Apr 1 2013

Soundbites April 2013

Spinning the Sequester

 “Sequester Spin Gets Ahead of Reality” was the headline on a Washington Post piece (2/28/13) that cautioned that “no one really knows how bad things are likely to get” if the forced budget cuts go through. Take claims about, say, teacher layoffs with a grain of salt, the Post advised, and remember that state and local governments could “shift money around” to blunt the impact on, for instance, the Meals on Wheels program that delivers food to the homebound elderly. The paper’s Karen Tumulty and Lyndsey Layton explained that such concerns mainly reflect “the impulse of officials to resort to melodrama when they are faced with budget cuts.”

 That’s how the Post wants you to treat warnings about domestic budget cuts–with a shrug. But when a group of Pentagon officials went to Capitol Hill to warn that military sequester cuts would mean “the wolf is at the door,” that we’re going to return to “a hollow Army” with forces “degraded and unready,” the Post (2/13/13) just reprinted those claims without dissent or skepticism. Even though the current round of reductions looks to leave military spending around 2006 levels, the lead on Steve Vogel’s article highlighted the claim that “the looming sequestration cuts represent a dire and unpre­cedented threat to the U.S. military.” If the Post thought there was any “melodrama” at all in Defense Department officials’ charges, they didn’t give readers a clue.


Climate Change & Other ‘Pet Issues’

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza (2/10/13) offered some State of the Union advice for Barack Obama: He should “spend the bulk of his time talking about the deficit,” which Cillizza called “the issue of the day”–citing a Pew Center poll (1/24/13) that actually showed people less concerned about the deficit than they were about the economy or jobs. (The Post‘s own polling–8/21/12–found people rating the deficit as less important than either jobs or healthcare.)

And what shouldn’t Obama talk about? What the Post called “pet issues”–things like gun control, immigration…and climate change. Apparently catastrophic global warming doesn’t poll well, so he should give it only “a passing reference or two.”


Minimal Division

After Barack Obama proposed raising the U.S. minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour, the New York Times (2/13/13) said the idea was “sure to be politically divisive.” It’s actually a very popular idea; one survey of the American public, taken right after the last election (Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, 11/12/12), found 69 percent support for raising the minimum wage, vs. 26 percent opposition. Don’t look for the Times–which as late as the 1980s (1/14/87) was editorializing in favor of eliminating the minimum wage altogether–to suggest that siding with the one out of four who opposes a hike might be “divisive.”


Confuse Republicans by Imitating Them

I mean, he doesn’t think much of Republicans in terms of their approach or being able to deal with them. But he can also confuse the opposition a little bit if he would take the reins and say, “Look, we are going to have to do big spending cuts and here’s why. It’s ultimately helpful for the solvency of the country,” even if he has to push back against some Democrats.

NBC‘s David Gregory (Meet the Press, 1/27/13)


Get Rich Quick!

In a New York Times op-ed (2/20/13), Paul Ryan adviser Yuval Levin attempted to find “common ground” on the entitlement issue: “Both sides should agree at least to spend less money on the wealthy.” He proposes that the richest third of Social Security recipients should get no cost-of-living adjustments on their benefits, while the middle third get half the adjustment, and only the bottom third get the full annual increase.

Who are these “wealthy” people who would be getting a benefit cut equal either to the rate of inflation every year, or to half that rate? According to the SSA, about 34 percent of people over 65 have family incomes of $50,000. And the middle third starts at roughly $25,000.

Times columnist David Brooks (2/26/12) urged Barack Obama to embrace Levin’s idea, saying it would “take spending that currently goes to the affluent elderly and redirect it to the young and the struggling.” He didn’t mention that his idea of “affluent” starts at $25,000 a year.

Millionaires Must Go

 “Millionaires Consider Leaving California Over Taxes” was the early headline on a New York Times piece (2/7/13). At some point it got changed, possibly because there’s nothing in the article to support it. But that didn’t fix the problems with Adam Nagourney’s story, which still tried to warn us against a new state tax increase on income over $1 million–what the paper calls an “unpleasant surprise for the rich.” 

Did it cause anyone to flee the state? The piece included one millionaire golfer who complained…and then apologized. Media mogul David Geffen said he’s not going anywhere. The best evidence Nagourney could muster was a CNN reporter who put out a call wondering if there were any tax-fleeing millionaires he could interview. 

When the piece got around to actual data, readers learned that some research suggests rich people tend not to flee their homes when their taxes go up a bit–which is why there are a lot more billionaires living in New York and California than in, say, South Dakota. But Nagourney got an economics professor in Nevada to explain that rich people must be motivated to move when their taxes go up: “To argue that it doesn’t affect a millionaire’s locations decision is to say all millionaires must be stupid.”

Extra! April 2013