The big budget line that Very Serious People refuse to cut

Annie Lowrey laments that the budget lines that are big are the ones people want to spare from cuts, and the ones they want to cut don’t make up much of the budget. But the big counterexample–from her own chart–goes unmentioned.

A feature by budget reporter Annie Lowrey in today’s New York Times (you have to scroll down a bit; it’s the post labeled “When Reality and Perception Part Ways” and seems to lack its own anchor) laments the fact that

“the biggest, fastest-growing expenses tend to be the ones Americans object most to cutting.”

“Fastest-growing” I’ll grant, in the sense that those items all have to do with health care programs—and not Social Security, which Lowrey lumps in with them. But restraining long-term growth in those will require not some sort of Nietzschean will to cruelty, as Very Serious People believe, but conceptually difficult policy changes, carefully crafted and iteratively tested. Moreover we should, frankly, get used to the inevitable growth of health care as a proportion of private and public budgets, given that health care is labor intensive; and journalists ought to help with our getting used to it.

In the meantime, since all that growth won’t happen right away, there’s an item that represents a huge part of the federal budget and that a very comfortable majority is happy to cut (.pdf)—according to Lowrey’s own chart. But she doesn’t mention cutting it as a proper goal of budget negotiations. In this she perfectly reflects the VSP consensus that allowing spending on it to decline substantially would be, you know, Inappropriate. Any guesses what it is? (Answer after the jump.) Continue reading “The big budget line that Very Serious People refuse to cut”

Who Are Those Guys?

Or gals.  Either way, some political anthropology is in order.

Via Drum, Dave Weigel objects to the media narrative about the supposed new Republican flexibility on raising taxes on those making more than $250,000:

When I carp about Meet the Pressistan, this is what I’m talking about — a mobius strip conversation among the same handful of people, giving the illusion that a broader conversation must also be moving the same way. For two weeks, Tom Cole has been on the record for raising the top rate. Tom Coburn has been talking this way for two years. When will somebody sit down the Sunday show bookers and tell them that the votes of reluctant House members, very vulnerable to primaries, matter more than whatever a compromise-friendly Republican senator is re-re-re-re-stating?

Before you can influence your target audience, though, you need to know something about them.  And in this case, Blue Blogistan has little actionable intelligence on Meet the Pressistan; who are these Sunday Show Bookers anyway?

I’ve been wondering this for a while.  We all know that John McCain has been on a Sunday show something like 765 straight weeks.  But who makes this decision and why?  Many of the normal variables don’t seem to apply here.  Because people want to look at him (aka “the Megyn Kelly Effect”?).  That won’t work, unless my straight male body is really missing something.  Is it because McCain gets great ratings?  Unlikely, because the point of ratings is that you are trying to present something new and different.  In any event, IIRC, none of these shows gets good ratings: they are loss leaders for the networks and maybe even for the RNC Fox. 

If we really want to try to advance what is called, in one of the great political euphemisms of all time, the “national conversation” (in the euphemism department this even beats “enhanced interrogation techniques”), then we really need to know who makes these decisions and on what basis they are made.  I don’t even know if there are people who really have the job of “Sunday show bookers” — probably someone called a “producer” or “associate producer” or some such.  How does one get those jobs?  Are they journalists?  Who tells them what to do?  What are their or their bosses’ incentives?  The Sunday show seems to me one of the great paradoxes of what passes for modern journalism: the cognoscenti spend a great time watching them and complaining about them but few people really seem to know how they actually work.

And if we don’t know that, we might as well find ourselves jumping off a high cliff into a river.

FOX needs a conservative counterpart to Up with Chris Hayes

If FOX sought to fill this void, they would win at least one new viewer. And if FOX needs a host, I’m available….

Regular readers might surmise that I’m a fan of MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes Saturday and Sunday morning talk show. You might assume I watch because I (mostly) share the host’s liberal views. I do, but that’s not why I tune in. I watch because the show provides a rare opportunity to hear people of diverse views speaking substance–and actually learn from and listen to each other across various political and ideological divides.

Not coincidentally, few guests arrive under the vague identifications “Democratic strategist” or “Republican strategist” to parrot partisan talking points. Many guests are left-liberals or policy experts such as Donald Berwick talking about health reform, climate change, immigration, voter ID laws, gay marriage, and other concerns. Yet the show features others–for example Avik Roy, Reihan Salam, and Josh Barro–who reside in different places on the ideological spectrum. Moreover, serious conservatives and libertarians appear as more than weak rhetorical foils for the host. They are allowed to speak their piece, and (often) to keep the host or other guests honest when they get sloppy or caricature opposing views.

Up with Chris Hayes is recognizably liberal in the choice of topics and in various other ways. If you’re liberal, you’ll find ideologically congenial experts to provide reliable information on the fine print on many issues. If you’re moderate or conservative, you’ll see what smart liberal activists and policy wonks believe about key issues, and what the important counterarguments are likely to be. I’m not sure this model would prove commercially viable five times a week in prime time. It fills a critical void Sunday morning.

What strikes me is the dearth of conservative-leaning shows built on the same model. Most FOX discussion shows are virtually unwatchable—not because they’re conservative, but because they offer so little intellectual nutrition to their core audience. Sticking to our home topic of health policy, legitimate conservative experts such as James Capretta and Tevi Troy are drowned out by less honest or reputable figures such as Betsy McCaughey and Dick Morris. The typical conservative FOX viewer is thus fed Pravda-style misleading information about what the Affordable Care Act really entails. The typical non-conservative FOX viewer—to the extent non-conservatives tune in at all—have no way of knowing what reputable Republican or conservative policy analysts are really thinking, or, indeed, who these experts really are.

From a stark political perspective, this television wonk-gap may not have much mattered since 2008. The core partisan mission of FOX news was to mobilize, by any means necessary, political opposition to the Obama administration. When you’re counterpunching from an ideologically narrow opposition perspective, you don’t have the same imperative to form coalitions or to make the numbers add up. On the other hand, FOX’s approach certainly played a role in forcing GOP primary candidates further to the right, and thus nudged Governor Romney further away from the general election median voter.

Leading up to 2016, though, the costs of this model may be more apparent. Republicans are seeking to rethink and to rebrand party positions on matters ranging from immigration to universal health coverage. At some point, Republicans will recapture the presidency and enjoy a short political window during which they might enact their own core priorities into law. The substance will actually matter. So will the rhetorical framing and policy conversation Republicans cultivate in upcoming years.

A high-quality talk show is hardly Republicans’ most important unchecked box here. Yet its absence remains telling.

One more thing. If FOX sought to fill this void, I promise they would win at least one new viewer. And FOX—if you need a host, I’m available.

Why do journalists love “sacrifice”?

Why do journalists love the idea of “sacrifice” for its own sake? Five speculations.

This post by Jonathan Bernstein earlier today led me to Jonathan’s earlier takedown, a few years ago, of the idea that “sacrifice” for its own sake (as in a willingness to forego a benefit or accept a lower standard of living) is a good thing. Jonathan called instead for a “chess model of sacrifice”:

Everyone understands that a sacrifice in chess is self-interested. There is no moral or character component to sacrificing a piece; it’s a good idea if it helps the player win, and a bad idea otherwise. No one analyzes a chess game by saying that the player lost, but at least she was willing to sacrifice her rook, or that he didn’t deserve to win because he was unwilling to sacrifice anything. That a player didn’t perceive a nice line of play involving a sacrifice is a totally different type of discussion.

This has to be right. People—for example, contemporary German conservative people—who impose sacrifices on themselves or (even more satisfying) others at the cost of making their own and others’ economic situation worse rather than better are subjectively virtuous but objectively foolish. We would all be better off if they felt subjectively foolish as well.

Jonathan goes on to solicit explanations of “the appeal of sacrifice talk to journalists.” Given that Jonathan thinks his meme hasn’t been taken up much since he proposed it, I’ll risk some speculations a few years late: Continue reading “Why do journalists love “sacrifice”?”

This time, let’s not put the killer’s name in lights

Whoever perpetrated this Colorado atrocity–I don’t want to reward a mass murderer with publicity.

Another atrocity, this time at a movie theater in Colorado.

I don’t know if I can prove it, but I feel confident that publicity provides a powerful motive to commit an atrocity. We seem to reward the perpetrators with such publicity every time. We do a lot to glorify villains. Movies like Silence of the Lambs build killers up to be much more interesting and impressive than they really are.

I wrote the following after Rep. Giffords was shot.

Time magazine arrived in my mailbox today. There are many ways to grace its cover. You can found Microsoft. You can date Taylor Swift. You can win the Nobel Prize. Or you can kill or wound nineteen people, including a judge, a congresswoman, and a nine-year-old child. There on this week’s cover is an artistically tweaked crazed mug shot of Jared Loughner.

In my view, Time made a huge mistake. Publicity is a very enticing motive for some violent people to commit atrocities. Eying that smirking pose, I believe Loughner got what he wanted: to see his name and his picture in lights across the world.

Must we give him that?

I hope Time and others do better this time. I don’t want to read the killer’s weird manifesto. I don’t want to see his face. I don’t want to see pornographic interest in his weaponry beyond what might usefully inform public policy.

Maybe the column-inches saved could be devoted to wonderful professionals in rehabilitative medicine, or to discuss how even the Affordable Care Act could have done more in the domain of long-term care for people disabled due to violence or a simple car wreck. Maybe Time could find some people wounded in a shooting in 1985. How are they doing? Do they need some form of help?

Just this once, let’s try shunning the sick little people who commit large crimes. It can’t hurt.

Murdochs phone-hacking update

House of Commons committee report: Rupert Murdoch is unfit to run News International.

The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its report on the News International phone-hacking scandal. Direct pdf link here; TPM’s requires a Facebook account.
Key graf (page 70, paragraph 229):

We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.

The paragraphs including this sentence were adopted on a party-line vote (page 115). But even if you take out the amendments on which the committee was split, the MPs are all still pretty angry at being lied to so much.

Gender wars footnote: the Committee staff are all women (frontispiece).

Media and the Conventional Wisdom

I recently threw open to the hive mind the question of why the U.S. lacks proudly partisan national media outlets such as exist in the U.K. Of the many thoughtful responses, the one below has stayed with me. I am posting it here because RBCers may not have seen it (it was on our sister site, Washington Monthly).

The comment is by SteveT, a former journalist. You can read the whole thing here, but let me give you the nub:

The thing most journalist won’t admit to is having a strong bias. But it isn’t toward a liberal viewpoint (no matter what Republicans say). Nor is it toward a conservative viewpoint.

Journalists are defenders of the status quo and of “conventional wisdom” , which is ironic because journalists create “conventional wisdom” in their attempts to tie stories together under a common theme.

The House of Murdoch

Speculating on the coming succession struggle to Rupert Murdoch;s legacy, and its implications for US politics and global warming.

What happens when Rupert Murdoch dies?

Since he’s made fortunes by pandering to the public’s voyeurism about the private life of every other celebrity in the world, he and his adult family are fair game for less idle speculation. There’s a strong public-interest defence. Paris Hilton, English football referees, and the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland &c are inconsequential from 20,000 feet. Not so the tycoons and dynasties of the Second Gilded Age, the Buffetts, Gates’, Kochs and Slims; and most especially the media barons, the Berlusconis, Marinhos, and Murdochs, who wield more than economic power. Berlusconi only wrecked public life for a generation in one country, Italy. Rupert Murdoch has shifted the public discourse of the most powerful country in the world in the direction of ignorant, paranoid and callous populism; worldwide, he has delayed action on global warming by perhaps a decade. at a social cost of hundreds of billions. These are far greater (I mean worse) achievements than Hearst’s Cuban war.

Politically, we are interested in two questions:

  • will Fox News in the US implode or become less virulent?
  • globally, will News Corp’s media continue to sponsor climate denialism?

My speculations at the end. But first, pass the popcorn for the forthcoming struggles for News Corporation, they will be quite something. Your guide to the show should be diligent Murdoch-watcher Sarah Ellison at Vanity Fair.
Continue reading “The House of Murdoch”