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NAMING CHARLATAN RYAN! Krugman name-called Ryan’s plan—and the Washington Post along with it: // link // print // previous // next //

Creeping Breitbartism: Gene Lyons smacked Glenn Beck around in this week’s column, helping establish the factual record about Beck and the Shirley Sherrod matter. In closing, the analysts’ “Uncle Gene” offered this assessment:

LYONS (8/5/10): Time was when a journalist dissembling about his own recorded words, for heaven's sake, would have fallen into disgrace and out of a job. At the provincial level, that's still true. I'd expect to be sacked for such egregious misbehavior, which, possessing a sense of honor, I'd never imitate.

For the national political press, those days ended during President Clinton's first term. Much of the "mainstream" media now operates by Hollywood rules: Stardom brings big money and freedom from accountability. So long, that is, as one can avoid offending the Soviet-style propaganda apparatus that's arisen on the Republican far right.

But no, "both sides" don't do it. Berated for years about "liberal bias," many otherwise sensible citizens don't understand that for better and worse, the Democrats have nobody like Andrew Breitbart or Glenn Beck.

We strongly recommend this column, which helps extend the factual record about Beck and Sherrod. But is it true? Do Democrats have nobody like Breitbart or Beck? In fairness, the Republicans have no one else like Beck; in the evolution of deeply ludicrous cable discourse, he’s truly in a class by himself. But do we have anyone like Breitbart? As they chatted with Uncle Gene on the phone, the analysts thought about that segment on Tuesday evening’s Countdown.

We’re getting there, the analysts cried, reacting to Gene’s assessment.

The analysts were thinking of Keith Olbermann’s account of the ethics probes of Reps. Rangel and Waters. Teasing his later discussion, the great progressive unloaded a pair of bombs, baldly misstating a basic fact:

OLBERMANN (8/3/10): Jonathan Turley on the law; Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino on the hate. Ethics in the House, if any. Eight investigations of representatives—all eight just happened to be African-American. And the head of the independent body that refers the cases to the House Ethics Committee is Porter Goss, the Bush CIA director who approved the destruction of the torture videotapes. Gene Robinson joins us.


OLBERMANN: So the House ethics investigations of Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters and all the others—all of them, coincidentally enough, African-American. Do you know who the supposedly outside neutral authority is who recommends ethics cases be investigated? George W. Bush’s most infamous CIA director, that’s who. Gene Robinson, next here on Countdown.

You’ll note that Olbermann spoke in the past tense when he said that all eight investigations “just happened” to involve African-Americans. He refers to a fairly brief point in time, a point in time which no longer exists. (By the time of that second tease, he was flirting with misstatement.) But Olbermann flatly misstated the facts when he spoke about Goss. Sorry—Porter Goss isn’t “the head of the body that refers the cases to the House Ethics Committee.” The head of that group is in fact David Skaggs, a Pelosi-appointed Democrat; Goss is number two man in this two-year-old body. (Later, Olbermann referred to Goss as the group’s “co-chair,” a technically accurate statement which was still extremely misleading. To understand why, just click here.) Suitably disinformed from the start, we rubes were steaming by the time Gene Robinson showed up to help advance matters, saying only the things we needed to hear to keep our hot buttons firing. On the specific question of Goss, this is what happened when KO asked Gene to help us understand:

ROBINSON (8/3/10): What’s different now, of course, is the atmosphere. The Democrats vowed to crack down on corruption or appearance of corruption. There’s this new Office of Congressional Ethics and, and Nancy Pelosi has cracked the whip.

OLBERMANN: Let’s talk about that office for a second. Because it is the piece de resistance here and it may transcend any racial issue. The co-chair of the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is, as you pointed out, a somewhat new independent board, recommends whether or not there should be an investigation, is Porter Goss? The former CIA director? And as background, in 2005, which is not a long time ago, and after he served in Congress, where he had a fairly dubious reputation to begin with, he approved the destruction of dozens of the CIA’s videotapes which recorded the interrogation, the brutal interrogation of two of the detainees.

How does Porter Goss get to sit in judgment and decide whether or not to investigate anybody’s ethical conduct—yours, mine, Maxine Waters, or some guy walking, somebody living on the street out here?

ROBINSON: You’re sensing a kind of "physician, heal thyself" or "it takes one to know one" kind of situation here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, something.

ROBINSON: And, you know, I did—one outgrowth of this discussion and others like it this week I think is going to be a lot more scrutiny of this new office and how it works and what its powers are. And, you know, I’m looking forward, for example, to hearing the detailed rebuttal that Maxine Waters has to offer. We do have a response from Congressman Rangel and it`s quite fulsome. And so, yes, let’s learn a bit more about this, about this new board.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t “learn more about this new board” on this particular program! Having said that Porter Goss was in charge, Olbermann wanted to know how he got there. Presumably, Robinson knew that Goss really isn’t in charge. But he didn’t tattle.

How did Goss become the number two man on this new board, a position which was misstated or obscured all evening long? Duh! He was appointed, in a colloquy between Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, as Robinson should have known before agreeing to discuss this topic. But Robinson gets his nightly haul because he tends to play it safe—avoids contradicting KO. Perhaps for that reason, he avoided answering KO’s question about Goss, and KO simply moved ahead when Gene avoided his question. As the discussion continued, Olbermann cited this lengthy Politico piece, which lays out a lot of information about these ongoing probes. But Olbermann simply dumped all the facts which would have undermined his narrative, in which Goss somehow got in charge and is trying to charge only blacks.

This segment wasn’t scripted by Breitbart. But it came pretty darn close.

If you read the transcript, or watch this segment, we’ll suggest you enjoy the feigned incomprehension as Olbermann and Robinson try to puzzle the statistical improbability of eight different black congressmen all being probed at one time, with no one else in the dock. They omit the part of the Politico report which lowers the sense of improbability—the part which explains that six of these reps came in as a group, due to a group event staged by the Congressional Black Caucus. (Five of the six have been cleared by the Ethics Committee; only Rangel was charged.) They also ignore the part of the report where ethics watchdog Melanie Sloan says she isn’t buying the claims about racial prejudice. On Our Own Liberal Channel, we get to hear from Sloan a good deal—but only when she’s supporting claims about the other tribe.

In this case, Sloan had to go!

Is there a racial problem with the work of this new office—an office created by Nancy Pelosi, a fact KO never established? We don’t know; such charges have swirled since some time last year. But Olbermann’s report was extremely “heavily edited,” to use a phrase which has entered the language. He started out by misstating the role played by Goss. Things got no better from there.

We’d describe this segment as “creeping Breitbartism,” presented by two of our team’s biggest stars. We may not have a Brietbart yet. But readers! Please! Show some patience!

A bit of left-handed comic relief: Has Waters broken some rule of the House? We don’t know how to judge that. But go ahead! Chuckle at the left-handed way the breitbarts mounted her defense:

OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our Eugene Robinson, also an associate editor and Pulitzer Prize columnist for the Washington Post. Gene, good evening.

ROBINSON: Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Even if business as usual is no longer business as usual on Capitol Hill, it is, it is hard to believe that Maxine Waters is the only member of Congress who might have arranged a questionable meeting as the banks were scrambling for the TARP funds and for their lives, and that Charlie Rangel is the only member of Congress who’s raised funds for an educational center that bears his own name.

ROBINSON: Well, it`s impossible to believe either of those things, actually, Keith.

Just like that, Waters found herself semi-convicted of “arranging a questionable meeting!” On the other hand, KO had said, at the start of the segment, that Waters’ conduct “sounds like business as usual for what could be any one of 435 elected representatives in the House.”

The gentlemen plowed ahead from there. To watch the full segment, click here.

NAMING CHARLATAN RYAN (permalink): Does Paul Ryan believe in his budget plan? Does he think his plan would do good for most people? We would guess that he probably does, although there’s no way to be certain.

For that reason, we would have added a sentence to Paul Krugman’s deeply important new column, a sentence toning down its headline. That headline calls Ryan “The Flimflam Man”—and Ryan is later scored as a “charlatan.” This gives conservatives the type of escape hatch they will rather typically take. The discussion is changed to angry complaints about Krugman’s assessment of motive.

This minor point to the side, this may be the most important column we’ve seen in twelve years at THE HOWLER. As Krugman starts, he does the unthinkable. He not only names Charlatan Ryan, bashing his budget plan all around town. He even names the hapless Washington Post! This is the way he starts:

KRUGMAN (8/6/10): One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he’s hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.

Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”

In fact, Krugman’s own paper, the New York Times, did little better than the Post when it ran this copy-cat profile of Ryan just one day later, on Tuesday. The Times kept Ryan off the front page, but he led the newspaper’s “National” section; the profile covered the top of that section’s first page, extending down below the fold, eating more than half the page. The spread included a large photo of Ryan surrounded by beaming, blue-haired ladies; to one side, the profile was accompanied by a list of Ryan’s most thoughtful quotations. (This add-on was portentously titled, “From the Mind Of a Lawmaker.”) This is the profile in which Monica Davey absurdly wrote that Obama’s White House “has problems with its details” (our emphasis), referring to Ryan’s budget plan. Alas! The Times was so full of howlers this day, we gave this utterly foolish statement only passing attention (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/10).

Back to Krugman’s important column, which made us think of the landing on D-Day. If the liberal world had a capable army—we don’t—this column could have been the start of something truly great.

Ryan’s plan is garbage, Krugman says, referring to it as “flimflam.” The liberal world rarely speaks so directly; thirty years later, this helps explain why we’re forced to recruit Alan Greenspan to refute the world’s dumbest idea. And major journalists rarely speak so clearly about the rest of the mainstream press. Krugman bats the Post around (although the Times did little better). Let’s review the passage where he unmasks another charlatan gang:

KRUGMAN: Mr. Ryan’s plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He’d have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to that Washington Post report, he speaks about deficits “in apocalyptic terms.” And The Post also tells us that his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the flow of red ink: “The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020.”

But the budget office has done no such thing. At Mr. Ryan’s request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts—period. It didn’t address the revenue losses from his tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.

Sad. Did the Post’s Perry Bacon understand that “the budget office has done no such thing?” Sadly, we’ll guess he didn’t. (For Bacon’s report, click here.) The mainstream press corps is full of pretenders—unprepared lads who don’t know what they’re doing, once they stop typing the two parties’ quotes. If we had to guess, we’d guess that Bacon, and his editors, didn’t understand what was wrong with this extra section on Monday’s page A6, from which Krugman is quoting. (Headline: “Paul Ryan's ideas for cutting the deficit.”)

Back to Krugman’s landing at Normandy. In the section we’ve posted, Krugman has already displayed one problem with “the media establishment;” even at its highest levels, it can’t quite master the simplest facts about basic budget matters. But there are two additional basic problems with Charlatan Bacon’s hapless report. If you had a capable liberal world—you don’t—its leaders would land hard on these aspects of Krugman’s column:

The press corps’ lack of basic sense: Bacon got his basic facts wrong, in the way Krugman described. Beyond that, he showed an absence of basic sense, a problem which grips our “press corps.” In one part of his column, Krugman says you shouldn’t believe that Ryan’s proposed spending cuts “are feasible.” In this chunk, he explains:

KRUGMAN: Finally, let’s talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn’t say.

After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the same plan Newt Gingrich tried to sell in 1995.

And we already know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage. Wealthy older Americans would be able to supplement their vouchers, and get the care they need; everyone else would be out in the cold.

In practice, that probably wouldn’t happen: older Americans would be outraged—and they vote. But this means that the supposed budget savings from the Ryan plan are a sham.

Duh. In one way, this is all fairly obvious; these sorts of problems should be familiar from miracle budget cures of the past. But no glimmer of any such recognition intrudes on Bacon’s hapless piece, or on Davey’s copy-cat profile.

Bacon and Davey have no basic sense. That said, an even larger problem plagues Bacon’s worthless report:

No sense of historical context: Bacon didn’t seem to know what the CBO had done. Beyond that, he didn’t see how silly it is to credit those budget cuts—the budget cuts which aren’t specified, and the cuts which won’t ever happen. But there’s something else he gazed right past—he gazed right past the historical context. Consider Krugman’s remarkable portrait of Ryan’s proposed tax cuts:

KRUGMAN: Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible—which you shouldn’t—the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.

And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.

Did Bacon understand these facts? We’re willing to assume he didn’t. But please understand the historical context in which those changes in tax rates are being proposed. In late June, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities released this remarkable study of the growth in income inequality from 1979 through 2007. (Headline: “INCOME GAPS BETWEEN VERY RICH AND EVERYONE ELSE MORE THAN TRIPLED IN LAST THREE DECADES.”) In this study, we see the remarkable way the pre-tax income of the top one percent has increased during that period. (“By 2007, the top 1 percent had before-tax incomes that were 24 times higher than those of the middle fifth of Americans—a share that had nearly tripled since 1979.”) We also see the way the tax cuts of the Bush era exacerbated these income gaps, increasing the top one percent’s massive share of post-tax income.

What was this study’s basic finding? “The gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007.” In the face of that massive growth in inequality, Lawmaker Ryan would cut existing taxes on the top one percent. In fact, he’d cut them in half!

Not a word about this historical context was breathed by Bacon or Davey, as they gushed and minced and flounced about the great Lawmaker Ryan.

If we had a capable liberal world, our leaders would land on all these beaches, wading ashore behind Krugman. But we don’t have any such army, and Krugman’s landing will go unsupported. Your leaders tend to lack all conviction, much like Bacon and Davey; they don’t really care about piffle like this, and it relentlessly shows. Let’s get real! In the past thirty years, the liberal world hasn’t even had the smarts—or the desire—to kill the world’s dumbest idea!

Krugman has landed alone on a beach. Few troops are likely to follow. Who knows? Maybe Alan Greenspan is willing to say what he thinks!