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« November 2007 | WILLisms.com | January 2008 »

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 126.

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:


The actual caption:

A woman points to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as Clinton takes the stage at a campaign stop in Stratham, New Hampshire, December 21,2007. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Yeah. There must be a more specific caption for this photograph.

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, January 1. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email via WILLisms@gmail.com.

Last Week's Photo:

And... The Winners:

1. John:

"Well, yeah, they do tend to sag with age, but, damn!"

2. Hoodlumman:

As Paul just stood there silent after the Iraq War question was asked, Sen. McCain gave a feel to his CPU revealing that it had overheated and required a reboot.

3. Thursday:

McCain: "Okay, enough out of you. Let's see, I saw a priest do this in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'..."
Paul: "Fool! My innards are immobile; I've been surgically converted to the gold standard."

Captioning a bridge to the 21st century. Enter today!

Posted by Will Franklin · 26 December 2007 09:41 AM · Comments (15)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 470 -- Laffer Curve.

He's Huge In Europe-

Ever heard of Art Laffer and his curve?

Here's a good example of how lower tax rates can produce higher tax revenues:

Britain began the corporate tax-cutting revolution in the mid- 1980s with a reduction of its rate from 52 percent to 35 percent. The United States followed with a reduction of its rate from 46 percent to 34 percent. Since then, every major nation has cut its corporate tax rate, and many smaller nations have as well. In the European Union, the average corporate tax rate has fallen from 38 percent to 24 percent since 1996.2 The United States has a combined federal and state rate of about 40 percent.

The tax-cutting trend is global. Since 2000, we've seen corporate tax cuts in far-flung places such as Russia (35 percent to 24 percent), Israel (36 percent to 29 percent), Panama (37 percent to 30 percent), Turkey (33 percent to 20 percent), Vietnam (33 percent to 28 percent), Guinea-Bissau (39 percent to 25 percent), and Ghana (33 percent to 25 percent). Perhaps the most dramatic recent cut was a 2005 reform in Egypt, which reduced that country's corporate rate from 40 percent to 20 percent in one swoop.

A veritable "race to the bottom," as American Democrats sometimes say. But this is a good race to the bottom. Interestingly, as the developed world has cut, collectively-speaking, its corporate taxes, more tax revenues have come in:

...the average central government statutory rate was 40 percent or more before the mid-1980s. But then supply-side tax policies gained support and tax rates plunged. The average rate in the 19 countries fell from 45 percent in 1985 to 29 percent by 2005. During the same period, corporate tax revenue soared from 2.6 percent to 3.7 percent of GDP.6 That is a 42 percent increase of corporate revenue relative to the size of the economy.

So where does the United States stand in relation to the world on this issue? We have the highest corporate tax rate in the entire OECD and one of the highest rates in the entire world. Sure, Americans pay lower personal income taxes, lower "carbon" taxes, lower sales taxes, and so on, but the portion of the American tax code that stands out like a sore thumb is our once-low-but-now-high corporate tax rate.

What is even more unfortunate is that, in this country, "corporation" seems to have become a hyper-politicized concept at best, and a flat out dirty word at worst. The thought of cutting taxes on American businesses is wholly antithetical to today's political zeitgeist. Meanwhile, in other countries, often ones run by people far more left-wing than even our own dear Nancy Pelosi and gang, are racing to cut their corporate tax rates to reap the benefits of stronger growth and higher tax revenue:

Canada just passed a reduction of its federal corporate rate from 22 percent to 15 percent. Britain's corporate rate is falling from 30 percent to 28 percent, and Germany's is plunging from 38 percent to 30 percent. Corporate tax cuts are also on the agenda in France, and have been discussed in Japan.

Not to mention the flat tax "evolution" slowly but surely sweeping through Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Let's get with the program, people, unless we want the rest of the world to have the last Laff.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Japan and China Trade Wars.

Posted by Will Franklin · 21 December 2007 12:07 PM · Comments (5)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 469 -- China Is The New Japan.

China 2008 = Japan 1980s-

Today, a lot of people are worried about the American trade deficit with China. We hear that we should "do something" to fix the trade deficit with China; that we ought to stop our jobs from moving to China; that we will be slaves of China in a decade or two if we keep up our current pace.

Not long ago, people expressed the same worries about Japan. Indeed, in September of 1987, the Center for Media and Policy Analysis noted that, according to the American media, Japan must have been violating trade standards (.pdf):


Only 1 in 11 stories analyzed in 1987 cited the high quality of Japanese goods in stories dealing with Japanese trade supremacy. Most stories focused on Japan's alleged "dumping" (which really just means charging a low price in order to achieve success in a market) and Japan's protectionism against American goods (which was and remains a relatively valid point). While most media did not endorse a major trade war (with heavy, long-term sanctions and tariffs) with Japan, 62% supported at least limited trade protectionism against Japanese imports.

That was twenty years ago. Then, it was Japan. Today, it is China.

One wonders which country it will be twenty years from now. India? The entire African continent, perhaps? It seems as long as there are jobs that become obsolete or commoditized and can be performed by someone in the developing world, we'll continue to have the same discussion, generation after generation. Meanwhile, we'll all be wealthier in the end.

One bit of good news is that America is far less beholden to OPEC than before, as our economy is less energy intensive than it was decades ago:


America's economy clearly relies less on exporting goods than it did twenty-seven years ago. Twenty-seven years later, the United States economy remains the most powerful on the planet. But, oddly enough-- maybe because there is an Iowa caucus coming up in a couple of weeks-- an entire political party and some of another political party are questioning whether trade is worth it.

Indeed, Professor Hanke, writing for the Cato Institute, agrees that China has replaced Japan as the whipping boy of American mercantilists.

China is a serial violator of human rights, some of its cities are among the most polluted in the world, and it very well may have mal-intentioned plans regarding the future of Taiwan. China is actively colonizing parts of Africa (Angola, for example) and the rest of the third world, very much under the radar screen. China vetoes all sorts of useful resolutions at the United Nations, while giving cover to the worst of the worst in the world. China has demonstrated a propensity to do what it can to undermine American interests, all while building up its military at a furious pace. China has failed to protect America's intellectual property rights, especially with regard to software, electronics, music, movies, or other entertainment. To the extent that China and the United States do cooperate, China has often abused America's trust, whether through shipping contaminated toys or bad food to the U.S.

There are a lot of reasons to be wary of China. China is not a good regime by any stretch of the imagination, but in many ways, China is the new Japan. There are clear differences, sure, but a lot of the rhetoric we hear today against free trade is exactly the same as it was 20 years ago.

As long as we take care of our business and remain vigilant about preventing bad tax/trade/regulatory/tort/labor/environmental/immigration/education policy from taking hold in this country, we may not remain the top producer of cars or Barbie dolls or khaki shorts, but our position in the world will sort itself out just fine.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: AIDS.

Posted by Will Franklin · 20 December 2007 04:03 PM · Comments (3)

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 125.

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:


The actual caption:

Republican presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) at the CNN/YouTube/Republican Party of Florida presidential debate in St. Petersburg, November 28, 2007. (Scott Audette/Reuters)

Hmm. There must be a more appropriate caption out there for this photograph.

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, December 25. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email via WILLisms@gmail.com.

Last Week's Photo:

And... The Winners:

1. Bigfoot:

After several failed attempts, Code Pink decided against having a Men's Auxiliary Division.

2. Hoodlumman:

Members of the Phi Iota Upsilon fraternity took hazing to a whole new level.

3. DANEgerus:

Dateline Hollywood Summer of 2012 : Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, shown here, give thumbs up to a new alternative drug rehab facility run by Singer/Actress Pink.

Captioning: Way Better Than Christmas Carols. Enter today!

Posted by Will Franklin · 19 December 2007 02:34 PM · Comments (13)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 468 -- AIDS Media Coverage.

A Look Back-

That public funding on HIV/AIDS-related programs in America is absurdly inflated ought to-- by now-- be fairly obvious. Those benefiting from the inflation probably owe a big thank you to the establishment media for decades of distorted media coverage.

For example, back in 1987, the media were obsessed with AIDS. Mandatory AIDS testing for all Americans (or, for select groups), followed by a quarantine for those testing positive, was a legitimate policy prescription in the public discourse. In news stories, 42% of "health experts" favored mandatory testing, and 73% of "non-experts" favored it (.pdf). Pretty incredible, really. Meanwhile, as noted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs back in 1987, the same media went out of their way to underplay the demographics of the disease (.pdf):


Weird. So, on the one hand, the media pushed an agenda of mandatory testing and quarantine, while on the other hand, they sterilized the face of AIDS so middle America wouldn't stigmatize victims. Ryan White was an innocent victim. If it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. And if it could happen to anyone, it needs "more funding."

What I remember most vividly about AIDS in media and popular culture in the 1980s (and early 1990s) is that it seemed like everyone-- by the year 2000 or so-- would have AIDS. It was an inevitable monster of an epidemic that was going to destroy our entire civilization.

Obviously, all of that was and remains overblown. AIDS impacts a small fraction of 1% of Americans, with all but a handful of new cases attributable to high risk behaviors. We know that now. Yet, we still vastly overfund AIDS research.


Because once government funding is established, it rarely goes away. No matter how inefficient.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Reagan Got Terrible Media Coverage.

Posted by Will Franklin · 17 December 2007 03:25 PM · Comments (2)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 467 -- Reagan Made His Own Image.

The Media Were Just As Biased Against Reagan-

I must be getting old. Things that happened during my lifetime are already becoming mythologized. The Reagan era, for example, takes on all sorts of mythologies. All the GOP candidates strive to be most like Ronald Reagan, invoking his name whenever possible. Compared to President George W. Bush, Reagan is held up as a perfect conservative teacher's pet to Bush's dunce-like performance. Very unfair.

As a huge Reagan fan, there are myths surrounding Reagan that create unrealistic expectations for today's pols. The apotheosis of Ronald Reagan is often done for the express purpose of tearing down 21st century Republicans (President Bush and the crop of '08 hopefuls, in particular). It gets tedious. Sure, it's better than the overblown lionization of FDR or JFK (or even WJC), but it's still tedious, the way it is used these days. Reagan should be praised for what he did, not what Bush has not done.

That being said, there is a myth about Reagan that goes the othe direction. People-- liberals, mostly-- often claim that Reagan got amazingly positive and supportive media coverage. When President Reagan died, three years ago now, he was often credited with having received all kinds of good press during the 1980s, a rarity for a Republican. I've seen/heard this claim several times in just the past few weeks, on television, in newspaper columns, and in passing conversation.

The notion that Reagan receiving fawning coverage in the press is just plain wrong. Reagan made his own image; his media coverage was similar to President Bush's today.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs has the numbers (.pdf):

Major Findings:

The Candidate
*In 1980 Reagan and Jimmy Carter both got five times as many negative as positive comments on TV news.

*But in 1984 Walter Mondale got a majority of good press, while judgments of Reagan sank to 10 to 1 negative.

Enter Reagan
*In 1981 the new administration’s coverage was over 2 to 1 negative.

*Reagan’s policies fared even worse, running a 3 to 1 negative ratio in the national press; his foreign policy took the hardest hits.

The Incumbent
*In 1983 Reagan's "mid-term reviews" were 13 to 1 negative on TV News.

*Gorbachev fared better than Reagan in coverage of their summit meetings.

Exit Reagan
*As a “lame duck” after the 1988 election, Reagan’s TV news coverage was 2 to 1 negative - about the same as when he entered office.

Part of the myth of Reagan's positive media coverage is that, sure, maybe he didn't get great press early on, but from the middle to the end of his tenure, he got great press. And as he left office, Reagan allegedly got lavish and glowing praise for his accomplishments. Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Indeed, Reagan's midterm and lame duck media coverage were terrible (.pdf):


Not only that, but Reagan received poor media coverage for his meetings with Gorbachev. You know, the ones that helped end the Soviet Union.

Indeed, one of the earlier Trivia Tidbits dealt with the Reagan/Gorbachev media coverage comparison:


What does all of this mean?

If anything, it ought to add to the deification of Ronald Reagan. It ought to pile onto the positive Reagan mythology.

Despite terrible media, he was still able to communicate to the American people-- and he did so in an age before Fox News, before blogs, and before Rush Limbaugh had a national talk radio program.

Reagan just connected with Americans. Sure, Reagan had a lot of disdain for the establishment media, but he actively went around, over, and even through them, and he rarely gave the impression of being annoyed or bothered by the White House press corps' dumb or biased interrogations. If President Bush has gotten one "big" thing wrong during his tenure, it is his disdain for the media, coupled with a poor strategy for going around, over, and through the media to the American people.

Republicans can expect bad media coverage from the mega-media outlets as long as the GOP stands for things like free markets, conservative values, and a strong American defense. Republicans can't sulk or merely complain about their terrible press, but they also can't accept it as "the way it's been, the way it is, and the way it will always be." We've got to have leadership that can articulate to the American people-- like Ronald Reagan did-- big ideas and minutiae alike.

Is there a candidate who will emerge over the next couple of months as a great communicator? Let's hope so, because having watched most of yet another Democratic debate yesterday (*thanks, TiVo!), we really can't afford-- literally cannot afford-- to let this current crop of pro-tax, anti-trade, pro-union Democrats run Congress AND the White House.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Fact Checking FactCheck.org.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 December 2007 04:00 PM · Comments (5)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 466 -- Fact-Checking FactCheck.org.

Does FactCheck.org Have An Agenda, Or Are They Just Dense-


The Republican candidates for the White House debated in Iowa yesterday, and FactCheck.org was eager to offer its two cents on the whole thing.

What is unfortunate about FactCheck.org is that sometimes they need to FactCheck.org themselves.

Here is the summary that FactCheck.org breathlessly emailed out to its list, last night:

More exaggerations and misstatements in the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses.

In the Dec. 12 Republican presidential debate in Des Moines:

* Arizona Sen. John McCain promised to make the U.S. “oil independent” within five years, a goal experts say can’t be achieved.

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claimed American students score in the bottom quarter among industrial nations, but they score about average in the most recent tests.

* Romney also claimed that federal programs to prevent teen pregnancy are “obviously not working,” while in fact births are dramatically below what they were in 1991 despite a relatively small increase last year.

* Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said a big federal tax cut would produce “a major boost in revenues for the government,” a notion that nearly all economists say is a fantasy.

* Former Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed he had the most impressive record on education of any GOP candidate, even though Arkansas children scored below the national average while those in Romney’s Massachusetts were No. 1.

* Rep. Duncan Hunter claimed the cost of administering and complying with the federal income tax is $250 billion a year, far higher than the figure given by a recent presidential advisory commission.

Let's go over these facts and fact-checks.

I. First, McCain's silly Manhattan Project notion:

McCain: We have got to achieve energy independence, oil independence in this nation. I will make it a Manhattan Project, and we will in five years become oil independent.

Okay, good call on this one by the FactCheck.org folks. A "Manhattan Project" is a focus-group-tested political talking point, driven by columnists like Thomas Friedman and eaten up by people who think supporting such a ridiculous concept makes them sophisticated. It's not a serious idea.

II. Next, FactCheck.org takes aim at Mitt Romney's assertion that our education system is failing in America:

Mitt Romney: Our kids score in the bottom 10 or 25 percent in exams around the world among major industrial nations.

FactCheck.org says this is wrong, citing recent results from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) that put American children just below the middle of the pack in math and reading. Mediocrity, w00t!

FactCheck does give Romney some credit, however, for a 1998 study in which the U.S. finished 19th out of 21 nations in math and 16th out of 21 nations in science. They really ought to give Romney a bit more credit, though. Indeed, Romney was not incorrect in his assertion, according to these numbers:

The Program for International Student Assessment was first administered to 15-year-olds in 2000, testing them on mathematics, reading, and science. Students in the United States earned an overall math score of 493 on the 1000 point scale, seven points below average, placing us 18th out of the 27 participating countries. Three years later, PISA results showed no significant change in U.S. math performance. But according to the latest report the U.S. suffered a significant decline in mathematics achievement between 2003 and 2006. We now score 474 -- in 25th place among the 30 participating countries.

The last time I checked, 25th place out of 30-- the bottom 17% of scores-- is within Romney's assertion ("bottom 10 or 25 percent").


It's hard to blame Brooks Jackson and the Annenberg folks, though. After all, they are also products of America's shoddy educational system. Nevertheless, maybe the FactCheck.orgers should consider some remedial math classes. Or maybe they should only FactCheck when they are absolutely sure about something, not when there are lots of data that point to lots of conclusions.

Mitt Romney, furthermore, raises an important point. Even if FactCheck.org is 100% correct and Mitt Romney is 100% incorrect, America still is BELOW the middle on these important measures. And America already spends far more than those other countries on our school system(s). Something's got to give.

III. Moving on, FactCheck.org also went after Mitt Romney for his comments on teen pregnancy prevent programs.

Here's how FactCheck chose to characterize Romney's comments:

Romney also said federal programs to combat teen pregnancy are "obviously not working real well."

That's it. That's all the information they give the reader. As someone who did not catch the debate, I have no context for the comments.

This is precisely the kind of omission that you might see in an erroneous political attack ad. It's sad and telling that I found a broader version of Romney's comments at Huffington Post:

During the Republican debate in Iowa today, Gov. Mitt Romney responded to a question about how he would lower the national debt: "We don't have to run a deficit to pay for the things that are most important because we can eliminate the things that are not critical." Startlingly, Romney included in his list of federal programs that are unnecessary the "thirteen different programs to prevent teenage pregnancy." Romney went on to say that "they're obviously not working real well. We could cut it down to one or two that are making a difference."

Okay, wow. That changes everything. Moreover, if you watch the actual video response embedded in the Huffington Post story, you get precisely what Governor Romney is talking about. He notes that there are 342 different economic development programs, administered by various departments, 40 departments for workforce training, of which only a few are working, etc. His comments about teenage pregnancy prevention programs-- that there are 13 different programs, of which only a couple are even doing anything worthwhile-- are what you want to hear out of America's potential CEO-in-Chief.

At the same time, though, if FactCheck wanted to go after Mitt Romney on this one, they should have focused on the fact that cutting hundreds or even thousands of federal programs will still make a tiny dent in the federal deficit. Only entitlement program reform can really make a difference, something Romney understands and has articulated in the past.

Moreover, if FactCheck.org wants to quibble about the effectiveness of the teenage pregnancy programs, the burden of proof is on them. All they do to refute Mitt Romney's off-hand comment about some of the programs being ineffective is show that teenage pregnancy has declined since 1991. That proves nothing.

First, logically, correlation does not prove causation. Maybe teenage pregnancy rates declined because of increased prosperity, or because of the ABC Family network, or because of a generational value shift. We don't know why teenage pregnancy rates fell.

Second, even if (thirteen) government programs deserve the credit, Romney's assertion that one or two are indeed making a difference makes it clear that FactCheck.org is engaging in the worst kind of parsing, the kind of negative campaigning that brings only discredit and shame to Annenberg and UPenn.

Next, just because teenage pregnancy rates have fallen somewhat in the past 15 years (although rising in 2006) doesn't mean that our efforts (public or private sector alike) to bring those numbers down are doing enough. The U.S. still has a relatively high teen pregnancy rate, when compared to other industrialized nations. Moreover, how do we know that teenage pregnancy rates shouldn't have-- or couldn't have-- fallen much further from 1991 to today with more effective programs?

Finally, why did FactCheck.org choose 1991? Was it because 1991 was a high water mark for teen pregnancy and thus anything below that mark would seem like a fantastic improvement? Likely. Or was 1991 chosen for some other reason-- maybe that there were no teen pregnancy prevention programs before 1991? Or because data collection improved in 1991? Neither of those is likely. If FactCheck.org were more credible, I would give them the benefit of the doubt on that point, but since they seem to seek errors so often where there are none, they need to explain themselves.

IV. Moving on, FactCheck.org takes aim at Rudy Giuliani's assertion that cutting taxes boosts tax revenue:

Giuliani: And then we have to reduce taxes. Right now we should reduce the corporate tax. We should reduce it from 35 percent to 25 percent. It would be a major boost in revenues for the government.

This one is worthy of several separate posts (and we've made several of them here in the past), explaining why Rudy is absolutely right, but in the meantime, let's just remember the fact that in the aftermath of the Bush tax cuts of 2003, tax receipts rose faster than anytime in decades. There are a lot of reasons for this phenomenon, namely that an increasingly globalized world means that businesses and individuals can choose to do business pretty much wherever they want. If America's corporate tax rate is too high (right now, it's just about the highest in the entire civilized world), businesses will simply conduct their business elsewhere.

It's not rocket science. Governments generally collect more in tax revenue when they have lower tax rates. Sure, some revenue might be "lost" for a little while, but in the long run the stronger economic growth will more than make up for those "losses" (or, as they really ought to be called, "keeps," since we're talking about people NOT losing their money to confiscatory government coercion). Rudy is absolutely right that you cannot tax your way to prosperity, and you cannot out-tax other nations to fund your government's voracious appetite. Rudy has every right to make this assertion, although it's clear that FactCheck.org will continue to pounce on this statement through November 2008 and beyond, much to the pleasure of Hillary or Obama or whatever other tax-lover the Democrats nominate.

V. Next, Huckabee and Romney both claimed to have a better record on education. FactCheck.org actually does a decent job on this one, simply laying out a few facts about Arkansas during Huckabee's tenure and Massachusetts during Romney's tenure and letting the reader decide. So we'll move on.

VI. Finally, let's turn to Duncan Hunter's claim that doing the taxes (not actually paying them, just complying with them) costs Americans 250 billion dollars annually. FactCheck says this is wrong. They are wrong to say Rep. Hunter is wrong. This one is actually the easiest of all to FactCheck FactCheck.org on, and, frankly, they ought to be ashamed of themselves on this one. They're just setting themselves up for ridicule. First, let's just lay out how FactCheck.org presents the argument:

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California overstated the compliance burden of the federal tax system:
Hunter: The tax that we're all paying that doesn't help anything ... is the $250 billion-plus that we pay each year not to the federal government, to the Treasury, but to prepare our taxes, defend our taxes, and for the massive cost of the IRS. That's all overhead – 250 billion-plus dollars.

We're not sure where Hunter gets that figure. The President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform puts total compliance costs at around $140 billion per year, a figure that includes the value of individual taxpayer's time spent filling out forms, which strictly speaking is not money "that we pay." Add to that the "more than $10 billion" that the government spends to administer the tax system, and the figure comes to $150 billion, not $250 billion. The advisory panel report says other estimates of compliance costs fall between $100 billion and $200 billion.

They're not sure where Duncan Hunter gets that figure?

Have they never heard of the authority on this very subject, the Tax Foundation? Good grief. From the Tax Foundation, some data:

In 2005 individuals, businesses and nonprofits will spend an estimated 6 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code, with an estimated compliance cost of over $265.1 billion. This amounts to imposing a 22-cent tax compliance surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects. Projections show that by 2015 the compliance cost will grow to $482.7 billion.

And a table to go with it (.pdf):


So, if anything, Duncan Hunter may have understated the staggering cost of tax compliance in America. FactCheck.org's insistence on only using numbers from the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, to the exclusion of other figures, is troubling but consistent with the FactCheck.org modus operandi. The admission of not being sure where Hunter's numbers came from (only the world's experts on the subject!) is just plain embarrassing.

Note to the Annenberg FactCheck.orgers: DON'T ASSERT SOMETHING IS WRONG JUST BECAUSE IT DOESN'T FIT INTO YOUR WORLDVIEW. Moreover, hire some fact checkers to examine your own all-too-often erroneous FactChecks. FactCheck.org, all too often, you are just plain wrong:


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Some Good News.

Posted by Will Franklin · 13 December 2007 03:09 PM · Comments (1)

Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 124.

It's BACK.

This week's WILLisms.com Caption Contest photograph:


The actual caption:

Members of the Maricopa County DUI chain on a work detail as deputies gurad them Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007 in Phoenix, Az.. Men convicted of drunken driving will don bright pink shirts and perform burials of people who died of alcohol abuse as part of a new chain gang in Phoenix. A sheriff's dept. spokesman said the DUI chain gang is the first ever that's dedicated to one type of crime. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Yikes. There must be a more entertaining caption out there for this photograph.

Entries will remain open until 11:59 PM, Central Standard Time, Tuesday, December 18. Submit your captions in the comments section, or email via WILLisms@gmail.com.

Captioning is the 11th step in any effective 12 step process. Enter today!

Posted by Will Franklin · 12 December 2007 03:34 PM · Comments (13)

Recommendation of the Week: Part II.



Sometimes trends have a way of amplifying themselves from nothing to "the next big thing," almost overnight. This week's recommendation is, frankly, a little weird.

It's the neti pot. No, it's not Irie grass from Jamaica. Actually, it's the opposite of drugs. It's a way to breathe easier this time of year (or any time of year), without drugs. The neti pot has apparently (allegedly) been around for several decades in "the West" and millenia in "the East," although I first heard about these things no more than a few weeks ago. Now that I have heard of it, I am seeing references to it all over the place. The character Dwight, from NBC's The Office, uses what looks like a neti pot, in a recent promo for the show. I've seen them promoted in magazines and elsewhere. All of the sudden. From nothing to a trendy health item, just like that.

As someone with occasionally severe allergies, I am always looking for ways to clear my passages and prevent actual infections from taking hold.

I've tried all sorts of allergy medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, and both pills and nasal sprays. Some of them work fine, but I feel like a zombie when I take them. Not good.

I've also tried the saline nasal spray, which is just salty water. It definitely irrigates well, sweeping pollen and dust and pollutants out, but sometimes I feel like I am spraying a drizzle up there, when I need a firehose. Another option that works extremely well is to take about 4 steamy showers per day during allergy season, clearing out the sinus cavities each time around. Obviously, this schedule is also not particularly convenient.

Enter the neti pot. It's bizarre and awkward to watch someone do it (see YouTube video below), but it works fantastically well.

While this video is a bit creepy (what's with this lady's glassy stare?), this thing just plain works. Even if you don't have bigtime allergies like me, it really opens up your nasal passages, allowing easier breathing. You might be surprised what all is stuck in there. Indeed, a good friend of mine unwittingly left a bloody gauze in his nasal passages for months after competing in a boxing tournament. Stuff just stays up there for a long time, causing infections and other problems.

Mrs. WILLisms.com claims that she sleeps better after using this ridiculous device, the neti pot, in the evening. She wakes up feeling more refreshed and alert from a restful sleep.

Although I am not a doctor, I am not offering medical advice, and I am not promising this thing will cure your cold, I am personally sold on the neti pot. It just seems to work. You can buy one here.

Last week's recommendation: Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries.

Note: I am not being compensated for these recommendations. I just think they might be useful to WILLisms.com readers. I always welcome your alternative suggestions, as well.

Posted by Will Franklin · 12 December 2007 03:17 PM · Comments (7)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 465 -- Some Good News.


Progress is evident when people are less satisfied with better results. For example, take American satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Presidential handling of the economy. Right now, despite a robust economy, President Bush gets nailed by the public.

Indeed, economic legacies are a funny thing:


President Bush's economic legacy will depend far too much on how things go over the next 13 months or so.

What is more interesting are long-term legacies that ideas have on our country. Ideas that transcend White House administrations. Ideas like the New Deal, Great Society, and Contract with America have left indelible legacies on the fabric of society. So let's think about some of those legacies for a bit.

People these days seem inordinately pessimistic about our public institutions, our political process, and so much else. It's odd, given that things have improved substantially in the past decade or so.

The three decades following 1960 brought a lot of welfare-state-driven bad to this country. For example:

...there had been a more than 500-percent increase in violent crime; a more than 400-percent increase in out-of-wedlock births; almost a tripling in the percentage of children on welfare; a tripling of the teenage suicide rate; a doubling of the divorce rate; and a decline of more than 70 points in SAT scores.

Bad juju, right there. America seemed cursed. Doomed to fade into the background, as a has-been, a once-great nation that-- by the 21st century-- would be an also-ran in the litany of world powers.

Not so fast. In the past decade or two, things have improved dramatically in the United States:

In a number of key categories, the amount of ground gained or regained since the early 1990’s is truly stunning. Crime, especially, has plummeted. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the rates of both violent crime and property crime fell significantly between 1993 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973 (the first year for which such data are available). More recent figures from the FBI, which measures crime differently from the NCVS, show an unfortunate uptick in violent crime in the last two years—particularly in cities like Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Even so, however, the overall rate remains far below that of the mid-1990’s.

Teenage drug use, which moved relentlessly upward throughout the 1990’s, declined thereafter by an impressive 23 percent, and for a number of specific drugs it has fallen still lower. Thus, the use of ecstasy and LSD has dropped by over 50 percent, of methamphetamine by almost as much, and of steroids by over 20 percent.

Then there is welfare. Since the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload has declined by over 60 percent. Virtually every state in the union has reduced its caseload by at least a third, and some have achieved reductions of over 90 percent. Not only have the numbers of people on welfare plunged, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger have all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers have risen.

Abortion, too, is down. After reaching a high of over 1.6 million in 1990, the number of abortions performed annually in the U.S. has dropped to fewer than 1.3 million, a level not seen since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized the practice. The divorce rate, meanwhile, is now at its lowest level since 1970.

Educational scores are up. Earlier this year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reported that the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders continue to improve steadily in math, and that fourth-grade reading achievement is similarly on the rise. Other findings show both fourth- and twelfth-graders scoring significantly higher in the field of U.S. history. Black and Hispanic students are also making broad gains, though significant gaps with whites persist. The high-school dropout rate, under 10 percent, is at a 30-year low, and the mean SAT score was 8 points higher in 2005 than in 1993, the year Bennett published his Index.

More generally, we are seeing important progress in critical areas of youth behavior. Since 1991 (a peak year), the birth rate for teenagers aged fifteen to nineteen has decreased by 35 percent. The number of high-school students who have reported ever having sexual intercourse has declined by more than 10 percent. Teen use of alcohol has also fallen sharply since 1996—anywhere from 10 to 35 percent, depending on the grade in school—and binge drinking has dropped to the lowest levels ever recorded. The same is true of teens reporting that they smoke cigarettes daily.

These figures truly are stunning. They indicate that we have been successful in addressing a wide level of societal ills. How did it happen?

Without offering detailed explanations, as one can normally find here, complete with graphs and numbers of what happened to improve our country, it seems pretty clear that 1) the end of the Cold War, 2) the dismantling of the 1960s Welfare State, 3) a generation-based attitudinal shift, and 4) the rise of the modern free market/low tax movement have all been pivotal.

First, the end of the Cold War. It was, if anything, a boost to morale. It proved that our system worked better than their system. It freed up resources, often known as the "peace dividend," which allowed America to devote its economy toward more productive endeavors. It allowed America to spearhead free trade agreements around the world, which have improved our nation's standard of living in countless ways. The end of the Cold War shifted the American political paradigm toward a fresh way of thinking about all kinds of economic, social, and political issues.

Second, and completely related, was the end of welfare as we knew it, in the 1990s. Seeing just how bad things really were in the former USSR allowed reformers in this country to get a shot at transforming welfare from a handout to a hand up. After all, we were no longer concerned that the Soviets would shame us for our urban (or rural) poor. We could be more American, policy-wise, at last. In the 1990s, we began seeing Section 8 housing ghettos razed to the ground. Instead, home ownership was promoted. Crime plummeted, as people became vested in their communities. People were required to work. The entire government incentive structure changed, eliminating many of the flawed policies of LBJ that did nothing but trap people into cycles of poverty and despair. We got tough on crime. Crime fell. And the country improved.

Third, and something that many people simply do not believe, is a fantastic generational shift in attitudes. The Baby Boomers rejected just about anything and everything of their parents' generation. The following generations may have their flaws, but in many ways, Generation X (the incorrectly characterized "slacker" generation) and other post-Boomer generations have infused the country with an ethic more like that of their grandparents. Meanwhile, many Boomers themselves have finally grown out of the 1960s. These hard-to-quantify generational shifts have reintroduced the concept of personal responsibility to the national psyche. Achievement, competition, and hard work are not dirty words. Wealth creation is celebrated, not resented. The concept of change has become more pragmatic. Change for the sake of change is not accepted wholesale because of some relativistic principle. Necessary and potentially positive changes, meanwhile, are not rejected outright due to stubborn dogma. Rather, younger generations tend to celebrate progress, without wantonly throwing out the wisdom of previous generations. This is a terrifically important, albeit fragile and tenuous, development.

Finally, we look at the rise of the modern free market movement in this country. You can trace it back to Goldwater or even before, but it was really Ronald Reagan who gave the movement meaningful energy. Moreover, the movement enjoyed a bigger victory than even the Reagan victory in 1980 when Republicans swept into Congress in 1994. Capital gains taxes were cut. Welfare was reformed. Income taxes were slashed. We saw tort/lawsuit reform. The free market movement had plenty of victories for about a decade, and those victories translated into improvements not only to the economy itself, but also to all kinds of seemingly peripheral social indicators.

This all being said, there are some strange developments in the past year or two, and they aren't good developments. First, it seems that the whole anti-war political playbook from Vietnam is back-- and maybe even more effective this time around, as people were more receptive to precisely the same arguments as before. When so many Americans are so emotionally invested in seeing America lose, something is wrong. Second, there is an inexplicable abandonment of free trade, especially among Democrats. For whatever reason, more people are rejecting trade, despite low unemployment (which should mitigate the worries about manufacturing job losses) and record GDP levels. Next, there seems to be entirely too much momentum behind socializing our health care system (did the Cold War teach us nothing?), raising taxes (seriously?), accepting junk environmentalism, yet very little momentum behind getting our fiscal shore in order before the entitlement tsunami hits.

All of the pessimism, socialist backsliding, and inaction we see from the current political process is wearing on the American people. How about we celebrate our successes a bit more, identify why we were successful in the first place, and then go create the conditions for more successes. President Bush was on the right track with his "Ownership Society," but Iraq and Katrina and a series of other circumstances thwarted his push to reform Social Security, the tax code, and potentially other areas of public policy.

The good news is that despite the media-driven doom and gloom, things in many ways not only have gotten better, but they are getting better, and most importantly, they can get better, even when it looks hopeless. And right now, the situation (GDP, unemployment, inflation, the federal budget deficit) is far from hopeless.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Iraq War Media Coverage.

Posted by Will Franklin · 5 December 2007 05:15 PM · Comments (4)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 464 -- Iraq Media Coverage.

Something Must Be Going Okay-

In recent months, there seems to be a glimmer of optimism on Iraq. There is tangible progress. Even Representative Murtha concluded that "the surge" is working.

So how do the media respond to improving fortunes in Iraq?

This way, courtesy of our friends at the Media Research Center:

Back in September, as reporters voiced skepticism of General Petraeus’ progress report, the networks aired a total of 178 Iraq stories, or just under two per network per night. (See chart.) About one-fourth of those stories (42) were filed from Iraq itself, with most of the rest originating in Washington.

In October, TV’s war news fell by about 40 percent, to 108 stories, with the number of reports filed from Iraq itself falling to just 20, or less than one-fifth of all Iraq stories. By November, the networks aired a mere 68 stories, with only eleven (16%) actually from the war zone itself.

The predictability of this would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Ethanol.

Posted by Will Franklin · 4 December 2007 05:33 PM · Comments (2)

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 463 -- Ethanol Costs.

Snake Oil-

With the Iowa caucuses just around the corner, candidates in both parties are furiously positioning themselves as "corn-friendly" candidates for President. We hear a lot about we can grow our way to energy independence, or how our farmers need help competing against heavily subsidized European farmers, or how alternative energies are better for the environment than traditional fossil fuels-- all of which are valid to varying degrees.

If we can grow enough corn to feed people and animals here and abroad, plus fuel our cars and homes, plus make plastic and other associated products, and still have enough left over each year to cover the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, more power to America. Unfortunately, we can't do all of that just yet, and to the extent that we attempt to do so, we're creating all kinds of negative externalities. When we use government tools to subsidize ethanol, we're costing ourselves far more than we're gaining from the deal.

The American Enterprise Institute recently co-authored a study with the Brookings Institute that examines the costs and benefits of American ethanol policy. Despite giving ethanol benefits every benefit of the doubt and erring on the side of pro-ethanol when the data were unclear, it is fairly obvious that ethanol is not any sort of panacea:

If annual production increases by three billion gallons in 2012--a plausibly modest number when the EPA made its own calculations--we estimate that the costs will exceed the benefits by about $1 billion a year. If domestic production reaches the more "optimistic" Energy Department projection for that year, net economic costs would likely top $2 billion annually.

Obviously, ethanol has some benefits. It's just that the costs greatly outweigh the benefits. Some of the purported benefits are not even realistic; for example, to really achieve energy independence or otherwise boost national security, we would have to grow many times more corn than has ever been grown in the United States:

The picture on the energy side is a little brighter. For each barrel of oil displaced by ethanol, there are benefits in the form of slightly lower oil prices and reduced potential for economic dislocation from oil-price spikes. We estimate these to be in the neighborhood of $500 million annually in 2012.

But the emphasis here should be on the word "little." In 2005, the ethanol program used about 15% of U.S. corn supplies but displaced less than 2% of gasoline use. Even if all corn produced in the U.S. were devoted to distilling ethanol, the renewable fuel would amount to about 12% of the gasoline demand in 2005.

Let's visualize that for a moment:


So 15% of all corn grown in the United States is set aside to make corn oil and makes a 2% impact on the gasoline market. Hmm. Well, why not just throw everything we've got at this? How about we use all of our corn-- and then some? And why not, if it could mean stopping Global Warming and shattering OPEC?

Well, all of our corn would make a 15% dent in the gasoline supply:


Incredible costs. Not a lot of payoff.

Indeed, here is a breakdown of the costs and benefits:


Clearly, it's a mixed bag in more than just money terms, but the costs of ethanol are stunningly predominant relative to the benefits. Ethanol is just simply not a miracle cure for what ails America.

And that's too bad, considering that this is the safe and politically correct answer-- indeed, the only answer-- for nearly everyone in Washington, DC.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Worldwide Tax Policy Trends.

Posted by Will Franklin · 3 December 2007 10:22 AM · Comments (0)