Thursday, July 13, 2017

Manufacturing safe spaces

It's been fascinating (by which I mean "horrifying") watching the reaction to the revelation of Junior's meeting with the Russian lawyer, and his own release of the emails leading up to it.

Since way back during the campaign, Trump and his supporters have been resolute in denying any meaningful connection with the Russian government. Presumably they had a sense that cooperating with Russia in the campaign would be a bad thing (or would at least be viewed as a bad thing), or else why deny it?

Now we uncontested emails plainly documenting a connection, and the response ranges from Sebastian Gorka's blustery shouts of "fake news!" to numerous supporters repeating the same line about a "nothingburger."

But a commenter on Kos noticed an interesting pattern:
Leading up to the election the comments [at The Hill] were overwhelmingly crazy pro-Trump, then since the election most articles get comments that are anti-Trump by a large margin. The shift was so marked I had come to conclude that The Hill had been a big pre-election paid troll target. The comments last night looked like a reversion to the pre-election trend. Which makes me wonder if the paid troll army is being revved back up because the perception of danger to the cause has spiked with the Jr revelations.
And I got to thinking, Just what is the role of a paid troll army, or a set of bots flooding comment sections with chaff?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Predictably, a non-answer response

Apparently it's been just over a month since I last bothered contacting my representative's office.

My question then was quite specific: whether Mr. Faso had a position on James Comey's claim that Trump asked him for personal loyalty, rather than loyalty to the law.

Yesterday I got a "response" (as it says in the subject line of the email, "Response from Rep. Faso"), but not actually an answer - see the letter below.

Or maybe it's a "response" to another series of queries I made to his office about Trump having shared Israeli intelligence with Russia.

But it's not an answer to that, either.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rationality in government.

This post is a response to Jason Antrosio’s comment on my previous post, about the persistent conviction that success in business is an indicator that you’d be good at governing, too. He references Richard E. Hartwig’s book on the politics of transportation infrastructure in Colombia: “The author argues that the whole idea that you can find ‘efficiencies’ or ‘rationality’ in government such as in business is misguided. Because government encompasses everyone in the population (or should), it operates on a very different rationality than that of the consumer.”

You can talk about rationality and efficiency in government, but you have you to be careful what you mean by those terms.

I find it useful to think about two distinct types of efficiency:
  1. Are you pursuing the right goals?
  2. Whatever goals you’re pursuing, are you achieving your end at the least cost?
(And if you’re wondering about what quality you’re getting for your low cost, the level of quality can be included as part of the choice of goals in the first point.)

Idolaters of the market assume that markets achieve both types of efficiency through the wonders of competition.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

An old delusion

You've probably heard remarks to the effect that government should be run more like a business - or, similarly, that we need an accomplished business executive to step in and bring their experience at "getting things done," as opposed to those useless politicians who've never had a real job in their lives and who just care about getting re-elected, rather than doing what's right for the country.

At a facile level, you might hope that the election of Trump would dispel the notion that success in business is any sort of voucher for being effective at actually running government.

(Then again, there's a strong argument to be made that Trump is a successful showman, hardly a successful businessman, so his incompetence in the Oval Office shouldn't have any bearing on the potential efficacy of someone who's actually run a business profitably.)

But beyond the easy knocks on Trump, there are various reasons why the yearning for a successful businessman is misguided.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Mix-n-match movie night

Over dinner, the boys and I got talking about Tintin, the series of comic books about the plucky Belgian "boy reporter" of indeterminate age who does a bang-up job fighting ne'er-do-wells.
from http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/the-adventures-of-tintin
A mental misfire led me to refer to "when Clinton goes into the ..." instead of "when Tintin goes into the ...".

We immediately started trying to recast the Tintin books using figures from contemporary politics.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Party time!

I read a comment today arguing that we needed to get beyond the mindless "rah-rah us-against-them game" of the nonfunctional two-party system.

I half agree.

The Democratic Party has for decades been more sensitive to the needs of high finance than to the situation of the median American, and it has in that respect been a "kinder, gentler" version of the Republican Party. And there is certainly an element of people who identify with one party or the other lambasting a particular behavior when done by someone from the "other side," then turning around and excusing similar behavior from one of "their own."

Another comment today (don't remember where) observed that Trump has mobilized the progressive base like nothing before. And I remembered reading in 2009 about Rahm Emanuel chewing out and slapping down progressive activists, essentially asking/ordering a "stand down" by people who should have been, in theory, his allies.

The best defense of Emanuel's position (presumably sanctioned by Obama) was that the activists were going to gum up the works and interfere with the actual work of legislating. But at the same time, Obama's election was skillfully used by regressive forces to mobilize the Tea Party. So while Democratic activists' enthusiasm was being frustrated, Republicans' energy was being stoked.

Emanuel's decision was, at best, political malpractice, hurting his own cause by undercutting its support. More likely, the cause of progressive activists was not the same as the cause of Rahm Emanuel, who was more interested in doing things for the party's big donors.

So yes, the Democrats as a party are too beholden to some of the same interests that are served by the GOP.

At the same time, I don't have much patience with the claim that there's no meaningful difference between the parties.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The same old youth

Matt Bai had a piece yesterday about why older Democratic leaders should step aside and make room for young blood with fresh ideas.

The strongest part of the argument was the idea of accountability for failure. Since winning the White House and both houses of Congress in 2008, the Democrats have steadily lost ground, not only at the national level but in state and local government as well.

Now we have Republicans in charge of the White House and Congress, in position to nominate lots of federal judges (and probably a couple of more Supreme Court justices), and in control of almost enough states to call a national constitutional convention.

That's an "impressive" record, the kind that reasonably leads to the thought that maybe some new folks should be in charge.

Less impressive is his observation that the last Democrat to become president by election while older than 55 was Woodrow Wilson (Truman and Johnson were older when they won their first elections, but they had already become president by death of their predecessor). At the same time, "before George W. Bush, the last nonincumbent Republican under 55 to win the White House was Herbert Hoover."

Bai says this makes sense because "Democrats win when they embody modernization." But Michael Dukakis had turned 55 just 5 days before the election that he lost to George H.W. Bush in 1988, and he campaigned on his success at having run Massachusetts in an efficient, modern way. Al Gore was 52 when he lost (sort of) to George W. Bush in 2000, and he had been specifically in charge of modernizing government under Bill Clinton.

So youth and modernity hardly guarantee Democratic success.

But the biggest problem with Bai's article is contained in this paragraph:
Anyway, it’s not just that all these iconic Democrats are older; it’s that their vision for the party — with the possible exception of Biden, who’s pro-trade and pro-growth — is relentlessly backward-looking. They’re for government-run health care, expanding Social Security benefits (even for the wealthy) and free college for everyone. They’d pay for all of it with tax increases that magically cover the cost.