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Print view: David Gregory utterly failed. Lois Romano was worse:
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SADLY, BACHMANN IS SMARTER! David Gregory utterly failed. Lois Romano was worse: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 15, 2011

An utter embarrassment/Buffett schools the Times: This morning, Paul Krugman presents his latest important column. Since Krugman’s target isn’t a journalist, he reveals who his target is:

KRUGMAN (8/15/11): In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was…slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York, and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the state’s small-government approach. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health reform very similar to the “job-killing” Affordable Care Act.

Krugman’s target today is Rick Perry—and Krugman names him in his first sentence! That said, let’s grasp the logic of Candidate Perry’s central claim:

When the national unemployment rate remains over eight percent, that’s hailed within the GOP as proof that Barack Obama has failed. When the Texas rate is over eight, it’s hailed as the “Texas miracle!”

Moving right along, Warren Buffett embarrasses the New York Times today. He does so with this op-ed column—in the New York Times!

Buffett presents the type of information which should have appeared, long ago, on the New York Times’ front page, offered there as part of the paper’s important news reporting.

Citizens should study each word of this column. But here is a potent excerpt, in which Buffett explains how “we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.” As he starts, Buffett is explaining the size of his federal tax bill last year—“the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf:”

BUFFETT (8/15/11): [W]hat I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income—and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine—most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

[…]

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion—a staggering $227.4 million on average—but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains.

Buffett compares 1992 with 2008. As the mega-rich got much richer, the percentage they paid in federal taxes got substantially smaller. This provides context with which to judge the GOP war-cry: We don’t have a revenue problem!

Plainly, Buffett is much too competent to work as a New York Times reporter. But what an embarrassment, when information like this turns up on the Times op-ed page! Long ago, a real “newspaper” would have been discussing these topics on its front page, in serial fashion. But the New York Times is not a real newspaper. Like so many other “news orgs,” it is the Potemkin successor to a former newspaper.

When information shows up in its pages, it typically does so in Krugman’s columns—or when some outside figure gets published on its op-ed page!

Do American citizens understand the information in Buffett’s column? Of course they don’t, and there’s at least one very good reason:

They live in a country with a lapsed “press corps!” They live in a country where information is virtually banned from the big mainstream “press.”

Do you hear liberals complain about this? Frankly, we don’t. Go ahead—keep reading.

SADLY, BACHMANN IS SMARTER (permalink): The inability to explain squat! The lack of any impulse to try!

These are the defining traits of the modern “press corps.”

We can’t explain how they got this way—and we can’t explain why the “liberal world” so rarely seems to notice their dumbness. (As opposed to their alleged bias.) But lord have mercy, this “press corps” is dumb! Just consider David Gregory’s attempt to question Michele Bachmann about the debt ceiling on yesterday’s Meet the Press.

Then, consider the way Lois Romano handled this topic in Newsweek’s recent profile of Bachmann.

Quick background: Bachmann has said that she would never raise the debt ceiling, under any circumstance. This must be the most ludicrous position any major White House candidate has ever taken on any budget matter.

But so what! As far as we know, the New York Times has never bothered explaining this matter—and the Washington Post has only deigned to do so once, in a front-page report back on July 15.

Bachmann’s position is utterly ludicrous—but most voters have never heard anyone explain why that’s the case. And then, a guy like Gregory steps in! By the time he was done on yesterday’s program, Bachmann’s position started to sound like it might make good solid sense.

Here is the utterly hapless host, starting his discussion of this topic on yesterday’s program. If we assume Gregory is sincere, the man is completely incompetent:

GREGORY (8/14/11): Let me ask you about the debt ceiling. You were adamantly opposed to raising the debt ceiling. You voted against that.

BACHMANN: Mm-hmm.

GREGORY: And there's a lot of people who said that was an incredibly reckless thing to do for our economy.

BACHMANN: Oh, hardly, hardly.

GREGORY: But, wait—

BACHMANN: Yeah.

GREGORY: Let me just, let me just take you through it. It wasn't just the president of the United States, it was also the chairman of the Federal Reserve, it was the Treasury secretary, it was your entire—

Even the chairman of the Federal Reserve! As Chris Matthews did a few weeks ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/11), Gregory was arguing from authority; he was saying Bachmann must be wrong because a lot of famous people say so. This is always a weak way to “prove” a point—but especially at a time like this, when faith in authority has broken down, it’s a very weak way to do so. And sure enough! At this point, Bachmann cuffed Gregory to the curb, interrupting him with a sardonic statement which rang true with many viewers:

BACHMANN (continuing directly): And they've done such a smashing job for us, haven't they?

Boosh! Bachmann threw down, right in Gregory’s face! But Gregory insisted on the right to keep on calling the roll! “Well, if I can just finish the question,” he brightly exclaimed. “The entire Republican leadership thought that was the wrong thing to do. Major members of the business community in this country thought that was the wrong thing to do. Why should we trust your judgment that that was the right thing to do and not a reckless act on the part of a congresswoman?”

Even the business community! Who could doubt their good judgment?

In fairness, this wouldn’t have been an awful way to start the discussion of this topic. But at some point, a serious person would want to explain why it was such an awful idea to keep the debt ceiling where it was after August 2. Gregory never got there. At no point did he make any attempt to explain what would have happened if the debt ceiling stayed where it was.

People! There’s a reason why all those famous people and groups insisted on raising the debt limit. But most Americans don’t know what it is, and Gregory never made the slightest attempt to explain it. He offered an argument from authority—and he offered nothing else. He told us Bachmann has to be wrong because Ben Bernanke said!

Of course, Gregory seemed like an absolute genius as compared to Romano. All week long, the Potemkins who pose as the nation’s “press corps” argued about the cover photo Newsweek chose to use in conjunction with Romano’s report. But good God! Inside the magazine, in that cover story, the hapless scribe gave this hapless account of the problem with Bachmann’s proposal:

ROMANO (8/15/11): At a time of population growth, increasing health-care costs, swelling ranks of retirees, and a sharp and prolonged economic slump—all of which point to the need for increases in federal spending just to meet government’s existing obligations—Bachmann and her Tea Party allies demand that Washington spend less. But they don’t just demand that spending increase less from year to year than previously planned; that’s what Congress and the president agreed to in the deal that ended the debt standoff, to the tune of $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years (albeit followed by a downgrade four days later). Rather, Bachmann and the Tea Party go much further, insisting that the federal government actually shrink over time, spending less money from year to year as its commitments grow.

That means, of course, that its commitments would have to shrivel as well. In the Tea Party’s ideal vision of America, large federal agencies and federal programs would be dismantled and the savings redirected to states with block grants and individuals through lower taxes.

According to the hapless Romano, Bachmann “insists that the federal government actually shrink over time, spending less money from year to year.” That would mean that “its commitments would have to shrivel,” with “the savings redirected to states with block grants and individuals through lower taxes.” But that isn’t what would have happened at all if we’d adopted the Bachmann proposal! Incredibly, Romano managed to take an historically ludicrous proposal and make it sound like something a whole lot of voters might like!

Did Bachmann propose “that the federal government shrink over time, spending less money from year to year?” Actually no—that’s nothing like what Bachmann proposed! In reality, Bachmann proposed that the federal government spend massively less money, starting instantly, on August 3. In saying she wouldn’t raise the debt ceiling, she proposed that the federal government instantly cut its spending by forty to forty-five percent!

That was an utterly crazy proposal—and no, there wouldn’t have been any “savings” to “redirect” to the states or the tax-payers! Regarding that ludicrous point, what could possibly make Romano think there would have been money left over if Bachmann’s position had prevailed—money that could have been “redirected” to tax-payers? In this formulation, Romano recreated the construct used by Candidate and President Bush, from 1999 through 2001; Bush persistently said that his large tax cuts were designed to send money back to the people. But at that time, the federal government was running surpluses. Whatever the wisdom of Bush’s proposal, there really was money to “redirect.”

There is no such money now—until you read Newsweek. What an embarrassment, to see named person Tina Brown putting such twaddle in print.

That said, here’s one more question: In the past week, have you seen any major journalist or blogger challenge the account in Romano’s report? No! Instead, the pundit corps has spent its time arguing about that cover photo, making a set of inane presentations as they do.

Romano’s utterly hapless account completely failed to capture the size of what Bachmann really proposed. Indeed, Romano’s formulation will sound, to many ears, like something this country might truly need. She even managed to make it sounds like the nation’s tax-payers would get their latest bag of free money!

Like Gregory, Romano failed to explain the sweep of Bachmann’s proposal. One more basic bungle:

Earlier in her hapless account, Romano referred to “the willingness” of people like Bachmann “to risk national default for the sake of achieving its political goals.” This scolding formulation will sound good to most liberals; thrills will run up our legs. But yesterday, Bachmann batted that construct away as she dealt with the hapless Gregory:

BACHMANN: Remember, I introduced a bill that would not have had the United States default. The president did not. Let me tell you what the president did. President Obama went out and, and effectively said through his administration, "We don't know if we're going to pay our military men and women in uniform." This was, this comment was made overseas to our men and women while they're serving our country.

GREGORY: That's not what the president said, that was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

BACHMANN: That was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That was highly irresponsible.

This was the second time Bachmann said that she entered a bill to avoid default. She went on to batter Obama further, for “saying to senior citizens, ‘We don't know if you'll get your Social Security checks in August.’” That too was irresponsible, Bachmann convincingly said.

Gregory never explained why Obama would have said what he said about those Social Security checks. Meanwhile, Bachmann’s statement about “default” surely rang true to many viewers. For the past several months, voters have been told, again and again, that a refusal to raise the debt limit would not have led to “default;” there would have been plenty of revenue coming in to pay the government’s debt service. Nor was this a ridiculous posture. In this July 18 post, Kevin Drum seemed to say the claim was sound.

Question: Have you ever seen your big news orgs attempt to explain what was wrong with Bachmann’s claim about avoiding default? Answer: Of course you haven’t! In its pathetic, embarrassing “crash course on all things debt limit,” the New York Times made a pathetic, embarrassing attempt to discuss this topic. Could college students get by with such hapless work? Surely, we all hope not.

Bachmann’s proposal about the debt limit is and was utterly ludicrous. But this country is full of decent people who have never been told why it would have been crazy to leave the debt ceiling where it was on August 2. They’ve never heard a rebuttal to Bachmann—other than “but Bernanke said.”

The liberal world gazes lazily on, saying nothing about this global intellectual failure. We’re just as dumb as Gregory is.

Sadly, Bachmann is smarter.