Metaphorical Fellatio

Matt TaibbiMatt Taibbi took one for the team; he read All In, Paula Broadwell’s biography of General Petraeus. He referred to the book as “slobberific”—a new word worth repeating.

The point of his article—One Interesting Thing About Paula Broadwell’s Petraeus Biography—is that it is perfectly in keeping with authorized biographies generally. And that is a big problem. He even quotes Glenn Greenwald’s well known observation about media bias in modern America, “The overwhelming, driving bias of the US media is subservience to power, whoever happens to be wielding it.”

Of course, Taibbi has his own way of getting his point across:

If you read All In carefully, the book’s tone will remind you of pretty much any other authorized bio of any major figure in business or politics (particularly in business), and it will most particularly remind you of almost any Time or Newsweek famous-statesperson profile.

Which means: it’s impossible to tell the difference between the tone of a reporter who we now know was literally sucking the dick of her subject and the tone of just about any other modern American reporter who is given access to a powerful person for a biography or feature-length profile.

The real scandal in the Petraeus episode isn’t that a would-be journalist was sleeping with her subject, it’s that lots and lots of other journalists are doing the same thing—metaphorically, anyway.

He ends the piece with a contrast between journalists of today and those of not that long ago. It is just sad:

Decades ago, when people like Sy Hersh were the go-to-profilers of influential people, journalists reflexively distrusted power, and any reporter, male or female, who wrote a blowjob profile (that’s what we call them) of a politician or tycoon was looked down upon as a hack and a traitor. But these days, you can’t tell the difference between your average profile of a Senator or CEO or a four-star general and an ESPN feature about a day in the life of Lebron James. We’re supposed to make heroes out of sports stars, but what’s everyone else’s excuse? At least Broadwell did it for love. Well, maybe it wasn’t even that…

What’s happened to us?

Warren Buffett Still an Asshole

Warren BuffettWe have very low expectations of the rich. If they aren’t complete assholes, we heap praise on them like they were curing lepers in Calcutta. Take Warren Buffett, for instance. Liberals just love him because he thinks maybe he shouldn’t pay less income tax on his billions than his secretary pays. How fucking magnanimous! I’m sure if he had a beard and wore linen, people would form a religion around him. Certainly, if he were Catholic, they would have beatified him by now.

There are a couple of other things that Buffett has said that make him not a complete dick. He has at least some humility about his position, having noted that he’s been lucky to live in a place that allows him to make a lot of money at the one thing he seems to be good at. He is also in favor of the Estate Tax. But other than this, there isn’t much else to love about the man. For example, he isn’t in favor of a wealth tax that might chip away at this $50 billion net worth. And he is ultra-critical of inflation. In fact, moderate inflation is a good thing and is especially helpful to the young and in debt. It is only people who own for a living—people that are mostly bad for the economy—who hate inflation.

Then there is the issue of Warren Buffett’s secretary. He has noted that he should pay a higher tax rate than she does, because she only makes $60,000 per year. I find this salary offensive. Buffett’s secretary must have a very hard job. And Buffett could certainly afford to pay more. But he doesn’t, because he doesn’t have to. This reminds me of a doorman who was interviewed in Park Avenue. He said that he figured when he first started working at the building that he would get great holiday tips because the people who lived there had so much money. But the tips were exactly the same as they were at less affluent buildings because these rich fucktards knew what the going rate was and that was all they were going to pay. Ditto with Buffett.

The reason that Warren Buffett is on my mind today is that on Monday, Charlie Rose asked him if he thought that replacing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon would send a bad message. Buffett didn’t even seem to understand the question. He just started gushing about the evil Mr. Dimon, “I think he’d be terrific… If we did run into problems in markets, I think he’d actually be the best person you could have in the job.” Yeah, that’s just what we need, more foxes in charge of the hen house so they can keep handing out greater and greater numbers of hens to foxes milling around outside.

What do you give the man who has everything? You give him effusive praise—you tell that he isn’t just rich and powerful, he is also good. But not being as bad as other evil people doesn’t not make a man good. And Warren Buffett is not good. He’s just a little less vile than most of the men in his circle.

Old Ideas from Young Republicans

Reihan SalamLast night on Colbert Report, there was Reihan Salam explaining how the Republicans are going to win the hearts of the working class. And he had the book he wrote with Ross Douthat, Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream. Ah yes, the Grand New Party. The book is described as, “Two of the Right’s rising young thinkers call upon the GOP to focus on the interests and needs of working-class voters.” The basic idea is simple: the Republican Party should reinvent itself as the party of the working class and focus on making the base of the party the married heterosexual couple.

There is a fundamental problem here: this is already what the party claims to stand for. All Salam and Douthat are calling for is a continuation of the same except that Republicans should stop getting us into wars all the time. While I admit that this would be an improvement, I doubt that it would do much to make the Republican Party more appealing to working class Americans. This comes back to the issue I talk about over and over again: it’s the poor, stupid. The problem with the Republicans is not cosmetic nor is it focus. The American people didn’t vote for Obama while thinking, “You know, if it weren’t for Romney’s hateful rhetoric and terrible foreign policy, I’d vote for him!” The Republican economic policies are toxic.

But this doesn’t stop the mainstream media from going all gaga over young Republicans offering up a vision of a Republican Party that doesn’t seem quite so horrible. At The Daily Beast, Michael Moynihan writes about, The New Populism of the Right. In it, he offers up tired observations as though they were cutting edge:

That new generation has for the most part moved beyond battles over whether the top marginal tax rate should be 28 percent or 35 percent; rather, they want to reboot the way Republicans talk to—and think about—the 47 percent.

Notice: the new generation doesn’t want to fight over whether they should lower the top tax rate. But somehow they do not want to consider whether they should raise it, even though the Republicans will be forced to do exactly that. But most of all, they want to learn how to talk to the lowlife moochers who can’t be convinced to take responsibility for their own lives. And what would this talking entail?

Republican populist must explain to middle- and working-class voters that the system is stacked in favor of big corporations and the wealthy.

As cynical as I am, I have a hard time believing that these young Republicans don’t know that working class voters aren’t already well aware that the system is stacked against them. The Republicans don’t need to explain this. If they really want to get votes, they need to do something about it. As bad as the Democrats are, they are infinitely better than the Republicans. And this gets to the core interests of the Republican Party: if they want to win the working class vote, they need to change their allegiance to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. And if they did that, how exactly would they be any different from the modern Democratic Party?

What I find most interesting is that there is all this buzz about these young Republicans. Salam and Douthat did not just write Grand New Party. It was published in 2009, in response to Obama’s first win. And what effect did it have on the party generally? That was the year that the Grand Old Party because the Grand Older Party with the mobilization of the Tea Party: those social conservatives masquerading as economic conservatives. I’m sure over the coming years, we will see a similar trend in the GOP—regardless of what journalist at The Daily Beast think is cutting edge.

Why Republicans Hate Filibuster Reform

FilibusterFor a long time, my position on the filibuster is that we should do it to them before they do it to us. The main liberal argument against filibuster reform is that at some point (likely soon) the Democrats will be in the minority and thus will rue the day when they limited the use of it. This is typical liberal nonsense. It shows a complete lack of understanding about who exactly the Republicans are. Consider this:

If Romney had won and the Republicans had taken control of the Senate, on the first day of Congress, the Republicans would have completely eliminated the filibuster.

And as soon as it is to their political advantage, the Republicans will get rid of the filibuster. So Democrats gets nothing from leaving this damnable process in place. What’s more, I think that Harry Reid is making a big mistake by only reforming the filibuster. There are three primary reasons for this:

  1. The reforms won’t do that much to solve the problem of filibuster abuse.
  2. The Republicans are behaving exactly the same over these minor reforms as they would have over the elimination of the filibuster.
  3. The Republicans will use these reforms to justify eliminating the filibuster once it is to their political advantage to do so (even though they would have done it anyway).

Yesterday, Ezra Klein wrote an article, What Mitch McConnell Fears, where he provides three reasons that the Senate Republican leader is against these minor reforms. These three reasons come from “Senate staff,” so we know they are largely bullshit. All three of the reasons are that the reforms will make it a lot harder for the minority party to stop legislation. Instead of just dictating that all the work of the Senate must stop, the minority will actually have to work to stop legislation. I think this is correct: the reforms will do some good and will certainly stop McConnell from blocking every judicial nominee who comes along. But I don’t accept that this is really what’s behind the Republican freak out regarding filibuster reform.

McConnell and company are against filibuster reform for the same reason that they have abused the filibuster so much in the first place: they are against anything that the Democrats propose. And, as I have argued in the past, the reason is that the modern Republican Party does not have an ideology as we normally think of it. They are an authoritarian group which exists only to perpetuate itself. Their core belief is that they should have power. (Note that this is one of the main reasons they are so incompetent at governing: they have no interest in it; to them it is about getting to govern, not the actual governing.)

I think it is a big mistake to assume that Republicans at the federal level are interested in anything other than the next election. Regardless of how successful Reid’s minor filibuster reforms are, they will demonstrate that the Democrats in the Senate are not impotent. They can and do make changes that improve the government. This is bad for a party that depends upon voters thinking that the government is useless.

Afterword

The idea that the Senate needs the filibuster so that the minority will have rights is ridiculous. Because of gerrymandering, even that most democratic of institutions, the House, is undemocratic. Without the filibuster, the Senate is not only hugely tilted toward the minority, it is tilted toward the conservative minority because of the way that bright red low population states get equal representation to blue high population states. We really could use a bit more democracy in our democracy.

Angus T. What’s the Beef?

Angus T. What's the Beef?Stop the goddamn presses! Angus T. Jones of Two and a Half Men: My show is “filth”

Please people! Cut the kid a break. Remember the stupid shit you believed and shared out loud when you were 19? Youthful exuberance aside, Angus is new to self-righteous Christian zealotry. Hopefully he’ll grow out of it before he becomes a total dogmatic douche.

I have to admit though, I do agree with him — although for very different reasons — that television is generally bad for you. It’s like Happy Meals: you won’t starve eating them all the time, but those empty calories will kill you in the end.

Taylor Swift, Super Genius

Taylor Swift, Super GeniusTaylor Swift is amazing. She’s a tall, slender blonde with a face that can sell beauty products. She is also — if aggressive marketing is to be believed — a gifted singer, a profound songwriter, and an intermediate guitar player. At the tender age of twenty-one, she is more than just fair game for men who haven’t utterly surrendered to their inner pedophile; Taylor is also smart. This astonishingly astute observation says it all:

“I have so much to learn about life. I know nothing
compared to what I’m going to know someday.”

If only God had blessed me with such a wondrous child, oh the conversations we could have had!

The Comedy of Theodicy

That Mitchell and Webb LookThat Mitchell and Webb Look is a favorite of mine. I don’t think there has ever been better sketch comedy. What’s more, their social satire is very incisive.

I noticed this last night when I happened upon their version of the Abraham and Isaac story from Genesis. What I think I missed the first time I saw it is how it spoofs what is one of the most sophisticated apologia for Christianity. In the skit, God says, “You would say… If you thought I was asking you to do something that was, you know, wrong.” To which Abraham replies, “If I thought it was wrong? Like I’d know! Like I have any chance of forming an independent basis of right and wrong outside the instructions of some supervisory being.”

This is a straight lampoon of the standard theodicy: we don’t have to explain the existence of evil because anything that God does is by definition good. This is just a more involved version of, “God works in mysterious ways.” The reasonable rebuttal to this is that if God’s ways are so inscrutable, why is he worth worshiping. Indeed, this gets to the contraction of Christian faith: we should worship God because he is the only basis for morality but then we don’t hold him to any moral standard that we can understand.

Of course, aside from the question of evil, this skit is funny as hell: