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February 22, 2010

He said, she said reporting due to 'Regression to a phony mean'

This is a post about a single line in a recent article in the New York Times: Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.... Reporter David Barstow spent five months--five months!--reporting and researching the Tea Party phenomenon.
Based not on a subjective assessment of the Tea Party's viability or his opinion of its desirability but only on facts he knows about the state of politics and government since Obama's election, is there any substantial likelihood of a tyranny replacing the American republic in the near future?

I think it's obvious....that the answers are "no." For if the answers were "yes" it would have been a huge story! No fair description of the current situation, nothing in what the Washington bureau and investigative staff of the New York Times has picked up from its reporting, would support a characterization like "impending tyranny."

In a word, the Times editors and Barstow know this narrative is nuts, but something stops them from saying so-- despite the fact that they must have spent over $100,000 on this one story. And whatever that thing is, it's not the reluctance to voice an opinion in the news columns, but a reluctance to report a fact in the news columns, the fact that the "narrative of impending tyranny" is ungrounded in any observable reality, even though the sense of grievance within the Tea Party movement is truly felt and politically consequential.

My claim: We have come upon something interfering with political journalism's "sense of reality" as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved. That's what created the pattern I've called "regression to a phony mean." That's what motivated the rise of he said, she said reporting.

-- Jay Rosen

See also

He Said, She Said: False Balance

Journalism is a Religion (2004):
1.) J-School as School of Theology
2.) The Journalist's Creed
3.) The Orthodoxy of No Orthodoxy
4.) Practicing Journalism But Not Understanding It
5.) The First Amendment as Press Religion
6.) The God Term of Journalism is the Public
7.) A Breakaway Church in the Press
8.) Interview at the Axis of Evil

February 15, 2010

Long holding homeowners, not flippers, reassure would-be homebuyers

Richard V. Guardino Jr., executive director of the Wilbur F. Breslin Center for Real Estate Studies at Hofstra, said that while the critical issue in being able to sell a home was its "current condition," the "fact that it has been in one family for a long time is an indication of stability," particularly in the neighborhood.

Letting Go of the Homestead
Published: February 10, 2010
Students of the real estate market say that the bond between longtime owners and the houses they are giving up can actually be a tonic for potential buyers.

Shelby, Senate Banking Committee vs Volcker rule

Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has already signaled that he'll fight the Obama administration's push for a "Volcker rule" to rein in too-big-to-fail financial behemoths. The conservative message guru Frank Luntz has drafted a memo instructing G.O.P. legislators on how to defeat a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency while camouflaging themselves as populist foes of the very banks and credit card companies that that agency would regulate. That's a neat trick -- Luntz's nonpolitical clients include Merrill Lynch and American Express -- and it helps explain why Wall Street is now tilting its contributions to Congressional Republicans for 2010.

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Palin's Cunning Sleight of Hand
Published: February 14, 2010
Republicans are getting away with their populist masquerade, and Democrats are not convincing the country that they offer anything better.

February 12, 2010

You should save to the point of discomfort and maybe beyond

Hiring a full-time adviser is not unlike hiring a physical trainer -- someone who can teach you the proper diet and routine, and push you a little further than you may be willing to go on your own. "You should save to the point of discomfort and maybe beyond, and that is not something people will do unprompted," said Jim McCarthy, head of client advisory and retirement services at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.

One reason some people are willing to pay a full-time planner is that they know they can call at any time without being on the clock. Mr. Richards, who runs the Behavior Gap site, said his clients had told him they called him first when they had a question or a calamity because they knew he wasn't "starting a stop watch."

"You don't fix emotional problems with logic, you fix them with trust," he said. "And that is really difficult to do, to build that over the phone if you aren't having an ongoing relationship."

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For Financial Advice, Arriving at the Right Dosage
Published: January 16, 2010
People who need a little assistance have a number of inexpensive options. For those who want more guidance, the equivalent of a physical trainer is also available.

February 3, 2010

Letting your house go to foreclosure because you are out of money and purposefully defaulting on a mortgage to save money: murky

The difference between letting your house go to foreclosure because you are out of money and purposefully defaulting on a mortgage to save money can be murky. But a growing body of research indicates that significant numbers of borrowers are declining to live under what some waggishly call "house arrest."

Using credit bureau data, consultants at Oliver Wyman calculated how many borrowers went straight from being current on their mortgage to default, rather than making spotty payments. They also weeded out owners having trouble paying other bills. Their estimate was that about 17 percent of owners defaulting in 2008, or 588,000 people, chose that option as a strategic calculation.


In 2006, Benjamin Koellmann bought a condominium in Miami Beach. By his calculation, it will be about the year 2025 before he can sell his modest home for what he paid. Or maybe 2040.

No Help in Sight, More Homeowners Walk Away
Published: February 3, 2010
By June, about 5.1 million people will own a home whose value is below 75 percent of what is owed.

February 2, 2010

It's not insurance if you're the only customer

Insurance regulators said Delaware did not consider credit-default swaps to be insurance.

"I don't think an insurance commissioner should tread on the toes of the banking industry," said Karen Weldin Stewart, the commissioner in Delaware. "This started out as a bank product."

Her special deputy for examinations, John Tinsley, explained the reasoning. "In insurance, you're putting together a pool," he said. Each customer would be charged a premium based on the total risk of the pool.

A credit-default swap cannot be insurance, Mr. Tinsley said, because it does not involve a pool. There is just one seller and one buyer for every contract.

"It's an investment product," he said. "It's closer to buying an option."

Not everyone agrees. Eric R. Dinallo, New York State's insurance superintendent when A.I.G. imploded, said he believed credit-default swaps were insurance and should be regulated as such.

Risky Trading Wasn't Just on the Fringe at A.I.G.
Published: February 1, 2010
The conventional wisdom was that risky derivatives from a London unit brought down A.I.G. But a Delaware division was gambling as well.

February 1, 2010

The original Title VII, in 1964, prohibited "disparate treatment" on the basis of race. In 1991, Congress amended the law to prohibit employment policies that have a "disparate impact" as well.

A target that does bear watching is the heavily freighted civil rights issue that the court raised and then skirted last June in the New Haven firefighters case, Ricci v. DeStefano. The issue in that case was whether the city engaged in a prohibited act of employment discrimination when it discarded the results of a promotion exam on which no black test-taker scored high enough to win a promotion. White firefighters who believed they were entitled to promotion sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race.

The original Title VII, in 1964, prohibited "disparate treatment" on the basis of race. In 1991, Congress amended the law to prohibit employment policies that have a "disparate impact" as well. The question for the Supreme Court last June was whether, in trying to avoid the racially disparate impact of the exam, New Haven had made the successful white firefighters the victims of disparate treatment.

The court ruled against the city; Justice Kennedy wrote for the 5-to-4 majority that New Haven's concern about liability for the racially disparate impact of the exam was overblown and insufficient to justify withholding promotions from the successful white test-takers.

The decision avoided a tricky question: suppose the racially disparate impact of a municipal employment policy is so grave that the Civil Rights Act requires a remedy that itself takes race into account - in other words, a remedy for disparate impact that requires disparate treatment.

The court's current majority has made clear that for the government to count individuals by race for almost any purpose is a violation of constitutional magnitude. So how could a statute that could require such an outcome be constitutional? In the New Haven case, Justice Kennedy left it to Justice Scalia to observe sarcastically in a concurring opinion that the court's resolution of the firefighter dispute "merely postpones the evil day on which the court will have to confront the question" of the Civil Rights Act's constitutionality.

Finding the law unconstitutional would be an astonishing step, all the more so because the Civil Rights Act's current form is a Congressional response to a series of Supreme Court decisions in the late 1980's that gave the law a reading that Congress thought was too narrow. The 1991 amendment codified a unanimous opinion of the Burger court, which in 1971 interpreted the original Civil Rights Act to bar employment policies that had a racially disparate impact, such as education requirements that were unrelated to the actual job.

-- Linda Greenhouse

Opinionator: The Next Time
Published: January 28, 2010
What will the Chief Justice Roberts majority's next target be next, now that it has experienced the joy of overturning?