Romney and the 47%

September 18, 2012

In case you haven’t seen it:

Romney: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.

“These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.”

So who are these 47% of no-income-tax-paying Americans that Mitt Romney has given up on? Well, from the Atlantic, the following map shows the percent of people, by state, who pay no income tax. The 10 highest states are in red, the 10 lowest in blue, the middle ones in white.

And from my previous post, the electorate map from the 2008 election. Red states republican, blue states democrat.

Of the 10 worst states, only two voted democratic in 2008. Eight, or 80%, voted republican.

So I ask again: who in fact are these 47% of no-good, irresponsible, hapless, govt-dependent, un-American, food-entitled freeloaders??

Mitt Romney’s base.

(O the irony…)

In the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling that upheld Obamacare, Florida Governor Rick Scott is leading the revolt against the ruling and the law itself, by refusing to accept the $1.9 billion in federal medicaid subsidies allocated to his state by the Affordable Care Act.

It got me thinking about federal transfers to states, and about something Paul Krugman wrote (in his blog or his book, I forget where), about the reasons why the United States is not suffering the same type of regional economic malfunction as the EU, even though both the US and EU are large single currency zones comprised of mostly independent governments.

One reason, Krugman notes, is that labor mobility is more constrained in the EU than in the US, due to language barriers and cultural differences and nationalism and whatnot. Even though unemployment is sky high in Spain, it’s still a rather prohibitive task for a Spaniard to move to Germany for work, where the culture and language are vastly different, than it is for, say, an American to move from Nevada to New York.

The other (more relevant to this post) reason Krugman noted is that the EU does not have a federal fiscal union to help mediate severe economic imbalances, such as the imbalances the EU is suffering from today. In the US, when states like Nevada and Florida imploded from the housing collapse, the federal govt was still there to pay for things like entitlements, social safety net programs, unemployment insurance, and even stimulus. In the EU, on the other hand, there’s no fiscal union, so nation states like Spain and Italy, suffering from similar housing collapses, are on their own when it comes to funding their social safety nets. This is severely straining their budgets, forcing them to contract, which only further depresses their economies, causing more unemployment and, in turn, higher safety net costs (and the vicious cycle just goes on and on, with no end in sight). The EU as a whole could easily handle the budgetary problems that the financial crisis has brought about, but the EU as independent fiscal entities is proving that it cannot.

So, getting back to the US, I was curious to see which states receive the most in federal transfers, and from which states those transfers are taken. I found this chart from the economist:

The states in red are net “debtors” — i.e, they receive more in federal funds than they pay in federal taxes. The states in blue are the creditors — they pay more in taxes than they receive in funds. The darker the color, the more extreme the deficit/surplus (in terms of the state’s GDP). So for example, NY, NJ and Minnesota are big creditors, while Mississippi, West Virginia, and New Mexico are big debtors.

All this “red” and “blue”-ness got me thinking about political parties and election results. Here’s the electoral chart from the 2008 presidential election (via npr)

Notice there’s a bit of correlation between the red and blue election results, and the red and blue fiscal positions. In fact, of the 22 states that leaned republican, only 4 are net creditors: Texas, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Georgia (and they’re all the lightest of blue, so just barely in surplus). On the contrary, of the 28 states that voted democratic, 17 are creditors.

Oh, and Florida? A debtor state (tho it did go for Obama in 2008).

So Governor Scott claims that Floridians simply cannot afford the new medicaid provisions under Obamacare, and for his sake, he’s probably right. Because the fact is, over the last 20 years the people of Florida have never been able to afford their entitlement programs.

I suppose you could draw your own conclusions about the correlation here, but it seems like those states that express the most fiery contempt for our overly large and imposing federal union, so happen to be the ones that benefit the most from it.

Fear and gay marriage

February 24, 2012

From the LA Times: Maryland Republican: Meeting gay couples left me ‘changed person’

A chance shake-up of Maryland House of Delegates seating assignments brought Republican Wade Kach face to face with gay couples who had come to make the case for a gay marriage law, and might have proved decisive in its final passage through the state’s General Assembly on Thursday.

Kach, who had previously backed attempts to define marriage as between one man and one woman, found a space right next to the witness table.

“I saw with so many of the gay couples, they were so devoted to another. I saw so much love,” he said. “When this hearing was over, I was a changed person in regard to this issue. I felt that I understood what same sex couples were looking for.”

A week later, Kach voted for the gay marriage bill on the floor of the House of Delegates, one of only two Republicans to do so. Their support proved vital, as the bill squeaked through the 141-member chamber on a 72–67 vote.

If only we could get more conservatives to sit down with gay couples, have a conversation, and realize there’s nothing to be afraid of. Because I believe at the core of every anti-gay-marriage argument, is fear.

Of course, most people would reject that accusation. But I don’t see any way around it.

If they say they “have nothing against gay people”, then I ask why they feel the need to control their behavior, when that behavior has no tangible effect on anyone whatsoever?

If it’s that they’re “protecting the sanctity of marriage”, then I ask what they are protecting it from? “Protecting” it implies there’s somebody out there attacking it, which implies that those “attackers” ought to be feared and stopped.

Or if it’s just that they’re worried about the country’s moral values, then what makes a values system that embraces married gay couples so threatening? Why would such a moral code be a problem for anyone? If it’s a problem at all, then the problem must be gay couples, who must represent some sort of moral disease, a disease that decays our values and thus should be feared and expunged (which gets me back to fear again).

Fear is a powerful and influential emotion, causing people to do and say very irrational things. But there’s no real threat, and we all have the conscious rational capacity to take a moment and realize that our instinctual reaction to people who aren’t like us doesn’t have to be our conscious reaction. That just because they don’t look like us or act like us doesn’t necessarily make them a threat. That just because they don’t think like we do doesn’t make them wrong.

We humans are a widely varying breed. At the lines that divide us, there is often fear, suspicion, and conflict. But we as a species have the conscious ability to overcome our instincts. We have the uniquely-human capacity to communicate with each other using precise terms and intellectual clarity. We’re not grunting beasts anymore. Perhaps one day we all can find solidarity in that.

Lying doesn’t matter

January 2, 2012

Cantor refuses to admit Reagan raised taxes

An excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview between Lesley Stahl and Eric Cantor, shortly after Cantor remarked that he’s willing to cooperate with democrats, but unwilling to compromise his principles:

Stahl: But your idol … was Ronald Reagan, and he compromised.
Cantor: But he never compromised his principles.
Stahl: Well, he raised taxes, and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes.
Cantor: Well, he also cut taxes.
Stahl: But he did compromise.
Cantor: Well, but —
(Cantor’s press secretary, from off camera): That’s not true, and I don’t want to let that stand.

I’m not sure which statement Cantor’s press secretary was challenging, but nothing there is factually untrue. Reagan did cut taxes significantly when he took office; but subsequently he raised them, across all income brackets, several times. Even if you want to argue semantics about the word “compromise”, cue the clip of Reagan speaking to the nation from the Oval Office after signing a tax-hike bill in 1982: “Make no mistake about it, this whole package is a compromise.”

So Cantor’s press secretary is either (a) misinformed about (relatively recent) history, or (b) is lying.

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume it’s (b), he’s lying (for it would take a truly astonishing amount of ignorance to have risen so high in the world of politics — as to become a sitting congressman’s press secretary — and yet still be totally unaware that Reagan in fact raised taxes 12 times during his presidency).

So he’s lying, simply put. And not about complicated stuff like climate change or economic policy, where it’s very easy to sneak in an un-truth, but about easily verifiable facts, like which legislation Reagan signed into law (they keep records of such things).

It makes you wonder: why would he do it? Why make such an obvious lie, on national television no less? Why expose yourself as a disingenuous fraud?

Here’s the reason: because lying works.

Yes, it would be easy to validate his lie, but how many people are going to do that? And if the audience wants to be lied to, if they want their pre-conceived notion of reality confirmed, then they will accept the lie with satisfaction, both intellectually and emotionally. In fact, depending on how emotionally invested they are, they might actively resist anyone who tries to reveal the actual truth of the matter. The truth would have such an emotionally destabilizing effect on them, that their mind and body reflexively resists it. These are the hapless ignoramuses of the world. They are not wantonly ignorant; they are helplessly so. Their emotional tranquility depends on it. We humans are instinctive animals, governed largely by our subconscious emotional lizard brain. To override our emotional instincts requires an exceptional amount of intellectual effort — an effort that most humans, unfortunately, do not have the capacity to summon. We fancy ourselves as rational beings, but for the most part we are slaves to our subconscious. All we really seem to be good at is rationalizing our irrational feelings. Go figure.

So in this case, the easier thing to do here, rather than try to precariously tip-toe around these inconvenient facts — facts that contradict the revisionist image of Reagan that modern republicans try to paint — is to just lie about them. Step right up and lie flat out, bald faced and all.

Dick Cheney once (in)famously quipped, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” At some point, some idiot self-satisfied overconfident republican is going to let slip: “The modern-day republican party has proven, without a doubt, that lying doesn’t matter.”

Given the abundance of un-truths circulating Washington these days, it appears that more and more politicians have figured this out.

A recent poll:

It’s kind of scary. Foxnews has infected its audience with an astoundingly myopic view of the world. These viewers are utterly incapable of having any sort of reasonably informed intellectual discussion about anything. Everything is simply Obama’s fault. Everything he says is a lie. He’s just a dirty socialist hell bent on destroying the country. He’s trying to hoodwink us all.

It’s amazing. The President is agreeing to some $4 trillion in budget cuts, and yet viewers STILL think he’s fear mongering in order to get his way. If that’s the case, then what is “his way”? Getting the long term budget in control by making some cuts and raising some taxes?? Is that so unreasonable? Is it such a crime to close private-jet-tax-loopholes and let the Bush-era upper-echelon tax breaks expire? Must he instill the fear of economic calamity before republicans will give an inch? And if so, then what does that say about republicans? Are they so obnoxiously stubborn that they’ll refuse everything the President offers so they can stick to their ridiculous pledge not to raise taxes on the uber wealthy? Have they no willingness to compromise?

About the debt ceiling… no one really knows what exactly will happen if it’s not raised. No one can predict the market with 100% certainty. However, I’m fairly certain that the likelihood nothing bad will happen at all — that this is all just a political scare tactic by our devilish president — is much much lower than 88%. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the impact would indeed be calamitous, with the worst case scenario being absolutely catastrophic.

When you’re facing such a grave worst case scenario, it’s best not to tempt your fate – lest you follow down the path of ruined fools.

I think the more appropriate answer for foxnews viewers is (a) Not sure, I don’t know enough about how the economy works. Because clearly, they don’t.

Dear First Responder,

We thank you for your heroism on September 11th. We thank you for running toward the burning buildings and smoldering rubble while everyone else was running away. We thank you for your bravery, your sacrifice, your patriotism, your selfless devotion to your duty to help your fellow man in desperate need. You stand for the best of America, the best of humanity, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude.

But it appears that, from a political point of view, we don’t owe you govt-funded health care. This is unfortunate for you, because now you are dying. We told you it was safe to work in “the pile”, but of course it wasn’t. And now you are suffering from numerous diseases, all directly related to the toxic exposure you suffered while working at ground zero.

I hope you understand. We can’t fund your health care for several reasons, one of which, as Republican Representative Lamar Smith puts it, “This legislation as written creates a huge $8.4 billion slush fund paid by taxpayers that is open to abuse, fraud and waste.” How can we in good faith pass legislation that one day might be abused?

Nevermind that the current tax code is so complex at the top end that it’s abused every day by savvy moneymen who find unintended loopholes to swipe millions if not billions of dollars of tax revenue. And nevermind that the financial deregulation the Republican party strongly supports would undoubtedly allow financiers to deftly abuse and manipulate markets, steering massive amounts of wealth their way in bubbly speculative schemes using opaque unregulated “financially innovative” instruments, before walking away with the loot and leaving the rest of society to deal with the crash. (Oh, and if for some reason they’re unable to get away before the roof caves in, then I hope you don’t mind if we fund their bailout, to the tune of $850 billion dollars or so. Yes, this is a bit more than the $8.4 billion slush fund we refuse to give 9/11 first responders for health care, but, you see, well, it’s finance. It’s very complicated. We MUST bail them out. You, on the other hand…).

The legislation also creates a bad precedent. If we pay for your health care, what’s to stop the next group of first responders, who bravely perform their duty after (God forbid) the next terrible devastating attack, from seeking the same kind of govt-paid health services? By helping you, we open the door to helping all of our brave and patriotic service men and women. And that just can’t happen.

As I said before, we really do appreciate your service. In fact, we will continue to exploit the patriotic services of men and women like yourself when it suits us, for example, when we pass legislation that subverts the rights of privacy and due process that are protected by our Bill of Rights (don’t worry, we called it the PATRIOT Act, evoking images of true patriots like yourself, to throw off all the Republicans who would normally be 100% against such legislation).

But as for making your life longer, or your inevitable death less painful, I’m sorry, but the govt just can’t afford it. We’ve got tax cuts for super-rich wall-street wizards to pay for (you may remember them — they were running past you the other way on 9/11).

Yours sincerely and respectfully,
Senate Republicans.

In the days after September 11th, 2001, President Bush declared to us, and to Muslim people around the world, that America was NOT at war against Islam.

But he didn’t clearly and definitively state the converse: that the Islamic world was not at war against America.

It wasn’t a calculated omission, but it was an unfortunate one nonetheless. Since then, some people have insisted on repeatedly stating that Muslims attacked us on 9/11. These people don’t see anything wrong with that characterization. It’s factually correct, after all.

But a characterization such as that has a significant impact on our perspective. The way we talk about things affects the way we think about those things. We create a mental frame of the subject, thru which all information passes and is unavoidably filtered, interpreted, altered, and construed.

By stating that Muslims attacked us, we’re effectively framing the attacks as a holy war, perpetrated by ruthless Islamic extremists. These extremists can’t be reasoned with, for their purpose and justification is ethereal: they’re doing Allah’s bidding, slaying infidels, as is prescribed by the Koran. They hate us because we are not like them. They hate us because of our freedoms.

This is a convenient framing for us, because it absolves us of any culpability we might have in bringing this fight upon ourselves. The framing escapes any need for us to examine the spread of Western imperialism over Islamic lands: the battles we’ve waged there, the governments we’ve installed, the thousands of Muslims we’ve killed.

For none of these things is the reason the terrorists attacked us. They attacked us simply because we are non-Islamic, freedom-loving people.

And we will fight to defend that freedom. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” By framing it as a war against Islam (er, I mean, an Islamic-extremist war against us — remember, we are the passive party here, being attacked and thus forced to defend ourselves), we’ve effectively defined the battlefield to include any Islamic country in the world* (with the asterisk qualifying that they either support or give safe haven to Islamic terrorists). So let’s pick one we particularly don’t like: Iraq! Does Iraq harbor terrorists? Surely it must — look at all the Muslims there. Not enough of a justification? OK, how about a cooked-up WMD claim? That’ll do it.

And so, with spurious evidence of al-Qaeda training camps and WMDs, the Western crusaders, at the charge of their outspokenly Christian leader George W. Bush, invaded and swiftly conquered the Islamic holy lands located in modern-day Iraq, slaying tens of thousands of Muslims along the way. The Islamic leader Saddam Hussein was seized, given a perfunctory trial, then executed. After their conquest, the Christian crusaders subjugated the surviving Muslims with a phony, Western-friendly govt — one that permitted the crusaders to steal the oil riches buried beneath the holy land.

I assume most American Christians would take offense to my holy-war-like characterization of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. And perhaps rightly so. It’s certainly an unfair framing.

Just as unfair as framing 9/11 as a religious attack by Muslims against American freedom.

But the terrorist leaders themselves have called the attacks Jihad against America! Jihad means holy war!“, the Americans say. Again, this is factually correct.

But throughout history, people have hijacked religions to justify the vicious slaying and conquering of other peoples.

When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro met with the Inca leader Atahualpa at Cajamarca on November 16, 1532, Pizarro instructed his Friar to hand the Bible to the Inca, and compel him to accept Catholicism as his faith and Charles V as his emperor. Atahualpa, confused by the book and the strange unrecognizable symbols inside (the Incas hadn’t developed writing at the time), tossed the book to the ground. The Friar screamed that the heretic Incas have insulted the Christian God and have refused to acknowledge His supremacy. At this, Pizarro ordered his men to attack. Even though the Spanish were greatly outnumbered (by some accounts, 80,000 Incas to about 150 Spaniards), they easily routed the Incas with their superior military technology (guns, cavalry, steel armor and swords, none of which the Incas possessed). Tens of thousands of Incas were killed that day, and the Inca leader Atahualpa was seized by Pizarro and held for ransom. After the ransom was paid (enough gold to fill a 22′ x 17′ x 8′ room), Pizarro executed Atahualpa anyway. The Spanish conquered the land and subjugated the remaining Incas, most of whom died within a year’s time due to the lack of immunity against European germs.

Clearly, Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas had nothing to do with religion. Nevertheless, religion was the primary proximate justification Pizarro used to motivate his troops, to steel their resolve, and to absolve them of the moral guilt and responsibility of slaying massive numbers of Incas. When his troops wrote letters home describing the battle and their incredible victory, they spent the first and last paragraphs of those letters profusely praising God for protecting them in battle, and repeatedly noting that their inexplicably victory — despite being vastly outnumbered — was proof that God exists and supports their war efforts over non-Catholic savage societies.

So just because Bin Laden says it’s Jihad, doesn’t make it so. Just as Pizarro did with Catholicism, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda have hijacked the Islamic religion to justify the indiscriminate killing of Westerners. They use religion, and the promise of an afterlife full of 72 virgins, to manipulate and motivate young Muslims to sacrifice themselves in suicidal missions against the West.

The Western world has committed numerous atrocities against Islamic peoples — atrocities for which we neither take responsibility, nor even acknowledge. The worst of them being, in my opinion, the subtle yet highly corrosive framing of Islam itself as the enemy.