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September 21, 2011

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"That's not how you quote"

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 12:42 AM PDT

Should we trust Ron Suskind's book describing the making of a economic policy in the Obama administration?:

Suskind Audiotape Backs Up Anita Dunn in Her Claim To Be Quoted Out of Context: ...Anita Dunn to Valerie Jarrett:

If it weren't for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace, because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women...

Ron Suskind:

"This place would be in court for a hostile workplace," Dunn is quoted as saying in Suskind's book. "Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."

Naughty, naughty, Ron. That's not how you quote. ...

And:

Ron Suskind on the Meaning of "Direct Quote", Underbelly: Here's an excerpt from Terry Gross' interview with Ron Suskind, lifted from the NPR website:

Gross: Just a question about the technique you use in telling the story, there's a lot of dialogue in the book. When something is in quotes, does that mean that it actually came from a transcript, a recording, or that's something that somebody directly told you?

Suskind: Yes, it's something someone directly told me, and the fact is almost all the quotes in the book are things that were directly told to me, and others in the room affirm. Yeah, that's pretty much exactly it. That's pretty much what I remember, too. And that's the way this reporting goes.

...But read it again slowly. What Terry is asking is "when you use quotation remarks, are you repeating the exact words that the quoted person said?" (as in, for example, the text I lifted above). Suskind answers an entirely different question. He's saying somebody directly told me that the quoted person said it (and I, Suskind, have independent confirmation). In other words, when she asks: is the stuff in quotation marks an actual quotation, his answer is "no."

I'll give Suskind this much. The ship has probably left the harbor on this one. We're probably a dozen years--maybe more--away from the point where a "direct quote" was a "direct quote." We've got to the point where "direct quote" means "at least two pieces of hearsay." I suppose this is not the end of the world. ... But we also need a word for "direct quote" in the old fashioned sense, and at the moment, we don't seem to have one.

Suskind goes on to say:

I have more than 200 sources here, more than 700 hours of interviews. I've been doing this, Terry, for 25 years. What's in the book is solid as a brick, and ultimately the White House will have to deal with it, whether internally or externally, in some way because this is really the history of this period.

Translated: I'm a player. They're going to have to take me seriously. And the fact that I put quotation marks around things that are not quotations--hey, as the fella in the blog said, "that train has left the station."

McConnell, Boehner, Kyl, and Cantor's Letter to the Fed

Posted: 21 Sep 2011 12:33 AM PDT

This letter from Senators McConnell, Boehner, Kyl, and Cantor crosses a line that shouldn't be crossed:

Dear Chairman Bernanke,
It is our understanding that the Board Members of the Federal Reserve will meet later this week to consider additional monetary stimulus proposals. We write to express our reservations about any such measures. Respectfully, we submit that the board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people.
It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate. ...
We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy. ...
Sincerely,
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Jon Kyl, Rep. Eric Cantor

I think speaking out individually is fine, e.g. a member of Congress stating his or her views on monetary policy in a speech is not a problem. That's part of the public dialogue.

But an official letter from members of the House and Senate to the Fed is more official, and more threatening to the Fed's independence than a speech from an individual member of Congress. Robert Reich explains the objections:

The Republican's Latest Ploy to Keep the Economy Lousy through Election Day, by Robert Reich: ...To say it's unusual for a political party to try to influence the Fed is an understatement.
When I was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, it was considered a serious breach of etiquette — not to say potentially economically disastrous — even to comment publicly about the Fed. Everyone understood how important it is to shield the nation's central bank from politics.
If global investors suspect the Fed is responding to political pressure of any kind, investors will lose trust in the nation's monetary policies. Even if the pressure is to tighten the money supply and keep interest rates high, it's still politics. And once politics intrudes, lenders of all stripes worry that it will continue to intrude in all sorts of ways. The inevitable result: Lenders charge more for lending us money.
The letter puts Bernanke and his colleagues in a huge bind. If they decide against another round of so-called "quantitative easing" to lower long-term rates and boost the economy, they may look like they're caving to congressional Republicans. If they decide to go ahead notwithstanding, they're bucking the Republicans and siding with Democrats. Either way, they're open to the charge they're playing politics.
Congressional Republicans evidently don't care. They want Obama out, whatever the cost. Besides, they've never met a government institution they don't mind trashing.

There's more to it than higher interest rates. History tells us that politicizing monetary policy is a bad idea -- giving control of the money supply to politicians generally leads to high inflation -- and for this reason most countries have a monetary authority with some degree of independence. Thus, the GOP's politicization the Fed in the name of preventing inflation is puzzling (unless of course, inflation hawkery is cover for another agenda).

links for 2011-09-20

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 10:11 PM PDT

Job Creation Overshadowed by Debt Reduction Speech

Posted: 20 Sep 2011 10:08 AM PDT

For a few days, we were actually talking about a job creation program instead of debt reduction. However, Obama's speech yesterday seems to have turned the conversation back to the debt. In his speech he did talk about how to pay for job creation, but his plans for over $3 trillion in debt reduction (on top of the cuts that were already in place as part of the deficit ceiling negotiations) is the message that stuck in the media. Job creation is no longer at the forefront of the conversation, and unless Obama is willing to lead on this issue, that won't change.

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