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Messaging is Overrated

[ 0 ] February 28, 2017 |

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A funny thing happened to public opinion and the Affordable Care Act:

Republicans may not have even realized until recently how deeply their ability to make political hay on Obamacare depended on not having power. They could posture against every inconvenient aspect of an industry nobody has ever liked, and promise all things to all people, with no responsibility to fulfill their grandiose promises. Now the dynamic has reversed. Loss aversion has inspired massive, energetic protests to speak up for a law Democrats could hardly be roused to defend before, while the energy has drained away from the opposition. Amazingly, polling for Obamacare, which has been unpopular since the outset, has sharply reversed. The last ten polls all show net positive approval for the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans somehow muster the partisan discipline to tear down Obamacare, as opposed to settling for minor changes, they will have to be willing to endure searing political pain.

There is one potential way of interpreting this:

It it, I guess, theoretically possible that the ACA had suddenly become significantly more popular because the Democrats have suddenly gotten much better and/or the Republicans much worse at messaging. The far, far more plausible explanation is that public opinion on the issue is driven primarily by structural factors. When comprehensive health care reform is being proposed, the very loss-averse public tends to focus on the downsides, and the people with the least to gain tend to be among the most influential (a problem that has only gotten worse since the passage of Medicare.) What’s changed is that the loss-aversion shoe is now on the Republican jackboot.

Again, we shouldn’t be complacent — a lot of Republican legislators want to kill the ACA and they’re not guaranteed to fail. But the very heavy status quo bias is American politics, which has almost always been the enemy of better health care policy, is for once working in its favor.

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My Favorite is Problematic

[ 4 ] February 28, 2017 |
St. Taylor, the world's skankiest man, and Brooke

St. Taylor, the world’s skankiest man, and Brooke

I figure that most LGM readers aren’t soap fans, but that I might persuade many of you to stick with me through this entry if I look at my favorite–The Bold and the Beautiful–through the prism of gender, race and class. On that score, my favorite has lots of problems.

My favorite character is Brooke. In fact, she’s  the only reason I’ve continued to watch this mess of a show for half my life. I’m waiting for her to get her happy ending. (Or at least the closest you can come to one on a soap.) She’s a controversial character, but I don’t know why; she’s just a prototypical “scrappy, immensely-flawed, heart-of-gold” heroine.  (She just happens to be the best one. ;))

It’s been hard to be a Brooke fan because when the show’s head writer and producer handed the reins to his son it was akin to leaving the show to a monkey with a typewriter; and it’s clear he had a very different vision for Brooke than his father did. The Taylor vs. Brooke rivalry was very much in swing when he took over, but Jr. made it into a Madonna vs. Whore spectacle, with Taylor playing the role of Madonna. It didn’t matter how much of a passive-aggressive hypocritical liar or manipulator Taylor was: Brooke was “the slut from the Valley,” so she was always on the losing end of every storyline. And Jr. took this to ridiculous heights, often having Brooke be the recipient of verbal and physical abuse. It was deserved because Brooke was an impetuous slut. (In reality, Brooke had slept with two men–to whom she’d been engaged–when this dynamic kicked in.)

Fans rebelled. We still loved Brooke no matter kind of shit Jr. flung at her. So he upped the ante, eventually having her sleep with her son-in-law. It was out of character, but unfortunately when you’re a fan, you don’t get to say “This doesn’t count.” So we continued loving the character, despite this immense flaw, ’til after nearly two decades of tying to establish Taylor as the resident saint by trashing Brooke he finally gave up and wrote the character off. But this whole gross chapter was so emblematic of the gross misogyny that taints of this show. Brooke was a successful chemist, inventor and CEO, yet Jr. clearly viewed her mostly through the prism of her sexuality. Brooke was “bad” because she had poor romantic judgement; this badness trumped all sorts of disturbing chicanery in Jr.’s world.

This brings us to B&B’s extremely troubling classism. The voice of morality on this show– always passing judgement on Brooke–was Stephanie. Stephanie could be abusive (seriously, horrifyingly) –and often was. This was allowed because Stephanie was wealthy, a “strong” woman of “class.” Stephanie was allowed to do all manner of disgusting things to Brooke in the name of “family,” up to and including physically assaulting Brooke and taking away her children. There was no act that was too outrageous or petty or cruel that couldn’t be excused because Stephanie was the noble matriarch of a wealthy family.

The classism runs far and deep in B&B. Take the show’s rival fashion house. It’s made up of “scrappy” idiots who are too rough-hewn to design their own stuff, so rely almost solely on stealing designs from the wealthy Foresters. The message is clear: the Foresters take a refined, intellectual approach to the art of fashion, while those dumb Spectras just hope to steal their way to glory. The Spectras are frequently portrayed as bumbling jokes, while the Foresters are portrayed as portraits of class.

And so we move to race. This is the part that really really disappoints me: I think B&B’s gravest mistake is not creating a fashion house that actually rivals the Foresters in any meaningful way. Lately the show has been putting forth a solid effort to make the cast more diverse. So, they’ve brought on a black family. Good, right? Nope. Here’s what they should have have done: they should have made the Avants a fashion powerhouse, folks with immense wealth and power to really rival the Forester brand. A gorgeous, glamorous family that would give the Foresters a run for for their money. Instead they made them a barely-middle-class family with very, um, oddly-cast parents.  (They are not, uh, glamorous. In fairness, the daughters are gorgeous.) For a spell, they had the Avant parents camping out in a tiny, cramped hotel room while the mom tried to get a job at the DMV. I was actually embarrassed for the show because the show didn’t have the good sense to be embarrassed for itself.

Mind you, there are 0 things wrong with being middle class, and there are 0 things wrong with seeking employment at the DMV, but since when are soaps centered around this kind of mundane real-life shit? Never. Oh, except when Jr. brought a BLACK family on. And don’t get me started on their shoddy, insulting attempts at Latino inclusion…dad was a firefighter and daughter was an intern. The message is clear: Latinos and Blacks aren’t wealthy power-players; they’re middle-class background players. It’s infuriating. (Interestingly, its sister soap, The Young the Restless is MUCH better on this score, making the Winters clan major movers and shakers and in their fictional town.)

The Bold and the Beautiful has the potential to be a really fun, juicy, glamorous soap. But on so many counts I am still waiting for my happy ending.

Racist in Chief

[ 49 ] February 28, 2017 |

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Donald Trump is showing the leadership one would expect in the aftermath of the racist murder of Indian engineers in Kansas.

At some point, embarrassingly late begins to verge on something more disquieting.

President Donald Trump has silently planted himself in that space.

Nearly a week has passed since two India-born engineers were singled out and shot at an Olathe bar, presumably because they were immigrants, darker in skin tone and possibly viewed by the shooter as unwanted foreigners.

People around the world were immediately and rightfully horrified.

But our president?

Mum. Not a word has been spoken, tweeted or prepped for Trump’s teleprompter.

Trump has offered no words of condolence for the grieving widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who died from his gunshot wounds.

The president has expressed no sympathy for Kuchibhotla’s best friend, Alok Madasani, who continues to recover from bullet wounds and the trauma.

Trump usually loves to celebrate all-American heroes. But he’s passed on commending Ian Grillot, a bystander who leapt to take the gunman down before anyone else was harmed. Grillot was shot, too.

Surely the White House team could have cobbled together a statement of some sort, a response to at least address growing fears that the U.S. is unwelcoming of immigrants, or worse, that the foreign-born need to fear for their lives here. The deadly incident in Olathe has resonated across the country and even around the globe.

During such moments of crisis, people look to the president for strength and guidance.

They need to hear their moral outrage articulated, the condemnation of a possible hate crime and the affirmation that the U.S. values everyone’s contributions, whether you’re an immigrant or native-born. For Trump, this was a crucial opportunity to condemn such hateful acts and to forcefully declare that this is not who we are.

Others grasp that role. On Monday, Hillary Clinton tweeted a Kansas City Star story recounting the plea from Kuchibhotla’s widow for a U.S. response to hate crimes.

Clinton goaded Trump, writing: “With threats & hate crimes on rise, we shouldn’t have to tell @POTUS to do his part. He must step up & speak out.”

On the other hand, EMAILS!!!!!!

But hey, Trump is responding is his own way:

The White House has announced six guests who will sit with the first lady during President Trump’s first address to a joint Congress. They include Megan Crowley — a college sophomore who is the daughter of a health care entrepreneur, Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver — widows of California police officers killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015, Denisha Merriweather — a woman who was the first in her family to graduate from high school and college, late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s widow Maureen McCarthy Scalia, and Jamiel Shaw Sr. — a father whose son was shot by an undocumented immigrant in 2008.

Traditionally, the president and the first lady guests’ are personifications of policy initiatives that that administration wants to focus on from the president’s speech.

The right kind of murders are OK, I guess.

Happy Pancake Day

[ 37 ] February 28, 2017 |

Hey, it’s Pancake Day. Enjoy!

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Jim Crow as School Choice!

[ 75 ] February 28, 2017 |

Betsy DeVos, reminding everyone that the “saying the quiet parts loud” remark we used to make about the Republican Party’s racist statements is completely antiquated in an era of open racism.

I have some other images of freedom-loving choice here:

Here’s someone who is choosing to oppress white choice in Birmingham.

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Here’s some people choosing to live in poverty.

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Here’s people who chose to be sent across the Atlantic as slaves.

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You’d like to think that openly racist statements promoting Jim Crow America as a model for the present would get DeVos fired, but who I am kidding. It all just makes Rand Paul’s dream to overturn the Civil Rights Act more likely.

Sorkinism

[ 126 ] February 27, 2017 |

#!dcdisplay fp\b0\i0\fs10Source~WARNER_BROS; Shoot_Date~19.10.1999; Type~COLOR;  ÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐ fs16\bNo Titlefs12\b0 (GANNETT PHOTO NETWORK) TV-SHEEN: Martin Sheen playing President Josiah Bartlett in "The West Wing." A scene from the show including (l-r) Allison Janney as Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, Richard Schiff as Communications Director Toby Ziegler, John Spencer as Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlett, The West Wing airs Wednesdays on NBC (9-10 p.m. ET) (GNS Photo by Warner Bros.) fp\b0\i0\fs10ÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐ fp\i0\b\fs16Copyright 1998 The Cincinnati Enquirer fp\b0\i0\fs10Copyright=OTHER; Photographer~Kevin_Foley;  Aspect=WARNER_BROS; Aspect=19.10.1999; Aspect=COLOR; Aspect=OTHER; Aspect=Kevin_Foley;

Aaron Sorkin truly is the Broderite wankertastic gift that keeps on giving.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is floating the idea of simultaneously confirming both Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee, and Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s nominee, to the Supreme Court.

The New Mexico Democrat told reporters Monday that he pitched moving the two judges during his meeting with Gorsuch, according to multiple reports.

“[Trump’s] got a book that’s widely acclaimed in terms of ‘The Art of the Deal.’ This is a deal that makes sense for the country,” Udall said, according to CNN. “It’s a deal that heals the real deep wounds we’ve had in this election.”

Under Udall’s pitch, Trump would meet with justices considering retiring.

If he promised to nominate Garland — whom Republicans refused to give a hearing or a vote — a justice would submit their letter of resignation. The Senate would move both Gorsuch and Garland’s nomination simultaneously.

What? Who would this resigning judge be? And how would Tom Udall or anyone else make this happen? But then, well, I should have known.

Udall’s proposal is similar to a 2004 episode of “The West Wing.”

In the TV show, the Democratic president needs to fill a Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of a GOP-appointed justice.

As part of a deal to preserve the balance of the court, the president and his staff convince the chief justice to retire and nominate a younger conservative judge to serve on the Supreme Court, as well as a judge considered too liberal to otherwise be confirmed, to be the chief justice.

But an aide for Udall told CNN that the Democratic senator’s plan isn’t ripped from the “West Wing” plot and that he’s only seen a few episodes of the TV show.

I might believe Udall on that last part, but clearly he has a staff member taking The West Wing seriously enough to put this idea in the senator’s ear.

The long-term impact of this show on the thinking of people who are legitimately not stupid and politically minded is way, way too strong.

Who Knew?

[ 210 ] February 27, 2017 |

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The last person to understand a basic fact is of course our president.

President Donald Trump told a bipartisan group of governors at a White House reception Monday morning that GOP tax reform would have to wait for lawmakers to move on repealing Obamacare, cautioning that, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

“I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said.

OK.

We Need Open Borders In Order to Cleanse This Nation of the Eating Habits of Old White Men

[ 191 ] February 27, 2017 |

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We’ve known this for awhile, but once again, Donald Trump eats his steaks well-done with ketchup.

“The President ordered a well-done steak. An aged New York strip. He ate it with catsup as he always does. The sides and appetizers on the table were shared. Three jumbo shrimp cocktails were delivered before the meal. At one point, the President looked at his watch and remarked ”They are filming ‘Saturday Night Live’ right now. Can’t wait to see what they are gonna do to me this week.“ It was hard to serve him because he is so funny and relaxed, it makes you laugh.”

Do we call this Putin-style steak?

Defeating Puzder

[ 80 ] February 27, 2017 |

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I interrupt the present civil war on the left between supporters of two excellent candidates for a position of relatively moderate power that has been blown up into a referendum on whether the future is a glorious revolution or Wall Street domination for mentioning how the left can actually do some pretty great things when it comes together. Andy Puzder blames the left for defeating his nomination as Secretary of Labor.

In his radio appearance, Puzder was even more vehement in denouncing “the left” than he was in denouncing the media. He said the left launched an “enormous campaign to wear down my support.”

“The left is trying to sink as many of the president’s nominees as possible,” Puzder said. “So in that sense, it really wouldn’t have mattered what I believed or who I was or what the process was. They were going to campaign against me as a means of hurting the president.”

Once again, Puzder did not enumerate or respond to the objections raised by labor unions and other left-of-center groups about his nomination, nor did Hewitt bring them up. These concerned labor violations committed by franchisees of CKE Restaurants; sexually provocative ads Puzder approved and defended for Carl’s Jr.; and Puzder’s opposition to raising the minimum wage even to $10.10.

Let’s be clear. It’s not only the left that defeated Puzder. It’s the left plus his extreme positions plus his hiring an undocumented housekeeper plus his grotesquely sexist advertisements for his shitty burgers plus being a wife beater. But without the left opposition to him, he is our Secretary of Labor. Of course, for Puzder, it’s also the left that is destroying the nation, a nation where wifebeaters should be powerful government figures.

Puzder, whose confirmation hearings were repeatedly delayed due to complications in divesting himself of CKE assets, accused Democrats of going “full throttle” once they saw some Republicans wavering. He surmised that Democrats and unions opposed him because he was a successful businessman who could help President Donald Trump create jobs and economic growth.

“I don’t believe their concern was that I would be bad for workers. I think their concern was that I would pursue policies they opposed and that workers would benefit,” he suggested. “So the implications of that for the left would really have been devastating.”

More jobs and a growing economy, Puzder added, would force more competition among employers for workers, increasing wages and benefits. He argued, however, that unions and “big government progressives” didn’t want to see those benefits “because it would confirm that no matter what the mainstream media’s been telling working and middle-class Americans, pro-growth economic policies are, in fact, in their best interest, and big government’s not.”

Totally dude. That’s why the 1930s through the 1970s saw the greatest gains for working class people in this nation’s history and the repeal of those regulations and implementation of Republican class warfare has decimated working Americans.

The Assassination of Keith Ellison by the Neoliberal Coward Tom Perez

[ 795 ] February 27, 2017 |

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It seems clear that Keith Ellison and Tom Perez made a deal in advance to immediately make the runner-up the #2 at the DNC. Given their ideological similarities and the fact they apparently work together well, this makes the gap between the actual stakes of the outcome of the DNC race and the apocalyptic morality play being written as an alternative set of facts about it even greater. But the fantasy universe in which Perez and Ellison represent massively different visions of the party they will somehow impose on it through some unspecified mechanism is going strong:

In fairness, unlike some formulations, this seems to leave open the possibility that some liberals can also be on the left and favor policies that advance the interests of the working class. But even confined to mainstream liberals within the Democratic Party, this analysis is absolutely bonkers. Mainstream liberalism “does not include poor people of any kind” and their vehicle for purging any voices for the poor out of the party was..the most effective and left-wing Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins? The most important legislative achievement of the last Democratic Congress and president was a massive expansion of the public health care program for the poor. Was the Medicaid expansion race-not-class because it wasn’t constructed to exclude many people of color, like the Real Working Class Liberalism of the New Deal? What was the objective of Medicaid expansion, if “center-liberalism” has abandoned the interests of the poor entirely?

Needless to say, the Medicaid expansion is not the whole story of the Obama administration, and there are many ways in which its economic policies were inadequate. The most recent Democratic platform was the most attuned to class interests of any in decades, but there remains plenty of room for critique. This, however, isn’t Rensin’s argument. His argument is that the interests of the poor have been entirely abandoned by the Democratic Party, and his central evidence for this theory is the selection of one left-liberal with a strong record on class issues over another for a position that does little-to-nothing to set the ideological direction of the party. OK.

And the analysis becomes even more incoherent when you consider that Ellison had plenty of support from “center-liberalism.” The Manichean alternative history of the DNC race not only ludicrously casts Tom Perez as a Thatcherite, it also apparently casts Chuck Schumer as a left-not-liberal class warrior. It’s incomprehensible on any level.

People for whom it’s never not 1996 notwithstanding, the Democratic Party is clearly moving to the left, as it should be. What the priorities of this coalition should be when it gets the chance to govern and how to get it in a position to govern remain pressing questions with plenty of room for disputation. But the DNC race will barely merit a footnote when this history is written, and distorting the players to try to transform it into a desperate Last Battle for the Very Soul of the Democratic Party is deeply strange.

Aftermath

[ 92 ] February 27, 2017 |


So that was crazy.

In other news:

 

Oscars No. 89 Open Thread

[ 165 ] February 26, 2017 |

I’m not watching but the Twitters informs me that Mahershala Ali has won Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight.

Here’s a list of nominees and winners that will be updated as they’re announced. Consider this your open thread to discuss the 89th Academy Awards.

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