Maher Overstates Economic State of a State

I almost feel bad in including in my own blog post the same line with which the blog owner began his previous post.  I almost feel worse over the fact that it’s the same line echoed in the video I am reviewing.  But just because I feel bad about it, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it.  And that is because it is appropriate when reviewing the latest screed by the unapologetic liberal, Bill Maher, during his latest edition of Real Time with Bill Maher.  In it, Maher uses the California economy to suggest that conservatives use the Golden State as a “Laboratory of Democracy”, and that to repeat their same failed trickle-down economic policies with the expectation of different results is the “definition of insanity.”  It’s obvious that Maher well knows that if you want the same results you have to do the same things, and that is why he uses the same tired tactics he always uses to achieve the predictable and desired results–laughter from an ignorant audience and giggles from a brainless panel.

Maher uses the analogy of a laboratory throughout the piece, inserting words and concepts like “variables”, “results”, and “[lab] rats”.  The problem is that Maher is misusing them all, and ignoring what they really mean in a laboratory setting to reach his ultimate conclusion.

As we all know, the term “variable” means things without a fixed pattern and that are subject to change.  He applies the term to California Republicans, stating the state “removed the variables” that the party brought.  So if a variable is something without a fixed pattern, then wouldn’t a group that brings the predictability of doing “the same thing” actually be the opposite of a variable?  If the GOP and the outcome of its policies were indeed so predictable, they they would not be a variable.

Another variable Maher ignores is intrastate geography and the population that lives within it.  A by-county look at California’s unemployment figures–which Maher claims are fantastic–shows a significant increase in unemployment as one moves inland.  In some cases, the rate is nearly 20%.  The coast and specific industry sectors are skewing the numbers of a very large state.  So the idea that California is doing great is certainly not one that is shared by all.

Another variable Maher ignores is the influence of Silicon Valley on the California economy.  Maher conveniently ignores that variable, because it would force him to acknowledge things like the 2000 burst of the dot-com bubble and the “significant contraction” of the Silicon Valley economy that immediately followed.  This is no small variable, as some are already noticing signs of a repeat.

Maher also alleges that cap and trade has not ruined the California economy, as opponents of the policy had predicted.  What he fails to point out is that cap and trade auctions in California have fallen significantly below expectations and the reduction in the revenue they would have generated is hurting long-term projects that rely on that revenue, such as the controversial high-speed rail project.  Gee, could it be that cap and trade (a clearly unpredictable variable) isn’t hurting the California economy because there isn’t much of it going on?

Along these same lines, Maher claims the price of electricity in the state is low in comparison to other places.  This is utter nonsense.  In fact, data shows that in 2015, electricity rates in California were approximately 50% higher than the national average.  And the only changes expected are rate increases–not decreases.  Electricity rates that are subject to change and that effect a state’s economy sure sound like a variable to me.

Another huge variable that Maher ignores is the one that completely destroys his thesis–that taxing the rich has not driven them away from California and the policy has led to the state’s continuing economic growth.  Maher rightly points out that the rich have and will remain in California because the state offers a climate that other states cannot compete with, and their retention has had a positive effect on the state’s economy.  However, this makes the California climate a variable.  And, as Maher himself acknowledges, it’s one that other states do not enjoy.  So if the value of a variable is different in one lab experiment than it is in another lab experiment, then those experiments are not the same and should not be viewed as such.

The biggest variable that Maher ignores is the very tax system he is defending as a success.  The California tax system is somewhat complicated and unlike those in most other states (can you say “variable”?).  Even Governor Brown acknowledges that the system is showing signs of strain and an economic downturn may well be on the horizon as a result.  He is encouraging the legislature to refrain from new spending projects that will further strain a system that analysts claim produces an economy that is in a constant state of “boom or bust“.

Ultimately, Maher’s laboratory analogy fails because he ignores the terms inherent in such an analogy.  His thesis and conclusions rely on a correlation vs causation fallacy, against which any real lab scientist would guard.  Furthermore, the existence of key variables–many of which he either ignores or mislabels–only proves that the idea that states should be used as “laboratories of democracy” is one that should not be used when discussing the policies of the United States as a whole.  Economics is not a hard science that can be viewed in the confines of a single-state lab experiment and then applied to a nation as variably diverse as ours.  That Maher, and his band of useful idiots, thinks it can is, to coin a phrase, “the definition of insanity”.


I Could Play the Race Card but …


You will notice, effective today, the blog has a new name and a new look. Everything else will stay essentially the same but in keeping with the new tag line “Where no one is barred and everyone is grilled” I wanted to give a shout out to roughly a dozen folks who are “regulars” here. They make the comments section of the blog entertaining and sometimes downright frightening. The simple truth is no matter what I write in the essays, the comments section is where the action is. Unlike Jonathan Capehart (who I mention below) who gets hundreds of comments from hundreds of people and has little time to engage, I get hundreds of comments from a dozen people and I do my best to jump “into the fray” (the title of an old blog by the person who inspired the new title of this blog). The comments section has turned this “little slice of heaven”, to quote another regular, into more of a community than a blog. So every now and then, I won’t even write an essay. I’ll just throw a bit of red meat out there and let the assembled have at it. Without further ado, let’s open the bar for business. Drinks are on me.

Obama is Just Another Black Man

The steady stream of disturbing revelations about the Secret Service, culminating in the resignation of the department’s director, got me to thinking. Maybe the old saw from the liberal media and civil rights advocates about the relative worth of a black man being less than that of a white applied to the President himself? It wasn’t the first time this crossed my mind. I was flabbergasted when it was revealed years ago that the Secret Service were cavorting with prostitutes when they should have had their mind on protecting Barack Obama. The revelations of the past couple of weeks made me revisit my theory. A man shoots at the White House (and hits) and the SS bungles it. An armed man with a criminal record gets on the elevator with Obama and the SS bungles it. A man jumps the fence and gets deep into the White House — and the SS not only bungles it but lies about it. One has to wonder, maybe they really don’t take defending this man all that seriously?

The absence of such discussion in the media surprised me. The incompetence of the department was front and center in every report but just about no one broached race. That ended this week with a discussion of the matter on Bill Maher’s HBO forum and in an article by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. Maher’s panel discussion focused on the added threat this President faces based on race. Capehart’s piece covered similar ground but went that extra step of wondering aloud if the SS was letting Obama come in harm’s way by commission, not omission. Capehart concluded that such doubt in the agency should not be contemplated because the Secret Service is not protecting Obama, they are protecting the Presidency and the very stability of our government.

I tend to agree with Capehart but an even more common sense reason dawned on me to abandon my concerns about racially motivated ambivalence on the part of the agency. My mind flashed back to December 14, 2008 when George W. Bush shared the podium with the Prime Minister of Iraq. A disgruntled journalist threw his shoe at Bush and the Secret Service rushed in front of the President to protect him and usher him to safety until the situation could be evaluated. Ehhh no, that is not how it happened. Bush dodged the shoe without a single eyelash twitch from the Secret Service and then ANOTHER shoe was thrown. After two shoes, we finally saw what appeared to be agents rush into the room behind Bush. Bush was still not escorted to safety pending an evaluation of the scene. I remember at the time being amazed at the incompetence of his security detail.

Contemplating this, I took my race card and placed it back in my breast pocket. There is no racial element to this latest round of dangerous negligence. It’s another chapter in a long gradual decline. This Keystone Kops impersonation is just the latest example of the degradation of standards in this country. It seems all of our institutions are failing. I don’t know what it will take to turn it around.

What do you think? The bar is open.

Food for Despots

178px-_Be_Smart_Act_Dumb__-_NARA_-_514912Despots thrive on ignorance. After watching US foreign policy for the past 10 or so years, it is not too far-fetched to say that people get the government they deserve. We have learned this lesson time and time again. First we thought we would be greeted as liberators in Iraq. Then we moved from anti-terrorism to nation building in Afghanistan. Then we cheered on the Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya. In all cases we have discovered that the country post-despot is far more dysfunctional than the country under the despot.  This may sound callous bordering on bigotry but some countries are so full of ignorant people, incapable of self-government that they need a strong-arm to keep things in order. I believe the jury is out on whether the world is better off without Hussein, Mubarek and Gaddafi. Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention knows that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai is a bad joke. And now what are we doing? We are seriously contemplating a contribution to the demise of Syria’s Assad with zero knowledge of what will follow his departure.

Is the lesson this teaches us here at home limited to foreign policy? No it isn’t. A smart electorate can become a dumb electorate. Dumb people get leaders who end up not acting in their best interests. Dumb people end up losing their freedom. I argue we are becoming a dumb people and I say this in a totally bipartisan way.

In the past week I have watched several exchanges on television that left me very unnerved. Bill Moyers interviewed Glenn Greenwald a journalist who has written about the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistle blowers. The government tactics range from intimidation to criminal prosecution. According to Greenwald, more whistle blowers have been harassed by this administration than any other administration combined. Recent developments suggest that those offering evidence on the Benghazi terrorist attack of 9/11/12 that was contrary to the government account were being shut down. I have spent some time on this blog and in the comments section defending Obama and Hillary Clinton on the Benghazi affair but when a mainstream show like “Face the Nation” this morning reports that the administration knowingly lied or distorted the facts about Benghazi how can there be any more defense? In fact, we risked endangering our relationship with the new President of Libya by essentially calling him a liar when he said the attack on the embassy was planned.

Then a few nights later a PBS “Frontline” report talked about America post-9/11 and painted a picture of a government shrouded in secrecy doing things in “America’s best interest” without their permission. This policy was passed on to the Obama administration and expanded by him. Billions of our e-mails are read every day by folks employed in Homeland Security.

Later in the week HBO’s Bill Maher interviewed Jeremy Scahill, a reporter whose eyes burn with anger when he recounts how we brazenly killed the 16 year old son of Anwar al-Awlaki simply for being the son of a terrorist instigator. Press Secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, reportedly said this is what happens when your Dad does bad things. Scahill seems to be alone while most liberals turn a blind eye to a liberal administration flushing liberal ideals down the toilet.  Scahill went on to discuss the near indiscriminate killing of Afghan civilians by our special ops forces. As Scahill puts it, if someone steals your goat, you can report them to the Americans as a suspected terrorist and our special ops team will storm their house and kill everyone in it.

Later on that same broadcast an argument broke out, so brief that if you blinked you missed it. Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC uber-liberal, flew off the handle when conservative guest Pete Hegseth launched the old 2nd Amendment defense of an electorate needing to protect itself from government tyranny. O’Donnell said what I have been saying for years … and very recently in the comments section of this very blog, namely that the time for us to be worried about government tyranny is long past. Our well oiled democracy has built-in safeguards that ensure government tyranny would never happen. Along with that is the ironic and contradictory side argument that all of our US militias would never be a match against a government armed with drones and nukes — that same government that would never resort to tyranny. Essentially “they would never be tyrants but if they were you’d be no match for them.”

Well, I’m no longer so sure O’Donnell is right. We saw a militarization in Boston a few weeks ago that should give us all pause. When asked if America would ever drone strike its own people, Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial response was a hypothetical yes. He only backed off after an old-fashioned filibuster by Senator Rand Paul focused attention on it. Combine this with the other stories I watched this week, and we no longer have the liberal ideal of America that I vote for every four years.

But beyond all that, we have a conservative populace with a sizable number of folks who still don’t believe Barack Obama was born in America and a liberal populace too ignorant to understand that universal background checks (which I support) would have done nothing to prevent the tragedy of Sandy Hook. We are, as a nation, getting dumber and dumber. If we don’t turn this around, we will wake up one morning and not recognize the America in which we live. Our ignorance will be the food that one day nourishes a true despot.


Poster from National Archives