Data Over Dogma

dataThis can’t be stated often or emphatically enough. If you are willing to dismiss, suppress, or reject evidence because it conflicts with what you want to (or have been told you should) believe, then you are acting irrationally—by definition. And your judgement should be discounted accordingly.

While this situation usually comes up with regard to a specific topic, it reflects a larger problem with mindset. Sen. Marco Rubio demonstrated this most recently when, in an interview with GQ magazine, he was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” Rubio danced with all his might, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.” (No Marco, it’s really not.) Rubio is previously on record as stating the “crux” of the disagreement is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level.”

It’s easy to dismiss this as being isolated to the topic of geology or evolution, something that doesn’t impact the lives of the vast majority of citizens.  Rubio asserts as much when defending his GQ statement.  He said this didn’t matter, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.”

Yet, as I’ve argued in this space before, and as Paul Krugman points out in his recent column, it matters greatly. It matters because we are hindering a crop of potential petrogeologists who are limited to guessing where God hid the oil.  But moreover, it matters because we are teaching kids that evidence can be ignored if it’s uncomfortable. And it is this mindset which is particularly damaging, and not just to the field of science, and as Rubio has demonstrated, not just to kids.

We have adults rejecting global warming and progressive tax codes, not because of evidence, but because of ideology.  We saw dismissal and rejection of pre-election poll data, not because it was inaccurate, but because it supported the wrong conclusion.

We live in an increasingly technological world with a complex multinational economy. Our success as a society, a country, and a culture depends on our ability to carefully and rationally understand and control that abstruse system.  Reliance on irrational explanations and positions in the face of evidence backed models of the world is simply dangerous.

That is not to say that faith and ideology have no place in society. They add value to the lives of many. All the world is not explainable using logic and reason.  Faith and ideology help most fill the gaps. But where data and dogma collide… bet on data every time. All our futures depend on it.


Babbling in the Mirror – Obama Supporter Interviews Future Self

I received a link to a YouTube video today. The video is a mock up of someone from 2008 interviewing their current selves and dealing with all the crushing disappointments of the Obama Administration.

The link came with a request:

“Please, please, somebody tell me where she is wrong. I really want to know!”

I’ll try to suspend my skepticism that anyone circulating this sort of propaganda is truly interested in facts, or even willing to accept them, but I’m up for the challenge anyway.

The video contains a scarcity of actual data, but there are a lot of general claims.  A few are fairly accurate, many are directionally incorrect, and a few are outright false. In the opening, the 2008 woman is going on about the utopia that would surely result from 4 years under Obama.  Granted, there was a lot of optimism from his supporters upon his election, but anyone who believes any President can effect a utopian transformation of the country is delusional. If you think it can be done in the midst of the second largest economic downfall in the last century, you’re just plain nuts.  It’s unfair to compare Obama to some vision of Nirvana. Rather, the accurate comparison is to the alternative, a McCain administration. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what that might have been. Maybe it would be better, maybe worse, but we can be pretty sure, based on the previous 30 years of mostly Republican administrations, that it wouldn’t quite be utopia.

Obama Supporter - Self InterviewThe initial substantive claim is that the 2012 woman’s father died because his asthma medication was outlawed. This is flat out false.  No asthma medications have been outlawed.  Starting this year, CFC based inhalers were banned. Keep in mind that CFC propellants have been banned since the 70s in everything else in an effort to save the ozone layer. Civilization survived. Further, HFA inhalers are available as an alternative. Same medication, same dose, different delivery mechanism.

Next is a general lament about high unemployment. There’s no doubt that unemployment remains unacceptably high. However, looking at the data, private sector employment bottomed out in early 2010 and continues to climb steadily upward.  But public sector employment is plummeting at a rate the private sector in a minimally expanding economy can’t ameliorate. Look at a comparison of Bush’s first term compared to Obama’s. Bush responded to the economic downturn in 2000 with stimulus by expanding government payroll.  Obama responded by slashing government jobs in favor of private sector stimulus. Hmmm…

But Obama had a super-majority! Why didn’t he fix everything? Obama’s super-majority in Congress hinged on one man, Ted Kennedy. A man who had the gall to be suffering terminal brain cancer upon Obama’s election, and who died in August of that first year.  Kennedy made special and heroic returns to the Senate floor to cast votes on the stimulus and on Obamacare, but otherwise was incapacitated. After his death, Scott Brown was elected and the Obama super-majority vanished.

Oh, the executive orders! There’s no specific complaint over any specific executive orders, but the implication is that Obama is issuing them all over the place.  The data from the National Archives would disagree. Obama has issued 129 EOs so far.  Pro-rating that for his entire first term puts him on pace to issue 147 by January.  G.W. Bush averaged 145/term. Clinton averaged 181, Bush Sr. did 165, and Reagan comes in at 190.  So Obama’s on the low end of recent history.

Why didn’t the stimulus fix everything as promised? First, we have to accept the 2008 woman somehow magically knowing about the 2009 stimulus package, but I’m nit-picking. Most stimulus proponents now agree the stimulus package was not up to the task. The enormity of the economic hole was much larger than anticipated and the level of stimulus was insufficient to achieve the desired results.  However, it probably was the largest package that would have been politically do-able.  But even then, did it have a positive effect? There is arguably legitimate debate here, although the consensus is that the stimulus did improve things. But even if it didn’t, there’s no one claiming it did any harm excepting a brief blip in the debt curve.

Next up is the assertion that all of Obama’s investments in green energy have gone bankrupt. One company, Solyndra, went bankrupt.  That’s not quite all.  There’s ample room for debate on whether the government should be subsidizing commercial energy companies, but the fact remains that the vast majority of the loans have not defaulted. Further, the $535M Solyndra debacle is a relative drop in the $34B DOE loan bucket. So minimally, this claim is blowing things out of proportion.

There’s a healthcare mandate, she says with a voice dripping in desperation. Yes there is. And unless we’re content with 30-50 million Americans going without medical care or getting it by indirectly increasing the costs of those of us who do get it, there should be.  Even Mitt Romney (the unwitting father of Obamacare), was recently praising the Israeli heathcare system as being cost effective—apparently unaware that it achieves those results through government controlled universal coverage. If there’s a workable alternative solution, someone should put it on the table.  Otherwise

There’s a middle class tax hike, she says.  No, there isn’t. Taxes are at historic lows.  That is, unless you count the Obamacare individual mandate as a tax increase, in which case they are still at historic lows.  But viewing the mandate as a tax increase is a spurious argument that also requires you to acknowledge the effective tax cut the rest of get for not having to pay for the care of those without insurance through our insurance rates, paycheck deductions, and co-pays.

Obama promised transparency! Yes, he did. And the record so far is abysmal by pretty much any measure. Transparency seems to decrease year after year regardless of who’s in office.  This may be a result of the 24×7 instant news culture we live in.  Be that as it may, this is still our government and we have a right to know what’s going on in there.

There are loads of lobbyists in the Administration. Yes, there are, and Obama promised there wouldn’t be.  This is more than a little disappointing. It may be the reality of modern government. It may be that other administrations have done much the same thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a fundamental campaign promise on which Obama has failed badly.

African American suffer the highest unemployment rates.  Well, yes. But historically that’s always been true. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but it’s hardly a remarkable thing.

Internationally we’ve never been more hated. This is simply pants-on-fire false.

But I thought the Muslim world would follow our lead to democracy? Well, yes and no. The Arab Spring has certainly been a profound and recent movement toward democracy in much of the Muslim world. However, in many cases it has resulted in the democratic election of parties and leaders that are not so very friendly toward the USA. The unfortunate reality of letting people choose is that you may not like their choices.  Nonetheless, to say they followed our path is a little ludicrous. Further, Obama didn’t promise to bring democracy to the world. That was G.W. Bush.

Instead, we’re following Europe’s lead into debt.  Yes and no, but mostly no. First, we aren’t following Europe. We aren’t racking up debt because they are or because we view them as some sort of economic mentor. Second, not all of Europe is debt ridden. Greece, Italy, and Spain are at particular risk. This crises was created because of the European Economic Union, which joins all the countries’ currencies without linking their economies. This is not the situation in the USA. we are not going the way of Europe. We may still get sucked down by them, but that’s not a function of debt, just a reality of global economies.  Yes, the debt in the US is unsustainable. However, current debt levels are not a result of runaway spending. Spending increases are growing slower than at any time since the 50s. Instead, what we have is an unprecedented loss of revenue as a result of tax cuts, high unemployment, and a sluggish economy. Further, the US government is currently considered the most stable financial bet on the planet. At present, the Treasury is able to sell debt at negative yields. That means people are paying the US government to keep their money safe. This is beyond free money.  Yes, we can’t rack up debt forever. When the economy recovers, we absolutely need to pay it down rather than giving ourselves tax cuts like we did in 2001. But there is no evidence that debt is an emergent risk to our economy.

I recognize this has been long, and I’m flattered if you muddled through to the end. If you have any energy left, I strongly encourage you to click through and read the reference material, or dig up your own. But please, dig up facts and not emotional appeals and sound bites. The video is a cute concept, but it is a message largely without substance.


The Angry Mob Is Rising

Angry Mob Fun RunAs the 2012 election approaches, all the old anti-Obama crap is recirculating.  The message is unchanged. He’s the most dangerous man in America. He’s trying to destroy us. He’s Marxist. He’s Muslim. He hangs with terrorists.  He was born on Neptune. He wears magic underwear. (Oh wait, that last one was Romney. Sorry)  But you get the point.

I was recently the recipient of one such email screed, and decided to take on the issue, as I’m wont to do from time to time.  Yes, I’m sure I was just tilting at windmills, but the email chain was widely circulated, and I’m making that a little wider by publishing it here.  Who knows, maybe someone reading it will at least reexamine their position before picking up their pitchfork. If so, it’s worth it. The complete chain is included below.

The original email:

EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND PAY ATTENTION TO THIS, and pass it forward.

HOW DO WE GET EVERY AMERICAN TO UNDERSTAND AND VOTE TO CURE THIS BLIGHT?

Subject: Wake up!
WHEN – he refused to disclose who donated money to his election campaign, as other candidates had done, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he received endorsements from people like Louis Farrakhan, Muramar Kaddafi and Hugo Chavez, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – it was pointed out that he was a total newcomer and had absolutely no experience at anything except community organizing, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he chose friends and acquaintances such as Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn who were revolutionary radicals, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – his voting record in the Illinois Senate and in the U.S. Senate came into question, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he refused to wear a flag lapel pin and did so only after a public outcry, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – people started treating him as a Messiah and children in schools were taught to sing his praises, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he stood with his hands over his groin area for the playing of the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he surrounded himself in the White House with advisors who were pro-gun control, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual marriage and wanting to curtail freedom of speech to silence the opposition, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he said he favors sex education in kindergarten, including homosexual indoctrination, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – his personal background was either scrubbed or hidden and nothing could be found about him, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – the place of his birth was called into question, and he refused to produce a birth certificate, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he had an association in Chicago with Tony Rezco – a man of questionable character and who is now in prison and had helped Obama to a sweet deal on the purchase of his home – people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – it became known that George Soros, a multi-billionaire Marxist, spent a ton of money to get him elected, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he started appointing White House Czars that were radicals, revolutionaries, and even avowed Marxist /Communists, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he stood before the Nation and told us that his intentions were to “fundamentally transform this Nation” into something else, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – it became known that he had trained ACORN workers in Chicago and served as an attorney for ACORN, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed cabinet members and several advisors who were tax cheats and socialists, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed a Science Czar, John Holdren, who believes in forced abortions, mass sterilizations and seizing babies from teen mothers, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed Cass Sunstein as Regulatory Czar who believes in “Explicit Consent,” harvesting human organs without family consent and allowing animals to be represented in court, while banning all hunting, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed Kevin Jennings, a homosexual and organizer of a group called Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network as Safe School Czar and it became known that he had a history of bad advice to teenagers, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed Mark Lloyd as Diversity Czar who believes in curtailing free speech, taking from one and giving to another to spread the wealth, who supports Hugo Chavez, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – Valerie Jarrett, an avowed Socialist, was selected as Obama’s Senior White House Advisor, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – Anita Dunn, White House Communications Director, said Mao Tse Tung was her favorite philosopher and the person she turned to most for inspiration, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed Carol Browner, a well known socialist as Global Warming Czar working on Cap and Trade as the nation’s largest tax, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he appointed Van Jones, an ex-con and avowed Communist as Green Energy Czar, who since had to resign when this was made known, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – Tom Daschle, Obama’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary could not be confirmed because he was a tax cheat, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – as President of the United States , he bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he traveled around the world criticizing America and never once talking of her greatness, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – his actions concerning the Middle East seemed to support the Palestinians over Israel , our long time ally, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he took American tax dollars to resettle thousands of Palestinians from Gaza to the United States , people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he upset the Europeans by removing plans for a missile defense system against the Russians, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he played politics in Afghanistan by not sending troops early-on when the Field Commanders said they were necessary to win, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he started spending us into a debt that was so big we could not pay it off, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he took a huge spending bill under the guise of stimulus and used it to pay off organizations, unions, and individuals that got him elected, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he took over insurance companies, car companies, banks, etc., people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he took away student loans from the banks and put it through the government, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he designed plans to take over the health care system and put it under government control, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he claimed he was a Christian during the election and tapes were later made public that showed Obama speaking to a Muslim group and ‘stating’ that he was raised a Muslim, was educated as a Muslim, and is still a Muslim, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he set into motion a plan to take over the control of all energy in the United States through Cap and Trade, people said it didn’t matter.

WHEN – he finally completed his transformation of America into a Socialist State , people woke up— but it was too late.

Add these up one by one and you get a phenomenal score that points to the fact that Barrack Hussein Obama is determined to turn America into a Marxist-Socialist society.   All of the items in the preceding paragraphs have been put into place. All can be documented very easily. Before you disavow this do an Internet search. The last paragraph alone is not yet cast in stone. You and I will write that paragraph.
Will it read as above or will it be a more happy ending for most of America ?

Don’t just belittle the opposition. Search for the truth. We all need to pull together or watch the demise of a free democratic
society. Pray for Americans to seek the truth and take action for it will keep us FREE. Our biggest enemy is not China , Russia , North Korea or Iran . Our biggest enemy is a contingent of politicians in Washington , DC . The government will not help, so we need to do it ourselves.

Question….will you delete this, or pass it on to others who don’t know about Obama’s actions and plans for the USA , so that they may know how to vote in November, 2012 and the ensuing years?

It’s your decision. I believe it does matter. How about you?

WHEN – November 2012 comes, it will matter who you vote for!

I replied:

This is America.  It is a country where everyone has a right to ignorance, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, paranoia, and all manner of conspiratorial delusion.  The author of this gem is taking full advantage of those rights.

When the things listed here are true, you should be worried.  But you should be more worried that there are people out there making decisions based on a belief that bunk like this is true.  And unlike the crap below, that is happening now.

There are ample reasons to vote against Obama based on a disagreement with his policies and positions.  However, the points below reflect only ad hominem attacks.  They disparage the people. They take aim at the integrity and character of Obama and others, largely through innuendo and speculation.  Ideally, most people outgrow this sort of behavior in middle school.  But this is not an ideal world.

The only valid point the author makes in this whole diatribe is, “Don’t just belittle the opposition. Search for the truth.”  Do that. Just be careful not to mistake the loudest and angriest voices for those speaking truth.  Sometimes truth is just a tad more subtle than that.

Which generated this response:

I was so hoping to get a response like the last one in which you took the time to go through point by point and put it in perspective. I’m disappointed you didn’t do that this time, but did just what most Liberals do when they listen to the main stream media and can’t disprove the truth. They label those that expose the truth as racist, ignorant, paranoid etc. If, as you say, this diatribe is bunk please show me where. You might want to “search out the truth” for yourself so you can do that.
I would also like your opinion on just how Obama has made America any better since he has been in office. Thanks!
Looking forward to hearing from you.

To which I replied:

If you want me to address your issues seriously, then you need to send me serious issues.  These were not.  This was the equivalent of the old bully’s chide, “Your mother wears Army boots.” And then having the bully demand you prove it’s not true.

It’s been six years since Obama hit the national stage.  The GOP has had control of the house for the last two, during which their explicit self-stated mission was to bring Obama down.  If any of these charges were more substantive than character smears, do you seriously think there would not have been Congressional hearings to expose all this.  Obama is a Muslim Marxist Kenyan?  Are we still seriously arguing these things?

If someone asserts the Earth is flat, the sky is green, and gravity makes things fall up, I could certainly provide research, data, and demonstrations those contentions were untrue.  But I wouldn’t.  It’s not worth my time.  Anyone who holds true such readily demonstrable falsehoods is not looking for truth.  They are looking for confirmation, either that they are right or that there is a conspiracy to keep the truth hidden.  Nothing I might say or do is going to change that.

There is an old adage that you should never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Has Obama made the country any better?  Ask the 16 million people who now have medical care.  Ask the millions of unemployed who have continued to receive benefits so they can keep their homes and feed their families. Ask the employees of GM who still have jobs and are working for a thriving company. Ask the workers who have enjoyed additional thousands in their paychecks because of tax cuts.  Ask the 1%ers who have garnered 88% of the income growth since 2009.  Ask the Wall Street bankers who didn’t go to jail for tanking the economy.  Ask the families of soldiers home from Iraq. Ask Mommar Quadaffi or Osama bin Laden.

Does any of that make this a better country?  Better for whom?  And compared to what?  That is question you must answer for yourself.

This generated yet another response:

I am truly amazed that you get to determine what questions you decide are serious enough to answer or not. The truth is all those points made regarding the President are the truth. I will grant you some of the points by themselves seem unimporant. However when you put them all together, you can get an idea of just who Obama thinks he is and why he thinks he can stomp all over the Constitution to get his policies put into effect. You say you can’t do anything about any conspiracy to keep the truth hidden. I disagree. You could start by seriously checking out sources other than the main stream media for your information. Our freedom and our rights are slowly and oh so cleverly being stolen out from under us and it is people like you who seem to be so blinded to the the truth of what is happening to our country that they are getting away with it. You have no idea of the evil that is permeating this land.
Just a couple of more things, Tim and then I think we should agree to disagree.
No one seems to be able to answer just why Obama didn’t pass the things he wanted to when he had control of both the House and the Senate. Any ideas? (I am being very serious).
Your answer as to how Obama has made America better on the surface looks ok. My question is at what cost? Obama has put us more in debt than any other president combined. The health care billed was passed even though 60% of the people didn’t want it. It was passed unread by anyone (even the President.) It was passed after meetings being held behind closed doors where who knows what happened. (so much for the promised transparency), and by bribing congressmen and senators for their votes, (both Republicans and Democrats.) Now that we know what is in it (some parts considered unconstitutional) more of our rights are threatened, and is putting us further into debt.
Who knows what the effect of cutting benefits from Seniors to pay for this will be. There are enough sources out there to check on that.
You say millions of unemployed are receiving benefits so they can keep their homes and feed their children and that is wonderful for them. My question is what is being done for the millions who have lost their homes with no hope of getting them back? What plans are in the works for putting the millions of unemployed back to work? Obama had the chance to do something about it with the Keystone pipeline construction, but chose to appease the environmental wackos for their votes in the upcoming election. Because of the stimulus money bailouts, the Federal Government now controls the auto industry, the banking industry and the Green Energy businesses that he supported are now going bankrupt. Can you guess who is being paid back first? It is not the American taxpayers.
I could go on, but you get the idea, Tim. I’m not saying all of this is all Obama’s fault. It is my opinion the whole Governmental system is corrupt, and if we (Republicans, Democrats, Independents, the Tea Party, Christians, Jews, Atheists,) in short, Americans just stand by and let it happen, we deserve what we get. Everyone should be checking both sides of the issues and speaking up to questionable issues from both sides that, if passed, could change life as we know it.
Serious? You bet it is!!!!

Which finally resulted in this:

You are apparently easily amazed. I’m pretty sure I’d get fairly wide agreement that I absolutely get to decide what questions are important enough for me to spend my time addressing.  Further, you then go on to completely justify why I chose correctly to not waste my time.  You already believe you know the truth, and any notion that you’re seeking dialog, answers, and/or explanations is disingenuous at best.

And yes, we will clearly continue to disagree, but maybe not about quite what you think we disagree about.

You see malice, conspiracy, and evil.  I don’t..  Obama is not evil or part of an evil plot, nor is he some sort of political Messiah. He’s a guy, doing a very tough job, in an environment pretty much designed to keep him from getting anything done.  (So is every President for that matter.)  It wasn’t that many years ago that even disagreeing with a wartime President was viewed as treasonous–ironically, by the same folks who now position Obama as an evil incarnate bent on the destruction of America.  Doesn’t that make you wonder just a little about the cognitive dissonance of folks you’re following?  Doesn’t it make you suspect that maybe they are really angling for something a little different than what’s claimed on the surface?

Where we disagree is that you believe you are privy to some hidden truth, and it’s your mission to wake others up. While I believe you are being manipulated by a political machine that masquerades as a persecuted grassroots movement, and that machine is using you to further its own ends, not to help you and those like you.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was formed in New York in 1937. Its findings are considered seminal in the field and are still widely quoted in propaganda texts.   The IPA outlined 7 critical techniques for effective propaganda.  If you want to get a group of people fired up and headed off in the direction of your choosing, these are the things you need to do.

  • Name calling – Apply emotion-laden labels to individuals who provide a face and a focus for either the idea being pushed, or its opposition.
  • Glittering generalities – We believe in, fight for, live by, or other virtue words about which we have deep-set ideas. Such words include civilization, Christianity, good, proper, right, democracy, patriotism, motherhood, fatherhood, marriage, morality, etc..
  • Transfer – A device by which the message carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect such as “church” or “nation” to an idea we might otherwise reject.
  • Testimonial – ‘Bill O’Reilly said,’ ‘The Governor said’, ‘My doctor said,’ ‘Our minister said’; basically lending the weight of others you respect to the argument. Can also be used in reverse by lending the weight of those you despise (e.g. Bill Ayers, Hugo Chavez) to tear down the opposition.
  • Plain folks – Binding your idea to children, small town America, hockey moms, real Americans, etc. Can also be used in reverse by labeling the opposition as not plain folks (e.g. elites, intellectuals)
  • Card stacking – Employing all the arts of deception to win support for an idea. Stacking the cards against the truth through distortion, careful omission, half-truths, and false testimony, raising new issues to divert attention from a failing argument.
  • Bandwagon – Hire a hall, use radio/TV stations, fill a stadium, march a lot of people in a parade. Employ symbols, colors, music, movement, all the dramatic arts. Get people to write emails and blog, and/or to contribute to the cause. Make them feel part of a group that’s connected to the message.

Does this sound familiar?  Granted, politicians have employed these techniques to varying degrees since the dawn of time, but this basically is the Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News playbook.  They are unmitigated masters of this.

I’m certain you don’t think you’re being played. One rarely does while they are in the midst of it.  But if you harbor a shred of true inquisitiveness, re-read the initial email you sent.  The one you assert is all true.  Can you see that it employs these techniques?  Read whatever it is you read as your source of daily information, and weigh it against these techniques.  Are you getting news or propaganda?

Granted, just because something is propaganda doesn’t mean it’s false.  But it does pretty much mean that the author is is up to something.  Something that can’t be sold on the facts and logical reasoning alone.  Otherwise, it’s a lot of work to go through to make a point that shouldn’t get much disagreement.

My original point was essentially that the email you sent was propaganda. It contained no plan, no useful policy ideas, no arguments to weigh or counter.  It was fear-mongering.  It was a storm the castle pitch.  That can’t be usefully countered by a point by point analysis.  It could be offset by counter-propaganda, but I will not stoop to that.  As a people, I’d like us to be more than pawns in a political marketing tug-of-war.

I’m not going to argue that the world is all sunshine and roses.  It’s not.  We absolutely have problems.  But they are not the making of any one man or one event, nor will one man or one event be their undoing.  Being angry, afraid, and contemptuous is understandable.  But it’s not helpful.  We are where we are. The question remains, how do we move forward and up?  Pitchforks and torches rarely foment progress.


There’s no Tea in Sanity

Tea-Party-MeetingBrad Plumer writes that the GOP party-wide rush to denounce climate change is being driven by a small minority of fervent Tea Party types.  While it’s an interesting read in its own right, there’s a larger subtext I find downright frightening.  There’s no reason to suppose these findings are limited to their climate fantasies.

Two points struck me:

Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.”

 

Tea Partiers are also by far the most confident in their beliefs — more likely to say they are “very well informed” and that they “do not need any more information about global warming.” Note that this dovetails with earlier research finding that when you give those dismissive of global warming more information, it only serves to harden their doubts.

Self-identified Tea Party types make up just 12 percent of the population.  But that’s apparently enough to give them and their warped reality sway over public opinion and policy.  And there’s apparently little the rest of us can do to induce any sanity on them either.  The more we dump rational arguments and data on them, the further convinced they are about their delusions.

Are we doomed to the anti-science Christian theocracy they envision?  A world where our money is tied to gold, the government is apathetic to your plight, education is relegated to kitchen tables and churches, corporations are free to pollute their way to profits, unions don’t exist, and medical care will only be available to those with enough chickens to trade for it?

I’m certainly not expecting the GOP debate tonight to dissuade my fears.


If the economy tanks, will Conservatives repent?

Debt Ceiling Implications Poll
The scariest debt-ceiling poll results, ever

The debt ceiling talks appear to have stalled and the August 2nd date of economic doom draws neigh.  Wall Street bankers, The Fed, the Treasury Department, and most every economist on the planet believe that hitting the debt ceiling will have dire consequences, and that actually defaulting on the debt would be even worse.  Estimates vary in terms of the degree of catastrophe, but virtually no one in a position to be considered an expert on macroeconomics thinks that hitting the ceiling will be no big deal.

In that light, the poll results depicted here are truly frightening.  53% of Republicans, 43% of Independents, and even over a quarter of Democrats believe hitting the ceiling won’t cause a crisis.  Further, somewhere around 60 Congressmen have vowed to vote against any debt ceiling increase, no matter the deal.  Clearly they aren’t worried either.

Chauncey DeVega, over at AlterNet, thinks the reason is that evangelicals have a strong hold on the GOP, and that the fervently faithful have a mindset that ignores numbers that don’t agree with their ideology.  He posits that the Tea Party and other far right conservative groups are running on faith rather than fact.  While there may be some truth to that, it doesn’t explain the plurality of Independents or the chunk of Democrats beholden to the notion that banging into the debt ceiling is a non-event.

I personally think there’s also an element here of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.  Political issues have become so hyperbolic in the media that virtually every issue is positioned as a looming Armageddon of one sort or another.  Unless you’re following the minutiae of the debates, you’re bound to get pretty numb to all the doomsaying.

However, presumably our elected officials are above simply blowing in the media wind.  They have access to data and discussions those of us in the cheap seats do not.   They are in the position to be able to discern hyperbole from actual danger.  Yet this would not prevent them from being blinded to facts by faith.

GOP legislators faith-blindness goes beyond the debt ceiling.  Similar faith-trumps-data rationale fuels denial of global warming, belief that tax cuts don’t have to be paid for, belief that progressive tax codes constitute class warfare and destroy jobs, belief that trickle down economics is always the answer, and government regulation is always evil.

The problem is that proving that tax cuts actually lower revenue, or that CO2 contributes to global warming, requires many years of data.  And even then,the results are subject to interpretation and are not readily understandable by the average Joe.

Should we hit it, the debt ceiling presents an interesting test case.  If the experts are right, the impact will be felt in the very short term.  It will be widespread, affecting almost everyone, everywhere.  And the impact will be felt for awhile.  It will be virtually impossible to deny that such an impact was directly attributable to ignoring the debt ceiling.  The Conservatives who claimed it would be no big deal will be demonstrably and painfully proved wrong beyond any reasonable doubt.

Should that come to pass, the question is, will that shake the faith of Conservative politicians and supporters in their other sacred tenets?  Might they be willing to entertain the reality of global warming given the catastrophic impact of their blind faith in the debt ceiling non-crisis?  Or will this be swept under the rug much like the predicted May 21st end of the world predictions.  That was also proved wrong, but the faithful seem to somehow have accepted that failure with no apparent impact on their other beliefs.  Maybe a sufficiently strong faith is even able to overcome incontrovertible reality.

Either way, if the economy tanks, it should certainly cause the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” crowd to pay attention.  Maybe that bodes well for our collective political future if we can at least get the majority of the voters to begin operating from data-based rather than faith-based policies.  Although, it would be a hellish way to learn a lesson.