Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Advertising That Your Child Comes From an Upscale, Graduate-School-Educated Home and Therefore Won’t Need Financial Assistance if (When) He or She is Accepted Into Yale.

One of the really annoying (at least to me) fads among late Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, mainly, I suspect, from the Northeast and the Washington, D.C. area, is the hyphenated-last-name thing for their children.  As in, say, Alex Seitz-Wald, a Millennial blogger at the Washington Post’s The Plum Line, whose post from this morning, “John Boehner’s Escape Hatch is Closing,” I just read.

I don’t know anything about him; I know it’s a “him,” not a “her,” because I’ve read mentions of one or another of his posts, with references to him as, well, “him.”  Or, that is, I wouldn’t know anything about him were it not for the hyphenated last name.

But because of the hyphenated last name, I do—or at least probably do—know quite a bit about him: that his parents have graduate degrees and fast-track careers, probably as doctors, lawyers or the like, and that he grew up in a gentrified city neighborhood or an upscale, probably older, leafy (definitely leafy) suburb somewhere not far from the Atlantic Ocean and not south of D.C., or in a college town.  He spent his youth, when not in school, in highly competitive sports leagues (probably soccer) and in look-at-me volunteer programs, maybe overseas during the summer.  He had private tutors for math and/or whatever other subject he needed in order to ace the SAT.  And he spent his four undergraduate years at a prestigious private college or university, and his junior year (or at least a summer) at a university in China, South America or Europe, graduating with a degree in something and with no (or almost no) college-loan debt.

And eventually, probably when he’s in his early 30s, he’ll marry a Millennial with a wink-nod code name like his: say, Harriet Goldman-Sachs. They’ll have two kids, named, maybe, Gertrude Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald and Leon Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald, respectively. Whose offspring three-plus decades later will be named, maybe, Linda Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group and John Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group.  Respectively.

The danger here, of course, is that by then all college and graduate-school programs will be online, and more reasonably priced, and therefore the Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group kids will be saddled with the hyphenated eight-name last names with no particular advantage to it.  Other than that the Washington Post, New York Times and other prestigious media outlets will have jobs waiting for them when they graduate with a degree or two or three from Yale Online University.


UPDATE: Actually, as I just wrote in the Comments thread in response to a comment by reader rjs, Seitz-Wald is a terrific political journalist at Salon, The Nation and ThinkProgress, as well as, now, the Washington Post.  (I believe he’s still with the other three.)  And really, I don’t know a thing about his background.  I just keep wondering what the intended end game is with these hyphenated names.  I mean, how many generations can be reflected in a last name before space runs out on the birth certificate? Because it obviously can’t extend beyond another generation, this fad really does strike me as simply code for, “This is someone with upscale, educated, intellectual parents who can pay his or her college expenses.”

Sorry, but it does. It’s today’s version of the British-Isles-last-names-as-first-names code that the Brahmins of the early and mid-20th Century employed.


Is Margaret Thatcher Responsible for Silicon Valley, As David Brooks Claimed Recently?

[T]he myth of the welfare state fostering a lazy citizenry just doesn’t hold water. A group of small nations (combined population: about 25 million) that came up with Linux, Skype, Ikea, H&M, and Lego — to say nothing of well-written television shows and mystery novels, innovative designers and brilliant architects from Alvar Aalto to Bjarke Ingels — can’t be that lazy.

— George Blecher, participant in today’s New York Times’ Room for Debate discussion about Denmark’s welfare state, apparently the most generous in the Western world.

The New York Times has been running a sequence of pieces in the last month about Denmark’s uniquely generous public-welfare laws, a categorization that includes tax laws and spending programs that apply to all that country’s citizens, not just certain economic classes of citizens.  I hadn’t read the articles until today, when the Times made them (and their subject) the topic of its Room for Debate discussion.

Which reminded me that last month, in a column paying his respects to Margaret Thatcher after she died, David Brooks attributed the existence of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all those other successful Silicon Valley companies started since the Thatcher/Reagan revolution began, to … Margaret Thatcher.  To whom he expressed gratitude for saving the Western democracies from adopting Swedish-style welfare-state policies, and–he said, in his trademark unexplained ergo-conclusory-declaration fashion–therefore preventing the end of technological innovation of the Silicon Valley variety.

Yes, Brooks really made that claim, if I understood him correctly.  And I think I did.

My immediate reaction upon reading that column was: Well, maybe some other prominent journalist will pick up that gauntlet and go right to the horses’ mouths, and ask some of these tech innovators whether a few of those Swedish-style benefits would in fact have caused them to forego inventing what they invented, and starting their startups or continuing to innovate and invent through their ongoing companies.

Steve Jobs is gone, so he can’t be asked whether he would have ditched the idea for the iPhone a decade ago, had this country had universal single-payer healthcare insurance, access to quality preschools, and guaranteed decent pensions.  But still alive and active are Andy Grove, Bill Gates, Marc Andreessen, Jerry Yang, David Filo, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Sean Parker, Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Systrom, Mike Krieger, and almost all of the inventors of all those apps available to anyone with a computer or a smartphone.

Brooks could have asked a few of them before he made his claim, except that he, well, doesn’t do fact vetting before he makes representations of fact. He just uses his perch as a tenured New York Times columnist to make ever-more-outlandish declarations of what he represents as fact. And receives a huge salary, as per his unquestioningly-renewed contracts.  At a time when his own paper, and most others that continue to practice this pundit-star brand of commentary journalism, are dramatically reducing or outright decimating their actual newsroom staffs, because of severely declining revenues.

I keep wondering whether these folks actually bring in substantial revenues, or whether instead they simply continue indefinitely because, y’know, that’s they way it’s always been.  If the latter, it shouldn’t matter any more than that having good-sized staffs of actual professional reporters and editors was the way it had always been, too, at most mainstream newspapers–until it no longer was.  So, why does it, if it does?

Brooks’ Thatcher-Saved-Us-From-the Fate-of-Sweden column was titled “The Vigorous Virtues.” A headline writer, not Brooks himself, titled the column.  The headline writer, a journalist who had enough vigor to read the column and enough virtue to sum up its claim accurately–and who as of a month ago remained employed at the Times albeit at a salary surely a small fraction of Brooks’s–might also have some refreshing takes on government fiscal policies. Thoughts that aren’t mindless statements of ideology transparently masquerading as fact.  But no matter.  He or she, after all, is not a star.

Much better to have Brooks, who is one, reiterate generically yet again that central and northern Europe are innovation wastelands than to require tangible fact as foundation for declarations inferentially based upon supposed fact. There is a difference between opinion and fact (actual fact and false fact, both), although you can routinely switch out opinion for false fact if you’re a big-name pundit under recurring contract with a big-name media organization.

Poetic license is fine when limited to art, but when published in the New York Times as fact–and these statements, by their nature, are, notwithstanding that they’re made in op-ed pieces–they should come with an explicit disclaimer.  They really should.


UPDATE: Reader Jack posted a comment saying:

Why do intelligent people waste their time and attention discussing anything about David Brooks. Look in the dictionary under either toady or sycophant and you will likely find a picture of Mr. Brooks. As to why he is paid by the NY Times, or any other media company, to regurgitate his gruel? I can only suggest that is easily controlled by those who sign the checks and will produce what he is directed to do so.

I wasn’t sure he was referring to me, since he did specifically reference intelligent people, but I responded nonetheless, explaining:

My intended point wasn’t just about Brooks, or even just about the NYT, Jack. It was about these venerable media companies.  Their finances are really stretched, and they keep sacrificing actual news gathering by relentlessly cutting reportorial and editorial staff.  Yet they keep these big-name pundits under contract, paying them outsized compensation, without giving any apparent thought to whether these people, as individuals, often say anything enlightening or informative.  Mostly, their columns read like Facebook pages.

This isn’t to say that any of these people never has anything insightful or genuinely informative to say.  Thomas Friedman, for example, after years of writing columns that were so clearly just “phoned in” thoughtlessly, became a joke; people started doing hilarious parodies of his columns.  But he’s an actual expert on something important–the Middle East–and his columns on that subject are worth reading because they do provide information and some semblance of insight on that topic, irrespective of whether the actual opinion he advances in one or another column, based on that specialized knowledge, is convincing.

And I do NOT mean to suggest that it is a matter of the age or generation of the columnist.  By far the most important pundit right now is Paul Krugman, because of WHAT he writes, based on his extensive specialized knowledge coupled with his his political leanings. Former Slate writer Tim Noah, who wrote a well-received book called “The Great Divergence,” on the reasons for the rapidly escalating inequality in this country, and to a much lesser extent in Western Europe, detailing his own extensive research for the book, is in his mid-50s.  He was fired recently from the New Republic.  He’s a thoughtful analyst of important socioeconomic issues, and I’d love to see him write periodically for the Times.  He’s unemployed now probably because of his age, yet Brooks and Ron Fournier, both of them baby boomers, have regular gigs and get actual attention–lots of it, apparently–for the truly mindless things they keep saying and saying and saying.

There just doesn’t seem to be any filter through which the people who run these media entities sift what–actually, who–they publish in their oped pages.  It appears to be on autopilot.

I do think the issue of whose political and economic commentary gets fairly widespread attention is important.


Will Obama Ruin the Economy to Ruin the Republicans?

Robert Waldmann notes a decent article defined by a ridiculous title (of course lifted from his musings):

1) Reasonable and reasonably honest conservative list update: Josh Barro is very reasonable and quite honest. But is he still a conservative?  He sure doesn’t always sound like one.

2) About  #1) see an example of the ness monster:
“But the conservative worldview is robust because of its imperviousness to evidence.” which clearly means ”But the conservative worldview is robust because it’s impervious to evidence.”

3) What’s with the Bloomberg Headline person ? The article explains how Conservative’s are insane and might destroy the economy to make their prediction that it will be destroyed if Obama is re-elected true.
“Conservatives are sure that the Obama presidency will lead to an economic calamity, and they will prove it, if necessary.” but the headline suggests that Obama might ruin the economy.

Will Obama Ruin the Economy to Ruin the Republicans?

Did the person who wrote the headline actually read the article ?
 (lightly edited for readability)

Lifted from Robert’s stochastic thoughts on media

Lifted from Robert’s stochastic thoughts on media:

Wish I’d Typed this

Bill Nothstine · Top Commenter · Living Liberally

And, to be fair to Romney [brief interlude while Bill clutches frantically, Strangelove-like, at the hand that just typed those words], if he said it on TV that can be considered at least prima facie evidence that he doesn’t believe a word of it.


Daniel Denvir just hit the jackpot with a real live Atrios link. I assume that he quotes accurately. If so, I think he has chosen an excellent way to build a journalism career(just ask big media Matt, Glenn Greenwald and Jane Hamsher). Also, again assuming accuracy, it would seem to me that Karen Testa, East Region Editor at the AP has chosen an extremely efficient way to destroy one.

“What possible purpose would there be for me to send you this story when you’re trying to cause trouble for how it was written?” said an angry Karen Testa, East Region Editor at the AP. Before hanging up, she added: “That’s a good way to build a journalism career.”

Yep that’s journalism all right, based on the idea that no possible purpose is served by people who cause trouble for powerful organizations.

Yves Smith takes aim at Malcolm Gladwell

Yves Smith has a very long post on Malcolm Gladwell:

Yves here. Yasha Levine and Mark Ames have launched the S.H.A.M.E. Project, which stands for “Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics.” Its approach is to provide information about the background and funding sources of well-recognized journalists and pundits so that the public will be in a better position to recognize bias and hidden agendas in their reporting and analysis. You can find a S.H.A.M.E dossier on Gladwell here

By Yasha Levine, President of S.H.A.M.E., an investigative journalist and a founding editor ofThe eXiled. His work has been published by Wired, The Nation, Slate, The New York Observer and many others. He has made several guest appearances on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan Show.

Malcolm Gladwell is the New Yorker’s leading essayist and bestselling author. Time magazine named Gladwell one of the world’s 100 most influential people. His books sell copies in the millions, and he is in hot demand as one of the nation’s top public intellectual and pop gurus. Gladwell plays his role as a disinterested public intellectual like few others, right down to the frizzy hairdo and smock-y getups. His political aloofness, high-brow contrarianism and constant challenges to “popular wisdom” are all part of his shtick. 

But beneath Malcolm Gladwell’s cleverly-crafted ambiguity, beneath the branded facade, one finds, with surprising ease, a common huckster on the take. I say “surprising ease” because it’s all out there on the public record.

Notes toward A Blog Post on Chrystia Freeland’s Interview of GE CEO Jeff Immelt

UPDATE NOTE: The following isn’t complete. Many of my notes from the latter part of today’s interview can be found on Twitter, hashtagged #Immelt. At the moment, I both (1) don’t have easy access to them and (2) have other things that need to be done. Feel free to look there, and/or mention anything you want discussed here.)

The fake “news” of the day will be Immelt’s disparaging of America and Americans.

The semi-real news of the day will be that Immelt threw President Obama under the bus four or five times before finally saying that he “respects the President and respects the Presidency.” While this is progress from Jack Welch thinking that Buying George W. Bush the office meant that his firm would be exempted from cleaning up the PCBs GE dropped into the Hudson River (it did result in a nine-year delay and the likelihood that taxpayers, not GE, will foot the large majority of the bill), it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the man who gave us the Unforced Error of Simpson-Bowles.

Jeff Immelt, unlike Henry Aaron, believes that Simpson-Bowles is what we need for “growth.”

Jeff Immelt admits that, while the Board of Directors has some input, CEO pay is all about “getting what you believe you deserve.”

Jeff Immelt declares that if unemployment gets back down to 6%, no one will care about his being paid $21.5 million last year (about 40% of which appears to be an increase in his pension benefits; other GE pension contributors haven’t been so fortunate) to continue running GE into the ground to a standstill.

Jeff Immelt says that the US is 25th in math and 26th in science. (He’s wrong on the latter; we’re 17th.) He then spewed some horseshit about the “crisis” of Germans believing that it’s easier to find skilled workers in Mexico than it is in the United States.

Why do I call this horseshit? Well, let’s look at the two countries compared by Immeltian standards (link is PDF):

There are two three possibly-reasonable explanations. Either (1) there are a lot of Stupid Germans or (2) the places where Germans trying to hire are Significant Laggard or “Business Friendly, School Crappy” States.

Oops, or (3) the Germans pwnd Jeff Immelt, who then didn’t check the data.

And that’s without noting that, if you adjust for demographic issues such as poverty or consider racial inequalities, the U.S. is right at the top, no matter what Jeff Immelt says.

Otherwise, mostly, Jeff Immelt lies through his teeth, and Chrystia Freeland—who was tougher on George Soros last year—lets him get away with saying it.

It is left as an exercise whether this is because her boss openly declaring this was going to be a powder-puff interview (“I’m a big fan” of a man who has lost 60% of shareholder value for his investors over the past ten years) or because she decided to let Immelt hang himself. (I know which way I’m betting.)

Bleg – Yesterday’s FT (US PDF)

One advantage the electronic subscribers have over us print people when dealing with The World’s Worst Newspaper Website(TM) is that if they forget to download a holiday (read:not printed in the US) issue, they can access the phosphors without having to deal with The World’s Worst Newspaper Website.

Anyone have a PDF of yesterday’s FT they can email to me??

Hoisted from Comments (thought not here)

UPDATE: D-Squared chimes in, saying in less than 100 words what took me a couple of thousand (though with no quotes):

After the “first hundred days” in the term of a new Democratic President comes the next stage; the almost impreceptible transition among his supporters from saying

“of course, he’s been hampered by all sorts of obstacles to date, but he’s about to start delivering on all those promises he made to his supporters on the left”

to saying

“well, he never really promised anything and it’s terribly naive to think he was ever going to deliver anything to his supporters on the left”

Apparently we’ve reached it.

That’s why he gets the big bucks, folks.

Brad DeLong attempts to attack Matt Taibbi’s facts. Tao Jonesing replies in comments (DeLong starts; Jonesing in bold) :

  1. The financial reform bill that just passed the House is not nearly as strong a bill as the Treasury wanted. The reason is not that Obama and Geithner did not push for a stronger bill, but rather that the members of congress balked at a stronger bill. What financial did Obama and Geithner “push for,” exactly? And don’t point us to speeches. What did they push for, i.e., actually apply the pressure of the bully pulpit? Unless there’s some way to establish that they brought pressure to bear, I think this fact is an opinion.
  2. Citigroup did not receive a $306 billion bailout as the first major act of Obama’s presidency. First, where does the $306 billion number come from? The number I associate with Citigroup is $45 billion of TARP money. Certainly Citigroup would be bust and gone if not for government aid extended to it during George W. Bush’s presidency–aid that Obama endorsed–but it now looks as though Citigroup will pay everything back: that the government will profit from the aid it extended to Citigroup.Clearly, Taibbi is including the backstop in his number, which you realize in 8.*
  3. James P. Rubin is not James S. Rubin.
  4. The James Rubin whom Mike Froman brought in to staff the economic policy search was not Bob Rubin’s son. 3-4. Taibbi admits this error.**
  5. The Obama economic policy inner circle–Tim Geithner, Gene Sperling, Larry Summers, Christie Romer, Peter Orszag–is not “a group of Wall Street bankers.” It is only 5% Wall Street banker–only 1/4 of Larry Summers can possibly count as a Wall Street banker.You misread what Taibbi said, which was that two people in Obama’s economic policy inner circle–Goolsbee and Kornbluh– were replaced with a group of Wall Stret bankers. Taibbi did not say that the all of the inner circle were Wall Street bankers. So, your fifth “fact” is actually a strawman. Perhaps you are focused on the subtitle? I can’t lay the subtitle at his feet because editorial staff make that decision. Note from Ken: Brad is incredibly generous in the case of Geithner, whose dinner plans while at the NY Fed were consistently at the homes of Wall Street bankers, and Summers, whose work since attempting to destroy Harvard’s endowment has been with Goldman, D. E. Shaw, and other paragons of Wall Street. Summers may have worked for years without being on Wall Street, but it has been his primary source of income since his divorce.
  6. Mike Froman staffed the economic policy search. Mike Froman–a very smart and capable man–did not lead the economic policy search. He was not some corrupt Svengali who foisted advisors who would whisper evil in the innocent Obama’s ear. Obama led the economic policy search. Come now, Obama led the search? Really? What did that leadership entail, delegating the day-to-day responsibilities to somebody else? Froman, maybe? Since you seem to know, what did Froman actually do? And Taibbi never said or implied Froman was a corrupt evil Svengali. His point was that Froman was a Citi insider. Overall, this fact seems more like opinion.
  7. Austan Goolsbee’s absence from the transition staff was not notable. Austan Goolsbee does have a senior subcabinet appointment. And Austan Goolsbee is not a voice on the economic left–this is the man who told the Canadians not to take Barack Obama’s claims that he wanted to renegotiate NAFTA seriously. I don’t know the story of Karen Kornbluh.Your opinion of Goolsbee’s departure is an opinion, not a fact. I don’t know whose opinion is correct, although I’d bet on yours.
  8. Ah. Taibbi says: “the government also agrees to charge taxpayers for up to $277 billion in losses on troubled Citi assets.” First of all, $277 + $45 = $322, not $306. But a guarantee is not money at risk and money at risk is not money lost. As I said, it looks like the government is going to make money off of its support of Citi. (Albeit not off its support of AIG.) Clearly, Taibbi is including the backstop in his number, which you realize in 8. Note from Ken: This is, by the way, bullshit, since it’s actually another example of the Rubinesque “contracts are only valid if they favor Wall Street firms.” What is being counted as “profits” are deeply-discounted equity options that have value because of the mass amount of subsidization and drug money that has gone into the banking system without in the least being passed on to the consumer who is footing the bill.
  9. Tim Geithner was not hired as Treasury Secretary by Mike Froman. Tim Geithner was hired as Treasury Secretary by Barack Obama. You are correct that Obama hired Geithner. Nobody else could have, at least in the end. But who proposed Geithner? And what weight did Obama give the opinion of the people who proposed him? Did Obama just rubber stamp the recommendation after meeting Geithner? Who else was on the list? While there’s no doubt that Taibbi was making a lot of assumptions about Froman’s role and level of influence to jump to the obviously false conclusion that Froman hired Geithner, the fact that the conclusion was obviously false does not detract from ugly optics that Taibbi was attempting to magnify.
  10. According to CBO, the ARRA so far is not worth 640,000 extra jobs as of September 2009 but rather 1.1 million plus or minus 500,000–and that number will grow.You got your number from the CBO, but Taibbi says he got his number from the White House. There is a website managed by an executive branch agency that proclaims the 640,329 job number used by Taibbi.

So that scores as 5 (or 6, since I’m inclined to count [2] in the Taibbi column) to 3 (3, 4, and arguably 7) against DeLong, with (8) called a draw (I would give it to Taibbi—the guarantee covers $306B in “assets” without cherry-picking, so potential buyers are seeing “support”-level offers for the entire $306B. But there is a specific issue in using the $306B number, and Dr. DeLong correctly notes that the actual backstopping was greater than Taibbi reports. Whether this makes his interpretation here preferable is left as an exercise.)

Hint for the future: if you’re going to claim you’ve got fifty corrections, lead with your ten best.

*From the comments later, Our Own Rusty lays out the details:

Wall Street Journal 11/24/2008…Under the plan, Citigroup and the government have identified a pool of about $306 billion in troubled assets. Citigroup will absorb the first $29 billion in losses in that portfolio. After that, three government agencies — the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — will take on any additional losses, though Citigroup could have to share a small portion of additional losses…In addition, the Treasury Department also will inject $20 billion of fresh capital into Citigroup. That comes on top of the $25 billion infusion.

So it didn’t happen during Obama’s presidency, but it did happen post-election, and during the time that the Obama Administration was—by its own declarations—actively holding discussions with the parties.