Journalists in Rose-Colored Glasses: Economic Cheerleading Instead of Reporting

It’s no surprise that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress are trying to claim that the recession (which they blame on Bush and Cheney) is over and that the economy is slowly returning to health thanks to their efforts at economic stimulus. At least those highly dubious claims get challenged by Republicans, who can be relied on to counter with evidence to the contrary, and to claim (with equal self-serving deception) that the economy is in a slump thanks to Democratic policies.

The problem comes when the media, which are supposed to take a skeptical stance, start playing economic cheerleaders, and providing the public with false information and false hopes.

This has come to be pretty much the norm these days. Those who warn that the underpinnings of the US economy are eroded, and that there is really nothing left to drive a recovery, or who warn that there is a serious danger of a slide into an even deeper recession or even a depression, are written off as “doomsayers,” and given little credence or ink, while the slightest sign of something positive gets hailed as evidence that things are on the mend.

Investors Are a Wacky Bunch, and the Financial Press is Largely a Shill Game

One of the great mantras of the modern economics profession is that markets know best, and that the collective “wisdom” of investors is generally correct.

I’ve never really believed that, having spent years writing about business and finance. In fact, my interviews with market strategists, Wall Street economists and portfolio managers have convinced me that it’s the rare investor or analyst who has done much serious reading of history, political science or even economics and finance for that matter. Sure, some people can be very good at analyzing the worth and the potential of a specific company, but when it comes to macroeconomic trends, most of the explanations you get are very narrowly focussed and ignorant, showing little concern for or understanding of the great drivers of history, economics or politics.

That said, I’m still left scratching my head at today’s roughly 3% jump in the US equities market, which the investment analyst community is attributing to a report by the relatively obscure Institute for Supply Management, which announced that its index of manufacturing activity in the US had risen a bit to 56.3, instead of dipping slightly, as had been predicted by analysts.

Now Here's a Jobs Plan: Apply the FICA Tax to All Income Including Investment Income and Lower the Retirement Age

It’s time for us progressives to stop playing defense on Social Security.

We’ve watched the retirement system suffer years of attacks by conservatives and by class traitors in the Democratic Party. We have seen the retirement age raised since 1983 from 65 to 67, and the cost-of-living calculation altered so that our benefits have declined in value over time, while the tax rate on working people has risen.

It’s time to stop fighting rear-guard actions and to go on the offense.

The 'Mosque' Saga: Republican Racists, Media Scumbags and Hypocrites, Democratic and Republican

The saga of the Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, deceptively dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” by a right-wing clique with the avid support of Rupert Murdoch and his New York Post and Fox TV Network, exposes the right in America as a bunch of charlatans, hypocrites and plain old garden-variety scumbags.

New York, the ultimate melting pot of cultures, races and religions in America, has no problem with a Muslim center being set up in Lower Manhattan. (It is not, let me note, being built on the site of the World Trade Center, or even next door. That area is reserved for strip clubs, bars etc., and a big hole in the ground that nobody can figure out how to fill.)

The community center, which will include a Muslim mosque and a multi-religion chapel, is blocks away from the site of the old Twin Towers, which, if you’ve lived in Manhattan as I did for years, is described locally as “across town.”

The biggest hypocrisy about this right-wing fake scandal is that the people making all the noise are the same right wing ranters who are always complaining about the Federales interfering with local people’s right to do things their own way.

There's Nothing Wrong with Social Security that Taxing the Rich Fairly Wouldn't Fix

New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, in his column today, is right to expose the attacks on Social Security as being the work of right-wing ideologues eager to destroy a government program that works, backed by cowardly Democrats who want to show their fiscal “responsibility” by getting tough with future pensioners.

But he doesn’t go the extra step to point out that this program, founded 75 years ago as a cornerstone of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, could be much more fair and even generous to elderly and disabled retirees, and also placed on a much sounder economic footing, by a few simple reforms that would not cost most people a penny, or require hard working folks to work one day longer before retiring.

Beware the Sound of Scurrying Feet: The SS Obama is Going Down

NBC/Wall St Journal Poll: 40% say country worse off since Obama, 31% say better
Federal Reserve Board: US economy is stalling again
NY TImes: “White House Memo: First Wave of Weary Aides Heads for the Exits”
Labor Dept.: New jobless claims hit record not seen since February 20

It’s a grim sign for the Obama administration that droves of staffers are pulling up stakes and looking for jobs elsewhere, not even having the grace to wait until the mid-term elections are mercifully over. Gone is Christina Romer, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, going is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, gone is communications spokeswoman Linda Douglass, gone is Budget Director Peter Orszag, gone is White House Counsel Gregory Craig. Even the president’s senior political adviser and close confidante, David Axelrod, widely credited with having engineered his primary and election victories, is said to be ready to leave.

Seasoned sailors used to get anxious if they saw a line of rats scurrying down the mooring lines securing a ship to the pier just before it was time to set sail. It was considered an omen of doom. And indeed, the SS Obama, a once mighty vessel hailed as unsinkable at its launch, does appear to be listing badly (to starboard) now, just as it prepares to head back out to sea and face a severe November storm.

The captain of this ship, Barack Obama, has made so many wrong turns (always to starboard) on his maiden voyage that it’s no wonder so many of the crew are looking for other work. Not only that, but Capt. Obama made some really bad choices for chief officers, giving those who labor below decks little reason to feel confident that their leader’s own mistakes in navigation or judgement would be rectified.

Dodd-Frank Financial 'Reform' Act May Force Companies to Clean Up Their Act

Wall Street lobbyists may have successfully managed to emasculate most of the important parts of the financial reform bill just passed by Congress last month, but one part of that 2000-page act, which establishes as bounty for whistleblowers who expose corporate financial wrongdoing to the Securities and Exchange System, managed to slip through unscathed.

If this surprisingly strong measure is supported by strong enabling regulations at the SEC, which has until next April to draw them up and approve them, some legal experts, including at law firms that specialize in representing corporate clients, say it could have a profound effect on the behavior of American companies.

Journalists in Name Only: Just(?) 50,000 Non-Combat(?) Troops in Iraq

I was listening to NPR’s “Morning Edition” broadcast this morning in the car, and I heard a reporter say that President Obama was “redefining” the American role in Iraq, now that he had brought the number of US forces in that country down to “only” 50,000 troops, and that “combat operations” would be ending effective this month. The remaining forces, the reporter announced, with no hint of irony and no explanation, would “only” be engaged in helping to train Iraqi troops and police, and in “counter-insurgency” operations.

Excuse me, but aren’t we at war in Afghanistan, and isn’t that operation, involving about 200,000 US, Australian and NATO troops (excluding the Dutch, who are pulling out after the country’s participation in it brought down the conservative government), called a “counter-insurgency” campaign? Isn’t counter-insurgency by definition a kind of “combat”?

WTF? This crap is being called journalism?

By the way, about that 50,000 number. For the record, that is a lot of soldiers. It is for one thing two times the number of US troops stationed in South Korea. It is twice the number of troops that were employed in the invasion of Panama in 1989. It is about the number of troops the US had in Vietnam in early 1964 after the first round of escalation by then President Lyndon Johnson.

National Insecurity: A Government Afraid of the Truth

The White House’s initial response to the release of 92,000 pages of raw reports from the field by US forces in Afghanistan for a period from 2004-2009–that it was a threat to national security and to the lives of American troops–was as predictable as it was farcical.

These documents didn’t reveal anything new to America’s enemies in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The Taliban fighters knew full well that their heat-seeking missiles had successfully downed American helicopters. They didn’t reveal anything new to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. The Pakistanis knew that they were assisting the Taliban with intelligence, strategic planning and weapons in their fight against US forces and the current puppet regime in Kabul. They didn’t reveal anything to the long-suffering civilian population in Afghanistan either. Afghans know that US forces have been targeting them at checkpoints, wantonly bombing their houses and villages in attempts to hit suspected Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders or fighters, and covering up those atrocities when innocent men, women and children are the victims.

No, what the release of these documents threaten is the huge almost decade-long lie that both the last administration of President George W. Bush, and the current administration of Barack Obama have been putting out, that the US is engaged in a “good war,” trying to defeat “terrorists” and establish a democratic government in Afghanistan.

 Why Leaders Tremble at LeaksWikiLeak-Why Leaders Tremble at Leaks

BP's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Policy: The Well’s Corked, But Public and Government are Left in the Dark

Prof. Bob Bea, of UC Berkeley, a civil engineer with years of expertise in marine oil drilling, says he is concerned that during the current crisis of BP’s blown-out well deep under the Gulf of Mexico, government scientists may not be getting all the information they need from the secretive oil company in order to make intelligent decisions about shutting down the gusher.

“Certainly we independent investigators are not getting information about the condition of the well or about the leaks in the surrounding sea floor,” says Prof. Bea, who is a member of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group at UC Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, where he is co-director, “And I don’t think the expert investigators at the Department of Energy are getting it either.”

“Information about oil reservoir formations is highly secretive among the oil companies. BP would be loath to share information about what’s going on in a reservoir with competitors,” he says.

What has Prof. Bea and other outside experts concerned is that the casing of the BP well–the long string of pipe that runs from the sea floor down to the high-pressure oil reservoir 2.5 miles below the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico–has “clearly been breached.”