Thursday, September 27, 2012

Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men

I saw this referenced in Nate Powell's Any Empire. Peace on Earth is an MGM Oscar nominated short from 1939. It was remade as Good Will to Men in 1995 which was also nominated for an Oscar. Both are on YouTube and are below. The first was made on the eve of World War II and is very much in a World War I mindset. The remake has a cold war anti-nuclear message. And both are Christmas films.

Russia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto's GMO Corn Following French Study

Russia Bans Use and Import of Monsanto's GMO Corn Following Study "Following the groundbreaking French study that graphically linked the lifetime consumption of Monsanto’s GMO corn in rats to massive tumors and direct organ failure, Russia’s premiere consumers rights organization has suspended both the importation and use of Monsanto’s GMO corn within the nation’s borders."

I haven't followed much of the GMO issue. My sense is that GMO by itself isn't any different than old practices of hybridization, just with more science. Certainly specific modifications can be safe or unsafe, and I want the FDA and other government regulators to be working hard on testing the foods before labeling them safe and I don't know if that's happening or not.

In an era of post-truth politics, credibility is like a rainbow

David Roberts wrote in Grist, In an era of post-truth politics, credibility is like a rainbow "What he missed — again and again, until the debt-ceiling fiasco — is that conservatives are not compelled by substantive policy concessions to grant him anything. There are no referees to compel them, nothing to stop them from calling him a job-killing socialist no matter what he does. And in this age of zero-sum politics, it’s in their electoral interests to do so. To grant him credibility would be to strengthen his hand, which would weaken theirs. So they don’t, no matter how many border guards he hires, no matter how closely his healthcare plan hews to Mitt Romney’s, no matter how many coal subsidies are written into the cap-and-trade bill. They just don’t."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Great Tree of Life

"Trace any branch back through time to see how it connects to any other of life's major branches. Use the curved time scale to find when their common ancestor lived. Five mass extinctions are marked by an abrupt decrease in life's diversity, followed by renewed diversity."

More here.

What's the state of the economy?

Screen shot 2012 09 25 at 8 52 17 PM copy

How to Use the Telephone

How to Use the Telephone, 1917 is a series of instructional guides from The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company.

It seems there should be a telephone on every desk, you're supposed to start by saying your name, concentrate while talking, end by saying goodbye and remember to put the receiver back on the hook. Also be sure to keep the "delicately adjusted instrument" away from open windows where it might get wet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Movie Review: The Master

I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master last night and was unfortunately disappointed in a lot of different ways.

First, I saw it in 70mm at the Coolidge Theater. If you need an explanation read Why You Should Go Out Of Your Way To See The Master In 70mm. Basically it's a bigger film format that results in a really crisp and bright image. It's a format that's going away and this might be the last film to use it. I'm no anti-digital snob but digital isn't as good yet (though a true IMAX film is). But while the projection looked great on screen, I don't think Anderson did much with it. When I think of films I've seen in 70mm like Lawrence of Arabia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Ben-Hur, they had big giant scenes. The Master has a couple of them, and they're short. There's a recurring shot of the wake of a boat and it's a glorious blue but...ok. There are a couple of beautiful outdoor scenes in a field or in a desert but most of this film is closeups and medium shots in normal sized interiors such as houses and boat cabins. And most of them are shown from the same vantage point the whole scene, there isn't a real sense of space that's explored at all. Now Paul Thomas Anderson knows a lot more about film than I do so I'm sure everything was deliberately composed to convey some metaphorical point and while this film does look very good, I don't see the real point in filming it in a very expensive format. The first two early screening announcements shown here are both more interesting shots than most of the actual movie.

I've seen the production design praised as well; that it brilliantly captures the period. When Mad Men does this regularly on television, I'm not sure that a few interiors and costumes qualifies as brilliant. Good sure, but not brilliant.

So what about the story? That's where the problem lies. The film opens with Freddie Quell in the South Pacific near the end of the war. A bunch of sailors are screwing around on the beach and then relaxing as they sail home. Freddie gets discharged after a rorschach test and a talk about what we now call PTSD. He's has a few odd jobs and he's an alcoholic, drinking concoctions he makes from his photography supplies or anything else he can find. He has brief sexual encounters and several fights. He's lost.

He stowaways on a boat that's run by Lancaster Dodd. He's an L. Ron Hubbard inspired character who goes by the name Master and is the leader of a cult like group known as The Cause. He takes a liking to Freddie and his concoctions and Freddie is drawn into the group going through various procedures that are meant to help him conquer his inner demons that have been building for trillions of years so he can return to his original state of perfect. Yeah, Dodd is making this stuff up as he goes along as his son eventually says. While Freddie opens up a bit he still drinks and still gets into fights only now it's with people who doubt the Master.

As I write the above it seems like it's describing more plot than the movie had. Most of the rest is repetitive, much as Freddie's processing is. There are some great scenes, with some great performances, particularly the first processing where Freddie opens up and an argument in a the prison where both Freddie and Dodd become undone, but there aren't traditional character arcs. By the end of the two hours and fifteen minutes, it really seems like not much of anything has happened. Now that may well be the point, but an enthralling moviegoing experience it isn't. The score doesn't help. It good at setting mood, but it's very monotonous and the creators apparently wanted just one mood throughout the whole film.

Joaquin Phoenix is Freddie and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Dodd. Both will probably get oscar nominations. Their roles are big and they have great presence and play off of each other well. They shift from constrained conversation to physical rage, often on a dime. I think Phoenix overdoes it. There's a lot of physicality to the portrayal. Freddie is bent over and mannered and it's not really clear why. I kept getting an Ed Grimley vibe and that's certainly not what was intended. Also I've read a lot of descriptions calling Freddie unpredictable and riveting, but I found neither of those to be the case. He almost always ends a confrontation with violence and almost always ends a quiet scene with a drunken stupor or dream. That's the fault of the script not the actor but I still didn't find it unpredictable.

The supporting cast is also great. I'll see Amy Adams in anything and in this film she plays Dodd's true believer wife. Laura Dern is good in a small role of a follower. Jesse Plemons (of Friday Night Lights and now Breaking Bad) plays Dodd's son and he should make a career out of playing Phillip Seymour Hoffman's younger self or relatives.

I rarely read Rex Reed anymore but he hated The Master. He begins with "I never cease to be amused by the pile of unmitigated crap that gets shoveled off onto the moviegoing public by pretentious critics." and it just gets more entertaining from there.

Eric Melin's review is the best I read. He comes to this conclusion:

"The climax of The Master is unconventional to say the least. In fact, as it was occurring, I had no idea it was occurring; that this was the turning point for these characters. In The Master, there is no catharsis. Here’s what I realized later: Even when real people are presented with choices, they don’t always work out. That essential turning point—the moment that movies thrive on to give audiences the satisfaction of knowing they’ve seen something important; that something life-changing was accomplished—can come and go in real life. The opportunity could be either ignored or have simply run its course. Essentially, nothing has changed. That’s what The Master reveals. This character study is complex, difficult, and nuanced, and it posits a message that’s wholly antithetical to the moviegoing experience: The core of who you are does not and cannot change. It remains the same throughout your existence, no matter what outside forces you come in contact with."

I don't believe that as a philosophy and it's a generous explanation that that's what Anderson was trying to get across, but it's at least thoughtful. Jeffrey Overstreet goes over the story practically scene by scene in A Long Post-Viewing Conversation. Much as I felt above it gets much more out of the story by thinking it through at length than you do while watching it. I saw the film with a group of nine and it's a more interesting conversation than we had after it.

Given the structure of the film and the title, the important line seems to be: “If you figure a way to live without serving a master… then let the rest of us know, will you? You’d be the first person in the history of the world.” Freddie and Dodd are contrasted but they're very similar. Both have violent streaks that they try to control. Both need each other, one as follower and one as leader. Both make no apologies for who they are but at least put on airs about being something else. You can argue if either lives on their own or follows some master. For Freddie this could be Dodd, himself, or drink. For Dodd it could be himself, his cult, or his wife. I don't think it matters. I don't find the question that interesting and the film didn't make it more interesting to me.

I've seen a couple of interpretations of the last scene. Either it's showing Freddie back in his original state, unchanged by everything or it's showing him improved, happy to be on his own and able to laugh at what he's been through (which at one point Dodd says is the secret of everything). Personally I just though it should have ended with him saying "I was cured all right!"Update: Criticwire collects The Best 'The Master' Reviews So Far.

From that I found this review by Jim Emerson: "While working on this post, I read that, at the Venice Film Festival press conference, Anderson described a work process (not "processing") that resembles Malick's: he wasn't sure what he had, or what the movie was about, when he got into the editing room, but wound up stripping away almost everything that didn't have to do with the relationship between Freddie and Dodd."

Dana Stevens watched it a second and third time. I've only seen it once but I agree with this sentiment:

"But ultimate meaning aside, what made revisiting The Master such a joy was the nuts-and-bolts details of it, the way the film’s many moving parts shifted each time. Scenes that had seemed inscrutable on the first go-round blossomed into sense. Formerly insignificant moments migrated to the foreground, while other scenes that had felt integral suddenly seemed extraneous. This kaleidoscope effect isn’t some magical quality inherent to The Master, of course—it’s what happens when you revisit any work of art that’s formally inventive and thematically rich. But the truth is that such works don’t come along all that often, and part of the fun when they do is to keep on turning the kaleidoscope to see what new patterns emerge."

She then goes into detail about the party scene and what more she got out of repeat views and I'm not impressed.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Republican Job Creation

Republican Job Creation does what I've been wanting to see for a while. Subtitled,"The GOP...Keeping millions unemployed to put one man out of work" it's a list of all that the GOP House has done this year, emphasizing their "relentless focus on creating jobs."

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 IgNobels

I went to the The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony last night. It has the same components each year but it's somehow still fun. Here are the winners:

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan [THE NETHERLANDS] and Tulio Guadalupe [PERU, RUSSIA, and THE NETHERLANDS] for their study "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller"

PEACE PRIZE: The SKN Company [RUSSIA], for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.

ACOUSTICS PRIZE: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada [JAPAN] for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person's speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.

NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Johan Pettersson [SWEDEN and RWANDA]. for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.

LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Joseph Keller [USA], and Raymond Goldstein [USA and UK], Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball [UK], for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail.

FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.

ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti [FRANCE] for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.

I'd heard about the SpeechJammer and fMRI of dead salmon before.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

xkcd: Click and Drag

xkcd: Click and Drag might be responsible for the world taking a break today. It just goes on and on and on...

This is a much easier way to explore it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Romney Fundraiser Speech

This week's news is the video of a high donor fundraiser speech (hosted by Marc Leder, who apparently likes throwing some fun parties) that Mitt Romney gave on May 17. It's really a Q&A and it mostly ends 13 mins into the second part. The rest seems to be him working the room and the background noise is too high to make anything out. Here's the full video from Mother Jones (in two parts).

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what….These are people who pay no income tax.... [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

This article from the not liberal Wall Street Journal gives the best description of The Data Behind Romney’s 47% Comments. Most of the Republican complaints about this I think come from the Tax Policy Center report discussed here, Why Do People Pay No Federal Income Tax?

One thing I find in looking at tax numbers is that it's easy to mix up taxed individuals and taxed households. As Reihan Salam explains, the report uses tax units, which refers "to individuals or to married couples who’ve decided to file a joint tax return, along with their dependents. A multigenerational household might include several tax units, for example."

Here are the two charts that really break it down:

This first one shows why people don't pay income taxes, broken down by income. The top line shows everyone and the red is about the progressive income tax. Notice the bottom (poorest) line is red, these are people who don't make enough to pay taxes. For a family of four that's under $26,000 a year when you include standard deductions. The green is about people who don't pay because of other tax exemptions or credits. Those are broken down in the next graph.

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Again it's broken down by income and the top line summarizes everyone. Notice that about 75% of those that don't pay income taxes because of these exclusions, do so because they're elderly or are getting money to support the children of working poor. Notice too the purple blocks, including that rightmost 20% of the second income bar, that's people making over $100,000 paying no income taxes because of reduced rates on capital gains and dividends.

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And don't forget that the group of people on social security and medicare are by definition seniors, a lot of whom are Republican (they get old too!).

Want a different way to look at it? Here's a breakdown by age by The Hamilton Project.

Taxpayers by age copy

As Matthew O'Brien says "This isn't a story about makers and takers. It's a story about undergraduates and pensioners."

Wonkblog of course had a field day with this. Brad Plumer explains Who doesn’t pay taxes, in eight charts and Who receives government benefits, in six charts. Dylan Matthews points out, Mitt Romney’s tax plan won’t mean more people pay income taxes. "Whatever you think about Romney’s fundraiser remarks, he doesn’t have a plan that corrects the “problem” he’s bemoaning." Suzy Khimm explains How paying no federal income taxes helps the poor get off welfare and into work.

Ezra Klein describes Romney’s theory of the “taker class,” and why it matters

"For what it’s worth, this division of “makers” and “takers” isn’t true. Among the Americans who paid no federal income taxes in 2011, 61 percent paid payroll taxes — which means they have jobs and, when you account for both sides of the payroll tax, they paid 15.3 percent of their income in taxes, which is higher than the 13.9 percent that Romney paid. Another 22 percent were elderly."

"Part of the reason so many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes is that Republicans have passed a series of very large tax cuts that wiped out the income-tax liability for many Americans. That’s why, when you look at graphs of the percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes, you see huge jumps after Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts...Some of those tax cuts for the poor were there to make the tax cuts for the rich more politically palatable...But now that those tax cuts have passed and many fewer Americans are paying federal income taxes and the rich are paying a much higher percentage of federal income taxes, Republicans are arguing that these Americans they have helped free from income taxes have become a dependent and destabilizing “taker” class who want to hike taxes on the rich in order to purchase more social services for themselves. The antidote, as you can see in both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney’s policy platforms, is to further cut taxes on “job creators” while cutting the social services that these takers depend on."

But also, don't lose sight of the fact that Romney is conflating two groups of people. The 46% who pay no federal income taxes and the similar percentage that support Obama. Here's a map listing states by percentage of their population that pay no federal income tax. I bet you recognize that a lot of these are Republican strongholds. Mitt Romney will probably get 95 electoral votes from ‘moocher’ states. Obama will probably get 5.20100524 229 nonpayers map copy

James Kwak points out there's more to the video, The Gift that Keeps on Giving. "Describing his family background, he quipped about his father, “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.” Contending that he is a self-made millionaire who earned his own fortune, Romney insisted, “I have inherited nothing.” He remarked, “There is a perception, ‘Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.’ Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”"

Mark Thoma connects that to one of my favorite Ann Romney lines, discussing her student days: "They were not easy years…Neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock that we could sell off a little at a time. The stock came from Mitt’s father." As Thoma says: "That sounds pretty tough, doesn't it? One of them almost had to get a job! Thank god (or dad) for that stock."

It's nice to see Republicans being unhappy with these remarks. I won't bother quoting him, but David Brooks dubs the GOP nominee Thurston Howell Romney. Even Bill Kristol didn't like Romney's remarks. In his Note on Romney’s Arrogant and Stupid Remarks he compares them to Barack Obama "they cling to guns or religion" quote. Though Salon gives you the full quote to compare it to while disparaging John Sununu's support of Romney, Romeny's shameful surrogates.

Then again, Romney doesn't need surrogates to screw up his defense, he's doing that all by himself. Mitt Romney To Obama: No, You Have A Hidden Video Problem.

Kevin Drum examines What the Secret Romney Video Tells Us About His People Skills. "Outside the business world, his people skills are apparently so poor that even when he's faced with truly harebrained ideas, his only defense is to simply agree. He seems to have no idea how to handle strong-minded people whose support he needs." I'd have to watch the video again to see if I agree with this.

If you're curious how these Republican fundraisers go, BloombergBusinessweek recently reported, Inside Karl Rove's Billionaire Fundraiser Also in July, Matt Bai wrote How Much Has Citizens United Changed the Political Game?

And of course, The Onion had fun, Romney Apologizes To Nation's 150 Million 'Starving, Filthy Beggars'.

Journalism and the Truth

The debate at the New York Times about whether the role of journalism should just to be echo both sides of a debate or to include actual facts continues. Digby writes The truth is not a core issue.

Apparently some people think that of "all the news that's fit to print" half of it is wrong.

The Upcoming Debates

James Fallows wrote in The Atlantic, Slugfest. "This year’s presidential debates could have as decisive an effect on the election outcome as any since 1980, if not 1960. Mitt Romney brings formidable advantages to the contests—but he has one big weakness that President Obama can exploit."

My sense is that much of the election season so far has been a wash. Romney isn't doing well and Obama got a good bump from his convention but its subsiding a little as such things do. Most people and I assume most undecided haven't been paying much attention and some will start in two weeks with the debates and others will wait until election day. Nate Silver still gives Obama a 75% chance of winning, so I'm happy with that.

Fallows says Romney prepares well for debates, but there's also the narrative that Romney prepares well for everything and his campaign has not been showing that lately. My sense of Romney from the primaries is that he was really good at coming in second. He only won because no one else was good at coming in first for more than a couple of weeks. I suspect Obama will do a lot better than any of the former GOP frontrunners. Particularly if he uses Clinton's convention speech as a template.

I have no idea what's going to happen in the Vice Presidential debate. Ryan will probably pull out lots of incorrect facts as he did in his speech and Biden will flub a few things but score some zingers. I suspect that will be more entertaining but less significant.

The Boy in the Bubble

The boy in the bubble is a nice profile on one of my favorite (and most linked to) journalists, Ezra Klein.

Frank Rich's Embed in Red

Frank Rich has an interesting article in New York Magazine, My Embed in Red. "I had tuned in as part of a thought experiment then entering its final lap: an attempt to put myself in the Republican brain by spending a solid week listening to, watching, reading, surfing, and otherwise gorging on conservative media. As would also be true of an overdose of liberal media, it was lulling me into a stupor, and I was desperate for a jolt."

"Either way, I finished the week with sympathy for true believers on the right who are far more divorced from their own political party and the nation’s culture than even those on the left who are perennially disillusioned by Obama, the Democratic hierarchy, and their own journalistic Establishment. That anger is certain to rage long past Election Day, and if I learned anything in my week strolling around the conservative mind, it was that anyone who sticks to an exclusive diet of lamestream media is missing the news."

The article is a little all over the place but I'm not too surprised by the point. The Republican party is getting fractured. The far right really isn't happy with the Republican establishment. The only thing they liked in the convention was Clint Eastwood. It doesn't surprise me because there Eric Cantor does represent a sizable constituency and his clashes with Boehner are representative. The far right isn't going to vote Democratic any time soon, but wouldn't it be nice to see the party seriously splinter?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Melancholia and Tree of Life

Points of Light is a really interesting analysis of two of the more challenging films from 2011, Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. I agree with his conclusions though I didn't enjoy Melancholia. I only saw Tree of Life once and have it sitting on my TiVo, I think that second viewing is starting...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Around the Solar System

I wasn't going to post another selection of space photos, but these are amazing, Around the Solar System. "Robotic probes launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and others are gathering information all across the solar system. We currently have spacecraft in orbit around the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn -- and one new rover recently landed on Mars. Several others are on their way to smaller bodies, and a few are heading out of the solar system entirely. Although the Space Shuttle no longer flies, astronauts are still at work aboard the International Space Station, performing experiments and sending back amazing photos. With all these eyes in the sky, I'd like to take another opportunity to put together a recent photo album of our solar system -- a set of family portraits, of sorts -- as seen by our astronauts and mechanical emissaries. This time, we have some great shots from the new Mars rover Curiosity, a parting shot of the asteroid Vesta, some glimpses of Saturn and its moons, and lovely images of our home, planet Earth. [33 photos]"

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When You Learn They’re Not Ready

If this is all true, it's pretty embarrassing for Romney When You Learn They’re Not Ready.

Glenn Greenwald has more interesting (and challenging) comments, The tragic consulate killings in Libya and America's hierarchy of human life.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Is Killed

I woke up and watched the CBS morning show and heard of the killing of the US Ambassador in Libya. They said it was over a movie made that mocked Islam but weren't specific about it.

This Wall Street Journal article was informative, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Is Killed. The CBS report completely left out any mention of official Libyan response. From the WSJ:

"Libyan officials spent the night in a manhunt trying to find those responsible for the killings that occurred when an angry armed mob attacked the diplomatic complex in an apparent protest against an anti-Islamic video created and produced by an American-Israeli real-estate developer."

"Libyan officials, many of whom led the rebel government based in Benghazi and worked with Mr. Stevens during that time, also condemned the killing. The head of the new congress, Mohammed Magarief, apologized to the American public for the tragedy. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, called the killing 'an attack on America, Libya and the free world.' By midday Wednesday, no one had been arrested for the violence or the deaths, and officials in Tripoli were scrambling to plot a response to what they admitted was a monumental security breach.

Libya's new government has struggled to impose its authority on a myriad of armed gangs and former rebel brigades that remain armed and act outside of the law. New security officials have had mixed success in implementing a plan whereby former rebels would be disbanded from their old brigades and given jobs as part of the new national army, defense forces and border guards."

This is apparently the trailer for the movie. It's amateurish and at least for me unwatchable, and I can't conceive of getting angry enough to storm an embassy over it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Moyers & Company: What It's Like to Go to War

I fell behind on watching Bill Moyers. What It's Like to Go to War was aired July 29th and it's typical Moyers. A fascinating conversation that goes on for an hour that you can't turn away from, and you wonder why there's no other show like this on TV.

"America has been at war for over a decade now, with millions of soldiers having seen death and dying up close in Afghanistan and Iraq. But most Americans, watching comfortably on their TVs and computers, witness mostly to statistics, stump speeches, and ‘expert’ rhetoric, don’t get what’s really going on there. Bill talks to Karl Marlantes — a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor — about what we on the insulated outside need to understand about the minds and hearts of our modern warriors. Marlantes shares with Bill intimate stories about how his battlefield experiences both shaped and nearly destroyed him, even after returning to civilian life."

The full episode is online.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Democratic National Convention

I watched some of the DNC but not too much, mostly just Clinton and Obama. I've seen clips of Elizabeth Warren, Michelle Obama, and Joe Biden. Other posts cover Clinton's epic speech, here are some articles I've found on the of the DNC: Democratic Disinformation from Charlotte lists what strike me as some political exaggerations made by several speakers. Still Dems (and Reps) shouldn't do this and should be called out for it.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post Fact checking the opening night of the Democratic convention. I didn't know this about Ryan's updated voucher plan for Medicare, "In the updated Ryan plan, Medicare spending would be permitted to grow slightly faster than the nation’s economy — in fact, at the same growth rate as Obama’s budget for Medicare." Sarah Kliff has a little more on this making it confusing, at the time of Ryan's old plan Romney said he was on the same page, but when Romney released his plan it was different.

Dylan Matthews of Wonkblog, Deval Patrick slammed Mitt Romney last night. But do his facts check out?. The answer is mostly yes, though they found three items that were false. says Day 2: More Convention Canards but the four items listed are all shades of grey. Two of them are valid readings of the language of the GOP policy documents while the authors stated views are different.

Still some fact checkers got some things wrong, and digby called them out on it, Fact check follies and Fact Check please.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post ranks Democratic National Convention Night 2: Winners and Losers.

Day 3 ended with speeches by Biden and Obama. FactChecking Obama and Biden. NPR lists some others, Fact Checkers Ding Obama And Biden For Some Spinning. But none of these come across to me as serious as most of what Ryan said. WonkBlog on Fact-checking Obama's Speech also found little to complain about.

Kevin Drum wonders Did Obama Phone It In? "Overall, it was a decent wrapup. It was a decent defense of his first term. It was a decent appeal for votes. But there was nothing memorable, nothing forward looking, and nothing that drew a contrast with Romney in sharp, gut-level strokes. Obama was, to be charitable, no more than the third best of the Democratic convention's prime time speakers in 2012."

Ezra Klein says President Obama’s agenda: A return to political normalcy. "If you looked past the rhetoric and focused just on the policy, this was a modest speech. It was a more humble vision. What President Obama offered the country on the final night of the Democratic convention was reminiscent of what Warren G. Harding offered almost a century ago: A return to normalcy after a long period of emergency."

"In its primetime hours, this was a convention pitched to a country exhausted of politics and crises and fighting. Michelle Obama’s testament to her husband’s character, Bill Clinton’s defense of his record, Joe Biden’s admiring retelling of his steely approach to tough decisions, and, finally, President Obama’s detailing of his vision were all trying to do the same thing: Give voters who fundamentally like and trust Obama permission to vote for him again, even if they don’t feel the way they did about him in 2008."

But of course Obama's speech could have been overshadowed by the Friday jobs report which wasn't good. Here it is in five – nay, six! – charts.

Still while it's early, Nate Silver says there might have been a bounce, Conventions May Put Obama in Front-Runner’s Position. "But on Friday, I wrote that Mr. Obama might eventually hold about a five-point lead over Mr. Romney once the tracking polls fully rolled over to post-convention data. Now it looks like his advantage could potentially be a bit larger than that, depending on how long the bounce holds. Despite a mediocre jobs report on Friday, there were no signs in the polls that Mr. Obama’s bounce had immediately receded, as he gained further ground in the surveys that were released on Saturday."

And he adds this which surprised me "In fact, Mr. Romney has never held a lead over Mr. Obama by any substantive margin in the polls."

More on Bill Clinton at the DNC

I've already written a little about Bill Clinton's Speech but here's some more:

My favorite article was about Clinton, Our Clinton Nightmare. "Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about. Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out."

Ezra Klein wrote about Clinton's claims about Obama's $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. Sarah Kilff on Fact-checking Bill Clinton on Medicare, again she finds him mostly accurate. Dylan Matthews on Fact-checking Bill Clinton on the economy counts 19 True, 7 True with a but, 1 false. The false is about structural changes in the economy accounting for job loses (people don't have the right skills for the new jobs). This is a conservative talking point about the recession. Here's more on this, Bill Clinton says the unemployed don’t have the right skills. It’s not so.

Kevin Drum concludes "Republicans will dutifully attack back, but really, most of them are probably just shaking their heads and wishing they had someone like him in their party."

Ezra Klein called Clinton wonk-in-chief. "Tonight, his role was wonk-in-chief, and he was trying to persuade the public of an old idea: That the best way to understand this election is to simply do the arithmetic. And so, for 48 minutes, that’s pretty much what he did. The question now is whether the Romney campaign can persuade voters that there’s a mistake in Clinton’s math."

digby says "The best thing about the speech wasn't the content, although much of that (with some exceptions) was good, it was the fact that he showed America once again that you can talk about policy specifics in a political speech in a way that's not condescending but is easy to understand. Nobody thinks it's possible, but he does it. More politicians should try."

James Fallows says Why Bill Clinton's Speeches Succeed, "Because he treats listeners as if they are smart." and he compares it to sports talk. "Different people have different natural modes for their speech, and not many people can pull it off just the way Clinton does. But Clinton reminds us of the value (and rarity) of this tone in politics -- and the next time you listen to a sports-talk channel, think how much better our political discussion would be if participants assumed as much sophistication about argument as ESPN and radio-talk hosts do. "

Molly Ball said "But the strength of his speech came in its efforts to persuade. Clinton made arguments. He talked through his reasoning. He went point by point through the case he wanted to make. He kept telling the audience he was talking to them and he wanted them to listen. In an age when so many political speeches are pure acts of rhetoric, full of stirring sentiments but utterly devoid of informational value -- when trying to win people over to your point of view is cynically assumed to be futile, so you settle for riling them up instead -- Clinton's felt like a whole different thing. In an era of detergent commercials, he delivered a real political speech."

Sarah Kliff shows Bill Clinton’s speech (in graphs). It's mostly about the length but there's a word cloud too if you like those sorts of things. My favorite was this:

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The Daily Show on FNC Coverage of RNC and DNC

Friday, September 07, 2012

Obama and Romney Tackle 14 Top Science Questions

Obama and Romney Tackle 14 Top Science Questions "Scientific American partnered with grassroots organization earlier this summer to encourage the two main presidential candidates--Barack Obama and Mitt Romney--to answer 14 questions on some of the biggest scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. President Obama and Governor Romney have now answered these Top American Science Questions, which you can read below."

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Wachowskis’ World beyond “The Matrix”

The New Yorker has a great and long story about The Wachowskis’ World beyond “The Matrix”. Their new movie, Cloud Atlas opens October 26 and it looks to be challenging and perhaps amazing. My favorite quote from the article, from Lana Wachowski is "Originality cannot be economically modelled".

Lucky Us: Toilet Paper Priced Like Airline Tickets?

Lucky Us: Toilet Paper Priced Like Airline Tickets? "Lucky us! The horror that is airline ticket purchasing
brought to everyday items."

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Bill Clinton's Speech

Wow! Why can't any other Democrat politician make the case even half as effectively. I knew all these things. I read them from Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein. I read them and more in Clinton's book. And still, no one else counters the attacks and builds it into a convincing argument. He even got his facts almost completely right (and often when he didn't, he was giving the Republicans too much credit) and managed to ad lib some of his most memorable lines (here's a transcript of the prepared text).

NASA - A Rover's Journey Begins

NASA - A Rover's Journey Begins "Tracks from the first drives of NASA's Curiosity rover are visible in this image captured by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover is seen where the tracks end. The image's color has been enhanced to show the surface details better.

The two marks seen near the site where the rover landed formed when reddish surface dust was blown away by the rover's descent stage, revealing darker basaltic sands underneath. Similarly, the tracks appear darker where the rover's wheels disturbed the top layer of dust. "

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More pics here.

Fair and Balanced

This is just hilarious. TPM documents Krauthammer: DNC Has Known Thursday's Weather For 'Months' "Fox News analyst Charles Krauthammer claimed Wednesday that there was no way officials moved President Barack Obama's speech indoors due to concerns about the weather, saying Democrats have known what Thursday's weather will be for 'months.'"

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Romney And Abortion

This NPR story Romney And Abortion: Another Shift In The Works? does a pretty good job of summarizing the various positions Romney's had on the issue. It also points out how crazy the discussion has become. It's a big deal in the debate if he adds just one word "health" to the list of exceptions.

Now it's true that it is significant, but it just seems like this argument has been going on since the 70s and things have now been coded into sound bites that require too much to parse. "The health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it," said Ryan on the House floor during a debate in 2000. A right winger once told me that the problem is that it includes "mental health" which is used to justify abortion on demand at any stage of the pregnancy. The article points out that conditions like diabetes and breast cancer come up too and can seriously complicate a pregnancy. And for those reasons I think the state really should stay out of it and let the woman and her doctor (and in cases where it's a good relationship) and the father make the decision (how libertarian of me).

There's a real moral question on this issue, I get that. But by having to parse individual words like "health" or "legitimate" we just avoid having the conversation. It's a difficult issue to poll because of the wording but results are pretty consistent. 20% think abortion should never be legal, 20% think it should always be legal and the rest, 60% think it should be legal in some circumstances, rape, incest and life of the mother being the most obvious. Sometimes I've seen it as 30-30-40 but it's still similar. But if you ask if a cancer patient, getting chemo, who accidentally gets pregnant should be able to decide whether to carry the baby to term, I bet most people would allow the choice or at least not want the state to make the decision for her and certainly not put her in jail if she gets one illegally. I think if these things were spelled out instead of coded, more people would be obviously supportive of abortion rights. By the polls only 20-30% want it illegal in all circumstances, that means 70-80% want it legal in some.

I'd really like a constitutional amendment to settle this once and for all. It's too much of a litmus test for politicians and Supreme Court justices (and by the way, in March Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 80 and Scalia turns 77 and in July so does Kennedy). Let's spell out what the exceptions are, debate it, and move it on already.

Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital

Matt Taibbi has another long political article, Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. Like many of his others I found it a very entertaining read even if it did conflate a few things (watch the dates of the examples he gives) and ascribe the worst possible motive to every action. Still he really knows how to turn a phrase.

"Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describe America's federal borrowing. 'A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation,' he declared. 'Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love.' Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it's going to burn our children alive.

And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a 'turnaround specialist,' a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House."

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Transcript: Julian Castro's DNC Keynote Address : NPR

I didn't watch the convention tonight but I did read NPR's Transcript: Julian Castro's DNC Keynote Address and I liked what I read. This nicely gets to the heart of the debate:

"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn't get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. 'Start a business,' he said. But how? 'Borrow money if you have to from your parents,' he told them. Gee, why didn't I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn't determine whether you can pursue your dreams. I don't think Governor Romney meant any harm. I think he's a good guy. He just has no idea how good he's had it.

We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don't accept is the idea that some folks won't even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that's exactly what they're promising us.

The Romney-Ryan budget doesn't just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training.

It doesn't just pummel the middle class—it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class. When it comes to getting the middle class back to work, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to respecting women's rights, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, 'No.' When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, 'No.'

Actually, Mitt Romney said, 'Yes,' and now he says, 'No.' Governor Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain't pretty. So here's what we're going to say to Mitt Romney. We're going to say, 'No.'

Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it. Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.

Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too. Folks, we've heard that before. First they called it 'trickle-down.' Then 'supply-side.' Now it's 'Romney-Ryan.' Or is it 'Ryan-Romney'? Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price.

Mitt Romney just doesn't get it. But Barack Obama gets it. He understands that when we invest in people we're investing in our shared prosperity. And when we neglect that responsibility, we risk our promise as a nation. Just a few years ago, families that had never asked for anything found themselves at risk of losing everything. And the dream my grandmother held, that work would be rewarded, that the middle class would be there, if not for her, then for her children—that dream was being crushed.

But then President Obama took office—and he took action. When Detroit was in trouble, President Obama saved the auto industry and saved a million jobs. Seven presidents before him—Democrats and Republicans—tried to expand health care to all Americans. President Obama got it done. He made a historic investment to lift our nation's public schools and expanded Pell grants so that more young people can afford college. And because he knows that we don't have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.

I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it's time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they've ever called home: America.

Four years ago, America stood on the brink of a depression. Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action, and now we've seen 4.5 million new jobs. He knows better than anyone that there's more hard work to do, but we're making progress. And now we need to make a choice.

It's a choice between a country where the middle class pays more so that millionaires can pay less—or a country where everybody pays their fair share, so we can reduce the deficit and create the jobs of the future. It's a choice between a nation that slashes funding for our schools and guts Pell grants—or a nation that invests more in education. It's a choice between a politician who rewards companies that ship American jobs overseas—or a leader who brings jobs back home."

Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante? Obviously!

Nine months after the New York Times public editor wondered Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante? the new public editor says "Whatever the conclusions, whatever the effectiveness, of challenging facts, the idea that we have to debate the necessity of doing so strikes me as absurd." That's progress. Facts, Truth … and May the Best Man Win

How's That GOP Convention Bounce?

Kevin Drum on The Incredible Vanishing GOP Convention Bounce. "What I found most interesting is that aside from two outliers with gigantic bounces, every convention has produced a bounce of about 15 percentage points. Every convention, that is, until you get to Republican conventions in the Bush era and beyond. Ever since W stamped his imprint on the GOP, their convention bounces have been nearly invisible. Apparently, putting themselves on display to the American public simply doesn't make a positive impression anymore."


"In other news, Gallup reports that Romney's acceptance speech was the most poorly received of any speech since they started keeping track in 1996. In fact, it wasn't even close. The net positive rating for Romney was nine points lower than the previous worst speaker (John McCain) and a full 13 points lower than the pre-Romney average. Ouch."

Ezra Klein has the tables in Gallup: The Republican Convention was a bust

Nate Silver tackles the 'Are you better of than you were four years ago' question, In Looking Back Four Years, Voters Have Short Memories. "It’s a smart question for Mitt Romney’s campaign to be asking, and one that President Obama needs to develop a better answer to. Still, it’s probably best not to take the question literally. If voters did, Mr. Reagan might never have been elected."

"But Mr. Obama’s fate could hinge on the last three months of jobs numbers — including the report on Friday, which will come the morning after his speech to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. Talk about accidents of timing: Mr. Obama’s words in Charlotte are suddenly going to seem a lot more inspired if the next morning we find out that 200,000 jobs had been added in September. If the employment report is a dud instead, his speech will seem much emptier, both to pundits and to voters. But it will be the recent news that they are thinking about — not what happened four years ago. The question that voters have been more inclined to ask in past elections is this one: what have you done for me lately?"

Paul Krugman is less happy with the question, The Fire Last Time. "Obama came to office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The question should be how well he dealt with that crisis — and in particular whether the man seeking to replace him would have done better." He shows two graphs: real GDP per capita and the ratio of employment to population:


I really don't understand why the Obama team is blowing the answer. The answer is yes we're doing better and we could be doing better still. We need to invest in the economy and not fall into the austerity trap that Europe has.

‘Visual Strategies’ Transforms Data Into Art That Speaks

The New York Times reviews ‘Visual Strategies’ Transforms Data Into Art That Speaks.

"Now Felice C. Frankel and Angela H. DePace are offering some help. They bill their new book, ‘Visual Strategies,’ as a guide to graphics for scientists and engineers, but it will be useful for anyone who wants to make clear presentations of data of any kind.

‘Images engage us in ways that words cannot,’ they write. But they add that creating a graphic is like writing an article. You must plan what to say, in what order, with what details. The message of this book is that the extra effort is well worth it.

The book offers general guidelines, with illustrative graphics, and many real-life case studies. The authors show how they would improve actual graphics, and they invite improvements to their improvements on their Web site,"


What If answers "What would the world be like if the land masses were spread out the same way as now - only rotated by an angle of 90 degrees?" I love how much you can learn from these.


Republicans Are Wrong on Call for Gold Standard

Bruce Bartlett in the New York Times, Republicans Are Wrong on Call for Gold Standard.

"The Gold Commission issued its report in March 1982. It said that most members of the commission ‘believe that a return to the gold standard is not desirable.’ Of the commission members, only Mr. Lehrman and Mr. Paul dissented and recommended its re-establishment.

Even before that, however, the Reagan administration had signaled its negative position on any return to a gold standard in the Economic Report of the President, issued in February (starting on Page 69). The gist of its objection was that while a gold standard provided stable purchasing power over long periods of time, that was only because inflations were subsequently offset with debilitating deflations. As a consequence, there were greater economic instabilities, higher unemployment and longer recessions during the gold-standard era.

Economists today generally believe that the gold standard exacerbated the Great Depression. They note that those countries that went off it first in the 1930s were the first to recover. A survey of a panel of 41 prominent economists earlier this year by the University of Chicago business school found no support for a gold standard, including by those who had served in Republican administrations, including Edward P. Lazear of Stanford and Richard Schmalensee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Monday, September 03, 2012

A Reformed Climate Skeptic Sadly Not Convincing Anyone

Kevin Drum wrote in late July, Global Warming: "Humans Are Almost Entirely the Cause".

"Climate skeptic Richard Muller, who started up the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature in 2010 in order to get at the real truth of climate change, last year published preliminary results showing that the climate establishment was right after all. Global temperatures really have been going up dramatically over the past century. Today he says more: I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

Here's Muller's op-ed from July 28th, The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic and here's the results summary from his website.

Sadly it's been over a month and I haven't seen anything else about this. Not surprisingly, Muller seems to have convinced no one. Scientists and anyone who listens to reason knew this. Deniers still deny.

The Hobbled Recovery

Krugman from late July, The Hobbled Recovery. "This isn’t a picture of an economy hobbled by Big Government; it’s a picture of an economy hobbled by premature austerity."


Republican National Convention

I didn't watch the convention. I figured it would just annoy me and I'd be able to catch anything interesting online afterwards. I also figured I'd prefer reading articles and fact checks. The only thing I caught live was most of Clint Eastwood's speech after seeing tweets from Chris Hayes. So here are the better articles I saw:

Ezra Klein, Republican National Convention: Five thoughts on day one. He found it small-minded ("we built that"), dishonest ("We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers"), incoherent (Ann Romney talking about love, Chris Christie speaking against it), and ultimately meaningless.

He adds Wonkbook: Everything you need to know about day one of the Republican National Convention With some quotes and quick reactions to the various speeches.

Dylan Matthews, Republicans hate Obama’s defense cuts. The trouble is, they voted for them. "In his speech tonight, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decried Obama for cutting defense, saying, “We can’t afford another $500 billion in cuts to our defense budget — on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making…And yet, the president is playing no leadership role in preventing this crippling blow to our military." There’s just one problem: John McCain, and most other Republicans in the House and Senate, voted for the cuts in question.... So attacking Obama for taking “no leadership role” in reversing the cuts is a bit strange. He can’t reduce the cuts. Congress can."

Ezra Klein, A very strange argument for Mitt Romney. Chris Christie and Paul Ryan basically said the same thing, we need leaders who make tough choices and don't compromise their principles based on polls. But Klein points out how poorly this description matches Mitt Romney.

"Here is what Romney, so far in this campaign, has said. No changes to any entitlement programs for any seniors for the next 10 years. No specifics on how quickly his Medicare vouchers will grow for future seniors. No specifics on which tax breaks he’ll eliminate in order to offset the multi-trillion dollar cost of his tax cuts. No specific plan naming the cuts he’ll make to reach his $7 trillion target. No specifics on how he’ll equalize tax treatment of employer and individual health care. It is a campaign based on the principle of “not us, not now. “Real leaders do not follow polls,” Christie continued. “Real leaders change polls. And perhaps they do. But so far, the Romney campaign appears to have followed quite a number of polls."

And of course there was a lot about fact-checking Paul Ryan's speech. Let's start with
  • "Accused President Obama’s health care law of funneling money away from Medicare “at the expense of the elderly.” In fact, Medicare’s chief actuary says the law “substantially improves” the system’s finances, and Ryan himself has embraced the same savings.
  • Accused Obama of doing “exactly nothing” about recommendations of a bipartisan deficit commission — which Ryan himself helped scuttle.
  • Claimed the American people were “cut out” of stimulus spending. Actually, more than a quarter of all stimulus dollars went for tax relief for workers.
  • Faulted Obama for failing to deliver a 2008 campaign promise to keep a Wisconsin plant open. It closed less than a month before Obama took office.
  • Blamed Obama for the loss of a AAA credit rating for the U.S. Actually, Standard & Poor’s blamed the downgrade on the uncompromising stands of both Republicans and Democrats."

These five things are repeated and expanded on by Dan Amira, David Weigel, and Jonathan Cohn. Dylan Matthews lists a few more things wrong with Ryan's speech, The true, the false, and the misleading: Grading Paul Ryan’s convention speech. Kevin Drum thinks We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying.

Ezra Klein goes much further in A not-very-truthful speech in a not-very-truthful campaign which is really worth reading in its entirety.

"But Ryan’s claims weren’t even arguably true. You simply can’t say the president hasn’t released a deficit reduction plan. The plan is right here. You simply can’t say the president broke his promise to keep your GM plant open. The decision to close the plant was made before he entered office — and, by the way, the guy at the top of your ticket opposed the auto bailout. You simply can’t argue that the Affordable Care Act was a government takeover of the health-care system. My doctor still works for Kaiser Permanente, a private company that the government does not own. You simply can’t say that Obama, who was willing to follow historical precedent and sign a clean debt ceiling increase, caused the S&P downgrade, when S&P clearly said it was due to congressional gridlock and even wrote that it was partly due to the GOP’s dogmatic position on taxes.

Oh, and here’s one we missed: “You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation, and nothing else, his first order of economic business. But this president didn’t do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care.” The stimulus — which was the administration’s major job creation package — came before health care. It was their first priority. That’s simply inarguable.

After rereading Ryan’s speech, I went back to Sarah Palin’s 2008 convention address. Perhaps, I thought, this is how these speeches always are. But Palin’s criticisms, agree or disagree, held up. “This is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform — not even in the state Senate.” True. She accused Obama of wanting to “make government bigger” and of intending to “take more of your money.” That’s not how the Obama campaign would have explained its intentions, but the facts are the facts, and they did have plans to grow the size of government and raise more in tax revenues. Palin said that “terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay” and “he wants to meet them without preconditions,” which was true enough."

"All this is true irrespective of your beliefs as to what is good and bad policy, or which ticket you prefer. Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them — as the Tax Policy Center did when they granted the Romney campaign a slew of essentially impossible premises in order to evaluate their tax plan — you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true."

Ed Kilgore and James Fallows have followup thoughts in Blazing New Trails and Paul Ryan and the Post-Truth Convention Speech respectively.

And then there was Clint Eastwood. As I said, I caught the end of it and I couldn't tell if he was drunk or senile. It was odd and sad. It's certainly the case that the next day people were talking about Eastwood's speech and not Romney's, which is exactly what shouldn't have happened. And then the Romney campaign threw him under the bus. Tom Scocca wrote The Assassination of Clint Eastwood by the Coward Mitt Romney.

"Eastwood's remarks, aides reportedly told the Times, were not rehearsed. That whole business of haranguing an invisible Obama, represented by an empty chair? "Initially, there were no plans for Mr. Eastwood to take a chair onstage as a prop. But at the last minute, the actor asked the production staff backstage if he could use one, but did not explain why. 'The prop person probably thought he was going to sit in it,' a senior aide said."

Again, this is the campaign's defense: In advance of the candidate's biggest public speech to date, at the climax of a tightly orchestrated multiple-day political performance, Team Romney sent an actor out to wing it on national television. They screwed up the un-screwuppable. This was like having one of the featured guests at the State of the Union drop his trousers on camera. If you botch that, how are you going to execute the more complicated constitutional duties? Mitt Romney can't handle Clint Eastwood trying to do him a favor, and he wants to take on unfriendly negotiations with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin?"

And then came Romney's speech. said, "In a speech heavy on anecdotal history but short on policy details, Mitt Romney avoided major falsehoods in making his case to the American public while accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention...In Romney’s case, we found a few bits of exaggeration and puffery. He exaggerated the loss in family income that has occurred under Obama, for example, including 13 months of losses that actually occurred before the president took office. And he made a back-handed accusation that Obama has raised taxes on middle-class taxpayers, when in fact the president has lobbied for and signed several temporary reductions."

Ezra Klein wondered Romney’s speech: Where was the policy?

"1. We heard precious little about Mitt Romney’s plans for the country. By my count, Barack Obama’s 2008 convention speech spent 768 words describing his domestic and economic policies. Romney’s speech spent 260 words. There was almost no mention — and absolutely no description — of his budget, tax, health care or Medicare plans.

2. The only policy idea he described in any detail was his five-point plan “to create 12 million new jobs.” The plan is more domestic energy production, more free trade agreements, more skills development, more deficit reduction, and cutting taxes and regulations. It is difficult to see how these policies — most of which would take some time to work — would address the jobs crisis we’re in right now. But perhaps they don’t have to. Romney’s target of 12 million jobs over the next four years happens to be the same number of jobs the economic forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics expects us to add even without major policy changes.

6. Romney’s speech included a number of riffs at odds with his policies. For instance: “Nearly one out of six Americans is living in poverty. Look around you. These are not strangers. These are our brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans.” There is simply no way, given the nature of Romney’s budget promises, that programs for the poor won’t be slashed to the bone. Similarly, he spent some time extolling the virtues of NASA, but it’s also hard to imagine that program surviving the 40 percent cut to all non-Medicare, non-Social Security, non-defense spending that Romney’s budget envisions.

11. All in all, Romney’s speech was…fine. I doubt he did himself any harm. And I’m sure he’ll get some sort of a convention bump. But it felt like a missed opportunity for him to close the deal. The American people already know that they’re not happy with the economy. Tonight was Romney’s chance to persuade them that he has a better way. But his speech really didn’t even try to do that."

Nate Silver said In Prudent Speech, Romney Seeks Role as Generic Republican. "Instead, in accepting the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney delivered a mostly well-written and reasonably well-delivered speech — but one that largely avoided policy substance or sweeping narrative, instead seeking to turn the election back into a referendum on President Obama."

"Instead, Mr. Romney’s strategy was pretty clear. He was seeking to fulfill the role of the generic Republican — a safe and unobjectionable alternative with a nice family and a nice career – and whose main credential is that he is not Mr. Obama, the Democratic president with tepid approval ratings and middling economic numbers."

While I would think a poll tested and approved speech would be damning to Republicans, I find Mike Konczal's analysis much more scathing, Romney Will Solve the Crisis with the Exact Same GOP Plan of 2008, 2006, 2004....

"So on August 30th, 2012, with unemployment at 8.3 percent and with a serious long-term unemployment problem, Mitt Romney gives the RNC acceptance speech. He outlines a plan to create 12 million jobs in the next four years. As Jared Bernstein pointed out, that's what Moody's says will be created anyway. But forget that. How will Mitt Romney do this? He has a five point plan...So his plan focuses on domestic energy production, school choice, trade agreements, cutting spending, and reducing taxes and regulations. This must be a set of priorities reflecting our terrifying moment of mass unemployment, right?"

Konczal then compares it to McCain's speech in 2008, Bush's speech in 2004 and Bush's State of the Union in 2006.

"But the same exact playbook is there in 2006, as it was in 2004 and 2008, and as it is in 2012. Domestic oil production, school choice, trade agreements, cut spending and reduce taxes and regulations -- it's been the conservative answer to times of deep economic stress, times of economic recovery, times of economic worries, and times of economic panic. Which is another way of saying that the Republicans have no plan for how to actually deal with this specific crisis we face."

The Washington Post makes available The full Republican platform and Ezra Klein explains Why you should read the Republican Party platform.

"The Republican platform takes up a consequential 62 pages. The section on economic recovery, for example, is quite detailed about the party’s reigning philosophy of economic growth and how to achieve it. The main problem it cites is too much government; the solution is to cut spending, cut regulations and unleash the private sector to perform its wonders...What’s notable about this is how unrelated it is to our current predicament....The virtue of these [other] theories is that each addresses what’s actually happening in the labor market — why unemployment is above 8 percent today when it was below 6 percent just a few years ago. The Republican Party’s explanation doesn’t. In fact, long-run projections of the size of government are not very different today than they were before Obama became president, and the economy began tanking well before the Republicans were out of power."

It's a 62 page pdf and not a short read. I'll get to it later this week, in the mean time Brad Plumer points out The 10 oddest items in the GOP platform.

Talking Crap in Holland v America

The Economist had a really interesting article, Fact-checkers: Talking crap in Holland v America. "The entire front page of the Volkskrant, one of the three top Dutch newspapers, is taken up today by an article about the misleading statements and inaccuracies in Paul Ryan's convention speech on Wednesday"

"The Dutch have a system intended to avoid the sort of fact-free insult-hurling that has plagued America's presidential race this year. The discussion in America over the rival candidates' budget plans has taken place in a vague and undefined discursive space, largely because the Romney-Ryan campaign does not actually have a budget plan. Mr Romney says he will keep the Bush tax cuts, slash income tax rates across the board by 20%, eliminate capital-gains tax for income under $100,000 per year, maintain defence spending, restore the $716 billion over ten years which the Obama (and Ryan) budget would have cut from Medicare outlays, and shrink the budget deficit by closing tax preferences, none of which he specifies. This doesn't add up, as the Center for Tax Policy found last month, but it's hard to say just how it will fail to add up, because Mr Romney has no item-by-item budget plan; we really have no idea how much he proposes to spend if he's elected.

In the Dutch electoral system, this can't happen. Two months before the elections, every political party is expected to submit a detailed budget plan to a non-partisan agency called the Central Plan Bureau (CPB), which plays a role similar to the Congressional Budget Office in America. The CPB produces an analysis of the economic consequences of those budget plans. The effects are assessed in detail for 2013-2017, and there's also a prognosis for 2040 to discourage parties from larding up their budgets with short-term candy that leads to negative long-term consequences."

"The point is, it is simply impossible, in the Netherlands, for a political party to end up systematically ignoring math and accounting the way the Republicans have at least since George Bush's campaign in 2000.

Could we institute something like this in America? No. We can't. The reason is that in America, there are only two significant political parties. It's impossible for a neutral arbiter to preserve its public legitimacy when ruling on subjects of partisan dispute in an election if there are only two disputing parties. Neither side will accept the referee's judgments. The reason it works, for the moment, in the Netherlands is that there are currently ten parties represented in parliament, four to six of which are major contenders. That spreads the political polarities out in different directions and creates more space for neutrality."

It always come back to Federalist Paper #10. In a post-Citizen's United age (really a post-swift boat age) I've wondered how to combat lies in political speech. In other contexts slander and libel laws might help, but they don't in politics, political speech is protected and there isn't time to sue before the damage is done in an election. I do like the Dutch idea and think it would be better than what we have now.

Everything you know about Paul Ryan’s budget is (probably) wrong

Ezra Klein, Everything you know about Paul Ryan’s budget is (probably) wrongRyan budget cbo corrected

"But the biggest category of cuts isn’t to Medicaid or Medicare. It’s to everything else, which includes defense spending, infrastructure, education and training, farm subsidies, income supports, veteran’s benefits, retraining, basic research, the federal workforce and much, much more. This category of spending takes cut almost as large as the cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Obamacare combined.

The thing about these cuts is that they’re not really thought through. Ryan hasn’t said which programs they’ll hit. And he doesn’t have some theory about how we can spend less and get more, as he does for Medicare with his voucher plan. He’s just slashing things to make his numbers add up. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ran the numbers and said two-thirds of Ryan’s cuts will end up falling on programs for the poor.

The reason he’s got to do that is that Ryan doesn’t raise taxes. But here’s the magic trick of Ryan’s budget, and this is really important. Ryan extends all the Bush tax cuts, and then he adds a bunch of new tax cuts costing more than $4.5 trillion. So how does he pay for them?

He doesn’t. But he told Congress’s budget guys to assume he’d figure out how to pay for them later. To pay for those, you’d need to eliminate almost everything else in the tax code — the home mortgage interest deduction, the Child Tax Credit, the deduction for state and local taxes, most all of it. Ryan hasn’t named one that he’d eliminate. So there’s a mystery $4.5 trillion in tax increases sitting at the center of Ryan’s budget promises."