Posts Tagged ‘rudy-giuliani’

Goodbye, Rudy; We’ll Miss You

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

(OK, that’s one of my four lies for today.)

On lying and its uses: Rudy, McCain, Bush, and your average guy.

Giuliani leaves the stage in florida after losing primary to mccainAfter Giuliani’s thankfully dismal showing in Florida, the rush to spout fibs found Giuliani and McCain vying for who could tell the biggest whopper. First Giuliani suggested that he had failed in Florida because his opponents had built up too much momentum in earlier primaries, whereas, in fact, Giuliani spent a lot of money and time in New Hampshire before retreating from that state. McCain countered with the gracious and fallacious compliment that Giuliani had “invested his heart and soul” in the race, which of course was exactly what Giuliani hadn’t done, otherwise he would have performed much better. McCain followed this up swiftly with an upper-cut of an untruth declaring that Giuliani had “conducted himself with all the qualities of the exceptional American leader he truly is.” Giuliani tried to recover with a transparent falsehood of his own; that he had run “a campaign of ideas.” But McCain, again, clearly had him beat.

bush state of the union liesOn a less happy and more serious note, the editorial board of the NY Times brings our attention to the latest lies from George W. Bush. If you’re going to tell lies, I suppose that delivering them in a state of the union address endows them with a deep and lasting sense of moment and history. The Bush legacy will be in large part one of mass deception – about weapons of mass destruction, the illegal activities of the government and its agencies, and the intent and actions of Bush himself. As The Times points out, Bush’s reconciliatory rhetoric conflicts with his deeds, yet again, as he refuses to respect certain new legal provisions that would increase oversight of military contractors, their actions, and the acts of government agencies by asserting in his signing statement that these provisions step on his constitutional powers.

Bush is an inveterate and habitual liar. One can presume, by studying his behavior and his words, that he feels no remorse about his lies and that he believes the ends justify the means.

lie detector test polygraphWhich brings me to a recent study that finds that people admit to telling about four untruths per day and that two-thirds of those polled don’t feel guilty about lying. Now, statistics can be misleading, but in this case, as one commentor wryly observed, asking people to admit to how many lies they tell will probably result in under-reporting rather than over-reporting. (Another study lends support to this theory by finding that people underreport the number of their sexual partners unless they’re told that they’re hooked up to a lie-detector.)

The actual numbers concern me less than the philosophy of lying.

We lie, it seems, to avoid unwanted repercussions, to sway the course of events by untruth. This applies to the fib “no, you don’t sound bitter” as well as to the deception of a nation so that you can fill your cronies’ coffers. 

Essayist Harold Nicolson defined a person who tells the truth as ’someone who, when they tell a lie, is careful not to forget they have done so, and who takes infinite precautions to prevent being found out.’ This is humorous, of course, but hints at the “humanness” of lying. Surely very few people habitually tell the truth, and those that do would be considered odd and unnecessarily blunt. One generally likes to be lied to if one looks lousy or has made a fool of onesself, for instance.

Is this a distinction that helps us? Lies are OK if the person wants to be lied to.

And what about lies that avoid unreasonable conflict? If we know that someone will react unreasonably to the truth, does that justify a lie?

It seems that we get much more worked up about the lies people tell to get away with something, to avoid being held accountable for their actions, unless the accountability is unreasonable or irrational. (We like the idea of Robin Hood. And we support the concept of the resistance fighter who lies to the oppressing power.)

The intent of the lie and the legitimacy of the repercussions of the truth then seems to be far more important, rationally speaking, than the act of lying itself.

Which brings us to the concept of honesty. When we speak of honesty as a virtue, we are really speaking of the bravery that comes with telling a difficult truth, of risking the consequences. What seems to be lacking in politics today is the bravery to tell difficult truths. One by one the candidates shift positions in order to sound more appealing to the voters, or to cast shadow on an opponent. McCain has done it, Romney has done it, Clinton has done it, Obama has been accused of doing it (did he snub Hillary Clinton deliberately or unintentionally before the state of the union address?)

And I wonder if we were to be served up an honest politician, would we elect them, truth and all, or would we prefer to be lied to?

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On Rhetoric And Reality

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Clinton Office Hostage ReleasedThe unfolding hostage (just freed) and bomb threat at Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign office provides a sobering example of the difference between rhetoric and reality. As an armed man stands off with a bomb strapped to his chest the sparring between campaign candidates doesn’t seem the slightest bit important. Reality trumps rhetoric every time.

Critics of former mayor Rudy Giuliani have stepped up their attacks on his rhetorical device of bandying about mistated, inflated or exaggerated statistics to present his mayoral accomplishments in a brighter light. Here, it seems, rhetoric and reality combine to demonstrate that Giuliani, if elected, would prove to be a deceitful and egotistical leader. Something that by now we’ve surely had enough of.

Outcry in Sudan Gillian Gibbons sentence Teddy Bear MuhammadThen there’s the “outcry” in the Sudan over the thankfully relatively lenient sentence (15 days in jail versus six months and 40 lashes) meted out to Gillian Gibbons for allowing the children in her elementary class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Sudanese demonstrators have called for Gibbons to be executed. But witnesses indicate that the protesters were supplemented  (or perhaps seeded) by government workers. And the outcry seems to provide convenient rhetoric for the Sudanese government as it tries to block Scandinavian peacekeepers from being sent to Darfur — this in response to last year’s publication in Scandinavia of cartoons that depicted Muhammad and offended muslims.

And for all of the endless rhetoric about Iraq, when one reads some of the details of the violence there (as I’ve been doing in the New Yorker (Inside The Surge)) one realizes just how bloody and brutal and real the war is, and how divorced from those facts is the rhetoric.

The aim of rhetoric, when it has an aim, is to sway the listener or audience. The speaker uses rhetorical devices (such as emphasis, repetition, sarcasm, humor, logic or sophistry, the inducement of fear, omission, bullying, and charisma) to highlight his or her points, and to persuade the listener that his or her perspective has greater merit than any other. Unfortunately, the better the speaker the harder it becomes to differentiate a valid, worthy perspective from an invalid or fatuous perspective. And, given the established methods we employ to select the leaders of our regions, cities, states, and countries, rhetoric must remain for now an indispensible part of the process.

Plato and Socrates in a medieval picture.Rhetoric is employed so pervasively around the world that it’s almost impossible to imagine processes of government and leadership without it. But perhaps that’s because we’re not trained to recognize and counter rhetoric. Plato’s Socratic dialogs or their teachings should be required readings in schools. If we could learn to decode rhetoric and diminish its influence the world would be a better place.

Reality on the other hand often gets too little attention. It takes a lot of reality to impinge upon our consciousness. And all too often it’s the sensational stuff that we focus on. In the past few days I’ve been struck by the number of high profile news stories that have focused on tragic disappearances and deaths for no other reason than there was something odd or grizzly or heartbreaking about them (the hoaxed teenager who killed herself, the missing teenager who’d been involved in porn, the couple who allegedly killed their two year old child, the ex-cop who may have killed his wives). I’m not saying that these tragedies aren’t worth our attention, but should they occupy, relatively speaking, so much of our news-space? News serves two purposes — it delivers information of note and it keeps society apprised of things that we should care about and perhaps act upon. Of course, news media don’t make the news, it’s the consumers (us) who dictate our appetite for sensation to the savvy editors and pundits. What would it take to bring about a more enlightened media? A more enlightened public…

One can only hope that the armed hostage taker in New Hampshire is defused. I’d rather have more rhetoric than that kind of reality.

My Buddy And My Friend

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Pervez Musharraf George W BushLast week I wrote about the long term risk posed by the Bush administration’s tame response to President Musharraf’s abrupt dismantling of Pakistan’s democratic apparatus. I framed the administration’s reluctance to come down hard on Musharraf in terms of political expediency. But as I read the NY Times recent interview with Musharraf, it occurred to me that Musharraf and Bush perhaps have a lot in common, and that maybe subconsciously (or consciously) Bush doesn’t want to take strong steps against Musharraf because he identifies with him. Not that we should take everything Bush says literally, but he has been quoted as referring to Musharraf as “my buddy and my friend.”

“The emergency is to ensure elections go in an undisturbed manner,” Musharraf says, which reminds me of Bush’s defense of domestic surveillance as necessary to maintain security.

“I know what [the Pakistan people] feel about the emergency when all these suicide bombings were taking place,” Musharraf commented on the increase in suicide bombings, “Their view is, Why have I done it so late.” Which recalls Bush’s insistence that the American people elected him and support his policy of invading Iraq.

The Times also reports that Musharraf defended his dismantling of the Supreme Court because the court had questioned the validity of his re-election. Similarly Bush has attempted, and in some cases
succeeded, in redefining standards for torture, or ignoring international conventions or protocols, because he doesn’t like the restrictions they place on him.

When we identify with someone, psychologically speaking, we connect characteristics they posses with similar characteristics that we attribute favorably to ourselves. Identification has served us well as a species. Identification induces empathy which helps us reach outside ourselves to help others. But identification also presents a particular danger that we need to guard against: With an excess of ego, we can wrongly perceive a characteristic that we possess as good, and, by extension identify and sympathize with that characteristic in others.

Bush seems to believe that his arrogance is justified. He knows better than the courts, he thinks, about what he should do and what is acceptable. He convinces himself that he is right to work outside or to twist the rule of law. If Bush were to condemn Musharraf for similar actions he would create dissonance in his view of himself.

Bush likes to perceive himself as popular and in tune with the people. Musharraf, the same. Outwardly, the trait they believe they possess is a feeling for the people; they like to view themselves as regular guys, men of the people. The true identification seems to be murkier. Perhaps they each recognize a similar weakness in the other, a desire to be liked and understood. It seems that they each feel defensive and inferior, feelings that bring with them a certain bravado (which brings us back to their arrogance).

Referring to the jailed the head of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, Asma Jahangir, Musharraf calls her “quite an unbalanced character.” Rudy Giuliani Ferret

Interestingly, this comment reminds me of Rudy Giuliani and his now famous rant against the “crazy” owners of ferrets (going back to when he was Mayor of NY City).

Rudy Giuliani has said that he would not urge the Bush administration to cut off financial aid to the Musharraf government. “I would not second-guess any president on that because I think they’re in the middle of a very difficult situation right now,” Giuliani said to The Associated Press.

Perhaps Giuliani’s identifies with Musharraf, too. Something we should keep in mind as we move toward next year’s elections.

The Philosophy of Compromise

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

President Pervez MusharrafIn an odd but apparently cleverly orchestrated sequence of events, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has tightened his grip on his rule by dispensing with the Supreme Court and scrapping the constitution. This only a few weeks after the return to Pakistan of the self-exiled former leader Banazir Bhutto (whose jubilant welcome-home parade was marred by a deadly bomb attack). And only months after Musharraf promised to relinquish his military post if elected president.

Apart from the obvious questions about how these distressing events will affect the future of Pakistan and the region, they pose another question that calls upon the current US administration to decide whether it will denounce Musharraf’s dismantling of democracy, or whether it will decide that it needs a friend in Pakistan more than it needs to stand by the principles of global freedom.Pat Robertson Endorses Rudolph Giuliani

Surprising some, Pat Robertson, the television evangelist and Christian Coalition founder, has endorsed Republican White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani for president. Roberston feels that Giuliani’s qualities as a leader outweigh his shortcomings as someone who supports abortion and gay rights.

And house Republicans have joined Democrats to overturn the President’s veto of the water resources development act, just one a several funding bills that seem set to pit Republicans against their leader.

To quote American Theologian Tryon Edwards “Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another - too often ending in the loss of both.” But is this the case? What is the philosophy of compromise?

If Bush continues to court Musharraf’s favor by going easy on him in the face of his anti-democratic measures he will discredit the very ideal he says he seeks to promote — global democracy. Now, there are some who think (I’m one of them) that Bush may even believe that he supports global democracy, when what he really wants is to feel safer and to make his friends and allies wealthier. In which case, compromise would seem to be the most attractive strategy; a slap on the wrist for Musharraf so that America can continue to rely on his support.

Reading Pat Robertson’s comments, his goal in compromise seems to be that he hopes to have a strong leader in the White House, one sympathetic to a broad swath of Christian concerns, even if not all of them.

And house Republicans seek to approve funding they feel their constituents support, even if it weakens the overall coherence of their party and its goals. The long term result of which may be that they hurt Republican chances in the next election and thereby risk not getting what their constituents want in the long term.

From a purely conceptual perspective, Tryon Edwards definition of compromise seems quite good: “the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another.” But what Edwards’ sobering analysis doesn’t account for is whether, if one were not to compromise, one would forgo a greater right or good. What’s the alternative? in other words.

Therefore, in considering any specific instance of a compromise, we need to evaluate three things:

1. What do we give up by the compromise?
2. What do we gain by the compromise?
3. What options do we have if we don’t compromise?

Bush’s task at hand will be made more difficult if he denounces Musharraf’s actions and isolates Pakistan. But it won’t be made impossible. From a practical perspective, even without Pakistan’s support Bush can continue to fight the war on terror, albeit less adeptly (if that’s the right word). As a matter of principle, not denouncing Musharraf’s actions would undermine Bush’s declared objectives and make a further global mockery of his rhetoric of freedom.

It’s hard to know what Robertson expects to gain from his endorsment of Giuliani, and it’s hard to imagine that he will lose a great deal by endorsing him, but he did have alternatives (McCain, for instance) who would have provided a safer bet. Perhaps then his endorsement of Giuliani reflects a more principled choice than it might first appear. Perhaps he really does believe that Giuliani will make a strong leader and that this is more important than having a president who doesn’t support abortion and gay rights.Aquatice Ecosystem Restoration

And for the house Republicans, voting with the president would have meant voting, symbolically at least, in favor of fiscal responsibility. This would have been a greater good, perhaps, than achieving some short-lived favor with their constituents. But perhaps the chance to distance themselves from Bush was just too appealing to pass up.

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Rudy GiulianiWell, after reading Paul Krugman’s encouragingly negative piece on Giuliani’s statements about cancer survival rates, I trotted off to research my own damning indictment of Giuliani’s propaganda against Democratic calls for healthcare reform. I should have known better. What I found wasn’t so encouraging.

Of all people, I should have known better. I’m English; my father died of cancer, in England. I know first hand that the American health care system, in some ways — like shorter waiting periods and accessibility of newer treatments — tends to be better than the English healthcare system. (I also know first hand that in other ways — like community outreach — the English system seems better than the American system.) Giuliani’s propaganda should be condemned, perhaps, but not because he lied; as far as I can tell he didn’t lie he simply chose to use the most conveniently damning statistics.

It’s unfortunate that people abuse statistics as they do. The world would be a much better place if one needed a license to wield statistics. We need a license to drive a bus or to inspect an elevator, why not a license to fire off numbers?Benjamin Disraeli

Benjamin Disraeli wasn’t the first to coin the phrase about there being three kinds of lies, but he popularized it across the Atlantic, as Mark Twain did here.

Statistics should be carefully handled, thoroughly understood. Very few statistics tell their stories in straightforward, unequivocal terms. How were they gathered? what’s been included, what’s been excluded? what was the sample size? were other influencing factors eliminated, if so, how? And even if we understand the statistics, how can we use them in such a way that we disclose everything we know about the statistics so as not to mislead people?

Here’s an example: If someone were to release statistics about the time I get on the subway to head into the city on weekday mornings, they could cite my average alighting time as 8:06am. But the standard deviation around this mean departure time is over 49 minutes!  Pretty eractic, what a flake.

Now, only those who had access to and took the time to study the underlying data would see that on three days each week I leave at 7:30am (so that I can go to the pool for an early dip). And on the other two days I get on the train at 9am after dropping my son at pre-school.  I keep a pretty regular schedule around those times, with a standard deviation on any particular day of the week of no more than a few minutes.

We like statistics because they feel definite and concrete. They feel as if they will support the weight of some action that we can take to alter them in some way. If my departure time appears erractic, I must strive to be more regular in my schedule! But unless the statistics really do tell the story we think they tell, then they will only support incorrect conclusions and unhelpful actions.

Giuliani clearly liked the statistics that seemed to show that the English healthcare system was vastly inferior to the American healthcare system. He didn’t go looking broadly for statistics that would bear out this conclusion in all facets of the healthcare system. He didn’t drill down to show how the Democratic health reform bill would specifically lead to problems of reduced quality care in the American system. He simply plucked appropriately scary numbers off the statistic vine and tossed them out to support his aversion to increased government healthcare spending. Giuliani selected statistics that on their face lead us to want to reject the Democratic healthcare plan, whereas they don’t necessarily support this rejection at all. We would need to understand a great deal more about the proposed plan and about the potential impact on the quality of healthcare before arriving at such a conclusion.

It could be that the healthcare plan will improve the overall quality of care in America. I would imagine that this is what its proponents intend. But instead of finding out the facts we’re stuck talking about whether Giuliani lied or not. So often, politics gets stuck in meta-discussion, and we all lose out.

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