More on False Equivalence: “Both Sides Do It”


In the previous post about False Equivalence, we mentioned the “Both Sides Do It” tactic, which consists of trying to deflect criticism from Faction A about the behavior of Faction B by maintaining that Faction A is just as guilty of the same thing. In particular, you’ll frequently hear the assertion that left-wing extremists are just as vicious and nasty and loony as right-wing extremists (or even more so). If this is true, then there should be ample illustrations, right? And if there were ample illustrations, then right-wing fanatics surely would produce them, right? So why is it that the examples they produce are almost invariably false equivalences?

If you comment disapprovingly, for instance, about the cancer that is Fox “News”, then chances are somebody will respond with “hey, they’re just providing balance to all the liberal media out there, such as MSNBC”.  But even if you grant that there is a “liberal” bias to the other networks (a huge, huge presumption to say the least), that bias is nowhere near as pronounced as that of Fox. Furthermore, no other network engages in deliberate distortion and deception and hate-baiting to anywhere near the extent that Fox does. Nor does any other network or media source enjoy the kind of power and influence Fox does. Fox is in a (classless) class all by itself.

When people compare “right-wing hate speech” with “left-wing hate speech”, they’re often talking about two very different things. They redefine incivility as it suits their needs. The “Both Sides Do It” mambo is in fact my favorite type of false equivalence, because it comes in so many varieties, comprising a virtual textbook on false equivalence variations. Here are a few of them:

1. The few vs. the many

As mentioned previously, Ann Coulter spent 352 pages failing spectacularly to substantiate her premise that “liberals hate conservatives” in Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.  In all those pages, she managed to produce only 4 possible examples of supposed “liberals” trashing “conservatives”. Four doesn’t seem like a very large number for the purposes of proving such a point — particularly when contrasted with, say, 163. That’s the minimum number of times Coulter herself attacked “liberals” in the same book.

What she did is called cherry picking, among other things. It also would be cherry picking to draw a conclusion about the right-wing punditocracy merely on the basis of her actions. But alas, she’s far from alone. This was only one of many books written by only one of many many right-wing extremists spending many many many hours and days and years writing such books and magazine articles and blogs, and endlessly prattling on radio and TV.

2. The specific vs. the general

And that was by no means Coulter’s only sin. She also tried to back up her “liberals hate conservatives” thesis by equating utterances by “liberals” about specific “conservatives” with a blanket condemnation of “conservatives” in general. With about 100,000,000 Americans who consider themselves “conservative”, you could trash some 50,000,000 specific “conservatives” without proving that you hate “conservatives” on the whole. And Coulter’s tally, let me remind you, isn’t quite that high. Meanwhile, she and her fellow right-wing pundits do indulge to the nth degree in vilifying “liberals” in general.

Quick, who is the “liberal” equivalent of Ann Coulter? If you answered Michael Moore, you’re buying into a narrative often pushed by the media — and by people who obviously have never read any of Moore’s books. He is probably indeed the most prominent among left-wing pundits, but he couldn’t be more different from Coulter. Far from attacking “conservatives” in general, he’s made a point of praising them where appropriate. (Likewise Al Franken and other outspoken leftists.) Hell, he even bent over backward to praise certain personal traits of George W. Bush, who on a political level has been one of his prime targets. Can you imagine Coulter (or Beck or Hannity or Limbaugh,etc. etc. etc.) saying a single word about Obama or “liberals” that isn’t utterly drenched in scorpion’s milk? Can you imagine Moore saying anything comparable to Coulter’s “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is that he did not go to The New York Times building”?

3. The fringe vs. the mainstream

Hang out on an Internet chat forum long enough, and you’ll hear some pretty nasty things from members of just about any and every “ism” conceivable. But does that mean that their actions are truly representative of their respective ideologies? Or are they just the extremist fringe of their groups?

And here is another area in which “liberals” differ from “conservatives”.  The left wing has its loony fringe too, but the Left tends to keep its loonies on the fringe. Lyndon LaRouche is officially a Democrat, but he’s always been shunned by the Democratic mainstream. President Obama distanced himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright when the latter’s rhetoric became what was considered incendiary — or, if you prefer, when the public found out about the association. Either way, he exhibited some embarrassment about whom he’d rubbed elbows with. And by the way, Wright’s remarks were nowhere near as incendiary as they were painted; few were even that opinionated. Many of his utterances branded as “anti-American”  (“The government lied.”) and “racist” (“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed.”)  were statements of verifiable fact. To a large extent, incivility was drastically redefined for a black librul.

The Right, on the other hand, openly and warmly embraces its own loony fringe, with the Tea Party working hand-in-hand with the (supposedly different) Republican Party. Indeed there’s really not much distinction anymore between “conservative” fringe and “conservative” mainstream. Anybody ever hear of Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rick Perry? Michele Bachman?

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference, at which the main activity (if not the only activity) is demonizing “liberals” has featured appearances by George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, along with Ann Coulter, Wayne LaPierre, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. During his tenure as Vice President, Dick Cheney was a guest on Rush Limbaugh’s program no fewer than 5 times. (Yes, this is the same Dick Cheney who said “I thought some of the things [Wright] said were absolutely appalling… I was stunned at what the reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his Web site.”) George H.W. Bush was a close ally of and paid promoter for vituperative, delusional, fascist-leaning cult leader (and convicted tax cheat) Sun Myung Moon, who among other things claimed to have presided over the posthumous wedding of Jesus. And so on. And on and on and on.

4. Words vs. actions

Sure, some leftists have unsavory things to say about, for example, “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays. But “conservatives” who enact laws to marginalize gays, enact laws to marginalize gays.

Similarly, if you mention how hatefully and savagely Christians have treated non-Christians over the centuries, you may hear some Christians say, “well hey, I tried talking to some atheists on a website and they were very rude to me; so obviously they’re capable of being nasty too” No doubt. And there’s rarely a good excuse for rudeness.  But surely you don’t mean to put that in a league with burning people at the stake or skinning them alive? Or even bullying them on the schoolyard and in the classroom? Or even passing laws to discriminate against them? Or even barring them from belonging to certain organizations? The fact that some of these things were done with smiling faces while reciting Bible passages doesn’t make them any less hateful.

5. Different contexts

Another thing about the above example is that, while the rudeness may not be justified, it’s at least understandable when you consider all the oppression and persecution and marginalization atheists have endured. Christians have rarely if ever undergone anything comparable. (No, it doesn’t work to equate the atrocities committed by Christians during, say the Inquisition with the casualties that occurred during the scant handful of dictatorships that have been officially atheist — e.g., Stalinist Russia. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

Whenever you draw attention to the right’s deranged, irrational hatred of President Obama, you’re likely to hear someone remind you that the Left was rather vitriolic toward George W. Bush. True, but the context couldn’t be more different. Bush got into office by very shady means, and once there he left the nation open to the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil; and he used that attack as justification for a dishonestly supported invasion of a nation that had no involvement in it. Even if you’re a loyal Bushnik and you wholeheartedly support these (and other) actions he and his administration undertook, you must admit — at least if you’re intellectually honest– that “liberal” animosity toward Bush was based on things he actually did.

But if you ask Obama haters why they’re Obama haters, they’re likely to tell you that it’s because he’s a socialist, or he’s a fascist, or he’s a Kenyan, or he’s a muslim, or he’s an atheist, or he’s the Anti-Christ, or he should have given Bush the credit for nabbing bin Laden, or he’s trying to take away your guns, or he wants to outlaw fishing, or he’s let the United Nations take over our national parks, or he’s had the IRS target “conservative” organizations, or Benghazi something or other Benghazi. This is not to suggest that the current president is flawless; it’s just that the attacks against him rarely are rooted in reality. (If you want an honest and sane assessment of his shortcomings, you’d be better off turning to his left-wing critics than his right-wing attackers.)

Sometimes context makes all the difference in the world.

6. Analysis, speculation, and criticism vs. distortion, attribution, attack and eliminationism

Can you spot the difference between these two statements?

1. Conservatives claim to be pro-life, but they often support the death penalty and aggressive warfare that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

2. Liberals are anti-American terrorist sympathizers. It’s time to resort to Second Amendment remedies to stop them.

If you really can’t, I suggest you do some thorough research and reflection before attempting to comment on this matter.

So are left-wingers really just as hateful and batty as right-wingers? Well, technically that’s a question open to debate, as there is no body of comprehensive and objective data on the topic. But there are four things we do know for certain: (1) Apparently there are differences in “liberal” and “conservative” brains. Research indicates that the former are generally better equipped to handle conflict, while the latter are more likely to react with fear. Which might explain why right-wingers are so often caught up in conspiracy theories and paranoid delusion. And gun mania. And which logically would make them more likely to attack The Others. (2) And they do indeed attack The Others. With lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Lots and lots and lots of hateful, inflammatory rhetoric. Not just from the fringe, but the mainstream. Not just against specific targets, but against millions of Americans they know nothing about. (3) Despite their best efforts, they’ve been consistently unable to document that the Left does the same thing to anywhere near the same degree. (4) Their attempts to demonstrate this almost invariably hinge on false equivalence.

Opinion: What It Ain’t

Sibling Rivalry

As mentioned in a prior post, defining exactly what opinion is can be a bit tricky. But recognizing opinion when you see it is rather simpler; and even simpler still is understanding when something is not opinion.

Which brings us to turn the mirror on this blog itself. This is not a blog of opinion, but a blog of fact and analysis.  The blog’s mission statement includes the following sentence:

We offer solid fact without becoming pedantic, and personality without becoming bogged down by opinion.

This has been re-worded several times (at one point it said “without relying on opinion”), largely in an attempt to fend off the gotcha squad — or, as Michael Moore calls them, the wacko attackos. These are individuals who deem it a matter of great importance to attempt to discredit information and ideas that clash with their beliefs, and so they comb through these posts in a quixotic quest for an instance of “hypocrisy” or “contradiction”. (You’ll often spot them when they quote back every little thing you say, followed by a snide retort which they believe to be a refutation.) Evidently they believe that if they can find a single such instance, then they can discard the entire blog with a sigh of relief and a smirk of triumph. And the possibility of finding an opinion in these pages is perhaps what entices them most: find just a single opinion, they seem to believe, and they can safely conclude that the blog is nothing but opinion.

This blog is not about me, and I’m not going to allow anyone to make it about me. I don’t consider it a matter of great urgency to defend myself from attacks — indeed, I consider it of little to no consequence at all. But sometimes the gotcha squadders commit blunders which it can be instructive to examine. And they commit several in their obsession with opinion.

The most obvious mistake they make is to conclude that a statement to the effect that a blog does not focus on opinion can be taken as a claim that it contains no opinion whatsoever. Which of course is patent nonsense, and illustrates how ideologues often zero in on the one interpretation that best suits their purposes.  It’s impossible for anyone’s writing of any length to be utterly opinion-free (at least in my opinion). Of course you’ll find occasional opinions here. Even though this is not a blog of opinion, the door is open to it; it’s just never the guest of honor.

The second point is that what opinions you will find here concern relatively minor matters. I might mention in passing that I consider the Beatles to be far superior to the Rolling Stones, and you would not be wrong to classify that as an opinion (albeit a highly qualified one — I happen to have a rather extensive background in music). But since this is not a blog about music, such an opinion would never be the central concern of a post here; it would only be used to expound upon meatier topics.

But the most significant error the attackos make is to confuse, or deliberately conflate, opinion with subjectivity in general. As we discussed before, opinion is only one type of subjectivity. If I begin telling a story, and start laughing, that’s clearly a subjective response. But is it an opinion? Or have I merely flavored my telling of the story? Someone else might tell it using exactly the same words, but begin crying. The subjectivity of the teller would be very different, but how could our respective renditions be called a difference of opinion if the wording is exactly the same? If I say “this story always cracks me up”, is that an opinion? Nope; it’s just a statement of fact. And if I say, “I think this story is very funny”, that’s also, strictly speaking, a statement of fact; but in practical use it’s so indistinguishable from “this story is very funny” that we might as well call them both opinion.

I especially hear the “that’s just your opinion” refrain from Second Amendment fanatics — not surprising, since they are among the most reactionary of demographic groups. (That’s an observation, not an opinion). Which just might be a good reason why they should not own guns in the first place. (That’s speculative analysis, not opinion.) Although if they did, it’s quite possible that they would take up the slack by committing violence by other means. (That’s speculation, which is also not opinion.)

I certainly speculate frequently here, and you often can spot it by qualifiers like perhaps, possibly, it well may be, etc. But even without such markers, the speculative nature of the comment is clear enough. And it would be a mistake to assume that I intend such statements to represent undisputed fact. It sometimes would be a mistake to assume that I even believe them myself.

One of the most curious, and therefore most frequent, attacks I’ve received from the gun gallery concerns my comments about the killer of Trayvon Martin — specifically, that he was “aggressively stalking” Martin. Aha! they say, this is clearly an opinion. Nope. Granted, the choice of words is subjective — our word choices are always subjective, in my opinion. But still, those words describe solid facts established by the evidence including a recording of his call to police.

You may say that he was armed and Martin was unarmed, and he made some unfortunate disparaging verbal references (calling Martin one of “these assholes” and a “fucking punk”) to a person about whom he knew nothing except his race, and chose to disregard the dispatcher’s instructions to stay in his vehicle and let the police handle it, and gave pursuit on foot to confront someone he erroneously regarded as a crime suspect but who in fact was minding his own business (unlike the killer) even after expressing concern because the youth was supposedly coming toward him, and the ensuing confrontation was a big misunderstanding that spiraled out of control and resulted in the inadvertent death of an innocent person. I say he was aggressively stalking the kid. You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. It’s a difference of diction and attitude, not a difference of opinion. It would be a difference of opinion if you said that Martin got what he deserved, and I said that his killer ought to be locked up.

It’s very common these days to lump all subjectivity under the banner of opinion — essays in the media, for instance, are commonly referred to as op-ed pieces, apparently on the assumption that any type of essay/ editorial must hinge on or be infused with opinion. Opinion often is present to one degree or another, but not necessarily so.

For example, you’ve probably surmised if you’ve been following these posts that I am not a charter member of the Dick Cheney fan club. I make that fact known at every opportunity. But my expression of my distaste for the man is not opinion, nor is it opinion when I recount his many vile misdeeds that prompt this response in me. They are all matters of verifiable record. What would be an opinion would be if I stated that he is unfit to empty Lord Voldemort’s chamber pot with a soda straw. After all, it’s entirely possible that such a task would in fact be ideally suited to his particular gifts.

Speaking of public officials appointed by Supreme Court fiat, it once seemed rather anomalous to speak of court decisions as “opinions”. A judge’s task is presumably to interpret law and the constitution, not to mandate opinion into law (even if opinion inevitably comes into play). While it may be semantic hairsplitting to differentiate between interpretation and opinion, there is a distinct line between ruling based on how one reads the constitution or the law and ruling based on one’s personal ideology. At least there once was.

The current majority of five “conservative” justices, however, have crossed that line repeatedly and blatantly. The watershed moment was Bush vs. Gore, in which among other things they halted the Florida recount because it was their opinion that protecting Bush’s claim to victory was more important than finding out who really won. (No, that’s not an exaggeration.)  This arrogant act has paid off in further dividends for the worshipers of opinion; the “president” they installed was in turn able to appoint two young replacements for members of their gang who were running out of gas, assuring a steady stream of such rulings for at least a generation.  Most recently, these five male Catholics decreed that religious conviction takes precedence over law — at least provided the religious convictions are their own and the law is one backed by a president whom the wingers have determined to despise at all costs.

If you would have a little practice in identifying and distinguishing between observation, analysis and opinion, try reading a few movie reviews (of which I’ve written quite a few in my time). All three are generally present in any given review, and they’re often organized in more or less discrete chunks.

Typically, a review will begin with observation and analysis. How long is the film? Is it in black and white or color? Is it a comedy, drama, thriller, slasher, mystery, satire, sci-fi/ fantasy, or some combination thereof? Who are the actors, writers, directors and designers? Does it appear to be influenced by Hitchcock or Bergman or some other master? Does it contain elements of film noir, nouvelle vague, or cinema verite?  There may be some subjectivity, of course, involved in answering such questions. The answers sometimes may even cross the border into the Domain Of Opinion. But there are usually definite “correct” answers that even critics can supply. (That’s a joke, critics.)

Then the second part of a review tends to focus on opinion. Is the ending effective? How well did the cast perform? Is the pacing good? Is the gore excessive? Should Woody Allen have quit while he was ahead? There are no definite right or wrong answers here. (Well, except maybe for the part about Woody Allen). Such opinions will give the readers a better idea of whether or not they should see the film, based on their opinions of the reviewer’s opinions.  But while reviews almost always contain opinion, and often are largely opinion (or at least highly opinionated), that isn’t always the case. When I wrote reviews, I considered it more important to give prospective ticket buyers an idea what to expect for their buck than to bring the world up to speed on my personal tastes. Accordingly, I kept opinion in the background just as I do with this blog.

The next time your immediate impression is that something in a review, or a blog post, or anywhere else, is opinion, you might want to take a closer look. You may find that you’ve been painting with too broad a brush.


Bill Maher and “Zombie Lies”

Bill maher

Bill Maher was in fine form, as he often is, on July 11 when he applied the much needed term “zombie lie”  for a lie that keeps coming back and making the rounds even after it has been thoroughly killed. He is referring specifically to GOP lies about the ACA (or, as it will be forever branded, “Obamacare”), but he quotes other notable examples. And makes some pertinent observations:

Look, I get it. Neither party has a monopoly on lying. And in fact they all do it so often they invented their own word for it. “I misspoke”. .. But how come the rule for one party, the Republican Party, is that when they get caught in a lie, they don’t have to stop telling it?

It’s a question worth asking. And a video worth watching.

The Great American “Scandal” Scam, Part 2: NSA “Spying” Multiplied by The Obama Factor


1984 Will Not Arrive.

That was the title of a talk I once attended by legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who laid out a solid case that the government will never be able to, nor even attempt to, keep tabs on its entire citizenry in an Orwellian fashion. Selected individuals, sure — some individuals present good cause to be monitored — but not the populace as a whole. No matter how sophisticated the technology, he observed, and no matter how much data is collected, sifting through the data in a meaningful manner requires human effort; and monitoring an entire population would be so time-consuming, so labor-intensive, and so expensive as to be profoundly prohibitive.

That fact, however, seems to be lost on most of the American public, as well as the media, particularly in light of recent revelations about the National Security Agency. All because of one man, quasi-professional geek turned folk hero Edward Snowden, who just 4 short years ago declared that leakers like him “should be shot in the balls”.  But that was then, and this is now.

And now the media have erupted in a Libertarian orgy of paranoid paroxysms and dystopian delusions about how Big Brother has arrived in grand fashion. Here’s your impossible challenge for today, boys and girls: find a media story about this “scandal” that doesn’t call it a “scandal”, and/or doesn’t use the word “spying”. Reports that the NSA has sometimes inadvertently gathered superfluous information or otherwise erred are routinely packaged under the headline NSA Broke the Law Thousands of Times; and there seems to be scarcely a journalist anywhere who is capable of distinguishing between spying and data collection, or between a scandal and a fucking mess. The big bad guvmint, the official spin goes, has been listening to and taking notes on our phone conversations; and about two-thirds of Americans buy into this crock.  But the odds against such a thing are astronomical.

Painless Arithmetic

Let’s do some simple and rough, but significant math, shall we? No no, don’t worry — it won’t hurt, I promise.  Okay, then. There are an estimated 2.4 billion phone calls made in the U.S. every day.  Let’s conservatively suppose that each one lasts only one minute.  (The latest estimates I’ve seen are closer to two minutes.) About 200,000 people work for the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.  Only a relatively small number of them are actively engaged in intelligence gathering, but let’s pretend they all are. That means that if the government-haters are correct, each of these employees must listen to, at the very least, 200 hours of chatter every day. This is in addition to their other duties — poking through your emails, posts, and page views online, for instance. It’s always amusing to see how allegations that the government performs such superhuman feats are made by the same individuals who habitually denounce the government as being hopelessly incompetent.

What’s that you say? Police are sometimes guilty of snooping as well? Well okay. So let’s suppose that’s all that any of them ever do, and that they join forces with the feds in doing so. That would mean that each agent of evil must only listen to as few as 40 hours of talk every day. Maybe you’d better start worrying after all.

With such a staggering (not to mention time-warping) workload, intelligence bodies are necessarily going to be highly selective in whom they target. In other words, they’re not going to bother spying on anyone unless they have (at least what they consider) a good reason. But this kind of basic numeracy has been distorted, spun and distilled into the simplistic bromide “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” — which the spinmeisters then ridicule because there’s always a chance you might have something to fear.  There’s also a chance that you might be struck by lightning.

The mindset that “they’re watching me” is usually paranoia, but it’s also quite often egotism, founded on the conviction that “I’m so damn important the government must be monitoring me, because how dare they not.” Granted, abuses do occur, but they’re far from routine. This is not to say that you should play ostrich; but Chicken Little is an equally absurd bird. Vigilance is fine, but you don’t have to sacrifice sanity for it.

Apparently, actual spying on citizens occurs rarely , despite frequent rumors and accusations to the contrary. And many people are taking the bait. Suddenly, people are shocked, shocked, that the government has been collecting metadata (rather like a copy of the phone bill) of citizens’ phone calls.  Gosh, Americans really hate to have their privacy compromised, don’t they?

Painless Perspective

Well actually, no. Phone companies have been selling the private dope on their customers for some time, with no uproar.  Furthermore, the amount of personal data the public willingly and eagerly divulges on a daily basis (think Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, etc. etc. etc.) dwarfs the amount of private information the government collects on the vast majority of them. People eagerly reveal to the whole world juicy tidbits about whom they’re sleeping with, what movies they watch, where they go and when, whom they vote for, where they work, what their children’s names are, how much they love Jesus and what they had for breakfast; but they’re outraged over Uncle Sam collecting a database of the phone numbers they’ve called.

Ah, but it’s one thing for consumers to willingly divulge intimate facts to commercial organizations, their friends and relatives, and perfect strangers in Bahrain; but it’s quite another for Washington to compile data on us without our consent. So that must explain all the ruckus, eh?

Well, now that you mention it, no. It doesn’t.  Because don’t look now, but the U.S. government has always “spied” on its citizens — and in some instances actually spied without quotation marks. The FBI relentlessly bugged, shadowed and harassed Martin Luther King, Jr. for instance. In fact, on J. Edgar Hoover’s watch, that agency was more frighteningly abusive than anything the NSA appears even to have dreamed about thus far.

Speaking of which, NSA “spying”, if you insist on calling it that (and in some cases that word indeed would be justified) has been happening for years. And it hasn’t been a big secret, either; it’s been reported in the mainstream media many times, including several stories in The New York Times.  Why hasn’t there been a massive outcry before Edward Snowden presumably delivered a lead slug to his own scrotum? Hmmm… could it be that it makes a difference when the president is behind it all? Yes, surely that must explain it.

Well, no, it doesn’t at all, for two reasons. First, the president isn’t really “behind it all”. Certainly, his is the desk at which the buck stops. But the NSA has been doing its business all along with the knowledge and approval of Congress and the courts. So it’s hardly been occurring in a vacuum or a deep dark dungeon. Or the Oval Office.

Second,  Obama hasn’t exactly been the first chief executive to preside during such a massive data harvest.  It was under his predecessor that the Patriot Act was passed, authorizing this kind of “spying” on the citizenry. Yet If you mention the Bush connection to your right-wing friends, you’re almost certain to receive a response like this: “There you go again, trying to defend Obama by saying Bush did the same thing. That doesn’t make it right for Obama to do it.” Which of course misses the point by a country mile.

Gaming the Blame Game

The point isn’t that “Bush did it too”, but that Bush did this. It isn’t about “defending Obama” (I’m not convinced there’s anything substantial to defend him from). It’s about trying to lend some perspective to the public’s reaction (and reactionism) and to highlight the glaring double standard of the media and the hypocrisy of the wingers.  That’s certainly not an insignificant line of inquiry, especially since many of the wingers are denouncing Obama’s presumed hypocrisy and/ or flip-flopping since his expressed stance on the matter as a senator and a presidential candidate. (While his position has evolved since his days in the Senate, his actions as president are entirely consistent with his position on the campaign trail.)

By no means is everyone who defends the NSA also defending Obama. Take Dick Cheney. Please. He called Snowden a “traitor” and possibly a Chinese spy (which indeed would do a great deal to account for Snowden’s behavior) and also commented that:

I think it’s one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States.

If you think Mr. Cheney ever, in a billion years, even under the threat of Gitmo, would do anything that in any way whatsoever might be conceived as defending Obama, you really don’t know Dick. Practically since the day he left office, he’s been engaged in an unheard-of campaign to smear the new administration. Even while defending the NSA, he’s been very careful to make a point of proclaiming that the president has “no credibility”. (Yes, really — this is the same Dick Cheney who said that Iraq was amassing WMDs and that “we will be greeted as liberators” and “we are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency” and that the occupation of Iraq would last “weeks rather than months”. Among many many other things. And now he has the gall to pose as an authority on credibility. One thing you have to admire about the guy is his extraordinary capacity to keep a straight face.) And just for good measure, he chimed in with the cuckoo chorus proclaiming that Obama is involved in a “cover-up” of Benghazi. Yet for all his distancing of himself from the current administration, he is a proud backer of whatever the NSA is up to.

Ditto for many of his dittohead compatriots in Washington. They’ve been foaming at the mouth for at least 5 years in quest of some titanic regime-toppling “scandal”. They failed to find it in Fast and Furious. They failed to find it in Solyndra. They failed to find it in the IRS non-scandal.  They failed to find it in Benghazi.  They failed to find it in the deranged ranting about a forged birth certificate, despite some very creative attempts. So many of them were hoping that the NSA “spying” “scandal” would be, at long last his downfall. But like the other “scandals”, this one starts dissolving when you shine more light on it.

Bizarre Bedfellows

And the truth is, it’s a delicate tap-dancing act for Washington wingers to call for the president’s head on a platter over this, when so many of them… um, …support the NSA surveillance. In fact, many Republicans who have denounced the president as a totalitarian gun-grabber are all for NSA “spying”. Yep, they consider firearm registration to be a dangerous, unconstitutional intrusion on civil liberties. But collection of citizens’ metadata? Not so much.

One of the most fascinating things about this whole NSA flap is how it has united people across ideological boundaries, resulting in some very peculiar bedmates indeed. Michael Moore joins forces with the Ron and Rand Revue in denouncing the “spying” as an outrage and an assault on the Constitution and civil liberties; while very “liberal” Sen. Al Franken and very “conservative” Speaker of the House John Boehner join forces to maintain that the activities do not constitute spying, but an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.

One faction that has been pretty much unanimous in its stance is members of the right-wing punditocracy. These commentators basically fall into three categories: (1) those who ignore, deny or gloss over the fact that it was Bush (or some responsible adult in that administration) who got the ball rolling, and just blame Obama (e.g., Rush Limbaugh); (2) those who praised NSA intelligence under Bush but brand it as evil under Obama (e.g., Sean Hannity); (3) those who acknowledge that Bush started it, and that it was not a good thing but, what the heck, blame Obama anyway (e.g., George Will). What it all comes down to is that they subscribe to the maxim “Blame Obama First, Foremost and Forever”, no matter what.  And their hatred of the president is being spread by millions of citizens who are convinced that because they hate Obama’s guts so much, then by god he must be doing something really bad. It sounds like a sort of reverse New Age weltanschauung: hate someone long enough and intensely enough, and they’ll eventually deserve it.

The Prime Factor

Which brings us to the real explanation for all the hyperventilation over the NSA “spying”. It isn’t a love of privacy. It isn’t a general hatred of the government. It isn’t even a concern about overreaching by a president in general. It’s the Obama Factor, which dictates that anything — absolutely anything and everything — the current president does is ten times as bad as anything anyone else would do.

You’ve seen the Obama Factor at work many, many times already, in a number of mega-silly narratives generated by the Obama Haters. Such as the president’s use of a teleprompter like any other speaker on television or in at public events.  Or his attempts to reduce gun violence. Or, heaven forbid, his taking vacations — a manufactured outrage so contrived that sustaining it requires labeling even official trips as “vacations”. The extremist vendetta against this president has reached such Swiftian proportions that it has even the former chair of the RNC shaking his head in disbelief.

I’m not here to defend President Obama. Nor am I here either to condemn or condone anything the NSA or any other government agency does — so you can spare me the lectures about how “you can let the government have your phone records if you want to, but I’m going to fight for my constitutional rights”. I am, I assure you, as private a person as you’ll ever find; if I had political or religious affiliations, there’s no way I’d promote them on Facebook. And I’m no big fan of government incursion; I’ve long spoken out against official efforts to restrict the sexual, reproductive and marital choices of citizens, which I find far more intrusive than the collection of metadata — and infinitely more intrusive than gun regulation. Yet I also see merit in the argument that the president and the NSA should be thanked.

But here’s the deal. No matter whether we like it or not, the NSA program is being carried out either in accordance with or at least under the umbrella of the law of the land. It may not be good law. It may not even be on sound constitutional footing. But it is the law nonetheless. And in a sane and civil society, when people don’t like the law, they work to change it, and to close the loopholes.

In Twenty-first Century America, however, when people don’t like the law, their first impulse is to crucify the president for following it. (Or presume to know clairvoyantly that he is violating the law.) At least if the president happens to be a Democrat with initials BHO. And I’m just suggesting that it might be an instructive exercise to ponder why this is the case.

(See prior postThe Great American Scandal Scam, Part 1: The IRS Obsession.)

Myths, Misconceptions and Mindless Misinformation About Global Warming

Global warming has been the subject of an absolutely phenomenal amount of propaganda, distortion, misinformation, disinformation, balderdash, poppycock, baloney, drivel and other crap. In fact, with the exception of health care, there’s probably no subject that has inspired more lunacy in the past… well, two years or so. Here are the more common inane and insane utterances that you probably have heard, are hearing, and will continue to hear:

1. “Global warming is a politically motivated liberal hoax.

Actually, the cult of denial about global warming is a politically motivated hoax. Scientists simply studied and reported the facts; but they stepped on some toes in the process. Because the conclusion that carbon emissions contribute heavily to the problem carries with it the recommendation that polluters need to clean up their act. And those polluters have some very powerful allies in Washington and in the media. Thus the intense and well-financed campaign to shoot the messengers and create the impression that there is still a debate going on about the reality of global warming. Sorry to break the news, but the debate ended long ago.

2. “But the evidence is inconclusive.”

Read my lips. If you inherit a million dollars, that means you’re richer. If you gain ten pounds, that means you’re heavier. If the Giants score more runs than the Rangers, the Giants win. If temperatures rise, that means it’s getting warmer. What’s the least bit ambiguous about any of that?

And there is no doubt that temperatures are rising, and have been for some time. Since at least 1880, when reliable measurements began to be taken, temperatures have risen in every decade except 1930-39 and 1970-79. During those two decades, they remained essentially level. But the rest of the time, they climbed steadily.  And the first decade of the Twenty-First Century was the warmest decade on record. Furthermore, this is the first time in the past 650,000 years that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its current level. And high CO2 levels are always followed by warmer temperatures.

3. “But scientists disagree over the evidence.”

It’s practically impossible anymore to find a competent scientist who disputes the evidence and who is not on the payroll of oil companies or affiliated with a right-wing think tank.

4. “But scientists can’t be trusted.

So from whom would you like to obtain your information about science? Politicians? Pundits? Televangelists? If you’re going to reject the work of scientists, then stop driving your car, taking medication, eating food you don’t grow and develop yourself, watching television, and wearing clothes. And while you’re at it, turn off the damn Internet!

Scientists in fact are extremely efficient at policing themselves, with a system of checks and balances that would be the envy of many governments. Yes, there are occasional instances of scientific fraud. And it’s almost always scientists who detect them. On the other hand, Fox “News” has no accountability whatsoever; they know they can say absolutely anything and some people will believe it.

5. “But those leaked emails prove that scientists fudged data.”

Those leaked emails prove that leaked emails need context; and that whenever they can’t find a scandal, the media will invent one. There was absolutely nothing in those emails that negate any of the research on global warming, much less indicate deliberate manipulation of data. (See Fact Check’s analysis.) But if you’re going to talk about leaked memos, maybe you should look at this one in which Fox instructs its talking heads to deliberately cover up the evidence. Or this report, which shows that the Bush administration did likewise.

6. “But it wasn’t long ago that most scientists believed in global cooling.”

Nope. Sorry. This is another myth tirelessly circulated by the media and other right-wing establishments.  Despite the fact that climate science was still in its infancy and despite the fact that there had indeed been a temporary cooling trend, most scientists of the 1970s still believed the earth was getting warmer. The “theory” of global cooling was never embraced by the scientific community.

7. “But scientists often change their minds”

That’s one way of looking at it. Science, unlike anti-science and other forms of dogma, is a living, evolving thing.  Scientists are in the business of uncovering facts; so if they “change their minds”, it’s a sign they’re doing their job.

Again, it’s a question of expertise. Chances are if you were on trial with your life at stake, you’d want to be represented by someone who’d spent years studying and practicing law rather than a hairdresser who’s never changed her mind on legal matters. And if you needed brain surgery, you’d probably want it performed by a medical expert rather than a plumber. So why would you want to rely for answers about science on someone whose sole expertise lies in manipulating public opinion?

8. “But skepticism is healthy.”

It certainly is, and scientists aren’t suggesting otherwise; science is built on skepticism.  But who is more deserving of your own skepticism: thousands of the world’s most brilliant and dedicated researchers including several Nobel laureates – or media hacks with perhaps one basic college science course under their belts and a fiercely ideological agenda to push?

9. “But we still have a lot of snow and cold weather.”

This is perhaps the silliest statement of all, so naturally it gets repeated quite a bit. Every time there  is a snow flurry, you can count on someone saying, “well, so much for global warming”, and you can count on someone like Sean Hannity saying something like, “I wish Al Gore would explain where all this snow is coming from”. In fact, Al Gore has done just that; and as always he was met with hoots of derision from demagogues like Hannity. And as always, since he was simply relaying what scientists say, he was right and they were wrong.

Folks, folks. There is a difference between climate and weather. Weather is what’s falling from the sky right now, or over a period of days, or weeks, or even months. But climate is the normal weather for a given area based on a much longer period of weather cycles. Global warming refers to climate, not weather, and just because climate is warming doesn’t mean that all cold weather will suddenly disappear. In fact (write this down) warmer climate can actually cause cooler weather. Really. Ask a scientist to explain it to you. And maybe to Sean Hannity as well.

10. “But Al Gore rides around in big jets and lives in a big house that uses a lot of energy.”

I take it back. This is surely the silliest of them all. So naturally it gets an incredible amount of mileage. Do a search for “Al Gore” and “energy” or “ecology” or some such and you’re guaranteed to get a gazillion stories about his “hypocrisy” and/or “elitism”. But a fair and honest evaluation of his habits is much, much more difficult to find. So what? Do you really want to sacrifice the future of the entire planet in order to make the point that one person is unqualified for sainthood? If so, then please, please PLEASE take a closer look at Mr. Gore’s  “carbon footprint”.

11. “But human activity can’t possibly have an effect on atmospheric conditions.”

Never been to Los Angeles in the summer, eh?

12. “But God will take care of it.”

As Hercules said to the man whose wagon was stuck in the mud, “the gods help only those who help themselves.”

13, “But there’s nothing we can do about it, anyway.” 14.”But it would be too expensive.”

The “expensive” objection is not even a legitimate argument, since all the money in the world isn’t much good if we don’t survive to use it; and the costs (financial and otherwise) of ignoring the problem will be astronomical. But it’s also wrong.  First of all, practicing sound ecology opens up new sources of revenue, such as alternative sources of energy.  Second of all, there are many simple steps that could be taken to have a dramatic impact.

A few years ago, one study concluded that simple conservation measures could reduce energy consumption by 47% (memo to Glenn Beck: that’s  nearly half) and of course carbon emissions would also be greatly reduced. Shortly thereafter Dick Cheney, who was in charge of the nation’s energy policy (An oil tycoon deciding energy policy??? See anything wrong with this picture?) decreed that conservation would play no role in his administration’s energy policy.   Presidents Ford and Carter, however,  implemented more stringent automobile standards which, if left in place, would not only have greatly reduced pollution, but might have totally eliminated the need for foreign oil. And then along came Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of politicians (if we really must) we can’t help noting that among the current crop of congressional Republicans, 53% of those in the House and a jaw-dropping 74% in the Senate claim to know more about climate science than scientists do. Surely it would make a significant difference, and cost nothing to boot, if the American public simply stopped electing characters like these.

IN SUMMARY: Global warming is real. Climategate isn’t. (We’re not sure about Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.) Al Gore didn’t invent global warming, nor did he claim to. It may not be too late to avert disaster. But we probably won’t anyway. In a war between scientists and loonies, the loonies will probably win. Because they have a powerful propaganda machine that no scientist could ever invent.