Apr 282012
A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of...

A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and stalwart champion of education for all Americans, made clear the need for a knowledgeable electorate. He warned us, that “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.” He explained that there is “no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves,” and clearly stated the requisite condition for that depository, “Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to raise any argument against what Jefferson said on the matter. People simply cannot expect to make informed decisions if they are not well informed. Taken in this light, the stated mission of Americans for Prosperity, “educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing citizens as advocates in the public policy process,” is in perfect alignment with, not only one of our nation’s most revered patriots, but also with the common sense of every American.

In performance of their mission, Americans for Prosperity, commonly referred to as AFP, launched their latest educational effort this past Thursday. Their campaign to “educate” Americans on “wasteful spending” is centered on a one minute video that will air in eight states, from Florida to Michigan toNew Mexico. According to AFP, the ad will “scrutinize wasteful use of taxpayer dollars,” and “hold President Obama accountable” — objectives sure to make Thomas Jefferson proud.

The AFP ad gets right down to business, opening with “Washington promised to create American jobs, if we passed their stimulus, but that’s not what happened.” It then presents the “FACT” to backup their claim — a quantum leap to “Billions spent on green energy,” that went to “jobs in foreign countries.” But wait a minute . . . their argument is that  the stimulus was $831 billion that didn’t create American jobs, and then they attempt to substantiate the claim with a Washington Times article about green energy?

Why the non sequitur? Can use of a formal fallacy to support an assertion really be viewed as an effective means of “educating citizens?” Obviously not; which means there’s likely a hidden agenda, but let’s not jump to conclusions.

What about the claim that the stimulus didn’t help with American jobs? According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the stimulus added as much as 4.5% to the GDP and increased domestic employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs. Mark Zandi, former economic advisor to John McCain, took issue with Republican claims on the matter and stated that, “Without the stimulus spending, instead of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, we’d have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate.”

Okay, so the ad gets off to a bad start, making false claims about the stimulus, but what about those “billions” creating jobs overseas?

According to AFP, citing the same Washington Times article, “The Obama administration admitted the truth, that $2.3 billion of tax credits went overseas.” The graphic says, “$2.3 billion to jobs in foreign countries.” And the Times article states:

“The Department of Energy estimated that 82,000 jobs have been created and has acknowledged that as much as 80 percent of some green programs, including $2.3 billion of manufacturing tax credits, went to foreign firms that employed workers primarily in countries including China, South Korea and Spain, rather than in the United States.”

More clear “educational” content? Uh huh.

The $2.3 billion cited by both the Times and AFP, according to Russ Choma, the investigative journalist upon whose work the Times article was based, came from a 48C credit program that was launched specifically to create US manufacturing capacity for renewable energy technology. The money helped to fund domestic projects, and the credits were given out based on the number of domestic jobs to be created.

That said, there were stimulus funds spent through an entirely different program that did send significant funds to foreign companies. Mr. Choma’s original piece, in the Investigative Reporting Workshop, addressed issues regarding stimulus Section 1603 grants of up to 30% of the investment for renewable energy production capacity brought online by the end of 2010.

Choma’s investigative work concluded that a whopping $2.38 billion of the grant money went to foreign developers. Of course, the nature of the grant did ensure that $2.33 of private money was invested in domestic infrastructure for every $1 of federal funding. The real issue was lack of American manufacturing capacity, which was being simultaneously addressed through the 48C program, but not quickly enough. Due to lack of domestic capacity, only 46% of the $4.4 billion spent on wind farms went to domestic companies.

The interesting point, with respect to the AFP ad, is that through all of Choma’s work, he stated that just exactly where jobs were created was a bit murky. There are around 8,000 parts in the average windmill, and the supply chains are complex. Some foreign companies have domestic facilities and vice versa. Choma stated that “We simply don’t know where all of the parts were made,” and he was forced to conclude, “I can’t say how many of the turbines built by American manufacturers were overseas, and how many of the turbines built by foreign manufacturers were built here.”

So, why would an ad ostensibly created to “educate,” be so convoluted and misleading? Perhaps because the form of “education” intended isn’t the kind Thomas Jefferson had in mind. Maybe the goal isn’t a knowledgeable electorate at all, but perhaps a manipulated one.

After briefly associating the “green” foreign expenditures with “13 Million unemployed back home,” the video moves to $1.2 billion given to a “solar company that’s building a plant . . . in Mexico.” It is true that the money went to a solar company, one that’s based in Silicon Valley, CA. It’s even true that SunPower had plans to build a plant in Mexicali, but the $1.2 billion DOE loan guarantee was to build a plant in San Luis Obispo County.

Clever wording? Absolutely! A person viewing the AFP ad will naturally put 2 and 2 together and wind up with $1.2 . . . billion going to Mexico. But education? Maybe as a euphemism for pure propaganda.

From Mexico, the AFP ad travels quickly to where “Half a billion” went to an electric car company that “created hundreds of jobs” — in Finland. The company in question is Fisker Automotive, a California-based carmaker, and they did get $529 million in loan guarantees. The money was spent on engineering and design work in the US, but again because of lack of domestic capacity, the original manufacturing of the Fisker Karma will happen in Finland. According to the ABC News piece cited in the AFP ad, the company has plans to build “tens of thousands” of their Fisker Nina sedans at the old GM plant they purchased in Delaware. But it appears that company “plans” can only be used to smear a solar investment, not to defend a loan for electric cars.

AFP’s world tour of “wasteful spending” turns to Asia next, with claims of “Tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights . . . in China.” The sums of money continuing to decline with each successive story line, AFP piques the viewer’s interest by invoking the spectre of the Red mennace. This particular claim is linked to $6.3 billion in stimulus funds given to cities and states to increase energy efficiency. The number cited, “tens of millions,” is necessarily vague, because nobody knows how much money went to China. What is known is that AFP’s wording isn’t as clever as that used with the Mexicali solar plant, since the signals were actually “built” in the US. Yet money for parts did go overseas, with some going to China, but once again the issue was the lack of domestic capacity — a lack that will never be addressed unless investment is made here — the very investment being spurred by the stimulus.

What’s telling is that all of the facts regarding the Fisker car loan and the traffic light issue were included in the articles AFP cited in their ad. If they had read the Pittsburgh Tribune piece, and had the desire to actually “educate,” they could have created a video that informed the public and left people to draw their own conclusions. But that was and is far from the goal of Americans for Prosperity.

The AFP ad closes with the accusation that President Obama “wasted $34 billion on risky investments . . . the result — failure.” The ad doesn’t state where that number comes from, although it matches the $34.7 billion total for the Section 1705 stimulus program to invest in renewables, power transmission and biofuels. The problem is that the reference doesn’t fit the narrative, as most all of the money was kept in the US, and with regard to “failure,” the DOE credits the program with creating 60,000 jobs. Of course, AFP does cite a supporting article, a piece in Investors Business Daily. It’s too bad all the report offers, besides yet another rip at the Solyndra deal, is an opinionated critique focused on how electric cars sales are lower then expected.

So, unless “education” is accomplished by feeding people jumbled up garbage intended to manipulate their understanding of a given situation, the AFP ad has nothing to do with the organization’s stated mission and everything to do with forwarding the political agenda that they’re forbidden to have as a tax-exempt non-profit.

The truth is that this should be no surprise for anyone familiar with AFP. They are clearly a front organization for Koch Industries, and their mission is to increase Koch profits in any way they can. The Koch fortune owing largely to the oil business, they’re dead set against anything “green.”

AFP, like Koch, is relentless in their efforts to bring down President Obama, keep America on the oil teat, destroy labor unions, and muddy every issue from climate change to tobacco and healthcare. They don’t care how deceptive their tactics or dishonest their statements. They do have a mission though — and if their latest ad is any indication — it’s not to “educate” but rather to keep citizens as ignorant as possible about economic policy.

Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his grave.

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Jan 302011
Official photo of Congresswoman Michele Bachma...
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Article first published as Michele Bachmann’s State of the Union Tea Party Commercial on Technorati.

TeaPartyHD, the television and Internet network responsible for the unseen camera and teleprompter that Michele Bachmann looked toward while delivering her rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address, finally posted their video of the congresswoman’s speech on Friday. And yes, she’s looking squarely at the camera.

So now, with a little luck, this will be the end of media coverage of the strange off-angle shot aired on CNN. In the big picture, who really cares what camera Michele Bachmann was looking at? The gaff made the speech a bit odd to watch, but it really could have happened to anyone. This aspect of the Bachmann story has been given far too much attention — so much that nobody’s talking about the insaniTea of her message.

First off, to call Bachmann’s speech a “response” or “rebuttal” to the State of the Union is to completely ignore everything she said. She didn’t deliver a response; it was nothing more than a rerun of the same fact-free Tea Party commercial we’ve all seen over and again, ad nauseam. It is on this inane content where criticism for the Bachmann slideshow should be focused.

Bachmann wants Americans to blame President Obama for unemployment, so she shows a nice red and blue chart depicting unemployment rates by year. According to Bachmann, the spike in 2009 is Obama’s fault. Of course, she failed to mention that we were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 600,000 per month when he took office, and that the economy was in a freefall stemming from the Bush orchestrated bank collapse, but what the heck . . . it’s all fair in politics.

The congresswoman then hit the tried-and-true “attack the Stimulus” chord. The “failed stimulus,” as she referred to it, gave America nothing more than “a bureaucracy that now tells us what light bulbs to buy.” This is a great tactic: just make up your own story, completely devoid of truth, throw in some exaggeration (the trillion dollar stimulus), play upon people’s emotions, ignore the facts, arrive at a hyperbolic conclusion, and BAM — the falsehood lives on. Keep repeating it, and you will gain believers.

This works well so long as the audience just buys the bullshit without checking any facts. But if people have even the slightest inclination to think for themselves, to actually understand the situation, the bald-faced nature of Bachmann’s nonsense shines through. It’s just too bad that so many people don’t care that the Stimulus actually staved off total collapse of the economy — that it added as much as 4.5% to the GDP, saved or created as many as 3.3 million jobs, kept unemployment from climbing to 11.5% or higher, and gave tax cuts to 94% of Americans. If they took the time to know the facts, they’d understand that the biggest problem with the Stimulus was that it was too small.

But the truth doesn’t always play well for the political goals of the speaker, so politicians and pundits are often forced to turn to propaganda — fact selection that results in lying by omission. According to Ms. Bachmann, while there had been “unacceptably high” deficits under the Bush administration, these “exploded” under Obama. She illustrates with a graph showing huge blue bars that tower above the short red Bush deficits, and she assigns all blame for the spending increases on President Obama.

Bachmann’s graph appears to be accurate, but like an iceberg, what’s seen on the surface doesn’t accurately reflect all that’s hiding below. And since the congresswoman doesn’t really want people to recall that her tallest blue bar, the one for 2009, actually reflects President Bush’s budget through October, or that it included much of the $700 billion “bailout” that was passed under Bush, she conveniently leaves these details out. And so what if she failed to mention that those little red bars didn’t include the spending for the two deficit-expanding wars that President Bush chose to keep off the budget. If President Obama didn’t want the billions in war expense reflected in his budget, he should have kept the costs hidden.

But as disingenuous as is Bachmann’s Tea Party spin on jobs and the deficit, there’s really nothing more egregious than the distorted fantasy of fear mongered hype she spewed regarding healthcare reform. In Bachmann’s words, “Unless we fully repeal Obamacare, a nation that currently enjoys the world’s finest healthcare might be forced to rely on government-run coverage that could have a devastating impact on our national debt for even generations to come.” What a crock!

Between Tea Party and more mainstream Republicans, there is no piece of legislation more illegitimately maligned than the Healthcare Reform. Their fallacy starts with erroneous claims about the quality of the American healthcare system, one that consistently produces outcomes inferior to other developed nations, and it always extends to outright lies about the nature of the legislation that was passed.

The truth of the matter is that “Obamacare” is not “government-run.” It’s actually an extension of the public/private system currently dominant in the U.S.. And as far as costs go, it’s designed to reduce them. In fact, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it will reduce the deficit by $230 billion. And although that doesn’t solve the problem, at least it’s a step in reducing the costs of a system that now outspends the average of the developed world by more than two to one.

Bachmann is right about one thing regarding healthcare, it will bankrupt the country if allowed to continue on its present course. But the issues driving that dynamic are actually made better under “Obamacare,” although not to the extent needed — that would have required the “public option,” but the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats made sure that didn’t happen. There was no way they were going to do anything to cut into the record profits of the medical insurers and Big Pharma.

Our nation faces serious problems, and President Obama’s State of the Union was light on specifics regarding how he will address them. But unless the American people want more poverty, more debt, more concentration of wealth, fewer jobs, lower wages, and a healthcare system that puts the insurers above the patients, they will do with Michele Bachmann’s “response” what they do with all fecal matter — flush it and forget about it.

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Dec 162010
Santa Claus
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The Senate voted 81-19 yesterday to accept the $858 billion Obama/McConnell tax deal. California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer voted with the majority but for varying reasons. Boxer attributes her support to provisions that will extend breaks for alternative energy sources. Feinstein says that while she doesn’t like the bill, she’s voting in the affirmative because it will create much needed jobs. Both of these positions hold an element of truth, but in the final analysis are, in tamed vernacular — equine feces!

A little simple arithmetic will help to appreciate the insanity of what these politicians would have us believe. Taking Feinstein’s rationale, she’s in favor of the “deal” because economists told her it would increase the GDP by .6 to 1.2 percent, which she claims will translate to 600 thousand to 1.2 million jobs. So in other words, it makes sense to the Senator to add $858 billion to the deficit in order to sustain jobs at a best-case rate of $715,000 per job. Does that make any sense at all?

Math for Senator Boxer’s justification is even worse, since she claims the energy provisions will only result in “tens of thousands of jobs.” Although to be fair, she does also identify help for the middle class as another motivator.

The problem with both of these positions isn’t really the math; it’s the fact that they’re really nothing more than an exercise in rhetorical gymnastics used to justify support for a bad piece of legislation. While this deal is being spun as “temporary,” the tax cuts are anything but. Set to expire in two years — during a presidential election — the politicians who lacked the will to terminate them now are not going to do so then. If they really were intended to be temporary, they would have been extended for a single year, where there was at least a chance of it happening. The sad truth is that this deal will seriously impact a federal deficit that’s already teetering at record highs, and it will do so for dubious benefit.

Center to the “deal” are the unemployment benefit extensions that the Republicans have held hostage pending the approval of tax cuts for the wealthy. Few disagree with the need for this action that will enable those who have not yet exceeded the 99-week maximum to continue receiving payment. Economists all agree that it is of the highest order of economic stimulus, returning as much as $1.90 for every dollar spent. But the 13-month extension accounts for only $56 billion of the package, and although it may be the right thing to do, it does nothing to address long term unemployment issues.

Other items included in the remaining $802 billion also have legitimate justifications.  For instance, the reasoning behind extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, which is the single largest piece of the tax deal pie, is sound. The situation is that 70% of the GDP is fueled by consumer spending, and because the middle class has been so severely squeezed by the recession, if their taxes were to increase, it would translate directly into a reduction in GDP. And when the GDP drops, jobs go with it.

The 2% reduction in payroll taxes follows the same logic as the extension of the middle class tax cuts. The money will mostly go to people who have already tightened their belts in order to make ends meet and will therefore be spent immediately and returned into the economy. Estimates actually place the return as high as $0.90 for every dollar spent, which is more than double the estimate for the general tax cuts. But at a cost of $120 billion, there are much more effective ways to use the money. And none of the other possibilities have the potential downside of tying Social Security to the general fund, which could lead to future arguments to dismantle the program.

Provisions included to extend certain tax credits follow the same reasoning, with each putting money in hands that will spend it. And the provision that will allow businesses that make investments in 2011 or 2012 to accelerate deductions by expensing 100% in the current year is really more of a shift than an outright loss of revenue.

But the sound reasoning and rationale component of the deal ends prior to evaluating the tax cuts for the top 2% and the estate tax reduction for the top one-tenth of 1%. Both of these upper crust tax cuts will reduce federal revenues, thereby adding to the deficit and requiring further indebtedness to foreign nations, like China. But they will do so, not for the purpose of stimulating the economy, as the money is much more likely to be saved. Neither will the savings be extended because the recipients have been hurt by the economic collapse and are in need. No, the tax cuts for the rich are included strictly because they are the ransom demanded by Republicans in order to do what’s right.

The sole justification for the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, beyond the fact that the Republicans demand it, is because the money belongs to these people. That’s it. Ask any Republican — it’s their money and the government doesn’t have the right to take it. Never mind that the wealth people accumulate is not created in a vacuum. That wealth is the fruit of both their individual efforts and the societal system that ALL Americans work to support and maintain. Never mind that taxation is the means by which the citizens of a free society fund the government in order to provide the services required to sustain that system and enable the accumulation of wealth.

This is the classic “redistribution of wealth” argument, and it’s as invalid now as it was the first million times it was spoken. Those who present the “redistribution” argument choose to give credit disproportionately to the individual, which is obviously nonsense. It takes an entire society to sustain a system of opportunity. The problem in America today is that too many of the wealthy and would-be wealthy want to extract the benefit of our democratic society but don’t want to pay back into its sustainment.

This is precisely the reason that our infrastructure is crumbling and the wellbeing of the average American is in serious decline. The problem that’s taken root in America over the past 30-plus years is unethical redistribution of wealth — from working Americans to the top 2%. It is that concentration that’s behind the recent collapse and the present stagnation. We are experiencing the result of over-extraction of wealth. It is therefore the responsibility of the system — the one that so many people have used to accumulate said wealth — to adjust and bring back employment and prosperity to those who have been exploited.

America needs jobs, and we need fair taxation. The Obama tax deal delivers neither. Working Americans will be glad to pay more taxes — if they are just allowed to work and share in the huge increases in productivity that have lined the pockets of the wealthy. Make no mistake about it: there is no justification, rational or moral, for the Republican-demanded tax cuts. They’re nothing but the looting of America by the new Robber Barons.

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