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Monday, January 26, 2009

"Boy, If Only Life Were Like This"

by digby

The media are going to be the death of this country. It was bad enough when they were too dumb to know (or care) that the Bush administration was marching us off to war for no good reason. But at least that made a certain evil, emotional sense. People have often gone to war because they got all excited over snappy uniforms and killing people.

Watching them deal with something complicated like our economic crisis is enough to make your head explode.

Here's just one short segment on MSNBC today, which is pretty representative of the complete incoherence among the media villagers --- and, I fear, our financial and political elites as well. Norah O'Donnell and Richard Wolf of Newsweek are talking about the stimulus package. (O'Donnell, you'll notice, is dutifully regurgitating Chuck Todd's puerile insights from this morning):

Richard Wolf: ... the question is, can he peel some away, that's what they're trying to do."

Norah O'Donnell: ... and still not leave too much anger behind in case he needs them on future stuff.

We know the Republicans want to oppose this, they say it's too big, not enough tax cuts. But I want to read what Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times today saying "many of the plan's opponents aren't arguing in good faith, Conservatives really, really don't want to see a second new deal and they certainly don't want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to bneat proposals for increased government spending."

How much of that is true? This really is a massive spending bill.

Wolf: Yes it is and Republicans are not entirely against spending. I mean, if it gets the economy out of a recession, they're all for it.

No they aren't. They want the recession to painlessly fix itself, which would keep their philosophy relevant. They cannot wrap their minds around the fact that all their ideas have failed and that they have absolutely nothing to offer in this time of crisis. So they are resorting to magical thinking, as usual.

At least Andrew Mellon was honest back in the 1930s when he said, “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers – purge the rottenness from the system.” Republicans back in that day were willing to court economic devastation and possible revolution in the name of free market capitalism and they admitted it. The modern conservatives, on the other hand, are still in love with the crazy notion that the more taxes that are cut on the wealthy the more money the government will have to give back in tax cuts to the wealthy --- and then we'll all be rich. Why is anyone even giving them the time of day at this point?

But the media has been so brainwashed that they are nearly speaking in tongues. Here's "wall street analyst" Erin Burnett just a few minutes later talking about the layoff announcements today:

Burnett: It is pretty concerning because when you look at that stimulus plan you could be looking at somewhere between 800 and 900 billion dollars spent and how quickly are you gonna get job announcements, job creation out of that bill. That is a big question right now on Wall Street.

O'Donnell: Yeah, and I know Democrats and President Obama's team using that to make that argument that we've got to get this done quickly.

There is some good news out there about the housing market.

Burnett: Yes there was, and this is funny, I guess it's the world we're in right now Norah. This is going to sound horrible but it's actually better news than expected. Home prices were down 15% from a year ago, but existing home sales overall were up, and what really sticks out here was inventory, how much of the stuff we've got to work through before we are to get back to a healthy market. We saw a big drop there, we have 9.3 months of inventory which means at the current selling rate it would take 9.3 months to actually work through everything but that is a big improvement from where we were just a month ago.

So there are a few signs of improvement, raising to some the question of how big and how quick this stimulus actually needs to be to stimulate. The economy's trying to turn itself around.

It's trying to turn itself around. We don't need to do anything! Yea!

Burnett has shown in the past that she is particularly obtuse, so it isn't surprising that she would carry the conservative water so openly.

Remember this?

I think people should be careful what they wish for on China. You know, if China were to revalue its currency or China is to start making, say, toys that don't have lead in them or food that isn't poisonous, their costs of production are going to go up, and that means prices at Wal-Mart here in the United States are going to go up, too. So I would say China is our greatest friend right now. They're keeping prices low and they're keeping prices for mortgages low, too.

She continued with this on MSNBC today:

Norah, the other big thing though, when you talk about Caterpillar. We just had the CEO of Caterpillar and he is very concerned about one thing in this bill which is that you've got to buy American. American steel, American iron. And that seems to a lot of people in this country like an unambiguously good thing. In his view, it would be "disastrous" and that that would be starting the 1930s. If we start to say "buy American" China, which is the other significant player here, will say the same thing, our exporters will get locked out and we really could end up with a great depression. And he used those words. So it's interesting to see in this bill a lot more to be worked through and what the consequences will be.

O'Donnell: Just so I understand you, clarify that. The CEO of Caterpillar, which is, of course, a US based is saying don't restrict it to only buy American?

Burnett: (nodding very matter-of-factly) Right. Exactly. He's saying that it would be disastrous because that would mean that Caterpillar and other US companies that export to China and Europe, which are spending a lot of money to fix their economies, wouldn't buy anything American. They would just start to buy Chinese or buy European and then you could end up exactly where you were in the 1930s which would be protectionist policies that cause everybody to get a whole lot poorer a whole lot more quickly.

O'Donnell: Very,very interesting. Thank you very much, Erin Burnett...

Burnett isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she isn't dishonest. She says what conservative politicians think. It's simple and stupid.

Now, I don't have a strong opinion on the details of a "buy American" part of the package, but I will say that it should be a difficult sell for conservatives to be fighting anything that isn't tax cuts and concrete and steel infrastructure, as they're doing, while also demanding that taxpayers create jobs with that money in ... a foreign country. They are determined that there be no money for things like teachers or the environment or medical expenses or, indeed, anything that doesn't require heavy equipment. (Too bad for women, who tend not to work in construction. Maybe they can all become manicurists for media celebrities.)

Boehner's cute soundbite about contraceptives is, of course, nonsense. The money he's talking about is for medicaid, which is desperately needed at a time when people are losing their jobs --- and, by the way, will help stimulate the economy by paying the doctors, pharmacies and hospitals for the (much increased) care they give, something that is a big problem at a time when states are going broke.

Norah O'Donnell later ripped Democrat Chris VanHollen a new one on that issue because he wasn't prepared and he ended up pretty much endorsing the idea that spending should all be on infrastructure after she perfectly parroted all the conservative talking points and successfully framed all expenditures that aren't tax cuts and bridges as pork.

I'm certainly not arguing against infrastructure, far from it. But stimulus is more than just roads and bridges. Government spending to get money into the hands of the states and local governments as well as individuals is vitally necessary along with immediate support for people who are out of work and losing their homes. If the Republicans succeed in chipping away at this with a constant barrage of nitpicking, lies and misinformation, the stimulus will end up being "tax relief" and a few new roads and despite conservative magical thinking, this thing isn't going to right itself.

As I watch this stimulus debate unfold I can't help but be reminded of this famous scene in Annie Hall:

MAN: It's the influence of television. Now, now Marshall McLuhan deals with it in terms of it being a, a high-- high intensity, you understand? A hot medium--

WOODY ALLEN: What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it.

MAN: -- as opposed to the truth which he [sees as the] media or--

WOODY ALLEN: What can you do when you get stuck on a movie line with a guy like this behind you?

MAN: Now, Marshall McLuhan--

WOODY ALLEN: You don't know anything about Marshall McLuhan's work--

MAN: Really? Really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called TV, Media and Culture, so I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity.

WOODY ALLEN: Oh, do you?

MAN: Yeah.

WOODY ALLEN: Oh, that's funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here. Come over here for a second?

MAN: Oh--

WOODY ALLEN: Tell him.

MARSHALL McLUHAN: -- I heard, I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

WOODY ALLEN: Boy, if life were only like this.

No kidding.

I so wish we could clone Paul Krugman and Dean Baker and have them on every television show to refute the avalanche of economic bullshit that's coming down on our heads from every direction. We certainly can't count on the news media to clear anything up.

Update: Chris Matthews just said that this federal contraceptive money sounds like China's policy to limit the number of children and has no place in an economic package.

Just shoot me now.


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