STANDOUTS

Posted in Quick Hits on August 17th, 2016 by Ed

Several news items during the Olympics have commented on the twin phenomena of less violence than anticipated and the absence of American spectators. Apparently – and it's hard to evaluate this claim without data, as most of it seems to be anecdotal from journalists – fans have attended the games in ordinary or expected numbers from around the world with the conspicuous exception of the United States. The most obvious explanation, discussed in the linked EspnW story above, is the extensive amount of coverage in the American media of Rio violence and the Zika virus.

That makes sense on its face. But it doesn't hold up to much scrutiny.

Stories about the ineptitude of Rio's preparation for the games (shoddy housing, dirty water, etc) were not by any means unique to American media. Since the journalists' housing was among the shoddiest and the earliest occupied, journalists from around the world were all subject to the same conditions with ample time to write listicle-style "Look at this shit!" stories. Second, Rio's reputation for having a poverty-crime problem is hardly a secret. Not only was it written about prior to the games (again, not exclusively by American journalists) but it hardly even needs to be written about. Even in Brazil, where I traveled a bit in 2014 prior to the World Cup, Brazilians I encountered described their country's crime rate as totally overblown – except for Rio. The consensus was that Rio was in fact very dangerous, and not just for tourists. So, its reputation appears pretty well established and merited. Finally, stories about Zika were similarly popular in media outlets American and non-American alike. Tabloid media love a good "outbreak" story irrespective of nationality (Ebola, Avian flu, SARS, etc).

The more likely explanation is that Americans are really bad at traveling abroad in general. No doubt the sensational stories about Rio dissuaded some people who might have considered going, and things like warnings from the CDC and State Department reinforced that. But 64% of Americans do not even have a passport. Few of us have traveled abroad, and a good portion of those who have been to another country have been to places like Canada, Mexican resort towns, and Caribbean cruise-stop islands. Most of us have no paid vacation days. Most of us lack the disposable income for expensive vacations to overpriced Big Events like the Olympics. Most of us do not speak Portuguese and may know that unlike in Europe or even most of Asia, facility with English will be very rare among the population. The percentage of the American population able to go to these Olympics even if they wanted to is small. And if the media dissuaded some of them who were on the fence, it stands to reason that a drop in an already small cohort would be noticeable in the stands.

The scary media narrative isn't outright wrong, but it's deceptive. It suggests a set of conditions that are not in fact unique to the United States but ignores others that are.

TAKE THAT, TWO-PARTY SYSTEM!

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

Last call for these exciting 3"x10" bumper stickers at the affordable price of four American dollars. Let your bumper tell other drivers what's the what with this patriotic design, timely in sentiment for another couple of months. These have been popular and I'm down to the last 20, so let's work together to give me the enormous thrill of being able to describe them as "sold out."

sticker





Also suitable for amps, guitar cases, keyboards, surfboards, windows, wall mounting, decoupage, and…essentially any flat or semiflat surface to which ordinary adhesives can bond. Makes a great gift, provided you hate your friends.

SCOOBY DOO MYSTERY

Posted in Quick Hits on August 3rd, 2016 by Ed

The journalistic low hanging fruit of the summer is overwrought "Who are Trump supporters?" pieces, sometimes using that exact phrase as a title in a truly impressive feat of laziness. The format varies only rarely. Attend a Trump rally, interview a bunch of morons, interview one or two people who seem nice and sincere albeit misinformed and weird (for balance), and make sweeping generalizations about how everything is now Different in some way that nobody can quantify.

If this all feels strangely familiar, that's because it's almost identical to all of the "Who are the Tea Party?" pieces from 2010. Some of these articles read like the authors did little more than ctrl-F those pieces and replace the proper nouns to reflect 2016. If you're a journalist and you're reading this (I know, I know. Just pretend they might be.) let me save you the trouble and point out that Trump supporters are the same as the Tea Party enthusiasts, and in both cases the question "Who are they?" has a very simple answer: They're Republicans.

We already sat through years of rampant speculation about the Tea Party. Are they blue collar disaffected Democrats? Working class poor people fed up with ineffective government? Previously apolitical people being brought into the political process by economic difficulties? A nonpartisan social movement with no historical antecedent? Well, it turned out that Tea Partiers were Republicans. Old, white Republicans. The angriest, loudest, least informed portion of the Republican base. Oh, and a good number of them seemed more than a little put off by the idea of having a black president.

When all of the survey data is collected, political scientists will plow through the numbers dutifully and show, once again, that this is the profile of a Trump supporter. They're Republicans. Perhaps they will skew a bit younger than the Tea Partiers did – finding someone under 55 at a TP rally was nearly impossible, suffering children under 10 notwithstanding – but the magical diversity and "newness" that journalists and pundits are desperate to read into the Trump phenomenon simply isn't going to be found. They're not Democrats. They're not "independents." They're not people who do not regularly participate in electoral politics. They're Republicans. Far-right, really angry Republicans who have obvious issues with people who do not look, act, and believe like they do.

I understand the impulse to write the story. What journalist could resist the temptation of seeing the shitshow that is Trump 2016 firsthand? The story practically writes itself and is guaranteed to generate clicks. But understand that there is no real story here, there is no real question that can't be answered. Trump supporters are Tea Partiers, and both are simply the part of the party that the Republican establishment has tried very, very hard to keep away from public view for a long time.

KRESKIN

Posted in Quick Hits on August 2nd, 2016 by Ed

Veteran readers know that making predictions about the future is not a thing I love to do. Very little of political science is predictive, and the processes of politics are too complex for the conditions of something like an election to be replicated across time. But having gone all-in on predicting Trump will get his lunch handed to him in November, I'm surprised at how rapidly the wheels are coming off his campaign all of one week into the general election period. Like any good Third World strongman-bully / man-child, Trump is already setting up the stab-in-back legend of his own defeat, telling audiences he's "afraid the election is going to be rigged." So clearly he has a pretty firm sense of what's coming. Who are we to disagree with him. Because of the tantalizing possibility that I could look like a smart person in the future if I put a few things in writing now, here are four predictions I'm willing to bet my life savings ($57.38) on in the 99 remaining days until we put this grotesque carnival to an end.

1. The first one's easy: Trump is going to show up to one debate with Clinton and then refuse to do any more. He played this game throughout the primary process, making a big show of agreeing to or refusing to show up to various debates depending on his infantile whims. Primary debates are not only a dime a dozen but are comparatively rinky-dink, unstructured affairs. The general election debates organized by the CPD are planned well in advance and the organization feels like it has sufficient clout to resist interference (although it does iron out debate details in consultation with the campaigns to try to make sure everyone is placated). Insisting on date and venue changes isn't going to fly. After the humiliating experience of having to try to answer real questions without a script on live TV once, he's going to demand all kinds of concessions to show up to additional debates. They will be rejected out of hand, and he'll insist that he can't do any more debates because it's "unfair" or something.

2. When the outlook is particularly bleak Trump will attempt to replace Mike Pence. Playing off the popularity of his lame reality TV series, he'll do some big, cheesy "You're fired!" publicity stunt and replace him with whoever exists in the political-entertainment universe that is willing to get on board with (and attach their name to) the worst presidential campaign in American history. Now that the nomination is official and ballot deadlines have passed it isn't even technically possible for him to replace a running mate (Even a person on the ticket who died between now and Election Day would appear on the ballot in most states) but don't pretend like that will stop him.

3. When he really starts flailing around once he becomes a pure laughingstock, he's going to go full racist. "He already is," you say. No, this is still soft racism by right-wing standards. He's using coded language for the most part. When the memories of the adulation he received during the primaries have long since faded, he's going to use at least one racial slur on camera. I'd bet my house on it if I had one.

4. This might go without saying, but when he comes to grips with how badly he's going to lose he will insist that he was never really serious about running and that he never really wanted to be president anyway. The presidency and the American people are beneath him, he'll announce, and he has better and more important things to do than to lead a nation of ingrates like pearls before swine.

One way or another I'll bump this after the election. I won't duck out of the line of fire like a certain candidate is going to.

ONE IN THREE

Posted in Quick Hits on July 21st, 2016 by Ed

So, as of Thursday morning we've had a speaker give Trump a Nazi salute for some reason, a crowd of yokels taking a break from their usual schedule of filling up local newspaper comment sections to chant creepy, third world ideas about how the democratic process works, six billion references to Benghazi and more uses of the words Hillary and Clinton than either Donald or Trump, a campaign team so inept that they gave Ted Cruz a primetime slot to spend twice his allotted speaking time taking a shit on Trump, a deranged man talking about Saul Alinsky and comparing Hillary Clinton to lucifer, a bizarre spectacle of Trump calling in to do a live interview with Bill O'Reilly because his own convention was so boring that apparently he didn't want to watch it, and an opening night of the convention basically devoted to a bunch of random nobodies talking about Benghazi and why America needs to worship law enforcement and the military more.

Meanwhile, other than the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader, of whom the GOP appeared to mandate their appearance and pretend enthusiasm, fewer than ten members of the Republican Party in Congress (and, unless I missed someone, no governors other than future ex-Governor Pence) bothered to show up to their party's own convention. And here's the thing – regardless of any of this, regardless of the obvious fact that the candidate is a giant child-sociopath with zero interest in anything other than himself, about a third of the country is going to vote for him. Of everyone you see today of voting age, roughly one out of three of them think this is all great. Just what the doctor ordered for America.

The sad part about this whole degraded and degrading spectacle is not that Trump is going to win. It's the number of your fellow Americans who have retreated so far into their own fantasy world that they actually believe this person should be given access to nuclear weapons, American diplomacy, appointment power, and the legislative process. We don't need to elect Trump to know we're deeply messed up as an electorate; any number of votes he receives above zero is sufficient evidence of that.

OPTIMISM ABOUNDS

Posted in Quick Hits on July 19th, 2016 by Ed

People ask me how, given the degraded state of political discourse, I can be so confident that Trump isn't going to win. If you consider Monday night at the GOP Convention you'll have your answer. Ignore the plagiarism thing for a moment and consider that the GOP, like any party, is made up of politicians. They may be ignorant and wrong in a million ways in terms of their beliefs and positions and ideology, but nobody gets to where people like Senators, Governors, and Washington insiders without having good instincts. If these people know nothing else, they know self-preservation. And with just a handful of exceptions, they know not to get on an obviously sinking ship.

When TV viewers flip to your convention and the stands look like the third period at a minor league hockey game, it's not a good sign.

When the number of Senators willing to show their faces at their own party's convention can be counted on one hand, it's not a good sign.

When your first night's speakers lineup is a random group of nobodies there to rehash internet comment sections – Benghazi! Obama's a Muslim! Cop Lives Matter! – because no one more substantial in the party wants to appear, it's not a good sign.

When the news media spend the night talking about what went wrong with your campaign on July 18, it's not a good sign.

When the best celebrity you can get to show up is Scott Baio, it's not a good sign.

And more than anything, when your party that lost two straight presidential elections because it couldn't get anyone other than older white people to vote for the candidates decides to devote the opening night to doubling down on the message "Brown people are scary and dangerous" (as one Romney associate summarized the evening), it's not a good sign.

That's why I'm certain he's going down in flames. We already knew going into 2016 that the GOP is up against the wall in presidential elections because they struggle so much to appeal to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, younger people, and people in urban areas. And rather than even pretending like they care to do something about that, Trump decided to hit people who are already voting for him – authority worshiping racists, basically – with a supersized dose of the message they've been getting all along: vote for me and I will get rid of all the Bad people. The people who don't belong here. The people who aren't Us.

You know how little patience I have for conspiracy theories, but last night was so bad that I found myself doing a double take on the theory that this is all a scheme Trump is executing to destroy the GOP because he's secretly a liberal. It's not true, but I can't blame people who are tempted by it. It's not entirely implausible anymore, not after what this convention is turning into.

I doubt many Republicans read this. If so, I feel sorry for you. This must really hurt to watch.

ADULT IN THE ROOM

Posted in Quick Hits on July 12th, 2016 by Ed

Obviously leaked rumors indicate that Hillary Clinton is considering former NATO Supreme Commander Admiral James Satvridis as a running mate. There's a lot to unpack here.

First, if I had to bet my life savings I'd call Vegas and put all $53.14 on this being a longshot. It's more likely a pre-screening of a guy who's at the top of the list to be Secretary of State or Defense in the future.

Second, as one of the commenters on Facebook put it, "bringing on a decorated military figure as a running mate should totally assuage fears of hillary being an unhinged hawk who will start four wars a year." I'm not inside the Clinton campaign, obviously, but I think it's pretty clear that they're adopting the attitude that with Sanders out of the picture, most people on the far left are going to vote for her simply because she isn't Trump so she doesn't have to worry too much about pissing them off. It's deeply cynical and pretty hard to disagree with.

Third, people I know in the foreign policy world speak very, very highly of this guy. Bear in mind I don't socialize with a lot of war hawks. He succeeded in getting NATO to stop acting like it's 1980 and the Soviets are about to come crashing through the Fulda Gap. And he does have a few interesting, albeit occasionally veering into corny, things to say about the nature of security today.

Fourth, the Grand Strategy for the Clinton campaign, of which the choice of a VP is only a small part, is strategically brilliant and highly likely to piss off a lot of people searching for excuses to talk themselves into voting for her. We all know how the media and older, more conservative types fawn all over military men. We know that Stavridis fits (just watch him speak for 30 seconds in that link) the stock description of a Very Serious Person to a tee. He could have no idea at all what he's talking about, but he looks and sounds like he does. So Clinton is going all in on a strategy of building a campaign of people who will make Trump look like the immature, half-assed bar drunk shouting at Fox News that he is. There is no way for any Democratic candidate to reach the people who love Trump, but older people (and older Republicans in particular) who are embarrassed at the thought of voting for Trump but also dislike Clinton might be convinced if they see just how stupid Trump looks and sounds next to a Very Serious Person. Trump will make his campaign a circus and fill it with people who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground; we're talking about a guy who wants Mike Ditka to speak at the GOP Convention. I guess Clinton is just going to play it safe and assume that when the small percentage of voters who are both rational and on the fence will break her way when they compare the idiots campaigning for Trump with her group of actual adults who sound like they've read a book at some point.

Remember above all else that VP picks tend to have little to no significant effect on vote choices in November. The expectation that they can "save" a shitty campaign is a fantasy, so in recent years the candidates who don't need Saving have been picking whoever they feel most comfortable around regardless of any perceived electoral benefits. Right or wrong, I think Clinton thinks she is going to win, so there's no need to pick a running mate she isn't 100% comfortable with in order to satisfy some bloc of voters or regional interests. That may be how running mates were chosen in the 19th Century, but those days are long gone.

EXIT ENGLISH

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

If you have never noticed that most (but not all) post titles here are song titles or lyrics, rest assured that today it was a difficult choice between what you see above and "Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before." Because I know you're going to be truly shocked to hear this, but the UK's vote to exit the EU is yet another example of people over 50 voting to destroy an institution that, having benefited from it for decades, they no longer wish to pay for. There is some interesting exit polling data here that ultimately boils down to a tale you're tired of hearing. Old people wanted it, young people didn't. Dumb people wanted it, people who have Fancy Book Learnin' didn't. Repeat until we're fighting over a conch shell.

brexit

It's impossible to read voters' minds based on election results. Vote totals are like an ancient oracle – everyone agrees that they are saying something but exactly what is, even if few are willing to admit it, ambiguous at best. It is hard to tell if older British voters are ignorant of how much they as individuals and as a group benefited from membership in the EU or if they simply no longer consider the benefits to be relevant to them personally and therefore no longer care to pay for others to enjoy them. If they are retired on fixed incomes, perhaps they simply no longer respond well to arguments about The Economy writ large. If they don't care to leave a 20 mile radius around their homes, maybe unrestricted travel within a group of 27 nations has lost its appeal. Or perhaps they're at that point of decay at which fear of a changing world, dislike of anyone and anything Different, and good old fashioned nativism trumps anything approaching a rational analysis of costs and benefits.

Ironically, if the UK is anything like the USA, the Eastern European immigrants that so vex older British people are the only ones who will accept the pitiful wages offered to wipe their ancient asses in hospitals and retirement homes across the country. At this rate, god knows their children will be neither willing nor able to care for them as they age. We've already got two jobs that don't pay enough to make ends meet.

AGENDA-SETTING

Posted in Quick Hits on June 22nd, 2016 by Ed

CNN ran the ten-thousandth story about how Social Security will "run dry," this time "by 2034." The headline is misleading, as the story goes on to explain that beyond that date Social Security benefits would be reduced, not eliminated, but that's only the second-most dishonest thing going on here. The full text includes the following gem of Beltway consensus "Guarantee victory for the status quo by defining the options" agenda-setting:

To make all of Social Security solvent for the next 75 years would require the equivalent of any of the following: immediately raising the Social Security payroll tax rate to 14.98% from 12.4% on the first $118,500 of wages; cutting benefits by 16%; or some combination of the two.

In The Semi-Sovereign People, E.E. Schattschneider asserted that "the definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power" (1960/1975, 66). We may never find a better example than this one. Here are your options, America: raise taxes or cut benefits. Or, you know, we could lift the earnings cap ("on the first $118,500 of wages") that serves as little more than a tax break for people making six figures and then fund the system for the next century without a second thought. Congress could do that at any time, and it happens to be the simplest and best solution to the problem. Too bad it's not an option. There are only two of those: raise payroll taxes or cut benefits. Any questions?

If you get a stain on your shirt, according to CNN I guess your only two options would be to continue wearing the stained garment or throw it away. Getting it cleaned to remove the stain is just crazy talk.

WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH

Posted in Quick Hits on June 12th, 2016 by Ed

Whenever someone says there's nothing the government can do to stop mass shootings, remember that in December the Senate voted down a bill to prevent people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns. That's right – Senate Republicans are so corrupt, so totally beholden to the NRA that they wouldn't vote to ban sales of firearms to actual…let's call them "Terrorism enthusiasts." People who have made contact with known terrorists. People who are big fans of ISIS websites. Are they all terrorists? Of course not. Might it be a reasonable idea to think twice about letting them load up on guns? Well. Maybe that much caution is appropriate.

This gentleman's Twitter account is detailing exactly how much each member of Congress who voted against that bill – people who wanted to make sure that individuals on the terrorism watch list could buy guns – received from the NRA recently. As usual, all they can do is offer their Thoughts and Prayers. Thoughts and Prayers. Thoughts and Prayers. It's just too bad that there's nothing else they can do about it.

House and Senate Republicans currently up in arms over Islamism and terrorism had an opportunity to prevent something like this from happening but they didn't. Keep that in mind. Remind them of it every time they wail and rend their garments over another Tragedy that no one anywhere could possibly have stopped unless more people had more guns.

Prayers are for the dead. The living deserve more.