Whine, whine, whine

Cry me a river, Rogoff and Reinhart:

Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of “serious errors” stemming from “selective exclusion” of relevant data and “unconventional weighting” of statistics — charges that we vehemently dispute. (In an online-only appendix accompanying this essay, we explain the methodological and technical issues that are in dispute.)

Our research, and even our credentials and integrity, have been furiously attacked in newspapers and on television. Each of us has received hate-filled, even threatening, e-mail messages, some of them blaming us for layoffs of public employees, cutbacks in government services and tax increases.

The goal of their piece is to claim that they didn’t ever say there was a 90% tipping point. What do their fee-fees have to do with that?


The wisdom of the fool won’t set you free

Holy shit, you have to pay $995 to attend Friedmanpalooza and learn about the “new world order” (I thought that phrase had been officially retired in the late 90s):

The New York Times Global Forum: Thomas L. Friedman’s The Next New World, scheduled for June 20, promises to “explore the complex dynamics of new-world infrastructure, especially the transformative electronic, digital and mobile environment,” impart “invaluable insights into strategies for success in today’s new world order,” and answer the question: “What World Are You Living In?” Invitees can attend the one-day forum for the early-bird price of $995.

I realize there are people who see Glenn Beck or reality tv or teh kids with teh texting as conclusive evidence that we’re nearing the end of civilization. For me, the best evidence is the continued popularity (and influence, like it or not) of Tom Friedman and David Brooks.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Buy ‘Em?

Harold Meyerson, at the Washington Post, worries about the Koch Brothers’ latest attempt to institute their three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes”:

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Who will govern Los Angeles, however, is only the second-most important local question in the city today. The most important, by far, is who will buy the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is one of the eight daily newspapers now owned by the creditors who took control of the Tribune Co. after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Others include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant. The Tribune board members whom the creditors selected want to unload the papers in favor of more money-making ventures.

Fans of newspapers are a jumpy lot these days. And in the past couple of weeks, their apprehension has gone through the roof with word that right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch are looking to buy all eight papers….

In their very-brief no-comment on the sale rumors, the Kochs took care to note, “We respect the independence of the journalist institutions” owned by Tribune, but the staffs at those papers fear that, once Kochified, the papers would quickly turn into print versions of Fox News. A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sportswriters and arts writers). Those who stayed would have to grapple with how to cover politics and elections in which their paper’s owners played a leading role. It’s also unclear who in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, would actually want to read such a paper, but then the Kochs don’t appear to view this as a money-making venture….

The bankers’ men on the Tribune board likely view the sale of the papers as a financial transaction, pure and simple. But Times readers (and the Koch brothers themselves) would view a sale to the Kochs as a political transaction first and foremost, turning L.A.’s metropolitan daily into a right-wing mouthpiece whose commitment to empirical journalism would be unproven at best. A newspaper isn’t just a business; it’s also a civic trust. The money men who have been plunked down on the Tribune board should remember that as they sell off the civic chronicles of some of America’s great cities.

“How come there’s no manhunt for the owner of the Texas factory…?”

Mike Elk, labor reporter and staff writer for In These Times Magazine, in the Washington Post:

On Friday, as cable news networks sought desperately to fill airtime while waiting for the latest news in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, a friend asked me, “How come there’s no manhunt for the owner of the Texas factory, which did far more damage than the Boston bombers?” He was right to wonder.

The explosion of the West Fertilizer Co. plant on April 17 in West, Tex., killed 14 people, injured more than 160 and destroyed dozens of buildings. Yet unlike the tragedy in Boston, the Texas plant explosion began to vanish from cable TV less than 36 hours after it occurred. Marquee correspondents like Anderson Cooper were pulled out of West and sent back to Boston, and little airtime was spared for updates from Texas, even as many town residents remained missing. The networks seemed to decide covering two big stories was covering one too many, as if we journalists can’t chew gum and walk at the same time. The media’s neglect has greatly increased the danger that the explosion will quickly be forgotten, to the detriment of U.S. workers.

The coverage so far of the Texas disaster is a far cry from the gold bar of workplace safety reporting, set by Walter Cronkite in 1968 following the Farmington, W.Va., mine explosion, in which 78 miners were killed. Then, Cronkite camped out for four days in a field in the middle of winter and provided in-depth stories on the mine explosion and its aftermath. Cronkite’s impassioned journalism is widely credited by workplace safety advocates as inspiring the passage of the first federal mine safety legislation: the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act. Since the legislation was enacted, the number of coal mining accidents have plummeted from 311 in 1968 to just 19 in 2012…

For those of us who covered the Upper Big Branch explosion and have continued to report its investigation three years later, many of us fear that once again knowledge of why a massive workplace disaster occurred — knowledge that could save lives in the future — will be kept out of the public discourse because the media simply won’t cover it. Has a single worker employed at the fertilizer plant been interviewed on cable TV? Where are the crowds of reporters trying to find the owner of the plant? And what about experts being rolled out to discuss what caused the explosion and how those responsible for this disaster will face justice?

After all, while it remains difficult to deduce the motives of the alleged Boston bombers, it is not so difficult to postulate what was behind the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co.’s plant: the failure to follow the science of workplace safety. The plant had 1,350 times the legally allowed amount of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, yet hadn’t informed the Department of Homeland Security of the danger. Likewise, the fertilizer plant did not have sprinklers, shut-off valves, fire alarms or legally required blast walls, all of which could have prevented the catastrophic damage done. And there was little chance that regulators would learn about the problems without the company reporting them: Not only had the Occupational Safety and Health Administration not inspected the plant since 1985 but also, because of underfunding, OSHA can inspect plants like the one in West on average only once every 129 years….

With so many lives at stake, it is the duty of the media to, at the very least, dedicate as much reporting to West, Tex., as we do Boston. Indeed, the unbalanced coverage, some would argue, could have negative consequences across the board. As Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, who has covered the Upper Big Branch mine explosion more than any other reporter, tweeted, “Terrorists want media attention, so we give it to them. Unsafe industries don’t want media attention — so we give that to them.”

Max Baucus Prepares for His Cash-Out

The Washington Post, company paper in the town where politics is the monopoly industry, kept its report determinedly ‘bipartisan’:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), one of the most influential congressional figures of his era, announced his intention Tuesday to retire, a move that could produce sweeping changes in the political and legislative landscape over the next two years.

The announcement could mark the beginning of one of the most consequential periods in Baucus’s long public career, because he pledged to devote the rest of his time in Washington to pursuing a comprehensive rewrite of the federal tax code, a long-shot effort that many see as key to breaking the fiscal gridlock that has paralyzed Washington in recent years…

Jon Chait at NYMag has the backstory for the rest of us cynics:

When a member of Congress representing hostile partisan turf retires, his party’s usual response is to worry. Getting reelected as a Democrat in a state like Montana is hard, but getting elected in the first place is even harder. But the usual reasoning does not apply to Max Baucus, who just announced that he won’t seek reelection next year. Baucus is pretty unpopular and would have been an underdog. There’s a pretty popular Democratic ex-governor, Brian Schweitzer, waiting to run in his place, making Baucus’s retirement probably a small net increase in the Democrats’ chances of holding the seat. But the narrow calculations of that one seat are swamped by the larger value of one preeminent fact: Max Baucus is no longer going to be around to screw everything up…

Baucus’s guiding principle as a legislator was to place himself in the center of the action. In 2001, he negotiated the Bush tax cuts behind closed doors, subverting any chance of stopping a ruinous bill before the opposition had any chance. He not only did the same with the prescription drug bill in 2003 — which was written Republican-style, to maximize profits to affected industries rather than taxpayer value — he helped keep his own party off the conference committee that negotiated it. He is currently negotiating bipartisan tax reform and ostentatiously declining to insist that the process yield more revenue. (Baucus attacked the Democrats’ budget for raising too much revenue.)…

… We don’t yet know for a fact that Baucus will hang out a shingle as a lobbyist when he leaves office, any more than we know that Nerlins Noel will try his hand at professional basketball after leaving the University of Kentucky, but it is an outcome so probable it can practically be stated as fact. Baucus has an ex-wife; a new, former-staffer wife; the lowest net worth of any Senator; and a mortgage on a $900,000 home in Washington.

That leaves Baucus with about a year and a half of auditioning for clients while also serving as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, while his lobbyist trainees frantically cash in before their most lucrative window closes…

MisterMix will probably disagree with me on this, but my main worry about Baucus’ retirement is how much Democratic progress he’ll be able to sabotage, for his principles, during the rump of his term.