Wednesday Edition

Moderate politics might be making a comeback. Plus: Trump isn't scary anymore.

1. The Pendulum Swings Back

The conventional opinion is that extremists on both sides have hijacked modern politics, but is moderation making a comeback? (Jewish Insider)

Jewish Insider editor in chief Josh Kraushaar has spotted a trend in recent primary results, starting with former Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., denouncing his one-time colleague, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.

  • Bowman is among the group of progressive Congressional Democrats who have faced backlash over their critiques of Israel.

  • In March, Bowman walked back comments in which he dismissed sexual violence against Israeli women as “propaganda.”

  • Jones, who has endorsed Bowman’s primary opponent, told Jewish Insider that, “It’s just critically important we rebuke the extremists that some would have take over the Democratic Party.”

There are other signs that anti-establishment candidates are fading a bit:

  • Progressive Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a fierce critic of Israel, is facing a competitive primary against a mainstream Democrat.

  • Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., chair of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, is facing an uphill primary battle against Trump-backed John McGuire.

  • Rep. Tony Gonzalez, R-Texas, survived his primary challenge against a hardline gun rights activist and YouTuber.

  • Progressive candidates lost big in Oregon last month.

  • Recent polling shows “MAGA” firebrand Kari Lake is trailing her Democratic opponent by double digits in the Arizona Senate race.

Bubba’s Two Cents

How will history judge the politicians who rode the anti-establishment wave? Were they necessary agents of chaos that stood up to the aristocrats of The Swamp™ on the wings of a silent majority? Or were they media-savvy, opportunistic grifters taking advantage of a moment of cultural weakness? I certainly can’t tell you, but I think that most often history remembers those who make tangible changes, not noise.

2. Checking In on the Department of Education

Donald Trump's calls to eliminate the Department of Education has kicked off debate about the government agency’s value. (Fox Business)

Trump during a recent interview with "Fox & Friends Weekend”: “We’re going to cut the Department of Education. Let it be run locally.”

Schools and curricula in the U.S. are set up at the local level, so what does the Education Department do, then? According to the ED’s mission statement, its 4,400 employees and $68 billion budget are responsible for:

Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.

Collecting data on America's schools and disseminating research.

Focusing national attention on key educational issues.

Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

The push to abolish the Department of Education dates back to Ronald Reagan and has gained momentum now as part of a larger backlash against state involvement in schools.

Since the Education Department was established in 1980, schooling has gotten more expensive, while educational performance has mostly plateaued.

Bubba’s Two Cents

Pirate Wires editor in chief Mike Solana had a spicy take on the Education Department debate: “If someone with vision and $68 billion were placed in charge of dramatically improving our nation’s education, what would be possible? What could we build? Unfortunately, for as long as we conceive of ‘solving problems’ as printing money and hiring Democratic Party voters with no expectation of results, all pensioned for the rest of their life in exchange for loyalty, we’ll never have an answer to these questions.”

3. Putting CEO Pay Into Perspective

Income inequality, one of the major issues of our time, has painted a target on the back of supposedly greedy corporations and executives. (AP)

A new Associated Press analysis of employment pay data found CEO compensation in S&P 500 companies increased nearly 13% last year, with the median pay rising to $16.3 million.

  • Compare that to private-sector workers, whose wages and benefits increased a modest 4.1% in 2023.

  • Half the CEOs in the S&P 500 made at least 196 times what their median employee earned.

  • Part of the reason high-performing CEOs get paid so much is that corporate boards fear they’ll jump ship to a rival.

Amid rising wealth inequality, Democrats and President Biden have campaigned on making billionaires, CEOs and corporations “pay their fair share.”

Biden during his State of the Union address in March: “Tonight I want to talk about the future of possibilities that we can build together. A future where the days of trickle-down economics are over and the wealthy and biggest corporations no longer get all the breaks.”

Perspective: Obviously these CEOs are getting paid a lot of money for any one person, but in the big picture, the stakes often aren’t really that high.

  • Amazon CEO Andy Jassy made $29.2 million in 2023.

  • If you were to redistribute Jassy’s compensation among Amazon’s 1,521,000 employees, each worker would get less than $20.

Bubba’s Two Cents

Your reaction to CEOs earning much more than their employees depends on your perspective. Do you, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, believe in prioritizing equity and maybe think "Billionaires should not exist"? Or are you more focused on which system delivers the best performance and outcomes regardless of how subjectively fair it seems? Put in simpler terms, do you think the world is better off market driven, or government directed?

4. America’s Less Scared of Trump These Days

These days, Americans aren’t as phased by Donald Trump's norm-breaking antics and rhetoric. (BBC)

The latest: It used to be taboo for leaders of the biggest companies to back Trump, but a slew of wealthy elites are now lining up behind the former president.

  • Doug Leone, a billionaire partner at Sequoia Capital, this week announced he’s backing Trump.

  • Following Trump’s hush money trial conviction last week, Shaun Maguire, also a partner at Sequoia, said he was donating $300,000 to the former president.

  • According to a new report from the Financial Times, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, who previously supported and donated to Democrats, is also leaning Trump.

  • Venture capitalists David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya are hosting a fundraiser for Trump.

  • Israeli-American billionaire Miriam Adelson is set to announce a multi-million dollar donation to the former president.

How things change: In 2016, billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel faced heavy backlash over his $1.25 million donation to Trump’s presidential campaign.

  • Some organizations, like Project Include, even cut ties with Thiel-associated companies.

And it’s not just business execs: Despite national media painting Trump as a unique danger to the republic, Americans aren’t so sure.

  • In fact, recent polling found that a majority of independent voters view President Biden as the greater threat to democracy.

  • Trump’s even made gains with black and Latino voters, suggesting his rhetoric on race and immigrants isn’t turning off minority supporters.

Then there’s the vibes: Trump received raucous cheers at a UFC event just two days after he became the first former president ever convicted of a crime.


Bubba’s Two Cents

The endless media hyperventilating about Trump has numbed Americans to his behavior. And people aren’t all that trusting of today’s press in the first place. Then there’s the Biden factor — the president’s historically low approval ratings suggest that some voters might be willing to overlook Trump’s baggage if it means keeping Biden out of the White House.

5. Getting Desperate for Attention

Companies are increasingly competing for our attention just as it's becoming more scarce. (The Ezra Klein Show)

Some attention stats from a recent essay by New Yorker staff writer Nathan Heller:

  • In 2023, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported a significant ten-year decline in reading, math, and science performance among 15-year-olds worldwide (one-third of those students blamed digital distractions for their poor performance).

  • A recent study found that ADHD diagnoses tripled from 2010 to 2022, with the highest increase among elementary school children.

  • The average shot length in films has decreased.

  • Top-performing pop songs' average length dropped by more than a minute from 1990 to 2020.

  • In 2004, people could focus on one screen for 2.5 minutes at a time; now, it's just 47 seconds.

  • The SAT was shortened by 45 minutes, with reading passages reduced to two or three sentences.

  • According to some estimates, the typical consumer's attention span is now less than eight seconds, shorter than a goldfish's.

Princeton University professor Graham Burnett has likened the battle for our diminishing attention spans to “human fracking,” saying companies are blasting out firehoses of social media content in search of engagement.

What Burnett told New York Times columnist Ezra Klein during a recent podcast interview:

The only way you can get the remaining petroleum and natural gas resources out of the deep earth is to pump down in there high pressure, high volume detergent, which forces up to the surface this kind of slurry, mixture of natural gas, crude oil, leftover detergent, and juice and nasty stuff, which you then separate out, and you get your monetizable crude.

This is a precise analogy to what’s happening to us in our contemporary attention economy. We have a, depending on who you ask, $500 billion, $3 trillion, $7 trillion industry, which, to get the money value of our attention out of us, is continuously pumping into our faces high-pressure, high-value detergent in the form of social media and non-stop content that holds us on our devices. And that pumping brings to the surface that spume, that foam of our attention, which can be aggregated and sold off to the highest bidder.

Bubba’s Two Cents

Burnett’s insights touch on a theme I’ve talked and thought about often — the value of attention-grabbing content is declining. If you churn out enough content and you make it sensational and eye-catching, some people are bound to take notice. But as anyone who’s ever produced anything for social media can tell you, doing that puts you on a hamster wheel where quality and respect for the audience are afterthoughts.

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