2012 - %3, August

Quote of the Day: "The Assumption Was That, Um, the, the, Ah"

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 10:05 AM PDT

Earlier this morning I wrote that it's true that Obamacare reduces spending on Medicare. However, it's also true that the most recent version of Paul Ryan's budget proposed keeping those exact same cuts. Via Steve Benen, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered the following immortal comment when he was asked how to square this with Ryan's current attacks:

Asked about the inconsistency of Ryan attacking cuts his own plan embraced, Cantor begged off. "The assumption was that, um, the, the, ah, again — I probably can't speak to that in an exact way so I better just not," he said.

Yeah, I'd beg off too. Even Ryan himself, when he was asked about this, was forced to retreat into some word salad about baselines and the sun being in his eyes and it all being the fault of that tricksy Obama. There's just no good answer here.

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Why Simple is Better for Old-Age Insurance Programs

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 9:39 AM PDT

Matt Yglesias on one reason that it's probably not a good idea to turn Medicare into a voucher program:

We all know that some cognitive impairment tends to be a part of the aging process....That's why elder fraud is a recognized problem. A great study by David Labison finds that about half of 80-somethings have "significant cognitive impairment, effectively rendering them incapable of making important financial choices."

....[This is one of the problems] with the Romney/Ryan plan to replace Medicare with a system of subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance on regulated exchanges. This is essentially the same idea as what ObamaCare will do for the non-elderly, but in the opposite direction. In the case of the Affordable Care Act, it's not clear to me that there are sound non-political reasons for doing it this way rather than constructing a single public program. But in the case of a program targeted at the elderly, the case for consumer sovereignty is clearly weaker. Insurance forms are confusing, and calculating the real actuarial value of different offers is difficult. This is not an ideal task to assign to a 92 year-old. It's possible to make it work with adequate regulation, but you really are counting on building a very effective regulatory agency to manage the program. So why not just build an effective agency and manage Medicare?

If private competition among insurance companies were truly likely to lead to substantial cost reductions, it might be worth doing this regardless. But the evidence we have suggests that competitive bidding, at best, would lead only to modest savings. The reason is simple: The high cost of healthcare in America is mostly related to the high prices we pay to providers — hospitals, doctors, drug companies, device manufacturers, etc. — and only slightly related to insurance company efficiency. There's just not much reason to think that competition among insurance companies will have a big effect on provider prices.

It might still be worth trying. That's a judgment call. But everyone should understand both the tradeoffs and the likelihood that, at most, it will produce only modest savings.

News Outlets Around the World Totally Confused by Clint Eastwood

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 9:22 AM PDT

Americans on Twitter were not the only ones confused by the bizarre speech made by actor/director Clint Eastwood at the 2012 GOP convention last night: It was the speech heard 'round the world. Eastwood's conversation with a chair, which presumably held an imaginary President Obama, has been featured in many international news outlets. And while the Obama camp is asking the media to refer all questions about the speech to deceased surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí, it might be useful to also look to the global press for an outside perspective.

Here's a roundup of what various non-English outlets have been saying about Eastwood. Translations courtesy of the extensive language skills of Mother Jones' staff and Google. If you see another good clip from a foreign news source, or have a suggestion about a translation below, please send it our way in the comments. We'll update with the best submissions!

France

Best Quote: Alone facing thousands of hardcore Republicans, Eastwood looked to something familiar for support. He started a laborious name-dropping routine to undercut the image of a denizen of Hollywood (that bastion of socialism)...Then, in a hesitant voice (did he forget his script? was he improvising? had he lost his mind?) he turned to an empty stool, upon which he found Barack Obama, invisible for the moment, but that didn't matter: Clint is nothing but the shadow of his former self. And the gimmick he used, which was halfway between Beckett (Waiting for Barack) and Ionesco (The Chairs) hardly worked for him. Unless all this is nothing but a sham—something along the lines of Brechtian distancing. (GQ Magazine-France)

Germany

Best Quote: The 82-year-old cut off the applause with a brief, "save some for Mitt." But then his coolness suddenly evaporated. Eastwood spoke without a script or a teleprompter, which evidently can be a problem even for an experienced actor. He leapt from topic to topic without ever carrying one argument through to a satisfactory conclusion. Granted, it did not seem to bother the Republicans. Over and over, applause and cheers rang out. But on the outside, away from the Republican base in Tampa, the reaction to Eastwood's appearance was a disbelieving shake of the head. (der Spiegel)

Taiwan

Best Quote: Hollywood star Clint Eastwood took the stage at the Republican National Convention, performing an impromptu one-man show with imaginary Obama in an empty chair. However, experts found his performance lackluster. The convention's mystery guest used his superstar charm and signature gruff voice on stage to warm up for Romney's nomination speech. (Central News Agency)

Spain

Best Quote: The actor, who came onstage to the theme from "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly," started his speech with a biting dialogue in which he pretended to speak with a chair in which an imaginary Obama was seated. Eastwood asked him various questions that, obviously, didn't draw a response. (La Gaceta)

Iran

Best Quote: "Nonsense from Clint Eastwood, anti-people Hollywood actor, in defense of Mitt Romney, the Right's candidate for the U.S. elections.    For friends who know English, if you understand what this guy said, let me know too." (The Atlantic)

Italy

Best Quote: Not to mention Hollywood sacred cow Clint Eastwood, who came on as a surprise speaker to take part in the "coronation" of the former Massachusetts governor. His performance wowed the crowd, though it was not without its grotesque moments: the great actor and director interviewed an empty chair, pretending that Obama was sitting there. He asked questions and gave answers... concluding with a diss that Obama had turned out worse than Vice President Biden. (Corriere della Sera)

Brazil

Best Quote: With the image of a cowboy in the background, award winning actor and director Clint Eastwood spoke at the National Republican Convention in Tampa, showcasing a different ability: stand-up comedian. (Folha, with translation assist from Brazilian-American journalist Mario Furloni)

Additional reporting by Erika Eichelberger.

WATCH: Mitt Romney Accidentally Calls the United States a "Company"

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 9:20 AM PDT

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a rally in Lakeland, Florida, on Friday morning, just hours after his much-anticipated acceptance speech at his party's national convention.

Romney must still be tired from last night's big hurrah. In his stump speech on Friday, he mistakenly referred to the United States as a "company." With his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Romney told supporters, "We will reach across the aisle and find good people who, like us, want to make sure this company deals with its challenges. We'll get America on track again."

Here are Romney's full remarks on the US' tepid economic recovery:

"It's not that [Obama] wasn't trying, in my view. He was pulling the wrong direction. He didn't know what it takes to actually make the economy work. Paul Ryan and I understand how the economy works. We understand how Washington works. We will reach across the aisle and find good people who, like us, want to make sure this company deals with its challenges. We'll get America on track again."

It's not surprising Romney would make this slip. He made his name—and his fortune—turning around failing companies first at the consulting firm Bain and Company, and then at private equity firm Bain Capital. Indeed, his experience turning around failing or bloated companies is central to his pitch to voters for why he should be elected president. But voters may not appreciate Romney confusing the USA with an LLC.

Paying for Obamacare

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 9:03 AM PDT

A couple of nights ago Bob Somerby watched the folks on MSNBC discussing the Ryan/Romney charge that Democrats "funneled" $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare. He was unhappy with the liberal response:

On Wednesday, Rachel Maddow asked Ezra Klein to clear up all the confusion....But uh-oh! Like his blog-mate Sarah Kliff, Klein largely repeated Romney’s Medicare charges—restated those charges in his own voice!

....Go ahead—ask yourself this: At any point, does Klein make a clear, concise statement about what Ryan said that was wrong? No such statement ever occurs in this wandering ballad. Instead, Klein throws a bewildering array of figures and claims into a very thick stew.

The problem here is simple: there is no silver bullet liberal response to Ryan's Medicare charges. This is because, rhetorical excesses aside, his charges are basically correct.

Unlike most Republican programs of the Bush era, Obamacare is fully paid for — as Obama himself has boasted repeatedly. This was an act of political courage for which Democrats deserve credit, but it was only courageous because it has a downside. And the downside is that the money to pay for Obamacare had to come from somewhere. In the end, most of it came from two places: (1) an assortment of modest tax increases, and (2) an assortment of modest spending reductions on Medicare.

There's really no way around this: Planned spending on Medicare was reduced, and the savings were applied to Obamacare. These savings came from cutting payments to hospitals and insurance companies, not from cutting benefits to seniors, but it's still perfectly defensible for conservatives to argue that the spending reductions may eventually lead to service or quality cuts in Medicare. There are some strong arguments that this won't happen, but they're hardly bulletproof.

So do liberal responses to Ryan's charges seem muddled? Of course they do. That's because people like Ezra don't like to flatly lie about this stuff, which is the only way to construct a clear and simple rebuttal. Instead, liberal wonks have to explain where the spending reductions came from and why they aren't likely to have a substantial effect on Medicare beneficiaries. But no matter how you do that — and I agree that we should probably have crisper replies than we do — you're implicitly acknowledging Ryan's point that money which would have been spent on Medicare is now going to be spent instead on Obamacare.

The best response, I suppose, is to either evade the question entirely (the pol's approach) or to keep things very, very short and simple. For example: "There were no cuts to Medicare benefits. President Obama is dedicated to making Medicare more efficient, and to do that he cut bloated payments to hospitals and big insurance companies. Why does Mitt Romney want to give that money back?" And then move on.

But the one thing you can't do is pretend that money wasn't taken from Medicare to help pay for Obamacare. It was.

Adamize: Live From Tampa Edition

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:50 AM PDT

National Review's Dan Foster and I discuss humanizing Mitt Romney, what the anti-abortion movement thinks of Todd Akin, and Ann Romney and culture wars on the latest episode of my new Bloggingheads show, Adamize:

More on Ann Romney and her favorite show, Modern Family, here. And yes, I'm dressed very casually while the rest of the MoJo crew is in Tampa. Please don't tell David.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 31, 2012

Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:24 AM PDT

Marines at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, conduct an early morning hike to a grenade range. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler.

How Our Digital Newsroom Uses Google’s Chart Tools

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:15 AM PDT

Here at Mother Jones, our reporters, editors, and army of fact-checkers hoard more troves of chart-tastic data than our 2.5-person interactive team can keep up with. We love quality charts and take great pride in those we've produced before—our visualizations of income inequality from March 2011 are still in our all-time biggest traffic items. But our booming daily content calls for a charting method that allows for faster, easier collaboration across the newsroom, and our go-to solutions—Illustrator and Excel—don't always cut it.

So in June, our interactive editor Tasneem Raja asked me to dig into Google's Chart Tools API. Two nice things about this approach: first, our reporters and editors already know and love Google Doc's collaborative editing features. And second, since Chart Tools can hook into a Google spreadsheet, a reporter can easily update a chart visualization themselves by simply changing the data in the underlying spreadsheet. The API also comes with a suite of configuration options that allows you to customize your chart's font, colors, and dimensions to better match your existing site styles (to an extent—more on that later).

Here's how we got it working for us.

After some preliminary Googling, I found a Google bar chart example that used the Fusion Table API, and, even better, included some sample code. As you can see below, the chart mostly runs on JavaScript, pulling data from a Fusion Table and applying some basic queries and layout.

<html> <head>
   
<meta charset="UTF-8">

   
<title>Fusion Tables API Example: Google Chart Tools Bar Chart</title>

   
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.google.com/jsapi"></script>
   
<script type="text/javascript">
      google
.load('visualization', '1', { packages: ['corechart'] });

     
function drawVisualization() {
        google
.visualization.drawChart({
          containerId
: 'visualization',
          dataSourceUrl
: 'http://www.google.com/fusiontables/gvizdata?tq=',
          query
: 'SELECT Year, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece FROM 18k8XNgsc5ktLP2EHMCpoKIwymsVlzVV-xVuceA',
          chartType
: 'BarChart',
          options
: {
            title
: 'Yearly Coffee Consumption by Country',
            vAxis
: {
              title
: 'Year'
           
},
            hAxis
: {
              title
: 'Cups'
           
}
         
}
       
});
     
}

      google
.setOnLoadCallback(drawVisualization);
   
</script>
 
</head>
 
<body>
   
<div id="visualization"></div>
 
</body> </html>

Gay Marriage Seed Art at the Minnesota State Fair

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:12 AM PDT

There's lots to see and do here at the Minnesota State Fair. And most importantly, eat: It's before noon, and already I've sampled the (allegedly) world's smoothest ice cream, a Norwegian delicacy called potato lefse, and a mini donut. But the coolest thing I've seen so far is tucked away in a small room in the agriculture building: seed art. Minnesotans have painstakingly employed a variety of common seeds—flax, lentils, poppy, adzuki, millet, and sunflower, to name just a few—to create incredibly detailed artistic masterpieces. The themes are many: cute animals, aphorisms, and affirmations of Minnesota pride abound. A bunch have political messages; this November there are two controversial measures on Minnesota's ballot: a gay marriage ban and a voter identification requirement. Here are some of the ways that fair entrants expressed their opinions on these matters:

And here's a detail:

Karl Rove Jokes About Murdering Rep. Todd Akin

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 7:59 AM PDT
Karl Rove.

GOP political guru Karl Rove convened a group of roughly 70 Republican mega-donors Thursday morning at the elite Tampa Club to pitch them on giving millions more to his two-headed outside political juggernaut: American Crossroads, a super-PAC, and Crossroads GPS, a secretive nonprofit organization.

A Bloomberg Businessweek editor managed to get inside Rove's exclusive meeting—and from her report, we now know precisely why reporters are usually kept out. During a discussion of the state of various US Senate races nationwide, Rove allegedly cracked a joke about whacking Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). "We should sink Todd Akin," Rove quipped. "If he's found mysteriously murdered, don't look for my whereabouts!"

Ouch.

Leaving aside Rove's joke, the entire account of the Rove fundraiser makes for a fascinating read. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spoke at the event, and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour joined Rove in making the pitch to donors, who included hedge fund guru John Paulson and investor Wilbur Ross.

One point Rove stressed to donors is that his Crossroads groups coordinate closely with the activities of other powerful outside groups, including the political operation run by the Koch brothers. "As many of you know, one of the most important things about Crossroads is: We don't try and do this alone," Rove said. "We have partners. The Kochs—you name it."

Rove also put Crossroads' total budget at $300 million—$200 million of that for the presidential race, the rest on House and Senate races. Here's how the final pitch went down:

After screening a collection of television ads aimed at such Senate battleground states as Massachusetts, the fundraising began in earnest. CEO Law said that because of the “tremendous generosity" of many of the people in the room, American Crossroads is two-thirds of the way toward reaching its $300 million goal. But it still needs much more. With advertising rates going up and the necessity of “dealing with the gender-gap issue,” they could easily spend more than $300 million.

Barbour made the final pitch. "You all give so unbelievably generously. But you know what, I don't have any compunction about looking you in the eye and asking for more,” he said. He compared the importance of a donation to American Crossroads in this cycle to donations made to "the charity hospital" or a "big not-for-profit cancer research program that you give to."

"This is a high-stakes election," he continued. "The consequences are greater than any election, and I know everybody in here wants their children and grandchildren to inherit the same country we did. I honestly believe those are the stakes."