Thursday, December 23, 2010

When it's OK to raise taxes.

Q: When is it OK for a conservative to propose raising taxes?

A: When it involves raising taxes on Ameica's poorest citizens to facilitate the lowering of taxes on the wealthiest.

George Will writes approvingly of the tax "reform" plans of GOP representative Dave Camp:

[GOP congressman Dave Camp's] aim is "fundamental" tax reform, understood the usual way - broadening the base (eliminating loopholes) to make lower rates possible. He would like a top rate of 25 percent - three points lower than Ronald Reagan achieved in 1986...

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard - incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes.

...In addition to the one-third of the 143 million tax returns filed by individual earners for 2007 that showed no tax liability, additional millions of households have incomes low enough to exempt them from filing tax returns.
It couldn't be plainer than that. The GOP is not the anti-tax party it makes itself out to be. It's the tax burden shifting party, and the thing that most distresses them about the working poor is not the difficulty they have making ends meet, or gaining access to health care, or paying for college for their kids. No, the thing that most distresses conservatives about the working poor is that they pay no income tax.

If Democrats had a clue... any clue at all, they would make an issue of this sort of thing.

Tactical Obstructionism

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate's passing of both the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and the START treaty ratification was in serious doubt. Simply lining up 60 votes in favor of cloture, to allow a vote on both propsals, seemed a Herculean task whose outcome was by no means assured. And yet, in the past two days both measures made it through the Senate. The former by a vote of 65 to 31 and the latter by a vote of 72 to 26.

So why, in the end, was it so difficult to acheive cloture on bills that received overwhelming support in the senate (far more votes than the cloture battle would suggest)?

My interpretation (and this goes especially for the START treaty vote) is that the GOP is playing a game whereby they intend to make the president expend as much time, effort and political capital as possible to pass any legislation at all, even legislation that the GOP supports and that a good number of Republicans fully intend to vote for when it does come to the floor.

Is this a winning strategy or will it ultimately cost the GOP what little goodwill they have from the American people? I think it still remains to be seen. I do believe that the GOP is playing with fire, though, and may well get burned. After all, I suspect that the impression of the GOP that the American public is going to come away with from these last few weeks of the so-called "lame duck" session is this: the GOP is the party that simultaneously backed Obama into a corner and forced him to agree to give huge tax breaks to millionaires and then turned around and argued that we can't afford to provide needed health care for the policemen, firefighters, paramedics and ordinary citizens whose long-term health was compromised when they rushed to the scene of the 9/11 attacks and dug through dusty rubble and breathed in toxic air to rescue survivors.

I've got a pretty strong feeling that the same conservative pundits who loudly crow about congress' low approval numbers will prove notably silent on this issue in the coming months as an obstructionist Republican House of Representatives gains the ire and contempt of the very same people who voted them in, frustrated as they were by the glacial pace of our current economic recovery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Senate Republicans cut 1st responder health care by 3.1 Billion

Senate Republicans have agreed to the passage of a bill intended to help cover the medical bills of the heroes who worked to rescue survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but only if 3.1 billion dollars was first stripped from the bill.

These are the same guys who had no problem spending some $200 billion every year for the last seven years supporting the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. But apparently, finding $7.4 billion to cover the medical expenses of wounded rescuers is just too expensive.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Imitatio Latvia

Iceland experienced a bank-sector driven financial collapse and seemingly insurmountable debt load. It responded by screwing wealthy investors and defaulted on its debts. The country experienced a 10% drop in employment, but has been recovering since Q1, 2010. Latvia did not default on its debts, experienced a 20% drop in emplyment and has been recovering since Q1, 2010.

Guess which model financial columnists are urging Ireland to emulate?

It's absurd advice of course, but then with per capita obligations of about 1/2 million US dollars, Ireland probably has no choice but follow the Icleandic model eventually. I suspect that the financial press it simply trying to help investors squeeze Ireland for all they can before the inevitable default.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Things The Tax Cut Could Have Paid For

Another entry for our continuing feature "Things The Tax Cut Could Have Paid For." According to the Huffington Post, Republican lawmakers have blocked a bill that would have proclaimed child marriage to be a human rights violation:

The bill would ensure that child marriage is recognized as a human rights violation, and develop comprehensive strategies to prevent such marriages around the world. The legislation seemed likely to garner strong bipartisan support in Congress, and in the Senate, it did. But last night, the bill was voted down in the House by Republicans who argued the bill is too costly and could lead to increased abortions -- gripes the measure's supporters say have no basis in reality and are just excuses to kill the popular bill.

The CBO estimates the cost of implementing the bill at about $60 million over 5 years, whereas the GOP is estimating the cost at $108 million. Nonetheless, the cost of this bill comes in somewhere between 1/70th and 1/100th the cost of the upper income tax cuts the GOP demanded.

Berming For You

Remember when the BP oil spill was being touted as "Barack Obama's Katrina"? Despite the fact that Coast Guard vessels were on site working the spill from day one, and the Federal government mobilized heavily to contain the disaster, partisan critics of the Obama Administration insisted that not enough was being done to prevent oil from reaching Lousiana shores. And because it is an article of faith among the news media that every instance of Republican incompetence, corruption or greed must be counterbalanced by a corresponding incidence of Democratic incompetence, corruption or greed much of the new media and the chattering classes seemed perfectly happy to g along with the idea that the BP oil spill was, indeed, "Barack Obama's Katrina." Of course, to sucessfully argue this point it was necessary to show that there were effective countermeasures available that the administration, either through sloth or incompetence, was failing to implement.
Enter Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Always ready to savage the government for doing too much useless volcano monitoring, Jindall took to the airwaves to denounce the administration for not doing enough useful berm building. Berms, we were told over and over again, were the immediate, desperately needed, effective solution to the oil spill problem that the Administration was, for inexplicable reasons, failing to implement. There was only one little problem with this urgent claim: the experts disagreed. The building of berms, they told us, was an expensive way to accomplish very little. But never mind. All we heard from Jindall, the right-wing talks shows and much of the media was berms, berms, berms... and so under pressure from local legislators and the relentless, right-wing message machine, the Obama administration relented and pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to approve Jindal's dubious project.

Well a post-spill report is out examining the effectiveness of the berms and guess what... the experts were right. The berms were very expensive at over $200 million dollars and counting, but ended up collecting almost no oil.

By October, about 10 miles of berms had been built several miles from the gulf coastline at a cost of $220 million, with construction paid for entirely by BP.

Louisiana officials estimate that the berms stopped 1,000 barrels of oil from the spill. By contrast, more than 800,000 barrels were captured at the wellhead, and roughly 270,000 barrels were burned off by Coast Guard vessels. Skimming operations recovered at least 34 million gallons of oil-water mixture.

“$220 million for a spill response measure that trapped not much more than 1,000 barrels of oil is not a compelling cost-benefit tradeoff,” the commission staff wrote.

On the plus size, Louisiana did manage to get free funding for miles and miles of berms that might potentially help stop coastline erosion. But this was certainly not the way the project was sold to the American people.

(This post also apears on Stinque).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things The American People Are Sick Of...

...according to Jim DeMint.

It's a new post of mine up on Stinque. Go check it out.

Good Read

E. J. Dionne has a good column today on the new No Labels political movement that has recently taken shape, and why this movement's existence is premised on a widely disseminated fallacy: that political polarization in this country is a result of the left moving too far to the left while the right has moved too far to the right. As Dionne notes, while the right has, indeed, gravitated to extremes that would even surprise Ronald Reagan, the left (and by this he means, not just Democrats, but even ideological socialists) have come to occupy the middle ideological ground in America. There is no such thing as a radical left anymore in this country.

It's worth a read.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fox Strikes Again

Media Matters For America has gotten its hands on another internal Fox memo. This time newscasers are urged to cast doubt on the science behind global warming:

...we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
The memo, from Bill Sammon came moments after a Fox News reporter, discussing the so-called climategate incident, had noted that the data that provides evidence of global warming was consistent across various sources beyond the beseiged Climatic Research Unit of East Anglia University, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This, apparently was alarming to Sammon, since an appeal to respected scientific authorities on the subject does tend to undermine the mercenary criticisms of paid Oil Industry shills and lobbyists.

There is a big difference between "asserting notions as facts" and manufacturing controversy where there really is none. What Fox seeks to do, with respect to the issue of global warming, is clearly the latter, and their motivations are indisputably ideological ones.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fox: Not Even Trying

It wasn't too long ago that the website Media Matters for America got hold of internal memos from Fox News brass ordering on-air newscasters and personalities to stop refering to the proposed public option as the "public option" and instead refer to it as the "government option." Seems GOP pollsters had discovered that the American public was less supportive of the public option if it was, instead, referred to as the "government option."

The revelation was just another in a long list of examples of the supposedly "fair and balanced" Fox propaganda channel taking orders from the GOP an skewing its coverage for ideological reasons. The channel's public relations staff, meanwhile, countered that they were not showing bias, but were instead simply trying to employ "an accurate, fair, objective term."

Yet, if accurate, fair and objective terminology is the goal of Fox producers, how do you explain this front page story on the Fox news website?

It is hardly "accurate" or "objective" to refer to the current health Care Reform law as "Obamacare," given that the legislation was crafted by congressional leaders with little guidance from the President. And as for fairness, only a deaf-mute hermit doesn't realize that the term "Obamacare" as applied to the Health Care Reform act is used exclusively by opponents of the legislation, as the following selection of Tea Party signage clearly shows.

It really shouldn't be necessary to write posts like these "exposing" Fox News propagandistic mission. Really, the only reason I do so is because so many people, including members of the press and political class, continue to act as if it weren't so, granting interviews, access and perks that the propaganda network clearly does not deserve.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Which The GOP Cuts Off Its Nose To Spite Its Face

You've really got to marvel at the absurd degree to which Obama Derangement Syndrome has taken hold of the GOP. The latest example manifests itself in a classic case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. The New York Times is reporting that a George W. Bush appointed Federal judge has declared the individual mandate portion of Health Care Reform to be unconstitutional:

In a 42-page opinion issued in Richmond, Va., Judge Hudson wrote that the law’s central requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance exceeds the regulatory authority granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The insurance mandate is central to the law’s mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured because insurers argue that only by requiring healthy people to have policies can they afford to treat those with expensive chronic conditions.
Of course, without the Individual Mandate, several key provisions of Health Care Reform are impossible to institute. Most significantly, without the individual mandate, it becomes economically impossible to legislate that health insurance companies be prohibited from denying coverage to individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. That is because, without the individual mandate, widespread gaming of the system would lead to the financial ruin of health insurers. And yet the decisions made possible by the individual mandate are among the most popular provisions of the law: At 71% support, a desire to see insurance companies prohibited from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions means its not even close.

The uninsured are not going away, and even if it were to be withheld at the Supreme Court level, this decision does nothing to ameliorate their plight. Indeed, the numbers of uninsured are only projected to rise without implementation of the current Health Care Reform law. So what would be the upshot of a Supreme Court decision upholding this ruling and killing the Individual Mandate? The upshot would be this: the problem of the uninsured only gets worse. More and more people fall off the insurance rolls. As health insurance becomes more expensive, healthy people take their chances and drop coverage. As health insurance rolls are increasingly composed of ill people who simply cannot afford not to have health insurance, prices for health coverage begin to spiral out of control. Eventually, public anger leads to a Democratic wave sweeping both houses of Congress and the Presidency with an unambiguous mandate to fix the broken health insurance system.

Democrats must now craft a new Health Care Reform act that solves the problem of vast numbers of uninsured Americans. Many options are explored. One possible avenue, a system made up of private insurers delivering universal coverage buyoed by an individual mandate that makes it profitable, has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Right-wing political pundits fulminate at even the slightest mention of a single payer system such as exists in Europe and Canada. There is, however, one potential venue to universal coverage that relies upon an institution that is beloved of its participants and is as American as apple pie: Medicare For All.

It's single-payer, universal coverage through the back-door. And if the GOP continues in its ultimately self-destructive path of putting up roadblocks to a Health Care Reform act that is modelled on (or at least very similar to) proposals that were developed by the American Enterprise Institute in the 1990's, than that's exactly where we are headed.

Honestly, the only reason I don't rejoice at this prospect is that I suspect it will take between 10 and 20 years to get there if we follow this path, and during that time millions of uninsured Americans will lose their homes, their belongings, their loved ones and their lives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How They Get Away With It

From a story on Leo Berman, a Texas legislator who is promoting a bill that would make it a crime in Texas for individuals to take actions that would further the implementation of the Federal Health Care Reform Act:

Berman said, "I don't think it's extreme at all. I think it's more extreme for Texans who have to pay $27 billion to put over 2 million illegal aliens on Medicaid. That's what's extreme," Berman said.

This is a pretty good example of everything that's wrong with the current state of journalism in this country. Here we see a politician making an outlandish claim that has no basis in law or fact, and the newspaper simply reproduces his comment with no attempt whatsoever to fact check. In fact, under the Health Care Reform Act, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from participating in the health care exchanges that provide subsidized coverage even if they spend their own money to do so. The bill in no way requires that these people be put on Medicaid. In fact, Medicaid only covers the U.S. born (and thus U.S. citizen) children of illegal immigrants, and reimburses hospitals for expenses related to providing emergency care to illegal immigrants. Hospitals are not going to turn away critically injured accident victims whose immigration status cannot be determined, and so Federal law recognizes this fact and reimburses them for such treatments. This is current law, the Health Care Reform Act does not change it, and expenses associated with such treatments come nowhere close to $27 billion annually (and certainly not for the state of Texas alone).

The GOP benefits greatly from party discipline. Messages are developed, tested in polling, and repeated ad-nauseum by politicians and conservative pundits alike. But a good part of the reason that the GOP message tends to resonate so widely, is that the mainstream media cannot be bothered to do even the most basic fact checking. This frees the GOP to say anything it wants, confident that mis-characterizations will go uncorrected, lies unchallenged and dstortions unanswered.

(Via: Wonkette)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Things the GOP tax cut could have paid for.

I think I'll make an occasional feature of legislation that the GOP has scuttled in favor of giving tax breaks to the top 2% of income earners.

Let's start with this: Republicans Block U.S. Health Aid for 9/11 Workers

Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Senate rejected a procedural move by Democrats to end debate on the 9/11 health bill and bring it to an up-or-down vote; 60 yes votes were needed, but the move received only 57, with 42 votes against.

Republicans have been raising concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion measure, while Democrats, led by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, have argued that the nation had a moral obligation to assist those who put their lives at risk during rescue operations at ground zero. The bill is known formally as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named after a New York City Police detective who participated in the rescue efforts at ground zero. He later developed breathing complications that were common to first responders at the site, and he died in January 2006.

If the Democrats and their supporters fail to bring up these outrages over the next two years, and point out that they could easily have been paid for with the $75 billion dollar payout that the GOP handed to its wealthiest supporters, then they don't deserve to govern, let alone win the 2012 elections.

How To Go on Fox

This video should be required viewing for anyone who is preparing to go on Fox News:

Sadly, I have a pretty strong feeling Rep. Anthony Wiener won't be invited back on the network any time soon.

Via: Crooks and Liars.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Et Tu Fox?

As right wingers around the country fulminate over Wikileaks' publishing of secret Government comuniques and denounce the New York Times for reprinting excerpts from materials provided by that website, it is amusing to note that, far from ignoring the leaked materials, the most prominent conservative propaganda outlet in the nation seems just as eager to dig into the stolen government secrets and publicize their contents as anyone.

None other than Fox News is currently running a story entitled U.S. Documents Detail how Arab Allies Fund Terror Groups, whose findings are based on an examination of those same documents.

But then, is this really so surprising? After all conservatives got a head start on the game of spilling U.S. secrets for political advantage back when Dick Cheney sent Lewis "Scooter" Libby on a mission to expose Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA status to a willing right-wing media. What's a little national security breach between friends?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Death Panels Come to Arizona

Remember Sarah Palin's infamous death panels lie which was intended to derail the Health Care Reform Act? The charge was that under so-called "Obamacare" government bureaucrats would have authority to determine which needy patients live and die based on an economic calculus that weighs those individuals' potential benefit to society against the cost of their treatment. The lie grew out of a dishonest representation of the President's call for comparative effectiveness studies on medical treatments that would save the government money by identifying and steering patients towards the most effective treatments for their illnesses. The theory was that ineffective treatments are simply a waste of money, and patients will most likely benefit from avoiding them. The death panel lie was so outrageous yet so pervasive that it was crowned Politifact's Lie of the Year for 2009.

Well, fast-forward a year and guess what: we've finally got those death panels Sarah Palin warned us of. But don't expect Palin, the GOP leadership or Dick Armey's FreedomWorks to raise a fuss. That's because these death panels are in Arizona and are a result of the GOP led legislature deciding that discontinuing Medicaid funding for certain organ transplants --even though this would mean almost certain death for some 100 indigent patients-- was well worth the $4.5 million a year savings it would bring:

Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.

“The most difficult discussions are those that involve patients who had been on the donor list for a year or more and now we have to tell them they’re not on the list anymore,” said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a transplant specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The frustration is tremendous. It’s more than frustration.”

Organ transplants are already the subject of a web of regulations, which do not guarantee that everyone in need of a life-saving organ will receive one. But Arizona’s transplant specialists are alarmed that patients who were in line to receive transplants one day were, after the state’s budget cuts to its Medicaid program, ruled ineligible the next — unless they raised the money themselves.

And in typically cowardly fashion Republicans who approved the cuts, when faced with public outrage, have since sought to blame the Obama administration for them:

The Republican governor has in turn blamed “Obamacare,” meaning the federal health care overhaul, for the transplant cuts even though the Arizona vote came in March, before President Obama signed that bill into law.

This episode is revealing, and likely portends the GOP legislative agenda that awaits the nation in January, and much more alarmingly in 2012 and beyond should the GOP gain control of the presidency and perhaps flip the Senate. Riding to political victory on a wave of populist anger over imaginary health-care cuts and large budget deficits, the party's proposed legislative agenda would only exacerbate the problem. It's unwavering devotion to the reckless Bush tax cuts guarantees budget deficits far into the future, and proposals to replace Medicare and Medicaid with voucher programs mean that future beneficiaries of these two programs would get, not necessarily the medical attention they need, but only what they can buy with the limited funds the government has alloted them. Whether it be by explicitly denying coverage for expensive procedures (as in Arizona) or a refusal to pay more than a set amount for health coverage, the GOP plan amounts to the same thing: death panels by another name.

(This article also appears in Stinque)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sign of the Times

The rhetoric from the right, which is all to often echoed by the maintream media, is that the Obama administration has moved policy so far to the left that it produced a backlash from a traditionally right-of-center populace. The latest object of right-wing scorn is the Federal Reserve's program of Quantitative Easign, meant to fight the growing specter of deflation while hopefully promoting employment. This policy has been roundly criticized by right-wing luminaries as varied as Ron Paul, William Kristol and Sarah Palin. So how far to the left is this policy? It is so leftist that in 2000 the policy was promoted, in an almost identical economic circumstances as a way of helping Japan out of its economic mailaise by no less prominent and raging a leftist than Milton Friedman:

David Laidler: Many commentators are claiming that, in Japan, with short interest rates essentially at zero, monetary policy is as expansionary as it can get, but has had no stimulative effect on the economy. Do you have a view on this issue?

Milton Friedman: Yes, indeed. As far as Japan is concerned, the situation is very clear. And it’s a good example. I’m glad you brought it up, because it shows how unreliable interest rates can be as an indicator of appropriate monetary policy.
During the 1970s, you had the bubble period. Monetary growth was very high. There was a so-called speculative bubble in the stock market. In 1989, the Bank of Japan stepped on the brakes very hard and brought money supply down to negative rates for a while. The stock market broke. The economy went into a recession, and it’s been in a state of quasi recession ever since. Monetary growth has been too low. Now, the Bank of Japan’s argument is, “Oh well, we’ve got the interest rate down to zero; what more can we do?” It’s very simple. They can buy long-term government securities, and they can keep buying them and providing high-powered money until the high powered money starts getting the economy in an expansion. What Japan needs is a more expansive domestic monetary policy. The Japanese bank has supposedly had, until very recently, a zero interest rate policy. Yet that zero interest rate policy was evidence of an extremely tight monetary policy. Essentially, you had deflation. The real interest rate was positive; it was not negative. What you needed in Japan was more liquidity.

All that's missing is a quote from Das Kapital, wouldn't you agree?

(David Beckworth via Brad DeLong)

Magic Spending Cuts

Fox News is touting a new AP-CNBC poll by loudly proclaiming that the public prefers the government balance the budget through spenindg cuts rather than by raising taxes: Poll: cut govt services to balance budget. But when you click through and actually read the article you find something quite different:

To ease surging budget deficits, Americans prefer cutting federal services to raising taxes by nearly 2-1 in a new poll. Yet there is little consensus on specific, meaningful steps — and a wariness about touching two gargantuan programs, Social Security and Medicare.
As for detailed cures, the poll shows little agreement — a problem that has long bedeviled lawmakers who often speak about taming federal deficits but seldom vote to do so. Given more than a dozen options for helping balance the budget, majorities backed just four: Reduce the number of federal workers, trim their salaries, cut overseas military bases and eliminate the tax deduction on home mortgage interest in exchange for lower income tax rates.
So as is typical with these things, the poll showed that the American public wants to eliminate the Federal deficit by taking measures that would barely put a dent in government spending while leaving the largest entitlement programs unchanged. On Social Security, for instance, the public is strongly opposed even to raising the retirement age:

There are some other interesting results, however, and some rather peculiar ones. For one thing, I'm not sure what the poll question about eliminating the mortgage deduction in exchange for lower tax rates has to do with balancing the Federal budget. As written the question seems to suggest a budget-neutral change in tax law. I'd wager that the response to the poll reflects the percentage of taxpayers who are currently servicing a mortgage vs. those who have paid off their homes or who rent.

More interesting, however, is the poll respondents' enthusiasm for cutting our foreign military presence. Given that Americans are opposed to cuts in Medicare and Social Security (even to raising the retirement age) the only big budget item still left on the table is defense spending. If the results of this poll are indicative, taxpayers are much more open to cutting the defense budget than out political leaders. This, seems to me, provides an opening for real spending reform some time down the line. I suspect the American public will have to wait for our political class to catch up, though. Defense spending is a peculiar "third-rail," more hallowed by the political class, it would seem, than by the public at large. No doubt the massive defense industry lines more than a few politicians' pockets in exchange for their fawning adoration.

Finally, though the Fox article suggests that Americans prefer cutting services to raising taxes "by a 2-1 margin" the poll actually reveals that 65% of American believe taxes "will have to be raised" to cut the deficit.

So 65% of the American Public isn't buying GOP nonsense about tax cuts "paying for themselves." This is good news for Democrats and the President... if they're paying attention. One of the most fiscally irresponsible policy decisions we could take at the moment would be to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Sadly, the wheels of government seem to be turning in just that direction.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Question of the day: what is a terrorist

Fox News asks:

The dictionary says:

ter·ror·ism :
/ˈtɛrəˌrɪzəm/ Show
[ter-uh-riz-uhm] Show IPA
1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.
2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

So the answer is, no, Fox News. Those guys aren't terrorists.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Did Low Corporate Taxes Kill Ireland? (Or Did Feminism!)

It is obvious to me that the Irish-British model is the way of the future, and the only question is when Germany and France will face reality: either they become Ireland or they become museums:

-Thomas Friedman, in 2005

Here is a staggering fact: right now, as I write this, every single citizen of the Republic of Ireland owes foreign creditors over $535,000.00.

How did this happen in a nation that free marketers from the CATO instutute to Thomas Friedman were just recently holding up as a model of 21st century economic development, and whose laissez faire policies were held in stark and favorable contrast with the Social Democratic welfare states of Germany and France?

Hery Farrell at Crookerd Timber thinks he knows: the genesis of the Irish economic catastrophe lies in the country's corporate tax rate. More speficially, Farrell finds fault in Ireland's low corporate tax rates:

The simplified political economy story goes as follows. Ireland had low nominal and even lower effective corporate tax rates. It also had low personal taxes, both because of the belief that this would foster entrepreneurship etc, and because the government used to periodically sweeten bargains between business and labor by promising tax cuts (which of course favored the rich more than the poor), inter alia buying off unions who might otherwise have started getting feisty about organizing the unorganized bits of the new Irish economy.
The result was that even with booming economic growth, the government faced a fiscal hole. This hole was filled by taxes on property transactions which, as the property market got ever more bubbly, became an ever more important source of government revenue. This provided the government with an extremely strong incentive not to deflate the bubble, reinforcing the already considerable incentives towards inaction resulting from cronyism between politicians and property tycoons, ideological notions about not interfering with ‘free’ markets etc.

Ireland followed the free marketers mantra to the letter: low taxes, lower taxes, even lower taxes, especially corporate taxes! But a government simply cannot function without some sort of revenue stream, so to make up for the revenue lost to lowered corporate taxes, the Irish government taxed property sales instead. And this new revenue stream proved so critical to the state that the Irish government was loath to turn down the tap when it became apparent that its tax base was over-reliant on a huge property bubble. There's no free lunch, as the Irish people have discovered much to their chagrin.

This may not be the whole story, but if even a libertarian like Megan McCardle thinks corporate taxes sunk too low in Ireland and produced an unmanageable investment surge, then its bound t be a very important piece of the puzzle.

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat offers another explanation:

To the utopians of capitalism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the biggest booms can produce the biggest busts, and that debt and ruin always shadow prosperity and growth. To the utopians of secularism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the waning of a powerful religious tradition can breed decadence as well as liberation. (“Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture,” Christopher Caldwell noted, but now “we may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.”)
That's right: Ireland's economic collapse owes as much to the ravages of unfettered capitalism as to a society that had pushed aside the simple, timeless truths of traditional religion and found itself adrift in a materialistic sea bereft of the guidance once offered by its moral compass. And how did Ireland lose its moral compass? By accepting birth control and allowing women to work outside the home:

Progressives and secularists suggested that Ireland was thriving because it had finally escaped the Catholic Church’s repressive grip, which kept horizons narrow and families large, and limited female economic opportunity.

There are times when Douthat comes accross as a rare island of nuanced subtletly in a sea of spittle covered, right-wing bloviating. There are other times, ilke this one, for instance, when you'd much rather put yourself in the path of Bill O'Reilly's spittle for an hour than read another sentence of Douthat's disingenuous, patronizing, moralizing, garbage.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Coulter Pwned

Ann Coulter gets her lunch eaten by a former Bush administration official in the following clip. The issue concerns the new TSA screening devices that have proven controversial because they can see through passengers' clothes.

It's good fun to watch:

Coulter's objection to the screening machines is typically vapid, Ann Coulter racist garbage: we shouldn't be screening everybody who goes into airports, just the swarthy foreigners.

I don't think it takes a genius to grasp the stupidity of Coulter's proposal: there's nothing a terrorist organization would love more than to know exactly what sorts of people will get screened by ariport security and what sorts will be let by with little more than a cursory glance.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chump Change

In their first big vote since the 2010 elections, Republicans, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives riding a wave of (misplaced) populist anger over the U.S. debt, have shown their commitment to fiscal austerity by... voting to defund NPR? (and failing)
I'd like to believe that the Tea Party faithful who voted these clowns in to office are going to revolt when they realize that proposed GOP budget cuts over the next few years are nothing but a series of sad little partisan gimmicks that do nothing to bring down the deficit (or absurd proposals specifically designed to fail). However, eight long years of Bush deficits have taught me that these same people who were marching on Washington protesting the national debt will quickly lose interest in our soaring tax-cut fueled deficits once the GOP holds the purse strings.

Nancy Pelosi Keeps Leadership Post

Nancy Pelosi has been elected incoming House minority leader. This is a welcome event, in my opinion. For all the carping about Democratic losses in the House and Senate, it would be folly and wholly unjust to place the blame on Pelosi's shoulders. In fact, Pelosi showed effective and courageous leadership in the House, marshalling support for Democratic initiatives that progressives saw as important. It was the Senate, and particularly Blue Dogs in the Senate who ultimately let us down. Senate Bluedogs are responsible for the death of the Public Option in health care. They are the ones reponsible for the inadequate stimulus. They are the reason DADT has yet to be repealed. Pelosi delivered on all these priorities in the House. It was the Senate's failures that dismayed traditional Democratic supporters, and it is because of them that depressed turnout in the latest elections directly contributed to the recent electoral bloodbath. Had Senate Democrats shown half the spine of Pelosi and supported Democratidc positions and proposals with half as much enthusiasm we would not be looking at two awful years of gridlock and mindless, politicized investigations.
So keep up the good work, Nancy. Hopefully you'll be majority leader again in two years.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Put a Fork in Him

Joe Miller, the Tea Party backed, would-be Senator from Alaska is down by more than 10,000 votes against write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski, and there are just a few thousand more votes left to count. This figure is doubly significant given that the sum total of votes in that election was in the neighborhood of 200,000. It's very unlikely Miller can overcome this lead absent a shocking legal ruling that would invalidate more than 5% of all votes cast in the election.

In a curious little irony, Miller has filed a lawsuit in Federal court seeking to force Alaska to adhere to a strict vote count that would reject Murkowski votes in which the candidate's name was misspelled or in which sloppy handwriting could lead to ambiguity. The Alaska courts meanwhile are likely to favor a looser standard in which clear voter intent is all that is needed to count a ballot one way or another. The irony, of course, is that Tea Party members claim to oppose Federal power in favor of "States Rights." However, as several issues (such as statewide marihuana decriminalization movements and the 2000 presidential recount) have shown, "States Rights" generally plays second fiddle to conservative's broader ideological agenda and desire to exercise political power. Thus Miller's appeal to Federal courts in this case doesn't come as much of a shock, regardless of how hypocritical it might strike a casual observer.

Though a Murkowski victory issn't really all that much to celebrate for progressices, the likely results of the Alaska race do provide some comfort in that they demonstrate that even in a state like Alaska, Teabagger Krazytime doesn't play much beyond the GOP base.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Priviledged Classes

The irony is delicious: a Freshman GOP representative who ran on a platform opposing the Federal government's plan to expand health care insurance coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans is incensed that his new Congressional health care plan will not take effect for 28 days after his swearing-in:

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

What will he do? Uh, I dunno... maybe he can drive to a Hospital Emergency room when he gets sick (like the millions of uninsured who have little other option). And it's not like he's not eligible for COBRA coverage to tide him over for the next month.

Of course, Harris had a disingenuous explanation when confronted with his hypocrisy and sense of entitlement:

[Spokeswoman Anna ]Nix said Harris, who is the father of five, wasn’t being hypocritical – he was just pointing out the inefficiency of government-run health care.

Actually, there's no inefficiency here. This beginning coverage period is mandated by Federal law.

Harris' sense of entitlement is sickening, of course. It's nice that he's facing the same conundrums that many ordinary Americans who aren't wealthy doctors face every day. Also, let's face it. The guy's still got it pretty easy. he can easily afford COBRA and he at least knows for sure he'll be getting coverage in 28 days. I know of a woman whose employer informed her that she was being reduced from full time employment to part-time employment soon after the COBRA benefits from her previous job ran out: the new employer did not want to have to offer her the full benefits (including health care) that she would have been entitled to as a full time employee. Like Harris, her new employer had a probationary period during which she was not entitled to full benefits coverage. Unlike Harris, once she became eligible, her employer found a way to yank the benefits anyway. The cruelest irony, of course, is that she had already exhausted COBRA and was now left to fend on her own. (I know these details to be true because my wife was HR manager for the company and was instructed to change the woman's employment status by the company president for the aforementioned reasons).

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait gets the Gold for this one-liner:

I think we finally have a working definition of a health insurance crisis--when a member of Congress has to go a whole month without coverage.

(Via: Wonkette)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Pathetic Mainstream Media

Andrew Sullivan reprints the following chart of polling data on the new Health Care Reform law from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Following Ezra Klein, Sullivan feels that the chart illustrates the difficulty Republicans will have in pursuing a repeal of the new law: almost all elements of the law are very popular (with support in the 70% range).

But something else about the chart stood out for me. Its inherent contradictions, I believe, serve as a clear illustration of the mainstream media's continuing failure to educate the American people on matters of public interest. Furthermore it is a failure that transcends partisan differences.

What caught my eye, primarily, were two items on the list:

A) 71% support for prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

B) 68% opposition to the public mandate.

The reason these two points are important is because, as any economist can tell you, you can't have one without the other. Requiring insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions while not simultaneously requiring conumsers to purchase insurance when they are well would lead to a wholesale bankruptcy of the insurance industry as consumers held off on buying medical insurance until the very moment they need it --secure in the knowledge that coverage, by law, could not be denied them.

Now, typically, the way that serious, self-important, political commentators treat data like this is to scold the American people for "wanting to have their cake and eat it too." But isn't it just as likely that the real problem is that Americans by and large have not been made aware of the essential link that holds between the insurance mandate and the prohibition against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions? After all, in my personal experience, Americans are fairly reasonable individuals and are possessed of enough innate intelligence to grasp the essential conflict between point A and point B once it is explained to them. And in view of the well documented and widespread public belief in falsehoods as wide ranging as the "death panel" myth and the fantasy that Barack Obama raised taxes, I don't think it can be denied that the media does an awful job of educating the public (as opposed to merely reprinting disingenuous, dishonest, misleading, partisan talking points).

The reason why I think this particular issue escapes the partisan divide is this: whether you are opposed to the new Health Care Reform law or whether you support it, you need somehow to account for Americans' incompatible views on point A and B above.

If you're opposed to the law, then you probably feel that Americans' desire to see a prohibition on coverage exclusions for pre-existing conditions is predicated on their ignorance of the essential link between this provision and the provision that they be required to purchase coverage. Once Americans realize how closely tied they are, you might surmise, support for the pre-existing condition portion of the law would drop accordingly.

And vice versa: if you support the law then you probably believe that most Americans would have less of a problem with the individual mandate if they realized that it's essential to ensuring that insurers cannot deny you coverage for a preexisting condition.

Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum teh end result is that what you are objecting to is not the fact that Americans want the impossible. It's the fact that they don't realize that they want the impossible. They simply haven't been educated on the link between provision A and provision B. And that, my friends, is a failure of the mainstream media to do its job.

Glenn Beck's Herd of Suckers

Megan McArdle sees a nasty bubble in gold prices. The key paragraph:

It's not that quantitative easing may not cause inflation--it might. In fact, that's sort of the point; the Fed wants a little more inflation in the money supply, in order to ease the unemployment rate. But consider how much inflation there would have to be for this gold price to make sense. Even assuming that something like the July 06 price of $550 is a more natural price, the price of gold is now almost triple that. Are we going to get 10% inflation a year for a decade or so out of this quantitative easing? Not really very likely. Especially since what the Fed giveth, the Fed can take away--if inflation spikes that high, Uncle Ben will convert to an inflation hawk.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Limbaugh's Disingenous Diet

So Andrew Sullivan links to this stunning segment from a recent Rush Limbaugh show:

Michelle Obama's on this big obesity kick, right? Gotta eat healthy stuff, gotta eat the garbage that she grows in the garden, nothing but fruits and vegetables.

Okay, along comes Mark Haub, professor, human nutrition, Kansas State University, who ate a Twinkie every three hours, and when he got tired of Twinkies, he ate Doritos, sugar cereals, and Oreos. And he was out there to prove that pure calorie counting is what matters most, not the nutritional value of the food. And the premise held up on his convenience store diet available in what Michelle calls food deserts. He lost 27 pounds in two months eating Twinkies, Doritos, Oreos, and sugar cereals. "For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day." He didn't care where they came from. It was 1,800 calories. "A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned. His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds." He weighed 201.

"But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so. Haub's 'bad' cholesterol dropped 20 percent on a diet of --" Dawn, are you listening to this or are you ignoring me on purpose? Kathryn, you hear this? She sent me a note up there, "Don't get any Twinkie ideas." (laughing) When I first mentioned this in the first segment she sent me an instant message, "Don't you get any Twinkie ideas." Kathryn, are you hearing me on this? Nothing but Twinkies.

So I went and read the whole article on CNN. As expected, Limbaugh's description of the diet is seriously flawed. For one thing, the guy didn't just eat Twinkies. He ate a can of vegetables, a protein shake and a multi-vitamin every day. Limbaugh doesn't mention those trivial details in the transcript. The Twinkies provided the diet's caloric content. The nutrition came from other sources. So, refering to it as a Twinkie diet is somewhat disingenuous. Another point Limbaugh fails to mention: when you do the math, the guy only ate five individual Twinkie cakes a day. That's not exactly stuffing your face with Twinkies.

Finally, I decided to reasearch what's actually in a Twinkie. Though the pastries have a reputation as being tiny cakes of death, they're really nothing more than 150 calories of flour, sugar, eggs, and lard (plus a bunch of flavor and texture additives with scary names, that are nonetheless ubiquitous in processed foods). The fat content is 4.5 grams, so eating five a day amouts to 22.5 grams of fat intake a day, significantly less than the 30 grams that constitute a low fat diet. And the Cholesterol content? A mere 20 mg, or 7% of the RDA. Multiply that by 5 and you've got a grand total of 35% of your daily recommended cholesterol content. No wonder his cholesterol count improved!

Limbaugh mentions none of this, of course. Instead he uses this diet to attack Michelle Obama, and reinforce his listener's need to be told that everything those danged liberal authority figures have told them up to now is false, and the way to really lose weight is to stuff yourself with Twinkies, Doritos and Cheese Puffs.

(VIA: Andrew Sullivan)

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Post on Stinque

I've got a new post up on Stinque.

(Blame daylight savings for me posting that darned thing at 5:00 AM)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fox "Experts"

Gotta love Fox News. Today they're running a story about Barack Obama's impending Trip to Asia. The front page blurb reads:

Bruised by Tuesday's election losses, President Obama heads to Asia today in an effort to improve U.S. trade relations — but experts say the trip probably won't benefit the American economy.
And who are these experts? Open up the article and those "experts" magically shrink down to one, Daniel Griswold, who works for the CATO instiute --not exactly a non-partisan source. And furthermore, Griswold does not actually make the claim that the trip "probably won't benefit the American ecnomy." In fact, nowhere in the body of the article is such a claim made by anyone, expert or not.

I've seen this sort of move from Fox before. My suspicion is that the propaganda ministers at Fox realize that many of their readers don't actually scan beyond the front-page blurb, so it's essential to trash the President there, even if the claims are unsupported in the body of the article itself. An added bonus is that it's not possible to create a permanent link to the front page blurb, so these are lies that won't live on for future fact checkers to reference.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Omnipotent FAIL...

So Jesus went mano-a-mano with Barack Obama and the best he could do was flip the House of Representatives? He couldn't even deliver the Senate?

(Via Wonkette)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Other Big Loser

Maybe I should have titled this post simply "The Big Loser." Because, let's face it: everyone expected the Democrats to get hammered. After all, the economy is still on the rocks, unemployment remians high, and Wall Street and Big Business, having gotten what they wanted out of the Obama adminsitration (a bailout and a stabilized economy) now want to get the party back in power that will allow them to go back to doing what they were doing before the economy collapsed, and thanks to the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision, they had carte blanch to throw money at the race. Seen in historical context, then, the Democratic losses are about what one would expect from the party in power during a mid-term election taking place before the backdrop of a very sour economy. This really is little different from what happened to Bill Clinton in 1994. So all in all, it's not a terrible night for the Obama adminsitration. And it should not be forgotten that keeping the Senate in Democratic hands was a major plus for the Administration.
Which brings me back to the real loser of last night: Sarah Palin. Because, let's face it, Democrats kept the senate largely by winning races Nevada and Delaware, two states where the most extreme of Palinite, Tea Party candidates faced off against mainstream Democrats. Nevada is perhaps the most important bellweather. Harry Ried was (unfairly) highly disliked in Nevada, but apparently voters were even more mistrustful of the radical right-wing candidate with the Sarah Palin press strategy (run awaaaaaaay!). And in Delaware, Chris Coons, the Democratic candidate soundly trounced a pretty, perky and oh so dumb Christine O'Donnell (basically a younger version of Sarah Palin). These were races the Democrats would probably have lost if Republicans had chosen a more moderate opponent. As much as the Tea Party movement helped energize Republicans, last night's elections proved that there is definitely such a thing as too much tea in many parts of the country (even in Alaska, it seems, where Lisa Murkowski's write-in candidacy appears to be on a path to defeat Joe Miller, for whom Sarah Palin campaigned exhaustively). So I think we can officially announce, from this, that last night constituted the nail in the coffin of any presidential aspirations that Sarah Palin may have harbored.
Yes, gridlock will be the order of the day for the next two years, but it's not all bad. After all, despite what you may have read, the Democrats actually managed to push through a pretty astonishing agenda these past two years, including an ambitious health care reform package that will bring coverage to 95% of Americans for the first time in history, important Wall Street and Financial industry reforms, the rescue of the U.S. and World Economies from a potential depression, the rescue of General Motors (a leaner, more survivable company) and a host of smaller issues as well. Ezra Klein has a good summary of what was accomplished here.
These next two years are going to be rocky, but at least the Democrats don't have to deal with the illusion (and it was really more illusion than reality) that they have a fillibuster proof majority in Congress and can get anything they want. It's going to be interesting seeing things unfold.
On the economic front, however, things look much gloomier. If Paul Krugman is right (and he's been right about almost everything so far) then we're looking forward to a decade or two of high unemployment, rising debt and slow economic growth. My guess is that the debt situation will only be exacerbated by the resulting swings in voter loyalty over that time as the country bounces between Democratic administrations pushing stimulus and successive Republican administrations chocking off whatever green shoots might sprout by mandating austerity when it's their turn to govern.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

HCR in action

For all the handwringing about Health Care Reform, it looks like the law is starting to have a positive effect on people's lives. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The number of small businesses offering health insurance to workers is projected to increase sharply this year, recent data show, a shift that researchers attribute to a tax credit in the health law.

Many small businesses, however, remain opposed to the law. Some small businesses are benefiting from portions of the law, which includes a tax credit beginning this year that covers as much as 35% of a company's insurance premiums.

According to a report by Bernstein Research in New York, the percentage of employers with between three and nine workers and which are offering insurance has increased to 59% this year, up from 46% last year. The report relies on data from a September survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

This strikes me as especially significant in an economy characterized by high unemployment, a situation that naturally reduces the need for employers to provide new incentives to find good workers.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Of Ladybugs and Hypocrisy

Yesterday afternoon, the gossip website Gawker posted a rather tawdry, crude and tasteless account of an evening that a shamless sleazebag of a man spent with Christine O'Donnell, the current GOP candidate for U.S. Senator from Delaware. And while the story does reveal a certain hypocrisy on O'Donnell's part when it comes to the issue of sexual morality, on the whole it says much more about the writer's low ethical standards and classless conduct than it does about Ms. O'Donnell. And I say this as no fan of the dangerously unqualified and recklessly incompetent Pepublican Senate candidate.
Yet with all that, it took the O'Donnell campaign very little time to respond to the story in such a fashion as to erase any sympathy I might have developed for her in the course of these sadly uneccesary events:

Wilmington, DE – Communications Director Doug Sachtleben stated in response to the universal condoning of the Gawker story:
"This story is just another example of the sexism and slander that female candidates are forced to deal with. From Secretary Clinton, to Governor Palin, to soon-to-be Governor Haley, Christine's political opponents have been willing to engage in appalling and baseless attacks — all with the aim of distracting the press from covering the real issues in this race. Even the National Organization for Women gets it, but Christine's opponent disturbingly does not. As Chris Coons said on September 16th he would not condone personal attacks against Christine. Classless Coons goons have proven yet again to have no sense of common decency or common sense with their desperate attacks to get another rubber stamp for the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda. Such attacks are truly shameful, but they will not distract us from making our case to Delaware voters — and keeping the focus on Chris Coons' record of higher taxes, increased spending, and as he has done again here, breaking his promises to the voters."
The National Organization for Women (NOW) on Thursday condemned the tabloid website Gawker for publishing an anonymous account: NOW issued a statement late Thursday stating that "sexist, misogynist attacks against women have no place in the electoral process, regardless of a particular candidate's political ideology."
"NOW repudiates Gawker's decision to run this piece. It operates as public sexual harassment. And like all sexual harassment, it targets not only O'Donnell, but all women contemplating stepping into the public sphere," said NOW president Terry O'Neill.

And so with this statement Christine O'Donnell continues in the great tradition of Repubilcan hypocrites who spend careers savaging civil rights and civil liberties organizations such as the National Organization for Women, but then embrace these groups when doing so suits their immediate purposes. Anyone remember Oliver North, the darling of the crypto-fascist Right and current Fox News "analyst", who nonetheless gladly accepted the help of the ACLU lawyers who helped overturn his perjury convictions in the Iran Contra affair? And one sees echoes of Sarah Palin's hypocritical play for female votes in O'Donnell's sisterly embrace of Hillary Clinton. One recalls that in Palin's case, the former half-term Alaska governor first criticized Clinton for her feminist "whining" until she was tapped as John McCain's running mate and decided to make a play for disaffected Hillary Clinton voters. From then on (and once it became clear that Barack Obama was to be the Democratic nominee for president) Palin spoke of Clinton as a fellow traveller unjustly slandered by a sexist press establishment.

And finally there is the purely political attempt by the O'Donnell campaign to turn the episode around and use it to attack Chris Coons by baselessly suggeting that the Coons campaign was somehow behind the story. Not only does O'Donnell provide no proof of these allegations, but Coons was running 20 points ahead of O'Donnell long before the story surfaced. He gains nothing from promoting these tawdry revelations, and indeed and would risk turning off women voters by doing so.

I don't want to suggest that this episode is a case of the chickens somehow coming home to roost, but the fact is that Ms. O'Donnell's private behavior is far more responsible for this episode than anything Chris Coons appears to have done.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All The News That's Fit To Print (And More!)

Are PBS characters Ernie and Bert gay lovers? That's the pressing question that Fox is pursuing on the FoxNews website today. Their evidence:

On June 11, the famous puppet tweeted about the recent "A-Team" remake by comparing himself to A-Team star Mr-T, saying, "Ever notice how similar my hair is to Mr. T's? The only difference is mine is a little more 'mo,' a little less 'hawk.'"
To some the comment was just a cute quip about hairstyles, but to others, "mo" was short for "homo" and this was Bert's way of coming out at the perfect time.

Typical Fox News petty vindictiveness in the wake of the Juan Williams termination. Ooooh, PBS (and by extension NPR) are secretly trying to gay your kids!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More on WIlliams

James Fallows has a long post on the Juan Williams affair in which he outlines objections to Williams' association with NPR while working for Fox that are simliar to the ones I voiced earlier on this blog:

I care about NPR not because of my minor role as a contributor but because of their major role in the American journalistic landscape. To hear the Fox/DeMint attack machine over the past week, NPR is simply a liberal counterpart to Fox -- a politically minded and opinion-driven organization that is only secondarily interested in gathering news. I believe that the mischaracterization is deliberate, and I know it is destructive and wrong.Fox is unmatched at what it does, which is to apply a unified political-cultural world view to the unfolding events of the day. To appreciate its impact, you just have to think about how much more effective it is than the various liberal counterparts -- the now-departed Air America, the Olbermann-Maddow bloc on MSNBC. Rush Limbaugh isn't on Fox, but he showed them how it's done. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are technically as effective as Fox, but they are nowhere near as reliably pro-Democratic as Fox is pro-Republican. And they're only on for one hour total a day, weekdays only, rather than 24/7 for Fox."News" in the normal sense is a means for Fox's personalities, not an end in itself. It provides occasions for the ongoing development of its political narrative -- the war on American values, the out-of-touchness of Democrats -- much as current events give preachers material for sermons.

Fallows also adds some interesting historical tidbits, such as the fact that the Bush Whitehouse was fond of Williams as an interviewer because of his softball questioning of the president:

The only interview George W Bush gave to NPR while in office was with Juan Williams in 2007. It is general political-world knowledge that the White House's condition of the interview was that Williams conduct it... later in 2007 the White House offered NPR another interview with Bush, but only if Juan Williams would again do it. NPR said No, we won't take it on those terms; we want to choose the interviewer. Williams did it instead for Fox. Story here.

It's interesting to add that the narrative coming out of Fox is that Juan Williams was fired from NPR for being a "Bill Cosby Liberal," by which Fox means a Liberal who departs from common Liberal shibboleth on cultural issues. Of course another way of putting it is that Williams is a Liberal who is useful to Fox insofar as he puts up only weak and half-hearted defenses of Liberal opinions and positions and can just as often be counted on to attack the left for its supposed ideological intransigence and extremism. In other words, Williams is the only kind of Liberal allowed on Fox: the kind that furthers the station's dishonest ideological narrative. But the most important point to take away from the reaction from Roger Ailes' lackeys is that for Fox, Juan Williams was clearly the token Liberal, and he was presented as such in discussion panels. For NPR, which employed Williams as a correspodent, and not as an opinion journalist, this was simply unacceptable. One cannot imagine ABC, CBS or NBC in their heyday tolerating Dan Rather, Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw doing ideological driven political commentary on the side? NPR is no different in this respect, because they truly value impartiality.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chinese Imports as a Percentage of the Total

A very interesting analysis courtesy of Matthew Yglesias: for all the worry about Chinese imports, the fact is that combined imports from Canada and Mexico are nearly 1 1/2 times as large. Yglesias wonders why China gets so much media coverage.

...I’d say following the news probably leads to a mistake overestimation of how important China is to the US economy. I’d say China accounts for much more than 20 percent of total trade-related media coverage, even though the PRC is just 18.5 percent of our imports and less than 17 percent of our total trade.

This is true, but it seems to me that it's the imbalance going the other way that is most worrisome, and likely accounts for much of the media's focus. While we maintain slight trade imbalances with Mexico and Canda, we, in fact, import about 4x as much from China as we export to China.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams

An e-mail I sent to Andrew Sullivan's blog that pretty much sums up my feeling on the Juan Williams affair:

In discussions of the Juan Williams/NPR dust-up I think one of the big issues is being missed here. Williams' omnipresence on Fox was a concern for his employer for reasons that go well beyond Williams' expressed opinions in one show. Fox News is a propaganda outlet moreso than a proper news organization and one of its primary missions is to discredit objective reporting in order to tilt the country's political discussion to the right. It does this by propagating the myth that mainstream media organizations like CNN and NPR tilt to the left, whereas Fox is neutral in its coverage of the news. And one of the many ways that Fox spreads this distortion is by holding roundtable discussions featuring right-wing partisan political hacks on one side of the table (Wm. Kristal, Charles Krauthammer) and mainstream media journalists on the other. Rarely will you find the editor of the Weekly Standard debating the editor of the Nation on Fox. You are much more likely to see Kristol facing off against Wiliams or Cookie Roberts of NPR. And this very format produces two fundamentally dishonest, desired results for Fox: (1) the disingenuous right-wing propaganda of Kristol et al. is countered by milquetoast commentary from mainstream journalists who don't want to come off as partisans defending left-wing positions (2) the mainstream journalists and their primary employers nonetheless do come off as "liberally biased" because the physical and ideological context demands it: they have been set up to counter the assertions of right-wing partisans.

Mainstream media organizations like NPR fiercely protect their reputation for balance and objectivity. A couple of weeks ago NPR sent out a missive to all of its employees warning them against attending John Stewart and Stephen Colbert's upcoing rally on the mall. This contrasts noticeably with Fox News reporters who can be seen egging on crowds at Tea party rallies (the videos are all over YouTube).

So it's hardly surprising to me that NPR would take this opportunity to divorce itself of Williams. His presence on Fox does not project the image that the news organization wants to present to the public.

Pride (The Bad Kind)


Rick Hoskins told KFVS that he puts the decorations up every year as a sign of "white pride."
"There's been a bunch of people that's stopped by since I put them up," explained Hoskins. "Said they want to shake my hand. They said they're glad to see a little white pride is still left in this country."

The decorations in question? A Halloween display featuring figures depicting a KKK member lynching a black man.

(Wia: Wonkette)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Privatize Social Security?

Here's an eye opening statement that should trouble anyone who's contemplating a privatized Social Security System:

The decline has been painful for the Japanese, with companies and individuals like Masato having lost the equivalent of trillions of dollars in the stock market, which is now just a quarter of its value in 1989, and in real estate, where the average price of a home is the same as it was in 1983.

Imagine having to rely for your retirement on investment vehicles that are now only 25% as valuable as they were 11 years ago.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Tennets of Marxism

Here is a video of Christine O'Donnell stating that "raising taxes" and not eliminating estate taxes are "tennets of Marxism."

This would be comical if O'Donnell didn't actually believe it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pure Genius

Add this one to the list of world's worst ideas. Apparently someone at a school district in Pennsyilvania thought it would be a fine and dandy idea to remotely monitor students who had been lent laptops by activating the integrated webcam and sending pictures back to the school servers. Students and their parents were understandably upset, and sued the district. Now the Lower Merion School District has been ordered to pay students $610,000.00 for invading their privacy. And quite honestly, that's a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserved. That no one ended up in jail, or at the very least on probation, for this is really quite amazing to me. This is the sort of thing sex offender registries were made for.
(Via: Engadget)

Blowing out the cobwebs

OK, it's been almost a year since I stopped blogging on Patriot's Quill. In that time I've contributed a few pieces to Stinque, but very little here. I think it's time to maybe blow out the cobwebs and ramp this blog up. Let's see how it goes over the next few days.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New Post on Stinque.

Haven't added much here lately. I have posted the occasional piece on Stinque, though, and here's my latest.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Win for the White House

Paul Krugman's got a great column this morning on yesterday's health care summit. It's worth a read and makes the obvious point that it has set in motion the best prospects yet for passage of a bill. The Huffington Post reports that 3.9 million people streamed the summit on their web browsers, so it was clearly a closely watched affair. For my part, I found it tremendously refreshing to catch a glimpse of the old Barack Obama. This is the guy we voted for: sharp, intelligent, a very strong debater with legions of facts at his fingertips ready to refute dishonest GOP talking points. As a former college professor, this style of open but managed debate is clearly his strong suit. He is in his element at the front of a class, making an argument, fielding questions and disabusing students of erroneous beliefs and mis-perceptions. Faced with lies and distortions about the Democratic health care plan, he never flinched, never lost his cool, and simply responded by disabusing Republican leaders of their errors (as when schooling Lamar Alexander on his dishonest claims about premium increases) or brought them back on track when they started to go off on irrelevant tangents (as when chiding John McCain for acting more like a campaigner than an honest broker trying to solve a problem for Americans).

This is how liberals win the war of ideas: by staging an open debate in a respectful forum charged with defending claims and counter-claims by appeal to facts and reasoned argument. Contrast this with the way in which conservatives do: last summer Tea Party activists descended upon Democratic healthcare Town Hall meetings and yelled insults at participants, shouted down speakers and made claims about planned bills that had nothing to do with what was actually contained in them.

My only worry is that Democrats, through their cowardice and inability to come together around a single bill for so many months may have damaged their brand to such an extent that they will face devastating losses in 2010 elections. It would be a real irony if Democrats rescued an economy that Republicans nearly destroyed, and gave the American people real, workable health care reform, only to find a mended nation handed back to the GOP for governance. It would be like a hospital discharging a victim of brutal spousal abuse back to her husband as soon as she's well enough to go home.

Sadly, if this happens, it's the feuding, unmanageable and sometimes cowardly Democrats themselves who will be largely to blame.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In Which I Try To Play Nate Silver

Meandering over to Wonkette yesterday I ran across another amusing tale of Fox News much vaunted propagandizing balance falling flat on face. It comes in the form of a poll published in the Fox Forum that gives some remarkably non-foxy results. I'll go ahead and reproduce the poll results as of 7:00 this morning (click image to enlarge):

Now, it's certainly amusing to see Fox publish a poll in which a full 75% of respondents characterize the Tea Party movement as a "fruitless mix of racism, conspiracy theories." It was, no doubt not the results that the creator of the poll was hoping for. Most likely, once the poll began yielding unexpected results it got picked up by the liberal blogs who then sent it waves of traffic, further skewing the results in a direction the poll creators were neither expecting nor hoping for. These sorts of things have a way of snowballing once they reach a certain critical mass, and currently there are over 155,000 responses to the poll --by my count more than three times the number of responses for the previous two polls. It bears mentioning, furthermore, that this is an unscientific, self-selecting, internet poll. So the results would have been dubious at best no matter how they came up.

That said, Fox News does have a storied history of FAIL when it comes to charts and basic math. The most notorious example of which I have taken the liberty to reproduce below:

If you successfully completed 1st grade, you've probably realized that the percentages in the above poll add up to 193%.If you've gotten as far as 2nd grade then you know they should add up to 100% But if you were home schooled by parents seeking to shield you from Satanism in the form of the Theory of Evolution (as the Fox News intern who produced the above chart likely was) then you're probably pretty comfortable with the results.

But the tragedy of Fox News' epic stupid doesn't end there. As I mulled over the amusing results of the first poll, I realized that the creators of the poll, in their propagandistic zeal and lack of basic math competence had drafted a poll that actually favored the sort of result they were hoping to avoid. How so, you ask? Let me explain:

One of the surest ways to guarantee a position a strong showing in a multiple-choice poll is to provide several subtly different alternatives for opponents of your position to chose from, while providing only one choice for proponents to pick. So, for instance, if I wanted to prove the superiority of hamburgers over pasta in a population of evenly divided hamburger lovers and pasta lovers, I would produce a poll such as this:

Now, assuming these pasta lovers all love different kinds of pasta, I can expect a poll result like this:

Though poll responses are evenly divided between pasta lovers and hamburger lovers, the way this poll was constructed, and especially the bar graph format gives the false impression that the overwhelming majority of respondents are hamburger lovers. And this is exactly what Fox has done, crafting a poll that gives the president's opponents three options to chose from, but supporters only one (we can pretty much disregard the meaningless 5th "other" option).

So why did editors who produced this poll for Fox News make such a basic mistake? I have a theory that goes beyond their appallingly obvious lack of basic math competence. My suspicion is that the producers of the graph are so blindly driven in their ideological partisanship that they can think of all sorts of reasons to hate President Obama and the Democrats and have a hard time narrowing it down. But when it comes to providing the opposite choice, they find the idea so distasteful that they can bring themselves to provide only one pro-Obama option, and that only to avoid producing a poll so ridiculously partisan in its framing that it makes a complete mockery of Fox's disingenuous "fair and balanced" mantra. You can't defend a poll that doesn't give the opposition at least one voting option.

And what happens then, is that the few liberals who do hang around at Fox can more easily tilt the poll in their favor. Once this starts to happen the unexpected results get linked to by some high-volume liberal blogs and before you know it 75% of respondents think the movement you're trying to promote is made up of racists and crazy conspiracy theorists.

Nice going Fox.