Thursday, December 29

Are There Really People In America Whose Political Outlook Is Informed By David Weigel?

ROY Edroso has a has a blog. . David Weigel has a job with the Washington Post Corporation. Go on, see which one speaks plainly and reasonably about the Paul newsletters (we in no way mean to diminish the accomplishment), and which one spends forty-eight hours trying to absolve libertoonianism (and himself).

(By the way, who, exactly, wrote the memo that told Slate columnists to step up the twitterpace of their output to Swoony Preteen level? I keep waitin' for Yglesias to post his dry-cleaning bills.)

Now, two things here, right off the bat. One: Weigel's the guy who earned the eternal admiration of Huffington Post liberals by bravely saying "Rush Limbaugh is a racist" everywhere except in print. And "resigning" over it, after one of those rare outbreaks of "conservative" outrage, when it did become public, before--Fortune smiles on the saintly--emerging 48 hours later with a gig at the Post-owned Slate, where everyone is expected to be a libertarian who sneers at Republican racism and backwoods rabidity, the better to excuse his own Republicanism.

I did not understand then, and do not now, why calling the Republican party "partly racist" is the mark of anything other than 1) having paid a minimal amount of attention to politics sometime during the last hundred years, and 2) the ability to type. The only cause of Weigel's célèbre in liberal circles was that the Right was outraged. It apparently never occurred to anyone to consider that it was outraged not by what he wrote, but by what he thought and didn't write.

Second: it's fucking Iowa. Paul is roundly, and pointedly, ignored by the Press until he becomes the latest piece of flotsam to wash ashore from that shipwreck of trainwrecks known as the Republican Presidential Pre-primaries. Then someone in the Press decides to take a look at, not so much the crackpot shit that Paul actually espouses, but the signifier of crackpot shit which was exposed about him the last time he ran for national office.

Sure, sure: it's too much to ask that the Press treat this stuff to the level of respect and attention it actually deserves; they've got to print something, after all, and please don't ask that it be real news. But why is it too much to ask that the obvious trend in Republican primary preference, the remarkable elevation and rapid descent of the Not Romney Lunatic of the Month that's been going on since last January, be reported as though the stenographer has eyes? "Ron Paul latest piece of rotting junk unearthed in furious Republican tunneling to the bottom"?

That's not Weigel's fault, he's just a part of it. But tell me, where are the brave anti-racist stands now that they're well known? Answer: right where they always were, in the easy dismissal of ugly traits most sane people dismiss out of hand.

Somehow the story--possibly the major one of our times--of how the Reagan party gets away with pandering to racists while maintaining the support of hundreds of pundits who abhor racism is perpetually lost under the noses of the Press. But Weigel compounds this--or obscures it--by letting the polls decide whether the "old news" of Paul's newsletters is important. Republicans say no! Liberals being joined by conservatives! Gay liberal bellwether Dan Savage doesn't care!

By itself this would merely amount to yet another example of the mass-market press defending the script, rooting for the horserace, and avoiding heavy lifting. But Weigel decides, simultaneously, to get miffed that the Times story on those newsletters--written, of course, after the Paul surge--ignored the contribution he and Julian Sanchez made to the story four years ago at Reason.
Last week, I quietly harrumphed about this big New York Times take-out on Ron Paul's old extremist ties, reminding readers that Julian Sanchez and I reported a lot of this stuff first. Sanchez, who's now at the Cato Institute, hits the Grey Lady a little harder. He has a good reason.

The implication [of the NYT story] is that even though the newsletters were a focus of national attention four years ago, Paul’s fellow travelers were content to gloss over this ugly history—quietly complicit in this pandering to racism—until the bold bloodhounds at the Times sniffed out the scoop. It looks rather different if the Times is just rehashing the highlights of what a libertarian magazine explored in greater details years ago.

Now, I don't know what the bold bloodhounds at the Times are doing, or implying, about the story. I don't care enough to know. Or, to rephrase that, it doesn't make one bit of difference to the real story. If Libertoonians were aghast at Paul's racist, homophobic, Xenophobic, and anti-Semitic newsletters four years ago, or fifteen years ago, then they've done precious little to show it. You can't simultaneously denounce racism and pretend it has no consequence unless your poll numbers plummet. You can't crab that the Times has no sense of history, then write as if the last 23 1-/2 hours have settled all issues for all time. You can't rely on Dan Savage to tell you whether you should be outraged by blatant homophobia in one particular national candidate, but not another.

Unless you're a libertarian, I mean. Then anything but self-awareness is permitted.

Wednesday, December 28

Posting May Be Light

When the dust settles I'm afraid it'll be Romney with a briefcase and a fountain pen, trying gosh-darned hard to get America to switch insurance companies.

I'm no prognosticator, which means, above all, that I don't have to phone in one of these cutesy faux-self-deprecations at year's end (designed, you'll note, to reinforce the Offical Pundit Script even as they supposedly highlight what pundits got wrong. Imagine a real column in which Dana Milbank confesses his errors. It would take the entire year to do it. The wisdom of confining oneself to "predictions" when doing such things is shown by the fact that Weigel doesn't have to admit anything nearly as embarrassing, or self-revealing, as his paean to Michele Bachmann's knowledgeable and polished initial debate performance).

I have no idea what Romney's path to the nomination looks like. I know he has unlimited funds, God bless America, and a collection of opponents who couldn't govern a home daycare operation without one or two swingset strangulations per annum. That may be all he needs, or he may be so personally devoid of personhood that support coagulates around one particular non-Romney in response. You heard it here first.

What I do know is this: the supposed Teabagger Agenda is just the corporate agenda, and Romney's the corporate candidate. And so's Obama. Some of us think the 5-10% difference between them is important, vital even; that difference, for the Republican rank-and-file is what the headline writers call The Culture Wars. And they are busy fighting a protracted partisan conflict over whether that shit needs to be saved to rile up the yokels, or spread across every front page in America.

In a sense, then, the Republican party has become the Democratic party, with an entrenched leadership machinegunning the human waves of the unwashed and their sharpened sticks. Meanwhile Democrats get to keep up their thirty-year rope-a-dope attempt to become the Thinking Man's Corporate Lackey party.

Can someone remind me what the intervening three decades of hubbub was all about, again?

Wednesday, December 21

Funny, The Actual Confederate Army Spent A Lot Of Time Retracing The Campgrounds, Looking For Edible Kernels Of Corn In Piles Of Horseshit, Too.

Jindal tells Iowans that Rick Perry is the best choice for the GOP.

AND I'm indebted to Halloween Jack for pointing out the picture above, at Roy's:
Not a lot to add to the commentary on the text; I just wanted to mention the picture that accompanies the article, in which Perry possesses the mien of a used-car dealer who is telling you that the car that you're looking at is a great car, a steal really, and you know that he's full of shit and he knows that you know that he's full of shit, but it's all that you can afford and you need to get to work and you can already see the days ahead when you're cursing the damn thing as it falls apart around you in slow motion. I hesitated to use the used-car-dealer metaphor, because it's been a political cliche ever since Nixon, but it fits so well here.

I know I sound absurd, or more absurd than usual, but I still say it was a major failing of the Nixon era that a half-dozen years later a man who looked like Ronald Reagan--the death rictus, the coiffure of one of Larry Welk's minimum-wage singing stars, the practiced Hollywood carriage--Reagan moved like a man who was accustomed to being carried everywhere, and not in the character-building, struggle-just-for-a-normal-existence way FDR was; more like a foot-bound Chinese wife--and that orange dye-job which he insisted, until he couldn't remember to, wasn't a dye job, not because that fooled anybody but because he felt obligated to sound like he'd fooled himself--could become President. No matter what came out of his mouth. Which, mind you, was even worse, but that's beside the point.

Who, in 2011, is fooled by that Perry air? It's a look that screams "Hi, my intellectual vapidity is only exceeded by my unwarranted self-regard". It's a look that traces at a glance the last thirty years of American social and economic decline.

It's not just the picture of a guy who's been carefully schooled in how to look for the camera. It's a picture of a guy who's been carefully schooled in how to look for the camera because his handlers fear that some stray shot some day might actually reveal his actual soul. Which is so awful that laughable plastic routine up there is preferable.

I swear to God, it may very well have been my callow youth which convinced me, in the early 70s, that by the time I was middle-aged people in America would be meeting at the local bar to drink beer, swap lies, and pass around joints, or that American foreign policy would no longer mean aiming billion-dollar aircraft carriers at Third World nations. But I was absolutely convinced that the risible hard sell and ring-a-ding-ding insincerity of black & white television advertising was dead as the Dodo, and I still can't figure out what happened there.

Tuesday, December 20

Don't Worry. Some Wealthy White People Are On Their Way To Help You.

OUR story so far: in the 1920s the Indiana Klan took over state government. It's often noted that the Indiana Klan--which separated itself from the national Klan, probably so it wouldn't have to remit 10% of its rape victims to the home office--was more anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant than anti-black. (In my youth I would occasionally hear this factlet recounted as though the speaker was convinced they'd had a recruitment office on Indiana Avenue.)

Around this time, but no doubt wholly coincidental to the Not Racist, Just Religiously Bigoted Klan's bribery program for every local official who preferred legal tender to going to prison on trumped-up charges, Indianapolis segregated its schools, beginning with high school, and gradually working its way back. After the Second World War de jure segregation was replaced by quieter de jure segregation, until a Federal court ruling in the early 70s desegregated Indianapolis Public Schools by transferring some of its students, along with a lot of its cash, to the white suburban districts where the sons and daughters of the original segregators had fled.

Meanwhile, in the late 60s, faced with the terrifying prospect of enough African-Americans voting that the Party of Lincoln would itself become a Minority, Dick Lugar, Spanish-American War veteran and "Nixon's Favorite Mayor"--an honorarium he sadly no longer lists on his c.v.--together with the Republican majority on the City Council and a GOP-controlled Statehouse, annexed all the white suburbs out to the county line. The three political vestiges of the old boundaries which were allowed to remain in place were 1) the Indianapolis police and the Marion county sheriff, plus local fire departments; 2) the eight or twelve or fifteen hopeless tangles known as Township governments, and a couple of autonomous town governments; and 3) nine separate school districts. I'll bet you already guessed that one.

It, of course, had nothing to do with racism. Or at least no more to do with racism than the Indiana Klan did.

That little trick lasted thirty years, assuming you imagine electing a Republican who called himself a Democrat, and a Democratically-controlled City/County Council, closed a chapter. Bart Peterson, elected in 2000, immediately set out to rectify eighty years of overt racism in local education got himself the right to found charter schools the way soft drink producers create new and exciting brands. He also created, in 2006, something called The Mind Trust, a non-profit organization which, and I quote "is taking a bold, new approach to education reform. Driven by results, we are strategically building a network of the nation’s best education reform organizations here in Indianapolis. Together, these organizations, led by visionary education entrepreneurs, are already putting their ideas into action and working to transform our schools." [bold emphasis of "bold" in original]

Now, if you're as big a fan as I of our nation's results-driven, visionary education entrepreneurs and the dozens of metaphorical new and exciting soft drink flavors they dream up every day--backed by results!--you will already realize that Indianapolis Public Schools are failing. Because, otherwise, what's an educational entrepreneur supposed to sink his teeth into? And, no doubt, you'll have tumbled to the idea that the solution to this problem lies in Better Test Scores, Higher Graduation Rates, and the sort of Entrepreneurial expertise which can't manage to accomplish anything unless unions are broken, benefits cut, and working conditions run through the Dreadfulizer 3000. Because only then will we be able to attract the highest-quality applicants.

(It's interesting, isn't it, how much time Our Nation's Entrepreneurs spend solving every problem except giving people decent, meaningful jobs at living wages? Based on this model, I guess we need a tax-exempt consortium of acrobats, beekeepers, or gerbil enthusiasts, to figure out how to solve our economic woes.)

Of course, The Mind Trust being a savvy, well-connected, and going concern, it doesn't actually say "End Socialist Union Socialism" in its Mission Statement, since the sort of people who pay it to work toward that end don't really want it publicized that that's what they're up to. In fact, when they came out with their Big Plan a couple days ago, about which the whole town is artificially buzzing, because the local news outlets have devoted every non-Super Bowl-related minute to it--that is, about one minute--the We Need Great Teacher thing was mostly boilerplate. The two Big Ideas were 1) reducing the administration by 80%, and using the proceeds to give everyone free pre-school; and 2) eliminating the elected School Board, and replacing it with a committee appointed by the mayor and the City-County Council.

In other words, African-Americans, say goodbye to the last vestige of your voting power in Indianapolis. [By the way, school reform is such a vital, pressing problem that The Mind Trust will be waiting until 2013 to press its agenda with the (then safely ensconced for two years) state legislature. The suggestion that voters in the IPS district be given a referendum before becoming the only public entity in the state denied the right to choose its own school board was met, predictably, with something short of enthusiasm.]

Listen, I'm no fan of the school board, nor its superintendent Eugene "Cufflinks" White (in what we in the IPS extended family have come to expect from White, he issued a statement yesterday that the Plan wouldn't work. "And besides," he added, "I'm already doing all those things.") There's no question that the Administration building is full of functionaries, supernumeraries, flunkies, and associate flunkies.

But if you're looking to clean house from the top down, do you really call in a charity golf outing's worth of entrepreneurs? People who can't function without six secretaries and a private jet?

The Mind Trust site lists the following on its Staff page:

Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Executive Vice President
Vice President of Education Initiatives
Education Initiatives Associate
Vice President of Strategic Growth Initiatives
Individual Giving Manager
Vice President and Director of CEE-Trust [where the job of Vice President is to "oversee The Mind Trust’s efforts to support education entrepreneurship nationwide through his work as director of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust). So he's the liaison to himself.]
CEE-Trust Associate

And they're currently looking for a Manager of Operations.

There's also thirteen people on the Board of Directors (shame on you, Jane Pauley), a veritable Who's Who of Eli Lilly/Gates Foundation/Mitch Daniels Crony/Corporate Consortium to Fuck Public Education.

My favorite bit, though, is the capsule bio of Founder and Chief Executive Officer (and former Peterson Director of Charter Schools) David Harris:

"David Harris is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Mind Trust. Under his leadership, The Mind Trust has raised $25 million to advance the work of education entrepreneurs in Indianapolis and accelerate positive change. Since its launch in 2006, The Mind Trust has supported the Indianapolis launch of 11 high-impact entrepreneurial education ventures, supported critical research and policy work designed to improve the climate for education innovation, and garnered widespread attention from local and national media, with The Indianapolis Star declaring that The Mind Trust is 'at the center of the reform movement in Indianapolis.'"

Yup. Half a decade of sweet-talkin' the Gates Foundation, the Lilly Foundation, and helping make the anti-public school/Republican war on unions sound reasonable and caring. Guess maybe it's time to start thinking about education some now.

Monday, December 19

The View From Centrist Command

Andrew Bacevich, "The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq marks the end of American supremacy". December 16

SO the wingnuts are growing concerned they may sound too detached from reality to win a national election. This is the principle difference between a wingnut and a centrist.

In fact, it may damn near be the only difference.
In American history, every now and then we get a definitive ending. The crash of October 1929 ended the Roaring Twenties;

Um, well, Professor, it didn't, actually. It may've damped the spirits of people who owned a lot of stock, but the Great Depression didn't begin for another six months or so. I wasn't there, and my people were Midwestern farmers and railroadmen, so they didn't do much if any Roaring, or Flapping, or Stock Speculating. Anyway, my point is that if you wanna talk American historicity, not history, let's call it that.
VJ Day ended World War II. The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq this month, while less dramatic, also marks the passing of an era.

Unfortunately, not the Era of Unwarranted Hubris. Nor the Era of Extraordinary Stupidity, nor Resistance to Brick-Wall Reality, nor of Imaginary Military Supremacy.
Launched in 2003 amid assurances of a rapid victory, the war is ending nearly nine years later with the United States settling for considerably less. Undertaken to demonstrate our supremacy, the war has instead revealed the stark limits of American power. It has laid waste to the post-Cold War era of great expectations once thought to define the future.

Y'know, it's fucking remarkable: while the Cold War was going on there were vast numbers of Americans who understood that our power--our multiple-global-destruction power--was extraordinary limited in application, consisting, mainly, of our ability to destroy human life as we knew it. And that question had been settled as a practical matter--meaning "answered" not "the people on the wrong side of the argument shut up"--in Korea, the first motherfucking time we tried to use our military hegemony and H-bomb supremacy to dictate to the rest of the world, and realized it was no substitute for actual fighting. Yet here we are.
Remember the 1990s, which opened with the Soviet Union in its death throes and the United States riding high? The Cold War reached a peaceful conclusion, and a new historical chapter, seemingly rich with promise, dawned. Led by the United States — its preeminence affirmed in 1991 by Operation Desert Storm — the world was moving from darkness into light.

Historicity, not history; I remember a lot of idiots talking that way. I don't recall it making any of them correct.
The first claim was ideological: The collapse of communism signified the triumph of liberal democracy, a victory deemed definitive and irreversible; viable alternatives for organizing society had ceased to exist.

Okay, it's possible that you and I just differ as to the extent that these claimants can be believed. My answer is "Nada".

Then again, perhaps it's because I paid attention to their commitment to "democracy" from the 50s t0 the 90s.
The second claim was economic: The end of the Cold War had unleashed the forces of globalization; with the unimpeded movement of goods, capital, ideas and people, previously unimaginable opportunities for wealth creation beckoned.

Yes. Yes it did. For them.

This is the thing that kills me about American right-wing corporatism masquerading as economic "freedom": when, exactly, did it triumph over the Marxist critique? Because a corrupt authoritarian regime begun in its name collapsed in a heap of paranoia and militarism, suddenly the moral pre-eminence of those who control the means of production was established for all time?

Y'know, Soviet military spending bankrupted the largest nation on earth. And instead of this being seen as a cautionary tale about our own out-of-control militarism, it somehow became proof positive of the inherent superiority of capitalism, the guarantee that our brand of political perfection was the One True Path, and, somehow, that John Paul II really was infallible.

Did we use that Cosmic Demonstration of our own superiority to, I dunno, end poverty, provide for basic medical care, replace fossil fuels, work for international brotherhood? No. Just in case you weren't paying attention. We used it to scream bloody murder about a Peace Dividend.
The third claim was military: Advanced information technology was revolutionizing warfare; armed forces able to exploit that revolution would gain unprecedented effectiveness.

Of course the interesting thing about that--aside from the fact that it merely recapitulates the "Whoever gets the A-bomb/H-bomb/atomic-powered airplane/controls Indochina/lands on the Moon" routine--is that it didn't prevent us from continuing to spend outrageous sums on Old Technology.
History had rendered a verdict: The future belonged to America and to those who embraced the American way.

And History, as we all know, is written by the most objective observer available.
For anyone unwilling to accept that verdict, there was U.S. military power. “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist,” journalist Thomas Friedman wrote in 1999. “McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

Y'know, actually, that was for all those willing to accept the verdict. It's what they really meant, in fact.
Then came 9/11, which left the almighty superpower looking less like history’s architect than its victim. From the outset, President George W. Bush’s response to this affront sought not simply to avert further attacks on the American homeland, but to quash suspicions that history might not be tilting in America’s direction after all.

Isn't it curious how America is History's Annointed and The Country That Can't Face the Truth?
As measured by the number of U.S. troops killed, maimed or otherwise scarred, the Iraq war ranks as a comparatively modest affair. Even taking into account the far larger number of civilians killed,

First I've heard of it…
injured or displaced, Iraq trails well behind the really big wars of the modern era. Not casualties but consequences define the significance of this lamentable episode. There it ranks ahead of Korea and Vietnam — neither marking a decisive historical turn — and even alongside World War II.

Fer cryin' out loud: Korea should have marked that historical turn. Vietnam did, but the Military-Industrial Complex, as the old saying goes, didn't know it was dead, and forgot to fall down. Instead it bankrolled a forty-year effort aimed at obfuscating the history of those wars, and re-militarizing American sentiment. I don't know how committed the Defense establishment is to advanced information technology, but I do know that when the chips are down and they need a Jessica Lynch or Pat Tillman, pronto, it's Old Fashioned Lying gets the call.
The beliefs to which the end of the Cold War gave rise — liberal democracy triumphant, globalization as the next big thing and American dominion affirmed by a new way of war — have all come to rest in that unmarked grave reserved for failed ideas. Those who promoted and persisted in the Iraq war wielded the shovel that helped dig the hole. This defines their legacy.

It'd be nice if it took the shovel out of their hands, too. No such luck.

Sunday, December 18

Just One Hitch

I'M NOT big on encomia--some of you may've already tumbled to that--but I think the recently deceased should, for the most part, be treated with decency or silence, unless the goddam procession takes longer than the worms do to do their work, à al Reagan. Just try to keep the poppy juice at reasonable levels. You don't need to black out to have a good time, kids.

So Hitchens, fine. A sharp and interesting mind, muscular prose. He lent his pen too often to a sadistic schoolmaster, who, increasingly as years went by, was slow to return it.

I confess, though, that I don't quite understand why the man received such praise in the snark dens of left blog comments; so he thought Nixon was a psychopath, and Kissinger a war criminal, and Reagan an idiot, and that Bojaxhiu woman a tiny religious sadist. So what else is new? If we lived in a sane world Brian Fucking Williams would spit after he mentioned any of 'em.

[Speaking of religious swindles, Douthat mounts his secular pulpit this Lord's Day to eulogize Hitchens as the Elect's Sort of Atheist, since the entire Christian world (except for a few ugly blog commenters, included not to echo Hitchens' own delight in the hypocrisy, but to underline how reasonable Douthat and all the other real Christians are, so long as the cost is negligible) apparently heard in Hitchens' public atheism a desperate cry for Conversion. Not like that awful Dawkins fellow. At least all Baptists and Papists, the Alpha and Omega of Douthat's personal religious vision, do. One is tempted, of course, to ask whether it isn't really the other way 'round, whether it's not just that Catholics who have come to grips with the 19th century appreciated Hitchens doing their dirty work as regards "Mother Teresa" and the rest of the embarrassing Jesus-on-a-Taco, Weeping Mary on a Hollow Tree bosh their own corrupt hierarchy won't do anything about. (Sorta like Douthat's relationship to the Republican party in that sense, innit?) As to why this sort of thing--speculation about the Eternal Destination of the author of The Missionary Position--is prime New York Times real estate in 2011 C.E., well, as always, you'd have to ask them.]

We were, of course, supposed to believe the same thing about the Neocons in 2001, even if their embrace of a still-breathing-and-swilling Hitchens was more reminiscent of the hug some do-gooder suburban housewife gives a reeking bum on a soupline while the news cameras roll.

Iraq was the clear line, crossed freely, for which Hitchens can never be forgiven.

The drumbeat to that war had three sorts of public supporters: American rightists and "centrists" who'd spent the previous thirty years trying to reinstate, incrementally, American military hegemony; Reagantots who didn't remember Vietnam, but had learned its lessons from postwar bullshit, every Tom, Dick, and Harry named Marshall, Drum, or Yglesias; and Christopher Hitchens.

It is, simply, outside the realm of possibilities that someone who understood exactly what America was up to in Southeast Asia from 1946-1975, or who saw the enormity of the what the Right got up to in Central America under Reagan, could have imagined the United States as the savior of Western Civilization in Mesopotamia or anywhere else. I kept reading Hitchens. I did. I kept waiting for the fever to break. Or at least for an argument that rose to the level of argument. It just got worse. That he supported the war in the transparently phony run-up was inexplicable; that he continued to do so after it had cost tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi lives was inexcusable.

I dunno. It's hard for me to imagine what happened to Hitchens and not think of other monumental ethical collapses of post-Reagan America. We can't trust sports records, we can't expect politicians to regard truth as truth, we can't keep shit out of our hamburger. And we couldn't keep a Euro-Trot from turning into a careerist teevee personality arguing monotheism with Ross Douthat. In some ways it seems the worst failure of all.

Thursday, December 15

Thursday Olio: Who Says There's Never Any Good News? Edition

• Point Of Order: If We're Going To Declare The War In Iraq Over, Shouldn't We Declare War On Iraq First?

Or, If We Were Going To Have The Last Person To Leave Iraq Turn Out The Lights, Shouldn't We Have Turned On The Electricity At Some Point?

My favorite bit, so far: WaPo entitling a slide show "From swaggering hope to quiet departure". Which is like seeing a review entitled "Dance incompetently staged" and discovering it was written by the choreographer.

• Actually, my favorite part of the story has nothing to do with Iraq, just with the sort of thing that got us there. It came from watching, yesterday, as my local teevee teleprompter readers sounded out the story of how the FCC was going to make commercials quiet. (On the same time-table as most social improvements: "Next year. Or the year after, if that's inconvenient." Because, god knows, you wanna make sure the engineers can get all the kinks worked out.)

And leaving alone the question of Just Where Th' Fuck These People Imagine They Work, I've read the story in three places today without once stumbling upon the inconvenient factoid that it's already illegal for commercials to be louder than programs, and has been at least since I was a child. Maybe I misunderstood something, or maybe I was misinformed, but I remember clearly having it explained to me, more than once, that what advertisers, and teevee stations, did to circumvent the regulations was to pitch commercials so that they were consistently as loud as the loudest explosion during programming. And, this being America, that baseline was then used as the level playing field on which they built the springboard to get up to the trampoline so they could jump up to some place where they could really start cheating.

It just slays me, really, when I reflect (as I did this weekend, winterizing my lawn mower in hope that that barely-merchantable, vaguely metallic piece of shit would last another year), that we have, at one and the same time, a public "debate" dominated, if not bought and paid for, by the idea that businesses of all sorts should be wholly unregulated, while the evidence of what results from that attitude breaks like a cheap shoelace right under America's nose, if it's not fucking it in the ass.

• The News from Tit Town: Lemme just say, if you happen to live in a mid-sized teevee market with a well-deserved inferiority complex, and the National Football League happens to grant you a Super Bowl in exchange for a billion of your tax dollars going to build it a new stadium ("or else we're moving to LA"), run, do not walk, somewhere, anywhere, else at least twelve months ahead of time.

First thing we did--the easiest, after dunning people in their sleep to build the thing--was to kick the homeless off the streets, then not enforce the (unConstitutional) ordinance so it wouldn't be challenged before we use it to sweep the streets free of unsightliness next month. Then our Ur-Teabagging Mayor, Gomer F. Ballard, USMC, starting spending money like a Kardashian who'd found a wallet on downtown "improvements". The City-County Council obligingly created new draconian measures to stop ticket scalping--which is legal in Indianapolis--by African Americans on street corners, not by white ticket resellers in the suburbs, something which we'd promised the NFL we'd do if we got the Super Bowl. Read that sentence again. I may even do it myself. Self-appointed representatives of the city of Indianapolis, sent by an accidental mayor, told the NFL that officials not yet elected would alter our laws to their liking.

Then--I think I mentioned this at the time--IMPD and the prosecutor announced they'd be on the lookout for the same sort of roving international-underage-sex-slave rolling limousine brothels that people from Dallas came to town to warn us was such a threat at last year's Big Game they'd had to invent it just to get the point across. This has, at last count, resulted in the arrest of up to two guys who went to meet Craigslist honeys, one of whom did so while being a former legislator, which is an additional Class A misdemeanor, if I understood correctly.

What we haven't been able to do is enact a wider smoking ban, due to some internecine squabbling on the Council, which will switch from Republican to Democratic control in January. This has caused Indiana House Speaker Brian "Preacher" Bosma, Republican and Champion of Individual Rights of Christians and Businessmen, to suggest that the Omnibus No Smoking and Right to Work law could be fast-tracked when the next session begins in January.

My personal favorite, though, is the exploding manhole covers. Been happening all over downtown for the past two years, but when it happened again a few weeks ago there was an uproar to get the problem fixed.

Thanks, Commissioner Goodell. When the NFL comes out against dumping raw sewage into your only semi-major river and main drinking water source, be sure to remember us, huh?

Wednesday, December 14

Being A Deep Thinkers In The Republican Party Is Like Trying To Set A Diving Record In The Shallow End Of The Pool

Ross Douthat, " 'Strong Commentary' on the 2012 Election Consisting of Restating What George Eff Will Just Got Done Saying". December 13

Most important, [Gingrich and Paul] represent two very different endpoints for the Tea Party movement. Paul, for all his crankishness, is the kind of conservative that Tea Partiers want to believe themselves to be: Deeply principled, impressively consistent, a foe of big government in nearly all its forms (the Department of Defense very much included), a man of ideas rather than of party.

Gingrich, on the other hand, is the kind of conservative that liberals believe most Tea Partiers to be – not a genuine “don’t tread on me” libertarian, but a partisan Republican whose unstinting support for George W. Bush’s deficit spending morphed into hand-wringing horror of “socialism” once a Democrat captured the Oval Office….

So Iowa Tea Partiers face a choice. If the town hall crashers and Washington Mall marchers of 2009 settle on a Medicare Part D-supporting, Freddie Mac-advising, Nancy Pelosi-snuggling Washington insider as their not-Romney standard bearer in 2012, then every liberal who ever sneered at the Tea Party will get to say “I told you so.” If Paul wins the caucuses, on the other hand, the movement will keep its honor – but also deliver the Republican nomination gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.

LET'S start with Romney. I have no idea who, if anyone (besides Mitt Romney), benefits from a Romney campaign. That said, neither your certifiable party, nor the country it supposedly loves so much that other people should die for it, is served by how how he's conducted himself, nor by how that's been met. In 2008 Romney clearly brought a new definition of the world "pander" to national campaigning, which is an accomplishment on par with bringing new meaning to the world "pander" in the field of pandering.

But is Romney condemned for this (or for being a shallow, content-free, Mad Ave candidate with nothing to offer but scads of his own cash)? Of course not. He's condemned by the Republican electorate because the views he used to have don't qualify as True Conservative.

What an amazingly high opinion y'all have of yourselves, especially compared to how little you have to show for it, and the near absence of intellectual development since the days when every American knew what Quemoy and Matsu were.

And y'know, Ross, I love a good David Weigel impression as much as the next guy: "Teabaggers view themselves as principled, non-partisan hewers of oak who openly mock the Republican party's Chip Dispersal Guidelines. And Liberals scoff." Because the fact is that 1) Republicans did support the "Bush" budgets which, in point of fact, should be noted as Republican-, or effective-Republican-controlled Congressional budgets; if the Democrats had controlled the Congress during the Bush years you'd be blaming those deficits on them, the way you tried to do with Reagan (while ignoring the fact that Democratic Congresses in the 80s actually spent less than Reagan proposed); 2) that the "Defense Department included" business will have standing once it means something to anything other than Ron Paul's poll numbers; and 3) ditto with the supra-party jazz, which hasn't caused either Paul to switch allegiances, has it?

This is like saying that British Petroleum believes it is helping the environment, while "critics" complain about its actual record. They're not two ways of looking at data. They are, in reverse order, data, and self-serving bullshit.

I do understand that you, like Weigel, grew up in a cosseted environment where such disputes are supposed to be considered Two Sides of One Coin, so that you can conveniently stamp on unopposed. And I apologize for it. Not that it was my doing. It's just that I missed the chance to gun down Roone Arledge in 1976, and you might've grown up understanding that an argument is something you're required to make.

On the other hand, Ross, nothing excuses taking the Iowa caucuses seriously.

Monday, December 12

What Th' Hell. Batting Clean-up, Ross Douthat.

Ross Douthat "Professor Gingrich vs. Professor Obama". December 10

ONE thing that can be said for Douthat, or at least for his otherwise inexplicable position at the Times: his ill-informed, un-reflective, graspingly obvious attempts to excuse nothing so much as a congenital late-20th century wingnuttery and an early 19th century backwoods religious mania make him the perfect spokesman for Young Republicans. Or Old ones.
IN 2004, the Democrats were furious at what they considered the fraud to end all frauds: the selling of George W. Bush as a decisive military leader and all-American tough guy. So they nominated John Kerry for the presidency, hoping that having a real combat veteran as their standard-bearer — a bemedaled war hero, no less, who began his convention speech by announcing that he was “reporting for duty” — would finally expose Bush as the tinhorn chicken hawk that liberals believed him to be.

The jury's attention is directed to Exhibits A through E: "furious", "they considered to be", "fraud to end all frauds", "tinhorn chicken hawk", and "believed him to be". The Aging Young Republican huffs intensifiers like a sullen teenager huffs paint.

This is, Ladies and Gentlemen--and thank you for your service, by the way; you're the cornerstone of our legal system--this is Ross Douthat--New York Times columnist Ross Douthat--merely setting up a specious comparison to Newt Gingrich. But he can't resist overselling it by a factor of six gazillion.

So, one: John Kerry ran partly on his war record. There's an event unprecedented in American political history. Two: if Democrats were truly looking for a symbolic nominee to point out Bush's alleged chicken hawkery, then what happened to Wes Clark? Three:

And look, while we're at it, what is so difficult about the chicken hawk concept for the American Right, aside from the requirement of a hard look in the mirror? Bush wasn't a chicken hawk. He was a plutocrat who, like Dan Quayle, avoided combat by securing a coveted National Guard position. Which, into the bargain, he seems to've avoided fulfilling, with no consequence to himself. I'm no Democrat, and I'm too old and experienced to be spurred to "fury", but the risible "War Leader" and "Commander Codpiece" crap was but a fraction of Bush hagiography from the Right, which also included "Jesus speaks through him" and "He's misunderestimated." And, as always, any spite this might have awakened in me would have been reserved for the people who fell for it; Republicans I already expect to act like Daddy worshippers, provided Daddy is one of theirs.

Okay, three: yes, indeed, Kerry played up his war record, and Democrats hated Bush. Kerry also had solid liberal credentials. This is the stuff of pungent political metaphor?

The conventional wisdom holds that Mitt Romney is the John Kerry figure (a Northeastern flip-flopper with good hair)

Left off the "Republicans alleged" routine here, huh Ross? And whose conventional wisdom? Kerry's "flip-flopping" amounted to having voted for the Iraq War Resolution then later announcing he opposed the war. In fairness, that should have been the case with anyone who was foolish enough to have voted for the Iraq War Resolution, and then realized the execution was in the hands of George W. Bush. My own senior, and I do mean senior, Senator, Dick Lugar, actually announced he was against the war, then voted for the Resolution, then later, when it turned to shit, reminded everyone that he'd told them so. He's known as a keen observer of international politics.
But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.

Who said Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance, or that his undeniable oratorical skills are "unprecedented"? And where are they currently receiving treatment?
This fantasy ran wild four years ago. Obama is “probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” the presidential historian Michael Beschloss announced shortly after the November election. The then-candidate’s Philadelphia address on race and Jeremiah Wright was “as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate,” a group of progressive luminaries declared in The Nation. Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” is quite possibly “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician,” Time Magazine’s Joe Klein declared. “He is not the Word made flesh,” Ezra Klein wrote of Obama’s rhetoric in The American Prospect, “but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.”

Okay, so some of 'em are still roaming free; so there's a jibber-jabberer with a Harvard MBA who's not gay, but would tap it. What's that got to do with, you should pardon the expression, your point? Why are we 300 words into an 800 word piece already?
It’s easy to see why this kind of myth-making would infuriate Obama’s opponents. And so ever since the 2008 election, the right has embraced a sweeping counternarrative, in which the president’s eloquence is a myth and his brilliance a pure invention. Take away his campaign razzle-dazzle and his media cheering section, this argument goes, and what remains is a droning pedant, out of his depth and tongue-tied without a teleprompter.

Three-hundred sixty-three words.

Look, Ross, we're going to introduce a little avoidance therapy here, okay? Try to remain calm. The reason it's "easy to see" why the Obama mythos infuriated the American Right is that the goddam American Right is permanently infuriated to begin with, okay? The American Right was infuriated that John Kerry had the audacity to win military honors. You'd imagine that the nation's premier Kennedy historian would at least have a passing familiarity with "Nixon's the One". Or have recognized the George W. Bush canonization for what it was. I leave off Reagan; forcing you to acknowledge that three-decade orgy of unreality is going to take a lot more treatment.
This is where Gingrich comes in.

He's late.
Just as Kerry’s candidacy represented an attempt to effectively out-patriot George W. Bush (“You have a war president? We have a war hero!”)

Thanks for the reminder, Ross. When that hammering stopped for a full sentence I forgot all about it.
the former speaker has skillfully played to the Republican desire for a candidate who can finally outsmart and out-orate Obama.
His promise to challenge the president to a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates, in particular, has been deliberately framed as a kind of professor versus professor showdown, in which the president’s weaknesses will finally be exposed.

“How does a Columbia-Harvard graduate, who was the editor of the law review ... supposedly the best orator in the Democratic Party,” Gingrich asked recently, “how does he look himself in the mirror and say he’s afraid to debate a West Georgia College professor?” It’s a line that evokes a kind of conservative revenge fantasy, in which the liberal elitists who sneered at George W. Bush’s malapropisms and Sarah Palin’s “you betchas” receive their richly deserved comeuppance at the hands of Newton Gingrich, Ph.D.

But a fantasy is all it is.

Okay, this sounds like progress, Ross, but you just wrote a five-hundred thirty-seven word praeteritio.
The American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer calls it “the fallacy of the master debater”

Goes right along with the Myth of the Non-Partisan Teabagger. (Say, maybe this could be Rick Santorum's big opening.)
the belief that elections turn on dramatic rhetorical confrontations, in which the smarter and better-spoken candidate exposes his rival as a tongue-tied boob.

Okay, it's obvious we're not going to get any further today. Some teat-moistener at the American Spectator is now going to lecture the nation--or that one ten-millionth of one percent which reads the American Spectator--on the public's shockingly less-than-total absorption on the fine points of Presidential debating? You're fucking Republicans! The last Republican to win a debate was Silent Cal.

Y'all don't want Gingrich. We get it. And you don't want to admit to yourselves that he, and the rest of that daisful of Jebus-mazed encephalics are the Republican party. We get it. And you think you can kid the rest of us about it.

That we don't get. If this He's the Anti-Obama shit was real, how th' hell did it take the massive self-immolation of four front-runners--any of whom should have embarrassed you to the extent that you started writing your column under an assumed name--before you lit on the only guy still standing who isn't a Mormon?

Y'know, it's too late for George Eff Will, of course, and too late for Brooks. But Ross, you're thirty years old. You still have a chance to go through half your life without using shit for brains.

Sunday, December 11

I Still Prefer Coffee, But The Smell Of Desperation In The Morning Does Have Its Attractions

George Eff Will, "Ron Paul, spoiler?" December 9

SO the "conservative" intelligentsia is disconcerted by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul now? It's like Ford coming out last week to express its concerns over the Pinto.

Eff Will's had four decades to watch this happen to the Republican party, and it's still his party. He can sniff his dissent all he wants to, but it's still his party. The cracked and crackpotted Ronald Reagan was his boy, even as he quadrupled the National Debt, spent ungovernable amounts on big-ticket military gewgaws, permanently entrenched Nixon's Southern Strategy and the government war on guaranteed reproductive freedom, and finalized the multi-national-corporation takeover of government processes. None of these was "conservative" in either the real or the farcical modern sense; none of it did anything but advance the Republican party's electoral interests. Your hatred of FDR did not excuse it, even at the time.

And nothing excuses now the attempts to back away from the results of thirty years of Reaganism, eight years of George W. Bush, or the Gingrich "Revolution". Not that I blame you for trying.

And Ron Paul? Why are facile libertoonians even connected to the Authoritarian party? Because "conservatives" pandered for their votes, thinking those votes would always belong to whatever Reagan clone you wanted them to. The biggest joke in American politics in a generation--okay, the second biggest, after the attempt to turn George Fucking Bush into Commander Flightsuit--is that you people couldn't control your own phony grassroots political movement, and almost let it become a real grassroots political movement (meaning, only, that the redmeat "conservatives" you thought you were stringing along almost elected enough of their own to seriously fuck with you).

Wimper away, George and Dave. But spare us the idea that it's over "principle". You threw those out the window a few thousand miles ago, the better to win elections.

Friday, December 9

Shorter David Brooks: I Agree With Everything I Hate About The Republican Party. And Vice-Versa.

David Brooks, "The Gingrich Tragedy". December 8

TAKE my lunch money. Please:
Of all the major Republicans, the one who comes closest to my worldview is Newt Gingrich. Despite his erratically shifting views and odd phases, he continually returns to this core political refrain: He talks about using government in energetic but limited ways to increase growth, dynamism and social mobility.

In other words, you and Newt belong to that shrunken subset of Republican operatives who still believe it's necessary to come up with rational-sounding arguments in order to win over independent voters. Whereas the rest of the party, with good reason, settled on the irrational-outburst-with-the-emotional-content-of-a-junior-high-slumber-party-discussion method fifteen or twenty years ago.
As he said in 2007, “It’s not a point of view libertarians would embrace, but I am more in the Alexander Hamilton-Teddy Roosevelt tradition of conservatism. I recognize that there are times when you need government to help spur private enterprise and economic development.”

Y'know, bullshit. In 2007 the party was so far gone it was taking advice from Ross Douthat. And while it certainly has more than its complement of economic fire-eating snake-handlers--and whose fault is that?--they get to act that way secure in the knowledge that the party itself--and its Democratic doppelgänger--will vote every advantage to "growth, dynamism, and social mobility", aka "corporate welfare".
Look at American history, Gingrich continued,

The hell with that. Let's look at faux-American history. Stick with what ya know.
“The government provided railroad land grants to encourage widespread adoption of what was then the most modern form of transportation to develop our country. The Homestead Act essentially gave away land to those willing to live on it and develop it. We used what were in effect public-private partnerships to bring telephone service and electricity to every community in our nation. All of these are examples of government bringing about public purposes without creating massive taxpayer-funded bureaucracies.”

Well, one, it's easy to make a profit without creating much of a bureaucracy when 1) it's the 19th century and 2) you've stolen the underlying asset and put its rightful owners in internment camps. Just as it's easy to praise a program when you have no intention of looking at any negative aspects, which, in the case of the Homestead Act, was massive fraud, including corporate theft of public lands, all of it unaddressed (because there was no bureaucracy to keep people honest), and, in the case of land grants to railroad barons, was a public giveaway of hundreds of thousands of acres which were then resold for private profit, if they weren't used to blackmail localities first.

But, hey, good examples, Professor Gingrich. It's not like you get any more accurate as we approach the 20th century, unless we take "what were in effect" to mean "the following is mostly bullshit". The "public" portion of the "public-private partnership" in the development of telephone communications basically consists of the government giving Bell the right to a monopoly, for the sake of rational development (because, prior to that, unfettered capitalism had been hindered by inconvenient state laws). As for rural electrification, the government did, essentially, bribe private electric companies to provide service to rural users, which the Perfect Market was refusing to do to that point. It'd be nice if you'd acknowledge that that's some sort of evidence that your "hands off the private sector, except to give it a needed leg up" routine is, well, debatable. Or if you'd acknowledge that it was in fact accomplished as part of the biggest, most hated taxpayer-funded bureaucracy of all, the New Deal.
This was not one of Gingrich’s passing fads. It is one of the most consistent themes of his career. His 1984 book, “Window of Opportunity,” is a broadside against what he calls the “laissez-faire” conservatism — the idea that government should just get out of the way so the market can flourish. As he wrote, “The opportunity society calls not for a laissez-faire society in which the economic world is a neutral jungle of purely random individual behavior, but for forceful government intervention on behalf of growth and opportunity.”

Would that by the same 1984 book, Window of Opportunity, in which he says that "government actions, generally, are a threat to everyday life"? C'mon, Dave; the man's given us four decades of evidence about his ideas on public-private partnerships. From each side. And they both stink.
Over the years, this approach has led Gingrich to support cap-and-trade energy legislation to combat global warming. It has led him to endorse universal health care coverage. It has led him to support humane immigration reform. He enthusiastically backed Jack Kemp’s efforts to fight poverty, the precursors to compassionate conservatism.

We live in wondrous times, all right.
Though his ideas stray, his most common theme is that government should intervene in crucial ways to create a dynamic, decentralized, low-tax society.

1) Build trough. 2) Fill trough. 3) Avert your gaze from trough. 4) After a suitable time, turn back and declare the existence of a couple of enormous porkers validates your system.
So why am I not more excited by the Gingrich surge?

Oh, because, yet again, Dave, the purest expression of your "principles" come from the mouths of imbeciles (although this one's semi-literate, which is at least a step up) and you don't like how it reflects on you.
In the first place, Gingrich loves government more than I do. He has no Hayekian modesty to restrain his faith in statist endeavor. For example, he has called for “a massive new program to build a permanent lunar colony to exploit the Moon’s resources.” He has suggested that “a mirror system in space could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.”

I’m for national greatness conservatism, but this is a little too great.
Yknow, Dave, let's flip some cards over here, one of 'em being the Ad Hominem card. It's one thing for someone who was indoctrinated by the Church from the age of blastocyst to be in denial about The Great Altar Boy Buggery Cover Up; it's another for someone who supposedly had a Road to Damascus conversion when struck by Milton Friedman. It never, ever occurs to you that it's always your side which talks like this? You don't hear Democrats, or not the stereotypical Democrat you're fond of, pledging rockets to Venus and Space Defense Shields, and The Solution to All Our Energy Worries Is Right Offshore, do you? No. High speed rail and windfarms and strict emissions standards, maybe, if you catch 'em with the wind at their back, which is not a position most Democrats feel comfortable with anyway. No, indeed; Democrats at least have the decency to sound like they want to put average Joes and Jolenes to work doing something other than killing brown people, and then sell everybody out under the table. Why, in other words, do you persist in Republican idolatry? Those aren't the actions of an someone whose "conversion" happened after the age of majority. Barack Obama is going to give you everything you'd get from Newt Gingrich while appearing sane, if by "appearing sane" you include "making any number of decisions which would be wholly inexplicable in a man who truly had the convictions he claims."
Furthermore, he has an unconservative faith in his own innocence. The crossroads where government meets enterprise can be an exciting crossroads. It can also be a corrupt crossroads. It requires moral rectitude to separate public service from private gain. Gingrich was perfectly content to belly up to the Freddie Mac trough and then invent a Hamiltonian rational to justify his own greed.

So he's a Republican. Or a Democrat. And, sure, a particularly ham-fisted one, which is appropriate in the nation's most porcine politico. It's not like "right-wing sinecure" isn't on your resume.
Then there is his rhetorical style. He seems to have understood that a moderate Republican like himself can win so long as he adopts a bombastic style when taking on the liberal elites. Most people just want somebody who can articulate their hatreds, and Gingrich is demagogically happy to play the role.

C'mon, David. I know you don't really want to know about the 60s, or the 70s, but Gingrich is simply the fattest little piggy at the Post-States'-Rights trough. This is where "Newt Gingrich, Futurist" comes from. He's of an age where he saw that Ol' Jim Crow wasn't gonna fly anymore, and what was needed was a new sort of Snake Oil salesman. He may have truly believed that overt racism was dead, a decade or so before the rest of the Republican excuse-mongers caught up with the idea, but he's never quite given up the idea that it had its good points.
I’d make a slightly similar point more rudely. In the two main Republican contenders, we have one man, Romney, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1950s, and another, Gingrich, who seems to have walked straight out of the 1960s. He has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with ’60s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance. He just has those traits in Republican form.

I gotta tell ya, I really can't hear this enough. It's like theological arguments about dancing angels and pinheads, proof positive of the absolute pathology of anyone who claims transcendent truth. Narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance are supposed to describe "conservatives"' opponents?
As nearly everyone who has ever worked with him knows, he would severely damage conservatism and the Republican Party if nominated. He would severely damage the Hamilton-Theodore Roosevelt strain in American life.

That's you, and who else? Dear God, Ronald Reagan destroyed, for all fucking time, the notion of Republican fiscal responsibility, Republican intellectualism, and Republican intellectual honesty. And look where we are now.
But how you believe something is as important as what you believe. It doesn’t matter if a person shares your overall philosophy. If that person doesn’t have the right temperament and character, stay away.

Yeah. Find a convenient cocoon.

Wednesday, December 7

Dear God: Mike Allen As Cosmic Retribution For Everything Since The 3/5 Compromise Is Brilliant, But It's Over The Head Of The Intended Audience

Mike Allen, "Why Newt's surge is for real". December 7

TO begin with, as modern practice has it, there's nary a word here (in 1300) about "why" Newt's "surge" is "for real". That's meant to summarize the Script, not the piece.

So, let's answer it: Why is Newt's "surge" for realz? Because Beltway bungholes like the Politico gang--Ross Douthat without the religious trappings--have decided it's more exciting that way.

Oh, but isn't he atop the polls? Yes, brushing aside former future nominee Donald Trump. Fer chrissakes, Republicans do not like Mitt Romney. It's the only thing they've gotten right in the past five decades, unless you think winning an election makes you "right", so can't we give them a little credit? Newton Leroy is the only man left standing, apart from Santorum, and here's a little secret Beltway insiders will never reveal: Republicans don't like real religious nuts knocking on the door any more than you or I do, and certainly no more than the Beltway Boys do. Because they're liable to do something out of conviction, or ethics, or just the desire to look like they have some, which is the last thing Republicans want. (Not that anyone took a Bachmann candidacy seriously--except Dave Weigel--but she had the clear and comforting mark of the obvious religious scammer all over her, and her life partner. Like Palin, Bachmann isn't smart enough to be a fundamentalist, or anything else requiring philosophical conviction.) You think they hate Romney because he's a panderer, or because he supported public health care? Bosh. There's nothing the Right likes more than a panderer, and if Romney manages to win the nomination you'll hear the sort of lowing from the faithful that "Compassionate Conservatism" got in its day. No, Romney's disliked because he gives the impression of a man who might break out in morals, or vainglory, or, god help 'em, concern at some critical juncture, and fail to double down. Consider the trail of nominees since Reagan: Bush I, hated; Dole, hated; McCain, hated; all political men, all of whom had made political compromises and were hated for it. George W. Bush? Simple, greedy, built-in distraction with his Daddy issues, established track record of bilking taxpayers and private contacts? Second coming of Reagan.

Now, granted, Gingrich is as mooring-free as any cannon could be; but he's also demonstrated a venality and a cupidity that apparently know no lower boundary.

Okay, any time left on the clock. Let's have some laughs be enlightened by one of America's premier punditasters:
Top Republican and Democratic strategists say they greatly underestimated the potential for a Newt Gingrich comeback and now calculate that he could upset Mitt Romney to become the Republican presidential nominee.
By the way, which is worse: the track record of Top Republican and Democratic strategists, or the track record of the corrections of Top Republican and Democratic strategists? We could throw in America's Respected Political Commentators, but Republican and Democratic strategists have the built-in advantage that one of them gets to claim victory by default every two years.
It’s the clearest sign yet that Washington is waking up to a prospect that a week ago seemed far-fetched and even now seems hard to buy — Newt Gingrich vs. Barack Obama in 2012.
The clearest sign is anonymous collective noun use?
President Obama’s advisers, long convinced that Romney would be their opponent, now think he has a realistic chance of facing Gingrich, and are frantically rewriting a playbook that has been three years in the making.
Let's stop for a minute. There's practically no amount of tone-deafness, fumble-proneness, or simple goddamned Centrist cluelessness I won't believe about the President and his advisors, but "three years assuming Mitt Romney would be the nominee" leading to "frantic" rewriting of the playbook? Am I supposed to believe these guys still imagine the Republican party, and the Republican electorate, is moderately sane? I won't, if only because if I did I really wouldn't care if Newt Gingrich became President.
The advisers, especially David Axelrod – who has led the campaign’s frontal assault on Romney – are finally coming around to the possibility that Gingrich might actually be the GOP nominee.
1) How does David Axelrod come to have a job? 2) That, whatever th' fuck it was, was a "frontal assault" on Romney? 'Cause it sorta resembled the aftermath of the sort of frontal assault my 91-year-old father makes when he goes to take a leak.
Some Obama aides are exultant about running against a candidate with so much baggage and bad history. They generally view Romney as a stronger, more dangerous opponent, even if the former House speaker is likely to shine in debates. The feeling — or hope — among the campaign’s upper echelon is that the Romney-Gingrich fight just might last until June, as long as Obama-Clinton in 2008, with deeply unpredictable results.
It's always interesting to note that no one in Inside Washington has a memory that goes back farther than the reporter he talks to.
“It would be a nastier, more intense campaign,” said the Democrat close to the White House. “Newt has a history of getting people to rise to his bait. The president would have to stay mellow, steady Eddie.”
Right. Also, with any luck, the statue of Lincoln will remain seated.
Republicans, at the same time, find themselves both appalled and in admiration of Gingrich’s ability to channel the base’s anger and capture the anti-establishment moment in a way that Romney never could.
For fuck's sake. Not that I'd blame them if they didn't, but do the sort of "Republicans" who're on Mike Allen's rolodex ever bother looking at the base? Or listening to Mitt Romney? And Gingrich is in his fifth decade of scamming the Republican base, although, in fairness, since he got run out of elective office it's been a higher class of Republican idiot whose pockets he picked.
Gingrich, after a spring mutiny by his original staff, quietly built momentum with little money and virtually no organization, by relying on his wife, Callista, and a few diehard aides. By necessity, his stripped-down machine was fueled by ideas and the Internet rather than the usual lifelines of a modern run for the presidency – ads and cash.
Well, "Callista", "ideas", "the Internet", plus "the fact that everyone in front of him not named Romney has proved to be too big an idiot even for the party which took Herman Fucking Cain seriously". Including Herman Fucking Cain.
It’s a gravity-defying comeback for the once disgraced former House speaker – a potential political reincarnation rivaled in recent U.S. history only by Richard Nixon.
Romney may get nightmare flashbacks to 2008, when Mike Huckabee came from far back to win Iowa, and John McCain survived a staff implosion and won the nomination.
Or perhaps he'll remember 1992, when…nah, nobody remembers that far back.
Romney campaign has “a pretty good oppo package” on Gingrich and is prepared to go nuclear, said a top GOP consultant familiar with the campaign.

“The question is: Does all that unloading help or hurt?” the consultant added. “I don’t know. People have weighed [Gingrich’s past], and they’re OK with most of it.”
Right. Because if history--all the way back to 2004, even--tells us anything, it's that people who tell pollsters they're going to vote in Republican primaries clearly weigh all the evidence before making up their minds.
Social conservatives, an essential ingredient of the GOP base, don’t trust Romney.

“He would be my top choice at the moment in terms of the full package – ideas and positions and ability to beat Obama in 2012,” said a top Christian organizer. “Gingrich might not be as conservative as we like on every issue, and he may have had different opinions over the decade. But he still doesn’t attain the level of Romney in seeming lack of sincerity and authenticity.”
Anyone ever heard a "top Christian organizer" talk like this?
Many who know him best remain skeptical that Gingrich will have the discipline to avoid self-immolation.

“He’s a little bit like charcoal briquettes in the backyard,” said Rich Galen, who was an aide to Gingrich on and off between 1982 and 1998. “When you first light them, there’s a lot of smoke and fire and a lot of stuff going on. But you can’t cook a steak on that.”
Y'know, I love this "Look out, Newt might immolate himself" routine. It's like the reverse of Pascal's Wager: "We're going to take Gingrich seriously, but only while noting that something he says in the future may prove more damaging than the Top 7000 Incredibly Stupid Things He's Said Previously, which we aren't bothering to report." Once again, this is the same bunch which thought Michele Bachmann sounded Presidential in that first debate, and who stood by as she, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain demonstrated, time after time, a lack of intelligence staggering in a president of a trade group, let alone a Texas governor, without saying anything more censorious than "gaffe". Hell, the question now is what Gingrich howler would even get mentioned, let alone excused on the grounds that he was just throwing out more ideas from that fecund academic brain. This comes, mind you, at the end of a piece which attributed part of his comeback to the work of that platinum-helmeted collector of shiny objects he's married to, in the eyes of the Church. I ask you.

Tuesday, December 6

If You Need To Root Out Stupidity The First Thing To Lose Are The Pruning Shears

Michael Moran, "On Defense, Silver Linings, Golden Opportunities". December 5

FIRST, read Natalie Hopkinson's Op-Ed "Why School Choice Fails".

I don't think I've written about education all semester. The simple reason is that, as the husband of a public school teacher, in a state infested by Mitch Daniels, the only thing left to do is howl. What happens with the "free marketeers" come in to save things? More bureaucracy. And where does that bureaucracy land? On the backs of the people who were doing the real work in the first place. Herman Cain is a risible bugwit, but Herman Cain is a successful entrepreneur.

Let's speak of something more rational: Defense spending:
Gloom and doom from one side, glee and visions of sugar plum fairies from the other: As usual, the Pushmi-pullyu beast that is America’s political elite has it exactly wrong as it weighs the dire (or wondrous) implications of “Draconian” cuts facing the U.S. armed forces over the next decade.

Pray tell, which are the "two" "sides" of the Defense spending debate? The Inside and the Outside? It sure ain't Republicans and Democrats. It sure ain't "Liberals" and "Conservatives". There may be a powerful enough Democratic minority that social spending isn't automatically steamrolled in the "deficit" "reduction" "process", but if there was anything amounting to a "side" exhibiting anything approaching glee at the idea of Defense cuts we might be somewhere slightly closer to rational in the first place.

And by the way, I knew my hope that the link at "Pushmi-pullyu" would take me someplace which defended the Manichaean Defense argument was destined to be dashed. So let me say, instead, that if you imagine that your childhood cultural reference requires a link to Wikipedia so your audience won't be lost, rewrite the fucking sentence.
With each side eyeing the supposedly automatic cuts in military spending amounting to $600 billion over the next decade, scare-mongers will build the nascent threat of China’s military into a goliath while politicians whose worldview automatically ranks “defense” as less important than, say, “high speed rail” will seek to make those cuts stick. Between the two polls, pols eyeing jobs and defense contracts in their home districts will weigh in, too, guaranteeing that, unless a more informed conversation displaces the current one, whatever happens on this issue will be misshapen, hacked, and contorted to suit ideological and pork barrel considerations, not the strategic needs of a great nation in relative decline.

Sure. "There's a first time for Everything" is pretty much a sure-fire legislative plan.

(Just for the record: $600 billion over ten years--which isn't about to happen, let alone get adjusted for inflation--represents about 1% of military spending that we know of, without dunning Defense for its share of the interest on the Debt, or the cost of care for former military personnel.)
Missing, so far, from the conversation that most of the American public has been exposed to is this question: What should the United States military be asked to accomplish in the first half of the 21st century, and is the awesome force slogging away in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, in more routine missions, across the planet properly organized, equipped, and trained to accomplish it?

Regular readers, if any, may be aware that I'm congenitally indisposed to listen to members of my species prattle about the future when we manage the present poorly or not at all. Isn't NASA going to find us all a new planet to move to? And that's only setting us back $10 billion per.

Now, it's all well and good to talk about what sort of force the US taxpayer should be footing the bill for, but if we're going to do so under the threat of the Enormous Budgetary Armageddon which requires, requires, partly in sadness, of course, us to slash grandma's catfood money and eviscerate what we call, with as straight a face as we can muster, the "public health care system", then cuts in Defense should be determined the same way, not by everyone spitballing ideas as to what sort of global hegemony we need to buy ourselves next.

In fact, while we're at it, the whole concept of "Silver Linings" to some marginal cuts in the World's Largest Military Budget By a Factor of Fifty, Est. 1946, tells us nearly all we need to know about what's gone on with the Defense budget to this point. Creating a force which actually responds to the Worst Possible Case Scenario, Exaggerated By a Factor of Two Thousand isn't a bonus feature. It's what our elected officials are supposed to do year in year out. And what there's no chance in hell they will do.
Following 9/11, the Bush administration punted on this question, though before the attacks Rumsfeld had indicated he planned a significant rethink of America’s global footprint and capabilities. This effort, which went by the wonky moniker “defense transformation,” ultimately became conflated (and tarnished) by the completely separate and ultimately disastrous decisions taken by Rumsfeld and his commanders to try and invade and occupy two countries in Asia with a force roughly the size of the one that invaded the island of Okinawa in 1945.

Okay, why don't we try to untangle the line before we measure it? It was the Carter administration--alone among post-war executives--which tried to downsize the military, to adjust it to the real world, and to make it more about nuts, bolts, and boots than invisible bombers and space shields. It didn't begin to go far enough, but we may recall what happened when it was so soundly, so ideologically defeated by the Reaganauts. We reinstated the fucking B-1, fer chrissakes.

Spreading manure doesn't help this stuff. If the Rumsfeld Doctrine was ever intended as anything other than a PR ploy, it sure wasn't with the idea of reducing the American Defense budget. The main point of the Rumsfeld Doctrine seems to've been to excuse undertaking the long-planned Bush Revenge Tour of Iraq with an all-volunteer force.

If we can't start telling the truth to ourselves about all this shit, how do we expect to accomplish anything serious? And the truth is the whole goddam thing's a canard, and has been since the military takeover at the end of WWII. Plans to mothball carriers, or sell them to Pakistan? Not one-tenth as important as getting rid of the fucking mindset that got us a ten-carrier Navy with no mission in the first place. Same with the Fulda Gap mechanized force. While it is undeniably true that we have the world's most impressive, and most expensive, 20th century fighting force, it is also true that we got here not only by institutionalizing bloat and failing to modernize at the expense of cherished big-ticket systems; we got here by buying two dozen of everything. We got here by specifically fighting the idea that we should modernize, downsize, match our force, and our expenditures, to real world threats. Fer chrissakes, look at what we tried to do with Iraq and Afghanistan: win with domestic PR campaigns what we obviously couldn't do in the field.

And all of this just conveniently ignores the evil face of war by drone, of low-cost, remote-control Death at Our Whim substituting for a foreign policy upgraded to the reality of the 21st century. War isn't just too important to be left to the generals; permanent war footing is too expensive to be left to the war buffs.

Monday, December 5

Attention Wal*Mart Shoppers

SHORTER George Eff Will: "One look at the current Republican Presidential sweepstakes shows that faithful conservatives have insufficiently burnished to field to reflect my image." Interesting:
Rick Perry (disclosure: my wife, Mari Will, advises him)

I guess this would have been full disclosure had you revealed it when you wrote that Perry puffer last summer, or all those times since when you disparaged the debates, or every time you, say, wrote a column. Really, shouldn't any mention of "the hapless Barack Obama" be followed by "(disclosure: this coming from a man who thinks Rick Fucking Perry should be President)" ?

Coming as it did at the beginning of the weekend when Herman Cain would become the first candidate in American history to skedaddle after death, Will's piece made me wonder just what it's like to be a self-styled "Conservative" "intellectual" while surveying the actual "accomplishments" of the actual dunderheads who've represented you since 1946.

It's probably easier for me, but, y'know, that's in no small part due to the fact that I have no reason to defend the stinking pile of egregiousness that is either major political party. No one on the campaign trail will ever represent my point of view, not unless Eugene Debs decides to reanimate. And even then he'll be dismissed, not blazoned across the sky like Cain. Or Perry. Or Bachmann. Or George W. Bush.

Good Lord, even assuming I thought the answer to All America's Problems was, well, The Good Lord, I wouldn't want Rick Santorum lubing the passage. Even if all I cared about was cutting my own taxes I wouldn't find Paul Ryan inspirational. It's true, if I did feel the major problems facing the country today was the government confiscation of guns, low-hanging power lines, and th' teevee remote controlling me, I'd be happily switching my allegiance from Herman to Newt today. But you see my point. I think.

Th' fuck? Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Spiro Agnew, Roman Hruska? You had to disown George W. Bush, and puff Ronald Reagan more full of air than the collective biography of the Saints. And now you're stuck doing that for the likes of Michele Bachmann. Once you couldn't blame your murderous global authoritarianism on the Evil Soviets you decided to blame it on Americans who don't agree with you. You're the party of "teach the controversy" over evolutionary theory! In the fucking 21st century!

I don't understand how you even look at it, let alone how you demand someone more ideologically pure than Plastic Mitt and Tin Foil Newt. You've got 'em right there! A good half-dozen, and they're all too fucking cracked for your own party.

What's it take to get you to admit this? What's the possible attraction, besides the not-quite-crypto racism and the military budgets so large we have little choice but to dash around trying to reinstate the Days of Empire?

Oh. Guess I answered my own question.

Saturday, December 3

The Jokes Just Tweet Themselves, Don't They?

The Obama administration is missing a golden opportunity if they don't immediately name this guy US Ambassador to Hoochiekoochieland, or Bongo-Bongo, or Fluoristan. And make a big ceremony out of putting him on the plane.

Even For WaPo That's A New Low, Vol. LXXVI

I'M NOT even gonna link the article, out of respect, since the author no doubt went home and killed his family before turning the gun on himself.

Fer chrissakes, that headline; it's like the Escher print my math-major roommate hung in our dorm room, with the fish that turned into birds; by the time you get to the right-hand side you figure the white space must be where the meaning is, since the stuff in black doesn't make any sense at all.

"Newt Gingrich as president"? The concept relies on little more than his status as Top Non-Romney of the Week plus the fact that you can arrange those words in English to make a clause. Considering the fate of the last seven Republican poll toppers, is it prudent to even begin speaking of him as a candidate at this point, let alone a nominee, let alone, oh, fuck why not, as President? Perhaps it's a good time to mention this Greenwald piece from ten days ago, about the reception Ron Paul got from Bob Schieffer. Paul may not deserve serious consideration as a serious candidate, but his ideas about US international adventurism are far from sui generis, and far from outside the themes of mainstream political thought, either here, or, especially, in the Free World. If Paul had been the most recent recipient of the Random Disaffected Republican Poll Numbers Racket instead of Gingrich, would we be hearing about his potentially "idea"-brimming administration? Or about what an unacceptable crackpot he was?

Which brings us to "Ideas". Paul has ideas. Not very good ones, often, and not competently developed, but established lines of thought about real-world problems. Gingrich has a habit of tossing out shit to see what sticks. Why this is considered an amazing intellectual feat independent of the quality of the thoughts he seemingly blurts out is beyond me. Why it continues to be touted as such when there's four decades of evidence that he's incapable of having a good idea needs an explanation, though I'm sure we can rule out "because we now have a political press corps largely composed of cynical nitwits interested only in their paychecks, the location of the open bar, and the continued opportunity to receive warm jism showers from the rich and powerful".

"White House ideas factory"? This is the same fucking Press corps which has for the last four decades expressed its overweening admiration for "the ability to stay on message". Complexity in a single idea, let alone by the passel, was the Kiss of Death. Overloading one's plate was a foolish rookie mistake, a sign of intellectual hubris, or both. But, you know, the same imaginary hook the Press hangs its Gingrich, v. 6.5, script on is going to continue through his administration. Ideas! He has them! He'll be churning out "solutions" to "problems" the way a cabal of religious loonies in the Kansas statehouse churns out legislative calendar cloggers!

Sure he will.

And won't it be fun, too, since it's precisely what our politics has been lacking the past fifty years: Republicans coming up with new ways to obfuscate their plutocratic intentions.

And might we just mention, meanwhile, that this is what we've thought of Gingrich since he first hit the national radar like a bug hitting a windshield? He's a loudmouthed, tenth-rate shit peddler who happened to come along late enough that being an outright racist was no longer viable, but when crafting variations on the States' Right Theme Song was a growth industry. He's George Wallace if someone had managed to convince Wallace to quit playing demagogue and make money holding Get Rich In Real Estate seminars. He's Strom Thurmond for an era when you could no longer feel up the housemaid without fear she might knee you in the nuts (so Jungle Fever became Peroxide Fever). He's the Disco Richard Nixon. It's entirely meaningless to ask about his "baggage" or to wonder about his reception from evangelicals. The fact that Newton Leroy can still appear in public without being pelted by rotten vegetables hurled from all sides of the political spectrum at once tells you we're now in a hole we're never getting back out of.

Thursday, December 1

Amazing Proof!

George Eff Will, "The unintended consequences of letting darkies mingle with the Quality". November 30

OKAY, so we're never going to be rid of that right-wing jungle fever thing, can we--forty years after Nixon used racial resentment to craft an obstructionist 19th century political coalition, thirty years after Reaganism destroyed the middle class, and less than a full term shed of the worst--and most purely ideologically "conservative"--administration in the history of the Republic, and while we still fight its two hand-picked walkover patriotic conflicts--can we, I ask, at lest lose "unintended consequences" when George Eff Will dies?
The Supreme Court faces a discomfiting decision. If it chooses, as it should, to hear a case concerning racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, the court will confront evidence of its complicity in harming the supposed beneficiaries of preferences the court has enabled and encouraged.

Somehow it's not surprising that in the highest "conservative" "intellectual" circles "confronting evidence" of an error would be considered discomfiting at the least. Unthinkable is probably a better term.
In the 1978 Bakke case concerning preferences in a medical school’s admissions, Justice Lewis Powell, the swing vote on a fractured court, wrote that institutions of higher education have a First Amendment right — academic freedom — to use race as one “plus” factor when shaping student bodies to achieve viewpoint diversity. Thus began the “educational benefits” exception to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Oh, it did no such thing. The Court used Powell's rationale as a cover for issuing a political decision, the sort of thing it's done a few hundred times. But the majority did not agree with his Equal Protection argument, just with where it got them. In fact Baake was found to have equal protection under laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, and schools were found to have a right to regard social interests in their admissions policies. It's a decision--however cockeyed--that conservatives should have praised to the skies. But one which "conservatives" saw as insufficiently anti-Negro.

And, of course, since no "conservative" is racist--not these days--they'd never argue it that way. Instead, Affirmative Action programs are wrong because they give minorities the false hope they can compete with the Master better academically prepared races.
But benefits to whom? For 33 years, the court has been entangled in a thicket of preferences that are not remedial and hence not temporary. Preferences as recompense for past discrimination must eventually become implausible, but the diversity rationale for preferences never expires.

"[T]hat are not remedial" meaning, apparently, that the Court should have ordered all African slaves dug up and taught to read. "[E]ventually" as in "eventually become implausible" means "as soon as the Nixon administration could cook up opposition to 'quotas' and get away with it." The reader is reminded that by the 1980s self-serving "conservative" windbag independent political observer Andrew Sullivan had espied, from his perch on a spanking bench at Reigate Grammar, that Affirmative Action had, in a decade, surpassed four centuries of overt racism on the scale of Enormities as Experienced by White People.
Liberals would never stoop to stereotyping, but they say minorities necessarily make distinctive — stereotypical? — contributions to viewpoint diversity, conferring benefits on campus culture forever. And minorities admitted to elite universities and professional schools supposedly serve the compelling goal of enlarging the minority component of the middle class and professions.

1) Right, the stereotyping of minority groups as contributing to diversity must end now; 2) I believe you mean "serve the supposedly compelling goal, not "supposedly serve"; and 3) hasn't it? And clearly?

By the way, where's this evidence?
But what if many of the minorities used in this process are injured by it? Abundant research says they are, as two amicus curiae briefs demonstrate in urging the court to take the Texas case….

A brief submitted by UCLA law professor Richard Sander and legal analyst Stuart Taylor argues that voluminous research refutes the legal premise for such racial classifications: They benefit relatively powerless minorities.

“Academic mismatch” causes many students who are admitted under a substantial preference based on race, but who possess weaker academic skills, to fall behind. The consequences include especially high attrition rates from the sciences, and self-segregation in less-demanding classes, thereby reducing classroom diversity.

Except, for one thing, that the argument simply assumes what it purports to prove, namely that the failure rates are due to affirmative action admissions. The problem there being that they aren't.

Then again, when the only products of Affirmative Action you're personally familiar with are Herman Cain and Clarence Thomas, I guess it's to be expected.