Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"We Built It"

The RNC convention is decorated by banners that say "We Built It."  It.  Not "that."  Obama said "that."  Even when attempting to deliberately misinterpret his sentiment, they can't help but tacitly admitting that "you didn't build your business" isn't what Obama was saying by correcting the grammar for their jeering slogans.  Had Obama meant "you didn't build your business" he would have said "You didn't build it."

"That" can only refer to something else.  Grammatically, it can't refer to the business mentioned in the first part of the sentence.  If the banners said "We Built That"  everyone would look at it and say "Built what?"  When changed to "We Built It" one knows they mean "we built the businesses that we're mendaciously claiming Obama said you didn't build."  To wit, It and That are not synonyms. 

I know it's ridiculous to have to provide basic lessons in the English language to a political movement that to a person almost exclusively speaks English as a first language, but that's a great example of just how monumentally stupid they think that their own supporters are, and voters in general.  (Did that last sentence just read weird?  I should have said "but it's a great example of just how..." See?  Not synonymous).  The disingenuous outrage over Kerry's botched joke in 2006 was somehow more plausible than this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Assange Might be Tortured by the United States

You can't demand Julian Assange meekly face the rule of law in Sweden when there is a real possibility he will end up in the Kafkaesque nightmare of the US extra-legal political incarceration system.  Greenwald discusses the obvious immediate problems that Assange would likely be held in solitary, without due process, without his US Constitutional rights and possibly even forever with or without some kind of kangaroo show trial.  After all, the Executive branch has asserted the right to try people, and still imprison them even if an Article III civilian court were to acquit them. 

That's just what Assange might face under President Obama.  Leaving aside the discussion about whether solitary confinement is necessarily a form of torture, a President Romney or Ryan or Generic 2020 Republican could just re-activate the Bybee memos and have the CIA dust off the waterboards, unshutter the cold rooms and freshly oil the "stress position" chains.  Or worse.  After all, by their decision not to prosecute the people behind the Bush administration's torture program, Obama has reduced the torture question to a mere partisan and policy issue.  Who knows whether some future Republican President will decide to employ torture again?  An Assange in US custody would have to consider not just the next year or two, but possibly the remainder of his life. 

Basically, the United States is a place where the rule of law is set aside for political prisoners.  Assange would certainly be one such.  And yes, I know it is Sweden seeking his extradition, but their hands are far from clean on the subject of dubious American extraditions.

As Greenwald, Michael Moore and some others have recently noted to those concerned that Assange's asylum would deny justice to the two women in Sweden who have claimed he raped them:  It is the refusal of Sweden to rule out extraditing him to the US, and the refusal of the US to rule out seeking his extradition that are the cause of this.  Assange may be a bad man, he may be a sexual criminal, but liberals don't make torture acceptable punishment for rapists (or spies if you buy that sophistry).  We don't accept holding accused rapists in solitary, for life, without a trial (or a fair trial) as legitimate punishments.  Eliminate those unjust possibilities, and Assange has no more excuse to avoid facing his accusers in Sweden. 

The United States chose willingly to engage in torture.  It very deliberately created a set of ridiculous legal memos to provide legal cover, it went through rounds of development to find torture practices it liked and it used them on politically selected prisoners.  It set up secret prisons all over the world and a secret "airline" to shuttle people around within it.  Liberals (once aware of it all) warned that abandoning the rule of law would have (among many other harmful outcomes of using torture) credibility implications and now here they are. 

Who can trust America's intentions in the world?  On what basis could a man who has so publicly stuck his thumb in the eye of the most powerful people in America possibly rest assured that he would face anything like humane treatment and due process if he fell within their grasp?  None of this is hypothetical.  Private Manning was held for 11 months in solitary confinement, and placed on unofficial suicide watch (including forced nudity) as punishment for a sarcastic remark.  He has now been held for more than 2 years without being yet being actually tried.  The 6th Amendment guarantees timely trials, yet not for Manning evidently.    Manning is actually an American citizen and this what he faces.  What protects Assange from being sent to Gitmo or Bagram and denied even the modicum of due process given to Manning?

These questions would have been absurd prior to 2001.  They're real issues now. 

I've heard some say that Sweden has no obligation to rule out extraditing Manning, as they have a treaty with the US, and why should they make a special declaration just for Manning, a possible violation of their treaty?  Well for one thing, Manning clearly is a special case.  How many people have published hundreds of thousands of pages of US government classified material on the internet?  But more importantly, the above concerns are plenty of legal and ethical justification for Sweden to rule out his extradition to the US.  One of the links above concerns the condemnation Sweden received for extraditing prisoners to a place where they faced torture.  That's a well understood principle in international law.  It doesn't have to even be torture, just lack of due process is sufficient grounds to decline extradition. 

Finally, no, the fact that the US has not announced some desire to extradite Assange does not make this all a "conspiracy" theory or some wild notion.  The US has "sealed indictments" precisely for situations like this, where they don't wish to alarm the target by letting them know they face serious charges until the authorities are ready and able to capture the person.  In some circumstances, this is surely sensible.  No reason to let someone destroy evidence or flee the country if it can be avoided.   There are credible reports of a US Grand Jury focused on Assange.  The Obama administration has been noted for its aggressive prosecution of (unauthorized) leakers and (ab)use of espionage laws against them.  All the necessary elements are there:  motive, means and now they just need the opportunity.

Assange would be literally gambling his life to take the chance that the US is not planning to extradite him.  If he was facing due process and established western legal practices, I would agree he is morally obligated to face that risk in surrendering to Sweden, but no one is obligated to hand themselves over to a lawless system set on putting them on show trial.  The seriousness of the crimes attributed to Assange do not change this.  Whether he was charged with jay walking, tax evasion, rape or murder in Sweden would not matter in this regard.  He faces the risk of being tortured.  Anyone sane would balk at that through whatever means they had.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hypocrisy Is Usually Just An Ad-Hominem

Responding to my post on Ayn Rand needing Medicare, David Kaib writes:
Hypocrisy arguments often end up failing to state what you are for.  They can even come off as though you agree with the conservative principle, implying that it’s a good thing.
This is a great point.  If we're criticizing Ayn Rand for accepting Social Security and Medicare, that could be construed as presuming that refusing these programs is the morally appropriate thing to do. 

More generally, I think hypocrisy is the most misused and overused charge in political debate.   Conservatives in particular have a long and storied history of using it completely improperly (Glenn Greenwald's 2006 lecture to conservative bloggers on the subject is amusing and representative of what I've seen from them).  But even in many cases where the charge is logically correct, person A has advocated principle X and does not personally adhere to principle X, you are still often just making an ad-hominem attack on person A's credibility as a means to undermine support for principle X.

The most obvious examples are the climate denier hypocrisy attacks on Al Gore. How often has anyone even vaguely familiar with the climate science debate heard deniers accuse Gore of hypocrisy over either of:

1) He has a big house that uses more energy than it would if it were a little house
2) He flies in planes to give his climate talks

Firstly, in neither of these is Gore actually a hypocrite in any way I can surmise.  The case for hypocrisy rests on a presumption about Gore's views, that since he is in favour of government action to address anthropogenic global warming, he must be arguing that we all live ascetic zero emission lifestyles without technology or modern comforts. I've never heard Gore make any such claims, and instead he seems to take great pains to stress how the climate problem can be solved with modest public policy changes that spur market forces toward a green energy future.

But the larger point is to discredit the message by discrediting the messenger.  Even if Gore is a hypocrite, does that modify the laws of physics by which our greenhouse gas emissions are causing our atmosphere to retain more heat energy from sunlight? 

The part that is often lost in hypocrisy fights is that hypocrisy doesn't make you wrong about your views.  A thief who advocates against stealing is a hypocrite, but stealing is still generally wrong despite that.

I actually do think that there are circumstances where ad hominem arguments are fair game, but at least when throwing hypocrisy accusations around, one should be aware that is what they're doing.  Certainly in electoral politics the character of people on the ballot does matter somewhat, so it's not wrong to point out someone is a scumbag (if in fact, they are).  But their views might still be correct.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Main Issue of Ayn Rand Accepting Medicare isn't Hypocrisy

With the elevation of Paul Ryan, various Rand stories are getting some more play and I'm fully supportive of efforts to highlight his profound links to the noxious author, particularly since he has made recent efforts to distance himself at least from portions of her image (in particular her atheism, and I'm sure her being pro-choice doesn't help either).  One story in particular wasn't understood properly when it first broke.  Hopefully I can help it along to its proper place in historical context. - D. 

In 2011, news broke that notorious libertarian ("objectivism" was what her school of thought was called to be precise) Ayn Rand had accepted Social Security and Medicare in the 1970s after she was diagnosed with lung cancer (unsurprisingly she was a cigarette-cancer connection denier).  Among liberal circles, a lot of attention was paid to the hypocrisy angle of all this.  A person who spent her life railing against collectivism and dependency accepting the benefits of the very programs her beliefs called "evil."

To the defenders of Rand, the common defence is that Rand had paid into these programs through her involuntarily seized taxes, and if she was going to be forced ("at gunpoint" as libertarians always say) to pay for these programs, why shouldn't she at least get something back from them?  Actually, I don't really disagree with that.  Liberals didn't support the Bush tax cuts, but I doubt many liberals gave back the government the extra taxes they would have had to pay under the Clinton rates after the tax cuts passed.  You're not typically morally obligated to martyr yourself for your beliefs. 

A Failure of Ideas, Not the Individual

No, the really important fact that this episode reveals is not Rand's hypocrisy, but the utter failure of her ideas.  Even she couldn't live without the social safety net.  Here's how the woman who persuaded her to take part in socialism explained it to a fellow objectivist in 1998 (emphasis added):
“The initial argument was on greed,” Pryor continued. “She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world. Doctors could cost an awful lot more money than books earn, and she could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life, and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”
McConnell asked: “And did she agree with you about Medicare and Social Security?”
Pryor replied: “After several meetings and arguments, she gave me her power of attorney to deal with all matters having to do with health and Social Security. Whether she agreed or not is not the issue, she saw the necessity for both her and Frank. She was never involved other than to sign the power of attorney; I did the rest.”
Ayn Rand was at that point a very successful author with several best sellers that continued to sell well.  No, she wasn't a billionaire or anything, but she was certainly not hurting for cash in ordinary people terms.  This site claims* that the NY Times reported her estate as being worth $500,000 at her death in 1982.  An online inflation calculator says that's worth $1.2M today.  Most people would be thrilled if they were told they'd be worth that much in retirement. Yet even so, Rand looked into the giant gulping maw of the for-profit medical industry and blinked, fearing her cancer would bankrupt her.

That's the failure here;  Rand needed society's help.  Rand ran headlong into the very premise of why Medicare was created in the first place:  The for-profit insurance market is very very bad to the elderly and particularly to those already stricken with serious diseases like cancer. 

Naturally, Rand showed no signs of rethinking anything in the face of her own personal failure to survive in the world she would see created.  If prominent intellectuals sitting on piles of royalties for perpetually successful books can't survive unaided by Big Government in Randland, who can? 

* - that author actually uses that figure of $500,000 to claim Rand didn't need to take Medicare but I think the quoted part above shows the person closest to her deciding to take part clearly thought fear of medical bankruptcy was a primary motivating factor.  Also, while it's possible $500,000 would have been enough to cover her medical bills to death in 1982, her estate would have been worth a lot less had she remained off Medicare.  Further, 1974 Rand would have no way to know how long she would live.  Finally, a big part of the safety net is not just the literal fact of avoiding medical bankruptcy, but having the sense of security that you won't.  I would bet heavily that Ayn Rand slept a little more soundly after going on Medicare knowing she wouldn't die a pauper under any circumstances.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Denier Evidence of the Global Cooling Consensus Proves No Such Consensus

A climate denier in the comments to an article linked me to this.  It's a PDF scan of the original infamous April 1975 cover story in Newsweek magazine that talked about "global cooling."  For many years now this has been a go-to argument of climate deniers, to show that climate scientists don't have a clue, they thought it was cooling the 70s, now they say it's warming, how can we trust them?

So I read it, I'd never read the actual piece.  Here's the best part.  It includes a quote from a 1970s report by the esteemed US National Academy of Sciences on the phenomenon:
"Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climate change is at least as fragmentary as our data.  Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions."
This is their global cooling "scientific consensus"?  What a sad bunch of liars climate deniers are.  No wonder they're taken in by preposterous charlatans like Viscount Monckton.  These people have absolutely no ability to discern reality from fantasy.  Even the very proof they offer of this inherently stupid and irrelvant claim (it wouldn't matter if there was a global cooling consensus in the 70s, reality is what it is, and being wrong in the past doesn't make you wrong today, not to mention almost none of the climatologists active today were working in the field, or even alive back in 1975) disproves the very basis of it.  The NAS said we didn't know enough to act, and more study was needed.  That's what happened.  Now what does the NAS say?  Well here's a 2009 joint statement issued by the National Academies of 13 nations including the G8:
"Climate change and sustainable energy supply are crucial challenges for the future of humanity. It is essential that world leaders agree on the emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change."
That's your global scientific consensus.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gore Versus Monckton

In a recent post on climate deniers, one showed up in the comments.  I made a comment about Monckton's status as a leader of the climate denier movement, and how any group that would take him seriously cannot be taken seriously.  In reply, the anonymous denier threw a comment about Al Gore at me.  It occurred to me that the two have more in common than merely being the most prominent spokespeople for their viewpoints, but that Monckton is actually a kind of bizarro-Al Gore, a goatee universe evil version of him.  Usually, climate realists shy away from embracing Gore since he's not an actual climate scientist, and of course he's a politician with plenty of legitimate baggage, but really, if deniers want a side by side comparison, I'm game, let's play:

  Christopher Monckton
Albert Gore Jr.

(source: Wiki Commons)
(source: Wiki Commons)
Legislative Experience:

None.  Repeated claims to be a member of the upper chamber of the UK legislature.  The Clerk of the House of Lords published an open letter stating explicitly he is not and never was.

Defeated four times in running for election to the House of Lords, receiving zero votes each time (he didn’t even vote for himself!).

Ran for election to the Scottish Parliament, not elected.
Actually was a member of the upper chamber of the US legislature, the Senate.  Elected by the voters of Tennessee, twice. 

Also elected to the US House of Representatives numerous times.
Executive Branch Experience:

Member of Margaret Thatcher’s policy advisory team.  Claims to have advised the PM on science and climate change.  Thatcher’s autobiography never mentions him, and names someone else as her science advisor.  Thatcher’s Environment minister calls him a “bag carrier” and the idea that he advised Thatcher on climate policy “laughable.”
Twice elected Vice-President of the United States with President Bill Clinton.  Noted for his especially strong relationship with Clinton, described as his “indisputable chief advisor. Described by Clinton as “the most powerful Vice-President in history.”  Promoted information technology extensively in the Executive branch, and across the US economy.

Won the 2000 Presidential election popular vote, lost in the Electoral College.
Policy Effects on Head of Government:

Margaret Thatcher famously surprised the UN with a 1989 speech calling for action on climate change.  Thatcher, with an actual science education evidently did not take Monckton’s dubiously claimed advice on the subject.

Thatcher’s government did implement Monckton’s social housing privatization ideas, which now even prominent UK Conservatives regard as having failed.
At Gore's urging, Bill Clinton signed the domestically unpopular Kyoto treaty even though ratification in the Senate was impossible.  While the US did not implement Kyoto, it did achieve full ratification and remains the only formalized global greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty. 

B.A. , M.A. in Classics from Cambridge
Diploma in Journalism studies from University College, Cardiff.
B.A. in Government from Harvard.
Studied Law (incomplete, left to run for Congress)
Remarkable claims:

Also claims the treatment is effective against influenza, Multiple Sclerosis and Herpes.

No evidence of these claims has ever been supplied.

Accused NASA of crashing a weather satellite on purpose so to suppress data that would refute climate science.

Is apparently an Obama-born-in-Hawaii denier too.
“I took the initiative in creating the Internet”

He did say the words once in an interview, but clearly was speaking about the multiple legislative efforts he started, supported and lobbied to fund research, investment into multiple areas of information technology.  Newt Gingrich admits of all members of Congress Gore “most systemically” worked to support the technology that would become the internet.  A multitude of internet pioneers credit Gore explicitly for his legislative advocacy and he has won awards relating to the work.  The 1991 “Gore Bill” was credited by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen for creating the first browser, Mosaic. It's really more of a gaffe  than a ridiculous claim. 
Beyond the Pale:

Called for forced life internment of AIDS patients in 1987 in a published article.  Article also advocated mandatory monthly AIDS blood tests for the entire population of UK.  Has defended the article in recent years.   

Claims to have suggested to Thatcher that she employ biological weapons against Argentine forces in the Falklands war, and that she did so.  No evidence of UK use of biological weapons in that conflict has ever emerged.
There’s nothing really remotely like this on Gore’s record.  

On these two topics, Gore co-sponsored a 1990 bill to fund health care for AIDS patients.  The Clinton administration oversaw the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997.
Political Ideology:

Too right wing for the Conservatives, left the party for the anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence party, and briefly served as Deputy-Leader.
Self described “raging moderate.”  A Democrat elected in Tennessee, Gore took numerous moderate and even conservative positions on multiple issues.  As Vice-President he led a major bureaucracy reduction effort within government.  His solutions to climate change are market centric and supportive of businesses finding ways to profit creating and selling the technology needed to transform the energy system.  One of 10 Democrats to vote for the 1991 Gulf War.  Picked noted hawkish conservative Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate.
Climate Science Credentials:

It’s difficult to find any actual source of claims calling him an “expert.”  Member of the Christian cult “The Family” Senator James Inhofe does list Monckton as a “climate researcher” doubting the consensus (the report is billed as containing 700 doubting “scientists”).   Monckton has no peer reviewed published papers. 

Still, he is employed as a climate science “expert” or “advisor” by numerous Climate sceptic think-tanks and has been invited to testify by Republican majority committees as an “expert” witness a number of times.  I suppose by now he’s become an expert of some sort by virtue of playing one for this long, but the original source of this “expertise” seems to be his out-of-nowhere 2007 rebuttal movie to Gore’s  2005 “An Inconvenient Truth”, titled “Apocalypse? No!” – which apparently makes such a splash I can’t find it on IMDB and never heard of it before seeing it listed in his UK Independence Party profile.
Studied under one of the first scientists to study anthropogenic climate change, Roger Revelle while at University.  Held the first congressional hearing on Global Warming in 1976.  Long history of government advocacy and policy in climate science.  Gore makes no claim to any scientific expertise but has a long public track record of detailed policy involvement on the issue.

Would go on to make the most popular and successful documentary on climate change,  the Oscar winning, “An Inconvenient Truth” based on his self-devised multi-media climate science presentation. 

Gore would also be awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (along with the IPCC) in relation to his work to promote public understanding of the climate crisis.

It’s difficult to summarize the rampant litany of egregious false claims, lies, mistakes, mischaracterizations and logical fallacies that characterizes all of Monckton’s work on climate change.   But perhaps the best is this excruciatingly detailed fisking of Monckton’s bizarro-Gore slideshow by engineer/scientist Prof. John Abraham at reputable private school, the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota).  Monckton was so incensed by Abraham’s work that he had a little tantrum and even threatened to initiate academic misconduct procedures against Abraham.
An Inconvenient Truth was actually tested in a UK court due to its inclusion in school curricula.  The Judge eventually found 9 errors, but still ruled the movie was “broadly accurate” and “substantially founded on scientific research.”  He ruled the movie could be shown to school children as long as additional material noting the nine errors was distributed with it.  Aside from one UK Judge, in general, actual climate scientists were generally impressed with the accuracy and currency of the science in the movie. 
Major Criticisms:

Aside from a quasi-fascist plan for dealing with infectious disease and making up ridiculous things like curing multiple diseases without any scientific background, a complete lack of credibility and repeatedly twisting, distorting or misquoting the climate science he is responding to, none worth mentioning here.
Gore’s biggest crime is apparently that he doesn’t practice what he doesn’t preach.

He lives in a big house and flies in planes, which apparently makes him a hypocrite because climate sceptics imagine that in advocating for action on climate, one must move to a cave, eat kelp and travel only by low-emission donkey.     Thing is, Gore says no such things.  His solutions to climate change are market centric, with some kind of price on carbon, and some neoliberal subsidies for clean energy.   None of this requires individual personal zero emission living.

He also pays carbon offsets for his flights, his homes are outfitted for efficiency and he opts for more expensive green energy to power them.  Meaning Gore already voluntarily pays a carbon price even without the laws he advocates that would compel him to.  Where is the hypocrisy?

He’s also frequently accused of seeking to profit from the climate issue which is a bizarre companion to the frequent denier claims that global warming is an excuse for global socialism.  Gore has put his money where his mouth is, and this is a bad thing?

The main point here is not that Gore is super-perfect and should be canonized, he's a politician, there's plenty to criticize in his public service record, but on the climate issue, he has a long track record of leadership and sincerity.  Monckton is in my opinion a shameless huckster who jumped into the issue around 2006 and was welcomed by the denier movement because they really have no one more credible to carry their message.  If deniers want to compare the two, I'm fine with that.  It's an indirect way to assess the sincerity of each movement, but it does bear out.  If there was a more credible climate denier, she or he would already be in Monckton's shoes.  The AIDS thing alone should disqualify him from ever being taken seriously by anyone on anything, but for deniers it is any internment camp proponent in the storm.