Monday, March 16, 2009


I've spoken out strongly against people accusing Barack Obama of being a socialist, which has, without fail, almost immediately resulted in me being accused of Obama discipleship. In the days leading up to the election, it was difficult to debate such issues without being labeled. People, it seemed, forgot the difference between thinking over the facts and making up one's mind. I had hoped the intellectual stalemate would resolve itself, yet it continues in a world hopelessly devoted to an Us vs. Them mentality.

It may be less plausible now than it ever has been for me to argue against the image of President Obama as Socialist. So I won't. I will allow a card-carrying Socialist to make the case for me.

By the way, I am not a card-carrying Socialist. If you believe me, great. If not, I'd like to invite you to our next meeting.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Ignore the issue (because, really, who disagrees that Mad Money and 95% of all CNBC financial advice is pure farce) and ignore the question of who won (again, that's like calling a winner at Little Big Horn). Focus instead on the tectonic paradigm shift that took place during the slightly publicized interview between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer last night.

It wasn't Frost/Nixon. Come to think of it, Frost/Nixon probably wasn't Frost/Nixon. But last night, Jim Cramer had to stop acting like a mad genius because Jon Stewart stopped acting like he was a comedian. It may have been the only real interview I've ever seen on TV (the kind Murphy Brown used to conduct in the land of let's pretend).

There was Stewart, skewering Cramer for impersonating a human being and masquerading as a dispenser of worthy advice. He challenged the raving bald man and his entire network to rise to their true responsibility: reporting the markets and scrutinizing the financial sector to uphold a fair standard of accountability. Stewart didn't make the connection completely, but when Cramer referenced the inadequacy of "the regulators," the Daily Show anchor quickly retorted that it's the job of the media to expose rather than enable the crooks who skirt the shoddy surveillance of the SEC. I just want to take that a step further with this first puzzle piece:

If the media were doing their job of informing the American people and exposing corruption in all its forms, we wouldn't be relying on the government to impose new regulations and bail out the economy from the ruins of Wall Street's undeterred transgressions. That's just one puzzle piece, so let's not jump to conclusions quite yet.

The hypocrisy of Cramer is self-evident. But I hope we don't lose the hypocrisy of Jon Stewart. True, as he said in the interview, The Daily Show labels itself as snake oil while CNBC purports to be a source of true remedies. But does being upfront about prioritizing entertainment above integrity really justify the decision? If so, a lot of people owe Vince McMahon a big apology, because Stewart and Colbert are to news what the WWE is to sports. We know they're all entertainers (yet unquestionably good at what they do) appealing to niche fans who would rather be entertained than suffer through the ennui of the real thing.

And there's my problem with Stewart and Colbert: by acknowledging their own facade, they unintentionally give undue credence to the notion that the other guys are legit. Reality showed us that pro wrestlers weren't the only ones on steroids—real athletes were fake, too. And now, just maybe, it's starting to dawn on the American public that the real journalists are faking it as well.

One reason I love Stewart and company is the adversarial nature they bring to the table. They impeach with impunity. They are equal-opportunity satirists. They are filling a void left by so-called credible news outlets who tiptoe around controversy, refuse to press the issues, and allow special-interest groups to forge fake news in respected publications. But by casting themselves as comedians, shows like Colbert Report perpetuate the notion that challenging the corrupt, exposing the liars, and mocking the incompetent are not legitimate journalistic tactics. Mainstream news outlets have this bizarre habit of treating everyone with respect and tact, and I wish they'd drop it already.

Because if it's only the entertainers—the self-acknowledged (Stewart, Colbert), the closet cases (O'Reilly, Limbaugh), and the bloggers (John Peter Zenger they are not)—who actually dig their claws into the public evils, then the worst and most secretive criminals of society will continue to roam freely with our money, our opinions, and our pride in tow. So here's the second piece of this puzzle (and don't worry, it's not a very large puzzle):

If pseudo-journalistic entertainers took themselves more seriously (I'm looking at you, Jon) and approached their content honestly (Rush, come on), their powers could be used for the good of journalism and society as a whole.

Which brings me to the final puzzle piece: society. Me. You. All your friends on facebook. The reason CNBC doles out fake financial news whilst flinging farm animals and spraying spittle, the reason The Daily Show appears on Comedy Central instead of CNN, and the reason Rush Limbaugh speaks unwaveringly (and clownishly) for the right no matter how wrong it may be is the simple, inevitable fact that collectively we binge on entertainment. We flee anything that challenges us to think or re-evaluate our opinions. We want so desperately not to be wrong that we choose only those options that reinforce our opinions or free us from having to form them.

As a result, when mainstream news gets controversial, the phones start ringing (future boycotter on line 1) and the sponsors start pulling their money away (former customer on line 2). Why don't the phone lines light up when meaningless, inconsequential news wastes our air space? Why do we protest when programming offends but not when it simply sucks? Where are the angry calls from viewers who are offended by lazy, substance-free reporting? You, my friend, are the final puzzle piece. Let's face it, we got conned into viewing a piece of accidentally real news. It's rare that such a thing would come into existence, let alone that millions of people would wind up seeing it. But now that we have, is there any chance we might actually develop a taste for it?

If media end-users like you and me would, en masse, start demanding honest journalism and serious investigation, media outlets would start providing it and the criminals of this world would eventually be exposed and government based on letting the free market model work itself out might actually, you know . . . work. But a government for the people, by the people, and of the people will never work well within a free market if all the people collaboratively agree to suck in our own special way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Helix the Mutation Fairy

Stop squinting. Click the image.

Players to Be Named Never

In the economy of words, Glenn Greenwald spared no expense lambasting the ridiculously prevalent pseudo-journalistic practice of allowing anyone and everyone to put their lies on the record while keeping their names safely off of it. To give you time to read it, I'll hold my response to a quick, "Hear, hear!" . . . and just a bit of embellishment:

Every time I read the words "according to a source close to the negotiations," or anything along those lines, a small part of my soul comes down with flu-like symptoms and dies a slow, painful death.

(And as you read, try to set aside your feelings about the issues he discusses—this is an article more about bad journalism than about Israel relations.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Misadventures of Helix the Mutation Fairy

Click the image for a better look . . . 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Heroes & Villains

The recent frenzied search for a Republican Messiah has reached the very bottom of the barrel, only to reveal that it's a Messiah-free barrel (Jindal: no style; Rush: no substance . . . and most likely no soul). I honestly don't think there's any use in continuing the search. What are they hoping to find, the next Ronald Reagan? I've got news for the GOP: Ronald Reagan was an aberration.

The Republican Party doesn't thrive on its heroes. Can anyone name a single Republican superstar in the last 20 years? Rudy? W? H. W.? Rush? Newt? Ah-nold? If politics were American Idol, all of these guys would rank somewhere between William Hung and Bucky Covington (with nary a Sanjaya in the bunch). But that's okay. Superstars don't make good conservatives. Rallying dreams and stirring up hopes just isn't . . . Republican.

The superstar is primarily, though not exclusively (see Reagan), the Democrats' shtick. Obama. Bill. Hillary. Pick a Kennedy . . . any Kennedy. Somehow Al Gore, the Human Yawn, even managed to achieve superstar status in defeat, no less. The Democrats live in Hollywood, where anybody has a shot at worldwide fame. The Republicans live on Wall Street, where even the most successful studs amount to little more than rich nobodies. The most famous Republicans enter the conversation when they screw up, speak up, or otherwise stir up some controversy. The hotshot Dems never seem to leave the conversation. (Can we really go a week without Bill giving the world a coy wink from just below some major headline just to let us all know he's still relevant?)

Whereas the Democrats thrive on personality (and cozy notions like hope, compassion, and justice), the Republicans deal in a currency of fear. Let's be honest, they're more concerned about what we should not do and what we can't let happen. Let's not screw up. Let's not let democracy die. Don't let the terrorists--or the socialists--win. They don't need a hero, no sir. The Republicans need an enemy they can believe in.

Thank God for the Soviets. They kept the GOP united and strong for the better part of a century. Jimmy Carter and the Ayatollah teamed up to launch Reagan into unprecedented Republican stardom. Roe v. Wade cemented the Republican Party's place as the only evangelical option. Saddam Hussein gave two Bushes more than their fair share of the limelight. Heck, the fear of Osama bin Laden dealt W the win over Kerry when simple statistics show that Bush probably received votes from a few million people who thought he was doing a bad job as president (I know he got at least one). And if Rush Limbaugh were to be honest (which would require elephantine doses of narcotics) he would tell you that he owes his entire career to the Clinton presidency . . . and he must also credit his recent resurgence in infamy to the rise of Obama. (Honestly, other than the revelation of his addiction and hearing loss, I can't remember hearing a single thing about his political views during the Bush years. . . . I suppose there was the whole feud with Al Franken, but I always considered that to be more of a suppressed homo-erotic version of a David Addison/Maddie Hayes will-they or won't-they dramedy--I mean, seriously guys, get a room.)

Forget the myth of finding the next great Republican leader. What the Republicans really need is a quality enemy, and they don't really have one. Right now it's Obama's brand of socialism, a truly pathetic foil. Wishing doom upon his economic policies is the political equivalent of cheering for Osama's escape during the Bush years (which, if the Dems did, they did so privately). This is precisely why Limbaugh is praying for failure. For him and his party to succeed, he needs some truly juicy object of hatred and fear to arise from the liberal ooze. 

My advice: don't wish for it to come from Obama. Sit back, smile, and moderately applaud as his supporters sing "Obama Bless America" on the steps of Congress. Give the Dems this moment, Republicans, and you'll come off looking like gracious losers, team players, and unified patriots. Meanwhile, set your sights on Congress. Good lord, they're all so inept, you really shouldn't have to look hard to find someone doing something awful. Don't waste your time battling someone viewed as a Messiah. It's much easier to attack a Judas.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We Agree That They're Clueless

Coates is a bit more charitable in his analysis than me: "It's interesting that so many of their most dominant voices of the GOP (Steele, Gingrich, Limbaugh) have either never won an election, or haven't won in a decade." 

Who's the Wizard Now?

I recently posited that the GOP was trying to resemble the cast of "30 Rock." It turns out that the Republicans are using a far worse strategy: letting James Carville dictate their public image. Essentially, Carville and team did polling last fall that revealed that Rush Limbaugh has lower popularity ratings than even Jeremiah Wright. (It should go without saying that this means his popularity is way lower than President Obama--some 40 points lower.) It didn't take the Ragin' Cajun long to realize that identifying the GOP with El Rushbo would further sink the Republicans in popular opinion. 

Rush has been all too happy to play along. He has depicted himself as the counterpoint to Obama, fomented at CPAC, and played the part of party whip, lashing out at any Republican who dares to challenge him. Rush wins, the Democrats win, and the media wins. Who loses? The GOP

The recent kerfuffle with Michael Steele is just the latest in a months-long parade of Republican leaders lining up to apologize for Rush: Phil Gingrey, Mike Pence, Eric Cantor, and now Steele. Now, if the Mighty Rush had the sort of popularity that resulted in 50% + approval ratings and the ability to deliver enough votes to win elections, this groveling might make sense. But he doesn't. The Democrats know this. Why don't the Republicans

The Republicans are playing all the parts of The Scarecrow with no brain, the Tin Man with no heart, and the Lion with no courage. They haven't seen that the Wizard of Oz is just a large man behind a microphone.

I'm waiting for the GOP to Grow-O-Pair and confront the elephant in the room: Limbaugh is popular with the millions who listen to his radio program, and deeply unpopular with the tens of millions who don't. If Republicans want to win any elections in the next 2-8 years, following Rush will only lead to the party shrinking smaller than the tiniest Munchkin.