Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Press Failure

Right wing institutions like the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute are clearly propaganda mills, yet the press gives them an air of intellectual respectability by describing them as "think tanks" - as thought they are sites that produce reasonable conclusions based on disinterested research, the way genuine think tanks like the Brookings Institute (and our universities) do.

Look for instance at some of the "scholars" associated with the American Enterprise Institute:  John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich.  And the Cato Institute?  Its original name says it all: The Charkes Koch Foundation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good CNN/Bad CNN

John Stewart was being pressed by Fareed Zakariah to acknowledge good reporting from CNN.  Stewart's response:
"CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it's good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky."
As if to prove his point, here's Zakariah's pivot to his next story:
"Next on GPS: many accused Putin this week of putting the moves on China's first lady."
Sure, placing a shawl on the lady was a faux pas on Putin's part, but "putting the moves on"?

Bad Chucky!

Democratic Messaging

As Howard Dean noted, the Democrats messaging for the 2014 election was terrible:
Dean criticized Washington Democrats for never being able to stay on message, agreeing with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who said his party did not do a good job communicating what President Obama has done.
"The Republican message was, 'We're not Obama.' No substance whatsoever," Dean said. But after rhetorically asking himself the message from Democrats, Dean answered sarcastically "Oh, well, we're really not either."
I've been thinking about how the Democrats could have put out a positive message, and made it consistent across the country.  If they had asked me, I would have suggested a series of TV spots with a consistent message: "Don't let the Republicans (do harm in the issue). Elect a Democrat!"

For instance, a series of spots on the subject of health insurance, each one with a (genuine) person relating how health insurance previously unavailable had helped him/her: someone being treated for a serious illness, someone with assured insurance who could quit a job to start a business, someone who is jut plain secure knowing their family is covered if things go wrong, and each ending with the same tag:   "Don't let the Republicans take (person's) health insurance away - elect a Democrat!"

Or a series of spots featuring people who lost their jobs after the 2008 crash, but who have since found employment in the recovering economy, and the relief they feel at being able to stand on their feet again, all ending with the tag: "Don't let the Republicans crash the economy again - elect a Democrat!"

Or people who can talk about how their local air or water has improved with government protections against polluters, ending with the tag:  "Don't let the Republicans allow our air/water to be fouled again - elect a Democrat!"

The same spots could be played nationwide, as they carry a positive Democratic message that is not specific to any single race, and the unified message could have set the national discourse in a direction much different than the nebulousness described above by Howard Dean.

Mormon Church

I can't be the only person to have noted the totally appropriate name that Joseph Smith invented (presumably subconsciously) for the "angel" with the absurd story who set him on the path to founding the Mormon Church -- Moron I.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


If a lady politician flashing one "gang sign" is bad:

Then flashing two must be twice as bad:

Friday, November 7, 2014

"I Am Not a Scientist"

Republicans have an answer to questions about their non-action on global warming: they profess ignorance by saying, "I'm not a scientist."  To which the obvious follow-up question is: "Then don't you think you should be getting your information from the people who are scientists - specifically climate scientists?"

Sadly, our feckless press allows politicians to get away with their evasions while the danger to the planet continues growing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

They Asked For It

So the Democrats have lost the Senate. Well, they have only themselves to blame, after exhibiting their usual rhetorical deficiency, playing defense (weakly) instead of going on the offensive.

An example of how the Democrats could have taken to rhetorical high ground:  they could have countered Boehner's references to our weak recovery as "the Obama economy", and his placing the blame for our economic weakness on "President Obama's policies", by aggressively turning the blame for the slow recovery back onto Boehner himself.

What I would have liked to hear:   it was President Obama's stimulus policy that pulled us back from the brink of a more severe depression in 2009, and led to the recovery here in the US that has done better than most of the other industrialized countries. We can call that period of 2009-2011 the "Obama economy."  But when it was apparent that the slow recovery needed more stimulus, Mr. Boehner and his party refused to pass the bills requested by the president to boost the economy, begin repairing our crumbling infrastructure, and create millions more jobs.  A clear dichotomy:  President Obama's policy of stimulating the economy for faster growth, John Boehner's policy of obstruction for the sake of obstruction, resulting in continuing slow growth.   So we can call the struggling economy "the weak Boehner economy" - and after you've undercut the president's policy, how dare you refer to the "weak Boehner economy" as the "Obama economy"!

Another example: when the Republican governors refused to set up the state exchanges anticipated under the ACA, it was evident that they were acting out of political spite, to the detriment of the people of their states.  And much of the obstruction in congress has also been purely out of political spite, not based on the merits of legislation or appointments.  I would have liked to have seen the Democrats jump on the phrase "political spite", and hang it (justifiably) around the necks of the Republicans - let them be on the defensive, and try to show that they were not acting out of spite.

There are plenty of other issues on which the Democrats could have put the Republican on the defensive.  I think that the example of these two memes - "the weak Boehner economy" and "political spite" could have helped tremendously in the elections.  Sadly, the Democrats could not bring themselves to set the terms of debate, and playing on the Republicans' terms meant a deserved defeat.
Update:  Lexington of The Economist interviewed voters in Kentucky.  Here's one:
Clinton Gray, a retired army Apache helicopter pilot, talked of being a “firm capitalist”, casting a vote in opposition to government-loving Democrats who “do not believe in industry,” and “do not want to see the economy improve, because it won’t be to their political advantage.”
Well, Obama wanted the economy to improve - the Republicans did not,  because it wasn't to their political advantage.  If the Democrats had been competent in messaging, Mr. Gray might have understood he had it exactly backwards.

Kernan's Ignorance

As I've noted before, Joe Kernan of CNBC has a problem with basic comprehension, as well as not being very knowledgeable.

Now he has outdone himself with an even more stunning display of ignorance.

And for this he gets paid big bucks!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Club Dues

As Michael Tomasky points out:
When Republicans attack Democrats, the attacks quite often go right to the heart of Democratic essence, and philosophy. “My opponent is a big-government, big-spending, high-taxing” etc. That gets it all in there in a few short words. Every Republican says it, and the fact is that it’s typically at least sort of true, because Democrats do believe in government and spending and taxes. As a result, in almost every American election, the Democrat is instantly put on the defensive, while the Republican is playing offense.
It's long past time for the Democrats to put the Republicans on the defensive.  Here's one way.

Say to your audience: Suppose you are a dues-paying member of a club - a club that has nice buildings, and a raft of services and activities that are important to you, a club of which you expect you will be a lifetime member.  The dues are sizeable, but they keep the club in good repair and operating smoothly, and the dues are affordable: there's a sliding scale based on your income.

Now suppose the club secretary reduces your club dues, and the drop in funds results in the buildings not being properly maintained, and the services and operations that make the club so desirable cut back.  Would you consider that a responsible action on his part?  Would you re-elect him just because he cut your membership dues?

As Americans, we are members of the best club in the world: the USA.  Our club dues are the taxes we pay to maintain our country's physical structures and services.  The deal offered by Republicans is to cut our "club dues" - our taxes - pandering to our natural desire to keep as much of our income as we can, while not making clear how the country's infrastructure and R&D are suffering from our refusal to pay taxes to maintain them. (The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we need to invest $3.6 trillion over the next six years to get the US's infrastructure up to A level - at the moment, the society rates our infrastructure at a D+ - but the Republican continue to block significant funding for the needed investments.)

So the Democrats could go on the offensive, saying:  We are members of the best club in the world.  To maintain that club, we need to pay our club dues - the taxes that fund the investments that keep our country strong.  The Republicans are pandering to you and sabotaging the country by cutting taxes below a reasonable level.  Step up and be willing to pay your club dues!