Category Archives: Cherry Picking

And now for the rest of the story …

Source: Seattle hits record high for income inequality, now rivals San Francisco

The data presented in the article is correct. But it leaves out critical information for understanding what this means overall, or even if it means what it purports to mean.

Almost 20 years ago in a graduate economics course we learned that the “static” view of income at an instant in time is not a full picture. Not surprisingly, incomes change over time, often by a lot. Consider when someone starts a career, but over time, advances in their career or grows their own business – their income rises over time.

20 years ago we learned that most people start their earnings in the bottom #1 or #2 quintiles and then most rise to the top #4 or #5 quintiles. Upon retirement, the typical  person then falls backwards by 1 or 2 quintiles.

Other research captures this effect in a different way. 73% of Americans end up in the top 20% of income for 1 year or more (details are not provided as to whether this is due to unique, once in a life event, or spans many years, or occurs many times over several disconnected years).

Source

A professor of social welfare wrote about this in the NY Times in 2014.

The “income inequality” subject is a popular one in the news media and among political activists. By definition, political activists are engaged in propaganda – they are trying to convince you to adopt their agenda versus adopting someone else’s agenda. In this specific instance, the propaganda message supports a Seattle City local income tax.

The propaganda message is simple to understand – the top 20% (in the first chart) make more than half of all the area income. This message is very effective – the bottom 80% make less than half. This message is easily interpreted by the bottom 80% and may become the basis for policy.

Many in the bottom 80% are likely unaware that most will see considerably higher incomes in the future. Consequently, this propaganda message is highly effective, preying on lack of knowledge to push someone’s agenda.

The methods used include (usually) “appeal to authority”, “cherry picking” and sometimes “Get on the bandwagon” (some other city is doing x, y and z). The discrepancy in income stratas may also invoke an “emotional” response in the target.

This post is not about whether the income inequality in Seattle is good or bad, right or wrong or whether the solution is a redistribution income tax or not. This post illustrates how presenting one part of a complex topic leaves the public thinking they have learned something when by learning only a partial view they may be dumber than before they read the article. This post does not examine if a very small number of extremely successful entrepreneurs in the Seattle area (think who lives there!) bias the sample with outliers.

This story illustrates the power of propaganda methods – after reading only the above Seattle Times article, would you be more or less likely to support a city income tax? After reading the source for the second chart and learning about how incomes are dynamic, over time, would you be more or less likely to support a city income tax?

Avoid TripAdvisor.com? Online reviews were censored, worked as propaganda

Update: TripAdvisor claimed to have apologized about deleting negative reviews but it turns out they lied about their apology: They had not apologized to the victim. One Senator is requesting the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to investigate TripAdvisor over their use of false reviews. TripAdvisor’s stock price fell this week from about $40/share to $31/share and one analyst is forecasting a $28/share price. In August, several analysts had forecast $44-$47 share prices for TRIP.

 

As noted previously, online reviews of products and services are subject to manipulation. The problem is so bad that at least two online businesses help you identify fake reviews on Amazon.com: FakeSpot and ReviewMeta.

TripAdvisor is an online web site that offers user written travel reviews. But they did not disclose that TripAdvisor deliberately censored certain negative reviews of travel destinations and services according to a long report by USA Today.

TripAdvisor intentionally removed factual negative reviews – such as those by victims of crime and women who were sexually assaulted at facilities. In one example, TripAdvisor removed 27 negative reviews of one resort. Additionally, many of TripAdvisor’s “destination experts” who act as moderators have financial interests in the destination – such as they run a business in the area.

TripAdvisor did not disclose to users of the web site that they censored certain negative reviews.

TripAdvisor is an ad-based service that receives a commission when users click through links on the site to book hotels, for example.

Censorship and Cherry-Picking

Consequently, TripAdvisor became a propaganda operation – using the method of censorship to create artificially positive views of destinations and travel services. The effect is to present users with a cherry-picked selection of overly positive reviews – by censoring truthful bad reviews.

USA Today: TripAdvisor removed warnings about rapes and injuries at Mexico resorts, tourists say.

Update: TripAdvisor says they are no longer censoring reviews.

TripAdvisor official statement acknowledges they did indeed censor certain reviews in the past and blames it on a “family friendly” wording policy such that reporting about a crime in a review was not “family friendly”. TripAdvisor continued this policy for many years, in spite of numerous users trying to get their attention.

The company has a conflict of interest in that their income comes from ad-sales and especially commissions paid by destinations when users click through to purchase travel services.

What we need next is an online review web site – that reviews online review web sites! And which will be filled with bogus reviews too!

How ‘Obamacare’ propaganda works

ObamaCare propaganda is simple and not at all sophisticated.

Like almost all ObamaCare news stories, the article linked below discusses benefits only – and never, ever mentions that half the market receives no subsidies and never, ever mentions an actual cost per month for people paying for health insurance.

Did you know that some have ACA annual premiums as high as $49,000 per year for a basic Silver plan? Yes, seriously. Read on to learn more. And how the media hides this information from you.

Most news reports about the ACA are like this: If they quote an insurance premium they typically select age 27, and rarely, age 40. But the rates from 21 to 40 are nearly flat – about 270% of the price increase occurs after age 43! This presents the public with a misleading view of premium costs.

By leaving out critical information and presenting only benefits, why would anyone have any concerns about ObamaCare?

This article by the Associated Press and their member news organizations is propaganda messaging. You will literally be dumber for having read the AP article!

Source: ‘Obamacare’ curveball: free insurance in 1,500-plus counties | The Seattle Times

NPR has a similar propaganda piece, mentioning only benefits – never, ever mentioning actual problems with ObamaCare. This is PR puffery, not journalism.

Cherry Picking and Censorship Methods of Propaganda

Let’s look at real numbers for 2018 – all of which are omitted from the AP’s “errors by omission” piece. This falls under the propaganda method of “censorship” – literally cutting out information that contradicts the propaganda message.

  • In Flagstaff, AZ the least cost Silver plan for a 64 year old married couple making $65,000/year in pre-tax income is about $35,000/year – which is less than last year!

You might be thinking, but don’t they get a subsidy? No. The subsidy cut off limit is completely unrelated to the cost of insurance; its based on the regional poverty income level.

Let’s look at another example – it gets worse!

  • In Laramie, WY, the lowest cost Silver plan for this 64 year old couple earning $65,000 per year and above the subsidy cut off is a whopping $49,100 per year! With a $5,000 deductible on the policy, they’ll pay about 100% of their after tax income before collecting on their insurance. (Oddly, the cheapest Gold policy is a bargain at just over $40,000/year – but we use the Silver as the benchmark, just like HHS does.)

If they earned only $64,000, they would receive about $43,000 in direct subsidy. Since insurance is paid for with after tax dollars, that is similar to earning $50,000 before taxes. This illustrates how upside down and crazy this has become – by earning $1,000 less, they receive a pre-tax benefit greater than the their direct cost of insurance! ($50k pre-tax value compared to $49k after taxes paid value.) This is insanity!

What’s going on?

There are two defects (of many) in the ACA that are at work here.

  • First, the subsidy cut off level has no relation to the insurance cost – it is based on the regional poverty level. Consequently, even though rates may take up 100% of your after tax income, you do not receive a subsidy.
  • Second, the way the ACA works is that those who receive subsidies are paying essentially the same price as in 2014. As insurers raise rates, the government increases the subsidy. But the subsidy cut off level continues to track the regional poverty level. Rates can climb as high as they want but the subsidy level remains unchanged!

The second point is why 1,500+ counties will have “free insurance” policies – the subsidies have grown so enormous that taxpayers now pay everything.

This “freebie” is a side effect of the super high cost of insurance in the ACA market places – it is not “by design”.

Insurance companies may be gaming the system. They can focus on the subsidized half of the market – and raise rates without limits because the government will always increase the subsidies. Subsidies, of course, are funded by taxpayers and transfer money from taxpayers to the insurance companies.

  • Can find a news report that covers any of this?
  • Update: Finally – at last! The Oregonian quotes prices for a 60 year old and notes that in the market they checked, the price is now $918/month for one person (or $22,032 for a married couple, a detail they leave out). The article notes provider networks are cut to small sizes and many insurers have left the non-metro markets.

To learn more about this problem – and possible solutions – read my full paper. (My paper did influence policy makers in my own state, by the way.)

“Errors of Omission” via Cherry Picking and Censorship

This example illustrates the power of every day propaganda messaging. The media has never critically reported on ObamaCare and largely writes fluff pieces discussing only benefits. The general public receives a skewed perspective on ObamaCare when real life problems and actual defects in the Act are hidden from view. Problems that are hidden cannot be fixed and the act of hiding the problems leaves us worse off.

Many in the media have been cheerleaders for ObamaCare – they are not objective reporters. Consequently the news media earns a reputation for  propaganda messaging. By leaving out critical data, they have created a fictional story through the use of cherry picking and censorship.

How ideology-based thinking creates propaganda memes #socialmedia #propaganda

This is a very clever bit of propaganda messaging. Preliminary job market data for September indicated a loss of 33,000 jobs, the first decline in monthly job numbers in 7 years as the country climbed out of an economic depression. (A separate survey of households showed job growth – in time, these surveys will be reconciled).

Because of this 33,000 job loss estimate, a Facebook “friend” posted this item.

The Propaganda Technique Used

The wording on the above is very, very, very, very subtle. Most of us interpret this as adding a net positive 500,000 jobs per month to our employment. That would be great!

The sneaky part of this is the choice of the words “job GROWTH rate”. “Job growth” anchors our System 1 thinking to a growth in jobs. But that is not actually what is said here.

The poster is referring to a change in the job growth rate – which was negative the entire year of 2009. Between January and September the rate, which remained negative, declined from -739,000 jobs lost to just -220,00 jobs lost or a decline of -519,000 jobs in the number of jobs lost.

The poster then erroneous asserts this is “500,000 jobs per month” reinforcing the anchor to the idea that we were seeing a growth in jobs of 500,000 per month.

Subtle and clever!

A Chart to Illustrate

This chart illustrates the defects in the social media propaganda meme. Compare the slope of the yellow and blue lines. By month 9 in the chart, the blue line is still going down, but at a slower rate than it was at the start of the period. It is disingenuous to spin a reduction in job losses as better than an absolute increase in total jobs.

(Chart is from the excellent Calculated Risk Blog).

The Data

Let us turn to the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – change in non-farm employment (the series that is commonly used) in 1000s.

Jobs were lost every month in 2009. In no month in 2009 was there an increase in total jobs.

Where does the 500,000 jobs claim come from?

In January the country lost -739,000 jobs. In September, the country lost -220,000 jobs. Since the loss of jobs declined by -519,000 jobs, this is used as the basis for the sneaky wording that that the “job growth rate was improving by 500,000 per month“. In the real word, a total of 4.587 million jobs were lost January to September but the rate of decline was slowing.

Second, the claim of “500,000 per month” is not correct. The poster is comparing January to September providing a reduction in job losses of -519,000 and falsely asserting this is a “per month” figure. That decline from January works out to -58,000 per month. In other words, job losses were declining by about 58,000 per month. Further, the reference to “500,000 per month” reinforces the incorrect interpretation of the propaganda message that 500,000 jobs were being created.

Third, the U.S. had, in 2008, entered the worst economic downturn and job loss period since the 1930s Great Depression. This had numerous ramifications on the job market decline and subsequent rebound. Historically, after all economic declines and job losses, we see significant job growth, regardless of who holds what political office. Additionally, with the unemployment rate at 4.7% in September 2017 and 4.1% in October 2017, it becomes nearly infeasible to employ 500,000 more workers each month – there are simply not enough workers available. (Economists say 5% is basically full employment as job positions are eliminated and created continuously meaning there will always be some level of unemployment as workers have to switch positions.)

Years ago, I predicted the next Presidency (2017-2020), regardless of party would likely have a notable economic recession. While recessions do not occur at precise intervals, the U.S. does experience an economic recession, on average, once every 7 years. From the chart above, the job market has been rebounding since 2010. Do the math. (The NBER declared the recession over as of June of 2009 and this is the date from which the 7 years should be counted.)

Total jobs as illustrated in this trend line, over time, from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From January to September of 2009, 4.587 million jobs vanished and continued to disappear through early 2010.

Important Note

This post is not about the Obama Presidency or the Trump Presidency. This post is about how ideological thinking clouds judgement, leading to social media propaganda memes that get Liked and Shared. Their goal is to persuade others to adopt their agenda – the definition of propaganda messaging.

Job growth in 2017 during the Trump Presidency is at a lower rate than during the last 5 years of the Obama Presidency as shown in the spreadsheet table, above. This is a clear and unambiguous statement.

This propaganda example illustrates:

  1. How extremely clever, subtle – and mostly accurate – word choices can convey (or imply) conclusions that are not correct.
  2. Few people contest erroneous information on social media. It takes time, and in this case, attempting to point out the error resulted in others, and the original poster, torturing logic to defend it, which in turn, would then need to be contested.
  3. This also illustrates that the only way to defend ourselves against such propaganda onslaughts is to Hide, Unfollow or Unfriend such individuals, and to only post items on our social media that we can personally vouch for.

Since late 2016, I adopted a personal policy on the use of Hide, Unfollow and Unfriend on Facebook – and am thinking about whether I should “Like” any public post since “Liking” is equivalent to Sharing on Facebook.

I took strong steps to clean up my social media news feed so that it is not a constant stream of perpetual outrage. As I have written about on these pages, I doubt it is mentally healthy for so many to spend so much of their day expressing outrage over whatever, nor is it healthy for their targets and the “drive by victims” (most of us) who just see this stuff in our social media news lines.