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How Limbaugh and Beck's propaganda works

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I am just completing some interior renovations and about to start some exterior work and so was talking to a couple of contractors. The first told me a conspiracy theory a friend of a friend had told him from the Rush Limbaugh show, whereby the government was alleged to be requiring spy cameras in every HD TV set. I have not been able to track down what Limbaugh might have said to have triggered this claim, but the 'Chinese whispers' effect is instrumental in the workings of this type of propaganda. The speaker makes a claim that is hedged with qualifications and caveats knowing that their words will be repeated without them.

The second conspiracy theory involved a story on Glenn Beck's site about a government 'plan' to ban PVC pipe. The headline has a question mark but it is clear that the reader is intended to believe this is a real proposal.

Banning PVC pipe in home building probably isn't much of a concern to most people but it would certainly worry the people in the building trade most of whom are the blue collar males who are the target audience for Beck and Limbaugh.

The propaganda follows a pattern that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Beck's show. First there is an incredibly detailed introduction that is designed to prove to the reader that the writer is an authority on the subject by stating a long list of essentially irrelevant facts that could be found on wikipedia. Next there comes a sequence of paragraphs that juxtapose facts in a way that is essentially irrelevant to the point but intended to create an association in the reader's mind. The big lie must be preceded by an advance guard of spurious but hard to check claims designed to distract attention from the blatant misrepresentation to follow:

First off, LEED certification is not cheap. Design and construction review of a new building can cost up to $27,500. In fact, in 2009, the USGBC made over $74 million from accreditation, membership dues, and certification fees. The non-profit organization reported $53 million in net assets at the end of that year.
It $27K for LEED certification expensive or cheap? It all depends on the cost of the building and the planning considerations. $27K would be rather expensive for a single residential building and a rounding error for a developer building an office block or a 100 unit residential community.

Next comes a completely irrelevant statistic:
The extent to which the federal government subsidizes the USGBC is made clear when you realize the amount of LEED-certified building space in Washington, DC, which has more LEED-certified space on a per-capita basis than in any of the 50 states. Over 18.9 million square feet, or 31.5 square feet per resident, is LEED certified in the Washington, DC; the closest state is Colorado, with 2.7 square feet per person.
Does it really make sense to compare a city to a state? Isn't it rather likely that Manhattan, Chicago and Boston have more LEED certified office space per capita than any of the 50 states as well?

Finally, after the preamble has prepared the reader and exhausted their fact checking efforts we get to the money shot, a statement that is clearly designed to get the reader whose livelihood depends on building houses worried:
And this brings us all the way back to PVC. As first mentioned, the GSA is considering new USGBC regulations that include the “avoidance” of the popular material.

As the proposal states: The intent is to “decrease the concentrations of chemical contaminants that can damage air quality, human health, productivity, and the environment.” And to this end, LEED will certify whoever uses products or materials “that do not contain intentionally added substances present in the end product.” This includes Polyvinyl chloride.
OK so assuming that the government is not intending to shut down the construction industry by banning PVC pipe, what is really going on?

What is really happening is that the LEED program has a 'pilot program' that developers can use to secure 'extra credit'. Participating a pilot is optional and many pilots list many different ways to score the credit. The pilot at issue here is Pilot Credit 54 "Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern". The criteria are hardly very exacting:
Use a minimum of 20%, by cost, of at least 3 building product and material types
meeting one of the options below
The option then lists a series of highly toxic materials; lead, mercury cadmium and so on. PVC isn't even in the list. So these are requirements that only apply to 20% of the building materials costs. A PVC building floating on a lake of mercury could qualify for the pilot credit provided at least 20% of the cost was other materials. I don't know how much my plumber spent on PVC pipe but I doubt it added up to more than a few hundred bucks. It certainly didn't amount to 80%.

PVC only appears in 'Option 2' which is an alternative option within the pilot and the wording is rather obscure:
Meet the requirements of Option 1.AND Use third party certified building products and materials that do not contain intentionally added substances present in the end product over the reporting thresholds
below. Calculate compliant building products and materials at twice the cost.
What this appears to say is that if your materials don't contain PVC or the other substances in concentrations higher than those allowed they count double. So you only need to source 10% of your components from these sources.

I can't see how a developer would have a problem meeting the requirements. My biggest building material expenses were concrete, framing lumber and plywood. The real challenge would be documenting that the requirements were met.

Remember that LEED is an optional program designed to illustrate best of breed, it is not regulation. This proposal isn't even a proposal for a LEED requirement. If the pilot requirements are unmeetable, nobody is going to meet them. If nobody meets them, the pilot proposals are unlikely to even become a LEED requirement.

This position is reinforced by a series of statements by what are cited as 'experts' but are really spokespersons for the PVC industry:
Allen Blakey, vice president of Industry and Government Affairs for the Vinyl Institute, says his organization is “astonished to see PVC added to the USGBC’s list of chemicals to avoid,” the report adds. According to Blakey, PVC is a material that’s been studied for some time by the USGBC itself.
And finally the writer heads off into crazy loopsville:
So why is LEED trying to blacklist the material?

Well, maybe it’s important to understand a little bit more about LEED’s “founding founder” Robert Watson, a man who infamously said “Buildings are far and away the worst thing humans do to the environment.”
This are not the ravings of a lunatic, they are the work of a deliberate, cynical propagandist. Deconstructing the propaganda is really not hard but it does require some critical thinking skills. The type of skills that Republicans would rather not see taught in schools.

First the reader needs to be able to identify the small set of factual statements that are actually relevant. Next the reader has to fact check the key claims by examining the original sources. In this case the key source is a document that appears to be written by lawyers for lawyers but even a quick glance demonstrates that it is being misrepresented. Finally the reader has to do a bit of work with Google to find the original source for the out of context quote. This is what I found:
Lest we forget. "Buildings are far and away the worst thing humans do to the environment," Rob Watson of the Natural Resources Defense Council tells Grist magazine (November 25). "All of the buildings in the U.S. consume more than twice as much energy as all of the cars in the country." Chicago has a building that does much better--the Chicago Center for Green Technology, at 445 N. Sacramento, is the third building in the country to receive a "platinum" rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

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