Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Plot To Overthrow FDR: How The New Deal Sent Conservatives Into A Rage

For those who think that today's GOP is different than your grandparents', Joshua Holland's article at, courtesy of, "The Plot To Overthrow FDR: How The New Deal Sent Conservatives Into A Rage, tells us how in a short history lesson how "The right's temper tantrums over Obamacare are nothing compared to what Roosevelt had to deal with."


"Every baby step toward guaranteeing American working people a minimum of economic security with new social insurance programs has been greeted with howls of horror and outrage — and predictions that the end of the Republic is near. Every new addition to the safety net has been met with a concerted campaign by conservatives and the business establishment to undermine it. Eighty years after it was signed into law, the Social Security Act, arguably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature piece of legislation, still is under attack from the right.

"Last week, historian Harvey J. Kaye told Bill Moyers how FDR created a progressive generation that helped change American society in dramatic ways. Investigative journalist Sally Denton details a darker reality of that period in her 2011 book, FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right. It was a time, she writes, in which radicals of various stripes questioned the viability of American democracy and a group of bankers went so far as to plot to overthrow the president.

"On Saturday, the 79th anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, spoke with Denton about this poorly remembered history. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion.

"Joshua Holland: Today, we think of FDR as a heroic figure. He remains one of the most popular presidents in the public’s imagination. How did business interests react to his presidency at the time – and to the significant changes he was bringing about with the New Deal?

"Sally Denton: My book focuses on the year 1933, his first year in office, and there was great alarm throughout the country. It was the height of the Great Depression, and there was a sense that he was moving the country in a dangerous direction, especially among the moneyed interests. They saw him as a traitor to his class. There was concern that he had taken the dollar off the gold standard and there were elements on Wall Street and in major American corporations that were very worried about where he was heading.

"There are parallels to today, when we see the same kind of hue and cry, and fear that America is turning socialist. But remember that Franklin Roosevelt was an über capitalist, so in retrospect, it all seems a little bit disingenuous, if not silly.

"Holland: There are some startling similarities in the rhetoric that was used back then. John Taber was a Republican representative from New York, and he said of Social Security, 'Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers.' Daniel Reed, another Republican from New York warned, 'The lash of the dictator will be felt, and 25 million free American citizens will for the first time submit themselves to a fingerprint test.' A Republican Congressional committee put out a statement claiming that Social Security would 'impose a crushing burden on industry and labor,' and 'establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance' that 'would destroy private pensions.'

"It’s the kind of rhetoric that one might hear today about the Affordable Care Act — another rather modest social insurance program that’s supposedly depriving us of liberty.

"Denton: That’s true. I write a great deal about the various organizations that got their start around that time in response to the New Deal, many of which later morphed into modern conservative institutions.

"But I also explore the populism of Huey Long, who was approaching FDR from the left, and who thought he was not doing enough to redistribute the wealth. And then there was the right-wing populism of Father Coughlin. They led two very popular populist movements of the time, both of which were focused on this deep dissatisfaction with the role that government was playing — the role that Franklin Roosevelt wanted government to play — and they were equally vitriolic and angry from opposite sides. I found that fascinating.

"I called that section of the book, 'a rainbow of colored shirts.' There were silver shirts and black shirts and brown shirts. Some were Christian fundamentalists, some were extremely anti-Semitic, some were very anti-interventionist/isolationist. There was an anti-European impulse that ran very deep. There was a great collection of these kind of nascent organizations that were really just coming together to respond to what seemed to the right wing a very dangerous new administration.

"Holland: In the period before World War II, fascism and communism were — not mainstream, but they were considered to be legitimate ideologies to a far greater degree than after the war.

"Denton: That’s right. And Huey Long on the left and Father Coughlin on the right kind of symbolized that. Father Coughlin was rabidly anti-communist, and so even though they had some of the same complaints about the concentration of power in government, Coughlin thought that Huey Long had communist tendencies, which he saw as the most dangerous thing in the world. And Huey Long thought that Coughlin had fascist tendencies, which was really the extreme form of corporate capitalism with unfettered regulation.

"There was a great intellectual pursuit on all sides about what the best form of government intervention was at this point. In 1933, there were thousands and thousands of unemployed and impoverished and hungry people roaming the streets of America. There was a great fear that there actually could be a revolution — that there could be violence.

"In fact, there had been violence the year before, when the Bonus Army was dispersed by federal troops. So all of this was very real. It wasn’t like today’s armchair conversations about various forms of government. Everything was in play. Hitler was in play, Mussolini was in play. It was all happening.

"Holland: What was the Bankers Putsch?

"Denton: The Bankers Putsch was an ill-fated plot, sometimes called the Business Plot or the Wall Street Putsch. There was a famous, heroic marine general named Smedley Butler, who was kind of the soldier’s soldier, the veteran’s veteran. He had great influence with the veterans, and this was at a moment when there were a half million veterans who were trying to get their bonuses from World War I. The bonuses weren’t supposed to be released until 1945, but because so many of the veterans were starving, there was a great movement afoot in 1932 to get those bonuses released early.

"And Smedley Butler claimed that he was approached by a couple of veterans who had connections to Wall Street financiers who were planning a nonviolent coup, a takeover of the Roosevelt Administration. They claimed to have $3 million that they were willing to spend toward this end, and they said that they had some armaments ready. And their theory was that Roosevelt was in over his head — again, we see a lot of the same rhetoric that we hear with Obama. And they thought FDR would welcome somebody coming in and taking charge because he didn’t know what to do. That was the theory, that they would go in and, because these men who were supplying the money were of Roosevelt’s class, Roosevelt would agree to their demands and become kind of a ceremonial figurehead. He would let these stronger, more military types control the White House.

"Butler blew the whistle on it, so it never got very far at all. There were congressional investigations and there was an FBI investigation, and the media reported various aspects of it. But both the plot and the investigation were stopped before they got very far. So it’s unclear how much of it was a form of insanity on the part of the plotters and how much they really had any legitimate financial and military support. But it’s a fascinating story of that year.

"Holland: Smedley Butler wrote a book called, War is a Racket, which is a damning criticism of what would later be called the 'military industrial complex.' It’s strange that they would’ve seen him as a potential ally. He was also a Roosevelt supporter, no?

"Denton: Well, he was a Republican and had run for Congress as a Republican. But he was not a huge FDR fan. Although I think he became one down the road.

"But, yes, he’s the one who said that the marines were just racketeers for the capitalists. And he probably aligned himself more with Roosevelt after Roosevelt made clear that he thought that the US military should not be acting as enforcers for United Fruit throughout the world.

"I think the impetus for selecting him was that there was no other military figure whom this half million-strong potential army of veterans would follow, and there must’ve been an assumption that Butler was malleable enough to stand up for the veterans above all else. And it backfired. He became the whistleblower and told the government what was going on.

"Holland: There was also an assassination attempt against FDR in 1933.

"Denton: Yes. Five people were wounded and the mayor of Chicago was killed in an attempted assassination of FDR. An Italian immigrant named Guiseppe Zangara was responsible. Roosevelt was coming into Miami, and he had not yet taken office. In fact, that was one of the reasons that the inauguration was changed from March to January, because there was this long interregnum between when Roosevelt was elected in November of 1932 and when he took office in March of 1933. And at the time, the country’s falling apart and nobody’s in charge — Herbert Hoover’s thrown his hands up and is appalled that he’s lost the election, and the country’s really teetering.

"Roosevelt was cruising around the Caribbean with some of the people that had become part of his brain trust and his advisers, and they came into Miami. There was a motorcade taking them downtown, and when they got to this ballpark where FDR started to speak, this Italian laborer opened fire. Anton Cermak, who was the mayor of Chicago, had just reached out his hand to shake hands with Roosevelt and he got hit. And Roosevelt insisted that the Secret Service put Cermak in the back of the car with him and they sped off, and he lived for a short time and then died of infection. There were four other spectators who were also hit in the fire.

"Zangara was quickly subdued and taken to the jail in Miami and interrogated, and he said he wanted to kill all capitalists. That was his motivation. So he was coming from the opposite side of the bankers. He was found guilty and executed in Florida’s electric chair.

"Holland: It’s interesting how these stories have become somewhat lost in our popular history.

"Denton: The coup attempt was dismissed and marginalized — and even ridiculed. Zangara was railing against capitalists, and saw Roosevelt as — he just assumed that he was also a raging capitalist fascist, and he was a very anti-Mussolini, anti-fascist labor activist.

"And both of these events, the Wall Street Putsch and the assassination attempt, have been so marginalized in the Roosevelt history that I became fascinated by how deep this impulse against Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran, and how far people were willing to go to see him destroyed."



As we pointed out in the beginning of this site, Conservatism is a historical criminal organization, as we can readily see by the statement, "we see a lot of the same rhetoric (80 years ago) that we hear with Obama."

And " far people were willing to go to see him destroyed?"  Today's Conservatives are no less criminal than Conservatives 80-plus years ago.

They're the same old gangsters in politicians skin, the same criminals in three piece suits, trying to usher in a new Age of American Feudalism.

The ends justify the means with gangsters, and the Conservative gangsters will always have the protection of the law -- until Conservatism is criminalized.


"Just because the Supreme Court rules on something doesn't necessarily mean
that that's constitutional."

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (OK-R), on the legal status of Obamacare.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Inside The GOP's Fact-Free Nation, Part 3

Our three-part series concludes with part three from Rick Perlstein, "Inside The GOP's Fact-Free Nation," where we are brought up from yesterday's Conservative liars to today's Conservative liars -- from Reagan to Agnew to George Will to Breitbart to O'Keefe.


"The speech was an excoriation of those very networks and their Stern White Men—'this little group of men who not only enjoy a right of instant rebuttal to every presidential address, but more importantly, wield a free hand in selecting, presenting, and interpreting the great issues of our nation.... The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government. Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government?' Those in the habit of exposing the sins of the powerful were no longer independent arbiters—they were liberals. Such was the bias, Agnew argued, of 'commentators and producers [who] live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, DC, or New York City,' who 'bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism.'
"Foreshadowing Reagan's framing of truth-telling as elitist meddling, Agnew singled out for opprobrium the kind of reporting that 'made 'hunger' and 'black lung disease' national issues overnight."
"Foreshadowing Reagan's framing of reform-minded truth-telling as a brand of elitist meddling, Agnew singled out for opprobrium the kind of reporting that "made 'hunger' and 'black lung' disease national issues overnight" (quotation marks his). TV reporting from Vietnam had done "what no other medium could have done in terms of dramatizing the horrors of war"—and that, too, was evidence of liberal bias.

"Agnew's remarks reinforced a mood that had been building since at least the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when many viewers complained about the media images of police beating protesters. By the 1980s the trend was fully apparent: News became fluffier, hosts became airier—less assured of their own moral authority. (Around this same time, TV news lost its exceptional status within the networks—once accepted as a 'loss leader' intended to burnish their prestige, it was increasingly subject to bottom-line pressures.)

"There evolved a new media definition of civility that privileged 'balance' over truth-telling—even when one side was lying. It's a real and profound change—one stunningly obvious when you review a 1973 PBS news panel hosted by Bill Moyers and featuring National Review editor George Will, both excoriating the administration's 'Watergate morality.' Such a panel today on, say, global warming would not be complete without a complement of conservatives, one of them probably George Will, lambasting the 'liberal' contention that scientific facts are facts—and anyone daring to call them out for lying would be instantly censured. It's happened to me more than once—on public radio, no less.

"In the same vein, when the Obama administration accused Fox News of not being a legitimate news source, the DC journalism elite rushed to admonish the White House. Granted, they were partly defending Major Garrett, the network's since-departed White House correspondent and a solid journalist—but in the process, few acknowledged that under Roger Ailes, another Nixon veteran, management has enforced an ideological line top to bottom.

"The protective bubble of the 'civility' mandate also seems to extend to the propagandists whose absurdly doctored stories and videos continue to fool the mainstream media. From blogger Pamela Geller, originator of the 'Ground Zero mosque' falsehood, to Andrew Breitbart's video attack on Shirley Sherrod—who lost her job after her anti-discrimination speech was deceptively edited to make her sound like a racist—to James O'Keefe's fraudulent sting against National Public Radio, right-wing ideologues 'lie without consequence,' as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by 'balanced' outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said 'controversy.'

"And here, in the end, is the difference between the untruths told by William Randolph Hearst and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the ones inundating us now: Today, it's not just the most powerful men who can lie and get away with it. It's just about anyone—a congressional back-bencher, an ideology-driven hack, a guy with a video camera—who can inject deception into the news cycle and the political discourse on a grand scale.

"Sure, there will always be liars in positions of influence—that's stipulated, as the lawyers say. And the media, God knows, have never been ideal watchdogs—the battleships that crossed the seas to avenge the sinking of the Maine attest to that. What's new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove. That I call a mendocracy, and it is the regime that governs us now.


When Conservatism is criminalized, mendocracy will be no more and a reenactment of the Fairness Doctrine won't be necessary either.

As we noted on our Page on the main website, "Objections Rebutted," "Free speech does not permit us to threaten another or to lie for profit with impunity, nor does it permit us the proverbial yell of 'fire' in a theater. Mafia figures cannot invade our schoolyards to recruit our children nor to dull their minds by selling them marijuana, and confidence men are routinely sent to prison for robbing their victims without laying a hand on them.

"These are all viable analogies of the crimes committed against our country as a whole and to our citizens individually by Conservatives, and have nothing to do with honest political debates where opinions are examined for the benefits to the welfare of the People. Conservative rhetoric is aimed solely to acquire total power, maximize income, and retain assets for the benefit of the rich by any means. Speech supporting such goals cannot be tolerated in our democracy."

We noted under the Comments section on the same Page, "'Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.' --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824."

It's time Mr. Jefferson's insight into Conservatism was brought to the uninformed voters' attention.


"Yeah, I would."

(Nevada GOP Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, when asked if he would vote to

reinstate slavery if his constituents wanted it.)


Friday, April 18, 2014

Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation, Part 2

For those who think Conservative liars are something new, we continue with Rick Perlstein's article, "Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation," subtitled, "Remember, you're doing the right thing. That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi."


"THE '80S

"IN RESEARCHING this period, I've been surprised to discover the extent to which Ronald Reagan explicitly built his appeal around the notion that it was time to stop challenging the powerful. A new sort of lie took over: that the villains were not those deceiving the nation, but those exposing the deceit—those, as Reagan put it in his 1980 acceptance speech, who 'say that the United States has had its day in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.' They were just so, so negative. According to the argument Reagan consistently made, Watergate revealed nothing essential about American politicians and institutions—the conspirators 'were not criminals at heart.' In 1975, upon the humiliating fall of Saigon, he paraphrased Pope Pius XII to make the point that Vietnam had in fact been a noble cause: 'America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds. Into the hands of America, God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind.'

"The Gipper's inauguration ushered in the 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' era of political lying. But it took a deeper trend to accelerate the cultural shift away from truth-telling-as-patriotism to a full-scale epistemological implosion.

"Reagan rode into office accompanied by a generation of conservative professional janissaries convinced they were defending civilization against the forces of barbarism. And like many revolutionaries, they possessed an instrumental relationship to the truth: Lies could be necessary and proper, so long as they served the right side of history.

"This virulent strain of political utilitarianism was already well apparent by the time the Plumbers were breaking into the Democratic National Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal," White House staffer Jeb Stuart Magruder told the Watergate investigating committee, "we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a legitimate cause."

"Even conservatives who were not allied with the White House had learned to think like Watergate conspirators. To them, the takeaway from the scandal was that Nixon had been willing to bend the rules for the cause. The New Right pioneer M. Stanton Evans once told me, "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate."
"We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means," wrote evangelist C. Peter Wagner in 1981. "If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method."
"Though many in the New Right proclaimed their contempt for Richard Nixon, a number of its key operatives and spokesmen in fact came directly from the Watergate milieu. Two minor Watergate figures, bagman Kenneth Rietz (who ran Fred Thompson's 2008 presidential campaign) and saboteur Roger Stone (last seen promoting a gubernatorial bid by the woman who claimed to have been Eliot Spitzer's madam) were rehabilitated into politics through staff positions in Ronald Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign. G. Gordon Liddy became a right-wing radio superstar.

"'We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means,' wrote evangelist C. Peter Wagner in 1981. 'If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method.' Jerry Falwell once said his goal was to destroy the public schools. In 1998, confronted with the quote, he denied making it by claiming he'd had nothing to do with the book in which it appeared. The author of the book was Jerry Falwell.

"Direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie made a fortune bombarding grassroots activists with letters shrieking things like 'Babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood.' As Richard Nixon told his chief of staff on Easter Sunday, 1973, 'Remember, you're doing the right thing. That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi.'


"CONSERVATIVES hardly have a monopoly on dissembling, of course—consider 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.' Progressives' response has always been that right-wing mendacity—cover-ups of constitutional violations like Iran-Contra; institutionalized truth-corroding tactics like when the Republican National Committee circulates fliers claiming that Democrats seek to outlaw the Bible—is more systematic. But the deeper problem is a fundamental redefinition of the morality involved: Rather than being celebrated, calling out a lie is now classified as 'uncivil.' How did that happen?

"Back in the days when network news was the only game in town, grave-faced, gravelly voiced commentators like David Brinkley and Eric Sevareid—and on extraordinary occasions anchors like Walter Cronkite—told people what to think about the passing events of the day. Much of the time, these privileged men unquestioningly passed on the government's distortions. At their best, however, they used their moral authority to call out lies with a kind of Old Testament authority—think Cronkite reporting from Saigon. It drove Johnson out of office, and it drove the right berserk.

"On November 3, 1969, Richard Nixon gave a speech claiming he had a plan to wind down the war. The commentators went on the air immediately afterward and told the truth as they saw it: that he had said nothing new. Ten days later, the White House announced that Vice President Spiro Agnew was about to give a speech that it expected all three networks to cover—live.

Tomorrow: It's not just the most powerful men who can lie and get away with it.


For those that picked up on the horrow of the Nixon quote, "Remember, you're doing the right thing. That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi," it's a typical example of Conservative lies and sociopathy  Clinton was parsing, as we found out when a poll run shortly after he spoke showed that the country was split down the middle as to what "sex" meant.

The second quote to catch the eye is, "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate."  Admiration for criminal means to accomplish Conservative goals is a key ingredient of the Conservative "value" system.

Conservative lies are a different breed, and 99 percent of the time they lie to cover up their mission statement: to bring back the Age of Feudalism, to grab as much of our money to give to their rich benefactors, and to spread confusion and legitimize their existence.

But Conservatives are liars, the kind of liars that cover up their crimes with lies, and lie because they can't tell the truth.


"It’s been the same story ever since I can remember, ever since Wilson – the
Republicans don’t do a thing for the little man."

John Updike. (American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary
critic. 1932 – 2009.)


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inside The GOP's Fact-Free Nation

We are deviating slightly from our Climate Denial series for a three-part article on the Conservative lies and liars by Rick Perlstein at, "Inside The GOP's Fact-Free Nation," or "From Nixon's plumbers to James O'Keefe's video smears: How political lying became normal."


Illustration: Steve Brodner.
"IT TAKES TWO THINGS to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we're living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What's changed?

"Today's marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest—say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has 'weapons of mass destruction,' or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation's senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound—until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

"For the past 15 years, I've spent much of my time deeply researching three historic periods—the birth of the modern conservative movement around the Barry Goldwater campaign, the Nixon era, and the Reagan years—that together have shaped the modern political lie. Here's how we got to where we are.



"WHEN AN EXPLOSION sunk the USS Maine off the coast of Havana on February 15, 1898, the New York Journal claimed two days later, 'Maine Destroyed By Spanish: This Proved Absolutely By Discovery of the Torpedo Hole.' There was no torpedo hole. The Journal had already claimed that a Spanish armored cruiser, 'capable, naval men say, of demolishing the great part of New York in less than two hours,' was on its way. 'WAR! SURE!' a banner headline announced.
"You furnish the pictures," Hearst supposedly telegraphed a reporter, "and I'll furnish the war."
"The instigator was a politically ambitious publisher, William Randolph Hearst. Kicked out of Harvard for partying, and eager to make a name for himself outside the shadow of his mining-magnate father, he made his way to New York, where he led the way in a sensationalist new style of newspaper publication—'yellow journalism.' In a fearsome rivalry with Joseph Pulitzer, he chose as his vehicle the sort of manly imperialism to which the Washington elites of the day were certainly sympathetic—although far too cautiously for Hearst's taste. "You furnish the pictures," he supposedly telegraphed a reporter, "and I'll furnish the war." The tail wagged the dog. At a time when the only way to communicate rapidly across long distances was via telegraph, it proved easy to make up physical facts.

"More than six decades later, that still seemed to be the case. 'Some of our boys are floating around in the water,' Lyndon Johnson told congressmen to goad them into passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing war in 1964, after a supposed attack on an American PT boat. 'Hell, those dumb stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish,' LBJ observed later, after the deed was done. That resolution inaugurated a decade of official American military activities in Southeast Asia (unofficially, we had been carrying out secret acts of war for years). A full-scale air war began the following February, after the enemy shelled the barracks of 23,000 American 'advisers' in a South Vietnamese town called Pleiku. But that was just a pretext. 'Pleikus are like streetcars,' LBJ's national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, said—if you miss one, you can always just hop on another. The bombing targets had been in the can for months, even as LBJ was telling voters on the campaign trail, 'We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.'

"It would have been possible all along for some intrepid soul to drop the dime on the whole thing. There were many who knew or suspected the truth, but with a villain as universally feared as communism was during the Cold War years, denying the facts felt like the only patriotic thing to do.

"Then everything changed.

"THE '70S

"WALTER CRONKITE traveled to Saigon after the Tet Offensive in 1968, saw things with his own eyes, and told the truth: The Vietnam War was stuck in a disastrous stalemate, no matter what the government said. That was a watershed. By 1969, none other than former Marine Commandant David M. Shoup endorsed a book on the war called Truth Is the First Casualty. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, the Department of Defense study that plainly revealed that just about everything Americans had been told about Southeast Asia was flat-out untrue. When the Nixon administration ordered the newspapers not to publish the Papers, Supreme Court Justice Hugo* Black thundered back that 'for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says.' The searing melodrama of the Watergate investigation exposed new Nixon lies every day.
"The investigative reporter became a sexy new kind of hero—a shaggy-haired loner, too inquisitive for his own good."
"America, it seemed, had had enough. In the mid-'70s, the investigating committees of Sen. Frank Church and Rep. Otis Pike revealed to a riveted public that the CIA had secretly assassinated foreign leaders and the FBI had spied on citizens. Ralph Nader became a celebrity by exposing corporate lies. The mood of the Cold War had been steeped in American exceptionalism: The things America did were noble because they were done by America. Now, it appeared that America just might be susceptible to the same cruel compromises and corruptions as every other empire the world has known. Truth-telling became patriotic—and the more highly placed the liar, the more heroic the whistleblower.

"The investigative reporter became a sexy new kind of hero—a shaggy-haired loner, too inquisitive for his own good, played by Warren Beatty and Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, swooped in from nowhere to take the White House on the strength of the modest slogan 
'I'll never lie to you.' And during his presidency, one of the grand, founding lies of western civilization itself—that there need be no limits to humans' domination of the Earth—was questioned as never before.

"The truth hurt, but the incredible thing was that the citizenry seemed willing to bear the pain. All sorts of American institutions—Congress, municipal governments, even the intelligence community (the daring honesty of CIA Director William Colby about past agency sins was what helped fuel the Church and Pike investigations)—launched searching reconstructions of their normal ways of doing business. Alongside all the disco, the kidnapped heiresses, and the macramé, another keynote of 1970s culture was something quite more mature: a willingness to acknowledge that America might no longer be invincible, and that any realistic assessment of how we could prosper and thrive in the future had to reckon with that hard-won lesson.

"Then along came Reagan.

* Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article included the wrong first name for Justice Black.
Next: "Remember, you're doing the right thing.  That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi."


There are two kinds of political lies: the plain, ol' political lies of politicians in general, and Conservative lies -- the lies that hide the true motives of the Conservative capos, the desire for absolute power by the rich.

When Conservatism is made illegal, only the awakened electorate can eliminate the political lies; before that, nothing will stop the Conservatives from lying.  It's the only thing they can do to get into office and stay there.


"I wonder how many times you have to be hit on the head before you find out
who’s hitting you? It’s about time that the people of America realized what the
Republicans have been doing to them."

Harry Truman.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science

As the Conservatives lead us down the man-made climate change path to extinction, an article by Chris Mooney at tells us, "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science."


"How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.

Illustration: Jonathon Rosen
"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

"Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens—including one, 'Sananda,' who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing.

"Through her, the aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin's followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers—the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.

"Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the 'boys upstairs' (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

Read also: the truth about Climategate.
"At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they'd all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials' new pronouncement: 'The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.' Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

"From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. 'Their sense of urgency was enormous,' wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs.

"In the annals of denial, it doesn't get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called 'motivated reasoning' helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, 'death panels,' the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.
"We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself."
"The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call 'affect'). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a 'basic human survival skill,' explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

"We're not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn't take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that's highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

"Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. 'They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs,' says Taber, 'and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing.'

"In other words, when we think we're reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers (PDF). Our 'reasoning' is a means to a predetermined end—winning our 'case'—and is shot through with biases. They include 'confirmation bias,' in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and 'disconfirmation bias,' in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.

"That's a lot of jargon, but we all understand these mechanisms when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If I don't want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn't too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That's not to suggest that we aren't also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It's just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one's sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

"Modern science originated from an attempt to weed out such subjective lapses—what that great 17th century theorist of the scientific method, Francis Bacon, dubbed the 'idols of the mind.' Even if individual researchers are prone to falling in love with their own theories, the broader processes of peer review and institutionalized skepticism are designed to ensure that, eventually, the best ideas prevail.
"Scientific evidence is highly susceptible to misinterpretation. Giving ideologues scientific data that's relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store."
"Our individual responses to the conclusions that science reaches, however, are quite another matter. Ironically, in part because researchers employ so much nuance and strive to disclose all remaining sources of uncertainty, scientific evidence is highly susceptible to selective reading and misinterpretation. Giving ideologues or partisans scientific data that's relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.

"Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment (PDF), pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies—and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more 'convincing.'

"Since then, similar results have been found for how people respond to 'evidence' about affirmative action, gun control, the accuracy of gay stereotypes, and much else. Even when study subjects are explicitly instructed to be unbiased and even-handed about the evidence, they often fail.

"And it's not just that people twist or selectively read scientific evidence to support their preexisting views. According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, people's deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place—and thus where they consider "scientific consensus" to lie on contested issues.

"In Kahan's research (PDF), individuals are classified, based on their cultural values, as either 'individualists' or 'communitarians,' and as either 'hierarchical' or 'egalitarian' in outlook. (Somewhat oversimplifying, you can think of hierarchical individualists as akin to conservative Republicans, and egalitarian communitarians as liberal Democrats.) In one study, subjects in the different groups were asked to help a close friend determine the risks associated with climate change, sequestering nuclear waste, or concealed carry laws: 'The friend tells you that he or she is planning to read a book about the issue but would like to get your opinion on whether the author seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.' A subject was then presented with the résumé of a fake expert 'depicted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences who had earned a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from one elite university and who was now on the faculty of another.' The subject was then shown a book excerpt by that 'expert,' in which the risk of the issue at hand was portrayed as high or low, well-founded or speculative. The results were stark: When the scientist's position stated that global warming is real and human-caused, for instance, only 23 percent of hierarchical individualists agreed the person was a 'trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.' Yet 88 percent of egalitarian communitarians accepted the same scientist's expertise. Similar divides were observed on whether nuclear waste can be safely stored underground and whether letting people carry guns deters crime. (The alliances did not always hold. In another study (PDF), hierarchs and communitarians were in favor of laws that would compel the mentally ill to accept treatment, whereas individualists and egalitarians were opposed.)
"Head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever."
"In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. A hierarchal individualist finds it difficult to believe that the things he prizes (commerce, industry, a man's freedom to possess a gun to defend his family) (PDF) could lead to outcomes deleterious to society. Whereas egalitarian communitarians tend to think that the free market causes harm, that patriarchal families mess up kids, and that people can't handle their guns. The study subjects weren't 'anti-science'—not in their own minds, anyway. It's just that 'science' was whatever they wanted it to be. 'We've come to a misadventure, a bad situation where diverse citizens, who rely on diverse systems of cultural certification, are in conflict,' says Kahan.

"And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.

"Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles (PDF) in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually 'ban' embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren't particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)"


Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, podcaster, and the host of Climate Desk Live. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science. RSS | TWITTER

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Climategate: What really happened?


While Conservative Sheeplets and Tea Baggers "think (they're) reasoning, (they) may instead be rationalizing," and truthiness then erupts in their heads.

And when the heirarchical meets the egalitarian, no amount of logic will turn on the light of intelligence or discovery in the Sheeplet's brain, and when they are told by their propagandists that climate change is man-made, they are also informed that climate change doesn't exists!

The sad thing is that the Sheeplets are teaching their kids to be anti-science -- with tinfoil hat attached.  With liberals the "backfire" reaction is nonexistent; with Sheeplets and Tea Baggers, it's a way of life, and the Conservative leadership has no qualms in instructing the Sheeplets to stay stupid.

It oughta be a crime.


"Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful.  But there isn’t even one study that can
be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann.