False Claims of the Presidential Candidates

Pants on Fire - FalsePaul Bibeau did a little research, Which 2016 Candidates Are the Biggest Liars According to Politifact? He went over to PolitiFact and counted all the articles that they had done on the various presidential candidates to see what percentage of them were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” It’s an interesting idea. But we don’t want to take it all that seriously.

The big thing here is that this is hardly a random sample. And conservatives are absolutely convinced that PolitiFact is part of the liberal media conspiracy. They think this because, consistently, conservatives come off worse than liberals. And it just can’t be that conservatives are just more likely to either lie or not have their facts straight, can it? At the same time, liberals like me think that PolitiFact is far too hard on fellow liberals. It has a tendency to nitpick and find clearly true statements “half true.” All of the fact checking groups have this problem.

Why Republicans Say False Things

Since it clearly is the case that conservatives are simply more likely to believe things that aren’t true, conservative politicians are more likely to go around repeating this nonsense. There are cultural and ideological reasons for this: liberals pride themselves on following the facts and conservatives pride themselves on their certainty. It isn’t a value judgement, but it does explain why conservative public figures would end up saying more false things.

But this puts the fact checking people in a bit of a bind. If they find too many lies on one side, they will be written off as biased. But if they go out of their way to make the numbers even, then they aren’t doing their jobs. I think what ends up happening — probably without them even knowing it — is that they loosen up on the conservative claims and tighten up on the liberal claims. The result is still that the conservatives come off worse, but it isn’t as stark as it is in reality.

Not Lies — Just False

One thing I disagree with Bibeau about, however, is that these claims are lies. And I’ve always thought the “pants on fire” designation was stupid. In the vast majority of cases, the people making false claims actually believe them — they aren’t lying; they’re just misinformed. Of course, the Republican Party is indeed “post-truth.” But not valuing the truth is not the same as actively misrepresenting it.

Here is the list, along with the ones that Bibeau didn’t include. I’ve filtered out all of the candidates who don’t have at least 10 statements:

Candidate Statements Fire % False %
Donald Trump (R) 29 21% 83%
Ted Cruz (R) 49 8% 70%
Rick Santorum (R) 56 9% 53%
Mike Huckabee (R) 34 12% 50%
Scott Walker (R) 146 7% 49%
Lincoln Chafee (D) 17 0% 47%
Rick Perry (R) 166 11% 46%
Marco Rubio (R) 95 2% 39%
Rand Paul (R) 40 5% 35%
Lindsey Graham (R) 12 0% 34%
Chris Christie (R) 93 8% 32%
John Kasich (R) 51 6% 32%
Jeb Bush (R) 46 2% 32%
Martin O’Malley (D) 10 0% 30%
Hillary Clinton (D) 114 2% 29%
Bernie Sanders (D) 23 0% 23%
Not listed: Ben Carson (R, 100% of 3 statements), Carly Fiorina (R, 57% of 7 statements), Bobby Jindal (R, 14% of 7 statements), and Jim Webb (D, 14% of 7 statements).

Partisan Differences

That’s a pretty stark list. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the people actually used this to form their opinions about the parties? But the thing is that I suspect that most people already know about this. But this is where we get into the whole idea of cynicism. “Well, Clinton lies 29% of the time so she’s no better than Trump!” But what the table shows above all is that the Democrats operate in more or less the real world. And the very high levels of false claims are more an indication of the demagoguery of the Republican Party than anything else.

Still, I think the whole thing is true. And it probably understates the reality because of PolitiFact skewing. For example, the last “true” claim of Jeb Bush that the group investigated was, “Says his release of 33 years of tax returns is ‘more than any presidential candidate in history.'” Wow, I’m sure people were just begging for them to get to the bottom of that one! Just the same, the last Clinton “mostly false” was, “Despite keeping distance from national media interviewers, ‘I did local press all along, the last three months.'” This isn’t actually false, but PolitiFact didn’t think she did enough local press, so it’s “mostly false.” But again: not exactly something the people were begging to know about.

Lobbyists in Control of Congress

Lee FangThe top lobbyist for Chevron, Stephen Sayle, is now a senior staff member for the House Committee on Science, which oversees science policy for the federal government. This is a lobbyist, Mr Sayle, who has helped Chevron beat back regulatory efforts that rest on federal science — whether it’s on the ozone or on climate change. And now that he is overseeing the science committee, he has a unique opportunity to shift not only policy that not only governs the way that federal science is used to implement pollution regulations, he also has an opportunity to help with the science committee’s “investigation” of climate scientists. Over the years, the science committee has brought in scientists to quiz them on climate science and other issues that are very controversial now given the EPA’s pursuit of regulations that affect the fossil fuel industry.

This isn’t a unique dynamic. In the last two Congresses, we’ve seen some unprecedented wholesale change in the senior staff positions in Congress. I’m referring to the chief of staff, which reports directly to a member of Congress or Senator. Or the staff director position. And that’s a position that oversees either a committee or subcommittee. In almost every single position or staff director, we’ve seen lobbyist from the relevant industry take those spots. So before the agricultural committee, which oversees school lunches and nutrition guidelines, we now have a Pepsi lobbyist who is overseeing that committee. In the Senate arms services committee, which oversees military spending, we have a lobbyist for the trade group that represents Lockheed Martin and Boeing, now leading that committee. So from committee to committee, no matter whether it’s on chemical safety, no matter whether it’s on pollution or on school lunches, we have lobbyists for the industries effected running the show from the inside.

—Lee Fang
Interviewed on CounterSpan

Racism, Hulk Hogan, and Jimmy Dore

Jimmy DoreI was listening to a little of The Young Turks while cooking the other night. I like the show, but as I’ve noted in the past, other than Cenk Uygur, it is intellectually weak. And that was well on display in a segment, WWE Fires Hulk Hogan Over Racist Rant. It seems that the wrestler was fired because he was recorded privately saying the n-word repeatedly. I don’t especially care. Are we supposed to be shocked that a profession that has long used the most vile racist stereotypes would not create a nice liberal culture? I’m not saying that WWE shouldn’t have fired him; it is just that it doesn’t matter.

There is one aspect of the tape that I find interesting. As far as I could tell, Hogan was upset because his daughter had abandoned him for some other mentor who was black. And so Hogan was using the worst word that he could think of. In general, my problem with private use of the n-word is that it breeds a broader callous attitude. It is a sign that the person using it is letting (in this case) his racist thoughts become unchecked. And that is a very dangerous thing because it is empathy destroying.

Another thing that Hogan repeated was the phrase, “I guess we’re all a little racist.” I’m not sure what to make of that. It seems like it indicates that Hogan knew what he was saying was wrong, but he had all this anger toward this African American and it was manifesting in some very ugly ways. Certainly, it was self-justification. But I think it shows more self-awareness than I would have expected. If this is Hulk Hogan’s nadir, then I think he’s okay. If this is a typical moment for him, then I’m afraid he is lost to the civilized world. I like to think the best.

But the gang on The Young Turks did not want to think the best. And that’s fine. But all they did was pile on. They provided no insight. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say that Hulk Hogan is a racist and that’s that. But that could have been done in 30 seconds. The gang spent nine minutes on it. And those were nine very self-important minutes where they, the good non-racist people, looked down on the bad racist, Hulk Hogan, who used the n-word.

The worst part was the focus on the line, “I guess we’re all a little racist.” Now I understand that it is being used by Hogan to justify his anger and language. But Jimmy Dore pushed the idea, “No, we’re not all a little racist.” Well, the last hundred years of cognitive science would beg to differ. Certainly many of us manage to get through our whole lives without using the n-word — or any other racial slurs. But whenever I hear someone tell me that they aren’t racist, I know that they are either a complete bigot or deeply misinformed about how racism works.

Most of us have the best of intentions. And on a rational level, we are often very good. But we are more than our rational selves. And our subconscious, gut, reactions poison us. Dore discussed growing up in a fairly racist subculture, and how he grew past that. Great! I’m the same way. But I still have that background. I have still lived these five decades in a racist society where the underclass is primarily black and brown. And I cannot allow myself to think that I am “past” racism.

None of this means that Jimmy Dore is the real racist and Hulk Hogan is some paragon of honesty. Nor is it to put myself on a higher level. All three of us — and everyone else for that matter — are just a jumble of good and bad contradictions. I would expect that we could all agree that race is a social construct and we are all racist to one extent or another. And hopefully, we can all do better. But thinking of racism as some kind of on-off switch is the game that conservatives play to delegitimize the complaints of those who our racism still oppresses.

Serial Killer Managed by Quick Thinking Victim

Neal FallsThe man in the photo is Neal Falls. He’s dead. And I have to admit to being okay with that — even a bit happy. I’m not proud of that. But he appears to have been a serial killer — responsible for as many as ten murders and disappearances that we know of. There are two clusters — separated by a decade. So there’s a good chance that there were lots more in between.

This doesn’t mean I’m in favor of the death penalty. Had he just been caught by the authorities, I’d be fine with him rotting in jail until the end of his natural life. I wouldn’t want the state putting him to death. But the way that Falls died is so wonderful — so appropriate — that I just can’t help feeling good about it.

About a week ago, Falls contacted a woman on Backpage — something like Craig’s List, but apparently where sex ads are still okay. According to the NBC News, Man Killed by Sex Worker in West Virginia Could Be Linked to 10 Other Attacks:

The woman, whose identity hasn’t been released, told investigators Falls drew a gun and tried to strangle her. She said she grabbed Falls’ gun when he set it down to overpower her and shot him.

It should be clear from this what I like: the empowered woman. I do hope that the police are treating her as a hero and not as a criminal. And I hope this is an opportunity for her to get into a better line of work. I have no problem with sex work. But in this country, it is usually associated with drug addiction and other dysfunctions. It doesn’t usually pay well. Most people deserve better lives than sex work provides.

On the other hand, I have no special mallace towards Neal Falls. If what has been reported is true, he seems like a garden variety psychopath. And I no more blame him for his behavior than I do a grizzly bear who attacks a human: something that needs to be managed. But dead at the hands of one of his victims? I’m fine with that.


Heather - HeroI just found out that the woman was not arrested. That’s her picture there on the right. She asked to be called Heather. She said that Falls came to her home with a gun and said, “Live or die?” He then started to strangle her. She grabbed a rake. He put the gun down to get the rake, she grabbed the gun and shot him. Then, “Heather ran out of the house and flagged down a neighbor, who called 911.”

Morning Music: Woody Guthrie

Struggle - Woody GuthrieI can’t decide if I should do a straight series of worker songs. But when in doubt, I always go with a set schedule. So I thought today we would listen to Woody Guthrie doing “Union Burying Ground.” It is a commemoration of all the union workers and organizers who were killed in the struggle. It is filled with a religious conviction. It celebrates martyrdom. For example, it says, “Every new grave brings a thousand members…” And also, “I’m a gonna sleep in a union coffin…” These are committed statements.

As I noted before, I don’t have much ability when it comes to faith. This is why I make a terrible activist. You can’t work for change unless you think it is a real possibility. Cynicism gets you nowhere. At the same time, our own cynicism is the capitalists’ greatest tool. The last refuge of a conservative is, “They’re all the same! It’s all corrupt!” John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” He wasn’t talking about the capitalist class, but he should have been.

Anniversary Post: Macbeth

MacbethOn this day in 1054 (maybe), England under the reign of Edward the Confessor invaded Scotland, leading to the defeat and finally the death of Macbeth, King of Scotland. Yes, that Macbeth. Of course, he appears to be nothing like the character in the play. It was, like so much of Shakespeare’s work, just another occasion to suck up to the rich and powerful. The royal line of the people who killed Macbeth were still in power.

What I found most interesting reading about the real Macbeth was that at that time, all these people seemed to do was fight wars. And it got me thinking about the nature of history. The standard take on history is that it is the story of “great men.” But consider the following analogy. Imagine that you were studying ants. Would the story be one queen after another? Of course not. That would be silly. All the queens do are lie around and pump out babies. If you want to know the history of ants, you would look at their slow evolution and migration.

I think it is the same with humans. All the royals of all the countries do is fight with each other. Meanwhile, the “little” people continue on, farming the land, making minor but important improvements to the way of life. Certainly the development of pottery has been far more important than the combined total of everything that royal classes have ever done. Because in sum, all they’ve done is fight among each other to see who gets to sponge off the masses.

The whole thing with Macbeth was that Duncan I of Scotland led an attack on Moray, which was led by Macbeth. Duncan got killed in battle. I wish that happened more often. Modern leaders have learned that they can just send others to fight and die. Anyway, Macbeth became king and Duncan’s wife ran away with her two little brats, and they waited 14 years plotting their revenge. Of course, after Macbeth was dead, they set about creating a history where Macbeth was this horrible character, whereas all the evidence indicates that Macbeth was a decent ruler, all things considered (mainly: that he was a ruler).

None of this takes away from the fact that Macbeth remains Shakespeare’s greatest play. Although I’ve been thinking about that. The main reason for that is that there is nothing in it that really annoys me. It has great moments too. And it is also that it seems more real to me. Othello doesn’t really have any major gaffs, but I don’t accept Iago as a realistic character. The same goes for Richard III. Although Macbeth does have the usual prophecy problem: if you are fated for something, why are you changing what you would normally do? Just the same, people are like that.

Anyway, maybe today is the day that the English marched on Macbeth. That sucked for him.