Journalism: It's been said the press notice the homeless problem only when a Republican's in office. The same could be said for food stamps, which the media now are using as an economic indicator.
Scary headline in Monday's Times: "As Jobs Vanish And Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record." Scarier headline in Britain's Independent: "USA 2008: The Great Depression."
Why didn't the Times editors just say: "Economy In Shambles — It's All Bush's Fault"? Or the Independent condemn the president for his war on the poor?
The stories, as well as similar coverage in other publications and on the newswire, were more subtle than that. But make no mistake — the message is that the Bush-Republican economy is a calamity of epic proportions.
As the election nears, the mainstream media, unable this time to make an issue out of Iraq, are focusing on the economy on behalf of the Democrats. And they're more than a bit overwrought. To see the headlines and to read or listen uncritically to the stories, one would think the 1930s were golden years by comparison.
As usual, there's more to the story.
Take the headline "Food Stamp Use Nears Record," which is only partially accurate. True, the 28 million Americans who will use food stamps in 2008 is the highest number ever. But that raw number is a poor measure; it doesn't provide context.
What's relevant is the percentage of the population that's on food stamps. And the worst years there are 1993, 1994 and 1995.
Yes, it was during the second Camelot presidency that the largest portions of the population were using food stamps: 10.4% in 1993 and 1994, and 10% in 1995.
Indeed. I saw the same thing happen here in Michigan when John Engler (a Republican) was governor. Not a day went by where he wasn't excoriated in the press because of policies that "hurt the poor" etc. blah blah blah. He made front page news daily because he supported proposals that would cut entitlements and tried to balance the budget. Since Jennifer Granholm (guess which party?) has been in charge, the state economy has descended into the toilet and major cuts have been imposed, but these cuts were always "necessary" and, her saintly name is rarely mentioned in connection to them, except with a positive spin.
Americans are hearing voices in their heads. And like auditory hallucinations experienced by psychiatric patients, these voices whisper continual doom and gloom. They tell the American consumer that prices are too high. That the economy is tanking; that poverty is on the rise; and that everything is bad bad bad.
These voices have been persistent and continuous ever since the evil Republican came to dwell in the White House. They are unrelenting--no matter what the actual facts are. Recently, they have been extremely frightening, predicting a 30's style depression with (even for them) unusual enthusiasm and glee.
And, like the command hallucinations that torment many of my patients, they are complete and total distortions.
It is very rare for such voices to say anything at all positive. They have a specific goal--and that goal is the distortion of reality.
So why do patients believe them? Especially the one's that are bizarre and so obviously out of touch with any known reality? You know, the ones that say aliens have implanted electrodes in your brain and are monitoring your thoughts and things like that.
It is a triumph of false perceptions over reality. It is testimony to how profoundly and fundamentally people trust their perceptual faculties and let their peceptions rule, even when those perception come in conflict with common sense, truth, or reality.
We, the American people have come to have a similar trust in the voices of the MSM. Over the years, they have almost become an additional perceptual faculty that we rely on--simply because life has become too complicated and overwhelming, that the use of our ordinary senses is insufficient in the modern world.
In other words, we rely on the media in the same way we rely on our own senses to provide us with the information necessary to make decisions and judgements in the real world.
The MSM has become those evil voices inside our head, that come and go depending on the political whims of the moment. As the IBD op-ed points out, because the Iraq war is mostly headed in a positive direction (they haven't been able to spin Sadr's ignomonius defeat quite into the victory they would like) they sense that by focusing on the subprime mortgage issue and the buyout of Bear Stearns, they can manipulate every American's worse fears.
No one is saying that these issues are good; or that we are going through some tough times as a whole, but the media is distorting their significance and hyping the 'fixes' to such an extent that you would believe that--if it weren't for the Democrats looking out for the 'little guy' we would all be headed to the poor house at best and hopeless suicidal depression at worse.
As a personal example, my own house which resides in the tanked economic state of Michigan has basically reverted to the value it had 9 years ago when we bought it--that is, all the equity in it has been lost. I do not like this state of affairs, because it means I can't depend on that equity anymore as a cushion until and unless housing prices start to come back up. But though I don't like it, it doesn't mean that it is the end of the world. Even if for some reason I could not afford to continue to pay my mortgage, then I hope I am realistic enough to appreciate that I would have to change my circumstances and find a cheaper place to live. I would not expect that under all cirucumstance that the government would bail me out and force others to pay my mortgage for me (and that is what all these programs would do, isn't it?). I willingly took the financial gains that came with the housing boom; now that it is not booming and coming down to a different equilibrium, I need to take the financial losses.
I thought that was called being a grownup. But, if you listen to the MSM, I am completely wrong! I was mislead by corporate greed. I am the victim of evil capitalists and they are out to profit from my misery (of course, they would have profited much more if I could pay the mortgage).
But that is the reality of the market, isn't it? It goes up and it goes down. If I tried to sell my house in this market, the buyers out there would be jubilant and get it at a real bargain (just as I did all those years ago because the people moving out of it were divorcing and were desperate to sell it--at that time, the real estate market was booming and they had to sell at less than they would like to move it).
Some time back during a similar time of economic hallucinosis, The Anchoress pointed out:
Economists had forecast GDP would advance at a 3.6% rate in the July-to-September quarter. The economy has now expanded faster than 3% for 10 straight quarters.
So when was the last time the economy expanded faster than 3% for 10 straight quarters?
It didn’t happen during the 1990s (the longest streak was eight).
It last happened during the 13 quarters from 1Q 1983 through 1Q 1986. Not coincidentally, a president who believed in lowering taxes to stimulate economic growth was in charge the last time it happened.
So despite being at war, despite devastating storms, and despite legislative and regulatory drags on the economy like Sarbanes-Oxley, this has been most consistently growing economy in almost 20 years.
I would wager that the instant the Democrats take over the White House (glory hallelujah to that wonderful day, the voices would sing), the voices of doom will cease to trouble us and we will be cured of our "malaise".
Not because anything will have changed, but because the voices will have achieved their purpose.
During the last 7 years we have seen unemployment fall. GDP continue to rise, sometimes at the fastest growth years. Yet the New York Times and other MSM hallucinations always surveys the economic landscape and declare, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling."
The Democrats and the Left depended on high oil prices and devastating natural disasters to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that Bush's economic policies are creating poverty and economic decline. They immediately seize on any bad economic news to declare impending doom.
Meanwhile, any attempts to decrease the annual rate of growth in Federal entitlements (e.g. from a 6.3% increase to a 6.2% increase--a whopping cut of 0.1%) caused leads to incredible hysteria and wailing about how the poor and innocent will suffer.
And, any attempt to decrease the federal deficit by cutting spending in a protected entitlement or a "feel-good" program that in reality does nothing of substance for the poor, the relatively mild accusations of simply " hating" the poor would undoubtedly morph into accusations of "genocide" --headlines like: BUSH UNLEASHES 'GENOCIDE' ON THE POOR! Witness the current incredulity that Republican John McCain doesn't want to interfere too much with the workings of the market, particularly to reward bad behavior or poor choices in either business or individual spending. Such a common sense position is considered the equivalent of INSENSITIVITY to the needs of the poor and helpless who are ruthlessly exploited by the evil capitalistic system.
But economic reality is that markets go down and up and that at any given time some people will benefit financially and some will not. So, what is behind the fact that people just don't feel that the economy is doing well despite their own personal circumstances?
I proposed sometime back a variant of Seligman's theory of "Learned Helplessness".
Seligman's theory states very simply that when a person is placed in a situation where there is no way to avoid inflicted pain, it leads to a profound fatalism and resignation to one's situation; and thus presumably to depression and hopelessness. Even when there may be a possiblity of improving the situation; the belief remains intact that there is nothing one can do to stop the pain.
The Santy variant of the theory is purely hypothetical, but is based on empirical observation, and goes like this: When a person is bombarded with unrelenting news reports and news analyses that insist that conditions are bad bad bad; and that people (somewhere) are suffering --even when such assertions are completely untrue-- and that as long as certain people are running the country and remain in power, it is hopeless to imagine that things could change and get better.
In other words, "Santy's Theory of Learned Economic Hopelessness"** works like a mindless political lesson drilled into the mind over and over again--e.g., Republicans hate the poor; Bush hates Blacks; Capitalism oppresses everyone etc. etc.--until facts, reality and truth are completely irrelevant.
Individuals may even momentarily break out of the induced hallucination long enough to note that they themselves are actually doing pretty well financially; but then they are told that they represent an aberration and that everyone else is suffering horribly. So, even if someone were to question the message's veracity; it is used as an opportunity to inflict guilt; and that effectively reinforces the learned economic hopelessness.
If we believe those who propagate the economic hopelessness and thrive off the perception of doom and gloom, then the only cure is to put them back in power.
Except for the fact that it would be like saying the only cure for your sickness is to stop the tough but effective treatment, and to allow the illess to proceed on its natural course, unimpeded. Unfortunately, most Republicans in Congress equally fear the hallucinations that bombard the American mind and are unwilling to let the market take its course because someone, somewhere would be hurt and that's just not good politics.
But at least if the Democrats were in power, you could pretend that everything would then be wonderful; and that poverty and economic hardship would soon be erased from the face of the earth; that hurricanes hardly ever happen; and that unnatural disasters like 9/11 are simply an illusion done with smoke and mirrors--even deliberately caused by the evil Republicans. Or that the market could only go up up up forever!
And then, thank God, those darn voices of doom in your head would finally shut up.
Yes, the world is definitely insane AND there definitely is an agenda that is behind those relentlessly negative voices...
UPDATE: SC&A extend the discussion of dysfunctional journalists:
The media are much like the politicians they cover and report on. That politicians routinely exaggerate their experiences, positions, achievements and influence points to their own discomfort with who they really are. By inflating their experiences and achievements politicians hope to be seen by others (and in the mirror) as someone bigger, more impressive and more important than the people they really are. That kind of self destructive behavior is routinely engaged in by people who do not like themselves.