Fletcher: Get beyond the glossy headlines

Sometimes when I read the news, I wonder where the writer went to school. Let me give you three examples – one of which is spot on while the other two miss the point.

The recent shootings at the Washington Naval Yard and Chicago have a common thread that has been overlooked by reporters. It has nothing to do with the shooters’racial heritage or gender, or even how “messed up” they were to begin with. It’s about the law.

In both Chicago and Washington the laws concerning the purchasing and carrying of firearms are the most draconian in the country. The penalties are higher and the restrictions are tighter than any other locale in the United States.

One might assume these atrocities should have taken place in Texas, Wyoming or here where gun laws are relatively looser.

My point is that it isn’t the guns that do the shooting, it’s the shooters. The guy in Washington was hearing voices, while the shooting in Chicago appears gang related. Years ago when we closed mental institutions across the country to “mainstream” the patients we placed a torrent of sick folks onto the streets.

Guns aren’t the problem and laws aren’t the answer. It’s about people and where society, like with our mental health system, may have failed them.

News reports often are full of errors in the rush to “get the scoop.” There is much more concern about firearms than the fact there is a mental health problem with folks who kill other unarmed humans. It’s a pervasive error of omission by the news media. It’s almost as if they are purposely missing the point.

On another front I read an article recently where the author explained that median income in the U.S. between 1989 and today hasn’t changed much, when you factor in inflation. WOW. Of course it did. That’s the measure of inflation. After all, it is the median.

The writer’s thesis was the middle class didn’t move at all. Of course not. This is the definition of small, medium, and large. The middle is still in the middle. The measurement we need to examine is where the mobility went – up or down, in or out – regarding the middle class. It is not news that the middle is still in the center. The news, if any, would be in what direction did they move.

Politicians are always talking about “upward mobility” but rarely mention “downward mobility.” The American Dream is predicated on your kids occupying a better economic position than you. We paid linemen after World War II 48 cents for each hour worked. Today we pay some folks 60 times what that same position paid in 1947. Factoring in productivity, skill level, and inflation, I maintain the two amounts are about the same in purchasing power. Thank inflation for that. That’s why the kids’ cars cost more than our first houses.

You contrast the median income with your income to see if you are progressing or regressing economically.

Economist Martin Feldstein recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal. His comments were dead on. Feldstein said the Obama Administration has no choice but to keep interest rates low because their lack of attention to the budget eliminates any opportunity to use fiscal policy to improve the economy.

Specifically, he said, the problem is the national deficit caused by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Feldstein said these three items make up the biggest share of the budget and each are tracking in directions that make them unsustainable. Since elected officials aren’t addressing these areas the national debt continues to increase toward an ever greater level of unsustainability.

This means tax policies cannot be used as an economic tool as the deficit would increase even more rapidly if a tax decrease were enacted. This, despite the fact a tax decrease would create economic growth.

As for monetary policy, which is mostly interest rate manipulation, there isn’t much more that can be done since mandated rates today are close to zero.

What all of this means is there isn’t going to be a meaningful economic recovery in the U.S. in the near future. If our economy doesn’t get better, then, in all likelihood, neither will the world’s economy.

As you can see, we need to examine information carefully today to separate the wheat from the chaff. Not all news stories are created equal.