Category Archives: politics

Four Months In

It’s been four months. 

On one of the teams I work for in my day job, we’ve been talking about the decrease we’ve been seeing in ebook readership growth. Overall, ebook consumption is still growing, but the rate has slowed. Corporate-type people will be the first to tell you that slowing growth isn’t per se an issue that sets off alarms; it’s more like the prickly feeling you get when you perceive that something might be wrong on the horizon. We don’t have data yet on why this trend is happening, but it’s a sign we can’t get comfortable. We need to prepare for the possibility that ebooks might go into decline and plan accordingly.

Anecdotally, the team lead raised one point; the slowdown coincides with the election of the current president. It’s possible that ebook consumption is down because time that used to be spent with ebooks is now being funneled into obsessively checking the news feeds for the latest drip of drama and turmoil.

While I’ve never been one to shy away from the headlines, I know that my digital news consumption has skyrocketed in the past months as I search for the slightest hint of reprieve, the first glimpse of relief that we’re on course to put the current nightmare behind us and get back to something resembling normalcy.

I’ve had to force myself to put down my tablet and refocus on reading print books just to break the cycle. And even then, my phone is out between chapters, just to see what I missed. This is what bothers me most about the current political environment, on a personal level. I can feel my thoughts changing, my attention span warping, even as I try to resist it. We are in the Age of Spectacle and Spectacle demands our most precious commodity: our attention.

It reminds me of alcohol, which is to say that it’s a poison, but it’s a very tasty sort of poison that one grows addicted to the more one is exposed to it. Like alcohol, I’m experimenting with stopping or limiting my consumption as much as possible.

So far, I’ve been succeeding at cutting back on the alcohol. Not so much on obsessively cycling through Allsides.com for new headlines or the various blogs I frequent or Twitter or Reddit.

It’s been hard to know what to say about everything. This is a frustrating state of being for a person who typically says too much on too many subjects, the unfortunate side effect of reading too many books and have too much access to the internet. I don’t envy people that have to do this professionally; it must be agonizing to have to choose between taking your time and getting it right, but risk getting left behind, or rushing out the door before the next cycle begins and risk getting it wrong. It’s safer to be an amateur, in this case. I’m happy where I am.

I have predictions about the future, although I’ve been so spectacularly wrong thus far I no longer trust whether I’m capable of perceiving the world as it is or if I perceive it as the way I hope it might be. I don’t think Trump will finish out his term; if he does, it’s only because investigations are slow, laborious affairs. Investigators like to be thorough, which is good, but I worry about the damage that can be done while they go about their business. I think there’s a pretty good chance of the House flipping in 2018; it’s what I’m hoping for, at any rate, as I keep an eye on the president’s popularity numbers.

Most of all, I hope that everyone eventually realizes that this level of turmoil and division cannot continue. I hope that collectively, we get so sick of the way things have been going that the pendulum swings back the other way and the next round of potential leaders are chosen because they’re stable, experienced, and/or reasonable. At the very least, that they’re capable of listening.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to read more books.

Review: Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century

Exit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American CenturyExit Right: The People Who Left the Left and Reshaped the American Century by Daniel Oppenheimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book largely due to the chapter on Christopher Hitchens, who has long been a writer I’ve admired (his support for the Iraq War notwithstanding). I was very interested in seeing a neutral perspective on Hitchens, since I already have read at length what Hitchens himself said about that decision.

Before we get to the Hitch, however, we move through history as we explore the political careers of several other Leftists who ultimately, well, left. On the first few chapters, I am more ambivalent; these stories are likely going to be of more interest to those who are familiar with the men in question. I myself had only the vaguest recollection of who Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham was (before going to look it up on Google).

Although it was likely not the author’s original intention, what struck me as most interesting about the chapters on very early Leftists like Chambers and Burnham was the stark reminder of the history of the Left. It’s so very easy in political history to assume that the arrangement that exists today is equivalent to what came before; the Left is liberal, the Right is conservative, end of story.

But we forget that the political Left went through a long history with competing ideologies and that the social liberalism that brought me to the Left once struggled for intellectual oxygen against communism. These days, the idea that “Lefties are all commies” is basically a dead horse trope, a political joke that’s amusing irrelevant. So irrelevant, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that it used to be true. But I digress.

The most interesting chapters were on Norman Podhoretz, Ronald Reagan, and the Hitch. Podhoretz isn’t someone I was familiar with, but his story is so fascinating in its self-destruction that you can enjoy it entirely on its own merits. The ill-advised publication of the book that led to his public humiliation and ostracization doesn’t need you to be political to relate to what is basically a very human story. Especially when you consider how many people tried to warn him about what he was doing.

I list Reagan and Hitchens as the other highlights of the book as these were the individuals who were most relevant to me personally, since Reagan continues to cast a long shadow over the political landscape even today and I’ve read most of Hitchens’ books. It’s also interesting to contrast Reagan with the other figures of this book, as he’s the only one who isn’t described as an academic or intellectual. His story is a different one and at the end of it, I wonder what would have happened had he never been shifted to the right (although such a shift seems inevitable, given his personality).

Finally, we come to Hitchens. It’s unfortunate that Hitchens is one of the shorter chapters, because this was what I most wanted to read about. While author Daniel Oppenheimer generally takes a fairly neutral tone throughout the book, never allowing his own politics to color his prose, he describes Hitchens in particular as having fallen as a result of his rightward drift. Not because Left = Good and Right = Bad, but because the decision to double down on the Iraq War ultimately seemed to demolish Hitchens’ own vitality when the war effort began to unravel. Oppenheimer describes Hitchens’ best work as having come before the Hitch left the Left, which I would agree with.

It should go without saying that this book is for those with more than a passing interest in political history and thought. But for readers of that persuasion, it’s a fine read. It’s particularly refreshing in its balance and even tone, neither sanctifying nor demonizing of Left or Right. That’s something that’s increasingly rare in modern political thought (unfortunately, and yes, I hold myself as having failed this standard). If you’re interested in the topic, even a little, this book gets a solid recommendation.

Finally, I’d like to note that although it’s only described in the foreward and postscript, Oppenheimer’s thoughts on the nature of political allegiance and ideology were especially important to me. More and more, I’ve fretted about how people on “my side” can hold what I feel to be profoundly stupid ideas; most anti-vaxxers are on the Left rather than the Right, for instance. How can people who hold compatible ideas to my own be so misguided about other things, I would ask myself?

Oppenheimer reminded me that Left is a broad category and that many competing ideologies fall under its umbrella. He describes the Left and the Right as suits that don’t entirely fit right; maybe they bunch in the shoulders or have sleeves that are a little too short. But we pick the one that fits the best and ignore the little ways it doesn’t fit. Oppenheimer offers his book up as a challenge “to wrestle with the ways in which his or her own political suit might strain at the shoulders a bit more than is comfortable to admit.” And while it’s incredibly unlikely that I’ll be leaving the Left any time soon (if ever), this book helped sharpen my perspective.

View all my reviews

I Did Not See That Coming (Political Edition)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the subject of politics this year, having burned myself out on the subject back in 2013. It was my prolific year on this blog, but also the most frustrating, in part because I ended up politi-blogging so much that I ended up seeking out content that infuriated me just so I’d have something to write about. That ain’t no way to go through life, son. I also wanted this blog to really focus on fiction more, hence the shift in content.

That said, I’m in a rare mood today and I’d really like to go on the record for just how badly one of my predictions turned out, so here are my thoughts on this bit of news: candidate Scott Walker is going to drop out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

I didn’t write a post about this (see the previous paragraph about political blogging), but I had opinions and predictions. And when the Republican primary process kicked into gear earlier this year, I predicted Walker would be the eventual nominee.

If we could rewind to a few months ago (circa April 2015), here’s what a slightly younger version of Matt would say:

On the subject of the Republican candidates: It’s going to be Walker vs. Clinton in 2016. He’s an obvious choice: he’s from a Democratic stronghold state (Wisconsin has voted blue in every presidential election since 1984) and his big claim to fame is union-busting, which is abhorrent to me, but it’s the kind of thing that can win broad appeal without alienating too many demographics, especially since blue-collar Republicans vote against their own interests so often. He’s not doing great in the polls right now, but let’s look at his competition and you’ll see why I think he’s going to be the guy (not to mention polls this early are basically worthless anyway; just ask President Cain or President Gingrich).

Walker doesn’t have a last name with a ton of baggage like Bush.

He’s not too religious, which gives him more moderate appeal than Jindal or other religious conservatives, but still seems religious enough to win over the base.

Huckabee might be in the lead right now, but that’ll never last. Ditto Santorum.

Christie is damaged goods after the bridge thing.

Paul and Cruz might be serious contenders, but I think they’ve been on the stage too long and people are tired of them.

Of them all, I’d say Rubio could be the strongest candidate for a general election, but I don’t think the current Republican party can handle someone with his background (i.e. non-whiteness) and relative youth, even though he’d be a great candidate to field against the Democrats, especially if he can peel away Latino voters.

Trump is just this cycle’s Herman Cain. Or this cycle’s Trump. Take your pick.

In short: I predict it’ll be Walker vs. Clinton 2016, in which case “go Hillary!”

Yeah.

Obviously, I was wrong; thoroughly, utterly, completely wrong. Walker is the second drop out after Rick Perry resigned a few weeks ago. He was the guy I’d have bet money on. Keep in mind that he’s not the guy I’d have voted for; I’m not a Republican and even if I was, I’m far too pro-union to like the guy. But he seemed like a solid pick at the time, certainly a more sane choice than Trump (who wasn’t even running at that point and was just doing his Trump thing of talking a lot).

Of course, I’d also predicted that Hillary would basically run unopposed, with Bernie Sanders providing a token opposition in an effort to push her platform in a more left-leaning direction. And maaaybe there would be a Biden run, because why not? And now there are a few polls showing the Bern in the lead? Craziness! At this point, I’ve already been so wrong that I’m just going to throw out all my previous predictions and start making new ones.

So, here goes: you saw it here first, I’m calling it for President Bernie Sanders in 2016. Woo, feel the Bern!

But you might not want to take my word on it; after all, my track record for predictions so far has been pretty terrible.

Scottish Independence And How It Relates To My Life

We’re on the eve of the big vote. Scotland awaits word on whether it will once again be an independent nation. It’s an exciting, historic occurrence that we are witnessing from across the pond.

So, naturally, my main concern this: is what does potential Scottish independence mean for me, an American citizen in Arizona? This has the potential to deeply affect one of my very favorite things.

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Pictured above: one of Matt’s very favorite things

What does Scottish independence mean for scotch? 

I’m not the only one wondering about this, either.

Scotch is primarily an export. The market for scotch depends on pretentious scotch drinkers like myself here in America. Will an independent Scotland adversely affect the scotch market? No one can predict how strong Scotland’s currency would be if it pulls away from the United Kingdom. I suppose it could go to the euro. Admittedly, I’m not an international economist but my understanding is that the euro isn’t as stable as the pound is.

Would prices on scotch go up? Would they go down? Either one would be bad for someone. Higher prices would be bad for me, since I already can’t afford to drink my favorite single malt except on special occasions.

But lower prices would be bad for the scotch market in general if they weaken the value of the product and force some of the best distilleries to cut back or close up shop. That seems less likely, given that the demand for scotch is only increasing. But it’s always possible, I suppose.

Most likely, either scenario would happen in the long-term. I doubt my favorite bottle of Highland Park will suddenly quadruple in cost tomorrow. But who knows?

In the meantime, all we scotch drinkers can do is hold our Gleincarn whiskey glasses closely while we wait for the results of the vote.

Let Me See If I’ve Got This Right

Republicans are suing the President. This has never happened in the history of the union! What new realm of litigation are we about to unwittingly enter? Can the President now sue the Congress for not doing its job? Can we sue Congress for not doing their jobs?

More importantly, I cannot believe the brazeness of this legal action. It’s practically a cereal. Brazen bran. (Available now at your local Trader Joe’s.)

The House approved the resolution in a near party-line vote, 225 to 201. It authorizes House Speaker John A. Boehner to file suit in federal court on behalf of the full body “to seek appropriate relief” for Obama’s failure to enforce a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would penalize businesses that do not offer basic health insurance to their employees.

That provision’s effective date has been delayed by the administration twice and now won’t fully take effect until 2016. The GOP-led House has voted to repeal the law, even as it seeks to sue Obama for failing to enforce it.

Let me see if I follow the logic here.

Republicans: We hate Obamacare! We are not going to rest until it is a smoldering ruin! It’s bad for businesses and it’s bad for Americans!

Obama: I’m going to hold off on some of the penalties to give some businesses time to adjust.

Republicans: You’re not upholding the law! You don’t have the authority to dictate the law that you wrote! NOW WE SHALL SUE YOU. Also, we’re going to repeal the law that you failed to uphold, because that law sucks. BUT YOU SHOULD STILL BE PUNISHED FOR FAILING TO UPHOLD IT.

I know that’s not the real reason, of course. Republicans just hate Obama and they’ll take whatever they can get as justification to go after him. It’s just . . . this particular tract is so silly.

Sure, call it “abuse of executive power” all day long but on paper, as in, on the paper that you’re submitting to the courts, you are suing Obama for not supporting Obamacare even as you work to repeal Obamacare.

There’s a word for this sort of thing. That word is kafkaesque.

Well, whatever. They can waste time on something this silly. It’s not like we have any sort of national crises going on with the VA or with refugee children flooding the border or anything serious like that that might require the attention of our legislative branch.

I Read Harry Potter At An Impressionable Age (Which Is Why I Voted For Obama)

I absolutely love this story that was making the rounds through the feeds of my more literary-minded friends and colleagues (which is pretty much everyone that I know.)

Are you a millenial? Did you read Harry Potter at a formative age? DID YOU VOTE FOR BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA?! If so, you are proof that we’ve all been brainwashed by one J. K. Rowling.

Harry Potter is a liberal plot! Observe:

The seven Harry Potter books by JK Rowling might have played a significant role in President Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory, a new study claims.

The Millennials — people born after 1980 — were brainwashed by the Harry Potter books, which chronicled the life of a young wizard and his friends, Anthony Gierzynski, a University of Vermont political science professor, said in his study.

“The lessons fans internalized about tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority made the Democratic Party and Barack Obama more appealing to fans of ‘Harry Potter’ in the current political environment,” Gierzynski said, according to The College Fix.

The fantasy series helped Americans develop a better understanding of diversity and instilled a positive attitude towards tolerance, his research found.

 This logic is unassaible. Here, take a look:

Fact One: Young people read a lot of Harry Potter.

Fact Two: Young people voted for Barack Obama in large margins.

Conclusion: Harry Potter is the reason young people voted for Obama.

There’s clearly no other possible interpretation of this data. It has to be those durn magical books and not the fact that the Republican party is growing increasingly removed from younger generations as its most far-right fringe elements dominate its perception.

I especially like the study’s claim that Harry Potter is responsible for “tolerance, diversity, violence, torture, skepticism and authority,” and that “the fantasy series helped Americans develop a better understanding of diversity and instilled a positive attitude towards tolerance.”

So, basically: kids read Harry Potter and they appreciate diversity. They tolerate people who are different from themselves. They are skeptical of authority. They are critical of torture (Harry getting tortured by Voldemort are some of the series’ darkest moments).

In other words, these kids are NOT Republicans. The article doesn’t specificy which party Voldemort would join, but then again, with the Dark Lord’s obsession with “bloodline purity,” it’s really not hard to imagine where his political affiliations would fall.

Personally, I think the Republicans should just run with it at this point. Get your 2016 presidential candidate out there sporting the Dark Mark and court the Slytherin vote. Print out some Voldemort Votes Republican bumper stickers, except not as a joke.

That, or change the perception of your party away from “the party of authority, intolerance, and torture.”

Schadenfreude

Oh, this is delicious. Dick Cheney is in the news a lot right now, writing articles about Iraq and such. Honestly, the first time I saw that particular headline “Cheney says Obama is wrong about Iraq,” I thought it was an Onion headline. Imagine my surprise when I was redirected to the goddamn New York Times.

Whatever, everyone else is talking about that. Let’s talk about something that I feel is far more delicious.

The Cheney family has a PAC called the “Alliance for a Strong America.” It will, quote, “fight to restore American strength, power and influence around the world.” Uh huh. Sure.

But their website address is kinda weird: www.strongeramerica.com. Shouldn’t the domain name be the same as the group? Stronger America sounds like the name of a new gym.

Okay, maybe they just wanted something shorter to fit on the business cards. You’d think they’d still grab the full name of their organization for a domain, right?

Here’s what happens when you visit http://allianceforastrongamerica.com.

“A Strong America means not listening to Dick Cheney.”It then goes on to quote a list of Dick Cheney’s greatest hits.

Tee hee.

Rise Of The Third Party?

When I first became interested in politics as a young man, one of the things that bothered me most about our political system was the complete dominance of the two parties. You were either a Republican or you were a Democrat. Sure, you could cast your vote for some other party, assuming there was a suitable candidate. But a vote cast for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party was largely symbolic. Even the most successful party in recent history – the Reform Party – managed a mere 8% of the popular vote in the 1996 presidential election. They did manage to elect a governor, though, so . . . that’s good, I guess.

But even though my youthful enthusiasm for a multi-party political system has waned, I’ve long wondered if I might see a new third party emerge within my lifetime. It’s not without historical precedent. Parties come and go, wax and wane. We don’t have a Whig Party these days. We don’t have a Federalist Party.  The Democratic-Republican Party, oddly enough, split into what eventually became the modern Democratic and Republican Parties (via a detour through Whig Town for the Republicans).

My secret dream has always been that the Green Party would eventually rise up and gain some real teeth in the political process; a longshot, I know, but when you’re an early political idealist, you think just about anything is possible. I’m still holding out for that future, in case anyone is thinking about accusing me of giving up on my dreams.

Laugh if you must.

What I didn’t predict was that our rising third party would be hewn from the fragments of the schismatic and possibly irreparably broken Republican Party:

For nearly 150 years, there was something in America called the Republican Party. It was far from perfect. It often faltered. It made mistakes. But it was predictable; when it was in power, you knew, for the most part, what you were getting.

Cut to now and things look mighty different. The Republican Party today is, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put it, “an insurgent outlier in American politics … ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” But, to borrow the title of Mann and Ornstein’s recent book, it’s even worse than it looks. There’s the Tea Party and then there’s a rump of spineless moderates. The GOP, quite simply, has been split in two.

So, I guess my long-held wish for a third party may be on the verge of fruition. With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing to the Tea Party candidate Eric Brat, it seems like a permanent split between the mainstream Republicans and the Tea Parties might well be here. Or maybe not; it’s a little too early in the primary season to say how this will all shake down.

Maybe Cantor’s defeat is an outlier. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to observe.

 

I Don’t Understand The Current GOP

If you’d ask me to sum up Republicans in a few stereotypes, one of the big ones would be “loving the military and everything that the military does is super awesome.”

Republicans love the military. They love military spending, they love cool fighter jets and big tanks and awesome guns that can kill people from three miles away. They love thinking about how America is the world’s greatest military superpower. Republicans believe that the only time it’s acceptable for a man to cry in front of another man is during the honoring of military heroism or remembering the fallen. Republicans believe that the sacredness of the veteran is second only to Jesus, who is the Christ, and even then . . . it’d be tough to choose if you asked a Republican to say which one was more sacred.

That sounds right, doesn’t it? It’s certainly not those Democrats who have the stereotype of being all about the veterans and the military. I’m not saying that Democrats are anti-military. I’m just saying we have the stereotype of being not on board. We have to worry about swift-boating. We get called “traitors” a lot because of criticism of the military. We’re definitely considered to be a bunch of tree-huggers.

One of my favorite Democrats wanted to replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Peace. There isn’t a Republican worth his domestic beer that would suggest such a thing.

With all that in mind, somebody please tell me what the fuck is going on with this Bowe Bergdahl thing?

Seriously. I can’t fucking understand it. The man’s a soldier. A veteran. One of America’s “fighting men,” as John McCain would say. He wears the uniform of the United States military.

“No one gets left behind” isn’t just a cornerstone of the American military, it’s pretty much its most sacred commandment. Marines are trained not to leave a man behind, even if you know that he’s dead. You bring your brother (or sister!) back home. You don’t leave anyone to the enemy. Risk your life if you have to. Carry him out on your shoulders or drag him behind you, but don’t leave him behind.

No. Matter. What.

It’s like, Jesus Christ, even a tree-hugging, vegetarian liberal like me understands and respects that basic truth about the military. I respect the hell out of this particular truth.

Regardless of why we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of the morality of why we’re fighting, it doesn’t change the fact that the men and women who did that fighting volunteered for it. The fact that they volunteered meant that I didn’t have to fight.

So the Obama administration brings Bergdahl home. The last Afghanistan War POW is returned home.

And suddenly, this is a bad thing? Suddenly, there are qualifiers about who gets left behind and who doesn’t?

Fucking explain this to me. Explain this to me as anything other than evidence that the GOP has lost its goddamn collective mind over how much it hates anything Obama does.

Because honestly, at this point, it looks like if Obama declared that being able to breathe oxygen was the right of every American, Republicans would declare that free, breathable oxygen was an evil socialist plot and that the market should decide whether Americans deserve oxygen or one of the other market-based alternatives, such as argon or chlorine. You know, I’ve heard good things about some of those noble gases; maybe we should try some of those instead. Xenon might be fun.

I realized that I’m incrediably biased when it comes to politics. I’m really, really far to the left on, well, nearly everything. My opinion on what Republicans do isn’t going to be reasonable a lot of the time. I’m not always willing to admit that some the things my side does are fucking stupid, even though they sometimes are.

But the military? Republicans are mad that a POW was returned to American soil? How the hell is bringing home a POW a controversy?

It’s supposed to be “no one gets left behind.” Not “no one gets left behind . . . as long as we like you enough to bother trying to save your ass. If we don’t like you, fuck off and die.”

And yes, I recognize that there are some Democrats complaining about Bergdahl’s return as well. But I expect Democrats to bitch about anything related to the military. That’s nothing new. It isn’t even surprising.

Seriously, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I think back to the Bush years and how much the military and “support our troops” were the hallmarks of the Republican identity. It really does illustrate just how much the past five-and-a-half years of Obama have made the GOP go absolutely insane.

Good News For Fans Of Public Libraries In Arizona

According to its Legiscan page, Arizona HB 2379 has been in the House Rules Committee since February 17. I’ve been told that this means that the bill is effectively dead and that it’s too late in the legislative session for this to be passed.

It certainly looks like the bill’s legs have been cut out from underneath it. If you look at the Legiscan page in depth, you can see how fast things were moving on the bill from January to February. And then it hit a wall and promptly stopped moving, likely due to the massive public response that supporters of the library raised in opposition of this legislation.

There are a few ways for bills to die. They can die dramatically from a governor’s veto, which is what happened with SB 1062. They can also die quietly, buried in committee until the world has forgotten that they ever existed. HB 2379 seems to have died that quiet death.

It’s unfortunate when such a destructive bill dies quietly because for those whom the bill would have harmed, it’s hard to say when the battle is really over. There’s no moment to take a victory lap and celebrate the fact that we won. There’s just a vague feeling of unease that slowly lifts as we look at one another and ask “is it over?”

But we did win and our public libraries are safe, at least for another year. This cynical blogger has a cynical feeling that we’ll be seeing another version of this bill come January 2015. There was an incarnation of HB 2379 that was vetoed by the governor back in 2011. If a veto wasn’t enough to keep this revenant piece of legislation down, I can’t imagine that a quiet death in committee will either.

But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that we won. And we couldn’t have won if the people our libraries serve hadn’t stood up and spoken out against this bill.

Well done, Arizona. Thanks for standing up for your libraries.