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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

President Trump’s Tax Plan: Why Rational Republicans Should Bail

Fri ,10/11/2017

President Trump’s new tax plan looks a lot like Governor Brownback’s tax plan for Kansas, which had been disastrous for the state’s economy. Rational Republicans should realize that if an experiment fails, and fails miserably, there is no point in repeating it. That is particularly true when the economy of the entire country is at stake. Both the economic theory and Governor Brownback’s experiment with the Kansas economy show that Trump’s tax plan is doomed to fail our country. The tax bills now winding their way through Congress will lead to economic stagnation and an increased  in the national debt of $1.5 trillion, both things which are repugnant to rational Republicans.

The Theory is based on Laffer’s curve which is displayed at the right. 

The Laffer curve looks like a normal distribution curve. In theory, if the nation is on the high side of the curve with taxes around 80%, then the curve predicts that cutting taxes will cause a move to the left along the curve, increasing tax revenue. That is likely to improve economic growth.  If the nation is on the low side of the curve with taxes around 40%, then cutting taxes will also lead to the left along the curve,  decreasing tax revenue, leading to a stagnating economy, and certainly a greater public debt.

The United States is now on the low side  of the curve with the high marginal tax rate around 40% – so cutting taxes will not lead to increased revenue or spur economic growth. Laffer should know that, but he has abandoned reason and professional ethics and now just supports tax cuts without reference to his own curve. Kansas paid Laffer $75,000 in consultation fees. His advice, when the Kansas economy was tanking, the public debt was mounting, and job growth was decreasing – was to stay the course. Kansas Republicans finally realized that the experiment had failed. They increased the tax rate, and overrode Governor Brownback’s veto of the tax increase. The governor is now leaving the state before his term is up.

The failure in practice is described by Duane Goossen, who was the Kansas budget director for 12 years prior to Brownback’s experiment:

  • “Just like the Brownback tax cuts, the Trump plan makes dramatic changes to tax policy by consolidating income tax rates and reworking deductions. Most notably, the Trump plan offers an enormous tax break to individuals who receive “business pass through income.” In Kansas this feature has become known derogatorily as the “LLC loophole”, allowing business income to be sheltered from income tax while people who earn a paycheck must pay tax.
  • Given that the same economists who advised Brownback now advise Trump, it’s unsurprising that his administration uses similar arguments to sell its plan: the tax cuts will grow the economy and create millions of jobs; the tax cuts will pay for themselves; everyone will benefit. Brownback said all that, too.”

At the right is a graph showing job growth in Kansas during Brownback’s years. It is lower than the United States job growth and much lower than in California, which has a high tax rate.

  •  Mr. Goossen goes on, “But after five years of the Brownback experiment in Kansas, we know the real result. Kansas has an anemic economy and one of the lowest rates of job growth in the nation. A dramatic drop in revenue broke the state budget, wiped out reserves, significantly boosted state debt, and put public education at risk. And that part about everyone benefiting — well, it turns out that the bulk of the benefits went to the wealthiest Kansans while the tax bill to low-income Kansans went up.
  • The idea that tax cuts will ‘pay for themselves’ or that tax cuts for the wealthy will ‘trickle down’ to the middle class should be added to the list of discredited ideas that sound good but don’t work. The sell job was seductive, but Kansans have the raw experience to grasp that the experiment carried out on us was a failure.
  • Do you know how hard Kansas legislators must labor now to fix the financial disaster? Are you catching on that general fund revenue has fallen $1 billion below expenses? Can you see how all political energy goes into crisis management rather than building our future? Is that what you want for the entire country?”

There you have it.

The Eisenhower Memorial is now being built and the Kansas politicians are using it as a chance to praise Eisenhower.  Eisenhower was a great General and President because he realized that it required requisite resources to get the job done. Under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 90%. Eisenhower used the money to pay our war debts, rebuild Europe, educate returning GIs, and build the national highway system which ensured economic growth for decades to come. We no longer need a 90% tax rate, but our tax rate is now too low, and cutting it further will deprive the country of the resources it needs.

The the current Republican tax plan is taking shape. The big winners will be corporations and those already wealthy. Though billed as a tax cut for the middle class, the biggest losers will be the middle-class taxpayers and United States economy. Under the proposed plan we will see:

  • “Up to half-a-trillion dollars cut from Medicare and Medicaid
  • Substantial increase in the national debt with no way to pay it off
  • Elimination of state and local tax deductions – designed to hit people who live in “blue” states the hardest
  • Repeal of an itemized deduction for medical expenses – hitting people who rack up large medical bills because of the inadequacies of our health insurance system
  • Repeal of the deduction for interest on student loans
  • Repeal of the deduction for teachers purchasing classroom supplies
  • Slashed incentives for wind energy and electric vehicles, while maintaining most of the permanent oil incentives and extending nuclear energy tax breaks”

Our current Republican tax plan will add over a trillion dollars to the national debt and will not provide the resources needed to take care of the needs of our country and build for the future.. The tax rate we now have is already too low as the national debt is increasing. Cutting taxes further will surely lead to economic stagnation and an increased national debt, both things which are repugnant to Republicans.

(c) 2017 J.C. Moore

 

President Trump’s Tax Plan: a Disaster for the Economy

Sun ,21/05/2017

Article Photo

Trumps new tax plan looks a lot like Gov. Brownback’s tax plan for Kansas, which had been disastrous for the state’s economy.  It is based on Laffer’s curve which is displayed at the right.

The Laffer curve looks like a normal distribution curve. If the nation is on the high side of the curve with taxes around 80%, then the curve predicts that cutting taxes will cause a move to the left along the curve to increased tax revenue. That is likely to improve economic growth.  If the nation is on the low side of the curve with taxes around 40%, then cutting them will lead to the left along the curve, toward decreasing tax revenue. That  likely leads to a stagnating economy, and certainly greater public debt.

We are now on the low side – so cutting taxes will not lead to increased revenue or spur economic growth. Laffer should know that, but he has abandoned reason and professional ethics and now just supports tax cuts without reference to his own curve. Kansas paid Laffer $75,000 in consultation fees. Here is how it has worked out in Kansas as described by Duane Goossen, who was the Kansas budget director for 12 years prior to Brownback’s experiment:

  • “Just like the Brownback tax cuts, the Trump plan makes dramatic changes to tax policy by consolidating income tax rates and reworking deductions. Most notably, the Trump plan offers an enormous tax break to individuals who receive “business pass through income.” In Kansas this feature has become known derogatorily as the “LLC loophole”, allowing business income to be sheltered from income tax while people who earn a paycheck must pay tax.
  • Given that the same economists who advised Brownback now advise Trump, it’s unsurprising that his administration uses similar arguments to sell its plan: the tax cuts will grow the economy and create millions of jobs; the tax cuts will pay for themselves; everyone will benefit. Brownback said all that, too.
  •  But after five years of the Brownback experiment in Kansas, we know the real result. Kansas has an anemic economy and one of the lowest rates of job growth in the nation. A dramatic drop in revenue broke the state budget, wiped out reserves, significantly boosted state debt, and put public education at risk. And that part about everyone benefiting — well, it turns out that the bulk of the benefits went to the wealthiest Kansans while the tax bill to low-income Kansans went up.
  • The idea that tax cuts will “pay for themselves” or that tax cuts for the wealthy will “trickle down” to the middle class should be added to the list of discredited ideas that sound good but don’t work. The sell job was seductive, but Kansans have the raw experience to grasp that the experiment carried out on us was a failure.
  • Do you know how hard Kansas legislators must labor now to fix the financial disaster? Are you catching on that general fund revenue has fallen $1 billion below expenses? Can you see how all political energy goes into crisis management rather than building our future? Is that what you want for the entire country?”

From : http://www.kansas.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article151800857.html

Note added on 11/05/2017: The Eisenhower Memorial is now being built and the Kansas state politicians are using it as a chance to praise Eisenhower for his great leadership. However, they should have learned the lessons from Eisenhower’s leadership. Eisenhower was a great General and President because he realized that it required requisite resources to get the job done. Under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 90%. Eisenhower used the money to pay our war debts, rebuild Europe, educate returning GIs, and build the national highway system which ensured economic growth for decades to come.

Our current Republican tax plan will add trillions to the national debt and will not provide the resources needed to take care of the needs of our country and build for the future. It is being sold as a tax cut for the middle class, when most of the benefits go to those already wealthy We certainly do not need a 90% tax rate, but the tax rate we now have is already too low, and cutting taxes further will lead to economic stagnation and an increased national debt, both things which are repugnant to Republicans.

Note added on 11/09/2017:The Republican tax plan is taking shape. The big winners will be corporations and those already wealthy. Though billed as a tax cut for the middle class, the five biggest losers will be:
1. Middle class taxpayers. They receive a small rate cut but will lose many of the deductions they rely on.
2. Teachers. They will no longer be allowed to deduct school supplies paid for from their own pocket.
3. College students. The amount of deductible student debt interest has been cut from $2500 to $202 and graduate students will now be taxed on research and teaching assistantships.
4. Mortgage holders. The home mortgage interest deduction will be cut about in half and there is now a limit on how much taxpayers can deduct for state and local property taxes.
5. Charities. A higher standard deduction reduces the number of people who will itemize and claim charitable deductions.
Source:http://www.care2.com/causes/5-big-losers-in-the-gop-tax-plan.html

 

(c) 2017 J.C. Moore

Alternate Facts Make Fake News

Sat ,06/05/2017
Article Photo

Kansas now has its own fake news source, The Sentinel . Not only does its alternate news misinform the public, but it provides cover for politicians who use it to justify their positions. This letter describing The Sentinel was published in the Wichita Eagle on May 5, 2017.

Alternate facts

The Wichita Pachyderm Club recently hosted a talk titled “Fake News – Hidden News: Holding Government and the Media Accountable.” The presentation was given by Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, and Danedri Herbert, editor of The Sentinel, a new online news service spearheaded by KPI.

According to Herbert, the role of The Sentinel is to report facts that mainstream media misses or won’t tell you. For instance, she said that factors other than the state’s failure to expand Medicaid were mainly responsible for hospital closings in Kansas. The hospitals, the state’s editorial boards, and the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas have said that Medicaid expansion wasn’t the only factor but it was the major contributor in closings. The Sentinel article does not report that more than $1.8 billion in federal funding to date has been lost io Kansas by not expanding Medicaid and, more importantly, more than 150,000 working Kansans haven’t been able to qualify for Medicaid.

Journalism’s ethics require that publications seek the truth, the whole truth, and publish it; avoid bias for ideological or financial reasons; and avoid sensationalizing headlines and news to attract readership. When asked if the Sentinel would follow those ethical guidelines, the answer from the editor was not a resounding yes but an equivocation of how The Sentinel intends to report what the mainstream media misses – essentially the alternate facts.

J.C. Moore, Kechi

For those unfamiliar with Kansas politics, the Kansas Policy Institute makes up facts to support Gov. Brownback’s positions, and then Gov. Brownback and his supporters quote the KPI’s synthesized facts to justify their position. It is no wonder that Kansas is doing well for its wealthiest but not doing well for the rest of its citizens.

(c) 2017  J.C. Moore

Just Raise Taxes

Sat ,18/07/2015

Being fiscally conservative requires making a sound national budget and raising the revenue to fund our nation’s needs.  The logical approach to paying off our national debt is to find middle ground between raising taxes and cutting spending. The tax rates, particularly those at the top of the earning scale, need to be adjusted upward,and there is also a grave need for spending restraint, elimination of duplicate efforts, and the elimination of waste and wasteful projects driven by special interest groups on both sides of the aisle. Since few Congressmen are willing to vote to cut pet projects, and perhaps lose their own, it leaves us with just one alternative:        ” Just raise taxes”.

As the chart below shows, cutting taxes does not necessarily lead to greater economic growth, but it certainly means a large increase in our national debt. The high tax rates and increasing national debt under the Eisenhower administration were mostly to pay off our war debts and rebuild Europe, yet there was also growth in GDPand and jobs. Reagan dramatically cut taxes, and experienced a lower growth in GDP, more jobs, but also a large increase in peacetime national debt.

Article PhotoTax Rates and Economic Indicators

 

If you wonder why a country as rich as ours is going broke, it may be because of Arthur Laffer‘s economics, Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, and ALEC.   We should not let men we did not elect or some secretive organization that represents special interest groups determine our tax policy. If you will remember, under Eisenhower, the top tax rate was 90% and we used the money to take care of our soldiers, send them to college, rebuild the countries devastated by war, and build the interstate highway system that fueled economic development for the next several decades. Now we have cut the top tax rate, the corporate tax rate, the capital gains tax, and were now working on cutting the inheritance tax, while we are also cutting the safety nets and help for the poor because we cannot pay for them. We are better country than that.

Norquist claims 235 US Representatives and 41 US Senators have signed his Pledge. In doing so, they have clearly given up their responsibility as our elected representatives.   Those in the US Legislature who have signed the pledge are listed here. You may wish to check see who from your state has signed the pledge and contact them. Since Norquist claims that signing the pledge is binding into perpetuity, I would suggest that we make sure none of those who signed his pledge are re-elected.

 

The Psychology of Internet Trolls

Sun ,05/04/2015

If you have a website, or post comments on blog sites or newspaper articles, you have likely run into trol0trollls. Trolls are the bane of the Internet as their main goals  are to shut down reasonable discussions or spread misinformation. Free from editors or peer review trolls can, and do, distort information for ideological reasons or because they are paid. Then, there are trolls who do it just for fun.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.

sadism

It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

Trolling and Denialism: Trolls often use the same tactics as those who deny scientific evidence.  A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers (and trolls) as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics trolls employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.” However, that may not work with trolls of the dark tetrad.

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with paid trolls, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Comments from those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2015  J.C. Moore

 

 

The 1956 Republican Party Platform vs. Todays

Sun ,02/11/2014

The chart at the right compares the 1956 Republican platform when Eisenhower ran with what the party’s platform seems to be today. Some things aagop platformevolve, and some things devolve. The modern Republican Party is an example of the latter. Trying to hold power, rather than govern well, the party has molded itself to satisfy the religious right, the anti-science anti-intellectuals, the false conservatives, and the very wealthy. Unable to progress as the world changes, without offending those, the party leaders have taken the path of obstructionism.

It is a rather vicious cycle for Republicans. As moderates and progressives move away from the party, the extremist are more in control. That influence is seen most in the primaries where the extremist and money interests can insert more influence to elect their candidates. It is tough to be an Eisenhower Republican these days.

The 2014 platform is very similar to that developed by the Republican Party in 2012. Republican leaders  used a push poll to develop the 2012 Republican presidential platform. Here  is an analysis of that poll.  The poll was an affront to intelligent Republicans as it was not really to solicit their opinions but instead an effort to spread propaganda and to raise money. It signaled the big money interests and extremists that if they gave generously, the Party would reward them. And it did. Here is an analysis of the 2012 Republican Party platform that Romney ran on. Can any Republican actually be proud of that platform? It is no wonder Romney lost.

Which platform in the chart do you prefer? It will never be 1956 again, but think where we might be today if the Republican Party had remained progressive. It is time for the Grand Old Party to become Grand again.

The Economic Recovery in the Past Five Years: Then and Now

Sun ,02/11/2014

We have heard so much bad economic news that most people believe it, even though it is not true.The economy has recovered to the point that theRecovery economic stimulus is being ended. That would normally be good news. It is strange that it has not been widely disseminated and many people may be unaware of it. You may read a little piece here and there in the paper about it, but it hasn’t seemed to enter the public’s mind. Actually, since it would help the Democrats, great efforts have been made by some money interests and obstructionists to downplay the recovery.

The chart at the right summarizes the recovery in the last five years. Though it was put together by the Occupy Democrats, the numbers seem to be accurate and can be checked. Normally the President would get credit for the recovery, but not so much in this case as it would likely help the Democrats in the next election. The news could probably have been even better except for the missed opportunities caused by obstructionists in Congress. I hope some of them will join the jobless after the next election.

The Climate Change Denial Machine: The Psychology of Denial

Mon ,03/03/2014

 “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” – AAAS

Similar statements have been adopted by every major scientific organization in the world, nearly 200 organizations. Yet, there are those who deny there is a scientific consensus as well as the evidence upon which it is based. They object to being labelled as “deniers”  so writers often use “dissenters”, “contrarians”, or “Skeptics”, with the capital “S” denoting their skepticism is based more on financial consideration or ideology than reason. The scientists who investigate human behavior use the term “denial”, as it is correct.

Denial: In psychology, denial is an aberrant behavior  exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. It is also a sociological concept, as author Michael Specter defined group denialism, “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.” Smokers, when confronted with the reality that their habit could shorten their lives, often denied the evidence – and the Tobacco companies were only too happy to provide the comfortable lies.  They funded scientific study after scientific study that found no link between smoking and lung disease and made commercials with doctors, or actors playing doctors, assuring people that smoking was safe. The tactics worked, as people still smoke today, harming themselves and everyone who inhales their secondhand smoke.

In tobacco’s denialism, money and misinformation were distributed through an organization of Conservative think tanks and front groups. Those who wish to deny climate change use many of the same organizations and tactics, with improvements. They are better funded,  support a far greater number of  Skeptics and politicians, and  use the Internet to widely disseminate their propaganda. Sociologists Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright have investigated the denial system and named it the Climate Change Denial Machine . Its main components were examined and explained in their article in the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society . Their diagram of the machine showing how all the components interact is below.

 Oxford-figure-reprinted-revised

 

Corporations and Foundations: The climate denial machine is funded by wealthy corporations and foundations. It is difficult to track the funding as it is channeled through 501C(3)  tax exempt organizations, which makes it difficult to trace the donors or the money. The front groups add another layer of anonymity for the donors and help distribute the money in what they claim to be charity and education expenses, justifying the corporation’s tax-exempt status.

The citizens watchdog group Opensecrets.org reported that during the last six years, fossil fuel companies spent an average of $152 million per year on lobbying alone. The corporations see the money as an investment, as last year the US subsidized the fossil fuel industry by $13.6 billion, about six times as much as subsidies to develop sustainable energy sources. Their lobbying efforts result in laws favorable to the industry and help them avoid taxes and regulation, essentially transferring  health and environmental costs  of pollution to the public. Since the lobbying money is funneled through tax-exempt organizations, taxpayers are helping fund the climate denial machine, a machine which is undermining our scientific and democratic institutions.

Motivated reasoning . Those who support the climate denial machine often justify it by  “motivated reasoning”. A  study of climate change deniers found they tend to hold general beliefs in free-market ideology and conspiracy theories. University of Western Australia psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky  and two collaborators  investigated the dynamics of science doubters. They surveyed visitors to  climate change blogs  and asked them about free-market ideology, their views on climate science,  and their belief in conspiracy theories. The study,  published in Psychological Science, found :

 1. The more people believed in free-market ideology, the less they believed in climate science.

2.The more they accepted science in general, the more they accepted the conclusions of climate science.

3. And the more likely they were to be conspiracy theorists, the less likely they were to believe in climate science.

These results fit in with a longer literature on what has come to be known as motivated reasoning. Other things being equal, people tend to believe what they want to believe, and to disbelieve new information that might challenge them.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The study upset those denying climate science and they rejected the study,  claiming it was  just a part of the  global warming conspiracy .

Think Tanks: The Conservative think tanks are misnamed as they present climate change denial as a conservative cause, but there is nothing conservative about advocating for policies which result in changing the climate of the Earth. Think tanks are the brains of the climate denial machine, as they plan the strategy and generate the misinformation and comfortable lies that are passed on to the public. They also coordinate the production of misinformation by fake scientists, such as Lord Monckton, and, even worse, produce misleading statements by science Skeptics, such as John Christy, Roy Spencer, Judith Curry, and a few dozen others who regularly attend the NIPCC (Not the IPCC) meetings sponsored by fossil fuel corporations.  

The Sounding Board is in made up of politicians, media sources, and blog sites. Politicians, particularly those who claim to be conservatives, spread misinformation that ranges from “climate science is a hoax” to “scientists have not proved their case enough for us to take action”. The science Skeptics are invited to Congressional hearings where they cast doubt on the testimony of climate scientists and provide cover for the politicians. Politicians often speak at public gatherings and are quoted in newspapers, giving them many opportunities to spread propaganda.

Science Skeptics often present their ideas in interviews and op-ed articles in newspapers to bypass the peer review required by science journals. The media sources are complicit in this, claiming they are presenting both sides of the issue. This makes the Skeptic’s arguments, supported by little research, appear equal in weight to the arguments of climate scientist, supported by thousands of peer-reviewed research papers. A count of research papers from  1991 to 2012 found that 13,926 papers supported the consensus opinion, while only 24 rejected it.

Blog sites are one of the main ways that misinformation is spread to the public. Free from editors or peer review, the skeptics can, and do, distort information to suit themselves. Many of the science Skeptics have web sites which, along with sites like Wattsupwiththat and ClimateAudit, dispute the findings of peer-reviewed research. The misinformation they create is then picked up by other websites and Internet trolls who spread it across the Internet.

Astroturf organizations are fake grassroots organizations designed to make it appear that a cause has much more widespread support than it actually does. An example is an ad in support of clean coal that showed a large group with a banner reading “We Support Clean Coal”. The hoax was exposed when someone noticed that that the same photo was available on the Internet and that the clean coal banner had been Photoshopped in. The Internet can be used to create Astroturf organizations such as occurred on an Internet site protesting genetically modified food. A large number of bloggers in support GMO foods descended on the site to dispute the message and to shut down the discussions. The bloggers were exposed as trolls when their IP addresses were found to be registered to Monsanto – which sells genetically modified seeds, and ironically, also holds the patent for Astroturf.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sometimes a troll will create a sock puppet with weak, easily refuted arguments, to make the troll’s arguments seem stronger. Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.

sadism

It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

 In Summary: A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics of denial were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics denirs employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.”

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with sock puppets, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

Bits and Pieces 14: Misinformation Trumps Facts on the Economy

Fri ,23/08/2013

  • There has been a tremendous amount of worry about the US deficit, but most of it is stirred up by propaganda that ignores the economic data. Here is what the Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, had to say about the deficit.
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Here is the data that shows what he means.

 

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The Motley Fool reported on a recent Google consumer survey which asked the question, “How do you think the US Federal Government’s yearly budget deficit has changed since January 2010?” With 665 responses from around the country spanning a wide variety of demographics, here’s what it found. Respondents thought the deficit had:

Increased a lot      41%

Increased a little   14%

About the same     24%

Why are so many people getting it wrong? They get misinformation from their Congressional Representatives, who should know better. Many of the Representatives  probably do, but why tell the truth if misinformation works to their advantage?

(c) 2013  J.C. Moore

Climate Change: Citizen Journalism Can Make a Difference

Mon ,03/12/2012
 This is a guest article by Pabitra Mukhopadhyay about citizen journalism which was first published on his website, Pabitraspeaks.  It is great honor that Pabitra chose this website as an example of citizen journalism. Pabitra’s posts and articles on Climate Himalaya, Th!nkaboutit.eu, and his website, Pabitraspeaks, show that he is a citizen journalists of the first order, concerned about his fellow man and a sustainable environment.
 
 
“The authorities in New York are discovering what Egypt also learned — that it’s not as easy to regulate or arrest journalists when everyone is a journalist. But while that may make our lives a little more complicated, it is fundamentally a good thing for society,” writes Mathew Ingram in his post ‘What happens when journalism is everywhere.

 I think Mathew uses the word ‘Journalism’ only because there is no other suitable description for world citizenry finding a voice and articulating independent views about the environment from a strong personal perception. This is one important node where social media branches off from the mainstream media, which in today’s world is a corporate institution. The Arab spring reporters reported with mobile phones, with no formal journalistic training and without financial incentive.

But this citizen reporting, whether or not you credit it with journalistic neutrality has come to be reckoned with a credibility that is almost undisputed now. This is deeply linked with a wave of neo-democratization that mainstream media is riding instead of refuting. For example, we see media offshoots like BBC’s User-Generated Content Hub, Reuter’s partnership with blogging network Global Voices, and sites like PJ Media .

In the sea of blogs that piece through world events with views ranging from practical to outrageous, there are few that are slowly but steadily debunking the myths of power and politics in determining our world views. J.C.Moore’s story is one such silent reconstruction.

J.C. Moore is a native Oklahoman who earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Kansas State University. A retired professor of chemistry and physics, he is a member of the American Geophysical Union and Republicans for Environmental Protection. Dr. J.C. Moore is also a blogger who yielded key-board when people of his age and position would prefer spending time playing golf and not asking uneasy questions. He comes from the state whose legislature resolved to condemn invitation of Richard Dawkins by the University of Oklahoma because professor Dawkins is known for his stand against biblical genesis being taught as an alternative creation theory besides Darwinian Evolutionary theory in the state. J.C Moore also represents the same state that flaunts the Global Warming denier Senator James Inhofe – who recently proposed a law that would forbid funding for climate research.

Interested readers may find it worthwhile to check Dr. Moore’s blog JC Moore Online – a body of work that bespeaks of passion and rationality of appropriate mix. It’s not because I have been following his work for long now and come to respect his sincere efforts to engage Climate Change deniers with science and evidence, but because of his strength of conviction I find this man inspiring.

And such silent work should not go unnoticed for mostly the people for whom he is primarily concerned. Happily enough the review by Moore of Inhofe’s book ‘The Greatest Hoax’, a shorter version of which was also published in the Tulsa World recently became part of Senate debate between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. James Inhofe, where Sen. Sanders quoted Moore’s lines to refute Sen. Inhofe’s views and policies. Here is the C-SPAN clip of Sen. Bernie Sander’s speaking.

This is citizen media at its best. It is inspiring to see my Think blogger colleague achieving something, which, considering his location and position corporate media will give a hand and a foot to do. And for J.C. Moore it neither takes fancy TV Channels nor high selling media campaign.

I missed the good fortune of interviewing Dr. J.C. Moore in person as we are half a world apart, but this is what he has to say about the above episode.

I wonder about what happens when there is one J.C.Moore in every society.

(c) 2012 Pabitraspeaks