Category: Campaign Rhetoric

Don’t Like the Citizens United Decision? I. Don’t. Care.

By , November 5, 2012 12:39 pm

A corporation is a corporation is a corporation. And if NBC can promote or the National Geographic Channel can air Harvey Weinstein’s Seal Team Six two days before the election–to little or no criticism by critics of the Citizen United decision–then all the sturum and drang about the Supreme Court’s decision must have been much ado about nothing.

Kids. We Were That Once.

By , September 30, 2012 2:58 pm

Back in the summer of 1995, I was sitting on a grassy hill in the middle of UC-Berkeley’s campus with my daughter Caroline. It was new-student orientation week, and she and I were there to be oriented before she began school that fall. We had driven to Berkeley from Provo, Utah, our home for the previous four years and just 45 minutes down I-15 from Salt Lake City, the epicenter of Mormonism. Now if Mormonism teaches anything besides Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, and the Book of Mormon, it teaches about the importance of families. We have Family Home Evening. We have the song “Families Can Be Together Forever.” We have temples where families are sealed together for “time and all eternity.” We have “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” In short, Mormons like families. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that some of us may actually believe Mormons invented the family.

So there I was sitting on that hill with my daughter in the middle of possibly the most liberal college campus in the United States, across the Bay from possibly the most liberal city in the U.S. and the second largest city in maybe the most liberal state in the Union–sorry Massachusetts. And what did I see? Hundreds of mothers and fathers sitting on the same grassy hill with their sons and daughters, eating box lunches before the afternoon’s activities. Their children, like my daughter, were about to separate from their family and move on. Then it hit me: Most, if not all, of those parents were not from Utah. Few were Mormon. Yet, like me, they were excited for their children’s future even as they were anxious for their safety. Like me, they were going to miss their children. Like mine, their family was about to be changed forever. I laughed because I realized that I had spent so much time in the Utah Bubble that I had almost come to think that Mormons had the corner on families. Seeing all those mothers and fathers on that grassy hill brought me back to reality.

Now Utah doesn’t have a corner on bubbles either. I’m mean count ’em: There’s the Beltway Bubble, the Liberal Bubble, the Media Bubble, the Conservative Bubble. Bubbles here, bubbles there, bubbles everywhere. The world is a virtual Lawrence Welk Show.

With that in mind, I’d like to step outside my Conservative Bubble for a moment to point you towards a blog post by Nina Camic, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She tells the story of her stint as an au pair to the daughter of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger. Upon hearing about his recent death, she wrote:

A pause for reflection.

I came to live in the States as an adult (if you can call 18 adult) because of the goodness of a person who died today. I was an au pair to his little girl. I learned through him and his wife how to transition from Warsaw to New York again. I came with barely a flight bag full of clothes and possessions and joined a household that had a staff of helpers and an extended family of cousins, aunts, nephews — all intensely close, bonded in ways that history sometimes bonds people because of unusual circumstances. That I was treated kindly is such an understatement that I can’t even quite say it. The father of my charge will always in my mind be the person who liked nothing better than to drive away from the city, to the country home, fire up the grill and throw some meats for an evening supper with just his little girl, his wife and the au pair from Poland. After dinner, he and I would clean up in the kitchen and if I learned how to wipe down every last inch of counterspace it was because he taught me well. He was too kind for words and his little girl was just like him, making my au pair duties about the easiest that could be.

So, my thoughts are very much with the kids he leaves behind. Kids… How oddly stated! Kids. We were that once.

Yup, we were all kids once, and we’re all grown-ups now, men and women. Most of us, most of the time, are even good grown-ups. In the last days of this never-ending and way overheated presidential election, it’s worth remembering that even the former publisher and CEO of The New York Times–that bête noire of conservatives everywhere–was a kid once and was, apparently, a very good, kind, and generous man.

Joanna’s (Apparently) Not So Big Tent

By , September 22, 2012 10:32 am

So Mormon author (and sometimes critic of Mormonism) Joanna Brooks is all a-Twitter about the need for a big-tent Mormonism.

Just don’t give Mitt Romney the address to the tent.

Yeah, That’s Why They Began on 9/11 . . .

By , September 14, 2012 11:58 am

White House press secretary Jay Carney assures us that all these protests are because of a stupid YouTube video.

Yeah, right. That’s why protestors in Egypt were chanting, “Obama, Obama there are still a billion Osamas.”

That’s why some in the Muslim world were chanting the same thing back in May:

That’s why protests are happening all over the world and appear so coordinated. No, this is all because of a YouTube video. Yeah, right.

Maybe the protestors are tired of Team Obama spiking the ball. You can almost hear the jihadists thinking, “Okay, you got our guy. Enough already!”

On second thought, it’s probably Romney’s fault.

UPDATE: Regarding that movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ll grant that it’s offensive and some in the streets of Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere are greatly offended by it. Still, I have sincere doubts that we can attribute all these protests and protestors to that movie.

Is Something Racist When The Initial Thought Was Not Racist?

By , August 31, 2012 1:51 pm

Okay, so it turns out that Romney is leaving Tampa and heading to Louisiana to tour the hurricane-ravaged area with Gov. Jindal–a move that caused President Obama to suddenly change his plans.

The trip is a late addition to the president’s schedule, released just hours after GOP rival Mitt Romney announced he was scrambling his Friday campaign plans to visit victims of the storm.

Obama was slated to host campaign rallies in Ohio on Monday. A rally in Cleveland has been canceled.

When I heard of President Obama’s last minute change of plans, apparently in response to Romney’s visit to Bayou Country, the first words that came mind were “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” The thought had nothing to do with the President’s race, nothing to do with his color. The thought only came to mind because of the obvious connection between hurricanes, disaster, Louisiana, and the President’s relative inaction–after all, Romney obviously beat him to the Pelican State.

And then the connection between “Brownie” and the President’s race and color hit me, which prompts me to ask: Am I racist for thinking my initial thought? Am I racist for posting this after having the second thought? What if President Obama ends up doing a lousy job responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac; is Bush’s infamous compliment off limits?

I pretty sure what Lawrence O’Donnell would think. I’m more interested in what you think.

Another Defense of Niall Ferguson

By , August 21, 2012 1:05 pm

Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson took a shot at President Obama the other day in Newsweek, and in short order Ferguson was taking incoming fire from his own critics, including Paul Krugman, The Atlantic, and Politico, among others. I’m not an expert in either fiscal or foreign policy, so I’ll not comment there. I will say that if Krugman and The Atlantic missed the mark as badly as Politico’s Dylan Byers did, Ferguson’s wounds should heal quickly.

David Frum has come to Ferguson’s defense on the foreign policy front. This is my defense on the English grammar front.

Here is the relevant part of what Byers wrote at Politico:

So, in order to get himself out of that predicament, Ferguson decides to edit the CBO report to satisfy his own conclusions:

If you are wondering how on earth the CBO was able to conclude that the net effect of the ACA as a whole was to reduce the projected 10-year deficit, the answer has to do with a rather heroic assumption about the way the ACA may reduce the cost of Medicare. Here’s the CBO again:

“CBO’s cost estimate for the legislation noted that it will put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time. The combination of those policies, prior law regarding payment rates for physicians’ services in Medicare, and other information has led CBO to project that the growth rate of Medicare spending (per beneficiary, adjusted for overall inflation) will drop from about 4 percent per year, which it has averaged for the past two decades, to about 2 percent per year on average for the next two decades. It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved …”

Indeed, it is, which is why I wrote what I wrote.

But Ferguson cut the CBO excerpt off mid-sentence and changed the meaning entirely. Here is how that last sentence in the excerpt actually reads:

It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved through greater efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare or will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law.)

So contrary to what Ferguson leads readers to believe, the CBO report does not state that the reduction is “unclear.” What is “unclear” is whether the reduction will come through greater efficiencies in healthcare delivery or reduced access to care.

So, one more time: The Oxford-trained, Harvard-employed, Newsweek contibutor Niall Ferguson just edited the CBO report to change its meaning.

With all due lack of respect: What are you thinking?

Better question: What was Mr. Byers thinking? I responded to him with the following:

Dylan,

With all due respect, Ferguson’s so-called “selective” edit did not change the meaning of the CBO’s sentence. You did, however.

You wrote, “So contrary to what Ferguson leads the reader to believe, the CBO report does not state that the reduction is ‘unclear.’ What is ‘unclear’ is whether the reduction will come through greater efficiencies in healthcare delivery or reduced access to care.”

Both sentences in that statement are incorrect: 1.) Ferguson’s edited version of the CBO report said “It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved” not that the reduction is “unclear.” 2.) Even in its unedited form, the CBO report did not say that it was unclear whether the reduction would come from greater efficiencies OR reduced access to healthcare. No, the CBO said that it was unclear whether the reduction would be ACHIEVED through greater efficiencies. If those efficiencies did not materialize, access to healthcare would be reduced.

Look at it this way: The structure of the CBO sentence in question is not parallel. The verb “achieved” applies only to the first clause and NOT to the second. To see what I mean, let’s remove the first clause:

“It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved . . . will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law).” Pretty silly sentence if you ask me.

The second clause only makes sense if you excise the verb “can be achieved” as follows: “It is unclear whether such a reduction . . . will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law).” In other words, the reduced access to healthcare will be the result of the reduction in Medicare spending rather than the reduction in Medicare spending being the result of reduced access to healthcare.

Thus Ferguson’s edit was not selective at all. According to the CBO, IT IS unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved. The words “through greater efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare” only speak to how that reduction might come.

Me thinks you owe Mr. Ferguson an apology–or at least a correction.

I’ll let you know how Mr. Bryers responds.

UPDATE: Mr. Bryers responded via e-mail, writing:

Hi Gregory,

You’re wrong.

The full sentence: “It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved through greater efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare or will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law.)”

Break it down: It’s unclear whether A can be achieved through B or will instead reduce C.

As in, “It is unclear whether weight-loss can be achieved through exercise alone or will instead reduce food-intake.” It would be ridiculous to make that mean, “It is unclear whether weight-loss can be achieved.”

Thanks,
D.

I responded in kind, well, the short kind: “Sorry, but you’re still wrong.”

To which he responded:

Gregory,

You agree that there is a reduction?

D.

And dutifully, I replied:

Dylan,

I agree that the CBO projects that the growth rate of Medicare spending will drop (or reduce) from 4% to 2% per year.

Do you agree with the following? And if not, why not?

The second clause only makes sense if you excise the verb “can be achieved” as follows: “It is unclear whether such a reduction . . . will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law).” In other words, the reduced access to healthcare will be the result of the reduction in Medicare spending, rather than the reduction in Medicare spending being the result of reduced access to healthcare.

Reduced Medicare spending is, after all, the subject of the verb “reduce” in the CBO sentence I quote above.

Thanks,
Greg

And that’s how things stand at 4:16 PM Mountain Time.

UPDATE (Wed. 8.22 10:22 AM):

Yesterday, Dylan asked:

You agree that there is a reduction?

I responded:

I agree that the CBO projects that the growth rate of Medicare spending will drop (or reduce) from 4% to 2% per year.

Do you agree with the following? And if not, why not?

The second clause only makes sense if you excise the verb “can be achieved” as follows: “It is unclear whether such a reduction . . . will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law).” In other words, the reduced access to healthcare will be the result of the reduction in Medicare spending, rather than the reduction in Medicare spending being the result of reduced access to healthcare.

Reduced Medicare spending is, after all, the subject of the verb “reduce” in the CBO sentence I quote above.

A bit later, I read a new post by Byers, one that compared a 2009 CBO statement with the 2011 statement at issue. I quickly wrote Byers:

I just read your “ducks, nitpicks” post in which you virtually concede my argument: The CBO is (was?) unclear whether the reduction can be achieved–yes, the CBO said it more clearly in its 2009 letter, but the bolded quote in the 2011 testimony says essentially the same thing, as I’ve pointed out in my previous e-mail. Seems to me that the bone you want to pick is with the CBO because, I repeat, Ferguson’s quote was fair, ellipsis and all. The CBO–in both quotes–was unsure whether the reduction would be achieved through efficiencies. The possible reduction in care or access to care would be **because** of the reduction in spending.

Spin it as you will, that’s that the CBO says in both bolded quotes in your “ducks, nitpicks” post.

He responded:

Ferguson is suggesting the CBO says there might NOT be a reduction.

And followed up with:

In other words, if you are correct, why did the 2009 CBO say “if so” and “whether”

To which I responded:

Dylan,

You accused Mr. Ferguson of editing the CBO report in “a ridiculous, misleading, ethically questionable way that completely misses the mark” of “chang[ing] the meaning entirely.” And yet, here we are in a two-day e-mail exchange, debating the meaning of the very sentence in question. Ironic, no? I’ll repeat my understanding of the sentence in question one more time.

The short story: In both CBO statements, the first clause is about the HOW of the reduction. The second clause is about the possible EFFECT of any reduction. The CBO statements do not present a case of either/or.

Let’s look at CBO 2011 again–grammatically:

It is unclear whether such a reduction [the object of this sentence] can be achieved through greater efficiencies in the delivery of healthcare.

OR

It is unclear whether such a reduction [the subject or actor in this sentence] will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law.)

As I read those two sentences, I see two different concerns on the CBO’s mind: 1.) a question of whether greater efficiencies will lead to a reduction of Medicare spending, and 2.) a concern about the effect of a reduction in Medicare spending–however that reduction comes about. The first is a question of HOW. The second is a concern about EFFECT.

That reading is buttressed by the CBO’s 2009 letter

“It is unclear whether such a reduction in the growth rate could be achieved, and if so [that is, IF it is achieved], whether

1.) it [the reduction–the object of this clause] would be accomplished through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care

OR [however it’s achieved]

2.) [the reduction–the subject of this clause] would reduce access to care or diminish the quality of care.”

To repeat: In both CBO statements, the first clause is about the HOW of the reduction. The second clause is about the possible EFFECT of any reduction. The are separate issues or concerns.

As you said yourself in your “Nitpicks” post, had Ferguson quoted the 2009 letter, he would have been on firm ground. My analysis says that he was also well within the bounds of a fair reading of the 2011 statement to claim that the CBO was unclear that a “reduction in the growth rate could be achieved.”

Again, if you’ve got a bone to pick, go pick it with the CBO person who wrote those statements. They could have been written more clearly. So yes, I can see where you’re coming from, but it’s a stretch–and frankly unfair–to claim that your reading is the only correct reading and therefore Ferguson “misses the mark,” is “unethical,” and that he “changed the meaning entirely” of the CBO’s statement.

I don’t know Ferguson. Though I lean right, this is not a partisan issue for me. I simply feel that your post was unfair and responded accordingly.

Respectfully,

Greg Taggart

(All emphasis and most of the formatting in the last e-mail above is mine, something I point out to the general reader, but that I did not say in my original e-mail to Byers since he was familiar with the actual statements.)

Update:
Ferguson defends himself.

President Obama Is Right

By , August 14, 2012 9:54 am

I agree with what President Obama says in this video, particularly at around the 4:00 – 4:30 mark. Until we–Republicans and Democrats–stop fear mongering, we will not solve our nation’s financial problems.

The question is, does President Obama and his side of the aisle really believe what he says in that video? The evidence from the last few weeks says no. To be fair, does the Republican party?

Senator Simpson’s Budget Buddy on Paul Ryan and His Budget Plan

By , August 13, 2012 10:24 am

Hot Air has the story. It ain’t good for Mr. Obama

Fair Criticism or Hit Piece?

By , August 2, 2012 1:19 pm

In Wednesday’s New York Times, Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, takes Governor Romney to task for misrepresenting the thesis of his book in the Governor’s speech in Israel. He goes so far as to “doubt whether Mr. Romney read” his book. In my view, Diamond’s NYT op-ed is an uncharitable hit piece masquerading as indignant criticism. That’s not to say that Romney was completely accurate in his discussion of Diamond’s book. It is to say that Romney got the thesis–as stated by Diamond in the NYT–essentially right; that his mention of iron ore, though a bit off base, captured the essence of what Diamond said about iron in his book; and that judging by Romney’s discussion of Diamond’s book in his own book, No Apology, Romney has read Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Before we begin, let’s remember the context of Romney’s speech. He was speaking at a fund-raiser in Israel. He spoke about a variety of issues for around 20 minutes. I’ve not been able to find a copy of the speech–if one exists–but judging by something he said, I’d guess the speech was an off-the-cuff recitation of his stump speech, tailored to his audience (more below). What it was not was a book review of Diamond’s book. What it was not was a point-by-point discussion of Diamond’s thesis. And that’s important.

Here’s the relevant part of Romney’s speech, as quoted by Diamond:

[Diamond] basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth. (emphasis mine)

Note, the words “and so forth.” That’s the little throwaway that tells me Romney was speaking off the cuff and without notes. Note also that he summarizes Diamond’s book in about 30 words–hardly a full discussion.

According to Garance Franke-Ruta at the Atlantic, Romney goes on to say,

And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here. And likewise other nations that are next door to each other have very similar, in some cases, geographic elements.

That’s it. As far as I can tell, that’s all that Romney said that relates to Diamond’s book other than the next paragraph where Romney mentions David Landes’s Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which I’m not going to discuss here because my interest is in Diamond’s criticism.

Now, here’s how Diamond characterizes his own book:

My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (emphasis mine)

In fact, he did say something about iron ore, on page 246, where he writes,

[Ancient peoples] gradually learned . . . to work available pure soft metals such as copper and gold, then to extract metals from ores, and finally to work hard metals such as bronze and iron. (emphasis mine)

and on page 259, where he continues,

One reason why technology tends to catalyze itself is that advances depend upon previous mastery of simpler problems. For example, Stone Age farmers did not proceed directly to extracting and working iron, which requires high-temperature furnaces. Instead, iron ore metallurgy grew out of thousands of years of human experience with natural outcrops of pure metals soft enough to be hammered into shape without heat (copper and gold). It also grew out of thousands of years of development of simple furnaces to make pottery, and then to extract copper ores and work copper alloys (bronzes) that do not require as high temperatures as does iron. In both the Fertile Crescent and China, iron objects became common only after about 2,000 years of experience of bronze metallurgy. New World societies had just begun making bronze artifacts and had not yet started making iron ones at the time when the arrival of Europeans truncated the New World’s independent trajectory. (emphasis mine)

Diamond goes on to say that what Romney said was not new because he apparently got it wrong in his book No Apology as well. Here’s the relevant passage from that book, again according to Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic:

In his best-selling book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond notes that long ago, the availability of minerals like iron ore meant that some nations could fashion weapons and conquer their neighbors while others without those minerals could not. The complex geography of germs and disease could cripple the economy of one nation while opening new possibilities for another. A nation’s rivers, mountains, and deserts dramtically shaped the transportation network essential for trade and economic development. For scholars like Diamond and many others, the relative differences between nations and people are largely the result of these kinds of inherent natural features. To a degree, there is truth in that perspective, but it simply doesn’t fully account for the great differences between nations and civilizations.

Diamond is right that in both in his speech and in his book, Romney does imply that iron ore was unevenly distributed around the world, when in fact what was not widespread was the ability to turn iron ore into steel. A different disparity, but a disparity nonetheless, and apparently an important one, given that Diamond points out in his book that the Europeans “truncated the New World’s independent trajectory.” Why? Because “New World societies had . . . not yet started making iron [artifacts]” when the Europeans arrived. Isn’t that essentially the point Romney was making in No Apology, that some had iron weapons when others did not? The only difference is Diamond attributed the relative circumstances to metallurgy; Romney mistakenly attributed them to the uneven distribution of iron ore.

Furthermore, Romney–especially in his book–briefly covers the same ground Diamond does in his NYT summary of his book’s focus. As someone who has read neither Romney’s speech nor Diamond’s book in their entirety, I ask anybody to explain to me how Romney’s brief discussion of Diamond’s book is so far off base as to warrant an op-ed response in the New York Times. Then tell me if you think Romney has read Diamond’s book.

UPDATE: Given that Diamond forgot that he did discuss iron ore in his book, isn’t it only fair to give Romney some slack for forgetting that the it was metallurgy that was not widely distributed across the earth rather than iron ore?

Just Where Does the Buck Stop?

By , July 15, 2012 12:25 am

I follow David Burge, aka Iowahawk, on Twitter. He’s rather funny. Regularly so. To wit:

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