How conservative propaganda works in America: The signal and the noise

June 8, 2017 at 8:17 pm

We’ve heard a lot about Russian meddling recently. What we don’t hear about is how more than 50 years of corporate special interest group propaganda fattened the U.S. up, priming our country for Russian influence on the 2016 election.

Let’s think about conservative propaganda using a communications concept: signal-to-noise ratio (SNR).  

Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is a measurement used in communications to compare the level of desired signal to the level of background noise.

In analog communications, such as AM/FM radio or analog television broadcasts, a high SNR ratio means that you will receive a signal with little static or interference.

To enable effective communication, you want to maximize your SNR ratio—more signal, less noise.

Seven questions for Michelle Dillingham, Cincinnati’s neighborhood candidate for city council

May 10, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Michelle Dillingham and Noreen Loftus-Spilman at the Women’s March in Cincinnati.

We spend a lot of time talking about what we want our elected representatives to do for us. In order for our representatives to have a shot at doing anything, however, they first have to get elected. This doesn’t just happen. It either takes a lot of money or it takes a lot of supporters or most often, some combination of both. It takes a community to get people elected.

In Cincinnati, no one better represents this idea to me than Michelle Dillingham, our neighborhood candidate for city council. Michelle graciously agreed to talk about her community and what it means to her.

Of all developed countries, America self-invests the least because of tax cuts for the 1 percent

April 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

As tax day (April 18) approaches, it’s interesting to consider the lie that America is “overtaxed.”

The average developed country reinvests 34 percent of its gross domestic product back into the country and its people.

As of 2014, America only invests 26 percent, which puts it ahead of Korea, Chile, Mexico, and exactly zero other developed countries.

What does this do?

The division line exercise and the 99 percent

March 21, 2017 at 11:51 am

This is an exercise I picked up from Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Otpor! movement that toppled Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

The exercise is simple: You are a leader in a movement to overthrow Milosevic and bring back democracy. You need to unite people.

Draw a line on a sheet of paper. You’re on one side and everyone else is on the other. What will win the most people over to your side?

Let’s take a look at a few examples to see how this plays out.

Republicans now own health care

March 15, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Ross Douthat had an opinion piece in the New York Times this week titled “Why Republicans Can’t Do Health Care” in which he argues that the recent Ryancare proposal is disliked by everyone on the right because the right “as an organism does not know what it believes in anymore.”

It’s likely something different going on. Republicans know what they believe. They believe in power and rule by the wealthy. They’ve thrown every other past belief they’ve pretended to have overboard and there’s not much left beneath the surface (from “personal responsibility” to “family values” to “free trade” etc, etc). In order to rig the game for their powerful and wealthy donors though, they have to get elected. They have to pretend to believe in something.

Healthcare presents a dilemma: If they repeal it, they kick 20 million people off insurance. If they make changes to it, they own it. If they do nothing, as the party in control of all three branches of government, they own it. The real problem they’re facing right now is that none of the options the wealthy and corporate special interests want look very good—and they’re going to own them.

Why a terrorist attack is more likely with a weak president

February 27, 2017 at 8:41 am

Islamic terrorists want an Islamic holy war. They believe in a clash of civilizations and want to unite all Muslims in a war against the West.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who founded al-Qaeda in Iraq, said before he was killed:

The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify … until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.

Their propaganda recalls an old prophecy that Islamic armies will rise up to meet the forces of “Rome” (or the West) on the fields of Dabiq in Syria. Victory in Dabiq will signal the caliphate’s conquest of the West.

This all seems scary until you realize that the number of Islamic state terrorists is estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000. Recent estimates have put it at closer to between 15,000 and 20,000. If we take the highest estimate, that’s still at least 16,000 less than the current population of Peoria, Illinois.

In other words, they have a problem: there are not many of them. The final battle they want isn’t going to look very good if they can be defeated by the population of Peoria.

How are they trying to deal with this recruiting problem?

How to turn trolls into your best friends

February 23, 2017 at 9:40 am

In the movie Thank You For Smoking, the main character Joey Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, has a great scene with his son that talks about how he wins.

His son asks him what happens when he’s wrong. Here’s the quick transcript of the scene:

Joey Naylor: What happens when you’re wrong? Nick Naylor: Whoa, Joey I’m never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But you can’t always be right…
Nick Naylor: Well, if it’s your job to be right, then you’re never wrong.
Joey Naylor: But what if you are wrong?
Nick Naylor: OK, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavour ice-cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all and the all of ice-cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice-cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the defintion of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong I’m right.
Joey Naylor: But you still didn’t convince me
Nick Naylor: It’s that I’m not after you. I’m after them. [points into the crowd]

This scene illustrates one of the greatest issues that I see liberals struggle with in the public sphere:

We think we win when we win a logical argument.

Professionals like Nick Naylor understand that you win when you win someone over.

Overcoming objections: A short process to help you address emotional need

February 15, 2017 at 6:44 pm

1965 Rambler Marlin by American Motors Corporation (AMC). A sporty “personal-luxury” two-door hardtop fastback. (Chrostopher Ziemnowicz/Wikimedia)

People who work in sales have known for a long time that buying is an emotional decision.

Think about someone you know who recently made a purchase—like a car. Cars make a great example because people frequently buy cars that express their identity.

If people want to be seen as caring about the environment, for example, they might buy a Prius or a Chevy Volt. If they want to be seen as rebellious or free, they might buy a Corvette or a convertible. People hate minivans because minivans are a practical vehicle. Minivans express that you have kids. Enter the sports utility vehicle—you can be practical and still express yourself!

You get the picture. People buy based on emotions.

In Customer Centric Selling, Michael Bosworth and John Holland sum up what good sales people know:

When a buyer decides to buy from a particular seller, it is an emotional decision. Equally, when a buying committee decides to buy from a particular vendor, it is an emotional decision. When a buyer decides to pay an asking price rather than holding out for a lower price, it is an emotional decision. When a buyer decides to buy from a person he or she is comfortable with, rather than shopping for the lowest possible price, it is an emotional decision.

Yet when you talk to people about their car-buying decision, they often say things like:

  • “I got a really good deal.”
  • “My old car was about to die.”
  • “It gets great gas mileage.”
  • “It will increase in value.”
  • “No one else makes engines like this.”

Research by folks like Drew Westen, George Lakoff, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler, and others has illustrated that more often than not people also make political decisions based on emotions and beliefs, and then rationalize their decisions after the fact.

We’ll consider Gorsuch after you consider Merrick Garland

February 6, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Merrick Garland, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. (Whitehouse.gov)

Neal Katyal makes an eloquent case for Neil Gorsuch in the New York Times this week as a highly qualified candidate.

I believe he has strong experience.

Democrats shouldn’t vote for him though. Not yet. Instead, they should demand a vote on Merrick Garland first, because of his similar qualifications.

Why?

Because this fight is bigger than Gorsuch. This fight is about democracy and our Constitution. It’s about fairness under the law, and Garland deserves a Senate hearing and a vote.

Democratic capitalism: Freeing people from the corporate special interest definition of ‘corruption’

January 18, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Monument to the victims of capitalism in Montreal. (photographymontreal/Flickr)

This week someone asked me if I’d heard any questions about IDEA, the federal law protecting students with disabilities (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings.

I get these types of questions a lot because I write about politics. It’s kind of funny because I don’t think I know much about politics—at least not when it comes to policy details. I’ve had people tell me in response, “But I love listening to you talk. You know so much.”

Here’s a secret: It’s more important to know what you believe in—and how to talk about what you believe in.

The problem is that corporate special interests “get” this, and all too often we don’t—especially many of us who come from academic backgrounds, where arguing is the accepted way to flesh out ideas and learn.

Let me demonstrate by showing you how corporate special interests redefined “corruption,” why this is so important, and how you can help break people out of this trap.