Conor Friedersdorf is a man of the left who, none-the-less, adopts the common journalistic practice of partisan balance at all costs. Perhaps we shouldn't blame all ideologies equally, but we can still reflexively blame both parties and all politicians.
For example, in a piece written for The Atlantic last month, entitled Americans Are Stuck With Inept Versions of Both Parties:
Wouldn't it be nice if Republicans were hellbent on reforming the financial sector and Democrats were determined to get bureaucrats operating with competence and efficiency? Saying so makes one sound like a starry-eyed dreamer. In our political system, people like Elizabeth Warren focus on fighting Wall Street pathologies, while the GOP highlights government incompetence.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, November 26, 2013
Those of us who pay attention to Elizabeth Warren may have noticed that her advocacy of a Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect ordinary people from fraud and fine print has not not protected some bureaucrats from her skepticism and others from her outright contempt.
But fairness is equivalency, in contemporary journalistic ethos, and Friedersdorf is required by balance to overlook exceptions. He does this in a different sort of way from lazier writers, however. Truth is not to be found between two extremes, but rather apart from the entire spectrum. Last year he announced that he would not be voting for the re-election of President Obama. He avoided the phrase war criminal, but his drift drifted enough in that direction.
...I'd have thought more people on the left would regard a sustained assault on civil liberties and the ongoing, needless killing of innocent kids as deal-breakers.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, September 26, 2013
"I am not a purist," he says. Lest he be mistaken for one unable to make ideological distinctions, he does preface his harsh judgment of Obama with a grudging acknowledgement that some less discerning than he "might concluded that he is the lesser of two evils, and back him reluctantly..." The proud recipient of Conor Friedersdorf's public endorsement and presumed election ballot was Libertarian Gary Johnson.
So Conor Friedersdorf does not seek balance by means of the tried and true journalistic reflex. He does not measure to the halfway point between goalposts and proclaim the discovery of the fifty yard line to be the epiphany of truth. He jets to some distant land and measures out a more remote judgment, fulfilling a non-purist but committed position. Both goalposts are far, far away. And he conforms to the modern journalistic Prime Directive. He places a pox on both houses.
His more recent effort in the Atlantic takes on the ongoing fix of the GawdAwful Healthcare Site, as it has come to be known. He is pessimistic about it. The problem as he sees it is that the recent administration report proclaims success in the front end, what the public will see when they log in. No more crashes, or at least very few. No more delays, or at least very few. But the back end, the handling of the data is not mentioned as part of that success. The relaying of data to insurance providers is essential. And the lack of progress in repairing that functionality is chillingly slow.
A progress report with more clarity on that point is needed. Does a broken back end render the front-end fix useless to some consumers? The progress report's narrow focus on the front end leaves me pessimistic.
- Conor Friedersdorf, the Atlantic, December 1, 2013
To document his concern, Mr. Friedersdorf relies pretty much exclusively on a New York Times article. A portion of what he quotes contains this:
At the outset, the team had made what officials call a very intentional decision to focus their repair effort on making HealthCare.gov work better for consumers. That has meant putting off some “back-end” fixes for insurers, who use the site to receive applications and bill the government for subsidy payments.
- New York Times, November 30, 2013
So, the administration intended that revision and repair efforts would first focus on allowing consumers to enter and store information. That was to be accomplished by December 1. Then the emphasis would shift to the back end, transmitting the information to insurance companies.
Sure enough, the progress report says that the initial objective has been accomplished, and that work has begun on the next step. Our intrepid journalist is dismayed that those conducting repairs only did what they said they would do, and have not completed what they said they would begin to do next.
I wonder how Conor Friedersdorf would handle other news stories.
A progress report with more clarity is needed, as rescue crews struggle to save the life of the victim. Does the fact that the ambulance is still idling as the patient is secured inside mean that transport will not happen? The narrow focus on placing the victim into the vehicle leaves me pessimistic.
The title of the piece on Obamacare in the Atlantic is:
The subtitle is:
The final sentence is: Let's hope I'm wrong.
Regardless of the eventual success of the Obamacare site, that seems a safe bet.
Writing about Nelson Mandela has never been difficult. The lessons of life he has made available to us are so stark that parallels can be seen wherever there is a conflict with morality at the core.
As with Martin Luther King or Mohandas Gandhi, all roads within the arc of the moral universe tend to lead in a common direction. Many in the United States were openly contemptuous of early efforts toward democracy in South Africa. They insisted that black people in that country, coming from a tribal tradition, were simply unready. Sub-Saharan Africans were said to lack the institutional tradition, the cultural preparation, for democracy. No republic in that part of that continent could sustain democracy beyond one election. The clever rejoinder to "One person, one vote" was "One man, one vote, one time."
Some of those who had insisted that Africans lacked any tradition respecting democracy now support restrictions on voting rights in the United States. It hasn't been hard to find unintended consistency within that contradiction: The suspicion that what they really fear has not been that a black population is unready for democracy, but rather that democracy that involved too many black voters might reject them, describing such conservatives in 2010 as what they themselves had insisted they had previously feared:
"captives of an ethic that values country less than ideology, that their political party is institutionally unprepared, that they are too culturally backward to sustain a democratically elected government."
Some attempted to block even symbolic efforts to support freedom for Nelson Mandela on the strength of the idea that he, himself, was a terrorist. Behind bars, without a physical presence, he became the focal point of protest. A visiting British song writer wrote a piece that became a sort of national anthem. It was officially banned by the white racist government trying to keep control of South Africa. The song remained as a symbol of defiance, and was adopted internationally. Free Nelson Mandela became the vocal inspiration of a movement that gained international scope.
The history surrounding Nelson Mandela provided another parallel. As tribal loyalties were transcended by an overwhelming majority of South Africa, a strange sort of alliance was formed. The Inkatha Freedom Party was Zulu based, working for the tribal divisions that most South Africans rejected. They were joined by the National Party, the all white segregationist party of Afrikaners.
The alliance of black tribalists with rabid white racists still seems wildly improbable. But it carried with it a certain internal logic. Both were joined by a common view, that racial ties superseded national loyalty. Even together, they were soundly defeated by the unifying message of Mandela's African National Congress.
It was not hard to find a lesson in the excesses of America's post-9/11 reaction, as anti-terrorism morphed, in some cases, into anti-Muslim bigotry:
President Bush, in one of those grown up acts that earned the gratitude of Americans like me, made it clear early on who the enemy was. It was not Islam. It was not even a major division of Islam. We regarded ourselves as at peace with Shiites and Sunnis. Our enemies were the attackers, the terrorists. After his election, President Obama promoted the same vision.
al Qaeda, of course, has a different vision. They are frustrated at the international popularity of the American President. They wish to purify Islam, destroying all Shiites and all but the few Sunnis who share their goal of harsh religious dominion. They envision a global clash of civilizations.
Oddly enough, they are joined by those Americans who want to see just such a clash.
[They will be overcome by] ... a demonstration that all real Americans, regardless of faith, unite against an ideology of hate.
But the greatest parallel may come in the fullness of time, as current injustice becomes a history of obstacles overcome. That lesson is courage in the face of crushing hardship. 27 years in captivity would have been unbearable for most of us. 27 years in retrospect amazes. But 27 years without a clear outcome, decades with no certain end, is unimaginable.
Those who are persecuted might find a source of courage in the example of others. It could be that those living in quiet desperation, struggling on the ragged edge of survival, can find strength as well. What might be more meaningful to those who have escaped the struggle is the message to make our own commitments, to join in healing.
Over those years, Mandela is said to have won over the friendship of those hardened jailers assigned to guard him. He was sustained by faith, and a nineteenth century poem by William Ernest Henley. He began a tradition of sorts, reciting words of strength and courage to fellow prisoners and to those guarding him.
The words, describing an ethic of internal freedom through self mastery, are spoken by Morgan Freeman who portrayed Mandela in film. It is called Invictus.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of fate
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act never stop producing new tricks to undermine the reform's effectiveness. But leave it to California Republicans to reach for the bottom. Their goal appears to be to discredit the act by highlighting its costs and penalties rather than its potential benefits.
The device chosen by the Assembly's GOP caucus is a website at the address coveringhealthcareca.com. If that sounds suspiciously like coveredca.com, which is the real website for the California insurance exchange, it may not be a coincidence. Bogus insurance websites have sprung up all over, aiming to steer consumers away from legitimate enrollment services. Just a couple of weeks ago California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris shut down 10 bogus insurance sites, some of them with names very similar to the real thing. She must have overlooked the GOP's entry.
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CSPAN interview reveals strategy.
Is it easier to fight if adversaries are glowing in the dark?
I think a ground war in Iran with American boots on the ground would be a horrible thing and I think people like to toss around the fact that we have to stop them in some way from gaining this nuclear capability. I don’t think it’s inevitable but I think if you have to hit Iran, you don’t put boots on the ground, you do it with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three. I think that’s the way to do it with a massive aerial bombardment campaign.
- Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), on CSPAN, December 4, 2013
File this under - Authorities out of their minds
From Rochester Homepage, Rochester, NY
Three Edison students who were charged with disorderly conduct pleaded not guilty in court.
The boys were with about a dozen basketball teammates Wednesday morning on Main Street waiting for a school bus to take them to a scrimmage at Aquinas. There was no school that day and their coach had arranged for a pick-up at a central meeting spot.
An officer asked the boys to disperse and they refused. The young men say they tried to explain to him they were waiting for a school bus. The officer arrested three of the players.
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From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
Shannon Renee McNeal was torn from her screaming children by police who were seeking a woman with a similar name — a woman who they should have known had been murdered seven months before. A clerical mistake set up the arrest, sloppy attention to fingerprints put her behind bars and months of indifference to the error cost McNeal her home, $15,000 and, for a while, her job driving a Metro bus.
Yet she may be luckier than scores of others who have been wrongfully arrested and spent weeks, even months, trapped behind bars in a broken St. Louis city justice system.
The Post-Dispatch has identified about 100 people arrested in error over the past seven years.
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Political scientist and author Seth Masket has a history of skepticism about political extremism, mainstreaming, and the effects on voting outcome. A few months ago, he took Republicans Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner to task for suggesting that their party has an urgent need to explore more moderate solutions if they are to find a pathway to electoral victory.
Most academics hesitate about sweeping judgments. The idea that political extremism will affect voters is an ingrained part of conventional wisdom, and Professor Masket has been cautious about countering it.
What we don't see, however, is evidence that this extremism is hurting Republicans electorally, at least not yet. If the economy had been experiencing a recession last year instead of modest growth, Mitt Romney would be president today.
- Seth Masket, in Pacific Standard Magazine, February 19, 2013
Legitimate scholars respect evidence, and Seth Masket more recently presents research showing that extremism may have a substantial effect on elections.
Masket quotes a study by (pdf) Harvard graduate student Andrew Hall.
When an extremist (as measured by primary-election campaign receipt patterns) wins a “coin-flip” election over a moderate, the party’s general-election vote share decreases by approximately 12 percentage points, and the probability that the party wins the seat decreases by 38-46 percentage points.
- Andrew Hall, Department of Government, Harvard University (pdf) November 19, 2013
This is a debate that is of some concern in our little universe at FairAndUNbalanced.com. If a journey toward the political edge does tend to reduce the effectiveness of a political party, it supports an essential part of our debate concerning the demise of the Republican Party.
If GOP candidates get few enough votes in enough elections, the party will disappear.
If the GOP grows extreme enough, it will attract fewer voters, thus fulfilling Number 1.
This point is a lynchpin of the entire prediction. If voters are not repelled by extreme political positions, the chain will break at a new and decisive weak link.
If less conservative members continue to leave the party, the party will become increasingly extreme. Thus fulfilling number 2, which makes number 1 a certainty.
If more conservative members of the party continue to believe ideological purity is the key to victory, they will continue to make the GOP a less and less hospitable home for mainstream conservatives. Thus fulfilling number 3, thus making numbers 2 and 1 a certainty.
If extreme conservatives listen to what they are being told by conservative media, they will become increasingly certain that any setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Thus fulfilling number 4, making number 3, 2, and 1 a certainty.
- If conservative media stop telling extremists they are right, extreme conservatives now have the easy ability to find other more conservative media alternatives. Thus making it all come together in a very happy, yellow-brick-road ending.
So conservative media have a good, profit-oriented, reason for telling extremists they are right, and that election setbacks are caused by a lack of ideological purity. Conservatives believe what they are told, what they want very much to believe, so they make the Republican party hostile for mainstream conservatives. Less extreme conservative members leave the party, which means the party becomes more extreme. Extremism repels more and more voters and the Republican party disappears as a national political force.
If academic research is right, if extremism reduces effectiveness at election time, it does not mean the entire chain of events is locked in. There are other links in the chain. Mainstream conservatives may decide to fight back, stream back to the Republican Party, and reverse the tide. Conservatives may be stung by too many election defeats and decide to change direction. They decide that the comfortable media cocoon is not so comfortable and become open to outside evidence. Money or outside events may change the flow of political history.
Tim McGaha of Tim's Thoughtful Spot poses an excellent question. We can safely predict that conservatism will not wither and die, simply because one entity extinguishes itself. History will not end when the Republican Party disappears.
"Yes," says Tim, "the GOP is going to hit the rocks. But THEN what?"
That is a good question.
Sent by an alert reader:
This past Sunday a Morman bishop in Utah had a makeup artist turn him into an unrecognizable ugly looking homeless man to see how his congregation would react when he walked into the church. At least 5 of them asked him to leave. Lots of guilty feeling people when they found out who the homeless man really was. The bishop said he turned himself into a modern day parable. All I can say is "Jesus wept".
Found on line from Associated Press via Minneapolis Star Tribune:
TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Members of a Mormon congregation in a Salt Lake City suburb encountered someone they thought was a homeless man at church on Sunday. What they did not know was the man was a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At least five people asked David Musselman to leave the church property in Taylorsville, some gave him money and most were indifferent.
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Sometimes words simply fail.
Applying modern balanced ethics of journalism to slavery, conservative John Derbyshire expresses his fair-to-both-sides analysis:
And I’ve no doubt there was such a thing as Abolitionist Porn. It would have been surprising if there wasn’t. Whenever there’s a deep and long-standing difference between two sets of social principles, a genre of lurid tales will come up in one camp, denigrating the other.
For example: Back when England was bumptiously Protestant, there was Anti-Catholic Porn: Try the lip-smacking description of two Catholic clerics—a monk and a bishop—being hanged in Chapter 26 of Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!
Slavery is more irksome to some than to others; and freedom can be irksome, too.
- John Derbyshire, writing for VDare, November 20, 2013
A month before last year's election, employment numbers began to improve. There was a lot of talk that the reason for the drop was the number of people taking part time work. Initial data seemed to back that up.
A few on the ragged edge of conservatism saw it as a conspiracy.
Jack Welch tweeted:
Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers.
Several months later, the tone was softer, but the message was the same. This time, the job distortion was not so much a conspiracy as the result of subconscious desires and unintentional actions.
When the government unions and the government employees are in subjective jobs, no matter how decent the people are — let's assume they are all perfect — their biases have to come through.
Even now, Rick Santelli maintains the jobs report back then might still be a fake:
You know, there's a lot of reports out that the census group that's involved in phone surveys, which are part of the household survey, which determines the unemployment rate, well, some of those may have been fake.
I never saw the point. If some voter somewhere cast a vote based on the monthly report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it would have been a phenomenon of rarity. People are influenced by the economy. But voting is based on personal experience and direct contact.
All the spin in the world won't affect how people view their economic condition or that of friends and relatives. "Uncle Harry just lost his job, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the rate of unemployment just went down by 3/10's of 1 percent. I think I'll vote for the Democrat."
The conservative theory of skewed polling never made a lot of sense to me. I did not see how voters would be swayed by those polls. "Vote for me because polling data indicates you will vote for me." I don't see it. In fact, all that conservative effort seems to have hurt Republicans. The Mitt Romney campaign made strategic decisions on the basis of inaccurate information.
The latest news that spin can't spin for long is Obamacare.
Most folks don't see any change in their insurance. All we're seeing now is news stories about people forced to give up coverage they want to keep. Initially, those who looked behind the news all thought those stories were an exaggerated account of 3 percent of the population. Now that actual numbers are being surveyed, it looks like the stories are actually an exaggerated account involving 6/10 of 1 percent of the population.
But not many are looking through the tall weeds. The most visible evidence, the Obamacare website, is the object of late night jokes.
All the huff-and-puff about Obamacare has an effect now.
It won't in a few months.
If the Obamacare site is up and working, and people are shopping about because they have to, and they end up saving money on a better deal, all the stories and spin in the opposite direction will be swept away. In fact, some with group coverage are already getting refunds.
If the Obamacare site is still a bust, and people can't even get to a better deal, all the stories and spin in favor of Obamacare will look kind of foolish.
The dice are rolling, the coin is in the air, door number one is already chosen, the national decision has been made.
Predictions will not matter. What actually happens will.
So maybe all that's left is to wait and see?
This should have been satire.
It really should have been.
Contrast the understated way disagreement is voiced by a business owner and his victimized employee with multiple instances of video-taped harassment by police authorities.
One of the renegade officers is named Sergeant Dunaske. It would have been a tip off if there had been someone involved named Don Tell.
Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years.
He’s been searched more than 100 times. And arrested and jailed 56 times.
Despite his long rap sheet, Sampson, 28, has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana.
Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing.
Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens.
But Sampson isn’t loitering. He works as a clerk at the Quickstop.
So how can he be trespassing when he works there?
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