Category Archives: media

A Thought For the Day from Edward R. Murrow

Murrow QuoteEnough said.

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Mountains and Mole Hills

Mountain MolehillOne of the more unpleasant aspects of today’s media offerings is the tendency to confuse mountains and molehills.  No disrespect to all those diligent moles out there assiduously plying their turf disrupting trade, but when Everything Is A Crisis! perspective is the first casualty.

Mountain:  We have an immigration policy in place which doesn’t work for us.  There are two bills addressing this issue, S. 744 which passed the Senate and H.R. 15 which languishes in the House while the TeaParty/GOP leadership decides which they’d prefer to tick off — their corporate backers or the xenophobic right wing.    Representative Amodei (R-NV2) thinks he could support Rep. Eric Cantor’s “Kids Act” and he provides a summary of the issue on his webpage, but his statements on comprehensive immigration policy reform remain fuzzy.  Where Representative Heck (R-NV3)  stands is a bit more clear, given his statement on October 25th:

“I have spent countless hours meeting with community members and addressing town hall meetings on the topic of immigration reform. There is no doubt in my mind that reforming our immigration system is right and necessary and I remain committed to enacting real solutions that will fix our current broken system. I will continue to urge the House leadership to move forward on immigration reform with all possible haste.”

While he’s “urging leadership to move forward,” the question remains — toward what?  A piecemeal enactment of immigration policies which serve only to protract the issues, and may never arrive at a complete picture — or — legislation like S. 744 or H.R. 15?

Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV1) drilled down to one of the major issues in the piecemeal approach to immigration policy reform:  What of women who work in the service sector?

“Comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the fact that many immigrant women work at home or in the informal economy.  If, for example, eligibility for the path to citizenship requires proof of employment, providing paystubs cannot be the only acceptable proof or we risk leaving millions of women behind.  Approximately 74 percent of undocumented domestic workers do not receive documentation of their pay from an employer.  Thankfully, H.R. 15, the bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced in the House, addresses this issue by allowing flexible forms of proof of employment. It is critical that we incorporate this thoughtful approach into any immigration reform bill considered by the House.”

Meanwhile, the mountain remains, impervious to rational debate and reasonable action.

Mole Hill:   Those who have purchased individual health insurance plans constitute about 5% of the population. [UI]  This translates to a maximum of 16,500,000 individuals out of a total 330,000,000; if we count every single person large or small, young or old.  The actual percentage is probably closer to 14.3 million individuals. [UI pdf]  Some of these people bought JUNK.  In a search for low premiums they purchased policies that didn’t cover much, if anything, or bought policies the coverage terms of which were so confusing that the insurance corporation was able to deny compensation for even basic treatment options.   The infamous Barrette Case is a classic example of a JUNK policy.   Forbes magazine estimates that about  4 million Americans were sold some 1,200 of these junk policies.

Thus, it should be fairly easy for the press to find some individual examples for popular consumption of these Outraged Individuals who want to keep the cheap junk they purchased, out of a category of 4 million.   Therefore, the media cry “there are millions of Americans affected by this ‘mistake’” is technically accurate but ultimately misleading.   Some broadcasters have jumped on the “Crisis” bandwagon, only to have their stellar examples debunked within hours.  You can tell when the mole hill is being magnified into a mountain IF (1) the report doesn’t compare the junk policy to the coverage available in the health insurance exchanges, (2) if the report doesn’t take into consideration the subsidies available to assist the policy holder pay for the premiums, and (3) if the report relies on individual examples to generate conclusions for which there is no other substantiation.

Mountain:  Speaking of health issues — 32,163 Americans died as a result of gun fire in 2011.  6,220 died as a result of a homicide. 19,766 individuals used a gun to commit suicide.  [GP]  73,883 Americans were injured by gun fire.  432 Americans died in gun related accidents. [GP]  By contrast, in 2011 there were 9,878 fatal automobile accidents in which there was a driver with a BAC level above 0.08 or even higher.  [NRD pdf]  We are coming perilously close to the point at which the number of gun deaths equals or surpasses the number of automobile deaths.  According to figures released by the CDC 33,687 Americans died in auto accidents, 31,672 died as a result of gun violence.  We do something about drunk drivers.  We restrict the licenses of some drivers. We have yet to address the issues related to the easy access to firearms in this country.

When Gallup polled Americans about controlling gun sales in the U.S. during the week of October 3-6, 2013 some 49% favored more stringent controls, 13% thought restrictions should be eased, and 37% called for controls to be kept the same.  A September poll by Quinnipiac University found 89% of Americans supportive of legislation to require universal background checks.  These numbers aside, on September 17th Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced he didn’t have enough support to reintroduce the background check bill in the Senate. [TheHill]

Mole Hill: I’m really pleased that there are at least seven retailers who will give their employees a break for celebrating Thanksgiving with their families.  [TP]   That said — when wages for American workers have stagnated for the past decade [EPI], when there are about 10% of our young veterans  still looking for work while the programs to help them are shrinking [CNN], and when the unemployment rate for Whites 6.3% while the unemployment rate for Blacks stands at 13.1% we have a problem far larger than whether or not people go home for Thanksgiving.

Mountain:  Did anyone read the IPCC climate report?   Did anyone delve into Chapter 12, wherein the commission discussed climate change implications for pattern scaling, temperatures and energy budgets, atmospheric circulation, the water cycle, the cryosphere, our oceans, and carbon cycle feedback?  [IPCC pdf] One newspaper noted that the report made the climate change deniers overheat.  Too many media outlets were engaged in sowing seeds of doubt about the report’s content and all but ignoring the conclusions and commentary contained therein.

Mole Hill:  There were 48 bills in the 113th Congress related to the abortion issue. [GovTrack]  There’s Sen. Rand Paul’s S.583 Personhood Bill, H.R. 2300 from Rep. Tom Price to “empower patients” (not), Rep. Trent Frank’s H.R. 1797 “pain” bill, and his H.R. 447 PRENDA, Rep. Jim Jordan introduced H.R. 1091, life begins at conception act, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile back in the world of reality — the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age has declined from a high of 29.3 in 1981 to 19.6 in 2008. [Guttmacher]

A Suggestion

Could we start talking about the mountains, and minimize our time spent in elaborate and protracted debates about mole hills?

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Filed under abortion, Amodei, anti-immigration, ecology, Gun Issues, Health Care, health insurance, Heck, media

The Perils of Hyperbole

Hyperbole Sign

Hy-per-bol-e (n) A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect. [FD]

Hyperbole is handy in conversation and public speaking, I can tell you that I am so tired I could sleep for a week.  Well, no I can’t really do that, but you’ll get the message and I don’t have to tell you how much or how little sleep I’ve had in the past 48 hours.  I can offer an opinion that you packed too many clothes for a week’s vacation by saying this suitcase weighs a ton.  OK, it doesn’t…it’s just inconveniently heavy.  Hyperbole can be a useful shorthand, but it should come with some cautionary stickers attached.

Hyperbole can distort conversation and discussion.   Suppose our hypothetical Senator Sludgepump has voted to eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, to abolish the Federal Reserve, to allow 10 year old children to work in coal mines, and to let the FBI investigate the records of public libraries.  This record isn’t going to endear him to me.  However, if I were to describe him as The Worst Congressman  Since Preston Brooks does my hyperbole obfuscate my more serious point — that a person who supports egregious labor practices and encourages the endangerment of personal privacy isn’t someone I would recommend, and that his philosophy is detrimental to good governance?  It does, especially  if we start comparing Sludgepump to Brooks, or to Harding’s Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and lose sight of the policy issues involved. * See some excellent nominees in the comments section!

Hyperbole tends to dramatize issues beyond their rational level of importance.   Conservatives are beginning to suffer some ridicule for their espousal of the notion that the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi is a huge issue.  [RMM audio] One of the obvious problems with hyperbole in political discussion is that as in the situation above, comparisons are required, and even if the conversation doesn’t get bogged down in comparative issues of little utility we still have to slog through historical references and evaluations which may (and often may not) have much historical relevance.  Was the attack one of the worst incidents I can recall? (former vice president Cheney)

The next logical step would be to find out what other items might be contained on that Worst Ever list?  Again, instead of discussing the issues related to diplomatic security, the conversation is shifted to comparative analyses of attacks on U.S. missions in the modern era. [List since 1958]

Hyperbole imposes the use of inappropriate superlatives.  Rhetorical shorthand which distorts or dramatizes issues and events nearly always relies on terms like Best, Worst, Greatest, Most, etc.  No, the Affordable Care Act probably isn’t the best law ever enacted, nor is it likely the worst.  Superlatives ought to send up flags that what we are hearing is someone’s opinion.   If something surpasses or is alleged to be superior to all other items in a category of things, we are in opinion territory.   A person may hold that the Supreme Court decision in Marbury v. Madison was among the best ever rendered by that institution, others have argued that it significantly altered the course of U.S. history, and not in a good way.  Opinion should be noticed for what it is — opinion, not necessarily demonstrable fact.

Hyperbole may be useful for directing attention, but not for responsible discourse.   Hyperbole makes an excellent tease for cable news outlets, especially those seeking to prevent viewers from channel surfing during commercial breaks.  “Will Senator Sludgepump lose his seat??” teases the broadcaster, “stay tuned for our next segment…”  The next segment all too often pulls the curtain up revealing the hyperbole.  Sludgepump, it is revealed, has no credible opposition, holds a 52% favorable rating in his state, and has the backing of key donors.

Hyperbole also makes for some “high” drama during the Dueling Political Strategists’ segment of most cable offerings.  “The Dog Food  Ingredient Bill is the worst form of government over-reach imaginable,” squeals one of the participants. Meanwhile the opponent is eye-rolling and over-talking, repeating the mantra “But think of the valued family pets and distraught children…”  Neither one in this hypothetical is making much sense.

Would not a better format be to discuss how much information is needed by consumers in order to make judicious selections at the supermarket?  Must all ingredients be specified, or should consumers merely be informed of all ingredients?  Should some potentially dangerous ingredients be banned?  Should some ingredients be preferred over others?  Consumers might find this discussion more informative than a debate about whether Senator Sludgepump will face backlash at the polls over his support of or opposition to the Dog Food Ingredients Bill.  There’s at least one more reason to be careful with hyperbole.

There are people who will believe hyperbole in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  A young man walked into a terminal at LAX last week, with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15, caliber .556 purchased in Van Nuys.   He used it to shoot TSA employees:

“The gunman was carrying a signed, handwritten note in his duffel bag that said he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds,” said David Bowdich, special agent in charge of the Counterterrorism Division in the FBI‘s Los Angeles office.

“His intent was very clear in his note,” Bowdich told reporters Saturday. “In that note he indicated his anger and his malice toward the TSA officers.” [LAT]

Relatives weren’t sure where he got the ideas.  I think we can make some intelligent conjectures, most of which will have something to do with right wing hyperbole.  Unfortunately, they might also connect to the hyperbole that drove Timothy McVeigh, Anders Behring Breivik, James Adkisson, Richard Poplawski, and James W. von Brunn to assault their fellow human beings.

Hyperbole is a rhetorical device, our responsibility is to exercise enough restraint so that it doesn’t inform the actions of those who decide to transform rhetoric into horrific reality.

Updated: with corrections on 11/07/13

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Keeping Score When It’s Not A Game

Horse Race GateCongress isn’t the only Washington, D.C. institution that’s off the rails, add the Beltway Media to the mix.  Consider the coverage of the face off over Syrian weapons:

“So far, no American bombs have been dropped on Syria, not one American soldier has died in fighting there, and no Syrian civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. But that hasn’t stopped the chattering class from eviscerating Obama, often with a mocking and condescending tone. Deeply invested in the Obama’s-stumbling storyline that was attached to the president’s initial call for bombing strikes, pundits and reporters failed (or refused) to adjust as the facts shifted and the crisis steered toward a diplomatic resolution.

The Syria coverage represents a clear case of the press adopting style over substance, as well as channeling Republican spin. Of treating foreign policy as if it were a domestic political campaign and insisting that a story unfolding half-a-world away was really all about Obama and how it affected (and/or damaged) his political fortunes. It was also coverage that often lacked nuance and context, and that refused to allow diplomatic events unfold without minute-by-minute surveys of the domestic winners and losers.”  [MMFA]

And therein lies the problem — the situation with regard to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons isn’t essentially part of a domestic political campaign — it IS a foreign policy issue.

Those who wanted background information and now seek to keep up with the current negotiations are better served by visiting the BBC Syria Profile,  KQED prvides “Six Excellent Resources,” on the Syrian situation — no Washington pundits included.

Consider the current conflict between the House Republicans and the threat to shut down the federal government.   There is some excellent background information available — just don’t wait to hear about it from the Beltway Press.   Better  background information is available from the Congressional Research Service, which published “CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects,” August 2013. (pdf) The CRS also created a report, “Government Shutdown: Operations of the Department of Defense During a Lapse in Appropriations,” in April 2011. (pdf)   Looking at the 2011 budget battle/shutdown threat, Business Week compiled, “How a Federal Shutdown Could Affect Americans,” in February 2011.

One of the more depressing aspects of this coverage is that some of the major news outlets have, in fact, published summarized information pieces about the economic impacts of a government shutdown — to be evidently ignored by their own pundits.  There was this prescient piece in the Atlantic,  April 7, 2011.  CNN Money published this guide on September 16, 2013.

However,  the Chatterati persists in reporting the clash between the Democrats and the Republicans, and the Republicans and the Republicans as if the economic impacts of this brinkmanship were tangential.  “Oh, by the way, if you want your question answered by a person in the USDA office — good luck. Or, if you want to find out about the status of your small business loan application — better be prepared to wait.   Do you have a contract to provide goods or services to any agency of the federal government?  Put that on hold please.”

But, but, but… sputter the talking heads on my TV screen… What about the impact on the 2014 elections?  Having purchased the Horse Race Reportage template  bit, bridle, halter, saddle, blanket and all, the pundits are trapped riding their only topic — election results.

“Well, yes, that does make things challenging. President Obama has to lead, but not too much, and not in a way that may make his rivals feel uncomfortable. He has to be hands-on and hands-off, preferably at the same time. He should use the so-called “bully pulpit,” but not in a way that connects the presidency to any specific issue Republicans may need to vote on.

And it’s against this backdrop that a few too many pundits wonder aloud why the president doesn’t overcome Republicans’ refusal to compromise by “leading” more. Many more suggested “schmoozing” would alleviate GOP intransigence.

But if Republicans are going to balk whether Obama engages or not, the advice seems misplaced.” [Benen]

The Chatterati persist in submerging foreign policy, economic issues, and social issues under the restrictive confines of “all things are politics” categorization.  It’s tantamount to “keeping score when there’s no game.”

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Shut off the Set, Open your Mind?

television 3The Sin City Siren posts an article decrying the lack of quality reporting on LGBT issues in Nevada; what the heck… I’m going to go further.  I’m going to expound on the possibility that the current media (some in print and more in broadcasting) isn’t all that informative and we’d probably be better off shutting off the TV and hustling down to the public library.  The pontificators are becoming altogether entirely too predictable.

Sequacious Sycophants:  Having never had an original thought in their adult lives, our Sequacious Sycophants are pleased to talk about, muse upon, and otherwise parrot the well prepared themes devised for them by their ideological masters and mistresses.  From the right, having long ago decided that an African American, any African American, cannot approach the intellectual level of his or her White contemporaries, the President must be “bumbling, stumbling,” unable to function without a teleprompter, easily duped, and dependent upon the assistance of others.   Pick a topic, almost any topic, and the Sequacious Sycophant is pleased to blather on about how the Administration is stumbling, bumbling, lurching,and grasping at policy issues.   This, in observation of an Administration which has reversed the recession, revived the automobile industry, wound down actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, made better opportunities for equal pay for women it’s first legislative initiative, enacted the first major health insurance reform in decades, and is currently keeping the U.S. out of complete entanglement in the Syrian mess.

From the Left, having decided that former presidential candidate and current Senator John McCain is a “flip flopper,” a maneuver  he performs well and often, not much else is required.  All that appears to be essential is to find some video of the Senator saying one thing and then offering his latest verbiage on the subject.  This is easy. Too easy. The least difficult posts I’ve ever written were the old “deck bass” flip flop pieces.   One of the more strenuous was the post pointing out that McCain’s general bent is militaristic, it was laborious trying to find background information because few authors had attempted the lay the groundwork for this analysis.

Suggestion: Instead of listening to the Sequacious Sycophants,  lope down to your public library and check out Christopher Clark’s Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.  While it may not be the “best ever” writing on diplomatic history before the Great War, it is one of the better ones, and should dispel any delusions that all diplomacy is necessarily rational or linear.

Stridulating Sensationalists:  Certatogyrus marshalli aren’t the only ones capable of making shrill noises by rubbing body parts to make un-ingratiating sounds.  Melodramatic anchors are equally capable.   Witness, CNN talent Blitzer asking the President to speak to the camera and address President Assad…and then witness comedian Jon Stewart eviscerate the moment.

If Blitzer were the only anchor pumping up the volume, if not the content, of explicating contemporary issues we’d be in better shape. Unfortunately, he is only one among many teasing major questions with hyperbolic palaver.

Suggestion:  Shut down the stridulation, and pick up a copy of Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality, “…It is not uncontrollable technological and social change that has produced a two-tier society, Stiglitz argues, but the exercise of political power  by moneyed interests over legislative and regulatory processes. “While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” [NYT]  Not exactly riveting drama, but a good answer to the technocrats from both ends of the political and economic spectrum.

Hysterical Histrionics:  One needn’t be loud (although it may help) to be a hysterical histrionic, even tones can be employed to announce the imminent demise of American civilization.  Evidently some people simply don’t have enough drama in their lives, and therefore some must be manufactured and foisted off upon the rest of us.

Blustering, irruptive to the point of stammering syllables, reductive to the borders of irrationality, all topics — no matter how nuanced — are compacted so that the Hysterical Histrionic can “discuss” them to his or her self-satisfaction.  Most of this ilk have forgotten the fact that most problems have more than merely political ramifications, but politics is easier and more convenient to debate, so discussions involving the economic implications or the social consequences are dismissed as “uninteresting?”  MSNBC has a collection of these, Fox has an impressive assemblage, and CNN is right in the mix.

Suggestion:  Instead of bounding from wall to wall with the head-banging hand wringing Hysterical Histrionics, take part of an hour to read William R. Polk’s article, “Your Labor Day Syria Reader, Part II,” in the Atlantic magazine.  While you may not agree entirely with the analysis — your blood pressure should resume a normal range after reading it.

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Yawn: Wake Me Up When The Right Has A Real Point To Make About The IRS

YawnFor all the hyperbole and thumping over the “scandal” ridden nature of the Obama administration — YAWN.  We’d might want to remind ourselves that one of the definitions of “scandal” is “defamatory talk or malicious gossip.”  Definition number four pretty much summarizes the current level of Talk Show speculation which passes for news on cable networks.  YAWN

The current spate of GOP poutrages have neither the substance nor the significance to rise to the level of a good scandal.  The IRS is being vilified for doing its job — albeit clumsily — of determining whether or not a 501(c)4 organization qualifies for tax exempt status as a social welfare oriented organization.  The term “target” has been tossed about loosely, as if the organizations in question have been something to which aggression is directed or as if they were the object of attack, derision, scorn or abuse.  A much better word for members of the D.C. Village Press to use might be “flagged,” as in “to mark for attention.

The blundering and maladroit shortcuts used by the Cincinnati office of the IRS to identify organizations which might not qualify under the terms of 501(c)4, do not, in themselves, constitute an act of aggression, nor do they comprise a torrent of attack, derision, scorn or abuse.    Consider the general outlines of 501(c)4 qualifications:

Types of Organizations Exempt under Section 501(c)(4)

Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) provides for the exemption of two very different types of organizations with their own distinct qualification requirements. They are:
* Social welfare organizations: Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, and
* Local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of designated person(s) in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.

Homeowners associations and volunteer fire companies may be recognized as exempt as social welfare organizations if they meet the requirements for exemption. Organizations that engage in substantial lobbying activities sometimes also are classified as social welfare organizations.

The IRS provides some helpful examples for those seeking to know if their organizations might qualify for tax exempt status under the provisions of 501(c)4.  Organizations which are primarily focused on political activities — campaigns, advertising for a candidate or party, etc. fall under the scope of 527s.   Therefore, if I seek to file an application for 501(c)4 tax exempt status I’d probably not be expecting to qualify if my organization conducts political campaigns for, or in association with, a candidate or party for local, state, or national offices, or if it functions as a political action committee.

If there are gray shaded areas between the definitions of a social welfare organization and a political organization then the proper jurisdiction  to craft appropriate language lies within the Congress of the United States.    Going a step further, there aren’t that many things that ARE taxable for a 527.  Most of the revenue come in the form of “exempt function income:”

“A contribution of money or other property; Membership dues, fees, or assessments from a member of the political organization; Proceeds from a political fundraising or entertainment event or from the sale of political campaign materials, which are not received in the ordinary course of any trade or business; or Proceeds from conducting bingo games that are defined in Code section 513(f)(2).” (emphasis added)

The big reason for the attraction to 501(c)4 status is that the donors need not be made public.   Thus, those who are up in arms about the villainy at the IRS are in essence telling the rest of us that they are positively OUTRAGED that political organizations might have to reveal who is bankrolling their operations.

Now which problem goes beyond the Yawn Test? (1) That the Internal Revenue Service used inappropriate terms to flag 501(c)4 applications which “sounded” like they would more appropriately be 527s? or (2) That we have corporations and other sources of extreme wealth seeking to cover their tracks when they engage in political activity at the local, state, or federal levels?

Tell me that the Congress of these United States is taking a serious look at the opaque and nubilous realm of political campaign funding in this country and I’ll stop yawning and start “listening with both ears.”  Until then, more unsubstantiated musing about the fumbling efforts of some IRS employees in Cincinnati, Ohio to differentiate between 501(c)4′s and 527s will merely serve to make me hit the snooze alarm button.

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You Want A Scandal?

ScandalWhile the Villager Press inside the beltway gets all titillated over the IRS (which only denied the 501(c)4 application of one organization, a liberal group in Maine) and the AP (which might have revealed information about a CIA covert agent) and Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi… (oops the full emails show the CIA wanted to limit the amount of information about ops in the area?) there are some scandalous situations about which no one in the Cocktail Party Circuit appears to be getting all flustered…and outraged…and fulminatory about.   Let’s try on a few.

STUDENT LOANS

The Federal Reserve Discount Rate right now is 0.75%. [BankRate] So, banks can borrow money at 3/4th of a percent.  The current Stafford Student Loan Rate (in school) is 3.4% and the current Stafford Student Loan Rate (out of school) is 6.8%.  [BankRate]  We know, of course, that the banks don’t keep loans on their own books for the most part, and the student loans are really safe “paper” to package up into bonds, which in turn get sliced and diced into derivatives for the market traders to play with, creating a tidy $1 Trillion in total student indebtedness in this country. [WSJ]

We say we need more scientists, more engineers, more physicians, more nurses, more architects, and more computer engineers — but when it come down to helping students pay for the education necessary to pursue these degrees our next generation finds itself so saddled with student debt that basic life decisions — like finding housing, getting married, and paying the usual bills are swirled into the vortex of loan repayment.  The Federal Reserve Bank of New York posted this conclusion on April 17, 2013:

“Student loans have soared in popularity over the past decade, with the aggregate student loan balance, as measured in the FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel, reaching $966 billion at the end of 2012. Student debt now exceeds aggregate auto loan, credit card, and home-equity debt balances—making student loans the second largest debt of U.S. households, following mortgages. Student loans provide critical access to schooling, given the challenge presented by increasing costs of higher education and rising returns to a degree. Nevertheless, some have questioned how taking on extensive debt early in life has affected young workers’ post-schooling economic activity.”   [...]

As seen in the chart below, the share of twenty-five-year-olds with student debt has increased from just 25 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2012. Further, the average student loan balance among those twenty-five-year-olds with student debt grew by 91 percent over the period, from $10,649 in 2003 to $20,326 in 2012. Student loan delinquencies have also been growing, as shown in the recent presentations by New York Fed economists Donghoon Lee and Wilbert van der Klaauw.

The number of student in debt has increased, the amount of the debt has increased, and so have the number of delinquencies.  And all the while the profitability of the banks (which we remember were bailed out with tax payer dollars) has continued unabated.  “Banks have been reporting steady growth in earnings since soon after the financial crisis. With the latest reports rolling in, analysts think the banks’ first-quarter profits will be their best ever.” [NYT 4/17/13]

Now isn’t that nice. The banks are getting “best ever” profits and the students are getting more deeply mired in debt.  Does this mean we have a Congress more concerned with the profitability of the banks than with the manageability of student debt, and the prospect of a nation in which fewer young people can afford to seek the educations which would boost their economic circumstances and enhance our national structure?  Meanwhile, it’s seemingly more important to give freshman Congress creatures an opportunity to repeal the Affordable Care Act — for the 37th time — than it is to conduct hearings and draft legislation to address the Student Loan Scandal.   Perhaps if we start calling the situation a “scandal” some attention might be brought to the subject?  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has a bill on the Senate side to offer a bit of relief, which by some lights doesn’t go far enough, but at least someone is paying attention.

Military Sexual Assaults

There are approximately 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the Pentagon reports there have been some 26,000 cases of sexual assault.  This isn’t a “women’s problem.” This is a military culture problem.  This is a legal problem.    Even the distribution of a motion picture on the subject (The Invisible War) hasn’t raised the Scandal Flag amongst the Village Media.  A Senate Armed Services Subcommittee has held one hearing — March 13, 2013. [SASC]   On the other side of the building House Armed Services chairman Buck McKeown  “said he was outraged and disgusted by the Fort Hood allegations.” [CNN]  As well he should be — so now where are the umpteen hearings on sexual assaults in the military?  Generally, when the term “sex” is combined with an issue — infidelity, crime, or whatever — the resulting phrase is Sex Scandal.  Why not this time?  Oh, yes, wait — the House is still voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act for the 37th time, and there will be more hearings on Benghazi…

This could go on … isn’t it scandalous we’re reducing the federal budget deficit … “The federal deficit is shrinking more quickly than expected, and the government’s long-term debt has largely stabilized for the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday in a report…” [LAT] BUT there’s a House bill which would further reduce funding for SNAP and nutrition programs, Meals on Wheels is sharply curtailing services to the elderly, and the Mysterious Chargemaster continues to make hospitalization bills inexplicable, opaque, and unfathomable…but these haven’t risen to the level of “Scandal” in the Washington, D.C. media.

And, then there’s the polling indicating that some 91% of the American people thought there ought to be expanded background checks to mitigate the prospects that an insane person, a felon, a fugitive, an undocumented person, or a juvenile could get hold of lethal weapons … and the Senate Republicans filibustered the bill…

For information about these issues we’re better off looking to local reporters who write about local children going hungry, or local seniors unserved, or local hospital rates, or local gun violence tragedies …. Perhaps if a crowd of  senior citizens picketed a military installation (or a couple of banks) clad like the current on-sale portrait of the late great  Bea Arthur, and packed AR-15s for show while waving their empty plates and their grandkids’ student loan papers … could we get some attention here?  And, while we’re at it — Where are the JOBS bills?

Would THAT be a scandal?

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Another Press Conference to Remind Us Why We Don’t Care About Press Conferences

Reporter CartoonAnother Presidential press conference, and yet another reason to observe why presidents (of any political stripe) aren’t fond of press conferences.   There isn’t much reason for the general public to get exercised about these press Q & A’s either.

The topics were fairly predictable: The Civil War in Syria and the possible use of chemical weapons — by someone, sometime;  Benghazi; Immigration and our diplomatic and agency relations with Mexico; The implementation of the Affordable Care Act; The Boston Marathon bombing; The Sequester and the FAA fix; Guantanamo; Jason Collins.  Yawn.

Notice that not a single one of these questions addresses the single most important topic of interest to Americans — jobs and the economy.  The economy is polled at 40%; Budget and the national debt comes in at 6%; Immigration at 4%; Gun Safety at 3%; Health Care at 3%; Terrorism at 3%; and an unspecified “other” at 34%.   So, where were the questions about our unemployment statistics? Manufacturing?  Trade relations and implications?  Job creation legislation?  The effect of the Sequester on the GDP?  Crickets.

A second item of note is that the questions concerning foreign policy (Syria, Benghazi) were derivative.  The “red line” question was productive, but the follow up on the tragedy in Benghazi concerned a claim by Republican operatives, with dubious reputations for accuracy, that diplomats were not available for public comments.  This came  from the GOP lawyer who once opined that Valerie Plame couldn’t be “outed” because she wasn’t an undercover operative for the CIA — a patently false statement, from a patently unreliable source.

The Boston Marathon and national security question was a classic example of White House Press Corps self referencing:

“…There is also a series of senators — Susan Collins, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham — who allege that all these years after 9/11, there still wasn’t enough intelligence shared prior to the attack.  And now, Lindsey Graham, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, has said that Benghazi and Boston are both examples of the U.S. going backwards on national security.  Is he right?  And did our intelligence miss something?”  [transcript]*

This must be what passes for research amongst members of the press elite — Senator Greenroom makes a comment on television, reporter watches the presentation, reporter asks the President (or other available public official) about Greenroom’s comments, the response is treated as “news.”

The reporter might have been able to answer her own inquiry had she some familiarity with the State Department’s annual terrorism report.  The report for 2011 is now available online.  It would seem that a person, supposedly adept in reporting national issues, would be aware of the annual reports and would know the reports are  statutorily mandated.

A more important question might have been raised about intelligence sharing had the questioner demonstrated a bit more nuanced understanding of the topic.  There could have been a question about both the possibility that the FBI and CIA are often loath to share information, the sharing of which would indirectly expose sources and methods — and another line of inquiry concerning the delicacy of cooperation with Russian police and intelligence sources.  How can we effectively and efficiently share information with the Russians without becoming a cat’s paw for Russian intentions in Chechnya, or without becoming entangled in Russian internal politics?  Or, on the other hand, without compromising Russian sources and methods when they are attempting to assist us?

Those lines of questioning died in the wake of the self-referential, inside the Beltway, Village approach to journalism.

Meanwhile back in the real world:  Not only was there not a single question about jobs and the economy, there were some other very obvious questions that weren’t voiced.

The current death toll in the factory collapse in Bangladesh now stands at 411.  The European Union is considering revising its standards for duty free and quota free trade from countries which do not implement and enforce work place safety regulations. [Reuters]  The U.S. Department of Commerce has not yet posted any comments on trade with countries with few, if indeed any, worker safety laws in evidence (May 1, 2013) — Question, Mr. President: Does the U.S. Department of Commerce intend to review our trade relations with nations which have very unimpressive implementation of worker safety regulations?  More crickets.

And, pertaining to gun safety?  How much more productive would it have been to avoid the realm of Theater Critics and observe that initial efforts to expand gun ownership background checks to gun shows and Internet sales failed (Didn’t you twist enough arms?) and to ask:  Mr. President — The Tsarnaev brothers were in possession of a 9mm Ruger semi-automatic hand gun, alleged to be the weapon that killed the MIT police officer, and we know that the older brother was placed on the Terrorist Watch List.  [GUK] Should we seek to close the gun show and Internet sale loopholes to preclude those who are on terrorist watch lists from obtaining firearms? Should we amend 18 USC 842 to include those on terrorist watch lists from legal possession of explosives?   If anyone with a computer can locate this information within a half hour from online sources, then why is the there such a paucity of background information on display during White House press conferences?

Nor did the White House press corps give evidence they’ve looked across the pond lately.  Eurozone unemployment has risen to a record high, and Italian unemployment is higher than it’s been in the past 20 years.  [IBT]  Question Mr. President:  With the current economic troubles in the Eurozone in mind, what implications might this have for U.S. manufacturing and service sector exports to Europe?  What would this mean for American workers?  Never asked.

In short, what we saw on our televisions was yet another unfortunate display of a Bubble Wrapped press corps, asking insider questions about insider issues.  And, all without so much as a nod to the economic problems besetting the American public — stagnant wages, continuing long term unemployment, increasing income disparity, and a still improperly regulated financial sector which gives no indication that they’ve learned anything from their last debacle in 2007-2008.  Crickets.

* the transcript link as of May 1, 2013 references another release, and if the link is corrected readers may have to click on the Speeches link on the website.

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Filed under Gun Issues, media, Politics

Sunday Roundup of Recommended Reading

Cattle Roundup Nevada Legislative News:    For an analysis of the tax reform battle currently on view in the Nevada Legislature, see “Mining for Clarity,” from the Nevada Progressive.  You’ll find some context in “Let’s Talk Tax Reform and Mean It” from a February edition of the Nevada Public Employees Focus, and a bit more from The Nevada View.  For more information see: “Nevada Funds Mining’s Big Mistakes,” in CityLife.  And, there’s more from the mining corporations in “Mining Rep: Republican Effort to Tax Us in Punitive,” Las Vegas Sun.

The economy:  The battle over the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act have moved into the caliginous rule making phase.  The efforts were the subject of an MSNBC piece (video), which (finally) picks up on a review from The Hill, in which it was reported that more than half of the Dodd-Frank Act rules are still “in the works” from January 28, 2013.   There’s more from the Angry Bear economics blog,  in which we find the fraudsters now seeking to use the Sequester to cut funding for rule making and implementation.  The following does not bode well for assisting the various Federal agencies tasked with keeping up with the “creative” machinations of the Wall Street Wizards:

“Aside from federal civil and voting rights programs, investment law enforcement agencies and commissions on the chopping block include the Securities and Exchange Commission (a possible $115 million reduction), Commodity Futures Trading Commission ($17 million), federal courts ($384 million at risk), Public Accounting Oversight Board ($18 million) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation ($23 million). In sum, $557 million could be cut from investor protection programs, barring Congressional intervention.”  [Angry Bear]

Naked Capitalism has an excellent piece on the prevarications of banking regulators who are supposed to be keeping an eye on the welfare of Americans who have money in the banks, not just the bankers who are raking in more American money, they call it “safety and security” — they mean “profitability.”  In a more general vein, there’s a MUST read post from Henry Blodget, “In Case You Needed More Proof That It’s Stupid To Cut Government Spending In A Weak Economy…” in Business Insider.    And, if you have not already read Michael Hiltzik’s piece for the Los Angeles Times, “The five biggest lies about entitlement programs,” please click over and read his summarization.  Here’s a taste:

“As efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare gather steam in the budget wrangling in Washington, you’ll hear these mega-trillions being thrown around more and more. Beware. They’re numbers designed to terrify, not edify.  The assertion comes from something called the “infinite horizon” projection. It’s a calculation of funding gaps projected out to the limitless future and then converted to present value — meaning what the cost would be if we had to pay it all today. For Social Security, the figure was $20.5 trillion, as reported in the program trustees’ latest report. For Medicare, the number comes to about $42.7 trillion. Even professional actuaries say this calculation is bogus.”

Media and Politics Finally! Someone calls out the Village Press Corps for continuing to bleat that the “President should reach out more…,” another Must Read is Dee Evan’s blast of sanity “More Selective Memory…” in the Huffington Post.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, media, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Little Noticed? AB 4 and verification of public information

NewspapersNevada’s Assembled Wisdom will be looking at charitable donations, background checks for those who work with children and the elderly, and a proposal to fund school maintenance projects in Washoe County. [RGJ]  There are some other bills of interest getting some attention this week, including AB 4.

AB 4:  AN ACT relating to governmental administration; authorizing the State or a local government, under certain circumstances, to publish a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website maintained by the State or local government in lieu of publishing the legal notice or legal advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation; requiring the State or a local government to publish certain information in a newspaper of general circulation if the State or local government publishes a legal notice or legal advertisement on an Internet website; authorizing a public body to charge and collect a fee for providing, upon request, a copy of certain public records under certain circumstances; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.

AB 4 will be discussed in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, on Thursday at 8:00 A.M.  I think we can assume that the Nevada Press Association will object to the measure, contending — as they do on their website — that:

“A fundamental reason for public notices is government accountability to its constituents. The notices are published through an independent party — the newspaper — to create a verifiable record of the date they were published and show that the content met legal requirements. Without such verification, government would be accountable only to itself.”

Delving a step further, public notices must be published in newspapers having a general circulation, as defined and refined:

“To meet the test of general circulation, a newspaper must publish some news of general interest and circulate to the general public. Under NRS 238.030, which provides for publication of legal notices in a newspaper “of general circulation,” a daily newspaper which contained only information taken from public records did not qualify because primary purpose of printing legal notices is to give widest publicity practicable, and a newspaper, in order to meet test of general circulation, must publish some news of general interest and circulate to some extent among general public. Nevada State Press Association v. Fax. Inc., 79 Nev. 82, 378 P.2d 674 (1963).”  [CCNLN]

Thus,  a newspaper which publishes daily, weekly, or semi-weekly, which has a “general” circulation, and contains some “general” news becomes the “independent verifier” of public notice and the requirements pertaining thereto.  This becomes controversial when we reach the part wherein counties must publish their property tax rolls.

The price tag for publishing the property tax information required of Clark County is a hefty $580,000.  [LVSun]  Advocates for the newspapers hold that the price is the cost of a transparent government, opponents argue that if the information is readily available on-line (and can be verified) there is no reason to pay for what is essentially a duplication of notice.

Another question which could be raised in this context, i.e. who’s being notified.  The Las Vegas Review Journal has a circulation of approximately 220,619 copies; the Las Vegas Weekly has a circulation of 75,000; the Reno Gazette Journal is reported to have a circulation of 43,095.  [link]  We could speculate that the major newspaper publishers in Nevada are facing some of the same numbers as their national counterparts — that is, they are looking at decreased circulation of approximately 5% annually. [LAT] The trends reported in the Los Angeles Times were predicated on (1) readership moving to on-line sources, (2) the reduction of distribution to outlying areas and bulk distributions, (3) increasing prices for print copies of newspaper publications.  Trends similar to the 2010 results were noted by the New York Times in 2009.

The Pew Research report of its study on newspaper readership issued in 2012 wasn’t very optimistic:

“In the new survey, only 29% say they read a newspaper yesterday, with just 23% reading a print newspaper. Over the past decade, the percentage reading a print newspaper has fallen by 18 points (from 41% to 23%). Somewhat more (38%) say they regularly read a daily newspaper, although this percentage also has declined, from 54% in 2004. Figures for newspaper readership may not include some people who read newspaper content on sites that aggregate news content, such as Google News or Yahoo News.”

Two graphics illustrate the issue concisely.

Sources of NewsIn terms of newspaper readership, the numbers aren’t reassuring:

Newpaper readershipWhen there’s an 18% drop in newspaper readership since 2002, the question should be raised: Who is being notified, to whom is information being verified, when the state or local governments are publishing information to a progressively smaller number of people?

The newspaper publishers have a valid point in saying that some independent agency should verify the context of the public notices required by law.  On the other hand, it’s hard to contend that the publication of notices and information doesn’t constitute a form of public subsidization of a private news enterprise.  Another issue concerns the type of information required.

Do we need to publish hard copies of the property tax rolls?  Yes, some readers do use the information to compare property values; but, yes, others are simply nosy parkers who delight in seeing which of the neighbors might be delinquent in their property tax payments.  Is there a substantive difference between publishing property tax rolls and information like requests for bids on government capital improvement projects costing more than $250,000?  Here’s hoping the Government Affairs Committee will take a careful, and thoughtful, look at the implications of public notice requirements.

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A bit more blatant blog flogging:  The Fix is seeking nominations for state based political blogs to add to its annual list.  Your nomination for Desert Beacon would definitely be appreciated. Link Here.

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Filed under media, Nevada legislature, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics