[FRIAM] Fwd: Winds of Change

Steve Smith sasmyth at swcp.com
Sun Jan 8 14:40:34 EST 2012

At the risk of an infinite regression, how credible is FactCheck.org ?

I am anecdotally familiar with the Annenberg Foundation and it's agenda 
in supporting good journalism and am inclined to want to believe they 
are shooting straight.   I spent a week as a guest of the Annenberg 
School for Communications and Journalism a while back and was generally 
impressed with their level of professionalism.  I'm trusting that Tom 
Johnson might be able to tell us a lot more?

Their arguments against this particular chain letter as outlined by 
Brooks Jackson, the Director of FactCheck (or presented by him but 
apparently researched by his staff?) seem relatively convincing (though 
I didn't follow any of the references).   He seems to acknowledge there 
is something to *some* of the claims in the chain letter but mostly 
seems to be denying/debunking the validity of the claims.   He also 
refers to the "anonymous sender" when the mailing Doug forwarded 
attributes the suggestions to Warren Buffet, anything but an anonymous 
or obscure source.

Doug says he checked Snopes.com but what I find is that only two of the 
claims in the letter have been attributed to Buffet by Snopes and one 
attribution was determined to be *mostly* false.   Buffet *is* credited 
with recommending that all members of Congress be ineligible for 
re-election when there is a deficit.  I don't imagine (personal 
speculation) that Buffet necessarily meant this literally but was using 
it as a hyperbolic suggestion to make a point or set a tone about fiscal 
responsibility in Congress.   The other claim Snopes looked into but 
found *mostly false* was that members of Congress are not held to the 
same laws as the rest of the population.   The "partly true" aspect is 
rather key in some sense but not as sweeping as the letter suggests.  
Snopes also states clearly that the bulk of the text cannot be 
attributed to Buffet as the letter implies.

Overall, I'd say the letter itself is *very* disengenious. The Snopes 
analysis of it is accurate but does seem to leave room to assume they 
validated it if one doesn't read carefully, and the Annenburg/FactCheck 
analysis is also accurate but seems to be biased *against* it in tone.

In particular, I was left worried by the way FactCheck glossed over the  
point about Members of Congress being held to the same laws as the 

  * "Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose." But as we've
    explained before <http://factcheck.org/2010/01/lawmaker-loopholes/>,
    the idea that Congress has exempted itself from many of its own laws
    is also somewhat out of date. A law enacted in 1995
    <http://www.compliance.gov/publications/caa-overview/> applied
    13 civil rights, labor, and workplace safety and health laws to
    Congress, removing the basis for earlier criticisms. It's true that
    members of Congress retain a degree of immunity from arrest or
    prosecution, but changing that require an amendment to the
    which grants that immunity in Article I, Section 6. (The authors of
    the Constitution didn't want any president to try what King Charles
    I of England had done in 1642 --- sending troops to arrest his
    critics <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/english_civil-war.htm>
    in Parliament.) The message is confused, at first mentioning earlier
    constitutional amendments, but then describing the proposal as an
    "act," which refers to legislation.

This analysis does not acknowledge that the remaining immunity to arrest 
and prosecution is still rather questionable and the argument about 
Charles 1 in 1642 is at best a good reminder of the possible abuses of 
executive power.   I don't know how many examples there are of members 
of Congress avoiding arrest and prosecution abusively... I'm sure that 
has been compiled *somewhere*!   I believe that in our own state we have 
a few politicians who have evaded or delayed the consequences of some 
pretty bad activities under some variant of this immunity.   It also 
glosses over the point that it *did* take the 1995 law to ensure that 
the Congress was NOT immune to the array of laws that it apparently had 
been avoiding/ignoring previously?

As an anecdotal experiment/quest, I'd like to ask this list of 300 or 
more (500?) if they have *ever* received a chain letter that *wasn't* 
duplicitous at some level?  I know we've all received chain letters 
whose central message we might *agree with* but I've *never*, on closer 
inspection found them to be accurate and complete.  I've *always* found 
them to be scattered with misleading rhetoric (at best) and outright 
lies at worst.   I wonder if others on this list have examples which are 

My guess is that when trying to spread an honest and accurate message, 
one is not inclined to resort to explicit chain-letter formulations but 
rather allows the message to sink in and be analyzed on it's own merit 
without the unction to magically/quickly infect the infosphere overnight 
with it's message.

If this letter incites you in any way, please resend it to your entire 
address book and attribute it to having come from some high authority... 
perhaps you were handed this on stone tablets provided by god, or maybe 
golden plates burned for you by some chap with wings named Moroni.  If 
you do this, you will start the internet ringing with reflected messages 
from all your first, second, third order connections.  In fact, if it 
works I guarantee you you will get a copy of this from Kevin Bacon 
himself as well as the long lost Ghost of Paul Erdos!

Carry on,
- Steve

> Great Catch, Robert.  I am afraid my finger was hovering over the send 
> button.   Gawd I have such naïve fingers.  I did wonder, though, about 
> the pension claim.  And also, I am not so keen on term limits, unless 
> lobbyists also have them.   Nick
> *From:*friam-bounces at redfish.com [mailto:friam-bounces at redfish.com] 
> *On Behalf Of *Robert J. Cordingley
> *Sent:* Saturday, January 07, 2012 8:09 PM
> *To:* The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group
> *Subject:* Re: [FRIAM] Fwd: Winds of Change
> You might want to check this out first: 
> http://www.factcheck.org/2011/03/congressional-reform-act/
> Robert C
> On 1/7/12 5:01 PM, Douglas Roberts wrote:
> I don't think I've ever done a chain letter before, but I thought this 
> one was worth making an exception.
> On the other hand, I have so little respect for the voters of this 
> country who allowed us to get into our current state.
> But still...
> Winds of Change....
> Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a 
> minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of 
> those to do likewise.
> <snipped/>
> ============================================================
> FRIAM Applied Complexity Group listserv
> Meets Fridays 9a-11:30 at cafe at St. John's College
> lectures, archives, unsubscribe, maps at http://www.friam.org

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