November 20, 2010

Fox News and Glen Beck: Still Digging for Lower Ground

Last week, Fox News performance artist and mercenary dunce Glen Beck devoted an entire hour to a special program entitled "Puppet Master", focused on billionaire hedge fund manager, progressive activist and Holocaust survivor George Soros. In it, Mr. Beck painted Mr. Soros as, essentially, the root of all evil - a man who has toppled governments, decimated economies, persecuted Jews, and who is actively working to sow the seeds of the United State's destruction.

Days later, Fox News chief Roger Ailes sat down for a no-holds-barred interview (part 1, part 2) with Howard Kurtz, in which he accused the leadership of National Public Radio (NPR) of being cut from the same cloth as Adolf Hitler:
They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda. They are basically Air America with government funding to keep them alive.
Among people who don't watch the ever-more ludicrous Fox News, both outbursts were roundly greeted with either astonishment that Fox had attained yet another new low, or the scathing disdain they deserve.  The fact of these statements by two of Fox's leading lights, however, begs an important question: Just how divorced from reality, how deeply mired in the language and attitudes of eliminationism, does someone have to be to swallow this kind of tripe? More importantly, what portion of our citizenry is uncritically shoveling down garbage like this on a regular basis and asking for more?

Given Glen Beck's popularity among movement conservatives and the ratings Fox News continues to enjoy in spite of - or perhaps because of - this crass and insulting idiocy, it's fair to say a significant part of America's populace is either astoundingly and willfully ignorant, or meets the medical definition for mental impairment.  People are obviously free to tune in to whatever they want, but it's objectively difficult to understand why Fox News and the ridiculous Glen Beck are watched at all - let alone taken seriously - even in the era of Real Housewives.

In the first video below, Jon Stewart, the nation's best - and funniest - media critic, delves into Mr. Beck's claims about George Soros. In the second, he demonstrates just how flimsy and nonsensical "Puppet Master" is by using Mr. Beck's own methodology. Enjoy...

November 13, 2010

Remember This, the Next Time an American Soldier is Tortured

President George W. Bush shuffled back onto the national stage last week, just long enough to shill his new memoir, Decision Points, and remind everyone exactly why he is justly regarded as one of the worst disgraces to ever hold the highest office in the land.  Saying "After I sell this book, I'm going back underground," Mr. Bush made it clear that, in his own mind, he remains blameless for the economic meltdown, and that he retains almost every ounce of the appalling, self-centered stupidity that was the hallmark of his administration.

Perhaps the single best example of Mr. Bush's persistent, hollow machismo lay in his declaration during a recent interview that he not only authorized the waterboarding of three prisoners, but that he'd do it again because "that decision saved lives" both in this country and in the United Kingdom. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, swiftly disavowed the ex-president's claim, but as has been America's consistent shame, Mr. Bush was neither pressed to present evidence supporting his belief, nor even vaguely threatened with the legal consequences for his public admission to violations of both domestic and international law, and the commission of a war crime.

Calling George W. Bush a war criminal is not hyperbole or crazy, partisan, hysteria.  There is no controversy - flatly, whatsoever - about the legality of waterboarding.  Rather, there is merely a dismal and pervasive cowardice when it comes to prosecuting the political class for deeds and policies that would land any ordinary American either in jail or in front of a tribunal at The Hague.  At the time he takes office, every president swears not to "keep us safe," but to uphold and protect the Constitution - a document which explicitly states that the law must apply equally to everyone.  Mr. Bush is either equal to anyone else in the eyes of justice, or he isn't; if he isn't, then he is a member of a protected class; and if a protected class exists in the United States, then our entire legal system is an utter sham.

If another country failed to bring to justice a former leader who publicly confessed to authorizing torture, they would be roundly condemned by our politicians, our pundits and our press corps.  The hypocrisy of our collective, shoulder-shrugging inaction is not only the deepest of stains on our national character, but corrosive to our foundational principles of equal justice and fuel for the fires of our enemies.  Our use of torture eliminates our moral standing to condemn the violation of human rights by others, and puts our own military personnel at risk of what is so pathetically called "harsh interrogation techniques."

We are either who we say we are - even in the most trying of circumstances - or we aren't, and for the past decade - as Mr. Bush reminds us - we have not been who we claim to be.

November 6, 2010

A 20-Year Look at Minimum Wage Effects on Unemployment

Traditionally, proponents of a livable minimum wage have argued that putting money in the hands of workers at the lower end of the economic scale can help drive the economy, since such people are unlikely to save much, and will spend most of their earnings on goods and services that must be produced, putting money into the pockets of others and expanding the economic pie. Those in opposition believe that jobs will be lost because employers, forced to pay each employee a higher wage, will reduce staffing in order to offset higher payroll costs.  New research may finally put this debate to rest.

At the end of September, a 20-year study grippingly entitled Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimages Across Contiguous Counties (*.pdf) was released by a team of economists from the University of Massachusetts, the University of North Carolina, and the University of California.  In it, the researchers examined communities adjoined across borders between states with different minimum wage laws to determine what employment effects, if any, were driven by these regulations.

As it turns out, effects on employment by increases in minimum wages were generally negligible, and where they were noticable, they had a positive influence. The driving factor of this somewhat counter-intuitive result is the ubiquity of the wage laws. Since everyone is affected equally within a region, the cost to employers is easily offset by slightly higher prices, which are passed along to consumers, effectively creating a level playing field, and therefore, no incentive to reduce payrolls.

This might in turn, however, be expected to suppress demand from end users, but such price increases tend to be very small - almost always just a few pennies by the time they are distributed across the entire customer base - and the researchers found no evidence that consumers travel to neighboring, lower-wage regions to make purchases.

A fast food restaurant, for example, would, in fact, be likely to reduce its employee ranks when the minimum wage goes up, but only if it is the sole restaurant to raise pay rates.  If most, or all, employers in a sector raise their compensation - as happens with state mandated minimum wage laws - the added cost is passed to the consumer who generally absorbs it without diminshing demand.

So, there you have it: a two-decade study of empirical evidence providing conclusive evidence that a small government intervention in the market provides not only economic benefits, but societal ones as well.  Want to bet that's still not going to convince some people?