Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Public audits of private individuals?

The left-leaning media is apparently still under orders to hammer Romney on the non-issue of his tax returns. It's two weeks removed from a flurry of hit-pieces full of naked speculation by people like Joan Walsh, but the hits just keep on coming. Witness this piece by someone named Grace Wyler at Business Insider. Entitled Romney Admits He's Been Audited By The IRS, the piece is completely devoid of any meaningful commentary, any actual analysis. It cites an ABC interview from Sunday in which Romney notes in passing that he's been audited "from time to time...as happens I think to other citizens as well."

Note first that this is no admission on the part of Romney. It's a mere statement of fact: he's been audited. So have lots of other people, particularly those making large sums of money like Romney. The IRS, in fact, targets high-income earners for audits (more bang for the buck) and has done so for a very long time. Moreover, many of these audits are not the long, drawn out affairs we might imagine them to be; instead, they are handled by correspondence between the IRS and an individual's accounts, often revolving around specific issues that require further clarification or documentation.

In short, being audited is just not that unusual for people like Romney. It's not a sign of wrongdoing, at all. To think that it is is to be tragically clueless. Not knowing Ms. Wyler in the least, I'd like to avoid labeling her as such, but her big conclusion in the piece--after the disingenuous headline--makes it difficult:
Although the remarks have been largely lost amid news from Romney's overseas trip, they raise even more questions about the Republican presidential candidate's murky financial records. How many times has Romney been audited by the IRS? In what years? And what did the audits find?
Wow. What a tool. "Murky" records? Please. And "what did the audits find?" Well, whatever they found, the issues were clearly resolved to the IRS' satisfaction. There are no large penalties being paid off by Romney, no lawsuits with the IRS, no subpoenas for records from the same. In short, nothing. No evidence to indicate a problem, past or present. Just the word "audit."

Monday, July 30, 2012

How does creativity work? Lie through your teeth...

...and hope you never get caught.

First, there was the widely publicized case of James Frey and his Oprah Book Club selection of the month, A Million Little Pieces. For those who may have forgotten, that book was sold as a memoir, Frey's supposed life story. But after the book became a huge bestseller, various stories surfaced that questioned many of the specifics in the book. Frey and his publisher initially defended the book, arguing that it was normal to change some details in a memoir (see Barack Obama, Dreams of My Father), but those changes turned out to be just too significant. For instance, in the book Frey claimed to have spent some eighty seven days in jail. But in reality, he had only spent a few hours. That's not minor change, that's a lie.

Eventually the publisher, Oprah, and everyone else agreed: the book was no memoir, it was pure fiction. Frey's career took a momentary hit, but he's since rebounded. Oprah was initially mocked for her support of Frey, then congratulated for calling him to the carpet, then--somewhat surprisingly--criticized for being too mean. All of this played out in 2006 and 2007, starting with the Smoking Gun's expose: A Million Little Lies.

And while the Frey business was still going on, another situation received national attention (though not as much as Frey's): that of Harvard undergrad Kaavya Viswanathan and her young adult novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Unlike Frey's book, Viswanathan's was always a work of fiction. But in April of 2006, reports surfaced of plagiarism in the book. Initially, the publisher and the author argued that there was no plagiarism, that similarities with other books were coincidental or accidental.

As the story made it's way through the public, however, more and more accusations appeared, involving more authors, including heavyweight Salman Rushdie. The publisher--which had initially intended to publish a revised version of the novel--balked. The novel was pulled, the new addition was cancelled, Viswanathan lost her book deal, and a film adaption of the book was also cancelled. She hasn't--as yet--published any more books. But she received her Harvard degree.

That brings us to 2011 and Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. The book--another in the memoir genre--recounts Mortenson's experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from mountain climbing to humanitarian efforts centering on the building of schools for girls in those nations and the establishment of the CAI (Central Asian Institute). Published in 2007, Mortenson's book had been a bestseller for four years. But in 2011, allegations surfaced with regard to not only the facts in the book, but also with regard to the CAI and the schools it had supposedly built.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't have a Cohn, man!

"You didn't build that."

It's the gift that keeps on giving. Back in June--after the President's "the private sector is doing fine" gaffe--I had a little fun at the expense of first Jonathan Chait and then Jonathan Cohn. Both were determined to "prove" that, somehow, Obama's statement was actually true, even though Obama quickly backtracked on the statement and said almost the exact opposite: "It is absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine."

Cohn, in particular, was almost beside himself with angst over the remark and the reality--in his mind--of it's truth. Though as I noted in the above piece, Cohn didn't have the same problem with the misuse of Romney's "I like being able to fire people" comment. While he recognized it was being taken out of context, he still thought it meant something, with regard to the real Mitt Romney:
Romney never said he enjoys firing people, although the particular choice of phrase does reinforce doubts about Romney's perspectives on the economy.
Now, this is same basic tactic being employed by the Romney Campaign, with regard to the President's recent words, the "you didn't build that" spiel, as I've noted. Regardless of the specific context of those words, the argument is that they reveal something about Obama's core beliefs, his basic ideology, when it comes to work, success, and difference between collectivism and individualism.

But Cohn will have none of that. The Romney Campaign's citation of other Obama quotes to back up their narrative are particularly infuriating to Cohn. Those quotes are found here. The ones noted by Cohn:
Yes, there have been fierce arguments throughout our history between both parties about the exact size and role of government — some honest disagreements. But in the decades after World War II, there was a general consensus that the market couldn’t solve all of our problems on its own.--Barack Obama, 2012

Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy, where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending.--Barack Obama, 2009
He than asks the questions: "Do either of these sound like Obama thinks business owners don’t work hard for their success? Or that the market never works?" apparently believing that no thinking person could answer either in the affirmative. But just to be certain there is no doubt, he explains exactly why the answer to both must be a resounding "no." With regard to the second comment, he goes even further, essentially claiming that Keynesian economics--as he and the Administration understand it (i..e. wrongly)--is the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and no one disagrees:
Virtually every mainstream economist, left and right, would agree with both the proposition that sometimes market economies stall and that, on those occasions, government can take action to get them going again. This is basic Keynesianism and, as far as I know, even Romney’s own economic advisers would concede as much. Between left and right you can typically find an honest, and worthy, debate over the size, shape, and timing of optimal government intervention during downturns. But you don’t generally get an argument over whether some government intervention makes sense at least some of the time.
Note the faulty reasoning: any sort of intervention is Keynesian (not true) and every mainstream economist agrees (also not true). And note the failure to correctly characterize Obama's second quote: Cohn is arguing that allowing for some intervention is somehow equivalent to accepting the idea that "only government can break the vicious [economic] cycles." No. Just no. What Obama said in the past is clearly in keeping with his fundamental ideological tenets, as evidenced in these past quotes and his more recent one.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama takes himself out of context

"You didn't build that."

The phrase is still the talk of the town. Romney and the RNC are not letting up on it, at all. Obama, his campaign, and his media fanboys are clawing back, insisting that the words are being taken out of context and the President's meaning is being misconstrued. Witness the latest online ad from the Obama Campaign:


Everything Obama says in the above ad (thus making it impossible to take out of context):
Those ads taking my words about small business out of context; they're flat out wrong. Of course Americans build their own business. Everyday hard-working people sacrifice to meet a payroll, create jobs, and make our economy run. 
And what I said was that we need to stand behind them as America always has. By investing in education, training, roads and bridges, research and technology. I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message because I believe we're all in this together.
As has been demonstrated too many times to count, when the President said "you didn't build that" in Roanoke, he wasn't telling business owners that they didn't build their business. But what was he telling them? According to this new bit, Obama never suggested Americans don't build their own businesses because he believes the opposite. And--again, according to this new bit--what Obama was saying is that we need to stand behind these people, these "business builders," because they make the economy run.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Expert knowledge or pointless rhetoric?

One of my biggest pet peeves has been--for a long time, now--the growing tendency of networks to employee ex-athletes as broadcasters and commentators for sports events. To be sure, this isn't a new thing. For decades, local radio and television stations have gone down this road, often picking local sports heroes to do the color commentary on radio for both college and professional games. And it's probably fair to allow that many of these ex-players tried to do a good job in this regard, worked at their craft (often because their playing careers were things of the past or had never materialized). I listened to ex-jocks Jim Mandich and Joe Rose--both former Dolphins--for years on the radio. They were fine. And with regard to such people getting gigs on the local nightly news, the story is not much different. Name recognition got them their job, but many worked to be good at that job. Of course, some never had the chops to be good at such things and never would. That's the nature of the beast. Sam Malone from Cheers makes a useful--if fictional--example:


But there's always been an air of amateurism surrounding local newscasts and the broadcasting of local sports events. In a way, these things are--or at least were--training grounds for television and radio  personalities who dreamed of bigger things, of the national stage. For at the national level, standards are supposed to be higher. Frank Gifford, it is true, had a long career as a sprotscaster. But he earned his spot on Monday Night Football by actually being good at play by play. He's not alone in that regard, as a far as former athletes go. There are others like him.

But far too many are exactly the opposite. They went from being sports superstars to top-tier sportscasters. And it shows, often resulting in commentary just too painful to watch. Especially noteworthy are the crowd of basketball commentators on TNT for games and for Inside the NBA: Barkley, Shaq, etc. It is in my opinion just bad television, not worth watching. So I don't. There are a large number of football commentators every bit as bad, though. Here, Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire top my list of the worst of the worst. And lets face it, all of these folks are homers of one sort of another, play favorites, and let personal relationships with players and teams influence what they say.

Should the NCAA be put in charge of the Catholic Church?

The NCAA board has, as most probably know, handed down its list of sanctions against Penn State University for the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The sanctions include a fine of $60 million, the loss of scholarships, bowl ineligibility, and the vacating of some fourteen years worth of wins. The immediate consequences? Joe Paterno's legacy is essentially dirt. He's gone from being the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division 1-A (FBS) football and a paragon of virtue to the number eight spot in wins and more or less a pariah, outside of Happy Valley. Of course, he died in January of this year, so the humiliation is being suffered by his family and his many supporters from Penn State.

Sandusky has been convicted of various crimes, ranging from indecent assault to endangering the welfare of a minor. He has not yet been sentenced, but faces a maximum of 442 years in prison. Civil lawsuits are pending, against Sandusky, Paterno's estate, Spanier (former university president) and others, along with Penn State as a whole.

But the NCAA sanctions--whether or not one views them as appropriate or sufficient--are being imposed against the institution of Penn State in general and against its current and future football program in particular. Make no mistake, students and PSU employees who had nothing to do with the scandal, who may not have even been at the school during the time period in question, are being punished, as are alunmi and others who enjoyed PSU football or even built their livelihoods around it.

Thus the critical question: is this fair?

The NCAA certainly thinks it is, noting that part of the problem was the covering up and enabling of Sandusky's crimes by people more concerned with winning football games and protecting "heroes" than with doing what is right, than with being responsible citizens and leaders. Thus, it is the Penn State football culture being punished by the NCAA, more than anything else.

Of course, such culture is hardly endemic to Penn State, alone. It is common at Universities around the country with big-time sports programs. But the difference is, this culture led to tragically bad--if not downright evil--things at PSU. Children were violated. They suffered at the hands of someone with authority, someone all were told to respect, because of his devotion to the program. And the powers-that-be didn't want to know about it; they assumed devotion trumped rumors, end of story.

Sound familiar?

Cheers, all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The New (Bogus) Economic Narrative

Capitalism. It has--across the past several centuries--remade the world, mostly making the Occident the dominate economic--and therefore political--force on the globe, leaving the Orient behind to collapse. The giants of economic theory--many of them operating on the basis of flawed assumptions, it's true--were responsible for the dominant narrative that explained the "why" behind this reality.

And despite the flaws in their thinking, the narrative was and is largely correct: open, free markets allowed capitalism to occur and led to wealth creation, as opposed to wealth accumulation (which had been the standard for thousands of years, by and large), on a massive scale. Politically, the development of the nation-state in the West turned out to be a catalyst for this process, as it eventually allowed governments to make market-wide changes, to establish uniform rules for economic activity, to extend those rules far and wide via treaty with other states, to coin and regulate money, and to--when necessary--force open markets that had been closed.

But within this narrative, it was quickly realized that capitalism flourished when state interference--beyond enforcement of contracts and the like--was minimized.

Attempts to establish contradictory models failed miserably, with the Soviet Empire being the penultimate example.

And as the West flourished, the East--and Africa--struggled to keep pace, mostly because the political still controlled the economic. That's the world of the late twentieth century. Free marketeers--like Milton Friedman--pushed for the rest of the world to follow suit, to abandon state-run economies and markets. And  in some cases, states in the East acquiesced, though never fully embracing the concept, as those in power were not willing to simply surrender authority wholesale.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Biden and LaHood: Laurel and Hardy

Which came first, the Biden or the Hood? Back in February of 2011, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood came together to announce the administration's plans to spend billions of dollars--$53 billion, actually--on high-speed commuter rail systems. Here's the White House on the subject:
“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure,” said Vice President Biden. “As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans.”  
The $8 billion investment in high-speed rail the President is proposing just for next year will help revitalize the domestic rail industry, as well as foster innovation and job creation by connecting major population centers. Strong Buy American requirements will create tens of thousands of middle-class jobs in construction, manufacturing, and rail operations.
So, where are those "ten of thousands of jobs"? How revitalized is the domestic rail industry? Anyone taken a train for the first time recently? Here's Ray LaHood's blog entry--mentioned above--on the matter:
In his State of the Union address two weeks ago, President Obama reminded us that to win the future, we must dream big and build big. To secure long-term economic prosperity for future generations, we must--once again--build the best roadways, railways, and runways in the world... 
Other communities we'll visit this week include Daytona Beach, Dayton, Fort Pierce, Cleveland, and Wichita. In these cities, we'll see exciting projects building new roadways and reconstructing others; creating intermodal terminals and upgrading transit stations; and stimulating expanded manufacturing in general aviation. 
In all of these locations, Americans can see the federal government in partnership with states, communities, and private businesses to invest in tomorrow while creating jobs today. 
That's what happens when we out-build the rest of the world. That's what happens when we set out to win the future.
So let's be clear here, the Administration--through Biden and LaHood--is touting this big infrastructure building project as key to growing the economy, to creating jobs, in "securing long-term prosperity." Got it? Build big and things fall into place. He who builds the biggest controls the future (and yes, this all plays into the ideological argument I outlined previously). Does it seem like I'm overstating things, that I'm going too far in suggesting that just building infrastructure is all that matters in their minds? Well, consider David Harsanyi's take on Ray La Hood:
In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to meet cabinet members, governors, senators and even a few presidential candidates, but, honestly, I’ve never met anyone less impressive at the higher levels of government than LaHood. When I listened to him claim that commercial flying was a perilous mode of transportation, heard him say that bullet trains would soon replace cars and claim that building more bike lanes would solve the congestion problems in major cities … well, how can I put this: giving someone this silly a cabinet position should be an impeachable offense.
That was from early this month. What set Harsanyi off on this rant was LaHood's open admiration of authoritarianism--in the form of the Chinese government--because of it's effectiveness in building infrastructure. Forget LaHood's stupidity in praising authoritarianism. Consider instead his complete break with historical reality. The Soviets were pretty good at huge public works projects, as well. The problem is, such projects--mandated by fiat, based on the opinions of a few--may or may not yield positive results. Because the few that decide the construction is a good idea are often politicians or bureaucrats who have no idea if a given project is really a good idea.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Maddow can lie with the best of them

In a previous piece--Liberal Media Bias laid bare--I demonstrated quite conclusively that there was a built-in double standard for how deception is handled by pundits, depending on who is doing the deceiving. In that piece, I looked at two stories by Kevin Drum: one about Obama's recent comments with the money quote "you didn't build that," and the other about Romney's comments in January of this year with the money quote "I like being able to fire people."

For Drum, the use by the Right of that money quote out of context was beyond the pale, it was--in his words--idiocy. And indeed, the quote has been used by conservative and Republican voices, including in a Romney Campaign ad. In contrast, the Left's use of Romney's money quote out of context--including by the Obama Campaign--was treated by Drum as something to basically joke about, with him actually positing that using the quote out of context might even be justified.

And I used this evidence to generalize about the liberal media as whole, again arguing that Drum's attitude here was common, if not endemic, among such people. So, I give you all more grist for that same mill, in the form of progressive darling Rachel Maddow. First, watch this clip at RealClearPolitics. Maddow makes an ass of herself by claiming that Romney, Obama, and Warren have all made the same argument, with regard to business, government, and infrastructure, an idea that I have completely debunked. But forget that. Maddow finishes the bit with a rant about Romney lying, about how over the top it is for his campaign to use the President's words out of context.

Now, let's look at Maddow's blog from, yes, January of this year, discussing the same statement from Romney that Drum discussed: "I like being able to fire people." The blog--Maddow is not listed as the author of this piece, but I assume she "approved the message"--correctly notes the money quote as being culled from a larger statement which changes the meaning of the words. But then it offers up this bit of analysis, in that regard:
That's a little softer than just "I like being able to fire people," but still not wicked cuddly. National Democrats see enough value in it that they jammed the clip onto YouTube moments ago.
That's it. No excoriating folks on the Left for their misuse of the quote. The Obama Campaign ad--which I provided and also misuses Romney's words by truncating them down to just the money quote with no further explanation--came out a few days after the above blog entry. Did Maddow ever go after that ad and tsk-tsk Obama for lying? No, of course not. In fact, here is another of her blog pieces from April of this year. Check this line out (my boldface):
All of those examples followed Romney suggesting elective office is only for the rich, clumsily talking about his fondness for being able to fire people, demanding that talk of economic justice be limited to "quiet rooms," accusing those who care about income inequality of "envy," daring Rick Perry to accept a $10,000 bet, and suggesting that Americans should somehow feel sorry for poor banks.
Well shoot, that can't be right. It's the Maddow Blog doing exactly what Maddow is all steamed up about: using a quote out of context to convey an unintended message. Say it ain't so, Rachel! You're as big a liar as anyone else. And you have the nerve to accuse someone else of doing exactly what you have no problem doing. At least Obama and Romney are politicians; misrepresentation in politics is a given, we all know that. But Maddow--and her fanboys--like to pretend she's an honest, thoughtful journalist. Looks like she just another partisan pundit...

Cheers, all.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ideology is front and center. Finally.

The pundits and political operatives are still spinning like mad, with regard to the President's much-talked about comments in Roanoke, Va. Did he just take a swipe at American businesses and entrepreneurs? Or were his remarks taken out of context? The Romney Campaign--eager to get the issue of tax returns off of the front page--has gone after the President's comments with guns a-blazin'. And rightly so; it's serious red meat and plays well to both Romney's base and independents. Obama's words:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. 
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
But setting aside the spin and the spinmeisters, we finally have something really important to talk about, when it comes to differentiating Obama and Romney: ideology. Romney has actually realized this. In Boston today, Romney said the following:
Now, I know there are some people who think what the president said was just a gaffe. It wasn't a gaffe. It was instead his ideology. The president does in fact believe that people who build enterprises like this really aren't responsible for it, but in fact it's a collective success of the whole society, so somehow builds enterprises like this. In my view, we ought to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ other people.
Truth. Pure, unadulterated truth. It's uncouth to call the President a socialist or a communist, but let's get real. If nothing else, his words, policies, and actions reveal him to be a collectivist. Socialism, communism and even fascism are collectivist ideologies.

What is collectivism? Simply put, it's the reverse of individualism as a standard for structuring society. Collectivists believe there is no "going it alone," that society can only function properly when interdependence is the rule, not independence. And those words--individualism and independence--resonate loudly in the American Experience; they have been core principals since the Founding.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hilarious attempt to cover up a useless initiative

I'm not sure who broke the story first. It may have been Politico. But it all came to a head today when spokesmodel Jay Carney fielded a question from a reporter. Asked why the vaunted Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has not met in over six months, Carney fumbles for an answer, ultimately giving none. Watch the exchange below:


Obama, back in January of this year, insisted that the Council wasn't just for show, was a solid, legitimate initiative that would help with the economic recovery. And of course, we all know Obama has been "focused like a laser" on job creation for, what? Two years now? More? Yet, according to Carney, Obama has "too much on his plate" to bother with the Jobs Council.

That's comforting.

The story is moving rapidly through the 'net and various media outlets. The Romney Campaign has already pounced on it. Time for damage control. And in that regard, check this out. That's the "about" page on the Job Council's official website. Look at the date at the top: Thursday July 19th, 2012. That's tomorrow. Someone has quickly fired up their computer at the Council and stuffed in an "about" piece that suggests the Council is actively engaged with the President, despite the latter having "too much on his plate" and the former not having met in six months. And look at the final paragraph from the "about" page:
Despite the hard times and anxieties that too many Americans now face, Council members are united in their conviction that America’s best days lie ahead. But we need a sense of urgency and a bias for action. We won’t make progress together unless each of us is willing to change. As you’ll learn from this report, when it comes to accelerating a siting permit or issuing visas, there are always a hundred reasons to delay action. But there are 25 million other reasons to act now. When 25 million Americans who want full-time work can’t find it, each of us has a duty to think and act differently. These are not ordinary times. We owe it to our fellow citizens desperate to get back to work to act on these common-sense ideas without delay.
Looks a lot more like a campaign ad than a description of what the Council is actually doing. And the whole thing is a set-up--with the "common sense ideas"--to play the "both sides agree" card again. What a joke.

Cheers, all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Liberal Media Bias laid bare

Even when they're honest, they're biased.

It's been years--over a decade, actually--since Bernie Goldberg released Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, touching off a firestorm of debate over the truth or lack thereof of an ingrained leftist bias in the mainstream media. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever truly refuted Goldberg's thesis. Sure, journalists have complained loudly about it, denied it's truth and accuracy, but they've never been able to show--nor has anyone else--that Goldberg was wrong.

Eric Alterman tried desperately to re-imagine the argument with Goldberg by suggesting that a belief in such a bias led to wrong-headed attempts to correct this--according to him--non existent liberal bias, thus tilting the bias to the right, of all places. And while it is true that news sources like FoxNews have emerged as powerful players since the time of Goldberg's book, the media remains, by and large, a liberal one--as I have previously explained--for very specific reasons.

If some still harbor doubt, witness two stories by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones (Alterman's old stomping grounds, by the way) on the issue of context, with regard to outrage over comments by politicians.

The first story is from today. Entitled No Obama Isn't Taking Credit For Building Your Business, it concerns the recent comments made by the President in Roanoke, Va. that has the Right all fired up and out of sorts. The hot-button Obama quote circulating around is:
If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
And indeed, Obama did say those words. But they're being misinterpreted. From just the above, it appears Obama is saying that entrepreneurs didn't build their own businesses, that other people did it for them. And if that was what the President meant, it would indeed be outrageous. But it's not. What Obama said in context (my boldface):
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
See it? Obama is saying that business owners didn't create the system itself, didn't build the roads and bridges. Of course, Obama is still fundamentally wrong, since it's still entrepreneurs--of the past--who powered the growth to fund such construction, but let's set that aside for now. The point is, Obama was not suggesting business owners didn't deserve credit for building successful businesses. And Drum, in his piece, is all over this:
Conservatives are going absolutely nuts over the bolded sentence. But can we please stop the idiocy? What Obama meant — obviously, plainly, clearly — is that you, the business owner, didn't build the roads and bridges. Just like you didn't build the internet that you also use as part of your business. This is consistent with the entire theme of his speech, which is dedicated to the proposition that all of us benefit from outside help, including stuff that the government provides. Not only is this uncontroversial, it's positively banal.
Note, however, the tone of the piece. Conservatives are "going nuts." And it's "idiocy." He might as well just call them all morons or the like, because that's clearly what he thinks.

The perils of being clueless

Paul Waldman--formerly of Media Matters and now a "big gun" at the American Prospect--has authored a piece at the latter with perhaps the most ironic title in the history of political commentary: Why "Knowing How the Economy Works" Is Not Enough. The central thrust of the piece is that Romney has no special knowledge about the economy that could--if he were President--turn it around, that if the things he's campaigning on would actually lead to sustained growth, Obama would have already done those things. In Waldman's words:
But if there were a magic key to unlock spectacular growth and widely shared prosperity, you'd think we would have found it by now. There hasn't been a president in decades, the current one included, who didn't have lots of businesspeople working in his administration. And Barack Obama talks to corporate leaders all the time. If Romney knows something they don't, he hasn't told us what it is. If you read through his economic plan, you'll find that it contains the same things Republicans always advocate: lower taxes, reduced regulations, free trade, and so on...
Perhaps he plans to unveil this remarkable insight once the election is over; if so, one can hope that as a patriotic American he'll share it with the country even if he loses. Because even if it involved some policies that conservatives like, you can bet that President Obama would be happy to take the bargain if it would deliver something like the sustained 4 percent growth George W. Bush promises. If you really could create a humming economy just by cutting taxes for the wealthy and creating some "Reagan Economic Zones" (yes, that's something Romney proposes, though he doesn't say much about what it means), Obama would do it.
Understand? According to Waldman, if these conservative/libertarian prescriptions for improving the economy actually worked, Obama would follow them...and apparently hard-core progressives like Waldman would be okay with such a move. Dwell on that for a moment. According to Waldman--who carries a doctorate in communications, by the way--Obama has no ideological objections to decreasing taxes on the wealthy, to freeing up capital by removing regulations, or allowing freer, more open markets. Obama only has pragmatic objections to these things, because--again, according to Waldman--they won't be effective.

Of course, we already know that the reverse of many of these things doesn't work. Have the historic levels of new regulations led to pronounced growth? Of course not.  How about increased government participation in markets? Nope. And just for fun, the regulation growth chart again:


My previous and still applicable conclusion from that piece:
Regardless, the chief point remains: if all of this stuff was of such a benefit, why doesn't the economy always grow? In fact, if this were the case, logically the more onerous regulations were, the more economic growth there would be. Right? They're a funny people, these liberals and progressives. Aren't they?
Thus, the irony of Waldman's title: he clearly doesn't have a clue how the economy works. But he refuses to let that get in his way.

Monday, July 16, 2012

When will the Candidates release their Google search histories?

Witness the naked speculation of punditry land in this piece at Salon by Joan Walsh. Complete with a worried-looking Romney photo, it's an open hit piece suggesting Romney has "something to hide" in his tax returns:
George Will made a point that Democrats have made before him, but his conservative credibility and capacity for pronouncements from on high gave it special resonance: Romney’s older tax returns must contain more damaging information than what we already know, since he’s so intent on hiding them.
Ms. Walsh is not alone on this; the talking points have gone out and the mainstream media has responded in full. Everyone is jumping on the issue, on Romney's "tax return problem." By and large, they're all insisting that he should make all of his tax returns public, that not doing so is some sort of refusal on Romney's part to...well, give the pundits what they want. Because the reality of the matter is that federal election law imposes no requirement on candidates to release their tax returns. Not the returns for one year. Not for two years. And certainly not ten or twenty years worth.

One would think--listening to the self-important pundits--that Romney was behaving almost criminally for not  providing boxes of documents for the media to sift through (my last two tax returns were over fifty pages long each, and I'm hardly in Romney's bracket). Because let's be clear about this: the electorate doesn't want to see Romney's tax returns (nor were they interested in McCain's or Kerry's in previous election years). Hell, they can't--for the most part--even be counted on to read a Supreme Court decision in full. Such heavy lifting--appropriate for a citizenry that chooses to be informed--is left for others, for pundits, for "journalists."

But these latter two groups aren't doing that lifting to inform the citizenry, by and large. They're doing it in hopes of finding a "gotcha" moment or of advancing their partisan desires, or both. The idea that Romney needs to release these documents, that not doing so is some sort slap in the face to the electorate is crap. What it is is a slap in the face to the ones making a stink about the information, the "journalists" who suppose they have special needs and special prerogatives, when it comes to personal and/or private information.

In that regard, they're almost as bad as the Federal Government.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Insourcing Responsibilty

The Obama Campaign is fired up about outsourcing and insourcing. It's still running an ad that--as I previously noted--is blatantly false, that lambastes Romney for being a supposed "pioneer" in outsourcing. And despite all the fact-checking demonstrating that the ad--along with other similar ones--is misleading at best, the President is staying on message. Obama, from yesterday at a campaign rally in Virginia:
I don't want a pioneer in outsourcing. I want some insourcing. I want to bring companies back.
Not to be outdone, the GOP and the Romney Campaign have returned fire, claiming that Obama has led the way in outsourcing jobs since he took office. Mitt Romney, from just a few days ago:
This president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies, solar and wind energy companies that end up making their products outside the United States. If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it’s the president of the United States, not the guy who’s running to replace him.
WaPo--which provided the original material for the Obama Campaign's phony claims, then sought to mealy-mouth it's way out of responsibility for the same--actually had the audacity to fact-check the Romney statement and other GOP ads, ultimately concluding thusly:
We understand what the RNC is trying to do. The Obama campaign has made unsupported charges about Romney’s record on outsourcing while at Bain Capital, and now Republicans want to try to argue that the stimulus law is, in effect, Obama’s Bain Capital — and that Obama did even worse things than he is accusing Romney of... 
We wavered between four and three Pinocchios on this. On a broad-brush basis, the RNC’s central claim has a bit of truth in it — some jobs were likely created overseas and some money went overseas — but the details on the Web site are pretty farcical. It is probably more like 3 ½, but we don’t give ½ Pinocchios.
Consider that analysis in context. The WaPo fact-checker didn't award any Pinocchios to Obama and his campaign for the now-debunked ads about Romney and Bain. Instead, it offered an inept excuse about not wanting to engage in "media criticism." Translation: the WaPo story used by Obama was poorly researched and we don't want to make our own writers look bad. And that's funny because the WaPo fact-checker had no problem awarding Pinocchios (four of them, in fact) to the Obama Campaign for the same claims when those claims did not cite a WaPo story directly. Is there an Eleventh Commandment at WaPo? Apparently.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Go Negative or Go Home

Remember in the days of yore, when the media elites would quickly pounce on presidential candidates (well, Republican presidential candidates) who dared to "go negative"? Witness this article form the New York Times in 2008, chastising McCain for doing just that:
McCain's campaign is now under the leadership of members of Bush's re-election campaign, including Steve Schmidt, who ran the Bush war room that relentlessly painted his opponent in 2004, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, as effete, elite and equivocal. 
The attacks against Obama have been strikingly reminiscent of that drive to tarnish Kerry's name, including the tactic of attacking the opponent's perceived strengths head-on. Thus, the latest ad portrays the huge crowds that turned out for Obama in Berlin not as a sign of his genuine appeal but as a reflection of celebrity-minded superficiality.
The McCain campaign dared to suggest that there was less to Obama than many believed, that his appeal was mostly based on his star-power, not on the actual skill set and policy ideas he was bringing to the table. How evil!

Going back in time, the first Bush was roundly chastised in both 1988 and 1992 for having a negative campaign, as was Reagan in 1984. But all of this pales in comparison to the heat George W. Bush got for his negative campaigns. The erstwhile Dana Milbank jumped on Bush for "unprecedented negativity" in 2004:
Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate. 
The assault on Kerry is multi-tiered: It involves television ads, news releases, Web sites and e-mail, and statements by Bush spokesmen and surrogates -- all coordinated to drive home the message that Kerry has equivocated and "flip-flopped" on Iraq, support for the military, taxes, education and other matters.  
"There is more attack now on the Bush side against Kerry than you've historically had in the general-election period against either candidate," said University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on political communication. "This is a very high level of attack, particularly for an incumbent."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Left-Wing Whine Machine

Excuses. Everyone has them, they're a dime a dozen (incidentally, when was the last time you actually saw something that cost a dime a dozen?). Joe Williams--formerly of Politico--has a box full, himself. Remember Williams? He made the live comments about Romney "only being comfortable around white people," got dressed down by his employer, then tweeted rude things about the employer. Politico didn't have the stones to fire him outright, though. He was put on a "leave of absence" while he "transitions to the next phase of his career." Seriously.

Williams came back with guns ablazing, though. Writing at NBC's The Grio, he laments what transpired as a "cautionary tale," suggesting he was a victim of the "Right Wing Noise Machine":
The Right Wing Noise Machine — a small cabal of self-appointed watchdogs on a perpetual hunt for perceived liberal bias — had struck again...

Yet it’s easy to miss the larger lesson in my cautionary tale — that a tiny group of organizations with internet access, a money pipeline and next to no credibility can coerce powerful, independent news organizations that pride themselves on speaking truth to power. Rather than inform the public or operate as a legitimate check on the media, pointing out gaps in newsroom diversity or errors in coverage, members of the RWNM only care about their agenda: harassing, undermining, discrediting and embarrassing people who don’t agree with their view of the world.
The Right Wing Noise Machine. I like that. And of course, there is no such entity on the left. There are no groups funded by powerful liberal/progressive sorts that do the same thing, right? Media Matters--for instance--doesn't track every word out of Rush Limbaugh's mouth, hoping for a "gotcha" moment. Orgs like Soros' MoveOn don't play this sort of game at all. Right.

Gonna be Fireworks

In honor of Independence Day, we have the best of Schoolhouse Rock.

No More Kings:



The Shot Heard Round the World:



Fireworks:



Preamble:



Happy 4th!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ghosts of the Past

With Independence Day looming, it's probably a good time to talk about, well, the Founding of the American Republic. In this regard, there are two overlapping groups of DWM (Dead White Men) who dominate the conversation, and rightly so: the Founders (or Founding Fathers) and the Framers.

The Founders is actually the less precise--though larger--group. In fact, the Framers (of the Constitution) is properly seen as a subset of the Founders: all Framers are Founders, but not all Founders are Framers. Aside from the Framers, the Founders can also includes all of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence and to the Articles of Confederation, along with the Sons of Liberty, various other Colonial leaders, and significant players in the Revolutionary War. I say "can include" because there is no definitive list of Founders; different historians have different criteria for establishing membership in the legendary group.

The Framers is not subject to such arbitrary standards. For at the very least, to be a Framer means to have taken part in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The National Archives website gives a brief overview of these 55 men. From the Library of Congress, here are brief sketches of each Delegate, as authored by one of the Delegates, William Pierce. Not all of these men were in attendance throughout the Convention, nor did all of them contribute significantly to the actual production of the Constitution. But it is difficult to say--with any certainty--that one or another should not be included, since we are not privy to all that was said, both privately and publicly.

Nonetheless, certain individuals stand out. In both groups. And to be a prominent Framer is to be a prominent Founder, that much is certain. In this regard, we have--as Framers and Founders, both--the usual culprits (in no particular order): George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Charles Pinckney, James Wilson, William Paterson, Gouverneur Morris, George Mason (who refused to sign the final document), John Rutledge, and Elbridge Gerry (who also refused to sign). Certainly, there are others who could be included here, but these are the men--by my own reckoning--who played the larger roles.

Looking at this list and thinking of the Founders in general, there are notable personages missing, chief among them being Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Indeed, these two, along with the Federalist authors-- Madison, Jay, Hamilton--plus Franklin and of course Washington compose what some historians see as the core group of Founding Fathers. Seven men whose contributions were so great that without anyone one of them, the American Republic would not have assumed it's present form.

Obama believes in "insourcing"

Know what's missing from this campaign? The usual blather--from both sides--about not wanting to go negative, McCain-esque pledges to run a positive campaign. Guns have been blazing since day one. And that's probably a good thing. The whole "not go negative" stuff was a pretty recent development. Go back fifty or one hundred years and you'd find Presidential Campaigns that had no problem attacking the other side, no problem latching on to any bit of information to make the other guy look bad.

Of course, there was no internet fifty years ago and no television one hundred years ago, so campaigns did have to pick their moments. Attacks were more localized, as a matter of course. The positive stuff--the campaign sloganeering and the like--was reserved for national attention. But even then, digs at opponents were commonplace.

And yet, such campaigning was itself new one hundred to one hundred and fifty years ago. In the first decades of the American Republic, Presidential candidates assumed more stoic positions, allowing most "campaigning" to be done via editorials and broadsides. Things started to change after the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804 (which changed how the President and Vice-President were chosen by the Electoral College). In the Election of 1828--between President John Quincy Adams and challenger Andrew Jackson--mudslinging abounded. Still, it was almost all third-party stuff. Especially infamous were the Coffin Handbills, broadsides that attacked Jackson on various issues, most of them personal.

The Election of 1840--pitting President Martin Van Buren against Whig challenger William Henry Harrison--was probably the first "modern" election in terms of campaigning, however. Unlike past candidates, Harrison actively campaigned for the office of President, fashioning himself a "man of the people" and his opponent an "elitist snob." His campaign's slogan--Tippecanoe and Tyler too--became known throughout the land, thanks in no small part to a song of the same name. The lyrics of the latter were hardly vicious, calling Van Buren a "little man," but not much more. Still, the slogan and the song set the stage for a campaign that emphasized differences between Van Buren and Harrison, to Harrison's benefit. Whenever it would appeal to the average voter, Harrison portrayed himself as the opposite of Van Buren; whether or not this was true was inconsequential.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Know-nothings target Scalia

Following last week's series of Court Opinions--from the Obamacare ruling to the Arizona immigration laws ruling--there has been a great deal of commentary on the Court. With regard to the latter, much has been made of Justice Scalia's decision to read excerpts of his dissent from the bench. There's no question that Scalia was "fired up" about the issue and the ruling. And I think--in hindsight--it might even been fair to ask if he went a little overboard. Maybe in the same way President Obama went a little overboard in chiding the Court during a State of the Union Address? Or the way Democrats have been going a little overboard for the past several months in criticizing the Court over the Obamacare ruling it had yet to make (assuming all the while the Court would strike down the mandate)?

But did such actions bring about calls for resignation or Impeachment of Obama and a truckload of Democrats? No. In contrast, Scalia is getting both. First, there's E.J. Dionne--notable intellectual lightweight--who thinks Scalia should step down:
Justice Antonin Scalia needs to resign from the Supreme Court... 
So often, Scalia has chosen to ignore the obligation of a Supreme Court justice to be, and appear to be, impartial. He's turned "judicial restraint" into an oxymoronic phrase. But what he did this week, when the court announced its decision on the Arizona immigration law, should be the end of the line. 
Not content with issuing a fiery written dissent, Scalia offered a bench statement questioning President Obama's decision to allow some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children to stay. Obama's move had nothing to do with the case in question. Scalia just wanted you to know where he stood.
Now as it happens, I've had the good fortune to hear Scalia speak--and even meet the man--at an event (for the Heritage Foundation a few years ago). Scalia--like the other Justices, when speaking in public--was very careful not to comment on issues that would suggest partiality, that were overtly political, or that might come before the Court. He confined his remarks to general legal theory and issues already decided by the Court. So on that point, Dionne is tragically clueless. But on the next--on Scalia offering a bench statement in addition to a "fiery dissent"--Dionne proves himself to be an idiot. Scalia's "bench statement," as I noted in the first paragraph, was simply a part of his dissent.