Truthdig, Truthout, and the Truth

Yet Another Misled Tribe of Liberals.

truthdig logoThis is not as significant to me as Scott Horton, but it's just as embarrassing., which I regularly read, has made Mike Lofgren the Truthdigger of the Week. Vomit! The award post does contain another fact: Lofgren "worked for 16 of those years with Republicans on the House and Senate budget committees." So that means he worked 12 years somewhere else. I'd like to know where. Other than that, it's the same old shit, different day: "the piece is refreshingly honest, engaging and downright sensible."

Engaging, that's true, but that's about it. Back to the grind. (Part One, Two and Three.) What's next? Another swipe at "trust in government" and "the electoral clout of a minority."
The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions - if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News.
Lofgren starts with an accurate and important premise again, which he immediately wrongly attributes to "the decline of trust in government" - again. BS. There are simpler reasons for our lower turnout:
  1. Stricter voter registration rules that are controlled by state and local governments
  2. One weekday to vote
  3. Two party system
Truthout logoLofgren agrees with the last reason, "both parties are the same, why vote?" Faced with two candidates, neither of which the potential voter likes, it is completely rational to not vote, even if the cost of voting (one hour?) is low.[1] As for the whipped up minority, it is very likely Dittoheads and Fox's friends would vote conservatively whether or not those propaganda outfits existed. On the ground GOTV efforts, like the evangelical churches in 2004, are much more important to secure votes. Wedge issues like a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage works really well, too. Btw, the median primetime audience of Fox News averages 3.2 million people. That's just over 1% of the population of the country. Rush Limbaugh's latest share of the listening audience was 3.0, as in 3% of all people listening to radio at the time. I can't find the actual rating, the percentage of all people in an area listening, but it's much less than 3%, because far fewer than one in three people are ever currently listening to the radio. I don't know of any elections, including primaries, that could be swung with about 1% of the population.

Stepping back for a moment, there is a lot of good stuff in the article. But since everybody else is heaping praise on Lofgren, I'm just being my contrarian self by only fisking the bad. To be a little more balanced, here's a mix of good and bad:
It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors' looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media?
1890's - railroads and banks. 1932 - Wall Street and banks. 2011 - financial industry and banks. Notice anything? People today know who is to blame for the housing bubble that brought down the entire economy in 2008. The problem is they can't do anything about it. As Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has said, the banks "own the place." Meaning Congress. Getting back to Lofgren, it is a huge mistake to take what is "depicted in the media" at face value. You have to critically analyze mainstream media - look beneath the headlines and day to day reporting to see what is the goal of the lamestream: to make money and coddle the powerful. Both as an industry and for individual reporters. It just doesn't pay to rock the corporate world's boats.

Some more really bad stuff after the jump.

Considering who Lofgren is, a professional staff member of a congressional committee, I'm not surprised that he makes lots of mistakes analyzing politics. He may hear a bunch of behind-the-scenes gossip, but he's no different than anybody else following politics and making conclusions about what is wrong with this or that. However, as a 16-year veteran of the House and Senate Budget Committees, specializing in military spending, I am surprised and saddened to find out he doesn't understand basic economics.
And the economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious.
Largest World EmployersThis sentence is simply shocking: "the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs." Compared to what? Building the pyramids? The Department of Defense employs 700,000 civilians, 1,418,542 military and 1,100,000 reserves. That's 3.2 million people, just over 1% of the entire population of the United States. Here's the comparison: Wal-Mart employs 2.1 people worldwide. However, they are an extreme outlier for number of employees. The next largest worldwide employers (based in the US), are IBM 436,000, UPS 400,000, McDonald's 400,000[2] and Target 355,000. All five of these companies employ mostly part-time workers, have a large number of overseas employees, or both. The number of DOD direct-hire employees equals the top four private sector employers put together, with all employees being American and the vast majority of jobs being full time. (It's hard to call a reservist part-time with multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.) If you add in contractors, it is very likely DOD employs more than the top five US employers combined. Add in those employed by private defense contractors, going all the way through the supply chain, I would bet that DOD-generated employment equals the worldwide employees of the top ten US private companies' employment: 5.2 million. That number represents 4% of total nonfarm payroll employment in the U.S. (Again, most of the employees of the top five US worldwide employers are overseas and/or part-time. While only a small amount of DOD-generated employment is overseas or part-time.)

TruthI have to skip the narrow focus on weapons projects and bite my tongue at the stupidity of saying the civilian economy benefits little from defense R&D, because I could go on at length on just those two issues. But I can't help commenting on a government budget analyst who would say this: "A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement." First, money for a highway isn't just going for salaries of workers. Has Lofgren driven by any highway construction lately? There's lots of big expensive machinery being used and tons (literally) of materials. Building highways is not labor intensive. Second, money for weapons doesn't suffer from the build-it-and-then-you're-done factor. Highways last at least 10 years, probably about 20. Only a fraction of weapons systems will have anywhere near as long as a useful life. Aircraft carriers last a long time, but we build them very infrequently. Helicopters can last a while, but they crash and use up parts quickly. Ammunition and bombs are not durable goods, to put it lightly. And when these items are used up or obsolete, the DOD needs to buy more of them, because weapons systems are almost never cut once they've started.

All that said, constructing highways is a more economically productive use of money than weapons systems, but only for the reason that a highway gives lots of people and companies a long-term benefit. It's the classic case of a public good that government provides best. Weapons provide no economic benefit at all.

Moving on:
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
This is so simplistic and wrong that I will only quote it. To wrap up, there is complete financial nonsense at the end of the article:
During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion. The economy was already weak, but the GOP's disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further. Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans' own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar. Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets. Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency - a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.
He starts out with the high school level mistake of confusing the economy (GDP) with the markets (Dow Jones, S&P 500, etc.) And those markets were roiled due to the European debt crisis and the fact that the budget deal struck would be contractionary. The safe-haven of the dollar was proved when the yield rate of U.S. Treasuries went down over 10% in the two weeks after the debt "crisis" was averted. Assuming the dollar amount is right, $1 trillion of equity was erased for a time (it could re-appear fairly easily, and did so by September 1st), but the value of all U.S. assets remained almost exactly the same from the week before the debt deal to the week after. This guy has no clue. As for the global reserve currency thing, his statement is outrageous. Dean Baker has the goods on most of these issues. I could find more, but this is tiring. Although someone's got to do it. Right?

[1] Instant Runoff Voting would easily partially solve this problem, although a Proportional Representation system would be better.

[2] I added the chart from The Economist after the post was done. If you can read the chart here, or go to the source, you'll see that the 1.7 million worldwide employment figure for McDonald's includes franchisees. It's fair to include them. It doesn't really change my critique, because a large percentage of McDonald's employees are both part-time and overseas (which includes Canada, btw). And I would guess that a vast majority of McDonald's worldwide employees are either part-time or overseas.