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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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