FREAKSHOW

Posted in Rants on August 31st, 2011 by Ed

I've always liked the story, despite the fact that it may be apocryphal, about the brief fascination among the media in the 1980s and early 1990s with groups like the KKK. Supposedly the KKK itself had declined – other white supremacist and neo-nationalist groups were siphoning off members – to the point that one annual Klan rally was attended by only around 100 souls…more than half of whom turned out to be either undercover law enforcement or undercover journalists hoping for a salacious story.

I don't know if that's true, but it isn't hard to believe. The media have a strong interest in crowds of freaks, and they remain interested in such groups long beyond the point at which anyone else does. To the public, even among racists, the Klan rated a strong "Who gives a rat's ass?" by the Eighties. But among the media the response remained the same: make sure you get a burning cross picture and a few good quotes about the Jews or something. Journalistic interest in the group persisted beyond its relevance to the point that reporters began outnumbering participants.

Last week in Naples, Florida a group of around 15 journalists showed up to cover a book signing by Witch/failed Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. Exactly five members of the public attended the event, one of them apparently an odd teen who asked her to sign his book on demonology. Having five people in attendance doesn't even qualify something as an event. Basement punk shows can get 50 people to show up with little effort. The average PTA meeting has five times that many attendees. I could do a comedy show in Naples, Florida and get five people to show up.

I understand why the O'Donnell event is of interest to the media while events with larger crowds are not: they want to see the Tea Party Freaks in all their glory. They want misspelled signs, crackpots with guns, old people ranting about the gub'mint, flags aplenty, and some dipshit dressed as Paul Revere. Fox News aside, Teabaggers are entertainment for journalists and comedy relief in news broadcasts. The problem, of course, is that the continued obsession with the Tea Party ignores the fact that the Tea Party doesn't really exist anymore. For any number of plausible reasons the people showing up to events in 2009 and early 2010 aren't showing up these days. Tea Party USA is just another hacky activist group – as it always has been, arguably – fronted by dinosaur Beltway insiders like Ralph Reed and Dick Armey. It no longer even has the veneer of a populist uprising. Without the crowds of freaks it's neither entertaining nor a believable front group for a bunch of tycoons. It's just another fad entering its 15th minute of fame, a hollowed out orange peel from which the media are attempting to squeeze the last drop of ratings value. The unfortunate consequence is to further the false impression that the Tea Party continues to be politically relevant.

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LAST RESORT

Posted in Rants on August 30th, 2011 by Ed

The reason I have so little respect for Small Government, drown-it-in-the-bathtub arguments, and often the people who spout them, is that when the proverbial excrement hits the fan, every person in this country howls for the gub'mint to save him like a baby that needs its bottle. As a nation we whine incessantly about it and vote for people who vow to destroy it, but there will be hell to pay if it isn't there immediately to fix things when the (hurricane/tornado/wildfire/drought/blizzard/plague of locusts) comes. Why can't Washington cut my taxes while also protecting me from every conceivable threat?

Earlier this year, Rick Perry demanded that the Obama administration declare Texas a disaster area due to wildfires, the primary advantage of which from the states' perspective is the ability to send FEMA a bill. When disaster declarations are made, Washington typically lets states handle the disaster but repay around 75% of the costs. So yes, that was Rick Perry demanding that the government (of the nation he wants to secede from) asking Congress cut him a check…and then throwing a bitch fit when it said No.

Chris Christie will be following Perry's example soon now that New Jersey has sustained what he estimates as "billions" of dollars in damage. I guess New Jersey's budget is a little short and the legions of Tea Party volunteers aren't going to be handling the cleanup and rebuilding. Do I blame states and their residents for wanting the government to provide disaster relief? No. I blame them for insisting that Government is Evil, sometimes actively working to dismantle it, until the tornado turns their house and community into a pile of twigs. A little consistency is too much to expect, apparently.

Not surprisingly, people who actually know a thing or two about emergency management are worried that "deficit fever" severely limits the government's ability to respond to major disasters. FEMA's hurricane response is forcing it to eliminate or delay tornado relief projects in Joplin, MO. The public at large, and even non-profit organizations, tend to forget about affected communities as soon as the cameras leave town and the story goes stale. The government and its army of bureaucrats have always been relied upon to stay until the job is done. Neither the resources nor the will power are forthcoming from any other source.

Since the media and the right are in love with the Federal budget as Household budget analogy, it's surprising (but not really) that the idea of saving for a rainy day is so far beyond them. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck knows that you can never get ahead financially because…well, shit keeps happening. The car breaks down, the kids get sick, and so on. When your budget and expenses are equal almost to the penny, every unexpected expense is a back breaker. Now that our Beltway betters have decided that the government will be run on a shoestring with an eye toward hollowing it out even further in the coming years, I suppose that recovering from hurricanes and flooding is another area in which it is time for Rugged Individualism to shine.

NPF: MARKET RESEARCH

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 26th, 2011 by Ed

Last weekend a comedian-friend and I went to see a group of four touring comedians making an appearance at our favorite local venue. They were unknowns, but they all had TV credits and other vaguely impressive credentials. I will spare you the details of how awful it was – I later noticed that many of the TV credits were from MTV; imagine the kind of comedy that a person who enjoys Jersey Shore would like – except to note that about 30-40% of the words used on stage that night were "dude", "bro", and "fag."

Yes, one of them imitated an Asian accent for about 2 minutes.

More annoying than the set was their persistence in asking nearly every person in attendance how he or she heard about the show. No doubt this was for cynical if casual market research. These guys were the kind for whom the phrase "selling out" has no meaning, as they enter the world of comedy with no integrity to sell. They were quite curious, apparently, which of their marketing methods had been most successful.

It got me thinking (not their comedy, of course, which inspired thoughts about nothing except homicide and escape) about the same question for Gin and Tacos. There are lots of readers now. I can still remember the days of getting 50 hits, mostly from my friends, and calling it a success. Over time things have grown considerably.

The purpose of this question is solely to satisfy my curiosity and will be used for no sinister marketing purposes nor to attract a corporate sponsor: What brought you here initially? Was I suggested by one of your friends? Did you arrive from a link on a different site – especially Crooks & Liars? Random internet search? Internet search specifically for gin and/or tacos? Saw a sticker on someone's car? Wrote three words in the search bar, hit ctrl-Enter, and hoped for the best?

I'm glad you're all here. Some of you have been here for many, many years. Some of you are brand new. Regardless, I am at the point at which I am looking at the traffic and wondering where in the hell all of these people are coming from. Incoming links are easy enough to track, but I'm not interested in who visits once for 60 seconds via C&L links. I'm curious about how the people who come back again and again were introduced to this site – how the addiction began, so to speak.

TECH WIZARDS

Posted in Rants on August 25th, 2011 by Ed

Today I had three different students send me nearly identical emails: "My TA in your class is ______. I didn't write down his email address on the first day of class. How do I get in touch with him?"

Granted, these are freshmen. I assume most of them are 18 or 19. But here's the thing. If one visits the university homepage, the first thing at the top page is the name and logo of the school. Immediately to the right of that is a large white box that says "FIND PEOPLE" with a blank line and a search button. The explanation cannot be laziness, can it? Certainly it took more time to email me (and await a response) than to open the most obvious website for finding this information, putting the TA's name into a search box, and hitting enter.

I have this kind of interaction with undergraduates constantly. Constantly. Often people question my honesty when I tell stories of some of the requests for information students make. For example, last fall at least 1/4 of my 325 intro American Politics students emailed me or asked me in person, "Where do I vote?" Exasperated, I went to class on Election Day, opened a browser on the projection screen, and typed "Where do I vote?" into Google. One-fiftieth of a second later, Google produced a line to enter one's address and then, another fraction of a second later, a detailed map of one's polling location.

These anecdotal findings are supported by a new study at five Illinois colleges of students' ability to find information and do research on the internet. The headline sums up the results: College Students Stumped by Search Engines. I'll go one step farther and say that not only are they stumped by search engines, they're stumped merely by the need for information. The idea of using a search engine to find it doesn't even occur to most of them. I have been asked the following questions in my teaching career:

  • Is there a website where I can read the Constitution?
  • How do I attach something to email?
  • Where can I order the textbook from?
  • How do I find articles about ________? (x1000)
  • I simply cannot comprehend how college students can attain this level of information illiteracy. Search engines are designed so that a child can use them successfully; you type a word in a box and it gives you websites about that thing, be it "Constitution", the name of a textbook, or literally any fathomable topic. Somehow about half of the students I encounter at a decent university cannot do this. More accurately, it doesn't even dawn on them to try to find the information they need. They just ask someone, or they remain silent and go without it.

    How can this be? These are "The Millennials", the generation raised on the internet. I see them every day, glued to their laptops and mobile devices. They probably spend anywhere from six to twelve hours every day online. And we are constantly subjected to cloying articles and news stories about how the U.S. has a generation of little tech wizards on the way. Unfortunately their talents with this hand-held mobile wireless technology appear to be limited to sending text messages and staring at Facebook. Maybe some of them shop online too.

    Yet even that much should be sufficient to give them basic facility with search engines. To find someone on Facebook, you put a name in the search box. To find Katy Perry's latest masterwork on Amazon, you search "Katy Perry." What is the disconnect here? How is it that they can find Joe Blow on Facebook or use the search function on a retail website but when they need to find out who wrote Federalist 10 they can't connect the dots? When they need to write a paper on the 1994 election, why doesn't it seem logical to start with a search term like "1994 election" and go from there?

    The basic skills and comprehension of how websites work appear to be present. The part that baffles me is why they seem so unable to find out things they need to know. Whatever the explanation, I feel confident that the relationship between Millennials and technology is being misrepresented considerably.

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    FOX, HEN HOUSE

    Posted in Election 2012, Rants on August 24th, 2011 by Ed

    A quick summary of why I never got on board with ObamaMania and why, at its top dollar best, our political system today can produce a reformer about as radical as William Howard Taft. Shorter title: This is why we are so fucked.

    News item, July 13, 2011: "Immelt: Obama jobs council devising plans for job creation." General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt was the logical choice to serve as Barack Obama's "jobs czar" – who knows more about creating jobs than the CEOs of large, multinational corporations?

    News item, July 25, 2011: "GE Moves 115 Year Old X-Ray Unit to China." See? Look at all of the jobs he created. In China. By closing something that has been in Waukesha, WI for more than a century. To "tap growth" in China. And these aren't the kind of pull-the-lever-on-the-kick-press jobs that we keep being told are fated to go overseas because they involve no skill. These are exactly the kind of high-tech buzzword jobs that Obama won't shut the hell up about, excepting the absence of "green" in the description.

    This. This is why Barack Obama is a failure of colossal proportions and why I don't want to hear any of the half-assed excuses about how everything that has happened to him is the fault of nasty Republicans, stupid voters, and the like. He's a failure because despite what many of you managed to convince yourselves in 2008, he's just another smiling face in a long line of corporatist whores that have rotted what used to be a somewhat liberal party from within and left us with a political system offering little but the illusion of choice.

    For the last decade, many people who study political participation have speculated that 1996 and 2000 might have been the nadir of voter turnout and interest in politics in the U.S. The 1996 election in particular was contested during a strong economy between two candidates no one much cared for. Increased turnout was observed in 2004 and again in 2008. I can't wait to see 2012. We're going to see campaigns spending previously unfathomable amounts of money in an effort to fire up voting bases whose attitudes toward the candidates range from boredom to white-hot anger.

    Tell me something: where is that wave of energy and enthusiasm that swept Obama into office in 2008 going to come from in 2012, with the President owning two wars that didn't end (plus a third that just started), the Teabagger austerity agenda that he endorsed wholeheartedly, and supporters already resorting to arguments of last resort like, "Well, he's better than the alternative." On the Republican side the nominee will either be a semi-sane candidate who the base will hate (see: McCain) or a lunatic for whom sane people will be too embarrassed to vote. That record voter turnout in 2008 could turn into record lows in a single election cycle.

    Aside from the half-assed health care reform that he allowed insurance companies to write, what has Barack Obama accomplished to encourage – or even mildly please – his core supporters? The Immelt appointment as Jobs Czar and the vignette about GE's job growth plan for China is a good representation of what Obama is all about: repeatedly, naively believing that untrustworthy people – Teabaggers, John Boehner, CEOs of companies that pay no taxes and employ 60% of their workforce outside of the U.S. – will work with him "in good faith" if he uses a lot of soaring rhetoric and asks them nicely enough. He seems fundamentally incapable of realizing that these people do not like him and do not care about his interests or those of anyone but themselves. And so they break it off in his ass, not occasionally but every single time.

    The alternative hypothesis is that he fundamentally agrees with a corporate, Wall Street friendly version of liberalism (aka Moderate Republicanism) or, even worse, he is essentially a Manchurian Candidate right-winger. I find that possibility so disheartening that I prefer to believe that he is stupid.

    LAST RESORT

    Posted in Rants on August 23rd, 2011 by Ed

    When teaching about the presidency I emphasize that the Constitution describes an office with a limited set of powers. In fact, only one of the enumerated powers in Art. II can be exercised by a president without the consent of another branch – for example, appointments, treaties, and military action all require some degree of participation from Congress. The sole power he can exercise independently is the pardon. The same is true for the governor in many, but not all, states.

    Why? Well, I usually point out to the class (with no small amount of sarcastic humor) that the authors of our Constitution realized that, believe it or not, the justice system they created might – just might – convict innocent people. Borrowing the pardon from the British system, where final appeals could be made to the monarch, the Constitution allows the wrongly convicted one last and final appeal from a court of one. Of course, over time the pardon has become a way to score cheap political points – Grr! Tough on Crime! – and the facts of cases are rarely determinative of the outcome.

    The takeaway point is that even The Great Exalted Founders recognized that our justice system – the system they created according to their own ideals – would convict the innocent and too harshly punish the convicted. And boy howdy were they right. The only real flaw in their logic was the belief that the pardon power would do anything to ameliorate the problem.

    Over the past few days there has been a celebratory atmosphere around the release of the so-called West Memphis Three, a trio of convicted murderers in Arkansas (one sentenced to death) caught up in the late 1980s moral panic over "satanic ritual abuse" and subject to an absolute sham of a trial. It took many years for DNA evidence to exonerate them – shockingly enough, there was plenty of DNA at the crime scene from the murdered boys' own father, but not the convicted men. I can't say "All's well that ends well" because these men have lost 18 years of their lives and no amount of compensation or post-release celebration can make up for that. But at least they're out. They didn't die in prison.

    I understand why people feel like high-fiving and enjoying a "We did it!" moment, as publicity and activism for the WM3 contributed to the eventual outcome. Not to be a downer, but here's the problem: our prisons are full of these people. Chock full. And very few of them have two documentary films, a star-studded benefit album, and dozens of Hollywood backers to keep the spotlight on the case. They don't all have excellent pro bono counsel and independent investigators devoting a decade to their cause. Most of them are going to die in prison, or at least spend an unforgivably long amount of time there. Americans live in a considerable amount of denial about the efficacy of our judicial system; in the back of our minds we know that it's a sham and that the outcomes depend on the price of one's lawyer, the color of one's skin, and all kinds of other superficial nonsense.

    We know it, but we don't like to think about it. We content ourselves with the occasional cause celebre, and a successful resolution creates the impression that progress is being made. Yet if we ever bothered to peel back the crusted layers of fraud, bias, and oppression around our criminal courtrooms we would be forced to confront the reality of hundreds upon hundreds of questionably convicted inmates who aren't so fortunate as to be on Henry Rollins' tweets every few weeks to remind us of their plight. We can't wrap our minds around the number of wrongfully or questionably convicted people in our prisons, so we don't try.

    SHORTCUTS

    Posted in Election 2012 on August 22nd, 2011 by Ed

    The Cape Coral News-Press has a piece on Craig Miller, an unheralded candidate for the Republican nomination in the Florida Senate race. I'd call it "interesting" if not for the fear of implying that Miller himself is worth thinking about for more than 30 seconds. What he represents, however, is telling.

    1. Miller, owner of the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse chain, touts himself using one of the more moronic phrases in circulation in modern politics: "I am a business person. That will trump a career politician in 2012. I am the only one in this race who has run a business." This line, a favorite of the Mitt Romneys and Ron Johnsons of the world, has always puzzled me. What is this supposed to mean? How does this make a candidate more fit to hold office? So you've run a business, Craig. Great. So has the guy who dry cleans your clothes. Should he be in the Senate too? Unsurprisingly, the Venn diagram of people who use this phrase fully eclipses those who think "Government should be run like a business!" Equally unsurprisingly, they all quickly discover that it doesn't quite work that way. I could see the analogy for an executive – maybe – but for a Senator? Yes Craig, the skills involved in opening a chain of steak restaurants is nearly identical to those necessary in the Senate. In fact being a Senator has been described by most who have held the office as "Much like being the owner of a chain of steakhouses."

    2. He also touts his outsider status, which is nothing new. Running against Washington is a tactic as old as Washington. But is someone like Miller an outsider or simply an opportunist? One of the most prominent consequences of the Teabagging movement has been to catapult an untold number of complete yahoos into political prominence – Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Mike Lee, and so many more – without having to go through that pesky process of paying dues, making a name for themselves, and building a base of political support. Instead of outsiders, we have a bunch of people who see a shortcut to the top, a brief window of opportunity for crackpots to ride a wave of anger, ignorance, and resentment into positions of power. These people are a healthy mix of genuine lunatics – the kind of person you would avoid on the bus or at a party – and rich, arrogant assholes who know a crowd of suckers when they see one.

    Very few members of Congress arrived with noble intentions, but this latest gaggle of businessmen-turned-Congressmen and crusaders against water fluoridation are even more crass than usual. The calculus appears quite simple: throw as much red meat as possible to the party base, sweep into office on a wave of anger and apathy, and spend the next X years lining your pockets and those of your allies while laughing at how easy it was.

    POSTSCRIPT: And the punchline? "Miller’s tenure as chief executive officer of Ruth’s Chris ended in 2008 when he was forced to resign amid falling profits and tumbling stock prices."

    NPF: WE DELIVER FOR YOU

    Posted in No Politics Friday on August 19th, 2011 by Ed

    With the recent news that US Postal Service losses in 2011 have been far greater than expected – They're now losing more than $3 billion per fiscal quarter – and with the continued decline in mail volume, it seems only a matter of time until Congress takes the austerity stick uses it to beat the agency half to death. Your anecdotal experience is probably enough to explain why; try to think of the last time you received mail that wasn't garbage. If I didn't occasionally buy something off eBay that arrived by mail, credit card junk mail is the only thing I would ever receive. The Postal Service is unlikely to disappear, but it is highly likely that we won't recognize it in a few more years. Post offices will be closed and consolidated, delivery will be limited to a few times per week in some areas, and the agency will devote even more of its resources to shipping packages as opposed to carrying letters.

    In honor of the long history of the USPS (and its predecessor, the Post Office Department originally headed by Ben Franklin, here is a random, hopefully entertaining list of interesting postal trivia and oddities I've amassed over the years.

    - As of 2011, the USPS still delivers mail regularly via mule train on one route. An 8-mile trip to the bottom of a canyon to deliver mail to Havasupi Indians in Arizona occurs weekly. Mules, people.

    - Although it has been a source of controversy, the most expensive mail route in the U.S. continues as the only one with delivery solely by air. Once per week a subcontractor, who is paid over $50,000 annually in the contract, flies mail to 20 cabins and ranches in the Frank Church Wilderness Area in Idaho. (The cuts referenced in this NPR story were later overturned by the Postmaster General).

    - The Zip Code 48222 is a boat on the Detroit River called the J.W. Westcott, which deliver mail to passing ships without either vessel docking. WTF. I have never understood this. But it exists.

    - The longest daily rural mail route is 148 miles long and snakes through rural northwestern North Dakota. It serves less than 100 addresses over that vast distance. North Dakota is not a very exciting place, is it? And I bet the letter carriers draw straws to avoid this route.

    - The very first daily, day-and-night transcontinental air mail route – from NYC to San Francisco – was established in 1924. The plane stopped between 12 and 16 times for fuel. Air travel has changed a lot, hasn't it.

    - Zip Codes rise as one travels west. The highest, 99950, belongs to Ketchikan, Alaska, home of the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" that became an issue in the 2008 election. The lowest, 00501, serves a single IRS office building in New York.

    - The Pentagon has six Zip Codes. For a single building. The World Trade Center had one as well. Until 2008, Chicago's Merchandise Mart also had its own (60654).

    - Marc Chagall's painting "Study for Over Vitebsk" was stolen the Jewish Museum in New York in 2001 and found in a Topeka, Kansas dead letter office. Legally, dead letters are the only kind of mail that can be opened by the Postal Service in an attempt to determine the intended recipient. Or to discover priceless art.

    - Loma Linda, CA has no Saturday delivery but is the only municipality with regular Sunday delivery. The town has a large percentage of Seventh Day Adventists, including among its postal workers, who will not work on Saturday.

    - The Post Office Department, forerunner of the USPS, had a seriously awesome logo:

    - In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, mail was delivered several times per day. In major cities like New York, deliveries in business districts took place almost continuously during the day. Wall Street and Lower Manhattan were the last areas with two-per-day delivery, which ended in 1990.

    - For the last 20 years, new USPS employees have seen a training video starring one of the most famous fictional mailmen, Cliff Clavin of Cheers.

    - Mail delivery to and in Alaska is a major drain on the USPS. With a poor road network and low population density, it has hundreds of towns to which mail must be flown daily.

    - The largest USPS facility in the country by far is Chicago's main post office / sorting facility. It is so large that Interstate 290 travels underneath it at one point. Most of the complex has been abandoned for years. Daley wanted to turn it into a casino.

    - A little girl was mailed from Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents in Lewiston in 1914. A cooperative postmaster invoiced the child as a "48 pound baby chicken", two pounds under the 50 limit on mailing live poultry. Rather than being sealed in a box, the address was pinned to her dress and she rode with the mail carrier in the cab of the delivery vehicle.

    Feel free to add your own trivia or relay some amusing anecdotes. Before we forget all of this stuff.

    WITHER ANGER

    Posted in Rants on August 18th, 2011 by Ed

    Let's get right to the point today: So what ever happened to that whole Tea Party thing? Anyone notice how it just sort of, you know, disappeared?

    In 2009 they were highly visible, achieving commendable turnout at a number of rallies thanks in part to promotion on conservative websites, talk radio, and TV. In 2010 they were organized enough to defeat numerous high profile or incumbent Republicans in congressional primaries. Their anti-incumbent and pro-Republican leanings no doubt influenced the outcome of last year's general election as well. As a social movement, if it can be so called accurately, it was stunningly successful, accomplishing almost all of its fundamental goals. They moved Obama and the Republican establishment to the right. They elected a coalition of amateurs, ideologues, and zealots to Congress. They brought the "liberal" Obama agenda of 2009 to an effective halt.

    Perhaps that's why we no longer see them holding rallies, or why we hear about them constantly in the media but only as an abstraction or represented by a small number of high profile career activists. Tea Partytm exists as a brand name, but where has the Tea Party itself gone? Protests at the Capitol during the debt ceiling debate turned out embarrassingly small crowds, basically a couple dozen nutbars in tri-cornered hats and ill fitting Halloween costumes.

    What happened? Did they decide that they Won last year and return home satisfied? That's hard to believe; the problems they claimed to care about remain or have worsened, and they don't appear happy with the Congress they helped elect. Did they get jaded, realizing that the new Congress isn't producing different outcomes than the old one? Hmm. That would imply that their motivations were issue-based, which I find dubious. Did they simply get tired? Maybe. They were pretty goddamn old.

    The Awl has a great piece from a woman who spent two years involved in local Tea Party politics in Wisconsin. While sympathetic, she is also realistic about what she sees.

    I concluded that trying to figure out what they wanted was a dead end because what they wanted was simply to complain—that the Tea Party "is not a group of listen and respond; this is a group of respond and respond."

    The Tea Party is no longer about economics, not that it ever solely was. At the larger rallies and for the cameras (CNN or laptop), they hold forth about founding fathers, liberty, spending, deficits, TARP, kicking cans down roads, taxes, living within means and fiscal responsibility. But when the lights are off, it's all about Jesus, with "God" thrown in, on occasion for Israel.

    In the end though, the biggest enemy of the organized grassroots faction of the Tea Party is that it's a lot of work for a hobby.

    In the last year or so, in addition to going to meetings and rallies, I've spent an unhealthy amount of time on the websites, Facebook pages and social networks of Tea Party organizations and those sympathetic to them. While many are still active, many others have not been updated for months and months. Many appear to have fallen off in activity in December, just after the elections. Event calendars are barren. "Latest updates" are months old and unanswered. Those that are active are often just ugly RSS feeds, just a string of links to news items on Breitbart sites or Newsmax.

    The most active presences now are the Tea Party leaders who've gone whole hog with the movement and have nothing to lose in doubling down (such as Kim Simac) and the professional Tea Party organizers such as Freedomworks, American Majority, Tea Party Express and 9/12, who are, at the end of the day, simply community organizers for corporate advocacy.

    Freedomworks head Dick Armey? Well, that's just the Contract with America all over again. American Majority head Ned Ryun? A speechwriter for George W. Bush, now out on his own.

    The claim that the Tea Party was a grassroots movement has been treated with extreme skepticism from the outset, and the facts undermine such claims. Despite being backed by corporate money, interest groups, and consummate Beltway insider leadership, however, the Tea Party did rely on the participation of non-professionals. Those 1,000-100,000 people who showed up to various rallies were not all on Dick Armey's payroll. These are real people. They circulated emails, talked to friends and family, and went where they were told to go. And less than a year later, they lack the energy or enthusiasm to even maintain or update a website.

    So where did they all go? The Tea Party has become the Mary Celeste of political movements, a rudderless hulk that continues to scare the shit out of Republicans even though no one appears to be on board. Did the anger dissipate? Did the election of a GOP House satisfy them? Did their minimal interest in politics run out? Was their movement, to the extent that it was a genuine one, co-opted by the Armeys and Reeds of the professional right? I don't have a good answer, but their silence is deafening after two unbroken years of hearing the phrase "Tea Party" every 30 seconds.

    THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME

    Posted in Quick Hits on August 17th, 2011 by Ed

    Many news outlets are reporting that PayPal founder Peter Thiel is investing more of his billion dollar fortune in a scheme to create floating libertarian city-states in international waters. Physically they would be similar to a large oil platform or artificial island.

    Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be "a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons."

    I've always wondered if it's possible for people who make a shit-ton of money in the real world to relocate to exclusive, private island communities and to live as though they are above the law. This experiment should answer that question once and for all. Thank you, Peter Thiel.