The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: "If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers."
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it "a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt."
Republican and conservative media figures lauded a report from CBS' 60 Minutes on the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, using it to advance their attacks on the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. But that report has since come under fire following the revelation that the piece's key Benghazi "eyewitness" had previously claimed he was nowhere near the compound on the night of the attack.
Conservative media figures have criticized President Obama's focus on immigration reform, saying that the top priority should be the economy and jobs. In fact, immigration reform is an economic issue: studies show that it would boost economic output and lower unemployment.
Right-wing media are falsely claiming that a State Department Inspector General review is linked to dubious allegations that State ignored "whistleblowers" during an independent review of attacks on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. In fact, the routine investigation was planned before the State Department's Accountability Review Board released its findings, has nothing to do with "whistleblower" allegations, and will investigate decades of State actions.
Conservative media figures are painting a new White House push on affordable housing with the same dishonest brush they used to shift blame away from Wall Street for the housing bubble that precipitated the 2007-08 financial crisis.
On the April 3 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney said that "lowering standards for who can borrow money to buy a home" is "what got us into trouble in the first place." The Washington Free Beacon made the same claim in an article titled "Subprime: The Sequel," and Ed Morrissey of HotAir.com claimed "the central failure in that bubble...was incentivizing increasingly risky loans with government cash and coercion."
But the housing bubble of the early 2000s was caused by private sector lending behavior, not government policy. The government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, commonly called the GSEs, didn't lead private financial institutions into the subprime market and the complex financial instruments that made the bubble so toxic. Instead, they followed Wall Street there. As the University of North Carolina's Center for Community Capital explained, "Ultimately, profit not policy was what motivated Fannie and Freddie and loan products not borrowers were what caused their collapse."
The data support this explanation. The loans to borrowers with lower credit scores which the GSEs bought up fared much better than did similar privately-securitized loans. (Six times better, according to the Center for American Progress). A Federal Reserve report using different methodology "found no evidence" that government policies designed to encourage lending to lower-income borrowers had contributed to the subprime bubble. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's final report examined and thoroughly debunked the contrary argument, primarily made by the American Enterprise Institute's Ed Pinto:
In direct contrast to Pinto's claim, GSE mortgages with some riskier characteristics such as high loan-to-value ratios are not at all equivalent to those mortgages in securitizations labeled subprime and Alt-A by issuers. The performance data assembled and analyzed by the FCIC show that non-GSE securitized loans experienced much higher rates of delinquency than did the GSE loans with similar characteristics.
Morrissey's post labels Pinto, former executive at Fannie Mae, a kind of soothsayer "who originally pointed out the failure at [the Federal Housing Administration]." But beyond the wonks who've debunked Pinto's claims, financial experts and journalists like Bailout Nation author Barry Ritholtz, The New York Times' Joe Nocera, and Bloomberg's David Lynch have shown him to be a primary driver of the false blame-the-government narrative of the crisis five years ago that conservative media are applying to housing policy developments in 2013.
An April 2 Washington Post article on the White House's efforts to broaden the reach of the current housing market resurgence notes that the recent improvement in the market "has been delivering most of the benefits to established homeowners with high credit scores or to investors who have been behind a significant number of new purchases." Housing officials, however, argue that a housing recovery that is limited to near-riskless buyers is constraining the broader economic recovery. According to the piece:
From 2007 through 2012, new-home purchases fell 30 percent for people with credit scores above 780 (out of 800), according to Federal Reserve Governor Elizabeth Duke. But they declined 90 percent for people with scores between 680 and 620 -- historically a respectable range for a credit score.
"If the only people who can get a loan have near-perfect credit and are putting down 25 percent, you're leaving out of the market an entire population of creditworthy folks, which constrains demand and slows the recovery," said Jim Parrott, who until January was the senior adviser on housing for the White House's National Economic Council.
"I think the ability of newly formed households, which are more likely to have lower incomes or weaker credit scores, to access the mortgage market will make a big difference in the shape of the recovery," Duke said last month. "Economic improvement will cause household formation to increase, but if credit is hard to get, these will be rental rather than owner-occupied households."
Yet conservative ideologues in the media appear eager to cast any attempt to expand the list of winners in the housing market's comeback as a doomed repetition of an invented history of a crisis that was actually caused by widespread private-sector fraud, greed, and collusion.
Right-wing media are attempting to rebut a TV ad calling for stronger gun laws by claiming that it depicts unsafe gun handling.
According Fox News, conservative bloggers, and the National Rifle Association's news program, an ad calling for expanding the background check system features a man with his finger on the trigger of a firearm that is not ready to be fired, an unsafe practice. In fact, footage from another ad featuring the same firearm clearly indicates that the right-wing media are wrong about where the gun's trigger is; the man's finger is actually nowhere near the trigger in either ad.
The claim originated with Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller, who claimed in a March 25 article that ads recently released by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) are "irresponsible" because the man in the ad "violates all three gun safety rules taught by the National Rifle Association." Miller specifically claims that "the man has his finger on the trigger, as if ready to shoot," and comments, "To make an ad demonstrating actual gun responsibility, the man would put a straight forefinger above the trigger guard to make sure he doesn't accidentally touch the trigger."
Miller was referencing this moment from the ad "Responsible":
But another ad released by MAIG, "Family," which features the same man and firearm, shows the position of the trigger on that particular firearm to be much closer to the buttstock than where the man's index finger is in "Responsible":
Based on the trigger location clearly seen in "Family," the trigger of the firearm would sit approximately behind the base of the man's hand in "Responsible" making it impossible for his finger to be on the trigger or within the trigger guard.
Miller's claims have nonetheless been picked up by The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Hot Air, and a Townhall column authored by Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and have also been featured on Fox & Friends and the NRA's Cam & Company on the Sportsman Channel.
Fox and right-wing media figures defended Republican House Speaker John Boehner's decision to cancel a vote on an aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Following sharp bipartisan criticism over that decision, Boehner agreed to a vote this week.
Right-wing media have inconsistently responded to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) failed attempt to pass his proposed "Plan B" to resolve the so-called "fiscal cliff" standoff, including praising conservative Republicans who opposed the measure, expressing regret that the measure didn't pass, questioning the viability of Boehner's speakership, and blaming President Obama for the plan's failure, despite Obama's concessions to the GOP.
Right-wing media outlets are reporting that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate of gun violence prevention, denied the National Guard entry into Brooklyn to aid victims in the wake of Hurricane Sandy because members of the National Guard carry firearms. In fact, during the press conference the critics are citing, Bloomberg said he opposed having the Guard patrol the streets because he believed the New York Police Department was sufficiently equipped to protect the public and that the Guard would be better used in locations with smaller police forces.
During an October 31 press conference, Bloomberg was asked to respond to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's request for additional National Guard resources to deter criminal activity. Bloomberg responded that "The National Guard has been helpful, but the NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns," adding that "[w]e don't need it" and that the troops would be better used for that purpose in "locations upstate and into surrounding states where they don't have a police department the size of New York."
REPORTER: Mr. Mayor, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz has a question, additional National Guard in Brooklyn, do you agree?
BLOOMBERG: No, we appreciate the help. The National Guard has been helpful, but the NYPD is the only people we want on the street with guns. We don't need it. There has been one or two minor outbreakings, disgraceful as they may be, looting reported in the paper, but the vast bulk of people are doing the right thing. And in Brooklyn people are safe the same way they are in the rest of the city. We have the resources, the NYPD is 100 percent confident that we can protect the public, we've been doing this for an awful long time. You just have to take a look at the crime rate to understand how good a job this is. And the National Guard has plenty of responsibilities. There are plenty of locations upstate and into surrounding states where they don't have a police department the size of New York, and they can use help from the state, and that's where they should be.
Conservative media outlets are claiming that the military is purchasing more electric vehicles in an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." But military leaders across the political spectrum say that the Pentagon's green initiatives will enhance military effectiveness and strengthen national security.
Last month, Stars and Stripes reported that the Defense Department plans to add about 1,500 "road-capable" electric cars to its fleet over the next few years. So far, the military has purchased 168 plug-in electric vehicles -- including some Chevy Volts. Thomas Hicks, the Navy's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy, recently told Scientific American that the goal of the military's green initiatives is "improving our combat capability, improving our mission effectiveness, and reducing our vulnerabilities to foreign sources of fossil fuel."
But conservative media outlets have conjured up another motive, accusing the Obama administration of using taxpayer dollars to boost GM's sales numbers -- even though the military is buying several types of electric vehicles. A Breitbart post said: "The Obama administration is helping General Motors again by buying up its struggling line of electric cars." And a Washington Free Beacon article stated: "The Pentagon's massive car-buying scheme is the latest example of government trying to help GM raise its sales volumes."
Other conservative outlets are calling the purchases a "political statement," and an attempt to "prop up the Obama administration's green agenda." And Fox News, which never misses an opportunity to lambast the Volt, issued the self-fulfilling prophecy that the military's purchase will become "the latest controversy in the Volt's short life."
Several conservative outlets cited a Reuters report that GM is losing up to $49,000 on every Volt sold to suggest that electric vehicles are a waste of taxpayer money. But as the International Business Times pointed out, this figure does not take into account future Volt sales or the application of its technology to other products, which will lower per-vehicle costs. GM called the Reuters figure "grossly wrong," and said that it expects to break even by the time the second-generation Volt is introduced in a few years. Former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz wrote in Forbes that "[m]aybe the Volt, a first-generation technology masterpiece and the most-awarded car in automotive history, will never make a really decent profit. But succeeding generations of the same technology will."
International Business Times noted that the Volt is a forward-looking investment by GM, which "should be reassuring to investors and the market." Likewise, the military's investment in electric vehicles is part of a long-term strategy to reduce its dependence on oil, mitigate the risks of climate change and enhance national security.
Right-wing media are fearmongering over an Obama campaign smartphone app that makes it easier for any smartphone user and Obama supporter to get involved in the campaign without first having to visit a campaign office. Conservative media are claiming that it will allow users to "spy" on their neighbors and report that information back to the campaign.
In fact, the app is designed to simplify the process for getting involved in the 2012 campaign; it includes only information that is publicly available; and it has built-in privacy protections against abuse. Moreover, the Romney campaign also makes voter information freely available to anyone who registers on its website.
On July 30, the Obama for America campaign introduced an iPhone app that "will make it even easier to connect with the campaign and pitch in wherever you are." From the campaign:
This campaign's strength has always come from the millions of grassroots supporters who are organizing their communities, and the new Obama app puts the latest organizing tools right at your fingertips.
With the new app, you can easily find local volunteer events near you, get a list of voters to talk to in your neighborhood, and access all the information you need to spread the word: from President Obama's record to state-specific voting info. You can also stay up to date with breaking news, which you can instantly share with friends and family using Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging.
In an article on the app, Pro Publica noted: "All this is public information, which campaigns have long given to volunteers. But you no longer have to schedule a visit to a field office and wait for a staffer to hand you a clipboard and a printed-out list of addresses." Pro Publica went on to report:
It's unclear if the app displays all registered Democrats who live in a certain area, or only a subset of voters President Obama's campaign is trying to reach.
Asked about the privacy aspects of the new app, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign wrote that "anyone familiar with the political process in America knows this information about registered voters is available and easily accessible to the public."
The information included in the app has "traditionally been available to anyone who walks into a campaign field office," said the spokesperson, who declined to be named.
While the app makes voter information instantly available, it displays only a small cluster of addresses at a time. It has built-in mechanisms to detect when people are misusing the data, "such as people submitting way too many voter contacts in a short period of time," the spokesman said.
CNN contributor Erick Erickson and other conservative media are claiming that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Chinese authoritarianism because he said that the Chinese have been successful in building infrastructure. But these outlets cropped LaHood's comments to exclude his explicit praise of U.S. democracy.
In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, LaHood said that the "Chinese are more successful" at building infrastructure "because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million."
Erickson used those remarks to claim in a post at RedState that LaHood "has come out in favor of the Chicoms over Americans," and that the Obama administration is "rooting against us and for a murderous regime of despots." But Erickson ignored that LaHood added that the U.S. has "the best system of government anywhere on the planet," as Foreign Policy Magazine reported:
LaHood said that despite this, democracy is still preferable. "We have the best system of government anywhere on the planet. It is the best. Because the people have their say," he said.
Right-wing media have praised the decision made by many Republican governors to not participate in the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid eligibility. But the provision being rejected by GOP governors would expand affordable health care coverage to millions of struggling Americans.
Right-wing media have attacked a contract between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a public relations firm to raise awareness of health and preventive care opportunities as a "propaganda piece" for the health care law that "violates many of the procurement laws." But PR campaigns like this are nothing new; in fact, the Bush administration spent $1.6 billion dollars over a 30-month span promoting its policies.
On the heels of what some in conservative media circles are heralding as a "breakthrough" story and "journalism in its purest form" -- the Breitbart.com piece highlighting a 1991 pamphlet that erroneously listed President Obama's birthplace as Kenya -- Rush Limbaugh entertained the "thought-provoking theory" on Friday that Obama is actually the one who started the birther conspiracies to take advantage of an "affirmative action opportunity that was available only to those born in Africa."
Limbaugh stated that he agreed with this premise and that the final takeaway from all of this was that "the guy" -- Obama -- "will exaggerate, make it up, lie, what have you. That's the lesson to be learned here."
It's unclear where this "theory" originated, but Limbaugh was referring to a piece posted at Pajamas Media on Friday by Roger Simon, who purported to guide readers through the "mystery of the Kenyan birth" and offered several "explanations" for why the pamphlet, published by Obama's former literary agency in 1991, said Obama was "born in Kenya." He ultimately concluded that "the agent's source for Obama's birthplace was... Barack Obama." Simon went on to write:
Why would he lie about where he was born?
Well, he might have wanted to glamorize his past, but if that's so, it's pathetic. I suspected there was a more substantive reason, one that would cause him to leave his African birth place in place in the bio. But to take the risk of being found out, it would have to be strong.
What if, we thought, as others have suggested, the reason Obama's school records have not surfaced is that he enrolled, at one of those institutions at least, as a foreign student -- a Kenyan?
But why would he choose to do that? Well, maybe for a grant, a subvention, a scholarship that was available uniquely to students from Africa or similar locales.
Yes, I know that's not "fair," in the lexicon of the Lord of Fairness, to have adopted a phony identity and deprived others of an opportunity they may have more richly deserved. But it would certainly fit with Obama's early need to be recognized as a Kenyan by his agent and, presumably, his publisher. As we all know, it's not the crime, but the cover-up. (In this case, actually, it's both.)
As time went on, of course, college drifted away and politics reared its head. The Kenyan identity became less necessary, even a liability, so it was dropped.
I don't know about you -- but this makes sense to me. It also fits with the tomb-like silence around his college years.
But I could be wrong.
The conservative Powerline blog, which Limbaugh cited, jumped on Simon's thread, calling the theory "intriguing" and "thought-provoking."
Sadly, there is nothing "intriguing" or "thought-provoking" about entertaining conspiracies that are being pulled, as far as I can tell, from the air -- especially when so many holes have been poked into this particular birther bubble: