Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Are we in a war on terror? And what do we do with the UndieBomber?

Conservatives and liberals both try to treat the so-called "war on terror" in familiar ways. The left wants the terrorists treated as criminals; the right wants the terrorists treated as enemy soldiers.

Conservatives accuse liberals of underestimating the gravity of the situation, and of thinking if we just talk to them real nice they'll settle down and agree to talk things over with us.

Liberals accuse conservatives of exaggerating the gravity of the situation, and of thinking we need to surrender all our rights in exchange for the promise of safety, and of wanting to torture prisoners.

Both fail to recognize that this is a new situation--one made possible by a world linked via the Internet and full of readily available people-killing technology that lets one determined fanatic kills hundreds or even thousands of people.

John Wilkes Booth probably had the same psychological profile as the Nigerian UndieBomber. But all Booth was able to do in 1865 was kill one man (albeit the most important human being in America). The UndieBomber could have killed hundred and cost the country many, many millions of dollars when all the ramifications played out. And we still have the spectre of one of them setting off a dirty bomb in Times Square, or releasing a cloud of anthrax out of the door of a light plane flying over, say, downtown Chicago.

And today's John Wilkes Booths can morph into terrorists all by themselves, in their parents' basement, in front of a computer.

So this is new; the stakes are higher, relative to the number of enemies required to seriously harm us; and the old paradigms are inadequate.

The leftist "police response" parameter doesn't work because most of the terrorist acts were trying to prevent are internationally mediated, even they aren't entirely generated abroad. And since the terrorists' main bases are in failing or failed states (including parts of states that aren't under federal control, as in Pakistan's tribal areas), we can't always depend on cooperation between our police departments and their counterparts abroad.

At the same time we've gotten, are getting, and will get enormous help from police departments here and abroad.

It's understandable to try to deal with new things using old responses. They say generals are forever trying to fight the last war, ignoring how the new one is different.

So--it's not countries attacking us. Bush decided it was Iraq. He didn't get that it was non-state actors. But it wasn't criminals attacking us either. It was, again, non-state actors belonging to a loose semi-organization operating in both failed states and in highly organized ones as well--like the UK and Germany.

Nor was it "terrorists." The IRA isn't trying to kill us. The ETA isn't trying to kill us. Nor the Tamil Tigers, nor Uighur activists, nor anybody else but Muslim extremists--mostly members of the Wahhabi fundamentalist sect. And since they seek to dominate every aspect of society, control all mass communications, and evoke atavistic tribal loyalties in their followers. This is the essence of fascism. So they're Islamofascists. And our "war" that isn't exactly a war is--whatever it is--not with "terrorism." It's with Islamofascism. And by the way all the world's moderate Muslims are in an even more existential conflict with these folks.

It's not a war but it's sure a conflict. I'd call it our conflict with the Islamofascists who chose to pick a fight with us. Yeah, yeah, "war on terror" is simpler. But it's way wrong. It lets Muslim fanatics off the hook in a fit of PCness even the Republicans haven't escaped. And calling it a "war" led to us attacking a country instead of the people who attacked us. That's even wronger.

So. It's not a war because they're not a country. It's not terrorism because it's only Muslim fanatic terrorists, not any other kind of terrorist.

And what we do about it...well, that's complicated. Much of it has to be done in the dark, through the CIA and other secretive branches of our government. We have to fly UAVs into countries whose citizens object mightily to our UAVs flying into their countries, and we have to kill Islamofascists there who are trying to kill us. We have to make deals with bad guys in some places in order to support our efforts. We have to send solidiers in harm's way sometimes, as in Afghanistan. We also have to do peaceful things there as well, but it's no use to build a school if your enemies come in the next day and blow it up. We also have to learn who they are and why they think what they think. We have to combat their propaganda with ours--something we haven't done well at all.

Bush called them "unlawful combatants." And so they are, and as such they fall outside the Geneva Convention. That doesn't mean we should torture them. Probably doesn't work 99% of the time anyway if it's information you're after.

Here's the conundrum, though. It ennobles them to treat them like soldiers--even unlawful ones. They think they're soldiers in the Army of the Lord, and martyrs when we kill them. But their acts--if they aren't American citizens, and especially if they aren't on American soil--aren't those of soldiers.

Still, they're not criminals either, in the ordinary sense of them breaking the law either for personal gain or because they're crazy. But they're not waging war against us on behalf of another country either. So that makes them unlawful combatants, just like Bush said (NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman once observed that something isn't automatically wrong if Bush said it (just usually)).

So what do you do with unlawful combatants? You try them in military tribunals, without publicity, just as we did Nazi agents who entered America in WWII to commit sabotage.

That's what I'd do with the UndieBomber. He's an unlawful combatant. I wouldn't execute him--don't make martyrs. Try him without publicity--without anyone ever hearing one word coming out of his mouth. Then put him in a SuperMax prison cell for the rest of his life. I don't say this out of opposition to the death penalty. But in this case our goals are best achieved by basically disappearing him.

I realize this puts me uncomfortably into Cheney territory...pretty odd for an Obama voter like me.

Oh, and we should indeed close Guantanamo. It's based on a legal fiction that's both ridiculous and disproved. It would make a terrific resort, and make us good money--and we could offer Cubans jobs in the resort. Wouldn't that grind the Castro regime's grits? We could get some of the money that now goes to Cancun.

And we have Supermax prisons here, from which I seriously doubt anyone will ever escape.

So we go after them using ours and others' police forces and military and secret operations. We use them all. And the ones we find we kill or capture. And the ones we capture we generally disappear.

Enemy combatants don't belong in our criminal justice system. BTW it also helps us get other countries' police forces to help us if we don't execute them. At the same time we must not allow them any communication with the outside world. That's some punishment, I'd say.

Making flights safe

1. Scanners, scanners everywhere.

2. Profile, instead of harassing everyone who flies. Most young Muslim men aren't murderous terrorists. But most murderous terrorists are young Muslim men. That's doesn't justify keeping all young Muslim men off airplanes, and it's crucial to treat them courteously. But they must get extra attention, It can't be helped, and innocent young Muslim men should understand that. And they have to sit in the middle, away from the airplane's skin, and not over the wings/fuel tanks. Again, sorry. Can't be helped.

3. Use UAVs (drones) to kill terrorist leaders and followers wherever we can find them, in Yemen, in Pakistan, everywhere. We can't achieve success purely defensively. Anyone in Al Qaeda needs to handed a nightmarish existence, always looking up at the sky, peering through the clouds. Also use hit squads like the ones Mossad used to kill virtually all the Palestinian terrorist who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

4. Develop a massive internet strike force that speaks Arabic and/or Pashtun and/or Urdu etc. to disrupt the Jihadisphere.

5. Mount a PR campaign to attack the religious legitimacy of Jihadism. This will be extremely difficult to do, but it needs to be done.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Healthcare reform isn't perfect!

New York Times liberal columnist Bob Herbert published an op-ed piece today saying "There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care." I said:

...And yet equally liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman endorsed passing whatever highly flawed healthcare reform legislation emerges from Congress.

What's the difference between Herbert and Krugman? They're both equally liberal. Perhaps it's that Krugman is a distinguished economist and understands the big picture a little better than Herbert.

If this doesn't pass it's a good bet we'll get a Republican president in 2012, and given the age and health of the Supreme Court's less conservative minority, that ensures that an even farther right Supreme Court majority will be available to overturn progressive legislation and decide close elections in the GOP's favor for generations to come.

Moreover, healthcare reform, once passed, will be modifiable. Without passage of something, however flawed, the GOP sock puppets and their paymasters in Medicine-for-profit-Inc. will ensure that we won't get a second chance for another generation. They're already spending over a million dollars a day spreading breathtaking lies (according to www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com), turning public opinion against reform.

So while Mr. Herbert's complaints may well be valid, considered by themselves, from a larger perspective, we absolutely need to pass healthcare reform, however flawed.

I've read scores of comments on these threads by liberal Democrats declaring that this shouldn't pass because it falls short of their dream (and mine), and that furthermore they won't support Obama next time around because he failed to..what? We didn't elect him king. An American president has very constrained powers compared to many other kinds of heads of state.

When President Palin is busy undoing EVERYTHING Obama accomplished and is putting us in an even deeper hole than Bush put us in...remember this moment and what your whirly-eyed idealism did to us.


PS: I've been tallying up comment threads like this on the NYT and WaPo, and either both newspapers' readers are overwhelmingly far right Republican--or non-readers (probably in both senses of the term) are showing up in these forums the same way they showed up at congressional townhall meetings--to shout down anyone they disagreed with and to make it seem like there were more people like them than there really are.

So as you peruse this thread, look for semiliterate broad-spectrum denunciations of Democrats in general and Obama/Pelosi/Reid in particular, frequent mentions of "socialism" and other red-faced hyperbole, and generally venemous tone. And look at yourself reading them--see how they try to suck you into off-topic sparring with them instead of actually talking about Herbert's column.

You must ignore them. It's hard, I know. But you should know that you can't change their minds--that would require minds to change. We must combat them, but not by talking to them. Independents with genuine concerns, yes. Republicans like David Brooks and David Gergen and Colin Powell, absolutely. Not the nutjobs, though. That's what they want.


The NYTimes published 279 comments on Herbert's editorial. They deleted this one, though. Apparently it violated their terms, though for the life of me I can't figure out why. The vast, vast majority of the comments said Herbert was right and that healthcare reform resembling ther Senate or House bills should not pass. Most were liberals, but many righty-tighties also wrote in, saying they agreed with Herbert for the first time, then went on to make venemous disparaging comments about the president, all liberals and the congressional Democrats in particular.

I'm sorry "compromise" is so very difficult for people to understand.

I fear we'll get what these NYT readers are asking for: no healthcare reform at all, since it's currently impossible to get the kind they demand. And then we'll get President Palin.

Repeal the death tax?

The New York Times published an editorial about the estate tax yesterday, garnering the usual rants about "death tax" and double taxation yada yada.

Some facts: 70-90% of the money that estate taxes tax has never been taxed. Not once. And for even the small proportion that has been taxed, estate taxes don't tax the dead. That's pretty tough to do unless you have a pretty exotic theology.

Estate taxes are an income tax on the recipients, who have never before been taxed for this income.

And it only applies to .3% of estates. That's right--one in 370, or three tenths of one percent. And of that tiny group, an even tinier group comprise people trying to pass on their hard-earned wealth. It's money made by Paris Hilton's great-grandfather and George Bush's grandfather. It's money a bunch of coupon-clippers want to pass on to their coupon-clipping progeny. Or to their pet dog. Or to the very attentive young lady from the escort service.

If you want a detailed rundown on this scam, and who's behind it, look here.

Are most readers of liberal newspapers Republicans?

Editorially liberal newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post get hundreds of comments on their editorials and op-ed pieces.

I've started to realized that many of those comments aren't from readers. But if not, who are these people? --especially the ones who insert general-purpose right wing rants, often with numerous spelling/grammar errors that don't seem to match reader demographics for the publication in question.

But how do you prove it?

I took a Washington Post op ed piece advocating changing the U.S. Senate's filibuster rules, which have gotten a lot of attention since being used by the Republicans to block healthcare reform. Historically, they first came into prominence when Southern senators used filibusters to try to block segregation reforms.

I read the hundreds of comments and categorized them into pros and cons and off topic rants (many about healthcare reform), along with whether they were pretty much nonpartisan or appeared to be making left wing or right wing talking points.

Here's what I posted in the comment thread for that article:

As of 10:32:03pm, here's how the hundreds of comments on this thread divide up:

72 support Senate rules reform on bipartisan grounds, though a lot of these want term limits more than a change in filibuster rules

26 oppose reforming the filibuster rules on nonpartisan or bipartisan grounds

33 more support Senate rules reform on a Democratic Party partisan basis.

44 more oppose reforming the filibuster rules on a Republican partisan basis.

This gets us 105 favoring Senate rules reform by combining bipartisan and Democratic pro- comments, and

70 opposing Senate (filibuster) rules reform by combing bipartisan and Republican anti- comments

there were also 91 off-topic rants against all things Democratic by Republican posters,

along with 51 off-topic Democratic partisan posts--mostly in response to the off-topic Republican rants, and

30 more off-topic nonpartisan rants, mostly of the "pox on both your houses" variety.

Put this all together and you have 135 explicitly Republican posts vs. 83 explicitly Democratic posts.

So--is it reasonable to assume that either a large majority of Washington Post readers are hard-core Republicans--the sort who believe President Obama is a foreigner, a Marxist, and a Muslim terrorist...

Or that many if not most of the Republican off-topic rants come from those who aren't actually Washington Post readers?

If the latter is true, why is it true?

Three possibilities:

1. Some of the posters are sad, angry little souls whose only real human contact is the negative intimacy they derive from flame wars online.

2. Others are Republican activists mounting something like a DNS (Denial of Service) attack on mainstream comment threads to disrupt them and to create the false impression that more people share their beliefs than is true.

3. Or some? many? are doing this for money. I have seen two right wing websites offering this service. No idea whether it's true. Seems plausible though.

Another question: how did the non-WaPo readers find their way to this article's comment thread? Are there groups monitoring major publications who then direct them to such comment threads through blogs? Or what?

12/27/2009 10:50:00 PM

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Epistle to the Brits: What about your Muslims?

I originally posted this essay in a comment thread of the Guardian, a liberal UK newspaper, regarding an article about a young Muslim women whose brothers had thrown acid in her face for dating a non-Muslim. There were many comments, mostly either "kick 'em all out" or "who are you to judge their culture." America does the best of any Western country at assimilating Muslims, so I felt that gave me a reason to put in my 2 cents' worth:

A year ago I attended the naturalization ceremony of a friend who'd moved here from India. People from 68 countries became Americans in that auditorium in San Jose that day. They all swore to renounce their old loyalties and take up a new one--being an American.

They weren't asked to give up their fondness for the aulde sod, or their memories. But they were expected to put being American first.

My country, in turn, promised them access to the American Dream--that if they worked hard and played by the rules they'd have the same opportunities as the rest of us--that they wouldn't be discriminated against for jobs or housing or schooling or marrying.

It's a tall order, and often neither side of this bargain gets kept. But both sides keep up their end of the bargain enough to make this a very unusual country--British at its core, still, but with a kaleidescopic overlay of other cultures and races and languages.

If you despair at this being possible in the U.K., come visit the San Francisco Bay Area where I live and see it at work. And it does work. Really.

But the trick is it works when everyone's middle class, with a modicum of education. Most of the Mexican peasants flooding over our southern borders are not assimilating, nor are about a third of the blacks in our inner cities. But the engineers and businessmen and scientists and poets and skilled machinists from all over are.

But I think immigration and assimilation are less organic for the U.K. than it is for the USA. Here in the Bay Area a Sikh with a turban can get a good job, rent a nice apartment, marry someone with Irish ancestry. The immigrants go to the same schools as everyone else and learn American ways. We don't have as many enclaves as you do, proportionately.

I have a neighbor, a physicist-turned-programmer from the former East Germany, married to a very dark-skinned African woman of pure Tamil ancestry. They tried living in Germany, but people, um, looked at them. They tried living in South Africa--in Durban, where the wife came from. Same thing.

They moved here and had a child. Here--no problemo. Nobody "looks" at them.

My point is it's a two way street.

But I don't see how all this is going to work with uneducated peasants--and with large ghettos that function as if they're foreign countries embedded in yours.

The London bombers were educated, but they obviously didn't believe they were Brit.

Now what?

A May 9 Gallup poll compared assimilation of Muslims in different Western countries. Here's how they stacked up:
1. America, with only 15% of Muslims culturally isolated from the country;
2. Canada--20%
3. Norway, Belgium, Italy, France, Netherlands--all around 28-30%
4. U.K.--35%
5. Germany-- 38%

I'm simplifying it here, but that's the gist of it. And I think you'll find that this list corresponds with the host nations' indigenous peoples' degree of acceptance of Muslims who are willing to play by their country's rules.

Mind you, I am not talking about acceptance of those who want to kill you.

But take the UK. OK, you've got over a third of your Muslims not accepting British society. That's a huge problem. Just remember, though, that even in your next-to-bottom position 45% of British Muslims are tolerant/accepting of the majority culture, and 20% are all for it.

So don't throw out the baby with the bathwater ("A muther was washin' 'er bayby one night; 'twas the youngest of 10, and a delicate mite; the muther was power, and the bayby was fin; 'twas naught but ang skelington covered wit skin... (but I digress)").

Bottom line: Two thirds of British Muslims want to get along with everybody and be good British citizens.

So how do you accentuate the latter and minimize the former?

Beats me.

I do know any real solution is going to be expensive, and lengthy, and involve how majority Brits deal with Muslims as well as vice versa.

And I know that letting the children go to madrassas instead of regular schools is as bad an idea as it gets. The kids must learn to be Brits who are Muslim instead of Muslims who live among infidels.

And I know that the appallingly effective Islamist Web campaign has to be dealt with in some way.

Lastly, I know that good Brits who are Muslim have to wrest control of the mosques and schools away from the radical Saudi-financed imams.

Oh, and don't ban minarets. But do ban calls to prayer over massive external loudspeaker systems. There's nothing about amplified calls to prayer in the Qu'ran, folks.

Good luck. I know it's gonna be hard slogging. Non iligitimati carborundum (yes, I know that's Faux Latin).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Remember what they're saying now!

The leaders of the Republican Party (not Rush Limbaugh but people like Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader in the Senate, and Whatshisname Steele, head of the Republican National Committee) have stated flatly that passage of the Democrats' healthcare reform bill will mean economic, social and moral disaster for America.

They haven't qualified their statements or hedged them the way social scientists do. This means they're saying they have God-class knowledge of what's going to happen.

OK. I call on every registered Republican to mark their leaders' words--and the contrasting predictions of the Democratic Party leadership--and see which comes true through the next several election cycles.

And if the Republican leaders turn out to have been profoundly wrong (as they were about Social Security and Medicare, both of which prompted the same dire predictions), you need to either change the leadership of your party or leave it.

Same goes for the pundits. If the right wing talking heads' predictions prove wrong--why listen to them any more?

Unless they recant and describe what led them to say what they did, and how it's different now.

If healthcare reform does leave the country in a smoking ruin, I promise to help do the same on the Democratic side. Deal?

Above all, remember what everyone is saying now--and hold them accountable for what they say later. Otherwise unscrupulous pols and pundits will speak for the moment without regard for how well-founded what they say is.

Words matter. Predictions matter. Lying matters. And demagoguery really matters.

So say we all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Judges should be selected, not elected

Retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor has joined a nationwide campaign to persuade states to end the innately corrupting practice of electing judges. Read about it here (requires free registration to the New York Times).

District attorneys should come next. Put them all on a merit system.

And while we're at it, how about having to pass a Civil Service exam before you can run for Congress or the presidency? That would weed out some of them, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hold your nose and support it

Yesterday's New York Times editorial advocated supporting the Senate healthcare reform bill, despits its many compromises and omissions. Liberal economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman said pretty much the same thing.

I posted this comment (#29 on their website):

I watched the Senate debate the healthcare bill for most of the day. Doing that and then going to www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com to can be quite an eye-opener. Basically, these rigorously nonpartisan sites call various Demos on shading the truth now and then--while the 'Publicans emit one whopper after another.

So while neither side is a cynosure of probity they aren't morally equivalent. It's like comparing a pickpocket to Bernie Madoff.

Of course Madoff is a piker compared to the GOP and their patrons. Madoff just bankrupted every friend he had in the world. The GOP did a number on the whole country--particularly their own rural rank and file supporters.

Supporters who buy every line the GOP feeds them.

For example, it turns out the GOP senators were shocked! Shocked! to discover that the Demos cut back room deals with compromises to the legislation and goodies for pivotal senators' home states to get this legislation through.


And then the constant posturing as deficit hawks, proudly presenting themselves as the champions of the little guy and protectors of his pocketbook. These are same guys whose #2 man during the Bush era said "Deficits don't matter."

And all of this with the same wide-eyed innocent look my son had as a kid when I saw him chinning himself on the towell rack, tearing it off the wall, then stoutly denied he'd done any such thing--with tears in his eyes at this impugning of his innocence. Hello, I SAW him do it!

What's scariest is I bet the R-Senators could pass a lie detector test. They've figured out how to compartmentalize their minds, I guess, keeping their own, um, indiscretions and venality firewalled from their righteous wrath as the Demos' shortcomings.

Another leitmotif was their nonstop whining about the Demos' unseemly haste. But they controlled Congress from 1994 through 2006 without enacting healthcare reform. So I guess their sense of proper pace is to be measured in decades...or, perhaps more accurately...never.

Best of all is their constantly citing opinion polls showing public approval of healthcare reform has been steadily dropping. I'm sure it has, and no wonder: the GOP's padrones in the Healthcare Insurance Denial industry have been spending over $1M a DAY for lo these many months.

And the American public is the product of the American educational system, which has been stripped of political science content by left and right wing special interest groups, with the resulting texts and curricula so inoffensive they've also become bo-r-ing as your senile Aunt Martha who repeats her entire conversation about her bowel movements that day every five minutes as long as you're there.

Today's NYTime editorial is fully synchronous with the factchecking websites I cited at the beginning of this screed. That's not always the case, but it is here, and I appreciate the non-doctrinaire liberal but realistic stance it takes--much like Paul Krugman has. An inability to compromise scuttled the Clinton healtcare plan, getting us decades of more of medical bankruptcies and routine insurer claim denials. Including one that stuck my spouse and me for $1,500--so I know whereof so many people speak.

I'm a NYT reader of long standing, and a political centrist who checks out what both sides say before drawing conclusions. So this comment should probably represent the mainstream of comments here.

But by the time they close the comments this thread will have been flooded by enraged rants by people who loathe every syllable the NYT editorial board has ever written.

Here's a tip: most of them aren't actual NYT readers. They're blog trolls. Some are loo-hoo-sers who flame for fun, because it's the only social contact they have. Others were sent here by right wing blogs and noted economist Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity et al. And it's possible that others are blogtrolls for hire. I hope the NYT puts a good investigative reporter onto that last possibility. I'd like to know whether it's true.

Whichever way the trolls arrive here, they can create the impression that NYT readers don't agree with this editorial.

Maybe that's the idea.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Welcome to the Trolliverse

Recently (OK, I'm a slow learner!) I've started to realize that comment threads online are often stuffed with comments that appear out of place--i.e., they seem to be not written by valid participants of that forum, or by actual readers of that publication.

You've probably noticed the same, at least subliminally.

It's becoming clear to me that many forums are
stuffed with ringers, falling into three groups:

1. Lone operators, usually ideologue cranks, who have no life. They go to forums to flame real participants in hopes of triggering powerful angry responses. This achieves what's known as negative intimacy. Same thing as some angry divorced people strive for with their exes.
Negative intimacy is safer emotionally than positive intimacy. It requires no social skills. And there's no risk of rejection. In positive intimacy you tell someone "I like you" and the other can say "Well I don't like you." Crushing. But if you tell them "You suck" nothing is risked. So on a primal level it's safe.

You can spot them because usually they're functioning on a more primitive level than the people they're attacking, so it quickly becomes clear that they're interlopers. I once got such a flame for this blog. I had to edit out a bunch of cursing in order to run it.

Often the flamers pick up enough of the language used by people on the forum to parrot it--thus with global warming forums, they use terms like "junk science" and "scientific method" but they don't actually know what these mean. But they don't need to--they just need to wield them such as to generate a response--the angry response they need. Or at least think they need.

2. Volunteer ideologues directed by like-minded websites or talk radio hosts to mount a blitzkrieg attack on designated forums. This is a version of a DNS (Denial of service) executed on a human rather than programmatic level. The purpose is twofold:

a) to simply disrupt the conversation and deny one's opponents a forum by filling it with distractions, chatter, and vicious attacks;

b) give the impression that a large part of the public--or at least of the constituency of that website/special interest group--is actually against the issue most valid participants of that website actually advocate, or vice versa. It's fifth column work designed to sow dissension and despair and make people feel like they alone hold their beliefs--to doubt their beliefs.

3. Paid hit men (and women) who do the same as #2. I did some digging on the Net and found links to a couple of sites that offer this service. The ones I saw appear to be rightist/corporatist. I don't know whether they'd do the same for someone on the other side, but I suppose it's possible. And I don't know if there are left wing services that do this for money.


For example, Scientific American Magazine's website recently ran an op-ed piece about global warming and the Copenhagen conference. The comments thread was flooded with global warming deniers along with extremely hostile attacks on anyone advocating acting to mitigate global warming, along with general attacks on scientists as a group.

I've subscribed to the magazine for decades, and I know what its audience is like. These attacking commentors were obviously not Scientific American readers. Not necessarily because they were global warming deniers, but because of the character of the attacks.

I asked one of these guys point blank in the comments thread whether he actually read the magazine, and his response showed to my satisfaction that he didn't.

The first time the LA Times permitted comments on opinion pieces, the comments were flooded by psycho spamming. They had to shut down the comments threads and try to figure out how to deal with this. I don't know whether they've come up with a plan.

Some of the most insidious are Creationists on forums discussing evolution. They get fed questions to ask, ask them, then scientists waste countless cycles trying to reason with them. But all they ever get is the next set of superficially scientific-sounding questions. Thus they tie up the forum by moving the subject towards their set of preoccupations, which no one who understands evolution has.

It's easiest to spot such trolling on a website whose subject matter you know a lot about. But really, trolls--whether paid, volunteer, or unemployed guys living in their parents' basement--generally come off about the same.

They all fight dirty--and it shows.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Healthcare reform and party reform

Paul Krugman advocated liberals holding their noses and supporting the Senate's highly compromised healthcare reform bill. He got numerous comments. Mine got zero recommendations from readers. Here it is:

Professor Krugman is exactly correct here about everything he's touched on in this op-ed piece.

Let me add one more reason to pass it: the GOP (short for Greed Over Princoples) has utterly abandoned anything a Republican of Eisenhower's time would recognize as Republican or conservative.

Moreover, the tactics being used to try to defeat healthcare reform are nothing short of despicable. Nearly every word that comes out of Republican leaders' mouths, or that appears in the $1.4 million/day ad blitz against healthcare reform, is a baldfaced lie. I don't expect readers to believe me--they shouldn't. But believe www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com. Both have proven to be utterly nonpartisan, mainstream factcheckers and truthtellers.

There are conservative arguments to be made against the current form healthcare reform is taking, but the GOP isn't making them. Instead they've resorted to fearmongering demagoguery.

Only if they lose this fight is there a chance for GOP reform. America needs a conservative political party. Right now the GOP isn't that. So if you're a Republican voter, bite your lip and contact your congressman in support of the Senate bill.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How lies that work...work

Lots of people will believe complete fabrications from political operatives. But only under certain conditions:

1. The lie has to be part of a plausible narrative--a story that supplies motive, means, opportunity, and a timeline.

2. You have to hear it repeated a zillion times, from multiple sources.

3. It has to dovetail with your worldview.

4. It has to appeal to your more juvenile instincts.

5. It has to trigger powerful emotions--especially the ones the average chimpanzee also experiences.

6. The lie's envelope of justification has to provide you with cover (i.e., you can't hate Obama because he's a Negro--but you can hate him if you can say it's because he's a foreigner who holds office illegally).

7. Usually the lie stands on the shoulders of other lies that have already been established in your head.

8. It has to forestall your listening--actually listening--to refutations of the lie. This is usually done by claiming that anyone debunking the lie belongs to the enemy tribe, and because therefore his motives must be bad, you don't have to pay attention to his logic or his facts.

9. It helps if the lie appropriates the other side's language. Thus attacks on climate change by human activity often call climate warming proofs "junk science" when it's the denial that's the junk science.

10. And it also helps if the lie is part of a cascade of related lies. You put out Lie A and the media pick it up and run with it for a week or two; meanwhile investigative reporters are digging for data. But the moment they start to publish their fact-checking refutations, you come out with Lie B. Stir and repeat as needs. For example the "Obama's not American" campaign went though a series of morphs in this manner.

11. For the most vile lies, have people with no known connection to your party promulgate them, while Party leadership says well, they don't know, but where there's smoke there's fire, and we must investigate this "controversy." Then if the lie is successfully debunked, you can claim clean hands, Pontius Pilate-style.

12. If anyone calls you on your lie, fly into a rage at the manner in which the person called you on it. Sean Hannity is particularly adept at this--maybe it's an Irish thing. Then attack the truth-teller's motives. Make the debate personal and tribal, so that a viewer feels like he'd be betraying his political tribe by giving in.

Political lies are carefully crafted to satisfy all these requirements, then disseminated through sophisticated campaigns, with the lie's envelope shaped to fit the venue--academic types to push it on PBS, rabble rousers to do same on Fox, with further shaping for demographic slices like fundamentalist Christians, or, for the left, the more Luddite Greens, say.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthcare reform under the hood

The press talks about the healthcare reform effort in Congress as being a contest between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

But another way to look at it would be to see it as a contest between the healthcare insurance industry and the voters. From this viewpoint you could say that the healthcare insurance industry owns nearly all of the GOP congressmen and enough of the Democratic ones to prevent the most meaningful aspects of reform from passing.

GOP congressmen and pundits deny this hotly of course, and point to public opinion polls supporting their opposition to healthcare reform.

But what they never mention is the $1.4 million a day the healthcare insurance industry has been spending for months and month on shaping public opinion--just as they did the last time this was tried.

And that opinion-shaping takes the form of scaremongering lies that have been thoroughly debunked by nonpartisann factchecking organizations like www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com.

They also have as a partner in crime the Angry Billionaires' Club--America's richest 1/2 of 1%, none of whom need any social services, and who want to preserve the Third World income distribution profile America now has. They have invested countless millions of dollars in a PR campaign to make Americans fear and distrust government in toto, and to voluntarily abandon the only things that protect individual Americans from being exploited the way workers were in the England of Charles Dickens.

So whenever government tries to regulate any business sector, the industries involved can tap into this free-floating government distrust that has been inculcated by the minions of the Angry Billionaires' Club for decades.

Listen to congressional opponents to healthcare reform and you'll see how they invoke this general distrust of government--reaping the harvest created by this careful cultivation of the American foundational attitude towards a distant and uncaring government on the other side of the Atlantic back in the 18th century.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bank regulation

President Obama is pushing for bank regulation reform. Liberals will applaud this while calling for even stricter regulation, while folks identifying themselves as conservative will condemn it as Socialism.

But I've figured out how to translate GOPSpeak into actual English. "Socialism" once meant "government owning big business." That's how Marx/Lenin/Mao etc. defined it.

But in GOPSpeak "Socialism" now means “any regulation of business whatsoever.”

The rightists’ screeds will contrast evil "Democrat Party So-shul-ism" with the “Free Market.” This now means “Big business owning government.” Not explicitly of course. However, if government hops whenever the Masters of the Universe say "frog" that's what it means. That's what "too big to fail" means.

Which the big business owners and CEOs pulling the GOP’s strings think is just ducky—and the natural order of things. This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston lays out in his book Free Lunch: How the wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at government expense (and stick you with the bill).

And the GOP will get the people most oppressed by big business—small business owners and rural Republican rank and file—to enthusiastically endorse these perversions of the language, because the GOP has learned how to get people to betray themselves and their loved ones and their future generations.

They accomplished this hat trick through three principles. They’ve discovered that even the most flat-out outrageous lies will be believed by half the people and than some, as long as you and your cohorts repeat them constantly, weave them into an emotionally satisfying narrative, and get the public to turn a deaf ear to the truth-tellers by invoking tribalism.

Tribalism is built into our DNA. It’s what gets us to excuse darn near anything someone we think is on our side does, and disbelieve everything someone we think is in the other tribe does. This is why the Republican attacks on the Democrats are so venomous and personal—they don’t attack the principles the Demos are espousing. They attack Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, saying their names with the same inflection you might use to describe dog droppings you just stepped in.

After all, you aren’t going to listen to someone you loathe—someone whose tribe is out to get yours.

And the tribe the GOP has built isn’t America. It’s just American self-identified conservatives. Well, in GOPSpeak “American” and “the American People” now means “people who vote Republican.” Democrats aren’t American. They’re enemies living here illegitimately. That’s why the nonsense about Obama not being a citizen has persisted so strongly. GOP rank and file FEEL that he isn’t American. They did the same thing to Kerry, and Gore, and Clinton, and Dukakis---just not quite so overtly.

Adam Smith, the bespoken deity of the Right, would have endorsed this NYTimes editorial, because he understood that the true enemy of Capitalism isn’t Socialism—it’s Monopoly. And that’s what banks too big to fail are homing in on.

But it’s fitting that the GOP has perverted its core beliefs so much that often not much more than the names are left. It has become, philosophically, a big hollow shell, whose only principle now is to obediently rage against anything that might even slightly constrain the richest 1/2 percent of Americans.

Look at the right wing rants about business regulation in the right wing blogosphere. Aren’t most of them consistent with what I’ve laid out here?

Monday, December 14, 2009


We could greatly reduce prison populations--and cut off organized crime and much of terrorist financing--at the knees by decriminalizing drugs for adults. Of course this would require accepting reality--something ideologues rarely can do.

But here's a thought I haven't heard elsewhere: maybe--just maybe--conservatives could countenance this if at the same time all crimes committed under the influence of mind-altering substances (including alcohol) were classified as premeditated, since the perp had to decide to get bombed.

This fits with true conservatism--i.e. leaving up to individuals to decide their own fate, while holding them fully responsible for the consequences of their action on others.

How about it?

Bilingual education = Spanish education

If you need ammo for arguments over bilingual ed, here's a thorough examination of what happened here in California after an anti-bilingual education initiative passed:


I once taught in a school that was half-Mexican (and I don't mean Mexican-American), and bilingual ed there was a crock. It was a club for Spanish-speaking kids to kick back and bide their time until they left school, usually long before graduation.

Blingual ed is yet another example of how your worst enemies may be those who declare themselves to be your strongest advocates.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Climategate" reveals a hoax, all right...

...but the hoax is the one perpetrated by whoever paid Russian hackers-for-hire to acquire several climate scientists' emails, then construct a plausible but false narrative from selective quotes taken from 13 years of correspondence.

But don't take my word for it. I'm not a climate scientist. Nor do I command the research facilities of Politifact.com and Factcheck.org, which have earned a reputation for both thoroughness and even-handedness. Even a cursory search on their websites shows how much they hand out praise and blame to both sides as truth dictates.

Here are their conclusions about Climategate. If you have any doubts left, go to their sites and get the full story. I check them out weekly myself.

From Politifact.com:

"The e-mails do not prove that global warming is a hoax. In fact, there's overwhelming evidence that temperatures have been rising and are continuing to rise. Just take a recent report issued by the United States Global Research Program, an arm of the government that, since 1989, has been coordinating and integrating federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. The report states that "global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced. ."


From FactCheck.org:

"A Dec. 3 Rasmussen survey found that only 25 percent of adults surveyed said that "most scientists agree on global warming" while 52 percent said that "there is significant disagreement within the scientific community" and 23 percent said they were not sure.

...[But] "over the 13 years covered by the CRU e-mails, scientific consensus has only become stronger as the evidence for global warming from various sources has mounted.

"Reports from the National Academies and the U.S. Global Change Research Program that analyze large amounts of data from various sources also agree..

.In advance of the 2009 U.N. climate change summit, the national academies of 13 nations issued a joint statement of their recommendations for combating climate change, in which they discussed the "human forcing" of global warming and said that the need for action was "indisputable."


Many young Adult Mexican-Americans call themselves "Mexican"

The Pew Hispanic Center has released the results of its 2009 survey of Latinos aged 16-25.

As recently as 1940, Latinos represented only 1/2% of Americans. Now they're the largest minority, at over 15%--mostly from illegal immigration and subsequent amnesties, along with our Constitution granting automatic citizenship to children of illegals.

Some highlights of this year's Pew survey:

2/3 were born here (of parents who came mainly in the wave immigration starting in 1965).

40% of native born Latinos say they know one or more gangbangers (possibly including themselves).

52% call themselves "Mexican" or "Guatemalan"--wherever they or their parents came from--rather than "American" or "Mexican-American" or "Hispanic" or "Latino." Even third-generation youths are split on this, with just 50% calling themselves "American."

52% say they speak English not very well--or not at all (the survey was conducted in English and in Spanish).

17% dropped out of high school
(vs. 9% of blacks, 6% of whites, 4% of Asians).

23% live in poverty
(vs. 28% of blacks, 13% of whites, 8% of Asians).

"Young Hispanic females have the highest rates of teen parenthood of any major racial or ethnic group in the country." 26% of females have had children by age 19
(vs. 22% of blacks, 11% of whites, and 6% of Asians).
"On average, Hispanic females are projected to have just over 3 children in their lifetime."
(vs. 2.2 for blacks and 1.9 for whites).

"Latinos make up about 18% of all youths in the U.S. ages 16 to 25.
However, their share is far higher in a number of states.
They make up
51% of all youths in New Mexico,
42% in California,
40% in Texas,
36% in Arizona,
31% in Nevada,
24% in Florida, and
24% in Colorado."

(California's education statistics are in the tank, largely due to the enormous impact of these educationally indifferent youths.)

68% are Mexican in origin; 42% or more of their parents are high school dropouts (vs. about 1/4 for other Latino youth).

About 3% were incarcerated in 2008
(vs. 7% of blacks and 1% of whites).

Around 17% are illegal aliens.

50% of male Latino youths believe the man should have the final say in family matters (vs. 24% of the females).

49% to 71% believe abortion should be illegal, depending on whether they're mainly Engiish speakers or Spanish speakers.

To be sure Mexico has its share of doctors, engineers, legitimate business owners and the like--but they're not moving here. Instead we're getting--as this poll demonstrates--Mexico's least educated laborers, doing work American laborers won't do--for starvation wages, that is. And we're getting them because Mexico's population has quintupled since 1940. The Mexican government, faced with fifty million more people than it needs, figured out--correctly--that we're so stupid we'd be glad to serve as their relief valve.

Mexico's government encourages people to come here by hook or by crook, distributes comic books showing them how to do it, and supports their efforts through a network of consulates. And tells them they're not illegal immigrants because the Southwest is actually part of Mexico that we stole from them, so they're just taking back what's rightfully theirs.

I'd love to have Mexican doctors and engineers immigrate here. But we don't need any more peasants--from anywhere. Look at the unemployment rates for American unskilled laborers. I believe it's pushing 20%--one out of five. How can anyone with a conscience promote taking in more unskilled laborers when we can't employ our own unskilled laborers?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Danish climate change conference useless

The upcoming climate change summit in Denmark will talk about fossil fuel use, carbon taxes and suchlike. Woo hoo. What won't be discussed is overpopulationm, the root cause of global warming. If the human race had stabilized at 1900 population levels, we wouldn't be talking about global warming.

But neither liberals nor conservatives have the courage the face up to acknowledging this, because the solutions go against our instincts.

And we always follow our instincts. Evolution deniers claim that there's no "missing link" because we thinking humans and lower creatures. Well, just walk down a city street and look around. Missing links abound. They're the ones who deny the reality of anything that might inconvenience them.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's not a clash of civilizations

For there to be a clash of civilizations, there have to be at least two civilizations. There aren't. We have a civilization. They have a tribe. The difference is that civilizations live by principles. Tribes live by loyalty. A civilization can criticize its own people. I can shout "Obama sucks" or "Christ was a jerk" from the rooftops and nothing will happen to me (outside the deep South that is).

But if I shout "Muhammed was a clown" in the Middle East I'll be killed--probably on the spot.

The Taliban bombed a women's market in Peshawar, Pakistan, murdering 114 poor women and children. And many if not most Pakistanis--even middle class ones--blamed it on the Jews, or the Indians, or the Americans, as part of a Western plot to destroy Pakistan in particular and Islam in general. They refuse to believe that a fellow Muslim could be so evil. And until they do, they're a tribe fighting our civilization.

We all remember what happened when an obscure Danish newspaper published a group of cartoons depicting/satirizing Islam/Muhammed, of which the one shown here is about as harsh as it gets (Danish imams poured gasoline on the fire when they went to the Middle East armed with the Danish cartoons--plus some far worse ones they cooked up themselves and added to the Danish ones).

There were violent riots throughout Muslim countries. Millions took to the streets. People died in the riots. The cartoonists and their publishers had to go into hiding after getting credible death threats in Denmark.

On the other hand, after the October bombing of that women's market? Nada. If a drone kills three civilians and a Taliban general, there are demonstrations and pop songs written against America.

Pakistani pop music is full of denuciations and videos that are anti-American, anti-drone, anti-India, anti-Mossad. Not one word mentioning the Taliban. Of course anyone who did so would be murdered by the Taliban.

So our drone attacks are met with fury over American interference in Pakistani sovereignty, while the Talibans' murdering civilians and, for example, destroying 200 girls' schools are all blamed on outsiders--us, Jews, India.

So yes, the drone attacks make Pakistanis furious. I'd rather they didn't. But as long as we target them carefully, they may represent our best option among a bunch of options that are all bad, but among which we must choose.

Last note on this: frequently the criticisms of what we do there take the form of pointing out that whatever choice has been made will have terrible consequences.

The problem is that every single option we have--including precipitous withdrawl--has terrible consequences. So such criticisms are shallow and unproductive. The question is always, which terrible consequence is the least terrible.

But that's rarely asked.

If you want to read someone who doesn't agree with Obama about Middle East policy, yet who isn't a ranting idiot, check out NYTimes centrist columnist Tom Friedman. A debate between him and the president would be far more illuminating than the potshots the Republican leadership keeps taking.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Eminent domain

Our founders incorporated the idea of eminent domain so we could build roads and dams and the like. It required the few to sacrifice for the many.

But rich people quickly figured out that the easiest way to make money was to suborn government and bamboozle taxpayers.

Now, eminent domain often requires the many to sacrifice for the few.

Thus, as David Cay Johnston (Pulitzer Prize for reporting) points out in "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and stick you with the bill)", President Bush made his personal fortune through raising taxes in Arlington, Texas to pay for a sports stadium that never made a profit for the city's taxpayers, after stealing 200 acres of private property from property owners through eminent domain ("stealing" though giving the property owners pennies on the dollar for their land), enabling Bush to make nearly $18 million at taxpayer expense, which he paid lower taxes on than a secretary does on her wages.

The Republicans keep claiming they're against such misuses of eminent domain. That's what they say in public. But in private, across the country, they've got their hands in taxpayers' pockets, rummaging around for personal profit.

And BTW taxpayer-subsidized sports stadiums NEVER pay off for the taxpayers--the subsidies just serve to enrich the sports teams' billionaire owners. And often local Democrats (on city councils) are only too eager to get in on the bonanza.

Read Johnston's book and you'll see the gory details.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Republicans are like 3 year old boys ___Democrats are like 10 year old girls

The Republican leadership encourages Republicans to think and act like three year old boys. Three year olds, above all else, want to do what they want to do--and they don't want anyone else to tell them what to do.

That is, to paraphrase a text on anarchism I read in college, a child sees freedom as "freedom from (authority)," while an adult sees freedom as "freedom to (accomplish your goals)."

In promoting blind resentment and distrust of government, Republican leaders commonly say stuff like "I don't want some bureacrat in Washington telling me what to do." The odd thing is that this directly contradicts the conservative's respect for authority. They accomplish this sleight of brain by describing the authority as illegitimate if it's elected by Democrats. Authority is only to be respected if it's Republican. This represents the abandonment of conservative principles in exchange for raw tribalism. It's also anarchistic. And if you've ever worked in a church's nursery for 2-3 year old kids, as I have, you're also recognize it as the behavior of--as I said--three year old boys.

The motive is simple. The Republicans' main campaign donors are billionaires who have no need of government services, and who want to spend their money on themselves instead of paying taxes that will fund government services. But they can't win with campaign slogans like "Billions for Billionaires, diddly squat for thee," so instead they cultivate distrust of all government.

Then Republican rank and file will gladly vote to strip away every protection individuals have against being exploited by powerful billionaires with squadrons of lawyers--all in the name of an autonomy only a billionaire has without those protections. It's a neat trick.

Democrats, meanwhile, want you to think like a 10 year old girl--you know, the kind who brings a stray pregnant cat home and has no comprehension of how many more cats America has than it needs or can care for. All heart, no brain. Thus we have to cater to the needs of anyone who is or has ever been discriminated against by anyone anywhere, while excusing any bad thing that comes along as a consequence of all this catering to special interest groups.

Thus we're supposed to welcome people who respond to Mexico's population explosion (from 20 million in 1940 to over 100 million in 2000) by moving here illegally. Never mind world overpopulation. Never mind Mexico's responsibilities to its own citizens. Never mind our responsibilities to America's own unskilled laborers. Never mind the huge demographic shift being foisted upon us by this mass migration. Never mind the huge negative on schools and hospitals and social services organizations in general. 10 year old girls don't care or understand about such things. They only see a poor little Mexican kid with big eyes like the paintings sold in tourist areas next to the seascapes and clowns. A poor little "person of color," who is therefore saintly, just as a "person without color" is some kind of beast oppressing the former group.

In other words, nevermind consequence.

So we get the party of 3 year old boys vying with the party of 10 year old girls.

Great. Just great.