Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
lmost 15 years have passed since I warned about media “balance” that involved systematically abdicating the journalistic duty of informing readers about simple matters of fact. As I said way back when,
If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.
So have things improved? In some ways, they may have gotten even worse. These days, media balance often seems to involve retroactively rewriting history to avoid telling readers that one side of a policy debate got things completely wrong.
In particular, when you see reports on monetary disputes, you often see characterizations of what the Fed’s right-wing critics have been saying that go something like this, in the WaPo:
Among the criticisms: The Fed was keeping interest rates artificially low and fueling speculative bubbles. The helicopter-drop of money known as quantitative easing did little more than inflate stock markets and fund Washington’s deficit spending. The bailout of big banks left them bigger than ever.
Um, no. The people who gathered at the anti-Jackson-Hole eventweren’t warning about bubbles and too-big-to-fail. They warned, in apocalyptic terms, that runaway inflation was just around the corner. Here’s Ron Paul; here’s Peter Schiff.
Why would a reporter credit the Fed’s critics with warnings they didn’t give, and fail to mention what they actually said? The answer, pretty obviously, is that if you were to say “Ron Paul has been predicting runaway inflation ever since the Fed began its expansionary policies”, that would make it clear that he has been completely wrong. And conveying that truth — even as a matter of simple factual reporting — is apparently viewed as taking sides.
So what we get instead is a whitewashing of the intellectual history, in which Fed critics are portrayed as making arguments that haven’t been shown to be ridiculous. It’s a pretty sorry spectacle.
Kevin Drum has a very interesting post. Well worth reading—and it’s brief: 4 paragraphs, one chart.
Absolutely terrific report, for reasons that soon become obvious: the reporter’s family lives in Kansas. Chris Sullentrop writes in the NY Times Magazine:
When I think of my uncle Gene, I think of a man who, late into the night at a particularly boisterous family wedding, would flatten his palms against the dance floor, extend his body parallel to the ground and then begin to undulate his legs and torso in a move known as the worm. Or I think of how, even later that same evening, he would agitate for a midnight meal at a diner in west Wichita, Kan., called the Golden Bell. Or of how, in his more abstemious workaday life, he left the family business — a small bank based in Colwich, a town of about 1,000 people in south-central Kansas, where he grew up alongside my father and 11 other siblings — so that he could expand a chain of pizzerias, which grew to include 48 franchises in five states.
But when you think of Gene Suellentrop — and you do think of him, even if you don’t know it yet — you just might regard him as a blight on the Republic. He is a partisan political warrior, which is a social type whose popularity probably ranks somewhere just above that of journalists, even for those who share his deeply conservative fiscal politics. And if you’re a liberal, coastal, cosmopolitan sort, at best you probably see him as a deluded if well-intentioned peddler of what the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has called ‘‘right-wing derp, of doctrines that just get repeated (and indeed strengthen their political hold) no matter how wrong they prove.’’ Maybe you think my uncle Gene is an ideologue. Or maybe that’s another word for idealist.
Gene is 63 now, and his worm-dancing days are well behind him. He has served in the Kansas Legislature for the past six years, the last four as an ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, who is best known for his crusading social conservatism, including an unwavering opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Yet as governor, Brownback’s fiscal politics may be more remarkable.
In keeping with the state motto — ad astra per aspera, or ‘‘to the stars through difficulties’’ — Kansas politics have always been touched with a spirit of the avant-garde and the unorthodox, from popular sovereignty to prohibition and beyond. Today, thanks in large part to Brownback, the state is a petri dish for movement conservatism, a window into how the national Republican Party might govern if the opposition vanished. The 125 legislators of the House of Representatives include 97 Republicans; the Senate has an even greater percentage of Republicans, with only 8 Democrats among the 40 senators. With Brownback as governor, Kansas is in the midst of a self-described economic ‘‘experiment,’’ a project that, whatever you think of its merits, is one of the boldest and most ambitious agendas undertaken by any politician in America. Brownback calls it the ‘‘march to zero,’’ an attempt to wean his state’s government off the revenues of income taxes and to transition to a government that is financed entirely by what he calls consumption taxes — that is, sales taxes and, to a lesser extent, property taxes.
This fervor for budget-cutting is hardly unique to Kansas. At the federal level, the opposition party in the White House has kept the Republican majority in Congress from making much headway. But there are 23 states in the Union controlled entirely by Republicans, from statehouse to governor’s mansion — 24, if you count Nebraska’s technically nonpartisan, unicameral legislature — compared with just six (and Washington, D.C.) on the Democratic side. In these Republican states, the combination of the Great Recession with the anti-Obama elections of 2010 and 2014 has allowed legislators to make deeper cuts to the size and scope of government than has been possible in Washington for decades. In 2012, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, state governments spent $9 billion less than they did the previous year — the first such decline in 50 years. Many of these cuts have fallen on education. In Pennsylvania, for example, Gov. Tom Corbett cut funding for the state’s public universities by 20 percent, a compromise from his original proposal of 50 percent. Last month in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, backed by Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, cut $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system.
As many tax-cutting states have found later on, the party’s deep-seated opposition to tax increases of any kind can make balancing the budget a high-wire act. . .
Kevin Drum has a very interesting theory that is based on the low-information voter’s view of the Presidency.
David Dayen reports in The Intercept:
A devastating new Reuters story chronicles how political concerns watered down the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking around the world. The story quotes anonymous diplomats as saying that human rights experts shouldn’t be “purists” when it comes to the forced labor policies in foreign countries that amount to modern-day slavery.
The report from Reuters, based on over a dozen sources, alleges that senior personnel at the State Department, up to and including John Kerry’s chief of staff Jonathan Finer, boosted the grades for 14 countries, over the recommendations of experts at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, known in Washington as J/TIP. Theupgrades included China, India, Mexico, Cuba and Malaysia.
Staying out of the report’s lowest Tier 3 level helps countries avoid U.S. sanctions. In addition, Malaysia’s ascendance to Tier 2 allowed them to remain in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, after a federal statute barred Tier 3 countries from receiving “fast-track” approval for any trade agreements with the United States.
While politics are always part of the trafficking report, this year’s negotiations featured “a degree of intervention not previously known,” according to Reuters. Critics are frustrated by the damaged integrity of the report.
But the diplomats doing the politicizing were apparently frustrated, too.
“Some diplomats say that J/TIP staffers should avoid acting like ‘purists’ and keep sight of broader U.S. interests,” writes Reuters, “including maintaining open channels with authoritarian governments to push for reform and forging trade deals that could lift people out of poverty.” The article did not name names, noting that “U.S. diplomats are reluctant to openly strike back at critics.”
Calling those concerned about the forced labor of human beings “purists” fits with a long and troubling history of U.S. governments ignoring human rights concerns in partner countries, particularly to advance trade deals. A study by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office earlier this year found labor-related human rights abuses in 17 of the 20 countries with whom the U.S. has trade agreements. . .
In practice, the US has little concern for human or civil rights, and we see that domestically as well as in various policies (e.g., drone attacks).
Jon Scharz reports at The Intercept:
Former president Jimmy Carter said Tuesday on the nationally-syndicated radio show The Thom Hartmann Program that the United States is now an “oligarchy” in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” Both Democrats and Republicans, Carter said, “look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves.”
Carter was responding to a question from Hartmann about recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign financing like Citizens United.
HARTMANN: Our Supreme Court has now said, “unlimited money in politics.” It seems like a violation of principles of democracy … your thoughts on that?
CARTER: It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congressmembers. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over … The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody’s who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody’s who’s just a challenger.
(Thanks to Sam Sacks for pointing this out.)