Sunday, November 25, 2012

Conservatives and Evidence

In my experience the relationship conservatives and liberals have with evidence is quite different.  Having been a conservative that has transitioned to a liberal my relationship to evidence has changed.  I want to talk about why I think that is.

Many people raised as evangelicals have a very black and white view of the world and I was no different.  There's God and the devil.  Good and evil.  I'm on God's side naturally so the things I and fellow God believers think are naturally the God view of the world and the opposite would be the devil's view.  So what is my approach to evidence?  It's one characterized by confirmation bias.  I already know the answer.  I go to the evidence to confirm what I already know.  Why even bother going to the evidence?  A lot of work and nothing to show for it.  We already know the answer.  Be on the side of good, not the side of evil.

The difference between me though and typical people is that I enjoyed debating with others.  So I did read books from the other side to understand their arguments.  I never read thinking my opinion would change.  I read already knowing they were wrong but wanting to be able to refute them better.  I can thank my friend HP for opening my eyes a bit.  I read his Catholic sources (I was Protestant) and was surprised to discover that Catholic views sometimes made sense from their perspective.  This rattled me.  I started to come to understand that I should treat evidence differently.  First go to the evidence.  Then formulate a conclusion.

I think you can see that here on my blog.  For instance you didn't see me claim that Obama would win the presidency.  You don't see me claim that the Hostess bankruptcy was due to bad management.  You don't see me claim that on net Romney destroyed jobs.  Whether I believe those things or not I'm not familiar enough with the evidence to make that kind of a judgment.  If I haven't looked at the evidence how would I know?

But conservatives know.  Conservatives tell us that Romney created jobs and unions are to blame at Hostess.  Global warming either isn't happening or isn't man made.  Or if it is we shouldn't worry about it.  Where is the evidence for these claims?  Often none comes.  Other times rationalizations comes, but not in the form of evidence.  Conservative economists have devised means of providing arguments.  But they aren't evidence based.  They create stories.

Take a look at this one (via HP).  Wal-Mart workers should be grateful they are paid so poorly.  If they were paid more this would harm them.  Well, that seems pretty strange.  What evidence is offered?  We could look to evidence.  What happened when Henry Ford raised wages well above what they had been?  Did the poor suffer?  Or when 40 hour work weeks, weekends, and safe working conditions were earned after years of struggle.  Did this harm the poor?  There are so many countries we can look to that have been subjected to even lower wages than what you see at Wal-Mart.  Wages that don't threaten to displace them with higher skilled people.  Has this helped bring them out of poverty?  These are the kinds of things one would look to if he was interested in proving a claim like this with evidence.

In fact what we get is nothing of the sort.  It just makes sense to the conservative economist.  Higher wages would attract people with better skills, displacing the poor and leading to their suffering.  No need to look at what actually happened.  We've crafted a story that makes sense to us.  The evidence is no longer needed.

This is coming from the same Bryan Caplan that says if you have a problem with high CEO salaries the solution is to worship them.  Sing songs to them.  Praise them.  What really is in the best interest of the poor is more ass kissing to the rich and lower wages for the poor.

Also for Caplan democracy is horrible.  The masses are asses.  The evidence is not that they are wrong.  The evidence is that they disagree with economists.  The people that say lower wages for the poor and more ass kissing to the rich is the real path towards helping poor people.  There's no evidence needed.  It just makes sense to Bryan Caplan.  It's so strange that the poor don't understand they are better off with low wages.  They don't understand these sophisticated things.

I provide a lot of data at this blog.  Plenty of links to sources.  I plan to keep doing that.  But I truly think for many conservatives it just doesn't matter.  Evidence just doesn't move them.  The conclusion is the starting point.  You can go to evidence to justify that conclusion or failing that just craft stories that may or may not apply to the real world.  I think that's how the Republican brain works and I think that partly because I think that's how my brain worked.

Old Movies Strike a Nerve

In the past I had blogged about re-watching The Sound of Music, a movie that I watched many times while young.  It was a family favorite.  I was a bit taken aback to see that Nazi crimes regarded as outrageous are now the routine and accepted crimes of our government.

I just re-watched the movie Gandhi.  I'd seen it in school in the 8th grade.  There's a scene that follows a British massacre of unarmed civilians.  The British are content to offer apologies, maybe try the commanding officer.  Perhaps that's better than what has been done in the US when you consider Abu Graib and other atrocities.  But the British aren't interested in doing much more, and for Gandhi that is unacceptable.  It's interesting to watch the arguments of the British and notice that the only thing that has changed is the nationalities of the participants.  Watch here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

North Korean Propaganda Film

Apparently North Korea has created an anti-US propaganda film.  I find this kind of thing very interesting because I enjoy seeing how we are viewed from the perspective of others.  The whole film can be viewed here, but for just a taste check out the 12 minute clip embedded below.

You'll see some silliness here.  But you have to admit that in some cases they make valid points.  I'm kind of reminded of this short Bill Maher clip that I have below.  There is a problem here.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What To Do About Global Warming

Chad wants to know what I think should be done about global warming.  I sound fairly doom and gloom here I know and I think Chad may be thinking about a biblical type response.  If we are already screwed like I seem to imply, isn't the best answer to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?

My personal opinion is that this is true for a lot of people.  For people that live in some poorer countries, their fate is basically sealed.  They are dead, and it will be a painful death.  How many are we talking?  Tough to say, but my guess is millions will die.  This is not a prediction, just my own vague sense of what will happen.  Obviously this could be wrong.  But I think millions are already lost.  If we collectively made the decision today to do everything we could to stop this, we would still lose something on the order of a few million.  You can't just put the brakes on in an instant.  We've developed some momentum and I think that momentum will kill a lot of people.

The question we are addressing now is how many do we want to see die?  Tens of millions?  Hundreds of millions?  A billion?  How many species should we drive to extinction, often not knowing what the consequences will be?  This is the question we answer with our inaction.  We could continue down this path long enough that a billion people would die.  If we finally do decide to take action, what would our response look like?

In my opinion one form it could take is like what the US did in response to WWII.  From the top down the entire population was mobilized striving to achieve the same goal.  Victory in this war.  This is like a war too.  Environmental catastrophe that could kill us too, not just the poor, if it continues apace.

During WWII our government directed industry.  They told them exactly what they would produce and what they would pay their workers.  They told people exactly how much they could eat.  They limited consumption so that the maximum amount of resources could be directed towards the war effort.  For us to beat this back I can't think of any other way to do it.

The capitalists will of course flip out at this notion, tell you it's un American, tell us that it's a limit on freedom.  It is a limit on freedom.  Your freedom to ruin the environment is killing people today, so that freedom would have to be constrained.  Republicans think that will be a miserable existence, but all the data show (and I know Republicans don't care for data or facts) that you really don't derive happiness by fulfilling these needs that capitalism creates for you.  You're actually not happier in a larger house, with a bigger car, and with that boat.  Generally speaking losing these things won't make you less happy, provided your basic needs are met.

Returning to a command economy is pretty radical of course, as was the war effort.  But if there's another way to tackle this problem I'd love to hear it.  We do have to cool this planet and it doesn't really seem like there is profit in that, so it won't be done following free market principles.  We also do have to get people to consume less, because it is that consumption and the energy required to produce those goods that creates the gasses that are going to kill and have already killed so many.  How can this be achieved without something like the WWII war effort?  Profit seekers want that consumption to continue, and there's no other way I can see to compel them to back down except government.

Here's what I see happening.  As in the war the government will have to direct a segment of our population to work on meeting basic needs.  Food, health care, shelter, and clothing.  To minimize the number of people required to do this we have to ask people to go shake hands with their neighbors and learn to share.  Instead of everybody living in their home like it's an island, why not share our things?  Instead of buying a new flat screen TV, why not figure out how to within your community share the many that already exist?  Develop community gardens.  Raise chickens in the community so as to lessen the burden on those working to provide the basic needs.  This frees up others to work to cool this planet.  We obviously need the climate scientists to continue to monitor the situation.  We need people planting the kind of vegetation that will absorb the greenhouse gases.  We need people working on renewable energy.  Perhaps we should be spreading cotton sheets across vast swaths of land, particularly land near the equator, to counter act the loss in polar ice and repel solar radiation.

Unnecessary consumption that further contributes to the problem really needs to be halted.  We of course have military equipment all over the world burning fossil fuel and an astonishing pace.  We have speedboats, RV's, off road vehicles, etc.  Leisure devices that contribute in a major way to the problem.  Hey, I love 4 wheelers and motorcycles.  I don't want to give this stuff up.  But we must make choices for the sake of ourselves and our children.  We are driving the planet to drought and extinction.  Is the joy of your yacht really worth the future of your children?  We have to get organized and we need to focus in this goal to achieve it.

One difference between this effort and the war effort is GDP would drop.  On capitalist thinking that is of course bad.  You need GDP to increase forever.  But pursuing that goal is exactly what got us into this state of affairs.  We have to think in terms of need.  I know conservatives hate that, but that's the path to success.  It's got to be about meeting needs, not accumulated the largest collection of wealth.  That goal, inherent to capitalism, is in fact the poison that is killing us.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Market Failures

We'll see another one a week from today.  It's no longer Black Friday.  It's Grey Thursday.  People used to take Thanksgiving Day and spend it with family.  Last year though some retailers decided to start late Thursday.  Others didn't want to do that to their employees.  They suffered financially.  So now there's a push to go even earlier.  Wal-Mart's "Black Friday" sale starts Thursday at 8 pm.  It's similar for others.

It's kind of like watching a movie in a crowded theater and one person stands up.  He has a great view, but others are now compelled to stand.  Then of course others until the whole room is filled with standing people all now with a view that is no better than what it was when they were seated, and yet now they must exert the effort to stand.  If a rule was created that said "Black Friday starts on Friday at 8 am" then all the employees could spend all of Thanksgiving with their families, the companies wouldn't be deprived of sales, and shoppers likewise wouldn't feel compelled to leave their families on Thursday night in an effort to score that deal.  They will have just as good a chance on Friday at 8 am.  Everybody wins.

Going down that road is an admission that the market really isn't so great at working out a lot of things, and it's tough for some people to concede that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Here Come Those High Health Care Costs

Around the country you're hearing all kinds of complaining from conservatives about how difficult it's going to be for businesses to operate.  Health care costs are going up like crazy.  I guess we'll have to lay people off, cut wages, etc.

It's true that health care costs overall have risen recently.  The lowest amount they've gone up in about 50 years.  The Kaiser Foundation is a non-partisan health policy group.  Yeah, premiums are going up.  A strikingly low amount.  The lowest amount they've gone up in the 14 years Kaiser has been doing analysis.  Preliminary analysis going forward is that this trend of smaller health care cost increases should continue for a while.

What corporations are going to do is pass on the burden of this rise in health care costs to their employees.  We got to.  We have no choice.  It's really bad now with Obama.  Well, if that line works to trick you into thinking they're telling you the truth I guess that's what they should do since profits are the goal here.  But if you are aware of the facts you can at least call out their BS, as Jon Stewart does below.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Truth Is In The Middle

Prior to the election I was talking with a friend about predictions and I mentioned Nate Silver.  My friend pointed out what was true.  "Remember, he's a liberal."  There's an assumption, possibly a reasonable one, that partisans on one side of the divide should be expected to have a bias in one direction and vice versa for partisans on the other side.  Probably the truth is in the middle.  As we now know the truth was not in the middle.  The liberal was right on the money.  The conservatives were off the reservation.

The same is true of the climate.  We have a spectrum of opinion.  One the one hand we have alarmists.  Real extremists.  They say the reality is worse than the worst case IPCC projections.  Let's call them the liberals.  People like Chomsky and Democracy Now have been talking about this for a long time.  Then you have what you might call the centrists, represented by the IPCC.  Finally on the extreme right wing end of the spectrum are the ones that say it's all a liberal conspiracy.  The earth is cooling, etc.  At this point we can evaluate that as well.  We have enough data.  We can see who had the closest models.  And here it is.  The truth once again was not in the middle.  The conservatives are completely off the reservation..  The IPCC isn't pessimistic enough.  The extremists were right again.

You have one side of our spectrum that is just completely unable to deal with reality, so when you accept what in times past has been a reasonable assumption (intelligent people evaluating the same facts have differing opinions and the truth is probably in the middle) you find that in our current political climate this assumption just can't be held.  One side of this debate isn't dealing with facts and data.  They have their preferences.  For them that is the truth.

Below is a brief discussion of how this state of affairs came about.  The theory is that authoritarians have converged into the Republican party, so now most of the people that are incapable of dealing with nuance and complexity are on the same side of the political spectrum.

Some within the GOP may get it.  Let's hope more do.  We need everyone on board to tackle this problem.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Door Is Closing

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous intergovernmental agency created due to the initiative of people like Henry Kissinger.  This is an extremely conservative organization, highly respected.  Here is what the head of the IEA said a year ago after concluding the most thorough analysis ever of the world's energy infrastructure.  Quoting the Guardian article:
The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."
At the time his conclusion was we had about 5 years.  We had until 2017, after which the damage would be irreversible.  Infrastructure built today locks in carbon emissions for years to come.  At this point we will have passed what he calls the threshold of safety.

It's worth noting though that the data so far indicate that the worst case IPCC projections were not bad enough. The destruction and rate of warming is closer to what so called radicals have been predicting.  We're in big trouble here and people don't seem alarmed.  We should be.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Romney Really This Clueless

So I'm watching election coverage on Tuesday I heard it said that Romney had no concession speech.  He was so confident of victory he didn't write one.  Obama had one.  He said you never really know what might happen.  Not Romney.  I kind of just assumed that was bravado.  He can't seriously think there's no way he would lose.  Come to find out, no, it's true.  He's actually that clueless.  Cenk covers the story briefly below.

Can you imagine having a president that is this incapable of seeing reality?  And it wasn't just him.  Paul Ryan is stunned.  Stunned?  Really?  The truth is what they wish it to be.

You can see how they'll react in a few decades when droughts and other environmental destruction that we know will happen if we continue apace on global warming.  "Really?  All those scientists were right?  I can't believe it.  I'm shell shocked."  You're shell shocked?  Hundreds of the most informed people in the world following meticulous scientific methods almost universally reach the same conclusion, and you're shocked?  Yeah, they will be shocked.

I realize I continue to beat the same drum here, but it is urgent that humans face reality and equally urgent that we stop listening to the kind of people that refuse to do it.  We've got clear evidence of how divorced these people are from reality here.  It's pretty amazing.  But I can't say I'm shocked.

Bob Dutko and I Talk Tax Policy

I caught just a bit of Dutko today just prior to free for all Friday.  Tax cuts will slow economic growth, Bush's tax cuts caused an increase in government revenue.  A variety of other points.  So I gave a call and you can download here.  Left click that link and it will take you to a new page where you can download or stream.

A couple of interesting things.  He bragged about Bush's tax cuts because revenues went up after they passed.  So I pointed out to him that they sure did, but taxes go up every year.  They went up less under Bush than they'd gone up in prior administrations.  His response is now "I'm not saying Bush was the best in terms of raising revenue, only that revenue did go up after he cut taxes."  In other words he's not willing to defend the frequent false right wing assertion that tax cuts lead to more tax revenue.  They actually produce less revenue than would otherwise exist.  We agree right, Bob?  Nope.  He does not agree.  He does think tax cuts lead to more revenue.  Which is it?  He's flipping back and forth between arguments, sometimes pretending the Bush tax cuts were great for revenue generation, then switching away from it, and finally switching back.

The thrust of his argument prior to the call in segment was that tax hikes harm an economy.  So I just stated the obvious.  There is no evidence that this is true.  The best economic performance in our nation's history corresponded with the highest tax rates on the rich.  What Bob says in response is he once again completely abandons the argument he had been making.  It's not about what works and doesn't work.  That's irrelevant.  He just has a philosophical problem with high taxes.  Somehow it offends his moral sensibilities.

OK, fine.  That's pretty arbitrary and not a great basis for policy in my view.  What matters is what works, not some arbitrary line in the sand.  But as I said for Bob it had been all about what works.  Suddenly that's irrelevant.  He's forced to abandon his bad arguments that can't be sustained in light of the data we have and he must run to new arguments.  That's progress.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bill Maher Discusses the Right Wing Bubble

Sounds kind of like me, but more interesting and funny.  Tuesday night was a victory for "pot, gay marriage, and math."  This includes video of Dick Morris and discussion of that.  Maher is hoping, like me, that the popping of the bubble leads at least some conservatives to get out of the bubble.

Iraq popped the bubble for me.  I suppose the 2008 financial collapse popped the bubble for some of the free market cheerleaders.  Even Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan seems to have had his bubble popped by that.  This election will hopefully nudge others along.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Will They Learn?

My post earlier about election predictions was inspired by some conversations I had with my wife.  She was being encouraged by friends to vote for Mitt Romney.  Most of the people we know are conservatives.  My question to her was this.  Why would they push?  We live in Michigan.  It's a foregone conclusion that Obama will win Michigan.

Not according to these conservative friends.  Romney's probably going to win, and he could win Michigan as well.

Frankly I didn't care who my wife voted for because I was confident Michigan would not be close.  My belief was that Obama would win overall, but I wasn't super confident.  I thought Krugman had the right idea.  Seems Obama is up in the polls, so we should expect he would win, but there's a chance he won't.

Why would people like Dick Morris and Newt Gingrich make such confident predictions when so much of the evidence is against them?  I first thought maybe it's just manipulation.  They think this will help get out the vote better.  Maybe they don't believe what they say, but they just want to improve Romney's chances.

But I don't think that's it.  I was checking Dick Morris' twitter posts.  He really seemed to be thinking Romney could win.  He sounds surprised to discover that it isn't happening.  He's a guy that is being ridiculed rather intensely today.  It's surprising to see him risk his reputation just in a last ditch get out the vote effort that probably won't work.  You know what I think?  I think he believed what he said.

Here's my overly simplistic generalization.  Conservatives are just much more capable of believing what they want to believe rather than what the facts show.  Start with religion.  I mean, come on.  Talking donkeys.  Talking snakes.  Floating axe heads.  Jesus rising from the dead for their salvation if they would just believe, floating up to the sky in resurrection.  I loved that story and I really wanted to believe it.  But I can't.  You know who can?  Conservatives.

What about global warming?  You think I want to be convinced that we are headed towards disaster?  Do I want to struggle to reduce my meat consumption, feel guilt for my own excessive consumption, foresee a bleak future for my children?  Pretending it's all a liberal conspiracy so there's nothing to worry about is very comforting.  I can drive a gas guzzler, live in a huge house, maybe just pretend that none of it matters because Jesus will come back and clean it all up anyway.  Who is capable of believing that?  Conservatives.

There's this comfortable bubble that Dick Morris and George Will helped create in preparation for the election yesterday.  Paul Krugman would certainly have loved to believe it was all pretty much over and Obama would win.  But he didn't say that.  He said what he thought the data was capable of showing.  Obama should win, but he might not.  No prediction of landslide.  That's why Krugman is such a better predictor than Cal Thomas and George Will.  For these guys they believe what is comforting.  Their delusions yesterday didn't hurt anybody, but their comforting delusions regarding environmental catastrophe affect us all.  Will some conservatives, once again misled by the same people that told them Saddam had WMD's or tax cuts would spur economic growth, will they finally recognize that these pundits just sell comforting delusions rather than what the data show?  That's what I'm hoping.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I love to see people offer predictions.  It's like science.  You know your stuff if your predictions are right.  So let's just note the predictions being made here now prior to the election.

Dick Morris says it's a Romney landslide.  Newt Gingrich also expects a Romney landslide.  Fred Barnes thinks it's Romney.  Karl Rove seems to think Romney will win comfortably.  Peggy Noonan tells us Romney will win.  Even Michael Barone is telling us Romney wins big.

All the betting markets I know of expect Obama to win.  Nate Silver has Obama pretty comfortably ahead.  The more right wing Real Clear Politics has a slight lead for Obama.

For my part, I think it's safe to say that Michigan is out of play, so I'm thinking I'll just vote for Jill Stein.  If Michigan were in play I'd have a tough decision to make.  Obama is functionally a dictator, killing whoever he wants without oversight.  Muslims are the new blacks.  They get killed and oppressed by this administration and so many people just couldn't care less.  Even people I know that regard themselves as liberal are happy with Obama's due process free assassination program.  Obama is imprisoning whistle blowers and all the while those that commit crimes that actually harm others go free, like the people that wrecked our economy in 2008 or super wealthy tax dodgers.  He's a nightmare.  But Romney is all that and more.  More being he wants to implemented the failed economic policies of Spain, Ireland, Greece, Haiti, and all the African countries, which are quite good at making the super rich even more rich and they are an extreme hardship for the poor.

The bright side of a Romney win might be that liberals would care about civil liberties again.  If Romney enacts his policies he'll probably slow our economy down and that will be hard for a lot of people.  But on the plus side it would mean less greenhouse gases.  Africans, which are subject to Republican economic policies, don't produce a lot of greenhouse gases.  They also are starving though and the destruction done to their environment by corporations free of government regulation is a horror.

Another bright side of a Romney win is you can make the case that Obama really wants to pursue a right wing austerity route just as he's pursued right wing violence overseas.  When Obama advocates cutting social services he doesn't have to deal with liberal voices objecting, whereas Romney would.  You can make the case that Romney is less likely to succeed implementing a cruel austerity package and so Romney is actually better for the poor.

And they call this a choice.  Like a lot of people I'll just be glad when it's over.  I wasn't planning to watch election coverage tomorrow just because it's frustrating to watch this whole sham play out like voters are given a real choice.  But I learned that Glenn Greenwald will be on all day with Al Jazeera.  That should provide some interesting perspective.

Update: Krugman's "informed guess" is that Obama will win. George Will has a big win for Romney.  Check their track records here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Man Who Saved The World

50 years ago last month the fate of our species was in the hands of three men.  Soviet submarine commanders near Cuban shores that had been granted authority by their superiors at their own discretion to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States.  US bombers were in the air ready to launch an immediately and devastating nuclear retaliatory strike in Russia should the submarine fire and that would have triggered an additional devastating strike from Soviet missile sites in Cuba and elsewhere.  Kennedy had ordered depth charges be dropped to compel the submarine to surface.  Inside the submarine the men had been subjected to a full week of temperatures in excess of 120°F.  They were being blasted with sonar loudspeakers as a means of torture coming from US destroyers.  And they heard the depth charges exploding around them.  These combined factors compelled 2 of the 3 Soviet officers to initiate the nuclear strike, but they were resisted by one man.  Vasili Ahrkipov refused to agree to launch, calmed his fellow officers down, and convinced them to allow the submarine to surface.  An amazing and frightening story explained in more detail in this excellent PBS program that provides a re-enactment.  This is a man we should sing songs to every year at this time.  If not for him perhaps none of us would be here.

It's important to recognize that the threat of nuclear annihilation is not passed.  To understand why watch this 10 minute clip featuring Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg.