Posted tagged ‘Election 2016’

Two Things That Happened And One That Didn’t

October 5, 2016

I’m going to keep this short (you’ve heard that before from me) because my disdain for punditry extends to my own attempts.

Still, it seems to me that there is one real measure of success or failure (“winning” or “losing”) for any political event: did what just occurred move votes to one side or the other.  Everything else is just noise, or, as our elite bloviators perform it, theater criticism.

william_turner_-_shade_and_darkness_-_the_evening_of_the_deluge

By that criterion there were only two moments that mattered last night, and both did real damage to Team Trump.

The first was obvious from the moment the words left Mike Pence’s mouth: “You whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in my instant reaction:  “He just said WHHHAAAATTTTT!” Latino Twitter was unamused, certainly — and this is key.  There are some constituencies in which Trump cannot fall any further.  The number of Black Trump supporters is hovering around the margin of error — he’s polling between two and six percent nationally.

But there are still Latino votes to lose.  A Univision battleground state poll found Hillary lagging about eight points behind Obama’s numbers in each state, with Florida’s 24 percent gap between the two the narrowest of the lot.  Did Mike Pence help Trump with those voters last night?

The question answers itself.

The other meaningful moment was equally apparent as it happened.  That would be this exchange:

Governor, why don’t you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don’t you trust women? Why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?

That’s what we ought to be doing in public life. Living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day…

PENCE: Because there are…

KAINE: … but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart. And I couldn’t be more proud to be standing with a pro-life candidate in Donald Trump.

One man said that American women are the agents of their own lives.  The other said that they cannot be, that his personal religious commitment pre-empts any decision a woman might choose to make.  All the squid-ink of piety Pence spewed did not obscure the painfully clear: Mike Pence would use the force of law to ensure no woman had more authority over their bodies than the state would.

While abortion remains an issue on which the American electorate is divided, and there are certainly plenty of women who are committed to the anti-abortion cause — and plan to vote accordingly — plenty more voters recoil at the idea of the Trump-Pence punitive approach.  Given the significance (we are told) of the suburban woman and millenials in this year’s swing states, there’s no joy for the Trump crowd here either; shoring up the base that’s already enthusiastically committed to you is less important than giving those who might be persuadable to pull the lever for your side.

To me, everything else that occurred in the debate takes second place to those two brief passages.  Kaine did well, I think, to get Pence on record denying his savior thrice before cock-crow — that helps drive the second day narrative, which is certainly useful.  But in terms of actually grabbing votes?

Further alienating the Latino/a vote and making it ever harder for women to cast a GOP ballot — and not just women, but any man who sees women as actual people —  ain’t exactly a royal road to victory.

And as for the moment that never happened?

We’ve had 180 minutes of debates so far.  180 minutest to go.

As I write this, after the hottest half year on record; after devastating drought; after horrific fires; after record floods; with a Category 4/3 hurricane bearing down on Florida, having already wrecked Haiti — with all this, there have been exactly zero questions on climate change.  Tim Kaine managed to slip in a mention in a national security answer, praising Clinton for forging “strong alliances to battle terrorism and climate change.” Clinton did get Trump to deny saying climate change was a Chinese hoax — as he did.  But that’s it.

This is simply disgraceful.  One more piece of evidence that our elite political media if f**king hopeless.

That is all. [Flips Pundit-Mode to “off”]

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, Shade and Darkness — The Evening of the Deluge, 1843.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid

September 9, 2016

This is a video that will haunt your nightmares:

Go to NPR‘s story on this for a narrated version of the video — and you’ll find that what you see is a bacterial colony developing extraordinary capacities for antibiotic resistance in a shockingly short time — two weeks, or a little less, to go from a naive, wild-type strain to varieties that can resist 1,000 times or more the dosage that killed almost all of the original microbes.

The video is part of the supporting material for a paper published this week in Science .  In a way, there’s nothing new, or rather, nothing surprising here.  Microbial resistance to antibiotics is a phenomenon as old as antibiotics themselves.  (See Alexander Fleming’s Nobel Prize speech, for example).

What’s revealed in this video — and the reseach behind it, of course — is the obvious.  We ain’t going to win any war with bacteria anytime soon.  But in this political season, I’d add another thought:

There are some things at stake in this election that matter rather more than whether one candidate used a not-according-to-Hoyle email server.  Among them are matters of life and death — and not just in the usual sense of decisions about national security or similar matters.  One party, one candidate takes science seriously right now.  The other doesn’t.  Vote like your — and your kids’ — lives depend on it.

Dear Washington Post

September 6, 2016

Here’s another slightly edited dispatch from my ongoing off-social-media conversation with some political reporters on the obvious implicit bias I see in coverage of Clinton vs. Trump.  The reporters I’ve engaged publicly and privately don’t see it that way — and they are, I firmly believe, sincere and honest in that belief.  So the task, as I see it, is to build the argument story by story and (as possible) in analysis of the sum of coverage, that they’re wrong, and to do so in a way that honest and expert reporters can read, analyze, and, I hope, become persuaded by.

What caught my eye today was this article in the Washington Post, “Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘Honorary Chancellor’ of a for-profit university,” by Rosalind S. Hellerman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.  That story has received professional praise as a well reported deep dive — and it is!  Really.

School of athents

By that I mean:  it is definitely a long (2604 words) and detailed dissection of Bill Clinton’s involvement with Laureate University, a major international for profit higher-ed company.  The reporters play fair by the rules of the craft:  they show their work, and a reader can see where each individual fact comes from.

But does that make it a good story, an honest one, or one that within the larger story — that of the 2016 presidential election — meets basic standards of journalism as it serves readers interests?

Not at all.

That’s what I argued below in my note to one of my correspondents.  Here, the point is that the elite political press — like any group of people working on the same stuff in substantial isolation from the outside world — has its own professional criteria for excellence.  They’ve got a value system and an expectation or understanding of what represents good work or bad.  They’re not all wrong in that.

But as far as I can see from the outside, theirs is a bunker-dwelling, mostly technical standard: well reported = good, for example.  I don’t think that there is a conspiracy at the Times  or the Post, or CNN or what have you simply to shiv the Clintons.

But what I think outside the bunker (and please do recall:  a presidential campaign is a mind-and-body deranging experience; these folks really are working without access to a lot of the reality checks that could help) those of us who are looking at the coverage both closely and synoptically see the problem not as one of reporting, but of coverage.

That is, what matters is the way stories are assigned, framed, their narratives interpreted within each piece, how they’re edited and placed (2604 words!) affects the overall message readers and the electorate as a whole receive.

Thus, the ongoing and increasingly inexplicable failure of The New York Times to engage what should be a burgeoning Trump bribery scandal with state attorneys general and Trump U.  Thus all the stories on the Clinton foundation which (a) failed to show what was implied and (b) omitted crucial context, like the Bush Foundation headed by a Powell.  And thus today’s story, in which two good reporters distill what had to have been a substantial amount of work that taken all-in-all demonstrates that Bill Clinton made a lot of money while there was, in the words of the story itself, “no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton…”

What there was, instead, was a reason to ask whether or not such special favors might have taken place.  The answer was no.

There the story should have ended.  But because this was the Clintons, and this is the elite political press, it was impossible to accept that answer.  Hence what is a type specimen for how the press is getting this election wrong — with potentially disastrous consequences.

With that as prologue (I know…logorrhea…), my breakdown of the piece for my journalist-contact.  We began by marveling at the size of Bill’s fee — which truly is pretty astonishing:

__________________

I agree with you on the sum, though from where I sit, with my full time job in higher education (and a professor’s kid, and w. two professor-siblings and, and, and…) what bothers me most about that clearly outsize wage is that it is less of an outlier than it should be.  As I’m sure you know, top academic positions at a lot of places are now paid at seven figure levels.  A million or so/year as a college president  is different from $3.6 million/year as an honorary chairman, certainly.  But it’s also true (and a scandal) that higher ed, both non and for profit has headed down the same path for CEO and senior management compensation that large businesses have.  That’s troubling.

But what got me about the story was the contrast between the reporting craft you rightly recognize: meticulous, detailed pursuit of both individual incidents and the financial details…and the lack of any substance to the clear thrust of the story: that this was another example of soft corruption in the Clinton family.  You look at the lede and it clearly asserts a pay-off.  Clinton invites someone to a working dinner who is an FOB, who later hires Bill for lots of money.   (more…)

INVINCIBLE!

June 7, 2016

Attention conservation notice (thanks, Cosma Shalizi):  What follows is some political naval gazing, a trip down memory lane to scan the GOP primary just gone by.  The TL:DR — what a craptastic effort by all concerned.  If you’ve nothing better to do, read on, and snark at will in the comments.

Not to aggrandize one of our more feeble trolls, but something that personage produced in a comment yesterday caught my eye.  Donald Trump, we were told, more than once, is INVINCIBLE (sic on the caps and bold).

What convinced our troll of this fact?

That the Gauleiter of Midtown Manhattan had defeated “the deepest primary field in history” (quoted from memory).

Well, a ruby in a dungheap is still a gem, and that remark caught my attention.  So, in a waltz down memory lane, I went to look up that deep field, here in the order in which they formally entered the campaign:

Ted Cruz.  Jeb Bush.  Ben Carson. Chris Christie. Carly Fiorina.  Jim Gilmore. Lindsey Graham.  Mike Huckabee.  Bobby Jindal.  John Kasich. George Pataki.  Rand Paul.  Rick Perry.  Marco Rubio.  Rick “don’t Google me” Santorum. Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.

Jheronimus_Bosch_011

Let’s review:

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul:  first term senators of no accomplishment.

Carly Fiorina:  a failed business tycoon whose sole claim to fame is her near-destruction of one of the most respected corporations in tech.

Ben Carson:  a neurosurgeon who calls to mind the old joke:  “What’s the difference between God and a surgeon?”  “God knows he’s not a doctor.”

Jim Gilmore:  Jim Gilmore.

George Pataki:  George Pataki.

Rick Santorum: where to begin? Lost his last election by 30 points or more; hasn’t improved on extended acquaintence.

Chris Christie:  not yet indicted.

George Pataki:  smart boy glasses didn’t work.

Bobby Jindal:  Kenneth the office boy left the governor’s mansion in Louisiana as the single most potent unifier in state history: everyone, Democrat, Republican, Martian, loathed this incompetent poseur.

Mike Huckabee:  book salesman masquerading as Torquemada.

Scott Walker:  goggle-eyed homunculus almost instantly revealed as a small-time grifter utterly unsuited for the big time.

That leaves four:  Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and the ferret-headed swindler himself.

Jeb?, Graham and Kasich had at least recognizably plausible credentials to mount a presidential bid.  Jeb, of course, was burdened with the worst name in politics, a record in Florida that mostly consisted of having the good sense to preside during a housing boom and to get out before the crash, and an easily torpedoed post-government high-class business-grift career.  Worst of all of course, he turned out to have zero talent as an actual working politician.

Lindsey Graham was always a “message” candidate.  Yes, he’s a senator with actual legislative experience, and on paper he’s at least plausible.  But at no time did he actually capture the interest of a significant faction of the party.  It’s conceivable, at least, that if the Republican field had been the same size as the Democrats — five at the most — he might have had a chance to move from being McCain’s mini-me to some more plausible shot at the nomination, but if I were the Emperor of all the Indies, I’d be farting through silk, and that hasn’t happened either.

John Kasich, as a lot of commentators pointed out, was the most plausible “conventional” candidate on a paint by numbers sort of analysis:  federal experience, re-elected as governor of a large, diverse and swing state, actual policy knowledge.  (All bad policy, of course, but at least he understands the task.)  For all that’s wrong with him on his actual merits, I can’t deny that at the start of the campaign season, he actually appeared to be someone who could say “I’m running for president” with a straight face.

Hence the obvious response to “INVINCIBLE!”  This was the political analogue to a boxing undercard of stiffs, tomato-cans, punchers with slow feet, cutesy fighters better at dancing than fighting and so on.  These were the bouts you arrange so as not to undermine the confidence of a still-raw devotee of the Sweet Science.  They were, as it turned out, palookas.

IOW:  A well-stocked bench does not equal a strong bench, and it’s worth thinking about that a little as we move on to the general.  The Republican party is in a dominant position in state governments and in Congress.  Despite that, it has a dearth of those who can plausibly put themselves forward as national leaders.  And it’s not getting better with the up-and-comers.  Sasse?  Cotton?  Ernst? New Mexico’s Martinez, in a party now led by an anti-Latino bigot…and so on.

Or think on the surrogates the two nominees-presumptive can bring to bear on the campaign at hand.  As lots have noted, Hillary gets POTUS, FLOTUS, Uncle Joe, Senator Professor Warren, and some guy named Bill as her starting five.  Combover Caligula (thanks Betty!)? Chris Christie. Somebody.  Somebody else.  Somebody’s twin nephews.  Or, if we take his former rivals expressions of support seriously:  Christie, Rubio, and I don’t know, maybe a couple more.

I’m not writing this to gloat or to suggest that the election is over.  It’s not.  Trump is many things, but what makes him dangerous is that he has a dedicated, too-large base of support he knows exactly how to motivate.  We let our guard down, he and they win; the country and the world loses.

But that phrase “a deep bench” still needs examination.  The 2016 Republican primary is, as our troll suggests, a measure of the state of the party.  There’s no doubt it commands power. What’s striking, though, is how thoroughly mediocre are those who wield it.

Which is, of course, why they must be destroyed, their cities sacked, and their fields sown with salt.

Factia Grandeava Delenda Est.

Image: Hieronymus Bosch, Ship of Fools, c. 1494-1510.

I’ll Take Journalism I Disdain For $1,000, Alex

March 7, 2016

This, in today’s Grey Lady, got my goat:

While Mr. Sanders’s direct rhetoric is an enduring source of his success, Mrs. Clinton has a way of meandering legalistically through thickets of caution and temporization.

Asked whether she would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to remedy water problems in Flint, Mrs. Clinton gave a nearly 200-word response emphasizing the need for a full investigation to “determine who knew what, when.” Mr. Sanders’ 16-word response drew enormous applause: “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”

On the one hand, fine:  as a performance critique, that’s a perfectly understandable distinction to draw (though in this case even the stated critique is patent BS, about which more in a moment).  But there’s more to political journalism than amateur theater criticism.

William_Hogarth_028

Some interest, even a glimmer of curiosity in the quality of the content of the answer would be welcome.

So, let’s take a look.  When asked if she would fire people at the EPA over the Flint crisis, here’s what Clinton actually said:

CLINTON: Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.

COOPER: So far, one person has resigned.

CLINTON: I don’t — well, I don’t know how high it goes. I would certainly be launching an investigation. I think there is one. I was told that — you know, some of the higher-ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening.

So I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what, when. And yes, people should be fired. How far up it went, I don’t know. But as far as it goes, they should be relieved, because they failed this city.

But let me just add this, Anderson. This is not the only place where this kind of action is needed. We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate.

(APPLAUSE)

We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint. So I’m not satisfied with just doing everything we must do for Flint. I want to tackle this problem across the board. And if people know about it and they’re not acting, and they’re in the government at any level, they should be forced to resign.

So — yes, she’d fire people when and as they were found to be culpable, but such actions, she argues, are not enough.  I’d go further, and say that they’re cosmetic, unless the same duty of care that Flint deserves is applied across the board.

And I don’t know about you, but to me, the demand to take the lessons of Flint on the road is hardly a legalistic detour into “thickets of caution and temporization.”  The gap between that characterization and what was actually said (and not quoted in the offending thumb-sucker) is, shall we say, interesting.  Given the Times‘ history with Hillary, I’d even say, suggestive.

I know it’s a lot to ask (it isn’t, actually. It’s merely impossible for current practitioners to answer — ed.) but I’d like to see even a hint of acknowledgement that what Clinton said may have been less dramatic than Sander’s reply, but, just maybe, contained something worth thinking about.  Even more, some recognition that two hundred words is not too much to spend on the problem of failed infrastructure, the abandonment of governmental responsibility, and poisoned kids.

Just for perspective — the average speaker takes roughly 80 to 90 seconds, maybe a skosh more, to utter two hundred words.  I’d have thought a hero of the English language like a New York Times reporter might have the stamina to stick it out that long.

Color me grumpy.

Image:  William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment from the Humours of an Election series, c. 1755

Because Why Not On Such A Beautiful Saturday: Nevada Caucuses Thread

February 20, 2016

It’s freaking beautiful where I sit (Greater Boston — in the 50s, sunny, a delight).  I and the swarm will be heading out for a walk around a fair chunk of the Emerald Necklace in a little while. (We won’t be going to the Arnold Arboretum today, but it has a special place in my heart, as the site where my dad proposed to my mum).

All of that tedious personal detail is another way of saying that I’ll be doing my best to ignore the minute-by-minute breathlessness of the GOS types on the Nevada results.  But that doesn’t mean the blog should!

William_Hogarth_031

The NYT’s results page is here.  Nothing yet, but early exits are apparently starting to come in.

Have at it, have fun, and be nice to each other. (Or at least nicer than SC Republicans — which, I admit, is a low bar.*)

*That should probably read “nicer than Ted Cruz” — which is a bar low enough I’m not sure an ant could limbo beneath it.

Image: William Hogarth, Humours of an Election: scene 3, The Polling, 1754-1755

Today’s Episode Of “Stick A Fork In Him He’s Done”

November 10, 2015

Via Martin Longman writing at Washington Monthly, this by Michael Bender and Ben Brody over at Bloomberg:

In Alabama, one of the Bush campaign’s top targets in March, Bush has endorsements from a member of Congress, a handful of state legislators and statewide officials. Yet, in contrast with Donald Trump or Marco Rubio, Bush wasn’t able to find a full slate of delegates to run on the ballot by Friday’s deadline.

DUYSTER,_Willem_Cornelisz_-_Carnival_Clowns

As Longman notes,

This obviously undermines Jeb’s main arguments for his own candidacy. He’s supposed to be competent and experienced. His team is supposed to know what it is doing and have a shot at matching the team the Clintons will bring to the general election contest. He’s supposed to have enough establishment support and resources to not have to worry about things like ballot access that can be a real challenge to cash-strapped and little-known candidates.

The whole Bloomberg piece is worth a read.  The TL:DR version is that while the Bush folks can talk a plausible game about a targeted strategy aimed at amassing delegates (which sounds on superficial reading like an echo of the Obama 2008 mastery of the caucus/primary mix, but isn’t), life on the ground looks very different, and thoroughly unpromising for Team Exclamation Point.

That said, the clown car is full of clowns, so who knows which GOP jester will actually get to 1237 delegates.  I don’t — but a while back I was willing to bet lunch money against Jeb.  I’d lay more now.  Quite a bit, in fact, were I a gambling man.

Image: Willem Corneliz Duyster, Carnival Clowns, c.1620