Friday, August 31, 2012

Fact Checkers Can't Keep Up With All the Lies Spewing From the Republican Convention

Welcome to the fact-free election.

I really mean for this blog to focus on higher-level topics, like economics, statistics, world affairs, and other matters that are more interesting than the day-to-day mud- and slug-fest that is domestic politics.

However, as you may have noticed, I just can't abide by the utter amount of untruth spewing forth from the modern-day Republican Party. It's not just spin or healthy, vigorous defense and promotion of their ideas - they're just making crap up to justify their own worldview and to reinforce their own (wrong) preconceptions about the U.S. in general and President Obama in particular.

And good God, has it ever been bad this week, thanks to the Republican Convention. I'm told that Bill O'Reilly occasionally has a segment called the "Spin-Free Zone" - well, the 2012 Republican Convention has been the fact-free zone.

How bad is it? All three of the biggest fact-checking websites:
have huge lists of statements made at the Republican convention, almost all of which garner ratings of "mostly false" to a "pants on fire" lie, though a few of them do manage to scrape by with a "half true," and one or two even manage a "true" - but most are patently or mostly false. (Note: if this post is a bit old by the time you read it, you'll have to scroll back/search the fact checking sites to find the posts about the Republican convention.)

A ton of journalists and websites in addition to the above have documented individual lies told by pretty much everyone who has spoken at the Republican Convention thus far - I'll just leave this bunch of links right here.

And Paul Ryan, the Republican VP nominee, was as bad (if not worse) than all the rest of them - even Fox News called his speech, "Dazzling, Deceiving, and Distracting," but they couldn't quite bring themselves to call his speech was it was: a steaming pile of crap that is so blatantly untrue that it should end his political career.

The extent to which the Republican Party has decided to divorce itself from the truth is breathtaking - and I'm sure we can only expect more of the same from the Republican's liar-in-chief, Mitt Romney. A great example is Romney's anti-Obama welfare ad - which both Republican governors and Newt Gingrich have admitted is patently false - but the Romney campaign says that it doesn't care that the add is false; all they care about is that it's effective. To quote a Romney operative: "We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."

In other words, the Romney campaign isn't going to let itself by dictated by facts.

I simply don't understand how anyone can trust a party that lies so transparently and so often about so many things.

I'm curious to see how this strategy will work for Romney in the Presidential debates, when Romney has to look Obama in the eye and lie to his face, and Obama has the chance to call him out on his lies. I suspect the idiotic American media will report it as another "he-said, he-said" moment, instead of saying how it really is - that Obama tells the truth, and Romney lies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why the Gold Standard Is the World's Worst Economic Idea, in 2 Charts

From the conclusion of William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech:
Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."
And he was right - the gold standard is an absolutely terrible economic idea. Yet, as the Atlantic points out (I shamelessly stole the title of this post from an Atlantic blog post by the same name), Ron Paul has managed to convince the world (or at least the Republican Party) that the gold standard leads to stable prices - which has been perhaps the greatest con job of his career.

It's been such a successful con that the Republican Party is even poised to advocate a return to the gold standard as a part of its 2012 party platform. However, even the Financial Times article has trouble spelling out potential benefits of this policy, instead noting only that
Any commission on a return to the gold standard would have to address a host of theoretical, empirical and practical issues.
Inflation has remained under control in recent years, despite claims that expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet would lead to runaway price rises, while gold has been highly volatile. The price of the metal is up by more than 500 per cent in dollar terms over the past decade.
The article finds the drawbacks much easier to describe concretely, however:
A return to a fixed money supply would also remove the central bank’s ability to offset demand shocks by varying interest rates. That could mean a more volatile economy and higher average unemployment over time.
So, the Republican Party is really looking to increase economic volatility and unemployment in order to ... stabilize the price of gold? Does that seem like a smart tradeoff to anyone else?

It is true that a gold standard can lead to stable prices over the long run (as in, from one century to the next), but it doesn't matter to me at all whether prices next century are the same as this century - I, and everyone who is alive right now, will be dead by 2130, so we shouldn't care about long-run price stability. What matters to us much more is short- and medium-term price stability - how does the gold standard fare on that front?

Here's a chart of inflation in the U.S. during the most recent period of time the U.S had a gold standard:

Source: The Atlantic.

So, under the gold standard, you could have inflation as high as 24%, and just a few months later, you could see deflation of 16%. Wow, what stable prices!

On the other hand, here's a chart of US inflation during the past few years - years during which the Fed was practicing quantitative easing, which many conservative commentators, politicians, and economists were sure would lead to runaway inflation:

Source: The Atlantic.

OMG, would you look at the ... utter lack of runaway inflation or deflation. On the other hand, if you want to see runaway inflation and deflation, perhaps you should take another look at the rates of inflation and deflation under the gold standard in the previous chart.

But why are prices so volatile under the gold standard? I'll explain - let's assume, for the moment, that the price of gold is fixed and immutable over time (note: this is a bad assumption, but it simplifies my explanation, so we'll stick with it for now). If the price of gold is fixed, then the value of your money is also fixed over time and can't change - but we'll assume that no other country is on the gold standard (because it's a dumb idea and they're not ruled by the Republican Party), so their currencies aren't fixed to the value of your currency. You might think this arrangement is a good thing, but it's not. Prices of some things relative to other things change all the time - the prices of oil v. gold, of different foods v. oil or gold, of finished goods like computers v. oil or gold, of services v. oil or gold, etc. But, these products and services aren't just produced and consumed domestically - you can trade food for oil with Saudi Arabia, or food for cars with Japan, etc. If the value of a country's currency is fixed, then relative prices and wages can only adjust between each other and between other countries by increasing or decreasing - but the problem is that both wages and prices are "sticky;" that is, businesses don't like to constantly revise their price lists (because that's expensive), and workers HATE to receive less nominal pay (because it makes them feel like they've lost something). Therefore, every single person in your country experiences a lot of pain under a gold standard system, because both prices and wages have to constantly change, as shown by the first chart above. Furthermore, if you're on a gold standard and other countries aren't, you've put yourself at a competitive disadvantage, because when economic trouble comes, they can devalue their currency, making their goods cheaper than your goods - so they sell more than you and recover, while all you do is increase your holdings of (somewhat cheaper) foreign fiat money, as your consumers buy cheaper goods from abroad.

For an extremely timely case study on what happens to a country in economic trouble under (a monetary regime very similar to) the gold standard, see Greece.

But enough of my poor explanations - what do the experts think? According to a recent poll of leading economists found that exactly zero economists (conservative, liberal, freshwater, saltwater, or other) agreed with the statement, "If the US replaced its discretionary monetary policy regime with a gold standard, defining a 'dollar' as a specific number of ounces of gold, the price-stability and employment outcomes would be better for the average American."

One might think that the Republican Party would look at the data and experts' opinions and think, "Hey, I guess we were wrong about that whole inflation / gold standard stuff," but no, they look like they're going to double-down on their misguided economic ideology rather than adapt to what reality is showing them.

What baffles me most, however, is that the Republican Party doesn't even seem to feel the need to explain WHY they think returning to the gold standard is a good idea, other than "OMG, gold has gotten expensive." Is it a bigger problem that the price of gold is more volatile, or would it be a bigger problem if the whole economy was more volatile and unemployment was permanently higher?

Then again, I haven't followed the advice of right-wing pundits and sunk all my money into gold - perhaps if I had, I'd be more excited about exchanging permanent economic volatility and higher unemployment for a more stable gold price.

But, for practically everyone in the U.S. (including most businesses), a return to the gold standard would be a personally catastrophic economic event, and it would greatly increase the frequency of destabilizing periods of both higher inflation and grinding deflation, as well as permanently increasing unemployment.

Personally, I question the rationality of any party or person who looks at the above charts and concludes that, for society on the whole, the gold standard will lead to a better outcome than fiat currency.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Is the Republican Party Going All-In On the War On Women?

That is quite the life conundrum you face there, little girl.

This seems to me to be the definition of poor timing by the Republican Party, from the NYTimes:
Even as the Republican establishment continued to call for Representative Todd Akin of Missouri to drop out of his Senate race because of his comments on rape and abortion, Republicans approved platform language on Tuesday calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion with no explicit exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
The anti-abortion plank, approved by the Republican platform committee Tuesday morning in Tampa, Fla., was similar to the planks Republicans have included in their recent party platforms, which also called for a constitutional ban on abortions. The full convention is set to vote on the party’s platform on Monday.
While Republican officials stressed that the plank did not go into granular details, saying that they were better left to the states, the language of the plank seems to leave little room for exceptions to the abortion ban. It states that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.”
Wow. So, ladies, if you get raped and get pregnant, I guess you'll just have to carry that sucker to term.

I mean, no one should really be surprised, but considering the whole Todd Akin kerfuffle, this is just really tone-deaf by the Republican Party.

One of many problems Republicans have about these issues is that Todd Akin is almost definitely just explaining the true view of the GOP - i.e. that there's rape-rape and then there's not-really-rape-rape (often caused by wearing slutty clothing, drinking too much, taking party drugs, etc. - amiright, Republicans?). In fact, many Republicans (including Romney's VP pick, Paul Ryan) have been trying for a while now to get this idea of "forcible rape" (i.e. real rape-rape) codified into law, mainly (and rather transparently) as way of further limiting women's reproductive freedom.

I just continue to wonder WHY any women continue to vote for the Republican Party - though it's not just Republican-leaning women that baffle me. After all, the Republican Party has shown that it hates (OK, "hate" is rather hyperbolic - more accurately, "is hostile to the collective interests of") teh womenz, teh poorz, the middle classez, teh gayz, teh blackz, and teh non-Christianz.

So tell me, any readers out there who are anything other than rich, white, male Christians - why do you vote Republican? It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I Hate To Say 'I Told You So,' But ... I Told You There'd Be More Mass Shootings

I was right, but I wish I weren't.

Well, I'm very sorry to report this, but this blog was correct.

About two weeks ago, I predicted that there would be more mass shootings in the US, and lo and behold, just a few days ago, we had another high-profile shooting - this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, seemingly by a white supremacist.

Already, and predictably, there has been much hand-wringing over what this all means, what could have been done to prevent this, etc. etc. Much has been made of the fact that this particular shooter appeared to be a white supremacist, but I honestly don't think that matters much - what matters is, as I have said in multiple previous posts, that
  1. this guy was obviously very mentally disturbed, and
  2. he could get his hands on loads of (semi-automatic) guns and ammunition.
Until the US public decides to do something about one (or preferably both) of those problems, shootings like this will continue to occur.

The least we could do is stop acting so surprised and shocked when it happens - there really isn't anything surprising or shocking about these mass shootings anymore. The only things we don't know are 1) exactly where the next attack will happen, and 2) exactly how many people will die.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Is Romney Really Going to Base His Campaign On An Unclear Prepositional Antecedent?

We're about to get pedantic up in here!

Unlike many (most?) Americans, I generally live a blissfully advertisement-free existence, thanks to a number of miracles of modern technology. In an average week, the only advertising I'm exposed to are the sponsorship spots on NPR and the ads on the DC Metro system.

During the past couple of weeks, however, this is not the case - thanks to the Olympics. In the US, watching any Olympic event means watching tons of commercials on NBC. Nowadays, when I see a commercial, it normally fascinates me in an anthropological kind of way. I wonder to myself, "Does this commercial really make people rush out and buy toothpaste brand X over brand Y?" "Do people really think that buying a new car will make them happy?" "Do people really go to their doctors and say, 'Hey, Doc, I saw this commercial for this drug - they didn't even tell me what it does, but I want to start taking it'?" I just find it all quite baffling.

However, I have also seen some seriously sinister commercials during this brief foray into broadcast television - namely, political ads, from both candidates and SuperPACs. It's times like this that I question the value of completely unfettered free speech - what's the societal benefit in allowing candidates and SuperPACs to fill up TV time with attacks ads that are mostly lies?

Case in point - Mitt Romney seems like he's decided to base his entire campaign on an unclear prepositional antecedent uttered by President Obama. Yes, it's really that silly. See the below summary from the Daily Show for a funny recap of what Romney is making such a fuss over:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democalypse 2012 - Do We Look Stupid? Don't Answer That Edition
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

And a bit more on the same topic:

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Democalypse 2012 - Do We Look Stupid? Don't Answer That Edition - Grammatical Gaffes
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Ridiculous, right? Any 2nd grader could tell you that when he said "you didn't build that," Obama was clearly referring to roads and bridges, not businesses.

Romney, however, has apparently decided that basing his campaign on perpetuating a lie about an unclear antecedent is a brilliant strategy. I don't know if it will pay off for him in the long run, but I find these kinds of tactics disgusting - though I can't say I'm surprised, since everyone should already know that Mitt Romney is a serial liar who will literally say anything to get elected.

Not surprisingly, the American media has largely covered this as "he-said, she-said" situation, although the truth is obviously that Romney is intentionally lying about what Obama said. Why do the media do this? Because of false equivalence, and because the American media are, on the whole, a terrible bunch of worthless, spineless jellyfish.

I can't help but think that this will backfire, however - generally, people don't like being lied to, and this lie is pretty transparent. And Romney isn't even doing it well - in his ads, he trots out businessman after businessman who say that "they built their businesses and didn't have any help from anyone while doing it." Not surprisingly, it turns out that every single one of these businessmen have gotten help from the government (sometimes several hundred thousand dollars worth of help) - one wonders how they are able to run businesses if they can't remember the basic facts about how their businesses have grown over time.

So, yes, let's all celebrate the completely "independent" (and utterly fictional) "government-free" businessman:


Finally, though I decided to go with Grammar Hammer as my opening picture above, I also came across a few other absolutely hilarious grammar pictures I figured I'd share with you, since I took the time to find them:

Oh, and Mitt Romney - he apparently cares so much that he's willing to base his entire campaign on an
unclear prepositional antecedent.

But can they save political campaigns?

I concur. What can I say, this blog has a soft spot for kittehs.

[Personal note: I feel like I'm apologizing every few weeks for a slow posting schedule, but work has gotten rather crazy, and much of my free time is taken up by childbirth classes, revamping my wife's and my tiny apartment in anticipation of the arrival of the Babycrat, and other baby-related activities. I'll do my best to continue to post as regularly as life allows, but in the meantime, don't pay much attention to all the stupidity going on in the media - instead, go out and enjoy something.]