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Sunday Stories: Anti-political politicians

“I will not allow anybody to destroy the education that allowed me to become who I am.”, said a politician in response to the question whether it was possible for him to agree on reforming an education system reported to increase inequalities. A sentence which he knew to appeal mostly to the unfortunately many with unfortunate experiences with schools. As he knew whom the sentence “I am the living example that you can make it also if you’re born from working class parents.” would appeal to. Sentences hovering like drones above the heads of voters which believe there is only one bigger enemy than politics: statistics. Sentences that will fire their charge with surgical precision on any politician daring to rely on a statistical finding.

Some politicians like to focus on the ever increasing gap between politicians and their electorate. From another politician: “I earn only a modest income so I know what life is like for an average voter.” The anti-political politician is not monopolized by the right. Politics by hysteria replaces politics. Nobody even tries to explain what we know about the facts. If somebody tries she’s set aside as a naive nobody, the real politicians who hate politicians smile wearily and that’s that. I know who stands to gain from this type of politics although I don’t know whether it’s by design or by invisible hand that our politicians get converted into a selectorate of one-lining sons of bitches which glorify and praise science as long as it is not applied in the social sphere.

It matters: if it’s by design we can only fight it. If we fight it we need to use weapons even more powerful than theirs. Which means we will lose. If by invisible hand we can educate and apply some real politics to cancel out the bias and move on.

I’m naive but the question is: how naive are you?

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May 18, 2014 Posted by | media, politics, Sunday Stories | , | Comments Off on Sunday Stories: Anti-political politicians

Friday Afternoon Confessional: Running on Empty

I confess I’ve allowed my fandom for the Detroit Tigers affect my mood this week. I’m not the type of crazy fan who lets it affect their entire life and I don’t link my self esteem to how well the team I’m rooting for is doing. But when watching the first two games of the World Series, I have not had fun. It’s felt like work and I have done a lot of blaspheming and uttered many vulgarities.

I confess to feeling the number of political ads in Ohio have become oppressive. It certainly seems like there are at least two every commercial break and I get a half dozen phone calls per day. I confess the avoidance of these types of phone calls is the sole reason we still have a landline. Whenever we have to put a phone number on something we suspect will lead to our information being sold, we put down our landline. I confess I rarely even look to see who’s calling when that phone rings. I just assume it’s somebody trying to sell me their product (or candidate this time of year).

I confess to pride over my finish time in my half-marathon last week. I had trained to be able to finish in 1:50:00 and ended up doing so in 1:48:17 (See that Paul Ryan? Runners know their best times, you pathetic lying piece of shit). I confess to trying to hide my pride by acting nonchalant and dismissive of the accomplishment when people act excited for me, but inside I’m going, “I know! Right? Isn’t that awesome? I was the 700th to finish out of over 13,000 runners!”

I further confess that I got a massage after the race to avoid muscle and joint stiffness and was a little disappointed when my massage team was two big hairy guys with calloused hands. When I was finished and left the massage tent, my wife was waiting for me and I told her my masseurs were two bearded men. She kind of chuckled and said, “Yeah, I saw them.” I told her she’d be relieved to know it didn’t move.

October 26, 2012 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, media | 14 Comments

Blog reading and blog writing

I think I’m officially sick of political commentary. My obsession with political blogs reached a fever pitch during election season, and it continued through the stimulus debate. In retrospect, my panic at any unfavorable poll fluctuations appears pathetic, especially since the outcome of the election was a fait accompli as soon as the economic crisis hit. Yet it was the stimulus bill that was the real tipping point for me. After all the wrangling, etc., the result was what pretty much everyone expected: a bill within the size range Obama had asked for, partially gutted by the necessities of “centrism.”

Similarly with the bailout plan — Obama had said all along that nationalization was off the table, and Geithner came up with the best plan he could without coming to Congress for more authority. So the result is no surprise. All the tea-leaf reading about how maybe Obama is leaving the door open to receivership was basically fantasy. That’s the great benefit of Obama: he’s totally predictable. He generally is going to give it the old college try on what he’s said he’s going to do, and as long as the Republican abuse of the fillibuster empowers the “nihilist centrism” caucus in the Senate, any “progressive” priority is unlikely to pass in a satisfying form.

Even if my analysis here is wrong on some points, the question still remains: exactly what am I learning by following the “inside baseball” nonsense? Okay, I’m learning about the latest Republican smear and why it’s false — but I already know Republican smears are going to be false. I’m learning about how the latest “nihilist centrist” is actually going to bat for corporate interests rather than following any kind of principles — but again, that’s how they’re always going to act.

My blogging center of gravity is shifting decisively toward econ and finance type of stuff. It’s not simply that those topics are where the action is currently — it’s that the best blogs in the category very often have in-depth posts about things that I don’t already know about. This is especially true of The Baseline Scenario, with its in-depth intro-level posts, but also of Naked Capitalism and The Big Picture.

Somehow the emerging mainstream of finance bloggers has managed to slow down the pace for commentary on something where it’s very easy to get sucked into the minute-by-minute drama of market movements, while the mainstream of political blogs has chosen a hysterical pace. If we think of the contrast between a movie scene portraying the drama of the trading room floor and a given hour of C-SPAN, this difference becomes almost shocking.

Political bloggers could be doing so much more — giving historical context, for example — but the most successful among them are tied to the cable-driven “news cycle.” (Ironically, perhaps the most minutae-driven political blogger, Josh Marshall, has a PhD in history!) A broader perspective would be a genuine value-add of blogging over against the day-to-day reporting of news — as opposed to, say, the endless hammering away at the mainstream media’s tendency to normalize Republican abuse of the fillibuster, a tendency that is, once again, completely predictable given their knee-jerk desire to be fair to both “sides” and therefore extremely unlikely to go away.

Do we really need a medium that even further slices and dices news cycles? Maybe there need to be easy talking points — left-leaning innoculations against certain tendencies in mainstream discourse, etc. — but do I personally need to be keeping up with them on a daily basis? Do any of us? Can’t we just leave the earnest among us to their Kos diaries and move on?

April 2, 2009 Posted by | economics, media, meta, politics | Comments Off on Blog reading and blog writing

Obama the failure

The pundit class is united: Obama has crossed the Rubicon into Jimmy Carter territory with this AIG bonus scandal. His presidency is now officially a miserable failure, and the nation is doomed. Weirdly, however, the American people don’t seem to have changed their opinion of Obama as a result of the AIG thing. How can we explain this discrepancy?

It seems to me that the answer is simple: for all their faults, the American people as a whole don’t seem to be a bunch of hysterical political junkies obsessing over every single news cycle. If they were, then presumably McCain would’ve won the election, right? He won every news cycle, after all, and all the pundits were in a panic that Obama was sitting back and letting the presidency slip through his fingers by not going full-throttle against every stupid thing McCain said.

In short: I suggest that everyone just calm down a little.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | economics, media, politics | Comments Off on Obama the failure


My letter on student loan forgiveness has appeared in the Tribune. At least judging from the online version, they did not wind up using the headshot they (somewhat mysteriously) asked for.

I’ve had a good record publishing “crazy” letters in Chicago papers. Back in 2005, the Sun-Times published my letter urging that if the Democrats couldn’t hold a fillibuster against Alito, they should physically obstruct the vote from occuring, and in the last couple months, the Tribune accepted my letter about how Blagojevich just shows us that there’s no reason for state governors to be so powerful in the first place.

My very favorite letter to the editor, however, was to the Flint Journal. (Forgive me: I’ve told this story before many times, but to me it never gets old.) I was an avid reader of the comics page at the time, and I was particularly a fan of Boondocks, which the Journal had banished to a little area on the page facing the main comics page (accompanied only by Frank and Earnest and Cathy — a clear insult). I wrote in claiming that it was the best comic and should get top billing. On the day the letter was published, my grandma got to the op-ed pages first and read my letter to my grandpa (without saying it was me) and asked what he thought of it. He responded, “Oh, they’re just saying that because they’re black.”

March 21, 2009 Posted by | Chicago, media | 5 Comments

Heads — that talk!

I’ve gotten in the habit of watching Talking Points Memo’s “The Day in 100 Seconds,” which splices together clips from various cable news shows — the latest edition, for Friday, is here. It makes me wonder why we don’t just give up on the idea of 24-hour news channels entirely.

December 14, 2008 Posted by | media | 2 Comments

Voter Ignorance / Media Bias

Within days of Obama’s victory I received emails and saw Facebook profiles linking to a Howard Stern video depicting the inability of Obama’s supporters in Harlem (read: black supporters) to answer basic questions about their candidate of choice.  (Doesn’t merit a link.)  I didn’t really think much about it at the time, figuring it was just post-election sour grapes. The grapes, it seem, are not getting any sweeter.  They have gotten a bit more subtle to the taste, though.

You’ve no doubt heard about Zogby International’s recent study of 512 Obama supporters, purporting to show decisively that Obama supporters were “incredibly poorly informed about major issues that occurred during the campaign.”  On the surface, this is no different than what we had with Stern.  Depicted in the poll’s accompanying video are mostly black Obama supporters, once again being presented as foolishly ignorant. According to John Ziegler, however, not only was the racial element of the video purely a product of happenstance, the intention of the study “was not to show that Obama supporters were idiots — there are plenty of idiots on both sides of the aisle — but what information they got from the media that they were able to consume.”  Consequently, he concludes, Obama supporters were simply fed a more hearty diet of anti-McCain/Palin news than anti-Obama/Biden news.

Now, completely ignore the fact that Obama’s candidacy survived a very brutal primary season, during which Hillary Clinton threw at him almost every conceivable slur and innuendo, exposing him both as a rabid Muslim and a black-liberationist liberal Christian (so conflicted he was in those days!)  Also ignore the fact that McCain’s most obvious political failure, his participation with the Keating Five, was hardly brought up by the media or Obama.  Ignored all that?  Okay.  Having somehow achieved that feat, let’s now venture further and grant Ziegler his entire point — that, yes, during the general election the news was harsher to McCain than it was to Obama.  We don’t have to be so gracious, but Ziegler obviously has rage issues that we should at least respect.

All that conceded, and what does Ziegler have?  The most common reaction would be that press was in the tank for Obama.  That’s such a tired line, though, that it’s hard to take it seriously.  I’ve conceded a lot, so at this point I think it’s fair that Ziegler & co. grant me that at least.  That leaves us with the following question: why would there be more anti-McCain/Palin news than anti-Obama/Biden news?

Well, for starters, the former was simply more newsworthy.  Nowhere was this more evident than in the choice of running mates.  Biden was an intentionally boring choice.  Is it surprising that a plagiarism scandal would not take hold in the public consciousness, particularly in the wake of a Bush adminstration where we had torture, or, hell, with a blow job scandal far in the rear-view mirror?  McCain, on the other hand, wanted a compelling, news-worthy figure as a vice-president.  He got what he wanted, albeit in a perverse way.  What was it that made Palin such a spectacularly bad choice?  Bush-exhaustion.  In picking Palin, McCain picked somebody who appealed to the tiny minority who actually still liked Bush.  By doing so, he more or less welcomed a large segment of the population to aggressively believe the worst: namely, that a McCain/Palin win would effectively look like and affirm a discredited Bush administration.

In short, when we concede that there was more scandalous news for McCain/Palin than Obama/Biden, we’re not saying that there was more air-time for anti-McCain news, or that the word-count is clearly weighted toward killing McCain.  One could do a study to determine each of these, and indeed probably already have, but it seems less interesting than me writing about the consistency of my craps.  Having conceded nearly everything Ziegler posits about the media, out of the kindness of my heart, I would venture to say, maybe very simplistically, that there was more scandalous McCain/Palin news because the majority of Americans were more willing to internalize scandalous news about McCain/Palin than they were about Obama/Biden.  (Consequently, if there was any media bias at all it, it would hardly be ideological.  Given the nature of our corporate media, would not any bias be toward the profitability of news that reflected poorly on McCain, versus news that was bad for Obama?)

November 19, 2008 Posted by | media, politics | 1 Comment