Friday, January 28, 2011

Sarah Palin and America’s Nitwit Moment: WTF, Indeed

Like many other Americans interested in political events, I watched the president deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night, and when it was over, I had one overriding question:

What will Sarah Palin’s reaction be to this speech?

Okay, that’s a fabrication. The truth is, I never want to know Palin’s reaction, to anything, and I would never give her more than a fleeting moment’s thought if the media weren’t so relentless in its campaign to keep shoving her in front of my face. And I’m not even talking about Fox News, because I never watch that network and I don’t visit their website unless I click a link without knowing that it’s taking me there.

But for the past couple of days, I’ve been catching sight of headlines indicating that Sarah Palin has held forth on the subject of the SOTU, which I’ve been scrolling right past, because, well… so? This is a woman who considers “What do you read?” to be an example of ambush journalism! What could she possibly have to say about the SOTU address that would interest me?

But having finally been tempted to read about her reaction by an intriguing headline yesterday(Sarah Palin’s weird ‘Sputnik’ story), I was reminded in reading the story that Sarah Palin’s only legitimate value to political discourse is as comic relief. Or at least, it should be.

I expect Fox News to trot out Palin for a scathing and mostly incoherent diatribe after the SOTU; it’s what they do. What still confounds me is the attention routinely paid to her rantings by the rest of the media. Why are legitimate news organizations continuing to waste precious column inches, airtime, and bandwidth on the garbled pronouncements of a former beauty queen, former small-town mayor, former half-term governor?

The answer to this question is, of course, that people are willing to read and watch stories about Palin. The realtiy-show era ushered in by the Jerry Springer show has conditioned Americans to not only accept outrageously uncouth, unintelligent, and rude behavior, but to celebrate it. Thus, the media is all over it when the president’s 70-minute speech about hope for the future and striving for excellence is met with scintillating insights like this:
PALIN: Well, speaking of last night, that was a tough speech to have to sit through and kind of try to stomach because the president is so off base in his ideas on how it is that he believes the government is going to create jobs. Obviously, government growth won’t create any jobs. It’s the private sector that can create the jobs.

And his theme last night in the Speaker of the House was the “WTF,” you know, “Winning the Future.” And I thought, “OK, that acronym, spot on.” There were a lot of “WTF” moments throughout that speech, namely, when he made the statement, Greta, that he believed that we can’t allow ourselves to, I guess, eventually become buried under a mountain of debt. That right there tells you he is so disconnected from reality! The problem is, we are buried under a mountain of debt, and jobs cannot be created by the private sector. We cannot grow and thrive and prosper as a nation when we are buried under this $14 trillion debt.

VAN SUSTEREN: Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is still with us. And Governor, last night there was a lot of discussion about the Sputnik moment that the president talked about. Do you agree with him? Do you — and is this our moment?

PALIN: That was another one of those WTF moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.
Did you get that? Go back and read it again if you missed seeing Palin rewrite history to fit her own ideological agenda. Or if you don’t think you can stomach that, just let WaPo’s Stephen Stromberg lay it out for you.
In her rant, Palin wildly misconstrued the president’s argument, which was not about emulating the Soviets in the 1950s but instead about the Americans who responded to early Soviet success in space exploration by educating themselves and out-innovating the Soviets.

But let’s pretend that wasn’t Obama’s point. The Soviets didn’t have an empire-draining debt problem until some 30 years after Sputnik passed over America. And when they did, it was in large part a result of massive overinvestment in heavy industry, which supported Soviet military pretensions. None of this is to argue that the Soviet economy is anything we should emulate. But let’s at least get the basic facts right when we criticize it.

But in claiming that the Soviets incurred their consequential debts long before Reagan was president, Palin ends up arguing that the Gipper wasn’t nearly that responsible for the USSR spending itself to death. If a reverence for Reagan’s anti-Soviet spending inspired her narrative in the first place, then this is incoherent. If she’s just making this all up, then she’s really also claiming that the Reagan-brought-down-the-USSR narrative is overstated.
This is bad enough, all by itself – a person who has been elevated, mostly by the media but also by a country still eager to hear the latest thing she has to say, to the status of major political commentator completely distorts and misconstrues not only the meaning of historical events, but the order in which they occurred… and who cares? Sure, Stromberg is pissed, I am, maybe lots of people are. But the logical response to this is to roundly mock her for her ignorance or disingenuousness, and then to stop paying her attention. But we won’t.

Even when Palin goes from screwing up the Sputnik story to an incomprehensible plug for the “Spudnut Shop,” people are still listening to her.
So I listened to that Sputnik moment talk over and over again, and I think, No, we don’t need one of those. You know what we need is a “spudnut” moment. And here’s where I’m going with this, Greta. And you’re a good one because you’re one of those reporters who actually gets out there in the communities, find these hard-working people and find solutions to the problems that Americans face.

Well, the spudnut shop in Richland, Washington — it’s a bakery, it’s a little coffee shop that’s so successful, 60-some years, generation to generation, a family-owned business not looking for government to bail them out and to make their decisions for them. It’s just hard-working, patriotic Americans in this shop.

We need more spudnut moments in America. And I wish that President Obama would understand, in that heartland of America, what it is that really results in the solutions that we need to get this economy back on the right track. It’s a shop like that.
WTF? What the hell is that about? Did I miss the huge government bailout of the baking industry somehow? I mean, I’m glad that the Spudnut Shop owners aren’t looking for a government bailout, because I’m fairly certain that the fate of the national economy will never hang on the success of the local cruller-slinger. No bakery is too big to fail.

I’m sure that someone on Palin’s low-rent media team went searching for a small business with a name reminiscent of Sputnik precisely so she could draw some half-assed parallel like this. I’m also sure that her Facebook reference to the president’s high-speed rail proposal as “half-baked” was thought to be cute. “Get it? Half-baked, Spudnut bakery? Hah? Hah?

To be sure, Palin is a nitwit. But she’s proven that time and time again, so it’s not exactly news. But who are the bigger nitwits – the people who think she’s smart and worth listening to, or the people who know she’s an idiot but keep driving traffic to her Facebook page?

President Obama is right that America needs a new focus on innovation, a renewed interest in studying math and science. But I don’t know if a country dominated by a such a taste for tabloid material is really ready for a Sputnik moment. We need to prove we’re ready to leave the nitwit moment behind.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Illinois Supreme Court: Rahm Can Run

Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is eligible to run for mayor of Chicago. The Illinois Supreme Court today ruled that Emanuel meets the standard of residency to seek the office, reversing a decision by an appellate court on Monday stated he was not a resident of Chicago because he had spent 18 months serving the Obama administration in Washington, D.C.

From today’s ruling:
This is a situation in which, not only did the candidate testify that his intent was not to abandon his Chicago residence, his acts fully support and confirm that intent. The candidate told several friends that he intended to serve as Chief of Staff for no more than 18 months or two years before returning to Chicago. The candidate has continued to own and pay property taxes on the Chicago residence while only renting in Washington, D.C. As set forth above, the ending dates for the Woodley House lease and the Hermitage House lease were identical and coincided with the end of the school year of the candidate’s children. This supports an inference that the candidate intended to move back into the Hermitage House when the Woodley House lease ended…

Given the record before us, it is simply not possible to find clearly erroneous the Board’s determination that the objectors failed to prove that the candidate had abandoned his Chicago residence. We therefore reverse the decision of the appellate court and affirm the decision of the circuit court, which confirmed the Board’s decision.
I guess ballots will now be printed for the February 22 election. A stay was granted by the Supreme Court earlier this week temporarily preventing the printing of the ballots without Emanuel’s name.
Updated to add this additional quote from the ruling, which is thick with sarcasm toward the appellate court (thanks, Norbrook!):
Thus,  from  April  1867  through  January  24  of  this  year,  the principles  governing  the  question  before  us  were  settled.  Things changed, however, when the  appellate court below issued its decision and announced that it was no longer bound by any of the law cited above,  including this court’s decision in Smith, but was  instead free  to craft  its own original standard  for determining a candidate’s  residency.  See  No.  1–11–0033,  slip  op.  at  6-8  (dismissing  the  foregoing authority  in  its entirety). Thus, our  review of  the appellate court’s decision in this case begins not where it should, with an assessment of whether  the court accurately applied established  Illinois  law  to  the particular facts, but with an assessment of whether the appellate court was justified in tossing out 150 years of settled residency law in favor of its own preferred standard. We emphatically hold that it was not.
That’s gonna leave a mark.

Fox News Through the Ages - Open Thread

Courtesy of my darling son comes this hilarious take on how Fox News would have reported on various historical events.


4 koma comic strip - THE INTERNET? GATEKEEPERS OF THE LIBERTINE PATHWAYS OF DEFILEMENT  

The floor is now open. So is the thread.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama Takes ‘Sputnik Moment’ Message to Orion Energy Systems in Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Last night, we heard President Obama declare during his State of the Union address that this point in time is “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” (If you missed the SOTU broadcast, click here to view the official enhanced video and a full transcript.) He said, “The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still… The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”

Today, the president flew to Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Orion Energy Systems – a technology and clean energy company – to hammer this message home.

Obama celebrated the growing rebirth of manufacturing jobs in Manitowoc, which once fell upon hard times when the local Mirro plant moved overseas, and especially applauded the innovative companies that have helped drive this rebirth.

“I wanted to come to Orion,” the president said. “Orion is a leader in solar power and energy-efficient technology, plus the plant is just very cool.”

Watch the speech below, complete with a full transcript.


THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Hello, Wisconsin! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much, thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody. Everybody have a seat, have a seat.

It is wonderful to be here. Sort of reminds me of home, all that snow out there. (Laughter.)
Let me begin by acknowledging some of the special guests who are here. Governor Scott Walker — where is he? There he is. (Applause.) He says he’s the mayor of Manitowoc. (Laughter.) Now, I’m looking at the guy — I don’t think it’s true, but I’m going to introduce him anyway — Justin Nickels is here. (Applause.) I look at a kid like that — (laughter) — my life’s way — I’m way behind.

The mayor of Green Bay, Jim Schmitt, is here. (Applause.) And Gus Frank is here. Chairman — Mr. Chairman, thank you so much. (Applause.)
Now, let me start by clearing something up. I am not here because I lost a bet. (Laughter.) I just wanted to be clear about that. I have already gotten three Green Bay jerseys. (Applause.) I mean, I’ve only been on the ground for an hour. (Laughter.) I’ve got three jerseys. One of them is from Woodson, and he just said, “See you in the White House.” (Applause.)
So let me just get it out of the way: Sunday was a tough day for Bears fans. (Laughter.) I see one guy with a Bears hat here. He’s got a lot of guts. (Laughter.)
But even if it didn’t go the way that I wanted, I am glad to see that one of the greatest rivalries in sports is still there. And we will get you next year. (Laughter.) I’m just letting you know.
Congratulations. In the spirit of sportsmanship I wish you good luck in the Super Bowl.
Now, last night, I gave this little speech that I have to do once in a while. (Laughter.) And what I said was, in this new and challenging time, when America is facing tougher competition from countries around the world than ever before, we’ve got to up our game. We’re going to need to go all in. We’re going to need to get serious about winning the future.
Now, the words of the man that the Super Bowl trophy is named after has something to say about winning. He said, “There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game, and that’s first place.”
That’s the kind of determination to win that America needs to show right now. That’s what we need to show. (Applause.) We need to win the future.
And that means making sure that all of our kids are getting the best education possible -– not only because we need to give every child a chance to fulfill her God-given potential, but because we need to make sure American workers can go to head-to-head with workers in any country on Earth. We’ve got to be more productive, more capable, more skilled than any workers on Earth.
It means making sure our infrastructure can meet the demands of the 21st century, rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, connecting America and the American people with high-speed rail and Internet.
It means doing what we try to do in our own lives — by taking responsibility for our deficits, by cutting wasteful, excessive spending wherever we find it. And it means reforming the way our government does business so it’s efficient and responsive to the needs of Americans instead of being responsive to the needs of lobbyists.
Now, as important as these urgent priorities are, we’ve also got to make sure that the breakthroughs, the technological breakthroughs, that come to define the 21st century, that they take root right here in America. We’ve got to lead the world in innovation. I spent a lot of time talking about this last night. That’s how we’ll create the jobs of the future. That’s how we’re going to build the industries of the future, because we make smarter products using better technology than anybody else. That’s how we’ll win the future in the 21st century. (Applause.)
So I came here to Manitowoc to glimpse that future. It was right here, almost 50 years ago — I couldn’t have made this up. It wasn’t until I was on my way here that I found out that a chunk of metal came crashing down to the Earth right here. I promise you, we did not plan this originally. Press won’t believe me. It turns out that it was part of a satellite called Sputnik that landed right here, and that set the Space Race into motion. So I want to say to you today that it is here, more than 50 years later, that the race for the 21st century will be won. (Applause.)
This is a place that’s been doing what America has always done throughout its history -– you’ve reinvented yourself. Back in 2003, one of the largest employers around, Mirro, moved their operations abroad. And that must have been a really tough time for this town and this community. Jobs were lost. Families were hurting. Community was shaken up. And I know from Illinois, my home state, when a town loses its major employer it is hard to bounce back. A lot of the young people started moving away, looking for opportunities someplace else.
But you fast-forward to 2011, and new manufacturing plants -– and new hope –- are now taking root, part of the reason the unemployment rate here is four points lower than it was at the beginning of last year. That’s good news. (Applause.)
So you have plants like Tower Tech, one of the largest wind tower manufacturers in North America -– a company that’s grown by several hundred workers in recent years; plants like Skana Aluminum that’s hired more than 70 workers since it took over another part of the old Mirro plant and has plans to reach 100 workers by the end of this year. I’m looking forward to visiting those folks — paying a visit to them later today.
But first I wanted to come to Orion -– that’s where I wanted to come. (Applause.) That’s right. I wanted to come to Orion. (Applause.)
Orion is a leader in solar power and energy-efficient technology, plus the plant is just very cool. (Laughter.)
So I just took a tour with Neal and got a feel for what you’re doing. I saw where the metal is cut, where the paint is applied, where the products are assembled. I met some of the outstanding workers like so many of you who’ve made this company the success that it’s become.
Now, in 2004, when Orion moved its manufacturing operations here, I’m told that you just had one employee to oversee the development of the manufacturing floor — one employee. Today, you’ve got more than 250, and I understand you’re hoping to have more than 300 by the end of this year. That’s good news right here at Orion. (Applause.)
And these aren’t just good jobs that can help you pay the bills and support your families. These jobs are good for all of us because they make everybody’s energy bills cheaper; they make the planet safer. What you do is sharpening America’s competitive edge all around the world.
The jobs you’re creating here, the growth you’ve achieved have come I know through hard work and ingenuity and a single-minded focus on being the best at what you do. But I think it’s important because this is part of what I talked about last night when I said that all of us as a country — that America, that our government has to invest in innovation. It’s important to remember that this plant, this company has also been supported over the years not just by the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration, but by tax credits and awards we created to give a leg up to renewable energy companies. (Applause.)
So it’s one thing to have a good idea, but as Neal and I were talking, a lot of times Wall Street doesn’t necessarily want to take a chance on a good idea until they’ve seen it proven.
Sometimes the research that’s required, nobody wants to pay for it. And that’s where we have to step in.
America needs to get behind entrepreneurs like Neal. (Applause.) We need to get behind clean energy companies like Orion. We need to get behind innovation. That’s how we’ll meet the goal I set last night and make sure 80 percent of America’s electricity comes from clean energy sources by 2035. That is a goal that we can meet. (Applause.) That is a goal we must meet. (Applause. That’s how we’ll make America the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. (Applause.) In five years, a million electric cars on the road. That’s how America will lead the world in clean energy. And as I’ve said before, the nation that leads the world in clean energy will lead the global economy in the 21st century.
This is something — this is not something that I’m making up just to fill up time in a speech. China is making these investments. They have already captured a big chunk of the solar market partly because we fell down on the job. We weren’t moving as fast as we should have. Those are jobs that could be created right here that are getting shipped overseas.
But Orion tells a different story. This is the model for the future. I’m told the story of Orion begins a few decades ago. Neal was switching jobs. He decided to try his hand at clean energy. Clean energy seemed pretty far-fetched to a lot of people back then, but Neal figured there might be something to it. So he bought a couple of solar panel distributors. Both of them went under. But Neal didn’t give up. He kept at it, he started Orion, a company that would not only distribute but also manufacture its own lights.
And then, about 10 years ago, Neal had an idea. He calls it his epiphany. Probably since you guys work here you’ve all heard this story, but I’m going to tell it for everybody else. (Laughter.) It was around 2:30 in the morning, but Neal hopped in his car and drove to the factory in Plymouth. It was one of those moments when the future couldn’t wait until the morning. And he grabbed whatever tools he could find –- a couple two-by-fours and broom handles. Is this really true, Neal, the broom handles part? (Laughter.) Is it? He says it’s true. So he started tinkering around until an engineer showed up.
And what Neal had come up with was one of Orion’s signature innovations –- a new lighting fixture that produced twice the light with half the energy. And it was only then that the real work began, because Neal then had to work to apply for loans, find investors, find customers who would believe his improbable pitch.
And doing all of that took time and patience, and most of all, it took persistence. It took determination to succeed. And fortunately that’s not something that Neal has a shortage of: determination. As he said himself, the difference between Orion and other companies is –- and I’m quoting Neal now –- “the difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.” And he says, “At Orion, we play to win.” (Applause.) “We play to win.” (Applause.)
So that’s what sets Neal apart. That’s what sets Orion apart. But that’s also what sets America apart. That’s what sets America apart. Here in America, we play to win. We don’t play not to lose. And part of what I wanted to communicate last night is, having gone through a tough time, having gone through a recession, having seen so many jobs lost, having seen the financial markets take a swoon, you get a sense that a lot of folks have been feeling like, well, we’ve just got to play not to lose.
We can’t take that attitude. If we’re on defense, if we’re playing not to lose, somebody else is going to lap us, because there are a lot of hungry folks out there, a lot of countries that are gunning for us. So we’ve got to play to win. We’ve got to play to win the future.
And if entrepreneurs like Neal keep sticking with it, and small businesses like Orion keep breaking new ground; and if we, as a country, continue to invest in you, the American people, then I’m absolutely confident America will win the future in this century as we did in the last. (Applause.) So keep it up, Orion. Keep it up, Neal. We’re proud of you.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Analyzing the GOP ‘Obamacare’ Report: Don’t Trust, But Definitely Verify Everything

House Republicans have pulled out all the stops this month to convince the American people that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a "job-killer." And by all the stops, I mean all of them, even the stops that involve actual misrepresentation of facts, distorting the meaning of quotes from reports, and yes – even outright lying.

Over the next few days, I’m going to take you on a tour of just how many lies the GOP has had to concoct to fraudulently document their allegations against the Affordable Care Act, using document issued by Speaker John Boehner’s office which purports to be a report on "the economic and fiscal consequences of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." I will show you the accusations this report levels and the “facts” that were used to document them, and I will present to you the documentation that shows how the facts were distorted or misstated.

This doesn’t require any inside knowledge or special skills; I will simply be applying basic logic and analytical thinking and looking up the citations to inspect their validity. Anyone can do this, and as you will see to your alarm, every voter should.

The subject of our analysis is this report, OBAMACARE: A BUDGET-BUSTING, JOB-KILLING HEALTH CARE LAW (PDF), issued the day after House Republicans introduced H.R. 2, the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. I encourage you to print out this report and mark it up as we go through it and find all the inaccuracies.

Let’s start just with the executive summary, which makes up the second page of the report after the cover page.

The first paragraph is essentially factual.
This report details the economic and fiscal consequences of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA,) signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Several rationales were offered in support of this legislation, including that it would lead to the creation of jobs and the reduction of the federal budget deficit. This report shows that the health care law will achieve neither effect.
The first two sentences are completely correct. The Congressional Budget Office analysis of the new law prior to its passage clearly indicated that the legislation would create new jobs and reduce the federal budget deficit. The third sentence is the assertion that the report will prove that these claims were false.

On to the next section. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Economic Consequences. Consistent with respected economists’ forecasts, the health care law contains a number of provisions that will eliminate jobs, reduce hours and wages, and limit future job creation. Specifically, the law:
  • Penalizes employers for failing to offer coverage deemed acceptable by the government;
  • Imposes burdensome mandates on small businesses, including new paperwork requirements; and
  • Compounds the uncertainty employers and entrepreneurs are facing amid a challenging economic climate.
These paragraphs contain a lot more misrepresentation and innuendo than fact. It’s particularly interesting that the bullet pointed list prefaced by the word “specifically” does not, in fact, offer any specifics. Let’s deal with the bullets one at a time.
  • Penalizes employers for failing to offer coverage deemed acceptable by the government. This is only partially true, as small employers not subject to the same regulations. Small employers are defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Additionally, small employers will be able to purchase affordable plans for their employees in the exchanges that will be set up in each state, and they will receive tax credits for offering insurance to their employees. So this is a lot more nuanced and far less heavy-handed than the bullet point would indicate.
  • Imposes burdensome mandates on small businesses, including new paperwork requirements. This is difficult to refute, given the complete lack of specifics to tell us what the report is actually referring to. We’ll table this one for now.
  • Compounds the uncertainty employers and entrepreneurs are facing amid a challenging economic climate. Seriously? In the absence of any facts or figures, this is pure and simple fear-mongering. In point of fact, the AFA is well-documented and the federal government has made a lot of effort to make information on how businesses will be effected available and easily accessible.
Next paragraph:
  • Independent analyses have determined that the health care law will cause significant job losses for the U.S. economy: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the law will reduce the “amount of labor used in the economy by … roughly half a percent…,” an estimate that adds up to roughly 650,000 jobs lost.(i) A study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the nation’s largest small business association, found that an employer mandate alone could lead to the elimination of 1.6 million jobs, with 66 percent of those coming from small businesses.(ii) By comparison, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that “in its life,” the health care law would “create 4 million jobs – 400,000 jobs almost immediately.”(iii)
This paragraph is absolutely rife with misrepresentation. The claim that “independent analyses have determined that the health care law will cause significant job losses for the U.S. economy” is patently untrue and is “documented” by a statement from the CBO report that was cleansed of context and twisted to mean something completely different. The sources cited in the executive summary are seen below.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the law will reduce the “amount of labor used in the economy by … roughly half a percent…,” an estimate that adds up to roughly 650,000 jobs lost.(i)
Now, let’s look at the actual sentence that’s been used in this quotation, from the first paragraph of page 48 of the CBO update.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount—roughly half a percent—primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply.
This reveals the reason for the ellipsis in the middle of the quote: the GOP report removed the qualifier that the projected reduction in labor would actually be “a small amount.” Obviously, it would be harder to follow that intact quote with an assertion that this translates to 650,000 jobs lost. And what about that estimate, anyway? Is that what the CBO was really trying to say? To answer that, we’ll need to look at the entire paragraph from which this quote was cherry-picked and part of the one following it.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Public Law 111-148) and the Health Care Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-152) will affect some individuals’ decisions about whether and how much to work and employers’ decisions about hiring workers.(1) The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount—roughly half a percent—primarily by reducing the amount of labor that workers choose to supply. That net effect reflects changes in incentives in the labor market that operate in both directions: Some provisions of the legislation will discourage people from working more hours or entering the workforce, and other provisions will encourage them to work more. Moreover, many people will be unaffected by those provisions and will face the same incentives regarding work as they do under current law.

The net reduction in the supply of labor is largely attributable to the substantial expansion of Medicaid and the provision of subsidies that will reduce the cost of insurance obtained through the newly created exchanges, beginning in 2014.
So what the CBO was really saying in this section is that the AFA will affect the labor market in both directions, encouraging some people to work either more or fewer hours, to enter the job market or not, and both discouraging some employers from hiring more while encouraging others to expand their workforces. It all depends on the specific circumstances of the individuals and the employers, and what’s more, it’s only likely to result in a small net loss of labor. And a reduction in labor is NOT the same thing as the loss of jobs, although the GOP report certainly conflates the two.

The second paragraph also makes clear that the net reduction in the labor supply is mostly going to come from the expansion of Medicaid and the subsidies provided to individuals without employer-based insurance who will be able to buy insurance through the exchanges in 2014. This means that most of that small labor reduction will be coming from low-wage jobs.

So, in short, the GOP report took a quote about a small projected labor reduction, removed the part that gave the quote context about the relative size of such a reduction, and completely distorted the meaning of the cited projection by both ignoring the surrounding context in the cited document and falsely equating the labor reduction with loss of jobs from the labor market, even going so far as to attach an alarming number to this false equation: “650,000 jobs lost.”
Moving on to the second citation in this paragraph of the GOP report:
A study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the nation?s largest small business association, found that an employer mandate alone could lead to the elimination of 1.6 million jobs, with 66 percent of those coming from small businesses.ii
Looking at the NFIB report cited here, we find that it does, indeed, say what the GOP claims. (See the third paragraph and the first bullet point after it.) The problem is that this report is not analyzing the Affordable Care Act. In fact, it was written in January of 2009, almost a year and three months before the AFA was passed.

The NFIB study was done using a hypothetical model of all employers being subject to a mandate to offer insurance to their employees, and to finance at least 50 percent of the cost. This does not even come close to reflecting the reality under the AFA, and the people who produced this report certainly know that. Small businesses will not be held to the same mandate and costs, they will be allowed to participate in the exchanges, and they will even be able to claim tax breaks for their participation.

We have to ask ourselves, then, why the producers of the GOP report chose to use figures from an outdated study instead of, say, commissioning a new study of the effects of the actual law. The answer that seems most likely is that they knew that a study of the actual law would not produce results that bolstered their narrative that the AFA is a “job-killer.” More importantly, they knew they could get away with publishing these outrageous misrepresentations and lies because most people will never read this report – they will simply hear Republicans quoting it and assume it is correct. Those who do read it will probably not read beyond the text of the executive summary and won’t bother to check the citations.

Moving now to the next section.
Fiscal Consequences. Studies of the health care law reveal that it will cost taxpayers more than originally estimated, and may exacerbate the nation?s dire fiscal condition. Specifically, the law:
  1. Relies on accounting gimmicks that mask its true cost to taxpayers;
  2. Double-counts savings from Medicare that are widely viewed as unsustainable; and
  3. Requires additional government spending to direct its implementation.
Once again, the bullet-pointed claims are neither specific nor cited. We will table debunking these until we can figure out what is actually being referred to in the detailed portion of the report.

Next paragraph:
According to an analysis by House Budget Committee Republicans, the health care law will cost the nation $2.6 trillion when fully implemented, and add $701 billion to the deficit in its first ten years.(iv) By comparison, President Obama stated during a joint session of Congress on September 9, 2009 that he would not sign health care reform that “adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future.”(v)
The GOP House Budget Committee analysis citation goes to a missing web page, but the analysis seems to be on the committee’s website here. The analysis alleges that there is “double-counting” and “smoke and mirrors” being employed by Democrats to distort the figures. Again, we’ll save any debunking of this for the detailed part of the GOP report, since the executive summary sees fit merely to introduce the accusations without offering any specifics that can be checked.
The final paragraph of the executive summary:
Recommendations. The evidence is overwhelming: Immediate steps should be taken to repeal the health care law and replace it with common-sense reforms to lower costs and protect jobs. Such measures would ease uncertainty for employers and entrepreneurs, and give Congress an opportunity to take the necessary measures to address the nation?s fiscal challenges.
This paragraph naturally just sums up all the assertions already presented and offers the “obvious” conclusion that, given all that is wrong with the AFA and the dire consequences that will result from its implementation, it should of course be repealed with all due haste and replaced with “common-sense reforms.” And if one read this summary alone and took its claims at face value, I’m sure one would agree that immediate repeal is indicated. This is what the Republicans are counting on, of course.

But I hope that I’ve shown that, as voters, we cannot trust that we are definitely being given the truth when a partisan report like this is issued. (This can be true, by the way, regardless of the party doing the reporting.) In a political environment where one side will issue an “analysis” that knowingly distorts data and uses outdated sources that don’t apply to the subject being addressed, it’s imperative that we dig beyond the surface if we are to avoid being hoodwinked.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Abortion ‘Abolitionists’ Are Really Advocating Slavery for Women

If you find my title offensive, then you already know how I feel when I hear people like Rick Santorum state that a fetus is a person under the Constitution. I don’t think a fetus is a person. I think it’s an embrionic, developing organism that may, if all goes well, become a person eventually – once it is born.

I’m pretty darned certain that when the Founders wrote about “persons” in the Constitution, they were thinking of people already post-uterine, living in the world and breathing on their own. They were certainly not thinking about fetuses still in the womb. To assert otherwise is simply ridiculous.

But the latest strategy on the part of those who would see abortion outlawed in the U.S. for good is to fancy themselves as liberators of the unborn. Santorum himself tells his fellow anti-choicers that "You are the new abolitionists. You are the new civil-rights movement."

This assertion chills me to the bone. That anyone can compare the fight to end the enslavement of black people in this country, and their subsequent and ongoing fight for equality, to the campaign to deny women the right to make their own decisions about whether or not to be pregnant, is repugnant and sickening to me. Thus I had a fairly visceral response upon seeing the headline "Abortion as the New Slavery" on Andrew Sullivan’s Friday column for The Atlantic. But even though the headline was deliberately provocative, Sullivan seems to get where the self-styled modern "abolitionists" go wrong in using this analogy. He quotes Joe Klein in allowing that, to people like Santorum who sincerely believe that ending a pregnancy at any stage is murder, it’s "internally consistent" for them to conclude that they are fighting for fetal "freedom" much as abolitionists fought for the freedom of black slaves.

But Sullivan makes a very important distinction that always, always seems to get lost or dismissed in any discussion of reproductive freedom.
I’d add, however, that there is an obvious difference in as much as slave-owners did not own those “slaves” within their own bodies. Women do. And the defense of the freedom of that woman to do with her body as she sees fit is far more complicated than ending plantations.
This is the central conflict, and it should not be shrugged off or ignored. All this concern for the alleged "rights" of a developing life – a potential life that is still more question mark than period, vulnerable to a hundred possible non-abortion threats that could literally wipe out its existence before anyone even knows it is there – comes at what should be a horrifying cost: the rights of the woman who carries that developing life in her very own body. This fetus is not part of a freestanding minority being oppressed. It is literally part of the woman’s body; in fact, it was created by and within the woman’s body. As a result, any rights we as a society decide to give this fetus will, by necessity, reduce the rights of that woman.

I don’t see anyone declaring that attempts to control a woman’s reproductive choices – her reproductive freedom- is akin to slavery. No, somehow, in the minds of the anti-choice crowd, granting the woman autonomy over her own life and body is more like slavery for a fetus than is forcing that woman to undergo an unwanted pregnancy, to deliver an unwanted baby, and to deal with the subsequent changes to her body for the rest of her life. Ending an unwanted pregnancy is supposedly slavery, while requiring a woman to carry an unwanted fetus to term is not.

Everybody is more worried about the fetus, which is at best a potential human being, than they are about the woman, who is a fully-realized and viable human being already.

I realize that the argument I am making here sounds cold and even selfish. After all, I’m a woman. You might conclude on reading this that I am a cold and unfeeling person who possibly hates children. Nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who has ever spent time with me could tell you. I have a child for whom I would give up my own life if necessary, and I would have had several more children if that had been in the cards. I love to work and play with children and to guide and teach them.

But the controversy over abortion is not about children. It’s not even about whether a fetus is a child, or whether a fetus is a person. It’s ultimately about whether a woman is a full-fledged person in the eyes of this society. And those who insist that a fetus is a person under the Constitution are simultaneously telling us that a woman is less than a person under that same Constitution. In other words, females are only persons until they reach child-bearing age.

Because you can’t have it both ways. If a fetus is a legal person, then asserting those rights of personhood necessitate revoking some of the rights of the woman whose body contains it. She’s a person, to some degree, but certainly not as much of one as the fetus, who enjoys greater protection. Under this model, the woman is granted some limited amount of personhood – perhaps as much as three-fifths?

Anti-choicers like to appropriate a favorite liberal tenet to justify their desire to take away reproductive choice from women, namely the concept that government must protect the weakest members of society. They use this to cast fetuses in the role of the weakest members of society. But if this conflict were really about justice, there would be just as much concern by these people for the woman’s rights as there is for the supposed rights of the fetus. There would be talk of balancing the woman’s autonomy and will with protection of the unborn. But it’s never like that. It’s always "abortion is murder" and "your baby deserves to live" and "when a woman has sex, she has to accept the consequences."

The Supreme Court did appreciate the complexity of this conflict when it made the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, as is reflected in the fact that the decision legalized abortion with certain important restrictions. The Court recognized that preventing a woman from any choice in her reproductive life was a clear violation of her civil rights while simultaneously allowing that there have been conflicting views on when a fetus is considered to be "alive" going back to ancient Greece. The Roe decision was the product of much deliberation and a sincere attempt to balance the "rights" of the fetus against the obvious rights of the woman.

Anti-choicers believe, quite wrongly, that Roe v. Wade gave women carte blanche to have abortions. They gloss over the very real restrictions and compromises that women were forced to accept in this decision. They shrug off the fact that women are forced to maintain their pregnancies after 12 weeks, and that later-term abortions are allowed only under certain very dire circumstances. For the anti-choicers, that compromise isn’t good enough because nothing is good enough but getting everything they want, one hundred percent. If this were about justice to them, they would be able to recognize Roe as a compromise instead of as a defeat. They would be able to understand that we pro-choicers lost as much as we gained in that decision. We got recognition of women’s reproductive rights, but not full reproductive freedom.

The continued fight against women’s reproductive choice is not about freeing fetuses. It’s about enslaving women, ensuring that women are never granted the same level of personhood that men inherently enjoy by virtue of not being able to conceive and bear children. The most chilling fact is that these same people fighting to ensure that every fetus gets born aren’t also fighting to ensure that all children are properly fed, kept safe from abuse, and given equal education and opportunities for success. All that really seems to matter to these people is that women are forced to carry the fetuses to term.

And that tells me that the abortion fight is really not about the "children" at all.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bankruptcy For A State?

The New York Times had an article on Friday about the discussions being made behind the scenes to allow states to go into bankruptcy.

Policymakers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.

Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.

What strikes me about the article is that very clearly a good deal of this is focused on the public sector’s pension plans. That’s made clearer in an article in The Weekly Standard about this:

There is little evidence that either state has a recipe for bringing down its runaway expenses, a large portion of which are wages and benefits owed to public employees.

One might note, unionized public employees. Many states have constitutional requirements to pay their pensions, which leads to a number of other thorny issues. In an interview in the NY Times, the author of the Weekly Standard article, David Skeel suggested that:

Mr. Skeel said it was possible to envision how bankruptcy for states might work by looking at the existing law for local governments. Called Chapter 9, it gives distressed municipalities a period of debt-collection relief

Which has it’s own issues, as a bankruptcy lawyer pointed out.

The biggest surprise may await the holders of a state’s general obligation bonds. Though widely considered the strongest credit of any government, they can be treated as unsecured credits, subject to reduction, under Chapter 9.

In effect, putting the state’s bonds into a higher risk category – with attendant higher interest. Right now, they’re considered one of the safest investments, and removing that is not without considerable risk and costs to the taxpayers in the long run. While much of the blame in the press, and from conservative pundits is focused on public pension plans, an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that – with some exceptions – pension funding is not the problem.

State and local shortfalls in funding pensions for future retirees have gradually emerged over the last decade principally because of the two most recent recessions, which reduced the value of assets in those funds and made it difficult for some jurisdictions to find sufficient revenues to make required deposits into the trust funds. Before these two recessions, state and local pensions were, in the aggregate, funded at 100 percent of future liabilities.

In other words, because many state pension plans are invested heavily in the stock market, the drop in stock values reduced the average funding. At the same time, a number of localities and states stopped – or reduced – their contributions to their pension funds. The increase in costs, outlays, is due to one which is familiar to many: Health Insurance benefits.

Observers claiming that states and localities are in dire crisis typically add to unfunded pension liabilities about $500 billion in unfunded promises to provide state and local retirees with continued health coverage. These promises are of a substantially different nature than pensions, however, so it is inappropriate to simply add the two together.

Another claim you’ll often hear is that state’s indebtedness is a major, and increasing issue which adds to their financial difficulties. Which, the CBPP found was not the case. Most bonds are issued for infrastructure, not operational costs, and are well within historical standards.

That is not to say that there hasn’t been mismanagement. Illinois is held up as an example of a badly managed state, both from having made pension promises without funding them, and general financial mismanagement. Despite the hype, the CBPP’s conclusion is:

states and localities are not in imminent danger of financial collapse and there is no need for such changes as a new federal law allowing states to declare bankruptcy. States have many ways to meet their obligations through adjustments in taxes or budgets; they should not be encouraged to abrogate those responsibilities through bankruptcy. Nor is it appropriate to force all states and localities to report pension liabilities using a “riskless” rate as a condition of issuing tax-exempt bonds, which would likely give a distorted view of how much funding states and localities have to save in order to pay future pensions

The focus on public employee pensions, and current state budget deficits ignores a very real problem for the states: Structural deficits

These problems, often called “structural deficits,” make it difficult to fund the ongoing cost of public services year after year. Structural deficits occur when annual revenue growth, in the absence of legislated changes, lags behind economic growth and behind the annual growth in the cost of services. In significant part, this is a problem of health care costs, which as discussed above are projected to grow much more rapidly than revenues over the foreseeable future. In addition, the cost to states and localities of K-12 education has grown faster than the economy over the past 20 years, rising from 3.58 percent of GDP in 1988 to 4.02 percent of GDP in 2008; it remains to be seen whether that trend will continue after the economy recovers.

As the economy recovers, the problem of health care costs, as well as education costs, which were major concerns before the recession are still going to be there. They were rising faster than the rate of inflation before, and likely will continue to do so, unless there is action taken. Which is what the Affordable Care Act was about, a step towards reining in those costs. No one is denying that states are having problems with their budgets, and are facing their own fiscal crises. The underlying problems are not their employees or pension plans, though. Allowing them to declare bankruptcy does not solve those problems, and would add to the fiscal problems taxpayers face as they must pay more in interest on state bonds, simply because they’re no longer “safe instruments.” The idea that allowing a state to go through a bankruptcy process has many negatives and few positives. It ignores the real problems – the structural deficits – in order to “solve” a short-term issue.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Republicans Start Detailing Their "Cuts"

Much of the posturing the Tea Party Republicans did during the election was over the deficit. They hyperventilated about how bad it was, and vowed that they were going to do something about it, when they weren’t railing against the healthcare legislation. What a number of people noticed was that their proposals for actual cuts was remarkably lacking in detail.

They’ve finally released some details, and it’s going to be interesting, because the battle lines within the Republican Party are going to start forming up.

Republicans are at work on a new resolution to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Ryan’s approach would require cuts of about 15 percent at agencies other than the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. The Republican Study Committee plan, by contrast, would reduce most agency budgets by about 30 percent.

What does that mean?

According to Democratic estimates, cuts of that magnitude – if applied across the board – would require the Justice Department to fire 4,000 FBI agents and 1,500 agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal prison system would have to fire 5,700 correctional officers, the Agriculture Department would have to cut about 3,000 food safety inspectors, and the Head Start early-childhood education program would be forced to cut about 389,000 children from its rolls.

Note that they’ve taken defense spending off the table. But the “savings” they’re looking for turn out to be even more temporary and damaging to the economy, as Ezra Klein points out:

But reading their legislation, you can see why more experienced members of their party might balk: $30 billion in savings comes from immediately selling off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which would potentially throw a weak housing market into total chaos. Another $16 billion comes from repealing the help the federal government is giving states to handle Medicaid costs, which would potentially send a couple of states that are already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy right over the cliff. Amtrak would lose pretty much its entire federal subsidy, as would the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding for high-speed rail is eliminated, and so too is more than $40 billion in stimulus funds, most of which are obligated to projects that have already begun.

In other words, most of the savings are one-shots, pulling back obligated funds and bankrupting states, along with putting the the housing market right back into late 2007 status. This is why most of the senior House Republicans have been dancing around avoiding any details, because they know what is going to happen if they actually make these cuts. But it appears the Tea Party Republicans are going to insist, and yes, the Democrats are looking forward to this battle. There’s deficit reduction measures, and there’s what the Republicans are doing. It’s going to be an interesting debate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Anti-Vaccine Fraud: It Gets Worse

Last week, I wrote about the scientific fraud that fueled much of the anti-vaccine hysteria. The simple fact was that the researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield forged the data he used in the paper – that his “conclusions” were predetermined. This week Part 2 of the investigative report into the fraud came out. What makes it worse than just a fraudulent scientific paper? It was done for money.

Their misconduct arose out of a fishing expedition, in which Malcolm ward was the pond for the measles theory. Since February 1996, seven months before child 2’s admission, Wakefield had been engaged by a lawyer named Richard Barr, who hoped to bring a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.7 8 Barr was a high street solicitor, and an expert in home conveyancing,9 but also acted for an anti-vaccine group, JABS. And, through this connection, the man nowadays popularly dubbed the “MMR doctor” had found a supply of research patients for Walker-Smith.

It wasn’t just the lawyer paying him in hopes of building a case where he could sue vaccine manufacturers though. He also had other business plans:

Tuesday was Wakefield’s 40th birthday. And on Wednesday, with the news that the boy—still on the ward—might have Crohn’s disease, the doctor produced a remarkable document. It was an 11 page draft of a scheme behind the vaccine scare, now revealed for the first time in full.

The document was headed “Inventor/school/investor meeting 1.”15 Based on a patent Wakefield had filed in March 1995 claiming that “Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may be diagnosed by detecting measles virus in bowel tissue, bowel products or body fluids,”16 it proposed starting a company that could reap huge returns from molecular viral diagnostic tests. It predicted a turnover from Britain and America of up to £72.5m a year.

Yes, he was going to start a company which would sell – at high cost – a test which he could then use to “diagnose” that the measles vaccine had caused the bowel disease.

“Once the work of Professor O’Leary and Dr Wakefield is published, either late in 1999 or early in 2000, which will provide unequivocal evidence for the presence of the vaccine derived measles virus in biopsy samples,” the prospectus said, “the public and political pressure for a thorough, wide ranging investigation into the aetiology of the bowel conditions will be overwhelming.

“As a consequence of the public, political and legal pressures brought to bear, the demand for a diagnostic able to discriminate between wild type and vaccine derived measles strains will be enormous.”

The money would be pouring in if they could prove their case. Not only would they be making money selling test kits, they’d be sharing in the proceeds of the inevitable lawsuits. All they had to do was prove that the MMR vaccine was the cause of the bowel disease and regressive autism. In science, the basic process (the scientific method) is to come up with a hypothesis, and then conduct experiments designed to falsify the hypothesis. The Mythbusters on television do this every episode. In this case, the hypothesis was that the measles component of the MMR was causing these problems. The study should have been designed to rule out any other explanation of the problems. That’s part one. The second thing is the ethical component, the “absolute” in research: The data is the data, no matter what. You don’t forge it, you don’t fake it, you don’t deny it. If it’s not what you were hoping for (and yes, everyone hopes the data will bear out the hypothesis), well, that’s the way it is. What Wakefield did was to have a conclusion, a way to make money from that conclusion, and then went and did everything he could to make sure he had a paper that would justify it. In doing so, he also did a series of unjustified – and unethical – procedures to the children in his study.

Which hasn’t stopped idiots like Jenny McCarthy from leaping to his defense. Which drew scathing commentary from the blogger Orac (a surgeon/scientist):

It turns out that McCarthy was apparently waiting for talking points from her handlers at Generation Rescue. Yesterday afternoon, what to my wondering eyes should appear in–where else?–that wretched hive of scum and anti-vaccine quackery The Huffington Post, a post ostensibly penned by McCarthy entitled In the Vaccine-Autism Debate, What Can Parents Believe? Although the stupid is just as strong as it was nearly a year ago, it’s recycled stupid; so it doesn’t burn quite as hot. Consider it smoldering stupid that produces a black, oily stench that sucks IQ points from the brains of those who inhale it …

as well as Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy, and Mike’s Weekly Skeptic Report, which had this to say about the revelations:

The allegations against Wakefield keep drip, drip, dripping, like some sort of bizarre Chinese water torture. Every time you think that everything’s been found out, it seems, more revelations show just how much lower Wakefield went.

That’s what makes this so bad. Thousands of cases of preventable diseases. Hundreds (if not thousands) of preventable deaths. All because a scientist created a fraudulent paper which served to frighten people away from vaccines, and continue to ignore overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. Why? Because he wanted to make money from it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Answer To Gun Violence Is ... More Guns?

In the wake of the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, there’s been a lot of print, broadcast media, and blogs devoted to the rhetoric, gun violence, and what should be done. This story, from Wonkette just caused my jaw to drop.

Dave Weigel over at Slate has the story:

Charles Heller, one of the co-founders of the pro gun-rights Arizona Citizens Defense League, tells me that the group has put together model legislation that would require the state to help train members of Congress and their staff in the use of firearms.

Because, after all, the best way to stop a crazed person from walking up behind you in a crowd and shooting you is to make sure that everyone is armed! Seriously, this is one of those moments when I realize just how far off the tracks some of the gun rights groups have gone. Let me make it clear, I’m not against people owning guns. I grew up in an area where most people had guns. I spent over a decade in the military. I’ve used a pretty wide range of different guns over my life, and I’m a pretty good shot. With all of that came a lot of lessons on responsibility and safety, often taught through the use of a hand applied to the gluteus maximus by adults when I was a child, and large numbers of push-ups in the military. Pain is educational.

What did I learn from that? A gun is a tool, it is not a toy. It is meant for one thing, to kill something. That once the bullet starts down the barrel, you can’t get it back. Any time you’re carrying one, you have to remember that. It’s increasingly apparent to me that a lot of people don’t think that way. They’ve paid too much attention to movie and television shows, and have confused that for reality. Even worse, the various advocacy groups seem to have forgotten it as well.

I remember the NRA’s response to the Virginia Tech shooting, and it lines up with this one in Arizona. Obviously, the solution to a gunman in a crowded area is to allow everyone to carry guns, so that one of them could stop the shooter. The reality? All that would have done is increase the body count. The idea that someone is going to be able to calmly pull out their own gun, correctly identify the shooter, and take them down while people are running around, screaming, and the shooter is still shooting is pure Hollywood. It doesn’t happen.

Ever see the reports (and videos) from police shoot-outs? I guarantee you every police officer has been trained extensively in using their weapons. They are required to be. They’re good shots. But you know what? In a real life situation, a lot of bullets get used, and only a few actually hit their intended target. I learned the same thing in the military. Yes, I’m pretty good on the range. In a field exercise? My accuracy went to hell, along with everyone else’s. There’s a big difference between being in a solid, locked position where you can breathe correctly, sight in, to squeeze off your shot, and running to cover, breathing heavily, trying to locate the enemy and shoot them while not getting shot yourself. That’s why the usual figure is something like a million rounds expended for every enemy death in real battles. So the reality is that anyone in one of those situations – who is not trained in dealing with them in the first place – is going to whip out their gun, and pump a lot of rounds at random in what they hope will be the general direction of the shooter. Thus upping the body count. That’s always assuming they manage to get their gun out, or don’t shoot themselves in the process.

So despite the fantasy that this group in Arizona has, the reality is that all they want to do is make things worse. But, that’s not the end of the ridiculous aspects. The NRA has been pushing various concealed or open carry laws in Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia. They even want people to be able to carry them in bars and churches. In fact, they really got upset that the Virginia law banned people carrying guns in bars from drinking. No, I’m not kidding. So Georgia’s law is supposed to allow that. Guns and alcohol, just the thing everyone wants to see.

As I said, I grew up around guns. They were part of the culture. Almost every adult I knew had them, and used them. But you know what? Not a single one of them would have dreamed of bringing a gun to church, to public meetings, to schools, or to the local bars. It just wasn’t done. You didn’t bring a loaded weapon into the house, either. It was all common sense to them. Guns were tools they used, dangerous, and to be taken seriously. They knew exactly what a bullet could do – they were combat veterans and hunters. They’d seen it, and didn’t have any illusions about them. That’s the ethic I grew up with, and what I still have.

It’s one thing to argue that people have the right to own guns. Whether or not one agrees with that, that still is what the Second Amendment says. But, as with all rights, there comes a responsibility to go along with it. That is, there are indeed places where guns are not appropriate, where they should not be allowed to be present, and that if one doesn’t know how to use that responsibility, then they shouldn’t have them. The idea that you need to carry a gun everywhere you go, that you are going to use it properly in chaotic situations is a fantasy. The groups that promulgate the fantasy are not helping at all. They aren’t making things “safer,” they’re making them more dangerous. The answer to gun violence is not more guns, it’s more responsibility

Friday, January 7, 2011

Playing Chicken: The Republicans Want To Destroy The Country to "Save It"

One of the policies the Republicans “promised” when running far to the Right was to cut government spending right away, even if it meant shutting down the government. Now, they’re demanding cuts right now, and if they don’t get them, they’ll refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling. There’s even a few in the House who are planning on voting against it regardless.

I have two simple proposals when the new Congress convenes in January. First, refuse to raise the debt ceiling. Find a way, month by month, for Congress to spend only what the Treasury raises in revenue. Second, start over from scratch with the 13 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Reject any talk of baseline budgets or discretionary spending. It is all discretionary, and members of both parties should vote against any 2012 appropriation bill that is not at least 10% smaller– in nominal dollars– than its 2011 counterpart.

What are the consequences of this?

The budgetary consequences of this conservative pledge would be catastrophic and far-reaching, forcing the immediate cessation of more than 40 percent of all federal government activities (excluding only interest payments on the national debt), including Social Security, military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, homeland security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance. This would not only threaten the safety and economic security of all Americans, but also have dire impacts for the economy and job growth.

That would be bad for the country, and hit a lot of “favorite programs” which the Republican base loves. But it’s not just this country that would be impacted:

Moreover, such a move could lead to a panic in the international financial markets. Following the 2008 financial crisis, we have seen debt crises hit Ireland, Greece, and Italy, with fears that this could spread further and cause a global economic downturn. The financial markets are on edge today, with U.S. Treasury bonds being the safe haven for most investment capital. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling would recklessly disrupt the sale and purchase of new Treasury bonds, and could potentially cause a run on outstanding Treasurys as well, as investors sought other investments. This could have catastrophic consequences for our economy as well as the economic stability of the rest of the world.

In short, not only would this stop the country’s economy in its tracks, leading us into a depression, it would also drag the world down with us. In their zeal to placate their lunatic fringe – if they don’t believe it themselves – they’re perfectly willing to take down the country’s, and the world’s, economy. Ezra Klein states exactly what it means:

Think back to the financial crisis. The underlying cause was that various financial entities stopped believing that their loans would be repaid, and so they stopped making loans, or began demanding such high prices for making loans that credit became unaffordable. The result was economic catastrophe.

If the federal government defaults on its debt, the same thing will happen. But in this case, it will happen to the full faith and credit of the United States, not just to Wall Street.

And the damage done by a debt default won’t be temporary. Instead, it will permanently introduce a new variable into the market’s calculation of America’s risk: Right now, the market doesn’t believe that our political system would ever allow a debt default. The morning after a default happens, the market will have been proven wrong, and it will have been proven wrong permanently: If it can happen once, it can happen again in 20 years. In that world, the cheap debt that America enjoys and relies on is gone forever, and our economy is likely to be permanently worse off for it.

Which is something a number of Republicans are quite aware of:

GRAHAM: Let me tell you what’s involved if we don’t lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world. That’s not lost upon me.

In short, they know full well what the consequences of this are, but they’re willing to risk it to get their spending cuts. The problem? They want them from the administration. They don’t have any ideas of what to cut themselves. If they’re asked, and they have been (pesky liberal press!), they retreat into generalities. For a group which has been ranting for the past two years about “out of control spending,” they turn out to have no real ideas of exactly what they’d be willing to cut and by how much. They really thought it would be enough to throw out a “sounds good” figure, and it would just happen.

They can’t even come up with a way to reduce the deficit themselves, since they’ve just exempted their legislation from that requirement. That’s right, the Party which claims to want “fiscal responsibility” is now in the process of trying to pass legislation which will increase the deficit. They’re perfectly willing to destroy the country in order to “save it.” What the Republicans are demonstrating once again is that they are not fit to govern responsibly.

Scientific Fraud: Anti-Vaccination Killed Children

I am of the age before many vaccines were developed. As a child, I had mumps, measles, rubella (German measles), and chicken pox. They were called “childhood diseases,” and they were most definitely not fun to have. Some of the most miserable memories I have of my childhood revolve around those diseases. Were they “mild,” as some people think? Consider that from 1971 to 1975 there were 177 deaths due to measles. In other areas of the world, particularly poverty-stricken ones, the death rate can range from 5-10%. Mumps has a wide range of effects, ranging from meningitis, pancreatitis, deafness, orchitis, and yes, death. While rubella is a fairly mild disease for most people, it has a real effect on pregnant women – in particular their fetuses. Infection during the first two trimesters can cause congenital rubella syndrome, characterized by deafness, eye problems, and congenital heart disease. In short, these are not “harmless and mild” diseases. They can – and do – cause major long-term health problems, and the potential of death.

All of them had vaccines developed against them, and the vaccines were effective. The rates of the disease dropped from “common” to almost non-existent. While there were some who didn’t get vaccinated because of religious or other factors, they were protected by herd immunity. The introduction of the MMR vaccine, and the standard childhood vaccination series meant that children no longer had to go through what I did as a child. That was where things stood until a researcher in England, Andrew Wakefield in 1998 published a study in The Lancet, a highly respected journal. He claimed there was a connection between vaccination with the MMR vaccine and autism. It set off a firestorm:

Following the initial claims in 1998, multiple large epidemiological studies were undertaken. Reviews of the evidence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,[10] the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences,[11] the UK National Health Service,[12] and the Cochrane Library[13] all found no link between the vaccine and autism. While the Cochrane review expressed a need for improved design and reporting of safety outcomes in MMR vaccine studies, it concluded that the evidence of the safety and effectiveness of MMR in the prevention of diseases that still carry a heavy burden of morbidity and mortality justifies its global use, and that the lack of confidence in the vaccine has damaged public health.

In other words, even after extensive studies, no link was found. But the damage was done. Infection rates skyrocketed as immunization rates dropped. In exchange for an unfounded fear of vaccines, the real disease happened. What makes this worse? The study was a fraud to begin with:

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

The analysis, by British journalist Brian Deer, found that despite the claim in Wakefield’s paper that the 12 children studied were normal until they had the MMR shot, five had previously documented developmental problems. Deer also found that all the cases were somehow misrepresented when he compared data from medical records and the children’s parents.

The details, published in the British Medical Journal are damning.

Unknown to Mr 11, Wakefield was working on a lawsuit,7 for which he sought a bowel-brain “syndrome” as its centrepiece. Claiming an undisclosed £150 (€180, $230) an hour through a Norfolk solicitor named Richard Barr, he had been confidentially 8 put on the payroll two years before the paper was published, eventually grossing him £435?643, plus expenses.9

Curiously, however, Wakefield had already identified such a syndrome before the project which would reputedly discover it. “Children with enteritis/disintegrative disorder [an expression he used for bowel inflammation and regressive autism10] form part of a new syndrome,” he and Barr explained in a confidential grant application to the UK government’s Legal Aid Board11 before any of the children were investigated.12 “Nonetheless the evidence is undeniably in favour of a specific vaccine induced pathology.”

The paper gave the impression that the authors had been scrupulous in documenting the patients’ cases. “Children underwent gastroenterological, neurological, and developmental assessment and review of developmental records,” it explained, specifying that Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV37 criteria were used for neuropsychiatric diagnoses. “Developmental histories included a review of prospective developmental records from parents, health visitors, and general practitioners.”

and…

But, when the details were dissected before the GMC panel, multiple discrepancies emerged. A syndrome necessarily requires at least some consistency, but, as the records were laid out, Wakefield’s crumbled.

First to crack was “regressive autism,” the bedrock of his allegations.38 39 “Bear in mind that we are dealing with regressive autism in these children, not of classical autism where the child is not right from the beginning,” he later explained, for example, to a United States congressional committee.40

But only one—child 2—clearly had regressive autism.41 Three of nine so described clearly did not. None of these three even had autism diagnoses, either at admission or on discharge from the Royal Free.

Throughout this editorial, all of the cases reported in the paper turned out to have serious discrepancies between what was reported and what actually was the case. Wakefield falsified the data to fit his preconceived outcome, and at the same time help his financial status through the proposed lawsuit. The result of this fraud? Thousands of cases of measles, mumps, and rubella that didn’t have to happen.

Although U.S. vaccination rates have held steady through the last decade, health officials say vaccine fears led to outbreaks of measles and the virus Hib in 2008 in unvaccinated children in states like California and Minnesota. The Hib outbreak included at least one reported death.

By spreading doubt and fear about one set of vaccinations, it lead to a fear of all vaccines, and yes, children have died because of it. The sad part? Those deaths were preventable. They didn’t have to happen. The even sadder part? There are people who still don’t believe it:

This week, Wakefield continued to defend himself, calling the journalist “a hit man” during an interview with CNN. And some parents of autistic children and other advocates argue that the criticisms of Wakefield are actually attempts to close off research into the safety of vaccines.

“A character assassination initiative against those who look for answers only serves to stunt medical progress for our children and perpetuate unnecessary public health risks,” said Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, in a prepared statement.

No. The only stunting and perpetuation of an unnecessary public health risk are those who believed Andrew Wakefield. The hope is that publicizing just how much he forged his data, how much of a fraud his study was, will help persuade people to change their minds. Unfortunately, some won’t, because they’re “true believers.” Their children are the ones who will pay the price for that.

 
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