On Redefining Illiteracy and Innumeracy

left-wingI’ve been highly frustrated recently by the appalling level 0f uncivil discourse at town hall meetings. Here’s the latest experience for Howard Dean as reported by the Hill. Yesterday, I watched Senator John McCain’s meeting and his was booed several times for making statements that were true by definition. The hatred in the air is palpable even over a TV screen. What reasonable person could argue with something that is true by definition? It’s the most basic proof of all.

Well, we seemed to have lost our ability to present opposing viewpoints with the use of logic, data, and information. I was thinking about this on my drive across the bayous to campus this morning for several reason. First, I had a run-in with a group of Beck worshipers (yes, he’s a loser babee, but he’s not the singer). Second, I’m in my first set of lectures where I have to set up some definitions so we can move forward with the rest. That’s when I figured it out. There’s an entire misinformation industry out there making money on confusing the intellectually vulnerable on standard definitions. It’s now so bad,that you can say that’s untrue by definition or it’s a tautology and folks will tell you it’s just skewed data or your opinion.

How can you possibly reason with any one who thinks your data is bad because their basic definition is flawed? How do you debate some one who has refitted and redefined a definition to match their argument rather than some one who looks at the definition and tries to fit the argument to the definition? Well, you can’t. Especially when they actually believe that the generally excepted definition is arguable. To me, this redefines both illiteracy and innumeracy.

When we are very young toddlers, we start learning to posit definitions with the help of our elders. Every one who has seen a toddler call every four legged furry animal a doggie has seen this happen. We say, no, that’s not a doggie, that’s a kitty or a horsie or a moo cow, until the toddler can put the animal into the correct set. The correct set is the universally agreed upon definition of the term. The toddler does not argue that your definition of kitty is your opinion. We’d never be able to communicate with any one if we each had unique definitions for every word. Yet, there are those with political and personal agendas that would make it so.

This is what has happened in political discourse. The generally accepted and agreed upon definitions of socialism, right-wingfascism, liberalism, racism, and other related terms are now malleable and debatable. Glen Beck is one example of a person that redefines and distorts these generally accepted definitions for a living. He’s the reason I beat my head against the wall whenever I have to tell person, that by definition, Barack Obama is not a socialist or a fascist. Keith Olbermann is another example. He’s the reason I beat my head against the wall whenever I have to tell a person, by definition, that Bill Clinton is not a racist. These ‘misinformants’ have completely made up their own definitions. As a result, those of us that follow the traditional, universally agreed upon definitions set up by scholars in the fields cannot have a civil discourse with any of their minions.

Here, let me show you. I’m going to borrow the Merriam Webster Dictionary of definition of Socialism. It’s short and sweet.

Main Entry: so·cial·ism

  • Pronunciation: \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\
  • Function: noun
  • Date: 1837
  • 1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

    2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

    3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

    Take a good look at that definition and tell me, just once, when anything Barack Obama has said or done to date has had anything to do with advocating collective or governmental administration of the means of production and distribution of goods. He didn’t do it with Chrysler, he didn’t do it with GM, and he hasn’t done it to any financial institution that was held in momentary receivership, given TARP funds, or pushed towards bankruptcy. What he has done has been to take public funds and pour them into privately owned means of production and distribution of goods. GM is still owned by stockholders and now, very much, by its unions who have been enriched by tax payer dollars. All those financial institutions have not been nationalized but they have been given sweetheart loans. If he was a socialist he’d have jumped at the opportunity to grab their assets and he did nothing of the kind. If anything, he typifies cronyism. He is not a socialist.

    I lifted this from the Black Agenda Report!!!

    I lifted this from the Black Agenda Report!!!

    Also, the socialists themselves don’t claim him. I’ve been reading the very left leaning Black Agenda Report for months. They can’t stand him. The one openly socialist Senator we have, Bernie Sanders, doesn’t agree with Obama’s policies on health care or corporate bail outs or trade. Heck, even Socialist activist John Pilger thinks he’s a “clever corporate marketing creation.”

    So, give then definition above and the data below it, can I get a shout out that BY definition, Barack Obama is NO socialist !

    No? Are you going to give me the guilt by association argument? He knows a few socialists, therefore he is a socialist? (In that case I should be a Christian and a Republican because most of the folks I know, work with, live by and are related to are those and I’m neither.) What else can you do? Well, if you’re a Glenn Beck Acolyte you will take his misdefinition and tell me, just wait because I will eventually be proven wrong or that my data is skewed or that I really don’t know a thing about real socialism. I was even told by several Becksters that my data was skewed and my facts were wrong when I sent them to look at the CIA website containing the CIA factbook. I was told that all sites can be hacked. What do you say to people that think the CIA website can be hacked and that they manipulate their data to make Cuba look good?

    Anyway. I picked this example, but I could’ve just as easily deconstructed the Bill Clinton is a racist meme which I just

    One of the Media Ministers Of Misinformation

    One of the Media Ministers Of Misinformation

    may do when I get pissed enough about that too! This is the deal. We are letting a few on air personalities turn people into illiterate and innumerate shrieking morons. It’s a problem when you’re in a democracy. I may have a captive group of students with whom I can reasonably demonstrate what socialism is and is not because that’s part of my job. But how do you reach the millions of folks that listen and watch these gasbags? They all need to be removed from whatever airwaves because they’re damaging the democracy for their own personal gain. Their corporate masters need to be boycotted and punished for profiting from the proliferation of ignorance.

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    Feel the Bern!

    While I stuck the announcement into the morning links, you had to know that I’d front page this announcement some time today. So you also probably knew that I breathed a quiet sigh of relief last night when I found out we were not getting La La Summers for Fed Chief. President ben bernankeObama has decided to re-appoint Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to another term.

    I awakened this morning to the bleating of the bloggies on this move. Of course, I have this tendency to look at folks’ credentials before I decide to take their opinions seriously. It also helps to know their political agendas and frames. Chairman Bernanke has probably had the most challenging time at that job since Paul Volcker took over the Fed helm back in the days of rampant inflation and Carter malaise. So many blogs have come to criticize Bernanke, but I’m just glad we’re not here to bury him. He may not be perfect, but he’s a damn sight better than just about everything else out there. Ben Bernanke is an economist’s economist.

    Wall Street and academic economists in recent weeks showed enthusiasm for giving Mr. Bernanke a second term, and some administration insiders felt similarly even though Mr. Bernanke was appointed by — and served in the White House of — President George W. Bush. Appointing a Democrat such as Janet Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, or Alan Blinder, former Fed vice chairman — both former advisers to President Bill Clinton — would have been popular with many Democrats. But a move by Mr. Obama to install his own person at the Fed might have have rattled markets and unsettled the foreign investors.

    Phil Izza at the WSJ has a pretty good line up of comments from both political and financial folks on the Bernanke appointment. Some of the performance the financial markets today(so far, all up) could be linked to the decision as the Fed Chair heads up the Federal Open Market Committee and sets its agenda. It is a rare FOMC that will go against the recommendations of their chair when setting monetary policy(primarily levels of interest rates, exchange rates, and bond offerings) although there is usually a healthy amount of debate and exchange or so I’ve heard since the meetings are top secret.

    • I think it’s good news for the Federal Reserve. It’s good news for the country. It’s a great choice. Chairman Bernanke has done a terrific job in bringing openness to the Fed. He has been bold and creative in dealing with the financial crisis… It was not clear to most people that the crisis was going to be as broad-based, and that the excesses in the financial markets and in lending were as broadly based as they turned out to be. Even at the start, he was willing to consider all options to deal with what appeared to be more a liquidity than a solvency crisis. As it began to become more clear that it was a crisis of solvency and leverage and a classic credit crunch, he didn’t flinch in bringing enormous creativity to bear in mitigating the problem –Richard Berner, Morgan Stanley
    • Having a new chairman come in at this late date would put the Fed engineered solution to both the recovery and the exit strategy at risk. The Federal Reserve made a hasty exit from easy money stimulus in the 1930s and we know how that worked out… Mistakes have been made at many regulatory institutions during this crisis, but all the Fed’s mistakes would have been made by any man according to the prudent man rule. Bernanke is a true prudent man who calls them as he sees them, and knows the ins and outs of policymaking… If he can pull off this recovery that still needs nurturing, he could well go down as one of the greatest Fed Chairmen in history. –Christopher Rupkey, an economist with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi

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    Hillary’s Gender Agenda

    abc_2hillary_080128_ms Here’s some news about Hillary Clinton’s New Gender Agenda as reported last week by the NY Times.

    I have to say that Hillary really captured my admiration in 1995 when she gave that powerful speech in Beijing for the United Nations Conference. The only really feminist first lady that I can recall in my life time before Hillary Clinton was Betty Ford. Although I remember reading many many things about Eleanor Roosevelt, she died before I could truly appreciate her. All the other first ladies seemed so demure by comparison! But not Hillary Clinton!

    She is our third female Secretary of State. While I appreciate Condi Rice and her brilliance, she was not always arguing positions with which I agreed so I always watched her with a raised eyebrow. I do, however, admire all three of them from Madeline Albright forward. As my Irish Grandmother taught me from her very superstitious nature, the third’s always the charm! Hillary has put women’s issues front and center and I have to say brava for that! There are so many issues facing women in the world these days that it is hard to choose one as a priority. The ones that have grabbed my heart recently are that of the plight of child brides and the girls (and young boys) trafficked for the sex trade. The one I work for is microfinancing for women’s businesses all over the world. (Shameless plug here for The Confluence Lending Team at Kiva.) Here are Hillary’s priorities.

    Q: In your confirmation hearing, you said you would put women’s issues at the core of American foreign policy. But as you know, in much of the world, gender equality is not accepted as a universal human right. How do you overcome that deep-seated cultural resistance?

    Clinton: You have to recognize how deep-seated it is, but also reach an understanding of how without providing more rights and responsibilities for women, many of the goals we claim to pursue in our foreign policy are either unachievable or much harder to achieve.

    Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote, or if their vote doesn’t count, or if their literacy rate is so low that the exercise of their vote is in question. Which is why when I travel, I do events with women, I talk about women’s rights, I meet with women activists, I raise women’s concerns with the leaders I’m talking to.

    I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress — that we have made progress on many other aspects of human nature that used to be discriminatory bars to people’s full participation. But in too many places and too many ways, the oppression of women stands as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to realize people’s full human potential.

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    Where in the World is Hillary Clinton?

    There’s a great answer to that question and the main question of David Rothkopf’s article at WaPo entitled It’s 3 a.m. Do UT0038718You Know Where Hillary Clinton Is? His answer is: She’s not answering those crisis calls at the White House. But she’s quietly revolutionizing American foreign policy. It’s nice to know at least some of our policy approaches are on the mend since the devastating Bush/Cheney Years. It’s also even nicer to see the article couched in terms of the blatant sexism that has dogged SOS Clinton since she first started her public service career.

    …during her first seven months in office, the former first lady, erstwhile presidential candidate and eternal lightning rod has drawn more attention for her moods, looks, outtakes and (of course) relationship with her husband than for, well, her work revamping the nation’s foreign policy.

    Even venerable publications — such as one to which I regularly contribute, Foreign Policy — have woven into their all-Hillary-all-the-time coverage odd discussions of Clinton’s handbag and scarf choices. Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, while depicting herself as a Clinton supporter, has been scathing and small-minded in discussing such things as Clinton’s weight and hair, while her “defense” of Hillary in her essay “Obama’s Other Wife” was as sexist as the title suggests.

    Indeed, sexism has followed Clinton from the campaign trail to Foggy Bottom, as seen most recently in the posturing outrage surrounding the exchange in Congo when Clinton reacted with understandable frustration to the now-infamous question regarding her husband’s views. Major media outlets have joined the gossipfest, whether the New York Times, which covered Clinton’s first big policy speech by discussing whether she was in or out with the White House, or The Washington Post, where a couple of reporters mused about whether a brew called Mad Bitch would be the beer of choice for the secretary of state.

    Wow, did some one at WaPo finally look up from their cappuccino and finally understand that Clinton’s uphill battle with their peers has been an over-the-top distraction from her service and her accomplishments? Could this be the start of something big? As you read through the article, you will note that much of its contents are carefully couched to refrain from pulling any thunder from the domestically preoccupied and addled POTUS. The narrative is framed in context of an Obama administration even though the headline and examples seem to play up the Clinton contribution.

    … Clinton is leaving behind old doctrines and labels. She outlined her new thinking in a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where she revealed stark differences between the new administration’s worldview and those of its predecessors: The recurring themes include “partnership” and “engagement” and “common interests.” Clearly, Madeleine Albright’s “indispensable nation” has recognized the indispensability of collaborating with others.

    Who those “others” are is the area in which change has been greatest and most rapid. “We will put,” Clinton said, “special emphasis on encouraging major and emerging global powers — China, India, Russia and Brazil, as well as Turkey, Indonesia and South Africa — to be full partners in tackling the global agenda.” This is the death knell for the G-8 as the head table of the global community; the administration has an effort underway to determine whether the successor to the G-8 will be the G-20, or perhaps some other grouping. Though the move away from the G-8 began in the waning days of the Bush era, that administration viewed the world through a different lens, a perception that evolved from a traditional great-power view to a pre-Galilean notion that everything revolved around the world’s sole superpower.

    Perhaps the most interesting narrative is the new approach to the emerging power of countries earning places at the power table by something more modern than their positions during last century’s world wars. Her emphasis on China, India, and Russia cannot be missed. Also, there is mention of her emphasis on the rights of women in African and Middle East countries; places where religion frequently places women as chattel and violent abuse is common place.

    Additionally, the article comes up with names and ways that SOS Clinton is shaping not only diplomacy but the State department, itself. Her appointments and budget priorities are demonstrably in step with her goals.

    Even just a few months in, it’s clear that these appointments are far from window dressing. Lew, Slaughter and the acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Development are leading an effort to rethink foreign aid with the new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, an initiative modeled on the Pentagon’s strategic assessments and designed to review State’s priorities. Stern has conducted high-level discussions on climate change around the world, notably with China. Clinton made women’s issues a centerpiece of her recent 11-day trip to Africa, where she stressed that “the social, political and economic marginalization of women across Africa has left a void in this continent that undermines progress and prosperity.”

    Again, there’s a lot of emphasis in the article about Clinton’s relationship to Obama and ‘his agenda’ . There is also so much made of the prevailing air of harmony and compatibility that I personally wondered that if it wasn’t more about Clinton operating so independently and efficiently that Obama could basically leave well enough alone and focus on all the domestic squabbles and state dinners. My belief is that he’d rather by more of a constitutional monarch and marketeer-in-chief and leave the actual work to the underlings. It appears he has the luxury given the efficient and effective state of the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Thank goodness some one noticed that instead of the color of her pantsuit choice today.

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    Borrowing a turn of Phrase …

    Paul Krugman’s Saturday blog post takes a defensive tone with Marc Ambinder who once called Krugman and a group southparkof other liberal thinkers “reflexively anti-Bush”. Krugman expected a better apology from Ambinder after it was confirmed by former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that the White House did, in fact, play politics with the Code Orange terrorist warnings. Evidently, there was an email between the two and Krugman felt the exchange wanting. Here’s his rationale.

    But I’d like to return to one point: even after retracting his statement about people who correctly surmised that terror warnings were political being motivated by “gut hatred” of Bush, he left in the bit about being “reflexively anti-Bush”. I continue to find it really sad that people still say things like this.

    Bear in mind that by the time the terror alert controversy arose in 2004, we had already seen two tax cuts sold on massively, easily documented false pretenses; a war launched with constant innuendo about a Saddam-Osama link that was clearly false, and with claims about WMDs that were clearly shaky from the beginning and had proved to be entirely without foundation. We’d also seen vast, well-documented dishonesty and politicization on environmental policy. Oh, and Abu Ghraib was already public knowledge.

    Given all that, it made complete sense to distrust anything the Bush administration said. That wasn’t reflexive, it was rational.

    I’d like to borrow the example and phrase because some of us around here are perpetually called “reflexively anti-Obama” or, of course, called racist because it’s a much more pejorative and personally damaging label. This is simply because we see similar patterns of behavior in Barrack Obama and his administration. Notice that Krugman has a laundry list right there in that second paragraph of things that made him rationally distrust anything the Bush administration said. I personally have my own laundry list of things that makes me rationally distrust anything the Obama administration says. It starts (but does not end) with the pledge to vote against FISA.

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    Louisiana Senator Vitter Declares War on Canadian Users of Viagra

    3341cOkay, that headline is way misleading, but it’s Friday and I’m in a wrascally mood. Actually, what Republican Senator David (the Diaper) Vitter is suggesting is that we overwhelm the Canadian Prescription Drug Market via re-importation to drive prices up there and prices down here. It’s a strategy to break a system where Big Pharma gets to practice price discrimination which is basically charging different prices to different markets. TPM posted this Vitter explanation on YouTube.

    Vitter’s economics seem like they might just work — or maybe not. Canada and other countries negotiate lower prices with the drug companies, who then demand exorbitant profits from U.S. consumers and our relatively free market. Arguably, by overwhelming other countries with American demand, their systems would break down. The next step here, is that Vitter believes this will cause prices to go up for everyone else, and down for us. (But we’d be curious what health care economists would say).

    As Vitter told his questioner, who is apparently an Obama supporter: “I don’t support price controls, but I actually think re-importation would cause that system, as well as these varying prices, to collapse. That make sense?”

    Of course, this is assuming the drug companies wouldn’t take advantage of their inelastic demand curves by just jacking up prices for everyone. And really, this whole scheme to destroy other countries’ social welfare programs for American benefit isn’t mighty neighborly of Vitter, is it?

    It’s just so fiendish, it make actually work! But sheesh, aren’t there easier ways to take care of this like making some legislation here in the U.S. that lets Medicare bargain for its subscriber’s benefits or a public health option that could do the same? Why crash the Canadian system when just a little law writing could force the same result? We have laws that outlaw price discrimination! We could do something novel and let the Justice Department go after them with our antitrust laws! But, Senator Vitter, why pick on the poor Canadians, isn’t just living up there in the middle of ice fields and glaciers enough punishment as it is?

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    Paradise Squandered

    donkeyI guess the old adage is true. A year is a long time in politics. Less than 18 months ago I held out hope that we would see a solid democratic majority for some time and that there would be a democratic President with a democratic agenda moving the country forward and away from the Bush Cheney nightmare. I expected that we would have no more warrantless wiretapping. I believed we would be discussing an energy policy that included more options that drill, baby drill. I thought a women’s uterus would no longer be considered an object of state interest. I figured that we’d see the end to talk about protecting traditional marriage, whatever the heck that ever was to start out with but basically we’d no longer exclude gay couples from a civil institution and gay soldiers from openly serving in our military.

    I thought our future seemed bright.

    I thought perhaps we could have a defense department budget that resembled the levels of other democratic countries and that we would have a health care plan that resembled the rest of the developed world. I especially felt hopeful, when I watched the first democratic debate, that one of those folks would be in charge of America again. It was only a matter of which one. Little did I know then, the one I discounted as not really knowing a thing by the time the second debate was over is the one we got. My basic thought about Obama was Vice President material.

    Now, our national nightmare continues and The Cook Political Report has just dropped the other shoe. The Cook Political Report has a very good reputation for handicapping elections.

    Gallup’s three-night moving average tracking poll, President Obama’s job approval rating in both their August 16-18 and August 17-19 averages was just 51 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. The latter sampling showed his disapproval up to 42 percent, matching his all-time low hit in the August 15-17 tracking poll. The 51% job approval rating is identical to two other polls released in recent days conducted by NBC News and the Pew Research Center. Today’s regression-based trend estimate computed by our friends at Pollster.com from all major national surveys show an approval rating of 50.7 percent and disapproval of 43.7 percent.

    These data confirm anecdotal evidence, and our own view, that the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Today, The Cook Political Report’s Congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics is that this is far too low.

    Many veteran Congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats. A new Gallup poll that shows Congress’ job disapproval at 70 percent among independents should provide little solace to Democrats. In the same poll, Congressional approval among independents is at 22 percent, with 31 percent approving overall, and 62 percent disapproving.

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