Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Making Our Point, Badly

I keep finding myself utterly astounded by how liberals, or progressives, whatever, are not only unable to coherently promote or defend their position on issues of importance, but by how they so often wind up making the opponent’s case for them instead. Three such "cases in point" have driven me slightly batty in the past few days.

Juan Cole at Informed Comment, a brilliant person whose writing informs me and whom I respect greatly, pens a defense of global warming that makes three points, at least two of them spurious; Russia is so hot that it is burning, Pakistan is flooding, and the ice shelf of Greenland is dropping pieces of itself into the sea.

The heat in Russia is a weather issue. We cannot claim that snow storms in winter are weather and that they make no point as to the state of the planet, and then turn around and claim that the hot weather in Russia proves climate change. That’s called hypocrisy. When we use the same kind of false argument that our opponents use, we weaken our cause rather than strengthen it.

The ice dropping into the sea in Greenland is from a glacier, not from the “ice shelf,” and that glacier has been dropping pieces into the sea for many centuries. This one is the largest ever seen, and the glacier is moving faster than ever recorded. Those things are probably symptoms of change in the planet, but the dropping of a piece of the glacier (not “ice shelf”) is not.

So anyone wanting to refute climate change can merely point to the arguments such as this that we make and say that the arguments supporting climate change are false as to fact, or that they use invalid logic, and they will be correct.

Paul Krugman, writing supposedly in defense of the Social Security program, repeatedly makes the claim that “Legally, Social Security has its own, dedicated funding, [b]ut it’s also part of the broader federal budget.”

That it is “part of the broader federal budget” is, of course, a completely false claim that has been used by administrations past and present in order to make the federal deficit appear smaller. Clinton even managed to make a small deficit appear to be a surplus, but the national debt increased every year that he was president. By blending the cash surplus of the Social Security revenue stream into all writing about federal spending, administrations have been able to conceal the true degree to which the federal budget is cash negative.

Cutting Social Security benefit payments will not reduce the federal deficit, nor will it reduce the national debt, but by perpetuating the myth that Social Security is “also part of the broader federal budget” Krugman puts ammunition in the hands of those who use federal deficit spending as justification, false justification, for gutting Social Security.

Last Thursday Keith Olbermann had a guest who had been unemployed for a total of 59 weeks. Mike Hatchell seemed like a very nice and thoroughly ethical man, but he was almost totally incoherent in this interview and he needed a great deal more guidance from the interviewer, Olbermann, than he got.

On the whole, Hatchell’s position seemed rather justifiable, but within the interview he rambled to a degree that made his logic hard to follow at best, and seriously contrary to the liberal position at worst. Almost the first thing he said was,

I mean, when they‘re offering me these jobs, they‘re saying, well, this is—this is going to be a situation where we‘re going to start you out at the entry level wage. And I—obviously, I‘ve got some 32 years of experience in the automotive business and it‘s kind of hard for me to do that,

Olbermann is putting this man on to refute Republican claims that people collecting unemployment are turning down jobs because they prefer welfare, because they don’t want to take jobs they don’t like, because unemployment pays too much, etc.

Given that as the purpose, you do not let him say that he is turning down jobs because they are entry level and he has 32 years experience. You have just allowed him to make the Republicans’ point for them. Sure, I’m not quoting the entirety of what he said: do you think that Republicans are going to? Do you think the majority of the audience even heard that statement as part of a larger context? When you are preparing for an interview with a person who is not a professional, you coach him before you put him on the air. You advise him not to use phrases like “I’m sitting in front of the television,” for instance.

A substantial portion of the interview consists of Hatchell simply saying that the jobs paid less than the unemployment compensation he was receiving - which is, of course, the Republican point - without adequate clarification that they paid less than a living wage. Olbermann should have been asking followup questions to clarify that point, but utterly failed to do so. Toward the end of the interview Mr. Hatchell volunteers,

That particular story they read, OK, they were actually machinists that the company was trying to hire, and most of the machinists I know—I have been in the automotive field all my life—machinists make considerably more than $13 an hour, that‘s what this company was actually offering for a machinist. And I can understand why they wouldn‘t accept that. If they‘ve been working as machinists, I‘m sure their unemployment was either at that level or more.

That works out to $520 per week, or $27,000 per year that he is suggesting unemployed machinists turn down. If he had not made the Republican case for them before that, he certainly did so with that statement. Given Olbermann’s supposed liberal agenda, it is absolute incompetence for Countdown to allow that statement to get on the air.

Olbermann also allowed Hatchell to say repeatedly that unemployment is “insurance that I paid into so it’s okay for me to collect from it,” and then repeated that mantra himself. Aside from the fact that is the employer who pays the unemployment compensation insurance premiums, that program lasts only for the first 26 weeks. After that the funds are provided by federal taxes and are, in fact, welfare. So at 59 weeks unemployed, Hatchell is turning down jobs to remain on welfare.

As a card-carrying bleeding-heart liberal, I have never had even the most remote doubt about providing extended unemployment benefits – until I watched this interview; an interview that Olbermann provided purportedly for the purpose of supporting the cause of providing extended unemployment benefits.

1 comment:

Bartender Cabbie said...

very interesting post. My neighbor recently had his benefits extended but he is doing a good bit of side work off the books. A pretty good deal if I ever saw one. Oh I finally started a college football blog if you are interested in totally amateur predictions and analysis. collegefootballfromthecab.blogspt

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