Three months after the networks, led by ABC’s Jonathan Karl, derided Senator Jim Bunning for daring to hold up an “emergency” spending bill which circumvented the “pay as you go” rules, as Karl made a fool of himself chasing the elderly Senator into elevators to cajole him to give in, on Monday’s World News Karl had the chutzpah to scold Congress for approving “emergency” spending which doesn’t have to follow those very same “pay-go” rules.
“Congress is on its holiday break this week,” fill-in anchor George Stephanopoulos announced, “but there is no break in the steady increase in the national debt, now up to an astounding $13 trillion.” Stephanopoulos promised that in “watching out for your money, Jonathan Karl found some of the culprits” – though neither cited the news media’s role in incessantly pushing for more spending.
Without displaying any self-awareness of his own hypocrisy, Karl listed some of “the ‘emergency’ bills Congress has taken up over the past few months,” including “$20 billion for highway construction.” Yet back in early March, Karl fretted: “Bunning is also blocking money for highway construction. So across the country today, 41 construction projects ground to a halt, thousands of workers furloughed without pay.”
For the second year in a row, a state official has proposed eliminating the former Golden State's "welfare-to-work" program, which the rest of us know as "welfare," or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Last year, it was left to a spokesman for the state's Department of Finance to bring out the idea. This year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fronted it himself.
As has been the case for the almost four years I've been following the situation, the press once again universally failed to provide anything resembling context. If it did, people would understand that this is a story about a decade-long shocking level of theoretically well-intentioned waste (the cynical observation would be that the good intentions are tempered by the likelihood that dependent voters are overwhelmingly Democratic voters).
The as up to date as possible context (through September 30 of last year for recipients and families, the latest available government data; some estimation was required because certain data fields are blank) is this:
The comparison of the results contained in the April 2010 Monthly Treasury Statement released this afternoon to April of last year is bad enough. But if the American people knew that April 2010 came in about a quarter-trillion dollars worse than both 2007 and 2008 with almost 40% less in tax collections, most of them would be appalled. Many more than are already doing so would be questioning what in the heck this administration and Congress are up to.
That's why you probably won't see establishment media outlets like the Associated Press go back more than one year in their detailed comparisons, even though during the presidency of George W. Bush, writers like the AP's Martin Crutsinger and others frequently went back to fiscal 2000 and 2001 to remind readers of the surpluses that occurred during those fiscal years. The intent, of course, was to imply that things were just peachy keen under Bill Clinton until the eeeeevil Bush ruined everything. As noted later, that ain't so.
Here is the AP's Crutsinger on today's Treasury Statement, blissfully pretending, with the exception of one cryptic reference, that the two high-collection Bush years neeeeeeeever happened:
It doesn't seem like this exercise should be that tough.
The government issues Daily Treasury Statements telling everybody what went in and out on a given business day. At the end of the month, the last Daily Treasury Statement has a record (admittedly jumbled and larded with lots of bureaucratic excess) of all receipts and disbursements for the month.
The folks at the Congressional Budget Office look over the final Daily Treasury Statement and estimate what the totals for receipts and disbursements (or "outlays") will be. The difference, obviously, is their estimate of the month's reported deficit. The only remaining items should be error corrections (if any), or accounting entries resulting from the government's ill-advised choice to account for "investments" in banks, car companies, and other entities on a "net present value" basis.
On the eighth business day of the following month, the Treasury Department releases its Monthly Treasury Statement.
On Friday, the CBO estimated that the April's deficit would be $85 billion. The press (as covered at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog) virtually ignored its report. That's bad enough, but when reporters went out to economists for deficit estimates, their predictions were significantly lower. For starters, here's what the Associated Press carried this morning:
Talking with CNBC's Jim Cramer on the May 6 "Hardball" about the Greek fiscal crisis, everyone's favorite MSNBCer blamed "right-wing" dictators from the Cold War era for financial troubles in Greece, Portugal, and Spain [MP3 audio available here]:
I'm a political guy, you're a money guy. Let's crosswalk this thing. It seems to me that you and I grew up with the fact there were dictatorships in Europe. They were in the Iberian peninsula and in Greece. You had Franco, who overstayed the Second World War a bit, by about two generations. You had Salazar in Portugal, and of course you had the Greek colonels.
The right-wing governments in Europe seem to be the ones that are most precarious right now: Greece, Portugal, Spain.
What's the connection? Is this a complete coincidence, or is it old-line right-wing politics that never quite stabilized into serious social democratic countries? What happened?
Most economists are not susceptible to partisanship in their work, a new scholarly study finds. But anyone who reads Paul Krugman's columns in the New York Times will hardly be surprised to learn he is a glaring exception to the study's findings.
He consistently changes his fiscal views depending on the party in power.
"Krugman has changed his tune in a significant way regarding the budget deficit when the White House has changed party," found Brett Barkley, an economics student at George Mason University. The study, published in Econ Journal Watch, a peer reviewed journal, examined statements from 17 economists from 1981 through 2009, and gauged the consistency of their stances on deficit spending and reduction during Republican and Democratic administrations.
According to the study, Krugman was the only economist of the 17 to "significantly" change his stance on the federal budget deficit for partisan reasons.
If a genuine, sustained economic recovery is truly underway, why can't the government show us the money? This would appear to be a question the establishment press has no interest in answering.
As seen in the graphic at the right (HT to an e-mailer), when the government's Monthly Treasury Statement is released next Wednesday, the anticipation is that it will show an April deficit of $85 billion. That estimate comes from the Congressional Budget Office, which released its Monthly Budget Review yesterday.
The government almost always runs an April surplus because it's the biggest month for tax collections. Individual filers have to settle up what's left of their previous year's liabilities with Uncle Sam on April 15, and the first installments of current-year individual and corporate estimated taxes are also due.
But as seen in the chart that follows, April receipts have cratered during the past two years by stunning amounts compared to April 2007 and 2008. The April 2010 plunge continues a nearly unbroken trend of year-over-year declines in monthly receipts going back almost two years:
The Pentagon rescinded the invitation of evangelist Franklin Graham to speak at its May 6 National Day of Prayer event because of complaints about his previous comments about Islam.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation expressed its concern over Graham's involvement with the event in an April 19 letter sent to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. MRFF's complaint about Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, focused on remarks he made after 9/11 in which he called Islam "wicked" and "evil" and his lack of apology for those words.
Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, told ABC News on April 22, "This Army honors all faiths and tries to inculcate our soldiers and work force with an appreciation of all faiths and his past comments just were not appropriate for this venue."
The media is still having trouble understanding the Tea Party movement and what it is protesting, even though its roots are clear.
On Feb. 19, 2009 during CNBC's "Squawk Box," Rick Santelli made his famous rant heard around the world, calling for a so-called tea party-style revolt. And that helped fuel the growth of a Tea Party movement that has resulted in more than 600 protests this April 15, 2010.
Santelli's call for protest wasn't about high taxes. Instead, it was a cry against the Obama administration's plan for a taxpayer-funded mortgage bailout. The very beginning of the tea parties was about bailouts and the growth of government.
But the Associated Press still seemed to miss the point about worries over an overspending government in an April 15 article by Calvin Woodward about the Tea Party rallies. In that report, Woodward defended Obama's tax policies.
"Lost in the rhetoric was that taxes have gone down under Obama," Woodward wrote. "Congress has cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion, leaving Americans with a lighter load despite nearly $29 billion in increases by states. Obama plans to increase taxes on the wealthy to help pay for his health care overhaul and other programs."
On Wednesday's CBS Early Show, fill-in news reader Betty Nguyen reported on President Obama's new plan to cut back America's space program, but failed to mention sharp criticism by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Eugene Cernan in a signed letter sent to the White House.
Nguyen noted: "President Obama unveils a revamped plan for America's manned space program....reviving part of a plan he canceled earlier this year. NASA will begin development of a crew capsule called Orion....[it] won't go to the moon, but will be used as an emergency vehicle on the space station."
In contrast, on ABC's Good Morning America, anchor Juju Chang began a news brief on the same topic this way: "President Obama under fire, accused by the first man to set foot on the moon of leading the U.S. space program down a path of, quote, 'mediocrity.'" Correspondent Jake Tapper followed: "Armstrong and two other former astronauts wrote that it was a terrible decision. They called it 'a misguided proposal that forces NASA out of the human space operations for the foreseeable future.'"
NBC's Today also covered the criticism, as anchor Natalie Morales explained how: "three Apollo astronauts call the changes devastating. In a letter, Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Eugene Cernan write, 'The President's plan destines our nation to become one of second, or even third-rate stature.'"
Last May, I wrote a column called "The Federal Deficit Becomes Nearly Indecipherable," pointing to a mid-fiscal year policy shift in how the government handles the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other bailout efforts:
What Treasury did in April (2009) was to convert the TARP “investments” it began making in October in the country’s financial institutions, General Motors, Chrysler, and who knows what else to NPV (Net Present Value) accounting.
Mixing hundreds of billions of dollars of NPV into what has essentially been a cash flow report turns the Monthly Treasury Statement, and deficit reporting in general, into an exercise that will become not only become ever more difficult to comprehend, but one that will also be routinely subject to political manipulation.
One such political manipulation occurred in the March 2010 Monthly Treasury Statement that was released on Monday, and it involved NPV accounting (to be explained in a bit). While the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger dutifully noted its existence, he deceptively described its meaning in his report's opening sentence, and in doing so played along with that manipulation (bold is mine):
And now a liberal group called Campaign for America's Future (CAF) is attacking CNN for planning to air a documentary called "I.O.U.S.A.: Solutions," suggesting the network is "fanning the flames of deficit hysteria." The group's co-director Roger Hickey is demanding CNN impose a "Fairness Doctrine" on itself.
"This weekend, CNN is giving four hours of free airtime to the leading propagandist fanning the flames of deficit hysteria, Pete Peterson, along with his lackeys," Hickey wrote in an e-mail sent to supporters and also posted on the Huffington Post. "[A]nd if they do go ahead with this programming, tell them to provide balance to Pete Peterson's deficit hysteria. Give equal time to defenders of Social Security, Medicare and public investment."
New York Times columnist Charles Blow and MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle traded liberal talking points like Topps baseball cards on today’s “Morning Joe.” Confident the American people care more about eliminating preexisting conditions and expanding health insurance entitlements than the $569.2 billion tax increase and the $1.2 trillion price tag, the journalists failed to substantiate their claims with anything more than their liberal impulses.
“Most people want what they have in this bill or more,” insisted Blow. “We cannot let Republicans take over that talking point, which is that most people don’t want this bill somehow because it is too liberal. That’s just a lie. That is just a lie.”
Really? The American people don’t think the largest tax increase in American history is too liberal? The American people don’t think an unprecedented expansion of government control in the health insurance industry is too liberal? Blow’s failure to back up his assertion renders it laughable.
“Democrats used the word 'giddy' to describe their reaction when they got the cost estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO),” NBC's Kelly O'Donnell relayed Thursday night, but she could have been talking about CBS's Katie Couric and Nancy Cordes who shared the giddiness in touting the CBO numbers, favorable to Democratic spin on the health bill, without any caveats or reservations -- yet with a dose of exaggeration.
“The price tag certified,” Couric trumpeted in teasing the CBS Evening News before leading with how the CBO “put out a report that may help win over some Democrats,” reciting: “It says the plan, which would cost $940 billion over 10 years, would reduce the deficit over that same period by $138 billion.” She then cited a claim CBO didn't make: “It would cut the deficit over 20 years by more than $1 trillion.”
Cordes pegged $1.3 trillion as “the amount by which the final health care bill would reduce the deficit over the next 20 years,” bucking up the CBO's credibility: “That's according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which is trusted by both parties as the authority on budget matters.”
In David Leonhardt's latest "Economic Scene" column for the New York Times, "The Perils Of Pay Less, Get More," he reestablished his reputation as the paper's neo-liberal economic voice, admitting that at a certain point taxes hurt economic growth, but also urging Obama to break his pledge and raise taxes on everyone, not just people making over $250,000 a year, in order to cut the deficit.
Leonhardt has certainly changed his mind about Obama's tax pledge. In a huge August 2008 story for the New York Times Magazine, Leonhardt actually promoted Obama's popular campaign promise to reduce taxes for those making under $250,000, in the name of addressing "inequality":
Obama's agenda starts not with raising taxes to reduce the deficit, as Clinton's ended up doing, but with changing the tax code so that families making more than $250,000 a year pay more taxes and nearly everyone else pays less. That would begin to address inequality.
The Associated Press's timing couldn't have been better for those who still want to pretend that Social Security is really not in serious trouble. Stephen Ohlemacher's item ("Social Security to start cashing Uncle Sam's IOUs") originally appeared on Sunday, in the midst of most of the major college basketball conference tournament championships, then followed by the evening's announcement of the selections for the NCAA Division I Men's basketball tournament. (The AP has issued minor revisions several times since its original appearance, up to and including today.)
The wire service's timing, while convenient for the Washington establishment, as it minimizes the possibility of distractions from its statist health care obsession, couldn't have been worse for those of us who wish the American people would get a grip on the gravity of the situation -- which is why I saved this post for today.
What is about to occur is the event that as little as a year ago, according to the Social Security Trustees' 2009 Report, wasn't expected to arrive until 2016. Ohlemacher tells us that it's right here, right now, and gets the reporting right until his seventh paragraph (bolds are mine):
Here's how Post staffers Rosalind Helderman and Fredrick Kunkle launched into their lament of the pending budget cutbacks:
RICHMOND -- Virginia will do less for its residents, and expect local governments and private charities to do more, under a new state budget likely to have an impact for years to come.
With Virginia facing what lawmakers say is the grimmest financial picture in memory, the House of Delegates and Senate adopted budgets last week that would shrink general spending to about $15 billion, or no more than was spent four years ago. In other words, Virginia would spend about the same amount on services as it did when there were 100,000 fewer residents and many fewer were in economic distress.
What followed was a typical laundry list of scenarios the writers insisted "could" happen, including "[c]riminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney appear[ing] in court without one." Of course, seeing as the Constitution requires that indigent defendants be provided a public defender, it's quite odd for the Post to conclude any judge "could" let a trial proceed with a defendant unrepresented for lack of counsel. At any rate, National Review's Kevin Williamson has an excellent takedown of the article and its numerous liberal assumptions, which I've excerpted below (emphases mine):
When a political editor declares that U.S. Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky) makes "even former Vice President Dick Cheney seem warm and fuzzy," you know that the mainstream media are reaching for the long knives. Associate editor of The Hill A.B. Stoddard wrote in yesterday's "Bunning’s gift to Dems:"
Bunning’s blowup was indeed a gift to bewildered Democrats on more than one level. It portrayed Republicans as obstructionists, showed Republicans dissing the unemployed, gave the GOP the face of a mean old white guy that made even former Vice President Dick Cheney seem warm and fuzzy, illustrated how hamstrung Democrats are in trying to pass legislation within the confines of Senate rules, made fellow home-state senator and former friend Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) squirm and distracted from the plans Democrats have to pass healthcare reform with the reconciliation procedure, as well as from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) stepping down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee amid ethical troubles. Let’s call that a six-fer.
Beyond that, it appears that no establishment media outlet has raised a few self-evident points made in a Wednesday Wall Street Journal editorial, proving yet again that the paper's editorials are as much a real news source as they are a rundown of the editorialists' particular take on things.
The critical points of the editorial (link may require subscription, and will probably not be available in a few weeks) are these:
Bunning was trying to do in practice what Nancy and Pelosi, Harry Reid and President Obama are fond of only talking about (Clay Waters also made this point in one of those NewsBusters posts).
The outrage is the result of substance-free political gamesmanship.
(Tea Partiers take note) Many of Bunning's fellow party members headed for the tall grass when the media heat commenced.
What follows are the Journal excerpts that make those points (bolds are mine):
Congressional reporter Carl Hulse took the Democrats' side in a running controversy over federal spending involving Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Until Tuesday night Bunning, a Republican not running for releection, had flummoxed and angered the Democrat majority (and the media) by employing a legislative tactic to block a new spending bill that would have extended funding on a variety of fronts, including unemployment benefits.
Instead, Bunning insisted the spending first be paid for by other spending cuts and that to pass the bill as is would violate legislation passed by the Democratic majority a month ago known as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO).
Hulse, who usually sides with Democrats in such tactical battles, quickly got off-Trek in his Sunday coverage:
In the original "Star Trek" series, a popular episode centered on two planets that fought a bloodless war through computer simulation but then delivered real casualties. The partisan conflict in the Senate has been waged in a similar fashion.
While the legislative toll has been high, the struggle has been conducted in a genteel, decorous manner. Senators routinely initiate filibusters, lodge objections to votes and impose "holds" on White House nominees and then go about their business as they await make-or-break procedural votes.
Now things are threatening to get a little messier. Incensed over a decision by Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, to stand between jobless Americans and extended unemployment benefits, a group of Democrats took to the floor in a late-night session Thursday to hold Mr. Bunning's feet to the political fire.
On Wednesday's CBS Early Show, Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer ranted against Republican Senator Jim Bunning's opposition to a spending bill: "it's unconscionable what has happened here....this is about politics. It is not – it was not about anything of substance." [Audio available here]
Co-host Maggie Rodriguez began the segment by explaining that Bunning had stopped blocking the legislation and asked Schieffer: "Isn't this just another example of why it takes so long to get things done in Congress?" Schieffer agreed, claiming: "it's another example...of why there is so much anger and disillusionment out in the country about Congress."
Schieffer went on to dismiss the Kentucky Senator's concerns over the rising deficit: "[He] claimed he was doing this because he was trying to get the Senate to go along with the Republican principle and that is pay things...before they approve them but this was emergency legislation." In reality, Democrats, not Republicans, just passed pay-as-you-go legislation last week, mandating that all new spending being paid for before passage. As for the "emergency" nature of the bill, on Tuesday's Early Show, CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid claimed it was simply "routine legislation."
The deficit for last year was 1.4 trillion dollars. The deficit rose as a share of the gross domestic product from 3.1 percent in 2008 to 9.9 percent in 2009, the highest deficit as a share of GDP since 1945. The projected deficit for the fiscal year that ends in September is another $1.3 trillion.
So much for all that fiscal sanity blather from Team Obama in ‘08. How dishonest. Even worse, there’s a good reason to stay pessimistic about deficits as far as the eye can see. It’s called the "news" media.
Legislators who want to get re-elected will clearly want to avoid any spending decision that will create bad national publicity, and our news media, the manufacturers of bad national publicity, will send crying victims down the assembly line at the slightest thought of a social spending cut or freeze.
For the second straight night, ABC's World News scolded Senator Jim Bunning for daring to block a $10 billion spending bill until it is offset by cuts elsewhere, parading out victims as Diane Sawyer and Jonathan Karl painted him as a nuisance “even fellow Republicans” – that would be a liberal one – oppose. (After the EST broadcast, news broke that Bunning has agreed to some sort of deal.)
Sawyer thundered in teasing her top story: “Tonight on World News, the 'Politics of No.' For the second straight day, one Senator stymies Congress, unemployed Americans struggle and we track that Senator down again.” Sawyer led:
Good evening. Even his fellow Republicans have asked him to stop, but Republican Senator Jim Bunning still has Congress under blockade. For another day, he's kept thousands of unemployed workers from getting their benefits and forced some highway construction projects to stop.
Karl treated the Senator as a child (“Jim Bunning was at it again today”) before he showcased an “unemployed microbiologist in Texas” who, Karl ludicrously relayed -- just two weekdays after unemployment benefits were stopped -- “says no unemployment check will mean she will have to move out of her house” while “Bret Ingersoll of Denver is an unemployed forklift operator, who has already lost his apartment.” So, “today even fellow Republicans were asking Senator Bunning to relent.” That would be Maine's Susan Collins.
Just days after Rick Sanchez and his producer asked for "hardship stories" online, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 program on Tuesday looked for people who have lost their unemployment benefits due to Republican Senator Jim Bunning's opposition to a $10 billion emergency measure which would have extended benefits.
The unsigned entry on the AC360 blog, which was posted on Tuesday afternoon, first recapped how Democrats attacked Bunning for blocking the unanimous consent of the measure. In the last sentence of the entry, the unnamed author asked readers of CNN.com to reply for their sob stories:
Reporting on Republican Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning blocking spending legislation over deficit concerns at the top of Tuesday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith proclaimed: "Congressional quagmire. Democrats blame one Republican senator for preventing thousands of federal workers from working."
In a later report, White House correspondent Chip Reid continued to assail Bunning: "The White House is pointing its finger at a single Republican senator who they say is standing in the way of federal aid for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans....he is single-handedly holding up a routine piece of legislation." Rather than address Bunning's spending concerns, Reid declared: "Because of his objection, 2,000 federal transportation workers had to be furloughed without pay. 400,000 Americans risk losing their unemployment benefits over the next seven to ten days. And Medicare fees for doctors suddenly slashed by 21%."
Reid briefly noted: "Bunning wants the Democrats to come up with a way to pay the $10 billion price tag." A couple clips were played of the Kentucky Senator voicing his opposition: "And I'm going to object every time because you won't pay for this....We cannot keep adding to the debt."
A retiring Senator not facing re-election stood up last week for principle, insisting new federal spending be covered by a matching reduction elsewhere, but instead of hailing Senator Jim Bunning as a “maverick” making sure the ruling party adheres to its promise new spending will be “paid for,” television network journalists on Monday night painted him as an ogre, focusing on the presumed victims of delayed spending.
Teasing World News, ABC anchor Diane Sawyer stressed how he’s “denying” people unemployment benefits so ABC decided to “confront” him: “One man's stand. A single Senator stops the whole Congress, denying thousands of people unemployment benefits. We confront him to ask why.” Sawyer framed the story around how Bunning is blocking “life support for the unemployed.”
Reporter Jon Karl concentrated on victims as he played video of himself confronting Bunning by an elevator: “We wanted to ask the Senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 340,000 Americas, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas who has been out of work for two years.” That’s not all: “Bunning is also blocking money for highway construction. So across the country today, 41 construction projects ground to a halt, thousands of workers furloughed without pay.”
Yesterday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted Fannie Mae's $72 billion loss announcement and the ward of the state's simultaneous $15.3 billion handout request.
Late Friday was also the occasion for the release by the Treasury Department of the "2009 Financial Report of the United States Government." The report shows how seriously the government's financial situation deteriorated during the fiscal year that ended September 30. The coverage of the report prepared by the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger demonstrated how weak the press's communication of that seriousness is.
After presenting the first several paragraphs of Crutsinger's composition for the purpose of providing the basic facts, I'll concentrate on the AP writer's three worst paragraphs that followed (there is also a summary table from the report at the end of this post):