Elizabeth Spiers http://www.elizabethspiers.com Founder, The Insurrection (Formerly: EIC, The New York Observer; Founder, Breaking Media; Founding Editor, Gawker) Thu, 30 Mar 2017 18:33:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 The Office of American Innovation (and Jared Kushner) http://www.elizabethspiers.com/the-office-of-american-innovation-and-jared-kushner/ Thu, 30 Mar 2017 18:33:11 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=986 Read More]]>

Over the last several months, I’ve been approached by publications and news shows about once a week to write about or talk about the experience of working with Jared Kushner. Historically, I’ve declined. But I said yes to a Washington Post request earlier this week because I think certain points need to be made, somewhere by someone and I don’t know that it’s going to happen otherwise. So here’s my op-ed about Jared and the applicability of private sector skills to the public sector and what I learned working with him at the Observer.

Trumpcare and Trump Voters http://www.elizabethspiers.com/trumpcare-and-trump-voters/ Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:56:52 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=982 Read More]]>

If Congress manages to pass Trumpcare, it’s mostly going to hurt Trump voters–particularly older ones–and most of them don’t realize it because they conflate the exchanges for uninsured with ACA at large, which affects everyone. I wish they had been more thoughtful about who they voted for in the election, but I have no desire to see anyone lose basic healthcare or be medically bankrupted because the insurance they do have won’t cover much of anything thanks to the GOP and Trump’s kowtowing to insurance companies. And this will happen if Trumpcare passes.

I also don’t believe that only the rich deserve to afford to get sick, and I don’t believe that the poor don’t have healthcare because they’re all irresponsibly buying iphones instead of paying an 24K a household a year in healthcare premiums. I know plenty of middle class people with chronic conditions, low income people who can’t stash away money for health care savings accounts that wouldn’t cover their expenses anyway because they have to eat and pay rent, and even wealthier people who’ve been only able to pay for extensive cancer treatments and the like because there have been safety nets in place. This affects literally everyone. If it hasn’t affected you yet, it will. (Unless you’ve discovered the key to immortality, in which case, please share.)

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a Canadian client who’s conservative and the CEO of a company, and were it not for the awful way this country treats the poor and the sick, would be a Republican here. But as she put it, some level of fiscal conservatism in Canada is sustainable in part because the most vulnerable are taken care of and poverty, crime, are less of a problem across the board. We are the only developed democracy in the world that does not share that philosophy.

A Trumpian Theory of Management http://www.elizabethspiers.com/a-trumpian-theory-of-management/ Mon, 06 Mar 2017 00:34:14 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=980

I have a theory about Trump admin chaos and where it comes from. (I recognize the patterns.) Here it is:

McCarthy As Spicer http://www.elizabethspiers.com/mccarthy-as-spicer/ Sun, 05 Feb 2017 18:16:43 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=975 Read More]]>

I’m not sure public shaming really works on POTUS in a way that makes him consider changing his behavior, but I do think other members of the administration can be moved by it. So I don’t feel much sympathy for Sean Spicer after Melissa McCarthy’s hilarious skewering of him on SNL last night. (It seems like McCarthy might have written some of the sketch herself because it was tonally different and 10x more funny than anything else in the episode.)  Spicer wouldn’t have even been a major character on SNL if he hadn’t repeatedly taken the podium and told blatant lies to the press –in a way that WHPSes in previous admins have never done–while berating them for doing their jobs and trying to gaslight them into believing that they should take POTUS’s word over objective reality and suggesting that they’re unpatriotic if they don’t. I’ve never seen anything like it. So if he feels a little sheepish stepping up to the podium at the next presser, I think some public accountability via comedy isn’t a bad thing. Bannon and Trump may be immune to ruthless mockery, but I doubt everyone is. Any tool that works toward holding the admin accountable should be deployed at this point.

And if you haven’t seen the sketch, mediaite has it here.

The Numbers http://www.elizabethspiers.com/the-numbers/ Fri, 03 Feb 2017 06:07:31 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=972 Read More]]>

I think the most thankless and ineffective thing you can possibly do on the Internet is post a political opinion on Facebook. But I just did it! Because at some point, you have to communicate where people live, even if it might not go anywhere. So here was my post:

I am going to break character and use Facebook the way most people use Facebook: by posting a more than 15 word political opinion!

So amazing selective vision: three million people demonstrate peacefully over women’s rights and immigration over the course of two weeks and the only thing the right wing can see is 1,000 people at Berkeley. Amazing. I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand math, it’s that they try so hard to pretend that numbers don’t mean anything. In the same way that Clinton’s popular vote doesn’t! Middle America is apparently misunderstood but the three million MORE people who voted for Clinton? Who cares about them? They weren’t smart enough to live in a gerrymandered district!

Either you care about empiricism or you don’t. The math means something to you or it doesn’t.

The irony here is the accusations from the right that left is emotionally-driven. They’re “snowflakes.” Nobody has been more emotional than the people ranting about demonstrations. Either you believe we live in a democracy and peaceful dissent is part of that, or you need so much insane validation that everyone must agree with you all of the time and people non-violently marching is personally offensive to you.

Which is what POTUS apparently needs right now! It’s all he talks about to anyone. Even as an atheist at the National Prayer Breakfast! (Not even politically astute enough to convincingly pretend he’s a Christian during a Christian event.)

But it’s what he’s always needed. Can’t handle criticism, is thin skinned, always needs people to pat him on the back and tell him that he’s great–like a child. We have a president who needs to be assured constantly, “good job! you’re so smart! so successful!”

My 20 month old needs less assurance. That is where we are.

Scoops Over Truth http://www.elizabethspiers.com/scoops-over-truth/ Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:17:10 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=967 Read More]]>

I’ve been spending a lot more time on Twitter and watching cable news lately than is good for my mental health, but I’m constitutionally incapable of totally staying out of the news cycle when big things are happening. And given that we’re living in what appears to be a slow motion apocalypse, things are always happening.

It’s been frustrating to watch the way cable news outlets have covered Trump. Newspapers less so and digital outlets are a mixed bag. (Cable news and Twitter are apparently the only places the president goes for info, so it’s worth examining what kind of message he’s getting.)

There are a lot of things about this administration that are unprecedented because neither the POTUS or the (largely) amateurs he’s brought in respect the office or the norms of the institution and are happy to violate them no matter who they hurt. Every White House Press Secretary spins, but this may be the first time we’ve had one tell the American people to not believe their lying eyes–literally, with photos–while spouting something easily falsifiable. Nor have we had an admin that shamelessly and arrogantly ignores advice and input from the intelligence community, at the risk of American lives. Nor have we had one blindside Congress with multiple executive orders, some of which appear to be unconstitutional–in the first week of office, no less.

And for this reason, covering the Trump administration is not a normal journalistic exercise. But yesterday I saw Frederika Whitfield read, whole cloth, a statement from the Trump administration, as it came in, that among other things claimed that the Obama administration had earmarked the same countries as sources of terrorism-related immigration. MSNBC’s Ari Melber, correcting here, later:

The statement was read, in its entirety, and pundits were asked for a response on the fly. Nothing in the statement was checked before it was presented to the public. It was presented as if it were an ex cathedra pronouncement from the mouth of god herself. Lest it seem like I’m picking on Whitfield here, this has been standard practice for all the networks. She’s just doing what everyone else is doing.

Why? Because the White House putting out an error-riddled (intentionally or incompetently) statement that anyone with access to Google could verify or falsify is not normal.

But at this point, everyone should know that and be responsible–and responsive. That this isn’t normal is no excuse for the broadcast version of stenography. (This is also where newspaper journalism is better. The Times or the Post just printing the statement with no examination or annotation would be unthinkable.) At any rate, this has got to stop, because the first time you put whatever the admin says/is lying about now out there with no fact checking, it becomes gospel for the vast majority of people who are watching.
And the only motivation for doing it like that is to have the statement out there first. (And it’s not even really a scoop when you consider that it’s a statement from the WH that every other network got or will get.) I realize cable news is held to a lower standard by many in the journalistic community, but for better or worse, much of America gets its news primarily from TV. News networks cannot prioritize scoops over truth.

The Seventh Circle of Zeitgeist http://www.elizabethspiers.com/the-seventh-circle-of-zeitgeist/ Wed, 25 Jan 2017 18:34:17 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=957 Read More]]>

Every time a reporter has emailed me in the last few months, subject line, “I want to talk to you,” it’s been unclear what they’re emailing about. I have to reply, “Is this about a) Gawker/Thiel/Hogan, b) Jared Kushner/Donald Trump, or c) virtual reality?” Sometimes it’s fun feeling like you’re in the middle of the Zeitgeist, but this is just bizarro-land.

I discovered last week that an ex of mine is Trump’s ostensible pick to run the FDA, which is good news in the sense that he’s very, very smart–in fact, one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met–but maybe not good news for the FDA, in that he’d probably enjoy dismantling it. (Nonetheless, congrats, B.)

This week, it looks increasingly likely that Trump’s pick for SCOTUS is potentially Bill Pryor. Who I interned for in college! In the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. That said, I had lunch with him once but otherwise, we didn’t have a lot of interaction. He was a Tulane law grad and several of the people clerking for him were Tulane students. He was super conservative, a hardcore Federalist, charismatic, and the youngest AG in the country at the time, so the far right was pretty enamored with him.

I worked in the environmental division, putting together a policy memo on chemical weapons disposal related to a stockpile near Anniston, AL. (In retrospect, I’m almost surprised the AG’s office even had an environmental division given the state’s current stance on most environmental issues, which is more or less, “climate change doesn’t exist, and everything is fiiiine.”) It was a fun summer, though, and I learned quite a bit. (Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I did not want to be a lawyer.)

Conventional wisdom at the time was that Pryor was too conservative to ever make it to the federal level, but he did. I guess there really is no too conservative anymore. (I’d say the Trumpists would probably draw the line at actual Nazis, but it seems that they haven’t.)

So if Elon Musk is right and we’re all living in a computer simulation, I feel like whoever designed mine must have watched Zelig.

It Absolutely Can Happen Here http://www.elizabethspiers.com/it-absolutely-can-happen-here/ Tue, 24 Jan 2017 17:49:56 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=955 Read More]]>

This is still a bit of a political post, I suppose, but if you haven’t read Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here since high school or college (or ever), now is a very good time to re-read or read for the first time.

The Times had a nice overview a week or so ago about the parallels between Lewis’s fictional Buzz Windrip administration and the Trump administration:

Like Trump, Windrip sells himself as the champion of “Forgotten Men,” determined to bring dignity and prosperity back to America’s white working class. Windrip loves big, passionate rallies and rails against the “lies” of the mainstream press. His supporters embrace this message, lashing out against the “highbrow intellectuality” of editors and professors and policy elites. With Windrip’s encouragement, they also take out their frustrations on blacks and Jews.

The architect of Windrip’s campaign is a savvy newsman named Lee Sarason, the novel’s closest approximation of Steve Bannon. It is Sarason, not Windrip, who actually writes “Zero Hour,” the candidate’s popular jeremiad on national decline. Sarason believes in propaganda, not information, openly arguing that “it is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them — to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”

Not everything in the book is a direct parallel, but there’s enough there that looks familiar to warrant some examination of what Lewis was trying to say–and warn people about. We all know academically that history repeats itself, but it often occurs so slowly that we don’t realize it’s happening in the moment. We wake up in the morning and the world doesn’t seem to be literally falling apart, so what can really be wrong?

To use a recent example, look at the credit crisis of 2008, which affected nearly everyone. There were warning signs, but it was a slow enough burn that many people failed to notice until it was too late.

Now imagine that happening on a much larger scale, and across multiple sectors, both economic and political. Think it can’t happen here?

On Useful Anger http://www.elizabethspiers.com/on-useful-anger/ Mon, 23 Jan 2017 13:43:08 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=950 Read More]]>

I’m hoping that at some point soon I’ll want to write about something other than the current political environment, but it’s hard to imagine right now, because I don’t think that what we’re experiencing now is going to go away at any point in the near future. But it was very heartening to see the turnout for the women’s marches this weekend, and it tells you that people are not complacent. They are civically engaged and determined to work for a better future. That is real patriotism, not draping oneself in the colors of the flag and nationalistic slogans.

Personally, I can’t handle (physically, mentally) being angry all the time, so I try to temper it with action, and gratitude for what I have: our small family, the ability to earn an income to provide for us, my health.

But I don’t want to lose the anger entirely because the flip side of it isn’t necessarily happiness; it’s more likely ambivalence. As a journalist, I’ve found anger useful when it’s directed at powerful people who abuse that power. It heightens and refines my sense of justice, which is not an expectation that everything in life be fair, but that we should work toward some semblance of fairness wherever we can. And I am not confident that the POTUS is going to change his stripes anytime soon, or that he will rise to stature of his office, or that the people around him (many of whom are also happy to abuse their power) will moderate him. He has already demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the gravity of the office and thinks of it primarily as a vehicle for personal gain.

So I’m not actually angry all the time, but when I’m inclined to write these days, it sometimes feels awkward to write about anything else. Like I’m avoiding The Big Thing. I’m more engaged on Twitter lately because it feels cathartic in a way to point out the absurdities as they’re happening. (And I realize Twitter has the opposite effect on a lot of people and they find it enraging. For whatever reason, it makes me feel better.)

But I also realize there’s more to life than focusing on whatever this administration’s alligators are doing in the swamp, or whatever the chief alligator happens to be Tweeting at 3am. We can still talk about books and art and good food, and everything at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, while the President is busy ensuring that the poor and disenfranchised are deprived of everything they need at the bottom. (Sorry; I can’t help myself.)

So tomorrow: book recommendations!

The Inauguration http://www.elizabethspiers.com/the-inauguration/ Fri, 20 Jan 2017 16:36:41 +0000 http://www.elizabethspiers.com/?p=945 Read More]]>

I can’t watch. And more to the point, I won’t watch. A piece of my brain is still in denial that we somehow managed to elect a President with no experience, brains, or character to run the country. This may even be Donald Trump’s first real job, when you consider that he’s spent a lifetime running his family business (badly) and has never been held accountable to anyone. He hasn’t even started the job yet and is planning on a couple of days off after the inauguration. He has zero respect for the office and doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near it.

And his only interest in being president in the first place is that he has a bottomless narcissistic need for constant attention that will never be satisfied, even if his face is on every screen in America, all the time. He conflates fame with competence, and infamy for validation. So maybe it’s a small act of protest, but I’m not going to give him the TV ratings he so desperately wants. He has done nothing to earn that satisfaction and everything that should have deprived him of it.