Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Right-Wing Nut Headlines of the Day: "After-Birth Abortions," "Sex-Crazed Co-Eds," and "Jim Crow for Poor People"

Please read them. They are filled with hilarity.

After-Birth Abortions

The "After-Birth Abortions" article criticizes a recent publication in an Australian medical ethics journal. The ethics article is fairly philosophical. The two authors try to make a case for allowing "abortion" after the birth has occurred. Naturally, The Blaze, the Glenn Beck-created conservative website, suggests that this is the next step for abortions in the United States.

Sex-Crazed Co-Eds

First, calling a woman student a "co-ed" is inherently sexist. It suggests that she does not belong in higher education or that her presence is a novelty. It is not a neutral term. Otherwise, men would be co-eds as well.

Anyway, this nutty article appears in CNS News, an arch-rightwing website that often reports misleading, false and otherwise inaccurate information.

This story mocks the congressional testimony of a young woman who discussed the issue of  birth control costs.  The GOP House leadership conducted hearings on this issue without any women contributing testimony. Nancy Pelosi held a separate hearing to hear from a living and breathing woman (what a communisti).  The witness, Sandra Fluke, who studies law at Georgetown University Law Center, described the expense of paying for birth control (because Georgetown student health insurance denies coverage).

Reacting to Fluke's testimony, CNS writer Craig Bannister portrays Georgetown women students as "sex-crazed," another sexist description. Unless these women are also lesbian, then there are a lot of sex-crazed men at Georgetown or in the DC area.

The article concludes with this comment: "If these co-eds really are this guy crazy, I should've gone to law school." Thankfully, the author did not go to law school and instead settled on being a writer for a right-wing website.

Jim Crow for Poor People

Media Matters for America published a critique of a shocking and disgusting column in the Dally Caller. The column, written by Brion McClanahan, makes a number of ludicrous proposals for persons who receive welfare.

McClanahan, who wrongfully contends that welfare is unconstitutional, argues that persons who receive welfare should feel "humiliation and pain." To accomplish this goal, McClanahan argues that the government should create a special brand of food and should sell that food in decaying store fronts. Anyone on welfare would have to shop at these stores; no "private" stores could accept food stamps.

McClanahan also describes welfare recipients as "wards of the state" and "slaves to the government." Apparently, they have no rights (like actual slaves). For example, McClanahan argues that welfare recipients should submit to monthly tobacco and drug tests. Furthermore, he believes welfare recipients should lose their right to vote. Why not reenact a poll tax instead? What a patriot.

Romney and Santorum: Vomit, Tricky Voting, and Hypocrisy

Arizona and Michigan held GOP primaries today.  Romney is favored in Arizona, while the race is too close to call in Michigan. The two front-runners made headlines for a couple of other reasons, however.


Rick Santorum is walking away from his recent statement that he wanted to "throw up" after hearing John F. Kennedy's famous speech urging voters not to discriminate against him because he was Catholic.  Santorum received extremely negative press after he made the comment.

Tricky Voting and Hypocrisy

In other news, Santorum has used robocalls to urge Democrats to vote for him in Michigan's open primaries. This sends many messages. Apparently, Santorum knows that Democrats would love for him to win the GOP nomination. Due to his many extreme statements, it is safe to assume that he is the easier candidate to defeat in a general election. Santorum, however, is also an opportunist (shocking for a politician -- sarcasm). A few weeks ago, he blasted open primaries, arguing that Republicans alone should nominate the GOP candidate.  According to ABC News, 10 percent of today's Michigan voters were Democrats.

Not to be outdone by Santorum, Mitt Romney has exhibited his own hypocrisy on this issue. Romney says that Santa's robocalls represent a "new low" in politics. Romney, however, voted for Democrat Paul Songas in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic Primary. As a registered Independent, Romney could vote in either party's primary. Romney stated that he did so because he wanted the weakest Democratic candidate to win the nomination.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Daily Caller Hit Piece on Media Matters Misses Target (UPDATED)

The conservative blog Daily Caller has published a "hit piece" on Media Matters.  Media Matters is a liberal watchdog that seeks to uncover inaccurate reporting in the media -- especially conservative media such as Fox News.

Tucker Carlson and Vince Coglianese wrote the hit piece. Relying exclusively on anonymous sources, they make several allegations about Media Matters and David Brock, its founder. Carlson and Coglianese portray Brock as someone who suffers from extreme paranoia, which leads to "erratic" behavior.  In particular, they allege that at times he has feared that someone wants to attack him.

Carlson and Coglianese also allege that Media Matters "coordinates" its activities with the White House.  To support this allegation, they claim that Media Matters staff participate in weekly media calls with White House staff, interact with persons from the White House (including former staffer Anita Dunn), and meet regularly with individuals from other liberal organizations to strategize about the framing of public policy. Allegedly, unnamed White House staff attend these policy meetings.

Assuming all of the allegations in the article are true, Carlson and Coglianese fail to do one important thing. They do not rebut or even attempt to rebut any of the reporting that Media Matters has made regarding inaccurate or misleading comments in conservative media. While Carlson and Coglianese obviously want to discredit Media Matters, their article falls far short of this goal. Instead, they only succeed in portraying themselves as disgruntled conservatives who lack the capacity for substantive engagement with Media Matters's reporting. This sensationalized article does more to discredit Carlson and Coglianese than Media Matters.

Finally, Carlson and Coglianese's portrayal of seemingly ominous meetings between staff from Media Matters  and the White House is laughable. That White House officials meet with members of nonprofits and supportive constituents is a longstanding feature of our republican form of government. It is not the sign of nefarious liberal plot. Elected officials meet with and represent the people of the United States -- including liberal organizations like Media Matters.  Lacing this part of the story with the word "coordinating" does not add anything of substance.

Even if these meetings could compromise the objectivity of Media Matters, Carlson and Coglianese have not demonstrated that they have. Instead, they have chosen to write a salacious story, rather than intelligent analysis.  Everyone knows that Media Matters is a liberal watchdog. Carlson and Coglianese, however, have not shown that it is an inaccurate watchdog.

UPDATE: Conservatives have responded to my arguments (on Twitter) with two points. Both arguments fail.

First, conservatives argue that Media Matters is a news website and as such, it should not meet with the White House to discuss policy matters and design the framing of public policy proposals. This response fails because Media Matters is not a news website. Instead, it analyzes conservative news reports for inaccurate commentary. The "about us" section of the Media Matters website clearly describes the organization's activities:
Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Launched in May 2004, Media Matters for America put in place, for the first time, the means to systematically monitor a cross section of print, broadcast, cable, radio, and Internet media outlets for conservative misinformation — news or commentary that is not accurate, reliable, or credible and that forwards the conservative agenda — every day, in real time.

Using the website mediamatters.org as the principal vehicle for disseminating research and information, Media Matters posts rapid-response items as well as longer research and analytic reports documenting conservative misinformation throughout the media. Additionally, Media Matters works daily to notify activists, journalists, pundits, and the general public about instances of misinformation, providing them with the resources to rebut false claims and to take direct action against offending media institutions.
Policy groups often meet with presidents and other elected officials. This is not inappropriate. As representatives of voters, presidents routinely meet with constituents and supporters to discuss policy matters. For example, President George Bush met with the NRA-ILA (the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association) and other conservative organizations during his tenure.

Second, conservatives have endeavored to find meaning in the allegations the article makes regarding David Brock. While these claims might provide salacious enjoyment for some readers, they do not discredit the analysis that Media Matters compiles regarding inaccurate reporting by conservative media.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Prop 8 Held Unconstitutional By Federal Appeals Court

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a California constitutional amendment that defines marriage in opposite-sex terms violates the Constitution.

Note: This is breaking news. I will have more analysis later today - once I can download the opinion and finish teaching classes!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Firm At Center of Romney's Stimulus Critique Received Over $10.4M From Fed. Projects

ABC News (and other media) has reported that Mitt Romney recently held a campaign rally at Springs Fabrication, Inc., a manufacturing company located in Colorado. During the rally, Romney assailed the stimulus package that Congress passed in 2009. Conservatives and other opponents of the stimulus have repeatedly argued that the measure did not create any jobs. According to CBO analysis and reports from economists, however, the stimulus contributed to GDP, created new jobs, and prevented job losses.

Ironically, Springs Fabrication received $2.3 million in stimulus funds in November of 2009. The government hired Springs Fabrication to complete a plumbing project at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Stimulus funds paid for the project. Despite winning this contract, Tom Neppl, the CEO of Springs Fabrication, says that the stimulus did not allow the company to create any jobs:
"I did not support the stimulus, I did not seek out stimulus funds, and the stimulus did not create or save a single job here,” said Neppl. “One of our best customers placed an order as they have in the past, for a government project like those we have done in the past.”
Neppl's statement reiterates the conservative line that government spending does not boost economic activity or lead to job growth. The recent history of Springs Fabrication, however, contradicts this assertion.

Springs Fabrication Has Hired Persons As A Result of Government Spending

Although Neppl portrays the stimulus as ineffective, the company he heads has benefited from federal spending. In his statement, Neppl himself acknowledges Spring Fabrication's participation in government projects "in the past."  One specific project began in December 2009 when Springs Fabrication entered into an $8.1 million contract to dispose of chemical weapons for the US Army at a location in Pueblo, Colorado. Springs Fabrication was a subcontractor for the $28.7 million government project. Due to the magnitude of this government-sponsored contract, Springs Fabrication was able to rehire 20 persons that it had previously fired due to lack of work.

Although Neppl portrays the stimulus as unsuccessful, he boasted about Springs Fabrication winning the contract. It was the largest contract Springs Fabrication had ever received, and it permitted the company to create jobs in the local community:
"This contract will absorb our existing staff, so we'll have to ramp up a bit," he said. "That's why it's good news - not just for us, but for Southern Colorado. These big contracts don't always keep the money in the area, but this time it will stay here."
Furthermore, Springs Fabrication won the contract at a time when it was experiencing a downturn in sales (well, there was a recession). Nonetheless, Neppl has given his voice to the bogus assertion that government spending and job creation are unrelated.

Neppl's position seems politically motivated. It contradicts the company's own history of job creation with government funds. Also, it is probably not a coincidence that John McCain held a campaign rally at the company in 2008.

Romney's Use of Springs Fabrication to Bash Stimulus Is Misleading As Well

Romney has promoted Springs Fabrication's experience in order to portray the stimulus as a waste of money. During his campaign rally at the company, Romney blasted the stimulus:
“That stimulus [Neppl] had, it did not do the job. I mean, I understand Tom said he was working on a project that got some stimulus money. . . .”
“I asked well were you able to hire more people because of that, he said no. Didn’t add any more people, just more money into the system, but no more people hired,” said Romney. “That stimulus did not create private sector jobs like it should have, like it could have, it instead protected government jobs.”
Romney's statement is intentionally misleading. The Colorado Springs Gazette interviewed Neppl. During the interview, Neppl said that the stimulus funding he received did not allow him to hire new people or make a profit. Neppl, however, explained that this was not due to an inherent defect in the stimulus. Instead, the company's costs were larger than expected; so it failed to make a profit (which probably explains why it could not hire additional workers). Cost overruns frequently occur on major manufacturing and construction projects. The stimulus did not cause this.

Moreover, although Neppl did not make a profit on the project, he says it could still benefit the company. He believes that it could lead to future contracts for the company.


Romney opposes the stimulus, but he needs to state legitimate reasons for doing so, rather than misrepresenting the experience of Springs Fabrication. The company failed to profit from the stimulus money it received because it underestimated the cost of the project. Furthermore, the company has profited previously from government spending and has used this money to hire workers.

In addition, economists argue that the stimulus created or saved jobs and contributed to GDP. Other than challenging this data, it is difficult to imagine a sound argument against the stimulus. Certainly, Romney has not offered one.

NYT's Ross Douthat's Flawed Analysis of the Komen-Planned Parenthood Controversy

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat criticizes media coverage of the Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy in his latest column, The Media's Abortion Blinders. Douthat argues that media coverage decisively favored Planned Parenthood, leaving the impression that the organization was itself without controversy.  Douthat, however, ignores available information that undermines his claims and that reveals his own ideological blinders regarding the abortion topic.

Partially Reporting Gallup Results

To prove his case, Douthat cites a recent Gallup survey, which he says shows that "[a] combined 58 percent of Americans stated that abortion should either be 'illegal in all circumstances' or 'legal in only a few circumstances.'" Douthat cites this survey in order to argue that the media coverage ignored millions of Americans who disfavor abortion.  He also attempts to depict Planned Parenthood as an organization that sits outside of mainstream public opinion.

The same Gallup poll, however, shows that 77 percent of Americans want abortion legal in all circumstances or legal under certain circumstances. This is so because the majority of Americans -- 51 percent -- favor abortion under certain circumstances. Only a minority of the country occupies the most extreme positions in this debate (abortion legal/illegal in all circumstances). While 21 percent want abortion illegal in all circumstances, 26 percent want it legal in all circumstances. So, more Americans favor abortion (with some restrictions) than those who do not. Also, more Americans favor unrestricted access to abortion than those who want it illegal in all cases. These numbers have remained somewhat consistent over the last two decades.

Douthat Relies Upon Heavily Biased Coverage of Planned Parenthood

Douthat contests Planned Parenthood's statement that abortions only constitute 3 percent of its services. To do so, he cites "conservative estimates," which he claims challenge this figure.

Douthat's conservative estimates, however, come from a highly biased analysis in The Weekly Standard, a unabashedly conservative and partisan publication that was previously owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The Weekly Standard article does not even dispute Planned Parenthood's statement about the breakdown of its services. Instead, it reports that revenue from abortion services constitutes a much larger share of Planned Parenthood's overall intake. Because abortion is more expensive than other services the organization provides, this result is not surprising. Still, this fact does not alter the data that Planned Parenthood presents regarding the mix of services it provides to patients. Conservatives, however, including Douthat and Mike Huckabee, continue to make this false assertion.

Douthat Ignores Available Information to Reach His Conclusion

Douthat concludes his column with a volley of claims. He that argues that fighting breast cancer is "unifying" while abortion is "polarizing"; that the Komen decision to defund Planned Parenthood was no more "political" than the decision to fund it in the first place; and that equal numbers of Americans were "probably" angered and relieved by Komen's decision. For several reasons, Douthat's reasoning fails.

While abortion is a polarizing topic, most Americans disagree with the extreme pro-life position. Furthermore, Komen made breast cancer controversial by thrusting itself into the public debate about abortion. This was unwise from a marketing standpoint. Undoubtedly, the public anger over Komen's decision led to the reversal.

Also, contrary to Douthat's assertion, the Komen defunding decision was absolutely political. It follows decisions and plans by conservative states to defund Planned Parenthood. These state policies are illegal because they violate federal Medicaid rules.

Also, reporting on this issue reveals that Karen Handler, the Vice President for Komen, is anti-choice. Handler ran as an anti-choice candidate in a Georgia gubernatorial election, during which she criticized Planned Parenthood.

When Handler arrived at Komen, she pushed the organization to split from Planned Parenthood.  Komen seized upon the fact that anti-choice House Republicans had launched a partisan "investigation" of Planned Parenthood. Komen created a rule barring the distribution of its funds to entities under federal investigation. It then used this rule to justify defunding Planned Parenthood.

Komen, however, gives money to other organizations under congressional investigation. Yet, it only cut funding to Planned Parenthood. And while the federal investigation is the initial excuse Komen provides for parting with Planned Parenthood, Douthat accepts an alternative argument the Komen made up after the controversy erupted -- that it defunded Planned Parenthood because the latter did not provide many breast cancer screenings in the first place.

Douthat's article omits a lot of available information on this subject.  Douthat does not provide this information either because he has not thoroughly researched the topic or because he wants to ignore facts that challenge his own position.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mitt Romney: Will Direct His Policies to the "Middle Class" -- Not the "Very Poor"

Mitt Romney has created a stir with comments he made during a CNN interview today. Romney stated that his policies will not focus on the "very rich" or the "very poor." Instead, he would direct his energy and policies toward middle-class Americans. When the interviewer asked Romney to explain his position, he elaborated that the country already has a safety net that protects the most impoverished Americans and that if it needed repairing, he would do so.

Liberal commentators have pounced upon these statements, claiming that they demonstrate Romney's indifference to poor folks. I have a few responses.

FIRST, Romney's critics are correct. His comments show a stunning disregard for poor folks, including the working poor who cannot qualify for many government benefits. Even though he also said that he was not concerned about very rich folks, the President of the United States should have a deep concern for the plight of poor folks.

SECOND, Although Democrats have not said anything as politically sloppy as Romney with respect to poor folks, their rhetoric often focuses on the middle-class as well. President Obama, for example, created a Middle-Class Task Force during the first month of his presidency.  He did not, however, create a similar task force for poor people. Also, when Obama tours important swing states, his speeches usually stress the plight of middle-class Americans above all others. Basically, both parties are chasing large chunks of middle-class voters who live in states such as Ohio, Florida, Missouri, and other "purple" jurisdictions. If the "very poor" were a larger voting bloc and antipoverty programs had more support among voters, then both parties would pay more attention to the needs of poor folks.

So, Romney has made a very troubling statement. But it is hard to say that Democrats are doing all that they can do for poor people. Democrats' policies, however, do more for poor people than the policies advocated by most Republican politicians.

Susan G. Komen Foundation Marches Into Rightwing Camp

The Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation has cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Komen previously provided grants to fund breast cancer screenings by Planned Parenthood medical professionals.

Recently, however, Komen hired an anti-choice Vice President, Karen Handel, who was recently an unsuccessful candidate in the Georgia gubernatorial election. Handel actively campaigned on an anti-choice and anti-Planned Parenthood platform. She also received an endorsement from Sarah Palin.

Komen defends its decision by citing to a "new" rule it adopted that denies funding to groups under Congressional "investigation." Last year, House Republicans launched a partisan investigation to determine whether Congress should continue funding Planned Parenthood's non-abortion family planning and health services. That investigation, however, has not proceeded, due to opposition by Democrats. Because of this context, Komen's new rule seems plainly designed to target and justify the defunding of Planned Parenthood.  Furthermore, because liberals tend to support women's health issues and abortion rights, this decision could prove harmful to Komen.

Planned Parenthood has released a statement that criticizes Komen.  Planned Parenthood has also started a campaign to raise funds in order to continue providing breast cancer screenings for its indigent patients. Komen's decision is not based on good healthcare practices. Instead, it rests on partisan political ideology. Shame.
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