Monday, July 8, 2013

Read Stuff, You Should

Happy Birthday to Jeffrey Tambor, 69. I'm the only one who watched Welcome to the Captain, right?

There is some good stuff:

1. Media effects: Dan Hopkins on how Fox News helped Republicans. Interesting -- but don't overinterpret the findings. There appears to have been a real but small direct effect; my guess is that the real effects of the partisan press are found in internal party politics and incentives, not in general election voting.

2. Steve Benen reminds us that people can hear us talking. All of us.

3. And a nice Brad Plumer post on "wasting billions."


  1. I was reading an article over on Washington Monthly that voices a point of view about the NSA surveillance that I think warrants discussion. In it, the author expresses nonchalance about the idea that the NSA collects a huge amount of public information on everybody. After all, they can't use it in court without a warrant, right? So where's the harm?

    Well, exhibit A is former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Governor Spitzer was transferring money to several young ladies. The amounts fell below FISA reporting levels, but nonetheless the NSA collected this information. Someone in the government, still unknown, then put this information together with the identity of his associates. Next, they made the information public. Spitzer, it was clear, was patronizing prostitutes. Without a trial, and without further revelations, the governor was forced to resign.

    Exhibit B is General Petraeus. His various email accounts were also identified in an NSA dragnet. Petraeus committed no crime at all. Nonetheless, when this information was brought to light, he too was forced to resign.

    So, I'd like to ask liberals and conservatives everywhere: do you think that there could be problems with the NSA collecting information on everyone? Sure, for a court of law, a warrant is necessary. But in the court of public opinion, it is not. If anyone with access to this information has a political agenda, and most of them do, then this kind of dragnet is a real problem.

    Whenever information is in the hands of human beings, they will use it for their own purposes.

  2. I may have to agree with David Brooks that Egyptians aren't very smart if they take Bachmann seriously.

    1. Well, but how are they to know the difference? I mean, honestly, as most of them cannot speak English (of course, there are more of them that speak English than Americans that speak Arabic) and she was, after all, a legislator who ran for President and was regularly featured/discussed in major press outlets, how are they to adjudicate her place in American politics and her significance? Many Americans seem to have problems with that -- remember, she was elected to Congress multiple times and hung around the Presidential campaign for quite a while. Looking at her from the outside, that is pretty significant.

      We might say that this betrays a naivety and a lack of nuance -- but nuance and subtlety are notoriously easy to miss in a foreign language and a foreign culture. Remember 1991 and the Iraqi Revolt of that year, at least partly touched off (or at least justified) by speeches in which GHW Bush seemed to encourage revolt? It was very obvious to most Americans (and by no means just the politically engaged ones) that Bush was engaging in several layers of doublespeak, and any idea that the U.S. military would back such a rebellion would have been found laughable by Americans listening to Bush's rhetoric (once again, even politically disengaged people plainly heard a dog whistle aimed at the Iraqi military, not the Iraqi populace). But Iraqis, to their tragedy, missed all the cues that screamed to Americans "political gobbledygook" and took it all at face value. Now, Bush was the President, and personally an altogether more admirable and serious character than Bachmann, but the basic principle remains -- how are they to know?

    2. This is spot on. I live in Sweden, a country that, as a whole, speaks very good English. They do not understand American politics at all. The information they get is insufficient and what they get they misinterpret. This stuff is very hard for foreigners.

  3. real effects of the partisan press

    The belief that there is a non-partisan press is as naive as a belief that good government is possible in the huge (and rapidly expanding) US.

    1. So you have said, several times. I'm curious about something, though. Just what are you so afraid of? Something, it seems, beyond the ordinary problems of living in what, as you say, is a huge country. Is it that you are afraid of the government? That they will, I believe you said, put a shotgun in your face? Well, yes, they could. But why are you afraid of that? Do you have any particular evidence of eminent shotgunning to the face that has eluded all the rest of us?

      Is it that you are afraid of society? That one segment of society will attempt to oppress another segment? Well, yes, they will, at least in the sense of gaining advantage through the use of law and politics. But why are you afraid of that? That's just humans for you.

      It's the fear, I guess, that seems to create a void between you and other posters on this forum, even the other conservative ones. Most of the rest of us seem to be able to live our lives without all this intense dread and hyperalert barking. I don't like a lot of things about American society, which, I regret to say, comes down to not liking a lot of people when push comes to shove. I won't bore you with the list, it's the usual suspects. But I can't say that I'm afraid of any of them. Nor are most liberals (at least of my background), no more are most conservatives afraid of liberals. And yet you seem to live your life haunted by fear, and of what? Government, this simple, necessary, unremarkable thing? Society, which is the same thing as being afraid of humans in general? Of the future, which is to say pain and death and failure and humiliation, which are the lot of every person ever born? Of the ruin of the country and the end of the constitution? Yes, that will come as well, as surely as the setting of the sun, because time destroys all things. But why be so afraid of the sunset? Why be so very afraid of the ticking of the clock? America will decline and die, as Rome did, and Greece, and Imperial Russia, and Imperial China, and as, eventually, so will the Greater Commonwealth of Luna and the Federation of Martian Corporate States (or whatever). I will die, and so will you, and so will your children and your siblings and everything that any of us know or have ever loved. And yet we manage not to be afraid.

      Well, most of us, anyway.

    2. On a different note: do you, backyardfoundry, mean ideological or partisan? It seems like it's possible and does frequently occur that there are non-partisan press outfits. Not every press outfit has a notable relation/connection to specifically party-political matters (in one country or another).

      However, I would agree with you that it is not possible for a press outfit to be non-ideological (having no baseline set of political beliefs and assumptions about social affairs)

    3. Anonymous,

      I think that samefacts has this right. People don't recognize slant that matches theirs. As an extreme partisan, JB is unable to recognize that the liberal, pro-bigger government, mostly dem press that he sees as (gosh!) so neutral is actually biased towards continuous government growth and is comprised mostly of dems.

      Or, like most progs, he just uses it as a persistent argument: "even though I'm biased, most of the non-partisan press agrees with me on x, y, z. WINK."

    4. Anastasios,

      I can't help you, bro. Either you view the threat of violence as violence or you don't.

      Bigger and more diverse countries have less representative central governments for obvious reasons. The US has transparently crappy governance now and is becoming more centralized, with new waves of immigration on the way.

    5. @BYF: why is it not possible for a third alternative, namely that there exists some outlets that are not biased?

      I mean, I'm pretty liberal, but it's ridiculously easy for me to tell that MSNBC is in the can for Obama (I won't even bother to say how obvious Fox's slant is, and CNN is clearly aimed at brain-dead toddlers who like pretty graphics).

      Couldn't there be metrics that one could use to determine if a given news outlet (or "mainstream media" as a whole) is biased or not? And can't there be degrees of this?

      If there does exist the possibility of neutrality, and there does exist the possibility of measuring such a thing, then the problem of one's own blinders seems like a real, but surmountable, problem. If not, then one wonders what the point of democracy is. Really. I mean, if our media are going to be in the tank, and people can hardly be expected to ever learn neutral information, then allowing people to decide anything seems like a terrible idea--at least until we get some kind of guarantee that the media would be in the tank for me! :)

    6. Matt Jarvis,

      CNN has the usual prog biases (without reaching MSNBC hire-Sharpton-levels) which is shown when they do stuff like fire Rick Sanchez for saying blatantly obvious things that progs don't allow to be discussed.

    7. purusha,

      2nd strike. Cut it out, or I'll start zapping.

    8. Matt,

      I'm gonna hit you pretty hard for your wording. *Of course* all reporting is "biased" in some way. Can't avoid that.

      The "neutral" press have plenty of biases, but the biases that matter are almost all professional ones, not ideological in the sense of the liberal/conservative divide, and certainly not partisan. Of course, those biases can and do have partisan and/or ideological effects. For example, they're aggressively "mainstream" as they perceive it -- both in order to have a large audience, and because that's what reporters have believed for generations qualifies as neutral (and what they even think of as unbiased). So all kinds of positions are dismissed by the "neutral" press...for example, government budget deficits are always assumed to be bad -- just as it's (since the 1950s or so?) always assumed that explicit ethnic discrimination is bad.

      The idea that CNN (or the broadcast networks, or the NYT/WaPo) are "partisan" is just wrong -- people have studied it carefully, and it ain't there. But that won't stop partisans from believing it. Biased, however? Definitely.

    9. What does this mean?:

      ... just as it's (since the 1950s or so?) always assumed that explicit ethnic discrimination is bad.

    10. It means that hanging black people on trees because it's hot and humid, and a group of bored guys felt like killing someone, is wrong.

      Lynching, guy.

  4. There's always money in the banana stand.

  5. Steve Benen air balls. In Egypt, riots over anything and nothing are the norm. How do progs continually forget that in Egypt people die in riots when ANYONE IN THE WORLD disses the Koran? The rioting, protesting, and mayhem in Egypt are like Occupy on meth.

    1. Doubt it. Egypt is having food riots. It's hard to break ground in a complex science with too little food to think clearly. But why are you hating on eighth graders, sha?


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