Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, April 11, 2014 8:43 pm

Duke Power, trees, and simple questions

We here in the ‘boro have a chronic problem: We live in the ice belt — Virginia reliably gets snow in the winter, South Carolina reliably gets rain, but we’re as likely to get freezing rain and sleet as anything else. And with ice comes falling tree limbs and entire trees. And with those come downed power lines. In our most recent ice storm, a lot of people were dark for close to a week.

Duke Energy wanted to minimize this problem by trimming back trees that are near power lines. Residents (including me, in my ignorance) protested.

Now Duke proposes to reduce the problem by injecting a chemical called Cambistat into the ground near trees adjacent to power lines. The good news is, Cambistat will make blossoming trees blossom even more aggressively while slowing the rate of limb growth. This, in turn, will reduce the frequency with which trees near power lines have to be trimmed back.

(I and others have argued that, over time, burying power lines would save Duke Energy, and therefore ratepayers, money by reducing costs associated with repairing downed lines, utility poles, transformers, etc. I still believe that to be true, but not only would the trenching required to bury lines kill a lot of trees all by itself by damaging their roots, it’s also beside the point of this discussion.)

The bad news about Cambistat? Its active ingredient, paclobutrazole, is a chemical about which almost nothing is known but which might be toxic. Relatedly, not a few local residents grow ornamentals, and even herbs, fruit or vegetables, near trees that would be so treated. And pines and cedars, the trees most vulnerable to ice breakage, wouldn’t even be treated.

But remember: We simply don’t know what the effects of exposure to the chemical would be, whether pure or in the diluted form of an herbicide, whether short-term or long-term. On the other hand, with chemical toxicity, unlike in criminal trials, lack of evidence does not automatically equate to a not-guilty verdict.

So friend and local blogger Billy Jones asked a simple question of a tree service that had responded to a Facebook post of his:  “How will Cambistat affect my nearby herb and vegetable gardens?”

From a pure PR standpoint, the response he got made the mendacity of the tobacco companies back in the day look urbane and collegial. That made Billy both angry and even more curious. Me, too, and I don’t even grow stuff.

 

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:12 am

Phil Berger and Thom Tillis think they’ve found themselves some voter fraud. Fine. Let’s see if they’re right.

Fred sent me this link (thank you, sir), which purports to claim “widespread” voter fraud in North Carolina during the 2012 general election. That link in turn links to a news release issued jointly on Wednesday by Phil Berger, the state Senate GOP leader and father of one of the Republicans trying to succeed Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District race, and Thom Tillis, the state House speaker and one of the Republicans seeking Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat this year. They write:

[We have learned of] more alarming evidence of voter error and fraud discovered by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Initial findings from the Board presented to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee today show:

  • 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.
  • 35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.
  • 155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.

These findings only take into account data from the 28 states who participated in the 2014 Interstate Crosscheck, leaving out potential voter error and fraud in the 22 states that do not participate in the consortium.

My first reaction, which I admit is kind of geeky and inside-baseballish, is: Show your work, guys. Post the board’s findings online even if it’s in hard-to-search .pdf format. (As of now, the State Board of Elections itself hasn’t done it.) Otherwise, you’re asking me to trust a couple of demonstrably untrustworthy pols, although I’m gonna  set that point aside and examine this argument as if it were being made by someone with no obvious political interest one way or the other.

That said, the massive gap between the number reported in point 1 (with SocSec numbers) and the number reported in point 2 (no SSNs) leaves an awful lot of room for speculation and even more for  mismatched records. Cops have access to info that I didn’t have as a reporter, but when I was doing investigative stuff, particularly on people with very common names, I always tried to get an SSN. That’s the gold standard of unique identifiers.

All point 3 says — allowing for the elision between being registered and casting a ballot, which is actually enormous; I wonder why? — is, “and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.” That’s a big-ass loophole, considering that “voter activity” can be as simple as changing a phone number and that N.C. counties, last I checked (which I admit was years ago),  purge their voters rolls typically only once every four years — immediately after a presidential election.

But, OK, let’s put this in the light most favorable to the authors: Even with all my caveats, no fewer than 765 voters appear to have voted in both N.C. and another state in the 2012 general election, per elections data. Voter fraud is a felony, and if that report is true, all 765 should go to prison. I’d be happy to be the person to slam the door on ‘em.

Problem is, it won’t be true, because — and this is a national shame and embarrassment, but a topic for another time — voter-registration data is some of the dirtiest mass public info out there. (The reason is that it attempts to gather a large amount of basic information about a lot of people, and in a society as dynamic and mobile as ours, that pool of data is changing in small but measurable ways thousands of times a day, on average.) Now, our friends Berger and Tillis claim to have attempted to “clean up” voter rolls, but they have done so in ways that give advantages to likely Republican voters while creating barriers for the young, the very old, racial and ethnic minorities, women, convicted felons and other likely Democratic voters. But that’s also an issue for another day, as is the Republicans’ reluctance to look into voter fraud in absentee balloting, where most of the real voter fraud takes place, because absentee voters are more likely to vote Republican.)

But don’t take my word for it that the 765 alleged cases aren’t real. Examining 765 records, one at a time, to determine whether or not the registrant committed a crime would take a while, but not that long. So I encourage — nay, challenge — the State Board of Elections to refer the case to the SBI and get it done. And assuming that happens, I think you’re going to find that many, and probably most, of those 765 are paperwork errors of some kind. A person was recorded as having voted in one state or the other — or at all — when he/she in fact did not vote. Whatever. Because that’s what almost always happens. Because the data is always that dirty.

That’s what I think will happen. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Pro-voter ID types hop on preliminary numbers like this because they look like proof of serious undermining of the very bedrock of democracy, the vote. Unfortunately, when it gets down to proving actual voter fraud, those numbers fold like a cheap card table into something a lot less impressive, interesting or dangerous, thereby undermining their rationale for voter ID as well as their rationale for other limits on voting rights alluded to above.

The bottom line here is that 765 cases is a manageable number to check into. So let’s check. Let’s have the State Board of Elections turn these cases over to the SBI for investigation. Let’s see what we learn. I’m eager to find out.

Heck, I might even be more eager than Phil Berger and Thom Tillis.

UPDATE, 4/3: Commenter George Barnett below wisely adds, “Keep in mind too that even if this does turn out to be true voter IDs would not have prevented it.” No, they wouldn’t have.

Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:53 pm

Thought for the day, rugged-individualism edition …

… from Helaine Olen at Reuters:

To presume home-buyers put into predatory loans by mortgage brokers working for outfits like Countrywide Financial could have stopped the housing market implosion if they knew a bit more about balancing their checkbook is absurd. Just as absurd as thinking a high school class in money management could help someone two decades later decipher a 100-page, single-spaced mortgage origination document loaded with “gotcha” clauses.

But our self-help culture doesn’t allow us to admit we might not be able to overcome greater economic woes on our own. In fact, it often makes our individual situations worse when things don’t work out.

Thomas Scheff, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently published a paper in the journalCultural Sociology claiming that in highly individualistic cultures like the United States, where people are encouraged to “go it alone,” shame is the price we pay for not achieving success.

Viewed through this prism, you can think of the constant simmering anger in our culture as the road rage of self-help culture. Fearing the humiliation of failure, we aggressively lash out at others who prove the self-help nostrums a lie.

This could be the reason that many, including Republican members of Congress, blame the long-term jobless for their own plight, and cut off their unemployment checks. We say those who fell prey to predatory lending weren’t misled, but were greedy.

According to the tenets of self-help, the victims of the American economic collapse need not a helping hand, but a kick in the pants.

True, self-help advice is not always fully useless. Saving money, for starters, is certainly more likely to lead to a prosperous life than not putting anything aside at all. Yet all too often, knowledge and individual action are not enough.

Self-help causes us to take the political and economic problem of increasing income inequality and make it personal. That’s both morally wrong and financially ineffective.

That we fall for it only makes it worse.

I would add that the fact that we fall for it is no surprise when you watch how much and how deeply American media of all political stripes (or none at all — movies produced purely for entertainment, for example, often include this theme) drill this message home. As we are bombarded by and marinated in those messages, the notion that many if not most great things we’ve accomplished could only have been accomplished by teams, groups, companies, communities, or the states or the federal government becomes the dog that didn’t bark: We’re so used to, and have so absorbed, this self-reliance tenet that we fail to note its all-too-frequent systemic failures.

We’re all in this together, folks. And before we can act like it, we — or most of us, anyway — have to think like it.

(h/t: Fec)

Friday, December 6, 2013 7:35 pm

Quote of the Day, Response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan Edition

So Cardinal Timothy Dolan went on Press the Meat this past Sunday to argue that Catholic doctrine on gays and women has been “caricatured” by Hollywood and the media and that the Church has been “outmarketed” in spreading its message. No, he really said this. So Charlie Pierce responds:

And the Founder assured us that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church, and you’re arguing that you got “outmarketed” by the Sundance Festival?

(Dolan also argued that the Pope “can’t make doctrinal changes,” which would surprise the hell out of most Catholics, the Pope included. You can’t make this stuff up.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:52 pm

Senate Republicans continue to abuse the filibuster

Senate Republicans have filibustered three of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court. (There are three vacancies on an eight-judge panel.) The GOP has accused Obama of 1) “court-packing” and 2) appointing “radicals” to those seats.

“Court packing,” like so many words Republicans like to toss around, has an actual meaning. Also, like so many of the words Republicans toss around, it does not mean what they think it means. It stems from the 1930s, when FDR became so frustrated at opposition in the federal courts to some of his New Deal measures that he contemplated increasing the number of seats on the Supreme Court and elsewhere in the federal judiciary to create room for majorities who would uphold his policies. (That didn’t happen, by the way; natural turnover solved some of his problem over time.) But today’s GOP calls filling existing vacancies “court packing.” Uh, no.

Now, then, as for the radicals: The most liberal of the three D.C. Circuit nominees is probably Cornelia “Nina” Pillard. And how radical is she?

Well …

Pillard’s nomination was easily the most controversial for conservatives in the Senate, who voiced concerns over her “radical” views connecting reproductive rights to gender equality as well as her history working on significant cases such as United States v. Virginia, which opened the Virginia Military Institute to women, and Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, which successfully defended the Family and Medical Leave Act against a constitutional challenge.

Gee. That sounds bad. But was it?

It’s hard to imagine evidence of “radicalism” being much more feeble. You don’t exactly have to be Catharine MacKinnon to believe that states denying women the same educational opportunities as men violates the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Indeed, Pillard’s position won at the Supreme Court 7-1. Similarly, arguing that the FMLA—which passed the Senate 71-27—was applicable against state employers is not exactly revolutionary. The Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 opinion authored by noted left-wing fanatic William Rehnquist (who also voted with the majority in the VMI case.)

Sooooo … the cases about which Pillard is getting the most grief are cases in which she 1) prevailed, and not narrowly, at the Supreme Court, with 2) William Rehnquist, one of the most conservative justices to sit on the high court in the past 75 years, agreeing with her.

In related news, the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt (with whom I have my own problems, but that’s a story for another time) to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency also was filibustered. That marked the first time a sitting member of Congress had been denied an up-or-down vote on a presidential appointment since 1843. No, that’s not a typo.

It’s almost as if Senate Republicans aren’t actually concerned about nominees’ competence, character, or even politics. It’s almost as if they’re concerned about … well, something else. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. I wonder what it might be?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 7:17 pm

Facts matter, so does context, ACA Part CCXXII!Q*%.

It is factually accurate to state that Obama’s claim that “most people” would be able to keep their existing health insurance coverage under Obamacare was inaccurate if you’re looking at people with individual policies. (Most people insured through their employers will, in fact, continue to be.) It is even factually accurate to say that Obama kept claiming that even after he should have known better — i.e., he lied on that point, at least for a while.

But economist Dean Baker adds some relevant context that, while not getting Obama off the hook for saying stuff he should have known to be false, also makes clear that insurers also played a role and that policy holders shouldn’t have been totally surprised:

[The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" columnist, Glenn Kessler] presents evidence showing that 48.2 percent of individual plans are in effect less than 6 months and 64.5 percent are in effect less than year. Extrapolating from this evidence on the rate at which individuals leave plans, Kessler calculates that less than 4.8 percent of the people in the individual market have a plan that would be protected by this grandfather provision. …

… while Kessler is correct that the grandfathering protects relatively few people because policies tend to be short-lived, this data also raises an issue about the pain caused by earlier than expected cancellations. Kessler’s data show that almost half of the plans will be held by people for less than six months and almost two-thirds will be held for less than a year. This means that most of the people being told that their plans are being cancelled probably would have left their plans in the first half of 2014 anyhow. While no one wants to buy insurance more than necessary, it hardly seems like a calamity if someone expected to leave their policy in March and will now have to arrange insurance through the exchange for two months.

Furthermore one has to ask about the role of insurers in this process. Kessler’s data imply that more than three quarters of the people in the individual market signed up for their policies for the first time in the last year. Didn’t insurers tell people at the time they sold the policies that these plans would only be in effect through the end of December because they did not comply with provisions in the ACA? If the insurers did inform their clients at the time they purchased their policies then they would not be surprised to find out now that they will need new insurance. If the insurance companies did not inform clients that their plans would soon be terminated then it seems that the insurers are the main culprits in this story, not the Obama administration.

UPDATE, 11/13/13: Just a thought: Insurance companies have known for three years what the standards for policies would be under the ACA. They had plenty of time to prepare. In many cases, however, they chose to screw consumers and blame it on Obama.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 7:57 pm

Obama lied about keeping your existing health-insurance policy … or DID he?

Actually, The Washington Post (among others) did the lying, as economist Dean Baker helpfully notes:

The Washington Post joined Republicans in hyping the fact that many individual insurance policies are being cancelled with insurers telling people that the reason is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The second paragraph comments on this fact:

“The notices [of plan cancellation] appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.”

It would have been useful to point out that the plans that were in effect as of the passage of the ACA were grandfathered. This means that any insurers that cancel plans that were in effect prior to 2010 are being misleading if they tell their customers that the cancellation was due to the ACA. It was not a mandate of the ACA that led to the cancellation of the plan, but rather a decision of the insurer based on market conditions.

But Obama is black!

Also, if you really want to know what’s going on in the economy, just read Baker’s blog every day. It’s called Beat The Press, and that’s what it does. Pretty much the only thing he ever posts about is mistakes made by major news-media outlets in coverage of economics, and he never lacks for material, averaging about 3-4 posts per day. He also doesn’t have to go far afield for material: The major print, broadcast and cable outlets keep him supplied without his having to go beat up on a 22-year-old cub reporter in East Buttville to flesh out an item. I started reading him several years ago, and in less than a week, I arrived at the conclusion that where economics coverage is concerned, American news  media just ought to be ashamed, full stop. This matters not only in and of itself but also because the income and wealth of working people and the middle class are under siege right now by the 1%, who are counting on people’s economic ignorance to let them do what they want to do, which is rob us blind. Baker is our Thin Blue Line. Read him and support him.

Monday, October 28, 2013 8:38 pm

Econ 101, 2013 version

It’s so simple even Bill Maher gets it:

This is the question the Right has to answer. Do you want smaller government with less handouts or do you want do you want a low minimum wage because you cannot have both. If Coronel Sanders isn’t going to pay the lady behind the counter enough to live on, then Uncle Sam has to. And I for one is getting a little tired of helping highly profitable companies pay their workers.

And spare me the crap about how raising the minimum wage kills jobs because 1) it doesn’t, 2) CEO pay relative to worker pay is at an unprecedented height, and it ain’t because CEOs are, in general, competent at running providers of goods and services rather than gaming the system, and 3) corporate profits are at an all-time high.

Sunday, October 27, 2013 9:50 pm

Oh, I’M sorry, you were worried about the DEFICIT and not whether Americans had health care?

Read this and weep, you freakin’ sociopaths:

The Affordable Care Act is already working: Intense price competition among health plans in the marketplaces for individuals has lowered premiums below projected levels. As a result of these lower premiums, the federal government will save about $190 billion over the next 10 years, according to our estimates. These savings will boost the health law’s amount of deficit reduction by 174 percent and represent about 40 percent of the health care savings proposed by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission—in 2010.

Moreover, we estimate that lower premiums will lower the number of uninsured even further, by an additional 700,000 people, even as the number of individuals who receive tax credits will decline because insurance is more affordable.

In short, the Affordable Care Act is working even better than expected, producing more coverage for much less money.

And just because you’re evil and you suck, you should also read the whole damn report, while I make an adult beverage out of vodka and your bitter, bitter tears.

Friday, October 25, 2013 7:21 pm

But Obamacare will kill small businesses!

Not so much, says New Yorker business/economics writer James Surowiecki:

[T]he overwhelming majority of American businesses—ninety-six per cent—have fewer than fifty employees. The employer mandate doesn’t touch them. And more than ninety per cent of the companies above that threshold already offer health insurance. Only three per cent are in the zone (between forty and seventy-five employees) where the threshold will be an issue. Even if these firms get more cautious about hiring—and there’s little evidence that they will—the impact on the economy would be small.

Meanwhile, the likely benefits of Obamacare for small businesses are enormous. To begin with, it’ll make it easier for people to start their own companies—which has always been a risky proposition in the U.S., because you couldn’t be sure of finding affordable health insurance. As John Arensmeyer, who heads the advocacy group Small Business Majority, and is himself a former small-business owner, told me, “In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, but we’ve had this bizarre disincentive in the system that’s kept people from starting new businesses.” Purely for the sake of health insurance, people stay in jobs they aren’t suited to—a phenomenon that economists call “job lock.” “With the new law, job lock goes away,” Arensmeyer said. “Anyone who wants to start a business can do so independent of the health-care costs.” Studies show that people who are freed from job lock (for instance, when they start qualifying for Medicare) are more likely to undertake something entrepreneurial, and one recent study projects that Obamacare could enable 1.5 million people to become self-employed.

Even more important, Obamacare will help small businesses with health-care costs, which have long been a source of anxiety. The fact that most Americans get their insurance through work is a historical accident: during the Second World War, wages were frozen, so companies began offering health insurance instead. After the war, attempts to create universal heath care were stymied by conservatives and doctors, and Congress gave corporations tax incentives to keep providing insurance. The system has worked well enough for big employers, since large workforces make possible the pooling of risk that any healthy insurance market requires. But small businesses often face so-called “experience rating”: a business with a lot of women or older workers faces high premiums, and even a single employee who runs up medical costs can be a disaster. A business that Arensmeyer represents recently saw premiums skyrocket because one employee has a child with diabetes. Insurance costs small companies as much as eighteen per cent more than it does large companies; worse, it’s also a crapshoot. Arensmeyer said, “Companies live in fear that if one or two employees get sick their whole cost structure will radically change.” No wonder that fewer than half the companies with under fifty employees insure their employees, and that half of uninsured workers work for small businesses or are self-employed. In fact, a full quarter of small-business owners are uninsured, too.

Obamacare changes all this. It provides tax credits to smaller businesses that want to insure their employees. And it requires “community rating” for small businesses, just as it does for individuals, sharply restricting insurers’ ability to charge a company more because it has employees with higher health costs. And small-business exchanges will in effect allow companies to pool their risks to get better rates. “You’re really taking the benefits that big companies enjoy, and letting small businesses tap into that,” Arensmeyer said. This may lower costs, and it will insure that small businesses can hire the best person for a job rather than worry about health issues.

The U.S. likes to think of itself as friendly to small businesses. But, as a 2009 study by the economists John Schmitt and Nathan Lane documented, our small-business sector is among the smallest in the developed world, and has one of the lowest rates of self-employment. One reason is that we’ve never had anything like national health insurance. In a saner world, changing this would be a reform that the “party of small business” would celebrate.

But we don’t live in a saner world, now, do we?

 

Friday, October 18, 2013 7:56 pm

Hey, Paul Cox of Leicester, NC — why did you go on Hannity’s show and lie about Obamacare?

Because you did, and you’ve been busted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 8:39 pm

The center cannot hold because there isn’t one

A poll conducted by Esquire magazine and NBC purports to identify and take the measure of what it calls “The New American Center” among American voters.

I am not a polling expert, but I have enough polling experience and experience in both quantitative and qualitative research to grasp that this conceit is crap. (Thus no link.)

Americans are more culturally divided than they have been since the eve of the Civil War, and there’s a wealth of more rigorous polling at PollingReport.com to substantiate that claim. Moreover, rigorous polling on policy ideas that simply presents the ideas in context without labeling them as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic, shows that Americans actually prefer liberal policies in general, not moderate or conservative ones. They want to soak hell out of the rich, just for starters.

Since this garbage first appeared on Esquire’s politics blog, I’ve been awaiting the input of that blog’s primary writer, Charlie Pierce. I hoped that he wouldn’t be muzzled on this subject. And it seems, to my delight, either that he hasn’t been or that he doesn’t care:

There are three kinds of people who claim to be centrists in this country today. There are embarrassed Republicans. There are lazy people. And there are liars. There is no fourth alternative. We have seen vividly the intellectual exhaustion of self-proclaimed centrists in the laughable attempts to blame both sides for the reign of the morons. We have seen vividly the intellectual dishonesty of self-proclaimed centrists demonstrated by the No Labels and Fix The Debt scams, both of which involve little more than selling out the social safety-net. We even seen the intellectual vacuity of self-proclaimed centrists in the results of this poll, in which we see some vague mumbling about the deficit that will eat us in our beds, but a strong desire to raise taxes on the very wealthiest among us, which I guarantee you none of the people who proclaim their centrism the loudest believes is a centrist position.

So to the list of yellow lines and dead armadillos that you can find in the middle of the road, you may add embarrassed Republicans, lazy people and liars. That’s it, although I might soften Charlie’s position a bit and rephrase “lazy” as “low-information” people in some cases, because it takes time and effort to get informed. Some people don’t bother, and “lazy” fits them. But plenty of others are working multiple jobs, raising kids and just trying to get by and can’t get informed. Them, I don’t blame so much.

But I sure as hell blame the mainstream media that too often are their only sources of information. And while Esquire’s political reporting generally has been far better than this, NBC, perhaps with the exception of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, has been as egregious an offender as exists out there. I’m sure David Gregory considers himself a centrist. He’s not. He’s a conservative moron.

Read more: Response To New American Center – I Hate Centrism – Esquire
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Visit us at Esquire.com

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 8:58 pm

There is a different, and much lower, bar for conservatives

After pseudohistorian David Barton, who has been making money for more than two decades now by telling bald-faced lies about the Founding Fathers, published a “nonfiction” book so bad that it was repudiated by its own publisher, you would think that no one in conservative political circles would want to be caught dead next to him. He’d been called a liar by secular historians, evangelical historians, and his own publisher. Did I mention that his own publisher said his book was a pack of lies? Next to that, having your book voted “least credible history book in print” by readers of History News Network is nothing.

But you have to remember that Barton’s market is the same people who think Jesus rode dinosaurs, as Politico — and God forgive me for linking to it — explains:

Barton has huge standing among “social conservatives that make up a significant base of a caucus electorate,” said Craig Robinson, editor of The Iowa Republican website. “You want to appeal to those people if you’re a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul.” …

But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

“It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,” said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. “I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.”

In March, Barton gave his presentation on America’s biblical heritage to dozens of state legislators in Kansas. In May, he spoke at the official National Day of Prayer breakfast at the Fort Leonard Wood Army base in Missouri. He rallied activists at the National Right to Life Convention in June with a rousing speech drawing on the Declaration of Independence to make the case for abortion restrictions. Cruz followed Barton in the program and echoed his analysis to thunderous applause.

“I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend,” Cruz told POLITICO. “David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”

This fall, Barton will share that message before audiences in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. He also continues to travel to Washington to lead his signature Capitol tours — sponsored and often attended by members of Congress — at which he expounds on America’s Christian roots.

Radio host Glenn Beck’s publishing company, Mercury Ink, has even announced plans to republish “The Jefferson Lies,” although a spokesman would give no details about timing, print run or whether the manuscript would be edited to address the criticism. [I just bet -- Lex.]

Barton’s enduring popularity “embarrasses the academic community,” Throckmorton said. But, he added, no matter how loud the scholarly chorus, Barton has a trump card: His message “is useful politically.”

Indeed, political strategists say Republican candidates are wise to consult Barton and hitch their wagon to his star.

Your Republican Party, America. Be proud. And ask yourself: If they’re willing to lie about the Founding Fathers, what else are they willing to lie about? An easier question might be: What are they not willing to lie about?

Friday, July 19, 2013 7:05 pm

Retired SCOTUS justice John Paul Stevens rips Chief Justice Roberts a new orifice on voting rights …

and you could drive a Hummer through it as long as you kept the wipers going to clear the windshield of blood. Stevens doesn’t just mock Roberts’s “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty among the States,” he demonstrates that at no time in U.S. history has it existed anywhere outside John Roberts’s rear end. (Yet the Court majority in Shelby County are all, all honorable originalists.)

Stevens continues:

The statistics set forth in Roberts’s recent opinion persuasively explain why a neutral decision-maker could reasonably conclude that at long last the imposition of the preclearance requirement on the states that lost the Civil War—or more precisely continuing to use the formula that in 1965 identified those states—is not justified by the conditions that prevail today. The opinion fails, however, to explain why such a decision should be made by the members of the Supreme Court. The members of Congress, representing the millions of voters who elected them, are far more likely to evaluate correctly the risk that the interest in maintaining the supremacy of the white race still plays a significant role in the politics of those states. After all, that interest was responsible for creating the slave bonus when the Constitution was framed, and in motivating the violent behavior that denied blacks access to the polls in those states for decades prior to the enactment of the VRA.

The several congressional decisions to preserve the preclearance requirement—including its 2006 decision—were preceded by thorough evidentiary hearings that have consistently disclosed more voting violations in those states than in other parts of the country. Those decisions have had the support of strong majority votes by members of both major political parties. Not only is Congress better able to evaluate the issue than the Court, but it is also the branch of government designated by the Fifteenth Amendment to make decisions of this kind.

In her eloquent thirty-seven-page dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, described the extensive deliberations in Congress over the preclearance requirement, the precedents holding that the Court has a duty to respect Congress’s decisions, and the reasons why the preclearance remedy should be preserved. Indeed, she captured the majority’s principal error concisely and clearly when she explained that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

I hope everyone who wrote all the crap about Roberts being concerned about his Court’s place in history after it upheld the Affordable Care Act will now take it back, but I’m not optimistic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 7:26 pm

Is race a factor in stand-your-ground laws?

You tell me:

graph

(Read the article, too.)

 

Friday, July 12, 2013 7:51 pm

“Best [health care] in the world, my ass.”

Aaron Carroll at the Incidental Economist brings the pain:

There’s a ridiculously fantastic manuscript over at JAMA that you should go read right now. “The State of US Health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors“: …

I’m a health services researcher, and I’m obsessed with outcomes. One of the first major projects of this blog was a two-week series on quality in the US health care system. I’ve written numerous times about what kills us. This study specifically looked at the burden of disease, injuries, and risk factors in the US versus other countries. The methods are amazingly detailed.

So how did we do compared to other countries? Not well. Between 1990 and 2010, among the 34 countries in the OECD, the US dropped from 18th to 27th in age-standardized death rate. The US dropped from 23rd to 28th for age-standardized years of life lost. It dropped from 20th to 27th in life expectancy at birth. It dropped from 14th to 26th for healthy life expectancy. The only bit of good news was that the US only dropped from 5th to 6th in years lived with disability.

There’s a chart I’d like to highlight. This is the rank of age-standardized years of life lost rates among the 34 OECD countries in 2010.  The numbers in each cell show the rank of the country in years of life lost for each cause (1 is best). The countries are sorted overall on age-standardized all-cause years of life lost.  The colors show if the age-standardized years of life lost for a country is significantly lower than the mean (green), indistinguishable from the mean (yellow), or higher than the mean (red) for all OECD countries. …

Things don’t look so good for the US. There’s an awful lot of red there. A little bit of yellow. One green. Best in the world, my ass. …

What we have here is a prioritization issue. We spend a lot of time worrying about colon cancer. It’s ranked 11th in 2010. We spend a lot of time worrying about breast cancer. We have walks, and ribbons, and whole months dedicated to it. It’s ranked 13th. Prostate cancer? Men are obsessed with it. It’s ranked 27th. But more years of life are lost to lung cancer than to prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. Ischemic heart disease causes four times as many years of life to be lost each year as prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. Stroke is 3rd. COPD is 4th. Traffic accidents are 5th. Suicide is 6th. None of these things get the national attention, or resources, that they deserve. [emphasis added]

In short, we have a lousy health-care system, and the reason we have a lousy health-care system is because we choose to have a lousy health-care system. This isn’t about Obamacare, or health insurance in general, or even how much money we have available to spend on health care. It’s about where we put our research and treatment dollars, and the study shows we’re not putting them anywhere near where they would do the most good. That’s a problem we can fix, but we have to choose to fix it.

 

Thursday, June 27, 2013 9:32 pm

Guess why the IRS only targeted Tea Party groups

Because Darrell Issa told it to, that’s why:

The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”The inspector general’s audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.

But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of “be on the lookout” lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.

The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: “We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit.”

The admission from the inspector general comes as Democrats have sharpened their criticism of George, with Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) dubbing the audit fundamentally flawed on Monday.

Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, stressed to The Hill on Tuesday that the inspector general did not say the audit was limited to Tea Party groups when it was released in mid-May.

The Michigan Democrat also maintained that the audit’s shortcoming had emboldened Republicans to try to link the targeting of Tea Party groups to the White House.

“You need to get at the facts. And those facts weren’t given to us, even when asked,” Levin said. “The Republicans used the failure of the IG to spell out what they knew as an opportunity to totally politicize this.”

No. You can’t be serious. Darrell Issa politicize something? Issa withhold material information so as to propagate a falsehood widely? Never in a million years.

You know, I’ve been saying that to the best of my knowledge, which I’ll admit isn’t comprehensive, what went on at the IRS went on because of the disproportionately larger number of GOP-leaning tax-exempt groups created since Citizens United. Other people insisted, however, that the disproportionate focus on Tea Party groups meant this wasn’t accidental, that it was part of a conspiracy. Well, they were right and I was wrong. But I’m pretty sure a conspiracy originating with Darrell Issa wasn’t what they meant.

Now why, you ask, would as high a ranking GOP member as Issa do such a thing? I’ll tell you why. The Tea Party is basically indistinguishable from the wingnut GOP base. And while the GOP leadership is perfectly happy to use those rank-and-file people during elections, the only agenda item they really care about is hoovering more money upward to the rich. That’s all. Nothing else. The Tea Party people have a somewhat more complicated agenda, and for them to gain too much power in the party would mean interference with, or at least distraction from, the top agenda item.

So, if you’re a Tea Party member, remember this: Barack Obama didn’t sic the IRS on you. Darrell Issa did. And he did it because he wants your money, end of story. You vote however you want, but you need to be sure to take that fact into the voting booth with you when you do.

Friday, April 12, 2013 6:50 pm

Quote of the day, is our children learning edition; or, measure everything and don’t do anything you can’t measure

From Kay at Balloon Juice, with emphasis in the original except where noted:

Michelle Rhee came to Ohio and lobbied my state legislature on her last national tour. She was treated like a celebrity. No one questioned any of her claims, which is unsurprising if you actually live in this state because all of her reforms involve union busting, pension looting and shifting public money to private operators(emphasis added). She’s a Right wing ideologue’s dream come true. They bought it because they believed it before she walked onto the floor that day.

The school reform industry response to the Atlanta cheating scandal was to call for better test security. As usual, the reform industry spokespeople are missing the larger point, the bigger picture. The truth is they based their reforms on high profile “turn arounds” in Atlanta and (especially) DC. If the scores in these places where they ran their experiments were bullshit, they “reformed” the US education system based on bullshit. They’re supposedly “data-driven” and most of them are billionaires. I shouldn’t have to point this out.

Hire an independent prosecutor like they did in Atlanta. Let’s find out. In the meantime, get a different opinion on “school reform.” Stop relying on the billionaires who backed this, the politicians who swallowed it without question, the hundreds of lobby shops who now exist because of it and the celebrities who promote it to evaluate it. They’re biased, they’re all in, they believe they are the “best and the brightest” and the top-tier analysts and executives are making a lot of money. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, disaster for ordinary taxpayers. For the grifters (and, remember, grifters are gonna grift), not so much.

Thursday, March 7, 2013 7:55 pm

March 7 study break, “NC Medicaid IS NOT BROKEN” edition

h/t: Fec

Disclosure: Jeff Shaw of the N.C. Justice Center is a classmate in my current grad program. Further disclosure: He is not a bullshitter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 7:12 pm

Also, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after economist Dean Baker: The deficit problem is not an entitlements problem.

Listen to the man before you go giving away your — and my — Social Security and Medicare:

The gang for gutting Social Security and Medicare (aka “The Campaign to Fix the Debt”) are running in high gear. During the long election campaign they gathered dollars, corporate CEOs and washed up politicians for a full-fledged push in the final months of the year. They are hoping that the hype around the budget standoff (aka “fiscal cliff”) can be used for a grand bargain that eviscerates the country’s two most important social programs, Social Security and Medicare.

They made a point of keeping this plan out of election year politics because they know it is a huge loser with the electorate. People across the political and ideological spectrums strongly support these programs and are opposed to cuts. Politicians who advocated cuts would have been likely losers on Election Day. But now that the voters are out of the way, the Wall Street gang and the CEOs see their opportunity.

It is especially important that they act now, because one of the pillars of their deficit horror story could be collapsing. Due to a sharp slowing in the rise of health care costs over the last four years, the assumption that exploding health care costs would lead to unfathomable deficits may no longer be plausible even to people in high level policy positions.

As we all know, the large budget deficits of the last four years are entirely due to the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The budget deficit was slightly over 1.0 percent of GDP in 2007 and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections showed it remaining low for the near-term future. The origin of the large deficits of the last few years is not a debatable point among serious people, even though talk of “trillion dollar deficits, with a ‘t’” is very good for scaring the children.

However, the big stick for the deficit hawks was their story of huge deficits in the longer term. They attributed these to the rising cost of “entitlements,” which are known to the rest of us as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

While they like to push the notion that the aging of the population threatened to impose an unbearable burden on future generations, the reality is that most of the horror story of huge deficits was driven by projections of exploding private sector health care costs. Since Medicare and Medicaid mostly pay for private sector health care, an explosion in private sector health care costs would eventually make these programs unaffordable.

As some of us have long pointedout, there are serious grounds for questioning the plausibility of projections that the health care sector would rise to 30 or 40 percent of GDP over the rest of the century. Recently a paper from the Federal Reserve Boarddocumented this argument in considerable detail.

Even more important than the professional argument over health care cost projections is the recent trend in health care costs. While the CBO projections assume that age-adjusted health care costs rise considerably more rapidly than per capita income, in the last four years they have been roughly keeping pace with per capita income.

In fact, in the last year nominal spending on health care services, the sector that comprises almost two-thirds of health care costs, rose by just 1.7 percent. This is far below the rate of nominal GDP growth over this period, which was more than 4.0 percent. While at least some of this slowing in health care costs is undoubtedly due to the downturn, it is hard to believe that it is not at least partially attributable to a slower underlying rate of health care cost growth.

CBO and other budget forecasters can ignore economic reality for a period of time (they ignored the housing bubble until after its collapse wrecked the economy), but if it continues, at some point they will have to incorporate the trend of slower health care cost growth into their projections. When this happens, the really scary long-term deficit numbers will disappear.

A projection that assumes that health care costs will only rise as a result of the aging of the population, and otherwise move in step with per capita income, will lop tens of trillions of dollars off the most commonly cited long-term deficit projections. It would cost some deficit hawks, like National Public Radio, more than $100 trillion of their long-term deficit story. This would be a real disaster for the deficit hawk industry.

This is why the Campaign to Fix the Debt and the rest of the deficit hawk industry will be operating at full speed at least until a budget deal is reached over the current impasse. If CBO adjusts its long-term health care cost projections downward then their whole rationale for gutting Social Security and Medicare will disappear. Now that is really a crisis.

And in light of today’s horrid front-page News & Record article on the so-called fiscal cliff, here’s a question for Greensboro peeps: Would it really be too much trouble to get Jeff Gauger and his crew at the N&R to introduce some fact-based economic coverage? The voters last week seemed to indicate a taste for that kind of thing.

OK, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after Kevin Drum: There. Is. No. Fiscal. Cliff.

The former Calpundit and Political Animal econowonk, now with Mother Jones, explains it all for you:

Which part has the worst effect: the spending cuts or the tax increases?

That’s tricky! CBO estimates that the effect per dollar is greater for spending cuts than tax increases: roughly a dollar of GDP for every dollar of spending cuts versus about half a dollar of GDP per dollar of tax increases.

However, the absolute size of the tax increases is much larger than the absolute size of the spending cuts. Overall, CBO estimates that the spending cuts will reduce GDP by about 0.8 percentage points; the end of the payroll tax holiday will reduce GDP about 0.7 percent; and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will reduce GDP by 1.4 percentage points.

But wait a second. There are two parts to the Bush tax cuts: the middle-class cuts and the cuts for the rich.

Right. And here’s the thing: CBO figures that letting the middle-class tax cuts expire would shrink GDP about 1.3 percentage points.

But that’s almost the entire effect of letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Right. And everyone agrees we should extend the middle-class tax cuts. So if we did that, but let the tax cuts on the rich expire, it would have virtually no impact on growth.

So that would make a ton of sense. Are we going to do that?

Good question! Republicans are dead set against it, so it’s going to be a big fight.

What about the payroll tax holiday?

Everyone seems willing to let that end, so that’s not really very controversial.

Why is that? It has a pretty big effect.

Beats me. It would make a lot more sense to extend the payroll tax holiday than to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but Republicans are opposed to the tax holiday and Democrats have already caved in on this. Mostly it’s because they’re worried that extending it would set a precedent for keeping payroll taxes lower forever, and that would hurt Social Security’s finances.

Conversely, Republicans care a lot about tax cuts for the rich. At the moment, they claim they’ll kill any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff unless they get to keep them.

Are they serious?

Yep.

There’s more, but that’s the gist. Having just been told by voters not to blow up the economy any more, the GOP is dead set on doing and the Dems are less than fully dead set on stopping them. Sigh.

There is some good news, though. President Obama has been asking the Republicans for $1.6 trillion over 10 years in tax increases ever since the Great Debt Ceiling Joke of 2011. He campaigned for a year on that very proposal. And on Nov. 6, he won by a — what’s that word, again? Oh, yeah, landslide. So, Mitch the Turtle and the Weeping Cheeto can just take that.

Oh, and Kevin also says, for the love of God, stop talking about raising the retirement age.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 5:28 pm

No consequences

Some of the biggest names of political punditry spent the days leading up to yesterday predicting not just a Romney win, but a Romney landslide. Now they’re hoping you’ll forget that so that they can keep their overpaid sinecures (or, as they were called in “Blazing Saddles,” their phony-baloney jobs). But even though I seldom make predictions (more on which in a minute), I knew these people were full of crap, and I wanted to memorialize their fecal fullness so that perhaps voters, if not current and potential future employers, would have some idea just how seriously to take not only their powers of prognistication, which can fail anyone at any tmie, but also their grip on current reality, which, for most people, can be allowed little or no down time without serious consequences.

Fortunately, The Blaze has compiled a handy list of some of our most prominent prognosticators and their predictions:

  • CNBC Anchor Larry Kudlow: ” ”I am now predicting a 330 vote electoral landslide.”
  • MSNBC host Joe Scarborough: “But my gut tells me there are two likely scenarios: (1) President Obama will squeak out a narrow Electoral College victory or (2) Mitt Romney will carry Ohio and be swept into office by a comfortable margin. After practicing politics for 20 years, I suppose I would rather be in Mitt Romney’s shoes than Barack Obama’s. Incumbents who are under 50 percent two weeks out usually go down to defeat.”
  • Addled GOP whore Karl Rove: ““In addition to the data, the anecdotal and intangible evidence–from crowd sizes to each side’s closing arguments–give the sense that the odds favor Mr. Romney. They do. My prediction: Sometime after the cock crows on the morning of Nov. 7, Mitt Romney will be declared America’s 45th president. Let’s call it 51%-48%, with Mr. Romney carrying at least 279 Electoral College votes, probably more.”
  • Addled Washington Post whore George Will: “George Will outlined a huge Romney Election Day in an interview on ABC’s ‘This Week,’ predicting a 321-217 landslide that included nearly every swing state including Minnesota.”
  • Toe-sucking whore (or sucker of whores’ toes; I can never keep that straight) and Faux News contributor Dick Morris: “Reasonable voters saw that the voice of hope and optimism and positivism was Romney while the president was only a nitpicking, quarrelsome, negative figure. The contrast does not work in Obama’s favor. His erosion began shortly after the conventions when Indiana (10 votes) and North Carolina (15) moved to Romney (in addition to the 179 votes that states that McCain carried cast this year). Then, in October, Obama lost the Southern swing states of Florida (29) and Virginia (13). He also lost Colorado (10), bringing his total to 255 votes.And now, he faces the erosion of the northern swing states: Ohio (18), New Hampshire (4) and Iowa (6). Only in the union-anchored state of Nevada (9) does Obama still cling to a lead. In the next few days, the battle will move to Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (15), Wisconsin (10) and Minnesota (16). Ahead in Pennsylvania, tied in Michigan and Wisconsin, and slightly behind in Minnesota, these new swing states look to be the battleground. … The most likely outcome [in the Senate]? Eight GOP takeaways and two giveaways for a net gain of six. A 53-47 Senate, just like we have now, only opposite. Barack Obama’s parting gift to the Democratic Party.”
  • Washington Examiner and Almanac of American Politics editor Michael Barone — the one guy among these clowns, in other words, who is even reputed to do actual reporting: “Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.”

Keep in mind, please, that the only reason these people have jobs is that they are supposed to know something about this stuff. (Not that I want their jobs, but I did better than all of them.) But the emperors have no clothes; their bare bums glistened this morning in the (here in Greensboro, anyway) bright autumn sun. They. Don’t. Know. Shit.

But you know who did? Nate Silver. The numbers guy. The nerd. The reporter. (He correctly called the Tea Party surge in 2010, too, in case you think he’s just a partisan who got lucky.) He stuck to his numbers even on his Twitter feed; this appears to have been the closest he ever came to gloating:

Note the time: 9:29 p.m. Eastern last night. Polls in a lot of states hadn’t even closed yet. And what had Nate done to that point? Only correctly predicted 30 states out of 30 that had been called to that point. More specifically, he had correctly predicted them in June.

Credit where due: Dean Chambers, the guy who ran the “Unskewed Polls” site, which a lot of Republicans were using before the election to try to convince themselves and others that Nate Silver’s poll sampling was overly weighted toward Democrats, told Business Insider today, “Nate Silver was right and I was wrong.” Not only that, he also called some other conservative pollsters out by name, particularly Scott Rasmussen, saying, “He has lost a lot of credibility as far as I’m concerned.”

UPDATE: Earlier today, Sarah, Proud and Tall at Balloon Juice had the following to say about the foregoing hacks:

In a fair and just society, political pundits who got things this [expletive] wrong would never be listened to again. When their names were mentioned, people would mutter embarrassedly and try to change the subject. If they ever tried again to appear on television or write a column about politics, people would point and laugh at their cluelessness until stuff came out their noses. Children would throw turds at them in the street and pin “Kick Me” signs to their backs. The sheer shame engendered by their own stupidity would trap them at home forever, dressed in the tattered rags of their reputations, wearing only one shoe and constantly revisiting the rotted ruins of a table laid with celebratory cake and Romney/Ryan How to Vote cards.

Upon reflection, and upon reminding myself that both of Obama’s victories have had as much to do with America’s evolving demographics as anything else, I’m inclined to go a little less harshly on these folks than is Sarah, but only for this reason: Sarah seems to think that the point of political pundits is to get things right. After a night and day of reflection, I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion, which is that their point isn’t to get things right, it’s to provide entertainment and psychological sustenance for the aging, dying cohort that is the Fox/GOP base right now. It’s about telling an audience what they want to hear, not what they need to know. And among the corporate entities that employ the above-named miscreants, Fox, at least, hasn’t always been completely dishonest about what it was trying to do.

‘NOTHER UPDATE: Besides Silver, two other people nailed this year’s EV count, although I don’t know as much about their methods as I do Silver’s (and I don’t know all that much about Silver’s except that it doesn’t involve his gut): Democratic strategist Chris Lehane and Josh Putnam, who professes political science at my alma mater, Davidson. (h/t commenter Scott Denham.) It’s worth clicking through to that chart and noting that of the prognosticators with a political affiliation, only one Democrat, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, scored worse than the best-scoring GOP pundit, Ross Douthat of the New York Times. Douthat predicted a 271-267 Obama victory and was the only one on his side to predict an Obama win at all.

I wouldn’t take financial advice from Cramer, either.

Monday, November 5, 2012 10:09 pm

Quote of the Day, One Week After Sandy Edition

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

– Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that investigated the cause of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in his appendix to the commission report.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 3:54 pm

Does Dr. Seuss’s ghost need to choke a bitch?

Why, yes. Yes, I believe he does, if so-called journalists are going to pull sweeping indictments of blue states right out of their feces-choked derrieres:

Well, perhaps if instead of sprinting off to write a page’s worth of “nuh uh, YOU’RE the poopyheads” drivel, you could have hung around and read the studies cited showing the math on how blue states rate better than red states. Perhaps you could have even gone on to see the correlations in Europe that further back up the sobering reality that yes, it turns out that liberal economic and social policy really do create stronger economies and happier people.

Almost as if people are less likely to be stressed out balls of violent desperation when people aren’t willing to collapse society just to “get at them” and where tightly-wound right-wing psychotics can see that the gay isn’t really the existential threat they pretend it is to make the truck stop visits more exciting. Where people can just be people.

And as if the economy was healthier in areas where racing to the bottom wasn’t the only game in town and people have a social safety net to fall back on if things get hard. Because it turns out that founding new industries and businesses and retraining workforces to new industries is easier when people aren’t freaking out about starving if things go wrong.

The “journalist” expresses concern that blue states are growing more slowly than red states. As if that is actually some kind of problem:

Okay, yes, wingnuts, I get that the freakout about “relative population growth” is all a racist sexist freakout hoping that if you go oogedy boogedy about brown third world nations, white women will agree to give up their rights and become brood mares to “balance” things.

But still, let me make one point perfectly clear:

WE DON’T NEED ANY MORE POPULATION GROWTH.

We really [expletive] don’t. In fact, we could do with a hell of a lot of relative population shrinkage while we can still afford to do that without having to resort to costly and bloody wars over basic resources.

Sorry if this is a bit blunt, but we don’t even really have the food resources for the population we have now and we’re running out of the natural resources we need to prop up the current system. We don’t need any more [expletive] babies. I don’t care how scared you are of the third-world horde outbreeding you.

But hey, you know what might work better than trying to out-[reproduce] them? How about stop exploiting the [expletive] out of them and help give them a hand forming a legitimate first-world economy and help fight for global women’s rights and universal education. Then they’ll stop underbidding your workers and as a bonus, they’ll also stop out-breeding you as first-world nations with high education and strong rights for women tend to breed less overall.

Much, much more at the link — a lengthy but worthwhile read.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 7:51 pm

Quote of the Day, Civility & Priorities Edition

Commenter Batocchio at Roy Edroso’s blog:

Civility has its place, but honesty over civility, accuracy over politeness. Alternatively, if you define “civility” in part as showing respect for the truth, a liar has broken the implicit contract of the debate/discussion, and as a moral matter should be called out. (Not that that happens much in the Village, but boy, it’s awesome when it does.)

 

Monday, July 9, 2012 10:30 pm

Projection: Mark Halperin edition

Good Christ, I have never seen a more worthless waste of a carbon-based life form, let alone a job in journalism:

Once again, we have an incumbent running in an environment so brutal that he can’t win an up-or-down referendum on his term.

Your liberal media, ladies and gentlemen.

Thus, Obama, like Bush, has to make the election a choice between two options and disqualify the other option.

We are in a radically different politico-media age than we were just eight years ago, so the metrics for measuring whether such an effort is working have been transformed. Still, there are some aspects of the Swift Boating that don’t seem to be present for the Democrats, at least not yet.

The Swift Boat line of attack went along the info-news conveyor belt from some limited paid media and a book, to right-leaning earned media, to cable news, to the broadcast networks and major print publications. So far, that hasn’t happened with the Obama attack. New media allows the Democrats on their own to spread the message through literally hundreds of platforms, but that doesn’t mean it will take over big-time earned media and dominate the campaign discourse, the way Swift Boats did.

Well, that’s a fascinating bit of horse-race speculation, which is to say it’s both wrong AND worthless. And here’s the tell on where Halperin’s loyalties really lie (as if there were any doubt):

(I should make clear: this post is about the politics of bringing down a rival. It is NOT meant to adjudicate the accuracy, relevance, or fairness of the two attacks.)

Of course not. Because 1) that would be actual, you know, journalism, which Mark Halperin simply Does Not Do; and 2) the conclusion inevitably resulting from such an adjudication would leave Romney screwed. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that he would be, if I may quote one of America’s foremost pundits, “running in an environment so brutal that he can’t win an up-or-down referendum.”

 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:04 pm

Dean Baker sums up our economic, political and journalistic problems in three short paragraphs

Baker:

Dana Milbank devoted his [Washington Post] column to the disenchantment of progressives with the current political situation. At one point he comments that “the still-lumbering economy has depressed President Obama’s supporters.”

While this is no doubt true, it is worth mentioning that just about all progressives said at the time that the stimulus would be inadequate to restore the economy to a healthy growth path. The collapse of the housing bubble destroyed close to $1.2 trillion in annual demand from construction and consumption. At its peak in 2009 and 2010 the stimulus only replaced about $300 billion in annual spending.

It is discouraging to see so many people suffering unnecessarily, but this outcome is exactly what our analysis predicted at the time. Unfortunately, having a track record of being right is not generally a factor in determining which views carry weight in Washington policy debates.

Somebody tell me again how the U.S. is a meritocracy. Or, as Driftglass famously observed:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 8:22 pm

Just Die Already, Washington Post, Ruth Marcus ahistoricity edition

In the place, time and culture in which I was reared, it was considered rude to draw attention to the fact that members of the fairer sex might have had the unmitigated gall to have survived on the planet in excess of four decades. Indeed, acknowledging the passage of three decades since a gentlewoman’s birth was permitted only on the occasion of her 30th birthday, whereupon she was then presumed to be 29 for the remainder of her days.

I’m so over that now.

I am 52 years old. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post is, I believe it is fair to say, older than I am, which point I mention to highlight the fact that in both her recent criticism of President Obama for criticizing the Supreme Court and, in the same piece, her defense of that court — in whose recent oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act one could effortlessly find some of the most mendacious arguments in recent American jurisprudence — this one-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize demonstrates that she is a contextual liar, a lousy reporter, an incipient dementia patient or just batshit insane and, in any of those cases, unfit to hold her current job, because even during her adult lifetime, other presidents have said much worse things about the courts.

First, here is what President Obama said during a news conference:

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.  And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.  Well, this is a good example.

Marcus called the president’s remarks “rather unsettling” and added:

… Obama’s assault on “an unelected group of people” stopped me cold. Because, as the former constitutional law professor certainly understands, it is the essence of our governmental system to vest in the court the ultimate power to decide the meaning of the constitution. Even if, as the president said, it means overturning “a duly constituted and passed law.”

Of course, acts of Congress are entitled to judicial deference and a presumption of constitutionality.  The decision to declare a statute unconstitutional, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1927, is “the gravest and most delicate duty that this court is called on to perform.”

But the president went too far in asserting that it “would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step” for the court to overturn “a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”  That’s what courts have done since Marbury v. Madison.  The size of the congressional majority is of no constitutional significance. We give the ultimate authority to decide constitutional questions to “a group of unelected people” precisely to insulate them from public opinion.

I actually agree with her in principle, and if this discussion were only about principle, her column would be unremarkable. But it isn’t only about principle, as any halfway conscious follower of the Supreme Court must know, because Obama’s remarks were not delivered in a vacuum.

A former constitutional law professor himself, he appears aware, as Marcus does not, that the conservative wing of the current court has abandoned its longstanding pretense that its rulings were based not on rightist ideology so much as on wanting to avoid “judicial activism” — making law from the bench rather than soberly assessing the constitutionality of congressional legislation and overturning it only when it violated the Constitution.

Now, that group — John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, with Anthony Kennedy and on-again, off-again member — is behaving as if the authority to decide major constitutional questions even at the expense of overturning legislation is not Holmes’s “grave and delicate duty” so much as it is Archimedes’s lever to move the world — back to a place and time in which the wealthy and corporations called the shots, a time both economically inefficient and thoroughly un-American.

And this trend is not new, not anything that could have sneaked up on Marcus; Jeffrey Rosen identified the trend five years ago in The New Yorker. After last week’s oral arguments on the health-care law, Jonathan Chait comments:

What made Rosen’s piece so shocking was that, for decades, judicial activism had been primarily associated with the left — liberal judges handed down broad readings of laws to expand rights, enraging conservatives who believed they were taking upon themselves decisions better left to democratic channels. Their complaints were not wholly unfounded — even if you support, say, abortion rights, as I do, the notion that the Constitution requires the right to an abortion is quite a stretch of judicial activism. The whole conservative legal and political movement had come to orient itself around opposition to judicial activism, which actually remains the term Republican politicians use to disparage liberal judges.

The only thing Rosen truly failed to anticipate in his piece was how quickly Republican judges would pivot from impassioned defenses of judicial restraint to judicial activism when the opportunity arose to deploy it in their party’s behalf. In the piece, he described Antonin Scalia as a fierce opponent of this movement. Scalia, wrote Rosen, “was not in favor of striking down laws in the name of ambiguous and contestable economic rights.” At one point Scalia attacked the movement to read economic rights into the Constitution as a “threat to constitutional democracy.”

The spectacle before the Supreme Court this week is Republican justices seizing the chance to overturn the decisions of democratically-elected bodies. At times the deliberations of the Republican justices are impossible to distinguish from the deliberations of Republican senators.

The blogger NYCSouthpaw explains exactly how Scalia, in particular, has flip-flopped dramatically in a relatively short time. In the 2005 case Gonzalez v. Raich, Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion that a 1937 case, National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Lauglin Steel Corp., gave Congress the right not only to regulate interstate commerce but also to regulate things that, while not commerce themselves, could substantially affect interstate commerce. The court in that case found that Congress had the power to do so under the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution, which basically holds that Congress can do anything not otherwise banned by the Constitution if it is a “necessary and proper” way to carry out constitutionally permitted responsibilities.

Scalia made that argument in support of prosecuting a guy in California who was growing marijuana in his own back yard for his own personal use, so as you can see, he took a very broad view then of what Congress can do to regulate “interstate commerce.” Writes NYCSouthpaw:

So, two things to note that Scalia says [in his Raich concurrence]:

  1. Activities that substantially affect interstate commerce are not, themselves, commerce.
  2. A 1937 labor rights case, NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., permits the regulation of activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce (i.e. not commerce).

Now look back up at Scalia’s exchange with [Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli [during health-care act oral arguments].  That 1937 case, Jones & Laughlin, is the very one that Verrilli is referring to.  Verrilli uses Jones & Laughlin to try to persuade Scalia that the Supreme Court often extends Commerce Clause authority to new areas that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce (in that case, unions, in this case, health care).

But Scalia shuts him down, saying that “there was no doubt” that “what was being regulated” in Jones & Laughlin “was commerce.”  That’s the flip flop.

For a good recent example of the court’s situational jurisprudence, one need look no further than Citizens United — not only for the substance of the ruling, which not only continued but expanded the conflation of speech with purchased audience begun by the court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, but also for the unseemly and actually unprecedented way in which the court practically begged other parties to bring challenges to the law as it then stood. Normally, the Supreme Court lets cases  “ripen” — letting real litigation involving real people work its way through trial courts and appeal courts in the ordinary course of time. As Henry Aaron, senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institute, points out, the argument that the act’s requirement to buy health insurance constitutes a “tax” normally couldn’t even have been litigated, let alone gotten to the Supreme Court, until someone had first actually been made to pay for insurance. And that requirement doesn’t take effect until 2015. (Granted, the ACA cases appear to have been heard on a somewhat accelerated schedule once appeals courts ruled, but only because proponents, opponents and the justices alike all saw benefit, for various reasons, resolving the contradictions among the appeals rulings quickly. And it is hard to argue that the American people, many of whose lives will be dramatically affected by the outcome either way, were harmed by that acceleration.)

Marcus, with her Harvard Law degree and her years of covering the Supreme Court for The Washington Post and her near-Pulitzer-worthy status, either is unaware of this context of conservative justices’ recent behavior, or she is deliberately ignoring it.

She also appears historically unaware — almost a capital offense among students of Supreme Court jurisprudence — that Obama is far from the first president to gripe about unelected justices. That griping has continued without surcease at least since Marbury v. Madison 200 years ago, a case of which Marcus, at least, claims to be aware. But Marcus, like many denizens of what blogger Digby likes to call The Village — the Washington government/media establishment that vigorously defends any encroachment on the privileges of wealth and power, leaning Republican although it’s frequently less a matter of partisanship than of differences with those who are Not Our Kind, Dear — criticizes Obama’s recognition of reality without the slightest hint of acknowledgment that far worse has gone before. Consider this remark from then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan in 1980:

The former California governor, campaigning in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday, blasted the court’s most recent abortion ruling as “an abuse of power as bad as the transgression of Watergate and bribery on Capitol Hill.”

Yeah, because engaging realitically with the practical ramifications of a law is just like felony bribery, burglary, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. (Also, isn’t it quaint how Republicans a generation ago acknowledged that Watergate really was a crime rather than a liberal media coup? But I digress.)

(UPDATE, 4/6: And how could I forget this not-so-golden not-so-oldie from Newt Gingrich, which Marcus appears to have let go by without comment, let alone criticism? Newt Gingrich pledged not only to “abolish whole courts to be rid of judges whose decisions he feels are out of step with the country” — which is constitutional, but only if Congress legislates it and the president signs off or allows the bill to become law without his signature; Congress also can, of course, impeach federal judges individually and remove them from office without affecting the existence of the judgeships themselves  — but also to “send federal law enforcement authorities to arrest judges who make controversial rulings in order to compel them to justify their decisions before congressional hearings,” which is unconstitutional on its face.)

That’s bad enough. But then consider Marcus’s expert’s summary of what the justices actually did during oral arguments:

I would lament a ruling striking down the individual mandate, but I would not denounce it as conservative justices run amok.  Listening to the arguments and reading the transcript, the justices struck me as a group wrestling with a legitimate, even difficult, constitutional question.  For the president to imply that the only explanation for a constitutional conclusion contrary to his own would be out-of-control conservative justices does the court a disservice.

Contrast that analysis with this one from Amy Davidson of The New Yorker. Granted, Ms. Davidson has never come within sniffing distance of a Pulitzer Prize that I know of, but unlike Marcus, she appears actually to have been present at the arguments and/or read the transcripts:

Here’s where a person could lose just a little bit of patience with the Supreme Court: in the midst of an exchange with Deputy Solicitor Edwin Kneedler, Justice Antonin Scalia saw an obstacle he didn’t like:

JUSTICE SCALIA: You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?

(Laughter.)

JUSTICE SCALIA: And do you really expect the Court to do that? Or do you expect us to give this function to our law clerks?

(Laughter.)

JUSTICE SCALIA: Is this not totally unrealistic? That we’re going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?

The twenty-seven hundred pages make up the text of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act. Put aside, for the moment, the matter of the mandate and “severability” and “community ratings” and all the rest. If the Justices—or their clerks—need to read through a law to figure out whether it’s constitutional, it shouldn’t matter whether the law is twenty-seven pages or twenty-seven thousand (those numbers are divisible by nine, so they can split them up). Perhaps that’s a civilian’s view, and that’s not how things work in the Court these days. … But it’s a good bet that there are many, many Americans whose chronic illnesses or health crises have generated far more than twenty-seven hundred pieces of paper, from doctors and hospitals and labs and insurers and, in too many cases, ultimately from collection agencies. Even if you’re covered, the broken state of the health-care system has meant hard work, and hardship, for millions of people.

One might be inclined to give Scalia the benefit of the doubt on a bad joke here, if not for the fact that, as Davidson’s colleague Ryan Lizza noted, he actually didn’t know what was in the bill:

2. Justice Antonin Scalia: “All right. The consequence of your proposition, would Congress have enacted it without this provision, okay that’s the consequence. That would mean that if we struck down nothing in this legislation but the—what do you call it, the corn husker kickback, okay, we find that to violate the constitutional proscription of venality, okay? (Laughter.) When we strike that down, it’s clear that Congress would not have passed it without that. It was the means of getting the last necessary vote in the Senate. And you are telling us that the whole statute would fall because the corn husker kickback is bad. That can’t be right.” (N.B.: The so-called Cornhusker kickback was repealed by Congress only days after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law.)

Sadly, that wasn’t the only example.  I know no more about insurance than any other insurance agent’s son, but it was clear even to me that the conservative justices either didn’t know or were pretending now to know how insurance works. Put simply, and this has been the case since the English began colonizing North America, it is a mechanism for spreading risk. But don’t take my word for it; Aaron at Brookings, linked above, discusses it in pretty simple language:

Several of the justices, notably Scalia and Alito, responded to the externalities argument by saying that every economic transaction creates similar externalities. “If I don’t buy a Volt, I raise the price of Volts,” said Scalia. Alito said much the same thing. So did Paul Clement’s brief for the plaintiffs.

This response was and is bad economics. It is true that every commodity is produced along what economists call a “cost curve”—raising output may lower average or marginal unit costs by spreading overhead or achieving economies of scale, but it may also raise costs by forcing up the cost of inputs or incurring diseconomies of scale. None of this occasions concerns about fairness or free-loading or, to use the economist’s term, “externalities.” But the cost shifting that occurs when uninsured patients fail to pay their bills does; it causes one group—the insured—to have to pay part of the cost of services others use.

Perhaps the most glaring instance of the failure to appreciate what an externality really is came from Justice Alito who at one point challenged the solicitor general by positing that the cost of all of the care currently used by those who are uninsured is less than would be the cost of the insurance they would be forced to carry. That being the case, Alito asked, how can one say that the uninsured are shifting costs to the insured? This query is painfully detached from an understanding of what an externality really is, how insurance works, or what the impact of insurance would be on service use.

Kevin Outterson, a Boston University law professor who co-directs the No. 2 health-law education program in the country, is even blunter:

On Tuesday, several Republican Justices and the Solicitor General displayed remarkably limited understanding of the nature of health insurance risk pools. If a healthy person stays out of the pool, the average costs for those left in the pool are higher. That’s not true for underwritten insurance products (such as life or auto).

So at least several of the justices didn’t understand the very nature of the industry upon which they were being asked to rule.

That’s bad enough. What worse, and has been widely remarked upon, is that not only were the justices ignorant of the industry, they were ignoring decades of settled law with respect to what Congress can and cannot do under the Constitution’s grant of power to regulate interstate commerce, spouting discredited right-wing talking points during the oral arguments and in general behaving so ignorantly that even Charles Fried, the notably liberal (that’d be irony) solicitor general during President Reagan’s second term, felt obliged to call the court out on both its tea-party talking points and its lack of principle in this Q&A, which Marcus might even have read, inasmuch as it was published by The Washington Post:

Ezra Klein: Tuesday’s arguments seemed to focus on the question of a “limiting principle.” So is there a limiting principle here?

Charles Fried: First of all, the limiting principle point kind of begs the question. It assumes there’s got to be some kind of articulatable limiting principle and that’s in the Constitution somewhere. What Chief Justice John Marshall said in 1824 is that if something is within the power of Congress, Congress may exercise that power to its fullest extent. So the question is really whether this is in the power of Congress.

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

Here’s another thing Marshall said. To regulate is “to make the rule for.” Does this make a rule for commerce? Yes!

EK: The Court seemed to see it as considerably more complicated than that.

CF: There’s all this stuff that got in there about creating commerce in order to regulate it. … But quite apart from that, what is the commerce? The commerce is not the health insurance market. The commerce is the health-care market, as [current solicitor general Donald] Verrilli said a million times. And it’s very hard to deny that.

There is a market for health care. It’s a coordinated market. A heavily regulated market. Is Congress creating the market in order to regulate it? It’s not creating it! The market is there! Is it forcing people into it in order to regulate them? In every five-year period, 95 percent of the population is in the health-care market. Now, it’s not 100 percent, but I’d say that’s close enough for government work. And in any one year, it’s close to 85 percent. Congress isn’t forcing people into that market to regulate them. The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party and Randy Barnetts [i.e., extreme libertarians; link added -- Lex] of the world, and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.

And yet Marcus and her Post editors seem to think that this behavior, called out far and wide by conservative and liberal legal experts alike, constitutes “wrestling with a legitimate, even difficult, constitutional question.”

You know, it’s one thing for a fascist, racist, lying demagogue like Rush Limbaugh to call the president a thug (a word which, these days, tends to have unmistakably racist connotations) for daring to draw attention to this pattern of behavior on the part of the nation’s highest court. It’s quite another for someone who is supposed to be one of the most capable and credentialed observers of that court to write a column so contextually lacking as to constitute a major — indeed, fatal — distortion in order to make an invalid point.

But that’s what passes for journalism today at The Washington Post, which is why Marcus needs to find another line of work and the Post needs to go ahead and die.

UPDATE: And James Fallows catches the AP going all Politifact on us. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 9:09 pm

Your liberal media …

… is, as Jason Linkins observes, utterly unable to call a spade a spade.

Journalists, even the ones working in Podunkia for $15,000 a year, are held to this standard: If you knew it was wrong and published it anyway, or you published it with reckless disregard for whether it was wrong, you’re screwed. (Unless, of course, you work for The New York Times, in which case they’ll give you a regular op-ed gig alongside Tom Friedman, David Brooks and Ross Douthat.) I see no reason why a politician, particularly one running for president, should be held to a lower standard.

Mitt Romney lied — and, knowing that the media will not call him out for his lying, he seems to believe that he can successfully campaign against Obama by lying while the media say, “Oh, what an interesting campaign strategy,” instead of, oh, I don’t know, maybe, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

Politico notwithstanding, calling a politician’s lie a lie is not expressing “opinion.” It’s reporting. And, dear God, do we need more of it.

UPDATE: Fox’s Megyn Kelly dismissed pepper spray as “a vegetable, essentially.” No, Megyn, the vegetable would be you. (link NSFW)

Sunday, November 6, 2011 11:06 am

More on those faster-than-light neutrinos …

… from Tom Levinson at Balloon Juice (but also cross-posted at Scientific American if you want to avoid Reality-Based cooties). Short version: Light interacts with charged particles and thus slows down, while neutrinos don’t. Thus, it is possible for some neutrinos to go faster than some light, but we’re a long way from proving that things actually can go faster than light generally:

That’s the problem for any challenge to a fundamental pillar of knowledge:  if the new observation is correct, it must be understood in a way that accommodates all the prior work consistent with the older view that is under scrutiny.  As physics popularizers always note:  Einstein’s account of gravity — the General Theory of Relativity — delivers results that collapse into those of Newton’s earlier theory through the range of scales for which Newtonian physics works just fine.  If it didn’t, then that would be a signal that there was something wrong with the newer theory.

It’s a nice, plain-English discussion of the issue, with several links to other, equally good related discussions. He goes on to point out how this aspect of scientific research has important implications for the climate-change-denial crowd. I’m sure they won’t want to hear about it, but still.

 

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