Archive for November, 2012

Is This A Joke?

I didn’t know Ignatius T. Reilly was a real person. But evidently he is and he’s writing for The New York Times now.

I’m still trying to decide whether this article is an elaborate joke played on the Times. In it, an apoplectic op-ed columnist opines that David Patraeus is a phony because he dresses well and sometimes rides around in a jet. A real general, we are reminded, eats nails for breakfast and kills people with their bare hands. Like Patton. Also, Patraeus did not conquer Iraq. The author does not explain what that would entail, exactly. It’s not occupying Iraq, evidently, nor purging its dictator. I guess it means we should have killed everybody there. I’m just guessing. But at the very least, it means you are not ever allowed to flirt with any woman, so I assume that warriors don’t have a sex drive or if they do it is completely sublimated into the act of vivid Normandy style ultraviolence at all times. Also, real men don’t floss.

Is this the rant of some guy from the local bowling alley? No. Evidently the writer was embedded with Patraeus in Iraq and is I guess still smarting that the general did not share his entire war strategy with him. The journalist certainly had the right to be offended. I’m sure he didn’t come across as pushy, choleric or passing strange. Not from what I can tell of his trenchant, and not remotely confused torrent of boy taunts. I don’t have a dog in the Petraeus fight. I don’t care whom he screwed or if he retires, nor blame him for the hopelessly politicized wars we’ve undertaken in the Muslim world. I would feel a bit protective of the general, however, if, say, a random homeless person approached him on the street wanting to Indian wrestle, which is kind of what this writer sounds like.

There are a lot of covetous journalists who would love to prize away precious New York Times white space and fill it up with their own kaleidoscopic musings. We are a jealous bunch, we writers. So I hope this does not sound catty when I say I am completely befuddled at how an unfocused pub rant without almost any facts in it somehow spilled like dark bitter onto the paper of record. Either the author knows somebody there, he filibustered a tired editor or (again, my favorite suspicion) this is an elaborate prank. If it’s not, it’s probably the the worst article I’ve ever read in the Times. Ever. And remember, I’ve read Judy Miller’s article where she said she saw a scientist off in the distance pointing at the ground where Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction components were buried. It’s so bad, I’m feeling a wee bit less jealous.

If you want a real story about Petraeus and are ready to leave go the lip-biting sex gossip and windy conspiracy theories, check out Robert Wright’s piece in The Atlantic. If you remember how awful the CIA was some 40 years ago, Wright reminds you that with a little human ingenuity and coalescing of power, it could indeed be awful again.

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My cousin Brad Rasmussen has got the attention of some music bigwigs for his musical duo, Chamberlin Birch, which today released their debut album on iTunes, along with the video for their first video, “Falling In Love,” which you can see here:

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A short note, because I don’t enjoy Schadenfreude as much as I used to:

The backlash has already started, and instead of the soul-searching you might expect from a defeated party, Wednesday saw a lot of GOP wags and conservative Web sites positively refusing to come to grips with what happened to them on election night and refusing to blame the proper parties: themselves. For the past four years, in the middle of a recession with high unemployment, the party had avoided analyzing a flawed deregulation policy and instead rushed to denounce the masses of resulting unemployed people as “takers.” It was a classic “blame the victim” mentality, a textbook example of psychological transference on display in a user friendly, Museum of Natural History-style diorama form. A sick strategy embraced not only by the fringe elements but by the party’s very presidential candidate. Wasn’t this the crew that used to say they were on the side of crime victims?

Here’s a page you might want to check out: “Republican Tears.” Here you’ll find out that gays, brown-skinned people wanting handouts and oversexed females took over the country last night so that the American taxpaxer could fund their nonstop government cheese eating and fucking. (You’ll also see, if you watch one telling video, how Karl Rove forced Fox News to hold off calling an Obama victory when everybody else had. There’s no big conspiracy theory about why: He had personally put millions of donor dollars at stake.)

You might say I’m wrong to overlook good-hearted conservatives by posting the Republican Tears link, and the comments by what is apparently the most extreme element of Republican ideology, tossed in with a few pictures of crying white women. ( Incidentally, I have seen a preponderance of crying white women in the election news photos, even though women overwhelmingly broke for Obama. It looks like somebody’s trying to skew the grief incorrectly. What gives?) But anyhow this Web site isn’t a portrait. It’s a mirror. It’s Republican sentiment taken at face value. Everywhere from Fox News to the vile RedState.com, conservatives are making extremism their identity: The new paradigm after a Wall Street financial collapse caused by complicated debt instruments is to blame welfare mothers and immigrants. This transparent, obvious, age-old smear tactic has somehow become our main talking point in the last few months. It’s as wrong as the kneejerk patriotism argument was during the Iraq War. Wrong, wrong, totally wrong. If you have ever said “takers versus makers” during this election, you are part of the problem.

And I hate to say that by “welfare mothers and immigrants” that it’s a not-so-subtle code for black people. You be the judge. The site Jezebel has been collecting all the uses of the word “nigger” used by angry Republicans on Twitter since Tuesday’s Obama victory.

Again, this kind of argument enrages fair-minded conservatives who insist that their real concern about American debt is short-circuited by horrible liberals playing the race card. I am only a tiny bit impressed by this argument. It’s true, if that kind of argument were really happening. (Specifically, that argument never really happens.) Nevertheless, good-hearted conservatives, you must take note: if you are not racists, the racists are hiding among you. They are using you as human shields to avoid being called out. Their birther, immigrant (and even socialism) rhetoric is a very thin disguise, and if you play into such phony arguments, your supposed good-heartedness is being used against you as a tool of somebody else’s will. There was no honest debate about our recession. The conversations had all turned stupid. It was the Republicans’ fault. That’s why they lost the election. Go to RedState.com (and especially read the comment section of this story) to see if anybody is learning that lesson for 2016.

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6 a.m.: Polls open after the five minutes of early voting time in Ohio.

Noon: Lines form around the block in areas hit by Hurricane Sandy and wherever skin happens to be black.

8 p.m. Rep. Todd Akin loses to Claire McCaskill in Missouri, which goes to show, if you bring up the sensitive topic of rape, make sure you know which kind of rape you’re talking about, the good kind or the bad kind.

11 p.m. Fox News pundits say that Obama must take a conciliatory tone with his enemies. The first thing to do would be to compromise with birthers, however that might work out.

11:01 Donald Trump reacts to the news of Obama’s victory with what appears to be Twitter’s first recorded mid-Tweet aneurism or else a garden variety shit hemorrhage.

11 p.m. Miami Dade is tired and wants to go to bed, and doesn’t want to count anymore. Florida already knows what you think about it and its election problems and so has nothing to prove to you and you can wait for months to find out who won in Florida for all Florida cares.

12:30 a.m. Fox News pundits say that America has shown, by electing Barack Obama, that they want politicians to reach across the aisle. Like when Chris Christie hugged Obama after Hurricane Sandy. But actually, Christie is toast for doing that.

1:00 a.m. Romney concedes the race. Fox News says it’s too close to call.

1:04 a.m. We learn that Ann Romney encouraged Mitt to run in this brutalizing, expensive race. Naturally she’s trying to get even with him for making her whelp all those Mormon babies.

1:06 a.m. Ed Rollins says that Bill Clinton left office in disgrace. He’s not sure what for. Was that the Iran Contra thing? Twelve years was a long time ago.

1:41 a.m. Barack Obama, in his victory speech, vows to help the nation’s unemployed, starting with millions of dollars of bailouts to the interests of people like Mitt Romney.

1:50 a.m. Barack Obama has to seize the moment in his victory speech and lay out an agenda and vision for the next four years. But he will likely be spending that time explaining that he is not an immigrant, antichrist, communist, Muslim, zombie, sith lord or clone.

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First of all, I want to apologize for not posting more about Hurricane Sandy. My family was spared the blackouts, flooding and buffeting winds suffered by my fellow New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan, and I didn’t know what I could add by talking about how my bourgeois life was only marginally disrupted. (We had no daycare for a few days, and since we were sufficiently gridded, my wife and I had to take up the slack of our work colleagues without electricity.) I have pictures of downed trees on the Upper East Side, but the havoc wreaked on other places such as the New Jersey Shore and the Rockaways make my tiny slice of hell seem far too miniscule.

It occurred to me lately that I could still be of help by linking people to the various volunteer organizations. I probably esteemed my blog too little to think I could help, but I realize every link inspires somebody.

I gave socks, blankets and water to this organization: https://www.wepay.com/donations/in-good-company-hospitality-relief-fund. You can also give through Occupy Sandy. (https://www.wepay.com/donations/occupy-sandy-cleanup-volunteers). Here is another Occupy Sandy page where you can donate or volunteer to help those whose lives have been upended by the storm, whose houses were mauled and who are still going without heat and water as the temperature drops.

The other thing I’m thinking about today, of course, is the election. I was hoping that we were not going to have a close race. That was not simply because I am arrogant about my candidate’s superiority, but because America has remained polarized. When the political center dissolves, it removes an important counterbalance to rigid ideology and partisanship for its own sake, to partisans acting according to the rules of game theory (when they believe everything their side tells them and reject the other side, even when the other side says things that are manifestly true).

There are a lot of last-minute articles hitting the Web that can make you sick if you’re a Barack Obama supporter: in the key state of Ohio, a Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, has made a last-minute change in the voting rules for provisional ballots that could disenfranchise likely Obama voters and maybe even swing this swing state, this after already shortening early voting hours to make sure that the poll sites were crowded, uncomfortable and foreboding. He’s also installed mysterious new software patches for voting tabulation machines very late in the race.

Meanwhile, a story about the once-distressed auto parts maker Delphi Automotive by Greg Palast in The Nation suggests that Mitt Romney was likely reaping millions off the auto bailout (through a key distressed debt investment) at the same time he criticized the rescue, making cold-hearted comments to the Republican faithful that HE would have let Detroit die without help–rot for its sins of bad management and union hegemony.

All of which Republicans might respond to with a blithe: “So what?” Who cares if Ohio wants to make it tougher for footloose voters and penalize them for their own ballot goofs (even if that particular strategy runs contrary to Ohio law). Isn’t voter fraud a real concern? Aren’t we talking about a bunch of “homeless illiterate winos”? (My friend’s phrase.) But given that some reports say some 40,000 provisional ballots were tossed out in Ohio in 2008, I’d say that’s a lot of winos, even for Ohio, and if it’s true, the state is long overdue for its own Burning Man festival.

They might even say, “So what” to the news about Romney’s investment. After all, doesn’t it prove he’s still a nimble businessman? Mitt made all the money. But it was Barack Obama who gave it away. If Obama is so great why did he not make sure Delphi wouldn’t send jobs to China, gut pensions and basically enrich the vultures who took it over. …

And while we’re at it, they ask, why am I touting Barack Obama in the first place, a man who has kept intact the most loathsome aspects of George Bush’s foreign policy, including a beefed up droning program that can now target American citizens, and foreign civilians, including women and children? How could I support this man? Don’t I have a child?

And they would be right to ask. In many ways, Barack Obama has let me down. But I’m also old enough to know that that’s part of a politician’s job. I have to shrug and insist that Barack Obama’s droning program is not actually targeted at civilians, but at people actually planning bombings and issuing hits on Americans from safe within the bosom of factious countries like Pakistan. I find the outcome loathsome, but not the intent. And Mitt Romney would not change this. In fact, I am sure that Romney, as a foreign policy neophyte, would come under the sway of the same neocons who gave us the Iraq War and make Iran his main issue.

The political process has never been about making infantile demands that a candidate go out and get you what you want. It’s about asking that your views are represented and, when the candidate is narrowed to a choice of two from 300 million, it’s then up to you, the voter to do some work: reconcile your own beliefs, some of which are likely unrealistic and extreme, to those of the body politic. The world can’t be the way you idealize it. If it could be, and you could dictate its terms constantly, you would turn into Adolph Hitler more quickly than you realize, even if you started out as a hippie Rousseauian. Remember what Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips said: “You cannot know yourself and what you’d really do with all your power.” It’s important to politics, ethics and the world that you, voter, not get everything you want.

Some of my liberal friends take solace in what Barack Obama has done. He got a famously difficult health care law passed that removed health insurers’ ability to turn away those with pre-existing conditions. He helped save the auto industry. He finally took care of Osama bin Laden, picking up a massive political obligation abandoned by his feckless predecessor. He also went against the tide of loony right and left to save the financial services industry. Sure, it gave ammunition to all naysayers that he made the rich richer with your tax money and rewarded risky Wall Street behavior with your cash. This is true. It’s also true, as far as it goes, to say John Lennon was a criminal, because if you are given to insanely insular, black and white thinking, that’s a true statement. What Michael Moore, Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney and nobody else will say out loud, because it’s uncool, is that a failed banking system would have plunged our country into a nightmare of depression, privation, mass unemployment and crime. This is not an opinion. It is fact. The economic meltdown was a systemic failure where risk was passed around and shared promiscuously by everybody, and the malaise, had it not been stopped, would have ravaged all parts of the body the way septic shock works in a human body, shutting down organs one by one. This chaos would have disproportionately ravaged the poor, not the rich. The Occupy Wall Street Cassandras want to know why Wall Street didn’t suffer in the recession. As I’ve said before, they ignore the fact that there used to be bank called Lehman Brothers that was allowed to die by George Bush and company because of that very same idealism the downtown lefties claim as their own: The bankers must fail. Yet  Lehman’s collapse alone caused much of the panic in the markets, the collapse of stock prices, the wiping out of value, and the eventual decimation of jobs.

By March of 2009, the stock market had bounced back and the recession eventually ended. That left unemployment to tackle. Again, there is something that nobody in the press will say, and the candidates won’t try to articulate, maybe because it sounds too clinical or patronizing. But employment is a lagging indicator. I’ll say that again, because nobody understands it. In the process that is recovery, freight orders pick up first. Small companies take the lead before larger ones do. Companies clean house to boost their stock prices, laying everyone off. When they boost share price, they spend capital first on technology, and when orders come back, they start looking for staff again. For the past 30 years, they have sent much of this staffing need overseas at first. They have a global labor force to choose from now that is much cheaper than the U.S. worker because for years this labor force was locked behind logistical barriers and iron curtains. When things pick up, jobs in America come back online.

This process has become slower in the last 30 years as more work goes overseas. And guess what: There is nothing a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney can do about it–except hire more government employees, which there is no political will for. When Barack Obama’s enemies gripe that he can’t blame George Bush for his problems anymore, you need give only one answer: “Yes he can, because our high unemployment is still the result of somebody else’s recession and its lagging indicator unemployment. Again, that is not opinion. It is fact. For Barack Obama to make a dent directly would have been to do the thing nobody would let him do: expand government. A lot.

Then there is the other complaint. He should have cut taxes. I’ll stop with that argument here, because he did. What he didn’t cut he kept insanely low. None of you noticed and didn’t read. You don’t deserve any more time on this subject.

I guess when I pull the lever for Obama, it will not be as much for the man this time as I’m voting for the closest thing we have to rationality. I do not believe Mitt Romney is as uninformed, unsophisticated, or irrational as a lot of Republicans. I do not think, if he becomes president-elect tonight, that we’ll have on our hands somebody quite as embarrassing or incompetent as George Bush and Sarah Palin. I believe, though, that he has, whether he likes it or not, become the standard bearer for the worst of American thinking. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is going to stop droning. Neither one is going to send anybody in the Wall Street scandal to jail. But the bad ideas and intentions still accrue to Romney’s side of the fence. The idea that Clinton era tax rates are now the devious plot of a socialist “anti-Colonialist,” the idea that global warming reports are a liberal plot, the idea that the only acceptable big government is an overbuilt military, the idea that schizophrenics must have guns to protect everybody’s Second Amendment rights, the idea that rapists must be allowed to see their sperm fructify a victim’s egg, the idea that cheap gasoline is somehow a natural right of Americans, the idea that higher taxes harm the rich at all–this is all garbage thinking that has to be cleaned out almost daily by the process of confrontation, dialectic and due diligence. People who think are constantly bombarded by those who have faith. I’m talking about faith of all sorts, whether it’s that there is a sky god watching over you personally or that a democracy is a self-cleaning oven and that a free market solves every problem by itself. These faiths are always carrion to proof and reason, but the faithful smile knowing that their faith, a priori faith, will never ever have to prove itself. It is both subject and predicate of a meaningless sentence.

If I concede that presidents actually do very little–that they rarely push buttons and that policies then pop out like Pop-Tarts, if I notice instead that they try to ride waves of idealism or discontent through the force of their charisma and personalities, then I feel pretty safe with this statement: Mitt Romney is a horrible presidential candidate. He’s thoughtless in his statements, tone deaf. He doesn’t know when to pick his battles. He doesn’t know the difference between sang froid and heartlessness, at least not when it comes to speaking to a large audience. He doesn’t know when to appear statesmanlike and when to pick a fight. All politicians lie. When Mitt Romney does it, somehow it seems even more opportunistic, crass, dirty and ham-fisted. He may or may not be a man of religious conviction, but one tends to notice not the trail of missionaries he’s left in his wake but all the people he’s fired. He brags about it, after all.

So I will, with a bit of a grudge, be voting for Barack Obama again. In tough times, when the arguments are stupid and miss the point, again, it’s nice to have a competent politician around.

Update: I did vote today, but it took a long time. The lines were full of voters from the areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. I also noticed that my election district had changed, which meant I wasted 20 minutes or so in the wrong line. If you are in doubt about where you are voting in New York, you can check out this site.

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