The Simpsons

Your Quote of the Day

Eric Holder in Washington, D.C., 1 June 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

“To borrow a Homer Simpson line, it’s funny because it’s true.”

Steve Benen

It really is something of a mystery:

Remember, Senate Democrats could have tried to rush Lynch through the confirmation process during the lame-duck session late last year – before Dems lost their majority status – but Republicans implored Democrats not to. The power should rest with the incoming majority, GOP senators said.

The outgoing Democratic majority obliged, expecting Republicans to be at least somewhat responsible. After all, there were no substantive objections to Lynch and the GOP was desperate to see Holder go. Republicans had a built-in incentive to act reasonably.

And yet, here we are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his team have subjected Lynch to the longest delay of any A.G. nominee in history – for reasons they haven’t even tried to explain – and this week, McConnell even broke his word about bringing Lynch’s nomination to the floor for a vote this week.

The irony is under-appreciated: Republicans wanted Holder to step down, and he did. Republicans wanted Obama to nominate an uncontroversial successor, and he did. Republicans wanted Democrats not to vote on Lynch in the lame-duck session, and they obliged.

Months later, the Senate’s GOP majority can’t quite bring itself to do what Republicans say they want to do. In fact, as far as McConnell & Co. are concerned, they hope to defeat Lynch – again, for reasons they’ve struggled to articulate – raising the prospect of Republicans keeping Holder at his current post until January 2017.

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Benen, Steve. “Holder suddenly enjoys the GOP’s ‘love’ and ‘affection'”. msnbc. 18 March 2015.

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Florida, on Reality

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma to kick-off the grand opening of their new facility that hopes to create 60 new jobs by 2014 on February 21, 2013, in Miami, Florida.  Flordia Gov. Rick Scott reversed himself on February 20, 2013 and is now calling for an expansion of Medicaid to Flordia residents under the federal Affordable Care Act.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The thing about the “America’s Wang” joke is that Florida seems to revel in it:

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

(Korten)

Perhaps the only thing left to say is the obvious: When your only way to win the argument is to prohibit the other side from speaking, you’ve already lost.

But, hey, this is Florida, right? Why expect principle, decency, or reality to apply?

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Image note: MIAMI, FL – FEBRUARY 22: Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to the media during a visit to the Advanced Pharma to kick-off the grand opening of their new facility that hopes to create 60 new jobs by 2014 on February 21, 2013, in Miami, Florida. Flordia Gov. Rick Scott reversed himself on February 20, 2013 and is now calling for an expansion of Medicaid to Flordia residents under the federal Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Korten, Tristram. “In Florida, officials ban term ‘climate change'”. Miami Herald. 8 March 2015.

The Problem with Local News

Chyron for CBS 2 Los Angeles Inland Empire Reporter Crystal Cruz.

Sometimes we adore local news, and you can take the word “adore” in that derogatory context, so loathsome it’s adorable.

CBS Los Angeles, which is a local affiliate and not a crime drama spinoff, reported yesterday on an exclusive story about an auto service receipt that had already achieved viral status:

A man in Riverside who went to see an auto mechanic said he was personally offended by what was written on his receipt – and it wasn’t the price.

Customer Ruben Rodriguez said, “I saw the words ‘stupid’ and I just kind of was like, ‘What?’ And I read it and reread it.”

CBS2/KCAL9′s Crystal Cruz confirmed that scribbled at the bottom of the receipt was “customer to stupid to understand normal thinking.”

Rodriguez said it was written by George Fritts, the owner of George Fritts Auto repair in Riverside. He’s quick to point out a grammatical error: Fritts should have used “too” when he wrote “to stupid.”

“That is one of the issues that I pointed out when I went back into the store. And I don’t think he was too excited about that, but I did my best to help him out,” Rodriguez said.

It should be pointed out that even if the term is unfamiliar, we are witnessing a variant of Skitt’s Law, an internet axiom suggesting that pedantry will be subject to pedantry. You know, like writing “to” instead of “too” when denouncing another person’s stupidity.

Setting that aside, what makes the story adorable is CBS News “Inland Empire” reporter Crystal Cruz:

Yes, this rude receipt, sort of gone viral. The customer posted it on social media, has gotten a lot of mixed responses regarding this receipt. Tonight we’ll let you decide who’s in the right or the wrong.

Really? Who’s in the right or wrong? How is this actually a question? From a business perspective, we need not merely observe that the customer is always right; there is also the fact that this sort of thing chases off other customers. A more general perspective might wonder about advice on keeping oil clean; the first thought to mind is that we use oil filters for this purpose, but then perhaps it might be that the mechanic is just a poor salesman trying to con the customer into using some sort of additive. Given a chance to respond, the mechanic only said that he stands by his assessment, and offered no details toward what his advice about keeping oil clean actually was. In the end, there isn’t really a question about who is right or wrong. More than the receipt itself, CBS 2’s “exclusive” report is a waste of time, money, and human resources.CBS2 (Los Angeles) Inland Empire Reporter Crystal Cruz, 19 November 2014.

And this is why local news is adorable. Certes, cable news has myriad problems of its own, and print media looks more and more like its sorry electronic version, but local television news makes Kenny Brockelstein into a modern prophet and casts the abysmal midday talk shows offering homemaking tips for the housewife audience between soap opera reviews and teases media geniuses. CBS 2’s “exclusive” report is a genial presentation of style lacking any sense of journalism in general or reporting specifically.

Which, in turn, only highlights the importance of Australian anchor Karl Stefanovic’s bit with the blue suit. The problem here isn’t a matter of wardrobe or hairstyle, but, rather, what passes for reporting in the twenty-first century.

And that’s the problem with worrying about her hair or wardrobe; maybe we should start asking reporters to pay attention to their reporting.

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CBS 2. “Exclusive: Auto Mechanic Leaves Shocking Note On Customer’s Receipt”. CBSLA.com. 19 November 2014.

The Funky Fishscale Fog

Detail of 'La Pêche Miraculeuse', ca. 1610, by Peter Paul Rubens.

The fictional Jebediah Springfield famously explained, “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” In the modern day, wise men like Bill Maher question the vapidity of the word “spirit”. Either way, a transfusion seems out of the question:

So, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is blocking health care benefits for low-income families in order to help them “live the American dream” and Gov. Pence is curtailing food aid in order “ennoble” people.

How very gracious of them.

In theory, the “give someone a fish” adage sounds quite nice, and in a booming economy with low unemployment and broad job opportunities, we can have a credible conversation about work requirements and the safety net.

But Pence, like Walker, runs the risk of sounding horribly out of touch – their argument is predicated on the assumption that the economy is in great shape, and everyone who wants a job can easily get one. I suspect most of the American mainstream would offer a different assessment of economic conditions.

(Benen)

We might also note that while once upon a time perhaps it was possible to teach a man to fish, such that he could do the work properly and earn a living, in a day. In modern times, though, that isn’t quite so easy. That is to say, we can certainly test the thesis, but probably need not: Go out on the street and give a job to the first unemployed person you find.

The objections and complications are easily predictable.

Who says that person is qualified, for instance? Maybe she was a waitress before the restaurant closed to make room for the McDonald’s in the Walmart, or he was a janitor who cleaned the school restrooms before being laid off for budget cuts. In either case, though, you need a “people person” with strong reading, speaking, and interpersonal skills, and maybe, just maybe you can teach that person to solicit telephone survey responses and appropriately record the data in a day.

Or maybe not. Either way, that person is going to need to eat at some point during the day.

And, you know, in most markets you’re probably going to be paying that employee less than they need to continue living in order to do the work.

(more…)

The Dignity of the Great State of Texas (and Other Notes)

Texas

See, the thing about Texas ....

It is, actually, a difficult proposition to pick on a whole state. After all, no population is monolithic. Still, though, there is a reason why one might note, as Tim Murphy of Mother Jones did last week, that—

As a Texas state senator, Dan Patrick has conducted himself in a manner consistent with the shock jock he once was. Patrick—who is now the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor—has railed against everything from separation of church and state to Mexican coyotes who supposedly speak Urdu. He’s even advised his followers that God is speaking to them through Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson.

—and others will simply nod and mutter to themselves something about how that sounds right. Nor will those folks be surprised to find that the article only goes downhill from there.

And it is true that we see this over and over again, and while it is not some rarified view from an emerald tower to the far horizon, it is a difficult calculation to express just what it is they are doing wrong. Like art and obscenity, though, sometimes it is just plain apparent.

Whether it’s advocating violence against journalists, offering women money to abandon babies, tinkering with history in textbooks, trying to cram small government between women’s legs, showing his tolerance through intolerance, something about coyotes speaking Urdu, denigrating migrants, touting his own piety in order to be seen by other men, breaking Senate rules in order to try to force a bill through because, well, you know, God, mocking Asians, or arguing against the separation of church and state, there really isn’t anything about Murphy’s profile of the shoe-in to what is described as the most powerful office in Texas that doesn’t “sound Texas”.

One of the things about states’ rights is that in our democratic society, how our majority votes is one of the most apparent projections of what our society believes. It’s kind of like wondering what the Joni Ernst campaign means as an expression of Iowa values. Does any of this embarrass supporters?

And Texas? Come on, we saw Rick Perry in the 2012 primary. And it is still hard to explain the two presidential terms of George W. Bush. But for all the miserable disaster about Perry or Bush, or Ron “Legitimate Rape” Paul? Really? Does none of this embarrass the Texans who support these people?

Take Rep. Vance McAllister. The Republican from Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District is best known as the “kissing congressman”, and sure, it’s not the worst thing in the world for a member of Congress to be caught cheating on his wife. And some would make the point that, hey, it was just a kiss, you know? But what was really, really embarrassing about that episode, what seemed so unreal, was the back and forth about whether he would resign, or maybe simply not run for Congress again, and, well, now he actually trails the lone Democrat in a six-way race otherwise rated Safe Republican. Still, the only people annoyed by the controversy seem to be his opponents. And in truth, it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the context of Times-Picayune political reporter James Varney’s recent explanation of the race for LA5CD:

Is McAllister this bad? Does he actually have a chance of being re-elected?

Well, as for the first question, maybe not. He’s a veteran, for one thing. And he earned all that money through savvy personal business moves, for another. In addition, as his campaign stresses, he holds a bunch of excellent positions: he’s against amnesty; he thinks Obamacare is terrible.

So, taken all in all, McAllister is the sort of guy who could have kept his seat in Congress and a Robertson family duck blind forever if he could have simply resisted his married staffer.

Whether he has a chance or not is hard to determine. The Robertson clan, maintaining the Old Testament stance that jibes with their unshaven look, is backing and bankrolling a relative, Zach Dasher. Dasher, a political rookie, is also supported by outside groups like the Club for Growth.

It’s a crowded Republican field, too. The third candidate most people familiar with the field identify as a guy with a shot at the runoff is Ralph Abraham. Abraham holds both medical and veterinary degrees so he’s overqualified for the job. There isn’t a whole lot of daylight between the three men on the issues.

There’s also a Democrat in the race and, somewhat surprisingly, he’s reportedly got a shot at a spot in the runoff. There appears to be little reliable, objective polling data on the race. More than a month ago The News-Star in Monroe had McAllister leading the race with 27 percent followed by the Democrat, former Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo.

At some point, it seems as if we are reading a satire on Poe’s Law, which essentially asserts that at some point it becomes impossible to discern between satire or even parody to the one, and reality to the other. And when this sort of question was largely restricted to internet arguments about anything under the sun, it was whatever it was. As a particular notion was explained to me in 1995, “Remember, this is the internet. Any moron with a connection can have a soapbox.” To what degree the surfactant has permeated the social discourse is a complex question, of course, but there does come a point when it seems almost impossible to dismiss the simple fact of certain results. Dan Patrick and Rick Perry in Texas? Vance McAllister in Louisiana? “Fangate”, for heaven’s sake? Really, it sounds like a cruel joke, “America’s Wang”, except that, well, it’s Florida, so one nods and mutters, “Sounds about right.”

In the end, it’s not that we hate these people in these states, because we don’t. And we might hope that despite the general contempt they show the rest of American society they don’t actually hate us. But, damn it, what kind of friends, family, or neighbors would we be if we stood by, watching them denigrate and even hurt themselves, and simply say nothing?

Sometimes people embarrass themselves. And, yes, sometimes it’s really, really funny. But the point is to be able to look back on this, someday, and laugh. These aren’t storts of things we should be laughing at, though. The implications are serious. And when the history is written, and the damage is tallied, the indictments will be hideous. At this point, simply admitting there is a problem might be a generational process for some of these states.

And we can complain about the media all we want, but in the end, the only way to change it is to stop paying attention to what the stenographers journalists say. And in truth, not everybody is suited to read the news backwards, to start from the editorials and work back to the sources. Sometimes this proves fruitful, such as when one hears conservative commentators ranting about liberal judicial activism on the Supreme Court, and then finding the case they are talking about, and it turns out all the Court actually did was refuse to overturn the opinion of one of the most conservative state supreme courts in the nation.α To the one, however, it is a laborious process, and sometimes source documents can be hard to find. To the other, there are some people who simply do not seem to understand how government works. And those would be the sort who would complain about the Supreme Court imposing its will on the states, but then be unable to figure out that had Missouri not pushed its losing cause in front of the Supreme Court, it would have stayed in the states. In this case, though, Missouri really, wanted to execute someone, demanded the Supreme Court’s attention, got it, and then failed to make the case. And if you put the question to certain people—How did the Supreme Court impose its will by leaving a state supreme court decision to stand?—it seems somehow incompatible with whatever is going on in their minds to understand that had the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the outcome would have been the same. Strangely, the dissonance of the complaint against liberal judicial activism creates an argument whereby the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting and overturning a state supreme court is the only outcome that would not constitute an imposition of will.

No, really, think about it. The three potential outcomes of Roper: (1) SCOTUS refuses to hear appeal, state supreme court decision stands; (2) SCOTUS hears appeal, upholds state supreme court decision; (3) SCOTUS hears appeal, overturns state supreme court decision. By the complaint of liberal judicial activism against the second possibility above—the one that came about—the first is similarly indicted for arriving at the same result; the third, technically, remains a mystery, but in this context of imposing against the states, the outcome that sees SCOTUS reject the state supreme court becomes the only one that does not impose the federal judiciary’s will on the states. The difference is in what part of a state one is looking at. It was the Missouri judiciary that imposed its judgment against the will of the state’s executive branch. And since the U.S. Supreme Court did not impose its will against the state judiciary, it imposed its will against the state executive branch. If it seems like a complicated accommodation for the executive branch of Missouri having asked the Supreme Court of the United States to impose its will? Well, right. That’s the problem with the rhetoric we hear from cable news commentary. And, really, considering what we know or believe about the “average voter”, who the hell has time to figure all that out? About everything?

And while all of this might seem a long and winding road from seeking divine inspiration in Duck Dynasty, we might hope to illustrate a larger issue. American society is lowering the proverbial bar for this crowd. And everybody selling something has a reason to play along. Simplistic sensationalism draws a news audience, which attends to the money biasβ. Simplified issue dynamics make for an appearance of greater efficiency and potency for campaign operations. And the candidates themselves have fewer details and quandaries to manage. In truth, the only losers in such a marketplace are the consumers, i.e., voters.

Stupidity is both simple and spectacular.

So, yes. We look to the low end of the data set, to what is dragging down the averages, and this is what we see? Yeah, the question persists: Aren’t they even a little bit embarrassed by all this?

It would be reassuring to believe they are.

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α That decision would be Roper v. Simmons (2005), in which the Supreme Court declined to overturn the Supreme Court of Missouri. In this case, reading backwards from the editorial complaint about liberal judicial activism, we find the underlying accusation to be that the Supreme Court of Missouri is apparently too liberal and activist. And, frankly, if the Supreme Court of Missouri is too liberal and activist, one wonders what the threshold actually is.

β You know that phantom liberal media conspiracy we hear about from time to time? It has always been about money, and part of the appearance of disparity in coverage is that while both sides indeed have their clowns, not all clowns are equal. What is the other side’s version of a Ted Haggard or George Rekers? Or Sarah Palin? Or Bryan Fischer? Or Ted Cruz? Really, if one asked about the other side’s John Boehner, it would be historically inaccurate to point to Nancy Pelosi. And there are reasons for this, and no, not all of them are moral or ethical indictments of conservative politics; much of it is just the fact of accelerating societal transformation and the resulting destabilization of prevailing cultural standards. That is to say, while conservatism itself is not inherently evil, there are reasons why it has come to this. That, in turn, is a larger discussion of its own.

Murphy, Tim. “Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through ‘Duck Dynasty’ Is About to Be Texas’ Second-in-Command”. Mother Jones. 21 October 2014.

Bowman, Bridget. “Poll Shows McAllister Race Is Wide Open”. Roll Call. 7 October 2014.

Everett, Burgess. “The passion of the ‘kissing congressman'”. Politico. 20 October 2014.

Varney, James. “Is Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., a big, fat slob or just a cheater?” The Times-Picayune. 21 October 2014.

When Jon Met Krusty, and Said No

Jon Stewart

“They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house! I’m not made of stone!”

Krusty the Clown

Right. For those who need the update:

New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman managed to get media observers all hot and bothered yesterday when he splashed a pretty great scoop from behind the scenes at NBC News. As Sherman reports, when NBC News’ president Deborah Turness was pondering “Meet The Press'” transition from the David Gregory Era to its current Chuck Todd-issance, she briefly paused along the way to sound out “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart on whether he might want to take over as the “MTP’s” host. According to Sherman’s source, NBC News was richly baiting the lure: “They were ready to back the Brink’s truck up.”

http://www.snpp.com/episodes/8F24aObviously, this courtship was ultimately unconsummated. And for everyone involved, this is probably for the best. (For example, NBC News still has that Brink’s truck, which is nice.)

The person who really dodges a bullet here is Stewart himself, by not allowing this truck full of Peacock ducats to tempt him into taking a job that he’d not only really, truly hate having, but also would probably have damaged the legacy he’s built for himself as an outsider critic. There’s something genuinely Faustian about this attempted assignation: How much money would it take to convince a man to become the thing he’s always despised? In this case, the answer would appear to be “more than you can put in one armored car.”

(Linkins)

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Something About Perverts

Brother, can you spare a dime?Truth and fiction. Art and life. Strange imitations. That is to say, why do I read Jen Sorenson’s recent cartoon (12 August) and recall the “Springfield-slash-pervert bill”? (more…)

America’s Wang: Rep. Curt Clawson (R) and the Good People of Florida’s Nineteenth Congressional District

O! smarmy one!

“It’s extremely uncommon for foreign officials to testify before Congress under oath. Even so, it’s unclear if at any point Clawson realized his mistake, despite the existence of a witness list distributed to the various members detailing Biswal and Kumar’s positions. Clawson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“During the hearing, he repeatedly touted his deep knowledge of the Indian subcontinent and his favorite Bollywood movies. None of his fellow colleagues publicly called him out on the oversight—perhaps going easy on him because he’s the new guy.”

John Hudson

Until last week, if you had heard of Rep. Curt Clawson (R), the congressman from Florida’s Nineteenth Congressional District, it probably would have been because he was the second string, the backup, the special election favorite to replace fallen Tea Party angel Trey Radel.

That was then. John Hudson of Foreign Policy explains what boosted the Bonita Springs backbencher’s profile:

In an intensely awkward congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about “your country” and “your government,” in reference to the state of India.

“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. “Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so.”

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if “their” government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.

Yes. Really. And what really hurts is that we all know it doesn’t end there.

(more…)

An Exercise in Contrasts: Beer Edition

While it is certainly possible to get farther apart in the United States than Edmonds, Washington and Jacksonville, Florida, we must admit it to be some distance. And, perhaps, miles apart is metaphorically apt. Or something about a room a thousand years wide. Never mind.

First up, Edmonds, Washington:

American Brewing - Breakaway IPAFor the price of a pint of Breakaway IPA at American Brewing Co. in Edmonds, you could soon buy eight shares in the microbrewer itself.

The little company and some current shareholders are preparing to sell shares in an initial public offering of stock, the first since the mid 1990s by a brewery here.

The 3-year-old company will use proceeds to fund expanded brewing and distribution of its four main beers, including Flying Monkey Dogfight Pale Ale and Caboose Oatmeal Stout.

(Grunbaum)

To the other, while the brewery is said to “have more ambition than your average brewery”, the IPO aims for all of $285,000, cut into fifty-cent shares.

Thus, there are all sorts of caveats, as this seems almost a novelty sale, but still the company finds itself at a crossroads:

With revenues of nearly $1 million, American Brewing reported a $330,000 loss for 2013, according to its prospectus.

Last year it ranked 20th among the state’s roughly 200 craft or microbreweries, producing 3,119 barrels or nearly 100,000 gallons, according to data from the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Top dog Redhook brewed 149,000 barrels, while the 10th largest, Silver City Brewery in Bremerton, produced 7,615 barrels.

Fueled by about $700,000 already raised in a private placement, American Brewing has been adding bigger boilers and fermenting tanks, remodeling its tasting room and readying 56,000 empty 12-ounce cans to be filled with one or two of its beers, the regulatory filing says. The expansion should yield physical capacity to handle 10,000 barrels or more, though “current funding will achieve 5,000-7,000 barrels per year.”

Competition for space in grocery stores is tough, Kaiser says. “The key is you’ve got to be able to continually supply what stores like QFC want.”

While it is a critical time for the brewery, it is hardly the worst of situations. The situation looks much different in Florida.

(more…)

Almost, But Not Quite, Funny

Betrayed?

Let us try to wrap our heads around something that is at once entirely expected and wholly unbelievable:

When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

(Redden)

No, really.

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