Media Manipulation?

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By Mike Cronin

This week has provided us with yet another example of how the mainstream media has given up on political neutrality. How?  We’ll get to that in a minute, but first a very quick recap on what journalism schools and editorial boards generally deem to be “newsworthiness criteria:”

1) Impact

2) Timeliness

3) Proximity

4) Human Interest

5) Conflict

6) The Bizarre

7) Celebrity

With those criteria in mind, let’s look at the fast one the media pulled this week:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ploy to embarrass President Trump with regards to her claimed Native American ancestry backfired.  When Senator Warren’s announcement that her DNA test showed her to indeed have Native American ancestry, the mainstream media were falling all over themselves to capture the “see, I told you so” moment.  Then more of the story surfaced.  The DNA test revealed that Senator Warren’s native ancestry was a minuscule percentage. Worse for her, the Cherokee Nation announced that the test didn’t tie her to a North American tribe at all, let alone the Cherokee tribes (which she had claimed previously), and denounced her. The entire episode has revealed Warren’s true character: She is a white woman unsatisfied with the supposed privileges thus bestowed, so she appropriated some grievance entitlement from a more disadvantaged group and tried to leverage it into political clout.

When that information came out, the media cranked up the emphasis on the Jamal Khashoggi story.  Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist/activist who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, supposedly for business related to marrying his fiancé. He didn’t come out alive.  After “investigating,” the Saudi Government offered the dubious explanation that Khashoggi died in a fist fight inside the consulate.

The assumption in the media is that Khashoggi was killed by agents of the Saudi government for his “dissident” writings. Why is the alleged murder of a foreign journalist half-way around the world more newsworthy than a US Senator’s political blunders and character self-destruction during election season?

While there is no doubt a certain amount of “wagon circling” going on among journalists in response to the probable murder of one of their own, there is another reason: The Khashoggi affair can fill the void caused by the failed Warren gambit: To make Republicans look bad right before the midterm elections.  How?  By attempting to paint the picture that the Trump Administration is taking it easy on the Saudi government over the Khashoggi investigation because looming sanctions against Iran threaten to upset oil markets. The reasoning is that President Trump needs the Saudis to increase oil production to replace whatever Iran will not be allowed to inject into the global market. This will theoretically keep oil prices stable before the election, benefiting Republicans.

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The alleged blasé attitude of the administration towards the Khashoggi case couldn’t possibly stem from the fact that the US has absolutely no jurisdiction in the matter, could it?

The Warren story meets several, if not ALL, of the newsworthiness criteria, but the media de-emphasized it as soon as it lost its potential value to benefit Warren or damage Trump. Then they inflated the Khashoggi story – which normally might rate a short mention under the “conflict” or “timeliness” newsworthiness criteria – and are making it out to be an international crisis that the administration is mishandling.

Random Myth Debunking

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By Mike Cronin

The latest myths and legends that need to be debunked:

Global warming caused Hurricane Michael. Nope. It was a normal hurricane following a normal path during the annual hurricane season. There was nothing special about it as a hurricane per se.  It was so destructive because of where it hit: Places where there are lots of people and many expensive buildings and assets.  Thankfully, most of the people were evacuated and the death toll has been low.

Taking a knee during the national anthem isn’t disrespectful.  If it wasn’t disrespectful, it would have no value as a symbol of protest! There would be no controversy, it wouldn’t make the news, and no one would be talking about it.

America has one of the highest murder rates.  Simply not true. Our murder rate is in the middle of the pack. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-per-million-people.

Violent crime is at an all time high. Again not true. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, ratings wars, and alternative media, reporting of crime is pervasive, because it gets ratings.

The now solidly conservative Supreme Court (SC) will overturn Roe v Wade and multiple gun laws.  It might, but not on a whim. First, a relevant case would have to be appealed through the lesser courts, then appealed to the SC, then the SC would have to agree to hear the case – then it might overturn a law, or it might not. Much depends on the exacting details of the case and what precisely is being argued.

There are more than two genders. Not quite. Homo sapiens reproduces sexually, thus, as with other mammals, we come in two sexes: male and female. No doubt masculinity and femininity are scales. No doubt there are transgender people and intersex people and people with chromosome disorders. They might feel “non-binary,” or they might be hermaphrodites, or they may feel that they want to be the opposite of what their genitalia indicate. I’m not hating on any of them. But nothing suggests there is anything other than male and female characteristics being desired or undesired, hormone levels to manipulate, and male and female organs available for surgical manipulation. Humans haven’t evolved new sex organs, new methods of reproduction, or new genders, we’ve just reached a level of technological development and affluence where it’s possible to play mix-and-match between the two existing ones.

Two Fallacies used against you

By Mike Cronin

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”

“You’re either for me or against me!”

Sound familiar?  These are example of the False Dichotomy/False Dilemma/False Choice fallacy, and we are surrounded by examples every day. It takes critical thinking to spot them and see them for what they are.

Let’s have another look:

If you don’t put this ribbon magnet on your car, it means you don’t care about kids starving in Elbonia.” Maybe.  It might also mean I find it pretentious to brag about my charitable giving, or I don’t like to advertise my activities, allegiances, or involvements for security reasons; or it means I don’t want the sticker to damage my car, or it means I care about something else more than I care about starving kids in Elbonia, etc.

“Senator Do-right voted no against my bill to fund Program Y with higher taxes – He hates blind people.”  Or maybe he found out Program Y is corrupt, or he doesn’t like pork-barrel spending, or he’s a budget hawk, or he won’t agree to anything put forward by a political enemy, etc.

“You’re either for me or against me!” Or, maybe you have a far higher opinion of your significance than I do!

False dichotomies are a staple technique of politicians, especially during election campaigns.  Advertisers love them, too: “If you bought brand X, you’re paying too much!” How do they know? Maybe you got a great deal.

Whenever you see an either-or proposition on offer from somebody who wants something from you, it’s a safe bet to assume you are being offered a false choice.

Another popular fallacy that professional debaters (politicians, talk-show panelists, pundits, etc.) love to use is the “Straw Man” argument.  Simply put, it means exaggerating or misrepresenting something someone else said in order to (attempt) to make a clever rebuttal.  Here’s an example:

A large corporation announces it’s going to close a major plant in the US and move it to Mexico. One of the reasons given is the too-high labor costs here due to the minimum wage, workman’s comp, and payroll taxes in the US.

Professional blabbermouth:  “Company X announced today that it’s moving to Mexico.  I guess they think it’s OK to exploit Mexicans and pay them slave wages.  How unpatriotic.”

The blabbermouth ignored the full context.  It’s quite possible that a Mexican working in the new plant will make much less than his or her US counterpart; what is not mentioned is how far that pay might go in the Mexican economy, or how much better off the Mexican might be working in the new factory than her or she would have been without that opportunity. The blabbermouth also ignores the very real possibility that rather than the corporation being unpatriotic for moving, it may be that our law makers have been unpatriotic by creating the conditions that are driving the company to move!

 

You can’t get there from here

By Mike Cronin

I recently read an article that chronicled the lamentation of employers that college graduates today are not well versed in critical thinking skills. On the other hand, the graduates themselves thought they had a good understanding of critical thinking.  If employers and graduates disagree on graduates’ thinking skills, who is correct?  Turns out it depends on your definition of critical thinking.

The employers relied on the classical understanding of critical thinking: Objectivity, evidence, logic, reason.  The grads’ understanding of critical thinking tended towards “… opposition to the existing ‘system,’ encompassing political, economic, and social orders, deemed to privilege some and penalize others. In essence, critical thinking is equated with political, economic, and social critique.” Huh. Critical thinking has become “critique-al” thinking. That explains how an ever-growing segment of our population seems to fall for every “feel-good” con for giving up freedom and liberty in the name of “social justice” or “diversity” or “environmentalism” or “wealth redistribution” or any other socialist trap.

For the record:

You cannot cure poverty by taking wealth from others, because poverty is not only a financial condition, it is also often a mindset.  Consider that most millionaires in this country are entrepreneurs. Most business start-ups fail, and many of the successful entrepreneurs have been “poor” at some point.  They earned, then lost, a fortune and became “poor,” only to earn and keep a bigger fortune by applying what they learned from their original mistakes.  On the flip side, many “poor” people would, given sudden wealth, blow it all on luxuries and trappings, then fall back into poverty when the wealth dried up.

You cannot cure hunger in other parts of the world by decrying food excess here.  Wasted food here cannot change the conditions causing starvation elsewhere.  If you want to cure world hunger, you must first rid humanity of power lust and superstition and territoriality.

You cannot eliminate racism and bigotry and hatred by hating and being racist and bigoted. You cannot end “discrimination” by changing which group is “discriminated” against. You cannot avenge long-dead victims of a crime by punishing the descendants of the long-dead criminals. Change the words “crime” and “criminals” to “oppression” and “oppressors,” and the same truth obtains. (The old adage “fight fire with fire” works…in very few contexts. Fighting injustice with more injustice isn’t one of them.)

You cannot change reality by smuggling new meaning into old worlds. “Unemployment” comes to mind.  The most widely used unemployment figure from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been around 5% for some months (4.7% as of February 2017).  But that number uses a very narrow definition of “unemployed” and a very generous definition of “employed.”  If you are out of work and haven’t been looking for four weeks, you are no longer counted as “unemployed;” you are counted as “out of the labor market.” On the other hand, if you are out of work but exchanged at least one hour of labor for at least $20.00, you are counted as “employed.”  The real unemployment rate, i.e. the number of working-age adults that are not working and earning regular paychecks, is more like 40%!

You cannot build a Utopian health care system that relies on doctors (and other providers) whom you dis-incentivize.  Doctors have spent a lot of time and money to earn their degrees, and they expect to be able to run their practices and make good money.  Take that away from them, and all of a sudden there will be less doctors working and less people going to medical school. The doctors that do stay will be of lower caliber, and the quality of care will diminish greatly.

Likewise, you cannot produce a well-educated populace with a public school system purposely designed to prevent critical thinking by producing critique-al thinkers!

Social Justice and the Straw Man

By Mike Cronin

This is probably no surprise to anyone, but you might not have seen it expressed this way before.  The driving force behind many of the ideological rifts in this country isn’t genuine disagreement; it’s the lust for attention and power. Social justice warriors (SJWs) especially, will twist any fact, issue, or term into a grievance so that they can have a protest or riot in furtherance of their purported aims, when all they really want is attention, validation, and power.

Here’s a case study: President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.”  The facts of the ban are summarized here: “There are 206 nation states on Earth. People from 199 of them, Muslim or not, can get US visas. People from 7 of them, Muslim or not, cannot. The twelve nations with the largest number of Muslims are all on the “A-OK” list. There is no “Muslim ban.” (h/t to Michael Z. Williamson) But judging from the vitriol and even violence emanating from SJWs, you would think Mr. Trump had begun rounding up Muslims and putting them into camps. They invariably describe Trump’s action as racist.

I’m not going to defend Mr. Trump.  I get why he is instituting this ban: Because terrorists from the groups most likely to try to execute another 9/11 on our soil would be most likely to come from one of the countries on the list. But his ban holds a large class of people accountable for crimes yet to be committed by a potentially very small subset of that group.  Since that group isn’t race-based, that is not a racist policy, but it is collectivist.

But wait! Here comes SJW logic: since the ban “targets” predominately Muslim countries, it is against Muslims, and is therefore racist. Even if Islam isn’t a race?  Yes, say the SJWs. Because Islam is a culture, the ban is a case of “cultural racism.”  Even if, as described by Mr. Williamson above, the ban doesn’t apply to all, or even most, Muslims?  SJWs just ignore that inconvenient fact.

Ah. If you don’t like someone, or something they are doing, find a way to twist it into the most heinously-motivated act you can think of. Invent new terms to describe it. All so you can be seen to be fighting against it. (Oh, and let’s not forget, if someone you liked did the same thing? Forget it happened.)  In other words, the modus operandi for the SJW: If you can’t find it within in you to go to the Middle East and fight the real oppressors, stay comfortably ensconced in the US, find some objectionable policy, and make it into oppression so you can have a tantrum.  It’s the “straw man” fallacy writ large.

Another Crack at Illegal Immigration

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Mike Cronin

This is a revision of my post dated November 23, 2014.

President Trump has partially fulfilled one of his most controversial campaign promises.  Earlier this week, he signed an executive order to build a wall along the Mexican border, and his administration floated the idea of a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the construction.  The mainstream media is predictably up in arms.

While I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s attention to the illegal immigration issue, I find myself in disagreement that a wall is the right solution – but not for the same reasons as the crowds of critics assailing the president.  I’ll explain in a bit, but let’s untangle the knot a little first:

If you are an elected Democrat, the illegal immigration “problem” is: how to make it legal for illegal immigrants to vote? There are millions potential voters out there who cannot legally participate in national elections. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that simultaneously paint the illegal immigrants as victims who need rescuing and those who see things differently as racists. Then legalize the immigrants (or some portion of them) somehow, and/or prevent the passing of laws that require voters to produce a photo ID proving their eligibility.

If you are in one camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that there are millions of potential Democratic voters out there who might vote illegally or who might become legal voters at the stroke of a pen. How to solve that problem? Adopt narratives that illegal immigrants are by definition criminals just for being here, and who steal jobs from American citizens, who vote illegally, and who cost us a lot of money in “stolen” benefits and entitlements.

If you are in another camp of Republican lawmakers, the problem of illegal immigration is that you are fearful of alienating constituents of Latino or Hispanic origin, so you go along with Democrats on immigration issues.

If you are in yet a third camp of elected Republicans, the illegal immigration problem is that you receive significant campaign funds from donors who employ illegal immigrants, so you also tend to vote along Democratic lines on immigration.

If you run a manual-labor intensive business that can’t afford to pay the minimum wage, paying an illegal immigrant in cash under the table is an attractive option.

If you are a desperate person from Mexico or an impoverished country to our south, getting to America for the opportunities and freebies is an attractive option.

If you are a cunning and morally flexible person, exploiting the stream of immigrants headed north is an attractive option.

I believe the real problem with illegal immigration is: too much government.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. Our federal and state governments blatantly disregard current immigration law via policies like “Catch and Release,” “sanctuary cities,” and the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” directive (i.e. President Obama’s executive order that established the so-called “Dreamers”). Our federal government maintains at least two federal police agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol) charged with enforcing those same laws. In so doing, our lawmakers are essentially telling our protectors: “Your written job description says ‘enforce the law,’ but your real job is just to have a job so that I can tell voters I did my job by creating your job.” How dysfunctional is that?
  2. In addition, our current immigration law is too byzantine and restrictive. Currently, it’s fairly easy to visit the US, but unless one can claim to be one of the “Three R’s” (Related to a citizen, Rich, or Remarkable), it is extremely difficult to attain a green card or citizenship.

I think Mr. Trump’s actions show promise for resolving the dysfunctional aspect of immigration enforcement, but a wall is too dystopian, sinister, and unnecessary. Functional enforcement policies and increased presence all along the border will reduce the flood of illegal immigrants to a trickle. On the other hand, the bureaucratic burden to those aspiring to remain here longer than a visa allows still remains to be addressed.

So how do we solve such a multi-faceted problem?  With a multi-pronged strategy that is consistent with limited government:

  1. Enforce existing law
  2. Control the border via increased presence
  3. Update the law to minimize bureaucracy and maximize freedom – by addressing all of the competing interests and reducing or eliminating the motivations that lure our government into violating its own laws:
    • Make it much easier to become a legal “permanent resident” and moderately easier to become a citizen. This benefits immigrants wishing to live and work here permanently, and it would benefit lawmakers in both parties who represent immigrant constituencies.
    • Create a migrant worker visa AND migrant worker wage scale & tax status. This legitimizes hiring migrant workers and paying them less-than-minimum wages. This would benefit migrant workers by making it legal (and safer) to do what they are already doing, and it would benefit industries that can’t be profitable paying the regular minimum wage to unskilled workers. It will be perceived and promoted as a threat to citizen minimum-wage earners…but that is another Gordian knot – which I addressed here.

Three Tips for Filtering the Feed

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By Mike Cronin

Last year I wrote about the war on Christmas. This year the election of Donald Trump has overshadowed the usual brouhaha over nativity scenes at City Hall. So this year I thought I’d go with something a little more practical. The guiding purpose of this blog is to make sense out of the vast array or “manufactured truth” that we are constantly bombarded with. Here are a few tips and tricks to deal with it every day:

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  1. Consume news skeptically: the first thing you need to remember about the news media is that their first concern is to sell advertising. Their second concern is often to reinforce a narrative or advance an ideological or even partisan agenda. Running in third place is actually informing you about the new events of the day. There has been much ado recently about fake news. Given the first and second criteria just outlined, almost all the news is fake to one degree or another. When there is some crisis happening, such as 9/11, and the news “breaks in” to tell us about the event as it’s happening, they haven’t had much time to adapt it to their preferred narrative. In those cases we are usually getting real news, even if some of the details are inaccurate while the debris is still falling or the smoke is still rising. As soon as one of these stories acquires its own theme music, it’s no longer breaking news. At that point you must start taking it with a grain of salt. In reality, the best way to glean something of the truth may be to examine headlines from multiple news sources, to include some foreign outlets such as the Economist, BBC, and perhaps even Al Jazeera or Xinhua.  Even so, while those sources may tell you what’s happening and why, they seldom articulate what it means and what will likely happen because of it. Personally, I like to scan the news headlines, but I also like to read intelligence. One of my favorite sources is StratFor; a private “intelligence” firm that uses the lens of geopolitics to explain the world.

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  1. Geopolitics, as you might have guessed, is not just about geography or politics, but about how geography enables or constrains political and/or economic action between nations and other actors. For example: The United States is largely regarded to have the largest economy and the most powerful military, and we are generally thought of as being the world’s only superpower. But it is not only our military might or our form of government that has led us to this condition. The United States is this way in part because of where it’s at and what it has. The most striking example of this is our river and coastal waterway system. “The Greater Mississippi Basin together with the Intracoastal Waterway has more kilometers of navigable internal waterways than the rest of the world combined. The American Midwest is both overlaid by this waterway and is the world’s largest contiguous piece of farmland. The U.S. Atlantic Coast possesses more major ports than the rest of the Western Hemisphere combined. Two vast oceans insulated the United States from Asian and European powers, deserts separate the United States from Mexico to the south, while lakes and forests separate the population centers in Canada from those in the United States. The United States has capital, food surpluses and physical insulation in excess of every other country in the world by an exceedingly large margin.” (From StratFor’s “The Geopolitics of the United States.”) Give these advantages, it would have been a shock if the US had not become an economic powerhouse! By way of contrast, consider the difficulties faced by a landlocked country. Afghanistan, for example, is estimated to have over $1 trillion worth of natural resources in the form of valuable ores and minerals. Yet owing to the difficulty of getting to and from Afghanistan and navigating within its borders, and the fractured nature of its tribal society, Afghanistan has never realized its economic potential, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Where the United States has abundance of access, Afghanistan has a dearth. Geography has dealt a difficult hand to landlocked countries, but there is at least one way to overcome that difficulty: adopt a Western form of governance that recognizes individual rights and promotes liberty. Switzerland is the epitome of a country that can overcome geographic isolation by staying neutral in the conflicts of its neighbors and giving its people freedom.
  1. Like most, I’ve had geography classes, and classes on US. Government, but I never had a “geopolitics” class per se in my formal education. Our schools are set up to teach material as discreet subjects, but our brains are not set up that way. We learn and make memories by association. Another example might be economics. The word economics conjures up thoughts of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, changing interest rates and conducting “quantitative easing.” Those elements of economics were among the set popularized by John Maynard Keynes, and “Keynesian Economics holds sway among the vast majority of economists today.  9i7jfxdepbiuxmllhv6wxoykazrjmeynuapn20ngnu0But in a broader sense, economics is the study of human activity. This goes hand in glove with geopolitics, as does history. Come to think of it, so does psychology. What if there was a way of learning economics (and other subjects) in a way that more closely mimics the way the human brain learns? Under such a rubric, there would be far fewer barriers between what we think of as the traditional subjects. Such a field exists.  It’s called “praxeology.” In short, praxeology is the study of volitional human action, and it is a basis for the Austrian school of economic thought.  We can borrow the concept to help us understand the world without trying to become economists ourselves.

Using these three tools (skeptical news consumption, understanding how geography can enable or constrain political and economic action, and removing the artificial barriers between “subjects,” and examining human action holistically), we can better learn to Filter the Feed.