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Chart Of The Day

09.28.14

Ryan Mason:

“So it seems that the theory behind trickle-down economics has been empirically refuted: its impact has been overwhelmingly trickle-up. It is also quite clear by now that huge tax cuts do not remotely pay for themselves – and the recent experience in Kansas only adds a final coda to this. And yet the GOP shows absolutely no sign of absorbing these facts, or having anything to say about the dangerous political instability of huge social and economic inequality and crippling debt that are their consequence.”

The GOP is more of a religion than a reality-based political party. It’s one thing to adhere to dogma when it comes to things that cannot be disproven, like what happens after you die, but it’s quite another when there are decades (or more) of empirical data supporting concepts like trickle-down economics doesn’t work at all, or evolution is real, or tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, or climate change is real and greatly influenced by humans. No surprise then that many Evangelicals are also Republican. Both require blind faith in the face of contradictory evidence.

Originally posted on The Dish:

Income Distribution

Drum flags the above one – and it is truly staggering:

The precise numbers (from Piketty and Saez) can always be argued with, but the basic trend is hard to deny. After the end of each recession, the well-off have pocketed an ever greater share of the income growth from the subsequent expansion. Unsurprisingly, there’s an especially big bump after 1975, but this is basically a secular trend that’s been showing a steady rise toward nosebleed territory for more than half a century. Welcome to the 21st century.

Jordan Weissmann chimes in:

Through mid-century, when times were good economically, most of the benefits trickled down to the bottom 90 percent of households. Then came the Reagan era and actual trickle-down economics. Suddenly, the benefits started sticking with the rich. Since 2001, the top 10 percent have enjoyed virtually all of the gains.

This isn’t a totally new story. But…

View original 180 more words

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Obama’s Wealth Redistribution-Based Fiscal Policy: Rob From Poor to Give to Rich

02.13.11

Already looking ahead to 2012′s fiscal budget, President Obama is proposing a major cut to heating subsidies for the poor to help aid them against rising energy costs.

This is just infuriating. It’s hard to argue against the fact that our country is further becoming a plutocracy when the top one percent of earners control nearly 34 percent of our nation’s wealth and when even the Democrats cut programs that help the poor while continuing to extend tax breaks to the one group of Americans who were hit the softest by the economic recession.

I still don’t get how anyone can swallow the rhetoric that the rich needed a tax break while we have a surging debt and deficit in the trillions. Sure, everyone would love to pay less in taxes; but it was passed off as if it would be un-American to do otherwise under the guise that if you give more money to the rich, they in turn create new jobs for everyone else. It’s a wonderful thought that many of the rich love to taut, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

And now here we are.

Why isn’t it un-American to let families freeze in the winter because they have to choose between food and heat? Why are both parties so quick to throw the poor under the bus while ensuring that the rich keep even more of their money? Is $2.5 billion – which amounts to merely 0.21 percent of this year’s federal deficit – going to make us more fiscally solvent to the point that it’s worth affecting millions of lower-income families? And that’s more important for our economy – and our people – than raising taxes on the richest two percent of Americans by under five percent?

While the Obama Administration points out that these cuts reduce the budget back to 2008 levels; which sounds respectable and all but with average gas prices higher for the month of February 2011 than they were in February of 2008, energy costs are on their way up while unemployment stays above nine percent. Not a great climate to justify cutting assistance for rising energy prices.

I’m sure there are also plenty of other costs that will be added to our bottom line by cutting this $2.5 billion. The added stress on families coupled with either going without heat or going without food for some who simply cannot afford both could add to health care costs as the toll on their bodies makes them more susceptible to illness or injury. And with less assistance for their necessities (which just goes to the energy companies anyway, not directly out into the backbone of our economy that is supposedly built by small business) that’s less money going into the economy for local businesses and vendors. I’m sure that’s always the case when people have less assistance; however, it’s worth looking at to determine just how financially prudent this cut is when it only affects poor Americans in the midst of a deep recession that disproportionately affects poor Americans.

Not to say that the rich always have to foot the bill for all things. Don’t misunderstand this as me being in favor of taxing the rich every time the rest of the population wants something. This is about fairness. And when the rich enjoy billions of dollars in tax relief while basic necessities like providing adequate heat are taken away from the poor, that’s wrong. That’s un-American.

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Why Cutting Public Funding for PBS Harms Poor Americans More than Rich

02.12.11

In an effort to cut our national deficit, House Republicans are introducing legislation to cut even more spending, this time focusing on totally ending funding for NPR and PBS.

Just for those keeping track at home, our national deficit this year is roughly $1.17 trillion. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget is $420 million, making it roughly .036 percent of this year’s shortfall.

Here’s the thing: we need to fix our budget. But it’s beyond insulting to give the top two percent of earners a massive tax cut that costs taxpayers $68 billion for the estate tax cut alone. Throw in another $81.5 billion for the tax cuts to families making over $250,000 and we’re looking at $149.5 billion in spending (which is one percent of the debt — or 356 times as much as what we spend on the CPB) that only benefits a tiny fraction of the population while wanting to slash funding for the programs that go to the middle- and lower-classes who make up an overwhelming majority of the population.

There are a number of reasons why the GOP is embarking on a witch hunt for NPR and PBS, one of which is that they’re making it all about ideology to rile their base, not because they’re being fiscally austere. Only someone who had no clue about budgets and numbers in general – or blinded by rhetoric – would miss the absurdity of adding $149.5 billion to the deficit at the same time as fighting to cut $420 million all while claiming to be budget hawks. It’s like taking out a massive loan on a brand-new home in Malibu and then putting your foot down on selling your 10-year-old Dodge Caravan to cut down on spending.

Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Jim DeMint both argued for cutting CPB because since our government is broke, we cannot afford to be spending money on left-wing programs that Americans don’t agree with. Surely some feel that way. But what’s so left-wing about Sesame Street? Or NOVA? Remember Wild America and Reading Rainbow? Unless learning about science, nature, and reading is left-wing all of a sudden, it’s just more of the same ideological fantasy world where Glenn Beck is a moderate and anyone else to the left of Beck is considered a radical leftist — a stance that has even extended to other popular conservative pundits. It feels like just political battle against Democrats but the only losers will be us Americans who actually value public broadcasting – regardless of our politics.

For those who defend the Republican Party vehemently against those who think that the GOP is the party for the rich, it’s hard to feel otherwise when conservative congresspeople stand firm on tax cuts for the rich while also arguing that we can do without funding for PBS. Perhaps they’ve forgotten since they’re making well over $100,000 a year as civil servants that for poorer families who have to cut costs to stay solvent in this economy don’t always have access to the plethora of channels available via cable television.

Not to say that people with cable don’t watch PBS or listen to NPR even if they have Sirius, but I remember growing up as a kid, we didn’t have enough money to splurge on cable when we already had standard TV via an antenna on the top of our house. And since my parents didn’t want us only watching crap, we watched a lot of PBS: Reading Rainbow and Square One TV were after-school mainstays for years.

We can’t just keep cutting everything that keeps a support net for underprivileged Americans while avoiding the big issues that were the true culprits in this financial fiasco. You might disagree with me on the worth of taxpayer money funding NPR and PBS, but no one can argue that their budget is a key component to our ballooning deficit. It’s barely a drop in the bucket. A fraction of a percentage of our overall debt.

Cutting this spending will not right our ship, will not come close to balancing our budget. If the rich can get massive tax breaks, the rest of us should at the very least get to keep our free TV that offers more substance than Charlie Sheen making light of alcoholism, promiscuity, and a total lack of commitment nightly in half-hour chunks.

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Doubling Down on Ignorance: Arabic Classes Axed From Texas School Curriculum

02.10.11

In another case of knee-jerk decision making, the Mansfield school district in Texas quickly ended their curricula that would teach Arabic language and culture in K-12 classes because local parents raised concerns over the spread of Islam.

The notion behind this is absurd – that if we teach children about something, they’ll then take that knowledge and use it only for horrible things — or that if we don’t teach them about it, they won’t learn about. Because some people are promiscuous and catch diseases or get pregnant from unprotected sex, let’s just not teach our kids about it at all in school! (We know how well that works out.) Same goes for the Middle East, apparently.

But it’s just beyond ridiculous. As if kids don’t already learn about sex from other sources – usually completely false crap from their friends like you can’t get pregnant if it’s your first time and other random nonsense. And as if kids aren’t going to learn something about Arabic cultures through the news. Newsflash: we’ve been at war with two Arabic countries for the past decade, roughly the entire lifespan of your average fourth grader so I think they may already have gleaned a thing or two about those peoples. (And depending on which news source you frequent, it might not be the most accurate things, either.)

But do they know that Iranians aren’t Arabs, they’re Persians? Or that Iraq has inner turmoil between warring factions of two different sects of Islam – Sunnis and Shiites – as well as Kurds? Or that there are even small groups of Christians in the mix in both countries, too? Does teaching them that terrorists only compromise a minute fraction of a percentage of the overall Muslim population of the world endanger them in some way?

Cindy Henderson, the mother of a fifth-grader in that district, said:

“We don’t want to discriminate against the entire Middle East, but [9-11] is hard to forget. They said they aren’t going to teach religion, but I don’t see how you can teach that culture without going into their beliefs.”

It’s just plain old bigotry and ignorance wrapped up to look like a genuine concern for safety. Should we not teach them about Ancient Greece because it’s impossible to teach about their society without talking about their religion? No more learning about the Parthenon, kids, since it was built as a temple to the goddess Athena.

The other decoy issue to distract everyone from the real reason of prejudice against Arabs is that somehow it’s unacceptable that these Arabic classes were going to be mandatory. It’s not even clear that this was even the case. Per the Mansfield school district’s website, there’s nothing mandatory:

There are no “mandatory Arabic classes” as being falsely reported in the media.

Their emphasis.

But, Cindy Henderson seemed to think otherwise:

“I don’t think we should spend all our time on one culture,” she said. “I think we should spread it around and be fair. I don’t like it being stuffed down our throats.”

I mean, if that’s the case then everything from algebra to the alphabet is “stuffed down our throats.” But, it does bring into question of whether foreign cultures are worthy of being mandatory classes in our K-12 curriculum. I, for one, think that yes, absolutely they should. I also think that there should be options.

When I was in middle and high schools, we had to take language courses, with the options of Spanish, French, or German – and then a couple semesters were offered of Japanese. Considering we’re going to be intertwined with the Arabic world most likely for the rest of our lifetimes, providing the opportunity for students to get a start of their culture and language in secondary education can hopefully only help our diplomatic endeavors in the future, perhaps leading to less military intervention. Sure, that’s ridiculously idealistic and I know that we aren’t going to be changing the minds of any extremists any time soon; but, that’s not the goal. The goal is to shift our own culture away from bigotry, away from xenophobia, and away from reducing vast groups of different cultures into the lowest common denominator of terrorism.

Simply not teaching children about an entire region of the world, especially one in which our country is already so involved and full of such stereotypes and false beliefs, will not protect them or us from the dangers of the world. We don’t rid the world of ignorance and negativity through burying our heads in the sand; we do it by collectively raising all of our awareness, so that we don’t base our decisions on fear and prejudice.

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You Be the Judge: Two Online Video Foursquare Parodies Too Similar?

02.09.11

With the ability to cheaply and quickly create your own videos and post them online for all to see, the chance of two people tackling the same subject matter in a similar way at the same time with no knowledge of the other is most likely quite high. Still, it’s not hard to do a quick YouTube or Google search for what you’re looking to make to see what else is out there that people have already done.

Usually, it’s already been done but it’s either terrible or ripe for more riffs – meaning you can offer a fresh angle on it that allows both versions to live out there in the world fair and square.

Other times, though, there’s just plain old plagiarism; and determining which is just a similar riff on the same topic or creative theft can be difficult.

So, here’s your chance to take a look at some evidence and help decide whether CollegeHumor’s Original comic sketch “Foursquare for Sex” is merely similar to ThesePeople’s comic sketch “Whoresquare” or if it’s too close to be just a coincidence.

Exhibit A

CollegeHumor is an entertainment website that has provides both in-house and user-generated content. In their FAQ, they answer the question asking about what happens when an average user uploads content:

The key phrase to note: “[o]ur editors go through all of the submitted content…”

Exhibit B

The time that each video appeared on the site for the very first time should be looked at. Were the two videos uploaded roughly around the same time, it could mean something different than if one had already been online for some time.

ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare” timestamp:

CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” timestamp:

Exhibit C

The videos themselves:

ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare”

Please visit CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” to view their video as their embedding feature is not working on this WordPress site.

Conclusion

Based on the evidence, we can deduce that:

  1. ThesePeople’s “Whoresquare” video preceded CollegeHumor’s “Foursquare for Sex” video by nearly seven months, thus being the first of the two to hit the web.
  2. “Whoresquare” was also uploaded and accepted onto the site by the CollegeHumor team
  3. CollegeHumor states in their FAQ that they watch all content.
  4. CollegeHumor’s editors watched “Whoresquare” prior to “Foursquare for Sex” being added to the site.

We – myself and Matt Cassatta, who together made that ThesePeople video – brought all of this to the attention of CollegeHumor in an email. The gist of their response:

We want to assure you that CollegeHumor’s video was not copied from your video and that any similarities are mere coincidence and nothing more. CollegeHumor takes intellectual property very seriously and we would never take someone’s work and copy it for purposes of creating our own video. The writer of our video has not seen your video, either on CollegeHumor or YouTube or anywhere else. As you point out, the Foursquare app is ripe for parody, especially in a sexual manner, and any such parody would likely have bits about “checking in”, “tips” and “becoming Mayor” as those are well known parts of Foursquare. We don’t, though, find the videos as a whole substantially similar.

Having now watched your video, we appreciate it and enjoy it.

My emphasis.

Their stance is not only that the writer never saw our video, but that they’re not even similar. That last line even implies that the entire group at CollegeHumor only now saw the video, which seems to run contrary to what they advertise in their FAQ.

The only thing we asked for in our email to them was recognition of our video. Not an apology, not a retraction of their content, just merely an acknowledgment that, indeed, we had gotten there first.

But perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps it’s all mere coincidence. Perhaps it’s just one of those things.

What do you think?

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Pharmacists Allowed to Deny Drugs to Patients Based Solely on Personal Beliefs

02.01.11

In Idaho, the pharmacy can simply choose to not fill your medicine even if you have a valid prescription from your doctor.

It’s called the conscience clause, meaning that if you go to a Walgreen’s with an Rx for Methergine – a medicine used to prevent or stop the bleeding in the uterus after childbirth or an abortion – that pharmacist is not required by law to fill the prescription.

This is exactly what happened to a Planned Parenthood nurse in Nampa, Idaho, who took it to the Board of Idaho Pharmacy and found that the pharmacy did nothing wrong:

But according to the Board of Pharmacy’s response, the Idaho Pharmacy Act does not require a pharmacist to fill a prescription. Even if the conscience law was used incorrectly, the pharmacist did not violate the Idaho Pharmacy Act by refusing to fill the prescription, the board found.

My emphasis. I’m sure there is a good reason to have that clause in the books. For example, if a patient has multiple doctors for many different ailments and they all prescribe drugs that, combined, could cause significant harm to the patient, the pharmacy should have the power to not fill prescription. But, in that sense, it’s for the sake of aiding the patient, preventing harm to them, not fulfilling some judgmental opinion on behalf of the pharmacist.

Quite the contrary. If the woman for whom the Methergine was prescribed needed the drug desperately to prevent massive bleeding, this ability to deny prescriptions to people would be doing the exact opposite: putting someone’s life into danger. Also, since the medicine is also used for situations of childbirth, it’s not certain that it was being used on a woman who had even had an abortion. How would that affect someone’s conscience knowing that they denied needed medicine to a woman who just gave birth?

It turns out that this particular pharmacist asked the nurse if the drug was being used for post-abortion care, to which the nurse denied a response since it would violate the patient’s privacy rights.

According to the Board of Pharmacy’s response, Planned Parenthood alleged the pharmacist’s inquiry violated privacy provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which the board is not entitled to enforce. Under the Idaho Pharmacy Act, releasing such information would be a violation, but requesting it is not, the response states.

The danger in this type of questioning is that even though the nurse is bound by law to not respond, her denial could be interpreted by the pharmacist as a “no comment” type answer, essentially known as a “yes, but I don’t have to tell you so I’m not going to” response. Leading someone perhaps into feeling guilty about being a part of something they don’t want to be even if it’s not the case. Even now in this article, it’s never revealed why the woman needed the drug.

In response to Planned Parenthood’s assertion that denying the prescription could have placed the patient in grave danger, the board said no such danger was realized because the medicine was obtained elsewhere.

Well, that sure is easy to say now in hindsight since the woman apparently did get the drug. But, what happens when all of the pharmacies in the area cite the Conscience Clause, denying the medicine being filled, and the woman hemorrhages and dies? Would the board have found that last point differently?

Also, how is that even allowed to be a defense when there’s no way that pharmacist can know for certain that the patient would be able to obtain the medicine elsewhere in a timely manner enough to avoid any further complications? The only way to know if the patient would’ve been placed in grave danger would be after the pharmacist had already denied the prescription.

I find the whole conscience clause in general rather revolting. The notion that someone whose chosen profession it is to fill prescriptions can decide for themselves whether or not to then fill those legitimately ordered scripts based on their own personal beliefs infuriates me.  And why is this only limited to feelings about abortions and end-of-life care?

Why not about criminals? Or drug addicts?

Both are living lifestyles that some – or many, even – find wrong, immoral, unacceptable. What if a prescription came in for Methadone and the pharmacist refused to fill it because they didn’t think that it was right to give drugs to a drug addict even if it was to help them get off drugs? Or how about this: a gunman gets shot while in a gang fight and, while it’s not life-threatening at the moment, needs a blood-clotting agent to help his situation, but the pharmacist doesn’t agree with gang violence and doesn’t want to be part of helping a known criminal so denies the prescription. Why is that not allowed? Why would that be ridiculous? How is it so different?

Filling a prescription no more endorses the behavior associated with the treatment for whatever ailment necessitates that medicine than working at the local Walgreens endorses the behavior associated with whatever movie people decide to rent from the Redbox out front. When I go to rent a movie, I might want a recommendation from the guy behind the counter, but I surely don’t want to be judged for what I choose to watch by some stranger who thinks they’re so high and mighty when it’s perfectly legal for me to rent that R-rated flick no matter how trashy it looks.

Unless I’m breaking the law: just do your job, know that you had no part in my life choices, and let me do what I have my right to do.

Photo courtesy of Curtis Gregory Perry’s Flickr Photostream.

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The Tea Party: Fight the Future – Starring Michele Bachmann and Paul Ryan

01.28.11

If you missed President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech on Tuesday, then you probably also didn’t get a chance to see the GOP and Tea Party’s rebuttals, presented by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin and Rep. Michele Bachman (R) of Minnesota.

Don’t worry: you can just rent it on DVD at your nearest Blockbuster (if those are still around in your neighborhood). Check out the cover:

Jokes, people. Jokes.

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