Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Lazy writers' crutch alert, but when people look at American democracy, they often express amazement that someone as incompetent and supposedly dumb as George W. Bush could be elected President. When people look at democracy in general, they express surprise that the two most venerable democracies in the world could elect leaders who both thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq. And sometimes this gets blamed on the media, or various elites, or stolen elections and family dynasties in the case of Bush. But the reality is, our system, or the British system, just isn't set up to elect people who are good at governing the nation or developing wise policies. It's set up to elect talented politicians. And we really do a stellar job at it. If you conceive of presidential politics as a sort of NCAA tournament of gifted bullshit artists, where the guy who's better at pushing his bullshit advances, you begin to get a handle on what American democracy really is. Of course, the state of the economy plays a huge role in elections, probably determines most. But even so, this plays out on the bullshit level. It's a lot easier to bullshit about the other party's economy than to, as President, bullshit about why the bad economy's not your fault. So though the economy (and popular/unpopular wars) may be the real causal factor behind electoral outcome, the best bullshitter at any given moment will still almost always win.

To give some examples before I turn to Bush, Jimmy Carter, though we forget it today, was an unbelievably talented politician. A basically unheard of and unpopular one-term Governor of Georgia, he defeated a slew of better-known candidates in the primaries on an incredibly vague platform of change, hope, character, American heartland values, and Washington outsiderism, and then proceeded to knock off the sitting President. Once in office, he proved to be fairly incompetent, but still fended off a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, who knew vastly more about getting shit done in Washington but much, much less about winning an election. Then, unfortunately, he ran into the most gifted bullshitter of the post-war era in the general election. And that was the end of Carter.

Another example - John McCain, a man who knew absolutely nothing about domestic policy and whose foreign policy instincts were like something out of Dr. Strangelove, was such a fine bullshitter in his day, with his promises of straight talk and sappy ghostwritten memoirs about his admiral father and grandfather, that he nearly up-ended Bush's infinitely better-funded and better-ran campaign in the 2000 primaries. After that, he was, for eight years, probably America's most popular politician. Even David Foster Wallace loved the guy. In 2008, after internal struggles within his operation threatened to torpedo his campaign, he knocked off Rudy Giuliani - 9/11 folk hero, America's Mayor - and Mitt Romney with ease - Mitt Romney, who in his own right is such a talented politician that he managed to get elected Governor in Massachusetts. But then he met Obama, and, like a Federer-Roddick match, the guy with mere one-in-a-million gifts went down to the finest talent of his generation.

The abilities of either man to govern, of course, weren't tested in this match at all; note that, prior to Obama's becoming President, neither had ran anything in their lifetime, and that neither ever passed much significant legislation. Our elections aren't about ability to govern because actual administrative competence is something that would actually take work and research on the part of the voter to assess. Even if voters have the time - many of us watch tons of political news coverage - looking at candidates' actual track records is too boring for many voters to do or for many media outlets to do. Therefore, even politicians who have competence don't campaign on the basis of it. The illusion of competence, on the other hand - an appearance of strength, of decisiveness, of a superficial knowledge of the issues - is something that a politician either succeeds or fails at projecting in a matter of mere seconds, and is terribly crucial.

Getting to Bush, then, Bush got elected because he was a phenomenally gifted politician, one who was able to, for however brief a time, re-brand conservatism in much more appealing terms than those in which the middle of the electorate had perceived it for a decade. At the same time he was also able, and don't underestimate the difficulty of this, unify the conservative base like nobody had been able to do since Reagan. A hard task by itself, but even harder when you're simultaneously winning moderates' votes. He managed to stay in office even though he already had been revealed, by 2004, to be an incompetent President. Some excerpts from a Bush speechwriter's memoir came out today, and it's startling to be reminded in the same piece of how the same man managed to be such a political genius and such an administrative fool.

On the one hand, we learn that our President signed onto the initial bailout even though he had no idea how it worked. That he was excited about the bailout because he thought it would "go [down] in [history] as a big decision." (To which, we're told, some pathetic hanger-on replied, "Definitely, Mr. President. This is a large decision.") That he imagined that we'd be buying up cheap assets and selling them for great profits. And that when he was told that wasn't how the bailout worked,

the president was momentarily speechless. He threw up his hands in frustration.

“Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.

Then, after finding out how it did work, he went ahead and gave the same speech he was planning to give in the first place.

On the other hand, we learn that while most of the media and certainly the entire Republican Party was celebrating Palin's choice as a game-changer, Bush had the acuity, several days after her choice, to correctly and quite articulately prophesy that she would be a huge bust:

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment.

“This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party.

There's also a rather poignant bit (if you're capable of feeling sorry for George W. Bush) where Bush is supposed to do a rally with McCain in Arizona to show that they don't hate each other, and then the thing gets closed to the press, prompting Bush to ask why it's closed to the press if the point is to show people that they don't hate each other. It turns out that the event is closed because McCain's staff is a bunch of fuck-ups, causing Bush, who probably presided over the best-ran presidential campaigns in our nation's history, to despair:

Eventually, someone informed the president that the reason the event was closed was that McCain was having trouble getting a crowd. Bush was incredulous—and to the point. “He can’t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?” he asked. No one said anything, and we went on to another topic. But the president couldn’t let the matter drop. “He couldn’t get 500 people? I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford.” He shook his head. “This is a five-spiral crash, boys.”

We tried to move on to something else. But the president wouldn’t let go. He was stuck on the Phoenix event. At one point, he looked off into space and said to no one in particular, “What is this—a cruel hoax?”

Sad in a few ways, not least of which is the fact that too often Bush's presidency felt like a cruel hoax. Unfortunately, it's one of the tragedies of our political system that it not only allows for, but encourages the election of men with such huge disparities between their political skills and their abilities to govern.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Do People Love Jay-Z?

What do people see in Jay-Z? More to the point, what did I ever see in Jay-Z? I listen to songs I used to think were great, like 'Hovi Baby' or 'Watcher 2,' and the parts that wowed me at the time - "know the shit I don't write be the illest shit that's ever been recited in the game, word to the hyphen in my name!" - now seem to fall totally flat. At one time I bought into the myth that Jay never got outshined on a track (except maybe on the 'Ha' remix); now if I hear a song with him and another rapper, or three other rappers, his verse is almost always my least favorite. Take 'Poppin Tags'; it seems pretty clear to me now that even a young Killer Mike gets him on that. But back in 2004, Jay's verse was the only one I knew the words to, and I loved it, particularly "there he goes, talking about hoes and dough again/I'm surprised I got so much dough to spend." What was I hearing? For so many people, Jay seems to be this lovable household god, the rapping equivalent of Oprah. 6 years later, I would've thought the days of my being held captive on road trip Black Album sing-alongs would be over by now. After all the post-retirement pratfalls, you'd think the days of people calling Jay the G.O.A.T., as if Nas, Big, Ghostface, Rakim, Kane, KRS, Scarface, Andre 3000, Ice Cube, Chuck D, and Prodigy had never lived, would be over. But no. A guy with two very good albums and many collections of filler continues to be talked up as the greatest. I can only conclude that the very things I can't stand about Jay, the reasons I'm so fed up with him that if I had to go to a desert island and had to choose between Jay's catalogue and Yo Gotti's to take with me, I'd take the Yo Gotti - his 6-o'clock-news-anchor-like blandness, his lack of personality, of idiosyncracy, of humor or emotion, his inability to be anything more or less than this vague universal all things to all people Hova-man - are what make him so beloved. In that respect he's a lot like Jordan. Except that Jordan, notwithstanding his carefuly cultivated persona, was a transcendent basketball player and Jay rarely sounds like much more to me than an insecure guy trapped in an only occasionally convincing ice grill.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Thought On Race

In the days to come, some enterprising someone will point out that whites' anger at Kanye (which is really reaching a ridiculous fever pitch on my Facebook news feed) over this Swift nonsense is partly racial. That it reeks of racist animus against uppity negroes. And they'll be damn right. I know I have some white readers out there who probably fancy themselves super-enlightened and will think this doesn't apply to them, but speaking for the great mass of white Americans, white people don't like angry black men. Really don't like them. Most of the upset about Jeremiah Wright had nothing to do with the stuff he said and everything to do with his enraged delivery and the mob-like "that's right, mmm-hmm" chorus from his black audience. Wright also said some stupid shit, and has since turned out, surprise surprise, to be a flaming anti-Semite (the Jews, he said on the day that the Holocaust Museum got shot up, are the ones keeping him away from Obama), but it was really mostly how he said what he said, and that he was black. Similarly, Kanye is going to get pilloried for this to a far greater extent than he would be if he were a white guy who talked like a white guy (and was rude to some black performer).

That being said, I suppose this is where I'm supposed to atone on behalf of my race for the racially motivated beating-up in the press Kanye is about to get. But I won't. In the first place, though Kanye will be bashed more than he would have if he were white, a whole lot more, he surely deserves some bashing (and surely could use some therapy). As I noted with Vick, the fact that some people don't like Thing X that you do for, in part, racial reasons does not mean that they are wrong to not like the fact that you do Thing X, whether Thing X is electrocuting dogs, killing your white wife, being Michael Steele, offering healthcare proposals that won't work (I thought we were getting some kind of cost controls?), or acting like a colossal jerk on live television. Racism is always regrettable but doesn't end the conversation.

More interestingly though, I think whites' discomfort with angry black guys is just one of those almost instinctual things that will never go away, like black distrust of white elites. I mean, what makes me, for example, cringe when I see a Kanye or Jeremiah Wright on TV? Was I somehow acculturated by my liberal family and insanely left-wing Quaker school to dislike angry black men? Or is a Jeremiah Wright simply something so foreign to my experience that seeing him on TV makes me feel threatened, repulsed, disgusted - just as the last black, Baptist funeral that I attended was so novel to me that I was reduced to uncontrollable laughter? I really don't think that anything more insidious here is at work than a simple lack of exposure. That, and different norms of etiquette.

I'm Starting To Feel Bad Ragging On Kanye Because It's Clear That The Man Is Autistic

I see the Aspergian Queen of Pop stood up for one of his living legends tonight. What can you even say about a man with the comportment of a 2-year-old? This is what happens when shitted-on losers become famous, I guess; they continue to act out their anger towards the kids who punked them at recess. I just want my pop radio to be freed of his noxious whiny voice already. Or at least if he can't retire he could go back to making some good beats.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

50 Top Rap Songs Of The Decade

Saw Jordan do this over on Suckapunk, thought I'd try it. This is being done really quickly and is probably going to be retarded and not at all reflective of my true tastes. I mean, not at all. Here goes. In no particular order.

Lil Wayne, 'Go DJ.'
The Diplomats, 'I Really Mean It.'
Styles P, 'Kill That Faggot.'
Jay-Z, 'Ignorant Shit.'
Three 6 Mafia, 'Stay Fly.'
Three 6 Mafia, 'Poppin My Collar.'
Young Jeezy, 'I Got What It Takes.'
Young Jeezy, 'Air Forces.'
Madvillain, 'All Caps.'
Ghostface Killah, 'The Sun.'
Ghostface Killah, The Watch.'
Cam'ron, 'Killa Cam.'
Cam'ron f. Kanye West, 'Down And Out.'
Cam'ron, 'Get Em Girls.'
Cam'ron, 'Glitter.'
Crime Mob, 'Knuck If You Buck.'
Dem Franchize Boys f. Lots of People, 'I Think They Like Me (Remix).'
Nas, 'Purple.'
Nas f. Jadakiss and Ludacris, 'Made You Look (Remix).'
Nas, 'Stillmatic (The Intro).'
Jay-Z, 'Hovi Baby.'
Jay-Z, 'La La La.'
Z-Ro, '2 Many Niggaz (Screwed and Chopped).'
50 Cent f. Notorious B.I.G., 'Realest Niggas.'
Jadakiss, '40 Bars of Terror.'
Jadakiss, 'The Champ Is Here.'
Outkast, 'Bombs over Baghdad.'
Mike Jones f. Paul Wall & Slim Thug, 'Still Tippin.'
Yung Wun f. David Banner & Lil Flip, 'Tear It Up.'
The Clipse f. People, 'Cot Damn (Remix).'
Pharell, 'When Skateboard Came.' (Yes, love that mixtape.)
50 Cent, 'In Da Club.'
Sheek Louch f. Jadakiss, Styles P, J-Hood, '2 Guns Up.'
Styles P, 'Whattup Whattup.'
Gang Starr f. Jadakiss, 'Rite Where You Stand.'
Raekwon f. Method Man, Ghostface, 'New Wu.'
Masta Killa f. U-God, Method Man, RZA, 'Iron God Chamber.'
Ghostface Killah f. Solomon Childs, 'Gorilla Hood.'
Soulja Boy f. Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti, 'Shopping Spree.'
Trae f. Three 6 Mafia, Paul Wall, 'Cadillac.'
Outkast, 'The Whole World.'
Fabolous, 'Can't Let You Go (Remix).' (Trust me, look it up.)
Soulja Slim, Fiend, B.G., 'Fired Up.'
Hood Headlinaz, 'Wood Grain.'
Freeway f. Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z, 'What We Do (Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong...)
Lil Jon f. Lil Scrappy, 'What U Gon' Do.'
Ludacris, 'Rollout.'
Nelly, 'Must Be The Money.'
Nelly, 'Air Force Ones.'
Big Tymers, 'Still Fly.'

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ted Olson Housing Things

Ted thinks it's pitiful that you doubted him.

Today was Speech of the Century Day (it was okay); more excitingly, today was Sonia Sotomayor's debut at the Supreme Court - a debut that came in a case that, according to one hyperbolic assessment, "could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests." I don't think the case was quite that big a deal, but it's a fairly big deal. The case involves a hitjob documentary on Hillary called, amusingly enough, Hillary: The Movie. Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit corporation/advocacy group, tried, during the primaries, to run the movie on on-demand cable and run a few ads on Fox and other networks suggesting that you pony up a couple bucks to watch their crappy movie. Amazingly enough, the government then stepped in and said that they couldn't air their movie on TV, not even on on-demand cable, because campaign finance law prevents corporations from running ads, movies, or other "electioneering communications" that endorse or bash a candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. Citizens United then sued, claiming that their movie was not an electioneering communication as defined by campaign-finance law.

However, once they made their way to the Supreme Court last year, something strange happened. They were met by a government lawyer who, in his defense of the government's enjoining of the movie, bizarrely chose to argue that the law covered not only TV commercials and broadcasts, but also DVD's, websites, books, and Kindle. Either the guy was insane or deliberately trying to sabotage his own case and persuade the Court that campaign-finance law was unconstitutional. (He was a Bush appointee.) Faced with the prospect of banning books, the Court took the remarkable step of requesting a reargument of the case, asking the parties' attorneys to this time argue not whether the film was covered by the statute, but whether the statute itself was constitutional at all - whether the First Amendment allows us to restrict corporations' political speech in the weeks before an election. The only problem is that the Court said in a landmark decision just 19 years ago that restricting corporate campaign expenditures was perfectly alright.

The four lawyers who went before the Supreme Court are all geniuses, with the exception of one heavily overrated hype job. Citizens United hired Ted Olson, Bush's lawyer in Bush v. Gore and the Bush Administration's top attorney (the technical term here is Solicitor General) during Bush's first term. The government was represented by Elena Kagan, Obama's Solicitor General and the outgoing Dean of Harvard Law School. John McCain, the author of the legislation at issue (McCain-Feingold), was represented by Seth Waxman, Bill Clinton's Solicitor General, the winning attorney in the most recent Guantanamo case, and an incredibly brilliant guy. And Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Minority Leader and lifelong opponent of campaign-finance reform, was represented by Floyd Abrams, First Amendment lawyer extraordinaire. He's the hype job, for reasons we'll get to later; I'd like to get to Kagan first.

Today was actually Kagan's first argument before the Supreme Court or any appellate court. Nevertheless, she acquitted herself extraordinarily well. Her argument, though, would fall victim to one huge flaw. The case that said 19 years ago that regulating corporate expenditures was okay, Austin, was decided on the basis that leveling the playing field and preventing what the case refers to as "distortion" of the marketplace of speech was a valid, even compelling, government interest. Today, though, it's clear that a majority of the Court thinks that leveling the playing field isn't something the government ought to be engaged in. So Kagan was forced to invent new reasons to uphold an old case, reasons that both aren't in the old case and are fairly unconvincing. Her one theory, oddly enough, is that we need to protect shareholders of corporations from having their money spent on political causes that they don't believe in; this doesn't wash when the vast majority of corporations don't sell stock. (As Scalia somewhat ridiculously kept coming back to, what about the "local hairdresser"? Kagan's quite reasonable response, that the local hairdresser can run an ad as an individual if she so chooses, didn't convince.) Her other is that if we let corporations buy ads, they could secretly trade those ads for favors from politicians. Not clear, unfortunately for her, that you need a total ban to prevent isolated instances of quid pro quo corruption. And of course, she was forced to take back all the stupid shit her batshit crazy predecessor said about it being totally okay for the government to ban corporation-funded books.

Olson and Abrams, on the other hand, were faced with the easy task of persuading a majority of the Court to adopt a position that they already believe in. Or at least it should have been easy, but Abrams, who's really more of a celebrity lawyer than a pro at this sort of thing, decided he'd spend his 10 minutes talking about New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a very famous libel case that allowed newspapers to say bad stuff about people and has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. It seems his theory was that, since free speech was really great and important in that context, it's really great and important in this one too. This is what happens, readers who plan to hire a lawyer to represent them at the Supreme Court one day, when you hire a frequent Larry King Live guest who writes popular bestsellers about how cool free speech is. When hiring an attorney to represent you before the Supreme Court, don't hire someone who you can actually understand. Hire a genius who speaks in alien tongues. Like me.

As for Olson, he spent his time getting cheered on by the four conservative hacks on the Court (and Justice Kennedy, who's more of a confused Hamlet figure but really hates campaign finance laws) and batting down easy questions of the "we said this was okay before, why isn't it still now?" variety from the four liberal hacks on the Court. And make no mistake about it; this Court now has four liberal hacks. It used to have only three, as Justice Souter was no hack, but rather the Court's brightest member and a guy who genuinely thought cases over before committing one way or the other. Sotomayor, on the other hand, is, like the rest of the Court's members, a hack, someone who sees a result she likes (banning corporate speech, good!) and comes up with specious legal arguments to justify getting there. For example:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Mr. Olson, are you giving up on your earlier arguments that there are ways to avoid the constitutional question to resolve this case? I know that we asked for further briefing on this particular issue of overturning two of our Court's precedents. But are you giving up on your earlier arguments that there are statutory interpretations that would avoid the constitutional question?

Translation: Couldn't we just pretend that the Hillary movie somehow doesn't violate the law so that we could avoid throwing out this blatantly unconstitutional law (which, despite its unconstitutionality, I happen to like) altogether?

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Going back to the question of stare decisis, the one thing that is very interesting about this area of law for the last 100 years is the active involvement of both State and Federal legislatures in trying to find that balance between the interest of protecting in their views how the electoral process should proceed and the interests of the First Amendment. And so my question to you is, once we say they can't, except on the basis of a compelling government interest narrowly tailored, are we cutting off or would we be cutting off that future democratic process? Because what you are suggesting is that the courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court's error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.

Translation: For the past century, Congress and the states have arguably been violating the Constitution when it comes to corporate speech. Since they've been doing that, wouldn't it be really unfair to impose the Constitution on them and cut off that fun "democratic process" now? Can't we just look the other way and not impose the test that applies to all other regulations of speech? And maybe, just maybe, we could throw out the centuries-old law that treats corporations as people, with the same constitutional rights that people have? Just throw it out? Even though absolutely no one has suggested that, it's not an issue properly before this Court, and it would create massive ripple effects in all sorts of other arenas? Because that would fix this whole problem and get us to the result I'd personally like.

Not that Sotomayor is dramatically worse than her liberal (or conservative) brethren. Justice Breyer offered this amusing argument for the constitutionality of the law:

JUSTICE BREYER: Is -- I -- I remember spending quite a few days one summer reading through 1,000 pages of opinion in the D.C. Circuit. And I came away with the distinct impression that Congress has built an enormous record of support for this bill in the evidence...So, if you could save me some time here, perhaps you could point me, if I am right, to those thousand pages of opinion and tens of thousands of underlying bits of evidence where there might be support for that proposition?

Translation: A few years ago over the summer I read a thousand-page document summing up an even longer document in which Congress offered a lot of justifications for the law. I really like this law and would love to defer to what Congress said about it; after all, what they said was really long and therefore must be convincing. I don't actually remember what that stuff said or whether it was very meaningful, but I want to vote for your side; could you help me remember some nice reasons to vote for you so I know what to say when I write my 60-page opinion about what a shame it is that the majority's letting corporations exercise their free speech rights?

After Olson, Abrams, and Kagan went, on came Waxman, and for a few minutes he worked up an incredibly eloquent storm about how Congress has been banning corporate expenditures for a hundred years and it sure as fuck isn't stopping now. At one point he actually name-checked a speech given on campaign finance in 1894 by "the sober-minded Elihu Root." Ladies and gentlemen, the sober-minded Elihu Root:

Looks sober-minded, doesn't he? Yes, wise old Elihu didn't want corporations corrupting our political system and we shouldn't either. To which Justice Kennedy bizarrely counters that back in Elihu's times, we didn't have "the phenomenon of -- of television ads where we get information about scientific discovery and -- and environment and transportation issues from corporations who after all have patents because they know something, that -- that is different." An aside: when Justice Sotomayor talked about wise Latinas making wise decisions, this is what she was talking about. Justice Kennedy's a great guy and a reasonably smart one, but he may have the least common sense of any white man on Earth. Dude seriously thinks that we gain from corporations running TV ads during election season because they're telling us helpful information about scientific discovery. And after all, those corporations, they have patents because they know something! That's different! They can tell us special information. Yeah, what really happens, as even I'll admit, is that your oil company who wants offshore drilling knows something, alright - that offshore drilling will make them richer - and runs ads against your local Democratic Congressman, talking a lot of mess about how he's costing jobs and making your gas prices go up by opposing something that won't kick in for a decade. But Justice Kennedy is weirdly naive like that.

Anyway, Waxman, nonplussed by Kennedy's insanity because he's argued a million cases before the Court and Scalia's nutty tirades about ad-running hairdressers and Kennedy's deluded optimism just rolls off his back at this point, goes merrily along his way for a couple minutes before until Justice Alito bursts his bubble, like so:

JUSTICE ALITO: Mr. Waxman, all of this talk about 100 years and 50 years is perplexing. It sounds like the sort of sound bites that you hear on TV. The -- the fact of the matter is that the only cases that are being -- that may possibly be reconsidered are McConnell and Austin. And they don't go back 50 years, and they don't go back 100 years.

No, they go back 19 years and 6 years. All that shit about how Congress has been doing this for a hundred years? Irrelevant. Waxman immediately apologizes for "demeaning the Court with sound bites." Again, let me stress the Abrams lesson: don't talk to the Court in intelligible ways understandable to the normal human being. Don't bullshit the Court. Waxman, previously on the roll of a lifetime, never recovers.

Then it's Olson's turn for rebuttal. Remember when I said that Kagan had a big problem, that a majority of the Court has plainly abandoned the rationale underwriting the precedent she's defending, forcing her to invent new, unconvincing rationales for that precedent? Yeah, well, here is where Olson counters with a big "what the fuck is you saying?" Here is how he opens:

The words that I would leave with this Court are the Solicitor General's. "The government's position has changed."

Ouch. The Court's liberal hacks quickly jump to their fellow liberal hackette's defense, claiming that nothing has changed and attempting to mire his ass-whipping of a rebuttal in statutory arcana and precedent-interpreting muddle. And they do for a few minutes. But, only as a genius advocate can, away he leaps from the hacks' clutches and proceeds to absolutely shit on the government's position, reducing all that's gone before to incoherent rubble:

I am -- I am representing an individual who wants to speak about something that's the most important thing that goes on in our democracy. I'm told it's a felony. I am not -- and I -- I don't know what the rational basis is. It's overbroad. Now I hear about this shareholder thing -- protecting shareholders. There is not a word in the congressional record with respect to the -- which was before the Court in the McConnell case about protecting shareholders. [Justice Breyer attempts to throw him off course; he scoffs at the question for the disingenuous bullshit that it is. Then:] My point I guess is -- if I may finish this sentence.
MR. OLSON: My point is that the government here has an overbroad statute that covers every corporation irrespective of what its stockholders think, irrespective of whether it's big, and whether it's general -- a big railroad baron or anything like that, and it doesn't know, as it stands here today two years after this movie was offered for -- to the public for its view, what media might be covered, what type of corporation might be covered and what compelling justification or narrow standard would be applied to this form of speech.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Thank you, counsel. The case is submitted.

And just like that, General Kagan is owned. As picayune as the stuff may sound, to a lawyer, that contemptuous "it doesn't know" amounts to ownage of 'Ether' proportions. In years to come, lawyers may well tell each other, "you just got Olsoned." That said, when I heard the stunning ending of this argument, I didn't think of 'Ether,' which I think many of us are coming to agree was sort of overrated, but rather 'Kool Keith's Housing Things.' How hard is the line when Keith goes, "back in the days when I taught about science, the real construction, no other solo team or production did that, or got with that"? My favorite line on the album. Well actually, I prefer "but like my son, you still obey certain laws" on 'Funky.' But anyway. Ted Olson, folks, a virtuoso of Kool Keithian proportions.

Exclusive, Exclusive!

Seen on ESPN's ABC News sidebar: "EXCLUSIVE: Obama - 'We Intend to Get Something Done' on Health Reform." When you click on the link, the headline becomes the equally retarded "Obama Exclusive on Health Care: 'We Intend to Get Something Done'." This just gets me even more excited for tonight!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why Chappaquiddick Had Next To Nothing To Do With Ted Kennedy Never Getting Elected President

In last week's obituaries and commentary on Ted Kennedy, I often saw it said that Chappaquiddick ended Ted's presidential ambitions. Ted's conduct at Chappaquiddick is far more reprehensible than commonly understood; the issue isn't that he swam away and didn't rescue her, but that the girl suffocated to death in the car for hours (that's right, she didn't drown, she suffocated several hours after the car landed in the water, eventually consuming all the oxygen that was left inside the car) while Ted huddled with his lawyers and tried to figure out what lies to tell. If he had just called the police, the woman would have lived. By the time he eventually went to the police, it was the next morning and her body had already been fished out of the car. It's fairly obvious what really happened; in an attempt to avoid taking a drunken driving rap and conceal what he was up to with his passenger, he dillied and dallied and let a woman die. Once he realized he'd be in an even bigger mess if he didn't admit he was the driver, he went to the police. That said, as criminal and callous as Ted's actions really were, they weren't what kept him from the White House. Ted's not wanting to be President kept Ted from the White House.

Let's first take up the one presidential campaign that Ted did run, a primary race against the incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter. Those who claim that Chappaquiddick was the determining factor in Ted's defeat would have you believe not only that Ted could have actually defeated Carter, a sitting President, in the primaries if not for Chappaquiddick - a feat which has never been accomplished in modern American politics, and would've been quite tough even if Ted weren't a philandering alcoholic on account of Carter's having such a strong base in the South - but that he would have then gone on to defeat Ronald Reagan. Just imagine, for a second, a Ted-Reagan debate. Reagan, all optimism, warmth and slickness, and Ted, all indignant and not particularly articulate bluster. It wouldn't have gone well. Such an outcome would also mean that in 1980, Americans would have rejected Carter for a politician who thought that Carter's problem was that he wasn't liberal enough. Perhaps it's possible that the only reason Reagan beat Carter was because of how much of a fuck-up Carter personally was, but it's hard to believe that the nation was really in the mood in 1980 to replace Carter with a man farther to his left. Ted also wouldn't have had the one thing going for him that Carter did have - the argument that, as President, he was vastly more experienced than Reagan, not to mention vastly more intelligent. I'd give Ted, sans Chappaquiddick, about a 10% chance of being elected President in 1980. At best.

Then there's the argument that if not for Chappaquiddick, Ted would've ran against Nixon in 1972. Sure, he may well have. But recall that in 1972, Nixon won 49 states and 61% of the vote. Some of that, yes, was due to what a poor candidate his opponent, George McGovern, was. But even assuming that Ted would've been a much stronger candidate - and all acounts of his one presidential campaign indicate that outside of the comforts of Massachusetts he was something of a bumbler on the trail - is it really possible that the face on the ticket could've made that big a difference? The difference between winning only one state and winning the whole thing? Clearly Nixon was pretty popular in November 1972. Chances of Ted being elected President in 1972 sans Chappaquiddick: 10%.

Then there are all the races that Ted didn't run but should have, and didn't not run because of Chappaquiddick but because, for whatever reason, he didn't feel like it. 1976 might have been Ted's best chance, even with Chappaquiddick. Had he ran that year, wouldn't he very possibly have beaten an unknown Jimmy Carter in the primaries, and gone on to knock off Gerald Ford? Sure, it's true that immediately after Watergate, the nation was probably looking for a squeaky-clean guy, so, if Ted had run, one could certainly argue that Chappaquiddick would've defeated him, whereas, if not for Chappaquiddick, he would've been the 1976 favorite. Then again, even without Chappaquiddick, Ted was never what you'd call a squeaky-clean guy. Here you have to say that Ted's not really wanting it enough to run until a year when he had no chance was what kept him from the White House. Another case in point is 1968. After his brother got shot, party leaders tried to make Ted the candidate - but Ted wouldn't do it, one year prior to Chappaquiddick. Had he been nominated, he would've had a good shot at beating Nixon on a wave of slain Kennedy emotion. Then there's 1988, a race that Ted bizarrely dropped out of three years in advance, announcing his decision to not run in 1985. Had he run, even with Chappaquiddick, there's no doubt that he would've beaten Dukakis (the lamest presidential candidate of my lifetime) and Dick Gephardt in the primaries. Whether he would've beaten Bush's father is probably a different story. Though he would've ran a better race, Ted was a pretty divisive figure and it's doubtful that the country would've taken such a big lurch to the left after 8 years of Reagan.

Finally, there's the election that no one ever talks about in connection to Ted, 1992. Suppose an older and wiser Ted - then only 60, far from too old - took on Bill Clinton in the primaries. Hard to say who would win there, but both were equally flawed characters so Chappaquiddick wouldn't have been that big a problem. Had Ted won the nomination, he then would have been elected President. Sure, he wasn't Clinton's equal as a campaigner, but (a) Bush was really unpopular and (b) Clinton brought a lot of deficits to the table that Ted lacked (youth, inexperience, being the governor of a state that was last in virtually everything). Had Ted won in '92, America would be a very different place today. Welfare reform never would've happened, and healthcare reform might well have. The Reagan tax cuts could've been rolled back to a far greater extent than they were under Clinton. We wouldn't have had a Democratic President who bragged in his inaugural that "the era of big government is over." And, without a Monica, and, with, perhaps, Clinton himself as Vice President, 2000 might very well have gone entirely differently. Which would mean no Iraq (and very likely no Obama). It was, it seems, Ted's calculation that he could do more good in the Senate, and that judgment has been commended by many an obituarist. But I wonder - if I were a liberal - whether I wouldn't look less fondly on Ted for refusing to take Clinton on in 1992.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Put Your Bitch-Ass In The Ground; A Nostalgic Youtube Post ('Fired Up')

Back in the days when I failed out of Duke and went from decorated National Merit Scholar who only went to Duke because he never did any work from 6th grade on to vest-wearing seller of 'As Seen On TV' products (I don't care what you think, that's a pretty steep fall), I knew a devastatingly cute blond girl who worked at the FYE a floor above me. This girl was sweet, funny, and had shockingly good taste in rap. Keep in mind that this was a shit mall on the rural frontier of the Philly suburbs, right around the point where it becomes okay for School Board members to make flamingly bigoted remarks about Jews and blacks and still hold onto their office (North Penn School District, Linda I Forget Her Last Name, for any of you from the area). (The funny thing about where I'm from is that it is this incredibly affluent and expansive place with all sorts of little subtle gradations of class, but if you go the right direction you really only need to drive 30 minutes (fast) from the city before your only dining options are bad diners that offer little handouts about Jesus at the door.) Anyway, this girl was just a gem. I remember when I bought Thugged Da Fuck Out, C-N-N's two-disc greatest hits compilation, and she goes, "I love them! 'Invincible' is my favorite song!" Huh? For the vast majority of white girls back in 2004, the only Noreaga point of reference was 'Nothin.' Particularly that oh-so-funny Smash Mouth line. I was shocked. I was even more shocked when for the first time in my music-buying career, I dipped a toe into Soufern rap and purchased Lyricist Lounge Presents The Dirty States Of America on the basis of an electifying B.G./Fiend/Soulja Slim collabo that I'd happen to run across on the Internets somehow or another. I'm pretty sure that the only people who own this record are myself and 8 Willie D completists. Nevertheless, when I went to the register, the girl says (I'm paraphrasing here, whatever she really said was vastly more charming), "that's the album with 'Fired Up'! What a song!" Indeed, what a song. I'd put it on a top twenty of the decade, easy. Soulja Slim was a monster. Anyway, I was too depressed at the time to even walk around the mall without taking back alleyways so as to avoid eye contact with the public, so naturally I didn't get her number. She went back to college, and here I am 5 years later in Lexington, Virginia, going out on dates with second-years I'm massively brighter than and seriously considering fucking the town's one cute waitress. Of course, uncannily good taste in music doesn't a fantastic relationship make but I do wonder sometimes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

'Now Or Never' x 'Give In To Me'

Can I just say on a random note that as the weather cools, my heart yearns for yesteryears of Big Mike mixtapes? Oh, back in the days of '40 Bars of Terror'... yeah yeah, this nostalgia shit is ridiculous. I have a funny habit, don't know how common this is, of randomly replaying songs I haven't heard in years in my mind. Surprised I remembered all the words ("now what the fuck do y'all think I make music for?"). Great freestyle. As the soggy pentultimate track of Ice Cream Man goes, things ain't what they used to be.

Anyway, 'Now Or Never.' 'Now Or Never' is Elvis at his least Elvis. It was also his biggest hit ever, which tells you something about how conservative the music-buying public still was in 1961. Here's the song:

'Now Or Never' is this pathetic (but successful) attempt to connect with a bigger audience, an audience of Dean Martin and Mario Lanza fans. On it he successfully manages to sound like a vaguely European opera-singing bitch; with all the vibrato it's very easy to not recognize it's him. Substantively though, it's also quite a departure, because instead of the straight-shooting sexual (and let's say it, pretty sexy) advances for which we was known, we get this grossly manipulative creep who croons in his basso profundo that

Tomorrowwwww, will beeeeeeee too laaaaate
It's now or nevvvvvvvver
My loooooooooove won't wait

His 'love,' you see, can't wait. Unfortunately, it gets much worse; at one point he actually says that "just like a willow, we would cry an o-o-o-ocean/without true love, and sweet devo-o-otion." Yeah, or you would cry an ocean if you couldn't get your rocks off. The picture you get in your mind is of this skeevy European playboy on a 50s cruise reciting cheesy pickup lines that just may have worked back then. The interesting thing here is that, in retreating into this family-friendly, sexually conservative mask, he's actually getting more sexist and sexually crass; the song's a disingenuous solicitation of a pump-and-dump ridiculously disguised in terms of almost courtly love. And all this, incredibly, while he's recording some of his best and sexually frankest stuff ever for the real fans, on a horribly under-regarded album (Elvis Is Back) that would sell less than the abysmal soundtracks for Blue Hawaii and G.I. Blues. So to get really schematic, Elvis briefly retreats from his more subversive, sexually honest, and at times downright feminist work (note how convincingly he sings about female sexual desire on 'Fever' and 'Girl Next Door Went A'Walking,' where he manages to make "settl[ing] down for life" sound incredibly dirty) to put out this international chart-topping single that, on its face, avoids flouting traditional mores while completely embracing very 50s sexist notions of gender roles.

One of the most disingenuous moves on 'Now or Never' is when Elvis says that "I've spent a lifetime/waiting for the right time." See, he needs to do you now, tonight, because he's been waiting his whole life! For you! How romantic! Don't contribute any further to this man's sexual deprivation! Er, I mean, his deprivation from your sweet devotion, which, like a willow, he would cry over if he couldn't have. Well, I was listening to Dangerous a couple weeks ago, and I happened on this line:

I've spent a lifetime waiting for someone
Don't try to understand me,
Simply do the things I say

Coincidence? No, not at all. What Michael has done here, in his attempt to broaden his marketability (by displaying what a straight guy he is), is reinterpret 'Now Or Never' as an exercise in brutal honesty. Where Elvis is forced to erect, no pun intended, this subterfuge of utter nonsense, Michael can just say - in fact, the climate encourages him to do so in 1991, to prove his heteronormativity - exactly what he means and wants. (Namely, Michael's spent a lifetime without sex; now is your time to do your duty, save this desperate soul and go fuck Michael.) Which does two things - it turns 'Now Or Never' into something a whole lot less manipulative and dishonest, but it also makes it infinitely more chilling. Because what Michael plainly wants is for some stranger to come follow instructions and service his anorexic pasty ass. (Go on girl! Quench that desire!) Whereas Elvis, besides not being half as candid about it, clearly believes, in part, his own bullshit. Even when trying to be some suave opera-crooning schmuck, he still has a heart. Michael... well, Michael is suffering from such a severe case of deferred sexual discovery that he doesn't have much of a heart left:

You always knew just how to make me cry

And never did I ask you questions why
It seems you get your kicks from hurting me
Dont try to understand me
Because your words just aren't enough

That frigid whore! Getting her kicks from hurting Michael by... not fucking him. No, words will not be enough tonight. Or as Michael asks on 'In The Closet,' "if you want it, then why don't you taste it?" The world is so unfair to Michael on Dangerous. People tripping on him when they should be worrying about world hunger, and teachers who can't teach, and drug addiction. (Oh wait.) Girlfriends who go cheat on him with his brothers. His brothers sleeping with his girlfriends. That neighbor who he asked for a favor and told him later on 'Jam.' Women who pray to Buddha and then sing Talmud songs. Confusing! Contradictory! Worst of all, girls who say they want it but won't suck his dick. What has come of all the people? Have we lost love? Of what it's about?

What's telling is that, as Michael is being pushed out of his choirboy comfort zone by the demands of the "do we really want to give our cash to a gay pop star who's turning funny colors" market, he's still Michael at his most Michael. 'Give In To Me' isn't some forced bullshit like 'Now Or Never'; it sounds like something he's wanted to sing all his life. You often hear Michael and Prince linked in this good guy/bad guy dichotomy; I find that very odd. To me the dichotomy is Elvis and Michael, with Michael as the bad or incredibly fucked-up guy. For, when Michael interprets Elvis, borrows from Elvis, what does he take? Elvis the creeper. Elvis the sell-out Mario Lanza imitator who isn't really Elvis. (Of course, Michael also did a 'Heartbreak Hotel,' and on that, instead of the hotel being a place for brokenhearted lovers and victims of breakups to go, it's where "every girl that I knew" is, where the "wicked women" sleep. Elvis spends a career fearing, often quite morbidly, loss of attachment; Michael spends a career running from attachment.) Of course, this is not an argument against Michael, though it may be one for you if you like your pop life-affirming and uplifting; it's actually an argument in favor of him on the grounds that no other singer so brilliantly sang about man's misanthropic, misogynistic, and violent impulses. Elvis is pop's great lover and Michael pop's great loner.

Don't Fuck With Cokeheads

On a humorous note...

Cokehead (21:53:36): do u drink or smoke or nething else?
Tray (21:53:40): drink
Cokehead (21:53:51): tried nehting else?
Tray (21:53:55): oh no
Tray (21:54:06): should I?
Cokehead (21:54:26): drinking is enough
Cokehead (21:54:49): coke is great but that can be a downhil slope
Tray (21:55:24): mm
Tray (21:55:30): if I did drugs it would be coke
Tray (21:55:55): but I wouldn't risk it
Tray (21:56:25): though girls who do coke must be fun
Tray (21:56:33): I don't know enough of them
Cokehead (21:57:35): i think its mental thing when it comes to controling it
Cokehead (21:57:48): sex is great on coke lol
Tray (21:57:53): but let's say I'm one of the thousand or so smartest people in america
Tray (21:57:56): probably true
Tray (21:58:04): do I want to kill any of my precious brain cells?
Cokehead (21:58:23): for a reaaaaallly amazing sex
Cokehead (21:58:28): might be worth it
Tray (21:58:33): nah I don't know
Cokehead (21:58:59): u can probbly down a few red bulls and have similar effects
Tray (21:59:04): hmm
Cokehead (21:59:36): but i would usually not drink do coke and drink red buls
Tray (22:00:54): oh, so don't do both
Cokehead (22:01:50): neway moving on b4 i start to really sound like a junkie ...
Tray (22:01:58): I actually have work

Sorry I don't have the mp3 on that. You can find it.

Godfather 3 Syndrome

I should really just get a Twitter and make all you follow me because my observations on shit are pretty brief these days, but on the big leaks of the week, let me just say this. I'm not listening to Blueprint 3 because I know I won't like it. I'm eventually listening to OB4CL2 because I'm sure it'll be a decent album, No Said Date with an actually good rapper at the helm, or something like that. But look. Whether you're the type of person who reflexively loves anything a Wu-Tang member puts out (like the people who loved Big Doe Rehab even though it wasn't particularly good), whether you're a Jay stan or Jay apologist or just someone who finds the sound of Sean Carter's voice a soothing balm in the, uh, midst of your harried existence (which is alright), you have to admit this. This being, there's a problem when the event records of the year are sequels of 8-to-14-year-old classics or albums that undeservedly have classic status. That is as sure an indication as there can be of a genre spinning its wheels. Either that or (a) a genre bizarrely obsessed with history or (b) a genre with a lot of savvy operators who understand the marketing upside of trotting out a beloved brand, like 'Blueprint' or 'Cuban Linx.' But even if it's just (a), or (b), I still think you have a problem. Rock stars aren't marketing idiots and I don't recall Bob Dylan putting out Highway 61 Revisited - Again. The fact that there is a market for this shit in rap and not so much elsewhere means something.

To just start a paragraph without any sort of transition, when Nas first did this with Stillmatic, at least he wasn't promising a straight re-run - the idea was some kind of synthesis between the purity and ambition of Illmatic and whoever he had become circa 2001. This ended up not being the most sustainable of artistic directions, but there are few bars recorded this decade that deserve the enconium of classic and canonical more than:

Ayo, the brother is Stillmatic
I crawled up out of that grave, wiping the dirt, cleaning my shirt
They thought I'd make another
But it's always forward I'm moving
Never backwards stupid here's another classic

So at least that project started out well. Here, there's not that promise of forward movement. What we're seeing here, just in the way these projects have been billed, is more along the lines of 'Do It Again' (here I won't be some allusive schmuck and assume you know what I'm talking about - 'Do It Again,' an "okay, we'll go back to just being surfers" song the Beach Boys recorded in 1968 after their crazy genius leader's experimentation met with poor commercial reception):

So whether you're one of the Armond Whites of the world who think Sofia Coppola was amazing in Godfather III, or whether, unlike Armond, you are sane and realize what a misguided clusterfuck that movie was, you should still acknowledge that the rehashing of old classics is not a great forward direction for a medium to take and that that film's release signaled something about the downward spiral American cinema would take through the 90s and 00s. And that is the real issue here, not whether these albums are really worthy of their expectation-raising titles. Even if they are, we still have a problem.