Resolved: Blog Comments Sections Need to Go

Chris Cillizza
Writer for “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

As someone who has spent almost the entirety of the last decade writing online, I’ve dedicated vast amounts of time trying to find a way to make the comments section of The Fix the sort of edifying conversation I always imagined it could be. And I am here to report that, at least when it comes to politics, comments section are not now (and likely won’t be any time soon) anywhere close to that ideal. In fact, eliminating comments entirely — a prospect I have always blanched at — may well be the best thing that could happen for the average reader of political news.

Consider this from WaPo columnist Anne Applebaum on the corrosive nature of commenting online:

Multiple experiments have shown that perceptions of an article, its writer or its subject can be profoundly shaped by anonymous online commentary, especially if it is harsh. One group of researchers found that rude comments “not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.” A digital analyst at Atlantic Media also discovered that people who read negative comments were more likely to judge that an article was of low quality and, regardless of the content, to doubt the truth of what it stated.

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New Class Order

Joel Kotkin
Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register prior to the election.)

In this predictably difficult year for the Democrats, the party of the people is turning, of all people, to its plutocrats. However much the party stigmatizes right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers, a growing proportion of America’s ultra-rich have become devoted Democrats, giving them an edge in fund-raising. Indeed, an analysis of billionaire contributors this year by Politifact found that 13 supported liberals while only nine backed Republicans.

The left plutocracy helps explain how Harry Reid’s Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has greatly outraised their Republican rivals. Overall, Democratic-aligned committees have achieved a lopsided edge in fundraising – $453 million opposed to $289 million, according to Politico. Overall, the top three donors to the political Super PACs this year all lean to the left.

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Brown Key to 2016 Tax Measures

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

With the 2014 election finally over, attention is turned to possible tax measures on the 2016 ballot. I previously wrote about groups looking to raise taxes on commercial property, oil extraction, cigarettes, and extending or making permanent the income tax piece of Proposition 30. Marc Lifsher covered similar ground in the Los Angeles Times over the weekend. The Public Policy Institute of California released a poll last night that asked voters about some of the possible tax increases they could face on the ballot.

The key to which major tax measures will advance to the ballot very well could be Governor Jerry Brown.

It may not seem unusual for proponents of tax increase proposals to want a popular, re-elected governor to support their agenda. However, the key to getting Brown on board is not so much for his endorsement but for his influence with certain powerful political players.

During the Proposition 30 campaign, Brown was effective in neutralizing opposition from the business community. While some business leaders grumbled about the tax, and the board of the state Chamber of Commerce had extensive debate over whether to oppose the measure, in the end the business community, particularly big business, generally withheld opposition to Prop 30.

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Five Election Losers, Delayed Version

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

It takes some time to process the election results. Here, to accompany my post on the five election winners, are five election losers.

1. Whoever that Republican guy who was running for governor. Bald. Seemed smart. I can’t quite remember his name. I guess most Californians had the same problem.

2. Consumer Watchdog. The jig is up. They lost bad with two initiatives on health finance topics: 45 and 46. Prop 45 in particular should be studied as how not to run an initiative campaign. They missed an opportunity by failing to qualify the measure in 2011 for the 2012 ballot. They alienated Covered California in part by not approaching them before pursuing the initiative. They included intervenor fee provisions to enrich themselves. They attacked people instead of building a coalition of support. And after the campaign, they blamed everyone but themselves.

3. People professionally obligated to understand the budget. It was already too complicated. Now Prop 2, and its complicated formula that involves capital gains tax, has been added to the mix.

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The Upside of Low Turnout

John Hrabe
Writer and Communications Strategist

This election, your vote counted double.

“When it’s 50 % turnout, your voting power is doubled #math,” Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., the state’s top political data firm, tweeted on Election Day.

Increased voting power — it’s one of several upsides to the state’s record low turnout in this month’s gubernatorial election. With fewer than 75,000 ballots left to count statewide, turnout is expected to top out at 42 percent — the lowest for a general election in California’s history. Of the state’s 38 million residents, just 7.5 million registered voters cast their ballots. That comes out to one in five people deciding who will lead the largest state in the nation for the next four years.

California’s abyssal turnout rate demolished the previous record for worst turnout in a general election. In 2002, just 50.57 percent of registered voters chose between Republican businessman Bill Simon and then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat.

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Southern California Stuck in Drive

Fox&Hounds Contributor

Southern California has long been a nurturer of dreams that, while widely anticipated, often are never quite achieved. One particularly strong fantasy involves Los Angeles abandoning what one enthusiast calls its “car habit” and converting into an ever-denser, transit-oriented region.

An analysis of transit ridership, however, shows that the region is essentially no better off than when the modern period of transit funding began in 1980, with the passage of Proposition A, which authorized a half-cent sales tax for transit. In 1980, approximately 5.9 percent of workers in the metropolitan area (Los Angeles and Orange counties) used transit for their commute. The latest data, for 2013, indicates the ridership figure has fallen to 5.8 percent.

Never ones to let facts get in the way of fantasy, some retrourbanists and media types continue to insist our mass-transit transition is well on its way. Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias, writing in Slate, declared that Los Angeles is destined to become America’s “next great transit city.”

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The Bocanegra Conundrum

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The Bocanegra Conundrum is not a book title from the late thriller novelist Robert Ludlum — but there is mystery involved. Patty Lopez, a neophyte community activist concerned with education, knocked Raul Bocanegra, a respected up and coming one-term assembly member, from his post in the November election.

The political upset was so stunning that it even drew a cautionary editorial from the Los Angles Times. The Times editorial suggested reasons that the incumbent who captured the primary vote by a landslide failed in the General Election.

Much has been made of Lopez’s name appearing before Bocanegra’s in the list of candidates, a position that other Democratic candidates held on the ballot above Republican names in different races, suggesting that voters in choosing Lopez believed they were selecting a Democrat over a Republican. Others argue that the low voter turnout influenced the outcome or that Republicans voted against the incumbent since there was no Republican on the ballot in this top-two election final.

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Time for a Real Debate on the Cost of Climate Programs

John Kabateck
California Executive Director, National Federation of Independent Business

Finally, it’s here. A spirited, inclusive, and extremely critical debate over the true costs of California’s climate programs to our economy, small businesses, and working families.

On the heels of an abysmal voter turnout in this month’s election, the emergence of a growing chorus of diverse voices on a vital public policy issue should be welcomed news. It turns out, however, that certain state officials and other vested interests are not interested in debating the costs imposed on small business by California’s broad environmental policies.

But their actions have awoken a sleeping giant. Although CARB made no effort to hear concerns, and debate was shut down in the state legislature, people who are learning about the “hidden gas tax” have started speaking up and working together. From small business owners in the Bay Area to farmers in the Central Valley, religious leaders in San Diego to a mobile health clinic operator in the Inland Empire, consumers from throughout the state are banding together. This movement of drivers and fuel users has serious questions and concerns about the unilateral process used to increase household costs, particularly at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

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Five Election Winners, Delayed Version

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

I spent election week traveling – you know, to places with real democracy and competitive elections, like Kansas – and have spent the last couple weeks trying to catch up with work and family. In the process, I failed to file my usual “Winners and Losers” posts for Fox & Hounds Daily on the elections.

So here is the winners post, to be followed by losers.

1. Non-voters. They are not just winning California elections. They are doinating them. More than four in five Californians didn’t bother to show up and vote. Given the state of the state’s democracy, it’s hard to blame them.

2. Padilla and Peterson. Alex Padilla, the new Secretary of State, and his Republican challenger, ran campaigns the way they are supposed to be: serious, specific, respectful to voters. They even debated multiple times – something other candidates in other races didn’t do. Indeed, the other statewide contests – and I use the word “contest” advisedly – were so awful that the content-heavy Secretary of State’s race may have been one of the few reasons to hold an election.

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Vallejo First to Test No Pension Cut in Bankruptcy

Publisher, CalPensions.com

What happens when a bankrupt city does not cut its largest debt, pensions, is getting its first test in Vallejo, which has higher average pensions and higher CalPERS rates than the two larger cities still in bankruptcy, Stockton and San Bernardino.

Vallejo was the forerunner, choosing not to try to cut pensions before exiting a 3 ½-year bankruptcy three years ago. City council members said later CalPERS had threatened a long and costly legal battle.

Stockton’s plan to exit bankruptcy without cutting pensions was approved in October. The judge ruled that CalPERS pensions can be cut in bankruptcy. But Stockton does not want to cut pensions, saying they are needed to be competitive in the job market.

San Bernardino, cash short, skipped payments to CalPERS for most of a fiscal year. Last month the city formally announced that under an agreement with CalPERS last June, the missed payments are being repaid and pensions will not be cut in bankruptcy.

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