Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

A Relatively Sane Election, But Likely Insanity Ahead

It looks like women and voters under 30 saved the day. Pro-insurrection Republicans mostly lost. Forced birth was rejected in several states. Democrats have added two governors so far.

Depending on results still to come in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, the Democrats will end up with 49 senators (giving control to the Republicans), 50 (keeping the relative control Democrats have now) or 51 (meaning Manchin and Sinema won’t be as important, since they’ll have to vote together in order to make trouble).

As predicted, Republicans will apparently take control of the House of Representatives. But it appears they’ll have a tiny majority. That means trouble ahead. Author Brynn Tannehill explains:

[The Republicans are] probably going to end up with between 218 and 220 seats in the House. This means only a 1, 3, or 5-seat advantage… Whoever the Speaker of the House is, they’re going to have a pretty unmanageable situation. The right wing of House [Republicans] is detached from reality, intransigent, incapable of compromise, will make insane demands, and is large enough to derail EVERYTHING.

There will be crazies in key positions on all the plum committees. Wall to wall nutso hearings on Fauci putting 5G in vaccines and other nonsense, actual legislation won’t happen. Which is a problem. Because you still have to pass budgets and raise the debt ceiling.

So, whoever is Speaker is going to face a dilemma: (a) Cut deals with Democrats to get critical bills through or (b) go with the crazy and accept government shut downs [and] debt default….

Given how the crazies ran off [the previous Republican Speakers of the House] John Boehner and Paul Ryan, … the Speaker will more or less hand over the agenda to [the crazies] because it’s the path of least resistance….

But wait, it gets even more unstable… On average, in any given Congress about 3 members die. Others retire for whatever reason (such as getting caught with a sex worker), or go to the pokey for white collar crime. All of which result in special elections. Given the age, hypocrisy, and lack of real morals on the part of Republican politicians, they’re disproportionately likely to be the ones who leave office and cause a special election. Which means control of the House may be up for a vote several times in the next two years….

A [Republican] House is going to propose a lot of legislation that’s going nowhere [and make sure Democratic legislation goes nowhere too]. 

[We can expect] the next two years to be unpredictable, chaotic, radical and illogical as the House goes far to the right in order to keep the crazies placated, and the government gets shut down for long periods.

While they still control the agenda in Congress, Democrats need to do something about the debt limit. Republicans are already threatening to vote against honoring the government’s debts as a bargaining chip. A federal government default would lead to a global financial panic. It would be a good idea, therefore, to contact your representatives in the House and Senate, as well as President Biden, and demand that they address this problem before it’s too late, meaning before the end of the year. (Last year’s explanations still apply since nothing has been done since then.)

As we wait for further developments, it’s worth noting that pre-election coverage in this country is practically worthless. From Judd Legum of Popular Info:

Political media is broken Major outlets spent weeks PREDICTING there would be a “red wave” and EXPLAINING its causes It was all based on polls, which are unreliable This kind of coverage is not just pointless, it’s harmful.

“Democrats’ Feared Red October Has Arrived” — @nytimes, 10/19/22

“Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House” — @nytimes, 10/25/22

Red tsunami watch” — @axios, 10/24/22

“Why the midterms are going to be great for Dxxxx Txxxx” — @CNN, 10/26/22

All of these forecasts, and many similar predictions published in other outlets, turned out to be wrong. But even if media predictions were correct, they represent a style of political reporting that is dysfunctional. Prediction-based coverage comes at a high cost because it crowds out the coverage that voters actually need. To make an informed decision, voters need to know the practical impact of voting for each candidate.

While outlets ran story after story about the [Republican] red wave, [their] pledge to use the threat of a global economic collapse to try to force benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare went virtually ignored.

The political media has substituted polling analysis, which is something only people managing campaigns really need, for substantive analysis of the positions of the candidates, something that voters need.

You and I don’t control what the “experts” say about upcoming elections, but we can try to ignore the polls and speculation next time.

One More Comment from Prof. Zimmer on the Pathetic Circus We Call American Politics

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That’s Florida’s thuggish Republican governor Ronald DeSantis using his own state’s funds to gather up immigrants in Texas and put them on a plane to Massachusetts (where the arrivals were greeted warmly by local residents). History professor Thomas Zimmer had a reaction:

Leading Republican elected officials: “Let’s round up human beings under false pretenses and treat them like cargo in order to use them as props in an illegal stunt to trigger the Libs and rile up the base!”   New York Times: “Here’s a new political tactic we haven’t seen…”

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There is almost nothing so vile, so inhumane, so outrageous that the mainstream media can’t press it into the established politics-as-horse-race framework, thereby sanitizing it and presenting it as just the latest development in the struggle between Team Red and Team Blue.

Since mainstream journalism is predicated on the idea that politics is a game between two teams that are essentially the same and journalists aspire to “neutrality,” which they define as equidistance from either side, whatever comes from the [Republican Party] has to be elevated to credibility.

Sometimes that happens by presenting bad-faith nonsense as serious policy proposals – that’s what we get after every mass shooting, when Republicans claim the answer to gun violence is more guns or maybe school buildings with just one entry point, remember that one?

If that doesn’t work, then the sanitizing effect is achieved by simply ignoring the actual substance of what Republicans have done and focusing solely on the “playing politics” part, the horse race and how it may or may not be affected by these actions.

It’s one of the most bizarre features of the American political discourse that it demands we pretend these are serious political actions, coming from serious political actors, instead of denouncing them as the extremist culture warriors they so clearly are.

In a healthy political culture, anyone involved in such a deranged scheme would be shunned and ostracized, the party that elevated them would have to pay a hefty political price. In the U.S., that’s evidently not the case. And until that changes, nothing changes.

Unquote. 

There’s more to this story coming out. According to a lawyer representing the immigrants, officials from the Department of Homeland Security participated in this fiasco and falsified government documents, filling in random addresses around the US as the immigrants’ mailing addresses. If this actually happened, there needs to be serious jailtime.

Cable News and the Ways of the World

It’s human nature to want a single explanation for anything that happens. We usually look for the reason, not the reasons. Thus, when the new management at CNN fired John Harwood and Brian Stelter, both of whom have openly criticized the former president (and full-time criminal), the reason that immediately came to mind was a political one. CNN’s new owner, Warner Brothers Discovery, wants the company to be nicer to Republicans.

An article from Vox written a couple weeks ago suggested that’s one reason, but there’s probably another as well:

In [one] version of events, Stelter is the victim of John Malone, the billionaire cable magnate and the most powerful investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the rest of what used to be called Time Warner.

Malone’s politics lean quite right/libertarian…. More to the point: Current and former CNN employees believe Malone’s view of CNN is entirely colored by Fox News. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone only watches CNN via Fox News,” says a CNN employee. “If I watched CNN via Fox News, I would hate CNN too.”

And Stelter, who spent most of the Trump era criticizing the American right’s embrace of disinformation, was already a target of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson…. Then, after Stelter’s boss, Jeff Zucker, was pushed out in February, Stelter went after Malone, who had said he wished CNN was more like Fox News because Fox News had “actual journalism.”

Asked about this theory by the New York Times, Malone gave one of the most candid admissions you’ll ever see a public person make in the guise of a denial: “Mr. Malone said he wants “the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist, but I am not in control or directly involved.” Translation: Yes, this pleases me.

So in this theory, … Malone and his managers — CEO David Zaslav and Chris Licht, the executive Zaslav hired to replace Zucker — will find other CNN journalists they want off the air as well. [In fact, they already have. They fired John Harwood this past week — he called the Republican front-runner a “dishonest demagogue” on his way out the door].

Then again, maybe they’ll need to let go of a lot of people because of theory No. 2:

Warner Brothers Discovery has a heavy debt load, but Zaslav has told investors that won’t matter, in part because he’s going to find $3 billion in savings.

We’ve already seen signs of budget-cutting in the company’s entertainment properties … but there will be many more cuts to come this fall. So Stelter, who reportedly made close to $1 million a year, was an easy cut: His show … was a big deal in media circles … but not a huge draw for normals.

Under Zaslav/Licht, CNN has already made one significant cut: Killing off CNN+, its brand-new streaming service, weeks after it launched … But that may not be anything close to enough to help the parent company hit its numbers. In which case, Stelter’s departure could be the first of many, and we’ll spend less time worrying about CNN’s politics and more time worrying about its ability to provide first-class news coverage.

But there’s another theory. Someone who goes by YS on Twitter and claims to have worked at CNN for 18 years says it’s all about who watches cable news:

Each quarter, the cable operators [like Comcast and AT&T] release their subscriber base. For seven consecutive years, the cable operators have seen subscriber declines… It’s called in the TV biz, “Cord Cutters”.

97% of “Cord Cutters” are under the age of 50. The majority of what is left watching cable are … old people. As demographics for cable TV has changed … the networks remaining with any traction (ESPN, news networks, etc.) have to – HAVE TO – appeal to who is sitting on their couch watching.

In the ratings war, the scorecard is usually based on the A18-49 demographic. But not for news. All advertisers on these networks buy them for A50+. [Aiming for that demographic] MSNBC went left. Fox News went right. CNN tried to play the middle.

But between 2008 and 2016, CNN lost 60% of its 50+ audience. Fox News, saw a 70% increase in the same demographic during the same period (mostly men). Fox News gave the audience what they want, an aggrieved white man perspective…. While the rest of America is out there cutting the cord, Fox News doubled down on old people. And won. 

News networks are not here to defend democracy. There is only one goal and one goal only. Higher CPM’s [i.e. what they can charge advertisers to reach a thousand viewers. On average, advertisers pay $20 to reach 1,000 viewers, which adds up when 100 million people watch the Super Bowl]. CPM is the currency used in TV to reflect the value of the programming.

[CNN’s new boss] was given one edict. Raise CPM’s. That’s it. That’s all he has to do. And he believes [becoming more “centrist”] is how.

Whether there’s one reason or several for CNN’s management to change its programming, the basic fact is that many old people (although not all of us) watch cable TV and will accept a kind of fascism if it comes to that, and the people who call the shots for big corporations tend to be Republicans who have some doubts about democracy and no doubts at all about making money.

What Does It Sound Like When You Hear Inflation Rose 8% in May?

The Consumer Price Index picked up by 8.6 percent, as price increases climbed at the fastest pace in more than 40 years (New York Times).

If you don’t think about it too hard, it sounds like prices rose 8.6% in May. But that’s not true.

The Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index actually rose 1.0% in May. The 8.6% increase refers to the fact that the index was 8.6% higher than a year ago.

Would it be too hard for news people to write headlines that clearly conveyed what happened? No, but it wouldn’t sound as “newsworthy” (i.e. interesting) to say prices rose 1.0% in May or that they rose 8.6% in the past year.

What makes this especially annoying is that this is how the government announced the latest inflation news:

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 1.0 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.3 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 8.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The increase was broad-based, with the indexes for shelter, gasoline, and food being the largest contributors. After declining in April, the energy index rose 3.9 percent over the month with the gasoline index rising 4.1 percent and the other major component indexes also increasing. The food index rose 1.2 percent in May as the food at home index increased 1.4 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.6 percent in May, the same increase as in April. While almost all major components increased over the month, the largest contributors were the indexes for shelter, airline fares, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles.

It’s so much easier to simply say, as the Wall Street Journal did:

Inflation Reaches 8.6% in May

Back to the New York Times for an explanation, not a headline:

In the short term, high inflation can be the result of a hot economy — one in which people have a lot of surplus cash or are accessing a lot of credit and want to spend. If consumers are buying goods and services eagerly enough, businesses may raise prices because they lack adequate supply. Or companies may choose to charge more because they realize they can raise prices and improve their profits without losing customers.

But inflation can — and often does — rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions. Limited oil production can make gas expensive. Supply chain problems can keep goods in short supply, pushing up prices.

The inflationary burst America has experienced this year has been driven partly by quirks and partly by demand.

On the quirk side, the coronavirus has caused factories to shut down and has clogged shipping routes, helping to limit the supply of cars and couches and pushing prices higher. Airfares and rates for hotel rooms have rebounded after dropping in the depths of the pandemic. Gas prices have also contributed to heady gains recently.

For those who think gas prices are all Biden’s fault, a word from the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council:

A big reason gas prices are up is because companies cut refinery capacity in 2020 under the last administration [you know who’s]. US refinery capacity went down by 800,000 barrels per day. Refiners are now making bigger [profits by] raising prices at the pump.

The second big reason gas prices are up is Putin’s actions in Ukraine and the global response raising oil prices. Pump prices are up more than $1.60 since then. Our response had the backing of Republicans…

At any rate, here is US oil production in thousands of barrels starting in 2020, a year before Biden took office (there is no Biden “War on Oil”):

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And back to the Times:

But it is also the case that consumers, who collectively built up big savings thanks to months in lockdown and repeated government stimulus checks, are spending robustly and their demand is driving part of inflation. They are continuing to buy even as costs … rise, and they are shouldering increases in rent and home prices. The indefatigable shopping is helping to keep price increases brisk….

Officials say they do not yet see evidence that rapid inflation is turning into a permanent feature of the economic landscape, even as prices rise very quickly.

But nobody knows for sure. One thing I do know is that the Republicans who are blaming Democrats for high inflation have no plan to address it, and cutting taxes for the rich and corporations (their standard, well, only policy idea) would make inflation worse.

In case you’re really interesting, here are the monthly price increase for the past 13 months, which, by my arithmetic, add up to more than 8%:

MAY ’21 +0.7%   JUNE +0.9%   JULY +0.5%      AUG. +0.3%        SEPT. +0.4%              OCT. +0.9%        NOV. +0.7%    DEC. +0.6%     JAN. ’22 +0.6%    FEB. +0.8%          MARCH +1.2%   APRIL +0.3%   MAY +1.0%

I bet June will be lower.

Watergate Would Have Been a Bump in the Road

June 17th will be the 50th anniversary of the Watergate burglary, the poorly-executed crime that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in lieu of impeachment. Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post points out Nixon would have easily finished his second term if his “plumbers” had been discovered nowadays:

Thinking about Watergate saddens me these days. The nation that came together to force a corrupt president from office and send many of his co-conspirator aides to prison is a nation that no longer exists.

It’s not just our politics that have changed. It’s also our radically transformed media environment.

“The national newspapers mattered in a way that is unimaginable to us today, and even the regional newspapers were incredibly strong,” Garrett Graff, author of “Watergate: A New History,” told me last week. I have been immersed in his nearly 800-page history . . . that sets out to retell the entire story.

Graff depicts Watergate not as a singular event but as the entire mind-set of the Nixon presidency — “a shaggy umbrella of a dozen distinct scandals,” as he told me. By the time the break-in captured the attention of the most Americans, they were essentially “walking into the second or third act of a play.”

Woodward and Bernstein were almost alone on the story for months. But eventually the leading newspapers of the nation started to cover the hell out of the burgeoning scandal and the percolating questions of what — and when — the president knew about the burglary plot.

Americans read this coverage in their local papers; many cities still had two or more dailies at that point. Later, they were riveted by the proceedings of the Senate Watergate Committee, whose hearings were aired live on the three big television networks during the summer of 1973. Graff reports that the average American household watched 30 hours of the hearings, which were also rebroadcast at night by PBS. (“The best thing that has happened to public television since ‘Sesame Street,’” one Los Angeles Times TV critic noted.)

Still, “we forget how close Nixon came to surviving Watergate,” Graff told me. “Even at the end of the hearings, there was no guarantee that Nixon was out of office.”

What changed that? The increasing public awareness of the president’s wrongdoing and the coverup. “The sheer accumulation of the lies,” he said, “at a time when the idea that a president could lie to America was unthinkable.”

Flash-forward to today. The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will hold hearings beginning early next month, some of which will be televised during prime-time hours. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who is a prominent member, predicts the revelations will “blow the roof off the House” — offering evidence, he promises, of an organized coup attempt involving Trump, his closest allies and the supporters who attacked the Capitol as they tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

I’m willing to believe that the hearings will be dramatic. They might even change some people’s minds. But the amount of public attention they get will be minuscule compared with what happened when the folksy Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina presided over the Senate Watergate Committee.

Our media environment is far more fractured, and news organizations are far less trusted.

And in part, we can blame the rise of a right-wing media system. At its heart is Fox News, which was founded in 1996, nearly a quarter century after the break-in, with a purported mission to provide a “fair and balanced” counterpoint to the mainstream media. Of course, that message often manifested in relentless and damaging criticism of its news rivals. Meanwhile, Fox and company have served as a highly effective laundry service for T____’s lies. With that network’s help, his tens of thousands of false or misleading claims have found fertile ground among his fervent supporters — oblivious to the skillful reporting elsewhere that has called out and debunked those lies.

As Graff sees it, the growth of right-wing media has enabled many Republican members of Congress to turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of Team T____. Not so during the Watergate investigation; after all, it was Sen. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican, who posed the immortal question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Even the stalwart conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was among those who, at the end, managed to convince Nixon that he must resign.

“Republican members of Congress understood that they had a unique and important role as the legislative branch to hold the abuses of the executive branch in check,” Graff said. “That freedom of action was made possible because there was no right-wing media ecosystem.”

Not everything was good about the media world of the 1970s. . . . But it was a time when we had a news media that commanded the trust of the general public, a necessity in helping bring Nixon to justice. That, at least during his presidency, was never possible with D____ T____.

As we remember Watergate, we ought to remember how very unlikely its righteous conclusion would be today.

Richard M. Nixon’s presidency would have survived.

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