Monday, November 30, 2015


This week's Saturday Kittanning Leader Times presented an editorial so shamelessly crafted to place blame in favor of the editorialists' own prejudices that it scalds. The editorial comments on recent reports that many non-profit co-ops offering a low-cost alternative to traditional medical insurance plans, initially funded by loans provided by the ACA (Obamacare), have shut down or have plans to do so in the near future. The editorial labels this outcome a "fiasco" that provides further evidence the ACA was a poorly-designed law that should be repealed. Trouble is, the editorialist failed to mention the role Rethug legislative extortion played in the debacle. Turns out that in order to negotiate its way out of threatened or real government shutdowns the Obama administration bargained away (or was forced to surrender) much of the funding originally set aside to assist co-ops through the first three years of operation, when they would be expected to operate in the red. As a result, many of the co-ops experiencing funding shortfalls were provided far lower compensation for unfunded payouts than the law originally promised.

Don't expect to find a clear explanation of the problem in very many places though. The conservative media have been all over this story, but hardly a one mentions the role reductions in the "risk corridor" played in the co-op failures. You can find a detailed explanation of what is really going on here.

Analogies can be dangerous, but this one seems to fit. Imagine you were starting a new business, calculated your expected starting and ongoing costs and expected income for the first three years of your new business. Your calculations showed that you could expect to spend about $100,000.00 more than you would realize in revenues over the first three years of operation After that, you expect revenues to increasingly exceed expenses. With that expectation in mind, you go to the bank seeking a business loan. The bank promises you a line of credit up to $100,000.00 for the first three years of your business. You walk out happy. Then, after your first or second year of operation and about $50,000.00 into your credit line you get a call from the bank's lending officer. "Sorry," he says, "but as an austerity measure we will have to cut your line of credit. Basically, we are limiting the amount of credit we can extend to you this year to the amount of loan payments we receive from your competitors who have loans with us. You can expect something in the range of about $7500.00 to be available this year." Yikes! Unless you can cut expenses and raise tons of revenue in a hurry, your business is going down the tubes.

Of course, banks can't get away with such shenanigans (I know; I work for one). On the other hand, since when did House and Senate Rethugs ever think they should be constrained by such silly fantasies as keeping promises? It has been their strategy ever since the ACA passed to undermine it any chance they get and when their efforts succeed in hamstringing the law to yell loudly, "See, we told you it wouldn't work!" These co-op failures are likely to cost taxpayers some 2.5 billion dollars in unrecovered loan losses. Managers of many of the folding co-ops have claimed that if they had received enough of the promised subsidies to remain in operation, next year they would have raised enough revenue to meet expenses. I don't know how much trust to put in such claims, but if even only some of them are right, it seems that cutting down the "risk corridor" payments actually cost the government more in the long run than it would have cost to pay at the originally-promised rates. One more example of Rethugs, in the name of protecting the taxpayers, actually costing us more to get less.

But to focus on the Leader Times editorialists again, it is worth pointing out that their supposed advocacy for the American taxpayer is hypocritical. In a quick Google search for editorials on the ACA by the Tribune-Review (parent paper of the Kittanning Leader Times) editorial staff I turned up five editorials in the last couple of years, all bemoaning the folly and expense of the ACA. Oddly enough, their criticism of the federal government's excessive and wasteful spending habits managed to overlook the F-35 debacle. I won't take much time to rehearse this, but the military has spent almost 15 years on a plan to modernize the branches' fighter aircraft using the Lockheed-Martin F-35. So far, the Pentagon has invested nearly 400 billion dollars on this plane and has yet to get a single one into active military service. No need to go into details on the history here. It's easy enough to find. What isn't so easy to find is evidence of the Tribune-Review's self-vaunted watchdog service on taxpayers' behalf. I turned up exactly one editorial on the F-35, published in August of this year. The editorial recommended that the military consider finding alternatives to the F-35 for at least some of its planned uses. That's nice.

What's really going on here is simple. The ACA is a law designed to help the poor. It is a social welfare program. Therefore, in the doctrine of the Randian psychopaths who lead the Trib's editorial boards, the government spending money on it is bad. In fact, it is so bad that government leaders who spend large sums of taxpayer dollars to sabotage the program are heroes. On the other hand, the F-35 is a military program. Not only that, it is largely contracted out to the patriotic heroes that oversee or work in large private enterprises. Therefore, the government spending money on it is good. It is so good we should overlook the faults of government leaders who waste large sums of taxpayer dollars mismanaging the program.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

All we want you to know

This week's Saturday Leader Times had two editorials, one of which was ignorant and the other positively evil. The first editorial criticized PA governor Tom Wolfe and Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto for announcing that they would not change their positions on welcoming Syrian refugees after the terrorist attacks in Paris sponsored by ISIS. There are plenty of published articles and blog posts refuting the first editorial, so I will let it pass.

The second editorial was a thinly-disguised hit piece against Bernie Sanders' proposal to make education at a public college free. The ostensible focus of the editorial was Neil Cavuto's interview of Keely Mullen, an organizer of the Million Student March held on November 12. The editorial is largely made up of select quotes from the interview meant to highlight Mullen's inability to describe a realistic plan to pay for the march's three demands: free education at public colleges, student debt forgiveness and a $15.00/hour minimum wage for student employees at colleges and universities. The editorial opens like so:
 All one needs to know [italics added] about the ignorance of the "free college" crowd can be found in the words of Keely Mullen, the national organizer of last week's Million Student March ....
 After a selection of quotes from the interview the editorial concludes,
Ms. Mullen and Co. plant lots of "gimme" seeds.  They then expect others to water, weed, harvest and hand over the fruits of their labors.  Thinking Americans should find grotesque this ignorant, if not narcissistic, sense of entitlement.
 Let's dispose of Ms. Mullen before we get to the problems of this editorial.  She was a poor choice as a spokesperson for this group.  First, she comes from an upper-middle class family.  Second, she attended an expensive private high school and attends Northeastern University, an expensive private college.  Third, she is personally indebted to the tune of $150,000.00 in college loans.   For these reasons she does not represent the bulk of the young people who would most benefit from free public college education.  This background would not make her an inappropriate choice for the group's leadership.  History is full of people from upperclass backgrounds who were able to advocate effectively for the less fortunate.  The problem is that the group's goal of student loan forgiveness puts her in a compromised position.  It is not just that she would personally benefit from forgiveness of her college debt, but also that her deep indebtedness is a consequence of  very avoidable choices.   This makes her advocacy for that cause is transparently self-serving.  What's worse, in the interview she lied about her background, claiming that her family is working-class and dependent on government assistance.    The conservative blogosphere has since understandably erupted in outrage and contempt over her comments.

I have no idea how the national leadership of the Million Student March is organized but it clearly lacks in accountability and common sense.  There is no way Ms. Mullen should have accepted this interview.  A more articulate, better-prepared and more representative spokesperson should have been selected.   There is no doubt such a person could have been found.  If the Leader Times editorial board doubts this, they are still mired in the same immaturity that led Ms. Mullen to accept the Cavuto interview.

And that's the point.  Mullen is a college kid.  A narcissistic sense of entitlement is just one of many serious character/personality issues that people in their late teens and early twenties can struggle with.  Among the others: overly-legalistic idealism, self-doping, the Dunning-Krueger effect, depression, sexual manias, etc.  This is just a short list from memories of my own college experience.  Do I have to remind the editorial board of how many student leaders of conservative campus organizations have been guilty of ignorant behavior and/or statements?  

Of the organization's three key positions, the call for cancellation of college debts is the most controversial, for reasons that Cavuto and this editorial either state or imply.  But the editorial, while clearly taking shots at the entire movement because they regard Ms. Mullen's heavily leveraged investment in an expensive private institution as typical, explicitly mentions only the first position:  free tuition.  Furthermore, the editorial does so without qualifying the organization's position:  free tuition at public institutions.

Since the editorial takes specific aim at the position that public college education should be tuition-free, why not take on a seriously-considered proposal by someone with some governmental experience, e.g., Bernie Sanders' position papers on financing higher education?  A competent editorialist would have taken aim at the best version of an opposing viewpoint and would have made an argument against it and in favor of a better proposal, rather than indulging in guilt by association and related sleaze. I'm sure you'll claim the "liberal" media started it by reporting on the Million Student March and giving the students a public forum to express their views. Then you can point to the fact that Fox broadcast the Cavuto interview. If you want to stoop to Cavuto's level, go get a job with Fox. Cavuto is no college kid, but in the interview he managed to peddle the ridiculous claim that people with incomes over $250,000.00 are now paying nearly 50% of their income in taxes. Forget what Cavuto thinks of his audience; the man is an idiot. So, Leader Times Editorial board, what's your excuse? This sleazy piece of contemptuous redirection you've attempted to pawn off as an editorial is the kind of writing I'd expect from an entitled, snotty and rather stupid undergraduate propagandist. Except that you are not undergraduates; you think you're too clever for that. Instead, you are hoping that your audience will associate Sanders' proposals with "entitled brats" like Mullen and reject it as hopelessly unrealistic and unfair without bothering to learn anything further about the issue. After all, you've already given your readers all they need to know, right?

Clearly, you assessed your readership as largely older and already resentful of young people who go to expensive private colleges, e.g., the kind of kids that most of the older readers in Armstrong county don't have.   Many of them don't have any college-age kids at all anymore, which means that their knowledge of the financial challenges facing families tyring to get their kids through college right now is outdated and unrealistic.   Rather than challenging your readers to get updated on the facts and think strategically about the educational needs of a modern society, you indulge their resentments, saying in effect, "Nothing more to see here, move on sheeple."    Whoever is responsible for putting this editorial in the paper ought to lose his/her job.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Against working people

I'm back after a week off.  In the interim Trib Total Media has announced that it has agreed to sell the Kittanning Leader Times to Sample Media, Inc.   I don't know what this will mean for the future of the Leader Times or its editorial policies, but we can hope.  One hopeful sign is the editorial stance of the Ocean City Sentinel, a Sample Media, Inc. newspaper covering Ocean City, NJ.  Their editorials tend to focus more on local issues.  Their editor, David Nahan, is absolutely not a conservative Republican.  How promising this may be depends on whether the Ocean City Sentinel's editorial board is executing the parent company's editorial policies or is simply allowed to use its own discretion.  If the latter, the future direction of the Leader Times will depend on the composition of its editorial board.  Based on what we have been told, the current Leader Times editorial board may very well remain in place.  Unless they have been champing under the leadership of their Tribune-Review superiors, we can expect the current policy to continue, perhaps with minor modifications.  If that's the case, expect this blog to heat up.

In the meantime, the two editorials that appeared in the Leader Times on October 24 were as predictable as they were disappointing.  In the first editorial the board praises PA Senate for passing the "paycheck protection" bill.  This bill is a watered-down version of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it illegal for PA state or local governments to collect union dues or fees for any purpose from state or local government employees.  The bill approved by the Senate is more narrowly focused.  It only prohibits collection of political contributions from employees.   The political motivation behind this bill is obvious.  The proposed amendment, even if it eventually passes, will not take effect until after the 2016 election.  Clearly, the Republicans in the state senate want to do something to reduce the influence of PA state employee unions on political races in the interim.  The language in this bill was originally much closer to the proposed amendment, but has subsequently been amended to allow for the continued collection of "fair share" union dues.  The amendments to the bill were probably the result of concessions to more moderate Republicans, such as Dominic Pileggi, who otherwise would not have supported it.

The editorial doesn't discuss any of this; whether the board likes the amended version better than the original is uncertain, but there is good reason to doubt it, in the form of an editorial column by Colin McNickle, the libertarian zealot in charge of the editorial staff at the parent Tribune Review.  In that column, written in reaction to this bill's amendments, McNickle makes it clear that governments should not be collecting any money from their employees on behalf of unions.    Given McNickle's role at Trib Total Media, we have reason to suspect that the Leader Timed editorial board would lean in the same direction.  As it is, they'll take what they can get.

Oddly enough, the editorial apparently has no objections to other deductions governments perform on behalf of their employees, such as retirement and insurance payments. I guess that means no insurance companies use any of the money collected from government employees to lobby the government. Hahahahahahaaaaah! Seriously, if the bill's sponsors were genuinely interested in keeping any taxpayer funds from being funneled to political causes, they should either require all private entities that receive funds deducted from the paychecks of government employees to report on amounts contributed to political campaigns or superPACs and refuse to deduct that percentage from the employees' paychecks or simply refuse to collect any monies on behalf of any third party from employees' paychecks. As it is, this law in all its forms is a naked attempt to influence elections in favor of Republicans. That the editorial board supports it speaks volumes.

The other editorial is a lament that Canada elected Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. What is their problem with Trudeau? That he's an intellectual lightweight? A fashion plate? Inexperienced? Son of Pierre Trudeau, and so resembling too closely the American candidates who are riding the coattails of previous family members who attained high office? I can find plenty of Canadian commentaries that agree with these accusations. Nope. He's a liberal.