The Net has no memory

USA Today is trying to play gotcha with Howard Dean by citing a letter that Dean wrote urging then-president Clinton to take unilateral action in Bosnia. AHA! says the press — but Dean criticized Bush about unilateralism, therefore he’s a hypocrite!

The bloggers, of course, have already jumped on it. Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds is gloating:

Hmm. Sounds a lot like the situation in Iraq under Saddam, except that with Iraq (1) the human rights abuses were worse; (2) the failures of the UN and the international community were greater; and, oh yeah, (3) there was a Republican president. I wonder which one of these factors made the difference in terms of Dean’s positions?

Meanwhile, Roger Simon seems to think that the Net has brought an end to hypocrisy.:

Normal political hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it is worse. Because this is Mr. Tell-It-Like It-Is and he isn’t. And he can’t. There’s too much information already on record. The Internet will be his great undoing. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Wait until summer. The same is true for Clark. In a sea of a million fact-checkers, his idiot vacillations seem all the more ridiculous. If he gets nominated, it is going to be a donnybrook.

Now, I like a good witch-burning as much as the next guy — it give me a great feeling of camaraderie with my fellow pilgrims as we congratulate each other and roast marshmallows on the embers. But this isn’t Internet-age fact-checking. This is good old-fashioned political gotcha, the high-stakes version of waiting for someone to not say “Mother may I” so you can give him noogies.

If the Net really was the “greatest memory device we ever had” and if “bloggers and others will dig it out and force the media to publicize it” as Simon argues, Reynolds wouldn’t have to speculate on why Dean might think Bosnia is different from Iraq. He could instead just go to speeches posted on Dean’s website and read for himself:

Let me be clear: My position on the war has not changed.

The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show that the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at unbelievable cost. An administration prepared to work with others in true partnership might have been able, if it found no alternative to Saddam’s ouster, to then rebuild Iraq with far less cost and risk…

…The Iraq war diverted critical intelligence and military resources, undermined diplomatic support for our fight against terror, and created a new rallying cry for terrorist recruits.

And what of Dean’s position on unilateralism? Well, in a scoop that would make Drudge’s head spin, DocBug.com has obtained documentation (again on Dean’s Web site) that he’s not opposed to unilateralism per say, but that it should only be used when other options are gone:

Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented. America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary. But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort.

Simon is correct, the Net is the best memory device we’ve ever had. But if bloggers (and worse, professional journalists) can’t even bother to check a candidate’s own website, what use is that memory?

The Net is a great well of knowledge. Unfortunately, like all wells, it also makes a great echo chamber.


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Bush’s Legacy

I very much hope that two hundred years from now, President Bush is remembered most of all as the man who started us on the path back into space

…long after the economic ripples from early 21st century deficit spending have subsided.

…long after we survived the nuclearization of dangerous dictatorships, either because of or in spite of our leadership.

…long after the rebuilding of post-Sadam Iraq, into the thriving democracy, brutal theocracy, or boiling anarchy it eventually became.

…long after the US and its allies stopped viewing each other with arrogance, suspicion and contempt.

…long after a consensus on the causes of global warming was reached, and that understanding was used to avoid disaster.

…long after some claims that the United States had lost its guiding principles of freedom, openness and tolerance were proven unfounded, while others were heeded as the early warning they were, and our course was corrected.

Some are calling this all election-year posturing, but it’s more than that. This is a vision that humans should excel to heights never before achieved in all of history. It’s a vision that we should strive for knowledge and understanding of things larger than ourselves. And it’s a vision that the nations of the Earth should go together in this journey. This is the sort of vision that can last for centuries.

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How to tell a Vermonter…

Club For Growth‘s latest anti-Dean ad really captures my image of a typical Vermonter:

Announcer off-screen: What do you think of Howard Dean’s plans to raise taxes on families by nineteen hundred dollars a year?

Husband: What do I think? Well, I think Howard Dean should take his tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-Reading…

Wife [continuing his sentence]: …body piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sled back to my typical California log cabin and have some flapjacks with maple syrup…

(Now that I think about it, this whole ad looks straight out of The Onion’s What Do You Think? column.)

How to tell a Vermonter… Read More »

Financial Engineering News on DARPA’s futures market

Nice analysis of DARPA’s geopolitical futures markets (discussed in previous posts here and here) in the Financial Engineering News. From the conclusion:

“Even if there were not any moral issues surrounding them, these futures are not a very smart thing to do. That is simply because there is a lot more information out there about what is going on geopolitical and terrorist-wise than what would ever come about from a market,” comments Gordon Woo, a risk modeler at RMS. Indeed, one betting shop manager in the U.S. already admitted that success in his business depends on knowing when a new book or report on terrorism or foreign affairs is coming out so he can close his book beforehand. The head of quantitative research at one large investment bank put it more bluntly: “I think the fact that officials in Washington considered this in the first place makes the U.S. government look totally bereft of common sense when it comes to the threat of terrorism.” He adds: “The point is that the market would allow any terrorist group to simply plan an attack and then have someone [or more] place a bet on it and make a pot of money. This is logical, but also immoral.”


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Why we should care if Krugman is partisan

A couple weeks ago The Economist had an article discussing how economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is becoming increasingly partisan in his writings. The article relies primarily on analysis done by Ken Waight over at Lying In Ponds, a site dedicated to rating columnists and other pundits on partisanship. I like the site’s philosophy, particularly because it ignores the whole question of “bias” and goes straight to the more important issue of partisanship: blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance to one of the two main political parties.

I don’t read Krugman often and don’t have a personal opinion on his partisanship, though I do find Waight’s arguments compelling. What’s gotten me thinking is the follow-up question: should we care?

As Waight is quick to point out, there is nothing wrong with an editorial columnist having and expressing a bias — that’s what we pay them for. He also points out that some biases will naturally align with the biases of one political party or another. Waight’s beef is when a pundit crosses over from bias for similar ideals to bias for a political party itself. When this happens, Waight argues, “The views of pundits who are excessively partisan cannot be taken seriously (like advertising), because their ulterior motives or uncontrolled biases are certain to frequently contaminate their judgments.”

It is here that I break ranks with Waight. Clearly partisanship can blind pundits, but there are levels of blindness that might occur. The worst partisans deliberately lie and dissemble to argue their case — these pundits should certainly not be taken seriously. However, less egregious partisans give factual, rational arguments, but either omit arguments that would support their opponents or only choose to talk about topics that put their side in the best light. These partisans can still provide a valuable service so long as (a) they make their partisanship clear and (b) they are only one part of a diverse and balanced opinion diet. I’d say most politicians of either party fall into this second, less egregious level of partisanship. While I certainly won’t trust a politician without question, I will still take their arguments seriously. I would say the same for anyone with a strong prejudice, whether that prejudice is towards a particular party, methodology, world-view or value judgment.

All that said, I do believe that a prejudice towards a political party is qualitatively different than, say, a prejudice for well-run scientific studies or small government or Christian values. The difference is not that allegiance to a party produces worse decisions than allegiance to a world-view, method or value system, but rather that adherence to a party line is one of a few easy shortcuts that we non-pundits already use. As a good citizen I would love to become an expert on every political issue that comes up, but I just don’t have the time. Instead, I learn about a few issues that are important to me and for the rest I rely on the opinion of the politicians and political parties that I elect to represent me. As Dr. Robert Cialdini puts it in Influence: Science and Practice:

It’s instructive that even though we often don’t take a complex approach to personally important topics, we wish our advisors — our physicians, accountants, lawyers, and brokers — to do precisely that for us (Kahn & Baron, 1995). When feeling overwhelmed by a complicated and consequential choice, we still want a fully considered, point-by-point analysis of it — an analysis we may not be able to achieve except, ironically enough, through a shortcut: reliance on an expert.

The problem with professional pundits who are partisan is that they use party positions as a shortcut for deciding what is right and wrong — just like we non-professionals do. That means we can’t use their arguments as a shortcut validation of of the opinions we get using our own partisanship shortcut. Independent validation, I would argue, is the primary purpose of an opinion columnist.

Eugene Volokh once opined that we shouldn’t hold non-professional pundits (like most bloggers) to the high standard of even-handedness. However, it is perfectly reasonable to hold professional columnists to this standard. When I read Krugman (or any other professional pundit) I don’t expect him to disagree with the Democrats often, but I want to know that he could. Otherwise I haven’t checked my initial shortcut at all, I just got two copies of the same shortcut. As Waight put it, “When two people agree on everything, it’s pretty certain that only one is doing the thinking.” First and foremost, we should expect our professional pundits to think.


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Thoughts on the recall…

When the California recall started I saw it as an end-run around the Democratic process and a way for Republicans to do over an election they lost. I’ve changed my mind. However the recall started, it ended as a clear message from the people of California.

Some statistics helped put this in perspective for me. First, an LA Times exit poll reports that 25% of self-described liberals and 30% of Democrats voted in favor of the recall. (Annoying but free registration required for that link — may I suggest username cypherpunks22, password cypherpunks.) A fifth of Democrats, more than 40% of independents and 69% of conservatives voted for Schwarzenegger.

As for this being a do-over of an election that was already won, the people of California (myself included) were not very happy about the choices we got in that election. Democrats were stuck with an unpopular incumbent, and Republicans were egged on by Davis himself to nominate a candidate too far from center to be electable. Our dissatisfaction in that election was demonstrated by the lowest voter turnout on record and a full 3% of voters leaving the governor slot blank. To quote Jim Hightower, if the Gods had meant us to vote they would have given us candidates.

That said, I think Davis was a scapegoat for a much broader problem with how California is being run. As Governor he gets the spotlight, but blame goes to all. To Davis for not leading through force of personality and bully pulpit in times of crisis. To our partisan legislature for gridlock, sweetheart deals and gerrymandering of districts to offer safe havens for both Democrat and Republican incumbents. To previous administrations and legislatures for screwing up our energy deregulation process, and the Federal government for failing in their energy oversight. And to us, the citizens of California, for letting them get away with it and for misguided or poorly written initiatives like Prop. 13 and term limits that keep our system from running as it should.

Now with record voter participation, we have thrown the bum out and replaced him with an unknown. Incumbents throughout the state are no doubt aware that the anger directed against Davis will focus on others unless things change. I hope our new Governor will be able to leverage this mandate for change to turn things around before that happens, for all our sakes.


Thoughts on the recall… Read More »

Remember to vote if you’re in CA

Don’t forget to go vote today if you live in California.

And just so I don’t leave this ludicrous affair without a single post, Schwarzenegger yesterday said he would address all charges of sexual harassment in detail after the election.

He has also promised that after the election is over he will start answering questions from non-entertainment California press, debate (former) opposing candidates without requiring questions be given in advance, and start forming a policy.

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100% Cotton

From Reuters:

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – The United States came under fire for its heavy cotton subsidies Monday with African nations saying free trade talks are meaningless unless Washington stops throwing money at its farmers… [Benin’s trade minister] and ministers from fellow African cotton producers Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad called for the WTO to approve a total ban on subsidies for cotton farmers by 2006.

This has been boiling up for a while now. To put things in perspective, Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, and cotton is one of their few cash crops. Most of their cotton farms operate on 1-3 acres, with the planting, weeding and harvesting done by hand. You’d think such farming couldn’t be as efficient as the economy of scale achievable by large-scale U.S. agribusiness, but in fact it costs about 73 cents to produce a pound of cotton in the U.S. and only 21 cents per pound in Burkina Faso.

A few other facts from a 2002 Oxfam briefing paper:

  • In 2001/2002, U.S. farmers received subsidies amounting to $3.9 billion, more than the entire GDP of Burkina Faso, and three times more in subsidies than the entire USAID budget for Africa’s 500 million people.
  • The value of subsidies in 2001 exceed the market value of output by around 30 percent. In other words, cotton was produced at a net cost to the United States.
  • Based on models from the International Cotton Advisory Board, Burkina Faso lost 1% of GDP and 12% of export earnings due to U.S. subsidies.
  • The largest 10 per cent of U.S. cotton farms receive three quarters of total payments. In 2001, ten farms between them received equivalent to $17 million.

It’s unclear how this WTO case will play out. African countries are in an extremely weak negotiating position, because they rely heavily on aid, debt relief and trade preferences. For example, the aid relief provided by the U.S. under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) can be unilaterally withdrawn, as can U.S. food aid. (The AGOA aid, ironically, is conditional on African governments liberalizing agricultural markets, including cotton.) On the other hand, the conflict is bringing visibility of the problem to Capitol Hill at a time when farm subsidies are being challenged.


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Taxation Chicanary

The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. — James Madison

Tax policy has everything a politician could want in an issue: it affects everyone, it’s easy to differentiate your position from your opponent’s, and it’s complex enough that you can spin the subject six ways to Sunday without ever telling a bald-faced lie. With the presidential campaign ramping up and the California gubernatorial campaign in full swing I’m starting to see a few standard tricks get used. I’m no Penn and Teller of the political world, but I thought I’d list some of the spin tricks I’ve seen so far. (Kids, play at home — how many misleading tax claims can you find this campaign season?)

  1. Bringing down the (income) tax. In 2001, President Bush said that under his first tax cut “a family of four making $35,000 [would] receive a one hundred percent tax cut.” What he forgot to mention that this was only income tax he was talking about, not payroll tax.

    Everyone gets mad about income tax because it’s the one we see every April, but 74% of Americans actually pay more in federal payroll tax than federal income tax. For poor to moderate-income workers, it’s a lot more. And because income taxes are a relatively small percentage of these worker’s total tax burden, any small reduction can look like a huge percentage of the income tax without reducing the total tax burden by a large amount. It’s a classic use of misdirection. Penn and Teller would be proud.

    This trick hasn’t been retired in the past two years, either. Back in June of this year, Tim Russert quoted statistics provided by the Department of Treasury in his Meet The Press interview with Howard Dean:

    The Department of Treasury, we consulted and asked them: What effect would [repealing Bush’s entire package of tax cuts] have across America? And this is what they said. A married couple with two children making $40,000 a year, under the Bush plan, would pay $45 in taxes. Repealing them, under the Dean plan, if you will, would pay $1,978, a tax increase of over 4,000 percent. A married couple over 65 making $40,000 and claiming their Social Security, under Bush would pay $675 in taxes. You’re suggesting close to $1,400, a 107 percent tax increase. Can you honestly go across the country and say, “I’m going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent,” and be elected?

    Dean responded “I don’t believe [those figures]. This administration has not been candid about the impacts of this tax cut.”

    John Kerry continues to cite these numbers, saying in an August 31st Meet The Press that “If you’re a $40,000 income earner, Howard Dean’s going to raise your taxes more than 20 times.”

    As you might have guessed, the numbers provided to NBC for the Dean interview are only for income tax, not the full tax burden. Martin Sullivan, an economist and writer for Tax Notes, discussed the figures in a recent article:

    And in a new application of the “income tax only” approach to distribution analysis, the Treasury Department is providing the press with case studies of the combined effects of the 2002 and 2003 tax cuts on middle-income families. But in what can only be characterized as egregious use of misinformation, the Treasury Department frequently omits from its explanation that it is looking only at income taxes.

    He then discusses the Treasury Department report that was quoted in the Dean interview, noting that the words “income tax” appear only in the detailed write-up and an accompanying report, but nowhere in the main executive summary. “If this continues,” writes Sullivan, “the Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy (OTP) may have to change its name to the Office of Tax Propaganda.”

  2. Just your average family. The most common way to compute an average tax-cut is to take the total tax cut and divide by the number of tax-payers (also known as the mean). So when Bush says “ninety-two million Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money” in his State of the Union address, that’s the average of my tax cut, your tax cut, and Bill Gates’ tax cut. Unfortunately, Bill Gates got a bigger cut than you or I did, so that skews the numbers. It also doesn’t average in the fifty million tax-paying Americans who got no tax cut, which brings the average up even further. In fact, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, fewer than 20% of tax-payers would receive a tax cut of $1000 or more. A less misleading average would be the median tax cut (a little less than $100) or the mode tax cut (zero dollars) but those don’t sound nearly as exciting.

  3. The Specter of Double Taxation. The dividend tax has been loudly criticized as being an “unfair double taxation.” To quote the Republican Study Committee:

    No dollar should be taxed twice — especially not a dollar created by citizen productivity. Just imagine if taxes were taken out of your constituents’ weekly paychecks before they were mailed and then again after they were mailed. Wouldn’t that be unfair? The double taxation of dividends is equally unjust. No income should be taxed more than once. If the federal government taxes a dollar of corporate profit, it has no right to tax that same dollar again just because it is distributed to shareholders.

    There are sound economic arguments for reducing the dividend tax, the strongest being that it encourages companies to issue stock instead of borrow money. However, the double-taxation argument is complete chicanery — all money is double-taxed (and triple-taxed, and quadruple-taxed). When I receive my paycheck (created with my citizen productivity), I pay income tax. I then spend that money and pay sales tax, a double-tax. If I purchase gasoline I’ll also pay a gas tax, a triple-tax on my dollar. But it doesn’t stop there! The gas station uses that dollar to pay the attendant, and charge him income tax, and then he goes to a restaurant… you get the idea. There’s a nice Tom The Dancing Bug cartoon that illustrates the problems with this dodge quite effectively.

  4. What goes around comes around. During the first California Gubernatorial recall debate, Arianna Huffington (Independent) and Peter Camejo (Green) both suggested raising corporate taxes. On the surface this sounds like a way to raise revenue without causing pain to working-class voters, but it ignores the fact that everything is interconnected in an economy. Republican State Senator Tom McClintock had this response:

    I’ll let you in on a secret about business taxes. Businesses do not pay taxes, they pay taxes through you as a consumer in higher prices, through you as an employee through lower wages or through you as an investor in lower earnings. Investors are not fat cats, that is Mom and Dad’s retirement fund we’re talking about.

    McClintock is correct as far as he goes: at some point that tax burden has to be paid by real humans, be they consumers, employees or investors. But he only describes half the cycle. The other half is that taxes on individual people will come back to be paid by businesses, through lower sales to consumers, higher wages of employees, or through lower stock prices as investors have less savings to invest. That’s the whole point of both trickle-down and trickle-up economics: to get business moving, you give a tax break to consumers and investors. In economics, everything is connected. You can’t just look at the burden on one group without looking at how it affects the whole.

  5. Math class is hard. Let’s go shopping. One of the arguments that gets used to promote flat taxes and consumption taxes goes something like this: “Boy, tax forms are complicated, aren’t they? If you’d just throw out the entire income tax system and replace it with our proposal you wouldn’t have to do all that math every April.” To quote the main tagline of Americans for Fair Taxation, “It’s simple.”

    I’m amazed that anyone falls for this argument. First of all, the tax code isn’t complex because we have a graduated (that is, non-flat) income tax, it’s complicated because of all the exemptions, deductions, and special cases. (Such exemptions are used, for example, to encourage home ownership by allowing mortgage interest to be deducted from one’s income.) Second, both flat-taxes and consumption-taxes are extremely regressive, which is to say they tax the poor a larger percentage of their income than they do the rich. I guess the idea is to distract middle-class voters with the simplicity argument so they don’t realize they’ll be taking on a larger tax burden. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

In the end, tax policy boils down to just three things: fairly distributing the tax burden, creating incentives for useful behavior, and making sure there’s enough revenue to keep the government running. Between these three parameters there’s a whole world of complex, intelligent argument. We need advocates who can argue about whether a tax is more fair when it burdens everyone equally, burdens each according to his means, or burdens each according to the benefit he receives. We need economists who can argue whether trickle-up or trickle-down will jump-start an economy faster. We need political representatives who can argue about what services the government should provide. These are good, honest, and necessary arguments. We have no need for deceivers, dissemblers and charlatans who hope to pull a fast one.


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Lies: A Fair and Balanced Review

About a year ago I put myself on a no-caffeine, no-Chomsky diet. I know there are a lot of people out there who read Chomsky’s political writings and get all upset because they think it’s nothing but a pack of lies. I’m not one of those people. By the time I finish reading Chomsky I’m upset because I believe most of what he writes, and what he writes is depressing as all get-out. Chomsky has this way of saying something outlandish like “we should not forget that the U.S. itself is a leading terrorist state.” He then goes on for pages citing relevant newspaper articles, U.N. Resolutions, Senate testimony and U.S. policy documents to back up his claims. Being a linguist, he also doesn’t have the decency to bend the meaning of words so things like “terrorism” can apply when the bad guys do it but not when we do it.

After I went on my diet I became much calmer and happier. In my mind, the word chomsky became an adjective that described a whole class of media, not just those written by Chomsky himself. I started using the word to mean anything that lays out rational arguments that lead to depressing conclusions about the world. My media diet became stricter as I cut out Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, The Daily Howler, The Center for Media & Democracy and sometimes even The Economist. (While chomsky can be of any political leaning, I don’t include people like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly or Michael Moore because they’re more about appeals to emotion than rational argument — that’s a different class I call world wrestling federation.)

Now Al Franken has released a new book, Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The title alone reeks of chomsky, and so my natural instinct was to curl up with my latest copy of IEEE Spectrum Magazine until it went away. But then Fox News sued Franken for using the words “Fair and Balanced” in his title. Their lawsuit, which was quickly thrown out, accused Franken as an “unstable” and “shrill” “C-level commentator” who is “not a well-respected voice in American politics.” With an endorsement like that, how could I resist?

The first thing I note is that professional comics like Franken are much funnier than linguists. (He’s also a lot lighter on the endnotes: this is beach reading, not an academic journal.) Some of the gags are gentle ribbing, like this passage from his section on the environment:

Perhaps there is someone reading this who is saying, “Give me a break, Al. I don’t care about the environment.” To you, I have this to say: You were not legitimately elected president, sir. But I respect the office you hold, and I’m honored that you’re reading my book.

Other jokes are much more barbed, and will no doubt cause much consternation among the more thin-skinned conservatives. Especially harsh are “The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus” comic, drawn in the style of Chick Bible Tracts, and “Operation Chickenhawk,” a short story with right-wing draft-dodgers like Bush, Cheney and Limbaugh fighting in an Apocalypse Now setting. Franken can be quite venomous when he wants to be, but he seems to have an unwritten rule that he’ll only dish out as much venom as the victim deserves. Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly, venom-slingers in their own right, get both barrels. But in the chapter on how he toured Bob Jones University on false pretenses, Franken is actually apologetic and, in retrospect, ashamed of fooling “people who were welcoming, friendly, and extremely nice.” He also has compliments for right-wingers that he feels are honest and worthy of respect, several of whom he considers friends.

Underneath the humor, the book is still pure chomsky. He starts by taking on Ann Coulter, an easy task by any measure. Coulter’s misquotes and downright lies are well documented, and Franken does a quick job of it. (Quoting a friend of his: “I’ve never shot fish in a barrel. But I could imagine that after a while it could get boring.”) He then moves on to Bernie Goldberg (author of Bias), the 2000 election, Fox News, and the Bush Administration, as well as a very touching chapter on the Paul Wellstone memorial. Treatment ranges from point-by-point dissection of specific right-wing lies to anecdotes of the times he’s met with (and often baited) the celebrities of right-wing politics.

Through the book, Franken tries to explain the way the liars operate, and perhaps help us understand why. This is where it gets depressing. Start with slander, false quotes, out-of-context clips, and misleading figures and data. Throw in dirty tricks like push-polling. Finish with a cadre of talk-show hosts, journalists and media personalities ready and able to do your dirty work, and a mainstream press all too willing to go with the juicy, the sensational, and the easy. As for why, just look around you today. Bush has the White House, a firm grip on both houses of Congress, and has a stated priority to stack the Judicial branch. Republicans who disagree with the president’s policies have been marginalized. The Democrats are in disarray, and the White House Press Corp is intimidated.

It all makes me furious, which is why I went on the no-caffeine, no-chomsky diet in the first place. I keep hoping that if I just stick to real issues these sleaze-balls will go away. But of course they won’t, and they’re too powerful to ignore. A healthy society needs vigorous, passionate debate. What we have now is the opposite: a guerilla warfare of ideas, where rational discussion gets shot down by snipers in the trees. On its own, Franken’s book is no grand call to arms, but it joins an increasing number of chomsky that are shouting out from all sides of the political aisle. Together, they are a call to defend our democracy from corruption. To quote Franken’s closing message:

We have to fight back. But we can’t fight like they do. The Right’s entertainment value comes from their willingness to lie and distort. Ours will have to come from being funny and attractive. And passionate. And idealistic. But also smart. And not milquetoast-y. We’ve got to be willing to throw their lies in their face.

I don’t think I can just pick up my IEEE Spectrum Magazine and forget it all again.


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