EXCLUSIVE: CRUZ RUNNING MATE LIST

Posted in Quick Hits on April 27th, 2016 by Ed

My anonymous source in the Cruz campaign was kind enough to send me this. Looks like Carly Fiorina, shockingly, was not their first choice!

Cruz

BEDFELLOWS

Posted in Quick Hits on April 26th, 2016 by Ed

You've gotta love Fox News, bless their little hearts. They sure are trying. You can imagine how silly they must feel writing headlines like "Cruz stays in the Republican presidential fight by quietly scoring delegates." They probably drink themselves to sleep in the tradition of Soviet propagandists who just faked another set of economic reports for the 7th Five Year Plan.

A REAL PUZZLE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 25th, 2016 by Ed

The bar is set pretty low regarding what we expect from CNN at this point, but even by their Wolf Blitzery standards this "Voices from the Rust Belt" thing is delusional. It's little more than a variant on the Hard Working Americans / Salt of the Earth Blue Collar Types (read: white people who live in shitty places) theme that the mainstream media simply can't let go, probably on account of the fact that their average viewer is 65 and thus able to remember a time when Erie, PA mattered.

rust

Having ruminated over the causes and consequences for decades, the present reality is that there is no real economic reason for these places to exist anymore. They once serviced geographically-bound industries that either have ceased to be relevant or have been brutalized by free trade agreements. As I tell every single half-sentient adult I meet in rural Central Illinois, the solution to the problem is to leave. Get out. Move somewhere with jobs and something to do. The good times are never coming back to Buffalo and Flint.

As the CNN piece itself notes, most mobile individuals do leave, and in fact have already left. So, one might ask their producers, what is the point of focusing on these places? Why do we care about the Voices of the people left behind, the vast majority of whom are just too old to let go of the place psychologically. Anything that could be done to "save" these places is never going to be done; the country is too all-in on globalization and the inerrant wisdom of the free market to countenance sentimental arguments about saving some massively polluted shit hole in rural Ohio.

They can call it whatever they want, but we can spot "Let's tell our old, sad, white viewers in Scranton or some other place we wouldn't live on a bet that they're still really important" when we see it.

RUNAWAY JOB GROWTH

Posted in Quick Hits on April 18th, 2016 by Ed

Sometimes I start writing a post and it begins to sound vaguely familiar, so I double-check if I've done it before. In this case I've basically done it annually for 15 years. I'll give myself a pass since the news itself never changes and it seems like people are actually beginning to notice.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Job growth is robust, unemployment is low, and yet the job market is still poor. That's because for thirty years we've been hemorrhaging jobs that pay people enough to live half-decently and replacing them in the balance sheet sense with menial service industry jobs. Of the fastest growing sectors in the job market over the next decade, half of the top ten pay less than $25,000 annually. If you like wiping up puddles of body fluids in a nursing home for $10/hr or working at Burger King, these are going to be salad days for you. The world will be your oyster.

It's not relevant, despite that attempt at humor, that these jobs are shitty (pun intended, in the case of home health care). What is relevant is that they don't pay. They pay about two-thirds of the median annual wage, and that isn't exactly high; it's around $35k. A person with dependents could live on a $20,000/year job, if barely and as long as absolutely nothing unexpected goes wrong. It's a paycheck-to-paycheck existence at best. In reality it's more likely to be part of a two-job routine for an individual or one of multiple jobs held in a household. Because that job isn't going to allow anyone to do much more than scrape by. With some luck.

This may be the only thing that Trump supporters and the rest of us who read books and live in reality can agree upon: our problem isn't job loss as much as it is the loss of good jobs. There are, and will be for the foreseeable future, more than enough jobs making the lives of the top 10% easier. We can serve them food, clean their houses, drive them around, make their appointments, and take care of the dying parents they don't want to see. And we'll have no problem getting the chance to do it for little money and without any job security beyond day-to-day.

If you have a few minutes to spare and academic journal access, check out "Inequality and the Growth of Bad Jobs." Despite the fact that low-skill jobs have shrunk in number since 1960, low-wage work makes up most of job growth over that time period. The problems with our economy aren't hard to figure out in light of that information.

WATER WET

Posted in Quick Hits on April 4th, 2016 by Ed

Despite getting little attention over the weekend, the Panama Papers document leak received a substantial amount of mainstream media attention on Monday (at least online). Fortune, the BBC, USA Today, NBC, the Washington Post, and any number of other Very Serious Media Outlets are running with it now, which is a victory by proxy for the kinds of non-mainstream outlets that began pushing hard on the story as early as Saturday evening. The story is unlikely to have much staying power in the U.S., though, and may even fade faster than expected in Europe and the rest of the world due to the nature of the underlying issue.

The first problem with getting U.S. media to cover this extensively is that no major American figures are (yet) involved. It's awfully difficult to get Americans to care about our own politics let alone elected officials in other countries. "Oh man, I can't believe Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugson did that!" is a phrase no American news consumer or media personality has ever used or will ever use. Another problem is the fact that outrage fatigue and general cynicism make it difficult to muster much enthusiasm for scandals that confirm what we already know (or very strongly suspect) about the world – in this case, namely that the rich and powerful live in a separate world that operates under its own exclusive rules and they squirrel their money away in proverbial Swiss Bank Accounts so they don't have to pay taxes like some nouveau riche suburban desk commando with an MBA. Is it fair? Of course not. Is anyone really surprised to learn that this is in fact what has been going on? I doubt it.

Clearly it's an important issue and one that validates a lot of what we already know to be part of the deep systemic social and economic inequality built into our system and our way of life. But therein lies the problem; if everyone is already assuming that water is wet, the headline announcing that discovery is going to fall flat. We openly allow corporations to get away with offshoring their money in this country, and if they're People anyway, why would we be surprised to learn that the elites who control them do exactly the same thing with their personal finances?

I'm not saying nobody should care. I'm saying it isn't entirely surprising that nobody seems too up-in-arms over the revelations. It's nice to learn that our suspicions are correct, but beyond that it fits seamlessly into the worldview most half-smart people have long since held.

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS FIRST

Posted in Quick Hits on March 16th, 2016 by Ed

If you're looking for interesting non-fiction reads you could do substantially worse than Vincent Cannato's American Passage: The History of Ellis Island. It gives a good historical overview of the island itself but, more interestingly, a tour through 19th and early 20th Century nativist / anti-immigration movements in American politics.

The striking thing is to compare historical examples to the modern equivalent on full-throated display through the Trump campaign. The rhetoric of anti-immigration rabble-rousing has not changed in 150 years. Not one bit. A simple ctrl-F find and replace for the relevant nouns – Irish, Italian, Oriental, Mexican, A-rab, etc. – would fit the material seamlessly into any period in American history. And this is true across classes as well, from the highbrow arguments about "stock" and "moral tone" from your Henry Cabot Lodge / National Review types to quasi-economic "They Took Our Jorbs" rhetoric to the lowest kind of racism and xenophobia. The modern anti-immigration movement is the latest iteration of an ideology that hasn't had a new idea in two centuries. If the "terrorist" angle feels new, refresh your memory on what "anarchist" meant in the context of Gilded Age politics.

Most ideas evolve over time, if only incrementally. You almost have to admire the immutability of xenophobic rhetoric. Almost. It's like the Rock of Gibraltar of being an asshole.

FREEWHEELING

Posted in Quick Hits on March 15th, 2016 by Ed

In political science, 2016 will go down as the election in which the political parties – which used to exercise unchallenged control over the nomination – have seen their control of the process decline to near zero. With the withdrawal of Marco Rubio the GOP field is down to Kasich (who isn't going to win anything other than Ohio), Ted Cruz (who literally everyone hates), and a frontrunner about whom establishment Republicans are literally kept awake at night trying to think of ways to prevent him from winning.

On the Democratic side the party establishment is on the verge of getting exactly what it wants, of course. It is difficult to say whether that is because of the influence of the party or spurious to it; perhaps Bernie Sanders wouldn't have the juice to win the nomination regardless of whether the party supported him explicitly.

At least on the GOP side it is fair to say that the heavy hitters have had no influence on the outcome this year. The Koch Brothers' candidate didn't even make it to Iowa. Sheldon Adelson swung and missed, as did the other big money men who poured money into failing Bush and Rubio campaigns, among others. Republicans with the highest name recognition, people like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, have done everything but beg party voters to reject Trump. The RNC has not lifted a finger to assist him but has given considerable support to other campaigns that have failed. The diminution of party influence, which began with the Democratic Party after the debacle of 1968, seems to have crossed the partisan aisle to reach its zenith.

LIES, DAMN LIES, ETC.

Posted in Quick Hits on March 8th, 2016 by Ed

When I have to watch cable news networks present and "discuss" polling results I feel the way doctors must feel when they watch E.R. or lawyers would feel watching a cut rate Law & Order knockoff courtroom procedural show. The urge to yell "THAT'S NOT HOW THAT WORKS" at the TV screen borders on overwhelming at times.

When CNN assaulted the data from their Nevada Caucus Entry Poll to declare "Trump wins Latino vote in Nevada" any freshman student in math, statistics, or survey research could tell you what's missing from this picture:

caucusnv

Gee those are some nice lookin' percentages. By the way, how many Latinos voted in the Nevada Republican caucus? Because I'm guessing it was about 80.

That's an exaggeration, of course, but common sense dictates that it isn't going to be very many, what with Barack Obama winning 76% of the Latino vote in Nevada in 2012. Furthermore the NV Caucuses were a legendary shitshow that descended into chaos in more than a few locations, so the question of the validity of those Entry Polls certainly cannot be assumed. Who showed up, who actually voted, and who was some asshole Trump supporter who thought it would be funny to pretend to be Latino are all open to interpretation. Given the low turnout in the NV Caucus overall and the small number of Latinos identified – about 100 – by the polling agency suggest that statewide no more than 2000 Latinos, an estimate that appears generous, participated.

Nevada has at least 750,000 voting-age Latino residents according to the Census Bureau. It might have been helpful to point this out when declaring that Trump "won" a tiny subset of a small polling sample, or perhaps to have one person working at the network on election day who has some idea of how numbers work. But who cares as long as it sounds alarming, right?

I AM A CRACKED MACHINE

Posted in Quick Hits on March 1st, 2016 by Ed

It appears that America is going full "Here, hold my beer. I'm gonna try somethin'…" with this election. After Tuesday it will be very, very hard for the non-Trump Republicans (and Bernie Sanders for that matter) to claim that they are in position to win the nomination. A chance remains on the GOP side if the entire party apparatus and its money men throw their heft behind one candidate. Unfortunately it appears like they cannot decide whether that candidate is Cruz or Rubio (hint: It's Rubio, but they're stupid).

The only thing that I find legitimately interesting about Trump as a candidate – not "Hey check out that flaming dumpster" interesting, not "How bad can Batman & Robin really be" interesting – is the way that he has paralyzed the media that just can't stop paying attention to him. They're ratings- and click-driven, so it's hardly a surprise that they do so. But our media have self-censored their coverage of politics in general and Republicans in particular to the point that they have literally no idea how to handle someone that lies as baldly and as often as Trump.

Our media has become a slick, well-organized Both Sides Are Valid machine. They have gotten into the habit of stenography to the point that they no longer appear to have a procedure in place for telling viewers when something is false. Twenty solid years of "We'll let the viewers decide" has culminated in a candidate who lies so outrageously that even he bursts into giggles half the time at his own bullshit and yet the media are paralyzed about how to challenge him or correct him. It isn't fair to say that one candidate is lying without also saying the same about the other, creating a vortex of False Equivalency and nonsense from which there is no escape.

By understanding their job as writing down what the candidates say or letting the candidates talk into the camera unchallenged and then passing that along to consumers, the media collectively – even Fox, if you can believe it – look like a deer in headlights as Trump maximizes his strategy of simply making shit up so quickly and in such quantity that the fact-checking couldn't keep pace even if it tried. And there is no real evidence that it's trying.

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SIMPLE FORMULA

Posted in Quick Hits on February 24th, 2016 by Ed

If you're not sick of reading about Donald Trump yet – Can you believe it's only February and we have to do this for almost nine more months? – Matt Taibbi has a typically strong take on his appeal and why the Republican Party is getting everything it deserves this year. He isn't saying anything that readers here don't understand already, most likely, but he lays out the argument effectively: the image of the GOP as the party of the bankers and of the country club (clurb) set is inaccurate. Sure, those folks are Republicans. But they would be a tiny minority in American politics if not for armies of angry, resentful, not terribly bright, and aging white people. That's the GOP. That's the bread and butter right there.

For every suburban Republican who loves tax cuts and the National Review there are a half-dozen of the people you see at a Trump rally. No matter how many times Republican elected officials and opinion leaders have tried to convince themselves otherwise, these people do not give one shit about Conservative Values or the principle of small government. They're angry and they've been convinced that government is to blame. That is about the extent to which they have opinions that could be called "political." The rest is simply nativism, the politics of blood. They just hate everyone different. It sounds like I'm oversimplifying that to insult them, but unfortunately that's all there is to it. They hate the gays, the liberals, the environmentalists and their "science", the Pope, the Jews, the blacks, the Mexicans, the Mormons, the young, the poor, and anything remotely "foreign" or unfamiliar (including, from the looks of his crowds, fruit and occasional exercise):

Yes, millions of people responded to (conservative) rhetoric for years. But that wasn't because of the principle itself, but because it was always coupled with the more effective politics of resentment: Big-government liberals are to blame for your problems.

Elections, like criminal trials, are ultimately always about assigning blame. For a generation, conservative intellectuals have successfully pointed the finger at big-government-loving, whale-hugging liberals as the culprits behind American decline.

Stupid people are short-sighted and for years nobody in the GOP appeared smart enough, or perhaps confident enough, to wonder aloud if leading the literal Mob around by throwing chunks of red meat toward it at regular intervals was going to become problematic. Ignorant rabble are not known for their logic, after all. It was inevitable that someone who has truly mastered the art of pandering to the lowest common denominator – America wooooo! Fuck the Mexicans! Let's bomb the hell out of everything! – would come along and upstage them. No matter how expensive their suits look or how many Cato Institute quasi-intellectuals appear on Sunday talk shows spouting the tired right-wing talking points we can all recite by heart, what Trump is doing right now is exactly what the GOP has been doing for thirty years now. He's just much better at it than they are, and now they don't know what to do.