Category Archives: Politix

Frame #2: The War Between Datajournalists and Dinojornalists

by Categorized: Mass Media in the 2012 Elec., Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Nate Silver is tired of apologizing. Today, on the Nose, we’ll be talking about that.

He was Mr. Infallible in 2008 and 2012. During this cycle, he has often appeared to have roughly the same grasp of what was unfolding as these two numbskulls.IMG_1568

The same could be said for 99.9 percent of the people covering this race, irrespective of whether they were using data, shoe leather, political wisdom or ouija boards. But the struggles of the quants have elicited chuckles from some of the old school political reporters who felt dissed by the “Why Aren’t You Great Like Nate?” tenor or the recent cycles.

This month, the gloves came off.  It started with a piece by NYT media columnist Jim Rutenberg which was at least nominally a “nostra culpa.” “We got it wrong,” writes Rutenberg. But the column did seem heavily weighted toward criticisms of quants like Silver who were unfavorably contrasted by the author with reporters who occasionally get up from their laptops and talk to real people.

It didn’t go over well. On the Elections podcast of 538, Silver and his confederates — but especially Nate — tore into Rutenberg  as “snide and dismissive” and obtuse and unhelpful back in the days when 538 lived at the NYT. The tirade starts around 30:00 on the counter here and doesn’t stop for a while.

And then came Silver’s core dump: a 6,000-word treatise on what went wrong. One of his premises, amusingly, was that he and his datajournalists fell into the trap of thinking like dinojournalists, the kinds of pundits who eyeball a situation and attach a lot of certainty to their guesses. Who does that remind you of? Yes, the 538 gang momentarily succumbed to being the kind of fool they’re pretty sure Rutenberg is every waking minute. Another problem was extenuating circumstances, which seems like not much of a defense. One thing them circumstances do, pretty reliably, is extenuate.

Still, Silver is never not fascinating. I happen to enjoy both him and Rutenberg. His piece is a great read. But any time you have to write 6,000 words about your own performance, there’s a 92 percent chance that you have taken a wrong turn and gone 72 percent of the way up your own anus.

 

Among the Trumpians

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

IMG_1484 IMG_1488 IMG_1489At Trump events, the press has to stay inside a pen made of crowd control barricades, starting 15 minutes before the speech gets rolling. Prior to the arrival of DOTUS*, we are free to move about the country.

There were three guys — late middle aged, white — lined up along one of the barricades at the Hartford Trump event Friday night, and I chatted them up. Only two were really talkative. They were both contractors. We had a pleasant, sometimes bantering, conversation. One guy, from Waterbury, kept trying to interview me. “What about you? Do you think It’s time for a change? What are you going to do.” I told them the candidate whose views were closest to mine is Bernie Sanders. That didn’t bother them at all. They didn’t think Bernie could get his agenda passed, but they seemed to think he was a good guy. They regard Hillary Clinton as the spawn of Satan, but that’s another story.

Those guys were pretty typical of the dozen or so Trumpians I spoke to on Friday night. They were pleasant. I didn’t have a nasty conversation all evening. (This is a reminder of how much nicer people are in person than they are on social media.) I made it a point to seek out black and Puerto Rican people in the hall, although they are not easy to find at what is, demographically, a Pat Boone concert with signs. People said the same things over and over.  They’re working hard but feel like the country is losing ground; they want a change; this guy is not a politician; he’s the only guy who could go to Washington and not instantly become a new manifestation of the same old beast.

They were not Cult of Personality people, although if I had burrowed my way to the densely packed front of the room, I surely could have talked to people who were. The closest I came was a young black man from Massachusetts who said he had “grown up on Trump.”  Some of them were almost process of elimination supporters. Nobody else makes any sense to them.

I want to emphasize one last time how pleasant all of my encounters were because of what comes next.

Mid-way into DOTUS’s speech, he regularly whips the crowd up against the press, pretty much the way Billy Joel**, mid-way through his set, plays “Uptown Girl.” It’s a hit. People expect to hear it. From his place on the Hartford stage, Trump pointed to all of us in the press pen and shouted, “These are the most dishonest people in the world!”

Immediately, several thousand heads swiveled toward us and several thousand throats opened up with lusty boos.  Including my contractor guys. My guys! We had been having such a nice time! The journo-phobic section of the speech went on for many minutes, with some digressions. (A Trump stump speech is like the “before” in an Adderall commercial. Thoughts begin in one spot and then, like kites in an updraft, go skittering through space. Pitch, roll, yaw.) Trump even pre-accused us of misreporting the crowd size. OK, I’ll play along. I think I’m pretty good at crowd-guessing. I’ve been doing it a long time. I would have said 3500. I’ll go up to 4000, but that’s my limit. Certainly not the 6000-7000 of the official police guess. (On the other hand, as we all departed, late and luckless people were still trying to clear security and get in.)

Trump’s speech was almost entirely about process — that is, the process of running. The press, the other candidates, the protesters, the delegate allocation, the escalator [it came up twice], the crowds he gets, the forces arrayed against him. The only moment that struck me as chilling was his statement that, if he is not nominated, many Republicans will not vote. “Hopefully that’s all,” he added. That seemed to be a variation on a Trump trope of being the one who plants the idea of mayhem in the streets while appearing to disclaim it. He didn’t start the fire.

There were many promises of days to come when we will win again, but startlingly few — even for Trump — specifics about how this will come to pass. Except for The Wall, tangible proposals in a Trump speech are needles in a smokestack. Demanding substance would be like yelling “Where’s the beef?” in a vegan restaurant.  It’s beside the point.

Random observation: I was struck anew by the degree to which vocal folds are destiny for the kind of politician who thrives on whipping up big crowds. Trump doesn’t have a nice voice, but he’s good yeller. He sounds like an especially appealing version of himself when he’s yelling, and he appears to be able to do it with very little vocal hangover. It’s like what Vonnegut said about big penises. You never know who will get one.

We should learn something every day, right? On Friday night, I hope I learned to listen less patronizingly to Trump supporters.  Many of them have poured their hopes and resentments into a badly cracked jug. The shoddy condition of that amphora is not necessarily a comment on the people and what they feel. You know the guy doing work on your house?  The two guys installing a new garage door? The owner of the small business who resurfaced your driveway or worked on the stone wall next door?  Nice people, right?  You always smile and wave at them, and they wave back. They’re Trump guys.

  • * Donald Of The United States
  • ** Billy Joel played at Donald and Melania’s wedding.

 

 

 

Why Is Trump Like the Busway?

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Because both have used the Manafort family as general contractors.

Politico reports that:

Trump, who handed the reins of much of his campaign this week to strategist Paul Manafort in an effort to shore up his operation before the nomination slips away, was swept out of delegate slots up for grabs at Colorado’s state convention …

…Trump has begun mobilizing for a delegate push in recent days, empowering Manafort, a veteran of past convention battles, to lead his effort, but the 67-year-old lobbyist and political consultant is still playing catch-up.

That would be this guy.  His father was the three-term mayor of New Britain and the state public works commissioner under Meskill. Before that, Manafort Sr. was one of the principals of a huge family construction business. They have always handled lots of state work and have understood what it takes for that to happen. They were big Rowland donors –who wasn’t? — bundling at least $20K into his final campaign and now give to the Democratic party in the modern era, when contributions from contractors have to be pushed through the central committee.  (Periodic reminder: we taxpayers ponied up $33.4 million in “grants” during the election cycle referenced in the preceding link. The purpose of those grants was to prevent a system in which companies don’t do the exact thing they did: pay for political campaigns.)

Courant photo by Patrick Raycraft.

Courant photo by Patrick Raycraft.

The company did some of the major work on the Hartford – New Britain Busway. They are, on balance, fine corporate citizens except when they aren’t.

It’s a small world, is all I’m saying.

 

 

Scalia: De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum (et Malum)

by Categorized: God, Politix, press criticism Date:

Back in 1994, there was no Twitter. Maybe that’s why the rantings of Hunter S. Thompson, upon the death of Richard M. Nixon, really stood out.

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

That was HST being HST. Nobody was much like him, and he was not much like anyone else. Two weeks before Antonin Scalia died, the NYT published this rather prescient essay.  Because in 2016, we are all gonzos on this bus.

We all know what happened on Saturday night. Twitter erupted in an obituary firefight. Partisans on both sides dug in and began shooting. A typical trope: “In Lieu of flowers, the Scalia‘s [sic] ask that you go out and kick a homeless person tonight.”

Some of the journalists I respect most made eloquent and persuasive-seeming arguments for pumping as many rounds as possible into the good justice before rigor mortis set in. Glenn Greenwald: “The ONLY reason we’re talking about him is because of his political impact. So of course it should be politicized.” Jack Shafer: “It would be particularly strange to withhold our opinions of a man, newly dead, who wrote opinions for a living.” Dave Zirin: “If you are unable to assign ugly truths and actual history to someone’s legacy after they die, you get airports named after Ronald Reagan.”

Yes but.

I love Zirin, but the notion that, if we had only crapped on Reagan harder in those vital 48 hours after his death, Americans would not have named stuff after him, rings false.

Speaking of false, Bianca Jagger or someone tweeting as her offered this: “I have never forgotten this quote ‘Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached’.” This was heavily retweeted. It appears not to be real. Not far from his actual sentiment, but not words that really came from Scalia.

I was frequently appalled by Scalia’s opinions and shocked by the way he talked about his fellow Americans. It would be fair to say that he stoked the very blaze that is scorching his memory now. As we turned into “Animal House,” he was an avid food-fighter.

Yes but.

The counter-argument has less to do with the way we poison the market of expression and more to do with how we poison ourselves. Nobody would argue — especially after the Republican debate that followed Scalia’s death — that we suffer from a surfeit of decorum here in 2016. We have tiny little islands of decency in our stormy, venomous sea. You can argue that those islands just get in the way of what you want to do. Or you can argue for (at solemn moments) swimming toward those islands, hauling yourself up on the sand and taking a little breather. Death, for the dead, is the ultimate caesura. For the rest of us maybe it’s a smaller caesura, a tiny musical moment when we stop our bickering and remind ourselves to be human.

Jesus (I’m paraphrasing) says we can’t give up on anybody, even people like Scalia who appear to have given up on many others. Give yourself a few days to ponder the way you and Scalia are bound by forces more elevated than hate. If you really need to think about it this way: be a little better than he frequently was. Don’t worry. Nobody’s renaming any airports until the cold weather breaks.

 

Bulletin! NYT Publishes Most Confusing Graphic Ever

by Categorized: Politix, press criticism, Uncategorized Date:

moreconfusing

This was on Page One of the Times today. If you think you can make sense out of it, more power to you. Here it is in higher resolution.

It does seem like a play the Panthers might run on Sunday.
And here it is, just as circles.
most confusing

 

 

 

 

At that level, we begin to see the tremendous debt to Calder. Here is the artist’s depiction of voters who could vote for Sanders or Trump, but not Clinton or Cruz.

calder

The Good Cop

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, etc., Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Pope Francis Photo 2
It’s kind of hilarious watching people, including Connecticut’s pols, gear up for the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, the greatest pope of my lifetime, maybe the greatest pope ever.

Note to Eizabeth Esty. It is a double mistake to say: “I am a deep person of faith.” First of all, I think you mean, “I am a person of deep faith.” Second of all, that is the kind of thing persons of genuine deep faith do not compelled to announce about themselves. Consider the exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 6:5.  When politicians start trotting their faith around like a show horse, asking them to explain what they mean in detail is not a gotcha question.

What’s more interesting is the way in which Pope Francis stands in explicit and implicit moral opposition to so many things that are wrong in the U.S. and with the U.S.  I am reminded of Lenny Bruce’s famous routine in which Jesus and Moses show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Christ says to Moses, “My visit took me to Spanish Harlem where there were forty Puerto Ricans living in one room. What were they doing there when this man”—Lenny pointed to the Cardinal—”has a ring on worth $10,000?”

American bishops, get ready for some questions about how you live — and not just in terms of opulence. Do you live as though you took climate change seriously? Because Francis does.

All Americans should get ready. Francis is — in the best possible way — a Marxist. From the Times:

“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”

Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbor that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence.

He has every right to ask us why we’re doing so little about climate change, why our ungenerous refugee policies are so clouded by xenophobia, why we tolerate a system in which our children are 11 times more like to die by guns than their counterparts in developed economies, why we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners, why we use our bail system to hold poor people in jail without trial, sometimes for years…well, let’s just say he may have a whole lot of righteous and rightful questions.

So all you A-Listers lining up your tickets, try to have a few answers.

 

 

Say It’s So, Joe

by Categorized: Politix Date:

I’m not going into a lot of detail here, because it might be my column this week, but why is it so hard for truant politicians to say anything truly redemptive?

Last week, I interviewed Joe Ganim, who is running once again for mayor of Bridgeport, an office he lost in 2003 when a massive corruption scandal took him down and sent him to prison.

Producer Betsy Kaplan had told the Ganim campaign that nothing would be off limits if we did this interview, and they agreed. Ganim waited a long time to apologize for his crimes, but he did it this year on New Year’s Day.  Still, it’s one thing to apologize and another to really own what you did.  That’s what I’m always waiting for, from these guys who get caught: a moment where they really explain what they did and why.

So I pressed Ganim a number of times and in a number of ways. He began very unpromisingly with the  classic “mistakes were made” formulation. Who even tries that in 2015? After a few other feints that failed to advance the topic very much, I asked him what he tells his son about what he did. His son was traveling with him that day and seemed like a nice kid. I asked Ganim in particular how he prepares his son for avoiding the kind of mistakes he, the father, made. I got nothing.

I know that he held back partly because he worries about his opponent, incumbent mayor Bill Finch, taking the audio and editing it to make him look as bad as possible. But it felt like more than that. I didn’t get the sense that Ganim has a version of the narrative that goes: “I look back at that guy and barely recognize him as me. He’s greedy and entitled. I went to prison for seven years, and I lost everything in the process. But I deserved it for what I did. Here’s how I see things now …”

He can’t do that. Neither could John Rowland. (I always thought Rowland’s radio show would have been great if his past as a rogue and a rascal was part of the regular chatter, the way Don Imus has been taunted by his on-air confederates for years about his days and nights as an addict. Instead, Rowland insisted on being treated reverentially and addressed as “Guv,” with no mention ever of his criminal past.)

They can’t tell a story they don’t know. I’m sure Ganim thought I was hounding him. That wasn’t my intention. I was opening a door I think he needs to walk through, both as a human being and a politician trying to reacquire the trust of the voters. But I don’t think he knows the story about how he turned into a bad guy and betrayed his city. So he can’t ever really apologize for it and mean it. 

Via JoeGanim.com

Via JoeGanim.com

 

 

 

The Trump Straw Man

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Donald Trump hair from above and behindSupporters of the Democratic Party in Connecticut received an email this week, ostensibly from new party chairman Nick Balletto. Balletto has been a pleasant surprise so far, offering up gentlemanly words upon the resignation of his opposite number Jerry Labriola and moving swiftly and sensibly to change the name of the party’s annual dinner. That makes me doubt that he had much to do with this very stupid email

Donald Trump is the classiest, most luxurious Presidential candidate of all time (just ask him).

His brand has risen him to the top of the polls, and now Trump-brand Republican candidates are running for office across Connecticut to control our towns, cities, and communities.

Add your name to help us defeat Trump-brand Republican candidates in Connecticut — we need to mount an effort starting TODAY to elect Democrats across the state >>

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want guys like Donald Trump running my city.

Sign up before midnight TONIGHT to kick these ReTRUMPlicans to the curb in November.

Thanks,

Nick Balletto

Setting aside its garbled English, this communication makes no sense at all. Here is a list of contestable mayor’s races. Can you spot one where a Republican candidate who resembles Trump is running? Even though I can’t claim much knowledge of many of these towns, I doubt there are any “guys like Donald Trump” in play, and if there are, the Democrats should name them instead of misting everybody with their spray bottle of bogeymen.

I’m sure there was a national memo sent out: for the immediate future, tar your Republican rivals with the stickiness of Trump, whether it makes the slightest bit of sense or not. I do understand this is politics. I do understand that the Republicans, for their part, have spent seven years slinging around the notion that Barack Obama — a Democrat who has mostly been egregiously pro-business and heart-sinkingly in the thrall of Wall Street, capitalism and big banks — is a socialist.

So nobody ought to expect fair play from either side. How about plausibility? Obama is no socialist, and Roy Zartarian, the Republican candidate for mayor of Newington, is nothing like Donald Trump. Probably. I don’t really know, but I promise to watch him carefully for signs.

Mr. Balletto, you have an office full of bros and frat boys. If you do not keep a close watch on them, they will make you look like an idiot. Maybe even a “Trump-brand” idiot. Whatever that is.

 

Two Stories of Linguistic Foolery

by Categorized: Politix, Words and phrases Date:

McCarthy Cohn
My day began with an annoying email, and I was not yet fully caffeinated.

Someone named Jim Macdonald wrote to “correct” the headline and perhaps other usages in today’s column.  He wrote

It’s the “Democrat” machine, not Democratic.

I am familiar with this particular form of silliness. Limbaugh does it a lot. I was not familiar with the allegation that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy invented it. The whole idea is not to let Democrats use the word “Democratic” about themselves. I tried to explain to Mr. Macdonald why this was a time-wasting argument, and he wrote back.

Since this is a republic, not a democracy, why do you want to call Democrats, democratic?    Democrat is a party, democratic is a word.
They want us to believe that they are more governmental and generic.

Sigh. Let me try again. Mr. Macdonald does not know what proper nouns and adjectives are. I considered illustrating this with his own name. Let us imagine that I believed the only proper rendering of his name was MacDonald. I would still have no right to render his name as I saw fit. His name is a proper name. It can’t be tampered with. Similarly, Democratic National Convention, Democratic Party, Democratic Town Committee are all proper names. One cannot (reasonably) change them to suit one’s purposes. The distinction, Mr. Macdonald, is not between “Democratic” and “Democrat” but between “Democratic” and “democratic.”

Also, “Democrat” is not really a viable adjective. The only reason to use it that way is to score points. Which is fine. But then don’t tell me I’ve erred by not adopting your practice.

A useful parallel might be “catholic” and “Catholic.” The first is a word with a meaning. The second is a proper noun and/or adjective. Even if I think the Roman Catholic church is not catholic, I am not not allowed to start calling it something else or twisting its form around to better suit my truth.

———————

To prove I am nonpartisan about these matters, let me point out a faulty usage from a Democrat. The state Democratic Central Committee sent out a stupid email to rally the troops. It’s so bad that I’m going to need a separate post  to try and convict it, but one infelicitous line clanked against the (symbolic and cymbalic) eardrums. “[Trump’s] brand has risen him to the top of the polls …”

The writer — allegedly state chairman Nick Balletto but actually some tin-eared minion — has missed the rise/raise distinction. Or does not know how to conjugate “raise.” The zombies have risen from the dead, but Trump’s brand has raised him to the top of the polls, not that I would willingly write that particular sentence. Perhaps: “Trump’s steady expulsion of hot air has had the peculiar effect of making him rise in the polls.”

I hope this helps.

 

City of Hartford: Jedi Masters Need Not Apply

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized Date:

lukeIt seems likely — maybe even inevitable — that the Democratic Town Committee will endorse Luke Bronin for Mayor of Hartford tonight, and, with each new development in the story of the 2015 campaign, it becomes more and more difficult to see how the incumbent mayor Pedro Segarra can win his primary.

Even so, that has not stopped Jonathan Pelto, a blogger in eastern Connecticut, from launching an overheated attack on Bronin. You can read it here.  Some of it’s unfair. Some of it’s silly. Some of it might make a little sense under different circumstances.

The unfair part is the suggestion that Bronin has been in Hartford for only two years. By the time you click on the link that may have changed. I suggested to Pelto that he correct it. Pelto has been flyspecking Bronin’s LinkedIn listing. Bronin’s residency in Hartford has been off and on, starting with his arrival in 2005 to work on the first (and unsuccessful) Malloy gubernatorial campaign. Luke  lived in Hartford from 2006 to 2008, and then started zooming off to India, Afghanistan and D.C., doing impressive things, while his wife Sara held down the fort back here. (She has been a professor at the UConn law school since 2006 and has served on and/or chaired a whole bunch of Hartford commissions and panels during that time. She’d be a great mayor, but apparently that’s not an option.) While he worked in D.C., they were renovating their brownstone on Elm Street — a renovation for which they (well, Sara, really) won an award.  By 2012, Luke seems to have been back in town. So he’s been on site for five or so of the last ten or so years. The Bronins are a little different from you and me. They are almost dauntingly high-achievement-focused, and if some of their goals involve  commuter marriage periods, that’s OK with them.

It’s not an ideal timeline, if you believe your mayor should be a fully committed homeboy, but maybe we have to acknowledge that it’s 2015 and that some of America’s more dynamic people are a tad less sedentary.

It’s notable that the type of critique Pelto is making — that Bronin is a rich, over-qualified carpetbagger who hasn’t paid his dues and is using this office as a stepping stone — was made implicitly and explicitly by the campaigns of two of his former rivals, John Gale and Bob Killian Jr., both of whom eventually dropped out and endorsed Bronin.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I overreached in the wording of the previous paragraph.  Neither Gale nor Killian was explicit about that. What I should have said was that supporters of both candidates tended to go after Bronin’s dilettante status, in pretty much the same language that Segarra and Cruz supporters now use. 

The fairest criticism — and it does worry me a little — is that “stepping stone” thing. You can see now New Haven really benefited from the 132-year reign of John Destefano. A forceful leader with real visions can get a lot done …if he has the time. (I realize there are downsides. Pace, Mr. Bass.) If Luke is a one-and-done mayor, Hartford’s progress will be limited. And yes, Mr. Pelto, Bronin is ambitious. They all are. They all think they’re going to be president. If you imagine that Chris Murphy has not thought carefully and on many occasions about what he will say in his First Inaugural Address, you’re kidding yourself.

What renders the whole conversation moot is that Hartford has almost no choice at all except for Bronin. Pedro Segarra has been the city’s mayor since June of 2010. He’s a nice man, but he’s a terrible manager. Managing usually boils down to two things. You have to pick the right people, and then you have to hold them to your standards. Segarra can’t do either.  The rhythm track of his five years has been dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction. Some problems lie with the city itself, and some lie with its government. Segarra’s time in office has seen too much of the latter. The government is, quite apart from all the ills that plague Hartford, a problem.

So, when Bronin “should” have been living in Hartford, he was working for the Treasury Department addressing the financing of terrorism or in Kabul addressing corruption?  And he’s actually downplayed some of his sterling academic credentials?

I think we can live with that.