Thursday, September 30, 2004

Americans still don’t know the real George W. Bush.

Why you're right:

1. 84% of Bush supporters believe Bush supports labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. Wrong. Bush does not want any labor and environmental standards to stand in the way of free trade agreements and rejects requiring them and enforcing. (PIPA, White House)

2. 72% of Bush supporters believe Bush supports a treaty banning land mines. Wrong. 150 countries have signed the Mine Ban Treaty, which outlaws land mines and requires countries to destroy their remaining mines within four years. The U.S. has refused to sign this treaty (
PIPA, UN Wire)

3. 66% of Bush supporters believe Bush supports the International Criminal Court (ICC). Wrong. The UN Security Council has twice adopted U.S.-sponsored resolutions exempting U.S. personnel from prosecution by the ICC. (
PIPA, Washington Post)

Why they're wrong:

Just because Bush says he is clear on his positions, doesn’t make him so. Bush has hit Kerry on flip flopping, but Bush seems to be the true flip flopper, confusing even his own supporters. Kerry’s supporters proved to know their candidate on the issues better than the Bush supporters did, with 90% knowing Kerry supports labor and environmental standards in trade agreements, 79% knowing Kerry supports banning land mines, and 59% knowing his position on the ICC. (PIPA)

Don't trust Gallup polls.

Why you're right:

1. They poll too many Republicans. The most recent Gallup poll of about 1000 voters contained 40% Republicans and 31% democrats. According to a study by the Pew foundation, Democrats outnumber Republicans by about five percentage points in the actual electorate, just as they have done for the last decade. (Left Coaster, Pew)

2. Their likely voter model is flawed. Gallup's methodology systematically undervalues young voters, transient voters, immigrant voters and other groups likely to vote Democratic. A voter is given more weight if they answer yes to questions like "Have you ever voted in your precinct or election district?" (Emerging Democratic Majority)

3. They've been wrong before. For example, on 10/26/00 Gallup had Bush up 13 points over Gore. (Polling Report)

Why they're wrong:

Gallup claims their critics "don't understand the science behind the polls." But respected pollsters who understand the science of polls, like John Zogby, disagree with their methods. (USA Today)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Losing Argument: Limited elections are a-okay.

Losing Argument:

"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet." –Donald Rumsfeld, 9/23/04

Why it's a loser:

Partial elections are never acceptable and the Secretary of Defense should not be aiming for the "not quite perfect." On Sunday, Secretary Powell told FOX News, "For the elections to have complete credibility and stand the test of international scrutiny, I think what we have to do is to give all the people of Iraq an opportunity to participate. Just as we would have difficulty with partial elections here in the United States . . . I think it has to be throughout the country." The U.S. cannot and should not make everyone vote, but everyone in Iraq should be given the opportunity to vote. The Administration’s inability to plan in Iraq should not be an excuse for it to exclude parts of the country in the democratic process. Shutting out certain voices would also be a recipe for more violence and resentment toward the U.S. (Washington Post)

Monday, September 27, 2004

An independent commission should be created to investigate the abuse of prisoners in US custody.

Why you're right:

1. Existing investigations were impeded by conflicts-of-interest. Several investigations (Jones, Taguba, Jacoby, Church) were conducted by active military personnel. These investigations are limited because the lead investigators place in the chain of command, which limits their ability to investigate those who outrank them. The Schlesinger panel operated outside of the military hierarchy but was appointed by Rumsfeld. (Human Rights Watch)

2. Existing investigations were too limited in scope. The Schlesinger and Army Inspector General investigation were unable to investigate the role of other U.S. actors, including the Central Intelligence agency. The Fay report focuses exclusively on the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Four other reports were limited to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. (Human Rights Watch)

3. Existing investigations failed to interview key players. Only two investigations questioned military or civilian officials above the brigade level. Jones conducted just two interviews. Schlesinger claims to have interviewed all key officials but refuses to provide transcripts (redacted or otherwise). Schlesinger concluded that "civilian leaders at the Department of Defense share [the] burden of responsibility," but refused to identify any civilian leader by name. (Human Rights Watch)

Why they're wrong:

The media lost interest in the story after it ran out of salacious pictures to run on the front page. But that doesn't mean there aren't important questions that remain unanswered. In order to restore our standing in the international community, the United States needs to conduct a transparent investigation that uncovers all the facts, finds out who was responsible and lays out a clear course for corrective action. None of the existing investigations have achieved those goals.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The tax bill that cleared Congress yesterday was not a "middle class tax cut."

Why you're right:

1. The bill mostly benefits the rich. Two-thirds of the benefits in the bill went to the top 1/5 of all earners. (CPBB)

2. The bill gives away billions to corporations. The bill included $12 billion in corporate tax breaks – including provisions benefiting Caribbean distillers. (LA Times, USA Today)

3. The middle class could end up worse off. Middle class families receive an average benefit of just $169. This could be more than off-set by program cuts or future tax increases that will inevitably be required to pay down the added debt created by the bill. (CBPP)

Why they're wrong:

The bill does provide some modest benefits to the middle class. But the title "middle class tax cut" implies that the middle class is the primary beneficiaries of the bill. In fact, this bill is more of the same – major tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate interests with the middle class left with the scraps.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The world is marching toward democracy.

Losing Argument:

“The democratic hopes we see growing in the Middle East are growing everywhere.” – President Bush, Address to the UN General Assembly, 9/22/04

Why it's a loser:

Bush’s policy of expanding global democracy focuses on turning autocratic countries into democracies, but does not work on ensuring that fragile semi-democracies become stronger. His speech on the National Endowment of Democracy in 2003, mentions the challenges of North Korea, Iraq, and Cuba, but makes no mention of Russia. In his address to the UN yesterday, Bush again made no reference to Putin’s tightening of presidential power. Putin used Beslan to propose further “reforms” in the war on terrorism – increased media censorship, control over non-governmental organizations, and the replacement of elected officials with presidential appointees. But, as Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution, notes, “It is too simple to call what is happening in Russia today a return to dictatorship. Putin's firm-hand policies are popular, they have an electoral and parliamentary mandate.” If Bush continues to turn a blind eye toward Putin’s grab for increased centralized power, we may have more democracies, but they might not be what he had in mind. To continue the advance of freedom, Bush needs to pay attention to the slipping countries, not just the “evil” ones. (White House, BBC, Washington Post, Buffalo News)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Losing Argument: Nothing like 9/11 has ever happened before; its uniqueness justifies increasing security at the expense of civil liberties

"[On September 11th] night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack." - President George W. Bush, Address to Joint Session of Congress, September 20, 2001

"This has changed the world forever." - John Ashcroft, upon hearing of the 9/11 attacks, according to Deputy Chief of Staff David Israelite (Atlantic Monthly, April 2004).

This argument comes in two parts, and we’ll need to dissect in a similar way:

Part One: NOTHING LIKE 9/11 HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. Setting aside the mass killings of civilians by governments (which apparently don’t count as “terrorism”), history still has its share of massive attacks on defenseless civilian populations. Today, groups of armed militias are slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians in Sudan’s Darfour region. Or take an example from Ancient History: in 88 B.C. Mithridates VI, King of Pontus and rival of the Romans, organized and induced local authorities throughout the province of Asia to rise up on a pre-arranged day against Roman businessmen and merchants. The death toll? 80,000 civilians in one day.

9/11 was unique in terms of the method of attack, but not in terms of the principle. Sadly, civilians have all too often been made a target of violence.

Part Two: 9/11’s UNIQUENESS JUSTIFIES INCREASING SECURITY AT THE EXPENSE OF CIVIL LIBERTIES. You know, it’s not as if the people who wrote that quaint little document we call The Constitution had never thought of war. It’s worth remembering they lived though two of them. The first, a frontier war against French and Native American forces, certainly did involve its share of bloody civilian slaughter. The second was a fight for nothing less than survival. Despite their experience with armed conflict, the founders still designed a country in which governmental authority would be limited even in times of war. They understood what so many of our politicians have forgotten – that massive and arbitrary power concentrated in the hands of a particular group of men, regardless of their intentions, is just as dangerous as any foreign threat.

How did they arrive at this conclusion? Their knowledge of history was a starting point. After Mithridates devastating attack against Roman civilians, the Romans reacted in a way we would find eerily familiar: by giving governmental authorities extraordinary authority to deal with the threat. Lucius Conrelius Sulla, who was to become Rome’s first dictator, was the first sent out to find Mithridates. Pompey the Great, who joined with Julius Caesar in the first triumvirate, was the second. Eventually Mithridates, after a series of defeats, took his own life – 25 years after his slaughter of 80,000.

In the meantime, generals had been greatly empowered by the Roman senate and people. Not surprisingly, they never gave that power back. The wars against Mithridates were a contributing factor to Rome’s slide from constitutional, representative government into dictatorship and autocracy. That’s a lesson the founding fathers knew about, and one we can never afford to forget.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Losing argument: Criticism of the administration's Iraq policy is motivated by partisanship.

Losing argument: "At a moment when America and Americans stand strong behind our troops on the battlefield, John Kerry is attacking President Bush and the military and seeking to divide along party lines. If there was ever a time to refrain from partisan politics, this is it; but all we see from the Kerry campaign and from John Kerry is political exploitation for political gain." – Bush/Cheney Campaign Chairman Marc Raciot, 5/12/04

Why it's a loser:

1. Republican Senator Richard Lugar (IN) harshly criticized the administration's Iraq policy. Lugar said just $1 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress approved to rebuild Iraq has been spent because of "the incompetence in the administration." (Boston Herald)

2. Republican Senator Chuck Hegel (NE) harshly criticized the administration's Iraq policy. Hegel said that "we're in deep trouble in Iraq. We need more regionalization. We need more help from our allies." Hegel added "to say, `Well, we just must stay the course and any of you who are questioning are just hand-wringers,' is not very responsible." (CBS)

3. Republican Senator John McCain (AZ) harshly criticized the administration's Iraq policy. McCain said "we made serious mistakes.'' Specifically, McCain criticized the administration for "allowing those sanctuaries [for insurgents] has contributed significantly to the difficulties that we're facing, which are very, very significant. (Boston Herald)

4. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (SC) harshly criticized the administration's Iraq policy. Graham said the administration has done "poor job of implementing and adjusting at times [in Iraq]." Graham said "we do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people." (Washington Post)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Airports are not prepared to deal with future attacks.

Why you're right:

1. Common sense is not so common. A running joke among security screeners at Dulles International Airport is “Guns, bombs and common sense are prohibited by the TSA in the airport.” Security screeners confiscate from children toy guns because they replicate firearms, judicial gavels for looking like hammers, and fingernail clippers, but not foot-long knitting needles or bottles of wine, which could also be used as weapons. Additionally, airports continue to use outdated criteria for screening for terrorists – such as buying one-way tickets and paying in cash – even though terrorists have probably caught on and moved on to other techniques. (Washington Post)

2. Hidden explosives are too easy to pass through security. The 9/11 Commission report recommends that each passenger selected for special inspection should be screened for explosives. While luggage, carry-on items, and shoes are screened for explosives, a suicide bomber theoretically could get past metal detectors and screeners. It would cost $240 million to equip each of the 1800 security lanes at the nation’s 450 commercial airports with walk-through explosive detectors. (9/11 Commission Report, LA Times)

3. TSA is not taking care of its employees. Airport screeners receive, on average, only three hours of training per month, even though three hours per week is required. 42% of screeners surveyed by TSA said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their jobs, and TSA recently laid-off 10,000 workers. In a separate poll, only 14% of the cargo executives surveyed rated industry security performance as “excellent.” (TSA, Deloitte & Touche USA)

Why they're wrong:

The 9/11 attacks alerted the Bush Administration to poor security condition at airports. TSA plans to spend $5.3 billion on airport security in FY2005, while the nation’s ports are only allotted $1.6 billion by the Administration. Cockpit doors have been reinforced and baggage screening has improved. But, much of the money is addressing outdated concerns and simply increases delays and hassles for regular passengers. Integrated watch lists have not been developed and the threat of shoulder-fired missiles needs to be addressed. Simply committing high amounts of funding is useless unless it addresses the most important problems. (GAO)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

When Bush says "freedom," what does he mean?

Hello everyone! My name is Nathan Truitt, and I had the distinct pleasure of knowing Judd Legum, the brains behind this blog, back in college. We were on a debate team together, and, as I’m sure you can imagine, he always had an uncanny ability to come up with great arguments – and the facts to back them up. My role on the team was simply to rant at great length when the opportunity presented itself.

The other thing you should know about me is that I have lived abroad for four years, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Turkmenistan, and now as an aid worker in Uzbekistan. Living for so long outside America – and in the middle of Central Asia – you begin to see politics with a slightly different perspective.

These two things – my address and my penchant to ramble – somehow convinced Judd that I should join his blog. Which I will do with a certain amount of trepidation, and (I hope) an equal amount of humility. I don’t have Judd’s access to facts, but what I do have is access to the questions, thoughts and concerns that people in this part of the world possess – and I’ll try to share them with you on a weekly basis.

The war on terror is unique in that it is not being fought against an easily definable group of enemies. Yes, there is Al-Qaeda, but even this organization is more a loose collection of radicals and sub-organizations than a global movement, or worse, a mobilized, hostile government. The war on terror is a war against an abstract noun – against the idea of terrorism, and, supposedly, against all those who would practice it.

Sorting through the various organizations that use violence, deciding which ones are “terrorists” and which ones are “freedom fighters,” and then explaining this process to the American voter is not an easy task. Little surprise, then, that George W. Bush tries to frame the debate not in terms of who we’re fighting against, but in terms of what we’re fighting for. And what are we fighting for? Freedom.

You can’t listen to Bush’s speeches without hearing the word repeated several times. The idea is, America is using its massive power to spread this magical gift, freedom, to the disparate corners of the globe. Maybe.

But have you ever heard George Bush describe what he means by the word, “freedom?” In the Oxford English Dictionary, freedom has no less than fifteen different meanings, so it’s a word with a lot of potential ambiguity. For example, are we talking about legal freedoms, such as the freedom from unjust imprisonment so graciously denied to inmates at Gitmo? Are we talking about business freedoms, such as the freedom granted to Halliburton to operate with no oversight or accountability whatsoever? Are we talking about social freedoms, such as the freedom to participate actively in your own culture – by, say, getting married to who you want regardless of what Pat Robertson thinks about it? Or are we talking about political freedoms, such as the right to vote, freedom of speech, etc. – you know, the ones we denied to black voters in Florida in 2000? Are we talking about all of them at the same time?

A former president who guided us through our most terrible war wrote as concise and comprehensive a definition of freedom as can be found. Speaking as the world was sliding into war, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not offer a vague word that he assumed everyone would think of as “good;” rather he laid out, in concrete terms, what he felt were the four most “essential” freedoms:

“The first is freedom of speech and expression . . . the second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way . . . the third is freedom from want . . . the fourth is freedom from fear.”

Looking at our current conflict through the light of these words, you see a lot of American successes. Girls in Afghanistan are going to school for the first time. Iraqis can (mostly) speak their minds about their own political situation. But you also notice a lot of damning failures – most noticeably in providing the last of the four “essential” freedoms. Who in the world today is less fearful, and feels more secure, than they did a year ago? Some of this can be attributed, of course, to the aftermath of September 11, but we’ve also undertaken some minor projects (the invasion of Iraq) that have brought terror and violence onto television screens – and into the streets – around the world. You could go farther and say that the Bush team cynically uses its power to actually create fear, to make us a prisoner to insecurity – by its absurd terror alert meter and by its frequent and boisterous pronouncements of impending doom . . . if we don’t all line up and vote for Bush / Cheney, that is.

We need a president who is willing to explain to the American people his vision of freedom – not just throw the word around as a shield to conceal poor leadership and poor decision making.

Losing Argument: We’re fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don’t have to fight them on the streets of America.

Losing argument:

“[W]e are defending the peace by taking the fight to the enemy – confronting them overseas so we do not have to confront them here at home.” – White House, 9/11/04

Why it's a loser:

1. Fighting overseas isn’t enough. We must make sure we are fighting the right enemy overseas and protect against terrorism at home. The Bush Administration went to war in Iraq, even though the 9/11 commission found no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam and al Qaeda. The Iraq war has diverted $145 billion from the war on terrorism, increasing the need to fight terrorism at home.(Washington Post)

2. The terrorist threat at home still exists. Al Qaeda sleeper cells “continue to recruit new members, assist in the acquisition of safe houses and equipment, conduct pre-attack surveillance and relay messages from terrorist leaders and planners.” While al Qaeda now receives less than the $30 million per year it received before the 9/11 attacks, it has moved on to less expensive methods and no longer pays the Taliban for safe harbor each year. (
Los Angeles Times, Washington Times)

3. The Bush Administration refuses to make a real commitment to homeland security. The Administration has prided itself on its advances in aviation security, but the Department of Homeland Security still has no comprehensive plan to defend aircrafts from the threat of shoulder-fired missiles. (Experts estimate there are roughly 500,000 such missiles.) In critical infrastructure, 4,000 chemical plants have been identified as “high risk,” but many are still secured by only a padlock and chain. The Administration has cut funding for police officers by $1.3 billion and many cops do not have adequate protective gear or training to safely secure a site following an attack with a nuclear, radiological, or biological weapon. (
GAO, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, CRS, CFR)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Losing Argument: Medical malpractice lawsuits significantly increase healthcare costs.

Losing argument:

"In order to make sure health care is available and affordable, we've got to do something about the frivolous lawsuits that are...running up your health care costs." – President Bush, 9/9/04

Why it's a loser:

Bush's statement is contradicted by a study Bush himself says is authoritative. Yesterday on the campaign trail, "Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used a new report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Republican-leaning think tank, to bash Kerry's proposal to overhaul health care as too costly and cumbersome." The campaign has also launched an advertisement based on the AEI study. But in that same report (pg. 8-9) AEI concludes that limiting medical malpractice lawsuits would have "no significant effect" on health care costs. The study cites an examination of the issue by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. (Los Angeles Times, AEI, CBO)

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Bush administration has mishandled the situation in Fallujah

Why you're right:

1. They ordered the Marines in too soon. According to senior U.S. officials in Iraq, The White House pressured Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to order Lt. Gen. James T. Conway to storm Fallujah in April. Conway said he argued that the military should "let the situation settle" in Fallujah before attacking so that it didn't seem like U.S. forces were acting as revenge for contractors who were killed days earlier. He was overruled. (Washington Post, LA Times)

2. They pulled the Marines out before the job was done. The attack was allowed to continue for just three days. Then Sanchez ordered Conway to cease offensive operations. Conway suggested that the hesitancy emboldened the opposition. Conway: "When you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, you really need to understand what the consequences of that are going to be and not perhaps vacillate in the middle of something like that." (Washington Post)

3. They chose to rely on the all-Iraqi "Fallujah Brigade." With the rug pulled out from under his own forces, Conway was forced to create the "Fallujah Brigade," which consisted of about 1,000 former Iraqi soldiers, to provide security in Fallujah. Members of the Fallujah Brigade ended up assisting the insurgency. In short order, "the 800 AK-47 assault rifles, 27 pickup trucks and 50 radios the Marines gave the brigade wound up in the hands of the insurgents." Now the Fullujah Brigade has collapsed and there is no U.S. presence inside the city. It is a haven for insurgents. (Washington Post)

Why they're wrong:

On Meet the Press this weekend Colin Powell said, "We're confident of what we're doing. We're confident in our strategy. We're confident that we've done the right thing in ...Iraq, and this is not the time to get weak in the knees or faint about it." But recognizing failures is not a sign of weakness. It is essential if there is any hope of getting it right in the future. (Meet the Press)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Losing Argument: Kim Jong Il supports John Kerry for President

Losing argument:

WOLF BLITZER: Before we move on, are you suggesting [Kim Jong Il] would like to see President Bush defeated?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS): Well, I think that's probably the case.

- CNN Late Edition, 9/12/04

Why it’s a loser:

It's baseless speculation. Since 2002, North Korea has “has reopened its program, separated up to five or six bombs' worth of plutonium, and produced fresh plutonium every day in its restarted 5-megawatt reactor.” In short, North Korea has been to significantly enhance its strategic position since George W. Bush took office. Meanwhile, John Kerry has an aggressive plan to control the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea and elsewhere. (Boston Globe, Kerry Website)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Losing Argument: Bush fulfilled his duties to the National Guard because he was honorably discharged.

Losing Argument:

If the President had not fulfilled his commitment he would not have been honorably discharged. – Scott McClellan, 9/8/04

Why it's a loser:

There is no dispute as to whether Bush received an honorable discharge. The issue is whether he earned it. To prove that, Bush has to demonstrate that he fulfilled his obligations. McClellan's line, made repeatedly by the White House, skips the argument and jumps right to the conclusion.

Similarly, if you cheat on your taxes and get away with it, you still cheated on your taxes.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

There is no lawsuit crisis

Why you're right:

1. The number of cases filed is going down. The number of tort filing in state courts (where the vast majority of such cases are filed) declined 5% between 1993 and 2002. (National Center for State Courts)

2. The average awards to successful plaintiff's are plummeting. The average award for a successful plaintiff in state court has fallen from $65,000 in 1992 to $37,000 in 2001. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

3. Medical malpractice awards are not significantly increasing the price of health care. President Bush has said "major cost drivers in the delivery of health care are these junk and frivolous lawsuits." Costs associated with medical malpractice account for less than 2% of overall health care. (White House, CBO)

Why they're wrong:

When people get injured someone has to pay. So-called "tort reform" simply shifts the burden from the people responsible for causing the injuries to the people who are injured. Those who bring up frivolous claims are thrown out of court.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

A flat tax is a bad idea.

Why you're right:

1. It forces a choice between higher deficits or an increased burden for the middle class. Under the current progressive system, the rich pay a larger share of their income. To make up that difference the government must either: 1) shift a significant portion of the tax burden to the middle class or 2) borrow money to make up the difference. (EPI)

Why they're wrong:

1. There are other ways to simplify the tax code. It is complex because of years of adding loopholes and exemptions. The tax code is not complex because it's progressive. If you eliminated exemptions and loopholes, a progressive tax code could be implemented on a postcard. (EPI)

2. It doesn't encourage work. Empirical research shows "the labor supply of full-time, primary earners in families to be unaffected by tax rates." Most workers have their hours set by their managers – they aren't able to change their work habits based on their tax rate. (EPI)

A better idea:

Eliminate loopholes and exceptions that add complexity and allow some to avoid paying their fair share of taxes – but keep the graduated tax rate.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Losing Argument: Invading Iraq was part of the war on terrorism because there were terrorists in Iraq

(In a new occasional feature of Winning Argument, we’ll expose losing arguments being advanced by people who claim to know what they are talking about.)

Losing argument:

“The fact is that Abu Nidal was a terrorist who was in Baghdad. The fact is Ansar al-Islam, which is a terrorist organization, was in Iraq. This is part of the war on terror.” – Newt Gingrich, Meet the Press, 9/5/04

Why it’s a loser:

The fact that terrorists were operating inside of Iraq does not prove that the Iraqi government was cooperating with terrorists or that deposing the Iraq government helped advance the war on terror. By this logic, because the 9/11 hijackers were operating inside the United States, the U.S. was cooperating with terrorists and should be deposed. To make the point he wants to make Newt would have to show there was a collaborative relationship between the terrorists and the Iraqi government.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Feel free to insult me

Another prominent liberal blogger, Matthew Yglesias, has shut down commenting on his site. Matt’s rationale: his comment section “become totally overwhelmed by trolls who come to write in the spirit of deliberate insult and misreading rather than fairminded debate.”

I don’t think this explanation makes any sense. What is the impact of random, usually anonymous, internet users writing insults? There is no reason to let these comments bother you, unless there is some truth to them.

Here at Winning Argument I encourage all comments – even those that personally insult me. The value of an open debate is far more important, in my mind, than insulating myself from this kind of attack. (I'm also unsure what would qualify as a "fairminded" debate, but it doesn't sound terribly interesting). I think the tendency of political bloggers – both liberal and conservative – to try to create safe zones of likeminded people threatens to make what we do dull, routinized and counterproductive. Conflict is a good thing, even if it gets ugly sometimes.

UPDATE - Matt Y. Responds:

Basically what happened is that I found more and more often that the comments section on my site wasn't something I cared to read. Tons of invective being hurled at me by my detractors and then tons of counter-invective being hurled at my detractors by my supporters. Very little in the way of serious discussion as one can see on this thread. It struck me as somewhat absurd to be publishing something that I myself didn't think was worth reading. I've hardly "walled myself off from criticism" -- I went and read this post and many others critical of myself, and folks can email me with comments, concerns, criticisms, or whatever. I just don't care to be the proprietor of an unseemly shouting match.

I don’t think the purpose of a comments section is to create something the author of the blog thinks is “worth reading.” I think it is to provide a space for ideas to be tested, challenged and debated. Matt's blog now precludes that and I’m not sure what he has gained. As he points out in his response, he is still subject to criticism (and invective) over email, on other people’s blogs and, I’d imagine, in the real world.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Health Savings Accounts are a bad idea.

Why you're right:

1. It will make health insurance more expensive. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) allow workers to save money in a tax free account to pay for deductibles, co-payments, and uncovered medical costs. But there is a catch. Currently, yearly deductibles average around $300 for individuals and $600 dollars for families. Health Saving Accounts must be accompanied by an insurance policy with a $1000 deductible for individuals and $2000 for families. Nearly ¾ of employers are expected to offer the accounts by 2006 as a mechanism to "shift some of the cost of health care to workers." (USA Today)

2. It will cause people to lose their insurance coverage. According to M.I.T. economist Jonathan Gruber "The combination of HSAs and the availability of the new tax deduction to workers who obtain health insurance in the individual market (rather than through their employer) would almost certainly be regarded by some employers as lessening the need for them to offer coverage." As a result, he estimates 1.2 million people will lose their coverage because their employers stop providing it and they can't afford to purchase it themselves. (CBPP)

Why they're wrong:

President Bush touts HSAs as part of his "ownership society." According to Bush the tax free accounts will allow people to own a piece of their health care. That makes no sense. You don't want to own your health care you want to receive health care. The whole point of health insurance – and the reason why it is so attractive people – is that it allows people to share responsibility for the cost of their health care.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

President Bush's tax cuts should not be made permanent

Why you're right:

1. They've blown a hole in the federal budget. The president's own budget analysis proves that tax cuts are the primary reason why, in less than four years, the federal government has gone from running record surpluses to running record deficits. Extending tax cuts would add an additional $1.5 trillion dollars to the deficit over the next 10 years. (Government Executive, New York Times)

2. They're unfair. The top 20 percent of earners received 69.8 percent of President Bush's tax cuts. Millionaires received an average tax cut of $123,000. Those in the bottom quintile of earners received an average tax cut of $27. Those in the second to bottom quintile received an average cut of $317. (CBPP)

3. They haven't delivered promised job growth. The president's counsel of economic advisors predicted that, as a result of the recent tax cuts, the economy would create 306,000 jobs each month beginning in July 2003. Since that time, the economy has created 2,565,000 fewer jobs than they predicted. (Job Watch)

Why they're wrong:

1. Conservatives argue that extending tax cuts will spur economic growth. But tax cuts for the wealthy are an inefficient way to encourage economic growth. Wealthy people don’t need to spend money and often don’t. That means it takes longer for the money to filter into the economy. If the decreased revenues are at all offset by decreased spending – as Bush claims is his intention – it is even more inefficient, since the federal government’s contribution to the economy is reduced.

2. Even if you accept that tax cuts create economic growth, that isn’t the only thing we should be concerned about. We should be concerned with the type of economic growth it creates. The last four years have proven that the president’s policies create a society with more millionaires but many more people in poverty and struggling to make ends meet. We should adopt an economic policy that benefits a broader spectrum of America.