Friday, December 30, 2011

Limited Healthcare Access

Healthcare Access
Foes of single-payer universal healthcare frequently pander the issue of access to life saving treatment being determined by some government death panel. Actually, that's what we have now, at least for the poor. Arizona eliminated transplants for Medicaid patients recently. After a firestorm of criticism coverage was restored, too late for at least one person who died for lack of a needed transplant.

More often though, the bureaucrat making life-and-death decisions is in the employ of a private insurer. Private insurers are corporations driven exclusively by the profit motive. Their incentives are to maximize what they charge for coverage while minimizing services rendered. Every claim denied means more dividends for stockholders. How's that working out? Health insurers are making record profits even as patient outcomes trail those in other countries with single-payer systems.

The bottom line is that healthcare access is determined by wealth, not by need, and it always will be until the distorting incentives of for-profit healthcare are removed from the system. If you think need, rather than ability to pay, should determine access to healthcare then you de facto support healthcare as a fundamental human right, just as Panderbear does. Unfortunately, in the United States, poverty kills. That fact should be an embarrassment for the richest nation in history.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Truth Quotient History - Candidates

Panderbear goes for a little birding trip to Arizona and all hell breaks lose. Prior the currently reported period the candidates' Truth Quotients had been relatively stable over time. They were divided into three mutual exclusive groups: truth-tellers, truth-challenged, and pathological prevaricators. No individual had ever crossed over from one group to another.

That has all changed. Not one, but two candidates have switched groups. Rick Santorum jumped to the intermediate group while Newt Gingrich's TQ cratered leaving him in a near dead heat with Michele Bachmann in the nether regions of the TQ chart.

The other notable change was Jon Huntsman's TQ plunge. President Obama's TQ of 1.5 is now good enough for first place with a little breathing room to spare. While the president's stellar ranking could change if Ron Paul, Huntsman, or Mitt Romney were to suddenly issue a string of incontrovertible truths, an unlikely event in Panderbear's view, don't expect the president's TQ to change much. He simply has had too many statements rated (330) for a few more to move his TQ very much one way or the other. Sometimes standing still wins the race.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

As the race for the Republican nomination heats up it is taking a considerable toll on the Truth Quotients of most of the candidates.

Jon Huntsman relinquished his first place standing to President Obama in a stunning plunge that dropped him below Ron Paul as well and into a tie with Vice-President Biden. Ron Paul also lost some ground leaving the president in a class of his own atop the TQ standings. Good president.

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry continued their slow declines. Rick Santorum blurted out a single true statement which vaulted his TQ above that of Rick Perry. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich's descent accelerated to such an extent that he only narrowly missed resting last place from Michele Bachmann.

Non-combatants, including Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, were little changed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Social Security and Welfare for Illegal Immigrants

Born in the U.S. Means U.S. Citizen
Some panders are so transparently improbable that Panderbear wonders how anyone, no matter how ill-informed and subject to confirmation bias, could credit them. Two such panders involving undocumented immigrants arise again and again: illegals are receiving billions of dollars of welfare payments and Congress has or is about to authorize Social Security benefits for illegal immigrants.

Regarding Social Security payments to illegal immigrants, non-partisan website says, "Congress hasn’t voted on any measure to pay benefits to illegal immigrants, and has no plans for any such vote." further states, "We first saw this bogus claim bandied about as a Republican campaign theme during the 2006 midterm elections."

The 2008 American Immigration Lawyers Association list of top immigration myths says, "As the Congressional Research Service points out in a 2007 report, undocumented immigrants, who comprise nearly one-third of all immigrants in the country, are not eligible to receive public 'welfare' benefits — ever." In fact "even legal immigrants are severely restricted in the benefits they can receive."

Children of undocumented immigrants born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens and may be eligible for benefits. Conservative immigration hawks mischaracterize payments for the benefit of these young Americans as payments to undocumented immigrants in a deliberate attempt to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment among credulous voters.

While false claims regarding illegal immigrants receiving Social Security and welfare usually appear in the context of bogus chain emails, Republicans have not been loathe to use these non-issues to pander to the hardcore xenophobes or the simply ill-informed among their constituents.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Monday, December 26, 2011

Obesity and Economic Inequality

In The Great Divergence - Part III, Panderbear discussed the fact that economic inequality is a root cause of many social ills. Because "obesity and economic inequality" has lately appeared among search terms leading readers to the Liar! Liar! blog, Panderbear decided to give this topic some special attention. The subject seems particularly apropos as many of us struggle to digest outsized Christmas dinners.

This chart from a Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health research report plots the percentage of obese women vs the ratio of the top 20% to bottom 20% in income for 21 developed countries. Note that Japan is in the bottom-left corner with the lowest income divergence and the lowest obesity, while the U.S. is an outlier way up in the top-right with both the highest income disparity and the highest obesity rate. The chart for males is quite similar.

Obesity Rates  Correlated with Income Divergence

In developed countries greater rates of obesity are correlated with income divergence. Obesity is rapidly becoming the single greatest health problem in America. Research suggests that addressing wealth disparity would have a salutary effect on this social ill.

As we have seen in previous posts, wealth disparity and income divergence can be traced directly to Republican economic policies. Adding insult to injury Republicans have panned Michele Obama's efforts to reduce obesity among children. Panderbear finds the Republicans' penchant for putting the small government pander ahead of the health of our nation's children particularly offensive.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gone Birding

Panderbear is birding in southeast Arizona. While he is gone feel free to click on the ads to transfer a little wealth from corporations to the few non-pandering politicians to whom Panderbear contributes all Liar! Liar! ad revenues. Here are some Arkansas birds to keep you amused until Panderbear returns.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Radical Republicans and Presidential Populism

President Obama's preferred approach of compromise and bipartisanship is good politics during normal times. Unfortunately, as Nate Silver pointed out recently in his New York Times blog, FiveThirtyEight, these are not normal times. As we saw in Panderbear's previous post, Silver's data reveal the extraordinarily and historically extreme conservative nature of Republican-controlled House sessions since the mid-1990's. Radical Republican conservatism is at an all time high and growing ever more extreme. Meanwhile Democrat-controlled sessions are little changed. The result is a huge ideological gulf between the two parties and much pandering to their increasingly polarized constituencies.

Today's radical Republicans are so ideologically extreme and rigid, they are no longer capable of compromise or bargaining in good faith. Given that state of affairs attempts at bipartisanship are doomed. The only plausible course of action available to the president, as he seems to have realized of late, is a heavy dose of old-fashioned populism. Not the pandering type, but the President Harry Truman type, "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell." President Obama will have to hammer Republicans as tools of the rich and enemies of the middle class and the American Dream, as indeed they are. That may get their full attention and create at least a chance for the kind of compromise necessary to the proper functioning of a representative democracy.

Unfortunately, it is likely nothing short of a catastrophic showing at the polls will deflect Republicans from even greater far-right extremism and return them to their historical center-right roots. Panderbear thinks that probably won't happen in 2012 or anytime soon, but it will happen.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Radical Republicans

The chart below is from a recent Nate Silver New York Times blog. It plots the median DW-Nominate score, a measure of how liberal or conservative a House member's voting record is on economic policy, for House of Representatives sessions over the past 80 years.

House Republicans More Extreme Than Ever

Panderbear's attention was first drawn to the extraordinary and historically extreme conservative nature of Republican controlled House sessions since the mid-1990's. Every one of them has been more conservative than any other in the past 80 years and the last four in a row have grown ever more extreme. (The two larger red dots are the two sessions in which Newt Gringrich was Speaker of the House.)

On the other hand recent Democrat controlled sessions are right in line with historical trends. For 80 years the mean DW-Nominate score for House sessions has trended slightly toward more progressive values. Draw a line from the topmost point to the next to last point, the most recent session controlled by Democrats, and it passes right through the heart of the data points for all House sessions, Democrat or Republican controlled, except the outliers representing Republican sessions since 1995.

Panderbear concludes from this chart that Republicans have changed radically. Eisenhower era Republicans, not to mention Democrats, look like socialists to today's Republicans who have veered dramatically, pathologically, and dangerously to the political right, while Democrats have continued to follow historical trends.

One result of Republican radicalization is that changing the party in control of the House of Representatives now has an unprecedented jarring effect on legislative continuity. The two parities are so far apart that the nation suffers from political whiplash whenever the House changes hands. That can't be good.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fox News Worse Than No News

The only thing worse than a pandering politician or pundit is an entire pandering network and Fox News fits the bill. Two recent studies prove Panderbear's point.

Fox News Worse then No News

A study from the University of Maryland found that on a range political issues Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information than others. Furthermore, the more they watched Fox News the more misinformed they were. Here are some false statements that Fox viewers were more likely to believe:
  • Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses
  • Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit
  • The economy is getting worse
  • Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring
  • The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
  • Their own income taxes have gone up
  • The auto bailout only occurred under Obama
  • When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it
  • And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States

A recent poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University found that Fox News viewers are less informed than people who do not watch any news. "Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."

Panderbear long ago stopped watching TV news. Studies like these reinforce that decision. One of Panderbear's all time favorite bumper stickers read, "Friends don't let friends watch Fox News."

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thomas Jefferson - PSA

Apparently, candidates for the Republican nomination, all of whom claim reverence for the Founding Fathers, do not agree with Thomas Jefferson's philosophy regarding separation of church and state. In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association Thomas Jefferson made his views on separation of church and state crystal clear:

Thomas Jefferson on Separation of Church and State
'Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.'

Panderbear wonders if the Religious Right has any idea how far they have departed from the ideals of their professed historical heroes or just how dangerous blurring the line between church and state really is.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Friday, December 9, 2011

Newt's Truth Quotient Craters

Due to a sudden unprecedented string of Mostly False, False, and Pants-on-Fire statements, Newt Gingrich's Truth Quotient has plunged to a paltry 0.25. Newt hurtled past Nancy Pelosi to the downside leaving only Michelle Bachmann between him and chain emails for truthfulness. Here for the record are Gingrich's latest falsehoods and the relevant statement ratings and links to supporting arguments.

  • Newt Gingrich Truth Impaired

    Newt: The congressional ethics investigation against him was conducted by "a very partisan political committee" in a way that "related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than to ethics."

    PolitiFact: Pants-on-Fire - A historian rewrites history

  • Newt: "I never favored cap and trade."

    PolitiFact:  False - Except when he did favor it

  • Newt: "The only reason the unemployment rate is going down is because … twice as many people dropped out of the employment pool as the number of jobs were created."

    PolitiFact:  Mostly False - Gingrich overplays an otherwise fair point

  • Newt: President Barack Obama "has now spent three years proving that he kills jobs in energy, he kills jobs in manufacturing."

Should Newt Gingrich (TQ = 0.25) win the Republican nomination he will be facing President Obama (TQ = 1.51) in the general election. Panderbear hopes the electorate cares whether or not they are being told the truth, but isn't optimistic. Gingrich's precipitous drop in TQ was simultaneous with his equally precipitous rise in Republican primary polls.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Illegal Immigrants

Given all the pandering on the issue of illegal immigration you'd think hordes of undocumented immigrants are flooding across our southern border. Is that true? In a word, "No." According to the U.S. Border Patrol arrests of people trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border have plummeted to a 39-year low. Improved surveillance, increased numbers of border patrol personnel, and a poor U.S. economy have combined to make illegal immigration a non-issue. At least it should be a non-issue.

Illegal Border Crossings at 40-Year Low

Congressional Republicans are holding up immigration reform saying we must first secure our borders. The fact is our borders are secure. The influx of illegal immigrants is almost exactly balanced by undocumented immigrants voluntarily returning to Mexico. There is very little net gain, if any, yet Republicans continue to pander the issue. The illegal immigrant bogeyman resonates with their paranoid low-information constituents and they aren't about to give it up, contrary facts notwithstanding.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Supreme Court Hypocrisy

The current U.S. Supreme Court is infested with politically motivated hypocrites on the left and right. The only difference is that the conservative justices are activists, often choosing to hear cases specifically to overturn established law with expansive rulings that go well beyond the issue at hand. They are far from impartial arbiters of the constitution. They're right-wing political hacks with an agenda.

In order of increasing right-leaning predictability they are: Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas. Thomas, in particular, could easily be replaced by a computer that determined the politically conservative side of issues before the court and automatically recorded its vote accordingly. These justices make a mockery of the Supreme Court, the U.S. Constitution, and their self-professed strict contructionism. The record shows that the current court decides an inordinate fraction of cases by a 5-4 vote. Not just any 5-4, but the same 5-4, the five conservative justices versus the rest.

Republicans unrelentingly pander about activist left-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. As can be seen in the table, the opposite is closer to the truth. Left-leaning justices aren't without political bias, but it is the Republican nominated conservative justices who have voted most consistently along ideological lines. Judicial impartiality is a myth.

The chart also shows that 4 of the 5 most conservative justices since 1937 are currently on the Supreme Court. This is part of the devastating legacy of Presidents Bush I and II.

Activist Conservative Justices Dominate U.S. Supreme Court

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Planned Parenthood Pander

It is standard operating procedure for Republicans to create one bogeyman after another to keep low-information social conservatives in line. The latest is Planned Parenthood.

The chart shows the services Planned Parenthood centers around the country provided in 2009. 3% of those services were abortions, while 97 percent were STD tests and treatment, contraception provisions, cancer screenings, and other women's health services. Abortions represent a tiny fraction of Planned Parenthood's budget and none of them are paid for with federal funds.

Where Planned Parenthood Budget Is Really Spent

Senator Jon Kyl's claim that abortions are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" was pure mendacious pandering. His spokesman later said that Kyl didn't intend to be "factually correct." Say what? I guess the Senator thinks lying to the public is okay when you're trying to create yet another social conservative bogeyman.

Republican's in Congress, who pressed for stripping Planned Parenthood of all federal funding, would not stop any abortions, but would certainly stop poor women from getting the cancer screenings and access to contraception they desperately need. Pandering of this issue by the candidates for the Republican nomination is equally unhelpful and hypocritical.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Monday, December 5, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

There have been several significant changes to the Truth Quotient rankings.

The biggest news is the crash of the Cain Train. As a consequence, our cellar dweller, Herman Cain, has been removed from the standings leaving Michele Bachmann once again in sole possession of last place. Rich Santorum surprised to the upside moving ahead of Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, though Newt's decline due to a Pants-on-Fire statement rating was helpful.

Sarah Palin has also been dropped from the rankings on the grounds that she is no longer even a prospective candidate and anyway, Panderbear is tired of looking at her name. Panderbear hated to do it but Bernie Sanders was also dropped from the rankings. He just didn't have enough rated statements to make his TQ statistically significant. Mitt Romney continues his gradual downward glide slope. Joe Biden and Ron Paul both improved their TQ's marginally. The DNC shed enough TQ points to drop into a tie with John Huntsman at a still very respectable TQ of 2.0.

Given his 329 total rated statements President Obama's TQ isn't likely to change precipitously, but he did eek out an increase of 0.01 to 1.51, second best among individuals.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wealth Distribution

Harvard business professor, Michael I. Norton and behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, recently conducted a survey of more than 5,000 Americans regarding their views on wealth distribution in the United States. Panderbear finds the results of their survey, as illustrated in the chart, most intriguing.

Wealth Distribution More Unequal Than People Think or Want

Most of the people in the survey think wealth in this country is far more equitably distributed than it actually is. For example, those surveyed thought the top 20% controlled 58% of wealth when the actual number is 85%. Most thought the bottom 60% controlled 22% of wealth. The correct number is 4%.

Somewhat surprisingly to Panderbear, Norton and Ariely found that 92% of those surveyed expressed a preference for an even more equitable distribution than what they thought it was.

Panderbear thinks this is excellent news. The fact that wealth distribution in the U.S. is more skewed than people realize and that even so they prefer a more equal distribution, suggests greater dissemination of facts about wealth distribution will only increase calls for government action. Restoring the progressive income tax rates of the post-WWII, pre-Reagan era would be a good start. We can thank the Occupy movement for helping bring this issue to public consciousness.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Elizabeth Warren PSA

You will never hear the following sentiment expressed by "self-made" pandering politicians and entrepreneurs of the conservative persuasion:

"Nobody Got Rich On Their Own"

Like George W. Bush many financially successful individuals were born on 3rd base and thought they hit a triple. Even those who came from humble beginnings often overlook the advantages provided by publicly funded schools, infrastructure, and security. Many seem to think that all you need to do to get rich is work hard. If that's all it took most of the people Panderbear knows would be billionaires.

Luck has more to do with getting rich than hard work: the luck of being born in a country with good schools, good infrastructure, and good governance (at least once upon a time); the luck of being in the right place at the right time; the luck of knowing the right people; the luck of making guesses that happened to turn out right. The notion of the self-made man or woman is a myth.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Political Panders

Pandering for Reelection
Statements listed below are demonstrably false, either by peer-reviewed scientific research, fact-based logical reasoning, or a preponderance of expert opinion. Panderbear knows the latter is appeal to authority; however, when there exists a consensus among experts in a given technical field, giving their opinions greater weight than pandering politicians seems fair. Panders listed here are the most longstanding, egregious, and destructive. They are used to argue for a lot of bad public policy. Each and every statement is false and people using them are pandering. Beware!

  • Cutting taxes will stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.
  • Cutting regulations will stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment.
  • The stimulus package didn't work.
  • The Affordable Care Act is a government takeover of health care.
  • Taxes are historically high.
  • Illegal immigrants taking Americans' jobs are a major cause of unemployment.
  • Raising taxes on the rich and corporations will hurt the economy.
  • Raising taxes on the rich and corporations will increase unemployment.
  • High taxes make American companies less competitive in global markets.
  • Making the rich pay higher taxes is class warfare.
  • Flat taxes are fairer than progressive tax rates.
  • The GOP isn't the party of the rich.
  • Redistribution of wealth is inherently bad.
  • Income divergence doesn't matter.
  • A large wealth gap doesn't matter.
  • The American Dream is alive and well.
  • Fox News is Fair and Balanced.
  • American voters are open-minded.
  • Racism is dead in America.
  • Racial discrimination is dead in America.
  • Sexual harassment is dead in America.
  • Sex discrimination is dead in America.
  • Liberals are bleeding hearts.
  • Compromise in Congress is bad.
  • Demanding political pledges leads to better public policy.
  • All politicians are liars.
  • Americans enjoy higher social mobility than other countries.
  • Private enterprise can do everything better than government.
  • There is no downside to American Exceptionalism.
  • We're still in a recession.
  • We have a spending problem, not a tax problem.
  • People are unemployed because they are lazy.
  • The welfare program is a significant contributor to the deficit.
  • Free markets work better with fewer regulations.
  • Capitalism works better with fewer regulations.
  • Voters always act in accord with their own best interests.
  • America has nothing to learn from other countries.
  • The foreclosure crisis is the fault of homeowners and government mandates.
  • Many scientists engage in long-lasting conspiracies and produce junk science.
  • Labor unions are bad for the economy.
  • Raising the minimum wage results in job losses.
  • America has the best schools in the world.
  • America has the best healthcare in the world.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats.
  • Class warfare is conducted by the political left.
  • The U.S. has greater social equality than other countries.
  • The U.S. has a level economic playing field with equal opportunity for all.
  • The 47% of households paying no federal income tax are getting a free ride.
  • President Obama is a big liar.
  • President Obama has broken all his promises.
  • President Obama's appointments have gone to a bunch of socialists.
  • Smaller government is inherently better government.
  • Corporations are people too.
  • Social Security is broke.
  • The Founding Fathers were for small government.
  • The Founding Fathers were against a strong central government.
  • Voter fraud is a big problem.
  • The use of torture increases our national security.
  • Waterboarding isn't torture.
  • The Founding Fathers were politically conservative.
  • President Obama created most of the national debt.
  • Affirmative action is reverse discrimination.
  • Every issue is a matter of opinion.
  • A scientific theory is just somebody's guess.
  • Most welfare recipients are welfare queens.
  • Illegal immigrants receive welfare.
  • Illegal immigrants receive Social Security
  • Illegal immigrants commit violent crime at high rates
  • Voters want to be told the truth.
  • There should be no difference between principles and public policy.
  • Guns don't kill, people do.
  • Global warming is a hoax.
  • There is controversy in the scientific community about global warming.
  • Politicians do not do what they were elected to do.
  • Republicans consistently support states' rights.
  • We can have all the government services we demand and also cut taxes.

Panderbear created this list in just a few minutes. Many are addressed in previous posts. Some are not (yet), but Panderbear has researched them all.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Atheists Underrepresented

Religion is one of the most pandered issues in American politics. Candidates for the Republican nomination compete for the title of most religiously pious. President Obama professes to be a Christian. Of course, if he didn't he wouldn't be president. Though several presidents, none in recent history, have had no particular religious affiliation, they all claimed to be Christians.

U.S. Religious Affiliation

In an interactive map entitled, "Topography of Faith," USA Today presents the results of an extensive Pew poll involving over 36,000 American adults. For the country as a whole and for individual states, percentages are given for each religion including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and several others.

Also included in the Pew poll are "unaffiliated" which includes atheist, agnostic, and "nothing in particular." For the nation as a whole 16% of those polled, that's about one in six and the 4th largest group just behind mainline Protestant, stated they were unaffiliated.

Of the 535 members of Congress exactly one is openly atheist. Panderbear concludes from these numbers that atheists and other non-affiliated people are underrepresented in the U.S. Congress by almost two orders of magnitude. This may make atheists the most underrepresented segment of the population in America. In a country that professes freedom of religion as a fundamental right, this seems more than a little hypocritical.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Monday, November 28, 2011

Truth Quotient History - Candidates

The chart shows the Truth Quotient (TQ) history for each of the leading candidates in the 2012 presidential election race over the past two and a half months. In order to have discernible resolution at the low end a logarithmic TQ scale is used. Also note that the data points for different dates are equally spaced even though the time intervals are not equal. Panderbear is only able to do so much on his laptop. As benchmarks, the TQ histories for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Republican National Committee (RNC), and Chain Emails are included.

The data are bracketed by the DNC results on the high side and Chain Emails on the low side. RNC results are somewhere in the middle, but well below the flip-of-a-coin mark which lies at a TQ of 1.0. The chart shows three distinct non-overlapping groups: those who tell the truth most of the time - Huntsman, Obama, Paul, and Romney; those who are somewhat less reliable than a coin flip - Perry and Gingrich; and those who, to put a generously, are truth-challenged - Santorum, Bachmann, and Cain.

Panderbear is intrigued by the consistency of the three tier grouping. Though Paul and Romney slipped a bit during the period covered by the chart they are in no danger of transitioning to a lower tier group. The middle tier is especially tightly grouped though Gingrich moved gradually from the top to the bottom of this group. Surprisingly, to Panderbear at least, in the lower truth-challenged tier Bachmann actually gained ground while Cain slumped.

To Panderbear's eye there still appears to be no particular correlation between the candidates' TQ and their standing in the polls (not shown). Jon Huntsman leads the TQ rankings, but is stuck near the bottom in the polls. Cain is barely clinging to top tier status in the polls even while he continues in the TQ cellar. Gingrich's surge in the polls is not reflected by so much as a ripple in the TQ rankings. So far none of the data contradict Panderbear's preliminary conclusion that Republican voters don't know or just don't care whether their candidate choice tells the truth or not. Sad.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Presidential and Pundit Panderer Polls

The results of the presidential and pundit panderer polls are in. Neither poll was close.

Among the presidential contenders George W. Bush easily bested the rest of the field for biggest panderer of all time. Panderbear's personal favorite was Ronald Reagan, because his introduction of supply-side, trickle-down economics served as historical antecedent to many economic ills including massive deficits, exploding income divergence, and the growing wealth gap. Nevertheless, Panderbear has to admit that Bush II is an excellent choice. After all, he took Reaganomics to new heights of fiscal insanity.

Likewise, the pundit panderer poll was quite lopsided. Rush Limbaugh, not surprisingly, was a runaway favorite. Panderbear was absolutely thrilled to receive a single vote as greatest pundit panderer. (Yes!) Being included in the ranks of such luminaries as Rush, Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly is quite an honor. To whomever voted for Panderbear, thanks a bunch.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Xenophobia and Immigration

Americans have always had a nasty streak of xenophobia. Remember slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II? Republicans pander to that character flaw by blaming our problems on one out-group or another. Groups that many Americans love to hate. Got an unemployment problem or a crime problem? Blame it on illegal immigrants.

Xenophobia Leads to Bad Immigration Policy

Research by many sociologists refutes any claim of a link between immigrants and crime. For example, research by Ruben Rumbaut at the University of California, Irvine shows that, "Foreign-born Mexicans had an incarceration rate of only 0.7 percent in 2000, more than 8 times lower than the 5.9 percent rate of native-born males of Mexican descent." Also the border town of El Paso, Texas is considered by some measures to be the safest big city in the country and yet it has a sizable undocumented population and is in immediate proximity to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, known for drug cartel violence. The violent immigrant meme just doesn't hold water.

New state immigration laws have had disastrous effects. These laws have slowed the states' economies, because employers haven't been able replace the now missing undocumented workers. Farmers, in particular, complain that replacement workers they have hired do not work as fast or as long as the undocumented workers did and many quit after the first day. Xenophobia-inspired state immigration laws are misguided and economically harmful.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Employment Policy Options

In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee last week, Doug Elmendorf, Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), confirmed that policies informing President Obama's jobs plan would be far more effective than policies favored by Republicans. In the table are CBO estimates of the potential effects of various policy options on employment.

The single most effective way to create jobs is to increase aid to the unemployed, because they are most likely to spend the money and stimulate the economy. Democrats favor extending unemployment benefits. Republicans are opposed. Extending Obama's payroll tax reductions for employees and reducing employer's payroll taxes for businesses that increase their payroll are also quite effective. Continuing reduced payroll taxes for employees is the only tax cut that Republicans oppose. Next most effective at creating jobs would be additional refundable tax credits to lower and middle income households.

Among the policies that according to Elmendorf's testimony would have little or no effect on employment are reducing taxes on business income and reducing tax rates on repatriated corporate foreign earnings. Republican claims in support of these actions are pure pandering. Republican prescriptions would have little effect beyond further enriching wealthy individuals and multinational corporations, their corporate officers, and their stockholders.

By refusing to pass the president's plan Republicans are hurting the economy and causing unemployment to stay high longer than necessary.

Employment Policy Options

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First, Do No Harm

Primum non nocere is one of the principal precepts of medical ethics, "First, do no harm." What would happen if Congress followed this maxim? Many have predicted economic mayhem if the Super Committee fails to reach agreement and sequestration is triggered, but Panderbear wonders, why? According to James Horney of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Congress went home and did nothing at all it would lead to $7.1 trillion in deficit reduction in the next 10 years. The chart, based upon Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data, shows just how effective a "do no harm" approach by Congress to the deficit combined with President Obama's PAYGO rules would be. The deficit would be reduct to a small fraction of GDP within 3 years.

Congress Doing Nothing Reduces Deficits

The following breakdown is from Ezra Klein's 11/18/2011 blog at The Washington Post:
  • $3.3 trillion from letting temporary income and estate tax cuts expire;
  • $0.8 trillion from allowing other temporary tax cuts to expire on schedule;
  • $0.3 trillion from letting cuts in Medicare physician reimbursements take effect;
  • $0.7 trillion from letting temporary increase in AMT exemption expire;
  • $1.2 trillion from letting sequestration take effect; and
  • $0.9 trillion in lower interest payments on the debt.

To be sure following this "do no harm" approach would be painful, but Panderbear thinks it would be a lot less painful than the draconian cuts to social programs with no increases in revenues that Republicans have demanded. When you're in a hole, stop digging. Sometimes that's enough.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bernie Sanders PSA

Panderbear posts the occasional anti-pander public service announcement. This one is from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Bernie Sanders on the Budget Deficit

Amen, Bernie.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Friday, November 18, 2011

Death of the American Dream

An essential tenet of the American Dream is social mobility, the ideal that any child in America, no matter how poor, can grow up to be financially successful or even become President of the United States. What does science have to say about social mobility in the U.S. today compared to other countries? Is the American Dream still alive and well or is it dying under the onslaught of a Republican tax war on the non-rich?

Quite a number of scientific studies have addressed the issue of social mobility in the U.S. and elsewhere. The usual metric of mobility is the correlation between the incomes of parents and offspring. What is the probability that the parent resides in the bottom quintile income wise and the child makes it into the top quintile? Or what is the probability that the child of a parent in the top quintile will wind up in the bottom quintile? If these probabilities are low, it is prima facie evidence for inequality of opportunity.

A comparative study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year found upward mobility in the United States significantly lower than in most major European countries. A 2006 study by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany concluded, "the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility." The 2010 Economic Mobility Project study found that the U.S. has a more rigid class structure than Canada.

The strength of the link between individual and parental earnings    

It's unanimous. The U.S. is no longer home to the American Dream. The social mobility most Americans cling to as an article of faith is a myth. Rich Americans are becoming a permanent aristocracy and it is harder than ever for children of disadvantaged families to break out of relative poverty and ascend the economic ladder. If you are looking for the American Dream, look to Denmark or Austria or Norway or Finland.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Coddle the Rich, Bust the Budget

Tax Breaks for the Rich Bust the Budget
Two favorite panders of so-called fiscal conservatives are: 1) high corporate taxes make American companies less competitive in the world market; 2) high taxes on wealthy "job-creators" kills jobs. Panderbear pointed out previously that most economists consider those notions nonsense, and with good reason.

Historically there is no correlation between federal tax rates and employment. Tax cuts for corporations went directly into huge bonuses and whopping salaries for corporate officers and into stockholder dividends, not into job creation. Wealthy individuals said thanks a lot and put the money in their pockets, not into hiring. Tax rates for individuals and corporations began dropping precipitously 30 years ago with President Reagan's tax cuts, plunged under President Bush II, and are now at historic lows. If cutting taxes on the rich creates jobs, how is it we have 9% unemployment while corporations sit on record amounts of cash?

Nominal tax rates and effective tax rates are two different things. Many corporations do not pay anything close to the top corporate tax rate of 35%. Notoriously, General Electric in two consecutive years reported billions of dollars in profits and yet paid zero federal income tax. That's not 35%. That's 0.0%. Likewise, wealthy individuals seldom pay anything close to the 35% top marginal rate. First, many of the rich can turn most or all of their income into capital gains which are taxed at only 15%. That's why billionaire, Warren Buffet, paid an effective rate of just 17%. You may be paying a higher effective rate than that. Second, because there are no income limits on deductions, the rich and their accountants can find loopholes and tax dodges to reduce their tax bill even further. Buffett says we should stop coddling the rich. Panderbear thinks Mr. Buffett is a very wise man.

The chart, from Tim Dickinson's November 9, 2011  Rolling Stone article, "How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich," gives some idea of the magnitude of potential tax revenues lost to tax breaks going mainly to corporations and high-income individuals. These subsidies of the monied-class are greater than all discretionary spending, even larger than the defense budget. Eliminating those tax breaks would double the amount of income taxes collected, easily wiping out the deficit and creating huge surpluses. Panderbear thinks that lowering nominal tax rates while making them more fair and progressive and eliminating most loophole-creating deductions is a better, more transparent approach to sustainable fiscal policy.

submit to reddit Share on Tumblr

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Truth Hurts

Panderbear was curious as to what correlation, if any, exists between recent poll standings of candidates for the Republican nomination and their Truth Quotient ratings. Does the truth hurt or help? In the graph both poll percentage and Truth Quotient are plotted for each candidate. Truth Quotients have been multiplied by 10, because they are so small compared to poll numbers.

Republican Voters Don't Reward Those Who Tell the Truth

Poll percentages (blue segmented line) decline steadily from left to right, because Panderbear ordered them that way. The Truth Quotients (green segmented line), however, displays a slight upward trend. This suggests an inverse relationship between truth-telling by a candidate and his or her popularity. Before we go too far down that road note that Jon Huntsman is an outlier. Were he not in the nomination race with his Republican voter-annoying habit of telling the truth, the remaining data points would show no particular trend up or down.

Panderbear concludes that either Republican voters who were polled do not know or do not particularly care which candidates are more truthful. The data support the proposition that Republicans polled by Gallop who expressed a preference represent an opinion demographic more interested in having its biases confirmed than in being informed by the truth. Panderbear is saddened by this result, but not surprised. Should Republicans ultimately nominate Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman they will be vindicated. Panderbear would be surprised if that happened.