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Sell It To Me

March 22, 2011

If you’re just joining us, last time I took a look at a petition to secure permanent funding for NPR and PBS from Congress. Ostensibly about HB 1076, a House bill which would cut federal funding to NPR, the petition used provocative language and omitted a few key facts of the debate in its quest to get signatures. That’s about what you’d expect from a petition with the clear agenda of getting people to sign, but being the nitpicking, analytical freak I am, I took it apart piece by piece anyway. By the end, I managed to work my way around to the bill itself, which, as it turns out, should not have a significant effect on either the budget deficit or the survival of NPR. Therefore the remaining arenas of debate are the political one and the ideological one.

As I said last time, the political arena boils down to party politics. The Republicans presumably think that NPR is liberal and want to shut it down, while the Democrats think that either NPR is liberal and want to keep it or that it’s politically neutral and believe it should exist. As actually confirming that these beliefs are driving action on either side of the issue requires an out-and-out admission from one side or the other (and even then that doesn’t say how prevalent the motivation is), the argument is hard to verify and produces little in the way of meaningful debate. The Republicans will try to shut down NPR funding if they can, and the Democrats will try to defend NPR funding if they can, and as long as we’re assuming purely political motivations, that’s all there is to it.

There is one other arena where the two sides split, however, and that’s the only place where we can find meaningful debate. The debate we find here is purely ideological: the question of whether NPR should be funded by the federal government purely as a matter of principle. Here party names don’t matter, only interpretations of the nature of government itself. I’m hesitant to even use the labels “conservative” and “liberal,” just because I don’t want to misrepresent either group. (For some reason checking a box saying “Democrat” and “Republican” doesn’t trigger the same hesitancy from me. I guess I’m making the assumption that a self-labeled conservative, liberal, libertarian, etc. will have at least a semi-consistent philosophy to argue from or against, while a Republican or Democrat requires far less justification to choose his or her party.) I’ll give it a shot anyway, and you can chew me out in the comments if I’m grossly misrepresenting anybody with my terminology or analysis.

I’ll break here to revise what I said last time. In the course of doing a bit more research for this post, I found more information regarding the potentially hidden impacts I mentioned in passing. A post on NPR itself, points out that NPR station fees make up 40% of revenue, and that stations would be unable to use federal funds for these payments. Multiplying 40% by $164 million, we get the up to $60 million savings claim made by the Republicans, at least by the numbers. Of course, as with the funding grants, it could be the case that the funding is simply put to another use and not actually saved as claimed. It depends heavily on the nature of the funding, but my gut says that transferred, rather than cut, funding will be the case.

Alright, so it looks like the cost debate might not be moot, depending on the details of the funding in question. The first issue is how much of that 40% of revenue from local stations is provided by federal funding. If we take a look at NPR’s pie chart breaking down the revenue of its member stations by source, we get 5.8% supplied by federal, state, and local government funding, 9.6% supplied by “foundations,” and 10.1% supplied by the CPB. If we assume no funding in the “other” category (representing 7.6% of total revenue) comes from the federal government, entirely federal funding for the 5.8% of funding that comes from various governments, and only federally-funded foundations in the “foundation” category (probably a generous assumption, but I’m unsure how to break the category down further), we get a total of 25.5% of funding from local stations barred from use in paying fees to NPR. If we assume that this funding is taken directly away from NPR, we get a further loss of 25.5% * 40% = 10.2% of funding for a total maximum of around 12% of funding lost by NPR, ignoring any second-order effects.

So even in a worst-case scenario, NPR loses a bit over a tenth of its funding, but depending on the nature of the local funding, this loss could be much less. If local stations can simply shift their federal funding to other expenses and their private funding to paying NPR, there is next to no impact beyond the 2% loss NPR feels directly. The books get shuffled, some small portion of funding is lost to the friction, and things return to normal with a little bit more creative bookkeeping involved. A hassle to NPR’s member stations, but not a death knell for the organization as a whole. If some of the funds have been granted for a specific purpose or are tied up somehow for a given use, then NPR will lose some fraction of its funding, up to the 12% mentioned above. I can picture a situation where federal funding to these stations comes with proscriptions as to how it can be used, and in these cases it might not be possible to shift the funding to another use. Without knowing the details of this type of funding, however, I can’t say whether NPR would lose closer to 2% or 12%.

(For anyone who’s interested, in my digging I turned up NPR’s annual donor reports (see the bottom of the page), which list the names of the people and organizations who either sponsored or donated to NPR, barring donations under $5000, as well as the board of trustees and providers of grants. Anyone looking for a bias or lack thereof among NPR’s sponsors, donors, or trustees might want to start with the 2008 report, which is the most recent one available at this time. If anyone’s feeling really industrious, they could also track down any funding data that’s available for NPR’s local stations and see how much of their revenue comes in the form of federal funding and with what constraints. Note that this would take a lot of effort, produce incomplete results, and pertain to a bill that probably won’t make it out of the Senate, but it’s your life.)

As for how much money could be saved, assuming that all “foundation” money that goes to NPR’s local stations is federal, that state and local governments contribute nothing, and that none of these federal funds can be moved around to avoid their complete loss, we still run into a maximum of $20 million saved. Of course, that’s assuming that the money granted by these federally-funded organizations like the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn’t simply go elsewhere when it can no longer be given directly or indirectly to NPR. Again, I’m going on a hunch here, and it’s a pretty strong one, but I doubt that much of that funding, if any, will be truly saved. So regarding the claim of $60 million, if Reuters got it right and I’m not taking the claim out of context:

Well, I seem to have wandered pretty far from my initial topic in the course of expanding on my research. Hopefully it was a worthwhile clarification (and make of it what you will), but let’s get back to the ideological arena. The main issue to debate here is whether federal funding of NPR is justifiable and necessary. The reason I start with this is because, being a conservative and a libertarian, I am wary of the size of federal government. As a check on the size of the federal government and to keep it from overreaching its intended purpose, we have Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, enumerating the powers of the federal government. I won’t bore you with the point-by-point, but believe me when I say there’s nothing in there that could be remotely interpreted as allowing the government to create and fund a part of the media. Combine this with the Tenth Amendment, which explicitly states that all powers not granted to the federal government are granted to the state governments or to the people, and you have a bare bones argument as to why the federal government does not have the power to fund NPR. Granted, it’s one overstepping of the federal government’s power out of thousands, but in terms of principle, this is very clearly the reason why it’s not the government’s business to fund NPR.

People have presumably argued that this is not the case on the grounds of changing times or judicial interpretation or the thousands of other similar violations. These arguments all require one very important concession in order to function: that the Constitution, as written, is defunct. If you deny something clearly outlined in the Constitution, no matter how many hops, skips, and jumps of interpretation and precedent you use to arrive at your conclusion, you deny that the Constitution, as written, has any meaning or bearing on the United States government. All the rights and protections that it offers become political whim, to be done away with as desired by whichever party is in power. The only way in which the Constitution acts as protection is if it is applied consistently and by examining its actual content. Treating it as a grab bag of “rights” to be turned into talking points or ignored as the political winds change will—mark my words—come back to bite those who support it. We’ve seen this already in a case libertarian bloggers love to point out, with the Homeland Security measures once supported by the Republicans that have suddenly become onerous violations of rights when extended when the opposing party is in power. So if you argue by n-times-removed interpretation or precedent, be aware of the type of state you are putting into place, because the same principles that keep the government from funding NPR keep it from doing a host of other things you might be far less happy with.

To dive back into the practical once again, I have taken a look at the Republicans’ sole “present” vote, as mentioned in the NPR article above. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan refused to vote for HR 1076 for reasons listed here. He argues that the bill violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits bills of attainder, or laws targeting a specific private entity, by singling out NPR in everything but name. This seems like a reasonable argument, and his justification of his decision makes it very clear that his goal is to uphold the Constitution even in situations where it would be politically advantageous not to. Also note that he confirms my analysis that the bill will not save money, only prevent certain of its uses, and with none of the guesswork that was involved in my conclusion. If you ever need proof of why I’m not a Republican, this is it: too much politics. The $60 million estimate, if it was truly made, was a stretch of a stretch of a stretch.

It’s also interesting to note that Rep. Amash points to HR 1 as an example of how to properly go about defunding NPR: by defunding the CPB, which is empowered to grant federal funds for public broadcasting. I took a look; HR 1 (other versions here) seems to be the House appropriations bill, starting off with Department of Defense spending. But sure enough, in section 1838 (at the bottom of page 302 in the linked copy), there is language that removes funding from the CPB. Also note that this does put PBS on the chopping block, to whatever extent its funding comes from the CPB. It seems that Move On’s petition, if not their summary, was addressing the right threat after all.

Thinking about it more, I think I agree with Rep. Amash. NPR should be defunded on the grounds that there is no justification (that I have yet heard) for its existence as a part of the federal government. I have no opposition to the existence of NPR as a private entity, and if it is as privately-funded as it claims and seems to be, the transition would not be too difficult. I refuse any argument discussing solely the benefits of its existence, however, for the dual reasons that it could just as easily exist as a private entity and that its creation and funding are still not allowed by the Constitution.

Anyway, thanks for staying with me through this pair of rambling posts. I’m new to blogging, and I’m learning as I go. Being concise would be a valuable skill to learn, but learning how to perform deeper research (compared to my usual standards) has been just as important. The next step in this debate would be to try to dig up the actual debates in the House over the CPB portion of the appropriations bill, if they’re available, and look at the arguments used. If they’re largely political, then they’ll mostly be worthless (”to spite my political enemies,” for example, is never sufficient justification for an actual law), but if there are other analyses as thoughtful as Amash’s, then the proceedings could shed better light on the debate.

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New Law

March 21, 2011

This poster should be, by law, included in every Twitter, Facebook, TV, or federal message regarding Japan.

(NOTE: I know this chart is way too small, but that’s what the poster is of and trust me if I didn’t include a minipicture no one would have clicked the picture (you lazy mofos (yeah, that’s right, I can see what you click on my site (and yes, I’m talking to YOU))), click this link or the picture to see it in a readable size)

Oh, and stay tuned for part 2 of Aptronym’s NPR analysis, to be released late tomorrow morning. (You can see part 1 here, or, depending on your level of laziness, take your pointer finger, put it on that little wheel thing on top of your mouse, and roll it down like two or three times).

(Randall from XKCD)

Vizzini’s Law and Petition Analysis

March 20, 2011

Hey there. From the looks of it, our gracious host has been busy lately, no doubt filling his head with knowledge in a plane of higher learning and letting his blog gather dust to appease the knowledge demons that require his full attention. All perfectly fine, but I thought I’d poke my head in and take a little tour. My name is Aptronym, I’m a friend of Mr. N. Conservatarian, and I’m here to figure out what squatters’ rights are regarding web space. I think I might have a valid claim to the blog under the ancient principle of Finders Keepers, but even if that doesn’t stand up in court, I’ll leave a couple of words here on my way out.

So it seems that the funding for NPR and PBS is on the chopping block. Being the uninvolved, disinterested person that I am, I know this because a friend of mine posted a link to this petition opposing the cuts. Let’s take a look at the text accompanying the petition:

Republicans just passed an “emergency” bill that denies all federal funding to NPR.

This attack on public broadcasting is unprecedented. We need a massive public outcry to convince the Senate to stand up to the Republican extremists in the House.

Sign the petition, then share it with all your friends.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to your Senators.

Okay, so counter to the title of the petition, PBS’s funding does not seem to be under attack by the bill in question. The blurb mentions only NPR, and none of the minimal research I did indicated that PBS was targeted by the bill at all. Nice Try: 1. Move On: 0.

Now we come across some language that’s rather interesting: “unprecedented.” Gee, haven’t heard that one before. It seems to get tossed around whenever someone wants to scare you about something. To quote The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” It’s getting to the point where we need some version of Godwin’s Law to keep its usage straight. I hereby propose Vizzini’s Law, which states:

As a political bill gains media attention, the probability of an opposing group or person labeling the change as “unprecedented” approaches 1.

Note that a similar effect applies to real-world occurrences in politically charged fields, such as economics or climate science.

Overused or not, let’s take a look at whether the word applies. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that it does not. Granted, there’s a missing citation, but Wikipedia spells it out for us: “During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the federal government. Steps were taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but the 1983 funding crisis forced the network to make immediate changes.” So certainly there is some precedent to this outrageous turn of events. Who would have known? Inconceivable!: 1. Move On: 0.

Here’s another fun bit of language: “extremists.” This article at Reuters shows that the bill passed 228 to 192 in the House. Is Move On implying that all of the Republicans who voted to defund NPR are extremists, or that there is a small cadre of extremists running the show? Clearly we are experiencing the pinnacle of political honesty and the very epitome of delivering hard-hitting facts to petitioners. Or maybe Move On is trying to gull people into signing a petition. Exaggeration: 1. Move On: 0.

Now let’s take a look at the petition text itself: “”Congress must protect NPR and PBS and guarantee them permanent funding, free from political meddling.”” Now there’s a doozy. “Protect NPR and PBS”? “Permanent funding”? “Political meddling”? There are a couple of big assumptions in there. The first is that NPR and PBS are somehow integral to this country of ours and, moreover, that no future generation could ever decide otherwise. Maybe I’m misreading the word “permanent,” but if this petition is to have any hope of preventing bills such as HB 1076, the one cutting federal NPR funding, from passing into law, there will have to be no way for Congress to get rid of NPR and PBS funding at any point in the future. Not if they become defunct. Not if they become unnecessary (assuming they were necessary in the first place, which I’m not sold on). Not if their quality goes down the tubes and they can’t get private funding or viewer donations anymore. We are so certain that none of the above will happen that we are willing to give them “permanent funding” from the federal government.

The second assumption is that cuts to federal funding constitute “political meddling.” To avoid the risk of projecting, or at least sounding like it, I won’t say that Move On’s support of NPR and PBS is solely because they believe the stations serve their political goals. Let’s instead go with the assumptions that: 1) Move On firmly believes that there should be publicly-run radio and television stations, and 2) these stations should be politically unbiased. In that case, what better way to avoid “political meddling” than to remove the federal government from the equation? Without the lever of funding to be used against it, NPR and PBS wouldn’t have to suck up to the party in power for funding or hush their criticisms to avoid having their funding cut. Suddenly Congress can’t use money to lead NPR around by a string! No “political meddling,” as opposed to the “permanent funding” model where Congress would have a direct means of controlling NPR’s growth.

The third assumption, and it’s a big one, is that NPR and PBS need protecting. Let’s work with NPR here, as PBS doesn’t seem to be on the chopping block just yet. According to an FAQ on NPR’s own site, “NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government. Less than two percent of the budget is derived from competitive grants from federally funded organizations such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts.” This matches the two percent of funding that Reuters says NPR receives from the federal government.

There are some discrepancies with Republicans’ claim that the cuts would save up to $60 million annually (again at Reuters). NPR’s revenues were $164 million in 2009, according to Wikipedia, so unless there’s something large I’m missing here (the sentence “under the bill, affiliate stations could not use federal funds to pay for NPR-produced programs or to pay member dues” strikes me as having potential hidden implications), 2% off $164 million is closer to $3 million than $60 million. There’s also the issue of the funding coming through “competitive grants from federally funded organizations,” which to me means that the money from the CPB and similar organizations will simply go elsewhere rather than being saved. Thus, at the moment, cutting funding to NPR doesn’t look like it will make a huge impact on the budget.

On the other hand, it doesn’t look like it will make a huge impact on NPR either. I’m not exactly sure what that $3.28 million buys, but I doubt it’s what pushes NPR past its breaking point in terms of funding. So we can more or less take the monetary argument off the table for either side: NPR isn’t the biggest fish to fry when it comes to budget cutbacks, and its existence isn’t seriously threatened by the cuts. Let’s also take the political argument off the table: support for or opposition towards NPR funding has nothing to do with any perceived bias in its content. We’ve given the benefit of the doubt to Move On on that topic, so we’ll give it to the Republicans as well, simply because it’s difficult to prove what a group’s motivations are unless they explicitly state them (and even then you have to be wary) and arguing about it boils down to Democrat/Republican politics as usual: whoever is in power gets to make the decisions. What that leaves is an ideological argument, over whether the federal government should provide funding of any form to NPR. Cost doesn’t matter, NPR’s survival is guaranteed in either case, and party politics factor in only when you’re counting the votes.

So. Should the federal government fund NPR?

I’ll tackle this question next time.

College: The Police State

February 2, 2011

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently attending college. And, as one of the many “responsibilities” of college, I had an obligation to attend a meeting to discuss housing for next year. Why? Well, they don’t have enough housing for all returning students so they’re basically trying to preempt our complaining. I’m fine with it I guess, not that I have a choice; I kind of have to accept it or go to a different college. Worst case scenario I live off campus, and I can handle that. I’ll probably get a spot on campus, but whatever, off topic.

 

Somewhere around me writing my name and student ID number down on a sheet of paper so that they can mark down I attended a meeting therefore making me eligible to maybe get on campus housing I started thinking about college on a much larger scale, i.e. on the scale of comparative politics (I know, I’m a nerd). So, in barely exaggerated terms, I pay a lot of money to go to college. A lot. Think of that as taxes being paid to the state. I stand in long lines to get the food provided by the school. I eat, and when I’m done with eating I form an orderly line to stack my tray on a conveyor belt where other workers do the dishes. I leave the dining hall and go to a Gen Ed class. I don’t want to take PHEC 106-609 (Swimming), but apparently it makes me a healthier, more well rounded person (completely ignoring the fact that I have two extremely difficult majors, another extremely hard minor, and I’m in the Honors program, therefore making it so that I have no time for Gen Eds and the stress of having so many classes per semester to make up for my wasted time on Gen Eds actually stresses me out and makes me a less healthy, albeit more rounded and more upset person).

 

So, Gen Eds done. Time to eat again. That done, homework time. Why? Well, I wouldn’t want to get a bad grade. The college has convinced me of that. And I can’t even go in the Honors house to study (the college’s executive committee (read – Politburo) revoked the right of 24/7 Honors house access, unless the proletariat can raise enough civil unrest for them to overturn the resolution). I then go to sleep in my college-provided housing, ID card in my pants pocket for the next day already because if I forgot it I’d be essentially lost myself. But not before I engage in some “communal living” with some of my friends in the building. And God forbid I walk outside at night to go to the science building to get some late night programming done; while they won’t confront me (except for a few times), the police roaming the campus will watch me pretty closely.

 

Yep, that’s right, you guessed it; I’m living in a Socialist state. Not like the good socialist, more like the USSR socialist. And trust me, I understand the appeal, it’s great “living” your life having the state do everything for you. College was supposed to be a time of freedom, but I’ve found it to be just as restricting as ever. Sure, I can stay up late, go eat when I want, maybe go to a party or be with my girlfriend whenever I want. But is that freedom? I can’t advance at college. I can’t really live my life the way I want it, only the way a faceless institution thinks that I should. They’re choosing what’s in my best interest, and I don’t like it. I can live with it for now, I know the benefit of what I’m doing, but I can’t wait until I can graduate from the USSR and become a citizen of America.

To Serve or to Serve? That is the Question.

January 28, 2011

Just wanted to make a quick post about the Maryland State Senate. I love Maryland politics, particularly the Senate and I could tell you my opinion on every Senator and most delegates (future post?) but sometimes a story pops up that appeals to more than just the die-hard MD Politics fans like myself.

Newly elected Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Harford Country) previously had a perfect attendance record for votes in his past eight years in the House of Delegates. That record is about to be shattered. Senator Jennings, who serves in the Air National Guard, has been called to do a training mission at Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia during the majority of this year’s session.

I’m not sure what the right thing to do here is. On the one hand, he is serving his country at his own expense and military service is always impressive and praiseworthy. Also, the voters knew he was an active duty military man when they voted for him. Still, I cannot shake the feeling that he owes it to his constituents to serve. It’s a 90-day session, I can’t imagine there is not some sort of protocol for postponing training. It’s not like he is actually going to war, just making sure he is still trained. On yet the other hand (we all have three hands, right?) he’s a freshman Republican in the Maryland Senate…will anyone notice he’s not there? Your thoughts?

As a former page, my main concern is whether the pages will be expected to maintain his bill book when he won’t even be there (tag that as things no one cares about but me).

There are plenty of articles online about this but there are good ones here and here

My First Selling Out

January 23, 2011

 

Do you like ads? Do you like links off of a privately run and paid for blog to a post hosted by  a major corporation because the blog owner sold out and wants to make money off of the sheep that advertising people think people are? Well then today is your lucky day! Click here to travel to Associated Content, read about why TV cancels good shows and who’s to blame for it, and help me sell out!

Guess Who’s Getting Published

January 20, 2011

Hey everyone, check out my new Associated Content (by Yahoo) freelance work. So far I’ve just been posting old articles from a couple months back (I actually get paid for page views over there), and every once in a while I’m going to be submitting Associated Content exclusive articles (Yahoo exclusivity means an upfront payment for me instead of just per page view, yay capitalism). I’ll link them at the blog, don’t worry. I already have one awaiting the editor’s review, it’ll probably be up in under a week. Anyways, here’s my public profile. Not much to look at so far, but hopefully this will pan out and I actually get motivation to write (yay capitalism)  instead of feeling an obligation.