of its time, it isn't even funny. Miles Davis meets the Descendents, plus Canada.

    4. The Jesus Lizard, Goat: Hadn't heard anything like it before, haven't heard anything like it since. It's harsh, it's incomprehensible, and I loved it at first listen.

    3. Brainiac, Bonsai Superstar: Given the kind of crap I was listening to when this album came out, it sounded like it came from another planet. I was hooked and, for the first time, aware of the fact that there was good music that wasn't on the radio. Still in my all-time Top 5. RIP, Timmy.

    2. Nirvana, In Utero: Introduced me to Steve Albini, caused me to pick up a guitar and start writing songs, and I've stolen just about everything I've ever done with drums from Dave Grohl. Yeah, this album was pretty influential. I listened to it daily for about 4 years. It was a great Eureka! moment when I played this through headphones and thought, "Wow, the drums sound like drums! Instruments sound like instruments without 75 layers of compression!"

    1. Bill Hicks, Arizona Bay / Relentless: Not music, but album(s) nonetheless. Everything I hadn't been able to understand for 18 years suddenly made sense when I heard it. I can honestly say it changed me. I've always sucked at fitting in and acting like a normal person; after I heard this, I didn't feel like I had to.

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    ROLE REVERSAL

    Posted in Rants on February 19th, 2009 by Ed

    Larry Sabato, a man known for being a tremendous political scientist and a tremendous ass, made the following comment on Neil Cavuto's sycophantic Fox News show early in the 2008 election:

    "Look, when you analyze parties, you need to think of them this way: The Democratic Party is the mommy party, and the Republican Party is the daddy party…the mother is loving and caring and takes us back in and provides the safety net. The father is the disciplinarian. Tough love. He makes us face up to hard realities, at least in many families."

    This gender-stereotyped piece of conventional wisdom has been popular since the Great Depression. Americans, especially the older ones, tend to see the parties this way. The Republicans make prosperity with their endless reserves of prudence, caution, and forethought. The Democrats spend prosperity with equally endless reserves of idealism, compassion, and committment to the poor. Democrats have big, expensive ideas. Republicans soberly tend the purse strings. When times are good, the public turns to Democrats to try to make things better for the greatest number of people. When times are tough we bring on the GOP to apply some discipline to our spending habits and social crusades.

    Conventional wisdom is often misguided or flat-out wrong. But let's be honest: these stereotypes had some basis in reality during the New Deal period. The Democrats were exceedingly idealistic. They did spend a lot of money on the social safety net and always had ideas that would spend even more. They had plans to save the poor and elderly, to rehabilitate criminals into productive citizens, and to end racial disharmony. Throughout the New Deal era the GOP, nearly always from the minority, indeed played the role of the killjoy, the responsible adult who would say, "Your ideas are nice, but we can't afford it." They applied the brakes and generally acted as a big stick in the mud, albeit a welcome one. The country needed their dour presence to keep the Democrats from going overboard.

    It's not perfect – generalizations never are – but there is some truth to the stereotype of the parties as Compassion/Idealism vs. Sobriety/Discipline. So my question is, what happened? Why has so little attention been paid to the fact that if this was true at some point it certainly isn't anymore?

    Of course, the media believes the stereotypes are still relevant. Witness the stimulus legislation, they say. The Democrats wanted to spend-spend-spend and the GOP was there to say "no." That's overly-literal and far too simplistic an analysis of what role the parties are really playing at the moment. Since 1980, when Reagan replaced the ideological combination of tax cuts/spending cuts with tax cuts/spend like drunken sailors on shore leave, the Democrats have twice been called to clean up a Republican clusterfuck. The 1992 and 2008 elections were both reactions against 12 and 8 year binges of Reaganomics which left the nation balls-deep in debt, with high unemployment, trying to keep employers from heading to Mexico, and in the midst of a dangerous recession. Our drunken orgies of fiscal irresponsibility now come courtesy of the responsible party. The hippies and dreamers of the left are now the responsible ones.

    It's tempting to say that the roles are reversed, that the GOP is mommy and the Democrats are daddy. But given that the GOP lacks anything resembling the compassion we'd associate with the mommy stereotype, I think it's more accurate to say that the Democrats have become Mom and Dad. The GOP is our drunken uncle, the kind who isn't allowed to be alone with the kids. Who blows his Social Security checks at the riverboat casino. Who is always evading creditors. Who always seems to be wanted by both the law and the criminal class. Who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, or both. The GOP may fancy themselves our level-headed protectors but in reality they are like junkies. They piss through enormous sums of money in the blink of an eye, benefitting only themselves and leaving them in need of more cash five minutes later.

    Looking at the small picture – the fact that the GOP is going to oppose any and every single thing the Democrats propose – reinforces the stereotypes. But when one considers the current political scenario in the context of the past eight years, understanding why the Democrats are in charge and why everything is so fucked up, it makes no sense whatsoever. If this is "daddy," it's the dad on the billboard who owes 10 years' worth of child support and who bears facial scars from the misfortune of being hunched over the meth lab when it exploded.

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