Friday, February 26, 2010

Turning Schadenfreude on its Head

In an odd turn on the American love affair with Schadenfreude is a new website that will let friends anonymously tell you what they really think of you: One has to wonder if anyon? Isn’t life better wie really want to know this? Isn't life better with the lies we tell each other and ourselves to make it bearable? Didn’t anyone see The Invention of Lying? Can we really take the ridicule that one assumes has to emerge from this site? And what about hackers? Our enemies can have a heyday at our expense. One way to get the news out on your new “bruise my ego for free” site is to provide a link on Facebook. Um, how about those lunatics with 500 friends? Even those of us with 200 have to know that many of these “friends” simply use us to increase their cyber popularity index, or maintain the link to spy on us; with our active approval, I should add. I don’t know about you, but I’m already rough enough on myself. Me thinks my friends doth protest just enough.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ahistory 101

What do you do when history is working against you? What if people really do want to learn from history so they don't repeat it? Well, just rewrite it, of course. Republicans have been adept at this for years, most recently pretending the financial crisis started with Obama, or that Bush somehow solved it (even though it's still going on), or that they never blocked a nomination under Clinton. The latest incident is the so called "nuclear option," an apparently unprecedented attempt to circumvent the workings of democracy . . . or is it? In fact, the reconciliation process has been used 21 times since the 80s, mostly by Republicans. It was used for Reagan's huge tax cuts, for both Bush tax cuts and for welfare reform. Now Democrats want to take the political capital given to them in 2008 and using it to pass the healthcare reform most Americans want (unless it is labeled "socialist"): But why allow history to cloud the fact that Democrats are actually using their majority in the House and Senate together with control of the Presidency to actually, gasp, do something without the Republicans. They seem to forget that that is exactly what they did for the first six years of the Bush administration; unless Dems supplicated (as they did on more occasions than they liked to admit). Thomas Jefferson once argued "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Of course, if we believe the lies why not believe we are free as well?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brother Can You Spare a Quarter Million?

The Washington Post today reports that Wall Street is shifting its allegiance from Democrats to Republicans: Ever since the triangulation policies of Clinton and the New Democrats proved effective at winning elections, the party has in many ways been beholdent to their very rich benefactors. They have sold themselves as liberal on social issues but more conservative on economic policy. While the populist rhetoric occasionally emerges (Gore in the last two months of his 2000 run; Obama at times), the party generally does little to actually hold Wall Street accountable for their actions or, for example, change the tax structure so hedge fund managers pay a reasonable tax rate on the millions (and for some individuals billions) they earn every year -- rather than the paultry 15% they currently do. So while many will see this as bad news, particularly given the recent Supreme Court decision about campaign finance reform and the early forecasts for the midterm elections (, I wonder if some good news doesn't emerge from this trend? For one, could Democrats finally stand up to Wall Street and start reregulating the markets (as they did in a minor way with recent bills on bank and credit card fees)? Can they start to hold the postmodern Robber Barons accountable for their actions? Can they usher in a real debate on economic reform that will challenge the dramatic stratification that reigns supreme today? I wouldn't hold my breath just yet, but I think it could be a good sign if the American people believed Democrats were the party that actually stood up to the powerful for once. Otherwise, the small government movement may appeal to those who wrongly place the blame on government and not the markets and their architects (and I do use this word on purpose) for our current economic problems (much as Reagan placed the blame on feminism and the civil rights movement in the 80s).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Government the Problem?

It depends who you talk to. For those at the top of the income ladder, this is clearly the case. They benefit from a laissez-faire approach to economic policy and always have. But for the middle and the bottom? Then the story is different. As some economists start to talk of economic recovery and getting beyond the worst of the Great Recession, the stark reality for the poor and middle class in this country is a declining quality of life and dour long term prospects. A couple of weeks ago, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert pointed out that unemployment varies dramatically along class lines. Those at the top of the income bracket has an unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent and the next highest only 4 percent. Contrast that with the bottom two brackets ($12,499 or less and $12,500 to 20,000), that suffer through 30.8 and 19.1 percent, respectively: Some would argue that this makes sense, given the realities of the new economy and the nature of the crisis itself. Yet it is part of a trend that has been accelerating since the 70s, a growing gap in not only income and wealth but quality of life between the rich and poor here and across the "developed" world: I think it would be naive not to recognize the relationship between this return to the Gilded Age of the turn of the century and the fall of communism. Without any alternative to fight, neoliberalism has ushered in a new phase where capital accumulation and consolidation of wealth accelerate dramatically. Services are being cut, marginal taxes lowered and the elites establishing rules that are skewed to their interests. The latest Supreme Court decision only punctuates the push away from democracy and popular rule and toward a theocracy of the market and its stewards. Is this sustainable in the long run? The history of capitalism is one of laissez-faire followed by economic crisis, calls for intervention and then deregulation soon after markets recover. Yet conservatives and business leaders are attempting to forgo any further intervention before the financial crisis ends. This could spell doom for America and across the globe. Will they wake up to the reality of the moment before it is too late, or allow their greed to trump our collective future? Here I turn to Edna St. Vincent Millay (with a minor edit) . . .

Thy candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends --
It gives a lovely light.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sphincter Says What

"I'm not frightened by bipartisanship... We should be brave enough to stand up and say let's work together until we finish defeating the left and then we won't have to work with them as much."

-- Newt Gingrich, quoted by the Huffington Post.

Interesting definition of bi-partisanship. The real problem today is that conservatives have hunkered down to a degree where reality is just a pesky inconvenience that stands in the way of their agenda. They have radicalized to the point where facts and counterarguments do not move them, but simply strengthen their resolve. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Right now, in the midst of economic, environmental and global crises, most conservatives believe that returning to the past is possible, that somehow things will fix themselves and that the best thing to do is nothing at all. They want to continue policies that got us here in the first case. They rewrite history to support their position, get stuck on the one exception to the rule and change subjects whenever their positions are challenged. And who comprises the latest addition to the lunatic fringe? The lovely Tea Party and their inspirational wackado leader Glenn Beck ( But while there might be a populist element to this movement, I think we are kidding ourselves if we don't recognize that 1. They have been driven by conservative media personalities to their current position, 2. They are often led by old guard members of the far right 3. Their anger is largely based on irrational conspiracy theories and latent racism and 4. They are a force to be reckoned with, but not as large as some have led us to believe ( When you get right down to it, the media loves to report on fringe groups, but particularly right wing varieties. When they look at fringe groups on the left (real fringe groups, not the group now labeled as Leftists because the middle has moved so far right), it is usually in a mocking tone.

The one point that most Americans can seem to agree on today is that "government is broken." A CNN poll shows that 86% of respondents support this assessment: So what should we do about it? The interesting thing is that some believe we should just scrap the government altogether, leaving benevolent multinational corporations to fill the void. On the other side, there may be too much faith that government can solve our problems. In the end, hope seems to be the real victim -- washed over by expectations as ephemeral as the distance between first and second in the luge.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Healthcare Tango

So a growing number of Democrats are pushing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include the public option in the reconciliation bill, that can bypass a Republican filibuster. Reid is waiting to count votes before he decides, as is House leader Pelosi. In the meantime, Obama is backpedaling yet again, offering a modified plan that he hopes some Republicans will support: The reasonable party, however, doesn't really need to see one to decide that "no" is their answer: So those most interested in the debate decided to actually ask people what they think: Early leaked results show a plurality supporting a bypass of the obstructionist Republicans, while 51% remain unsure (in Illinois). It's time for the feckless Democrats to finally get some backbone and take a chance. Poll after poll has shown that passing healthcare will have little to no effect on their prospects for November. Why not do something radical that could alter the future of the country? We will see if Democrats stand for anything other than supporting Wall Street and backpedaling every time they get close to taking a stand on anything . . .

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Et Tu, Homer?

Simpson that is! A few articles in the past few weeks have called into question one of America’s favorite pastimes – namely, working. The Daily Beast had an article yesterday that labeled the U.S. as the laziest country in the world ( Using Internet usage, calorie intake, aversion to sports and television viewing per day, they found Americans to be the least active of the OECD countries. But aren’t we the hardest working country in the world? Isn’t it our Protestant Work Ethic that made us great? Aren’t we the country that doesn’t have any time for fun, because we’re too busy working our, apparently bulging, asses off? Actually, wait – that could still be true. Methodology is often that underreported element of these silly studies we count on to give us information and determine the public will. Here the article appeared to be tongue in cheek, but just to be clear --- maybe Americans are so “lazy” because they work so hard they find it hard to find time for sports or other diversions (many Americans go to the gym, which is not generally considered sport – except to those wolves trying to pick someone up at the club). And calorie intake could actually be related to exercise, as those who exercise more would eat more to restore their energy – though a quick look around the streets of middle America and their middles does seem to indicate too many Twinkie aperitifs before and after dinner. A final thought on the study – Internet use. While I can’t speak for women, men use the Internet for a number of things – one of which actually could be considered exercise . . .

The second article goes back to December, when an adjunct instructor up in Boston argued Americans are the laziest students: This caused an uproar among some, while others provided their strong agreement with the claim: Being a professor myself, I must agree that many American students seem lazy, uninterested, uninspired and in need of very specific, detailed instructions for almost any assignment – as contrasted with students from other countries, who tend to be harder working and generally turn in better work. Stereotyping students like this is, of course, wrought with peril, but it does seem true that the next generation does have a sense of entitlement and a lack of motivation for schools and intellectual pursuits. I find plenty of students that challenge this claim, but the aforementioned Internet and television usage, together with the Ipods, cell phones and other technology that keeps these students busy for 7.5 hours a day (according to Kaiser Family Foundation) certainly is a call for concern. On the other hand, the school where I teach has students that work part or full-time, take a full load of classes and do turn in their work on time most of the time. I’m not sure if laziness really describes the American today, but inactive in the traditional sense appears to be a fair claim. Time to go for a jog!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

He Said, She Said Media

There is something wrong when Jon Stewart and the Daily Show staff are doing much superior work to the mainstream media. Why can't anyone in the media (besides the pundits) just make a declarative statement without attributing it to someone else? Why can't they fact check a claim rather than just tell us what both parties, or opposing sides on almost any issue, say? Why can't they seem to deconstruct the lies we hear every day, even when a fifth grader could do so with three minutes and access to google on his blackberry? These are the questions that try men's souls -- or at least mine. The latest example comes from the Washington Post today and this brilliant reporting, regarding the unexpected retirement of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, "Many Democrats blame Republicans for the partisan polarization in this Congress, citing in particular the GOP's near-unanimous opposition to the Democrats' health-care legislation. That presents Obama with his biggest near-term challenge." ( Um, yeah, thank God they found someone to make that claim, as there would be no other way to prove that it's true. In case you haven't heard, the say no to anything strategy is now really paying off as a new ABC Poll finds that only 44% think Obama should have a second term while 52% think no. (

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's 8" . . . I Swear!

And now for something completely different . . . apparently American men are taking postmodernism to its absurd limits. Rather than buy a condom that actually fits, they are buying sizes too big to well, inflate their ego, I suppose. A new University of Kentucky study ( finds that upwards of 50% of men in the study bought the wrong size condom and then removed it during sex. The authors suggest clever marketing as the way to deal with this problem. Who really wants to buy a "small" or even "medium" condom. But how about vente or grande -- now that sound pretty good!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Spin Zone . . . on Meth

So you’re thinking of running for office? What should you do to brand yourself and make sure you get sufficient exposure? Raise some money for commercials, visit community sites, engage in debates. Nah, those are all wrought with the potential for negative press coverage. Here’s a better idea – become a media personality yourself. That way you can spin all the news to your own favor and do “exclusive interviews” for the very company that employs you. What are the chances that station would have a negative story on your campaign? Probably a lot lower, eh? And you can use that platform to not only prop up your credentials and ideas, but to slam your opponent and their party. On top of all this, you will now be given the stamp of authenticity and seen as a provider of unbiased "truth," thus helping sell your platform and stump speech (together with their revisionist version of history and bold faced lies).

Most have obviously heard that Fox News hired Sarah Palin even as almost everyone knows she will be running for office in a couple of years. Fox also has former presidential candidate Huckabee and Next Gingrich who both are considering runs in 2012. And they are not alone. CNBC star and Teabag hero Larry Kudlow is considering a run for the Senate, as is ex-Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of MSNBC and Lou Dobbs, who left CNN in the Fall. Former Fox analyst Angela McGlowan is running for a House seat in Mississippi and one can remember Pat Buchanon switching back and forth between TV and campaigns for President (Chris Matthews also seriously considered a Senate run in Pennsylvania).

In a New York Times article today, they make the point: “'It makes sense for candidates to seek out positions in niche cable, because it is a direct pipeline to voters,” said Jonathan Wald, a former senior vice president at CNBC and an adjunct professor at Columbia’s journalism school. 'It’s an automatic affinity group.' The benefit to the viewers is less clear. Some experts say the arrangements can cloud the objectivity of the news organizations." ( Um, you think so? Could it be that Palin slamming Obama for everything he does might come across as less than objective? As TV pundits deconstruct the news, is it possible they are skewing it to their interests?

Objectivity in media has always been an obvious fa├žade, used to give news the imprimatur of accuracy and truthfulness. The interests of the companies that report on the news always inflect what is reported, how it is reported, what is left out and what is ignored. This is most obvious on cable news stations like Fox and MSNBC, but it is true across the board. The picking of experts is one obvious place where this occurs (see Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, and Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media?), but decisions are increasingly made by huge media conglomerates with all kinds of conflicts of interests that even transcend their profit interest. Do we really need future, or even prior, politicians pretending to be “journalists” to make the point even more obvious? Journalism is in danger of completely abdicating its responsibility to inform the public and hold individuals and groups accountable. Thank God for the Internet, the only place where old school journalism seems to happen these days . . .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Obama Finally Goes on the Offensive

One wonders how long the current Republican strategy can be effective -- can it really carry them back into power by simply doing nothing? Obama has decided it's time to test their resolve and that of the American people. After a series of speeches and a press conference, Obama has gotten to work, attempting to use his executive power to either pressure Congress or bypass them altogether: He warned Republicans he would use recess appointments if they didn't act on all the nominations held up, and 27 confirmations went through within the next few days. He asked for a commission on the deficit and went Congressional Republicans balked at their own idea, he simply circumvented them and did it himself. Now he is planning to soften enforcement of "don't ask don't tell," allow the EPA to enact enforcement of emissions as the Senate bill continues to languish, among a series of other initiatives.

One should remember that Presidential bullying and resolve have been at the heart of two of the most important, widescale governmental initiatives in history -- the series of bills that became known as the New Deal (against strong opposition) and the ambitious Great Society of LBJ. Both are constantly debated among liberals and conservatives, based on the reality that admitting that both helped the country would undermine the essential myth of conservatism in America today.  I have spoken about both in this blog before, but in brief one can say the following -- the New Deal ultimately ushered in the longest substained period of economic growth in this countries history (1947-1973) and the Great Society cut Black poverty and overall poverty in this country in half and led to two decades of school desegregation that cut the racial achievement gap in half; besides a whole host of other achievements in education, the arts, civil rights, the environment and the like. Obama will never gain popular support for altering the nature of politics and economics in America, but he can still serve the nation by ignoring those corporate lackey's and others that refuse to acknowledge where the power lies in America today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jeez, Can't You Do Anything Right?

One of the most underreported problems in America today is childhood obesity. We do talk about it occasionally, but there is little dialogue on the long term costs to individuals and society for this growing problem (pun intended). What is behind it? Obviously, technology plays a huge role as does fast food, less gym in school and overprotective parents that don't let their kids go outside very much anymore. So Michelle Obama decided to launch a national campaign to address the problem. A lot less controversial then, say, trying to solve the healthcare crisis in America, right? Not according to some critiques, who think American kids should be allowed to be fat if they want to, dammit! ( America seems to become more and more like an absurdist novel or movie everyday. But luckily people are paying attention -- and they like it. The latest poll from Washington Post/ABC shows that our view of the Republican party has actually improved, there do nothing/"no all the time" politics is apparently just the kind of inspiration we need in these difficult times: Let freedom ring (as long as it doesn't cost tax payers anything)!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Who's to Blame?

Jacob Weisberg, Slate editor-in-chief, has an incisive critique of the political climate in America today. Rather than blame the politicians, or lobbyists or Obama, he blames the American people ( And he has a point. Americans want the government to solve all of our problems quickly and cleanly, without any additional money, any tax increase, any change in our own behavior and any notion that there might be long term costs to society. In fact, Americans seem to think that the government has some sort of magic bullet not to kill a Kennedy, but to solve the financial crisis, healthcare debacle, environmental devastation and falling position of the United States without the public at large doing anything to help. Government is bad, but we still want it to fix everything that's wrong. But not at any cost to us. So what is the solution? It's hard to see how things can change for the better without some collective sacrifice, without some call for real change, without some faith that government can take on the interests of the power elites and actually improve society. But the underlying cynicism so endemic in America today, together with the general blithe ignorance to what needs to be done, leaves us immobilized and willing to support little. So Republicans can undermine the hope that seemed to bolster the nation a year ago. Now absurd charges of socialism, fear mongering about governmental death squads for the elderly, absurdist discussions of deficits and even more wild conspiracy theories dominate the debate while right wing loons like Palin and Beck dominate the airwaves with discourse that sounds resonable only to those who understand nothing. Postman is right, we really are amusing ourselves toward death, as individuals and a nation. And in this, we may well succeed.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Party of No: Ad Nauseum

So a Senator from Alabama now thinks that it is acceptable to stop all 70 of Obama’s outstanding nominations until his fair state be given two important pork projects revolving around the only really important GOP talking point these days (besides saying no to anything and everything democrats like): terrorism -- I’m not sure if anyone in America still remembers, but since Clinton, the Republicans have been consistently blocking judges nominated to federal courts by Democratic Presidents. But when Bush was president for eight years we heard endlessly about the few pretty radical choices that Democrats blocked from the federal court. Lest us forget what has happened with the two most important selections that did get through (and a lot more got through in general than under Clinton), those two Supreme Court justices that just rewrote campaign finance in the U.S. to the benefit of corporations and against a reasonable definition of what democracy means. In any case, one wonders if Republicans might pay for their unrelenting dedication to absolute obstructionism? While the radical Tea Baggers, led by the suddenly media-savvy Sarah Palin and lunatic fringe TV personality Glen Beck, continue to show a willing blindness to the reality of the moment (and a penchant for ahistoricity that would make Big Brother proud), one wonders if the rest of America is ready to essentially shut down the government to allow Republicans back into power. Didn’t we elect Obama to get away from Bush and the mindless mantra of small government and free markets? It takes a while to teach old dogs new tricks, but if we don’t start teaching ourselves what role government has to play in our lives, we might find ourselves eating our beloved dogs to keep from starving . . .

Super Bowl Censorship

Over the past two decades, Superbowl ads have become almost as important as the game itself. At parties across the country, people who could care less about the game often shut up for the space between TV timeouts to catch the latest clever ads from Budweiser, Google, Coca Cola and the like. Some of the most famous and infamous ads come out that day at as much as $3,000,000 a clip. But what won’t be coming out are any gays on CBS. The papers have finally chimed in on their editorial pages to decry the decision to reject an ad that, gasp, has two men attracted to each other at the most masculine of American sports (besides maybe the no holds barred fighting that keeps gaining popularity): and Luckily CBS isn’t eliminating all political ads. They are ok with an ad by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother arguing the pro life position. Well at least they’re consistent!

This is not the first debate that has occurred regarding Superbowl commercials. In fact the NFL and whomever is telecasting the biggest guacamole day in any year have pretty consistently supported conservative causes – whether it is celebrating American militarism, the war in Iraq, family values or, indirectly, God and his handicapping hand. NBC, for example, refused to air an anti-abortion ad last year (from that used an image of Obama and the tag “Life: Imagine the Potential”) and one about marriage equity. PETA and have been rejected in the past, and NBC did reject an ad in 2004 by the United Church of Christ that included the tagline “Jesus Didn’t Turn People Away. Neither Do We,” targeting gay parishioners. In the past rejection, CBS claimed it had a policy of refusing advertising that "touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance". Now with the Tebow ad (from Focus on Family) they claim: "[CBS's] standards and practices continue to adhere to a policy that insures that all ads on all sides of an issue are appropriate for air.” Um, what? The first statement is troubling in its own light, given that we do live in a democracy and do have that thing called the First Amendment, that has thankfully been extended to our neighbors down the street (the big corporations that all but run DC already). A few others you might not have heard about that were rejected, can be found here:

Of course, football has arguably tacitly supported homosexuality for years. We have tight ends, quarterbacks who start every play in a rather salacious position while reaching their hands between the legs of their centers before screaming hike, an uncomfortable fascination with penetration by the defense among analysts, men in tights who often pat each other on the ass and openly embrace after big plays and throwing passes at each other or handing their balls to their “backs.” But I digress . . .

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Teabagging, Sodomy and the Right

The Family Research Council has gone a step further than arguing that gay marriage will destroy America: Actually, gay sex itself should be illegal they think. But, uh oh, just like those geniuses who named themselves after a rather unfortunate sex act (depending on the hygene habits of the recipient that is), Peter Sprigg wants to outlaw something plenty of God-fearing, heterosexuals probably partake of at least occasionally -- that nasty habit from the original twin city: Sodom. Does that mean that oral sex is ok? How about illicit airport bathroom sex without penetration between Senators and their willing constituents? One wonders in the end if rather than going around spreading their hate, these people simply spread their legs every once in a while, or those of someone else, they might find something to be happy about. Could it be that hate eminates from repression? Call me crazy, but me thinks the answer be oui (which is better than he or she) . . .

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Party of No: Part III

So now even legislation they support, or even came up with in the first place, they reject if it gets the imprimatur of the President. This is getting down right Dali Surrealist. The latest, as you probably heard, is rejecting a call to have a commission formed to figure out how to reduce the deficit: The line among some is that instead we need a commission to reduce spending (not, God forbid, raise taxes on the rich!)

The American people, on the other hand, seem to be growing tired of partisan deadlock and some are pushing for change. Obama has finally started calling out Republicans on their obstructionist ways, inviting them to offer alternatives to their “no all the time” mantra: And a series of bloggers and pundits have moved beyond their keyboard quarterbacking to start an online campaign “Demand Question Time,” to hold regular, televised conversations like the exchange in Baltimore last Thursday (

Is this what representative democracy is about? Whose interests, exactly, are senators representing when they undiscernibly say no to anything and everything? Oh, that’s right – the corporate lobbyists who seem to run the party now. At least with the Supreme Court decision last week, they don’t have to hide their activity anymore. Go capitalism! Down with the Republic!

* * * *

An interesting day in the news, by the way. Another story seems to challenge the idea that torture is necessary to get information out of potential (or successful) terrorists: Not that Obama has been that great on this issue so far.