Friday, March 30, 2012

Teach How to Think, Not What to Think

In Panderbear's view our educational system concentrates too much on teaching facts and not nearly enough on learning how to think. Naturally curious children are routinely turned into fact-reciting automatons devoid of intellectual curiosity. Information is worthless if a person hasn't learned how to separate fact from fiction, logical- from magical-thinking, sound arguments from fallacious pandering, and lacks a grasp of the basics of the scientific method.

We cannot memorize every fact, so we must be able to distinguish sound arguments from illogical bias-confirming nonsense. One need not have a detailed or encyclopedic knowledge of science, only a handle on how science works, to distinguish real science from dogma masquerading as science.

Minds which lack training for fact-based logical reasoning and the scientific method cannot possibly reach their full human potential and are often at the mercy of panderers, political and religious. They reside somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from fully-realized adult human to brain-dead zombie. That does not make them worthless, but each one represents a missed opportunity for a fuller comprehension of the true nature of the universe and maximal contribution to the human endeavor.

Scientific Method

When parents prevent their child from being exposed to certain facts and techniques for rational thought, they are purposefully stunting their child's intellectual capacity in order preserve faith-based doctrine. They cripple their child's intellectual potential in the name of moral principles lacking a solid foundation in fact or reason.

If this sounds like the Rick Santorum family story, it's because Panderbear had them in mind when he wrote this post. Santorum's homeschooling of his children to prevent their exposure to morally subversive knowledge is not just a tragedy, it's a crime against a self-aware universe. How can our children surpass us if we teach them what to think, rather than how to think?

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tax Rates and Corporate Welfare

A constant refrain heard from conservatives for decades is that American corporations are at a competitive disadvantage to foreign competitors due to high U.S. corporate tax rates. Panderbear has a one word reply to that claim. "Bull!"

This claim by Republicans is totally disingenuous, because of the difference between high theoretical marginal tax rates and what corporations actually pay. After all the special deductions, dispensations, and loopholes, effective U.S. corporate tax rates are among the lowest in the world. The fact that American corporations continue to dominate the world economy belies the Republican claim that they are at a disadvantage.

The real bottom line is not what the theoretical tax rates are, but what rates are actually paid. The chart shows that ever since WWII when individual and corporate percentage contributions to government revenues were approximately equal, corporations have received increasingly favorable tax treatment compared to individuals. 

At the end of the war corporate and individual income taxes each constituted about 40% of federal revenues. The corporate share has decreased over the decades to roughly 10% while individuals are contributing close to 50% percent. Instead of contributing equally individuals now subsidize corporations by a 4 to 1 ratio.

Corporate Welfare

Panderbear thinks the data expose Republican claims regarding high corporate tax rates as obvious panders. U.S. corporations are currently getting a virtual free ride at the expense of individual tax payers. This is one more factor contributing to increasing income divergence and a growing wealth gap.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Big Spender - Obama or Reagan?

Republican pandering would have you believe that President Obama is growing a socialist government of Brobdingnagian proportions. Their solution is to return to the small government paradigm of their sainted President Reagan. Do the actual numbers on net change in government spending under the two presidents support the Republicans' version of history? Not a bit of it.

The chart shows that even though the economy inherited by Obama was in much worse shape than the one facing Reagan, the inflation adjusted net change in government spending was much greater under Reagan than Obama.

Change in Government Spending Obama vs Reagan

Were it not for the intransigence of far-right Republican and Tea Party extremists, government spending in the form of a larger stimulus package might well have the economy much further along the path to recovery than it currently is. Republican opposition to every presidential proposal for stimulating the economy and reducing unemployment has thwarted the opportunity for a more robust economic recovery.

Balancing budgets is a laudable goal in the long run, but austerity measures during economic downturns are contrary to best economic theory. Inappropriately timed austerity keeps unemployment higher longer than necessary, slows recovery, and results in much more economic pain to the non-rich than necessary.

History has shown Republican economic theories since the era of Reagan to be bogus magical thinking at best and dangerously counterproductive at worst. Compounding these errors of economic theory with mendacious revisions of the historical record cannot be helpful to resolving our current economic woes.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Solar Energy vs Drill, Baby, Drill!

Thomas Edison
“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy--sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Thomas Edison expressed this sentiment in 1931. Eighty-one years later the Republican Party's bumper-sticker energy policy pander is still "Drill, Baby, Drill!" Panderbear thinks he'll stick with the certifiable genius on this issue rather a political party bought and paid for by the oil and coal industries.

A good start toward following Edison's advice would be to stop corporate welfare in the form of multi-billion dollar tax subsidies given to Big Oil, whose eventual death is as sure as the world's reserve of fossil fuels is finite.

Spending those billions on solar energy research would soon make it a cheaper and far cleaner source of energy than oil, gas, or coal. If we fail to make these investments then our national energy security dependence will some day shift from the middle east to China, which is currently cleaning our solar energy clocks.

Those who argue that we can drill our way out of our energy problems aren't just wrong today. They were wrong eight decades ago.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Church and State, Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater
"Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them."

Straight-talking arch-conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was far more conservative than the average member of the Republican Party in 1964 when he ran against Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson for President of the United States.

Nevertheless, unlike today's Republican Party, Goldwater understood, as did the Founding Fathers, the fundamental reason why separation of church and state is absolutely necessary in a representative democracy. Today's congressional deadlock and extreme partisan pandering on the political right is the inevitable result of making politics a religion or bringing religion into politics, either of which precludes the reasonable compromise necessary to the survival of a functional representative government of diverse constituencies.

Separation of church and state is just one more historical lesson to file under "Things the Republican Party has forgotten."

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Free Will and Wealth Distribution

Free Will
What is the appropriate distribution of wealth? Some Libertarians might well respond that the question itself is inappropriate and insist that whatever results from non-intervention by government is the correct distribution. But most Americans reason that in order for the distribution of wealth to be fair, the economic playing field must be level, so everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Most people also think there should be limits to inequality of wealth, that having a few people fabulously rich while many exist in desperate poverty is somehow un-American. Most do not begrudge the rich their wealth, but do want to preserve the middle class and American Dream while assuring the elderly, disabled, and children a life of some dignity.

So we have reduced the problem of wealth distribution to a process of promoting two simple goals - equal opportunity and protecting the innocent. What could be simpler? As it turns out these two ideas are very subjective, much pandered concepts, especially when conflated with the notion of free will.

Psychological research has shown that conservatives have a higher tolerance for inequality than liberals. Even though most people on the political right and left believe in free will, they start from very different intuitive baselines of what constitutes innocent victims of circumstance and equal opportunity. Conservatives insist that liberals are socialists who want equal outcomes. Liberals insist that conservatives are greedy and heartless. Both points of view are spurious stereotypes that derive mainly from erroneous injection of the fallacy of free will.

Panderbear respectfully submits once again that there is no place for the concept of free will in the formation of effective public policy. Attacking your ideological opponents for being what they must be is never helpful in any negotiation and neither are public policies attacking groups of Americans for being who and what they are. Dispensing with free will eliminates ad hominem blustering among the policy makers and blaming of the less fortunate for their fate. It also reduces the subjectivity surrounding what constitutes equal opportunity and entirely eliminates the necessity of distinguishing innocent victims from those who are culpable for their diminished state. Without the complications of free will pandering, policy decisions could become much more objective and more likely to succeed.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meaning of Life for Liar! Liar!

Panderbear - Publisher and Editor
The full title of this blog is 'Liar! Liar! Pandering Politicians and Rational Public Policy'. Panderbear attempts to keep posts within the parameters suggested by the blog's name. However, Panderbear's primary motive in creating this blog is not entirely captured by its title.

Panderbear thinks the human race is a work in progress. It is in some respects incomplete, as a child is not a fully-realized adult. Indeed, if maturity is defined as having one's emotions subservient to and always in the service of one's intellect, then few humans ever truly reach adulthood. Panderbear has certainly not reached that pinnacle, but considers it a worthy goal.

Human beings have the ability to perform fact-based logical reasoning and yet all too frequently fail to do so, often making decisions based on emotion and prior bias which makes them easy prey for pandering politicians. Panderbear is neither opposed to nor immune to human emotion, but it has its place, and that place is not in the making of important decisions regarding public policy. The making of public policies and their implementation must be the realm of our most rational thinking and best science or they will surely fail.

All of us are subject in some measure to the anachronistic evolutionary traits of xenophobia and confirmation bias. These traits served us well in a pre-civilized world, but now are the sources of much social and political strife and targets of much pandering. Xenophobia and confirmation bias are among the great enemies of modern civilization. They are worthy foes. Struggling against these stumbling blocks to a more peaceful and productive society and a more perfect union is part of Panderbear's ulterior motive in creating Liar! Liar!

If you read this blog and take the posts at face value then you are missing its underlying message. In order to judge or make sound arguments one must verify that the premises are true and that any conclusions follow from those premises. That's an ideal that we strive for here at Liar! Liar! even though constraints on post length work against it. Where incompletely supported conclusions appear in one post, hopefully they are more completely argued in another.

So Panderbear's message and the meaning of life for Liar! Liar! boils down to a process of discarding prior biases, checking the facts of any public policy issue from multiple sources, and applying logical, fallacy-free reasoning to reach sound conclusions and opinions free of panderers' machinations. That may sound like a tough challenge. It is. Panderbear never said it would be easy. Nevertheless, the world will be a better place for our having made the effort.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Evolution, Free Will, Liberal Politics

The fundamental tenets of evolution - random mutation and natural selection ultimately leading from simpler organisms to more complex ones - are no longer subjects of scientific debate. Besides the increasingly fine-grained fossil record, evolution is routinely observed in laboratories around the world. Why do you suppose we need a different cocktail of flue shots every year? The old beasties are evolving into new ones with resistance to the old remedies. Of course details remain to be studied, but any philosophy, religious or otherwise, inconsistent with basic notions of the unity of all life and the evolution of human beings from more primitive forms is just plain magical thinking.

Free Will
Panderbear has devoted considerable study to the evolution of human behavior. Scientific research has demonstrated that positing the existence of free will is superfluous. It simply isn't needed to explain human actions. Additionally, as Panderbear argued in Free Will Pander, the existence of free will requires that the laws of nature not apply everywhere and at all times. In other words it would require magic, the supernatural. That's a supposition Panderbear cannot accept without considerable supporting evidence and thus far there is none.

Ascribing free will to humans is to open a Pandora's box of pandering, retribution and blaming of victims for their unfortunate circumstances. Blaming the victim is a favorite pander of conservative politicians. "The unemployed are lazy." Did 13 million people suddenly become lazy slackers at the onset of the Great Recession? Isn't it more likely that the unemployed are mostly ordinary people who got caught out by an economic slowdown not of their making? Seeking to stigmatize and humiliate these victims by requiring them to submit to drug tests, derives from inappropriate assignment of their state to acts of free will.

Policy after policy introduced to punish victims of circumstance derive from illogical application of the false notion of free will. While many liberals no doubt believe in free will, it is the conservative Republican Party and the Religious Right that have based their entire political and religious dogma on blaming the less fortunate for their circumstances. Want to collect unemployment? Take a drug test. Good grief! Haven't these people suffered enough anguish and humiliation without new government regulations adding insult to injury?

Discarding free will is of course not the only route to a more liberal political outlook, but it is surely based more firmly in fact-based logical reasoning and best science than the alternatives.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

JFK Legacy

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) was taken from us all too soon. Still, he left an enduring legacy, not the least of which are his statements regarding some of Panderbear's favorite themes.

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."

These myths can only persist when the opinions of the citizenry are driven by confirmation bias and political pandering rather than fact-based logical reasoning and are only persuasive and unrecognized as unrealistic by those who remain stubbornly ignorant of the relevant facts.

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

Today's social conservatives would not know what to make of such a statement. They see their oppression and persecution of others as essential to proving fidelity to their own particular beliefs. Tolerance of those with contrary views is not an option for zealots.

"Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

Most people will do almost anything to avoid really thinking. We cling to our biases rather than seek the potentially inconvenient truth.

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

Panderbear agrees with the spirit of JFK's statement, but has a couple of quibbles. American Exceptionalism is rampant and precludes the U.S. from seriously considering "foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values." Secondly, in a nation where most citizens prefer magical thinking to fact and reason, there is every reason to fear its people.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Rape, Marriage, Death

Amina Filali
Amina Filali, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl, is dead. Amina was raped when she was 15 and according to law and custom was forced against her will to marry her rapist, who by agreeing to marry Amina escaped any punishment for his crime. During her 5 month marriage her husband beat Amina repeatedly. She complained to her mother who advised patience. Last week Amina swallowed rat poison.

Hopefully, this tragedy will spur changes to Moroccan law to prevent future horrors like Amina's. Thank goodness we live in a civilized country where women's rights are protected on a par with men's, a country where raped women are treated as victims rather than co-conspirators condemned to continue pregnancies to which they did not consent. Right?

The U.S. Congress, 83% of whose members are men, has of late been attempting to circumscribe women's access to contraception, denying them control of their own reproductive health. Meanwhile, in 2010 alone, 370 laws were passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures restricting abortion rights. Some of these new laws make no exception for rape. They reduce women to little more than incubators. Does this constitute a war on women? You bet it does.

Panderbear remembers well the time in America before Roe v. Wade when deaths from coat hanger abortions were an everyday occurrence. Is that what we really want for American women? Panderbear can only imagine a woman's horror at being forced to choose between criminality and continuing an unwanted pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. That's cruel and unusual punishment and a clear violation of women's constitutional rights. If such laws are upheld by the current 5-4 majority of activist conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices, how many American women will choose to follow Amina Filali's tragic example?

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Editorial Policy

Panderbear - Publisher/Editor

Panderbear's Rules

  • Posts should aim for a slightly higher level and longer view than the hubbub of everyday pandering. More synthesis than reportage. More argument than opinion.

  • Passion in the service of intellect is highly desirable. Rants, diatribes, sermons, screeds, and invective are not desirable. Sound arguments presenting verifiable premises in support of a single conclusion are desirable. As Panderbear always says, "Facts. Facts. Facts. Get some."

  • Submissions should be succinct (preferably <250 words), focus on a single topic relevant to pandering by politicians, pundits, or organizations and include verifiable premises and references.

  • Every post must include at least one graphic which may be a photograph, chart, graph, table or cartoon relevant to the topic of the post. Panderbear loves charts and graphs.

  • Panderbear considers all posts rough drafts. They are written, reviewed, rewritten, and corrected even after being published, if necessary.

  • It is Panderbear's responsibility to preview all submissions, schedule posts for publication, mentor associate editors, and enforce reasonable and consistent editorial standards.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Editors Needed

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.Are you content to spend your online life commenting in fora populated by trolls and filled with half-baked opinions and sharing trivialities with followers and friends? Or do you want to bend the arc of the moral universe? Panderbear invites you to join us at  Liar! Liar! and make a difference.

  • Contribute a little time or contribute a lot. That's up to you.

  • Your responsibilities are of your own choosing and may include submitting posts, rough drafts of posts, ideas for posts, arguments, factoids, suitable reference links, constructive criticisms of and corrections to others' posts (especially Panderbear's), and helping decide who deserves the next campaign contribution.

  • Associate editors are encouraged to contribute comments and posts in other fora (FaceBook, N.Y. Times, Huffington Post, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, Digg, etc) and include links to germane Liar! Liar! posts. Driving traffic to Liar! Liar! is important work. Without it few would benefit from our insights. ;-)

  • Important! Associate editors must not click on Liar! Liar! ads. Google considers that click fraud. So does Panderbear. However, those who are not official editors are encouraged to click on ads to transfer a little wealth from advertisers to non-pandering politicians.

  • No particular political orientation is required. Disclosure: Panderbear is generally liberal, because that's where the facts and logical reasoning have led him. He collects facts on each issue and then forms opinions, not the other way round.

  • You will receive the same compensation as Panderbear - zip. All Liar! Liar! revenue is contributed to the campaigns of non-pandering politicians. You will reap the deep satisfaction that comes from knowing you have made the universe a little safer from pandering.

  • Think you can't write? Poppycock! English was Panderbear's worst subject. He never wrote anything he didn't have to until he became a birder and started posting bird sightings. You can do it. Besides Panderbear will consult with you regarding every post before it is published. Liar! Liar! is intended to be a collaborative effort and a learning exercise for us all. Come on, give it a shot.

  • To become a Liar! Liar! associate editor send the email address you wish to use to login as an author and the name/pseudonym you want to appear on your Liar! Liar! posts to Panderbear will then send you an official invitation. Please also send a 100x100 pixel avatar/photo for "The Zoo" page. Panderbear will provide additional information once your author status is confirmed.

Liar! Liar! Zoo

Editorial Policy

Contact Us

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Truth Quotient History - Candidates

In the past month the overall Truth Quotient (TQ) pattern hasn't changed much. There were no changes of rank. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney continued their gradual but steady 7-month TQ declines. President Obama continues as the sole resident of non-panderer territory (TQ>1.0), Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich still reside in the TQ cellar, and Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are still not much worse than a flip of a coin.

In addition to the five presidential candidates Panderbear includes TQ curves for the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and chain e-mails. The first two are included to remind the reader that there really is a difference between veracity metrics for the two parties. The DNC adheres far more closely to the truth than the RNC. Panderbear includes the chain e-mail TQ curve to remind people that these e-mails are pure crap and should never be read, much less forwarded. They are a public nuisance, a hazard to your intelligence, and should be discouraged at every opportunity. Panderbear has trained his mailing list not to forward this garbage to him. It isn't easy, but it can be done.

Presidential Candidate Truth Quotient History

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ghost of Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan
The Republican Party hasn't had a new idea in 30 years and the last one, Reaganomics, was spectacularly wrong-headed. What we have seen from Republicans for the last three decades are calls for ever more extreme and raw application of trickle-down economics. When it inevitably fails conservatives simply say we need to double-down (Bush II), then double-down yet again (current candidates for the Republican nomination) on their aberrant economic theory. History has proven supply-side economics, with its twin requirements for cutting taxes on the rich and dangerously irresponsible deregulation, is an unmitigated disaster, but it's the only story Republicans have and they're sticking with it.

This leaves Republicans in a quandary over an acceptable presidential nominee, because the price of admission is checking history, facts, logic, and reason at the door. Panderbear wonders what's left to campaign on when not even the slightest deviation from received doctrine is permitted and every candidate is a zombie clone of an idealized cartoon of Saint Reagan? The GOP is not going to find a conservative savior by requiring ever more strict adherence to, or at least pandering to, a radical ideology divorced from reason and best science.

Mitt Romney has a reputation as a pandering flip-flopper. His problem is, every once in a while he gets off-script and says something, well, sensible. Then he has to walk it back when the inevitable tsunami of right-wing extremist criticism rolls in. Rick Santorum plays all the correct right-wing political notes, but appears to be running afoul of separation of church and state, which even many of the devout consider sacrosanct, not to mention his 17th century social mores. Ron Paul is a fuzzy-logic wielding anarchist in Libertarian garb. Newt Gingrich would be perfect, but for his record of marital and ethical malfeasance, stormy and intransigent tenure as Speaker of the House, and narcissistic personality.

The sad truth for Republicans is that they have a breathtakingly dreadful field of candidates. No wonder they can't settle on any one of them. The worst part is, ultimate culpability for this impossible situation lies not with the fatally flawed candidates themselves, but with an entire political party whose dogma has succumbed to ideological rigor mortis, increasingly rigid adherence to radical political and social dogma, and refusal to discard a discredited economic theory that has led to a $15 trillion national debt, Gilded Age income divergence, a permanent aristocracy of the wealthy, a diminished middle class, and the death of the American Dream.

The GOP is haunted by the ghost of President Ronald Reagan. They don't just need better candidates; they need an exorcism.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Helen Keller vs Rick Santorum

Helen Keller
"The highest result of education is tolerance."

In a mere seven words Helen Keller demolishes Rick Santorum's entire philosophy of self-righteous indifference to education and outright hostility toward institutions of higher learning, the "intellectual elite," and all others who stray from his own pinched view of religion and politics.

Rick Santorum
Helen Keller wrote a fitting epithet for Rick Santorum and the many anti-intellectual social conservatives to whom he panders and who share his rigid, intolerant, backward-looking worldview.

"The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision."

Panderbear thinks that blind and deaf Helen Keller saw farther and heard more clearly the clarion call of social justice than Rick Santorum.

[For more on Helen Keller see: Helen Keller PSA.]

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Anne Hathaway PSA

Anne Hathaway
"In my household, being gay was, and is, no big deal. When my brother came out, we hugged him, said we loved him and that was that. Just for the record, we don’t feel that there is actually anything alternative about our family values. I don’t consider myself just an ally to the LGBT community, I consider myself your family. If anyone, ever, tries to hurt you, I’m going to give them hell. There are people who’ve said that I’m being brave for being openly supportive of gay marriage and gay adoption. With all due respect, I’m humbly decent. I’m not being brave, I’m being a decent human being. Love is a human experience, not a political statement."
Panderber thinks the beauty of truth is more than skin deep and transcends politics.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

The rigors of a competitive Republican nomination race continue to take their toll on the candidates' Truth Quotients (TQ's). Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, in particular, have seen their TQ's drop significant in the past month. Romney dropped below Speaker John Boehner, no mean feat. Sadly, Ron Paul is now in danger of dropping into Congressional leadership TQ territory residing barely above Mitch McConnell. Rick Santorum's and Newt Gingrich's TQ scores didn't change much. Both continue to dwell in the TQ nether regions.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Recovery? What Recovery?

Worried about the financial plight of the top 1% in the aftermath of the Great Recession? Panderbear recommends reading Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States by University of California economist Emmanuel Saez. It will definitely set your mind at ease. While the rich did take it on the chin during the Great Recession, it turns out in the two years since the recovery began they have done quite well.

You may ask, "What recovery?" If you haven't experienced much in the way of economic recovery perhaps it's because in 2010, the first full year post-recession, the top 1% captured fully 93% of all income gains, while the 99% split the remaining 7%. For Panderbear that amounted to about a buck and a half. For those with incomes similar to Mitt Romney's, whose income was about average for the top 0.01%, the increase was something north of $4,000,000. On average the bottom 90% actually lost ground.

Income Distribution

If you think the top 1% of income earners in the country getting only 93% of all income growth is a raw deal for the wealthy, then vote for whichever candidate wins the Republican nomination. Every one of the remaining four candidates proposes cutting taxes on the rich even more and all but Ron Paul also propose increasing income taxes on the poor and middle class.

If you have been left wondering, "What recovery?" and, like Panderbear, you think transferring even more wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich is a bad idea, then consider voting for President Obama, the only candidate actually proposing to make the federal income tax structure progressive again. You know, the way it was in the good old days of Panderbear's youth when Eisenhower was president, the middle class was thriving, and the American Dream was alive and well.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free Will and Criminal Justice

Panderbear argued in Free Will Pander that if the laws of nature apply everywhere and at all times, free will cannot exist. Dispensing with free will has widespread implications, though they are more subtle than you might think. Let's focus on the implications for the criminal justice system.

Discarding free will does not imply individuals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. No government can provide its citizens an acceptable measure of security from criminal acts if human behavior is unconstrained. However, the justification for individual accountability need not be built on notions of free will or morality. Creating laws and courts and meting out justice are amply justified by the far more pragmatic requirement for constraining behavior contrary to society's best interests.

The fallacy of free will is the ultimate source of unworthy emotional responses such as schadenfreude, the desire for revenge, and superfluous injection of morality into the process of crime and punishment. The latter unnecessarily draws subjectivity, not to mention a good deal of pandering, into a process that should strive to be an objective search for fact and a resolution in the best interests of society at large.

Rejecting free will leads to a more rational approach to crime and punishment by eliciting more appropriate questions. Instead of concentrating on how harshly to punish the convicted criminal, the emphasis should be the more productive question of how to prevent future bad acts by the same criminal or by others.

When the justification for abridging a convicted criminal's liberties is founded on prevention of future bad acts rather than revenge, only the minimal punishment or rehabilitation necessary to achieve that end is justified. For example, life imprisonment is just as effective as administering the death penalty, so it follows that capital punishment is never justified.

But, what about deterrence? Don't the death penalty and other harsh punishments deter crime? The effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent is unproven and much pandered, though no doubt fear of punishment in general substantially reduces the number of non-capital crimes. But, once again introducing free will brings an unnecessary complication. Namely, is it moral to execute one person, because it may deter bad acts by others? Panderbear thinks not, even while strongly supporting sure and swift justice for criminal behavior.

Incarceration Rates

The free will paradigm that places emphasis on revenge and punishment as an end in itself has lead America to incarcerate a higher percentage of its population than any other country. We have become a nation of gulags, many of them private enterprises where the incentive is to keep as many people in prison for as long as possible.

By any measure our current criminal justice system is an abject failure. The anachronistic notion of free will contributes mightily to that failure.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Gas Price Cherry-Picking

Once the general election campaign begins in earnest you can expect to hear ad nauseum from Republicans that gas prices have doubled during President Obama's term. Is that true? Yes, it is.

The problem with this claim and the reason it constitutes a first degree pander is apparent in the chart of gas prices from 2008 to the present. By selecting the lowest point on the chart, which occurs between President Obama's election and his inauguration, and comparing it to the last data point you do indeed find a factor of two increase. In context, however, it's obvious this is an anomaly resulting from cherry-picking the data.

Gas Prices

The chart clearly shows that gas prices were extraordinarily depressed at the time of the change of administrations due to the collapse of the economy that began during President Bush's second term. Compare current prices with what they were six months before the change of administrations and you find that gas prices were actually higher then than they are now.

Prices dropped for lack of demand. Now that the economy is recovering prices at the pump are rebounding. What's at work here is simply supply and demand that has nothing to do with energy policy. What are the chances that fact will deter Republicans from cherry-picking the data and pandering the issue? Panderbear thinks that within statistical error the probability is, well, zero.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Petroleum Panders

"American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years, and we are less reliant on foreign oil than at any time in the last 16 years." That's what it says on the website and strictly speaking it's true. Petroleum imports are down relative to domestic production. The question is, does this have anything to do with President Obama's policies?

While domestic petroleum production is up marginally, it's not nearly enough to explain a significant drop in the percentage of net oil imports. Anyway, most of the increase in domestic production occurred before Obama administration policies could have had any impact. Also, people have been buying more fuel efficient vehicles (Humvees are so last century) which has resulted in decreased demand for oil, but that trend was going on long before the dip in imports began, not to mention before Obama's election.

Petroleum Imports Down 

Panderbear notes that the statistically significant decline in foreign oil imports coincides with the beginning of the Great Recession. It seems likely that imports are down because demand is down and that demand is down primarily because people are driving less to save money. It also seems likely that the percentage of net oil imports will rebound along with the the U.S. economy.

To be fair, the text accompanying the graphic on did not explicitly claim Obama administration policies brought about the decrease in reliance on oil imports, but the implication is clear. In Panderbear's opinion this constitutes a pander, albeit a subtle one.

The chart does, however, expose as a first-degree pander the Republican claim that the president's policies have stifled domestic petroleum production.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Obama Cuts Debt More Than GOP

All remaining candidates for the Republican nomination complain bitterly about debt levels in President Obama's budget proposals. Are their criticisms justified or just more pandering? Do their own proposals reduce debt in the long run more than the president's? In a word, no.

The following chart appeared recently in Paul Krugman's N.Y. Times blog. The data are from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The bars show the projected national debt as a percentage of GDP in 2021.

Candidates Budget

Three of the four Republican plans would result in higher debt than President Obama's. Why? Because they cut taxes for the rich, again. Oh, and for good measure, they actually raise tax rates for the poor and middle class. Only Ron Paul's plan scores as well as President Obama's, but it accomplishes that with Libertarian scale cuts to government programs that even his competitors for the Republican nomination wouldn't countenance, while still lowering taxes on the rich.

Sound familiar? That's because it's more of the same trickle-down economics that has been discredited again and again over the past 30 years. The same Reaganomics that has increased income divergence and the wealth gap to Gilded Age levels.

Republicans just can't resist tilting the economic playing field ever more steeply in favor of their rich patrons. Panderbear thinks it takes a lot of chutzpah to propose transferring even more wealth from the middle class to the already privileged rich.

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