Let the Conservatives Win

“…since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful – who haven’t been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.” How? “The plan is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over: The debt is Obama’s fault, and it’s out of control; corporations and the very rich are the ‘job creators’ that must get tax cuts to generate more jobs; government spending is wasteful unless it’s on the military; regulations are strangling the private sector; unionized workers are being paid too much; and so on…” Robert Reich

C-3PO: “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the Wookee win.”

If you find yourself anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re probably dismayed by the continuing rightward tilt of this country. Surprisingly, according to surveys, the United States is the most politically conservative, strongly religious, gun-toting country in the Western world. And preventing further rightward erosion seems to be more and more of an uphill battle with each passing week. We have a Democratic President and the Democrats are in control of the Senate; yet it seems like the Republicans are running the country.

What is one to do in such circumstances? Fight harder? Perhaps. Or maybe…just maybe…we could try a new strategy. Let the conservatives win. Allow conservatives free rein to do what they want…without no restraints or opposition. If the left has been wrong all this time, the country will wind up a better place. If not, things may get so ugly that the middle of the country, the part that is not strongly committed to either side, will at last wake up and realize what is at stake.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. And probably a misguided one. We had eight years of George W. Bush and there was no collective waking up. Thanks largely to Wall Street run amok, we had the financial meltdown of 2008; yet the drive for smaller government and less regulation has only gotten stronger. These are not promising precedents. And even if the the strategy ultimately succeeds, it may be too late to undo the damage.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. But I’m getting desperate. I’m not sure what else there is left to try. Still, let’s be a bit cautious before actually going “all in.” Let’s begin with a “thought experiment.” Let’s imagine the conservatives have already won. What would our legal, social, and political landscape look like?

Sex

In this new national landscape, if a women is seeking an abortion, she can forget it. There will be absolutely no abortions, not even in the case of rape, incest or to protect her life.

And, in case you were hoping to avoid the need for abortions by allowing ready access to birth control, you can pretty much forget that as well. The sale of birth control pills will be strictly prohibited. In addition, there will be no way to get health insurance to pay for any sort of birth control.

If you’re gay, don’t expect to be getting married — ever. Marriage among same sex couples will be outlawed — thanks to a constitutional amendment.

Schools and Science

The teaching of evolution in biology classes in K-12 schools will be banned. Instead, in both public and private schools, students will be required to learn about intelligent design and creationism. This will be the case, despite repeated court rulings declaring that such practice amounts to the teaching of religion. The reach of creationism will spread beyond the schools; expect to see Museums of Natural History dioramas showing humans side-by-side with dinosaurs.

More generally, regarding education, parents will be given vouchers to spend on whatever school they wish, public or private. Tax support for public schools will be largely eliminated. The result will be that private schools flourish while public schools vanish from the landscape. With virtually no government oversight of the quality of private schools, don’t expect the average competence of our graduates to increase.

With public schools in decline, teachers unions will be greatly weakened. Whatever small amount of power they retain will be gutted by laws that ban any collective bargaining and eliminate any sort of job security.

At the university level, schools will have to demonstrate that their faculty do not have a “liberal bias.” If any such bias is detected, they will be required to hire conservative professors until a balance is achieved.

Human-caused global warming will be officially declared a myth. All efforts to create a greener environment will be scrapped. It will be the end of solar power initiatives and of the push for more fuel efficient cars.

As for obtaining oil, the mantra of the day will be “Drill, baby, drill.”

Unions

The situation with teachers unions is just the beginning. Eventually, all unions will be entirely dismantled. The only place left where people will be able to learn about unions will be in history books, assuming that the topic is not banned from them.

Immigration

With a nationwide expansion of Alabama’s “self-deportation” law, undocumented immigrants will be forced out of the country. For good measure, there will be no form of “amnesty” for any immigrants, no matter how long they have been in this country or what their standing in the community might be.

Racial profiling by police will be condoned. If anyone seems suspicious, even if it’s just due to their ethnic appearance, it will be okay to stop their cars and check them out.

Gun control

“Shoot first and ask questions later” will be the accepted norm for all citizens. From those on a neighborhood watch to those in a local pub, but there will be no limit to one’s “right to bear arms.” Gun control laws will be gutted to the point that assault rifles and grenade launchers will be available at Walmart. With a legal right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere, incidents of gun violence will go up — even beyond their already too-high levels. At the same time, due to laws protecting those who can make even a half-baked claim of self-defense, arrests and convictions will decline.

Health care

Regardless of what the Supreme Court may rule later this month, any remnant of “Obamacare” will be gone. We’ll return to the prior insurance-company-controlled system. As a result, health care costs will continue to spiral out-of-control. People will lose coverage when they get laid off from a job and will be unable to get coverage at all if they have a “pre-existing condition.” Somehow, this will be explained as fairer and more financially sane than any sort of universal health care.

Taxes and financial regulations

The wealth of richest 1% of the country will continue its upward spiral while the incomes and net worths of the rest of the country continues its decline. We will accelerate the deregulation of banks, corporations and any other institutions with sufficient money to successfully lobby Congress — allowing them to take completely unsound risks without almost no fear of any consequences if they lose.

Political contributions from corporations and their wealthy top executives will continue to buy election outcomes because, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the resulting Super-PACs, these entities will be able to outspend the collective contributions of the entire rest of the country.

We will continue to cut taxes to the point that almost no local government services can be adequately supported. We will witness the decline of police departments, fire departments, social services, public transportation and other public institutions. At the national level, programs like Social Security will be privatized.

Government

The ability of the minority party to obstruct any legislation from passing will continue — at least when the Republicans are in the minority. The filibuster and similar measures will ensure that Congress remains dysfunctional.

The Supreme Court will continue its own deterioration from a neutral protector of Constitutional law into a partisan conservative institution.

Bottom Line

If you are cheering at the prospect of all of these developments, then you are hoping for a country very different from the one I would like to see. If, on the other hand, you are dismayed that this could be the future of the U.S., then you have a choice. Do nothing and let this thought experiment become reality — as it is already well on its way to doing. Or decide that “let the conservatives win” may not be the best strategy after all — and stand up and try to do something to prevent it.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Politics, Lying, and the Death of Facts

We are living in interesting times. We are living in a time when elected officials can make the most outlandish completely untrue statements and bear little or no repercussions. We are witnessing the death of facts in our public discourse.

A U.S Congressman can falsely claim that 80 Congressional Democrats are members of the Communist party.

A U.S. Senator can assert that over 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to funding abortions, when it’s actually closer to 3%. That was bad enough. The topper was when one of the senator’s staffers defended him by explaining that “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement”!

Or how about when at-the-time contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain, accused the Obama administration as being behind the Occupy Wall Street protests, but then added: “I don’t have facts to back this up.”

President Obama has often characterized by his critics as a “Socialist” — despite the fact that no actual Socialists (or anyone who is the least bit rational in assessing Obama’s positions) believe he is anywhere close to one.

The problem isn’t merely that people in authority continue to make such obviously false statements. The bigger problem is that they get away with it. By this I mean they receive little or no condemnation — other than by those of the opposing party, who are dismissed as “politically motivated.” The lying politicians don’t get booted out of office. To the contrary, their lies often improve their re-election odds, by appealing to their party’s “extreme base.”

Why do they do this? Because no matter how ridiculous the claim, a significant portion of the public winds up believing it. For example, at least in several Southern states, a majority of Republicans still believe that Obama is a Muslim. Many still doubt that he was born in the United States. And don’t even get me started on the public’s willingness to embrace the false attacks on evolution and climate change.

In today’s political landscape, “facts” are defined as something that confirms your pre-existing bias. Anything else is dismissed as “just someone’s wrong opinion.” There is no longer an agreed upon set of facts whose interpretation is debated. Each side in a debate now has their own set of “facts” — with little attention being paid to how true they are.

Mainstream media are of little help in sorting this out. They tend to fall in one of two camps. On the one hand, you have organizations such as Fox News and MSNBC that take such a unilateral and extreme view that they don’t even offer a pretense of being unbiased. On the other side, you have most of the rest of the media. They refuse to even hint that truth may reside more with one side of a controversy than another, lest they be accused of being biased.

Swiftboating

I am reminded of the “swiftboating” of John Kerry in 2004. Concerned about the political advantage of Kerry’s status as a Vietnam War hero, Republicans decided that the best defense was a good offense. So they created the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT). According to Wikipedia: “SBVT asserted that Kerry was ‘unfit to serve’ as President based upon his alleged ‘willful distortion of the conduct’ of American servicemen during that war, and his alleged ‘withholding and/or distortion of material facts’ as to his own conduct during that war.”

According to a Times survey “about one-third of viewers believed there was at least ‘some truth’ to the allegations.” The claims, in fact, were largely if not entirely untrue. Again, as noted in Wikipedia, “The first SBVT ad was contradicted by the statements of several other veterans who observed the incidents, by the Navy’s official records, and, in some instances, by the contemporaneous statements of SBVT members themselves.” ABC News’s The Note opined, “the Swift Boat ad and their primary charges about Kerry’s medals are personal, negative, extremely suspect, or false.” [See also this snopes.com page.]

The truth didn’t matter. The SBVT ads created enough doubt to swing a significant number of voters. Some believe it was sufficient to have altered the outcome of the election.

One result of all of this is that the word swiftboating became a verb, used to describe the deliberate use of a “harsh, unfair or untrue political attack” in order to discredit an opponent. In other words, a smear campaign.

Sadly, with the 2012 presidential campaign moving into high gear, we can expect to see sort of thing happening again — especially from Republicans who have been very effective at drawing from this well. I expect this season to set new records in negative attacks and false claims. Why? Because they work. And with the new super PACs, there is more money and opportunity to use these attacks than ever before. We’ve already seen this in action, as noted in today’s San Francisco Chronicle: “The super PAC supporting Romney outspent the super PACs supporting Gingrich and Santorum by 20 to 1 over that period, and much of the pro-Romney super PAC trafficked in ‘deceptive’ statements, the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center found.”

What can politicians do?

One of the most difficult decisions a political campaign faces is what to do when attacked by false statements. They have several choices, none of them ideal (that’s what make these attacks so effective).

• Ignore the attacks. Take the high road. Avoid responding to the attacks on the grounds that any response only lends credibility to the accusations. Data show that repeating a lie can increase its perceived veracity, even if you repeat a lie only to deny it. Over time, many people will recall the lie more than your denial. Even worse, your reply can alert people to an attack that they did not know about before.

This all sounds nice. But the other side is that ignoring an attack lets your opponent control the message. If all the public hears is what your opponent is saying, you lose the debate by default. If public interest in a story dies quickly, you might get away with ignoring it. Otherwise, you have to rebut the attack. And soon. The longer you wait, the more you get hurt.

• Deny the attacks. Deny the truth of the attacks. Do it often, as long as it remains a hot topic. And it isn’t enough to make a simple denial. That’s too weak. You you have to assert your denial vigorously and indignantly. You are “appalled” that such false accusations could even be asserted.

The problem here is that this lends itself to a “he said, she said” situation — where people may wind up unsure who to believe. It helps if you have clear evidence to back up your claim, but don’t get bogged down in a long detailed intellectual presentation. Keep things brief and simple. Sadly, emotional reactions often play a bigger role in these conflicts than evidence.

• Accuse the opposition. Go beyond denial. Accuse your attackers for being unconscionable liars. If possible, show how your opponents have repeatedly lied, not only in this case but in many other situations. The idea is to shift the focus from your opponents’ false claims to your opponents’ ethics, ideally putting them on the defensive.

This can be effective. But there is a risk that your “negative” ratings with the public will go up as a result, even if you take your opponents with you. You can’t spend all your time on accusations. You need to shift back to a positive message at some point.

• Attack the opposition. Fight fire with fire. Instead of responding to your opponents’ false claims, find something even worse about your opponents actions and attack them with it. Again, this can take you off the hot seat and force your opponent to defend against your attacks.

The risk here is that you may be tempted to make dubious attacks, ones that may not be entirely true. If so, you wind up stooping to your opponents’ level. Sometimes this may seem unavoidable (“it’s how hardball politics is played these days; everyone does it”). And, as I’ve said, it can be successful. However, it may lead to the public throwing up their hands and shouting “a pox on both your houses.”

In the end, a politician will likely be required to employ some combination of all of these methods. Exactly what to do will depend upon the specifics of the opponents’ attack, how much media attention it is generating, and what arrows you have in your own quiver to attack back.

What can citizens do?

For starters, don’t limit yourself to soundbites and attack ads for determining how you will vote. Assume these are often misleading at best, and untrue at worst.

Go to the web and do some checking. Two great places to start are FactCheck and PolitoFact.

Check on the record of all candidates you support. If you find that their record for honesty is poor, write them and let them know you are disappointed. Tell them that if they keep on making blatantly false statements, they will lose your support. And mean it.

I know. It’s a bit naive to think this can be very effective. In the end, most people will not be willing to change their vote based on a candidate’s honesty — especially when nearly all candidates are dishonest to some extent. A Tea Party member would never vote for a Democrat, even if he was convinced that the Republican candidate was a chronic liar and the Democratic opponent was a beacon of truth (assuming the member could ever be convinced that such was the case). But there are independents, and even some partisans, out there who might really shift their vote based on such considerations. At least I hope so. In the end, the only way to stop this assault on truth is if politicians come to believe it will not help them get elected.

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Rush Limbaugh and the “pox on both your houses” defense

In the wake of the uproar over Rush Limbaugh’s unwarranted personal attack on Sandra Fluke (and his subsequent so-called apology), the response from some on the right has been to say: “People on the left do the same thing.” This has led to articles, such as one by David Frum, attempting to show why what Rush did is more extreme than the norm — and why the criticism of him is “fair.” While there is much overlap between my viewpoint and that of Frum, there are a few differences as well. I’d like to go on record with my own take. Here it is:

1. I distinctly remember the incident regarding David Letterman and his jokes about Sarah Palin’s daughter(s). My first reaction to hearing Letterman was to cringe. I felt this was unacceptable, beyond the bounds of decency. And I was a David Letterman fan. So you get no argument from me on the point that there can be excesses on the left as well as the right.

As a minor aside, I doubt that my cringing is matched by the typical person listening to Rush’s comments — ever. But that’s another story.

2. Letterman apologized two nights later. It did not appear to me that the apology was given to stem the tide of advertisers who were abandoning ship. And his words were not chosen to sound like “I still think I’m right about what I said although I could have said it a bit more politely” — which is how Rush’s so-called apology came off.

3. Letterman is a comedian, not a political commentator. Dave’s job is to make people laugh. While listening to Rush may also make people laugh, his “job” is to espouse a political viewpoint and influence people. Republicans in Congress worry about what Rush says; the same is not true for Democrats and Letterman. Although this does not absolve comedians from their excesses (see point #1 above), it does give them more latitude in my book.

For that matter, I don’t think of Dave as having a unilaterally left wing slant. In a given week, he may poke fun at a left wing political figure as well as a right wing one.

In contrast, Rush is always on the extreme right wing and wants you to take his statements seriously. He wants you to believe that he really hates whoever he is attacking and that you should hate that person too. If Rush had made his comments as part of a skit on Saturday Night Live, for example, I would have been less appalled — although still upset.

4. For a closer left-wing match to Rush Limbaugh, I would look to Bill Maher. I readily admit that Maher too often goes off the rails. And when he does, I am critical of Bill, just as I am of Rush. I admit that I often agree with Bill’s criticisms and I find him funny. These lessen my negative reaction. But I still would not defend his excesses.

5. I give people more latitude when they comment on public figures, such as politicians and entertainers. Public figures are legitimate targets of satire and ridicule, much more so than “private” citizens. That’s part of what upset me about what Letterman said. At the time, I felt that Palin’s children should have been “out of bounds” as a target. The same is true for what Rush did regarding Sandra Fluke. I say this because comparing what Rush did to leftist insults of President Bush (or other politicians) doesn’t work at all for me. It’s not nearly the same thing.

6. It’s interesting that those on the right apparently needed to go back to something that David Letterman said almost three years ago to offer a counter-example to Rush. If David Letterman was regularly saying things like this, you’d think they could find an example from last week. From the times I’ve listened to Rush, he says outrageous and extreme things every single day. This is his raison d’etre. Left wing blogs seem to critically cite quotes from Limbaugh on an almost daily basis. I don’t see this happening with right-wing blogs and Letterman. The current uproar stems from the fact that Rush went beyond his usual extremes to something almost no one could support, not because what he said was an exception to his general tone.

7. Finally, I emphatically agree with Frum that whatever Letterman or Maher or others on the left may or may not have done is irrelevant to the current situation with Limbaugh. When I criticize Limbaugh, I never add: “…and no one on the left would ever do anything like that.”

To me, pointing out the excesses of the left as a rebuttal to what Rush did is a diversion, a smoke-and-mirrors trick to shift the direction of the discussion and put the left on the defensive. Instead of discussing the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of what Rush said, the argument becomes about whether or not those on the left may or may not sometimes be equally at fault. Great tactic. This is a much better debating position for conservatives than having to defend (or not) Rush. But it’s irrelevant.

To me, this would be as if a right-wing response to news that a conservative talk show host had murdered his wife was: “And so? There are liberals who have also murdered their wives.” Who cares? Anyone who murders anyone should go to jail. One murder should not be seen as an excuse to let the another off the hook. And the same is true for Rush’s obnoxious comments.

If conservatives want to attack a left-wing commentator for some beyond-the-pale statement he made, go for it. But it will have no effect on the fact that Rush’s comments regarding Fluke were inexcusable — and that whatever negative fallout results is well deserved.

Posted in Media, Politics | 1 Comment

Loop-iness

In a recent The Loop article, “OMG iOS is being OS X-ified,” Jim Dalrymple dismisses the idea that OS X is evolving to become more like iOS (as many others, including myself, have claimed). Nonsense, says Jim. He argues that one could just as easily claim that the iOS devices have evolved to become more like Macs. How so? Because iOS devices have web browsers and email clients and appointment calendars and so on — all of which were on the Mac first.

When I first read the article, it was hard for me to take Jim’s arguments seriously. In fact, it was a bit hard for me to believe Jim even intended the arguments to be taken seriously. As pointed out by a reader comment, his logic essentially amounts to a “strawman” argument. So I was glad to see Jim admit, in a comment reply, that the “article was meant to be sarcastic and nothing more.”

Still, I believe there is a serious intent behind the column or Jim would not have written it. In fact, in a previous Loop column, Jim un-sarcastically asserts: “These claims of Mountain Lion being more like iOS are just shit.” That’s a serious charge. So I’d like to offer a serious reply.

Yes, web surfing came to the Mac before it arrived on the iPhone. But that’s not an example of “Mac-ification” of the iPhone, at least not in the sense that Jim intends. The Mac existed for over twenty years before the iPhone was created. There is no doubt that the iPhone included many attributes of the Mac when it was first released in 2007 — such as a Safari web browser and a Mail app. How could it not? The entire iOS operating system was derived from Mac OS X.

But that’s not the point. The much more relevant question is, now that both iOS versions separately exist, each with their own distinct characteristics, do increasing similarities between the two OS versions derive more from changes going from iOS to OS X — or vice versa?

It is clear that the answer is iOS to OS X. Apple makes no secret of this. Steve Jobs stated back in October 2010, in regard to OS X Lion 10.7: “Lion brings many of the best ideas from iPad back to the Mac.” Except for not always agreeing with the “best” part, this is what I and many others mean when we refer to “iOS-ification.” I don’t see why Jim wants to argue with this.

Further, it is almost silly to equate the fact that Macs had an email client or a photo app before iPhones to the fact that OS X Mountain Lion is directly adopting iOS apps such as Reminders and Notes. Almost every computer platform on the planet has an email client and a photo app. These are generic requirements, much like tires on a car. This is quite different from a Notes app in Mountain Lion that is almost a 100% duplication of the look and feel of Notes in iOS. Notes on the Mac is more than a replication of function, it is a replication of design and (most likely) specific code from the iOS version.

Jim further claims: “If Apple were trying to make Mountain Lion more like iOS we would be touching the screen of our computers to interact with out apps instead of using the keyboard and mouse.” This too is a silly exaggeration. First, this is hardly the only criteria by which you can judge what Apple is trying to do here. Second, Apple is using the Trackpad, with its multitouch gestures, to mimic the effect of a touchscreen on a Mac.

Jim even manages to contradict himself in a single paragraph. He writes: “Mountain Lion added the Notes and Reminders apps — that doesn’t make Mac OS more like iOS, it means that…millions of iOS users can open their Mountain Lion computers and have a higher level of familiarity with the apps on their Mac.” Yes, but where does this “higher level of familiarity” come from? It comes from the fact that these Mac apps look and feel more like the matching ones in iOS!

The final question for me is: Why is Jim getting so worked up about this anyway? Why is he so eager to “prove” that this trend is not happening? When I read his columns on this subject, it almost seems as if Jim feels threatened by the idea that OS X might be becoming more like iOS. As if, by admitting this is happening, one would be admitting some essential flaw in OS X, one that Jim feels he must oppose. I’m not sure where all of this comes from.

It is true that some people have been critical of the trend, arguing that moving OS X in the direction of iOS is making the Mac simpler to the point of “dumbing down” the OS. Others (including myself) have argued that some of the changes don’t fit very well; what works on an iPhone is not always suited for a Mac environment. And finally, some have expressed concern that “iOS-ification” will eventually result in a “closed” OS X, where only apps that are purchased from the Mac App Store will run.

These are valid concerns, worth debating. It doesn’t make them automatically true. I see merit on both sides of the arguments. However, Jim doesn’t mention any of this in his columns. In fact, he mentions no basis for his opposition at all. Instead, he just spews venom and sarcasm. So there is no way to know whether or not any of these concerns represent the reasoning behind his position.

Dave Hamilton suggests that Jim and I are, in the end, “saying the same thing; chosen changes are appropriate for Desktop OS.” At some level, perhaps this is so. Maybe the problem is that Jim and I have different definitions as to what “iOS-ification” means. If we could agree on definitions, we might agree in general. Jim and I certainly appear to agree that (as I wrote in my Mac Observer column last week) “Apple has not begun a conversion of OS X to iOS.” Still, both of us would accept that there is an increasing similarity between OS X and iOS — and that such similarity can have the advantage of maximizing “the positive transfer between the two platforms.” Indeed, I find myself largely in agreement with another Loop article on this same subject, written by by Matt Alexander. I assume Jim agrees as well. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. And in the details, Jim’s own postings have taken off in a more extreme and unsupportable direction.

In my view, iOS-ification by itself is neither good or bad. It is good if it works well and improves the experience of using a Mac. I contended, in my just-cited Mac Observer column, that this is precisely what Mountain Lion’s iOS-like features do; the forthcoming OS X “gets ios-ification right.” The trend is obviously bad if and when it goes in the opposite direction. I prefer to focus on such considerations, rather than making specious and dismissive claims that an “iOS-ification” trend doesn’t even exist.

Update: In a Twitter exchange between Jim and myself, which followed the posting of this article, Jim wrote: “If you are saying I don’t get it, you are saying Apple doesn’t get it.” and “Do you honestly think I spent an hour and a half with them and didn’t talk about this stuff?

I find these quotes interesting on two accounts.

First, Jim appears to be implying that his articles are merely a (more colorful) restatement of Apple’s positions. If this is the case, I wish Jim would have acknowledged this in the articles, instead of passing them off as entirely his own opinions.

Second, assuming Jim’s restatements are accurate, he seems unwilling to realize that Apple might “spin” what they tell him. Surely, it is legitimate to disagree with Apple’s public presentation of its actions. If that’s what I am doing (and it’s still not clear to me that this is the case), I would be far from the first person to do so.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPhone, Mac, Technology | 1 Comment