Politics is the hot ticket in journalism these days. Young reporters long to cover Capitol Hill, when once they longed for the exotic life of the foreign correspondent. “Timbuktu or bust” has become “Washington or fail.” Journalism's stars today are those who can reel off the precincts of Iowa or the hobbies of senators, not the wonders of rural Sri Lanka.
Yet the passion for politics that has seized the Washington press corps and those who want to join it across the country has not been reflected in the public – not, at any rate, by the abysmally low national turnout of 36. 3 percent on Nov. 4, arguably one of the most important midterm elections in a long time.
It was the lowest voter turnout in 72 years: a seeming monument to voter apathy. Certainly not the sign of a seething, unhappy electorate which believes the bums should be thrown out because the country is on the wrong track. That may be so, but you wouldn't know it from the voter turnout.
The voter turnout wasn't large enough for anyone to claim that the country has veered to the right, or that the victors have a mandate. Yet we know President Obama is held in low esteem, although not as low as the risible contempt in which Congress is held.
If the voters didn't come out in large enough numbers to give us a clear reading, how do we know that Obama is on the ropes and that Congress is despised? We know it, without doubt, from the innumerable opinion polls which are now part of the journalistic toolbox.
There is no doubt about the public mood. So why didn't the public vote when there was so much journalistic enthusiasm for the election; when an amazing amount of television time, especially on cable, was given to politics; and when radio goes at politics 24-7?
The paradox may be journalism and its commitment to opinion polls, largely funded by the media. If you know who is going to win the match, why buy a ticket?
The passion in journalism for politics has made politics a victim, robbed it of surprise and tension. I voted without passion because I had a very complete picture of the outcome before I did my civic duty. It was like reading an otherwise gripping who-done-it, when I already knew it was the butler.
The metadata people, like Nate Silver, aren't helping either.
When newspapers are cutting their staffs and budgets are tight, why is political coverage and polling out of Washington thriving? First, it is cheaper to create news than find it. With polls, you scoop the election result. Second, there is a large pot of money for “political issues” advertising that has given rises to a raft of new outlets, forcing old-line media to double down.
Washington politics is no longer a franchise of The Washington Post and The New York Times. It has its own trade press, led by the upstart and well-funded Politico, a big news predator in a school of hungry fish. There is The Hill, Roll Call, National Journal, RealClearPolitics and more than a dozen others, like The Cook Political Report and Talking Points Memo.
It is these new entrants, with their access to instant electronic delivery, that have led the change and fueled the frenzy. They are in danger of becoming the game instead of covering it. They have become more interested in what the polls say than what the politicians say.
On Capitol Hill, members of Congress are in bunker mode. They are afraid to say anything or look a bit tired, distressed or unkempt because these ill-considered words and unflattering images will be flashed across the Internet – there to be retrieved at any time, for all time.
There is a joke around Washington that if a member of Congress breaks wind, Politico will have the story. In this new world, every trifle is recorded and archived. Is this the way to foster statecraft in a dangerous and unforgiving world? Let's poll that question, shall we? — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
Welcome to Washington, new members of Congress. It is a city of museums, statues, self-importance and arcane ways.
After a post-campaign vacation, you will be ready to take on the world — or at least this city — and begin to make things right. You are coming here to cut through the crap, straighten out the mess, to return the peoples’ government to the people.
You are feeling good, even invincible. This sense of euphoria and possibility is normal. It is nothing to be worried about — and it will pass.
As most of the new class is Republican, you are going to stop the rot come what may. No more liberal shenanigans, no more creeping socialism, no more welfare state, no more European-style mollycoddling of the undeserving.
You are going to loosen the shackles on business and watch it rise like a jolly green giant who has shaken off his captors, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.
Oops! Before we go any further, maybe you should pick a target. EPA and IRS are very unpopular — those two are enough for now.
It goes without saying that you are against Obamacare and that should be repealed, or go unfunded, or be replaced with something. Be careful: it may not be as unpopular with your constituents as it is at the country club.
But do not let things like that worry you. You have been elected to Congress. Hallelujah! Reality will not set in until you get to your first caucus, or you see the lousy office you have been assigned, or you learn that that committee appointment you cherished is not coming your way.
Again, worry not. You are about to make a lot of new friends; really nice people, people who will do anything you ask. They have advice about where to live, whom to hire, what schools to send the little ones to — if you have not already decided to leave them back home, which you may when you find out the cost of housing in Washington.
Anyway, the new friends will help you through the intricacies of being a member of Congress. They will advise you on which forms to fill in, how to get your expense reimbursements. Such helpful people. They will also give you advice on issues that are new to you, like net neutrality, the Law of the Sea, and the reason companies have to move overseas.
Amazingly, they also have tickets to wonderful sports events with local teams: the Redskins (football), the Capitals (hockey), the Nationals (baseball). They also have tickets to cultural events, from plays at the Kennedy Center to exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art. It helps so say you love the arts when you are railing against the National Endowment for the Arts, PBS and NPR.
These new friends are the lobbyists, and they have your number already. They know what you like to drink or eat, and whether you prefer to bike, hike or sail. Everything can be arranged. Trust them. They will also guide you on delicate legislative issues; no pressure, just guidance. And who are you to refuse a friend?
Dear Democrats, you are not forgotten but not well remembered either. Your party lost, and you know what that makes you. For two years you must walk the halls of Congress mumbling about income redistribution; how many successes President Obama actually chalked up, but failed to trumpet; and cursing, under your breath, the presence of money in politics — unless it is union money.
There will also be real pleasure for you in thinking up hateful things to say about the new Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and be quoted saying them in social media.
Whatever your party, as your first term wears on, you will get to feel at home on Capitol Hill. You will know how to play the lobbyists, one against the other, and how to discomfort the leadership of your own party. But mostly, you will come to love Big Government. Welcome to the Washington elite. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
BURGENLAND, Austria –There is another world crisis brewing – and one for which President Obama cannot be blamed. The Europeans and have made a mess of things, and now the wolves are at the door.
The first snarling wolf is deflation. Europe’s economies are so weak, so close to recession, that the very real danger of deflation – falling prices – has its economists petrified. It ought also to have its politicians in anguish, but whether it does is less clear.
Europe’s big-driver economy, Germany, as well as France and Italy, are on the edge. The German miracle is ailing, and Berlin may have been writing the wrong prescriptions for the rest of the 18 countries that share the euro as their currency. It has been aided in this effort by the International Monetary Fund.
That prescription, which often seems to harm the patient, as in Greece and Spain, is for austerity – which appears to work better on paper than in the real world. Germany worries about profligate borrowing throughout the European Union. But if the German economy is to escape recession, Chancellor Angela Merkel may have to borrow some money herself and inject it into infrastructure spending to keep Germany competitive and its workers on the job.
The European Central Bank (ECB) has been slow to institute a badly needed program of buying qualified bonds, known as quantitative easing. In the United States, the Federal Reserve, in a program that is now ending, has pumped more than $1 trillion into the economy and helped pull the economy out of recession. But ECB has been timid because it has no clear direction from the European political establishment — pointing up how cumbersome and directionless the European Union structure has become. It has a parliament, which has no power, and is increasingly attracting members who are actually opposed to the European project.
The European Commission has arguably too much power centered in the bureaucracy in Brussels, but no clear direction form its controller, the Council of Ministers. Trouble is the ministers can disagree and veto needed courses of action.
The economic crisis points up the ungovernable nature of Europe and its present institutions. If Washington is gridlocked, Europe is by structures that cannot deal with crisis and what often appear to reflect as many policies as there are members (28) in the EU.
But it is not just the economic wolf that is at Europe’s door. The Russian bear is there, too. Already there is an undeclared war raging in Ukraine.
At the Association of European Journalists' meeting here, a spokesman from the Ukrainian government, who asked not to be identified by name, expressed the sense in Ukraine that it has been betrayed by EU bungling.
“Europe sees Ukraine as its European neighborhood partner. But in Ukraine, the truth is different: Ukraine’s view is that Europe let us down. We are hurt, bleeding. We have been betrayed by a neighbor that, six months ago, we saw as a brotherly nation,” he said.
What was not said was that Europe may freeze this winter if the Putin regime — a growling wolf — wants to punish Ukraine and its neighbors. Europe is hopelessly dependent on Russian gas, which is used mostly for heating. Germany gets 40 percent of its gas from Russia, and Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia get 90 percent. Russian gas makes its way — largely through Ukraine — down into Italy, and even the United Kingdom has some small exposure.
If the gas goes off, Europe freezes and its economies go south in an avalanche. The most hopeful thing for Europe this winter is that with the world oil price falling, Russia’s own fragile economy may dictate that it keeps the gas flowing — but it will force up the price where it can.
Washington, with a new Congress, might want to brace for Europe’s winter of crisis and disaster. If Europe goes into severe recession, can the U.S. economy escape major harm? The new Congress will be on a sharp learning curve. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
I have to face it: like most people of my generation, I am a technological dunce.
In my pocket, there is an electronic miracle in the form of a cellphone. I am told it has enough computing power to plan a moon shot and run a nuclear submarine, or wake me up in the morning, organize my schedule, and provide me with reading material and audio and visual entertainment all day long. Wow!
On a good day, if I have remembered to charge this pocket Einstein, I can make a phone call. I can receive phone calls, too. But that is more problematic because I have to find it and handle it gently, otherwise it disconnects the calls – which leads people to believe that I do not want to speak to them.
Mostly, I would be happier if the phone did not do such extraordinary things, for it has become a reproving presence, mocking and denigrating me because I cannot calculate on it the cost of traffic congestion in the United States or, for that matter, my checking account balance – a truly modest calculation.
Apart from making me feel even more stupid than necessary, the wretched super-device – and I hate to make this accusation – is sneaky. It steals money. It lives in my pocket and helps itself to my money which, metaphorically, also dwells there. Unlike real phones – a dying breed like the necktie – you have to be deliberate about disconnecting a call, or you will continue to be charged for it.
Woe betide you if you take the malicious little bloodsucker out of the country: The fees and charges can cost you as much as your trip. And if you turn on the data roaming to peek at your email, you may want to begin a new life for yourself, wherever you are, because your financial destruction, which this seemingly innocent action will trigger, will probably be complete.
In a simpler time, when I left home in the morning, I needed just my wallet and my keys. Now I need a checklist of devices.
I need a wristwatch, because I forget that I can get the time on my cell phone and other electronic gadgets. Probably I could find out how many days I have left on earth, if I knew which app to download on my cellphone – preferably a free one.
I need an electronic book mostly because I have spent a lot of money getting one – and now I am damned well going to read books, newspapers and magazines on it.
I need the dreaded cellphone because I have become addicted to it. Maybe I can go to cellphone addiction rehab at the Betty Ford Center – if I can afford it, after all the money I have spent on roaming charges.
Of course, I cannot get out the door without a laptop, or some such device, to check my email and my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts because nobody is going to phone me, despite the fact that everyone in America seems to have a cellphone. This is the Great Cellphone Paradox: The more people have cellphones, the more they prefer email or some version of it.
The cellphone manufacturers will respond by equipping new cellphones with apps for everything on earth, from dealing with in-laws to finding out how much the dude at the next desk really earns. The one thing you will not be able to do with them is, er, make a phone call.
In the meantime, I will have to persevere with typing with my thumbs or move to North Korea. Now if only I could borrow a cellphone, so I could call my cellphone, so I can find it. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate