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Published by George F. Greene on Wed 25 of Mar., 2015

Though conservatives say that an unfettered free market is good and government is bad, the fact is that neither free markets or government are inherently evil nor inherently benevolent. The truth is nuanced (and conservatives don't do nuance).

The laws of supply and demand in a free market do work as advertised. In general, a free market beats other forms of economies encouraging innovation and bringing more goods and services to more people. However, free markets are routinely gamed by greedy people and huge corporations who put profits ahead of the common good. Not all corporations are evil but some very powerful ones certainly are. 

Centuries of history show that when wealth accumulates in fewer and fewer hands, those hands want more and more wealth until their greed creates devastating outcomes for everyone else. Greedy kings, wealthy cartels, bankers, robber barons, mega corporations -the perpetrators are sprinkled through the centuries and the stories are epic and tragic. Eventually the general population is increasingly taxed to support the greedy -as we see now with the shifting of taxes away from the wealthy and onto the middle class. 

Are we entirely at the mercy of market forces? Have we no say when our ability to provide for our families is curtailed by runaway greed? Of course we have a say. Americans have the right, given to us by the Constitution, to make decisions for ourselves. Nowhere does it say the "free market" is immune from our right to prevent lurching crashes that damage our economy and our livelihoods. History shows that sensible market regulations blunt the tragic effects of pathological greed. We've done it before and we can do it again.

Huge corporations will have to suck it up if voters ever decide to reign in corporations and industries who habitually endanger our economy or don't care if they ruin the world future generations will live in just because some tycoon wants to be a bigger tycoon than the tycoon next door. We can stop them and they won't die -they'll be fine, so will we.

And what abouit the conservative claim that government is inherently bad? Like the free market it is both goop=d and bad. Citizens have every right to prevent the government from spying on us or from buying 600 dollar hammers. Governments can get out of control and we do need to be vigilant. But, government is also our tool and we can use it wisely or not. If we want to cut taxes so low that the whole place falls apart, I suppose we are free to continue, as we have, to create that tragedy. We may instead choose to empower our government to protect us, provide infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship, ensure safety and reach for the moon -because we are allowed to do these things. In our republic we make these decisions through the representatives we elect, not mega-corporations or wealthy individuals; not a church, not a King.

The solution to the dismantling and destruction by conservatives of public schools, roads, social security, health care, higher education, environmental protection and virtually all areas of government -except for the military and corporate subsidies- lies solely with the voterUntil conservative voter supression laws and dirty tricks take wider hold, voters will still determine the outcome of elections. If you don't think that's true, consider that every last dollar of the billions spent on elections is spent to influence voters, or suppress the right to vote, or discourage people from voting at all. This tells me that the only thing the beneficiaries fo Citizens United are afraid of -is us! Voters can stop all this nonsense at any time. 

We'll be much better off if voters finally shake off the fog of counterfactual and self serving propaganda from the right (and even some on the left) and vote out the politicians who don't seem to get that they work for us, not the 1%.

 

Published by George F. Greene on Tue 17 of Mar., 2015

The unprecedented letter that 47 GOP lawmakers signed and sent to Iran's Ayatollas provides a good example of how we might create an issue frame. We want to use our underlying values (see them the left column) as often as we can, but we also need to suggest frames voters can employ to understand a specific issue. 

As the letter makes very clear, the GOP is intentionally trying to sabotage the multilateral negotiations. The letter is dangerous if it stalls this attempt to limit Iran's bomb building capability. It is disrespectful to a sitting President -and to the office- and irresponsible while the Secretary of State is in final stage multilateral negotiations that have been in the works for years. It intentionally undermines US diplomacy now and in the future. US credibility is in question among our allies who are not sure they can trust our obligations anymore. 

Stories are great scaffolds to use in frames (explicitly or evoked) and there is a story arc suggested here. Sabotage implies a saboteur (GOP), a victim (the US, Middle East peace) and, if Kerry prevails, a hero.

This is a very good time for this frame, because the GOP will not come out smelling good if the negotiations fail and Kerry will come out smelling like roses if a treaty results. Attaching the word sabotage to the GOP now when it is likely to stick paints the GOP as actively working against American interests and that frame may persist if we then use it describe the damage the GOP is doing in so many other areas (schools, roads, Social Security, health care, etc.).

 

Published by George F. Greene on Wed 04 of Feb., 2015

The controversy about whether or not to require vaccination in school aged children is a symptom of a deeper issue: how we arrive at decisions when making public policy. Should policy makers make decisions based on fact and science or ideological and religious beliefs?

A recent Pew Research poll found that 68 % of all people thought the government should require vaccines while a disturbing 30% did not. Young people (41% ) are more likely than old (20%) to favor a "choice" to vaccinate, most likely because older people lived through the 60s when measles outbreaks in the US plummeted from almost 800,000 a year to mere hundreds in less than a decade (and saw similar achievements with polio and smallpox). Along party lines, both Democrats and Republicans in 2009 were equally in favor (71%) of vaccine requirements for admission to school. In 2014 Republicans slipped to 65%, Democrats increased to 76%.

Yet this still leaves us with that disturbing chunk of Americans across party lines who make decisions about vaccines on ideology or religion, when a decision so potentially catastrophic ought to be a science no brainer. Vaccine denial, like climate and evolution denial, is a great example of the human vulnerability to choose belief over facts.

What is it about ideologies that would have a minority of both lefties and righties opposing mandatory vaccination? I went off in search of conservative and progressive frames that might explain this. On the right, the core frames seem to be individualism, freedom from government interference and the primacy of parental authority, i.e., "the government can't force me to vaccinate my kids". A general distrust of science among conservatives applies to vaccines, but to a much smaller degree, perhaps because when it comes to one's health even those who generally distrust science prefer to be like the deathbed convert, "better safe, than sorry".

On the left the reasons seem to be more subtle. Care for the environment and distrust of those who damage it with toxic chemicals leads to an avoidance of toxic chemicals in food, products and medicine -a rational belief grounded in science. This leads some to the false belief that "natural" is always safe and that chemicals, ("not natural") are always toxic. Of course the natural chemical toxins in the irukandji jellyfish, or the natural and living ebola virus can easily kill you, whereas "non-natural" nitro-glycerine may save a heart patient's life. Vaccines, though made of natural materials (killed virus) and benign medium, are seen as "not-natural" perhaps because they are formed in a laboratory.  It's interesting that on the left the belief begins in science -the damage of pesticides and other chemicals- but then extends outside of it to a "not natural is toxic" belief frame that disregards the extensive and settled science about vaccine efficacy and safety.
 
States that require vaccinations base their policy in science (and have low or non-existent rates of infection). Other states base an "exemption" on ideological or religious grounds that have no basis in fact -and their citizens (and perhaps the rest of us) are paying the price. How we make public policy matters! If we're talking about whether to name a library after Ronald Reagan, an ideological decision has few dangers. If certain religious exemptions are allowed for things that do not harm society at large that may also be acceptable. But when we deny the science of climate change, evolution or vaccination we do so at great peril to ourselves and our democracy. Morals that come from religion or ideology can certainly guide decision making, but in our secular society ones religion and/or ideology does not get to trump science and reason.

 

Published by George F. Greene on Tue 20 of Jan., 2015

A core conservative frame is that wealth is proof of hard work and therefore grants moral authority to the wealthy. Anything that interferes with one's ability to amass wealth in any quantity is morally wrong. There is also the persistent assumption that government is inherently more wasteful and inefficient than the market (the tremendous waste of the Great Depression and Great Recession notwithstanding). Lowering taxes is morally right because it keeps government from wasting the hard earned tax dollars it "takes" from citizens.

Because taxes are inherently immoral, it becomes immoral to even suggest that a minimum amount of funding is necessary to keep public schools, roads, the environment, parks, air traffic control or anything else we as citizens have decided work best as government investments running. It is also complete heresy to suggest that those who benefit most from those investments should pay more in taxes.

It does not take a genius to see where dis-investment leads -to the erosion and eventual destruction of those investments and the control of crucial infrastructure placed in the hands of those for whom profit trumps any other consideration.

Why has the public, who one presumes likes driving on roads and sending all kids to school, not stopped conservatives by voting them out? Perhaps it's because we are coasting on the investments we made many decades ago. Bridges are falling down, but not too many just yet. Schools are starved, but kids still get on the bus. Air traffic control is operating on antiquated equipment, but, thanks to heroic controllers, few airplanes are yet falling from the sky.

***

Of course, wrecking most public investment is the goal of conservatives; it opens the way for for-profit companies to take over those functions. This is why 80% of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit corporations, why prisons are privately run and why our armed forces are more and more comprised of mercenaries.

Because there is no accounting for greed in the "free market", public investments can easily suffer the same fate as our own investments did when we let the banks do whatever they pleased with them. Our economy was bled dry by irresponsible and immoral bankers yet these are the very people conservatives consider most moral.

The constant cry from conservative strategists is lower taxes, not lower taxes at all costs, because they don't want you thinking about costs. The fact that everything has not collapsed just yet suggests to voters that everything is fine and conservatives may be right that we should reward the wealthy and give them implicit authority over our government.

Privatizing profit from infrastructure and important services is one thing; the socialization of cost is another. Polluters are exempted from cleaning up their messes because that happens in the future. Wal Mart racks up record profits and offers abysmal wages because they can coast along on government services provided by local, state and federal governments to feed and house their employees. I suspect they're not thinking much about the destruction of those things they so much depend on because business decisions are often made to enhance profit in the next quarter or next year, not 25 years from now. They'll deal with that then, if they think about it at all.

The fact that everything has not collapsed just yet supports the illusion that everything is fine, government truly controlled by citizens is unnecessary and that conservatives may just be right that we should reward the wealthy and give them authority over our government. Pay no attention to the destruction ahead -or the man behind the curtain.

 

Published by George F. Greene on Tue 20 of Jan., 2015

People think of the parties as uncontrollable, monolithic and perpetual. But the reality is that political parties are made of very small numbers of regular people -the ones who show up. In my congressional district there are about a million people and there are maybe a few hundred on a good day who do anything within the party. These are precisely the people who get off their lazyboys, go to caucuses or show up at party meetings and become delegates and eventually endorse candidates. Look at the GOP, where extremists took over the party. They simply showed up and changed their party from within.

Not that it's a cakewalk to change things, but it's way easier than most people think. Over two election cycles a decade ago, my friends and I -all low level volunteers- took over our congressional district leadership, trained people in issue framing and ran people for office, some of whom won. Other progressives around the state did the same and now Minnesota is more progressive than just about anywhere -and we're still just regular old unpaid volunteers.

The sad reality is that though anyone can do this, and should, only a vanishingly small number ever do. I guess it's just easier to sit back and complain about how powerless they feel. If the Democratic party is sucking wind across the nation, the blame lies with the disengaged and the ineffective communication of Democratic "startegists" that fail to inspire voters or teach them our worldview.

Though it is said that legislators can be bought, all the money spent on campaigns and negative advertising is spent to influence voters. The manipulators of media and elections know that in the end it all comes down to what voters do -at least the ones that the GOP has not prevented or discouraged from voting. Voters can vote out bad politicians -or destructive ideologies- anytime they want to, if they care enough to do so.

The fact that our nationalk leadership embraces ineffective communication accounts for the fact that many voterts do not fully comprehend the opposite and competing worldviews of the two major parties. Our job as progressive activists -the people who care enough to do, not just bloviate is to do what the GOP did: make our worldview comprehensible to voters and dominant, or at least competitive, in the media. Watch leaders who get it like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich and Paul Krugman to see people doing it well. Our messages and core values strongly resonate with voters -we just need to proudly own them.

 

Published by admin on Wed 06 of Aug., 2014

Lost in the media images of righteously indignant protesters at US
border facilities is the fact that all these children stuck there
are war refugees. In their home countries it matters not that the
belligerents are drug kingpins and police. Day by day, year in and
year out these children see their neighbors and family left dead
in the streets. Imagine the constant terror. So they come by
themselves, or are sent north by terrified relatives.



Our hearts go out -until they hit the border. Publicly the
protesters' fear is that the cost might come out of their pockets.
Privately the feelings are a stew of racism, xenophobia and
extremist right wing ideology. Children of immigrants themselves,
they don't make the connection that those kids could have been
their own ancestors just decades ago. In this narrow mental space
it's no longer about terrorized children: we simply must
air drop these kids back into the war zone.



How cruel. Helping refugees is fine if it's happening somewhere
else, a check in the mail, seen on CNN. Get too close though and
"my brothers keeper" goes right out the window.

Published by admin on Tue 15 of July, 2014

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

Consider this. What would happen if you told the ISPs that they cannot have a two tiered Internet?
 

Comcast will not go away. Trust me they'll make plenty of money, if my ever rising cable bill is any indication. The other ISPs will not say, oh well then, we're closing up shop -too bad, no more internet for you. The Internet will go on - with or without the current ISPs- simply moving all speech, all business, all religion, all social justice, all books, all news, all video -all everything- just as it does now: free flowing with opportunity for everyone on an even playing field.
 

In my country, the citizens are supposed to run the show. If we want to say you can't take over the Internet then that's just tough beans for Comcast. You are working for us, not them.


But if you do go ahead with this historically monumental bad idea then at least protect the citizens by 1) forbidding lawsuits against any governmental body, from the feds on down, that wants to build citizen owned Internet services, and 2) requiring every ISP to pass citizen owned internet data at the fastest speed possible on their network. I won't speculate as to your motives for wanting to give the ISPs what they want, or the President's motives for giving tacit support for killing Net Neutrality by his stunning silence and lack of leadership but, if you do cave to industry pressure and take the Internet away from citizens, then the activism must begin for Congress to override that poor choice with new law.


This is not an issue of trade or technology; the Internet is a fundamental evolution of human communication. Ask yourself this: are the ISPs really that much more important than citizens? Your choice is to go down in history as the public servant who set the precedent for free speech for the ages or as the guy who screwed the pooch for everyone.

 

Published by admin on Thu 15 of May, 2014

 

Published by admin on Wed 14 of May, 2014

Benghazi will, continue to rear it's ugly head from time to time, but not because there's any news. This is really about messaging. The conservatives want their base fired up so they employ what I call the ZOMBIE ATTACK!!! -a claim that keeps resurfacing after being conclusively and repeatedly proven false. It's just one of a number of new conservative propaganda tricks I've been cataloging. Here they are:

"Poof!" When the going gets tough, the tough just make something up like “Clean Coal”! Also known as PIOOTA-(pulled it out of their a$$), The Poof is a close cousin to the "Well my dad says" tactic (below).

"I'm rubber and you're glue”. Whatever you're doing wrong, just accuse the other guy of doing it. Conservatives are largely successful with this one because 1) they anticipate these charges and accuse progressives first and 2) progressives have not learned to ignore these taunts. Instead we get apoplectic and sputter some denial or defense or, heaven forbid, a string of facts. It's not pretty. Example: "Progressive's just want to give money to people who don't deserve it" -as if Wall Street bailout, corporate subsidies, tax cuts for billionaires never happened?!

"The Chevy Codpiece". Just as some men need to offset the diminutive size of their manhood by parading about in an urban assault vehicle (or sending their trophy wife to Sam's Club in it), likewise when conservative ideas aren't supported by the facts they put together a "think tank" to make it appear as if they are. Examples: The Discovery Institute, The Greening Earth Society.

"Well, my dad says" A corollary to The Chevy Codpiece above, this trick involves creating "authoritative facts" where there are none. Example: Tobacco and chemical industry "research".

"These are not the Droids you're looking for." A Svengali-like move that mesmerizes the ill informed, the Droid trick makes the hearers ignore the real issue. Examples: While actively deploying voter suppression in a number of ways, conservatives shout about protecting  the vote through Voter ID laws. Or any Republican sponsored legislation with the words "clean" or "fairness" in the title.

"ZOMBIE ATTACK!!!" A zombie attack is a narrative or message that persists long after it has been proven false. Famous examples are Dick Cheney's continual claims that WMDs existed in Iraq, claims that Al Gore said he invented the Internet or that it was government and irresponsible homeowners, not Wall Street that wrecked the economy. Zombie attacks can persist for decades (climate change deniers) or even centuries (Creationism).

The point of initiating a zombie attack is not to actually assert that a claim is true but, in true Zombie fashion, it's simply aimed at capturing more BRAINS! The continual repetition of the story raises doubt in those who are not intimately familiar with the issue. This spreads the infection and, of course, once bitten, those who believe the claim, in turn, become Zombies and infect others. The danger of infection is greatest at Tea Party rallies or Mega Churches. 

Zombie attacks are particularly effective because reason and facts are useless as defenses. Unfortunately the accepted method of dealing with zombies -a chainsaw to the head- is ill advised for all the obvious reasons. The best defense is a good offense: protect your brain and the brains of your loved ones by cultivating a healthy skepticism and practicing critical thinking.

"Release the Krakken!" Last ditch conversation stoppers thrown in when conservatives have quite obviously, rhetorically and/or factually lost an argument. Examples are "
But, but... 9/11!", "Why do you hate America!?"and the ever popular "Benghazi!"

Edit fall 2014: Bill Maher picks up on the Zombie theme with Zombie Lies in his New Rules.

Send any tricks you've discovered to unclegeo at myaurora dot org.

 

Published by admin on Mon 13 of Jan., 2014

How we talk to voters about economic issues is very important. It is crucial to step back to basics and "frame" the issue to provide context and to communicate our core values.

The central frame conservatives use when talking about the economy is that the free market is inherently benevolent. Tinkering with it only degrades its ability to create good. If you just leave it alone everything will be fine.

Like many conservative frames, it's black and white, simple and direct; that is why their frames have broad appeal. Yet history -recent history even- time and again the tragic results of such an orthodox faith in the free market. 

A society where citizens cannot legally direct or correct market misbehavior and inequities is defenseless against greed. Kings, churches and aristocracy have traditionally sought to reduce constraints on their actions and concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. The Founders knew the dangers of concentrated wealth having power in government -that is why we do not have a House of Lords. We are empowered by the Constitution to make decisons about anything that affects our lives. We are allowed to check destructive market forces.

Explode the basic conservative premise: "I don't believe democratic self government is inherently evil and I don't believe an unfettered free market is inherently good. Both need checks to keep them from getting out of control."

Good progressive frames for this issue are fairness, opportunity, common good, protection and strength (see "Our Progressive Values" in the left column). For example:

  • Is it fair that a few very wealthy people can gamble with our entire economy and put everyone else in danger?
  • Is it fair that workers work harder and harder for no increase in pay?
  • When wealth accumulates into fewer and fewer hands opportunity shrinks for everyone else.
  • Our Constitution empowers citizens to make decisions that protect the common good. We need protection from irresponsible and greedy banks.
  • Good jobs for all and protections against the tragedies of greed create a healthy economy that moves America forward. (The underlying values of opportunity, common good and progress are implied here by other words.)

Facts are facts and they're obviously important (and on our side), but humans most often make decisions on deeply held beliefs; if the facts don't fit they are discarded. All issues get easier to discuss when you back away from the details, misdeeds and statistics to focus on the underlying values.

Try framing any issue in terms of these core progressive values:

  • Citizen Participation and Responsibility
  • Opportunity & Fairness
  • Strength & Progress
  • Freedom & Equality
  • Commonwealth & Investment
  • Protection & Security
  • Justice & Accountability
  • Decency & Dignity
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Learn to frame effective messages on all the issues in The FrameShop

Our Progressive Values

"We all do better when we all do better"
-Paul Wellstone
  • Citizen Responsibility
  • Opportunity & Fairness
  • Strength & Progress
  • Freedom & Equality
  • Commonwealth & Investment
  • Protection & Security
  • Justice & Accountability
  • Decency & Dignity

Free Framing Downloads

Downloads these books on framing from Cognitive Policy Works:

Thinking Points
by George Lakoff

Progressive Strategy Handbook