Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Writing For Free

I guess I am really late to this conversation but I really want to throw my hat in the ring when it comes to debates about writing for free. As someone who writes for free a lot my views are pretty typical. Writing for free is great! It is obviously a huge boon for journalism and human society in general and if you are interested in doing it you totally should. If you refuse to do it out of some strange sense of solidarity with with privileged white professional journalists or because you'd rather watch TV or go for a bike ride, well nobody is forcing you to write for free and you can totally watch TV or go for a bike ride instead of writing that blog post.

The whole thing started after Nate Thayer, a professional freelance journalist, wrote an epic series of posts about how outraged he is that some junior editor from the Atlantic had written him an email asking him if he would like to showcase a blog post he wrote (for free) on the Atlantic. She also pointed out that she couldn't cut him a check because her freelance budget was all tapped out at that particular time.

I feel Nate's pain, it really is hard out there for freelancers, but I think his response was profoundly unprofessional and kind of jerky. It also will probably lead this editor to think that trying to work with professional freelancers is a fool's errand and lead her to stop showcasing their work and paying them.  From Nate's email: 
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.
Don't be afraid to tell us what you really think Nate!

Honestly I think the whole focus on writing “for free” or “unpaid labor” is a bit of a red herring. It’s not important to “be paid” so much as it is important to be paid enough to be able to support yourself if you want to be a full time freelancer. Looking back on The Great Nate Thayer Freakout of 2013, if that editor had replied with something like “oh Nate great news, I moved some money around and we can afford to pay you! Would you prefer a check for 12 dollars or 11 cents for every 1,000 unique visitor’s your piece generates here at The Atlantic?” Thayer probably would have gotten even more mad. Why? Because it’s not the principle that he’s not being paid anything, although I can see how someone who considers themselves a professional journalist could get upset by the principle here, it’s that Nate is not getting paid enough to, as he put it to New York Magazine “… pay my f@#$%^& rent. Exposure doesn't feed my f@#$%^& children. F@#$ that!”

So if I can be a white male privileged jerk here and get in some mansplaining: under the old “sell pieces of trees” model of journalism there was a niche for professional freelancers who would write for lots of places and get paid by the word. It was always a small privileged group, the gatekeepers were few and far between and a lot of people never made much money at it. Out of the model came much great journalism, and also a lot of garbage as well. But as publishing has moved online this particular economic watering hole if you will has basically dried up. So if you want to try and making a living as a freelancer you’ll probably not succeed and thus you should only do it if you are independently wealthy or have a spouse/partner who is willing and able to be the sole breadwinner for your family for long periods of time. You can however try and get a job as a staff journalist, or get a regular nine to five gig and write on the side. In fact, Nate even admits as much when he explains to the editor that, "Ironically, a few years back I was offered a staff job with the Atlantic to write 6 articles a year for a retainer of $125,000, with the right to publish elsewhere in addition..." Since Nate's screed about the evils of the Atlantic became a internet sensation, that even requited the freaking editor-in-chief to issue a statement defending the Atlantic, that offer probably doesn't still stand. But you sure showed that twenty-something junior editor Nate!

The new online model of journalism sucks and is cosmically unfair to professional freelancers who want to earn a decent amount for their writing, but it’s just the reality of how the new economics of the business work. As I see it freelancers should either go into this with both eyes open about this new reality or try another road. Or not, just make sure you can "feed your f@#$%^& children" in some other way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chris Christie Could Win

I have a piece today in The Good Men Project about how Chris Christie's past relatively liberal stances on social issues don't automatically disqualify him from being the GOP's nominee in 2016. Looking back on the coverage of 2012 it's pretty obvious to me now that a lot of really smart people spent way to much time arguing why Mitt Romney couldn't be the nominee (Jonathan Chait I'm looking in your direction) and way too little time looking at why people like Newt or Herman Cain couldn't.

The main arguments where similar to the people being bearish on Christie's chances, namely past moderation on social issues and support for the policy model for Obamacare. But in hindsight this is pretty silly. Romney was able to deal with abortion just by flip flopping and embracing Republican boilerplate language. And while Ross Douthat may acknowledge that Romneycare really did pave the way for Obamacare when he lies awake in the deep hours of night, it didn't actually turn out to be that much of a liability. Policy is complicated and most people, even committed partisans don't pay that much attention to it. The same thing happened in 2008 when Obama was seen as the more "liberal" or "progressive" candidate compared to Clinton when on policy stances it really didn't appear that way.

As I put it in the pieace:
Christie can get around his past stances as long as he is willing to adopt the current party line while running for President. Rand Paul calling for a foreign policy of isolationism means he can be vetoed by power groups inside the Republican Party. But as long as Christie is willing to change his stances and prove his loyalty over the next few years by saying “he evolved” on issues (like Obama and same sex marriage), he should be fine.

As long as Christie doesn’t lose next month or completely fail as Governor over the next two years he will clearly meet the convention qualification to be the GOP’s nominee. And as long as Christie doesn’t become an outspoken advocate of abortion rights or another Democratic position he is very much inside the socially moderate and pro-business “country club” tradition of the Republican Party.
Anyway, you should check it out and like it on the facebooks or whatever.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More on Cory Booker

On Friday I wrote a column over at The Good Men Project on Cory Booker. My main point is that rather than hating Booker liberals would be smart of welcome him to the Democratic Party. I've written about progressives and Booker before and I really feel the same as I did back then. Simply put Booker is a mainstream Democrat who will overwhelmingly vote with his party, and vote just like any of the other candidates that ran against him in the Democratic primary (who he all crushed by the way). And while he may disagree with some progressives on issues like school reform, he is hardly some corporate stooge. In fact he is focusing on some very important issues a lot of progressives have forgotten as of late.

I find it kind of interesting that so many self described progressives from outside of New Jersey have taken to bashing Booker. Matt Yglesias has argued it's all about teacher's unions and education reform, and maybe that's part of it, but I honestly doubt that it explains all of it. After all if someone hates Booker this much because of his stances on education reform as a mayor and candidate, they must absolutely despise President Obama who has made reform a major theme of his administration with things like Race to the Top. And while it's true that proving your a "real progressive" in some online circles online has consisted of bashing Obama since before he was sworn in in 2009, it's kind of rare that outrage over education reform is thrown Obama's way even by progressives that don't like him.

As I see it all the Cory hating we've been seeing is one of the negative sides of progressiveism in the Obama Age. Since so many progressives have defined a lot of their politics by what they don't like about various factions of the Democratic Party over the last five years, there isn't much room for a person like Booker who embraces things likes school reform while also promoting often neglected issues like criminal justice reform or tackling childhood poverty. Instead a lot of people just see "bankster tool" or "teacher basher" or whatever and act accordingly. The sad thing for me is Booker is in many ways a great way for progressives to define themselves positively be embracing a new reform agenda that is becoming increasingly viable in the case of things like criminal justice reform. At the very least it's not to early to start talking about what a post-Obama liberalism might look like.

Unfortunately we just get a lot of people still mad about TARP and Larry Summers and 2009. Oh well.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shutdown Fever!

I been writing a lot about Shutdown 2013 (which is thankfully passed) over at the Good Men Project. My basic take is that the GOP is a really dysfunctional party and that's why you had a chaotic series of events where first they wanted to threaten default if they didn't get their way, couldn't agree on what the ransom should be in exchange for not defaulting, then shutdown the government because Ted Cruz wants to be president, then refused to list what their demands were, then refused to explain why they shutdown the government in the first place with it then finally falling apart at the 11th hour when they had to get Harry Reid and the House Democrats bail them out.  And the reason for their final collapse? The ultra conservative "crazy caucus" apparently didn't think threatening default was enough and thus shot down Boehner's last attempt at passing a bill that raised the debt ceiling with GOP policy riders.

I don't think you can explain this chain of events without having the the idea that the GOP is dysfunctional be part of the explanation.

You should go check out how GOP extremism was the cause of all this, how I thought it was pretty obvious that they'd cave, talked about the debt ceiling battle, and finally talked about how the conservative information feedback loop helped cause this whole debacle.

Friday, October 11, 2013

No It's Not Redistricting

Over at Slate David Weigel had a piece a few days ago arguing that it was the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts after the 2010 election that is causing all of the problems in Washington these days. Well actually that's not what he says, he says, "this is a straw man." But then goes on to argue, "The point isn't that gerrymandering gave us this Congress; it's that it was designed to keep this Congress and to protect (mostly) Republicans from harm if they screw up terribly." Which is a pretty similar claim.
Weigel makes a big mistake here though. He argues that the redrawing of lines after the 2010 census by Republican controlled governments in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio meant that those states would send a lot more Republicans to Congress than under the districts drawn after 2000 (when they also sent a bunch of Republicans to Congress.) And he's right to some degree. The GOP lost the popular vote for the House by around 1.5 million votes but still kept control. But where he goofs is assuming "gerrymandering" (a term he doesn't bother to define) is a process that creates supper conservative districts. 
The reality is gerrymandering, drawing congressional districts in shapes other than compact squares (there I defined it), involves choices. If you pack a bunch of Republicans in a district, as its congressman you don't have to worry about Democrats beating you. And yes your only real worry once you get elected is getting bounced out by a tea party challenger. But partisan gerrymandering designed to maximize a party's representation is done by making districts just safe enough, %55 as a typical win number is the magic number I've heard, then you cram all the Democrats into supper liberal urban districts. In short gerrymandering to maximize Republican seats will make those seats that much more unsafe. So you can have the GOP being crazy because of gerrymandered supper red seats, or the GOP with an electoral advantage because of gerrymandering. But you can't have both.
After all why does drawing "safe seats" cause people to shut down the government or risk breaching the debt ceiling? If Dave wants us to believe this he really needs to ties this together, not just point out how different the map is in one state or another after redistricting. Yes politicians can be paranoid about primary challenges, but for 230 members of Congress to all be cowering at all time is something more, something pathological. 
Furthermore their is nothing about being a Republican, even a Republican elected in 2010, that forces you do terrible things like take the economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt limit or shut down the government for reasons we have yet to learn. Yes the map in 2012 probably helped Republicans on the margin, but then again so did the natural advantage of running as an incumbent.
The irony here is that Dave's been arguing for days now that the "moderates" that the media is reporting will vote for a clean CR won't actually do so. So the idea that more "moderate" Republicans from "competitive" districts would solve our problem is refuted by Dave's own reporting.

The problem is that the GOP is dysfunctional, different districts might put them in the minority, but it won't change this.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On The NIH Patch

I case you missed it, the Republicans have devised a new stratagem to prove that all the bad things happening in the shutdown are really just the Democrat's fault. For example, the shutdown has caused the National Institutes of Health to close one of the experimental research hospitals which normally treats around 200 people including around 30 children with cancer who really have no hope other than experimental types of treatment because all the conventional methods have failed. Closing this cancer treatment program has been a bit of a PR nightmare for the Republicans because they are obviously 100 percent responsible for shutting down the government and thus closing this cancer treatment program along with a lot of other government programs.

The Republicans are now trying to pass a number of "patches" or bills to refund particular agencies and programs including the cancer program. The idea is both to make the GOP's shutdown look less bad and also try and force Democrats in Congress to take tough votes as reopening certain particular programs means that there is less overall pressure on the Republicans to end the shutdown. I doubt that re-opening a few small but highly visible programs will change the political calculations on Capitol Hill but you never know.

And on a broader note let me just say that I’m quite glad to see Republicans are finally willing to acknowledge that the government does in fact do some useful, vital even, things.

But these conservative criticism of Democrats who don't vote refund specific programs strikes me as being pretty bizarre. If it’s okay to criticize the Democrats for voting against the NIH patch, surely it must be even more legitimate to criticize the GOP for shutting the NIH down in the first place. The fact remains that the Republicans are pursing of policy of hostage taking, first with a government shutdown and now with a potential debt limit breach. They and they alone are responsible for the unfortunate side affects, like denying children access to life saving cancer treatments.

As another Republican politician put it: “Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. This, plainly stated, is your language…

In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”"

I really doubt this strategy will bear much fruit. But it's important to remember what a pathetic and awful argument it really is.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Green Lantern Theory Of Congress And St. Elsewhere

With the shutdown in full swing now is a great time to look back at Matt Yglesias's old idea of the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics. Yglesias coined the idea back in the Bush days to point out the absurdity of the conservative claim that the only thing limiting America in foreign policy was a lack of willpower. In 2009, political scientist Brendan Nyhan pointed out an emerging liberal Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency where Obama could get things like a public option or a much bigger stimulus if only he tried harder. Both cases where of course widely off the mark about how the world works and what is in fact possible.

House Republicans seem to have created a Green Lantern Theory of their own in recent years. Call it the Green Lantern Theory of Congress. Under this theory Congress can force Obama to agree to gut his own healthcare bill and do all sorts of other things as well, as long as they demonstrate a sufficiently strong iron will. Alas this theory doesn't seem to be doing any better in the real world than Bush's one about the Middle East. 


Over at the good men project I talked about how shutting down the government is a goldmine for some conservatives, how the "New Hillary" is turning into the same "Old Hillary" (at least in the press's eyes) of yesteryear, and weighed in on the ongoing food stamp wars.