Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Helen Keller PSA

Helen Keller
“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all ... The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands - the ownership and control of their livelihoods - are set at naught, we can have neither men's rights nor women's rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.”

Born in 1880, Helen Keller lived to see an oppressed working class transformed into a growing and prosperous middle class, particularly in the decades following the advent of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

Keller did not live to see the tragedy wrought by the introduction of supply-side, trickle-down economics by President Ronald Reagan. Our country is once again "governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers." The middle class and the American Dream are under threat. The defining economic issue of our time is reestablishing the equal sharing of income growth across all income levels that characterized the decades between Roosevelt and Reagan.

[For more on Helen Keller see: Helen Keller vs Rick Santorum]

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

There just isn't any generous way to put it. Much of the opposition to government social programs derives from the ignorance of the electorate and the willingness of conservative politicians to pander to that ignorance.

A 2008 study by Suzanne Mettler, Cornell's Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions, published in Perspectives on Politics demonstrates a disconnect between fact and perception. According to Mettler's survey 44% of Social Security recipients, 43% of those receiving unemployment, and 40% of those on Medicare say they “have not used a government program.” The percentages are even higher for the lesser known so-called submerged state government subsidies. (Blue in the chart.)

It's little wonder that low-information voters oppose generic government aid programs. They have little understanding of what those programs are and who is benefiting from them. Ill-informed conservative voters seem to think that only freeloading slackers receive government benefits when in fact the better known programs primarily benefit (90%) the elderly, disabled, and working families. "Real" self-reliant Americans are also largely unaware that they themselves have likely benefited from submerged state subsidies.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn't make for sound public policy.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Barack Obama PSA

Barack Obama
"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing."

Panderbear expressed much the same sentiment in Principle vs Policy, though not nearly as well as President Obama.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Stimulus Redux - Part II

In Stimulus Redux Panderbear made the case that the stimulus package, contrary to Republican pandering, actually worked and that, if anything, it needed to be bigger. The post made the argument with the aid of a chart of monthly private sector job growth. For those who prefer video the following clip, produced by the Center for American Progress, shows the same stats and much more. Don't let anybody kid you. President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act saved our bacon.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Red State Subsidy

Republicans are all about personal responsibility, self-reliance, and eschewing government handouts. Right? Actually, the numbers tell a different story.

The chart, created by Aaron Carroll of The Incidental Economist, displays data for the ten most conservative and ten most liberal states as ranked by Gallup. On the horizontal axis is the conservative minus liberal score, ie. more conservative states further right and more liberal states further left. The vertical axis is the ratio of federal transfers to personal income.

Wealth Transfer from Liberal to Conservative States

The data show unequivocally that the conservative states on average (0.21) are more dependent on government support than the liberal states (0.17). While Red state politicians pander against government aid to exceedingly receptive crowds of conservatives voters, those same states are receiving more transfers from the federal government than their liberal counterparts.

Panderbear is not surprised that conservative states receive more federal aid. They are on average poorer states. What is hard to fathom is why Red state moochers are the most dead set against federal transfers? Why bite the hand that feeds you? Panderbear will discuss possible reasons for this logical dissonance another day.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pipe Dreams

Last week, an acquaintance of mine wrote on Facebook, “The stupidity of this decision [President Obama’s temporary rejection of a Keystone XL Pipeline permit, citing a need for further study] continues to be hard to come to grips with. Yet another bonehead choice by one of our very worst presidents.”

Was Obama’s rejection of a 1,700-mile pipeline meandering from Alberta through America’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast really bone-headed? According to the facts, far from it.

Republicans tout that the tar sands oil pipeline would create tens of thousands of jobs and increase America’s energy security. The former point is grossly exaggerated, as the pipeline would create only about 2,500 – 4,650 jobs, according to Cornell’s Global Labor Institute. The GLI also stated that the manufacture of 800,000 tons of carbon steel pipe for the project has been contracted to Indian and Russian companies, further undermining the pipeline’s effect on American job creation. Unfortunately, it seems Republicans are still clinging to The Perryman Group’s erroneous estimate of 118,935 person-years of employment being added to the U.S. economy over the pipeline’s two-year construction, which economists have blasted to smithereens. Maybe The Perryman Group inflated its numbers to reflect jobs created to clean up oil-spill disasters…

Secondly, claiming the pipeline will boost America’s energy security requires a rejection of basic economics. The Associate Press says America’s top export in 2011 was refined fuel, such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. That isn’t going to change with the Keystone XL Pipeline. The price of TransCanada’s oil will be determined by the global demand for oil, and currently, developing countries in Asia and Latin America are demanding more oil as they build their infrastructure, so that is where American oil is going. Meanwhile, demand for oil in the U.S. has been falling since 2007.

Tar Sands Oil Mine

Finally, let’s not forget Keystone XL’s impact on the environment. NASA climatologist James Hansen said that if Alberta’s oil sands are tapped, “It is essentially game over” for reclaiming a stable climate. He said that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and fossil fuels in tar sands must remain in the ground (because their extraction is energy-intensive) if the world is to mitigate major climate change effects.

Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is not a good thing for America, nor the world. Its primary beneficiary is Big Oil.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Entitlement Hysteria

In light of all the Republican hysteria surrounding entitlement reform Panderbear decided to take a look at the 2011 annual reports by the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees. Guess what? The sky is not falling.

Is the Social Security trust fund broke? Nope. If there are no policy changes trust fund reserves will not be exhausted until 2036. Hell, Panderbear doesn't even plan to be around then! Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085. Does it need some tweaking? Sure, but not right away and nothing drastic like privatization is required.

What about Medicare? The projected date of HI (hospital insurance) trust fund exhaustion is 2024 at which time dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 90 percent of HI costs. The share of HI expenditures that can be financed with HI dedicated revenues is projected to decline slowly to 75 percent in 2045, and then to rise slowly, reaching 88 percent in 2085. So Medicare could use some tweaking as well, but even if nothing is done Medicare recipients' copays would have to increase to cover at most 25% more of their health care expenses. That's bad and should be avoided, but it is not catastrophic and it isn't happening tomorrow.

If we look at the chart showing historical and projected costs of these two programs as a percent of GDP, what we don't see are exponentially increasing curves rising to infinity. Instead both Social Security and Medicare level off at about 6% of GDP. Panderbear doesn't think that's too much to ensure our seniors continue to live with some measure of security, dignity, and access to proper health care.

Historical and Projected Social Security and Medicare Costs

So why are Republicans so frantic to reform entitlements right now? Well, it certainly isn't because Social Security and Medicare are bankrupt. They aren't. Could it be that Republicans simply don't like entitlement programs whose benefits recipients have earned by paying into them? That they would gleefully dismember the social safety net?

Panderbear can only speculate as to Republicans' true motives. What Panderbear can say for sure is that we must resist their demands for precipitous and drastic changes to entitlements, because their claims regarding these programs' imminent demise are highly exaggerated.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Mutt Romney Blues

Panderbear is not just a bird lover, he is a dog lover as well.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Entitlement Society

Republican candidates for the presidency claim we are becoming an "Entitlement Society." Mitt Romney wrote in a recent op-ed piece that in a few years “we will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival.” Romney also wrote that, “Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth.” Rick Santorum makes the similar claim that we are “systematically destroying the work ethic.”

So who are these passive sloths lacking in the work ethic that are collecting entitlement (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) benefits? Well, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 90% of benefits go to elderly, disabled, or those in working households. Real slackers alright.

Distribution of Entitlement Benefits

Once again Republicans are engaged in the creation of phony bogeymen as laid out in SOP for GOP and are employing the 'Straw Man' logical fallacy to mischaracterize and demonize recipients of entitlements. They conflate social insurance programs that recipients have paid into with welfare, apparently hoping their supporters' negative views of the latter will rub off onto entitlements.

Romney and Santorum talk about lazy jobless sloths when, in fact, nine-tenths of entitlement benefits go to recipients that are either in working households (18%), or are disabled (20%), or are elderly (53%) and have earned the benefits they receive. Republicans' false claims are pure pandering to low-information conservative voters.
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dictionary of Logical Fallacies - Part II

In Dictionary of Logical Fallacies Panderbear noted that panderers often use one or more logical fallacies to obfuscate an issue and support false conclusions. These fallacies reduce their arguments to empty pandering even when spiced up with cherry-picked facts. Arming yourself with knowledge of common logical fallacies will afford you some measure of protection against pandering.

Ad Hominem Attack

What follows is the second installment of a dictionary of logical fallacies. Study these fallacies well. There will be a quiz.

  • False Dilemma - Present an either or argument when other options exist.

  • Guilt by Association - Argument is false because people I don't like agree with it.

  • Hasty Generalization - Draw conclusion about population based on too small a sample.

  • Middle Ground - Assume the centrist position is correct.

  • Misleading Vividness - Give dramatic example more weight than statistical evidence.

  • Poisoning the Well - Unfavorable information about person used to discredit future claims.

  • Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc - One thing preceding another is not proof of a causal relationship.

  • Red Herring - Introduce irrelevant topic to divert attention from original issue.

  • Slippery Slope - Assert event inevitably follows from another without proof.

  • Straw Man - Attack misrepresented version of opponents position.

  • Two Wrongs Make a Right - Justify an act against another by asserting they would do the same.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Polarizing Presidents

Is President Obama the most polarizing president ever or does President George W. Bush deserve that title? Gallup polls have shown larger approval rating gaps between Democrats and Republicans for both Obama and Bush than any other president in the past 60 years. So both presidents are responsible for polarizing the American public, right?

The problem with that conclusion is that it, at least in part, confuses cause and effect, a well-known logical fallacy. Approval ratings for both presidents were and are very polarized, but are the ratings a reflection of presidential performance or a case of polarization being in the eye of the beholder?

The DW-Nominate chart illustrates the relative liberal/conservative ratings of all the presidents since Harry Truman. The same measures are used here as in Radical Republicans where they demonstrated the extraordinary and historically extreme conservative nature of Republican controlled House sessions since the mid-1990's.

The takeaway from the chart is that 'socialist' President Obama is actually the least liberal Democratic President in modern times and Bush the most conservative Republican. While Bush may have earned partial credit for polarizing Americans, Obama has not.

In Polarized Opinion Panderbear discussed how cable news networks target particular opinion demographics enabling viewers to immerse themselves in news with a message tailored to their biases. If you must assign culpability for polarizing the electorate, Fox News is as good a starting place as any. Also, as shown in Hypocrisy Belt, racism remains a polarizing factor in American politics. Sadly, Panderbear has observed the latter phenomenon first hand.

Liberal and Conservative Presidents
(Keith Poole at

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Truth Quotient History - Candidates

The tripartite grouping of Truth Quotients of candidates for the presidency has returned - President Obama solidly in truth-telling territory, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney slightly below a coin-flip, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich way down in the super-panderer nether regions. Only Santorum and Gingrich moved much in the past month. Each experienced some reversion to the mean. For Gingrich this meant a bump in TQ and for Santorum a dip. For clarity, and because Panderbear doesn't beat dead horses, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann have been removed from the chart.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Presidents, Governors, and Quarterbacks

Presidents and governors are like quarterbacks. When things go well, they get too much credit. When things go badly, they get too much blame. The economy dwarfs government. The most that a president or governor can really do is attempt to minimize the pain during bad times.

Technically, the recession ended long ago. For many the economic pain persists. Now there are signs of improvement beginning to reach the 99%. (The 1% don't have recessions.) Pundits and politicians on both sides of the ideological divide are busy taking credit or assigning blame. Each finds validation of their particular political ideology in the facts of this unfolding story. No matter how thinly you slice it, that is pure pandering baloney. We had a recession. A bad one. It started on President Bush's watch and is ending on President Obama's. Lucky Obama.

Recession is Over

Government policies had precious little to do with the start or end of the Great Recession. What can be fairly said is that deficit spending during this recession, just as it has in every recession since the Great Depression, reduced the pain of temporary economic hard times.

Now is not the time to be assigning credit or blame for the inevitable vicissitudes of the business cycle. It is time to assess what is happening in the longer term to the middle class and the American Dream. Both have suffered grievous harm from ill-advised policies that created Gilded Age income divergence and a growing wealth gap. These are the central economic and social issues of our time. Let's cease the chest-thumping and finger pointing and get to the real work.

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Free Will Pander

If the laws of nature apply everywhere and always, free will cannot exist. This is just logic, not science. We have will, but it is a product of evolved biological systems that obey the laws of physics. Our actions are determined entirely by our genetic potential, physical and cultural environment, individual experience and chance. The latter arises from the probabilistic (yet not random) nature of quantum physics.

Perhaps the most damning argument against free will, if being a violation of physical laws isn't enough, is that it is completely superfluous. Experts in the biological origins of behavior say it simply isn't necessary to introduce free will in order to explain human mental processes or actions. No contrived deus ex machina intervention is necessary.

Those who believe in an omniscient god who knows the future have an additional logical hurdle to overcome. If the future is knowable, even by God, then it must be immutable. In that case we have no power to change it. Indeed, even God would not be free to change His mind.

Lack of free will does not mean we shouldn't hold individuals accountable for their actions. Laws and social mores are an essential part of the environment that constrains human behavior. Without them we would have uncivilized chaos. But, we must recognize that these rules are pragmatic convention, not divine revelation, and so they should be devised and applied with restraint and some measure of empathy. As they say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

Free Will

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tax Rates Too High?

Tax rates are too high. This is bedrock truth for Republicans. The thing is, this well-know 'fact' is false.

Only those blinded by parochial American Exceptionalism could fail to see that compared to other developed countries, tax rates in the U.S. are exceptionally low. Look way down near the bottom of the chart. In 2009 taxes as a percent of GDP were lower in the U.S. than all but two other developed nations.

The fiction that we can have all the services we demand from our government and not pay for them was born under President Ronald Reagan. That budget-busting meme is a pander to low-information rubes. The 'cut taxes first, ask questions later' political and economic strategy is called Starve the Beast. Its real purpose is to shrink government at all costs leaving corporations and the rich unencumbered by reasonable regulations and fair tax rates.

In The Legacy of Reaganomics Panderbear noted that when tax rates were slashed during President Reagan's first term the benefits went mainly to the already wealthy leading to a bifurcation in income growth and a still increasing and destabilizing wealth gap. Republicans are fond of saying, "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." Saying the hole is in the other end of the boat is pure pander. The proof that raising taxes must be part of any U.S. deficit reducing policy is in the chart, near the bottom.

Taxes as Percent of GDP

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pro-Life Before Birth and After

Panderbear in Pro-Life and Pro-Choice and Raven in Trust Women expressed their personal views on the issue of abortion. Panderbear thinks that forcing participants in the abortion debate to identify as either Pro-Life or Pro-Choice imposes an artificial constraint to full and open communication. Raven suggests it is hypocritical for those who oppose abortion or who oppose same-sex partners adopting to not be at the head of the adoption line.

Panderbear notes, as many others have, that some who self-identify as Pro-Life hold inconsistent views toward protecting life. It is a double standard to elevate the life of a fetus above the welfare of the already born.

War, hunger, and environmental degradation also take their toll of human life. One would hope those who call themselves Pro-Life would attack these woes of the human condition with the same ardor they exhibit in trying to stop legal abortions.

All too many politicians are willing to pander to social conservatives who hold these incompatible views on the protection of life. Panderbear thinks failing to reconcile mutually incompatible opinions inevitably leads to both hypocrisy and more pandering.


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Monday, February 6, 2012

Lawrence O'Donnell PSA

In Great Conservative Accomplishments Panderbear discussed the great accomplishments conservatives can point to and found that, well, there weren't any. At least there haven't been any since President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. Republicans have fought every great advance in American society tooth and nail.

Panderbear resists characterizing himself as a liberal, because he decides each issue via fact-based logical reasoning, not based on ideology. Nevertheless, he is inclined favorably toward the sentiments regarding liberalism expressed by Lawrence O'Donnell.

Liberal Lawrence O'Donnell

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

The major change in Truth Quotient rankings from three weeks ago is the departure of three candidates for the Republican nomination - Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. Panderbear doesn't believe in beating dead horses.

The only change in rank order was by Rick Santorum who, in a reversion to the mean, dropped back below Senate Leader Harry Reid, into TQ territory he had previously occupied.

At the poles President Obama continues in uncontested first place with TQ = 1.52 and Newt Gingrich, also uncontested, in last place with TQ = 0.25.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trust Women

Trust Women
Many times I've wondered, "What would I do if I became pregnant due to incest or rape? Would I have an abortion? Would I continue the pregnancy full term then give the baby up for adoption? Would I keep it?" Fortunately, I have never had to answer these questions, but many women have.

My personal view is that such decisions should be between me, my husband, and my doctor. Beyond the first trimester I would not consider an abortion unless my life were in danger or the fetus non-viable. But each woman should be free to decide for herself. It should not be a decision made by religiously influenced politicians in Congress or state legislatures.

Many religious folks say life begins at conception and that taking the morning-after pill or having an abortion, even during the first trimester, is killing a human being. Although 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, it is rare, even among the devout, for a funeral service to be held. It seems their ideology is more extreme than their actions.

Some in the religious community would have every woman, raped or not, carrying an unwanted pregnancy full term. Many also oppose same-sex couples adopting, but you don’t see them standing in line. That seems hypocritical to me. There are so many children in orphanages or foster care that we as a nation should do everything we can to provide homes for them and also do what we can to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

When the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was considered in the House of Representatives, the Stupak–Pitts Amendment was proposed with the stated purpose of prohibiting the use of federal funds "to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion" except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

Sixty percent of male House members voted for the amendment. Seventy-four percent of female Representatives opposed it. Because women remain a distinct minority in Congress the amendment passed the House 240-194. I'm convinced that were it men who became pregnant the pro-choice stance would have ruled the day and the Stupak-Pitts Amendment would never even have been put forward. Trust women.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dictionary of Logical Fallacies

In Sound Argument Panderbear noted that an argument is sound if the premises are true and the conclusion necessarily follows from them. Checking for soundness is essential to immunizing oneself against pandering. The more insidious mode of pandering is to employ some combination of logical fallacies which render a conclusion specious even if the premises happen to be true.

Circular Reasoning Fallacy

What follows is the first installment of a dictionary of logical fallacies. You will recognize many of them, especially if you have been following the Republican primary debates.

  • Ad Hominem Attack - Attacking the messenger rather than their claim.

  • Appeal to Authority - Appealing to the opinion of someone who is not a legitimate authority.

  • Appeal to Belief - Many people believing something is not evidence that it is true.

  • Appeal to Common Practice - Most people doing something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

  • Appeal to Emotion - Appealing to strong emotion rather than producing evidence for a claim.

  • Appeal to Ignorance - Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

  • Appeal to Ridicule - Mocking a claim does not prove it is false.

  • Biased Sample - Drawing a conclusion based on a sample that is biased or prejudiced.

  • Circular Reasoning - Premises include the conclusion.

  • Composition - That individuals have a characteristic is not proof that the whole class does.

  • Division - What is true of a whole is not necessarily true of its constituents.

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