Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Last night, Reuters reported that President Obama has authorized “secret support for Syrian rebels.”

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence “finding,” broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad’s armed opponents – a shift that intensified following last month’s failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.

There’s much more at the link.

Yesterday, the House responded to the Senate’s passage of a bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for incomes of $250,000 or less by passing their own bill to extend all of the cuts, including those for the super-rich.

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted Wednesday to extend expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels for another year, a pre-election statement of the GOP’s unyielding opposition to raising taxes for any taxpayer.

Th 256 to 171 vote to preserve tax cuts first enacted during the Bush administration and renewed in 2010 since then fell largely along party lines, though 19 Democrats voted with Republicans to extend the tax cuts. One Republican was opposed.

It came after the House rejected a Democratic alternative, also largely on a partisan 170 to 257 vote, that would have preserve tax cuts for income up to $250,000 but allowed them to expire for the wealthy.

You probably heard that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke once again has refused to do anything new to stimulate employment.

According to its statement, the Fed won’t take any additional steps at the moment to boost the economy. No quantitative easing. No bold nwe statements. No trying to reduce mortgage rates further. The central bank’s forecast of “exceptionally low” interest rates through 2014 remains unchanged from its last report in June….

On the other hand, the committee’s statement does note that Fed officials are still poring over recent (and troubling) economic data. Growth has “decelerated” of late, with the U.S. economy expanding at a mere 1.5 percent pace in the second quarter of 2012. And the unemployment rate remains stuck at 8.2 percent. Meanwhile, inflation is expected to remain “at or below” the Fed’s target over the medium term. So is that enough to warrant more stimulus? The FOMC statement says, basically, ask us when we meet again in September:

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments and will provide additional accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.

There’s an interesting article at Bloomberg Businessweek about Bernanke and the Fed: Bernanke, the Reluctant Revolutionary. The article makes a point that Dakinikat has often expressed:

Because of its demonstrated competence in crisis management, Bernanke’s Fed is being pulled into solving problems that the White House and Congress should be dealing with but aren’t. Housing? Under Bernanke the Fed has bought mortgage-backed securities to make loans cheaper and boost home sales. The fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes that threatens the economy at the start of 2013? The Fed’s loose money policies, by stimulating growth, are compensating at least partially for the chilling effect on hiring and investment that fears of the cliff are already causing.

It’s a lot, and Bernanke argues that too much is being put on the Fed’s shoulders. “Monetary policy is not a panacea,” he told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on June 7. “It would be much better to have a broad-based policy effort addressing a whole variety of issues. I leave the details to Congress, which has considered many of these issues. I’d feel much more comfortable if Congress would take some of this burden from us and address those issues.”

It’s a lengthy piece, so if you’re interested do read the whole thing.

Early yesterday, the judge in the George Zimmerman case, Kenneth Lester, denied the defense motion that he “disqualify” himself “because of alleged bias.”

In the motion asking George Zimmerman’s judge to step down, Florida’s rules required Judge Lester to “determine only the legal sufficiency of the motion.” Zimmerman’s motion failed that test, Judge Lester wrote in his ruling.

But the judge did not further explain why he found the motion insufficient. That’s likely because Florida’s rules explicitly state: “No other reason for denial shall be stated, and an order of denial shall not take issue with the motion.”

Zimmerman’s motion had accused Judge Lester of making opinionated remarks about evidence and “advocat[ing] for Mr. Zimmerman to be prosecuted for additional crimes” in his July 5 order setting bail.

Poor George.

There’s quite a bit of news about Mitt Romney, but for some reason I’m resistant to writing about him at the moment. Amazing, huh? So I’m just going to quickly list some articles that you may want to take a look at.

You probably heard about the Brookings report that gives the kiss of death to Romney’s tax plan. The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery (who leans right) covered it yesterday, and even she couldn’t sugarcoat it. Study: Romney tax plan would result in cuts for rich, higher burden for others

The study was conducted by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, who seem to bend over backward to be fair to the Republican presidential candidate. To cover the cost of his plan — which would reduce tax rates by 20 percent, repeal the estate tax and eliminate taxes on investment income for middle-class taxpayers — the researchers assume that Romney would go after breaks for the richest taxpayers first.

They even look at what would happen if Republicans’ dreams for tax reform came true and the proposal generated significant revenue through economic growth.

None of it helped Romney. His rate-cutting plan for individuals would reduce tax collections by about $360 billion in 2015, the study says. To avoid increasing deficits — as Romney has pledged — the plan would have to generate an equivalent amount of revenue by slashing tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health care, education, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and child care — all breaks that benefit the middle class.

“It is not mathematically possible to design a revenue-neutral plan that preserves current incentives for savings and investment and that does not result in a net tax cut for high-income taxpayers and a net tax increase for lower- and/or middle-income taxpayers,” the study concludes.

That should be the end of it, but of course many Americans don’t care about facts. Naturally, the Romney campaign says the study is “biased.”

There’s a very harsh assessment of Team Romney at Foreign Policy. Too Much Baggage: Mitt Romney needs to fire his foreign-policy team. Yesterday. I’m not going to excerpt from the piece, because it’s important to read the whole thing. I highly recommend it!

Michael Kinsley has a very good piece on Romney’s endless complaints about the supposed lack of respect President Obama (and by extension other liberals) for his supposed “success.”

Jared Diamond, the author of one of the books Romney referenced in his speech in Israel, says he was misquoted: Romney Hasn’t Done His Homework.

MITT ROMNEY’S latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue.

It is not true that my book “Guns, Germs and Steel,” as Mr. Romney described it in a speech in Jerusalem, “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”

That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it. My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (As I learned this week, Mr. Romney also mischaracterized my book in his memoir, “No Apology: Believe in America.”)

And here’s the closing paragraph:

Mitt Romney may become our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history.

Please go read it. There’s much much more excoriation of Willard’s lies. Bwaaaaaahahahahahahaha!

Michael Kinsley has a great piece on Romney’s endless complaints about Americans who supposedly don’t respect his supposed “success.”

Romney’s ‘success’ problem: Is getting ahead in the U.S. simply a matter of brainpower and hard work, as the GOP candidate says? And if so, is everyone else stupid and lazy? Here’s just a bit of it:

Romney worries that Americans are losing their appreciation of success, as evidenced by President Obama’s desire to reduce the rewards of success by raising taxes on high incomes. He sees in this not just a bigger tax bill for successful people but an insult as well. An alternative perspective is that any successful person who feels personally insulted by a request from the president to share a bit of it is, in the immortal words of Liberace, crying “all the way to the bank” (or, to quote someone else, “a master of the fancied slight”).

You might also ask yourself: If Obama is insulting successful people by suggesting that their success doesn’t necessarily result entirely from their own hard work and brainpower, doesn’t that mean that Romney is insulting the vast majority of folks who are unsuccessful (by Romney’s exalted standard) by implying that they are lazy and stupid? If your success is entirely your own achievement, then your lack of success is entirely your own fault.

Finally, Haaretz is basically saying that Romney is Netanyahu’s puppet. Most of the article is for subscribers only, but here’s a screenshot of the page.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


More Journalistic Malpractice from WAPO

The Yellow Kid of Yellow Journalism

Predictably, WAPO propaganda specialist Lori Montgomery and her cronies have produced more junk journalism based on bias instead of any actual knowledge of economics or interviews with folks that would actually know about economics.  This time she teamed up with Rosalind Helderman to push her same disinformation about Social Security within the framework of the super committee.  Then there’s the added confidence fairy story. It’s about time we consider WAPO to be a source of malinformation and place it on newsstands in the same category as Globe Magazine.  Well, maybe not quite the same category.  At least the Globe only spins lies about celebrities and alien invasions. Can WAPO just turn their coverage of the federal budget over to Pete Peterson and at least be honest about its obvious dependence on biased think tanks instead of real economics?  Why do we have to suffer through bad writers like Lori Montgomery when we can just cut out the middle man? Why hide the real source of this nonsense?

Even as supercommittee members struggled to chart a path to a compromise that would not alienate their respective political bases, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and the Senate planned to renew a call Wednesday for the panel to pursue a more ambitious deal that would require major surgery to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as well as historic tax increases.

Yup.  Just what we need.  More ambitious cuts that send us straight to a depression.  As usual, WAPO writers just can’t help wrongly inserting Social Security into any talk of the federal deficit. How many times do actual economists need to point out that Social Security is a stand alone program with its own source of financing?

Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect shreds WAPO and its biased coverage.  WAPO  also continues to spew the confidence fairy nonsense.  Some how, every one will feel all snug and warm and the economy will recover if we take money away from the vast majority of American households to protect the comfortable few.   Wow, just imagine the need for the safety net programs if we downgraded the 1% from filthy stinking rich to stinking rich.  Whatever would happen to sales at Tiffany and Mercedes Benz dealerships?  Oh, the humanity!  Oh, the economic devastation!  Hully Gee!  WAPO just keeps making up these story lines!

Wednesday’s Washington Post deserves some kind of perverse award for advocacy journalism—in this case, for advocating the proposition that dire economic consequences will ensue if the congressional Super Committee fails to cut a deal for drastic deficit reduction. This is, of course, one side of an argument.

Those on the other side, including myself, have argued that austerity in a deep recession makes no economic sense and that as a matter of politics, the Obama administration would be far better advised to let the automatic sequester formula take effect, knowing that it would have to be reopened because of Republicans’ horror of deep defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Moreover, Social Security does not belong in this conversation, and Democrats are better off, substantively and politically, defending it against Republican proposed cuts rather than lumping it in with budget talks.

But I digress. The Post has been an editorial champion of the Super Committee and austerity politics, and of the bogus claim that Social Security is partly responsible for the current deficit, which has seeped into the news coverage of the predictably biased Lori Montgomery.

In yesterday’s Post, the lead piece on deficit politics, by Montgomery and Rosalind Henderman, includes the subtitle, “Pressure mounts from all sides as deadline nears.” Reading the piece, we learn that “talks have focused on a tax package of as much as $650 billion over the next decade”—a Republican claim that the Post took at face value in order to drum up support for the deal. The Republican arithmetic has been thoroughly demolished by Bob Greenstein, whose analysis was just a keystroke away from Montgomery’s wishful keyboard.

Greenstein and Horney’s analysis at CEPR demonstrates that the Toomey plan is not a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  As I said yesterday, it is a bait and switch or some kind of Wimpynomics.  Toomey will gladly “reform” taxes Tuesday for devastating budget cuts in social programs today. Nearly all the Republican plans begin with saving the Bush Tax Cuts which have done all kinds of damage to the budget and have had little impact on the economy.  Republican suggestions include some weird bargain that would cut spending immediately and postpone overhauling the tax code.  I still argue that the Bush Tax Cuts must go or we will be permanently locked into a death spiral.

Senator Pat Toomey and other Republicans on the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Supercommittee”) portray their new offer to raise close to $300 billion in revenues (under a plan to reduce deficits by about $1.5 trillion over ten years) as a significant concession, and some observers have suggested it represents a welcome first step toward a balanced deficit reduction plan to put the budget on a sustainable path.  But a closer examination of the proposal raises grave concerns and indicates that, in fact, it adds little balance.

It uses savings from closing tax loopholes and narrowing other tax expenditures mainly to set tax rates permanently at levels well below those of President Bush’s tax cuts, and to make permanent both the highly preferential treatment of capital gains and dividend income under the Bush tax cuts and the temporary hollowing out of the estate tax for estates of the wealthiest one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans that Congress enacted in late 2010.  Consequently, the proposal seems designed to make only a modest revenue contribution toward deficit reduction and then to take revenues off the table for the larger rounds of deficit reduction that must follow.  Moreover, even while yielding modest savings, the revenue component would make the package less balanced by conferring large new tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans while forcing low- and middle-income Americans to bear most of the plan’s budget cuts as well as its tax increases.

By permanently locking in tax rates well below the Bush levels, the plan would remove the potential to secure $800 billion in deficit reduction by letting the Bush tax cuts for households with incomes over $250,000 expire on schedule at the end of 2012, and it would remove the leverage that the scheduled expiration of these tax cuts provides to those who seek balanced deficit reduction with a substantial revenue contribution.  It also would remove the potential to secure a substantial deficit reduction contribution from tax reform.

The most absurd storyline in WAPO pointed out by Kuttner is that some how the failure of the super committee will act like the Grinch that Stole Christmas. Neil Irwin and Ylan Q. Mui write some absurd piece that suggests that people will be more apt to spend for the holidays–due to the perpetually present confidence fairy–after they completely gut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Wow.  That makes absolutely no sense.  How would causing income to go down and expenses to go up for seniors cause them to go on a shopping spree?  How would it give businesses more confidence knowing congress drained them of a source of revenue–in the case of the medical professions–and decreased the income to their customers?  WAPO must have some crazy back-asswards macroeconomic models at play!

I can’t wait for Dean Baker and some other economists to take this on again.  At the moment, Baker is taking on how the austerity meme is killing the Euro which–if it happens–will undoubtedly send us right back into a global depression and keep us there for some time.   Here’s two short paragraphs that point to the root of all our current economic problems.  It’s still a lack of demand brought on by the vast wealth and income destruction caused by banks that overleveraged and engaged in pure speculative activities.  Their bad investment portfolios wounded many western economies.  This austerity kick will most likely mortally wound us all.

The absurdity of this situation is that the eurozone countries would not need outside support from the BRICs if the ECB was prepared to pursue these policies today. Just as is the case now with the United States, there is no shortage of wealth in the EU, in the sense that it has the ability to produce vastly more goods and services than it is currently producing. The main problem is simply a lack of demand.

We have known how to generate demand since Keynes wrote his masterpiece in the ’30s. However, rather than pursue the simple steps needed to restore the eurozone’s economy to stable growth, the ECB is adhering to an ideological agenda that will destroy the euro and throw the economy into an even more severe recession than the last one. This is an extraordinary tragedy unravelling in slow motion in front of the world.

How much more can our civilization endure of policy via junk science and right wing ideology?   How can we actually solve any problems when we have huge national papers basically pushing ignorance agendas?  We are so f’d.


Tuesday Reads

Coffee and Morning News, by Tim Nyberg

Good Morning!! I am sooooo exhausted. Last Wednesday, I got back home after two months in Indiana. Normally, I would crash for a couple of days and be on the way to recovery from the long drive. But this time my Mom came back with me. She has been staying at my brother’s house, and I’ve had to drive over there nearly every day since I got home.

Yesterday I spent the day with my Mom and my nearly-9-year-old nephew, who was home sick and hung around for the trick-or-treating. My Mom is flying back home this morning at 8:30, and I was dreading having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to take her to the airport. But my brother volunteered to take her–halleluja! Finally I can spend a couple of days vegetating at home! I just hope I don’t get my nephew’s cold!

Anyway, here are some news links I found for you. I’ve been a bit out of touch, so I hope I won’t duplicate anything that has already been posted.

The freaky early snowstorm has left millions of people without power, which also means no heat. Even if you have gas or oil heat, the on-off mechanism still relies on electricity. So there are lots of people living in houses with temperatures around 50 degrees. I was really fortunate that my electricity was only off for several hours, mostly while I was sleeping.

Joanelle mentioned in comments last night that in her part of NJ, there is so much damage that trick or treating has been put off until Friday. The Christian Science Monitor had a story about this happening up and down the East coast.

Until hard-pressed utility crews get the lines restrung, many residents from North Carolina to Maine are living in homes that are barely 50 degrees, and in some cases, they’re unable to heat food. School systems are closed because, among other reasons, it’s not safe for children to walk on sidewalks that may still have live power lines on them. And many businesses aren’t open because they’re still in the midst of power outages.

“Electricity is the most fundamental of utilities. Most everything depends on electric power,” says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “This has many of the earmarks of a disaster.”

In some states, governors are warning residents they may have to grin and bear it for days or even another week since the heavy snow did extensive damage to the electric grid. For example, in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the snow knocked out some of the lines that get power from the generating plants to substations, where it then goes into a local distribution network. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has asked President Obama to declare the state a federal disaster area, which would help with cleanup and recovery costs.

Herman Cain is still trying to explain away the story about his sexually harassing women in the 1990s. Now he’s calling it a witch hunt. But Rush Limbaugh, of all people, claims it’s racism.

RUSH: You know, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, folks. After all of these years, none of us should be surprised, but I still am. Look at how quickly what is known as the mainstream media goes for the ugliest racial stereotypes they can to attack a black conservative. You know who’s laughing himself silly today is Bill Clinton. (imitating Clinton) “Yeah, I really did it. Ha-ha. They praised me and they went as far out of their way as they could. Even my old buddy Carville is out there and he’s saying, ‘Look what happens when you drag a dollar bill through a trailer park, you get Paula Jones.’ I have everybody defending me and they’re going after this black guy, and they’re going after him with some of the ugliest racial stereotypes I have ever seen. That’s how our side does it; we get away with it. I just love it. I love watching it.”

What’s next, folks? A cartoon on MSNBC showing Herman Cain with huge lips eating a watermelon? What are they gonna do next? No, Snerdley, I’m not kidding. The racial stereotypes that these people are using to go after Herman Cain, what is the one thing that it tells us? It tells us who the real racists are, yeah, but it tells us that Herman Cain is somebody. Something’s going on out there. Herman Cain obviously is making some people nervous for this kind of thing to happen.

When did sexual harassment become a racial stereotype? WTF is he talking about?

But at the National Review, Kevin D. Williamson says this may signal the end of Herman Cain’s campaign.

Here is what troubles me. Mr. Cain says: “If the Restaurant Association did a settlement, I wasn’t even aware of it, and I hope it wasn’t for much, because nothing happened. So if there was a settlement, it was handled by some of the other offices that worked for me at the association, so the answer is absolutely not.”

Okay, so if I’m reading that quote right, then:

1. Herman Cain, in his role as head of a major trade association, did not bother to learn how a complaint or complaints of sexual harassment against him was resolved.

2. Herman Cain, not bothering to have learned how a complaint or complaints of sexual harassment against him was resolved, decided to run for president without bothering to learn.

I got a lot of grief for writing that, based on my interaction with Mr. Cain, I would have hesitated to hire him to run a pizza company. I am feeling more comfortable in that judgment.

I wonder if Rush will condemn this: some Republicans in Virginia sent out a Halloween e-mail containing an image of President Obama shot through the head.

The Republican Party of Virginia on Monday strongly condemned an e-mail sent by Loudoun County’s GOP committee that shows President Obama as a zombie with part of his skull missing and a bullet through his head.

The e-mail, first reported on the blog Too Conservative, has “Halloween 2011” in the subject line and has several other images, including one of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose face has been made to look deformed with one eye bulging from its socket….

The e-mail, sent a week before local and state elections, invites supporters to a Halloween parade. “LCRC members and Republican candidates: We are going to vanquish the zombies with clear thinking conservative principles and a truckload of Republican candy. . . . It’s fun and a great way to represent our candidates to a ton of voters (and their kids) just before the election.”

Talk about ugly and wildly inappropriate! If anyone listens to Rush, let me know if he condemns this. I won’t be holding my breath though….

We’ve been talking about the irresponsible “journalism” of WaPo “reporter” Lori Montgomery, so I was interested to learn from Raw Story that a new website debuted yesterday with the goal of holding mainstream journalists accountable for what they write and don’t write. From Raw Story:

A Wikipedia-style website launched on Monday which provides information about the journalists behind the bylines.

News Transparency is a creation of Ira Stoll, the founder of another website called FutureOfCapitalism.com and the former managing editor of the now defunct New York Sun.

In a statement on its home page, newstransparency.com, the website said its goal is to help users “find out more about the people who produce the news” and “hold them accountable, the same way that journalists hold other powerful institutions accountable, by posting reviews and sharing information.”

News Transparency features an alphabetical list of hundreds of journalists and invites users to edit their profiles, which include basic biographical information such as age, education, current employer and work history.

Lori Montgomery is listed on the site, but so far there’s no information on her background. Does this woman even have a college degree? I’m waiting with bated breath to find out.

On my way home last night, I listened to the NPR program “On Point.” They were debating the Mississippi “personhood” for zygotes initiative, the goal of which seems to be to turn women into breeders with no freedom of choice and no rights over their own bodies. I highly recommend listening to the program. Hearing what the insane theocratic sponsors of this constitutional amendment have to say is truly frightening, but at the same time very important.

The New York Times has an op-ed about the proposed amendent: Mississippi’s Ambiguous ‘Personhood’ Amendment. The authors identify two main ambiguities in the amendment as written:

First, what does “fertilization” mean? As embryologists recognize, fertilization is a process, a continuum, rather than a fixed point. The term “fertilization” — which is sometimes considered synonymous with “conception” — could mean at least four different things: penetration of the egg by a sperm, assembly of the new embryonic genome, successful activation of that genome, and implantation of the embryo in the uterus. The first occurs immediately; the last occurs approximately two weeks after insemination (or, in the case of embryos created through in vitro fertilization that do not get implanted, never). Thus, on some reasonable readings of the amendment, certain forms of birth control, stem cell derivation and the destruction of embryos created through in vitro fertilization would seem impermissible, while on other equally reasonable readings they are not.

Second, the proposed amendment does not clearly indicate what the immediate legal impact would be. Would the amendment be “self-executing” — that is, effectuate a change to Mississippi law on its own — or would it require enabling legislation to set that change in motion?

Under existing doctrine, constitutional provisions or amendments that only set forth “first principles” or “policies” are not treated as self-executing, because they need laws enacted to further the stated principles or policies. In this case it’s not clear whether the amendment would, for example, immediately redefine thousands of references to “human beings” or “persons,” including those in provisions governing criminal homicide, or whether additional legislation would be necessary. Because of this uncertainty, voters considering this amendment cannot tell what actions would and would not immediately be subject to prosecutorial investigation were the amendment to pass.

I just hope this abomination doesn’t get enough votes!

That’s all I’ve got this morning. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Toxic Journalism

I really could write a very long essay on all the things that are wrong with Lori Montgomery’s WAPO “article” on Social Security.  Problem is, I’m trying to get published in a peer-reviewed journal right now and actually have to respond to questions about my methodology and data so I don’t have time to do it. Plus, I don’t really have to peel apart a lot of the economic falsehoods because Dean Baker has done a really great job at his blog over at CEPR. I actually bumped into this bit of yellow journalism earlier today via a Paul Krugman tweet. It seems to promote every right wing meme, canard and lie about Social Security but for some reason it didn’t end up on the Op-Ed page. It was out there on the front page.  Bad WAPO!  Very VERY BAD WAPO!

BB and I had a conversation about it over the phone after both of us spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out exactly what qualified Lori Montgomery for rigorous economic analysis.  Actually, BB even wrote her an email.  I’m going to post her response to BB because it was kind’ve appalling all on its own given all BB asked was for some idea of how many classes the woman had actually had in finance or economics. Evidently, WAPO thinks you don’t need to know a damn thing to write a huge front page article.   Hopefully, no senior citizens leave for the Alaskan ice floes after reading it.  Also, hopefully no miserable millennium yuppie sent their grandparents to the floes either.  Maybe we should call Montgomery’s parents and see if they’ve committed ritual suicide yet.  Here’s her response to BB’s request for her academic background.

I am a journalist, not an economist. If you view dean baker as the voice of
god, then I’m afraid we’re not going to get very far.
My article is as accurate and as objective as I could make it. Perhaps you’d
like to point out some of these blatant falsehoods so I can respond to them
directly.

Alrighty then … let me just quote the first paragraph, then I’ll put a question to you.

Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went “cash negative.”

So, the question is this:  is “treacherous milestone” perhaps the most concrete example of purple prose you’ve ever seen or is it just me?  Or, do you agree with Lori, that “treacherous” is just one of those words people pull out of their asses when they are trying to be ” as accurate and as objective” as possible?

Now, let me quote economist Dean Baker on that particular paragraph too.  Let me just mention this is about a 2700 word article and we’ve only hit the first few sentences.  It’s so bad I feel like I should do about 10 installments.  That would be eight on the bad economics and two on the bad journalism. Well, maybe tomorrow.

The basic premise of the story, as expressed in the headline (“the debt fallout: how Social Security went ‘cash negative’ earlier than expected”) and the first paragraph (“Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went ‘cash negative.'”) is that Social Security faces some sort of crisis because it is paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes. [The “runaway national debt” is also a Washington Post invention. The deficits have soared in recent years because of the economic downturn following the collapse of the housing bubble. No responsible newspaper would discuss this as problem of the budget as opposed to a problem with a horribly underemployed economy.]

This “treacherous milestone” is entirely the Post’s invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as their is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.

As the article notes the trust fund currently holds $2.6 trillion in government bonds, so it is nowhere close to being unable to pay benefits. The whole point of building up the trust fund was to help cover costs at a future date when taxes would not be sufficient to cover full benefits. Rather than posing any sort of crisis, this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.

The article makes great efforts to confuse readers about the status of the trust fund.

Here’s another economist–Richard Eskow–with a similar take.

How can a 2,363 word piece in on Social Securitybe so densely packed with inaccuracies, falsehoods, and downright lies?

It almost takes a cryptographer to unpack the deceptions contain in an article published Saturday with the headline, “The debt fallout: How Social Security went ‘cash negative’ earlier than expected.”

The piece’s author sits us down by the campfire, holds the flashlight up to her chin, and spins a yarn filled with quotes from right-wing ideologues from both parties. Most of her “sources” have a long history of trying to gut Social Security, often under the employ of billionaire former Nixon Cabinet member Pete Peterson (whose own organization, Fiscal Times, provides financial journalism services for thePost. Coincidence? You decide.)

How many quotes are included from the organizations and groups defending Social Security? None.

I’ve actually read most of the feedback on the article from the major economic blogs and I’d say that Ms. Montgomery should definitely rethink her career as a reporter on the economy–which as far as I can tell she’s only done for a few years–and should possibly go back to writing obits in Texas or Michigan or where ever else she did her work.  She wouldn’t even let BB know where she got her degrees and in what, remember?  I’m thinking it must be the Judith Miller School of Journalism of Koch Brothers University, inc.  Just a guess.

So, I’m not going to dissect that horrible article.  I’ll only tell you that it contradicts all the research I’ve ever done on the subject including the series of posts I did about a year or so ago. It basically contradicts all the literature I’ve ever seen on the topic too unless you count junk stuff that’s come out of Koch Brother’s wholly owned subsidiary institutes and junk scientists.  Frankly, I kind’ve agree with Eskow and think we should call it a Halloween prank gone bad and ignore it.

However, go read some of the stuff and if you have any questions, I’ll be glad to actually do some research for you or to check earlier sources I did for my research.  Or, perhaps just answer it since I spent all these years getting a doctorate in financial economics so I could teach people about this stuff and actually do real research.

Meanwhile, I’ll close with Brad DeLong’s long standing tag line:  “Why-oh-why can’t we have a better press?”

I hate to say this, but I’d like to know how she got that job in the first place.  Let’s just say inquiring minds are suspicious.