Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Physicians switching to support of the Obama ACA

This is from the blog Liberal Values:

Doctors Moving Left For Many More Reasons Than The New York Times Reports

An article at The New York Times argues that doctors are moving left as a greater number of us are employees as opposed to running our own practice. There is no doubt some truth, but I am far from the only physician in this country who has avoided the trend of selling out to hospitals and also supported health care reform. There are many other potential factors in play beyond the speculation in this article. These include:

  • The health care crisis has become far worse in the last decade with the individual market being on the verge of complete destruction. Doctors, regardless of type of practice, are often the first to see this. Besides, those of us who are self-employed know first hand how hard it is to purchase health insurance at a reasonable price.
  • Health insurance companies, allies of the Republicans, increasingly have been seen as the problem, especially during the fiasco when HMO’s were dominant.
  • On the other hand, Medicare, while certainly not without faults, has often treated doctors more fairly than private insurance, contradicting the conservative scare stories about “socialized medicine.”
  • Perhaps more doctors have learned what marginal tax rates really mean. I know some doctors who will still vote based upon promises of lower taxes, but many more of us have learned that it is the ultra-wealthy who benefit from Republican tax breaks while, at worst, we wind up paying an amount we can easily afford with a slightly higher marginal rate under Democrats. Besides, the better overall business climate usually present under Democratic administrations does more for our incomes than a tiny difference in marginal tax rates.
  • Finally, there is the problem that the Republicans and conservative movement has become bat-shit crazy. It is difficult for many physicians who studied science to vote for a party with so many leaders who deny evolution. Slightly lower taxes is a high price to pay for the insane views and policies of the far right.

PBS Newshour - "We have never seen a year like this before"

This has been a really bad weather year. Is it a result of climate change? Some is, at least, but since climate is essentially the average weather over at least 30 years, the only thing that can be determined in the short term is whether there are trends that suggest what direction changes are taking.

Transcript follows:
JEFFREY BROWN: The storm in Joplin was preceded by a series of tornadoes this spring that has brought devastation to the South and Midwest. All together, it’s been the deadliest season since 1950, with more than 520 people killed so far.

All of this has led to many questions about what’s behind this — what is happening this year.

Judy Woodruff explores the science.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, how unusual are the tornadoes and other weather we have been seeing in the U.S. this spring, and what might explain it?

For that, we turn to two weather specialists. Jeff Masters is co-founder and director of meteorology of the Weather Underground, a weather-tracking website. Katharine Hayhoe is a professor and climate scientist at Texas Tech University. She was a member of the review team that studied the work of the U.N. Panel on Climate Change.

And we thank you both for being with us.

Jeff Masters, let me begin with you.

You have been studying meteorology for over 30 years. Just how much more severe are the storms, the tornadoes, we have been seeing this year than in the past?

JEFF MASTERS, Weather Underground: We have never seen a year like this before.

It started off in mid-April, on the 14th. We had a swarm of tornadoes hit the South and then the Southeast. Over a three-day period, we had 162 tornadoes. And that was an all-time record for most tornadoes in a tornado outbreak. We have only ever seen one outbreak similar. Back in 1974, we had 148 tornadoes in one outbreak.

So, that outbreak was followed just two weeks later by the most incredible outbreak we have ever seen: 362 tornadoes in a four-day span, including the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, which was probably the most damaging tornado of all time — so, more than double the previous record, which was set just two weeks before that.

And on top of this, these storms dump tremendous amounts of rainfall, the heaviest rains ever recorded in April over the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, which helped contribute to the Mississippi River floods we’re seeing.

And then, after those two outbreaks…

I’m sorry. Go ahead, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was just going to say, you said there’s been a string of these severe incidents, the death toll higher than it’s been in a very long time.

Is there a consensus among meteorologists about why this is happening?

JEFF MASTERS: As far as the death toll goes, we just got unlucky. We do see incredibly violent tornadoes fairly regularly. Every few years, we see an EF-5 tornado with 200-mile-an-hour winds. But if one of those storms happens to track over a populated area, then we see some of these incredible death tolls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Katharine Hayhoe, let me bring you in here.

There’s been a lot of question about — questioning about whether the severe weather, these records that are set have a connection to climate change. How do you see that, as somebody who had studied climate change?

KATHARINE HAYHOE, Texas Tech University: Whenever we see a season like we’re having right now, it’s a natural part of being human to say, is there a pattern to it?

And so, of course, that’s what we’re asking right now: Is there a pattern to all of the weird weather that we have been seeing this spring? Unfortunately, at least for those of us who want a pattern immediately, we can’t tie any one event or even one season to climate change.

Climate is the average statistics of weather over at least 30 years. But what we can do is, we can add this season to the books, and we can start looking at whether we see any trends in heavy rainfall events, in droughts and in tornadoes.

When we do that, we do see trends in some things. We see trends in heat wave frequency and severity in many places around the world. We also see increases in heavy rainfall events across the entire U.S., especially in the Midwest and the Northeast.

But when we look at the tornado record, we don’t see any conclusive trends in tornado numbers or severity yet. So, we don’t know if, as Jeff said himself, if this is a fluke this year or if it’s the beginning of a new trend. It’s too early to say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff Masters, what about that possible connection to climate change? Is it too early to say?

JEFF MASTERS: Well, absolutely.

And we have a problem with the tornado record. It’s very hard to measure tornadoes. We can’t put wind measurement instruments into them. So we have to indirectly infer their strength by if they happen to hit a building and knock it down. Then you can say, well, this tornado probably had 200-mile-an-hour winds — so, very tough to measure and very tough to figure out if tornadoes are changing with time. And our measurements only go back about 60 years, which really isn’t long enough to see if there’s a climate trend or not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Katharine Hayhoe, what about all the flooding we have seen in the Midwest, the South, the Mississippi River, and that entire basin? A connection there? Questions are also being raised about that, you know, the warm air, excess moisture. Possible connection to climate change or not?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Again, we can’t tell what’s happening in the Mississippi Basin specifically to climate change.

One event or one region is not enough. But we can look around the whole U.S., and we can look around the whole world. And when we do that we see that we have experienced a significant increase in heavy rainfall events that often do lead to flooding.

This is happening not just here in the U.S., but around the world. Not only that, but that increase has been connected, quite definitely, to climate change. In other words, we wouldn’t be seeing an increase as big as we have over the last 50, 100 years if it wasn’t for climate change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, draw that line for us. What is the connection?

KATHARINE HAYHOE: As it gets warmer, the air can hold more water vapor. So whenever a storm comes through, there’s more water available to that storm, whether it’s rainfall in the summer or even snowfall in the winter.

We’re also seeing shifts in our weather patterns and circulation patterns. So, some places that are already quite dry are getting dryer. Other places that are already quite wet are getting wetter. And some places can even experience increases in heavy rainfall events and droughts at the same time, because if a lot of the water vapor comes down in a few storms then you have a longer dry period in between before you get the next one.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff Masters, as somebody, again, who watches this closely, what would you add to that? And what are you most curious about as you look at these patterns of severe storms and unusually heavy flooding?

JEFF MASTERS: The thing to think about with flooding is that, yes precipitation has increased by 5 percent or more over the last 50 years in the U.S., but flood heights are getting higher not just because of higher precipitation. They’re also getting higher because of human-caused changes to floodplains.

We’re draining more floodplains. We’re putting more water behind levees. We’re engineering the levee systems so that we can improve navigation. But those little improvements we do cause the flood heights to go even higher.

So, we need to give the rivers room to expand. We need to have more of these safeguards where you can let the river out through some of these spillways, like we have had to do this year. That was a very smart idea, to open these three spillways that helped the Mississippi go out and not be such at high flood levels.

So, we need to give the river more room. We have got to stop developing our floodplains and putting people in harm’s way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on that note, we thank you both, Jeff Masters and Katharine Hayhoe.

We appreciate it.

JEFF MASTERS: You’re welcome.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: Thank you, Judy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why does the media refuse to acknowlege the Republicans want to destroy Medicare?

From Steve Benen today discussing yesterday's Meet the Press Roundtable offered the question that progressives and liberals have to really focus on:
The question isn’t why Dems are on the offensive; the question is why the Beltway media finds it offensive [that the Democrats are attacking the destructive policy offered by the Republicans.]
The media takes the Republican narrative of destroying Medicare as serious policy, but the mere presentation of the facts by Democrats that what is presented is the destruction of Medicare is blown off as mere demagoguery or Mediscare. Why is the media so damned blind?

The answer to that question according to George Lakoff's book The Political Mind: Why you can't understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain is that the conservatives have framed the allowable possible narratives to exclude the idea that the government can possibly do anything at all without becoming a tyranny. If something does not fit into the narrative society prescribes for a given role then the individual will most often refuse to recognize the exceptions. That's because these narratives, as provided by society, are hard-coded into our brains. Those narratives are how we determine what things "mean."

People choose the roles they play from an accepted set of roles offered by society, and within each role only certain narratives are permitted. Let me emphasize - anything not fitting into that role is generally ignored unless it becomes extremely pressing. "Designing a successful government program to solve a social problem" is not an allowable narrative if your role is successful Washington reporter.

For conservatives generally the only acceptable way to get medical care is from private wealth or from current employment. That's their narrative. But it pointedly excludes the idea that the government might use reasonable insurance planning to organize the financing of health care services in advance of need and then let the private market bid to offer those services.

The answer to the question is that conservatives like the Koch brothers have worked reporters very hard to set the acceptable narratives that successful reporters are allowed to consider. There is no equivalent liberal or progressive effort being planned or conducted.

Also as Lakoff points out, merely providing the facts does not overcome the hardwired narratives built into the brain. The fantasy that such facts might change the narratives is the 18th-Century brain theory he is demonstrating is false. Frames and narratives are what matters, not facts. Those frames and narratives are hardwired into the structure of the brain. Facts that do not match the narrative will find it difficult to find a "landing place" in memory.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Republican Party has gone utterly insane

Digby wrote:
"I wish I knew why the GOP has suddenly gone kamikaze on this Ryan plan"
I don't think it is especially strange. It is conservatives and fundamentalists who hate social change and who are ready to accept any idiocy that might stop it from happening. It's essentially panic.

The panic comes from the feeling they have that they are an oppressed minority whose society is being stolen from them by some amorphous group they label "Liberals" together with the MSM. They were really, really down when Obama easily was elected President.

But then the cabal of conservative American businessmen who have been out to eliminate the New Deal created the astro-turf "tea-baggers" (quickly renamed when they realized their mistake) and took advantage of the down economy, the Citizens United decision, the right-wing preference of the big corporate media and the battle against the Affordable Care Act (which politically weakened Obama) to reverse the election results in the otherwise low-turnout midterm elections. Suddenly the conservatives feel like they are winning after a long and hopeless down period.

Groups do not conduct a revolt when they are down. The do it when they have been down and feel like things are looking up. That's where the conservative-dominated GOP is right now. This is an attempted coup-de-etate by the money Republicans and their allies and foot soldiers the social Republicans.

The frenzy is because it is not a sure thing. They think they have a chance to succeed in taking over the American government system, but right now they have to ram through everything they can as fast as they can, especially the voter suppression projects and the weakening of Democratic organizations like unions and Planned Parenthood.

The Ryan plan to kill Medicare is something they have said to each other in private since it was passed, and they were certain that they could get their senior voting block to agree as long as it didn't affect them. They considered the exemption of anyone over age 55 to be a masterstroke. They were playing to the conservative base. Inside their conservative hothouse it seemed like a really good idea, and no one was allowed to question it. We've seen what happens to Republicans who question the conventional wisdom by the attacks on Gingrich when he dared to question the Ryan budget. It became typical group-think. As smart as some Republicans are, as a group they are authoritarian in nature and extremely susceptible to group-think. That's in fact normal behavior for fundamentalist religious groups.

Also, the Congressional Republicans had no budget alternative, so to circle the wagons the Ryan budget was the only "flag" they had to defend. Since they believe only other conservatives and conservatives speak to each other only in conservative double speak it seemed like a really good idea when they trotted it out. Now it is hung about their neck and they simply can't back down. They have to go all the way with it.

Finally, since the conservatives are a top-down organization with messages centrally controlled, individuals are not expected to integrate messages. One message can be diametrically opposite to another and the individuals will be expected to present the group-think set of messages without trusting their one judgment. Again, this is a characteristic of authoritarian organizations. It should not be a big surprise since the Republicans are an alliance of several groups that each strongly disagree, but what happens is that each gets their own area carved out for them and the rest let them have it. That is the way the money Republicans and the Social Republicans deal with messages and with packing the judiciary.

Steve Benen has written two posts today about the Republican loss of connection to reality.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why are America's conservatives so bat-shit crazy?

Jacob Weisberg at Slate published a really insightful article yesterday. It is entitled "Fantasy Island: Are Republicans losing their grip on reality?".

The answer to that question is, of course, yes. They are losing their grip on reality if they ever had it. Here's some examples:
One party, the Democrats, suffers from the usual range of institutional blind spots, historical foibles, and constituency-driven evasions. The other, the Republicans, has moved to a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems (climate change, the need to pay the costs of running the government) can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact (Obama might just be Kenyan-born or a Muslim), expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot.

Like the White Queen in her youth, the contemporary Republican politician must be capable of believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Foremost among these is the claim that it is possible to balance the federal budget without raising taxes. Most Republican politicians are intelligent enough to understand that with federal revenues at 14.4 percent of GDP and expenditures at 25.3 percent, it is, in fact, impossible to close the fiscal gap with spending cuts alone. But GOP candidates acknowledge this reality at their peril. Grover Norquist, the right-wing lobbyist and former collaborator of Jack Abramoff's, has appointed himself chief enforcer of the party's anti-tax catechism. If Republican candidates won't sign his no-new-taxes pledge, Norquist and fellow inquisitors at the Club for Growth threaten them with excommunication, social death, and the punishment of being "primaried" by a well-funded conservative challenger.
This is the fiscal orthodoxy which is enforced on Republican politicians. There is a similar orthodoxy regarding whether it is even acceptable to speak favorably of the theory of evolution or of human caused climate change. Otherwise intelligent and well-educated Republican politicians who are asked if they believe in evolution will hedge heavily by saying something like "We need more evidence."

What it comes down to is that to be a Republican politician at all you have to support the magical thinking of the base. If you don't then there are organizations like Norquist's Club for Growth who will primary you and remove you from the political position you hold.

What is happening is that the Republican politicians are running for political office based on the votes of people who depend on medieval magical thinking. If they are social conservatives they are used to practicing magical thinking as they profess to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus (a common myth of many religions in the Roman Empire two thousand years ago) or that somehow the bible was written by god himself and is inerrant - without error in morality, history, science, and everything else their fundamentalist preachers can claim for it. If they are not social Republicans then the next largest group is people who believe that society is made up of rigid classes and that the upper class (themselves) are the only class capable of ruling the nation through government. These are people who still resent the French Revolution. These conservatives can often be identified when they state the read Edmund Burke. The Wikipedia section on Burke's beliefs regarding Democracy includes this:
Burke was a leading skeptic with respect to democracy. While admitting that theoretically in some cases it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept but also oppressive. He opposed democracy for three basic reasons. First, government required a degree of intelligence and breadth of knowledge of the sort that was very uncommon among the common people. Second he thought that common people had dangerous and angry passions that could be easily aroused by demagogues if they had the vote; he feared the authoritarian impulses that could be empowered by these passions would undermine cherished traditions and established religion, leading to violence and confiscation of property. Thirdly, Burke warned that democracy would tyrannize unpopular minorities who needed the protection of the upper classes.
This is very much a class-centered view in which the lower classes are capable of nothing more than deference to the aristocracy.

In Burke's day, however, an Aristocrat held his class position by virtue of birth and of God's will. Today the "aristocratic" leaders of the Republican Party hold their position only as long as they are acceptable to the followers who demand that they practice magical thinking on a broad range of subjects. If, like Speaker Boehner has hinted, the Republican politicians threaten to make deals with the generally more realistic Democrats they are immediately threatened with being "primaried." Since the conservatives in the party have "primaried" almost all of the moderates in the last 30 years, this is not an idle threat.

So what we in America now have as an opposition party is one in which the leadership is completely dependent on pleasing a base that demands they act on magical thinking rather than accept facts and reality. So the answer to Jacob Weisberg's question "Are the Republicans losing their grip on reality?" the answer is clearly yes. And they are forcing their leadership to act on their magical beliefs.Unfortunately they are attempting to force their fantasies onto reality, a practice that can only lead to further disaster.

Just for fun, take a look at this book review by Jacob Heilbron on the book “Among the Truthers”.
[But] as Kay sees it, conspiracy thinking is now experiencing a dangerous uptick in popularity. The terrorist threat has replaced the Red menace, as 9/11 had nothing less than what Kay deems a “seismic” effect on America’s “collective intellect.” He devotes much attention to the “truther” movement, which contends that the United States government perpetrated the terrorist attacks.

Some of Kay’s most illuminating passages center not on what conspiracy theorists believe — even to dignify it with the word “theory” is probably to grant them more legitimacy than they deserve — but on why they are attracted to such tedious rubbish in the first place. He divides them into different camps, including the “cranks” and the “firebrands.” Cranks are often reacting to male midlife crises — combating conspiracies, Kay says, offers a new sense of mission. Cranks, he adds, are frequently math teachers, computer scientists or investigative journalists.
These people [cranks and firebrands] are ready to almost instantly "primary" a Republican representative if some authority tells them to do it. A politician who has committed his life to a career in politics (That's a major investment in time, education and money) is going to do his best to placate these idiots.

Another book on the crazies is Denialism: How irrational thinking hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens our lives. by Michael Specter. Jacob Weisberg and I are writing about the political effects of Denialism because that is where denialism has a really, really major impact on everyone's lives. But the phenomenon is much broader than just politics.

In the past the political leaders were not held hostage to the demands of people like the denialists. That is no longer true. These fantasies have become fodder for people like the Koch Brothers to use to manipulate our politicians. They use the political impact of organized denialists to keep politicians from making rational decisions in government. The result is that the Koch Brothers and their associates make a great deal of money today at the expense of the long term damage to the nation and to the world.

Lithgow reads the Gingrich press release

OK. Another short video. I wanted William Shatner, but I think John Lithgow is an inspired choice.

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Here, from The Huffington Post is the full press release verbatim. Feel free to read along with John Lithgow. Personally I think we ought to have parties where there are refreshments and everyone practices giving dramatic readings of the Gingrich Epic.
“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world.

The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods.

Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked.

A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”
The grammatical errors in the last line are astonishing in a PR document from someone who is allegedly attempting to run for President in 2012.

Stewart skewers Ben Stein's "defenses" of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Ben Stein, presumably practicing class solidarity in protecting his fellow rich man, presented a truly sad case for Dominique Strauss-Kahn in face of the rape charges which have been made against him. No one can do a better job of taking Ben Stein down than Jon Stewart. So Jon does it.

Catholic bishops release report that exhonerates the catholic bishops in the series of sexual scandals. Gee. What a surprise.

The bishops of the Catholic Church have conducted a five year study of the the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Their corporate conclusion is - wait for it - the problem was the free sexual mores of the 60's and 70's and the lack of supervision of the stressed priests who had to deal with the horror of those times.
Known occurrences of sexual abuse of minors by priests rose sharply during those decades, the report found, and the problem grew worse when the church’s hierarchy responded by showing more care for the perpetrators than the victims.
So let's see. A study funded by the Catholic bishops exonerates the bishops of responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis. Surprise, surprise.
Robert M. Hoatson, a priest and a founder of Road to Recovery, which offers counseling and referrals to victims, said the idea that the sexual and social upheavals of past decades were to blame for the abuse of children was an attempt to shift responsibility from church leaders. Mr. Hoatson said he had been among those who had been abused.“It deflects responsibility from the bishops and puts it on to a sociological problem,” he said. “This is a people problem. It wasn’t because of the ’70s, and it wasn’t the ’60s, and it wasn’t because of the 1450s. This was something individuals did.”

Kristine Ward, the chairwoman of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, said the cultural explanation did not appear to explain why abuse cases within the Catholic church have shaken places from Australia and Ireland to South America. “Does the culture of the U.S. in the 1960s explain that? It’s hard to believe,” she said.
The problem couldn't possibly be the difficulties that bishops have had for the last 50 years or more getting people to train for a career as a celibate priest, causing the bishops to be extremely protective of the warm bodies they already have on hand even when those warm bodies sexually attack boys in their care.

The article points out a number of technical points of weakness in the report, mostly going to downplay the seriousness of the problem. These bishops who paid for and released this report are the same men, after all, who first defended the perpetrators of the sexual abuses rather than the victims. It should be no surprise that the corporate leaders of the church react to charges that they failed in their job would prepare and publish a report that defends the behavior of the corporate leaders of the church.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Prediction - what will Republicans do for a nominee in 2012?

Kevin Drum wrote that Republicans are Depressed
Mike Allen reports on the current mental health of the Republican Party establishment. Nickel version: it's not good:
Interviews this week with longtime party activists and strategists made clear that many in the Republican establishment are unnerved by a field led by Mitt Romney, who could have trouble confronting Obama on health reform; Tim Pawlenty, who has yet to ignite excitement; Jon Huntsman, who may be too moderate to get the nomination; and Newt Gingrich, weighed down by personal baggage and a sense that he is a polarizing figure from the 1990s.

Despairing Republican lobbyists say their colleagues don’t ask, “Who do you like?” but instead, “Who do we back?”

“It’s not that they’re up in arms,” said a central player in the GOP money machine. “It’s just that they’re depressed.”
So the question is, will 2012 be the Republican version of 1972 or the Republican version of 1984? They could nominate a base hero like Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich and go down in epic flames. Or they could nominate a worthy timeserver like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty and go down in flames.

Or, of course, they could pray for some kind of gigantic global disaster — maybe an economic collapse, an oil spike, or a drawn-out hostage crisis — in which case they can win with anybody. That seems like a pretty weak hope, but right now the fever dreams of the GOP base are so debilitating that it's hard to see them coming together and beating Barack Obama any other way.
I don't think 2012 is going to be a Republican 1972 or 1984. It's going to be a replay of 2008.

The Republicans have no winning candidate and the rest of the party is running on issues that work locally in rural areas but which have no chance of winning the Presidency. They are going to lose the Presidency in 2012 unless the economy goes south in a really big way and Obama takes the blame for it. The major problem for the Republicans is to avoid the disaster that the Goldwater loss in 1964 inflicted on the Republican Party. They have to nominate the least broadly offensive secular Republican who can get the extremist base to accept him.

The chosen nominee will then choose a social conservative to be his Veep in order to attract the social conservative vote. This is a traditional Republican move which explains why Ike chose the right-wing Nixon as his Veep. It kept the party together. The social conservative Veep nominee will come out of left field as someone the media does not have records on, much as Palin did. The central point of Republican strategy is going to be to minimize the down ballot damage of another Presidential loss.

Neither the secular Republicans nor the social conservatives have a winning candidate. That (and the cost of giving up his FOX contract) is why Huckabee is not running. No social conservative can get the money from the money Republicans, nor can they win the Presidency.

The down ballot disaster of 1964 is what they must avoid at all costs. That was why McCain (the least offensive secular Republican) chose Sarah Palin in 2008. He was going to lose, but he had to hold the secular - social Republican alliance together for the sake of the party. (I'm not sure John McCain knew that was why Palin was chosen, but his handlers did.) Karl Rove's great genius prior to 2000 was in finding George W. Bush, a man who could hold both the secular Republicans and the social Republicans together in the same party and getting both to turn out to vote. There is at this time no Rove - Bush partnership who can perform the same magic That only worked because George W was the son of the previous Republican President as well as someone who could pass for a born again christian. .

The only two Republican potential candidates who might get the secular Republican vote and the money Republicans checks are Pawlenty and Romney. But the Social Republicans won't accept Romney because he is Mormon (I think he could finesse the Massachusetts health care program if he could actually look like he might win the Presidency, but that isn't the case. Besides, Romney is an older loser. So Pawlenty is the best bet right now. And as I say, the social Republican will be named as Veep at the nominating convention and come from left-field as far as the media are concerned.

No, I don't think Huntsman or Mitch Daniels will break out of the background unless they suddenly get Koch and Rove money behind them. If I'm wrong this seems to be the most likely point of my analysis that would allow it. After the Republican nomination I want to come back and look at this analysis and see where (if at all) it went wrong.

Addendum - May 21, 2011 9:22 AM
Changes made above to clarify the language and improve readability.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Richard Holbrook and the war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is too expensive for America to sustain and must be brought to an end in a way that lasts. Richard Holbrook knew this and was working to make it happen when he died last December. The end will be achieved through negotiations, not through military actions, and the end will be based on making Pakistan - not Afghanistan - a safer and more stable nation. Stability in Afghanistan is simply unattainable. Pakistan is the key.

But the Pakistanis do not view America as a reliable ally. They well remember that America simply abandoned them in 1989 when the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan and they are not going to trust America again.

Nicolas Kristoff has taken Richard Holbrook's notes and published an op-ed about what Holbrook thought America needed to do about the war in Afghanistan.
Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrooke’s team at the State Department, puts it this way: “He understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table.”

Nasr says that Holbrooke’s aim for Afghanistan was “not cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solution” to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Laden’s killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.

To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development — and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month — at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his “wingman” — meaning it as a huge compliment — rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.

As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.

“A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential,” he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.

Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabad’s duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment won’t build trust.
Steve Clemons provides an excellent explanatory comment on Holbrook's views, particularly an analysis of how the American experience in Vietnam should be compared to the current experience in Afghanistan/Pakistan. It's important to remember the differences in how America entered Afghanistan compared to how America entered Vietnam. Vietnam was entered through a long series of decisions which led to 500,000 American troops in country. That was an outcome that would never have been accepted if it had been proposed initially when Eisenhower sent 1,000 soldiers to Vietnam.

In constrast, America was directly attacked out of Afghanistan because of the government of the Taliban and their honored and protected guests, al Qaeda. After 9-11 the American people in a very bipartisan reaction sent troops into Afgnistan. This was a major difference.

Holbrooke thought that the war in Afghanistan was too heavily militarized. It must end, and when it does it will be ended through negotiations. Those negotiations will be based on civilian diplomacy with the military as only a support to the process. With the war as heavily militarized as it is today (under Obama) it will be very difficult to even begin significant negotiations, let alone use them to end the war.

It is really important to remember that a successful conclusion for America in Afghanistan will be achieved through the center of political gravity in that area - in Pakistan. As highlighted above, “A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential”. America, and especially the American Congress, sees Pakistan as an unreliable ally. How could the Pakistani government claim to be an ally to America and yet be obviously protecting bin Laden in the military garrison town of Abbotabad?

But it was America's abandonment of Pakistan in 1989 when the Soviets left Afghanistan that drives the Pakistanis to support al Qaeda and the Taliban. Those organizations will be there in South Asia long after America cuts and runs and Pakistan will have to deal with them. The Pakistani leadership recognizes that America is a short term ally who is not reliable in the long run.

This is one reason why the militarization of the Afghanistan war is so important. America is spending $10 billion a month on the military in Afghanistan. This is simply unsustainable and will stop, more likely sooner rather than later. This drives the ultimate solution to the war in South Asia into a civilian negotiation and will drive America out of the region as a military force. That seems obvious.

We need to take the lessons that Richard Holbrook would be teaching if he had not died last December. Everything drives the events in Afghanistan/Pakistan towards non-military negotiations. There will not be a military solution.

During those negotiations “A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential”
That tells us who matters in the negotiations. People who can destabilize Afghanistan re much less important than those who can destabilize Pakistan. In order of priority from the top down that is top members of the Pakistani military, leaders of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and then members of the Pakistani government.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why do good people who join the Republicans turn bad?

Ezra Klein referred to an earlier publication of his that answers the question. A person who judges a government policy will tend to take the view that his political party takes, even if that is different from the judgement he or she would have made if the party took no position.
My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by Yale's Geoffrey Cohen. His experiment found the position of an individual's preferred political party overwhelmed both the objective policy content and the individual's preexisting beliefs. Cohen had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans -- but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with them. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along. Three scary sentences from the piece: "when reference group information was available, participants gave no weight to objective policy content, and instead assumed the position of their group as their own. This effect was as strong among people who were knowledgeable about welfare as it was among people who were not. Finally, participants persisted in the belief that they had formed their attitude autonomously even in the two group information conditions where they had not."

As Ditto reminded me in an e-mail, sophisticated psychology isn't necessary for apprehending this tendency. Bertrand Russell had it long ago, when he said "If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence."
In other words the political party's judgement on an issue will dominate no matter what the individual would have concluded on their own. But going along with that the individual will believe that they came to that conclusion independently and will probably react negatively if someone else suggests they are not thinking for themselves.

Friday, May 13, 2011

9 out of 10 papers sceptical of global warming were paid for by Exxon-Mobile.

If you believe that there is valid science supporting skepticism about global warming, check to see who paid the author. If it's Exxon-Mobile then you know it was mercenary science written for pay. Such papers are what FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) which is a propaganda technique to drown out accurate information.
a preliminary data analysis by the Carbon Brief has revealed that nine of the ten most prolific authors cited have links to organisations funded by Exxon Mobil, and the tenth has co-authored several papers with Exxon-funded contributors.

The top ten contributors are alone responsible for 186 of the papers cited by the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The data also shows that there are many other familiar climate sceptic names among the major contributors to the list.

Dr Sherwood B Idso is the most cited academic on the list, having authored or co-authored 67 of the 938 papers we analysed, which is seven percent of the total.

Idso is president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a thinktank which has been funded by Exxon Mobil. Idso has also been linked to Information Council on the Environment ( ICE ), an energy industry PR campaign accused of "astroturfing".

The second most cited is Dr Patrick J Michaels - with 28 papers to his name. Michaels is a well known climate sceptic who has revealed that he receives around 40% of his funding from the oil industry.

Third most cited is Agricultural scientist Dr Bruce Kimball - the list shows that all of his cited papers were co-authored with Dr Sherwood B Idso.
Keep in mind that the flooding from the Mississippi River that is currently moving slowly towards New Orleans and Morgan City is the most severe since the massive 1927 flood. The water comes from melting snow and heavy rain in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is not the normal Mississippi flood.

OK. So it's an outlier. There is always an extreme case. But why did the tornadoes hit the America Southeast this year also?? And why was the snowfall in the Northeast this year so extreme??

That's an awful lot of coincidences for one year. And the Global Warming skeptics are ALMOST ALL being paid by the oil companies to provide FUD.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The bin Laden Seal Team was prepared to fight their way out of Pakistan

In an interesting article the New York Times today wrote
WASHINGTON — President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

In revealing additional details about planning for the mission, senior officials also said that two teams of specialists were on standby: One to bury Bin Laden if he was killed, and a second composed of lawyers, interrogators and translators in case he was captured alive. That team was set to meet aboard a Navy ship, most likely the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.

Mr. Obama’s decision to increase the size of the force sent into Pakistan shows that he was willing to risk a military confrontation with a close ally in order to capture or kill the leader of Al Qaeda.
Add this to the fact that Pakistan was not trusted with the news that American troops were going into Abbotabad to get bin Laden and that someone in Pakistan has released the name of the U.S. CIA chief of station in Pakistan to the local press in retaliation for the raid on Abbotabad and it's pretty clear that Pakistan and the U.S. are not on very good terms right now.

Very probably this demonstrates that there are major elements inside Pakistan who support the Taliban and al Qaeda and oppose the U.S. The government of Pakistan does not fully control Pakistan so it does not speak consistently.

Lying sociopaths are in control of America, America's finance, and especially the Republican Party.

The last decade has seen a series of financial scandals that have been getting bigger and bigger. Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, Tyco, followed by the massive Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart writes that they all share a common thread: They were all base on lies. This short list is only the tip of the iceberg.
instances of perjury and false statements are on the rise at the highest levels of business, politics, sports, and culture.
Is it any surprise that the Republican Party in America today has an ideology based on nothing but lies? It's not just politics. It's also the financial industry and the mass media, both of which have been concentrating rapidly for the last 30 years. This puts then under the control of a very small group of people who for the most part are complete sociopaths.

The various government agencies established over the previous century to catch financial scams based on lies appear to have been incompetent, but they may also have been totally overwhelmed. The lies are epidemic and those who should have been working to prevent the lies (like auditors) have been bought off or sidelined.

James B. Stewart has written a book Tangled Webs which describes one example of these scams surrounding us today. CNN Money has published an excerpt. How they failed to catch Madoff. Catching madoff shouldn't have been hard:
Madoff repeatedly changed his story, he contradicted himself at every turn, and written records flatly disproved many of his assertions, had anyone bothered to check. Worst of all, the SEC knew he was lying and was one phone call away from catching him.
This is the conclusion that the article comes to:
for all the missteps by the SEC, it came amazingly close to catching Madoff. Thomas Thanasules deserves a promotion and recognition for spotting the Madoff issues in the Renaissance e-mails and bringing them to the attention of his superiors. Michael Garrity and others in the SEC's Boston office [who were eager to pursue Markopolos's claims] also showed genuine enthusiasm and an investigative bent. Would that their instincts had extended further into the agency.

Judged by the duration and magnitude of his fraud, Madoff would seem the most cunning and skilled of liars. That's what David Kotz assumed when he began his investigation. "I assumed Madoff was a genius, a master, that nobody would have had a prayer of figuring him out," Kotz said. But in fact, Madoff was no better than average, if that. Written records flatly contradicted his lies, had anyone bothered to check them. He repeatedly changed his story on numerous points: whether he did or didn't trade options; whether he did or didn't manage money for individuals; who did or didn't handle his trading; how many clients he had; and how much money he managed. Madoff had the temerity to lie about what he said to Lamore to Lamore's face. "He wasn't a good liar," Kotz concluded. "He couldn't keep his story straight. He was no evil genius."

As of late 2010, two years after the Madoff scandal broke, the SEC had taken no disciplinary or other measure against anyone involved in the various Madoff investigations. The SEC officials' collective failure is, as Madoff himself put it, astonishing. It will surely rank as one of the greatest regulatory failures ever, not just because of the size of the fraud, but because it was staring them in the face.
Personally I think that America and particularly the Republican Party has been taken over by amoral self-centered wealthy sociopaths, and everyone else is afraid to challenge their lies.Go read the excerpt from the book.It's How they failed to catch Madoff.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Interview with Obama on raid against bin Laden

CBS News has released the entire interview with the President on 60 Minutes about the attack on bin Laden. Here it is:

[ h/t to Steve Benen at Washington Monthly.]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

This political questionnaire by PEW Research is fun

Go to this link and answer the questions. It will tell you where you fit in the political spectrum in America. The explanation is more fun than the questionnaire itself, of course.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Finding bin Laden - Torture failed but people with a dogmatic mindset still want it used.

Steve Benen has brought together several excellent sources who each clearly disprove the effort by Republicans to claim that the Bush-authorized torture (euphemism - "enhanced interrogation") got the information that led to Sunday's successful raid on bin Laden's Pakistani compound.
Donald Rumsfeld, of all people, threw cold water on the new talking point yesterday, noting that Bush-era torture policies weren't responsible for obtaining the information.

The Associated Press further set the record straight, reporting, "Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation."

Brian Beutler added, "Thus, a big chunk of the rationale for giving the Bush credit for bin Laden's death falls apart. It took officials until Obama's presidency to locate this courier, and well into Obama's second year in office before they found the compound. Only then was the raid itself designed and, on Sunday, implemented."

Joan McCarter has more on this, offering an even more detailed debunking of the argument.
I especially like the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is one of the people stating that torture did not work. My opinion of him increases a little.

I have been trying to understand why the conservatives and fundamentalists as groups are so dead set that torture is the only way to get good information from their worst and presumably most evil enemies. My conclusion is that members of those groups suffer from a dogmatic mindset. They are so certain they are correct that they refuse to listen to facts or objections. Anyone who opposes what they "know" to be true must be evil and plotting to thwart them.

The only reason I can recognize for someone to torture someone else to get information (other than pure sadism) is because the victim of torture is not saying what the torturer wants to hear. The torturers have a dogmatic mindset which refuses to accept that they, the torturers, might be somehow wrong. It is impossible for the dogmatic individuals to consider themselves wrong, so being wrong is not a part of their decision process. Since the torturers cannot be wrong the victims must be. The victims "must" have another, malicious or evil, intent to thwart the actions of the torturers since they cannot be right and contradict the torturers.

"Knowing" that you are right and assuming the victim is saying otherwise simply to thwart the torturer for some presumed malicious purpose of their own (an evil person, in other words.) justifies extreme measures of all kinds to get the recalcitrant evil people to comply. Only facts can prevent such extremism and by definition a dogmatic person rejects contrary facts.

It all comes back to a dogmatic mindset which is very characteristic of fundamentalists (usually religious but includes many libertarians), members of the wealthy social classes who fear losing their wealth because the lower classes take it from them, and conservatives (usually older) who do not want to see the old social order changed.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden dead! ABC News has video of the compound.

OK. The reports are that Osama bin Laden is dead, killed by a Navy Seal Team operating with the CIA as the result of years of Intelligence gathering and analysis.

Several points seem very important.
  • This is a large compound, reputedly the largest building in the neighborhood.
  • The compound is located abut 1000 feet from the Pakistani Military Academy and roughly 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) north and west of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
  • The Pakistani military is considered a state within a state in Pakistan. The degree to which the military follows orders from the civilian government is very questionable. Very important things to consider:
    • The Pakistani military controls the Pakistani nuclear weapons.
    • The Pakistani Interservices Intelligence organization (ISI) is essentially a military organization.
    • I am no expert in Pakistan. Take the following as speculation.
      • As a nation Pakistan was created when the British drew the borders as they withdrew from India. The name, Pakistan, is made up and the area was actually a variety of tribes whose primary similarity was that they all shared Islam. The result is a nation-state that is unified primarily by religion (Islam) and by fear of invasion from its neighbors (India, China and Afghanistan.)
      • The Pakistani military would appear to be the central national institution of Pakistan rather than the civilian government.
      • This year Pakistan has complained about the American use of armed drones to attack Taliban members who were operating across the border from Pakistan. This is somehow connected to the fact that the American CIA Chief of Station was forced to leave Pakistan early this year. It is also connected to the arrest of the CIA contractor Ray Davis.

From ABC News via Talking Points Memo:


While the death of bin Laden is great news, everything surrounding this event raises questions. The relationship between the United States and Pakistan is extremely uncertain. But since the Mumbai Terrorist attack was planned inside and launched from Pakistan there should be no doubt that Pakistan as a nation is a questionable ally to America, to India and to Afghanistan.

Anyone reading this should keep in mind that I am NOT an expert on Pakistan. I have no information that I have not obtained from the news media and from personal study on how nation-states are unified. I offer my speculations primarily as questions to be further explored.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The fundamentalist - conservative mindset.

Steve Benen asked an interesting question about conservatives. "What did the unemployed ever do to offend the GOP this much?"It's part of the mindset of conservatives and religious fundamentalists. To them everything that happens occurs because someone intended it to happen. To them there are no unintended social forces!

If something bad happens to you it is because you did something to cause it to happen to you. People are not unemployed because there are no jobs. They are unemployed because they don't want to work. Blacks are not kept from getting jobs and held back from promotions. They don't want to work hard enough. Steve lists a number of other such statements from conservatives. This is not something that some crazy person says. It is a core part of both American conservative politics and Christian fundamentalist religion.

And if you cannot observe someone who caused the Earthquake - tsunami in Japan then it occurred because someone wanted it to. The need to personalize this malevolent intent is the source of the god symbol. That symbol represents the great "intender" who must exist when no single person can be blamed for their failings.

Very interestingly these individual guilty parties are always someone outside the conservative - fundamentalist tribal group. They can directly observe that those inside their personal tribal group did nothing to cause many of the bad things that happen to them.

Obviously, though, people who cause their own problems will not stop causing their own problems unless they are punished. God forbid that someone ("the government") should help them avoid the just punishment they are being given for their sins. Helping them will just encourage them.

It's a part of the pre-scientific mindset. Before Isaac Newton there were no recognized absolutely predictably impersonal forces. Everything happened because some person or god intended it to happen.

If you want to understand the conservative - fundamentalist mindset, read "Fundamentalism" by the Sociologist Steve Bruce (2000). That fact about there being no recognized impersonal forces prior to Newton is from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's great new book "The Grand Design." (2010) Warning - the latter is a superb layman's introduction to quantum theory. It's better than "A Brief History of Time."

Addendum 3:54 PM
Fred is a commenter on the above referenced Steve Benen post. His take on the problem Republicans have with the unemployed dove-tails with mine. Mine shows personal psychology and his shows the sociological workings.
It's not hostility to unemployment, it's hostility to modernity. I see this attitude in the rural area where I live. The best work is for the "haves", the make-do work is for the lower class whites, and the field work is for minorities. By trying to preserve their income level after a job loss, the recently-unemployed are interfering with the natural order, resisting the downward pressure on wages that the GOP's true base seeks. Also, too, the current system imports what should be our home-grown bonded servant class.

The tragedy is that the lower class whites here go all in for this, and wear their difficult lifestyles as a badge of honor in proof of their grit. To see the class system in operation, visit anywhere outside a major city in the Old South.
Posted by: Fred on May 1, 2011 at 1:14 PM
If you want proof of Fred's assertion, look at the county-by-county Democrat/Republican breakdown after the 2000 election. The cities are the bastion of modernity, voting Democratic and the rural areas are Republican. This is especially true in the Old South states and Texas.

How to handle America's critical problems

Suppose America had two sets of problems that threatened national security. Also suppose they took two different approaches to dealing with those problems.

The first approach is to bring in experts, assign them as leaders and make them personally responsible for the overall results. Then task them to select the very best personnel, reward them well for taking the job, give them the best training at government expense and provide them with all the tools required to do the job in an outstanding manner. Measure the accomplishment of the job carefully. Carefully provide social support to the employees for the work they are doing and tell them repeatedly that the job they are doing is of great importance and that the nation is proud to have the services of such employees. Then, when the job is not being done adequately change the managers because they were made responsible. The leaders are considered ultimately responsible for the results.

The second approach is to Elect whoever promises the best results if you make the radical changes in the way the job is done that they demand. Offer low pay to the workers even when there are many alternative professions that are more rewarding, less work and pay much better. Then provide as little in the way of tools as can be afforded and demand that the employees get their own training at their own expense. Then carefully measure the jobs they do and castigate them repeatedly for every failure especially when the tools they have and the raw materials they are working with are substandard. Micromanage the employees efforts. Blame the employees for the overall results even though they are working long hours and skimp on financial support while not penalizing the leaders they work for. The employees are considered ultimately responsible for the results.

Which approach do you think is more likely to get world class success?

It should be no surprise that the first approach is the way America operates its military and the second approach is the way America operates its public schools.

Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari have written an excellent OP-Ed in the New York Times which makes exactly this point with pointed information to back it up.I strongly recommend reading the OP-ED.

Both military and education functions are essential to society and both are mission driven and require a large contingent of well-trained and motivated professionals to succeed. That is, they do not fit into the money economy in any self-supporting manner. Instead both functions are required for the money economy to function well. The military quit trying to fight wars profitably after the repeated failures of mercenary armies (and the government that hired them) during the Thirty Years War. When do Americans realize that public education is as essential to the nation as military and policing and similarly cannot be operated by educational mercenaries?