Thursday, August 30, 2012

Zero Honor Between Thieves:   Rmoney OutLies Lyan (About His Very Own Taxpayer Bailout), AARP Benefits From and Spreads Right-Wing Social Security Thieves' Ruse, and Vast Wealth of Congress Critters (Making Money Off Your Losses)

I have to admit sheepishly that after last night I though Lyan was the most egregious liar between the two Rethug candidates.

Not any more.

The Federal Bailout That Saved Bain Capital & Mitt Romney

Government documents prove the candidate's mythology is just that

by: Tim Dickinson
Mitt Romney likes to say he won't "apologize" for his success in business. But what he never says is "thank you" – to the American people – for the federal bailout of Bain & Company that made so much of his outsize wealth possible.

In fact, government documents on the bailout obtained by Rolling Stone show that the legend crafted by Romney is basically a lie. The federal records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Romney's initial rescue attempt at Bain & Company was actually a disaster leaving the firm so financially strapped that it had "no value as a going concern." 
Even worse, the federal bailout ultimately engineered by Romney screwed the FDIC – the bank insurance system backed by taxpayers – out of at least $10 million. And in an added insult, Romney rewarded top executives at Bain with hefty bonuses at the very moment that he was demanding his handout from the feds.

Under normal circumstances, such ample reserves would have made liquidating Bain an attractive option: Creditors could simply divvy up the stockpiled cash and be done with the troubled firm.

What's more, the bonus loophole gave Romney a perverse form of leverage: If the banks and the FDIC didn't give in to his demands and forgive much of Bain's debts, Romney would raid the firm's coffers, pushing it into the very bankruptcy that the loan agreement had been intended to avert. The losers in this game would not only be Bain's creditors – including the federal government – but the firm's nearly 1,000 employees worldwide.

The FDIC considered finding a buyer to take over its loans to Bain, but analysts concluded that "Bain has no value as a going concern." And the government wasn't likely to get much out of Bain if it allowed the firm to go bankrupt:

How had Romney scored such a favorable deal at the FDIC's expense? It didn't hurt that he had close ties to the agency – the kind of "crony capitalism" he now decries. A month before he closed the 1991 loan agreement, Romney promoted a former FDIC bank examiner to become a senior executive at Bain. He also had pull at the top: FDIC chairman Bill Seidman, who had served as finance chair for Romney's father when he ran for president in 1968.

The federal documents also reveal that, contrary to Romney's claim that he returned full time to Bain Capital in 1992, he remained involved in bailout negotiations to the very end….

This story is from the September 13, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

(Hat tip
Barry Ritholtz via Spencer)

It's incredible that the lies just go on and on in a time of almost-no-bounds ability to research everything online.

Knowing that the AARP was co-opted years ago by the right-wing liars setting up the (unfunded) Medicare Part D taxpayer ripoff scam, it's not surprising to read at Angry Bear that they're still jumping up and down, screaming about their poor fates contingent on their worst thought-through fantasy:   that old people have to sacrifice now and young people won't have health care ever unless these old people give up their already-paid-for health care and young people are alienated from paying for their own (just like the old people already did).

A book review by Dale Coberly

ONE NATION UNDER AARP:  The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America’s Future
by Frederick R. Lynch

I was asked to write a review of this book, perhaps because I sometimes write about Social Security. But I had to completely rearrange my perspective in order to even understand what the book is about. I believe that I know that the “Social Security crisis” is essentially a lie. Lynch assumes that the crisis is real and writes about AARP’s efforts to make itself the spokesperson for the Boomers in the “generational war” that will follow from this “fact.”

Given that politics has nothing to do with facts, Lynch and AARP may be on the right track.
Lynch introduces his book by describing a conference hosted by AARP... “to demonstrate to...boomers that AARP... is no longer their parents’ AARP... A rebranded AARP is actively recruiting seventy eight million graying baby boomers. The mating dance of these organizational and generational giants has enormous implications for the nations’ political future. ... half of the voters in the 2008 and 2010 elections were over fifty... and half of them were members of AARP... the nation’s fourth highest spending lobby...”

Okay, that’s why. But then Lynch just assumes “ epic fight over...Medicare and Social Security is being forced by the ballooning national debt.”

In fact Social Security has nothing to do with the “ballooning national debt.” And Medicare so far has had nothing to do with that debt and need not do so in the future. The ballooning national debt has been caused by tax cuts, military spending, and a deep recession caused by unregulated banks “too big to fail” indulging in reckless if not criminal activity.

Social Security is paid for by the workers who will get the benefits. Medicare can and should be organized so workers pay directly and transparently for their own health insurance. The huge cost increases predicted for Medicare are driven by the huge cost increases predicted for medical care. Only a fool would decide that if we are expecting huge medical costs we need to cut our insurance.

Even if we can't control costs... and we can... we are still going to have to pay for them. The easiest way is to pay a little at a time each month while we are young and working. It doesn't make much sense to "save" the cost of insurance now and be faced with unpayable costs when you are old and no longer working.

Only Medicare allows people to pay in advance this way AND to finesse the problem of "medical inflation" with pay-as-you-go financing. But "only a fool" is what we have in Washington these days.

But IF Social Security is being blamed for the deficit, however falsely, THEN boomers will need leaders to defend it. The most likely candidate is AARP.

Lynch says his book examines three key issues:

1.) Are the boomers a sleeping political giant? Can they be organized to determine the policy that will shape the future of Social Security?
2.) Is AARP going to lead the boomers... or “stimulate boomers’ age awareness to entice them into becoming members and purchasing AARP products and services...?”
3) Will boomers and AARP “negotiate an increasingly competitive global super-capitalism... in which “working class Americans feel threatened” but “the nation’s elite -- highly educated professional and managerial classes -- embrace the new Post American Order?"

I may be the wrong person to be reviewing this book because I cannot get past the premise. Lynch ASSUMES “generational war,” ASSUMES that “Younger Americans will be asked to subsidize aging baby boomers’ entitlements.”

And this is simply not true. The boomers will have already paid for their Social Security and Medicare. “Younger workers” will be asked to pay, in advance, for their own Social Security and Medicare.

That’s how insurance works. It is only the success of the Big LIE that has convinced them... and the Washington “elite”... that “pay as you go” means you are paying for someone else’s greedy grannies.
Apparently these people think that when you “invest” in a stock, or just put your money in the bank, it lies there breeding interest like bugs in a drawer. The fact is that ALL “saved” money has to be used... spent... by someone else to earn interest. What is important is that you get the money back when you need it. Social Security provides the best guarantee in the world that you will get your money back... and more, if you need it. That’s what makes it insurance.

It is worth noting that even the Big Liars are always promising that “if you are over fifty five, your Social Security will not be affected.” That pretty much eliminates “paying for the boomers." It is the “young people’s” Social Security that they are trying to kill.

Perhaps the boomers, and the young people who may someday grow old in spite of themselves, will need AARP to represent them. But it is by no means clear that AARP understands Social Security or cares about the interests of old people. Instead, perhaps, it just wants a seat at the table, the power that that represents, and of course the business that comes their way as a result of being seen as the retirees representative in Washington.

I don’t know.

But if Lynch is right and AARP is the best hope we have in the game the “elite” are playing with our retirement security, then others more attuned to real politics than I am may want to start by reading his book.
And maybe they can see if there is a way to influence AARP’s influence on the phony “generational war.”

They would have this much going for them: Lynch quotes AARP CEO Bill Novelli,

“But when you get down to the level of needs, everyone needs health and healthcare and they need long-term financial security. Then, when you get down to the level of values, all generations are the same: they want a better world for their children and grandchildren; they want to leave the world a better place and to leave a legacy. These are common values, and that’s what we’ve built upon.”
And what they would have going against them is that unfortunately these values are not shared by the “elite” leaders of both parties and their sponsors, who want only what’s in it for them, here and now. And know how to lie to get it.

coberly said...
For the benefit of anyone who may not already have heard...

Today's workers can pay for their own future Social Security benefits... just as workers have always done... without cuts, means testing, raising the retirement age, or turning it into welfare by taxing the rich..

simply by raising their own payroll tax an average of one half of one tenth of one percent per year while their wages are rising over one full percent per year at the same time. They will get their money back when it pays for their own retirement which will be richer and longer than their grandparents'.

For the average worker, one half of one tenth of one percent of his wages is about forty cents per week, and his boss will pay half of that.
Aug 30, 2012
Congress Critters Making Big Money Off Your Losses?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Non-Conservative Aristocrats Rule Republicans (Want Them To Rule YOU?) Dicks Galore and Why We Should Not Yield To the School of Blind Obedience To Authority

(If throwing a contribution Pottersville2's way won't break your budget in these difficult financial times, I really need it, and would wholeheartedly appreciate it. Anything you can afford will make a huge difference in this blog's lifetime.)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign on Wednesday partied with wealthy donors on a 150-foot yacht that flies the flag of the Cayman Islands, according to an ABC News report.

Members of the Romney Victory Council, who have each raised more than $1 million for the candidate, mingled with Romney’s brother, Scott, and other relatives in Tampa aboard the luxury yacht “Cracker Bay.”

"Fraud!" "Farce!" "Sheep!" - Ron Paul Supporters at Convention
A security agent calls for more security as delegate from Virginia Braedon Wilkerson displays a Ron Paul sign after the vote on Maine at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, during the Republican National Convention, 08/28/12. (photo: Getty Images)
A security agent calls for more security as delegate Braedon Wilkerson from Virginia displays a Ron Paul sign after the vote on Maine at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, during the Republican National Convention, 08/28/12. (photo: Getty Images)

Coal Miners Forced to Attend Romney Event and Donate

Mitt Romney's Tax Mysteries: A Reading Guide

Romney's Foreign Tax Payments May Have Pushed His US Income Tax to Zero

An American Journey Across Expendable Communities and People

Robert Reich says it best. And bites sharpest.

Romney Is Lying Through His Big White Teeth

Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

29 August 12

e're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," says Neil Newhouse, a Romney pollster.
A half dozen fact-checking organizations and websites have refuted Romney's claims that Obama removed the work requirement from the welfare law and will cut Medicare benefits by $216 billion.
Last Sunday's New York Times even reported on its front page that Romney has been "falsely charging" President Obama with removing the work requirement. Those are strong words from the venerable Times. Yet Romney is still making the false charge. Ads containing it continue to be aired.
Presumably the Romney campaign continues its false claims because they're effective. But this raises a more basic question: How can they remain effective when they've been so overwhelmingly discredited by the media?
The answer is the Republican Party has developed three means of bypassing the mainstream media and its fact-checkers.
The first is by repeating big lies so often in TV spots - financed by a mountain of campaign money - that the public can no longer recall (if it ever knew) that the mainstream media and its fact-checkers have found them to be lies.
The second is by discrediting the mainstream media - asserting it's run by "liberal elites" that can't be trusted to tell the truth. "I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans," Newt Gingrich charged at a Republican debate last January, in what's become a standard GOP attack line.
The third is by using its own misinformation outlets - led by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and his yell-radio imitators, book publisher Regnery, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, along with a right-wing blogosphere - to spread the lies, or at least spread doubt about what's true.
Together, these three mechanisms are creating a parallel Republican universe of Orwellian dimension - where anything can be asserted, where pollsters and political advisers are free to create whatever concoction of lies will help elect their candidate, and where "fact-checkers" are as irrelevant and intrusive as is the truth.
Democracy cannot thrive in such a place. To the contrary, history teaches that this is where demagogues take root.
The Romney campaign has decided it won't be dictated by fact-checkers. But a society without trusted arbiters of what is true and what is false is vulnerable to every lie imaginable.

(Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers Aftershock and The Work of Nations."His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.)

I have to admit I've always admired Robert Reich. Another person I've come to admire over the past years wrote the essay below. I'm betting that you'll like her thoughts as well.

Imagine that. Most Americans have to sell all their assets so they can qualify for Medicaid and get into a nursing home in their elder years. These fancy trusts aren't relevant to their lives. But for Mitt and the rest of the insanely wealthy .001%, preserving their wealth for the fruit of their loins is what it's all about.

Digby helps us understand the whys and wherefores (actually just more whys) of American aristocrats (and why Conservatives are always jockeying for membership in that club).

She provides a good history lesson, friends.

 Meet the Aristocrats!

by digby

This is how wealthy people form aristocracies:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, have used sophisticated estate- planning techniques for more than a decade to minimize taxes and amass at least $100 million for their family outside of their estate.

The couple created trusts as early as 1995, when Romney was building wealth as chief executive officer of Bain Capital LLC. They packed one for their children with investments that stood to appreciate and set up another for charity that provides a tax deduction and income. The candidate’s retirement account, valued at as much as $87.4 million, may benefit his heirs for decades.

“It’s beneficial for your kids and grandkids to push the money downstream,” said David Scott Sloan, chairman of the national private wealth services estate-planning practice at the law firm Holland & Knight LLP in Boston. “The Romneys appear to be doing things that are similar to what other high-net-worth families do.”

Wealthy couples use strategies allowed under the federal tax system such as moving assets to trusts so that the money may be subject to little or no gift and estate taxes, Sloan said. The Romney family trust is worth $100 million, according to the campaign. That money isn’t included in the couple’s personal fortune, which the campaign estimates at as much as $250 million.

Romney’s use of the tax code to minimize levies for his family has drawn scrutiny from Democrats portraying him as an elite person of wealth who is out of touch with many Americans.
Imagine that. Most Americans have to sell all their assets so they can qualify for Medicaid and get into a nursing home in their elder years. These fancy trusts aren't relevant to their lives. But for Mitt and the rest of the insanely wealthy .001%, preserving their wealth for the fruit of their loins is what it's all about.

I keep coming back to this:

From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

The tactics of conservatism vary widely by place and time. But the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are.

Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality.

Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats.
You can't have a better example of this than the Romneys.

Comments (4)

Glenn Greenwald is a perfect example of a Republican (okay, maybe a former Republican) who does not bow to an aristocracy of blind obedience to authority. (Or so I read.) I do want to mention that I partook (is that a word still?) in an experiment based on this Milgram study in a sophomore psychology class way back when. Right. A long when ago. But I'll never forget how amazed my tester was when I refused to shock the other person (because you were supposed to obey the instructions to do so, and I just would not).

The Perils of Blind Obedience to Authority

By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK

27 August 12

Indie film 'Compliance' recalls notions that the past decade's worst events are explained by failures to oppose authority.
ne can object to some of its particulars, but Frank Bruni has a quite interesting and incisive New York Times column today about a new independent film called 'Compliance,' which explores the human desire to follow and obey authority.
Based on real-life events that took place in 2004 at a McDonalds in Kentucky, the film dramatizes a prank telephone call in which a man posing as a police officer manipulates a supervisor to abuse an employee with increasing amounts of cruelty and sadism, ultimately culminating in sexual assault – all by insisting that the abuse is necessary to aid an official police investigation into petty crimes.
That particular episode was but one of a series of similar and almost always-successful hoaxes over the course of at least 10 years, in which restaurant employees were manipulated into obeying warped directives from this same man, pretending on the telephone to be a police officer.
Bruni correctly notes the prime issue raised by all of this: "How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning?"

That question was answered 50 years ago by the infamous experiment conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, in which an authority figure in a lab coat instructed participants to deliver what they were told were increasingly severe electric shocks to someone in another room whom they could hear but not see.

Even as the screams became louder and more agonizing, two-thirds of the participants were induced fully to comply by delivering the increased electric shocks.

Most disturbingly, even as many expressed concerns and doubts, they continued to obey until the screams stopped – presumably due to death (subsequent experiments replicated those results). As the University of California's Gregorio Billikopf put it, the Milgram experiment "illustrates people's reluctance to confront those who abuse power", as they "obey either out of fear or out of a desire to appear co-operative – even when acting against their own better judgment and desires".

Bruni ties all of this into our current political culture, noting one significant factor driving this authoritarian behavior: that trusting authority is easier and more convenient than treating it with skepticism. He writes:

As Craig Zobel, the writer and director of 'Compliance,' said to me on the phone on Friday, 'We can't be on guard all the time. In order to have a pleasant life, you have to be able to trust that people are who they say they are. And if you questioned everything you heard, you'd never get anything done.' It's infinitely more efficient to follow a chosen leader and walk in lock step with a chosen tribe.
He suggests that this is the dynamic that drives unthinking partisan allegiance ("What's most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture [is] . . . how unconditionally so many partisans back their side's every edict, plaint and stratagem"), as well as numerous key political frauds, from Saddam's WMDs to Obama's fake birth certificate to Romney's failure to pay taxes for 10 years.

People eagerly accept such evidence-free claims "because the alternative mean[s] confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt".
This authoritarian desire to pledge fealty to institutions and leaders is indeed the dynamic that resides at the core of so many of our political conflicts (the 2006 book by Canadian psychology professor Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, is a superb examination of how this manifests in the right-wing political context).
One of my first posts when I began writing about politics back in 2006 was an examination of the blindly loyal, cult-like veneration which the American Right had erected around George Bush; as Paul Krugman was one of the first to observe, that same disturbing thirst for leader-worship then drove followers of Barack Obama (Krugman in February, 2008: "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We've already had that from the Bush administration – remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don't want to go there again").
There is always much to say about this topic, as its centrality in shaping both individual and collective behavior is more or less universal. But I want to highlight two specific points about all of this which relate to several of the topics I wrote about in my first week here, as well as some of the resulting reaction to that:
First, there are multiple institutions that are intended to safeguard against this ease of inducing blind trust in and obedience to authorities. The most obvious one is journalism, which, at its best, serves as a check against political authority by subjecting its pronouncements to skepticism and scrutiny, and by acting in general as an adversarial force against it. But there are other institutions that can and should play a similar role.
One is academia, a realm where tenure is supposed to ensure that authority's most sacred orthodoxies are subjected to unrelenting, irreverent questioning. Another is the federal judiciary, whose officials are vested with life tenure so as to empower them, without regard to popular sentiment, to impose limits on the acts of political authorities and to protect the society's most scorned and marginalized.
But just observe how frequently these institutions side with power rather than against it, how eagerly they offer their professional and intellectual instruments to justify and glorify the acts of political authority rather than challenge or subvert them.
They will occasionally quibble on the margins with official acts, but their energies are overwhelmingly devoted to endorsing the legitimacy of institutional authority and, correspondingly, scorning those who have been marginalized or targeted by it.
Their collective instinct on any issue is to rush to align themselves with the sentiment prevailing in elite power circles. Most denizens in these realms would be hard-pressed to identify any instances in which they embraced causes or people deeply unpopular within those circles. Indeed, they judge their own rightness – they derive vindication – by how often they find themselves on the side of elite institutions and how closely aligned they are with the orthodoxies that prevail within them, rather than by how often they challenge or oppose them.
It is difficult to overstate the impact of this authority-serving behavior from the very institutions designed to oppose authority. As Zobel, the writer and director of 'Compliance,' notes, most people are too busy with their lives to find the time or energy to scrutinize prevailing orthodoxies and the authorities propagating them. When the institutions that are in a position to provide those checks fail to do that, those orthodoxies and authorities thrive without opposition or challenge, no matter how false and corrupted they may be.
As much as anything else, this is the institutional failure that explains the debacles of the last decade. There is virtually no counter-weight to the human desire to follow and obey authority because the institutions designed to provide that counter-weight – media outlets, academia, courts – do the opposite: they are the most faithful servants of those centers of authority.
Second, it is very easy to get people to see oppression and tyranny in faraway places, but very difficult to get them to see it in their own lives ("How dare you compare my country to Tyranny X; we're free and they aren't"). In part that is explained by the way in which desire shapes perception.
One naturally wants to believe that oppression is only something that happens elsewhere because one then feels good about one's own situation ("I'm free, unlike those poor people in those other places"). Thinking that way also relieves one of the obligation to act: one who believes they are free of oppression will feel no pressure to take a difficult or risky stand against it.
But the more significant factor is that one can easily remain free of even the most intense political oppression simply by placing one's faith and trust in institutions of authority. People who get themselves to be satisfied with the behavior of their institutions of power, or who at least largely acquiesce to the legitimacy of prevailing authority, are almost never subjected to any oppression, even in the worst of tyrannies.
Why would they be? Oppression is designed to compel obedience and submission to authority. Those who voluntarily put themselves in that state – by believing that their institutions of authority are just and good and should be followed rather than subverted – render oppression redundant, unnecessary.
Of course people who think and behave this way encounter no oppression. That's their reward for good, submissive behavior. As Rosa Luxemburg put this: "Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." They are left alone by institutions of power because they comport with the desired behavior of complacency and obedience without further compulsion.
But the fact that good, obedient citizens do not themselves perceive oppression does not mean that oppression does not exist. Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.
In the US, those are the people who are detained at airports and have their laptops and notebooks seized with no warrants because of the films they make or the political activism they engage in; or who are subjected to mass, invasive state surveillance despite no evidence of wrongdoing; or who are prosecuted and imprisoned for decadesor even executed without due process – for expressing political and religious views deemed dangerous by the government.
People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society's most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.
The temptation to submit to authority examined by 'Compliance' bolsters an authoritarian culture by transforming its leading institutions into servants of power rather than checks on it. But worse, it conceals the presence of oppression by ensuring that most citizens, choosing to follow, trust and obey authority, do not personally experience oppression and thus do not believe – refuse to believe – that it really exists.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waiting for Male Valor (Godot) At Convention Time, Backing Pussy Riots, and Corporate Crassness Guaranteed (R. Crumb Speaks:   US Economy Since Reagan)

They are so proud of what they have wrought.

God's work!

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfien speaks during an interview by the Economic Club of Washington, 07/18/12. (photo: Getty Images)

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein speaks during an interview by the Economic Club of Washington, 07/18/12. (photo: Getty Images)

Big Banks: No Crime, No Punishment

Is this the latest trick from the Roverites?

And doesn't it just solidify the wingnutty base?

Big Story You Missed

"2016: Obama's America," the highest-grossing conservative documentary in history

The new conservative documentary “2016: Obama’s America” is looking like a sleeper hit. The film, which portrays President Barack Obama as a radical hell-bent on downsizing America, is based on a New York Times bestseller by Dinesh D’Souza.

Variety described “2016″ as a “cavalcade of conspiracy theories, psycho-politico conjectures and incendiary labeling.” But according to Entertainment Weekly, the indie documentary “is headed for mainstream success.” Since premiering at a single theater in Houston six weeks ago, it has spread to 169 theaters — and its per screen grosses continue to increase.

On this eve of the Republican Convention I turn to the strident (almost Republican) words of James Howard Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation to define the now much-bragged-about figment of most of these Republican (and Democratic - hard as it is to believe) male psyches' idea of valor (and ethics and pants-packed alluring pictures and . . .  all the other mythical qualities they strut out on the national stage daily - to sounds of loud recurrent female retching) and on just where on the political reality scale the U.S. really resides at this most propitious moment in time.

A perverse residue of those Civil Rights years lingers on today in the campaign for gay marriage, which affects to be identical in substance, and which is now, ironically, the only vector of action in Democratic politics inviting male valor - while it is also a huge distraction from many far more pressing tribulations we face, from resource scarcity to the well-being of the only planetary ecosystem we call home.

I say, ironically, because gay marriage represents an existential endeavor that seeks to escape or nullify the fundamental tensions of the two-sexed human race.

Like all things fashion-oriented, its essence is novelty, and the essence of novelty is that its charms wear off. Sooner or later, the charm of being not quite a man and not quite a woman will seem less than compelling to those not directly preoccupied by it. I bring it up because the Democrats have (foolishly) made it the public's business to the exclusion of other things. So, for Democrats, the last remaining imaginable act of male valor in the arena of politics is to come out of the closet. Where else is valor found in Democratic politics? What amount of valor has been attached to the act of fighting to reestablish the rule of law in American finance, upon which the fate of the nation truly hangs?

None. Zero. Last week Mr. Obama's Department of Justice dropped its case against Goldman Sachs's CDO swindling operations - a case that was served up on a silver platter by the report from Senator Carl Levin's Senate subcommittee hearings. Not one lawyer in the entire DOJ took a public stand against that act of gross negligence. It's only the latest in a long string of failures-of-nerve in the desperately needed rescue of legitimacy in American affairs. Every agency head, every person in authority in Mr. Obama's government has evaded the single-most pressing issue of our time. From the center of power to the margins of power and everywhere in between,  real masculine courage is absent. 

Where was valor in the face of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, when some Democrat in the two other branches of government could have proposed a legislative remedy, even a constitutional amendment, to clarify the distinction between the standing of citizens and corporations in wielding money as political speech? Who in Obamaland has asked Jamie Dimon to account for JP Morgan's missing $6 billion? And, of course, Jon Corzine is still at large.

In fact, all the male energies in American political economy have been directed lately in the service of a one multifarious enterprise: the support of fraud, which includes the promotion of untruth, the protection of the wicked, and the evasion of reality.

That can only end badly as this vast cargo of lies passes through the event horizon of circumstance and sucks us into the unknown territory that lies beyond the fall of empire. You can be certain of this: genuine male energy will re-emerge from the shadows and that energy will re-engage the still unresolved tensions abroad in this land.  When they do, anything can happen. For now, the election of 2012 remains a mere pussy riot.

The storm churning through the Gulf of Mexico may remind us just how large and uncontrollable the forces of nature are as the curtain rises on the political season of a grievously misled nation.

I have no idea what JHK just said (as most of the people at both Conventions will agree), but I am a committed backer of pussy riots - every nationality.

I can't help but give a shout out to my compadre in fear, Jerome Doolittle, at Bad Attitudes, who shows no reticence in this Convention-hyping essay (warning):

One thing about Republicans, they never underestimate the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

And to the wonderment of those of us still clinging stubbornly to reality, nonsense works. Consider death panels, birtherism, trickle-down economics and rape-detecting vaginas. Consider this, from a New York Times story headlined “Romney Adopts Harder Message for Last Stretch” —

Mitt Romney is heading into his nominating convention with his advisers convinced he needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters and to persuade them that he is the best answer to their economic frustrations . . .
“We will absolutely be able to get our message out,” said Russ Schriefer, a senior campaign adviser. “We still have an opportunity to tell the story of the last four years of how President Obama has failed the country…”
Mr. Law said his group, Crossroads, had reserved roughly $35 million in advertising for the rest of the campaign and planned to spend more on efforts speaking to their other perception, that Mr. Obama had not been able to deliver.
“These folks know they are not happy with what Obama has done, but they are struggling between, ‘I voted for him, I liked him, but he’s not getting the job done,’ ” said Carl Forti, political director for American Crossroads. “That’s where Mitt needs to take advantage.”
A close textual reading of this compelling new message reveals its meaning to be, “Vote Republican, suckers, because Obama let us sabotage his economic recovery plan.”
It’s a message that could only resonate in empty heads, which ought to make the rest of us very afraid.

And speaking of totally screwing up fixing the financial catastrophe suffered by all below the 99% demarcation:

Not Everything Is Libor


 Bob Diamond grimaces.
It’s been a while since we checked in with the infinity thrillion dollars of Libor lawsuits, but the Journal has a good roundup today and, yeah, eep, this is sort of interesting:

Firms facing the biggest potential payouts, according to Morgan Stanley, based on the financial business they do rather than their assumed culpability, include Deutsche Bank AG, Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, Barclays, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan.
It seems almost unfair: you can very easily put a whole lot of leverage on your employees’ lame criminality; if you’re really really good at selling rate product even a tiny wee bit of criminality can be a disaster.* Shades of this chart – shouldn’t you get more points for being more criminal, not just for being bigger?

But this was the most jarring part:

Fund manager Charles Schwab has alleged it deserves damages related to billions of dollars in fixed-rate investments held by its funds, as well as investments with returns pegged directly to Libor. Schwab alleges in lawsuits it filed last year that the fixed rates were set in relation to Libor.
This is actually true; here is the Schwab complaint, which I’ve seen before but somehow didn’t register this:

Read on for the true tales of corporate crassness.

Black Agenda Report explains why Why We Don't Spend As Much Time Denouncing Republicans As We Do Democrats

And here's the man of any hour. Remember? Got any of those classic comics? Want to sell them?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where Do YOU Stand On Rape? And Where Do The Haters Stand? (Republicans Declare Support for Rapists As Unending War on Women Picks Up Speed)

(Please consider making even a small contribution to the Welcome to  Pottersville2 Quarterly Fundraiser happening now ($5.00 is suggested for those on a tight budget) or at least sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. We are in a real tight spot financially right now and would sincerely appreciate any type of contribution. Anything you can do will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive in these difficult economic times.)

(Hush! Do I hear the wind whispering "Jebbie?")

On day before GOP convention starts, the once Republican former Governor of state in which it is held endorses the Democratic President. Can you say "Awkward?"

The GOP War Against Women just keeps breaking out. No matter how they keep stuffing it "back in the closet." And now that they have a ticket without a Protestant member, we see exactly how ideology trumps religion with these religionists (or are they?).

Men Who Father Through Rape Are Able To Assert the Same Custody and Visitation Rights To Their Children (Even Girls!) That Other Fathers Enjoy

Politico broke a story on Sunday that a group of Republican congressmen, their staffers, and families had gone for a rowdy dip in the Sea of Galilee on an official trip to Israel last summer, with a representative from Kansas, Kevin Yoder, swimming in the buff. Is this a mini-scandal worth caring about?
What interests me about it is that two of the three founders of the GOP’s self-styled “Young Guns” — Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy — were on that junket, if not skinny dipping themselves. It’s also interesting that they kept this mini-scandal secret for a year. It makes you wonder what else happened on this junket or other outings by this cohort. Perhaps the third founding “Young Gun” — that would be Paul Ryan — can tell us.
. . . In an NBC/WSJ poll released last night, only 12 percent of registered voters said they approved of the job Congress is doing, tying the all-time low. And most of the survey was taken before the Akin comments and the Sea of Galilee news. If you were John Boehner, how would you be feeling right now?

Probably that I need a smoke.

. . . But this is a far bigger immediate problem for Romney than Boehner. By putting Ryan on the ticket, Mitt can’t escape his association with the Republican House, and next week many of those congressmen will descend into a Tampa full of strip clubs and other temptations where dress is optional.
. . . Women are second-class citizens in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, where the entire top brass is male and where women are forbidden to assume leadership roles open to Mormon boys starting at age 12. Mormons are also major financial contributors to anti-gay-rights initiatives, most notoriously the successful Prop 8 campaign in California. Was Romney among those donors? That’s yet another question that might be answered if we saw his tax returns.

Oliver Burkeman, Guardian UK
25 August 2012

Hurricanes, alligators, Donald Trump and some of the worst-case scenarios GOP operatives will be hoping to avoid.

As a woman who has had more than a passing acquaintance with rape, this essay seems to stand the test of time (with me at least).

These candidates don't.

(It seems to me that these are some of the same rationales we hear when countries led by people without ethics attack their enemies).

Paul Ryan On Exceptions for Abortions: Rape Is Just Another "Method of Conception."

Courtesy of the Raw Story:

“Specifically where you stand when it comes to rape, and when it comes to the issue of should it be legal for a woman to be able to get an abortion if she’s raped?” WJHL reporter Josh Smith wondered. 

“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan explained. “But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”

“And the president, in this case the future President Mitt Romney, has exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, which is a vast improvement of where we are right now.” 

MSNBC’s Steve Benen noted that responses like this were probably the reason that Romney is refusing to take any questions about Akin or abortion.

You know one has to wonder how Ryan would feel if it were his wife or daughter that was the victim of a rape, and then found themselves pregnant with their attacker's child.  Would Mr. Pro-Life demand that they carry that potential life to term?

To be clear rape is not a "method of conception" it is an act of violence. The greatest outcome that a rapist could hope for is that their victim be forced to bear their child, so that they can be humiliated and shamed even further.

And apparently they have a partner in that endeavor in the form of Paul Ryan.

P.S. To be clear I in NO WAY wish for Mrs. Ryan, nor her daughter, to suffer the humiliation of rape, in ANY of its forms. I have worked as a crisis counselor and rape prevention instructor and know full well the life long effects of rape.

My point is that Congressman Ryan does not seem to have that kind of understanding, and that I imagine his opinion would dramatically change were he to be confronted with the effects that having a member of his immediate family raped and impregnated would have on them, on him, and on his family.

 Nothing will cure these people.

Except for momentous defeats at the polls.

Frank Rich, New York Magazine
24 August 2012
Todd Akin rebuffed pressure from Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Karl Rove, and pretty much the entire GOP Establishment, refusing to exit his Senate race against Claire McCaskill after saying that "legitimate rape" rarely leads to pregnancy. Akin has been ahead in the polls. Is he delusional that he can still win?

Assuming he doesn't get out after all, perhaps after extracting some back-room favors, there's a chance he could still win. Missouri is the generally red state that gave us John Ashcroft. Akin’s base has now been energized by his martyrdom at the hands of the despised GOP Establishment (or what’s left of it). He still has strong support from both the national and local family values Ayatollahs, led by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. That the national GOP and Rove’s PACs have pulled their money out of the Akin race may prove meaningless.
He can recruit his own billionaire sugar daddies, starting with Foster Friess, the Santorum bankroller who “joked” earlier this year that “gals” might best practice birth control by putting aspirin between their knees. And other money may find its way to Akin too this fall if that one seat is really all that stands in the way of Republican control of the Senate. While the Beltway commentariat may now be busy declaring Akin “unelectable” (as the Cook Political Report put it), let’s not forget that much of this same crowd prematurely declared the death of the tea party.

The truth is that Akin is typical of today’s GOP, not some outlier; only a handful of the House’s 241 Republican members differ at all from his hard-line stand on abortion. And on women’s rights, the Senate caucus is barely different: Only one of that chamber’s 47 GOP members voted against the so-called Blunt Amendment, another Republican jihad against women’s health care this year.

The Republican War Against Women never went away — it hasn’t gone away for a quarter century. But in presidential years, the party tries to stuff it in the closet so women in particular and moderate voters in general won’t be frightened off. After the earlier eruptions this year — the Congressman Darrell Issa convening a men-only panel on birth control in the House, Limbaugh calling the Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut,” Romney vowing to cut all federal support of Planned Parenthood — GOP Establishment types predicted that the ruckus would soon fade and that the little women of America would stop worrying their pretty little heads about it.
“Nobody thinks it will matter in a couple of months,” was how the former GOP congressman and Romney supporter Vin Weber put it in March.  But because there actually is a GOP war on women, it will keep erupting. Let’s not forget that the chairman of the platform panel that just ratified the absolutist abortion plank is none other than Bob McDonnell, the Virginia governor who earlier this year endorsed a bill subjecting women seeking abortions to a state-mandated invasive vaginal ultrasound test. (Does this procedure meet the Ryan-Akin definition of “forcible rape”?) And Romney is no less committed to the war on women than all the rest.

He has also called for the elimination of Title X, the federal program that provides birth control, pap smears, and breast-cancer screening, among other preventative health care, to poor women who otherwise could not afford it. Yet somehow the GOP still believes post-Akin that its war on women can be stuffed back into the closet. It’s revealing that on the morning after Akin announced his decision to stay in the race, both Murdoch papers, the
Wall Street Journal and New York Post, buried the news in their inside pages and ran no editorials on the subject. But wishing won’t make this go away.

Well, they don't hate women like Bachmann or Palin or even Mitters' wife (but they aren't crazy about them either).

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, right, a Republican currently running for the US Senate, listens to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before a news conference on Ryan's budget agenda, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Marshall Auerback, AlterNet 
25 August 2012
Romney and Ryan envision an anti-woman economy and society, but women are increasingly key to winning elections. 
issouri GOP senatorial candidate Todd Akin's absurd comment that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape" is disgusting. It also points to a deeper problem within the GOP.

Plainly, this is a party that hates women. And given the huge gender gap opening up in favor of President Obama over the presumptive GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, this has important implications for economic and social policy going forward. Because if they win, the Democrats are less likely to embrace the draconian fiscal austerity proposals now advocated by Romney's advisors, along with the party's regressive social agenda.

The current Republican Party is a perverse coalition of the top 1 percent and the socially conservative right. The latter are not well off for the most part. The Koch brothers (and others of that ilk) have managed to convince the have-not religious fundamentalists to vote against their own economic interests and support their internal colonialism through economically regressive policies which are exacerbating the country's mounting economic inequality.

This is untenable over the long run. Skewing income distributions by shoveling money to the top always ends in a big political upheaval. The social conservatives are older and aging and becoming less of the total electorate. Someday the GOP's infernal combination will blow apart because the top 1 percent will be rejected by the masses and the numbers of the social conservatives will dwindle too much.

Why? Largely because of today's new generation of women who, although they represent varying degrees of economic progressivism to conservatism, is largely rejecting the social conservatism of the Creationists and hardcore fundamentalists on the right. President Obama continues to outpoll Mitt Romney by substantial margins among women voters. I would guess that this will more than offset the appeal Romney holds among angry white males, increasingly alienated by a country that is becoming less white, more socially diverse, a veritable rainbow coalition of different ethnicities rather than a Caucasian-dominated nation. An older generation of women who saw no other way than to be dependent and kept and sexually repressed is dying out.

This will change the economic landscape. Why? Well, take a look at the latest bit of "economic wisdom" from the Romney campaign (I owe this observation to economist Bill Mitchell), which has just put out an economic paper, The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Jobs, written by Stanford's John B Taylor, Harvard's Greg Mankiew, Columbia's Glenn Hubbard, and Kevin Hassett from the American Enterprise Institute. These men make the following claims:

America took a wrong turn in economic policy in the past three years. The United States underperformed the historical norm shown in the administration's own forecasts, and its policies are to blame . . . These short-term stimulus packages were ineffective, leaving the nation with higher debt, which acts as a drag on long-term growth because households and businesses understand that the administration must raise taxes significantly to pay off that debt.

Romney's economic team also claims that "uncertainty over policy" (i.e. the large deficits and the private fear of large tax hikes) is preventing a sound recovery in private spending. This has been a common theme among the conservatives since the governments decided to deploy fiscal stimulus.

True, President Obama also retains an unhealthy obsession with "long-term fiscal sustainability" and "entitlement reform" (i.e. shredding the social safety net). But for the most part, he has avoided the worst of the excesses of the fiscal austerity fanatics in Europe and those of the Tea Party in the U.S. As a consequence, the U.S. economy has continued to grow. True, it is below trend, but it is still growing and generating some jobs, in marked contrast to what is occurring on the other side of the pond.

Mainstream economic theory claims that that private spending is weak because we are scared of the future tax implications of the rising budget deficits. But the overwhelming evidence shows that if you own a business, you're not going to invest while consumption is weak. And households will not spend because people are scared of becoming unemployed and are trying to reduce their bloated debt levels. Above all else, businesses need sales to encourage them to hire workers. A restaurant doesn't lay anyone off when it's full of paying customers, no matter how much the owner might hate the government, the paper work, and the health regulations; a department store doesn't lay off workers when it's full of paying customers; and an engineering firm doesn't lay anyone off when it has a backlog of orders.

And guess what? Women are not only more than half of the electorate, but they are a huge part of the overall aggregate demand for goods and services. Under the Republican agenda, women could well revert to a kind of economic serfdom, whose labor expended can be considered surplus to that required to maintain the survival of the man and his family.

In fact, if Romney's plan were to be introduced now or, worse yet, the automatic budget sequestration cuts proposed in the Budget Control Act from last fall were actually implemented, (which mandates across-the-board cuts to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years), then we'd likely experience a double-dip recession in the U.S. next year. Support for this view has been expressed by no less than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) which argued in a report the other day, that the U.S. economy would slide into recession in fiscal 2013 if Congress fails to act to maintain current tax rates and avert deep cuts to federal spending.

Austerity advocates like Romney and Ryan are obsessed with putting the squeeze on public spending, especially broad social welfare and education. Their plans mean that workers get trapped in a low-skill, low-pay circle of disadvantage. The increasingly casualized labor market is reinforcing that pathology, particularly for women.

So keep "squeezing" that public spending, guys.

Cause you've got the money to last it out - and buy everything left on the cheap?

The Easy "Hate" Culture: Adolescent Poorly Educated Boys Who Are Trying To Make Life Harder For the Undeserving Poor Determine US Policy In Congress (Last Shot At Maintaining Xtian Males Power?)

(Please consider making even a small contribution to the Welcome to  Pottersville2 Quarterly Fundraiser happening now ($5.00 is suggested for those on a tight budget) or at least sending a link to your friends if you think the subjects discussed here are worth publicizing. Thank you for your support. We are in a real tight spot financially right now and would sincerely appreciate any type of contribution. Anything you can do will make a huge difference in this blog's ability to survive in these difficult economic times.)

[BREAKING NEWS:  Todd Akin: The Goal is to Maintain a White Christian Male Power Structure at All Costs

He Couldn't Lead A Whore (Either Sex) To Bed

The Crackpot Caucus Dances In the Street

Class War Results in Massive Unreported On Foreclosure Suicides

Customer Accounts Now Belong To the Bank - Close Your Bank Accounts NOW!]

Gawker Publishes Romney's Offshore Tax Haven Records

Dominic Rushe, Guardian UK

Excerpt: "The documents published by Gawker, some of which have surfaced before, make clear that tax avoidance is a primary aim of some of his investments."


Ryan: Rape Survivors Must Have Rapist's Baby

Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress

"Ryan's position is that all pregnant rape survivors should be treated the same - the government should force them to carry their rapist's baby to term."


Billionaire Koch Builds His Own Frontier Town Near Aspen

Jennifer Oldham, Bloomberg

Excerpt: About Koch's plans to orchestrate a land exchange and build a private Wild West town for himself, Ed Marston, former publisher of the High Country News says, "The arrogance of the man is quite startling - land exchanges are supposed to be in the public interest and there is no public interest here."


Adolescent boy fantasies running the US government?

Of course, it's only my opinion.

August 23, 2012

Galt, Gold and God

Paul Krugman

So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for vice president, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.

In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees. True, in recent years, he has tried to downplay his Randism, calling it an “urban legend.” It’s not hard to see why:

Rand’s fervent atheism — not to mention her declaration that “abortion is a moral right” — isn’t what the G.O.P. base wants to hear.

But Mr. Ryan is being disingenuous. In 2005, he told the Atlas Society, which is devoted to promoting Rand’s ideas, that she inspired his political career: “If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He also declared that Rand’s work was required reading for his staff and interns.

And the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”

This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good.

In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.

But wait, there’s more: “Atlas Shrugged” apparently shaped Mr. Ryan’s views on monetary policy, views that he clings to despite having been repeatedly, completely wrong in his predictions.

In early 2011, Mr. Ryan, newly installed as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a hard time over his expansionary policies. Rising commodity prices and long-term interest rates, he asserted, were harbingers of high inflation to come; “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,” he intoned, “than debase its currency.”

Since then, inflation has remained quiescent while long-term rates have plunged — and the U.S. economy would surely be in much worse shape than it is if Mr. Bernanke had allowed himself to be bullied into monetary tightening. But Mr. Ryan seems undaunted in his monetary views. Why?

Well, it’s right there in that 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he declared that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” when thinking about monetary policy. Who? Never mind.

That speech (which clocks in at a mere 23 paragraphs) is a case of hard-money obsession gone ballistic. Not only does the character in question, a Galt sidekick, call for a return to the gold standard, he denounces the notion of paper money and demands a return to gold coins.

For the record, the U.S. currency supply has consisted overwhelmingly of paper money, not gold and silver coins, since the early 1800s. So if Mr. Ryan really thinks that Francisco d’Anconia had it right, he wants to turn the clock back not one but two centuries.

Does any of this matter? Well, if the Republican ticket wins, Mr. Ryan will surely be an influential force in the next administration — and bear in mind, too, that he would, as the cliché goes, be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

So it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.

And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker./span>

What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Raw Ignorance Rules? Census Zombie Lives, Medicare Advantage Is A Failed Experiment In Privatization, and All Kinds of Wrong At Newspeak

After a well-deserved vacation, Paul's been back on the job since Monday straightening out the kinks (er, kooks!).

Just catching up on the "news" with him is quite eye-opening (and a hoot as he hits them where it hurts - in their integrity or lack thereof).


Paul Krugman - New York Times Blog

August 22, 2012, 6:32 pm

Is Someone Trying To Tell Us Something?

Occupy Video

A pretty good video compilation related to the Occupy Handbook, featuring some people you may know

Understanding Medicare “Cuts”

Jackie Calmes has a very good piece about those Medicare “cuts” Romney promises to repeal. As she emphasizes, all of these involve reductions in payments to insurance companies and health providers, rather than reductions in patient benefits. So what are we talking about?

Sarah Kliff had a good summary. Most of the proposed savings come from reducing overpayments to Medicare Advantage and reducing reimbursement rates to hospitals.
What should you know about these changes?
Medicare Advantage is a 15-year failed experiment in privatization. Running Medicare through private insurance companies was supposed to save money through the magic of the marketplace; in reality, private insurers, with their extra overhead, have never been able to compete on a level playing field with conventional Medicare. But Congress refused to take no for an answer, and kept the program alive by paying the insurers substantially more than the costs per patient of regular Medicare. All the ACA does is end this overpayment.

As for the cuts in hospital reimbursement, the key thing to know is that the hospital industry itself negotiated those cuts.
Here’s how John McDonough’s Inside National Health Reform describes it:

The negotiation involved the White House and high-level Senate Finance staffers. The agreement involved two numbers: $155 billion in reductions over ten years, and health insurance coverage for 95 percent of all Americans. At these numbers, hospital leaders were convinced that the revenue from the added covered lives would more than make up for their losses on the Medicare side, and it was a deal they could embrace.
So, does any of this sound like a devastating blow to seniors’ health care?

The Census Zombie Eats Another Brain

Back in 2010 all the usual suspects were going on about how there had been a huge increase in federal employment under Obama. This was funny, for two reasons: it was all about temporary hiring for the Census, and the meme continued to be part of what everyone on the right knew, just knew, to be true long after the Census blip was over and federal employment was back below its level when Obama took office.

Eventually, however, the thing vanished from the discussion, and I thought we’d hear no more about it. But guess who didn’t get the memo?

For what it’s worth, in this case I don’t think we’re looking at a blatant attempt to mislead; I suspect that we’re just looking at raw ignorance.

Kinds Of Wrong

Looking at the comments on my Niall Ferguson takedown (see Ezra Klein, Matthew O’Brien, James Fallows, and Noah Smith for more), I found my memory jogged about a point I’ve been meaning to make about the nature of error in economics.

It seems to me that when readers declare that some piece of economics commentary is “wrong”, they often confuse three different notions of wrongness, which are neither intellectually nor morally equivalent.

First, there’s the ordinary business of expressing a view about the economy that the reader disagrees with – e.g., “Krugman is wrong, because the government can’t create jobs”; or, if you prefer, “Casey Mulligan is wrong, because we’re suffering from demand problems, not supply problems.” Obviously it’s OK to say things like this, and sometimes the criticism is correct. (I’m not wrong, but Mulligan is!) But equally obviously, there’s nothing, er, wrong about being wrong in this sense: people will disagree, and that’s legitimate.

Second, and much less legitimate, is the kind of wrongness that involves making assertions that are logically or empirically indefensible. I’d put the Cochrane/Fama claims that government spending can’t increase demand as a matter of accounting in this category; this is a basic conceptual error, which goes beyond mere difference of opinion. And economists who are wrong in this sense should pay a professional price.

That said, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the news media to be very effective at policing this kind of wrongness. If professors with impressive-sounding credentials spout nonsense, it’s asking too much of a newspaper or magazine serving the broader public to make the judgment that they actually have no idea what they’re talking about.

Matters are quite different when it comes to the third kind of wrongness: making or insinuating false claims about readily checkable facts. The case in point, of course, is Ferguson’s attempt to mislead readers into believing that the CBO had concluded that Obamacare increases the deficit. This was unethical on his part – but Newsweek is also at fault, because this is the sort of thing it could and should have refused to publish.

Now, I don’t expect a publication that responds to daily or weekly news to do New Yorker-style fact checking. But it should demand that anyone who writes for it document all of his or her factual assertions – and an editor should check that documentation to see that it actually matches what the writer says.

That’s how it works at the Times, or at least how it works for me. I supply a list of sources with each column submission; for yesterday’s piece it looked like this:
$4.3 trillion: lines 2, 3 and 5
Ryan cuts: (I count his Medicaid cuts relative to current policy, not policy including Obamacare)
Disproportionate benefits at top:
Ryan award:

Each time I send in a column draft, the copy editor runs quickly through the citations, making sure that they match what I assert. Sometimes the editor feels that I go further than the source material actually justifies; in that case we either negotiate a rewording, or drop the assertion altogether. Oh, and weasel-wording isn’t acceptable – implying something the facts don’t support is no more OK than stating it outright.

And despite all this, sometimes an error slips through. In that case, the response is a print correction.

We know what Ferguson is going to do: he’s going to brazen it out, actually boasting about the deftness with which he misled his readers. But what is Newsweek going to do?

Unethical Commentary, Newsweek Edition

There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking — but this is the one that jumped out at me. Ferguson says:

The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.
Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.

Now, people on the right like to argue that the CBO was wrong. But that’s not the argument Ferguson is making — he is deliberately misleading readers, conveying the impression that the CBO had actually rejected Obama’s claim that health reform is deficit-neutral, when in fact the opposite is true.

More than that: by its very nature, health reform that expands coverage requires that lower-income families receive subsidies to make coverage affordable. So of course reform comes with a positive number for subsidies — finding that this number is indeed positive says nothing at all about the impact on the deficit unless you ask whether and how the subsidies are paid for.

Ferguson has to know this (unless he’s completely ignorant about the whole subject, which I guess has to be considered as a possibility). But he goes for the cheap shot anyway.

We’re not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here — just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers.

The Times would require an abject correction if something like that slipped through. Will Newsweek?

Over the Hump (Status Update)

Not actually home yet, but done with the more strenuous bits, and I will be in Monday’s paper.