The new worst thing I’ve ever heard on NPR

This all started when I decided to do some yoga this summer. I bought a mat for $5.98 at Lot-Less and watched a video on streaming Netflix to learn the sun salutation. And this morning I thought it would be a good idea to run through some sun salutations and relax into the day.

Problem is, I’m a bit addicted to information flow. I’d rather be staring at a screen with multiple browser tabs, but if I can’t have that, I’d like some audio. So I did something I rarely do: turned on my radio and dialed around until I found Morning Edition.

Yoga + NPR News turns out not to be a relaxing combination.

You may have heard about this debt limit thing. The big picture is this: the U.S. is running a short-term deficit because of the Great Recession plus the Bush/Obama tax cuts plus some discretionary wars. This short-term deficit will go away as the economy improves and the tax cuts expire and we withdraw from our current foreign adventures. And, crucially, this short-term deficit isn’t hurting the economy at all. Lenders around the world are happy to lend to the federal government at rock-bottom rates. In fact, mainstream economists think the government should borrow more money right now, spend it on programs that create short-term jobs, and jumpstart the still-sagging economy.

Then there’s another deficit looming in the long term. It’s not Social Security, which is actually on very good footing (some slight adjustments might be required down the road, but if done correctly, by eliminating the cap on payroll subject to tax, they’d be painless; don’t believe the scaremongering). It’s Medicaid and Medicare, which pay for medical care for poor people (including poor children and the elderly who have run out of money to pay for nursing-home care) and old people, respectively. But this isn’t a deficit caused by waste or mismanagement. It’s a deficit that’s entirely predictable because our country’s overall health-care costs are rising much faster than inflation or GDP growth. Medicaid and Medicare do a better job than private insurance at controlling costs. But we have a medical costs problem that is manifesting itself in many contexts, one of which is a projected long-term deficit for those two programs.

Now, though, because the U.S. is running a deficit, it’s about to reach a statutory limit on how much it can borrow in total. This limit gets raised every few years amid political grandstanding; Obama himself stood his grand and voted against raising the limit when he was a senator. For nefarious reasons, Republicans have said that this time around they won’t raise the debt limit without a major, long-term budget deal that cuts trillions in spending. And Obama has accepted this framework, also now insisting on a huge deficit-cutting deal — but with some fig-leaf tax increases along with the massive spending cuts. The debt-ceiling increase and this hypothetical “grand bargain” about future budgets are only linked because the Republicans and Obama and some congressional Democrats have decided to link them, not for any logical or legal reason.

If you’ve followed the last three paragraphs, you now know more about the deficit than most politicians. And you know much, much more than you’d have gathered from the new worst thing I’ve ever heard on NPR, a short item by veteran reporter Andrea Seabrook about Obama’s planned budget meetings.

You can listen to the story here, if you dare. It’s only four minutes long. In that time frame, Seabrook manages to lay out a dumbed-down version of alarmist right-wing bondholder talking points about the deficit and recast them as conventional wisdom. She quotes a former Blue Dog congressman, an unhinged spokesperson for the Concord Coalition, and a Republican governor. She offers a muddle of misinformation about the deficit; if you listen to the story, you’ll actually understand the issue worse than if you don’t.

And then, in some kind of perversely brilliant move that I’ll bet you have to go to Columbia Journalism School to learn, she wraps the package as a little pro-Obama propaganda piece. I can’t resist quoting the last two grafs:

Governor JOHN KASICH (Republican, Ohio): At the end of the day you look yourself in the mirror and you say to yourself, did I do what was right for families and for children – and if I paid a political price, so what?

SEABROOK: That’s the kind of attitude the president wants in his meeting on Thursday. Come to the White House, he says, but leave your rhetoric at the door.

Did you hear that? She uses a completely vapid, think-of-the-children soundbite from a Republican governor (who has what, exactly, to do with the federal budget negotiations?). And then she says it’s exactly what Obama wants: a commitment to being “serious,” to working through the deficit issues and making tough choices. According to Seabrook, it’s so awesome it’s not even rhetoric. And our president is so awesome that when he convenes a meeting at which he’s going to offer to slash safety-net programs in what (complete sellout) Ezra Klein calls “a deal so lopsided that it will also be slightly shocking when a Democratic president signs it,” the president himself has gone so far beyond rhetoric that he gets to tell everyone else exactly where to put their own; he has apparently ascended to the realm of pure Truth.

I’m sorry. Am I sounding unhinged? I promise never again to mix yoga and NPR.

Also, this budget thing? We’re doomed.

4 responses to “The new worst thing I’ve ever heard on NPR”

  1. Stella says:

    Information flow and yoga don’t mix…the point is to go to a different place where breathing and being present in the moment take over from the information brain. Music – new age, classical, whatever, is an acceptable background. Just so you know the rules.

    But let me say, it turns me on when you deconstruct NPR so brilliantly. Can you make it a weekly feature?

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m with Stella on this one, Dave. You don’t have to listen to pregnant whale calls or whatever, but news is less than ideal accompaniment to yoga.

    That said, your descriptions make for a delightful mental picture. And yes, more with the analysis!

  3. swells says:

    Ugh. The more I learn about such things (mostly from you, Scotty, and, um, previously?, NPR), the more yoga I need. My dread grows every day. Your piece on why you’re not supporting Obama in 2012 was the sharp thing to finally pierce the long-hoarded vestiges of my Nov. ’08 delusions. Sorry, mixed metaphor, or something.

    However, “Yoga + NPR News turns out not to be a relaxing combination”–hilarious. That anyone, least of all you, could ever think it might be! The ridiculousness of the idea is almost . . . relaxing. Namaste.

  4. Dave says:

    I actually knew better than to listen to stuff while doing yoga. I just couldn’t help myself. But, lesson learned.