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Sun., Dec. 9, 2012

Why let facts stop you?

The Talking Heads have a tune that goes like this: “Facts all come with a point of view. Facts don’t do what I want them to.” The song was released in 1980, but it’s perfect today.

I met with a Gonzaga University journalism class last week to discuss editorial writing, and told them that it wouldn’t surprise me to see opinion pages devoted almost entirely to fact-checking at some point. That’s because politics and the Internet have conspired to produce warring factions with their own versions of reality. Without a set of agreed-upon facts, it becomes difficult to get past the premise of an editorial before someone chimes in with “wrong!”

Take the issue of coal cars passing through Spokane. One side says there will be 18 trips a day. The other says 60. Both can’t be right. The truth, of course, is that different assumptions lie behind each number. But that’s too nuanced for activism, so political placards are hoisted before the first hearing can be held.

It’s scary how quickly opinions are formed these days. The first draft of an article is posted online, and commentators scurry to weigh in. Even scarier is imagining a time when newspapers no longer exist and fact-finders are left to wander around in a mall of mercenary merchants.

“Don’t like those facts? Then shop here!”

Sadly, this is occurring during the Information Age, which was supposed to be a positive era for democracies.

Phantom menace. Public Policy Polling reports that 49 percent of Republican voters believe ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) stole the election for President Barack Obama. That’s down from the 52 percent who believed ACORN swiped the 2008 election. That’s a skimpy drop when you consider that ACORN disbanded its national operation two years ago.

Did respondents know this? It might not matter, because another PPP question suggests that people are willing to weigh in on phantoms. If you’ve gotten any mass emails on politics, you already know this. Anyway, the poll asked for opinions about the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. Only 39 percent had an opinion, with 23 percent supporting and 16 percent opposing.

Respondents were also asked about a fictional plan called Panetta-Burns. One in four respondents had an opinion. Better to look informed than be informed, I suppose.

Carbon Nation. A carbon tax would be doubly beneficial at this point. The money raised could go toward deficit reduction, and cleaner energy sources would become more competitive once we priced the negative effects of producing greenhouse gases.

But let’s say you didn’t want to raise taxes overall and instead wanted a revenue neutral carbon tax. That would be better, too. At present, we tax labor to raise money for government, but we don’t tax carbon for the costs it will impose on everyone once we face up to the problem. Which is better: working or greenhouse gases? Judging from the tax code, we prefer to suppress work.

So, we could lower income taxes and impose a carbon tax to make up the difference. Of course, that still leaves us needing more short-term revenue to address the national debt, but it would help head off monstrous costs in the future.

Upstaged. Comedian Stephen Colbert is waging a campaign to be named the replacement for departing Sen. Jim DeMint, of South Carolina. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is warning he will filibuster his own idea to have debt limit responsibility shifted to the president if it’s put to a simple majority vote. He wants the higher bar of 60 votes.

McConnell got the bigger laugh out of me.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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