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September 24, 2010

non-news: as it happens

This is how we get to talk about the infidelity of our elected officials without really talking about it.

Remember now, that infidelity is nothing new, especially in Washington.  In fact, historically, all those things you found out about our presidents, and how the preponderance of them were not exactly faithful, that were not taught in high school?  They were not exactly well known by the public at the time but were certainly whispered about in beltway circles.  A good portion of DC was not shocked as it slowly became common knowledge that Jack Kennedy was a voracious with-sleeper of women.  But it would never ever have been reported at the time, partly because of a gentleman's understanding between the press and the politicians, and partly because it's not really news unless there is something newsy about it — like Gary Hart daring the press to catch him cheating.

More contemporary examples of infidelity in the public interest to reveal would be when a governor takes up Appalachian Trail hiking or is named in the indictment of a prostitution ring.

And so blogger Mike Stark hears roughly the same kind of thing about House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), and decides to do something about it.  He gets to ask the question a few times to Boehner's back.  He gets an awkward "no comment" from the alleged mistress.  Which is fun and good, a nice way to kill a weekend with a bunch of friends, but wait!  This is the Internet and everyone is dying of Novelty Deficit, so the story gets picked up by websites that get many many visitors.

And now, a topic that would not be touched by one of the television news room or the morning or afternoon daily papers of our youth is actually a story.  And the story is not framed as a question of whether or not Boehner has a problem with oaths, but rather as the story of a blogger accusing Boehner of being so and the hijinks that ensue.

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, but there is a whiff of, "When did you stop beating your wife?" to it.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:57 AM

September 23, 2010

leave your monday open for weird

And in other news, awesome.

This is not political, or ranty or even about sausage gravy and biscuits.  But a bunch of ex-nuke jockeys are going to hold a press conference next Monday, in which they are going to detail their concern about UFOs:

Witness testimony from more than 120 former or retired military personnel points to an ongoing and alarming intervention by unidentified aerial objects at nuclear weapons sites, as recently as 2003.  In some cases, several nuclear missiles simultaneously and inexplicably malfunctioned while a disc-shaped object silently hovered nearby.  Six former U.S. Air Force officers and one former enlisted man will break their silence about these events at the National Press Club and urge the government to publicly confirm their reality.

Standard disclaimers apply, namely that I am of the Jacques Vallee school, which holds that them UFOs are something, but not necessarily what you'd call "extra-terrestrials".  But whatever something they are, ain't that something?

A weird world is a better world, I still believe.  It might be escapism, but I like to think of it as a more accurate depiction of the universe.  (And a tonic to the grinding every-day of the every-day.)

[Via io9.]

Posted by mrbrent at 4:40 PM

the able staff of saxby chamliss

The interesting possible result of the Saxby Chambliss affair is that we might have a real live subject to ask essential questions.  What happened was that an individual left a comment on a gay rights blog consisting of, "All faggots must die," which comment was tracked down to originate from the Atlanta office of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).  The commenter has yet to be publicly identified.

But once he/she is, the primary question should be, "What is it that compels you to write an intolerable thing under cover of anonymity that you would never say in mixed company?"  I'm actually curious, because it's not like this doesn't happen thousands of times every day.  Is it a quietly held belief that the commenter just cannot withhold in light of the opportunity of having plausible deniability as the speaker?  Is it a troll-urge, the opportunity to say a hurtful but not-actually-believed belief to a specific community?

Of course, another question would be, "Do you now believe in the consequence of actions?" but that will have to wait until the just desserts roll in.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:52 AM

elections: nothing a little daylight can't fix

Old news story, but still news — "Anonymous Donors Play Big Role in Midterms" was the print headline, though that's a bit misleading.  It's not so much a measure of the big role as it is an examination of the mechanism by which companies can pour money into elections and sidestep any kind of disclosure rules (or at least forestall disclosure until well after the election).  Combine this with the Citizens United ruling, and elections are virtually for sale now.

The story had some legs, and I heard it discussed two or three times on that f/k/a National Public Radio on their thinky call-in shows.  There was a healthy dose of the old false equivalency ("The labor unions are spending an awful lot of money too, Dianne"), but it wasn't so cloying that I dialed over to hear the 1010 news loop.  Plus there was at least one caller who braved the nasty liberals to protest: "How come no one is complaining when the George Soroses of the world spend all that money on politics?  Huh?  Answer me that!"

Well, the answer to that is also the point, conveniently.  When George Soros spends his money, he takes credit for it.  He discloses.  And if asked if he threw some cash at something, he cops to it.  "Yep, that's me."  Compare and contrast with the Koch family, who will contort themselves into pretzels to avoid admitting that they are the unseen hand that keeps the Tea Party in donuts and Gadsden flags.

Ultimately, I'd love to see an electoral system where money is not a factor.  (And plus also jellybean sunsets and endless backrubs for everyone.)  Failing that, voters, or at least those of us that care, should know who is paying for what.  And not know, like look up with the FEC, but like common knowledge know.  If ideas are going to be bankrolled, then we need to be able to discern the motive behind the bankroll.  Does it change the idea?  No, but ideas have consequences.  Look, if the moneyed classes could just go out and buy elections, don't you think that they would have now just to eviscerate the income tax system?

But here's the good news: even if the mean old Supreme Court is not going to back off of the Citizens United decision because Satan has Justice Scalia by the scrotum, all is not lost.  We still have these journalists, be they working for print or for free, and their job is to take secret things that are in the public interest and give them an heroic dose of daylight.  The identity of business interests funding these IRS-designated non-profits that are dumping wheelbarrows of money into the Midterms?  That would qualify as a secret revealable in the public interest.

So as long as we're living in this perverse Gaddis novel of a political environment, let's try reporting it harder.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

September 22, 2010


I'm going through the junk mail here at the desk while I'm waiting for the water to boil, and there's this very decorative envelope from my bank.  They have a very special offer for me!  They want to offer me a 90-day guaranteed interest rate of 1.25% for all balances between $25,000 and $1,000,000!!!

An interest rate literally a FRACTION of the APRs on all the unsecured debt of my friends and neighbors.  For a whole ninety days.  Like, til Christmas.

I don't mind being unapologetically exploited, but I don't like being called stupid to my face.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:28 PM

bill clinton is ready for some football

This is from a little sidebar in a longer NYT piece on Bill Clinton's increasing value and use as a Democratic fundraiser and campaigner in a time when the sitting president is toxic in some districts:
If Americans cared about politics and policy as much as they did about sports, [Clinton] said, they would be more focused on hard facts.  This, he said, would help Democrats (Republicans would disagree).

“What we have to do as a country is make this more like football,” he said.  “If this were important to us like football, our side would be doing very well this election.”

I think he's right, but sadly so.

It feels wrong, to say that politics should become more trivial and obsessive (and I say that as a sports fan).  After all, triviality and obsessiveness are at all-time highs in the political fields, and most of us agree that it's a bad thing.  Politics is not a game, it's how we govern ourselves.  But the GOP treats it like a game, and a game they intend to win — the acquisition and hoarding of power.  There are precepts that the Republicans hew to, like small government and personal responsibility and the such, but since Ronald Reagan these precepts are more guidelines than rules.  Rule number one now is one that avoids ideology entirely: beat the Democrats, at any cost.

And maybe this is the key to their relative success, given the number of voters they to convince against their own self-interest?  If the Republicans were thought of as the party that will give big business every advantage to milk the electorate like cows, that will redistribute wealth upwards and egregiously so, then they would not win many elections.  There are just not enough CEOs on the planet, even if you throw in the dingbats that venerate Ayn Rand to be sporting.  But they are not known as that.  They are known as winners, with a distinct aversion to losing.  The GOP base looks at their party in the same way that fans nationwide root for the Yankees, or the Cowboys — because it's much more appealing to wear a facsimile jersey of a team that wins than it is to wear one of a team in your hometown that loses.  To be a, say, Pirates fan means actually being a fan, and caring about the game more than the results.

The Republican party has successfully rebranded themselves into this, and their opponents into sissies, intellectuals and losers.  And this branding has absolutely nothing to do with the results of governance, just elections.  Because the voters that fall for this just don't have the time or the care to waste on discrete points like what the purpose of a nation is, or how communities work.

I'm not saying that the Democrats necessarily do, but at their finest moments — the New Deal, the Great Society — they nail it, heedless of eventual electoral prospects.

I don't know if Bill Clinton was implying that the Democrats need to go in for dogwhistle marketing efforts that impel unwashed majorities.  I don't think he was, maybe it was an analogy for a more careful and informed pool of voters.  But I do think he nailed the explanation of why the GOP keeps getting handed the keys after having to buy a new car so many times.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:07 PM

saturday night saloon: the show was a success

So we did the Saturday Night Saloon last weekend, and it was a huge success and everyone kicked all kinds of ass and we missed you.

And someone ran a review!  Someone I must be distantly related to!  Let's see what this Paul Cox says about our little sixth of the show:

The only holdover from last year, Brent Cox’s Jack O’Hanrahan & the One-Sided Window made its return for another season of pulpy radio-drama hijinks.  Cox spent the first episode reintroducing us to his dysfunctional dramatis personae, but pacing is no serious concern with this franchise, which is short on plotting and long on absurd verbal constructions and cheap laughs. By this point in the evening, with the audience making the most of the $5 entry and unlimited beer (another vital piece of the Saloon formula), cheap laughs were gratefully accepted.

The good news: I have a franchise.  The bad news: I'm short on plotting.

Also, it is a disservice to not mention the cast (Aaron Weiner, Jamie Klassel, J. Eric Cook, Kelley Rae O'Donnell, Kevin Cristaldi and Lex Paige) who do all the heavy lifting, at the able hands of the directors (Padraic Lillis and Courtney Wetzel), while I sit around and eat Cheetohs.

And I should mention that if you attend one of these, you'll get to see the work of Mac Rogers and Crystal Skillman, who lap me without breaking a sweat.

Next show: October 16, 2010.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:42 AM

steinbrenner's last act

I was worried.  I saw the beginning of the Yankees game last Monday when family and the team and even Yogi Berra trekked out to the Monument Park of Yankee Stadium to unveil the Monument to George Steinbrenner, who passed away earlier this year, and they yanked the covering off of that sucker and it was glaringly large.  Like, there will be fly balls lost in the glare of George's copper visage.

And I thought to myself, God I hope I'm not the only one noticing this, I hope that somewhere tomorrow in a daily newspaper or on the Internet a very loud uproar that perhaps the largest monument in Monument Park should not be to an owner.  And when I say largest, it is larger than Babe Ruth's, Joe Dimaggio's and Micky Mantle's (over which it directly looms) combined.  That's bad baseball taste, and just bad taste period.

Yesterday, in the course of my normal reading/browsing?  Not a word.  Maybe Steinbrenner is too dead to take issue with anymore?

But no, today a NYT column, rounding up the whispers of disapproval (or at least chagrin).  So, at least I'm not crazy.

The better news: any player whose home run hits Steinbrenner's nose gets a free pardon from the ghost of Ronald Reagan.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

September 21, 2010

we need more laws!

I don't think Newt Gingrich goes far enough in calling for federal legislation barring sharia law from being enforced in U.S. courts.

We clearly also need legislation making the invasion of the United States by foreign armies illegal!  How else will the demonic hordes of China and Iran and Canada know that shenanigans like occupying forces will not be tolerated if there's not a law on the books?  And we need to act quickly before we're all speaking Cantonese/Farsi and eating poutine.

And that's just the start.  Like, on my block there's this one apartment that has these dogs that are always barking at all hours.  Not only ought there to be a law, there should be a law and so let's make that happen!

And killing people!  You read in the paper how people, good Americans, are killing each other?  We need a law against that stat!

And who'd a thunk that it would take Newt Gingrich for us to realize these carrier-group sized loopholes!  Maybe all those icky divorces gave the tubby former Speaker of the House some kind of special smart-guy superpowers.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

September 20, 2010

oligarchy in action

I will share this awesome graphic ginned up by the NYTimes demonstrating the actual personal consequences of the tax cuts scheduled to expire and maybe be extended even though I know it is futile.

The graph clearly shows the breakdown of how much each income bracket, cut into pretty precise demos, has saved with the tax cuts (and conversely how much they would pay if the tax cuts expire), and how much of the relative income tax burden each demo carries.  Naturally, the ultrarich have saved millions of dollars relative to the hundreds or thousands saved by average folk.

Why futile?  Because if you're already convinced that the Bush tax cuts were largely for the benefit of the ultrarich, you don't need a graph to convince you.  And if you're not (or if you think that there's nothing wrong with government protecting only the interests of the ultrarich), then no graph is going to convince you otherwise.

But it's a very nice graph!  Oligarchy in action!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:41 AM

September 19, 2010

sal russo: makin' sausage

Interesting inside baseball article in the NYTimes this morning — a profile of an old political hand who is quarterbacking the most effective of the Tea Party factions, the Tea Party Express.  His name is Sal Russo, and his fund-raising and ad buys helped upend four GOP incumbents, including Delaware's Mike Castle, launching America's Next Sweetheart Christine O'Donnell.

The grist for political junkies is that Russo is hardly a Tea Partier himself, but rather a lobbyist with a thirty plus year career that retooled himself to gain lucrative new Tea Partying clients.  Given the Tea Party's orthodoxy it should be a story, but given the Tea Party general cluelessness, it will be overlooked.

But the bigger charge is that Russo has been padding his wallet in the process:

Mr. Russo’s group, based in California, is now the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates, raising more than $5.2 million in donations since January 2009, according to federal records.  But at least $3 million of that total has since been paid to Mr. Russo’s political consulting firm or to one controlled by his wife, according to federal records.

At least the appearance of impropriety.  But when you consider it, Russo's success might be his best defense when talking to his clients, as he has righteously kicked ass while enriching himself in the process of igniting a civil war inside the GOP.  While the Tea Parties might find it unseemly that there is corruption in the ranks, in the end the Tea Parties might forgive it as the price paid for victory.

Of course, when speaking about the Tea Parties as if they might act in concert or at least as if they were possessed of any kind of leadership is purely hypothetical on my part.  (Though ask Mike Castle if that makes him feel any better.)

Posted by mrbrent at 1:37 PM