Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, June 16, 2008

This is what's wrong with the media

Late last week there was a lot going on in the world. Large parts of several Midwestern states (Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Illinois) are being devastated by the worst flooding in the historical record. 24,000 people were forced from their homes in Cedar Rapids, IA alone. These states make up the bulk of the US corn crop so this flood will likely exacerbate the global food crisis (something the US media is under reporting anyway). Before you coastal elite types say "who cares?" think of this: everything you eat is made of corn: beef, chicken and pork are raised on feed made from corn, so are dairy cattle (hell, I'd be shocked if farm raised salmon weren't fed with stuff that contains corn), and corn syrup is an ingredient in most processed food. And lets not forget how ethanol nonsense has already disrupted the corn markets. If you can manage to care about things that affect others not just yourselves, entire towns in Iowa and Indiana have been virtually washed away. In Iowa 83 of the 99 counties are designated as disaster areas by the governor and the Feds have declared 24 of those counties as federal disaster areas. I live in Iowa. Although my home and place of work are not directly affected by the floods, I live close enough to Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the University of Iowa to know how devastating these floods are. I've driven through these areas a fair amount and this is a huge deal. Cedar Rapids has about 200,000 people in it. Iowa City and its suburb, Coralville, has about 100,000. Waterloo/Cedar Falls have another 100,000 or so. Together they are the economic and cultural centers for about a half of the state.

Also, Irish voters voted "No" on the EU's latest amendment to its founding treaty. This is somewhat surprising because Ireland is one of the greatest beneficiaries of European integration and has long been among the most pro-integration populations in the EU.

And over in Afghanistan, the Taleban staged a dramatic jail break and set 1000 prisoners free.

Against this backdrop of a rather full news cycle the 24 news services broke away for at least a day to eulogize one of their own. In their minds none of the above was as important to report as the sudden death of NBC/MSNBC commentator Tim Russert. NBC actually made Russert their top story for most of the weekend. This is what is wrong with the media. To them, the most important thing to report is what's going on in their lives. To them, THEY are the story. To them, Tim Russert has had such a HUGE impact on American life that his death overshadows floods, war and political strife abroad.

Of course even when they were reporting on the flood, they were getting the basic facts wrong. First they couldn't get Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids straight. They would give a report on events in Cedar Falls or Waterloo all while standing in front of a picture or map of Cedar Rapids. I heard one network refer to Iowa Governor Chet Culver repeatedly as the governor of Ohio.

I understand that American education systems have problems. I understand that the errors I saw on the TV news are the kind of errors we hear about all the time in the wider population. However, it is the news media's job to be better informed than the rest of us and to pass that information along to us. If all they do is present video clips and photo-montages with error filled commentary, they could just as easily not bother and just let us look it all up online.


Dustin said...

AHEM!!! Although it was sad to hear about Russert, I agree with RxR, we have more important things happening that our country needs to focus on.

Dr. Strangelove said...

One cannot help but think that what the traditional media were really mourning was yet another loss of market share.

The Law Talking Guy said...

The media loves a story that allows them to say, "See, we're human too. We also hurt and die. Have sympathy for us too."

On the other hand, can we really blame them? They do know each other from press clubs and such, and nobody wanted to be the on only channel covering the flood rather than their fallen comrade.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes. I can and do blame them. It shows an incredible narcacism and ignorance.

What's more, I strongly suspect that if someone like Tim Russert had died during the California wild fires or if these floods were in the Hudson or Potomac valley instead of the Midwest, the coverage would have had a more reasonable balance. In other words, I can't help but see this as another example of coastal elitism.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Ironically, any farmer whose crop wasn't hurt (and most, of course, weren't) will get to take advantage of soaring crop prices. And federal disaster aid for rebuilding will bring in more jobs. So it won't be so awful in the long run for much of Iowa.

Raised By Republicans said...

The statewide yield will be WAY down. The floods were caused by excessive snow melt followed by excessive rains that have turned most of the farm lands around here into muddy bogs unsuitable for planting - even for those fields not comletely innundated several feet of gasoline polluted sewage (which is what a modern flood is). So even those farmers who did manage to get planting done are seeing their crops growth stunted by the bad weather.

Of course, the towns along these rivers (all 9 of the major rivers in Iowa saw record floods in the last week), are where the corn and pork etc gets processed. That processing infrastructure has taken a huge hit here.

In any case, the overall supply of food will drop signficantly. I will take great pleasure in saying "I told you so" in a few months when you are blogging about the global food crisis or about inflation.

This is going to be a devasting blow to the Iowa economy. Sure, in 10 years or so the state will have recovered. But for the next several years we're facing a state in which several of the biggest cities have been crippled and the capital, Des Moines, has suffered major damage. The burden on the state budget is about to spike at the same time that the tax base slumps.

Spotted Handfish said...

RbR probably doesn't need to gloat given that there is a well recognised problem with food supply. He is very right, though, about the future price of corn. What we need to good reporting of where the costs really start to kick in, and what can be done about it.

Some things cannot be controlled. For example the drought in Australia and drop in wheat exports has meant a ten-fold increase in worldwide dry shipping costs because Asian transporters have travel further for grain, taking more time. Or Tim Russert's death.

Some things can be controlled. Farm and ethanol subsidies. Which as people have been pointing out, the media should be reporting on. Why is it that more news means less information...?

Nice to know though that the internets, that famous series of tubes, and people can't be controlled either. I was looking for a link to pork belly futures, and found this.

History Buff said...

I've driven through Iowa and it is very flat and full of corn fields. Any type of flooding, especially when all rivers are at flood stage would be bad. Last summer Texas was in the same situation, however, we have a lot less surface water in Texas so it was no where near the same problem. I have been hearing about Cedar Rapids and I kept thinking (since I don't watch TV), isn't Cedar Rapids a pretty big place?? Usually only rural places are heavily effected by flooding.

I have been listening to NPR for several hours the last four days because I've been out driving and they have mentioned Tim Russert from time to time, but have not dwelled on him. The only thing I hadn't heard about was the jail break. How come y'all don't have NPR on your news section??

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, Cedar Rapids has about 200,000 people or so. Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa.

Iowa is deceptively bumpy. When compared to Illinois or Nebraska, Iowa is down right hilly. But there are wide stretches of flatter land or land with very low rolling terrain. Cedar Rapids is built on such a stretch.

The damage to urban property will be in the billions of dollars. Damage to agricultural property will be far higher.

Spotted Handfish is right that other food growing areas have been badly hit as well. I was, I'm embarassed to say, unaware of the problems in Australia. But Burma and Bangladesh recently lost major rice producing areas to cyclones.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR, I wasn't being insensitive, but I heard a spokesperson on the NewsHour last night (PBS) stating that about 20% of the crops were ruined. That means 80% wasn't ruined, and prices will soar for it. So for those fortunate farmers, they will benefit. And if crop prices in Iowa go up by more than 25% - and they probably will - the state will see more $$ coming in than without the flood. The real losses are in buildings, etc., but fed dollars will help. I strongly suspect Iowa will not have to wait 10 years to recover.

USWest said...

I don't think we should accept that the media fails to provide accurate information. Getting Cedar Rapids and Cedar Falls mixed up is not good reporting.

However, the food crisis has been widely covered in the Washington Post, NYT, NPR, and I even saw that CNN had a reporter in a soggy, ruined soybean field.

Thus, I don't go along with the "Coastal Elite" idea.

The Law Talking Guy said...

It's not like the media gets "coastal" news any more correct.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, I doubt they mix up LA and SF when there is an Earthquake out in California.

USwest said...

Well, no because for starters, they don't have anything like the same name and they are like 600 miles apart and they are major major metro areas. Hello!

But they do get Carson City, CA and Carson City, NV mixed up and those are in different states! They get San Jose, CA and San Jose, Mexico messed up and they are different bloody countries!

Ever hear about the lost German interpretors? Swear it is a true story. Several years ago they were having a huge summitt in Monterry, Mexico. And 3 German interpretors for the summitt were flown to Monterey, CA.

Raised By Republicans said...

"RBR, I wasn't being insensitive,"

Yes you were. Just because you don't think you are doesn't mean you aren't.

"the state will see more $$ coming in than without the flood."

Look, the state of Iowa has about 3 million people. If Iowa loses 20% of its crop, sure the rest will command a higher price. But the higher price won't come close to compensating for the loss. The only way it would do that would be if Iowa was the ONLY supplier of these goods in the world, which it most certainly is not.

As for the magical qualities of federal money, it sure has done wonders down in New Orleans. Besides, the Feds won't compensate for all the losses, just a portion of them (at best). Tax revenue will drop in Iowa - a lot - and the state will have to pay out a lot more money to fund recovery efforts.

In detail, Cedar Rapids was a struggling industrial/ag proccessing city before the flood. Its downtown was sliding downhill. I have serious doubts about its ability to recover at all. Iowa City will probably be in better shape becaue they have the university there - which, although its getting slammed, won't be leaving.

Raised By Republicans said...

By the way, as near as I can tell at least 1% of the population of Iowa is homeless now after the flood. In California terms that would be about 360,000 people displaced. How quickly do you think California would recover from that?

The Law Talking Guy said...

I seriously do NOT think this will be like Katrina. Remember, there's white people in Iowa. More seriously, I don't think an objective person would say I am being insensitive to the suffering by stating that there will be both short term and long term gains also.

Corn prices are already rising on the news.

It's not true, btw, that prices would only rise to cover the loss if Iowa were the only corn supplier. The economics of the corn market are not so static. Corn is rather like the energy market at the moment, where a relative shortfall sends prices spiking very high, because needs are almost inelastic and speculation is rampant. From today's Voice of America about corn prices:

"Roger Elmore, an agronomist at Iowa State University, says market speculators are driving up prices based on the devastation they see in the Midwest fields. He says corn, which went for around four dollars a bushel just a few years ago has nearly doubled in price.

"'Futures yesterday, I think, went up to $7 [a bushel] for July futures on corn,' said Elmore. 'Projections done by one of our economists here indicate it will be up to $11 before this is all said and done.'"

NPR said it was at $8/bushel today. Chicago Board of Trade has 7.96 cents/bushel. here. A rise from $8 to $10 or $11 is a big rise for those who still have crops.

And for Iowa, that means cash will flow into some pockets (even as it leaves others).

The Law Talking Guy said...

Oh, and if we had 360,000 homeless, we'd send them to Iowa...

USwest said...

We'd send them to Cedar Rapids, to be precise . . . or was that Cedar Falls?

Sorry RBR. I know that you are out sand bagging, and this isn't funny for you. If things were reversed, I wouldn't be too keen on the joking around either.

Good luck keeping things high and dry! We corn feds out here appreciate you work. And I am impressed at how the entire state has come out to help. Hell when San Diego burned, my first response was, "Poor rich boys lost their homes.", which wasn't very nice of me either. Goes to show how much is Californians love each other.

It's definitely a fine example of community spirit in Iowa, down right enviable. And that is why this won't be a Katrina. There was a plan and people came out. That is how it should be.

Raised By Republicans said...

"Well, no because for starters, they don't have anything like the same name and they are like 600 miles apart and they are major major metro areas. Hello!"

But this is the point. It doesn't take much time to look it up. And if you are giving a national broadcast about a major natural disaster the fact that these people can't be bothered to take 30 seconds to look this stuff up is unbelievable.

Raised By Republicans said...

"We'd send them to Cedar Rapids, to be precise . . . or was that Cedar Falls?

Sorry RBR. I know that you are out sand bagging, and this isn't funny for you. If things were reversed, I wouldn't be too keen on the joking around either.

Good luck keeping things high and dry! We corn feds out here appreciate you work. And I am impressed at how the entire state has come out to help. Hell when San Diego burned, my first response was, "Poor rich boys lost their homes.", which wasn't very nice of me either. Goes to show how much is Californians love each other.

It's definitely a fine example of community spirit in Iowa, down right enviable. And that is why this won't be a Katrina. There was a plan and people came out. That is how it should be."

No. It isn't very funny and "Sorry" don't feed the bulldog on this one. Of course the irony is that if you did ship 360,000 homeless Californians out here, we'd take better care of them than you would back there.

My honest and real fear is that the country simply doesn't give a crap. We're what you guys call "look down country" right? You look down on us almost without thinking about it. You tell your little jokes about how quaint and backward we are and gigle.

I simply do not believe that LTG's expected cornucopia of federal funds will be forthcoming. As soon as the water goes away and the pictures turn from dramatic scenes of flowing flood waters to ugly piles of gasoline tainted sewage and mud, we'll be forgotten.

To be honest, a big reason so many people volunteered was that we're convinced that we're on our own. I've talked a bunch of people who went to the flood areas to help sandbag and they mostly said stuff like "if we don't help ourselves, no one else will."

History Buff said...

They had fires in San Diego ?!? When was that?!?

Seriously, I think once just about any story drops off the lead it is forgotten about. Katrina is really remembered mostly because it effected the entire country, between evacuees and the price of gas.

USwest said...

You know what, I tried to be nice and to bring some levity to this and you had to come back all rude about it.And now you are just pissing me off.

It's "Fly over Country" and I remind RBR that you lived here for the better part of 7 years, took advantage our a CA public university that was subsidized by the state. You walked out of here with the credentials that allowed you to return to a nice job in the Midwest. So the bitterness you seem to have for all of us because of where we live is off-putting.

We get called all sorts of things here in CA, like fruits and nuts, plastic land, home of the moonbeam, intellectual lightweights, etc. People role their eyes when a Californian talks policy. We suck it up. And when there were major earthquakes or fires, we were pretty convicned that no one cared about us way out west either. We are the fringe, the fantasy land. But gee, when people want to leave home, they have no problem showing up here to take advantage of what the state has to offer.

I think it is unfair to assume that everyone is looking down on the state that put Obama over the top and sat in the spotlight for 2 months. You will get more criticism for me for the victimization attitude than for being in the Midwest.

Shit happens all over. Everyone thinks their drama is the most important thing in the world. Truth is, life goes on despite our tragedies. And there isn't much us Californians can do for you but continue to send our money to DC to help with the recovery. Getting mad at us for not suffering enough for you won't help.

History Buff said...

Senator Grassley is pushing to allow farmers to plant corn on conservation land. His reasoning is that the world is desparate for grain especially after the devastation in Iowa. What do y'all think of this? Would it help Iowa at all?