Oppositional culture for an occupied age

Friday links! Baller-garchy edition

by Thomas Nast—the cartoonist, not my rap name

by Thomas Nast—the cartoonist, not my rap name

Let’s say a witch transports you to a mythical country called, I dunno, Furmerica or Harmonica or whatever. The country is nominally a democracy, but everyone you meet agrees that Furmerican politics are a farce. The two major parties are operatively indistinguishable, both in their dishonesty and in their infatuation with rich patrons. The few politicians who sincerely hope to govern by their beliefs—the real Furmericans, if you will—are invariably dumb. The Congress of Furmerica is a long argument between liars and fools, and don’t even get me started on the Hexagonal Office. Ask any citizen, and he’ll tell you that they’re all a bunch of bums, which is why he doesn’t even pay attention anymore. Today is Friday, and we have pinpointed Furmerica’s second biggest problem. Won’t you skirt the root cause with me?

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Investigated MT pols move to restrain election commissioner

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl does not give a shit what his hair looks like.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl

Last week, Republicans in the Montana Senate called an out-of-session meeting of the State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee to figure out what they could do about Jonathan Motl. The Commissioner of Political Practices had just submitted to a district court judge the results of his investigation of Art Wittich, the Senate Majority Leader from Bozeman, who Motl says illegally coordinated with Western Tradition Partnership. You may remember WTP—now called American Tradition Partnership—from this story about a box of incriminating documents found in a Colorado meth house, or this one about how they stopped existing right before a judge fined them $250,000. Or you may be a WTP classicist and remember them from their legal effort to overturn Montana campaign finance laws after Citizens United.

It appears that Wittich remembers them from the time they printed up 13,000 letters with his signature at the bottom. He claims he never coordinated with the super PAC, though, and that Motl is “a partisan hack.” Although the commissioner lacks the power to judge election violations or even bring charges, state senator Dee Brown (R–Hungry Horse) has complained that he is “the jury, the executor, the all-knowing.” Senator Brown was probably thinking of “executioner,” although an executor does implement people’s wills. Maybe the people of Montana should not get rid of their election commissioner immediately after he revealed campaign finance violations committed by the senate majority leader. That’s the gist of my column in the Missoula Independent, which I encourage you to read today instead of a blog post or the Bible. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.


Putnam predicts American “caste society”

Harvard academic Robert Putnam, who has come all this way with no one saying anything to him about his beard

Harvard academic Robert Putnam, looking crazy

Robert Putnam, author of the unfalsifiable big-think text Bowling Alone, told Maclean’s last week that “America is moving toward a caste society.” His next book is called Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which sounds pretty exciting if you, like me, are obsessed with the question of whether life in America is easier or harder than it was 30 years ago. In this case, “easier” means “more fair.” I think we can agree that in the ideal America, the decisions an individual makes would be more important to the course of her life than the circumstances of her birth. Getting born to two married, upper-class parents is difficult to pull off, and we should probably offer a second chance to the kids who blow this crucial first choice.

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Against the self-employment tax


Today is tax day, when I swing conservative more than any other day of the year. You may have noticed my conversion to libertarian politics last night: as the moon turned red and eventually disappeared, I began to agree with Ron Paul. I paid my taxes yesterday at an effective rate of 24%. By contrast, Mitt Romney famously paid 14% in 2011. I did not make Romney money last year, but I paid nearly double Romney’s rate, thanks to the self-employment tax. I am here to tell you that the self-employment tax is bullshit.

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Shapiro on Colbert’s “vile political blackface”


If you told me twenty years ago that conservative commenters would one day compare everything to the historical struggles of Jews and African Americans, I would have laughed and gone back to hacky sack. But here we are in 2014, and those right-wing pundits who are not still beating the straw man of political correctness are casting themselves as an oppressed people. Case in point: Ben Shapiro’s argument that The Colbert Report is analogous to a minstrel show. I quote:

This routine, in which Colbert plays at conservatism in order to portray it as unendingly ugly, should be labeled for what it is: vile political blackface. When Colbert plays “Colbert,” it’s not mere mockery or satire or spoof. It’s something far nastier.

Vile, I say—vile! Also, Shapiro put an enormous picture of a white comedian in blackface at the top of his column, because he had to.

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