Alan Blinder, former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, speaks out on liberalism and free trade at TPMCafe Book Club.
Alan Blinder, former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, speaks out on liberalism and free trade at TPMCafe Book Club.
Let me expand a bit on my earlier comments about redistricting reform.
For most of the time I've been actively interested in politics I've been at best skeptical about a lot of what you might call good government reformism. Part of that is just temperamental. To the extent there's substance behind it, I've always felt that there's a strain of 'goo-goo' reform which puts procedural cleanliness over substantive good results for ordinary citizens -- effective provision of services, real representation of different interests in society, and so forth.
Hovering behind these ideas is a recognition that there were strong anti-democratic tendencies in the original Progressive movement, though they did not define the entirety of it. And most important, I think if you look back over the history of the US, our most effective reforms have not come in complex regulatory regimes but in systems which effectively balance different powers and interests against each other. And that still makes me less than a total optimist about the potential of effective campaign finance reform.
All that said, though, sometimes the ship of state just gets too overrun with barnacles and the whole thing has to be scraped clean. And we're clearly at one of those points. One needn't indulge utopian fantasies about abolishing government corruption or dealing a death blow to the power of monied interests in politics. All that is necessary is a recognition that reform is a cyclical process needed to keep the government healthy and functioning. And we're overdue for real reform.
Gerrymandering has been around, literally, since the country began. But I'm persuaded by the argument that computers and data technologies have substantially increased the ability of those in power to shape districts to perpetuate their power.
The real proof though is the sclerotic House of Representatives. Set aside the fact that it's now controlled by a corrupt Republican machine. The House is designed to be the part of the federal government most responsive to the changing views of the public. But it's pretty clear that that role has now been taken over by the senate. I think there's probably a decent argument that more seats are in play in the senate in most cycles these days than in the House -- not just in percentage terms but in absolute terms too. And that's just crazy. The power of money in politics is more tied up with that of non-competitive districts than we might think.
Already this morning I've had a reader write in to tell me that the problem isn't gerrymandering but the increasing trend toward geo-communal self-segregation. Liberals move where there are lots of liberals; conservatives do the same, etc. I don't doubt that's part of it. But I don't think that explains it all either. And if it is a big part of the equation, perhaps we need to rejigger the redistricting calculus a bit to inject some more play into the system.
Tell me what you think.
Real life is harder to keep to the script. Arnold got waxed in California. All eight Arnold-powered initiatives went down to defeat last night.
When I last checked last night it looked like the anti-labor initiative might win. But that one went down too. (In this post at TPMCafe Jo-Ann Mort explains how it was a good night for organized labor all across the country.)
The one note of ambivalence for me was Prop. 77, Arnold's redistricting initiative. I'm not crazy about the idea of Republicans using redistricting reform to knock off Democrats while ramming through the most outlandish gerrymanders in the states they control (like Texas, for instance). But I'm more and more convinced that redistricting reform is a key plank in any serious reform agenda for this country. Not just a cudgel to loosen up entrenched GOP power in the House, but a genuine reform aimed at making politics more responsive to the popular will. In some ways I think it may prove more important than campaign finance reform, though I believe that is a key part of reform too.
Correction: There were eight initiatives in California. And they all went down. But only four of them were Arnold-backed.
We've already gotten a number of very promising applications for the job opening TPM is now hiring for. But I wanted to take a moment to explain a bit more about what we're doing -- partly for potential job applicants, but much more for readers of this site.
One of the most inspiring things about the blog phenomenon is the sheer multiplicity of differet forms created within the basic genre -- even within the relatively small niche of blogs devoted to politics. You've got a site like CrooksandLiars.com, for instance, which in addition to a lot of conventional text blogging, provides this amazing service of hosting more or less instantly available video snippets of most all the happenings on the day's political news shows that people on the web are talking about.
The blogging that I've done over the last five years -- TPM's Five Year Anniversary is coming up this Sunday, by the way -- has taken a number of different forms, several of which, over the last year especially, I really never would have expected. But two have always been the ones I've most gravitated toward.
First is blog as distiller of information. It's a cliche to say how we're all overloaded with information today with the proliferation of news outlets. But it's quite a thing to actually consider in some detail how true it actually is.
A dozen years ago, only an extremely small minority of people had access to any newspapers beside their local paper and perhaps the New York Times, USA Today or the Wall Street Journal, which have a national or quasi-national distribution.
Today anyone with an Internet connection has immediate access to every major paper in the country and the great majority of local papers which contain all manner of information flying beneath the radars of the big regional outlets. That of course doesn't even touch on international papers, native online news outlets, websites for the news networks and much else.
If you're trying to keep up on the Social Security fight or the Abramoff story, for instance, there's just a huge amount of information out there. And one of the things I've tried to do with this site is piece those stories together, put reporting in context or take disparate bits of information appearing in different pieces of reporting and fitting them together into some larger whole.
I still do a lot of original reporting. But not infrequently I have these sort of embarrassing conversations where someone will say, 'Hey, amazing reporting you did on such and such' when actually I didn't do any 'reporting' at all. It was just piecing material together from different news sources and working from tips and leads from readers.
Occasionally, I'll get interviewed about blogs. And I always make the point that 'the media' functions like an ecosystem with a heavy measure of interdependence. Without newspapers and, to a lesser extent, the electronic media, blogs would have very little raw material to feed on. They're heavily dependent on reporting by conventional journalists, either to criticize or to build on.
But blogs have eked out a niche too. Since they're not chained to particular formats of writing, the daily news cycle or the news 'peg', they can focus in on the progress of a particular story in a way that is very difficult to do within the conventions of newspaper reporting.
In any case, that's one focus of mine, one thing I like in blogs.
The other is original reporting.
Few blogs do a lot of original reporting. And that's mainly because it's time-consuming and expensive to support. I've always done quite a bit of it. But that's mainly because for most of the time I've been running TPM I was a freelance journalist trying to scrape together a living by writing constantly. And that left me with lots of material I could use for the site.
In any case, this post wasn't intended as a disquisition on blog theory. But that's the model of blogging that interests me.
And the stories that interest me right now are a) the interconnected web of corruption scandals bubbling up out the reining Washington political machine and b) the upcoming mid-term elections.
I cover a little of both. And I've particularly tried to give some overview of the Abramoff story. But I'm never able to dig deeply enough into the stories or for a sustained enough period of time or to keep track of how all the different ones fit together. That's a site I'd like to read every day -- one that pieced together these different threads of public corruption for me, showed me how the different ones fit together (Abramoff with DeLay with Rove with the shenanigans at PBS and crony-fied bureaucracies like the one Michael Brown was overseeing at FEMA) and kept tabs on how they're all playing in different congressional elections around the country.
That's a site I'd like to read because I'm never able to keep up with all of it myself. So we're going to try to create it.
I don't imagine it will be easy. But it will be an experiment with a new sort of journalism. And I think we'll be able to put something together that the readers of this site will enjoy and find useful. And we're going to try to do that by mobilizing the resources we've already built with TPM and TPMCafe. To start we're going to try to raise money from TPM Readers to jumpstart a salary or two for the person or persons who will do most of the work producing the site. Then we're hoping that over time we can support the effort through selling advertising, an ability we're already investing a good deal of time in building up to support the two sites we currently run.
Finally, we have you. Now, yes, I know that sounds like the most eye-roll-inspiring drivel or flattery. But it's quite true in a very concrete sense.
TPM has a monthly audience of about 3/4 of a million people. And on weekdays we get anywhere form a couple hundred to upwards of a thousand emails (the weekday average seems to be a bit over three hundred). And those messages together amount to a huge nationwide information gathering apparatus. Some emails are just pointers from people with expertise in some area I happen to be writing about. Others turn out to be 'sources' in the conventional journalistic sense. Many more, though, are just pointers to news stories bubbling up beneath the radar of the national political press.
I really can't overemphasize how essential those emails are to producing this site. Just by way of example, when I was focused in on the Social Security debate earlier this year, that was only remotely possible because I had people in almost every congressional district keeping me updated on what was being reported in their local papers, what their member of Congress was saying back in the district, what mailers they were sending out and so forth.
That's something that most reporters don't have access to. But, like a number of other high-traffic blogs, we do. We won't be trying to compete with conventional news outlets. Like I said above, sites like this wouldn't be able to survive without newspapers and news networks to cull information from. But we can produce our own unique sort of wall-to-wall, constantly updated coverage.
I hope the end result will be one you'll want to read and support. And I'm betting we'll be able to find one or two canny and hard-working reporter-bloggers to help us do it.
More on all of this very soon.
Read this post by Amy Sullivan.
What do you think tonight's election results mean? That's what we're discussing now in this thread at TPMCafe. Tell us what you think.
Isn't it supposed to be those other guys who run the torture chambers in Eastern Europe? I can never keep track of these things.
TPM Reader TF checks in ...
I donât think anyone has mentioned this but didnât Trent Lott himself continue to leak classified information in his comments off camera to CNN today?
If he was in that Republican only Senatorâs meeting with Cheney last week and then confirms today that what was in the Dana Priest article last week was classified and discussed behind closed doors with Cheney, the CONFIRMATION of classified information has occurred.
As I recall from the whole Rove / Libby issues even the confirmation of classified information is a violation. Lott has basically confirmed today the off the books CIA prisons are real and that he got a classified briefing from Cheney. He basically confirmed the entire Wapo article, which I believe might be a violation itself!
Steve Clemons is doing a nice run-down this evening of the various crimes, bad acts and generic villainies of Ahmad Chalabi, who's coming to DC tomorrow to hang with friends at the American Enterprise Institute and hobnob with high-ranking administration officials. Steve even has a few choice morsels that many Chalabi-watchers don't know about -- like the strong belief at the CIA that he tipped off Saddam about a CIA-backed coup because they refused to cut him in on the action.
In any case, I'm enjoying life up here in the Big Apple -- almost exactly a year now. But tomorrow's a day I'll regret that I don't still live in the nation's capital. Because I'd like to be on hand, or at least nearby, when Chalabi heads back to what is, at least the metaphorically, the scene of the crime.
Actually, a few days ago I suggested to Steve that one way to dramatize what this man has been responsible for would be to have some folks on hand to attempt a citizen's arrest of Ahmad Chalabi. Nothing by force, mind you. All non-violent. Just walk up to the man, put a hand on the shoulder, announce that they're taking him into custody in a citizen's arrest and offer to escort him to the Justice Department building for questioning. If some of his goons or the AEI rent-a-cops man-handle these patriots, then at least the point is made.
Steve appears to have looked into this now though and found that the DC Citizen's Arrest law requires that the arrestor see the bad-actor in the actual commission of a felony. Perhaps someone can consult an attorney to see what the possibilities are. On the other hand, perhaps some of those high-ranking administration officials Chalabi's going to meet with can effect an arrest since they've probably witnessed some of his bad acts.
In any case, if you're there on the scene to protest tomorrow -- at 2 PM at 1150 17th St NW -- send us in reports, send us in pictures. We'll post the good stuff so TPM Readers around the country can see ordinary Americans protesting against this shark and his friends who've brought him back into American waters.
President Bush swung into Richmond last night to push his guy Jerry Kilgore past the finish line in Virginia. But tonight Kilgore came up short. Tim Kaine is the next governor of the state. And as Ed Kilgore (no relation) explains here, the scope of Kaine's win is actually more impressive than the top-line number would indicate.
The accepted verdict on what a given election 'means' most often boils away too much of the complexity and causes behind what happened. But this was a bad night for President Bush. The Kilgore goof is an emblematic example. But you can see it in other races too. President Bush wasn't that popular in November 2002. But he delivered for his party. He was a fairly unpopular incumbent running for reelection in 2004. But he won.
Few will admit it publicly. But I think a lot of Republicans will look at what happened tonight and see that something has changed. President Bush was a liability, even for a Republican in a tomato red state like Virginia. They won't say it. But watch what they do. Actions speak louder than words.