Tag Archives: Philippine elections

Column: The 3 nations voting in May

Published on March 8, 2016.

A MONTH into the official campaign period, we can say confidently that there is real movement in the surveys and that the presidential race remains a tight one. This is the central paradox of the 2016 elections, and it may well be solved in the same way Zeno’s famous paradox was solved: by walking.

In the closest presidential contest since 1992, it may be the campaign which has logged the most kilometers, and put in the most hours on the road, that will win in the end.

The tightness of the race seems to me to be magnified by the composite nature of some of the voter allegiances. I have been puzzling over this aspect of the race for some time, but I do not know if I have found the right language with which to describe it. Consider this a first pass.

Let me start with the obvious: Each of the candidates has a core following, a base of support that will vote for them no matter what. If we anchor our count on the last eight Social Weather Stations surveys going back to November/December 2014, we can for purposes of discussion equate each candidate’s lowest rating as the size of his or her loyal base. In this view, both Vice President Jejomar Binay and Sen. Grace Poe have a support “floor” of 21 percent; we can extrapolate from this number and say that a fifth of voting-age survey respondents will vote for Binay and Poe, each, no matter what. Former interior secretary Mar Roxas has a floor of 15 percent, while Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte enjoys a core support of 11 percent. (In the first of these eight SWS surveys, Duterte actually registers only a 5-percent rating, but that poll was taken before the mayor became serious about his presidential ambitions.) Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago has a support floor of 2 percent.

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Column: The ‘handpicked’ hypocrisy of the Rappler lawsuit

Published on March 1, 2016.

I HAVE many friends in Rappler, and I think highly of the work of a good many members of the Rappler staff. In fact, just three weeks or so ago, I found myself in the position of recommending a senior editor from the online-only news organization for a prestigious fellowship.

But I vigorously take issue with Rappler’s decision to sue Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista; the case is not only based on a highly selective reading of the facts, but also wrapped, self-justifyingly, deceivingly, in the mantle of freedom of the press and public interest.

What is essentially at issue here is Rappler’s unarticulated assumption that, because it is an online-only news organization, it deserves lead-organizer status in all three presidential debates. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte’s ‘sovereign function’ and other sidelights

Published on February 23, 2016.

I wanted to devote today’s column to the astonishing handpicked hypocrisy of the Rappler lawsuit against Commission on Elections Chair Andy Bautista, but perhaps another day or another format. For now I wish to write about some of the sidelights I witnessed at the first presidential debate last Sunday in Cagayan de Oro.

Let me start at the beginning, and with a confession: When the program started, I was overcome by excitement. (I don’t think I am betraying confidences if I say that my seat mate in the front row, Comelec director James Jimenez, was uttering his “Oh, wows,” too.) The fact that all five presidential candidates were in attendance, standing at their No Bio, No Boto lecterns and ready to make the best case for themselves, inside a campus in my hometown and before a live TV and online audience, struck me as a small but significant victory for our imperfect democracy.

A top political strategist advising one of the presidential candidates described the series of Comelec debates (the next one is on March 20 in Cebu, the third on April 24 in Dagupan) as a “game changer.”

I do not know whether that is in fact the truth, but it has the potential to be true. The failure to attend last Sunday’s debate would have been damaging for any of the candidates, especially when one considers that that failure would have been witnessed by tens of millions of Filipinos who watched the show in their homes, at their workplaces (on their phones, according to some of the sales clerks in Centrio Mall), even (quite literally in the case of supporters of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte gathered in Divisoria in Cagayan de Oro) in the public square.

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Column: Eyes on the first debate

Published on February 16, 2016.

PROTOCOL AND prudence require the Vice President of the Philippines to be protected by a close-in security detail. Will these gentlemen be included in the list of 10 staff members each presidential candidate is allowed inside the venue of the first official presidential debate, in Cagayan de Oro City? Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla wanted to know.

Remulla is the kind of natural politician who will stand up in the middle of a meeting to literally pick up a seat or two and bring them to the table, just to make sure women at the meeting are not left standing. The polished way he asked the question made his request—he wanted the security men to be added to the list—sound even more reasonable than it probably deserved to be perceived.

Are we making an exception for Vice President Jejomar Binay’s security men? Akbayan party-list Rep. Barry Gutierrez retorted immediately. Continue reading

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Column: The case against Grace

Published on February 9, 2016.

EVEN A stranger passing through the Philippines must know that the official campaign period for national positions at stake in the May 2016 elections starts today. This might be a good time to review our readings of the major presidential candidates, but now from the point of view of their vulnerabilities. In the series of “path to victory” columns I wrote last year between Aug. 4 and Sept. 8, I did touch on the question of losing, but only briefly—and from the perspective of the respective campaigns.

How can a candidate lose the presidential race? That is to say, which of a candidate’s weaknesses are election issues? I would like to worry this question in a new series of columns. Let me start with Sen. Grace Poe, whose fate now rests with the Supreme Court.

In “Grace Poe’s path to victory” (Opinion, 8/25/15), I ventured that the 2013 Senate topnotcher had “the twin disadvantages of a newcomer. She has not yet had time to plant firm roots for a nationwide network of her own, and she faces residency issues. (Because she is a foundling, her Filipino citizenship cannot be in question; the law is clear. But then again, the Supreme Court found a way to justify Renato Corona’s midnight appointment as chief justice, and Juan Ponce Enrile’s petition for bail in a nonbailable case.)” Continue reading

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Column: A president with only one-fifth of the votes

Published on January 19, 2016.

AT A corporate retreat of the UN Development Programme and its project partners in Tagaytay City last week, I had a chance to very briefly revisit an idea I first proposed in 2009, as a way to understand Philippine presidential elections.

In “The 20-percent presidency,” I offered five theses to frame my reading of the 2010 vote. The third thesis posited that “There are two kinds of presidential mandates: the 20-percent presidency and the 40-percent presidency.” I wrote: “The inevitable multi-candidate race in 2010 will follow either of two templates: the 1992 elections, which saw four evenly matched candidacies (with two more viable enough to end up with at least 10 percent of the vote), or the 2004 elections, which were marked by two candidacies of relatively equal strength. (With a little help from Garci, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won with 39 percent of the vote, against Fernando Poe Jr.’s 36 percent.)”

As we know, Benigno Aquino III won the 2010 contest, with about 43 percent of the vote. That made him the third post-Edsa president to secure a 40-percent mandate, after Joseph Estrada and Arroyo, and left Fidel Ramos (with 23 percent of the vote in 1992) as the only member of the exclusive 20-percent club.

Will Ramos induct a new member into the club after the May 9 vote?

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Column: The moral righteousness of Commissioner Guanzon

Published on January 12, 2016.

LET US, for the sake of argument, grant that Election Commissioner Rowena Guanzon is right about the sequence of events that led to her filing a comment, on behalf of the Commission on Elections, in the Supreme Court on Thursday. Does that justify her controversial conduct after Comelec Chair Andres Bautista demanded an explanation for her action?

Bautista issued a memorandum on Friday ordering Guanzon and the director of the agency’s legal department to cite “under whose authority the comment was filed.” He said he found Guanzon’s action “not only irregular but personally disrespectful”; he added that, if he found their answer unsatisfactory, he would be “constrained to inform the Supreme Court that the filing of the comment was unauthorized.” He gave them 24 hours.

To be scrupulously fair, Bautista late on Friday already told reporters that Guanzon had filed the comment without his clearance or that of the commission, and had affixed his signature without his having read the comment.

But, and again for the sake of argument, even if Bautista should not have been as forthcoming with the media (and who would want to argue that?), does the Comelec chair’s candor justify Guanzon’s scorched-earth response?

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Column: Outrageous Duterte wants out

Published on January 5, 2016.

It’s been four months since Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte visited the Inquirer, and I see no reason to change my original view: He is deeply conflicted about running for the presidency. His increasingly scandalous conduct on the campaign trail—call it the politics of mutual outrage—confirms me in my view. He is looking for a way out.

I realize this reading runs against the grain. There is even a popular or at least trendy view that the famous mayor and his political brain trust masterminded the entire “Duterte-serye” of the last few months: The coyness of a now-on, now-off, now-maybe-perhaps-possibly-on-again campaign is thought to be deliberate, strategic.

“It keeps him in the news,” I have heard even news veterans say—as though being perpetually in the headlines and on TV newscasts in the last 18 months has been an unadulterated asset for, say, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. We should all be wary of imposing the frameworks we are most familiar with on reality. It doesn’t seem to me the case that his newsworthiness explains Duterte’s undeniable mass appeal. In the exact same way that American media initially misread the ridiculous Donald Trump’s insurgent campaign as fed by the oxygen they freely provided, we may have some members of the Philippine media who look at Duterte, not as the vanguard of a kind of insurgency, but as a creation of the news cycle. Continue reading

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Column: Comelec lessons in crowd control

Published on November 10, 2015.

LIKE MANY other Filipinos, I went to register for my biometrics on the last possible day. It wasn’t the original plan, of course, and in fact I did go to the first special registration conducted in our barangay hall and also to another one held in a nearby mall. Both times, however, I was late; by the time I got in, the cut-off for the line had already been reached. No excuses—I should have gone months earlier, when it would have taken a few minutes, perhaps less than 10, to complete the entire exercise.

Instead, I ended up going to Quezon City Hall at dawn on Saturday, Oct. 31, where I waited in line for nine and a half hours. Like I said, no excuses.

But standing in line confirmed key lessons I learned from queueing for other purposes, in other places. I do not mean to place the hard-working staff of the Commission on Elections, or the staff of Quezon City Hall, under a harsh light; indeed, some of the lessons were confirmed by what they did, not by what they failed to do. I do want to offer constructive criticism, for the next time a government agency or a private institution needs to manage, and engage, a queuing crowd. Continue reading

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Column: Duterte, the Pope–and the planet

Published on November 3, 2015.

I GOT the sense that the earth made an extra revolution or two last month; so much history was being made.

In the Philippines, the middle of October was the time for prospective candidates to file their certificates of candidacy for the 2016 elections. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere and the unprecedented number of applications for president, the filing period brought clarity to the country’s favorite pastime of politics.

Of the many words that filled the airwaves and the column inches and the digital pages, those of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte were the most awaited and the most analyzed. He had to decline the presidential draft that has been following him for the last several months not only once (at the start of the week) but twice (in the last hours of the filing period). On Monday, Oct. 12, he read a statement that repeated his many attempts to decline the draft, and then added: “We have a problem in the family, and in the order of things, you do what is closest to your heart.” (This was what he told the Inquirer last August.) Continue reading

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Column: Roxas’ path to victory

Published on August 4, 2015.

CAN MAR Roxas win? The objective answer is yes. Will he? The most realistic answer is: It’s too early to tell.

I find myself belaboring these obvious points, because the theory—or the narrative, if you will—that Roxas is a sure loser is making the rounds again. (For a couple of days after President Aquino endorsed Roxas as the Liberal Party candidate for president in the 2016 elections, the news and social media environment for Roxas turned decidedly favorable. Call it the endorsement bump.) But some of the same people who thrill to the possibility of a Miriam Defensor Santiago presidential run (which would be her third), or declare confidently that Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has the right strategy and enough money to lay claim to the presidency, sweepingly discount Roxas’ chances because of his “low” ratings. But in the June 2015 Social Weather Stations survey, only 4 percent of the respondents saw Santiago as one of the three best leaders to succeed President Aquino, while only 3 percent listed Marcos. About a fifth of the respondents, or 21 percent, included Roxas in their list. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Binay has clear advantage over Roxas’

Published on November 4, 2014.

I see that my good friend, the eminent scholar Jojo Abinales, has written a deliberately provocative think piece. I think he would be delighted to learn that I disagree with him. He enjoys a good argument, and I will give it to him.

In “It’s the barangays, stupid,” Abinales borrows an expression made famous by US President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign team to highlight an important fact about the 2016 elections in the Philippines: “A glimpse at the balance of power across the nation shows that [Vice President Jejomar] Binay has a clear advantage over [Interior Secretary Mar] Roxas.” He means the balance of local power, in “the provinces and peripheries of the nation.” The Carvillean “stupid” part refers, I assume, to the obvious clearness of this advantage.

He lists the local clans and political blocs likely to support Binay; it is not an exhaustive list (the form dictates that it cannot be). But four to five paragraphs of prominent names do not an accurate political map make; it may or may not be true that “Davao City’s Rodrigo Duterte has not made his choice yet, although rumors are if Binay promises to respect his autonomy, the charismatic and popular mayor will surely vote UNA.” But even if Duterte did, how many of Davao’s 900,000-plus voters will vote with him? Abinales doesn’t show. Continue reading

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Column: Brion’s hand on Abad’s collar

Published on September 30, 2014.

Much has already been said about the incident involving Budget Secretary Butch Abad and a score of student protesters at the University of the Philippines the other week. Inquirer reporter Erika Sauler’s summary sentence, in a report she filed a few days after the incident, can serve as a helpful wrap-up: “As he exited the auditorium [and made his way] to his vehicle, a group of protesters from Stand UP (Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP) ganged up on him, calling him a thief as they threw crumpled pieces of paper, placards and coins in his direction.” Other reports described one protester grabbing Abad by the collar.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, whether the students were justified in their violent protest or not, the incident seems to me to demonstrate that words in fact have consequences in the real world. Continue reading

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Column: Roxas, making up for one bad call

Published on August 19, 2014.

To many, Mar Roxas’ presidential ambition is a given. I think, however, that a certain ambivalence attends his desire to occupy the one office that exceeded his father’s grasp. My Exhibit A is Roxas’ failure to run for a Senate seat last year.

I understand that if he had done so, he would have forfeited his election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay. Was this the actual consideration? It is hard to believe that he would have traded a probable campaign advantage in 2016 for the unlikely prospect of a belated election-tribunal victory.

The last time Roxas won a national election unequivocally, he turned heads. He topped the Senate race in 2004, becoming the first candidate in our history to garner more than 19 million votes. Mr. Palengke (a political persona based on his service as trade secretary in both the Estrada and the Arroyo administrations) was suddenly presidential timber. But that was 10 years ago—an entire geological age in political time. Continue reading

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Column: Five assumptions about 2016

Published on June 24, 2014.

Malacañang may not be ready to admit it, but the 2016 campaign has already started in earnest. I would like to review certain assumptions I used in previous elections, to test whether they remain valid (as I obviously thought then) or they need updating. Continue reading

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Column: Not yet, Bam, not yet

Yesterday, at a public function, a Cabinet secretary’s first words to me were, “Not now, Bam”–a playful, slightly imprecise reference to the following column, which was published on September 4, 2012.

Bam Aquino was my student at the Ateneo de Manila all of 17 years ago; he was, in a word, outstanding, the sort of student a teacher remembers long after the last papers have been marked. I still vividly remember the distinction he once proposed, just right after one particular class ended, between “convince” and “persuade”—the first was an appeal to reason, the second an appeal to the will—which I found a little too categorical for my taste then, but whose explanatory power I understand with greater clarity today.

Now Bam wants to run for the Senate; I have no doubt that he would excel in it—but I urge him not to run. Not next year, and not in 2016. Like many others, I believe that the Aquino family has sometimes served as history’s instrument; there is a family legacy we can all reference (even those critics who cannot stand the Aquinos can hold them accountable according to that legacy’s own terms). Continue reading

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Column: This is what’s wrong with our country

The last column I wrote in 2011, before I left for a year-long fellowship with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. The feedback–to the subject of the column, not to my departure (or so I think!)–was overwhelming. Published on August 9, 2011.

The scene was surreal: the old cheat was visibly moved by the resignation of the young cheat, and praised the young man’s moral courage and sense of dignity. Apparently, there really is honor among election thieves.

For those of us with a long memory, Juan Ponce Enrile is the unlikely but altogether fitting benchmark for Juan Miguel Zubiri’s act of resignation. Even though Enrile did not lose the first dagdag-bawas case filed against him by Koko Pimentel’s father, involving allegations of cheating in the 1995 elections, Enrile did own up to massive election fraud—in 1986, during the heady four days of the Edsa revolution, when circumstance and strategic candor made him admit that he had cheated for Ferdinand Marcos in the snap election.

That made his reluctance to accept Zubiri’s resignation both an acute reflection of Philippine realpolitik, and an apt reminder of the many times our country has lost its way. Continue reading

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Column: Deconstructing Zubiri

The third part of the Zubiri trilogy, published on February 1, 2011. I must say that, on at least one crucial aspect, the ex-senator was telling the truth: He had kept a gentlemanly silence, and was provoked to complain about me only after I had taken another senator to task.

EITHER CONFLICTED or callously cynical. Or both. But whichever way we read Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s letter of complaint against me (which I ran in this space last week in full and unedited), I think the reasonable reader can reach only one conclusion: It is incoherent.

In language shriveled by nine years in the House and three years in the Senate, Zubiri first sought to stake a claim to higher ground. “This Representation strongly respect [sic] all opinions and criticisms as one of my advocacies is to uphold the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.” And then he turned around and attacked his own supposed advocacy: “It [he means both freedoms] should not be utilized to malign a person’s reputation much more mislead the public by presenting twisted facts and biased opinions.” Continue reading

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Column: Good Loren, Bad Loren

Published on January 18, 2011.

A SIMPLE but stirring sight—I thought the photographic record of Sen. Loren Legarda’s recent courtesy call on Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (Myanmar) was definitely newsworthy, and could have elicited more supportive commentary. The fate of the Burmese democratic icon should be of the greatest concern to Filipino democrats, for reasons both personal (we see in her another Cory Aquino, a reluctant symbol of the democratic struggle) and collective (her fate reflects the fate of the long-suffering Burmese people).

But I suppose Legarda’s celebrity, and the nature of her fame, got in the way. Continue reading

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Column: Paraprosdokian: Christian Monsod on the 2010 vote

Published on November 16, 2010.

Don’t look at me; I had to look up the meaning of the word too. I had stumbled on it in Christian Monsod’s “excellent lecture” on the 2010 automated elections (the phrase is Mahar Mangahas’, from his column on expert assessments last Saturday).

At first I thought it was a mistake; it seemed out of place in Monsod’s congenial English. Turns out it is an exact term in rhetoric, meaning a figure of speech, often
used for comic effect, in which the latter half of the line redefines the
meaning of the first. A classic example would be Henny Youngman’s famous joke,
which begins as though offering his wife as an example of something: “Take my
wife … please!” (Badaboom.) The end recasts the meaning of what comes before. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’

A first attempt to “classify” about six weeks’ worth of criticism against a new administration and the new President. I forgot to explain, to the non-Filipino reader who may stumble upon the column, that “Inglisero” meant English-speaking. Published on August 10, 2010.

I became interested in the types of criticism being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration, now all of six weeks old, when he was criticized soon after his proclamation for, essentially, fulfilling a campaign promise. Criticism is vital to public discourse, of course; in opinion journalism, it is nothing less than the primary function. But it can and ought to be studied and critiqued. Continue reading

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Column: What he didn’t say

Published on August 3, 2010.

Last week, a series of editorials in the Inquirer discussed various aspects of President Benigno Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address, starting with a piece entitled “What he said.”

I would like to respond to that first editorial by writing about what President Aquino did not say—in the obvious hope that what he left out proves to be as revealing, of his frame of mind if not of his priorities, as what he left in. Continue reading

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Column: The last Arroyo, the only Abad

Published on July 27, 2010.

By the last of the Arroyos, I do not mean Mikey Arroyo, who returned to Congress Monday as the “prince of security guards”; or his brother Dato, for whom a gerrymandered duchy was carved out of Camarines Sur; or indeed for their mother, the queen herself, the new representative of the second district of Pampanga. The last Arroyo in national office is the dauphin Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Do I protest too much? Zubiri is not even related to the Arroyos (at least as far as I know). And I am certainly biased in favor of the senatorial candidate he cheated, who is a friend from childhood. But if there is a national politician who follows the Arroyo political template, who can be considered Arroyo’s true political heir, then it is Zubiri. (I am happy to say that I am not alone in thinking of Zubiri as Arroyo redux. Manuel Buencamino, to cite just one example, has written a strongly argued case for it.) Continue reading

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Column: What are you doing in the Senate, Migz?

Another gratifying inbox-filler, published on July 20, 2010.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, where I did some research over the weekend, we can find one answer to what, for lack of a better term, we can call the “Fall of Bataan Complex.” Someone afflicted with that complex tends to ask: Why do we celebrate our defeats? And tends to add, indignantly: We must be the only country in the world that does that!

Actually, no. In Indonesia, Heroes Day is marked on Nov. 10, the date hallowed by tradition as the start, in 1945, of the Battle of Surabaya. In fact, clashes between the pemuda (youth) and some of the remaining Japanese soldiers, and between the pemuda and the British forces perceived as preparing the way for the return of the Dutch, the former colonial rulers, had been taking place since September. But it was on Nov. 10 that a predominantly British allied force launched a major offensive against the Indonesians. The ensuing battle lasted almost an entire month, with superior Allied resources and discipline proving decisive. But the famous “arek-arek Suroboyo,” the under-equipped, under-trained youth volunteers of Surabaya, fought so fiercely, so valiantly, that no one could any longer doubt, not even the Dutch, that the Indonesians were ready to die for “merdeka.” Surabaya proved to be the beginning of the end. Continue reading

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Column: Hyphenating Noy and other dilemmas

Published on June 29, 2010. Howie Severino, editor in chief of gmanews.tv, gave my idea (calling the new President “P. Noy”) the benefit of a public workout (thanks, Howie!), but eventually decided on the more elegant, and more tech-friendly, “PNoy.”

I don’t know if my editors will agree with me, but I think the way to render President-elect Noynoy Aquino’s preferred short name is not ‘”P-Noy,” with a hyphen, but “P. Noy,” with a period. The hyphenated name is a made-up term, justified in part, if I’m not mistaken, by the Internet-era habit of “intercapping.” (Eg, CompuServe, MasterCard, YouTube.) Nothing wrong with that, but why choose something made up when you have something ready to hand?

“P. Noy” accurately captures what we think when we wish to say or write “President Noy.” In other words, the abbreviation of “President” into a solitary “P,” with its emphatic period, comes naturally to us. Read over almost any correspondence, even in today’s fleeting e-mails, and the abbreviations we use in daily life are reflected in it. I vote, thus, for “P. Noy.” Continue reading

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