Journalism or Republican propaganda?

A headline at the post on-line today: "GOP urges Dems to scrap bill: Republicans want Democrats to launch bipartisan talks on a new consensus approach."  Right, and I've got a bridge to sell you.  What's so frustrating about this is that the reporter, Shailagh Murray simply credulously repeats all the GOP talking points despite the overwhelming evidence that Congressional Republicans have no interest in actually crafting a bipartisan health care reform (and for the record, Murray seems to be a frequent repeat offender of "unbiased" journalism that serves to mislead readers).  As many, including President Obama, have pointed out, this is a bipartisan bill in substance.  In fact, it is quite similar to what Republicans in the 1990's proposed as an alternative to Clinton's plans.  The Senate bill already bent over backwards to draw support from moderate Republicans, e.g., Olympia Snowe, who could never articulate a sensible reason for opposing it.  What exactly is a "bipartisan" bill that Republicans would actually approve of?  It's quote obvious the answer is nothing.  Republicans keep talking about malpractice reform (a flea on the rabid dog that is our health care system) and eliminating state barriers to regulation (e.g., the credit card company approach– we know how well that's worked).  Real journalism would be honest about the fact that this is nothing more than (effective) PR from Republicans, instead, it is treated as if Republicans really do want bipartisan reform simply because they so despite mountains of contradictory evidence. 

The more they know, the more they like it

One of the very frustrating things about the health care debate is that so many people who are opposed to health care reform are opposed because they simply don't understand it.  The underlying principles of the bills on the table remain quite popular.  Perhaps you could blame Obama and Dems for a failure to communicate, but I think it is mostly that the opponents have communicated more effectively and been perfectly willing to lie and distort to an amazing degree in doing so.  Generally speaking, in politics, the liars win.   Jonathan Chait has a nice run-down of the public support for key provisions of reform:

But polls suggest that Obama's diagnosis has it exactly right. The
more people know about his plan, the more they like it. When read
neutral decsription of his proposal, it enjoys strong support. And a
recent Kaiser Foundation poll
shows this even more strongly. The poll moves through every element of
the Democratic plan. Nearly all of them enjoy strong support:

Prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging
higher premiums because of a person’s medical history or health
condition: 63

Provide tax credits to small businesses that want to offer coverage to their employees: 73

Increase income taxes for individuals making more than $500,000 a
year and couples making more than $1 million a year as a way to help
pay for health reform: 59

Create a health insurance exchange or marketplace where small
businesses and people who don’t get coverage through their employers
can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits: 67

Provide financial help to people who have incomes below 400 percent
of the federal poverty level – about $88,000 for a family of four – and
who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase
coverage: 57

This is also, in sharp contrast to GWB's failed attempts at reforming social security, in which the more people learned about the plan, the more they opposed. it.  The numbers above are also why I (and most of the health care pundits I listen to) think that health care reform will be much more popular once (if) Democrats actually get this passed.  A tremendous amount of opposition is ultimately about this ugly process, more so than specifics of reform.

Quick hits

1) I think Matt Yglesias is the most quotable of my favorite bloggers: "As long-time readers know, I’m a big believer in taxes. The American
people are big believers in government services, but they like them to
be paid for by magic."

2)  Frank Lutz is an idiot who gets way too much media attention.

3) DC cops = bad; jury nullification = good.

4) Prosecuting teenagers as "child pornographers" for sexting is really stupid.  

5) Wonky, but interesting and relatively brief explanation of how to balance risk within a health care system. 


Presumably, some of you care what I think about the State of the Union.  I didn't actually watch much of it for a few reasons.

1) There was a Duke basketball game on simultaneously.  Duke won.  I checked in on the speech at half-time and commercials.

2) I actually hate watching the SOTU.  All that clapping drives me crazy.

3) Also not a big fan of all the (presumably necessary) political pandering even in a speech and from a president I generally like.  E.g., Obama bragging about all his tax cuts.  I hate the way that lets Republicans drive the narrative.  When we are in our current long-term fiscal situation, more tax cuts are not the answer.

4) Most importantly, what I think doesn't matter at all.  What matters is the media narrative.  What do all the talking heads, journalists, and editors think?.  What will develop as "conventional wisdom"?  These are the things that matter.  If I pan the speech, but the Post and Times love it and the inside-the-beltway wisdom is that this was a great speech that changed the political dynamic, that's what matters. 

Still, I have some thoughts on the matter, of course…

5) That said, preliminary indications are good.  In a way, I think the media looks to Obamato respond with a good/great speech in political tough spots (as this most definitely was), and so long as he produces with a good speech, they are happy and that drives the narrative for a while.  I would have really liked it to be more forceful on health care (e.g., not "working together" to pass legislation, as we know it is a fairy world where Republicans vote to pass good health care legislation), but the health care gurus I look to seemed to be happy enough. 

6) In the end, it still is just a speech, and my favorite response is Jon Cohn's.  Sure, this was a good speech, but what matters is the follow through.  What matters is what Obama does on health care now.

Why professors are liberal

[I meant to post this last week, but forgot.  Fortunately, it's not exactly time-dependent.]

Great article in the New York Times about some really interesting research that nicely explains why such a preponderance of college professors are liberal.

The overwhelmingly liberal tilt of university professors has been
explained by everything from outright bias to higher I.Q. scores. Now
new research suggests that critics may have been asking the wrong
question. Instead of looking at why most professors are liberal, they
should ask why so many liberals — and so few conservatives — want to be

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer: typecasting.
Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences
professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket,
pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be
an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what
they want to be when they grow up.

That's a nice addition to our understanding, but, there's a number of other key relationships as well:

Typecasting, of course, is not the only cause for the liberal tilt. The
characteristics that define one’s political orientation are also at the
fore of certain jobs, the sociologists reported. Nearly half of the
political lopsidedness in academia can be traced to four
characteristics that liberals in general, and professors in particular,
share: advanced degrees; a nonconservative religious theology (which
includes liberal Protestants and Jews, and the nonreligious); an
expressed tolerance for controversial ideas; and a disparity between
education and income.

Well, give me a check mark on all four of those.  I still remember when my mentor as an undergraduate, Paul Gronke, explained the last point– lots of education, not so great income.  No complaints here, though.

I'll also mention that it, in my experience, it is decidedly not ideological bias of present faculty.  I've been on many a hiring decision and not once has the job candidate's political beliefs come up as a matter of serious discussion.

Make the call

Believe it or not, I actually called the office of one of my members of Congress for the first time ever.  I've sent a fair number of emails in my day, but I know that calls are definitely more persuasive.  After consistent goading from Kevin Drum, I decided that Kay Hagan needs to get some calls telling her to publicly come out as supporting a Senate reconciliation bill on health care reform to encourage House Democrats to pass the Senate bill.  It seems pretty clear that if 50 Democratic Senators commit to this, the House will pass the Senate bill and we'll actually have health care reform.  I'd call the White House, too, if I thought it would make any difference.  As of now, I'm very disappointed in Obama.  Hopefully, he can change that tonight, but I have my doubts.  Anyway, if you care about seeing health care reform and have a Democratic Senator, you know what to do…

Chart of the Day

Via Matt Yglesias.  When it comes to our long-term budget problems Social Security is an almost complete red herring:

challenges26 1
And furthermore, a terrific graphical explanation on why we need to get health care costs under control.  I was also intrigued to see that this came from— some more interesting (and some misleading) charts there. 

The myth of Independents

Apparently various pundits are at it again talking about the presumably monolithic bloc of "Independent" voters in American politics.  John Side is having none of it:

Jon Bernstein beat me to this, but he has other fish to fry with Bai. Plus, I want to yell.



How many DAMN TIMES must this be said before this MOST BASIC OF FINDINGS — first explicated at length almost 20 YEARS AGO! — sinks into the heads of pundits.

I will keep linking to this post
as long as it takes. To repeat: true, honest-to-God independents are
about 10% of the American population. Declining support for Obama among
independents accounts for less than a fifth of Obama’s overall decline
in support.

Follow that last link if you want a nice thorough explanation.  The book Sides links to actually was what inspired my dissertation research, i.e., why do so many people say they are "independent" if they are functionally partisans?  Answer (in abstract form) here.  




Quick hits

1) Daniel Gross' sub-headline says it all: "Oh, no! Scott Brown has incoherent and appalling economic ideas—just like almost all of his congressional Republican colleagues."

2) It is really pointless for North Carolina to keep it's death penalty.

3) Democrats who somehow think that trying to give in to Republicans will result in less political attacks are morons (sadly, there's many of them). 


Terrific story from NPR on the incredibly corrupt and wrong-headed bail system in Texas (focusing on the situation in my former home of Lubbock).  As with many policies, the Texas policies on bail are just plain dumb and inefficient policy, but very beneficial to a select group (i.e., bail bondsmen) so they're not going anywhere.  The bail bonds industry makes a ton of money off this stupid policy so they fight tooth and nail (and quite successfully) to keep it.  Those who lose are a) criminals– not a lot of political clout there, and b) the citizens of Texas who are burdened with this stupid system, but who largely unaffected for it but for their wasted tax dollars– i.e., not a concentrated lobby to fight against it.  When the interest groups section of class comes around, this will definitely be assigned.

Paraphrase of the day

From Matt Yglesias:

 If focusing on jobs created jobs, incumbents would never lose elections.

All this talk about Democrats and Obama needing to "focus on jobs" is so tiresome and Matt gets it all in his nice pithy quote.  The president and Congress can do something about health care, there's only so much they can do about jobs.

What to do now?

Tom Toles gets it pretty much right:




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