Maybe it’s the heart-wrenching opening music by Alexandre Desplat, gleaned from Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Or the recent death of Marie Colvin that’s been pounding through my head the past few days, the thought of what she lost in order for the world to gain some hard perspective into the dire cost of war. Or maybe it’s the fact that in just 38 hours these guys raised over 50,000 dollars toward financing their completely earnest vision for the future of journalism. Though technology’s uptick seems to be decreasing our attention spans alongside a desire for serious, long-form journalism, the guys at Matter are out to reverse the trend—and after only a day-and-a-half on Kickstarter, it seems there are plenty of people willing to prove them right. I’m certainly going to stake some (waning) optimism for the future of journalism on Matter’s success.
Also, they cut a mean video.
9:03 PM: This is going to be awful.
9:04 PM: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, the speech hasn’t started yet, blah, blah, blah.
9:05 PM: LET’S LISTEN IN, THIS WILL BE GROUNDBREAKING BANTER HERE, PEOPLE!!!!! WHAT IS OBAMA SAYING WHEN HE SHAKES ALL THOSE HANDS? I MUST KNOW!
9:07 PM: I just saw that Wisconsin Rep who was on The Real World. #fuckingjobqualificationshowdotheywork
9:10 PM: Okay, happy time is over. Let’s get this shit show on the road.
9:12 PM: Iraq has made us more respected around the world? Whatever you say, Obama.
9:12 PM: Remember when we killed Osama bin Laden? THAT WAS AWESOME.
9:13 PM: “LET’S BE MORE LIKE THE MILITARY, AMERICA!” *applause*
9:19 PM: Chuck Schumer looks skeevy.
9:20 PM: Why are people booing the fact that GM has recovered?
9:21 PM: “Your country’s labor laws are so shitty that it makes sense for me to bring my workforce back here from China” – Some business dude’s anecdote, quoted by Obama. Applause.
9:24 PM: So many old white dudes.
9:25 PM: Cut to Eric Cantor, looking like a twit.
9:26 PM: If you drink every time someone tries to start a round of applause rather than every time someone succeeds in doing so, you’ll drink less. #protip #stopapplaudingeverythingyouidiots
9:28 PM: Lady sitting next to Michele Obama finds her way into Obama’s speech. #quellesurprise
9:29 PM: If this is the start of Obama’s campaign, it’s rather less than soaring.
9:34 PM: Shorter Barack Obama: “I’m going to propose a bunch of programs that will never pass. Please clap for me occasionally.”
9:36 PM: Nobody booed, “Women should earn equal pay for equal work.” #theyarebooinginside
9:38 PM: LET’S HAVE ANOTHER BP OIL SPILL, MOTHERFUCKERS! Applause.
9:39 PM: This really isn’t a very good speech.
9:42 PM: PASS CLEAN ENERGY TAX CREDITS CREATE THESE JOBS. Yes, that would be great. I’m glad everyone cheered. Can we go back to legislative gridlock and not solving any problems again now?
9:46 PM: John Kerry looks like he has to pee.
9:47 PM: Geithner squirms as Obama talks about refinancing underwater mortgages. Did he not get a draft of the speech beforehand? #shouldapreparedforthat
9:49 PM: GAH JOE LIEBERMAN
9:50 PM: Hey, somebody put that joke on YouTube!
9:51 PM: I wonder if Barack Obama ties his own tie.
9:56 PM: John Boehner flinched. Someone’s gotta make a gif out of that.
10:00 PM: People are booing a “bill that bans insider trading in Congress.”
10:02 PM: I wish these people would stop clapping. They aren’t sincere.
10:03 PM: People are booing an Abraham Lincoln quote. #proudtobeanamerican
10:06 PM: Q: If we limit the “religious” to “Christians, Muslims, and Jews” don’t we “other” a billion Hindus?
10:09 PM: AMERICAR IZ BEK U DON’T KNO WHT UR TAWKIN ABUT!
10:12 PM: I DO NOT NEED TO LEARN ANYTHING FROM THE TROOPS, THANK YOU. THEY DO THEIR JOBS, I DO MINE. K THX.
10:16 PM: Decent ending, though.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bow out before the pundits take over.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan is concerned
10.20 pm. I was hoping for a vision. I was hoping for real, strategic reform. What we got was one big blizzard of tax deductions, wrapped in a populist cloak. It was treading water. I suspect this will buoy liberal spirits, but anger the right and befuddle the independents. It definitely gives the Republican case against Obama as a big government meddler more credibility. I may be wrong – but the sheer cramped, tedious, mediocre micro-policies he listed were uninspiring to say the least.
Does this dude not get paid to follow politics? Is he not aware of the political dynamic in the United States right now, where Obama could offer to overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow and the Republicans still wouldn’t be satisfied? For crying out loud. I know the man is new here, but 4000 word Newsweek cover stories about 11-dimensional political chess aside, this is simply not very hard to understand. 1) Republicans deliberately sabotage legislation proposed by Democrats, 2)…?, 3) GRIDLOCK! It’s called “trying to win elections via shitlordery.” It’s what the Republican party does best these days. Obama could have said that he was issuing a signing statement that would make everyone jizz diamonds and the Republicans would have been against it. Who gives a fuck if some meaningless speech didn’t satisfy the Andrew Sullivans and Tom Friedmans of the world? Their function is to be concerned. Unless, of course, they are asked to extend their concern to the citizens of Iraq. In which case, suck on this.
Dead Iraqis? Lol. An underwhelming speech? No. Not lol. “Uninspiring to say the least.”
Hey, everyone, guess what! Todd Palin announced his super-official Republican Presidential endorsement today! You know what that means? It means that our Very Serious press corps is all over this story like white on rice, or brown on rice, or yellow on rice. It really depends what kind of rice you’re eating! (Hint: this rice makes you go blind, bleed internally, and is not FDA approved):
Sarah Palin’s husband is endorsing Newt Gingrich for president, Todd Palin told ABC News today.
But Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and John McCain’s 2008 Republican running mate, has yet to decide “who is best able to go up against Barack Obama,” Todd Palin said.
Palin said he has not spoken to Gingrich or anyone from the former House speaker’s campaign. But he said he respects Gingrich for what he went through in the 1990s and compared that scrutiny in public life to what Sarah Palin went through during her run for the vice presidency.
Todd Palin said he believes that being in the political trenches and experiencing the highs and lows help prepare a candidate for the future and the job of president.
He did not criticize any of the other candidates and said his “hat is off to everyone” in the Republican race.
THIS IS NEWS, PEOPLE! BREAKING NEWS! Where to begin?
FIRST OF ALL, we’re talking about Todd Palin. He is Sarah Palin’s husband. In that capacity he has gone snowmobiling, fathered 16 children, and , uh, lived in Alaska. Maybe he caught some fish, too, I dunno. Anyway, so this is obviously a very big deal, know what I mean? It would be like asking Pat Nixon who she endorsed, except that her endorsement, by virtue of being delivered from the grave, would carry a little more gravitas, even if it was anonymously sourced, due to an aide’s “inability to speak about the matter on the record, since Pat Nixon is dead and the endorsement was revealed to a shaman deep in the Ecuadorean rainforest, who then communicated it via a translator while both were high on peyote and firewater.” Or something. You get what I’m saying. This is a big deal. Todd Palin just endorsed Newt Gingrich, y’all. Wise the fuck up.
SECONDLY, this? “[Todd Palin] respects Gingrich for what he went through in the 1990s and compared that scrutiny in public life to what Sarah Palin went through during her run for the vice presidency” — this might be the most important statement from an American politician since the Monroe Doctrine. THAT WAS IN 1820, PEOPLE! WE’VE GOT A JUGGERNAUT ON OUR HANDS! Clearly, what Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich endured in their time in the public spotlight was shameful, shameful. I mean, people HELD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR SHIT! That’s insanity! What kind of country do we live in, a communist one?
Didn’t think so, librul media.
THIRDLY, “hats off to everyone” in the Republican field? Even Mitt Romney? That guy’s practically a socialist. I’ll excuse it, because it’s Todd Palin, and as mentioned, he just delivered the 21st century equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation, but by golly if I’m not a bit flummoxed. Flummoxed, I say. Mitt Romney will be the death of the Republican party, the American way, apple pie, moms, fetuses, and God Him or Herself. Okay, Himself (what am I, a lesbian?), but you get the picture. At least, I hope you do. Todd Palin is the picture, and he just caught fifty pounds of salmon with his bare hands, strutted up to the cold Alaskan beach front with his shirt off, and endorsed Newt Gingrich for President. Now is not the time to let your guard down, even if he did take his hat off for Mitt Romney.
FOURTHLY, another excerpt:
Gingrich’s ability to overcome the obstacle and still move up in the polls showed his ability to campaign and survive, according to Todd Palin, who said Gingrich is not one of the typical “beltway types” and that his campaign has “burst out of the political arena and touched many Americans.”
Do you know what I think of when I think about the phrase “beltway type”? I think about Levi Strauss, and Lee, and Calvin Klein, and Osh-Kosh-b-Gosh. I think about jeans, because when I wear jeans I wear a belt, and the “way” to be the “type” of person who wears “belts” is to wear jeans. But I never see Newt Gingrich in jeans. Have you ever seen Newt Gingrich in jeans? I have not. Oh, sure, maybe he’s worn them once or twice, but certainly not enough to be called a “belt” “way” “type.” I mean, the guy’s a former Speaker of the House, lobbyist, and current Presidential candidate. If that’s what a “belt” “way” “type” is, you can sign me right up. It’s better than wearing jeans, that’s for sure.
LASTLY, Sarah Palin. I’ll tell you what, I admire her restraint. The Republican field this year has been a little bit like a game of hot potato. It’s smart not to commit to a candidate too rashly. It would be embarrassing, after all, if she bet all her money on the Romney potato and the Santorum potato exploded into a slick, white mash. She has to show caution and resolve. She has to act Presidential. If she’s going to go around the country pretending to run for President for the rest of her life, after all, she may as well know the part. What I’m saying: hedge your bets, Sarah. Choose wisely!
This, from Charles Pierce, is perhaps the most glorious defenestration of a D.C. pundit the world has ever seen. Read the whole thing.
(via Cole, who threw his panties on the stage for this one)
This says it all, folks.
Gandy [ed: i.e, Angry Black Lady, of Balloon Juice] is one of a new breed of online activists in the Obama era. They call themselves “pragmatic progressives,” but they’re better known by their enemies’ derisive label: the Obamabots.
Under the mainstream radar and largely on Twitter, the Obamabots are waging a high-intensity guerrilla war against the liberal-leaning journalists and activists who have — as they see it — gone weak in the knees and abandoned the president in his time of need. As liberal pundits have swooned at Obama’s occasionally feisty rhetoric during recent weeks, the Obamabots were ready with an “I told you so.”
I despise everything about those two paragraphs, but what’s most glaringly awful is the way in which they admit that “Obamabot” is a pejorative in one paragraph, and then proceed to deploy it to refer to self-described “pragmatic progressives” for the rest of the article. It not-so-subtly says that the pejorative is not without merit; that it is, in fact, quite proper to interpret one party involved in the situation at hand as “bots.” Bots, by definition, say the same thing over and over, mindlessly. They’re clearly not worth being taken seriously by Politico.
I’m a strident critic of the president, but I also think he gets a pretty bad rap from those on the left who never bothered to research his policy positions before voting for him in 2008. He’s pretty much done all that any sober observer would have expected him to. He never proposed single-payer healthcare, but he got a watered-down version of what he did propose through Congress. He never proposed ending the war in Afghanistan, but he did propose ending the one in Iraq, which has seen significant troop reductions. He got rid of DADT. He didn’t get EFCA passed. There is absolutely no way to close Guantanmo, because no one wants to take the prisoners and letting them all go free would be political suicide. And at the moment, there’s not a whole hell of a lot Obama can do. The Senate has become a dysfunctional pissing contest where anyone can effectively derail legislation at will. Dude’s kind of stymied, domestically anyway.
So the idea that Ben Smith and Emily Schultheis just rag on Obama’s supporters by invoking the notion that only “bots” could be swayed to Obama’s side at this point in his presidency is pretty petty. A lot of Obama’s supporters (and here I consider myself one, in the sense that I will without a doubt vote for him next year, certainly over any of the Republican bastards running against him) recognize that he can’t just Do. Shit. Willy. Nilly. Not to put too fine a point on it, but domestically, there are these things called “other branches of government,” and sometimes they are controlled by these people called Republicans, who have a recent history of being very huge assholes, and sometimes huge assholes muster up a way to exceed your expectations each and every day on their long march toward being the Form of the Asshole. Platonically speaking, of course.
It’s called learning, and it’s quite the marvel.
Added: Then again, if anyone at Politico ever learned anything, that would be against the company’s entire raison d’être. La vie ce n’est pas juste.
Last night there was a provincial election in Ontario (Canada’s biggest province — the one with Toronto and Ottawa in it). The incumbent Liberal party lost their majority in the legislature, meaning they’re going to have to appeal to either the NDP on their left or the Progressive Conservatives on their right to get bills passed. It’s most likely that they’ll do most of their collaborating with the NDP.
The Toronto Sun (circulation: 1,016,761, making it the 7th most read newspaper in Canada) offers I think the most measured response to this situation:
The Ottawa Sun’s running the same cover, as is likely every Ontario newspaper owned by the Sun Media Corporation, noted previously in this blog for its weak attempt to get a Fox News-style all-right-wing-hysteria-all-the-time network off the ground.
Update: The NDP won in Manitoba earlier this week. The next day’s Winnipeg Sun –
At work recently (I nanny), I took a break from playing Cozy Martians (in which baby Lego aliens excel at the art of the sleepover) to check my email. “Be right back, Erol,” I said to my three-year-old charge. I was expecting an important message and don’t own a smart phone, so I walked to the back of the apartment to grab my laptop. By the time I returned, about 60 seconds later, Erol was sprawled on the floor next to his iPad, fully engrossed in Disney Pixar’s Cars. I hadn’t even heard him get up.
Erol may be new to life, but in some ways he’s already surpassed me. While I’m still calling 411 on my Verizon LG Cosmos to locate nearby opthamologists, Erol and his five-year-old sister, Neve, are whiling away the hours on their very own iPads. Their parents are bona fide technology folk — former and current employees of Amazon and Microsoft — who always have the latest and greatest in gadgets. Smart phones, Kindles, iPads, and laptops sit alongside coloring books and toy cars throughout their apartment. It’s only natural that their children would be so well versed in technology; the intuitive genius of an Apple touchscreen is only proven to be that intuitive if a three-year-old has very little trouble using it. Since the iPad entered their tiny worlds, Neve and Erol have taken to rubbing their fingers along most dark and shiny surfaces, and it’s a strange, albeit amusing disappointment that registers on their faces the moment they realize that the object in question doesn’t have an integrated touchscreen.
Neve and Erol are part of a new generation being reared on smart technology, spawning obligatory speculation about the impact that this will have on their adult selves, the same way the now-40 crowd once deliberated the future of those of us born under the rising sun of the Internet. (Look how distracted and overstimulated we are! How entitled!) But smart technology takes the whole instant-gratification thing to an entirely new level. Where I spent my early childhood manipulating arrow keys to move blockily rendered computer-game characters, Neve and Erol can stream their favorite dancing turtles in high-def with the touch of a finger.
A decade ago, my grandparents valiantly struggled to incorporate e-mail into their lives (to varying degrees of success). Neve and Erol’s grandparents, in a similar state of adaptation, are currently attempting to insert iPhones into their daily lives. (“I can’t use that damn touch-texting stuff,” said Grandpa Bob on a recent visit to Texas.) But will these older folks, as they age and face tremors, arthritis, and the like, still have fingers that are up to the task of manipulating smart technology? Or will technology advance to accommodate them?
The, Oy, what are these young people on about? conversation might be nothing new, but its content consistently is, and watching Neve and Erol chase icons across a screen with their small fingers had me wondering just how young they’re making technophiles these days. You can thank YouTube and over-eager parents for the following gems:
Despite the mixed bag of emotions I feel watching a two-year-old like Bridger working an iPad (awe and fear; baby-lust), I can’t help but wonder: seeing this barely verbal youngster do something that some adults do all day long…how much smarter are we getting? If an iPad symbolizes the advanced efficiency of contemporary society, but if toddlers — a people decidedly not advanced nor efficient — can use it with the same dexterity as adults, then where does that leave us?
The point of all this fast-moving technological progress is partly to create a more efficient society, which demands more cursory than close reading skills; as Nicholas Carr wrote back in 2008, the brain “now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.” Maybe this doesn’t mean we’re getting dumber; maybe it only means that the ways in which we process information are changing. But if, more and more, we process information in a way that is entirely easy for tiny tykes to grasp as well (and considering the minuscule attention span and digital dexterity of a toddler, this could be a gigantic red flag), then I would say that the progress we’re making looks suspiciously like one step forward, two steps back.
Except for Angry Birds, of course. That’s the definition of progress.
What kind of phenomenon is Tom Friedman? What does he think about as he sips his morning coffee? Does he honestly believe that the United States would be a better place if his particular brand of “enlightened” oligarchy were to be implemented? Could he possibly endorse the tripe he peddles in the nation’s most important newspaper twice a week? Would he maintain that it’s worth the salary he makes, the position of influence he holds? What does he really think of himself? Does he go to bed satisfied with the life he’s led? Does he have regrets? Can the sheer lack of self-awareness that he demonstrates in column after column really and truly be genuine? What makes the Mustache of Understanding tick?
I bring these questions up because The Friedman wrote a particularly egregious column today. Or, if not particularly egregious, then at least rather telling. In the process of whining about how we need Leadership For A Grand Bargain Otherwise Herbert Hoover, Friedman lays all of his cards out on the table:
All I know is this: If either of you [Boehner and Obama] had been a real leader truly committed to a Grand Bargain — which you both know is what we need — you wouldn’t have just walked away from your negotiations. You would have taken the issue to the country and not let up until the other guy came back to the table.
Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain and how you were prepared for it but the other guy folded — and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)
That’s it. That’s Tom Friedman. Sorry there’s so much bold, but it really needs to sink in for a second. So let’s unpack this really quickly.
First, “all [he] know[s] is” completely wrong. Let’s take it one step at a time. 1) Obama offered the Republicans everything but the kitchen sink (though he did offer some of the dishes!) for the Grand Bargain, 2) Boehner couldn’t get his nutbag caucus in line because he’s facing a power struggle with Eric Cantor, who epitomizes House Republican craziness, 3) Republicans threatened to ruin the economy if they didn’t get everything they wanted, 4) …? 5) “Both sides do it!!!”
The “neither of you is a TRUE leader, nyah!” stuff is equally repellent. Again, Friedman is a man who gets paid — paid very well! — to follow politics very carefully, but his analysis reads like that of someone with absolutely no knowledge of how the wheels of American government work. He’s too thick to realize that there was nothing that either of these leaders could do at the time. Obama could not allow his presidency to adopt a full-metal wingnut economic policy if he expected to be taken seriously as a Democrat in the next election; Boehner could not control his caucus, and very nearly lost his speakership over the debt ceiling, “Grand Bargain” fiasco. The country was quite literally held hostage by an intransigent group of extreme Republicans — highlighting, in fact, the crises our democracy might more regularly undergo if these people are given more power — but Friedman treats it as though it’s a lack of leadership that brought us to this place. “If you were real leaders, you wouldn’t have walked away from negotiations,” Friedman says, but did it ever occur to him that you can’t negotiate with nihilists — even if, as in Boehner’s case, you happen to share a good part of your endgame with them?
Of course it didn’t, because that was two months ago, and Friedman’s ideological filters have since transformed what actually happened into what he would prefer to have happened. Which, of course, goes like this: Left = bad, right = bad, center = good. Both sides do it, and there is no monopoly on truth, regardless of what the facts are.
The real tell, though, the part that I thought was revealing, was this (which I’ll quote again in full, for the lazy):
Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain… and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)
Nowhere in this “analysis” does Friedman assess the merit of the two bases’ arguments. For him, and other Village centrists, bases are irrational by definition, so there’s no need to investigate any further. Case closed, as it were. But what’s most galling is Friedman’s assertion that he’s not part of any base — that, moreover, the “bases” he so clearly disdains seem to have much more “influence” than people like him. Let me make this as plain as I can.
Earlier in the column, Friedman advises Obama, et al:
…[U]nlike [Herbert] Hoover, who was just practicing the conventional economic wisdom of his day when we fell into the Depression, you have no excuses. We know what to do — a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order.
What kind of history is this? Amity fucking Shlaes? “We know what to do,” Friedman says, “and yet I’m going to pretend that the Roosevelt administration didn’t exist, that John Maynard Keynes didn’t exist, and that my fellow columnist Paul Krugman does not exist. Because history is just a set of facts, and grand narratives are so much more fun, even when they’re wrong.”
Which brings me back to Friedman’s assertion that he is of no base, but that he sincerely wishes he were because of all the “fun” and “influence” he would have. It brings me back to my rhetorical questions in the beginning, which can be summed up basically as, “Does Tom Friedman have a soul, and if so, how hard is he going to hell anyway?” The answers to which are simply, “No,” and “Very.” Friedman is a man who will do everything in his power to make sure that people like him, the political taste-makers and shot-callers, are comfortably sated till the day they die. He will peddle transparent crap like “entitlement reform” while decrying Obama for his “focus on taxing millionaires,” of which he is, of course, one. He will claim to be of no party or clique, and then shamelessly plug for the very wealthy under the guise of speaking for the hardworking man everywhere.
Of course, your everyday New York Times reader doesn’t have digs quite like this:
Nor does your everyday Times reader support “entitlement reform.” (Though, curiously, she does endorse higher taxes on millionaires.)
But then, Tom Friedman isn’t exactly your average Joe. He just plays one on TV.
Tom Friedman can call for slashing Social Security benefits because he’ll never have to rely on them. He can talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, because his financial adviser informed him that he was a fucking multimillionaire and he will never ever be without leisure, never mind without a refill of a prescription. He can call for short term stimulus and long term austerity, because he’ll be fine either way. It’s all of a piece with Tom Friedman. He represents the interests of the very well-off to an audience of the well-off and the fairly well-off; he disguises it as sober analysis amid a flurry of cliches; and then he cashes his check and goes home to his mansion. He goes back to his base. His base isn’t left or right. It’s that sweet spot right in the middle, the one that caters to the interests of the wealthy under the patina of being above the fray. It’s the visage of cool, calm, and collected centrism — the “both sides do it” nonsense. The epitome of intellectual laziness: “In the final analysis, splitting the difference is the only sensible policy.” That mentality has never made less sense than it does now, as one of the country’s two political parties has been taken over by complete loons.
Nevertheless, you can count on people like Tom Friedman to keep counseling us about the error of our ways. “We don’t compromise enough,” he’ll warn. “We need to bargain more grandly! Everyone’s opinion is valid, there’s plenty of blame to go around (except when it comes to people like me, of course — it’s you left- and right-wingers who are the real problem).”
“Are they stupid or crazy?” is a question that gets asked a lot about the Republican party these days. The answer is always, “Both.” But when we’re talking about people like Tom Friedman, or David Brooks, or Fred Hiatt, or Mark Halperin, or any of the other pundits I don’t feel like rattling off right now, I think you should add a third possibility. The question should be, “Are they stupid or crazy or craven?”
To which the answer is, “Yes.”