Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Eve Special Edition

Well the election is a day away and I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going to happen. It seems like the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are covering different elections. Drudge blares headlines of poll after poll showing Romney with an insurmountable lead, while Huffpo reassures me about Obama’s “swing-state firewall.” The bloggers on Redstate and Dailykos both project confidence, and flame any “concern trolls” who try and curb their enthusiasm. Nate Silver says Obama has an 85% shot at winning, his proprietary statistical method serving as Xanax for the liberal intelligentsia, but his confidence has unleashed some vitriol on twitter.

I’m a Mets fan, a Jets fan, and a Knicks fan. All of that is to say that I’m use to my team losing, often in particularly heartbreaking ways. Being a liberal has been a similar experience, but the stakes are much higher.

I remember getting home from school in 2004, going to the Drudge Report and allowing myself to get caught up with John Kerry’s great performance in the exit polls. I remember I downloaded Eminem’s Mosh, an anti-Bush song, and played it on repeat as I imagined seeing Bush get put out to pasture. As the returns came in and it became clear Kerry was going to lose, I was heartbroken. That I later read a book and several articles arguing that Bush stole the election did little to restore my faith in democracy or the American people.

I remember 2000. My mom took me to vote with her, and I vaguely remember worrying that I had invalidated her vote by pulling the lever wrong. We all know the story, Florida was for Gore then Bush and then 30 some-odd days later, Republican obstructionism sealed the deal.

So you’ll forgive me if I’m a little nervous for tomorrow. Part of my anxiousness is my feeling that Americans like voting Republican. Conservatism is aspirational: the social safety net isn’t important to me because I don’t need it; America is exceptional and can do no wrong; I believe in freedom and God and family and life.

2008 was a perfect election cycle for the Democrats. They had a charismatic candidate who raised a ton of money versus a Republican party that was deeply unpopular. They had started 2 costly wars, botched the response to Hurricane Katrina, and presided over the collapse of the economy, and Obama only won about 53% of the vote. Demographic changes have raised the Democrats ceiling a little, but my guess is that McCain’s 46% is still near the Republican floor. At least Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% vote for their own economic self-interest, the Republican 46% is made up by a people who are clinging to their guns and religion to quote Obama in one of his more candid moments.

Of course, starting costly wars, and destroying the economy isn’t as big a taboo in America as passing a tepid healthcare law.

Obviously, the first debate was a turning point. Obama didn’t communicate clearly, and Romney did. The fact that Romney was clearly communicating ideas antithetical to his previous beliefs seems to not have mattered.

One episode that illustrated the futility of the American political debate was when Obama cited a study that showed that Romney's tax plan would cost 5 trillion bucks. Romney cited a study that says it wouldn't cost anything, and just like that the argument was finished. Both sides have think tanks that will say whatever they want, so it all turns into a whole lot of noise for the average voter. This is why things like decorum and body language wind up being the most important thing to many folks.

I think a lot of people were looking for an excuse not to vote for Obama, but were turned off by Romney's incompetence. The debate performance made them look like equals, and the universal acclamation of Romney’s performance made it socially acceptable to be a Romney supporter. You weren’t racist, or classist, or dumb, you were pragmatic.

The Vice-Presidential debate was far and away my favorite moment of the campaign. Biden couldn’t help but express his incredulity at Ryan and his conservative talking points. Republican spin immediately started that Biden was being ungracious, and he may well have turned off some voters. But for a down in the dumps Democrat, who was livid about Obama’s lack of fight, Biden was a breath of fresh air. The rest of the debates were boring, but Obama regained his footing and did pretty well.

However, the narrative had changed. Romney and his camp started projecting total confidence. Whether the enthusiasm was a strategy or reflected reality remains to be seen, but it definitely galvanized their supporters. Romney is no longer a hapless loser in the media narrative.

I guess it’s worth reiterating how big a disaster it would be if Romney wins. His tax plan amounts to a transfer of wealth to rich, he’ll pack the Supreme Court with justices who will march in lock step with Scalia, and he’ll get right to work dismantling what remains of the social safety net.

As I said earlier, it’s hard to get a really good sense of where the election stands at this moment, but it’s just about time to stop with the prognostication and do the damn thing. It’s really amazing to think how long this election has been going on for. This hasn’t been a horse race, it’s been a marathon. I’m alternately confident and despondent and I’m ready for this thing to be done.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breaking: Romney Exposed as Elitist

Well, the lamestream media has spoken and it seems like Mitt Romney’s goose is cooked after his latest gaffe. Even David Brooks, the vapid self-proclaimed dean of sensible centrists, was brutal in his condemnation. The scandal started when a secret video of Mitt speaking at fundraiser was released to the media. Speaking in front of friends he was a lot more candid than his normal milquetoasty self. He essentially said that 47% of Americans don’t pay taxes and receive government benefits and they are going to vote for Obama because they rely on his fiscal largesse. It’s an old Republican talking point: people are gaming the system, living well off your hard work, and they are likely black.

People are outraged and I agree that this sentiment is outrageous. However, it’s not really a different argument than we have consistently heard from Republicans throughout this campaign. Remember when Mitt said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor”? Remember when Romney nominated Paul Ryan, a man who built his career on a budget that severely cut entitlements? In fact, what has Mitt Romney ever said that made it seem like he cared about anything besides money and advancing his own career?

The Republican message for four years has been that the debt is out of control and defense spending is sacrosanct. The subtext being that frivolous things like social services need to be drastically cut. If you don’t think that shows disdain for people who get government entitlements, then you aren’t thinking clearly. Of course Romney doesn’t hate everyone that gets government assistance, which includes people on Social Security, veterans, etc. It’s a dog whistle, this is the party of “get your government hands off my Medicare,” of “Welfare queens,” they don’t have a realistic view of what the government does. They envision people relaxing on their couch; they don’t envision the grim realities that drive many folks to rely on the shriveling social safety net.

It’s a cheap shot to even note that Mitt presided over a law that provided free health insurance to folks earning below 150% of the poverty line, during his time as governor of Massachusetts. Just in case you think Mitt Romney isn’t an elitist rich asshole, he’s apologized for passing this law every year during Mormon Yom Kippur.

The most ironic thing of this whole thing is that Romney denounces the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax. This is a man campaigning on a message of lower taxes. Romney’s just jealous; he paid an effective rate of 14% in 2011. He stored his money in the Caymans and Switzerland, but he hasn’t figured out the best tax loophole of all: being poor. Republicans don’t believe in low taxes, they believe in whatever is in their self-interest.

In fact, consider that more than 1/3 of all people who receive government benefits get Social Security, and that 44% of people who don’t pay income tax are exempted by elderly tax benefits. That would seem to indicate that the majority of people who receive entitlements and don’t pay taxes are older than 65, the only subset of voters that favored McCain over Obama in 2008.

The whole situation reminds me of when Obama said that rural folks cling to “guns and religion.” Both Obama and Romney were speaking to their base, and put things in a blunt way, but my guess is their statements reflect what they really believe. However, they aren’t the same. The people Obama defined were nebulous, Romney’s statement is surprising for its specificity. Obama’s platform didn’t target the people he described, Romney’s built a campaign on doing just that.

Romney’s comment will energize liberals, and, if David Brooks is any indication, turn off independents. Conservatives were already frothing at the mouth to beat Obama, and just in case any started wavering Drudge blared a headline linking to a Youtube clip of Obama saying he “actually believes in redistribution.” This link attempts to neutralize the discussion, by equating government entitlements to redistribution, which they kind of are. Though it’s worth noting that the rich benefit from government redistribution in the form of defense contracts, business contracts, and bailouts.

So Mitt Romney is a rich asshole, but what else is new? He believes that if you don’t make a lot of money, you’re a lazy freeloader. Remember when he argued that Israeli’s have much higher per capita incomes than Palestinians because of their work ethic? He’s not someone who has a realistic view of what makes people successful or not. He’s rich so he’s good, and you’re poor so you aren’t. He argues that if he were Mexican he’d have a better shot at the presidency, without considering the fact that a different grandfather would have led to different circumstances. Forget his outlandish statements, his logical abilities disqualify him from the presidency. Hopefully, Americans can finally see what the Republican Party is all about, because Mitt put it about as simply as you can.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Conventions in Brief

Loyal readers of the Redel Traub Report, I have failed you. While I previously reported on every bit of minutiae during the Republican primary, I find myself unable or perhaps unwilling to discuss the presidential campaign as it heads into the final stretch.

Part of my reticence is because the race has lost the sense of whimsy it once had. It’s all well and good to make fun of Romney for any of the ridiculous shit he does, but it’s no laughing matter that he has a chance of becoming the president of the United States. It’s decidedly unfunny, unless you want to laugh about the calcification of the quasi-feudalist society that Romney envisions. Feudalism may well have been the crowning moment of Reagan-style trickle down economics. The lords lived well, but made sure there was enough gruel for the vassals to subsist on.

The last couple of weeks brought with them the national conventions. My analysis on them is hardly groundbreaking: they are ridiculous spectacles that seem to be mostly for the edification of congressman desperate to appear on the national stage. The conventions also do well to line the pockets of the balloon, confetti, and brass band industries.

The Republican convention was a cacophony of bullshit, a fact that should have surprised no one. I’m not sure any further analysis is needed, you’ve heard it all before. These Republicans are a twisted and dangerous bunch and God help America if they win. Their plan is to slash any spending, that isn’t for defense, cut the tax rates for rich people, and get rid of a lot of “loopholes” that help poor or middleclass folks. If you think these are good ideas, then great, but you are delusional; plain and simple.

The Democratic convention was also a cacophony of bullshit, albeit bullshit that I like to hear a lot more. Bill Clinton’s speech was slightly patronizing, but effective. Obama’s speech was very good in my opinion. I thought he did well to reconnect with voters, the presidency has a tendency to isolate you, and Obama reminded voters that his successes and failures don’t just go on a proverbial report card, but tangibly effect the lives of everyone.

Polls show that Obama might be starting to run away with this thing and I hope that's true. The U.S. is in a much more precarious position than anyone would like to admit. We're reminded of that on 9/11. 11 years ago, I sat in English class reading the insipid House On Mango Street when a teacher came into the classroom to tell us the devastating news. That day was perhaps the first and only time I was genuinely fearful for my life. I remember asking my parents "so what's gonna happen now?" Well what happened was that the U.S. launched a bunch of wars that exploded the national debt, which is a problem because we have literally seen no return on that money. Keynesian spending is good when it provides things people need, not when it goes towards cluster bombs, and strategic military bases. It's hard to take the Tea Party's tough talk about fiscal responsibility when they seem more than willing to crawl down an expensive rabbit hole in Iran. That's the clearest way to make the case for Obama; Vote Republican: More War, Less Medicine.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Yikes: A Rumination on Romney/Ryan

Well, I’ve got to say I liked the 2012 Presidential Election a lot more when it was just some nebulous idea, a distant specter. Those were the good times, when Rick Perry, stoned on painkillers, couldn’t remember what departments he wanted to eliminate, when Herman Cain quoted the Pokemon movie, and when Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were legitimate contenders. Remember the fun we used to have? The Republicans were a freak show and their milquetoast contender, Mitt Romney, seemed firmly unable to get just about anyone to support him. This thing was in the bag for Obama, weak economy and racist bigots be damned.

What hubris! This is America, where facts don’t really matter, money trumps everything, and people are more than willing to be seduced by talk of exceptionalism, by false promises and logical fallacies shrouded in ethereal platitudes.

And now the election's less than 3 months away and I’m a scared. Nervous about voter ID laws, nervous about the untold millions waiting to smear Obama, and nervous about an American public that just doesn’t seem to get it.

Of course, the big news is that Romney chose Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential nominee. It’s an interesting choice, and one I don’t think will turn out to well for Romney. Ryan is best known nationally for the so-called “Ryan Budget.” The Ryan budget is an abomination. It's the culmination of 80 years of Republican policies. It's the total repeal of the New Deal, and it's a plan that would thrust us back into the “gilded age.”

Of course, that by itself is not a deal breaker for Americans. They are happy to be swept up by talk of opportunity and social mobility that flies in the face of economic reality. What’s different about the Ryan budget is the starkness with which it makes its plans known. Gone are vague promises about reigning back entitlements and in its place are hard numbers which make it clear that Medicare and Social Security will be ended as we know them. The rich will get massive tax cuts, and just about the only governmental spending will be for Defense. This isn’t a new plan; it’s the same Ronald Reagan, George W Bush playbook that tripled and doubled the national debt respectively. But at least those charlatans made us feel good about it with optimistic language; there were no harsh realities in their universe.

The Republicans have invented the notion that the ballooning national debt is a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately, and their plan isn't even a viable way to address this supposed crisis.

Ryan will end the Earned Income Tax Credit, so poor people's rates will go up, while people like Mitt Romney will pay an effective rate of less than 1%, as capital gains and other taxes are eliminated. Republicans don't hate taxes, just poor people. The Orwellian hypocrisy of the modern Republican party would make for funny satire, except it’s really what they believe.

Paul Ryan’s ideas are popular when offered as abstract ideas, but when the actual cutting begins, Americans are fairly uniformly against them. They like their entitlements, just not the idea that someone else is living fat off the government hog. Paul Ryan’s selection might just start to awaken people about what they are really getting if they elect Romney. The selection has given the Obama campaign a concrete plan to run against, and an unpopular one at that. 

In classic Romney fashion, he backtracked on the day of the announcement and reminded reporters that he has different budget plans than Paul Ryan, though he won’t say where he differs. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? Similarly, the Romney campaign was apoplectic when his press secretary said something laudatory about Romneycare, something he’s been proud of in the past, before providing people with healthcare became an original sin in the eyes of the GOP. Can’t Romney show backbone about anything for once in his life? For a spoiled, rich, bully who’s been handed every advantage in life, he sure is a pussy. Of course, that trait is common in bullies, but it’s normally buried beneath layers of false bravado.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fuck James Dolan

I’ve been lulled out of my journalistic coma by a blind rage caused by the Knick’s decision to let Jeremy Lin walk to the Houston Rockets, either out of spite or some misguided sense of fiscal responsibility. Of course, Lin was a popular topic on this forum as he set the hoops world on fire with a remarkable string of games that elevated him from benchwarmer to superstar.

And now he’s gone.

The contract offered to Lin is a little ridiculous for a relatively unproven player, but the Knicks are so hamstrung with their ability to add players that failing to retain a guy, who at the very least could be an effective scorer off the bench or tradable asset, is infuriating. My anger is less about Lin, who I still believe to be a good player, and more about the radical ineptness of the Knicks. The Knicks owner, for the less diehard amongst us, is James Dolan. Dolan is the scion of the Cablevision empire, who took over the team from his father and subsequently led them down a road to perdition littered with bad contracts and untalented players.

Dolan is universally loathed, except by the management of opposing teams who are eager to fleece him, and players and agents who know a sucker when they see one. He’s the product of nepotism, a recovering drug addict and aspiring blues musician who’s never been told “no.” Supposedly, he values loyalty above all other traits and the Knicks have turned into a weird sort of cult under his rule. The team is notoriously tight lipped and Dolan’s voice is only heard when he awkwardly croons terrible blues ballads.

And yet, you couldn’t say he didn’t try. Dolan spent freely, if stupidly. He spared no expense, be it overpaying for the mercurial Larry Brown or the always-ravished Eddy Curry. He even covered a tort assessed for Isiah Thomas’s alleged sexual harassment of a Knicks official. That’s why consternation over Jeremy Lin’s “poison pill” contract rings so hollow.  With his team on the brink of quasi-contender status, he’s now decided to be fiscally responsible?

Other reports say that Dolan got into a petty pissing match because Lin renegotiated his contract with the Rockets after Knicks’ sources leaked that they would match any contract up to  “a billion dollars.”  Boo-fucking-hoo Dolan, don’t tip your hand. Why the media shy Knicks felt that the Lin contract was a good time to start being more free with access boggles the mind.

Even more upsetting is that all of this was done under the context of the Knicks trying to reach Finals. They signed role players like the ancient Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd as well as the one dimensional Steve Novak to expensive and long contracts. But now they’ve decided to roll the dice with Raymond Felton, last seen in a Portland McDonalds trying to “supersize” his French fries, instead of the dynamic Lin.

An upsetting by product is that this move will leave a lot of people misguidedly upset with Felton. Felton had a brief run with the Knicks in 2010-11, when he proved himself to be a warrior and fan favorite before he was jettisoned in the controversial Carmelo Anthony trade. Now Felton will be inextricably linked to the loss of Lin and will likely become a pariah.

Some have compared this to the Mets failure to resign Jose Reyes this offseason, but it feels a lot worse to me. The Mets financial troubles were well documented and the team was projected to be bad with or without Reyes. The Knicks fancy themselves to be contenders and let a valuable player walk for nothing.

Yesterday I was struck with a feeling of helplessness. As the three day window to match closed, I took to Twitter and, like many Knicks fans, let loose a stream of vitriol and obscenity directed at James Dolan, and it was ineffective and un-cathartic.

I’ve disagreed with almost every move the Knicks have made this offseason, as they’ve gotten older and less athletic, but that’s nothing new. I’ve long been a Knicks apologist, I gave Isiah Thomas the benefit of the doubt again and again because at least it seemed like he was trying to build a good team. I enjoyed rooting for Othella Harrington and Michael Sweetney and Michael Doleac and Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn and all the other inglorious bastards to wear a Knicks uniform this past decade.

My rage at the Knicks comes at an interesting time. I’ve just moved to Brooklyn and simultaneously so have the Nets. The Nets have been a little Knicks-esque with their fetishization of big name players, but at least their owner isn’t a Kim Jung Un like leader, who’s management of the Knicks matches his tone-deafness as the lead singer of JD and the Straight Shot. The internet has been abuzz with sports pundits giving me cart-blanche to switch my allegiances. So what do I do? I’m not ready to root for the Nets, but I’m just about ready to stop rooting for the Knicks.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Truth Behind Birtherism

As Donald Sutherland reminds us in JFK, the key question to ask about a conspiracy is not “who?” but “why?’ What he means is that conspiracies aren’t carried out for fun, but for some demonstrative reason. In Stone’s ahistorical view the murder of JFK was carried out because Kennedy was starting to challenge the military industrial complex. In the view of those who think the moon landing was a hoax, the government faked it to assert dominance over the Soviet Union. I’m reminded of this litmus test for conspiracies, because today breathlessly released, and Drudge echoed, early 90s promotional material from Obama’s publisher that touted the fact that he was born in Kenya.

A ton of writing has been done about the psychological background of the “birther” movement. It’s been seen as being rooted in an racist unease about the president’s background, and its hard to argue with that logic. In fact, there was a 2008 Presidential candidate who demonstrably wasn’t born in the United States, John McCain was born on a military base in Panama, and while that counts as US soil, it’s easy to imagine unease from right-wingers if the same could be factually illustrated about Obama. And let’s not kid ourselves, Obamas familial background is far different than almost every other president, as the son of a foreigner he’s at least half first generation American. He’s a far cry from the landed aristocracy of Jefferson, the Roosevelts, or the Bushes. His ethnicity clearly causes consternation amongst some folks, a fear that has been exemplified in the “birther movement.”

Despite the fact that it’s the domain of racists and looneytunes, I’ve always kind of liked the “birther” conspiracy. Not because I think Obama is subverting the constitution, but because I find conspiracies sexy and mysterious and interesting. Conspiracies are always more interesting than the real story, and it’s cool to think that there was some global liberal cabal that determined that a small child born in Kenya was the chosen one, and all sorts of trickery would have to be employed to ensure that he could one day arise to the highest office in the land. That’s where the conspiracy starts to fall flat, if there was a group of international liberals hell bent on bringing down America, why would they think that some African child was the best conduit to bring about this change, and what kind of slow burning conspiracy necessitates planting a birth announcement in a newspaper 45 years before the main phase of the conspiracy starts.

But you know what, let’s ignore the fact that the “birther” conspiracy makes no sense, and get back to the original question, “who benefits?” To hear the right tell it, it’s an attempt to overthrow the constitution. This overthrow has included a tepid healthcare bill, the continuation of an exploitative banking system, the continuation of a wasteful war on terror. None of these things are good, but they are hardly a departure from the status quo of American politics. The people who have benefitted in Obama’s America are the same folks that always have.

With one notable exception. In a Redel Traub Report exclusive allow me to offer my groundbreaking hypothesis about the real power players behind Obama’s phony citizenship: Tea Party Republicans. Since Obama’s election, the Tea Party has become the dominant force in the Republican party. Observe the myriad Republican incumbents defeated or forced out of office by challengers from the right. The latest victim was Dick Lugar, a 36 year incumbent, primaried out of office by a Tea Party candidate with a propensity for comparing his opponents to Hitler. If anyone has seen their stock rise since Obama’s election, and decidedly Jamie Dimon has not, it’s the hard right wing of the Republican party. It’s the perfect smokescreen, endlessly bitch and moan about Obama’s phony birth certificate, when they’re the ones behind the whole damn thing!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gingerly Boarding the Hockey Bandwagon

As a function of the fact that the professional sports teams I root for are generally bad, and my family isn’t big on attending games, I’ve only been to one playoff game in my life. Strangely, my one experience in witnessing the postseason live was a 2007 Ranger’s game that I watched from a skybox. I’m a little foggy on the circumstances, but somehow me and aspiring Noise star Mark Iosifescu, of the band Angels in America, found ourselves in a luxury box with a bunch of Wall Street types who apparently had some connection to his father. Now this was before the market crash of 2008, so there was no impetus for us to occupy the skybox. We ate free food, met a Ranger legend or two, listened to these guys talk about the ingenuity of Credit Default Swaps, and watched the Rangers lose the game and get eliminated from the playoffs.

I mention this as a prelude to my piece today to offer up my slight Ranger bonafides. I’m not the world’s biggest Ranger fan, but I’ve held a passing interest for them for some time. Part of my inability to take my Ranger fandom to the next level is my lack of familiarity with hockey. I’ve never played the sport, I can’t even ice skate. I could pick up a basketball and approximate some kind of semblance of resemblance to the game I see on TV, but with hockey that’s an impossibility.

Similarly, I have basically no concept of the rules of hockey. I’m getting a better understanding over the course of this playoffs, but I still don’t understand a lot. One thing I really do enjoy, is how the refs are constantly making the safe signal. They do this in response to potential offsides, potential penalties, or seemingly anything else. The next time you watch a hockey game, check out the refs and you’ll see the regularity with which all of them are calling things “safe.” My lack of hockey knowledge makes watching it kind of exciting, whereas I know intimately what leads to a “basket interference” or a “catcher’s interference,” I have no understanding of what a hockey interference is.

In case you’re wondering what’s inspiring all of this hockey talk, the New York Rangers are currently in the Conference finals. They hold a 1-0 lead over the rival Devils, following last night’s 3-0 win. Earlier this year, during the NBA lockout, I began to fancy myself something of a Ranger’s fan. I wouldn’t watch full games, or periods, but it gave me something to watch during commercials. The Rangers had a knack for scoring while I was watching, and I began to see hockey as something that wasn’t inherently boring.

Fast forward to the playoffs. Playoff hockey has always had a reputation for being exciting, and now I see why. First and foremost, everyone is going batshit nuts. The fans wave towels over there head, bang on the glass, and generally act as though they are living and dying with each play. The announcers scream out their play-by-play, and the whole thing generally feels like a gladiator match. Hockey is like the fog of war, the play is almost entirely serendipitous and the whole thing feels like a violent free for all. That’s been another thing I’ve really come to appreciate, the sheer violence of hockey. As far as I can tell, you can pretty much jack up anyone at any time.

This isn’t to say I’m fully on the hockey bandwagon, I’m still not watching full games, but I’m slightly invested. I’ve never seen a team I like win a championship, so I’m not going to neglect a team 7 wins away from one, just because the sport feels vaguely Communist and I don’t really know anything about it.