November 7, 2015

DND briefings to the new minister

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

It would be fascinating to find out if the Department of National Defence briefing to incoming minister Harjit Sajjan are quite as blatantly PR-focussed as the documents provided to former minister Jason Kenney when he took over the portfolio in February:

A new Liberal defence minister will inherit a self-conscious department that seems more than a little concerned about how it’s perceived by the public.

When Jason Kenney took over as national defence minister in February 2015, he was briefed with a thicker stack of papers about public opinion and media operations than about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Reassurance and Operation Impact combined.

Embassy obtained the transition books for Mr. Kenney through an access to information request. Similar documents may be provided to a new minister when prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau names his Cabinet Nov. 4.

In a book about “Key Strategic Issues,” about 70 pages long, there are 17 pages worth of public opinion and media analysis, complete with graphs tracking Canadians’ perceptions of the department over years of polling data.

Conversely, only two pages of the document appear to be entirely devoted to Operation Reassurance in Central and Eastern Europe, two pages to Operation Impact in Iraq and Syria, four to NATO and two to NORAD.


Another transition book, titled “Who We Are and How We Work,” provided a broader departmental overview to the new minister of national defence.

Just shy of 70 pages, it includes information about ongoing Canadian Armed Forces operations, including all international engagements. It also gave the incoming minister a handy guide to key department officials, complete with photos and biographies.

A brief on strategic decision-making acknowledges that a prime minister or defence minister can make unilateral decisions on defence policy.

Cabinet does not need to sit together as a whole for major decisions to be made, the document explains.

“In some cases, a deployment decision will be made by a cabinet committee and, in others by the prime minister, or by the minister of national defence alone, or in conjunction with the minister of foreign affairs,” the transition book states.

H/T to MILNEWS.ca for the link.

October 30, 2015

QotD: Maybe the Minnesota Vikings should also change their name

Filed under: Football, History, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

After the fiancée-punching scandal the NFL suffered this fall, the league is working on an anti-domestic-violence campaign; a new public-service announcement featuring about two dozen pro footballers debuted this Thursday during the Chargers–Broncos game. But the question persists: How can the NFL paint itself as progressive while it permits one of its franchises to use a patently offensive team name? Calling a team “the Vikings” is grotesquely insensitive to everyone concerned about domestic abuse. Minnesota might as well call its team “the Pillagers” or “the Rapists.”

Of course, the public’s attitude toward Vikings has changed over the years. According to a piece in The Spectator by Melanie McDonagh, “the Vikings-as-peaceful-traders approach has now been academic orthodoxy for two generations.” But according to an Aberdeen University historian named David Dumville, whom the piece quotes, “We’re being invited to forget vast amounts.” Dumville “puts the fashion for cuddly Vikings squarely down to ‘Swedish war guilt about not participating in the [second world] war and American political correctness.’” In fact, McDonagh writes, “the Vikings’ cruelty and joy in battle put them in a class of their own.” Per the article’s title, “the Vikings really were that bad.” And according to the Huffington Post, new research done at the University of Oslo suggests that Vikings’ slaves and sex slaves would be beheaded and buried with their deceased masters. Is the NFL promoting rape culture?

Josh Gelernter, “Cleaning up the NFL”, National Review, 2014-10-25.

October 28, 2015

The WHO’s lack of clarity leads to sensationalist newspaper headlines (again)

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The World Health Organization appears to exist primarily to give newspaper editors the excuse to run senational headlines about the risk of cancer. This is not a repeat story from earlier years. Oh, wait. Yes it is. Here’s The Atlantic‘s Ed Yong to de-sensationalize the recent scary headlines:

The International Agency of Research into Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, is notable for two things. First, they’re meant to carefully assess whether things cause cancer, from pesticides to sunlight, and to provide the definitive word on those possible risks.

Second, they are terrible at communicating their findings.


Group 1 is billed as “carcinogenic to humans,” which means that we can be fairly sure that the things here have the potential to cause cancer. But the stark language, with no mention of risks or odds or any remotely conditional, invites people to assume that if they specifically partake of, say, smoking or processed meat, they will definitely get cancer.

Similarly, when Group 2A is described as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” it roughly translates to “there’s some evidence that these things could cause cancer, but we can’t be sure.” Again, the word “probably” conjures up the specter of individual risk, but the classification isn’t about individuals at all.

Group 2B, “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” may be the most confusing one of all. What does “possibly” even mean? Proving a negative is incredibly difficult, which is why Group 4 — “probably not carcinogenic to humans” — contains just one substance of the hundreds that IARC has assessed.

So, in practice, 2B becomes a giant dumping ground for all the risk factors that IARC has considered, and could neither confirm nor fully discount as carcinogens. Which is to say: most things. It’s a bloated category, essentially one big epidemiological shruggie. But try telling someone unfamiliar with this that, say, power lines are “possibly carcinogenic” and see what they take away from that.

Worse still, the practice of lumping risk factors into categories without accompanying description — or, preferably, visualization — of their respective risks practically invites people to view them as like-for-like. And that inevitably led to misleading headlines like this one in the Guardian: “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO.”

October 20, 2015

The economics of wind power in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

James Delingpole on the sleight-of-hand employed by the media to pretend that wind power is far more economical than it really is:

Wind power now UK’s cheapest source of electricity – but the Government continues to resist onshore turbines.

That was the headline in the Independent this time last week. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you’re an Independent reader but suppose for a moment you were: what do you think your reaction might have been?

Mine, I suspect, would have been not dissimilar to that of the eight thousand readers who decided it was worth sharing – and indeed that of the two or three who used it to needle sceptics on Twitter.

“Take that, evil deniers!” I would have gone in my smug, Independent-reading way. And it would never have occurred to me to question the premise for a number of reasons.

1. It was written by the Environment Editor on a reasonably well-respected national newspaper. And people with responsible jobs like that don’t make shit up, do they?

2. The data came from Bloomberg New Energy Finance – “the world’s leading provider of information on clean energy to investors, energy companies and governments.” Well if they say so it must be true. Bloomberg – they’re kind of a big deal in financial information, right?

3. It wasn’t just the left-leaning Independent that ran with the story. The story also appeared in the Guardian which, though also pretty parti-pris where environmental issues are concerned, does tend to pride itself on its accuracy and integrity (relative, say, to its arch-enemy the Murdoch press) and its willingness to rectify even the slightest mistake in its Corrections section. And more significantly, it ran in the unashamedly free-market City Am which, you might have imagined, would never dream of writing a headline like “Wind power now the cheapest electricity to produce in the UK as the price of renewable energy continues to drop” without first checking to see whether the press release was accurate.

Well, since the story ran, Paul Homewood has been doing a bit of homework. And guess what? Yes, that’s right. Wind power isn’t the cheapest source of electricity in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Not by a long chalk. It’s at least twice the price, for example, of electricity generated from that hated but remarkably cost-effective fossil fuel, gas.

March 27, 2015

Adrian Peterson’s public image

Filed under: Football, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

The fans still hold Adrian Peterson in high regard … but not as high as they did before September, 2014. His agent’s antics along with a steady drip of news through a few key media folks and rumours possibly originating with his family and friends are slowly corroding that public support. I think he’s probably still got more supporters than detractors among the Vikings fanbase, but it looks like he’s losing (or has already lost) the benefit of the doubt from the local Minneapolis-St. Paul media. For example, here’s Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan’s latest:


February 5, 2015

How not to do media relations, NFL style

Filed under: Business, Football, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Unusually, in one of his last Tuesday Morning Quarterback columns of the season, Gregg Easterbrook actually talked more about football than usual:

In the run up to the Super Bowl, Marshawn Lynch received a huge amount of attention for insisting he just wanted to be left alone. If he’d actually just wanted to be left alone, he would have gone to the podium, offered a few sports platitudes — “the Patriots are a fine, fine football team” — and everyone would have left him alone. By making a great show of appearing in very dark glasses and ignoring questions, Lynch drew attention to himself. Which, one presumes, was what he wanted all along.

Many pro athletes don’t like having to face the media; Bill Belichick* doesn’t like to, Roger Goodell doesn’t like to. Their contracts require them to, because professional sports fundamentally are a form of entertainment, and fans find the media conferences entertaining. (Lord knows why.) Many players came from high school and college environments where the local sports media consisted mainly of homers: scandals were downplayed, the toughest question was, “How do you explain your brilliant success?” At the NFL level, players can be surprised to encounter sharp questions and hostile tones.

Not, certainly, because NFL games are more important than prep or college contests — NFL games are strictly entertainment, the outcomes are irrelevant to society. It’s just that at the NFL level, the sports reporters are at the top of their profession, too. They ask tough questions. Most players and coaches learn it’s the path of least resistance to play along, even when the questions veer into the absurd. Smart players and coaches discover that beginning a media conference by bantering with reporters about their careers rapidly turns them from attack dogs to lap dogs.

Then there are the players who would radiate hostility toward the sports media, such as Lynch. In 2009, he was suspended by the league for three games. Lynch seemed to expect sports reporters would act like team publicists and change the subject; instead he got abrasive questions. Since then, including last week at Super Bowl media events, he has accused the sports media of printing lies about him: “You all can go make up whatever you’re going to make up.” I’d venture a guess Lynch actually does not know what the sports media is saying about him because he doesn’t read the newspaper. He may prefer to believe himself the victim of some vast sports-media conspiracy.

The odd thing is that Lynch has a sense of humor, as he displayed in his Skittles parody. If he’d only show that humor at a media conference, the ice would melt. Instead he says things like this from last week, when he was supposed to take questions: “I come to you all’s event, you shove cameras and microphones down my throat. I ain’t got nothing for you all.” Reporters and spectators don’t get angry at Lynch when he expects them to attend games: for him to get angry when he’s expected to fulfill a contractual obligation involving cameras and microphones shows bad manners. At media conferences Lynch acts like a spoiled brat, which reflects poorly on him and his team.

When Thurman Thomas couldn’t find his helmet at a Super Bowl, then the Bills lost, for a while he was angry at the media because reporters kept bringing this up. One day he walked into a media conference with a basket of miniature helmets that he handed out to reporters, and told a couple jokes about himself. For the rest of his career, Thomas had the sports media eating out of his hand: When it was time to cast Hall of Fame votes, Thomas got a landslide of votes. Somebody in the Seahawks’ organization should tell this story to Lynch.

January 1, 2015

QotD: Henry Ford and the doubled wages – the real story

Filed under: Business, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In 1913, turnover reached an unbelievable 370 percent, and Ford hired more than 50,000 people to maintain an average labor force of about 13,600. When profits swelled, he paid well for labor, creating an uproar when he doubled the basic wage to $5.00 a day, which triggered a virtual stampede of job seekers. Paying higher wages for labor was not altruistic in Ford’s eyes. Moreover, it wasn’t simply that Ford was trying to pay his workers “enough to buy back the product,” although he did preach a high-wage doctrine after the stock market crash in 1929. Rather, paying relatively high wages was, for Ford, a matter of smart business. He regarded well-paid skilled workers as important as high-grade material. By paying workers well, he effectively lowered his costs because higher wages reduced turnover and the need for constant training of new hires. (At the time, the newspapers saw Ford’s wage increase as an extraordinary gesture of goodwill.)

Mark Spitznagel, The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World, 2013.

June 8, 2014

CANSOFCOM develops habit of secrecy, even for events in the news

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:56

David Pugliese says CANSOFCOM remains unwilling (or unable) to discuss things that even our allies talk about publicly:

I’m not sure what’s happening at the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) these days. The command used to be open to the extent it could, particularly on non-classified issues like international exercises. In the old days that would have openly talked about Exercise Eager Lion, the annual exercise in Jordan. This year’s exercise includes countries from five different continents and more than 12,500 participants. The exercise provides multilateral forces with the opportunity to promote cooperation and interoperability among participation forces, build functional capacity, practice crisis management, and enhance readiness, according to Jordan’s military.

I asked CANSOFCOM about the training going on in Jordan (it had been reported by CTV) and was told the command couldn’t talk about it.

But thankfully the U.S. military understands what true OPSEC is about as well as the value of publicity. The article below is from the U.S. military public affairs (by Sgt. Melissa Parrish, with her photos as well).

May 22, 2014

How politicians are like soccer goalkeepers

Filed under: Media, Politics, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:33

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Stephen Gordon talks about the odd distribution of goalie decisions on penalty kicks and how they’re quite similar to politicians:

Goaltenders jumped in more than 90% penalty kicks in the sample: the frequency of staying put was only 6.3%. Kickers, on the other hand, distributed their targets in roughly equal proportions.

The goaltenders’ strategy was not wholly ineffective: when the kicker aimed left or right (71.4% of the time), goaltenders guessed correctly 6 times out of 11. But the fact remains that the frequency of the goaltender staying put (6.3%) is much smaller that the frequency of kicks aimed down the middle (28.7%).


This doesn’t mean that goaltenders should never jump. What it does mean is that goaltenders jump far too often. Why?

Bar-Eli et al suggest an explanation: ‘action bias’. This is presented as an example of Kahneman and Miller’s (1986) [PDF] ‘norm bias’. Goaltenders believe is is less bad to follow the ‘norm’ (i.e., to jump) and fail than to not jump and fail. In other words, goaltender think that jumping and missing is less costly than not jumping and missing.

Which brings us to economic policy. Politicians are continually demanded to ‘do something’ about a kaleidoscopic array of grievances, and the norm in these cases is to promise to do something. As far as politicians and most voters are concerned, doing something is better than doing nothing — even when doing nothing is the correct response.

In many cases — possibly the majority of cases — doing nothing is the smart move. A recent example is the concern about the so-called ‘skill shortage’. When firms complain that they can’t get the workers they want at the wages they are willing to pay, the correct response is to do nothing: the market response to a labour shortage is to let wages increase.

But doing nothing is almost always bad politics: it is invariably interpreted as a lack of concern, and this perceived indifference will be pounced upon by other political parties. A politician who promises to act polls better than one who promises to do nothing.

A goalkeeper who fails to jump looks like an idiot if the ball goes left or right. The fans roar their disapproval and the keeper learns that doing the dramatic-but-wrong thing is better for his reputation than the non-dramatic (but more likely to be correct) non-action. Politicians also learn that the media will turn themselves purple denouncing the lack of action (even when that’s the correct decision) and short-term polling numbers move in the wrong direction.

As Calvin Coolidge is reported to have said, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” But even if you’re right not to take action, it will be harder to bear up under the criticism of the “do something” crowd.

April 16, 2014

Thought experiment – in media reports, replace “scientist” with “some guy”

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:38

Frank Fleming makes an interesting point:

Our society holds scientists in high esteem. When scientists say something — whether it’s about the composition of matter, the beginning of the universe, or who would win a fight between a giant gorilla and a T. Rex — we all sit up and listen. And it doesn’t matter if they say something that sounds completely ridiculous; as long as a statement is preceded with “scientists say,” we assume it is truth.

There’s just one problem with that: There are no such things as scientists.

Okay, you’re probably saying, “What? Scientists are real! I’ve seen them before! There’s even a famous, blurry photo of a man in a lab coat walking through the woods.” Well, yes, there are people known as scientists and who call themselves such, but the word is pretty much meaningless.


Which brings us back to our problem. So much of science these days seems to be built on faith — faith being something that doesn’t have anything to do with science. Yet everyone apparently has faith that all these scientists we hear about follow good methods and are smart and logical and unbiased — when we can’t actually know any of that. So often news articles contain phrases such as, “scientists say,” “scientists have proven,” “scientists agree” — and people treat those phrases like they mean something by themselves, when they don’t mean anything at all. It’s like if you wanted music for your wedding, and someone came up to you and said, “I know a guy. He’s a musician.”

“What instrument does he play?”

“He’s a musician.”

“Is he any good?”

“He’s a musician.”

You see, when other occupations are vaguely described, we know to ask questions, but because we have blind faith in science, such reason is lost when we hear the term “scientist.” Which is why I’m arguing that for the sake of better scientific understanding, we should get rid of the word and simply replace it with “some guy.”

It’s not exactly a new phenomenon: Robert Heinlein put these words in the mouth of Lazarus Long, “Most ‘scientists’ are bottle washers and button sorters.” It was true then, and if anything it’s even more true now as we have so many more people working in scientific fields.

April 13, 2014

Japan does not understand how it is perceived overseas

Filed under: Government, History, Japan — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:02

In The Diplomat, Robert Dujarric explains some of the odd behaviour of some Japanese politicians in dealing with and talking about other nations:

… why are outsiders so worried about Japanese militarism?

First, there is the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” posture of the Abe Cabinet. In barely more than a year it has engaged in an endless stream of symbolic or verbal provocations: pilgrimages to Yasukuni, participation at Takeshima Day rites, Abe-appointed NHK governors denying wartime sexual slavery and the Nanjing Massacre, discussions about revisiting the Kono Statement, and a convoluted speech by Deputy Premier Taro Aso on learning from the Fuehrer.

Second, many Japanese politicians don’t know how the rest of the world thinks. A telling example was the prime minister giving a thumbs up from the cockpit of Japanese Air Self Defense jet with tail number 731. That prompted memories of Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731, which performed gruesome experiments on Chinese, other Asians, Russians and some Westerners (and whose leaders received a “get out of jail card” courtesy of the United States). Yet the premier either didn’t notice the markings or didn’t realize what the impact would be, and then failed to fire his entire advance team afterwards. The “731 photo-op” was not unique. Aso’s trip to Yasukuni just after attending the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea was another.

Third, Japan has an excellent but minute corps of diplomats and bureaucrats who excel at interaction with foreigners. Beyond this, though, most of its officialdom, including many in the Foreign Ministry, have not received the necessary training to, as the American expression goes, “make friends and influence people” overseas. The root causes lie in the inward-looking education system. Unfortunately, the government is blind to the requirement to provide extensive multi-year “remedial education” to the graduates it hires to ensure they are capable of functioning in a non-Japanese setting.

Also, Japan’s is a “closed shop.” Most Japanese who grew up overseas or have a parent from another country end up working for foreign companies or governments. Those best suited for interacting between Japan and the world are lost to the Japanese state.

Fourth, most Japanese officials view outsiders who criticize the LDP as hostile to Japan as a nation, which is generally not true. During a recent session with a Japanese diplomat, I mentioned a Western journalist in Tokyo. This reporter, whom I would describe as an open-minded left-winger, is neither a supporter of historical revisionism nor of Koizumi-Takenaka economics. Anyone who cares to read his prose will also notice a deep empathy for the Japanese people, an outstanding knowledge of the country, and a passion for Japanese culture. My Japanese interlocutor, however, saw him as a foe.

February 15, 2014

HMS Love Boat, er, I mean HMS Daring

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:40

Sir Humphrey notes the tut-tutting disapproval of other military sites but defends the Royal Navy’s little Valentine Day squib:

HMS Daring as the Love Boat

To mark Valentines Day this year, the Royal Navy put out a small number of press releases showing how some deployed ships like HMS Daring had tried to mark the occasion. For instance, there was a picture of the crew on the flight deck, spelling out an ‘I love you’ message (news release is HERE). This particular story got quite a lot of media attention in the UK press, with a variety of outlets carrying it and giving coverage to the story. But, it also had its detractors — the superb website Think Defence did not appreciate the story, feeling that it perhaps didn’t reflect the RN in a truly professional manner — their views can be found HERE. The view expressed was essentially that in pushing across a human interest story, the RN was not demonstrating itself to be as professional as its peers in other navies, who perhaps did not feel the need to provide equivalent stories.

This debate perhaps goes to the heart of the question about how we can push the case for Defence in the modern UK. To the authors mind, the issue is that what specialists consider of interest, and what the wider public consider of interest is two very different, and often arguably mutually incompatible subjects. Wander into any UK major newsagent and you will come across rack after rack of deeply specialist magazines, often providing immensely technical commentary on the most niche of subjects, ranging from transportation through to outdoor model railways and agricultural vehicles (a favourite story of the author is of when serving in Iraq seeing a friend open a morale package to receive a magazine about tractors, whose review of the novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian complained that while a good read, it would have benefited from far more detail about the tractors). All of these magazines have one thing in common — they write technical articles for a technically minded audience which gets much of the underpinning issues. There are letters pages and articles full of debates on the most minor of points, quite literally arguing over the location of a decimal place or widget. There is an incredible passion and intensity to these debates, but the fact remains that the subject matter remains a deeply niche and specialist interest.

Arguably Defence is in a similar position to this — it is an organisation full of technical equipment, and engages in all manner of activities which people can take either an immensely superficial view, or spend many years becoming world class experts in. The problem is how to meet the interests of the experts, without losing the interest of the wider audience, who may have little to no idea of what the MOD really does all day. To an interested audience which inherently understands the importance of things like why the deployment of HMS Daring to the Far East was important, and why it achieved a tremendous amount of good for the RN, this sort of press release may well seem embarrassing — after all, who wants to see pictures of sailors missing their families when we could see press releases issued discussing whether there is sufficient space in the T45 hull to adopt a Mk141 launcher for VLS TLAM behind the PAAMS launcher but only if CEC were put onboard and the 114mm gun were downgraded to a 76mm OTO Melara — a complete exaggeration, but indicative of the sort of immensely technical debate which can be found in certain parts of the internet or specialist magazines.

January 23, 2014

Machinima falls for the old “novelty death warrant” trick

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:10

At Techdirt, Timothy Geigner recounts the potential PR disaster facing Machinima after they attempted to buy positive coverage from their own contributors for the Xbox One:

It began with a thread on NeoGAF that included text from an email Machinima was sending out to their partners which offered bonus CPM (cost per thousand views, the standard way advertising is priced) payments on videos covering Microsoft’s new console. Their requirements for this “promotion” in the email were already problematic, including gameplay footage from an Xbox One game, a mention of playing the game on the Xbox One console in the video, and a vague reference to following the “guidelines listed in the assignment.” Just in those lines, most journalists would find deal-killers. While the line on whether or not YouTube video makers covering games like this being journalists may be a bit blurry, there’s little doubt that thousands of YouTubers look to these folks for help on their purchasing decisions. In other words, they’re fame rests squarely on their reputations for honest reviews. Minus those reputations, these people have no following.

Which is what makes the details in those “guidelines” mentioned above so misguided.

    Now here’s where we enter really sketchy territory: Ars Technica tracked down a copy of Machinima‘s contract for the promotion, and there’s one line that stands out: “You may not say anything negative or disparaging about Machinima, Xbox One or any of its Games in your Campaign Video.” What’s more, these YouTubers can’t even be transparent about this arrangement, according to the contract:

    “You agree to keep confidential at all times all matters relating to this Agreement, including, without limitation, the Promotional Requirements, and the CPM Compensation, listed above. You understand that You may not post a copy of this Agreement or any terms thereof online or share them with any third party (other than a legal or financial representative). You agree that You have read the Nondisclosure Agreement (attached hereto and marked as Exhibit “A”) and You understand and agree to all of terms of the Nondisclosure Agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Agreement.”

Hear that sound? That’s the sound of this entire promotion exploding with enough payload-force to also take out both the guilty and innocent Machinima video-producers. What this does is put everyone under suspicion. Given what we said about the importance of reputations above, this could be the meteor that destroys Machinima‘s world.

Yes, if you’re following along a home, the post title is a Blackadder reference.

January 2, 2014

QotD: Why progressive policy ideas get more media attention

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:34

When it comes to crafting winning political narratives, progressives have a natural advantage over conservatives. That’s because progressives have a free hand to project rosy visions of the future while conservatives must constantly defend against progressives’ distorted depictions of the past.

Two fundamental techniques undergird progressives’ success at narrative spinning. The first is skillful framing of the debate through investing heavily in public opinion making machinery. This disarms critics while giving lawmakers cover to vote for bills they’ve neither read nor understood. Thus framed, policies are judged only by their stated intentions, never their actual results. This allows politicians to promote new pieces of legislation named for their lofty objectives, even if the thousands of pages of vague and contradictory content deliver just the opposite.

The second is dodging all responsibility for failure. This is accomplished by blaming insufficient resources, the prior administration, the greedy 1 percent, sabotage by Republicans, or even the people’s obdurate failure to appreciate the progressive benefits conferred upon them. When the going gets tough, reality can be dismissed with a slogan. Forward!

Bill Frezza, “2013: The Year The Progressive Narrative Collided With Reality”, Forbes, 2013-12-30

December 21, 2013

I’m starting to think that Megan McArdle is a bit jaundiced about Obamacare

Filed under: Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Otherwise, how can you account for running a column titled like this?

Obamacare Initiates Self-Destruction Sequence

On Wednesday, Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reported that the administration was saying fewer than 500,000 people had actually lost insurance due to Obamacare-induced cancellations. This struck me as a strange leak: Half a million is a lot less than many people (including me) have been estimating, but it is still not a small number, and the administration has tended to sit on negative information until the last possible moment.

Yesterday, we had a more official announcement from the administration: Anyone who has had their policies cancelled will be exempt from the individual mandate next year. The administration is also allowing those people to buy catastrophic plans, even if they’re over 30.

What to make of these two statements? On the one hand, the administration is trying to minimize the number of people who have been affected by cancellations, and on the other hand, it is unveiling a fix to the problem of cancellations. And these are not minor changes.


The White House is focused on winning the news cycle, day by day, not the kind of detached technocratic policymaking that they, and the law’s other supporters, hoped this law would embody. Does your fix create problems later, cause costs to spiral or people to drop out of the insurance market, or lead to political pressure to expand the fixes in ways that critically undermine the law? Well, that’s preferable to sudden death right now.

However incoherent these fixes may seem, they send two messages, loud and clear. The first is that although liberal pundits may think that the law is a done deal, impossible to repeal, the administration does not believe that. The willingness to take large risks with the program’s stability indicates that the administration thinks it has a huge amount to lose — that the White House is in a battle for the program’s very existence, not a few marginal House and Senate seats.

And the second is that enrollment probably isn’t what the administration was hoping. I don’t know that we’ll start Jan. 1 with fewer people insured than we had a year ago, but this certainly shouldn’t make us optimistic. It’s not like people who lost their insurance due to Obamacare, and now can’t afford to replace their policy, are going to be happy that they’re exempted from the mandate; they’re still going to be pretty mad. This is at best, damage control. Which suggests that the administration is expecting a fair amount of damage.

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