STOP Framing "us"

How a select few of "them" are Framing all of "us"

Archive for the tag “tax relief”

It’s Time We Embrace An “Economy for Everyone”

Growing our economy has become a key focal point in political discussions in recent years, and has important public policy implications moving forward.  In the name of “economic growth” and the pursuit of “pro-growth” policies, we have implemented a series of austerity measures that have been devastating to the public at large, while protecting and further enriching the wealthy class in America.

The term “economic growth” is a frame designed to convince us that we all benefit when our economy grows, and that the best way to do this is to give wealthy people more tax breaks, or “tax relief”, which is another frame.  In other words, we are all expected to pay more in taxes, so the wealthy class can pay less!  A recent study by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) does a great job at exposing both right wing frames.

The CRS study specifically analyzed 65 years worth of data between top tax rates and economic growth.  Although the top tax rates wealthy people pay have never been lower during this time period, the study found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth.  Another fascinating discovery was that a correlation was found between reducing the top tax rates and increased concentrations of wealth for this privileged class.  In other words, voting for “tax relief” in the past has led to a transfer of wealth over the past 65 years from millions of hard working Americans to a few affluent families.  It’s clear from these findings that providing “tax relief” in the name of pursuing “economic growth” is actually harming our economy by unnecessarily privileging the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Another interesting element of the “economic growth” frame involves the belief that with hard work anyone can become successful and achieve the American dream.  This is also known as social mobility, or equality of opportunity.  Unfortunately, America is no longer the land of opportunity it once was, and many people are coming to the realization that the American dream is now a myth.  Joseph Stiglitz, an award winning economist, wrote an article on this very issue recently called, “Equal Opportunity, Our National Myth

where he discusses how the U.S. has less equality of opportunity than nearly every other industrial country.  After pointing out that children of affluent families are inclined to experience better health care, education, and nutrition, Stiglitz noted, “in some cases it seems as if policy has actually been designed to reduce opportunity…”, particularly with respect to education.

This is what a focus on “pro-growth” policies has gotten us.  A lopsided economy where a few affluent families are able to send their kids to the best schools, receive the best health care, and live in enriching and non polluted environments, while the rest of us deal with the aftermath of austerity measures aimed at cutting funding for our children’s schools, losing our health care, and not having equal access to enriching environments.  The repetition of this frame by the modern day Republican Party, Fox news affiliates, and pundits on the right is used to gain public support for policies that prevent and outright reduce equality of opportunity for the majority of people, while convincing us to believe in the myth of the American dream.  This is what “pro-growth” policies mean.  They are intentionally designed to benefit the privileged at the expense of everyone else.

It appears as if some on the left have also started to adopt the economic growth frame.  In an effort to combat the utter failures of trickle-down economics and correct the deficiencies it has brought about, they too have adopted similar language arguing in favor of “middle-out” economics.  Unfortunately, being in favor of middle-out economics is still advocating for “economic growth”, and will continue to ensure we adopt more of the same “pro-growth” policies that are causing many of our social and economic problems.  Instead, we need to embrace an “Economy for Everyone”.

In their book The Spirit Level, epidemiologists’ Wilkinson and Pickett, brilliantly illustrate how we are currently experiencing material success, but social failure in the U.S.  This is largely a result of reaching the limits of what economic growth can provide to wealthy countries, as well as the undeniable contribution of inequality of income that exists within the U.S.  In fact, according to the authors, “economic growth, for so long the great engine of progress, has in the rich countries, largely finished its work.”  Today, we are witnessing an overall decrease in health, happiness, and wellbeing of millions of American families, among many other social ills as a result of one single factor; the difference in income levels between the have and have nots.  Such a discrepancy between material success and social failure suggests that, “if we are to gain further improvements in the real quality of life, we need to shift attention from material standards and economic growth to ways of improving the psychological and social wellbeing of whole societies.”

In order to successfully increase the overall health, happiness and well being for all American families, we need to advocate for and spread the message of an “Economy for Everyone”.  An economy that works for everyone takes all of our needs into consideration, and reduces the level of inequality across income groups, which is the single largest contributor to our current economic and social failures.

In addition, the PEW research center recently found that 90% of Americans want the government to do everything it can to ensure equality of opportunity.  With equality of opportunity, we can overcome many of the hurdles that are artificially placed before us under the guise of “economic growth”, and once again ensure America’s standing in the world as the land of opportunity.  Therefore, spreading the message of an “Economy for Everyone” should be a no-brainer, and this language will hopefully replace any future discussion of “middle-out” economics.

The challenge facing the adoption of this new language comes from policy makers and political pundits, who (perhaps unknowingly) are keeping the “economic growth” frame alive.  Consequently, a focus on economic growth primarily benefits the affluent at the expense of everyone else, reduces equality of opportunity, and stands in the way to a achieving a happier and healthier society.

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Why Good People do Bad Things: The Power of Names, Frames and Personality Factors

A recent article in the Business Insider, 27 psychological reasons good people do bad things, illustrates many of the common unethical behaviors experienced by people in our society.  Most people are familiar with the acceptance of small theft (#6) in the workplace, for instance, or the pressure to conform (#27) whenever attempting to ‘fit in’ to an existing peer group.  Others, such as obedience to authority (#12), foot in the door (#16), and the blinding effect of power (#13) tell a somewhat different story.  These psychological characteristics appear to stem from something other than minor unethical hiccups, and may have their root in personality factors, as discussed below.

Knowing these psychological tendencies exist may be useful fun facts to discuss at parties or other social gatherings, but they don’t tell us what we really want to know.  What about deliberate attempts to influence people to (unknowingly) act in an unethical manor, or take an immoral stance on an issue?  Does this happen? If so, who is more susceptible and why?  The power of names (#2) provides some initial insight into answering these questions.

2.  The power of names.  When bribery becomes “greasing the wheels” or accounting fraud becomes “financial engineering,” unethical behavior can seem less bad. The use of nicknames and euphemisms for questionable practices can free them of their moral connotations, making
them seem more acceptable
.

The power of names reveals the use of language can literally change the meaning of something, thus leading one to an immoral choice in behavior.  Beyond nicknames and euphemisms is a more sophisticated technique, known as framing.  In a nutshell, framing involves the deceptive use of language to convince others to support immoral choices.  A “frame” has the ability to not only change the meaning of something, but to literally alter one’s perception of reality.  Unfortunately, far too many people fall victim to the powerful effects of framing, and end up taking stances on issues contrary to their own beliefs! Take the “clear skies” initiative, introduced by GOP politicians under the Bush administration.  The so called “clear skies” plan, “would loosen Clean Air Act standards for most of the nation’s power companies. And it has taken the pressure off companies that violate the law, cutting inspections staff and reducing Fines and criminal charges against polluters.”

Basically, this law allows more harmful and toxic chemicals to be dumped into the atmosphere, polluting our lungs and the air we breathe.  I’m confident no one would knowingly believe this is a good thing, much less openly support such a position when provided the chance to voice their opinion at the polls.  Hence, a frame is intentionally crafted that serves the purpose of convincing people to vote in favor of a policy position that is actually detrimental to their health and well being.  Those on the left side of the political spectrum refer to this phenomenon as “voting against one’s self-interest.”

Now that we know framing occurs, who is responsible, and what motivates an individual or group of people to manipulate others in such a fashion?  The obvious answer is money, but in this case it’s much scarier than that.  The use of framing (ie, deceptive language) has been used recently in politics to advance an ideology that is consistent with the special interests of the ruling elite in this country.  This immoral behavior is being carried out by unethical pollsters and politicians in Washington, who happen to share a similar disposition, known as the authoritarian personality.

Shortly after the atrocities that took place in Nazi Germany, researchers in the field of psychology attempted to understand what led people to openly display such hideous behavior under fascist rule, including increased levels of anti-Semitism and prejudice against the “other.”  The result of this endeavor was a personality syndrome labeled, the authoritarian personality, which was later turned into a book under the same title, written by Adorno, et al. (1950).   Adorno and colleagues discovered that this personality syndrome was characterized by pro-fascist, antidemocratic attitudes, coupled with complete submission to authority figures.

Modern day polls can also be traced to this time period.  Due to the stranglehold widespread propaganda had on certain elements of the population, and the ease at which the repetition of lies led to blind submission to fascist authority, Gallup and others developed polling techniques to assess public perception.  Today, these techniques are being used by unethical pollsters like Frank Luntz, who craft frames, poll test the language, and focus group approve the final product for use by right wing authoritarian (RWA) politicians, and other true believers to manipulate public perception in favor of this authoritarian ideology.

Right wing authoritarian (RWA) is a personality and ideological variable studied in political, social, and personality psychology. Right-wing authoritarians are people who have a degree of willingness to submit to authorities they perceive as established and legitimate, who adhere to social conventions and norms, and who are hostile and punitive in their attitudes towards people who don’t adhere to them.  They value uniformity and are in favour of using group authority, including coercion, to achieve it.”

“Authoritarians are generally more favorable to punishment and control than personal freedom and diversity…they are more likely to advocate strict, punitive sentences for criminals, and report that punishing such people is satisfying for them.  They tend to be ethnocentric and prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities and homosexuals.

History has already proven what is capable of happening when RWA’s are in positions of power, but what many people may not be aware of is that the modern day GOP are right-wing authoritarians!  Simply take a look at the 2012 GOP party platform.  Many of the personality characteristics mentioned above can be seen in the actions taken by GOP lawmakers.  For a glimpse of how this ideological agenda is being carried out, let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Radical right wing governors across the country are actively implementing laws to discriminate against minority groups by suppressing their right to vote in the upcoming presidential election.  To get people on board with this radical agenda, the frame “voter fraud” was created.

GOP politicians are passing laws to ship our jobs overseas.  The frame used in this case is “illegal immigrants” are taking our jobs.

GOP politicians are passing laws that force us to work for less, and take away our rights to fight back when our wages and pensions are raided by vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney.  This is being framed as “right to work.”

GOP politicians are implementing laws to control women’s reproductive health, framed as “religious freedom.”

GOP politicians are spending taxpayer money to enrich the super wealthy elite, framed as “tax relief.”  Coincidentally, the funneling of taxpayer money to the richest among us is being framed as using taxpayer money to give to “welfare recipients.”

Perhaps even scarier than the GOP taking total control of our government and convincing people with clever framing to vote against their own interests and well being, is the very future of our planet if these RWA’s continue to gain momentum and firmly implement their dangerous ideology.

“In roleplaying situations, authoritarians tend to seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive instead of cooperative. In a study by Altemeyer, 68 authoritarians played a three hour simulation of the Earth’s future entitled the Global change game. Unlike a comparison game played by individuals with low RWA scores, which resulted in world peace and widespread international cooperation, the simulation by authoritarians became highly militarized and eventually entered the stage of nuclear war. By the end of the high RWA game, the entire population of the earth was declared dead.[15]

Watch how Frank Luntz, the guy who lies for a living, manipulates the public.

Who is Frank Luntz?  Briefly, he is the guy responsible for crafting specific language that is intended to guide our thinking in a certain direction.  This language is then repeated over and over on Fox news and other corporately controlled media outlets until others start repeating it and it becomes common knowledge.   This is what is called framing, in a nutshell, and works similar to schemas in psychology.

To see Frank “The Liar” Luntz’s work in action, check out the frame he created to direct our attention away from providing health care to our citizens in favor of thinking that this type of legislation would allow Government to stand between you and your doctor.  (which is precisely what insurance companies do)

This video SAYS it all!  (GOP parrots Frank Luntz)

This isn’t the only frame this guy is responsible for.

Frank “The Liar” Luntz is responsible for much of the misinformation and out-right lies about a host of issues from health care reform, framed as “Government take-over of healthcare”, global warming framed as “climate change”, immigration issues, framed as “illegal immigration” and budget and tax policy, framed as “tax relief”.

These are a few of his latest and greatest hits, revealing how he gets paid to lie for a living, and manipulate the public to hate each other, vote against their self-interest, and perpetuate a system of income inequality that transfers wealth from the middle-class and working poor up to the very people who pay Frank Luntz to lie for a living.

Who are these people?  Those in the top 0.1%, who benefit enormously by exploiting the shit out of us!

With the help of this Liar, we are being manipulated by framing to blame poor people and immigrants for destroying our economy and taking our jobs, to vote against life saving protections of the air we breathe and water we drink, for providing all citizens with healthcare, and to provide corporate welfare and more of our tax dollars to the very corporations and exorbitantly wealth people who stand to benefit by perpetuating all of the lies Frank Luntz helps to create.

Obama’s been framed! His speech contained many common frames used by those at the top to convince us of a framed version of reality.

 Although the President should be applauded for his efforts in discussing a means of putting Americans back to work, he unknowingly reinforced a set of common “frames” used repeatedly by the radical right-wing and other advocates of the top .1% to convince us of a framed version of reality that supports the status quo of income inequality.  It’s quite possible that President Obama’s advisors were not aware of the relevance of framing in shaping our understanding of the world around us when offering assistance in crafting his speech.  More specifically, how the use of such frames trigger a specific mind-set in the observer, such that only the framing elements make sense, and all other relevant facts to the contrary are miraculously, and quite conveniently ignored. 

The consequence of activating the radical right-wing frames is that more and more people are being “informed” of a world view that is causing the very destruction of our economy, our well-being, and the overall health of our nation.  Let’s take a look at how Obama has been framed!

                President Obama acknowledged the following frames.  There is wasteful spending in Government.  Regulations are putting an unnecessary burden on businesses.  The corporate tax rate is the highest in the world.  Businesses need certainty in order to hire again.  We need to help the job creators.  We need to get our fiscal house in order.  We need to cut taxes, and Free-trade agreements will help us create jobs and save our economy. 

Let’s take a look at a few of the frames he activated, and discuss how they are contributing to the status quo of income inequality, and what this means for all of us.    

1.   First and foremost is the issue of cutting taxes.  The common frame with respect to taxes is that we need to provide businesses (big businesses) and people (really rich people) “tax relief”.  As George Lakoff pointed out, when these words are used in conjunction, tax relief assumes there is an affliction that requires some sort of relief.  Take hurricane or disaster relief for instance.  Obviously, an area hit by a hurricane would require some sort of disaster relief, as in aid to the victims, relief from suffering, etc.  So, the words “tax relief” creates the frame of taxes are bad, and anyone who provides relief from taxes is the savior and deserves praise.  Likewise, anyone who attempts to raise taxes, which does not fit the frame, is viewed as inflicting pain, or responsible for causing the affliction.  

In reality, taxes are the responsibility of everyone in this country to ensure the safety, protection and empowerment of us all.   High tax rates on the top .01% are what helped build our nation through times of war and uncertainty, and helped sustain what are known as the commons that we all have come to love and depend on in daily life, such as roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, fire and police protection, and of course, the internet.  The commons are what make us unique.  The knowledge that we can send our kids to school to receive a descent education, that we can receive care when we get sick, and most importantly the thought of knowing that we all pitch in to ensure everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is comforting to us.  As the President rightly pointed out in his speech, “No single American built this country on their own”.

2.  Regulations basically fit the same profile as mentioned above with taxes.   According to this frame, regulations are bad, and anyone who implements them is preventing businesses from creating jobs.  This ties into another classic frame of “Let’s get Government out of the way” so we can help the private sector solve our problems.      

In reality, regulations offer all of “us” protections from the exploitative practices “they” engage in through the corporations they own; including ignoring safety standards (BP oil disaster), polluting our air, water, and land via toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere (Co2 emissions, not to mention the more devastating Nitrous Oxide and methane greenhouse gases) fracking for dirty energy, and other means of ignoring regulations that were put in place to prevent “them” from poisoning our communities.

3.   “Wasteful spending in Government” and “Getting our fiscal house in order” frames inform us that Government is inefficient and spends money frivolously, and that we have a “Spending problem in Washington” (a related frame soon to be discussed in a separate post)   

Together, these frames assume that the Government is literally incapable of doing anything right.  This frame has become so prevalent that the common tendency when discussing anything related to the Government is regarding how slow or inefficient it is, how easy the jobs are, or how brainless the people are who work in any Government capacity.  This is a result of a concerted long-term strategic effort to “frame” Government as inefficient and wasteful in order to convince us that the private sector is the answer.  The advocates of the top .1% even go as far as hiring people who are diametrically opposed to the Government agencies they are tasked with running.  Thomas Frank wrote about this in his book, The wrecking crew.  

In reality, the waste in Government is in programs that are or have become partially privatized.  Our healthcare system is a prime example.  We are the ONLY industrialized nation on earth that has a for profit, privatized healthcare system that benefits the top .1% at our expense, literally!!  All other industrialized nations have realized that healthcare is a right not a privilege for those who can afford it.  In fact, it is illegal in these other countries to profit from someone else’s pain and suffering.  After all, the only way to profit is if coverage and care is denied.  One more useful fun fact is that 33% or “waste” in our healthcare system goes straight to the top .1% in the form of executive compensation, big fancy offices, private jets, and bonuses, of course. 

The bottom line:  In the framed version of reality, the Government is the problem and is preventing businesses and the private sector from helping all of us achieve the American dream.  If only we can get Government out of the way and reduce the burden on businesses by eliminating agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and other obstructive Governmental over-reaching regulations, and implement Free-trade policies to create jobs and to enhance economic growth.  Government should lower the personal and corporate tax rate on the job-creators, and since Government is inefficient and wasteful, privatizing everything is the way to get our economy moving in the right direction, and to ensure prosperity for all.  

So, you see, all of these frames tie together and paint a picture or a specific mind-set (framed version of reality) that supports the radical right-wing ideology and further leads to the implementation of policies that favor the rich at our expense.  The goal of this framing effort is to convince us to assist them in eliminating any and all social protections and regulations that currently prevent “them” from exploiting “us”, to permanently lower taxes on the super-rich, to maintain lasting and deep cuts to our social safety net, to continue outsourcing our jobs to those who are most easily exploitable, to reduce and eventually phase out pension plans completely, and to implement many other rigid policies and programs that support the status quo of income inequality.    

Bottom line: By acknowledging and repeating the language of the common frames used against us, we are essentially advocating for this world-view ourselves.  A world-view that ensures we all feel pain, so they can enjoy social and economic gain.

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