Monday, February 4, 2008

Laziness, lying and wasting opportunity... Tapper redux...

If one repeats the "Clinton said we should slow the economy" lie knowingly, he or she might as well be wiping a filthy ass with the First Amendment. It's a sick waste of a most precious right...

When we opt to reduce our political discourse to the intentional repetition of known misrepresentations because they "fit" our perspective or because we wish they were true, we're squandering free speech. We're shitting in the middle of the marketplace of ideas because we like the way our own waste smells.

Just in case you missed it... Jake Tapper of ABC News recently claimed that Bill Clinton thought the US should slow its economy to help battle global warming. The not-so-intrepid reporter provided a quotation from Clinton to prove his assertion. The quotation, however, was used out of context. Clinton actually mentioned the anti-growth argument and then proceeded to argue that such measures were not feasible.

If you need a recap of the story, you can find it here.

The ugliest outgrowth of Tapper's shoddy journalism and ham-fisted efforts to wheedle out of the lie was that the inaccuracy spread like wildfire. Fox News (no surprise here) picked up on the ABC headline and ran with it, failing to perform basic fact-checking. So did Rush Limbaugh (another non-shocker). So did Investor's Business Daily. Countless blogs unquestionably repeated the Tapper misrepresentation as fact, too. One such blog was Mike's America.

I mention Mike's America specifically because it appears as if its author visited yours truly and commented on the critique of Tapper's lousy work. Here's the comment:
"I can't blame you for being upset. Someone of Bill Clinton's stature finally let the cat out of the bag and revealed the real motives behind the global warming scam. And you can pussy foot around what Bill said all you want, but the money quote stands regardless of how you try and spin."

I thought I'd take a moment to respond to that comment while trying to make a bigger point about the quality of argument and the paucity of intellectual honesty displayed by those who are more interested in grinding political axes than in truth-seeking.

I'm not upset because Clinton revealed secret motives behind proposed policies to fight global warming. I know that some readers will automatically assume I'm a crazed radical lefty because I didn't embrace the Tapper story as fact, but that isn't the case. I'm not.

Personally, I'm not completely sold on the idea that we are really facing an imminent danger from climate change. I may lean that direction ever-so-slightly on some days, but it isn't Issue #1 for me by any stretch. Additionally, I tend to believe that any truly efficacious means of slowing carbon emissions probably would require slowing growth.

That doesn't, however, mean that Bill Clinton argued that a slowdown was necessary. Right or wrong, it was not his argument. Not even close. When blogs like Mike's America pretend that Clinton did say such things, they are lying or being lazy. Either way, it's obvious that Tapper's poor performance helped with the proliferation of misinformation.

I never did a bit of "pussy footing". I merely observed that Tapper offered an incredibly misleading report. That much, regardless of one's position on global warming and the economy, should be beyond argument at this point.

It is not tough to understand Tapper's misrepresentation. A number of people with basic reading comprehension skills quickly recognized the scent of Jake's bullshit and called him out.

It wasn't only the so-called "left" that winced at Tapper's lie (or lack of understanding, if you'd prefer to think him foolish instead of nefarious). Even some of the people who usually love to disparage Bill Clinton conceded that he never made the comment ABC alleged. Michelle Malkin, The National Review Online, and other self-described conservatives recognized the goof. Hell, even a Mike's America reader argued:

"I have to say, as much as I loathe Billy Jeff and all, ABC is misrepresenting what he said. Sure, he uttered the line about slowing down the economy, but he followed that with an explanation of why that's a bad idea.... The bottom line is that, for whatever reason, ABC actually played Clinton's 'slow down the economy' line unfairly. The journalist who printed this quote has admitted it was out of context. Even the National Review and Cato Institute have said this quote is not accurate."

No pussy footing, just a recognition that Clinton didn't say what Tapper claimed. When that reader of a conservative blog made the same observation, s/he was greeted with this response:

"We know what Clinton said. And the entire comment is linked in the post. But it would be nice if you dropped the links from Clinton/Soros groups trying to spin this and actually admit that the goal of global warming alarmists is to slow the growth of the U.S. economy. That’s in fact is their goal, whether or not you want to admit it. Readers will recall that we've warned time and again that global warming alarmist's first target is the U.S. economy."

This kind of intellectual dishonesty is disturbing to say the least. It's an intentional blur of two distinct issues that serves to confuse legitimate debate in hopes of buttressing a particular position.

Mike is willing to LIE about what Clinton said because he BELIEVES that Clinton's policies would produce a disadvantageous consequence. It's an intentional misrepresentation and a sick polluting of discourse for the advancement of a predetermined political end. Mike and others will repeat a lie because the lie fits their perspective.

If Mike's America is merely making a "Tapperian" error due to an inability to comprehend that which is otherwise obvious, it's sad. I don't think that's the case, though, I think Mike's America and hundreds of other people know better. They act as if they've read the full text of the Clinton speech. They just want to pretend as if the lie is true because it's convenient. Whether the motivation is merely a serious case of cognitive dissonance forcing rationalization to prevent a paradigmatic shift or an intentional effort at lying to score points, it's far more sick and twisted than just being stupid or lazy.

Not everyone plays that way, though. In addition to Malkin, et al., mentioned earlier, I found an example of a willingness to debate honestly over at Red Maryland. That blogger also reported the Tapper commentary as accurate while making a larger argument about the global warming debate (an argument that wasn't particularly friendly to environmental activists). When a reader noted that the Tapper story was a less-than-solid foundation for an attack on those who would make an effort to stave off warming, the blogger replied:

"I think you may be right on the Tapper quote being out of context. I am not use to the MSM playing these games with Dems. If so, I will print a retraction. However, I stand by the rest of the piece."

See how easy that was? Not too shabby, Red Maryland.

Others, though, will repeat what has been accurately referred to as a "zombie lie". What good does that repetition of nonsense do? Does it improve the quality of our discussion on issues? Does it clarify likely policy outcomes? Fuck no.

The intentional smear of reality by those who INTENTIONALLY repeat inaccuracies to gain advantage is disgusting. The fact that too many ostensibly decent information sources reflexively reprinted Tapper's conclusions as truth without even thinking about it is disturbing, but it probably stems more from laziness than anything else. That's something to bemoan, but it's even more sad to think people would intentionally lie merely to advance a cause.

It's okay to think that global warming is a scam. It's okay to believe that curbing warming would inevitably involve curbing economic growth. It's okay to believe that Clinton's preferred methods of preventing climate change would be economically foolish. We might not agree on all of those fronts, but we can have a legitimate discussion about them. When one decides to pretend (and it is utter make believe) that Clinton said we should decrease growth to solve warming, however, it's more about scoring political points in a half-assed effort at conservative punditry than it is about rational argument.

If one repeats the "Clinton said we should slow the economy" lie knowingly, he or she might as well be wiping a filthy ass with the First Amendment. It's a sick waste of a most precious right.

We have an ability (perhaps an obligation?) to create a meaningful marketplace of ideas. We can have strong and heartfelt debates on key issues and can used those arguments to direct our actions in smart ways. We can try to create a better country and a better world by seriously arguing our positions with the goal of finding real solutions.

When we instead opt to reduce our political discourse to the intentional repetition of known misrepresentations because they "fit" our perspective or because we wish they were true, we're squandering free speech. We're shitting in the middle of the marketplace of ideas because we like the way our own waste smells.

I will again heap shame on those, like Tapper, who are too lazy or dim-witted to make sense of simple arguments.

I heap even more shame on those who repeat the lies, not out of laziness, but with intention. That goes for those pretending a former President said something other than what he said. That goes for those who giggle while they spread known crap about Barack Obama being a closet Muslim hellbent on activating an anti-American sleeper cell. It goes for those who lied about John McCain's fictional illegitimate children. I'm not arguing against the right to be a horse's ass, I'm just opposed to it.

If point-scoring is more important than creating a better world for you, however, go ahead and repeat the lies.


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  1. John: Like Tapper, I linked to the entire comment in context which included the video.

    No attempt to deceive here.

    But it would appear you doth protest too much.

    Bill Clinton let the cat out of the bag. We all know that the dirty little secret of the big lie that is manmade global warming is to put the brakes on the economic engine of Western Society so essential to creating positive change in this world.

    Now, try and deny that reality. I need another good laugh!

  2. Your reading comprehension skills are lacking--both in terms of the Tapper piece and this post.

    You peddled the Tapper LIE as truth, dancing around the conclusion (which was presented as true--that Clinton called for a slowdown--by telling people that the clues to unravel the real story were present is greasy and obfuscatory at best.

    Trying to compel me to argue that Clinton's environmental policies would INCREASE growth is ridiculous. As stated, I don't necessarily think he's right.

    Can you not comprehend the difference, Mike? Clinton SAID we don't need to slow growth and argued we could curb warming while maintaining a robust economy. He might be wrong about the unintended consequences of his policy ideas, but that does not mean that he said "we should slow the economy".

    It just didn't happen. Your distaste for the man and the policies have pushed you away from position advocacy and into the realm of the liar.

    If you said, "Clinton claimed we could have growth while slowing climate change, but his policies would actually decrease growth. Clinton is wrong.", you'd be an honest debater.

    By misrepresenting Clinton's statements, you're a liar. And you destroy your credibility with thinking people while simultaneously degrading the quality of political debate.

    Sorry, Mike, you might want to stop laughing long enough to realize who the joke around here really is.

    John Brown of Kansas

  3. That was such a strongly articulated argument, dude. You totally affirm my faith that if I do end up starting a speech/debate team, next year, that we are going legit and making good arguments and skipping a lot of conventional debate strategy (though I will teach that, too, so the kids can have some fun) as our angle on the activity. We're just going to make good arguments. And let the chips fall where they may.

    Because, you're argument, by articulating what otherwise might seem obvious to you and to me, is 100% stronger by just laying it out there.

    You're right. What Tapper said is not what Clinton argue. I happen to think that you, and not Clinton, are right, that efforts to curb global warming might slow, in the short run, economic growth, but that it will make that growth and markets, generally, more fundamentally sound in the long run.

    China and India have between 8-10% growth records, right now, depending on who you trust. Way above the U.S., the E.U., and other more liberal democracies and freer markets. Largely this is the heat of economies try to run a powerful pace out of poverty and industrial growth that is relatively simple to accelerate given substantial understanding and pathes already blazed by advanced economies, I think, very much like the Southeast Asian Tiger economies of the 80's and 90's. And very much like those economies, the rate of growth in India and China will inevitably slow, as countries cannot and will not keep up such a pace as they experience more affluence. That's a good thing, I think. It's a benefit from making everyone wealthier/more comfortable in their living standard.

    Now, in the short run, environmental investments of all kinds will involve diverting capital, labor, and assets from other purposes to environmental purposes, like reducing carbon emissions to reduce global warming.

    The beauty of life as it plays out today, if you believe in the market and even if you don't, is that most of the most innovative stuff happening around such issues is happening in the market without government mandates, at all. In fact, even Clinton would acknowledge, has acknowledged, that Kyoto, even without U.S. signatures, is stalled in a big way. Only 3, I think, of the signatories have actually cut emissions. And the vast majority have seen greater emissions rather than a slowdown or a reduction.

    I think there is a pretty simple explanation for this that I think explains, as well, President Bush's hesitation to sign on and the explosion of environmental efforts in the market.

    Business people, especially big business people, and all people, really, do not like to do things they are told to do without being on board. They want to understand where you're going. And most of the highest achievers who are in the higher eschelons of business - Jack Welch famously argued about this when working with the EPA to clean up the Hudson River - often want to do far more than is expected up them rather than less and they often feel that government expectations not only do not consult them but that they imagine too little for the effort rather than too much (although as I read what look like credible reports on Jack Welch's and G.E.'s behavior, it looks like Jack, among many other businessmen, also exaggerate their claims to wanting to do more; or maybe not, I'm sure I've not even come close to reading everything on that story).

    More collaborative efforts offer the opportunity to have a bunch of smart people all working together and brainstorming how to solve a problem from lots of different directions, identifying far more potential problems and potential solutions, and, generally, getting a far better understanding of what they are doing and how to always be doing it better.

    Absent that, you have a couple of people bossing everyone else around obsessing about whether these often very smart people around them are just narrowly doing what they're told. It's like slavery where plantation owners never imagined that one of those slaves might grow up to be Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice or W.E.B. Dubois or Booker T. Washington or Spike Lee, and that maybe some of those slaves might actually know a thing or two or could learn and offer a thing or two that might actually solve your problem better than you ever imagined.

    And, instead, what you have is a lot of people resisting, ignoring, or otherwise blowing off the priorities that they might otherwise being on board with given leadership that brings them on board.

    That was Clinton's proudest domestic policy legacy that he and Hillary are, now, inexplicably - actually there is a pretty simple explanation; it's not popular these days and the Clinton's famously do what is popular and do not do what is not popular, even if it is a better way of doing things - running away from that legacy. That was what made his domestic economic policies and even many international economic policies function so well and it was his proudest environmental legacy. There was a sense in the business community, when Clinton was President, at least a substantial part of the business community and certainly for me, that Clinton genuinely wanted public/private partnership. Meaning government and business work together on such issues to solve them.

    That was, alas, until Democrats decided they wanted to win back the Presidency and Congress and any use of force would do.

    Problem is, that contradicts the central principles that worked so effectively for Clinton while he was governing. If Clinton could get straight about that, Hillary might be an effective leader. But, until she does, and as long as her legacy is a contradiction fo the central principles that worked so well under Bill's administration, it makes very little sense to elect someone who would subtly, but nonetheless, repudiate the very legacy that they claim a mantle to.

    What business people and people outside of government were so encouraged by, and certainly what brought those people together to solve problems like logging in the Northwest was not Poppa Clinton bringing his boys around the campfire to tell them what's what about how they were going to resolve logging and environmental issues.

    What they appreciated, and what makes sense, really, is that he brought them to the table and gave the impression, I imagine honest enough, at the time, that they would be working together on such issues, and, as such, there would be flexibility between team players on how to get problems solved as they got to them.

    Not so, says Hillary Clinton. If FEMA is struggling to respond to an emergency, there will be no partnerships. We shall have criminal investigations. A slightly different legacy. And very much the reason why I could never vote for that woman unless she acknowledges the mistake.

    That is the central problem on this issue, John. There is tons of voluntary activity in the market on this issue - global warming - and slow and reluctant trickle of effort that the Federal or even state governments have been able to initiate. My favorite is the blocking of this coal plant in Kansas. So what are the Democratic officials in Kansas thinking? No more coal plants. We're just going to block them all. We don't need no stinkin' coal. You know, for things like electricity (coal currently producing about 40% of the world's electricity). Really, it was a massive case of NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard - some pretty big thinking by environmentally-friendly Democrats, who will, of course, expect that Kansans be able to import that coal from whereever else it gets produced. It's a sweet plan, isn't it?

    More longer-ranging thinking that wasn't obsessed with power, as Democrats are today, sadly, would discuss with such outfits how they can best account for environmental concerns in ways that are viable, financially, for the companies involved (they don't have infinite economic resources, after all, even with credit; that is the point when economists point out that there are trade-offs between economic and environmental concerns, not that environmental concerns cannot or should not be taken care of) and get a maximum benefit that is workable for both the environmental officials and the businesses involved and that accounts for their financial concerns. If Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby wanted a natural gas plant, he could have talked about that option with the folks at Sunflower. He could have talked about cleaner coal technology. He could have talked about any reasonable option there might have been to reduce emissions but still produce the energy and have the business and the jobs.

    But, instead, Bremby decided to exercise his au-thor-i-tae, as the warden in Cool Hand Luke, might say. And he bungled the whole goddamn thing, making it into a political issue for himself and Sebelius - one that Sebelius initially embraced whole-heartedly (after being tepidly in favor of the plant, at first) and then, ever so honest in her leadership, starting to shy away from once the reaction wasn't what she imagined (ah, the courage of elected officials).

    It's so fuckin' crazy. Democrats had a winner in Bill Clinton and the more collaborative leadership model he offered for 8 years, which created results out the whazoo.

    And then when they lose a couple of elections, they not only walk away from that legacy but the opportunity to extend it out, out of some self-righteous nostalgia for old-time progressivism which worked about as well as its most recent renaissance is working, which is not very well, at all, which is why conservatives and many non-political folks were so pissed off at Roosevelt all those years, since he produced so much economic disaster along with a lot of good intentions and decent ideas, during his tenure. There's a reason that late 20th century economics repudiated much of the New Deal legacy. It wasn't because it wasn't a decent effort. It was because it had so many unintended consequences. And that's the problem with this brand of high-handed liberal leadersip that has taken hold of the progressive imagination, these days, and which Hillary Clinton bears the biggest flag for. And instead of just being able to come clean about the failure, everyone just pretends that if you try to explain all the problems away as the other guy's fault or as not there at all that somehow they go away.

    Kick out Sunflower, and you won't have anymore emissions problems from coal plants, goes this wildly simplistic thinking.

    But the fact is that Kris Kobach, for the amazing prick he is on immigration issues, is right. You kick them out of Kansas, they'll end up in Oklahoma, or Mexico, or Bejing, and now you're still dealing with the same fuckin' problem because instead of working at genuinely resolving the issues involved, you've got Bremby asserting his au-thor-i-tae, and resolving not a goddamn thing.

    The crazy, fucked up, and amazing thing out of all of this is that, somehow, the American people find ways to get to solutions even while government sits with its thumbs up their proverbial asses. Meaning, while Sebelius and Bremby try to figure out what the fuck they're going to do with this issue that Republicans are going to beat them over the heads with, the environmental market is going like gang-busters. You've got environmentally-friendly automotive and gas options that are far surpassing the wildest imaginations of environmental regulators - they just opened a gas stantion in Lawrence, John, where you can choose between 4 different kinds of emissions-reducing fuels; the market is a beautiful thing - G.E. introduces "Ecoimagination", significantly expanding the wind power market and developing new technologies like hybrid locomotives, desalination, water resuse solutions, and working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a million other examples, right now. All the while, with businesses making strategic choices, as well, about what the market will bear, consumer interest, support, and willingness to spend on environmentally-friendly technologies, products, and services expands - a fact that could not be mandated, if every single Congressmen in Washington and every political representative in each state and locality mandated it so - and thus a more environmentally-friendly market is created. And while political leaders have played a role in this debate and have even set standards and created mandates, none of what I just described could have been created by mandate alone. And really, given the explosion of environmental activity in the market, right now, government's proportion of that activity is well under 50%, and I think I'm being generous with that portion. Why do political leaders think, then, that they can "mandate a cleaner environment and it will come" then? Because it's the political zeitgeist and because the results Democrats are focussed on, right now, is the result of a Democrat in the White House, not the result of better policies that make for a cleaner environment. Or at least they are not thinking very seriously about the latter because the former is too forefront in their minds. It's the benefit of people like me and those in the market in good faith on environmental issues not giving a shit which party gets elected - though I'm sure many if not most of those people have an opinion, including me - you can stay focussed on solving the problem rather than what propaganda, in the moment, gets you elected.

    Now, could you frame all of that in the form of a mandate? Sure. And people like me, in good faith, would work with you. But why do people like Mike America and so much of the conservative base and the business community -in the E.U. and other Kyoto signatories, apparently, as much as in the U.S. or in China or other emerging economies - resist such efforts?

    Because of the mandate, obviously.

    I, personally, don't give a shit how you do it, because I'm going to cooperate anyway. I'm a decent law-abiding citizen who knows how to respect the limits of the law, at least at this point in my life.

    But most people say that and then resist it.

    So it would make an awful lot of sense to either work more genuinely collaboratively with such people, or, work in that direction by building flexibility into the law and such mandates that gives room for honest disagreement. It's still a problem in a better world because if what you are mandating is fundamentally wrong - say if global warming is alarmist, as I have to admit that I share your concerns about such a scenario, John - and all this growth is being slowed for nothing and the global warming critics are right and rightly pissed off that we compelled them to do something stupid just because it happened to be the stupid idea that we signed onto even though they could see through the charade, entirely, from the beginning - well, then, that's a reason to build as much real freedom into the project, as possible, to focus on a genuine give and take discussion and debate that makes reasonable decisions but involves as much people as possible, that focusses on voluntary efforts that win support because of stronger ideas rather than the force of power and takes governmental action that is more flexible, up front, rather than crowding out such flexibility up front with potentially-unworkable mandates. You can come at it in a million different ways. But that is most ideal, I think. If you have some joker who is clearly causing harm, there is no doubt about it, s/he has to be stopped immediately because the harm is clearly imminent and too dangerous, immediately, to ignore - like some kids or adults are going to drink the water they just poisoned - well, then, I would obviously suggest that governing authorities have the authority to do so. But I say that knowing that, generally, the debate ends up getting muddied by people who are not arguing honestly and who just want their way becuse they're SURE they're right and they're SURE that the concerns of those who disagree with them are wrong, useless, futile, foolish, unworkable, or otherwise easy to ignore (sounds an awful lot like the Bush Administration pre-Iraq invasion, doesn't it? It also sounds an awrful lot of enviornmental mandates to many conservatives). And that is where power always gets abused. And that will only end when we put a presuption against its use and abuse except when absolutely necessary. Hence my argument about least possible necessary aggression (with an understanding that all power is aggression, whether we want to be responsible for that or not).

    The Enlightenment thinkers thought they were doing that not so long ago. But then human nature and peoples' lust and temptation for power got involved and that perpetually gets fucked up while we figure out that, really, no really, we're all just fallible, half-witted, hopelessly arrogant human beings all thinking that we have more answers than we really do rather than working with others like they might have half-a-brain that might actually help us solve those problems perhaps better than we ever imagined ourselves.

    OK, John, I have no clue or not about whether this argument was clear enough or not or even if it is persuasive or right or not (I think it's on the right track, but I always accept that I have no fucking clue what I'm doing given that half my life that has always turned out to be true).

    But you have convinced me with this post that what I need to do with this book is not to get discouraged, but to just work on making the argument as strong and as crystal clear as possible, while also building up and dealing honestly with the strongest counterarguments to my thinking.

    I better get to bed. I got parent-teacher conferences in the morning.

    This was one of your better posts, I thought, John. You were right, dude. It is stronger argument that matters. I've got work to do, in this regard. And I want to hear your thoughts on this. What am I missing? What am I not seeing in good enough faith? What needs to be better accounted for? What needs to be argued/explained better? What is fundamentally wrong with my argument?

    I'm all ears, dude. I'd rather know I was wrong than stick with a bad idea. It just doesn't make any sense to live life any other way, I don't think.

    Alright. I'll talk with you later, dude.


  4. Holy shit, I wrote a long goddamn time and like 3% of it was about Jack Tapper.

    So to make up for my clumsy argumentation, I'm offering some more Tapper stupidity that I thought you might appreciate.

    I happened by this piece, tonight. while meandering through the Huffington Rag.

    Jack Tapper is becoming quite the regular dumbass, these days, John. You gotta see the doozy of the reasoning in this piece.

    How do people get paid to be so goddamned stupid? Surely there is something in the contract that if you are nearly as stupid as they thought you might be that you gotta go back to university for a semester or two and bulk up.

    This isn't even about intellectual snobbery, John. This guy is just fuckin' stupid. And he gets paid for it. And knowing ABC, he probably gets paid well for it?

    What moron is vouching for this brilliant recruit? Probably some gamble on winning the AM radio market audience. In which case, ABC deserves the reputation for dumbass reporting that TV news, generally, has and generally deserves.

    You called it, dude. What a fuckin' asshat.

    Are we the intellectual equivalent of the beer-drinkin' sports fans that know way too much about the teams but don't do shit with our lives? I hope not because I'm not gonna get laid sounding like Cliff Claven commenting on military affairs.

    I cannot believe that stupid gets this much traction in the world. It's a fucked up world, dude.

    I gotta get to bed.