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Fear and Loathing in Washington D.C.

Washington DC Capitol - HDR

“President Obama will negotiate with the Syrian butcher Assad and erase his red line, will capitulate to Vladimir Putin, and he will negotiate with the happy face of the killer regime in Iran, President Rouhani, but not with Republicans over issues all presidents have always negotiated over.”

That quote – from American conservative radio host/shame-free liar and propagandist Hugh Hewitt – encapsulates how far the U.S. has to go to overcome the most embarrassing and pathetic government shutdown in the history of the country. Not every conservative in the United States is as crazy or deluded as Hewitt, but enough are to where an angry, xenophobic, racially charged minority, belonging to one faction in one house of government, has been able to manufacture a government shutdown threatening to destroy the US and global economy unless the party opposite capitulates to their bidding.

The truth is, no American president has ever “negotiated” repealing a duly enacted law [the Affordable Care Act] whilst being blackmailed with the destruction of his government, or indeed with the destruction of the global economy. But this line of baseless rhetoric has become the new mantra of the Republican Party and their apologists: repeat the lie until enough Americans have been coerced that they [Republicans] are not singularly to blame for the disastrous impasses the country continuously finds itself in (e.g. sequestration, shutdown, debt ceiling, etc.). This isn’t just a minority problem – it’s a party problem. The American Tea Party may be [entirely] comprised of callous fools and disgraceful opportunists, but we’re mostly here because “moderate” Republicans have consistently folded to these vandals rather than stand up to them.

It’s important not to forget that Republicans manufactured the U.S. government shutdown for one reason and one reason only: to stop poorer Americans from getting health insurance funded by cuts to Medicare and the taxing of the richest Americans. Let’s also keep in mind that Congress itself passed the healthcare law in 2010; the Supreme Court then affirmed its constitutionality through its landmark ruling earlier this year; and the majority of Americans want it – as proven when they re-elected the President who signed it.

In a few weeks (or sooner), the shutdown/default crisis will long be over and maybe even forgotten. The federal deficit will in all likelihood continue to fall, and growth will probably resume. But the long-term inadequacies of the U.S. political system will continue to be exploited by the Republican Party, creating a sort of dystopic future for American politics. The American people put pretty much all of the blame of the shutdown/default crisis on the shoulders of Republicans, but conservatives can still expect to hold enough seats in the House come the 2014 midterm elections (mainly because of the way district lines are drawn. Republicans were lucky enough to have had a huge win at the state level in 2010, which coincided with post-census redistricting or gerrymandering). Democrats may very well win the White House again in 2016 with Hillary Clinton or Papa Joey B, but the Congress will probably remain the same, meaning we’ll see more shutdowns/threats of defaults before it’s all said and done.

I’ve been able to gauge the puzzled, incredulous looks of my international friends at the LSE – many of whom come from democratic countries – when they hear that an extremist minority party caused the “most powerful” democracy in the world to close up shop. I tell them that American politics, as constructed by James Madison (“father” of the Constitution), was designed with stagnation, derision, and polarization in mind. But the country’s founders couldn’t foresee something as inane as the Tea Party (and warned against political party’s altogether); they couldn’t possibly expect the damning practice of gerrymandering districts or the influence of special interest groups both in elections and public policy.

Mostly, I’ve had to tell my foreign friends that what they’re currently seeing and reading about is not at all what American politics was meant to be. But they better start getting used to it, because it’s here to stay.

Photo: Nicolas Raymond


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Could The Shutdown/Debt Ceiling Cost Republicans The House?

Because the American people are a fickle bunch, the usual order of things is that the sitting President’s party loses seats in the House during the midterm election. Conventional wisdom would then lead one to accept the points expressed by The New Republic and Real Clear Politics in their estimation(s) that it’s unlikely Democrats will overturn the Republican majority in 12 months. The rule has exceptions, of course. Clinton’s Democrats actually picked up a few seats in 1998, following Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 21 day government shutdown.

It’s been reiterated quite exhaustingly that one of the main reasons Republicans have been able to keep the House despite losing the national popular vote to Democrats by 1.5% is that they enjoy the considerable majority of gerrymandered districts. In short, Democrats needed to win the House by a margin of more than 7% to become the majority party.

Fast forward to today. If this WaPo/ABC news poll is any indication (and I’d like to think it is), the country soundly puts the blame of the shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling disaster on the shoulders of the GOP.


But while public opinion of the GOP might be very low, commentators have rightly noted that President Obama garners considerable blame (deservedly or not) for the current Washington impasse. That may be true, but luckily for the President and his party, Obama is not running for re-election in the next 12 months. That point led Public Policy Polling to conduct a set of district-level polls meant for ascertaining Congressional preference — which has, in the past, tracked the national vote pretty closely. So, PPP set out to survey 24 congressional districts held by Republicans, and asked voters there to chose between their current Congressional representative and a Democrat. Here are their results, plotted against last year’s election result:

It’s important to note that we’re talking about surveys taken during a government shutdown explicitly engineered by Congressional Republicans, but the results show that Democrats swung 23 races (below the red line) while Republicans held one race (above the red line). If the results hold (and I don’t expect them to), Democrats will win the House. Comfortably.

I say I don’t expect this to last because, well, Americans have the tendency to forget about things like the shutdown when it comes time to vote. The midterm elections are still a long away off to where Republicans can successfully coerce their constituents to re-elect them to the House. I do expect Democrats to pick up some votes, which is not totally inconsequential since they’d be able to force the chamber to actually vote on resolutions that Boehner refuses to allow.

The survey doesn’t take into account how voters will feel about House Republicans if the Government hits the debt ceiling, but given the plausible disaster that would ensue if such a thing were allowed to happen, when compounded with the shutdown and the [still] terrible sequester, these results could hold true to the midterm, and possibly even increase.

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Coming Back On October 7!

Due to the lack of consistent access to internet and space, as well as the natural need to assimilate into a new environment (it’s been quite a change going from California sunshine to London fog), I’ve been absent from my duties here on Left and Center. Orientation week just started, so I’ve pinpointed October 7th as the date when I return to active service.

Until then, dear readers!


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Best Of The Week


Apologies to my readers for the lack of posts these past couple of weeks. I’m moving to London for grad school this weekend, so it’s been difficult to keep up with the blog, but mostly because I didn’t want to do a half-ass job for all of you who regularly keep up with Left and Center. I’m not sure what this blog will look like when I live in London. School will take up a considerable amount of my time, and the time-change will undoubtedly be an obstacle. What I imagine happening is that I’ll shift from a number of posts per day to one or two longer ones.

But back to the matter at hand. It’s been one hell of a week for news, and while I wish I could have written more, I’m happy about what’s been put out. The most popular post of the week was my reaction to where we now stand in regards to Syria: A Better Solution. Close behind in terms of traffic was my breakdown of Russian President Vladimir “KGB” Putin’s op-Ed in the New York Times, Putin, Troll.

Other popular posts (mostly because they were the only posts!) included The Astonishingly Bad Arguments For Another Middle-East War; Could This Kerry Gaffe Save Us From Another Middle-East War?; and, but of course, Forget The Pill, Meet The Pullout Generation.

Back soon.


(Photo: via wikicommons)

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You Have To Write Cold

16 - this is where it happen  -   IMG_2138.jpg     smaller

    “Don’t you drink? I notice you speak slightingly of the bottle. I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?… The only time it isn’t good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief.”

    Ernest Hemingway, published in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917–1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker.

Andrew O’Hagan considers the question of drafting while inebriated:

George Best once said that the greatest disaster of his life was that everybody he met wanted to buy him a drink. You might say, in defence of a well-meaning public, that the disaster was compounded by Best’s inability to refuse. But drinking is in many ways a selfish art, and I say that as someone who likes drinking and who used to love it. There’s a world of difference between the drinker who always wants a companion and the drinker who yearns to drink alone. I’ve always been in the first category and that to me felt like an achievement: my family was riddled with people who died of drink or whose lives were totally unmanageable because of their addiction. They used to say it was an Irish thing or a Glasgow thing, but in fact it was a sad life thing, as if being numb was simply the best option.

Things that rely on disinhibition (dancing, charades, karaoke and fucking) can be improved with drink. But anything that relies on precision (fighting, writing) must be done cold, as Hemingway put it. There are writers who feel quite strongly that disinhibition is the essence of writing, that writing is a form of running naked through the streets. (Put it away, Allen Ginsberg.) My view would be that writing fiction is a form of inhibition made dense and technical. Other people might be freed by it, for a while, but the author is unlikely to be, and God help him if he isn’t sober for the time it takes to get the thing down.

(Photo: Bruce Tuten. Ernest Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia near Havana where he wrote Old Man And The Sea.)

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Quote For The Day: “Exhumations”

What happened downtown / Los Angeles

“To live sanely in Los Angeles (or, I suppose, in any other large American city) you have to cultivate the art of staying awake. You must learn to resist (firmly but not tensely) the unceasing hypnotic suggestions of the radio, the billboards, the movies and the newspapers; those demon voices which are forever whispering in your ear what you should desire, what you should fear, what you should wear and eat and drink and enjoy, what you should think and do and be. They have planned a life for you – from the cradle to the grave and beyond – which it would be easy, fatally easy, to accept. The least wandering of the attention, the least relaxation of your awareness, and already the eyelids begin to droop, the eyes grow vacant, the body starts to move in obedience to the hypnotist’s command. Wake up, wake up – before you sign that seven-year contract, buy that house you don’t really want, marry that girl you secretly despise. Don’t reach for the whisky, that won’t help you. You’ve got to think, to discriminate, to exercise your own free will and judgment. And you must do this, I repeat, without tension, quite rationally and calmly. For if you give way to fury against the hypnotists, if you smash the radio and tear the newspapers to shreds, you will only rush to the other extreme and fossilize into defiant eccentricity.”

Christopher Isherwood, from Exhumations.

(Photo: Ryan Vaarsi)

Hat tip: Matt Sitman

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Best Of The Week


The most popular posts of the week both had to do with the saddening swell of violence and terror in Egypt this week: Violence Erupts In Egypt — Reactions & Analysis, and my follow up piece Egypt Quickly Descending Into Hell.

Other highly circulated pieces included Californians Use Less Electricity Than Everyone Else — Here’s Why; our brutal and effective Photo Of The Day: “Not All Violence Is Physical”; and whether or not it’s time to mark The End Of The Art Gallery?

Just a few recommendations, in case you missed them: Is Washington In A Post-Policy Moment?; my thoughts on why Obama’s Economic Approval Rating is so terribly dismal; Here’s How Little The Public Knows About The Deficit; and a small defense of Edward Snowden, Time To Give Credit Where Credit Is Due.

For good measure, also check out Rep. Steve King’s latest racist rant. Good luck with that Hispanic vote.

See ya!


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The End Of The Art Gallery?

Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) Tour (May '12)

Loney Abrams sees the art gallery as quickly becoming a thing of the past, as online viewers have — for better or worse — become the primary audience of an exhibition:

Far more people see art on screens than in museums. The gallery is no longer the primary exhibition space; the Internet is. As documentation—photographs or videos that capture a finished work of art, usually installed within a gallery—are posted to the Internet and then dispersed and multiplied via likes and shares, online viewers become the overwhelming majority of an exhibition’s audience. The digital image is supplanting the art object. All works, regardless of their material constituents, are flattened, scaled down to several hundred pixels. Consequently, the digital photographic image can be understood as the homogenizing, ubiquitous medium of our era.

If the Internet is the main space in which art meets its audience, then documentation media must be considered an artistic medium in its own right, the most consequential representation of an artist or curator’s work. Artworks exist not as physical entities, but as JPEGs, and their visibility relies not on their physical presence within a gallery but on their online accessibility. The gallery, then, serves not as the “true” exhibition venue but the site of a photo shoot—the backdrop to the installation photo. It provides the opportunity to document art within an institutionalized context in preparation for its release into online circulation.

Abrams sees this as a potential positive both for the art industry and the creativity/production of artists:

Far from limiting artists and curators, the demand for photographic documentation encourages experimentation and prolific production. Work can be documented and posted immediately, providing the artist with instant feedback from their audience via likes and comments and expanded opportunity to represent and promote themselves, relying less on press generated by market-driven galleries and institutions that restrict artists’ freedom to produce prolifically and radically. The documentation image is a fertile medium with ripe terrain, offering immediate and potentially vast distribution, contextual mutability, and institutional commentary. As galleries have been the home of art objects, URLs are the homes of documentation images and could potentially connote the prestige and cultural value traditionally monopolized by the institution. URLs will stand side-by-side with the names of reputable galleries on artists’ curriculum vitae, and artists will be rewarded as much for their self-sufficiency as for their ability to game the gallery system.

(Photo: flickr user VFS Digital Design)

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No Name #1: Celebrating The Music Of Elliott Smith


I had the luck and pleasure to attend the wonderful tribute show organized by Elliott Smith’s sister in Los Angeles this past Tuesday, where his dearest friends and collaborators — including the great Jon Brion and even Tenacious D — played some of his best tunes to a full house. I didn’t expect the night to be as special as it was, but I probably should have considering the effect Elliott’s music had and continues to have on so many people.

Nothing makes up for the gaping hole he left in music or in countless people’s lives, but Tuesday provided a sweet balm for that open wound, if only for a short time.

The video below is comprised of three songs by Elliott, preformed at Largo in LA — where the tribute show was held. Please take a moment to listen, especially if you haven’t been fortunate enough to come across Elliott’s music yet.

(Photo: via wikicommons)

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Best Of The Week On Left And Center


It was quite a heavy week of reporting here on Left and Center, but we gladly stayed away from writing anything about the Zimmerman Trial, and instead focused on the news. As always, the vast majority of the traffic went to the homepage, which is what I always intended with this blog.

Your favorite posts from this past week were a Massacre In Cairo: One Step Closer To Civil War, my polemic against Republican inaction and indifference titled Conservatives Don’t Give A Damn About Governing, Cato’s timely piece written more than a week past about Why The Farm Bill Mattered, my take on the importance and difficulties in Comprehending Evil, and a rather distressing and callous story out of one of our more tiny states where Iowa’s All-Male Supreme Court Says It’s OK To Fire A Woman If You Really Want To Sleep With Her.

Other notable posts included Koch Brothers To Launch Huge Misinformation Campaign Against Obamacare, my argument of the vital and usually overlooked impact of labeling something as what it is in Edward Snowden And The Difference Between Prosecution And Persecution, some thoughts regarding a really groundbreaking yet controversial college financing plan entitled Everything You Need To Know About Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” College Program, and finally our double dose of wonkish charts: the first showing that the U.S. Is Ranked 28th In Health Care Outcomes, and the second proving Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of Flying, Ever.

A wonderful weekend to you, dear reader. More on Monday.


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Your Daily Quote

Roman Ondák

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.”

Baruch Spinoza

(Photo courtesy of Marc Watheiu)

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Poem Of The Week


“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the dance?
Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, wo’n’t you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied, “Too far, too far!”, and gave a look askance—
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France.
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, wo’n’t you, will you, wo’n’t you, wo’n’t you join the dance?”

The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll (1865)

(Photo: Carroll self portrait from 1856, via WikimediaCommons)

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Photo Of The Day


Erdem Gündüz’s act of civil disobedience inspires solidarity in protestors around the world:

Just before sunset on June 17, 2013, a lone man walked across Istanbul’s Taksim Square and began to stand, facing toward the Ataturk Cultural Center. At first he seemed like any other person visiting Taksim Square, except for one exception: he didn’t move. Hands in his pocket, he just stood there, like an automaton.

After 6 hours of silent protest, Gündüz and others that joined him were placed into custody, and soon after released.

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An Evening With ‘Cinema Paradiso’

Celebrated jazz trumpeter Chris Botti takes center stage at Boston’s Symphony Hall, performing “Cinema Paradiso” with Yo-Yo Ma, together with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops – September 2008.

Adam Baer describes the original score:

In Cinema Paradiso, director Giuseppe Tornatore’s last Italian coming-of-age hit, [Ennio] Morricone used idiomatic Italian-film-music tools—nostalgic, sensitive melodies played on a violin and a celesta—derived from great predecessors like Nino Rota, official composer for Frederico Fellini and of the music to Francis Ford Coppolla’s The Godfather. Despite the music’s pedigree, it had an appealingly childlike simplicity.

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Ain’t No Love For Women At The Movies


Linda Holmes laments that if you want to go to the movies to see a film about a woman, you won’t find one:
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