Saturday, December 29, 2012

Right-wing media watchdogs

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Glenn Beck has been on vacation since the day of the tragic Sandy Hook elementary school shootings, so this is a good opportunity to address a different segment of the right-wing echo chamber. The right-wing media watchdogs, Media Research Center, founded by reactionary Brent Bozell. Their focus is to bring to light "liberal" bias in the mainstream, pro-corporate, nationalistic media. Hypocritically, they spout lies in their fund appeals while claiming to convey the "truth;" and they absurdly include the mostly liberal MSNBC, "the place for politics."

Bozell as depicted on his Facebook page

Beginning with the fund appeal e-mails that Bozell sent to those who subscribe to the MRC's weekday newsletter, look what he wrote in one with the subject line: "George Soros must be stopped." (Echos of Glenn Beck, no?) These are Jing copied, so the content could not be altered.

Who is "higher than the White House?" In theory, no one but the American people are "higher than the White House" because the people can vote the occupant out. George Soros is no more "higher than the White House" than the Koch brothers were under the reign of error people call the Bush administration. Another lie in this paragraph is the word "endless." Obviously "endless" conveys infinite whereas the number of "left-wing causes" that Soros helps fund is finite. Remember, MRC is about the "truth." Sure it is, except there is yet another lie conveyed in that paragraph.

Soros is not on a crusade to "destroy Fox News, conservative talk radio, [or] any media that dare tell the truth." Soros helps fund the liberal Media Matters for America, and their primary function is to expose the false claims made in right-wing media. (They were kept very busy when Beck was on Fox "News.") They are not out to "destroy" Fox! Bozell and his fellow reactionaries at MRC either do not see their own deceitfulness (because their own bias -- like Beck's -- is so far to the right) or Bozell knows damn well that he's spouting BS in that e-mail in order to motivate subscribers to donate money to his far-right, absurd outfit. The MRC is not "America's media watchdog." It is the far-right media watchdog. He goes on to write:

Five lies are contained in these three paragraphs:
  1. Conservative outlets like Fox "News" and Glenn Beck are not "truth-telling." 
  2. Right-wing Accuracy in Media (AIM) and the liberal Media Matters for America also "stand between" Soros and conservative outlets. George Soros is not directly involved in the effort to expose Fox and conservative propaganda outlets.
  3. The purpose of exposing false claims in the right-wing media is not to destroy it, but rather to make the public aware of those false claims. By spouting false claims, the right-wing (and all) media risk destroying themselves.
  4. The "liberal press" does not just "spew White House talking points." They almost invariably give the other side (typically Republican) of a given story thereby demonstrating objectivity rather than bias. Objectivity, presenting or criticizing both sides, is something that Bozell and the rest of his MRC seem utterly clueless about.
  5. Soros is not a socialist. He is a pro-capitalist progressive. He is a billionaire because of the free market after all. If the White House is carrying water for Soros, then Soros must be a moderate Republican. Staffers at the MRC are either too biased to grasp that, or this is just pure B.S.
What is the "Media of Mass Corruption" campaign? It is nothing more than a website MRC is using to raise money. 
No B.S? Really?

In the "Take Action Now" box, where fear-driving conservatives and reactionaries can donate money to MRC is this gem: "The radicals running the liberal news media will not give up." The B.S. in that line comes from the fact that radicals run radical media such as the various Occupy, socialist or communist media. Liberals are reformers, not radicals. MRC: Faithfully fighting liberal media bias with BS and reactionary media bias. 

Why "reactionary?" Because reactionaries are the people MRC offers to give testimonials for their efforts.

Hannity and Limbaugh are far-right propagandists, and the Tea Party is the misinformed (by Glenn Beck), reactionary arm of the Republican Party. Rush "Sandra Fluke is a slut" Limbaugh knows a thing or two about excess and bias. 

In another fund-appeal e-mail with the subject line "Yo," the not-at-all hip Bozell practices pure psychological projection onto the "liberal" media. He wrote, "It's insulting to every truth-loving American that the liberal press continues to manufacture issues, bury stories, give cover to their allies, and splice and dice video all for the sake of imposing their agenda on the American people." Both Fox "News" and Beck do exactly that list of accusations! Fox and Beck (on his BlazeTV channel) tried to make the CIA approved story that was conveyed in the media by Ambassador Ric about the Benghazi attack on the Consulate a "cover up." That's a manufactured issue, and it is hardly the only one they have manufactured during the Obama presidency. Bozell adds, "It's unprofessional, dishonest and corrupt!" He is correct: Fox and Beck are dishonest, unprofessional and corrupt! For that matter, MRC can be thrown in with Fox and Beck since they are dishonest and they ignore the dishonesty and bias of the right-wing propagandists, Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck.

Further on in the same e-mail message, Bozell asserted that "the liberal media proved that they would do anything to help Obama get reelected." One example he gives is that...
  • The media went into overdrive to spin and reframe Obama's politically damaging remark, "You didn't build that." It took NBC News 94 hours—almost 4 days—before they even reported it and ABC and CBS another 24 after that. Even then, they shamelessly defended the President and claimed that his remarks were taken out of context.
That remark was taken out of context. Again, this shows just how much Bozell and his MRC are nothing more than a hard surface in the deceitful, right-wing echo chamber. Like Fox's Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck, they have an agenda which is not objective news reporting.

One more point about the absurd focus MRC has on the mostly liberal MSNBC: MSNBC is not a news outlet as much as it is, again, "the place for politics." The channel does not pretend to be objective any more than Fox does. They do not pretend to be "fair and balanced" the way Fox does. For MRC to criticize them, or any show that is political and not just reporting of news such as NBC's Meet the Press or The View, for having a liberal bias is just absurd, and yet they do this, over and over. It would be equally absurd to point out that Beck's employee and MSNBC co-host of The Cycle, S. E. Cupp, is conservative. As Glenn Beck likes to say Well, duh!Just a few examples are offered below to demonstrate how ridiculous MRC's criticisms can be. MRC staffers appear to really seem to hate Chris Matthews who is not a journalist nor host of a news program.

Face the Nation is an opinion and current events discussion show with conservative and liberal opinions expressed.

Morning Joe is an opinion and current events discussion program on MSNBC with conservative and liberal opinions expressed.

Chris Matthews is liberal!?!?! Seriously? Get out the torches and pitchforks!

PoliticFact noted that "The final Congressional Budget Office baseline deficit projection before Obama took office -- noted in table 5 in this January 2009 CBO report -- showed a fiscal year 2009 deficit of $1.19 trillion." [Emphasis added] David Gregory was correct, but MRC used this exchange to deceitfully make him out to be "biased." In reality, MRC often sees "bias" in the facts of a given matter. Stephen Colbert's observation holds here: facts have a liberal bias.

It would be a political constructive ideal to have a media watchdog pointing out bias in the news reporting of the proclaimed objective news outlets, i.e., ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and CNN. MRC could be helpful if they were honest, objective and balanced instead of dishonest, reactionary and one-sided. Instead, the right-wing MRC is part of the problem, part of the deceitful, right-wing echo chamber. They ignore the lies, false claims and bias from their like-minded propagandists, and therefore Bozell's MRC is just as guilty of misinforming their readers as Beck and Fox's CEO Roger Ailes are for intentionally misinforming their viewers.

Update, 1/1/2013: This piece is already lengthy, but Bozell keeps putting out fund-appeals that warrant mention. On Dec. 29th, Bozell put out an "Important Video Message from the Media Research Center." From their YouTube site:

There is a lot to comment about here, but two points are noteworthy. Bozell doesn't mention the extent to which the conservative media worked on Gov. Romney's behalf. Glenn Beck encouraged his followers to get actively engaged with FreedomWorks and to work to get Romney elected, not to mention how much Fox "News" gave favorable coverage to him while never ceasing to undermine the President. Mr. Bozell practices double standards! Also, the idea that Obama has a "socialist, second term agenda" is laughable...and pure B.S. Obama is a moderate to the core! How ironic then, that this video begins with the delusional claim that MRC is "citizens demanding truth in media." Mr. Bozell is a hypocrite!

Despite the fact that MRC reached their goal of raising $50,000 from other reactionaries, in yet another delusional fund-appeal from Dec. 31st, Bozell claims that "The Liberal Media Demonizes Conservatives -- You Can Stop Them." No, they cannot because MSNBC, the only genuinely liberal source of media on television, will push back against the deceitfulness of the people in the media like Brent Bozell, who is more reactionary than conservative as indicated above.  In that same e-mail, Bozell writes, "As the president begins his second term, I fully expect the liberal media to continue propping up their allies in the White House while demonizing conservatives and anyone else who disagrees with their socialist agenda." Bozell attacks the "credibility" of the so-called "liberal media" while spewing nonsense like this, thereby undermining his and MRC's credibility. Of course, his target audience, other reactionaries, probably agree with him and therefore cannot see the B.S. and hypocrisy of these extremist "watchdogs" pretending to criticize liberal bias in the media while actually pushing a far-right agenda.

Update, 6/15/2013: In another fundraising email sent out was this gem of a graphic:

Then a link was offered, We've got to Stop Soros Now!, that did not try to explain this bizarre and deceitful claim. They just ask for money from reactionaries ignorant of the truth and gullible enough to hand their money to the Mendacious Reactionary Collaborators.

Via MSNBC, this is a clip that explains that no groups pressured the IRS to target conservative organizations!

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The MRC, and Brent Bozell in particular, are LIARS! When they claim to have concerns about the truth, it is as absurd as Glenn Beck making the same deceitful claim.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

What is good for Fox News and Beck's BlazeTV is bad for the Republican Party

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The following piece is being republished with permission of the author, Richard Metzger. Although it covers the relationship between Fox, its viewers and the Republican Party, a lot of the content applies directly to Glenn Beck's TV channel, BlazeTV, as well. This was originally published on the Dangerous Minds website, and the title was "THE NIGHTMARE (FREE MARKET) SCENARIO THE GOP FACES: THEY'RE ALREADY A BAD INVESTMENT."

I’ve got a great dirty trick you can play on a three-year-old kid. Kids learn how to talk from listening to their parents, see? This is a good one. So here’s what you do. So you have a three-year-old kid and you wanna pull a trick on ‘em, whenever you’re around them..TALK WRONG.
So now it’s like his first day of school and he raises his hand: “May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?”
“Give that kid a special test. Get him out of here.”
—Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy, 1978
That classic Steve Martin joke came immediately to mind when I read Columbia University’s Lincoln Mitchell’s essay, “Is Fox Even Helping the Republicans Anymore?” this morning. That and “if you have to ask, then the answer is almost certainly ‘no.’” Fox News has become a liability to the GOP? Who’d have ever thunk it?
A few other things popped into my head as well when I read Mitchell’s article:
This has been a difficult election season for Fox News. Among the most enduring media images of the last few days of the election are Karl Rove late on election night angrily denying that Ohio, and thus the presidency, had gone to President Obama, and Dick Morris only a few days before the election confidently predicting a Romney landslide. Morris later tried to explain away his mistake after the election by claiming he had done it to create enthusiasm among Republican voters. The incidents involving Rove and Morris, both of whom work as both commentators on Fox and political consultants to conservative clients, are obviously embarrassing for Fox, but also raise the question of whether the network has outlived its value, even to the Republican Party.
Because Fox generally reports news based on partisan talking points and ideological certainty rather than focusing on pesky things like facts, information and events, it has, in the past, been effective in encouraging misperceptions about President Obama’s background, nurturing the growth and development of the Tea Party movement and covering economic policy by referring to any spending by the government as socialism. These things have helped mobilize and misinform the right wing base of the Republican Party. Similarly, during the Bush administration, Fox helped increase support for the Gulf War by repeating White House positions on weapons of mass destruction, almost without question.
“Ideological certainty” sure is a fun term to mull over these days, isn’t it? Especially in light of what happened on Election Day. Imagine having your entire naive “conservative” (and all that implies outside of the cult) worldview crushed just like that by the sheer force of math and changing demographics… not that I have much sympathy for dolts.

How would people who watch Fox News all the time ever hear—let alone be able to mentally process—something like “Herbert Hoover presided over a bigger spending increase than Obama has”? Or that “Obama won more popular votes than any Democratic candidate for president in history—except for himself in 2008”? I’ll tell you how they process it: He stole the election!
If you follow, like I do, the far reich blogosphere, it’s very plain to see that these people live in a cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs fantasyland, in an America that doesn’t even exist, hasn’t really existed for years, and that will never exist again short of a genocide that would kill tens of millions of people, and which, frankly, isn’t something I expect to see happening in North America anytime soon.

Even in the minds of GOP bigwigs, this Bizarro World/“mambo dogface to the banana patch” shit is looming large: Did you read former Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett—the guy who coined the term “Reaganomics”—writing in The American Conservative on how even elite Republicans view The New York Times as if it is some far left samizdat? WTF??
Interestingly, a couple of days after the Suskind article appeared, I happened to be at a reception for some right-wing organization that many of my think tank friends were also attending. I assumed I would get a lot of grief for my comments in the Suskind article and was surprised when there was none at all.
Finally, I started asking people about it. Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.
I was flabbergasted. Until that moment I had not realized how closed the right-wing mind had become. Even assuming that my friends’ view of the Times’ philosophy was correct, which it most certainly was not, why would they not want to know what their enemy was thinking? This was my first exposure to what has been called “epistemic closure” among conservatives—living in their own bubble where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction.
Read that last sentence again. That would describe Fox News perfectly, a place where nonsensical ideas circulate with no contradiction. EVER, or else they cut your mic. A black hole of intelligence that’s sucking the GOP faithful into a place of foolishness from which they can never return.
Back to Mitchell:
Over the last several years, this has been very helpful to the Republican Party, but during 2012, particularly in recent months, this has begun to change. Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry making it hard for the party to move to the center, or increase its appeal as it must do to remain electorally competitive. For example, Bill O’Reilly’s explanation of why the Obama was reelected may, in fact, resonate, with the older and heavily white viewership of Fox, but it is precisely the wrong public message and messenger for the Party.
Precisely, it was the sort of grumpy old white senior citizens who reliably vote in the Republican primaries—and get their “informations” from Fox News—who forced Mitt Romney to contort himself into positions that made him an unpalatable shit-dipped pretzel to non-white, non-old, non-idiotic Americans and therefore patently un-electable.
I got yer manifest destiny right here: Romney scored the “reliable low IQ buffoon” vote, that’s for sure, and for many of us, that alone was a good enough reason to vote against him. How will the “big tent” Republicans go about courting that surefire base of the Tea party / “Moran” / covert (or overt) racist / Christian home-schooled creationist conservative bloc in elections to come without alienating absolutely everyone else?

Talk about a difficult dance step with both of your shoes tied together and nailed to the floor. Is it even possible to pull off such a doomed political tango moving forward in history? It’s a stupid uphill battle to wage to begin with. Why bother trying to swim against this kind of historical and demographic current? Why hitch your wagon to some horses who require oxygen tanks and twice daily insulin shots? It doesn’t make any sense.
Any aspiring young politician with half a brain would be a fool to think he’d be the BMOC by joining the party of people with no brains at all (Scott Brown, I’m looking at your short political career. Still glad you pledged Phi Kappa Dipshit?). Whereas, the Democrats, or at least some of them, seem more like the folks with one eye in the kingdom of the blind (I exempt Florida’s Alan Grayson from this assessment), the Republicans just seem like mean-spirited know-nothing buffoons, country blumpkins (that’s not a typo) and Jeebus freaks who belong in carnival sideshows, not voting booths. Where do you go from there when your baseline members consist of the country’s most irritating assholes and blowhards under the same “big tent”? (Think of the GOP not as a political party, but a party party. Who wants to party with the Republicans? They’ve got John Rocker signing autographs!)
And listen to the hilarious “conciliatory” noises that even the likes of Sean Hannity are starting to spout about immigration reform (he’s “evolved”—not a word typically associated with Hannity, is it?). A little late, buddy, don’t cha think? How do you solve a problem like, uh,Maria, at this late stage of the game, genius? YOU don’t. You try to fuck off with some tiny shred of dignity left! (If you care about what Sean Hannity “thinks” about immigration reform, I truly fucking pity you and anyone you come into contact with on a regular basis).
Moreover, while Fox helps the Republican Party when it slants its news coverage to the right, it damages the Party when its news coverage becomes too shoddy. A network that cannot get election night right because one of its star pundits simply refuses to accept defeat offers very little reason for potential viewers to watch it. Similarly a network whose pundits are so off in their election predictions will ultimately marginalize itself completely, as Fox is beginning to do.
Fox News “offers very little reason for potential viewers to watch it.” As Glenn Beck likes to say “Well, duh!”
If the information a news organization brings to the public is wrong and is demonstrated—easily—to be incorrect, then what is the value proposition? Fox News fills not-so-bright people’s heads with comforting bullshit and it serves to get them riled up and angry with… non-facts. It tells dum-dums, not “the news,” but what they want to hear. Study after study has shown that Fox News fans are the least informed people in America—indeed they are the very opposite of informed, as they tend to actually know less than they would had they watched no TV news at all.
There is clearly very little of nutritional value to get out of Fox News. It’s like eating Cheetos all the damned day and believing that you are consuming a futuristic health food (like Tang and Gatorade) even as you weigh 500 lbs and have to be lifted by a crane into your electric scooter.

Fox News imbicilizes its viewership. Its viewership IS the Republican base and probably comprises the greater part of its primary voters. According to Bruce Bartlett, it’s also the leadership…
Another thing that came to mind reading Mitchell’s essay was Paul Krugman’s withering quip about Newt Gingrich being “a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.” Ouch, but it’s just so very, very true. If your mind is tiny, Newt’s must seem vast, but that doesn’t say much about the price of tea in China, just what passes for “brainy” to a group of people as dumb as a cows. Gingrich, like Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, is merely a self-confident idiot. and yet these bozos are the very ones they pass off as the smart guys because they’re louder, more emphatically blusterous and in the case of Gingrich, just flat-out fuckin’ meaner.

One of the bigger challenges facing the Republican Party is that they are perceived as the, to phrase it nicely, less smart of the two major parties. The anti-science perspective, unwillingness to speak out against absurd sounding conspiracy theories, and even the attacks on Nate Silver, presumably because Silver did somewhat sophisticated math, have contributed to this and are damaging the party. It is no coincidence that the Obama campaign had a more sophisticated targeting and turnout operation and better statistical modeling. A party that refuses to take a firm stand in support of evolution or recognizing climate change is not going to draw too many people with advanced statistical training as advisors and consultants.
Fox contributes to that environment by creating a climate where partisan rantings of people like Dick Morris are indulged while criticism by serious people like Tom Ricks is shut down and attacked. There is no inevitable link between conservatism and stupidity, but one could be forgiven for coming to that conclusion while watching Fox News. As it is currently constructed, Fox News is going to bring in almost no swing voters in the coming years. It will more likely continue to repel them through poor analysis and rants that strike the precise tone the party should be trying to avoid.
BAM. The toxic ménage à trois of the GOP, Fox News and the dumbest old coots in Americameans that they are perceived from the outside as being synonymous, and so herein lies the FAR BIGGER problem for the Republican party: Its very base, the braying Tea party dumbasses who they have so assiduously courted and pandered to, has made the Republican Party itself look like a BAD INVESTMENT. They can’t win lumbered with the imbecilic hordes of Fox News viewers, but they sure cannot win without them, either. What to do?
Tee-hee! This is yet another particularly vexing Catch 22 that I don’t think the GOP counted on. It goes far beyond their demographic problems and presents a much, much more immediate Wiley E. Coyote looking down to see that he’s already in very big trouble sort of crisis.
It’s also not something that I think is obvious to them—yet: Smart businessmen don’t tend to throw good money after bad. They certainly don’t keep doing it forever. Why would the people who have traditionally given money to the Republicans be foolish enough to do that again in 2016?
I think even the fucking US Chamber of Commerce got the message this time, don’t you? How could they have missed it?

Mitchell concluded by offering a final compelling reason for what I’m seeing as the “bad investment” aspect of the unholy trinity of Fox News, the GOP and the dumbest Americans:
It is in the interest of the Democrats, not the Republicans, for there to be a loud, extremist, heavily white faction in the Republican Party, constantly pushing that party rightward. One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox which contributing to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts, was clear.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, while this is bad politics, it is good business for Fox. By positioning itself as the place where angry Republicans can go for their rhetorical red meat, Fox guarantees itself a sizable viewership, so the incentive for Fox to keep doing what it is doing is substantial, as is the potential damage to the Republican Party.
Good business for Fox News, but bad business for rich supporters of the Republican Party.
It’s a very difficult thing to convince someone that they’re stupid, however, it’s utterly infuriating when someone lets you know that they think you’re stupid and you suspect they might be right (I’d imagine, it’s not like this has ever happened to me). Faced with that uncomfortable power dynamic, stupid people tend to huff and puff and dig in their heels even harder when it comes to something that threatens them. As the Republican electorate gets older and has less and less influence, the growing realization that the rest of us think they’re knobswill see the thrashing displays of abject crazy get ratcheted up to levels of lunacy not yet seen, but that will just seem more and more silly, shrill and impotent as time goes on. For the Republicans, it used to be that automatically having the coalition of the stupid in their back pocket was a winning strategy. Today that’s why they’re losing and yet they can’t exactly cut them loose, either.

So the upshot of all of this is that GOP can’t really compete on a national level anymore, and if this isn’t an entirely 100% watertight truth (although the demographics sure seem to back it up) it’s still true enough.
If they were a sports team would you bet on them?
And ask yourself, even if you were stinking rich would you knowingly invest in a losing (hell, DOOMED) team?
As that notion sinks in, and becomes fully baked into the popular “loser” perception of the GOP, will the 1% continue to financially support the Republican party?
I think it’s pretty clear that the answer is gonna be NO.
(What this portends for the Democrats and one party rule in America is something beyond the scope of this already overlong post).


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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Like Wayne LaPierre, Beck has blood on his hands

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Our hearts grieve for the tragic loss of so many lives and the irreparable devastation of so many others.  If we are ever to stop these tragedies there is much work to be done in the laws of gun ownership, and in our treatment of the mentally ill.  But there is only one change we can make that will make the change.  We need to turn our culture from one where violence is encouraged in war, used to entertain our children, and viewed as an acceptable answer to conflict, to one where we embrace peace, respect one another, and arm our children with the most important tool for their future, compassion.
~~Torie Tiffany

In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, Glenn Beck tweeted that communities are suffering because of "lack of self control [and] personal responsibility."  Like his buddies at the National Rifle Association, Beck's uncompromising views on gun control means that he has blood on his hands yet again. What Lawrence O'Donnell says about Wayne LaPierre below could transfer almost completely to Mr. Beck.

Immediately after Beck got on the air on the day of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, he tweeted:

Val Ferrelly replied to Beck, "Its nothing to do with self control and everything to do with a lack of gun control.

Later, Beck followed up with this gem:

This, of course, is another false claim. A soul doesn't kill 20 children in a rampage unless that soul has a gun.

Glenn Beck                                 S.E. Cupp

Instead of talking nonsense about the "soul," something ministers and priests, not a political televangelist like Beck, should discuss with their flock. Beck's employee, S.E. Cupp made the case on MSNBC that more needs to be done about mental health care in the U.S. She said:
A real conversation has to start with the broken mental health system that’s failing our young people. We have to talk about teen suicide–there are 12 a day–depression and bullying. We have to talk about the over-medicating of our children and a lack of access to health care and resources. Instead, we get the knee-jerk call for more gun laws on the left and the knee-jerk defense of guns on the right. That’s not a conversation, that’s a stalemate. ”We will have to change,” the president told us from Newtown over the weekend. And he’s right. We all want to prevent another tragedy. So let’s have a real, serious conversation about it. For once.
That, at least, makes more sense than Beck's tweets; but she did not mention that improved mental health care will require revenues to insure all people have access to good mental health care when they are in need.

Fact is, the Framers of the Constitution could not have predicted how weapon technology would transform American communities and cites into combat zones and killing fields. Just as we regulate driving and automobiles, we need to regulate guns and have the owners licensed to possess least. On December 18th on The Last Word, Lawrence O'Donnell conveyed a message about the NRA's Wayne LaPierre that goes for Mr. Beck and everyone like him who takes a dangerous and reckless position on domestic arms control, or more precisely, the lack thereof.

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Update, 12/21/2012: Like many Republicans on the far right these days, Glenn Beck claims to be a great admirer of President Reagan if not a "Reaganite." On December 19th, O'Donnell used the rewrite section of his show to point out that, not only is the current Republican Party out of step with the former president on tax increases, but also on the subject of gun control in the United States. Via MSNBC:

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beck/Norquist and other tax rebels have a reality problem

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Glenn Beck, Grover Norquist and a particularly extremist group of far-right (Tea Party) Republicans are trying to get Congress to hold strong against increasing the tax rates on the top 2% of American wage earners. On 12/12/12, Lawrence O'Donnell took up the question of a Republican-led House of Representatives raising taxes in response to a small press conference help by some of the most extreme members of Congress earlier this week.

Glenn Beck and Grover Norquist

Via MSNBC, listen to this excellent history lesson that Glenn Beck will never convey to his followers:

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Republicans and right-wing commentators keep arguing that the United States has a "spending problem," but that was not the case until President Bush 1) cut taxes, 2) passed Medicare Part D without paying for it and 3) waged two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) without raising taxes to pay for them, the first time in history any president has shown such fiscal irresponsibility. This is why the federal budget is out of balance.

The fact is, the United States has a revenue problem. The Tea Party types like to argue that we are "taxed enough already" (TEA). That is true for the 98% that most Congressional Democrats and the President are trying to keep taxes low for. However, tax rates on the wealthy have been historically higher, and those people thrived during those periods of high, marginal tax rates.

Glenn Beck and many other Republicans are arguing that the deficits the U.S. is incurring is a "crisis" and therefore spending needs to be reduced now. However, conservative contributor to the NY Times Economix blog and former adviser to Presidents Reagan and George H W Bush, Bruce Bartlett, recently wrote about the Government Accountability Office's new estimates of the federal government's long term budget outlook. He points out, according to the GAO report:
[S]pending is not out of control. Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are rising gently as the baby-boom generation retires. All other spending, including that for the military and domestic discretionary programs, falls—with the notable exception of interest on the debt. Interest rises sharply as the deficit rises, principally because the G.A.O. assumes that revenue will not be permitted to rise above its historical average—as Republicans continually insist.
In other words, the inability to raise revenues to deal with the deficit is the nation's major financial problem. Here's the information in chart form from the GAO:
How high should the marginal tax rate (on the highest income earners) go? A key idea to easily understand how much the top marginal tax rates could increase is provided by the infamous (in some progressive circles) Laffer Curve. Just as Laffer argued in the early 1980's that tax rates were too high and needed to be decreased to maximize government revenues, it is more obviously the case that top, marginal tax rates are too low now. For Beck, Norquist and other 19th Century liberals (reactionaries), it is government spending that is too high, but that cannot be the case during or coming out of an economic downturn. It is temporary  government spending that serves as a bridge to economic recovery for the private sector. Although the crisis phase of the Great Recession is behind us, there is still need for government spending to hasten a sluggish recovery and to invest in future economic global competition with better education and job training. It just needs to be paid for. If the debt is a crisis as conservatives argue, then they must face the need for increased revenues now and again during the 114th Congress.

Figure 1 was taken from a piece in Mother Jones Magazine from November of 2011 by Kevin Drum. In it he wrote:

If you assume a broad base and no deductions, Diamond and Saez peg the revenue maximizing rate for top earners at 76 percent. That's for federal income tax only. (See page 173 here.) 
You can decide for yourself if you think top marginal rates should be that high. After all, revenue maximization isn't our only social goal. Roughly speaking, though, this is a calculation of the peak of the famous Laffer Curve. (For top earners, anyway.) Above 76 percent, you really can generate higher revenues by lowering tax rates. Below that, higher rates generate higher revenue, just like you'd think. 
Note that this is a result that both liberals and conservatives ought to take some satisfaction in. For liberals, it's confirmation that current tax rates are far, far below the Laffer maximum. We can raise marginal rates from 35 to 40 percent with only minor deadweight losses. For conservatives, it's justification for the 1981 Reagan tax cuts. When top rates were at 70 percent, reductions may not have literally paid for themselves, but they probably lowered revenue fairly modestly. We really were pretty close to the Laffer maximum in the '60s and '70s.
Too many representatives in Congress are representing those who paid for their campaigns to get into office, the 1%, and not the majority of voters. Taxes on the wealthy need to go up, and the Laffer Curve shows that they can do so appreciably without adversely affecting the economy. Hopefully in 2014 voters of all political stripes will realize that the anti-tax rebels allied with Grover Norquist and/or Glenn Beck need to be displaced from office. Otherwise, in years to come, we will have a deficit and debt problem.

Update, 12/16/2012: On the show Up with Chris Hayes on Dec. 9th, substitute host Steve Kornacki has as one of his guests Professor David Kay Johnston, author of The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use Plain English to Rob You Blind and distinguished visiting lecturer at Syracuse University said this about the three points above about spending, deficits and revenues. Via MSNBC:

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Think about fiscal responsibility and please keep those comments in mind when you vote in 2014.

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