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Monday, October 08, 2007

NYT Blog Unaware of the $60 Billion Question

...But they are on top of the great lapel pin flap. In a probing analysis of the candidates' stance on lapel pins, The NYT Political Blog gives us close ups of the lapel pins each candidate is wearing. Surely our selection of President rests on what kind of lapel pin he or she is wearing. This is an issue far more important than any other, so you'll excuse them I'm sure if they lose track of the minor issues.

Their analysis can't identify the strange markings and symbols found on Bill Richardson's lapel pin. What could it possibly be? "And we are still waiting to hear back from Governor Bill Richardson's campaign on what the pin on his lapel represents" they say.

Here's the answer. Richardson's lapel pin is a pie chart of the discretionary Federal Budget. The red part is what we spend on the military. The rest of the slivers are everything else. For over 7 years now the Priorities! campaign, a broad coalition of business leaders and military experts have pressured Congress to take a scalpel to the waste in the huge red pie slice that is the Pentagon and redirect it towards children's health care, education, renewable energy, and infrastructure repair.

The Priorities! campaign has bird dogged over 600 candidate events, placed hundreds of op-eds in major newspapers across the country (including the NYT) and engineered the introduction of the Common Sense Budget Act into Congress with 39 sponsors. One of the components of the Priorities! campaign, TrueMajority.org, has sent more faxes and e-mails from it's three hundred thousand members to Congress than any other organization except perhaps MoveOn.org.

Yet our elite press isn't aware of this movement because it's too busy tracking down lapel pins, cleavage and expensive haircuts.

Everyone act surprised =:0 .

Thursday, August 23, 2007

For Most Americans, Income Drop Is Much Worse Than What the NYT Reports

The New York Times reports yesterday that average incomes in 2005 were still less than they were in 2000, despite 4 years of the Bush "recovery". Citing newly published IRA data, The Times shows that 2005 average income was $55,238, while 2000 income, adjusted for inflation, weighed in at $55,714, a drop of $476 or 0.9%. This marks the very first time since World War II that incomes failed to advance in any 5 year period. This unprecedented weakness goes far to explain why Americans show great uneasiness on the economy even while statistics like GDP, unemployment and the Dow Jones Average look so great.

Admirable though this article is, it doesn't go far enough.

While the Times does report how the highest income earners enjoyed the most robust growth in the last five years, it does not go the one extra step to calculate what that means for the rest of us. If one group of people enjoyed huge growth, while the whole society slid back a little, that must mean that the rest of us fared even worse. Sure enough, that's what the IRS data shows.

What the Times did not report is that the average income for those earning less than $100,000 in 2005 was $31,849, $2,914 lower than the $34,763 earned in 2000. In both years, the "bottom" 90% of us earned less than $100,000. (In 2000, those earning less than $100K comprised 91.4% of all filers, while in 2005 this group represented 89.3%. These means the groups are closely but not fully comparable until academics are able to obtain detailed enough data to compare exact percentiles with each other. Until then however, this is close enough to get a thumbnail picture of the situation.)

To get these figures, download the 2005 and 2000 IRS income spreadsheets. Then grab the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers to adjust for inflation. Since the Federal fiscal year ends in October, I used the CPI for October 2000 and October 2005. Here's how you do it: to express an income of 30,000 in 2000 in 2005 dollars, divide 30,000 by the 2000 CPI (174) and multiply by the 2005 CPI (199.2) to find that 30,000 earned in 2000 had the buying power of $34,345 in 2005.

So basically, the "bottom" 90% of us are living on wages that are 8% below what they were in 2000, much worse than the 0.9% reduction the Times reported. This doesn't mean that everyone experiences this income drop in exactly this way. What it does mean is the IRS data conclusively proves that the old adage of "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" is quite literally true in the Bush era. The White House response to the growing imbalance of wealth and income? It "is not a very interesting story."

Well excuse me. Maybe if the White House could bestir themselves to pay attention to this boring story, they would know why most Americans think the Bush administration's economic performance is so poor.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

It is Time to Impeach Bush and Cheney

Bill Moyer's Journal has possibly the most important discussion found on TV this century so far: a discussion of impeachment with conservative Bruce Fein and progressive John Nichols. As a constitutional law scholar, Fein helped draft the impeachment articles against Bill Clinton and has long been a fixture at right wing think tanks and media outlets. Nichols is Washington correspondent for the Nation and the author of the book "the Genius of Impeachment". Together they make the case for impeaching both Bush and Cheney for their imperial behaviors as absolutely necessary to preserve the Constitution in future terms.

I highly recommend that you watch the show, or if you're computer is video challenged, read the transcript.

If this show motivates you to action, then what? Well, True Majority makes it easy to write your Congressperson to tell them to act on impeaching Dick Cheney. Now.

OpEd News and Peoples' E-Mail Network also has a nifty utility where you can write your thoughts about impeachment in an online form. They can then be sent automatically to your nearest newspaper as well as to your own representatives in Congress.

For lurking conservatives unconvinced by Bruce Fein's arguments about upholding the Constitution, just ponder one thought: President Hillary Clinton. Do you as a conservative want her to have the same powers that Bush enjoys today?

Take action.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Oil, Republicans and the Rise of Terrorism

I've tried to keep this blog around for occasional original content, rather than more frequent links to cool stuff laying around the tubes of the internets. However, this analysis from the Existentialist Cowboy merits special attention.

The connection between oil, Republican administrations and the rise of terrorism is nailed:
"So much so that one would think GOP regimes cause terrorism."
Must read stuff here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Taking the Over Bet on the Jobs Report

I might be deleting this post if I'm wrong.

The monthly jobs report is due out in about a half hour. Consensus is calling for a gain of about 100,000 new jobs created in the month of April. Atrios takes over/under bets shortly beforehand just for fun. This month he predicts the report will come in below consensus predictions. Usually that's a safe position, but this month I think I'll take the over bet. Why? Because of an artificial statistical technique the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses called the Birth Death Model.

This model attempts to capture the jobs created by new businesses that haven't filed with their respective state employment agencies yet. I've written about this model and the distortions it creates in our jobs statistics here and here. Long story short, the model assumes for each business that goes kaput, another business in the same area and industry rises from the ashes. From that assumption comes the next assumption that jobs lost by the old business are replaced by the new. Therefore, measuring jobs lost allows you to "impute" (that is "make up" or "imagine") the same number of new jobs in the same areas. The way the BLS describes the math and application of this model suggests that the vast majority of job growth reported under the Bush administration may be totally imaginary.

There's a seasonal quality to this model that's consistent from year to year. For last month's report, an average of 152,000 "imputed" jobs were added to the actual measured statistics in the last three years. For the April report, the model added an average of 234,000 "imputed" jobs in the last 3 years.

This suggests that if the jobs report comes in at 100,000 new jobs as predicted, the actual statistics are pointing to a net loss of some 100-150,000 jobs, papered over by the substantial addition of "imputed" jobs by the Birth-Death model. I don't think we're in that bad a shape, so I'm going to predict that the jobs report will show some number well above 100,000 jobs. This will result in an orgy of optimism that we've "turned the corner" in the anticipated economic slowdown and everyone will imagine nothing but sugar plums and ponies for the US economy from now into the long term. Which, on Wall Street, means sometime after lunch.

Beware irrational exuberance and keep your hands on your wallet at all times.

UPDATE: The jobs report just came out. Atrios wins. This is not good. Not because Atrios won and I lost, but the report shows a net gain of only 88,000 jobs. Not only is that only about half what the economy needs each month to keep up with population growth, but it looks to be much worse than that. The BLS' Birth Death model page shows that 317,000 "imputed" jobs were added by the model, suggesting that the real data measurement of jobs shows a net LOSS of over 220,000 jobs in April. Not good. I'm rarely accused of being too optimistic, but it looks like that's where it is today.

UPDATE 2: The revision to the May jobs report just came out. I win after all. The net gain for last month was revised upwards to 109,000. Still pretty dismal. Just slightly less so.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The "Great Global Warming Swindle" Swindle

The Great Global Warming Swindle

That's the film aired in the UK recently purporting to show that Global Warming was a total fraud perpretated on the public by, er, well, the entire scientific community of a bazillion countries. I urge everyone to look at this video, for it represents the last gasp effort of the global warming deniers to make their case. It has all the tricks, sophistry, straw men and outright falsehoods we have come to expect from the professional denier class.

When you watch the video keep these points in mind:

(1) Of the eighteen 'experts' interviewed in this film, 6 are known in the public record as being majorly funded by the fossil fuels industry, either directly or through right wing think tanks (Ball, Clark, Lindzen, Spencer, Michaels & Singer), 5 are not research scientists in any discipline (Moore, Dreissen, Shikwati, Calder, Corbyn), 4 are scientists in other disciplines removed from climatology (Friis-Christensen, Stott, Shaviv, Reiter). Only three remain on that video that are climatologists doing real research. Of these three, Christy endorses the IPCC report, Akasofu urges action to curb carbon use because of the contribution man makes to warming, and Wunsch has openly protested to the show's producers that he was swindled and misrepresented. Text of Wunsch's letter here

(2) Data was made up. One of the main graphs shown on the film was attributed to NASA, showing temperature changes in the 20th century, did not in fact come from NASA, but from a small outfit called the Oregon Institute for Science and Medicine. This is a one man shop run out of a prefab warehouse in rural Oregon by a protein chemist that splits his time between global warming rants and writing homeschool tracts and post nuclear survivalist pamphlets. His graph used outdated data ending in the 80's. The producer of the film admitted just taking a marker and extending the line to make it appear that the data was current. In other words, he made stuff up.

(3) Other Data cited was found to have serious math errors that, when corrected, eliminated the points the film tried to make. Dr. John Christy was prominently quoted in this film as the co-producer of a dataset of temperatures that showed that the troposphere was not warming, only surface temps were. The implication of this is that a heightened greenhouse effect is not being detected at all. A team of scientists for the US Climate Change Program poured over the Christy-Spencer dataset and found the errors, concluding in it's report that:

"Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected. New data sets have also been developed that do not show such discrepancies."
Who wrote that refutation of that entire argument? Dr. Christy himself. He was on that team of scientists that corrected his own data.

(4) Most if not all of the points have been debunked by elementary fact checking. One hilarious example was the supposition that England used to be a warm wine growing region, but now it's too cold to grow wine, showing that temps were hotter in medieval times (and by inference warming is natural and no big deal.) Well someone oughtta clue in these guys that they better stop growing wine in England: http://www.englishwineproducers.com/

For a thorough scientific debunking of virtually every word in the film, check out what real climate scientists have to say, or a handy layman's reference over at Grist Magazine, How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic.

(5) The show's producer quickly came unhinged by criticism. When two prominent scientists wrote them to question the numerous shortcomings of the data presented, the producer replied to them by e-mail : " you are a big daft @#%!" and "go @%$! yourself". The London Times is rarely hilarious, but this article on this weird behavior is a hoot.

Global Warming denial has been a lucrative cottage industry for a small band of marginal scientists willing to take copious amounts of money from the fossil fuel industry directly, or indirectly through fossil fuel industry funded "think tanks". Now that one by one the big company funders are giving up the fight and grudgingly acknowledging the science behind global warming, there's a mad scramble to save their reputations, leading to bogus propaganda pieces like this film. It's threadbare substance shows how little argument there really is about the basic points of global warming.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Alternate Reality of Hard Right Wingers

Every now and then we run across a column, or post, or letter that is so off the wall, so barking mad crazy as to defy rational response. The cognitive dissonance we feel is usually due to the strength and mass of the opaque mental constructs of the ideologically extreme. Facts do not obscure the right winger's view of these constructs. Neither do written words. No, the hard right winger see what he wants to see, reads what he wants to read, with no fear whatsoever that what is perceived bears little or no correspondence with what actually exists.

For just one small and insignificant example of this phenomenon in action, we can turn to my friend and recently re-employed Jason Williscroft. I'm happy to report he has re-established his blog. I surfed over there tonight to see what mischief he's been up to and I find he's still mumbling to himself about me after all this time.

As I scanned the first sentence or two, where he called me a "cranky old fibber" (totally unfair -- I am not a fibber.) I wondered if this was going to be as good as when he ragged on my observations on unemployment using health insurance policy sales at his small company to refute the unemployment numbers (huh?). Or when he tried to make the argument that fewer Iraqis were being killed after the Iraq War started than before it began (double huh?). Or when his dad argued that the US Post Office would work a whole better if they were funded by user fees (triple huh? The USPS does run on user fees. They're called "stamps".)

I was a little disappointed then to see that he merely missed the whole point of my light hearted post suggesting that out of work Republican congressional aides find employment as CapitalOne barbarians. Oddly, our Jason thought my point was that I "maintain(ed) that the economy is so bad that the average recently unemployed Republican may have to tighten his belt a notch?"

He then proceeded to lecture me on why the economy is so terrific, without regard to the use of messy facts:

  • "national unemployment at record lows," Jason says. Sorry friend. December's unemployment rate was 4.5%. Not bad, but not a record low, considering that rate was 3.9% in the December before President Bush was installed. 6.8 million were unemployed by the BLS' definition in December 2006 when Jason penned this claim. 5.6 million were unemployed six years before.
  • "gas prices bottoming out" Jason says. Are you kidding? Being grateful for $2 gasoline after it went up to $3 is like being grateful to the guy beating your head with a ball pien hammer simply because he slowed down a bit. Of course, gas prices may be on the march again, so the shelf life of Jason's optimism may be expiring.

Beyond these unreal claims, what's weirder is that he thought I was talking about the economy at all. These right wingers are so hard wired with their preconceived notions of liberals, folks like Jason will see and hear me claim the economy is terrible and the sky is falling, regardless of whether that has anything to do with what I'm really saying or not. This reality-bending phenomenon is hilariously chronicled by Tom Tomorrow in his This Modern World comic here and here.

So, Jason, for the record: no I do not think the sky is falling down. The economy is not in great shape, but it is not in the tank either. Growth rates are down in the Bush era from the Clinton era, but we aren't in a recession at this point. Unemployment is up from the Clinton era, but it is not to depression levels. There are big economic worries out there, like our massive debt both government and consumer, our annual budget deficits, the bursting of the housing bubble and our ridiculous trade imbalance. However recognizing these present risks is not the same as saying the sky is falling down. There is more to the world than black and white absolutes Jason. Not only are there shades of grey, but there's a wonderful array of colors and hues out there.

As for what the economy is like for our Jason? He says of his recent bout of unemployment after his company collapsed: "I had so many offers rolling in that I took an extra month off just to evaluate them and make sure I didn't blow any opportunities."

Yeah, whatever dude. I'm just glad you found a job. Congratulations and best of luck in your new endeavor.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Our "Unnatural Aristocracy"

There's a meme going around today at Kos, TPM and the LA Times raising the spector of an "unnatural aristocracy" should Sen. Hillary Clinton be elected to President for two terms. If that should happen, then a Bush or a Clinton would have been President for 28 years.

What strikes me as odd is why the hubbub now, with 10 of those 28 years the subject of future speculation? Where was the hand wringing all along about our existing "unnatural aristocracy"? After all, the Republicans haven't nominated a national ticket without a Bush or a Dole on board since 1972, 35 years ago.

Just because Bill Clinton had the good fortune to marry a formidable partner named Rodham, we're supposed to believe our unnatural aristocracy is suddenly a bipartisan problem?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Job Hunting Tip for Out of Work Republicans

Now that the Democrats have taken control of Congress, hundreds of GOP Congressional staffers are now in a mad scramble for employment. "The hundreds of Republican staffers — not to mention more than a few Members — who will lose their jobs in the next few weeks are going to face a hostile marketplace on K Street as unemployed Republicans flood the market."

I really feel their pain. Really. That means the uber-patriots from GOP Congressional offices that shut down the Miami vote counting in 2000 below, are getting their pink slips soon.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Judging from that manufactured display of outrage, it's clear that their best career path is to join the CapitalOne credit card marketing team. What's (Left) in YOUR Wallet?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Miss ya already.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Flashback: Rumsfeld's Handshake With Saddam



So Saddam Hussein has been found guilty of genocide against Kurds in 1982. Shock and surprise. How many of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders will now use that as justification for the Iraq War? Never mind that the US had no problem with Saddam's genocide at the time. That famous picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking Saddam's hand took place about a year later, long after we knew full well what went down.

But what was the context of that picture?

One problem with using the Google to surf the internets is that there's relatively little hard info pre-1990 to be found. That's not too surprising, since few people knew what the internet was in 1990. After a session of cleaning out my basement however, I came across this gem, a Newsweek from January 2, 1984. On the Periscope page is a news snippet describing the meetings leading up to that handshake:

"The Case for a Tilt to Iraq
The United States is definitely "moving to improve relations with Iraq," says one senior administration policymaker. The wave of Iranian-inspired terrorism in the Middle East is strengthening the case of those senior American officials who have been urging a U.S. Tilt toward Iraq. These officials argue that resuming diplomatic relations with Baghdad would serve as a kind of "diplomatic retaliation" against Iran. In addition, it would give Syrian President Hafez Assad "something else to worry about," in the words of one State Department source; Syria and Iraq are bitter rivals. Iraq severed ties with Washington in 1967. On his current stay in Baghdad, special envoy Donald Rumsfeld is sounding out officials on their willingness to resume relations. At the very least, Washington would want assurances that Iraq no longer harbors Abu Nidal and other terrorists. With the resumption of relations, Washington might help Iraq's oil exporting operations."

(Here's a jpg of the actual page for those lacking trust in my transcription skills.)

So we see clearly why Rumsfeld was for Saddam before he was against Saddam. How embarrassing for him, to be this wrong AND inconsistent at the same time. We also see that EVEN THEN it all revolved around oil, despite it being presented in an "oh by the way" tone in Newsweek.