Obama and Buono and Christie

Obama NopeI just thought of something while reading Patricia Murphy’s excellent article, Why National Democrats Rolled Over for Chris Christie. As I’ve complained about before, President Obama did not endorse Barbara Buono in the New Jersey’s governor’s race. I’ve heard it said that Obama did that as a kind of payback for Christie’s behavior during Hurricane Sandy right before the 2012 presidential election. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the thing. Christie quite pointedly said at that time that Romney has his man and that he still thought that Romney was the better man for the job than Obama. So why is it that Obama didn’t endorse Buono? Not doing so says that he doesn’t have a preference. Or not much of one. And that may be! Christie’s economic conservatism and social moderation may be exactly what Obama thinks.

I know: the standard line is that Obama is a real liberal but the Republicans just won’t allow him to govern that way. He’s against taking money away from the old and food away from the poor. It is just all those nefarious advances and pools that stop him from doing what he thinks is right! But I really question that narrative. In fact, I know it’s not true. It isn’t that Obama is secretly conservative. I don’t really know. But he definitely leans conservative on economic issues and is too spineless to lead on liberal social issues. This is a man who would have felt right at home in Reagan’s cabinet. And, I mean, that man was forced into supporting same sex marriage by that liberal firebrand Joe Biden!

So it is telling that Obama couldn’t even bother to endorse Buono. She is hardly a liberal firebrand herself. But it could be that Obama finds himself exactly halfway between her and the extremist conservative policies of Christie. Or it could be that he is just a political amateur who somehow thinks he owes Christie something. Or it could be that Obama doesn’t now and never has given half a shit about the Democratic Party outside of his own legacy. Or it could be some combination of all three.

Regardless of the reason, Obama’s lack of a Buono endorsement is unforgivable. And the funny thing is that he seems to do all of his work to shore up his reputation as a bipartisan leader who is the “adult in the room.” He wants people to look back on him like they now look back on Clinton and Reagan. But it ain’t gonna happen. People look back fondly on those presidents because the economies were really good when they left office. When Obama leaves office the economy will at best be continuing to struggle ahead. When most people look back on him, they will think, “Meh.” When people like me look back on him, we will think of him as a guy who talked pretty but wasn’t nearly as liberal as he claimed. We will regret the great opportunity cost of his presidency. And we will despise him for not giving a shit about the party that he ostensibly led.

Venezuela Is Still Doing Fine

Venezuela FlagI am fascinated with the media coverage of Venezuela. I discussed it about a week ago when talking about the new Slate feature, If It Happened There… The idea of it is to report news about America as we would report it if it were happening elsewhere. The problem is that it matters very much where that elsewhere is. Is it Israel where it doesn’t matter what they do, it’s totally great? Or is it Venezuela where it doesn’t matter what they do, it’s totally awful?

Most of the recent coverage of Venezuela is like the article in Business Insider, A Few Bizarre Anecdotes That Show Venezuela Is at the Edge of a Dangerous Precipice. Things are going terribly wrong in Venezuela because for most reporters in America, something is always going terribly wrong in Venezuela. They will wait a hundred years if necessary so that they can finally say, “Told you!”

But the last year really has been bad for Venezuela. During that time, the cost of living went up 49%. But this doesn’t mean that hyperinflation is on the way. The Venezuelan government has things in order. (Amusingly, the Business Insider article claimed, “It can’t be stressed enough—[Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro] is no Chavez.” As if the website was a champion of Chavez!) Mark Weisbrot explains the situation:

What really drove inflation up, beginning a year ago, was a cut in the supply of dollars to the foreign exchange market. These were reduced by half in October of 2012 and practically eliminated in February. This meant more importers had to purchase increasingly expensive dollars on the black market. This is where the burst of inflation came from. The devaluation in February also contributed something to inflation, but probably not that much.

But here’s the thing: during this same period, poverty in Venezuela has been cut by 20%. This is in addition to drastic decreases in poverty over the last decade. So the inflation is not hurting poor people. Inflation tends to primarily hurt exactly the people who American media listen to: the rich.

Given the news on Venezuelan poverty is and has been good, what choice does the mainstream press of this country have? None at all! So they simply don’t report it. But if Venezuela were doing as bad a job on this issue as the United States, you can be sure that it would get major coverage. Here’s a graph of our poverty rate:

United State Poverty Rates

Notice how its been pretty much increasing over the last 40 years thanks to Republicans and New Democrats. Compare it to Venezuea:

Venezuela Poverty Rates

That’s the difference between the “beyond the pale” radicals in Venezuela and the Very Serious establishment types in the United States. When the status quo is wrong, the sober managers are evil.

Fear Mongering at Wonk Blog

Sarah KliffThis doesn’t help. Over on Wonk Blog, Sarah Kliff caught my attention with the headline, Uh-oh: Techies Are Finding New Problems With HealthCare.gov. But there was exactly nothing of importance in the 200 word article. And what is the big news? The team located problems further down the user experience path.

Kliff claims that “they didn’t know about” these new problems. Well, yeah. When they started on the project they didn’t know about the vast majority of problems. The hard part of fixing computer code is not the actual fixing; it is the finding. I’m sure that the people working on HealthCare.gov suspected that they would run into problems further into the process. I’m sure that when they estimated completing the fix by the end of the month they weren’t basing that on fixing just the problems they were currently working on.

What is going on is actually good news. As the developers are fixing problems with the website, they are allowing users to get further into the process. This, in turn, is allowing them to run up against problems further in. In other words: the website is becoming more usable. New problems have become apparent. Now the developers are working on these newly found problems.

This is all about framing. The Wonk Blog article could have been headlined, “Progress Made on HealthCare.gov as Developers Move to Previously Hidden Bugs.” But I guess the scare headline generates more clicks. I’ve watched as Wonk Blog has tried to burnish its nonpartisan credibility by hammering away at the healthcare website. But this one is just a cheap shot. Although new problems have been found, the developers claim that it does not change their timeline.

Sarah Kliff can “uh-oh” all she likes. But the fact is that finding bugs is what the developers are there to do. If they weren’t still finding problems it would either mean that the problems were overblown or the developers weren’t doing their jobs. And we know the problems weren’t overblown.

Chris Christie Is an Exemplar of Something

John NicholsNo one knows Wisconsin like John Nichols, so when I got a tweet from him, I clicked over, The Scott Walker Effect: Helping Democrats Win and Republicans Lose. It has a lot of fun details about the big rally that Walker did with Ken Cuccinelli that only managed to attract about 150 supporters. That was the weekend before the election! But it isn’t exactly news. Republicans tend to have difficulty getting people to their events because so few people actually like them. They would be better off holding events at abortion clinic protests and corporate boardrooms; that’s where their supporters will be found.

What most struck me in the article was this sentence, “Walker was not invited for a final weekend surrogate swing in New Jersey to campaign for Republican Governor Chris Christie.” That’s not surprising; Scott Walker is not popular anywhere, and certainly not in New Jersey. But the thing is, there is no real difference between Walker and Christie on policy. What’s there is around the edges. For example, Walker is a climate change denier. Christie is not. But Christie’s affirmation of climate change has been so weak as to be useless.

The main thing is that when it comes to workers and their rights, there is no daylight between Walker and Christie. All that nonsense of Christie yelling at teachers is not just about him being an asshole to people generally. He hates teachers because, like pretty much any conservative anywhere in this country, he hates teachers unions. It can’t be said enough: the only difference between the Republicans who are supposedly beyond the pale and those who are “mainstream” is how they talk and not what they think. If Christie could, he would destroy all unions, but he’s smart enough to know you don’t say such things.

Nichols wrote another article yesterday, Don’t Get Too Excited About Christie’s Politics of Style, Not Substance. It follows along with what I’ve been saying. The people of New Jersey don’t agree with Christie on much of anything. And that was highlighted Tuesday when the people voted in the same numbers for a new minimum wage law that Christie was very much opposed to. But I’m not sure that the issue with Christie is his great style. It is more that a narrative has been accepted about him that he is one of those reasonable Republicans who was there during Hurricane Sandy and so he ought to be rewarded.

Regardless, Nichols is right on about how Christie’s “style” (such as it is) will play outside the Goodfellas state. In reference to all the media personalities who are swooning over Christie, he writes, “Just do what Chris Christie says and talk about Chris Christie—at least until his ridiculous reach for the Republican presidential nomination crashes and burns after he yells at the first teacher in Iowa.” Of course, that may not happen. I’m sure there will be many advisers around Christie for the next couple of years trying to mold him into a presentable candidate. But I don’t see how he does this while maintaining his claim to being a “tell it like it is” politician.

I don’t actually care about Christie as a politician. I fully expect him to self-immolate long before he becomes president. But I’m very interested in Christie as exemplar of the “reasonable” or bipartisan Republican. There isn’t anything reasonable or bipartisan about him. What he is instead is a corrupt politician who does very well in a corrupt political system. Richard Daley was really good at that same thing. But reporters were smart enough to never call him “reasonable” or bipartisan. And the voters were smart enough to never call him president. I think the voters are still that smart.

Fun With Penises and Inspiration Posters

Ink PenFor whatever reason, I am feeling very lazy today. So I was trolling around FARK looking for anything that would relieve my boredom. And I came upon an interesting headline for an NPR story, “Despite the Rise of Electronic Keyboards, the Penis Still Popular Among Aficionados.” Now maybe you are quicker than I am. Actually, it’s almost certain you are. I consider myself a pretty good thinker, but my I/O chip is very bad and I’m often the last person to get something like this. All I could think is that both keyboards and dildos (in the shape of penises) are both made of plastics or rubber or something. It also occurred to me that “penis” was the name of some kind of input device. You know, like a joystick.

So I clicked over. I had to know. I already feel bad about not knowing anyone who who shows up on TMZ. If a penis is a new technology, I wanted to know! It turns out that the penis is not a new technology. Actually, the story was one that I’m very interested in. You see, FARK wrote “penis” when they meant “pen is.” (Or many not; the people at FARK are a bunch of devils!) It was about the fact that people don’t use many pens anymore, but there are still freaks like me who love them. It made me think of Edward Bulwer-Lytton and how maybe he meant, “The penis mightier than the sword.” This is not true, of course. Just ask John and Lorena Bobbitt. (Oh my God! I just saw a picture of “it”; I don’t deal well with that kind of stuff.)

Moving on, I was led to a great article at Buzz Feed, 14 Motivational Posters That Inspire No One. They are mostly very common posters, but the snarky comments are great. I highly recommend clicking over because I laughed a whole bunch. Here is my favorite:

You Are Beautiful

Under this image, the writer offered, “…but I am just a pole, so don’t place too much value on my opinion.” It’s not the funniest by a long shot, but it is a very important perspective on sign admonitions.

That article led me to another, 17 Really Awful “Keep Calm” Things. These are based on the famous WWII British signs, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Apparently, over in England they love to play with the saying. Unfortunately, they are all just pathetic. Except this one that I know Andrea will like:

Keep Calm and Carrion

A long time ago, Andrea created a cartoon with a vulture dragging a dead deer to an airport boarding gate. The flight attendant at the gate said, “I’m sorry sir, no carrion.” See what I have to put up with?

The Singer and the Physicists

Joni MitchellTwo of the greatest female physicists of the 20th century were born on this day. First up, Marie Curie was born in 1867. She is known for the discovery of both polonium and radium. I’m sure you know all about her. Second up, Lise Meitner was born in 1878. She was one of the people responsible for the discovery of nuclear fission. Like Rosalind Franklin, she is one of the great examples of the sexism of the Nobel Prize committee. Curie probably wouldn’t have got one if she had been working alone.

Russian revolutionary and thinker Leon Trotsky was born in 1879. Was he a great guy? I wouldn’t say that. But we hold him in high esteem because he was the anti-Stalin. He’s most notable for being against Stalin’s non-aggression pact with Hitler. That was the last straw for most of the leftists who were still holding positive opinions about the Soviet Union. And then, of course, Stalin had Trotsky murdered.

Herman J. Mankiewicz was born in 1897. He was a major screenwriting hack in the 1930s and 1940s. But he is best known for co-writing Citizen Kane. In fact, he got an Academy Award for writing it—the only one the film received. That’s typical. All That Jazz lost to Kramer vs. Kramer. Pulp Fiction lost to Forrest Gump. Whatever.

Other birthdays: Baroque painter Francisco Zurbaran (1598); cartographer James Cook (1728); railroad builder Thomas Brassey (1805); philosopher Albert Camus (1913); nefarious Christer Billy Graham (95); trumpet player Al Hirt (1922); and pundit Lawrence O’Donnell (62).

The day, however, belongs to Joni Mitchell who is 70 today. She is an amazingly great singer and songwriter. I never tire of her. Here is one of her album Court and Spark:

Happy birthday Joni Mitchell!