Friday, December 24, 2010

Harry Reid joins a Republican Filibuster

(2/18/13: This editorial is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Senate rules. Here is my correction. Other than this parenthetical, this post is unaltered.)

On Wednesday, December 22, a miracle occurred. After months of impasse, Congress finally passed the bill which covers the health care costs for 9/11 first responders. The endorsement of various liberal pundits helped put pressure on lawmakers to pass the bill which was many years overdue. However, there was one omission which was rather striking.

The final hurdle the bill had to overcome was the senate filibuster. Republicans decided to filibuster everything until they were sure that the Bush tax cuts would be renewed for all income levels. That included blocking the progress of the 9/11 first responders bill. Specifically, the senate held a vote on December 9th on whether to override the filibuster and proceed to vote on the bill. In order to break the filibuster, they needed 60 votes. They received 57. The vote was almost straight down party lines. All republicans present (Brownback was back home in Kansas preparing to become our state's next governor) voted against overturning the filibuster. They voted to delay health care reimbursements to 9/11 first responders. Every democrat voted for overturning the filibuster, except for one, Harry Reid. That's right, the head of the Democratic party in the Senate broke ranks to vote against overturning a Republican filibuster. I found this fact so shocking that I had to find a second source before I could believe it.

The problem is, no one reported this. Not Jon Stewart, not Rachel Maddow, not The New York Times. In fact, the only news outlet that has mentioned this fact is Media Matters, who said that he changed his vote to a no for procedural reasons. What procedural issue could be so important as providing health care to 9/11 first responders? Moreover, why would the leader of our party join the opposing party's filibuster on anything?

Nevertheless, all of these sources did a better job than fox's opinion programming, which first ignored and then defended the republican filibuster. As always, Shepard Smith bucked the larger talking heads to support the bill that should have been a no-brainer.

What does this episode in the American media teach us? We must be able to do our own research so that we can know what our sources are leaving out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Inaccuracies and Incivility
An Hour with Ed Shultz

Yesterday, December 6th, I tuned in to The Rachel Maddow Show. I was surprised to find that the calm, cool voice of Rachel Maddow had been replaced by something much more hyperbolic. She couldn't make it to work that day, so Ed Shultz filled in with a second hour of his show, The Ed Show.

I had stopped watching The Ed Show after he held a poll where he asked his viewers, “Are Republicans Heartless?” after Republicans in the Senate blocked unemployment benefits several months ago. Congressional Republicans shouldn't have blocked the extension of unemployment benefits during a time when unemployment is over 9%, but to call all Republicans heartless was too much for me. But I watched the show to see if his rhetoric had changed. It hadn't.

He began by saying that letting the bush tax cuts for the rich expire, “could be used to solve our deficit.” ("Should Dems unite over tax cuts?") However, letting the bush tax cuts expire for the top two percent would bring in just under 70 billion dollars a year (“Vets Target of Deficit Commision?”). Whereas the deficit, the amount of money per year that Congress spends but doesn't pay for in taxes, in 2010 is projected to be 1,400 billion dollars (“Montgomery.”) Letting the bush tax cuts expire on the wealthy would certainly help reduce the deficit, but that action alone could not solve our yearly deficits.

I have tried to find a way to balance the budget, and no one can do so without some difficult spending cuts and tax hikes. You should try the New York Times interactive web feature and try to balance the budget yourself. It doesn't contain all possible tax hikes or spending cuts, but it is greatly informative on how difficult it is to eliminate our yearly deficits.

One of Ed’s many guests on the issue of the president's new compromise with congressional republicans on the bush tax cuts was the recently defeated Alan Grayson, who is serving out the rest of his term before the end of the 111th Congress. To explain his opposition to letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire for income made over $250,000 Grayson said, “The top 1% of the US population owns over 50% of the wealth of the country” (“Should Dems unite over tax cuts?”). In fact, the top 1% owns 33.8% of our country’s wealth (“Crazy Graphs: Rich Vs Middle Class and Poor.”) In a time where millions of Americans lack health insurance and millions more must go into great debt simply to pay for college, I believe that is still too much. But it is never justified to falsify information to support your opinion. And I do believe that Alan Grayson knows that his statement is untrue; he is infamous for using a deceptively edited video-clip of a speech that was made by his opponent in a 2010 campaign ad, making it seem that his opponent was making a point that was the exact opposite of what he was actually saying ("Daily Show: Indecision 2010 - Taliban Dan & Boo-Gate ")

After multiple guests who agreed with Shultz on tax cuts, Ed had both a Democratic and Republican strategist on his show at the same time, to discuss the issue further (“Winners and losers in tax cut deal.”) The Republican strategist, Ron Christie, attempted to make a supply-side economics argument that raising taxes on the rich would discourage them from making money and result in lower returns for the government. Before he could make his case, however, both the democratic guest and Ed shouted over him to the point he couldn't be heard. Ultimately, I do not agree with Christie's argument (here's why), but I do believe he should have been able to make it.

This level of name-calling, distortion, and incivility is the norm on Ed's show. Ed and others who engage in similar practices could gain much in credibility and respect if they interacted with those they disagree with in a more cordial manner and showed a greater respect for factual accuracy.

Works Cited

"Crazy Graphs: Rich Vs Middle Class and Poor." The Young Turks. 18 June 2010. Radio.7 Dec 2010. < VnVJAkhGyjQ>.

"Daily Show: Indecision 2010 - Taliban Dan & Boo-Gate ." The Daily Show. Comedy Central : 29 Sept 2010. Television. 7 Dec 2010.< september-29- 2010/indecision-2010---taliban-dan---boo-gate>.

Montgomery, Lori. "Federal budget deficit to exceed $1.4 trillion in 2010 and 2011." Washington Post 24 July 2010, Print. <>

"Should Dems unite over tax cuts?." The Ed Shultz Show. MSNBC: 06 Sept 2010. Television. 7 Dec 2010. <>.

"Vet's Target of Deficit Commision?." The Dylan Ratigan Show. MSNBC: 02 Sept 2010. Television. 7 Dec 2010. <>.

"Winners and losers in tax cut deal." The Ed Shultz Show. MSNBC: 06 Sept 2010. Television.7 Dec 2010. <>.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lies, Omissions and Sensationalism: The Story of Stuff

My 7 revolutions class was shown the video “The Story of Stuff” in class. This video, produced by the Tides foundation and presented by Annie Leonard, criticizes the structure of the materials economy. I believe that this video is too ideologically narrow and demagogs the issues it covers. Most troubling, it was presented to our class as fact when it is actually a string of far-left opinions. I do not reject the roll of opinions in informing the public, but I do believe that we must listen to opinions from across the ideological spectrum. No video was played to show the counterpoints to the opinions given. But even more importantly, an informed public must be taught to differentiate fact from opinion. Our media has done a horrible job at doing this, so it falls to our educational system to properly delineate the two. This is why it is more important than ever for teachers to make sure that they tell their students the difference between fact and opinion.

The Video begins with blatant misinformation. Annie Leonard states that more than 50% of our federal tax dollars pays for the military. That is just not true. The department of defense only takes up 18.74% of our federal budget. 61% of our federal budget is spent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on our national debt, and other mandatory spending (2010 United States Federal Budget). These programs are paid for by taxes. I do not believe that an advocacy organization like the Tides Foundation wouldn't know the most basic facts about the federal budget. Therefore, the inevitable conclusion is that Annie purposely misrepresented the discretionary federal budget as the total federal budget in order to support her ideological position that we spend too much on defense.

“Extraction is a fancy word for Natural Resource Exploitation, which is a fancy word for trashing the planet.” Non-renewable resources are among many countries greatest assets, and refraining from using them would hurt the developing world's economic development. This is a classic example of using loaded words that are used to evoke a feeling rather than a meaning.

In the section Production, Annie states that only a handful of synthetic chemicals have been tested for human health impacts. Nevertheless, she states throughout the video that our products are laced with toxics. By definition if they haven't been tested, we can't know if the synthetic chemicals are toxic. She could have avoided this by saying that our products are full of potential toxics, but that would undermine the emotionalism she is determined to portray.

She criticizes corporations and free trade policies for creating horrible labor conditions and destroying the environment. “In this system unless you buy a lot of stuff or own a lot of stuff, you don't matter.” Drawings of people are crossed out as she speaks. She leaves out the fact that free trade creates jobs in developing countries and develops their economies. The points she raises are important, but looking only at the costs and at none of the benefits distorts reality beyond all recognition.

The most troubling moment in the video was when Annie criticized the economist Victor Lebow for proposing consumption as a way of sustaining growth in the American economy. “Eisenhower’s council of economics advisers chairman said that the American economy's ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods. More consumer goods...our ultimate purpose? Not health care, education, safe transportation, sustainability or justice?” There is no way that the purpose of the economy could be education, health care, or any of the other things she lists. The purpose of the economy is to produce wealth and create jobs. The tasks she lists are the jobs of government, not the economy.

Another painful moment in the video is when Annie criticizes George W. Bush's speeches after 9/11. “After 9/11, when our country was in shock, and president Bush could have suggested any number of appropriate things; to grieve, to pray, to hope, no, he said to shop!” In fact, George Bush DID call for us to pray (Bush). Whether this lie was due to ignorance or to malice, it is an unacceptable attack upon our former president. Moreover, the call to shop came from the fear that the collapse in demand would cause a recession. In calling upon Americans to prevent this from happening, George Bush did the right thing. Moreover, Bush's speeches after 9/11 were among the best moments of his presidency, eloquently expressing the dismay and horror that America felt after the most devastating attacks in our history. There are many reasons to be critical of George Bush, but this is not one of them.

She claims that the point of advertisements is to make us unhappy with what we have. However, the real point of advertisements is not to make us feel bad about ourselves, but to feel good about their product so that when we really do need something new will think of them. Also, advertisements pay for the services we love. Newspapers, television programs, e-mail providers, and radio shows are all paid for by advertisements.

She also claims that our primary identity is that of the consumer. I know that isn't true because advertisers use our primary identities as parents, teachers, employees, and students to persuade us of the importance of their products. If our primary identity were that of a consumer, they wouldn't need to do so. She also claims that women who don't keep up with the latest fashion are mocked for not contributing to consumption. I do not know why some women act in this way, but I do know that it isn't because they are neo-liberal economists dedicated to product obsolescence.

The sad thing is that I agree with most of her positions on trade, labor, and environmental policies. However, I will not support someone who makes her case by lying, using excess emotionalism, and ignoring the potential costs of the policies she supports. I can and will call out people who are damaging our country's civil discourse, whether I agree with them or not.

Works Cited

"2010 United States Federal Budget." Wikipedia. Web. <>

Bush , George, W. "A Great People Have Been Moved to Defend A Great Nation." 9/11 address to the nation. Oval Office, Washington D.C.. 11 Sept 2001.Address.< /gwbush911addresstothenation.htm>

"The Story of Stuff." The Story of Stuff Project. Web. 27 Nov 2010. <>.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

 Orin Hatch Fact-Check

Today, Thursday November 18, 2010, Orin Hatch appeared on the morning fox reporting show Happening Now. He was there to talk about recent events that have occrued in his area of expertise, National Security. He used this opportunity to mislead the American public.

First Orin Hatch discussed the recent Nuclear Arms Treaty between the United States and Russia that he will vote for or against in the Senate. He was asked if he believed we could trust Russia to carry out the reductions in its nuclear arsenal required by the bill, and he said, “its like Ronald Reagan said, 'you can trust but verify'” (Hatch Still Concerned About New Start). The ironic thing is that the bill allows nuclear scientists from the US to make sure that Russia is keeping its promise (GOP's anti-Obama strategy undermines National Security). Verify is itself within the treaty. Even more importantly, Regan's quote came from a speech he was giving in favor of a treaty between the US and Russia for Nuclear Arms reduction and verification (GOP's anti-Obama strategy undermines National Security). So, Orin Hatch was using Regan's quote that was used to support a Nuclear Arms reduction and verification treaty with Russia against Obama's Nuclear Arms reduction and verification treaty with Russia.

Next he offered his opinion on the recently decided Ghailani case, where a Guantanamo detainee was found guilty of only 1 charge and acquitted on over 280 (Terrorism Verdict Complicates Issue of Detainee Trials). This was done in a civilian court in New York, and is understandably used as an example by conservatives against the use of civilian trials of suspected terrorists. But Orin Hatch went further than that. He claimed that in this case, “he was not water-boarded” (Hatch Still Concerned About New Start). However, the judge barred the prosecution from using evidence they received from other harsh interrogation practices and from using a witness that they learned about after performing harsh interrogation tactics on the suspect (Guantanamo Detainee Acquitted on all but 1 Charge). So while waterboarding was not used, other harsh interrogation tactics were.  

I believe that anyone as knowledgeable in National Security as Orin Hatch would know these things. Politicians always leave out the part of the discussion that doesn't support their positions. But this level of hypocrisy and irony is far too much to bear.

Works Cited
"GOP's anti-Obama strategy undermines National Security." The Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC: 17 Nov 2010. Television. 18 Nov 2010.
"Hatch Still Concerned About New START." Happening Now. Fox News: 18 Nov 2010. Television. 18 Nov 2010.
"Guantanamo Detainee Acquitted on all but 1 Charge." All Things Considered. NPR: 17 Nov 2010. Radio. 18 Nov 2010.
"Terrorism Verdict Complicates Issue of Detainee Trials." Morning Edition. NPR: 18 Nov 2010. Radio. 18 Nov 2010.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Governor’s Debate Factcheck

On September 11th, 2010, Sam Brownback and Tom Holland held their only scheduled debate for the office of Kansas Governor. The debate took place at the Kansas State Fair and was broadcast by several radio stations. It can also be found online at KWCH.

Dressed in comedically identical attire, both partook in the ancient political tactic of lying to get elected. Their factual disagreement was over Sam Brownback's record in the US Senate. At approximately 17 minutes into their debate, Tom Holland alleged that Brownback had said that it was "appropriate" to spend 85 billion dollars to bail out AIG. After Brownback's turn to answer the question Holland issued a 30 second rebuttal in accordance with the rules of the debate. In that rebuttal Holland restated a claim he had made earlier that Sam Brownback had voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Brownback responded, “Not true.” Holland repeated his claim that Brownback supported the bailout of AIG in his closing statement by saying that Brownback's values included bailing out Wall Street.

Why politicians would lie on facts that are so easily checked must come from their assuredness that no one will look into their claims. The internet, a tool that has forever changed the political process, contains websites that track politicians' voting records. One such website is

The Bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was authorized by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Brownback voted for its passage. The record of this vote can be found here.

The Bailout of AIG (and by extension the Wall Street Investment Banks that had been insured by AIG) was authorized by the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. Brownback voted against its passage. The record of this vote can be found here.

In the unlikely event the Holland campaign were to respond to my findings, they would probably claim that Holland meant Brownback supported bailing out Wall Street in some indirect way. But nothing can disguise the fact that his comments were meant to deceive the public into thinking Brownback voted to bail out AIG. This becomes clear when his closing statements are coupled with his earlier one. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to call his statements lies. Brownback's statement that Holland's claim that he bailed-out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was, “Not true” is a blatant lie.

If politicians will knowingly lie to get elected, they cannot be trusted to be honest with their constituents once they are elected. That is why neither Holland nor Brownback will be receiving my vote this November.