Friday, November 21, 2014

Before Charles Lane Accuses Others of Hypocrisy, Perhaps He Should Look Up the Definition

I've commented in the past about accusations of hypocrisy, and how they are often misplaced. It's not hypocritical for Warren Buffett to pay only the taxes required by current law, while simultaneously arguing that taxes on the wealthy should be raised. Even assuming that the material facts are identical, it's not necessarily hypocritical for somebody to take a different position than the one they took years or decades earlier, as sometimes people change their minds. It's not hypocritical to stop protesting an action or issue that once drew you out to the streets, every time that issue comes up -- you can continue to feel strongly about the issue while succumbing to issue fatigue, recognizing that your protests are not having any effect, or moving onto other issues or priorities that get in the way of organizing protests and rallies.

Still, accusations of hypocrisy abound. Certainly there are times that they are warranted, but often they're the hallmark of a lazy columnist. Falling into that latter category, Charles Lane is waving his finger at "liberals".
Building the Keystone XL pipeline, to speed the flow of crude from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, would be “game over for the climate,” says NASA-scientist-turned-climate-activist James E. Hansen. Heeding Hansen’s words, environmentalists have sworn to stop the project, which requires U.S. government approval.
Perhaps we should note, up front, that not all environmentalists are liberals, and not all liberals are environmentalists.
Yet large, bipartisan majorities of the House and Senate support Keystone XL, as does 60 percent of the American public, according to the latest USA Today poll.
And... that has absolutely nothing to do with whether the project is environmentally wise.
Today, it is still on hold, because Tuesday night 41 Senate Democrats voted against ending debate on a bill to green-light Keystone XL, thus thwarting what might have been a disastrous exercise of democracy.
Perhaps it escaped Lane's notice, but that is not the first-ever use of a filibuster in the Senate. As Lane himself noted in a prior screed,
Republican opposition to Obamacare may be hypocritical, irrational and opportunistic — especially GOP opposition to the exchanges, which the party previously favored in various forms. And, yes, the modern filibuster takes counter-majoritarianism to an extreme even the Framers probably didn’t contemplate.

But the Constitution lets the Senate write its own rules.
The fact that Senators who are part of an institution that has created and upheld the filibuster actually employ a filibuster is in no way hypocritical. Even if we assume (in defiance of the facts) that each and every one of those Senators would vote for straight majority rule in the Senate, it would not be hypocritical of them to employ the actual rules of the Senate when voting on legislation.
In short, the filibuster may have just saved the planet, at least for now.

Or so it must be believed by Keystone XL’s opponents — even though they include some of the same people who decried the filibuster, not unreasonably, as an obstructionist, anti-majoritarian evil when Republicans employed it against President Obama’s health-care reform, cap-and-trade and other progressive legislation.
Here, through his link, Lane suggests that Markos Moulitsas is a hypocrite for opposing the filibuster and... he doesn't offer a link, but perhaps Moulitsas praised the Senate vote somewhere? As with Warren Buffett and his taxes, even if Moulitsas is overjoyed that the pipeline bill was filibustered, it's not hypocritical for him to advocate changing the Senate's rules while nonetheless encouraging Senators to use those rules to advance policy positions he favors. The concept isn't even slightly difficult to grasp -- it is possible to believe that something is bad on the whole such that it should be eliminated, even when recognizing that it has potential value under certain circumstances.

When I saw the film, Shattered Glass, I had some sympathy for the Charles Lane played by Peter Sarsgaard, a well-meaning guy who got duped by one of his employees. But the Charles Lane who writes for the Washington Post seems to have a different problem -- he seems to be lazy and indifferent to the facts, the sort of approach to journalism that can allow somebody like Stephen Glass to get away with feeding him the most absurd fabrications as long as they don't conflict with his preconceptions. When you click through the link to the actual statement by Markos Moulitsas, Lane's exemplar of a hypocrite, you hear this:
There's a huge movement, and I think it's going to happen, to change the filibuster rules from requiring sixty votes to requiring forty "no" votes. Right now if you want to filibuster you don't even have to show up, you know, the onus is on the "pro" side to round up the sixty votes. So when you turn it to forty votes you gotta have those forty people there, and if one of them has to go to the bathroom, boom, you call cloture, and that's that.
Moulitsas was not calling for the elimination of the filibuster -- he was calling for the perpetuation of the filibuster, but with a change in how you vote for cloture. Given that Lane knows that forty-one Democrats voted to filibuster, and he should know that Moulitsas favors a filibuster rule that would sustain a filibuster based on those forty-one votes, his insinuation of hypocrisy has no basis in reality. It's instead an example of Lane getting his facts wrong. And with that example having been dredged up from September 10, 2010, either Lane couldn't find an actual example of a statement from a liberal that would support his thesis, or he got lazy.
Majority rule is not the only progressive principle some progressives seem ready to sacrifice on the anti-Keystone altar.
First, are we talking about "liberals", are we talking about "progressives", or does Lane view the term as interchangeable? Either way, I am not aware of any consensus among either group that we should eliminate representative democracy in favor of direct democracy.

If we're simply talking about Senate rules, to put it mildly, there is no consensus among liberals or progressives that the filibuster should be abandoned. Some believe that it should be eliminated, but others (as with Lane's exemplar progressive, Markos Moulitsas) favor continuing the filibuster but changing the rules to make it less of a tool for obstruction, and still others would leave well enough alone. Meanwhile, it was not so many years ago that Republicans on the floor of the Senate made frequent calls for a "straight up or down vote" when confronted with the filibuster. Some of that opposition may have been opportunistic, but the fact is that the recognition that the filibuster is anti-democratic and could benefit from reform is not something that is unique to the political left.
Remember the corrupting influence of money on politics? Billionaire Tom Steyer has spent millions on TV ads backing environmentalist Democrats and trashing the pipeline itself, thus purchasing outsize influence in the White House and the Democratic Party.
Although this should go without saying, campaign finance reform has traditionally been a bipartisan issue, once championed by none other than John McCain. As should also go without saying, proponents of campaign finance reform have not proposed that no money be spent on political advertising. But beyond that, we're back to Warren Buffett and his taxes. You can believe that wealthy individuals and corporations gain an outsized voice in politics and government through their direct and indirect contributions, while nonetheless believing that you should take full advantage of the existing laws to advance your causes. There is no hypocrisy in advocating for a change in the law while operating under the existing laws, and it would be extraordinarily foolish to refuse adequate funding for your political goals out of principle when the likely consequence would be that your opponent would win. Heck, Steyer even spoon-fed that reality to those who are a bit slow on the uptake, and Lane quotes the explanation:
“On issues as critical as climate change, we will take action and work within the system that we’ve got until we can change it,” Steyer pragmatically told Forbes magazine.
How can Lane read that statement yet fail to understand that it's not an example of hypocrisy?

Next up, infrastructure,
Most of the time, liberals tout the job-creating potential of critical infrastructure projects, based on the indirect “multiplier effect” that even short-term construction can have on economic growth.
Perhaps lane doesn't realize that with his opening qualifier, he hobbled his argument before it left the starting gate. There is a vast difference between supporting infrastructure projects most of the time, and supporting them all of the time. We should note, also, that many conservative voters recognize the need for and benefit of infrastructure projects -- but that doesn't mean that either side has to embrace every infrastructure project, that they cannot prioritize certain types of project over others, or that they cannot object to an infrastructure project that they deem wasteful or harmful.
For Keystone XL, though, different rules apply.
Apparently, to lane, "different rules" means roughly the same thing as "the same rules".
We are instructed, by Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress, among others, that the $8 billion project will create “only” 3,900 “direct” one-year construction jobs and a mere 50 permanent ones. Forget the 42,000 jobs that a State Department analysis said would be “supported” by the project.
Here, rather than pointing to the actual State Department report, Lane links to a post from the Washington Post's Wonkblog. That blog post indicates that "About 3,900 of [the] jobs would be temporary construction jobs", and that once built, "the pipeline would support 50 jobs". In other words, Lane is complaining not that the one person he mentions got the facts wrong, but that he should have provided additional facts.

When you go to the written statement of Daniel Weiss, you find that his reference to the number of jobs that would be created by the Keystone XL pipeline was specifically addressing the number of permanent jobs that would be created. While Lane can certainly argue that a greater discussion of temporary jobs would make the statement more complete, surely he can understand that temporary jobs are not of great significance to an assertion about permanent jobs. After all, if he cannot make that distinction, he is guilty of the same offense he attributes to Weiss -- Lane does not mention that either that the 42,000 indirect jobs would be temporary, continuing only during the construction of the pipeline.

Lane is also engaged in a sleight of hand. The people -- liberal and conservative -- who favor infrastructure projects have done so in no small basis upon the position that although a typical infrastructure project is relatively short-term, we need to invest in our nation's decaying infrastructure and that the short-term boost in employment can help stimulate the economy. As previously stated, this was never an endorsement of any infrastructure project. In fact, the proposed focus has typically been on public infrastructure.

But as Lane knows, those commenting on the very small number of permanent jobs that will result from pipeline construction are addressing a different issue. They were attempting to rebut exaggerated claims by pipeline proponents about the number of jobs the pipeline would generate, and to point out the indisputable fact that the pipeline will create an inconsequential number of long-term jobs. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the people making these observations about Keystone XL would not say exactly the same thing about other major infrastructure projects.
Construction unions understand that employment in their field is inherently temporary in the sense that it ends when the building is built. They strongly favor Keystone XL. Yet this reliably Democratic middle-class constituency is also being thrown under the anti-Keystone bus.
Wow... crocodile tears for union worker.

It's even slightly surprising that unions whose members would benefit from construction jobs favor construction projects. I would not be surprised if there was significant union support to build "the bridge to nowhere". The question of whether a particular faction supports a project does not answer the question of whether the project is wise or appropriate. Further, given that only a few short paragraphs ago Lane was grousing that progressives have forgotten their principle of "majority rule", Lane wants to have it both ways. If it's hypocritical and an affront to progressive principles to not abide by the judgment of the minority, how can it be simultaneously an affront to progressive principles to not allow a vocal minority to impose its will on the majority? Does Lane not find it obvious that it's one or the other?
The least attractive violation of progressive values by Keystone XL opponents’ was their attempt to recast this joint project of Canada and the United States in xenophobic terms.
Oh, this should be good....
One Steyer-financed ad warned that China is “counting on the U.S. to approve TransCanada’s pipeline to ship oil through America’s heartland and out to foreign countries like theirs.”
So... based on one ad that virtually nobody in the nation has seen, Lane has concluded that progressives have embraced xenophobia.... (Has Lane ever noticed the Republican Party's treatment of issues like immigration?)
The only basis for this claim was that state-owned Chinese companies have a modest investment in Canada’s oil sands. The Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, awarded the ad four Pinocchios, noting that “it relies on speculation, not facts, to make insinuations and assertions not justified by the reality.”
That's it, then? One ad, financed by one individual, seen by virtually no one? It's difficult to imagine how Lane could build a stronger case.
Speaking of the planet, perhaps the only person on it who still hasn’t made up his mind about Keystone XL is President Obama, though his dithering has recently given way to expressions depressingly reminiscent of those in the Steyer ad.
In reality, President Obama has expressed that he is waiting for private lawsuits over the pipeline's proposed path to be resolved, and for the State Department to complete its analysis of how the pipeline will affect the environment, before taking a position on the pipeline. It's easy to understand why some might want the President to take a firm position, pro- or con-, before all of the facts are in. It's also easy to see why the President would instead choose to remain neutral pending either the outcome of litigation and studies that might prevent the pipeline's construction, or the presentment by Congress of legislation for his signature. Lane chooses the pejorative, "dither", but there is no reason to believe that the President is being even slightly indecisive on the question, as opposed to playing a careful political game on a hot button issue.

And yes, obviously, his suggestion that the President is xenophobic is absurd.
“Understand what this project is,” he said at a news conference in Burma last week. “It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf [Coast], where it will be sold everywhere else.” Their oil. Our land.
Does Lane disagree that the oil belongs to Canada? Does he disagree that a pipeline that will run across the United States is accurately described by the President as crossing "our land"? If Lane actually believes that the President's statement reflects xenophobia or anti-Canadian agitation, he should seek psychiatric help.
Yet his own State Department’s exhaustive review of the project found that re-exports of the oil, either as crude or in refined form, were unlikely.
This time around, Lane links to the actual State Department report. However, he is not being honest about the report's conclusion:
It is likely that increasing amounts of WCSB crudes will reach Gulf Coast refiners whether or not the proposed Project goes forward (products from this processing will be used in both domestic markets and for export). As a result, future refined product export trends are also unlikely to be significantly impacted by the proposed Project.
The report does not suggest that export won't occur. It suggests instead that enough Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) crude will reach the Gulf, with or without the pipeline, that net exports are unlikely to be affected.

Lane's second link is to a Reuter's analysis of the President's statement, which it declares to "ring[] only half true".
"Some of it will stay in Gulf, some of it will leave," said Sarah Emerson, president of Energy Security Analysis, Inc. in Boston. "I don't think anyone would have built if they thought the oil was just going to stay in the Gulf Coast, that is like bringing coal to Newcastle."
It would be fair to accuse the President of overstatement. However, once again Lane is guilty of the very offense he attributes to others -- he is misrepresenting the State Department's report and is implying, in defiance of the facts and his own sources, that export is unlikely to occur.
Hypocrisy and rhetorical flimflam are standard in politics, and liberals are not the only guilty parties in the Keystone XL battle.
At this point, Lane has identified zero examples of hypocrisy. Not a one. It's not even clear that he understands the meaning of the word. As for "rhetorical flimflam", it's a colorful way of describing something that is inherent to politics. To observe, even with colorful language, that politicians are guilty of practicing politics seems somehow banal.
Keystone XL proponents have undoubtedly tapped corporate coffers to fund their share of exaggerations about the project’s benefits.
Lane speaks of this as if it's an assumption, not a fact. It's a fact.
And of course climate change is real and must be addressed.
Which doesn't mean that Lane isn't going to insist that the President state a firm opinion, or insult him for declining to do so, while we await the environmental impact report.
But in this case progressives are not only being intellectually dishonest and traducing their values, they’re doing so pointlessly: This end doesn’t justify these means.
Really, other than waving his hands a lot, all Lane has documented is that one wealthy person produced one TV ad, approved by nobody but himself and seen by virtually no one, that has an element of xenophobia; and that the President has implied that more of the WCSB crude will be exported than is likely to be the case. And in producing that tepid indictment of "liberals", he has misstated the facts, misrepresented the positions of people he has held up as hypocrites, and misunderstood the basic issues under debate.
Far from being “game over” for the planet, Keystone XL would not boost greenhouse gas emissions significantly, according to State Department experts. With or without Keystone XL, Canada’s oil sands will still be turned into crude oil and shipped, often by rail, to markets in the United States and elsewhere. The environmental movement’s energies — not to mention Steyer’s millions — would be far better spent elsewhere.
Lane's implication is that the crude is going to be extracted, shipped and used, so environmentalists may as well shut down and go home. Sometimes, even a fight for a losing cause can bring about results that benefit the losing side -- a better educated, more aware public, the exercise of greater caution when proposing and planning future projects with significant potential environmental impact, and the like. Also, while Lane writes off the possibility, perhaps those environmentalists don't intend to call it quits if the pipeline is not constructed. But, frankly, it's not his place to tell environmentalists how to expend their energies or to tell Steyer how to spend his own money.

In their tendentious effort to deny these realities, progressives risk violating yet another cherished principle that, in their view, distinguishes them from the right: that of letting facts and science, not ideology, determine policy.
And here Lane is back to his earlier trick of conflating the terms "environmentalist" and "progressive" -- as if there are no conservative environmentalists nor any progressives who don't oppose the pipeline. And in relation to letting the facts and science dictate policy, what was it that Lane said only a few sentences ago?
And of course climate change is real and must be addressed.
So which is it -- is this a situation in which climate change is real and must be addressed, or a situation in which that science is already known and weighs in favor of the pipeline? If Lane's theory is that the oil will be extracted and used, rendering the existence of the pipeline irrelevant to the debate, he's missing the actual goal of the environmentalists opposed to this project -- they don't want that oil to be extracted or used at all. That's not because they are ignorant of science and climate change, or because they are refusing to consider the science when forming their positions on WCSB crude -- quite the opposite. Given that Lane is now endorsing making decisions based on science, it also seems odd that he wants the President to get ahead of the environmental impact analysis for the Keystone XL pipeline. It's almost as if Lane is privileging ideology over science.
Campaigning for a symbolic victory over the fossil-fuel industry, they may end up with a pyrrhic one — if any.
It goes without saying that the environmentalists could lose their fight against the pipeline. But it also goes without saying, even with due respect to Lane's accusations of imagined hypocrisy, if the environmentalists who oppose the pipeline prevail they will not view their victory as pyrrhic. More likely, they will be energized for their next battle.

Do you know what would have made Lane's column better? If, rather than launching a poorly reasoned screed about "liberals", "progressives" and "environmentalists", that did little more than reveal his sloppy, lazy fact-checking, he had tried to lay out the case for why the pipeline is a good idea. He might have tried to explain how the pipeline compares to other possible infrastructure projects in terms of need, job creation and long-term benefit. He could have attempted to address environmental concerns, rather than brushing them off. Too much to ask?

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