May 1 2009


The Establishment Persuasion

“If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading [Paul] Krugman makes you uneasy… By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are. Safeguarding the status quo, protecting traditional institutions, can be healthy and useful, stabilizing and reassuring. But sometimes, beneath the pleasant murmur and tinkle of cocktails, the old guard cannot hear the sound of ice cracking.”

Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas (4/6/09)

Champions of the Little Guy?

Jim Cramer, CNBC: “I think Goldman is a great firm… The good guys are in charge. [Lloyd] Blankfein is a fabulous guy. Do people want him in jail? Does Paul Krugman want him in jail? Where do they want these guys?”

Mike Barnicle, Boston Herald: “Paul Krugman wants anyone who makes over $75,000 a year in jail.”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe (4/2/09; cited in Huffington Post, 4/2/09)

Not Really ‘Rich’?

The New York Post (3/23/09) had a front-page headline about New York state’s “Secret Deal to Tax ‘Rich.’” The scare quotes are there to indicate, presumably, that the taxpayers in question—whom the Post refers to as “anyone making more than $500,000 a year”—are not really rich. It’s true that such taxpayers aren’t as wealthy as, say, Post owner Rupert Murdoch, who has an estimated net worth of $4 billion (Forbes, 3/1/09). But they’re still doing pretty well, with an income that puts them well into the top half of 1 percent of U.S. households. This is a group that sociologists variously refer to as “the rich,” the “upper class” or the “capitalist class.” Interestingly, if you go inside the paper, the actual article bears the headline, “Gov Plots Secret Tax Hike on Rich”—no scare quotes necessary. Maybe Murdoch just reads the front page?

Fox’s New Slogan

“Believe in something! Even if it’s wrong! Believe in it!”

—Glenn Beck (quoted on the Daily Show, 3/17/09)

Obama’s “Special Risks”

Washington Post reporter Scott Wilson (3/4/09) chided President Barack Obama for pointing out that he inherited problems from his predecessor, George W. Bush. True, “Upon entering the White House in 2001, Bush pinned the lackluster economy on his predecessor, using the ‘Clinton recession’ to successfully argue in favor of tax cuts that won some Democratic support.”

But “blaming his predecessor holds special risks” for Obama, Wilson wrote, because “he will need support beyond his Democratic base as he begins lobbying for his $3.6 trillion budget, which proposes sweeping changes in healthcare, the energy sector and the public education system.” So when Bush blamed Clinton for his economic situation, that helped him gain Democratic support—but Obama blaming Bush is risky because he needs Republican support. Got that?

I Couldn’t Eat Another Bite, I’m . . . 98 Percent Empty?

Under the Onion-ready headline “Obama Calls for Earmark Reform, Signs Earmark-Laden Spending Bill,” (3/12/09), the L.A. Times’ James Oliphant and Christi Parsons began their story: “President Obama railed against pork barrel projects on Wednesday. Then he signed a massive spending bill stuffed with them.”

We’re not sure what the cut-off for something being “stuffed” with something else is, but we’re pretty sure that less than 2 percent—the share of the discretionary federal budget taken up by earmarks, according to a slightly more informative report by the Washington Post the same day—doesn’t qualify. Maybe the word they’re looking for is “sprinkled”?

Holding Kristol Accountable

“Hold us accountable!” declared New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (3/26/09), arguing that “the marketplace of ideas for now doesn’t clear out bad pundits and bad ideas partly because there’s no accountability.”

OK—how about we start with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who just a month earlier (2/26/09) wrote that an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir would “help end the long slaughter and instability in Sudan.” Kristof called concerns that Bashir would retaliate by expelling aid workers “overblown”: “Time and again,” he wrote, “Mr. Bashir has responded to pressure and scrutiny by improving his behavior and increasing his cooperation with the United Nations and Western countries.”

A week later (3/4/09), after the ICC issued its warrant, Kristof wrote a follow-up: “One of Mr. Bashir’s first actions after the arrest warrant was to undertake yet another crime against humanity: He expelled major international aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee and the Dutch section of Doctors Without Borders. In effect, he is now preparing to massacre the Darfuri people in still another way…” Kristof quoted an aid worker’s view that “it’s difficult to see how the outcome will be anything other than serious suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Many people did see those deaths as the likely outcome of the ICC issuing an arrest warrant—and Kristof dismissed their fears as “overblown.” Could we have some accountability—or at least an apology?

Sudan, Tanzania, Whatever

The New York Times’ Peter Baker reported (3/18/09) that Obama has tapped “a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries” to be his special envoy to Sudan.

Baker gave no indication that he knew that Swahili is not generally spoken in Sudan. It’s like reporting that Obama appointed a French-speaking envoy to Germany—and meaning it in a flattering way.

More SoundBites

June 2009 / April 2009