Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Niall Ferguson, David Brooks and Genital Herpes: One of These Does Not Belong

As Mr. Brooks entered the home stretch of his latest vacation, it might have occurred to him that while he was returning home with lasting memories of hiking back trails in Guam looking for evidence of the the all-but-extinct "Reasonable Republican"  or skiing down piles of Tom Friedman's money, if would be very rude if he showed back up at his New York Times desk empty-handed.  Which, I'm guessing is why he swung off at the very last rest stop before the off-ramp to Castle Bobo, ran inside, and bought us the stalest, nastiest vending machine Centrist nut-log that 35 cents would buy.

Once again, Mr. Brooks addresses the hapless  and largely imaginary "moderate voter" as if such creatures A) actually existed, and B) are Very Serious voters indeed,  because C) the  parties are so equally and oppositely flawed at virtually exactly the same volume and density that only a Centrist ninja like Mr Brooks using the most sensitive barometers, tricorders and  Erlenmeyer Flasks can suss out which Party is the better bet.

Guide for the Perplexed

Published: August 20, 2012 

Let’s say you’re generally a moderate voter. You look at the Romney-Ryan ticket and see that they are much more conservative than you. They don’t believe in tax increases ever. You think tax increases have to be a part of a budget deal. They want to slash social spending to the bone. You think that would be harsh on the vulnerable and bad for social cohesion.

You look at the Obama-Biden ticket. You like them personally. But you’re not sure what they want to achieve over the next four years. The country needs big changes, and they don’t seem to be offering many. Where’s the leadership?

In this disaffected frame of mind, you ask yourself: What really matters in this election? Well, the big issue is national decline. How can we ensure that the U.S. is as dynamic in the 21st century as it was in the 20th?

The biggest threat to national dynamism is spending money on the wrong things. 
And, no, Mr. Brooks is not talking about our obscenely bloated security state budget.  Nor is he talking about the budget-crushing Bush Tax Cuts (which Mr. Brooks supported) or the gargantuan cost of invading the wrong country and them botching the occupation of that country (which Mr. Brooks also supported.)  

These things are of not interest to Mr. Brooks (perhaps because his record on them is such a miserable failure) or, apparently, of interest to Mr. Brooks' imaginary "moderate vote".  In fact according to Mr. Brooks the only thing that any Serious Person should be interested in is Medicare.  Or, rather. Mr. Brooks' Imaginary Medicare ,since he very clearly did not bother to check with anyone who understands math or budgets or the actual Republican and Democratic positions on the issue before making his Very Serious pronouncements.  

And so, having doped all the ponies, paid off the jockeys and rigged the track, you will never guess which nag Mr. Brooks urges all imaginary "moderate voters" to bet grandma's medicine money on!
Still, you wouldn’t call Obama a passionate reformer. He’s trimmed on the edges of entitlements. He’s not done anything that might fundamentally alter their ruinous course. 
You’re still deeply uncomfortable with many other Romney-Ryan proposals. But first things first. The priority in this election is to get a leader who can get Medicare costs under control. Then we can argue about everything else. Right now, Romney’s more likely to do this.
Aw, you guessed.  

But that's not the story.

Shortly after Mr. Brooks' terrible, Back-To-School column went up, people from many different quarters started dropping houses on his head.

Some of the fire was direct but impersonal:

Private-Market Tooth Fairy Can’t Cut Medicare Cost
By Peter Orszag Aug 20, 2012 11:00 AM CT

The vast bulk of health-care costs arise from an extremely small share of patients, whose insurance will inevitably bear a substantial share of their expenses. That’s why competition in health care doesn’t work as well as in other sectors, and it’s also why the key to keeping costs to a minimum is to encourage providers to offer better, less costly care in complex case

Unfortunately, proponents of moving Medicare to a private “consumer-driven” system, including Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, seem to instead believe in a health-care competition tooth fairy -- that if we just increase the patient’s share of costs and bolster competition among insurance companies, the expense will come down. As Karl Rove recently argued, “Competition will lower costs by using market forces to spur innovation and improvement.”

Someone might want to tell that to the Congressional Budget Office, which evaluated Ryan’s original 2011 proposal to gradually move all of Medicare to private insurance companies. (In all these comparisons, we must remember that the goal is to reduce total cost -- to the government and the beneficiary combined -- compared with current projections. Merely shifting costs across the two categories is not a particularly impressive accomplishment.)

What did the budget office conclude? “A private health insurance plan covering the standardized benefit would, CBO estimates, be more expensive currently than traditional Medicare.”

Some of it was executed via bank-shot and addressed to "Occupant":

The Morning Plum: No, Romney and Ryan don’t really want a `great debate’ 
Ever since Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, it’s been widely claimed that this ensures a “great debate” pitting two starkly different ideological visions over the future against one another. But it’s now clear that the GOP ticket doesn’t want a great debate at all. Their entire strategy is designed to obscure the true ideological differences between both sides. 
Many media figures have pointed out that Romney has refused to detail his positions on issue after issue. What’s less appreciated is the real reason he’s doing this. The GOP candidates don’t really want that much-ballyhooed “great debate.” If they did want a contest between two grand visions, they wouldn’t be shying away from discussing the true nature and implications of their own vision. Yet they are doing just that. 
This explains why the Romney campaign has been campaigning so heavily on two falsehoods about Obama’s policies: That he gutted welfare reform’s work requirement and raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare. The former claim is a distraction; the latter is about muddying the two sides’ actual differences over what to do about the popular entitlement. The muddying is necessary because the actual Ryan vision for Medicare’s future is deeply unpopular. 

And some of it was  very personal 

David Brooks Doesn't Have Access to the Medicare Trustees Report

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 03:58

David Brooks makes one of his usual balanced pitches for the Romney-Ryan ticket. As usual, just about everything of substance in the piece is wrong.

He begins by bemoaning the fact that: "Entitlement spending is crowding out spending on investments in our children and on infrastructure." (Btw, "entitlements" is pundit speak for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.)

Brooks tells us:

"In 1962, 14 cents of every federal dollar not going to interest payments were spent on entitlement programs. Today, 47 percent of every dollar is spent on entitlements. By 2030, 61 cents of every noninterest dollar will be spent on entitlements."

Yes, that sounds really horrible, except to those who know budget data. The vast majority of this entitlement spending has been paid for with designated revenue streams. Back in 1962 the Social Securuty tax rate was 6.2 percent (combined employer and employee). Today it is 12.4 percent. The Medicare tax was zero. That's because we didn't have Medicare. Today it is 2.95 percent.

These taxes together cover the vast majority of the cost of these programs. Voters have repeatedly shown themselves willing to pay higher taxes to support the programs. It is true that if we don't get health care costs under control, they will eventually wreck the economy and also lead to huge budget deficits.

But the issue here is health care costs, not Medicare. If per person health care costs in the U.S. were comparable to those in any other wealthy country we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses not deficits. This is why serious people focus on the need to fix the health care system, not Medicare.
and hand-delivered:

David Brooks Badly Misrepresents the Romney/Ryan Medicare Plan
—By Kevin Drum| Mon Aug. 20, 2012 9:21 PM PDT

David Brooks writes today that Medicare is our biggest budget problem going forward (true) and that President Obama deserves some credit for tackling Medicare reform (also true). Still, he says, all Obama has done is "trimmed on the edges" of entitlement spending. Mitt Romney, by contrast, has shown "surprising passion" about reining in Medicare. And for all you non-tea partiers out there, it gets even better:
By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has put Medicare at the center of the national debate....When you look at the Medicare reform package Romney and Ryan have proposed, you find yourself a little surprised. You think of them of as free-market purists, but this proposal features heavy government activism, flexibility and rampant pragmatism.

The federal government would define a package of mandatory health benefits. Private insurers and an agency akin to the current public Medicare system would submit bids to provide coverage for those benefits. The government would give senior citizens a payment equal to the second lowest bid in each region to buy insurance.

This system would provide a basic health safety net. It would also unleash a process of discovery. If the current Medicare structure proves most efficient, then it would dominate the market. If private insurers proved more efficient, they would dominate. Either way, we would find the best way to control Medicare costs. Either way, the burden for paying for basic health care would fall on the government, not on older Americans.
How can Brooks write something like this? It just isn't true. The Romney/Ryan proposal for Medicare is an almost pure free-market plan. Its only cost-control mechanism is competitive bidding, and Romney has very specifically rejected all the cost-control mechanisms currently in the Affordable Care Act. If competitive bidding doesn't work, there's no flexibility, no pragmatism, no Plan B at all. 
Beyond that, how can he ignore the growth cap in the Romney/Ryan plan?
But that's not the real story either.

The real story snaps into focus when you consider that just three days before Mr. Brooks laid another Fake Centrist turd on the op-ed pages of America's newspaper of record, another prominent and faux-reasonable Conservative -- Niall Ferguson -- deposited a very similar load of steaming, fact-challenged Very Serious economic horseshit in a similarly public place: the cover of "Newsweek" magazine.

And like Mr. Brooks' piece, Mr. Ferguson's article was just nuked from all sides.

"Media Matters" tore it into confetti;
Newsweek, Niall Ferguson, And The Conservative Echo Chamber Newsweek's Admission Illustrates Exploitable Vulnerability In The Media


Niall Ferguson's Newsweek cover story on President Obama exemplifies a deficiency in today's media. As criticism of Ferguson's shoddy work mounted -- both from outside and inside of Newsweek/The Daily Beast -- Newsweek explained to Politico's Dylan Byers that Newsweek "rel[ies] on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Indeed, Byers also noted that Newsweek does not even have a fact-checking department.
Paul Krugman fed it through his wood-chipper
There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking — but this is the one that jumped out at me. Ferguson says:
"The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period." 
Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.
"The Atlantic" fisked it to death.

A Full Fact-Check of Niall Ferguson's Very Bad Argument Against Obama
A counterfactual history of the past four years.

Celebrity historian Niall Ferguson doesn't like President Obama, and doesn't think you should either.

That's perfectly fine. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to disapprove of the president. Here's the big one: 8.3 percent. That's the current unemployment rate, fully three years on from the official end of the Great Recession. But rather than make this straightforward case against the current administration, Ferguson delves into a fantasy world of incorrect and tendentious facts. He simply gets things wrong, again and again and again. (A point my colleague James Fallows makes as well in a must-read.)
And even Andrew Sullivan publicly cringed at the monumental fraud Mr. Ferguson was trying to perpetrate using his employer's good offices.
More to come. The piece is sadly so ridden with errors and elisions and non-sequiturs it will require a few more posts.

Mr. Ferguson's piece differs slightly from Mr. Brooks' in that Mr. Ferguson actually acknowledged the existence of his critics and penned a "rebuttal" to their criticism (which turned out to be just as dodgy as the original article and was subsequently destroyed just as thoroughly) but overall their fates are remarkably similar.

Which. at last, leads us to the real story here, a big clue to which is found gently enfolded in  Mr. Sullivan's more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger leading paragraph:
My old and good friend Niall Ferguson has written an essay arguing against re-electing Obama. So for the second time in four years, we will be backing separate candidates. One reason is that I believe that the Bush-Cheney wars turned out to be disastrous and a second war against Iran could be catastrophic. Niall has had no such change of heart and remains an advocate of American imperial power. Another is that I do not share Niall's view of the Obama administration's record, which I think he massively - and rather self-evidently - distorts.

And these further ruminations from today:
Ferguson Returns Fire

Niall defends his article and, on the CBO Obamacare numbers, claims that I don't "understand the issue that well." He says that none of the critics have addressed the substance of the piece - and that it's all a liberal lynch mob. That's insane. He's right that calls for him to be fired are egregious and over-the-top. But the criticism we've run on the Dish is entirely devoted to data.

A word here about friendship and public debate. Many of my peers regard me as unfriendly because I often criticize their arguments with as much aplomb and effect as I can. But I really do not see public debate between public actors as being in the realm of friendship, a subject I take seriously enough to have written a book on the subject. Friendship, for me, has never rested on a shared ideology or politics. I'm actually a little uncomfortable around people who agree with me. I grew up in a family that never stopped arguing, and no one took it personally when it was about a subject like politics or even religion. I take the Westminster view that you can verbally lacerate an opponent in the House of Commons and still have a few beers with him afterward. I mean absolutely no personal animus. Same with Goldblog. 

The real story here is not that Niall Ferguson and David Brooks have been caught engaging in some abstract, dorm-room, "public debate between public actors":  they have been caught committing big time journalistic fraud in pursuit of their partisan agendas.  

The real story here is that Conservatives like Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Brooks and dozens of  others (and their Fake Centrist enablers) have been committing this kind of fraud unmolested for years.  The real story is that they have gotten away with it and will continue to get away with it because their pals inside the media establishment (when they bother to take on their lies at all) will always find a way to reward and rehabilitate "old and good friend[s]".  

The real story is that, unlike virtually every other profession, no matter how many times these clowns get caught with their asses hanging out in public, their pals inside the media establishment will always,always, always treat any suggestion that they should be penalized for their lies by losing their place at the media trough as "egregious and over-the-top".

So which of these -- Niall Ferguson, David Brooks and Genital Herpes -- don't belong?


With proper medication, Genital Herpes can be brought under control, while thus far, people like Niall Ferguson and David Brooks have proven 100% resistant to all forms of treatment.


Why yes, the author of this post would be delighted to take your money!


Cirze said...

Such a brilliant dissection, Dg!

Clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap . . . .

marindenver said...

Thanks for putting all this together - hope you've had a chance to shower off! ;-)

Niall Ferguson's response to Krugman's criticisms of his dump Obama column are so laughable and juvenile that it almost knocked me flat.

Shorter Ferguson:

"Of course I misrepresented the facts but you're a BIG DOODOO for pointing that out!!!"

Not much to say about Bobo. He has remained true to form as always. When in doubt, always go with the lie.

blackdaug said...

Mike Huckleberry is already using this turd of an article to launch a new round of out- right-lie-ad's on HLN telling people to call congress and make Harry Reid vote to kill Obamacare in the Senate.
Bringing to mind only the questions: When will Newsweek's death spiral end.. and what can everybody do to speed that up?

Unknown said...

Off topic. I'm big fan of the podcast you do with your spouse. (Promise to send more $ soon).
I would so like to see someone ask both Romney and Ryan about their lack of commitment to national security.
Ryan is 42 yrs. old. Why, 10 years ago, did he not enlist in some arm of the military in response to 9/11 like other young patriots. If nothing else, he could have been a fitness trainer. Of course we know what Mitt Romney was doing during the Vietnam War. And, of course, we know that the Romney boys were doing their best to defend our country by getting daddy elected president.
Ryan, even has the nerve to say that he's sent people to war.
I would love to see someone make this a debate topic.