Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

Posts Tagged ‘wall street journal

Cantor’s Song: House minority whips spins a tall tale in the WSJ

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One of my favorite ways to indulge in masochism first thing in the morning is by reading The Wall Street Journal.

Today’s edition had a few gems from the Republican Party, but on a per-word basis of untruthful omissions, misleading statements, red herrings and pure bunk, the best piece by far is Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) op-ed.

He’s explaining why the GOP “won’t back down” on opposing the tax “increases” which “President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi want…for those who happen to fit their description of ‘middle class.'”

That’s an interesting way of putting it. The president and speaker actually only oppose extending tax cuts that were to expire at the end of this year. These tax cuts—and their expiration—were enacted by a Republican Congress, and signed into law by a Republican president. But in Republican rhetoric, allowing a Republican law to expire as the Republicans themselves planned it to is a tax “increase.”

The “fit their description” part is also curious. If anything, Obama’s and Pelosi’s definition of middle class is expansive toward the wealthier end of the scale: They’re for extending the tax cuts for anyone making less than $200K a year. Only 4.3% of Americans earn more than that. So someone at $199,999 isn’t exactly in the “middle;” they’re in the top 20% of earners. I don’t know what universe it is that the top 20% is the “middle,” but apparently that’s not enough for Cantor; he implies that even people making more than $200k are “middle class.”

Cantor’s untruthful omission is the fact that the people who make the most money in the US aren’t getting it through earned income; they get it mostly through capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at 15%—far below even middle class marginal tax rates. In fact, the richest 400 Americans paid only 16.6% of their income in federal income taxes in 2007—even as their incomes rose.

But Cantor doesn’t stop there. He holds up the old Republican canard that “job creators…lack certainty” regarding “the tax and regulatory system.” This is how Wall Street and their pals in the GOP are holding the economy hostage: They don’t invest in the private sector and they don’t lend to small businesses (in whose name Cantor claims to be acting) because they “lack certainty.”

What would bring them certainty? Why, tax cuts for the rich, of course! To mix metaphors, what they’re saying is, Give us our free lunch or we won’t play ball. By the way, there’s no guarantee they will open the spigots of capital if they get the tax cuts they’re demanding for people earning a greater share of national income than at any time since the Gilded Age.

Then Cantor derides the “failed stimulus.” Here are the facts on the stimulus:

• President Bush enacted an economic stimulus in early 2008. If stimulus is so bad, why was it good enough for Bush?

• The CBO says Obama’s stimulus reduced unemployment by between 0.8% and 1.7%.

• Economists at Moody’s and Princeton say unemployment would be above 11% and GDP would be nearly $500bn lower. (Thanks to James Surowiecki for those last two.)

Some failure!

Later in that same sentence (way to pack the bullshit, Cantor!), the Minority Whip says private industry is better at creating jobs than government action. So how did Pres. Bush do in his 8 years?

1.5 million jobs LOST. The Republicans are like Superman: They created so many jobs that job creation went backwards!

Then Cantor disses “the new health care entitlement.” The biggest entitlement in the last 40 years, though, was Medicare Part D—passed by a Republican Congress and a Republican president, with no way of paying for it.

However, ObamaCare, as the Journal likes to call it, actually pays for itself—and saves money in the long run, according to CBO.

The next insult is a GOP favorite: accusing the Democrats of “class warfare.” Apparently, in the GOP universe, cutting taxes for the richest 5% of the country while income for the middle three quintiles stagnates; letting hedge fund managers (who made an average of $1bn each in 2009) declare the earnings they make on other people’s money their own capital gains so they can avoid paying a fair share; and calling the expiration of a law they themselves enacted a tax increase—none of this is class warfare.

But trying to change it, or even criticizing it, is.

The final rhetorical flourish is a red herring. Cantor writes (and he’s factually correct), “roughly half of all small business income in America will face a higher rate…”

If you’re a small business owner (like me), you probably read that (like I did) and think there’s a 50-50 chance your taxes will go up under Pres. Obama’s plan. But look carefully: “…half of all small business income…”

Because Bush was so expert with his policies at packing income at the upper end of the scale, half of all small business income in the US is earned by only about 750,000 people. How many small businesses are there in the US? 29.3 million.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 2.5% of the total of small business owners whose taxes will go up.

And some Americans want to put these disgraceful, hypocritical, selfish liars in charge again? Hard to believe.


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Written by ptullis

September 20, 2010 at 3:30 pm

No free lunch: Why Republican policies always end up biting you in the ass

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The Wall Street Journal today editorializes that the Cape Wind clean energy project that recently won the approval of the Interior Dept. is a “lousy deal” because it may, if the pricing scheme proposed by the company operating the wind farm is approved by regulators, produce energy at double the price consumers in the area now pay.

Here’s what’s also going to be expensive, if we don’t move aggressively toward a clean energy future:
•Rebuilding after hurricanes, which will be stronger and more frequent with a warmer Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, cost $41.5b in 2010 dollars.
•Cleaning up after oil spills, such as is now being played out along the Gulf Coast. Current costs are estimated at $350m and rising.
•The price of food, as fertile soil is lost to heat and drought.

I could go on, but you get the point: Conservatives don’t want to pay now, but we’ll all end up paying later. The difference is that the costs now are knowable, and so easier to plan for.

The Journal says that Cape Wind will result in “$443 million in new energy costs.” It doesn’t say among how many people these costs will be spread out, or over how long a period of time; if it’s 5 million people who might get power from Cape Wind, over 40 years (which seems like a reasonable amount of time for it to function), then we’re talking about a whopping $2.21 per person per year.

Disinvestment—the inevitable result of their tax-cuts-to-solve-everything approach to governing (if you can call it that)—also ends up costing more in the long term. Case in point: In 1978 Californians voted to cap their property taxes. This was hailed as a great moment, the people taking power away from big scary mean government, and launched an anti-tax movement that can be said to be the roots of the “Tea Party” (which boasts among its membership people who are on Medicaid yet rail against “people looking for handouts” and “the whole welfare mentality”). But since public schools get the bulk of their funding from this pool, the state’s schools went from tops in the nation to down around Mississippi’s somewhere. Obviously this would not have been the sole factor (conservatives will probably blame unions and immigrants), but it cannot be said that the way to improve outcomes in education is to reduce its funding.

Now you’ve got companies saying the students we’re graduating are too dumb for them to hire (I can point you to the surveys if you’re interested). So we get a lot of unemployed people. But Republicans don’t want to pay unemployment benefits. Some of these people turn to crime—and Republicans are always happy to lock people away. Here’s the problem: It costs about $25000 a year to incarcerate someone.

California spends about 1/3 that figure per pupil on public education. So would you rather educate people now, or get car-jacked by them later?

This would be funny except the pattern gets played out again and again. Look at the news today: It’s conventional wisdom on the conservative blogs (and leaking into the mainstream press) that the reason Greece and Spain are so screwed (if they are indeed screwed; the $18b per year bailout compares favorably with the $144b a year we’re spending in Iraq) is because of their overly generous welfare states. The implication is that there but for the grace of God go I, i.e., the US will be headed down this road if we don’t cut back on entitlements (somehow the Pentagon’s budget, which has nearly tripled in the last 20 years, is always left out of these discussions).

Now consider Republican policies: They want every company to be free to move their operations to wherever labor is cheapest. They don’t want to pay to retrain the workers left behind for the service jobs that are all our economy creates anymore. They don’t want to give them unemployment insurance over the long term. They don’t want to pay to educate their kids, so that the kids don’t grow up into the same predicament as their unemployed parents.

So what are they supposed to do? Live off the fat of the land? Become bond traders? Whoops, that won’t work—their education is shit. Work retail? Great—but who’s going to buy the stuff they’re selling?

Is there something I’m missing here?

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Drone aircraft, civilian casualties, and the law

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A Reaper UAV being prepared for a test flight, Creech AFB, Nevada. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The Wall Street Journal editorializes today about the use of UAVs in the war on terror. It makes the case that despite concerns, their use is legal under international law, and that drones minimize civilian casualties. Both of these points may be true, but in typical fashion the Journal eludes one of the key questions and contradicts itself on the other.

This is a topic I know a little about: In 2008 I edited a feature article for a national magazine on the team of Air Force personnel that operates the drones from trailers outside of Las Vegas (check back next week for the link), and last month I interviewed the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, who has been the most outspoken official about the question of the legality of the US program.

As is too often the case, the Journal in its editorial is guilty of dishonesty by omission. It implies that the only issue of international law at hand is that the law

…allows states to kill their enemies in a conflict, and to operate in “neutral” countries if the hosts allow bombing on their territory. Pakistan and Yemen have both given their permission to the U.S., albeit quietly.

But that is not Alston’s beef, as he told me when I spoke to him in his office on December 7 and 10, and as he told Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now” in October pursuant to a report to the General Assembly he issued  (good luck finding it on the UN’s Kafka-esque website). Rather, it’s a matter of taking proper measures to prevent civilian casualties.

The Journal blithely claims that the drones are more accurate than alternatives, and superior at targeting combatants out of uniform. I’ve seen screen shots of what the drone operators see, and the level of detail that can be ascertained from 12,000 miles away is flabbergasting.

Yet, the Journal states,

Civilian casualties are hard to verify, since independent observers often can’t access the bombing sites.

Wait a minute: The drones can tell whether a targeted individual is the right guy or not before they shoot him, but they can’t go back afterward and see if there are any dead children lying around? This is ludicrous!

It’s also the main point Alston raises regarding the drones’ legality, but you wouldn’t know that from the Journal‘s editorial. According to international law, parties to armed conflict must take reasonable steps to prevent civilian casualties. Whether the US is doing so in this case, we have no idea. Alston:

We have no real information on this program…There’s no accountability for it. There’s no indication of the rules that they use…It’s possible to justify a particular killing, but the CIA has never tried…They have simply issued a general assurance…Well, if Israel or some other country that we’re scrutinizing says that, we say, “Sorry, guys, it’s not enough. We need to get the details.”

Alston continues:

I’m calling for the government to make clear the details of the program; the legal basis, under US law, on which they are relying; the rules that they have put in place which govern the CIA actions, assuming there are rules; and what sort of accountability mechanisms they have.

The drones are an incredible tool of war, a disruptive technology on the order of the iPod. They are no doubt effective, and they save American lives. All good. They may also save civilian lives. Also good. How hard can it be to verify this point? And wouldn’t it behoove the battle for hearts and minds to do so?

Does anyone know if there would be any intelligence risks at stake, or tactical disadvantages, to do another fly-over and check for collateral damage? I haven’t heard either, but I’d be interested to learn one way or the other.

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Why Obama is like Sully Sullenberger

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Imagine my surprise reading an editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday saying “the ethanol boondoggle is also an environmental catastrophe.” This is the editorial page that never wastes a chance to argue in favor of business over ecology—all of a sudden the minions of Paul Gigot are concerned about environmental catastrophes? Flummoxed, I read on.

The piece describes a paper in Science showing what many have suspected for at least a year: If you account for the emissions resulting from the clearing of forests in order to grow plants for biofuels, biofuels like ethanol are no longer carbon neutral. The editorial continues:

Cap-and-trade programs exacerbate the problem because developed countries (where emissions are putatively capped) get credit for reductions from ethanol—despite the fact that their biofuels are generally grown in developing countries (where emissions aren’t capped). So if Malaysians burn down a rain forest to grow palm oil that ends up in German biodiesel, Malaysia doesn’t count the land-use emissions and Germany doesn’t count the tail-pipe emissions.

This is a serious problem, to be sure. But the WSJ editorial page has spent the last 20 years or more claiming that climate change is bullshit. Why are they arguing that Waxman-Markey erred in banning the study of land-use changes as a gift to farm states?

Because it’s a chance to beat up on President Obama, of course! How could they ever pass that up?

Look, I’ve been pretty disappointed in much that Obama has and hasn’t done so far. But the man is the Sully Sullenberger (pilot who landed the plane with two dead engines in the Hudson River back in January, remember?) of politics. The country is the plane, the Bush administration are the geese, the economy is one engine and the wars are the other. In this metaphor, well, the Republicans are the ground: They exist to foil the captain’s purpose, even if it means crashing the plane.

Editorials like this one prove it. If these people are so disingenuous as to defend something as a critical component of something they’ve done nothing but decry, there’s really no value in anything else they have to say. Ttheir motives are not intellectual, but purely political.

It’s sad, pathetic, and unpatriotic, and it demonstrates the emotional maturity of a 12-year-old. Do we really want people like that running our country?

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More dishonesty from the WSJ editorial page

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In its never-ending quest to attack any changes to the health care system– you’d think a group of people that likes to think of itself as fiscally responsible would be more amenable to ameliorating a situation threatening to bankrupt our country, but that’s hypocrisy for ya–the Wall Street Journal editorialized on Monday against the way the Senate Finance Committee plan scales its insurance subsidies.

Calling it a “tax on work,” the editorial makes a fundamental mistake which destroys its argument. The gist of it is, if the income of a family earning, say, $42000 rises to $54,000, it will lose a third of its insurance subsidy–and will therefore be motivated not to earn the extra money.

So put yourself in that situation. You are going to turn down a $9000 raise because it’s not a $12000 raise? This is insane.

The editorial also assumes that people consider only economic factors when making economic decisions, which, as anyone who has had a job can tell you, is not the case. And that’s assuming the decision is yours to make: If you get a promotion, you don’t always have a choice whether or not to take it. The alternative could be a $42000 reduction in pay, if you catch my meaning. Moreover, people work more or less or at different jobs for all kinds of reasons having nothing to do with money: status, convenience, getting the hell out of the house, to name just a few.

The egregious thing is that the Journal knows this. Behavioral economics is at the cutting edge of research in the field, as academics are trying to figure out why people don’t always act–and markets don’t always behave–“rationally.” To write so dishonestly otherwise reveals the true motive behind so many opponents of health care reform and President Obama’s generally: self-interest and sour grapes.

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Written by ptullis

October 22, 2009 at 12:23 pm

WSJ's misleading headline of the day

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If you thought Rupert Murdoch was serious when he promised to maintain the editorial integrity of the Wall Street Journal, consider this: The “cash-for-clunkers” program was so popular all the money allotted for it by the Treasury Dept was claimed within days. The Journal’s headline on this story? “Cash for Clunkers Runs Out of Gas.”

Here’s the NYT’s story:

‘Cash for Clunkers’ Car-Rebate Plan Sells Out in Days

Written by ptullis

July 31, 2009 at 12:16 pm