Monday, August 13, 2012

The Newsroom: Counterpoints (8/12/12)

Okay, we're back with The Newsroom that we all know and love. Tonight's episode was pretty rich on obfuscation and bias so let's get right to it and knock them out by the numbers:

1. Newsroom Argument - The debt ceiling argument in Congress is so important that failing to extend the ceiling would result in the cessation of the dollar being a reserve currency (they kind of beat the viewer in the head with this. It's hard to take Sloan seriously with her hysterical rant).

Counterpoint: Not even close. Everybody knows that paying interest on the debt is paramount when it comes to maintaining the credibility of the US government. But failing to raise the debt ceiling doesn't mean the US won't be able to service its debt.

Due to extremely low short term and long term interest rates, it has never been easier for the US government to pay its debt obligations. Last year, the US government spent 230 billion dollars paying interest on the national debt. The US government took in 2.3 trillion dollars, or 10 times that amount last year. Debt payments come first. It's that simple. Nobody in the Federal government would put anything else otherwise.

This became evident when President Obama stated that Social Security payments were probably going to be suspended if Congress failed to reach a deal on the debt ceiling. The thing is, while the US government has more than enough revenue to cover its interest payments, it doesn't have enough money to cover all of its other obligations.

The US government would be faced with the unenviable task of fiscal triage, determining which Federal programs are considered most essential to continue regular operations while trimming payments elsewhere. The message was clear from the Democratic Party: reach a debt ceiling deal or granny's Social Security check gets it.

1a. Newsroom Argument - Wall Street says failure to reach a debt deal would be disastrous on the scale of the US Civil War because it would irreparably harm the full faith and credit of the US government.

Counterpoint: Let's get a few things straight. Anything that Wall Street says publicly is self serving. They just wanted the US government to reach a deal and went in full on Chicken Little mode to scare the US government. The real issue isn't about paying interest on the US debt. The real issue is about the absence of Federal spending in other programs.

Basic economics states that GDP equals private sector spending plus private sector saving plus government spending plus net imports minus net exports. If you deprive the Federal government of the ability to borrow money (so it can spend it on things like Social Security checks, Medicare payments, Medicaid payments, national defense, etc), you're looking at 1.3 trillion dollars in lost spending for the year.

That's about 8% of GDP. And it's more than the amount that our GDP contracted in 2008 and 2009, during the worst part of the financial crisis. Wall Street was concerned about a double dip recession. They weren't concerned about the full faith and credit of the US government. Everybody knew that bond payments would be prioritized in the event that Congress failed to reach a deal.

Realistically speaking, it was politically impossible for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for a time period of over 2 months because the cessation of Social Security checks would have created a political furor that would have resulted in every Congressman losing their jobs. Nobody was really concerned that this deal wasn't going to get passed. Brinksmanship can be a nervous game to watch from the outside, but those in the know know that these things always fall into place at the last minute.

2. Newsroom Argument - Michelle Bachmann (and the rest of the religious right) is insulting ordinary Americans by saying that God told her to run for President

Counterpoint: Disclaimer. I'm not particularly religious, so this is going to be an unorthodox defense. But when somebody says "God told me to do it", what it really means is this: I prayed and after prayer, I decided to do something.

Nobody is claiming that God physically spoke to Michelle Bachmann and told her to run for President. She simply prayed and decided that she should run. When President Bush (43) told the press that he prayed on tough decisions, he was essentially saying the same thing Bachmann said. Claiming "God spoke to me to do x" is really just a codeword for "I'm religious and my opponents probably aren't."

Maggie already got countered in the show by Jim, but I felt like I should just address it here.

3. Newsroom Argument - The NSA is breaking the law. And it's doing things on par with Soviet Russia.

Counterpoint: There is no real counterpoint to this. The NSA has been breaking the law since its inception after WWII. The "Global Clarity" thing that they claimed was spying on Americans? That thing existed since the 1960s. The actual program is called ECHELON.

In terms of intelligence gathering, nothing fundamentally changed at the NSA post-9/11. The real changes happened elsewhere. Of course, I can't actually speak on this subject with any authority whatsoever. The NSA is the most secretive organization in the Federal government. Anybody who could make a credible claim on what the NSA is actually doing would be prosecuted under the Espionage Act (as alluded to in the show).

But it's silly for the show to create a false equivalency between Soviet oppression and our Federal government's activities. The truth is that reality is messy and edge cases will always exist. The extralegal (or at the very least, legally dubious) assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki via predator drone represents the extreme case of the government action against a US citizen. Stalin killed 20 million of his own countrymen in purges and sent millions to languish in political prisons in Siberia. Numbers matter and so does intent. The US government has never come close to Soviet style brutality.

 4. Newsroom Argument - Making Republican Congressmen mad will hamper a media company's efforts to bid on wireless spectrum due to FCC intransigence.

 I know this is Aaron Sorkin's attempt to sound business savvy, but this is just ridiculous. The media companies can't wait to get rid of their spectrum holdings. The biggest players in buying spectrum have been the telecommunications and internet companies. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and Google would pay much more money to acquire spectrum than a company like Time Warner or Comcast. The cable and media conglomerates have been selling to the telcos. Not the other way around.

Now, it's true that lawmakers can make their concerns be heard, but the executive branch has final say on approving these types of business transactions. Last I checked, the FCC and the Justice Department belonged to the Obama Administration. AWM under Leona Lansing would be more concerned about Julius Genachowski and Eric Holder (the heads of FCC and Justice, respectively) than Michelle Bachmann and Paul Ryan (I can't believe they had her character smear Ryan. The dude doesn't care at all about spectrum deals.).

5. Newsroom Argument - Sloan Sabbath is a hot mess.

Counterpoint: Huh? I think I ran out of material. Carry on, please.

1 comment:

  1. I don't mind people pointing out inaccuracies. I do, however, mind your condescending tone. I also mind how you presume to know what a Christian extremist means when they say God told them to do something. As you claim to not be religious., such speculation Would be beyond your expertise. Finally, the FCC does answer to a few Senate sub-committees and a media CEO being concerned that a few sub-committee Senators could make things difficult for her is not unrealistic.