Loathsome Ted’s Record Before the Supreme(s)

 Posted by at 12:06 PM on April 11, 2016
Apr 112016

Cruz Kittie CrusherAs Texas’s solicitor general, Ted Cruz would routinely pump up before arguing a conservative case before the US Supreme Court

In Loathsome Cruz, we detailed how Senator Ted earned the ire of his Congressional colleagues, the highlight being his success in shutting down the US government in 2013 because Congress wouldn’t let him deprive millions of people of medical care. Here we continue our investigation of why he inspires a more general loathsomeness among all but his most dedicated followers. The answer might just be: Time Travel!  The thesis is this: Someone has invented a two-seater time machine, traveled back into the past, to either the time of the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem witch trials, and brought forward their chief prosecutor.

As evidence, consider the following. One of Cruz’s claim to fame is his nine appearances before the US Supreme Court. An impressive attendance record by most standards.  But where, pray tell, did he acquire such capacity? Sure, sure, he graduated from Harvard Law School, but that is exactly what one would expect from a clever cover story.

While the evidence is circumstantial, consider the modus operandi used in a similar case: the alleged US birth certificate of the secret Kenyan Muslim socialist usurper: Barack Hussein Obama. I speak, of course, of the trans-temporal legerdemain that enabled Osama’s mother to fake the true circumstances of his birth by traveling back in time to record it in not one, but two, Honolulu newspapers.

Sadly, the two investigators that Donald Drumpf hired to prove that President Obama was born in Kenya, who might have shed light on the techniques of atemporal evidence tampering, were killed in a bar fight in Waikiki by the investigators that O.J. Simpson hired to find his wife’s murderer. (Comparative dick measuring, especially among professionals sharing the same trade can, on occasion, result in a violent end, especially when multiple rounds of mai tais are involved.)

Without proof of Ted’s presence in centuries past, we must rely on the record of the present to prove that he is a transcendent asshole. So without further ado, let us proceed to an examination of his record before the US Supreme Court (aka the Supremes) to determine what they reveal about his personality, and more important, his judicial philosophy.

Consider Cruz’s reputed legal skills. A pro-Ted super PAC, Keep the Promise, ran an ad touting his bona fides:

This year, you will have a choice to make. Will the next president pick a Supreme Court judge who will defend the Constitution? Only one candidate has what it takes because he not only knows the Constitution, he’s defended it. Ted Cruz argued nine cases in front of the Supreme Court, and won.

This last statement is in total keeping with Lyin’ Ted’s general sleazy approach to the truth. In point of fact, though he clearly won two of his cases,  he clearly lost four. The other three were mixed, according to Factcheck.org who analyzed and summarized all his cases. (See below.) If a major league baseball pitcher had that kind of average, he’d be lucky to be demoted to just the farm team, if not banished from the game altogether.

But is his failure rate all his fault?  (Cue Sympathy for the Devil.) Answer: No. He definitely had help, from then attorney general and now governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Abbott selected the cases, and Cruz happily prosecuted them.

Selection plays a key role in any success rate. Why do prosecutors or even surgeons have such high success rates in their respective fields? Because of the cases they choose to prosecute or operate on. US prosecutors in general have a 90% plus success rate (93% in 2011) , Japanese prosecutors closer to 99%. But what were the selection parameters that caused Cruz to wrack up such a comparatively poor record? The answer can be found in the pages of the Texas Tribune, which reports (emphasis mine):

Cruz worked on so many high-profile cases because he and his former boss, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, set out to engage in politically charged issues.

“We ended up year after year arguing some of the biggest cases in the country,” Cruz said. “There was a degree of serendipity in that, but there was also a concerted effort to seek out and lead conservative fights.”…

By exclusively  arguing cases that they believed advanced the conservative agenda, Cruz’s success rate suffered accordingly. But that means little to devoted ideologues.

Welcome to “judicial activism,” or in this case, a variant and precursor thereof. If there is any doubt that judicial activism, the bete noire of conservatives, is anything but their projection aimed at liberal and progressive politicians, then one need only consider its living, walking, talking embodiment — Ted Cruz.

Some snapshots that reveal the odor of the man:

  1. Dretke v. Haley (2004) Michael Haley was convicted of stealing a calculator at a Wal-Mart. Normally, the maximum sentence for the crime, a misdemeanor, was two-years. However, the court determined, erroneously, that he should be sentenced under the state’s habitual offender law, and was imprisoned for 16 years. (Ever heard of private, for-profit prisons? They love this kind of stuff.) When the error was discovered a few years later, Haley petitioned the court for release and it was granted. Enter Darth Cruz who appealed the ruling, arguing that the time for such an appeal had passed, and the case ended up before the Supremes.  Even though Cruz admitted the original sentence was wrong, aka an injustice, he succeeded on procedural grounds by further arguing that the case would set a dangerous precedent by allowing the wrongly sentenced to find justice before the courts.
  2. Frew v. Hawkins (2003) involved the violation of a consent decree over Medicaid funding that the state of Texas had originally agreed. Cruz argued the 11th Amendment guaranteed the state had the right to deprive poor children of sufficient medical care. He lost unanimously.
  3. League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006) involved a voter suppression effort on the part of Texas state legislature to marginalize Latino voters.
  4. Smith v. Texas (2007) involved the death sentence for a man with an IQ of 76 (a bit lower than a former Texas governor, George W. Bush). Cruz argued the fact that the jury was never instructed about the man’s mental incapacity was harmless error.

But a larger issue looms, perhaps the biggest that will face voters in the general election: Who is going to appoint the next one, two, or three Supreme Court justices? The ideological bent of the court, in place for the last 30 years or so, has been decidedly conservative. With the death of the court’s most outspoken, activist conservative, Antoin Scalia, the court is now evenly divided between conservatives and moderates.

Anyone on the Democratic/Progressive side of the aisle contemplating withholding their vote because their candidate failed to be nominated should think long and hard about that.

The karma principle of causality continuity is, again, very close to the truth of the repercussional synthesis of all time-space actions in the Deity presence of the Supreme…

-The Urantia Book


Factcheck.org’s summary of cases Cruz argued before the Supremes.

Cruz’s First Appearance

The most lopsided loss came in Cruz’s first argument before the Supreme Court in October 2003. It was a case called Frew v. Hawkins, and involved a states’ rights issue and Medicaid funding. In 1996, Texas reached a settlement — via consent decree — in a class-action lawsuit against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission over allegations that the state failed to improve health care to poor children per Medicaid requirements. The plaintiffs later argued, however, that the state was not living up to its legal commitment. Cruz argued the state was not bound by the consent decree because of state sovereignty rights afforded by the 11th Amendment.

In his book, “A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America,” Cruz wrote that while he quietly harbored doubts about winning the case, he went into oral arguments feeling confident.

Things did not go well for Cruz, who wrote, “For my thirty minutes in Frew, there was not a single friendly question directed toward me. The justices were ripping me limb from limb. I felt like a chunk of tuna thrown to a school of sharks.”

One of the justices asking pointed questions was Scalia, who pointed out that Texas’ own attorney general was the one who agreed to the consent decree. “Why isn’t that the end of the case?” Scalia asked.

The ensuing ruling in favor of the plaintiffs was unanimous. Among that unanimous group was then Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for whom Cruz had years before served as a law clerk.

Cruz wrote that Rehnquist later joked with him about it. “Well, they say that with your first argument, you should pick a case you can’t lose or you can’t win,” Cruz recalled Rehnquist telling him, with a  smile. “Ted … I think you chose wisely.”

Verdict: A loss.

The Stolen Calculator Case

Cruz’s second trip to the Supreme Court went a bit better, but was short of a full victory. The 2004 case, Dretke v. Haley, involved a man, Michael Haley, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for stealing a calculator from a Texas Wal-Mart.

Although the crime was a misdemeanor that carried a maximum two-year sentence, Haley was charged under the state’s “habitual offender” law due to prior offenses — and that resulted in the longer prison sentence. Several years later, however, a new lawyer discovered that Haley’s criminal record did not meet the standards required to charge someone as a habitual offender.

On behalf of the state, Cruz argued that Haley had waited too long to contest the error.

”You’ve conceded that this sentence is unlawful?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked during oral arguments.

Cruz said yes.

“Well then, why are you here? Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?” Kennedy asked.

No, Cruz responded, saying that the state was concerned about the precedent it would set for other cases.

“Well, so a man does 15 years so you can vindicate your legal point in some other case?” Kennedy continued. “I just don’t understand why you don’t dismiss this case and move to lower the sentence.”

According to the Texas Tribune, Cruz sensed he did not have the votes to win the case, and switched strategies. Rather than asking the court to back the state’s position, he asked the justices to remand the case back to a lower court. That’s what happened, and Haley was sentenced to time served, meaning he did not have to go back to prison.

“I would regularly talk to my students about the Haley case as a good example of how an advocate can rescue victory from the jaws of defeat,” Cruz said in 2012.

Verdict: Mixed.

The Medellin Case I & II

Cruz twice argued in front of the Supreme Court in cases concerning Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen convicted of the rape and murder of two girls, ages 14 and 16, in 1993. Years after his conviction, the International Court of Justice raised the issue that Medellin and others were entitled to the counsel of Mexican diplomats at the time of their arrests, per the Vienna Convention treaty. Even President George W. Bush issued a memo directing states to comply with the International Court of Justice and state courts to review the cases of Mexicans facing the death penalty.

In 2005, the court ruled 5-4 that Medellin had not exhausted his state court appeals, and it sent the case back to a Texas state court. The case came back to the Supreme Court, and in 2007 Cruz again argued on behalf of the state. In a 6-3 decision in 2008, the court sided with Cruz and concluded that the treaty was not binding upon state courts until the treaty is enacted into law by Congress.

Cruz called it, “By any measure the biggest case of my tenure as solicitor general.”

Verdict: A win.

 Redistricting Case

Another case with mixed results, League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, came in 2006. The case involved redistricting maps approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in 2003. Opponents argued the maps were drawn in a partisan way that violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act, resulting in the disenfranchisement of minority voters.

Cruz argued that the framers of the Constitution knew full well that politicians would make political decisions regarding redistricting, and so he argued that those decisions should be left to elected legislatures, not unelected federal judges.

“In other words, of course the legislators who had redrawn Texas’ congressional districts had been political, but there was nothing unconstitutional or illegal about politicians being political,” Cruz wrote in “A Time for Truth.”

Cruz boasted in the book that “[u]ltimately, our argument prevailed.” And, in fact the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the redistricting plan did not violate the Constitution. However, the court also ruled that one of the districts in the map did violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Bottom line, the state had to redraw the boundaries of that district — a large one — but did not have to redraw the entire map.

Verdict: Mixed.

Death Sentence for Man with Low IQ

The case of Smith v. Texas in 2007 was over the propriety of a death sentence for LaRoyce Smith, who was convicted in the 1991 shooting and stabbing of a 19-year-old woman. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to set aside Smith’s death sentence — though not the conviction —  because the jury was not given an opportunity to consider his low IQ of 78. In 2008, Smith agreed to a sentence of life in prison.

Verdict: Loss.

Death Penalty for Mentally Ill

This was another death penalty case involving a man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, Scott Panetti, who was convicted of killing his wife’s parents in 1992. The court was asked to consider whether the state could execute someone who was so mentally ill that he lacked a rational understanding of why he was being executed.

While Cruz argued that Panetti was rational enough to understand that he committed two murders, Justice Kennedy responded, “That’s different from having a rational capacity to understand the nature and justification for the punishment.”

Cruz lost this one in another 5-4 decision, with the court ruling that Panetti could not be executed because he lacked the ability to comprehend his death sentence. The case was sent back to a lower court in Texas to reassess Panetti’s mental state. He remains on death row.

Verdict: Loss.

Death Penalty for a Child Rapist

This was actually a Louisiana case involving the death penalty for a man, Patrick Kennedy, convicted of the 1998 rape of his 8-year-old stepdaughter. At issue was whether it was constitutional to extend the death penalty beyond just murder cases, to include child rapists. Cruz argued in support of the state of Louisiana on behalf of Texas and other states that had similar laws. The court ruled 5-4 against Louisiana, finding that the death penalty for raping a child violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Verdict: Loss.

Patent Dispute

This was the lone case Cruz argued as a private lawyer, for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, and it involved a patent infringement case, Global-Tech Appliances v. SEB S.A, related to a deep fryer. Cruz argued in 2011 on behalf of his firm’s client, SEB S.A., that a subsidiary of Global-Tech had violated SEB’s patent. The legal issues in the case were more complex than a simple patent infringement, but the important thing for our purposes is to note that the court voted 8-1 in favor of Cruz’s client.

Verdict: A win.

Cruz’s Supreme Court record doesn’t support the ad’s implication that he “won” the nine cases he argued before the court. Cruz had clear victories in only two.






White Horse Prophecy Redux

 Posted by at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2016
Mar 072016

Mitt White Horsing Around

Mitt Romney’s attempt to satisfy the White Horse Prophecy is going up in flames

Back in the day, when Willard Mitt Romney  was overtly running for president, we published “Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck, & The White Horse Prophecy. Now that Mittens is covertly running for president―the clear implication of his desperate call for GOP voters to deprive Donald Drumpf of delegates by voting for whomever has the best chance of beating him one state at a time, despite the particular candidate that a voter supports―it’s time to revisit the Mormon White Horse prophecy.

It’s no coincidence that the super PAC leading the charge against Drumpf is run by Romney’s former chief strategist, Katie Packer. Early donors include Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; billionaire hedge fund manager and political activist Paul Singer; Chicago businessman, Richard Uihlein, who has dropped some $10 million on various conservative super PACs over the last six years; and Marlene Ricketts, the wife of billionaire T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joe Ricketts (who also owns the Chicago Cubs), who started the ball rolling with a $3 million contribution.

Which brings us to the other member of the Mormon dynamic duo. Glenn Beck re-surfaced at CPAC this weekend after being blackballed for years after warning that a “progressive cancer” had infected the GOP. In his speech Saturday he got back into prophetic  form, congratulating the new CPAC organizers for, among other things, exorcising “Muslim Brotherhood Moles” from the purity of the CPAC universe. And just to prove that redemption knows no limits in the world of media Q ratings, the Beckosaur was handed the conch shell by producers of This Week With George Stephanopoulos to spread his peculiar brand of paranoia about the beast who threatens to destroy the GOP―Dumbledore Drump.


The Beckasaur

So without further ado, we again lift the veil of self-importance that serves to convince apocalyptics like Willard and Glenn that they really matter in the world.


In 1835, Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, aka theMormons, wrote in his collection of prophecies and insights titled Doctrines and Covenants:

“If ye are faithful, ye shall assemble yourselves together to rejoice upon the land of Missouri, which is the land of your inheritance, which is now the land of your enemies.”

One has to assume, if one is to believe in the efficacy of Smith’s prophecy, that his fellow Saints were less than faithful; or alternatively, that their sense of entitlement was ill-conceived; or that Smith was just another BS artist. Because, a mere three years later, after a successful voter suppression effort by 200 non-Mormon settlers in Gallatin on August 6, 1838 that led to a wider, catastrophic war, he and his entire community were driven out of the state of Missouri, lock, stock and barrel.

His petition for redress to President Martin Van Buren in 1839 was refused for starkly political reasons. Four years after that, Smith is said to have uttered another prophecy that became known as the White Horse Prophecy (WHORP) . Bill McKeever over at Thom Hartmann.com describes it thusly:

The White Horse Prophecy

Another of Smith’s predictions, the “White Horse Prophecy,” gets its name from the biblical book of Revelation. The prophecy has been given a dubious distinction since there is no evidence that Smith ever gave it in a public setting. Instead, its pedigree goes back to two Mormons, Edwin Rushton and Theodore Turley, who said they personally heard Joseph Smith give this prediction at Smith’s home on or about May 6, 1843. Smith allegedly gave numerous predictions in this prophecy, but the portion that is most repeated speaks of a day when the Constitution of the United States will “hang by a thread.” It will be “preserved and saved” by a White Horse, A.K.A. the Mormon Church.

Seven generations of Mormon leaders, while jettisoning various parts of the prophecy including the violent overthrow of the US government, have nonetheless, kept hope alive. McKeever again:

In 1963 [Evra Taft] Benson again mentioned this prophecy in a conference message: “The Prophet Joseph Smith said the time would come when the Constitution would hang as it were by a thread. Modern-day prophets for the last thirty years have been warning us that we have been rapidly moving in that direction. Fortunately, the Prophet Joseph Smith saw the part the elders of Israel would play in this crisis. Will there be some of us who won’t care about saving the Constitution, others who will be blinded by the craftiness of men, and some who will knowingly be working to destroy it? He that has ears to hear and eyes to see can discern by the Spirit and through the words of God’s mouthpiece that our liberties are being taken” (Conference Report, April 1963, p.113).

Shades of the Tea Party, who never tire of warning us that “our liberties are being taken.” One has to assume that was a major selling point on the part of the Romney campaign to gain the support of the Teabaggers, whether they believed in the overarching validity of the prophecy itself, they were certainly down with the ‘they’re stealing our liberties’ stuff. One Teabagger who does believe wholeheartedly in the WHORP is the Mormon Mad Man, Glenn Beck. As Dana Milbank wrote at Huffpo:

“In one of his first appearances on Fox News, Glenn Beck sent a coded message to the nation’s six million Mormons — or at least those Mormons who believe in what the Latter-day Saints call “the White Horse Prophecy.”

“We are at the place where the Constitution hangs in the balance,” Beck told Bill O’Reillyon November 14, 2008, just after President Obama‘s election. “I feel the Constitution is hanging in the balance right now, hanging by a thread unless the good Americans wake up.”


Was it just a coincidence in wording, or was Beck, a 1999 Mormon convert, speaking in coded language about the need to fulfill the Mormon prophecy? A conversation on Beck’s radio show ten days earlier would seem to rule out coincidence. Beck was interviewingSenator Orrin Hatch of Utah, also a Mormon, when he said: “I heard Barack Obama talk about the Constitution and I thought, we are at the point or we are very near the point where our Constitution is hanging by a thread.”

“Well, let me tell you something,” Hatch responded. “I believe the Constitution is hanging by a thread.”

Days after Beck’s Fox show started in January 2009, he had Hatch on, and again prompted him: “I believe our Constitution hangs by a thread.”

Large numbers of Mormons watch Beck…

Earlier, during his 1999 run for the presidency, Orrin Hatch was quoted by The Salt Lake Tribune: “I’ve never seen it worse than this, where the Constitution literally is hanging by a thread” (“Did Hatch Allude To LDS Prophecy?” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 11, 1999).” Mormons of a feather flock together.

Which brings us to the question: Does Mitt Romney, a bishop in the Mormon Church, consider himself the embodiment of Joseph Smith’s prophecy?

Well, it would explain a number of things about the way he has managed his presidential campaign, beginning with the issue of how he has managed his presidential campaign. See, for example, Mitt Is On Fire, a collection of conservative wailings about what is arguably the worst GOP presidential campaign since…John McCain’s.

Additionally, it would explain his and Ann Romney‘s sense of entitlement, which Ann summed up in her best elitist manner: “It’s our turn.”

Then there’s his attitude towards withholding a more extensive release of his taxes that, in contravention to his own father’s example of releasing 12 years worth, would give American voters a better understanding of how he became so filthy rich.

And finally, it would explain his cavalier attitude to providing any meaningful details about his policy imperatives. As with his refusal to provide same with regard to his taxes, the overarching goal of saving the Constitution must take priority over such quotidian concerns.

Of course, all of these infirmities of the Romney campaign can be explained using CW political analysis. But, as every novelist or screenwriter knows (written a few  of the latter myself), understanding a protagonist’s formative beliefs provides insight into his character, and ultimately, his motivations and actions.

If I be permitted a prophecy of my own– Romney’s presidential bid will go down in flames. The only question remaining is how much damage he will do the the immediate, mid-range, and long term goals of the GOP. As conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham warned:

“If you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party. Shut it down, start new, with new people. Because this is a gimme election, or at least it should be.”

We should be so lucky.

Broker This

 Posted by at 12:02 PM on February 17, 2016
Feb 172016

GOPy Dick

From hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale. 

Herman Melville, 1851

Some six weeks ago, we wrote:

However, the policy implications of this kind of craziness on the GOP platform is a clown car of a different color. With the advent of Superpacs, a consequence of the Supreme Court’s infamous ruling in Citizens United, marginal candidates who would have previously dropped out of the running for lack of funds, can now soldier-on right into the Republican nomination convention. Instead of their delegates being liberated, i.e., up for grabs, will they now remain under his or hers control, and by extension, the control of the candidate’s  anonymous Big Money contributors? That’s a crucial question confronting Reince Preibus and the GOP establishment in the weeks and months to come. A brokered convention with a muscular Superpac component is shaping up to be the political equivalent of a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome sequel.

Now Politico reports this:

Rubio, who openly contemplated the possibility of a contested convention in an AP interview last week, is not the only candidate whose campaign is preparing to contest the shadow primary.

One Southern state party chairman said that the calls from campaigns seeking data — such as contact information on eligible delegates and the names of people who have served as delegates in past years — began in late 2015. The chairman said calls have also come from third-party vendors who declined to identify which campaigns are their clients. “There’s a bit of skulduggery. … I suspect some super PACs are behind some of this.”

Toby Neugebauer, a Cruz super PAC megadonor who has long maintained that this nominating contest would be drawn out, said he has invested in custom delegate-tracking software but did not provide further details of his efforts on that front.

The Southern state party chairman who called an open convention “the white whale of politics” said the possibility is driving side conversations at party meetings. “We all sit around and talk about it at [Republican National Committee] meetings.”

The “white whale of politics…” Almost seven years ago to the day, we published Rethuglican Hallucinations, which used the Moby Dick, white male metaphor to underscore the GOP’s delusional obsession that tax cuts for the uber-rich would somehow trickle-down for the benefit of the rest of us. Eight years of Republican rule under the George W. Bush Administration produced two massive, unfunded tax cuts(not to mention two unfunded wars and the expansion of Part D Medicare)  that drove the US economy to the very precipice of another Great Depression.

Not much has changed since then. Except that the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk, and banks that were considered too big to fail at the time of crash (with $8 trillion in assets in 2008) have only gotten bigger ($10 trillion today). Wealth inequality, the cornerstone of the Bernie Sanders campaign, grew dramatically as a consequence of taxpayer bailouts begun under the Bushies and magnified by the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” and zero interest rate policies.

Congress did manage a watered down effort at bank regulation, the Dodd-Frank Act, passed under President Obama, but every GOP presidential candidate wants to scrap it (along with Obamacare and the rest of his presidency) the minute they takeover the White House.

However, thanks to the Great White Leviathan with the orange fringe on top, currently poised to win the GOP nomination, not only would they lose an opportunity to take over the White House, but might result in their loss of the Senate, and the Supreme Court for a generation. Their only hope is a brokered convention. And that would likely result in destruction of the party if they try to screw the Tea Party and nominate another establishment Republican.

Lower the lifeboats, ye scuppers! 


And now it’s back to the future, with this blast from the past.

Rethuglican Hallucinations

In trying to account for the experience of color, neurobiologist Humberto Maturana decided to treat the nervous system as a closed system, depriving it of external sensory inputs. Incidentally, he found that deprived of such inputs, the nervous system can’t distinguish between ordinary perception and hallucinations.

Similarly, the Rethugs, by becoming a closed ideological system, have no way of distinguishing between their own hallucinations and the reality the rest of America inhabits. They have transformed themselves into Capt. Ahab lashed to the Great White Whale of tax cuts, plunged time and time again beneath the roiling waters of reality.

Eight years of tax cuts under their leadership produced a measly 3 million jobs, compared to the 22 million created under the last Democratic administration. In the present economic crisis, one doesn’t have to be an economist to conclude that direct government created jobs programs are going to produce way more jobs than will tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, who have no incentive to do anything but hoard the money in these uncertain times.

In the climax of the movie version starring Gregory Peck, Moby Dick surfaces one last time. One of the arms of the now drowned Ahab has come loose, flopping back and forth. The Rethugs mistake that pitiful movement for life and direction.

Just before Moby plunges them one last time into the depths.

Success may generate courage and promote confidence, but wisdom comes only from the experiences of adjustment to the results of one’s failures. Men who prefer optimistic illusions to reality can never become wise. Only those who face facts and adjust them to ideals can achieve wisdom. Wisdom embraces both the fact and the ideal and therefore saves its devotees from both of those barren extremes of philosophy — the man whose idealism excludes facts and the materialist who is devoid of spiritual outlook. Those timid souls who can only keep up the struggle of life by the aid of continuous false illusions of success are doomed to suffer failure and experience defeat as they ultimately awaken from the dream world of their own imaginations. • —The Urantia Book

Feb 032016

In a pioneering experiment in economic behaviorism,* B.F. Skinner attempts to prove the theory of trickle-down economics **



In  our previous entry, we continued our exposition of the film The Big Short. We noted the role that the bond ratings agencies played in the spreading the financial virus known as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and their mutant offspring, synthetic CDOs, in the 2008 financial collapse. In this installment, we expand  our exploration of the Dunning-Kruger effect by delving into the related fields of behavioral economics and behavioral finance. And we document how the fraudulent  mortgage bond industry directly gave rise to the Tea Party.

Behavioral Economics

In the film The Big Short, Dr. Richard Thaler, author of Misbehaving: the Making of Behavioral Economics, identifies the key driver behind bubble psychology as the hot hand fallacy, an allusion to a basketball player on a hot shooting streak (with an assist from Selena Gomez; see previous entry). In the financial universe, it refers to the belief that because stocks and real estate have gone up in the past, they will continue to do so in the future. Okay, maybe with some dips and valleys along the way, but not enough to separate a True Believer from his or her’s God-given right to fabulous riches and a glorious retirement.

Behavioral economics can be defined as:

…the study of the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and the resource allocation. Behavioral economics is primarily concerned with the bounds of rationality of economic agents. Behavioral models typically integrate insights from psychology, neuroscience and microeconomic theory; in so doing, these behavioral models cover a range of concepts, methods, and fields. Behavioral economics is sometimes discussed as an alternative to neoclassical economics. [cites omitted; emphasis mine]

Of the three prevalent themes underlying behavioral economics―heuristics, framing, and market inefficiencies―the ones that concern us here is framing.

Framing: The collection of anecdotes and stereotypes that make up the mental emotional filters individuals rely on to understand and respond to events…human beings are by nature “cognitive misers,” meaning they prefer to do as little thinking as possible. Frames provide people a quick and easy way to process information. Hence, people will use the previously mentioned mental filters (a series of which is called a schema) to make sense of incoming messages. This gives the sender and framer of the information enormous power to use these schemas to influence how the receivers will interpret the message.

Given that my ontological bias is rooted in The Urantia Book, permit me to share this excerpt from its 1.1 million word text concerning “the bounds of rationality” and framing  [emphasis mine]:

Partial, incomplete, and evolving intellects would be helpless in the master universe, would be unable to form the first rational thought pattern, were it not for the innate ability of all mind, high or low, to form a universe frame in which to think.…And while such universe frames for creature thought are indispensable to rational intellectual operations, they are, without exception, erroneous to a greater or lesser degree…

While the passage above concerns a general discussion of cosmology, it does reflect the relativistic nature of all thinking. As above, so below. It’s good to keep in mind that any attempt by a part to comprehend a whole, in this case the individual’s attempt to cognize the financial universe in which he or she is embedded, is problematic; i.e not absolute, subject to change. It also underscores what behavioral economics refers to as the “bounds of rationality.” People who violate those bounds are what we here at Urantian Sojourn like to call Teh Stupid and Teh Crazy. While I don’t think that the Wall Street banksters who brought us the financial collapse consciously engineered it, their unshakable belief in their own competency (a hallmark of the Dunning-Kruger effect) helped convince other “cognitive misers” to buy what they were framing, er, selling.

There is a scene in The Big Short where a discouraged Dr. Burry (who had predicted the collapse of the subprime loan industry some 4 to 5 years before it occurred; and is an example of an arbitrage participant mentioned in the section below), tells an employee to start liquidating some the fund’s other assets to pay the premiums due on their insurance swaps. The employee asks him whether his whole thesis about the subprime loan industry could be wrong. Burry replies that he just couldn’t see how―numbers didn’t lie in his world. But in contrast to The Street as a whole, he admitted being wrong was at least a possibility. It’s people who can’t even admit the possibility of being wrong that is the subject of the film’s epigraph:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. –Mark Twain

Burry would have been proven correct a lot earlier if the market wasn’t as crooked as he subsequently discovered it to be. As firms like Goldman Sachs, which had underwritten a big chunk of his credit default swaps realized they were going to get crushed, they artificially kept the market alive as long as they could, frantically dumping their swap liabilities on any sucker they could find, including their own unsuspecting clients.

Behavioral Finance

The central issue in behavioral finance is explaining why market participants make irrational systematic errors contrary to assumption of rational market participants. Such errors affect prices and returns, creating market inefficiencies. The study of behavioral finance also investigates how other participants take advantage (arbitrage) of such errors and market inefficiencies.

Behavioral finance highlights inefficiencies such as under or over-reactions to information as causes of market trends and in extreme cases of bubbles and crashes. Such reactions have been attributed to limited investor attention, overconfidence, overoptimism, mimicry (herding instinct) and noise trading. Technical analysts consider behavioral finance, to be behavioral economics’ “academic cousin” and to be the theoretical basis for technical analysis.

Having dabbled in technical analysis (TA) over the years, that last sentence provoked an “aha” moment for me. I’d never bothered to look into the psychological underpinnings of TA, of why certain chart patterns correlated with significant price movements. It was enough that there exists a high degree of correlation between the two. From the perspective of behavioral finance, taking the pulse of the market in general or individual stocks in the particular is really a way of divining how investors are using their emotional and cognitive filters to “make sense of incoming messages.”

In addition to technical analysis, another approach to investing is fundamental analysis. Tune into any of the three major business news channels and you’ll be treated to an endless parade of “experts” framing that day or week’s trading activities with narratives that, on the surface, seem to explain what’s driving the market at any given time. But after a couple of decades of watching these people, I’ve concluded that a great deal of their “analysis” is simply designed to keep the rubes in the game by providing seemingly “rational” explanations for what are largely high frequency, computer driven trading schemes that use “dark pools” of money and others forms of subterfuge to separate investors from their money.

Other interesting psychological insights that behavioral economics and behavioral finance brings to the table include: the dynamics of  loss aversion―the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains; the endowment effect―a hypothesis that people value a good more once their property right to it has been established, the curious tendency to value one’s own property over the identical property of another; and my personal favorite, conditional expected utility, defined as:

A form of reasoning where the individual has an illusion of control, and calculates the probabilities of external events and hence utility as a function of their own action, even when they have no causal ability to affect those external events.

What could be more devastating to a control freak than to suddenly realize that the basis of his or hers presumed control is an illusion? As in, mortgage bonds never fail? Stocks and real estate prices will rise ad infinitum? It takes a person with a special cognitive makeup to so staunchly believe in their own competence, while the world they helped create comes crashing down around their ears. Just what was going on inside the hamster wheel  brains of these Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe? Ask any of them whether they considered themselves “smart,” and no doubt the answer would be yes. I recently came by this definition of smart by neuroguy at the Big Orange in his diary titled “Dr. Ben Carson is not Smart.” Think of it as an inverse definition of Teh Stupid.

“Smart” is a multifaceted cognitive feature composed of excellent analytical skills, possession of an extensive knowledge base that is easily and frequently augmented, possession of a good memory, and being readily curious about the world and willing, even eager, to reject previously accepted notions in the face of new data. Being smart includes having the ability to analyze new data for validity and, thinking creatively, draw new insights from existing common knowledge. [emphasis mine]

Or as The Urantia Book puts it:

The true teacher maintains his intellectual integrity by ever remaining a learner.

Assigning Blame

There are any number of conventional explanations for the Great Recession. All may be true, as far as they go, and include the following:  it was another example of the greater fool theoryit was due to a lack of regulatory oversight by an underfunded SEC; it was the product of unethical investment banksters packaging subprime loans and credit default swaps into bogus mortgage securities, CDOs, and synthetic CDOs; it was the fault of corrupt bond ratings agencies, foremost among them, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s.

I would nominate the ratings agencies as the primary culprit. It was they who sprinkled holy water on dogshit and turned it into fool’s gold, the better to rip off first-time home buyers, teachers, little old ladies, and international pension funds. You know―people whom the Tea Party blames for the whole freakin’ mess.

Origin of the Tea Party

I nominate  Rick Santelli, CNBC‘s resident blowhard bond maven, as the founding father of the Tea Party movement. During a television broadcast in February 2009 (that I happened to view live at the time), Santelli delivered an apparently unscripted rant in which he blamed first time home buyers for the 2008 collapse, instead of the Wall Street banksters who so assiduously recruited them to keep their mortgage bond scam going. (Go to minute 2:18 of the clip below to see his call for another Boston tea party, to the cheers of his fellow bond traders.)

CNBC’s Rick Santelli calling for the creation of a modern day Tea Party

Blaming the victim is a stock in trade tactic of the Powers That Be, and can be considered a form of institutional projection. Why the Tea Party and others are willing to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators is a question perhaps best explained by Thomas Frank and his classic book What’s the Matter with Kansas? I can’t help but wonder whether the vehement victim bashing so characteristic of right wingers doesn’t reinforce their own sense of victimhood. If the “takers,” Mitt Romney’s 47%, are the hammer, and they the anvil, the one in their eyes weilding the hammer is, of course, President Obama. Without his critical role in preventing another Great Depression, they would have really become victims of the first order. (Or as me wooden-spoon-wielding Irish granny would have said: “Stop your bellyaching, or I’ll really give you something to cry about!”)

Regulating the Regulators

Leave it to a turn of the of the millennium Roman satirist, Juvenal, to ask the essential question:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will guard the guards themselves?

Take the Securities Exchange Commission. (Please!) Incapable of exercising its watchdog role because of persistent efforts by congressional Republicans to underfund it and stock it with past and future industry hacks  (tactics they employ to hamstring other regulatory agencies like the IRS), there exists a well lubricated revolving door for underpaid government employees to bolt an agency for lucrative jobs in the very companies they are charged to regulate. This unfortunately legal but morally reprehensible practice is captured in a scene in The Big Short in which an SEC employee is sunning herself at a Las Vegas hotel-casino  pool on her own dime, shopping herself to potential employers. (They are all in Vegas for the annual American Securitization Forum convention,  the one that Steve Carell and his partners attended at the behest of Ryan Gosling‘s character, described briefly in the previous chapter.)

The perennial complaint of the Wall Street Republican Ruling Class, and therefore the top issue of every GOP congressional and presidential wannabe, is that there is too much regulation―corporate, environmental, and especially, financial. Even President Bill Clinton bought into that latter steaming pile of horseshit when he signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Ac in 1999 that repealed essential parts of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933put into place to prevent Wall Street banksters from spawning another Great Depression. Clinton also signed into law the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which exempted credit-default swaps from regulation, laying the groundwork for the subprime loan fiasco that followed. Whether he knew it at the time or not, Bill Clinton proved to be a classic Wall Street tool. (Hullo Hillary―care to distinguish yourself from your hubbie’s brilliant policy choices? During the next debate, perhaps?)

Half a millennium earlier, none other than Leonardo da Vinci observed:

He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.

We are all on trial here, on this World of the Cross. So, belly up to the bar―no, not that bar, silly―the bar of justice, cosmic justice. As The Urantia Book puts it:

Mercy may be lavish, but justice is precise…For mercy is not to be thrust upon those who despise it; mercy is not a gift to be trampled under foot by the persistent rebels of time.

In the final chapter, we provide an overview of the current world economy and ask the question: Are we wiser now, having experienced the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. Or are the cognitive filters that produced the 2008 crash still in place, leaving us blind to the next catastrophe.


*I thought I was really stretching it by using this photo of B.F. Skinner to make a point about behavioral economics, but then I came across a paper by Battalio, Green, and Kagel (1981, p 621), in which they write:

[Studies of economic behavior in non-human animals] provide a laboratory for identifying, testing, and better understanding general laws of economic behavior. Use of this laboratory is predicated on the fact that behavior as well as structure vary continuously across species, and that principles of economic behavior would be unique among behavioral principles if they did not apply, with some variation, of course, to the behavior of nonhumans. [cited in Behavioral Economics]

**Another way of describing trickle-down economics, the economic theory so dear to Republicans and Wall Street banksters that holds that tax breaks for the rich benefit the middle-class, is this:

The way to feed rabbits is to feed hay to horses.


The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Part III

 Posted by at 12:01 AM on January 10, 2016
Jan 102016

obamaguns dunning-kruger
A commentary video from the NRA claimed that President Obama stood in front of “the wrong people” when delivering a speech about gun violence before gun violence survivors, and that instead he should have stood before “the groups he is really helping: gang members, felons, and repeat offenders.” Media Matters


In Part II of the Dunning-Kruger effect, President George W. Bush was presented as an example of a leader who couldn’t recognize and accept his own limitations, and was thus easy to manipulate. His position as president of the United States (and his mediocre IQ) made him especially vulnerable to sophisticated Wag the Dog operations designed to portray him as the kind of competent, intelligent leader he wasn’t. The apparent strategy of his handlers was to keep him tightly scripted and out of the public eye as much as possible. To that end, George  spent 407 days out of his office during the first three years of his presidency, at either his fake ranch in Crawford, Texas, or the Bush family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine. (Remember the fake turkey he presented to the troops in Iraq? Symbol: meet reality.) By contrast, President Barack Obama, spent some 125 days out of the office over a comparable length of time.

While work habits can tell us something about a president’s general cognitive approach to problem solving and crisis resolution, they are other data points worth considering. They include: staff choices, the ability to delegate, the degree to which they write their own speeches, and intellectual curiosity. (Hint: One of the nicknames Bush earned for himself was “Incurious George.”)
Poster Chiled for the Dunning-Kruger effect

What Me Worry?

Perhaps the most telling comparison are the two men’s respective psychological profiles. In 2004, Dr. Justin Frank wrote his classic book Bush on the Couch. I was quite intrigued by the original and look forward to reading the revised edition published in 2007, which among other things describes Bush’s “telling habits and coping strategies—from his persistent mangling of English to his tendency to ‘go blank’ in the midst of crisis.” Remember his deer-in-the-headlights look when an aide interrupted him to tell him that the World Trade center was burning while he was reading My Pet Goat to Florida school children?

I also look forward to reading Dr. Frank’s analysis of President Obama, Obama on the Couch, published in 2012, and comparing the two in a future post (or five). For now, a blurb relevant to our current discussion will have to suffice.

 “Dr. Frank argues that the President’s decisions are motivated by inner forces – in particular, he focuses on Obama’s overwhelming need to establish consensus, which can occasionally undermine his personal—and his party’s—objectives.”

In Dr. Frank’s own introduction, he notes that Obama’s passion to find common ground actually makes Tea Party types even crazier, which goes a long way towards explaining their vehement resistance to everything he proposes. What makes their fanatical opposition all the more remarkable is that it reaches its greatest intensity when it concerns an issue that they themselves supported in the past, some ten in total to this accounting at Electablog. These include: the individual mandate at the heart of both Obama Care and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health  care plan; donor disclosure in campaign financing reform; clean energy measures; changes in Medicare to save $700 billion; creation of a deficit reduction commission; and background checks for gun purchasers. (For the latter, see also: Republicans-suddenly-turn-against-enforcing-existing-law-on-guns-because-Obama). In other word, they are incapable of taking Yes for an answer.

Obama and Dunning-Kruger: A Psychological Corollary

Being investigations into human behavior, cognitive studies are designed to be nonpartisan (maybe not always successfully so, but at least they try). A related corollary of the Dunning-Kruger findings that I believe President Obama is representative of can be found in the following observation:

The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

I once commented that if the young “Barry” Obama, growing up in Hawaii, had gone to a public school instead of the sheltered confines of a private school, he would have graduated a lot tougher, street smart kid. As such, he would have learned to better divine the malicious intent of others. I lived on Maui during the seventies when “Kill Haole Day” was an annual event celebrated in the public schools; when it was open-season on “heepies” like me. Hippies were perceived as weak, shiftless, nudist drug addicts who had taken over some favorite local beaches, and were thus fair game.(Imo, we were proxies for many otherwise justifiable local discontents, like the invasion of hotel industry that paid shit wages and, of course, high-end housing developers.)  I learned pretty quickly to recognize “the evil eye” and other signs of imminent danger, a cognitive skill that me daddy ironically called “native intelligence.” I can  think of a few times when a single “miscalibration” would have resulted in serious harm to my person.

During his early years in the White House, Obama was seemingly the last person to grok the fact that the Right Wing hated his guts and would do everything in their power to destroy him and his presidency, notwithstanding the obvious signs that were out there. Beginning with his inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell set out to derail Obama’s legislative agenda. This despite the  fact that the country was reeling from the economic catastrophe of the Great Recession,  a moldering shit sandwich that Bush left Obama in an Oval Office desk drawer. It took an extraordinary level of denial for Obama to have thought that the Rethugs would willingly compromise on policy differences and work for the better interests of the country; that his charm and intellectual acuity would win the day; that he could get the leopards to change their spots. It was only after the 2014 elections that he began disabusing himself of this near fatal cognitive “miscalibration.”

Really, all he had to do was pick up the phone and call “the first black president,” Bill Clinton, for an inkling of what was to come. (If the Clintons had procured  even a small royalty from the sales of books, videos, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc., from the cottage industry that institutionalized “the politics of personal destruction,” Hillary could never have claimed that they left the White House “dead broke.” As if….)

Recently, it was reported that―horror of horrors!Obama doesn’t watch enough cable news, and therefore doesn’t understand the nation’s concerns about  terrorism. Instead of spending critical time listening  to self-promoting, bloviating talk show hosts dedicated to the failure of his presidency (consequences to the country be damned), Obama prefers to listen to the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies for information about threats to the Commonwealth. These include dangers from ISIS/Daesh/ISIL, Russian military machinations, China’s growing power and influence, the national security implications of global climate changemass killings, the growing anti-government militia movement, etc., etc.

Some, like me, would consider eschewing the manufactured reality of the cable news media-industrial-complex a feature and not a bug, but what do we know.

Another corollary:

…highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence, they may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.

One of the most frequent criticisms of Obama is that he is arrogant, aloof, detached, and, clench your cheeks,  professorial. He analyzes a problem, comes to a logical conclusion, and expects every one else to do likewise, once they’ve been presented the facts. But for those with a different point of view and a different agenda, No Drama Obama is out of touch, especially with the nation’s  feelings about terrorism. And according to two time presidential candidate and loser, Mitt Romney, out of touch with reality itself.

Gun Control: Obama’s Dunning-Kruger Breakaway Moment

Terrorism aside, the issue that has finally forced Obama to transcend his “miscalibrations” about the competency of others to realize their own stupidity is, tada―gun control.  His new, tougher attitude towards the gun lobby was on full display Thursday night at a “Guns in America” town hall meeting at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, hosted by CNN. Author of Idiot America Charlie Pierce has the coverage:

“Yeah, I meant what I said,” Obama said when asked about the op-ed by moderator Anderson Cooper. “And the reason I said that is this: The majority of people in this country are a lot more sensible than what you see in Washington.” Obama singled out the National Rifle Association as one of the “loudest, shrillest voices” against gun control and told the audience “[that] the way we break the deadlock on this issue is when the NRA doesn’t have a stranglehold on Congress in this debate.” To that end, the president said, “I want to throw my shoulders behind those who want to solve problems, and not those who want to get high scores from an interest group.”

It should be noted that the NRA chickened out when CNN invited them to attend the discussion. And that a new CNN poll shows that 67% of Americans support the gun control measures Obama announced this week. Pierce broadens his field of fire by taking the media to task for their enabling role in keeping the crazy going crazy:

Moreover, he was taking no guff from Cooper on the subject of why people believe nonsense about what his real plans are. Glory hallejujah, said I. Somebody finally is taking the Third Great Premise of Idiot America—Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.—seriously enough to refute it.

This is just beautiful. The president is telling members of his own party to man up and support mild gun safety measures of which nearly the entire country approves, and he’s telling the media to stop enabling crazy people simply because their madness is so sincere.

Certainty is the mother of sincerity. As Mark Twain observed:” It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And a corollary from A Compendium of Wise Sayings From George Costanza, also applies: “It isn’t a lie, if you believe it.” Cue music from Fleetwood Mac: “Tell  me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”

In close, we must ask: When will individual members of the NRA realize they are being used as dupes by the gun industry to jack sales? They should be less concerned about Obama taking their guns away and more concerned about the NRA and Fux News taking away what’s left of their common sense.

Case in point:

    According to a Fux News host,  Obama used a raw onion to fake tears while talking about school kids dying

Next, in Part IV of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, we look at the new film The Big Short, for an example of how incompetency at the highest levels of government and industry is not only excused, but rewarded.

The Dunning Kruger Effect: Part II

 Posted by at 8:39 PM on January 6, 2016
Jan 062016

Dunning Kruger Road Kill CafeServing up GOP Goodies at the Legendary Roadkill Cafe

In Part 1 of the Dunning-Kruger effect, we introduced some of the findings of cognitive scientists David Dunning and Josh Kruger that explains why some people are incapable of recognizing their own incompetency and stupidity. Additional examples litter in the US political landscape like so much cognitive roadkill. For instance, over at the Big Orange, RET III writes about a particularly pernicious species of GOPer denial:

We are witnessing a sort of collective Republican denial where they cannot accept that they are not the ruling party, not the “deciders” (to use a former president’s phrase)…What is important here is not that Republicans object to the limits of their power, but that Republicans apparently cannot accept that such limits even exist.  Greg Sargent [of the Washington Post] recently caught this in a very revealing FOX News poll:

[Republicans] failed to block Obama’s transformation of the country; that must be because they didn’t even try, so they must be complicit. But this failure, too, is structural. Republicans don’t have the votes to surmount Dem filibusters or Obama vetoes. The idea that this can be overcome through sheer force of will (the argument conservatives are making in favor of another shutdown fight) is just another version of [the “Big Lie”].

Indeed, the Fox News poll unwittingly captures what is particularly problematic about this last one. It finds that 60 percent of Republicans feel betrayed by their party, and that 66 percent of Republicans don’t think their party did all it could to block Obama’s agenda. The poll asks why respondents think their party leaders failed at this: they didn’t really want to stop Obama; they weren’t smart enough; they would rather fight each other. The Fox poll doesn’t even offer respondents the option of choosing the real reason — that Republicans structurally lack the votes!

If anyone ever needed an example of how leading questions can be structured in propagandistic polls to produce a desired result, one need look no further than this example from Fux News. But that’s a topic for another day.

RET III also cites Jonathan Chait about the base’s disenchantment with the GOP:

This discontent runs much deeper and wider than Boehner. . . Boehner had the misfortune of leading, or attempting to lead, his party in an era when it had run up to the limits of crazy, where the only unexplored frontiers of extremism lay beyond the reach of its Constitutional powers.

Ah, “the limits of crazy.” To quote a man who should appeal to survivalists and militia members everywhere, author of Resistance to Tyranny, former Air Force Col. (Ret.) Joseph P. Martino, writes:

A wise man knows his limitations but never sets limits on himself. A fool does not recognize his limitations, thus limiting himself.

To paraphrase Dunning-Kruger: Fools lack the tools to recognize their foolishness.  The alternative to this lack of self-awareness is to blame someone else for their failures, like that secret Muslim-Kenyan commie illegally occupying the White House. Naturally, this illegal occupation trope is being sold to the gullible as a promise by certain GOP presidential candidates to repeal every piece of legislation, every executive order, signed into law by our illegitimate president. Because freedom!

George W. Bush: The Man Who Didn’t Know His Limitations

A man’s got to know his limitations“- Dirty Harry Callahan, Magnum Force

If historians need an example of the consequences of the failure of a 21st century power player to recognize his own limitations, George W. Bush is their man. Bush’s eminence grise, Dark Dick Darth Cheney, originally charged with finding a vice presidential candidate for future president Bush, recognized  Bush’s cognitive deficiencies early on. Opportunity knocked and Cheney answered, recommending himself for, and ultimately receiving, the job.

As a substitute father figure (Cheney was George H.W. Bush‘s trusted Secretary of Defense), he was in an ideal position to exploit “the Decider” for his own gain. No doubt Cheney used his one-on-one weekly Wednesday lunches with Bush to tell him what a freaking political genius and leader he was (the inestimable Charlie Pierce refers to Bush as”C+ Agustus); and to suggest various policy positions, like say, invading Iraq. The latter was an obvious manipulation of Junior’s daddy issues: What better way to supplant his father than by correcting his “mistake” in not deposing Saddam when he had the chance?

During the first Gulf War, Cheney had advised against overthrowing Saddam Hussein, knowing full well the disaster that would ensue. However, as Junior’s VP, he changed his mind. At the very first meeting of his national security team in early 2001, Bush blew off warnings from his terrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, about the threat posed by al-Qaeda. (Clarke was President Clinton’s terrorism chief and thus represented continuity on the subject between the two administrations.) Instead, Bush asked what it would take to overthrow Saddam. A few months later, he ridiculed  a CIA briefer for a memo he presented  titled: Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US , dismissing him by saying “You’ve covered your ass, now.” Five weeks later, nearly 3,000 Americans died in the infamous 9/11 attacks.

After the destruction of al-Qaeda’s main base of operations in Afghanistan in November of that year, Bush got his wish. Preparations were made to invade and occupy Iraq, despite there being no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. Concurring were Secretary of Defense, Donald “Henny Penny” Rumsfeld, who had complained  there aren’t any good targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq; his Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul “the war will pay for itself” Wolfowitz a leader of the neocons who had been trying to get rid of Saddam for years; another neocon, Under Secretary of Defense, Douglas “stovepipe this” Feith; and of course, Vice President Richard Cheney, former  CEO of  Halliburton/KBR, which just happened to gross over $39 billion from government contracts during the “nation building” phase of the worst foreign policy decision in American history.

Nation building has proven to be a profitable enterprise, a logical extension of , to gthe classic Vietnam war rationalization that America had to destroy the country in order to save it. Too bad that hundreds of thousands of people had to die; that hundreds of thousands more were physically and psychologically maimed; that millions had to flee their homes, becoming permanent refugees; that irreplaceable archaeological treasures were looted or destroyed; that the entire Middle East had to be thrown into turmoil (making Iran a hegemonic power in the process); and that the American taxpayer would incur trillions of dollars of recurring, interest compounding debt. To a psychopath like Cheney, that’s just the cost of doing business. Anyone questioning his war profiteering motive will likely get the same response that Senator Pat Leahy got on the Senate floor when he questioned him about his Halliburton ties, telling him to go “fuck yourself.

Camouflaging Incompetency

Naturally, such an unprecedented level of presidential incompetence had to be hidden, not only from The Decider himself, but from everyone living outside the White House bubble. Some of the world’s best PR people and spin doctors were put to work casting President Bush as the new. avenging sheriff in town, bringing justice to the world’s terrorist scum, a fusion of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and High Plains Drifter. (Bush Senior had seriously considered making Eastwood his vice president, so it’s safe to assume that Junior had some familiarity with Eastwood’s characters.)  Hell, if they could make a Vietnam War draft dodger a hero and Swift Boat his medal winning, presidential opponent, they could sell anything.

The fact that Bush ignored warnings of an imminent a-Qaeda attack? Put him on a pile of World Trade Center rubble,  one arm wielding a bullhorn, the other arm draped around an exhausted firefighter, promising revenge. Need to deflect attention from the fact that he had no exit plan after defeating Saddam’s pitifully over-matched military? Put him in a navy jet and land him on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier (anchored just off the coast of San Diego), dressed in a crotch grabbing flight suit that had Chris Matthews gushing over what his guest, G.Gordon Liddy observed made “the best of his manly characteristic.” For a backdrop, add a colorfully dressed deck crew. And behind and above them all, a large, professionally designed and printed banner proclaiming Mission Accomplished. (Bush’s handlers claimed the banner was a spontaneous creation of the grateful, carrier crew. Yeah, right.)

And then there was the all important on-going task of casting Bush as the successor to Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. If Reagan spent his leisure time on a ranch, riding horses and chopping firewood, then George would have to do something similar during his record breaking number of vacations at Crawford, Texas. Only his ranch was fake, with its pre-fab modular home and a total absence of–whadda ya call dem dar critters?– ah yes, horses! Dubya,  a self-confessed “windshield rancher,” eschewed horses, preferring to “ride” a comfy, late model air conditioned pickup truck instead.

In close, we revisit some of the classic cognitive stylings of the man with the room temperature IQ.

Next up in Part III: How President Obama demonstrates a corollary of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Part 1

 Posted by at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2016
Jan 032016

Ryan's Muslim beard
Paul Ryan: From Ayn Rand Devotee to Acolyte of the Prophet Muhammad?

Is Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan, a Secret Muslim? A longtime Ayn Rand devotee, Ryan, has  decided–hide the children!–to grow a beard. This has created a great disturbance in the force of the Wingnut Universe.  Beards, a staple facial accouterment among Muslims worldwide, are apparently a serious concern to the Guardians of Freedom and the ‘Mericun Way. (Preliminary channel checks show that  sales of guns, ammo, and fainting-couches are rising rapidly.) As Jeet Heer  writes in The New Republic: “This might be seen as a sign that the American right has finally crossed the border into looney-land.” Perhaps findings from the field of cognitive science, the Dunning-Kruger effect, can help explain why.

To put Dunning-Kruger into the context of current political events, consider this observation from The Hill:

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter says Ryan, just seven weeks on the job, is ripe for a primary challenge. “Paul Ryan Betrays America,” blared a headline on the conservative site Breibart.com. And Twitter is littered with references to the Wisconsin Republican’s new “Muslim beard.”

The final outrage that is causing Coulter and her ilk to brand a powerful Republican with considerable conservative street cred a traitor, was Ryan’s refusal to shut down the U.S. government over the 2016 budget. Bringing the government to a grinding halt is a tactic dear to Winger hearts, as reflected in their support for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who helped engineer the 2013 shutdown. Though the GOP establishment believes that the issue is a sure pathway to party suicide, you wouldn’t know it judging by recent poll results that show Cruz a strong second to Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary.

How Dunning-Kruger Explains the Connection Between the Budget and the Beard

Wikipedia defines the The Dunning–Kruger effect as:

…a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. The bias was first experimentally observed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately.

To put it in less politically correct terms, Teh Stupid lack the necessary cognitive skills to recognize their own stupidity. And to make matters worse, they will often double down on their ignorance by issuing authoritative opinions on non-existing “facts,” as late night television host Jimmy Kimmel demonstrates time and time again with his Lie Witness News segments.

                    Myths To Live By: The Musical Equivalent of Obama is a Secret Muslim

The inspiration for Dunning and Kruger’s research was an incident involving a bank robber (who unconsciously may have been trying to win that year’s Darwin Award).

The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras. The authors noted that earlier studies suggested that ignorance of standards of performance lies behind a great deal of incorrect self-assessment of competence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing games such as chess or tennis.

Not to mention choosing which political party to support. One need only review the relative performance of the economy under respective Democratic and Republican administrations to conclude that the latter is comparatively incompetent when it comes to issues like decreasing the budget deficit, lowering unemployment, raising wages, providing health care to millions of the uninsured, and keeping us out of stupid, trillion dollar wars, occupations, and self-defeating “nation building” enterprises.

You’d think that the denizens of the Wingnut Universe would have figured it out by now: the relationship between propagandistic  appeals to the darkest places of their ids, and whatever policy goal that The Powers That Be want enacted. That they insist on supporting policies and politicians that are inimical to their own economic interests and physical health and well-being is also addressed in Thomas Frank‘s classic book: What’s the Matter With Kansas. From the Amazon review of same:

A brilliant analysis-and funny to boot-What’s the Matter with Kansas? is a vivid portrait of an upside-down world where blue-collar patriots recite the Pledge while they strangle their life chances; where small farmers cast their votes for a Wall Street order that will eventually push them off their land; and where a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs has managed to convince the country that it speaks on behalf of the People.

Denial, aka, the failure to recognize one’s various self-deficiencies, is a key component of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The following Monty Python bit  illustrates the principle.

                                                                              Tis but a scratch! A flesh wound!

I would enjoy nothing more than to see Barack Obama grow a beard, just to see how unhinged Wingers can get. Notwithstanding a September poll that showed 43% of Republicans believe that President Obama is a Muslim, the ability of that particular Winger trope to enflame Teh Stupid against the president is losing steam. Despite unrelenting attacks from the Right Wing Noise Machine’s Mighty Wurlitzer,  and a sea change in the public’s concern about terrorism, Obama’s approval numbers are actually higher than they were a year agoBut the appeal to racial and religious prejudice is too strong a propaganda tool to abandon, so fresh meat is needed to keep fear alive.

And now, pinch hitting for President Obama, right fielder, The  Fountainhead Case Kid, Paul Ryan!

(Thus endeth Part I. In Part II, we explore further ramifications of the Dunning-Kruger effect on the 2016 presidential election.)