Saturday, October 08, 2011

The ennobling populism of John Mellencamp: "Small Town" and "Our Country"

Music on Saturday @ The Reaction

As we're doing fairly long NFL picks/analysis posts each Sunday (up at 11 am), we've moved Music on Sunday to Music on Saturday for the duration of the NFL season.


No reason for this clip today other than that I really like John Mellencamp. Yes, I know, that whole "This is Our Country" thing for Chevy was annoying, mainly because the gratuitous, manipulative ad seemed to be everywhere and because it seemed like Mellencamp was selling out, but actually "Our Country," while schmaltzy, is pretty good. Besides, what's wrong with that sort of "up-with-all-the-people" populism? This is our country -- the country of ordinary folk, not the country of the Wall Street plutocrats, not the country of some ordinary folk, as Republicans would have us believe, a country united, not divided. That's a simple message, perhaps, but it's one that resonates, or should, particularly at a time when the right, as it usually does, wages relentless, class and moral/religious warfare, seeking to divide the country into "us" and "them."

By way of comparison, Springsteen has generally espoused a more complex populism, and his songs are more complex, but Mellencamp has always been admirably direct with his politics. There is a tendency, I think, to write Mellencamp off as too '80s, but I've always found his appeal much broader, with music and social commentary that transcended that generally horrible decade. And his great run through the '80s -- American Fool (1982), Uh-Huh (1983), the wonderful Scarecrow (1985), and The Lonesome Jubilee (1987) -- was pretty impressive. That's some of the best American music of the decade, music that holds up still. And his music since has been strong as well, with stand-out songs like "Human Wheels" (1993), "Dance Naked" (1994), "Peaceful World" (2001), and, yes, "Our Country" (2007) proving that he's still on top of his game after all these years.

Here are the videos for "Small Town" (off Scarecrow) and "Our Town." They're somewhat similar, though made many years apart, and they showcase, I think, what John Mellencamp is all about.

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Amerika Über Alles

By Capt. Fogg

Mitt Romney is hard to figure out, partly because his most salient feature is the love of ingratiating himself dishonestly with any group he thinks is worth ingratiating himself to. So I have to wonder if he really thinks the United States is the nation chosen of God to lead the world as he told cadets at the Citadel yesterday or whether he just assumes that people embarking upon a military career are dreaming of imperial glory. I have no way of knowing whether these cadets have Napoleonic dreams or are attracted to arms because of some sense of personal weakness and humiliation, but I'd hesitate to bet that many really think that US history isn't filled with mistakes at home and abroad or that we aren't a better, more moral nation than once we were. Of course I don't mean to say we shouldn't strive to be a good influence in the world, but being a good influence doesn't mean command, doesn't mean control, doesn't mean we're the infallible and mighty hand of some invented Lord as Romney would be implying if there were any implications beyond opportunism in anything he has ever said in public.

But as I say, you never know what Romney thinks, particularly if your assessment is derived from listening to the man. You certainly can know that he's willing to put some strange interpretations on events to bolster his imperial and messianic aspirations whether or not he believes them. President Obama's "apology tour" for instance; Mitt would like to make the psychorabble feel important and loved by associating honesty with apology and apology with weakness and weakness with Jonah-like abdication of a divine mission. Of course Obama never went on an apology tour, but what black man has ever not been in danger from Godly Americans when someone accuses him of winking at a white girl. Where there's smoke, there's fire, we say, forgetting that where there's smoke there may be a smokescreen and there may be arson.

That Obama portrayed American history in a poor light by admitting that we have sometimes been guilty of arrogance and have sometimes made mistakes is a big fish to swallow, to invert the metaphor and it clashes with Romney's carefully crafted humble demeanor. There's nothing humble about him and there's something disturbing about the belief in divinely ordained male control of family life his religion seems to demand, at least to an outsider like me.

"An eloquently justified surrender of world leadership is still surrender"

said the man who is more frightening for his benign smile. To me there is no one more dangerous than a man who can call upon a sufficiently established god to justify world domination and I don't think I need to offer examples. No one more dangerous unless, of course, we add the photogenic charm and the forked tongue. What Mitt really is saying is that America is chosen to be the priest and caretaker of the planet and what he is implying is that by being its ordained leader, he's God's agent on Earth. Where and when have we heard this before? Certainly not from the founders of our Republic who took up arms against God's own chosen King.

I've often been told that Obama "went over there and apologized to them" by Fox News victims totally ignorant of where there is or who said what. It's a lie of course and a big one but it isn't going away even if Romney never says another word about it or is magically transported to another world for him to rule, as apparently he thinks he will be. Lies, like cancer cells, are all but immortal. Truth and decency and the hope for a world not run by pompous and powerful thugs in expensive suits and plastic hair are as fragile as a dream.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Ten years into it, what are we to make of the Afghan War?

See Patrick Porter at The Duck of Minerva, one of my favourite foreign policy blogs, who has an overview of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the terrible that has resulted from that seemingly endless war. He concludes:

[T]he most profound significance of the invasion is that it led to the war in Iraq. Because America quickly overthrew the Taliban in a country infamous for being the 'graveyard of empires', this gave false confidence to the Bush II Administration, which concluded that it could do the same thing against the easy target of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Thus Afghanistan was the catalyst for a greater disaster in the Gulf, which in turn accelerated the erosion of American power in the world.

Including the erosion of American soft power, it must be added, its credibility, moral standing, and diplomatic clout. Obama has done much to try to reverse that erosion, but he has hardly been the sort of progressive world leader some of us hoped he might be, and so, ten years after the war began, the U.S. remains in Afghanistan, caught in an unwinnable struggle to achieve vague and ever-shifting objectives.

Yes, the brutal Taliban regime was "toppled," yes, life was made "more dangerous and insecure for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, yes, the effort to "transform Afghanistan into a strong, centrally-governed democracy" hasn't been entirely a failure (and certainly requires a great deal of time)...

But at a cost that, it would seem, is significantly greater than the meager benefits.


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Friday, October 07, 2011

Fox News vs. Comedy Central: Jon Stewart pulls his punches in "class warfare" debate with Bill O'Reilly

(Ed. note: Sorry for the lack of posts today. I'm exhausted after a long week that included a significant electoral event in the provincial jurisdiction in which I live. But, no, I don't blog about Ontario. Anyway, I'll have more soon, but here, for your blog-reading pleasure, is a post by Nicholas on a recent Stewart-O'Reilly showdown that you may have heard about. Enjoy. -- MJWS)

Whenever Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly meet to rekindle their bromance on live TV, Stewart consistently backs The O'Reilly Factor host into a corner – then proceeds to beat him over the head with context, facts, perspective, and the general "reality" O'Reilly just can't seem to grasp.

I enjoy the exchanges, the theatrics, the beatings, and the odd fascination these TV show hosts have for one another. Their meetings feel like a modern version of the Vidal-Buckley debates – only funnier, less snobbish, and in color.

What bothered me about their latest debate over tax increases was that Stewart, an intellectual giant compared to Billo, balked at the moment when he could have knocked O'Reilly out of the studio.

O'Reilly was up against the ropes, taking blow after blow as Stewart mauled him with facts and figures over the plight of the middle class, the myth of equality, the hypocrisy (and irony) of those "poor rich people" complaining about the lowest tax rate in decades, and the truth behind this country's 30-year corporate-funded campaign against the middle class.

"You are not living in reality," Stewart said. "Here's the reality. Top one percent take in nearly 25 percent of income today... The top one percent control 40 percent of the wealth. Twenty five years ago it was 33 percent. Top one percent have had incomes rise 18 percent over the last decade."

Stewart was already doing a victory dance as the audience roared over his closing argument: "I'm not saying we shoot them, but we shouldn't act like returning to the tax rate of the 1990s is class warfare on par with Lenin and Marx! That's what I'm saying!"

But it was too late. He'd missed his opportunity to nail the coffin shut and send O'Reilly sulking off the stage. 
Instead, O'Reilly returned to his studio and said this on his next show:

Stewart and many other progressives remain unconvinced that the federal government has a responsibility to operate efficiently and honestly before demanding more tax dollars. But I'm not giving up. I'm determined to convince the left that class warfare is damaging America.

He'll go about that mission by continuing to press two irrelevant and unsubstantiated talking points – talking points that Stewart could have annihilated if he'd postponed his victory dance by 30 seconds.

One is the government efficiency issue.

What Stewart failed to point out is that Washington is being more efficient. This administration, not Bush's or Reagan's but Obama's administration, has agreed to cut a historic $1.5 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years. He is drawing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have cost this country a conservatively estimated $1.3 trillion. His health care reform bill saves $210 billion over the next decade, and his student loan reforms save another $60 billion.

This administration actually is cutting spending. Today's Democrats are being responsible with taxpayers' money. They are reducing the debt.

You can't demand more efficient government spending when this administration is actively working to recall the bloated spending of the last three Republican administrations – unless you're not called out on it, and O'Reilly wasn't.

The second issue is O'Reilly's insistence that the rich are actually paying higher taxes now, overall and since the recession, when you take into account state taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes.

This is the type of claim that makes liberals cringe. But rather than dismissing the argument and turning the conversation back to the fact that the top one percent owns 40 percent of all wealth in America – and therefore, since they only pay 28 percent of all taxes despite owning nearly a majority of all wealth, perhaps the top one percent should pay closer to a majority of all taxes – progressives should take the issue head on.

Yes, the rich are paying higher sales taxes, property taxes, and state taxes, depending on where they live. But... drum roll please... SO IS EVERYONE ELSE!

The tax increases O'Reilly is whining about are no higher for him and other millionaires than they are for laborers, middle-class folks, even the working poor – at least not comparatively. They may have bigger houses and gas-guzzling SUV stretch limos, and they may contribute a greater portion of individual sales taxes compared to their poor neighbor, but they're not any more affected by these tax hikes than the rest of society. These increases in daily living costs mean that a greater portion of the average, middle class American's wages must go toward paying the mortgage, the gas bill, the grocery bill. They have to reduce their economic footprint in order to ensure that a roof remains over their head, that they can transport themselves to work and back, and that there is food on the table.

When the middle class has less money to spend, the impact on their local economies is evident, because when the masses spend less, local businesses, local municipalities and even state and federal governments collect less revenue. That is not even comparable to the impact of millionaires, who are far fewer in number, don't have to budget for increases in gas prices, and don't live paycheck to paycheck.

The question that should be asked is, When the federal tax burden is at a 60-year low, income inequality is at an 80-year high, and the national debt is "out of control," according to the Republican Party, why aren't the rich – the only people not suffering from the recession – not contributing more in taxes?

Stewart won the debate, but mainly because he was in his own studio, surrounded by his audience, and because the viewer's takeaway from this exchange – indeed, the media's takeaway – was that he bested O'Reilly by forcing the Fox News talking head to admit that "on some things" he's a Democrat. What was reported in the press, in the blogosphere, and in online news media sources what the masses who missed the segment heard – was that O'Reilly agreed that the rich have been better off in the last 20 years because of the tax code and that he would agree to higher tax rates on the rich if the federal government got its spending habits under control.

But Stewart didn't win the progressive argument. He didn't defend the middle class by correcting O'Reilly's claim that the rich are paying higher state and sales taxes when, in fact, everyone else is as well. And he didn't defend Democrats who have sacrificed the support of the liberal base by agreeing to the very "efficiency" standards O'Reilly is demanding.

As a disclaimer, I must say that I understand that The Daily Show is entertainment. It is a highly political, highly progressive nightly satire routine where "schnicks and giggles" matter more than investigative reporting and deep political analysis. I get that.

That said, Stewart is one of if not the most-watched liberal on television. His 2.3-million-member audience dwarfs all other Fox News show demographics. Only The O'Reilly Factor – supposedly a news program – has better ratings than The Daily Show – a comedy program!

Perhaps it's wrist-slittingly sad that one of the most popular and mainstream advocates for modern progressivism is a side-splitting comedian, but Stewart has earned his reputation. I just wish he'd stop pulling punches and show O'Reilly, and conservatives in general, that the left knows what "class warfare" truly is.

We've been living it for decades.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Occupation distraction: The incoherence of the Occupy Wall Street movement

Guest post by Infidel753

Infidel753 was born in New York state, grew up in California and now lives in Oregon. His area of academic specialization was the Middle East. He is a life-long atheist and long-time liberal with a special interest in social issues and technology.

(Ed. note: This is Infidel's second guest post for us. You can find his first, on the ignorant fundamentalism of the Republican Party, here. -- MJWS)


I'm increasingly worried that the Occupy Whatever movement could do the progressive cause in this country some real harm. It's sucking up attention and enthusiasm which, especially right now, are needed elsewhere.

If you haven't already, please read the critiques I linked to in the last link round-up over at my place, by Joseph Cannon and Feminisnt. The problem with the Occupy movement is that (a) it does not have specific, clearly-articulated goals, and (b) there is no sense of how, exactly, the actions it is taking are going to achieve whatever the goal is.

The movement claims inspiration from Tahrir Square. But Tahrir Square had a clear goal -- the end of the Mubarak regime. And it succeeded because it was a mass movement -- the protests drew hundreds of thousands of participants, not just thousands. When the Occupy movement can get 300,000 mainstream Americans together in one protest, in one place, and they stay there for weeks or months, it may accomplish something, but right now it seems very far from that point.

Others have drawn inspiration from the Arab Spring. Earlier this year, anti-austerity demonstrations in Portugal and Britain drew hundreds of thousands of participants. Yet notice that even they have not been able to force their governments to change course, partly because these were one-day events, big but quickly over. Also, democratic governments are less brittle than dictatorships.

Today, the people of Greece are launching their own campaign against the austerity policies which their craven rulers are forcing on them at the behest of the EU -- a campaign of mass strikes and a tax revolt. They've got a chance if participation is high enough -- hundreds of thousands of working people, not just thousands of people from the fringe.

Some have made an analogy with the Teabaggers, hoping that the Occupiers can become a similar force for the left. But insofar as the Teabaggers have accomplished anything, they did it by focusing on electoral politics -- supporting candidates and getting them into office. Amorphous ranting against "the system" has certainly been there, but that's not what got things done.

How many of the Occupiers voted in 2010 -- when a collapse of turn-out enabled the Republicans to take the House and create the paralysis they decry? How many will vote next year?

So far I see nothing that suggests the Occupy movement has the potential to achieve any concrete results whatsoever (well, there's one small exception, but I'll get to that in a moment).

Right now, we do have an opportunity to achieve something real. With his American Jobs Act (AJA), Obama has finally broken away from the Republican navel-gazing over the deficit that has consumed Washington for months, and made a serious proposal to deal with the greatest concern of mainstream Americans -- unemployment. Economists agree that the plan will stave off another recession at least. As Booman Tribune points out, Obama is finally doing what his critics on the left say they want -- drawing a line in the sand and showing willingness to fight for what the country needs. The Republicans insist the plan is DOA, but mass public pressure has swayed legislative outcomes before -- never forget how, in 2007, a mass outpouring of public fury (which crashed the Senate's telephone system) stopped an illegal-alien amnesty which had bipartisan support and was considered a done deal. Who's to say that a similar mass display of support now couldn't scare enough Congressional swing votes to get the AJA through?

Yet when I look around the liberal blogs today, I'm seeing very little being posted about the AJA, and a lot being posted about the Occupiers. The energy and enthusiasm which, properly focused, might actually get something done, is being diverted into what looks like an exercise in plowing the sea.

As I mentioned, I do see one small sign of hope about the Occupy movement. This is the fact that it's attracting some significant support from unions. Unions are pragmatic and not ideological; they have clear goals and know what works and what doesn't work to achieve those goals, and they're very engaged with electoral politics and the Democratic party. And -- forgive my bluntness -- their decision-makers are people older and more experienced than those who seem to predominate among the Occupiers.

If the union connection can help the Occupy movement become coherent -- help it develop specific practical goals and grow into a large-scale, sustained movement with a plan for achieving those goals -- then it may actually get something done. (And by "large-scale" I mean what I said about Tahrir Square above. 500 people in each of 15 cities doesn't mean anything.) A sign of this would be if the movement starts pushing for action on the AJA.

(Cross-posted at Infidel753.)

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Do Republicans really want Americans back to work before the next election?

It seems that Republicans never get tired of saying the same things about how to strengthen the economy no matter how wrong their prescriptions are proven to be.

Tiresome as it is, the only thing we can do is correct them, again and again.

President Obama thinks we need a jobs bill. Most sane people, including most Americans, think we need a jobs bill that works to increase demand. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, apparently, thinks that creating demand is irrelevant and that we need only deregulate the economy to get things back on track.

Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly cites two papers that demonstrate how wrong Republicans are about this -- one by Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute and another by Bruce Bartlett, an economist and veteran of the Reagan and H.W. Bush Administrations (you know, that hotbed of socialism).

As Bartlett explains, Republicans like to argue that freeing the private sector of all those pesky consumer safeguards and worker protections will "reduce uncertainty" for business and get the economy humming again. The problem is that it's just not true:

Evidence supporting Mr. Cantor's contention that deregulation would increase unemployment is very weak. For some years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has had a program that tracks mass layoffs. In 2007, the program expanded, and businesses were asked their reasons for laying off workers. Among the reasons offered was "government regulations/intervention." There is only partial data for 2007, but we have data since then through the second quarter of this year. [...]

As one can see, the number of layoffs nationwide caused by government regulation is minuscule and shows no evidence of getting worse during the Obama Administration. Lack of demand for business products and services is vastly more important.

These results are supported by surveys. During June and July, Small Business Majority asked 1,257 small-business owners to name the two biggest problems they face. Only 13 percent listed government regulation as one of them. Almost half said their biggest problem was uncertainly about the future course of the economy - another way of saying a lack of customers and sales.

As Bartlett concluded:

In my opinion, regulatory uncertainty is a canard invented by Republicans that allows them to use current economic problems to pursue an agenda supported by the business community year in and year out. In other words, it is a simple case of political opportunism, not a serious effort to deal with high unemployment.

Here we have Republicans pushing an agenda that has nothing to do with helping Americans who are out of work find a job. No doubt they are using the poor economy to push deregulation because that is always what the business community wants. And they also tend to have ideological blinders on about the value of any kind of government regulation.

But it is a terrible thought to contemplate that Republicans know quite well that a jobs bill will bring down unemployment, if only marginally, and that is not what they want to see before the next election.

Terrible thought indeed.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The Short Strokes

By Carl
My apologies to Glen Rice. I worried about him when I heard about him and Sarah Palin, but now that's she's done teasing the entire fapping right wing, at least he got some from her:

It had become obvious that Palin was not going to be a candidate. The reality is that Palin didn't stand a chance, so badly has she squandered her political capital within the Republican party over the past year with cheap stunts, such as an on-again, off-again grandiose national bus tour. Her career in national politics as a candidate is over.

The most straight-forward implication of Palin's decision – along with the announcement by New Jersey governor Chris Christie that he would not be running – is that the Republican field is set. There is now no prince across the water. That means Republican voters will either have to come to terms with Mitt Romney or the alternative, most likely Rick Perry.

So it comes down to the goober and the Gooper. Neither is a really attractive choice for the Republican party. Neither is truly going to catch fire in the general election.

Now Republicans know the trouble Democrats had in 2004. One might almost think that there's a conspiracy to trade mediocrities in order to keep the population quieted.

But I digress...

Effectively, Palin's decision hands the nomination to Obama more forcefully. Even if she had run and miraculously managed to pull in enough votes to win, her charisma might have been enough to pull off an upset. I doubt it, seriously, but then stranger things have happened. Now that she's out of the race, a more boring candidate is sure to win the nomination, and basically all Obama has to do is talk about solutions to the issues and he'll win walking away.

One advantage an incumbent President has: he doesn't have to campaign from anyplace but the Oval Office in order to win re-election. In fact, the best re-elections have seen the President looking very Presidential and the worst mistakes ex-Presidents have made have been while campaigning (think Bush the Elder at a supermarket scanner, or glancing at his watch during a debate against the Big Dog.)

One can say many things about President Obama but he has certainly looked Presidential, especially since Osama bin Laden was killed: confident, mature, articulate. He may have been lost in the early days of his administration. I chalk that up to letting others row the boat for him while he stood on the prow. Once he took charge of his Presidency and his agenda-- perhaps the best challenge he's faced has been the loss of the House-- he's seemed more statesmenlike.

I think this is why the rhetoric against him has amped up and also why the Republicans are scrambling to be dilatory and obstacles. They're running scared, and have much to be answerable for, from the Birther movement to the failures of the Teabaggers to foment the kind of political uprising they had hoped for.

So they should run scared. Obama may not have hit a might tee shot, but his approach to the fairway has put him within feet of the flag.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Sarah Palin, tantalizing no more, says she's not running for president in 2012

Ah, but she was tantalizing us for so long. It's almost like she couldn't stop, and, well, maybe she couldn't, not until this late hour, time running out. So desperate for the spotlight, and for the big money that comes from being a celebrity political and media icon, she had to keep telling us that maybe, just maybe, she'd get in. A lackluster Republican presidential field emerged, but she kept lurking, Romney & Co. trying to escape her shadow, an overwhelming presence that continued to dominate her party even when she was in the background.

So why isn't she running? Her letter to her supporters announcing her decision is, as you might expect, a wonder of self-aggrandizing, propagandistic bullshit. She claims that she wants to continue to be a player in the GOP: "I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation's governors to Congressional seats and the Presidency." Well, fine. But that surely isn't the whole story. There are any number of other reasons behind her decision, no doubt, but it should have been clear even to her that she stood no chance of winning -- likely not the nomination and certainly not the general election. She's not even all that popular in her own party.

But while she will continue to be a major factor in the GOP, supporting various right-wing candidates and playing kingmaker when possible, she isn't about running for political office, let alone serving the people, she's about maximizing the "Sarah Palin" brand and profiting wildly off her fame. Seriously, she couldn't even finish a single term as Alaska governor. Do you really think she wanted to be president? Maybe her massive ego did, and maybe it still does, but apparently self-interest got the better of grandiose delusion.

For more, see:

-- "Rove thinks Palin will run (maybe)" (August 20, 2011)
-- "The return of Sarah Palin" (July 11, 2011)
-- "The tragicomedy of Sarah Palin" (May 23, 2011)
-- "Americans don't like Sarah Palin" (March 11, 2011)

Anyway, whatever. It's over.

Not that she's going anywhere, mind you. The spotlight has a way of finding her. Whether we like it or not.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple and essentially its driving force as it grew from small computer company to global technology icon, as well as the former CEO of Pixar, has died at the age of 56.

I've never been an Apple cultist, the way so many technophiles are, though I do have an iPod and love it so much that it's almost always with me, a gadget constantly at my side, for better and for worse. And, sure, I may acquire more Apple products down the road. There's no denying their high quality and appeal.

But whatever you or I may think of the company and its products, or of its obsessive loyalists, it is hard to imagine our hyper-technological world without Apple. Its mixture of style and substance is legendary, the iPod and the iPad, the iPhone and the Mac, its brand seemingly ubiquitous, its reach seemingly endless, the white cable and earbuds one of the defining accessories of our time.

You know the criticism. Apple has become everything it was never supposed to be, everything it fought. It's like how the Boston Red Sox have become the New York Yankees: rich and successful, arrogant and brash. Apple has become Microsoft, but even more iconic. It's not good vs. evil anymore, as its loyalists once thought. Maybe there is no good and evil. There's really just technology merged with consumerism, and a public desperate for the latest gadget, people finding meaning in, identifying with, and ultimately melting into the brands they consume, whether it's that guy in the Starbucks with his MacBook or that gal on the train with her iPod. They are Apple. Apple are they. Sometimes it's hard to know where the one stops and the other begins.

There is much to be said about technology's hold on our culture -- and, if you look at it a certain way, the ongoing degradation of our humanity. Let's leave that aside for now. Technology may control us, and may eventually overtake us, but another perspective it can also liberate us. I'm not sure where I stand on all this. Somewhere in the middle, I suppose, contemplating both sides, listening to my iPod.

So what, then, of Steve Jobs? He was a visionary, a man not just in touch with the Zeitgeist but actually constructing it, building Apple into a transformative giant, a provider of technology that has changed the way we live at a profoundly intimate level. For better or for worse, there's something quite incredible about what he accomplished. Apple will continue without him, but it's not clear if it will ever be anything but a respectable shadow of its former, Jobs-led self.

(more photos here)

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Herman Cain is an ignorant fool -- exhibit #2,722 (homosexuality)

Appearing on The View, that bastion of intellectual firepower, high-flying Republican Herman Cain, going up as Rick Perry goes down, asserted, as anti-gay conservative bigots are wont to do, that being gay is a choice, the implication of course being that you can choose wisely or not and that if you choose to be gay you're a despicable pervert:

Joy Behar: To think that gay is a choice, I don't know how to respond to that. I mean, don't think anybody in this world wants to be gay considering all the vilification that is brought upon someone who is gay. Why would you choose that?

Cain: Well, you show me the science that it's not and I'll be persuaded. Right now it's my opinion against the opinions of others who feel differently. That's just a difference of opinions.

Behar's comment is pretty stupid. Not everyone who is gay faces such "vilification" (America has indeed come a long way) and I'm sure there are many gay people who find rather offensive the notion that no one would actually want to be gay.

But let's turn to Cain. This is similar to Perry saying the science on climate change isn't settled and that there is legitimate disagreement in the scientific community -- enough at least to justify his denialism.

The fact is, there is a lot of science on the nature of homosexuality, showing that it is not (and certainly not entirely) a matter of choice, and while questions remain, because science is not absolutist and is all about questioning even that which is more or less settled (and also because we just don't know everything about genetics and the interplay between genetics and environment (or nature and nurture, if you will), the science is actually quite settled on this matter.

As Zack Ford explains at ThinkProgress:

If Cain has not seen "the science," he clearly has never bothered to look. Based on decades of research, all major medical professional organizations agree that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be changed, from gay to straight or otherwise. The American Psychological Association, the world's largest association of psychological professionals, describes sexual orientation as "a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors." There is considerable evidence to suggest that biology, "including genetic or inborn hormonal factors," plays a significant role in a person's sexuality.

Cain, ignorant fool that he is, probably doesn't care at all. He has his right-wing biases, his views on being gay (like his similarly ignorant views on Islam and Muslim-Americans), and that's enough for him.

Humble and inquisitive, a man of learning, he is not.

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No Christie in 2012

In case you missed it, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an authoritarian anti-union bully but also one of the saner figures in today's Republican Party (and one who stands against right-wing Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues), announced yesterday that he isn't running for president in 2012.

He's not running, and he says he means it this time.

Proclaiming "Now is not the time," Gov. Chris Christie announced at a jammed Statehouse news conference today that he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

"New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me," Christie, 49, teased at the hour-long press conference.

A Quinnipiac poll also released today showed Christie tied with Romney for the lead, though at a meager 17 percent, five ahead of Cain and ten ahead of Perry:

"This survey shows Gov. Christie is walking away from the possibility -- at least today -- to be elected president of the United States. Whether he would have won the GOP nomination or the election will never be known, but the data indicate he had a serious chance to win it all," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Maybe, but I don't think so. He was doing well in the polls (if 17 percent is "well") largely because people don't know him well -- and because Republicans, surveying a terribly weak field, are still looking for their savior. Perry hasn't exactly worked out as planned, so... why not Christie?

Why not? Oh, because I suspect that his numbers would have dropped as people (that is, more specifically, right-wing Republican primary voters) got to know him better. As I wrote last week:

Republicans also don't like people who tell you what they're thinking when what they're thinking isn't right-wing orthodoxy. And Christie has proven -- much to his credit, I might add -- that he's anything but an orthodox right-winger. For example, while there may be quite a bit to recommend him to conservatives (including to the extremist base that votes in GOP primaries), such as his penchant for union-bashing, he actually appointed a Muslim to the state judiciary and, when attacked for doing so by those on the right fearmongering about Sharia law, called such concerns "crap," pointed to the "ignorance" behind the criticism, and said he was "tired of dealing with the crazies." That's no way to talk about your own party, particularly if you want to be its presidential nominee -- which, in the GOP means cozying up to the crazies (just ask Mitt Romney).

Why isn't Christie running? Maybe because he's smart enough to know this. He gets that he's not what his party is looking for -- and that, in the end, he'd probably lose badly. So why not stay in Trenton? Sure, he's not terribly popular in his homestate, but at least he has a future there.

And so, as Michele Bachmann put it, "the table is set." Now it's just a matter of whether anyone decides to crash the party.

Whatcha been up to, Sarah?


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Zen and the art of dismissal

By Capt. Fogg

So I hear these two guys talking on the radio. It's a conversation on the Amateur Radio 20 meter band, so half the world could be listening if conditions are right.
"I heard one of these protesters said he was there because 'Capitalism was taking over Wall Street' -- like it hasn't been Capitalist for over two hundred years! What an idiot!"

Well I'm assuming this guy isn't an economist any more than he might be an historian, and I'm assuming he got the information about what the "typical" loony-left and ignorant protesters are, from some artisanal propaganda source like Fox News.

Yes, of course, there were protesters baring their breasts and preforming other charming acts having little to do with constructive criticism of laissez-faire Capitalism. While I'm the last person to discourage such acts, I'm also the last person to believe that this kind of New Yorky opportunistic revelry has anything to do with the reasons more qualified critics like Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz would lend support by their presence: reasons having to do with Wall Street practices, their relationship to the market crash, the credit crunch and the dire state of the world economy -- subjects the people who script and sculpt the news would rather mock, would rather have you mock, than discuss intelligently.

For someone who suffered through the late 1960's as an adult, the techniques political enterprises use to dismiss well grounded movements hold no novelty. I remember quite well how anyone openly questioning the benefits and reasons for maintaining an unwinnable war in Southeast Asia was told to "get a job" and had his personal hygiene questioned as well. Easier to dismiss someone, albeit clad in Brooks Brothers attire and obviously gainfully employed, as a silly, radical and stupid "hippie" than to answer disturbing questions as why killing peasants, bombing millions and stifling free elections was preventing the 'lights of freedom from going out in America' as was wrongly claimed by the Right. Then, as now, the real struggle was to keep the lights of reason off and it was fought with the same kind of smugly simplistic and fatuous fallacies the powerful always use to crucify the good.

But the dishonest selection of unrepresentative examples and illuminating them as "typical" is ancient and not the property of right wing extremists. It's the sort of thing our foul species does to advance our cults and parties that want to keep us in squalor and ignorance and the occupation of Wall Street isn't about the irrational or Communist inspired hatred of freedom or free markets, as you know, or you wouldn't have read this far. It's about corruption and the lack of rules and oversight that promotes private exploitation of free markets to the detriment of all. The occupation of Wall Street is just another station of the cross where the sidewalks are filled with mockery and abuse.

That unwitting clowns are flopping about in over-sized shoes, honking horns and mocking, is inevitable, given the well-fed smugness of the stupid. Their invisible rulers are very good at making them eager participants in their degradation and suffering; but failure isn't inevitable. It's tempting for old-timers like me to opt out of the circus, but perhaps there's hope, unlikely as it may seem, that enough people can be made to see how they're protecting the practices of the looters, pillagers and vandals on Wall Street and in Washington to do something about it. There's hope, but I'm not yet ready to bet on it.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Senators Are Douches

By Carl
Y'know, normally I'd be all behind my party and stuff, but here's one time they ought to grow a backbone:
Senate Democrats are scrambling to rewrite portions of President Barack Obama's jobs bill, even as Obama tries to blame Republicans for Congress' failure to act.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell moved to call the president's bluff Tuesday by pushing for a quick Senate vote on the bill, but Democratic leader Harry Reid derailed the effort as all sides maneuvered for position in a potentially defining battle in the 2012 presidential campaign.[...]

To pay for his package of tax breaks, unemployment benefits and new spending on public works projects, Obama has proposed higher taxes on family incomes over $250,000 and on the oil and gas industry.

The first request troubles Democratic senators from states like New York, New Jersey and California, where large numbers of families could be hit by the increase. The second has drawn opposition most prominently from Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose state is home to numerous oil and gas operations.

The president also proposed higher taxes on hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners, but those increases, too, would disappear under the changes Reid is expected to unveil as early as Wednesday.


Look, I get there's a political calculus at play here (damned SCOTUS): millionaires are the fastest source of campaign funds for any candidate for the House or Senate, so the last thing you want to do is piss them off.

But these are "last thing" times.

And I get the whole $250,000 income problem suffered in the northeast, California, and other high tax, high income states. $250,000 really doesn't sound like much when you can easily pay $70,000 a year in rent and need two incomes to survive.

We'll adjust, Senator Reid, those of us in the bluer states who understand this is a crisis of immense proportions.

(or you could just, you know, bump that threshhold up to $300,000 or $500,000 and still capture an enormous bounty.)

And oil companies? Really, Sen. Landrieu? Do we have to look any further back than the Gulf oil spill to see how little they give a damn about the rest of us? Hell, we still have that stupid $50/barrel price floor, under which the oil companies remain subsidized!

So for the sake of a few megagiant corporations who aren't about to move their facilities in the very near future from the single busiest port in America with access to the entire North American market, you'd force 14 million Americans and their families to get deeper in the dungpile?


The protests down on Wall Street and across the nation, tens of thousands of young and disaffected people willing and able to work but unable to find a job that will pay them a decent wage and allow them to make a living, should be the first-- the FIRST AND ONLY-- consideration. You are facing an entire generation of people who will need government assistance to get off the floor and create an economy. 

Think about that while you roll in your pathetic hedge fund money, Senators. 

PS I'm not leaving McConnell unscathed here. His cynical political ploy is douchebaggery at its finest, but sadly, he lives down to my expectations.

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Is Romney’s campaign seeking a Texas-style political death penalty?

(Ed. note: I would note that this post was written before the sudden emergence of Herman Cain as a rival to Perry on the right, as well as before this past weekend's revelations about "Niggerhead." Indeed, Perry may now be on an irreversible decline, and Romney may just be able to sit back and watch. Still, without a unifying conservative figure, which some thought Perry might be, the race to me is still Romney vs. Perry at this point, with Cain not a serious contender. -- MJWS)

via New York Daily News
Behind every great political campaign there is a great team of managers, advisers and consultants.

Mitt Romney doesn't have one.

In a recent article in The New York Times, "Perry and Romney Set Clear Lines of Attack" (Sept. 24, 2011), reporters Jeff Zeleny and Nicholas Confessore unveil each campaign's approach to contrasting their candidate with the other:
Gov. Rick Perry and his aides in Texas have spent hours studying old footage and records of Mitt Romney, stretching back nearly two decades, building a list of issues on which they believe Mr. Romney has waffled or wavered, seeking to brand him as inauthentic. 
Mr. Romney's team is honing plans for an attack on Mr. Perry's readiness to be president and commander in chief. They intend to press Mr. Perry on foreign policy, demand that he produce a national jobs plan and relentlessly pursue the case that Mr. Perry is out of step with his party on how to address illegal immigration. 
In any political race, effectively contrasting your candidate with the other team's candidate may well be no less important than shaking hands and kissing babies.

But the strategy of Romney's campaign is flawed. Foreign policy is subject that will be mostly irrelevant in the 2012 general election, to say nothing of its importance in the GOP primary race. Immigration is a subject on which Romney has a record of waffling. And the former Massachusetts governor's record on job creation is unflattering if not dangerous. 
Foreign policy won't matter in 2012
Attacking Perry for his foreign policy gaffes may score a few points from media pundits, but most voters, whether in the primary or general election, don't care about foreign policy – not right now anyway, not when the media constantly remind the public that the U.S. economy may be on the brink of a double-dip recession. Perhaps voters should care, but arguing what ought to be important is no more productive than preaching veganism to a professional hunter.

Perry's alleged "neo-isolationist" stance on foreign policy isn't anti-troops or anti-military, it's anti-Bush. During the Sept. 7, 2011, GOP primary debate, he said, "I don't think America needs to be in the business of adventurism." He opposes the idea that America needs to be policing the world, but he nonetheless supports a strong military. In fact, he said in November 2010 that to be a great nation, America should focus "on the few things for which it is empowered and well-suited – such as national defense, border enforcement, and foreign commerce..."

Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press
His anti-adventurism stance aligns him with the "true" conservatives who quickly disowned Bush for being a faux Republican who led the country into a costly and unjust war. It is not an unpopular position among the conservative base – or among moderates and independents, for that matter.

If Romney thinks Perry's gaffe about "the Pakistani country" is going to score points with conservative voters, he should remember how offensive it is to that demographic when President Obama so "snobbishly" – yet so accurately – pronounces the name of "that country" as "Pah-kee-stahn," rather than Packy-stan. It's not Eer-ahk; it's Eye-rack. A bumbling response to an open-ended question about America's future relationship with Pakistan isn't going to kill Perry's odds of winning the GOP nomination. In 1999, George W. Bush had a difficult time trying to name any prominent world leaders. Obviously, it didn't tank his campaign.

Furthermore, Romney has no more and no less experience when it comes to foreign policy than Perry does. Both are (or were, in Romney's case) governors. Not U.S. Congressmen, not Senators, not foreign policy advisors to past White House administrations. Their experience on foreign policy is identical, which is to say nil. If Romney had an ounce of credibility on foreign policy, a sliver of experience, this approach might register a blip on the radar of election relevance. He doesn't, and so it won't. This is a losing strategy.

Romney is a flip-flopper on immigration
On immigration, Romney would be smart to review the 2010 gubernatorial election in Texas. Perry answered charges about his stance on giving Texas immigrants in-state tuition and providing them a path to citizenship by blaming the federal government for doing nothing about the immigration problem. As a measure of how destructive that issue was for Perry, Romney should note that Perry won that gubernatorial election by a landslide. He beat his Republican challenger, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, by more than 20 points, and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, by 13.

Perry may have been booed during the Sept. 22 debate after doubling down on his support of the Texas program, but one crowd's reaction to one issue doesn't mean Romney should base an entire attack strategy around it. In the end, Perry will win this argument if only because he stood his ground in the face of an attack, declaring, "if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason that they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society... I still support it greatly."

St. Petersburg Times /
Romney may think this is a sensitive issue that will resonate with the staunch conservatives of the GOP base, but he believes that only because it is what the media pundits have argued. Perry's rebuttal to Romney's charges will register with voters, because what matters is that he stood up for what he believes. He did not recant his support or run away from it under pressure.
If Perry's campaign aides are smart – and given the fact that he has never lost an election in 26 years as a public servant, I'd say they are – they will rebound from Romney’s attacks by sticking to their guns (perhaps literally), and boasting their continued support for the immigration program and offering an observation that no one can deny – that while Perry won't represent every Republican voter on every issue, at least every Republican voter will know where he stands on every issue. Romney, conversely, was for amnesty before he was against it – although he was against it before he was for it. You figure it out.
This issue also is a loser for Romney.
Perry needs to write a 161-page jobs plan?
On domestic policy, a primary candidate's creation of a jobs plan is irrelevant. See Romney's economic plan as an example. MSNBC ran an article titled, "Romney jobs plan: cut taxes, slap China, drill oil," which pretty well sums it up. In 161 pages comprising 59 individual proposals, Romney hit on virtually every major economic Republican talking point of the last 30 years. He also boasted it would create 11.5 million jobs while lowering the unemployment level to 5.9 percent – in four years. Before it was dismissed by the media as laughable, Romney's plan was regarded for about two days as a hypothetical neo-Clintonian miracle.

This issue also risks blowback. While Perry can boast about how Texas secured half of the jobs created since the recession hit, Romney's state ranked 47th in job creation while he was governor.
This is why Romney thought he needed to come forward with a jobs plan. Perry does not have the same albatross around his neck. In fact, he would be wise not to outline a detailed jobs plan.
There is a time for issue-specific plans, and it's called the general election. In the mean time, primary voters are trying to gauge each candidate's character and beliefs. No one is going to read a 59-point economic strategy when there are character wars to be fought.

Romney seems to have missed the memo about the New Right's 2012 campaign strategy. Long-winded legislative proposals have been replaced by anti-government rhetoric.

Perry will get away with not proposing any detailed plans because conservatives don't want more laws, they want less government.

Michele Bachmann gets this. She was applauded when, during the Sept. 22, 2011, GOP primary debate, she said that Americans should pay no taxes at all: "You earned every dollar, you should get to keep every dollar that you earned. That's your money, that's not the government's money." It was ridiculous, especially coming from a Congresswoman whose salary is paid by taxes, but it was revolutionary. It contrasted her and today's Republicans with the Democrats, Obama, even yesterday's Republicans – including the big-spending George W. Bush.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives gets this, too. Rather than creating laws, Republicans have spent the last nine months as the majority party in the House trying to repeal them. They understand what the Tea Party has demanded, and they've put it into action. Today's lawmakers aren't elected to make laws. They're elected to repeal... well, everything.

And of course Perry gets it. When he announced his presidential campaign, he said, "I'll work to try to make DC as inconsequential in your life as I can."

From a strategic standpoint, these talking points will have a much greater influence on the conservative electorate than any 161-page blueprint ever could.

A difference in strategy
In the Times article, Perry adviser Mark Miner says of Romney, "He doesn't stand for anything. He runs to the left. He runs to the middle. He tries to pretend he's a conservative. You never know which Romney is going to show up or what he's going to say."
Contrast that with Romney's chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, who says of Perry, "He just does not seem like someone you would trust as president."
Perry's campaign is targeting Romney's already well-known and highly publicized record of flip-flopping – on abortion, gay marriage, health care reform, the assault weapons ban, auto industry bailouts, stem-cell research, campaign finance reform and spending limits, immigration reform, "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the provisions of the American Jobs Act... (I could go on but won't.)

Miner and the rest of Perry's staff are making the case that Romney isn't credible or trustworthy by relying on an already understood framework that Romney is inconsistent in his policy stances and is willing to disown his own beliefs whenever the political winds change. (See the revisions of his book, No Apology, for a perfect example of this.)

Romney's camp, on the other hand, plans to go after Perry for being someone who doesn't "seem" like a potential president you could trust.

It's the difference between knowing what you're doing and winging it. It's an identical message but a different delivery. Semantically, it's the difference between an aggressive declaration and passive inference. Perry may "seem" like someone you couldn't or wouldn't or might not want to trust, while Romney "doesn't stand for anything."
You get the point.

Romney is setting himself up for embarrassment  
Despite campaigning for president for five years, Romney still doesn't know what he's doing. That's not to say he can't still win the GOP nomination – in a race like this, with candidates like this, it will be wide open until the convention.

That said, harping on Perry's lack of foreign policy experience is hypocritical, targeting Perry for his immigration reforms in Texas will backfire when Perry reminds voters of Romney's support of amnesty in 2005, and calling on Perry to formulate a jobs plan will only make conservative voters more supportive of Perry when he doesn't – because it will save them from having to read another government manifesto full of empty promises, pie-in-the-sky projections, and boring, bureaucratic jargon.

So far, no electable candidate has emerged that a majority of Republicans support. If Romney doesn't step up his game, non-Tea Party Republicans will stay home throughout the primaries, Perry's boot spurs will glimmer in the spotlight as he ascends the stage at the GOP convention to announce his acceptance of the nomination, and the Republican Party will become the butt of more political jokes than when Sarah Palin took that stage – because they will have picked an unintelligent, unelectable, unqualified embarrassment not merely as a running mate but as their presidential candidate. 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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