The Republican comedy road show

I am beginning to wonder if Herman Cain and the entire Republican field are not performance artists and the whole campaign is one big act. Take a look at this long new internet ad from Herman Cain, which is even weirder than the previous blowing smoke ad.

At least the production values have improved a lot. But this ad demonstrates perfectly the fact that the campaign seems to be oblivious to jarring notes. The first part is quite clever and amusing. Then when the actor steps out of the role at the 1:40 mark and becomes presumably himself, he acts like a egotistical and self-important jerk who is rude to the crew. Why would the ad’s producers think that an endorsement from such an unlikable person would be a positive thing? And what’s with that slow creepy smile at the end that seems to be becoming Cain’s trademark?

Stephen Colbert generates more ad ideas for the Cain campaign in the same vein.

In a comment to my earlier post, John suggested that these odd ads may be a smart strategy on Cain’s part since the smoker ad has attracted so much attention. I am not convinced. Being talked about is good to gain name recognition but Cain’s among Republican voters is already high at 80%, so he does not need more buzz. What he needs to do is convince people that he is a credible leader. It is one thing to have people laugh with you at something clever and funny that you put out, it is quite another to have them laugh at you for seeming to be a little strange. Coming out with ads that are ridiculed even by the people in your own party, such as this parody by Jon Huntsman’s three daughters, is not a good sign.

If it was only people like me who are laughing at the antics of the Republican field, trying to outbid each other in pandering to the looniest segments of their party’s base, that would be one thing. But even Republican party stalwarts are sounding the alarm. Neoconservative columnist John Podhoretz is one of those clearly worried about the looniness that seems to have overtaken the Republican party although, as Charles Pierce correctly points out, he and his fellow ‘moderate’ and ‘sensible’ Republicans benefitted for over three decades because of their careful cultivation and grooming of the crazy base that is all grown up now and biting the hand that fed them. Podhoretz scolds Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney as if they were children, saying:

Memo to the Republican field: You’re running for president. Of the United States. Of America. Start acting like it.

Stop proposing nonsense tax plans that won’t work. Stop making ridiculous attention-getting ads that might be minimally acceptable if you were running for county supervisor in Oklahoma. Stop saying you’re going to build a US-Mexico border fence you know perfectly well you’re not going to build.

Give the GOP electorate and the American people some credit. This country is in terrible shape. They know it. You know it. They want solutions. You’re providing comedy.

Enough with the foolishness. Stop it. Stop it now.

But it is too late. All these conservatives and neoconservative Republican party stalwarts calling for sensible behavior are the ones who sowed the seeds of this behavior. They cannot complain if the plants are now strangling them. Back in November 2008, I pinpointed the precise moment when they lost control and that was John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin to be his running mate. That let loose the furies that we now see driving the party’s agenda.

If they want to pin the blame on someone, it should be John McCain.

The crazy anti-science people

The rejection of science by the Republican party and its rabid base is quite extraordinary. To reject evolution is to reveal oneself to be a pre-Enlightenment person living in post-Enlightenment world.

The correlation of pre-Enlightenment thinking with religion is clear. Religious people fear (correctly) that science undermines religious faith and so they can be easily manipulated by big business to reject science and devalue evidence and data because of their belief in the value of ‘faith’, which is merely a synonym for prejudice and gut feelings.

In this clip from The Daily Show, Republican strategist Noelle Nikpour seems to be even dumber than Lord Monckton, in that she never seems to catch on that she is being primed to say crazy things that will make her look like a fool. How can such a stupid person ever acquire the label of ‘strategist’?

What use is half a wing?

Creationists like to challenge the theory of evolution by asking how it can be that things can evolve incrementally since in its early stages the new feature seems to lack its final functionality. They pose questions like “What is the use of half an eye or half a wing?” Of course, scientists have long explained this. They have shown how the eye could have evolved by tiny changes and in fact even right now almost the full spectrum of differential eye development can be seen in existing species.

They have also pointed out that it is a mistake to assume that the final functionality of a feature was the only functionality all along, and that features may have had other functions in the early stages and only later became adapted to its final use.

Carl Zimmer had a nice article earlier this year in National Geographic about the evidence that feathers might have evolved for a different purpose long before flight occurred. More recently, he reports on new research results that add to our knowledge of what purpose those non-flying feathers in primitive wing forms might have served.

Drone killings

Nat Hentoff cites Morris Davis, a professor of law at Howard University, who says that the continuous killing by the US of people around the world (Americans and non-Americans alike) in the CIA-run drone program is, apart from being a moral abomination, a clear violation of law because the CIA is a civilian organization and thus does not even have the fig leaf of ‘combatant immunity’ that the military can use to justify its killings.

Boycott Bank of America

Matt Taibbi makes the case that removing our money from Bank of America is one concrete action that we can take to show our disgust with the banking industry. Targeting one of the worst culprits is a better strategy because we cannot boycott the entire industry. If we can shake one of the main institutions, it will cause other banks to fear if they will be the next to have a bull’s-eye painted on them

I used to feel the same way about earlier boycotts of gas companies to protest gouging practices. General boycotts will fail because people eventually need gas. It would be better to pick a particular gas company and boycott only them because such an action can be continued indefinitely. After the BP oil spill, if people stopped buying only BP gas, that would have forced them to take the public outcry more seriously.

Signs of strong support for Elizabeth Warren

Since I contributed to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for US senator from Massachusetts, I get email updates of the campaign. I must admit that I was impressed by the size of this turnout in Framingham when she went to a volunteer meeting. Such a huge crowd in a relatively small town for such a meeting more than a year before the election is extraordinary and augurs well for her campaign.


I suspect that such enthusiasm is a spin-off from the energy generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement, since she has been such a sharp critic of Wall Street practices.

Rising income inequality

The Congressional Budget Office released a report yesterday looking at the changes in the distribution of household income from 1979 to 2007. The graph on the very first page tells the whole story: The top 20% has increased its share of the national income at the expense of the other 80%, whose shares have all gone down.

Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities digs deeper into the report:

Between 1979 and 2007, incomes grew by 275 percent for the wealthiest 1 percent of households, 37 percent for the middle 60 percent of households, and 18 percent for the poorest 20 percent of households. These figures adjust for inflation and account for the impact of taxes and government transfer payments such as Social Security and unemployment benefits.


In media coverage of this report, I have heard phrases like incomes of the top 1% have ‘doubled’ or ‘almost tripled’. This is wrong. A 275% increase means that they increased by a factor of 3.75, i.e., almost quadrupled!

Kevin Drum comments that what has happened is that “For all practical purposes, every year about $700 billion in income is being sucked directly out of the hands of the poor and the middle class and shoveled into the hands of the rich.”


Losing the capacity for shame

Glenn Greenwald has the details of the drone killing that killed the 16-year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the son’s 17-year old cousin, and seven others while they were reportedly having a meal. The US government will no doubt spin some story to justify their action. The standard operation is to immediately put out some self-serving lies and not worry about them unraveling later, since few people worry about corrections once the initial impression has been made. Nowadays they don’t even have to bother doing that since the killing by a US drone of a US teenager by the US government aroused hardly any interest. Just another ho-hum event.
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