Aug 28

Why David Brooks Is So Popular With Idiot Elitists

Sasha IssenbergBrooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it. Why, then, has his particular brand of stereotype-peddling met with such success? In recent years, American journalism has reacted to the excesses of New Journalism — narcissism, impressionism, preening subjectivity — by adopting the trappings of scholarship. Trend pieces, once a bastion of three-examples-and-out superficiality, now strive for the authority of dissertations. Former Times editor Howell Raines famously defended page-one placement for a piece examining Britney Spears’s flailing career by describing it as a “sophisticated exegesis of sociological phenomenon.” The headline writer’s favorite word is “deconstructing.” (Last year, the Toronto Star deconstructed a sausage.) Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon demographer whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class earned Bobos-like mainstream cachet, nostalgizes an era when readers looked to academia for such insights:

“You had Holly Whyte, who got Jane Jacobs started, Daniel Bell, David Riesman, Galbraith. This is what we’re missing; this is a gap,” Florida says. “Now you have David Brooks as your sociologist, and Al Franken and Michael Moore as your political scientists. Where is the serious public intellectualism of a previous era? It’s the failure of social science to be relevant enough to do it.”

This culture shift has rewarded Brooks, who translates echt nerd appearance (glasses, toothy grin, blue blazer) and intellectual bearing into journalistic credibility, which allows him to take amusing dinner-party chatter — Was that map an electoral-college breakdown or a marketing plan for Mighty Aphrodite? — and sell it to editors as well-argued wisdom on American society. Brooks satisfies the features desk’s appetite for scholarly authority in much the same way that Jayson Blair fed the newsroom’s compulsion for scoops.

There’s even a Brooksian explanation for why he has become so popular with the East Coast media elite. Blue Americans have heard so much about Red America, and they’ve always wanted to see it. But Blue Americans don’t take vacations to places like Galveston and Dubuque. They like to watch TV shows like The Simpsons and Roseanne, where Red America is mocked by either cartoon characters or Red Americans themselves, so Blue Americans don’t need to feel guilty of condescension. Blue Americans are above redneck jokes, but they will listen if a sociologist attests to the high density of lawnbound-appliances-per-capita in flyover country. They need someone to show them how the other half lives, because there is nothing like sympathy for backwardness to feed elitism. A wrong turn in Red America can be dangerous: They might accidentally find Jesus or be hit by an 18-wheeler. It seems reasonable to seek out a smart-looking fellow who seems to know the way and has a witty line at every point. Blue Americans always travel with a guide.

—Sasha Issenberg
David Brooks: Boo-Boos in Paradise

Aug 28

Buffalo Rider, Guy on a Buffalo, and Idiosyncratic Art

Buffalo RiderThis morning, I discovered an amazing film from 1978, Buffalo Rider. In a refreshing bit of honest advertising, it is about a guy who rides a buffalo. It is a classic exploitation film. By that I mean that the producers found this guy (Rick Guinn) who rode a buffalo and thought, “Well there’s a movie in that!” After all, it was only in 1974 that the low budget The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams became a blockbuster. And Adams doesn’t ride around on Ben in the film. So Buffalo Rider certainly must have seemed like independent film gold.

If I had to pick a film that Buffalo Rider is most like, it would be Death Bed: the Bed that Eats. But George Barry’s masterpiece is so much more. It’s the work of a truly warped mind without consideration for what an audience might think. It is also a purely amateur production. Buffalo Rider is a professional production and it is interested in one thing above all: money.

The Real Buffalo Jones

Supposedly, it is based on the life of Charles “Buffalo” Jones. The real Buffalo Jones did not, as far as I can tell, ever ride a buffalo. He is remembered as a conservationist, although what the term meant in the late 19th century is a little different from what it means today. While he did save a lot of buffalo, it was mostly to sell to zoos and such. And before that, he was best known as a killer of buffalo. Like the makers of Buffalo Rider, Buffalo Jones was mostly interested in making money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all gotta eat.

Buffalo Rider seems to be based on a film the same group made two years earlier, The Life and Legend of Buffalo Jones. But I can’t find out anything about it except what commenter Nokose Fixico at CasCity wrote, “Only thing I really remember of the plot was this man Jones catching and breaking a buffalo and doing some riding and shooting.” He might be remembering Buffalo Rider.

A Most Bizarre Film

The film is part nature documentary and part revenge comedy. Forty minutes into it, the film sidetracks for ten minutes on the story of a raccoon. It really has nothing to do with the rest of the film. But then, very little in this film has anything to do with anything else. Why would it need to? There’s a guy who rides buffalo! And clearly, they had an animal trainer. “Oh look, a scene with some wolves! Hey, a black bear! Some grizzly bears fighting!” It’s all good.

It reminded me very much of the octopus in Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. Why’s it there? Wood apparently got his hands on some stock footage of an octopus. You know the old saying, “Don’t let a good thing go to waste”? For the exploitation filmmaker, it’s a little different: don’t let anything go to waste. Hence: The Terror. And don’t get me wrong: I think it’s awesome. Did I mention Buffalo Rider has a guy riding around on a buffalo?

Buffalo Rider Plot Summary

Anyway, the story, so much as there is one, is this: there’s this hippy living the life in the old west. He comes upon a young buffalo being attacked by two wolves. Jones saves the poor creature. Eventually, he tames it and breaks it, allowing it to be ridden. Other than the wolves part, this appears to be exactly what Rick Guinn himself did. Then, three bad guy buffalo hunters shoot Jones so they can kill his buffalo. But Jones and his buffalo are saved by Sam Robinson. Robinson and his wife bring Jones back to health.

Now Jones is bent on revenge. He’s going to get those men. It’s all good because Mrs Robinson’s brother and his family are coming for a visit. As the brother is on his way, he is spotted by the three bad guys who really need his horses. So they kill him and his wife, but not before she cleverly hides the baby. Shortly thereafter, Buffalo Jones happens upon the baby. He determines (1) that the dead man is Mrs Robinson’s brother and (2) this terrible act was done by the same bad guys.

He rushes back to the Robinson’s place to say, “Sorry about your brother, but here: have a baby!” Then he goes after the bad guys. They have broken up so that there can been two cool revenge scenes. The first involves him riding his buffalo (Who would have thought?!) into a bar, tearing up the place, and then shooting the two bad guys. Then he kills the final bad guy who was on a mule.

Why the Film Failed to Attract and Audience

It could have all worked rather well. But it has a few problems. One is that it is almost all shot MOS, so the whole thing is narrated excessively. The narrator, C Lindsay Workman, is very good. But the subtext of everything he says is, “The filmmakers weren’t good enough to make this clear, so I’m tellin’ y’all!”

Even that might have been okay and made for a financially successful film. But there is one problem that you cannot get around. As cool as it is that this guy can actually ride a buffalo, he looks ridiculous doing it. It just doesn’t matter what a badass he is. And so Buffalo Rider has a very dorky feel to it. I loved it! But I can well see why people weren’t swarming the movie theaters looking for it.

Guy on a Buffalo

In 2011, Buffalo Rider found a new audience in four short videos, Guy on a Buffalo. They were created by the band Jomo & the Possum Posse, who refer to themselves as, “The Greatest Band in the World. Possibly Ever.”

They describe their music as a “blend of cynicism, dead-eyed soul, and anti-machismo honky-tonk.” I really like all the music of theirs that I’ve heard. (The lead guitar on High Grounds Coffee Shop reminds me a lot of Maury Muehleisen.) But they are a good deal too interesting to be stars. They have an album out this year, Local Motive. It sounds good and I would buy it, but you know I’m old and must have something I can hold. On the other hand, for $8.99, maybe it’s worth finally trying to download some music.

Anyway, Jomo & the Possum Posse do right by Buffalo Rider. But these videos only give you a small taste of the eclectic band. Regardless, what they did is a great act of creative collaboration. These videos are even more funny after you watch the film. Ultimately, they aren’t satirizing the “guy on a buffalo,” but the narration that describes everything that is happening. Doing it musically is brilliant — and one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Of course, now I’ll have that song stuck in my head for days.

Parting Words

For most people, “Guy on a Buffalo” is about as close as you will want to get to Buffalo Rider. I thought the film was wonderful. I like things that are different, even when they are technically “bad.” Skill is a great help to art. But in a society that wants commodity, it is normally used in the service of the banal. The unskilled often provide us with moments of genius we can’t find elsewhere.

It probably helps that I know just how hard it is to get anything on film. I imagine someone coming to me today and saying, “I got a camera, some old film stock, and a guy who can ride a giraffe. Can you write a screen for us by next weekend?” Are you kidding?! I’d have a first draft done tonight. Although rather than “Giraffe Rider,” I’m thinking more along the lines of, “The Man Who Loved Giraffes.”

Aug 27

Donald Trump’s Curious Ideas About Racist Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump RacistYesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech tying together Donald Trump’s long history of racism, from his early days excluding African-American tenants from his family’s housing in New York to what Paul Ryan called “textbook racist” comments that a Mexican-American was unfit to judge whether Trump had committed fraud. Trump fired off a peripatetic series of replies. He oddly lambasted Clinton’s speech as “short,” raising the tantalizing question of what further evidence of his racism he believes she should have included. (His racialized hysteria against the “Central Park Five”? His assertions that black people are inherently lazy?) He lambasted Clinton’s use of the racism charge, “the last refuge of the discredited politician,” a cheap trick to which only a scoundrel would resort. Then finally, that evening, forgetting his conviction that only a discredited politician would charge his opponent with racism, Trump appeared on CNN, where he called Clinton a “bigot.”

—Jonathan Chait
Trump: Only Desperate Liars Call Their Opponent Racist. Also Hillary Is Racist.

Aug 27

Mocha Dick: the Real Life Basis for Moby Dick

Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the PacificAs I’ve probably mentioned, I got an unabridged book-on-CD of Moby-Dick, which I’ve been listening to on my nightly walks. Listened to, it is hard to believe that it isn’t meant as comedy. Of particular note is Chapter 32, Cetology. In it, Ishmael writes down a little book-within-a-book about whales. But what would one expect of Herman Melville? This is the kind of thing that made him so great. But in checking out some of the facts he claimed, I came upon the story of Mocha Dick. He was an actual albino sperm whale that the novel was based upon.

Apparently, Mocha Dick was a very large male. He survived many attacks through a combination of size, strength, and ferocity. According to Jeremiah Reynolds’ 1839 book Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific, he may have survived over a hundred attacks. That’s amazing! But there is something even more amazing: the whale seemed to have been extremely easy going. He was like a dolphin — very comfortable around humans. It’s just that, like the intelligent creature that he was, he didn’t take well to others trying to kill him.

A Sight to Behold

He must have been a sight to behold as well. When he was finally killed after what was apparently two decades of different attacks, he turned out to be 70 feet long. His white skin breaching the surface of the blue ocean must have been magnificent. And the human reaction was, of course: let’s kill him!

“Oh, lonely death on lonely life!” —Captain Ahab

Hearing the story of Mocha Dick made me ashamed to be a human. I understand: the chain of life. I eat meat. People in the early 19th century needed whale oil. But still, it seems so horrible. Is there no beauty that we will not destroy for a buck?

Regardless, knowing this takes some fun out of the novel. The ending of the book is unclear as to exactly what happens to Moby Dick, but it does seem that he survives. In fact, it’s nice to think of him swimming around the sea, dragging Captain Ahab until he is eventually consumed by wandering sharks. No on in the novel is terribly likable. Ishmael has to survive to tell and tale. (And even he survives only because of Queequeg’s coffin!) So it’s easy enough to think of Moby Dick as the “good guy” — even if he is not presented so in the novel. And it is nice to think of him now and forever alive.

Mocha Dick Does Not Live On

Unfortunately, we know that Mocha Dick is now and forever dead. Of course, death comes to us all. And it is doubtless truth that the whale was very old — much older than anyone reading this can reasonably expect to live. And he probably died because of a decline in his health. Of course, that may not have been natural. According to Reynolds, when Mocha Dick was killed in 1838, he had 19 harpoons stuck in him. And he was killed when trying to help out a female sperm whale that had just been killed by whalers.

Male sperm whales live alone except for breeding. And I wonder if Mocha Dick’s being albino caused him to be shunned in that regard too. We all know Ahab’s famous line, “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.” But right before that, he says something more thoughtful and true, of himself and of Mocha Dick, “Oh, lonely death on lonely life!”

Aug 26

Obama’s Mass Lesbian Infiltration Plan

Jonathan ChaitBarack Obama is nearing the finish line of a presidency filled with accomplishments ranging from death panels to FEMA camps to the importation of Sharia law. Year eight is a natural time for Obama to unveil the most deviously brilliant plot of them all: mass lesbian infiltration of the agriculture sector. The Department of Agriculture has cleverly designed this scheme as an innocuous outreach summit to LGBT Americans living in rural areas. But Rush Limbaugh has exposed the administration’s true intentions, which are nothing less than a full-scale assault on the last bastion of red-state America.

Here’s how it works. “Rural America happens to be largely conservative. Rural America is made up of self-reliant, rugged individualist types,” explains Limbaugh. (Farmers are “self-reliant” because, even though their sector is technically the recipient of heavy federal subsidies, they are overwhelmingly white.) …

I mean, it’s pretty obvious that once Obama locks up the farmers in FEMA camps, he’s going to need to repopulate the farms with political loyalists, or else the cities will have food shortages. That’s where the lesbians come in. By the time Hillary Clinton is running for her fourth term, red America will have been completely liquidated, and she won’t even need Acorn to steal the election for her.

—Jonathan Chait
Mass Lesbian Farm Infiltration Is Obama’s Best Scheme Yet

Aug 26

Fun With Voter Math and Southern White Females

Brad DeLong - Southern White FemalesBrad DeLong wrote an interesting article a few weeks ago, Josh Barro Makes Me Aware of Niall Ferguson. But as an aside, he noted, “[Hillary Clinton] is behind by roughly 22 percentage points among southern whites — who are, increasingly, acting like a very separate ethnicity (and 40 percentage points behind, perhaps, among southern white males — suggesting white females are close).” I immediately thought, “Ah, a chance to do some math and nail down those southern white females!”

It should surprise no one that DeLong’s offhand guess turns out to be roughly right. But I still think it is interesting to go through it. Why? Because math is fun. And yes, this is not pure math; it is applied math. And it is only pure math that gets me really excited. But nonetheless, I’m pretty excited. Just how likely are southern white females to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Let’s Get Mathematical

Now, I don’t know where he gets the statistics — maybe from this CNN/ORC poll (PDF). And I’m not terribly happy with him throwing in “perhaps” when discussing Trump being ahead by 40 percentage points among southern white males. But it all sounds about right. And I’m more interested in the math anyway.

Math nerds will immediately notice that we can exactly calculate the percentage of southern white females who will vote for Hillary Clinton. In order to do this, we need to define a few variables:

  • F: percentage of southern white females who will vote for Clinton
  • M: percentage of southern white males who will vote for Clinton
  • T: percentage of all southern whites who will vote for Clinton
  • P: percentage of all southern white voters who are southern white females.

The Equation Enters

Thus we can set up the following equation:

P×F + (1-P)×M = T

If Hillary Clinton is down by 22 percentage points among all southern whites, that means she is getting 39% of the vote. This is the value of T. Similarly, if she is down by 40 percentage points among southern white males, she is getting 30% of the vote. This is the value of M. For the moment, let’s assume that men and women vote in equal numbers. So P = 50%. Thus, the equation becomes:

F = (T – (1-P)×M)/P = (0.39 – (1-0.5)×0.30)/0.5) = 0.48 = 48%

That looks good for DeLong’s prediction. But we aren’t done.

The Plot Thickens (But Not Much)

It turns out that in presidential elections, men and women do not vote (PDF) at the same rate. In 2012, voter turnout for men was 59.8%. For women, it was 63.7%. In addition, more women are registered to vote. In 2012, only 71.4 million men were registered to vote, while 81.7 million women were. I see no reason why things should be different for southern white females.

Doing a little simple arithmetic, we see that in 2012, 43 million men and 52 million women voted. (Note: this does not add up to the 127 million who voted. I assume this is due to the sampling and that the percentages are still correct.) This means that women represent 55% of all voters. If we assume the same is true of southern white females, we get the slightly more complicated equation:

F = (T – (1-P)×M)/P = (0.39 – (1-0.55)×0.30)/0.55) = 0.46 = 46%

Clinton Doesn’t Need Southern White Females

Clearly, Hillary Clinton could stand to do a bit better with southern white females. But it was never a question but that she was going to the lose the white vote overall — much less in the south. And note that this really isn’t about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Earlier today, I saw a list of polls pairing Clinton vs Trump over the last year. The polls really haven’t changed that much. There are blips when Trump said something outrageous or when the media made a big deal out of any number of Clinton non-scandals. But it’s been pretty consistent.

In the end, Hillary Clinton will do about as well as any other Democrat would have. And as amazing as it may seem, Trump will do about as well as any other Republican. Because when Trump manages to even win southern white females, you know it isn’t about him. They’re just voting their tribe — like most people.

Still: math is fun!

Aug 25

After 20 Years, Welfare Reform Successful as Expected

Zaid JilaniThis week marks the 20th anniversary of “welfare reform,” the 1996 law passed by Congress and administered by President Bill Clinton that strictly limited the amount of federal cash assistance that the poorest Americans can receive — transforming the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program into the more restrictive Temporary Aid for Needy Families.

One of the main impacts of the law was to help double the number of American households living in extreme poverty in America — defined as living on less than $2 a day…

Luke Shaefer, a University of Michigan Social Work professor and one of the researchers who documented the rise in extreme poverty since the passage of welfare reform, told The Intercept that the claims of reduction in poverty and increase in employment were more true up until 2000. “Single moms did go to work, but it is unclear if welfare reform had much to do with it,” he said. The Earned Income Tax Credit “expansion is much more clearly important. And we know that the moms who left welfare were not any better off for it, and in some cases a lot worse off.”

Shaefer worked with sociologist Kathryn Edin on a book released last year that found before welfare reform, more than a million households with children were being kept out of extreme poverty thanks to federal assistance. By 2011, that had dropped to about 300,000. The researchers estimated that 1.5 million American households, including 3 million children, are today living at or below extreme poverty — double the number that it was in 1996.

The impact of welfare reform was particularly severe on women and minorities, with many female-headed families losing income and women being forced into low-wage work without benefits.

Shaefer points to research from Jim Ziliak, a prominent economist who studied the issue for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Taken together, the results from leaver studies, demonstrations, and from national samples suggest that many women were worse off financially after welfare reform,” he writes. “Especially at the bottom of the distribution.”

—Zaid Jilani
20 Years Later, Poverty Is Up, But Architects of “Welfare Reform” Have No Regrets

Aug 25

Steve Scalise and the Empathy Deficit of Conservatives

Steve ScaliseIrving Kristol famously said, “A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” Given the fantasy merchants that later neoconservatives would be, the line is ironic. I’ve often heard a similar line, “A conservative is a liberal who got mugged.” And there is something to that. Think: Christopher Hitchens. But mostly, that’s hogwash. I think that if you look at the fine grain — not the overall ideology — a liberal is a conservative who’s been mugged. Let’s consider three such conservatives who suddenly found a taste for liberal policy: Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy, and John Fleming.

All of these Congressmen are from Louisiana. And they all rightly want the federal government to do something about the flooding in Louisiana. They also all voted against the Superstorm Sandy relief package. Now before anyone starts yelling that they had reasons for voting against the Sandy bill, this is always the case. No politician ever says, “I’m cutting food stamps because I hate poor children.” They always have reasons. In 2013, Steve Scalise was all for helping Hurricane Sandy victims, as long as it was offset (a new conservative requirement as long as a Democrat was President).

They Have Their (Fake) Reasons

Usually, it is something along the lines of, “I’d love to vote for this bill, if only…” And then the bill is changed for them. And suddenly there is a new reason, “I’d love to vote for this bill, if only this other thing…” This happened again and again while trying to pass Obamacare. Countless things were added and cut to the bill for the sake of this or that Republican. And in the end, not a single one voted for it. Politicians lie. Conservative politicians especially. It’s hard to say what you mean when you really do want to cut food stamps because you hate poor children.

Anyway, getting back to the three Louisiana stooges: is it hypocrisy? Maybe and maybe not. I’m not much interested since we are all hypocrites to one extent or aother. My interest in how it is that these staunch and “principled” conservatives find themselves in favor of liberal policy. In the article I linked to above, Michael Hiltzik wrote, “They’re all likely exemplars of another Washington truism: fiscal responsibility is great, until it’s your own district that’s getting fiscally hammered.”

When Empathy Is Forced on a Conservative

But it isn’t all about politics. This is a very personal thing. I remember decades ago, Sam Donaldson talking about how Ronald Reagan had heard about some little girl suffering from a disease. So the president sent a check for an enormous amount of money to her parents. At the same time, he was savaging aid to millions of other boys and girls. If Reagan saw the suffering, it affected him. If he didn’t, well, he didn’t care. He could justify his actions as being for the greater good. And so on.

I wrote about a crystal clear example of this three years ago, Rob Portman Affected By Gay Bigotry. Before that, Portman was publicly in favor of employers being able to fire employees because they were gay. But then he found out that his son was gay. And suddenly it was, “Rob Portman: Defender of LGBT Rights!” Of course, that hasn’t turned Portman into a liberal; he just has a liberal carve-out because of his son. This is like the Cheneys’ carve-out because of their daughter.

Steve Scalise Can See Clearly Now!

So sure: Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy, and John Fleming are doubtless just looking out for their jobs. But it is also likely true that on this one issue they are liberal. People they know have been hurt. It’s not like people from New Jersey and New York who might as well be Nazi zombies for all they care. But the people of Louisiana are, well, people! I’ll bet they’ve even met people who have lost their homes.

The point of all this is that conservatism — at least the radical form practiced here in the United States — is based on limited empathy. We know, for example, that people who live in low crime areas are much more punitive than those in high crime areas when asked what kind of punishment a wrong-doer should receive. I believe this is because people in high crime areas can contextualize crime. They don’t think that just because someone steals or even murders that they are animals — just out to harm with no redeeming qualities.

So it isn’t surprising that the most potent force behind American conservatism is racism. If all America were Sarah Palin’s vaunted “real America,” I’m sure conservatives would be like they are in other advanced economies: in favor of things like universal healthcare. But we don’t live in that world. So we have bigots like Steve Scalise to stop all those Others from being treated like humans. Now maybe if his son or daughter lived in New York during Hurricane Sandy, he would have been for relief in 2012. But instead, he’s had to wait until now.

Aug 24

The Only Part of Doctor Faustus Anyone Knows

Christopher Marlowe - Doctor FaustusWas this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sacked;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colors on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
Oh, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appeared to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azured arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

—Christopher Marlowe
Doctor Faustus

Aug 24

Wisconsin District 08 — Plus Paul Ryan!

Tom Nelson - Wisconsin District 08There are two races I will talk about for Wisconsin. Wisconsin District 08 is a toss up. The other, well, isn’t; but it’s pretty to think so.

Wisconsin District 01 (WI-01)

In Wisconsin District 01, we find the current Speaker of House: the over-hyped “wonk” of Paul Ryan. He is running against a gentleman named Ryan Solen. He is a former Iraq war vet who served in the Army as a medic and is now a computer systems analyst for SC Johnson.

Solen has an incredibly difficult uphill battle if he is going to be the first person to unseat a Speaker since 1994. Generally, Speakers don’t lose their districts for the fairly obvious reason that they are gerrymandered for them. However that doesn’t mean a particularly large wave year wouldn’t sweep anyone — including a Speaker of the House — out of office.

Speaker Ryan has a large war chest and the seat is considered safely Republican. At the same time, Ryan only managed to get 55% in the last presidential year election. This cycle has Democrats and a lot of independents wanting to vote against Trump and they may vote just as much against Ryan to punish him for not being tougher on keeping Trump under control. Of all of the Congressional candidates, I think Speaker Ryan is the one most visibly connected with Trump and that is going to seriously hurt him.

The Numbers

People who are better at this than I am with the whole math thing have determined that if Trump gets less than 45% of the votes in the district, it is apparently time for the incumbent to be terrified.

At the beginning of the month, Clinton was up 15 percentage point on Trump and she may very well still be that high or around ten points more than Trump since Wisconsin is considered a very safe Democratic state. But there aren’t any real polls for the individual districts at this point and unfortunately Ryan Solen isn’t a sparkly enough media figure to get a great deal of attention.

Solen is however doing most of the right things by defining his opponent by the person at the top of the ticket and demanding a debate. I have jokingly pointed out that there should be the slogan of #PickTheBetterRyan for this race, but like usual, no one listens to me.

It will likely stay safe for Paul Ryan but things could change.

Wisconsin District 08 (WI-08)

Wisconsin District 08 is getting a lot of the attention because it is a possible pick up for the Democrats. It is an open seat because the Republican incumbent is retiring at the end of this term. In 2008, it went for Obama, but switched to Romney in 2012. It also was a 2006 Democratic wave pick up that was lost in 2010. So Wisconsin District 08 could go either way.

Mike Gallagher - Wisconsin 08It also has generated a lot of buzz because of the two candidates running. Tom Nelson is the Democrat and he is an Outagamie County executive who has been talked up for someone to possibly run for governor. In 2010 he ran against Tom Barrett for the Lt Governorship. He actually came really close for such a Republican wave year — losing by only by six points. So he knows how to campaign and do so effectively.

The Republican is Mike Gallagher. He won a surprise upset over an experienced politico in the primary. A former Marine, he was a foreign policy analyst for both the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and Scott Walker’s failed presidential bid. He has been vigorously campaigning and has tried to distance himself from Trump. But he did admit he will be voting for the Republican standard-bearer.

A Tough District

Wisconsin District 08 is going to be a tough race. Since I don’t live in that area, I can’t speak to which one will be more effective at getting out the vote and winning. Tom Nelson is a guy who has incredibly deep ties to the district and he ran unopposed so he was able to spend all of his time working the general election voters. The Republican primary, on the other hand, was fairly brutal and left Gallagher with the moniker of DC Mike. Just the same, it also provided him with higher name recognition.

I do think since this is a blue wave year, it is probably going to go to Nelson.

Aug 23

Chilean Privatized Social Security Falling Apart

Michael HiltzikPromoters of privatizing the US Social Security system have never tired of holding up Chile’s privatized program as an example of how this can make workers rich. The trick is that they never ask ordinary Chilean workers and retirees how they feel about it.

That may be because they know what the answer would be. It was visible last month in the streets of the capital, Santiago, where crowds estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 marched to demand reform…

The Chilean program was promoted relentlessly by its creator, Jose Pinera, who got himself a sinecure at the Cato Institute out of the deal. From there he fed American conservatives’ fantasies of “an obvious free market solution that works,” he wrote for a Cato audience in 1997. (In that same article he declared that “America’s Social Security system will go bust in 2010.” Umm, no.) He boasted of how he single-handedly “decided to undertake a structural reform [of Chile’s bankrupt retirement system] that would solve the problem once and for all.” …

But the seams soon showed. The World Bank determined that fees charged by those favored investment firms consumed fully half the pension contributions of the average worker retiring in 2000. The government surplus disappeared, and those outsized stock market gains faded away.

A series of reforms of the reform followed. But not enough. Many workers can’t afford to pay the 10% minimum contribution, and others have been moved out of the system by a shift toward contract labor. The average pension for retirees is about $400 a month, Bloomberg reports, but 40% of retirees are getting less than $260.

—Michael Hiltzik
Chile’s Privatized Social Security System, Beloved by US Conservatives, Is Falling Apart

Aug 23

Why Trump Won? It Ain’t Rocket Science; It’s Social Psychology

Why Trump WonI don’t like to write about Trump because at base, I’m an academic. An academic without an academy, sure. But over time, I’ve found that I’m just not interested in discussing the little things. It’s kind of like in Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Terry Eagleton knows that most religious people hold ridiculous opinions, so he doesn’t talk about it. It’s fish in a barrel. He wants to aim higher. And I feel the same way about Donald Trump. He’s so obviously a nightmare, his latest proof doesn’t seem worth talking about. But I am still interested in the question of why Trump won the GOP primary.

Let me start by noting that I don’t think that, from a policy standpoint, Trump would be categorically different than other Republicans. His foreign policy might well be far better. This tax plan is worse, but after going through the House and Senate, his tax plan would turn out to be identical to whatever one would have been enacted under Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio. On Social Security, Trump would be better. The one area where he might be worse is that his rhetoric might embolden his followers to commit acts of terrorism against various minority groups. But I tend to think these lazy cowards won’t be doing anything — especially if their savior Donald Trump is in command.

Another issue to consider is that it doesn’t much matter why Trump won. By the end, all the candidates were Donald Trump. They just weren’t as good at it. Look at Kasich! He has a notorious anger problem. Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent article about him back in February where she ran down what a vile president he would make because of his racism, sexism, xenophobia, and demagoguery. So the GOP was going to nominate someone like Donald Trump because that’s what Republicans like.

The Eternal 25 Percent

But on the specifics, it isn’t a mystery why Trump won. There are always about 25% of the people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. What they’re mad about is mostly unclear. The few Trump supporters I know are actually doing very well in an economic sense — far better than I’ve ever done. They remind me of rich people who are angry that they aren’t more rich. These people want more respect (or something) in the society. Of course, if they got it, they’d just be angry that it wasn’t enough.

Republicans smelled blood in the water in 2016. They thought this was their election. As a result, we got upwards of 20 candidates for president from them. Why Trump won was simply that he best spoke to these authoritarians who make up at least half the party.

There are roughly 25% of these people in the United States. I suspect the numbers are roughly the same in England and Germany and France. These people are, to put it bluntly, authoritarians. They want a strong leader. But they don’t want him (!) so much to get the fags, the coloreds, and the feminazis. They want an authoritarian leader because they want an ultimate authority to say that, yes, they are the right kind of people. They are the real Americans! And this has been the appeal of the entire Republican Party since Nixon.

This 25% of the population has always been there. Look back at Richard Hofstadter’s article The Paranoid Style in American Politics from 1964. This isn’t new. When the Tea Party sprang up, it annoyed me that the media talked about it like it was extraordinary (unlike any leftist movement, which they ignore unless they can’t possibly avoid it). Reporters were surprised when John Birch Society booths showed up at Tea Party events. I wasn’t.

Authoritarianism Is a Republican Problem

This authoritarianism is not confined exclusively to the Republican Party — but it mostly is. I recommend reading John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. Without this 25% of the electorate, the GOP would be a regional party.

Republicans smelled blood in the water in 2016. They thought this was their election. As a result, we got upwards of 20 candidates for president from them. Why Trump won was simply that he best spoke to these authoritarians who make up at least half the party. They don’t care about policy. They care about having a president who will say that they are the chosen ones. All those other people are lesser. Round them up into camps? Not really necessary — but hardly out of the question.

Why Trump Won

Why Trump won? I think roughly 50% of the Republican Party base is flat out authoritarian. Another 40% have notable tendencies in that regard. In a crowded field, of course Trump would get about a third of the vote. And once it was clear no one could touch him, the rest fell in line.

It’s no mystery why Trump won.

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