The Babe Theory Of Political Movements.
Mar. 21, 2005 11:50 AM
Iran's Sham Election In Houston.
June 20, 2005 5:36 AM
Yes, Kanye, Bush Does Care.
Oct. 31, 2005 12:41 AM
Health Care vs. Wealth Care.
Nov. 23, 2005 3:28 PM
Americans Voting With Their Feet.
Nov. 30, 2005 1:33 PM
Idea Majorities Matter.
May 12, 2006 6:15 PM
Twilight Zone Economics.
Oct. 17, 2006 12:30 AM
The "Shrinking" Middle Class.
Dec. 13, 2006 1:01 PM
From Ashes, GOP Opportunities.
Dec. 18, 2006 6:37 PM
Battle Between Entitlements & Pork.
Dec. 21, 2006 12:31 PM
Let Economic Freedom Reign.
Dec. 22, 2006 10:22 PM
Biggest Health Care Moment In Decades.
July 25, 2007 4:32 PM
Unions Antithetical to Liberty.
May 28, 2008 11:12 PM
Right To Work States Rock.
June 9, 2008 12:25 PM
Social Security Reform Thursday.
March 13, 2008
Caption Contest: Enter Today!
Due: July 29, 2008
The Carnival Of Classiness.
Mar. 14, 2006
Quotational Therapy: Obama.
Apr. 4, 2008
Mainstream Melee: Wolfowitz.
May 19, 2007
Pundit Roundtable: Leaks.
July 9, 2006
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July 14, 2006
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Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 460 -- Media Bias.
Proving The Obvious-
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, affiliated with the Pew Research Center, has produced a highly illuminating study on bias in the media. They teamed up with Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy to objectively analyze campaign media coverage in America this year.
Now, Pew and Harvard are not dismissable as far-right-wing groups, but they-- of course-- discovered that America's collective establishment media is giving both MORE coverage and more POSITIVE coverage to Democrats, especially Barack Obama, while extending LESS coverage and more NEGATIVE coverage to Republicans.
Let's look at some of the findings.
First, the major newspapers were farcically tilted toward the left:
For the top tier Democrats, the positive tilt was even more the case than for Democrats in general. Obama’s front page coverage in the sample was 70% positive and 9% negative and Clinton’s was similarly 61% positive and 13% negative.
Okay, well, that's the papers. They're dying as a medium. They're still the kingmakers now, but they are dying off. What about network television, cable television, PBS, and NPR?
A strong plurality of Americans who consume news regularly still get their news from network television, which makes these numbers especially troubling.
With regard to taxpayer-funded NPR, specifically:
Looking at specific candidates, stories about Barack Obama carried a clearly positive tone two-thirds of the time. Not a single Morning Edition story was negative. Furthermore, 43% of Hillary Clinton’s coverage was positive vs. 14% negative.
NPR has some quality programming, but why do they have to be so slanted? And why such little attention to the Republicans?
Also, looking at specific cable networks, Fox News was really no more biased than any of the other outlets:
CNN also had a 4.5% positive story margin (positive stories minus negative stories) for Democrats, and a 27% negative story margin for Republicans. That's a difference of 31.5%.
FOX had a 12.6% negative story margin for Democrats, and a 10.7% positive story margin for Republicans. That's a difference of 23.3%.
MSNBC, meanwhile, had a 29.5% positive story margin for Democrats, and an 8.2% positive story margin for Republicans. That's a difference of 21.3%.
What is great about this Pew/Harvard study is that it mirrors what the Media Research Center published back in August. To those who claim the MRC is just injecting its own conservative bias into its research ("of course the media looks left when you are so far right!"), this certainly bolsters the Media Research Center's credibility.
Those entrusted with informing the public have chosen to lavish far more positive stories on Democrats, while priming the public with far more negative stories about Republicans. Meanwhile, maybe Republicans shouldn't complain too much about the lopsided bias in the media, as Democrats are receiving the bulk of the media coverage.
"See, it's not so terrible, Republicans! We aren't that biased, when you consider than we're not really paying attention to you, anyway."
Media, heal thyself.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Al Gore & Carbon Dioxide & Temperatures.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 459 -- Temperature & Carbon Dioxide.
Messing With Graphs-
Having somewhat recently seen Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, I must say that I am a teency bit jealous that he won a Nobel Peace Prize for-- essentially-- filming himself clicking through charts and graphs. Perhaps the reason he won the Nobel Peace Prize was the fact that he was able to sell things that weren't even really evident from the graphs.
For example, he uses one of the few meaningful graphs in the entire movie (this one)...
... to talk about the greenhouse effect:
“The relationship is actually very complicated but there is one relationship that is far more powerful than all the others and it is this. When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the sun inside.”
Al Gore shows how carbon dioxide and temperatures have tracked together over the past half million or so years. Then he shows how recent carbon dioxide levels are far greater than they've ever been.
Okay, yeah, everyone gets the greenhouse effect. But there's a problem with the data. Temperatures actually rise and fall BEFORE the carbon dioxide concentrations rise and fall.
Indeed, here is essentially the same data Al Gore uses for his movie (.pdf):
If you look a lot more closely, you'll find that the temperature of the Earth-- based on ice core samples-- has risen and fallen many years (often hundreds of years) prior to respective increases and declines in carbon dioxide concentrations.
Moreover, to put those scary modern carbon dioxide concentrations into perspective, it should be noted that water vapor makes up approximately 95% of the entire greenhouse effect on this planet. Carbon dioxide comprises a little more than three and a half percent of all the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. More than that, greenhouse gases comprise no more than a few percent of the entire atmosphere (which is mostly made up of Nitrogen, Oxygen, etc.). CO2 is a tiny fraction of greenhouse gases, which are a tiny fraction of all atmospheric gases. A tiny fraction of a tiny fraction.
This perspective is only necessary, because as Al Gore rises up on stage in his cherry picker (how ironic), showing how modern carbon dioxide emissions are literally off the charts, one can't help but have a bit of trouble breathing.
So much CO2! [Cough Cough] Can't... inhale.
Really, though, CO2 is just a small part of our planet's air, and there is still plenty of oxygen to breathe; the air is actually getting cleaner in America today, for the most part. Moreover, the human impact on greenhouse gases is incredibly small (.pdf):
More than that, if you posed the general phrase, "This planet would be a better place if..." to random people on the street, or to brilliant scientists, or any other reasonable person, it is difficult to imagine anyone actually filling in "...we would just forgo 307 trillion dollars worth of wealth to maybe prevent a degree or two of temperature rise over the next few generations."
Previous Trivia Tidbit: The Electoral College.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 458 -- Messing With The Electoral College.
Messing With America-
You may have heard earlier this year about plans to change the way California (and other states) award their Electors to the Electoral College. California, with its 55 Electoral Votes, went 54% for Kerry and 45% for Bush. And all 55 Electors were awarded to Kerry. The same goes for nearly every other state. It's winner-take-all. It encourages Risk-inspired conversations like, "we're gonna take Wisconsin this year, which will leave the Democrats vulnerable and force them to defend Oregon and Washington."
In Nebraska and Maine, however, Electoral Votes are awarded based on a district-by-district basis. That's their prerogative. It was also once the prerogative of Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
Let's just say that every state adopted the district-by-district plan. How would that have impacted elections over the past half century, and how would it impact future elections?
Generally, the winner, regardless of party, would do worse:
President Bush, interestingly, did much better in "blue state" Congressional districts than Senator Kerry did in "red state" Congressional districts.
Now, clearly, campaign tactics might have been different under these plans. There are plenty of toss-up districts in solidly partisan states (like California and Texas) that would have seen advertisements, volunteers, and other campaign resources considered a complete waste under the winner-take-all rules. Who knows what could have happened under a national district-by-district system.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in California over the next year. It has certainly been declared dead emphatically enough by lefties, and resuscitated by serious enough people on the right, to warrant some attention. In 2004, California would have been worth more than the equivalent of Illinois, Ohio, or Pennsylvania to President Bush under the Congressional District plan:
If California wants a more "progressive" system of awarding Electors, more power to them. If a handful of other states want to join them, fantastic. If anyone wants to impose this on every state or otherwise undermine the Electoral College and replace it with a direct vote, however, they are crossing the line.
The Electoral College actually prevents a lot of election fraud, number one. Imagine how much more meaningful those dead and other fraudulent voters in Chicago and in other political machine cities would be to a national popular vote. Instead of a few hanging chads in Florida, we would have had "missing" votes suddenly found all over the country in 2000. Secondly, the Electoral College helps maintain America's federalist nature. Ultimately, we're a nation of states. While the states have ceded quite a bit of power and responsibility to the national government (the Civil War had a lot to do with that), there's a reason the Founders established this nation as a Federal Republic. Indeed, there is a big reason why Federal Republics protect liberties better than direct democracies. The Electoral College is a safeguard against the tyranny of the mob.
The Electoral College also forces candidates to have more than mere regional appeal; it demands some consensus-building.
As candidates assert their cross-partisan appeal and pundits debate the merits of reforming the Electoral College, one can't help but laugh at some of the transparent partisan reasons people support or oppose these changes.
Ultimately, as long as the rules in place before the election are adhered to after the election, and as long as each state determines how it will award its own Electors to the Electoral College, I am not sure that the California plan, applied nationally, would have significant consequences one partisan way or another over the long run. Indeed, in 2012, solid "red states" will gain Electoral Votes at the expense of solid "blue states" due to reapportionment following the 2010 Census. Regions change. Suburbs change. Inner cities change. Political realities change, domestically and internationally. Crises happen. Economies boom and bust. Parties change.
Projecting out to 2012, 2016, 2020, and beyond, it's difficult to imagine a national district-by-district plan helping either party. In 2008, however, California making the move alone would give the GOP nominee a bit of breathing room in his cruise to victory.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Business Tax Climate Impacts Unemployment Rate.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 457 -- Business Climate.
The Tax Foundation this month released its new State Business Tax Climate Index, which has Wyoming in the number one slot and Rhode Island in last place.
Looking over the list, you see some typical patterns. Red states are more business-friendly (at least, in the tax code) than blue states. The West and South are more business-friendly than the Midwest and Northeast (again, in the tax code, at least).
But here at WILLisms.com, we like to find deeper patterns to these sorts of numbers. Politically speaking, Americans tend to care about jobs more than how well businesses are treated by the government, although the two are obviously intrinsically linked. So, how about comparing the business climate and the unemployment rate. State-by-state, there are some definite patterns, of course. Michigan, for example, has a mediocre business climate and is currently experiencing a one-state recession, complete with job losses. Ohio may be a red state, but it has an embarrassingly poor business climate and thus has an unemployment rate more than a full point higher than the national average. Delaware, a blue state, is among the best ten states for business climate, and its unemployment rate is a mere 3.0%. Meanwhile, first place Wyoming and second place South Dakota both have unemployment rates of 3.1%.
Policies clearly matter. No state will ever tax its way to prosperity, short-term or long-term.
Crunching the numbers, there are definitely more patterns in the numbers, based on the latest BLS employment data (.pdf). For example, if you go region by region, you'll find:
The modified rank in the column on the right is more helpful than the straight average business climate rank, because it accounts for population. Texas or California, for example, carry more weight than Wyoming or Rhode Island.
With a few exceptions, there are some striking correlations between lower business tax climates and lower unemployment rates.
Within the Northeast, New England has a better business tax climate than the Middle Atlantic, and wouldn't you know-- it also has a lower unemployment rate.
Within the West, the Pacific subregion has a much higher business tax burden than the Mountain subregion. Consequently, there is a difference of nearly 2 percentage points between the two subregional unemployment rates. It's hardly an accident that the Mountain subregion has both the best average ranking and the best unemployment rate in the country.
Within the South, the subregion with the worst business tax climate, the East South Central subregion (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee) also has the highest unemployment rate. However, in fairness, it should be noted that Hurricane Katrina does continue to have an impact on Mississippi's economy. Indeed, if you take Louisiana out of the West South Central subregion, the numbers most definitely fit better within the overall pattern: strong business tax climate --> low unemployment.
The Midwest is its own beast, but it could clearly benefit from a little tax competition.
All of this being said, business tax climate is just one factor among many that impacts the unemployment rate. Sure, it's a big factor, but there are all kinds of other variables that counteract or amplify these effects. The bottom line, however, is that lower taxes generally lead to better economic outcomes, including more jobs. Republicans seeking the White House in 2008 ought to explain this correlation better, because it is a winning political point. Good policy is good politics, but only if Republicans are willing to stand up and proactively make their case.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Strong Economies Boost The Environment.
Read More »
For reference, below are the states that comprise the various subregions (and these are all based on BLS classifications).
New England: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
Middle Atlantic: New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania
South Atlantic: Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia
East South Central: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee
West South Central: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas
East North Central: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin
West North Central: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota
Mountain: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
Pacific: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.
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Yesterday's LIVESTRONG Challenge was indeed a challenge.
The hills were killer (.pdf); Lance said at the start line that-- being a resident of Dripping Springs, Texas-- they were the hills that really won him the 7 Tours de France. The heat and humidity got substantially worse than Chicago marathon levels by midday, and the ride itself took until maybe 2 PM. There was also a low water crossing with algae early in the ride, and the course organizers made us dismount and walk across in the ankle-deep water. Of course, I couldn't get my slippery shoes clipped back into my pedals on the other side of the creek (which went steeply upward), which forced me to expend a lot more energy than I should have and otherwise push my leg muscles to the brink, as if I were doing squats with way too much resistance/mass. Rookie mistake. On a similar note, several cattle guards on the roads meant that we had to brake at low spots, which meant less momentum heading back up the hills.
Despite plenty of hydration and bananas and other snacks along the way (it was an extremely well-organized ride), cramps got the best of me (along with several other riders-- maybe it was a psychological domino effect) on one particular uphill climb, and while stretching out on the ground, I ended up with no fewer than a dozen fire ant bites on my right arm. Nothing like fire ants biting you to get you up off the ground. Some of the roads were extremely rough, mostly because they are country roads, but also due to all of this summer's monsoon-like rains flowing down the hills and causing erosion. I probably didn't draft enough behind packs early on, which wasted a good deal of energy. I made some mistakes that could have and should have been avoided.
And most of all, I certainly did not train as much or as hard as I would have liked, which is always frustrating when doing something like this.
All of that being said, it was a beautiful morning, with a perfect sunrise and perfect temperatures at the start line. It was tranquil and serene for much of the ride. Longhorns grazing near hay bales and lazily flowing creeks and rivers. Big live oak trees spreading out for miles. A few downhill screams of 40+ mph in the middle of Nowhere, Texas, one in particular that made me say to myself, "even if I get two flat tires before I finish, that right there made it worth it." And, hey, I didn't even get a flat tire, something that usually seems to happen to me on rides more than 15 miles or so. Nor did I chafe or have any other soreness from the saddle. I also managed to avoid sunburn, which is a miracle, given my propensity to become crispy in a hurry. Traffic was not an issue getting there or out of there. I felt safe the entire ride. There were eager supporters along the way, cheering and encouraging riders. Refreshments were plentiful and of high quality- they even had Haribo gummy bears. All in all, a very good experience. It's definitely a ride I would recommend to others and do again myself in the future. If I had to give the LIVESTRONG Challenge a grade, compared to other similar events, I'd give it an A.
Indeed, as far as extreme challenges go, the LIVESTRONG Challlenge was really a piece of cake compared to a regular ole marathon... or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It also puts the Tour de France, which is essentially three straight weeks of 100+ mile rides, into perspective.
As soon as event pictures are available, I'll try to post it/them here. I know you all can hardly wait to see photos of me in spandex shorts.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 456 -- Environment.
Some interesting data on deforestation, from the 2007 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators (.pdf):
Sure, in poorer areas of the world, it's not looking so great-- if we assume that more trees are a good thing for the environment (I'll go ahead and agree with that assumption). But the trends are good (and have been good for many, many decades) in richer countries. Indeed, in today's developing countries, the trends are beginning to turn around the same way they turned around in the late 19th and early 20th century for the United States.
Meanwhile, there is no country with an annual per capita GDP of $4,600 or higher that is experiencing negative stock growth. Economic growth correlates strongly with environmental improvement. As noted here at WILLisms.com earlier this week, much of that correlation is simply due to maturing individual preferences. When consumers become wealthier and more sophisticated, they tend to value the environment above mere subsistence.
Again, things on our planet are not as dire as some make them out to be. Moreover, economic growth really does seem to be the best path to better environmental conclusions. So, let's do everything we can to grow the economy, here, there, and everywhere.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: American Health Care.
LIVESTRONG Challenge Fundraising Deadline: Almost There.
As I noted back in July, I am participating in the LIVESTRONG Challenge here in Austin (actually, just outside of Austin). It's a 100-mile bike ride through the hill country, benefiting cancer research. I think it's actually down to around 90 miles due to all of the elevation changes, but, still, that's a long way to ride.
Well, the ride is actually this weekend. Sunday, to be exact. After making that post in July, three generous readers (Hoodlumman over at File It Under, Mick Wright, plus Zsa Zsa) ponied up some cash toward my fundraising goal. Right now, I still have a hundred dollars to go to meet the goal of 250 dollars.
I just wanted to make one more push for donations toward this goal.
Click here to make a contribution.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 455 -- Health Care.
American Medical Treatment = Best Anywhere-
The term "cancer survivor," even early on in my lifetime (let's say, the early 1980s), was once a rare and miraculous thing. Today, there are millions of cancer survivors in America. If detected early, the chances of beating cancer today are high.
Unfortunately, some countries-- even our fellow post-industrial ones-- are not on America's level when it comes to beating cancer.
Indeed, when health care is socialized, more people die:
People diagnosed with cancer in America have a better chance of living a full life than people in countries with socialized systems," adding, "Among women diagnosed with breast cancer, only one-quarter die in the U.S., compared to one-third in France and nearly half in the United Kingdom.
Sure, statistics can be manipulated. Some statistics, meanwhile, without manipulation, are meaningless. For example, the United States has a higher rate of infant mortality than many other industrialized countries, but that stat might actually be skewed because different countries count in different ways. As The Economist notes:
...high infant mortality in the United States might be the unintended side effect of increased spending on medical care.
Thus, the breast cancer death rate following diagnosis should be taken in context. There may be some explanation-- a statistical anomaly, perhaps-- for America's health care system saving more lives of those stricken with breast cancer. Or, maybe, socialized medicine is not as great as some want us to believe. This is certainly an area that needs more "good" (comparable, reliable) data, so those of us who like to make graphs can... well... make graphs.
Ultimately, what this really indicates is that you can do universal health care all you want, but if that health care is universally sub-par, then what's the point?
Previous Trivia Tidbit: The Environment Is Not Dying.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 454 -- Air Quality & Global Warming.
Al Gore recently made his way to Austin on his An Inconvenient Truth tour. About 3,000 tickets were sold for the event, which was held in the 16,755+ capacity Frank Erwin Center.
I've actually watched the "documentary," and it strikes me that Al Gore is one of the worst spokespeople possible for just about any cause, because he has a strange tendency to stretch the truth when it doesn't even need to be stretched, all while inventing truth when it does need to be invented. Credibility is so precious in the world of politics and policy and science, and Al Gore just simply has no credibility. Also, Gore is a poor choice for the environmental movement due to his narcissism and hypocrisy on this and other issues.
In the film, Al Gore brings in all sorts of irrelevant tangents about his family life, including his son's car accident as a young boy, his sister's cancer, and his family's farm in Tennessee. The film also lingers on the 2000 election aftermath, as if to say, "had I been elected, we wouldn't have global warming." Watching the film, you can't help but feel like you've been cornered in Al Gore's den, and he's compelling you to watch film reels from his life on his dusty old projector screen. In between reels, he's showing off how smart and worldly he is by citing carbon dioxide statistics and showing you pictures of polar bears.
Indeed, the film truly is more of an "Al Gore is awesome!" movie than an educational movie about the environment. To the extent that it even is an educational film about the environment, it gets so much, so incredibly wrong:
ERROR: Mr Gore asserted that a sea-level rise of up to 20 feet would be caused by melting of either West Antarctica or Greenland "in the near future".
Given these errors and others, plus the heavy doses of Al Gore personal nonsequiturs, it seems strange that it would ever be shown in schools, let alone British schools. But that's the world today.
Meanwhile, how is the world doing? You know, the actual world. Are we killing the earth? Is the planet in peril? Is our air unbreathable?
What do the facts say about the environment?
Well, for one, ambient levels of various air pollutants here in America are significantly down in recent decades:
Sure, a portion of that decline is probably directly related to the sort of environmental regulations Al Gore and others routinely call for. On the other hand, this graphic shows how technology can improve our world. In the 1960s, vehicles were clunkier, louder, and emitted more pollution than vehicles today. Factories spat out more smoke and chemicals than they do today. Our appliances are much more energy efficient today than they were four decades ago. Much of this is simply attributable to consumer preferences. American consumers have become more sophisticated. We want our cars to make less noise and pollute less. We want our industrial facilities to be cleaner. We want our refrigerators to keep our food fresher, longer, all while using less energy. Let's not underestimate the greening impact of individual choice.
The graphic above also gives us reason for optimism about the health of our planet, and reason to pause before overreacting to the alleged threat of anthropomorphic global warming. It should also cause us to question why so many of the current models and predictions of future environmental indicators (INCLUDING the very ones in the graphic above) are so terribly negative and pessimistic, when, in reality, the trends are often quite positive, with or without drastic government intervention.
Indeed, as noted here at WILLisms.com back in February, the United States, without ratifying Kyoto, has done a better job than nearly every other country in the world, when it comes to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, the United States produces a higher proportion of the world's economic growth than carbon dioxide emissions and is roughly on par with The Netherlands in that regard. The Netherlands is extremely environmentally conscious. Practically the entire country is below sea level. So being roughly on par with The Netherlands is kind of a big deal.
Indeed, the authors of the 2007 Leading Index of Environmental Indicators (.pdf) crunched the numbers similarly and found that the United States is becoming more energy efficient, all without Kyoto:
GHG Intensity refers to greenhouse gas intensity. It's essentially a ratio of greenhouse gas emissions and economic prowess. This particular graphic refers to improvements in that GHG intensity since 1991; America has done a better job than Europe over this period at growing its economy faster and greener. The authors also note that Germany improved their numbers mostly by shutting down old Soviet-era facilities in the East, and the UK improved in a one-time move from coal to natural gas production of electricity.
Essentially, it is economic growth and economic necessity that will drive the greatest environmental advancements of the 21st century. Economic growth drives cleaner, more efficient, and just plain better technologies. Economic growth drives consumer preferences toward more environmentally-friendly products. There is no need for any sort of federalized Manhattan project on alternative energy; if oil really is too expensive and/or about to run out, there are billions of dollars in new wealth just ripe for the picking for those who develop something that is better. Indeed, venture capital in alternative energies is becoming big business (unfortunately, some of that is due to rent-seeking as a consequence of poor government policy) and has more than quadrupled as a percentage of total venture capital spending, in the past half-decade (.pdf):
If America were engaged in a modern "space race" against the Europeans on alternative energy and ways to improve the environment, there is little doubt that the United States would win-- but only if the U.S. harnesses the power of economic growth, individual choice, and entrepreneurialism to win.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Liberal Media Bias.
GOP Presidential Debate - October 9, 2007 in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Republicans, The Economy, and You-
Earlier this afternoon, with Dearborn, Michigan as the backdrop, the Republican candidates for the White House, including-- for the first time-- Fred Thompson, met for a debate focused on the economy.
According to the latest Gallup data, Mayor Giuliani is the front-runner and candidate with the most to lose, while several other candidates still have plenty to gain:
So how'd they do (in Gallup poll order)?
Mayor Giuliani is good at being the front-runner. He tries his best not to attack his fellow Republicans; instead, Rudy takes shots at Hillary Clinton whenever possible. This debate was no exception, as Rudy noted that Hillary believes the "unfettered free market has been the most radically disruptive force in American life in the last generation."
Rudy is great on economic issues. He even managed to get Steve Forbes on his team. That might be why he was able to succinctly articulate what we need to do to keep our economy strong: Keep taxes low, keep regulations moderate, keep spending under control, and do something about legal reform.
Rudy has a decent record as a tax cutter, and at one point he noted that he cut taxes 23 times while Mayor of NYC. On this point, Mitt Romney took issue, and the two got into a mild verbal scuffle on who had a better tax-cutting record. How great is that? People actually arguing over who cut taxes more. That's just awesome.
Finally, Rudy quipped, "I led. He lagged."
The two also got into a disagreement over the line item veto. Rudy, knowing that most Republicans generally favor the line item veto, boasted that he was the only candidate who had beaten President Clinton, and that he did it in the Supreme Court. A good point, but Rudy lost a few points with me by essentially abdicating the issue to the Supreme Court. "They ruled, so it's over," was his attitude. I think most Republicans want someone who will stand up to legislating from the bench.
On national security, Rudy was his usual self: strong, lucid, and post-9/11. Of all the candidates on stage, Rudy was the one to pounce on the opportunity to put Ron Paul in his place for saying America had never been attacked.
Rudy had a few really good one-liners, but the best one might have been when he noted that if we go to Hillarycare, Canadians will have nowhere to go for their health care.
Rudy didn't hurt himself at all in this debate. He didn't pull any weird cell phone answering stunt. He didn't stick his foot in his mouth. He did pretty well. Not spectacular, but well.
In the first question of the debate, Fred Thompson was asked about whether he thought we were headed for a recession and why 2/3 of Americans believe we're headed for a recession.
Senator Thompson's voice quivered a bit, and he seemed tentative in his answer. A relatively easy question, Thompson did not hit it out of the park. His answers were a bit technical, as if he were trying to prove he was well-read and up-to-date on the issues. Everything he said was great, he just lacked a zippy delivery you might expect from an actor. Fred kind of rambled and seemed unfocused and unsure of himself in the beginning of the debate.
But then he warmed up a bit.
Fred responded later in the debate to Duncan Hunter's protectionism and rather effectively made the case for free trade. At one point during the Giuliani/Romney verbal spat, Fred made a quip that was apparently funny, but his microphone was turned off. The sound, in general, was not very good at this debate.
On AMT, Fred said we should index it for inflation for now and eventually phase it out. On Iraq, Fred said it was the right policy, that we need to come to terms with the nature of the threat our country faces, and that we can't leave Iraq with our tail between our legs. Better answer than his economic questions. He seems comfortable speaking on foreign policy issues.
Chris Matthews attacked Fred on something he had said on the subject of WMD, thinking he could trap him in some sort of gaffe, but Fred had a good answer, citing the known WMD that Saddam Hussein had over the years.
Over the long term in any conflict, you need the support of the American people.
Probably because it was his first debate, Fred seemed to get a lot of policy-heavy questions. He had some good answers, but it was almost like the series premiere of a television show, where the writers struggle to introduce characters and locations and such. Only a few episodes in do most TV shows hit their stride.
For example, Fred was one of the few candidates to say anything on Social Security, in the way of specifics. Fred noted that his position is that we need to index benefits to inflation and go from there.
Fred did well for his first debate, but he couldn't have wowed anyone. He got better by the end of the debate, as he was able to relax a bit and develop a rapport with the others on stage.
Senator McCain is not my favorite candidate. A lot of things about McCain really bother me. In this debate, though, he was the winner. He looked the most presidential. He gave the most well-articulated answers. And, for the most part, I actually agreed with his answers.
Early on, McCain recommended that Ron Paul read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Talked about getting health care costs under control. Talked about Social Security and Medicare going broke. Scolded Republicans for changing between 1994 and now. Had all the right answers, basically.
McCain concurred that the tax code is completely broken.
Senator McCain looked and sounded vigorous, in-charge, and presidential, except the times when he made the moderators repeat their questions. I am sure it was just the poor sound system, but it made him seem a bit old. Kind of a "I don't have my hearing aid in" moment.
McCain wants an up-or-down vote on a freer, fairer, simpler tax code. Not tweaks, not adjustments. Just a major overhaul, all at once, on the record.
Asked about whether we could ever go back to a single-income household system. He gave a good response on the modern economy. He also had some good one-liners, including his standard quip about government funding for research into DNA of bears in Montana: is it a paternity issue or criminal issue.
On the issue of free trade, John McCain was the only candidate who cited Smoot-Hawley, and of all the candidates, he most passionately articulated his support for free trade. Said we ought to resist the siren song of China bashing.
Gave a great answer on Iraq; was able to triangulate by claiming he is responsible for the current success of the "surge" and yet that he was saying we needed to change from the Rumsfeld course four years ago.
Senator McCain also gave a nice answer on the Iran hypothetical; John McCain is a serious candidate with a serious and mature foreign policy.
One part of the debate was slightly strange for Senator McCain, however. When asked about whether the big energy companies ought to pay more in taxes, he somehow got onto climate change and noted that finding alternatives is important for national security and for the environment. On the other hand, McCain also joked that while he drinks a glass of ethanol each morning for breakfast, he does not support the subsidies. In this bizarre political climate, where ethanol is wonderful and pure and holy, admitting that takes guts.
John McCain did a fantastic job in this debate. I wouldn't count him out just yet, especially if the panel of candidates gets pared down some in the next few weeks (more on this below).
As always, Governor Romney had some of the best pithy quips of the debate. Early on, he said he was nervous about coming to Michigan because he thought Democrat Governor Jennifer Granholm was going to put a tax on the debate. Romney is always good for these kinds of one-liners. He also "looks" presidential, and sounds presidential. Almost too much. Some have noted that people liked Bill Clinton because he was "handsome" (I don't really see it myself, but people say it) yet flawed. His flaws actually made him real. They made him personable. Mitt Romney hardly has any flaws. He almost seems like an actor playing a politician, which is something he might want to work on a bit.
Romney, substantially back in the polls, contrasted his record with front-runner Giuliani's record. It was a friendly contrast, yet a bit testy. Romney also argued rather well on behalf of a line-item veto.
But make no mistake, Romney is not all image. He knows his stuff, too. For example, he noted that the average family is 9000 dollars better today off due to free trade. Romney almost never gives a stumbling answer to a question, although sometimes he does give "politician" answers that stress things like, "we need more technology." Oh, okay. Great.
In classic Romney fashion, he had a great line to end, explaining that he felt like he was on an episode of Law & Order: huge cast, the series goes on forever, and Fred Thompson shows up at the end.
Romney is certainly a top-tier candidate. This debate did not do a whole lot to hurt or help Romney. He did quite well. But he didn't knock it out of the park.
Chris Matthews opened an exchange with Governor Huckabee early in the debate with a question about the Fair Tax, and gave Huckabee an opportunity to articulate why the Fair Tax is good. Huckabee explained the Fair Tax for about four and a half seconds before going into a strange populist tangent about service workers and those at the bottom of the economic spectrum and how their lives are terrible and how the economy is actually not that great and how he felt their pain. A little weird, really.
Following Ron Paul on a foreign policy issue, Huckabee correctly said the President has to do whatever it takes to protect the American people.
Said we need to advance biofuels and other alternatives with the frantic pace of a NASCAR pit stop, and get it done by the end of the decade. Showed his folksy appeal by contrasting the NASCAR pitstop with Goober and Gomer working on the family station wagon under the shade tree.
On SCHIP, Huckabee waffled on whether he would have-- like Bush-- vetoed its expansion. He said it shouldn't ever get to that point (where a flawed bill gets to him in the first place), but he also kept up the "working people have it so rough" routine. Strangely, right as his time was expiring, he recovered and began to give a fantastic answer. He really started down a fantastic path on health care, and I wish he would have had more time to expand on how government shouldn't be in charge of health care, insurance companies shouldn't be in charge of health care, individuals ought to be in charge of health care.
This was not Mike Huckabee's best debate. Part of that might be that he is a bit of a populist, and the debate was focused on the economy.
Boy. Representative Ron Paul. Sometimes more of a populist than a libertarian, Ron Paul gets into all sorts of angry rants about the Federal Reserve and/or neocolonialism, and typically, people are left scratching their heads about the whole thing.
Ron Paul has figured out his one-liner. Two or three times, he mentioned that living beneath our means is a consequence of living beyond our means.
Dr. Paul got extremely agitated when the issue of Iran came up, saying the entire line of comments was nothing but war propaganda. Ranted. Raved. "Road to disaster." "Read the Constitution." Really got worked up about the whole thing.
Said he would not commit to supporting the GOP candidate in 2008. Ron Paul is not a serious candidate. In these debates, he comes off as a lunatic. He gives libertarianism a bad name. He scares people. He is only on stage at all because he is so vehemently opposed to the Iraq war.
Asked if he could pledge not to raise taxes, Senator Brownback gave a simple, "YES" answer.
Brownback has proposed an optional flat tax. You can choose to pay under the current code, or you can just pay the low flat rate and be done with it. He is very convincing and passionate on this issue, which is a big plus.
Asked about one government program he would cut, he quickly named some technology program he classified as corporate welfare.
Brownback seems to get it, when it comes to profligate spending. We can't just replace the people in Congress, we need to change the entire system, since it is hard to cut spending.
At one point, Brownback spoke on his three-state solution for Iraq, and how he was appearing soon with Joe Biden to talk about it. Maybe that's a decent idea, and maybe we should have done it long ago, but it doesn't seem especially feasible at this point.
Brownback mentioned the name of Phil Gramm as someone he'd want to be one of his economic advisors.
He also did pretty well in this debate, but time is running out on the Brownback campaign, so he needed to do more than pretty well. He essentially needed a win to keep his campaign alive. Soon, there will be a move to pare down the debates to the top 5 candidates or so, and Brownback will not be one of those candidates.
Representative Tancredo makes a lot of sense on a lot of issues. He's also obsessed with immigration to the point of losing a lot of credibility.
In general, he gave some decent answers but sort of stumbled over his words. He just wasn't sharp in this debate.
Representative Tancredo's solution to everything is to stop illegal immigration. Got health care problems? Fix illegal immigration. Got crime? Stop illegal immigration. A bad education system? Build a wall. If those things were true, life would be so much easier. Unfortunately for Tancredo, though, solving the immigration issue would not be a panacea for all of our nation's problems. Indeed, even if we kicked out every illegal immigrant and prevented any others from entering our country, we'd still have crime, we'd still have a broken entitlement system, we'd still have an education system in need of reform. Etcetera. Etcetera.
Like Ron Paul, Tancredo wouldn't commit to supporting the eventual nominee. Hmm. Not good.
Tom Tancredo is a single-issue candidate. His issue is immigration. He's not entirely wrong on the issue, but the way he harps on it has become reflexive parody at this point.
Representative Hunter noted in his first answer that 1.8 million American jobs had moved to China in recent years. Free trade with China had fractured the industrial base in this country, he claimed.
Duncan Hunter sounded a lot like Lou Dobbs in this debate. Angry. Protectionist.
Hunter said Dubai ought not to have the ability to own part of NASDAQ because of its past nuclear proliferation. Possibly a principled stand, but possibly just part of his pattern of anti-foreign protectionism.
Duncan Hunter is a decent candidate, in general, especially on national defense, but his grumpy anti-trade outlook on the world wears thin pretty quickly. He also fails to really capture the imagination or gain any traction in these debates.
Here's a quick report card on the candidates:
In the coming weeks, Republican voters would be well-served if the field narrowed by about four candidates. It's officially time to get serious, here. Having some of these candidates on stage distracts from the fundamental purpose of these debates: finding a nominee.
Again, these ratings are not an endorsement of any candidate(s). This is just a debate performance report card. Nothing more, nothing less.
On a related note, two months ago, I rated how the Republicans candidates performed in another debate; to see how the GOP hopefuls stacked up in Iowa last August, you can click on that post here. Again, these are ratings of debate performance, exclusively, not generalized candidate ratings.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 453 -- Media Bias Alive.
Mainstream Media = Neither Mainstream Nor Media-
Today, the Republican candidates for the White House debate in Dearborn, Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage of the debate, here at WILLisms.com.
Chris Matthews, deputy to Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill during the Reagan era, will moderate the debate. This is the same Chris Matthews who has been so embarrassingly vocal in his erroneous denouncements of Rush Limbaugh.
Chris Matthews is just one among many left-wing activists in the establishment media, however.
Fortunately, most Americans see these activists for what they are, according to a recent Gallup poll:
The Governance survey shows that only 9% of Americans say they have a great deal of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news "fully, accurately, and fairly," while another 38% say they have a "fair amount" of trust in the media to do this.
Confidence in the media establishment is low. Perceptions of liberal bias are high:
But those are just opinions. Just perceptions. Sure, they are important. They mean a lot, in our information-driven world. But they remain just opinions.
Opinions based on years of undeniable bias.
Anecdotal bias. Documented bias. And empirical bias based on undeniable factual data, such as the August study on morning media coverage of 2008 hopefuls, by the Media Research Center (.pdf):
*The networks offered nearly twice as much coverage of the Democrats. More than half of all campaign segments (284, or 55%) focused on the Democratic contest, compared with just 152 (29%) devoted to the Republicans. The remaining stories either offered roughly equal discussion of both parties or did not focus on the major parties.
It seems as if American perceptions of media bias are simply in line with reality.
For example, how is this even possible in an ostensibly neutral media (.pdf):
Al Gore! Seriously?
How can these three media outlets, which-- in viewership numbers-- still dominate the news landscape, even pretend to be fair brokers in America's political discourse?
The GOP hopefuls should come to today's debate prepared to speak over the rotund noddle of Chris Matthews, directly to the American people. Republican activists want to support a candidate who will be able to-- like Ronald Reagan did so effectively-- good-naturedly zing a hostile press corps and take an unapologetically conservative philosophy directly to the American people.
It's easy to point out how left-wing today's major media are. It's even easier to complain about it. The Republican base wants to see its '08 candidate transcend the media bias.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Taxes Are Unfair.
Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 452 -- Is America's Tax Structure Fair?
"Tax Cuts For The Rich" Not Supported By Latest IRS Data-
"The tax cuts for the rich must go."
We're still hearing this same tired refrain from Presidential candidates on the left, more than four years after President Bush signed the major tax relief that left more money in the pockets of taxpayers and jump-started the ailing economy.
Four years after Nancy Pelosi declared of the "tax cuts for the rich":
“None of these tax cuts is affordable. None of them creates jobs, and they are not fair. All of them do damage to our long-term economic growth and contribute to the national deficit.”
... we are now seeing the longest uninterrupted period of job growth on record. The federal budget deficit is now below historical averages, relative to the size of the economy-- and it's still shrinking. Meanwhile, GDP growth following the tax cuts has been robust and continuous, despite ongoing war and housing bubbles and unprecedented natural disasters.
But what of the fairness argument? Speaker Pelosi argued that the tax cuts were not fair. Maybe she was right. Let's look at some numbers and find out.
The Tax Foundation has the latest IRS data, and notes that those at the top pay more than their fair share of taxes:
This year's numbers show that both the income share earned by the top 1 percent and the tax share paid by the top 1 percent have reached all-time highs. In 2005, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 39.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 21.2 percent of adjusted gross income, both of which are significantly higher than 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of AGI and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.
So, as it turns out, the tax code has become more progressive under the Bush administration. Unfortunately, when Nancy Pelosi argued that the 2003 tax cuts were unfair, she didn't mean that they weren't flat enough. She meant that the tax cuts were not progressive enough.
The only really fair tax code is one that taxes people evenly.
15% of a million bucks is $150K.
$150K, the last time I checked, was still quite a bit higher than $1.5K. While some might say that 150 thousand dollars is way too much for anyone to pay in taxes, regardless of income, others clamor for a heavy progressive or graduated income tax on the wealthy.
Instead of 150 thousand dollars, how about 300 thousand dollars. Or 500 thousand. Or, more than a Twilight Zone-worthy 900 thousand dollars.
It gets us back to the parable of the buddies at the bar, splitting the bill amicably based on income/wealth, until the bar owner lowers prices a bit:
Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:
Well, based on the Tax Foundation's latest data, here are some visuals of the American tax code:
In the wake of "tax cuts for the rich," the share of income taxes paid by those at the top has actually grown, while record numbers of people at the bottom now owe no income taxes whatsoever. My guess is that the tens of millions of American workers not paying anything in income taxes are now less likely to support additional tax relief because there is simply no incentive to do so. After all, taxes already seem pretty low to them.
Is any of this fair?
Fairness is such a strange and subjective concept, but maybe we can ask whether the current tax system is best for America. Does the current tax system incentivize success, or punish it? Does the current tax system promote prosperity and innovation and the creation of new wealth? Does the current tax system optimize America's position in the increasingly globalized economy? Does the current system make any sense at all?
Our tax rates ought to be flatter and lower, not higher and more progressive than they already are. If we are going to have a national income tax, everyone ought to feel the burden of paying taxes. That burden should be proportional. Taxes ought to be easy to understand. Taxes should not bankrupt anyone, or dissuade anyone from working harder or from taking more risks. Taxes should not force anyone to take their business offshore or underground.
Is today's tax code fair? Absolutely not.
Is the solution to roll back the 2003 tax cuts? No way, unless that plan involves completely scrapping the current tax code and replacing it with a simpler, flatter, lower one.
Previous Trivia Tidbit: Capital Gains Tax Cuts Produce More Revenue.
Check Out My New Blog
Such as it is . . . it is still definitely a work in progress, but do come by and take a look.
Wednesday Caption Contest Wrap Up (for now)
Here are the winners of last week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest :
Winners from last week:
2. Nathan Hale:
Thanks everyone for all the laughs, I had a really fun run as a caption judge, here's the proof: WILLisms.com Caption Contest Greatest Hits!
Ken McCracken Farewell Tour.
There's good news and bad news in the world of WILLisms.com.
The bad news: Ken McCracken is leaving WILLisms.com. His farewell tour begins today, so be sure to show him the love. Ken will certainly be missed around here. He's been a fantastic contributor here for roughly two years now, and while I have ebbed and flowed in my posting volume over that time, he has been a steady font of interesting and thought-provoking material. Ken has amazing artistic talent, great political instincts, and a gift for funneling vast amounts of complicated information into succinct and compelling packets.
Ken'll judge this week's Caption Contest and is welcome to make posts here as long as he wants, as he transitions into... (and this is the good news)
The good news: Ken will once again start up his own blog, so you'll still be able to read his classy original content. Formerly, Ken posted at Am I A Pundit Now? blog, but I look forward to seeing his new blog venture whenever it is operational.
Thanks, Ken. We look forward to blogrolling your new blog once you get it up and running.
Ken Adds: Thanks for putting up with me here folks. I was never able to fill Will's shoes here, and that is one reason I decided to leave. I don't want this to become 'my' site in Will's absence, because it just isn't my site and never will be.
I'll have the URL for my new blog when it is ready, I hope people will come by and pay a visit.