A TRULY AMAZING EVENT! On July 14, the Washington Post reported some facts about the debt limit crisis: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011
Kristof brings in the snide/The news page eschews basic facts: This morning, Nicholas Kristof flies away to a lazy mans retreat. Discussing the ongoing debt limit crisis, he turns to the snark and the snide.
His wonderful paper, the New York Times, continues to avoid reporting the most basic facts about this complex matter (see below). But great men like Kristof dont stoop to explain. This morning, he brings in the snide:
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! As he continues, Kristof shares his wonderful sense of humor, amusing those who already think they understand this rolling mess. But what if readers dont understand? Great men like Kristof dont stoop to explain. But then, neither does the Times as a whole. Its instructive to review our greatest newspapers overall effort this morning.
Consider the rest of the op-ed page:
Frank Bruni writes his second column (out of seven total) about same-sex marriage. Its a perfectly valid topic, of course, and Bruni has been widely described as the Times first openly gay columnist. But the rest of Brunis work has been vapid, seeming to extend an extremely strange op-ed page prescription at the Times: Women and gays are basically there to be silly, this strange rule seems to proclaim. Adding to the oddness of todays op-ed layout, Brunis piece lies next to this column, in which Jonathan Turley argues in favor of legalizing polygamy.
The fourth column on todays op-ed page deals with the space shuttle program. Its great to see there are no pressing, disaster-level problems staring us all in the face.
That said, is there some problem out in the country concerning this whole debt limit matter? Kristof uses the topic today to bring in the snark and the snide. No one else tries to clarify sh*tbut then, almost no one ever does at this, our greatest newspaper.
(People! Krugman explains something twice a week! How much clarity could a great nation need?)
Thats life on the Times op-ed page today. Consider the Times news and editorial pages, where a common role reversal occurs once again today.
To what role reversal do we refer? By normal standards, you review a papers news pages to gain access to basic facts. You turn to its editorial page to savor the boards opinions. But as we have often noted, youre often more likely to find basic facts on the Times editorial page! This papers news pages eschew basic facts. More often, the editors print them.
This morning, the editors opine on the ongoing debt talks. More specifically, they discuss the Gang of Six budget plan in a long editorial. And sure enough! The editors include some basic facts about this high-profile new planmany more facts than have appeared in the Times news pages!
Go aheadsearch through this papers news pages. For the second straight day, you will find virtually no facts about the Gang of Six plan. If you want to review a few meager facts, you have to turn to the editorial. At that location, you will find yourself exposed to some facts, even as the editors do their usual miserable job sifting through them. In this passage, the editors fumble their way through the plans apparent or alleged tax provisions:
Does the Gang of Six plan propose to eliminate the alternative minimum tax? Not if youre reading the Times news pages, which havent yet gone into this meager amount of detail. In fact, an array of complex claims are in the air concerning the role the AMT plays in the Gang of Six plan. But if you read the Times news pages, you dont yet know that the AMT is part of this plan at all.
Perhaps its just as well, given the confusing way the editors sift this topic.
Question: Did the editors say the AMT should be eliminated? Or did they say it should simply be changed in some way? As is so often case at this paper, theres really no way to be sure. Meanwhile, the editors account of the AMT strikes us as rather confusing (which isnt to say that its wrong). For example: The AMT has never been adjusted to current economic reality? In fact, the AMT is adjusted pretty much every year, as part of the annual (or semi-annual) AMT fix newspapers routinely discuss. (This annual or semi-annual fix is specifically designed to stop the AMT from ensnaring the incomes of Americans who are much farther down the wealth ladder.) More puzzlement: The editors seem to criticize the AMT because it fails to capture many of the superrich. But the AMT was never designed to capture all the highest earners. As originally intended, it was supposed to impose a minimum tax on those who have so many deductions that they end up owing no taxes at all, or at most a very small sum.
On balance, we find the editors discussion of the AMT rather confusing. But as is so often the case at the Times, this editorial contains more facts about the hot new budget plan than two days worth of Times news reporting. On the op-ed page, meanwhile, its the standard what them worry about onrushing disaster.
Should polygamy be legal? Thats a legitimate question tooalthough Fox is going to smash the Times for putting the Bruni and Turley columns side-by-side today. (It proves what Mr. O always said! From the one, we go straight to the other!) But is it possible that this question could be resolved after the August 2 potential disaster? In the meantime, could someone possibly help readers understand basic facts about an onrushing crisis?
PART 3A TRULY AMAZING EVENT (permalink): On Thursday morning, July 14, a truly amazing event occurred:
Information appeared in the Washington Post concerning the debt limit mess!
More specifically, the Post explained some of the things which might occur if the debt limit doesnt get raised by August 2. This amazing report appeared at the top of the Washington Posts front page. Showing how easily it can be done, Zachary Goldfarb began his report with a blindingly obvious question:
Duh! By last Thursday, this question had been lurking behind the debt limit fight for weeks, if not for months. Major Republicans had told the public that nothing of consequence would occur if the August 2 target date passed. But our biggest news orgs had made little attempt to address this implausible claim.
Now, at long last, the Washington Post was addressing this blindingly obvious question in a front-page news report! What would happen if the debt limit didnt get raised? On Aug. 3, Obama would be forced to make a set of extraordinarily difficult choices about what to pay or not pay, Goldfarb said as he continued. By then, the government's savings account would be nearly empty and the president would be relying on daily tax revenue to pay the nation's bills.
As he continued, Goldfarb discussed the kinds of choices Obama would face, describing the range of federal services which might have to be dumped. Well recommend Goldfarbs whole reporta report which should have appeared in the Post weeks, if not months, before. But in the following highlighted passages we highlight below, Goldfarb sketched the basic numbers underlying this onrushing mess.
In a dimly rational world, such numbers seem to invalidate the claim that there would be no major problem if the debt limit stays where it is. The key element of this debate is captured in those two percentages:
According to the analysis Goldfarb was using, the federal government would have to cut 44 percent of spending immediately. In Goldfarbs own formulation, skeptics in Congress have been reassuring the public by saying that Obama could continue to pay for up to 60 percent of government operations.
Exactly! In a dimly rational world, that is precisely the problem.
What would happen if forty percent (or 44 percent) of federal services suddenly stopped? This is a blindingly obvious questionbut it didnt occur to the hapless Chris Matthews when he interviewed Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican, on July 13, one night before Goldfarbs piece appeared (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/20/11). A chimp or a chipmunk would have known to pose this obvious question to King, who kept implying that nothing especially bad would occur if the August 2 target date passed.
A chimp or a chipmunk would have known to pose that obvious question to King. Matthews, a multimillionaire journalist, was as always less well prepared.
Alas! On last Wednesdays Hardball, King told Matthews that we could still pay the troops if the debt limit stays where it is. He said we could pay our debt service too; he even seemed to say that we could keep sending out Social Security checks. For the sake of argument, lets assume those claims are true. A poo-flinging chimp, or even a chipmunk, would have spotted the obvious logical problem with Kings blithe assurances:
Even if we could continue to pay those bills, many other federal payments (and many basic federal services) would presumably have to cease.
On Thursday morning, the very next day, an amazing event occurred. On the front page of the Washington Post, Goldfarb began to describe the essential services which would likely grind to a halt if the August 2 target date passed. But Matthews, an utterly hopeless incompetent, didnt raise this obvious problem when he spoke with King on Wednesday night. This is the way our most hapless tool responded to Kings blithe assurances; we resume the interview where it left off in yesterdays DAILY HOWLER:
On their face, Kings blithe assurances make little sense. Its extremely hard to believe we can drop 44 percent of federal services without a giant problem ensuing. But Christopher Matthews, a hopeless incompetent, was too unprepared to introduce this obvious logical framework. Instead, he turned to the least convincing of all arguments, especially in the current environment: He turned to the argument from authority. He asked why viewers should believe Rep. King instead of the deathless Jack Lew.
Here at THE HOWLER, we do believe Lew (and the others) on balance; we do believe giant problems will ensue if the debt limit stays where it is. But Matthews, as always, was unprepared to make the obvious logical argument. He got all snide when he called Bachmanns nameand if you were already on the Obama team, this made for some good entertainment. (When we played this tape for a group of federal managers, Matthews snarky evocation of Bachmann produced a pretty good laugh.) But if you dont really know what you think about this matter; if you dont already think you know who is telling the truth in this matter; Matthews argument wouldnt likely help you see the obvious problem with Kings blithe assurances.
A few days later, Queen Digby announced that eighty million people are fools; on balance, they think there wont be any huge problems if the debt limit stays where it is. Royalty has its rewards, of course. But when major broadcasters perform in the way Matthews does; when the Washington Post waits until July 14 to publish a report like Goldfarbs; when the New York Times publishes no such reports at all, right up to the present day; then how are all those foolish voters supposed to know what the truth really is?
People like Digby semi-love to hate. The desire to hate and insult The Fools lies at the heart of our brave new pseudo-liberalism. This approach pleases the Masters of the Universe, who strive to divide and conquer.
But does the real problem in this exchange lie with those eighty million fools? With the forty million more who said they didnt know? On balance, wed say the real problem lies elsewhere. Wed say it starts with people like Matthews, with those of his high store-bought class.
Tomorrow: How are we fools supposed to know? A list of things the Post and the Times still havent bothered reporting.