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Total number of comments: 12 (since 2013-11-28 16:56:05)


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  • Why do GOP Presidents get to go Hard Right, and Dems are just GOP Lite?
    • Obama was hardly a great Progressive -- he was, you know, very much a product of the Chicago Democratic machine, which has its merits but forward-looking progressive legislation that challenges the status quo won't be among them.

    • McGovern's sin was a challenge to the National Security State, not economic policy. Sanders wasn't mounting a real challenge to the former (at least not a cohesive and coherent one, but it wasn't his focus).

      And I submit that abandoning corporate interests is precisely what Democrats fear, because that's the source of money for campaigns and just about everything else, like paying the guy to man the phones in the local office. Not that losing isn't an issue, but losing happens when people don't have an affirmative reason to vote for you. "I'm not as terrible as the other guy" isn't a great sell.

      Bill Clinton won against George Bush I in part because the economy was in a mild recession, and there wasn't a clear reason for victory in the Gulf War (it wasn't like Iraq was going to invade Florida) and in fact the first Gulf War was not as wildly popular as we often think (I know, I was an adult at the time). Polls were a mixed bag on the whole enterprise at best.

      It was only the fact that it went well and resulted in relatively few casualties, and basically no cost (at least not immediately visible) that it boosted Bush's poll numbers.

      Let's not forget that the Democrats (Bill C) supported repealing Glass-Steagall as well. Effectively, by the 1990s they'd abandoned the New Deal, and tacked right because they thought that was how to win, because the more traditional liberals had lost (Dukakis, Mondale). But the absence of the USSR created an opening that they didn't take. The first Iraq War ensured there'd be no peace dividend-- which was part of the point.

      It's no accident that the Dems have been trotting out Southern Democrats for decades, in part because the leadership was -- and to an extent still is -- stuck in fighting the last war over the Southern Strategy.

  • Saudis warn they will withdraw $750 Bn. from US economy if 9/11 Bill Passes
    • to amplify spyguy and rsj's notes, the threat is less than empty.

      First, Saudi Arabia's investment in the US is in Treasuries for the most part. If they sell them someone else will buy them (by definition) and they don't own enough to do more than make a temporary bump in the price if they sold them all tomorrow. Which would lose them money. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      The other issue is that many assets in the US are stuff like property which is relatively illiquid and again, someone else will buy it. Equities the problem is even worse (for the Saudis) since here too, someone has to buy the stocks and they had better hope that the price hasn't dipped since they bought it.

      This is the same reason that the Chinese want a healthy US economy. If we go down, we take China with us, because we are the ones who buy a large chunk of their stuff. (If the Chinese tried to dump Treasuries on the market they'd tank their own economy in about ten seconds, because all of a sudden they would have a truckload of now-worthless dollars. And their currency is effectively pegged to the dollar because that's the benchmark they use to decide the "proper" value of the yuan. It would be a massive, get-me-a-drink inducing headache for the Chinese central bankers).

      About the only thing the Saudis could do is try to engineer an oil embargo and that's not going to work either, they tried that one already and it didn't work then. (The shocks were temporary and only made the US more energy efficient, though they did wonders for the Japanese car industry). This time? They are in an even weaker position as OPEC hasn't been a really unified bloc for a while.

      Bluster on, your excellency.

  • British Muslim Family Not Allowed To Board Plane To Visit Disneyland: Are US visa officials Islamophobes?
    • The Daily Mail article (typically) is a rather good example of some weapons-grade errors in logic.

      -- The author says that she was stopped because her family didn't have the right surnames. Well, that makes it all right then!

      From the Daily Mail:
      "Without any way of knowing the truth, this is what I’d have been asking myself; where were the mothers of these 9 children?"

      Gee I don't know, Kate. Why don't you ask? Maybe they had to work. Maybe they had a divorce. But there's no indication you even asked.

      "And then there’s their address in Waltham Forest, a known hotbed of extremism"

      Last time I checked having an address in a given area doesn't mean that much -- or I suppose we really ought to stop Brits from Newton Abbot, home of the UKIP, or Wigton, home of the BNP. Can't be too sure.

      "Intelligence was received about a Facebook page connected to the family address, containing extremist material sympathising with Al Qaeda."

      Meaning what? Is it sympathising to say that you understand why Al Qaeda exists? Ms. Hopkins doesn't offer the slightest detail of what this is. Not even a screenshot. (Nor is it clear it's the right person).

      One of the brothers involved was deported from Israel, but that describes a rather large number of people. Like Rami Gudovitch, whose crime was advocating for refugees.

      And clearly Hopkins thinks that it's obvious that two men traveling with children are by definition terrorists. Her ability to spot wrongdoers is clearly so superior -- maybe she should work for Homeland Security?

  • Muslim victim of Boston Marathon bombing sues Glenn Beck for defamation and slander
    • Been a while since I went over libel law. But my sense is that Beck's defense would be that he is simply voicing an opinion, which is First Amendment protected. Weirdly, if Beck had said that someone else said Alharbi was a terrorist, and failed to make an effort to call Alharbi, there's grounds for a libel suit. If that seems odd, welcome to American libel law.

      It would depend a lot on the way the US District Courts see defamation tho. At the state level it varies. California has a slightly more plaintiff-friendly environment than other states. (Famously, California is a "truth is no defense" state, which sounds awful but stems from the Carol Burnett v Enquirer case).

      That said, it seems to me on the face of it that it would be difficult (not impossible) to win a judgement against Beck, depending on what his defense team strategy is. Again, if he says he was just voicing his opinion, then he might be able to walk away. I am not entirely sure of this, though, IANAL.

  • Will a Multi-Polar World be more Peaceful? The Failure of the Project for a New American Empire
    • I think Pinker underestimates how utterly irrational humans can be, and again I could note that a 100,000+ Iraqis are already dead, which is pretty close to the total military deaths in the US in WW I. Multiply this by several conflicts around the world and it isn't looking so good.

      Russia and the Ukraine might not be great powers in the old sense, but it shows that cross-border incursions aren't out of the question.

      Do I think say, Russia and China will go to war anytime soon? No, but I also note that the border between the two has been tense for a century. And do you think it would be out of character for the Chinese to decide to assert control over Central Asia, as they did in Tibet? (The entire conquest of Tibet was not just over minerals -- water was a huge motivator, and the Chinese now control the spigot on the four greatest rivers in Asia. What if they were to turn it off for India?)

      No, we don't rely on armies to kill each other the way we did 100 years ago -- we found more innovative ways to do it (see: Germany, Serbia). If I want to commit horrible genocide, all I need do is make sure that I keep the troop commitment to just enough to kill a few people and ensure that the rest die of disease and starvation. It's the difference between deploying a half a million troops a la Iraq/ Afghanistan and simply blockading (that's the strategy the Israelis have used). Both are still military actions.

      A lot of small wars can also add up to a big one very, very fast. We're still early yet. 100,000 people in a dozen years already beats the total for 1900-1914. We have time, you know?

      I should also say that one huge difference in the US -- and one reason it's possible to keep low-level conflicts going for so long -- is hat we're better and not losing as many soldiers directly. That is, more soldiers survive. So the sheer numbers of deaths per number of soldiers sent is smaller -- compare 50,000 deaths in Vietnam on the US side, compared with ~5,000 or so now, with the same number of troops sent. That matters when trying to maintain the popularity of warfare. The fact that it isn't as big a chunk of the economy is also a factor. We sent on the order of a million troops-- a large portion of what we did in WW II -- but have not had to ration metals and the like. So people don't feel it in their daily lives. As long as the casualties are one -sided enough there are plenty of people who are happy enough to continue -- assuming they notice between episodes of reality TV. I'd argue we have plenty of wars to choose from, but we are much better at hiding the effects from the citizenry.

      I will bet with you that by 2030 we will have handily beaten the totals of dead from WW I. It just won't be US soldiers, or French ones. They will all be spread out among countries in Africa and Asia, the result of a thousand cuts.

      100 thousand here, a hundred thousand there, and soon you're talking real casualties.

      Here's an example from the 1990s: Yugoslavia. I was in Hungary and Romania as the war was breaking out and later getting nasty. There was some real fear about that conflict spreading -- the Hungarians were giving out work visas to the people of Transylvania and tweaking the noses of their neighbors and the right-wing nationalists were gaining ground in both nations, and there was talk of "protecting" Hungarian minorities in northern Croatia.

      Cooler heads prevailed, thank the gods. I will not bet on us being so lucky the next time.

      To me the question is not why war happens, but why it ever stops, because historically it hasn't. We have been at war in the US Pretty continuously for a century (I can only think of a decade or so when we were not). Counting up the other nations, and I wonder if Pinker is just left with saying that we've managed to off-load the dead to other countries on the periphery.

      Pessimistic? Yes, but the great thing about that is pleasant surprises are more common. :-) I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

    • I think one part of this is spot-on -- the sample size is far, far too small to say whether "traditional" warfare is over.

      Let's look back to 1914: by that time, no major power had engaged in a war in Europe for some time (it was an uneasy peace) and the war between Japan and Russia was short, as was putting own the Boxer Rebellion.

      Fast forward to 1950. The picture looks very, very different. In fact, while the wars between nation-states haven't taken center stage the way we imagine they "should" (a la WW I and WW II) if we count up the sheer number of casualties and wars per year we've already made a big dent in the WWI total, and we're only 13 years in. So that part of the essay seems a bit blind to the reality that interstate (or certainly, inter-governmental-claimant -- we might class them as civil wars or separatist movements) warfare is alive and well.

  • Top Ten Ways GOP could avoid "War on Women" Label
    • Actually there are TV ads. Here's one.

      link to

      Though the rules for ads differ a lot market to market -- some local stations will carry them and some won't. In NYC you're more likely to see the ads than in say, Salt Lake City.

    • Brian -- the answer is no, not in the US, though that might be the case in China or India. The thing is the sex of the baby is by no means obvious in the first three months.

      Second point: if no abortions are available a lot MORE women will die, full stop. There are many situations (some types of eclampsia, for example) where carrying ANY pregnancy o term is a gigantic, big, honking risk that could kill the prospective mother.

      Let me debunk a few myths here:

      1. Women don't get abortion willy-nilly. This isn't a decision any woman takes lightly.

      2. Do you trust a woman to make decisions about her health?

      The second point is important. I could tell you stories of deeply religious women who demonstrated at abortion clinics and then found themselves pregnant -- and wanting an abortion. Many had had children already. Some faced health risks. The point is everyone's story is different, which is precisely why we need to have it available.

      And I don't want to see the "abortion on demand" canard. When ELSE would you want an abortion, when you don't demand it? The whole is ue about making abortion hard to access because the wimminz might be too stupid to understand what they are doing is deeply insulting.

      Consent, Brian. It's not a hard concept.

  • Dear Press: Stop Enthusing About Habitable Planets until People like Va.'s Cuccinelli Stop Destroying this One
    • I'll agree and disagree with you, Juan, though I generally agree with you more far, far more often than not.

      The space program was instrumental in outlining several environmental problems that needed fixing, and is still vital for understanding climate change at all. Minus weather satellites we would have near-zero data on the large-scale effects of climate change. We wouldn't really be able to see it. And I submit that the iconic images of the Earth in space kick-started the environmental movement in many ways.

      Technological solutions are definitely not always in order, and the relation between technology and human progress is a complicated one. (To give one example, the cotton gin actually made slavery *more* economically viable than it was before in the US). You are quite correct that many technologies rely on access to cheap energy.

      While it isn't possible currently to travel to planets around other stars faster than light, we actually have the technology right now to build starships. it would just be stupendously expensive. For instance, a generation ship (say, a wheel design that hits ~10% lightspeed) is well within our reach, using a combination of say, NERVA rockets and ion engines, or solar sails. Even the old Orion project might do it. But it would bankrupt the US to build right now.

      In one sense though, a generation ship is a good idea. Even if humans were perfect environmental stewards there's always the possibility of the stray asteroid we don't see in time. A sufficiently large one would wipe us out. Getting to other planets solves the "eggs in one basket" problem.

      All that said. Yes, you are quite correct that we need to radically change the way we do business here, now, if we are to survive to achieve any of this.

      I think that while it's easy to dismiss the enthusiasm over finding other worlds that are "Earthlike" (the term is a loose one) the discoveries also underscores just how fragile and unique our planet actually is.

      Beyond the silly headlines, anyone who takes even a cursory dip into astronomy is, if they can think at all, immediately smacked in the head with the sheer size of the universe. Astronomy makes you realize just how brief human lives are, how long the rest of the universe has been around, and the depth of your connection to it. Carl Sagan was hardly a shill for the oil industry -- he in fact was one of many who back in 1979(!) noted that (per others' work and his own) that humans could do a great deal of damage to the environment we depend on. Nor was he a fan of purely technological fixes. He was very, very clear that Mind -- us, that is -- might be common in the universe as a whole, but we're pretty well on our own and had better not screw up.

      Yes, the major news outlets should pay more attention to climate change. To the Koch brothers. To the nature of rapacious capitalism. Yes, we have serious problems that need addressing.

      But to say that it's wrong to be enthusiastic about human possibility in this sense is to me, like being upset that we discovered how to make laser beams before we figured out how to do open-heart surgery, or found the structure of DNA in 1953 but still can't cure every form of cancer.

      The questions over what makes planets habitable - and what other planets look like, are in fact an important piece to answer if we are to avert disaster here.

      This also doesn't mean that scientific priorities aren't affected by what gets funded, et cetera. But think of my example of the space program above. Would we really have taken action to limit CFC production. for instance, without the information from satellite imaging? I doubt it. What effect did the views of Earth from space have? I doubt too many people saw that and said. "I want to drill for more oil."

      And to global warming: The work that was done on the atmospheres of Venus and Mars were both very, very important in understanding the role of even trace gases in the atmosphere of Earth. CO2 especially. We know now that minus a CO2 atmosphere Mars would be even *colder* and Venus is a hellish place because the atmosphere is largely CO2. We know that CO2 atmospheres are common (most rocky bodies int he solar system have that as a major gas). That tells us a lot about the Earth and how not to de-terraform it.

      At best I think you are being uncharitable, and at worst you're looking at science as a zero-sum game, and forgetting the interrelated nature of the enterprise.

  • The Arab Reading of the Petraeus/Allen Affair: Jill Kelley is Gilberte Khawam, a Lebanese
    • Maybe the reason nobody mentioned her ethnicity was her (Americanized) last name. Something tells me if it had been "Khawam" the reaction would have been a bit different. And if her family was Muslim. FOX news would have run with that one!

      I don't read too much into her going to the FBI guy who sent the shirtless photos. I live in NYC and I can tell you more than one person has gone to a buddy in the NYPD to get an investigation rolling. Just go through the archive of the local tabloids, you'll see plenty of that.

  • Romney Jumps the Shark: Libya, Egypt and the Butterfly Effect
    • JL3, why should you refer to Muslim fundamentalists as real Muslims, and not use the same epithet for Christian fundamentalists? You say the latter aren't "real" Christians. I suggest you look up the "No True Scotsman" argument.

      Christians have a long, sorry history of finding people who aren't Christians and simply killing them out of hand. Ask a Mayan about the Spanish, or a Naragansett about the Pilgrims. (The Spanish would "baptize" children by drowning them in wells. The Pilgrims simply went to Native villages and killed everyone present. So at least they dropped the pretense).

      And the Bible is quite specific about violence against non-believers. See: Leviticus. And Numbers. The Bible also says that a rapist gets to marry the woman he raped. Joy for all! /sarcasm

      The New Testament isn't much better. You did read Paul on the subject of homosexuality?

      There's also, of course, that bit about the speck in the other man's eye and the bean in one's own.

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