THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

The silly season has started, what with Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio announcing they were running for president (Rand Paul and Ted Cruz announcing don’t count as they are the silly silly season), and as per usual, the Media, the chattering classes, and every mother’s son with an opinion – yours truly included – have started to weigh in on what looks to be one of the longest, most acrimonious, and downright exhausting run-ups to the 2016 Presidential Election we will ever have seen in this country. The attacks have already started, with attack ads being aimed squarely at Rand Paul, Ted Cruz already becoming irrelevant as he tells us how he will do away with ACA while at the same time availing himself of it, Marco Rubio telling us all how we have to move into the 21st Century while espousing 18th Century positions, Chris Christie – though he hasn’t announced yet – telling us all how he would privatize Social Security, and everyone piling on Hillary Clinton. Add to that the Media obsession with the horse race – who’s up in the polls, who ate lunch where, what’s the latest faux scandal – and it’s no wonder the majority get burned out and just say fuck it and don’t vote.

After all, they’re all the same; right? Right? Aren’t they all the same?

And that’s where the problem starts. The Media, the chattering classes, and many among every mother’s son with an opinion have made us come to believe that the Republican candidates are all the same as the Democratic ones. That there are no real differences between the two parties, so it doesn’t matter who you vote for, you’re going to get the same outcomes. That, my friends, is an outright, bold-faced lie. And that, my friends, leads us and this country down the path to becoming some kind of Theocratic, Oligarchic, Right-wing Dystopia where everyone is a wage slave except for a favored few, and if you’re a woman or a minority, or a white working stiff, you don’t count other than as cannon fodder for the latest war that can line that favored few’s pockets.

All of those of you who keep saying they are all the same, get this through your thick skull: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

If you don’t believe me, look at the policies the Republicans want to or have already implemented: In Kansas, the state is hemorrhaging jobs and the deficit is ballooning out of control. It’s gotten so bad that Kansas schools HAVE TO close early because there isn’t enough money to pay for keeping them open. Governor Brownback has turned the State into a laboratory for every nutty right-wing, supply-side economic theory he can think of, and Kansas is slowly becoming hell. It’s so bad that Brownback is trying to keep everyone’s mind off of it by coming up with crazy-assed laws that make women second class citizens. Again, don’t take my word for it, take the word of the major Republican Caucus in Kansas that pleaded with the citizens of Kansas to vote for the Democrat in the last gubernatorial election. But it appears voters in Kansas are so sickeningly stupid that they would rather the Governor never had a lap-dance than have working schools, a thriving middle class, and infrastructure.

Or take Wisconsin – Please! Scott Walker has made that State a paragon of Right-wing idiocy. Wisconsin went from third in job creation to 40th under Walker. Wisconsin is dead last in job creation in the Midwest. http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2015/mar/16/mark-pocan/wisconsin-dead-last-midwest-job-creation/ Walker has cut taxes, so now the Wisconsin budget shortfall for the next two year period is projected to be $2 Billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B. And while cutting things like education and public services seems to be the way conservative Republicans like Walker prefer to go, he’s spending $1 Billion – yes, that’s right, billion with a B – on a new sports arena and entertainment complex. Seems rich people being able to take in a basketball game is more important than an educated citizenry.

And does one even need to point out Pence in Indiana? Didn’t think so.

This is just some of the insanity happening on the state level. When we get to the National level, Right wing Republican goes to a whole ‘nother level of crazy. Climate Change – “I’m not a scientist.” Age of the Earth – “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Technology – “I’ve never sent an email.” Same sex marriage – “Well, if you want to discriminate because your religion says so, that’s okay.” Women’s Rights – “Women don’t need to be paid as much as men,” and “If you don’t want a baby, keep your knees together,” and “Well, just because we pay for the blue pill, why should we have to pay for contraception?”

And it gets worse. Social Security is an entitlement program! Medicare is wasteful! Food Stamps are being misused to buy lobster and Filet! We need to get the Federal Government out of education by eliminating Common Core! Yes, Social Security is an entitlement program, by the original definition of the word entitlement – a right to benefits specified by contract or law. Medicare has waste. It also provides millions of people with healthcare they could not possibly afford on their own. Food Stamps are misused at a rate of about 3%. While no fraud is acceptable, that’s a great deal lower than fraud found in the banking industry, and the people using food stamps actually need the money, what little they get. But being a good Republican, you have to hate the poor. And Common Core – Well, folks, Common Core is not a Federal program.

Add to this the attempt to derail the P5+1 Iran Nuclear negotiations, as though treating Iran as an irrational actor will somehow have a favorable outcome. Instead we get Tom Cotton and John Bolton who would rather that we bomb them, because, of course, giving the Iranian people a common enemy to rally around is really going to get us what we want.

It is as though the GOP position on every issue is how can we most hurt Americans. We don’t want them to have healthcare, we don’t want them to have education, we don’t want them to live in a peaceful world, we don’t want them to be able to love whomever they love, we don’t want them to have a secure retirement, we don’t want them to have a world that they can leave to their children and grandchildren. The list just goes on and on.

Do I want reform of the election system? Stupid question – OF COURSE! But does that mean I won’t vote for the lesser of two evils because they are both evil? HELL NO! I have a choice of choosing someone who may not be great but doesn’t think my life is worthless unless I can buy them a house, or the insane clown posse of the Republican Party that believes you and I don’t matter at all. So if I’m a good Republican voter I’ll listen to some insane fuckwad who will tell me that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that helping the poor and disenfranchised, maintaining roads, maintaining peace, having clean air and water, and keeping society from discriminating against one group for the benefit of another are all bad things for government to do and I’ll vote for the insane person who believes I don’t matter. Or I can vote for the slightly more sane one that believes I do. I know which one I’m voting for.

And again: THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

UPDATE: Scott Walker’s Wisconsin is now 49th in Econ Outlook! Yeah! That’s what we want for America!

Save Us From So-Called “Experts”!

So about three weeks ago, I had a long and fruitless debate – and I use that word loosely, since it was mostly create a straw-man, place straw-man squarely on the person you disagree with, and then pile on – with a number of individuals on Twitter about the Habsburg Empire. The debate began innocuously enough as I pointed out that the statement that the Habsburg Empire was Benevolent and should therefore never have dissolved was similar to saying that the Colonials should never have left the British Empire. The immediate reaction was within reason though wrong, basically arguing that I was comparing two dissimilar things, Apples to Tomatoes. And while I was comparing two different empires with their own set of foibles and follies, the fact that we were comparing empires which were both for the most part relatively benevolent did not make them dissimilar. Now, if we had continued in this manner, we might actually have had a debate. Instead, as I pointed out above, one of the “debaters” decided to throw in a straw-man, which everyone else then pounced on as the actual debate. He decided that since I had stated that most nationalities within the Empire wanted self-determination, it was appropriate to point out what had happened once they had achieved that self-determination, and because of that it was correct that they had not been self-determining to that point. When I disagreed, he basically decided that I had said that the Habsburg Empire was like the Fascists and/or Bolsheviks, when I had said no such thing. Then he decided I must be a Bolshevik because I disagreed with his conclusion.

And so the “debate” continued in that vein i.e. do you know how the Jews were treated under the Habsburg Empire versus how they were treated under the Fascists; in retrospect, Hungarians preferred the Habsburg Empire to what came after, etc., etc. The prevailing tweets being that I must somehow be an idiot since I didn’t see clearly that most Pols, Czechs, Hungarians, etc. wanted to be part of the Empire. Never mind that Poland, which had saved Austria from the Ottomans, was partitioned amongst the Prussians, Russians, and Habsburgs, or that the Hungarian uprising of 1848 had had to be put down with the help of Czar Nicholas I of Russia because the Hungarians were winning, or even the constant pressing by the Czechs for their national claims. No, the Habsburg Empire was benevolent and so everyone was living in Happy LaLa Unicorn land, save for a few rogue elements.

Now, what does that have to do with experts, you might be asking. Let me say here that I have read this particular “debater’s” writing and often find it to be interesting, if nothing else – and I’m sure he doesn’t give a damn about my opinion anyway. But on more than one occasion, I have seen him resort to the tactic of stating “I have a PhD, I’ve written books; what have you done” as the argument as to why he’s correct and you’re wrong; as if this were some sort of dick-swinging contest to see whose was bigger. In other words, he’s resorted to basically saying he’s an expert and as such his opinion carries more weight. And when one points out that that doesn’t actually mean that he is correct, he just repeats it. It’s not an argument so much as it is a mantra.

And then the rest of the crew comes and piles on, presenting such wonderful evidence as this by Tom Nichols: http://thefederalist.com/2014/01/17/the-death-of-expertise/. Which proves that Tom Nichols can string a bunch of sentences together and can condescend like the best of them. He’s an expert, don’t you know. And he goes into laborious detail about how there are just so many stupid people out there who just don’t understand what their betters are telling them.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some valid points in that post. The issue isn’t that he doesn’t make any valid points; the issue is that he acts like he’s the only person who’s ever thought of them and that he somehow has a lock on knowledge. It is this idea that somehow being Tom Nichols or someone who agrees with Tom Nichols gives you a lock on knowledge greater than everyone else that is downright insulting. It is the same position that other “experts” debate you from. It is a narrow-minded orthodoxy.

That’s not to say that there are no experts. There are doctors, engineers, scientists; hard science people who are experts. Yes, they make mistakes; yes, they behave like human beings and get peevish and stubborn and wild-eyed. But in the end, they are swayed by facts and evidence. And really, most good scientists are trying to prove themselves wrong. They are trying to make their theory fail, to see if it holds up to scrutiny, to see if it has merit. Not so with the “foreign policy experts.” No; they come up with the theory, then fit the evidence to that theory. We have seen it time and time again. And yet, those same Foreign Policy experts are called on to tell us what we should do, even though they were wrong the last time and the time before that. You get rewarded for being wrong.

And they are usually wrong. We’re not talking some of the time wrong; we’re not even talking slightly wrong. No, we’re talking coin flip wrong. You are as likely to get a right answer from picking heads or tails as you are talking to an expert. Don’t believe me; believe Philip Tetlock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_E._Tetlock. He studied experts for twenty years and found that they were no better than a coin flip. What’s worse is no one holds them accountable for when they screw the pooch.

When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-experts-are-almost-always-wrong-9997024/#VOcPO4xDzkUgeBhc.99

And while Nichols tells us about how his work is peer reviewed, he ignores the huge elephant in the room that he is writing for an audience that already agrees with him or comes at the problem with the same biases and prejudices he does. Again, there are study after study that show that peer review is NOT the be all and end all that Nichols would have you believe they are. The one thing we can say with certainty about any of this, is that some of it will be wrong.

So the problem is that these “experts” argue that their expertise should never be questioned. Naturally, if you are unwilling to argue against them based on proving your credentials, that means that you don’t have any and so therefore how dare you question their position. How dare you ask them to stoop down to your level and actually explain where their position comes from, how they came to their conclusion, and why you should accept it as correct. After all, you’re not an “expert.” You’re beneath their contempt since you’ve brought into question their conclusions without trying to use your credentials as a means of crushing any debate.

Look, there are loonys out there who believe crazy things. No one is arguing there are not. And no, this isn’t arguing that your brain surgeon shouldn’t be an accredited physician. But just because your brain surgeon has been doing lobotomies for twenty years, that doesn’t mean the lobotomy is the only means of treatment for your illness. And just because you wrote a book about something, and yes, did the research, doesn’t mean that every bit of your conclusion is the only one that’s right. So if you are an “expert,” it might do to get off your high horse and put your conclusions to the question. Because even Einstein wasn’t right all the time.