November 19, 2015

So in light of last week's vote on the odious Syrian refugee bill yesterday in the House, I am hitting the ceiling anger-wise. Oh I was angry before, as a big swath of the U.S. revealed itself to be exactly the kind of patsies that terrorists depend on us to be: "We will make them afraid and then they will do stupid things." "We're afraid! Let's show those mean ol' terrorists by doing stupid things!" Nativist, know-nothing, xenophobic, etc. But mostly chicken-shit, as a whole bunch of erstwhile stand-up people decided that a little empathy cannot stand in the way of cowardice.

But Thursday, we went above and beyond your standard man-on-the-street Ugly Americanism, as a couple dozen Democrats defied the barest grasp of American principles and voted for this dogshit bill, this Pre-Interment Act of 2015. Before there was already this baseline state of anger, a bit more livid than usual, but then the moment passes when an idea calcifies: there existed this quiet but persistent strain of ugliness, this funneling of the fears and nightmares onto first an entire faith and then more recently onto a specific subset of this faith consisting of refugees from a civil war that's already killed a cool million people, and then we blinked and this pernicious tendency crossed over from Dark Underbelly to Consensus. A bunch of sober-eyed appeals to comity masked base intimidation and hysteria, and Democrats who crossed the aisle issued confusing explanations that read like This Is The Worst Bill Ever, and As I Vote For It, Keep In Mind etc. etc. Which is where we remain.

Setting aside, for a moment, the cravenness of those we elect to represent us, and considering that this is a popularly held position, there are glaring reasons to despise this sentiment on pure principal— for the mean-spirited selfishness of it, for the cynicism of it, for its cruel bigotry, etc. But what I really, really hate about it is that it is inexcusably stupid.

So. A reason cited that we are no longer welcoming the tired/poor/hungry refugees from Syria, here to undergo a two-freaking-year vetting process, is because we are concerned that some of them might be a terrorist pretending to be a refugee. Right. The mere idea that ISIS, sneaky and deadly as usual, can only get into the country by sneaking in as refugees from Syria is the dumbest most patronizing thing. Is that how backward these savages are, that we can anticipate their resort to the path of least resistance? Somehow we are life-alteringly terrified of them, but they are so thick- headed that any plot to enter into the U.S. will have been figured out in detail by the keyboard wing of our security analysts, and their plot amounts to basically grabbing a refugee right before they cross the border, pulling them behind a shrub, and emerging in their their refugee uniforms. There are too many ways to enter the U.S. to list, so many easier ways to defeat our counter-intelligence, and we're quaking because we might be foiled if they put on a fake mustache? We're reenacting an episode of "F Troop."

And that criminal idiocy is just the surface. The inciting event, the murder of scores of innocents in Paris, was committed by not-Syrian not-refugees, but French/Belgian citizens. (And that passport? Not only is the passport duh, a fake, but it is now thought to be a red flag.) So, in response, we're amping up our paranoia aimed at exactly the people who did not commit the atrocity. And this scattershot antipathy pointed in the direction of all Muslims everywhere is exactly what ISIS wants. As in, it is their explicitly stated goal. ISIS is not trying to invade Paris. ISIS is trying to provoke, to terrorize. It is not that discrete of a concept. And maybe in some quarters it is a sign of virility and masculinity and American-ness to do exactly what the bad guys want you to do, but in saner environs it is a sign that the person in question should not be trusted with anything more dangerous than a sharpened pencil.

And yet, despite these Howard-Beale levels of things worth shouting about from the rooftops to the choir, there has been a deliberate pushback from writers who would generally be considered as identifying with progressives, which generally goes: Stop making fun! This issue is polling in ways that you might be on the wrong side of!

Specifically, check Kevin Drum (referring to a similar piece by Chris Cillizza):

Cillizza has some poll numbers to back this up, but he's right in more ways than just that. Here's the thing: to the average person, it seems perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of admitting Syrian refugees to the country. We know that ISIS would like to attack the US. We know that ISIS probably has the wherewithal to infiltrate a few of its people into the flood of refugees. And most voters have no idea how easy it is to get past US screening. They probably figure it's pretty easy.

So to them it doesn't seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris.

"Seems perfectly reasonable" is a light-weight metric to be swinging over one's head in this particular situation. The list of other things that "seemed perfectly reasonable," not just in American history, but in the past ten years, is not a list that anyone stands proudly over and cites as an example of how good and decent the average people are. The government wanting to physically take all guns, recessions caused by the poors and the various libels heaped upon Barack Obama, those also were conceits that "seemed perfectly reasonable." It now makes more sense as short-hand for something despicable than it does as something reasonable.

And yes, the phrase is modified by, "to the average person." That's terrifying, but certainly not an exaggeration.

Ultimately, I'm not sure why it's my job to be nice because people who respond to polls are stupid, and furthermore easily whipped into a frenzy by a political party only marginally smarter that the poll-takers. I guess there's some sort of expediency I'm glossing over, some bridge-building effort that I'm shrugging off. But frankly, I don't see the use in tricking stupid people with lazy evil ideas into voting for my candidates or my party. Actually, the main thing that I care about is that the country I was raised in doesn't turn into some flag-waving, fascism-with-a-smile dystopia. Or I should say turn into such a thing to an even greater extent than it is now.

And of course there is the question: are all of these people really as bad as that? Are they really so short-sighted that they can pretend to be offended that the notional Statue of Liberty might fucking weep at these turn of events? There has been this mechanism, this weird myopia, wherein the holder of a sentiment identifies the sentiment as virtuous along the reasoning that the holder identifies self as virtuous, and therefore the work-product of the heart/mind of the holder can be nothing but virtuous. We're most familiar with this as it relates to racism, that weird line of thought that goes, My racism cannot be racism because racism is bad and I am good (and I had a black roommate in college). Seemingly, a pollable majority of Americans are weak-kneed and more than willing to controvert one of the most basic tenets of this American experiment, but are unable to take a long look in the mirror.

Which I guess makes the short answer: yes.

So I have no intention of shutting up, no matter what Chris Cillizza and Kevin Drum say. And I sincerely hope this passes, and becomes one of those times that we look back on and get the willies, because, ho boy, that was a close one.

Posted at 5:48 PM

November 11, 2015

Boring awesome stuff!

NYT's Gretchen Morgenson took another whack at hedge funds and their relationships with public pensions over the weekend, and there's some good stuff in there worth repeating, as well as a noteworthy elision. The premise of the piece is that, even though the country's leading public pension investment fund, Calpers, has elected to divest from hedge funds on account of them being a bit sneaky about fee structures and generally an investment vehicle with performance analogous to that of the stock market (thus obviating the hedge aspect, i.e. performing well when stock market performs poorly, etc.) other public unions are not following Calpers's lead. Which deserves some exclamation points and some question marks.

The state of Utah has one of the funds reluctant to rein in hedge funds:

Some data is emerging, though, that raises serious doubts about the benefit of hedge funds for big investors with a long-term perspective. Utah, for example, increased its holdings in hedge funds and private equity in recent years. By 2013, those allocations at the Utah Retirement Systems had reached 40 percent of assets under management, up from 16 percent in 2005.

Have its hedge funds helped the Utah pension's investment performance? A May 2015 report to the Utah Legislature suggests not. Prepared by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General, the report concluded that if the state's retirement system had maintained its 2004 allocation with fewer alternative assets and no hedge funds, the pension fund would have gained $1.35 billion in additional assets by 2013.

Now, I know a billion and a third sounds like chicken feed to you and me, but to the roughly 200,000 members of Utah Retirement Systems (active, retired and terminated), 4% of total assets, which would have been a pretty nice return had the system not been so loaded in alternative assets, which those fat/undisclosed fees to hedge fund managers.

But there had to have been some rationalization for public pension investment funds to have started to dance with hedge funds in the first place? Maybe something related to the return on investment overseen by hedge funds? In answer to that, the piece looks at a United Federation of Teachers report (.pdf) on the performance of hedge funds utilized by the larger pension funds in America, looking at a total of 88 fiscal years:

In slightly more than one-quarter of the years analyzed, the hedge funds outperformed a same-size total fund's returns, but that failed to make up for lower returns in other years. This lackluster performance translated to $8 billion in lost investment revenue at these funds, the report said.

Hedge fund managers, meanwhile, collected an estimated $7.1 billion in fees from the pensions, it said. That averages out to 57 cents of every dollar in net returns earned by the funds.

So, big picture: regardless of the performance of hedge funds, the opaque fee structure sucks a little more than have of the potential gain from clients. Which would seem to be a pretty dear price to pay, were you someone whose post-retirement future was tied up in one of these funds.

But the noteworthy omission in this little survey of how this specific financial services sausage is made is not the What but the Why. So even with Calpers leading the way and the supporting research and reports that hedge funds might not be the smartest place for retiree investment funds (well, for anyone other than for hedge fund managers), why is it that none of the other funds are falling in line? Could it maybe be that the managers and other representatives of the hedge funds are somehow incentivizing the people whose job it is to decide whom to trust with investing state pension funds to select hedge funds despite any apparent downside?

Of course, the slang for this process is "kickbacks," which range from dinner, drink and a show (considered OK and even a legit business expense) to paper sacks of small bills with nonconsecutive serial numbers (against regulation and criminal law). And I don't bring this up because I have an active imagination, but rather because it's not very hard to find recent examples of the shadier sort of such incentivization as it impacts investments in hedge funds. Hell, it was only five years ago that the Comptroller of the State of New York plead out on charges that he had directed investment by NY State's $125mm pension fund in exchange for a cool million bucks in travel and fees. It is not a possibility of great novelty.

The absence of another plausible explanation, evidential or anecdotal, for such heedless reliance on hedge funds suggests that closer scrutiny is warranted. Naturally, incompetence is another plausible explanation, but no one has ever let their incompetence get in the way of a little greed. But there are a whole bunch of otherwise voiceless public employees who should be taking up the issue with their plan administrators and local regulatory/law authorities.

Posted at 12:10 PM

So I took a little time and tried to make it through as much of last night's debates as I could. Actually I had intended to watch at least all of the big kid's debate, but I just could not. I know that at a certain point in time, there is nothing I would have enjoyed more than watching the prelims, just for the sport of it, and then once we had social media so that we were MST3King it to each other on a potentially global platform, well, it was hard to beat that.

I didn't make it! At a certain point the glee of being snarky and Getting Off a Good One was subsumed with a bleak, bleak pessimism, not just at the caricatures that call themselves candidates or the utter untethered-ness of both the candidates and the moderators, but at the entirety of the thing. The reliance of blind references to exceptionalism, the barely-concealed contempt for the poor and the aged, the cynical attribution of the sins of planks of the GOP platform to the administration of power. Hell, even the fundamental misunderstanding of What Presidents Do, I'll throw that in as well (although that may be a failing of all candidates on all sides, dealing with the realities of political campaigns for an electorate about as smart and sophisticated as a bag of hammers).

Sure there were some misstatements! Some friction! Some inability to actually recite words that were memorized! Hoo boy! Remember how such things marginalized Sarah Palin into obscurity forever? Oh right. But this morning I did realize that I have an actual serious question, the answer to which I do not have a grasp on, and maybe some smart people will take this up in a considered dialogue.

Serious question: assuming that there is a certain amount of artifice to running for office, and that it has ever been thus, and that this artifice has always been a bit of a self-conscious endeavor (inasmuch as, say, a candidate knows that one must give lip service to being "tough on crime" while at the same time being entirely aware that the topic like all topics can no more be distilled into three words than one can have a war on a noun), are the current surviving crop of GOP candidates engaging in the normal amount (i.e., a lot) of self-consciousness with regard to the artifice, or are they actually somehow believing in full earnestness what they are saying? For example: that a no-fly zone imposed on everyone up to and including the Russians would be if not a 100-years-later reiteration of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at least a train-wreck of historic proportions? That the elimination of payroll tax will accomplish anything other than the drastic and sudden defunding of social security? That the capital requirements of Dodd-Frank are not keeping banks from being too big too fail because they are prohibiting banks from being too big too fail?

Because, and I have repeatedly committed the sin of naivety, it struck me for the first time that this might be the case.

(And of course if you need some old-timey woodshed recapping of last night's very boring events, there is no source better than Jeb Lund for Rolling Stone.)

Posted at 10:10 AM

November 4, 2015

I nearly made a joke yesterday about making sure to vote in precincts with nothing but unopposed candidates but I did not! Because voting is still real real important, and Americans lost their sense of humor somewhere around the turn of the century. (This century, not the last one.)

But the news here in the States is seemingly bad, as befitting a non-presidential, non-midterm year. Houston totally hates fags, and Kentucky elected a young version of Paul LePage, which version is evangelical and Tea Party. Here's Gov (Elect) Matt Bevin on the nuts and bolts of governance:

"I'm proud of the fact that this is a great night for Republicans in Kentucky and, more importantly, a great night for conservatives in Kentucky," Mr. Bevin told cheering supporters, who gathered at the Galt House Hotel overlooking the Ohio River. But, he added quickly, "we have a lot of work to do."

And to you other people of Kentucky... you're probably gay-marrying thugs who deserve to be flipped over in a school desk. That is, if Bevin can't find a way to excommunicate you somehow.

But, with a closer examination of the news, there is some good news out there, in fits in spurts, and in the kind of races only nerds like me follow. In Pennsylvania, yet another judicial race, for the PA Supreme Court, was stoked into a movement proxy race for national causes as more than $15mm poured into the campaign for three open seats. Aside from the mere fact that it's the Commonwealth's Supreme Court, the race is important because the Supreme Court has final say over redistricting. All three Democrats won, tipping the balance of the court. But of course we know that having judges subject to popular vote and all that unregulated money to support campaigns is stupid on its face, so maybe it's time to give judicial elections the old heave-ho.

And bestest, in Colorado, in the outskirts of Denver, yet another local race was turning into a battleground for the school reform movement and those that think the last thing the school reform movement cares about is education. Back in 2013 Jefferson County, CO, a school reform slate was voted in to control the school board. Since then the school board became a test laboratory for the movement: attacking tenure, proposing performance review, endowing charter schools and, most controversially, tinkering with curriculum deemed not patriotic enough. Another publicized money fight ensued in the form of a recall of the conservative members, with the Koch brothers on one side and unions on the other. The result? A bunch of school-privatization school board members updating their resumes.

So, some small consolations. And frankly, if progressives take a page from the Americans For Prosperity playbook and learn that local elections can have commensurate consequence with national elections, it would be a good thing.

Posted at 10:47 AM

October 27, 2015

So I just watched the latest ad for the "X-Files" relaunch (revisit?) coming up in the next calendar year, and it did fill me with much Must Watch. Funny how excited one gets over such things. Did someone I know burst into tears when the Stars Wars teaser glimpsed Leia in the arms of Han Solo? I dare you not to.

But of course immediately following the brief period of intense longing to watch television comes the shame of the atemporality of the whole thing. My parents were my age in 1990, and I cannot imagine them or any of their affinity group jumping up and down because Jack Klugman and Tony Randall (in some alternate universe) coming back to continue their bickering as Oscar and Felix. Maybe they had more to worry about? Maybe the allure of 1990 was such that there was no need to keep recycling the Things We Used To Love?

That's all irrelevant, of course. Because, even though I watched this TV ad not on TV but rather on Facebook, in a post pushed by Fox from their X-Files page, I do intend to watch the shit out of the new "X-Files" and watch it live as it is initially broadcast.

Posted at 10:00 AM

October 21, 2015

All of those jokes on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else about Joe Biden, and the will-he or won't-he and then the obvious deluge of the calling-outs of insiders who got it wrong? Predictable and yet still entertaining. Which is pretty much the world now, isn't it? A vocal social media minority, bumping around in the dark trying to get that Really Good One out there, rack up some RTs, gobble down some whuffie.

I am course am one of the idiots milling around like cattle, admittedly. And my sentiment on wishing that Joe could still get to participate in the debates, like a college kid audits a class, was not entirely a joke. Joe's light on his feet and has been pitying fools in debates for decades. And I wasn't even thinking of Joe against Hillary — no slouch herself — but more against whoever the GOP somehow finagles past Trump and Carson. Joe utterly destroyed Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan, but both were in way over their heads. It's not fair (to us) that we won't get to see Joe debate circles around a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio. But then again I never really wanted to vote for Joe. I just wanted to keep him around, for his aura and his jolly loose-cannon speaking style, and mostly for his empathy. I can't think of a more magnetic retail politician, and I'm including Hillary's husband.

Ultimately, being Joe Biden may not be as cool as being the President of the United States, but it's pretty damn cool. There are a lot worse things to be.

Posted at 1:02 PM

October 7, 2015

After this, here's another thing you can do while you're wondering where it all went. So take a pivotal moment of your youth. For me, it's senior year of high school, but you could pick college, first kiss, first sexy-time, first time you read Nabokov or Joan Didion, first time you parallel-parked, whatever. Take that year. Mean age of my compatriots skews younger than I am, so let's say, "1995."

Good! Now take that year, and figure out how long ago that was. In the case of our hypothetical, the answer is twenty years. Long time!

Okay. Now take that interval of time, and, starting at the pivotal moment, go backwards instead of forwards. I know it seems like there's some maths involved with this, or at the very least some geometry, but it's time we're dealing with and no one has the faintest how that works, so rest easy. Where were we?

Right! So twenty years before that is 1975. So as you sit wherever you are, or stand, I hear that standing is good for you, and you reminisce as one does, for all the neat stuff 1995 had to offer, like the publishing of the Unabomber Manifesto, or "Clueless" and "Batman Forever" in the movie theaters and TLC and the Squirrel Nut Zippers on the radio, or Pedro Martinez pitching a perfect game for the Expos, if your pivotal young self were to, way back in 1995 reminisce about things that were as long back then as 1995 is now, you would be reminiscing about the premiere of "Barney Miller" of "SNL" or the debut of the Sex Pistols or seeing "Jaws" or "Escape To Witch Mountain" or "Rooster Cogburn" in a movie theater (which allowed smoking cigarettes) or the New York Daily News headline of "Ford To City: Drop Dead".

Another way to play this game: the movie "Dazed and Confused", which has been on my mind lately because there is an SUV that parks in my neighborhood with an "ASS CASH OR GRASS/NOBODY RIDES FOR FREE" decal on it, which I swear I can hear Matthew McConaughey saying from the movie, was released in 1993. It was set in the year 1976, a year seventeen years previous to the date of release. So, if a new contemporary version of "Dazed and Confused" was to be produced, in order to keep up the verisimilitude with the original, it would have to be set in 1998. Which would be a pretty boring version .

Usually the end result of this process is feeling old. I don't have a name for this yet, maybe something like the Comparative Nostalgia Ratio, though it's certainly not really a ratio but more like some sort of thought exercise. I guess the second version you could call the Dazed and Confused Index with some clarity. But! Once you clear, say, the age of 23, it never stops working! In fact, it works better the older you get. Well, "better" in the sense that you feel old, which is not really something that anyone should get hung up on although pretty much everyone does, including your author.

Even though the alternate to getting older is clearly worse.

Posted at 1:24 PM

October 5, 2015

Very brief post-script to l'Affair du Kim Davis, the woman whose lawyers had us believe captured the heart of a Pope, and then gave her a rosary etc. etc.

First, is the middle of the noise and the hand-wringing over how the Pope was just faking to be cool, Charles Pierce reliably and coolly got to the root of it and went one further than speculating that it was a step-and-repeat meeting. He actually surmised that there was a bit of palace intrigue involved, and pointed at some likely suspect.

By Friday, the Holy See had had just about enough of this and said so out loud , in a bit of a Papal pushback. In fact, there was someone invited to have an actual audience with the Pope, but it was not Kim Davis. It was an old student of the Pope's, who dropped by with his partner of 19 years. Which is about as big of a Fuck You that you can imagine coming from an institution that would never ever say that phrase out loud.

And then the NYT drops the mic , as it were, by profiling the archbishop, Carlo Maria Viganò, likely to have been behind the whole plot from the beginning. Viganò, protege of the former pope and culturally conservative (and not to mention acquainted with Davis' Liberty Council attorney Mat Staver), had been banished stateside after the Vatileaks controversy of a couple years ago. Viganò met Staver at an anti-gay marriage rally, and personally invited Davis in mid-September, representing that the invitation was coming directly from the Pope. The kicker:

In January, Archbishop Viganò will turn 75, the age at which bishops must submit a formal request to the Vatican for permission to resign. These requests are not automatically accepted, and bishops often stay in their appointments long after. It seems unlikely, church analysts say, that Archbishop Viganò will be one of them.

I know, I know, new week, and this is the last thing on anyone's minds — what we're actually thinking about is how much we love guns and what's a few dead kids between gun lovers? — but I couldn't resist getting one last shot in, in case you missed it.

Posted at 11:48 AM

September 30, 2015

Here's what got me this morning.

And it's always the little things that get you, never the big things. Like the fact that every Western military power is taking potshots with air/drone strikes in either Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq? That should get me. But no, every generation gets the "Catch-22" it deserves. That's not what got me.

What got me is the lawyers of Kim Davis deciding that no news cycle is complete without some alleged news of Kim Davis, be it a sham support rally in Peru or some even more spurious appeal in the long line of spurious appeals filed in U.S. District Court. No, today, the news was that she had a secret meeting with Pope Francis in D.C. And why it got me is, well, here comes another day of talking about Kim Davis.

Which is the obvious strategy of the Liberty Counsel, her pro bono attorneys, who have been litigating this in the court of public opinion since the actual court has not been so receptive. And of course by "public opinion" I mean the opinions of people who already agree, think freedom is a tangible thing, know Obama is Muslim, etc. As for the rest of us, we all pretty much agree that the lady can do whatever she wants in her free time, but on the clock she needs to do her job. And if she doesn't like her job, she should quit. But the Liberty Counsel has no actual interest in the welfare of Kim Davis, but rather they were looking for a sucker in whose name they could file, and Kim Davis is the best they could do.

Anyhow, this is clearest explanation of what we know and what we can only surmise, and the only party talking about what happened is the Liberty Counsel, so it's pretty apparent that the Liberty Counsel is very interested in promulgating this story.

So I have no more insight than anyone other than the Pope on this one, as the Holy See is declining to confirm, deny or comment further. But I do know this: two people meeting and exchanging pleasantries for fifteen seconds is not a big fucking deal. I mean, in the four days he was stateside, how many fifteen second "meetings" do you think the Pope had? From my own personal perspective, just to skip in front of the decades of film premieres and 24 Hour Plays and ComicCons I've been involved with (and the celebrities that I "met" in connection therewith, in 1980 when the Duke Boys were all the rage I had my photo taken at some event in rural WV with John Schneider and Catherine Bach. I have not and will not take that as an endorsement of me by Bo or Daisy Duke, and I'm pretty sure that Schneider/Bach had/have no idea who on earth I am.

Happily, the logical conclusion of this is right there out in the open: Davis will quickly become more enamored with being a celebrity than being a dupe and will leave Liberty Counsel behind when she realizes that there are advocates she can hire that will actually get her paid and a radio show right before Joe the Plumber's without risking her to go to jail again. And then the Liberty Counsel, they'll have to go find another sucker, maybe concoct a meeting with the ghost of Ronald Reagan for the next one.

But they will keep losing in court. Because the law is not on their side.

Posted at 11:19 AM

September 25, 2015


First of all, I've got a little restaurant snapshot thingieup at Flung Magazine. Flung is a neat little start-up, a travel mag, and I'm intending to write some more stuff for them. So feel free to click around while you're there.

And I've been a bit too busy to do some of the things I would have liked to do, like a fond farewell to Scott Walker, who I thought was a purely comic character even though he did fuck up Wisconsin irreparably. Oh well! Current events are current eventing all over the place, and that's notwithstanding the fact that the Pope's been bigfooting left and right here in my hometown.

But since I'm here: the news broke that John Boehner was retiring from public service when I was on the train, on the way to work. (As big news usually does.) And so then there's the rush to the desk and Twitter is the usual forest of Breaking News and wisecracks and there's me without my machete. And this is all kinda funny because the footage of Boehner crying yesterday? He is of course a divisive figure and he is of course a retrograde monster when it comes to social conservative issues, but I have long thought that he is one charming old coot, one that probably smells like golf and whiskey. In fact, there was a thought percolating in my head that I wished that Boehner would hurry up and retire so then I could like him unreservedly and ignore all the political baggage.

But it was not until I actually read the story about him leaving did I realize: we are right and truly fucked. With just the little squirts of news, I had been under the impression that he was not running for reelection, that he would serve out the term. And that's important, because we're staring into the business end of yet another government shutdown precipice, in a couple weeks. Boehner is outta there come the end of October. I guess there's a good chance that he can get a Continuing Resolution done with the help of House Democrats, but there is zero chance that the next speaker will be more moderate than Boehner, and there's still a whole lot of governing to do between now and the next election.

In case I'm eliding the point of all this: House Republicans have a nice big moderate caucus but those guys are easily bullied by the Tea Party wackos, who are knuckle-dragging and shouty and are about to get what they've always wanted: the gavel.

I've been joking for three or four years that Boehner would eventually get tired of trying to keep the lunatic fringe from driving the party right off a bridge on purpose and just light a Camel, mix one last martini and then disappear, into the sunset, with nothing but a fuck you in his wake.

Now that it's happened it's not very funny.

Posted at 11:06 AM

September 21, 2015

Ben Carson got all the heat for insisting (and later confirming the insistence) that Muslims should be disqualified from holding higher office, and all-in-all it was a Sunday morning talking head-fest of Republicans running for president uncomfortably trying to find a palatable answer to the question, "What's all this you keep going on with the Islam thing again?" Which is a palatable answer they've had at least eight years to practice giving. (The NYT has a nice little explainer which gives you a little taste of all the candidate's flavors.)

And the thing unsaid is that all Ben Carson is doing is Saying The Thing Out Loud. I refuse to believe that Ben Carson, a board-certified neurosurgeon, is ignorant enough to so misread the Constitution as to see statutory reason to disqualify any religion of holding federal office. But on the other hand, for Ben Carson, and the types of folk who would vote for a person that says the things Ben Carson says, it just doesn't feel right. Republicans are scared of Muslims, just like they're scared of clocks, and rainbows. There's a pernicious little misplaced prejudice that runs rampant in these fellows, and Carson's thoughts are the blandest way to put it.

And it's useful to add that saying such thinking-to-self things out loud is not necessarily bad politics:

His campaign manager Barry Bennett told The Associated Press on Monday: "While the left wing is huffing and puffing over it, Republican primary voters are with us at least 80-20."

But it's interesting, the ways this mania manifests itself. My favorite is Paul Rand, trying, failing to be rational about this:

"I try to see that as a separate thing, someone's religion," Mr. Paul said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I just think it's hard for us. We were attacked by people who were all Muslim."

It's just another version of what we've all heard before, that they hated us first, global jihad, etc. But also what we've heard is how this is such an outlier when it comes to how we treat the peoples that have actually attacked us. While we hate those of the Islamic faith for 9/11, we never hated Shinto adherents after Pearl Harbor, or Christians after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building twenty years ago. And for that matter, after 9/11 we did not begin to hate Saudis, even though the vast majority of the attackers were Saudi nationals.

It's almost trite to bring any of this up because it has been rehashed and we're all sick of it, those of us that are not trying to make political hay out of it, turning a dog whistle into an actual whistle. But no matter how boring it is to repeat, it remains true: the entire concept of a War for Civilization is a childish fiction concocted by bin Laden and then drank like Koolaid by gullible bigots. I wish there were a nicer way to put it.

(Oh, there's a nicer way to put it. Mr. President? But that's not even that nice.)

Posted at 10:58 AM

September 19, 2015

This is a totally honest, snark-free question.

So, just in the course of last Wednesday's debate, a) Jeb Bush, in a moment presumably rehearsed, told Donald J. Trump to his face, I think while wagging his finger, that his brother, former President George W. Bush, "kept this country safe!" which, well, 9/11 duh; and b) Carly Fiorina, in a moment hopefully not rehearsed, detailed her opposition to Planned Parenthood by describing a gruesome moment she remembered from the (doctored) gotcha videos recently released, a gruesome moment that is in fact not in the videos, or any other videos.

Now I'm not sure how it is with you, but when I've committed such errors of fact (well, lied), the authority figure, Mom, a teacher, or an employer, would apprehend the lie, and then follow-up: You know that's not true? Why are you saying things that are demonstrably not true? And then I had to explain myself, poorly.

Jeb Bush even "doubled-down," as they say, and released a tweet repeating the sentiment, with a photograph of his brother standing in the rubble of two collapsed buildings, which buildings collapsed during such brother's presidency. Jeb Bush's Twitter account has 311,000 followers. Carly Fiorino also "doubled-down," so much, but in response to a polite enquiry about whether or not she might have been mistaken. So then who are the authority figures to examine this distortions of reality, promulgated purely for the purpose of popularity with those sort of people for whom fact is nothing but an inconvenience?

And once I had explained myself poorly, then I would be held to account. Variously, I was sent to my room or a principal's office, or I was warned that further such mistruths would result in separation from employment.

What then are the consequence for the press corps with opportunity to ask these follow-ups who fail to do so? Granted, George Stephanopoulos did give Fiorino a chance to walk it back, but she responded indignantly, that her easily-proven lie damn well was not a lie!

Is any of this then not news?

Posted at 1:14 PM

September 17, 2015

It's Thursday morning. That CNN debate is still going on, isn't it?

I have successfully led a blog post with a Tweet. Word.

So you no doubt are either drowning in takes — are we living in a post-Donald world? Was Carly Fiorino tripping balls? Is Scott Walker an actual ventriloquist's dummy? Either that, or you are so done with this already even though we are still FIVE YEARS away from the first state primary, let alone the general election.

Me? I was playing that game where I was keeping myself on my toes by not deciding whether or not to watch it until the very last minute, pro being I like to stay up on things and I like to poke fun, con being having to actually watch it.

I went con.

And I'll leave the implications for the fullness of time to actually unravel and we'll figure it out in hindsight. But I do not want to let pass the solid fact that CNN can go down in history for a combination of Worst Presidential Debate and Most Shameless Open-Arms Welcome of the Coming Dystopia.

Worst Debate? Well, that's largely due to the quality of the candidates, but CNN did nobody any favors by turning the debate into some sort of bastard child of a variety show and the Hunger Games. Jake Tapper (if he had any journalistic credibility I hope he wasn't attached to it) ran the event like what-if-Jerry-Springer-were-a-marriage-counselor, prodding intra-candidate spats, directing then redirecting and then over-redirecting the conversation, just generally looking like a man nervous that Brian Stelter would stage a palace coup against him if a bona fide Viral Moment were not delivered. It was the clowniest of clown-shows, and just a general embarrassment before the already-embarrassing "contestants" opened their mouths. CNN even captured a bit of nostalgic inanity by asking the field what woman they would put on money and what their Secret Service code-name would be. Maybe not quite a boxers-or-briefs moment, but these were alleged journalists asking questions and not a roomful of MTV teens.

But, putting up a bad show, that's one thing. Gleefully wallowing in it for days before, that's positively pre-apocalyptic. The charge was led by the aforementioned Stelter, a blithely careerist cheerleader of everything plastic and facile. Did you know that the debate was likely to be the most watched CNN broadcast ever!! Stelter sure did. Of course, this is a presidential debate that we're talking about. Yes, the Fairness Doctrine is decades in the crypt, but presidential debates are on that fine line between journalism and public service. Objectivity must be kept in mind, and the event should be produced and presented to the electorate with the sobriety that the occasion demands. To treat it as a Nielsen event that advertisers are going to go gaga for, unapologetically, is to betray a cynicism that disqualifies one from being a reporter. And yes, I know that Fox News did the same thing a couple weeks ago, but that was Fox News. They know better, and they aren't even pretending. Maybe the problem is that knowing better is not Stelter's strong point.

But maybe this is the future and I am what was once called a fuddy-duddy. Maybe I just don't know how to have fun! In any event, while it's true that each election is the most expensive election ever, this one will surely be the most highly rated election ever, if for no other reason than the "news" networks are working hard to make it so.

Posted at 10:45 AM

September 15, 2015

What got me this morning was an NPR story on Bernie Sanders giving a speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, the Evangelical Christian university that is sort of an Bizarro version of a Jesuit institution, rigorously instructing its faithful student body how not to learn. So Sanders is down there as a sort of a thought exercise, speaking as he does of inequality, trying to bridge the gap, find the common ground, which common ground surely could be compassion? And the kids sat quietly on their hands, as Sanders talked about poverty and children with food security issues and at the conclusion the provost or whoever read questions submitted by the students, and went with, "Well starving poor children sure whatever what about THE UNBORN" and the place goes nuts. Just molten, like Elvis is back in the building. And then a few kids are interviewed, who seemed like they had nice tidy haircuts but to a one sounded like, "It's important to listen to other people PLANNED PARENTHOOD" or, "I literally cannot form an actual sentence ABORTION."

That there is this idée fixe that prevents presumably rational people to feel any sort of empathy or responsibility for 16 million children living below the poverty line is beyond my ken. And it's not even some moral compulsion. It's a learned behavior, and it's wielded like an applause line, a dog whistle so the kids know that Jesus says it's okay to applaud now.

That's what got me this morning.

Posted at 10:27 AM

September 14, 2015

Over on my Twitter feed I've been mildly obsessing over a certain labor dispute involving the start-up WeWork. They're a fully-fledged member of the sharing economy! They lease out office space and then rent it to you, and these spaces have all of the expected Silicon Valley/Alley amenities as everyone knows it's impossible to get any sort of work done unless there's a ping pong table on the premises, a door down from the meditation room. But yeah, WeWork has been having a spot with their cleaning staff, who were variously subcontracted and non-union and eventually just plain laid off.

Anyhow, in the NYT Sunday Business section there was a nice long write-up that gives a good bit of context for the contretemps. Basically, if you're the sort that likes spoilers, WeWork never intended to go out of its way to conspire against it non-union workforce, but at the same time they've done a piss-poor job of damage control and have never exactly said that they'd do anything different given the chance. Read it! You'll like it!

However in the midst of all this there is an illuminating passage that states a problem with these sharing economy creations quite plainly:

Unlike many start-ups in the digital age, WeWork seems to be making money. The company would not disclose its financial performance. But according to internal documents obtained by The Information, a technology news website, WeWork had $75 million in revenue last year, with $4.2 million in profits.

By any conventional measure, those figures do not support a $10 billion valuation. Like other start-ups, including Uber and Airbnb, WeWork is part of what many critics are describing as a new technology bubble. Yet WeWork is anticipating huge growth as it expands rapidly and gains corporate clients renting hundreds of desks each. It forecasts nearly $1 billion in profit on sales of $3 billion by 2018, according to the documents.

Let me suggest two ways to look at that. First, after the most recent round of fundraising, WeWork's valuation is up around $10bn. That's a lot of cabbage. So then, in 2014, WeWork's revenue was three-quarters on one percent of its valuation, while its profits were .042 percent of valuation. That's bonkers by any measure.

But on the other hand, WeWork is projecting that profits will increase to $1bn in four years. That would be an increase of nearly 24,000 percent. That is optimistic to the point of ignoring math.

Point being, the ethical position of the darlings of the sharing economy aside, there are a whole lot of deranged valuations and projections for these companies that are largely solutions for problems that didn't actually exist. And granted, I don't think that these bubbles have reached the point where they're threatening anyone other than a bunch of venture capitalists, but when it comes to the share of the public attention being spent on these companies, there's a whole lot of smoke and not much fire.

I guess the Twitter feed is where I'm logging my mild obsessions? Along with the in-jokes and the public baiting of known rocket scientists like Scott Walker and Alex Jones.

[Credit where credit is due: I first heard of this topic thanks to the dogged reporting of Brendan O'Connor, who has been on this story like ugly on a gorilla.]

Posted at 11:14 AM