Monday, December 26, 2016

Fossil Fuel Subsidies

I've recently argued with somebody who should certainly know better about the fact that the fossil fuel industry receives extensive subsidies. Here's a quick survey I conducted to demonstrate what ought to be obvious.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Doublespeak and the Right-Wing Mind

The right-wing mind is fertile soil for Orwellian "doublespeak" in all its variations.To a large extent this derives from a tenuous relationship with facts that psychologists who study the conservative brain think might be a feature that's in some sense "hard wired," perhaps with a genetic predisposition. Whatever its cause, an ignorant mind makes the propagandist's job ridiculously easy. The right-winger's perennial difficulty with objective reality makes him particularly susceptible to all kinds of deliberate misinformation.

A constellation of characteristics is apparent. Having its druthers, the right-wing mind prefers symbol over substance to convey truth. Similarly, banal platitudes are commonly elevated to high profundity. All this occurs superficially, with little thought or effort. Right-wingers see little need to plumb the depths of ideas or evidence, and often seem to not know how to do so.

Thus the right-wing mind prefers "truths" that it just knows over facts that must be empirically discovered. Accordingly, the right-wing worldview is dominated by prejudice rather than thoughtful examination of objective reality. That's why conspiracy theories slide so easily into its corpus of common knowledge.

Finally, the right-wing mind's ideological rigidity causes it to invert truth to maintain a predetermined worldview, in ways that are often shockingly outrageous from the perspective of rational thinkers. Consider an example that in a sane world ought to be dismissed as trivial silliness, but which in many respects is a paradigmatic exemplar of how the right-wing mind inverts truth in a manner that is genuinely Orwellian.

I recently received an email with this image and the subject "Hypocrisy"; the sender was convinced it said something truthful:

While I can't vouch for the actual quotation, it's quite true that before the election Hillary Clinton did warn about the danger to democracy from threatening to not accept the election outcome. She did so in response to Donald Trump's claims that the election was "rigged," and his implication that the result might be illegitimate. And here is what Clinton said after the election, in her concession speech; pay attention to the word "accept":

We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.

I quote from the speech's transcript, adding my emphasis. Clinton went on to say that "our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don't just respect that, we cherish it."

At no time did Clinton or anybody associated with her campaign say or imply that the election outcome was invalid or should be questioned. Quite the contrary, she stated her acceptance of the result unequivocally. Her position could not be more clear.

By contrast, Donald Trump actually did imply, darkly and frequently, that the election result might be illegitimate. After catching flack in the media for his insinuations, Trump eventually said somewhat cheekily:

I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.

So the right-wing Clinton "hypocrisy" meme contained in that image not only inverts Clinton's clearly stated and consistent position both before and after the election, but it also attributes to Clinton a sentiment that was actually articulated by Trump! That's pretty remarkable propaganda given how well it seems to be working. Orwell would be impressed.

In the face of such incongruity the reality-based observer is left sputtering in bewilderment. What can you possibly say in response to such prima facie absurdity? You might try presenting facts (as I have done here), but I assure you that will not work.

It won't work because, as I said above, facts (and reason, too) mean nothing to the right-wing mind. The right-winger will dismiss your facts any number of ways. Commonly, he will simply refuse to acknowledge or engage with themeven a transcript of Clinton's concession or, if you insist, a video of itor with your dishonest liberal media from which they come.

Alternatively, he might say that if you actually believe Clinton sincerely meant what she said in her concession, then you are hopelessly naïve. Which is brilliant, because the right-winger can make up whatever reality he wants, regardless of any ostensible "evidence" that may appearevidence which he can see through with his superior insight and wisdom about how things are. And happily for him, there is no work involved in any of this.

Your own failure, rational though it may be, comes from not understanding that from the right-winger's perspective Clinton doesn't need to actually say or do anything to demonstrate she's a hypocriteshe just is one, essentially by definition. Remember: right-wingers just know things. These things are just asserted, not proved. And because she is a hypocrite (and "crooked," too), it is even acceptable to ascribe sentiments to her (such as the "unless it's me!" in the image above) that she never actually espoused, and that her opponent did espouse!

The upshot is that reality is whatever the right-winger wants it to be, to the point that he makes up and promulgates "truth" that is diametrically opposed to objective fact, thereby rightly earning the adjective "Orwellian." False is true. Down is up. Since everything Clinton has said demonstrates she has never deviated, whether before or after the election, from her insistence that the results be accepted, accusing her of "hypocrisy" is thus the epitome of Orwellian doublespeak. It's remarkable to behold its power over the right-wing mind.

Yet the human mind, capable as it is (in some persons, anyway) of magnificent feats of reasoning, might even in the right-winger choke from time to time on too large a helping of doublespeak, and thus look about for quasi-rational ways to justify the "hypocrisy" claim. Should the evidence from Clinton's concession become too much for even him to deny, the right-winger will naturally point to certain recount efforts in three states by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and lay them shamelessly at Clinton's feet. It's sort of analogous to invading Iraq in response to being attacked by an Afghanistan-based al Qaeda.

Indeed, the Stein recount is the proximate cause of right-wingers' ire against Clinton. The reality-based observer remains bewildered. Not only is it Stein, not Clinton, who's driving the recount, but the Clinton campaign has said all along that it saw no evidence of fraud or misconduct, and that it would not opt to pursue any recounts. And it hasn't. Once Stein's recount efforts seemed to be gaining momentum, the Clinton campaign repeated that it did not believe that the recounts would result in any material change in the outcome. Interestingly, Stein has said the same thing, but (giving her the benefit of the doubt) she seems to think it's important to conduct a sanity check on the systems and the processes in a few close states.

As before, Clinton could hardly be more unequivocal. Clearly, the Clinton campaign is not particularly interested in doing a recount, and didn't ask for one. It certainly has never given the slightest suggestion that it doesn't "accept" the election result. Quite the opposite: Hillary said we must (her word) accept it, and that "Donald Trump is going to be our president."

Ah, but there's this: The Clinton campaign has said it will send observers (my word; and, to be clear, this includes election lawyerssee Postscript below) to monitor the recount process. Which of course is what you'd expect. And of course, the Trump campaign is doing exactly the same. For a campaign to not send observers to an official recount would be not just unexpected, it would be malpractice. Whatever one thinks about the desirability of a recount, once it is happening all relevant parties need to be present.

Right-wingers, unsurprisingly, don't see it that way. They'd rather fabricate a conspiracy theory. Because they just know things, they know Clinton is "supporting" the recount, even though it is doing no such thing. (This word-parsing gets wearying.) Such "support" is presumably to challenge the outcome, yet the Clinton campaign has never remotely suggested the election results are invalid, and has said the outcome is highly unlikely to change. No matter how carefully and clearly you explain yourselfeven trying to get out in front of a developing situationand no matter how reasonable your action, a right-winger will always find a way to invert and twist your meaning and intentions, and cast dark aspersions. Sadly, there is no evidence you can present which will have any effect at all, and don't bother reasoning either.

Thus the right-winger just knows Clinton really wants there to be a recount; that Clinton doesn't actually "accept" the election results despite what she has unambiguously said, andergo!she is a hypocrite for not accepting the results after she castigated Trump for suggesting before the election that he might not accept them. What a steaming mess of inanity.

If all this leaves you in intellectual despair, then it's likely you are sane. I, for one, have concluded that it is simply impossible to have a rational discussion with a right-winger. Their minds just don't work properly, and I have no idea what to do about it. Sadly, it seems that outvoting them is the only ultimate solution, but one that will always leave us bitterly divided. It would be far better if we could at least engage in rational dialogue along the way, even if we ultimately disagree on direction. But as I said, that seems impossible.

The particular danger now is that we are about to have a president who is an especially accomplished propagandist: one who makes up his own reality to suit the moment's needs, often for purposes of personal aggrandizement; one who was for good reason called "serially mendacious" during the campaign, and is continuing that pattern without pause. A large fraction of our citizenry will gladly swallow whatever alternate reality he chooses to dispense. The foundations of democracy are about to take a beating.

Although we've been moving in this direction for a long time, we are now accelerating toward a tipping point on our way to a post-fact (and post-reason) society, in which far too many of us have no reliable touchstone for gauging what's real. Be terrified.

Postscript: The Clinton campaign's statement of its judgements and intentions regarding the recount is more nuanced than I described above; you might want to read it for yourself. In a lengthy statement the campaign's general counsel, Marc Elias, described the numerous steps the campaign has taken to ensure there was no "outside interference [eg. hacking, Russian or otherwise -mb] in the vote tally." The campaign has quite understandably looked for anomalies using a variety of means, and will continue, says Elias, "to perform our due diligence."

Elias says the campaign had not "uncovered any actionable evidence" of irregularities, and thus had not planned to request a recount. "But," he said, "now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides." Even though the campaign does not envision any change in the outcome, "we feel it is important, on principle, to ensure our campaign is legally represented in any court proceedings and represented on the ground in order to monitor the recount process itself."

As I said above, the recount is an official process and all parties need to be present.

Copyright (C) 2016 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trump's Landslide

I watched most of Trump's Cincinnati rally last night. There was much to be disturbed about. Pre-election warnings about fascism remain relevant; at a minimum we seem to be entering the "Berlusconi" era of American governance. For now, though, I'll confine my remarks to one thing.

During a couple minutes of indecorous, self-aggrandizing chest-thumping, where Trump relived his election-night glory, he said this:

"We won in a landslide; that was a landslide."

I wrote down the quote as he said it, not wanting to get it wrong. I may have mistaken a period for the semicolon in my transcription.

At the moment he uttered those words, current tabulations had Hillary Clinton with 48.1% of the popular vote, whereas Trump received just 46.2%. Not only did Trump not receive a majority of the vote, he did not even receive a plurality. Some landslide. (Other recent presidents not claiming landslides got more than 50% of the popular vote. See table below.)

I am not arguing about who won the election. Trump won it under the rules as constituted. I am saying that a candidate and now president-elect who incessantly makes up his own reality and propagates blatant falsehoods to credulous adoring supporters is a danger to democracy.

In his "landslide" win Trump got 2.56 million less votes than Clinton. (This margin is still slightly fluid.) [Update: Dec 15, 2016 - The margin has grown to 2.85 million; see table below.] In his "landslide" Trump won the Electoral College by the scantest of popular vote margins. Had Clinton won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania as had been expected she would now be president-elect. Trump won those three states by a combined margin of around 100,000 votes. [Update: Dec 15, 2016 - The margin is now less than 78,000; see updates here.]

We might complain that Trump has employed hyperbolic bluster to redefine "landslide" to meaninglessness, but that isn't quite true. What he's doing isn't frittering away meaning; he's redefining reality. It's Orwellian propaganda, in which a clearly false reality is simply asserted from a position of power. Many ignorant or thoughtless people will take it on Trump's say-so, despite it being baldly untrue. Others who understand the absurdity will opt to passively acquiesce. That's incredibly dangerous.

Inventing reality is well-worn territory for Trump. It's why so many have described him throughout the campaign as "serially mendacious." An egregiously destructive recent example was his claim that "millions" of persons voted illegally in the election. Trump just made that up, providing no evidence whatsoever, presumably because his ego can't abide losing the popular vote to Clinton. But the harm that does to our democratic institutions is immense and intolerable.

We can expect Trump to assert all kinds of bald untruths during his coming administration, and to act upon those assertions. Whether or not he really believes these things is almost irrelevant. A president should speak the truth, but truth is becoming increasingly fungible and manipulable.

Such manipulation of reality is rightly called "Orwellian," and Orwell warned us against it for good reason. It's the stuff of authoritarian and especially totalitarian governments. We are about to experience something unprecedented in American governance: something with which our citizenry, with its increasingly flaccid critical-thinking organ, is ill equipped to deal.

I'll conclude with results from some recent elections to put Trump's "landslide" into historical perspective:

Trump's "Landslide" Compared To Recent Elections
Year Electoral Votes, Winner Loser(s) Popular Vote Margin Popular Vote Pct
2016 Trump 306 Clinton 232 Clinton +2.85 million Clinton 48.1%, Trump 46.0%
2012 Obama 332 Romney 206 Obama +4.98 million Obama 51.1%, Romney 47.2%
2008 Obama 365 McCain 173 Obama +9.55 million Obama 52.9%, McCain 45.7%
2004 Bush 286 Kerry 251 Bush +3.01 million Bush 51%, Kerry 48.5%
2000 Bush 271 Gore 266 Gore +0.54 million Gore 48.4%, Bush 47.9%
1996 Clinton 379 Dole 159, Perot 0 Clinton +8.20 million Clinton 49.2%, Dole 40.7%, Perot 8.4%
1984 Reagan 525 (that's a landslide!) Mondale 13 Reagan +16.88 million Reagan 58.8%, Mondale 40.6%

Copyright (C) 2016 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved