Archive for Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Opinion: A fact is a fact, regardless of ideology

October 10, 2012


“Reality,” Stephen Colbert once famously said, “has a well-known liberal bias.”

It was one of those jokes that isn’t, one of those barbs that captures something painfully true, allows you to see it with clarity you never could if viewing straight on. It’s worth noting that Colbert said this years before that jump-the-shark moment last week when conservatives accused the Labor Department of conspiring against them. In case you missed it, it happened when the government released figures showing the unemployment rate has tumbled to 7.8 percent.

Most of us considered this good news. Because it validates President Obama’s narrative of a slowly improving economy, many conservatives did not. They called the figure a fraud — “monkey business,” in the words of Donald Trump. Former GE CEO Jack Welch saw it as evidence of malfeasance from “these Chicago guys.” Fox “News” asked, “Is the number real?”

And so it goes in the conservative War on Reality.

Not that this was the first salvo in said war. Just before the numbers came out, conservatives were working to discredit polls that showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney. “Bogus,” said Rush Limbaugh.

You see, the war goes back a ways. Back to Sen. Jon Kyl saying that 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities are abortion-related and, when called on that lie, issuing a statement that what he said was “not intended to be .?.?. factual.” Back to Sarah Palin sounding the alarm about death panels, back to Glenn Beck saying conservatives started the Civil Rights Movement, back to people pretending there is some mystery over the president’s birthplace.

Heck, it goes back to the Bush administration cutting inconvenient facts from government reports, back to Bush brushing aside a pessimistic report on Iraq by saying the intelligence community was “just guessing.”

The point here — this cannot be overemphasized — is not ideology. Rather, it is about the fact that we cannot effectively debate ideology if we do not have a body of facts in common.

Under such circumstances, political discourse must devolve into incoherence. We cannot discuss what color to paint the room if we cannot agree on what constitutes red or green — or the room. We literally have no shared language with which to even have the discussion.

This is the legacy of the War on Reality. Some of us live under a new ethos, fueled and abetted by Fox, the Internet and talk radio, which holds that facts are optional and reality, multiple choice — and that anyone who questions this is part of the conspiracy against you. The results have not been pretty. When, in the history of American political discourse, have conservatives — some, not all — seemed more paranoid, put-upon and ready to believe themselves the victims of outlandish plots?

Hillary Clinton was rightly derided for saying a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get her husband. But if that one-time utterance made her sound ridiculous, what shall we make of this constant drumbeat from the political right? What shall we make of a mindset in which the answer to every criticism, the response to every unwelcome fact, is to point to a conspiracy of bias that exists mostly in their minds?

Now, we reach a sobering watershed. Who knew even the professional numbers crunchers in the Labor Department were part of this vast left-wing conspiracy?

Hearing that, one must believe one of two things: Either math also has a liberal bias, or, it is time to ask ourselves what becomes of a country where problem-solving is paralyzed because problem solvers cannot agree on a common reality?

Math, should it need saying, has no liberal bias. So give that question some hard thought. After all, we have only the one country. We may not share the same reality, but we will certainly share the same fate.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Trumbull 1 year, 6 months ago

At face value it appears the Republicans want to deny any bit of good news because it is not good for their re-election(s). There is much truth to the "We don't have anything to fear, but fear itself" statement". In the world of economics, much of which is behavioral based, fear and uncertainty about the economy prolong recessions, good news and optimism spur recovery. Un-knowingly or perhaps maliciously, the R's are not helping.


tomatogrower 1 year, 6 months ago

Facts according to my Tea Party friends and relatives: If they sell their home they will have to pay a sales tax, because of something in the Affordable Care Act. There are death panels in the Affordable Care Act. Obama gives away smart phones with unlimited texting to poor people. Obama is a Muslim. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to ban crosses in military cemeteries. Obama has enacted several laws banning guns. Obama sets the price of gas. Only gay people are child molesters. Children raised by gay people will be gay. The moon landing in '69 was faked.

All of these are factually wrong, but they still "believe" it, because the read it on Facebook or in an email. It must be true!!!


booyalab 1 year, 6 months ago

How about the fact that the month before, the labor force participation rate was the lowest it had been since 1981. Then suddenly, a month later, unemployment was the lowest it had been since 1983, even though employers added FEWER jobs than it would take for the rate to even stay the same.


1 year, 6 months ago

Bozo: "These are estimates, not concrete facts. "

Yes, yes, yes a hundred times yes. These are estimates, and any government number that contains an estimate as one of its major components is an estimate, not a fact. So, we are right back to our friend Leonard, who used this number as a "fact" in his argument of a war on facts by his political opponents. But it's not a fact, it's at best an estimate and at worst one that will change significantly.

But perhaps more importantly, I note that both you and markoo have use the word "conspiracy" several times, though I believe yours was a grand conspiracy. It need not be. One does not need to postulate, for example, a conspiracy among millions of fisherman (or male online dating hopefuls) to conclude that they tend to estimate size to their own advantage. It's just a tendency though a very human one. There is really nothing untoward about postulating that Rosy Scenario works in every administration, rather than just the ones Mr. Pitts doesn't like. All of us, when able to choose from among several justifiable numbers, will choose the one that makes us look best. Or makes our boss happy.

markoo: "How exactly did that number "wipe" out the gain in 2011 again? I'm afraid I'm a little confused..."

When the model eliminates 2,000,000 jobs in a single adjustment, it wipes out 2,000,000 jobs that had been assumed in prior months. There are 524k jobs in this month's survey that are assumed, and if we have another 1m or 2m adjusted out in January, they will disappear.

BLS is correct - there is not a 1-1 correlation between B/D job estimates and total jobs.You can't just add or subtract the jobs, because some measurements are seasonally adjusted and some not. But there is a 1-1 correlation between B/D jobs between one month and another. A 2,000,000 B/D adjustment does not wipe out 2,000,000 real jobs, but it does wipe out the effects of the 2,000,000 estimated jobs in the total numbers. It tends to make the total number of jobs drop and the retroactive unemployment rate rise.

BLS does not share its methodology, so it's impossible to say exactly how one can exclude birth/death numbers. But they are significant, because the monthly change in jobs added is generally on the order of 100k to 150k jobs, while the B/D adjustment (up or down) is often in excess of three times that number.

But it's important to remember that backward adjustments are changing history. If in Oct 2012 unemployment in 7.8%, a year from now, when the numbers are adjusted, they will say 7.6% or 7.9% or something different. Experience says that it will most likely be adjusted upward, FWIW.


scaramouchepart2 1 year, 6 months ago

The problem is, no matter what either side says, it takes more than 4 years to clean up 12 years of cutting the people out of government and allowing that 10% cronyism to control. No matter how hard the conservatives try to blame Obama for the economic downturn, it was under a conservative president who started a war to save his father's face. Afghanistan, maybe, I say yes. Iraq for better reasons then given. Bush senior lost his second bid for office because he did not go after Sadam. So Bush 2 came up with some lame reason to save his father's face. It helped that oil was a big by product of the war. So his VP could rake in the money from the conquest. Sadam needed to go for the protection and lives of the people he and his boys abused. Unfortunately our 10%ers never do the right thing for the right reason. If there was no oil or daddy to defend, we would never have troubled. As for the economy. Clinton's administration had a chance to stop it in 1992, when Brooksley Born warned them about derivatives. Cronyism is strong in both parties. If the people want to stop all the things they complain about, they need to take back their own government. VOTE! According to Romney 47% of this country is nothing but lazy worthless slugs who do not give enough in taxes to support corporate greed. If that 47%, that which is old enough to vote, voted there would be a change.


OonlyBonly 1 year, 6 months ago

Lies, damned lies and statistics. "What do you want the result to be?"


George Lippencott 1 year, 6 months ago

Facts do not have ideologically bias. This article does. There is only one instance of a liberal misrepresentation (poor Hillary). All the other examples are of conservatives. Now it was Mr. Welch who argued that the books were cooked on the latest unemployment figures. He is not the conservative world. Today he presented his opinion as to what his comment was about in the WSJ.

I could observe that the 47% issue is based on fact. Annually 47% of us pay no federal income taxes regardless of the reason why or what might happen next year. There was no spontaneous demonstration in Libya caused by a poorly scripted movie but a planned attacked by a well coordinated and led group of what we today call terrorists. That is a fact despite a week of denial form the White House.

Seems to me as if we are unable to identify a fact if it does not fit our ideological beliefs. Lying is as noted a very poor way to run a campaign. I would opine that calling the other guy a liar because we do not like his presentation of a fact is just as poor a way to run a campaign. This later approach (noted in a letter elsewhere in this space) seems to be missing from Mr. Pitt’s musings.


atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

Speaking of Facts

The Unstimulus

October 9, 2012

If your predictions are wildly out-of-whack with reality, you need to change your approach.

Here’s a 2009 Obama administration graph authored by Jared Bernstein and Christy Romer showing their calculations for future unemployment levels with and without the Obama stimulus,

Obama might talk about spreading the wealth around, but the aggregate effect of the policies pursued during his administration have squarely benefited large corporations and the financial sector, and not the middle class or small business. Is reinflating financial bubbles and pumping up corporate profits Obama’s idea of recovery?

'Nuff said


Cait McKnelly 1 year, 6 months ago

The Romney campaign has stated that the Obama campaign is making "truth" an election issue. 'Nuff said.


JonasGrumby 1 year, 6 months ago

"It is, however, true that blacks tended to vote Republican for much of the last century, the simple reason being that the GOP was 'the party of Lincoln.' But as Lincoln receded in history, the GOP stranglehold on the black vote was broken by Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and by the GOP’s stubborn silence on civil rights." - Leonard Pitts

This is a blatant lie.

The effort to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the U.S. Senate was led by Everett Dirksen, a Republican (and my fellow Frisian) from Illinois. The Congressional Quarterly of June 26, 1964 recorded that just 69 percent of Democrats (46 for, 21 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act as compared to 82 percent of Republicans (27 for, 6 against). Democrats, including Gore, Heflin, Byrd (a former Klansman), and Hollings, led a filibuster against the act.

In the House, 61 percent of Democrats (152 for, 96 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act. Among the GOP, 80 percent (138 for, 34 against) voted for it.

Eighty-two percent of House Republicans backed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the Senate, 94 percent of the Republicans backed it. Seventeen southern Democrats in the Senate voted against the act, including William Fulbright, Bill Clinton's mentor.

A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats in the Senate also voted to confirm Thurgood Marshall's nomination to the Supreme Court.

As you can see, the GOP was not silent on civil rights. In fact, without them, LBJ would not have had a Civil Rights Act to sign into law or the first (and second) African-American Supreme Court justice.

"Truth is, we’re all pretty liberal — at least if you’re using the word as historically defined. It’s hard to imagine even Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter coming out in favor of racial segregation, child labor or male-only workplaces. To the degree the word no longer evokes the fight against those things and connotes moral squishiness and effete elitism instead, Republicans have been astoundingly successful in deconstructing it, rebranding it, making it unusable." - Leonard Pitts

It wasn't Republicans who deconstructed the word "liberal," rebranded it, and made it unusable. This is a lie that those on the left have been telling themselves for decades.

In The Road to Serfdom (1944), Friedrich Hayek tells us exactly how "liberal" became rebranded:

"I use throughout the term 'liberal' in the original, ninetheenth-century sense in which it is still current in Britain. In current American usage it often means very nearly the opposite of this. It has been part of the camouflage of leftist movements in this country, helped by the muddleheadedness of many who really believe in liberty, that 'liberal' has come to mean the advocacy of almost every kind of government control."

Seems Lenny has more than a few issues with reality.


Topple 1 year, 6 months ago

I enjoyed the article, but tend to agree with Bill Hoyt. I see this large drop in unemployment as puffery that will be revised down later after it's already vindicated Obama's economic strategies and swung votes in his favor.

I think it's ridiculous that we can't have a debate over strategy, but instead must listen to each candidate make claims about what's true and what isn't.


JonasGrumby 1 year, 6 months ago

"Then there is the fact that King has a history of Muslim bashing. He claims, for instance, that 85 percent of mosque leaders in this country are extremists. It is a 'statistic' based on nothing." - Leonard Pitts

On Fox News, King told Martha MacCallum the following: "Martha, let me just first say, to me, it's a badge of honor to be attacked by CAIR, which was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terrorist financing case. Number two, I said in 2004 that up to 80 percent of the mosques in America were controlled by Islamic radicals. I based that on the testimony of Sheikh Kabanni, a national Muslim leader, who was testifying at a State Department hearing in 1999. That was his testimony, saying that the imams in this country were out of touch with the Muslim community. So I was basing my statement on what a national Muslim leader had said."

I found Kabanni's 1999 comments after just a few seconds, and assume Pitts could have done likewise. Kabanni's argument was that Islamic extremism posed a national security threat to the U.S., and he made it two and a half years before 9/11. He wasn't taken seriously by the left then, and it appears that the left is dismissing the threat again in 2011.

"[Sarah Palin] makes mistakes like Apple makes iPhones, so there is a temptation to catalogue her recent bizarre claim that Paul Revere’s midnight ride in April 1775 was to “warn the British.” (He actually rode to alert patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were coming to arrest them) as superfluous evidence of intellectual mediocrity. The instinct is to think her historical illiteracy speaks ill only of her." - Leonard Pitts

However, in a June 6 Boston Herald article with the headline "Experts back Sarah Palin’s historical account," several historians point out that Palin had her history right.

According to Boston University history professor Brendan McConville, “Basically when Paul Revere was stopped by the British, he did say to them, ‘Look, there is a mobilization going on that you’ll be confronting,’ and the British are aware as they’re marching down the countryside, they hear church bells ringing — she was right about that — and warning shots being fired. That’s accurate.”

Cornell law professor William Jacobson said Palin’s critics are the ones in need of a history lesson. “It seems to be a historical fact that this happened,” he said. “A lot of the criticism is unfair and made by people who are themselves ignorant of history.”


1 year, 6 months ago

"Heck, it goes back to the Bush administration cutting inconvenient facts from government reports...Who knew even the professional numbers crunchers in the Labor Department were part of this vast left-wing conspiracy? "

Yup, Leonard, it's only the other side that manipulates government reports. Here's a clue - government workers present figures in the best light for their own careers - and that means making their current bosses happy. If you're willing to accept that the professionals at the Labor Department, or the State Department, or the Pentagon are willing to fudge for Bush, there is no reason to get all offended when they are accused of fudging for the new boss, who is the same as the old boss. Presidents come and go, but bureaucracy lasts forever.

This is the reason that GDP numbers, housing numbers, and yes, jobs numbers are habitually shouted from the housetops and then quietly revised downward when no one is looking. But Leonard accepts the headline numbers as true because he dearly wants them to be true, while Republicans for the most part mock them as false because they wish them to be false. In this case, the Republicans are right, just as they were wrong when Bush's administration, as Leonard will happily admit, rigged the same numbers.

And before the hoots and howls begin, yes, I did say when Bush was president that the same shenanigans took place:

"But it is the "revised down later" part that is the most misleading part of the whole government jobs reporting scheme. As the Times noted elsewhere in the original article, the current month's number, "which beat even the highest estimates, follows a downwardly revised 96,000 gain in September, which was revised down from the previous estimate of 110,000." So while the architects and benefactors of the current job growth numbers talk up those numbers, behind the scenes (and once the reporters have gone away), they quietly mark the numbers down." (Nov 5, 2007)


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 6 months ago

Pitts is, as usual, nails it.

We can argue about whether the formula measuring the number of unemployed is skewed because it doesn't include those who are underemployed, or who have just given up looking for work. But as an apples to apples comparison, the unemployment rate as currently measured did go down, and that is good news-- or, more accurately, it's better than remaining the same or increasing.

That said, no matter who wins this election, unemployment (officially counted and otherwise) will likely not go down very much. Our economy is just not structured to give a crap about putting the unemployed to work-- it's geared toward the quarterly profits that Wall Street obsesses over, and that redistribute ever more wealth to the 0.1%. Neither Romney nor Obama will change that, although Romney is pretty much guaranteed to accelerate that process and increase unemployment, while Obama is likely to do no better than maintain the status quo.


WristTwister 1 year, 6 months ago

With apologies to Ronald Reagan:

Aw shucks, Leonard--there ya' go again!


tbaker 1 year, 6 months ago

In other math-related news;

From Andrew Sullivan:

Before the debate, Obama had a 51 - 43 lead; now, Romney has a 49 - 45 lead. That's a simply unprecedented reversal for a candidate in October. Before Obama had leads on every policy issue and personal characteristic; now Romney leads in almost all of them. Obama's performance gave Romney a 12 point swing! I repeat: a 12 point swing.



jhawkinsf 1 year, 6 months ago

Even facts must be put into context. Otherwise, they are just as likely to mislead than they are to enlighten.


observant 1 year, 6 months ago

Nuts out early. Did any of them read the column before ranting?


Flap Doodle 1 year, 6 months ago

Do you think Das Pittster ever rolls his eyes when he gets his talking point for the week?


lunatic 1 year, 6 months ago

Fact: 114,000 jobs created. Result .3% reduction in unemployment rate. Math; 114,000 /.003 = 38,000,000. By that math, there are only 38million people in the workforce. Go figure.....


Liberty275 1 year, 6 months ago

"Opinion: A fact is a fact"

That pretty much sums it up right there.


Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

The "fact" is, conservatives have a grip on reality--not a a war. Pitts has it all wrong.


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