Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Stimulus Redux

Among the articles of faith held by conservatives, especially those who are regular viewers of Fox News, are that President Obama's policies kill jobs and that the stimulus didn't work. Both are false.

The chart, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, plots monthly private sector job growth from January, 2008 through July, 2011. The big picture is that job growth was increasingly negative toward the end of the Bush administration and began improving within a few months of President Obama's election, particularly after the stimulus took effect. When the stimulus began to wind down job growth leveled off, but remained positive, albeit at a relatively low level.

Private Sector Job Growth

Of course, it's possible some or all of these correlations are just coincidence. Even if that were the case this single chart administers Last Rites to both the "Obama as job killer" and the "stimulus failed" panders. The data just don't support either proposition.

If anything the data suggest the stimulus should have been bigger. Panderbear doesn't expect Republicans to get behind that suggestion anytime soon. After all, it violates their received doctrine.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Obama Thin-Skinned or Calculating?

Governor Brewer Gives President Obama the Finger
Both Jan Brewer and John McCain called President Obama thin-skinned. Thin-skinned Chicago politician is an oxymoron.

The president's emotions are invariably in the service of his intellect. Panderbear thinks it quite possible he played Governor Brewer, deliberately provoking her on the tarmac in full view of spectators and cameras.

Notice the president's body language. He's in close and leaning over the governor with a bemused expression. That would get a rise out of any Republican, let alone the fiery-tempered Jan Brewer.

Calculated or not, every wag of Brewer's finger was worth a thousand Latino votes for the president. Now President Obama says it was no big deal which makes Brewer's reaction look all the more aggressive and foolish. Perfectly played Mr. President. Just perfect.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Alternative Knowledge System

In Fox News Worse Than No News Panderbear referenced two recent studies demonstrating that the Fox News audience is not only more misinformed than people who watch other cable news networks, they are less informed than people who watch no news at all. Panderbear thinks that's a pretty severe indictment of a network that claims to deliver 'fair and balanced' news 24/7.

Now conservative columnist David Frum, speechwriter for President George W. Bush, calls out Fox News and talk radio for creating what he characterizes as an "alternative knowledge system" and says they "immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information." No kidding?

In point of fact Fox News panders to a conservative audience, delivering 24/7 propaganda tailored to their target opinion demographic. How we got to this point is discussed in Panderbear's post, Polarized Opinion. The Fox News Network is a highly profitable enterprise, but its product isn't news.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

George Clooney PSA

Few celebrities earn both their fame and Panderbear's respect. George Clooney is among them. Clooney knows what many of the rich and famous do not. Celebrity itself is not a worthy goal. Using it to advance the human condition is.

George Clooney on LGBT Rights

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tax Rates of the Rich and Famous

Tax Rates Drop for the Rich
Mitt Romney's estimate that he paid an effective tax rate of 15% turns out to have been somewhat inflated. For 2010 the Romney's actually paid 13.9%. That same year President Obama paid 23%. Billionaire Warren Buffett paid 17.4%. The president had the lowest income and the highest tax rate of the three.

The President's higher tax rate on less income is not an anomaly. The current tax structure is distorted. It rewards the rich at the expense of everyone else. Speculation and high-leverage, high-risk investments receive more favorable tax treatment than ordinary wages. The deck is stacked against the 99%.

When President Reagan introduced Reaganomics, what his primary opponent George H. W. Bush called "voodoo economics," the tax structure was altered dramatically. Corporate and top individual marginal income tax rates and the capital gains tax rate were slashed. The effect was a boon for corporations and the rich at the expense of middle income folks and the end of real income growth for average Americans.

While candidate Romney and the Republican Party pander away, insisting we need tax cuts for "job creators," President Obama and Warren Buffett say the wealthy never had it so good and fairness demands they contribute more. The "Buffet Rule" would compel those making $1 million or more a year to pay a rate no lower than what middle income Americans pay. Which side of this debate do you think the electorate will come down on in November?

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Romney's Private Equity Privilege

Free Enterprise According to Mitt Romney
Whenever Mitt Romney is attacked for having been a corporate raider at private equity firm Bain Capital, he deflects the criticism claiming it is an attack on free enterprise. So, Newt Gingrinch, Rick Perry, and President Obama are against free enterprise. Who knew? Panderbear considers Romney's response a transparent pander.

While 'free' enterprise must be free of undue constraints that do not serve a higher public policy interest, it must also be free from privilege so that all enterprises compete on an equal footing. The problem is private equity firms benefit from at least two privileges that other free enterprise competitors do not.

Private equity firms are by nature more highly leveraged than other businesses. They borrow huge sums to finance buyouts. The interest they pay on those loans affords them exceedingly favorable tax treatment. Current tax codes encourage leverage and thus extend a competitive advantage to private equity.

Private equity also receives preferential tax treatment on "carried interest." Carried interest or carry, is compensation received by an investment manager from profits of a successful investment partnership. Carried interest is taxed at capital gains rates rather than much higher ordinary income rates, even if the manager has invested little or no capital of his own. That's a really sweet deal if you can get it.

But what of Mitt Romney? He simply availed himself of legal tax loopholes, right? Well, the question is, how will the electorate see things? Will they view him as a legitimate businessman or as a privileged fox in the chicken coop. The fox isn't evil. It just does what's in its own best interest. The American people may decide to hold Mitt Romney to a higher standard.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Tax Rates - Effective vs Marginal

In theory federal income tax rates are progressive. Top marginal tax rates increase with income, though not nearly as much as prior to the Reagan administration. In practice effective tax rates tell a completely different story.

The chart displays total effective federal tax rates by income for 2007 based on data from the Congressional Budget Office. Effective federal tax rate is calculated as the sum of the individual income taxes, social insurance taxes (employee and employer-paid), and excise taxes, divided by comprehensive household income.

Effective Tax Rates

Panderbear's question is, "What happened to the 'progressive' tax rate structure." True, there is a falloff of the tax rate for the lowest income wage earners, but much of the middle class pays an effective tax rate as high or higher than the mega-rich. The effective tax rate for the $50,000-$74,700 income block is about the same as for the top 400 households.

Despite progressive marginal income tax rates, effective rates are essentially flat. In general rich folks are not paying those theoretical high marginal tax rates. Effective tax rates actually fall at the high income end of the scale. Billionaire Warren Buffet pays 17% and quarter-billionaire Mitt Romney pays 15%.

Republicans continue to pander about cutting taxes on "job creators," but the sad fact is they have already gamed the system. Cutting their taxes would have the middle class subsidizing the rich even more. Reagan and Bush tax cuts have already resulted in the transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth from non-rich to rich. When is enough, enough?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Prevent Confirmation Bias

Learning how to prevent confirmation bias from making you susceptible to political pandering is pretty straightforward. Applying the necessary techniques consistently is hard.
  1. Facts, facts, facts! Get some. Then get some more. Become your own proactive news aggregator.

  2. Confirm all 'facts,' opinions, and arguments. Are the premises true? Do they prove the conclusion? Only then is an argument sound.

  3. Avoid logical fallacies. Ad hominem attack is just one of dozens of logical fallacies. Learn what they are and beware of their use.

  4. Reference multiple sources with different points of view.

  5. Concentrate on reliable non-partisan sources that provide references to back up their statements. PolitiFact.com and Wikipedia are a good start, but keep going.

  6. Identify and combat your own confirmation bias. Be honest with yourself. In your heart you know what your biases are.

  7. Question all authority - religious leaders, politicians, and so-called experts.

  8. Get the facts before forming an opinion, not after.

  9. Subject your opinions to the test of fact-based logical reasoning. If they are found wanting, discard them. Doing otherwise leads to hypocrisy.

  10. Love the truth more than your biases.
That last one is the hardest. However, take it from Panderbear, the longer and more frequently you apply the other nine, the easier it will get. Learning to prevent confirmation bias from making you an easy mark for pandering is worth the effort. You'll see.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mitt Romney's Tax Rate

Mitt Romney's Tax Rate
Mitt Romney has yet to release his tax records, but admits he thinks he pays an effective rate of approximately 15%. Panderbear suspects Romney is being a little disingenuous. He likely knows his tax rate to several significant digits.

When a quarter-billionaire pays an effective income tax rate of 15%, about the same as Panderbear, you know that regardless of what the nominal marginal tax rate structure is, we do not in practice have progressive taxes. In effect we have a flat tax or worse.

Flat taxes are regressive and, as pointed out in Is a Flat Tax Fair?, hit the less fortunate harder. The fact is that many people in the middle class pay a considerably higher effective rate than Romney, especially so when payroll taxes are included.

As billionaire Warren Buffett said, "The rich have never had it so good." Nevertheless, the number one pander by Romney and the other Republican candidates is that we need to cut taxes on "job creators" like, well, Mitt Romney. Panderbear wonders why anyone in the 99% would think that's a good idea.

[Romney has since released some of his tax records. Actual effective income tax rate? 13.9%. Sweet.]

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Truth Quotient History - Candidates

Suddenly, President Obama is alone atop the Truth Quotient rankings. The president's TQ has hardly changed since last August. Meanwhile, all of the candidates who formerly accompanied the president in the rarified air above the TQ=1.0 break-even mark have succumbed to the pressures of a competitive campaign.

TQ's for all Republican candidates are now underwater. The departure of Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman from the race leaves three tiers. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney reside a bit under the flip-of-a-coin mark. Rick Santorum and Rick Perry are lower down in Congressional leadership territory, and Newt Gingrich has picked up Bachmann's mantle in the TQ nether regions.

TQ's for all candidates but one slipped since the previous ranking. Gingrich's TQ rose slightly, but he isn't likely catch any of the others anytime soon.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

George Washington PSA

On June 28, 2006 then Senator Barack Obama said, "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers." He misspoke slightly. His prepared text actually read, "Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation." Nevertheless, even as delivered the statement is indisputably true, but it elicited howls from religio-political panderers everywhere.

Typically, panderers shorten the quote to "Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation." Clearly this is a distortion of the president's meaning, but it better suits the false narrative that animates Obama's opponents. It's red meat for the Religious Right and far right conservatives. Chain e-mails with the pseudo-quote still reverberate around the internet. Panderbear expects they will rev up again once the general election begins in earnest.

Just imagine the perfect storm of criticism President Obama would face if he were to express the exact same sentiment written into the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796 during George Washington's second term and ratified in 1797 shortly after President John Adams took office.

George Washington

How is it that the very people who claim reverence for the U.S. Constitution and the Founding Fathers are so ignorant of what their holy relics had to say? Conservative Republicans and the Tea Party have made cartoons of the U.S. Constitution, revolutionary America, and the Founding Fathers and now worship their false idols.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

I Have A Dream

Panderbear was an adolescent when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech to the 1963 March on Washington. The essential and enduring truths of his message have informed Panderbear's philosophy ever since. Anyone who can listen to his words and not be moved is truly lost.

On April 3, 1968 King attended a rally at Mason Temple, world headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, and delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address. He was assassinated the next day.

Martin Luther King was not perfect. He was after all just a man. But Panderbear judges King the greatest man of his time. His legacy endures.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

On Thin Ice

Global Warming
I just finished watching Sir David Attenborough’s latest series Frozen Planet. It chronicles life at the polar regions. The seventh and final episode examines the effects of global warming on the poles, and what that means for both wildlife and humans at the poles and around the world. No where is it more dramatically obvious that global warming is occurring than at the ends of the Earth, as shown in the final episode through film, historical photos, satellite imagery, and first-hand scientific accounts. I think it is safe to say that Sir David is the greatest nature documentary maker of all time and is an objective purveyor of scientific truth.

So it was with consternation on the part of viewers when the BBC announced late last year that they would make this seventh episode optional, along with behind-the-scenes footage, to stations in other countries. Standard operating procedure, they claimed. An easy out to countries that are global warming skeptics, shot back critics. To my own surprise and outrage, even the Discovery Channel, an associate producer of the series, said it would not air the last episode in the U.S., claiming scheduling conflicts. This smacked of politician-style pandering to the misguided minority of Americans who don’t believe humans are causing climate change.

Sir David doesn’t even touch on what is causing this warming, only that it is occurring hot and heavy at the poles. There is no room for debate on whether sea ice is melting sooner, is thinner than it used to be, and is breaking up in places where it has never broken before in recorded history. These are facts, not opinions.

It was only after swift, vocal outcries from environmental organizations and enlightened citizens that Discovery Channel announced on December 6, 2011, that it would indeed air all seven episodes beginning March 18, 2012. Suddenly the scheduling conflict had fallen through, I guess.

I hope more minds are enlightened after watching this series. Maybe some of those minds will belong to our pandering politicians whose denial of climate change is on thin ice.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Employment Pander by Selection Bias

Presidents are routinely credited or blamed by the American electorate for the condition of the U.S. economy. Politicians on the left and right just as routinely pander to the dubious notion that an administration's economic policies have a direct causal relationship with recessions and recoveries.

The 'Big Government' stereotype notwithstanding (yet another pander), the U.S. economy dwarfs government. This past July the U.S. Treasury Department stated that the government had a total operating cash balance of $73.768 billion. At that time a single company, Apple Inc., held cash reserves of $75.876 billion.

Capitalism is by its nature unstable and subject to ups and downs. On the short time-scales of most recessions and presidential elections government policies only affect the economy on the margin. The best that government can do is ameliorate the effects of recession by providing extended unemployment benefits and stimulating the economy through temporary deficit spending to partially offset lack of private sector investment.

You will hear much pandering by the Republican Party and those seeking the Republican nomination about job losses under President Obama. Do they have a point? Not really. This chart from a recent Paul Krugman N.Y. Times editorial shows that while total employment is lower now than when the president took office, focusing on that one fact obscures the bigger and clearer picture.

Total Employment Rebounds

The recession and attendant loss of jobs began more than a year before Obama took office and technically ended about 4 months after. Economists label employment a lagging indicator. It's vicissitudes lag other measures of economic activity, so even after the recession ended total jobs continued downward for another year. But, whether you compare today's total employment numbers to the end of the recession or to 6 -12 months after President Obama's election, when his economic policies might have begun taking effect, total employment has actually increased.

The micro view that comes from comparing just 2 points on the plot, Obama's inauguration and the present, is a distortion and pander by time selection bias. The suggestion that President Obama is a job killer is pure pander. The larger view shows the president inherited an economy in free fall and that not only has the fall stopped, but the employment picture for the past 2 years is one of slow, but steady growth.

Should voters give President Obama credit? Panderbear demurs, but thinks whatever voters decide should be based on the larger and truer context of economic and employment recovery.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dwight David Eisenhower PSA

President Dwight David Eisenhower
'The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything--even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon "moderation" in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.'

What President Eisenhower described as 'a tiny splinter group' has grown like a cancer to encompass the entire modern Republican Party. Ike would be appalled at their lack of 'moderation' and by the fact that his party not only survives, but thrives despite its lack of restraint regarding social security, unemployment insurance, and labor laws. Republican politics have changed over the past five decades and not for the better. Not according to Panderbear and not according to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Another bit of political history to file under 'things the Republican Party has forgotten.'

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Xenophobia, Confirmation Bias & Reason

Confirmation Bias
Xenophobia and confirmation bias are the soil in which politicians plant their panders. These twin vestiges of our evolutionary history served their purposes for pre-civilization Homo sapiens. Innate fear of strangers is a warranted survival trait in the absence government, laws, and the other trappings of civilization. Likewise, drawing conclusions based on incomplete information consistent with prior biases, can make the difference between life and death when protection from predators requires swift action.

Both xenophobia and confirmation bias are counterproductive in a modern society. Xenophobia is the root of racism, bigotry, homophobia, suspicion of immigrants, and religious intolerance. Confirmation bias makes us susceptible to the spurious arguments of those who seek dominion over us by pandering to these fundamentally conservative traits. Many of the persistent social ills and divisiveness in our society derive directly from these inherent, yet anachronistic, human traits.

What can we do? Well, first we have to understand the origins of xenophobia and confirmation bias and recognize the social ills that flow from them. For some, self-awareness of their own fears and biases is sufficient to render them immune from most political pandering, particularly on social issues.

However, the ultimate coup de grĂ¢ce to the pandering class can only come from a love of truth stronger than our personal biases. We must subject all claims to fact-based logical reasoning. Listening to a single cable news network, reading one newspaper, or frequenting websites and blogs of a single socio-political orientation, even Liar! Liar!, is inadequate to the task.

Ad Hominem Attack
We must adopt a mercenary attitude toward ideas and claims of fact, especially those we find emotionally appealing. Question the facts again and again. Draw conclusions only when in possession of the full story. Avoid logical fallacies in reasoning. Freely discard opinions found wanting. Find out which politicians are telling the truth and vote for them. Only when most Americans follow these tenets will this country be free of the harmful effects of pandering of all stripes.

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Friday, January 6, 2012


Standard operation procedure for the GOP is pandering into existence one phony bogeyman after another. These distractions keep low-information voters in line while their real enemies, greedy corporations and tax laws favoring the rich, pick the pockets of the middle class.

Teachers' unions, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR, PBS, and undocumented immigrants aren't the cause of our woes. Neither are voter fraud, same-sex marriage, environmental regulations, or taxing 'job-creators.' It is the runaway greed of a bloated and under-regulated financial sector and profit-before-country multinational corporations that have trashed the economy, the environment, the middle class, and the American Dream.

Phony Republican Bogeymen

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice
Perhaps the most evenly pandered issue by both ends of the opinion spectrum is abortion. Ideologues in both the pro-Life and pro-Choice camps insist their viewpoints cannot be compromised. Life begins at conception and abortion is murder say many pro-Lifers. Some pro-Choice advocates insist that a woman must have total, unfettered control over her own reproduction and that fetuses are little more than parasitic tumors that should be accorded no consideration and no rights. Such extreme positions leave little room for consensus solutions.

Panderbear is both pro-Life and pro-Choice. He thinks abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. Concerted efforts to reduce the number of abortions including more and better sex education and counseling (in and out of school), increased and subsidized access to contraception, and promotion of adoption and other alternatives to abortion should be a national priority.

It is self-evident that a zygote is not a fully-realized human being, but it is a potential human being. Appropriate mixtures of the basic elements carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and a few others are potential human beings. Unfertilized ova and sperm together are potential human beings. In biological terms there exists a continuous spectrum of states between inanimate, animate, and human being.

Panderbear thinks this fact suggests the rights accorded a potential human being should receive greater priority the further along the path of development it has progressed. An embryo should be given greater consideration than a zygote. A fetus should receive greater consideration than an embryo. A fetus that would be viable ex utero should be afforded rights essentially co-equal with the woman carrying it. Most pro-Lifers tacitly accept this notion of progressive attribution by not having funerals following early-term miscarriages.

Purists on either extreme will, of course, find progressive attribution of rights unacceptable. However, Panderbear thinks it a rational compromise in a long-standing and unnecessarily divisive debate. Sadly, lack of consensus has resulted in more abortions than would otherwise have been the case. Pro-Life and Pro-Choice is a better choice for life.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Legacy of Ronald Reagan

Panderbear is a chart-a-holic. A well-designed chart can convey a fundamental truth with astonishing clarity and conciseness. This particular chart plots average inflation-adjusted income in the post-WWII era as a percent of 1979 levels.

The data displayed show that until the administration of President Ronald Reagan, percentage growth in income for the top 1% and the bottom 90% tracked one another quite closely. Then something went haywire. Income for the top 1% began to climb dramatically while income for the bottom 90% flatlined. All the economic gains since shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected have gone to the rich and none to the non-rich. What happened near the beginning of the Reagan administration?

Rich Capture All Income Gains Since Reaganomics

Well, Reaganomics happened. The twin pillars of Reaganomics, aka supply-side economics, aka trickle-down economics, are cut taxes and reduce regulations. Top marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations were reduced dramatically and capital gains rates slashed. The theory was that cutting taxes and eliminating regulations would stimulate the economy and a rising tide would lift all boats.

The actual result, as the chart clearly demonstrates, was a windfall for rich individuals and corporations. Nothing trickled-down. All the benefits gushed up to the wealthiest Americans. Reaganomics turned out to be an aberrant economic theory, voodoo economics, as even many fiscally conservative Republicans had feared. It failed, utterly and completely.

Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt. That money went to the already well-off while the middle class was exsanguinated. It was the beginning of the end of the American Dream. President Reagan's legacy is the false dogma that we can have all the government services we demand and financial stability while cutting taxes on the rich and deregulating banks. Didn't happen. Ain't going to happen. Nevertheless, today's Republican Party insists that all we need is more of the same.

Panderbear wept.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Abraham Lincoln PSA

Abraham Lincoln
"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Panderbear noted in The Great Divergence and The Great Divergence - Part II that for many decades the Republican Party has been unrelentingly anti-labor and pro-capital. Marginalization of labor unions is one of the top three contributors to The Great Divergencethe multi-decade trend toward more lopsided income distribution in the U.S.

File this one under 'things the modern Republican Party has forgotten.'

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Elizabeth Warren Campaign Contribution

Elizabeth Warren handily outpaced the other contenders in our most recent poll regarding which straight-talking candidate should receive the next Liar! Liar! campaign contribution. President Obama came in a respectable second. Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman received votes as well.

Panderbear contributed $100 to the Warren campaign. That was considerably more than Liar! Liar! ad revenues, but Panderbear believes in putting his money where his mouth is. Thanks to all who voted in our poll and to all who helped generate revenue by clicking on the ads.

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