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Feb 01 2019

Some Words About the Nature of Pinocchios and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Well, first of all, Witches are made of wood, just like Pinocchio.

It’s a fair cop.

But I do think a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong. And I think it’s wrong that [1] a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage, I think it’s wrong that [2] you can work 100 hours and not feed your kids. I think it’s wrong that [3] corporations like Walmart and Amazon can get paid by the government, essentially experience a wealth transfer from the public, [4] for paying people less than a minimum wage. And it not only doesn’t make economic sense, but it doesn’t make moral sense and it doesn’t make societal sense. – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Ta-Nehisi Coates

Paul Rosenberg correctly points out the main flaw in Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler’s assessment consists of the words- “I think it’s wrong”.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making a judgement about the morality of our current Economic situation in this context and not making a factual assertion about a particular set of circumstances.

But even the particulars are mostly correct. The points Kessler takes issue with are numbered in the above quote.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vs. the “fact-checkers”: Challenging the boundaries of conventional wisdom
by Paul Rosenberg, Salon
February 1, 2019

Kessler admitted that claim No. 2 was correct — in fact, it could be 135 hours, he said. But what of the other three claims? (On Point 1) Ocasio-Cortez claimed that “a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage,” while Kessler claimed the figure was “only” “about 32 to 38 percent of workers,” relying on calculations based on the MIT Living Wage calculator. Even if he’s right, that’s still morally outrageous, and serves to support her larger argument.

(On Point 3) She claimed that Walmart and Amazon “experience a wealth transfer from the public,” and Kessler argued that only amounted to “between 20-30 percent of the benefits,” essentially confirming what she had claimed. (On Point 4) Ocasio-Cortez said such companies were “paying people less than a minimum wage,” which was likely a simple misstatement. Kessler responded that they paid more than the minimum wage — but not more than a living wage, which was clearly the intended focus of her remarks.

So even if Kessler were right on every factual point, and Bruenig and AOC were wrong, her argument would still stand. If fewer people earn below less than a living wage than she stated, then arguably the situation is less dire than she described — but it’s not radically different.

So, read in context, everything AOC said was true, even if we accept Kessler’s factual counterclaims! The entire fact-checking ritual was a charade. As I suggested earlier, it was really a boundary-policing episode, meant to keep her “radical” ideas outside the sphere of legitimate debate by portraying her as untrustworthy. Further, it was meant to deter others from similar infractions while trying to break through the barriers excluding them from legitimacy. (See AOC’s related Twitter thread on “gravitas” here.)

But the problem is that Kessler’s implied boundaries are not worth policing, or even recognizing. The whole system is in crisis, and the mainstream media’s assessment of what is deviant, what reflects normative consensus and what represents legitimate debate bears little or no relationship to reality. Take two other examples AOC has been associated with — raising top marginal tax rates to 70 percent and a Green New Deal. The first idea drew immediate majority support — 59 percent in a poll for the Hill, including 56 percent of rural voters and 45 percent of Republicans—and scorn from the 1 percent at Davos.

Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell laughed at the idea (video here), and said he thought it would be bad for economic growth. “Name a country where that’s worked,” he responded. “Ever.” Sitting there with him was MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson, who supplied the example: the United States, throughout most of its post-World War II expansion. It was a rare, Marshall McLuhan-in-“Annie Hall” moment. Usually, when the super-rich or their sycophants spout off like that, truth does not intrude. Certainly not from the fact-checking media.

Why do people like Kessler make these mistakes? They are operaring out of a misplaced sense of “fairness” and under erroneous assumptions.

In part, fact-checkers are always seeking a false balance — as PolitiFact was doing in 2011, after twice awarding its “Lie of the Year” to Republican falsehoods about Obamacare — in 2009 for “death panels,” and in 2010 for calling it a “government takeover.” Now the Post Fact Checker’s database has tallied 8,158 false or misleading claims made by Trump in his first two years as president, so its team feels obliged to ding Democrats as well.

Or, as Stockton would put it-

So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here–not under any byline of mine; or anyone else I can think of. With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.

Rosenberg says-

But there’s something more complex happening here too, that’s probably best understood in terms of press scholar Daniel Hallin’s three-sphere model of how the media functions, from his 1986 book The Uncensored War. At the center is the sphere of consensus, mom-and-apple-pie country. Surrounding that, like a donut, is the sphere of legitimate debate, where journalists’ attention is usually focused, where there are two sides to every story and a need for objectivity and balance to be maintained.

Beyond that, though, is the sphere of deviance, the outer darkness in which dwell “political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.” The shoddy fact-checking directed at Ocasio-Cortez reflects a boundary-policing instinct, and an outdated one, considering that the entire political landscape has been irrevocably changed.

The reason Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is drawing such attention and ire is for the simple reason she’s shifting the boundaries of acceptable political debate in D.C. away from the Neo Liberal Corporatist policies we have suffered under for the last 40 years (or longer) back to the principles of true fair play that animated the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and the Great Society.

There are other individuals worthy of note, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have been working hard to change these conditions for years, but if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accomplishes nothing else in her Legislative tenure than this single signal shift, she will have done a great service for our country.

Yeah, Billionaire Banksters ought to be quaking in their boots. We’re coming for you.