Friday, September 28, 2012

And Yet Another Example of a Public Figure Who Has a Complete Misunderstanding of the First Amendment

Over the last few years, I’ve become aware of an organization called the Catholic League and its President, William Donohue. My awareness is due to some absolutely jaw-dropping statements from Donohue (at least one of which I’ve previously addressed and others of which may be the subject of a future post). I really don’t know what the relationship between the Catholic League and the Catholic Church may be (or even if there is a relationship). The organization describes itself as “the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization”. More interestingly (at least for the purpose of this post), The Catholic League also says of itself:

Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened.

Thus, with the First Amendment being so important to the Catholic League, you would think that its President would have at least some rudimentary understanding of what the First Amendment really means. Um, not so much.

Read this statement from Donohue, published earlier today (Donohue Barred From Exhibit):

Bill Donohue comments as follows:

Last evening, I held a press conference outside the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery in New York City protesting the Andres Serrano exhibit featuring “Piss Christ.” After talking to the media, I attempted to enter the gallery; it is on the second floor of a building at 37 W. 57th Street.

When I entered the lobby, I was stopped by a man who works for the building. He asked for ID and requested that I sign in. I said okay, and then asked if I could go to the gallery. He said the gallery and the building are two different entities, and that I had to ask the men from the gallery; they were right in front of me in the lobby. I then asked them if I could enter, and they said no, without explanation. At that point I turned to the crowd behind me explaining that my First Amendment rights were being censored by the same people who were proudly displaying Serrano’s crucifix in a jar of urine.

No one else was barred from entering the gallery. Just me. We have all of this on tape, and the quality of both the audio and the video are excellent. Stay tuned.

(Emphasis added.)

Did you get that? Donohue wanted to enter a private art gallery after holding a press conference outside to protest an exhibit. But, in Donohue’s world, by refusing to admit Donohue into the gallery, the owner of the gallery was “censoring” Donohue’s First Amendment rights.

No, Mr. Donohue. The owner of that gallery didn’t censor or violate your First Amendment rights. You exercised your right to protest on the public street. But the gallery owner has absolutely no obligation to admit you into his gallery and you have no First Amendment right of entry or to protest on private property.*

This is a subject that I’ve touched on repeatedly on this blog, in the posts Freedom of Speech Just Isn’t That Complicated (and other notes about Hank Williams Jr.), What the First Amendment Doesn’t Mean, and The First Amendment Does Not Protect Your Stupid, Bigoted Idea from Being Criticized (posted last month). I’m not going to take the time to go into another explanation of the First Amendment. I’ve done that already (see those prior posts). But it seems that fewer and fewer people really understand what the First Amendment does and doesn’t protect. And what’s really frightening about this is that the people who are so blindly ignorant about the First Amendment are just those people who we would expect to actually understand it (well, other than Sarah Palin, I suppose).

The First Amendment is exceptionally important; in fact, I’d argue that it is absolutely critical both to our form of government and to the civil society that we’ve created. That so few people understand even the most basic concepts of what the First Amendment does and doesn’t mean tells me that this core component of our government and societal structure needs much more focus and education.

Update (immediately after posting): One quick point that I meant to make and forgot. Go back and re-read Donohue’s complaint again. Now, if his understanding of the First Amendment were correct, wouldn’t that mean that I have a First Amendment right to walk into the offices of the Catholic League to protest Donohue’s outrageous statements? Wouldn’t that mean that if Donohue refused to allow me in to his office that he would be “censoring” my First Amendment rights? And, again taking his twisted and moronic understanding of the First Amendment, wouldn’t I also have the right to walk into a local Catholic church for the purpose of protesting against the Church’s response to child molestation? Hmm. For some reason, I just don’t think that Donohue would agree that the First Amendment would apply in those situations. And he’d be right. But it doesn’t apply to his attempt to enter the gallery either. And that’s the point.

*The gallery owner might have an obligation to admit Mr. Donohue to a public exhibit and might be in violation, not of the First Amendment (which applies to the government) but of civil rights laws, if the reason for the keeping Mr. Donohue out was based on Mr. Donohue’s religion itself (or his race or other protected class), and if the gallery event were open to the public. Civil rights laws do now, however, prevent a private business owner from refusing to conduct business with someone for reasons other than protected status. Thus, while a restaurant can’t refuse to serve a customer because of the customer’s race, the restaurant would be perfectly within its rights to refuse to admit a customer who desires entry for the purpose of protesting the restaurant’s food.


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Friday, September 21, 2012

Romney, Taxes, and Games, Oh My!

Let me get this straight. A few months ago, Mitt Romney said that he didn’t believe in paying more taxes than necessary. But he also said that he always pays above 13%. So now that he’s released his 2011 returns, we see that Romney paid at a 14.1% tax rate. However, in order to keep his tax rate above 13%, Romney deferred some charitable gifts, thus artificially raising his tax rate above his 13% threshold. Had he not deferred those gifts, his 2011 tax rate would have been just 9%. Think about that: 9%.

Oh, and when Romney said that he didn’t believe in paying more taxes than necessary, he also remarked that if he did so, he didn’t think he’d be qualified to be President.

Hmm. I think he might have been right.

Oh, and one more quick point on the whole issue of why Romney won’t release older tax returns, in particular the return for 2009. Apparently, in 2009 there was an amnesty for people who had sheltered money in Swiss banks. They were able to repatriate the money at a much lower tax rate (or no tax at all, I’m not exactly certain). You have to wonder just how much money Romney might have sheltered and what sort of tax savings that amnesty gave him. Because, you know, nothing says “Presidential” more than relying on an amnesty to avoid paying taxes on income sheltered in a secret Swiss bank account.

I wonder what part of the irresponsible takers in that 47% keep their income hidden in Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid federal income taxes.

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A Few Videos to Start Your Weekend

If you haven’t seen Jon Stewart’s epic “analysis” of Mitt Romney’s comment about 47% Americans and the GOP/Fox News response … well, make some popcorn, grab a soft drink, pull up a chair, and enjoy. Be sure to watch all three videos. It’s worth your time.

Some of you may remember Sarah Silverman’s hysterical video “The Great Schlep” that I posted during the 2008 campaign. Well, she’s back with a new video: “Let My People Vote 2012 – Get Nana a Gun”. Note: This video is definitely not safe for work. 

And I couldn’t resist this one:

And no, Mitt Romney did not build that video.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney’s Scorn and Disdain for Half of America Is Outrageous

I know that the subject of Mitt Romney’s claim that 47% of Americans are “dependent upon government”, believe that they are “victims”, and won’t “take personal responsibility and care for their lives” is probably being beaten to death in the media today. As it should be. But knowing that much of the media either can’t or won’t delve terribly deeply into the issues (or will instead focus on false equivalencies), I want to take some time to talk about Romney’s statement.

First, here’s a transcript of the pertinent part:

There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what....

He starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. So he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Obviously, the 47% Romney is talking about are the 47% of Americans who don’t pay any federal income tax. But, as I discussed over a year ago when this Republican talking point began gaining traction (see my post Do Republicans Want to Raise Taxes on the Poor and Elderly?), that number represents only federal income taxes. It excludes state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes. And most importantly, it also excludes payroll taxes (which, by the way, people like Mitt Romney don’t pay). And, as I noted in that post:

We also need to consider who is not paying federal income taxes and why. By and large, the people who aren’t paying federal income taxes aren’t paying federal income taxes because they don’t have much income. The poor don’t have much in the first place, the unemployed aren’t earning an income, and many elderly are living on their retirement and social security and also have little income. So, perhaps getting upset that a majority of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes is the wrong concern. Shouldn’t we, instead, be more concerned with the fact that a majority of Americans earn so little that they are eligible for enough credits to wipe out their tax liabilities?

When you exclude the elderly, the working poor, students, and the unemployed who are trying unsuccessfully to look for work, that 47% becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. To help illustrate the point, take a look at this graph from Misconceptions and Realities About Who Pays Taxes by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that I previously posted in A Chart Is Worth a Thousand Words):

In fact, the article Misconceptions and Realities About Who Pays Taxes (which was updated yesterday) is worth reading.

And, as I asked last August:

When you hear a Republican tell you that a majority of Americans don’t pay federal income taxes (presuming that they get that statement right in the first place), what they’re really saying is that we need to do one of two things: (a) Remove credits and deductions that allow people to “escape” paying taxes; and/or (b) increase the amount of taxes that those at the lowest income brackets pay. Because only by doing one (or both) of those things do we make the system more “fair” and have more people actually pay federal income taxes. Is that really what Republicans are advocating? At the same time that they are refusing to close loopholes that allow billionaires like Warren Buffet [to] pay lower effective tax rates than their employees (because most of their income is non-payroll and only taxed at the lower capital gains tax rate), do Republicans really want to increase income taxes on the working poor, unemployed, and elderly? Because that’s sure what it sounds like, even if they don’t quite realize that’s what they’re saying.

And didn’t virtually all of the Republicans in Congress (and Mitt Romney, too, if I’m not mistaken) sign a pledge not to raise any taxes?

The other part of Romney’s claim that is worth noting is his notion that this 47% of the population views itself as “victims”. Do the elderly view themselves as victims? What about students? This morning I even saw a post on Twitter (which I have not endeavored to check the math on) that suggests that a 6-year Army Staff Sergeant with a stay-at-home wife and two children would pay no federal income taxes (his salary being approximately $34,636). Do you think he views himself as a victim?

The odd (and unfortunate thing) here is that a not inconsiderable portion of those who do receive federal funds (in the form of Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, and other programs) don’t actually understand or recognize that they are the beneficiaries of federal programs.

Romney also takes issue with the notion that some Americans feel entitled to healthcare, food, and housing. You know, the basics. The disdain that Romney shows to that idea really lays bare his vision of America, where a single mother living and working in poverty shouldn’t necessarily expect a roof over her head or food or medicine for her children. If she doesn’t make enough, tough shit. Because, you know, if she would “take personal responsibility and care” for her life, she wouldn’t need that government assistance. Perhaps if she’d just borrowed $20,000 from her parents to afford college or to start a business, she wouldn’t be living in squalor. Of course, Romney doesn’t seem to have a problem with tax deductions for corporate jets or dancing horses (with cute little hats). After all, those are entitlements that we can all appreciate, right?

As to his notion that “they will vote for this president no matter what”, isn’t Romney really missing his target? I mean, the elderly make up a huge portion of that 47% but they have been one of the GOP’s strongest demographic supports. So, too, the military. In fact, as the Tax Foundation points out, eight of the 10 states with the highest percentage of households paying no federal income tax are traditional “red states” (the other two being New Mexico [leans Democratic] and Florida [a tossup]):

20100524-229-nonpayers-mapM In other words, it seems that Romney is largely attacking his own base.

Moreover, what does it say about a candidate for President who says of nearly half the population:

[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

The utter disdain and scorn that Romney shows for nearly half of the population is an outrage. That he would focus that disdain and scorn upon those with the least is even worse. At least he recognizes that people whose income is so small that they don’t pay federal income taxes won’t necessarily respond favorably to a plan of tax cuts for the wealthy.

And I’m sure that you’ll hear the media go into false equivalence overdrive today, most likely focusing on then-candidate Barack Obama’s statement about those who “cling to guns or religion”. But there is an enormous, massive, gigantic difference between Obama’s statement in 2008 and Romney’s statement in 2012. Romney says that he’ll “never convince them” and that they’ll “vote for this president no matter what”. In other words, Romney is completely writing off that 47% of the electorate. Obama, on the other hand, was talking about how to engage and convince those voters and discussing why they feel let down by the system. In other words, Obama’s statement was the polar opposite of Romney’s.

Don’t believe me? Then take a few moments and read what Obama actually said that day and take the “guns and religion” comment in context. And as you read Obama’s comments, compare what he was saying then to what Romney is saying now.

So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre… I think they’re misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to ‘white working-class don't wanna work — don't wanna vote for the black guy.’ That's… there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today — kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here’s how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by — it's true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But — so the questions you’re most likely to get about me, ‘Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What’s the concrete thing?’ What they wanna hear is — so, we’ll give you talking points about what we’re proposing — close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama’s gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we’re gonna provide health care for every American. So we’ll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you’ll find is, is that people of every background — there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you’ll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I’d be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you’re doing what you're doing.

(Emphasis added.)

I also think that it’s worth noting that Mitt Romney still refuses to release more than one year of his own tax returns. It would be nice to know, wouldn’t it, whether Romney is more like the 53% or the 47%? He’s already acknowledged that his tax rate is around 13% (and, unless I’m mistaken, he didn’t make clear whether that was federal or federal and state combined). And the year for which he’s released his taxes may have been an unusual year in that he received income for his book and speaking engagements and not solely capital gains. Don’t forget that an independent analysis showed that if the Paul Ryan (or Romney-Ryan) budget had been in place for 2010, Romney’s federal taxes would have been approximately 0.82% of his income. But I’m sure that Romney would exclude himself from that class of victims who feel dependant upon the government.

The idea that a candidate for president has simply written off nearly half of the population as moochers, as self-identified victims, as people who vote solely on the basis of their own desire for “more” from the government, and as essentially unreachable is, as I’ve suggested already, an outrage. It shows us that Romney doesn’t really want to be President of the United States of America; rather, he wants to be President of the wealthy part of the country and it’s just not his job to worry about the rest of the people.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics … and Fox News

We’ve all heard the phrase (apparently popularized by Mark Twain) “lies, damn lies, and statistics”. Well, I propose a slight reformulation: “Lies, damned lies, statistics, and Fox News”.

What am I talking about? Let me offer a concrete example (hat tip to Media Matters for posting an article about this earlier today).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures employment (and unemployment) in several different ways (and each of these can be “seasonably adjusted” or not):

  • U-1 Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force
  • U-3 Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate)
  • U-4 Total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers
  • U-5 Total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other persons marginally attached to the labor force, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
  • U-6 Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force

The “official employment rate” is the U-3 rate referenced above, which measures the “total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force.” However, the U-6 measure is also looked at by many analysts as it is more encompassing than the official unemployment rate. It is sometimes referred to as the “real unemployment rate”. Now, with that in mind, look at this screen capture from Fox News (I believe that it was from this morning, but I can’t be positive):

Notice anything? Look at that middle statistic carefully: Real unemployment rate 2009 vs now: 7.8% vs 14.7%. Wow! That’s a pretty damning statistic, isn’t it. Real unemployment nearly doubled since President Obama was inaugurated! Gee, that’s probably a good reason to vote him out of office and elect a Republican!

Um, wait a minute. I thought I heard on the news a few days ago that unemployment fell to 8.1% You don’t suppose that Fox News manipulated the statistics to make President Obama look bad, do you? Well, yes. Yes they did.

You see, Fox News picked and chose which numbers to display and how to label them. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and check out the statistics that are available on the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Choose the U-3 and U-6 rates (seasonally adjusted) and see what you get. Or, you can take my word for it (since I’ve given you the means to check my numbers). The number that Fox News sites as the “real unemployment rate” of 7.8% in 2009 is the U-3 official unemployment rate for January 2009. If Fox News was honest, had integrity, or was actually “fair and balanced” then the number used for the “now” comparison would have been the U-3 official unemployment rate for August 2012, an “apples to apples comparison”. But if you look for that number you’ll discover that it’s 8.1% not 14.7%! In other words, the U-3 rate has increased from 7.8% to 8.1% (just 0.3%); it hasn’t increased from 7.8% to 14.7%. So was Fox News just making up that 14.7% number? Nope. If you check the U-6 unemployment figures, you’ll find that the number for August 2012 is, indeed, 14.7%. But the corresponding U-6 unemployment rate for January 2009 was 14.2%.

In other words, Fox News used one measurement which, by definition, will have a lower rate to calculate the unemployment rate at the beginning of President Obama’s term and a different measurement, guaranteed to have a higher rate to measure the current rate of unemployment. It would be a bit like comparing gasoline prices using the price for standard as one measure and the price for premium as the other measure.

And, in an almost unbelievable example of irony, after seeing the misleading chart on screen, Fox News analyst contributor Laura Ingraham said: “Other than Fox News, where are you really seeing those statistics?” Where indeed?

Lies, damn lies, statistics, and Fox News.

Is it any wonder that so many people are so poorly informed? Fox News tells its viewers that it is “fair and balanced”. It has previously told viewers that it has “zero tolerance” for onscreen errors of this sort. So shouldn’t a viewer be able to presume that the information presented is accurate. Well, they should… But that would be a mistake.

It’s also worth noting what Fox News doesn’t show its viewers when discussing the unemployment rate. Here is the chart of the U-3 official unemployment rate (also generated from that same Bureau of Labor Statistics website) for the period from 2006 through 2012:

BLS1 Or the chart of the U-6 rate for the same period:

BLS2Notice anything? Like, say, the enormous increase in the unemployment rate in the year leading up to President Obama’s inauguration? Or the slow but noticeable decline from the peak several months after President Obama was inaugurated but before any of his policies could actually have an impact?

No, Fox News didn’t show those charts did they?

“Ah,” I hear you say, “that was just a mistake, an aberration.” Perhaps. Or, given Fox News’ history of doing the same thing … perhaps not (again, hat tip to Media Matters for noting other examples). I’ll highlight one further example. In December 2011, Fox News displayed this graphic:

Look carefully for a moment to see if you see anything odd about how the data is presented. OK. Now take a look at the annotated version of the same chart prepared by Media Matters:

See it now? Just look at those yellow and pink lines that have been added. Hmm. Somehow, the number 8.6 is on the same line as 9.0, instead of being lower than 8.8. But if Fox News had put the 8.6% below that yellow line where it belongs, then there would be a marked decrease in the unemployment rate, wouldn’t there? And that wouldn’t advance the Fox News/GOP talking point now would it? Media Matters also provided this chart generated from the Bureau of Labor Statistics data for the same period shown in the Fox News chart:

Now maybe it’s just me, but the chart created directly from Bureau of Labor Statistics data looks vastly different from Fox News’ chart, doesn’t it? Hmm. I wonder why Fox News didn’t want to show unemployment decreasing? I mean, Fox News is fair and balanced, right?

Over the last few years, I’ve seen (and often saved) links to many other similar misleading Fox News charts. And I suppose I could take the time to try to dig them up and show them here. But it isn’t really worth the effort. I think that the two examples that I’ve provided do a decent job of highlighting the dishonesty that calls itself Fox News. And with an electorate that has been trained to believe what Fox News shows them and tells them, why should they question the accuracy or veracity of the information? Or, for that matter, why should they question the accuracy or veracity of Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan, both of whom have shown their own willingness to follow along the Fox News playbook.

I’ll say it again. We can debate policies and ideas. But we can’t have that debate when the facts upon which the policy discussion is based are not facts at all. The marketplace of ideas upon which our system is premised relies upon facts … not lies.

But people who uncritically watch Fox News see this information. They internalize what they see as “fact” and “truth”. Then they use that information when they make decisions. And that isn’t healthy for our democracy.

Update (September 12, 2012):

Besides Media Matters and this post, the dishonest Fox News graphic was the subject of many, many other articles and tweets. Anyway, Fox News is (I guess) to be commended for airing a correction on today’s program. But query whether this correction would have been made had it not been repeated across Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet over and over and over yesterday. Moreover, watch the video correction and decide for yourself whether this really makes up for the dishonest graphic aired the previous day. Note, for example, that Fox News does not show the misleading graphic that had been aired in order to provide full context for viewers. Nor does Fox News explain to viewers that the “real unemployment” figure that they are using is not the “official unemployment rate”. So does this clarification really fix the problem? You decide.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies (and Still More Lies)

Last week, in my post Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, I criticized Paul Ryan (and the Romney campaign) for the pattern of lies, deceptions, and fabrications that have become the hallmarks of both Ryan’s speeches and the Romney campaign. And I wasn’t alone. All sorts of fact checkers — including many media outlets that until last Wednesday seemed to have forgotten their role as fact checkers — looked at Ryan’s speech and found it sorely lacking in accuracy (and specifics, too, but that’s a topic for another day). And even some Republicans were troubled by Ryan’s dishonesty. By way of example, here’s what Matthew Dowd, the chief political strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign said on ABC’s This Week:

Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think so stretched the truth. And I like Paul Ryan, have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but the elements that he said about closing the GM plant which closed before Barack Obama took President [sic], about the Simpson-Bowles bill which he opposed and then all of a sudden he faults Barack Obama for. At some point, the truth should matter… He was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of that GM plant and that isn’t true.

(Emphasis added.)

So you’d think (okay, maybe hope is a better word) that after giving a speech toward which so much criticism was leveled, after giving a speech that is remembered and talked about not for the eloquence or style but for the fact that so much just wasn’t true, well, you’d hope that Paul Ryan might, just maybe, try to stop telling lies.


Before the balloons had even been cleaned up from the floor of the arena in Tampa, Paul Ryan was caught in another lie. In an interview with a conservative radio host, the topic of running came up (emphasis added):

HEWITT: Are you still running?

RYAN: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HEWITT: But you did run marathons at some point?

RYAN: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HEWITT: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

RYAN: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HEWITT: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…

RYAN: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

I’m sure that you can guess where this is going (and I’ll get to the relevance in a moment). Now, for those who aren’t runners (I used to be, back in the distant past, and recently I’ve begun some “power walking” to try to get back into shape to start running again), it’s worth noting that most runners are relatively obsessive about the times and distances that they run. And, given that a marathon is virtually the ultimate running challenge that even avid marathon runners do sparingly, it seems highly likely that any serious runner (or serious athlete for that matter) would remember the marathons he’d run and the times he’d run them in.

So anyway, when other runners read or heard this interview, there was some skepticism. Why? Because “two hour and fifty-something” is a really, really good time for a marathon. But you see, here’s the thing: Because of how special marathons are, there are pretty detailed records these days about who ran them and how fast. So some journalists from Runners World and Slate decided to do a little research. And guess what they discovered? First, Ryan didn’t run marathons; he ran a marathon, in 1990. And his time of “two hour and fifty-something”? Um, nope. How about four hours and one minute. His recollection was off by over an hour.

If you’re curious to see how your own running times are in Ryan’s alternate universe, try the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. When I use that to examine the 10 mile walk I took Monday morning, I discover that my time wasn’t really 2 hours 38 minutes, but a much more impressive 1 hour 54 minutes. I hope the calorie burn and weight loss match that faster pace.

But why does this matter? I mean, who cares about his time in a race 22 years ago? I certainly don’t care. If Ryan had said, “Gee, I don’t recall my time” I wouldn’t have thought less of him (not that I think much of him as it is…). If he’d said, “four hours” I would have been impressed simply for the fact that he completed a marathon which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Heck, I’d even give him a pass if he shaved 2 minutes off his time to claim that he’d done the marathon in “just under” 4 hours. That’s the kind of slight exaggeration that most everyone is prone to from time to time. But that’s not what Ryan did. He picked a specific time. He didn’t disabuse the interviewer of the idea that he’d run marathons, and he even capped it off with the “I was fast when I was younger” comment. He was bragging about how fast he was in the marathons he’d run. But the braggadocio was a lie. And the reason that this matters is that, when viewed alongside the totality of other lies by Ryan, we begin to get more insight into the man’s character (or lack thereof). When giving the biggest speech of his life, he lies. When talking about small, unimportant things that happened 22 years ago, he lies. So just when is it that we should presume that what Paul Ryan says is, you know, true?

But guess what? Paul Ryan isn’t done lying.

And before I continue, it’s important to remember that Paul Ryan is the chair of the House Budget Committee. He is the man responsible for crafting the budget that the House has voted on each of the past two years. And he’s often described as a “policy wonk” or “data obsessed” or for having a “passion for math”.

So anyway, earlier this week, Ryan was trying to compare President Obama to President Carter (in order to suggest that Obama is much like Carter and should be limited to a single term). So one of the comparisons Ryan drew was to say that in 1980 “330,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy. Last year, under President Obama’s failed leadership, 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy.” Wow! That’s a pretty stunning number. 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy! Um. Not so fast. That number needs to be run through the bankruptcy equivalent of the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. And when we do so, guess what we find?

This is not true. According to American Bankruptcy Institute, under Carter 331,264 businesses and non-businesses filed for bankruptcy. That number includes not just businesses, but personal bankruptcies as well. In 1980, there were 43,694 business bankruptcies and 287,570 non-business bankruptcies.

Ryan also got it wrong with regard to the number of business bankruptcies last year. In 2011, there were 1,410,653 total bankruptcies. Of that number 47,806 were business bankruptcies and 1,362,847 were non-business bankruptcies.

So did he misspeak or purposefully manipulate the data to make it sound worse?

“He obviously misspoke, but it’s still an apples to apples comparison,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. “The point remains: bankruptcies are up dramatically under President Obama compared to the Carter years.”

Yet it’s important to note that bankruptcies are down dramatically under President Obama, compared to the Bush years.

Business bankruptcies hit a record 71,549 in 1991, when George H.W. Bush was president, second only to 1985, under Reagan, when 71,277 businesses filed.

In other words, Ryan inflated the number of business bankruptcies under President Obama … by a factor of 29! Now that’s what I call a true affinity for data that only a policy wonk could be responsible for! And did you note that the highest number of bankruptcies occurred during Republican administrations? Hmm. So by that standard, I guess we’d definitely be better off with a second term for President Obama rather than Republican Mitt Romney, right?

Remember the boy who cried wolf? Right. Paul Ryan cries “Obama!” and we’re supposed to listen and believe him. Or, we can digest Ryan’s claims … and then search for the truth. Because, so far, it looks like the words that come out of Ryan’s mouth are about as likely to be truthful as … well, pick your cliché. My preference? If Ryan utters the truth, it’s most likely just coincidence.

Is that the kind of person that you want to be the proverbial heartbeat away from the Presidency?

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