Thursday, February 25, 2010


This morning at the conference sponsored by the New School, Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy, Daniel Ellsberg (apparently, according to the moderator/New School prof, few of his students knows who he is, or what the Pentagon Papers were) made observations that were new to me. This is all paraphrased, but I think it is accurate.

He recounted a time in 1969 when he explained to Henry Kissinger what happens when you get the dozen clearances above Top Secret*. What happens first is that you feel like a fool. You've published books that you now discover were filled with stuff that was wrong. You have believed you understood how things worked, but you now find out you were completely wrong, that the real world is entirely different from what you have been told your entire life.

But this stage only lasts a few weeks. After you have been reading this material hitherto unavailable to you for a while, you begin to see everybody else as fools. Only with people with these top level clearances know the truth. People whom you previously regarded as experts become ignoramuses, doubly so because they don't realize that they actually know nothing.

Moreover, you have to lie to the fools constantly, because the condition for your getting access to what is really going on is you cannot tell anybody what is really going on. So after a pretty short time period, your conversation with the foolish experts consists of telling them only what you want them to hear.

This lying is essential to the secrecy. Ellsberg recounted a reporter friend calling him, and asking if there was anything to this Pentagon Papers business (which were in Ellsberg's office safe and the safes of a dozen or so others), he said "No. Never heard of this." You end up increasingly living in a bizarre hothouse.

Which is why batshit crazy things like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq come to be. Obama has reasons for continuing the Afghan adventure. But he can't say what they are. Eventually we will find out that they made as much sense as Vietnam, and that there were advisers like Clark Clifford pointing out that the war was batshit crazy.

Oh wait, we already know this about Afghanistan and Obama, that there was much said in dissent with McChrystal's escalation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


My note to Clarke Hoyt, NYT Public Editor:

Jackie Calmes' front page story today on deadlock impeding progress on reducing the deficit was not a news story. It was an editorial that focused on Republican talking points about the causes and remedies for the current deficit. Moreover, it is not merely an opinion piece, but it also featured conflations, erroneous statements,and a bizarre neglect of a huge chunk of the federal budget that could easily be cut.

For example, she writes:

But he is hardly alone in sounding an alarm about the long-term budgetary outlook, which has Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs growing at unsustainable rates and an inefficient tax system that cannot keep up.

“I used to think it would take a global financial crisis to get both parties to the table, but we just had one,” said G. William Hoagland, who was a fiscal policy adviser to Senate Republican leaders and a witness to past bipartisan budget summits. “These days I wonder if this country is even governable.”

First, she incorporates a false Republican talking point, that there is some difficulty with Social Security. Social Security is solvent out to the mid 2040s with no change to the system whatsoever, and even that is easily solved by raising the ceiling more quickly, or through other minor tweaks. Likewise, Medicaid is not in any difficulty; the program is too small to represent a serious difficulty.

It is true that Medicare is projected to grow at unsustainable rates, but that is not because it is a federally funded program. That is because the entire US health care system is being operated at unsustainably high costs, and rate of cost growth. The Times, of course, has published opinions to the contrary of those expressed by Calmes, articles like this one: Krugman

Then she cites unnamed economists (why were these people granted anonymity?):

The same economists also say a significant deficit-reduction plan is not possible unless Mr. Obama breaks his campaign promise not to raise taxes for households making less than $250,000. Last week, Mr. Obama said he would not impose that condition or any other on a fiscal commission

This is also an opinion unsubstantiated by facts. There are plenty of alternative methods for reducing the deficit that do not involve raising taxes on the bottom 9 deciles. The estate tax could be reestablished at high rates. Marginal tax rates above 250,000 dollars could be substantially raised. Any number of wasteful and counter productive programs could be cut, ranging from agricultural subsidies to elimination of Medicare Advantage to removing private institutions as middlemen to college loans. Most important, the soaring medical costs that afflict everyone, not merely Medicare recipients, could be brought in line with the rest of the OECD.

Moreover, not a word is said about the US involvement in two wars of choice, costing literally trillions of dollars. The only mention of defense spending shows up in the very last sentence.

The poll also found that by a two-to-one ratio Americans oppose cutting health care and education; 51 percent oppose lower military spending.

So, it is inevitable that the US has to reduce spending on programs supported by Americans at a two-to-one ratio, while programs that are not nearly so popular (and that is without any of the innumerable 200 dollar hammer stories that are not being written) are not even worthy of consideration.

This would be barely tolerable on the op-ed page. People do exaggerate and distort facts on those pages (although I would prefer that your editors permit a great deal less of that). But there is no excuse for this kind of biased, opinion reporting being run as straight news.