The Morning Jolt


Bloomberg’s Ad Blitzkrieg

Michael Bloomberg listens as he is introduced to speak in Manchester, N.H, January 29, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Mike Bloomberg takes over the nation’s commercial breaks; the people of Hong Kong send a strong message to Beijing in local elections; a television show touted as the centerpiece of an entirely new streaming service lives up to the hype; and an attempt to explain the ongoing impeachment to a British audience.

Bloomberg Launches Ambitious Plan to Purchase Democratic Nomination

Brace yourselves, America. This week you’re getting $30 million in television ads touting former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg to be the Democratic nomination. And don’t think that you’ll be missing out if you live in some small television market — Bloomberg’s campaign is spending $52,000 in Fargo, N.D., and $59,000 in Biloxi, Miss.

The most enthusiastic supporters of Bloomberg’s bid appear to be television-station-ad sales reps, Bloomberg employees, and the Republican National Committee. Don’t think of it as an election, America; think of it as an acquisition by Bloomberg LP. Don’t listen to the people who say Bloomberg is trying to buy the nomination and the presidency; think of it as buying hearts and souls.

Democrats complain a great deal about how terrible money in politics is, while secretly accepting the assistance of $140 million in “dark money” in the 2018 midterm elections. Bloomberg is going to be a great test of whether Democrats think and make decisions the way they want to believe that they do. On paper, Bloomberg is a terrible candidate. But if he gets traction in this race, it means Democratic primary voters are as easily persuaded by slick television ads as much as any other demographic. Note that Tom Steyer, a diminutive billionaire who is a walking vortex that no charisma can escape from, qualified for the last two debates and is at 2.5 percent in Iowa, 3 percent in New Hampshire, 3.5 percent in Nevada and 4 percent in South Carolina. But the most recent poll in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina all put Steyer at 5 percent. TV ads build name recognition.

Bloomberg does not seem like the most natural choice for a party that is hell-bent on beating an incumbent president they see as an egomaniacal billionaire from New York with authoritarian impulses. You don’t have to be a conservative to recoil from Bloomberg (although it helps); you just have to dislike any smug billionaire who believes the rules don’t apply to him and that he knows what’s best for everyone.

He bought elections by spending $183 per vote and pushed through the repeal of term limitsturned away food from the needy because he deemed it insufficiently nutritious, and referred to the New York Police Department as his “own army.” Bloomberg’s approach to critics was as combative as his recommended approach to young African-American men in high-crime neighborhoods, “throw them up against the wall and frisk them.” Bloomberg is the former pot-smoker who cracked down on marijuana users as mayor.

By the way, even on the healthy eating, Bloomberg’s an epic hypocrite: “He dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers. He devours burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches. He has a weakness for hot dogs, cheeseburgers, and fried chicken, washing them down with a glass of merlot.”

This is the relentless gun-control advocate who is always surrounded by armed security, the large-soda-banning face of the nanny state, and the man who declared, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven, I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” Oh, and he’s got a #MeToo problem.

A lot of Democrats seem to believe Trump “bought” the Republican nomination, but that’s not the case. During the primary, Trump spent less than all of his competitors, other than John Kasich. He also didn’t have a supporting SuperPAC. (What Trump did have was cable news networks willing to live broadcast his speeches in their entirety, and cable shows willing to conduct interviews live, on-air, by phone. During the GOP primaries, many non-conservative news institutions grew obsessed with Trump, convinced the Republican party would nominate someone utterly unelectable.)

On paper, Bloomberg should flop; he’s apparently not planning to put much effort into Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina. He’s probably going to flop. But if he doesn’t, expect a lot more worried talk about the United States starting to resemble some third-world plutocracy, where we choose which billionaire we want to rule us for the next four years.

The People of Hong Kong Send a Clear Message in Local Elections

For once, there’s fantastic news out of Hong Kong: The city held its district council elections Sunday and out of 452 seats, pro-democracy candidates won 347; just 60 candidates classified as “pro-establishment” won.

From the South China Morning Post: “Although the district councils handle local matters and have no direct say over the chief executive’s programme, the elections were seen as a barometer of support either for the anti-government protest movement or for the embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her handling of the roiling unrest. With the thrashing suffered by the pro-Beijing camp, the government’s allies, it would appear Lam’s position was becoming increasingly untenable, even as she herself on Sunday tried to frame the elections as being about district-level matters.”

Now the big question is, how does Beijing react?

The Mandalorian: This Is the Way . . . to Make a Great TV Series

I mentioned it on The Editors podcast, but can I take another moment to rave about The Mandalorian? We’ve seen some really hit-and-miss storytelling from Star Wars since Disney purchased it in 2012, but three episodes in, the first live-action Star Wars television show is hitting it out of the park. And it could have gone wrong so easily; we’re on the edge of our seats for a protagonist who always wears a mask — it doesn’t even resemble a human face, the Mandalorians apparently all prefer a visage of a dark letter “T” — and who doesn’t say much. The first ten minutes of the second episode barely had any dialogue at all.

What we’re getting is the classic tough-guy hero who lives by a strict code suddenly having that code challenged by his own conscience. We in the audience strongly suspect he will do the right thing eventually — his own painful past makes him empathize with the endangered innocent too much — but everything in his environment will tell him to keep his head down and turn his back.

(SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) Last episode gave us a lot of backstory in a short time without chunks of clunky expository dialogue. The Mandalorians are a proud warrior culture, renowned for their skill and weaponsmiths, that were nearly wiped out by the Trade Federation during the Clone Wars. Those that survived are in hiding; perhaps because of their fierce reputation, they’ve always been seen as a potential threat to whomever is in power. At one point when asked to trade his rifle the protagonist declares, “I’m a Mandalorian, weapons are part of my religion.” The Mandalorians developed a particular rare alloy that makes strong armor, but their access to that is now gone, seized in what they call “the Great Purge.” Those that remain are doing whatever it takes to survive in secret, protecting a group of orphans on some remote world whom they call the Foundlings. “The Foundlings are the future,” the leader declares ominously. The Mandalorians fear extinction, and thus the stakes of every decision are exceptionally high. The third episode lets us see the tensions within this remnant of Mandalorian society, and the leader — female, as far as we can tell behind that mask — settles a violent dispute with the declaration, “this is the way.” All the rest of the Mandalorian respond, “this is the way” — like an “Amen.”

“This is the way.” What a terrific mantra. We can read into it “this is the way it has to be,” “this is the way we survive,” “this is the way we’ve always done it,” or “this is the way that I have decided.” But once it’s invoked, the debate is over.  It’s a bit like “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” —  “Rome has spoken, the matter is closed.”

Keep in mind, one of the creative minds behind The Mandalorian is Jon Favreau, who directed Iron Man and kicked off juggernaut that became the Marvel movies. As Vince Vaughn would tell him, “he’s so money, and he doesn’t even know it.”

ADDENDUM: Over in the U.K. web publication The Article, I’ve written up an assessment at where impeachment is going and what it says about the state of the country in 2019.


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