Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stupidhead of the Week: Ken Salazar (Do you want to know what BP has really been doing? Part II)

If you want to know what BP has been doing, watch Ken Salazar. Salazar’s obvious evasiveness at answering basic questions clues us into basic truths of the situation. I’ve noticed this over and over again while watching him squirm under the congressional hot seat. Salazar pauses when he can’t tell the truth (a classic lying tell), uses weasel words and phrases over and over again, and has a response framework where he is typically telling you the truth about the situation specifically by what he doesn’t say and how he doesn’t say it.

The starkest example I’ve seen can be found on this video clip (starting at 0:17)

Here are the following lying tells that Salazar gives:

1) His ten second pause clearly demonstrates that Salazar can’t openly tell the truth. Lies take longer to think up than the truth, which is almost always immediately available. This immense pause alone is sufficient to make me think, “wow, obviously BP refused government requests or directives”.

2) During this pause, I personally feel that if you pay close attention to his eyes and facial expression, Salazar is thinking through examples of BP not cooperating while trying to formulate a response that is technically true by the literal words he says while omitting his known instances of their lack of cooperation.

3) His initial tense, tight lipped posture shows his defensiveness against the question. Defensiveness of this nature usually indicates deception. He is highly uncomfortable and doesn’t want to answer. This only makes sense if BP hasn’t cooperated. If they had cooperated at all times, Salazar could openly tell the truth with relative ease.

4) The shift of his head at 0:28, combined with his defeated look and evasive eye movements all show a type of defensiveness that belies his coming deception. He can’t just come out and tell the truth here, and is uncomfortable about how badly he wants to avoid blatantly lying.

5) “They have not refused anything that I have ordered them to do.” This is a classic weasel phrase. Instead of a simple yes or no followed by explanation, he redirects the question, giving an answer that sounds like a “no” but is much more likely a misdirected “yes”. If the answer was no, Salazar would say “no” and then explain any nuance if needed.

6) “But I am not in charge.” – Double weasel! This indicates there is something they have refused to do that Salazar knows of, but was not directly responsible for in an official sense. He just had to let this slip to ease the emotional discomfort of his first weasel response.

Video Bonus: Krauthammer taking him to task for his lack of preparation, not his obvious lying. Ken, you need to take time to prepare your lies of omission better! Actually, with your job, not being able to lie well is probably a good sign that you do it poorly.

If you are going to be this obvious when you lie and omit information, what is the point of the deception?

Now, the absence of such lying tells *do not mean* that a person is telling the truth. As Lee Atwater proved 20 years ago, an individual might just be an exceptionally good liar, able to advance their talking points in a sincere sounding way regardless of what reality actually is, never feeling the moral ambiguity or guilt the average person would. Objective evidence, insofar as it can be found, should 100% be given priority over such conversational cues.

On another note, there is a good side to all of this. Powerful politicians, government officials, and corporate executives lie often in the course of advancing and protecting their interests. To be honest, they have to or they would have never advanced to the position they are at. Quite surprisingly, many of them are *terrible at lying*. If you can pick up on the multitude of ways in which people expose their own lying in conversation, you have a great opportunity to see though the narratives of powerful actors and get useful (or at least interesting) information that it would otherwise be impossible for you to have access to.

Do you want to know what BP has really been doing? Part I

Want to know what BP has been doing? Step 1: When BP makes a claim, rule what they have said out of contention for being true.

This has to be tough for BP. Usually, when BP makes claims and uses PR to mask the reality of their daily operations, the narrative they create is seamlessly adopted by media and government. Well, here we have a problem too important with elements too transparent for such standard tactics to work. Their claims and PR are useful for us to understand the truth, however. On this issue, when BP executives make a claim or put out PR and ads, we should typically hold what they are saying as false. This, coupled with the evasiveness and lies of omission of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar tell us a great deal about the more likely story regarding BP’s activity with the Gulf spill. More on that in a separate post.

For those of you that don't like reading, here is a great video on this, thanks to Keith Olbermann:

BP Claims That Turned Out to be Bullshit (or Will):

1) Claim: The total leak was only 5,000 barrels a day. Reality: The leak is much greater than this, probably at least over 20,000 barrels a day, perhaps as high as 50,000 barrels a day. Okay, so the estimates range greatly on this number, no doubt in large part due to the motivations of those comprising the statistic that informs this part of the narrative. However, the BP claim was laughably small. They delayed releasing video of the leak for several weeks. When they did, this 5,000 claim was quickly shown to be an unrealistically small number. It took our stupid government until June 7th to stop officially relying on BP for oil estimates.

2) Claim: There are no underwater oil plumes. Reality: There are multiple underwater oil plumes. The best part about this claim is that BP kept making it even after it was proven false this week! According to BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttle, "We haven’t found any large concentrations of oil under the sea. To my knowledge, no one has." The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, researchers from the University of South Florida, Southern Mississippi University, the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University would kindly like to disagree with Mr. Suttle.

3) Assorted claims: At first, there was no leak, then 1,000 barrels, then 5,000. Repeated initial claims that the environmental impact would be small to modest. Repeated claims to have the spill and leak under control, to have the oil reasonably well contained, that it is a “textbook” example of how to respond well to an oil spill emergency, etc. Pre-spill claims that an oil spill of this magnitude would be impossible due to advancements in technology and safety precautions. Bonus: The shift a few years ago from the British Petroleum name to Beyond Petroleum, with an advertising campaign that promoted a more or less green narrative for the company (ha!). Green narratives in general are bullshit, but this one takes the cake for how blatantly juxtaposed it was with reality.

4) Currently, BP promises it will, “meet its obligations in the Gulf of Mexico”. Shit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Golden Benchmark of Stupidity.

I love the commercials selling gold coins.

Properly understood, they might articulate the dumbest argument a commercial has ever made. Let’s overlook the fact that the value of the coins they are selling in terms of the weight of gold is usually less than half of the value of just the gold itself (i.e. you could just buy or invest in gold directly and not immediately lose half your value). We will also ignore whether there is a conflict of interest with Infotainment personalities, err “news journalists” promoting investing in gold as a smart strategy while being directly sponsored by gold hawking businesses. No, we will consider the argument of the commercials themselves.

We will use a Rosland Capital commercial with spokesman G Gordon Liddy as an example.

Proposition 1: Beware! Because of the failing economy and bad government decisions, your money is getting to be worth less and less. Soon it could be worth next to nothing!

Proposition 2: Gold, on the other hand, is stable and retains its value no matter how bad things get. Gold will probably go way up in value. Gold is the perfect way to weather any economic storm.

Conclusion: So, would you like to give us some of your volatile worthless money for our extremely valuable secure gold?