Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

With Congress on vacation the TQ ratings of congressional leaders were unchanged. However, the campaign for the Republican nomination goes on and that's where the action was. No sooner did Panderbear add Newt Gingrich to the rankings than he uttered yet another Pants-on-Fire statement and plunged into a statistical dead-heat with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Governor Perry's latest false statement dropped him into a tie with the perennially prevaricating Republican National Committee. Believe it or not Sarah Palin's pathetic TQ of 0.5 now places her above the median!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flat Tax vs Fair Tax

Top Federal marginal income tax rate from 1913 to 2011
When everyone pays the same percentage tax it is
called flat. Sales taxes are flat. Federal income tax rates on wages are progressive - those with higher wages pay a higher percentage. Panderers everywhere demagogue the notion that a flat tax is fairer than a progressive tax. But is it?

Paying taxes is a pain. Shouldn’t a fair tax inflict a similar degree of pain on all? Low wage earners are more likely to spend their last dollar of income on necessities while high wage earners are likely to spend it on luxuries. Is it fair to tax income needed for essentials at the same rate as income going toward luxuries? Clearly flatter tax rates hit the less fortunate harder.

From 1932 to 1980 federal income tax rates were highly progressive (top rate 63% - 94%) and peacetime budget deficits were small. Then President Reagan cut taxes, made them less progressive (top rate now a relatively low 35%), and thus mainly benefited high income individuals. Deficits grew. The second President Bush doubled-down on Reaganomics with additional tax cuts. Deficits exploded. Eventually the economy tanked, homes and retirement accounts plummeted in value, unemployment spiked. The net result was trillions of dollars of wealth redistributed from the middle class to the already rich.

Those who conflate flat taxes with fair taxes are attempting to swindle the middle class. The unwary may confuse flat with fair, but since federal income tax rates have become flatter only the rich have faired well, while the middle class has been left behind. That isn't fair.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Sound Argument

Michele Bachmann
Not every issue is just a matter of opinion. Verifiable facts exist and can be used to draw sound conclusions. A logical argument consists of one or more premises (statements presented as facts) and a conclusion (the claim being made). An argument is sound if the premises are true and the conclusion necessarily follows from them.

Whether they are dissembling, careless, or simply dumber than a bag of hammers, pandering politicians and pundits often misstate the facts. Given faulty premises they cannot possibly make a sound argument for whatever view they espouse. That's why Panderbear's motto is, "Check the facts, check the facts, check the facts."

The more insidious mode of pandering is to employ some combination of logical fallacies that renders conclusions specious even if the premises happen to be true. Most logical fallacies can be eliminated by simply asking yourself, do the facts presented really prove the claim? Common fallacies include ad hominem attack, appeal to authority or emotion or popularity, confusing cause and effect, false dilemma, guilt by association, slippery slope, and straw man.

Checking the facts and learning about common logical fallacies will arm you against bogus arguments by partisan politicians and biased cable news commentators while making your opinions more sound and your arguments more convincing.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Scientists Have a Liberal Bias

Albert Eienstein
In a 2009 Pew Research survey only 6% of scientists identified themselves as Republicans and 9% as conservative. Why are scientists so much more liberal than the public at large?

Scientists are skeptics. They require proof of proposed theories. An acceptable theory must be consistent with all relevant facts and must make testable predictions. If any of a theory’s predictions is falsified, the theory is rejected. That is the scientific method. Scientists by nature and training are more immune to pandering than the average person.

Conservatives who speak of scientific “conspiracies” or “junk science” or say “it’s only a theory” to discredit legitimate scientific results inconsistent with their own prejudices, either misconstrue how science works or are dissembling. A good scientific theory is not just an educated guess. It is an explanation of a significant body of knowledge which has survived rigorous tests of its validity by independent researchers. Individual scientists have perpetrated short-lived frauds, but science’s requirements for peer review and independently reproducible experimental results inevitably expose error and fraud alike.

A review of 50 years of psychology research published in the Psychological Bulletin concluded that political conservatism is ultimately fear-based. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Scientists do not fear the unknown. They explain it. Knowledge, change/progress, and a generally liberal/progressive point of view are by-products of scientific enquiry. The question is, is your political philosophy rooted in fear or knowledge?

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reverse Discrimination

Reverse Discrimination
Discrimination based upon ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is always abhorrent, often illegal, and common.

What are we to make of the term "reverse discrimination?" The opposite of discrimination? No. Reverse discrimination is, well, discrimination. Then why add "reverse?" Words are not arbitrary; they have meaning. But some words convey more than the literal meaning. Frequently, their use is intended to incite specific negative emotions. Words and phrases like "socialism" and "tax and spend" have become detached from their proper definitions and are now mere slogans used by panderers as an economical means to elicit desired emotional reactions. Pandering politicians and pundits arguing against affirmative action invariably characterize it as reverse discrimination. This is red-meat rhetoric aimed at those ordinarily not much troubled by discrimination, signaling that the ill-fitting shoe of discrimination is on the other foot. It says, “NOW you should be outraged!”

It is incumbent upon those opposing affirmative action to offer alternative remedies for inequities arising from historical or present day discrimination. It is disingenuous for those who have for so long benefited from discrimination to suddenly get religion and cry reverse discrimination, implicitly suggesting we ignore their privileged past. How convenient.

Panderbear encourages you to note who uses manipulative code words like “reverse discrimination,” consider the emotions those words are intended to evoke, and refuse to submit to the tyranny of slogans.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Welfare Stereotype

President Ronald Reagan
Think about the "typical welfare recipient." For many, the image that comes to mind is the stereotypical "welfare queen" - a black female making a career of welfare. The fact is more adult recipients of welfare (TANF - Temporary Aid to Needy Families) are white females than any other race/gender category.

Ronald Reagan breathed life into the welfare queen stereotype during his first presidential campaign. The woman he referred to never existed. And yet this racist welfare stereotype persists three decades later. Why?

How much does the space program cost? 5% of the federal budget? 10%? The actual figure is less than 1%. Coincidentally, that is about the same percentage that goes to TANF. Zeroing them both out would have negligible effect on the budget deficit. And yet the stereotypes of a budget-busting space program and huge welfare expenditures persist. Why?

Psychologists call it confirmation bias. People have an efficient facility for filtering out facts not in accord with preconceived notions. We believe what we want to believe, facts notwithstanding. False stereotypes persist, because they confirm our biases. Confirmation bias is human nature, but with access to the internet, checking facts regarding stereotypes is trivial.

The real question is will we summon the courage and integrity to put our biases to the test? Or will we risk accepting false stereotypes peddled by pandering politicians, because they are confirming and comfortable? Which will you choose, comfortable stereotypes or possibly inconvenient truth?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paul or Perry vs Obama?

Ron Paul
Panderbear has a modest proposal. Only permit politicians to run for their party's nomination if the truthfulness of their statements is better than the flip of a coin. No inveterate panderers allowed. Were that the case the 2012 Presidential campaign would pit Ron Paul against President Obama. The most recent Truth Quotient ranking shows, of those vying for the Presidency, only Paul and Obama can claim overall truthfulness better than 50-50 (TQ>1.0). Both are mostly truthful.

Rick Perry? His ranking is two notches below Sarah Palin's! Perry ties with Michele Bachmann for most "Pants on Fire" ratings. These statements are not just false, they are insultingly egregious whoppers. Perry's veracity percentage would be handily whopped by a coin toss. I guess this makes the Governor a shoe-in for the Republican nomination. Just what we need, another know-nothing-and-proud-of-it, cut-taxes-first-and-ask-questions-later conservative Texas governor for President.

[Recent Truth Quotient rankings would have President Obama running against, well, nobody. None of the remaining Republican candidates have a TQ>1.0]

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Profits of Pandering

Walter Cronkite
In Walter Cronkite's day network evening news programs lost money. Their purpose was to capture an audience for the moneymaking primetime programs. Today, TV news programs and networks make profits by turning news into theater, deceptively presenting ideologically tailored opinions as news to attract a reliable audience share. Each network targets a particular opinion demographic. For example, Fox News panders to extreme conservatives.

This is a business decision. What Fox offers is not news, but propaganda, carefully manipulated content, designed to confirm the biases of their audience. A recent University of Maryland study found Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of any news consumers and as exposure to Fox News increased, so did the misinformation. Informing their audience and giving them sometimes uncomfortable facts is not part of Fox's business model. Profitable business tactics for Fox represent the death of legitimate TV journalism and a dangerous disservice to the American public.

Rather than passively accept input from "push" news sources, some people "pull" their information from the Internet. The Internet is rife with disinformation, but actively seeking out the facts and fact-checking on multiple non-partisan websites can usually separate fact from fiction. Having gathered the facts you can decide for yourself what they mean. You don't need a profit motivated TV entertainer/spin-doctor appealing to your emotions, validating your biases, telling you what to think, or flat-out lying to you. Unfortunately, the profitability of Fox News suggests that is precisely what many Americans want.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

Sorry Newt! Newt Gingrich complained that Panderbear didn't include him in the last TQ ranking table. So here he is in all his pandering glory just ahead of Sarah Palin. Not much of a recommendation. Rick Perry opened his mouth to utter another falsehood and thereby slipped below Harry Reid in the rankings. Otherwise, things haven't changed much since last week. The DNC, Ron Paul, and President Obama take win, place, and show. The notoriously unreliable chain emails have been added to the list as a reality check. Michele Bachmann just beats out unsolicited spam for veracity. Rick Santorum couldn't even manage that. Oy!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bachmann Submissive

 Michele Bachmann and Humpty Dumpty
"When I use a word” Humpty Dumpty said, " means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less."

It seems Michele Bachmann is a disciple of Mr. Dumpty. Like Humpty, Bachmann reserves the Constitutional and religious right to redefine inconvenient words. According to Bachmann, when she or her Bible say "submissive" the word actually means respectful, quite distinct dictionary definitions notwithstanding.

Panderbear is no biblical scholar, but is pretty sure that when the Bible says submissive, it means submissive. The Southern Baptist Convention's bylaws declare, "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband..."

But, submissiveness and servants are so first millennium, so un-American, sinister even. Most women of faith are content to ignore the untidy bits of the Bible. Even the most devout usually are at pains to "interpret" the Bible in a favorable, more modern light. But, Michele Bachmann takes the breathtakingly direct expedient of redefining the words. Not a bit of hubris or hypocrisy here. Humpty Dumpty would be so proud.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homo Sapiens Panderensis

Homo Sapiens Panderensis
Homo sapiens is a work in progress. Our most fundamental predilections and behaviors, including bigotry, intolerance, xenophobia, greed, confirmation bias, and fear of change, evolved to suit an environment lacking the trappings of civilization. These anachronistic characteristics are inherent in our species, but are counterproductive in a modern society.

We have the genetic potential to overcome our baser instincts and employ fact-based logical reasoning in our public and private affairs, but frequently fail to do so. Our opinions and our votes are often determined more by negative emotions than by rational thought. Conservative politicians and news entertainers gleefully pander to these weaknesses in the human character for power and profit.

Now that human activities have profound impacts on the global environment, applying our most rational thinking and taking effective action is an existential matter for humanity. There is no more time for anti-intellectual, anti-science conservative foot-dragging and pandering to change-fearing, information-challenged luddites. No amount of praying and magical thinking by the Religious Right will suffice.

Refusal to face established facts and undertake necessary proactive measures could ultimately lead to the decline of modern civilization and reversion to a primitive world in which our baser instincts would once again serve us well. We finally have a President whose emotions are invariably in the service of his intellect -- the very definition of an adult. It's time for the rest of us to grow up as well. It could quite literally be now or never.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Policies vs Principles

Tea Party Threatens Democracy
Failure to distinguish between policy and principle is a grievous error. Principles are the result of an internal dialectic which may or may not involve fact-based logical reasoning. Public policy, if it is to succeed, must be based on facts and reason informed by the principles of policy makers.

Principle need not be compromised, but public policy itself must represent compromise lest some groups be disenfranchised or worse yet the process fail due to intransigence and stalemate. Being asked to compromise one's principles is an affront not to be tolerated; consequently, in a diverse representative democracy, it cannot serve as a requirement in the policy making process.

Rigidly ideological groups that eradicate the line between policy and principle, such as the Religious Right and Tea Party, and the politicians who pander to them constitute a graver danger to our democracy than budget deficits and recession.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Civil Discourse or Incitement

Senator Edward Kennedy
After the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy last year, I reflected on the eulogies by his political allies and foes alike. All were very gracious and civil, unlike much public discourse these days. I recalled that when I was a boy, soaring oratory in the U.S. Senate was the rule, not an anachronism subject to ridicule. I listened with great pleasure to the mellifluous voice and florid language of Senator Everett Dirksen. I disagreed with everything he said, but listening to him speak still made the hair on my neck stand up. Later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke words that yet bring tears to my eyes and a wondrous mix of sadness and joy to my heart.

Whether the practiced civility of those long-gone days or the lionizing eulogies of Senator Kennedy by political opponents were genuine or not isn't important. What is important is publicly according other people, especially those with whom we disagree, civility and respect. It costs nothing, makes social intercourse more pleasant, and facilitates the political process.

The alternative is to risk incitement of troubled individuals to act out tragically believing the extreme rhetoric they hear somehow validates their abhorrent behavior. Along with freedom of speech comes the duty to exercise that right responsibly. This is a lesson that today's hyper-partisan politicians and news personalities would do well to remember, lest they earn some measure of culpability for horrific acts of violence.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Pundits

The TQ ranking table below includes all political pundits with a significant number of ratings. A couple of trends literally jump out of this table.

First, TQ ranking has a strong inverse correlation with conservativeness. Arguably the most conservative, Rush Limbaugh, cannot even rise above the level of notoriously specious chain emails. The one notable exception is George Will. But for Will, every liberal/progressive pundit would have a higher TQ than every conservative pundit. Go George!

Second, the distribution of TQ for pundits is quite similar to that for politicos. One might hope that pundits being at least loosely associated with "journalism" would do better than pandering politicians. Okay, I'm a hopeless romantic. But back in the day, one could watch network news anchors like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley for years and not be able to guess their political affiliation. Perhaps the saddest thing about the list below is that there is no doubt whatsoever as to where each pander pundit lies on the right/left continuum. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Perry Pander

Rich Perry on Climate Change
On a campaign stop today Governor Rick Perry responded to a question about climate change by saying, "I think we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change."

Bzzzt! Wrong answer. Their is no controversy among mainstream climate researchers regarding the existence of human activity-induced global climate change. The discussion has moved on to precisely what fraction of the change is due to human activity, how bad it will get and how soon, and what, if anything, can be done about it. The only place there is any controversy is in the minds of information-challenged climate change deniers and the pundits and politicos like Perry who pander to them for monetary and political gain.

Jefferson on Compromise

Thomas Jefferson on Compromise
I just received a letter from my friend Thomas Jefferson. He has a message for Tea Party stalwarts: “Every man cannot have his way in all things. If his opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at other times. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”

Okay, so I didn't actually get mail from the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States. But, Continental Congressman and "Penman of the Revolution," John Dickinson did and Jefferson's message of compromise in public debate is no less relevant today than in 1801.

Tea Party zealots and their Republican Party facilitators would do well by America to heed Jefferson's words and dispense with extreme my-way-or-the-highway politics. Their suicide-bomber legislative tactics in the House of Representatives, according to their own revered Founding Father, are not merely inconsistent with a functional representative democracy, but anathema to the fabric of society. In short, Jefferson would consider today's right-wingers barbarians, not to mention hypocrites.

Jefferson, notwithstanding, a gaggle of candidates vying for the Republican nomination are pandering to Tea Party faithful and sympathizers by competing for the title "Most Intransigent." Imagine the outcome if Jefferson and the other delegates to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 had behaved similarly.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Truth Quotient Rankings - Politicos

With the entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the Republican nomination race and the TQ spreadsheet we have a new Pants on Fire pander co-champ. Perry's 7 PoF ratings tie him with Michele Bachmann. And I thought Bachmann had that race sown up. Still, Bachmann's PoF percentage is twice Perry's suggesting he is a mere pretender to the throne.

With his departure from the nomination race and return to political obscurity, Tim Pawlenty has been retired from the TQ rankings. He has suffered enough.

Monday, August 15, 2011


We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us
Many have said that in a democracy people get the government they deserve. Maybe, but they do get the government they elect. Nonetheless, in polls Americans express overwhelmingly negative opinions of Congress. Why do people we elect routinely disappoint us? There is the undue influence on officeholders of corporations, special-interest groups, wealthy contributors, and their lobbyists, but the bigger problem can be found closer to home - in the mirror.

What do you see in the mirror? A well-informed voter with views based upon verified facts and logical reasoning who thinks compromise is essential in a representative democracy? Or a voter with rigid ideology who applies litmus tests, requires candidates to sign pledges, and considers politicians who compromise weak or traitorous? Do you see someone who actively seeks out and double-checks information from diverse sources regarding candidates and policy issues? Or someone who passively allows Fox News and pandering politicians to confirm their existing biases and inflame their emotions? If your mirror reflects more of the latter, perhaps representative democracy isn't your cup of tea.

As the Congressional debt-ceiling debate proved, public policy elevated to uncompromising dogma leads to destructive legislative gridlock, dysfunctional government, and economic turmoil. Nevertheless, most members of Congress are doing exactly what we elected them to do. If you don't like the result, look in the mirror. As comic strip character Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Big Lie

Richard Nixon and the Big Lie
President Nixon's cynical and racist "Southern Strategy" and divisive use of political wedge issues initiated the Republican Party's descent into polarizing politics and routine use of the "Big Lie." Conservatives discovered many voters respond emotionally and positively to demonstrably false statements if they confirm their biases. Repeat seductive Big Lies often enough, however ludicrous and irrational, and people will believe them.

The biggest Big Lie, that we can have the government services we demand, like a strong defense and Social Security, while cutting taxes, began with President Reagan. That's also, of course, when deficits began to skyrocket. When the national debt tripled Reagan finally realized the danger and agreed to raise taxes.

Duplicitous conservatives have been busy rewriting that bit of history ever since. Why? Because credulous voters reward pandering "tax cutters" with election victories. The Tea Party escalated failed dogma to destructive extremes of anti-democratic intransigence. As we learned from the debt ceiling debate, Republican leaders, intimidated by overreaching Tea Party radicals, are willing to put their historically discredited ideology and lust for power ahead of our country's best interests.

Americans face a stark choice. We can reject excessively partisan conservative politics and tax ourselves at realistic levels as we did under President Clinton, the last time the economy was strong and the budget balanced, or we can become a second-rate, deadbeat country that refuses to pay its bills and reneges on it's promises to seniors.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Political Panders

Non-partisan Pulitzer Prize-winning website,, rates politicians' statements "True", "Mostly True", "Half True", "Mostly False", "False", or "Pants-on-Fire." They provide sources and a rationale for each rating. This website is a valuable resource for separating political fact from political pander.

Using ratings on 07/22/2011 I constructed a truth-ranking of 13 politicians and 2 parties based on the ratio (2T+MT) / (MF+2F+3PoF), aka Truth Quotient or simply TQ. From most truthful to least: Democratic National Committee, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Tim Pawlenty, Harry Reid, Sarah Palin, Republican National Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum. Only the top 5 are mostly truthful. Leaders of both parties in Congress are truth-impaired. Cain, Bachmann, and Santorum define a class of their own. Of 43 statements by these candidates just one was unequivocally true, while 28 were rated False or Pants-on-Fire. Only Michele Bachmann garnered more Pants-on-Fire ratings than Sarah Palin. #1 DNC is far more truthful than #11 RNC.

These politicians' panders represent carelessness, ignorance, and deceit. None are qualities I desire in elected officials. They make these false statements to appeal to the biases of their target constituency. The question is, do you prefer the truth or false confirmation of your opinions? Sadly, history suggests most people prefer the latter. Nevertheless, checking the facts and basing our opinions upon them is the best defense against political panders.