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Bob Woodward’s Seriously Stupid Conflation of “The Sequester” and “A Deal to REPLACE the Sequester”

Good lord.  So much ado about one high-profile journalist’s (deliberate or inadvertent; I can’t tell which) semantics ploy.  

Stellar New York Times White House correspondent Jackie Calmes, in a lengthy article on the provenance of the sequester, explains the controversy:

As this weekend arrived, Republicans were circulating a column by [Bob] Woodward published online by The Washington Post on Friday, in which he wrote that Mr. Obama was “moving the goal posts” from what he had agreed to in the summer of 2011 by insisting that a sequestration substitute have tax increases as well as entitlement-spending reductions.
“Moving goal posts?” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, wrote in a Twitter message in response, adding that 40 House Republicans in November 2011 signed a letter supporting new revenues as part of a deal. Mr. Carney suggested in a later Twitter message that Mr. Woodward was “willfully wrong.”

Mr. Obama vowed from the day he announced the agreement 19 months ago that he would insist on “a balanced approach” that cut entitlement spending and raised revenues by overhauling tax breaks. “Everything will be on the table,” he said.

The 2011 agreement left unspecified how to achieve the additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years. That fall a so-called supercommittee considered revenue increases totaling $300 billion in a Republican plan, $800 billion in Democrats’ offer. With the super-committee’s failure, Mr. Obama and Congress had a year to seek the elusive “grand bargain.”

Woodward’s piece is labeled opinion.  But it is in fact not opinion; it is bald representation of fact.  In other words, it is standard journalism reportage.  Except for the fact that the key representation of fact is patently false, and false in a respect that not only is extremely easy to refute with tangible facts, as Calmes does, but also false in a manner that is flagrant to anyone who recalls last year’s campaign.  Specifically, Obama built his entire campaign last year primarily around the promise to raise income tax rates to Clinton-era levels for people with incomes above $250,000; to close tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations; and to protect basic social safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as much as possible while increasing spending on certain other targeted programs.  

But it’s also obvious that it’s false because, well, why in heaven’s name would Obama agree to not demand tax increases to replace a sequester that he was proposing precisely because he was not willing to agree to spending cuts without revenue increases? Why wouldn’t he just have agreed to the Republicans’ demands in Aug. 2011 instead of agreeing to agree to those demands at the expiration of the sequester?

Obama wouldn’t, of course.  So the next question is: Why in heaven’s name would this journalist claim Obama did?

Part of the answer is clear to me, upon reading the last several paragraphs of Woodward’s article–where the bizarre claim is made. Here are the paragraphs:

On Tuesday, Obama appeared at the White House with a group of police officers and firefighters to denounce the sequester as a “meat-cleaver approach” that would jeopardize military readiness and investments in education, energy and readiness. He also said it would cost jobs. But, the president said, the substitute would have to include new revenue through tax reform.

At noon that same day, White House press secretary Jay Carney shifted position and accepted sequester paternity.

“The sequester was something that was discussed,” Carney said. Walking back the earlier statements, he added carefully, “and as has been reported, it was an idea that the White House put forward.”

This was an acknowledgment that the president and Lew had been wrong.
Why does this matter?

First, months of White House dissembling further eroded any semblance of trust between Obama and congressional Republicans. (The Republicans are by no means blameless and have had their own episodes of denial and bald-faced message management.)

Second, Lew testified during his confirmation hearing that the Republicans would not go along with new revenue in the portion of the deficit-reduction plan that became the sequester. Reinforcing Lew’s point, a senior White House official said Friday, “The sequester was an option we were forced to take because the Republicans would not do tax increases.”

In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.

Ah.  Reread the second- and third-last paragraphs there, the paragraphs just be the denouement:

Second, Lew testified during his confirmation hearing that the Republicans would not go along with new revenue in the portion of the deficit-reduction plan that became the sequester. Reinforcing Lew’s point, a senior White House official said Friday, “The sequester was an option we were forced to take because the Republicans would not do tax increases.”

In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

Yes, Mr. Woodward.  Lew testified during his confirmation hearing that the Republicans would not go along with new revenue in the portion of the deficit-reduction plan that became the sequester.  Yes, the sequester was an option the White house was forced to take because the Republicans would not do tax increases.

And, yes, Mr. Woodward, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

And the the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.  It did not, of course, include an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the final agreement to replace sequester 18 months later.

If Bob Woodward really believes that Obama agreed in Aug. 2011 to cut the federal budget deficit by about $3 trillion (or whatever the figure is) almost entirely through cuts to (near-elimination of large parts of) the social safety net and other non-defense “discretionary” spending–and that is exactly what Woodward is claiming–then I want to offer to sell him a quitclaim deed to the Brooklyn Bridge.  

My real estate agent moonlights as a Republican congressional staffer–the one who just sold Woodward a bill of goods. Woodward probably will have to get a mortgage, though.  He’s probably out of liquid assets at the moment.

There is, of course, a serious matter here, but it’s not the substance of the agreement between Obama and the congressional Republicans on how to avoid default on the United States’ incurred debt obligations.  It’s why this journalist’s longtime employer, the Washington Post, has given him carte blanche to use it as a forum to disseminate obviously false representations of fact.  And, to borrow a phrase from Woodward, why does it matter?

These are not rhetorical questions, but the Post surely won’t answer the first one, and the second one, though not rhetorical, does answer itself.  At least under any journalistic standards worth having, it does.

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One ring to rule them all…

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2008/01/some-legislators-saw-dilemma.html

http://www.angrybearblog.com/2008/04/one-ring-to-rule-them-all.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/business/major-banks-aid-in-payday-loans-banned-by-states.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130224&adxnnlx=1361718393-6egGqNlj8mdptNYglLFLXQ

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Why You Don’t Want Ron Fournier to Be a Journalist – (Mainstream-journalism gimmickry) [Post republished after editing]

I was wrong.  It turns out that National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier wasn’t out sick the day his eighth-grade civics class learned about the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, after all.  He was present and learned about it.  But he missed a class a few weeks later explaining that the president lacks the authority to order a military invasion of the House of Representatives and sequestration–the literal kind, not the budgetary kind.  

I know, I know; the president is the commander in chief. But it’s Congress that must formally declare war, and Congress probably wouldn’t declare war on itself. One house might declare war on the other, but that wouldn’t meet the Constitution’s requirement that both houses vote to declare war on the same target.

There is, of course, the option of CIA renditions.  Which, after reading Fournier’s new blog post [h/t Greg Sargent] responding to the critics of a blog post in which he blamed Obama for the sequester because in “any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure”–any enterprise, even one in which the chief executive isn’t actually the chief executive, but instead is the chief of the executive branch–I’m presuming is what Fournier has in mind.

Originally, I’d thought he meant that he wanted Obama to simply capitulate to the House Republicans and let them gut discretionary spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  In other words, delegate federal fiscal policy to the Tea Party.  Others thought that, too, among them an unidentified senior White House official, who wrote to Fournier to complain.  But Fournier says he doesn’t understand what he calls this defensive reaction.*  He quotes part of the defensive reaction:

“Your point … in this piece and in a bunch of others in between seems to be that, because he’s president, Obama is obligated to do all the compromising himself,” wrote a senior White House official, whom I agreed not to identify. “Essentially what you’re saying is that he should respond to the GOP’s absolute refusal to compromise by giving in to them entirely.”

But Fournier says the White House official misunderstood him.  Fournier explains:

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying. Ignore the straw man. My point is this: Unlike presidential aides and liberal allies, I don’t think the president is politically impotent. I think he has the personal skills and power to lead, to fix this crazy mess.

It would require compromise, something the president has expressed a willingness to do. True problem-solving leadership also would require making tough choices that would anger his liberal base far more than the president is doing now; imposing sacrifice on all voters, including the middle class; and risking his high approval ratings. And, yes, he can’t do it without Republicans.

Actually, though, the White House official’s description was exactly what Fournier was saying,  Because although Fournier wants the president to act like a CEO, he knows that in this particular enterprise there is no CEO, and one branch of the enterprise is controlled by the Tea Party.

Fournier titles his new post, “Why You Don’t Want Me to Be President.”  The answer to that question is that he has no idea how the president could get the House to compromise.  But Fournier reminds that, unlike Obama, he didn’t run for president in 2008 promising to lead.  And Fournier says he wants the president to lead.  

Except that actually he makes clear that what he wants the president to do is follow.  

The subtitle of his post is “The White House is waving the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”  It should read “The White House should wave the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”  That would be an accurate description of the contents of the post.  

—-
*This post is an edited version of one I posted at about 6 p.m. on Friday.  The asterisked sentence is one of three that I edited.  I’ve also added the final two sentences.  The post is a followup to a post from earlier Friday. I’ve also created an additional label: mainstream-journalism gimmickry. I’ve left the original rather than delete it, because of the comments posted to that post.

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Minimum wage…who and how much??

Spencer England has written about minimum wages and employment,

and Minimum wage and employment from 2008 and Teen unemployment and the minimum wage

What the fiscal cliff means for the middle class and state and local taxes

Economist Robert Pollin, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and founding co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), has a series on wages/employment and the minimum wage via Real News Network (they provide transcripts) here

Professor Richard Burkhauser has commented on President Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. And here’s what Burkhauser had to say:

President Obama’s call for an increase in the minimum wage to reduce poverty flies in the face of 30 years of evidence from Card and Krueger to Newmark and Washer that increases in the minimum wage have no effect on poverty rates.
Bob, the argument that Burkhauser gives is that most people working at minimum-wage jobs are not heads of families, they’re younger people in families that already have income earners, and that if you raise the minimum wage, it’s going to reduce the number of jobs available for young people who are mostly in these minimum-wage jobs and really do nothing about poverty levels, because the main bread-earners are already earning more than the minimum wage, he argues. He says that’s the evidence for 30 years. What do you make of that?

POLLIN: Well, that’s not the evidence that I’m familiar with. The evidence that I’m familiar with, having studied living-wage proposals, minimum-wage proposals around the country at state levels, at municipal levels, and national levels, the evidence is the overwhelming majority of people who are at or near minimum-wage levels of wages are not teenagers—let’s put it that way. They’re—the median age is roughly in the 30s. Most of the people have been at their job or at similar jobs for over a decade. They are on their long-term employment trajectory; they’re not about to jump up to some middle-income job as soon as they get out of college.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t teenagers. The number of teenagers in the labor force are disproportionately at or near minimum-wage jobs. But the majority of people at or near minimum wages are not teenagers.

Now, there is another point. There are many cases in which teenagers or young people who are working at or near minimum-wage jobs are part of families that are above the poverty line, and some of my own research has shown that in fact the contribution of the teenager is what significantly helps to bring the family above the poverty line…

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Markets Need Regulators – Food Edition

by Mike Kimel

Markets Need Regulators – Food Edition

Back in college, I had a chat with one of my more libertarian economics professors about the need for regulation. He thought regulation was completely un-necessary.

“But what about mislabeled food?” I asked, “How do we even know that what is labeled on the side of the box or the can is what is inside?”

His reply was one I’ve heard, in one variation or another, many times since, “A company that sells customers something than they ordered will quickly go out of business.”

I’ve known it was BS every time I heard that, but it is interesting and unfortunate to see validation lately.

In the US, we have mislabeledfish:

Chicago diners who think they are eating red snapper may actually be munching on goldbanded jobfish.

Those who order Alaskan cod may really be tucking into a threadfin slickhead. And fans of yellowtail could just be getting a fish tale.

These are some of the findings of a Chicago fish fraud investigation to be released Thursday by conservancy group Oceana.

After its troubling seafood fraud investigations in East and West Coast cities over the last two years, the group expanded its testing to other cities, including Chicago. Thirty of 93 fish samples taken from Chicago restaurants, retail chains and sushi bars were mislabeled, mirroring percentages found in other cities.

Eight of nine Chicago red snapper samples tested by Oceana turned out to be different fish, the report said. And none of the three
yellowtail samples tested was actually yellowtail. Single samples sold as corvina, jack, mackerel and even perch did not match those descriptions, according to Oceana’s DNA tests.

The ocean conservancy organization does not list the names of the restaurants or stores where it bought the fish because “we didn’t know where, along the supply chain, the mislabeling first occurred,” said Beth Lowell Oceana’s seafood fraud campaign director.”So we didn’t want to call out businesses that may not have known their fish was mislabeled.”

This comes in the heel of the horsemeat (and occasionally donkey meat) sold as beef scandal in Europe.

What is interesting is that a) these behaviors have been going on for a long time and b) they were either spotted by a shrunken regulator (in Europe) or a non-profit (in the US). The market’s incentives didn’t stop any of the players involved.

Now, one could respond that “this didn’t actually harm anyone’s health.” That may be true, but it is fraud. Lack of damage isn’t true of all cases. We’ve all read about cases where adulterated food products did kill, where mechanical components that didn’t meet stated standards caused deadly accidents, or pharmaceuticals that weren’t as stated caused tremendous harm. Different fields have different stories. Decades ago, I knew people who worked with blood banks, buying and selling blood products for use in medical and pharmaceutical tests and manufacturing. Apparently it wasn’t uncommon for low quality, poorly tested, and badly identified blood from East Germany to be surreptitiously mislabeled as its high quality, tested-to-the-nines West German equivalent, and with a wink and a nod, enter the bloodstream so to speak. Who knows how many people were harmed by that? More familiar to most Americans these days is the mislabeling of financial products – there were an awful lot of risky financial products mislabeled as being AAA safe.

For commerce to work, confidence in the products being sold needs to exist. But the marketplace by itself can’t provide that – the financial incentive apparently is just a bit too strong for some of the players.

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The rest of the dinner table deficit/debt discussion: Equity

I promise, there are numbers here, but lets have some fun first and write a screen play to set up the point. It is long, but…

 
“Dear, I’m getting nervous. We seem to keep adding to how much money we owe and our income hasn’t changed for the better. What can we do?”
 
At this point of the conversation, the conservative ideology (Republican and Democratic Parties) suggests and encourages you to believe that the answer is something like: “Well Honey, as I look over the horizon I see no possibility for improving our current position. The only thing we can do is cut back on our spending. We have to stop spending on anything we don’t need to live. If we are willing to sacrifice then eventually we’ll have savings that we can then use to invest such that we have more income.”
 
Now, for most Americans at this moment in the euphemistically labeled “business cycle” Honey’s response would be: “But I don’t know where else we can cut!” Of course to the conservative there is always something that money is being spent on that is in actuality an indulgence for which one should repent and thus cut from their spending if said spending is greater than one’s income. This is true because no righteous individual would ever let the devil of consumption tempt them from the path to wealth heaven. Redeem one’s self through the power of restraint of consumption urges.

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Why You Don’t Want Ron Fournier to Be a Journalist

I was wrong.  It turns out that National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier wasn’t out sick the day his eighth-grade civics class learned about the separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, after all.  He was present and learned about it.  But he missed a class a few weeks later explaining that the president lacks the authority to order a military invasion of the House of Representatives and sequestration–the literal kind, not the budgetary kind.  

I know, I know; the president is the commander in chief. But it’s Congress that must formally declare war, and Congress probably wouldn’t declare war on itself. One house might declare war on the other, but that wouldn’t meet the Constitution’s requirement that both houses vote to declare war on the same target.

There is, of course, the option of CIA renditions.  Which, after reading Fournier’s new blog post [h/t Greg Sargent] responding to the critics of a blog post in which he blamed Obama for the sequester because in “any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure”–any enterprise, even one in which the chief executive isn’t actually the chief executive, but instead is the chief of the executive branch–I’m presuming is what Fournier has in mind.

Originally, I’d thought he meant that he wanted Obama to simply capitulate to the House Republicans and let them gut discretionary spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  In other words, delegate federal fiscal policy to the Tea Party.  Others thought that, too, among them an unidentified senior White House official, who wrote to Fournier to complain.  And Fournier says he doesn’t understand what he calls this defensive reaction.  He quotes part of the defensive reaction:

“Your point … in this piece and in a bunch of others in between seems to be that, because he’s president, Obama is obligated to do all the compromising himself,” wrote a senior White House official, whom I agreed not to identify. “Essentially what you’re saying is that he should respond to the GOP’s absolute refusal to compromise by giving in to them entirely.”

But Fournier says the White House official misunderstood him.  Fournier explains:

Actually, that’s not what I’m saying. Ignore the straw man. My point is this: Unlike presidential aides and liberal allies, I don’t think the president is politically impotent. I think he has the personal skills and power to lead, to fix this crazy mess.

It would require compromise, something the president has expressed a willingness to do. True problem-solving leadership also would require making tough choices that would anger his liberal base far more than the president is doing now; imposing sacrifice on all voters, including the middle class; and risking his high approval ratings. And, yes, he can’t do it without Republicans.

Actually, the White House official’s description was exactly what Fournier was saying,  Because although Fournier wants the president to act like a CEO, he knows that in this particular enterprise there is no CEO, and one branch of the enterprise is controlled by the Tea Party.

Fournier titles this post, “Why You Don’t Want Me to Be President.”  The answer to that question is that he has no idea how the president could get the House to compromise.  But Fournier reminds that, unlike Obama, he didn’t run for president in 2008 promising to lead.  And Fournier says he wants the president to lead.  

Except that actually he makes clear that what he wants the president to do is follow.  The subtitle of his post is “The White House is waving the white flag on working with a hardheaded GOP.”

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National Journal Editorial Director* Ron Fournier Missed Eighth-Grade Civics Class the Day They Discussed the Separation-of-Powers Thing. He Should Now Get a Tutor.

It’s hard to know who will end up taking the biggest political hit if the latest Washington-induced crisis moves from theoretical to real — but the answer may well lie in which side can get the public to buy into its finger-pointing at the other side.
That’s why the excuses matter: Polls show Obama has the upper hand now over unpopular lawmakers, but much can change if sequestration upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services.

Sequestration: Excuses, excuses, excuses, Darren Samuelsohn and Scott Wong, Politico, yesterday

I agree.  If the sequester upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services because of its deep cuts in federal spending, the public  may well rage against Obama for refusing to accede to the Republicans’ demand that federal spending be cut much more dramatically (except for the Defense Department’s spending, which would not be cut at all)–therefore costing at least as many Americans their jobs and further denying access to those popular government services and to additional ones.  They may well be livid with Obama that he wanted to lessen the number of job losses and the loss of access to popular government services by claiming more tax revenues from wealthy individuals and corporations.  

Especially since about three-fourths of the public supports Obama’s proposed route.  The public may be marching in the streets, demanding impeachment.   And demanding further deep spending cuts in order to cut more jobs and popular services, and lower taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. At least if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services.

It isn’t a certainty that they will, though, even if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services. Which is why the Politico piece says only that it’s hard to tell whether or not they will.  Such things just can’t be predicted with reasonable accuracy.

One thing John Boehner is right about: The public does understand–his word, not mine–that tax increases are off the table, because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

They also understand exactly why further tax revenue from the very wealthy is off the table. And they know that it’s not actually because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

The Politico piece, which I’m betting was not the idea of the two reporters but was instead an assignment handed to them, along with an opening script, by top management there–it is not a reporting piece at all–is an interesting variation on the highly-in-vogue-this-season pseudo-journalism pox-on-both-their-houses sequestration/fiscal-cliff/debt-ceiling/shut-down-the-government routine.  It passes for journalism.  But it is not journalism.  It is propaganda.  

The Politico piece subtlely varies the usual technique. Instead of saying, as most of the genre’s pieces do, that these crises really are the fault of both sides–equally, of course–this article says the public probably can’t distinguish between suddenly and dramatically cutting federal spending, causing substantial job losses and gutting popular government services, and cutting federal spending less and more slowly and helping to reduce the budget deficit by raising more tax revenue from the wealthy individuals and corporations.  

But most members of this Lewis-Carroll-as-journalists crowd do the straight from of it.  In fact, a few of them seem more like the Mad Hatter than like the Mad Hatter’s creator.  Ron Fournier appears to be among them.

For those of you who don’t know, and there probably are few of you who don’t, Ron Fournier is a Republican-leaning, somewhat controversial Washington political journalist who a few years ago was himself major news in journalism circles when he was appointed the Associated Press’s acting Washington bureau chief.  (Until I read his Wikipedia page a few minutes ago, I wasn’t aware that it was intended as just a temporary appointment.)  The Wikipedia paragraph about this explains the controversy:

In May 2008, Fournier was named the acting Washington bureau chief, replacing his “mentor” Sandy Johnson. Since taking over the position, Fournier has led a dramatic shift in the AP’s policy, moving it away from the neutral and objective tone it had become known for and toward a more opinionated style that would make judgments when conflicting opinions were presented in a story.

The judgments Fournier favored were ones that the Republican Party favored as well, if I remember right.  It wasn’t a hit with Fournier’s AP colleagues, nor apparently with many of the AP’s news media clients.  So he left the AP to become editor at the venerable National Journal, which, for those of you who don’t know, and there probably are a few of you who don’t, is a (mainly) print journal that at least in recent years quietly leans Republican but that clothes itself as neutral.  

Sort of like Politico.  Except that, unlike Politico, no one outside Washington reads it and no one outside Washington cares about it.  Which is understandable, since no one outside Washington has ever heard of it. (Except me, but I do qualify as someone who doesn’t read it and someone who doesn’t care about it.)

Anyway, Greg Sargent, who is inside Washington and who does read the National Journal, writes this morning:

To summarize, Fournier and Pfeiffer argued over who is to blame for the sequester. Pfeiffer criticized David Brooks’ “pox on both houses” column this morning and noted that only one side (the GOP) is not willing to compromise to avoid the sequester. Fournier, who also tweeted a link to Brooks’ column, replied with several tweets arguing that it’s on the President to secure compromise from the opposition, such as this one: “only one side is president. Both sides should be ashamed.”

This echoes Fournier’s recent column arguing that while Republicans have adopted a fundamentally uncompromising position (which to Fournier’s credit he’s been willing to acknowledge), “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure.” Brooks’s column, meanwhile, argues that both sides are to blame, because Obama doesn’t have a plan to avert the sequester (which is false). So, some questions for the “blame it on both sides” crowd:

1) Let’s grant Fournier’s premise that a president should do all he can to secure cooperation from the other side. What more, if anything, could Obama actually do to win cooperation from today’s Republican Party on averting the sequester, short of giving in to the GOP demand that we replace it only with spending cuts? Republicans say no compromise to avert the sequester is acceptable. That’s not an exaggeration: It’s the party’s explicit, publicly stated position. What more specifically could Obama do to change this? If the answer is “nothing,” then why are both sides equally to blame?

Okay, look.  The president can be appropriately analogized to the CEO of the executive branch of the federal government.  It’s not a perfect analogy; obviously, there are laws that limit the president’s control over the executive branch–the Federalist Society’s silly Reagan-era “unitary executive” theory of law (don’t ask) to the contrary, notwithstanding.  But it’s a useful analogy nonetheless.  

But unless you recognize that Congress is not the president’s subordinate, whose membership he can hire and fire, and that federal fiscal policy is not established by fiat of top management, or unless you realize this but aren’t astute enough to understand that these are, to use a favorite word of lawyers, “material” differences between corporate CEOs and the president of the United States, you do know that it is deeply stupid to say that “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure,” and not realize that some enterprises actually don’t have a chief executive and that the federal government is among those enterprises that do not.

I guess this is confusing, because, after all, the president is the chief of the executive branch of the federal government.  You have to know that this particular enterprise has three separate branches that, as per the Constitution, operate independent of one another, in order to understand the difference between being the chief of the executive branch and being the chief executive.  And Fournier apparently does not.

Greg Sargent, Paul Krugman, The New Yorker’s Jonathan Chait, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, and a few other political writers have been sounding sirens of alarm and utter dismay at this increasingly dangerous and perverted juggernaut by so many self-styled neutral mainstream political journalists, including two days ago a Washington Post editorial writer, to engage in a campaign of deceit and propaganda in reporting on these sequential Republican-orchestrated federal fiscal crises.  

In my opinion, the very best of the deconstruction-of-the-pretzel-positions pieces–and one of the most piercing and quietly eloquent political opinion pieces I’ve ever read–is this one, from Wednesday, by Chait, which Yglesias linked to on Wednesday and which Sargent links to today. Yglesias’s excellent posts are here and here.

I think we’re about to reach an epiphany point, at which enough important journalists become genuinely scared of what is by now creepily similar to a government-controlled mainstream press in totalitarian countries that this will cease.  No, not by the stupid Ron Fournier or by the silly, robotic David Brooks.  But maybe at least by the Washington Post’s editorial writers and by reporters who certainly need their current jobs but who also are young enough to need reputations as credible and intelligent journalists, going forward.

And once that happens, maybe mainstream journalism will have a similar epiphany about the austerity juggernaut. Or, as Ezra Klein points out, mainstream journalism’s really weird role in it.

As for Fournier, according to Wikipedia, he’s won several prestigious journalism awards. But never one for commentary. Maybe this year.

*Originally, this post said Fournier was the National Journal’s title was editor.


POSTSCRIPT: I hadn’t seen this post of Paul Krugman’s from yesterday until just now. Talk about cutting to–cutting into, really–the heart of something slimy yet seemingly ever-evading analysis and puncture!

Enough. Enough. Time now to end it. Psychiatrists are standing by to offer withdrawal counseling.

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An Unscientific Poll

Robert’s post gets me wondering, as we enter the seventh year of the Great Recession (NBER also doesn’t treat either 1873-1897 or 1929-1945 as a single period) that there’s probably a good reason for the “changing” attitude toward food stamps.

So let’s conduct an unscientific poll in comments:  in the past ten years–say, January, 2004 onward–have you or anyone in your immediate family / circle of friends applied for or received food stamps?  Answer yes or no. (If you’re not certain, answer no.)

I’ll start:  Yes.

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