Yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) ranted against health reform. While his colleagues have used inflammatory rhetoric to denigrate various health proposals — like inventing imaginary “death counselors” and saying reform will “absolutely kill seniors” — Shadegg’s speech hit a new low. Shadegg said health reform will result in “Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag healthcare”:
SHADEGG: You know, it occurs to me, and I’ll go through these other scandals very quickly, but what we’re really getting here is we’re not just getting single-payer care. We’re getting full on Russian gulag, Soviet-style gulag health care [...] It appeared in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. You can Google it. You can pick up the phone and call Kim Strassel. You can ask her about Soviet-style gulag health care in America, where powerful politicians protect their constituents.
The Soviet gulags were a network of prisons and forced labor camps that held as many as 20 million people during Stalin’s reign of terror. It is estimated 1.5 million died in the camps.
As Mother Jones reported yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce consistently says that its membership is 3 million, even though it’s actually closer to 200,000. The reason for the artificial inflation is that the organization is counting the memberships of 2,800 state and local chambers around the country, even though many of these businesses have no relationship with the national organization. Some of these members are now protesting the Chamber’s numbers game:
– “They don’t represent me,” says Mark Jaffe, CEO of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, which is a dues-paying member of the national group. … Jaffe also scoffed at the US Chamber’s oft-repeated claim to “represent 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” … “They are playing games” with their numbers, Jaffe said. “They don’t have half the businesses in America as registered, dues-paying members.”
– Jaffe’s objections to the US Chamber’s policies were echoed by Rob Black, vice-president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “We take a fundamentally different approach than the US Chamber,” he said, adding that while the national Chamber opposes the Waxman-Markey climate bill, “we support a market-driven cap-and-trade system.”
A day after this public scrutiny began, the Chamber is quietly backing down. At a press conference this morning, Chamber officials “repeatedly cited a membership of 300,000. That’s a tenth as many members as the Chamber claimed a day earlier.”
The sheer illogic and “patent nonsense” of the new book Superfreakonomics discussed in Part 1 is just the tip of the iceberg. What’s most worrisome is 1) who exactly has been peddling much of the nonsense and illogic to the authors — Nathan Myhrvold, the former CTO of Microsoft — and 2) who else may have been persuaded by his bullshit. The Myrhvold connection deserves special focus because it may help explain three puzzling things:
Why does Bill Gates’ Foundation mostly ignore global warming? (see here)
Why is Warren Buffett so wrong — and outspoken — about cap and trade? (see here)
Why did Gates and Buffett visit the Athabasca tar sands — the biggest global warming crime ever — to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind”? (see here).
According to the Superfreaks, Gates and Buffett went to the visit the tar sands (and other energy producers) with Myrhvold, giving him plenty of time to spread his misinformation to them. Moreover, the idea Myrhvold came away is simply stunning.
And yes, one always needs the caveat, “according to Levitt and Dubner,” because their reporting skills are so dreadful — they shoehorn everything they hear into whatever contrarian view they had decided to adopt. You shouldn’t take anything they say at face value. As we’ve seen, the primary climatologist the book relies on, Ken Caldeira, says “it is an inaccurate portrayal of me” and is “misleading” in “many” places. But I have reason to believe Myrhvold was given a draft to comment on — and if so, he was a willing participant in the defamation of his own reputation and that of his company “Intellectual Ventures.” Apparently, he really does push this piece of staggering illogic:
For months and months, conservatives blamed President Obama for the slumping stock market. “Obama, since he’s elected, has tanked the markets,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity said in March. Now that the Dow has rebounded to over 10,000, what are the conservatives saying? On his Fox News today, Neil Cavuto claimed the stock market rebound is evidence of a “Bush recovery”:
After nearly a week of controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh’s involvement in a bid to purchase the NFL’s St. Louis Rams franchise, ESPN reports today that that the hate radio host has suffered a major defeat. Dave Checketts, chairman of the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues and “point man in the Limbaugh group attempting to buy the Rams,” will drop Limbaugh from the bid:
[Checketts] realizes he must remove the controversial conservative radio host from his potential role as a minority member in the group in order to get approval from other NFL owners, the sources said.
Three-quarters of the league’s 32 owners would have to approve any sale to Limbaugh and his group. Earlier this week, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay predicted that Limbaugh’s potential bid would be met by significant opposition. Several players have also voiced their displeasure with Limbaugh’s potential ownership position, and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith, who is black, urged players to speak out against Limbaugh’s bid.
Limbaugh would not comment on Checkett’s reported move. However, on his radio show today, he remained defiant and defensive, saying criticism of his bid is “all about smearing mainstream, traditional conservatism” and accusing his critics of “spread[ing] lies.”
I’m actually a bit surprised that the public is this well-informed since I always have low expectations:
The news quiz, which was conducted by the Pew Research Center, asked respondents to identify, from a list of public officials, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee tasked with writing healthcare reform legislation. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they did not know and 18 percent chose Baucus.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were chosen by 11 and 7 percent of respondents, respectively, while 1 percent selected Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Feinstein and McCain do not sit on the Finance panel.
By comparison, 40 percent of Americans know that the controversial Glenn Beck is a television and radio talk show host.
Of course on some level it doesn’t matter whether people know who Max Baucus is or not. Far less than one percent of the population actually lives in Montana and thus has some ability to hold Baucus accountable. The rest of us just live here.
Last night, Fox News host Sean Hannity hosted a panel that debated the merits of President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. After complaining about Obama’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and claiming that the Nobel is undesirable because Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat receieved it, Hannity suggested an alternative recipient for the award — former President George W. Bush:
HANNITY: [Yasser Arafat] got the Nobel peace prize. Excuse me, a terrorist got the Nobel peace prize. Some people deservedly so. You know who else deserved it? Ronald Reagan. And frankly, I would’ve given it to George Bush.
My bottom line: If I could replace our current tax system (including the personal income tax, corporate income tax, payroll tax, and estate tax) with a VAT, I would gladly do it.
As long as we’re talking about hypothetical scenarios, I would join him if we’re allowed to throw state and local taxes into the mix as well. The thing of it is that once you consider state and local taxes, the US tax code is barely progressive at all:
In theory, I think the tradeoff between tax efficiency and tax progressivity could be quite the difficult dilemma. But what we’ve got, when considered overall, is a system with lots of inefficiency and almost no progressive impact. That, I think, makes the tradeoff easy. The VAT-only system wouldn’t be my first choice tax system by any means, but the case that it would be an improvement over the status quo seems very strong to me.
Today, the House Financial Services Committee began marking up regulatory reform legislation, and the first topic of debate was regulation of derivatives, the trading instruments made infamous by, among others, American International Group (AIG) and Lehman Brothers.
As proposed by Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA), the legislation would require that derivatives dealers and companies heavily involved in speculative derivatives trading to list their activity on electronic exchanges, to provide some transparency to the opaque derivatives market. The legislation would also require companies to have more capital on-hand to protect against derivatives losses.
As Frank said, the lesson of recent years has “been that the systemic risk of not having this or a lot of this on exchanges is a negative.” Frank’s approach also matches up with that taken by the House Agricultural Committee, which shares jurisdiction over derivatives with Financial Services.
However, during the markup Republicans made it abundantly clear that they oppose the legislation, claiming that it will be a “job killer,” which will ultimately cause a “decrease in the American dream.” Watch a compilation:
Back when the Republicans first released their vision from regulatory reform, I wondered how seriously they would take regulation of derivatives. And here we have the answer: not very.
The concern that Republicans ostensibly have is that companies who legitimately use derivatives (so-called end-users) to hedge risks would find their access to derivatives restricted by a transparent market. Not only is that a silly argument — as transparency should help the legitimate users of derivatives to have better price information — but the legislation exempts companies “that use derivatives for commercial reasons to protect against risk” from participating in the exchanges. Companies would only lose that exemption “if regulators see a pattern of activity that places other participants in the transactions at risk.”
Let’s remember this chart, which shows that the vast majority of derivatives are used by traders — not by corporate end-users:
So by trying to scale back regulation, the GOP (wittingly or not) is doing the work of the Wall Street banks that use derivatives as a money-making end in themselves, not as a means to protect themselves. The committee plans to vote on the derivatives overhaul tomorrow.