Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
German Lopez makes a strong case at Vox.com. It is really unclear why we don’t try experimenting with wholesale legalization, regulation, taxation, and treatment.
America’s war on drugs has, by several measures, failed to live up to its goals.
Over the past couple of decades, illicit drug use has not decreased in a significant way. At the same time, the war on drugs has fallen short of its key economic goal: to make drugs more expensive, and therefore make them less accessible to drug users.
Even the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to agree with this point. In a release detailing the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, wrote, “This Strategy … rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”
The White House’s strategy, to be sure, doesn’t completely do away with incarceration and law enforcement in the fight against drugs, but the statement acknowledges that the last 40 years of the war on drugs have not produced the desired results.
Given the failures of the war on drugs and the spread of marijuana legalization, many drug policy experts are now thinking about what’s next. What should happen with other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, if the war on drugs isn’t working? Should illicit drugs even be considered illegal in the first place?
I reached out to three drug policy experts for answers. They agreed that the criminalization of drugs has clearly failed, but where drug policy should go next remains a matter of debate.
There’s one point of agreement: the war on drugs is a failure
No matter their academic background or political leanings, there seems to be a consensus among many drug policy experts that the criminalization of drugs hasn’t worked. This is the one point of agreement among Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert at UCLA; Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the libertarian Cato Institute; and Isaac Campos, a drug historian at the University of Cincinnati.
The war on drugs goes after drug producers and dealers in an attempt to cut drugs at the source — before they reach the user. The idea is to cut down the supply, so drugs are more expensive and, therefore, less affordable and accessible for a drug user. [And, OTOH, with more money at stake and to be made, you have created a lucrative opportunity for miscreants who don't shirk from breaking the law. It seems counter-productive---and, in fact, it is, as the article demonstrates. - LG]
One way to check whether this strategy has succeeded is by looking at whether the price of drugs has gone up during prohibition. According to the most recent report from the White House’s ONDCP, that’s not the case. The prices of cocaine, crack, and heroin plummeted then stabilized in the past few decades, and meth’s price has remained largely stable since the 1980s. . .
I think Cuomo has shown his true colors, and they are unattractive in the extreme. Consider this report from Justin Elliott in ProPublica:
In early 2007, when he was New York State attorney general, Andrew Cuomo brought on a longtime confidant as a consultant on mortgage industry investigations, a move that has gone undisclosed until now.
The friend was Howard Glaser and he had another job at the same time: consultant and lobbyist for the very industry Cuomo was investigating.
Glaser, who went on to become a top state official in Cuomo’s gubernatorial administration, was operating a lucrative consulting firm, the Glaser Group, with a host of mortgage industry clients.
Later that year, Glaser provided insights on Cuomo’s investigations to industry players on a conference call hosted by an investment bank.
Cuomo’s office ended up giving immunity to one of Glaser’s clients a year into his term as attorney general.
In the end, experts say, the mortgage investigations Cuomo touted as “wide-ranging” came to little, even as he held one of the country’s most powerful prosecutorial positions through the financial crisis and its aftermath.
Glaser’s role in the attorney general’s investigations was disclosed to ProPublica in response to a public records request. The extent of his work is unclear, as is how long it lasted. Glaser told ProPublica the scope of the work was limited. While it was a formal arrangement, it was unpaid.
Cuomo’s office referred questions to Steven Cohen, who was chief of staff when Cuomo was attorney general. “There is no doubt Glaser provided advice to the governor when he was attorney general,” said Cohen. “The role he served was as a general consultant on the industry overall. He did not provide advice on specific investigations.”
Glaser also said that, despite the investment bank conference call, he never advised clients on Cuomo investigations.
One person who worked in the mortgage industry during that time said Glaser had a reputation as having Cuomo’s ear.
“If you needed to get to Cuomo, Glaser was the guy to go to,” the person said.
Before becoming a lobbyist for the mortgage industry, Glaser worked in the late 1990s under Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he was known as Cuomo’s “right-hand man” and “hammer.”
Glaser declined to release a list of his clients from the period he worked for the attorney general. . .
This is similar to Obama’s picking a telecommunications industry lobbyist to head the FCC or a Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC: finding foxes to guard chicken coops. It shows where Cuomo’s (and Obama’s) true loyalties lie.
Roberto Savio explains at the Inter Press Service News Agency:
Addressing this column to the younger generations, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, offers ten explanations of how the current mess in which the world finds itself came about.
ROME, Jul 11 2014 (IPS) – While the Third World War has not been formally declared, conflicts throughout the world are reaching levels unseen since 1944.
Of course, for the large majority of people throughout the world, news about these conflicts is just part of our daily news, but another share of our daily news is about the mess in our countries.
This is so complex and confusing that many people have given up the effort to attempt any form of deep understanding, so I thought it would be useful to offer ten explanations of how we succeeded in creating this mess.
1) The world, as it now exists, was largely shaped by the colonial powers, which divided the world among themselves, carving out states without any consideration for existing ethnic, religious or cultural realities. This was especially true of Africa and the Arab world, where the concept of state was imposed on systems of tribes and clans.
Just to give a few examples, none of the present-day Arab countries existed prior to colonialism. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Gulf Countries (including Saudi Arabia) were all parts of the Ottoman Empire. When this disappeared with the First World War (like the Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian empires), the winners – Britain and France – sat down at a table and drafted the boundaries of countries to be run by them, as they had done before with Africa. So, never look at those countries as equivalent to countries with a history of national identity.
2) After the end of the colonial era, it was inevitable that to keep these artificial countries alive, and avoid their disintegration, strongmen would be needed to cover the void left by the colonial powers. The rules of democracy were used only to reach power, with very few exceptions. The Arab Spring did indeed get rid of dictators and autocrats, just to replace them with chaos and warring factions (as in Libya) or with a new autocrat, as in Egypt.
The case of Yugoslavia is instructive. After the Second World War, Marshal Tito dismantled the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and created the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But we all know that Yugoslavia did not survive the death of its strongman.
The lesson is that without creating a really participatory and unifying process of citizens, with a strong civil society, local identities will always play the most decisive role. So it will take some before many of the new countries will be considered real countries devoid of internal conflicts.
3) Since the Second World War, the meddling of the colonial and super powers in the process of consolidation of new countries has been a very good example of man-made disaster.
Take the case of Iraq. When the United States took over administration of the country in 2003 after its invasion, General Jay Garner was appointed and lasted just a month, because he was considered too open to local views.
Garner was replaced by a diplomat, Jan Bremmer, who took up his post after a two-hour briefing by the then Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice. Bremmer immediately proceeded to dissolve the army (creating 250,000 unemployed) and firing anyone in the administration who was a member of the Ba’ath party, the party of Saddam Hussein. This destabilised the country, and today’s mess is a direct result of this decision.
The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whom Washington is trying to remove as the cause of polarisation between Shiites and Sunnis, was the preferred American candidate. So was the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who is now virulently anti-American. This is a tradition that goes back to the first U.S. intervention in Vietnam, where Washington put in place Ngo Dihn Dien, who turned against its views, until he was assassinated.
There is no space here to give example of similar mistakes (albeit less important) by other Western powers. The point is that all leaders installed from outside do not last long and bring instability.
4) . . .
Brian Fung reports in the Washington Post:
Last week, with just a couple of days until a hard July 4 deadline, Mayday PAC still had to raise a whopping $2.5 million. It was an ambitious target. When I spoke to Harvard law scholar Lawrence Lessig about his chances then, he seemed grimly optimistic in the way a battlefield commander might be about taking a particularly well-defended hill: They’d get there.
Turns out, the super PAC that’s trying to end the influence of money in politics had reinforcements in waiting. It broke past its $5 million goal over the holiday weekend with about $300,000 to spare. With more than 50,000 contributors, the average donation works out to about $140. No matter what side you’re on when it comes to campaign finance, this was a triumph of grassroots organizing, with small donations leading the way. . .
Full disclosure: I contributed, and more than the mean.
From later in the article:
With the $5 million comes a $5 million match from high-profile investors. Together with another $2 million raised earlier this year, Mayday PAC will have more than $12 million in its pocket to get campaign finance reformers elected to Congress.
“The pundits say ‘America doesn’t care about this issue,’” wrote Lessig in a note to supporters. “This is America caring.”
As I wrote last week, this is where Mayday PAC’s real work begins. It needs to figure out how to spend that money effectively. It needs to pick the right races to make that money competitive.
Mayday PAC might need to be smarter and faster than the average super PAC, because depending on the contest, it may be drawing people’s attention to campaign money for the first time. Unlike other issues that have already been politicized — taxes, or health care, say — Mayday’s task is two-fold. First it has to convince people that campaign finance is an issue worth voting on at all. Then it has to persuade people to vote its way. If Mayday’s selected a race in which neither candidate has taken a firm position on campaign finance reform, getting it onto people’s radar will be that much harder. This is where the heat map above may prove useful as a way to identify likely races — and an active base of existing supporters and potential volunteers.
Install the app, hover your mouse over the name of any member of Congress—the example used is John Boehner—and you see:
Very cool. AND it obviates the need for members of Congress to wear sponsor patches on their suits, as race-car drivers do. Win-win, eh? The Washington Post story is here. The app itself is here. (It’s free.) The guy who wrote the app is 16. Years. Old.
Here’s the explanation:
Brian Fung has a very interesting article in the Washinton Post, and I did make a pledge to Mayday PAC:
Whatever your politics, chances are you’re among the vast majority of Americans who believe there’s too much money in the whole business. With the Supreme Court knocking down one campaign finance barrier after another, money in politics has only grown more central to U.S. culture — not less. Even as the cycle of spending and giving accelerates, it’s not clear what, if anything, ordinary voters can do about it.
Except, perhaps, to fight money with money.
Lawrence Lessig is the Harvard scholar who’s better known for his work on intellectual property and co-founding Creative Commons, the licensing framework that allowed me to use the photo at the top of this post. But going to Congress to ask for a more progressive copyright regime was a fool’s errand, he discovered, because he found that everyone on the Hill had been captured by large, wealthy interests who had a stake in keeping things the way they were. So lately, Lessig has taken to running a campaign of his own: launching a super PAC that would dismantle the modern-day campaign finance system.
Lessig wants to break the resignation he’s seeing in Americans. And he wants to do it now. On Friday, the three-month-old Mayday PAC will hit a key deadline; if Lessig and his fellow activists successfully raise $5 million, Kickstarter-style, the super PAC will get a massive match, putting it within reach of its $12 million goal and making Mayday PAC competitive in five House races around the country.
That’s the idea, at any rate. If Mayday PAC fails to hit its target — the group still must raise nearly $2.5 million in the next two days — the money gets returned to the crowdfunders and basically nothing happens. To help push it over the top, the Internet’s grassroots activism machine is already churning in high gear: In recent weeks, Mayday PAC has been promoting itself as the Internet’s superPAC, gaining endorsements from prominent tech geeks like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Silicon Valley investors like Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. On Wednesday, the group announced it would even begin taking donations in bitcoins.
Why would anyone support a super PAC whose sole purpose is to reduce the role of money in politics, anyway?
The case for Mayday PAC — and what Lessig hopes will make it compelling both to liberals and conservatives — is that . . .
Fung also points out a win for transparency in campaign finance—a small reform that was fought viciously by conservative donors.
Things get weird when so many of the electorate skip voting. The article at the link begins:
At 8 a.m. on February 4, 2013, a signal crackled to life from the WXME radio tower in Aroostook County, about a mile and a half from the Canadian border. The broadcast went out locally on the AM band as well as the station’s online stream. The signal was picked up from the Internet and rebroadcast through a network of low-power FM repeaters maintained by volunteers willing to skirt the edges of FCC regulations in towns across Maine. Listeners tuning in that morning were greeted first with a medley of patriotic and religious songs and then by the voices of Jack McCarthy and Steve Martin, hosts of the Aroostook Watchmen radio show.
McCarthy and Martin are two men with a cause. They believe they have access to truths that few others know or want to hear, primarily that the American government is illegitimate and that the shadowy cabal of elites who control it are preparing for a war on the American people. The 9/11 attacks, the Boston bombing, most mass shootings, and a wide range of other events generally attributed to terrorists and criminals are actually false-flag operations perpetrated by the American government against its own people as part of a ramp-up to a final reckoning, according to the hosts. The Watchmen, who consider themselves “Sovereign Citizens” outside government control, feel it’s their responsibility to reveal these conspiracies and to help wrest back control of the country from the usurpers. Their program is broadcast six days a week.
This particular Monday morning, the Watchmen discussed new evidence that they said proved the Sandy Hook school shooting was a false-flag operation made possible through government mind control. They warned that Jewish Senators Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Lieberman were attempting to disarm the patriots of America so that they could begin their “holocaust against America’s Christian population.” They also had something more locally relevant to talk about: McCarthy’s hour-and-a-half meeting, two days earlier, with Maine Governor Paul LePage.
The meeting with the governor had taken place two days after McCarthy and a group of fellow conspiracy theorists calling themselves the Constitutional Coalition held a press conference at the State House. They stood behind a podium in the Hall of Flags (just outside LePage’s suite of offices) and announced that the president of the Maine Senate, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, and Governor LePage had all violated their oaths and should be removed from office. The group explained that they had submitted a set of “remonstrances” to all three government officials on January 14 accusing them of acting unlawfully and had received no reply. Under their unique interpretation of the Maine Constitution, this meant that all three politicians must surrender their elected offices. The men were there to announce their intention to enforce that judgment.
One of the participants, Constitutional Coalition leader Wayne Leach, made reference to the American Revolution and declared that “hopefully this remonstrance, which uses words, will be sufficient. The weapons, I hope, will not be used.” . . .
Bryan Schatz has an intriguing article in Pacific Standard:
Sara Robinson of Seattle, Washington, is chatty, affable, and obviously liberal. For years the former writer for AlterNet has been a member of a tight-knit community of activists who write and organize around progressive causes. Or at least she was a member, until her “tribe,” as she calls it, effectively banished her in the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. “I was forced out,” she says.
Robinson, a registered Democrat since the Reagan era, is also a life-long gun owner. And almost as soon as news of the massacre broke, her relationship with her left-leaning circle began to fall apart over the issue of firearms.
As she and her peers discussed the tragedy—with Robinson speaking as a reform-minded but unapologetic, gun owner—email correspondence with her peers quickly devolved. Friends told her they would never allow their children into her home knowing guns were in the house—no matter how responsibly they were stored. Within weeks, she was pushed out of an online list of “tightly bonded peers” she had co-founded herself. “People who had once valued me as a person capable of great balance and nuance were suddenly characterizing me as some kind of pistol-packin’ Bonnie Parker. I kept saying, ‘Wait a minute. This is me we’re talking about here,’” she recalls, “‘don’t you know me better than that?’ It was like losing family, or your church.”
For a long time, being both liberal and a gun owner didn’t seem like a big deal. “Guns were certainly an issue,” Robinson says, “but owning firearms wasn’t enough to get you tossed out of the movement.” After Sandy Hook, though, that changed “with a speed that was truly breathtaking.”
With each new shooting in America—the couple who killed two police officers and a civilian yesterday in Las Vegas; Elliot Rodger’s rampage last month in Isla Vista, California; and last week’s violence at Seattle Pacific University among the most recent—the issue of gun control surges to the forefront of national debate. Anti-gun liberals seethe with frustration that nothing has changed, and gun advocates tighten their ranks. As this dynamic of polarization intensifies, many Americans have found themselves shunted into the no-man’s land between camps. Increasingly, among liberals, owning a gun is a dirty secret. Among gun advocates, being a liberal is much the same.
And yet, according to Gallup, there are some 16 million liberal gun owners—pariahs to some of their progressive peers, and refugees from America’s NRA-dominated gun culture.
Many left-leaning gun owners are finding a home in alternative groups like the Blue Steel Democrats—the official state gun caucuses of the Democratic party—and the Liberal Gun Club, an online forum and meet-up group for people who share an interest in guns and also respect each other’s political beliefs. (Despite the group’s moniker, politics vary widely among members.) It’s a sort of Universalist Church of Gun Owners, where all are welcome.
“I think the uptick in vitriol from the far right has driven people toward us,” says Mark Roberts, the founder of the Liberal Gun Club. “People recognize us as an alternative to the NRA. They’ve felt ostracized by not thinking that Obama is an ‘evil, islamo-fascist who’s going to take their guns.’” At shooting ranges, some of which require NRA membership, liberal gun owners often fear revealing their politics to their fellow shooters—and for good reason. The gun movement has become fierce in enforcing discipline within its ranks. . .
It’s always good to read hopeful news. Tom Jacobs writes in Pacific Standard:
The top news stories have been even more depressing than usual of late, with tribalism—accompanied by active hatred for perceived outsiders—emerging as a driving force everywhere from Middle Eastern battlefields to the halls of Congress. But encouraging new research points to a surprising way around this us.-vs.-them mindset.
It suggests a set of moral beliefs often associated with antagonism toward outsiders can, in fact, temper such aggressive impulses.
Specifically, a research team led by the University of Utah’s Isaac Smith reports a strong allegiance to concepts such as obedience and group loyalty does not necessarily equate with antipathy toward members of other groups.
The issue, the authors write in the journal Psychological Science, is whether one pays lip service to these values, or genuinely incorporates them into one’s identity. People who fall into the latter category generally believe all people—including outsiders—are “deserving of moral regard.”
“This bodes well for the continued effectiveness of moral identity as a countervailing force against other human tendencies that elevate tribal loyalties and concerns above all else,” the researchers write.
Their study is based on two previous bodies of research. The first is the set of basic moral foundations laid out by psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues. Haidt divided mankind’s fundamental moral impulses into those that protect the rights of individuals (such as avoiding harm and ensuring fairness) and those that bind societies together (including obedience and loyalty).
Not surprisingly, people who are more invested in the “binding” moral foundations (which, in a Western context, means social conservatives) have widely been pegged as magnanimous to their own group but largely hostile to outsiders. But Smith suspected that was an oversimplification.
He pointed to a second line of psychological research: “moral identity,” which is the degree to which a person’s sense of self is based in his or her ethical code. . .
Explained in the Washington Post with charts. Some highlights:
- Conservatives dislike Democrats more than liberals dislike Republicans
- Conservatives are more likely to say that the opposition’s policies are a threat to America
- Conservatives surround themselves with people who share their views
- The conservative echo chamber encompasses media too
- Compromise is not a conservative value
The article concludes:
A few weeks ago, Tom Mann wrote the following in The Atlantic:
Republicans have become a radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition. The evidence of this asymmetry is overwhelming.
With the release of today’s Pew study, that overwhelming evidence becomes even stronger.
It’s worth reading the article. The charts are interesting and the commentary helpful. For example, in the comment on the last chart (“compromise is not a conservative value”), the article notes:
This may be the most telling chart in the Pew report. You’d expect partisans on either end of the ideological spectrum to be less fond of compromise than those in the middle. But as it turns out, compromise is basically a liberal value – 82 percent of consistent liberals prefer politicians who make compromises. Less than a third of consistent conservatives say the same.
It’s important to note that when it comes to the actual practice of compromise, both liberals and conservatives have a hard time grasping what the word actually means. But liberals are much more into the notion of compromise as a political ideal. Conservatives, on the other hands, have a stated preference for candidates who “stick to their positions.”
A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government. You can see this reflected in the Tea Party’s repeated enthusiasm for shutting the entire government down instead of passing pieces of legislation they disagree with. [And that's the same attitude that brought us the Civil War, when the South took up treason as a cause. - LG]
Kevin Drum has a good post how how this conservative cocoon is built and maintained: Fox News. Well worth reading.
I wonder whether we shall see this happening in the US.
Given the great number of entities organized as networks, you’d think that would shape our default view of how things are/can/should be organized. However, the hierarchical entities are so much more present to our minds—corporations, the military, the government as an organization—that networks sometimes lose visibility and priority. Even so, most books on management and working in an organization recognizes the importance of networks within the company that operate across the hierarchy.
And political parties are strong examples of networks, though of course there is always some pressure to push them into a hierarchical structure. I suppose we like the structure of a hierarchy because it is much simpler than a network: easier to understand, easier to track, easier to use. Networks seem kind of squishy and free-form and dynamic: dynamic systems rather than steady structures. In a way, it is like great books. (I studied the great books program as an undergraduate: the seminal works of literature, philosophy, theater, music, science, mathematics, theology, and so: the canon of Western civilization, more or less, that being the civilization of which I was a member.) Those great books are a simplification of the actual daily reality we encounter. They represent the effort to understand and spell out in simpler terms what the writer learned directly from experience with the world. The world itself is more complex than any of those books.
At any rate, I thought it was an insight worth pondering. Seth Masket writes in Pacific Standard:
For several years, a number of scholars (including me) have been making the case that American political parties are best thought of as loose networks of interest groups, candidates, donors, activists, and others, rather than hierarchies organized under the DNC or RNC. (You can see examples of such studies here, here, here, here, and here.) The way we think of parties is vitally important to how we treat them. If we want to regulate parties or restrict their activities or even ban them, that’s far easier to do if they’re rigid hierarchies than if they’re flexible networks. The latter can adapt to a great many impediments.
In a new paper, Bruce Desmarais, Ray La Raja, and Mike Kowal have shown that not only do these networks exist, but that they exert a powerful influence over elections, making it far easier for candidates tied to the networks to win. These political scientists focus on partisan funding networks, using social network analysis (SNA) tools to detect consistent communities of donors. Examining the thousands of transactions between donors, interest groups, and congressional candidates each cycle, they discover that incumbents receive their support from a set of well-endowed funding constituencies. Non-incumbent challengers, meanwhile, get their support from all sorts of donors. However, those challengers who receive support from the same communities backing incumbents tend to win more often.
Below is a network visualization they used in their study. . .
Read this fascinating article, with many informative maps.
Matt O’Brien has an interesting column in the Washington Post:
Long-term unemployment is a terrifying trap that, even in the best of times, is difficult to escape. And it’s a trap that you can get stuck in for no reason other than bad luck.
Today, there are still almost 3.5 million people who have been out of work for six months or longer and are looking for work. There isn’t a more urgent crisis, and there are three things you should keep in mind about it.
1. As former CEA Chair Alan Krueger found, the long-term unemployed aren’t much different from the short-term unemployed. They’re a little older and more of them are African-Americans, but they’re just about as educated and work in the same industries as everyone else who’s trying to find a job.
2. The long-term unemployed have a hard time getting companies to even look at their job applications, let alone hire them. Rand Ghayad, a labor economist at Northeastern University, has tested this: he sent out thousands of fictitious resumés that were basically identical except for how long they said they’d been unemployed and what field they’d been in before. The results? Employers preferred people without any relevant experience but who’d been unemployed less than six months to people with experience who’d been unemployed longer than that. In other words, how long you’d been out of work trumped all else.
3.There’s never been this much long-term unemployment before, at least not since they started keeping records in 1948. Right now, 35 percent of all unemployed people have been out of work for at least six months. That’s actually down from the all-time high of 48 percent in 2010, but it’s still well above the pre-Great Recession one of 28 percent in 1983.
Long-term unemployment isn’t a story about lazy people choosing to live on the dole instead of getting a job. It’s a story about people who want a job not being able to find one, because there aren’t enough of them—and then falling to the back of the jobs line. That is, it’s a story about macroeconomic bad luck. Think about it this way. We know that companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed. That’s why their ranks have been so slow to come down. But we also know that the long-term unemployed are like the short-term unemployed in every way except for how long they’ve been out of work. So we don’t know why so many more short-term unemployed people are becoming long-term unemployed today than in the past—unless it’s the economy, stupid.
And it is the economy. , ,
Paul Krugman has a good column, as usual, in which he makes an interesting point at the very start:
Last week, House Republicans released a deliberately misleading report on the status of health reform, crudely rigging the numbers to sustain the illusion of failure in the face of unexpected success. Are you shocked?
You aren’t, but you should be. Mainstream politicians didn’t always try to advance their agenda through lies, damned lies and — in this case — bogus statistics. And the fact that this has become standard operating procedure for a major party bodes ill for America’s future.
Of course, when you are actively and explicitly trying to convince young people to go without healthcare insurance in a deliberate effort to sabotage the program, with no concern for the uninsured young people whose lives are upended by unexpected medical expenses, it shows that you are pretty much willing to anything, no matter how dishonorable.
Paul Krugman blogs in the NY Times:
What is it that makes self-proclaimed centrists such easy marks for right-wing con men? Actually, it’s not that much of a mystery: the centrist creed is that the two parties are symmetrically extremist, and this means that there must, as a matter of principle, be Serious, Honest Republicans out there — so such people must be invented if they don’t actually exist. Hence the elevation of Paul Ryan despite clear evidence of his con-artist nature.
And hence, also, the love affair with Chris Christie.
That affair ended up in a breakup over Bridgegate, but the evidence of Christie’s true nature was obvious all along. I wrote two years ago about his fiscal fakery, and in particular the way he tried to silence independent critics of his budget projections via crude, vicious personal attacks.
Now Vox tells us that the critics were in fact completely right, and that Christie’s budget projections were absolutely as unrealistic as they said.
Can we say that someone who tries to browbeat anyone daring to question rosy scenarios is someone who should never, ever be allowed near higher office? And can we also say that there’s something very wrong with pundits who failed to see the obvious about this guy?
Several articles have been published in the wake of studies that show how presenting people with evidence that their view on a topic is wrong will not dissuade them but make them hold even more tightly to their view. Here’s one such article by Ezra Klein.
If the finding holds up—and the evidence so far is strong—then I don’t see what we can do. Since evidence and reason are pretty much useless (or, indeed, worse than useless), we are left with power, force, and violence as the way to win arguments. Indeed, in looking at history, those are how religious debates have been settled (since evidence is immaterial to a faith-based position).
And perhaps it is the case that power, force, and violence are the only way to settle disagreements on matters of fact—a depressing thought. I have the idea that I am open to evidence and rational argument, but I am by nature a loner and those who seem most unable to accept evidence and argument against their positions have, as Klein points out, much of their identity derived from belonging a group: changing their position would exclude them from the group, and group membership is essential to who they are. I don’t belong to groups, so I experience less pressure to conform, which makes it somewhat easier to consider evidence and reasoning.
At any rate, one gets the feeling that it’s hopeless: those who are in error on an issue will stick with their position to the death (thus religious wars), and no amount of contrary evidence or obvious inconsistencies in their position will have any effect beyond making them more certain of their position.
Perhaps Voltaire was right: There’s nowt to do but cultivate our gardens.
UPDATE: I’ve continued to ponder this question, which seems extremely important if we are to retain the gains of the Enlightenment. A few points:
Evidence-based arguments using reason does work in many instances: look, for example, at the success of science and technology.
Logical, reasoned argument based on evidence is a skill, not something innate that we can simply do. That means doing it well requires training and practice. Without training and practice, conclusions may well be based on desires, conformity with a social circle, or other factors irrelevant to the evience and the argument (cf. Klein’s example of Hannity and climate change). Desiring to remain in good graces with one’s social group is irrelevant to reasoned argument from evidence.
Some positions are contradicted by evidence and arrived at by flawed methods (e.g., wanting something to be true because it fits with the beliefs of your church or other social group). While restricting the argument to evidence and reasoning from that may be difficult—particularly for those untrained in reasoning from evidence—that nevertheless is more likely to reach correct answers (i.e., answers in accordance with reality).
It does seem that many people do not reason well and do not understand how to use evidence—and many may place a higher priority remaining in good graces with their social group than arriving at conclusions that match reality. This is indeed a problem: when policy decisions are based on fantasies, even well-intentioned fantasies, the results are not good.
The root cause is that we are social animals, so social needs have high priority. But that does not mean that reasoned argument from evidence is wrong or something we should abandon. And I think, in a proper education, students are taught to aspire to sound reasoning from evidence as the most productive approach and the best chance of matching solutions to reality.
UPDATE 2: Paul Krugman has a very good response to Klein’s article. He points out that, when your tribe’s beliefs are inconsistent with demonstrated facts, then choosing to go with one or the other is not symmetric between Conservatives and Liberals: although the experiment seems to suggest that the phenomenon is equally common on both sides, in fact it is not: as Krugman states, there is no liberal example of something on the scale of climate change denial (in which the stakes are so high), of vaccines causing autism, or the like. And I think this is because Conservatives are much more tribal in their orientation. You will recall how loyalty and authority rank very high with Conservatives and not with Liberals, whose major concerns are harm and fairness. (See this post for more information on the study.) If loyalty is a primary value, then taking a stand against a group belief is intolerable. And indeed you see that if someone takes a stand that’s different from the group’s views, s/he is often ostracized and strongly criticized by their group if the group values loyalty: dissent and standing apart from the group is not accepted in groups in which loyalty and authority are paramount. And those are exactly Conservative groups; Liberals are perhaps more tolerant, and in any event judge things by different primary values.
Because Conservatives value loyalty and authority so highly, they look to the group and its leaders for guidance; Liberals put less weight on those virtues and thus look instead at the evidence, less concerned about whose apple-cart they might upset.
Francis Bacon wrote essays,the first of which is Of Truth, written, I take it, to establish the ground rules for rational conversation and dialogue. That essay begins with a famous line, but it’s in taking that situation seriously—taking the view that Pilate was simply joking, and thus missed the (vitally important) answer—that it becomes interesting. It is indeed vital to know the truth, so it’s an important question. Certainly the description provided by the second sentence applies, I think, to Pilate, as one of those who see truth as merely another tired old convention to be flouted and flung away. Truth, as the Governor of Wyoming so perfectly illustrates, can be proclaimed to be whatever we want it to be: we can legislate truth. (King Canute need not apply.) We live in a post-truth era, which sets up an inevitable crash when reality conflicts with cultural construct: reality always wins, long term.
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men’s thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie’s sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?
The quoted portion certainly seems to apply strongly today.
UPDATE: I continued to mull over the Lindsay Abrams column linked above, and I was wondering what on earth could so strongly drive a decision like that—something that the Governor alluded to (costs to business, etc.)—and it occurred to me that what was driving that ability to maintain a counter-factual position strongly would be fear—really serious, profound fear.
Also, you’ll note that Bacon’s prose is tougher and thus requires more chewing over: a big slowdown for those who have grown accustomed to having things pretty much pre-masticated so that it can be slurped down at speed. I refer again to the excellent history of English prose style, with plentiful and substantial examples, in The Reader Over Your Shoulder, by Graves and Hodge. (The original edition, not the one where most of the book has been cut.)
UPDATE 2: It may help open people’s eyes to ask them what it would mean if climate change (or evolution or the safety of vaccines or whatever) were, in fact, true? That is, assuming that it is true, what follows? And then perhaps they could be asked for ideas on what would show it to be true? or what evidence contradicts that thought that it might be true? Probably it gets tricky right about there.