July 29, 2014
David Frum Accuses New York Times of Staging Photos of Palestinian Victims

So this is pretty awful.  David Frum, alongside a blogger named Thomas Wictor, are accusing the press of publishing fake photos that purport to showcase injured or traumatized Palestinians.  In particular, Frum points to a photo of two young men in which one of them has blood on his arms.  In a second photo appearing elsewhere, however, the same man no longer has blood on his arms.  Q.E.D. conspiracy, amirite?

Except there’s a very easy explanation for why the young man has blood on his arms in one photo, and no blood in another:

Photographers had gathered at the building, according to The New York Times’ Sergey Ponomarev. Photos appear to have been captured and used by some of the world’s top news gatherers, including The Associated Press, Reuters and The New York Times.

So the two photos look different because—wait for it—they were taken at different points in time.  The second photo was taken after one of the brothers had an opportunity to wash his father’s blood off his hands and face, which I’m sure he was anxious to get off his body.

One of the most useful skills for a public intellectual to develop is to exercise a greater degree of care when investigating stories that confirm your biases vs. those that don’t.  We are already naturally predisposed to exercise additional scrutiny to stories that don’t support our political beliefs.  But when we see stories that seem to confirm our beliefs, we’re more likely to accept them at face value because they feel correct.

That’s why Frum’s claim is shockingly unreflective for someone who pretends to be a public intellectual.  Is it really fair to jump to the conclusion that a photo was staged because the two individuals pictured look different in each photo?  Particularly when a legitimate explanation is easily arrived at?  Of course not.  

On another note, Frum is not the only person looking for an excuse to minimize Palestinian suffering or pretend it doesn’t exist.  I wrote this morning about an article written by Avi Issacharoff, who wrote that the Israeli government’s siege in Gaza was ”nonexistent,” which is pure fantasy.  I personally have a law school friend who used to jokingly refer to Gaza as “beachfront property,” suggesting that life there was not nearly as bad as Palestinian activists claim it was.

It would be one thing if this was propaganda being handed down by a tyrannical government.  But it’s not.  These are journalists and opinion leaders whose words have a lot of purchase in the public sphere.  This is why, as I mentioned this morning, many people choose to focus on the Israeli government over more oppressive regimes in the Middle East.  Nobody is pretending that the those regimes don’t oppress people, but a lot of people pretend that Israel doesn’t.  And there’s no better way to erase the suffering of a people than to convince the international community that it doesn’t exist.

November 20, 2012
Makers And Takers

David Frum makes an important point that often gets lost in the rhetoric of who “contributes” to society and who doesn’t:

America is not a society divided between “makers” and “takers.” Instead, almost all of us proceed through a life cycle where we sometimes make and sometimes take as we pass from schooling to employment to retirement.

also, this:

The line between “making” and “taking” is not a racial line. The biggest government program we have, Medicare, benefits a population that is 85% white.

Indeed.  But that shouldn’t be surprising to anybody when it comes to a program like Medicare: the whole point of social insurance is that it kicks in for everybody at a certain pre-designed time.

The first point, however, is one that should always be kept in mind when discussing the sociology of the welfare state.  I’m currently representing a client who has been gainfully employed for much of her life, but is currently receiving public assistance after being fired from her job.  She has no money other than what she’s currently receiving in the form of food stamps.  That’s it.  She’s contributed plenty over the course of her life, and hopes to contribute again soon.  But for now, she’s a “taker” until she can find a job again.  

And that’s how it generally goes.  The archetypical long-term “freeloader” from the Reaganite mythos (e.g. “Welfare Queen”) is actually a fairly rare case.  The average food stamp recipient only stays on the program for nine months.  The average length of time for TANF recipients is 18 months.  Few people actually get on the dole and stay there indefinitely.  Most people do not stay on public assistance long-term.  Which is the way the safety net is intended to operate in the first place.

May 22, 2012
"A lot of effort has been invested since 2009 to create a narrative of white endangerment and beleaguerment. The Drudge Report showcases selected local police blotters to create an impression of an intensifying criminal rampage by blacks against whites. Rush Limbaugh very explicitly describes the Obama presidency as a project of racial revenge. Fox News suggests the same idea more obliquely. The theme is taken up—with appropriate euphemism—by elected politicians and some conservative writers as well."

David Frum

October 23, 2011
DAVID FRUM: It's Time We Republicans Finally Admitted That Paul Krugman Has Been Right

Few economists have been more correct about the economic crisis of the last several years than the proudly liberal Paul Krugman.

Krugman spotted the “liquidity trap” early on (since the problem with the economy was too much debt, cutting rates and creating easier money would not get us out of it).

Krugman shot down the hyperventilation about a coming hyper-inflation, arguing that the global labor glut would prevent easy credit from inflating wages.  

Krugman quickly pronounced the Obama Administration’s stimulus as far too small and said it would not get the job done. 

Krugman scoffed at the idea that interest rates were about to skyrocket as our creditors decided en masse that we were so fiscally irresponsible that they couldn’t possibly lend us any more money.

He has been right on all counts.

Recently, Krugman has denounced the “austerity” push of the GOP, arguing that tackling our debt and deficit problem right now with spending cuts is the worst move we can make. Such cuts, Krugman argues, will put more people out of work and shrink the economy. And this, in turn, will increase, not decrease, the deficit.

Krugman thinks we should tackle the debt and deficit problem later, when the economy is on more solid footing. He points to record-low interest rates as a sign that the world is still willing to lend us as much money as we want, practically for nothing. And he argues that, instead of cutting back, we should be using that money to build infrastructure, strengthen the economy, and put more Americans back to work.

And some Republicans, it seems, are starting to notice.

A couple of months back, Republican commentator David Frum made a startling observation:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Wall Street Journal editorial page between 2000 and 2011, and someone in the same period who read only the collected columns of Paul Krugman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of the current economic crisis? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

Will Frum be ostracized for that remark?  After all, Paul Krugman is supposed to be Public Enemy No. 1.

Or will more Republicans begin to agree that, although government spending does indeed need to be cut eventually, and the debt problem does need to be addressed, suddenly chopping, say, $1 trillion of government spending next year is not the best way to get ourselves out of this mess?

(Source: sarahlee310)

August 4, 2011
David Frum: "Could It Be That Our Enemies Were Right?"

In February 1982, Susan Sontag made a fierce challenge to a left-wing audience gathered at New York’s Town Hall:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

Posing that question won Sontag only boos from an audience that the New York Times described as “startled.” Yet the question has only gained power over the intervening years. It contributed to the rise of a healthier, more realistic left much less tempted to make excuses for “progressive” dictatorships than the left of the last generation. If Hugo Chavez has any defenders on the contemporary American left, I haven’t heard of them.

Think of Susan Sontag as you absorb the horrifying revised estimates of the collapse of 2008 from the Commerce Department. Two years ago, Commerce estimated the decline of the US economy at -0.5% in the third quarter of 2008 and -3.8% in the fourth quarter. It now puts the damage at -3.7% and -8.9%: Great Depression territory.

Those estimates make intuitive sense as we assess the real-world effect of the crisis: the jobs lost, the homes foreclosed, the retirements shattered. When people tell me that I’ve changed my mind too much about too many things over the past four years, I can only point to the devastation wrought by this crisis and wonder: How closed must your thinking be if it isn’t affected by a disaster of such magnitude? And in fact, almost all of our thinking has been somehow affected: hence the drift of so many conservatives away from what used to be the mainstream market-oriented Washington Consensus toward Austrian economics and Ron Paul style hard-money libertarianism. The ground they and I used to occupy stands increasingly empty.

If I can’t follow where most of my friends have gone, it is because I keep hearing Susan Sontag’s question in my ears. Or rather, a revised and updated version of that question:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Wall Street Journal editorial page between 2000 and 2011, and someone in the same period who read only the collected columns of Paul Krugman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of the current economic crisis? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

May 20, 2011
"We’ve evolved in the space of a decade from “deficits don’t matter” to “defaults don’t matter.” It seems flabbergasting that a conservative party could arrive at this destination."

David Frum

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