REAL POWER

Posted in Rants on November 10th, 2015 by Ed

Look, we know cops aren't very bright. Yeah you know a good cop blah blah blah nobody cares. These people are not the sharpest knives in the drawer at their best, and when you start scraping the bottom of the barrel you quickly find that expecting even mediocrity is too ambitious.

This video of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel – the campus cops at University of Alabama, a school best known for its excellence in chanting "Roll Tide" – doesn't show us anything we have not seen before. Buzz-cut idiots with seriously violent tempers that come immediately to the fore the second they sense that they are not being treated with sufficient deference reacting with disproportionate force toward something that presents no threat to anything except their insecurities…I mean, that's old news by now. What amazes me is how these people seem oblivious to the fact that they are being video recorded as though we don't know exactly how this is going to turn out. Congratulations, Buford "Hoss" McGee or whatever the hell your hillbilly name is: you have until Friday to clean out your desk! If you doubt that, just remember that all the students in the video are white. Their parents probably have money too.

The sheer stupidity necessary at this moment in time to realize that you're being videotaped, act like that, and think "I'm going to come out of this looking good!" is hard to conceptualize. With all but the oldest, most authoritarian, and most reactionary segment of the American public slowly waking up to the fact that police in a lot of places in this country are basically street gangs with badges, you might think that handling this situation differently might have had some appeal. Instead, they chose this. They chose this because they are not smart enough to realize why choosing this approach was a bad idea. And they thought that the video would hit the internet and they would somehow be hailed as heroes. For using six people to beat up a 5 foot tall college girl. Way to go there, Audie Murphy. Let's get you guys some medals.

Watch it again and remember that this guy knew he was on about five different smartphone videos. He thought we would be impressed at his bravery and sympathetic to the nightmare of Teen Sass that he has to confront every day. He doesn't understand that all we see is a man who is about to lose his double-wide in a civil judgment and will be lucky to have a desk job by this weekend.

THE MICROCOSM

Posted in Quick Hits on November 9th, 2015 by Ed

Scott Walker is begging for money to pay off the debts of his kamikaze run at the Republican nomination. If that concept isn't sufficiently hilarious to you, get a load of the letter he sent out to his supporters:

Friend,

Our race for president didn't turn out the way we wanted. While we are disappointed, there are always new ways to serve others and plenty of conservative reforms to enact in Wisconsin.

Our "Scott Walker for America" campaign may have ended, but we attracted a tremendous grassroots team of supporters. Together we share a deep and enduring commitment to getting things done, putting things right, and moving America forward.

For a kid who grew up in small-town America, whose family didn't have a lot of money, the opportunity to run for President of the United States is an experience beyond my wildest dreams and an experience I will never forget.

There are three things I want to tell you, Friend.

First, thank you for believing in me and our campaign for President.

Second, I am back in my office in the state Capitol working on our next round of big, bold, conservative reforms. We have made incredible strides in Wisconsin, but we are not done yet. Our proven reforms have been a model for other states to follow and we will continue to build upon those reforms in the months and years to come.

Third, as things changed dramatically in the presidential race, "Walker for America" incurred a campaign debt and it is my hope that you and all of our supporters will chip in and make an online contribution of $10, $35, $50, $100, $250, or more so we can end this campaign in the black. It is a lot to ask, I know, but we feel personally obligated to make sure that every small business that extended us their good faith and credit is repaid. And we are hoping we can count on you to help.

When God closes one door, another one opens. While I don't know exactly what the future holds, trust me, we will continue leading the fight for big, bold, conservative change in Wisconsin and across America.

Thanks for believing in me — and in our cause.

Scott Walker

P.S. Every good thing in my life has come about through teamwork. Tonette, Matt, Alex, and I are so proud to have you on our team. With your good help, we will end our presidential race on a positive note with all of the bills paid. It is your contribution of $25 or $250, $50 or $500, or $100 or $1,000 that will erase every penny of outstanding debt from our campaign together. Thanks in advance for helping out. I sure appreciate it.

Every good thing in his life has come about through teamwork? I thought heroic individualism was the key to success. Personal responsibility. An Army of One. Bootstrap-pulling. All that bullshit.

Let's spend Monday having a good chuckle at the idea that Scott Walker feels personally morally obligated to pay off his debts…with other people's money. If that isn't a microcosm of the worldview and philosophy of people like Walker, I don't know what is.

THE GRIFT

Posted in Rants on November 4th, 2015 by Ed

Being shitty at running for president has worked out pretty well for Mike Huckabee when you think about it. Given that the sum total of his political achievements is winning the 2008 Iowa Caucus and being elected Governor of Dogpatch twice, the man is fabulously well-off. In 2008 and again in 2016 he has used other people's money to run for president not with the expectation of winning but to give priceless publicity to the Mike Huckabee Brand. And before you chuckle at that dismissively, remember just how lucrative Beltway Welfare can be. Speaking fees at right-wing events, AM Radio and Fox News hosting gigs, book deals, personal brand stuff on the internet…this man has no doubt been earning millions of dollars per year since leaving elected office in 2006. And it has been for remarkably easy work.

It's hard to say that running for president and getting creamed has not worked out very well for Mr. Huckabee and his family. That's why New York mag asking "Is Ben Carson Running for President?" is long overdue. As I've been saying for…well, years, I guess…the line between self-promotion and campaigning has long since become indistinct. These people who have zero chance of winning the nomination are hanging around for one reason, and it isn't because they like doing a debate every two weeks. Even those doing well like Carson and Trump aren't clearly Serious Candidates as opposed to two guys trolling. Trolling hard. As Chait states:

But now Carson actually is running for president. Or is he? It is hard to tell. Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand. Indeed, it is possible to be actually leading the polls without seriously trying to win the presidency.

The system has become so ridiculous and the idea of personal branding through social media has become so pervasive and potentially lucrative that it is now impossible to determine who is running for president and who is running to build an empire of dolts easily parted from their cash. It is relatively easy to spot a career narcissist like Trump and wonder aloud if he is dumb enough to think he can win or if this is all an elaborate publicity stunt. That skepticism needs to be applied more broadly, though. 90% of the people running are suspect on that criteria. The professional campaigning industry abets this large scale grift too. What paid consultant is going to tell Bobby Jindal that he is a lost cause? There's free money to be had. Why get off the gravy train until absolutely necessary? Just keep pretending you're serious about getting elected, collect checks from cartoonishly rich donors and mouth-frothing old white people, and plot ways to convert the publicity into cold, hard cash when the tap finally runs dry. All you have to do is suffer through a few months of relatively light work. Everybody gets paid. Everybody wins.

This is what we've come to.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE

Posted in Rants on November 4th, 2015 by Ed

There are many institutional features, some entirely unique to the United States, that contribute to our abysmally low voter turnout. That low turnout is in turn a contributor to the election outcomes we live with. Two overlooked factors that help explain Tuesday's smattering of races across the country are the frequency of elections and the length of our campaign/election seasons. By a substantial margin, Americans are asked to come out to vote more regularly than citizens of any other democratic country. We have elections at the drop of a hat, thanks in part to our federal system in which statewide, local, and Federal offices are staggered and elected in different years depending on the state. General elections, municipal elections, recall elections, special elections to fill vacancies, runoff elections in majority-requirement jurisdictions, primary elections…the average American is asked to come out and vote several times per year. For an act in which most people are not especially interested or enthusiastic this is an effective death sentence. We barely care enough to vote in "major" elections like a presidential race or a midterm congressional election. By the time we get down to local and primary elections we're looking at turnout in the single digits of eligible voters in many places. When turnout is that low you know exactly what the electorate looks like: old, white, and cranky. And this is not unreasonable; who else but old, cantankerous white people have the time or inclination to pay a lot of attention to the Pigsknuckle County Board races? That hot race for Sanitation District Commission Seat 3B? That barn-burner of a school board contest?

Unfortunately these things, while not terribly interesting to most of us, are important. And we're usually too sick of politics to give them much thought when their turn comes.

The length of our campaigns is similarly fatiguing. The 2016 presidential race has been going on for roughly 3 months already, and the informal jockeying for even longer. We're already three months into an election campaign that culminates next November and we expect people to pay attention to and participate meaningfully in the 2015 elections – elections that most people don't even know exist? I am the first to revel in the joys of dumping on the civic capacities of the Average* American, but when it comes to the costs of voting and sheer fatigue I think we have a legitimate gripe. No other nation asks or expects people to pay attention to what has become one endless campaign cycle with regular exhortations to Get Out the Vote. I get paid to talk about American politics and even I get sick of the lack of ability to come up for air in this process. The nine-month long 2014 campaign barely ended before, after a break of a few months of unproductive Governing, states with 2015 races were flogging voters again. And the 2016 race didn't even wait until 2015 was over to not only begin but to reach the breaking point of sanity and overexposure.

This is the dilemma. Nobody is going to vote this often and pay this much attention to such a vast number of different elected offices and ballot issues unless their life consists literally of nothing but sitting in front of Fox News 24-7 and obsessively harassing the local newspaper's unpaid editorial intern. There are people who fit that description. And we really, really don't want them making our decisions for us. That is exactly what happens and will continue to happen in practice, though, since no amount of shaming or appeals to conscience will convince people with lives, shit jobs, family obligations, and a need to occasionally stop watching the news to preserve their mental health to vote this many times and consume this much OMG Election!!11!! stuff. It's like that fifth Red Bull of the day, the one at which your adrenal glands can be flogged no further and your body simply shuts down with fatigue and overstimulation.

It makes sense. It sucks that a lot of you didn't vote yesterday. It hardly makes you a bad person, though. It makes you a normal human being who has a limit, a limit that has been reached.

*modal

CHARADES

Posted in Rants on November 2nd, 2015 by Ed

I'm unsure how much national press this has gotten – I suspect that having colleagues at University of Nebraska who are anti-capital punishment activists to boot has made me disproportionately aware of it – but Gov. Pete Ricketts' epic quest to find ways to kill death row inmates despite the lack of lethal injection drugs is like a modern day version of Moby Dick. Well, that's a rough analogy. The novel was a complex, brooding commentary on man's search for meaning. This is just a story about an asshole who wants to kill people so other, terrible people will like him more.

As with every post in the history of Gin and Tacos that deals with capital punishment, let us remember the incontrovertible truth that politicians love the death penalty because it's the only way a bunch of paunchy, candy-ass white guys can look tough. Many death penalty opponents look at Ricketts as a perfect example of the way inmates' lives are used as fodder when elected officials need to shore up support with their old, white base. It's also a good example of political miscalculation and not knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em – Ricketts has chosen to die upon this hill (so to speak) without having much of a strategy once his first steps didn't result in success. But more than anything the wrangling, legal and practical, over lethal injection pharmaceuticals is a black comedy skit on the illusion that killing people as the endpoint of a legal process made up of fallible, biased humans can be made Humane.

I am 100%, without exception opposed to capital punishment. I also believe that if you're going to kill someone it doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference how you do it provided the infliction of suffering isn't one of the goals of the process. We like lethal injection because it's bloodless and doesn't create a gruesome scene. It looks, when it works properly, like someone calmly passing out and never waking up. Unfortunately for the states that continue to insist on using it, it's also not a particularly effective method. I see nothing valuable about the method. If you're going to kill people anything quick and reliable will do. Gunshot to the head. Long-drop hanging. Hell, why not the guillotine. They're all just means to a cruel end of a cruel process. The only advantage lethal injection has over any of them is that it makes us feel better about ourselves as a society. It lets us feel morally superior to the "uncivilized" Chinese shooting people in the head or Middle East heathens beheading people with cartoon sized swords. As if it matters. As if the morality of killing people is determined by the method employed.

To see Ricketts go full Ahab so that his state can continue sanctioned homicide would be funny if the consequences weren't so grave. It's useful, though, to let the country see what rabidly pro-death penalty politicians really are: a group of people who are so enthusiastic about killing that they will devote themselves to concocting ways to circumvent the law they claim to care about upholding. It's almost like they're a little too excited about killing. You know, the kind of person who we generally consider a danger to society.