politics

just how dumb do Republicans politicos think we are?

Do you remember 9/11? It seems Rudy Giuliani doesn't. In the wake of the failed "underwear bomber", Rudy has claimed that "We had no domestic attacks under Bush; we've had one under Obama."

This requires forgetting not only 9/11 -- for Giuliani, a remarkable feat -- but the anthrax attacks and the shoe bomber.

I can only see two options: 1) Giuliani is so blinded by hatred for Obama that he's come down with hysterical amnesia and believes what he's saying, or 2) Giuliani is deliberately lying but has such a low opinion of the American voter that he thinks the lie will stick in some people's minds.

A similar malady seems to be effecting Dana Perino, who actually said "We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term," and Mary Matalin, who claimed that 9/11 was a problem inherited from the Clinton administration. (To refresh your memory, it was not the Clinton administration that, in August 2001, received and ignored a memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US".)

Obama appoints transgender woman to Department of Commerce

I've been critical and disappointed regarding Obama's treatment of the LGBT community. But he earns back some points with the history-making appointment of transgender woman Amanda Simpson as a senior technical adviser to the Department of Commerce.

As a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend (a FFOAFF?) noted, this has the added benefit that it will likely make Glen Beck's head explode.

Israeli border cops shoot woman's laptop

From the blog of American student Lily Sussman:

I was sitting on the deck overlooking the Red Sea. Israeli security officers (most who looked around 18 years old) had completed around two hours of questioning and searching me. They had pressed every sock and scarf with a security device, ripped open soap and had me strip extra layers. They asked me tons of questions–where are you going? Who do you know? Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Arab, Egyptian, Palestinian? Why do you live in Egypt? Why not Israel? What do you know about the ‘conflict’ here? What do you think? They quized me on Judaism,which I know nothing about.

...

Moments later a man came outside and introduced himself as the manager on duty. And then, “I’m sorry but we had to blow up your laptop. “

A clear, if thankfully mild, incident of state terrorism: "We see that you have political views we find unacceptable. We will therefore, under cover of 'security procedure', seek to intimidate you with violence toward your property."

TSA screening standards leaked

Ever wonder just what the rules were for the security theater that the TSA treats us to every time we fly? Now you can find out! Their super-secret "Screening Management Standard Operating Procedure" is published on the internet. They planned to block out the super-secret parts. But...

So the decision to publish it on the Internet is probably a questionable one. On top of that, however, is where the real idiocy shines. They chose to publish a redacted version of the document, hiding all the super-important stuff from the public. But they apparently don’t understand how redaction works in the electronic document world. See, rather than actually removing the offending text from the document they just drew a black box on top of it. Turns out that PDF documents don’t really care about the black box like that and the actual content of the document is still in the file.

Get yourself a copy of the cleared up document here (ZIPped PDF file).

climate change and the CRU break-in

Back in August, I said "Seems we can look forward to the same sort of lies, manipulation, and manufactured outrage about climate change we're currently enjoying about health care." I hate to say "I told you so", but as we see the same sort of wacko conspiracy theories and the same sort out-of-context quoting as was applied to the health care debate being applied to the stolen emails and documents from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University...well, I told you so.

So what's really going on here?

First, some background on the science. We know, as certainly as we know anything, that the greenhouse effect is real, that carbon dioxide, methane, ozone (essentially, ozone up high good, ozone down low bad), and CFCs are greenhouse gasses whose presence in the atmosphere makes the planet warmer.

We know for certain that human activity -- the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, certain agricultural techniques -- is adding to levels of these gasses. CO2 levels have risen from about 280 to nearly 380 ppm over the past century and a half, and this CO2 does not come from the oceans outgassing CO2. It's from burning fossil fuels and from deforestation.

These points are simply not open for debate among rational people. If you wish to dispute them, please go wait in line behind the creationists, the "death panel"ers, the "birthers", the "a missile hit the Pentagon and the WTC was brought down with a controlled demolition!" variety of "9/11 truthers", and the Holocaust deniers. Thanks.

We also know with a high degree of certainty that the planet is warming up. This conclusion takes us into the realm of history, which is never as certain as physics or chemistry -- we can't re-run history like we can a physics experiment. And our knowledge of history is very biased: we have the best data from regions where there were literate civilizations, and have to rely on paleontological methods for the rest of the world. Still, while the details are fuzzy, our certainty that the planet warming is very high. That doesn't mean that measured surface temperatures for every year will be warmer than the previous one, any more than every day in May is going to be warmer than the one before.

You can see some some pictures and some details of the temperature trends here and here.

Knowing that the planet is warming, and knowing that we're doing stuff that tends to make the planet warm up, most people would jump to the conclusion that the first is caused by the second.

But scientists are professional skeptics, and thus have to account for extraordinary possibilities. It could be merely a coincidence: the planet does have natural warming and cooling cycles and natural fluctuations in atmospheric CO2 levels. Real skeptics recognize that this would be an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence -- something on the order of claiming that "yes, Smith pointed a gun at Jones and pulled the trigger, and Jones got a hole in him and died, but the wound actually came from a meteorite that coincidentally hit that precise place at that exact time". Possible, but not something that's going to be accepted over the more usual explanation -- Smith shot Jones -- without some significant evidence.

Real skeptics remain open to the presentation of such evidence, but so far, none has come to light. Proposals that the warming can be accounted for by changes in cosmic rays or by changes in solar luminosity (i.e., the the sun getting brighter; see also Peter Laut's paper here) -- changes that would have to just happen to correspond with the uptick in industrial activity -- haven't panned out.

On the other hand, corporate shills, or those who hold to religious beliefs that their god gave mankind the planet to tear up like a spoiled kid messing up a fancy car, or that "property rights" or "markets" are more important than people, have strong incentive to deny the science. Instead they hold that the IPCC, NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Sciences, the science academies of Brazil, China and India, and numerous other scientific organizations, are all engaged in a sinister conspiracy, with the apparent goal of undermining the national sovereignty of the U.S. and restricting it's God-given right to spew whatever it wants into the atmosphere, in order to...well, that part of the batshit crazy conspiracy theory has never been clear to me. I guess climatologists just hate freedom.

Given the politicization of science, and the prevalence of this sort of batshit crazy conspiracy theory, we can perhaps understand why some climatologists would express frustration -- even express it rudely -- in e-mail intended to be private, shop-talk between colleagues.

So, with that background, let's look at a few of the bits of stolen e-mail causing the most buzz. Time and space only permits me to refute a small part of the batshittery here, but if you want to dig deeper, the discussion threads at realclimate.org are a good place to start.

playing into Bin Laden's hands

Let's say you're a wacko hiding out in the mountains of Afghanistan, and you really hate Americans. You'd really like to kill a bunch of them, even if you'd have to put your own life at risk.

Problem is, Americans are halfway across the world. What you'd really like is someone to deliver some Americans to your doorstep.

I'm sure, then, that you'd be overjoyed to learn that Obama is going to send you 34,000 more targets.

This wacko who wants American troops to come to him to be killed is not hypothetical. According to Abdel Bari Atwan, editor in chief of Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al Arab, in a 1996 interview Osama Bin Laden said, “I can’t fight the Americans on the American mainland. It is too far. But if I succeed in bringing the Americans where I can find them, where I can fight them on my own terms, on my turf, on my own ground, this will be the greatest success."

So I'm sure Bin Laden is thrilled that Bush and Obama have played right into his hands and given him what he most wants: convenient American targets. Why bother to set up intricate and expensive terrorist operations to kill them on their home turf, when they send their naive youth and nationalistic true believers to your doorstep for your murderous pleasure?

Bertell Ollman: "Letter of Resignation from the Jewish People"

I am not Jewish. I can't meaningfully comment on issues of Jewish identity. But I found this essay by Bertell Ollman on Judaism, Zionism, and internationalism very interesting (yes, the site is heavy on Marxism, but this essay has nothing to do with that sophomoric political philosophy):

From what I've said so far, it would be easy for some to dismiss me as a self-hating Jew, but that would be a mistake. If anything, I am a self-loving Jew, but the Jew I love in me is the Diaspora Jew, the Jew that was blessed for 2,000 years by having no country to call his/her own. That this was accompanied by many cruel disadvantages is well known, but it had one crowning advantage that towered over all the rest. By being an outsider in every country and belonging to the family of outsiders throughout the world, Jews on the whole suffered less from the small-minded prejudices that disfigure all forms of nationalism. If you couldn't be a full and equal citizen of the country in which you lived, you could be a citizen of the world, or at least begin to think of yourself as such even before the concepts existed that would help to clarify what this meant. I'm not saying that this is how most Diaspora Jews actually thought, but some did—Spinoza, Marx, Freud, and Einstein being among the best known—and the opportunity as well as the inclination for others to do so came from the very rejection they all experienced in the countries in which they lived. Even the widespread treatment of Jews as somehow less than human provoked a universalist response. As children of the same God, Jews argued, when this was permitted or just quietly reflected when it wasn't, that they shared a common humanity with their oppressors and that this should take precedence over everything else. The anti-Semitic charge, then, that Jews have always and everywhere been cosmopolitan and insufficiently patriotic had at least this much truth to it.

...

As far as I'm concerned, the comedian, Lenny Bruce, provided the only good answer to this question when he said, "Dig, I'm Jewish. Count Basie's Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor is goyish... Marine Corps—heavy goyish... If you live in New York or any other big city, you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you're going to be goyish even if you're Jewish... Kool-Aid is goyish. Evaporated milk is goyish even if Jews invented it... Pumpernickel is Jewish and, as you know, white bread is very goyish.... Negroes are all Jews... Irishmen who have rejected their religion are Jewish... Baton twirling is very goyish".

Juan Cole on Afghanistan and al-Qaida

Very interesting interview in the City Paper (Baltimore) with University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole, whose scholastic work has focused on Islam, on the situation in Afghanistan:

CP: One version of events of 9/11 is that it was part of bin Laden's strategy to lure us into Afghanistan and bleed us the way the Soviets were bled . . .

JC: Bin Laden said this explicitly in 1996.

CP: So why do you think we fell for the trap?

JC: It's just so tempting for a great power to have an area to go into. Central Asia is rich in resources--natural gas, and Kazakhstan has petroleum and gold--and there was this opportunity to assert U.S. interests in Central Asia and push Russia back. There are all kinds of reasons for which bin Laden was making us a very attractive offer. He was offering us a very large, delicious piece of cheese. Of course, it turns out that there was a very large mousetrap attached to the cheese.

CP: What about the terrorism component of this--the fear that the Taliban will shield al-Qaida and provide a safe haven that will give them a staging area to plan another attack on the United States?

JC: First of all, that premise is flawed. There is virtually no al-Qaida in Afghanistan. As we speak, something on the order of 10 to 15 percent of Afghanistan is more or less controlled by Taliban. And yet, there is virtually no al-Qaida in Afghanistan. So if the idea that Taliban equals safe harbor for al-Qaida isn't true in the present, why would it be true in the future?

In fact, why is it we don't think the Taliban can learn? They're pretty smart people. They took on the Soviets and defeated them. Surely they're dismayed at what happened to them after al-Qaida attacked the United States. I imagine a lot of them would slit al-Qaida's throats if they came anywhere near, out of anger at them for ruining the good deal the Taliban had in Afghanistan.

Americans overtaxed? Not so much.

In truth, the American pastime isn't baseball, it's complaining about taxes. Ok, sure, nobody likes 'em, everybody would love to see a lower tax bill -- provided, of course, that the bill isn't lowered by sticking future generations with the debt, or by cutting vital public services.

But that's just what we've been doing. For the past few decades of conservative rule, we've been borrowing money and letting the infrastructure crumble, while lowering taxes, especially on the rich.

Many on the right say that taxes are too high, and that any rise will spell doom for our economy. The problem with that claim is that not only do most other nations have a higher tax burden and function fine with it, but that the current U.S. tax burden is historically low.

Every year, Forbes magazine publishes a comparision of the total (personal and corporate, national, local, and state) tax burdens of OECD nations. (It does include what Forbes calls "stealth taxes" -- in its words, "green and carbon taxes, for example", though many people would not call making businesses pay for the damage they do to the environment a tax; still, it's a useful comparison.)

Take a look, and notice that the U.S. is way down near the bottom of the list, with a total tax burden of 34.5% of the GDP. Only Switzerland (34.2%) and Japan (33.4%) have a comparable standard of living and a lower tax burden -- and note that both these nations also have very low military spending and a non-aggressive foreign policy. But of course that's merely a coincidence, right?

(The highest tax burdens are Norway (58.4%), Sweden (54.9%), Denmark (54.9%) and Finland (52.7%) -- three of these countries rank higher than the U.S. on the Human Development Index, and Denmark ranks 0.001 of a point below the U.S. Their high taxes don't seem to have made them hellholes.)

Ok, fine, but it's not fair to compare the U.S. against those dang foreigners, after all we're special, exceptional, God's own favored nation, the land of free enterprise with liberty and justice for all. We're proud of not providing public services that other nations take for granted, of not having government involved in health care. (Except for Medicare. And Medicaid. And the VA. And the CDC. And the National Health Service Corps. And all those local tax funded EMS systems.) Our taxes should be lower than other countries because we're special, but they're still too high -- our tax burden has been going up and up and up, right?

Well, once again reality shows its liberal bias. Our federal tax burden is at near-record lows, with the average family forking over about 9% in income taxes to Uncle Sam, down from a 12% in 1981.

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