Photo of the day

From a recent Atlantic photos of the week gallery.  This one is for my surfer friends.

Surfer Balaram Stack comes out of the barrel during a late-afternoon free surf session at the legendary Banzai Pipeline on the North shore of Oahu, Hawaii, on January 22, 2018. 

Brian Bielmann / AFP / Getty

 

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How Republicans “hacked” the media

As I’ve argued a lot lately, Republicans have very effectively used norms of political journalism to win the day politically by acting in bad faith when it largely violates journalistic norms to say as much.  The Nunes memo is a near-perfect case study.  Great piece on this from Brian Beutler:

If you knew nothing about the so-called Nunes memo before Donald Trump declassified it and House Republicans released it to the public, you would have a hard time discerning from the ensuing news coverage that literally every subject-matter expert who isn’t a paid Trump lackey or disingenuous partisan believes the memo was a joke—a childlike attempt to fabricate a scandal out of nothing, and also a scandal in its own right.

Fox News, and most of the right-wing media, by contrast, didn’t portray the memo in an ambiguous way at all. On the right, the memo didn’t create a partisan row, or “inflame tensions”—it uncovered evidence that should discredit the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, and vindicated Trump’s desire to purge and replace the senior ranks of DOJ and the FBI with loyalists.

Of course, this portrayal was incredibly dishonest. But the people shaping it understood something fairly profound that their counterparts in the traditional media do not: if you want people to believe something (yes, even something false) you have to tell them what you want them to believe, and you have to tell them that it’s true.

Everyone in the know knows the Nunes memo was a flop on the merits; but the public at large is for the most part getting two perspectives on it: One, from the right’s vast propaganda apparatus, in which House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes delivered the promised goods on an explosive conspiracy to sabotage Trump, and one from the mainstream press in which ¯\_()_/¯. One where the truth is certain, and one where it is hard to discern because Democratic and Republican interpretations differ…

Fox News, and most of the right-wing media, by contrast, didn’t portray the memo in an ambiguous way at all. On the right, the memo didn’t create a partisan row, or “inflame tensions”—it uncovered evidence that should discredit the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, and vindicated Trump’s desire to purge and replace the senior ranks of DOJ and the FBI with loyalists.

Of course, this portrayal was incredibly dishonest. But the people shaping it understood something fairly profound that their counterparts in the traditional media do not: if you want people to believe something (yes, even something false) you have to tell them what you want them to believe, and you have to tell them that it’s true. [emphases mine]

Everyone in the know knows the Nunes memo was a flop on the merits; but the public at large is for the most part getting two perspectives on it: One, from the right’s vast propaganda apparatus, in which House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes delivered the promised goods on an explosive conspiracy to sabotage Trump, and one from the mainstream press in which ¯\_()_/¯. One where the truth is certain, and one where it is hard to discern because Democratic and Republican interpretations differ

A more slanted, but I believe equally accurate version is that Trump is attempting to perpetrate a modern-day, slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre, with the complicity of most congressional Republicans and the conservative media.

It’s an amazing story! The kind that might ultimately come to define our current political moment. A story people will believe, but only if they are told it’s happening, and shown its true. But in absence of discourse norms that allow reporters to treat bad faith for what it is, the truth is by necessity being subordinated to an alternate reality in which partisan anger is running high and views on the shape of the Earth differ; in which the centrist punditry confines itself to examining how well Republicans executed the Nunes stunt rather than on the scandalousness of the stunt’s underlying purpose.

Republican politicians grasp the weaknesses in the professional habits of the political media better than members of the political media do. With the Nunes memo, they are consciously exploiting those weaknesses.

Yes, yes, yes!  Chait is onto this, too, with a more expansive take, that you really, really should read in full:

But, also like in Climategate, the collapse of the factual underpinnings beneath the conservatives’ claims left no impression on them whatsoever. There is no sense of chastening or remorse on the right. To the contrary, Republicans retain all of their initial fervor to use the memo to prosecute their targets in the deep state. Donald Trump Jr. calls the memo “sweet revenge.” Sean Hannity is renewing his demands for the Robert Mueller probe to be shut down in the wake of the memo’s findings. House Republicans are promising that more memos will come, and Kimberley Strassel (who has played the same credulous role in both Climategate and the memo episode) is already teasing new shocking findings to follow.

It might seem perverse that Republicans would respond this way in the wake of a high-profile humiliation. Yet, from their perspective, it is not a humiliation at all. Republican voters have absorbed the intended message. The rank and file, which once considered support for law enforcement a definitional trait, has quickly turned against the FBI…

Cultivating distrust in institutions that are designed to play a neutral, mediating role is one of the central functions of conservative politics. It is a game that conservatives know how to win, because they are waging asymmetric warfare. There is no good way for an institution to withstand partisan attack when its existence relies upon maintaining some distance from partisanship…

An institution that attempts to prove its good faith by opening itself to criticism and acknowledging failure will merely provide more grist for its bad-faith critics. On the other hand, if the institution closes itself off to introspection, it risks taking on the partisan qualities it was accused of having and becoming a mirror image of its critics. There is no way to refute bad-faith criticism. The mainstream news media has spent decades trying to disarm Republican attacks on its credibility. The Congressional Budget Office adopted “dynamic scoring” that conservatives demanded.

None of these concessions have met with even cursory approval.

Yep.  Bad faith, it’s really all about bad faith on the part of Republicans.  And newsmedia norms that refuse to call out obvious bad faith (here’s look at you Republican so-called deficit hawks) even when it’s this transparent.

The opportunity cost of the tax cuts

Enjoyed this piece from Jacob Hacker last week on just how stupid these Trump tax cuts are.  I love the concept of “opportunity cost” and wish I had learned about it before grad school.  I try to emphasize it to my students.  Anyway, as far as the tax cuts, Hacker argues, “it’s the opportunity cost, stupid.”  I also really like the point he makes about predistribution vs. redistribution.

The tax cuts passed by Republicans late last year have received no shortage of criticism. But the case against the cuts goes much deeper than even the fiercest opponents of the legislation seem willing to take it.

The problem isn’t just that the cuts will make inequality worse — if that were the case, then adding more tax cuts for the middle class and poor would fix things. Nor is the issue that driving up the debt will threaten popular social programs like Social Security and Medicare — though it certainly will.

The fundamental problem concerns not redistribution but predistribution: all the ways in which government rules and activities change how American capitalism distributes its rewards in the first place. Predistribution policies — like public investments in infrastructure, education, research and development, and the regulation of labor and financial markets — built the American middle class. And the collapse of such investment and regulations is the main reason that the middle class has experienced stagnant wages, plummeting bargaining power and a declining share of national income since the late 1970s. If we are going to tackle American inequality, we need to take seriously the imperative of changing how markets work. [emphases mine]

Former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic makes the point trenchantly: “The only promising avenue to reduce inequality is interventions that are undertaken before taxes and transfers kick in. These include a reduction in the inequality of endowments, especially inequality in education and the ownership of assets. … If market income inequality can be controlled, and over time curbed, government redistribution via transfers and taxes can also become much less important.”

Thus, the biggest defect of tax cuts — any tax cuts — is that they represent a huge lost opportunity to invest in our future. If the past generation has taught us anything, it’s that tax cuts for investors and a soaring stock market do little or nothing to help most Americans. By contrast, we know that public investments in productive physical and human assets do help, and they disproportionately help the less well off. Rich people have plenty of private capital to invest. Those who aren’t rich have their human capital (which rests on public investments) and the public capital that we all share as citizens: transportation and communication networks, shared scientific knowledge fostered by public R&D spending, civic institutions and so on.

Yep, yep, yep.  Sure, Democrats can retake control and pass a far more sensible tax policy.  But that won’t change the utterly wasted opportunity that this incredibly short-sighted policy represents.

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