Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Blog

Hey everyone, got any space in your RSS readers? I know you do, because space on those things is unlimited. If you like my writing, you might want to add Library Grape to your feed. I just submitted my first post over there as a new front-pager, alongside the existing crew, which includes Gherald the thoughtful libertarian and Metavirus the occasionally irascible (but good-hearted) lefty. It looks like a good team of writers and I'm thrilled to be a part of a group blog, which should be good because there are bound to be plenty of interesting discussions and differences taking place between us. So if you want to follow me and the other folks, you should head on over there.

I don't think I'm going to shut down my Area completely, and I'm sure I'll be back from time to time with random things to amuse and befuddle. But the real action is going to be going down at the Grape, so by all means, join us!

Credit where it's due

My current opinion is that John McCain's soul is either sold or at least in the middle of a very long lease, but I have to give him some credit for putting his neck on the line for START. Of course, he is simultaneously trying to derail the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to complete his evolution from voting against a constitutional ban on gay marriage to becoming Tony Perkins's best friend, which is just sad on so many levels, but on START he's doing the right thing.

Where I Am

I have a new policy: If I see TSA anywhere in the title or first paragraph of a blog post anymore, I just don't read it. I realize it's A Big Thing that is Worthy of Serious Discussion, but I rather feel that the topic is completely exhausted and has been for some time now, and it's just time for people to move on.

I'm nearly at the point of doing the same thing for Wikileaks. There are interesting things to be said about it, but only so many, and it seems like too many of the blogs I'm reading are turning into TSA-and-Wikileaks-only affairs. There's an awfully big world out there. I have no objection to commentary on those topics, but seriously.

Okay, this is really a content-free minirant. Enjoy the rest of your day.

A Triumph

Tell me this isn't a complete triumph for the forces of equality:

Nearly seven in ten U.S. troops said they served alongside someone in their unit who they believed to be gay or lesbian, and 92% of these servicemen and women said their unit's ability to work together was fine. What's more, 89% of Army combat units and 84% of Marine combat units saying they had good or neutral experiences working with gays and lesbians.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after noting the non-existent risk to military readiness, "strongly" urged the Senate to pass the pending legislation "before the end of this year." He added that repeal "would not be the wrenching, traumatic change that many have feared and predicted."

Commenting on the Pentagon report, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "We treat people with dignity and respect in the armed forces, or we don't last long in the armed forces: No special cases, no special treatment."

Message to the Senate: pass the damn DADT repeal and do it smartly by legislation, or let judges do it for you, and be responsible for any consequences. Quite adept. I wonder if this is going to finally budge those recalcitrant Republicans in the Senate.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

"He's a silly, simple-minded man whose success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly silly, simple-minded men." -- Alex Pareene on Tom Friedman.

Oh, that it weren't the case...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Future of Climate Denialism

Think Progress has an interesting post on what a winning message on climate change might look like. It includes this figure that breaks down how two different groups--one with that believes in an essentially just world and one that doesn't--react to a climate argument that emphasize the importance of the problem and the ability of solving it, as well as a climate argument that makes it sound impossible to solve it. Here are the outcomes:

In essence, the tone of the message made little difference to people who don't think the world is or should be just, but it was hugely divergent to people who do. Maybe I'm feeling a bit cynical today, but this seems like the next step for climate deniers. I believe in climate change as I tend to trust science and scientists far more than politicians and spin. I go even further than that and support taking significant action to curb the effects of climate change, but as they say, admitting there is a problem is the first step. Republicans increasingly view climate change as a hoax, but this in the long run this stance isn't terribly tenable. For one thing, the epistemological implications of the "it's a hoax!" view are far more terrifying than actual global warming, since it would seem to make suspect literally every scientific fact we know, and possibly all the other ones as well. Additionally, the climate deniers tend to be much older than the average person, and part of an age cohort that is quite a bit less friendly with science in general terms, as this chart demonstrates:

There's a lot on the chart, but notice how much less likely older people are to vote for someone who believes in evolution. Among most people it's a pretty neutral factor--in fact, perhaps a positive one without seniors pulling it over. What I contend is that the current crop of senior citizens--one that does not yet include the Baby Boomers in significant numbers--is an incredibly conservative generation, one that missed the Depression and WWII for the most part, but rather came of age during Eisenhower and the conservatism of the 50's. Being conservative doesn't invariably imply climate denial, but the media of the right have indeed pushed this argument for some time now, and seniors are Fox News's bread and butter, demographically speaking. It's quite a confluence of message, media and audience that isn't replicated demographically anywhere else. Ultimately, climate denialism is a generational artifact for the most part, and eventually it will die off because it just can't be substantiated with the data, and the typical generational turnover will take care of some of it as well. But not all the deniers are going to die off, so the study that TP did seems to show the next step: instead of saying that climate change is a hoax, why not admit that it's happening but simply say it's too late to do anything about it and that we're all doomed? With that message, skepticism of climate change shoots through the roof among people who are natural targets to believe in taking action. Ironically, making the concession that the globe is warming seems to increase actual skepticism of this scientific phenomenon. It will be interesting to see how the debate plays out over the next decade or so.

Monday, November 22, 2010

By Republicans For Republicans: Who would referee the closed-circuit Republican debate?

The indispensable Steve Benen runs down the chatter among Republicans against any sort of engagement with non-partisan media:

The Daily Caller's report went on to note that Grover Norquist disapproves of "nitpicking from left-of-center journalists asking questions that will impress their fellow journalists." Far-right activist Brent Bozell was similarly displeased: "When, oh when will Republicans learn? Every four years the presidential debate season takes place. Republicans dutifully line up for debates moderated by liberal 'moderators' except there's nothing moderate about these moderators who mercilessly attack them."

Just at the surface, blasting NBC News and Politico as "liberal" seems pretty silly. MSNBC has some liberal hosts in primetime, but NBC News itself doesn't appear to have any political agenda to speak of. Politico, meanwhile, appears to me to lean pretty clearly in Republicans' favor.

Indeed, in 2007, there was an NBC/Politico event, and the moderators were practically deferential towards the candidates, asking one softball after another.

That said, I don't much care either way whether the event takes place, or whether anyone shows up. What's more interesting to me is the competing partisan standards. A year before the 2008 presidential election, you may recall, Fox News was scheduled to host a debate for Democratic presidential candidates. The highest-profile Dems quickly balked at participating in an event aired and organized by a Republican propaganda outlet, and the debate was scrapped.

But it was the reaction from the right that stood out. Bill O'Reilly compared Democratic presidential campaigns to Goebbels; Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes said Dems were guilty of "Stalinism"; and Fox News president Roger Ailes argued in all seriousness, "The candidates that can't face Fox, can't face Al Qaeda."

And yet, here we are. Republicans are complaining about an NBC/Politico event, and at this point, aren't facing any pushback at all.

It's a shame and it would be a disgrace if there was that much left for Republicans to disgrace. But what interests me is who would form the panel to moderate such a debate. I very much doubt Rush Limbaugh would be asked, since polls like this one show him as politically toxic and having every Republican sucking up to him would be devastating to the party. It would, among other things, revive the meme that Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party and be worth a couple billion propaganda points for the Democrats. So it can't be Rush. It can't be Michael Savage, for reasons obvious to any follower to politics. Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck would probably be out--not for conflict of interest reasons due to moderating a debate with their FNC colleagues, since they don't really care about that stuff (see Beck's pimping of Goldbug for a prime example of this)--so much as because all of these guys insist on self-identifying as independents as a defense against the liberal attacks against them as party hacks. They are party hacks to varying degrees, but the justification behind Fox News is that applying a conservative lens to current events is somehow a corrective for the liberal lens that the mainstream media allegedly uses when presenting the news. Of course, even this frequent justification is misguided, since opposing biases don't just cancel each other out, presuming the bias even exists in the first place. But there is a difference between presenting yourself as just an independent trying to present the news as stripped of bias instead of a Republican trying to get out what the party wants you to get out. It turns out that there is no substantive difference when it comes to the outcomes produced by these two approaches, as Fox News is generally in sync with unapologetic partisan organs such as Weekly Standard, but it makes a difference in terms of perception among your viewers.

So, if O'Reilly and Hannity were to moderate a debate amongst Republicans (I'm guessing Beck would not get an invitation, for even more obvious reasons), they would be inserting themselves into the political process in a way that would severely undermine their professions of "independence" to such an extent that even Fox News viewers might find it hard to justify. It might not matter that much, since Beck has been inserting himself into the political process quite baldly and has not lost support at Fox, but I think O'Reilly and Hannity see themselves very differently than Beck does. And if all those people are off the table, you're down to the second-string right-wing crew, with the likes of Bill Kristol, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and so forth. Considering the weakness of the GOP field so far, I wonder if such an event absent a marquee right-wing panel would really summon up all that much interest.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Home State

Political Wire pointed me to a survey of what Californians believe. Lots of interesting stuff in here, though not too much of it is surprising. This should seem familiar to anyone following politics these days:
The party faces a critical collision between its own voters, a minority in California, and those it needs to attract to win. The most faithful Republicans this year — those who voted for both Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for Senate — said by a 27-point margin that to be more successful, Republicans should nominate "true conservatives."

But among the majority of voters who spurned Whitman and Fiorina in November — and in whose good graces any future winning candidate would need to be — the results were reversed. Forty-three percent said that future Republican candidates needed to be more moderate. Only 20% said that Republicans should nominate "true conservatives."

As those figures help illustrate, the GOP's difficulties in California rest on two overlapping conflicts, ideological and demographic. The party's conservative primary voters determine nominees, even if their views are often opposite those of the far more moderate general election audience. And the party's white and conservative voter base is increasingly giving way to the state's non-white and nonpartisan population.
And then there's this, which is nothing if not an I-told-you-so moment:
Marjorie Smallwood, a Democrat from Palo Alto who was among the poll respondents, illustrates the difficulty that GOP candidates face in the state. The only Republican she's been tempted to vote for recently, she said, was Senate candidate Tom Campbell, who lost in the primary after a barrage of criticism that he was not conservative enough. "He's moderate, he's a thinking person," she said. "If they want independents and Democrats to vote for them…"
I wouldn't exactly call Tom Campbell a moderate, but he is reality-based and a decent guy who feels the weight of civic responsibility. Kind of a shame what happened to him.

In any event, the import of all this beyond California is debatable. California has a lot of things you don't see anywhere else in the country: a demographically significant Asian-American population that has tilted strongly in the Democrats' favor over the past two decades, a larger-than-average LGBT population thanks to San Francisco (and Los Angeles as well), and a voting population that's quite a bit younger than normal states, which translates into a lot of voters whose formative years were spent under Bush 43's rule and are rabidly anti-Republican as a result. In fact, California has the fourth-lowest median age of all states, though the overall list suggests less of a correlation to voting than one might expect. Still, this is an overwhelmingly young and Hispanic-heavy state, and one where both cohorts are deeply influenced by progressive values and ideas. Republicans often dismiss California as some sort of non-mainstream exception to their center-right nation claims. They better hope they're right.

Will they shut it down?

Grover Norquist is practically lusting over a potential Republican government shutdown. Chait points out an important difference between now and 1995-96:
If Republicans refuse to let the government continue running at current levels while they negotiate with Obama, then they are indeed the ones who are shutting down the government. But as a matter of political reality, it's true that the existence of Fox News and the power of other Republican organs gives the GOP a better chance to spin a shutdown as Obama's fault -- or, at least, to lose the battle for public opinion less decisively. Norquist is also right that Boehner is not acting like, and being treated as, a kind of prime minister, and that factor would also reduce the degree to which Republicans are held accountable for outcomes like the shutdown.
My view is that it's going to be pretty hard to blame Obama for a government shutdown when some of your most influential activists are already cheering one on so forcefully. And if, as Norquist suggests, Republicans try to shut down the government over the debt ceiling, he really is drinking his own Kool-Aid, er, tea, since Americans don't really care about the deficit but will not stomach grandma not being able to cash a Social Security check. Then again, you never know. Spin can only go so far, but this isn't 1995, and it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

I'm not sure this quite fits with the post, but it's Friday, so I think a little Talking Heads is perfectly warranted:

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.