Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Potourri: snarky, contrarian games Edition

digby: Frame Up 
Leading question of the week:

Chris Matthews: Helene Cooper The New York Times; Dan Rather HDNet; Andrew Sullivan The Atlantic; Kelly O’Donnell NBC News.

: How Will President Obama Lead the Left to Accept No Public Option?

The War Over Troops for Afghanistan.
I missed the show, but it's just as well because I'm too tired to pick my brains up off the floor after my head explodes this week-end. It's been a long week.

I have to give Matthews credit though. He's showing the way for villagers to hold Obama's feet to the fire. After all, there is no greater test of leadership than how hard and how often a Democratic politician can punch a hippie.
Yglesias: Fun Conspiracy Theory of the Day 
Paul Krugman writes: “I almost wonder whether Karen Ignagni is a progressive mole; that AHIP study has turned out to be extremely helpful to the other side.”
This is actually a more plausible theory than you might think. Look at her bio:
Prior to joining AAHP in 1993, Ms. Ignagni directed the AFL-CIO’s Department of Employee Benefits. In the 1980s, she was a Professional Staff Member on the U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, preceded by work at the Committee for National Health Insurance and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
What’s the Committee for National Health Insurance? Well:
The Committee for National Health Insurance was organized in 1969 through the efforts of UAW President Walter P. Reuther. After the passage of Medicare in 1965, enthusiasm for further health insurance changes waned. Escalating costs and competing health care made it increasingly difficult for the UAW leadership to improve health care benefits for their members through collective bargaining. The CNHI, a lobbying organization independent of, but closely affiliated with the UAW, conducts research and prepares legislation in support of national health insurance.
CNHI was primarily active in the 1970s and was formally disbanded in 1988.
The specifics of the case aside, it does seem like a strong-willed individual or two could do an enormous amount of good by infiltrating corporate advocacy organizations.

As a rule, the right should probably try to steer clear of Martin Luther King comparisons. I don't think they're especially good at it.
This week, for example, National Review's Andy McCarthy said Rush Limbaugh treats people "in the Martin Luther King aspiration that the content of one's character is what matters, not the color of one's skin." I think he was serious.
The next day, politician turned infomercial salesman turned CNN correspondent J.C. Watts went even further.
At a recent fundraiser in Tulsa, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts compared Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to Martin Luther King, Jr. While it is not uncommon for people to compare those they admire to great historical figures, Watts' reasoning behind the comparison is somewhat questionable:
Watts praised U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn as "a threat to the system" and said that "God is going to have a special place in heaven for Tom Coburn." He compared the senator to Martin Luther King Jr., saying that, like King, Coburn could not be threatened or bought off.
That's the standard for King comparisons? Coburn, one of the most right-wing Republicans on the Hill, is similar to MLK because he isn't easily intimidated?

Frumin (TPM): Kyl: 'I'm Not Sure It's A Fact' That Lack Of Health Insurance Causes People To Die
Oh boy. On Meet the Press a few minutes ago, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) took issue with the contention -- which is strongly supported by scientific research -- that lack of health insurance is linked to higher risk of death.
David Gregory asked Kyl about the issue of a "moral imperative," and said that while he's heard Kyl and other Republicans take issue with proposed health care reform legislation for fear that it might add to the budget deficit (although President Obama has insisted that it won't) -- he never hears such arguments from the GOP about a costly war in Afghanistan.
"No country can afford to scrimp and save, or try to win a war on the cheap," Kyl responded. "The president himself has said the war in Afghanistan, against these terrorists who killed over 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 2001, is a war of necessity. You have to win it."
Gregory then asked, "And is it a necessity to tackle the fact that there are more and more Americans who die because they don't have access to health insurance?"
Kyl's response:
I'm not sure that it's a fact that more and more people die because they don't have health insurance. But because they don't have health insurance, the care is not delivered in the best and most efficient way.
I imagine Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) -- of "Republicans want you to die quickly" fame -- might have a field day with this one.
And for the record, a highly-publicized Harvard study released last month said that 45,000 deaths are linked to lack of health insurance coverage each year -- and that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher death risk than their privately-insured counterparts.
DougJ: Sic semper contrarians
There is nothing in this world that I hate more than contrarianism. Say what you will about Villagers, but their predictive powers are probably only marginally worse than those of a coin flip. The predictions Mickey Kaus makes are always wrong. I defy any of you to name a single thing that Mickey Kaus predicted that actually happened.
And that’s why I’ve always hated the guys who wrote Freakonomics. It seemed to me they were lending an undeserved intellectual respectability to the most childish of pursuits. So I was glad to see their new book get torched by Matt Yglesias and others:
As misleading as the Superfreakonomics chapter on climate change seemed to me yesterday, the email that Steven Dubner sent to Brad DeLong really compounds the sin. Dubner whines that Joe Romm “makes it sound as if we somehow twisted and abused Caldeira’s research; nothing could be further from the truth.”
Of course it’s possible that the UCS is mistaken about some matters. And it’s possible that Ken Caldeira is mistaken about some things. But it’s not possible that Levitt and Dubner are correctly representing the views of Caldeira or climate scientists in general. Nor is it possible that Levitt and Dubner are correct when they assert that photovoltaic cells are black (they’re usually blue) nor is it correct to say that black PV cells lead to net increases in global temperature. These mistakes. A mixture of bad science and bad reportage on a crucial public policy issue, done by a writing duo who became famous for clever statistical analysis of trivial matters.
Of course, none of this will prevent George Will, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat from claiming that these jackasses have thoroughly debunked modern climate science.
Krugman: Superfreakonomics on climate, part 1 
OK, I’m working my way through the climate chapter — and the first five pages, by themselves, are enough to discredit the whole thing. Why? Because they grossly misrepresent other peoples’ research, in both climate science and economics.
The chapter opens with the “global cooling” story — the claim that 30 years ago there was a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling, comparable to the current consensus that it’s warming.
Um, no. Real Climate has the takedown. What you had in the 70s was a few scientists advancing the cooling hypothesis, and a few popular media stories hyping their suggestions. To the extent that there was a consensus, it was that there wasn’t much evidence for anything, and more research was needed.
What you have today is a massive research program involving thousands of scientists and many peer-reviewed publications, with all major international bodies agreeing that man-made global warming is real. You can, if you insist, dismiss it all as a gigantic hoax or whatever — but it’s nothing like the isolated 70s speculations about cooling.
And then we come to a bit of economics. The book asks
Do the future benefits from cutting emissions outweigh the costs of doing so? Or are we better off waiting to cut emissions later — or even, perhaps, polluting at will and just learning to live in a hotter world?
The economist Martin Weitzman analyzed the best available climate models and concluded that the future holds a 5 percent chance of a terrible-case scenario ..
Yikes. I read Weitzman’s paper, and have corresponded with him on the subject — and it’s making exactly the opposite of the point they’re implying it makes. Weitzman’s argument is that uncertainty about the extent of global warming makes the case for drastic action stronger, not weaker. And here’s what he says about the timing of action:
The conventional economic advice of spending modestly on abatement now but gradually ramping up expenditures over time is an extreme lower bound on what is reasonable rather than a best estimate of what is reasonable.
Again, we’re not even getting into substance — just the basic issue of representing correctly what other people said.
Krugman: Weitzman in context 
I realized, after my previous post on Superfreakonomics, that I hadn’t put the Weitzman paper in context. So let me do that, and segue into a broader point.
Weitzman’s paper was an attempt to shift the focus of a debate that emerged after the big Stern Report on climate change policy. Nick Stern, in making the case for strong climate-change policies, used a zero “discount rate”: he applied the same weight to future generations as to those currently alive. A number of economists argued that this was unreasonable: interest rates and other evidence suggest that we discount the future substantially in other decisions, and it wasn’t clear why climate should be different. And a higher discount rate implied that you should do less to fight climate change now, leaving more of the cost to future, presumably richer generations.
Weitzman pointed out, however, that we are highly uncertain about the impact of greenhouse gas emissions — and that the form of this uncertainty is such that there’s a significant risk of utter catastrophe if we don’t act. This risk of catastrophe, he argued, is what should drive policy — and it argues for quick, decisive action rather than a gradualist, wait-and-see policy.
This argument convinced me; it’s one of the main reasons I’m a strong advocate of moving quickly on climate.
But you’d never get this point from the way the book quotes Weitzman, which cites his probability of utter catastrophe as if it were a reason to be skeptical of the need to act. I suspect, though I don’t know this, that the authors were just careless — they skimmed Weitzman’s paper, which is densely written, saw a number they liked, and didn’t ask what the number meant.
And that sort of carelessness is the general sense I get from the chapter.
Levitt now says that the chapter wasn’t meant to lend credibility to global warming denial — but when you open your chapter by giving major play to the false claim that scientists used to predict global cooling, you have in effect taken the denier side. The only way I can reconcile what Levitt says now with that reality is that he and Dubner didn’t do their homework — not only that they didn’t check out the global cooling stuff, the stuff about solar panels, and all the other errors people have been pointing out, but that they didn’t even look into the debate sufficiently to realize what company they were placing themselves in.
And that’s not acceptable. This is a serious issue. We’re not talking about the ethics of sumo wrestling here; we’re talking, quite possibly, about the fate of civilization. It’s not a place to play snarky, contrarian games.
Drum: Fixed Income Madness 

Anyone who's been paying attention for the past year shouldn't be surprised by this, but it's something that's always worth re-emphasizing: the federal bailout of the banking industry last year has allowed banks to rebound and make enormous amounts of money this year.  Without the bailout, many of them wouldn't even be around today, and they certainly wouldn't be making vast sums of money:
Many of the steps that policy makers took last year to stabilize the financial system — reducing interest rates to near zero, bolstering big banks with taxpayer money, guaranteeing billions of dollars of financial institutions’ debts — helped set the stage for this new era of Wall Street wealth.
....With interest rates so low, banks can borrow money cheaply and put those funds to work in lucrative ways, whether using the money to make loans to companies at higher rates, or to speculate in the markets. Fixed-income trading — an area that includes bonds and currencies — has been particularly profitable.
....Goldman Sachs and its perennial rival Morgan Stanley were allowed to transform themselves into old-fashioned bank holding companies. That switch gave them access to cheap funding from the Federal Reserve, which had been unavailable to them.
Those two banks and others like JPMorgan were also allowed to issue tens of billions of dollars of bonds that are guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures bank deposits. With the F.D.I.C. standing behind them, the banks could borrow the money on highly advantageous terms. While some have since issued bonds on their own, they nonetheless enjoy the benefits of their cheap financing.
As the piece points out, banks aren't using all this cheap money to increase lending.  They're using it to fund bigger and bigger bets in the fixed-income sector — the same sector that brought us junk bonds, credit default swaps, subprime loan securitization, interest rate carries, collateralized debt obligations, and all the rest of Warren Buffett's "financial weapons of mass destruction."  Fixed income was a sleepy backwater until about 30 years ago, and if we had any brains we'd apply a massive dose of regulatory narcotics to make it that way again.  Instead, we're actually egging it on.  It's like giving Nero a new barbecue lighter for Christmas because his last one got burned up in that big fire.
Anyway, in the absence of any will to seriously regulate these guys, at the very least we should demand that they get themselves off the federal teat immediately.  They're all fond of the fiction that they're rugged individualists now that they've paid back their TARP money, but it ain't so.  Taxpayers saved them last year, and taxpayers are underwriting their profits this year.  I can think of better things for taxpayers to be doing.
 Speaking of regulations . . .
sgw: How You Handle A Loud, Know Nothing, Jack Ass Interviewer
Dylan Ratigan has to be one of the most transparently ignorant cable news hosts not on FoxNews. Barney Frank does a masterful job of exposing him and putting him in his place.

Tensions between the White House and the Republican cable news network have been evident since Inauguration Day, but it wasn't obvious that the president's team intended to do something about it until a month ago, when Obama appeared on five networks' Sunday morning shows, and decided to exclude Fox News.
The strategy became clearer two weeks ago with an interesting piece from Time's Michael Scherer, which quoted Communications Director Anita Dunn describing Fox News as "opinion journalism masquerading as news." Pressed to defend her remarks last week on CNN, Dunn didn't hesitate, accurately characterizing Fox News as "a wing of the Republican Party."
I'm delighted to see that the White House isn't backing down on this. Today, White House senior adviser David Axelrod shared his thoughts with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "It's really not news -- it's pushing a point of view," Axelrod said of the Republican network. "And the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we're not going to treat them that way. We're going to appear on their shows. We're going to participate but understanding that they represent a point of view."
Also this morning, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told CNN that Fox News is "not a news organization." He added, "[I]t's important not to have the CNN's and the others of the world being led and following Fox, as if what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization."
Slate's Jacob Weisberg not only approves of this approach, he explained why it's time for the rest of the political world to reevaluate its approach to Fox News.
There is no longer any need to get bogged down in this phony debate, which itself constitutes an abuse of the fair-mindedness of the rest of the media. One glance at Fox's Web site or five minutes randomly viewing the channel at any hour of the day demonstrates its all-pervasive political slant. The lefty documentary Outfoxed spent a lot of time mustering evidence about Fox managers sending down orders to reporters to take the Republican side. But after 13 years working for Roger Ailes, Fox employees don't need to be told to help the right any more than fish need a memo telling them to swim.
Rather than in any way maturing, Fox has in recent months become more boisterous and demagogic in rallying the opposition against Obama. The "fair and balanced" mask has been slipping with increasing frequency -- as when a RNC press release was regurgitated so lazily that it repeated a typo on air or when a reporter wondered why other networks weren't doing PR for "tea parties" that Fox covered the way the Hearst press covered the Spanish-American war. On Fox, fact-checking about the president's health care proposal is provided by Karl Rove. For literary coverage, it features the bigot Jerome Corsi's rants about Obama and John Kerry. Meanwhile, the crybaby Glenn Beck has begun to exhibit a Strangelovean concern about America's precious bodily fluids, charging the government with trying to invade our bloodstream by vaccinating us for swine flu. With this latest misinformation campaign, Fox stands to become the first network to actively try to kill its viewers.
That Rupert Murdoch may skew the news rightward more for commercial than ideological reasons is somewhat beside the point. What matters is the way that Fox's successful model has invaded the bloodstream of the American media.
And that's precisely why the White House's media strategy matters. Fox News' model makes a mockery of American journalism, and poisons the larger discourse -- in part by encouraging mimicry (Weisberg said CNN's Lou Dobbs has become "a nativist cartoon"), and in part by pushing nonsensical stories that legitimate news outlets pursue because they're aired on Fox News.
For Murdoch, Ailes, and company, "fair and balanced" is a necessary lie. To admit that their coverage is slanted by design would violate the American understanding of the media's role in democracy and our idea of what constitutes journalistic fair play. But it's a demonstrable deceit that no longer deserves equal time.
Whether the White House engages with Fox is a tactical political question. Whether we journalists continue to do so is an ethical one. By appearing on Fox, reporters validate its propaganda values and help to undermine the role of legitimate news organizations.
The question isn't why the White House is treating Fox News like a partisan propaganda outlet. The questions are a) why it took so long; and b) why others aren't following the White House' lead.
  •  John Aravosis adds:  FOX poses its own danger - at some point, tell enough people on the fringe enough times that the angry black man is a communist hell-bent on repeating Nazi Germany, and someone not playing with a full deck is likely to eventually to respond with violence. But there's a great issue here. Telling the rest of the media not to follow FOX's example. FOX likes to be sensational. And it works, in terms of getting viewers. Glenn Beck is a disturbed extremist, but to the core of what's left of the GOP, he is them. The rest of the media may learn the lesson that extremism sells. And if they do, our country will be in serious trouble. The Obama administration took a step this week towards saving the country from people who want to win at all costs, or at least bring the rest of us down with them.

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