Pop Tarts and No-Shows

NEW SLAUGHTERAugust is the month when most people take a break. Here in the exceptional US of A, where the average Jack and Jill have only a fraction of the paid vacation of their counterparts living European Socialist hellholes, (and are told to be proud of it), the working class isn’t packed up and idle on a beach so much as it is making the appearance of productivity while mouldering in their cubicles not really doing much of anything worthwhile.

August is the time of year when adult-level critical synapses are so muted that the annual ritual of a bratty pop tart running nearly naked around the stage at a video award show is not regarded as the time-honored rite of passage it is. It is not seen as the moment when the flirtatious rebel tweener singer/stripper formally morphs into contender for hot mess vixen of the year. Rather it is embraced as a cultural scandal.

A regularly scheduled cultural scandal for which the tart’s publicists and manager will all receive high fives and bonuses for getting cultural watchdogs like … Matt Lauer and every “Good Morning, Dubuque” chat show in the country  … to express shock and paternal outrage … again this August, just like last August. (Meet the new boss … .)

Likewise, August is also a good month for trend pieces on cultural inertia, like the one Daniel Gross, a business columnist, wrote for the Daily Beast the other day. Catchily titled, “Is America Out of Ideas?”, the gist was that the country’s sexiest tech companies are in a stall. Apple, he points out, is hyping a gold-colored iPhone as “the next big thing” and Microsoft … well, what was the last time anyone mistook Microsoft for an “ideas leader”?

The meaty part of his piece is when he gets into the disparity between the sluggish flow of investment money into tech IPOs compared to 2012. This may be the second worst year for such investment since the early, pre-Internet ’90s. (Meanwhile, giant banks, having successfully invented collateralized debt obligations, continue to perform remarkably well.)

By way of explaining what’s causing the stall, Gross notes the near complete collapse of constructive, equity-producing ideas from half the country’s political spectrum.

Yes, contemporary Republicans have contributed the valuable ideas of frenzied opposition to Obamacare, (after first suggesting the idea), then frenzied opposition to routine financial management (the debt ceiling), which led to sequestration, which has their intellectual leaders, like Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, berating the Obama administration for weakening national defense through reckless budget cutting. And let’s not forget  … frenzied opposition to immigration reform, frenzied opposition to climate change and frenzied opposition to gun control.

And all that was before not a single member of the current Republican leadership could find time in their busy August idea-producing schedule to appear at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. If only to show that, you know, that as Republicans they’re OK with black folks having rights. (Although that would be a pretty courageous thing to suggest considering who they need to get reelected.)

In fairness to Republicans, they have since come up with the idea of  … blaming liberals for their absence. Liberal organizers you see didn’t invite Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black in the Senate … except that it turns out they did invite Scott when they sent him the same invitation the other 99 senators received. But Scott, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor and John Boehner all had what Dick Cheney back at the time of the Vietnam draft described as, “other priorities”.

Point being, as silly as gold iPhones are presented as “new ideas”, (although I still have hopes for a bona fide Apple television set, and maybe even that Apple watch), the basic machine still provides a quantitative service. Whether black, white or gold, you can use the thing to enhance your life.

By contrast, the modern Republican “idea factory” — all opposition and nothing fresh or inventive — is about as productive and economically enhancing as a pipe in the spokes of the other guy’s bicycle.

The connection between incessant, ideas-free opposition and sluggish recovery seems to be getting through to American businesses. Recently the National Small Business Association polled members and found that Congress actually doing something had risen to the group’s highest priority.

As the National Journal reported, “… lawmakers—described by one business lobbyist as ‘economic fundamentalists’ for their aversion to compromise—are a chief reason for holdups and breakdowns on bills that traditionally are bipartisan, as well as on big issues where deals may be within reach. All of which puts the business sector in an interesting squeeze: fighting many Obama policies tooth and nail, but also bemused and in some cases frustrated by the way some presumed congressional allies are handling their jobs. ‘You don’t really know what they’re going to do or why’, says NSBA President Todd McCracken, a 20-year Washington veteran. ‘It used to be there were not many rewards for obstruction. Now there are no consequences’.”

Rather than play credulous chump again for the latest tarty pop star going slut and ruining the world as we know it, our pundit class might be more productive focusing on who exactly is keeping the emergency brake on the wheels of timely ideas.

25 thoughts on “Pop Tarts and No-Shows

  1. PM says:

    what will we see next from our brave GOP leaders, opposition to Obama’s proposals for education reform?

    …oh, wait…..http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/08/obama-college-socialism-backlash-is-here.html

    is the GOP simply deranged? why can’t some intelligent Republican (and they do exist) get up and say that Obama is not a socialist, some of his ideas are good (indeed, they really are our ideas originally), and we should get behind them for the sake of the country?

    (to answer my own rhetorical question, because any such Republican would instantly become a RINO, and that is why the GOP really is deranged)

  2. Mike Thomas says:

    Your guy is taking us to war with Syria and today’s blog is a dig at Republicans…come again?

        1. Obama hasn’t said anything at any point about a land war. Much the contrary. What he needs to say is that no matter what we do to Assad the Syrian war will continue for months … .

    1. PM says:

      on that subject (why this and not that?), here is an interesting rant from Dan Savage:

      “…But his comment about feeling a need to have a “take” on everything leapt out at me.

      Where does that come from? Okay, some writers/bloggers/tweeters are born with a genuine and innate need to comment on everything—try and stop them from sharing their takes—and, fuuuuck, it must be exhausting to be them. But many of us have that need beaten into us. Because God help the writer/blogger/tweeter who fails to comment on everything. Failure to comment on a story big or small—because you don’t have a take, smart or otherwise; because you don’t have anything particularly important to add to the debate; because the point you would make has been made already by someone else (or thousands of someone elses)—results in your being mau-maued by followers and commenters who regard your failure to have a take on whatever-the-hell as a moral failing and/or a heresy and/or something worse.

      … It’s as if my failure to have a take on absolutely everything somehow violates the terms of a contract I don’t recall signing.

      To my fellow writers I say…

      We don’t have to have a take on everything. Yes, if we fail to comment on something—if we fail to have a take—small e-mobs gather under our e-windows demanding comment and waving our failure to comment over their heads like a bloody shirt. But fuck ’em. Don’t let the Mark Kackstetters get inside your head. It’s okay to sit some shit out. Sometimes writers get to be readers too.”

  3. Jockomo Feenanay says:

    I missed the intellectual hairpin turn required to get from “the tech world needs new ideas” to “congress is to blame.”

    Expecting congress to do anything more creative than find ways to thwart its own laws is expecting too much.

    I guess we could hope that somebody sticks a rider on the next budget bill forbidding campaigns from working on super conductors and cold fusion.

    1. Fair enough question. Gross doesn’t make the whole case, but he’s clearly suggesting that when you get a level of opposition — irrational opposition, opposition with no counter-balancing ideas — as unprecedented as this in the post-internet world, you aren’t likely to be unleashing the full potential of a massively interconnected R&D economy. Investors still want to make money, but the ironclad rejection of anything Obama, including tax credits for renewable energy industries assures sluggish growth in what should be a moment of good opportunity.

  4. Haha. I love the overwrought, tortured logic that there is some inherent connection between GOP obstruction of anything Obama and the perceived slowing of America’s innovation.

    How perfectly absurd.

    American companies continue to innovate despite Obama’s meddling in the economy and Republican disorganization and general cluelessness.

    Innovation marches on in spite of wretched governing. There happened to be 121,000 patents issued in the U.S. in 2012, the most in more than a decade. No, Apple hasn’t come out with a “new product,” this week, as if a company that has been a global dominating force in technology needs to be on a schedule of new products.

    Apple was formed in the early 1980s and is still innovating more than 30 years later after losing its marketing and developing master (Jobs) and one of the best hardware whiz kids in history (Wozniak).

    The simple fact of the matter is that this country leads the world in a number of innovations in all kinds of fields from technology and drugs to transportation and energy.

    Speaking of energy, I have four words…hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, two innovations which have literally changed the outlook of the world’s energy markets….mostly for the good.

    Oh, I know, all you carbon haters. It’s not environmentally and politically correct to sing the praises of new oil and gas technologies when we should be living off the sun and wind.

    But where there is a will (and profit motive), there is a way. Everyone knew there was oil in them thar rocks….but we couldn’t get to it, until these new technologies. Next up, new technology to extract methane hydrate from the world’s oceans, the subject of an article in the Atlantic titled “What if We Never Run Out of Oil?”

    All this to say that while politicians dither in Washington, the rest of the world moves on. I know that news to all of you who think the earth revolves around Washington.

    1. actually Mike, i believe Gross was “under-wrought”. he was simply doing a late summer riff. And you are right that there is a long list of innovations — in genome therapy, medical devices, computer technology — that still outstrip the rest of the world. But that isn’t Gross’ point, or mine. Rather it’s the question, “How much further ahead, how many other innovations would have made their way to market by now if one half of the political spectrum was playing a productive, citizenry-first game? We don’t have to mention conservative opposition to stem cell research do we? Or the regular snickering at electric cars as some kind of Socialist plan to ‘pic winners”/ That kind of thinking id transparently cynical. Without the government “picking winners”, i.e. aiding the private sector, as it does all the time with defense contracts, tobacco subsidies, oil depreciation allowances … and on and on … at rates exponentially greater than solar, wind, genome research, etc. without such vast government support those industries would have nothing like the profile they had/have.

      I[‘m not surprised you think of hydraulic fracturing as the key to a healthy economy for years to come … nor am I surprised you had nothing to say about the GOP opposition syndrome extending all the way to in effect boycotting a rally commemorating civil rights.

      Bottom line; The new GOP’s perspective is entirely political, without a concern or clue for anything beyond their narrow self-interest.

  5. Brian: I’m not concerned that GOP obstructionism has stunted innovation. I haven’t heard any serious economist worry about it (Krugman doesn’t count). Opposition parties oppose. My bigger distaste is the general clueless state of the Republicans….on a variety of fronts….didn’t think that I had to spell that out for you and the folks here. You are all pretty intelligent. We also don’t seem to have strong leadership anywhere. I don’t hate Obama nor do I think he is a communist or socialist, just very liberal. I just don’t think the lecturer-in-chief is a visionary or effective leader, but that’s me.

    I’m also not surprised that you probably oppose fracking because it further enhances the availability of oil and gas, something you’d rather see dry up and flame out in favor of unreliable and expensive solar and wind. I’m all for alternative energy to compliment what we do have and maybe decades down the road, replace.what we use.

    In the meantime, we have access to substantial energy, and I’m glad we do. I’m optimistic that we will find ways to create more energy in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet, which I think, is pretty adaptable to change (as are humans, even if we often resist it).

    1. Jim Leinfelder says:

      The earth doesn’t adapt to change, it just changes. Species adapt to those changes if the change is gradual enough, or go extinct. Higher forms of life, generally, can’t adapt fast, so, when cataclysmic environmental change occurs, we have mass die offs of species. We’re in the planet’s sixth one of these right now. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/ But, you could certainly argue that this is a natural slate-cleaning process of evolution. If you’re in one of the less-developed, i.e. poorer, parts of the planet, you’ll be do most of the suffering (adapting) in inverse proportion to your contribution to the problem of global climate change.

  6. Try this, Mike:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/new_scientist/2013/09/entrepreneurs_or_the_state_innovation_comes_from_public_investment.html?wpisrc=most_viral

    “… A telling 2012 article in the Economist claimed that, to be innovative, governments must “stick to the basics” such as spending on infrastructure, education, and skills, leaving the rest to the revolutionary garage tinkerers.

    Yet it is ideology, not evidence, that fuels this image. A quick look at the pioneering technologies of the past century points to the state, not the private sector, as the most decisive player in the game.

    Whether an innovation will be a success is uncertain, and it can take longer than traditional banks or venture capitalists are willing to wait. In countries such as the United States, China, Singapore, and Denmark, the state has provided the kind of patient and long-term finance new technologies need to get off the ground. Investments of this kind have often been driven by big missions, from putting a human on the moon to solving climate change. This has required not only funding basic research—the typical “public good” that most economists admit needs state help—but applied research and seed funding too.
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    Apple is a perfect example. In its early stages, the company received government cash support via a $500,000 small-business investment company grant. And every technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone owes its vision and funding to the state: the Internet, GPS, touch-screen displays, and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri all received state cash.”

  7. flyirish says:

    Brian…totally agree that government provides INITIAL funding that helps spur innovation. That is a necessary role, no doubt about it. However, VC firms and other investors played just as big or bigger roles in Apple’s development. We aren’t debating the premise that government has no role. We are debating the size and scope. Obama has spent unprecedented amounts of money. Your argument is that GOP opposition is keeping him from spending more….thus slowing innovation. It is that premise that I’m not buying.

    1. What we’re debating is the effect of total, indiscriminate obstruction, and how impeding public “investment” has stifled innovation. You say it’s no big problem. It’s what “opposition parties” do. I say this is without precedent.

    1. Well, it is The Economist, never a friend to safety net expenditures. But the point is that innovation moves best with a union of public-private. What the GOP is about today is implying that it works best if it’s private and public as long as it isn’t an Obama-endorsed public notion. That is stupid. As I say, it isn’t even an idea.

  8. Haha. Yes, because a loan has to be paid back.. It’s a debt carried on the corporate balance sheet. A grant is free money. When you have very little to start, debts loom large. As stated, I worry more about the administration and Congress spending too much on social welfare and expensive “job creation” and not enough on innovation. I’m not sure spending $500,000 per job created is worthwhile.

    1. Well, technically it was described as a a “grant”, unless we’re talking about something completely different. And I don’t quite see how you translate that $500k to the creation of … one job. Whether public or private, an investment is still always a gamble.

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