Spinsanity: Countering rhetoric with reason
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Posts - May 8-13

5/11 - Brendan: Where's the outrage? (permanent link)
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In an excerpt from Paul Krugman's new book Fuzzy Math published in The New Republic, Krugman excoriates the Bush administration for what he calls the "honesty gap". A renowned economist, Krugman cuts through the rhetoric and exposes the intentionally deceptive and misleading arguments the administration has used in pushing its budget and tax cut plan.

The Bush tax plan is irresponsible, but America will surely survive it, just as we survived the Reagan tax cut. What is different this time is the utter dishonesty of the sales campaign. At every stage in this debate, Bush and his people have tried to obscure what they were really proposing. They have radically understated the cost of their plan, while overstating the money available to pay that cost. They have pretended that a plan that mainly cuts the taxes of the extremely well-off is basically a middle-class tax cut, and have misrepresented the size of the tax cut that middle-income families will actually receive. And they have falsely sold the plan as an appropriate answer to a short-run economic slowdown, when it is almost perfectly designed not to deal with that sort of problem.
No previous administration has tried to sell its economic plans on such false pretenses. And this from a man who ran for president on a promise to restore honor and integrity to our nation's public life.

And, in the same issue of TNR, Jonathan Chait rails against conservatives for failing to make an honest argument about their tax cut philosophy, which is actually focused on reducing taxes on those who make the most.

Despite the clear deception, the media, obsessed with honesty during the Clinton administration, continues to cover Bush in a generally positive way.

As Bob Dole said, where's the outrage?

[Note: See my post on Plastic.com today for more on why press coverage of Bush has been so favorable.]

5/11 - Bryan: Faking an "energy crisis"? (permanent link)
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Wednesday, Dan Ackman, writing on Salon.com, documents how there really isn't an "energy crisis" in America (unless, of course, you live in California). He sums up his argument: "Low prices, efficient use, abundant supply: some crisis." California's problems, he contends, are "unique and are caused by a massive regulatory failure." In the New York Times, Paul Krugman takes on gasoline prices, pointing out that prices are increasing because refining capacity can't keep up with demand - but that the reason they can't keep up is because demand has skyrocketed in recent years, brought on by a decrease in the average fuel efficiency of new cars (thanks to gas-guzzling SUVs). Finally, in a piece on Slate.com, William Saletan argues that Bush and Cheney are trying to frame the energy debate in terms of supply (and deregulation to boost supply), labeling conservation as an attack on the American way of life.

Why, then, do 64 percent of Americans believe that we're facing an energy crisis? Saletan comes closest to an explanation - that "the White House is pumping a new psychology" of consumption vs. production into the debate - but all three fail to analyze how the phrase "energy crisis" has become embedded in the national consciousness.

The Bush team began using the term "energy crisis" during the January transition, always qualifying it with "looming" or "developing." As late as February 26th, Bush's press secretary referred to an "energy crisis that may visit" various states later this year. By February 28th, however, the Bush team had changed its line, referring simply to an "energy crisis".

The media quickly picked up on the term, though it used it exclusively within the context of California's problems until the Bush team changed its line. Using ABC News as an example, we can trace out the evolution of the term: from "the energy crisis in California" before March 20, to "what President Bush calls a national energy crisis" from March through early May, to a May 4 broadcast referring to "the energy crisis" with no qualifying context. Thus the catchy term has gone from a cautious Bush attempt to frame the debate to established fact repeated over and over again in the mass media without any substantive argument over whether there actually is an energy crisis.

5/9 - Ben: The voluntary use of reason (permanent link)
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A recent piece on OpinionJournal.com is a good demonstration of how "what if," "almost surely" and "some think" can be used to make arguments that go against actual fact.

Thomas J. Bray wants to argue that President Bush is caving in to environmentalists by potentially supporting a voluntary cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions. To do this, he uses phrases like "The White House is almost surely wrong if it thinks a voluntary program will win brownie points from its environmental critics"; "What if we wind up spending huge sums to insure against the wrong thing--and make the actual problem worse?"; "as some economists point out, the Kyoto accords would have cost America $100 billion to $400 billion in lost gross domestic product"; and "Skeptics believe Kyoto was a bait-and-switch that would have been followed by far more costly controls."

Notice how none of these phrases make any definitive statements, or cite any actual evidence. Perhaps that's because, as Bryan Keefer demonstrated here on Spinsanity last week, the evidence for global warming is overwhelming. However, these phrases let Bray end with the irrational supposition that "draconian energy taxes aren't the answer," but a "wealthier world" that is more "resilient" is. Of course, the voluntary system President Bush is reportedly considering doesn't remotely resemble "draconian taxes." But then, it takes such nonsense logic to conclude that wealth will help us avoid environmental disaster when it is wealthy countries that produce most of the world's pollution.

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