I’ve long held that what William Goldman said about Hollywood—”Nobody knows anything”—is equally true of Washington. At the same time though, people in politics are particularly adept at finding those who know even less than they do, and scamming them into giving over their political support or their money, or both.
I thought of this when reading the long investigation The Washington Post published the other day on the byzantine network of organizations the Koch brothers have established or funded to funnel their ample resources into politics. There are dozens of groups involved, and money moves back and forth between them in intricate ways. The Post was able to trace $400 million they spent in the last election, but since there were a number of organizations whose money they weren’t able to track, the real number is almost certainly higher. As a tax law expert quoted in the article says, “It is a very sophisticated and complicated structure … It’s designed to make it opaque as to where the money is coming from and where the money is going. No layperson thought this up. It would only be worth it if you were spending the kind of dollars the Koch brothers are, because this was not cheap.” The Koch brothers no doubt can avail themselves of the most skilled and creative accountants money can buy.
But they sure didn’t get much for their money. Barack Obama, you might have noticed, is still the president, and Democrats did quite well overall in 2012. Perhaps there was no way for the Kochs to change that even with a mid-nine-figure investment. But what it appears happened is that these brothers, who are no doubt savvy businessmen, got taken to the cleaners by their consultants (Matt Yglesias had the same thought I did about this).
You see, political consultants don’t always have standard rates that they use for all their clients. On one end, this may mean that the firm accepts a smaller profit to do some work for a do-gooder nonprofit. On the other end, it means that for a client the consultant knows has deep pockets, the same services will be marked up, maybe by a little, maybe by a lot. If you were a Republican polling firm and the Kochs came to you asking you to do a poll that you ordinarily charge $50,000 for, maybe you could just bump that up to $75,000. They probably won’t notice the difference, after all. And maybe you convince them that they need to conduct six or eight such polls over the course of the year. The direct mail consultants are doing the same thing, and you can bet the media consultants are doing it too, because those guys pull money from clients like nobody’s business. And it isn’t like the Kochs are going to be going over the contracts line by line, right?
Each individual consultant may only be padding his own bottom line by $50,000 here or $100,000 there, but there are so many people involved and so many millions passing hither and yon that by the time its over, the results at the ballot box may be discouraging but a lot of already successful Republican consultants are thinking it’s finally time to get that beach house.
There’s another scam going on at the same time, which is that many of these efforts are aimed at recruiting regular people to be the Koch’s ground troops, to put a “grassroots” face on what is most assuredly an elite project. The Kochs have sincerely held political beliefs, which by pure coincidence happen to line up perfectly with their economic interests. They’d like it if there were fewer regulations on corporate behavior and lower taxes on the rich, among other things (that isn’t to say they don’t also have beliefs on non-economic topics like abortion as well, because I’m sure they do). If you can convince a bunch of middle-class folk to go stand outside in their tricorner hats braying about the Founders and the Constitution as they press Congress to lighten the burdens on our nation’s beleaguered plutocrats, then it’s all worth it.
So the Kochs are getting scammed by their consultants, and they’re scamming the people whom those consultants are persuading, and meanwhile there are plenty of other scams around too. Today Rush Limbaugh went on the air and told his millions of listeners that the “polar vortex” is not an actual thing that meteorologists have documented, but something the media made up in order to make the current cold wave not contradict their existing global warming hoax. Does Rush Limbaugh believe this? I doubt it. But treating his audience like a bunch of gullible fools is part of his business model.
You can find regular people who think that if “global warming” were real, that would mean it will never get cold again. But that’s not because they’re dumb (though they may be). It’s because that’s what people they trust have been telling them for years. Every winter, whenever there’s a cold snap or a big snowfall, a parade of doltish Fox anchors goes on the air hour after hour to say, “So much for global warming! Suck it, Al Gore!” Or as Ted Cruz said today, “It’s cold! Al Gore told me this wouldn’t happen!” Har, har! And those Republican voters, made ever stupider by the media figures they adore, make sure the people who represent them won’t allow anything to be done to address climate change. And you know who benefits from that? Why Charles and David Koch, who are in the oil business. They make money, the consultants make money, Rush Limbaugh makes money, and the only people in the equation who don’t make money are the suckers at the bottom.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 7, 2014
“Blisteringly Ignorant”: The Republican Reaction To The Polar Vortex Explains Why So Many Scientists Are Democrats
When I walked to work Tuesday morning, it was 4 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest temperature I’ve experienced in the last two years living in Washington, D.C. The cold snap has sparked the inevitable snow trolling—that this weather somehow disproves climate change’s existence—from A-list conservative commentators like Matt Drudge, Erick Erickson and the usual stable of Fox pundits. This is only a rawer form of the climate-change denial that is now party dogma, comporting with, for starters, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate and the entire Republican membership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They are, of course, completely wrong. But this kind of Lysenkoist behavior isn’t just wrong; it has catastrophically discredited the party among scientists.
The Republican position here, at least as outlined by its loudest and most influential members, seems to be this: The theory of global warming predicts that everywhere will be hot all the time. Therefore, the continued existence of cold things disproves the theory. Donald Trump tweeted, ”We are experiencing the coldest weather in more than two decades-most people never remember anything like this. GLOBAL WARMING anyone?” Some guy at Red State gloated over the fate of the climate research vessel Akademic Sholkalskiy, and Rush Limbaugh joined in with similar thoughts:
It’s an abject, total fraud. Well, obviously there is no melting of ice going on at the North Pole. If they’re gonna tell us the polar vortex is responsible for this cold, that means record cold is also happening in the North Pole, which means there isn’t any ice melting, and we know about the global warming expedition that went down to the South Pole, Antarctica, to prove that the ice is melting.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how blisteringly ignorant this sounds to a scientist. The argument, if it can be dignified as such, is 100 percent straw man. As far as the Akademic Sholkalskiy is concerned, the vessel’s mission was general climate research, not to disprove the existence of sea ice (we use satellites for that kind of measurement, cause the Earth is real big), and the International Panel on Climate Change never predicted that all sea ice would be gone forever. The vessel was trapped by weather-shifted pack ice, not unseasonable overall ice coverage. And while it is true that (unlike in the Arctic) Antarctic sea ice has been growing, for a variety of reasons, Antarctic land ice, which is what matters for sea level rise, is melting fast.
And contra Limbaugh, as Climate Central’s Andrew Freeman details, there is a strong case that even the current cold snap in the U.S. can be laid at the doorstep of climate change. Climate models predict that typical wind patterns will be disrupted, and that’s exactly what is causing freezing Arctic air to pour across North America. Meanwhile, the Arctic itself is correspondingly much warmer than average—on Tuesday much of Alaska was warmer than Atlanta and Mobile.
But the most elementary subtleties of reasoning are lost on many Republicans, who descend into anti-intellectual capering at the slightest provocation. Surely this is part of what accounts for the yawning partisan affiliation gap among scientists. A 2009 Pew poll found that 55 percent of scientists identified as Democrat, and just 6 percent as Republican.
These days, top Republicans are constantly yowling about things—from climate change to evolution—that aren’t just controversial, but preposterous. Even a scientifically informed business person might be able to look past that stuff, but such beliefs are radioactive in the scientific community. What’s more, the GOP won’t allow within its ranks anything less than angry denials of settled scientific consensus—admit climate change is real, and you’ll be frog-marched out of office. By contrast, the Democrats have a few scientifically challenged loons (vaccine deniers and GMO paranoiacs come to mind), but they don’t suffuse the party.
Democrats no doubt benefit in the long run from the GOP’s denialism, but it’s a shame nonetheless. Ideally, both parties would agree upon an empirical reality, allowing a policy debate over values and priorities, not inconvenient facts. Some have predicted that a new generation of GOP leaders like Chris Christie will finally take on the party’s willful ignorance of climate change, but there’s little sign of that. And until then, scientists will keep supporting one side overwhelmingly.
By: Ryan Cooper, Web Editor, The Washington Monthly; Published in The New Republic, January 8, 2014
“Limbaugh Solves Weather Mystery”: Polar Vortex Is A Liberal, Mainstream Media Hoax Designed To Sell Global Climate Change
Who knew that Rush Limbaugh—in addition to his many “talents”—possesses a deep knowledge and understanding of climatology and meteorology?
While Limbaugh’s biography reveals no apparent training in such matters, that small detail did not prevent Rush from declaring the severe cold snap—produced by the distortion of the polar vortex and currently affecting much of the United States—to be nothing more than a hoax, proclaiming —
“We are having a record-breaking cold snap in many parts of the country. And right on schedule the media have to come up with a way to make it sound like it’s completely unprecedented. Because they’ve got to find a way to attach this to the global warming agenda, and they have. It’s called the ‘polar vortex.’ The dreaded polar vortex.”
Limbaugh continued his rant by noting that liberals are “in the middle of a hoax, they’re perpetrating a hoax, but they’re relying on their total dominance of the media to lie to you each and every day about climate change and global warming. So they created the polar vortex, and the polar vortex, something’s happened, and that cold air which normally stays is in the North Pole, something’s happening, something deeply mysterious and perhaps tragic is happening.”
Apparently, Rush has been so busy studying his weather charts that he failed to notice that Fox News, Newsmax and other conservative media outlets have decided to join the liberal media hoax by discussing the polar vortex as part of their own weather reports—and yes, they are using that precise phrase—over the past few days.
And with good reason.
You see, there is nothing deeply mysterious nor tragic involved with the existence of a polar vortex (except for the few human tragedies that always seem to accompany severe weather situations) and what happens when the weather pattern becomes distorted. What’s more, I have yet to hear any suggestion from liberals, conservatives—or any branch of the media—indicating that there is some mystery or tragedy at work.
I’ve only heard Rush Limbaugh suggest that others are suggesting the same.
Still, Limbaugh insists that the whole affair has been “created” by the liberals and the mainstream media to feather the arguments in support of global warming and climate change.
A polar vortex is a circulation of strong winds that surround the northern pole (although there is also a polar vortex surrounding the southern pole) that swirl in a counterclockwise direction, creating a low pressure weather pattern. The strong winds typically keep the seriously cold air “locked into” the Arctic region. But, on occasion, the vortex (winds) become distorted as a result of the strength of the winds lessening, causing the vortex to ‘dip’ down to the south, allowing the frigid, arctic air to escape and spill down to the south where they bring very cold temperatures to the Northern Hemisphere—including those we are currently experiencing throughout much of the United States.
Thus, it is not the polar vortex that the liberals and media allegedly “created” that is causing our really cold weather-it is the distortion of the polar vortex that bears the blame. And while Santa Claus may not truly live at the North Pole (I hope I haven’t ruined the Santa Claus thing for Limbaugh), the polar vortex is real and very much does.
The entire process is nothing new.
Cold periods frequently result from distortions of the polar vortex, but as they occur at different times, in different parts of the world and with different levels of severity, we here in the United States tend not to focus on them unless the frigid air comes our way. Indeed, just last year, many parts of Europe experienced frigid air during the Easter season as a result of a distorted polar vortex which sent the arctic air in their direction instead of our own and produced an Easter far colder than what they were experiencing during the Christmas season.
So, Rush…I’m afraid the vast liberal conspiracy did not “create” the evil sounding bit of science-fiction entitled the polar vortex as a means of selling global climate change. You’re going to have to give credit for the existence of a polar vortex to a much higher authority.
Of course, without any desire on Rush’s part to actually explore this weather phenomenon on a scientific level—a complete misuse of Limbaugh’s time as, God forbid, his audience might learn something of scientific value—and whether or not the distortion of a polar vortex might actually be the result of climate change, Limbaugh’s latest bit of buffoonery does raise for us the question of whether or not climate change does bear some blame for extreme changes in weather patterns.
The answer is that your guess is as good as mine.
In fact, your guess is as good as the climate scientists who, for many years now, have been attempting to discover whether there is a connection between the distortion of the polar vortex and any man-made climate change. As this research has been going on for quite some time, it would appear that Rush Limbaugh was a more than a little late to pick up on this bit of conspiracy as I don’t recall him discussing this back in 2001 when the first studies on the subject began to emerge.
“Studies published since 2001 suggest a link between extreme weather and the polar vortex, in recent years more research identified interactions with Arctic sea ice decline, reduced snow cover, evapotranspiration patterns, NAO anomalies or weather anomalies which are linked to the polar vortex and jet stream configuration. However, because these are considered short-term observations (since ~13 years) there is considerable uncertainty in the conclusions. Climatology observations require several decades to distinguish natural variability from climate trends (emphasis added.)
Apparently, an effort on the part of meteorologists and television weather reporters—including those over at Fox—to teach us a little something about what is causing an unusual and difficult weather pattern can only equate to conspiracy in the mind of Rush Limbaugh who has single-handedly managed to create a conspiracy where none could possibly have previously existed.
I guess that is ‘business as usual’ for Rush when forced to get the anger flowing on a slow, “first day back to work” for the new year.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, January 7, 2014
“Can A Cure Be Found For Obamacare Brain Meltdown Syndrome?”: Putting The Lie To The Anti-ACA Talking Heads
As we launch into 2014, I must regrettably report that we have yet to develop a vaccine or cure that can assist those who have contracted the insidious Obamacare Brain Meltdown Syndrome (OBMS)–a tragic illness affecting roughly 50 percent of Americans who now lack all ability to review ACA data with any measure of balance and reason.
While we await the critically needed medical advances and discoveries that can bring relief to the afflicted—assuming such a program has not been ground into the dust as a result of sequestration cuts to medical research—we continue in the attempt to bring actual data to the attention of the long-suffering, in the hope that the rumors, half-truths and outright lies can be retired through the presentation of the facts.
One of the more pervasive rumors, half-truths and outright lies making the rounds these days is the meme that more people have lost their insurance as a result of Obamacare than have gained coverage thanks to healthcare reform.
As the story goes, some five million people have had their insurance cancelled because of the ACA while the numbers of those who have gained coverage currently stands somewhere around two million—and we don’t even know how many of those who have enlisted will actually bother to pay the first premium for their newly acquired insurance policy. Based on these numbers the math is simple—the law has hurt three million more than it has helped.
This line of reasoning makes for a terrific story as it is a tale both easy to understand and clear in its result.
The problem is, the story is clearly not true.
A report out this week from the Minority Staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce reveals that 99.8 percent of those who received an insurance cancellation can now either re-up their existing plans for another year, as a result of the changes made in recent weeks, or, alternatively, obtain a catastrophic coverage policy. As a result of these changes, the report finds that about 10,000 Americans —representing 0.2 percent of those who received cancellation notices—will actually find themselves without access to an affordable health insurance alternative.
That said, I recognize that the report was issued by the Democrats on the committee— making the study something less than the best possible authority for those suffering from OBMS. I also recognize that 10,000 people lacking the access they once had to affordable health care insurance are 10,000 people too many.
Accordingly, let’s just pretend that the Minority staff report never happened and that we are still working off the suggestion that five million people really have been left fully exposed as the metric that should be used for comparison.
With that as our comparison point, surely the argument suggesting that Obamacare has hurt more Americans than it has helped can be justified, yes?
In fact, based on the hard data, we are now able to see that at least 9.4 million Americans have health insurance coverage as a result of Obamacare.
Let’s go to the numbers—
We know that approximately 2.1 million people have purchased a health insurance policy from either a health care exchange operated by the federal government or from one of the 14 state operated exchanges. Indeed, even the harshest ACA critics appear to have accepted this number—although they insist on noting that, somehow, many of these people went to the trouble of buying a policy but will refuse to pay the first premium by January 10th, as required.
While I don’t doubt that there will be a few purchasers who will fall into this category, it would require the most extreme case of Obamacare Brain Meltdown Syndrome to imagine that the number of those who went to the bother of signing up—but won’t pay up—will be statistically significant.
Next, I remind you that, as of November 30, 2013, 3.9 million new participants were enrolled in Medicaid as a result of the program’s expansion. These are 3.9 million who were not previously qualified. As reported by Michael Hiltzik over at the Los Angeles Times and Josh Marshall—using the data that has been compiled by Charles Gaba who has been carefully tracking the Obamacare math (I strongly recommend you review Mr. Gaba’s spreadsheet) since the beginning—the number of Medicaid sign-ups through the end of the year have now risen to a total of 4.3 million.
As you add up these numbers, you quickly arrive at 6.4 million Americans who now have insurance as a direct result of the ACA—a number, while in excess of the 5 million allegedly left without insurance coverage as a result of Obamacare, thereby disproving the meme—does not equal the 9.4 million Americans being served by Obamacare that I suggested earlier.
Clearly, this can only be the math of an Obama loving liberal, yes?
Or might you be missing something? Might that something be the roughly 3 million young Americans who have yet to reach 26 years of age who remain on their parents’ health insurance policy thanks to Obamacare?
Because this provision has been in effect for a few years, those afflicted with OBMS have managed to simply erase this number from their minds as if these young Americans either do not exist or simply do not “count”.
They very much do count as, prior to the ACA, these were precisely the people who were among the least likely to purchase a health insurance policy yet, thanks to the law, now have healthcare insurance. They are also the people who add the badly needed healthy participants to the insurance pools.
Add these people to the mix and you reach 9.4 million Americans with insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
What’s more, the number is probably higher given that that we are not taking into consideration those who are purchasing their individual Obamacare policies off the exchanges by going to their insurance agent or directly to their insurance company. These are the folks who are not qualified for subsidies and, therefore, have no reason to deal directly with the exchange if they choose not to do so.
None of this data, by the way, proves that Obamacare is necessarily working. As I have long noted, success is far more tied to the composition of the insurance pools resulting from the ACA (the ratio of healthy to unhealthy) than it is tied to the raw number of sign-ups. This is data we do not yet have.
What this data does prove is that there are clearly far more Americans benefitting from Obamacare than those who are claimed to be losing coverage as a result of the law. The data also highlights that those with Obamacare Brain Meltdown Syndrome must fight through the fog that has descended upon them and try to face up to the actual numbers as, only then, can we continue a rational conversation about this law.
Until we find that cure for OBMS, we can only hope that those afflicted with this tragic illness will turn to that famous old saw that instructs, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, January 4, 2014
On Sunday, Pope Francis matter-of-factly announced that he was not actually a Marxist, telling Italy’s La Stampa, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” It was an incredible thing for a pope to proclaim about himself, especially since it was directed at one particularly loud group of critics: U.S. conservatives.
Since outlining his vision for the Catholic church in late November, Pope Francis has endured an amount of criticism from the American right wing commensurate only with the praise piled on by the remainder of global Christianity. For most, Francis’ moving exhortation to spread the gospel and engage personally with Jesus was a welcome and invigorating encouragement. But for many right wing pundits in America, Francis’ call to relieve global poverty through state intervention in markets was unconscionably troubling.
Francis’ message likely raises American conservative hackles because the American right wing has invented such a convincing façade of affinity between fiscal conservatism and Christianity over the last few decades. Though free markets, profit motives, and unrestrained accumulation of wealth have no immediate relationship with Christianity, the cross and the coin are nonetheless powerful, paired symbols of the American right wing. Catholic conservatives thus must carve a way around Francis’ difficult insistence that governments be harnessed toward the relief of poverty, not the creation of it.
A popular conservative criticism has thus been to accuse the Pope of having an unhealthy, non-theological affinity for the political left. Rush Limbaugh labeled Francis a “Marxist” for that reason, while Fox News’ Adam Shaw wrote him off as akin to President Barack Obama, derisively noting that “anti-Catholics in the left-wing media are in love with him.” Ross Douthat at The New York Times put the same argument more delicately, writing that Francis’ “plain language tilts leftward in ways that no serious reader can deny.”
It is no surprise that aligning Francis with the whole of the political left brings with it the arguments right wing critics usually lob against liberals: That the left is corrupt on the moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage; that the left is incorrect as to how poverty comes to exist; and that the left means to replace Christian charity with soulless, dependency-producing state aid programs. Between Limbaugh, Shaw, and Douthat, Francis has been accused of each of these errors, all in an effort to drain the religious content from Francis’ message in order to dismiss him as just another leftist.
But the reality is that this method of criticism does little more than demonstrate the ordering of right wing priorities: Though they accuse Francis’ message of rising from an unduly political place, their arguments rely on a uniquely American political frame rather than a Christian one. Limbaugh, Shaw, and Douthat may claim to object to Francis as Christians, but they argue against him first and foremost as conservatives invested in the free market.
Douthat, for example, argues that global capitalism has been responsible for an overall reduction in poverty. But Francis’ exhortation never called for an elimination of capitalism, only that states, as creations of humankind, be structured so as to alleviate the poverty that arises after capitalism has done its work. For Francis, all institutions created by humanity — and yes, distributions of wealth are created, not spontaneous — must be intentionally shaped to further just goals. Since Francis’ notion of justice is informed purely by the teaching of Christ, just goals include establishing an equitable distribution of wealth that alleviates poverty and contributes to peace.
That Francis’ right wing Christian critics are informed by a uniquely American belief in the moral neutrality of markets and distributions is especially clear when they’re compared with their European Christian counterparts, whose intellectual traditions differ broadly from what Thomas Nagel has called America’s “everyday libertarian” approach to politics. When Pope Francis was still Cardinal Jose Bergoglio, the British party known as the Christian People’s Alliance stated the following in their 2010 platform:
The Christian Peoples Alliance believes that Britain will return to economic prosperity when government chooses instead to put human relationships in right order. This requires power, income, and wealth to be redistributed and for greater equality to be achieved. These are deeply spiritual convictions and reflect a Biblical pattern of priorities… [Christian People's Alliance]
It would be disingenuous to label the British Christian People’s Alliance a left wing party: They’re opposed to abortion and support the teaching Christian values in public schools. But because they are firstly a Christian organization, their sentiments regarding the distribution of wealth track perfectly with those expressed by Francis, as is the case with numerous European Christian parties. This is because for the Pope as well as Christian groups organized outside of the American tradition, the primacy of Christian ethical thought is applied to all aspects of human existence, markets and the distribution of wealth included.
But the sanctity of markets is a foregone conclusion for his right wing critics. Their politics precede their religion, and their criticisms belie their accusation that Francis is the one who displays an overly strong affinity for politics. So far, no serious theological arguments have been raised by the right wing contra Francis, and I doubt any will be raised: For the Pope’s conservative critics in the U.S., the first concern is not religious.
By: Elizabeth Stoker, The Week, December 17, 2013