Friday, October 5, 2012

Romney admits he was wrong to write off 47% of the country

By Marc Jampole
News flash!

On last night’s “Sean Hannity Show,” Mitt Romney admitted that his comments about “the 47 percent” of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes were “just completely wrong.”

Mitt doesn’t apologize, but he does say he was wrong.  Better late than never.

Romney explains away his harsh and dismissive comment by asserting that during a campaign a candidate says thousands of things and “now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right.”

He never tells us what he meant to say, but did remember to apply several at-a-boy pats to his back: “My life has shown that I care about 100 percent, and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life.”  

Maybe so and maybe no, but we know this much: The tax plan that Mitt has been talking about for the past 18 months and which he may or may not have repudiated in the first presidential debate cares only about the 1% and pretty much screws the other 99%.

I also have to wonder if Romney had another moment of “something not coming out right” in the debate when he said that the healthcare plan which he proposes to replace the Affordable Care Act will protect people with pre-existing conditions.  Yes, he enables people with pre-existing conditions to buy insurance if they had it but lost their job and are willing to pay for it themselves. Anyone else with a pre-existing condition is left holding the bag, unable to get insurance or paying an exorbitant amount for health insurance.

Romney told a lot of lies during the debate, which of course did not count in the scoring done by the pundits who have declared him the winner.  Maybe these were just other moments of “something not coming out right.”  Maybe nothing ever comes out right for Paul Ryan, whose litany of distortions and lies has been well documented.

Or maybe Mitt really meant it when he denigrated 47% of the population to an audience of fat cats last May. After all, the 47% include senior citizens, the poor, children and veterans, all of who benefit from government programs that would be cut or ended to pay for tax cut largesse that Romney wants to bestow on the already wealthy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The polls will tell us who won last night’s debate, but it looked like a draw.

By Marc Jampole

Despite the efforts of pundits and politicians to spin last night’s debate in favor of one or the other candidate, we won’t really know who won until we see the next set of polls of likely voters nationwide and in the swing states.

Many pundits and politicians say that Mitt Romney won because he was more aggressive and attacking. When we break his style down to its components, we get the following, all of which characterized Romney’s debate style against the other Republican contenders for the nomination:
  • Insistence that the rules be followed (usually so he could shoehorn in one more comment).
  • Interrupting his opponent(s).
  • Stridently communicating a few limited points and sticking to them.
There can be no doubt that these behaviors worked in the debates against other Republicans. Against Obama, they worked, too, but only to provide a contrast in styles.

What the pundits are really saying when they declare Romney the winner is that they prefer or believe that the American people prefer the attacking style to what seems to be Obama’s more laid-back and studied approach.

Most commentators have missed a more profound difference between the two candidates: Romney tended to speak in anecdotes and broad principles, while Obama’s presentation focused on facts and specifics.  My dear readers will be able to latch on to an example or two that contradicts what I say, but if you go back and read the transcripts carefully, you’ll see that the preponderance of examples supports my analysis that Romney followed Ronald Reagan’s model of telling stories to illustrate big ideas, while Obama went from fact to fact and from action to action.

While I much prefer the Obama approach, Daniel Kahneman proved in Thinking Fats and Slow that believing anecdotes over facts is hard-wired into the human brain, and that many people actually respond more favorably to the argument by anecdote, especially when they already believe what the anecdote supports. The degree to which fence-sitters in the election prefer anecdotal thinking will mostly determine if Romney picked up any votes last night, which is, of course, the true test of who won the debate.

As far as individual points go, the biggest verbal altercations surrounded two points:
  • Romney’s tax plan, which the Republican nominee either repudiated or lied about in the debates.  If he really does not intend to shift the tax burden to the middle class and poor from the wealthy, the debate was the first we have heard of his change of mind.  As Obama mentioned in the debate, all independent analyses of the Romney plan conclude that it would shift the tax burden down the economic ladder.
  • The $716 billion that the Obama Administration is saving in Medicare costs by ending unneeded testing, cracking down on fraud, adjusting payments to doctors and hospitals for certain services and running a more efficient operation. Romney continues to insist on falsely labeling as benefit cuts these business-like adjustments to what the government pays. Yes, doctors and insurance companies will make $716 billion less, but those on Medicare will receive the same level of benefits and have the same number of trips to the doctor and tests (except for those that they never should have had in the first place). 
The biggest disappointment in the debate was the reverence with which both candidates approached the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known in short hand as the Simpson-Bowles Commission. As I and many other analysts pointed out when Simpson-Bowles released its report two years ago, the report did not do what it was supposed to do, which was to develop a plan to reduce the deficit.   Instead, the Simpson-Bowles plan proposedan overhaul of the tax system which would shift the burden of tax payments from the wealthy to the middle class and poor.  That both candidates spoke kindly of the plan shows how far right the country has moved.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hollywood fantasy imagines charter schools to be the answer when studies show they underperform.

By Marc Jampole
This year’s liberal stand-in for the devil incarnate are the Koch Brothers, who have forked over millions of dollars to establish the Tea Party, push Tea Party candidates, raise doubts about climate change and promote legislation that guts environmental regulations and reduces taxes on the wealthy.

It’s hard to vote against Dave and Charles when it comes to spreading around the bucks for bad causes, but how about Phillip Anschutz, the Conservative billionaire who financed the current anti-union melodrama, Won’t Back Down.

Won’t Back Down paints an ugly imaginary world in which all unionized teachers are lazy, uncaring incompetents. A sexy babe single parent played by Maggie Gyllenhaal organizes a charter school that saves the children.

According to Wikipedia, the film is “loosely based on the events surrounding the use of the parent trigger law in Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles, California in 2010, where several groups of parents attempted to take over several failing public schools” using a new law passed in California in 2010 which enabled parents “to direct changes such as dismissal of staff and potential conversion of a school to a charter school.”

The right-wing backing of Won’t Back Down begins with the studio that produced this fantasy, which also made Waiting for Superman, the documentary on charter schools that uses argument by anecdote to convince us that charter schools will save American public schools.  Anschultz, famous for his values campaigns and support of conservative think tanks, put up the money. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, known for its stands against unions, the minimum wage and any kind of government regulation of business, contributed $2.0 million to a national publicity campaign for the movie.  

By the way, Ms. Gyllenhaal went to the ritziest of private schools, belongs to a fabulously wealthy family and descends from Swedish royalty.  A lot of wealthy and connected people who send their own children to private schools like Bruce Rauner and Malin Burnham have put their money and influence behind the charter school movement. 

The question is: why would these right-wingers create and promote a slickly sentimental inspirational tearjerker about establishing a type of school that is known to fail?

Despite the glossy but distorted images of educational success in both Won’t Back Down and Waiting for Superman, charter schools are known to fail.

Let’s remain in the reality-based community that Karl Rove likes to belittle and look at the facts: Virtually all studies show that the charter school movement has yielded disappointing results in the area of student performance in school and standardized tests (which don’t test all skills, but do test a lot of skills such as reading and math that are needed to get through life and hold down a job). For example, a recent Stanford University study found that the math performance of 46% of charter schools is indistinguishable from public schools, 17% had substantially higher scores and 37% of charter schools had substantially lower scores than their public school equivalents.

Why do conservatives support charter schools?  Can the answer be anything other than breaking teachers’ unions? What I find so amazing is that so many people buy the argument that less experienced, lower paid teachers in charter or private schools or in the Teach for America program (which lets high-flying recent college graduates without education degrees teach in disadvantaged schools for a year or so) will do a better job than higher-paid teachers in unions. We think that higher paid actors, athletes, musicians, attorneys, physicians and business people are better at what they do. What’s different about teachers? And yet all these popular education reform movements seem to have as their goal the destruction of teacher unions and the lowering of salaries for the professionals who educate our young.

What we need to improve public education are more teachers and better facilities—smaller class sizes, more specialists helping kids with learning disabilities and those who are gifted, more computer labs and science labs, a shorter cycle of replacing text books and larger budgets for supplies. A recent study showed that better-performing schools spend more money on the classroom and teachers than do underperforming schools.

Of course that takes money, which mean that Phillip Anschutz and the other rich folk backing the attack on traditional public schools will have to pay more in  taxes.