Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is everyone so angry about? Part 2

As discussed in part 1, conservative media repeatedly portray Obama as a socialist in order to provide cover for not negotiating/compromising with him. In addition to portraying deficits and spending as out of line with historical norms (despite being in line with Bush's last months and CBO projections at the start of his Presidency), they frequently cite the federal government taking a partial ownership in banks and car companies as a condition for saving those companies from extinction with billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars. What Hannity & Co. miss, with these claims, is that it was noted Socialist George W. Bush who required banks give stock to the government in exchange for a bailout, and that doing anything else would have required either a second Great Depression or a massive giveaway to Wall Street.

There was a legitimate debate around the time of TARP (the bank bailout bill) about whether or not taking an ownership stake in companies was a good idea. Just about everyone agreed that letting the banks go out of business would destroy the economy. It was also widely agreed that government cash was the only way that these companies would be kept from closing their doors. Numerous prominent Republicans supported taking ownership in bailed-out banks, including the Bush White House, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, House GOP Leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, along with 89 other House Republicans and 32 other GOP Senators. You can't call Obama a socialist for taking over banks without putting the same label on the GOP. Theirs was not the socialistic goal of achieving government ownership of production; it was to save our (mostly-) capitalist economy.

This claim that Obama took over banks also rings somewhat hollow as he, ya know, wasn't President then.

When Obama actually was President, he applied the same logic that Bush and the GOP leadership (and then-Sen. Obama) did with TARP in bailing out GM and Chrysler. Bush had already allocated billions of dollars to save the two. Obama followed Bush's deal with the banks that, if the federal government was going to share in the risk of loss of billions of dollars, that they should get a share of the potential profits as well.

Another problem with the "Obama-as-Socialist" meme is that he's so bad at it, were that his actual goal. Under Obama's administration, the government has sold back most of the stakes it took in banks, and GM has repaid billions of its debt. His supposed socialist takeover of our health care system expands private insurance much more than it expands government-run plans. In one breath, they criticize Obama as a Socialist who is out to lead a government takeover of the banks, and in the next breath, they say he is in bed with them. They'll twist reality in any way necessary to attack Obama and de-legitimize his policies.

One of my biggest beefs with the Tea Party and the conservative media is that they overemphasize critiques of Obama policies without properly acknowledging the alternatives to those policies. The only alternatives to Obama's action regarding partial ownership of GM and Chrysler were either letting the companies fail by refusing to help them, which would have destroyed millions of jobs, or to give the corporations something for nothing, giving them billions without asking for anything in return. Those alternatives, of course, don't look as good on a sign at a rally as a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache.

I hold out hope that as November approaches, conservatives will be forced to say what they will do if returned to power, instead of just what they oppose. Opposing Obama's deficits and spending is all well and good in the abstract, but you can't slash the deficit or lower taxes without specific ideas about what spending to cut. As we'll discuss in Part 3, Tea Partiers, and Americans in general, are susceptible to such vague rhetoric because they have no idea what the government actually spends taxpayers' money on. As Americans become more interested and educated during the upcoming campaign, they will more carefully consider alternatives to Obama's policies, and those policies might not look so un-American anymore.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What is everyone so angry about? Part 1

Anyone who listens to 2+ hours of conservative talk radio a day like I do can tell you that the Republican Party is defined above all by anger. What's frustrating being a liberal listening to these shows is that the vast majority of that anger is based on claims which are demonstrably false. Over the course of the next several posts, I'll show that Conservative claims that Obama exploded the deficit, that he "shoved ObamaCare down our throats", that we are overtaxed, that Obama is a socialist gobbling up banks and car companies, and that the solution to the deficit is spending cuts are all based on clearly incorrect ideas.

We'll start with Sean Hannity's daily claim that "Obama quadrupled the deficit!" Whenever Hannity is challenged on his frequent claims that Obama is a radical socialist, Hannity trots out this deficit lie as seeming proof of Obama being something peculiar and unprecedented in history. Other presidents have raised or lowered the deficit, the argument goes, but Obama QUADRUPLED it.

Portraying Obama's policies as out of line with any other administration in history is necessary for the conservatives' strategy of resisting absolutely everything the Democrats try to do. You can't refuse to compromise with your opponent unless they are seen as so extreme that even meeting them half-way would be a radical change. Convincing people that Obama quadrupled the debt goes a long way to making him too extreme to be bargained with.

Here's the calculation one has to do to arrive at "quadrupling". In February 2008, Bush's White House projected a deficit for the 12 months from October 2008 through September 2009 to be $407 billion. This number didn't include any of the $150 billion being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan that year, which as part of accounting tricks used to keep the headline deficit number artificially low, were funded via supplemental bills. $407 billion's a dishonest start, but at least it's a start.

In February 2010, Obama projected total debt for Fiscal Year 2010 of $1.6 trillion. As you might be aware, $1.6 trillion divided by $400 billion is 4. A talking point is born.

Of course, kind of a lot happened in the two years between the two budget projections (i.e., guesses about future deficits). Massive unemployment, which led to both a decrease in tax revenue and an increase in demand for government services, along with lost wealth exploded the deficit in the last months of Bush's presidency. In January 2009, before Obama took office, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a deficit of between $1.2 and $1.3 trillion.

By the time Obama took office, we were losing ~800,000 jobs per month. Obama and the Democrats chose to follow good ol' Econ 101 Keynsian policies, by increasing deficit spending to spur growth in the economy. And so, the projected deficit bumped up by about $400 billion. Which is a lot. I'm not trying to convince you that Obama has been a deficit hawk. But it's only half the increase in the budget deficit that occurred under Bush.

It's much easier to refuse to negotiate with a Marxist than a Keynsian. To try to portray him as the former, Hannity and other conservatives cherry-pick numbers to arrive at claims that are removed from reality. They try to do this in order to further stoke the anger among the Tea Party. As we'll continue to discuss throughout this series, this anger is based on ignorance and misinformation, and is certainly not an appropriate basis for a political party.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oklahoma mandates rape before abortion

Today, Oklahoma's legislature passed a law which forces a woman to have a vaginal ultrasound showing her fetus before she is allowed to have an abortion. If you've never had the pleasure of having or at least watching a vaginal ultrasound, let me describe for you the ultrasound probe.

See, you can get a better picture of the fetus if you put an ultrasound emitter into the vagina, where it's closer to the uterus. Some engineer somewhere many years ago had to figure out the best shape to use to enter a vagina. Nature had the same problem and created an erect penis, and our engineer wound up inventing a similarly-shaped device. Having a vaginal ultrasound means getting this penis-shaped probed placed in your vagina. It's fairly unpleasant in a medical setting, as you might imagine. But it gives you a better picture than a traditional ultrasound which places the probe on the woman's abdomen, and sometimes it's medically necessary to get a REALLY good look at a fetus (or gynelogical cancer, or anything else you'd want a good look at).

At the hospitals where I've trained, like hospitals everywhere, they're concerned about passing infections from patient to patient. When it comes to vaginal ultrasound probes, they had to find something to cover the probes as they're being used. At my hospitals, they use condoms. Regular ol' off-the-shelf Trojan condoms.

So Oklahoma just mandated by law that a medical professional put a condom over a penis-shaped object and insert it in a woman's vagina, whether she likes it or not, before that woman can have an abortion.

Government-sanctioned rape; it's not just for war-torn African countries anymore!

As a medical doctor, it strikes me as quite unethical for gynecologists and ultrasound technicians to participate in this. Hopefully the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) will provide support to its members who don't want to go along with mandated rape.