Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Big Apple Is Becoming The Big Yuck

Ah, what a web we weave when we send selfies to virtual female acquaintances. Former U.S. Congressman Anthony D. Weiner is a national dirty joke. Instead of flashing his junk from an unfurled raincoat, Weiner is a virtual exhibitionist, thanks to his trusty smartphone camera. Even his surname evokes sniggers. Susan Jacoby weighed in today about the recipients of the image files from the former Congressman's smartphone camera. Jacoby mentioned the famous New Yorker cartoon about the dog on the Internet:

So, we are left with a former Congressman (and NYC mayoral candidate) who is a virtual male dog in rut — virtually humping the leg of any woman who will accept his selfies. The irony of all of this is that Mrs. Weiner (Huma Abedin) has served as The Hillster's top aide. This blogger wonders if the former First Lady has offered advice to her aide about the fallout from a straying (actual, not virtual) spouse, the POTUS 42. If this is (fair & balanced) yuck, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Weiner’s Women
By Susan Jacoby

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There is something missing from the endless moralizing and sophomoric jokes aimed at Anthony D. Weiner. That something is the role of women in a coarse and creepy Internet culture dedicated to the fulfillment of both male and female desires for virtual carnal knowledge.

People ask how Mr. Weiner’s wife, the soulfully beautiful and professionally accomplished Huma Abedin, can stay with him. My question is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women apparently derive gratification from exchanging sexual talk and pictures with strangers.

These women are not victims of men like Mr. Weiner (or of ordinary, obscure sex seekers in the digital world) but full and equal participants. There is no force involved here; people of both sexes are able to block unwanted advances. Women are certainly safer on the Web than they would be going home with strangers they meet in bars.

Nevertheless, the female thrill seekers are as bewildering in their own way as the sleazy would-be mayor of New York is in his. Why is he called a pervert while Sydney Leathers’s statement that their Internet contact progressed to phone sex twice a week — “a fantasy thing for both of us,” she told one tabloid TV show — is greeted with neutral, if not exactly respectful, attention? Some fantasy. Cinderella, where are you now that we need you?

I actually have no nostalgia for the double standard of sexual morality under which I was raised in the 1950s, when women were supposed to be the gatekeepers of sexual propriety while they waited for Prince Charming. But the unfairness of the old expectations does not justify a new double standard, which pretends that only men are responsible for virtual sex that may prevent or wreck real-life relationships.

One vital, often overlooked aspect of feminism (especially by those who have bought into the stereotype of ’60s feminists as man haters) has always been its insistence on the right of women to express and take pride in their own sexuality.

But the “sex” that women engage in with often anonymous men on the Web has nothing to do with pride in one’s body or mind. Whatever women or men are getting out of sex via Twitter or YouTube, it is not recognition of their specialness as individuals. I could call myself Susanna Reckless and post pictures of my much younger self online tomorrow, but the resulting encounters would have nothing to do with the real me. It all recalls the classic New Yorker cartoon with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The morality of virtual sex, as long as no one is cheating on a real partner, is not what bothers me. What’s truly troubling about the whole business is that it resembles the substitution of texting for extended, face-to-face time with friends. Virtual sex is to sex as virtual food is to food: you can’t taste, touch or smell it, and you don’t have to do any preparation or work. Sex with strangers online amounts to a diminution, close to an absolute negation, of the context that gives human interaction genuine content. Erotic play without context becomes just a form of one-on-one pornography.

Nor do I consider it worse for women than for men to engage in this behavior. But I do suspect — because I concede the validity of the numerous studies concluding that men are more interested in and aroused by pornography than women are — that women who settle for digital pornography are lowering their expectations and hopes even more drastically than their male collaborators are.

As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all.

That’s undoubtedly just as true for the men who have been called arrogant as a result of their online indiscretions. Deep down, what does a man really think of himself when he must feed his ego with phony gasps of erotic pleasure from strangers in a digital vastness? What does a woman think of herself in the same arid zone of sex without sensuality?

This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism. It is, rather, the equality of the lowest common denominator — a state of affairs that debases the passion and reason of both men and women. Ω

[Susan Jacoby began her career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has been a contributor to a wide variety of national publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The Nation, Glamour, and the AARP Bulletin and AARP Magazine. She is currently a panelist for "On Faith," a Washington Post-Newsweek blog on religion. Her book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism was named a notable book of 2004 by The Washington Post and The New York Times. Her most recent books are The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2013) and The Last Men on Top (2013). Jacoby received a BA (Journalism) from Michigan State University.]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Profiles In Discourage(ment)

The POTUS 44 is our racial Hamlet: To be (black) or not to be (black enough). No wonder that Hamlet was the melancholy Dane. Killer Keller wrote a sensitive op-ed essay about racial profiling (both conscious and unconscious) as we move toward the third decade of the 21st century. The first slaves from Africa were brought to Virginia nearly 400 years ago (1619) and racial attitudes are not more enlightened today than 400 years ago. If this is (fair & balanced) melancholia, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Profiling Obama
By Bill Keller

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For much of his public life, Barack Obama has been navigating between people who think he is too black and people who think he is not black enough.

The former group speaks mostly in dog-whistle innuendo and focuses on proxy issues to emphasize Obama’s ostensible otherness: his birth certificate, his supposed adherence to “black liberation theology” (presumably before he converted to Islam), his “Kenyan, anticolonial” worldview. Jonathan Alter’s recent book on Obama’s presidency sums up these notions as symptoms of “Obama Derangement Syndrome” — a disorder whose subtext is more often than not: he’s too black.

On the other side are African-Americans and liberals who are disappointed that Obama has not made it his special mission to call out the racism that still festers in American society and rectify the racial imbalance in our economy, in our schools, in our justice system.

“It has, at times, been painful to watch this particular president’s calibrated, cautious and sometimes callous treatment of his most loyal constituency,” the radio and TV host Tavis Smiley told The Times’s Jodi Kantor last year. That was one of the gentler rebukes from the not-black-enough camp.

Obama believes he best serves the country, and ultimately the interests of black Americans, by being the president of America, not the president of black America. Even when he speaks eloquently on the subject, as he did in his 2008 speech in Philadelphia, he presents himself as a bridge between white and black rather than the civil rights leader-in-chief. And even when his administration has undertaken reforms that address racial injustice — reinvigorating the moribund civil rights division of the Justice Department, for example — he does not call a news conference and make a big deal of it. This is certainly calibrated and cautious. But callous?

Obama’s remarks on the death of Trayvon Martin — “could have been me 35 years ago” — reanimated the old divide. From the he’s-too-black sideline the president was predictably accused of indulging in “racial victimology” and “race baiting.” On the other side, some of those who had yearned for Obama to be more outspoken seized on his riff as a turning point; the president, a Detroit radio host exulted, “showed his brother card.” Charles Ogletree, a Harvard law professor who has known Obama for 25 years, told NPR he felt like “turning cartwheels” when he heard the remarks, and he declared he would now have to rethink a book-in-the-works, in which he had planned to criticize the president’s timidity on race.

“It seems to me he threw caution to the wind,” Ogletree told me. “It opens up a whole new chapter of Barack Obama.”

Does it? I, too, found Obama’s words moving in their emotional warmth and empathy. But if you go back and read them, now that the heat of the moment has cooled, you will see they are carefully measured and completely consistent with what he has said in his writing and speaking since he entered public life. The warrior against racism that critics on the right deplore and critics on the left demand is nowhere to be found. His comments on the pain and humiliation of racial profiling, which got the most attention, reprise a theme that goes back at least to his days as a state senator. His respectful treatment of the court that acquitted Martin’s killer and his nod to the pathologies of the black underclass got less notice.

“He basically says, try to understand this issue from the perspective of people different from yourself,” said Thomas Sugrue, a University of Pennsylvania historian who has written a book-length study of Obama and race. “And he says it to black folks and white folks.” But somehow listeners on both sides hear what they expect to hear, Sugrue said, on one side “a prophetic Martin Luther King Jr.,” on the other side “a pent-up Black Panther waiting to explode.”

There’s a name for that: racial profiling. People may no longer give Obama suspicious glares in department stores or clutch their purses when he enters an elevator, but they have typecast him according to their own fears and expectations of a black man in the White House. They are still profiling Barack Obama.

Those who hope his Trayvon talk signaled a new presidential activism on race will be watching two litmus tests. The first is whether Obama’s Justice Department will file a civil rights suit against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch enthusiast who shot Martin dead. The N.A.A.C.P. says more than a million people have signed petitions calling for Justice to prosecute Zimmerman for a hate crime. The second is whether the president will offer a cabinet post to Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner who has presided over the aggressive stop-and-frisk policing of mostly black and Latino men. Obama’s public praise of Kelly as a possible secretary of homeland security prompted anger and amazement, some of it on this page. Was the president indifferent to Kelly’s role as, in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s words, “the proprietor of the largest local racial profiling operation in the country,” or simply inattentive?

My guess is that the president will navigate those straits as he always has when race looms, carefully and without fanfare. If he is true to form, he will quietly pass over Kelly, because it’s now clear the appointment would become a major distraction from his agenda, because racial profiling is a lifelong personal sore spot for Obama, and because he has other, less polarizing options. He will leave George Zimmerman’s fate to Attorney General Eric Holder, who seems likely to conclude that a hate-crimes case would not stick and would be seen as putting politics over law. (The federal statute says it’s not enough to prove Zimmerman pursued Martin because of his race; the government would have to prove that racial prejudice was his motive for killing the teenager.) In his remarks on the case, Obama seemed to hint that the feds would not step in where the state has already ruled.

So if Obama’s Trayvon moment was not the debut of a new, more activist president, was it at least the beginning of a national conversation about race? If so, I doubt it will be a conversation led by the president. When race came up in an interview published in Sunday’s Times, he promptly segued into a discussion of economic strains on the social fabric.

And that’s O.K. President Obama has an economy to heal, a foreign policy to run, a daunting agenda blockaded by an intransigent opposition. Randall Kennedy, another Harvard law professor who has studied Obama and criticized him for a lack of audacity, says frustration should be tempered by realism. “My view of Obama is as a Jackie Robinson figure,” Kennedy told me. “Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier and encounters all sorts of denigration, people spitting on him, and because he was a pioneer he had to be above it all. ... People expect Obama now to all of a sudden jump into this totally messy issue of race and the administration of criminal justice? It’s completely implausible. To do it would require a major investment of political capital.”

And, come to think of it, why is that his special responsibility anyway?

“There’s sort of a persistent misperception that talking about race is black folk’s burden,” said Benjamin Jealous, president of the N.A.A.C.P., when I asked him about Obama’s obligation. “Ultimately, only men can end sexism, and only white people can end racism.”

Wouldn’t you like to hear John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or Chris Christie or Rick Perry own up as candidly as the president has to the corrosive vestiges of racism in our society? Now that might be an occasion to turn cartwheels. Ω

[Bill Keller stepped down as executive editor of The New York Times in September 2011 when he was succeeded by one of his deputies, Jill Abramson. Keller returned to his first love as a full-time opinion writer for the paper. The California-born Keller received a BA from Pomona College 1970.]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Cooch (AKA Virginia AG Ken Cuccinelli) Is A Creep!!

This blogger hopes that Dan Savage will do for Cooch what he did for Santorum. Thanks to Savage, see the definition of Santorum here. If this is (fair & balanced) — and richly deserved — opprobrium, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Virginia Is For Lovers (Terms & Conditions May Apply)
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2013 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Get Your Tickets Right Here! A Texas Death-Match — Texas AG Greg Abbott v. U.S. AG Eric H. Holder, Jr. Be There Or Be Square!!!!

The strange career of Jim Crow has grown even stranger with the advent of genteel racism in the Supreme Court of the United States of America with the takeover by the Roberts court. Kudos to U.S. AG Eric Holder in the hopes that he ties the forces of evil in knots in every federal court in the land. If this is (fair & balanced) hatred of Jim Crow (ca. 2013), so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Time To Mess With Texas
By Eric Lewis

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The same day, last month, that the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared that Texas laws that had been stopped by the Act—because courts found them to be discriminatory—would immediately go into effect. On Friday, Attorney General Eric Holder struck back.

In the color-blind wish-world of Chief Justice Roberts and his four conservative colleagues on the Supreme Court, Jim Crow-era restrictions on minority voting represent a sad, historical curiosity, unrelated to modern reality. Surveying the landscape from their marble aerie, these five Justices decided in Shelby County v. Holder that requiring the pre-clearance of election-law changes in certain jurisdictions, a provision of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, was now unconstitutional. Congress had passed the Act in 1965 in response to the broad denial of the right to vote; as recently as 2006, an overwhelming majority of Congress found that it was still necessary. The Court simply disagreed: “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

The majority Justices cited a newly minted “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of states as trumping the need to assure the equal voting rights of minorities. This is consistent with their concern for the rights of entities rather than individuals. So how did states exercise their “equal sovereignty” in response to the Court’s decision? Texas is a clear example. In 2011, the Texas Legislature had approved a state-issued photo-I.D. requirement. A Washington, D.C., court struck the law down, determining that it “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities in Texas.” With the Supreme Court decision, the law was unstruck and became the law of Texas. Similarly, after Texas redrew political boundaries in 2011, another court found that minority groups “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here” and threw the maps out. Now, with the Supreme Court decision, Texas can draw any maps it wants and they are excluded from pre-clearance.

Holder swung back, using a different portion of the Voting Rights Law, Section 3, which permits the United States to seek what’s known as a “bail-in”—a process that places the election laws in jurisdictions under federal oversight on a case-by-case basis if the government can make a showing of recent, intentional discrimination. Holder is seeking a ten year pre-clearance requirement. Section 3 relief is a much less reliable mechanism than the now invalidated Section 4. It allows much greater discretion on the part of the federal courts, requires a much higher evidentiary standard, and permits laws to become effective while decisions are pending, rather than before elections take place. Nevertheless, the Attorney General’s Section 3 initiative is a recognition on the part of the Administration that it will not be able to get legislation through the Congress that would reauthorize pre-clearance; and it nevertheless can and will use available, if less effective, mechanisms to take an aggressive posture in fighting restrictions on voting.

Texas’s story illustrates the folly of the Supreme Court’s rosy view on race. Texas did not wait even a day to impose racially restrictive voter-I.D. laws and extreme racial gerrymandering. Mississippi and Alabama, which had also passed voter-I.D. laws that were subject to pre-clearance, also announced their intention to begin immediate enforcement. On Thursday, the North Carolina legislature passed a law, which not only required government-issued I.D.s, but also shortened early voting, eliminated same-day voter registration during early voting, and allowed any registered voter to challenge another voter’s eligibility.

Republican legislatures and Governors in twenty states have recently passed restrictive voting laws, the patent purpose of which is to suppress minority turnout and dilute minority representation. The claim that voter-I.D. laws are meant to prevent voter fraud is hardly offered seriously; it is a solution in search of a problem. Gerrymandering has a long history in this country, but sophisticated modelling, coupled with a desire to limit minority representation, adds a layer of precise race-based discrimination. African-Americans and Hispanics tend to vote Democratic and so Republicans don’t want them to vote at all. The logic is an inexorable as it is reprehensible. This does not only happen in the Old South, but racist manipulation of the voting process in other parts of the country is an argument for including more jurisdictions rather than tossing out pre-clearance. (There is speculation that the Attorney General will also challenge racially restrictive voting laws in South Carolina and elsewhere.)

All of these phenomena gathered in a single storm in Texas. A large increase in the Hispanic population offers the prospect of turning this Yellow-Dog-Democrat turned Tea-Party Republican state into a blue or at least a purple state again. No Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994. The only Republican hope to continue this string of victories is to try to stem the tide of demographics by clogging the voting process to suppress turnout. The Texas litigation that was stopped in its tracks by the Supreme Court is well developed, with extensive factual findings on the race-restrictive motivation behind both the voter-I.D. law and the redistricting. This will provide a strong factual basis for arguing for the necessity of a period of pre-clearance.

The Supreme Court plays two critical functions in maintaining the integrity of our republican (small “R”) form of government. The first is counter-majoritarian, to protect the rights of “discrete and insular minorities” as stated in a famous footnote in the Carolene Products case. The second is majoritarian, to keep the arteries of democracy open and free-flowing through a robust, transparent, and accessible voting process. There is a long history of democratically elected governments around the world undermining the democratic process through restrictions on the franchise, a risk that the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was designed to prevent.

This Roberts Court failed to protect the rights of minorities by ignoring the concerted voter-suppression efforts of today. Jim Crow with a smile and a request for an I.D. is still Jim Crow. The Supreme Court also failed to foster support for the simple act of voting, the keystone for democratic legitimacy. Attorney General Holder’s attempt at a work around is most welcome, but it cannot fully compensate for the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision not to discharge its core institutional responsibilities. Ω

[Eric Lewis is both a blogger [News Desk Blog] and a cartoonist at The New Yorker. He graduated with both a BA (comparative literature) and an MFA (film) from Columbia University; he also received an MID (Master of Industrial Design) from the Rhode Island School of Design.]

Copyright © 2013 Condé Nast Digital

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Roll Over, John Kennedy Toole! Make Way For Buck The Yuck!

Read this review of the most recent exposé of Washington DC and laugh — with an eye toward possible hemorrhaging. The 1% have managed to ensure their permanent prosperity. The rest of us: not so much. If this is (fair & balanced) satirical savagery, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap Sunday Book Review]
A Confederacy Of Lunches — Review Of This Town By Mark Leibovich
Reviewed By Christopher Buckley

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Not to ruin it for you, but: if you already hate Washington, you’re going to hate it a whole lot more after reading Mark Leibovich’s takedown of the creatures who infest our nation’s capital and rule our destinies. And in case you are deluded enough as to think they care, you’ll learn that they already hate you. He quotes his former Washington Post colleague Henry ­Allen: ­“Washington feels like a conspiracy we’re all in together, and nobody else in America quite understands, even though they pay for it.”

Contrary to the subtitle, there are actually two funerals, which constitute the high — and low — points of the book: the farewells for Tim Russert, longtime host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Richard Holbrooke, late of the State Department. These chapters are mini-masterpieces of politico-anthropological sociology. Leibovich does for Russert’s memorial service at the Kennedy Center what Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic (1970) did for Lenny and Felicia Bernstein’s party for the Black Panthers. Holbrooke’s valedictory, also held at the Ken Cen, First Secular Megachurch of Self-Regard, reads like the funeral scene in “The Godfather,” transplanted to the banks of the Potomac. Both occasions were (yes, of course) sad, both men having been cut down in their prime (or near prime). But in Leibovich’s rendering, they are gorgeous pageants of Human Comedy, large-C and small-c.

No one, Leibovich notes, would have enjoyed it more than Russert, a greatly beloved figure — “mayor of This Town.” He “would have loved the outpouring from the power mourners. And he also would have understood better than every­one that all of the speeches and tributes and telegenic choke-ups were never, not for a second, about him. They were about people left behind to scrape their way up the pecking order in his absence.” If it were a movie, and pray may it become one, it could be called “Netwaking Tim Russert.”

Holbrooke’s memorial service, in turn, featured 15 eulogists. “The stories were told in the spirit of ‘You can’t help but love the guy,’ ” Leibovich writes, “even if some people very much could.” His account takes on a Shakespearean flavor as various eulogists turn it into a not-even-­thinly-veiled smack-down of the conspicuous captive mourner sitting onstage — President Obama. As a personality, Holbrooke was your proverbial larger-than-life dynamo. But dynamos are exhausting, and Obama had reached his exhaustion point early on, after which he seemed to take perverse enjoyment in undercutting and humiliating his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Enter (trumpets, fanfare) former President Clinton, who uses his eulogy slot to plunge a stealth dagger into the man who defeated his wife in 2008. This makes for spectator sport of the very highest order, and the craftiest bit of eulogy jujitsu since Mark Antony took to the rostrum in 44 B.C. to praise Brutus and the rest.

Bonus details: Obama apparently hates having to sit through other people’s speeches, even when they aren’t sneak attacks on him. Also: Henry Kissinger telling Holbrooke’s widow that Obama is, as Nixon was, a loner, with this rather piquant difference: “Nixon liked to have big personalities around him. Obama does not.” This is a telling observation, coming from the man who has known all the personalities of his time.

In one sense, these episodes simply affirm, as do the two parties of the book’s subtitle, an old, familiar theme: Vanity Fair, peacock egos, lust for power, greed, betrayal and broken hearts. We’re shocked — shocked — that human nature is taking place in the nation’s capital! Pass the salt, would you?

Anyone who’s lived in Washington for any length of time, listening to the latest candidate for the nation’s highest office thump the lectern and proclaim he is going to change the way we do business in Washington . . . will yawn. We heard rather a lot about all that in 2008. So, has Washington changed? Or as Sarah Palin would put it, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?”

The answer, according to Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, is: yes, actually, it has, but not in ways that benefit the Republic that the founders bequeathed us and that we squander so promiscuously.

He adduces four serious — I’m trying to avoid saying “tectonic” — shifts that have taken place over the last 40 years. Combined, they make This Town (2013) read like the endgame chapters of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1781-1789. In addition to his reporting talents, Leibovich is a writer of excellent zest. At times, this book is laugh-out-loud (as well as weep-out-loud). He is an exuberant writer, even as his reporting leaves one reaching for the Xanax. As for those four big changes:

Lobbying. President Obama’s first year in office was the best year ever for the special interests industry, which earned $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government. Ka-ching — your change, sir. There’s a phrase in journalism-speak called “burying the lede,” which Leibo­vich appears to do by waiting until Page 330 to cite this arresting figure (previously reported by The Atlantic): in 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. “Now 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do.” No one goes home anymore. Cincinnatus, call your office.

There are a number of sanctimonious standout “formers” in Leibovich’s Congressional hall of shame, but just to name a few exemplars who gleefully inhabit ethical no-worry zones and execute brisk 180-­degree switcheroos on any issue, including the Armenian genocide, so long as it pays: Dick Gephardt, Evan Bayh and Tim Pawlenty. (Christopher Dodd, late of Connecticut, is another beauty. Disclosure: he beat my uncle out of a Senate seat, but judge for yourself if he isn’t loathsome for other reasons.) My own modest proposal is that the media stop referring to these scoundrels as “strategic consultants” or their other camouflage titles and call them what they are: influence peddlers. I know — good luck with that.

The other major change took place pari passu with lobbying: the arrival of big money in Washington. “Over the last dozen years,” Leibovich writes, “corporate America (much of it Wall Street) has tripled the amount of money it has spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C.” Alongside this money comes the tsunami of dollars from presidential campaigns. He reports that during the 2012 contest, the so-called super PACs and megadonors pumped “upwards of $2 billion . . . into the empty-calorie economy of two men destroying each other.” He refers to a datum courtesy of The Huffington Post, which reported in the spring of 2012 that, so far, “the top 150 consulting companies had . . . grossed more than $465 million” during the campaign.

All of which has given rise to another unlovely development: political consultants and their concomitant celebrity. This breed has, Leibovich says, essentially replaced the old-style political bosses. One might ask: is it a bad thing that we now have the omnipresent James Carville and Mary Matalin and their ilk? Aren’t we better off for this “celebrity-industrial complex” instead of the smoke-filled rooms of yore? Over to you, but at least the boys in the smoke-filled rooms didn’t yap at us on TV on the Sabbath and endorse Maker’s Mark bourbon. (Honestly, James and Mary. They’re also doing the safety briefing voice-over for Independence Air. Is this a great country or what? Meanwhile, on “Good Morning America” tomorrow, George Stephanopoulos’s guests are. . . .)

Bringing us to the fourth change: Pandora’s (cable TV) box. The rise of cable television and the 24/7 news cycle, as well as Facebook, Twitter and the rest of social media, have provided all these people with heretofore unimaginable influence. “Suddenly,” Leibovich writes, “anyone without facial warts could call themselves a ‘strategist’ and get on TV. Or start an e-mail newsletter, Web site or, later, blog, Facebook page or Twitter following — in other words, become Famous for Washington.”

It has also enabled journalists to turn themselves into pundits, with all the glittery and greasy emoluments of that lower trade. “Punditry,” he writes, “has replaced reporting as journalism’s highest calling, accompanied by a mad dash of ‘self-branding,’ to borrow a term that had now fully infested the city: everyone now hellbent on branding themselves in the marketplace, like Cheetos (Russert was the local Coca-Cola). They gather, all the brands, at . . . self-­reverential festivals, like the April White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, whose buffet of ‘pre-parties’ and ‘after-parties’ now numbers more than two dozen — because a single banquet, it is clear, cannot properly celebrate the full achievements of the People Who Run Your Country.” Tom Brokaw, current wearer of the mantles of Walter Cronkite and Tim Russert, has now publicly declared he’s over and out and done with the damn thing, which has become a grotesque, narcissistic self-parody.

The proliferation of “formers” and pundits has resulted in “a high-profile blur of People on TV whose brands overtook their professional identities. They were not journalists or strategists or pols per se, but citizens of the ­greenroom.”

“Citizens of the Greenroom” would have made a dandy title for this vastly entertaining and deeply troubling book. So would — to borrow from Garrett Morris’s Chico Escuela shtick on the old “Saturday Night Live” — “Washington Been Bery, Bery Good to Me!” Or, to borrow from P. J. O’Rourke’s imperishable 1991 study of Washington, Parliament of Whores, Continued.

By the end, one is left thinking that our country would be so much better off if, after putting in their years of “public service,” all these people would just go home. Or just away. But then what would we do for entertainment, being left with a mere Parliament of Bores? Ω

[Christopher Buckley is the son of William F. Buckley Jr. and Patricia Buckley (both deceased) and inherited Canadian citizenship through his mother. He graduated from Yale University and was a member of Skull and Bones like his father. Buckley is the author of The White House Mess (1986), Thank You for Smoking (1994), God Is My Broker : A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7½ Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (1998) (written with John Tierney), Little Green Men (1999), No Way to Treat a First Lady (2002), Florence of Arabia (2004), Boomsday (2007), Supreme Courtship (2008), and They Eat Puppies, Don't They?: A Novel (2012).]

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, July 26, 2013

In This Blog, One Modest Proposal (Yesterday) Deserves Another (Today)!

From The Time Flies Department: On June 24, 2003, the first post to this blog read --

Hello! Welcome to my world! Rather than send e-mail to my friends (and foes), I decided to enter the 21st century and publish a Web Log (Blog). Visit daily. Youneverknow.

So, Happy (Belated) 10th (actually 10 years, 1 month, and 2 days) Anniversary to this blog!

Yesterday, this blog entertained a proposal to fast-track Ivy grads to medical degrees to remedy the crisis in family practice medicine. Today, consider a proposal to do away with summer vacay in 21st century schools (K-college). Actually, the proposal is aimed at K-12, but why not year-round for everyone? If this is (fair & balanced) self-effacing bloggery, so be it.

[x Slate]
Summer Vacation Is Evil
By Matthew Yglesias

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There are few more cherished nostrums in American life than the importance of equal opportunities. Unfortunately, one of them is the importance of summer vacation. It’s a cheap way of doing something nice for teachers, but summer vacation is a disaster for poor children and their parents, creating massive avoidable inequities in life outcomes and seriously undereducating the population.

The country claims to take schooling seriously, but the school calendar says otherwise. There’s no other public service that we would allow to just vanish for months at a time. To have no Army in February, no buses or subways in March, airports closed down for all of October, or the police vacationing en masse in December would be absurd. Schools, it turns out, matter a lot, too, and having them shut down all summer critically undermines them.

The entire issue tends to vanish from public debate, because the educated, affluent people who run the debate don’t particularly suffer from it. Summer vacation costs money, but prosperous parents are happy to spend it on their kids. And of course there’s the sentimentality factor. I’ll always treasure tender thoughts of my beloved Camp Winnebago and would one day love to have the experience of picking up my kid from the very same camp I attended when I was young.

But these days, Camp Winnebago is charging $11,550 for a full eight-week session. No doubt more affordable options are out there, but the basic reality is that parents’ ability to provide enriching summer activities for their children is going to be sharply constrained by income. Working-class single moms in urban neighborhoods—exactly the kind of parents whose kids tend to have the most problems in school—are put in a nearly impossible situation by summer vacation.

The burden on parents is segmented by income, and the impact on children is as well. A 2011 RAND literature review concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling [PDF] during a typical summer vacation, with the impact disproportionately concentrated among low-income students. “While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.” Most distressingly, the impact is cumulative. Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer, giving teachers and principals essentially no chance of closing the gap during the school year. Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Steffel Olson of Johns Hopkins University have research from Baltimore indicating that a majority of the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic-status students can be attributed to differences in summer learning loss.

It’s not clear whether Baltimore’s results apply to the national population, but it’s shocking that impacts of this scale exist anywhere. Even worse, for many poor kids, subsidized school lunches on which they depend for sustenance essentially vanish during the summer months, leaving them both undertaught and underfed.

The contrast between America’s rhetorical obsession with the bad educational outcomes of poor children and its blasé attitude toward summer vacation is striking. Conservatives have spent years pounding the point that a lack of money is not the problem in American public education. While it’s true that there’s much more to quality schools than money, the existence of summer vacation is a huge barrier to equal opportunity, and the barrier to year-round schooling is rather clearly financial. You’d need to install air conditioners, and you’d have to pay utility bills. You’d need to pay teachers and school staff more. But the gains would be obvious. We could save a bunch of money by letting all the criminals out of jail for the summer months or randomly eliminate seventh grade, but that would be ridiculous. The mere fact that summer vacation is a long-standing tradition doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. School is important. It should happen all year ’round. Ω

[Matthew Yglesias is Slate's business and economics correspondent. Before joining the magazine he worked for ThinkProgress, the Atlantic, TPM Media, and the American Prospect. His first book was Heads in the Sand (2008) and his second is The Rent Is Too Damn High (2012). Yglesias graduated from Harvard University with a BA in philosophy (magna cum laude).]

Copyright © 2013 The Slate Group Division/The Washington Post Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Today: A Modest Proposal For U.S. Healthcare

While preparing this post about national healthcare, this blogger is discomfited by a Holter monitor. This portable device continuously monitors various electrical activity of the blogger's cardiovascular system for 48 hours.

Rest assured that the photo comes from medical litarature (and this blogger's wishful thinking). The photo does represent this blogger's temporary device, not the blogger himself. In the midst of his current health ordeal, this blogger met an Austin cardiologist who entered medical school with a BA in history from UT-Austin. Not quite up to Deresiewicz's modest proposal, but startling nonetheless. If this is (fair & balanced) thinking outside the box, so be it.

[x TAS]
Heal For America
By William Deresiewicz

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America faces a growing shortage of primary care physicians, especially in chronically underserved inner-city and rural communities. By 2015, according to a recent report, the shortfall will amount to as many as 35,000 providers. Yet only about one-sixth of medical students intend to enter primary care. Deterred by poor reimbursement rates, low income relative to other specialties, and increasing patient loads—not to mention high levels of student debt—new MDs are opting instead for more lucrative fields.

I’d like to propose a solution. Every year, thousands of students graduate from America’s most prestigious colleges without a clear vocational direction. They are brilliant, hard-working, and eager to contribute to society. What better way to address our shortage of physicians than to organize these new graduates into a corps of energetic, idealistic young doctors and dispatch them to those same underserved areas? I envision a competitive application process, five-week summer training program, and two-year initial commitment. Sure, recruits are likely to feel overwhelmed at first, but what a life experience for them, out there on the front lines of the health-care crisis, making a real difference in people’s lives. More importantly, disadvantaged communities will begin to receive the medical attention they so desperately need.

I can already hear the objections. With little training and no experience, our new providers won’t be “real” doctors. What will they possibly have to contribute? But a lot of experts say that medical school is a waste of time. Poorly taught classes in tedious subjects like anatomy and biochemistry are no substitute for the enthusiasm, enterprise, and general awesomeness that our novice physicians will bring to the clinic. In medicine, knowledge and skill are less important than a can-do spirit. Besides, these kids are the best and the brightest, as their colleges are always telling them, quick studies in any subject to which they choose to turn their scintillating intellects. They’ll be up to speed in no time.

Will there be resentment from the other doctors—the ones who have been toiling in obscurity for years, unvalued, ignored, and underpaid—about having to work beside these Ivy League celebrities? Perhaps, but what matters here are the patients, not the sensitivities of a bunch of careerist hacks who have always been more interested, quite frankly, in protecting their professional prerogatives. If our new physicians help to break the power of the AMA, then so much the better. And if they accept the two years that society invests in them and then decide to take their talents to a different field, like finance or consulting—well, I’m sure they’ll be a friend to health care for the rest of their successful lives.

Besides, what is the alternative? Funding medical services for low-income communities at anything like adequate levels would take a lot of money. Not compared to what we give the Pentagon, but you know what I mean. America’s job creators aren’t going to stand for higher taxes, especially when incomes for the top one percent have gone up by only 11 percent since the start of the recovery. Our aggregate tax burden is already over 25 percent, more than half of what it is in Western Europe. We need to be realistic here.

Similar proposals have been made with respect to our educational system, but those, of course, are ridiculous. Everybody knows it takes years of training and experience to become a good teacher, and that students and schools need continuity, not a pack of self-congratulatory dilettantes who parachute in for a couple of years, then go off to Goldman or McKinsey with their newly burnished resumes. I could see it working for lawyers, though. Ω

[William Deresiewicz, formerly an associate professor of English at Yale University, is a widely published literary critic. His criticism directed at a popular audience appears in The Nation, The American Scholar, the London Review of Books, and The New York Times. Controversial, more often than not, his negative reviews of Terry Eagleton, Zadie Smith, and Richard Powers drew heated reactions within the literary community. In 2008 he was nominated for a National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism. Despite the publication of Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets by Columbia University Press in 2004, Deresiewicz was denied tenure at Yale in 2008. His most recent book is A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter (2011). He received both a BA and a PhD from Columbia University. Currently, William Deresiewicz blogs in The American Scholar (All Points) about American culture with new posts each Monday.]

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

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