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Partisanship and policy

In my household, we have a rule about arguments: Once you've moved from arguing about the initial point of dispute to arguing about things said during the argument, the discussion has outlived its purpose. I'm reminded of that rule with some of the debates that have sprung out of the Weigel leak, including the one that Greg Sargent references here, in which a couple of Washington Post writers shielded themselves behind anonymity and criticized the company's bloggers -- myself included -- on Jeffrey Goldberg's blog.

There's a delicious irony to seeing reporters pontificate about the importance of journalistic standards while refusing to reveal their names, but let's leave that alone for a second. That's arguing about the argument. There's an actual point lurking in these criticisms that gets to the core of my work and that's worth explaining to both my anonymous newsroom critics and my readers.

On Jeffrey Goldberg's blog, one of my colleagues allows that I might be "talented," but I'm "an absolute partisan." If I'm where the media is going, my critic says, he or she wants out. So far as intra-journalist insults go, allegations of partisanship are the sort of charge that merit pistols-at-dawn. But in this context, I think it's mainly confused, both about what I'm doing, and what I mean in context of journalism.

Journalism has set up a dichotomy between "objectivity" and "partisanship." And the thing to be, of course, is objective. Neutral. Without opinion or bias. My view -- and people can argue over this -- is that this was an economic decision that eventually attained the aura of an ethical judgment. Tim Lee lays out the case here, and the basic upshot is that hiding opinions and conclusions made newspapers more profitable, but that's not the same as making for the best news coverage. And if you believe that, then you're more willing, as I am, to try out different forms of news coverage. Which is why what I want to talk about isn't objectivity. It's objectivity's supposed opposite: partisanship.

One of the odd things about Washington's relationship with the rest of the country is that though policy gets made here and elections happen elsewhere, normal people tend to be pretty focused on what Washington is doing to, and for, them, while Washingtonians tend to be pretty focused on who'll win the next election. That's why presidential debates moderated by journalists have a lot of electoral strategy questions while townhalls have almost no electoral strategy questions.

If you look at things through an electoral prism, it's easy to understand the world as divided between people who want Democrats to win and people who want Republicans to win. In the policy arena, however, that breaks down a bit. People who are serious about policy, who know what they want to do before either party knows what it wants to do, tend to be partisans of outcomes as opposed to elections. And that's a very different beast.

An example: I was a staunch supporter of health-care reform. But though I supported the Affordable Care Act, my readers know that I far preferred, and did everything I could to advocate, the bipartisan Healthy Americans Act. The HAA was politically much more difficult: It upset unions and employers by cleaving the relationship between the workplace and health-care benefits. But it was a better bill. If the Republicans had embraced it, I would've stood with them during the health-care debate. Instead, even the Republicans who co-sponsored the bill abandoned it, and coalesced around an opposition to comprehensive health-care reform in general.

Another example: From the beginning, I've said that this financial regulation bill doesn't comfort me much. It relies too much on regulatory discretion and not enough on clear, simple rules of the road. The Republicans, who harbor a deep and long-standing mistrust for bureaucracies, might have countered with something more automatic, and I would've supported such an effort. They didn't. Their eventual proposal was like the Democrats' proposal, only weaker.

My policy analysis, of course, isn't infallible, and I operate from some principles that conservatives don't find congenial. I hope you read analysts who aren't me. I certainly do. But I'm also hampered because the Republican Party is not, at this moment, a policy-focused institution. That's not because they're bad people. It's because they're out of power, and minority status is thick with incentives for an irresponsible form of opposition. Serious policymaking requires embracing unpopular proposals, and there's no reason for Republicans to do that right now. They want Democrats to sag under the weight of all the unpopular compromises that come from making policies, and then they want to race past the Democrats in the next election.

For me, this is something of a shame: As my anonymous colleague's comments suggest, nothing would be better for my career than to align with Republicans on some prominent policy fight. In D.C., that sort of loud fence-crossing is understood to demonstrate an independent, courageous spirit. But I can't do that until they offer up something to get behind. Instead, they're saying we need deficit reduction but can't even talk about tax increases, they've left the Gregg-Wyden tax reform proposal to gather dust, and they killed the deficit commission when it made it way through the Senate. It's not been an impressive performance, and as a policy partisan, I can't support it.

What I can do is explain why I think what I think about the policies Republicans offer, the policies the Democrats offer, and which will do more good for people out in the real world. People can disagree with these judgments, of course. But trying to figure out how legislation will affect people and then arguing in favor of the policies likely to have a positive impact is not, I imagine, a type of partisanship most people would find very alien. To say you're a partisan of good things rather than bad things isn't to say you're much of a partisan at all. And to explain why you think some things are good and some things are bad, well, that's just being transparent. And journalists are supposed to like transparency.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 28, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
 
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Comments

Yes! this hit the nail on the head. Its why Ezra is worth reading, why Andrew Sullivan is worth reading, and why the MSM is dying. They don't understand how to think outside of their paradigm of ideological teams. Sometimes I think its a generational difference.

Posted by: nathanlindquist | June 28, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I would say you are partisan (which is not a slur in and of itself, everyone has their biases) for your refusal to call a spade a spade when it comes to the more troubling parts of ACA. It is impossible to be intellectually honest and claim that this bill reduces the deficit. The games they've played with the CLASS Act and Social Security taxes to create the illusion of deficit reduction are laughable at best, shameful deception at worst.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 28, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Partisan and ideological are not the same, although it seems they are frequently confused. It seems a bunch of conservative commentators have been fired recently for sticking to their beliefs rather than the Republican party.

Neutral is a dangerous term. Journalists have interpreted it to mean you have to include equal criticisms of Rs and Ds. This is very different than being objective. Neutral is "shape of the earth - views differ." Objective reports on the actual shape of the planet.

Posted by: fuse | June 28, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Any comments about the WaPo ombudsman's jaw-dropping statement about Weigelgate, Ezra? It beggars belief. Or I guess partisanship is only partisanship when it's Democratic partisanship.

Also -- and I really don't know why this needs to be said -- there's nothing wrong, absolutely nothing, with the vast majority of your policy positions lining up with the policy agenda of the Democratic party any more than, say, George Will's or Michael Gerson's line up with the GOP's. You are allowed to champion progressive policies as loud and as long as you'd like if you truly believe in the superiority of those policies and ideas over those espoused by Republicans. Roughly half of all voting Americans share those values, so they're no exactly unpopular, except in Washington,which, as Josh Marshall says, remains wired for Republicans.

And I can't quite fathom the comments of your anonymous colleagues. You, hyper-partisan? Many of your readers feel like (in typical WaPo and Obama fashion) you've been too deferential to the likes of Olympia Snowe, Lindsey Graham, and Paul Ryan, and that they've played you like a violin.

Posted by: scarlota | June 28, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I think Atrios or whoever it was who said that most reporters report their own opinions as the facts they are supposed to report on hit the nail on the head.

And your explanation that DCers care only about who will win the next election so that they can line up in the right line may in fact be a better explanation of why they all care so much about the horse race than that they are all shallow people who can't be bothered to learn the details of policy and prefer to just chat amongst themselves.

All that said, what you and Greg and others bring to the table that is so much more valuable is analysis and fact-checking. You take your own reporting and the reporting of others (they work the phones; you also read stuff put out by people like CBPP and EPI and all that health stuff) and put it in the larger context of the problems facing the country. You also document with all that research when other people are fabricating or mischaracterizing or mistaken. The other guys are stenographers and gossips.

I much prefer the new journalism and learn much more from it. Plus it is interactive!

Posted by: Mimikatz | June 28, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,
It's been clearly stated over and over that the deficit reduction claim is according to the budget rules as they stand. It's disingenuous to argue that the bill should be evaluated beyond the standard budgetary rules.

Posted by: mschol17 | June 28, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

One of your best posts. This is also why I think you are the best interviewer writing for the Washington Post today (see especially the Paul Ryan interviews).

I personally find clearly labeled "partisan" writing to be much more honest than "objective" writing". Where Dave Weigel got into trouble was the ambiguity about whether his blog was "partisan" or "objective" contrasted with the tone of the leaked E-mails.

Posted by: jnc4p | June 28, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

In Frank Rich's last article a few days ago, he said that the Rolling Stone magazine was better situated to break the McChrystal story than the main stream media (because today's MSM is too ethically challenged).

Curiously, just a day or so before Rich's article, I opined here in one of my attacks on the media that today's media would never be able to break a Watergate type of story. Frank Rich basically agrees with me.

Now if we could just get the MSM to demand BP hold a press conference or to vociferously demand access to the gulf killing fields, we'd be getting somewhere.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 28, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

I have to disagree with you on Ezra's veracity. While I definitely agree with you that the CLASS Act is going to have to be revisited (as are virtually all parts of the legislation), how are Democrats being dishonest about FICA taxes?

Also, if you're going to say that the CBO scoring of the CLASS Act is defective, then you also have to argue that the CBO's savings methodology of IMAB and comparative effectiveness are defective, too. So two can play at this game.

Posted by: moronjim | June 28, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Good post Ezra. You touched on why I gave up my traditional reporting habit, despite being pretty good at it. Opinions are natural, and many of my best work stemmed from questions that grew from my own opinions. Those opinions caused me to ask more questions on certain subjects -- my gut just couldn't accept certain answers.

Since giving up traditional journalizing, I've rarely read traditional news stories. Too much information contained therein is simply regurgitated. And he-said-she-said blather is boring.

I find much more information is accessible through reporters writing blogs, with their own opinions contained therein. The only objectivity I now seek is that the author acknowledge consent. That's something you and your former colleague, Mr. Weigel, did often. That's why the only reason I visit the WP's site is for your blog. I also frequented Weigel's, but that won't -- and can't -- happen any longer.

I wish all the WP's reporters would report in the manner you do. I'd visit the site much more and undoubtably learn much more. Having spent time in many newsrooms -- practically growing up in 'em since my parents are journos, --I know all reporters have opinions. And many of those opinions are beautiful and odd. These folks spend so much time thinking about and learning about subjects, that they can often understand topics in counterintuitive ways that will make readers think, even if only to formulate an opinion about why the reporter is wrong. But what's wrong with that.

So, to nutshell it, you're right. Your post colleagues are wrong. I just wish the quoted colleague would write a post explaining how I, the reader, is better served by his or her masking all opinions. Maybe then I might read his or her work, since I can then associate it with a byline. As is, that writer just remains another anonymous writer whose contract dictates he or she must get stuff in print. And since I'm on the record as saying I don't read the boring traditional reporting produced by the Post on the reg, my contract states explicitly that I'll never read it.

Personality makes for great writing, great writing makes for great reading. I hope the Post's leadership will encourage it's huge stable of writers to introduce their personalities to its readers.

mark.

Posted by: markhengel | June 28, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

One last comment on whether Ezra is a partisan:

I believe that Ezra is a partisan of action over inaction. Thus if the Healthy Americans Act (aka Wyden-Bennett) didn't have enough support, then the Affordable Care Act (aka the Democratic health care bill) was good enough for him. This also informs his view of Senate procedure.

There is another view, which might be called the "First Do No Harm" approach which disdains legislating for the sake of legislating. You can compromise so much that the bill does more harm than good and isn't worth passing, but I suspect this conclusion is a lot harder for Ezra to reach than say David Brooks.

Posted by: jnc4p | June 28, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"On Jeffrey Goldberg's blog, one of my colleagues allows that I might be "talented," but I'm "an absolute partisan.""

Funny. When I read that, I just figured the reporter who said it had no idea what the word "partisan" meant. It would never occur to me to think that the average reporter would actually have to know what words mean before he uses them. Such are the lofty standards of the WaPo.

Posted by: slag | June 28, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Although no one will read my post, I'd like to correct something. In the third paragraph's first sentence, I meant to write dissent, not "consent." Good bloggers, like Ezra, acknowledge that their opinion isn't the only one. I learn as much from Klein fluidly engaging with dissenting opinions as I do from his original posts.

mark.

Posted by: markhengel | June 28, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Any definition of "partisan" that would include Ezra but not Jeffrey Goldberg is not in an English Language dictionary.

Posted by: Mimikatz | June 28, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"In my household, we have a rule about arguments: Once you've moved from arguing about the initial point of dispute to arguing about things said during the argument, the discussion has outlived its purpose."

Let me know how that works out for you after you've been married 10 years.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good rule. But after several years of marriage and a kid or two, you'll have to bend that rule a lot, or it's going to be enforced by divorce attorneys.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 28, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

"If I'm where the media is going, my critic says, he or she wants out."

All that requires is discipline. Find three old white men on TV to get your news from for a half-hour each night, and a local paper, and you can simulate the old media experience quite effectively.

Really, the idea the media was in this golden age 50 or 30 or 20 years ago and now it's just terrible . . . it's the mentality that lamented the passing of the horse and buggy, or the sophistication of powdered wigs.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 28, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I think the missed point here is where blogs belong: News? or Opinion?

It is absurd to say the WaPo's blogs are news. So....

Isn't it also absurd to suggest its bloggers must be "unbiased". For God's sake, they should be fired for being neutral.

(And yeah, the term "partisan" is badly butchered above.)

Reporters should report (which is why they tend toward pettiness and jealousy of opedders... heh). As in "Yankees Win by 2" (not 1, not 3, but 2, and shut up).

"Voices" are free to say "DAMN Yankees Win by 2"

Does the M.E. of the blog section have a clue?

Posted by: pmcgann | June 28, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

I take "objective" to mean more "fair-minded" than "without an opinion or bias".

e.g. sometimes a source or an interview subject will just flat-out lie, or omit relevant inforation; in these cases, a reporter is required to exercise his or her judgment in arriving at this understanding (e.g. you form an opinion about the claims that the interview subject is making against other information that you have gathered -- if there are inconsistencies you give the interview subject the chance to clarify those inconsistencies or ambiguities).

Journalism at its best is reporting events and incidents in context. You try to approach controversies with an open-mind and curiosity. You follow the facts to where they lead.

Not all stories require this kind of approach, but especially when it comes to controversies, the challenge is trying to give competing participants a fair hearing.

It may mean treating liars, semi-dissemblers, and truth-tellers the same way -- it doesn't mean treating the substance of their comments as equally valid and true -- especially when measured against other information (e.g. sometimes the liars tell the truth too, and sometimes truth tellers might deceive!).

Somewhat on topic: The Q&A.

In print publications, like newspapers you almost never see these; yet journalists are always interviewing people. In most cases the journalists exercise their judgment in selecting the nugget of information that they think best encapsulates the story (or their particular angle). In the case of a Q&A published on a blog without any consideration of space limitations, the story is all laid out for readers to judge for themselves whether the reporter was thorough, fair, and well-informed during the interview (and vis a versa for the interviewee). In cases where a Q&A might serve an outcome better than a news story, in the case of most print publications you'll get the news story or a severely truncated Q&A. New online media offer a chance to publish more than just excerpts.

Posted by: JPRS | June 28, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"To say you're a partisan of good things rather than bad things isn't to say you're much of a partisan at all."

As compared to all that partisans for bad things. I'm sure it's just me, but I had a hard time following the last 3 sentences of that post. Who doesn't explain why the think some things are good and some things are bad? Or, who is complaining about the fact of explanations? And isn't everybody going to consider themselves a partisan of "good things"? What does that even mean?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 28, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

If I had my way all journalists would take Ezra's approach: ask themselves what policy would do "more good for people out in the real world," and identify the legislation that gets closest to that ideal. It would also be nice if people voted for the party whose policies would do the most good in the real world. You know, as opposed to whose nominee would make the best beer buddy.

Posted by: Chris48 | June 28, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

The biggest problem with journalism is a warped definition of "objectivity".

"Journalists" at the Post, Times and other MSM outlets think objectivity means simply reporting both sides as though it were a sports match and then saying "We're going to have to leave it there."

There's no notion that one side may actually be right and the other is lying. There's no notion of checking the facts. There's no notion of challenging the people they're reporting on. They just throw their hands up in the air and say "I guess the truth is somewhere in the middle."

Why "guess" when you go look for it yourself?! It's your ****ing job, you tools!

"Journalists" have become so terrified of being labeled as "biased" that they've abdicated their responsibility to the public. As a result, the Republican party has taken complete advantage of the situation.

We have very few journalists these days but quite a lot of stenographers.

Posted by: lol-lol | June 28, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Chris48,

I don't think Ezra even really goes as far as saying "what would be best for everyone" -- his view is occasionally framed more along the lines of "this is what I prefer".

Some of these debates don't even get to the point of value judgments and preference. It's extremely useful and hard enough to know what a particular piece of legislation is likely to achieve. So presenting the evidence from a variety of policy experts spelling out likely outcomes and then making a critical assessment of those judgments is a useful service too. Effectively that is one form of journalism. The difference is that this particular format gives a policy-wonk the chance to dig a little deeper into the weeds. Instead an explanation designed for 8th grade comprehension or below, there's an attempt to piece together a 100 to 300 level undergraduate understanding.

Posted by: JPRS | June 28, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

The problem with Ezra's brand of journalism is that it breed a bandwagon effect. A read through the comments above shows that most commenters are happy to have Ezra talk about the facts and then give his take. This is what Ezra is good at, this synthesizing of information. The problem is when he veers into pure partisanship as he did with the health care bill. Every compromise was reported as a way to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Such baby-step politics or incrementalism in policy is problematic because it is ultimately not bold enough to deal with the problems at hand.

Posted by: goadri | June 28, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

i left off my final thought:

The bandwagon effect added to this incrementalism leads to acceptance of poor policy rather than asking why leadership doesn't allow for bolder action.

Posted by: goadri | June 28, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

@mschol17: "It's been clearly stated over and over that the deficit reduction claim is according to the budget rules as they stand. It's disingenuous to argue that the bill should be evaluated beyond the standard budgetary rules."

Yes, according the budget rules as they stand, rules which are easily gamed as we saw with ACA. It is not disingenuous to point that out. The bill SHOULD be evaluated beyond standard budgetary rules, because those budgetary rules are meaningless when they are being gamed. We should be asking the question "What effect will this bill truly have on our budget/deficit in the near, medium, and long term?", but instead we are asking "What effect will this bill have under the somewhat misleading budgetary rules of the CBO?" Is our purpose here understanding the effect of the bill on our fiscal outlook, or understanding how the CBO will score it? Because those two are not at all the same thing.

To make an analogy, calling this bill deficit-reducing is like saying that Armando Gallaraga did not throw a perfect game a few weeks ago. Sure, officially he did not since the umpire blew that call. But everyone knows he really did throw one.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 28, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

goadri,

My recollection is that Ezra did engage the arguments about the politics and political calculations surrounding health care.

He also highlighted limitations with the existing policy.

I'm not really sure how the bandwagon effect applies either. The fact that "everybody is doing it" isn't why health care ended up passing, or why it was done as incremental rather than fundamental reform.

Even though the "bandwagon" was actually behind measures such as a public option (which Ezra favored in a more robust form), the political will in Washington was not, because industry groups had more leverage over the process in conference (thanks to purchased access).

Posted by: JPRS | June 28, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

When I consider a written work, I place it into either of two categories:

(a) The work appeals to reason by means of logical arguments based upon the best available evidence fully and honestly set forth; or

(b) The work offers false, garbled, or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument, or attempts to gain influence by repetition, denunciation of scapegoats, or cunning association of disparate ideas.

All too often, I find that the work of Ezra Klein cannot be placed into category (a) because it fails to meet the requirements of "fully and honestly" clause and fails to meet the "logical" clause. With lesser frequency, I find that Klein's work denunciates scapegoats -- favoring a popular majority opinion having little or no basis in fact. For example, it is possible to find logic in climate science without finding validity to claims of cataclysmic global warming just as it is possible to praise genetic research without embracing eugenics. And, sometimes "no" is the right answer even when the majority says "yes". For example, consider a speech, describing the "Party of No", given after implementation of a new health care plan:

"They focus all their energies on the small problems that always are there, complain about the cost, and believe that crises and unavoidable tensions are on the way. They are the complainers who never tire of bringing the nation before the so-called court of world opinion. In the past they always found willing and thankful followers. Today, they only have a few backward intellectual Philistines in their camp.

"The people want nothing to do with them. These Philistines are the 8/10 of one percent of the people who have always said “no”, who always say “no” now, and who will always say “no” in the future. We cannot win them over, and do not even want to. … They always say “no” as a matter of principle.

"One does not need to take them all that seriously. They do not like us, but they do not like themselves any better. Why should we waste words on them? They are always living in the past and believe in success only when it has already happened, but then waste no time in claiming credit for it.

The speaker coining the "Party of No" phrase was Joseph Goebbels and the health care plan, well, had notable side-effects. Goebbels was a partisan, was also an excellent writer (with a style very similar to Klein's -- a compliment), and was using his skill to further a partisan agenda.

None of this implies that Klien's work is valueless; on the contrary, his work is valuable propaganda filling a public craving for such. In addition, reaction to Klein's propaganda pieces offers valuable insight into the thinking processes of various segments of the population: without Klein, it might be impossible for a reasonable, logical person to understand the Progressive movement [grin].

Posted by: rmgregory | June 28, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I don't see a bandwagon effect. Ezra was quite clear on where he stood along the way -- people could agree or not. If they thought too many compromises were being made on the bill, that's fine. I'm not going to be for something just because Ezra Klein is -- but I'm going to use his work as datapoints for forming my own opinions.

Posted by: tbeshear | June 28, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

@moronjim: "I have to disagree with you on Ezra's veracity. While I definitely agree with you that the CLASS Act is going to have to be revisited (as are virtually all parts of the legislation), how are Democrats being dishonest about FICA taxes?"
-----

They're dishonest about FICA taxes because they use that money as revenue which offsets the expenditures in the bill. But paying more SS taxes entitles to you to greater benefits in the future. The additional SS taxes are already accounted for, so if they want to claim those funds can pay for reform, then they need to acknowledge an additional liability has been created in SS. You can't double count that money.


-----
"Also, if you're going to say that the CBO scoring of the CLASS Act is defective, then you also have to argue that the CBO's savings methodology of IMAB and comparative effectiveness are defective, too. So two can play at this game."

If their scoring of those programs double counts money and/or doesn't recognize newly created liabilities then those scores are defective too. I don't know in detail how they've scored those. My beef is not with the CBO in general, but with using cash accounting for a situation with long-term liabilities.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 28, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

The bandwagon effect is to deem the passage of the health care bill as the greatest social reform since FDR and to have the followers tout this as the best we could get. Instead of focusing on the historic nature of the bill, a bit more skepticism and objectivity would have inicated that the bill protected the interests of private insurance companies and threw bones to the citizens it's supposed to help. And, the citizens can rejoice that regulators will make sure that health insurers don't engage in price gouging, etc. It's naive to believe this. The point is that this sort of journalism leads to cheerleading and hop on the bandwagon that did this great thing. It doesn't encourage individual thought and ask for accountability. The president's mother and now countless other mothers will still be arguing with their insurance companies over coverage.

Posted by: goadri | June 28, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I agree with mimikatz. Atrios posted a typically pithy observation about the 'mainstream' journalists' definition of objectivity--it's believing that their own opinions are facts, and then reporting them. There's so much lazy journalism-as-stenography out there also, with news readers on a broadcast or reporters in a newspaper simply repackaging what they've gotten from a particular think tank (Peterson Institute anybody?), lobbyist or press agent. Listeners/viewers/readers are almost never told about the affiliations of the sources, and then a false 'balance' substitutes for any real conclusions based on facts (the 'he said/she said' game). I read Greg Sargent and Ezra's blogs daily, and used to read Weigel's. I hope to, again, when he gets another job.....and stops 'confusing' all those poor conservatives!

Posted by: nancycadet | June 28, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

mimikatz, I agree. There's so much journalism-as-stenography and other sorts of laziness, such as not identifying the affliation of the so-called 'expert' who's quoted or interviewed. Think of the ubiquitousness of Peterson Institute propagandizers--they're everywhere in 'mainstream' journalism.

Posted by: nancycadet | June 28, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I don’t want to pump you up too much, but in my opinion, you have hit the sweet spot like few others. For instance, when you go on MSNBC in the midst of a hurricane of anti-Obama rhetoric, I think, yay, here comes the cavalry! Not that I think of you as pro Obama or pro anything, but I believe you are as unaffected by the winds of fashion (which change direction every five minutes in today’s media) As anyone out there.

Now on to partisanship. So glad people are finally discussing. The MSM does not believe truth can be discovered. You split the difference between opposing opinions and that is what passes for objectivity. But there is such a thing as progress of the human species—that is, a continuous unfolding of our understanding of who we are, and what it means to be a human being. Go back to any period of history you wish to name and examine the sides. The fight over slavery; women’s suffrage; the New Deal; the labor movement; civil rights; the Communist paranoia that brought us Vietnam. Parties change, but always truth has been on the progressive side. That is because the people who Are called progressives are the ones leading our forward movement, while conservatives resist every change. So those who have the rare ability to stand above the fray and pull bits of truth out of the noise will always be labeled liberal or progressive and be called partisan by the lesser lights (the "objective" ones) of the profession.

Posted by: JamesOfDC | June 28, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The answer to Greg Sargent's question -- if Ezra isn't a reporter, how did he get a copy of the senate finance committee healthcare "reform" bill before other reporters -- is not difficult. The incoming director of White House communications, Dan Pfeifer (think that's his name) stated at the beginning of his tenure that one of his biggest missions was to get the liberal bloggers on board with disseminating the White HOuse line. This explains a lot of what is written, and a lot of the posts defending this or that administration favorite (the Emanuel brothers) and the terrific access to administration officials.

Posted by: truck1 | June 28, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Whatever its merits, the fact that Journolist was secretive and open only to influencials who met a progressive litmus test gave it the appearance of impropriety.

The pursuit of truth through discussion and debate amongst only the annointed culled from the elite of a partiuclar political persuasion (i.e., a closed intellectual shop) doesn't make sense. One suspects the lefty influentials were comparing talking points and the means of framing issues so as to advance their mutual agenda.

Posted by: tbass1 | June 28, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

@tbass1: One suspects the lefty influentials were comparing talking points and the means of framing issues so as to advance their mutual agenda.

Just fabricated, unsupported, pernicious, speculation. TB1 has no idea what was said on that list, but s/he can't resist blurting out the most conspiracy laden rumors he can come up with. Talking about the issues of the day with one's colleagues does not equal creating a sinister plot to inflict mind control on the members of a listserv.

Posted by: srw3 | June 28, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

You're mistaken on the payroll taxes, ab_13. Payroll taxes for Social Security and payroll taxes for Medicare Part A are two different things. The payroll tax for Social Security is applied only wages below a certain level, and unlike the Medicare HI payroll tax, which is applied to all wages, has a direct link between contributions and benefits. The payroll taxes above $200/250K applies only to the payroll taxes used for Medicare HI (but I'm sorry if you're so unfortunate that you qualify for this oppressive tax increase). So I don't buy your FICA explanation as it relates to Social Security.

As for your latter statement, I recall some actuary writing last week that rules are rules. So I'll go by the ab_13 standard. Clearly, the rules here, as mschol17 points out, the CBO sets the rules. According to the CBO, the bill is deficit-reducing.

Posted by: moronjim | June 28, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for my repeated comment above. I'm working with a very old PC. Just wanted to mention that Nate Silver at 538.com has a very thoughtful post on this topic.
http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/06/in-step-backward-for-journalist-two.html

Posted by: nancycadet | June 28, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

srw3: "Just fabricated, unsupported, pernicious, speculation..."

Please be specific. Do you dispute that the listserv was secretive? Do you dispute that membership was open to only those who met a ideological litmus test? Do you disagree that these two, taken together with the fact that many among the known membership hold positions of influence in the media creates the appearance of impropriety?

The unannointed may only speculate on what really went on behind journolist's veil because Ezra and the members don't deign to let us judge the evidence for ourselves. I think the fact that the concern of the membership was such that they felt the need to destroy any record of the their off-the-record musings is telling. One must assume they had good reason to fear for their professional reputations.

Posted by: tbass1 | June 28, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

@moronjim: "You're mistaken on the payroll taxes, ab_13. Payroll taxes for Social Security and payroll taxes for Medicare Part A are two different things. The payroll tax for Social Security is applied only wages below a certain level, and unlike the Medicare HI payroll tax, which is applied to all wages, has a direct link between contributions and benefits."
-----

I'm not mistaken, you're just repeating almost exactly what I said (I may have misspoken calling it FICA, this relates to SS only, while FICA is SS and Medicare). The SS tax has a direct link between what you pay and what you get. In scoring the bill they use the additional $53B in SS taxes received as revenue, without offsetting that for the additional benefits that will be owed to the people paying those taxes. It's basically the same thing they're doing with the CLASS Act. That's how the CBO scores a bill, count the cash in and cash out, with no accounting for future liabilities, even if those liabilities are created by the bill they're scoring.

-----
@moronjim: "As for your latter statement, I recall some actuary writing last week that rules are rules. So I'll go by the ab_13 standard. Clearly, the rules here, as mschol17 points out, the CBO sets the rules. According to the CBO, the bill is deficit-reducing."
-----

These are not "rules". And what we are doing here is not discussing rules. We are trying to decide the true impact that PPACA will have on the deficit. In that context it is completely irrelevant to say the CBO scores it as deficit reducing. If we know for a fact (and we do) that there are expenses the CBO is not counting, then we know their score does not tell the full story. PPACA creates new liabilities, but the CBO does not count those liabilities, only the money it takes in to fund them. Saying "these are the rules" proves my point perfectly, because the rules have nothing to do with it and that just attempts to obscure the real issue.

You've already acknowledged that they are handling the premiums and liabilities from the CLASS Act incorrectly, so I don't see why you're disputing this or trying to make this about some so-called "rules". I'm trying to make an honest accounting for the true cost of this bill, which the CBO score does not do. I challenge anyone to dispute the facts I've brought forward to prove that.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 28, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

I don't get your point. So if Congress raises the Medicare payroll tax by x%, that somehow affects Social Security? When Bill Clinton removed the Medicare payroll tax cap, that somehow affects Social Security financing? Help me out here, ab_13.

My disagreement about the CLASS Act scoring is about the CBO underestimating the amount of adverse selection it will cause, and cost the taxpayers -- not that the liability wasn't scored at all, as you seem to be saying.

Posted by: moronjim | June 28, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

The mainstream media has forgotten that objectivity is where a reporter is supposed to *begin* their investigation, not where they're supposed to end it.

Posted by: dylanbrady | June 28, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

At some point you ought to talk about what Journolist was and what it was for and how it worked and stop allowing the murderers of the list to write the obituary.

Posted by: benintn | June 28, 2010 9:40 PM | Report abuse

"If I'm where the media is going, my critic says, he or she wants out."

I'm pretty sure your critics are more concerned with the amount of teevee time you receive -- and they don't -- than any perceived partisanship.

Washington rules require that you spend many, many years in the trenches before you've earned the right to pontificate on the teevee.

Posted by: flory | June 28, 2010 11:52 PM | Report abuse

@moronjim: "I don't get your point. So if Congress raises the Medicare payroll tax by x%, that somehow affects Social Security? When Bill Clinton removed the Medicare payroll tax cap, that somehow affects Social Security financing? Help me out here, ab_13."
-----

This has nothing to do with the Medicare tax. This is Social Security. You'll notice I said SS from the beginning. $53B of the revenue in PPACA is additional SS taxes, but collecting that money means increasing future SS benefits. They're ringing up more purchases on Social Security's tab, spending it on health reform, and calling that deficit reduction. It's not really that different than the CLASS Act accounting. In both cases you're taking the premiums that you need for future benefits and spending it all without a penny set aside in reserves.

-----
"My disagreement about the CLASS Act scoring is about the CBO underestimating the amount of adverse selection it will cause, and cost the taxpayers -- not that the liability wasn't scored at all, as you seem to be saying."
-----

Well you're incorrect if you think that's the extent of it. The liability is not scored. The CBO is measuring cash flow, not actuarial value. They count every penny in premiums as revenue, and don't reserve for the eventual claims at all. That $70 billion in long-term care insurance premiums is all used to pay for health reform, no reserves. This is unified budget accounting, as CBO director Doug Elmendorf calls it. Any cash received can be spent on any other government activity, no matter if that cash is really needed for some future payment. The only liabilities they count are the ones that have to be paid in that year.

I know that is how the CBO operates, and I know that is how they measure the budget for all bills. But that doesn't change the simple fact that it is undeniably true that this bill does not reduce the deficit when they are double counting this money and not reserving for claims. You're an actuary, could your company take premiums on a long term product straight to the bottom line?

Posted by: ab13 | June 29, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

benintn, I'm pretty sure Ezra's talked about what JournoList was and how it worked on a number of occasions. It started after he had an off the record conversation with Joe Klein. They had been publicly arguing about something or other on their blogs, but after talking about it in private (through emails) they reached a greater understanding of where each other stood, and maybe even a better understanding of the issues.

Ezra decided that it would be useful to be able to have a place where people from the center to the left, from reporters to academics to experts in the field, could have these sorts of arguments in private. Arguing in private means you can talk things out without trying to put it into a form that you'd publish it in. It can let you ask questions you don't know the answers to and push others in areas of their arguments that maybe you wouldn't do in public.

This is what used to be called "off the record", and journalists used to do all kinds of things off the record, whether it was calling up a source to ask a question or arguing with a colleague after work at a bar. There are also closed listservs for just about every type of group or philosophy out there.

tbass1, you're not entitled to what my friends talk about when they come over to my house, even if I had a job with some kind of public power, and even if my talks with them influenced my positions. You're simply not entitled to the content of every off the record conversation you wish you could have heard. I don't know who Rush Limbaugh talks to about politics in a private capacity, and I'm sure he talks to someone, but it's none of my business.

As for Ezra's colleagues, there are plenty of good reasons to give an anonymous quote to someone for story they're going to publish. Being able to trash a colleague and their work without anyone knowing you're a real dick isn't one of them. That person is a coward and should be ashamed. They're also on the wrong side of technology and history.

Posted by: MosBen | June 29, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that one of the commenters here expresses dismay at Ezra's purported partisanship in his discussion of the ACA. This considering that last week the same commenter expressed complete comfort about the appearance of fairness in Judge Martin Feldman's rulings in the oil moratorium case, given the fact the judge held extensive investments in the oil industry, and sold shares in ExxonMobil (which is involved in deepwater drilling in the Gulf) on the morning of the same day he released his ruling in their favor.

According to the New Orleans Times Picayune reporting, the law governing judicial recusal states that judges "shall" recuse themselves when they have a "financial interest in the subject matter in controversy" and calls upon a judge to "inform himself about his personal and fiduciary financial interests" so as to avoid problems.

When we expect strict political neutrality from our public policy bloggers, but shrug our shoulders over the failed appearance of impartiality in our courts, something is askew.

Further reading:

http://www.istockanalyst.com/article/viewiStockNews/articleid/4255677

http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/06/judge_martin_feldman_releases.html

And (returning to the main topic) I think Ezra sums it well when he says "My policy analysis, of course, isn't infallible, and I operate from some principles that conservatives don't find congenial. I hope you read analysts who aren't me. I certainly do."

Part of what makes any blog worthwhile reading is precisely that the writer has a point of view, which becomes more familiar to the reader the more one reads the blog. If a prominent blogger makes statements of fact or makes logical conclusions that aren't well-supported, other bloggers (and his or her own audience) will call the blogger out. The "blogosphere" is certainly not a closed system.

Ezra's dialogs with Republican policy makers like Paul Ryan, and his willingness to revisit issues to ensure the best analysis attest that he makes every effort to interpret policy honestly and accurately. If one doesn't care for Ezra Klein's point of view, there is no shortage of other blogs and information sources from which to choose.

The cowardly unnamed WaPo people whining to Jeffrey Goldberg are obviously wrestling with substantial inferiority issues in changing times.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, were I an editor at the Post these anonymous comments would warrant some kind of staff meeting. It's childish and cowardly, and makes the whole staff look bad. You don't air your petty differences about a coworker as anonymous comments on another site.

Posted by: MosBen | June 29, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Good journalism is not about unbiased reporting. Edward R Murrow was probably the first great example, and Bill Moyers raised the bar further. They uncovered and researched stories, developed an opinion, then told us what their opinion was and how they came to that conclusion. Citizens could choose for themselves whether to agree or disagree.

Good journalism includes analysis. It's not enough to say "there is poverty in India" or "homelessness is a problem in America" without also exposing why and talking about how to fix it. It seems to me that Mr. Klein follows this formula. He's in good company.

Posted by: Steph6803 | June 29, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

@Patrick_M:
"Interesting that one of the commenters here expresses dismay at Ezra's purported partisanship in his discussion of the ACA. This considering that last week the same commenter expressed complete comfort about the appearance of fairness in Judge Martin Feldman's rulings in the oil moratorium case, given the fact the judge held extensive investments in the oil industry, and sold shares in ExxonMobil (which is involved in deepwater drilling in the Gulf) on the morning of the same day he released his ruling in their favor."

This is funny. Your attempt to draw a parallel here is laughable. There is no "dismay" at Ezra being partisan, like I said in the first post, there's nothing wrong with being partisan. I just pointed out said partisanship, with the example of his refusal to admit that PPACA is not deficit reducing.

I still don't think Judge Feldman's stock ownership is a big deal, it was a small amount and a very small part of his total holdings. The facts in the case were troubling for the Obama administration, so much so that with the evidence I've seen I believe any judge would have ruled against them.

-----
"When we expect strict political neutrality from our public policy bloggers, but shrug our shoulders over the failed appearance of impartiality in our courts, something is askew."
-----

When did I ever say I expect political neutrality from public policy bloggers? you're just making stuff up now. If Ezra wants to be partisan that is his prerogative. But if being partisan leads him to say things that are provably false, like saying PPACA will reduce the deficit, then I will call him out on that.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

ab_13,

Your original comment:

"I would say you [Ezra Klein] are partisan (which is not a slur in and of itself, everyone has their biases) for your refusal to call a spade a spade when it comes to the more troubling parts of ACA. It is impossible to be intellectually honest and claim that this bill reduces the deficit."

...implies that Ezra's partisanship leads him to draw intellectually dishonest conclusions that mislead his readers.

But you are not concerned that a judge who is personally invested in the litigants on one side in his or her courtroom might draw intellectually dishonest conclusions, or that there is at least the appearance that such a conflict might lead to a less-than-impartial result.

I just find it interesting that a person might be troubled by the first scenario but not by the second.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

@Patrick_M: "Your original comment... implies that Ezra's partisanship leads him to draw intellectually dishonest conclusions that mislead his readers."

Yes, it implies exactly that, because that is exactly what I meant. One cannot be intellectually honest and say that PPACA will reduce the deficit. The facts I gave above are pretty clear, and I've yet to see anyone challenge them.

-----
"But you are not concerned that a judge who is personally invested in the litigants on one side in his or her courtroom might draw intellectually dishonest conclusions, or that there is at least the appearance that such a conflict might lead to a less-than-impartial result."
-----

Correct, because I think the extent of him being "personally invested" has been dramatically overstated. His holdings were not large and were a small portion of his total investment portfolio. There are companies I own stock in which I would still rule against or wish to see punished for bad behavior, even if that would have a negative impact on my investment portfolio. The facts that I have seen in the case pretty clearly showed some dishonest behavior by the Obama administration, behavior which I think would have caused any judge to rule against them. You disagree, and that's fine.

But your comparison to this situation falls completely flat because there is not a set of very clear and undeniable facts that conflict with the judge's ruling. In Ezra's case there such facts, facts which are undeniable and that he refuses to acknowledge, leading to his intellectually dishonest claims of deficit reduction.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

A few points. First, you're just 100% wrong that the FICA tax applying to Social Security. Again, here is what the Journal of Accountantcy writes:

"Additional Hospital Insurance Tax on High-Income Taxpayers

Under the act, the employee portion of the hospital insurance tax part of FICA, currently amounting to 1.45% of covered wages, is increased by 0.9% on wages that exceed a threshold amount. The additional tax is imposed on the combined wages of both the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s spouse, in the case of a joint return. The threshold amount is $250,000 in the case of a joint return or surviving spouse, $125,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case.

For self-employed taxpayers, the same additional hospital insurance tax applies to the hospital insurance portion of SECA tax on self-employment income in excess of the threshold amount."

Please explain to me how the Social Security portion of the tax is affected by these words.

And unlike any insurance product, government operates on a pay-as-you-go basis. Government is simply not a business -- much as you would like it to be. The CBO clearly accounts for the CLASS Act's liabilities in the second decade, when benefits are being paid out, and continues to score the bill as deficit reducing.

Posted by: moronjim | June 29, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"The law governing judicial recusal states that judges *shall* recuse themselves when they have a "financial interest in the subject matter in controversy" and calls upon a judge to "inform himself about his personal and fiduciary financial interests" so as to avoid problems."

The law does not say anywhere that it only applies when ab_13 is not satisfied that the "holdings [are] not large and [are] a small portion of [the judge's] total investment portfolio...."

The clear requirements of the governing law, together with the underlying universally accepted need for the appearance of impartiality in our judicial proceedings, are the "very clear and undeniable facts" that argue in favor of the path of self-recusal, which Judge Feldman elected to disregard.

Nobody (including the judge himself) can know whether or not the financial interest he held in the outcome of the decision had any influence (conscious or unconscious) on his thinking. That is exactly the problem that gives rise to the standard, which is why it is best for our judges to comply with the law and error on the side of the appearance of fairness, and step aside whenever there is even arguably the potential appearance of a conflict.

You evidently favor a more relaxed standard in the courts, but express dismay that a blogger expresses his own analysis that a law is deficit neutral (when you believe otherwise), and you feel certain that the blogger must be communicating false information in an intellectually dishonest manner, brought about by the blogger's personal political partisanship.

You are perfectly entitled to hold both beliefs.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

@moronjim: "A few points. First, you're just 100% wrong that the FICA tax applying to Social Security."

moronjim, as I've already said, this has nothing to do with Medicare. $53B of the revenue in PPACA is additional Social Security taxes. Those additional taxes mean additional benefits will be paid out in the future. I've said this about 3 times now, I'm not sure why you keep bringing up Medicare. If you go back and look, I never said anything about FICA. I specifically said Social Security, then you asked about FICA, I answered your question using the same term you used (FICA) but still very clearly talking about SS. Yet for some reason you keep trying to say I'm talking about Medicare and that I'm wrong about it. I never said a single word about Medicare taxes.

I do ask that you please read what I actually said if you're going to accuse me of being wrong.

-----
"And unlike any insurance product, government operates on a pay-as-you-go basis."
-----

Well you cannot operate on a pay-as-you-go basis with a long-term insurance product! If PAYGO was a legitimate excuse for accounting this way all the government would need to do to reduce the deficit is sell a bunch of life insurance. This would of course be a foolish way to close the deficit, just as using CLASS Act premiums to pay for health reform is foolish. PAYGO doesn't make those very real liabilities just magically disappear. The money to pay for those benefits will have to come from somewhere.

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"The CBO clearly accounts for the CLASS Act's liabilities in the second decade, when benefits are being paid out, and continues to score the bill as deficit reducing."
-----

NO THEY DON'T! You are 100% wrong here. They account for any actual benefits PAID, but not for any accrued liabilities. First you said they operate on a PAYGO basis, now you're saying they do account for future liabilities. So which one is it?

The answer is PAYGO, which means your claim is completely false.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

@Patrick_M: "The clear requirements of the governing law, together with the underlying universally accepted need for the appearance of impartiality in our judicial proceedings, are the "very clear and undeniable facts" that argue in favor of the path of self-recusal, which Judge Feldman elected to disregard."

Is Judge Feldman in legal trouble for not recusing himself from the case? Is he facing consequences from the bar, the Department of Justice, or the judicial branch of the government? After all, if a federal judge is ruling on a case he shouldn't be, I'm sure there are protocols in place for punishment. You and I disagree on how important his holdings were, but other than some articles on the internet, this doesn't seem to be an issue.

-----
"You evidently favor a more relaxed standard in the courts"
-----

I favor full disclosure, not automatic removal from a case. I think we ought to exercise judgment rather than have a rigid standard. There is certainly nothing in my personal beliefs that would bias me towards favoring the oil companies, I don't know why you think there is something special about this case. The administration lying in their legal documents imposing the moratorium is more of an issue to me than Judge Feldman's questionable conflict of interest.

-----
"but express dismay that a blogger expresses his own analysis that a law is deficit neutral (when you believe otherwise), and you feel certain that the blogger must be communicating false information in an intellectually dishonest manner"
-----

When there are very clear and undeniable facts that prove is own analysis to be wrong, and when he refuses to address or acknowledge those facts, then that is intellectual dishonesty. This is not my opinion, it is the mere definition of the term. I have not "expressed dismay," I've merely pointed out that Ezra's partisanship has lead him to said dishonesty. It's his blog, and doing what he does has made him very successful. Good for him. I am just stating facts.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

"I favor full disclosure, not automatic removal from a case. I think we ought to exercise judgment rather than have a rigid standard."

However unless and until we make such a change, there is still the inconvenient and stubborn little matter of the law that states that judges SHALL step aside. Whatever you may prefer, the standard is clear. Many judges in that jurisdiction are invested in oil and drilling industries, but many others are not, and there is absolutely no reason why Judge Feldman should not have let go of the case so that it could be heard by a judge who was not invested, in which case there would be no issue at all.

"There is certainly nothing in my personal beliefs that would bias me towards favoring the oil companies, I don't know why you think there is something special about this case."

Nobody cares about your personal beliefs for or against the oil companies, and nobody cares about mine. I would argue that we should all be concerned about the appearance of fairness in our courts at least as much as we are concerned about a blogger's analysis of the deficit implications of a particular law, that's my only point here.

"The administration lying in their legal documents imposing the moratorium is more of an issue to me than Judge Feldman's questionable conflict of interest."

Yes, I see that ab_13.

But wouldn't it be better if we had a judge that decided the case exactly the same way, but whose personal investments had zero potential benefit from the outcome?

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

"However unless and until we make such a change, there is still the inconvenient and stubborn little matter of the law that states that judges SHALL step aside."

Yet he is not being charged with any crime here, so apparently the opinion of those who actually decide these things is that he did not do anything improper, or that the impropriety is negligible.

"I would argue that we should all be concerned about the appearance of fairness in our courts at least as much as we are concerned about a blogger's analysis of the deficit implications of a particular law, that's my only point here."

Nothing about my opinion on either of these matters suggests I am more concerned about a blogger than I am about fairness in the courts. I am concerned about fairness in the courts. That has nothing to do with Ezra's intellectual dishonesty on this completely unrelated topic. To even compare the two is silly.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

"Yet he is not being charged with any crime here, so apparently the opinion of those who actually decide these things is that he did not do anything improper, or that the impropriety is negligible."

It is not a criminal statute with criminal penalties, ab_13.

"Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics at the American Judicature Society in Chicago, said that Feldman's situation could be problematic. ... What matters is what he owned the day the case was assigned to him," she said."

----------------

"Nothing about my opinion on either of these matters suggests I am more concerned about a blogger than I am about fairness in the courts."

Except the fact that you complained about your purported example of one and expressed no discomfort with an example of the other.

Again, the issue in the courts is *appearance* of fairness. A baseball umpire might wager on the outcome of the game and yet still call the balls and strikes as he or she sees them. But we don't allow the umpires to do that, and for a rather obvious reason. Allowing such conduct destroys the appearance of fairness of the officiating, and thereby destroys the integrity of the game itself.

You may have the last word. Have a good day, ab_13.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

"It is not a criminal statute with criminal penalties, ab_13."

Whether it is a criminal statute or not, you said it is the law, and if a judge violates the law there are consequences. What authority is in charge of enforcing that law? Are they taking action against Judge Feldman? These seem like relevant facts if you're claiming that he violated a law.

"Except the fact that you complained about your purported example of one and expressed no discomfort with an example of the other."

This presumes that I share your opinion on the impropriety of Feldman hearing the case, which I do not. I did not "complain" about Ezra's dishonesty, I just said that he is partisan and not offering objective analysis of the costs of health reform. So far no one has been able to even come close to refuting that. While our discussion on Feldman was a difference of opinion, the discussion of Ezra's reporting on reform is based on very clear facts.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

Since you throw out another question:

The applicable statute is Title 28 of the United States Code (the Judicial Code). An erroneous refusal to recuse in a clear case can be reviewed on appeal or, under extreme circumstances, by a petition for a writ of prohibition. And of course when there is a failure to recuse, there are certain intangible costs to the judge's reputation for impartiality, and the continuing taint over the decision.

"While our discussion on Feldman was a difference of opinion, the discussion of Ezra's reporting on reform is based on very clear facts."

You have an opinion about the deficit imlications of the ACA. From your certainty that you are correct and that Ezra is nor, you go on to conclude that Ezra must have reached a different conclusion because he is being intellectually dishonest for partisan purposes.

I do not have the expertise to know whether you or Ezra is correct about the numbers. But even allowing that he may be wrong, your unassumptions of intellectual dishonesty arising from partisanship are only assumptions, they are not "based upon clear facts."

The requirements of Title 28 of the United States Code (the Judicial Code), on the other hand, are a very clear fact, which you have not refuted.

"This presumes that I share your opinion on the impropriety of Feldman hearing the case, which I do not."

I know, that's kind of the whole point here.

Again, you may have the last word (unless there are more questions?). Again, have a pleasant day, ab_13.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

ab_13,

First off, this is just a blog. No need to yell at people. You're obviously very intelligent, and it doesn't help your cause when you write in all caps.

I think we're just continuing to speak past each other. I see nothing in the legislation pertains to Social Security taxes. I cited an accounting website contraditing your point about Social Security. I don't know where you're getting this additional $53 billion Social Security liability business. I'd love for you to direct me to a website saying this.

When I talk about the liabilities from the CLASS Act in the second decade, I mean cash flows -- not reserves -- obviously. Sorry if I confused you. I solely include the cash flows for that decade -- not the cash flows for the subsequent decades. I see nothing wrong with this. This is how Social Security (which by the way, has a life insurance policy in the survivor benefit) and Medicare are scored -- on a modified PAYGO basis.

I agree with you that no state insurance commissioner would approve of a life insurance product that didn't account for its long-term liabilities. But again, we are not here dealing with the business of insurance but government social insurance, whose finances always have been done on a modified PAYGO basis, and for good reason. ab_13 owns ab_13's life insurance policy. But moronjim doesn't own his own Social Security and Medicare policy; social insurance programs are a collective insurance. Purchasing a life insurance product is not compulsory (nor should it be because not everyone needs life insurance, i.e., a 5-year-old, the way everyone needs health insurance) while participation in social insurance programs is. Life insurance actuaries make predictions among the subpopulation who purchases their product; Social Security and Medicare actuaries predict among the entire American population -- what incomes will be (something a life insurance actuary doesn't predict), how many people will be using the benefits at this year, etc. In other words, a private insurance product and social insurance are two entirely different things. They should to be scored differently.

Posted by: moronjim | June 29, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

OK, so I may be proven wrong on Feldman with respect to whether he did anything wrong. Time will tell. I would say though that I think I've been clear that this is merely my opinion on the case.

But on the deficit/ACA, I will confidently state with absolute certainty that I am right on the facts of the matter. Whether or not Ezra's refusal to acknowledge this is intellectual dishonesty relies on a few things:
1) is he aware of the budgetary tricks being used and the fact that there are liabilities being ignored?
2) are his proclamations of deficit reduction willfully incorrect and/or driven by partisanship?

On 1), yes he is aware, because when Paul Ryan pointed it out to him he agreed. A direct quote from Ezra: "But insofar as the double counting goes, the double counting is an issue of how some Democrats are talking about this. And I agree with you. Saying that the money will do two things at once is out of line."

So Ezra agrees that double-counting that money is "out of line", yet he continues calling ACA a bill that reduces the deficit. That is a textbook case of intellectual dishonesty.

On 2), what other explanation could there be for Ezra saying the bill reduces the deficit? He's very clearly a supporter of the Democratic plans for health reform, as he's said in this very post. If someone supports a particular party's agenda on an issue, and actively promotes that agenda by making statements he clearly knows to be false, is there another plausible explanation other than "intellectual dishonesty arising from partisanship"? If you can think of one I'm all ears.

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"I do not have the expertise to know whether you or Ezra is correct about the numbers."
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It doesn't take any special expertise. That I am an actuary makes me acutely aware of the games being played with the numbers, but that doesn't mean one needs any expertise to understand it. The government is selling insurance for long-term benefits, benefits that will not be paid out for a number of years. They use those premiums to pay for health reform, failing to set aside any of it for the future benefits. When those benefits come due, there will not be any money to pay for them, because it's already been spent. Those benefits coming due are a certainty, so the government has created a new unfunded liability. Proper accounting for insurance requires that you create a liability and not count that money as profit, or in this case count it as money available for other purposes. The fact that the government uses unified budget accounting, counting cash in and cash out without regard to future liabilities makes this a clever way to create the appearance of deficit reduction, when the reality is they've just borrowed the money for reform. By their logic, a bill that created a new federal life insurance program and sold the exact amount as our total national debt could completely wipe out all deficits. Problem solved! (until people start dying that is).

A good day to you as well.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Come on, I wrote one 3-word sentence in all caps for emphasis. When someone makes a blatant factual error in an attempt to disprove something I said, I will be emphatic about the error.

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"I cited an accounting website contradicting your point about Social Security."
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No, you cited an accounting website contradicting something I never said about Medicare. That link was a non-sequitur.

-----
"I don't know where you're getting this additional $53 billion Social Security liability business. I'd love for you to direct me to a website saying this."

Here's two:

The original CBO score
http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/113xx/doc11379/AmendReconProp.pdf

An analysis from former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin:
http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/health-care-reform-likely-to-add-billions-to-deficit.pdf

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"When I talk about the liabilities from the CLASS Act in the second decade, I mean cash flows -- not reserves -- obviously. Sorry if I confused you. I solely include the cash flows for that decade -- not the cash flows for the subsequent decades. I see nothing wrong with this. This is how Social Security (which by the way, has a life insurance policy in the survivor benefit) and Medicare are scored -- on a modified PAYGO basis."

Scoring something on a PAYGO basis does not change the fact that you have incurred future liabilities. Do you agree or disagree that they have accrued a liability by selling $70B in LTC insurance? If you agree, then the preferred scoring method is irrelevant, future budget deficits have been increased.


-----
"But again, we are not here dealing with the business of insurance but government social insurance, whose finances always have been done on a modified PAYGO basis, and for good reason. ab_13 owns ab_13's life insurance policy. But moronjim doesn't own his own Social Security and Medicare policy; social insurance programs are a collective insurance. Purchasing a life insurance product is not compulsory (nor should it be because not everyone needs life insurance, i.e., a 5-year-old, the way everyone needs health insurance) while participation in social insurance programs is."

First of all, the CLASS Act is not a social insurance program. It is a voluntary product sold by the government, so essentially no different than one sold by a private company.

Second of all, even though SS is social insurance, we still budget for it, and taking in more SS taxes now obligates more benefits in the future (as you yourself said upthread). So you can't spend that money on something else and say you reduced the deficit, you've increased the future liability for SS.

to be continued....

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

@moronjim: "Life insurance actuaries make predictions among the subpopulation who purchases their product; Social Security and Medicare actuaries predict among the entire American population -- what incomes will be (something a life insurance actuary doesn't predict), how many people will be using the benefits at this year, etc."
-----

Except in this case the CBO is NOT making that prediction. They are not counting the additional benefits that need to be paid for due to the higher taxes received, nor the LTC benefits to be paid. I'm fine with PAYGO accounting for SS, but when you pass a bill that creates higher future obligations from a different program like SS, you need to count that obligation in the cost of your bill. This is functionally no different than you paying off a credit card with another card and claiming you got rid of your debt.

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"In other words, a private insurance product and social insurance are two entirely different things. They should to be scored differently."
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No they shouldn't. We are actuaries. You know that the "score" for any program is the present value of the projected net cash flows. You can't ignore some of the future outflows to make your score look better. An actuary who signed off on something like the CLASS Act would lose his/her letters.

Two very simple questions for you: do you believe that the future liabilities created by the CLASS Act and the additional SS taxes exist? Where have they been accounted for?

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Another question for moronjim: since you seem to be OK with this accounting method, would support the government selling, say, $1T in long-term care insurance to completely close our current budget deficit?

Posted by: ab_13 | June 29, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Matt Tiabbi's latest on Lara Logan's attack on Michael Hastings shows that there's only two types of news reporting: subjective and yellow journalism.

There's no such thing as objective journalism. If there was such a thing, we'd get straight facts instead of a narrative. Narratives do two things: make the data/info easier to swallow and show the opinion of the writer/journalist in the form of "objective" reporting. Whenever a journalist does objective reporting, they're simply hiding their prejudice behind a veil of objectivity. It's all bunk. I'd rather know what prejudices the writer has than know I'm probably getting fed a bunch of crap. Just look at Logan and what she was saying: don't report the facts, report what your subject wants you to report. That's not objective reporting, that's called lying.

Posted by: edmigper | June 29, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I belive that future liabilities for the CLASS Act exist well beyond two decades. I believe that the excise tax will cause employers to cut back on benefits, and replace more generous benefits with higher wages. These higher wages will increase the Social Security liability.

The CLASS Act has been accounted for the same way Medicare D -- another long-term program -- has been accounted for -- on a PAYGO basis. Not that either should be done this way, but they are.

No, I would not support the federal government enacting any new voluntary federal long-term care insurance policy simply because I do not think such a policy is good public policy -- regardless of whether the program was funded on a modified PAYGO approach or not.

Posted by: moronjim | June 29, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Wow! I really need to learn to read my writing.

"These higher wages will increase the Social Security liability."

This should read:

"These higher wages will increase Social Security revenue, and thus the Social Security liability."

And insert a "Part" in between "Medicare D."

Posted by: moronjim | June 29, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

OK, so then by your answer to those questions it would appear you agree with me, namely that the government has created new unfunded liabilities and is using the cloak of unified budget accounting and PAYGO to hide those liabilities. I agree that Part D should not have been accounted for that way, the Republicans are just as bad as the Democrats here. But two wrongs don't make a right; PPACA adds to the deficit, it does not reduce it. Anyone claiming that it does is either uninformed or being dishonest. I know that Ezra is informed, so that only leaves one option.

This has been a fun discussion. I tend to get fired up and maybe seem more hostile than I really am, I apologize if I've seemed overly combative. This issue just really gets me going because of the blatant dishonesty I see from pundits who know better.

Posted by: ab13 | June 29, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

ab13 (or is it ab_13?)-

Out of curiosity, have you by any chance posted this question about your differing deficit conclusions (minus the "blatant dishonesty" accusation...) via the "Reseach Desk" yet?

Or by the direct email form?

If not, it might be worth a shot.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 29, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

@Roger, if you are looking for a good divorce lawyer whom you can trust and cost less then take a look at http://bit.ly/bluYTI sorry to hear about your situation but wish you the best.

Posted by: soannoah | June 30, 2010 6:24 AM | Report abuse

@Patrick_M: I asked the question in Research Desk 2-3 times, never got a response. I have not used direct email, but maybe I will try that.

I think somehow I got 2 accounts on WaPo, one ab13 and the other ab_13, so whether I'm posting from home or work it shows up differently.

Posted by: ab_13 | June 30, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

ab_13,

Likewise, it's been a fun discussion. And I certainly get passionate about certain issues as well. While I certainly disagree with you at times, this is just, as I wrote before, a blog. No hard feelings.

Posted by: moronjim | June 30, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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