Debbie Bacigalupi: from Corporate Event Planner to Fourth-rate Liar

I had an interesting conversation today with Debbie Bacigalupi, a former corporate event planner who is running for Congress as a Republican in California’s 14th district. Bacigalupi more or less met my expectations of a not-particularly-sharp electoral punching bag whose political education thus far has consisted of years of listening to conservative talk radio plus maybe a week of whatever GOP media summer camp teaches candidates how to repeat the same talking points over and over. The conversation centered on reproductive rights; while dodging virtually every question on how she would actually vote on bills concerning abortion, Bacigalupi did essentially admit that she did not have the slightest clue that birth control is often prescribed in cases having nothing to do with sexual activity. (In case it wasn’t obvious, she’d vote to ban Medicaid from funding birth control.)

But enough about that. I also picked up her campaign brochure targeted to “college age voters”, which she and her companion were doling out at my local college campus. Now, I’m not under the illusion that the brochure contains an above average number of lies per square inch compared to other GOP candidates. These are Republicans we’re talking about here. But it contains a lot of them.

A bit of throat-clearing is necessary here. Why am I bothering with a detailed takedown of a fourth-rate tea party hack? Bacigalupi isn’t going to beat Jackie Speier in CA-14. It’ll be remarkable if she only loses by forty percentage points. And as I’ve admitted, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this candidate’s claims relative to others in her party, so singling her out is a bit odd. Moreover, in most of the Bay Area, Republicans are still as radioactive as ever and that shows no sign of changing. So there’s a bit of a tilting-at-windmills quality to this.

That said, I think it’s an important project for one reason: the modern conservative movement is toxic to the body politic, and only when the Republican Party has finally purged itself of these dishonest lunatics will we be able to have anything resembling a normal politics again in America. And one piece of that project is making sure that people who say this stuff are thoroughly humiliated by public reputations as backward liars, and embarrassed that they ever ran for office in the first place. So in short, in a race where the press doesn’t care about writing anything after the primary because the result was never in question, this kind of thing will serve as lasting documentation where there otherwise might be none. Plus…it has the additional virtue of being true!

So let’s get on with it and look at what’s in Debbie Bacigalupi’s brochure. My method here excludes from consideration the following: statements of subjective opinion or subjective issue-framing, even laughably stupid ones (“the govt. has NO money, except what it takes from tax paying citizens”, “Imagine charging 40 cents of every dollar you spend to your credit card!” – the framing here being the braindead trope equating the US Treasury to a household); statements that, however tendentious or vague, are at most only indirectly related to federal government policy (“Since 2008, tuition costs have increased at Public universities by over 21%”, “gasoline prices have increased 100% since 2009”); and statements so incoherent I have no idea what they even mean (“the tax payers pay for the food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, loan defaults, [blah blah]…of non-tax paying citizens” – my brain hurts just trying to understand how the American taxpayer has paid for private loan defaults in the absence even of cramdown legislation, unless the idea is that the financial crisis requiring the bailout of the financial system is entirely the fault of distressed homeowners). Also ignored are painful errors in grammar, of which there are several (President Obama’s “job’s council”). However, statements of fact that are obviously intended to mislead anyone with average common sense will be called what they are: lies. I also reserve the right to call particularly egregious cases of cherry-picking lies; picking 2009 as a baseline year in making claims about gas prices is clearly preying on reader ignorance that 2009 was an especially cheap year for gas relative to 2005-2008.

“Consumer prices have increased 9.5% since 2009.”

Verdict: EGREGIOUS CHERRY-PICKING

The language here is vague; if “since 2009” means since the very end of 2009, it’s almost certainly false. Total CPI change over this period was somewhere around 7-8%. So instead I’m going to assume that the brochure means since the beginning of 2009, when President Obama took office. Ignoring the implicit and wrong value judgment here that price increases are in and of themselves horrible, this stat essentially says “President Obama came in and rescued the economy from epic disaster – and that’s a bad thing.” The CPI was a whopping negative 3.2% in November/December 2008, thanks to the economy plunging into a deflationary spiral. The economy bounced back in early 2009, causing a jump in inflation that offset this deflation. That’s where a good chunk of the inflation of the last few years came from (and even if it weren’t, 9.5% inflation over four years is hardly unprecedented or dangerous – it’s just a shade over the 8% target set by the Fed as part of its dual mandate).

Things get more obvious than this, trust me.

“3 million fewer Americans will gain health insurance as part of the health-care overhaul (Obamacare).”

Verdict: LIE

The source here is given as the unhelpful “WSJ”. In any case, this is such an obvious attempt to mislead that it deserves to be called a lie. The language here is directly copied-and-pasted in a bunch of sources on the Web; probably the ultimate source is Louise Radnofsky’s story in the WSJ from this summer on…you guessed it, the striking down of the Medicaid expansion provisions in the PPACA by the Supreme Court. In other words, the PPACA as passed had 17 million more Americans getting health insurance than before and now, thanks to the Court preventing the federal government from laying the hammer on states that resist Medicaid expansion, only about 14 million more will. Saying that 17-3 = 0-3 and implying that a Court modification is the same as the law itself:  lies.

“With the new healthcare law you are required to buy insurance or pay a fine!” 

Verdict: LIE

False under normal readings of the word “buy”. You aren’t required to buy insurance under the PPACA unless you aren’t already covered. Lots of people in group plans don’t “buy” insurance per se; they’re given it as a benefit from their employers, or it’s directly paid for by taxpayers (Medicare). It would have been easy enough to convey much the same message while not lying, but that’s not my problem.

“New regulations already require certain types of light bulbs, toilets, and showers.”

Verdict: HILARIOUS

No real reason for including this statement other than that it’s a funny-ass window into the GOP as the party of Get Off My Lawn, pandering to the voters who think mandatory seat belts in cars and CFLs are signs of the Apocalypse. The horror, the horror of the nanny-state telling us we can’t build earthquake-unsafe structures if we damn well please!

“Nearly half of all Americans pay no federal taxes.”

Verdict: LIE

The conflation of all federal taxes (payroll taxes, etc.) with the federal income tax is particularly frowned upon at this blog. F-minus-minus.

“Meanwhile the top 10% of wage earners pay over 70% of all the taxes for the Nation.”

Verdict: ALL THE ALCOHOL ON EARTH WILL NOT GET ME THROUGH THIS WHOLE POST

Probably the same conflation as above is animating this nonsense. A cursory look at some data from a right-leaning think tank suggests that the actual tax share paid by the top decile is probably not more than 45%.

Update: Yep, I was right . There may also be some chicanery here in focusing on “wage income” to distort the effects of the capital gains tax on the stats – that is, you can only get to 45% if you conflate “federal taxes” with “federal income taxes”, and you can only go from 45 to 70% by slicing all the rich investors whose income is primarily capital gains out of your data. Note also that economics21, who supplied the chart in my link above, is also guilty of the same lie (see the chart).

“Who has decided to enforce only the nation’s laws he agrees with?”

“Who has allowed voter intimidation at the polls?”

“Who is hiring 16,000 IRS agents to enforce Obamacare on Americans?”

Verdict: THIS IS JUST LIKE WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, EXCEPT I DIDN’T GET ANY SMARTER FIRST

Needless to say, Newt Gingrich’s garbage claim about 16,000 IRS agents has been thoroughly dealt with before, though this zombie lie will likely be with us long into the PPACA era.

That’s it till 2014, folks! Join us then when the next lying GOP doormat runs in CA-14 when I’m sure the Party of Lincoln will have reformed itself into a responsible center-right opposition that wants nothing to do with the wingnut fever swamp, making my job much more boring!

Update: A closer inspection of the brochure suggests it was not put out directly by the Bacigalupi congressional campaign, but by the San Mateo Tea Party group mylibertysanmateo.com, led by Carol Negro. That said, I do not think it’s unfair to term it “Bacigalupi’s brochure” as I have here.  The tea party guy who handed it to me and asked me if I would like to meet a candidate for Congress was clearly involved with assisting Bacigalupi on campus, and gave the impression that he worked or volunteered for her campaign. The brochure appeared to be given out as official campaign literature. Additionally, Bacigalupi and Negro are likely to be closely connected through the tea party organization (see this video of them both speaking at a local development meeting), and Bacigalupi’s actions today gave every indication that she fully endorses the statements in the brochure. If I see reasonable evidence that none of these things are true, I’ll correct the post accordingly.

Please think twice before voting for Proposition 37

(This is the first of at least two posts on this topic. Warning, divergence from liberal orthodoxy follows!)

This cycle, California voters are deciding on Proposition 37, which would require labeling for GMO foods as is done in many other countries in the developed world. While I am loath to throw in my lot with agribusiness in general and Monsanto especially, the arguments for Prop. 37 just do not stand up to scrutiny, and the major organization backing the proposition is advancing arguments that have laughable claims to scientific rigor.

Here in brief are some of the non-science reasons I think Prop. 37 is a bad idea:

  • It isn’t crafted specifically to protect consumers from ostensible harm from GMO foods. The exemptions in Prop. 37 – primarily for organic farmers – suggest that the ballot language was crafted primarily to benefit the organic farming industry, not consumers. If protecting Californians were really the paramount goal, the authors would have placed the responsibility on organic farmers, just like non-organic farmers, to test their crops for infiltration of transgenically-derived genes (a concern many organic farmers share) and label them accordingly. Instead they specifically exempted them from any such requirement. While I would rather see an organic farmer benefit than Big Ag, this is a bad way to do it if you really think GMOs are a legitimate public interest concern. What of the small, non-organic farmer who nonetheless doesn’t intentionally plant GM seeds? The text of the law would seem to hold him legally responsible for testing and appropriately labeling his crop, but not the organic farmer next door – a bizarre situation if what you’re really attempting to do is allow consumers to keep GM foods out of their diet.
  • We need to end our addiction to legislating via ballot proposition. This is the Assembly’s job and if this is a public interest concern, we need to hold the Assembly accountable for passing a law. Not enshrine it into something much harder to modify or repeal should there be unintended and undesirable consequences. We’re turning state governance into an ad hoc crazy-quilt joke. California just has to stop doing this. Period.
  • It’s a piss-poor substitute for real, comprehensive food policy. If I wanted to improve Californians’ health through food, even if I thought GMOs were potentially dangerous (which I don’t), this would be probably tenth or eleventh down my food safety priority list. Accepting the general position that consumers have a right to know what they’re eating, GMO labeling would barely scratch the surface of giving them that information. How about assays of known toxins and allergens? Why can’t we know exactly where and how our food was grown, stored, transported, stored again, and packed for sale? Most Americans don’t even know that the onions and apples they eat often sit in silage for many months before consumption.  And more money could be spent on advocacy and research for nutrition, health effects of fresh and processed foods, etc., etc. Slapping labels on food without actual research behind doing so is making policy in the dark.

In my next post on this, I’ll tackle some of the myths that Prop. 37’s main opponents are promulgating about genetic modification and other biotech techniques.

The Evolution Fight as Social Project

I both agree and disagree with Kevin Drum’s take on evolution: Kevin’s clearly right that if the conservative position on evolution were really about evolution, it wouldn’t be a big deal. The vast majority of people can get by just fine without any understanding of the topic (even with stuff like public health issues around antibiotic resistance, telling someone “just don’t be stupid and abuse antibiotics” is probably about as effective as going into the details of the evolution of resistant bacteria).

But the conservative position on evolution isn’t really about evolution at all.

It’s about politics, specifically a long-term political project to muddy the waters with voters who would ordinarily be least likely to vote for conservatives, low-income people with a high school education or less. That’s one reason the fight has never really extended to expunging evolution from college biology departments – college grads aren’t really the target audience here. The real goal isn’t to attack evolution, but to socially wall off these voters as much as possible from  voices and authority figures that could conceivably compete with those useful to conservatives – pastors, the military, conservative media, etc. Making the low-information voter forever distrustful of expertise is a dangerous project, and one that liberal strategists ignore at their peril.

The Jeremy Lin Era Begins! (Warning, sports writing)

While I’m generally sympathetic to critiques of racial stereotyping in sports, I just can’t agree with this (via a facebook friend):

I loved watching Jeremy’s aggression on the court and his enjoyment of the game.  I loved seeing his teammates’ celebration, since Jeremy has obviously won their hearts with his courage and kindness.  I did not love the belittling comments.  Now, I’m always reticent to cry “racism,” and I won’t cry “racism” in this case.  The commentators are not showing hatred of a race.  I won’t even call it bigotry — at least not bigotry outright.  If anything, they’re showing what President Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  Their astonishment at the sight of Jeremy Lin outperforming the other players, their consistent references to how exhausted he must be, and how “magical” a night he’s having (rather than a natural result of talent and hard work) suggests that they’ve bought into the stereotype of the physically inferior Asian-American male.

So let’s break this down, claim by claim:

Is calling Jeremy Lin’s night against the Nets “magical” condescending to the effort he’s put in and indicative of low expectations because he’s Asian? I’ve watched a fair number of NBA games, and hyperbole is pretty standard for NBA announcers when someone has a spectacular night. And I’m reasonably sure I’ve heard “magical” used with players of all ethnicities. More significantly, this would have been a special outing for many players below the superstar level, but especially so considering the Knicks had been losing the game up to Lin’s takeover of the game in the second half and the backstory of the team’s woes finding someone good to play point guard.  More on this later, but I don’t think “magical” by itself is really all that unusual or inappropriate in this context.

Did they have biased expectations of Lin’s stamina because of his Chinese heritage? Hmmm. What’s a fair way to evaluate this claim? Let’s start with a crude qualitative measure: did Lin actually look tired or are the announcers projecting their own preconceived narrative onto him in this case, facts be damned? I think he looked fairly tired on those free throws near the end of the 3rd quarter. He’s breathing rather heavily.

More meaningful perhaps: how logical is it to expect Lin to be tired? Lin played 36 minutes that night. For one game, that’s probably not particularly remarkable. But it’s still a lot of minutes. And it’s a certainly lot of minutes for any player coming off the bench at the bottom of the depth chart. Lin had never played more than about 20 minutes in an NBA game up to that point. So I don’t think it’s particularly off-the-wall to expect that this kind of effort would test his conditioning more than it had ever been tested before.

And Lin played almost 45 minutes tonight. Again, it’s just two games and hardly a good predictive sample, but if Lin somehow manages to keep up this pace (in a compressed season no less)  his performance won’t be remarkable – it’ll be completely unthinkable. Not a single NBA player currently averages 40 minutes a game. Look at the NBA minutes leaders. Most of the 20 players who average above 36 minutes are the best players in the entire game of basketball today, All-Star Game starters and probable future Hall of Famers. Kevin Love, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose.  Those guys. Not dudes who were warming the bench two games ago.

Is being surprised at Lin’s clear performance edge in this game unreasonable? Again, we are talking about a second-year player, coming off the bottom of the depth chart, relatively untested in the NBA, not especially strongly tested in college or in high school either (the Ivy League and Northern California high schools are not exactly known for fielding the world’s most competitive basketball teams at their respective levels). On a team whose main storyline promoted by ESPN for the last month is that they are so desperate for a point guard, any point guard, that they really can’t afford to wait for the relatively washed-up Baron Davis to come back from injury.

The possibility that he has been systematically underrated throughout his career aside, I really don’t think it’s so farfetched to expect that NBA players in Lin’s situation are not going to be putting up numbers like this so suddenly. The usual trajectory is for a player to gradually amp up his play over his first two or three years while coaches get comfortable with designing plays for him, rather than instantly putting up 25 points a game right off the bat. I saw announcers’ shock in a similar situation this year with another reserve, Ivan Johnson, against the Heat and so I don’t see why they shouldn’t be similarly surprised seeing Lin play like this.

Bottom line: Jeremy Lin’s PER is currently 25.07. That’s better than Wade, Steve Nash, Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and Andrew Bynum. It’s better than Dwight Howard. It’s better than all but seven players in the league. If this kind of performance is sustained through the whole season it won’t be good…for an Asian-American. It won’t be good…for a fairly scrawny player who’s obviously at a physical disadvantage compared to his peers.

It will be one of the greatest single-season performances by any player to ever play the game. Period. “Magical”? That’s the only way I can think of to describe it.

Here’s Jeffrey Miron, the Harvard Economics Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, shilling for a libertarian think tank (one that’s apparently well-funded enough to afford to purchase ads on Youtube promoting its professionally produced videos):

The best part is where he blames the financial crisis on government overregulation. Because in a truly laissez-faire world, naturally crucial money center banks would never turn themselves into gigantic casinos because…look it’s Halley’s Comet!

I can’t possibly imagine why anyone would have a problem with the way Greg Mankiw teaches Ec 10.

Procrastination: The Best Cure For a Blogging Hiatus

If anyone wants to get me the Stop Making Sense DVD for Hanukkah, I’ll be eternally grateful.

 

Matt Yglesias:

 If you’re talking about a purely political speech then dwelling on the fact that negative real interest rates are crazy or how the Federal Reserve should be more tolerant of higher prices and especially higher prices for food and gasoline is a bad strategy. The public doesn’t have a deep understanding of the deficit or passionate views about it, but they know that they’re “bad.” The public has less understanding of monetary policy, but they know that inflation is “bad.”

 

Are there any highly technical subjects that have successfully gotten through to the public at large? The main example I can think of is environmental science. Somehow people did manage to learn about the greenhouse effect, the ozone hole, and so forth. On the other hand, the environmental movement originally grew because of issues that were not particuarly technical. It’s not hard to understand why people might be attracted to environmentalism when their local Midwestern river is catching fire.