Some truth-telling from Paul Krugman about those April jobless numbers

Paul Krugman. Photo (cc) 2011 by 00Joshi.

No doubt you’re aware that the media have been mindless repeating the phony Republican talking point that the April job numbers fell short because the unemployment benefits in President Biden’s rescue package are too generous.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” according to chamber’s chief policy officer, Neal Bradley, who was quoted by Business Insider.

So it was bracing to encounter some reality in today’s New York Times column by Paul Krugman, surely the only full-time pundit with a Nobel Prize in economics. Here are some facts:

  • The economy actually added more than 1 million jobs in April, not the 266,000 officially reported. What explains the discrepancy? The number was “seasonally adjusted,” with the true number revised downward “because the economy normally adds a lot of jobs in the spring.” That’s standard practice, so it is in fact true that the April numbers were disappointing. But we are only just now coming out of the pandemic. Let’s see what happens in the following months.
  • “The expiration of the $600-a week-benefit introduced in March 2020,” Krugman says, “didn’t lead to any visible rise in overall employment; in particular, states with low wages, for whom the benefit should have created a big incentive to turn down job offers, didn’t see more employment than higher-wage states when it was removed.”
  • “If unemployment benefits were holding job growth back,” Krugman adds, “you’d expect the worst performance in low-wage industries, where benefits are large relative to wages. The actual pattern was the reverse: big job gains in low-wage sectors like leisure and hospitality, job losses in high-wage sectors like professional services.”

The Republicans are tearing themselves apart, trying to pump up their white rural base by attacking transgender kids and preparing to toss Liz Cheney off the House leadership team for having the temerity to tell the truth about Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating has hit 63%.

Biden has made a big bet that he can build a winning Democratic coalition by proving that government can work again. Republican criticism of his economic policies less than four months into his presidency is a sign that they fear he might succeed.

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Would you like some extra meat in your beer?

I doubt former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow knew what he was talking about when he suggested that beer is made out of meat. “You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts and wave your American flag,” Kudlow sneered on the Fox Business Channel. “Call it July 4th Green.”

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Kudlow’s falsehood-filled claims that President Biden is targeting meat were lampooned this morning by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In fact, though, there is at least some basis for Kudlow’s take on beermaking, if not for his critique of Biden’s climate plans. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Beer is often made from barley malt, water, hops and yeast and so is often suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Some beer brewers add finings to clarify the beer when racking into a barrel. Finings can include plant-derived products, like Irish moss, or animal-derived products, like isinglass and gelatin.

Most breweries do not reveal if they do or do not use animal products in the processing of their beers; some exceptions are Samuel Smith, Heineken, Harp Lager, Anheuser-Busch, the Marble Brewery in Manchester, the Black Isle Brewery, and Black Sheep Brewery, all of whom have declared they make vegetarian and/or vegan beer.

Isinglass, by the way, is “a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish.” Yum!

In addition, Dr. Google turns up all kinds of articles about beer that uses meat. So even though Krugman is generally right in asserting that there is no meat in beer, there are some exceptions. Kudlow was not entirely wrong.

 

The New York Times has a David Brooks problem

David Brooks. Photo (cc) 2011 by the Miller Center.

The New York Times’ David Brooks problem has ratcheted up from “uh, oh” to “holy cow.”

Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac of BuzzFeed News reported on Wednesday that Brooks, a prominent Times columnist, is getting paid for his work at Weave, a civic-engagement project that’s part of the Aspen Institute. Among Weave’s funders is Facebook.

A week earlier, BuzzFeed reported that Brooks had written a post on Facebook’s blog singing the praises of Facebook Groups without letting his editors at the Times know about it. That was bad enough. But now that there’s money involved, the Times is going to have to take action.

It’s unclear whether the Times knows he’s been getting a second salary. If they do, then perhaps Brooks can avoid being disciplined. But whether they know or not, what about the rest of us? Every time Brooks writes about an organization in which he has a financial stake, that needs to be appended to the bottom of his column. Needless to say, the problem with that is it would look ridiculous. I’m sure the Times doesn’t want to run a piece by one of its own staff columnists that reveals he’s in the tank to someone else.

As someone who has worked in opinion journalism for many years, and who teaches it, I feel like I have a stake in calling out Brooks’ misbehavior. I stress to my students repeatedly that we have the same ethical obligations as straight-news reporters. We don’t make political contributions. We don’t put signs on our lawns. And we maintain our independence.

One of the four tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is to “act independently.” The code explains further: “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” Brooks’ conflict seems avoidable enough, but at the very least he should have disclosed it.

A summary of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s “The Elements of Journalism” has this to say about independence and opinion journalism:

Journalistic independence, write Kovach and Rosenstiel, is not neutrality. While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform — not their devotion to a certain group or outcome. In our independence, however, journalists must avoid straying into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism.

I assume the Times is going to take this seriously. It may be bad for Brooks that the Times’ opinion editor, Kathleen Kingsbury, is just a few weeks into her job and may want to send a message to the rest of her staff.

But I’m troubled by a statement BuzzFeed got from Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. Silverman and Mac write: “Murphy said other Times columnists have roles outside the paper. When asked for an example, she cited Paul Krugman, who was a professor of economics at Princeton and is currently a distinguished professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.”

Seriously? Krugman is not a columnist who scored an academic gig. He’s a professor who was so highly regarded that the Times hired him as a columnist. The Times is his second job (or was; he seems to be semi-retired now), just as the Aspen Institute is Brooks’ second. And everyone knows about Krugman’s academic background. It was hardly a secret when he won the Nobel Prize in Economics.

I hope this can be resolved. Brooks is reviled in many circles, but I value his work. He often shows himself to be out of touch, and he can drive me crazy sometimes. But at his best he’s very good, and I’d hate to see him go, or set up a Substack.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart kick the week’s news around on the “PBS NewsHour” tomorrow evening. Brooks should address it.

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Boston Globe recycles a year-old AP story

The Boston Globe does some major recycling today by publishing a year-old story on the political battle over same-sex marriage. The story, by David Crary of the Associated Press, appears on page A11 of the print eReader edition* and begins:

Foes and supporters of same-sex marriage are gearing up for five costly and bruising statewide showdowns in the coming months on an issue that evenly divides Americans.

It’s an election year subplot sure to stir up heated emotions …

And yes, that would be the 2012 election year.

It turns out that Crary’s article ran on the free Boston.com site on March 8, 2012, under the headline “Bruising gay-marriage showdowns likely in 5 states.” The classics are classics for a reason, I guess.

Subplot: The story appears nowhere today at the paid BostonGlobe.com site. I had to look it up in the ePaper edition after being asked about it on Twitter by @NotSoNiceville. Isn’t BostonGlobe.com, which is a paid site, supposed to include every story in the print edition?

*Update: Eagle-eyed David Bernstein reports that the entire page A11 of the eReader edition is from March 8, 2012. So apparently this is a problem with the eReader edition only — not with the print edition, which only appears up here in Media Nation on Sundays.

Update II: From @BostonGlobePR: “Due to a production error, pages from 3/11/2012 were appended to today’s ePaper. The edition will be corrected and reprocessed.”

Update III: As commenter Bill Ritchotte noted earlier today, the Globe’s free Boston.com site posted an item from a syndication service called the Prudent Investor “reporting” that Nobel Prize-winning economist (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman had declared bankruptcy.

In fact, the Prudent Investor had been taken in by a satirical site called the Daily Currant. There’s a German angle as well. Mediaite has the details and Romenesko has an image of the Boston.com page before the item was taken down. For what it’s worth, I’m told Boston.com runs the Prudent Investor feed on autopilot.

Update IV (2:30 p.m.): I just received an email from Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg. She writes: “The post about Paul Krugman was an automatic feed on a partner website, FinancialContent.com, which Boston.com uses to provide stock and other financial data. The story did not originate with the Boston Globe or Boston.com, and we worked to get it taken down as soon as we heard about it from readers. We have asked FinancialContent.com to provide us with more information as to how this story was added into their financial news feed.”

Paul Krugman’s prescient criticism

Paul Krugman

I’ve been trying to think of a way to add some value to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s blog post on the “cult of centrism,” which he’s now expanded into a column. I can’t think of much other than to urge you to read it. The media’s insistence on balancing sanity with insanity and truth with lies is not only infuriating, but it’s having a deleterious effect on our democracy, especially in the unspeakably stupid debate over the debt limit. Today, even John Boehner might agree.

Here’s one thing I can recommend that might help place Krugman in context. In early 2009 — even before President Obama took office — Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a series of columns arguing that the economic stimulus Obama was proposing would not be enough to offset the worst economic crisis to come along in many decades. Krugman pulled all the strings together in early March, arguing that the $787 billion stimulus was too small and too tilted toward tax breaks, and that when it failed, Obama would be blamed for “massive,” out-of-control spending.

It doesn’t get more prescient than that. And this week Krugman proves himself to be as an astute a media critic as he is a political economist.

Say it ain’t so, Frank Rich

Frank Rich

When you get to my age, you look for your thrills where you can find them. Come Saturday night, I usually find myself asking … Should I read Frank Rich now, or save it until the morning?

So I was shocked to learn this morning that Rich, one of our leading liberal commentators, is leaving the New York Times for New York Magazine, where he’ll write a monthly essay. He’ll edit and lead some online conversations as well.

It’s not the first time Rich has grown restless. He was the Times’ chief drama critic from 1980 to 1993, and I think it’s his theatrical sense that makes his political commentary so sharp and entertaining.

This is not good news for me, and I’m sure many other Times readers feel the same way. New York Magazine has a good reputation, but I can’t picture myself subscribing or seeking it out online. Other than the occasional must-read media feature, it just isn’t compelling enough for me to change longstanding habits.

In 2000 I ran into Rich at an event for gay Republicans at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, which I was covering for the Boston Phoenix. I asked him about the collective nervous breakdown the media were having over the lack of news at George W. Bush’s coronation. Here’s what he told me:

Not to be too Freudian about it, but what you’re seeing is a sort of displacement. There are 15,000 reporters here and no story. What are they going to talk about? Themselves and their own anxiety.

It will be interesting to see whether the Times tries to recruit a big-name replacement for Rich. (Maybe it will be Joe Nocera, who’s moving from the business pages to the op-ed section.) With the exception of Paul Krugman and David Brooks, I just don’t find the rest of the paper’s opinion writers all that compelling.

Rich had one of the best jobs in journalism. I guess it shows that anything can get boring after a while.

A solid debut by Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour

Not long after Tim Russert’s death, I realized that my aversion to George Stephanopoulos was not nearly as deep-seated as my aversion to David Gregory. So I switched from “Meet the Press” to “This Week” and haven’t looked back. Among other things, “This Week” regular George Will is a great entertainer, and where else other than the New York Times can you get a regular dose of Paul Krugman?

Stephanopoulos, of course, decamped for morning television months ago, never to be seen again — at least not by me. Today, at long last, marked the much-anticipated debut of his permanent replacement, former CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour. I don’t think the occasion warrants a lot of analysis. But surely a little is in order. A few points.

1. I don’t watch “This Week”; rather, I listen to the podcast. So if there were any changes to the set, I wouldn’t know. For what it’s worth, I thought Amanpour, her guests and her panelists all sounded fine.

2. It was a good first week for Amanpour. She had two major gets, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. If Amanpour’s questions failed to elicit any major news, neither did she embarrass herself. In any event, with rare exceptions, top government officials are going to say what they’re going to say regardless of what they are asked.

3. Though “This Week” seemed pretty much the same as it always has, Amanpour did shake things up a bit, as Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid joined the roundtable from Spain. Over time, I’m hoping that Amanpour turns the entire format upside-down, eschewing political chit-chat for real substance. Perhaps this was one small step in that direction.

4. Jake Tapper deserves kudos for the way he handled “This Week” as a fill-in host the past several months. By taking a few chances (especially by embracing of New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen’s suggestion that he add fact-checking to the show), Tapper demonstrated that there’s still some life left in the old format.

If, for some reason, Amanpour doesn’t work out, or if ABC News decides to use her elsewhere, then Tapper would be a natural — and I think viewers would accept him far more readily than they would have before his stint as a substitute.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Bush speechwriter: A “disaster” for Republicans

David Frum

Later this week I’ll be writing more about the historic health-care bill passed by the House on Sunday night. For now, though, a few semi-connected observations.

1. If you read nothing else on the politics of health-care reform, you must read this blog post by David Frum, a Republican strategist and former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Frum doesn’t like the bill; he thinks it’s too expensive and will harm businesses. But he is withering in his criticism of the Republican leadership for its take-no-prisoners approach to legislation that is, he asserts, moderate at its core and based on Republican ideas.

“Conservatives and Republicans today suffered their most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s,” he begins. “It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the disaster.” He continues:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo — just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

Every line is quotable, so by all means read the whole thing. But he is especially strong on the strategic error Republicans made in following the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, noting that not only do they want Democrats to fail, but, fundamentally, they want Republicans to fail, too. Why? It’s good for business.

2. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today connects the dots between opposition to health-care reform and race. It’s not hard: All he has to do is quote former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently said passage would be as harmful to Democrats as civil-rights legislation was in the 1960s. [See correction below.]

Gingrich’s clear message was that white opposition to racial justice was good for the Republican Party, and happy days are here again. And Krugman offers a few other choice examples as well.

The racial subtext to health-care reform has been right below the surface all along. Let’s not forget that South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson, who bellowed “You lie!” at President Obama last September, has a long and foul history of involvement in Confederate causes. This weekend, the tea-party protesters included someone holding up a racially charged poster of Obama as a voodoo doctor (I’ve lost track of where I found it, but if you’ve got a link, send it along), and of some flinging the N-word at Congressman John Lewis, a legendary civil-rights leader. (Homophobic slurs were directed at Congressman Barney Frank as well.)

You can’t even bring this stuff up without being criticized for characterizing a group based on the actions of a few, and I do understand that argument. But if anyone on the scene tried to stop or shout down these knuckle-draggers, their efforts have gone unrecorded.

3. As the media play their favorite parlor game of picking winners and losers, they ought to consider that the biggest loser of all might prove to be Congressman Steve Lynch of South Boston.

Lynch, as we know, announced his opposition to the Senate bill last week. No surprise there — a lot of House Democrats didn’t like it, which is why they came up with the complex strategy of approving the Senate bill, then approving a set of amendments to send back to the Senate.

But Lynch backed himself into a corner with strong language that made it almost impossible for him to shift. By Sunday, the emotional momentum had clearly turned, and Lynch had nowhere to go. He wound up being one of just two House members to vote against the Senate bill and for the amendments — a move that may have put him on the “right” side both times, but that was transparently craven. (So why did the “yes” tally rise by just one, from 219 to 220? Believe it or not, someone voted “yes” on the Senate bill and “no” on the amendments. Go figure.)

The talk today is whether a progressive Democrat might challenge Lynch in the primary. That’s happened before without much effect. This time, though, Lynch could face an opponent who can raise money from the netroots, and without his erstwhile friends in organized labor to drag him over the finish line.

Sounded like a good idea at the time, eh, Congressman?

Correction: Krugman relied on a Washington Post story, and the Post has now published a correction. Gingrich says he was referring to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society social programs and the Vietnam War, not to civil-rights legislation.

Photo of David Frum via Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Krugman, cat person

If you’re a fan of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, as I am, then you really have to read Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of him in the current New Yorker.

I love the Tina Barney photo of Krugman and his wife, Robin Wells, posing with their cats. You don’t really get the full effect unless you see it in the print edition, but there’s something hilariously incongruous about Krugman holding a cat while looking like he’s about to bite the head off a political adversary.

I was also interested to learn that Wells has had a strong hand in sharpening and toughening Krugman’s prose. For instance:

Recently, he gave her a draft of an article he’d done for Rolling Stone. He had written, “As Obama tries to deal with the crisis, he will get no help from Republican leaders,” and after this she inserted the sentence “Worse yet, he’ll get obstruction and lies.”

Recently I heard someone describe the columnist divide this way: you’re either a Krugman person or a David Brooks person. Go figure: they’re my two favorite columnists, though I’ll confess I find fault with Brooks’ cautious conservatism far more often than I do with Krugman’s fire-breathing liberalism.

Democracy and the Senate

Both the Boston Globe and the New York Times today run stories on the fate of health-care reform in the event that Republican candidate Scott Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley in tomorrow’s special election for the U.S. Senate.

In light of that, I want to address the notion that it would be somehow undemocratic if the House could be persuaded to pass the Senate bill, thus avoiding a return trip to the Senate, or if a compromise measure were rushed through before Brown can be sworn in.

First, let’s look at the composition of the Senate itself. Even if Brown wins, the Senate will comprise 59 Democrats or their allies and 41 Republicans. Only in the upside-down world of the modern Senate would that be considered anything less than an enormous advantage.

What gives the Republicans clout, of course, is their unprecedented strategy of filibustering vote after vote. As Paul Krugman recently noted, a study by the political scientist Barbara Sinclair found that the routine filibuster is a very recent phenomenon, and entirely Republican in origin.

If the Republicans are going to insist that 60 votes are needed to get anything done, then rules reform ought to be the first order of the day. My preference would be an insistence that filibusters be carried out the old-fashioned way, Jimmy Stewart-style, on the floor of the Senate. Harry Reid could play Lyndon Johnson, forcing everyone to stay in the chamber until human biology brought an end to the charade.

My second point is that we tend to forget what a distorting effect the Constitution’s two-senators-per-state rule has with regard to whose voice gets heard. I ran some numbers a little while ago; in states with one Democrat and one Republican, I awarded half the population to each. Using that formula, I found that Democratic senators represent 196 million Americans, and Republican senators represent just 110 million.

Thus the Senate’s 60-40 margin in favor of Democrats would widen to 64-36 if the one-person/one-vote rule were followed. And a Brown victory would barely affect that margin, as it would be 63 percent to 37 percent.

There’s no question that a Brown victory would have an enormous psychological effect. It’s hard to know whether congressional Democrats would push something through in order to put health care behind them once and for all, or if they would decide instead to give up on the whole effort.

But that’s a matter for another day — perhaps Wednesday.