1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown: BizarroDown January 17-23, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dear Internet,

This is Issue 11 of the Weekly Tendown, my look at the best cultural happenings of the previous 7 days; Last Week, I talked about Late Night Wars 2.0, a four year old named Tater Tot kicked out of public school due to the length of his hair, a guy collecting Jerry Maguire VHS tapes, and Marvin Harrison, Colt-faced killa. 

This week....well, here's the thing.

I've had a crappy week.  And in truth, I'm a bit of a misanthrope.  I don't like people, places, or things.  Nouns, basically.  I'm not a fan of nouns.  I'm fat, old, and grumpy and these characteristics could have been applied to me since I was eight years old.  So that I went 10 weeks writing a Sunday blog centered around all the really superkeen things that happened over the week previous represents a burst of optimism that I would probably credit to pharmaceutic, if, in fact, I was taking anything (you holding?  who's holding?).

So this week, we flip the script ('cause like every 39 year old white guy I use hip hop lingo from 2002 in my attempt to stay culturally relevant) and offer for you the very worst things that happened over the past seven days.

It's Bizarro Tendown.  BizarroDown!

First:  The End of the Republic

So, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week to eliminate a huge chunk of the limits on the ability of corporations to make campaign contributions. Olbermann, a little hyperbolically, compared the decision to Dred Scott.  The music of Olbermann's comment is going to drown out the lyrics; in the way that you really can't compare a current action to the Holocaust, slavery is just a club modern day political commentators need to leave in their bags.  But the point shouldn't be lost - there's a good argument that Dred Scott was correctly decided, meaning that as strictly an academic matter of legal interpretation, one could construct a Constitutional reading without too much trouble that would support the Court's conclusion that slaves (current or former or future) were definitionally without legal standing; the tragedy was less the intellectual bankruptcy of that analysis and more that the United States couldn't exist as a political structure going forward with that analysis as the law of the land.  A reasonable argument to make to Chief Justice Taney would have been "you might be right as a matter of law - or at least, you're not demonstrably wrong, but if we decide that your analysis is correct, the country is going to break in two."

Which it did.

This week, the Court in Citizens United invalidated (and left open to further invalidation) a huge percentage of the legislative scheme which stems the flow of corporate money into elections as impermissible restrictions on free speech.  I would have been a dissenting vote in Dred Scott and would have been in the dissent this week as well - but there's a colorable reading of the Constitution that supports the decision.  In the pantheon of "you guys are just making this shit up" - Citizens United isn't Bush v. Gore.

What it leads to is a destructive result.  It makes the most powerful more powerful. 

Why do we go to war?  We go to war because war is profitable and corporations for whom war is profitable are able to generate ideologies to support those wars.  We moved from WWII seamlessly into the Cold War (beginning with the dropping of the Atomic Bombs in 1945) and shut up talk about a "peace dividend" (remember that?  remember the "what will we do with all the money we won't need to spend on the military now?") by invading Iraq 10 months after the Berlin Wall fell.  Two decades later - we're still there - permanently in the Middle East, with our Biblical verse stamped rifles trained on Muslim kids, wondering how it is they could possibly hate us. 

Why don't we have health care reform?  Because in 2009 the insurance and pharmaceutical industries spent 1.4 million dollars a day fighting health care reform.  When corporations control mainstream media - and a television "news" network promotes the most conservative elements of our society as "real America" and many Americans, trained for a quarter century to believe that social programs are their enemy believe that the America they've been taught to revere is under attack - what we're left with is a disinclination to vote our own best interests.  There is no sickness in our political thought so contaminating as the belief that what's best for corporate America is what's best for America.  The business of America is business Cal Coolidge once said.  We all sold our souls to the company store. 

And this decision hands the wealthiest corporations the most power.  It is a victory for Goliath.  And I believe that to be harmful.  Not Dred Scott harmful because corporations had virtually unchecked power a week ago so the qualitative difference between the world we're about to enter and the world we're leaving behind isn't as enormous as Olbermann posits.  But harmful.  And activist - oh, my god - please don't let the right make that "these liberal activist judges" argument again.  Citizens United was a decision which overturned precedent and made invalid decades of federal legislation - that doesn't make it a bad legal decision; activism, despite what you've been taught, is not inherently a bad thing - it means an unelected Court is substituting its judgment for the settled judgment of representatives accountable to the American people.  That's part of our Constitutional framework.  It shouldn't be taken lightly, but it's how the Court works and when Republicans pretend its not they are absolutely lying to you. 

It may not have been a "bad" decision on the merits.  And its harm may not reach that of Dred Scott.  But the power of "regular Americans" to impact government policy took a terrific beating this week, and the town hall outrage was nonexistent.

That was the worst thing that happened this week.  After the jump - the rest of BizarroDown.
 1. If the Democrats run for cover, if we become pale carbon copies of the opposition, we will lose -and deserve to lose...The last thing this country needs is two Republican parties.

That was Ted Kennedy 30 years ago. 

His Senate seat was taken by a Republican this week.  That was bad enough, but the response by the the second Republican Party was "see - those liberals need to shut up, they cost us the Senate seat."

Because, of course, as Greenwald correctly noted, the unchallengable narrative sold by the right about the first year of the Obama Administration has been wild eyed socialists have radically overthrown the US government (or that Obama's done nothing at all, which was a popular right wing meme this week - they are intellectually untroubled by making both claims simultaneously):

In what universe must someone be living to believe that the Democratic Party is controlled by "the Left," let alone "the furthest left elements" of the Party? As Ezra Klein says, the Left "ha[s] gotten exactly nothing they wanted in recent months." The Left wanted a single-payer system, then settled for a public option, then an opt-out public option, then Medicare expansion -- only to get none of it, instead being handed a bill that forces every American to buy health insurance from the private insurance industry. Nor was it "the Left" -- but rather corporatist Democrats like Evan Bayh and Lanny Davis -- who cheered for the hated Wall Street bailout; blocked drug re-importation; are stopping genuine reform of the financial industry; prevented a larger stimulus package to lower unemployment; refuse to allow programs to help Americans with foreclosures; supported escalation in Afghanistan (twice); and favor the same Bush/Cheney terrorism policies of indefinite detention, military commissions, and state secrets.

The very idea that an administration run by Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel and staffed with centrists, Wall Street mavens, and former Bush officials -- and a Congress beholden to Blue Dogs and Lieberdems -- has been captive "to the Left" is so patently false that everyone should be too embarrassed to utter it.

But still - when Massachusetts goes Republican - its a loss for the liberal wing of the party.  It's "proof" that Obama's lurched too far to the Left.

And if Coakley had won, by the way - if she had won going away, won by fifteen points - it would be seen by pundits as resounding ratification for Obama's having turned away from the liberal base.  "Look" they'd say on Politico and Chris Matthews and Meet the Press "the moveon.orgs of the world are shouting about a public option - but that crafty Obama, by governing from the center - by not pressing for torture investigations, by not prosecuting Bush officials, by not getting out of Iraq - by sending more troops into Afghanistan - Obama is still able to keep liberal support for his moderate positions."  Rahm Emanuel would have crowed inside the west wing that the liberals will always turn out for Obama no matter what he gives them and that he needs to stay above the messy political fray and continue to look for center ground.

I guarantee it. 

Fox News will call Democrats in power communists no matter how conservative their policies.  A Democrat in office today who is an actual Democrat and not a member of the second Republican Party should press for the most progressive social, economic, environmental, international legislation he can - legislation which he believes is the most fair, the most just, and the most necessary right now to stem the ugly slide caused by the past 30 years of unchecked corporate power.  And Simple Jack will call you Stalin.  And Sarah Palin will call you Hitler.  And so what?  They're going to do it anyway.  You can hang out in the middle and lose Ted Kennedy's seat to a nude Cosmo model whose chief talking point is he owns a truck, or you can boldly say "I'm from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party - let me tell you the truth about the world" and see if the adults decide to listen to you. 

2. Lookin' Like a Fool
I know this cuts against national consensus, but I don't much care for "Pants On the Ground" (cept for Fallon's Neil Young version).  Seems stupid to me.  That's the word I want to attach to it.  It's stupid.  I don't have any affection for the saggy pants look myself, but a show like American Idol which has ignored hip hop for the totality of its run doesn't need to be taking easy shots at young black culture. 

I didn't like the William Hung thing either.  Stupid. 

And I don't like Brett Favre. Wow - do I not like Brett Favre. 

So - Sunday's combination of those two things fits right here as the second ugliest episode this week.  He's just a big ole' kid!  Just a big ole kid!  See how Brett sings Pants on the Ground!  He thinks he's people!

Aaron Rodgers is lucky the Packers general manager wasn't Jeff Zucker or when Favre decided to double back and un-retire (again) a couple of seasons ago, he would have been called gutless and chickenhearted and sent out to make a deal with Fox. 

3. The Roar of Chariots Touch Down
I am second to no 39 year old white man in his affection for Prince, he's a genius, on my pop music Mt. Rushmore - but that doesn't mean he hasn't written some craptastic songs (listen to Diamonds and Pearls again) - but the smelliest of his canon was released this week about those same Minnesota Favrekings. 

Pants on the Ground and this awful thing. 

the veil of the sky draws open

the roar of the chariots touch down
we r the ones who have now come again
and walk upon water like solid ground
as we approach the throne we won’t bow down
this time we won’t b denied

raise every voice and let it b known
in the name of the purple and gold

we come in the name of the purple and gold
all of the odds r in r favor
no prediction 2 bold
we r the truth if the truth can b told
long reign the purple and gold

the eyes say ready 4 battle
no need 4 sword in hand
we r all amped up like a rock n roll band
ready 2 celebrate every score
ready 2 fight the elegant war
ready 2 hear the crowd roar
that’s what we came 4
and so much more
in the name of the purple and gold

r spirits may b tired
r bodies may b worn
but since this day is r destiny
r history – that’s y we must b
4ever strong as the wind that blows the Vikings’ horn
in the name of the purple and gold

This Brett Favre thing has even taken down Prince.  If the Vikings win today and Al Franken shoots a Pants on the Ground video with Favre, next week might be another BizarroDown.

4. And They Put a Bullet In Coco This Week

I don't want to overly stretch this metaphor (Jon Stewart did some Conan as Obama this week - of course his ratings are bad, he had a terrible lead in) but the criticism of Obama and Conan is similar - that they need to become more moderate - that their act doesn't play in middle America, the way that, you know, LenoPalin does.  When Dick Ebersol said Conan didn't make the necessary changes when he moved from 12:30 - what he is saying is the 11:30 audience needs a broader, simpler comedy - all that New York humor is fine on the coasts - but when Joe Sixpack and Susie SoccerMom turn on the Tonight Show, they want comfortable comedy that doesn't challenge them.  They want their values reaffirmed - they want to ease into bed at the end of the day - they don't want to do too much heavy lifting. 

Obama and Conan were both told to move to the center.  The big, fleshy, Git-R-Done, U-S-A! center.

Now, I like Obama and Conan personally - or at least my sense of who they are - they project intelligence and I like that; I voted for both of them, Obama got my literal vote and I'm on Team Coco - but they're both pretty gentle, pretty easy, pretty centrist to me - neither one represents his radical wing particularly well - it's only in contrast to the opposition that either seems to even remotely look the way the mainstream media portrays him. 

And this week, the two Harvard guys, Conan and Obama, got beat by the two "regular" Baw-ston boys, Leno, the Emerson College grad, and Brown, from Tufts and BC Law.  Bad week to be the smart guy.

5. Tim Tebow Wants You To Have Your Baby.

I'm cool with Tim Tebow's willingness to offer his political views, I don't agree with any of them, and when he's uncritically accepted by the sports media as a hero of epic proportion, its hard not to recoil a little bit, particularly when athletes who make anti-establishment statements are ripped as being devisive. 

But this week, it was announced that CBS will be airing a Tebow-based anti-abortion Focus on the Family ad during the Super Bowl.  And I could not help but recall a previous CBS Super Bowl decision.

Five years ago, CBS refused to accept a purchased Super Bowl ad from the United Church of Christ which would have offered a message of Christian inclusion of homosexuals.  The CBS position was that it refused advertisement that:

Touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance

Now, everything is politics.  Everything takes a position.  The aggressive pro-military posture of the NFL and all US professional sports leagues over the past decade found at every significant championship event is a position.  The pre-game prayers from 8 year olds playing Pop Warner all the way to today's (hopefully losing) Viking locker room is a position.  The Biblical verses affixed under the aforementioned Tebow's eyes are a position.  Those are just all positions presented to us as inarguable, as "beyond the reach of politics". 

But there's not an argument that an anti-abortion commercial isn't a "position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance" - which, hopefully, means that someone, during the orgy of 2 week long pregame coverage will require CBS to clarify their current corporate posture.

6. And There's Also This All-White Basketball League.

This is just boilerplate racism.  But I'm uncertain how far it strays from the commonly accepted "there aren't enough fundamentals in today's NBA" sports analyst meme.  And I'm not sure how far away it is from something your average Teabagger would sign onto. 

7. We Killed Detainees At Gitmo

So, this week, we found out the Gitmo suicides weren't suicides at all. 

Which neither speaks well of our past or bodes well for our future.  No one hates us for our freedoms. 

8.  Particularly not our Freedoms from Want.
-I showed my house this week.  By summer I will no longer be a home owner and I will bathe in the kind of red ink that is likely to stain the rest of my decade.

I own a townhouse in South Florida, one from which I took equity at the height of the bubble in 2006 - which means I'm at ground zero in the collapse of the housing market.  My home is now worth not only substantially less than my mortgage, but apparently even less than I paid for it ten years ago. 

Ten years ago I won some money on the TV (a re-airing of my first episode of which aired just this week on ESPN Classic) and I took that money and bought this townhouse.  The house for me, particularly as it then rose substantially in value, was a referendum on really my entire adult life.   I went to the wrong college, a choice which then led to the wrong law school (if indeed I should have gone to law school at all) a choice which led to my being incredibly dissatisfied with my legal career, as my practice options were painfully limited.  I took a benefit-less position as a private school teacher, and while I was good at it, and that provided some modicum of self worth, it was impossible to avoid that at 29 I was without health insurance, the lowest paid member of my graduating class, and buried in student loan debt.  It was shameful.  That's what it was.  I felt shame all of my days, not just for my circumstance but in the belief that it was my choices, beginning at the choice of college when I was 17, that caused my circumstance.

But the TV money allowed me to get an additional graduate degree - and that, coupled with the law degree, allowed me to get a better job, and the rising value of my townhouse allowed me to pull money from it to pay off the student loans and just a couple of years ago, I existed, really for the first time in twenty years, comfortable in my own skin.  I felt ratified.  My choices, decisions, the steps that I had taken, had born fruit.  I had dug my way out of the hole of my creation; there was still plenty of value in my home - had I chosen to sell it, I'd be completely debt free at 36 with a good, safe job, plenty of corporate benefits, and a sizeable profit.

But I did not make that choice.  In fact, I never once considered it.  Worse, it didn't cross my mind.

When you have any investment that's tripled over 6 years - it needs to cross your mind to sell.

But it did not.  That error was mine and mine alone. And now I'm 39.  And this week my homeowners fees, already the highest I'm aware of for a townhouse of my value, doubled, as the association board chose to overhaul the water system.  There is no circumstance where I am still a homeowner six months from now.  And there's no circumstance where I don't get completely cleaned out in the process.  It's hard not to blame my lifelong choices.  It's hard not to feel shame.  And man - it is one thing to be 29 and feel ashamed of where you stand - but that feeling at 39 leads to a heaviness in one's brain that's hard to to not let seep into every area of life.  I've seen it coming for a year, have taken on as much extra work as I can sustain, but if this were a chess game, this is the week I recognized my opponent's got me trapped and I'm going to need to push over my King.

It's been a hard year.  Both the last 365 days and the last 3 weeks.  And this week was the worst of it.   

9.  Why, Paula, Why?
This is Paula Deen's recipe for Velveeta fudge.

Velveeta fudge is a crime against humanity.

10. And This Speaks for Itself.

I did not need to see any of that.  Not any of it.  Am I wrong thinking it's Snooki who could do better? 

That's BizarroDown - I'll be back next time...if there is a next time...

Your Pal,



Blog said...

Damn, sorry you had to hit this rough patch. Good things have happened to you before though, so odds are that they will soon happen again.

[Insert your favorite inspirational cliche here ("Win one for the Gipper?")]

Blog said...

Wait a minute...why would you sell your house for less than what remains? Wouldn't defaulting on the loan be the saner option?

Jim said...

Without too much of my specific disclosure; one can't short sell without bank approval, since they hold the note.

Blog said...

Given a choice between a short sale negotiated in good faith and a Chapter 7 filing, I think that most banks would choose the former.

Your plight sucks, but it still beats cancer, so that is something. And Brett Farve got humbled Iron Sheik style, so maybe the tide of karma has shifted back in your favor.

Jim said...

You doing okay, Joe?

Blog said...

This dude seems to have no qualms with defaulting his Miami Beach home.

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