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Rhetoric and Framing

 
December 17, 2009

Whispered Threats

Posted by tunesmith at 01:46 AM

"That's a real nice Democratic majority you have there," they say, cracking their knuckles. "It'd be a shame if something were to happen to it."

Except, the folks saying it are Democrats.

A while back in Denver, there was a news segment about a gunman who tried to get away from the cops by holding a gun to his own head. From what I understand, they caught the guy. One anchor asked the other if they could think of another case of a gunman holding himself hostage.

Suffice it to say, this is not a coherent political strategy.

November 27, 2006

The N-Word

Posted by tunesmith at 03:04 PM

So, this started out as simply an entertainment brouhaha but has since become political.

What's most interesting to me is the murky societal battle about imbuing power in words.

In Hollywood in particular, there's been a concerted effort to reduce the power of these words. The main example I can think of is Pulp Fiction, and the extremely liberal use of "nigger", said by white and black characters alike. Quentin Tarantino's character said it a lot, and Tarantino defends it in an activist fashion:

[...] Tarantino claims that by using such a loaded word so frequently and almost randomly (white characters are called niggers almost as often as black ones) he is actually trying to defuse the word of its power. Nigger, he claims, "is probably the most volatile word in the English language. My feeling is that any time a word is that powerful, you should start screaming it from the rooftops, take away that power."

And I think it's fair to say that over the years, whether it's because of Tarantino's movies, or the younger generation's fandom of hip-hop culture (among both black and white youth), the power of the word has been slowly transformed and weakened. Not entirely and not permanently, but it's had an impact.

But now that the Michael Richards incident has happened, the fallout has included a concerted effort to re-imbue the word with more negative power:

Black leaders on Monday challenged the entertainment industry, including rappers, to stop use of the racial slur that Michael Richards uttered in his tirade.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and others said they will meet with TV networks, film companies and musicians to discuss the "n-word."

"We want to give our ancestors a present," Jackson said at a news conference. "Dignity over degradation."

Obviously, I'm describing this from the viewpoint of believing that the words should be stripped of their power. Now, I don't like dismissing Jackson as a simple spotlight-seeker - so, taking him at face value, he's of the belief that these words and symbols are imbued with their power permanently.

Now, what Richards did is clearly not comparable to Tarantino's intentions. I haven't even viewed or read the complete quotes of Richards' tirade, but I get that it was pretty ugly. Just by putting myself through the exercise, I can understand the various dynamics of the situation having an influence, but not up to the point that he took it. Like, you're being heckled, someone's hurting you in a personal way, you're exposed in a way they're not, you want to hit them back in a personal way... but it's at that point that it breaks down for me, I still don't understand how it goes from there to where Richards took it, even with all the (up to that point) coolness of de-emphasizing the n-word, being deliberately politically incorrect, etc.

It's interesting because while I think Tarantino was onto something, that rhetorical and linguistic walkback of de-emphasizing the n-word required a lot of grace and patience. In Pulp Fiction, it was done within the bounds of a social relationship - he wouldn't have had a character just start ranting it out of anger, in a way that he would have expected the audience to identify with. In True Romance, I saw Dennis Hopper's rant as being about baiting someone else's racism than expressing his (Hopper's character's) own. But here, Richards blundered right through it all and ruined the progression. As a result, there's a real slapback effect going on here.

What I'm interested in - was this effort to de-emphasize the power of the n-word doomed to failure? Was there a hard limit to how far that could be pushed? Was this an inevitable rubberband effect, a cultural reaction that was just waiting for a flashpoint? Or was Tarantino onto something anyway?

June 16, 2006

Dealing With The Left

Posted by tunesmith at 05:28 PM

Strong words from Eleanor Clift:

There will be an antiwar candidate in ’08, probably Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, and he’ll get a lot of support and cause real problems for the front runner, whoever it is. Feingold won’t be put on the ticket, but he could well throw the election to the Republicans if the Democrats don’t figure out how to deal with the antiwar sentiment in the party.

There's a solution to this Rove trap: run to the right in rhetoric, and to the left in ideas. It's not a mixed message:

The Bush administration is only half-heartedly interventionist. We can run to the right by calling them cowards, demanding a more interventionist approach in most foreign affairs. The Bush administration causes problems, does nothing while the problem gets worse, and then hides behind bombs.

And that's how this it would actually be moving to the left in content (or, moving south on this graph) - focusing in diplomacy over war. That part of the idea should be de-emphasized when running against the right, and only emphasized during races like the Democratic primary.

(For shorter names for each of the quadrants, I would select: Paleocons, Neocons, Pacifists, and Diplomats.)

There is a caution here for Democrats: the incompetence of the Iraq war is leading to an ignorant truce between the Pacifists and the Diplomats within the party: they can agree on the messed up results of the war, even if they don't have to discuss whether they agree on the philosophy. This fault line can easily be exposed, and that's part of what Rove is doing...

September 30, 2005

Barack Obama and the Netroots

Posted by tunesmith at 07:39 PM

It was a big day over at dailykos today. In the runup to Roberts' confirmation vote, Senator Obama criticized the partisan elements that excoriated the senators like Leahy who pledged Yes votes. There were several diaries at daily kos that wondered about Obama's motivations, and many members who felt betrayed by Obama's stance.

Today, Barack Obama wrote a diary over at dkos, explaining and defending his views. Here's the main section:

According to the storyline that drives many advocacy groups and Democratic activists - a storyline often reflected in comments on this blog - we are up against a sharply partisan, radically conservative, take-no-prisoners Republican party.  They have beaten us twice by energizing their base with red meat rhetoric and single-minded devotion and discipline to their agenda.  In order to beat them, it is necessary for Democrats to get some backbone, give as good as they get, brook no compromise, drive out Democrats who are interested in "appeasing" the right wing, and enforce a more clearly progressive agenda.  The country, finally knowing what we stand for and seeing a sharp contrast, will rally to our side and thereby usher in a new progressive era.

I think this perspective misreads the American people.

First, I'm now officially on the Barack Obama bus. There's probably room for me now that many of the people who merely saw him as a black progressive savior jumped off.

There were two response diaries to Barack's diary, both disagreeing in different ways. One immediately accused everyone of sucking up to Obama.

Anyway, first can I say, isn't this just all exhausting?

There is a huge partisan element to the GOP success. Poisonous and unfair. And rising to meet it is a huge partisan element among the Democratic side. And they are both growing, when, in my opinion, what we really should be working towards is shrinking both of them.

I imagine Senator Obama might be feeling discouraged at reading the the response to his words.

Part of the problem is that even as many of the activists at dkos protest and fight against the negative frames asserted onto the Democrats, they are also reinforcing them.

For instance, the thing about Democrats having no vision. Here's a snippet from Rena's response diary.

Ask yourself this: why is it that the vast majority of progressives who frequent Daily Kos are able to sum up the Republican party's platform in six words?  Strong Military.  Lower Taxes.  Family Values.  Yet this pool of often brilliant thinkers can't do the same for our own party.

Well, duh. Maybe it's because "Strong Military. Lower Taxes. Family Values." is dumb policy. And maybe it's because Democrats tend to actually be interested in fashioning smart policy. And maybe it's true that smart policy tends to be a tad more complicated than dumb policy.

But the diarist and many of the commenters insist on playing into the "Democrats are visionless" frame. It's hogwash. What they're actually whining about is that they aren't being spoonfed enough.

We have a long way to go to get past our own liberal self-hatred before we can be more effective. It should be obvious that the Republicans currently have far less of a positive vision for America than the Democrats do, but instead we fall into the trap of describing the Democrats as disorganized, ineffectual, weak, and visionless.

The activist base is guilty of everything that they accuse the Democratic leadership of being guilty of. They cannot communicate a standard by which the Democratic leadership should be held, and yet they criticize them for failing to meet the standard. The activist base prides themselves on being united in partisanship, not policy, as if it's a good thing. When the truth is that while the activist base is united in excoriating the Democratic side for not living up to their vision of a progressive vision, every activist's progressive vision is different. Yes, that's a good thing, but how do you expect ideological purity if there isn't even supposed to be a pure standard to live up to?

I understand the narrative. If you've already bought into the narrative that our leaders are weak and that they fold under pressure and sacrifice too much, then every vote - every vote - is going to be further confirmation of that narrative. But frames are harmful. That's what a frame does to you - it restricts your ability to see beyond its edges.

What I saw today at daily kos was Barack Obama trying to break a frame, and then being shouted down by those still within the frame.

September 12, 2005

Intelligent Design

Posted by tunesmith at 09:25 PM


Here's what I don't understand about Intelligent Design:

It seems that all of the reasons and rationales used to support the existence of Intelligent Design could just as easily be used to support the existence of Magic.

I mean, look at the complexity behind it all. But there is also an order to it! It certainly cannot be random. And in a way it is beautiful. That cannot happen by mere chance and happenstance alone! It is mystical in nature, and mysterious. What other possible explanation could there be? I certainly don't understand it! That means it is completely un-understandable! And for something to have order, and beauty, and mysticism, and mystery, and yet also be beyond the mental capabilities of us mere mortals? Why, it must be God Magic! It simply must!

Anyone want to start a campaign to support the teaching of Magic Design in schools?


August 05, 2005

Wilson, Plame and Superman

Posted by tunesmith at 02:44 PM

This whole Plame thing is maddening, because everyone is confused by Superman.

In Metropolis, people know Clark Kent. People know Superman. The people that know Superman know that he is a superhero. And so ergo, if they knew that Clark Kent was Superman, they'd know that Clark Kent is a superhero.

So here's the problem. People are comparing the Superman thing to Wilson/Plame. The GOP is confusing things by trying to pretend that:

  • Valerie Wilson: Clark Kent
  • Valerie Plame: Superman
  • Spy: Superhero

When the truth is that the secret part was not from Wilson-to-Plame. Plame was never some big secret. It was her frigging maiden name, for Christ's sake. It was listed in Who's Who. That was no secret. The secret part was from Plame-to-Spy. The GOP tries to prove that Wilson-to-Plame was no big secret, and so therefore treason didn't happen. They skip the whole part about, you know, outing Plame as a spy.

All this crap about how Rove was ok because he never mentioned her by name is like saying that you didn't out L. Libby as one of the leakers, because you didn't refer to him as "Scooter".

July 26, 2005

DLC and Undermining The Democratic Party

Posted by tunesmith at 01:20 AM

David Sirota:

Democrats have consistently backed the military where the Republicans have not. That is a hard fact. But that doesn't fit the DLC's goals, which are to undermine the Democratic Party. Instead of working to debunk these right-wing stereotypes, these insulated Beltway snobs seem to only feel relevant if they reinforce the right-wing stereotypes parroted by Fox News and the Republican Party. It just shows that for Democrats who want to win - and not just preserve their status on the Washington cocktail party circuit - the DLC is really part of the problem, not the solution.

You know, I understand the criticisms that the DLC just doesn't get it, and I understand the criticisms that they are too corporatist, and I also understand the criticisms that the DLC is incompetently stupid in their framing efforts, playing into GOP hands. But I've never understood the accusations that the DLC actually has an honest goal of undermining the Democratic Party. I wish David would expand on what he means by that. I just don't see it. It's not as if they have this secret plan to physically replace all the progressives out there with other brand new DLC-believing Democrats that are under a rock somewhere. And I've got to believe they aren't so quixotic that they don't have a desire to actually win. This is just the point at which people that bash the DLC start to lose credibility for me. What possible self-interested motivation would they have to actually undermine the Democratic Party? Do people actually believe the DLC to be some sort of an undercover Republican plot? Given some of the more progressive policies the DLC members advocate, I don't see that reconciling with being compatible with the GOP platform.

This kind of hyperbole against the DLC, unfortunately far too common among the progressive wing, doesn't really help to encourage honest debate.

July 12, 2005

Rove Has To Go Etc

Posted by tunesmith at 11:52 AM

I find all the calls to fire Rove tiresome because of the gamesmanship behind it. Everyone knows Rove won't go, including the people calling for him to go. They're just doing it for the imagined political leverage. The right wing is probably just rolling their eyes at it.

For true leverage, you have to set up a true double bind, so they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. Scotty McClellan is definitely in that position and the questions the press are asking him are great. But Rove isn't really in that position, all he has to do is wait it out. Bush isn't really in that position either right now.

One way to put Bush in that position is to call loudly and repeatedly for a prime-time live presidential press conference and then make him choose to fall in with Rove or hang him out to dry.

July 07, 2005

London, and Two DLC's

Posted by tunesmith at 07:39 PM

It's hard to be DLC. There are two of them, just as there are two ways to approach being a centrist.

DLC #1: Expose false choices. Negotiate: find win-win solutions. Seek to separate your own side from old behaviors that don't serve your side's underlying principles. Offer original solutions.

DLC #2: Compromise, split the difference, and in moments of seemingly mutual need, express solidarity with your opponent even if they don't express solidarity with you. Capitulate, in the guise of offering original solution.

Ed Kilgore seems to normally have his head on his shoulders, but responses like his response to today's London bombing shows me that when it comes right down to it, he caves and enters the #2 camp. Is he weak?

In the wake of the horrific attacks on London today, there's little doubt a dangerous and predictable idea is kicking around the world, mostly unspoken: Britain was targeted for these attacks strictly because of its involvement in Iraq.  The corollary, of course, is that countries that don't want to be next in line for attacks--say, the rest of Europe--can make themselves safe by distancing themselves from Anglo-American policy in Iraq and elsewhere.

One of the most fascinating parts of Ed's post - and I see this a lot among the writings of so-called "centrists" - are the subjects he dances around and doesn't address directly. It's part of why it's their fault that so many progressives supposedly "misunderstand" their writings. For instance:

  1. What exactly does Ed mean by "standing together" against terrorism?
  2. What differences of opinion are allowable in Ed's world?
  3. At what point does a "difference of opinion" mean you are no longer "standing together" against terrorism?
  4. What part of George Galloway's statement crossed the line from "difference of opinion" to "not standing together against terrorism"?
  5. How exactly is it that Galloway's belief that US and British foreign policy increased the danger of terrorism is not "standing together against terrorism"? I can see the "not standing together" part, but it seems his point is that he is standing apart because he views US and British foreign policy as further enabling terrorism.
  6. What exactly is it about unity of ideology that is so important in opposing Al Qaida?

It's like he comes right up to the brink of saying something, so he can claim credit for the provocative nature, while hiding behind ambiguity if anyone takes him to task too much.

I don't feel much support for Galloway, because given everything I hear about him, it sounds as though while he may have been right on Iraq, he's still pretty crazy about everything else. But it's one thing to oppose Galloway's history. It's quite another to oppose an (ambiguously offered) idea of distancing oneself from US foreign policy simply because Al Qaida seemingly wants that too.

The same idea presents itself here:

Aside from the remarkable fact that "Gorgeous George" didn't have the decency to express solidarity with his own countrymen and wait a week or two to blame the attacks on Blair while counseling surrender to the aims of the terrorists[...] (emphasis mine)

And there it is, the caving. Expressing solidarity with Bush's bullying.

As I said in the comments over there, when I see thinking like that, it makes me think of a twist on an old phrase:

Would you jump off a cliff just because your enemy told you not to?

So Al Qaida wants Britain to withdraw from Iraq, or wants the United States to dismantle military bases from Saudi Arabia, or whatever. Big deal. Somehow that means that by definition, we can't even consider whether we would have our own reasons for doing so? It's more bully logic, the kind that makes one extremely susceptible to manipulation and reverse psychology. (Which, I'd argue, we've fallen victim to over and over again, thanks to Bush's stupid-minded foreign policy.)

I find myself wondering whether Ed believes that in response to the London bombings, we should just magically start seeing more value in Bush's Iraq foreign policy. As if the armor is now thicker, as if less U.S. soldiers have died, as if less terrorists have been created.

He of course didn't say as much; he crafted his statement with too much ambiguity. As it is, the comments over there are littered with defenders saying, "No, Ed didn't say that, what he really meant was..." A common technique from the DLC #2's.

June 30, 2005

Kos and Recruiting

Posted by tunesmith at 09:32 PM

I guess I can retract my earlier optimism about the cessation of the calls for politicians to make their kids die in Iraq. That kind of rhetoric gets us nowhere.

June 23, 2005

Rove Steps In It

Posted by tunesmith at 04:02 PM

Whew! Karl Rove really did it this time:

Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.  Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies.

The response has been swift - repeated calls for resignation, retraction, or apology from various Democratic leaders, and the families of 9/11.

Of course, some folks are being stupid to declare that no, they didn't want understanding.

Of course we want to understand the enemy.

If you don't understand the problem, you can't find the right solution.  It's as simple as that.  Karl Rove and George Bush look down on understanding.  They don't understand the problem, and so that's why they can't find the solution.

People understand the need to understand our enemies.  That's why we have criminal profilers.  It's why we have criminal psychologists.  It's why we make an effort to understand what makes criminals tick.

Any problem is a two-headed monster.  In order to solve the problem, you have to attack the supply of its symptoms, and you have to attack the demand for the problem. What happens when you don't want to understand the problem?  You do what Republicans do.  You invest all your energy on reducing supply, without caring about demand.

In the war on terrorism, Karl and George went over to the middle east to kill themselves some terrorists.  They want to reduce the number of existing terrorists.  And because they don't want to understand, their actions then create the demand for even more terrorists.  Kill fifty terrorists, create a hundred more.  That is what happens when you don't understand.

Karl and George don't understand the terrorism problem.  We are in more danger from terrorism than we used to be.  We have more enemies than we used to have.  America is less respected than it used to be.  Oh sure, Karl and George have spent a lot of money.  They've killed a lot of enemies.  They've lost a lot of American lives.  Oh, and let's not forget - they captured Saddam... who they actually believed was a key figure in the world of terrorism.

But they haven't solved the terrorism problem.  They made it worse.  Because they don't understand.

If you are going to defeat the enemy, you must understand the enemy.  That's common sense that anyone - except for George and Karl - can understand.

June 22, 2005

Honesty About Iraq

Posted by tunesmith at 04:48 PM

The author of the satirical "send your son to Iraq" letter has a new posting today that is wonderful:

We need to be honest here: Iraq is not worth one more dead American.

People on the right and left want some deus ex machina to save Iraq, but we have., collectively, come to a simple conclusion:

Iraq is not worth dying for. Not for the warmongers on the right or the liberal hawks on the left.

[...]

What I want people to do is be honest.

If you will not serve in Iraq, and no one you know will serve, stop expecting someone else to do what you will not.

Therefore, it is time to stop calling for more troops, or the US to make Iraq safe. We cannot do this and even Americans are refusing to join the fight. It is time to look at your actions and realize, that despite your ideals, you oppose continuing this war. In practical terms, you have decided that this war is not worth your life or anyone you know. And million of Americans have joined you in this decision.

So, with this fact evident, it is time to call for US troops to withdraw from Iraq. Not save it, not add more boots on the ground. You have already voted by your actions. It is time that you match it with your words.

This is an honest argument, and it is much harder to oppose than the "send your kids" argument, because everyone knows the "send your kids" argument is bullshit. No one is ever going to say, "Gosh, I see your point. Billy? I'm signing you up for Iraq."

So well done to Steve Gilliard - and kos, who suprises me by declaring that the debate is over - for bringing honesty back into their side of the debate.

I say, don't enlist and don't continue for as long as we have this stupid Iraq policy. But I also think that a pull-out could be disastrous as well. I read this diary over at dkos today, about the opinions of historian, middle east expert, and progressive blogger Juan Cole, and found it very convincing.

I have been unable to convince many of my readers of what I know.  A US withdrawal could well throw Iraq into civil war.  Civil war in Iraq would bring in the Iranians, the Saudis and the Turks.  The success of petroleum pipeline sabotage and refinery sabotage in Iraq will suggest it as a tactic to the guerrillas fighting in this Fourth Gulf War.

If Saudi and Iranian petroleum production is sabotaged, gas in this country will go to $20 a gallon and the US will be plunged into the Second Great Depression. The unemployment rate will skyrocket to some 25%.  Not only will you and I likely end up unemployed, but the global South will be de-industrialized. Countries making progress like India and Pakistan will be thrown back 30 years.

Cole believes this is solvable by involving UN troops with troops from the "global South", which I believe means south-of-Europe countries - rewarding them with Iraqi contracts. It's compelling. Go read.

So yes - as long as we aren't solving any problems, we might as well pull out. But there might still be ways to solve the problem. I hope that the Democratic and progressive mindset will continue to evolve to embrace some of these possible solutions.

June 21, 2005

When Democrats Turn

Posted by tunesmith at 02:16 PM

A couple of more bits of evidence of Democrats getting extreme enough to bear a convincing resemblance to extreme Republicans...

I silenced a voice of hate is a dkos diary about a guy who was getting anonymous hateful right-wing evangelist comments on his weblog. The guy was clearly a dick, saying stuff like "I wish you had been aborted" and saying we should kill muslim leaders and convert their followers to Christianity. He also had his own blog, which he wrote to anonymously.

Said diarist researched the guy's weblog, put some miscellaneous facts together, and figured out his real identity. He then contacted him and, depending on how you read it, either made the blogger aware that it was possible to find out his real identity and tell his employers, or, threatened to do exactly that. The blogger was a teacher of seventh graders in a private Christian school.

In the diary, several people defended outing this guy on various grounds, from protecting the children to just the fact that he was a right wing freak. I wrote that it was really creepy that progressives would defend such an act, and got quite a bit of opposition in return.

I'm usually pretty darn good at using my own words, but here's a case where Atrios says it better:

Anonymity allows people the freedom to speak without fear of reprisals in other elements of your life. On the internet, where every little comment can potentially hang around forever, it allows people to communicate views without worrying about what current/future employers or customers may think of them. People do get fired/not hired for this kind of stuff. Without anonymity many people would not be able to talk politics on the internets. It allows people to separate their personal political/religious/whatever views from their personal/professional lives otherwise. It's truly a gift.

[...]

Anonymity can be abused if it's being used as a cover for illegal activities or actionable speech (libel). In both cases anonymity provides little cover - one subpoena to your ISP or web hosting company and it's all over. Anonymity could also be abused by posing as an "outsider" of some sort when you're actually an insider, or if you use it to mask some sort of hidden personal agenda or financial interest. To the extent that anonymity prevents knowing if those apply it can be criticized.


People divide their lives all of the time. Sally the business owner can to some degree separate herself from Sally the parent and Sally the activist. The ability to keep aspects separate is generally respected by people who are not assholes. On the internet, anonymity, while not strictly necessary, is close to being required to maintain that in the age of Google (not all people feel the need). Non-internet personal activities can be separated from your professional life simply by not socializing with colleagues. But, internet activities are always google-able.

This was in reference to a certain journalist who threatened to out the true identity of a certain progressive blogger(SKB), in practically the same way that the dkos diarist did: by simply alluding to the possibility that he could... if he wanted to. As far as I'm concerned, that's a threat. Dishonest people would say, "No, that's not a threat! He's just saying he could! Nothing more!" Which completely lies about the desired impact of saying the words.

What was SKB's crime? Hosting a weblog that had comments that insulted the journalist. What was the conservative freak's crime? Insulting the diarist on his weblog with various bits of right-wing hate. There was also the thing about him teaching children, but that's a bit of hindsight logic, since the discussion of that requires the outing first. Even so, there's no evidence to suggest he was using such viewpoints inappropriately in the classroom. (And the people that justify themselves saying, "But you just know he is!" are part of the problem.)

Regardless, when it comes down to simple speculative value judgments, it's irrelevant. The value judgments are the privilege of those judging the content. Anonymity exists to protect people against that very treatment. Like Atrios says, there are certain exceptions to anonymity, but this guy's weblog comments didn't meet those standards.

It's unethical to agree with Atrios while also agreeing with trying to ruin this guy's career.

By the way, the journalist who threatened to expose SKB's identity (leading SKB to out himself) apologized, spurred no doubt by a very large outcry among progressives.

Second case:

In An opportunity for Assrocket to shine, kos trumpets another blogger's satirical letter noting that a certain conservative warblogger's son has just turned eighteen, and that the blogger should encourage his son to become a Marine rifleman in the Al Anbar province, the "cutting edge" of freedom.

I'm feeling really disgusted with the state of discourse these days. That's just low. You leave your blogger enemies' children out of it. Said 18-year-old isn't a public figure like Mary Cheney.

Right now I appear to be the only person making that point over there. It's pretty disgusting.

Besides, I do not believe in the current foreign policy over in Iraq. I don't want anyone to enlist to fight on the front lines in Iraq, because I don't want anyone to die unnecessarily. And excuse me for being ethical, but that includes conservatives and the sons of conservatives. I understand it's just a rhetorical trick, but that doesn't mean it's honest.

June 12, 2005

Axelrod II

Posted by tunesmith at 10:57 PM

This is the second time I've seen "Democratic Strategist" David Axelrod have a bonehead quote attributed to him. Regarding the Downing Street Memo and the lack of play it's received in the media:

Party strategist David Axelrod explained the Democratic wariness: "We already fought that battle [over Bush's veracity] and we lost. He got elected again. So even though the memo is important, there's a sense that people don't want to revisit the lead-up to war. Although I'm not sure I agree with that, when you look at the number of Americans dead today."

Hey dumbass - the reason that people don't want to revisit the issue is that there aren't enough Democratic leaders treating it with the importance that would convince people that it's worth revisiting the issue. You're part of the problem.

June 07, 2005

Edwards Tiff Continued

Posted by tunesmith at 01:44 PM

Kos jumps in to the Dean/Edwards thing. Still seems like there are a lot of political beginners over there that are blaming Edwards for what seems to be an arbitrary spike in media activity.

June 06, 2005

Dean and Edwards

Posted by tunesmith at 05:18 PM

For those that are all in a tizzy about Edwards supposedly "rebuking" Dean's statement about many Republican (lawmakers) not working an honest day in their lives, it would be instructive to read this blog entry by John Edwards.

Meanwhile, here is a real example of who to be pissed off at, from this article:

"He was gratuitously insulting 50 million Americans who call themselves Republicans, some of whom we hope will vote Democrat," says Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

GOP talking point... who is this nimrod?

Update: Well crap! Nimrod helped run Edwards' campaign. That doesn't help either. He also ran other campaigns though so he's probably being independent.

May 01, 2005

Whither Trust Fund?

Posted by tunesmith at 02:27 PM

This is the main thing I don't yet understand about the Pozen plan:

What happens with the Trust Fund? My main objection to prior plan proposals is that there's always been this magic hand-waving where the Trust Fund just kind of disappears, which means that everyone who has paid payroll taxes for the last twenty years has been screwed, by an average amount of over $1000/year. However, I'm unclear on what happens with the Trust Fund this time. I think they declare it "gone", but they also mandate general fund transfers, which is how the Trust Fund would be paid back anyway. And over its lifetime, the general fund transfers would probably exceed the current sum of the Trust Fund.

So in that sense, the Trust Fund argument has less power than it had before. The reason is because it reduces us to arguing about and predicting the future motivations of Republicans. For example:

We're going to come to a time where those general fund transfers will be commonplace. Do you really expect Republicans to accept that? They're just going to argue that Social Security is too expensive. They'll either vote to raise payroll taxes, or, more likely, cut benefits further. This is certainly correct, but the Republicans can just easily feign indignation and claim it's ridiculous while they run for office. The argument is just less effective than it was before. Before, benefit cuts were steep enough that the general fund transfers would never have been enough to pay back the trust fund, which meant a robbery of the trust fund. Now it's not so clear.

Everything else still makes this a raw deal. It's marginally better than the one they were discussing before (progressive wage/inflation indexing is better than straight inflation indexing), but it shouldn't be converted away from wage indexing at all. And the personal accounts are just stupid - your return has to beat inflation just to break even, and in order to match what most of us would get under currently scheduled benefits, the additional return would have to be astronomical.

April 28, 2005

Bush's Social Security Talking Points

Posted by tunesmith at 10:23 PM

Bush held his press conference tonight on Social Security and other matters.

I take Bush's words on means-testing to mean that he wants to convert the benefit formula, which currently uses wage indexing, to a formula that uses a blend of wage indexing and inflation indexing. This is a huge and unnecessary benefit cut.

To take apart some of his talking points:

  • He talked about how in three years SS will start heading towards the red.  This is meaningless - we'd still have a surplus that he would be stealing.  It would just be a slightly smaller amount he'd be stealing in that year.

  • The reason it is "stealing" is because it's taking money from a regressive tax and subsidizing the progressive tax system with it, when he has no intention to pay it back.  That's essentially stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

  • In 2017, he talked about the SS deficit becoming a drain on the federal budget.  He of course didn't talk at all about the need to restrain the already-existing federal budget deficit.  To see some perspective, see this graph of Bush's projected budget deficit, compared to how Social Security affects it:

    See that tiny sliver in 2017, where the line crosses?  That's the "deficit drain" that Bush is so concerned about here.  He's not concerned about the size of the budgetary deficit (which he created), but he's sure concerned about that little sliver - enough to cut our benefits. (By the way, it turns out that orange budgetary deficit projection is too kind to Bush.)

  • In 2041, he says that SS will be bankrupt.  However,  the amount of benefits we will get after 2041, after SS goes "bankrupt", will be greater than what we will get under Bush's SS plan, because his benefit cuts are so steep.

  • "Future generations will get benefits equal or greater than today's seniors".  This is some pretty good misdirection, as far as used-car sales techniques go.  But "equal" means inflation-indexed, when we are currently wage-indexed.  Benefits equal to today's seniors will mean your benefits would grow inflation-indexed, which is a huge cut.  Think of it this way.  Imagine if today's seniors got benefits that were equal (inflation-adjusted) to the seniors forty years ago.  You're basically forcing them to live to a 1960's standard of living.  But even today, more than half of our seniors would be in poverty if not for social security.

  • Bush mentioned that one of our investment options would be to invest in US Treasury Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.  But he says that our surplus is just a file cabinet full of IOUs, not a bank account.  He omitted that these IOUs are US Treasury Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.  At one point he made those two points within fifteen seconds.

  • Note that Bush did not say that his plan would keep Social Security from going "bankrupt" (insolvent). It does not guarantee that payroll tax income will exceed social security outflow in any sense, and I'm sure we'll find that it won't. His plan might "solve" it by mandating general fund transfers, but we could mandate that with our existing system without changing everything around.

  • Bush often said something along the lines of: "Social Security benefits should be adjusted so that low-income recipients receive more money." Again, this is dishonest. It's not "more money than they currently would receive", although that's the ambiguity he's trying to hide behind. It's "more money than other recipients will receive after I cut their benefits." He's saying that the low-income recipients would have their benefits cut the least. At best, they'd retain their current benefit level. Everyone else would have deep cuts.

  • Don't forget that the 2017 date depends on an economic projection so low that the performance of private accounts will not even come close to making up for the budget cuts. In turn, if the private accounts behave as Bush projects, the economy would be strong enough that Social Security as designed would not go bankrupt, which means we don't need to mess with it.

April 17, 2005

Mental Models in Politics

Posted by tunesmith at 02:34 PM

This is kind of an odd link - a google cache of an html representation of a word doc - but it's a pretty fascinating short article about the mental models we share in culture, and how to activate them in politics.

In brief, they are:

  • suffering/victimization, linked to compassion
  • reciprocity/fairness/rights/justice, linked to anger and indignation
  • ingroup-outgroup, linked to pride and belongingness
  • hierarchy/duty, linked to feelings of respect and contempt
  • purity/sacredness, linked to feelings of disgust

The contention in the article is that Democrats tend to only focus on a couple of them, while Republicans have frames for all five.

Seems like you could almost make a personality test out of it.

March 21, 2005

Schiavo and Oxygen

Posted by tunesmith at 04:12 PM

This isn't really an entry about Schiavo, so bear with me if your eyes are already glazing over.

So, the Schiavo issue has pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of other issues - bankruptcy, judicial nominees, the budget, the environment, even social security.

I don't have much to say about Schiavo. It's very sad. The poor woman has had her feeding tube detached and multiple times by now, and it's just cruel. Being a bit closer to politics than most people, I can identify with the need we feel to express an opinion and act from it. But I just don't have one on this matter, other than a general sense that Congress should just mind their own damn business.

Oxygen, however, is another matter. Political Oxygen. It's all tied in to framing, marketing, and tipping points. To put it simply, the ability to affect change is related to the amount of available oxygen there is.

It's a great metaphor, if a bit abstract. I like to think of three common ways to deal with this kind of oxygen:

  • Conserving Air: People do this when they make a judgment of how much oxygen there is for an issue - how much appetite there is for change, and how much room there is to maneuver. They treat it as a fixed space. They'll take limited steps to affect change, and reject the prospect of doing more, on the grounds that just because something should be possible doesn't mean it is. These are the pragmatists that reject idealism.
  • Huffing and Puffing: People do this when they completely deny the oxygen that is available to them, and insist on filling the limited space with their own need to bloviate. They're not actually increasing the likelihood of change happening, because there still isn't the oxygen for it. They're just sucking the air away from everyone else. They believe that something being impossible is irrelevant, because it should be possible. These are the idealists that reject pragmatism.
  • Creating New Oxygen: People do this when they recognize that change is needed, and when they also see that there isn't the oxygen for that change. They then take the steps needed to actually create more space for it. They find that something should be possible, and then they actually work to make it possible. These are the pragmatic idealists.

When you look at it that way, it's obvious which category is the one we should aim for. However, what we tend to see far too often are people in the first two categories. And too many people see it as a binary choice; you're either one or the other.

It's interesting to go through each of the categories and decide who in the political sphere is in each category. I'd say that most congresscritters, especially weak-spined ones, are in the Air-Conserving category. They too often reject that they can actually create more oxygen. I'd put folks like many radio hosts - and many bloggers - in the Huffing and Puffing category. Nader, too - I can't express how frustrated I was to see Nader offered up as an alternative to the first category.

And, I'm sure many would disagree, but I'd definitely put Michael Moore in the third category. He definitely makes me roll my eyes at times, but that guy's just got a knack for changing the topic of conversation, and creating new interest. He's definitely not a voice crying out alone into the wildnerness. I also think a lot of the movers and shakers from the hard right in the third category. I don't agree with their ideals, but they've definitely taken pragmatic steps to increase their own power.

March 18, 2005

Bankruptcy: Warren vs. Zywicki

Posted by tunesmith at 01:02 AM

Trey Jackson has the video of Elizabeth Warren debating Todd Zywicki.

Good stuff. Warren gets the nod on this one. Zywicki implied that since bankruptcies increased while the economy improved, it by definition meant the increase was because of fraud. This is one of the central dishonest arguments for the bill.

Remember, from the pdf I mentioned before:

The bankruptcy filing rate is a symptom. It is not the disease. Some people do abuse the bankruptcy system, but the overwhelming majority of people in bankruptcy are in financial distress as a result of job loss, medical expense, divorce, or a combination of those causes. In our view, the fundamental change over the last ten years has been the way that credit is marketed to consumers. Credit card lenders have become more aggressive in marketing their products, and a large, very profitable, market has emerged in subprime lending. Increased risk is part of the business model. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that as credit is extended to riskier and riskier borrowers, a greater number default when faced with a financial reversal. Nonetheless, consumer lending remains highly profitable, even under current law.

But even more maddening is the assertion that the increased bankruptcy filing rate is a problem. Yes, of course it's a problem. But who is it afflicting? The profitable credit card companies with the financial models that already take the bankruptcy filing rate into account? Or the individuals and families that are experiencing such hardship that they are finding it more necessary to declare bankruptcy? Congress believes that it's the credit card companies that deserve the rescuing.

By the way, to dismiss with a canard - no one is arguing that poor people should not have access to credit. It's fine to use a credit card for emergency funds or short term expenses that will be paid off. But the credit card companies are marketing their product as extra disposable income. Their financial interests are to put people in long term debt at high interest rates. Their job is to create the demand. They are very, very good at it. Personal responsibility doesn't mean we're required to accept the presence of temptation.

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