Time Magazine Editor-At-Large: “We thought [austerity] was a bad thing and now embracing as a virtue”

Add this to the Great Moments In Cognitive Dissonance. Time Magazine editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe sputtered through a seriously weird defense of austerity measures no more than five minutes before CNN transitioned into a story about how firing hundreds of sanitation workers before blizzard season may not have been the best idea in the world.

And here’s the bizarre part: No one acknowledged the correlation between the two segments.

Here is Luscbombe, verbally hemorrhaging on national television about how “Austerity” made it on Time’s top 10 buzzwords of 2010 because it’s super awesome and we all love austerity now.

LUSCOMBE: I think the thing of austerity is it rises to the top. We thought it was a bad thing and now embracing as a virtue. It is something that moved out of favor. It is like austerity is a comeback, maybe gone in either category. And there’s sort of a wry humor about it. We are on the austerity program now, yea. It’s almost medieval in that way.

To Time’s credit, their online version of the list does a much more articulate job of explaining what austerity is, and it even mentions thousands of people protested these kinds of hella awesome cuts. Luscombe’s explanation is complete word salad. I honestly can’t tell if she even understands what austerity means. I have to believe she does, but I have no idea if she’s aware that other non-Times editors-at-large are protesting these things.

And speaking of the ramifications, CNN then brought on Councilwoman Letitia James, a Democrat from Brooklyn, who is also the sanitation committee chairwoman. James let fly about how the city was totally unprepared for the blizzard this time around despite the fact that back in February, the city was able to better cope with a larger storm.

JAMES: Most of the arteries, major arteries and Great Borough of Brooklyn have not been plowed. Most of the secondary and tertiary streets have not been responded to. I have spoken to all of my colleagues in every borough in Staten Island and Queens and the Bronx and in parts of Manhattan and they, too, are experiencing the same.

It appears that the only streets that are clear are in Manhattan where tourists are enjoying.

CHETRY: I want to ask you about that because how much of this has to do with budget cuts? Some complaining, the president of the Uniformed Sanitation Men’s Association said they’re down 400 and that there are further plans for cuts because of the multi-billion dollar deficits that we have here; 265 more sanitation workers set to be cut by attrition.

Is it simply a problem that we can’t afford to do the job that we would hope would be done in the nation’s largest city?

JAMES: Well, obviously the mayor is talking about doing more with less and obviously when it comes to snow removal that cannot be the case. We are now spending money hiring day laborers and private haulers to come out and remove garbage and to remove snow and that should not be the case at all.

Clearly, some agencies had been held harmless as a result of the budget cuts and I believe the Department of Sanitation should be one of those agencies that should be held harmless and what we should do is hire a new class of sanitation workers so that we can avoid what happened within the last few days.

The sanitation workers are blaming the budget cuts for the slow clean-up.

Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, said the department is currently down roughly 400 workers.

“We are undermanned — we need another 400,” Nespoli said in a telephone interview with The Wall Street Journal. “I mean this is a perfect example of why you need the man power in New York City. We’re shorthanded here.”

I really can’t think of a more clear-cut example of the effects of austerity. Pre-cuts, NYC was able to handle a larger storm in a relatively smooth fashion. Post-cuts, it’s snowpocalypse. I walked a single city block this morning and saw an abandoned bus in the middle of a major Brooklyn intersection, and the intersection was nearly impassable for pedestrians. And it’s been more than 24 hours since the storm hit. That’s very unusual for New York City. The sanitation workers (when there are enough of them) are very good about digging us out in a quick fashion. Not this time. That should serve as a warning flare.

Most worryingly is that the city had a backlog of some 1,300 critical calls – that is not calls for minor occurrences, but critical EMS calls that need to be answered immediately. There were 1,300 of those that went unanswered.

I also couldn’t have asked for a better example of a clueless elite pundit offering a weird, pseudo-cheerleading moment  for a policy that has zero consequences in her own life, but which have actual ramifications for hundres of millions of poor people in multiple different nations.

Even if I was to give Luscombe the benefit of the doubt and claim she’s aware of the negative aspects of austerity, her “explanation” of what the cuts mean for the world serves no purpose. The Time editor-at-large didn’t inform, or explain, or even offer a coherent definition of austerity, she certainly didn’t explain that a ton of people are protesting the cuts, and of course CNN didn’t attempt to link the idea of austerity to a story that was no more than five minutes away from broadcasting.

This is all a way of saying that CNN and Time missed an opportunity to show people how Washington policies can have very painful backlash in their everyday lives, which of course is what the roll of media is supposed to be, so it’s unsurprising neither CNN nor Time had any idea how they could do that – or that they were supposed to do it, at all.


  1. Josh Kitto

    It’s very interesting with the snow crippling the transport system just a week ago in Britain how media coverage similarly had a brain fart in not linking different strands of information together.
    BBC News had a few pieces online in talking about how other countries deal with the snow (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12042213) So it talked about several of the tactics used, ie the novel concept of snow ploughs, but they seemed to skip over the fact that Helsinki airport, which is owned by the Finnish government seems to have less difficulty than running it’s operations than the privately owned British airports.
    They didn’t ignore the tactics used, but they seemed to completely ignore how vital the state owned airports are in dealing with this crisis.

  2. Lex

    Responding to a snow storm or any major event effecting the city’s infrastructure is a really difficult problem. I think it’s a great test of how well government is working in a city. If it struggles like it did in NYC and Philly and Chicago, means it’s underfunded but ALSO it’s mismanaged. Adding more people is necessary, but not sufficient. I feel like people in Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association should be held accountable, just like FEMA’s “Browny” should’ve been held accountable by Bush.

  3. Allison Kilkenny

    Sure, it could be a combination of under-funding and mismanagement. But we have the storm in February with which we can contrast this blizzard. It does appear as though this storm was managed differently, but all parties agree the cuts played some part in the debacle.

  4. Lex

    This is true. The comparison is pretty clear in this case. Government works, and needs funding to work well.

    I think we both know, however, that the real answer to the problem of snow is to increase the emission of greenhouse gases, destroying the atmosphere, and making snow in NYC a thing of the past ;-) Though there would be the additional problem of sea levels rising, so we’ll need government to help us build boats.

  5. Michael Simmons

    Rag writers like Belinda Luscombe try to try to eliminate the real world, concrete definiton of an economic or financial term like “Austerity” and sell it to the unwary as if it is a clothing or music fad. That’s what her blathering-idiocy, ass-festival, 3 ring circus chicken scratch is.

    Councilwoman Letitia James is right, and she is probably being made into a scapegoat for the streets not getting cleared, even though it happened because of defunding from above. And, people have DIED because the ambulances could not get them, so that rich asswipes can save on taxes. The budget gets balanced on the backs of the poor. Just great.

    The hell with “balanced budget”, “fiscal conservative”, and all of the other bullshit that the egghead economists have been selling us. Tax and spend, get things done and get people back to work.

  6. Pingback: Allison Kilkenny December 30, 2010 « VIrtually Speaking

    [...] two areas. First, is the new Austerity narrative that is taking over the Beltway. Allison put up a great post documenting its emergence in TIME. The idea that regular Americans are just gonna have to suck it up [...]

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