Steve Benen and James Fallows remind me of one of my favorite pet peeves today: the routine use of headlines that blame "the Senate" or "Congress" for blocking a bill. For example: last night every Senate Republican banded together to filibuster a vote on Obama's jobs bill. So how did the New York Times copy desk headline this? Like so: "Obama's Jobs Bill Fails in Senate in First Legislative Test." Nothing about Republicans and nothing about a filibuster. Fallows comments:

The subhead and story make the real situation clear. So how about a headline that says plainly what happened: "Obama's Job Bill Blocked by GOP in Procedural Move" It would fit. And it would help offset the mounting mis-impression that the Constitution dictates a 60-vote margin for getting anything done.

Consider yourselves lucky, guys! My morning copy of the LA Times headlined it just as badly, and unlike the NYT, the subhead doesn't make things any clearer. Needless to say, there was no need for this. The hed could just as well have read "GOP Kills Obama Jobs Plan" if they'd wanted it to.

So why didn't they? This is a genuine question. Why do newspaper editors shy away from making partisan differences clearer in headlines? Is it because two (2) Democrats also voted against the bill, so they think it's unfair to blame it all on Republicans? Is it because they don't want to seem too partisan themselves? Or what? If any friendly copy desk chief has an explanation for this, I'd be happy to pass it along.

Herman Cain is not going to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. That is all. 

Kate Sheppard reports today that the sea level in Galveston Bay is rising, but Rick Perry's administration wants to make sure that nobody knows about it:

Top environmental officials under Perry have gutted a recent report on sea level rise in Galveston Bay, removing all mentions of climate change....John Anderson, the oceanographer at Rice University who wrote the chapter, provided Mother Jones with a copy of the edited document, complete with tracked changes from top TCEQ officials. You can see the cuts—which include how much sea level rise has increased over the years, as well as the statement that this rise "is one of the main impacts of global climate change"—here. As the document shows, most of the tracked changes came from Katherine Nelson, the assistant director in the water quality planning division. Her boss, Kelly Holligan, is listed as a reviewer on the document as well.

Click the link for more. They didn't just delete every reference in the report to climate change, they deleted most of the references to the mere fact of sea level rise. I guess they were hoping to spare their boss any more embarrassing debate questions. Click the link for the whole story.

Our squirrel was back today. I know, I know, it's just a squirrel. Who cares? But there was some doubt about my report of its coloring the last time I mentioned it, and this time I got a picture of our little friend — which is harder than it sounds. They're quick little things. Quicker than the autofocus on my camera, anyway.

So, anyway, here it is, nature red in tooth and claw. Domino was fascinated for a while until the squirrel did something that scared her off. I can't imagine what, since it was hopping from tree to tree the whole time and never got closer to her than ten feet. But something happened, and she made a dash around the side yard. In any case, I assume that our resident squirrel experts can tell me what kind of squirrel this is now that I have a picture? Or maybe embarrass me by telling me that it's actually a chipmunk or something?

This soothing nature break has been brought to you by Emerald Nuts, the favorite of nut-hoarding squirrels everywhere. Frenetic political blogging will resume shortly.

People used to jokingly refer to Steve Jobs's "reality distortion field," his ability to convince the public that Apple's products existed on a plane of revolutionary awesomeness that no other company in history had ever matched. This is pretty much how I feel when I listen to Republican debates. They seem to take place in some kind of weird extra-dimensional bubble in which mundane laws of evidence and logic are no longer considered necessary. Paul Waldman captures this magical thinking in last night's debate:

  1. Health care in general, and Medicare in particular, are bankrupting our country.
  2. But government should never try to figure out which treatments are effective.
  3. Medicare should pay for any treatment anyone wants, regardless of whether it works or what it costs.
  4. If an insurance company refuses to pay for a procedure, that's their right as actors in the free market; if Medicare refuses to pay for a procedure, that's Washington bureaucrats trying to kill you.
  5. We need to cut Medicare benefits, because don't forget it's bankrupting our country.

That's about the shape of it: Medicare costs too much, but all proposed cuts to Medicare are a death sentence for seniors. Unless, of course, those cuts are really, really deep and come from Paul Ryan. Don't try to make sense of it. It will just make your head hurt.

Via Tyler Cowen, here's a fascinating bit of research from Jialan Wang based on Benford's Law. Benford's Law tells us about the distribution of digits in many kinds of tabular data, including financial data. The digit 1 shows up 30.1% of the time, 2 shows up 17.6% of the time, all the way to 9, which shows up 4.6% of the time. If you examine some financial data, and the digits show up in the wrong proportions, it probably means the books have been cooked.

Well, guess what? Back in 1960 corporate reports followed Benford's Law almost precisely. Today? Not so much. The chart below shows deviations over time for three different industries. Finance took a big leap in 1980, when the S&L scandal was taking off, and then leveled out. IT and manufacturing took smaller jumps in the early 80s, bigger jumps during the dotcom era, and then leveled out at about the same rate as finance. But all three industries, and the business community as a whole, have deviations at much higher levels today than they did in 1960.

What does this mean? Possibly nothing. Maybe there's a plausible explanation. But what it probably means is that large corporations routinely fudge their figures far more than they used to. Wang puts it like this:

While these time series don't prove anything decisively, deviations from Benford's law are compellingly correlated with known financial crises, bubbles, and fraud waves. And overall, the picture looks grim. Accounting data seem to be less and less related to the natural data-generating process that governs everything from rivers to molecules to cities. Since these data form the basis of most of our research in finance, Benford's law casts serious doubt on the reliability of our results. And it's just one more reason for investors to beware.

I'm not surprised. But it would be interesting to do a similar study on European corporations to see if the same trend is evident. Is systematic book cooking mainly a Wall Street phenomenon, or has the entire world's business community been getting less honest over time?

I only saw half of tonight's debate because I forgot that Bloomberg even had a TV channel. When I remembered and went looking for it, I discovered that I do indeed get BloombergTV on my cable plan thanks to last year's upgrade to digital. So now I know. In the end, though, I ended up watching the streaming version anyway since that made it more convenient to make snarky tweets in real time.

Rick Perry continues to amaze. I mean, after his last disastrous outing, he must have known that Job 1 was looking like he was ready for prime time. Instead, he looked completely unprepared, as if he was surprised that people were still asking him actual questions instead of just nominating him on the spot. Check out this response to a Romney monologue on China and the decline of American manufacturing:

What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we are going to have this policy or that policy. What we need to be focused on is how we get America working again. That's where we need to be focused.

And let me tell you, we are sitting on this absolute treasure trove of energy in this country. And I don't need 999. We don't need any plan to pass Congress. We need to get a president of the United States that is committed to passing the types of regulations, pulling the regulations back, freeing this country to go develop the energy industry that we have in this country.

Holy cow. That's all he's got after three weeks of prep? We have to quit talking about "this policy or that policy," or worrying about Congress, and instead just man up and kick the economy in the balls? Urk. And when Karen Tumulty cross examined him over the similarity of his Texas investment fund to Solyndra, he looked like a deer in headlights even though you could have seen this question coming a mile away. Perry is barely ready for public access cable, let alone prime time.

(I got some grief a couple of months ago for suggesting that Perry just wasn't very bright: "Americans might not care if their presidents are geniuses," I said, "but there's a limit to how doltish they can be too." Anyone still want to give me any grief about that? I freely admit that this isn't the biggest reason he's falling in the polls, but I think it's one of the reasons. And it's a big reason he's losing the invisible primary: insiders are assessing his obvious unwillingness to put in even the minimal work needed to address simple questions in a debate and concluding that he's just flatly not up to the job.)

What else? Nothing really. The candidates in general continue to occupy some weird alternate universe where our biggest financial problem is that Wall Street is too regulated, our biggest health problem is that Medicare keeps denying treatments to old people, and our biggest economic problem is the intolerable burden of taxation we place on rich people. On an individual level, Rick Santorum continues to be bitter that so few people like him. Herman Cain continues to be a novelty candidate who can deliver sound bites with the conviction of a CEO giving a speech at a motivational seminar. Michele Bachmann continues to be out of it. And Mitt Romney continues to be strangely invulnerable to attacks. I know that Romney has so many negatives that it seems impossible for him to win, but somebody has to win, and I have a hard time seeing how it can be anyone else. The race is still his to lose.

Via Catherine Rampell, this chart shows the growth of Wall Street salaries compared to the salaries of everyone else in New York. It comes from an annual report by the New York State comptroller, and in my continuing quest to add value to other people's charts, I've adjusted the beginning numbers for inflation so you can see the growth rate more clearly. Wall Street salaries have risen 11.2% per year, while all other salaries have risen 1.8% per year.

Note also that after nearly destroying the world in 2008 and seeing their average salaries plummet to a mere $310,000 a year, things have already rebounded nicely for Wall Street. I guess it's because they've done such a great job of getting the economy moving again.

A few months ago I mused a bit about the accusation that Republicans are opposing every effort to create jobs because they know their election prospects are better if the economy is in the tank:

No serious person in a position of real influence really wants to accuse an entire party of cynically trying to tank the economy, after all. But it would sure make headlines if Obama decided to take up this ball and run with it. He'll never do it, because it wouldn't be postpartisan or pragmatic.

Obama himself still hasn't quite gone there. But today his campaign manager did, in a fundraising letter that took note of Republican efforts to block Obama's jobs bill:

Their strategy is to suffocate the economy for the sake of what they think will be a political victory. They think that the more folks see Washington taking no action to create jobs, the better their chances in the next election. So they're doing everything in their power to make sure nothing gets done.

I'd still like to see Obama say this directly. After all, he really doesn't need to worry about bipartisan comity anymore since Republicans have made it crystal clear that they aren't voting for any of his proposals no matter how nice he plays. So why not just tell the truth?

Greg Sargent rounds up reaction to the possibility that "moderate" Senate Democrats will sink Obama's jobs bill:

Obama has done what skittish Senate Dems and their aides asked him to do — he has waged a public campaign to build support for his proposals. Have we already forgotten that only a few short months ago, the papers were filled with quotes from anonymous Dems complaining that Obama had failed to (a) focus on jobs; and (b) use the bully pulpit to rally public support for job-creation proposals?

By any measure, Obama has addressed those complaints. As ABC News polling director Gary Langer put it the other day, Obama proved that "it’s possible to move the bar” when it comes to public opinion on jobs. And yet, now that Dems have finally made that pivot to jobs and are finally fighting it out on turf favorable to themselves; now that Obama has shown it’s possible to move public opinion in the direction of his proposals, despite his low approval numbers; and now that Obama and Dem leaders are hoping to use GOP opposition to the jobs bill to cast the GOP as the number one enemy of progress on the economy, a handful of moderate Dems are still prepared to help Republicans muddy those waters.

It is truly astonishing. Finally, Democrats have a chance to demonstrate a sharp, clear, popular difference with Republicans, and even then they can't manage to stand together and look like an actual governing party. What's more, this is basically the centrists' dream bill: stimulus now and deficit cutting in the long term. It's what all the folks yelling for a third party say they want. And Democrats are offering it up. 

This is one of the reasons, by the way, that I've never really been on board with the idea that Obama should have fought hard for lots of liberal policies even if they couldn't pass. "At least people would know where he stands," goes the mantra. But looking like a loser just isn't a good political strategy, and looking like you can't even control your own party, as such a strategy would inevitably highlight, is even worse. Even on a purely symbolic bill (since the House isn't going to pass it anyway), Democrats can't manage to get their act together. What a bunch of morons.