In Which Matt Taibbi Is a Prude

Matt TaibbiI have tried my best to avoid coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal, but I made the mistake of clicking on a link to a Matt Taibbi article that I thought might give an interesting perspective as he often does, Electing Anthony Weiner Isn’t as Funny as it Sounds. It was really disappointing—surprisingly hand wringing, middle America, Villager outrage.

According to Taibbi, the Weiner scandal isn’t just about sexting. He says of Weiner, “This married politician sent unsolicited pictures of his penis to female strangers on the Internet!” Now I couldn’t care any less than I already do about the fact that he was married and despite what Taibbi claims about not wanting to sound like a prude, the fact that he italicized the word “married” does in fact make him a prude. But if Weiner sent unsolicited pictures to these women, that’s a whole other story. It does, as Taibbi points out, make Weiner a “a 21st-century flasher who used the U.S. Congress as a raincoat.” If that’s true of Weiner, he really needs to get some help and the decade that Taibbi suggests sounds about right.

The problem is that I had never heard anything about this. Admittedly, I’ve done my best to avoid learning about this case. But I would have thought that Weiner forcing himself on disinterested women would have stood out. So I read the whole Wikipedia page on the scandal and a number of referenced articles. And I found nothing. All I can think is that what Taibbi means by “unsolicited” is that the women didn’t send him explicit messages, “Please send me a picture of your crotch ASAP!”

Let me be clear, I find what I know Weiner has done creepy in the way I find most human sexuality creepy. But I don’t find it offensive. And I would find it very offensive if Weiner was texting to women about Republican obstruction in the House and suddenly sent a picture of his dick. That would show a shocking lack of socialization—although many if not most men do lack such socialization.

The rest of Taibbi’s article is just repeated attempts to make a joke out of the Weiner scandal. He does this, despite the fact that the whole idea of his article is that it is no joke. He says, for example, “I’m not saying the guy can’t have a career after what happened, but his options should be pretty limited—a rodeo clown, maybe, or one of those guys who hands out fliers for strip clubs in Times Square.” That’s a funny way to put it—but really?! Rapists have far more career opportunities than that. Taibbi’s statement is indicative that he has not succeeded in keeping this scandal in perspective.

He makes one good point. “But Mayor of New York City? I know the bar was set pretty low when Mike Bloomberg bought the office outright in 2001…” Exactly! That’s what’s really wrong with our political system. It isn’t that narcissists get elected. But then he blows it by adding, “But we can’t have sunk this far.” So the logic here is that government by, for, and of the rich is a-okay. What’s more, I’m sure those rich people are just as narcissistic—just in different ways. But a known narcissist is not okay.

Matt Taibbi is usually much better than this. I guess he thinks that he’s pushing back at all of the media snickering going on. The problem here is that I haven’t noticed much snickering. There’s been a lot schadenfreude, of course. Mostly, however, the coverage has been the same kind of prudish outrage that Taibbi is peddling. But I feel certain that soon the old Taibbi will be back and Weiner, at least for a while, will be gone.

Afterword

I haven’t researched it, but my assumption is simply that Matt Taibbi doesn’t like Anthony Weiner. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Whenever I see his face, I feel the urge to slap it. But that shouldn’t get in the way of covering the scandal.

Comedy, Politics and Norman Lear

Norman LearOn this day in 1667, one of the great Bernoullis and teacher of Euler, Johann Bernoulli was born. Neoclassic and Romantic painter Joseph Anton Koch was born in 1768. He’s an important painter, but I don’t care much for his work. Italian composer Mauro Giuliani was born in 1781. During his lifetime, he was known as a guitar virtuoso, so many of his compositions were for guitar. Here is the Rondo is from his Opus 71:

Spanish composer Enrique Granados was born in 1867. He was a great composer—well worth checking out if you have an appreciation—as do I—for modern composition that has a strong melodic content. I usually associate this with the French with composers like Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc. So it is nice to listen to this kind of thing with a Spanish flair. What’s more, Granados tried explicitly to create a Spanish style. This is very much the case in the following piece from his Danzas Españolas:

French writer Julien Gracq was born in 1910. Also that year, actor Fern Persons was born. She only died last year at this time and was working well into her 90s. One of my favorite character actors, Keenan Wynn was born in 1916. Here he is in one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, “A World of His Own”:

Critic Vincent Canby and composer Otar Taktakishvili were both born in 1924. Postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard was born in 1929. And game designer Gary Gygax was born in 1938.

Comedian Jerry Van Dyke is 82 today. And quite a fine comedic director Betty Thomas is 65. She is apparently not retiring.

The day, however, belongs to the great writer and producer Norman Lear is 91 today. He almost defined the 1970s in terms of situation comedies, having created or developed All in the Family, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Maude. In a sense, he invented the modern situation comedy. Certainly a show like Modern Family owes its existence to Lear. Recently, I went back and watched the first season of All in the Family. It holds up remarkably well. Not only is the content still relevant, the humor isn’t dated. Here is a very good compilation of scenes from the show:

Happy birthday Norman Lear!

Democrats Continue to Screw Their Base

Obama NopeI’m proud of my “Fuck America Vote Republican!” bumper sticker. But I also agree with the statement “Fuck America Vote Democrat!” I wouldn’t display it, because it would give the wrong impression. The Democrats are not fucking America anywhere near as much as the Republicans are. What’s more, there is no major issue on which the Republican Party is not even worse than the Democratic Party. But it is still important to call the Democrats on their bullshit. And that was clearly on display this week with the Amash-Conyers amendment to defund the NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records.

Remember when Obama wanted to “facilitate a public dialogue” on the government’s various surveillance programs? Glenn Greenwald helpfully translated Obama’s statement, “We welcome the debate that has been exclusively enabled by that vile traitor [Edward Snowden], the same debate we’ve spent years trying to prevent with rampant abuse of our secrecy powers that has kept even the most basic facts about our spying activities concealed from the American people.” But that was then. Now that we have an opportunity to deal with policy, we see what kind of debate the administration wants: a secret one.

Greenwald explained:

The White House then condemned Amash/Conyers this way: “This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.” What a multi-level masterpiece of Orwellian political deceit that sentence is. The highly surgical Amash/Conyers amendment – which would eliminate a single, specific NSA program of indiscriminate domestic spying – is a “blunt approach”, but the Obama NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of all Americans’ telephone records is not a “blunt approach”. Even worse: Amash/Conyers – a House bill debated in public and then voted on in public – is not an “open or deliberative process”, as opposed to the Obama administration’s secret spying activities and the secret court that blesses its secret interpretations of law, which is “open and deliberative”. That anyone can write a statement like the one that came from the Obama White House without dying of shame, or giggles, is impressive.

It would be one thing if it were just the administration. It seems that someone cannot become president without turning into a privacy destroying war monger. But the whole of the Democratic leadership followed along. Justin Raimondo at AntiWar.com wrote, The Battle for the Amash Amendment: Victory in Defeat. He noted that Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to the Amash-Conyers amendment likely caused it to fail. This is especially interesting given that she “represents a district that will no doubt one day name a street after Snowden.”

As much as I may hate the Republican Party for standing against what the nation (and very often their own constituencies) want, at least they do what their base supporters want. That isn’t true of the Democratic Party. There is no question that Pelosi would have at least publicly supported this amendment had a Republican been in the White House. (In private, she’s been pretty consistent in her authoritarianism.) And that speaks volumes about the Democratic Party: it can’t be depended upon to stand up for what its base believes in.

Pathetic GOP Jobs Plan

Fuck America: Vote Republican!

Reed Richardson had a great catch last week. He wrote, “To be fair, the House GOP’s website also has a whole button solely devoted to its jobs plan, which entices you to click it with a promise of ‘Get all the details here.’ That’s true, if by ‘details’ you mean one sentence each of talking points on 10 empty policy platitudes…” So I decided to take a look.

Energy Independence: An “all of the above” approach that expands American energy production will help create jobs, boost manufacturing, and make energy more affordable.

This isn’t a platitude so much as a disingenuous statement. An “all of the above” approach is not a bad idea. The government should be investing heavily in renewable energy. But that’s not what the GOP is calling for. What they want is reduced regulation and tax incentives that will allow the exploitation of known carbon based energy sources. In addition to the problem with global warming, this approach will not do much to create jobs. As Richardson noted, the State Department has determined that the Keystone XL pipeline will create a total of 35 permanent jobs. That begs us to ask the question, “Why is this pipeline being pushed so hard by conservatives?” The answer is the same as always: there are huge profits to be made by companies that are already sitting on huge piles of cash.

Lowering Health Care Costs & Bolstering Research: Repealing ObamaCare, enacting patient-centered reforms, and eliminating wasteful government spending so we can focus on disease and disorder research will improve care, and bring down the costs that strain families and make it harder for small businesses to hire.

There is absolutely no evidence that Obamacare is causing companies to limit hiring and the greater number of people getting healthcare will increase the number of jobs in that field. Remember, Republicans don’t dislike Obamacare because of the individual mandate; they dislike it because it raised taxes on the rich. The rest of this is just a series of meaningless platitudes, but there is a fair amount of disingenuousness as well. For example, somehow reducing government spending is going to cause a greater research focus on disease. If history is any indication, they mean ever more innovative drugs for erectile dysfunction.

Expanding Education Opportunity: Reforming federal education policies to empower parents with choice and equal opportunity to seek great teachers and schools, and improve access to college and training, will better prepare students for tomorrow’s job market.

By “equal opportunity” they mean give all parents a set amount of money for their child’s education. That way the rich won’t have to pay as much for their private educations and the poor will only be able to afford the worst educations. Equality of opportunity!

Simplifying the Tax Code: A simpler, flatter tax code without all the loopholes will be fairer for everyone, bring jobs home, and help make American innovators and manufacturers more competitive.

This is something I talk about with conservatives a lot. They like the idea of a flat tax and getting rid of loopholes. But they change their tunes when they get a little information. One of those loopholes is a huge one for the middle class: the mortgage interest deduction. A flatter tax code means one where the rich play less. Whenever conservatives talk about “simplifying” the tax code, what they mean is raising your taxes and lowering the taxes of the rich. That’s a given. If they really want a flatter tax code, why don’t they start with the payroll tax? It is highly regressive. But no; they want to flatten the only tax in all of the United States that is reasonably progressive. Also note that when all taxes are taken into account, our system is barely progressive, and as incomes get very high, the system becomes regressive.

Controlling Spending: Stopping wasteful spending, strengthening priorities like Medicare, and replacing the president’s sequester with smarter cuts and reforms that help us balance the budget—just like families do—will help pay down our debt and preserve the American Dream.

This is not a platitude. This is simply a prescription for recession. This is exactly the opposite of a job creation plan. And the statement that we should balance the budget “just like families do” is totally wrong. This is conservative propaganda that the GOP knows is wrong. It’s shameful. (And note “the president’s sequester.” Yeah. That’s what the president wanted. It had nothing to do with the Republican Debt Ceiling threat.)

Fostering Innovation: Keeping the Internet free from government regulation, stopping cyber-attacks while protecting our privacy, and modernizing our laws will help promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

Platitudes, platitudes, platitudes! Anytime someone tells you they want to protect you and your privacy (as does Obama all the time regarding the NSA), you know they are lying to you. As for modernizing our laws, that could mean patent reform, which would be a good thing. But I have zero confidence in the GOP actually doing that even if they are suggesting it.

Reforming Immigration & Border Security: Securing our borders, enforcing our laws, and making the process of becoming a legal immigrant fairer and more efficient will help America remain a magnet for the brightest minds and hardest workers.

Here is another supply side approach to the economy. The idea is that by allowing businesses to get lower paid workers from abroad, they will make more money. But what will this lead to? More hiring of lower paid workers from abroad? There is, of course, no mention of a path to citizenship, even though that would improve the economy and reduce the federal debt. Of course, as seen above, the GOP doesn’t care about federal debt, just federal spending.

Reining in Red Tape: Removing artificial government barriers and red tape will preserve and strengthen Americans’ ability to build, grow, and compete with anyone.

This is Republican boilerplate. But it is also exactly the opposite of what we should be doing right now. Businesses are sitting on piles of cash. Now is the perfect time to force them to clean up. It wouldn’t hurt normal business investment and it would create jobs.

Expanding Markets for Manufacturers & Small Businesses: Opening new markets for American-made goods will help lower prices for consumers, create better, higher-paying jobs for workers, and attract new investments in the United States.

I assume this is a plea for more and more supposed free trade agreements. These really don’t do much in terms of creating jobs. What they do do is increase profits so that America’s corporations can have even bigger piles of money to sit on.

Stopping Waste & Fixing Broken Government: Responsible oversight of government operations will help remove obstacles to growth and ensure accountability for taxpayers.

More platitudes. But even more important, this point is exactly the same as “Reining in Red Tape.” And that’s true of most of this list. The GOP can’t manage to come up with any good ideas to promote the economy and job growth. But given that, they can’t even come up with ten independent ideas. It is pathetic when you consider that there are actual free market ideas that they could have included. But they aren’t interested in the free market. They entire raison d’etre is to help those who are already successful keep and expand their wealth.

From all of this, you can see why the Republican Party needs its own media sources. Anyone outside the true believer bubble can easily see that all the Republican rhetoric about freedom and “level playing fields” means nothing when it comes to actual policies.