Archive for the 'the_usa' Category

Palin “Interviewed” by Hannity

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

In the interest of granting Sarah Palin equal time (to demonstrate her putzitude):

But it’s not just her; this isn’t about her.

It’s also about Sean Hannity. He’s a putz, too.

Tucson Shootings + Projection + Epistemic Closure = Reality Fail

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Gregory Rodriguez, writing in the LA Times op-ed section today: Politics’ dark passions.

In the 1960s, Swiss psychiatrist Marie-Louise von Franz theorized that rather than face their defects as individuals, citizens or supporters of a particular cause, people project their worst flaws onto their political opponents. When a congressman yells “You lie” at the president, maybe hes revealing his own failings. “Political agitation in all countries,” Von Franz wrote, “is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals.”

I’ve definitely noticed that tendency to project one’s own failings onto one’s political opponents. When combined with the tragic events in Tucson and an epistemically closed conservative-media echo chamber, the result is really kind of shocking.

Take this opinion piece by Charles M. Blow from the NYT: The Tucson Witch Hunt.

Immediately after the news broke, the air became thick with conjecture, speculation and innuendo. There was a giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left. The prophecy had been fulfilled: “words have consequences.” And now, the right’s rhetorical chickens had finally come home to roost.

The dots were too close and the temptation to connect them too strong. The target was a Democratic congresswoman. There was the map of her district in the cross hairs. There were her own prescient worries about overheated rhetoric.

Within hours of the shooting, there was a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right.

“I saw Goody Proctor with the devil! Oh, I mean Jared Lee Loughner! Yes him. With the devil!”

The only problem is that there was no evidence then, and even now, that overheated rhetoric from the right had anything to do with the shooting.

Except that the “giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left” didn’t actually happen. Believe me; I pay attention to left-leaning chatter. And at least in terms of reasonably high-profile voices, there was nothing even remotely resembling a “full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right.” There were some irresponsible attempts to link the shooter to a particular political persuasion, but they were attempts by people like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to raise the possibility of links between Loughner and the left.

As described in an item at by Brian Beutler at TPM (How Glenn Beck And Fox News Successfully Painted AZ Shooter As Hitler, Marx Devotee), here’s Beck, speaking on his Fox News show the night of the shootings:

This kid thinks the Mars rover, the landing, was faked. He thinks George W. Bush was behind 9/11. He believes in big government solution. His favorite books include ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Mein Kampf’…. I could tell you right now this guy is a textbook study of everybody I’ve warned against. But I’m not going to do that.

Here’s Hannity a few hours later:

On YouTube, Loughner’s profile listed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ among his favorite books.

Here’s Sen. Alexander, the day after the shooting:

What we know about this individual, for example, is that he was reading Karl Marx, and reading Hitler, and burning the American flag. That’s not the profile of a typical Tea Party member if that’s the inference that’s being made.

I’m not saying that those statements are untrue in their specifics, or even that they’re necessarily beyond the pale in terms of misleading listeners in support of a particular agenda. But where are the equivalent statements from the left offering evidence of specific reasons to think Loughner was a Tea Party adherent? As far as I can tell, no one was actually saying that. On the contrary, all the lefty voices I saw were essentially unanimous in saying two things: 1) there is no reason to think Loughner was motivated by any particular political ideology, and 2) notwithstanding, the killings were still a chilling reminder of the worst-case scenario of violent political rhetoric taken to the extreme.

Steve Benen responded to Blow’s column with this: Where was Charles Blow getting his news?

The great irony of Blow’s column is his emphasis on supporting one’s assumptions with “evidence.” He argued, “[P]otential, possibility and even plausibility are not proof.” Those who hope to “score political points,” Blow added, did so “in the absence of proof.”

The problem, of course, is that Blow is guilty of his own allegations. He sees a “giddy” left, where none existed. He sees “punch-drunk excitement” among liberals on a “witch hunt,” but offers literally nothing by way of support.

Within the tightly contained maelstrom of self-reinforcing opinion represented by right-wing TV, radio, and blogs, any excess on the part of the capitalized “Left” and the evil Obama seems credible, I guess. Witness right-wing blogger Jim Hoft writing in his Gateway Pundit blog: If White House Was Surprised by Applause at Tucson Pep Rally… Why Did They Ask For It On Jumbotron? Hoft saw an image of the Jumbotron at the arena where Wednesday’s memorial event was held, in which closed captioning mentioned “[APPLAUSE]” (as closed-captioning is wont to do when an audience applauds), and misinterpreted it as stage direction from the Obama team (as in, “Okay, everybody. Applaud now!”). More at Media Matters: No, Jim Hoft, The White House Did Not “Ask For” Applause On Jumbotron.

Sigh. Is this really what self-styled “punditry” has come to? Look: Everyone has an opinion. But not all opinions are created equal. When you choose information sources based on a desire to confirm what you already know, rather than a desire to actually learn the truth, you can end up looking really foolish. There’s a lot of that going around lately.

Shields and Brooks on Obama’s Tucson Speech

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

I’m not normally a big talking-heads-news-show guy, but I really liked this discussion:

Bernstein on the Right on the Left on Tucson: Internally Consistent, But Radically Wrong

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

I liked this item from Jonathon Bernstein: Palin, ‘blood libel’ and the old epistemic closure discussion.

I went through every post at National Review Online’s The Corner blog from the first news of the shootings through this morning. That’s a lot of stuff; numerous bloggers post quite a lot of items there, for those of you not familiar with it (and you should be! Read things from all over the place!).

What did I find?

First, I should say, a fair amount of shock, grief for the victims, and celebration of the heroic stories of those who saved lives in Tucson. Two reasonable posts about “tone,” one from Heather Mac Donald and one from Kathryn Jean Lopez and Seth Leibsohn.

But beginning very soon after the shootings, and continuing all week, the major theme has been resistance to what was presented as a systematic effort by liberals and the press to pin the attack on conservatives, and on Sarah Palin in particular. It is not presented as a story about specific politicians or pundits who made poor judgments. Nor is it presented as a reasoned discussion of whether extreme rhetoric can have unintended consequences. No; if you read just The Corner, what you’re left with is the impression that a monolithic, capitalized “Left” has been literally accusing Palin of murder.

Bernstein goes on to quote some really nasty, dishonest snark from old favorites like Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry.

He continues:

…my point isn’t so much that The Corner’s point of view is wrong, but that anyone reading just the Corner, or getting their news from such sources, would wind up with a massively distorted sense of what liberals were saying, and what the press was reporting. The conclusions that they would draw from that version of reality might be internally consistent, but would be radically wrong.


Palin’s ‘Message: I Care’ Video

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Watching Jon Stewart’s opening segment Monday night, I was struck by a powerful sense that here was someone who truly believed what he was saying, who was crafting his own words carefully and thoughtfully in an earnest effort to reach out to the millions he knew would be watching and give them something that would help them in a time of trouble, without (despite his closing quip) really concerning himself too much with what would be good for him personally.

I got an equally powerful sense while watching this next video, but it trended in pretty much the opposite direction:

Sarah Palin: “America’s Enduring Strength” from Sarah Palin on Vimeo.

Maybe it’s because of the contrast between this video and videos in which Palin has actually been required to speak her own thoughts, unscripted, but I can’t watch this without being overwhelmed by the sense that here is someone reading words that others have written for her, striving to inject homey touches and heartfelt emotion that she doesn’t really feel, all in an attempt to manipulate anyone daft enough or emotionally needy enough to support her into taking her side against those big bad meanies who’ve been picking on her.

Ick. Even with the lip gloss and ex-beauty-queen looks, I find that really off-putting. I’d agree that she has a First Amendment right to say whatever ridiculous thing she wants to say. And then I, and others, have an equal right to say what we think in response. And my response in this case is: Wow. What a putz.

Jon Stewart’s Monday-night Comments

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I know he likes to disclaim the role, but the reality is that Jon Stewart has become the closest thing that a large swath of the country (including me) has to a de facto media father figure, along the lines of what news anchors like Walter Cronkite were to an earlier generation. The rise of bubble-head (and shouting-head) media spokesshirts in place of a previous generation of people who actually saw themselves as professionals with a professional code of ethics has left a vacuum, one that has been filled by the guy who famously observed that “I’m just a comedian… I follow puppets making prank phone calls.”

Anyway, here’s the Daily Show’s lead item from Monday night:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Beck and Palin Exchange Emails

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Offered without comment (from With E-Mails, Palin and Beck Discuss the Arizona Shootings):

“Sarah, as you know, peace is always the answer,” said Mr. Beck, reading from an e-mail he sent her. “I know you are feeling the same heat, if not much more on this. I want you to know you have my support. But please look into protection for your family. An attempt on you could bring the republic down.”

Metacognition about the Unmetacognitionable

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I don’t have much to add to the chatter about the shooting in Tucson, but you all might as well have a thread in which to beat each other up about it. In the meantime, here are a few things that caught my eye:

The LA Times’ editorial writers were not impressed with the nature of online discourse surrounding the incident: Shooting from the lip in reaction to Gabrielle Giffords tragedy.

Free speech is one of this page’s most fundamental values; we wouldn’t suggest for a minute that it should be curtailed for fear of its consequences. But we agree with Clinton that people should assume responsibility for what they say, and we are both ashamed and embarrassed at the unreasoned and intemperate commentary we read Saturday.

I thought it was interesting to see Phil Plait go down the metacognition route, pointing out that while Sarah Palin’s crosshair graphic and “reload” rhetoric might have been a contributing factor in the shooter’s derangement, they also just as easily might not have been: The immediate aftermath of tragedy.

The shooting and the rhetoric are, for now, related but separate issues. Connections may come later, or they may not. Certainly, I would very much like to see the hateful speech gone from politics, and perhaps, if any good will come of this awful event, a spotlight will be focused on that issue. I just watched a short segment on CNN where they discussed this very topic, and I was surprised to see them being careful and saying the rhetoric may not be connected to the shooting, but also careful to say that it’s past time we do discuss the tone of politics these days. Perhaps there’s something to be hopeful for yet.

I suppose my point in all this is that it’s completely understandable that people want to vent and point fingers after a horrible event like this. The temptation for me is great as well, especially given my own predisposition against some of the people involved in the discussion. But we have to be very careful when evidence is scanty, because it’s all too easy to fill in the gaps with whatever our biases want.

And that is why we must be even more vigilant, even more ready to use critical thinking in the wake of tragedy. It’s OK to grieve, it’s OK to be horrified, and it’s OK to be angry. I’m angry, damn angry. But we cannot let that impair our judgment. It is times like these that we are most likely to rush in, to make snap judgments, and to make mistakes. And in a situation as serious as this, that is the thing we can least afford.

We could certainly use more Phil Plait-style skepticism. But I’m not holding my breath. Faced with the circumstances, people who have been warning that right wing hate radio and the tea party set’s violent rhetoric were going to lead to things like this are going to be perversely happy to use this as a stick to beat on their opponents. And for Sarah Palin, who pretty much exemplifies “act first in the brazen self-assurance that you’re always right and the other guy is always wrong, and don’t think too much about the possible consequences until later,” I think she’s got a certain amount of “I told you so” coming. I’m sure she’ll come through it with her ego intact, though. That’s kind of her superpower.

Finally, I liked Barb Tomlinson’s comments (and yes, shcb, I still think you’re too smart to date her): Small world extends to space.

My impression at the time was that people with shaved heads look very professional in zero gravity. But I wondered if he has to wear his glasses frames especially tight to keep them from drifting off his head. I still wonder these things, but now I also wonder how he deals with doing his job in space with the emotional distraction of having his sister-in-law targeted by a gunman with a whole slew of her friends taken out at the same time. Once again I’ve gone all hyper-emotional over something that has nothing to do with me. I can’t help crying for this engineer in space.

I never really know what I’m going to get when I read Spasms of Accommodation, except I always know I’m going to get the honest thoughts of an engaged, intelligent, and yes, slightly off-center individual. At moments like these, I find that comforting.

Goodstein on the American Clean Energy Party

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Eban Goodstein, director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy, has a plan for building a political movement around climate change. Given my own recent realization that the only way this issue is going to be addressed effectively is if it is transformed from a partisan wedge issue into a consensus view that is shared by both major parties, I definitely sat up and took notice when I read the following passage in New year, new idea for climate: the American Clean Energy party.

How would ACE work? Simply. Run ACE-endorsed candidates in Democratic and Republican congressional and U.S. Senate primary elections. Most ACE races would be in swing districts — challenging especially dirty energy Democrats in primaries, but also creating space for a clean energy Republican voice.

ACE would be a “single focus” party, endorsing only candidates who pledged to run and govern as “moderate” D’s or R’s (as defined by their district or state) in all areas excepting one. For economic revitalization, jobs, national security, rural development, energy independence, clean air for our kids, climate stabilization, we need a revolution: clean energy!

Why moderate elsewhere? Because clean energy is the defining issue of our time. On all other issues there is time to debate, and room to compromise. But on energy, time has run out. Addiction to fossil fuels is strangling our economy, and impoverishing the planet, and we have only a few short years to act before the window for action will close, forever.

Sign me up.

Profiles in Republican Courage #3: Richard Lugar

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

An example of the kind of reflexive anti-Obamaism that I was talking about with my “roadside bomb” post is the ongoing Senate dispute over ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty. I want to give credit to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) for being willing to stand up to his own party leadership, in particular to Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ).

Senate ratification of New START (which would require a two-thirds vote, meaning 9 Republicans in the current congress, or 14 starting next year) is a no-brainer in terms of US security interests, according to Lugar. Three Republican senators on the Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of New START on September 16: Lugar, as well as Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Along with the Democrats on the committee, that gave the treaty a 14-4 vote for ratification.

Kyl’s reasons for trying to put the brakes on ratification since then are a little unclear to me. The Wikipedia article on New START describes Kyl as an “arms control skeptic” who wants to withhold Republican votes in favor of the treaty until Obama will pledge to make a sufficiently large federal investment in “modernizing” US nuclear weapons. An alternate explanation is that Kyl is simply executing the Republican game-plan of denying Obama any victories whatsoever by any means necessary. Obama wants New START (having campaigned on furthering bilateral arms control), so preventing him from getting it helps Republicans make the case that he’s a failure who doesn’t deserve re-election.

The problem, of course, is that these sorts of actions have consequences that go beyond party politics. Bilateral arms control is not just an Obama campaign pledge. It’s something that benefits the entire country (well, world), regardless of your politics. Without New START, we’re essentially rolling back the clock on mutual verification to the time before that ultra-liberal Ronald Reagan managed to get the then-Soviet Union to join us in taking real, meaningful steps toward improved nuclear security.

More details:

White House moving ahead on New START with or without Jon Kyl – Josh Rogin writing at Foreign Policy magazine’s blog on November 19 about the current legislative prospects for New START ratification in the lame-duck session:

The bottom line is that the White House is no longer counting on Kyl to bring around his caucus and has reverted back to an earlier, second-track strategy to reach out to all the other GOP senators the administration thinks might vote “yes.”

“There’s a number that we need to get to get this passed. The question is, if Senator Kyl decides he is not able to support it now, whether a number of other Republicans would come on board and support the treaty,” one official said. “We believe that at the end of the day we will have made that so clear, the broader argument on the merits of treaty… can carry the day with enough Republican senators to get this passed.”

START ratification a matter of U.S. security, not petty politics – This appears to be either an unsigned op-ed piece or an editorial from the Asheville, NC Cititzen-Times from November 27:

The treaty has the support of six secretaries of states, six secretaries of defense, six national security advisers and eight U.S. strategic commanders. No one in any of those categories opposes it.

Is anyone opposed? According to Richard Burt, who negotiated the first START treaty for President George H.W. Bush, “(T)here are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified: the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.”

…In light of this, there should be little difficulty in mustering the two-thirds vote in the full Senate necessary for ratification. Right?

Wrong. John Kyl, of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, has evidently decided on a course of obstruction…

It appears as if some Republicans have decided that their stance is going to be to oppose everything that comes out of the Obama White House, period. There used to be a time when the nation’s security was put ahead of partisan politics, but evidently that time has passed for Kyl and his ilk.

Charting His Own Course Against Prevailing Winds – Jennifer Steinhauer’s November 28 article in the NYT on Lugar’s position on New START. It includes this pithy quote:

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

I don’t know what the chances are that eight Senate Republicans will join Lugar to vote in favor of New START, but here’s hoping.

Proposed: That the Republican Party Is to the United States as the Sunni Insurgency Is to Iraq

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I want to talk about a metaphor that occurred to me recently, but before I do, I want to emphasize that it is just a metaphor. I realize that there is a huge difference between blowing up innocent people and endeavoring to keep unemployment rates high. But with that said, even if the actual implementations of the two strategies differ, the strategies themselves have some interesting similarities.

The strategies I’m referring to, if you haven’t figured it out already, are those of the post-war Sunni insurgency in Iraq and the post-2008 Republican party in the US. In each case there was a group that had been toppled from power and wanted very much to get that power back. In each case the “official” levers of power were unavailable. In Iraq, the Army had been defeated militarily and then disbanded, and de-Baathification had removed Sunnis from power throughout the new government. In the US, Republicans had lost the White House, and, following on the 2006 loss of the House, they now had also lost the Senate (though it took a while for the Senate majority to actually change hands).

In each case the newly out-of-power group couldn’t do much within the system. They couldn’t run things, couldn’t propose or pass legislation, and couldn’t build goodwill with the population by delivering things that make peoples’ lives better. But in each case they could, if they chose, prevent their newly empowered adversaries from succeeding in doing any of those things. And that’s exactly what they did.

In Iraq the Sunni insurgency launched an underground war, both upon the American occupiers and upon the Shiite majority. Their preferred method of attack was the IED, the roadside bomb that killed American servicemen and women in their humvees or turned hundreds of mostly-Shiite civilians at markets and mosques into bloody body parts. Their goal was not to defeat the invaders or the Shiite ruling regime directly. It was to make the country ungovernable, to make things as horrific and chaotic as they could, to upset their opponents’ apple cart as a necessary first step in the eventual reacquisition of their own power.

In the US, the newly dis-empowered Republican party adopted the (again, metaphorically) similar strategy of denying Obama and his Democratic allies any easy legislative victories. In that fight they didn’t have much to work with, but they did have one thing: the Senate filibuster. So they used it, and used it at a record pace, blocking votes on virtually everything, including not only Democrats’ legislative priorities, but also normally-routine appointments to judgeships and government agencies. As a result they were able to kill or substantially hinder nearly every part of Obama’s agenda. Even on the one big battle that they lost (healthcare reform), they managed to turn it into something of a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats, chewing up vast amounts of time and Obama’s political capital, with the resulting legislation being watered down significantly.

Today, with the Republican party having re-won the House in the 2010 elections, they have an opportunity to go further, setting off even more “roadside bombs” (legislatively speaking). Among the things they can do, if they’re willing to, is to fight tooth and nail to make sure the government doesn’t do anything that might reduce the unemployment rate. They might go as far as forcing a government shutdown, blocking spending and helping to nudge the country back into the recession it has slowly been creeping out of. They can try to pressure the Fed not to take any actions that might stimulate economic growth. By doing so, they can maximize their chances of retaking the White House in 2012. Of course, they will also be choosing a strategy that keeps the economy sluggish and unemployment rates high.

That’s the sense in which the Republican strategy feels to me like the Sunni insurgency: By engaging in economic sabotage, they are willing to hurt the people of their own country merely because it helps their own chances of future power. It amounts to putting party before country in a way that I find really repellent, and that I tend to believe would strike those on the opposite side of this debate (by which I mean, conservatives) as equally repellent, if they actually believed it was happening. Which I assume they don’t believe, or else they would not support the kind of leadership that would engage in it.

Some links about this:


I, for one, welcome our new Tea Party overlords: My own post-election comment here, in which I first talked about a Republican party “willing to wield the filibuster as the legislative equivalent of a roadside bomb.”

Steve Benen:

GOP poised to kill tax-extenders bill, None dare call it sabotage and Krugman fears ‘Making America ungovernable’. Benen is the guy who took over Kevin Drum’s political blogger post at the Washington Monthly when Drum moved on to Mother Jones. Benen is often too doctrinaire in his liberal leanings for my taste, but if you’re willing to take that into account when reading him he makes some valid points.

Here’s a quote from the middle one of those three items:

For months in 2009, conservatives debated amongst themselves about whether it’s acceptable to actively root against President Obama as he dealt with a variety of pressing emergencies. Led by Rush Limbaugh and others, the right generally seemed to agree that there was nothing wrong with rooting against our leaders’ success, even in a time of crisis.

But we’re talking about a significantly different dynamic now. This general approach has shifted from hoping conditions don’t improve to taking steps to ensure conditions don’t improve. We’ve gone from Republicans rooting for failure to Republicans trying to guarantee failure.

Paul Krugman:

Axis of depression and There will be blood. Again, with Krugman you know you’re going to get an unabashedly liberal take. But that doesn’t mean you get to dismiss his arguments out of hand. (Well, if you’re the type who accepts the Fox News propaganda at face value, I guess it does. But at least speaking for myself, I feel like I have an obligation to consider the arguments that Krugman makes, and figure out why he’s incorrect, if I want to believe he is.)

From the latter Krugman piece:

Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits – an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.

And opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t limited to economic policy. Politics, they used to tell us, stops at the water’s edge – but that was then.

These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.

Matt Yglesias:

Planning for the worst:

So I know that tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s re-election chances. And Douglas Hibbs knows that it’s key. And senior administration officials know that its key. So is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? That rank and file Republicans know that it’s key? McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.

Stan Collander:

Bitter GOP criticism of the Fed may be ahead and GOP criticism of the Federal Reserve was both predictable and predicted. Collender looks at the specific case of the Federal Reserve, and its role (or non-role) in helping the country get out of the recession.

Jonathon Chait:

It’s not a lie if you believe it. With a title like that, how could I not find it compelling? Chait falls into the “no, they wouldn’t intentionally sabotage the economy” camp:

Still, I think you have to be careful about making assumptions about motive like this. Establishing motive is always very hard to prove. What’s more, the notion of deliberate sabotage presumes a conscious awareness that doesn’t square with human psychology as I understand it. People are extraordinarily deft at making their principles — not just their stated principles, but their actual principles — comport with their interests. The old Upton Sinclair quote — “It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it” — has a lot of wisdom to it.

I don’t think many Republicans are actually trying to stop legislation that might help the economy recover because they know that a slow economy is their best route to regaining power. I think that when they’re in power, consequences like an economic slowdown or a collapsing industry seem very dire, and policies to prevent this are going to sound compelling. When you’re out of power, arguments against such policies are going to sound more compelling.

Faiz Shakir:

Mitch McConnell: I want to be Senate majority leader in order to make Obama a one-term president. Shakir talks about a pre-election admission by Mitch McConnell that defeating Obama in 2012 is the “single most important thing” he would have done as majority leader in the Senate.

Kevin Drum:

Forecasting 2012 and The liberal noise machine. Drum is my favorite political blogger. The thing I like most about his writing is that he retains an ability to make up his own mind, based on his own research, independent of what ideology might dictate. He seems largely immune to the “my side is always right, even when it’s wrong” mindset that plagues so much of our national discourse. Here’s his take on the “are they intentionally sabotaging or not?” question:

POSTSCRIPT: For what it’s worth, my own view isn’t that Republicans are consciously trying to sabotage the economy. Rather, I think it’s really easy to convince yourself of things that are in your own self-interest, and that’s mostly what they’ve done. A bad economy is in their self-interest, so they’ve convinced themselves that every possible policy to improve things is a bad idea.

I’m willing to believe that people like Chait and Drum are right: Republicans would not intentionally hurt the country in order to help their own electoral prospects. But that’s small comfort, given that I also believe that by deluding themselves as they have into believing that opposing everything Obama wants will be good for the country, they have talked themselves into a strategy that actually does harm the country in real ways. We have real problems that need to be addressed, and by reflexively opposing everything Obama proposes, they are preventing even those actions that might be agreeable to both sides from being taken.

Profiles in Republican Courage #2: Sherwood Boehlert

Friday, November 19th, 2010

From his op-ed piece in today’s WaPo, here’s former New York Republican congressman Sherwood Boehlert: Science the GOP can’t wish away.

What is happening to the party of Ronald Reagan? He embraced scientific understanding of the environment and pollution and was proud of his role in helping to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. That was smart policy and smart politics. Most important, unlike many who profess to be his followers, Reagan didn’t deny the existence of global environmental problems but instead found ways to address them.

Marshall on Politico on Obama’s Question-Time Triumph

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Also interesting: That’s the Story? (#GalacticFail Edition).

The fact that a certain subset of Republican talking points can’t withstand an adult, informed, honest debate is exactly why I wish we had more incidents like the one that The Politico is trying to revise into an Obama ambush. Go ahead and have a British-style “question time” for Obama to stand up in front of congressional Republicans and take questions about the socialist nature of healthcare reform. Go ahead and call real climate scientists to your congressional hearing. Do it every week from now until November, 2012.

Seriously. Bring it on.

Toles Stares into the Abyss

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Tom Toles gets snarky: Fall weather.

The economy of the 21st century will be based on an educated workforce. This will entail a familiarity with science and technology and the ability to recognize that peer-reviewed scientific work is a conspiracy. Employers will be looking for people to compete against foreign workers by having the skills to look online and find a Web site that tells them that entire fields of science are a hoax.

Sullivan on the Right on Obama: The Big Lie

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Andrew Sullivan explains what the Republican playbook was for the last two years (not that it was any secret to anyone who was paying attention): The Big Lie and The Big Lie II.

Staniford on Denialism, Drought, and Politics

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

My latest man-crush is Stuart Staniford. He has a PhD in physics from UC Davis and is currently chief scientist for FireEye, a company that develops security software. As a hobby, though, he obsesses about longterm risks to humanity, and in his most-recent bloggy incarnation he writes Early Warning, which I just came across last week when Kevin Drum linked to it.

I don’t always do this when I come across a new blog, but in this case I’ve gone back to the beginning and am reading the whole thing in chronological order. It’s really good stuff. I enjoy following along as Staniford works his way through a problem; he’s logical, intelligent, and has a real knack for conveying the technical details of an issue in terms that neither overwhelm nor talk down to a non-technical reader.

Here’s one item I liked: The Elephant in the Room, in which he reviews the book of the same name. Staniford actually doesn’t think much of the book, but his comments on the subject itself are very cool:

When something is scary, people have an incentive to somehow avoid dealing with the facts, and a variety of creative strategies are available to them.

And in the alternative, if you commit yourself in some way to the idea that a particular risk is a big deal, (eg taking a public position, making career choices based on your assessment), you have a psychological incentive to deny evidence that maybe the problem is not so severe after all.

I think it’s these dueling incentives that create the structure we so often see around major global risks – one side is busy either ignoring the problem, or if that is no longer working, minimizing it, attacking the integrity of the proponents, etc. Meanwhile, the other side is at risk of exaggerating the seriousness of the problem, ignoring countervailing evidence or important context and of course attacking the integrity of the deniers. Both sides are often sincerely convinced of their own rightness (though there certainly can be scope for cynicism and deliberate dishonesty as well, and both sides will be very quick to point to the evidence for this on the other side, and very slow to examine it on their own side).

Staniford has a recent series of posts on the future of drought that were especially good. They basically concern his emotional and intellectual reactions to this graph:

It’s fascinating stuff. Staniford basically freaks out in response to seeing the graph and trying to wrap his head around what it means, then settles himself down and says, in effect, hey, I’m a scientist. I need to engage with this thing rationally. And then he does just that, and takes the reader along with him as he does his research and fits the pieces together. Highly recommended.

If a seven-part series of posts is too much of an investment, here’s a recent piece of Staniford’s that might pique the interest of this site’s readers in particular: A few election throughts.

What I see happening is this: the public is aware, rather inchoately, that things are going badly wrong and that the life they are accustomed to is under threat, but they have no idea what to do. The parties, by and large, have failed to diagnose the roots of the problem, and instead are reflexively proposing to relive their greatest hits of the past. Since the problems of the past are not the problems of the present, these approaches are not working. This is leading both parties into a cycle of over-promising what they can deliver, thus leading to bitter disappointment.

He goes on to detail just how it is that he sees the two major parties failing, and he doesn’t pull his punches. Like Jon Stewart talking to Rachel Maddow, the thing that strikes me the most, I think, is just how refreshing it is to read the take of someone who doesn’t feel the need to be throwing monkey poo at one side or the other, but is willing to stand back and say look: monkeys throwing poo.

Stewart on Maddow

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Jon Stewart manages not to throw up (barely) long enough to try to explain to Rachel Maddow why she’s a bad person for trying to be like Fox News (well, among a lot of other stuff):

Why Science and Reason Matter

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Here are three videos that came through my newsreader in the past few hours. Taken together, they tell a little story, which I can summarize like this: It’s all good fun mocking stupid/misguided/delusional people. But when those people end up in positions of power it’s not so funny, because sometimes the limits of human foresight come back to bite us, and when kids’ lives are at stake we need to take this stuff seriously.

I leave the deeper meanings of this story up to the reader.

And now, on with the show!

From RT America (a Russian-government-sponsored news outlet that has been accused, according to Wikipedia, of providing a platform for conspiracy theorists), here’s an explanation of what was really going on with that sunset contrail over southern California the other day:

Next up, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who is currently campaigning to be appointed the new chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:

Finally, the demolition of a 275-foot stack at the Ohio Edison Mad River Power Plant, complete with a group of assembled schoolchildren there to enjoy the spectacle, and to receive an unforgettable lesson in the importance of careful engineering:

I, for One, Welcome Our New Tea Party Overlords

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Marshall Ganz, writing today in an LA Times op ed: How Obama lost his voice, and how he can get it back.

During the presidential campaign, Obama inspired the nation not by delivering a poll-driven message but by telling a story that revealed the person within — within him and within us. In his Philadelphia speech on race, we learned of his gift not only for moral uplift but for “public education” in the deepest sense, bringing us to a new understanding of the albatross of racial politics that has burdened us since our founding.

On assuming office, something seemed to go out of the president’s speeches, out of the speaker and, as a result, out of us. Obama was suddenly strangely absent from the public discourse. We found ourselves in the grip of an economic crisis brought on by 40 years of anti-government rhetoric, policy and practices, but we listened in vain for an economic version of the race speech. What had gone wrong? Who was responsible? What could we do to help the president deal with it?

I enjoyed reading Ganz’s piece, and I think there’s a kernel of truth in it. It may be that now that Obama has a Republican House to deal with, something closer to Obama the campaigner of 2008 will be able to emerge. Going back to the Hillary battles, Obama has always been the guy who played chess while the other side was playing checkers, staying two or three moves ahead, and despite the attempts to portray last night as a referendum on his presidency, the real referendum will be held two years from now.

I actually was pretty gratified by last night’s results. The House fell to the Republicans, true, but again, I think that’s probably a good thing in terms of the larger political picture going forward. Let’s stand John Boehner and an actually-having-to-legislate Republican House up alongside Barack Obama, and let the American people decide whose leadership they prefer.

The Senate remained in Democratic hands, not that that makes a whole lot of difference as long as the party out of power is willing to wield the filibuster like the legislative equivalent of a roadside bomb. But it was gratifying to see Tea Party candidates lose Senate races the Republicans could otherwise have won.

Out here in my state and local races, most of the things I was hoping for came to pass: Brown beat Whitman, Boxer beat Fiorina, and Proposition 23 failed. Locally, all the candidates I supported won, so three incumbents were returned to the Carpinteria City Council, and one incumbent and two newcomers were sent to the Carpinteria Valley Water District board, with all the winning candidates being people I supported.

For me, the big issue going forward is climate change. I strongly approve of the new branding rolled out recently by David Roberts: This fight isn’t going to be won by people who describe themselves as environmentalists. It’s going to be won by climate hawks. More specifically, it’s going to be won by people for whom this issue transcends left-right political ideology. It’s going to be won by Democrats and Republicans who recognize that climate change is real, that it is caused by humans, and that the fight against it will be the defining battle of our generation.

How do we get there? How do we get someone like shcb to come to that realization? I think it has to happen gradually, one brave act of intellectual honesty at a time, and with a steady, careful presentation of the facts. I think we need to engage in the struggle of ideas, but engage in a way that acknowledges the basic intelligence and good faith of those on the other side, and that recognizes that both sides have work to do in terms of getting past our petty differences and facing up to the challenge at hand.

Darrell Issa, the presumptive new chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he wants to put Michael Mann on the witness stand. I say, good. I realize that Congressional hearings are not a court of law, and that Issa will certainly stack the deck any way he can to make his “ClimageGate” charges seem more credible. But this isn’t the time to whine about the tilt of the battlefield. This is the time to strap on the armor, grab the weapons, and get to it. As Mike Roddy put it in a comment on the Dot Earth blog:

Bring it on, baby. I can’t wait to see televised hearings, showing people like Michael Mann and James Hansen pitted against Issa and Inhofe. Even the average American will be able to figure out who actually knows what he’s talking about if this happens.

What he said. Let’s do this.

Computer-Generated Animation of Tea Party Ravings

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

The fourth or fifth time someone told me I should watch this video, I finally got around to doing so. And they were right; it’s pretty good. From Nathan Dintenfass, using the cool xtranormal engine: