Posts Tagged ‘politics

14
May
09

Somebody in Congress Has Been Reading…

Careful readers will remember this post, specifically, bullet point number one.

Now, there’s this in the news.

I’ll be awaiting your vote come November.

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01
Apr
09

Deservitude

Do me a favor, and take four minutes to watch this clip:

What you just watched, if you took the time to do so, is the 80th-highest ranked video on all of YouTube.com.  That’s YouTube, where 15 hours of footage is added every minute of every day (63 hours of footage were added to the site in the time it took you to watch that clip).  YouTube, a site that currently consumes more bandwidth than was consumed by the entire Internet less than ten years ago.  It’s a whole lotta videos, folks, and somehow, this one fluttered up towards the top of a giant pile of babies doing funny things and handheld camera phone footage from the forty-seventh row of a Jonas Brothers concert.

Why?  As YouTube clips go, it seems tremendously average.  All it consists of is a semi-well-known comedian doing some shtick on an episode of Conan.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t scream “Charlie The Unicorn” to me.  It’s funny, but it’s probably not the funniest thing you’ve ever heard, and it’s not something that cries out, “share me!”  But what it does, and this I believe is why it’s rated so high, is it strikes a chord with a concept that is so inherent in our current collective mindset, and examines that concept in a new, unusual way.

I call that concept deservitude.  Louis CK, the comedian in the clip, calls it “everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.”  You might call it taking the privileges of this world for granted.  It’s the idea that once we acquire something, anything less than that thing is inadequate.  It is the rarely examined down side of progress and innovation, and it’s relatable, because we see it in those around us, and we see it in ourselves.

But I don’t think that’s the entire reason this video became so popular.  This appearance on Conan took place on October 1, 2008, yet it was the fourth-most watched video for this past month of March.  Why did it take five months to catch on?  To answer that question, I say look at the stock market.  On the first of October, when Louis CK was on Conan, the Dow Jones was at 10,831.  Today, and for most of the month of March, it’s dropped more than 30%, and that’s why I think this video has become so popular.  The correlation is obscure, but I promise you it’s there.

On the surface, the video simply says that we’re all spoiled, and we don’t recognize it.  It’s an observation that could be made any time, by any comedian, and might be worthy of a chuckle or two before moving on to the next joke.  But we’re watching it now, amidst news of forclosed houses, AIG bonuses, economic stimulus packages, and rising unemployment.  Every time we turn on the TV, we feel like our country is going to hell in a handbasket, and Louis CK is slapping us in the face and saying, “Chill out, no it’s not!”

Now admittedly, we are in a recession, and it has certainly hit home for a lot of people.  But the average person hasn’t lost a job or a house (at least not yet), and they likely still feel like the walls are crumbling down all around them.  I know, I’m one of them.  But the reason we see those walls as falling down has a lot more to do with this idea of deservitude than we might like to admit.  Louis CK is just asking us all to put things in perspective, and acknowledge that we aren’t in hell just yet, in fact, we’re far from it.

Consider this: as I previously mentioned, the Dow Jones is today around 7,600.  The very first time that number was ever crossed was only twelve years ago.  Twelve years ago we were rejoicing at 7,600, and now, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.  I’m sure if I were a banker or a financial analyst or had some other fancy “plays with money” job I’d have a different opinion, but could the reason we think this is so awful at least have something to do with the fact that we just got too comfortable with things when they were going well?

Need proof?  Look at this.  Turns out, some American women would rather see themselves objectified than try to find a more affordable apartment or switch off the cable TV.  Can’t we live without the little luxuries we’ve become so accustomed to, or do we really need to go to such painstakingly desperate measures?

Remember life before the iPod?  I do, barely.  I remember going on field trips and everyone wishing the bus wasn’t so bumpy, because all that skipping on our Walkmans was interrupting Billie Joe Armstrong’s latest angsty rant.  Then the first kid at my high school showed up one day with an iPod, which was about the size of a cinder block, and it was the coolest thing we had ever seen.  The original iPod, introduced in 2001, held 1,000 songs, which when it was first introduced by Steve Jobs was estimated as the size of the average person’s entire music collection.  Today, my current iPod (which is far smaller than the original version) has 10,500 songs on it, and that takes up about a third of its capacity.

This is interesting for a couple reasons.  First, obviously, the growth in just eight years is tremendous.  But secondly, Apple has, along with increasing the capacity of its product, increased our capacity and our “need” for music.  Whereas in 2001 our entire music library was 1,000 songs, today it’s increased tenfold or more.  The current iPod on the market that holds 1,000 songs is the size of a AA battery, and is marketed as, essentially, the “workout iPod,” because nobody in their right mind would make that the only iPod they owned.  A thousand songs isn’t our entire library anymore, a thousand songs is the kind of number that delivers just enough variety for a three mile run on the treadmill.

All of that goes to say, maybe if we could remember the attitude we had when we first heard about the iPod, wide-eyed and amazed sitting around the lunch table or huddled in the break room, we wouldn’t be turning to porn just so we could maintain our 30,000 song lifestyles.

This isn’t an anti-progress statement, it’s a pro-gratitude statement.  Progress is great.  The fact that we can acheive such mind-boggling things through technology, innovation, and hard work is phenomenal, and it is a cornerstone of the American culture.  What we tend to be lacking, however, is genuine appreciation of that progress.  Rather than appreciating it, we tend to feel like we deserve it because we’ve become so used to growth and progress in our lifetime.  Don’t get me wrong, that is a good thing.  The problem is, when we reach a point in the story where that growth stops, or heaven forbid, declines, we end up taking it that much harder.

11
Mar
09

If Only We Had Known…

Inescapable.  That’s the word I think best describes the current economic crisis.  Not inescapable in the sense that no one will be able to financially survive it, but inescapable in the sense that news of it is everywhere. Phrases like “credit crunch,” “subprime mortgage crisis,” “bailout,” and “global meltdown ohmigodwe’reallgoingtodieafieryeconomicdeath” have become mainstays in the current American vocabulary, and I would bet you a dollar that even if you have no idea what those terms mean, you at least recognize them.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that in my opinion, the most honest, trustworthy, and just-plain-understandable source for not only surviving but truly comprehending the current economic situation is This American Life, specifically the episodes “Bad Bank,” “Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” and “The Giant Pool of Money.” (If you haven’t listened to them and you’re planning on doing so, which you should, listen to them in the chronological order in which they were produced, which is the inverse order I listed them here.)  These three episodes give what I believe is the most comprehensive and plain-language explanation of how we got to where we are in terms of the economy, as well as open minded analysis and potential solutions for getting us out of our current chaotic state.

It turns out, however, that back in early 2006, another source had a fail-safe solution that could have prevented this entire problem from arising, had we all paid attention to it.  Yes, the solution to this mind-bending problem that cable news networks have been endlessly analyzing and reporting around the clock can be boiled down to one two-minute-and-thirty-second video that we all ignored, and now, we’re paying the price. 

Go here to find out how paying attention to Saturday Night Live could have prevented the whole economic crisis in the first place.

18
Feb
09

The Rise of Captain Hopeandchange

There is a movie you probably haven’t seen called “Idiocracy” that you really don’t need to see, because I’m about to tell you all about it.  The premise of the movie is that a completely average guy from 2005 is cryogenically frozen, and wakes up 500 years later to discover that American society has become so dumbed down that he is the smartest man alive— by a long shot.  While the movie isn’t necessarily laugh-out-loud hilarious, it features incredibly biting satire, and is probably the kind of movie I’d write, if I were the kind of guy who wrote movies.

In the future that “Idiocracy” sees, the secretary of state is “brought to you by Carl’s Jr.”, you can get your college degree at Costco, and the most popular thing on television is a channel devoted to looped clips of men getting hit in the crotch.  And in this future, the president of the United States is a former professional wrestler named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, who makes most of his public appearances at monster truck rallies.

You might expect from having read previous posts on this site that I’m now about to go into some long discussion on how we as a society are closer to this being truth than we think, and we need to blah blah blah before our brains turn into whatever, which doesn’t matter because you stopped caring three sentences ago.  That’s not what I’m getting at.  While I think the movie is witty, I don’t think society is on its way towards anything close to resembling that future.  That being said, I do think the character of President Camacho requires further examination.

In the film, Americans love professional wrestling, and Americans are stupid, so Americans vote a vastly unqualified professional wrestler to be their president, just because they can.  In real life, anyone who saw this on a t-shirt last October knows that while it’s obviously tongue-in-cheek, voting someone into political office on account of their celebrity isn’t so much of an outrageous thought these days.

And that brings us to this, this, and this.  Yes, our current president, whether he intended to or not (and I tend to think he didn’t), has blurred the lines between politician and celebrity even moreso than Ronald Reagan, who need I remind you was an actual celebrity.

(A wee disclaimer: the remainder of this post will be about everyone’s favorite new president, Captain Hopeandchange.  However, this will be a discussion on Obama the celebrity, not Obama the politician.  There’s a difference.  Keep that in mind should you decide to comment.)

I’m not about to suggest that President Obama and President Camacho have all that much in common.  The character of Camacho is, obviously, the extreme.  What I’ve been pondering is whether or not Obama is a step towards that extreme, and a lot of that, I believe, is up to the man himself and how he deals with the fame that has been thrust upon him.

Most people will point to his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as the moment when his fame began to rise, and I wouldn’t argue that point.  In order for him to become president, 2004 Obama needed to tenderly cultivate that fame, fertilizing it with equal dashes of political opinion, general handsomeness, and yes— hope, until he had grown into the massive cultural icon (and oh yeah, president) he is today.

And whether or not you choose to believe it, at least a handful of the people who voted for our president did so not because of his ideology, but because of the massive cultural icon he became.  In simpler terms, he was the cool kid in the student council contest.  Many voters (especially those in my generation) may have convinced themselves they were voting Obama instead of McCain, but what they were really voting for was Dr. Pepper instead of Mr. Thunder.  They were choosing a brand, not a president, and quite frankly, anyone who worked on Obama’s campaign is totally okay with that (Don’t worry, though… I’m not talking about you.  You voted for him for the right reasons).

There’s a reason many pundits called Obama’s campaign the greatest in the history of politics, and there’s a reason voter turnout was at its highest in 40 years, and while not all of it has to do with Obama being a celebrity, a lot of it has to do with Obama being a celebrity.  In a perfect world, every four years we’d vote into office the person whose views best aligned with the majority of Americans regardless of what they look like or the quality of their jump shot, and while that certainly is the intention of the electoral process, it has, in today’s culture, become a far too idealistic thought.  Last year, 148.3 million people watched the Super Bowl and we spent north of $530 million dollars on tickets to a movie about Batman, and while that sort of thing shouldn’t have anything to do with our choice for president, it certainly says a lot about what we think is important.  Obama realized what captures America’s attention, and he became just that, or rather, he allowed himself to become that.

That’s an important point to note— Obama didn’t necessarily seek out the fame he has; rather it seemed to be thrust upon him, and he just rode it all the way to the Oval Office.  Now, though, I would argue that if he knows what’s good for him, Obama needs to prune that fame back a bit.  To be a successful candidate, you need to be the first person everyone thinks of when they think “president.”  And now that he has attained that title, he needs to switch gears from gaining popularity to properly representing those that gave him his popularity.

In the most basic terms, I’d say for the first hundred days (at least) of his presidency, he needs to do just one thing: his job.  That means get busy workin’– no appearances on The Colbert Report, no surprise visits to high school basketball practices, just sign bills and do all the things that go with acting presidenty.  Let us see your hard work, not your crossover dribble.

So far, he hasn’t done half bad, and whether you agree or disagree with the work he’s done, you can’t deny he’s been working.  And that’s a good thing.  His road to the presidency, as successful as it was, will most assuredly be emulated in the coming elections.  He’s now set the new standard for campaigning, let’s just hope he also sets the new standard for funneling campaign success into effective governing, rather than just continued celebrity.  Just like Kennedy was the first “television” president, Obama will be known as the first “Facebook” president and the first “YouTube” president, and the last thing he needs is for that exposure to affect his actual presidency.

04
Nov
08

November 4, 2008

Realize something:

No matter what you believe, no matter who you voted for, or what you think about the future of America, know this: you have witnessed history.  The election of Barack Obama is perhaps the most significant and important presidential election in American history since the very first one.  Whether or not his presidency becomes one of the most significant in American history remains to be seen, and with the expectations placed in front of him he certainly has an uphill climb, but the mere fact that he was elected provides a crucial, definable moment in United States history, a moment that decades from now, history teachers will point to and inform their students that it was on this day in this year that a dramatic shift took place in the collective American mindset.  History lives in those moments, and you just lived through one.  It was on this day that the culture began to shift.

At about this point you’re probably starting to think that I’m overreacting.  I don’t believe I am.  People who know me and have read this blog know that I frown upon the fact that my generation is devaluing our language by overusing superlatives and lacking true sincerity in the things that we say.  That is not the case for me in writing that previous paragraph.  Electing a black president, whether or not you agree with him, is something this nation needed desperately.  Now, more than ever, we can unify as a nation, should we take advantage of that opportunity, and I certainly hope we will.

Please don’t misinterpret that last sentence.  I don’t mean that we unify under the beliefs of a Democrat or a Republican, or that we become unified under any political belief at all.  In fact, I would ask that you please, please, please, look at this day, this moment, this election through eyes that are not clouded by any political belief.  We all have political tenets that we hold to, and while they are important and help us define the people we are, it is all too easy to interpret history through the tunnel vision those beliefs create for us, whether our beliefs be Democratic, Republican, or otherwise.  What I would ask is that you take a step back.  Look at what this election has done for the people of this nation, not for the Republicans or the Democrats of this nation.  Barack Obama is a politician, yes, but tonight he became a symbol, and I believe it is possible he will be remembered more for that than any decision he makes in the next four or eight years.

Now, more than ever, we are all Americans, we are not white Americans or black Americans or Hispanic Americans or any other kind of American.  We are just Americans, and though it has already become cliché to say it, any one of us can become president.  Equality has reached a new level tonight, and I sincerely hope it continues down this path.  If we are to genuinely agree that all men are truly created equal, then we should applaud the election of Barack Obama no matter what we think politically, because it takes a crucial step towards making that statement all the more true.

As for the next four years?  Well, feel free to make your own speculations about what will happen to America with Obama at the helm.  If you staunchly disagree with all the decisions you assume he will make in the next four years, well, there’s always 2012 for you.  But I believe that what happened tonight couldn’t wait another four years.  I believe it needed to happen now.

And it’s nice to get some color in there anyway, don’t you think?

07
Oct
08

answers.

Since my last post suggested that it’s difficult to wade through the fluff of politicians and the media to get real information, I’ve decided to link to some information that really will help you understand what’s going on in the world today.  If you’d really like to understand our current financial situation, the mortgage crisis, and the bailout plan, there is, as far as I’m concerned, only one place to go.  The radio show This American Life has produced two incredibly informative shows specifically designed to explain (in words the average person can actually understand) what’s going on with all this financial stuff.

So go here and download two episodes: “The Giant Pool of Money,” aired back in May, explains the mortgage crisis, and “Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” last week’s episode, goes further in depth about the financial crisis, how we got where we are, and answers most questions you may have about the economy and the bailout plan.  They’re about an hour each, but if you’re interested in really, really understanding what’s going on, then it’s completely worth your time.  Do it.

05
Oct
08

Don’t Vote.

Yeah, I said it.  Don’t vote.  Come November 4th, stay home.  Take that half-hour or so, and play some video games, read a book, or watch VH1.  But whatever you do, don’t vote.

I’m not being sarcastic.  Not entirely, anyway.  Perhaps you’ve seen this video.  That’s not what I mean.  In fact, it’s part of what I have an issue with.  The message is great, but it’s incomplete.  Voting isn’t just taking action, it’s taking responsibility.  The last thing I want is for somebody to vote just because Jennifer Aniston told them to, and not have any idea as to what it is they’re voting for.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for participation, I’m just hoping it’s informed participation.  Consider this conversation I had with a co-worker the day after the first presidential debate:

ME: Hey man, what’s up?  Did you watch the debate last night?

JOE CO-WORKER*: No.

ME: Why not?  Were you working?

JOE CO-WORKER: No, I had last night off.

ME: So why didn’t you watch it?

JOE CO-WORKER: Um… because I have cable, I guess.  I was watching Comedy Central.

*not his real name

Come November, Joe may vote.  Do I have a problem with that?  Not entirely, I suppose.  Joe’s not alone, only 17% of all Americans watched that first debate.  I’m not about to judge what Joe thinks or knows based on him not watching one debate.  I’m saying in general, we are a completely uniformed populous, and I use the term ‘we’ deliberately.  The fact that Joe is uninformed, or the fact that I am uninformed, whether or not either of us is making a direct attempt to stay involved, is not entirely our fault, and that’s my problem.

Through the course of the last handful of months, I can feel something inside me growing more and more disenfranchised with the whole political campaign process.  I watched the debate, but I don’t think I came out of it knowing much more than I did going in, (which wasn’t all that much to begin with) and if you ask me, I suspect that was exactly what both candidates wanted to happen.  Politics has become so much about image that candidates refuse to talk point-blank about the issues for fear of not looking good.  Let me rephrase that: the candidates don’t say what they think because they’re afraid that if they do, people won’t vote for them.

Isn’t that what the election is about, what the candidates think?  Granted, the fact that they don’t speak with 100% candor isn’t entirely their fault.  It’s at least partially their fault, and it’s probably mostly their fault, but it’s not entirely their fault.  Think about things in the news that have garnered the most attention over the past ten months or so: American flag pins, pant suits, the phrase “lipstick on a pig”, the cover of “The New Yorker”, crying, the word “maverick”, the fact that Senator Obama is black, the fact that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are not men, and this.

Now whether it’s the media’s fault for reporting that or the American people’s fault for paying attention to it isn’t the point.  The point is that for anyone looking for legitimate information, that’s the kind of forest they have to forge through to get it.

So let’s say you do watch the debates like I did, with every intention of seeing live, unedited responses from the candidates on the actual issues that matter.  You still don’t get that.  What you get is two grown-ass men dodging questions like a six-year-old in trouble.  Take this actual* exchange from the first presidential debate:

*not really

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, in March, the senior senator from Kentucky brought a package of Oreos onto the Senate floor and left them there while the senate was in recess, coming back fifteen minutes later to find three of his Oreos missing.  The record shows that during the recess there were only two senators who remained in the building, yourself and senator McCain.  The American public would like to know: did you eat those cookies?

OBAMA: You know Jim, before I get to that, let me point out that under John McCain’s tax plan, only the wealthiest 10% of Americans would retain the financial means to afford cookies.  My tax cuts would allow the middle class the financial reprieve necessary to purchase all the cookies they could ever want.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama, may I redirect you to the original question: did you eat those cookies?

OBAMA: Senator McCain’s record with respect to cookies is suspect at best.  During 2002, Senator McCain voted twenty-six times to deny the American people the right to cookies.  Twenty-six!  If voted president, I promise to veto any bill that comes across my desk that limits Americans’ access to cookies.

MODERATOR: Senator Obama.  Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, DID YOU EAT THOSE COOKIES?!?!

OBAMA: (looking downward) …yes.

It’s childish, really, and it happens on both sides.  They’re content to let the American people categorize them by the stereotypes of their political parties, rather than tell us themselves.  One of the things I want from a president is somebody who’s going to get stuff done, not somebody who’s going to dodge questions and hide from the truth.  I want the candidates to look straight into the camera and say, “Hey America, this is what I think, take it or leave it.”  If either candidate would be willing to do that, my respect would grow for them tenfold, regardless of whether I agreed with them or not.

The Vice Presidential situation isn’t that much better.  I will admit they did a better job answering questions during their debate, but prior to that debate, they were grossly underexposed for being someone who could potentially be one too-large-bite of sandwich away from the presidency.  Sarah Palin would only talk to Katie Couric, and Joe Biden was nowhere to be found.  I saw more of Tina Fey’s version of Sarah Palin than I did of Palin herself.  Before the vice presidential debate, I actually sat down to try and make a list of all the things I knew 100% to be true about the two VP candidates from watching the news, and it wasn’t pretty.

SARAH PALIN:

a) is Governor of Alaska

b) is a ‘hockey mom’

c) opposes abortion and has a pregnant teenage daughter

d) chooses weird names for her kids

e) is a lady

JOE BIDEN:

a) is a Senator from Connecticut*

b) said that thing about FDR going on TV after the stock market crashed

c) is older than Obama

*Actually Delaware, but you might not have known that, either.

Depressing, isn’t it?  Now, maybe I hadn’t actively sought out information as best I could, but this is the single most important thing happening in our country right now (or maybe second-most, and there’s 700 billion reasons why that might be the case), and you would think that by being a part of the country, I’d at least gain some sort of knowledge by osmosis or something.

The problem here is that running mates have become nothing more than accessories.  VP candidates are picked with the express purpose of either counteracting the presidential candidate’s weakness, or appealing to a hard-to-reach demographic.  They’re not partners, they’re handbags.  It’s the idea of “maybe if I add this person to the picture, it’d soften my image a bit where such-and-such is concerned, and draw attention away from this ugly feature.”  This is a total cop-out.  Pick somebody you trust, somebody who you genuinely think will help you should you become president.  Pick the person you’d call first if your spouse came to you and said they wanted a divorce, not somebody who merely represents what you’re not.

But that doesn’t happen.  And because that doesn’t happen, presidential candidates hide their running mates from the public eye, afraid that they’ll say something harmful because they didn’t really know the person in the first place.  If you trust someone to take over your job, you should trust them to speak candidly, as well.  But they don’t, and that’s why my two lists were so short.

In conclusion, it’s probably safe to say that despite the title of this post, the solution is not to abstain from voting.  That’s probably more of a cop-out than anything else.  I think what it all comes down to is that it’s just going to take more effort than should be necessary to actually get to the candidates’ views, and we’re just going to have to deal with it.  I know I’m going to have to deal with it, because there’s no way I’m walking into a voting booth on November 4th without being absolutely certain what it is I’m voting for.  Maybe that means reading more, maybe that means taking a deeper look at the candidates’ websites, or maybe it means getting my news from somebody other than Jon Stewart.

Let’s hope it’s not that last one.