Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Decline of the Chattering Class and the Rise of the Discussion Class.

You’d never know Barack Obama has an approval rating in the mid-60s. Higher if you poll among Ds and Is and exclude Rs.

I say this because there appears to be no lack of people who are either pundits themselves, or can command the attention of the media, with all manner of advice on how Obama should be talking or behaving (substance appears to be utterly irrelevant). The latest is Bill Clinton, who thinks Obama needs to “sound more hopeful.” I refer to this group of talking heads who with the rise of the cable news networks and the 24 hour news cycle have enjoyed a lengthy run as opinion leaders as the “Chattering Class.” To fill the time — and cut back on actual news reporting, which costs money — the talk radio folks, the cable news shows, and now even the newspapers have created a class of pundits, experts, and analysts who exist for the sole purpose of supplying chatter to fill up the space. Indeed, I am always amused at the criticism that the rise of the blogs means the death of news because the hardcore news folks switched from mostly news to mostly chatter some time ago.

For years, the Chattering Class has controlled and framed debates around policy for most Americans. And, as one might expect, chattering about style and insider games takes precedence over actual substance. Not only is it cheaper and easier, as it requires no expertise, it is self-re-enforcing. This has corresponded, not coincidentally in my opinion, with the general disinterest by an increasing number of Americans in politics and public policy.

But what the Chattering Class talk about and how they frame winners and losers has become so disconnected from the reality people experience that folks have begun to notice. Not merely those “whacky left-wing totally non-mainstream” bloggers at TPM and elsewhere. Frank Rich observed in an opinion piece in last Sunday’s NYT that the Washington press corp has degenerated into the equivalent of a high school clique obsessed with their petty gossip and insular rules that define who is in and who is out.

This is why Bill Clinton, a man who in his prime ranked as one of the most gifted political campaigners to grace the national stage,feels the urge to give some “helpful advice” to the man who not only won the election, but is still clocking in with approval ratings that bespeak of enormous popularity. It is why the news continues to focus on things like whether the stimulus is actually a “loss” and is only gradually, and reluctantly, turning to the question of its anticipated impact. And it is why the Chattering Class is, after unquestionable dominance of public opinion for nearly 20 years, starting to lose it’s ability to frame the issues.

More below . . . .

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Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Wah! Why Can't *I* be Michael Pollan??

The other day I was listening to Terri Gross on Freh-share, and her guest was Michael Pollan of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” (and Martha’s Vineyard hippie) fame. They were talking about his recent article in the New York Times Magazine, which was essentially about marrying agricultural policy to national health and community-wellbeing policy.

Below the fold: Ag Ec Rock Star!

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Posted in My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Also tagged | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Deep Thought about the New Yorker Cover

So, the New Yorker mag has a cover depicting Barack & Michelle Obama in the White House, in which she’s Angela Davis with a bandolier and rifle, he’s an Indonesian Moslem, Osama Bin Ladin’s portrait is on the wall, and the American flag is burning in the fireplace. As I’m the 23,452,998th person to point out, the satire is a little weak because it’s not clear whether the Obamas are being mocked or if it’s the people who circulate the Manchurian Candidate emails about them.

Whatever. It’s a magazine cover. I was kinda annoyed by it at first, but now actually it makes me smile a little.

What I’m waiting for now is the New Yorker cover that does to St. John McCain what this cover does to St. Barack Obama. It would have to include McCain setting the aircraft carrier Forrestall on fire (& killing 134 sailors), making propaganda tapes for the North Vietnamese, deserting his first wife (disfigured in an accident) for a mega-wealthy heiress, and having senile dementia.

Posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

MONARCHY RESTORATION ACT PASSES IN US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES!

NANCY PELOSI JOINS REPUBLICANS IN 293-PERSON CURTSEY TO KING GEORGE

BARACK OBAMA ISSUES PRESS RELEASE PROMISING TO BE “KINDER, GENTLER MONARCH” WHEN HE ASCENDS TO THRONE

HARRY REID GOES FISHING ON LAKE TAHOE, SAYING HAIL MARYS

The horrible FISA bill passed yesterday, despite heroic rear-guard action by our own Harold Feld. Nancy Pelosi, the best-looking Republican grandma in the People’s Chamber (who also happens to be the Democratic Speaker of the House, go figure) led the charge. Obama was invisible before the vote and issued a watery piece-of-shit press release afterwards. Harry Reid said some empty nonsense.

Congressman Delahunt, who represents me (among others), voted against. Go Bill Delahunt. (Maybe the 3,342,985 calls I made to his office over the last few months gave him the encouragement he needed, but the action was his alone.)

Well, so, immediately after the roll call was published I went down to the Tisbury Town Hall, into the Town Clerk’s office. There, I made damn good an’ sure I’ve got nothing to do with the Democratic Party. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 4,345,395 times, shame on me. I told said clerk, “I want to change my registration,” and she said, “Yeah, and I know why.”

I don’t know how it is where you live, but in my little home town, a DemocraticPartyectomy takes less than a minute. I highly recommend the procedure. It does wonders for one’s blood pressure.

After the jump: Democrats–monarchists or fascists: which one of these?

UPDATE: I edited this post for clarity. My points are probably still unclear, but I wanted to be up front about my revisions.

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Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , , | 6 Comments (Comments closed)

Econoklastic

Why Obama is Wrong Even When He's Right

It’s amusing to see Hilary Clinton and John McCain blasting Barack Obama for his remarks explaining why despair and bitterness over the way economic elites have marginalised them economically and politically have motivated large portions of the working class to vote for politicians and issues which are utterly contrary to their economic self-interest: “It’s not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment.”

It’s less amusing to see Obama backtracking now with his claim that “I didn’t say it as well as I should have.”

While Obama got it wrong on free trade — Chicago School free trade fanaticism has been a potent weapon for extracting surplus value from working people internationally by breaking unions and depressing wages, and people are justifiably angered about it — he got it right about the basis on which large elements of the American working class embrace right-wing causes and politicians who serve the interests of the economic elite rather than working people. There are two fundamental explanatory principles here.

First, as an insightful nineteenth-century political economist put it, religion is the opiate of the masses. There is a direct correlation internationally and in the U.S. between the degree of economic pain which globalisation and other forms of primitive accumulation against labour have imposed and the rise in the prevalence of fundamentalist religiosity since the late 1970s. The rise of the Religious Right and their issues in American politics, and their attraction to elements of the working class, are directly tied to this. When it looks like nothing can be done because the system is owned lock, stock, and barrel by an economic elite who profit from gutting your union, shipping your job to a Chinese slave-labour factory, plundering your pension fund, and dropping your health care, people get religion. And right-wing politicians play on this to keep working people from effectively opposing the underlying economic causes by focusing on gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues. It’s called creating false consciousness.

Second, it is a well-known phenomenon that in the absence of a class-conscious, well-organised, effective democratic left the exacerbation of economic oppression will produce support for the Right among working people. It happened in Weimar Germany when German social democracy dithered while working-class voters divided themselves between the Nazis and the KPD. It’s not surprising that the Bush administration’s penchant for corporatist-fascist ideology and the nativist Right’s racialist agenda have confused working people into supporting positions which help the economic elite keep power. We haven’t had a serious democratic left in this country since the Great Depression (some people might argue that we’ve never had a serious democratic left in the way European countries have).

I see nothing in Obama’s original remarks — the reference to ”anti-trade sentiment” aside — which isn’t entirely defensible.

In fact, it would have been refreshing as hell to have heard Obama respond to Clinton that eight years of her and her husband selling out the Democratic Party working-class base, trying to abolish the New Deal, blocking a single-payer national health care system on behalf of their buddies in the insurance industry, and triangulating on making the Gingrich agenda on everything but abortion the DLC agenda, while stuffing corporate cash into their pockets as fast as they could raise it (confirmed by their joint tax returns since leaving office), have led a lot of working people to despair about politics and embrace right-wing social and religious issues.

But that isn’t going to happen, largely because the principal difference between Obama and Clinton is that he hasn’t been around long enough to get his snout into the corporate trough as deeply as the Clintons, but he has hopes with his millionaire fundraisers. So he backtracks.

Posted in Econoklastic, General | Also tagged , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

The endorsement Barack's been waiting for!

Today in the Senate, where we were disgraced as a nation, Obama voted with the good guys. Clinton was absent. The bad guys, who included 17 Democrats, won.

In recognition whereof, John of Wetmachine hereby endorses Barack Obama for president. Hillary, don’t bother calling. This decision is final.

For the gory details on the eclipse of the concept of the rule of law and the full embrace of the public-private, all seeing panopticon of the transnational corporate-military-industrial-infotainment-prison class by our disgusting rulers, see the vote tally here.

Read it and weep.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why I Have Decided To Endorse Obama.

So here it is “Super Duper Tuesday.” My own local primary (MD) will not be until next week. And while endorsing a candidate is always a perilous thing for those of us that work in Washington, I have decided to give the Tales of the Sausage Factory Endorsement to Senator Barack Obama.

Why? See below . . . .

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Posted in General, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Of Legitimacy, Paper Trails, and the Power of The Blogosphere: The Clinton/Diebold Episode

I like this because it makes so many useful points about so many important things in this election season. In particularly, I think there are valuable take aways about the importance of asking questions without pre-judging, the value of a paper trail in voting to everyone, and the power of the blogosphere to raise and answer serious concerns.

Yesterday, the progressive bologosphere began to buzz with rumors that Hilary Clinton had “stolen” the NH primary from Barack Obama because of errors by the Diebold optical scanning machines used by some NH polling places. The allegation rests on an observed swing in results between precincts using the Diebold optical scanners and hand count districts. Notably, the Brad Blog posted this piece which stated that “informal statistics” indicated that precincts counted by hand generally favored Obama by 2%, whereas precincts using the Diebold optical scanners generally favored Clinton by 4.5%, creating a 7% swing.

Few circumstantial evidence items appeared to lend credence to the rumor. Ron Paul supporters claimed Diebold shorted him 31 votes in one NH town. Diebold is not generally trusted by progressives, Clinton is not generally trusted by a number of progressives, and the pattern of wild variance between polling data and actual vote turn outs is similar to that seen in 2004, including the apparent consistency of the error. A general failure of the technology should produce a spread of errors, why would the same machine favor one candidate consistently?

This had the capacity to turn quite ugly (and I suppose still could). But the internet breeds the ability to check facts and analysis and discover more plausible explanations. This analysis from “DHinMI” on Daily Kos Diary, for example, shows why these accusations don’t hold up. Most importantly, NH requires a paper trail, so that it is easy to double check results. The variations are not consistent at 4.5% and only for Diebold optical scanners, but follow a geographic variation that more accurately accounts for the differences. The Ron Paul missing votes likewise appears to be a human error on the part of the town clerk certifying the results rather than the count itself.

To this I will add that we need to remember that we are dealing with relatively modest sample sizes. Quite good by the standards of modern statistical analysis but still relatively small so that a few thousand people changing their minds for different reasons out of over a hundred thousand votes cast can produce a statistically significant change.

But I must disagree with DHinMI that “ultimately, there’s tremendous arrogance and/or ignorance at play when people assume that Hillary Clinton’s victory in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary is or might be explained by election fraud.” It is a responsibility of citizens to hold their elected leaders accountable, to question results that raise legitimate questions, but — ultimately — to accept answers supported by the evidence. Certainly anyone leaping to the conclusion that Clinton conspired with Diebold on the basis of an initial question went way too far, and should accept the lesson in caution. But the investigation and retention of paper ballots will hopefully do what such investigations do when the subject is innocent: provide a definitive answer that lays the matter to rest and proves once again the integrity of the process, providing needed legitimacy.

I expect many people will shake their heads at those irresponsible internet nuts and their vile rumors, and will take the wrong message that the internet is full of whacko progressives who degenerate to conspiracy theories rather than face unpleasant realities. But I prefer to see this as an excellent example of the system working, just as a mild cold is a symptom of my functioning immune system driving out a virus. It emphasizes the need for paper ballots and mechanisms for confirming results, the importance of getting questions about legitimacy answered rather than having them fester, and the importance of the internet in letting people debate the facts and squash “whisper campaigns” one way or the other.

In Kenya, we have seen what happens when an election loses legitimacy because of widespread mistrust and efforts to suppress inquiry. I rejoice to live in a country where citizens feel free to exercise their responsibility to investigate and question election circumstances that raise questions, and equally rejoice that NH and the internet provide the means to answer those questions. It is neither arrogance nor lunacy to want to double check elections — especially in light of the suspicions raised in the past. Nor is it conspiracy or arrogance to provide answers that sustain the result. Indeed, if there is one lesson we can all take from this, it is the value of treating all those who take their duties as citizens seriously enough to participate with the respect due to a fellow and comrade rather than the hostility of an enemy combatant.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in How Democracy Works, Or Doesn't, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)
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