John Oliver – The Jon Stewart We Should Have Had

I’ve had pretty mixed feelings since news broke of Jon Stewart’s planned departure from the Daily Show broke earlier this month. In the dark days of the Bush years, when it seemed the FOX News-style of right-wing, propagandistic infotainment was ascendant right along with America’s newly-rediscovered bloodthirstiness and appetite for overseas tomfoolery, Jon Stewart (along with Keith Olbermann) was one of the very few beacons of light in that darkness. He gave our outrage – and the far-more-correct-than-not analysis that propelled it – voice. Jon Stewart let each of us who were sitting in our isolated little chambers, looking in disbelieving horror at what our country was doing to itself as a result of 9/11 and the elevation of George W. Bush to the Presidency, feel as if we weren’t alone.

That was no small thing, in those days when Dubya’s popularity soared to 90% and remained above 70% for nine months and at or above 60% for almost two and half years, even as his administration devised black sites and torture programs, invaded Iraq, and began the process of ruining the economy by cutting taxes drastically even as he ramped up military spending. If you remember those early days, after the initial shock of 9/11 and the we’re-all-in-this-together feelings it inspired in all of us began to wear off as the drumbeats of war with countries that hadn’t attacked us and the early murmurs of a program of torture began to spread, if you looked around then and saw nearly everyone else still rushing pell-mell to praise the President and you thought “I must be crazy, I’m the only one who sees how insane this is,”  Jon Stewart was one of the few voices who helped you realize you weren’t the only one. And he was hilarious while doing it.

Truth is, Stewart’s always been hilarious. That’s why he’s so successful – he’s unusually good at what he does. But it’s important to remember that what he does – by his own repeated admission – is comedy. That point can’t be overlooked, because it’s here that my admiration of and appreciation for Jon Stewart falters. Stewart’s always said his job was to “sit in the back of the room and shoot spitballs,” and that’s fair enough as far as it goes — but given his rise to prominence as one of the most-trusted names in news, as America’s news establishment in general has become more and more artificial and staged, less like the Cronkites and Murrows of yesterday, it doesn’t go far enough anymore. Stewart repeatedly claimed – and likely still claims, though I haven’t heard him specifically mention it lately (and it likely no longer matter much, with his announcement of his impending retirement) – that his job was not to join the battlefield and take sides, but to remain above or aside the fray, to preserve his ability to view it dispassionately and be funny about it.

That’s why John Oliver’s been such a breath of fresh air since launching his own show on HBO: he studied at the foot of the master (and, to be fair, elsewhere as well), but he didn’t come away from the experience feeling as if he needed to do the comic equivalent of “both sides do it” in order to be able to remain primarily a comedian. Just watching Oliver ripping into the tobacco companies in this sketch (he calls their demand letter to tiny African nation Togo “bullshit” around the 14:20 mark, and ends by fairly daring tobacco behemoth Philip Morris to sue him for suggesting their mascot for advertisements should be a diseased lung in a cowboy hat) warms my DFH heart, and gives me hope for the future of comedy, that it can perhaps return to its noblest calling of all – being able to say the truth about the powerful that everyone wants to hear but is also too afraid to say themselves. It’s too bad Stewart was either never interested in this or maybe just never found this groove, but if Jon Stewart’s legacy is nothing more than Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, it will have been more than enough. Behold:

Thank You, Mr. Giuliani – My Question Is…

photo of Rudy Giuliani

‘And Another Thing, You Peasants — Listen Up, Now: I’m IMPORTANT!’

 

Two evenings ago, POLITICO reported that Mr. Noun-Verb-and-9/11 himself, AKA Real American™ Rudy Giuliani said the following at a Scott Walker fundraiser:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country. (emphasis added)

In 2000, the New York Times reported on findings revealed in a book by Wayne Barrett about then-Mayor Giuliani (who had yet to have his defining 9/11 moment). Specifically, about his early family life:

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani defended his father as the “finest man” he has ever known, as reporters questioned him at a news conference yesterday about a report that the elder Giuliani had spent time in prison after being convicted of armed robbery decades ago.

Mayor Giuliani said he would not discuss the excerpts because “it has no relevance to me and what I do as mayor of New York City, or my life.”

“My father died 19 years ago, and the details of his life died with him, as far as I’m concerned, the mayor said yesterday.”

Yeah, except when you feel free to pass judgment on other people’s upbringing and the effect it may have had on them, Rudy. Then all of a sudden those details seem very relevant indeed, by your own estimation.

So if the first question at Rudy “I’ll Never Be President” Giuliani’s next press availability isn’t: “given the revelations revealed in Mr Barrett’s 2000 book, Mr Mayor, I was wondering what specifically about having been raised by a convicted armed robber qualifies you to cast aspersions on the President’s upbringing?” then there is no justice in this world.

Ahem. 😉

Bonus shot of schadenfreude (if you missed it yesterday): The White House’s response to Giuliani’s public self-beclowning was just a pitch-perfect balance of bemusement and pity:

“I can tell you that it’s sad to see when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature, and even admiration, tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly,” [White House press secretary Josh] Earnest told reporters during the White House news briefing Friday. “And the truth is, I don’t take any joy, or vindication, or satisfaction from that. I think, really, the only thing that I feel is sorry for Rudy Giuliani today.”

Bingo. Trash heap of history’s that way, asshat: thanks for showing us who you really are. Here’s a lovely copy of our home game. Thanksferplayin.

State of (Gun) Play In the USA

One of my friends on Twitter is a hard-core tea-partier (yes, it’s possible to be friends). We have a running and occasionally bitter debate in DMs about the state of guns in America. Today, she sent along the following article from a website called “Guns Save Lives” dot com. No link to that site, as I simply don’t want to add to their traffic by even a click or two. Fortunately, their story links to a local news story from WNEM about the incident in Portland, Oregon, which describes the successful defense of an airport office by someone who was open-carrying a gun. Our hero pulled his gun, “apprehended the perp,” as I’m sure he would probably say it himself, and waited until the cops arrived.

Super. There’s no doubt that guns sometimes can be used defensively with no shots fired, for good purposes.

However, reading the article at the TV news site reveals that our hero surprised the would-be thief

…stuffing candy in his pockets when he noticed Lacock with his gun drawn.

At that point, the newspaper reports Wirshup was so startled that he flung the box of peppermint patties he was holding into the air and then dropped to the floor.

While I’m sure we can all agree this kind of dangerous miscreant belongs off the streets rather than on them, free to roam the republic unhindered, pillaging confectionaries at will, I’d like to draw your attention to another story from this week in guns, which I dug up without even trying at Alan Colmes’ site, simply by looking through KagroX‘s tweets today:

A member of Open Carry Tarrant County and Open Carry Texas, is facing capital murder charges after two people were discovered shot dead in her home. Veronica Dunnachie, 35, was arrested by police as she drove herself to a nearby mental hospital following the shooting.

This is where we are in America today: open carry absolutists – who are clearly just as likely to be violently unstable or even murderous – continuing to go berserk about their right to carry nearly any weapon they wish, in order to prevent someone from stealing a box of York Peppermint Patties.

‘Murica.

You Are What You Think (And Read)

On this particularly bleak morning-after, if you want your blood to boil, you can read Darren Wilson explain why he killed Michael Brown. Or you could simply skip it. You already know what it says. You’ve heard every word before, in other situations that are all too similar.

Instead, it isn’t just recommended, it’s necessary for us – especially if you are white – to go back to James Baldwin in 1962 for this — because apparently, we’ve not come very far at all.

(h/t to Aaron Bady on Twitter, who remembered this letter this morning)

What White Privilege (and Black Fear) Looks Like

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
~ Unknown

It goes without saying that Ta-Nehisi Coates is an exceptional writer, perhaps the greatest of our age at what he does. It’s not just Coates’ skill with the language that makes him great, or even his obvious intelligence: those just allow him technical mastery of the craft. It’s Coates’ ability to perceive, and to convey, aspects of what is really going on in this country – his humanity and his passion, in other words – that makes him such an indispensable read.

I’m late to this one, but although the story here centers around Coates’ conversation with the mother of Jordan Davis, the teen shot dead in Florida for “too loud music” in his car by sociopath Michael Dunn, it was the simple litany of stories (with links to news articles) towards the bottom of the piece that really hit home with me. None of these stories Coates rattled off were new to me: I’d heard or read of all of them before I clicked through to them from Coates’ piece, and was outraged by every one of them. But even for someone paying attention as much as I have been (not as much as some, but more than many), I was rocked back on my heels to realize – and remember – that every single one of the following occurred during the past summer. All of them:

I realize America is a big place with some 322 million people in it. On that scale, strictly by the numbers, the above events comprise a fraction so tiny it’s less than a rounding error. But we’re not talking about percentages of large, ordinary groups like the elderly or residents of suburbs; each one of these incidents involves a black person being murdered, assaulted or sexually abused by a police officer in the United States. That is not a rounding error. I feel certain that no one reading this (or Coates’ much more widely-read piece) would consider it a rounding error if it were their loved one in the media for these reasons. So none of us should consider what happened to these people as anything less than awful, either. As the saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.

About that, though? Even If you are outraged, if you’re also surprised, it suggests that maybe you might not have been paying that close attention previously. That doesn’t make you a bad person…but it probably makes you a white person. That’s the nature and the essence of white privilege right there, in a nutshell: the ability to not really notice these things which would shock and horrify you and possibly even damage you permanently if they happened to someone you loved enough…merely because they didn’t happen to anyone you know.

Someone much more cynical than I am once said human beings have a nearly limitless capacity to endure the misery of others. And it’s true for all of us, to an extent. But most people – or at least a majority of them – care about injustice and misery if they see clear examples of it. Most white people aren’t blasé about such systemic mistreatment and misjudgment of black people…we just have the luxury, by virtue of nothing more than our skin color, of being able to simply not even NOTICE it, unless we’re paying attention.

Black people, even the most accomplished professionals among them, never have that luxury. Instead, they have an ever-present twinge of fear (or at least awareness) that if circumstances go just a bit bad in exactly the wrong way, then these stories could be about them, or someone they care about.

That’s the difference, and it’s the definition of white privilege.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Minneapolis: Chris Lollie was arrested by police for waiting in a public place to pick up his children. I’m leaving this one off because the event occurred back in January, so technically it didn’t fall within the strict parameters of this summer, but the video of it was released – and public awareness began on August 27.

Georgia Governor, Senate Race Becoming Close?

I’m not sure I believe it, but for what it’s worth, Atlanta NBC affiliate 11Alive is out with a new poll conducted on their behalf by SurveyUSA, showing the race for Governor as a stastical tie between Nathan Deal and Jason Carter, with Deal at 45% and Carter at 44%, and a MoE of 4.2% (hence the statistical tie).

Interestingly, the new survey, released yesterday, also shows Michelle Nunn narrowing the gap with David Perdue to 47%-44%. The survey stands in fairly stark contrast to 11Alive/Survey USA’s own identical poll from three weeks ago (released 8/18). That earlier poll showed the Governor’s race comfortably in the R column, with Deal at 48%, and Carter trailing nine points back at 39%, and the race for the retiring Saxby Chambliss’ seat also with a Republican-leaning nine-point gap, with Perdue at 50% and Nunn trailing at 41%.

In the mid-August poll, all of the candidates, both D and R, had seen their numbers increase as the election drew closer and the number of undecided dropped. What’s interesting about this new poll is that in the intervening three weeks, the number of undecided voters has not dropped much further. In fact, in the Senate race, it’s completely unchanged. Three weeks ago, there were 6% undecided in the Senate race and 8% in the Governor’s race. Yesterday’s survey reveals an identical 6% undecided in the Senate race and a drop of only two points (from 8% to 6%) in the Governor’s race. That means that most of the movement came from people changing their minds from one candidate to another, not from undecideds finally making up their minds.

I am not sure I buy a nine-point lead’s virtual evaporation in three weeks, (at least, not without unusual circumstances, which there haven’t been). I’m somewhat more ready to believe Michelle Nunn gaining three points in three weeks, but that still seems a bit of a stretch when considering that unless something’s screwy with the numbers, that three percent (apparently) came entirely out of David Perdue’s voters from three weeks ago.

Still, it’s an encouraging sign for the Democrats in Georgia, and if nothing else, means that the Republicans may wind up having to spend money they didn’t think they’d be having to spend this late in the game in a state that’s supposed to be predictably red-voting. I am honestly not sure what’s going on with the voters in this state, since a glance at Huffington Post’s Pollster.com aggregator for the past couple of months shows leads for the Republicans in both races…except for two or three polls which were all conducted by either Republican-leaning or outright GOP outfits, in which the Democrat leads in both the Senate and Governors’ races. Weird.

Operation DUMBSHIT

( Operation DUMBSHIT: Deploying United Military Because Syria Harbors Islamic Terrorists)

Or, as Digby 
puts it, “here we go” (I’d merely add “…again”).

Should Not Be Our National Terrorism Motto

Digby’s right: when Democrats like Al Franken (of all people), who’s up for re-election in two years, start making very public noises to the effect that they’re “troubled” the Obama administration “has not yet developed a comprehensive strategy to address the growing threat of lSIL’s activities in Syria,” you can be sure what they’re attempting to do is throw down markers which they can point to later, if – as they fear – someone on the right tries to call them wimps for being insufficiently militaristic. This, they presume, will inoculate them at the polls next election from such an attack. They think if they’re thusly attacked, they’ll be able to point to these Sternly Worded Letters™ as evidence of their willingness to send other people’s children to war against the enemy-du-jour, which (they fondly imagine) will allow them to then execute a neat pivot onto a different, less military response to the threat posed by ISIS.

The trouble with doing this is that it never works out that way. Having tossed down such saber-rattling markers becomes both self-sustaining and self-fulfilling. Sadly, what way too many Democratic politicians still appear not to understand is that once they’ve tried to preemptively fend off conservative charges of insufficient martial virtue (or whatever ridiculous name the pants-wetters have thought up lately to convey Democratic perfidy on matters of war), they’ve completely ceded the terms of the debate to the neocon warhawks. The result is always that any Democrat trying to make such preemptive moves becomes stuck with that position. It becomes a set of handcuffs not even Houdini could escape from. Once Democrats start down those tracks, getting off the train at any point until US boots have hit the ground will perversely result in exactly what the hapless Democrat who mistakenly thought (s)he was insulating him/herself from all along: subtle (or often, not so subtle) excoriation as a limp-wristed, incompetent, Muslim (or commie, or both)-loving nincompoop. In short: every ridiculous, derogatory stereotype in the book about Democrats and war.

This silly spiral is how we got into Iraq in the first place, in fact. After 9/11, Democrats, battered by years of stern GOP daddies’ abuse as soft on crime, war, etc – and facing the 2002 midterm elections against an increasingly strong-looking President who’d recently stood heroically atop a pile of rubble in New York with a bullhorn, looking (if only momentarily) like a plausibly non-insane facsimile of John Wayne – panicked. They fell in line almost as if they too were merely children of a lesser GOP, and the march to war became inevitable.

The truly sad part is: none of it – neither the position-taking nor the seemingly unstoppable slide towards war – was inevitable then, and it is not inevitable now. The problem, both then and now, was never Democrats’ unwillingness or inability to “confront” terrorism, but rather their fear of confronting Republicans and their housebroken, adjective-confecting pilot fish in the media. The way to dispense with such charges is first, for Democrats to not panic and do the GOP’s work for them by painting themselves into a rhetorical corner from which they cannot escape. Behave as if rushing to war is the outlier position, and force the GOP or the media to make such charges themselves, don’t do them the favor of leveling the charges against yourself (and the administration) for them. Then, if and when some gasbag pumps him or herself up and actually does level such charges, remind them that

  1. Democrats successfully engaged and conducted both World Wars,
  2. The results from the most recent data we have on a Republican attempting to deal with a very similar modern threat to the one faced now didn’t speak very well of the entire “bombs away” line of thought, and
  3. The question they should be asking is not whether Democrats are capable of carrying out military options (they clearly are), but whether a military response is the RIGHT response, whether we’ve exhausted (or even explored) other options, not just in a pro forma way but because they might actually produce better results overall than yet another resort to “bombs away.”

On that last note (as Digby also pointed out in a separate post), Peter Beinart (who appears to have learned his own lesson from being one of the early cheerleaders of the last war in Iraq) offers quite a bit to chew on as far as other, better options in Syria than simply bomb people and see what happens. Bottom line: prolonged, problematic, costly military engagement in Syria is NOT the only – or even the best – option. It’s also not even close to inevitable, unless Democrats, including the President, allow it. But unless a “coalition of the willing” amongst the Democrats can muster the vision and the spine to do what Democrats everywhere have been telling themselves and anyone else who would listen for the last dozen years they would do, next time (i.e. – not allow themselves to be swept along into war by the fear of being wrong and the fear of electoral punishment from Republicans for being “soft on terror”), it’s not going to happen magically by itself.

Last stray thought: Al Franken was not a Senator in 2002/3, and therefore didn’t have to make the decisions many of his colleagues did. It may be, sadly, that he too has to learn this lesson the way Dems and moderates from Hillary Clinton to Peter Beinart did: by pissing on the electric fence and suffering the consequences.

No, There’s No Race Problem in America, Why Do You Ask?

I’m far from the first, but this may be one of the best takedowns of today’s truly awful New York Times profile of Michael Brown. It’s a comparison of how the Times spoke of Brown (“no angel,” “problems,” stealing cigars, pushing a convenience store clerk, etc.) vs how they described Ted Bundy (“never a shred of evidence…to hint at any aberrant behavior,” “Boy Scout, B-plus student,” “loved children, read poetry,” etc.)

And yes, it was the mid-80s vs 2014, but in one sense, that only makes it worse:

Is there an ongoing race problem in America? Well, you tell me.