TURNS OUT YOU *CAN* RUN AWAY FROM YOUR PROBLEMS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 31st, 2017 by Ed

I will be on vacation for two weeks, and I intend to continue updating during that time. It will be more sporadic than usual though. If you need quick and insubstantial fixes, you can of course follow me on – I hate myself for becoming the guy with every social media account – Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. I won't tell you where I'm going but there ARE giant tortoises involved.

Following politics day in and day out for the last 18 months has been exhausting and if at all possible I'm going to try to pretend the news doesn't exist during this trip. But I think we both know I can't stay away. In the meantime, post your best guess on which person who currently works at the pleasure of the President will be fired or "resign" by the time I return.

Oh, and if you're waiting on a t-shirt I apologize but you won't get it until I return. If that's a problem, go ahead and request a refund of your payment via PayPal.

THROWING IN THE TOWEL

Posted in Rants on July 31st, 2017 by Ed

"Freakish, embarrassing, and all too short." That's Matt Taibbi's summation of the tenure of Anthony Scaramucci in the White House. Last week ("American Heroes Week"!) may have felt like a millennium, but if you can believe it Mooch has only been on the job for something like eight days.

Taibbi's observation is well-phrased but by no means a bold prediction. My reaction to seeing this Mario Cantone with Bone-itis cosplayer for the first time was, "Can we just skip ahead to the part where he's fired?" Whatever thrill there was in watching these people crash and burn is gone; this isn't fun anymore.

If Scaramucci matters, it is as an indication of Trump totally throwing in the towel. Not that he intends to quit or anything, but he appears to be done trying even in the quarter-assed way he may have been attempting to create the illusion of being Serious. This is the kind of person you hire when you not only intend to stop trying, but when you don't particularly care to hide the fact that you are done trying.

The goal at this point appears to be to make this coke-fueled vaudeville act so utterly idiotic that Americans check out altogether, at which point Trump can resume his plans to crash this plane into the side of a mountain so he and his friends can collect on the insurance policy. The journalists who are professionally obligated to cover this all day, every day are going to need treatment for PTSD if this goes on for four years. Watching news and following politics has never been a great joy for most people. It's more of a thing one does because it's good for you, like jogging or eating cauliflower.

Now it is getting to a point at which it is literally too inane to watch. That is not an accident. The point of Anthony Scaramucci is to make your urge to change the channel or close the browser overpowering the moment you see his idiot face or hear one syllable of his fifth-rate Joe Pesci impression. That is why his face is so punchable; the White House wants you to want to punch him. To hate him. To be so disgusted that you feel like you need to be pumped full of thorazine to watch 10 minutes of CNN. And above all they want you to look at Anthony Scaramucci and realize that just as it has gotten worse every day for six months now, it is only going to get worse as time goes on.

NPF: FORMAT SHIFT

Posted in No Politics Friday on July 28th, 2017 by Ed

I was into capybaras way before it was cool. You could say I'm a capyhipster.

The first anyone on the internet, myself included, knew that the giant South American rodents I love so much could be kept as pets in the United States was thanks to Caplin Rous, the original internet capybara. His owner Melanie Typaldos maintained (and still does) the blog Capybara Madness. Aside from having cute animal pictures aplenty, it told some really interesting stories about a day in the life with such a large, unusual pet. After Caplin's passing, Melanie has since acquired successor capybaras Garibaldi and, now, Mudskipper. Here is a picture of me and Muddy. This counts as one of the greatest days of my life.

Due to some health problems (which she has talked about on the blog, so I'm not revealing anything here) Melanie had a pretty long involuntary blogging hiatus. It happened to coincide with the rise to internet stardom of two new pet capys, JoeJoe the Capybara and Sweetie the Capy. These pets' owners are young Millennial types and understood (correctly) that a barrage of cute pictures on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and other no-text formats would attract a lot of attention. Both have substantial social media presence now.

Melanie is trying to relaunch her blog and has expressed some frustration with the lack of success. The sad fact is, blogging is already "old fashioned." People are succumbing more and more to the lure of cheap, instant gratification without all that troublesome reading involved. Memes, short vids, pictures, and more pictures. That's what people under 30 today are conditioned to consume. Long-form blogging is probably…not dying, but definitely undergoing a contraction. There just aren't many people doing this anymore, not compared to Peak Blog in the early to mid Aughts.

An additional difficulty, as some commenters pointed out while discussing this on Facebook (tellingly, not on a blog), is the switch to consuming the internet on mobile devices instead of laptops and desktop computers. Most blogs just aren't very easy to read on a phone. Social media are optimized to the size of a phone screen and that means…pictures. Lots of pictures. Videos. Animated gifs. Certainly not strings of compound sentences.

I'm never going to stop doing this for the simple reason that I do it for no reason other than I enjoy it. But the internet is definitely going to see a lot of blogging disappear as people who do it strictly in the hopes of getting attention move to more suitable formats like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not insulting people who choose that. It's just a very different approach, and one that I think trades substance for instant gratification. That's the way of the world, though. Formats are forever evolving and information is forever being condensed. It can't be stopped, but that doesn't mean it's a positive development.

FAKE NEWS, FAKE ELECTIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 27th, 2017 by Ed

For the handful of you who have been reading since like 2003 I hope you will join me in the thrill of seeing "Gin and Tacos" in the Washington Post. The opinion editor was kind enough to provide me with space to make a very important point based on one of the more useful and relevant findings in political science in recent years: conservative, anti-government parties benefit tremendously from undermining political trust and efficacy among the public. When people internalize the message that government is inept, incompetent, and unable to touch anything without ruining it, the party with the message, "Government sucks and should be torn down" inevitably benefits.

That has been the basis of conservative politics in the U.S. since the late 1970s. But now Trump is extending it to the electoral process – one of the few remaining aspects of our system that people had some modicum of faith in. By undermining confidence in election results he is setting up a future in which any and every election outcome can be cast as illegitimate because "everybody knows" that there's massive fraud and the votes are Fake anyway.

It's a dismal future. This is the dynamic in banana republics where the elections really are fake. And we see what it takes for power to change hands in that environment.

THE MYTH OF JOHN McCAIN

Posted in Rants on July 24th, 2017 by Ed

John McCain is the Beltway's wet dream – a man constantly talking about Solutions, bipartisanship, and his oft-troubled conscience. I think he enjoys being idolized by everyone on the Sunday Morning shows, constantly fawned over and taken seriously and never, ever challenged on his record or asked to explain why for all his hand-wringing his voting record is one of a reliable, party line Republican.

McCain and his like-minded compatriot Joe Lieberman sure talk a great deal about doing the right thing. They bring it up, in fact, far more often than they actually do it. And now, a week after giving his usual sanctimonious musings about how badly Congress needs to stop doing all these deeply Troubling things, he's rushing back to Washington to help his party pass a health care bill that not even the Senate has been allowed to see.

This is classic McCain. Everything about him as a politician is a myth. He has made a career out of playing the Moderate character to a tee and he wears the permanently pained expression that lets the Chuck Todds of the world conclude that he is constantly tormented by the battle between good and evil in his mind. He has mastered the Moderate the same way George Will mastered looking like a Smart Person without actually saying things that are smart. But that's it. It's an act. He plays the media like a performer manipulates an audience.

Honestly, it took me a while to recognize this pattern. I felt legitimately bad for McCain in 2008, at least until he almost saddled the country with Sarah Palin. Frankly I hadn't paid a ton of attention to his voting record, and I was familiar with his Senate career mostly in the context of the McCain-Feingold legislation and his statements opposing torture during the G.W. Bush administration. So like everyone else, I thought of him as a Moderate.

It's natural to think that because we are constantly being told he is a Moderate, a voice of reason in a madhouse. But if you pay attention, you start to notice that he does shit like this all the time. He wrings his hands, he looks Troubled, he basks in the glow of some laudatory media coverage, and then he votes for it. Over and over. That's his game. From the outside we can only speculate what he gets out of it – Attention? Validation? Straight ego boost? – but his career is long enough to give us all the evidence we need to establish the pattern.

Look, I feel as sorry for him as I would if my bus driver said he had cancer. I feel badly for everyone with cancer. But look at what he is doing, not what he is saying or what is being said about him. That is the real John McCain, and there's very little Hero there.

TWOFER

Posted in Quick Hits on July 24th, 2017 by Ed

Two new pieces went up today. One is on The Week and offers a closer look at what I think Trump is most worried about Mueller's investigation poking around in. Hint: It's something members of Congress have been indicted for in the recent past.

The second is on Rolling Stone and looks at the design of the presidency and the need for presidents to be knowledgeable. Surprisingly (or perhaps not, depending on how much attention you've paid to the Constitution and your history classes) the Executive Branch is designed so that a pretty thoroughly mediocre person can do the job without the system breaking down. However, we've tested and now surpassed the lower limits of presidential competence required to do the job. Without it, the whole thing is going haywire.

MOMENT OF CLARITY

Posted in Quick Hits on July 20th, 2017 by Ed

Guys. I'm trying my best to be serious and not take the easy path to making fun of how stupid the person in charge of the country is at the moment. But. You guys. I have to ask a question without sarcasm, without subtext, without winking and nudging. Read this, and then tell me…



…does the President of the United States know what health insurance is? Like. It sounds like he is describing one of two things here: 1) nothing, because this is basically word salad or 2) whole life insurance, which might (for a very young, healthy person) have something extremely low like a $12/year premium. Nothing else in the world of insurance is even in the ballpark of what he's talking about. The trip insurance on Priceline costs more than $12.

If we do as we are encouraged by our upbringing and attempt to treat our elected officials and their ideas respectfully, reading these words leads to the conclusion that the President of the United States does not actually know what health insurance is. That is one of the most depressing thoughts I've had to absorb in a year of seriously depressing thoughts from the world of politics.

GOING BIG

Posted in Rants on July 18th, 2017 by Ed

As their total inability to govern in anything but a cyclone that leaves a trail of destruction in its wake becomes increasingly obvious, the White House and congressional Republicans are engaging in a strategy that can be described as, if nothing else, "bold." They're lying. They've always lied a lot, but they've progressed to lying big, to lying in ways that do not even have a definable reference point in reality.

The sad thing is, were I paid to advise them I would recommend doing exactly that.

The hardcore Trump base has proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that they will accept the things he says as the gospel truth. Hell, they accept staggeringly ludicrous things they find in internet comment sections as the truth so long as it tells them something they're inclined to believe. Liberals and the media, in contrast, point out the lies and let loose with streams of invective. And it must be dawning on Trump that these reactions are not affected by the magnitude of the lie. And if you're going to expose yourself to the risk that lying might cost you something in terms of political capital, you might as well lie big. Real big.

That whole "bring back coal" bullshit isn't working out? Whatever – just say you made up 50,000 coal jobs even though that's more people than the entire coal industry employs. Republicans can't pass a bill to save their souls? Just say it's the Democrats' fault (it doesn't have to make any sense). Caught in a web of lies with unseemly Russian operatives? It was…uh, a Clinton-Obama setup! Health care bill is an embarrassing flop? Hell, just assume your idiot supporters don't know who controls the Senate and blame it on the Democrats.

These aren't the standard political lies that rely on stretching the truth, cherry picking the data, fudging interpretations of events in creative ways, or offering partial truth in place of the whole thing. This is fantasy stuff. This is stuff made up out of thin air. We're accustomed to things like the Bush administration relying on an extremely selective reading of dubious information to justify the Iraq War, or elected officials lying about personal sex scandals as long as they believe they can get away with it. We don't have experience, though, with Russian-style "Make up your own reality" lying, at least not from the White House and not on this scale.

The sad fact, again, is that this makes perfect sense strategically. If your base will believe literally anything as long as you say it, there's really no incentive to hold back.

This new political reality in which there are no consequences for lying as blatantly and boldly as shame will allow is not going to turn out well. Good things will never come of this. The discomforting question, though, is what anyone can do about it at this point. It is already here.

WE ARE NIHILISTS; WE BELIEVE IN NOTHING

Posted in Rants on July 17th, 2017 by Ed

When the latest terrible version of the terrible Republican "alternative" to the ACA finally died its inevitable death Monday evening with the twin GOP defections of Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, it seemed an opportune moment for reflection. The party leaders tried everything to pass this POS bill, with McConnell resorting to, take your pick, either lying to his own caucus and telling them that the Medicaid cuts would not happen, or admitting that the bill contained no "reform" as conservatives understand it. They couldn't pass it despite being in the majority.

That might suggest starting over, perhaps by asking, "Why didn't we have an alternative ready? Why are we voting on some crap thrown together over a weekend?" and building a new bill from the ground up. When Medicare/Medicaid cuts are so substantial that even some pretty hard right Senators balk, you might have a tear-down rather than a simple remodel on your hands.

Instead, within seconds of the Lee/Moran announcement the Freedom Caucus came up with this:

As dumb as Freedom Caucus types tend to be, they can't realize how clearly they are demonstrating the shortcomings of their own ideology here. From the perspective of practical politics, the reason they were able to pass bills to "repeal Obamacare" a million times was that the votes were entirely symbolic. They knew there was exactly zero chance Obama would sign, so it was a consequence-free vote for congressional Republicans. It was, in essence, a stunt. A serious but not-serious bill. It was never going to become law.

By resurrecting that idea now that the GOP has the majority, they're recognizing that the Republican Party is incapable of creating anything. They can repeal, cut, obstruct, filibuster, defund, and grandstand. They can talk, feign moral outrage, dog-whistle, and mud sling. The one thing they cannot do, as we now can all see plainly, is write a bill that makes policy.

It is a mob chanting "no," a cargo cult of nihilists hell-bent on tearing down and destroying, but when they are handed the keys that they ostensibly want, they freeze up like deer in headlights. They dislike everyone and everything, including (or perhaps especially) each other. When forced to come together and agree upon something, even among themselves, they are incapable of doing it.

So they retreat to the comfort of the one and only thing that they know how to do: opposing. Even with all of the institutions of power in their control they can't overcome their own individual and collective obstreperousness. That's the problem when all of your goals are variations on "Destroy this thing I don't like." Focus on that for a handful of decades and one day you'll find that you can't recall what you do like.

LAST CHANCE AT TERRIBLE

Posted in Quick Hits on July 16th, 2017 by Ed

Remember the "Everything is Terrible All the Time" t-shirts? If memory serves, I had 400 printed. There are three remaining, all in Unisex/Men's Small. When those three are gone these shirts are officially No More. If you're a man or woman on the slight side, have at 'em.