Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Reading

Out-Trumping Trump — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on the rest of the GOP candidates’ attempts to be heard over the din of Donald.

It’s hard enough to be heard in a crowded room without having to compete with a man who ended the week in Laredo, Texas, so that he could inspect the border, professing, “They say it’s a great danger, but I have to do it.” (He added that, once he is elected, “the Hispanics” are “going to love Trump.”) It’s harder still when you’re trying not to offend his supporters. After Trump insulted Mexicans last month, Bush said that he was personally offended, but others were more cautious. Christie commented that although some of Trump’s remarks may be “inappropriate,” he is “a good guy.” Cruz said, “I think he speaks the truth.” But if Trump weren’t around would the other Republicans behave that much more responsibly?

There is a serious discussion to be had over the Iran deal, yet the G.O.P. contenders seem willing to shatter years of diplomacy in the name of grandstanding. Cruz announced that “the Obama Administration will become the leading financier of terrorism against America in the world,” and Graham thought that the deal looked like “a death sentence for the State of Israel.” Rubio, in a Trump-like move, said that Obama lacked “class.” Bush and Walker got into a fight about whether they’d renounce the deal and start planning military strikes on Inauguration Day or wait until the first Cabinet meeting. Saying it’s Trump who’s wrecking the Republican Party ignores the ways that he embodies it.

Trump is not going to be elected, but he is intent enough on staying in the race to have filed financial-disclosure paperwork with the F.E.C.—a step that many observers thought he would stop short of—and he promptly put out a press release stating his worth at “ten billion dollars.” (Forbes estimates four billion; the biggest discrepancy comes from Trump’s assertion that his name alone is worth three billion.) In this election, the post-Citizens United financing mechanisms have fully matured, effectively removing the limits and the disclosure requirements for individual donations to campaigns. The money may have to be laundered through a super PAC, but that is just a formality. This distorts the process in both parties and might help explain the large assortment of candidates. Cruz may seem like a preening opportunist, unpopular among his colleagues, but, having attracted more than fifty million dollars in contributions, he is a credible candidate. The Times reported that a significant portion of his early money came from a single donor: Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund executive who is so private that one of the few traces of his personal life in the public record is a lawsuit that he brought against a toy company that installed a model train set in his home and, he felt, overcharged him—by two million dollars.

To mount a Presidential campaign these days, you need just two people: a candidate and a wealthy donor. Or, in Trump’s case, just one: he is his own billionaire. And he is the unadorned face of American politics.

Gun-Running — When it comes to loose gun laws, Gov. Bobby Jindal has led the way by making Louisiana the place to be.  And now he’s shocked and saddened when a mass shooting happens in his state. Zoë Carpenter at The Nation reports.

“We love us some guns,” Bobby Jindal once said of his fellow Louisianans. Two of them were killed, and nine others wounded, on Thursday night when a man walked into a movie theater in Lafayette, sat for a while, and then fired more than a dozen rounds from a .40 caliber handgun.

“We never imagined it would happen in Louisiana,” Jindal said afterward, though the state has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, more than twice the national average. Louisiana also has some of the laxest firearm regulations, for which Jindal bears much responsibility. During his eight years as governor he’s signed at least a dozen gun-related bills, most intended to weaken gun-safety regulation or expand access to firearms. One allowed people to take their guns to church; another, into restaurants that serve alcohol. He broadened Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground law, and made it a crime to publish the names of people with concealed carry permits. At the same time Jindal has pushed for cuts to mental health services.

Jindal treats guns not as weapons but political props. On the presidential campaign trail he’s posed repeatedly for photos cradling a firearm in his arms. “My kind of campaign stop,” he tweeted earlier this month from an armory in Iowa. After the Charleston massacre, he called President Obama’s mild comments about gun violence “completely shameful.” The correct response then, according to Jindal, was “hugging these families,” and “praying for these families.”

On Thursday night Jindal hurried from Baton Rouge to the parking lot of the theater in Lafayette and again called for prayer. “Now is not the time,” he said when a reporter asked about gun control. It is the time, he said later, to send the victims “your thoughts, your prayers, your love.” Meanwhile, Jindal’s campaign staff were reportedly contacting people commenting on Twitter about Louisiana’s gun violence problem and telling them to “put politics aside.”

“When it comes to the Second Amendment, no governor in the last four years has done more to protect our freedoms than Bobby Jindal,” an NRA official said of Jindal during his reelection campaign in 2011. Few have done as much on behalf of the NRA, certainly—and as little to protect their constituents.

Listen to the Laughter — What Barack Obama could have learned from watching Jon Stewart.  Sophia A. McClennen in Salon.

Much is being made of President Obama’s candid interview with Jon Stewart on one of the final episodes of his “Daily Show” tenure. It’s the end of an era for Obama too: He appeared as a guest seven times over the years.

While the revelations of the interview are interesting—Stewart continuing to press Obama on what he still has left to do, Obama chuckling that the GOP must love Trump because he “makes them look less crazy” – the last interview brings up one compelling question: What if Obama had actually watched the show more? Would he have learned more about the Republican mind? Would he have had a better grasp on the political challenges facing our nation, and his presidency?

Some will say that the president had better things to do with his time than watch a show on Comedy Central. Stewart, who loves to call himself just a comedian, might be one of them. That might make sense—except for the fact that his was no ordinary comedy show.

Stewart, like his colleague Stephen Colbert, had insight into U.S. politics Obama never seemed to understand.  “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were one of the main sources of truth telling about U.S. politics and the nature of the Republican Party before and during the Obama presidency. Their hosts were more trusted than most reporters, and their viewers were more knowledgeable about current events than those of cable news.

But most important, audience knowledge came from satire.  Stewart and Colbert not only exposed fallacies, flaws in logic, and misrepresentations spun by politicians and the media, but they also encouraged critical thinking.  They didn’t just report that Fox News lied: They gave viewers a glimpse into the twisted thinking, hubris, disdain for large segments of society, and closed-mindedness that forms the common, core mind-set of Fox viewers.

Long before Obama launched his presidential campaign, Colbert and Stewart were well aware that extremist Republicans who regularly consume Fox News live in an alternate reality world, where facts “come from the gut” and where it makes sense to blame misfortune on the misfortunate.  Most important, Stewart and Colbert were aware that Fox News Republicans are immune to the force of reason. In fact, as interview after interview revealed on both shows, they simply live in a fantasy world.

Now it may seem to be an over-generalization to suggest that Fox News Republicans create their own reality absent both facts and reason, but we have significant evidence that this is indeed a social epidemic. Chris Mooney cites polls, scientific data and other evidence of what he calls the “Fox News effect”—“explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle.”

Stewart knew Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed.  Back in 2011 he spoke with Fox News host Chris Wallace on media bias. Stewart commented: “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.” The problem with misinformed viewers is that they can’t be reasoned with because they already hold false beliefs.  As research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler explains, there is a vast difference between an uninformed public and a misinformed one. An uninformed public is ignorant and can be educated; a misinformed one is delusional—and that’s far more dangerous.

Doonesbury — The gift horse.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Poisoning The Cyanide Factory

Via C&L, Jon Stewart takes on the right wing.

We poisoned that brand. Just out of curiosity, let me ask you a question, and I mean this sincerely. How do you poison a cyanide factory? But see, the little game that they play here is, the only reason the right looks bad is that these guys are unfair liars to us.

For some reason, the clip won’t embed, but go watch it.

HT to CLW.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

He Got Their Attention

The news that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show later this year is sad; I’m sorry to see him go.  But he’s also making the choice to leave it while he’s still got the energy and wit to make it a graceful exit.

What I think makes his work different from a lot of other comedians and observers of our world is that he was able to get the attention of the people he was laughing at.  It got to the point that if someone was skewered by The Daily Show, they actually responded or, in some cases, even amended their ways.  That’s a whole other level beyond getting a mention in a David Letterman monologue.

The closest parallel I can think of in terms of theatre is the role of the Fool in Shakespeare’s plays such as King Lear: the one character who had no trouble speaking truth to power and doing it in such a way as to really drive home the point with humor and surgeon-like deftness.  We need these kinds of clowns — and I use that word in the best way — to bring down the powerful and remind them that they are just as flawed and powerless as everyone else.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Recent Unpleasantness

According to Andrew Napolitano at Fox News, the Civil War could have been avoided if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been such a bloodthirsty tightwad and tyrant.

“Slavery was dying a natural death all over the Western world. Instead of allowing it to die or helping it to die or even purchasing the slaves and then freeing them, which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost, Lincoln set about in the most murderous war in American history,” Napolitano said.

I guess the GOP isn’t the Party of Lincoln any more.

Over to you, Jon Stewart.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Welcome Back, Jon Stewart

He’s back and catching up on his e-mail.

After pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of the United States making an issue of another country using chemical weapons, Stewart showed several clips of pundits and Sen. Ted Cruz saying we’re going to look weak, and “that bullies and tyrants don’t respect weakness,” Stewart responded:

STEWART: Oh right! We have to bomb Syria because we’re in seventh grade! And the red line… the red line that they crossed is actually a dick-measuring ribbon.

Why does holding back look like weakness? Isn’t it maturity? It’s like when a guy’s picking on Clark Kent and he doesn’t do anything, even though he knows he could throw that guy into the sun.

I’ll tell you what would be real weakness, Clark Kent laying waste to a town because someone called him a pussy.

You know what else is weakness? Asking the advice of a plague of idiots who got the same issue completely wrong in Iraq — or as those people are known on cable… experts.

Video at the link.