Virtually Speaking, Liberally: What We Believe January 29, 2011

January 28, 2011

More background content for today’s discussion:

Brad deLong (2011):

My name is Brad DeLong.

I am a Rubinite, a Greenspanist, a neoliberal, a neoclassical economist.

I stand here repentant.

I take my task to be a serious person and to set out all the things I believed in three or four years ago that now appear to be wrong. I find this distressing, for I had thought that I had known what my personal analytical nadir was and I thought that it was long ago behind me

I had thought my personal analytical nadir had come in the Treasury, when I wrote a few memos about how Rudi Dornbusch was wrong in thinking that the Mexican peso was overvalued. The coming of NAFTA would give Mexico guaranteed tariff free access to the largest consumer market in the world. That would produce a capital inflow boom in Mexico. And so, I argued, the peso was likely to appreciate rather than the depreciate in the aftermath of NAFTA.

What I missed back in 1994 was, of course, that while there were many US corporations that wanted to use Mexico’s access to the US market and so locate the unskilled labor parts of their value chains south, there were rather more rich people in Mexico who wanted to move their assets north. NAFTA not only gave Mexico guaranteed tariff free access to the largest consumer market in the world, it also gave US financial institutions guaranteed access to the savings of Mexicans. And it was this tidal wave of anticipatory capital flight–by people who feared the ballots might be honestly counted the next time Cuohtemac Cardenas ran for President–that overwhelmed the move south of capital seeking to build factories and pushed down the peso in the crisis of 1994-95.

I had thought that was my worst analytical moment.

I think the past three years have been even worse.

Howard Dean (2003):

What I want to know is why in the world the Democratic party leadership is supporting the president’s unilateral attack on Iraq.  [cheers, applause].

What I want to know is why are Democratic party leaders supporting tax cuts.  The question is not how big the tax cut should be, the question should be can we afford a tax cut at all with the largest deficit in the history of this country.  [cheers, applause].

What I want to know is why we’re fighting in Congress about the Patient’s Bill of Rights when the Democratic party ought to be standing up for health care for every single American man, woman, and child in this country.  [cheers, applause].

What I want to know is why our folks are voting for the president’s No Child Left Behind bill that leaves every child behind, every teacher behind, every school board behind, and every property tax payer behind.  [cheers, applause].  [Audience member: “We want to know too.”].

I’m Howard Dean and I’m here to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.  [cheers, applause]




Tom Levenson January 27, 2011

January 27, 2011
“Newton and the Counterfeiter is both a fascinating read and a meticulously researched historical document: a combination difficult to achieve and rarely seen . . . Recommended for anyone who wants to know the real story behind this astonishing but largely overlooked chapter of scientific history.”
–Neal Stephenson, author of Cryptonomicon and Anathem

Now that’s what I call a blurb, although it’s interesting that there is no reference to the Baroque Cycle, a three volume novel in which Stephenson finally lets himself go, and write a book of the length he has always wanted to.  Believe it or not, I started rereading it a couple of months ago, and somehow managed to lose the first volume, which is sorta like misplacing an anvil.

Tom Levenson, of MIT and newly minted frontpager at Balloon Juice joins us Thursday evening at 9pm Eastern. We will start off talking about his book.

Newton and the Counterfeiter is both fun to read, and stuffed with historical detail of Isaac Newton’s time and place–a time and place that was a cusp for the modern European world. Not only was our understanding of the universe profoundly altered, but the way in which economic society was organized was taking shape at the same time, with people just starting to understand, and accept ideas as wide ranging as a global marketplace for goods to  currency without intrinsic value. Or, more to the point,  the recognition that metal currency did not itself have intrinsic value–that the value was an illusion that could just as easily be extended to a piece of paper with the portrait of a monarch on it as to a piece of metal with the same portrait.

There are historical tidbits from Newton’s life that we’ll discuss–the alchemy research, an apparent period of depression and other details that are not normally part of people’s view of Newton.  That view, by the way, of Newton as a Titan of Science is, if anything, understated, both in terms of the depth of his genius and in the influence of his work.

But Tom does too much other stuff to spend the hour on the book, so we will be talking about science writing, science in journalism, and the future of the blogosphere, or, rather, the future of citizen communication using public access media powered by the internet infrastructure. In particular. we will talk about the NRA fighting to keep science out of the assessment of gun policy.

As always, post any comments or questions you would like passed on here in comments.

–Updated to add the NRA link, fix some typos and make the bookjacket link to Indiebooks work.

Meta Media

January 27, 2011

Tom Levenson is stopping by on Thursday. We will talk about his book, Newton and the Counterfeiter, and also about science writing and science in journalism.  More on that shortly.  But first,  I want to look at one of his recent posts, on Comcast, KO, and the future of the cable “news” shows.

I had something like nine reactions to the post, but I will limit myself to just a couple here.


The first point Tom makes is not a new one, but it still surprises people:

As of November, the top rated cable news-like show was Bill O’Reilly’s, with a total viewership of about 3.5 million.  In Neilson terms, that’s a rating of maybe 3.4 or so.  Not bad — but not exactly dominant either.  Next up was Fox’s Bret Baier, someone I confess I’ve literally never heard of.  His number for the month? 2.4 million — or about 2 and change in the ratings.  Olberman came in at number 12 with 1.1 million and a bit, or a barely more than one Neilson point.

Now these are big numbers, especially in a world where a blog that has 100,000 page views in a day,  never mind in an hour, is doing very, very well. (Balloon Juice, today, is at 83,000 average views per day, while Eschaton is at 46,000.)  But they are nothing that will keep you on the air in prime time on the broadcast networks, and represents a tiny percentage of the US population.

I read the  post  Sunday morning, so immediately I thought about the Sunday Gasbags–Culture of Truth and Cliff Schecter were on, and I knew they  would be talking about the shows at least as much as the week’s news.

So I wondered about their reach.

Here are the ratings for December 19, 2010

Face the Nation: 2.7 million
This Week: 1.9 million
Fox: 1.3 million
Meet The Press: 3.4 million

In his book Breaking the News, James Fallows described how the Sunday Gasbag programs set the weekly agenda for Beltway reporters. Even though the reach is quite meager, the shows are, in many ways, broadcast for the consumption for a group number in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands in the Beltway, and most specifically at the publishers, editors, producers and directors of the newspapers, magazines, and, now, websites of the Beltway media.

Likewise, one reason the cable “news” shows exhibit more influence than you’d expect from their low ratings numbers is that the Beltway pays attention.  As Atrios remarks, when you walk into the office of an elected official in Washington, the (ubiquitous) televisions are invariably tuned to cable news, unless there is something happening at that moment on the floor, when they show CSPAN.  So while not very many people watch the programs, elected officials, and, more important, their staffers and lobbyists do. In this way the narrative gets set.


We’re at a tipping point, says Tom (my hackneyed phrase, not his):

I’m not usually a technological optimist — as is appropriate for someone who can’t even be bothered to maintain a functioning author’s website or Facebook page.  But I’ve just been buying video gear for a course I’ll start teaching in a couple of weeks about making documentaries, and I’m struck again how little cash up front it takes to buy the tools of fully professional production.  The machines don’t supply the talent, of course, nor a programming strategy, nor PR or any of all that.  But as with blogging and print media eight or nine years ago, the bits and pieces of infrastructure needed to create a whole new architecture of web-distributed video are coming together fast.***

Most important, the medium has finally approached normalcy.  My kid’s Wii has a browser in it, not to mention a Netflix app.  In a month or so, after I recover from my next visit to the mechanic, I’ll finally buy a web-enabled TV to replace my 16 year old CRT — and I’ll get a wirelessly networked Blu-Ray player with it.  The rap on internet video has been that only geeks want to sit at their computers and watch TV in little boxes on some small screen.  No more.  More or less transparently, you can Hulu and Netflix and browse your way to video in the same living room in which I almost never actually watch scheduled programs any more.

I certainly hope so. I have felt increasingly as if we are engaged in samizdat projects that operate, weirdly, in a public sphere.  We are using blogs, youtube videos, low-powered radio and other means to communicate that we need to circumvent the official media story line.  I am not quite as sanguine as Tom in the belief that these distributional mechanisms will be both kept open, and found, by a population even as large as reached by the Sunday morning shows. There are significant institutional pressures to prevent an open airing of widely held views, like, for example, ending imperialist wars of choice that do not affect US national security concerns.

Chicago Dyke in Eschaton comments puts it this way:

i don’t mean to be a downer, Jay, but even if a hundred million americans watched Cenk or Brian Safi or whatever via web TV, it wouldn’t really have an impact on the political leadership. sure, political TV and video shapes the public discourse. sure, things can go viral and change political careers (macaca, etc). but when it comes down to “will the Senate pass a bill that eliminates the possibility of lawsuits against BP in less than 48hrs after the gulf disaster?” the answer will remain yes, and the reason why is $$. citizens united. obama expanding the war in af’stan. none of that shit “makes any sense” on TV or in any other media, but they all happened. because video culture is a distraction for the Little People; it helps maintain the illusion that they matter, and participate in a functioning democracy, when in fact what we live in is an oligarchy of a very small number of very wealthy people, who are at this point from what i can tell headed by banksters and mercenary warmongers.

Of course, what we are doing here–at Virtually Speaking, in the videos we have been making of short excerpts from programs–and in our blog posts and commentary– is working to a future where alternative media is viable and disseminated widely enough to have an influence on policy making.

But it still feels like samizdat to me.  Way too often.


January 27, 2011

One of the core goals of WikiLeaks is the exposure of what Assange calls the “Invisible Government,” the collection of career state department, intelligence and defense officials who represent a transnational state apparatus that operates across different elected (and unelected) governments. This apparatus is necessarily not merely unelected, but actually contemptuous about democratic processes. Marcy has remarked on this as have other commentators.

Listening to Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who frequently has represented the NYT (Pentagon Papers, Judy Miller) at this weeks Personal Democracy Forum Wikileaks symposium, it became clear how pervasive this attitude is. He said, quite clearly, that the courts will not be sympathetic to first amendment assertions by WikiLeaks if the government said that what they were doing is bad for the US.
The same attitude pervades Bill Keller’s piece in this week’s NYT magazine, which promotes a Times ebook on the topic.
Oh, and in a bit of irony, Keller praises the Times courage in running the NSA spying story–after the 2004 election, and without mentioning that James Risen was going to scoop the paper with his forthcoming book, State of War:

The tension between a newspaper’s obligation to inform and the government’s responsibility to protect is hardly new. At least until this year, nothing The Times did on my watch caused nearly so much agitation as two articles we published about tactics employed by the Bush administration after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first, which was published in 2005 and won a Pulitzer Prize, revealed that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on domestic phone conversations and e-mail without the legal courtesy of a warrant. The other,published in 2006, described a vast Treasury Departmentprogram to screen international banking records.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush tried to persuade me and the paper’s publisher to withhold the eavesdropping story, saying that if we published it, we should share the blame for the next terrorist attack. We were unconvinced by his argument and published the story, and the reaction from the government — and conservative commentators in particular — was vociferous.

The story, of course,had been submitted to Times’ editors in October of 2004.








January 26, 2011

This is my reply to Libby Spencer’s post of yesterday in particular to:

My friend Jay Ackroyd would argue it’s because today’s Democratic party doesn’t want to win the fight since their [GOP and “establishment Dems'”] agendas are virtually the same.

I do not in the least think the GOP and the administration agendas are the same.

On health care, for instance, the centrist/Obama position is for private/public partnership, where the government provides guarantees (the individual mandate) and price controls (the Medicare pricing schedule) to the existing health care industry.
This is very different from the GOP position that would eliminate the mandate and the subsidies, and leave it to individuals to make their own health care decisions, with consumers subsidized directly with tax free health savings accounts.
But the centrist/Obama plan is ALSO very different from a liberal position. Liberals support systems like those in the rest of OECD, with universal health care (funded in different ways in different countries) available to everyone, built-in mechanisms to foster the use of preventative care and strict regulation of prices for procedures and pharmaceuticals by the government.

Likewise, Liberals would not have given an SOTU that decried deficits; we consider unemployment the most pressing national problem, and do not fear short term deficits.

Brad Delong, for instance, has seen the light, that the neo-liberal/centrist agenda he had embraced had elements he did not fully grasp:

I thought that no advanced country government with as frayed a safety net as America would tolerate 10% unemployment. In Germany and France with their lavish safety nets it was possible to run an economy for 10 years with 10% unemployment without political crisis. But I did not think that was possible in the United States.
And I thought that economists had an effective consensus on macroeconomic policy. I thought everybody agreed that the important role of the government was to intervene strategically in asset markets to stabilize the growth path of nominal GDP. I thought that all of the disputes within economics were over what was the best way to accomplish this goal. I did not think that there were any economists who would look at a 10% shortfall of nominal GDP relative to its trend growth path and say that the government is being too stimulative.

The fact that the centrists and the GOP agree that the deficit is more important than unemployment does not make the same. The GOP opposes spending programs the centrists support, like NPR and infrastructure improvement.  Moreover, they claim to oppose (I think they’re lying here, but it’s what they say) the entire basic idea of the Federal government providing a safety net in the form of Social Security and Medicare. The centrists would prefer to turn those into means tested poverty programs, but that is not the same thing, at all, as eliminating them.
One of the sources of difficulty  in our discourse is that we are happier (and the press is MUCH happier) talking about two sides in a debate or a conflict. The reason the criticism of the left irks everyone in the Beltway so much is because it messes up the narrative. They HAVE to paint those opponents as shrill parts of a strange Code Pink fringe (even when they include a Nobel prize winning economist writing on the oped pages of the paper of record) or their whole “he said, she said” thing gets disrupted.

That’s why Bernie Sanders is not ever on Meet the Press.


I would add that there is something else going on with the press side of this. Criticisms from the right, so far, have been given wide coverage. This is partly a FOX/Limbaugh/Drudge phenomenon; the movement conservatives are very good at getting their views characterized as mainstream conservative views because they control those very prominent media voices.  But I think we see (as we saw with Paul Ryan’s conveniently forgetting his roadmap last night) that access to those seats across from Dancin’ Dave will involve capitulation to the GOP leadership.

Culture Of Truth and Cliff Schecter January 23, 2011

January 22, 2011

Inspired by Culture of Truth’s commentary last week at Virtually Speaking, Liberally, where Stuart and I are working on the What We Believe project,  we will open the program by discussing the dishonesty of the theatrical artifice that are the Sunday Morning Shows.

After that, we have John McCain–about whom Cliff wrote the book– and Joe Lieberman to mock. You can see who else is on the programs as the links below:

Meet the Press

Face the Nation

This Week

The Translations

Virtually Speaking, Liberally: What We Believe January 22, 2011

January 21, 2011

One of the motivations for the “We Believe” project is the sentiment expressed here by Fishgrease. Many liberals live in so-called Red States, places where they do not feel their voices are heard, or are even welcome.

But I look at this map (and the numbers on the linked Gallup page), and I can see this might be a problem in Mississippi, Idaho, Fishgrease’s Wyoming, and Utah, this sense of being restricted in willingness to self-identify in public as a liberal appears to be much more widespread.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Kansas, and I can attest this is not some kind of paranoid illusion.

At the same time, there are plenty of people who are not rabidly to the right, so the question of how this sense of hostility is maintained is an interesting question.  Of course, understanding is the first step to overcoming these barriers.

We will be talking to liberals who live in Red States, about attitudes and communication styles.

That’s the framework for this week’s discussion. Saturday, 5pm EST. Call in if you have comments.

646 200 3440.

Or post comments here.

In the meatime, consider these two diaries:


Fishgrease: Booming the Red State Blues

Gay in Maine: Speaking Rurally

The rural issue is both distinct and part of the Red/Blue state divide. Southern Maine is like Maine as a whole in being largely independent (two independent governors in my lifetime) and moderate. But the southern congressional district includes Portland and some of the larger mill towns, and leans left, while the northern district is much more rural, and leans right.