July 25th, 2012

The Captain's Prop

How Ads Affect Our News

In an out-of-town visitor induced haste, I briefly posted one of my pet peeves about what news has become, notably a race to the bottom of the attention span, constantly trying to keep the attention of the viewer despite a complete lack of engaging detail and even though there are a lot of stories they could be covering. Years ago, This Hour Has 22 Minutes did the best parody of this phenomenon, reporters blathering on about how a door will soon open and someone will say something important, complete with a crawl talking about "The Doors first album was released in 1969," just as a tangental observation. (One day more advanced online search will allow me to share gems like this.)

Today, though, I thought I would go over my observations about current news coverage and how they are hobbled by their chief reason for existence, Collapse )

The size of government

What really struck me about this chart is the source: The Economist, not exactly left-wing propagandists.

Updated to add:

What's striking about this chart is how contrary it is to the conventional narrative of Democrats "growing" government and Republicans "shrinking" it. I feel confident in suggesting that if one asked most Americans — or even a narrower selection of Americans who conceive of themselves as “politically aware” — to draw what they imagine this chart would look like, they would not produce something much resembling it.

Republicans talk a great deal about “smaller government”, but when Republicans hold the Presidency (or the Congress) they haven't taken effective action to do it as measured in government payroll. What would it take for this to be clearer to the American voter?

It is presumably naïve to expect our politicians to be clear about the question, but if a chart like this is unfamiliar, haven't our news media failed us?
Groovy Kol

Latin America: the end of the left turn?

In the early 2000s, a surprising process (for some) began in Latin America - it was called the "left turn". Simply put, it was a noticeable swing of the political moods to the left, both in the moderate (Brazil, Argentina) and the more radical (Venezuela, Bolivia) sense. It came as a surprise particularly to those who were already busy praising the various neo-liberal theories of world development that were supposed to bring the ultimate utopia. Indeed, after suffering a series of political routs in the 80s and 90s, leftism had been pushed into a corner, and it was sure to welcome this new process as a sort of resurrection of the socialist ideas across the South American continent.

The main reason for this "leftist mega-turn" was the neo-liberal policies of the Latin American governments in the late 90s. Initially, the results looked promising for them: foreign investment soared in the region, economic growth accelerated, especially in the pre-'97 crisis years when the general GDP growth on the continent often passed beyond 5%+. But with the start of the Asian crisis, Latin America found itself in a critical condition once more. The capital inflow plunged sharply. In 1997 the region had enjoyed a massive growth of foreign investment, reaching well beyond $70 bn... and just four or five years later - a meager $5 bn. That was a disaster.

In the early 2000s another crisis followed, caused by the depression in the US. It hit international trade the most and caused a serious damage on the most export-orientated countries of Latin America. Argentina defaulted (causing hunger riots and the departure of one president after another), and Brazil was on the verge of bakruptcy as well. Thus, many hastened to conclude that the policy of neo-liberalism had finally completely discredited itself in Latin America. Most surveys across the region conducted in those years showed that 2/3 of the population deemed the neo-liberal economic system as "bad", or "very bad", claiming that privatisation hadn't brought any positive results, nearly half favoured a bigger role for the government in the economy. So it was no surprise that this was the soil where the seeds of the new "leftist turn" blossomed.

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