Category Archives: brain dead media

Quote of the day

Marcus Davies, an official of the Saskatchewan Medical Society, on the difference between Canadians and Americans:

Us Canadians, we’re kind of understated by nature.  We don’t go around chanting ‘We’re No. 1!’ But you know, there are two areas where we feel superior to the U.S.: hockey and health care.”

The quote comes from an article in Newsweek by T. R. Reid, the guy who put together a documentary about healthcare around the world for PBS about a year ago.  Reid says that countries typically develop healthcare systems that reflect their national character and Canadians have built a system that neatly fits theirs: “ferociously egalitarian, but thrifty at the same time”.

So where’s the American national character on this issue?  Hugely confused, I’d say.  Americans are not radically less egalitarian or thrifty than people in other countries.  Unfortunately, many Americans think that their fellow citizens can get all the help they need though emergency rooms and charity.  Or that unregulated free markets are the answer.  Or, even if they aren’t the answe,r government intervention will just make it worse.  Thus, contrary to the example of virtually every developed country around the world, we are doomed to deliver healthcare in an unethical and wasteful way.

Even after months of debate and publicity it seems that large numbers of Americans have little idea what happening around the world or in their own country.  Lovely.

Update:  according to Bob Laszewski we Americans are confused about another matter:  we think the healthcare we receive is generally based on scientific evidence, when it’s not.

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Filed under brain dead media, dignity, healthcare finance

Earmarks

Big news of the day (via AP):

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, sounding weary of criticism over federal earmarks, defended Congress’ pet projects Wednesday as he signed an “imperfect” $410 billion measure with thousands of examples. But he said the spending does need tighter restraint and listed guidelines to do it. Obama, accused of hypocrisy by Republicans for embracing billions of dollars of earmarks in the legislation, said they can be useful and noted that he has promised to curb, not eliminate them.

In a 910 word article that uses the word “earmark” 24 times we are never told exactly what an earmark is, and the spending on earmarks is never placed in context–in terms of the total appropriations now or in the past.  Furthermore, even though this is a report on a spending bill, people who read this entire article will likely have almost no idea what the spending is about or why Congress is voting on it.  What a reporting train wreck.

For some insight on earmarks I’d recommend that people read Thomas Mann’s recent piece for the Brookings Institution. Earmarks, he says, constitute “less that 1% of the federal budget”.  Further

In most cases, they don’t add to federal expenditures but merely allow Congress to direct a small fraction of program funding that would otherwise be allocated by formula or grant competition.

Yes, the expenditure would “otherwise be allocated by formula or grant competition”.  That’s why they call it an earmark.  Congressmen earmark it.  Now, those earmarks might be wasteful or wonderful, depending on your point of view.  The entire appropriation might be wasteful or wonderful depending on your point of view, but if you read the news (see AP report above) you will almost certainly have no idea what the spending is on.  And you will almost certainly be led to believe that any earmark is an absolute, total waste of money.

Is this informing the public?  I think not.  Meanwhile, (and I guess I’m doing some reporting here) 98% of the spending in the bill Obama signed goes to keeping government operating through the current fiscal year.  This is something the previous administration should have addressed, but didn’t.  Further, virtually every economist on the planet thinks government should be engaged in spending–earmarked or not– to counter the massive economic contraction we are living through.

And the AP is reporting on the appropriateness of earmarks.  Unbelievable.

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Zombie Republicans

According to Republicans  the stimulus bill that just passed the House is nothing more than a monstrous pork fest for Democratic pet causes.  It has nothing to do with addressing our economic crisis.    Among the spending projects that Republicans object to:

  • Amtrak– $1 billion
  • Child care centers — $2 billion
  • National Endowment for the Arts — $50 million
  • global warming research — $400 million
  • new cars for the government — $600 million
  • fixing up the Smithsonian — $150 million
  • $81 billion for Medicaid
  • $20 billion for food stamps
  • $20 billion for fish barriers
  • $87 million for an ice-breaker ship

This is of course business as usual.  The GOP objects to spending on social programs, mass-transit, the arts.  This isn’t news.  What IS NEWS (and maybe the GOP leaders missed this), the economy is heading into the tank.  According to the CBO if nothing is done unemployment will reach 9 percent this year, and economic output will fall below it’s potential by $1 trillion.  This is a serious problem but it could be at least partially alleviated by government spending.  That’s what this about, not pork.

Since the basic problem seems to be getting ignored here, let’s try to bring it back in focus.  The economy is falling off a cliff, but the problem isn’t lack of a willing and skilled workforce, or lack of  investment in factories, building, roads, and docks.  We have the people and the wealth and the know-how to create far more goods and services than we are likely to create over the next few years.   But somehow the supply and demand don’t meet.   How does that happen?  It happens because people suddenly stopped spending money and suddenly started hording cash.

This is all understandable—given the loss of wealth from the  bursting the housing and stock market bubbles; not to mention the general uncertainty.  The problem is that the desire to hold cash can translate into a deadly feedback loop for the economy.  What was a simple desire for security ends up forcing banks to call in loans to generate the cash people want to hold.  That puts businesses out of business.  Banks also have to sell assets to raise cash; that depresses asset prices; further worsening the banks situation. Since people are not spending, other businesses see demand for their goods drop; they lay off workers; demand drops even more; they lay off more workers.  Pretty soon we are in deep do-do.

One way to break this cycle is to flood the market with cash.  The Fed effectively says, “hey, if people want cash, lets just print money and give it to them”.  That way banks don’t have to start calling loans and putting businesses out of business.  Once the panic passes and people stop holding so much cash, the Fed effectively takes the cash back out of the economy.

Another way to break the cycle is for government to spend money “counter-cyclically”.  Some government programs do this automatically:  unemployment insurance, food stamps.  Government can also enact specific legislation to spend money to break the cycle.  The is what the current stimulus debate is about.

This is why calling the list above “nothing but pork spending” is ludicrous.  It’s spending; therefore it’s stimulus.  No doubt it’s not what Republicans would spend money on, but the concept here is SPENDING.  If the GOP wants to propose other spending, fine.  But the GOP is acting as if it 1985 and they are making huge political points by fighting against big goverment Democrats.  Wake up guys.  It’s 2009 and the economy is going off a cliff.

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Filed under brain dead media, economics, framing

Lists

Here is one of those lists that tells us more about the list maker than the listed.  Forbes puts forth their list of The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media and it includes a number of  people I recognize and admire:  Kevin Drum (23), Josh Marshall (8), Matthew Yglesias (16), Jon Stewart (5), Paul Krugman (1)—but realistically most of these people are quite moderate.  I don’t see any Dennis Kucinich backers on the list.

Then there are the people on the list that are actually conservative:  Andrew Sullivan, for example, who describes himself as conservative, is #19.  Fred Hiatt, editor of the WaPo editorial page who, Forbes says, “is pilloried by liberals” is a leading liberal at #3 because…. ummm… they don’t say.

As I say, most of the people on the list are pretty mainstream.  Even Krugman, who proudly calls himself a liberal, is a liberal in the old-school, FDR, capitalist mode.  So, if this is “the left” in America, then the center must be to the right somewhere… so I guess we must be a generally conservative country.

Of course, this is what Forbes, the listmaker, wants you to believe.

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Not Fannie!!!! Arghhhhhhhhh….

OK.  Anderson Cooper gets a “brain-dead media” award.  He selected Franklin Raines, former CEO of Fannie Mae as #2 in the Culprits of the Collapse.  Raines has his own problems, and maybe should have made the top ten culprits of something, but what primarily caused the housing bubble was the ability of Wall Street investment banks to securitize and market junk mortgages.

Even Alan Greenspan agrees that Fannie was not a primary mover in this debacle.  As Henry Waxman observed in Thursday’s hearings before his committee, Fannie Mae securitized virtually no subprime paper at the height of the bubble (2.9% in 2006, 13% in 2007).  The subprime parade was organized and led by Wall Street investment banks, and enabled by rating agencies that gave those junk mortgages AAA ratings.  Under competitive pressure Fannie eventually started buying the junk and followed the Wall Street bankers into the collapse.  As for Raines, he left Fannie Mae in December 2005.

It really does a disserve to the public for major media outlets to pass along disinformation like this.  Bad selection, Anderson.  Bad.

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Obama’s elitist image

I see the media have adopted GOP talking point #1: Obama is an arrogant, aloof elitist.

What is the deal with this? Attending elite schools like Harvard makes him an an elitist? No, that can’t be it. W went to Yale and Harvard and he’s a regular guy. In addition, Obama attended elite schools because of his personal achievement; W attended them because of his personal connections (Daddy was an alum). So, it’s not elite schools. Maybe its because Obama speaks in sentences? Because he wears a suit? I don’t know.

But since his elitism is now “a given” among the mainstream media types, mainstream media types like Jeff Greenfield are now offering advice on how liberals like Obama can fight their “elitist image”. It involves George Orwell’s book Wigan Pier. Writes Greenfield:

“Wigan Pier is an account of Orwell’s travels to England’s industrial North, to the towns of Barnsley, Sheffield, and Wigan. Orwell wrote of everything from conditions in the coal mines to the homes, diets, and health of desperately poor miners. He himself was a socialist who could also turn a critical eye on the British left, and in the middle of the book, he devoted a chapter to the failure of socialism to gain a foothold among the very citizens who would have seemed to benefit most from its rise. Substitute liberal or progressive for socialist, and the text often reads as though Orwell were covering American politics today.

Now, just because Greenfield is substituting “liberal” for “socialist”, don’t get the idea that American liberals are socialists—you know, the people who quote Marx and want to nationalize industries—I’m sure Greenfield wouldn’t want to imply that. But I digress, back to his column:

“Everyone who uses his brain knows that Socialism, is a way out [of the worldwide depression,]” Orwell writes. “It would at least ensure our getting enough to eat, even if it deprived us of everything else. Indeed, from one point of view, Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.” And yet, he adds, “the average thinking person nowadays is merely not a Socialist, he is actively hostile to Socialism. … Socialism … has about it something inherently distasteful—something that drives away the very people who ought to be flocking it its support.”

One key to the movement’s lack of popularity, Orwell argues, is its supporters. “As with the Christian religion,” he writes, “the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents… .” The typical socialist, according to Orwell, “is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism, or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler, and often with vegetarian leanings … with a social position he has no intention of forfeiting. … One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.” (Think “organic food lover,” “militant nonsmoker,” and “environmentalist with a private jet” for a more contemporary list.)

Concludes Greenfield: “the perennial struggle of Democratic contenders to appeal to ordinary Americans seems very much of a piece with Orwell’s sharp descriptions.”

This is kind of the point Thomas Frank makes in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”. Working class folks get tricked into voting against their economic interests. I’m not entirely sure I buy it. Whose to say that people should vote their economic interest? Many people on the left vote for Dems expecting that their taxes will increase. Are they failing to vote their economic interest? I have an alternative theory:  maybe it’s because the media insist on running with the “elitist story.  Maybe that has something to do with the popularity of the “elitist story”? Might it be “of a piece”?

Image rehabilitation my specialty

"Image rehabilitation my specialty"

In any event, Greenfield obviously believes liberals are elitists, but suggests that it’s not impossible for them to connect with the average Joe. His example is Bill Clinton who was, he says, “hard to label an aloof elitist” because of “Clinton’s obvious tastes for earthly pleasures—from Big Macs to more intimate diversions.”

Of course! The perfect strategy to counter the elitist charge! Strike up a relationship with someone like Monica Lewinsky. Worked well for Clinton. As soon as we find out Obama has been fooling around with some young woman (especially a white one!) his elitist problem will be solved.

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Filed under brain dead media, elections 08, obama

Legends of stock-picking

From BusinessWeek, 8/3/2006:

5 smart bets for the housing slump

A survey of experts uncovers ways you can invest in real estate — or, at least, keep an eye on it — in preparation for the inevitable rebound.

…are you brave enough to bet against conventional wisdom and buy real estate stocks now? Even if you are, bear in mind that it’s hard to find five stock picks in real estate now… . Yet there are a handful of ways to approach real estate’s uptick…

If you want stability, performance, and some income, a better bet is a mortgage operation such as IndyMac Bancorp or Countrywide Financial. IndyMac yields 4.1%, it’s up for the year, and it’s gained a reputation as a particularly tech-savvy, cost-conscious operator.

IndyMac, of course, is now worth zero. Countrywide trades at a lofty $4.25–down 85% from August 2006.

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