The Rockin Johnny B

Monday, August 18, 2014

8 things to know about the Iraq crisis

1. Right-wing war hawks are pushing for another full-blown war in Iraq.   
Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, other Republicans in Congress, and right-wing figures—who blindly led America into invading and occupying Iraq—are now demanding more military action that could drag us back into full-scale war in the region.
2. The slippery slope is real. 
Mission creep can too easily occur—along with unintended consequences and new problems created by the use of U.S. military force.  History shows us that many big wars start out looking small, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War.   And we are now dealing with a prime example of unintended consequences: Bush's war of choice and military occupation of Iraq set the stage for Iraq's troubles today, including the rise of ISIS.
3. Voters elected President Obama to end the Iraq war that George W. Bush recklessly started. 
President Obama's opposition to the Iraq war before it began and his pledge to end it—as part of the contrast between him and those who pushed for war—were key to his success in both the Democratic primary election and the general election in 2008.  He continues to pledge that he "will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq."
4. Ultimately, Iraq's problems can be solved only by an Iraqi-led political solution. 
President Obama has said that there is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and that there can only be "an Iraqi solution."  As this Vox explainer lays out: 
"ISIS isn't just a terrorist group rampaging through Iraq (though they definitely are that). It's in many ways an expression of the Sunni Muslim minority's anger at the Shia-dominated government. . . Some Sunni grievances get to more fundamental issues within the Iraqi state itself, beyond what even a better government could easily fix."
These are not problems that more U.S. bombings can solve. That's why experts are saying that "any lasting solution has to be regional in nature and must address the political interests of all the major factions in an equitable and inclusive manner."
5. Members of Congress, including Democratic lawmakers, are insisting that the president come to Congress for authorization. 
MoveOn members have long opposed endless war in Iraq. Earlier this summer, before the current bombing strikes began, MoveOn members made more than 15,000 calls to lawmakers, urging them to oppose U.S. military intervention in Iraq. In July, the House of Representatives listened to them and the rest of the American people to require, by a bipartisan vote of 370-40, the president to seek congressional authorization before deploying or maintaining a sustained combat role in Iraq. Congress should continue to assert its authority under the Constitution to authorize and oversee U.S. commitments to open-ended war overseas.
6. The Middle East is a complicated place where U.S. military intervention has a troubling track record 
The Middle East has many armed actors whose motivations often compete with each other and conflict with American values, and U.S. military intervention there has a track record of often making things worse. One tragic absurdity of this moment is that the U.S. military is now using U.S. equipment to bomb U.S. weapons wielded by enemies the U.S. didn't intend to arm against the U.S. and U.S. allies. That's a good reason to be concerned about the U.S. arming rebels in nearby Syria, which experts say wouldn't have stopped the rise of ISIS anyway. Experts further warn that U.S. military force in the region only tends to create more problems, including the risk of terrorist retaliation.

7. Military action could lead to even more innocent civilians getting caught in the crossfire and suffering. 
The Iraq war that Bush started didn't just cost America the lives of nearly 4,500 service members, plus $2 trillion according to modest estimates. Approximately 500,000 Iraqi civilians also died in the armed conflict—possibly more. In the current conflict, ISIS militants are persecuting various minority populations of Iraq, such as the Yazidis who had fled to Mount Sinjar. Escalating military action, including drone strikes, risks catching more civilians in the crossfire.
8. Opposing endless war isn't the same as being an isolationist. The Iraq crisis, including the humanitarian disaster, demands an international, diplomatic response. 
We have options to support the people of Iraq, as well as tackle this crisis in a way that reflects America's best interests and 21st century realities. For one, the U.S. can work through the United Nations and other multilateral organizations to support a major global diplomatic initiative.  In the face of the current crisis, the Friends Committee on National Legislation also recommends a number of steps instead of U.S. bombings, such as working with other nations through the United Nations to organize humanitarian evacuations of stranded and trapped civilians, pressing for and upholding an arms embargo in Iraq and Syria, engaging with the UN to reinvigorate efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq and Syria, and increasing humanitarian aid.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


Let's talk about “Motivated Reasoning” for a moment. Haven't you ever wondered why Uncle Harry and Aunt Gladys don't 'get it' when it comes to certain so-called truths? In spite of all the information you throw at them they still don't budge in their hard-held beliefs.

I remember a discussion I had with my Uncle Alvin. I was a junior in college and we were discussing some – at that time – debatable issue. I pointed out that such-and-such was true and he, Uncle Alvin, said “no it ain't.” So, to illustrate my point and prove my uncle wrong, I hit the college library and picked up a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica and ear-marked the passage that proved my point. I showed it to Uncle Alvin with a gloating flourish and he said, “Encyclopedia Britannica? What do those Limies know about this deal?” At that point, I closed the book, left him sitting in the living room and drove back to my dorm room shaking my head from side to side with wonderment at my uncle's mule-hardheadedness. What I didn't know at the time is what I'm describing to you below: Motivated Reasoning.

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.

For instance, 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.

If you wanted to show how and why fact is ditched in favor of motivated reasoning, you could find no better test case than climate change. After all, it's an issue where you have highly technical information on one hand and very strong beliefs on the other. And sure enough, one key predictor of whether you accept the science of global warming is whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. The two groups have been growing more divided in their views about the topic, even as the science becomes more unequivocal.

Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn't increase one's concern about it. What's going on here? One insidious aspect of motivated reasoning is that political sophisticates are prone to be more biased than those who know less about the issues. "People who have a dislike of some policy—for example, abortion—if they're unsophisticated they can just reject it out of hand," says Lodge. "But if they're sophisticated, they can go one step further and start coming up with counterarguments." These individuals are just as emotionally driven and biased as the rest of us, but they're able to generate more and better reasons to explain why they're right—and so their minds become harder to change.

That may be why the selectively quoted emails of Climate-gate were so quickly and easily seized upon by partisans as evidence of scandal. Cherry-picking is precisely the sort of behavior you would expect motivated reasoners to engage in to bolster their views—and whatever you may think about Climate-gate, the emails were a rich trove of new information upon which to impose one's ideology.

It all raises the question: Do left and right differ in any meaningful way when it comes to biases in processing information, or are we all equally susceptible?

There are some clear differences. Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right—once you survey climate and related environmental issues, anti-evolution-ism, attacks on reproductive health science by the Christian right, and stem-cell and biomedical matters. More tellingly, anti-vaccine positions are virtually nonexistent among Democratic officeholders today—whereas anti-climate-science views are becoming monolithic among Republican elected officials.

Some researchers have suggested that there are psychological differences between the left and the right that might impact responses to new information—that conservatives are more rigid and authoritarian, and liberals more tolerant of ambiguity. Psychologist John Jost of New York University has further argued that conservatives are "system justifiers": They engage in motivated reasoning to defend the status quo.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a "culture war of fact." In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.


These arguments could backfire on you when challenging some internet Facebook fool.

1. Tax cuts increase revenue? In a 2010 study, Nyhan and Reifler asked people to read a fake newspaper article containing a real quotation of George W. Bush, in which the former president asserted that his tax cuts "helped increase revenues to the Treasury." In some versions of the article, this false claim was then debunked by economic evidence: A correction appended to the end of the article stated that in fact, the Bush tax cuts "were followed by an unprecedented three-year decline in nominal tax revenues, from $2 trillion in 2000 to $1.8 trillion in 2003." The study found that conservatives who read the correction were twice as likely to believe Bush's claim was true as were conservatives who did not read the correction.

2. Death panels! Another notorious political falsehood is Sarah Palin's claim that Obamacare would create "death panels." To test whether they could undo the damage caused by this highly influential morsel of misinformation, Nyhan and his colleagues had study subjects read an article about the "death panels" claim, which in some cases ended with a factual correction explaining that "nonpartisan health care experts have concluded that Palin is wrong." Among survey respondents who were very pro-Palin and who had a high level of political knowledge, the correction actually made them more likely to wrongly embrace the false "death panels" theory.

3. Obama is a Muslim! And if that's still not enough, yet another Nyhan and Reifler study examined the persistence of the "President Obama is a Muslim" myth. In this case, respondents watched a video of President Obama denying that he is a Muslim or even stating affirmatively, "I am a Christian." Once again, the correction—uttered in this case by the president himself—often backfired in the study, making belief in the falsehood that Obama is a Muslim worse among certain study participants. What's more, the backfire effect was particularly notable when the researchers administering the study were white. When they were nonwhite, subjects were more willing to change their minds, an effect the researchers explained by noting that "social desirability concerns may affect how respondents behave when asked about sensitive topics." In other words, in the company of someone from a different race than their own, people tend to shift their responses based upon what they think that person's worldview might be.

4. The alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda link. In a 2009 study, Monica Prasad of Northwestern University and her colleagues directly challenged Republican partisans about their false belief that Iraq and Al Qaeda collaborated in the 9/11 attacks, a common charge during the Bush years. The so-called challenge interviews included citing the findings of the 9/11 Commission and even a statement by George W. Bush, asserting that his administration had "never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda." Despite these facts, only 1 out of 49 partisans changed his or her mind after the factual correction. Forty-one of the partisans "deflected" the information in a variety of ways, and seven actually denied holding the belief in the first place (although they clearly had).

5. Global warming. On the climate issue, there does not appear to be any study that clearly documents a backfire effect. However, in a 2011 study, researchers at American and Ohio State universities found a closely related "boomerang effect." In the experiment, research subjects from upstate New York read news articles about how climate change might increase the spread of West Nile Virus, which were accompanied by the pictures of the faces of farmers who might be affected. But in one case, the people were said to be farmers in upstate New York (in other words, victims who were quite socially similar to the research subjects); in the other, they were described as farmers from either Georgia or from France (much more distant victims). The intent of the article was to raise concern about the health consequences of climate change, but when Republicans read the article about the more distant farmers, their support for action on climate change decreased, a pattern that was stronger as their Republican partisanship increased. (When Republicans read about the proximate New York farmers, there was no boomerang effect, but they did not become more supportive of climate action either.)

Together, all of these studies support the theory of "motivated reasoning": The idea that our prior beliefs, commitments, and emotions drive our responses to new information, such that when we are faced with facts that deeply challenge these commitments, we fight back against them to defend our identities. So next time you feel the urge to argue back against some idiot on the internet…pause, take a deep breath, and realize not only that arguing might not do any good, but that in fact, it might very well backfire.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Oh those pesky immigrants


Most illegals won’t pay taxes, anyway chastising the few members of his party speaking up for border integrity, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Illinois) reminded them that partial amnesty would mean 5 million new voting Democrats. This would likely ensure another Democrat presidency in 2016. Blanket amnesty would give Democrats 10 to 15 million votes and grant the radical left domination of the presidency complete with dictatorial license for years.

   Democrats are waging a socialist revolution right under our noses. The vast majority of “undocumented Democrats” will never pay taxes. They will be subsidized their entire lives. Taxpaying Americans will be stuck paying for their food, health care, housing and education in whole or in part.
   Pew Research Center, through The Freedom of Information Act, revealed that 90 percent of the “children” in the “border crisis” are teenagers. How many will be voting in 2016?
   Democrats oppose voter ID laws knowing that they would counter their massive balloting fraud.
   Eighty percent of current U.S. population growth is from immigration; 27 percent of prison populations are non-citizens; 17.5 percent are from Mexico.
   Border agents and medical staff at detention centers have been threatened with prison for revealing facts about the border “children,” many of whom are riddled with dangerous diseases and parasites. Many more are hard-core gang members, experienced in murder, torture and rape. Gangs such as the murderous MS-13 are actively recruiting in the detention centers.
   Costs of our border abdication are immense. Each undocumented Democrat costing over $140 per day. But the toll on jobs, prosperity, public safety and a united and free America are where the real pain will come.
   Democrats who love this country must abandon their socialist party and stand against this hostile invasion. They must each decide whether government handouts and winning elections are worth any price — including the economic stability, public health, safety and security of this great nation.
   Jerry Stark, Nampa

According to Mr. Stark's Pew Research Center 43% of America's voting base is non-white. It's time, Jerry, for you to step into the 21st century. Railing about immigration and voting fraud and all other racially motivated diatribe has had its day. All you do is rile up that 43% and do your party [conservative, I assume] no favors. Take some advice. Stop it! You're ruining your reputation and your tea associates' reputation as well. Most folks are just soooo weary of your type of information distribution. Most folks live in THIS world, not the 1950's world in which you seem to be stuck and wish to stick the rest of us. Why can't you just go away. Move to Iceland. I hear that country is 99% white.

And, another thing, Jer, Democrats are not waging “a socialist revolution right under our noses”. The Cultural Revolution is waging itself. It doesn't need or want Democrat intervention. The so-called Cultural Revolution has been going on in this country since the 17th century. Check your history books, Jerry. America was and is the cultural “melting pot” of this planet and that fact has created our greatness you are so heartfelt about.

In conclusion, Jerry, I guess you just don't get it. There is no “hostile invasion.” There ARE a whole bunch of people who want a better life for themselves and want to find that life in the Good Ol' U. S. of A. Just like your fore-bearers did in the past. The truth is, this country's immigration laws are antiquated and need a complete overhaul so as to include rather than exclude everyone trying to find a way into this country. Those people need to have access and, yes, that access needs to be legal. But let's not sit around bitching about immigration and how those “brown people” are out to destroy our magnificent country and do something positive about it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Here are the 5 lies the Republicans would like you to believe:

(1) Democrats have allowed the poor not to work, while receiving handouts paid by middle-class taxpayers. Baloney. Almost all welfare programs now require recipients to be working. We now have the highest percentage of working poor since data have been collected.
(2) Democrats have exempted the poor from paying taxes. Wrong. Poor Americans pay sales taxes (comprising 30% of all government revenues), which take a bigger bite out of their incomes than anyone else’s, and if they work they pay Social Security taxes.
(3) Democrats support government welfare for illegal immigrants. Wrong. Undocumented workers aren’t eligible; in fact, most have to pay into Social Security although they won’t be collecting it on retirement.
(4) The recent surge of illegal immigration is due to Democratic support for “amnesty.” False. It’s due to the drug war (which Republicans have long championed) moving into Central America.
(5) Obamacare is a huge handout from the middle class to the poor. Wrong again. It saves money by reducing costs of emergency room care, and its only tax (2.8% on capital gains) falls almost entirely on the wealthy.

Don't believe everything they are feeding you on TV.  The Republicans have been out of touch for so long they don't represent the vast majority of Americans today.  Believe it or not, they could recapture the majority vote in Congress again if we don't do what we know is right.  Vote out the Do-nothings this November.