Obama as Hitler? You’ve got the wrong WWII adversary

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In India, a store named after Hitler ‘stirs anger’ and makes headlines; in the United States, Obama-Hitler comparisons are basically routine.

If the image above didn’t convince you, take a look at the the Google Image search results (definitely worth clicking to enlarge, or even running the search for yourself):

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TIME Magazine pulls its best 34th Street Sex Survey

TIME
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Honestly, I expect better from TIME Magazine than the sort of amateur mistakes that plague amateur publications like the 34th Street annual sex survey (apologies for the picture quality – you can enlarge by clicking on it – and for repeating the word amateur, but not really, because it was intentional):

Listen: I get it. You make a lot of graphs, and they can’t all look exactly the same. But connecting randomly-distributed answers with colored lines is never the answer.

And while this atrocity occurred within the past month, design issues seem to have plagued TIME going back awhile. The following image is drawn from an issue printed in December 2008 (I don’t read these magazines in any semblance of chronological order, which explains how these two issues ended up being read back-to-back):

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Sometimes people, they never learn

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My family recently visited the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, which boasts a lot of coast, and a little sunshine. Before heading north, my mom read the local newspaper and forwarded a story entitled ‘Brazen’ coyotes snatch toy poodle from B.C. store in broad daylight:

Alaina Russell had just started her shift at her mother’s store, Carola’s Quilt Shop, in Gibsons on Friday when she saw a scrawny, mangy coyote pacing in the parking lot out front.

Russell had brought her toy poodle, Nicky, to work that day and she searched for him, to make sure he was safe. Turning back a moment later, she was horrified to see another coyote sauntering out the front door with her eight-pound, nine-year-old black poodle in its mouth.

‘Coyote bites dog’ is hardly a headline; British Columbia is crawling with coyotes, and one of them attacking a small pet is nothing new:

Urban sightings of the province’s estimated 2,000-3,000 [Editor's note: the BC Ministry of Environment estimates the number is actually as high as 6,000] coyotes are becoming more common, according to the B.C. SPCA. They typically prefer living in grasslands and at the edge of forests, but will travel for food. Attacks on humans are very rare, but less rare are attacks on smaller animals like pets.

Coyotes have been spotted along the highway, at the gas station, at the grocery store. Customers are bringing tales of other dogs disappearing and there are Missing Cat posters all over town, Russell said. A neighbour told her he saw three coyotes hanging around his yard Friday morning.

“It’s almost like they were casing the joint,” Russell said.

What made the story newsworthy was that the coyote snatched its prey in broad daylight, in front of numerous people, and most significantly, extracted it from inside a building:

The attack on Friday was shocking to the customers and Russell’s mom, and even people on the highway who stopped to stare.

“It goes through our heads again and again, it’s so unbelievable,” said Carola Russell, who owns the store.

So what did the Russell family do, confronted by a coyote population so bold, so unintimidated by human presence, that it thought nothing of entering a building and carrying off a small dog?

They decided to feed it.

Russell and her mom took the day off Sunday, spending it with new rescue dog Dolly, an 11-month-old Shih Tzu the family brought home from the pound on Saturday.

This will certainly end well:

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Mislabeling data to score political points (my most exciting post title yet!)

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Editor’s note: This post originally appeared as ‘That time Obama for America doctored the data’, but has been updated to reflect the benefit-of-the-doubt.

It’s no secret that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan hope to beat Barack Obama on the economy.

I’m not going to quote Mitt, because it’s pretty much all he talks about, but Ryan’s shiny and new: “Without a doubt, President Obama inherited a difficult situation. Here’s the problem: He made it worse.”

No, Paul. Here‘s the problem: it’s one thing to claim – with a straight face – that the economy could have grown faster under your economic policies. It’s quite another to argue that Obama made the economy worse.

Heck, even Republican governors can’t help themselves. Per the Los Angeles Times, in Republican governors tout job gains — to Obama team’s delight:

One by one, Republican governors of three presidential battleground states took the floor at the party’s national convention and touted recent job gains in their states – not Mitt Romney’s preferred message.

First up was Gov. John Kasich of Ohio: 122,000 jobs created since he took office last year, he boasted, and a state that has leaped from 48th to fourth in job creation.

Next came Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia: “Over the last two years, with Republicans and Democrats working together, our unemployment rate is down 20% to 5.9%,” he said. “We’ve added 151,000 net new jobs.”

Finally, there was Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “Like many places across the country, Wisconsin lost more than 100,000 jobs from 2008 to 2010,” he said. “Unemployment during that time topped out at over 9%. But because of our reforms, Wisconsin has added thousands of new jobs, and our unemployment rate is down from when I first took office.”

These inconvenient truthtellings come on the heels of a week-old NYTimes blog post - from which the above Paul Ryan quote was drawn - Has Obama Made the Economy Worse? The answer – if you can’t guess – is ‘No’. The article includes a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing job gains and losses under Presidents Bush and Obama:

The graph clearly shows that while the economy has not nearly regained the jobs lost during the recession, suggesting that Obama made the situation ‘worse’ is simply the wishful thinking of a campaign without a rabbit in its hat.

Meanwhile, I recognized the graph’s basic shape from Barack My Timeline! (purveyor of prObama Facebook cover photos, and about which I wrote  just over two months ago):

But something looked a little off. See if you can spot the difference (Hint: it’s circled in red.):

And this is where my original post (see Editor’s Note above) went off-track: it decried the change in polarity in the Barack My Timeline! graph, and shared the website’s source: an email sent by Obama for America:

As you may have gathered from the post’s original title, I used the opportunity to slam the organization for stretching the truth to bolster Obama’s record on the economy:

Listen, it’s politics: everybody stretches the truth. But it’s one thing to distort someone’s words, and it’s quite another thing to start messing with what should be cold, hard facts. Color me unimpressed.

But a friend suggested that despite a superficial similarity between the two graphs, it is likely that they are actually drawn from different datasets.

More specifically, the Obama for America graph is labeled ‘Private sector’, while the BLS data’s more generic label (‘Jobs Gain/Loss’) implies that it includes all job gains and losses, including those in the public sector. The enormous bump in hiring and firing that appears during the summer of 2010 most likely reflects public-sector hiring as the result of that year’s census. In other words, though the Obama for America graph omits this surge in temporary employment, and the consequent contraction that followed, it actually provides a more accurate picture of the overall job market – not less, as I had originally alleged.

In other words, the only party that can be legitimately held responsible for numerical misdirection is Barack My Timeline!, which failed to label the data it presented, but which clearly states that “This site is not affiliated with Obama for America, the DNC, or any political organization.”

Good.

My belated thoughts on the El-Al ticket giveaway

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Paper Treiger is in a perpetual state of catch-up. For the past month, I’ve had better things to do than write (hard as that is to believe), so expect the next few posts to be more catch-upy than usual.

And since I’ll also have better things to do for much of the forseeable future, expect that catch-up to take a while. In other words, I’m never going to catch up, and I’m OK with that.

In the meantime, no need to point out that what I choose to write about isn’t news. You’re right. It’s what I choose to write about. And in this case (as you probably already figured out), what I choose to write about is the El-Al ticket fiasco of early August. Just because I didn’t have time to write over the past month doesn’t mean I had no time to read, and I ended up reading a number of articles debating whether or not those lucky enough to have bought the heavily discounted tickets should keep them, or return them to the third-party dealers unlucky enough to have sold them without accounting for fuel and other ‘hidden’ costs.

It occurred to me that that none of those articles included two considerations I thought worthy of mention, somewhere. Before I share them, two disclaimers:

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Yeah, I was there

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Regular readers of Paper Treiger have probably noticed that posts about my personal experience are relatively few and far between (as blogs go). In general, I try to focus on news, headlines, and information freely available over the internet, make a comment, add a twist, and hit publish.

Today, I experienced the headlines first-hand. Proof*:

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Race politics: Jews, blacks, and the Presidency

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For once, I read a magazine that wasn’t a few months old. More specifically, I read last week’s New York Times Magazine, which featured a fascinating story about the Aleppo Codex, as well as an interview with Jonathan Haidt. One question from interviewer Andrew Goldman is the subject of tonight’s post:

I have relatives who are Southern conservative Republicans, who say that the fact that almost the entire black population voted for Barack Obama is as inherently racist as the idea that all whites would vote for a white candidate. Do they have a point?

Haidt’s reply:

Had a Jew run at any point in the 20th century, just about every Jew would have voted for him, so I can’t criticize blacks for voting for a black president. There’s an enormous difference between voting for a candidate because you hate another ethnic group and voting for a candidate because he’s a member of your ethnic group.

There’s a lot to unpack in this response, and I’m not going to get into most of it, but I do want to respond to two of Haidt’s claims in turn.

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Mitt Romney’s comments on Palestinian culture are not so crazy, but do have some surprising implications

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[Disclaimer: If you follow the news, a lot of this recap will feel old hat. If you don't need or want a blow-by-blow review, feel free to skip ahead to "Personally, I'm not sure that GDP is...", or for those following by email, below the jump.]

Mitt Romney waded into some trouble last week while on vacation in Israel:

Mitt Romney offended Palestinian leaders on Monday by suggesting that cultural differences explain why the Israelis are so much more economically successful than Palestinians, thrusting himself again into a volatile issue while on his high-profile overseas trip. - Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop

Once he realized drumming up an international diplomatic incident while in an unofficial capacity was not his best idea, Mitt wasted no time rescinding his statement:

Mitt Romney insisted Tuesday he was not specifically talking about Palestinian culture at a fundraiser in Israel on Monday when he was quoted suggesting culture was the reason for the economic disparity between Israel and the Palestinian territories. - Romney denies criticizing Palestinian culture

Romney later reversed his position a second time, in a statement I’m quite frankly too lazy to dig up and quote.

Momentarily leaving aside the diplomatic implications of Romney’s impolitic remarks, I will note in Willard’s defense that he has more of a point than he is given credit for. Here is his original statement:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality.”

As has been widely noted, the economic disparity between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors is wider than the figures cited by Romney. I seem to be quoting every other line of this post, so why not this one? The accurate numbers are these:

Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

The comments seem to have been controversial primarily because Romney failed to mention the effect of Israeli occupation and trade restrictions. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority:

It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.

Personally, I’m not sure that GDP is a reliable indicator of anything, nor do I think that Romney’s failure to account for Israeli occupation is really at the heart of what’s wrong with his statement. In other words, as usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I’m not going to take up the case on behalf of Mr. Romney, as it is one that has been made in a number of books - including his ownonline and in print, and probably elsewhere. But in his defense, it is also worth noting that, in the absence of the occupation, it is unlikely that Palestinian GDP would approach the level achieved by Israel’s economy. Here are the 2011 GDPs of the countries with which Israel shares a border, but with which Palestinians do not share an occupation [as measured by the IMF, as related in this Wikipedia article]:

Lebanon: 15,523
Syria: 5,041
Jordan: 5,900
Saudi Arabia: 24,237
Egypt: 6,540

According to the IMF, Israel’s GDP per capita is 30,975, or – as stated in the article – “about $31,000.” As you can see, the only nearby country that comes even close to matching Israel’s economic output is Saudi Arabia, and I don’t think the source of that country’s relative wealth is any great mystery.

Of course, no two countries are exactly alike, and each country listed has its own serious issues, but I think it’s safe to conclude that even had the West Bank and Gaza constituted an independent Palestinian state for the past 64 years, its GDP would be unlikely to match that of Israel. There’s simply no reason to believe it would be anything other than just another country in that part of the world. Using a broad definition of ‘culture’, Romney is in many respects correct.

But all of this discussion is silly and hypothetical. The primary takeaway – if you’ve stuck with me this far – should be that Romney has outed himself as someone to whom economic indicators, like GDP, matter a great deal – indeed, the Wealth and Poverty of a nation’s culture depend on them.

And to me, that sounds downright un-American.

As it happens, the United States is not the world’s most productive country on a per capita basis. According to the CIA Factbook, the IMF, and the World Bank [all cited in the aforequoted Wikipedia article], the US ranked 9th, 7th, and 6th, respectively in 2011. The logical end-point of Romney’s thinking is that our culture is inferior to those ranked higher in per-capita GDP.

But to be fair to Romney, none of the higher-ranked countries are located in the Western hemisphere, and he was quite clearly speaking about countries that are close neighbors:

“And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

But where Mitt looked to the land of his father’s birth for a convenient disparity to assure the United States would out on top, according to his formula – in which wealth translates to cultural superiority across short distances – our culture is currently inferior to a bunch of beaverskin-wearing hosers freezing to the north. You see, according to the World Bank, Canada’s GDP per capita exceeds that same metric in the United States:

United States: 48,442
Canada: 50,345

And it’s not just a fluke of GDP. According to a report released just last month:

For the first time in recent history, the average Canadian is richer than the average American.

And not just by a little. Currently, the average Canadian household is more than $40,000 richer than the average American household. The net worth of the average Canadian household in 2011 was $363,202, compared to around $320,000 for Americans. - For the First Time, Canadians Now Richer Than Americans

So between his praise for Israeli socialized medicine and now, his claims of Canadian cultural superiority, I think it’s time to ask the obvious: of which country does Mitt Romney hope to be President, anyway?

You probably think I’m going to say ‘Canada’, but my money’s on the Cayman Islands – right next to Mitt Romney’s.