Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Failed Media Experiment

So I am perusing Newsday this morning and I see an article entitled Boy Killed in Bus Crash Was in Illegal Bedroom. Well then! I think we can all agree that young boy deserved to die! Jeebus help me, I do not have the courage this morning to read the story and the comment threads that will follow. I can only imagine it's going to contain the vilest, most racist shit imaginable. And this is an entirely predictable reaction to a bogus, bullshit article written by the shitheads at Newsday. Assholes. Just eliminate the media altogether already.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A quick point about filibuster reform

I don't give a flying fuck if filibuster reform is good or bad for Democrats in the short term. It's bad for fucking democracy. Period. Majorities should be held accountable for their policies, good or bad. But we can't appropriately do that when the minority party can arbitrarily hold up any and all legislation, judicial appointments and executive branch nominations. Get rid of the fucking thing already. Enough is enough. Harry Reid, please God, pull the fucking trigger.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Can I make a recommendation?

I think I've mentioned to people before that if I ever went back to school to get my PhD, I would like to teach a class on the media. Primarily so I could tear it apart. I think the media experiment in this country has been a massive failure and, overall, the media has done as much to misinform the general populace as it has done to actually inform the general populace. In fact, with corporatization of the media, I don't think "informing the public" is even part of the mission statement anymore. And that's too bad. We can't have an informed democratic population when businesses are financially rewarded for misinformation. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it". 

My criticism of the media aside, I think there is a massive communal advantage to daily or occasional reading of local newspapers/websites. I just started reading some of the Patch sites (for work reasons mostly) and I have to say, I think they do an excellent job of building a connection to the "community" that in many senses is lacking in these hyper-individualized times we are living in. Is there a lot of hard-hitting journalism on these sites? No, not really. Are a lot of the stories fluffy? Absolutely. But they are fluffy stories about your friends and neighbors. They are fluffy stories about fundraising and charitable drives. They contain information about town zoning board meetings and legislative discussions that are frequently unattended. They notify you about local concerts and children friendly events that normally go unnoticed. In short, they do a good job of covering the activities of volunteers, teachers, and politicians that normally go uncovered. While this type of media coverage may confer some incumbency advantages for local politicians, it also does a lot of good undermining the absurd notion that politicians and community activists are corrupt scoundrels out to line their own pockets. Because, for 95% of the local politicians I know, this is absolutely not the case.

What an outfit like Patch does is remind us that we belong to a community of neighbors, not just Facebook friends and Twitter followers. I am not one to bemoan technological advances. I think Facebook and Twitter have been a massive force for good, and my social capital is infinitely larger thanks to my enduring relationships with old work and grad school friends. But enduring friendships with old friends, technologically-based or otherwise, can get in the way of connecting with our immediate neighbors. I know I am guilty of this myself. As Robert Putnam would note in Bowling Alone, American levels of social capital are at all-time lows. And these low levels of social-capital have already doomed progress in places as advanced as Italy (see Making Democracy Work, also by Putnam). I dare say they are doing the same in the U.S. We need to take active steps to reverse these trends and unite our communities.

While I think Putnam overstated the beneficial advantages of social and fraternal clubs like the Elks Lodge, I think his overall point is well-taken. We need to foster means to create social and political capital if we want Americans to trust and believe in government again. And I think one strong way to do so is to read your hyper-local news outlets. I'm not just talking about Newsday and News 12 (which, honestly, I could take'em or leave'em). I'm talking about your Patch sites as well as your East Hampton Stars, your Suffolk Times, your Long Island Herald, etc. [The LI Press is an excellent investigative newspaper actually, but it hardly fits into my "building social capital model". I like the LI Press, but it does a better job of tearing our politicians down, rather than building them up. Which is fine! There is a need for that!]

But I really do think you can do yourself and your community a lot of good just by checking in with these outlets from time-to-time. I'm not saying you'll learn anything ground-breaking or life-altering, but it's an important reminder that you have neighbors that want to improve your local community. And who knows? Maybe you can take a moment to help those people? It's always nice to come across people who can help curb our own cynicism, even if it's temporary. God knows I need to from time to time...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

News Corp & My Yankees

I haven't entirely thought through the ramifications of this transaction yet, but let's just say I'm extraordinarily worried that the scumbag who sent the tweet below can potentially own 80% of the YES network.

In some ways, I respect Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't really hide the fact that he openly advocates for global policies that narrowly benefit himself and a small slice of fellow trillionaires. He's refreshingly honest about it actually. He doesn't see the need to maintain the fiction of the "wall of separation" between News Corp's executives and its editorial staff. They are one and the same.

However, I just get that icky feeling when I think of News Corp owning the YES Network. I know Murdoch isn't buying the Yankees per se, but by design, the network and the Yankees have been inexorably linked since the channel's inception. I had been led to understand that this partnership has been amazingly lucrative for the Yankees since the YES broadcast debut in 2002. So I guess I don't understand the Steinbrenners reason for selling. I don't believe they were experiencing any financial difficulties and they weren't dealing with the Madoff scandal like the NY Mets. So I'm not sure what's going on exactly. All I know is I am worried how this reduced revenue stream will affect Yankee spending decisions.

I understand outside criticism of Yankees spending habits (and I heartily embrace the Evil Empire moniker), but, personally, I love it. Some Yankees fans get personally offended by bad contracts, but they don't really bother me. It's not my money. What the fuck do I care? It's nice to be able to root for a team that can absorb multi-million dollar blunders like AJ Burnett, Carl Pavano, and Kevin Brown. But selling off the YES network to News Corp gives me pause. Will the Yankees be able to absorb bad contracts like Tex and ARod when we're not flush with YES money. I can't find the angle here.

Like I said, I haven't thought this all the way through yet. I just like writing dimwitted blog posts immediately after news is released in order to maximize google search results. Ka-ching!!! [Is what I would say if I had some kind of ad-revenue-generating model on my blog].

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Barack Obama is aware of all internet traditions

I hate to fall into fanboy worship (and I promise it won't happen too often), but it's kinda awesome how funny our President is...

President Barack Obama jokingly mimics U.S. Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney's "not impressed" look while greeting members of the 2012 U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams in the Oval Office, Nov. 15, 2012. Steve Penny, USA Gymnastics President, and Savannah Vinsant laugh at left. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wye Oak - Civilian

I know there are six weeks left in the year, but this is probably my favorite song of 2012. I first heard it during The Walking Dead, then again tonight watching Safety Not Guaranteed (a top ten pick for 2012), and yet I still can't kick the idea that it should have been a song in Friday Night Lights. I don't know why I think that. I just picture a slow-mo with Aimee Teegarden...


When Republicans and libertarians (yes I know they are the same people) spend time bemoaning the "loss of freedom," I really wish they would spend more time complaining about bullshit like this. As Matt Yglesias frequently explains, NIMBYism is the real threat to entrepreneurship and capitalism in this country. And unfortunately, Republicans are just as guilty of NIMBYism as Democrats. Democrats usually express their NIMBYism in environmental terms while Republicans are more interested in protected vested, established industries or minimizing private nuisance through wealth. Trust me, you'll find a lot more Republicans in those ridiculously micro-managed gated communities than you'll find Democrats. Maybe Republicans aren't as freedom-loving as they suppose.

Persistent NIMBYism is why you get counties, towns and zoning boards micromanaging American business development. I see it at work all of the time and it really has to stop. When people express broad complaints about federal "over-regulation", what they are really expressing, without actually knowing it, is opposition to obscure requirements on sign frontage, curb cutouts and heights, stylistic preferences, that have local, not federal, origins. And the regulations can be insanely mundane and arbitrary (commenters are encouraged to link to their own examples in the reply thread). Towns and zoning boards are happy to tell prospective business what they can and cannot open, even going as far as picking preferences within industry groups (Burger King yes, McDonalds, no. Target yes, Walmart no). But the people who complain about burdensome regulations are still the very first people at Town board hearing complaining about traffic, or noise, or the height of hedgerows. It's regulation for me but not for thee.

These are the real barriers of entry in American business. And they are not caused by the "federal government" or Barack Hussein Obama. They are caused by the peccadillos of our loudest and most vocal neighbors and family members. People really need to understand that the role of government is not to protect them from every real and imagined slight. This might sound funny coming from someone who isn't outraged by Michael Bloomberg banning large sodas (I'd prefer "sin taxes" personally), but I do believe our elected officials must begin to show a willingness to stand up to the loud, vocal minority that wishes to shape his town, county, and state in his/her own perfect image. Trust me. Try to open a business one day. I know I would like to. But the people who make you jump through the most hoops are not the big bad "socialists" Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. It's your local friends and neighbors who don't want you to open a lakefront restaurant because it will attract "undesirables", create more traffic, block public views, and force Canadian geese to relocate to an adjacent frontage. It will also reduce their taxes, increase recreational options, improve lakeside access, employ new workers, drive up local wages, and increase destination shopping, but people just don't incorporate those benefits into their personal evaluation.

Believe me, I think there is a role for prudent and wise municipal planning. But I think we get carried away with the notion. Speaking for my local community, we have pushed too far on the "over-planning" end of the spectrum. I, like all good social engineers [lol], believe people need to be nudged in the policy directions we prefer - towards sustainable development, improved mass transit, healthy lifestyles, etc. The tax code, cultural norms and shaming are all ways to nudge individual behaviors in social optimal directions. Heavy-handed regulation, on the other hand, really does impose heavy costs on individual liberty and freedom. They need to be avoided when we have other valuable, less authoritarian tools to shape public behavior.

Friday, November 9, 2012

David Petraeus and Extramarital Sex

David Petraeus makes a pitch for some more play.
Today marks an unfortunate reminder that our country is utterly insane about sex. I am of course referring to the news that Gen. David Petraeus is resigning from his post as the Director of the CIA because of an extramarital affair. People, this is lunacy. Utter lunacy. What the fuck does one have to do with the other? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. By all accounts, Petraeus, an unconventional pick to head the CIA, was doing an outstanding job. Now we have to bring in the B-team - we need to undermine our country's strength and security because David Petraeus fucked someone who wasn't his wife. This is madness. If he were doing a shitty job, or if Republicans won the presidency and wanted to replace him, that would be fine. Elections have consequences and it would be well within Republican prerogative to do so [albeit unlikely since Petraeus is seen within Republican circles as a kind of God]. But to consider this a scandal worthy of a resignation is maddening. We need to keep good, effective people in important government positions. We can't kick them out because their personal lives threatened some kind of sociotropic moral code.  This puritanical nonsense is killing us...

Spiking the football

Today I'd like to post a series of links that have had a significant effect on me after the election. However, first I'd like to point out that before the first debate, Barack Obama had roughly a 2.2% lead over Mitt Romney if you looked at poll averages (my source is my boy Nate Silver at 538). Now that Florida has been tallied, Obama has a roughly 2.0% lead in the popular vote, with Washington still be counted. And I guess my point is, again, that debates just don't matter my friends (particularly a performance in a single debate). Eventually, the mythical "independent" voter comes home to their preferred candidate. Period. People just like to describe themselves as independent because a) it makes them seem wise, and temperate and considered or b) because they want politicians to kiss their asses and promise them things. Sarah Kliff did a series of interviews with "undecided voters" and by God there is no doubt who these people are going to vote for.

I would also like to point off that gaffes don't really matter either (at least primarily in a presidential contest), because let's be honest, I think Romney's 47% video had the greatest potential to be a "game-changer" and it absolutely wasn't. On the other hand, gaffes CLEARLY matter in Senate races, huh? I mean Akin getting slaughtered in Missouri? Mourdock losing Indiana? So, um, yeah, I think we discovered the so-called "third rail" in American politics and it's not Social Security, it's rape apology! Just look at this track record...

And a big "Yay for democracy!" thanks to gay marriage wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Additionally, a Constitutional ban to gay marriage in Minnesota was defeated. That 4-0 record in 2012 ends an 0-32 streak at the state level. That's real progress there. Special thanks to Andrew Cuomo by the way. I don't have a good theory why, since New York state wasn't the first state to legalize gay marriage, but New York state legalization seems to have proved a critical turning point in the gay marriage debate. Joe Biden deserves special credit for forcing the President's hand on this issue as well.

The most surprising result, for me personally, was the straight-up legalization of recreational marijuana-use in Colorado and Washington. On a historical basis, this was not too surprising to me. I think the curve of history is bending in that favor. However, straight legalization in 2012? Man, that surprised me. I was in Colorado for the initiative to legalize marijuana in 2006 and it didn't even get close. I think the ramifications of these marijuana votes are, in the words of our Vice President, a big fucking deal. We waste a lot of money and human talent enforcing, prosecuting, and locking up human beings for individual marijuana possession. It's utterly insane. I have no horse in this race, (I'm not pro-marijuana legalization so I can get high), so please believe me when I say the war on recreational marijuana-use is horrible public policy. Just awful really. Awful in financial costs. Awful in human costs. It's good to see the American people slowly but surely come to their senses on this issue.

Finally, as promised, two good links. One is Rachel Maddow explaining why the Republican party needs to come to its senses. Our democracy operates more effectively when we have two sane, sensible, and reasonable parties. Right now, we don't have that. Believe it or not, even I can acknowledge that Republicans have good ideas! They do! I work with Republicans on the local level who have both excellent ideas and who are dedicated to good, effective government (not a lot, but some lol). The best example of excellent public policy that derived from conservative think tanks is the trading of pollution credits. Trading pollution credits was amazingly effective in solving our acid rain crisis in the 70's and 80's. It's free-market friendly, incentivizes long-term environmental stewardship, and minimizes government interference and monitoring costs. That's a win all-around. In fact, it would be the best policy to confront global warming if Republicans, you know, would admit that global warming is real. Republicans are also dead-right when it comes to free-trade. I am a fierce trader. I am also in the Yglesian school of large-scale reductions in regulatory oversight at the local level. For the most part, current regulatory policy is designed to protect entrenched and politically connected businesses, not to encourage competition and enhance consumer experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of room for agreement between Democrats and Republicans there. Simplifying the tax code could be an area of agreement as well.

Anyway, here is the link I mentioned -

Here's the other link. It's a more uplifting link. I think this link is important because it's nice to remember from time to time that Barack Obama is a human being who is remarkably well-intended and takes his job and his role in history seriously. It's also important because its nice to see someone so successful admit that there was a time in his life where he wanted to affect "change," whatever that meant, but he had no idea how to do it, and no idea how to go about it. I find myself even older than he was in that story, and I can relate. I am still casting about, looking for small opportunities to change minds, affect electoral outcomes, and influence policy. Because I honestly and legitimately want to make peoples lives better. I want to make the lives better for people who agree with me and for the people who disagree with me. Honest to God, that's all I want to do. Right now I suck at it, and it drives me mad. It's depressing and despairing, and I frequently find myself casting about for better options, better opportunities, better mentors, better experiences. But Barack Obama sucked at it too. And now, slowly but surely, Barack Obama is changing the arc of history for the better. And maybe one day I can overcome my own personal failings and laziness and do the same.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The razor's edge

So it's election day and I am massively stressed out. Which is weird because I'm also somewhat convinced Obama is going to win. I don't know how I'd feel if I thought he was going to lose. Despondent maybe? Massively depressed?

Anyway, all comments on facebook or twitter are candidates to send me over the edge. It's not a nice place to exist. I already have some "de-friend" targets on facebook who probably won't make it through the day. Don't worry. If you're reading this blog right now, I don't think you're one of them.

Let me give an example of how emotionally unstable I am right now. (Warning: Massive Humblebrag Alert)

Sometimes at work, I interact with people who assume I will be running for office one day. Instead of telling them I can't run for office because I am a massive life fuckup (i.e. the truth), I tell them I can't run for office because I've never influenced anyone about anything, ever. To be truthful, I've never had a conversation with a person where they said to themselves at the end, "Wow - This person just made a very well-reasoned argument and I really need to re-evaluate my position on 'X'". It's never happened.

It's never happened mostly because I'm a massive asshole, but also because human beings (including myself) envelop themselves in a core set of beliefs that dictate their world attitudes. These attitudes are rarely, if ever, successfully challenged because they are governed by a lifetime of core experiences and influences. In fact, it would be silly if these attitudes were affected by, for example, my facebook rants.

However, as I mentioned previously, I have, on occasion, spoken with somewhat influential politicos who assume I'll be running for office one day. I must admit, I do reek of that ambition, despite the fact that my personal failings would warrant an entire chapter in the Encyclopedia of Mental Health. So instead of telling them the truth ("I suck"), I tell them that I can't run because I am the most unpersuasive human being on the planet. Any argument I've ever had is much more likely to harden the attitudes of the people on the other side, rather than move them towards my position. Let's put it this way, if debate teams had an "anti-matter", it would be me. If you want to win an argument, just put me on the other end of it.

Anyway, as I continue to explain to this person how unpersuasive I am, I usually try to lighten the mood by adding that I literally know only ONE person who seeks out my opinions on political matters. One person who I think I can influence.  One person IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD who respects my opinion and appreciates the thousands and thousands of hours I spend reading and writing about politics. One person who thinks I just might have something valuable to add to our political discourse.

And then that person sent me a text message this morning saying that he voted for Mitt Romney and I just started crying...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How some people will vote on Tuesday

Between the years 2000-2008, Republicans came to your house and burnt it to the ground. Four years later, Democrats have rebuilt your house to its former stature, but you are pissed off at them because they haven't gotten started on the second flood addition and the new backyard outdoor kitchen yet. To punish Democrats, you have decided to vote for the Republicans again because Mitt Romney has promised to finish those additions. But first, please trust him while he builds this little fire in the corner of your house. He promises it won't get out of control this time.