November 16, 2013

Conspiracy theories to the right of me, conspiracy thinking to the left ...

With apologies to Stealer's Wheel's Steve Miller's song, "Stuck in the Middle with You," and with no apologies to Chris Mooney's insinuations that people of the political right are more likely to engage in "motivated reasoning" than those of the political left, our latest conspiracy theory?

The tea partiers are allegedly behind a would-be takedown of Obamacare's federal exchange website, conspiracy thinking most recently fostered by a selective reading of a Department of Homeland Security staffer's statement about cyberattacks:
A top Homeland Security Department official testified Wednesday that there have been approximately 16 cyberattacks on the website and one "denial of service" attack that was unsuccessful.

The testimony by Roberta Stempfley, acting assistant secretary of homeland security's Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, was the first public  acknowledgement by an administration official that there have been any cyberattacks on the Obamacare website.
However, there are several problems here.

First, it ain't serious. I knew that, before I read further. Just sixteen cyberattacks? I figured that wasn't much for a large federal government website. And, I was apparently right, as reading further confirmed.
On Wednesday, another department official admitted there had been “confusion” over statements on the issue, but added, “None of these incidents were considered significant. There have not been any reports … of any successful attacks on the website to date.”

The official noted, as a comparison, that DHS had recorded “approximately 228,700 cyber incidents” during the last fiscal year, “an average of more than 620 per day, involving federal agencies, critical infrastructure, and the department’s industry partners."
But, yet, many an Obamiac type says something to the effect of, no there has to be more.

Well, there isn't. And, the fact that there isn't, while many people want to believe there is, is yet another reason why, although I'm a left-liberal of some sort, at least in American terms, I regularly stress I'm a skeptical left-liberal.

Second, we don't even know who's behind the miniscule 16 cyberattacks. Pimply 16-year-old hackers? Anonymous types bored over no Occupy Wall Street? Chinese Red Army hackers wanting to further discredit Obama? Iran getting revenge for Stuxnet? Tea partiers? All of the above? Others?

How about identity thieves?
Noting the large amount of personal information that will be entered by consumers applying for health insurance on the site -- including Social Security numbers, addresses and income information — (Rep. Ron) McCaul said in his opening statement: "All of this information is a tempting target for hackers, identity thieves and other malicious actors. We already have reported cases of hacks, fraudulent websites and documented security vulnerabilities in the system."
Sounds as likely as anyone.

And, even if there is some semi-organized attempt to take down the website for ideological reasons, as Information Week says there is, it also notes, as conspiracy-mongers don't, that this is amateurish:
Eisenbarth said this DDoS tool most likely can't deliver what it promises. "The request rate, the non-distributed attack architecture and many other limitations make this tool unlikely to succeed in affecting the availability of the site," he said. Furthermore, he noted that to date, Arbor has seen no "active use of this software." 
That said, my pleas to Obamiacs to stop the conspiracy thinking, to stop blaming, ultimately, anybody but Dear Leader in the mirror, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.

Third, this isn't the first such conspiracy theory monging.

In October, something similar came up. Turned out that, first of all, the problem wasn't that bad, secondly, it was limited to New York State, and thirdly, New York State has a state-level exchange and nothing to do with the federal exchanges.

Fourth, let me offer an alternate conspiracy theory. This is all part of Obama recanting about Obamacare and preparing a true single-payer national health care system, since he's already become the best arguer for that.

Fifth, back to my first paragraph.

This is not even close to the first time liberals have engaged in at least a mild disconnect from rational thinking, even though Mooney claims conservatives are much worse; a claim that's not just wrong, but simplistic to the point of motivated reasoning itself. (Such problems run through his "Republican Brain" book.)

Don't try to hand-wave this away by talking only about Jenny McCarthy and anti-vaxxers. Some liberals, outside of legitimate corporate worries about Monsanto, still harbor a bunch of generally false beliefs about much of GMOs as foodstuffs. Others, even while wondering how we can cut fossil fuel use, refuse to have a rational discussion of the pros, as well as the cons, of nuclear power.

And, though not an actual conspiracy theory, the claim that Obama is actually fighting against the Trans Pacific Partnership by at least one Obamiac certainly is among the same vein of motivated reasoning.

That's why I even invented a blog tag called "pulling a Chris Mooney."

Mooney, in his book and other writings, has a huge blind spot about tribalism. Tribalism has a lot to do with motivated reasoning and very little to do with political leanings or ideologies. Therefore, both liberals and conservatives, scare quotes or not, can be equally tribal.

Beyond that, Mooney  went intellectually downhill in my book for other reasons, starting with buddying up with Sam Harris, then from there diving deep into the shallow pool of Gnu Atheism. (If you want to find a cesspool of tribalism and motivated reasoning, you at least dived into the right place, Mooney.)

This all said, I don't doubt that wingnuts who favor not giving health care to poor people, wingnuts who think the UN is about to take over our golf courses, will like this post. Well, overall, you're nuttier, and certainly more callous, than liberals. So, buzz off.

That said, it's frustrating to see just how willful Obamiacs can be about keeping the blinders up. Of course, assuming she runs for president, the Hillarystas will be even worse.

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