Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sunday Morning Journamalism

CNN's Sunday show, "State of the Union," is touting its line-up for tomorrow's episode.

This week, [host John King's] exclusive guests are Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) LIVE from Jerusalem. We'll get their insight on the foiled airline terror plot and President Obama's strategy on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hmm, McCain and Lieberman, talking together about foreign policy and national security. Now that's a balanced pairing.

But just as important, note that we haven't quite reached the first anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, and John McCain is on yet another Sunday morning talk show. And you know what that means -- it's time to update the big board.

This will be John McCain's 18th appearance on a Sunday morning talk show since Obama took office12 months ago. That's an average of one appearance every 2.9 weeks for a year -- more than any other public official in the country.

Since the president's inauguration, McCain has been on "Meet the Press" three times (December 6, July 12, and March 29), "This Week" three times (September 27, August 23, and May 10), "Face the Nation" four times (October 25, August 30, April 26, and February 8), and "Fox News Sunday" four times (December 20, July 2, March 8, and January 25). His appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" tomorrow will be his fourth (January 10, October 11, August 2, and February 15).

And who, exactly, is John McCain? He's the one who lost the 2008 presidential race badly, and is now just another reactionary conservative senator in the minority. He's not in the party leadership; he has no role in any important negotiations on any issue; and he's offered no significant pieces of legislation. By all appearances, McCain isn't even especially influential among his own GOP colleagues.

There's just no reason for the media's obsession with McCain. None. Eighteen Sunday-show appearances in 12 months? It's farcical.

Post Script: And reinforcing Jay Rosen's observation that "the Sunday morning talk shows are broken," it's also worth noting that Liz Cheney will be on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union" tomorrow, despite the fact that she's breathtakingly dishonest and has nothing to add to the public discourse.

Jay Rosen (Columbia School of Journalism): My Simple Fix for the Messed Up Sunday Shows

Look, the Sunday morning talk shows are broken. As works of journalism they don't work. And I don't know why this is so hard for the producers to figure out.

The people who host and supervise these shows, the journalists who appear on them, as well as the politicians who are interviewed each week, are all quite aware that extreme polarization and hyper-partisan conflict have come to characterize official Washington, an observation repeated hundreds of times a month by elders in the Church of the Savvy. Ron Brownstein wrote a whole book on it: The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America

If the observation is true, then inviting partisans on television to polarize us some more would seem to be an obvious loser, especially because the limited airtime compresses political speech and guarantees a struggle for the microphone. This pattern tends to strand viewers in the senseless middle. We either don't know whom to believe, and feel helpless. Or we curse both sides for their distortions. Or we know enough to know who is bullshitting us more and wonder why the host doesn't. I can think of no scenario in which Brownstein can be correct and the Sunday shows won't suck. (Can you?)

It's remarkable to me how unaware someone like David Gregory appears to be about all this. He acts as if lending stage to extreme partisanship, and then "confronting" each side with one or two facts it would prefer to forget, is a perfectly fine solution. But then he also acts like his pathetic denialism about the adequacy of press performance as Bush made his case for war is sustainable, normal, rational. ("I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president.") Maybe he thinks we buy that. Or forgive him. Or something....

Well, Gregory is a special case. But in fact the whole Sunday format has to be re-thought, or junked so the news divisions can start over with a new premise. Of course the problem is that the people who would have to make that decision are the same people whose entire knowledge base and skill set lies in producing the "old" style of political television. That is what they know, so that is what they continue to do. I guess it's not hard to understand complacency of this kind. But do they really think we don't notice the growing absurdity of bringing to a common table people who agree on nothing?

I think the situation calls for cynicism. But I have to admit that is not much of a call. So instead I propose this modest little fix, first floated on Twitter in a post I sent out to Betsy Fischer, Executive Producer of Meet the Press, who never replies to anything I say. "Sadly, you're a one-way medium," I said to Fischer, "but here's an idea for ya: Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday."

Now I don't contend this would solve the problem of the Sunday shows, which is structural. But it might change the dynamic a little bit. Whoever was bullshitting us more could expect to hear about it from Meet the Press staff on Wednesday. The midweek fact check (in the spirit of, which could even be hired for the job...) might, over time, exert some influence on the speakers on Sunday. At the very least, it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back.

The midweek fact check would also give David Gregory a way out of his puppy game of gotcha. Instead of telling David Axelrod that his boss promised to change the tone in Washington so why aren't there any Republican votes for health care? ... which he thinks is getting "tough" with a guest, Gregory's job would simply be to ask the sort of questions, the answers to which could be fact checked later in the week. Easy, right?

The beauty of this idea is that it turns the biggest weakness of political television--the fact that time is expensive, and so complicated distortions, or simple distortions about complicated matters, are rational tactics for advantage-seeking pols---into a kind of strength. The format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse.... but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice. So imagine the midweek fact check from last week as a short segment wrapping up the show the following week. Now you have an incentive system that's at least pointed in the right direction.

As I said, the situation calls for cynicism, which is the real product of the Sunday shows. But simply because nothing will be done, we shouldn't pretend that nothing can be done. That would be cynicism taken to an unwarranted extreme.

Soon, This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC will get a new host, which is likely to be White House correspondent Jake Tapper. He could institute the midweek fact check in a stroke. And he has the ego to think he could pull it off. Stroke, ego-- hey, maybe we got something here. How 'bout it, Jake?


On CNN's Reliable Sources, Jan. 3, 2010, Howard Kurtz responded to a witless crack NBC's Brian Williams made about Twitter ("I see it as kind of a time suck that I don't need any more of. Just too much 'I got the most awesome new pair of sweatpants...'") by informing Williams that a journalist can find many useful ideas there. And then he endorsed my simple fix for the Sunday shows, showed my original Twitter post on the air and quoted from this piece. From the transcript:

Still to come, trashing Twitter. Brian Williams thinks all of those short messages are a waste of time. We'll show you why he's -- what's the word? -- wrong.


KURTZ: Brian Williams is a talented anchor and pretty good comedian. But when it comes to Twitter, well, let's just say he's a tad out of touch.

The NBC newsman tells "TIME" magazine that, "I see it as a kind of time suck that I don't need anymore of. Just too much 'I got the most awesome new pair of sweatpants.'"

Now, I learn smart things from smart people on Twitter every day that have nothing to do with what pants people are wearing or not wearing. Here's just one example.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted an idea about improving the Sunday morning talk shows. He says the programs, rather than letting politicians get away with distortions, should offer an online fact check each week of exaggerations and lies. For the guests, says Rosen, the format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse, but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice. I happen to think that makes a lot of sense toward holding officials accountable.

What do you think, Brian? Oh, you didn't catch that on Twitter? Pity.

Can't say that's ever happened to me before.

ABC's Jake Tapper replies to this post on Twitter: "Interesting, thanks."

Jason Linkins comments at Huffington Post with a suggested improvement:

Naked assertions from politicians are the stuff of these shows. Why can't some of them be checked in real time? Surely it's possible to have a small army of fact-checkers at the ready during the broadcasts of these shows. Network news divisions already employ reporters and researchers (all of whom are likely passively watching their network's program anyway) who can be deployed to assist the overall journalistic enterprise. Moreover, I'm reliably informed that technology now allows for people to send "instant messages" to one another. Why not use it? Why not open up these lines of communication between the backroom and the moderator, and bring the full force of a news gathering organization to bear as the cameras roll live?

There's no doubt it could be done. However, my purpose in making this "modest little suggestion" was to float something both sensible and easily done, something that wouldn't even require a change in the show.

Jay Rosen: "This is part of what's so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself."

As those who follow me on Twitter know, I've been keeping a public notebook on "the church of the savvy," which is my name for the belief system that binds together our political press corps in Washington. Though they see themselves as the opposite of ideological, the people in the national press actually share an ideology: the religion of savviness. Since it differs from both liberal ideology and conservative ideology and from political thought itself, savviness often eludes description, or even recognition as a set of beliefs. That's why I keep my running notebook. I'm trying to teach readers how to "see" the savvy.

In a PressThink post a few years ago, I defined it this way:

Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in— their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness—that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political—is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it.

To the people inside it, savviness is not a cult. It is not a professional church or "belief system." It's not really an object fit for contemplation at all. But they would say that political journalists need to be savvy observers because in politics the unsavvy are hapless, clueless, deluded, clownish, or in some cases extreme. They get run over: easily. They get disappointed: needlessly. They get angry--fruitlessly--because they don't know how things work in practical terms.

The savvy do know how things work inside the game of politics, and it is this knowledge they try to wield in argument.... instead of argument. In this sense savviness as the church practices it is the exemption from the political that believers think will come to them because they are journalists striving only to report on politics or conduct analysis, not to "win" within the contest as it stands.

Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passon, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, "the savvy don't say: I have a better argument than you... They say: I am closer to reality than you. And more mature."

Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his or her observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sghted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy. This is part of what's so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself.

For example, Peter Baker of the New York Times is an excellent represenative of the church and its teachings. This weekend he published a "news analysis" of Obama's ambiguous accomplishments on climate change at Copenhagen and health care reform in the Congress. Wherein we find this:

Neither deal represented a final victory, and in fact some on the left in his own party argued that both of them amounted to sellouts on principle in favor of expediency. But both agreements served the purpose of keeping the process moving forward, inching ever closer toward Mr. Obama’s goals and providing a jolt of adrenaline for a White House eager to validate its first year in office.

Did you catch it? Opposition from the left isn't presented as an argument about what will actually change the health care system, and Baker's dismissal of it doesn't reflect his disagreement with the left about what will actually change the health care system. The exemption from the poliitcal is operating. The left wanted Obama to "stick to principle," but the realty is Obama is moving closer to his goals. The savvy see that; the people shouting "sell out" do not. Let's watch that move again. Baker:

[Obama] may not get the health care plan he envisioned but, if the legislation passes, he will insure 30 million more people, stop insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and at least try to rein in costs. He will not end climate change in his presidency, and may not get the market-based emission caps he wants, but he may move the country, and the world, toward meaningful action.

Of course, to many on both sides of the aisle, there is a less sympathetic narrative. To the left, Mr. Obama seems increasingly to lack the fire to fight on matters of principle. To the right, he appears to be overreaching, saddling the country with debt and the weight of a bloated and overly intrusive government.

To the savvy, the center is a holy place: political grace resides there. The profane is the ideological extremes. The adults converse in the pragmatic middle ground where insiders cut their deals. On the wings are the playgrounds for children. But to argue directly for these propositions is out of the question: political reporters don't conduct arguments, they tell us what's happening! Instead an argument is made by positioning the players a certain way while reporting the news and doing "analysis." Obama is getting things done; critics are scoring ideological points (big government!) or standing on principle. Peter Baker isn't an Obama supporter. But he welcomes presidents to his church.

Saturday Morning

White House: Weekly Address: Health Reform's Benefits in 2010

The President discusses the benefits of health reform that Americans will receive in the first year, and how reform will help build a new foundation for American families.

Read the Transcript | Download Video: mp4 (165MB) | mp3 (5MB)
Are Republicans welcome at the tea party? Jan. 8: Mark Leibovich talks with Rachel Maddow about the subject of his upcoming New York Times Magazine story, the power and influence of the tea party movement on the Florida Republican Party.

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Republican lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the economic recovery package that rescued the economy from the abyss. A year later, GOP officials are still railing against the economic life-preserver.

Well, at least most of the time. Occasionally, Republican lawmakers who hated the stimulus brag about how great its provisions are for their state/district. Take Delaware's Mike Castle, for example.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) has staggered to the right, voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus), financial regulation reform, the recent jobs package, and health reform. Running for the U.S. Senate this year, Castle has cast aside his image of a GOP moderate and joined his conservative colleagues in their reflexive opposition. But despite his right-wing voting record, Castle is attempting to drum up positive media coverage by claiming ownership over one of the progressive measures he voted to kill.

In the past two weeks, Castle has blasted multiple press releases publicizing stimulus funds awarded to his state. In his most recent release, he not only calls the money "imperative," but in "announcing" the funds, he tacitly claims credit for securing them.

What impresses me is not just the hypocrisy, but how common this is. It seems as if every few weeks we see yet another congressional Republican who thought the recovery package was an awful idea, but who nevertheless thinks the federal recovery efforts for their constituents is a great idea.

About a month ago, it was Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania. A few weeks before that, it was House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia.

Over the last several months, Bobby Jindal, Mitch McConnell, Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the same club. They all have two things in common -- they (1) railed against recovery efforts, rejecting the very idea of government spending improving the economy; and (2) later discovered they liked stimulus spending after all, and felt it was important to help the economy in their state.

The phrase these guys are looking for, but can't bring themselves to say, is "Thank you, Mr. President, for rescuing the economy from the recession we helped create, and which we would have made worse had we been in power."

NYT Editorial: Jobs and Politics

If there’s a silver lining in the December jobs report, it is this: Nothing concentrates the minds of politicians like rising unemployment in an election year. Unless Congress and the White House push a robust job-creation agenda — starting now — worsening joblessness is a distinct possibility, even if the economy in general recovers in the coming months. That means the unemployment rate could still be high or even climbing when the midterm elections near. That may be the best hope for concerted federal action to put Americans back to work.

At 10 percent, the unemployment rate was unchanged from November to December. But the only reason it held steady is that 661,000 jobless Americans were not counted as unemployed last month because they had not looked for a job in the four weeks preceding the December survey. If they had been included, the jobless rate would have been closer to 10.4 percent. Over all, an estimated 3.6 million out-of-work people have been uncounted since the recession began in December 2007. They include people who had not recently looked for work and those who would have entered the work force in normal times, like recent high school and college graduates, but remained on the sidelines as jobs disappeared.

Here’s the rub: As soon as the economy shows more signs of life, those missing workers are likely to start looking for work. That would add to the ranks of the officially unemployed, causing the jobless rate to rise, perhaps dramatically — unless jobs are being created to absorb the labor glut.

The private sector alone is unlikely to create enough new jobs, even as the economy recovers. Employers are more likely to add hours to the truncated workweeks of existing employees than to hire new workers. They may also prefer to make temporary workers permanent rather than add new staff.

And even if hiring were unexpectedly strong, it could not repair the severely damaged job market anytime soon. The economy lost another 85,000 jobs in December, bringing the official total job loss over the past two years to 7.2 million jobs. But with the population growing — and with revisions to earlier data expected to show larger losses than previously reported — the economy is probably coming up short by 10 million to 11 million jobs. The job growth that would be needed to recoup losses of that magnitude in the next three years — some 400,000 jobs a month — is simply not in the cards.

Responding to the jobs report on Friday, Mr. Obama reminded Americans that $2.3 billion in tax credits — passed by Congress last year as part of the fiscal stimulus — would soon begin to spur the creation of some 17,000 green technology jobs. He also called on Congress to approve another $5 billion in spending for more clean energy manufacturing. And he urged lawmakers to move on legislation for several job ideas he put forth last month, including a plan for public-works employment and bolstered small business lending. That’s a start, but now he has to get Congress to act.

The jobs he saves may be those of members of Congress from his own party.

Sullivan: Sorry, Jonah, Conservatives Do Back Abu Ghraib


[Re-posted from earlier today]

It's somewhat interesting to see the layers and layers of denial begin to peel back a little at National Review. Jonah Goldberg endorses a reader's view that

This is driving me crazy. Peter [Beinart] argues that aspects of the "War on Terror" are recruiting tool, and cites Abu Ghraib. NO CONSERVATIVE IS DEFENDING ABU GHRAIB so this is a strawman. It's not merely fallacious, but slanderous in its implication that conservatives thought Abu Ghraib was fine.

Let us leave aside the simple fact that even at the time, many conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe refute this. Limbaugh called the techniques at Abu Ghraib a "brilliant maneuver." Inhofe said he was more outraged at the outrage than the offenses. Are Limbaugh and Inhofe not conservatives in Goldberg's view? Will National Review run a correction for this untruth? Or would that be too much cognitive dissonance even for them?

But we don't have to go back in time. On the same page in the same week that Jonah publishes this, Marc Thiessen is aggressively defending the exact techniques used at Abu Ghraib as things we should be proud of! Is it possible to be against Abu Ghaib and in favor of almost all the techniques revealed at Abu Ghraib? Capt10 Sure. In fact, that's been the "conservative" position for six years now.

Let's run down the Abu Ghraib techniques that we saw in those photos, shall we? Stress positions? Supported by NRO. Forced hooding and stripping? Backed by NRO. Mock executions? Backed by NRO. Forced nudity? Backed by NRO. Multiple beatings? Backed by NRO. Use of dogs to terrify? Backed by NRO. Sexual abuse? In some respects - such as smearing fake menstrual blood on the faces of naked, shackled prisoners - NRO found nothing wrong with that either.

Now remember what other "enhanced interrogation techniques" National Review also now supports that did not actually occur at Abu Ghraib: freezing prisoners to near death with ice, water and naked exposure to very low temperatures; repeated near-drowning of human beings tied to a board; sleep deprivation up to 960 hours; slamming a human being repeatedly with a neck collar against a plywood wall; forcing human beings into upright coffins for long periods of time and tormenting them with phobias, like the rats in Orwell's 1984. Any conservative who says he or she supports these "enhanced interrogation techniques" pioneered by Cheney therefore logically supports almost every atrocity at Abu Ghraib. So man up, Jonah. Quit the lies and own this or disown it. And no "well I haven't thought about this that much" or 'there's no evidence linking Abu Ghraib to Cheney - when the Senate's own bipartisan report directly and unanimously linked the techniques at Abu Ghraib to the Bush White House.

In fact, in its support for "enhanced interrogation techniques," NRO doesn't merely support what happened at Abu Ghraib but believes that prisoners there were treated better than they should have been. On the same Corner blog, one NRO contributor last week actually proposed grouping prisoners in one ethnic group and murdering them in one go with a missile, even though many were admittedly innocent. And Jonah wants to say that conservatives at National Review oppose the techniques at Abu Ghraib!

The only conceivable way for conservatives to oppose Abu Ghraib but support the use of the techniques revealed is that they wanted prisoners tortured by real professionals, not Lynndie England.

This was Krauthammer's original position - the creation of a elite cadre for torturing prisoners (something even the Nazis didn't do). These conservatives are fine with Rumsfeld's approval of stripping a human being and tying a leash around his neck and parading him around as a dog as part of an ongoing attempt to destroy that individual's sense of self and reality. But if someone down the line of command obeys the Rumsfeld order and it gets out, they oppose it. In fact, they will pretend to be shocked by it. They will also ensure that the person at the bottom of the line is punished and that those who ordered them get away with impunity. The only thing wrong with Abu Ghraib for National Review is that it was photographed and we found out about it. And that's also why they opposed dissemination of other photos that showed the same exact techniques at other locations in the war on terror.

For Cheney, the only thing wrong with Abu Ghraib was that it was exposed. Since America is America, torture becomes not-torture when Americans do it. Since the US president has no legal or constitutional limits to his use of violence in wartime and since captured prisoners are no different than active combatants, war was unleashed on men already shackled and isolated in torture cells across the globe.

This was one of the darkest moments in American history. And National Review aided, abetted and endorsed every bit of it. And wants to bring it back.

Giuliani: a noun, a verb and no clue Jan. 8: Rachel Maddow, despite going out of her way to give Rudy Giuliani the benefit of the doubt, is unable to find a way to interpret his answer in an ABC News interview that doesn't make him a cynical liar.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Evening Potpourri

Republican lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the economic recovery package that rescued the economy from the abyss. A year later, GOP officials are still railing against the economic life-preserver.

Well, at least most of the time. Occasionally, Republican lawmakers who hated the stimulus brag about how great its provisions are for their state/district. Take Delaware's Mike Castle, for example.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) has staggered to the right, voting against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus), financial regulation reform, the recent jobs package, and health reform. Running for the U.S. Senate this year, Castle has cast aside his image of a GOP moderate and joined his conservative colleagues in their reflexive opposition. But despite his right-wing voting record, Castle is attempting to drum up positive media coverage by claiming ownership over one of the progressive measures he voted to kill.

In the past two weeks, Castle has blasted multiple press releases publicizing stimulus funds awarded to his state. In his most recent release, he not only calls the money "imperative," but in "announcing" the funds, he tacitly claims credit for securing them.

What impresses me is not just the hypocrisy, but how common this is. It seems as if every few weeks we see yet another congressional Republican who thought the recovery package was an awful idea, but who nevertheless thinks the federal recovery efforts for their constituents is a great idea.

About a month ago, it was Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania. A few weeks before that, it was House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia.

Over the last several months, Bobby Jindal, Mitch McConnell, Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry joined the same club. They all have two things in common -- they (1) railed against recovery efforts, rejecting the very idea of government spending improving the economy; and (2) later discovered they liked stimulus spending after all, and felt it was important to help the economy in their state.

The phrase these guys are looking for, but can't bring themselves to say, is "Thank you, Mr. President, for rescuing the economy from the recession we helped create, and which we would have made worse had we been in power."

The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan argues in her column today that President Obama could have had more success pursing a less ambitious health care reform bill.

In a way Mr. Obama made the same mistake President Bush did on immigration, producing a big, mammoth, comprehensive bill when the public mood was for small, discrete steps in what might reasonably seem the right direction.

The public in 2009 would have been happy to see a simple bill that mandated insurance companies offer coverage without respect to previous medical conditions. The administration could have had that -- and the victory of it -- last winter.

Instead, they were greedy for glory.

It's hard to overstate how incredibly wrong this is. The most obvious problem is that the president and his allies weren't "greedy" at all -- they gave up on single-payer before the process even started, and then compromised away several important elements in order to get it through Congress. The reform package -- like Social Security and Medicare before it -- is poised to be both a landmark achievement and a modest, moderate step forward.

But on a more fundamental level, Noonan's argument suggests she hasn't paid very close attention to the policy debate. As the former Reagan speechwriter puts it, all Obama should have done was prevent insurers from discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions. At that point, presumably, the president could declare victory and move on to the next subject.

Except, her proposal doesn't make sense. Paul Krugman explained today:

Start with the proposition that we don't want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions -- which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

So why not just impose community rating -- no discrimination based on medical history? Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don't currently think they need it.

But what if they can't afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.

In short, you end up with the health care bill that's about to get enacted. There's hardly anything arbitrary about the structure: once the decision was made to rely on private insurers rather than a single-payer system -- and look, single-payer wasn't going to happen -- it had to be more or less what we're getting. It wasn't about ideology, or greediness, it was about making the thing work.

I get the sense from Noonan's column that these pesky details don't matter. Like too many Republicans, making effectively policy through sensible lawmaking just isn't that important.

Worse, Noonan went on to argue that the president put health care above the economy and national security -- which is as offensive as it is ridiculous. As Andrew Sullivan explained, "Noonan's column is a fantasy, a dream, a weird incantation of a thesis that is merely how she feels, without any substantive relationship to reality."

Sullivan: Peggy Noonan's Giuliani Syndrome

Just as Rudy Giuliani simply asserts that there were no terror attacks on the US under Bush, so Peggy Noonan gives us this view of Obama's first year. She argues that the only focus of Obama's attention was the health insurance reform bill which she says proves he is a leftist president, not a center-left president:

It was not worth it—not worth the town-hall uprisings and the bleeding of centrist support, not worth the rebranding of the president from center-left leader to leftist leader, not worth the proof it provided that the public's concerns and the administration's are not the same, not worth a wasted first year that should have been given to two things and two things only: economic matters and national security.... [Obama] had frittered his attention on issues that were secondary and tertiary—climate change, health care—while al Qaeda moved, and the system stuttered.

So Obama put health insurance reform before the economy and national security. She writes this in a newspaper. She states this as fact. But it is not fact. It is patently false in every single respect.

The following is indisputable. Obama's first act was increasing national security by ending the torture program, and pledging to remove the biggest recruitment tool for our enemies: Gitmo. His second focus was a stimulus package, which, according to AEI, added four points to economic growth. His third focus - how soon they forget - was on rescuing the banks. Before health insurance reform passed, he initiated and completed and implemented a total overhaul of the Afghanistan war. He maintained rendition and the Bush time-table for Iraq withdrawal. He tried (and failed) to restart the Israel peace-process but was stymied by Netanyahu. His policy toward Iran has seen the regime more vulnerable than at any point in its history. His success at finding and killing many Qaeda operatives, his dispatch of Somali pirates, his intense focus on drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan: these are also simply facts of history.

And the health insurance reform has no public option, pledges to cut Medicare, and will reduce the deficit, according to the CBO. It brought 30 million new clients for the private drug and insurance companies. This is leftist.

Noonan's column is a fantasy, a dream, a weird incantation of a thesis that is merely how she feels, without any substantive relati0nship to reality. Well, at least she understand that the GOP is offering nothing - nothing - substantive as an alternative except oil drilling and torture and more bellicose rhetoric toward the rest of the world because that worked out so well under Bush.

Sullivan: Peggy's Predicament

A reader nails it:

Peggy Noonan's biggest problem is that she's not a Republican anymore but she doesn't want to admit it. Like you, Bruce Bartlett, Chris Buckley and myself, she's a conservative - but unlike "us" she is unwilling to completely disengage from the party itself and recognize that it no longer represents true conservative values. But she's too smart to simply regurgitate GOP talking points, so she ends up talking herself into circles.

I think that's about right. But she does at least acknowledge the GOP's bankruptcy and extremism. Which is something.

Yglesias: While Economy Burns, Jon Kyl Blocking Treasury Nominees Over Petty BS

I, for one, thing there should be some subcabinet officials in the Treasury Department confirmed by the Senate. Senator Jon Kyl feels otherwise:

Senate Minority Whip Kyl is blocking pending Treasury Department nominees with jurisdiction over tax policy and international finance in response to the Obama administration’s delay of new Internet gambling prohibitions, according to Senate aides…Kyl was among the few arguing against a delay.

The background? Pat Garofalo explains:

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) evidently doesn’t like online gambling very much, and in 2006, he helped craft a law banning the processing of online wagers. The law and its corresponding regulations were supposed to go into effect last month, but the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve pushed back the start-date until June.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is your modern United States Senate. If there’s some random crap that nobody cares about, it just takes one Senator with a bee in his bonnet to ruin everything for everyone who would like to live in a country with a properly administered government. There are six Treasury nominees still awaiting action being held up by Kyl.

You might think it would be a good idea to have an Under Secretary for International Affairs. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Under Secretary for Domestic Finance. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets. Kyl disagrees. You might think it would be a good idea to have an Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy. Kyl disagrees.

This kind of thing really has to stop, it’s a ludicrous way to run a country. Amidst a global economic meltdown, we can’t get confirmation for the international economics officials. Not because the senate has a problem with them, but because one guy isn’t happy with the delay of some internet gambling regulations.

Tristero: 9/11 Doesn't Count

Nor does the anthrax terrorism, Richard Reid, the July 4, 2002 on El Al at LAX, or attacks on abortion clinics in 2001, 2005, 2006, and 2007 (see here).

All of this happened under Bush, but it doesn't count, according to Giuliani.

You know what's worse than Giuliani's lie? That Stephanopolous let him get away with it.

Weiner (HuffPost): Rudy Giuliani: 'We Had No Domestic Attacks Under Bush; We've Had One Under Obama'

Rudy Giuliani has joined fellow Republicans Dana Perino and Mary Matalin in seeming to forget that the September 11th attacks happened under President Bush.

On "Good Morning America" Friday, the former New York mayor declared, "We had no domestic attacks under Bush; we've had one under Obama."

Not only does the statement suggest Giuliani does not remember the devastating attack in his own city, it also omits the anthrax attacks and the attempted shoe bomber attack.


"Um, really?" wrote ABC News reporter Rick Klein on Twitter. Later he added, "even if Rudy MEANT to say post-9/11, what makes this incident different than [shoe bomber] Richard Reid, I wonder?" Of course, Giuliani could have been referring to the Fort Hood shootings rather than the botched underwear bombing.

A day earlier, Giuliani falsely claimed that the shoe bomber attack occurred before September 11th.

Curiously, the Associated Press did a long write-up of Giuliani's Obama criticisms but omitted the startling mistake. George Stephanopoulos, who conducted the ABC interview, included the quote in a blog post but did not question it.

Sullivan: CNN Comes Through

I just watched Wolf Blitzer's interview with Giuliani where he committed journalism, actually demanding that Giuliani relate his rhetoric to reality. I don't have the transcript but Giuliani dismissed the anthrax attacks after 9/11 as a major domestic terror attack, because he didn't have proof that they were the work of Islamists. When Blitzer - yes! - brought up the Richard Reid case, Giuliani punted and refused to criticize Bush for the same thing he criticized Obama for. Blitzer's one failure was to press for a specific criticism of Bush's decision in that case. But otherwise ... much better.

But what I really take from Rudy's remarks is that he believes that merely saying "war on Islamist terrorism" again and again somehow helps us win. What most sentient beings have learned these past several years is that taking this war to a constant and grand rhetorical level empowers Jihadists more than it weakens them. There is a sick syndrome in which "conservatives" get into some dysfunctional relationship with Islamists with each faction elevating the other in global consciousness.

Obama is trying to wind down this drama and focus on actually finding and killing terrorists, removing their recruitments tools (like torture and Gitmo), and defusing their appeal to the Muslim middle. I will further note that Giuliani, in his criticism that Obama has not treated this like a war, has failed to mention the huge build-up of forces in Afghanistan. I remain deeply ambivalent about this strategy, but surely Giuliani would approve. It's many more troops and many more resources than Bush ever devoted to Afghanistan. And yet all Giuliani believed showed Obama's concern with terrorism was his use of the word "war" yesterday.

This is not a serious policy. It is not a serious politics.

John Cole:

Which, of course, made this piece on PRI’s the World all the more jarring.

I think sometimes we are so used to the craziness of the Republicans and the teabaggers and the neocon lunatics that we forget just how crazy it is, but when I listened to this, it reminded me how desensitized we have all become to their bullshit. They actually had a man (James Carafano) on who talked at length that the real problem was not saying the words “war on terror” and the reason for this was because the “left” hates Bush.

That isn’t a policy position- that’s warblogger masturbating. It’s insanity. They have no substantive critiques or help to offer, just insane rambling about what words we use. I can only imagine what the rest of the world thinks about us.

And to prove they have no idea what they are talking about, they can’t even tell you what the President has actually said.

It really is just nuts.


To hear conservatives tell it, the White House's handling of the failed Christmas terrorist plot has been inadequate. President Obama, the Right has argued, waited too long to speak publicly about the incident, and hasn't taken the matter seriously enough.

Of course, the obvious response is probably the most effective one: Obama commented on the Abdulmutallab plot a lot faster than Bush responded to an identical attempted attack eight years ago.

But that doesn't fully capture the important and illustrative differences between the two responses.

The Abdulmutallab attempt was two weeks ago today. Over the course of these two weeks, President Obama has spoken publicly about the incident three times -- Dec. 29, Jan. 5, and Jan. 9. He also devoted his weekly address to the subject last weekend. Also, over the span of two weeks, the president's national security team prepared a relatively thorough security review of what transpired and a new directive on corrective actions.

Now let's compare the previous administration's response to a nearly identical terrorist plot -- Richard Reid's failed shoe-bomb attack (the same chemical, the same target, the same intended consequence, in same month of the year, with the same twisted ideology). Consider these two weeks, from eight years ago:

Dec. 22: Reid's attempt fails.

Dec. 28: Bush hosts a press conference from his Texas ranch. In his opening statement, the president makes no reference to the terrorist attempt. Reporters ask Bush 15 questions, zero about the Reid incident. The president references the failed attack anyway, saying a total of 89 words on the subject.

Dec. 29: The president reads his weekly radio address. He makes no reference to the attempted terrorism.

Dec. 31: Bush again chats with reporters at a media availability in Crawford. Reporters ask Bush 10 questions, zero about the Reid incident. Again, Bush referenced the matter briefly, saying 53 words on the subject.

Jan. 4: Karen Hughes hosts a briefing for reporters. There were no questions about the Reid incident, and the subject wasn't addressed.

Jan. 5: The president reads another weekly radio address, and makes no reference to the attempted terrorism. Later that day, Bush appears at two public events, one in California, the other in Oregon. The shoe-bombing incident doesn't come up at all at either event.

Do you notice a difference between the two weeks after the Abdulmutallab plot and the two weeks after the Reid plot? Tell me -- which of these two presidents seemed to respond to the attempted attacks more forcefully, more seriously, and with more depth? Which of the two seems more engaged when it comes to counter-terrorism?

Keep in mind, Bush faced literally no criticism for hardly responding at all to an attempt to blow up an airplane over the United States. There was no media pushback, no complaints from Congress, nothing. And this was just four months after 9/11, when presumably the terrorist threat was foremost on the nation's mind.

Rudy Giuliani said on CNN this week, "I think [Obama] has to make a major correction in the way he is dealing with terrorism because I think he has mishandled the situation. First of all, it was 10 days too late. This is something you react to immediately, not 10 days later after your vacation. The president of the United States, when there is a potential massive attack on this country, which is what this guy was going to do, should have been on top of this immediately, not 10 days later, 11 days later, 12 days later."

Bush pretty much ignored, at least publicly, the nearly identical "potential massive attack on this country," and no one seemed to care.

If I didn't know better, I might think there was a double-standard here, and a "controversy" has been manufactured by petty partisans hoping to undermine the Obama White House without cause.*

Most Substantive Hour on TV

Rachel's frustration with RW lies that make substantive policy debate impossible.
Lack of honest opposition lamentable Jan. 7: David Corn of Mother Jones magazine talks with Rachel Maddow about the number of Republicans who ignored President Obama's call for "citizenship not partisanship" and continued to seek political advantage through the exploitation of American terrorism fears.

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Repositioning the U.S. against terrorism Jan. 7: Evan Kohlman, NBC terrorism analyst, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the U.S. can change gears in the war on terror to avoid fighting on the terrorists' terms and do more to win the hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

2 Dems Retire! CW Freakout!

Rarely does the pure stupidity of beltway conventional wisdom expose itself so clearly as it did yesterday with the retirements of Dorgan and Dodd.
DougJ: What’s up with this?

This has been the top headline on the WaPo homepage for the past two hours:


Does anyone really think the Democrats will lose the Senate? They would have to lose 11 Senate seats. Even Politico says Dems are likely to maintain majorities in the House and Senate.

And the Post article the headline goes with doesn’t say Dems are likely to lose the Senate.

What’s going on here? Just sloppy editing?

As usual, Maddow puts it all into a factual perspective.
Ron Paul on Republican turmoil Jan. 6: Congressman Ron Paul talks with Rachel Maddow about the influence of tea party conservatives and libertarians on the growing schism within the Republican Party.

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Marshall (TPM): Lotta Tea Party Primaries
In addition to the big ticket races you're hearing about, one of the big stories of 2010 is going to be the "tea party primaries," the series of GOP primaries around the country in which Tea Party candidates are either challenging GOP incumbents or going up against the anointed (and usually more moderate) challenger to the sitting Democrat. Here are three 'tea party primaries' we're currently watching.
Kleefeld (TPM): GOP Vulnerabilities May Help Dems Hang On To 60 Senate Seats

With the upheavals that have taken place from Democratic retirements in the past two days, are the Dems doomed to lose their 60-seat, filibuster-proof margin in the Senate this year? On close examination, this is not in any way a certain outcome -- because the Republicans have a lot to lose this year, too.

There are of course some seats that Democrats could potentially lose, and we've all heard a lot about them: Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Michael Bennet Colorado, the open seat in Delaware, the open seat in Illinois, the open seat in North Dakota, and Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania -- and Republicans even talk about Barbara Boxer in California. Sen. Chris Dodd's seat in Connecticut used to be at the top of this category, but today's events might well have put this seat out of the GOP's reach again.

At the same time there is a comparable number, depending on how liberally you count it, of Republican-held seats that could shift to the Democrats. Keep in mind that 2004 was a very good Senate cycle for the Republicans, with them winning nearly every state they possibly could. Now, six years later, they have a lot of territory where they have to play defense, and a wide variety of outcomes are possible.

So let's take a look at the states where the Republicans have something to lose.

Four-term Republican Sen. Kit Bond is retiring in this perennial swing state, which John McCain carried by about 4,000 votes out 2.9 million. The likely nominees are GOP Rep. Roy Blunt, a former House GOP Whip and father of former Gov. Matt Blunt, and Dem Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the daughter of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan. Early polls have shown a close race, with a possible slight edge for Carnahan.

Two-term Sen. George Voinovich is retiring. The favorite for the Republican nomination is former Rep. Rob Portman, who served as Trade Representative and Budget Director under President George W. Bush. The Democratic primary is between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The most recent polls have given Portman only a narrow advantage over the Dems, with high undecideds.

New Hampshire
Three-term Sen. Judd Gregg is retiring. This state used to be the GOP's New England stronghold, but since 2004 it has swung dramatically to the Democrats, electing a governor, a Senator, both of its two members of the House, and the state legislature, as well as voting for Barack Obama by 54%-45%. Two-term Rep. Paul Hodes is the presumptive Democratic nominee. Former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, though she does face a multiple-candidate primary field. The most recent polls gave Ayotte the lead over Hodes, but with very high undecideds.

North Carolina
First-term Sen. Richard Burr was elected in 2004 by a margin of 52%-47%, to the open seat that was vacated by John Edwards when he sought the presidency and vice presidency. Since then, the state has definitely shifted somewhat in the Democrats' direction -- Dems have picked up two House seats, defeated GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole by a 53%-44% landslide, and narrowly picked up the state's electoral votes for Barack Obama. Recent polling has shown that Burr is running below 50% against unknown Democrats, and has a peculiar problem in that he is neither popular nor unpopular -- the state doesn't have much of an opinion about him either way. He will rise or fall with the national and local climate in November 2010.

This open seat is held by George LeMieux, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Charlie Crist -- a candidate for the seat -- after first-term Sen. Mel Martinez resigned. Crist, a relative GOP moderate, is battling in a primary against the more conservative Marco Rubio. Polls have shown both of them leading Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek -- but races in Florida tend to be close once the general election really heats up. The GOP is currently favored to hold this seat, but that could change if the primary is sufficiently messy and if the Dems are well-organized for the general election.

Sen. David Vitter was first elected in 2004, and would probably have no difficulties at all in this conservative state except for one thing: In 2007 he was implicated in a prostitution scandal, and publicly admitted to an unspecified "serious sin." Early polls have put Vitter ahead against Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon, but under 50%. Vitter could also be challenged in the primary by Secretary of State Jay Dardenne, who would if elected join House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) as only the second currently serving Jewish Republican in Congress. The GOP is favored here, but we'll see what happens.

This state might seem deep-red based on its hefty margins for Republican presidential candidates, but its Senate races have been close. Two-term Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring, only won by 51%-49% in 2004, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was held to a 53%-47% margin in 2008. The Republican candidates are Secretary of State Trey Grayson and conservative activist Rand Paul, with Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway on the Democratic side. A recent poll give the GOP a clear advantage in the general election, but the potential for a close race does exist.

To be clear, I am not predicting that the Republicans will lose all of these seats, or even necessarily any of them. Some of them are clearly longer shots than others for the Democrats. The point is that no firm prediction can be made about what is going to happen this November, and both parties have a lot to lose, or a lot to gain.

At today's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs brushed off a question about how the White House would handle having less than 60 Senate seats: "But I think to surmise what a strategy would look like based on an election that's 11 months away from happening, like I said, it's a little bit like predicting not who's going to win this Super Bowl, but who's going to win the next Super Bowl." Obama might have to worry about this contingency, and he might not -- but it won't happen until the next Super Bowl, and a whole lot can happen between now and then.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Journamalism and Journalism

QOTD, Jonathan Cohn:
Republicans have made their point. They don't want to be part of this discussion. That's their right. Let's move on without them.
Congressional Dems find dodge for GOP stalls
Jan. 4: Jonathan Cohn, senior editor at The New Republic, explains to Rachel Maddow a tactic expected to be employed by Congressional Democrats to produce a final health reform bill while keeping it out of the reach of Republicans' obstructionist strategy.

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Greg Sargent

* Republican leaders are furious about the Dem plan to skip Senate-House conference negotiations on health care, which Dems say is essential for getting around GOP obstructionism. John Boehner spokesman Michael Steel emails:

“Something as critical as the Democrats’ health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn’t be slapped together in a shady backroom deal. Skipping a real, open Conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama’s signature campaign promises. It would be a disgrace — to the Democratic Leaders if they do it, and to every Democratic Member who lets them.”

Greg Sargent:

* Question of the day, from Joe Klein: Is “Cheneyism” in foreign policy the future of the GOP? It is striking how much many GOPers these days sound like Cheney when extolling torture and attacking Obama’s national security policies.

* Indeed, Michael Steele, the public face and chief operative of the GOP, is now embracing Cheneyism.

* Great stuff from Jason Linkins and Matt Corley on the refusal of media figures to fact-check the bogus claim that Obama doesn’t use the word “terror.”

* Brewing controversy of the day: CIA collaborating with scientists to assess climate change.

* David Brooks: Tea partiers are here to stay, get used to it.

* But the Tea Party movement is not translating into a grassroots fundraising boon for the national GOP.

* Lindsey Graham’s apostasy on cap and trade and the financial bailout earns him another censure from South Carolina Republicans.

* And Sarah Palin is still MIA from the national security debate. Will the nation survive?

Sullivan: The Full Gitmo List

If you need a factual account of who was seized and imprisoned at Gitmo, Andy Worthington has compiled the definitive one. It's particularly apposite when you hear the current debate in which Cheneyites still use as a premise the notion that everyone in Gitmo was and is "the worst of the worst." Since the Bush administration released hundreds even they realized were innocent of anything, they had already conceded this, but won't, of course, publicly admit it (that would require admitting error which Cheney and Bush are incapable of doing). But this staggering fact is worth reiterating again and again and again as the disgraceful legacy of Cheney and Bush gets burnished by the pro-torture right:

I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

If you want another highly credible source for the same conclusion, read National Journal's exhaustive study, summarized by Stu Taylor here. Of 132 cases examined by NJ's Corine Hegland, more than half were not even accused of fighting the US at all. These people were those whom National Review's Cliff May wanted assassinated en masse by a missile.

DougJ: They came in here and trashed the place

I’m not linking but Kaplan has a big Sally Quinn piece calling for the head of Desiree Rogers. It’s pretty fucking comical:

Obama has had some real successes this fall. He did a masterful job of bringing together incredibly disparate positions to craft a strategy for Afghanistan. He put himself on the line and will probably come up with a reasonable health-care plan. He left Copenhagen with at least promises of cooperation from other world powers regarding climate change. But he is not getting credit that he deserves because he is being ill served by those around him who will not step up as needed and take the fall for him.

The president needs to start making that happen. The first step would be to accept the resignations of Sullivan and Rogers today.

That’s right, folks—global warming, health care reform, and a couple of nuts crashing a state party dinner are all equally important issues.

But take heart, none is as important as a president getting a blow job from an intern.

I can’t do this justice, but Digby and Bob Somerby probably can.

Somerby: DISPENSED IN THE NEW YEAR’S FIRST LETTER! The New York Times pimped familiar old pap, right in the new year’s first letter:

Dispensed in the new year’s first letter: Where do we Americans get our political information—or our political dis-information? Consider this letter to the editor, the very first letter the New York Times published in this, the brand new year.

On the morning of January 1, the letter sat at the top of the letters page in the paper’s hard-copy edition. It helps us see the way bogus claims come to rule our lives.

In the letter, a New York Times reader discussed a recent editorial about the estate tax. In the process, he advanced a familiar, and highly influential, claim:

LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (1/1/10): You are right: the estate tax is a mess. But you do not address the idea of using death as a tripwire for the tax—a tax on money and property that has already been taxed before death.

The opposition to the estate tax is as vigorous in those tax brackets that do not pay it as it is among the wealthy because everyday people like me recognize its unfairness.

You seem to believe that since the federal leviathan needs money, we should apply Willie Sutton’s law: go where the money is. I suspect that even the old bank robber himself would shy away from punishing financial success by using death as an excuse to tax the same money twice.

According to the letter writer, the estate tax “uses death as an excuse to tax the same money twice.” (He calls the estate tax “a tax on money and property that has already been taxed.”) Apparently for that reason, “everyday people” like the writer “recognize its unfairness.”

This is a widespread belief about the estate tax, a belief that is endlessly pimped on pseudo-conservative radio. And yet, the claim is false, or at best grossly misleading—a long-standing piece of pseudo-conservative disinformation. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities treats this claim as Myth #4 in its list of eight myths about the estate tax (click here). More colorfully, Michael Kinsley wrote on this subject in the Washington Post, many moons ago.

Kinsley’s piece appeared in 2001, as the newly-installed Bush Admin was trying to ditch the estate tax. Is the estate tax “unfair double taxation?” Colorfully, Kinsley said no:

KINSLEY (4/6/01): Wednesday's Washington Post and New York Times had carried an ad from a group of black businessmen supporting repeal of the estate tax. The group was organized by Robert L. Johnson, chairman of Black Entertainment Television. The ad declared: "The estate tax is unfair double taxation since taxpayers are taxed twice—once when the money is earned and again when you die."

A Times article yesterday about the ad noted correctly that this "repeats one of President Bush's familiar themes." Indeed it is probably the most tediously repeated sound bite of the estate tax debate. It is also false. Not "controversial" or "disputed" or "misleading" but out-and-out false. Most of the accumulated wealth that is subject to the estate tax was never subject to the income tax.

This is so obviously, overwhelmingly true that anyone with the slightest business or financial experience surely knows it.

In their 2002 book about the estate tax (Wealth and Our Commonwealth), Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins wrote this: “When it comes to the estate tax, some people are concerned that they have already paid income or other taxes on the money that they have saved...But the bulk of assets that are taxed in people’s estates take the form of appreciated property that has not been taxed at all.” Gates and Collins attempted to quantify the matter. According to the pair, one study “suggests that unrealized capital gains make up...over 56 percent of estates worth more than $10 million.” In the case of family-owned businesses, “several studies suggest that between 66 and 80 percent of such enterprises are unrealized capital gains.”

In the case of Johnson’s ad campaign, Kinsley ventured a bit of a guess: “If Bob Johnson has paid income tax on even one-tenth of the money that would be in his estate if he died tomorrow, it would be astonishing.”

In short, large estates include truck-loads of money which haven’t already been taxed. But whenever the estate tax is being debated, pseudo-conservative talk show hosts begin to issue sweeping claims designed to obscure this reality. People like the letter-writer hear these familiar claims—and they’re inclined to believe them.

And then, along comes the New York Times, in the new year’s first published letter!

Where do we Americans get our political “information?” In the very first letter of the new year, readers of the New York Times encountered this misleading claim once again! No, that letter shouldn’t have been printed, because its claims are so misleading. But this is the way our politics has worked for decades now.

Some editor decided to run that letter—a letter which furthered a standard bit of pseudo-conservative messaging. Question: Did that editor understand the actual facts concerning the way the estate tax works? Your guess is as good as ours. But alas! The very first letter of the new year helped show how our politics works.

So typical! In the very first letter of the new year, a hoary old claim filled the air.

Digby: Journalism 101

It's come to this:

Today (Jan. 4) 21 policy experts sent a letter (below) to Washington Post Board Chairman Donald Graham, requesting a meeting. Why? Because we've gotten no response to our protest letter to The Washington Post's ombudsman.

In that earlier letter we demanded an explanation for publication by the Post of an article about the U.S. federal deficit by The Fiscal Times, a "news content provider" founded and financed by Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson, whose budget-cutting ideology promotes cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The group noted that while The Fiscal Times article focused on the Peterson-promoted Conrad-Gregg budget commission—and quoted several Peterson-supported "experts"—it ignored the views of those who oppose that approach to the deficit, including a coaltion of 40 groups representing workers, women, seniors and others.

read on

I know the journalism business is tough these days. But they aren't going to solve their problems by selling their news pages to biased organizations and calling it journalism. (On the other hand, if what they want is to protect their personal wealth from all but the most token taxation, then maybe this makes a little bit more sense...)

Sullivan: About Those Stress Tests

You know: the ones so many people ridiculed Geithner for? Guess what? They worked:

In the end, the stress-tests were a nice metaphor for Obama administration economic policy writ large: The communications aspect was a bit muddled—who outside Wall Street has more than a vague idea of what they entailed? The macro forecasting was a bit off--the stress test’s pessimistic scenario assumed unemployment would average 8.9 percent in 2009; the actual number will be at least 9.2 percent. But the tests and their aftermath were well-thought through--top officials like Geithner, Larry Summers and Christie Romer spent hours gaming out every possible scenario (including a meeting during Passover that ran so long Geithner’s special assistant passed out matzah to stave off starvation). And, most importantly, they backed us away from the brink of disaster. Not bad for a policy that cost about $787 billion less than the stimulus.

GOP struggles to restart terror exploitation machine Jan. 4: Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne joins Rachel Maddow to talk about whether Republicans have lost their touch when it comes to politicizing terrorism for their own gain.

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