Girl Scouts now teaching their girls ways to waffle about bad news, not exactly character-building.

The Girl Scouts in several states are recalling batches of Lemon Chalet Crème cookies because they taste a little funny.  The manufacturer, also sometimes known as a baker, says the cookies are safe but “may contain oils that are breaking down.” 

Now the Girl Scouts are not calling it a recall, but a “quality withdrawal.”  I don’t know who the organization is attempting to fool with this squeamish euphemism, but they’re only kidding themselves. 

Most but not all stories in the news media on the recall so far use the term “voluntary recall,” often in the headline.  See, for example:

Some media report that the Girl Scouts call it a “quality withdrawal,” which only underscores what a silly expression it is because people see or hear it next to the accurate term, “voluntary recall.”

To state the obvious, the Girl Scouts use the term “quality withdrawal” in an attempt to communicate that the cookies are safe to eat, but just taste a little funky.  But “quality withdrawal” says nothing about taste and it doesn’t take away from the fact that the cookies have been recalled.  Moreover, most people with jobs work in the world of large organizations in which safety is often equated with quality or considered an attribute of quality.  That means that when they hear or read the term “quality withdrawal,” they may likely think of safety in any case.  In other words, many people won’t understand the distinction the Girl Scouts and its manufacturer are trying to make.  Many will be ticked off by this silly attempt to massage language.

The “suits” who decided to call it a “quality withdrawal” instead of what it is, a “recall,” have done the Girl Scouts a grave disservice.  I think most people will react poorly to the expression because they will see it for what it is: mealy-mouthed and weasel-worded corporate newspeak at its worst.

I don’t believe that this ineptly duplicitous approach to taking responsibility is consistent with the mission of the Girl Scouts of the USA, which describes itself as “the world’s preeminent organization dedicated solely to girls—all girls—where, in an accepting and nurturing environment, girls build character and skills for success in the real world.”     

If the Girl Scouts had asked me what to call it, I would have said “a voluntary recall because the cookies, though safe to eat, don’t taste right.”  The phrase is short, easy-to-understand, accurate and, most importantly, takes responsibility in a mature fashion.


One thing civil society doesn’t need is a lot of kids running around college campuses with concealed guns.

The local Pittsburgh media has reported about a young lady at one of the branches of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) recently registered a new campus organization, the CCAC branch of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

Yes, you heard it right. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus! It’s an organization that wants to allow college students to carry concealed hand guns on college campuses, with proper licensing of course. 

Currently CCAC and virtually all other colleges and universities ban firearms, and with good reason.  Traditional college students and those who live on campus for the most part are still completing the transition from childhood to adulthood.  They are on their own for the first time, and often ready to break free of their former lives or their parent’s beliefs.  Many are still learning how to read other people’s words and actions.   While many college kids are studious, most start drinking for the first time, and many practice the ancient art of binge-drinking.  Many do drugs. There is a high rate of adjustment problems, including depression.  There’s lots of sex and everyone’s horny, which sometimes can lead to jealousy or misunderstood motives.  While many college students show remarkably good common sense, some do very foolish things that they won’t be telling their own children about in future decades.

It seems irrational to want to bring firearms into this potent mix.  The only thing that can come of it are more innocent bodies bubbling blood through bullet holes.

Which brings us to the organization, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, which I am going to shorten to Stu-Con for the purpose of writing this blog.  On the website,, Stu-Con describes itself thusly:

“Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is a national, non-partisan, grassroots organization comprising over 42,000 college students, professors, college employees, parents of college students, and concerned citizens who believe that holders of state-issued concealed handgun licenses should be allowed the same measure of personal protection on college campuses that they enjoy virtually everywhere else.”

While regaining a right that they think has been taken from them is the objective identified in this mission statement, in fact much of the organization’s language and virtually all of its imagery focuses on self defense, i.e., shooting at someone.  There is a kind of Bernard Goetz subtext to the arguments and photography (Several decades ago, Goetz rode the New York subway with a loaded gun waiting for the chance to shoot a would-be thief or mugger; he ended up bagging four.)

Some example of this shooting mentality in the subtext of Stu-Con’s con:

  • Every image on the website except for photos of the board of directors shows a young person firing a gun and not at a target.
  • I have been to the Stu-Con website several times and until the visit I made while writing this entry the home page showed a montage of six posters, in all of which a young person was shooting at a bad guy, either for real or in a symbolic way. For example, one had two condoms and a woman firing a gun, with the caption, “What will deter your rapist from coming back for more?”  The poster montage was missing while I was writing the blog entry.  When I returned to the Stu-Con site a few hours later, there was only one poster, with the headline, “Which campus would a mass murderer pick?” and an image of a girl shooting and the caption “Armed Staff and Students” facing the image of a gun with a standard red “forbidden” icon over it and the caption “No Legal Guns Allowed.”
  • Multiple repetitions of the assumption (fallacious) that carrying firearms reduces the rate of crime. By the way, Stu-Con admits that crime rates tend to be lower on the average college campus.
  • Many inflammatory statements such as “Recent high-profile shootings and armed abductions on college campuses clearly demonstrate that ‘gun free zones’ serve to disarm only those law-abiding citizens who might otherwise be able to protect themselves” and “It is often claimed that students could not possibly react with the speed and proficiency required to take down an active shooter.  Neglecting the fact that these citizens (age 21 and older in most cases) already carry elsewhere and are trusted with that ability, as well as the fact that citizens are not required to perfect their skill in self-defense before exercising the right to self-defense, we present documented incidents of successful student self-defense.”

An interesting note: On its media page, there are no links to articles, only to YouTube versions of television news stories.  I guess it the Stu-Conners don’t believe college students read at all anymore. 

My assistant Colette contacted Stu-Con and asked three questions that are fairly standard, ones that most nonprofit organizations should be able to answer immediately.   I am assuming Stu-Con is a nonprofit because its URL ends in “.org,” and it takes a pretty slimy organization to register as an “.org” when it’s not a nonprofit.

Our questions, all of which Stu-Con’s Kurt Mueller refused to answer:

  • Are you a nonprofit organization?
  • Can you supply a list of your largest donors?
  • What percentage of your 42,000 reported members are college students?

At the very best, Stu-Con comprises well-intentioned if slightly benighted young people who like carrying guns around and may be slightly trigger-happy.  At its worst, it’s another money-making rightwing con like the Tea Party convention and much Tea Party activity (see the second half of Frank Rich’s January 16 column).

Some midwinter cleaning in the house of blog.

Every once in a while, I feel the need to do some blog house-cleaning. 

Let’s start with the windows.

The blog has been getting a lot of comments lately, so I thought I should tell readers how we handle them:  My assistant Colette reviews each comment and then posts all except those which are pornography (rare so far) or bald-faced advertisements (often).  I don’t care if the comments are derogatory of my blog entries, nor if the language is vulgar: if someone took the time to write it, we will post it.

Sometimes I will respond to the person who posted the comment. I prefer to send a private and almost always short email rather than clog up the blogosphere by commenting on the comment in the public blog space.

Sometimes I will publish the comment and my response to it in a blog, which brings us to the stove, still a bit hot from a boiling controversy…

Yesterday, “Stacie” responded to one of my two blogs advocating negative population growth with the following comment: “so basically you’re a eugenicist? fuck you man, my husband and I are going to have all kinds of brilliant babies!!”

Stacie may not know what a eugenicist is or maybe she does and is trying to throw some mud at me with a big word.  So let’s clear the air: A eugenicist is interested in improving the hereditary characteristics of future generations through selective breeding.  I did not advocate that at all, nor mention anything that even came close to talking about it.  What I was proposing was birth control across the board, not selectively.  There’s a whiff of Nazism about applying eugenics to humans, so I want to make sure my position is clearly understood.    

Finally, some vacuuming in the basement: On February 11, I ripped Nicholas Kulish of the New York Times for beginning an article with an assertion of factual news and then never proving it; not even discussing it, just taking it for granted.  The assertion was that many (most) Germans are sorry that their country switched to the Euro.

Kulish went to the German EU well again, but not so deep, and this time his pail didn’t leak because he cited a survey.  Just a few days later, On February 15, Kulish wrote an article, which was not the lead article on the front page, reporting that opposition to the European Market bailout of Greece was growing in Germany.  In the new article he does cite a survey.  (Of course it’s a long way from being opposed to a bailout to regretting the switch to the Euro, which is unmentioned in the new article.)

I have no idea if he read my blog on his first German EU piece or not.  I’m just delighted that Nick has decided to return to the land of the reputable journalists.  Let’s hope he remains there.

Write to Obama and tell him to make sure the federal government pays back Social Security what it owes.

The Associated Press reported yesterday afternoon that “President Barack Obama signed an order Thursday unilaterally creating a bipartisan commission to rein in unruly deficits after Congress rejected a similar body with considerably more enforcement power.

As I have said a few times and William Greider details in the January 25 issue of The Nation (posted on the Nation website on January 7), the force behind the bipartisan deficit commission is Pete Peterson and his pals, who have long clamored for gutting Social Security benefits.  Peterson, like many who dislike Social Security, pretends that it suffers from a deficit, which will get worse as baby boomers retire.  In fact, there is no Social Security deficit.  Social Security has a surplus that will last us many decades.

But under Reagan, Social Security began to loan its excess reserves to the federal government to help pay for the federal deficit. 

It is true that this year Social Security will pay out more than it takes in for the first time in 25 years, the first of many years that will occur as the baby boomers, those born 1946-1964, reach retirement age.  But as Paul Krugman has observed in several articles over the past few years, if the federal government pays back what it’s supposed to pay back, all Social Security needs is a quick fix or two, like raising the maximum salary subject to the Social Security tax.

But what if the bipartisan commission that President Obama creates follows the wishes of Peterson and other conservatives who want to use deficit cutting as an excuse for hacking Social Security into pieces?

Besides ruining the retirements of millions of working people, such a move would signal the first time the United States has ever defaulted on a debt.  We would lose all respect in the world, no one would want to lend us money for fear of another default and the dollar would soon be replaced by another currency as the basis of the world economy. 

Let’s work to make sure that never happens.  If you agree with me, do what I’m doing and send President Obama a letter or email asking him that in his charge to the commission that he asks them to recommend that the federal government pledges to pay back the Social Security system what it owes as the need to pay retirees and other recipients comes due. 

Also, tell your friends and relatives to write a letter to the President.  When the names of all commission members are announced I’m going request everyone to mail or email all the commission members telling them the same thing.

Is reducing the world population without war, disease or famine just a pipedream?

Earlier this week I proposed that by limiting everyone to one child each, in less than a century we could bring the world population down to 500 million, thereby ending both environmental and economic problems.

One reader asked quite aptly how I propose to do it. As the Burt Reynolds’ character says in “Semi-Tough,” Michael Ritchie’s 1980 send-up of the human potential movement, “I didn’t say it wasn’t going to be semi-tough.”

Conceptually, it’s easy: To change the behavior of vast numbers of people, it takes:

  • Changes in attitudes and social mores
  • Social pressure (the extreme form of the first point)
  • Incentives or disincentives, such as taxes and tax credits
  • Laws and regulations

To state the obvious, to get governments to create incentives, disincentives, laws and regulations, first there has to be a groundswell of support from somewhere, either a change of general mores or of the mores or goals of a ruling elite, e.g., a one-party government or a collection of corporations.

In the United States, a negative population growth (NPG) movement would begin with corporations and wealthy individuals using influence and grants to universities, think tanks, lobbying groups and foundations to create research, which would lead to public policy groups, government commissions and then coverage in the news media. The entire process was best described by that leftist professor G. William Domhoff in The Powers That Be, although the most frequent followers of his theories on how to achieve social change or control of public issues have been the right-wing. (And why not? The most ardent followers of the principles of capitalism as set down by Karl Marx in Capital (Das Capital) were Carnegie, Frick, Ford and other American industrialists.)

My history can get a little fuzzy at times, but I believe that prohibition, welfare reform and regulating cigarettes all came about because of this process.

A recent example of what Domhoff calls the “policy-formation” process is the way that Pete Peterson and his cohorts have been investing in research and commissions for the purpose of gutting the Social Security system. So far, his efforts have failed: Congress did not approve forming his proposed commission to investigate ways to address the federal deficit, which, as a number of columnists have pointed out, is a thinly veiled attempt to get at Social Security. But to get the Obama Administration to support the commission, he followed this policy formation process that starts with monied folks commissioning research that proves what they want to do is the right thing.

But can enough people (or enough people with clout) become convinced that we need to shrink our population? Hasn’t the economic well-being of many and the accelerating accumulation of wealth by a few depended too long on continually growing our population? Doesn’t that create a tremendous impediment to change?

I’ll answer that question in two ways:

1.  There are many examples of dramatic changes in attitude and mores of people over time.  Some examples:

  • Slavery was once practiced ubiquitously.  It took millennia, but now it’s forbidden everywhere.  
  • It also took centuries to end the custom of taking more than one wife.
  • The cultural attitude in the United States towards women in the workplace in the U.S. changed dramatically from 1960 to 1975 (see Gail Collins, When Everything Changed).
  • At the beginning of 19th century, infanticide was the preferred form of birth control in France (see Graham Robb, The Discovery of France) and abortion was a common procedure that didn’t bother most people and was often sued for birth control (see Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine).

2.  We are already seeing some countries experiment with NPG.  The Chinese approach had a bad rep; the social control aspects of it don’t bother me because I also see social control in western countries, but I am profoundly disturbed by the fact that the Chinese reacted by not having female children.  The current NPG status of both Germany and Italy and the general slowdown in population throughout western Europe suggests to many observers that as people rise economically and gain personal freedom they tend to have fewer children.  Of course, the recent rise in U.S. birth rates may belie that theory or prove it in the negative, i.e., people in the U.S. are losing ground economically and reacting by having more children.

The big challenge again is that so many people think that their economic well-being depends on growth and NPG will by definition lead to a shrinking economy.  But many people were invested in horse-and-buggies, vinyl records and Florida real estate.  In the part of the world economy that’s a free market, it’s just part of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction of capitalism.”  And in the part of the economy that’s managed, it’s just a social policy objective that requires management.  The hard part will be getting people to think straight about this issue, to understand that environmental pressures and resource shortages will reduce the population by violent and unsavory means unless we do it rationally first.

But I didn’t say it wasn’t going to be semi-tough!


The real challenge of the 21st century is to reduce world population without massive famine, disease or war.

Today let’s go big picture and look at some pressing global problems and my conceptually simple solution to them:

As Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, in the U.S. and worldwide, we face an excess of productive capacity that presses wages downward everywhere.  Lower wages means that owners and investors keep more of the wealth created by the economy.  Helped along by artificially low tax rates, this excess of productive capacity redistributes wealth upwards unless there are social constraints to prevent income polarization, as exist in western Europe.  From the Roman Empire to Mughal India, Spain in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire, various Chinese dynasties to 21st century United States, history teaches us that when incomes polarize, then rapid economic decline soon follows.

Here are the ways to increase the need for labor:

  • The market solution, which is preferred by most large industrial concerns and very wealthy people; that means to grow markets, open new markets, create new products for existing markets. 
  • The government solution, e.g., raising minimum wages, lowering maximum work times, mandating additional workers to perform government-required work, raising the basic standard of living that society guarantees to all such as education and medical care.  All attempts in this area are routinely met with great resistance by those who like market solutions and the mainstream and rightwing media they own or control through advertising purchases.

Note that in Europe and increasingly in China and Brazil, governments are employing combinations of both these strategies.

But spreading the wealth around in either of these ways pushes against the other major problem facing the U.S. and the world: the impact of humans on the earth, especially the inexorably accelerating spew of additional carbon into the environment.  Give more people relative wealth and they will create more pollution.  In world summits, this problem plays out as rich nations versus poor ones, developed versus nondeveloped, north versus south.  

My conceptually simple solution to both these problems is to shrink the population.  We know for a fact, again from a close reading of history that after a rapid depopulation economic good times soon follow as the cost of labor goes up and more people have money to spend.  The classic example is 14th century Europe after the bubonic plague wiped out about half the population.

Depopulation usually occurs because of some disaster: war, famine, disease.  But why does it have to be that way?

Suppose, for the sake of dreaming, that every person in the world today would have just one child.  Since having a child takes two parents, in about a generation the population would begin to naturally fall and within a century, we would have somewhere between 500 million to one billion people in the entire world.  With a century of investment into recycling, solar, wind, biofuel, smart grid and other technologies, we could very easily support a billion people with a fairly comfortable western middle class lifestyle.

But what of the transition costs, some may ask.  Remember that in most places, people have it drummed into their head that the only good economy is one that is growing.  But what if we know that the economy is going to shrink because there will be fewer people to serve?  It’s such an easy problem to address.  We merely do all the stuff mentioned in the two bullets above: let the market work and let government redistribute wealth and guide social and economic policy.

Now as the population shrinks, labor shortages will grow everywhere, as there will be fewer young people always entering at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder while the upward part of the ladder will always be relatively larger.  The number of people retired and supported by the workforce will also be relatively larger but that impact will be offset by a small population of children to serve.  But we know in advance professions serving the elderly will grow and those serving children will shrink and so can plan.

Additionally, developed nations can readily fill their labor shortages with people from the undeveloped world.  Western Europe has been doing just that as its native populations start to decline, e.g. in Italy and Germany.  It’s too bad that many of the locals and some governments in western Europe are reacting to the newcomers so poorly.  After all, it is this instream of immigrants that can enable the world to make a painless transition to a shrunken human population. 

But the last point I want to make about the transition costs of peaceful negative population growth is that whatever they are, they’re better than war, famine or disease.  

Humans are pushing against the upper limits of the earth’s carrying capacity for the current incarnation of our species, and natural history tells us that this situation typically leads to decline or outright extinction.  We can “rightsize” our species in a peaceful way or we can make a lot of people suffer.  I vote for peace and therefore endorse all efforts to reduce our population.

Another example of wishful “it’s so because we say it’s so” news reporting.

A lot of wishful thinking goes on in articles that purport to be news.  I’m talking about the kind of article that speculates that a trend is forming that will be positive to the interests of the U.S.  But when you read the article carefully, you see that it’s built on a series of conjectures and the opinions of one or two people with a vested interest in the prediction coming true.  No real facts.   

In the past, there have been wishful “it’s so because we say it’s so” articles about many topics:  violence ending in Iraq;, various national troops becoming ready to take a larger role in the defense of their countries; proof of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda; Chinese economic weakness; and even sighting economic green shoots sprouting and signaling the end of the deep recession.

For a classic example of these stories spun from the gossamer of wishful thinking, check out the lead story on the front page of the New York Times

The story is titled “Germany, Forced to Buoy Greece, Rues Euro Shift” and the first paragraph plus reads:

“As Europe edges toward emergency guarantees to stem market panic over one of the most profligate members of the euro bloc, the country that the region turns to for leadership, Germany, is suffering from growing doubts about the European experiment it long championed.”

But the rest of the article is about something else.  The reporter, Nicholas Kulish, makes no attempt to offer any facts to substantiate the supposed premise of the article—that the Germans regret having converted to the euro. 

The remainder of the article concerns the fact that German leaders know that Germany and France must take lead roles in helping Greece, but for the time being they are not talking about what they might do, a tactic that is suppose to put pressure on the Greek government.  The article does quote from someone who was opposed to the conversion to Euros and someone else whom we are supposed to assume was also opposed to it, but neither says anything about being opposed to it at the current time nor that they have heard a groundswell of people sorry that Germany made the move.

Although the article repeats many times that opposition to being on the euro is growing in Germany, the writer provides not one shred of evidence that it is so.  Everything else he writes in the article is well-substantiated, so that most readers may not even see that the basic assertion of the article is unproven.

USDA food pyramid elongates as much as Pinocchio’s nose and for pretty much the same reason.

The people who make advertising decisions for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must either have a sick sense of humor or an unconscious desire to admit that they’ve twisted the purpose of the food pyramid from helping people make good eating decisions to supporting food manufacturers.

The USDA is now running a series of public service announcement TV spots in which following the food pyramids help Pinocchio to grow into a real boy. 

The idea of using a pyramid to represent the ideal in healthy eating is brilliant in concept:  A pyramid is a series of triangular blocks one piled on top of the next, with each successively higher one smaller.  The food pyramid uses the lower blocks to represent food groups like carbohydrates of which people should eat more and higher blocks to represent to represent the food groups like meat of which people should eat less.  Look at the pyramid and you know exactly how to eat a healthy diet.

But as Marc Bittman (whom I trashed for his Thanksgiving anxiety piece in the New York Times) accurately points out in Food Matters, the food pyramid was tainted from its first public appearance as a USDA communications tool in 1992.  Although the first pyramid did get all the proportions right (6-11 daily servings of carbs; 2-4 or fruit; 3-5 of vegetables; only 2-3 from the vast group comprising meat, nuts, poultry, beans and eggs and sparing use of fats and sugar), nowhere did the pyramid mention that the carbs should all be whole-grain.  Bittman notes that it would thus be possible for someone to eat only highly refined carbohydrates, which metabolize like the sugar we are advised to avoid.  Bad for people, but good for food processors.

Today’s pyramid is a disgusting depiction of how special interests can sabotage the public interest.  Instead of blocks that use the pyramid’s shape to symbolize nutritional eating, the pyramid comprises a series of vertical bands, some slightly thicker and some slightly thinner, extending from the base to the apex of the pyramid.  We are supposed to eat less of the food from the thinner bands, but it’s so hard to tell the difference. 

But in fact the visual impact of the pyramid structure is completely lost.  The branding power of being able to see shapes that have immediate meaning is completely lost.  Instead we have a cheerfully colorful geometrical form that tells us nothing about nutrition.  We can of course read the fine print by clicking on the various bands, but instead of seeing in one image a strategy for healthy eating, we instead get a collection of unrelated factoids.

There are all kinds of lies, including lies by omission, by careful selection and pruning of facts, by false comparisons (conflations), by changing the subject to something irrelevant, or in the case of the food pyramid by the placement of facts on the page.  Saying that the combination of food groups we should eat has a pyramidal relationship to each other and then arranging the pyramid to conceal that relationship is a form of lying to my mind very similar to saying that refined sugar is natural or touting fat content for foods as a means to pretend that it makes them good for dieting.

In short, the USDA is a puppet for food processors.  And we all know what happens to the noses of puppets like Pinocchio when they lie. 

If the mainstream media is so leftwing, why does it love the Tea Party and exaggerate its influence?

Which publications would be considered more representative of the so-called liberal and leftwing leanings of the mainstream news media than New Yorker and the New York Times?  Yet both persist in giving enormous coverage to the Tea Party, much more than this small band of political entrepreneurs deserves compared to other third parties that have actually had a real impact on U.S. politics. 

First on the Tea Party’s impact:  It’s zero. 

We know its self-appointed leaders tried to defeat a Republican Congressman in upstate New York, with the result that the district went Democratic for the first time in decades.  As far as the Scott Brown election to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat goes, the only demographic analysis available only shows that people in the suburbs voted in greater numbers and people in the cities voted in fewer numbers relative to the 2008 presidential election.  That reflects long-term trends throughout the country and has nothing to do with the Tea Party.  An easy way to quickly understand how meaningless the Tea Party really is, except to news media, is to compare the extensive coverage it gets compared to the paltry coverage afforded a third party that actually did something:  the Greens, which swayed the results of the fateful 2000 election by attracting more than 2 million liberal votes from Al Gore. 

And yet the mainstream news media continues to bend over backwards to exaggerate the number of Tea Party followers.

Let’s start with the Ben McGrath encomium to the Tea Party titled “The Movement” in the February 1, 2010 New Yorker.  McGrath deftly uses selective facts and rhetorical tricks to legitimize the Tea Party and make it seem more important than it is.

 For example, he uses a common trick of fiction—to speak from the mind of a character —to give credence to the idea that close to 2 million people marched on Washington with the Teas, and then discuss the significance of that number, i.e., it’s greater than the attendance at President Obama’s inauguration. 

Of course, it’s all a fantasy that McGrath has spun, but he uses a variation of the literary technique called “free indirect discourse” to gently elide from the point of view of an objective reporter into the head of a hypothetical Tea party adherent.  Free indirect discourse is when you slide from the mind of the narrator to that of the character without using quotation marks or statements such as “he said” to tell the reader you changed points of view.  It’s so subtle that only a careful analysis of the paragraph would leave one with the conclusion that the writer knows that the correct number of marchers was well under 100,000.  Here is the paragraph, with the slide to the Tea mentality in bold and italics:

“Politics is ultimately a numbers game, and the natural excitement surrounding 9.12 drove crowd estimates upward, from an early lowball figure of sixty thousand, reported by ABC News, into the hundreds of thousands and across the million mark, eventually nearing two million—an upper limit of some significance, because 1.8 million was the figure commonly reported in mainstream or “state-run” media outlets as the attendance at President Obama’s Inauguration.  ‘There are more of us than there are of them, and we know the truth,’ one of the Kentucky organizers, who had carpooled to D.C. with a couple of co-workers from an auto-parts warehouse, told me.  The fact that the mainstream media generally declined to acknowledge the parallel, regarding the marchers as a loud and motley long tail of disaffection, and not a silent majority, only hardened their resolve.”

On the front page of yesterday’s New York Times (at least according to the website; our paper never came, thanks to 18 inches of snow!), Kate Zernike reports on the Tea Party convention, which drew 600 people.  That’s fewer people than attended the graduation ceremonies of my son’s high school!  Zernike buries this dismal turnout in the 18th paragraph of the story.  To all but the persistent reader, the impression is of a big gathering.

Coincidentally, when the New York Times covered the 2008 Green party convention to nominate its presidential candidate, 8 years after toppling Gore, the reporter never did mention how many people showed up.  The only number we got was 532, the tally of delegates voting, which typically would be a much, much lower number than the number attending the convention.

As a regular reading of Nation will show, there are many left-wing grass roots efforts across the country, but they are ignored by the main stream media.  By covering the Tea Party despite its small size and relative lack of significance, the main stream news media drives the political conversation in the country rightward. 

NPR the latest media to get on the walkaway bandwagon.

National Public Radio has hopped on the media bandwagon of advocates of just walking away from a house that’s underwater, i.e., worth less than the mortgage.

NPR aired a story this morning that justified and gave credence to the view that the one-third of all home owners across the country who owe more on the property than it is currently worth should just walk from their mortgages, especially those who can afford to keep paying the monthly note. 

The reporter did articulate the position that people have a moral obligation to pay their debts if they can, but it was clear that his sympathies were with the walkers.  For example, he identified the University of Arizona study that says that on a cost-benefit analysis, more people should be walking away from their mortgage.  Now anyone who heard the story (or read this blog) can get the survey online with a little effort. 

But for the study he references showing that 4 our of 5 homeowners think it’s immoral to walk away from a debt if you can pay it (and thank goodness for that!), he provides no citation whatsoever.  The listener has no idea who said it or how to find it. 

Press releases about hundreds of studies come out each week and the news media determine which ones they will insinuate into public consciousness and which ones they will lay on the gargantuan academic trash heap.  So when the news media picks up on some and not others, we have to ask: why? Why are NPR, the New York Times and other mainstream media giving so much ink to the odious idea of walking away from a debt you can pay?

Again, I believe it’s because they are representing the interests of investment banks and the real estate industry, which instead of being regulated would prefer for the average person to adopt their immoral ways, which include such odious but evidently legal actions as securitizing mortgages that they know are bad and then selling them to an unsuspecting public.  Or how about his one: creating special companies for investments so that they can walk away if it goes south and make their partners—investors all—bear most of the cost.

I wonder if the media trying to goad people into walking away from their obligations realize that once people learn to walk away from the place in which they play out their private dreams that they’ll be able to walk away from every other kind of obligation with a free conscious.  The result could be a significant breakdown of our economic order or a descent into an all-cash society.