Saturday, March 29, 2014

Paul Krugman and friends eat their own

Well, OK, I guess we have one thing in common.
Just ask any of my close friends who’ve been forced to sit through one of my numerous rants about American politics and they’ll all tell you the same thing—after the mainstream media itself, public enemy number one is probably Paul Krugman. OK, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but that’s only because I pretty much equally despise every pundit out there. And I’m not above admitting that that’s because none of them agree with me on 100% of the issues. But Mr. Krugman has a special, permanent spot reserved on my naughty list. I know it’s quite presumptuous for me to judge a Nobel laureate, but I know intellectual dishonesty when I see it. And Krugman’s blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, makes him out to be less a renowned economist and more a Democratic windbag. Note that I don’t say “liberal windbag” because his positions aren’t so much advocating a liberal point of view as they are a “Democratic-policies-are-always-better-than-Republican-policies” point of view.

You can imagine what kinds of problems that particular attitude can pose over time, as our two hypocritical political parties change their views on certain issues based on who is in power. Remember back in 2006, when Democrats thought deficits were a bad thing and a senator named Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling because it “weakens us domestically and internationally”? He doesn’t take that same position today.

And Dr. Krugman indeed has these problems. Here he is in January 2012, poking fun at conservative “deficit-worriers” who “portray a future in which we're impoverished by the need to pay back money we've been borrowing.” The national debt, he says, doesn’t matter all that much. But flash back nine years (when we had a Republican in the White House), and there is the same Dr. Krugman explaining that he switched to a fixed-rate mortgage because he’s “terrified about what will happen to interest rates once financial markets wake up to the implications of skyrocketing budget deficits.” Hmm.

The latest example of this type of behavior from our duplicitous Nobel Prize winner comes in the form of an attack on a former ally—statistical wunderkind Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. Silver and Krugman were once colleagues at The New York Times, when the latter frequently heaped praise on the former for his very accurate predictions regarding the 2012 elections. Dr. Krugman admired Silver for defying the wildly fantastical “gut-feeling” approach of most political pundits and actually using data analysis to predict election outcomes. He found it refreshing that someone would put the so-called election “experts” in their place.

That is, of course, until Silver left the Times for ESPN and began taking on other types of experts, namely climate scientists and economists like Dr. Krugman himself. As Silver has cheekily documented on his own, “Mr. Krugman’s views of FiveThirtyEight have changed since it re-launched March 17 under the auspices of ESPN. The columnist has mentioned FiveThirtyEight four times in just nine days, all in negative contexts.” According to Mr. Krugman, Silver was right to go after political pundits, who “know approximately nothing,” but he is mistaken to take on economists, who “work hard on the data.” When it comes to economics, Krugman says, “you’re going to do better by tracking their research than by trying to roll your own.” In other words, Nate, you may be smarter than political analysts but you mustn’t go so far as to think you’re as smart as Dr. Krugman. After all, he is a Nobel laureate, remember?

And Krugman isn’t alone. Others on the left are attacking FiveThirtyEight for daring to speak out against the climate change narrative in one of the new website’s first posts. The Climate Consensus blog at The Guardian has accused Silver of undermining his brand by “misrepresenting climate research.” They, like Dr. Krugman, are incensed that this upstart little blog would presume to be as smart as they are. “FiveThirtyEight can crunch data better than most politics and sports analysts,” the headline says, “but not better than scientific experts.” Or economists, I guess, since their article also quotes (yep, you guessed it) Paul Krugman. They basically parrot his sentiment that although Silver’s contrarian analysis in 2012 brought him success and fame, looking for counter-intuitive results in other areas just makes you look silly. Hmm. 

UPDATE 3/30:

Now we can add Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to the list of people attacking Mr. Silver. In response to FiveThirtyEight's recent prediction that the Republicans are favored to take the Senate, Reid had this to say: “He gave me a 16 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Heidi Heitkamp an 8 percent chance of being reelected, he gave Jon Tester a [34] percent chance of being reelected. So all polls are about like Nate Silver’s predictions: good sometimes, bad most of the time.” In other words, they’re good when they tell you what you want to hear and bad when they don’t. Clearly, Silver missed a memo at some point—if you’re not going to use your brainpower to back up the liberal establishment, then be quiet. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Angry old liberals turn on Millennials

Because clearly we're all just alcoholics.
I don’t want to speak too soon, but it seems that at least some of President Obama’s supporters have finally decided that too much time has passed to blame George W. Bush for all of the current administration’s failures. After all, it makes sense that that particular trope would have run out of steam after fueling two presidential election wins. But just who, you might ask, have they decided to point their fingers at now (because let’s be real, they’re not ever going to take responsibility for any of their own bad ideas)? Well, it seems that now the Millennials are to blame.

Dana Milbank, one of the most important cogs in the Obama apologia that is the Washington Post editorial page, wrote an article on Friday about how the Millennial generation has abandoned Obamacare. According to the administration’s latest figures (cited in Milbank’s article), the 18-to-34 demographic only accounted for 25% of all Obamacare signups as of the end of last month. This is certainly problematic for the short- and long-term success of the program, as the Department of Health and Human Services had initially predicted that about 40% of total enrollees needed to be in that age cohort in order to keep Obamacare workable. In other words, there needed to be plenty of young, healthy people in the insurance exchanges to pay for the increased healthcare costs of the older, sicker enrollees who are now permitted to qualify for health insurance just like everyone else. Just like with Social Security and Medicare, it is up to the Millennials to pay for the benefits enjoyed by the Baby Boomers and Gen X. Never mind that it is we who are struggling to pay off student loan debt and find good jobs in this stagnant, “new normal” economy. (BLS figures for February 2014 has the unemployment rate for 20-to-24-year-olds at a troubling 11.9%. The figure for those aged 25-to-34 stands at 7%; both of these figures are above the overall rate.)

Mr. Milbank bemoans the lackluster enrollment effort put forth by the Millennials, painting them as hypocrites for voting for President Obama by overwhelming margins only to abandon him “in his hour of need.” He then seeks to find an explanation for this sudden lack of loyalty among young voters. To his credit, he does take a moment to lay some blame on the Obama administration for failing to continually engage our nation’s youth. But just as soon as he’s finished with that, he points his fingers squarely at the youth themselves, saying, “But part of the problem also is the inability of the millennial generation to remain attached to a cause.” According to Mr. Milbank, we are a capricious, fickle group of kids who are so connected online that we have no real allegiance to any real-world organization.

It is around that point in the article that he stops sounding like a Gen X-er and more like a Baby Boomer. “You darn kids,” he might as well be grumbling. “You’re too busy on your Facebooks and Twitters to pay money you don’t have for insurance you don’t need so that people like me can get it for cheap.” I wonder, did it ever occur to Mr. Milbank that the true explanation as to why Millennials don’t want to sign up for Obamacare might be just a little simpler? Could it perhaps be that a presidential candidate who attracted them with empty platitudes about hope and change did little more than swindle them into getting a cumbersome, unworkable law that rips them off? Could it be that after voting against their own interests in two straight presidential elections, my generation is finally starting to realize that they’ve been had? Like rats jumping off the sinking ship of the Obama presidency, the Millennials seem to have grasped that they’ve been handed a raw deal: no jobs, no affordable healthcare, no change. Mr. Milbank should stop whining to the kids and take some advice from Evan Feinberg at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who says, “Blame the Obamacare marketing team. Since the exchanges launched in October, the team’s attempts to persuade us to sign up have been inappropriate, incoherent and simply insulting.” But please, don’t try and blame us for what is undeniably bad law and bad policy. We Millennials are already paying for our mistakes—literally.

The closest Milbank comes to the truth is at the very end of his piece, when he says, “Asking [Millennials] to pay money to join a health-care exchange, it seems, is too tall an order — even though the presidency they created depends on it.” The only thing he’s missing here is one simple qualifier—too much money. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A “problematic” post: my thoughts on Jared Leto’s Oscar win

Ian McKellen on Extras by Victor_Bugle

I have heard—through Facebook first and news outlets sometime later—that some people who are either members of or sympathetic to the transgender community are upset that Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rayon, an HIV-positive trans woman, in Dallas Buyers Club. When I watched the Oscars on Sunday night and listened to Leto’s heartfelt acceptance speech, I figured that those on the left would have plenty to celebrate. After all, he celebrated the life of his mother, a woman of remarkable strength, and discussed the importance of oppressed people all over the world continuing their fight for freedom. In fact, Russian television reportedly cut off his speech when he mentioned the deplorable violence in Ukraine. Oh, and did I mention that he won for playing a trans woman? You know, the type of character whose story is told far too infrequently?

Well, apparently I was wrong. Apparently Leto’s win was actually quite “problematic,” to use the elitist academic jargon that many LGBT advocates (particularly those who are not themselves members of the LGBT community) are wont to use. It seems that, in an ideal world, the role of Rayon would be played by a real life trans woman. It is a shame, they say, that a straight male is being celebrated for his portrayal of this particular character. Transgender people should be able to tell their own stories, not have “cisgender” people portray them (another inaccessible academic term). “I have no interest in watching a cis man in drag play a trans woman ever again,” says Jos Truitt, a blogger with Feministing.

Excuse me? Am I to believe that trans characters in movies should now only be played by trans actors? As in, no one is allowed to act as if they are a member of the transgender community? You will note that I have included with this blog post a video of Sir Ian McKellen from the TV show Extras. There are two reasons for my inclusion of this video: 1) it is a beautiful bit of comedy and 2) it explains something that a surprising number of people seem to have forgotten in the wake of Mr. Leto’s Oscar win. As Sir Ian explains to Ricky Gervais’s character in the clip, “You are not really John. You are pretending.” Jared Leto is not really a trans woman. You see, he is pretending. That’s what actors do. They pretend to be people they are not.

I am not a member of the LGBT community. As such, I cannot fully appreciate how it feels to be marginalized and ignored as so many members of that community are and have been throughout history. But I am an actor. Not recreationally or as a hobby, but as a profession. Acting is what I get paid to do. And as a professional actor, I can say that I am offended by this response to Mr. Leto’s win. I am essentially being told that I can portray any character that I am artistically inclined to portray—a 10-year-old boy, a 45-year-old man, a 1930s cabaret performer, a cat—so long as I don’t dare to portray a member of the transgender community. What am I to make of that?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I consider myself to be a strong advocate for the LGBT community. Throughout my relatively brief life so far, I have known and loved many wonderful, beautiful people who identify as LGBT. Even as I have grown older and my views on fiscal and legal issues have grown steadily more conservative (thus the title of my blog), my social views have not changed at all. I am proud to call myself a social progressive. But when I watch people respond to social issues in the way that many people are treating this Oscar win, it makes me not want to be.

Why? Because the criticisms lobbed at Mr. Leto are utterly ridiculous. Do I think that members of the transgender community should be given more opportunities to express themselves in film, television, and theatre? Absolutely. But does that mean that cisgender actors (which, by the way, is being thrown around as if it’s some sort of slur) can no longer portray members of that community? Absolutely not.

Those on the left who find this Oscar win to be “problematic” should probably take a minute to get some perspective. After all, isn’t the left renowned for their support of the arts? Aren’t they supposed to be staunch allies with Hollywood, one of the most unapologetically liberal industries in the United States? This is my message to them: you should take a moment to appreciate good art, which Oscar-winning films like Dallas Buyers Club epitomize, and great performances like Mr. Leto’s help realize. You should remember one of the best jokes from Ellen DeGeneres’s opening monologue (and let’s not forget that she is an outstanding member of the LGBT community herself). She predicted that 12 Years a Slave would win Best Picture, saying, “otherwise all of you are racists.” Are you aware who she was making fun of? Joke’s on you. 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?