Some additional real talk on cultural signifiers, the West Memphis Three, and Cameron Todd Willingham from quadmoniker at PostBourgie:
There’s another problem that ties both cases together, and that’s the bigger one. In the Willingham case, a taste in Led Zeppelin marked him as a killer. In the West Memphis case, the conviction that Satan worship was involved in the murder led to an angsty teenager who studied Wicca, Damien Echols. In fairness, we have to admit that we don’t know, and probably never will, whether any of these men — or for that matter, anyone exonerated by new evidence after a conviction — is totally innocent. But we should be suspicious of anyone found guilty for being weird. It might be especially true in small Southern towns, but it’s true everywhere, that being a little odd is enough to raise the suspicions of our peers. But we should hope we can design a system that counteracts that tendency rather than feed into it.
The worst thing that can happen when people make totally bogus assumptions about the influence of culture on behavior, like this, or like blaming the London riots or the Norway shootings on video games isn’t actually that those forms of media might face crackdowns. It’s that people can be imprisoned and executed in part based on those assumptions.
Yesterday, seven unemployed constituents of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) staged a sit-in at his office in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to protest the congressman’s decision not to hold any free public town halls during the August recess. An additional 100 protesters picketed outside the office. Politico reported this week that Ryan, Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, will only speak to residents who are willing to pay $15 for access.
It’s customary for representatives to host free town halls open to the public so constituents can ask questions and weigh in on their elected officials’ votes. But Ryan and other conservative congressman who have been facing angry crowds recently have decided to limit their availability to only those willing to open their wallets. This didn’t sit well with many of Ryan’s constituents who are struggling just to get by and don’t think they should have to pay to get an audience with their congressman:
Ryan is currently vacationing with his family, but the seven individuals sitting in his office say they have all tried to contact Ryan, multiple times, and have received the same generic email response. Traditionally when members of Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation break for the August recess they hold town hall meetings where they listen to concerns off constituents in their districts. Ryan, so far, has only scheduled one “public” appearance at the Whitenall Park Rotary September 6 banquet. Attendees will be required to pay a $15 fee to be one of the lucky 300 to meet with the Representative. I spoke with four of the Ryan Seven this afternoon and they all said they were planning to stay “as long as it takes.”
One of the protesters, Scott Page, says he’s been let go from two jobs in the past two years. One position was outsourced to Mexico, and for the second, he was required to train an individual in China to be his replacement. Page said he hoped Ryan would “have a heart” and “take time to listen to the unemployed in his backyard instead of only the business owners.” “I don’t have $15 to ask Rep. Ryan questions,” he added, “so I guess this is the only means I have to talk to him.” Several of the protesters have posted testimonial videos on the Wisconsin Jobs Now website. Unemployment in Ryan’s home state has been growing recently.
A new (supposedly) NASA-funded study postulating that aliens may attack humans over climate change had all the ingredients for a perfect Fox faux controversy — it bolstered their anti-science narrative, painted their opponents as clownish radicals, and highlighted wasteful government spending on a supposedly liberal casue. Fox reported the “news from NASA” several times several times today, presenting it as official “taxpayer funded research.” A chyron on Fox and Friends read: “NASA: Global warming may provoke an [alien] attack.”
But as Business Insider pointed out, they’re “wrong” — “That report was not funded by NASA. It was written by an independent group of scientists and bloggers. One of those happens to work at NASA.” NASA distanced itself from the report as well, calling reports linking the agency to it “not true.” Host Megyn Kelly finally corrected the record this afternoon, saying, “I was making that up.”
But before she did, she was so bemused by the study that she directed her viewers to complete a poll on her website which asked how we should respond to the study: “Immediately increase efforts to curb greenhouse gases,” “Develop weapons to kill the Aliens FIRST,” or “Gently suggest scientists research how to create job.”
Not surprisingly, most suggested they research something else. But more than six times as many respondents (19 percent to 3 percent) said we should focus on building weapons to kill aliens before curbing greenhouse gases. Watch a compilation:
The poll is of course not scientific, but you can hardly blame the viewers who did respond, considering Fox’s constant misinformation about climate change. For instance, as she presented the poll, Kelly said of curbing climate change, “just in case, right?” — as in, “just in case” the science is right. She did not make a similar qualifier for alien invasion. Numerous studies consistently show that Fox viewers are among the most misinformed of news viewers, while at least one study has shown that — perversely — watching Fox actually makes people less informed than they were to begin with.
“Trust me folks, this story is hard to understand,” Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson said of the “NASA study.” Indeed.
Governments have routinely responded to any form of financial trouble by tightening the near term fiscal stance, while failing to address their long term sustainability problems. This, according to almost all economists who have opined on the subject, is precisely the wrong way around, but that has not stopped them. It now seems most unlikely that this trend will be reversed, short of a second leg of recession. Furthermore, self inflicted policy failings in the US and the eurozone in recent weeks have resulted in financial stress and widening credit spreads. This has tightened monetary conditions much more than the ECB and the Fed intended when they started to press the “exit” buttons in Q2.
The inability to even keep long-term and short-term issues straight in a conversation is mind-boggling. Hiking mass transit fares while cutting services is not some kind of close substitute to dealing with the projected increases in the cost of health care. It’s not just small relative to the scale of the real fiscal issue, it’s completely irrelevant. A form of short-term pain that has no benefit over the long-term.
Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the sponsor of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070, faces a recall election on Nov. 8 after nearly 17,000 Arizona voters signed a petition supporting this recall. Pearce, of course, believes this is terribly unfair — so unfair that Arizona’s taxpayers should pay for his campaign:
A little-known provision in the Arizona Constitution requires the Legislature to enact the laws necessary to run an election seeking the ouster of an elected official. And that includes “provision for payment by the public treasury of the reasonable special election campaign expenses of such officer.” [...]
[T]he Senate president said that, in general, he is opposed to using public funds for elections.
He said, though, his particular case should be an exception. [...] “In my case, simply, they don’t like what I’ve accomplished,” he said. Pearce said if that is the case, voters will have a chance next year, at the regular election, to choose someone else.
“I suspect why it’s there (in the Constitution) is it’s overturning a valid election, a minority in most cases overturning the voters’ will,” he said. It takes the signatures of 25 percent of those who voted in the last regular election to force a recall.
“It is tough,’’ he said. “You’ve got to raise money.”
Should Pearce try to force the issue, however, it will be interesting to see how he explains to the state’s voters that he is absolutely, positively opposed to public financing of political campaigns — but he’ll make an exception for himself.
By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress
This past week, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded conservative group, held five events in three days across the state of Montana to stir up blame on the Obama Administration with regard to high gas prices. However, a different group of Montanans (environmentalists, labor, state legislators, and others) attended the events with an alternate message, drawing attention to the fact that Big Oil receives billions of dollars in tax breaks every year, and that these tax exemptions should be repealed in times of fiscal austerity. Rather than join this call to save American taxpayers money, Americans for Prosperity President Tim Phillips accused the protesters of “loving” high gas prices.
Thanks to the policies of this administration, gas has doubled over the last two years. Doubled. And the truth is, and they don’t want to say this openly, although the radical ones will say it openly, the protesters here today love that. They want high gas prices because it drives their ideology that says “We don’t want a lot of energy. We want to be wind and solar, you can’t have oil, you can’t have coal, you can’t have things that give cheap, abundant energy.”
The “Running on Empty” tour that stopped in Montana this week is managed by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that is funded by the Koch brothers. The Kochs are some of the richest people in the country due to their ownership of second-largest private company in America among other business ventures, many of which are based in oil and refining. Their devotion to conservative causes that reward polluters at the expense of taxpayers and regular people has become aggressive and well-known, as seen for instance in their $1 million donation to Proposition 23, the failed crusade to repeal California’s global warming law.
Even though Americans for Prosperity espouses fiscal conservatism and shuns government waste, its message during the Montana events was more “drill here drill now” rather than a serious call for ending taxpayer handouts to Big Oil. As Montanan Kyla Wiens told the Great Falls Tribune, “The answer isn’t to drill or burn our way out of our energy problems. We need to move forward with clean energy, and this is just distracting attention from the real problem.”
Who knew when I wrote about The Joneses a couple of weeks ago that an adaptation of the movie’s concept for television was coming to ABC. I think this is entirely fascinating, and I have absolutely no idea how it’s going to work.
The Joneses, which is about a fake family who moves into an affluent neighborhood to stimulate their neighbors into a round of aspirational spending, does have wonderful opportunities for product placement. Almost every scene involves a discussion of a particular item that the characters are being told about by their handlers or promoting to their neighbors as the next cool thing. But the overall message of the show is that our cycles of consumption are artificially induced rather than a reflection of our actual desires or any utility those products might add to our lives—and that ramping up that cycle can be destructive to the point of death.
It will be interesting to see if advertisers think that the overall aspirational message will be powerful enough that it’s worth it to have their products associated with the show, even if the vaguer message is that consumption is bad and we should be skeptical of racing to keep up with the Joneses. That was clearly what happened with the movie, which was chock-full of luxury goods. Either that, or the anti-consumptive message will be moderated to some more general assertions about authenticity and happiness, all of which we know are just as purchasable as Birkin bags.
NBC’s Carrie Dann and Matt Loffman are reporting that Rick Perry railed against the Affordable Care Act during a stop in Florence, South Carolina this morning, arguing that the law will bankrupt the states and promising to repeal it if he’s elected to the presidency:
“If I’m so fortunate to be elected the president of the United States, on Day One, when I walk into the Oval Office, there will be an executive order on that desk that eliminates as much of ObamaCare that I can have done with an executive order,” he said in remarks at at a hospital complex here. “Now hopefully, Lord willing, the 11th Court of Appeals has already found that that individual mandate is unconstitutional, and hopefully that will be gone to the Supreme Court, and I won’t have to deal with that.” [...]
Perry also said the costs of implementing the health-care law would force Texas to raise taxes — and that other states will be bankrupted as a result of “ObamaCare.”
Perry may certainly disagree with the way the health care law expands coverage, but he can’t honestly say that Texas will go bankrupt if it implements the measure.
Consider the provision that Perry is most concerned about — expanding the Medicaid program to 133 percent of the federal poverty line. Texas, with its narrow Medicaid coverage levels, will experience large reductions in the uninsured and could see up to 1.4 million Texans enroll in the program by 2019.
Under the law, the federal government picks up the full costs of expansion for the first two years and the states begin contributing on a sliding scale thereafter. Fortunately for Texas, “states with low coverage levels today will see the vast majority of the costs of new enrollment financed by the federal government over the 2014 to 2019 period because most of their increased enrollment is from individuals made eligible by health reform who qualify for the high newly eligible match rate.” More federal dollars will be coming into the program and they’ll cover the overwhelming majority of the cost for the newly insured. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if Texas experiences an enrollment increase of 46 percent, it will see a 39 percent spike in federal spending and just a 3 percent increase in state spending. That means that the federal government will be picking up 95 percent of the tab for Medicaid expansion between 2014 and 2019.
The states’ costs could also be offset. For instance, insuring more people means that the state would also have to spend less on uncompensated care and according to the Urban Institute, those costs could decline by 55 percent between 2014 and 2019, from $21.3 billion without reform to $9.6 billion with it. In fact, if the law is fully implemented, Urban estimates that state savings would exceed states’ new costs and Texas could actually achieve a savings of $554 million.
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has taken up the relatively esoteric fight against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, telling anybody who will listen that it must be repealed, along the Sarbanes–Oxley Act and other banking regulations. Last night on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show, he even went so far as to say that Dodd-Frank is “killing the banking industry” and offered it’s repeal as one of his top ideas for job creation:
GINGRICH: They oughta come back in and repeal the Dodd-Frank bill that’s killing the banking industry now. I met today with people in Thai community in Los Angeles, people in the Korean community, people in the Chinese community. In two of the three communities, they thought that the Dodd-Frank bill was killing local banks, killing small business, crippling the housing industry.
It’s unclear how Gingrich thinks a law that hasn’t even been fully implemented could already be killing one of the most powerful industries in the country, but he is hardly alone among his partisans in claiming that regulations are too tough on poor Wall Street.
Just a few years short years after the nation’s biggest banks helped bring down the global economy, due in large part to lax and dysfunctional regulation, most Republicans now oppose any efforts to further reign in large financial institutions. Some, like Gingrich, want to roll back regulations that existed even before the financial colllape — Sarbanes–Oxley was implemented in response to the Enron and other major corporate accounting scandals — while Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), goes much further, suggesting in his 2010 book that all banking regulations are unconstitutional.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has also called for a full repeal of Dodd-Frank, while Mitt Romney, a former financial services executive, decried “the level of over-regulation and burden which has been placed on the financial services” and likened bank regulators to “gargoyles,”
So is Dodd-Frank “killing” the industry? In fact, “bank profits rose substantially” in the first quarter of the year, with banks showing the biggest profits since before the recession. Things were sunny in the second quarter as well:
– Profits at JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s second largest bank, were up 13 percent.
–Sixth-largest Morgan Stanley’s profits were up an impressive 17 percent.
The only top-tier bank to have a rough second quarter was the nation’s largest, Bank of America, which has been dragged down in part by its acquisition of investment house Merril Lynch — a move that, ironically, would not have been allowed under the Glass–Steagall Act, the repeal of which Gingrich spearheaded as House Speaker in the 90s.