"I can’t stand you. Now go vote for me!"

Well, all righty. It’s now clear that the proliferation of Hippie-punching comments from the White House is not just a series of off the cuff remarks, not just blowing off steam, but an actual Campaign Strategy.

Blame the whiners and those who cling to their quaint literal understanding of the word Change. For it is they who are at fault for the Democrats’ impending electoral doom.

There are any number of good pieces on Firedoglake on the topic.  Jane Hamsher offers the most perceptive take on the motivation behind the strategy, and points out how self-defeating it is.

I also liked Cenk  Uygur’s rant on Ratigan, but this from Bluetexan was perhaps the most succinct.

Just so we’re clear, here are a few examples of messages that don’t appeal to me at all.

Wake up!”

Get over it.”

Get in gear, man.”

Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha.

That’s not reality.”

You know who you are.”

Yes, I do.

And none of these phrases motivate me to want to vote, canvass, give money, phone bank, blog, you know, generally take time away from putting food on my family to pull the lever for Democrats in November.On the other hand, these would do the trick.

“We’ll fight to add the public option to the health care bill.”

“We’re getting out of Afghanistan.”

“We are pulling the remaining 50,000 troops out of Iraq.”

“We’re going to cut the approximately $1T annual defense budget in half and use the remainder to fund US infrastructure projects, including high speed rail.”

“We will roll back the Bush/Cheney executive power grabs.”

“We will repeal DADT.”

“We will fight for marriage equality.”

“We will reform the Senate and eliminate the filibuster.”

“We will make the Fed transparent.”

“We will legalize marijuana.”

Hope that helps.

On the other hand, these would do the trick.

A wonderful life

There were a few excerpts in Harper’s this month from the blog of Dr. Karen Woo, the British surgeon who was killed, along with nine others, in Afghanistan in early August. She was trekking back to Kabul from the remote region of Nuristan, where she had helped to run clinics for mothers and infants, when her party was ambushed, perhaps by the Taliban, or perhaps by bandits. She was to be married in London in two weeks.

She was a funny, highly irreverent writer, and could be poignant describing the sometimes awful, sometimes rewarding aspects of her work, but was just as likely to be narrating her adventures getting the Pedicure from Hell or trying to purchase gemstones or have a ball gown made.  She was obsessed with animals, and often took in stray dogs, cats, rabbits, tortoises …..

For me, this has been a  most death-obsessed year, and some gears in the back of my mind have at all times been whirring away, calculating or processing what a life means, what it adds up to, what a death means, what is a good way to die (if there is one.) I always have in the back of my mind a (fictitious) kind of good death, that of a farmer quietly expiring among his hay ricks in (I think) a Wendell Berry story I read  some years ago. And the epitome of a bad death–that of Mrs. Blankenship, Don Draper’s sad old secretary on Mad Men: “She died like she lived: Surrounded by the people she answered phones for.”

Certainly the circumstances of Dr. Woo’s death were horrible beyond imagining. But she died while performing selfless and heroic acts.  To a stranger,  it seems that hers was a wonderful life. And yet those she touched–her fiance, her family, her co-workers, the Afghans she cared for– have every right to be heartbroken and to miss her terribly.

The Karen Woo Foundation has been established to continue her life’s work.

Amy Rigby: "Between doomed and most wanted"

Amy Rigby has been the source of much musical joy for me since I discovered her, way too late, about a decade ago. “Knapsack,” “Dancing with Joey Ramone,” “Keep It to Yourself,” “Like Rasputin,” “Balls,” “The Summer of My Wasted Youth.” Any of these would be a career-defining achievement for a singer-songwriter, but she has dozens more.

Born in Pittsburgh, Amy spent much of her career in the New York music scene, and now resides in a hickish region of la belle France. I know it is hickish because I read Amy’s blog, where her brainy, cynical (and yet romantic) wit is in evidence in every entry.

She writes of the joys and frustrations of being a musical act of a certain age, of living in rural France, dealing with rude bureaucrats and check-out girls. In one entry she lends her unique perspective to some subtle distinctions of French life

It’s comprehending the difference between “péypère” – sort of semi-retired, laidback, easygoing (masculin) and “mémère” slovenly, letting-it-all-go, sluttish, bad-humored (feminin) and ideally, straddling the two because going in the one direction is boring and going too far in the other direction is depressing.

Of course, she is still a working musician, and much of the blog deals with touring … typically in unreliable vehicles, and always nowadays with her current love and musical partner, Stiff Records legend Wreckless Eric. In her latest entry, she tells of having to conduct a phone interview with Herald Scotland while broken down on the A1. Trucks whizzing by. “Cannae you talk now?”

Most musicians, confronted with the fact that their audience, loyal and discerning as it is, will never grow large enough to make them rich and famous, or even financially secure, decide at some point to call it a day. Amy’s blog is a beautiful account of the highs and lows of keeping at it into your fifties, of saying “fuck that. There is nothing else I’d rather be doing.”

I will now refrain from saying how great her blog is and just let the reader sample for his or her damn self:

Wish we could’ve hung around in Scotland – in between Glasgow or Edinburgh, two of my favorite cities. Instead we had to head on down to Hyde. The promoter called and said the pub had been broken into the night before. He jokingly said maybe that would bring more people out, so they could get a look at the crime scene. We should have known right there it was going to be a tough night. From the barbed wire and old tires around the junkyard entrance next door, to the dogshit scattered across the astro-turfed pub “garden”, to the load-in up a wet metal fire escape because the police were busy dusting the inside stairs for fingerprints, to the leftover scraps of astroturf covering the surface of the stage, to the panicky soundman, to the greasy yet sticky surface of everything in the place – it was hard not to feel depressed. You know you’re in trouble when you look to the resident heckler for affirmation.

But next night was wonderful, Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham – like being in a weird aunt’s living room. Odd garden furniture, slate on the floor and a relaxed feeling. We’d played there once before and saw familiar faces this time. It felt like everyone was on our side. The only thing that had changed was that the copy of Tim Rice’s autobiography, a massive tome I’d used as a keyboard bench booster seat last time, was missing from the bookshelf. I had to make do with a hardback copy of Beach Music.

Now we’re in the Norfolk countryside, taking a rest until Brighton, London and Manchester – tomorrow, Friday and Saturday (and Winchester on Tuesday). I often feel like Bonnie and Clyde where they hole up at CW Moss’s dad’s place when we stop for a few days out on the road. A couple of steps ahead of the law, somewhere on the sliding scale between doomed and most wanted.

Obama to lefty supporters: Drop dead!

If you ponied up $30,000 per plate to attend that DNC fundraiser at a 1,500-acre gated community in Greenwich, Connecticut, congratulations. You got to hear Obama tell his real constituents (people like you) what he thinks of the earnest saps who worked so hard to get him elected, and then had the temerity to expect results:

If we get an historic health care bill passed — oh, well, the public option wasn’t there. If you get the financial reform bill passed — then, well, I don’t know about this particularly derivatives rule, I’m not sure that I’m satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven’t yet brought about world peace and — (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.)

Wow. Really? It’s like that?

Glenn Greenwald, as is his habit, is right there with evidence to the contrary, and offers this nice summary, in headlines, of the lowlights of the Obama reign so far. Taken as a whole, these headlines don’t depict an administration that hasn’t yet gotten around to enacting progressive, or even liberal, legislation. As Greenwald writes:

It’s true that there are good things Obama has done …. But there have been many, many awful things* — not things which he has failed yet to do (i.e., “quickly enough”), but multiple policies he’s affirmatively adopted, including many which directly violate his campaign pledges and ones which Democrats spent years during the Bush presidency vehemently condemning. Sitting at a $30,000 per plate fundraising dinner and mocking liberal critics as irrational ingrates while wealthy Party donors laugh probably does wonders for bruised presidential egos, but it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way to motivate those who are so unmotivated. Then again, Barack Obama isn’t actually up for election in November, so perhaps the former goal is more important to him than the latter. It certainly seems that way from these comments.

Last week we also had Biden on Rachel Maddow telling progressives to “get in gear, man” (really, he said “man”!). A master of motivation, that guy!

Obama, Biden, Emanuel are all now on record. They find their progressive base an annoyance, and appear to enjoy painting the people who got them into power as whiny, unrealistic, idealistic losers who don’t understand the game of politics.

The problem is that they understand all too well.

________________________

* For a thorough accounting of the “many, many awful things” we’ve seen so far in the Obama reign, see the Obama scandals list. Lest you think it targets the current administration unfairly, have a look at its predecessor, the Bush scandals list. It’s pretty good too.

My kind of pop star

Marina had me with her funny, pitch perfect “OH MY GOD, You look just like Shakira, No no, you’re Katherine-Zeta…..” schtick on “Hollywood.” And “Hollywood infected your brain/You want to kiss it in the rain” is a terrific line, too.

And that crazy voice. Hyperactive, whoopy, insane range. “What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.” (That’s Denis Johnson in an entirely different, but applicable, context.)

The personality that comes across in interviews is down-to-earth, if not straight-up goofy, but she loves to dress up and play the diva. Which she does rather well.

Her songwriting can be a bit Big Statement-y, but she’s young. Let it pass. If all divas were this funny and clever, and had such great songs, the world would be a better place.

This video for “Shampain” makes it five official videos and counting for her first album. It’s got zombies in sexy party frocks doing a spazzy dance routine that owes at least a little bit to Thriller. What is not to like?

Are the Dems stupid? Or not?

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"Either way, I win." REUTERS/Jim Young

Money makes the Democrats stupid is a pretty decent rant by Eli at Firedoglake.

The Republicans, he observes, have a big advantage in terms of money because the ideology of conservatism lines up perfectly with giving rich people and corporations more money and power.

Not because they have more [money], although they usually do.  No, it’s because their base is almost completely aligned with their corporate and wealthy big-money donors, while the Democratic base is the complete opposite.

Republicans can deliver their megadonors tax cuts, deregulation, corporate welfare, and protection from prosecution, all cocooned in a conservative narrative of supply-side economics, free enterprise, and independent frontier can-do spirit that their base just loves.

Contrast this with the Dems, who, with a few exceptions, are pretty much on the same level in terms of greed and lack of scruples. But they have this nagging problem with their party’s (purported) ideology, which isn’t a good fit. They have to be sneaky because “there’s simply no way to spin pro-corporate, pro-wealth policies as congruent with progressive values.”

The best they can manage is to play the DLC/Third Way game of pretending that capitulation is really some kind of principled pragmatic centrism which is the only way to win elections or get anything done against the all-powerful GOP and its 55 49 40 41 Senate seats.

Some of the base reluctantly goes along with this because half a loaf is better than the enemy of the good or whatever, but none of us are particularly happy about always settling for a compromise of a compromise of a compromise. Think how much leverage Obama and the Democrats had after two huge electoral landslides, a huge Republican-branded financial crisis, and a huge congressional majority… and how little they did with it. They didn’t deliver on progressive priorities because that wasn’t what their big campaign donors wanted.

And now they’ve failed so miserably, sold out so blatantly, demoralized their base so completely, and ceded the populist ground so thoroughly to the Tea Party, that they’re on the brink of losing the House and maybe even the Senate. All of the Democrats’ kabuki to protect their corporate friends so they could rake in campaign cash and get re-elected will end up costing them their seats instead. Because it is possible to fuck up so badly and so obviously that all the money in the world can’t save you. Just ask the Republicans.

I like this, and I’m down with Eli’s disgust, but wonder if he might be missing something, like maybe the fact that it’s on purpose?

Not sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there and wonder aloud if perhaps we are in for a few decades where control of Congress (and maybe the Presidency) will swing from party to party with every election.

The Party Out of Power promises Change, gets in power, doesn’t change anything, and is sent packing. Or it promises to reverse the Mooslem Socialist Mismanagement of this Once-Great Nation. Until the voters realize they get screwed there too. Rinse and repeat.

Either way the party pros win. If in power, hey, you’re In Power. Out of Power you can make massive amounts of money in the private sector. (Think of Rahm’s waltz with hedge fund Magnetar Capital. Think Tom Daschle. Bob Dole.) Leverage your public service. G’head. You earned it. Take a position with one of the corporations you’ll be in charge of “regulating” when you get back into power. Money’s much better, and you will probably get to spend a little more time with the family.

And don’t worry. You’ll be back in D.C. before you know it. Count on the Other Party not satisfying those pesky voters either. Because there’s no way the non-rich 95 percent can be satisfied–unless legislation happens that actually reverses the flow of wealth.  And both parties have shown how firmly they are allied on the issue of wealth distribution.

At the moment, polls indicate voters will throw the current regime out, WITH AUTHORITY as Marv Albert used to say…. To replace it with a regime that makes no bones about its intention to give an ever bigger piece of the pie to the wealthy and powerful.

Does that makes sense? Not so much. Will it work for a few more election cycles? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Songs of innocence and experience

The other day I decided  Sleigh Bells had come up with the greatest song ever, and I made a point of doing errands that required lots of slow driving with the window down and the car stereo cranked. I slunk down a bit in the seat, head back,  rocking steady to “Rill Rill.”

Right? Truly, it’s a perfect song for that kind of thing. But today I’m a little sheepish. Don’t know if anyone I knew saw me, but … a 51-year-old man in a 15-year-old station wagon cruisin’ to a song made by and for twenty-something hipsters….

… I’m thinking I should maybe groove out to that sort of music in private. Or out in back of the house.

But the good thing about getting old is that you can choose to enjoy Sleigh Bells’ apocalyptic thrash with a layer of sugar on top. Or not. And you have the Weepies too, who released their first album in four years yesterday. Which is positively thrilling to  me. The young folks, I’m not so sure not all the young folks get the Weepies.

Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are the Weepies. They both had solo careers, then they got married. To each other. They have a son they took years off touring to have and raise.

Their music could only have been made by grownups. It’s got real wit and occasionally bizarre imagery, but to me it’s a lot about the thick and thinnin’ of married life. Dealing with commitment and contentment and little pleasures without making the listener feel brain dead.

Here is the first song from “Be My Thrill”:

Wise. Warm. Modest. Wry. Polite. Grammatical. “When I’m gone, Please speak well of me.”

Note the “please” and  “well,” kids.

(Also, I still love Sleigh Bells).

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be "Blogosphere titans"

Jeffrey G, living large

Simon Owens’ Clash of the Blogosphere Titans sees Glenn Greenwald’s relentless (and entirely justified) criticism of Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg as a useful yardstick with which to measure “the effect of media criticism in a Web 2.0/3.0 age.”

The  journalistic catastrophes that made Goldberg’s name synonymous with spectacular wrongheadedness, a pair of long pieces about the Iraq threat for the New Yorker (the first one titled  “The Great Terror”), came back in 2002.

Times have changed. Today, Greenwald, a “blogger” (a term of utter contempt once, now losing its bite) has a featured column at Salon, a site that gets far  more online readership than the Atlantic, according to Owens, as  well as a New York Times bestseller to his credit. Owens says Greenwald  now possesses the clout to compel Goldberg to respond to criticism, especially as regards “The Point of No Return,” his attempt to replicate his scare/war-mongering success, this time with regard to Iran.

Goldberg declined Owens’ invitation to discuss his disputes with Greenwald; Greenwald did not. Responding to the suggestion that his singular focus on Goldberg might be perceived as an “obsessive feud,” Greenwald tells Owens that Goldberg’s stature demands close scrutiny:

“[T]here are two things that distinguish this case. One is the consequentiality of it and the centrality [Goldberg] played. It wasn’t like he was just kind of wrong about something, he was one of the leading people validating the war. The thing that happened in the Iraq War is that obviously the right got behind it because the people on the right — the leaders on the right — were clearly behind it. But in order to make it a majoritarian movement, they had to get centrists and liberals behind it. So they needed liberal validators … There’s probably nobody that you can compare in influence to getting Democrats and liberals to support the war than Jeffrey Goldberg. It wasn’t just that he was for the war, he was using his status as a reporter to feed lies. I mean he didn’t just write one New Yorker piece but a second one too, and he was all over the television with this stuff saying that Saddam had a very active nuclear program and most importantly that Saddam had an enthusiastic alliance with al-Qaeda.”

The second distinguishing characteristic of Goldberg, Greenwald argued, is that he’s one of the few mainstream reporters who hasn’t issued a mea culpa on the facts he got wrong. Greenwald pointed out that though Judith Miller paid a career price for her Iraq reporting at the New York Times, Goldberg — who Greenwald considers equally culpable — continues to gain prominence despite doubling down on his past reporting. In fact, Goldberg recently used his blog to argue that there truly was a strong connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

It’s true that Goldberg has responded to Greenwald multiple times over the Iran piece,  both on his blog and as a guest on NPR, but these responses have been perfunctory at best, mendacious at worst:

“It’s almost like his responses are three or four years behind. When I first started writing about criticizing media figures — establishment media figures — that was very much the reaction. It was a very lame sort of not-really-attentive response, just dismissive or plain mockery. Like, ‘I don’t have to respond because in my world he’s nobody and I’m somebody so the most I’m going to do is be derisive about this.’ That’s a journalist/blogger cliché from 2005, and most journalists know they can no longer get away with it. He’s living in a world where he thinks it doesn’t affect his reputation. Among his friends it doesn’t. I’m sure he calls [TIME writer] Joe Klein or whoever else I’ve criticized and he’s like ‘he’s an asshole and a prick, don’t worry about that.’ But I guarantee you that there are a lot more people reading the stuff I write than the stuff he writes, in terms of sheer number. And the level of impact that that kind of level of critique has is infinitely greater than it was three years ago. So I’m sure he tells himself and convinces himself that it doesn’t actually matter but it does. And it’s hurting his credibility.

True, but my more cynical take is that Goldberg’s credibility is not the point. Or at least  it isn’t anymore. In fact, his willingness to use his credentials as a correspondent for the New Yorker (liberal! fastidiously fact-checky!) to stretch the case for war with Iraq, at the cost of his journalistic reputation in the “reality-based community,” was what got him to the pinnacle of the blogging profession.

This sort of failing upwards is not a new thing, especially given Goldberg’s journalistic focus.

If you make a case for a militaristic solution to a perceived problem, and possess even a middling capacity for persuasion, and if you make that case boldly  and loudly enough, you are well on your way a successful career in punditry in America.

Why should Goldberg apologize? Reckless accusations that lead to war, in the face of contrary facts and likely catastrophic consequences, are a feature, not a bug.