My Approach to the News: A Request for Feedback

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come April I will have been writing this blog for two years, initially posting twice a week, but more like once a week for several months now.  I am not an expert in any sense regarding what I write about, but  am more willing than most to try to sort out the news to a point where I feel I have a useful insight or two, which I in turn share with you, my readers.

What I try to do is to take some political, economic or cultural issue and shape it in a thumb nail sketch that is digestible to those leaning left or right.  We live in a time with so much information at our fingers tips spun to fit political ideologies (or at least largely shaped by them), that people are avoiding the news in increasing numbers, not only because most of it is bad, but because it is extremely difficult to make sense of anything.   And, even if sense can be made, we feel impotent to change anything.   Who needs the frustration?  But, that does not bode well for the future of this republic for reasons that are obvious.

The blog is my way of carving out a small space where moderates on left and right might find sufficient common value and comfort in my perspective to want to read more over time.   One reader sees the blog in a way that pleases me:

“I’ve enjoyed receiving (the) American Titanic blog this year. You put it together judiciously, pacing its frequency and length just right, to be of passing interest each time. I like your generously including further web-refs, for anyone wanting to follow-through on a particular subject.”

I’m happy to hear that, but of course everyone is not her.   I would like to hear from more readers as to what you like or do not like about the blog.  I am particularly interested in what turns you off about the blog, so I might consider altering my topics or at least how I approach them.  If most do not want to hear what I have to say, I had better change something.

Here is a longer response to the blog from a very close friend, Judy.   Judy’s  response isn’t gratifying like the one listed above, but gives me more to reflect upon.

Judy:   “I don’t like to read anything about the Middle East.  Nothing that doesn’t affect me or I can’t affect.  I read about technology, healthcare, education, public policy, government and human interest.  I don’t read about trauma or disasters.  I get overwhelmed by the tragedy in the world.  I just don’t want to read about it.  It is just too much. 

I also read items with which I have a personal connection.  My daughter Emily has lived in Spain, Argentina and Ecuador, so articles about them catch my attention.  Also, a friend’s boyfriend is Turkish, so I will glance at something about Turkey. “

So, what topics or the way I approach them tend to attract you or turn you away when glancing at my blog?  Please respond using the Leave a comment button at the bottom of this post.   I will “publish” a selection of comments (unless you want yours to be private) and respond to the general responsive gist in a future post.

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A Little Bit More on the State of the Union Address

George Washington's First State of the Union A...

George Washington’s First State of the Union Address (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend chided me for commenting on the State of the Union (SOTU) address without watching it, and I want to speak to that.  A week after the address, I still feel no qualms about not watching.  For one thing I read several reactions to it and saw a number of clips.  Since I am not very interested in what the President says these days, but in what he and the Congress can get done, that seems plenty.

Also, I have found no argument against the most powerful segment being his passionate urging that proposals to reduce  gun violence be voted on in Congress, as I wrote about in my previous post.

One thing I do want to add, though, is the dreary thought that all of this emotion was garnered to simply push our Congress to vote on gun-related proposals, NOT TO ACTUALLY PASS ANYTHING.

That seems the most significant point of all.   Our Congress is so gridlocked that simply getting a vote on a proposal rates as an achievement.   How twisted is that?  Of course, Obama undoubtedly thinks that if votes are taken something will pass, but it still underscores  how the engines of our ship of state are barely working.

It is this gridlock that devalues everything said by the President and members of the Congress.  What matters is what gets done, not what is said.  So, I have been much less interested in SOTU than in the upcoming  “sequester”  deadline March 2 (across the board budget cuts on about 0ne-third of the budget).

Nobody seems confident in predicting what Congress will do about that and if no one can even predict that, most things the president proposed mean nothing to me yet, except again the matter of gun-related proposals, some of which seem to have momentum.

That’s all I have to say.   Those who want to think more about SOTU should find the divergent takes of Ezra Klein and Matt Miller interesting.   Both center-left types whose opinions I respect, they reacted to the address very differently.  Klein saw it as “shockingly bold” – unlike the “nothing new here” reaction of most commentators.  Miller, on the other hand, called it “hollow”, even more disappointing than being old hat.

To sum up his disappointment:  “Even if Obama’s agenda becomes law, after eight years of the most progressive president in memory, America will still be a country in which work is less well-rewarded, college is far costlier, and poor children’s life chances more limited by accident of birth than in virtually every other wealthy nation. American exceptionalism indeed.”

Klein’s video can be found here, while Miller’s column can be found here.  The video begins with the usual short ad, then some intro-clips, so you need to be a little patient.

By the way, though calling the President’s agenda bold, Klein admits he has no idea if any of it will be passed.   Which is why I don’t care about the words, even if they were “bold.”

Fact Checked to Death?

A friend sent me a New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress which expressed in that magazine’s typically wry manner a frequent thought I have .   In  the cartoon a man and woman are walking down a street and the caption has her saying to him:    “My desire to be well informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

You may have similar thoughts when thinking about our politics, economy and media.   Recently, I have dwelt on the issue of “post-truth politics” (*1)  because our politics are so polluted with misinformation that it is hard to find our bearings in relation to truth.    The creation of a cottage industry of fact checkers helps, but who besides an old bachelor with a limited social life or a younger, obsessive policy wonk is willing to do that?     Most people have lives.

English: icon for smartphone (smart phone) rel...

icon for smartphone (smart phone) related content (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the bright side, you may have heard there is a new smart phone ap that reveals the sponsors of Super PAC ads and their orientation, but at this stage it still depends on also checking with the fact checkers, which puts you smart-phoners back into my old boat.  However, in four years (Two?  Next month?), I bet they have the truth ap down, so one gets an instant truth reading and people like me won’t feel a need to synthesize fact checkers as I did in my previous post.  The only down side I see is that it will compel me to buy a smart phone.

But all of that does not quite get at a lingering anxiety that I have felt while writing most of what I have written lately.   When I dwell on the nuances of truth, I may seem to be missing the big picture, which is not who will be elected, but what will the retained or new President and another likely gridlocked Congress be able to accomplish once they are elected.  I just want you to know that I’m not missing the main point, I’m just not discussing it right now because there is no rush.  Nothing will be done about the “big picture” until this election is over.

Now that the NFL is back in season, I sometimes watch their pundits analyze likely outcomes and feel it no different then watching the political pundits analyze the win potential of the candidates.   There is a difference, however.  In football they are analyzing the real game about to be played.  In politics they are analyzing the potential of candidates to make the team that will play the real game  after Nov 6.   Another difference is it will take longer for us to see whether we picked a losing team or not.

When the real political game begins, the first question will be:  How are we going to navigate through what is often called the “fiscal cliff” which in line with my Titanic theme I envision as a field of  icebergs.    Many economists believe that poor navigation could send our economy in reverse early next year, something I did not see brought up at either convention.   (It’s complicated and doesn’t make for a simple sound bite likely to prompt cheers).

If you don’t know about the fiscal cliff…..you might as well remain blissfully unawares for another football weekend or two.   I’ll get to it soon enough in a post, but until then you might as well stay unawares, especially since our politicians won’t get around to it until some time after Nov 6.

Today I just wanted to make you aware that assessing who is lying more about whom is actually not my central interest, despite being closely tied.  My primary interest lies  in how the new captain and crew will direct our ship of state.  Will we come to feel more or less like passengers on our own Titanic?  I particularly wanted to make one reader/friend aware of this, as he may have gotten impatient with  my trying to parse the truthfulness of Bill Clinton’s speech in my previous post.

As he wrote to me privately:

“Exactly NOBODY addresses the problems.  They all throw out meaningless phrases – “Family values”, “Return the Country to Prosperity”, “Create jobs for everyone”, “live the American Dream”.  They never provide specific programs or how programs are to be funded.  Has anybody once said we have to fix SS and them make specific proposals to achieve that goal.

None of them have any integrity or courage to tell the voters that they can’t have everything, they have to pay more in taxes, and entitlements will be cut.

That is why I have not watched one single minute of either convention.  It is all how to manipulate voters to vote for someone and nothing else.”

I hear you brother.   I hear you….

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(*1)  In an earlier post I suggested that Paul Krugman may have come up with the term “post-truth politics” which is now commonly used.  David Roberts, who writes a blog on “energy, politics and more” claims credit for coining the term and then Krugman popularizing it in this piece.

What’s Good for the Goose…..

I ended my previous post promising to “lighten up” in this post in response to a reader’s suggestion I do so, but lighter will have to wait until later as it now seems appropriate to fact check the Bill Clinton speech, since I referred to the fact checked criticisms of Paul Ryan’s address at the other convention in a previous post.  As we used to say in what a friend’s daughter calls “olden times”, what’s “good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Bill Clinton and Abel Herrero

Bill Clinton  (Photo credit: qnr)

Especially because this gander, slick Willie, got mostly rave reviews for his persuasive rebuttal of  most things Republican a couple of nights ago.  Well, Rush Limbaugh said the speech was boring, what little he watched, and that it wouldn’t help Obama at all.  So, there is one vote against (not to mention hours of talk show fodder as Rushbo reveals why he alone sees what others do not).

A persuasive speech, but how much was true?  It is too much to cover fully, but having read a handful of fact checkers, I’ll try to give an integrated gist.   Glenn Kessler, fact checker at the Washington Post, gave what he called “an initial take”, which was a quick survey of what he found faulty or misleading.  The Democrat/Obama plan to cut $4 trillion in the budget over a decade, Kessler described as  a “major budget gimmick”  and he called the 4.5 million private sector jobs produced during the last 29 months of Obama’s administration a “cherry picked” figure.   He had several other criticisms, including one mentioned below, not so much of Clinton but of what others said at the convention, too much to go over here.

In concentrating only on the flaws in the speech Kessler  gives no sense of much that was true, more or less.   My guess is after carving up Paul Ryan he didn’t want to be seen as soft on Bill Clinton.

One of  Kessler’s major criticisms – crediting the ACA with slowing down the growth rate of health care costs –  seems most shared by other checkers.  As Factcheck.org wrote:  “The worst we could fault him (Clinton) for was a suggestion that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was responsible for bringing down the rate of increase in health care spending, when the fact is that the law’s main provisions have yet to take effect.“  The causes of this decrease are somewhat debatable, but there seems general agreement not to credit the ACA for it.

However, it is noteworthy  that Factcheck.org viewed that as the worst exaggeration of the speech, calling “other exaggerations and missteps …. minor by comparison.”  In fact, they said despite running down Clinton’s many statistics and factual claims, they found  little to write about.

CBS checked out seven claims made by Bill Clinton and found most of them more or less correct, while giving the Obama administration more credit than  Kessler does in creating that $4.5 million jobs.

From reading these three sources (and a couple others as well), my impression is that, considering all the facts and figures Clinton mentioned over the course of his speech, he remained mostly in the ballpark of truth, implying some things that may not be true and are unlikely, but in this age of misinformation not bad at all.  Especially given all that he talked about.

That’s my sense of it all, and I am happy to report that  Melanie Mason of the LA Times seems to agree with me.   She did her own survey of the fact checkers and concluded:  “Bill Clinton courts fact-checkers, earns mostly praise.”  Check it out as she offers additional insights.

Obviously, I think highly of Ms. Mason’s ability to analyze and synthesize.  Next time I want to check something out, I’ll Google to see if she already has.   It could save me a lot of time and energy.

A Dear John Letter

(NOTE:   John is a reader who  made a couple of comments regarding my last post and responded to a previous post as well, which has prompted me to provide a couple of suggestions to him and others who might want to comment in the future…..the comments button can be found at the bottom of each post, though it is easy to miss given all the tags and categories also there.)

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in t...

President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett in the Oval Office, July 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear John,

After I called you “silly” for pulling  out your “wascally Republican” line for a second time in response to my last post, implying the obvious point that Democrats provide misleading information as well, you wrote again, this time much more.   In turn, I initially regretted responding to the first comment, but now see it as an opportunity to give a couple of guidelines to you or anyone else who wants to comment on my posts.

Rule #1:  Pay attention to what I have written and respond to that.  Don’t use my space as an opportunity to spout your political philosophy, as if there is something novel about it.   You dream about the good old days of a much smaller government that we will never see again.  Get together with other like minded folks and have a Tea Party.   Entertain each other, but please refrain from boring me and other readers with your simple minded fantasy.

Rule #2:   Pay enough attention to what I have written so that you can write an intelligent response.  Like much of what I have written, the previous post related to the manipulation of facts and distortion of truth in politics.  Lying and misleading have always been a part of politics, but there are various degrees of distortion and the degrees matter when judging the truth of any political statement and the sincerity of  one spokesman or another.  It is particularly important to note when one side denies the plausibility of any outside criticism of the truth of their statements, which is the same as saying one’s own propaganda is truth, which is a totalitarian trait and has no place in a democracy.   As I pointed out, a Republican spokesman did just that.

This may fall on deaf ears since your analysis lacks any such distinctions  (“So getting back to your article, I don’t worry so much about the lies. They all do it, those are to be expected.”).   As such, I don’t expect you to be interested in the nuances I illuminate.  However, it is ironic that you go on to say:   “What jolts me awake however is when a politician actually tells the truth. I think we heard a candidate do such a thing recently. He truthfully told us exactly what he believes. ‘You didn’t build that.’ Chilling.”

First of all, John, you’re still asleep.   It is not chilling if you actually read the other sentences that formed the context around that one, instead of just swallowing the Republican propaganda.   Here is the context of that “chilling” statement.  Read it and note that Obama states:  “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together and support each . ”  He is not dismissing individual effort, but balancing it with the support we all need at one time or another in our lives.  “We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president – because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”

Now, given your predilections, even after reading the full statement, you may still think that all of what Obama said  is b. s. except for that one imagined “Freudian slip” which speaks to your prejudice that he is a not-so-secret socialist.   If that is the case there is no hope for you and you might as well just keep reading other stuff on line that supports your delusions.

Just one question before you go, though:   If Obama is a socialist at heart, why is Warren Buffett such a staunch supporter?   You know, Warren Buffett, the third richest man in the world and one thankful to capitalism and many other elements in his life that have helped him become so amazingly successful?  Shouldn’t he be the perfect Republican, toasted at the recent convention?

Here’s a clue why he is not.  Mr. Buffett, like President Obama, is thankful for what he has achieved in life and empathetic and compassionate for those who have been much less fortunate.  Only to those who glorify their own efforts and disdain those less successful can mistake empathy and compassion for socialism.  Or, more cynically, caricature President Obama as a socialist.

I know, John, you think I should lighten up.    Well, if you could write something that was either clever or funny it would help.   But, lacking an expectation of that, I will at least try to lighten up in my next post with the help of a parody that maybe both you and I can enjoy.

We’ll see.   That is if you’re still around.