Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them

(Editor's Note: Apologies to Al Franken for stealing the title of his book.  For those who haven't read it, it's an exceptional piece of work and I highly recommend it.  The Kindle version is a mere $11.99 on Amazon, or if you prefer actual paper, you can get it at any major bookstore for significantly less.) 

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell

I wanted to wait until after the clown show that was the Republican National Convention to convey my distaste with the Teapublican presidential ticket.  Fortunately for me, the Convention provided a treasure trove of ludicrousness for mocking purposes.  From Ann Romney's "Tonight I want to talk to you about love" speech getting immediately trampled by Chris Christie's "I believe we have become paralyzed by our desire to be loved" to Christie's speech in which he didn't mention the nominee by name until over sixteen minutes had passed (which  led me to crack the next day that Christie's ego is so large, it almost fits into a pair of his pants), the first night (well, technically the second...thank you, merciful hurricane) was a less-than-auspicious start for Governor Etch-a-Sketch.  Day 2 didn't go much better, as a surprise rule change designed to eliminate grassroots influence drew the ire of the Ron Paul psychopaths, followed by Condoleeza "I ignored 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US' memos and all I got is this lousy Secretary of State job" Rice and New Mexico Governor Suzana Martinez getting trotted out as part of the "See, some of our best friends are women/black/Hispanic"!" plan.  The night concluded with Paul Ryan's unconscionably awful speech, which was so bad that even Fox News couldn't ignore the sheer number of lies.  I'll have more on that in a bit.

Finally, the coup de grace came on Thursday.  No, I'm not talking about the video on Mitt Romney's life that didn't air on major network coverage.  No, I'm not talking about Marco Rubio positioning himself as the lead man for the 2016 race with the only speech that didn't embarrass its speaker.  No, I'm not even talking about Romney's acceptance speech, which was typically light on facts and heavy on lies, platitudes, and rhetoric (more on this in a bit as well).  I'm speaking of the single strangest moment in a convention I can remember: Clint Eastwood's rambling, incoherent, bizarre "conversation" with an empty chair occupied by an invisible President Obama.  It completely flabbergasted Brian Williams (not easy to do).  It preemptively took all the air out of Rubio's sails.  It spawned a fantastic Twitter feed for Invisible Obama.  It resulted in an internet flashmeme within hours (Google "eastwooding" for details/pictures).  Last, but certainly not least, it turned one of the last surviving film icons, universally known for his gravitas, into a complete laughingstock.  There is no way to describe this in the fact-based community but as a complete disaster for the Romney camp; the day after the candidate's speech is designed to be the candidate's biggest win, and instead of discussing Mitt's winning oratory skills (sarcasm) the GOP is stuck trying to explain why they didn't bother vetting an 82-year-old man who asked for a chair to use as a prop.  Priceless.

However, I've digressed from my point, which is the rampant lying associated with the Romney campaign.  To be fair, this isn't a new phenomenon for them: the majority of their campaign has been based on lies, largely because they're a little lacking in ideas.  However, the brazenness of it at the Convention really caught my eye.  We've never seen a campaign willing to openly ignore facts on literally every issue with no fear of being called on it.  Those who do point out that, hey, that's not even remotely true, get tagged with the "liberal media/partisan" label and get lambasted with "both sides do it" tomfoolery.  News flash: both sides DON'T do it.  There's no level of comparison between Al Gore's "I was involved with the creation of the internet" and the entire right's "Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist" meme.  One is a little oversold, but ultimately based in truth, while the other is completely made up.  It's pathetic, and I've had enough of it.  So, I'm going to spend the next few paragraphs calling out the lies in Congressman Ryan and Romney Hood's respective speeches, replete with evidence to back up my opposition.  All quotes are taken directly from transcripts of their speeches, which can be found here and here.

1. "I'm the newcomer to the campaign, so let me share a first impression. I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power. They've run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they've got left."

FALSE. At a campaign event just two days ago, President Obama included a substantial list of his accomplishments AND told the crowd when they started booing Romney "Don't boo - vote."  This is typical of his campaign speeches, as anyone can see if they go through the litany of campaign speeches listed at the White House.  He even makes the point (not in this one, but in others) that he thinks Romney is a good man with a fundamentally different view of where to take the country and that people who believe in that vision should vote for Romney.  Last I checked the President wasn't the one funding a militia to oust himself.  Last I checked the President wasn't blowing the dog whistle on welfare.  Seems that Mr. Ryan has things backwards.

2. "President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: "I believe that if our government is there to support you. this plant will be here for another hundred years." That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

Not exactly false, but a gross misrepresentation of facts.  Ryan has mentioned this before in other stump speeches and stated his intention more clearly than he did here.  The Janesville plant did close down.  Obama did say exactly what Ryan claims.  You'll also notice that "that plant didn't last another year."  This is an important detail.  Obama made his statement when he was at a campaign event in Wisconsin in February of 2008.  In October of 2008 GM announced they would be idling the plant and laying off the majority of the workers.  Those of you with functional cerebrums might note that this is a month before Obama was even elected.  All but 57 workers were eliminated in December of 2008 when all but a single Izuzu line shut down; again, for those who understand calendars, that's a full month before the President-elect took office.  While it's true that the last line didn't go down until June 2009, and while it's ostensibly true that the Administration could have demanded that GM fully reopen the plant, under the terms of the bailout/bridge loan they allowed GM to make all decisions regarding the closure of facilities.  So the notion that Obama is responsible for the closure of the plant is disingenuous at best.

3. "It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal."

FALSE.  Ignoring the political patronage and corporate welfare claims (since, you know, the company was originally considered by the Bush Administration), let's look at the notion that Solyndra never had a chance to succeed.  At one point, Solyndra's technology was unique, giving it a technical advantage over its competition.  However, because it was unique technology, it was more expensive to produce; thus, the return on investment wasn't as high as with companies like GE who worked with less efficient, but cheaper, alternatives.  In addition, soon after receiving their loan, Solyndra got blindsided by a massive Chinese subsidy on solar panels.  While this hurt everyone in the American solar industry, it hit them the hardest because their margin for error was so thin.  The notion that the jobs and market were/are make-believe shows little appreciation for reality.  I could also bring up the fact that the company's executives are now under investigation for misrepresenting the company's finances in order to secure the loan, or I could bring up the fact that Mitt Romney, as governor, helped subsidize Konarka (which also went bankrupt), or I could bring up the fact that the Solyndra collapse was directly stated to be one of the reasons for sizable new tariffs on Chinese solar panels passed earlier this year.  That just seems like piling on, though.  Besides, this gentleman does it better than I can.

4. "What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt. That money wasn't just spent and wasted— it was borrowed, spent, and wasted."

5.  "You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn't have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn't even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we're going to stop it."

FALSE.  Hoo boy.  Where to start?  Well, we could start by noting that the $716 billion not going to Medicare doesn't affect benefits AT ALL.  It's all money saved by reducing payments to providers, insurance companies, and hospitals.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, tighter regulation and stricter pricing rules have allowed the government to more effectively negotiate prices.  That's not money stolen from the plan, it's money THEY DON'T HAVE TO SPEND ANYMORE.  Bit of a difference.  In fact, it's about eight years' worth of a difference, as that's how long the change has improved the solvency lifetime of Medicare.  If anything, it's the perfect example of why the Bush prescription drug plan was such an unmitigated disaster.  What's worse, though, is that Ryan factors those exact same savings into his "so-bad-people-don't-believe-it's-real" budget and uses the money for...well, it's not quite clear.  The only thing worse than a boldface lie is an hypocritical boldface lie, and Congressman Ryan deals in those like a fishmonger with ever so much tuna to unload.

6.  "We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it's there for my mom today. Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom's generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours."

FALSE.  Anyone who's had to deal with the exorbitant and seemingly endless cost increases in the health care field understands exactly how crippling the Ryan (and by association, the Romney) plan for Medicare would be, but for those who've been on Mars for the past decade, I'll walk you through it: in place of the current system (with an exception for everyone born in 1958 or earlier, so the GOP doesn't screw itself out of the elderly vote) Medicare would be replaced with a voucher system.  Each recipient would receive a government stipend to be put toward purchasing private health insurance.  As you may guess, your average private insurance company likely isn't going to take the limited amount of government money as compensation for one of their coverage plans, particularly given the age and accumulated medical history of the potential buyer.  Thus, the average senior would be stuck dropping a substantial chunk of their already-limited income on covering the gap.  When you factor in the reopening of the prescription drug donut hole (as a result of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act) and the lack of power to negotiate lower rates (because there's no longer a government branch to hold the insurance companies accountable), what was once a guarantee of health care in waning years now becomes a roll of the dice.  Worse yet, Ryan's plan indexes the size of the voucher to the overall rate of inflation, NOT the rate of health care inflation.  Health care inflation has outstripped general inflation for quite some time now.  So over time, the voucher pays for less and less, until finally the patient is left to handle the majority of the costs themselves.  By the time the first person would be eligible for the new plan, in 2022, they'd be looking at an increase of over SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS in their out-of-pocket expenses.  Oh, and before anyone gets the wise idea to say "That's the old plan, he changed it since then, your numbers are bad and you should feel bad," I should point out that only the original plan was scored by the CBO; the new one has never been submitted for scoring because Ryan has intentionally left a number of the details sketchy.  Does any of that say "protect and strengthen" to you?  It seems to say to me that if I want to afford my funeral I'm better off killing myself at 60 than I would be living into that dystopia.

7.  "He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing."

FALSE.  This one's particularly egregious, because not only did the President take the recommendations of the relatively terrible Simpson-Bowles commission into account (much to his discredit), but he sent some of them to Congress when attempting to negotiate the Budget Control Act (also, much to his discredit).  Where it really sticks in my craw is that Paul Ryan was a member of the House Budget Committee and voted on the commission's recommendations; at least 14 yeas would have adopted the commission's report as Congress's official position and started the ball rolling on turning it into a very, very bad law.  Ryan voted no, complaining that it didn't do enough to restructure Medicare.  I'm sure that comes as a shock to you all.  The report vote thankfully failed at 11-7.  You don't get to complain about the roads not being plowed when you slash the tires on the snowplows, Mr. Ryan.

8.  "Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing— nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue."

FALSE.  I don't think I need to explain this one.

9.  "In a clean break from the Obama years, and frankly from the years before this president, we will keep federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, or less. That is enough. The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth, or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government."

This isn't false, as it's a pledge and not a statement of historical record.  I just wanted to put it here to point out how incredibly stupid this is.  Capping federal spending at a percentage of GDP is just insane, no matter how you try to slice it.  As an example, the current U.S. GDP is roughly $14.5 trillion.  Using Ryan's math, that would set the federal budget for next year at $2.9 trillion.  While that would result in a budget deficit of a mere $300 billion, by comparison, the current budget outlay for 2012 is roughly $3.7 trillion.  So, while the deficit wouldn't be growing by as much, there'd be at least $800 billion dollars worth of cuts to be made, and Ryan's made it clear that revenue increases and cuts to military spending are off the table.  That means that every other federal program would have to be gutted, just to hit an arbitrary benchmark.  Good call, Congressman.

10.  "None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers— a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.  Listen to the way we're spoken to already, as if everyone is stuck in some class or station in life, victims of circumstances beyond our control, with government there to help us cope with our fate.  It's the exact opposite of everything I learned growing up in Wisconsin, or at college in Ohio."

FALSE.  This one's actually pretty funny.  Paul Ryan's father died when he was 16, which qualified him for Social Security survivors benefits.  He saved that money and put it towards the aforementioned college tuition at Miami of Ohio.  After college, outside of a few odd jobs here and there, he did most of his work as a policy wonk and speechwriter for Jack Kemp and Sam Brownback (both execrable, for the record).  In 1998, he won his seat in the House, where he's been ever since.  The "rugged individualist," the scion of the Randians, the head witch doctor of neoconservative voodoo economics, owes nearly everything in his life to the federal government: his education, his experiences, his friendships, and his jobs, both past and present.  In other words, Paul Ryan, you didn't build that.

11.  "Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections."

FALSE.  The first from Guy Smiley's speech, and it's a whopper.  This should be explanation enough.

12.  "The President has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business."

FALSE.  While it's arguably true that the President has relatively little experience working in a business, it's unequivocally false to claim that business experience is necessary for being President.  George Washington was a career soldier.  Ditto Dwight Eisenhower.  Lincoln had business experience, but it was all failures.  Same with Ulysses S. Grant.  Our two most recent presidents known for being businessmen came from the same family and did a similar job of driving the country off a cliff.  Other businessman presidents include Warren Harding (most scandal-ridden presidency ever), Calvin Coolidge (created the environment that led to the Great Depression, closest thing we've had to a Tea Party president), and Herbert Hoover (made the Great Depression worse).  One could argue that it's actually more beneficial for a president NOT to have been a businessman.

13.  "These are American success stories. And yet the centerpiece of the President’s entire re-election campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression?"

FALSE.  "It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It is wrong. It flies in the face of everything that we stand for.  Now, fortunately, that’s not a future that we have to accept, because there’s another view about how we build a strong middle class in this country -- a view that’s truer to our history, a vision that’s been embraced in the past by people of both parties for more than 200 years.  It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all of society’s problems. It is a view that says in America we are greater together -- when everyone engages in fair play and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody does their fair share." - President Obama, December 6, 2011

14.  "This president can ask us to be patient.  This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault.  This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right.  But this president cannot tell us that YOU are better off today than when he took office."

FALSE.  First, I'd argue that the roughly 2.5 million people represented by job growth over the last four years would disagree.  However, that's not my biggest issue.  My biggest issue is that this is a bogus, misleading, fiendish question to ask.  What's worse is that it's being parroted in the corporate media right now because they refuse to do their own legwork for anything anymore (more to come).  I read an analogy that I thought perfectly explained my objection: let's say that your house catches fire.  The fire department arrives and succeeds in putting it out, though not before the combination of smoke, flame, and water has done a number on the interior.  Your response to this is not going to be to complain to the fire department that your house isn't better off than it was before the fire; you're simply going to be happy that you still have a house at all.  I hope you all get where I'm going with that, even though I doubt the American public at large would be capable of following along.  Another thought about this from one of my readers: "It didn't take FDR 4 years to end the Depression. It took him 4 TERMS. Global recessions aren't an easy fix and what FDR helped not only in the short term, but for generations to come."  It would be my hope that Americans are smart enough to understand this, but I know better.  My point is that the question that needs to be asked isn't "Are you better off now that you were four years ago?" but "Are you going to be better off with me in charge than with Obama?"  If that can't be answered in the affirmative, then that's an insurmountable hill to climb.

15.  "His policies have not helped create jobs, they have depressed them. And this I can tell you about where President Obama would take America:  His plan to raise taxes on small business won't add jobs, it will eliminate them;  His assault on coal and gas and oil will send energy and manufacturing jobs to China;  His trillion dollar cuts to our military will eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs, and also put our security at greater risk;  His $716 billion cut to Medicare to finance Obamacare will both hurt today's seniors, and depress innovation – and jobs – in medicine.  And his trillion-dollar deficits will slow our economy, restrain employment, and cause wages to stall."

FALSE x 5.  One, the President has cut taxes on small businesses at least 18 times.  Two, oil production and coal extraction are at or near their highest levels ever.  Three, those military cuts are part of the sequester attached to the Budget Control Act and are only in place because Republicans refused any revenue increases in trying to reduce the deficit (should be noted that VP pick Paul Ryan voted in favor of this).  Also, we spend more on defense than nearly every other country combined; I think we can get by with only as much as, say, the top 9 countries combined.  Four, I've already debunked.  And five, those deficits are in large part due to the unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush tax cuts, the latter of which Romney Hood intends to continue, strengthened, in perpetuity. I rest my case.

16.  "And let me make this very clear – unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class."

FALSE.  The President hasn't touched middle class tax rates.  In fact, the payroll tax holiday lowered the effective tax rate for the middle class.  The same cannot be said of Mr. Romney's tax plan.

17.  "I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour."

FALSE.  Where did this "apology tour" idea come from?  If it HAS happened, could someone kindly point me to some video?

18.  "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro's Cuba."

FALSE.  If anything, the Obama Administration has been too good to Israel and too hard-line on Cuba.

There's more, but this is getting really long and I wanted to get to the bigger issue at hand: how they're getting away with this.  For decades, the press was willing, even gleeful, to fulfill its civic duty and cut through the hogwash to the facts.  Woodward and Bernstein achieved immortality by blowing the lid off the biggest Presidential scandal since Teapot Dome.  Walter Cronkite called out the Johnson Administration's "everything is fine, nothing to see here" whitewashing of Vietnam.  Now?  While there are still a few legitimate journalists out there, doing respectable, decent, necessary work, the majority are all too willing to parrot whatever their network's head honchos decide is important.  In this particular race, the falsity has become omnipresent, primarily from the Republican side.  The answer to the question of why one side can lie through its teeth and escape scot-free while the other can't utter the slightest exaggeration lies in my previous column (yes, I'm aware it was six months ago...it's the only other one on the page, so it should be easy to go back and look).  Citizens United opened the floodgates for an orgy of campaign and campaign-related spending on advertising, and the networks are all too happy to oblige.  Consider that the networks are expected to bring in more than SIX TIMES as much from this presidential cycle as they did from 2008 (which was, itself, the previous high-water mark).  They don't get that money by being hard on the candidate, and remember that conservative super PACs outmoney their left-wing counterparts by an obscene margin.  That's why you have Tom "Both Sides Do It" Brokaw out there on Morning Joe, lending his gravitas to the perpetuation of a stereotype.  That's why Wolf Blitzer pretends that people like Bernie Sanders are crazy and that Obama is being an angry black man when he so much as suggests Romney's not being 100% honest.  That's why the major newsmedia continues to perpetuate this as a horserace when demographics, the Electoral College counts, and even logic suggest otherwise.  The old saying is that money is the root of all evil; in that case, the corporate media is a factory farm, and the super PACs are Monsanto.

Until next time, keep some salt with you.  You never know when you'll need to take something with a grain of it.