Is Michelle Bernard Really an Independent?

Michelle BernardLet’s take a moment to consider that great species of political animal the independent. The independent is such a strange creature that I had long thought it mythical. Every independent I’ve ever met has been either a liberal or a conservative and not a moderate as you might assume. In fact, many independents that I’ve met self-identified in this way because they thought the Republican Party was too liberal. So I still think that the vast majority of independents are really just Democrats or Republicans who don’t want to come right out and admit it.

I got a good look at an independent on this morning’s episode of Up with Steve Kornacki. Michelle Bernard is that person. “As someone who firmly finds herself in the quote-unquote independent camp,” she said before completing an uninteresting thought about reactions to Rand Paul showing what no one (even those on Up) would say: he’s a bigot. What I thought was interesting was how she seemed to swell with pride that she was in the “independent camp.” (That strikes me as an oxymoron. What do they do at camp? Bind together and decide which way the independent vote will go this year?!)

This is a big problem with independents and I think it is the only reason they exist. When Bernard said that, I got the feeling she was saying, “I’m not like you ideologues! I’m open minded! I vote for the best person, not for whatever my party has on offer!” There are a couple of problems with this thinking. First, the assumption is that the middle is not an ideological position. This is simply not true. Second, most liberals don’t vote for Democrats because they are Democrats; we vote for them because even though they generally suck, they are far better than what the Republicans have on offer.

Michelle Bernard is both a woman and an African-American. Does she ever think that the Republican Party is going to do right about voting rights or reproductive choice? The economy generally does worse under Republicans. Is that what she wants? Does she want the Supreme Court filled with more Samuel Alito type judges? What exactly is the Republican Party offering America or Bernard herself that makes it a toss-up before an election starts?

Of course, I’m kidding. I know what it’s all about: it is about the appearance of being open minded. But I wonder how history will think of independent voters like Bernard. I don’t think it will vilify them. Rather, it will wonder about them. How was it that these people couldn’t see that one of the major American political parties had moved well to the right while the other moved near the edge of the map into fascist territory? It certainly won’t look back and think, “That was very open minded, just splitting the difference between the two major American political parties. It must have taken a great mind to come up with that!”

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Portrait of the Economist at 55

Dean BakerThe great mathematician and mystic John Dee was born on this day in 1527. The poet John Clare was born in 1793. On the one hand, he was a typical Romantic idiot. On the other, he really was a pretty good poet. One of the pioneers of ethnography, Stewart Culin was born in 1858. He was very interested in the games that different cultures play and how they connect different peoples. Fascinating stuff! Co-founder of the London School of Economics, Sidney Webb was born in 1859. Contrary to what you are probably thinking, Webb was a socialist and a historian of trade unionism. Actor Bob Crane was born in 1928. My big question about him is why anyone would want to make Auto Focus. Oh, you say that Paul Schrader made it? Well, that explains it! And finally, Jack Kemp was born in 1935. Again, I don’t usually do politicians. But in this case, I wanted to see if Kemp rethought his embrace of supply-side economics at the end of his life. Apparently not. He did, however, embrace a kind of neoconservative hysteria after 9/11, which doesn’t exactly help. But as much as I hate to admit it, he seems to have been a truly great football player. The fact that I hate football doesn’t take away from that fact. (But really: football is an extremely boring game.)

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is 78 today. Yes, he’s that Danish cartoonist. (Why else would I be mentioning a Danish cartoonist?) To be honest, I’m not sure what the controversy is. It seems the Muslims have always felt that non-Muslims were not part of the whole “rules and regulations” part of their religion. That was something I always liked about them. Next we have three decent actors turning 71, 72, and 73: Harrison Ford, Robert Forster, and Patrick Stewart. Sterwart’s performance as Macbeth is really great:

Comedian Cheech Marin is 67. It really bugs me that I can’t seem to get hold of old Cheech & Chong albums. I don’t much like the movies, but I remember the albums very fondly. And writer and director Cameron Crowe is 56.

The day, however, belongs to economist Dean Baker who is 55 today. I know: I’ve already written about him time and time again. This is because I have learned more about economics from him than from anyone else. Probably the guy I’ve learned the second most from is Ha-Joon Chang, and I just learned that Chang is also part of Baker’s Center for Economic and Policy Research. Previously, I’ve recommended reading Baker’s blog, Beat the Press. But you should really get the whole CEPR RSS feed. You’ll learn a lot, and not just about economics.

What many of you may not know is that Dean Baker is a very funny guy. You can see that at his blog where the sarcasm comes fast and furious. But it is even more apparent in his public speaking. He has that wonderful confident, cocky attitude of one who knows what’s going on but doesn’t sweat the fact that most of the world is crazy. Here’s a great example of him openly mocking Rick Santelli:

Happy Birthday Dean Baker!

Afterword

Note in that video that not only is Santelli wrong, but so is the host. When she asked what Barney Frank thought of the housing bubble, she was implying the old conservative canard that the economic collapse was the result of the Democrats forcing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to give out loans to poor people. Also the exploding deficit she’s so concerned about is suddenly not happening. I don’t know where she stands on these matters today. But I’m sure that Santelli is still doing his Howard Beale impression about the coming doom if we don’t do whatever it is the power elite want today.

Ethnocentrism and KTVU SFO Pilots Prank

KTVU, who have done some excellent reporting of last week’s SFO plane crash, got pranked yesterday. They thought that the names of the pilots had been released to them:

For those of you who missed it, they are:

  • Captain Something Wrong
  • We Too Low
  • Holy Fuck
  • Bang, Ding, Ow

What’s most interesting is how the staff at KTVU fell for the prank. The truth is that for Americans, Asian names are a problem. They tend to sound unintentionally funny—often sexual. So I’m sure that the people at the TV station were trying to be respectful. In fact, just listen to how carefully the anchor is pronouncing the names. So the prank only works because the reporters are trying so hard to be respectful about something they know little about. And that’s a good thing; I wish they acted that way about all the other things they don’t understand very well.

I don’t want to go too easy on KTVU, however. San Francisco has a very big Asian population. If that community was better represented in the newsroom, this mightn’t have happened. Regardless, it looks as though KTVU had no one but the pranksters themselves to count on for the pronunciations. That is at least a bit sad.

On the other side—the pranksters—the intent is not so noble. It is very funny, of course. But I can’t help but notice just how ethnocentric if not outright racist the joke is. For example, the names are really more Chinese than Korean. I don’t think “Wong” is a Korean surname, but it is Chinese. The same is true of “Lo.” Much more than this, however, there is a clear aspect of cultural superiority indicted with the pigeon English and the plaintive cry, “We too low!”

Don’t get me wrong. All I’m saying is that most of the humor here is based upon our shocking lack of knowledge about other cultures. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t laugh at it, because I certainly have. In particular, I thought the most offensive “Wi Tu Lo” was very funny. And “Captain Sun Ting Wong” is a brilliant bit of comic detail that KTVU dutifully reported. But after all that, I think it is a good idea to step back and look at why we find all of this so funny. Why are we so focused on our own culture that at first we don’t even notice the fake names and then we find them funny as hell. That completely describes me. And I wish it didn’t.

H/T: William Brown

Update (13 July 2013 3:12 pm)

Will tells me that it actually came from an unpaid intern at NTSB. As you all probably know, I’m not too keen on the whole unpaid intern thing. It is just another way to give the rich an even bigger economic advantage over the poor. He also noted that the San Francisco NBC affiliate, KRON, has a much more diverse staff than KTVU.

Update (13 July 2013 5:56 pm)

Twitter user B. Justice alerted me to misinformation in the last update. The intern did not provide the original information; he only confirmed it. KTVU has not explained where they got the original information.

Unacknowledged Media Bias

Eiffel TowerPaul Krugman has posted a couple of articles on his blog defending France. You see, “people” say that France’s unemployment rate is high. “They” say that Fance is on the verge of becoming another Greece—or at least Portugal. “They” say that the French are just all screwed up.

The truth is that none of this is actually true. It turns out that the employment situation is actually better in France than in the United States. There is less labor force participation among the young and old, but that is because France doesn’t require students to work and encourages early retirement. What’s more, France has no trouble borrowing, and actually borrows at a rate below that of Germany.

So why do “they” beat up so much on France? Krugman gets it mostly right except in his caution, “[I]t’s hard to avoid the suspicion that it’s ultimately political: with their generous welfare state the French are supposed to be collapsing, so people assume that they are.” The problem is that “people” assume France is a socialism and therefore believe that it much be failing. Socialism is bad, right? And France even has a socialist president: Francois Hollande.

But it isn’t just that everyone assumes that France is doing badly. It is the press—especially the financial press, who tend to be far more economically conservative than the country as a whole. This, of course, is our “objective” press. And note how this objectivity works. It isn’t that the press will come right out and lie about France. They would never, for example, report that labor force participation in France for prime age workers is well below that of the United States. That would be false—it is exactly the opposite. So they simply don’t report that. Instead, they report that labor force participation in France for the young is well below that of the United States. That’s true, but highly misleading. Objectivity!

Of course, I don’t think that journalists are trying to be misleading. It is just that there is a natural tendency to assume that things must suck in France. So when some conservative writes an article about the scourge of youth unemployment in France, the mainstream press pick it up in the big way. When a liberal writes an article that shows that this isn’t the case, the mainstream press just ignore it. It can’t be important because everyone knows it sucks in socialist France.

It can’t be said enough: these unacknowledged biases poison our information flow. This happens in a variety of ways. It changes what stories are written. (You can especially see this in the conservative media where important stories simply aren’t mentioned and bizarre—often made up—stories get blanket coverage. If you want an eye-opener, listen to conservative radio some time.) It changes the focus of stories to the point where they are highly biased. It severely limits the Overton window of acceptable opinion. (This is done most notably by limiting those who are listened to. For example, in the buildup to war, the cable news stations talked almost exclusively to administration officials and former military officers.)

For a long time, I’ve thought that explicitly biased news sources were best. For example, every Friday I listen to FAIR’s weekly radio show Counter Spin. It has a leftist and anti-authoritarian bias. I mostly agree with that bias. Just the same, I can detect during every show things that are biased and not quite correct, even though they try very hard to be accurate and honest. The same can be said on the right, but the truth is that given the huge amounts of money that have been pumped into conservative media, it is damned hard to find an honest broker on the right. The libertarians do a reasonable job. I think Leonard Peikoff does a decent job of being accurate while grinding his ideological ax.

The biggest problem with the mainstream media is that (on economic and international issues, anyway) they are conservative. But they don’t admit this. They claim they are just staking out the reasonable center. And the conservative media use this to convince their audience that they are providing the truth and nothing but the truth. Thus we have the ridiculous “fair and balanced” and “no spin zone” out of Fox News. So bias is a bad thing when it pretends to be objectivity. But bias is a fact and we must embrace it. Otherwise, it will destroy us.

Afterword

In doing research for this article, I was once again confronted with the fact that you just can’t do internet searches on some things. Media bias is one of those things. There was article after article talking about “liberal media bias” saying essentially the same thing: reporters are liberal, therefore the reporting is liberal! In terms of social issues, I more or less agree. But the truth is that on economic issues, it just isn’t true. Nor is it true when it comes to international affairs, where Glenn Greenwald’s observation is dead on, “The overwhelming, driving bias of the US media is subservience to power, whoever happens to be wielding it.”