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Monday, November 20, 2017

Party Guys, Committee Guys, District Guys

Casey Burgat at the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group:
Even the most casual observer of American politics recognizes stylistic differences between members of Congress (MCs) and how they approach their jobs. Some MCs are more vocal, consistently making the rounds on cable news to explain their positions, while others are more comfortable cracking down on the details of policy and avoiding the spotlight altogether. Still others spend a greater portion of their time and resources fundraising for themselves and their co-partisans.
We know lawmakers differ in their goals, tactics and approaches to their congressional work. But, a new paper authored by political scientists William Bernhard and Tracy Sulkin, with an assist from biostatistics assistant professor Daniel Sewell, reveals that MCs cluster into legislative styles that are far more stable and predictable than many would have thought. In the words of the authors, members “engage in patterns or “packages” of activity that correspond to a particular constellation of goals. These patterns are characteristic of individual MCs, but not unique to each.”
Within their August 2017 Legislative Studies Quarterly article, “A Clustering Approach to Legislative Styles”, the authors show that patterns of member decisions, behaviors, and activities ultimately produce five distinct legislative styles of lawmakers: district advocates, party builders, ambitious entrepreneurs, party soldiers, and policy specialists.
William Bernhard, Tracy Sulkin, and Daniel Sewell, "A Clustering Approach to Legislative Styles."

In 1994, William F. Connelly Jr, and I identified three types: party guys, committee guys, and district guys.  This analysis seems to confirm our earlier analysis.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Digital Media Crash

At TPM, Josh Marshall explains why there is a digital media crash:  too many publications for the amount of available funding.
This has been a fact for more than two decades. It is driven by the extremely low costs of entry in digital publishing which makes it very difficult to set up the kinds of de facto monopolies that existed for big city newspapers for most of the second half of the 20th century.
Then came the platform monopolies: Google, Facebook and a few others. Over the last five years or so but accelerating rapidly in the last 24 months, they’ve gobbled up almost all of the growth in advertising revenue and begun to engross a substantial amount of the existing advertising revenue as well.
Let’s try a very simple visualization of what I’m describing. Remember, there are too many publications relative to advertising revenue. So let’s imagine there are 30 publications and 25 revenue seats. The publications fight like hell to secure one of the seats. Then the platform monopolies came along and sat down in maybe 5 or 10 of the 25 seats. You can see the problem. The competition of 30 publications competing for 15 seats gets insane. A bunch of the publications are going to die or be forced to find another way to fund themselves.
Now, here’s the too little discussed part of the equation. A huge, huge, huge amount of digital media is funded by venture capital. That’s not just to say they had investors at the start but in effect a key revenue stream of many digital publications has been on-going infusions of new investment.
Much of that investment has been premised on the assumption that scale – being huge – would allow publications to create stable and defensible business models. There are a lot of moving parts to the strategies. But it essentially comes down to this idea: get big enough and you can solve the chronic problem of over-supply of publications in your favor through sales at volume and being able to command stable, premium advertising rates. But that hasn’t happened. Just as one fact point, The Wall Street Journal reported today that Buzzfeed is going to miss its revenue target this year by as much as 20%. That’s a lot.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Media Ownership Rules

Ted Johnson reports at Variety:
Broadcasters will be allowed to combine with a newspaper in the same market, and could be allowed to own two of the top four stations in a city, as the FCC on Thursday relaxed a series of long-standing media ownership regulations.
The new rules, passed in a 3-2 vote, may be challenged in court, but if they survive, they will mark the most significant changes to media ownership regulations in a generation. They could lead to further consolidation and mergers among broadcasters, who have long argued that they need greater scale to compete with cable and internet companies for local ad dollars.
The media ownership regulations of 2017 should match the media marketplace of 2017,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. He said the agency was “dragging the broadcast rules into the digital age.” Pai added that the changes are needed, given current consumer habits, as people get their news not just from local stations, but from websites, podcasts, and social media.
The changes are taking place just as the FCC is considering whether to allow Sinclair Broadcast Group to merge with Tribune Media, creating a station group powerhouse with control over 233 stations and a reach of 72% of the country.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Yesterday, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget issued this release about House passage of a tax-cut bill that will bloat the national debt by  $1.5 trillion or more.
The House approved debt-financed tax cuts based on predictions of magical economic growth that defy history and all credible analyses.
Tax reform should grow the economy and not add to the debt. Unfortunately, lawmakers are assuming faster economic growth will pay for that debt increase when there is no evidence it will cover more than a fraction of the tax bill’s costs.
The last time Congress added 10-figures worth of tax cuts to the debt in 2001, it blew a hole in the budget and helped erase our surpluses — despite claims that economic growth would cover the cost. The growth fairy did not appear then, and it would be unwise to assume she will this time around.
What is so stunning is that we are considering trying this again at a truly unprecedented moment in our fiscal history. When the tax cuts of 2001 were passed, debt was 31 percent of GDP, the nation was running budget surpluses, and we were on track to pay off our debt. Today, debt is 77 percent of GDP — higher than any time in history other than just after World War II — and trillion-dollar deficits are on track to return by 2022.
Already, we are projected to borrow another $10 trillion over the coming decade. The answer must not be to pile more debt on top of that.
This bill is a lost opportunity to truly reform the tax code in a way that would maximize economic growth by broadening the base and eliminating special interest tax breaks while lowering rates and modernizing our tax code.
Instead of trickling down economic growth, the House plan will unleash a tidal wave of debt that will ultimately slow wage growth and hurt the economy.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Hate Crimes and Jews and Muslims

From Pew:
The number of assaults against Muslims in the United States rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, easily surpassing the modern peak reached in 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new hate crimes statistics from the FBI. In 2016, there were 127 reported victims of aggravated or simple assault, compared with 91 the year before and 93 in 2001.
Overall, there were 307 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, marking a 19% increase from the previous year. This rise in hate crimes builds on an even sharper increase the year before, when the total number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67%, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.
From the report:

Of the 1,584 victims of anti-religious hate crimes:
  • 54.4 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.
  • 24.5 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Second Thoughts on Bill Clinton

At The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan writes the Democrats were wrong to look away from Bill Clinton's sexual harassment:
When more than a dozen women stepped forward and accused Leon Wieseltier of a serial and decades-long pattern of workplace sexual harassment, he said, “I will not waste this reckoning.” It was textbook Wieseltier: the insincere promise and the perfectly chosen word. The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton. The party needs to come to terms with the fact that it was so enraptured by their brilliant, Big Dog president and his stunning string of progressive accomplishments that it abandoned some of its central principles. The party was on the wrong side of history, and there are consequences for that. Yet expedience is not the only reason to make this public accounting. If it is possible for politics and moral behavior to coexist, then this grave wrong needs to be acknowledged. If Weinstein and Mark Halperin and Louis C. K. and all the rest can be held accountable, so can our former president and so can his party, which so many Americans so desperately need to rise again.
Matthew Yglesias at Vox:
At the time I, like most Americans, was glad to see Clinton prevail and regarded the whole sordid matter as primarily the fault of congressional Republicans’ excessive scandal-mongering. Now, looking back after the election of Donald Trump, the revelations of massive sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, the stories about Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, and the stories about Roy Moore’s pursuit of sexual relationships with teenagers, I think we got it wrong. We argued about perjury and adultery and the meaning of the word “is.” Republicans prosecuted a bad case against a president they’d been investigating for years.
What we should have talked about was men abusing their social and economic power over younger and less powerful women.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Deliberation and Nuclear Weapons

The best reforms to the nuclear command and control system would be ones that maximized the opportunity for the human element to mitigate risks by maximizing time for deliberation and assessment. The best reforms are ones that would increase the time that the President and his advisors would have available so as to make considered decisions incorporating the widest set of inputs, including, if possible, inputs from leaders in Congress. Of course, efforts to extend decision times must not run afoul of the always-never dilemma. Reforms that maximized decision time but rendered the nuclear arsenal unusable in a crisis or conventional conflict would undermine deterrence and could actually make a nuclear war more, not less, likely. Moreover, measures aimed at providing radical solutions at the hardware level risk being undone by workarounds at the software or wetware levels. Nevertheless, investments -- even costly investments -- in systems that buy more decision time in crises are likely among the wisest expenditures we can make. For instance, enhanced missile defenses may be a prudent option in light of the growing threat from North Korea – one that gives the President more time to assess before reacting. And upgrading communications systems to ensure that the President will have immediate access to all of his/her relevant advisors even under demanding scenarios would be a prudent investment in national security.