Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Oh, goodie. Megan McArdle is going to tell us that the poor aren't really poor, with the implication that income inequality is irrelevant, as she has stated repeatedly in the past.
Last week, in her State of the Union response, Jodi Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians -- that's why you've heard so much about Abe Lincoln's beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter, which in turn triggered this powerful meditation from Peggy Noonan on how rich we have become. So rich that we have forgotten things that are well within living memory:  
[snipped Noonan quote rhapsodizing about our boot-strapping, plastic-bag wrapping American past] 
I am a few years younger than Noonan, but I grew up in a very different world -- one where a number of my grammar school classmates were living in public housing or on food stamps, but everyone had more than one pair of shoes. In rural areas, like the one where Jodi Ernst grew up, this lingered longer. But all along, Americans got richer and things got cheaper -- especially when global markets opened up. Payless will sell you a pair of child's shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.  
Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you -- two whole hours! But I've been researching historical American living standards for a project I'm working on, and if you're familiar with what Americans used to spend on things, this sounds like a very good deal.
Yes, America is much richer now except for small pockets in time and space that encompass the childhood of Republican politicians. Why, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't have so much as a tin cup while we lucky Koch-Americans have processed food and flat-screen tvs. And the people who sniggered at Joni Ernst's bread bag story are actually laughing at the poor, plucky little prairie child  and the American Way of Life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Propaganda For Sale

Megan McArdle, having failed abysmally in her attempt to engage Elizabeth Warren intellectually, has decided to breitbart her instead. It is a wise choice, if not a wise action, since McArdle approaches an intellectual battle armed only with a spatula and a wide-eyed look of innocence, relying on propaganda courage and pluck to win the day for her. It is much easier and even more lucrative to put negative words next to Elizabeth Warren's name and wait for authoritarian drives to work their magic. McArdle is Lucianne Goldberg in a bra.

Here at the Snark we concentrate on the small details but it is necessary to take a step back and look at the big picture. Megan McArdle campaigned tirelessly to help the elite and harm the poor financially. Her side won. The middle class has become poorer and the rich have become richer. Because of her actions and the actions of her masters, it is inevitable that we all will suffer more chaos, poverty and violence.

Why? The money, sure. But for McArdle it's personal as well. Political theory is a thin disguise for personal issues. On one of her many attacks on Warren, McArdle was pressed to an unusual degree to give proof of her assertions. Warren couldn't be right about medical bankruptcies; it had to be an increase in consumption that drove people to bankruptcy. Why was she so sure?

When my boyfriend lost his job, we stopped going out to dinner, cut back our grocery bills, turned down the thermostat, etc. If we had needed to, we would have broken our lease and moved. What didn't we cut? The payments on our cars and student loans. Had those been a higher percentage of our income, or if we had had a mortgage that needed both our incomes, things would have been a lot scarier.

This is not proof that people who were driven to bankruptcy spent their way into it bankruptcy but  Megan McArdle paid her debts and so will you. And she doesn't want to hear any nonsense about failure or poverty. She succeeded out of personal superiority and if you want to succeed you should just do what she tells you to do.

But in the mean time McArdle has a living to earn churning out propaganda.

Big Pharma Is A Pointless Target For Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is not targeting Big Pharma, she is suggesting that its fines should help finance the NIH. Propagandists play on conservatives' feelings of victimization, a by-product of authoritarian control.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has a modest proposal for pharmaceutical companies that get fined by the Food and Drug Administration for rule violations: a sort of "swear jar" that will require them to give money to the National Institutes of Health every time they break the FDA's rules:

We are meant to call to mind Jonathan Swift's modest proposal and see Warren's actions as modest on the surface but horrific underneath. Propagandists try to use their enemies' weapons against them to both make use of them and undermine them.
Warren's bill, the Medical Innovation Act, would require large drug companies that reach a settlement with the government for breaking the law to pay a "small portion" of their profits over five years into a fund for research at the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration. 
... "Fines for big drug companies have increasingly just become another cost of doing business," she said. 
The provisions in her bill would only apply to companies that reach a settlement with the federal government for breaking the law and that sell "blockbuster drugs" with more than $1 billion in annual sales.
She claims that this would result in roughly a $6 billion increase in the NIH's annual funding, or about 20 percent. 
What's not to like about sticking it to big, rich pharmaceutical firms in order to fund more of the government research that makes them rich? Who could be against that?
Propagandists pretend to engage the other side while having no intention of making an honest argument. They attempt to portray their enemies' strengths as weaknesses in order to attack those supposed weaknesses; here McArdle pretends that liberals want to stick it to rich corporations, implying that their motives are spiteful because they hate the rich. McArdle depends on the propaganda machine that she is part of to reassure her victims that liberals want regulation because they envy the successful since they are failures, not because corporations do anything wrong.

Her victims will suffer from the consequences but authoritarian wanna-be leaders are deluded as well; the poor and middle class think they can become rich despite the stacked deck but the rich delude themselves that they can become hedge-fund rich, rich enough to avoid the chaos they worked so diligently to create. So McArdle blathers on, confident in the everlasting protection of her masters.

So glad you asked.

There are a few problems with Warren's proposal, starting with the fact that it seems to assume that the NIH is the ultimate source of all those Big Pharma profits, which is why some of those profits should be transferred to the NIH to fund "the next generation of medical research."
Propagandists use weasel words to evade responsibility for their slick insinuations. Warren:

"It’s like a swear jar: Whenever a huge drug company that is generating enormous profits as a result of federal research investments gets caught breaking the law — and wants off the hook — it has to put some money in the jar to help fund the next generation of medical research," Warren said.

Of course Warren is saying that when companies that made enormous profits off of federal research break the law to make more money, part of that money should go to federal research. McArdle does not say "some of its fines." She says "some of its profits," hoping to encourage her readers to feel sympathy towards the poor businessmen whose profits were confiscated by that commie Elizabeth Warren. "Corporate profits" are a much more positive thing than "criminal fines."

 Warren's bill, the Medical Innovation Act, would require large drug companies that reach a settlement with the government for breaking the law to pay a "small portion" of their profits over five years into a fund for research at the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.
In fact, academic research -- most of it presumably NIH-funded -- accounts for only about a quarter of new drugs. The majority are discovered by pharma or biotech firms.
Those drugs probably depend on government research.
 The Role of Federal Research and Development 
The federal government spent more than $25 billion on health-related R&D in 2005. Only some of that spending is explicitly related to the development of new pharmaceuticals. 
However, much of it is devoted to basic research on the mechanisms of disease, which underpins the pharmaceutical industry’s search for new drugs. The primary rationale for the government to play a role in basic research is that private companies perform too little such research themselves (relative to what is best for society). In general, the information generated by basic research can be readily replicated at low cost. Thus, many of the benefits of that research accrue not to the company that performs it but to the public and to other firms. With pharmaceuticals, those spillover benefits can be significant because the development of new drugs depends on scientific advances. Federal funding of basic research directly stimulates the drug industry’s spending on applied research and development by making scientific discoveries that expand the industry’s opportunities for R&D.

Pharma says it invests about 20% of sales in R&D domestically. The government spends a lot on R&D and much less producing new drugs. Pharma does the opposite. McArdle conveniently leaves out half of the equation because propagandists need dishonest arguments  to persuade their victims. McArdle doesn't want her victims to think about the government's contribution so she minimizes it in any way she can.

However, there are also technical problems with Warren's proposal:
A highly variable funding source is not the best way to go about paying for basic research. You don't want the dollar value of grants to swing wildly every few years, which could end up choking useful products just as they're starting to bear fruit.

McArdle dishonestly insinuates government research will depend on drug company fines instead of appropriations.
It's not all that likely that Congress would let that money stay with the NIH. A more likely outcome is that it will simply reduce NIH appropriations to offset the new fines.
You can't use funds from corrupt drug companies because of corrupt Republican politicians.
If fines should be higher on pharma violations -- and maybe they should be -- then we already have two very good ways of achieving that: Congress can mandate them, or regulators can impose them. A percentage-of-profits surcharge is not a good alternative. For one thing, you're going to end up fining companies based on how profitable they are, not how serious violation was -- you could easily have a situation in which an unprofitable company that committed grave violations ends up paying nothing, while a profitable one that's guilty of less serious offenses contributes a great deal to the NIH coffers. This is neither just nor efficient.

 She just said Congress won't let the NIH have the fines. Why would they mandate higher ones?

A fine is not a "percentage of profits surcharge."

Only billion dollar companies are targeted.

Nearly every word she says is a lie or elision.
If you make pharmaceutical companies pay a hefty surcharge in exchange for settling with the government, then fewer companies are going to settle with the government.Cases will drag out, costing the government money, and the government may ultimately lose some of them. You have to net this out of any gain you project for the NIH.

Nobody can do anything ever.
Why just big companies with blockbuster drugs? Are rule violations somehow less upsetting at generics manufacturers or ones that make specialty drugs?
Now she's just punting.
This strikes me as less of a serious proposal and more of a populist gesture aimed at tickling the fancy of people who think that large corporations are all leeches and that all good things come out of government-sponsored research. It's hard to blame a politician for playing to her base. But we shouldn't join the performance, either.

Of course it does. She's a lying propagandist. And she wants her victims to spend all their time and energy hating on their political enemies instead of realizing that they are handing over their money to the rich.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Auto Seems To Be Popular Now But It Will Never Replace The Horse

Megan  McArdle from The Beginning Of Time until the implementation of Obamacare: Obamacare will never work.

Megan McArdle During Implementation: A rocky roll out proves Obamacare will never work.

Megan McArdle Now: Sure, Obamacare seems to be working now but it won't work in the future.

Compared to last year, Obamacare's 2015 open enrollment is a boring story -- no spectacular IT failures, no politically charged policy cancellations. And as Obamacare wends to the end of its second open-enrollment period, it would seem that we should know more about the shape of the final program. What have we learned so far?

The answer is "less than you'd think." Here's what we do know so far. There have been about 7.8 million confirmed enrollments or renewals in qualified health plans. Vermont is not going to have single payer. More insurers are entering many markets, but some insurers have already run into trouble. Data on the uninsured is somewhat scarce, but my best guess, based on the Gallup numbers, is that about 4 percent of the population has gotten insured since Obamacare started, or roughly 10 million to 12 million people.

On the other hand, much about the future of the Affordable Care Act remains murky.
No doubt that murkiness will spiral into a death darkness, or whatever doom-and-gloom bullshit she comes up with next.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our Post-Democratic World

This article in The New Yorker about Jeb Bush and his connections to commercializing education is frightening.  It is possible we will be unable to keep the .01% from stealing our schools and I suspect they will get away with it because too many people assume that they will never be affected and would enjoy watching their "enemies" suffer the consequences of their inferiority.

Women who had to beg in the streets for money to feed their babies will keep their legs closed, we hear. Women are lazy and if they are not helped they will be forced to marry or get a job.  Shiftless men will be forced to work. Moral values will return. Communities will be strengthened.

For-profit schools will operate for profit. We know that every single business has a duty to its owners/shareholders to make as much profit as possible. The logical conclusion is the elimination of actual schools for virtual ones. The parents alone will be responsible for the education of their children, as all rugged individualists should.

ADDED: Batocchio quotes MLK in an article at Hullabaloo.

 If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.
When your self-image is based on your position in your authoritarian hierarchy, you guard that position with your life and take every opportunity to strengthen it.

And you always follow the money. Eliminating public schools heavily undercuts the Democratic party, women, minorities and makes it easier for the .01% to get their unimpeded  way.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Just The Facts, Ma'm

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution hastens to correct what appears to be a misleading report on children in poverty.
No, A Majority of US Public School Students are Not In Poverty  
In widely reported article the Washington Post says a Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. The article cites the Southern Education Foundation:
The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches.
Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches, however, depends on eligibility rules and not just income levels let alone poverty rates.... Frankly I suspect that this study was intended to confuse the media by conflating “low-income” with “below the poverty line”. Indeed, why did this study grab headlines except for the greater than 50% statistic? It is very easy to find official numbers of the number of students in poverty according to the federal poverty standard....
If Mr. Tabarrok is correct and surely he is then we don't need to be nearly as concerned about the level of children in poverty as some deceptive people want us to be. Only one fifth of our children are in poverty, not over one half. So what's the hubbub, bub? Not only are there only 11 million children living in poverty, most of them aren't even, shall we say, of the right culture and therefore have nobody to blame but themselves, not that Mr. Tabarrok is blaming anybody.
In 2012, approximately 16.0 million, or 22 percent, of all children under the age of 18 were in families living in poverty; this population includes the 11.1 million 5- to 17-year-olds and 5.0 million children under age 5 living in poverty. The percentage of children under age 18 living in poverty varied across racial/ethnic groups. In 2012, the percentage was highest for Black children (39 percent), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native children (36 percent), Hispanic children (33 percent), Pacific Islander children (25 percent), and children of two or more races (22 percent). The poverty rate was lowest for White children (13 percent) and Asian children (14 percent).
Mr. Tabarrok is not insensitive to the plight of these children but is able to put it in perspective.
The number of school-age children living in poverty today is relatively high and not surprisingly did increase with the 2008 recession and its aftermath (green line in figure below – the numbers here differ slightly from NCES but the time line is longer). But recent numbers do not look like especially remarkable compared to the history.
He shows a chart that demonstrates child poverty fell from 27.3% in 1958 to 14.0% in 1968. Evidently the War on Poverty had an effect. By 2013 it was at 19.9%. The War on The Poor worked as well. But that is liberalspeak.

Mr. Tabarrok muses on and suggests the economy as a "possible reason," as another possibility he also notes the cultural aspect of one's lifestyle, for as we all know a poor mother should have gotten an education, found employment, married an appropriate and employed partner, and waited until comfortably placed to have children. Not that Mr. Tabarrok implies anything negative towards any member of any particular race. Indeed, he does not mention race at all.
It’s certainly worthwhile discussing why poverty has increased. The economy is one possible reason as are issues to do with family formation and marriage rates. Another possibility is immigration. A higher poverty rate caused by the immigration of more low-income children is compatible with everyone becoming better off over time and not necessarily a bad thing. Those are just a few possible topics worthy of investigation. I don’t claim that any of them are correct. I do claim, however, that we won’t get very far understanding the issue by shifting definitions and muddying the waters with misleading but attention grabbing statistics.
Mr. Tabarrok is right if he is right, although he does not claim he is right. The last thing we need is bad statistics. Poor immigrant children (Hispanic) might be poor as children but they will achieve in time. It is their way. It appears that marriage might be the key for lowering poverty in certain cultures, as Mr. Tarrabok has hinted, and a very worthy subject for investigation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


A customer is being called a hero after pulling a gun on two armed robbery suspects at a Houston restaurant.... As the customer held one suspect for police, he fired as the other suspect ran off. The bullets shattered the front windows of the restaurant.

From Serenity:

Zoe: Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed.

 At 8 pm there could have been people walking around outside the window. The armed customer was lucky.

If more people start shooting back, why wouldn't the robbers just walk in and shoot everyone? More guns, more ammo! An arms race! If citizens can't soldier up, only soldiers will have guns! I mean criminals!


Dear Lord, Megan McArdle is foodsplaining again. What edict is being issued forth from Mount McMegan mow?
It has come to my attention that some of you are becoming unable to eat good food unless it is spiced to within an inch of its life.
I have two words for her: Aleppo pepper.
I've been noticing this for a while. It started with friends who put hot sauce on everything, even on dishes that were perfectly good without hot sauce. With dinner party hosts who proudly declared that the secret to good cooking was just to douse something in Cajun spices until you noticed the powder forming drifts on the side of the pan. With people who reported that an Asian restaurant was "good" because it had left their taste buds numb for hours.
McBittman disapproves. Pepper is now Out and Something Else Yet To Be Disseminated is In.
Then, during the holiday season, I saw a Slate food writer declare that American apple pie is not as good as French apple pie because it is "bland and goopy," and I began to suspect that something had gone seriously wrong with our food culture. When I saw an article on restaurant chefs who are daring to bring back prime rib, I became sure of it.
The linked prime rib article demonstrates that prime rib never really went away, it just became too expensive to serve in many places. The real question a journalist should be asking is why a lucky few can now afford to pay high restaurant prices for expensive prime rib when so many others are buying meat on discount or not at all. Fortunately McArdle is a propagandist and can pretend the income inequality toggle in her SimReality  is on "off."
I'm as excited as anyone about the majestic spread of foreign food throughout our nation's urban downtowns, its strip malls and cookbook aisles, its fruited plains and amber waves of grain. I can't think of a national cuisine I don't like, and that includes foods that will sear the taste buds off a water buffalo's tongue at 20 feet.
McArdle knows all, experiences all, and approves all unless she doesn't which is probably your fault.
But somewhere along the way, too many people seem to have gotten the idea that if exotic foods are good, that must mean that the boring old domestic varieties are bad. Excuse me, "bland and goopy."
This is first-class fustian. If you are unable to enjoy simple, traditional fare that has been properly prepared with good ingredients, the problem is not with the food; it is with you. To purloin a phrase from Slate food writers, you're doing it wrong.
You may think conservatives food is boring and stuffy and bland and goopy but you are so very, very wrong, dear sir! T'is fustian to say so! (We now know McArdle reads Regency Romances, heh.)*
I'm not saying that you have to like every available food. I dislike tripe, most cooked fish, liver and kale. But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with foie gras or salmon mousse; it just means that I don't care for them. Almost anything I do like, however, is as good prepared simply as it is in your triple-braised habanero short rib stew. Complicated dishes highlight the interplay of ingredients, but basic recipes allow your ingredients to shine. And without all that capsaicin numbing your taste buds or salted caramel overwhelming your palate, you can taste their full, delicate flavor.
We just endured countless posts about seasoning your food to within an inch of its life but now simple, delicate flavors are the In Thing.
I am not above cutting the kernels off a fresh ear of corn, blanching them in a little boiling water, and then sauteing them in brown butter before drizzling with truffle oil. That is delicious. But fresh corn is also delicious boiled until just done, then eaten with butter and salt. Magnificent tomatoes make a magnificent marinara and an equally magnificent tomato sandwich on fresh bread with good ricotta and just a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Apples are gorgeous in a galette, and also in a good, old-fashioned American-style apple pie, with flaky pastry on top and lightly spiced juice oozing all over the plate. It is not a worse version of the French pastry; it is a different dish, to be enjoyed in its own right.
The guilty man flees when no one pursueth and the professional contrarian defends when no one condemns. One Slate writer calls apple pie some names and says it's too heavy and common for Thanksgiving, and McArdle must rush to make a quick and easy buck defend All-American Exceptionalist Conservative Pie.
To get the most out of eating, you should be prepared to like as many dishes as possible, including the old favorites that now seem a bit passe. You can broaden your horizons to enjoy the deliciously spicy foods of the Asian and African continents without looking down on the equally delicious culinary marvels that are right there at your feet. Prime rib, baked potatoes and, yes, pie have just as much place in our culinary canon as pad Thai. 
Likewise, it is good to eat three times a day, but not too much. You can eat hot food or cold food, but don't look down your nose on luke-warm food. This wonderfully original and necessary advice was 'splained to you by your elite so you now know what to do and how to do it. Say thank you to the nice lady, America.

*Yes I read some too. It turned out that most of them were genteel ladyporn novels.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Return Of The McMonster

A world without the writings of Megan McArdle is a sunnier, happier place, even when it is cool and the rain is non-stop. For weeks I have basked in the warm glow of ignoring Megan McArdle but all good things must come to an end for McMegan is still hard at work, chipping away at anything and everything that might help someone not named Megan Jennifer McArdle Suderman.

Hazmat up. We're going in.

McMiser read that Obama wants to make community college free. This is a problem for her, since people other than McMincing would benefit. These people would be the poorest and most disadvantaged of people, which would make it worse. Those people are not supposed to succeed. They are supposed to stay in their little crime-ridden enclaves due to their lack of superior qualities.  They cannot be helped because of their culture, which tells them to expect others to help them, thereby depriving them of the motivation to help themselves. Of course the only way to succeed is to get married, put off having kids and get an education but McMe-me-me is not here to solve everyone's problems.

And really, isn't it just elitist to think that everyone has to go to college? Sure, everyone says that working hard, going to school and improving yourself is both the American Way and the Free Market Way but just because everyone says that everyone should do it doesn't mean that everyone can do it. Some people just aren't smart enough.

Why are we so obsessed with pushing that group further into the higher education system, rather than asking if we aren't putting too much emphasis on getting a degree?

Asking that question usually raises accusations of elitism, of dividing society into the worthy few and the many Morlocks who aren't good enough for college. I would argue instead that what's elitist is our current fixation on college.  It starts from the supposition that being good at school is some sort of great personal virtue, so that any suggestion that many people aren't good at school must mean that those people are not equal and valuable members of society. And that supposition is triple-distilled balderdash.
Isn't that special? It totally ignores reality but it sure sounds purty.

"Those" people often go to community college to become (well-paid) blue collar workers, developing skills and getting jobs in air condition repair and welding, for example. Many of these students, going by the community college I visited last year, are also new immigrants who manage to make it to America and want to improve themselves. McLady-of-the-Manor just adores having servants, doesn't she want them educated enough to serve her needs?

McMoron has many, many reasons why the poor can't be helped but she also has some handy imaginary solutions for her imaginary reality.

I have some ideas about what those policies might look like: broad deregulation, especially at the state and local level, to ease things for business creators and make it easier to get various sorts of jobs that are currently protected by licensing requirements; more co-op and apprenticeship programs; wage subsidies for entry-level workers, and perhaps a broad system of government internships that could help people gain experience outside of the classroom. I'm sure that there are many more I haven't named. But we won't find them as long as the only politically interesting solution is ever more years in school.

Naturally. End regulation and have the government pick up the tab for corporations' wages.