Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Politics

On Bannonism’s Coherence

Hamilton Nolan’s piece on how the Steve Bannon origin story makes no sense hits all the right notes, but I think there’s a coherence in it that Nolan misses, albeit a dark one. It’s not that Bannon wants to protect the vested fathers of the future from a financial crisis, nor is he trying to avoid said second crisis. It is, in fact, the goal. He wants to take away the rules so the banks will fuck up again and then he’ll get the privilege of telling them there’s no bailout, and he’ll have “revenge” for his dad, and get to deliver it himself. That’s exactly as far as it goes, I think.


We need to vote more. A lot more.

America has a voting problem. America should have a voting problem. How are we supposed to be good at something we hardly ever do?

We still vote for congressional representatives on the schedule set out by the framers, and for senators per the rules of the seventeenth amendment. The pace of life around the world has increased exponentially since then, especially in America, but we still vote on horse-riding and Model T schedules, respectively. We have become a debt-bearing nation, and as our shoulders grow heavier we continue to believe that voting in the other guy, or a third party, will fix our problems. Our belief in this is so resilient that it almost perfectly manages the colloquial definition of insanity.

The obvious side effect of our vote-almost-never system is the corrosive dominance of “values” voting. Values voters see the campaign as the end product of elections, and not the beginning. There will always be values voters, but the way to force them (and everyone else) to work is to make them show their work, more often.

The most common criticism I’ve gotten for this theory is not that voting more often would be ineffective, but that it would be impractical to move representatives in and out of congress so quickly. This is nonsense. There are presidential elections in other countries where the winner takes over the next day. If they can figure it out with presidents, we can figure it out with mere congresspersons. It would likely mean a smaller hand-picked staff, and more permanent staff. This could create new problems, but none as big as the one we have created.

The sheer mass our problems stops us from seeing them clearly. The only sane response to them would be to agree on a long-term plan of slow growth, and we cannot effectively do this. There is no “we, the people” and we, the people, are to blame. This country is built upon the ability of the people to make good decisions for the body politic, and it no longer works. We do not need one great politician to lead us out of it. We need hundreds of them. We need people who want to make laws, and make the country better, the Pollyanna principle that’s the founding one of our government.

At the absolute least, we have as much information in a month as 19th century voters did in a distinctly smaller and infinitely less complicated did in one two-year term. We are not able to act on that information until it is too late. Increased voting, semi or biannually for representatives and once every two or three years for senators, would act as a stimulus for government, with millions and millions of votes being added to the grand experiment each year. It would also add billions of dollars being spent on elections, but the exchange rate for competent representation would have no choice but to improve as leaders focused more on achievements and less on irrelevant positions. The alternative would not be attractive.

A possible criticism of this plan is that it would marginalize people who have little interest in government affairs. This is crazy. Every American is equally in charge of this country as every other one. There are 300 million of us, and we can’t agree on a damn thing. We need more chances, and not a few more. We need a lot more, or things will continue to compound into squalor beyond our level of comprehension, and we will continue to look for a reset button we do not have, and only a child thinks is real. Maybe if we practiced putting our heads together we could do a lick of good.

In defense of Nate

Unskew me if you want. Maybe I’d feel differently about Nate Silver had he not lived in the dorm room next to mine at college, and we hadn’t played computer trivia night after night in his almost artistically messy room. Maybe I’d feel differently if, when I noted that the 1997 or theneabouts Red Sox, at something like 10-4, were the “best team in the league,” Nate hadn’t shot back with “Just because they have the best record doesn’t mean they’re the best team,” a retort that cut down my life plan to create and sell sports narratives to its quick, and pointed me toward things that mattered. And maybe I’d feel differently if he hadn’t, more than a decade later, uprooted himself from Chicago only to land five blocks away, the perfect distance for us to catch big college football and pro basketball games in the extremely rare event he’s not working. All of those things happened, and if they hadn’t, maybe I’d be critical of him, likely out of envy, given my extreme gift for pettiness.

We’ll never know, though, the same way we’ll never know what would happen if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced each other 100 times, on 100 different election days, with 100 different weather systems moving in and 100 different mixes of poll workers. We can only work with what we’ve got, and I can only work with what I’ve got. Nate hardly needs my help, as he’s been wonderfully defended by Deadspin’s David Roher and Gawker’s Mobutu Sese Seko among many, many others. But I feel compelled to defend him, given my unique position. The attacks on him won’t stop until the election is over, and there is actually data to play with, no matter how eloquent those saving him from ad hominem parries are—the whole point of ad hominem attacks is that they’re illogical and impossible to defend against. The criticisms of Nate that center around his the machine he’s created, and make him part of the machine, by extension, couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nate’s not a machine. He’s a regular dude who works really hard and takes a ton of pride in his work, a guy who started two small businesses by himself because he thought he could help people understand baseball and politics better.

When Joe Scarborough purports to speak for the Obama campaign, saying that they believe they have only a 50.1 percent chance of winning the election, he’s conflating feelings with data, but even these feelings are represented in Nate’s work — all you need to do is check the “Popular Vote” column on FiveThirtyEight, which has listed Obama around there pretty much since Mitt vanquished the last of his 361 challengers. When Reuters/Ipsos calls the race “tied,” they’re doing national polls, and then you get the amazing pirouette of right-leaning commentators arguing against a state-by-state solution to the mess of sorting the signal from the noise. Small businesses are the answer to all of our problems, they say, right up until they start asking who you’re going to vote for.

You probably won’t be shocked to know that the Nate issue has nothing to do with Nate and has everything to do with the campaigns. The Obama campaign is the most amazingly well-run political operation we’ve ever seen, to the point we’ve hardly seen it. The horse-race aspect of the campaign wouldn’t exist if they didn’t want it to. Future Democratic politics are going to be screwed if they can’t summon the enthusiasm that gets people involved and keeps them around during politically challenging times — Obama’s exceptionalism in this department has been almost completely overlooked. They never left Ohio. They knew to create real change, which Obama campaigned on, they needed to govern for eight years. They created a plan to do that, which they have been executing with precision and in almost total national silence. Nate’s model has the audacity to find and acknowledge this signal. As Ezra Klein writes in so many words, this sort of data parsing is pretty much precisely what Mitt Romney has been doing his whole life. A better model to question than Nate’s could be Romney’s, where the data tells us he’s trailing, yet he more or less treated the final debate as if he was the incumbent instead of the challenger in a race where it is all but conceded that the challenger will have some sort of advantage. If Obama can get people to the polls and muster any of the enthusiasm he mustered in 2008 by running against an old order, instead of representing an entrenched one, that ought to work in his favor, and Romney’s strategy seems to ultimately concede both of these points to him. The only way Nate is wrong is if Romney has created an even less visible mobilization effort in Ohio, one that his model has missed. His projections say there’s a 20 percent change of that being the case. It seems pretty straightforward.

What I’ve never understood about Nate is his patience for showing his work. The people criticizing him now may or may not realize it, but Nate loves his work more than they hate it and then he can, mystifyingly, come by the bar (late, as usual) and drink some beers, as normal a dude has you’ll find in this city. The type of person who gets their news from Morning Joe should think the election’s too close to call. I’m not saying that Morning Joe goes out of its way to misinform, but the near-defining quality of television “personalities” is that they have swapped talking for learning. They are brought onto television for what they already know, and they are paid to respond to news events on-air more or less in real time. This is true across networks and ideologies, and is a law defined by its exceptions, notably Chris Hayes and the great Rachel Maddow, who does every night in real life what the bumbling, self-important retreads on The Newsroom can’t even manage in fiction.

But I’m straying fromt the point. The point is that Nate Silver has no hidden agenda, unless it’s getting out of work early to try the new Oktoberfest beers. If you really want to see Nate fail, don’t ask him to predict an election. That’s what he can do really well. Ask him to pull himself away from it, and to meet you 10. When he starts showing up on time, that’s when I’ll start worrying.


ME: What the fuck is up with your mosque statements?

BO: I firmly believe in the right of all citizens to practice religion, but I worry about the wisdom of this project.

ME: Are you fucking kidding me?

BO: Are you swearing at the President of the United States?

ME: Are you pandering to a nebulous group of people who aren’t going to vote for you anyway? Are you shying away from a “teachable moment?” Are you blowing this non-issue spectacularly?

BO: Well, Bryan, you said it. It’s a non-issue. I have bigger things to worry about.

ME: So you can afford to punt on this one?

BO: I’m not punting. I said what I believed.

ME: If you said what you believed, I’m the starting quarterback for the Patriots.

BO: Something happened to Tom Brady? (he’s angry and calm in that way of his)

ME: You do realize the mosque isn’t a mosque, isn’t at Ground Zero, and that there’s another mosque already in existence down the block?

BO: I’m aware.

ME: So why is this community center unwise?

BO: I didn’t say it was unwise. I say I questioned the wisdom of the decision.

ME: You realize people can’t stand that, right? I mean, it was fine right after Bush—it was like having C-Span after you’d been watching TV fuzz for eight years. The worst part is that everyone knows you don’t believe what you’re saying, and you’re botching even how you say it.

BO: I have a difficult job.

ME: I’ll say. And you went through hell to get it. But you knew exactly what you were getting into. All those comparisons to Herbert Hoover people leveled at you starting, oh, on January 21st, 2009? You are making those people look like Nastradamus.

BO: You mean Nostradamus.

ME: I most certainly do not.

BO: Do you know what LBJ said about Herbert Hoover?

ME: Enlighten me.

BO: He said, “I thought Hoover was a victim of sadistic people and economic conditions over which he had no control. He was unusually equipped to be President.” I’ll be Herbert Hoover.

ME: Damn.

BO: Were you saying that because you were impressed, or because of the pun it made with “Hoover?”

ME: (shamed) The second one.

BO: I thought so.

(He walks away, disgusted.)

Health Care Tweets For Your Funny Bone

Here’s are my Health Care Tweets. Some of them are funny. Some of you read my Twitter feed, others don’t. I will probably write some more.

Peal and Repeal are walking down the street. Peal falls and breaks his arm. Who’s pissed that it doesn’t bankrupt him?

Dammit, I got 11th in my pre-existing conditions fantasy draft. I’m gonna be stuck with bacne.

Boehner said health care reform would be done over his “dead body.” So was that angry guy last night the smoke monster?

Republicans in 2003: If you don’t love it, leave it. Dems today: If you don’t love it, stay and we’ll take care of you when you’re sick.

VIDEO: Obama’s statement in its entirety

If I do say so, I’m on fire tonight. Good thing in our socialist paradise, I can call the FDNY for free.

Good news for *some* GOP members. They can now claim racism as a pre-existing condition.

Looks like I picked the right week to start sniffing glue.

George W. Bush to House GOP: Quit your whining. I didn’t have the most votes, and I still won.

Scott Brown’s Primer

A primer for the new guy, by yours truly.

Finish the Sentence


Politico is a good website to visit if something big just happened and you want news on it. Question Time would be a good example. Otherwise it’s like the WWE: Every day the top news story the BIGGEST STORY EVER! THE REPUBLICANS ARE WINNING! THE DEMOCRATS ARE WINNING! And so forth.

I understand how this could be an extremely valuable tool inside the Beltway. It strikes me as colossally stupid outside of it.

Football and Torture

There have been two relatively high-profile rule changes in the NFL this year. The first rule is that there are no more “incidental” facemask grapping penalties, which used to be 5 yards; all facemask penalites are now 15-yard personal fouls. The second rule is that a player can no longer be judged to have been “forced out” of bounds when trying to get his feet in the playing field while making a catch. The refs could previously judge whether or not the player “would have” gotten his feet down if he is knocked out of bounds while in air, but the NFL removed that rule this year. The rules changes have one thing in common: it takes a subjective judgment out of the refs’ hands. The goal of the rules is to reduce the number of qualitative judgments that are necessary on the field in favor of the number of quantitative judgments. It is a good system.

I have been thinking about the NFL and its constant rules-tinkering as I’ve been reading about America’s torture laws, and how John Yoo and others won’t be face penalties for writing briefs that permitted the U.S. to torture people while George W. Bush was in office. While a panel found that Yoo used “poor judgment” in creating his briefs, it found that he did not act outside of the purview of the law; he had not, then, extended executive power beyond its actual borders. This is a load of horseshit, the equivalent of ignoring what was once a five-yard facemask penalty on Yoo and excusing the harsher penalty because the intent was not believed to be bad enough. There is no room for question of intent here. It is illegal to torture. A law was broken, and the penalty must be paid, the same way NFL coaches do not get to unilaterally decree that certain rules do not apply to them. When rules are broken, people must be held accountable, otherwise the rules were not really broken.

I am flabbergasted that a judgment of “poor judgment” itself can even be rendered here. While our President strives to overturn the binary nature of our politics, this is a situation where it actually exists for our own good. What has happened here is an epic failure of our legal system, and should shake our nation to its core.

What’s Not In The Budget: $6.3 Trillion in Debt

If I’m reading this correctly, more than $6 trillion worth of national debt is excluded from the budget because it’s from Frannie and Freddie, which aren’t 100 percent government entities but are enough such that Peter Orszag, before he was actually making the budget, said:

We are saying that the degree of control exercised by the federal government over these entities is so strong that the best treatment is to incorporate them into the federal budget.

So I guess my claim that the budget was boring was a lie. It’s the budget that’s a lie.

For all the talk about obstructionist politicians acting like children, it sure seems like us regular old citizens are often treated like kids. Rover’s on a farm upstate, playing with other dogs.

I’m sorry if that sounds cynical, because I’m not cynical about it. I’m not sure it matters much if the debt is $6 trillion or $12 trillion as long as there’s an underlying process for fixing the whole thing. It just seems that either the process is so big it’s hard to explain, even in a State of the Union address, or that there’s a fear that suddenly $12 trillion is politically radioactive because of this country’s fear of two-digit numbers (or 14, as it were). I’m not as afraid of a little or a lot of debt, or even a little more of it, as I am of being systematically shut out of the process. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to be included. In fact, I’m sure it’s not. I appreciate the difficulty of governing, but the inches we give to government seem to turn into miles so quickly that it’s clearly not us who are being irresponsible. Anyone who says that this sort of deception is part of the job of governing clearly isn’t really trying to change things.

At the same time, I still think Obama is doing a great job. I think that this, like health care, represents a negative the GOP is already going to hold against him, so he might as well just come out and give us the damage. I think he’s trying to forestall a tipping point that passed a long time ago. If the Republicans don’t believe in truths, half-truths aren’t going to help you any. If you really want to change the conversation, change it. You might be able to win without doing so, and we’ll be better for it, but not as good as we could be.

h/t to Wolves on the link