Friday, November 4, 2011

On No-Brainers

"Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?" - Paul Krugman, Oligarchy, American Style

Most Americans agree we should tax the wealthy. The evidence from economics is overwhelming: they can afford it, we need the money, having such a distorted income distribution is bad for the democracy we say we care about. So why do the people who say otherwise get taken seriously without having any real evidence?

Laziness among reporters really can't be the explanation: most reporters work their asses off. They hustle getting stories, getting clicks, reading and writing about what's going on day in and day out. They're some of the most informed people I've ever met.

It's not fear of controversy, either. The media loves controversy, because when people are talking about you they're talking about you which means reading you which means seeing the ads that pay your salary. FOX News has demonstrated pretty clearly that you make more money by taking a stand than you do by refusing to. And why would it be bad for business to take up with the more popular side of the debate?

I really don't believe it's fear of losing advertisers. Those folks want their ads to be seen, that's their entire occupation. They've never shied away from advertising heavily to conservatives, precisely because doing so makes them money. They'd make money from a well-run, popular liberal outlet; in fact, many probably already do.

Are businesses and advertisers afraid of what would happen if people were exposed to a default consensus that skewed to the left? Perhaps, but they don't seem thrilled with the direction a conservative consensus is taking us. These are (allegedly) pragmatic businesspeople, they know the costs of ignoring the environment and their bottom line is getting hammered by the recession. Granted they love their tax breaks, but their love for the GOP isn't infinite.

So why is the default consensus that raising taxes on the rich is, at best, controversial (instead of a no-brainer)? I think it's ultimately about a very human logical fallacy: if two people I know to be opposed to each other tell me something, I know that they both have an incentive to lie and so I'll just assume the truth lies somewhere in the middle. But that only helps me find the truth if both sides are wrong.

Occupy Storify

#occupythenews -

Xavier Damman (@xdamman), Storify Technology is not enough. People who can make sense of all these voices.

In the house: Deborah Petersen (@DeboraPetersen), SJ Mercury News/BA News Group How we use socme to deliver to our readers. Love Storify; also use FB but don't find it "as timely"; love tumblr. Trying to use G+, much better for biz reporters than general audience b/c of population of users on it.

Tasneem Raja (@tasneemraja), Mother Jones How mojo uses storify to cover #ows. "Game-changer" for us. Storify is like real-time notebook for reporters; what would have stayed in their pages is now available to anybody. Problem w/OWS: leaderless, planned/executed on the fly, independently, tons of cities in real-time, no pr flacks (ok not a problem), tons of journos on ground...storify helps you do journalism "asynchronously". Surprised how much I've been talking on the phone to our reporters.

Angela Woodall (@angelawoodall), Oakland Tribune Storify allows us to use their words (meaning subjects of reporting who previously saw bias in reporting). Standards are same for us in Storify as in print.

Ellen Cushing (@elcush), EBExpress

Susan Mernit (@susanmernit), Oakland Local Pros who publish 3-5 stories/day plus huge outpouring of community writers. Printed occupy page

Carly Schwartz (@carlicita), HuffPo SF

Ian Hill (@ianhillmedia), KQED Why are you involved in socmed X? You just are, and can struggle to justify that to managers who don't get it. 18 newscasts a day! News orgs in this area? WORK WITH THESE STARTUPS! Nobody in the country has better access to cooler tech companies to partner with!

How do you verify? You just do, if something in the pit of your stomach feels wrong, don't do it. You have to do some; twitter is great but call the guy at the Port and ask him to confirm. There's no substitute for experience.

"Hello, I'm Andrew Fitzgerald, from Twitter; quick question..."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Serious Proposal

Here's the Democratic plan to save America from fiscal ruin. Unlike Paul Ryan's plan, it adds up, doesn't make insane assumptions about < 3% unemployment, and would be good public policy to boot:

1. Institute a carbon tax. Would raise a ton of money and help fight climate change, while making American energy policy more rational (since it prices an externality) and making American clean energy companies more viable.

2. Allow the government to negotiate prescription drug prices. RX prices are one of the costliest parts of Medicare/Medicaid, and the only reason the government can't negotiate for better prices is because drug companies have expensive lobbyists.

3. End the Bush tax cuts. This would cut the projected future deficit in half at once, and return us to the fiscal insanity of the last decade in which we balanced the budget and created a ton of jobs, while shifting a small portion of the burden for paying for government back to the people who can afford to pay for it.

4. Cut defense spending dramatically. We don't need to spend more than every other country on earth combined, and yet we (almost) do. That's absurd, insane, wasteful and encourages all kinds of abuse, fraud and waste in the defense industry.

So, media: you now have a Democratic plan that is at least as "serious" and "bold" as the Ryan plan, but that actually addresses a variety of other long-term challenges we face, and on top of which probably saves more money while not impoverishing seniors. Feel free to report on it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No credit for the easy answers

The execrable Joe Lieberman is retiring, thank God. This comes soon after his hard work on the right side of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which is causing some liberals to wonder if he deserves his awful reputation among the left. They argue that Lieberman has actually voted with Democrats much more often than he's voted against them, and that his demeanor and not his substantive positions are the cause of most of the hatred his critics display.

Giving him credit for his votes on climate change, gays in the military and the stimulus is a bit like praising someone for voting against a bill that would legalize beating the elderly with baseball bats for sport: it's great that he got it right, but getting a vote like that right is kind of the basic test that any reasonable adult, let alone a member of such an august body as the Senate, ought to be able to pass. Climate change, gay rights and the stimulus are not "tough" votes. They may be "controversial" issues, but there really isn't any actual controversy to speak of: there are people with facts on one side, and people with bigoted and/or misinformed and/or corrupt opinions on the other.

The fact that our political culture is in the midst of a years-long debate about whether climate change is real (or whether gay people should be allowed to die for their country, or whether government spending in a recession is a good idea) does not in any way alter the reality of climate change (or gay rights or stimulus.) We can debate it all we like, but that doesn't give both sides equal legitimacy. I may dispute that the Bears lost to the Packers last weekend, because I desperately wish it were not true; but that does not make it untrue, and you should not give my opponents any credit for being right on this issue.

Of course it's convenient that I believe the political positions I hold are the objective truth, at least in the three cases cited above. I'm sure a conservative could easily be found who would believe the opposite of what I do, and with equal certainty. But that's irrelevant: I'm right, and that person is wrong. Unless you believe Derrida was right, at some point there must be things that are objectively true, in politics as in anything else. Find me one cogent argument against the reality of anthropogenic climate change, or the rightness of depriving gay people their civil liberties: there is none, and the conservative movement has never even attempted to provide one. The stimulus debate is a bit more uneven, I'll concede, but even USA Today admits that "Eighteen months later, the consensus among economists is that the stimulus worked in staving off a rerun of the 1930s."

One might object that, nevertheless, there was political controversy surrounding many of the votes that Joe Lieberman got right. But what was at risk for Lieberman if he picked the less popular side in any of those votes? He'd probably make more money after he left office, and besides, isn't the whole point of sending representatives to Washington that they're going to make tough decisions that we as a populace wouldn't make? Have our standards sunk so low that we're willing to praise the guy who did the absolute bare minimum that we asked of him?

Actually, the answer to that one is probably yes. But I'll retain my scorn for Lieberman anyway.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Strange loop

The President's old Chief of Staff left to run for Mayor of Chicago. The President's new Chief of Staff is the brother of the current (and longest-serving) Mayor of Chicago, son of the second-longest-serving Mayor of Chicago, and would easily be the frontrunner to be the next Mayor of Chicago if he wanted the job.