Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Posting Without Comment

Via this neat site which I only just discovered:
Mr Roberts said climate change science had been captured by “some of the major banking families in the world” who form a “tight-knit cabal”.
Mr. Roberts in this case is Malcolm Roberts, a prominent Australian climate denier associated with the "Galileo Movement" (because climate denial is just like being persecuted by the Pope for proposing the Earth is not the centre of the universe).

They're really "sceptics" who just want honest science to win out, don't you know.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Set of Actual Climate Sceptics Approaches Null

Physicist and now officially relapsed climate sceptic Dr. Richard Muller of Berkeley is making some waves today with his NY Times op-ed about his conversion to accepting the reality of human induced global warming.  This actually isn't really much "news" at all, since Dr. Muller's Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) group released preliminary findings confirming the overall accuracy of climate science last October.  Even at the time, actual climatologists were nonplussed as they felt the whole effort was superfluous, a giant study that could only confirm the already obvious and reeked of attention seeking by a contrarian.  As for the deniers, their reaction was as expected.   Anthony Watts, runner of the popular denialist site "Watts up with that?" had previously declared of Muller's work that he was "prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.”  Instead of keeping his word, he has doubled down on denial, now releasing his own ridiculous hastily cobbled together counter-study that claims global warming is actually some fiction of NOAA adjustments to raw temperature figures.  I guess he's got to keep the cheques from Heartland flowing somehow.

On another significant front, the most prominent organization of sceptics, the US Skeptic Society has put out their July magazine issue with a front page article titled "How We Know Global Warming is Real and Human Caused." 

The Heartland Institute is pretty put out by the whole thing.  They even got Monckton to personally write a rebuttal (where he essentially goes Godwin right out of the gate complaining that anyone using the term "denier" is equating someone to a Holocaust Denier).

See, a few years ago, the most famous sceptic of all, James "the Amazing" Randi seemed for a moment to join the ranks of climate sceptics.  As many noted at the time, his post on the subject was uncharacteristically ignorant for Randi, most especially buying into the fraudulent Oregon Petition.  He caused a storm of response, and followed up with another post where he (mostly) backed down and admitted "I do not deny the finding of GW. AGW, to me, is less clear, though I accept that it is likely true."  It was in a way, a testament to how effective climate denial propaganda is that even a renowned sceptic could be fooled.  Still, it was clear that in the world of self-identified sceptics, people who generally focus on rebutting nonsense medicine like naturopathy and homeopathy (Randi's TED talk is particularly amusing on this), that there was still some reluctance to accept climate science's findings regarding AGW (not for nothing but sceptic ranks are heavy with libertarians who are almost always climate deniers).  Now even this refuge of the denier-damned is being exposed to the light of reality.

Where can deniers hide and still claim some mantle other than sheer denial?  What fig-leaf of legitimacy can a movement led by Viscount "Not a Member of the House of Lords" Christopher "Claims to have cured Grave's Disease" Monkcton possibly have?  And no, deniers, Al Gore is not even in Monckton's league when it comes to this.   Gore's movie was generally accurate and Gore, unlike Monckton actually did do the "crazy" thing he supposedly claimed in that yes, he really does deserve credit for the creation of the Internet.  Really though, Gore is just a popularizer and proponent of the science, he never claims to be a scientist.  You can accuse him of hypocrisy for flying in planes and living in a house (if you can, you know, show where he tells anyone else not to fly in planes or live in a house), but hypocrites aren't wrong they just don't practice what they preach. 

It's really becoming clear that ludicrous characters like Monckton lead the climate denial fight because there is no one more credible to do so.  Frauds, fools and charlatans are all that remain.  Will the last sceptic remember to turn the light off when he or she leaves?  Those remaining won't miss it, they weren't using it anyway.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Climate Deniers Deny Law of Supply and Demand

The recent spate of bad climate news has of course been hotly debated in the comments sections of many a site.  For my own part, I'm seeing a form of climate denialism that I guess shouldn't surprise me, but still somehow does; deniers actually mocking the idea that a carbon price could reduce carbon emissions.

We're now at the point where right wingers (as almost all deniers are) are so mixed up that they're actually arguing that government making some economic activity more expensive will not have any impact on the amount of that activity that takes place.   It's hard to say for sure, deniers are generally something between incoherent, incohate and incomprehensible, but despite my initial surprise, I really can't muster much shock at seeing conservatives debate against supply and demand itself.  That is what you're saying when you take the position that a carbon pricing mechanism will reduce the climate problem, which can only make sense if you're saying that it won't reduce emissions.

It has typically taken the form of comments reacting to news like the above stories about heat waves, droughts and surprising ice melts that don't address the substance of the news, but simply say "Don't worry everyone, the econuts will fix it all with a giant global tax!  Har har, because taxes will really fix everything!" or "Well if we all pay Al Gore lots of money, I hear glowbull warming will go away."  You'll also see them on cap and trade say "businesses will simply pass these costs onto consumers" as if those businesses won't feel any incentive to try and reduce their operating emissions in order to find a competitive advantage over their peers.  It's very strange.

Admittedly I am so far only seeing this directly from wingnut commenters, but it's frequent and palpable and it of course comes from somewhere in the denialosphere.  When I went looking, I do find the Weather Network's Denier-In-Chief is giving a tirade against California putting a price on carbon (via Watts), however he's making the more usual denialist "It's unnecessary because climate change isn't a problem" style argument. 

My optimistic hopeful spin on tihs is that we're seeing an inflection point, where even deniers are increasingly distressed at what they're seeing, and instead of making the usual denialist arguments about the various weather phenomena, they jump right to "well whatever the problem is, putting a tax on carbon won't fix it."  It's a tacit admission that there is a problem to be solved, and we've switched from arguing about the problem to debating possible solutions. There's still plenty of the regular forms of denial, I'm not saying they've given up, but maybe I'm seeing something worth mentioning.  I can't find any recent polling on climate for the US, hopefully a good one comes out soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Responsible Gun Owners

It's not "news" but it's news to me:
In 2002, [NRA President David] Keene’s son David Michael Keene was driving on the George Washington Memorial Parkway when, in a road-rage incident, he fired a handgun at another motorist. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for “using, brandishing, and discharging a firearm in a crime of violence.” I asked Keene if this private tragedy had left him uncertain about what the N.R.A. had wrought. He said no: “You break the law, you pay the price.”
(emphasis added)  I wonder if the other driver agrees with Keene? 

That incident is far from the focus on that (excellent) New Yorker piece, but let's be clear, Keene was trying to shoot the other driver:
[Police] said Keene allegedly shot a bullet into another car Dec. 1 while traveling along a stretch of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, shattering the car's rear window.

The bullet lodged in the driver's seat and came within inches of striking the driver, police said.
So he's probably lucky he wasn't prosecuted for attempted murder.  The other driver is lucky not just to not get shot, but that he didn't panic and crash, and that he was able to get Keene (Jr)'s license plate.  For all we know, this wasn't the first time Keene had shot at someone over sheer petty rage.

Anyway, all this really adds an anecdotal highlight to something that there is statistical evidence for, that so called "responsible" gun owners too often turn out to not be very responsible at all:
Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal

We analyzed data from two national random-digit-dial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.  Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah. Gun use in the United States: Results from two national surveys. Injury Prevention. 2000; 6:263-267.
Keep that in mind when you hear gun proponents citing their ridiculous inflated statistics on the number of "defensive gun uses" per year.  Much like "Stand Your Ground" incidents, these are typically based on one party's side of the story.  Yet even their own naturally personally biased accounts of the incidents are very often themselves actually crimes!

My main point here is to back up what I was getting at with my other recent post on preventing gun deaths, that this crystal clear distinction some have between hard core career criminals and decent, law abiding people just doesn't hold up.  James Holmes is really a strong example of what I was getting at, a person who had no criminal track record, and yet for some reason (and mental illness is a pretty decent theory) decided to engage in a horrific one.  Few gun owners will do what he did, but there's a range of lesser, but still serious crimes they can and do engage in, often without realizing or acknowledging that they've done so. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Guns: Recap

From what I'm seeing in the debate at other sites, many of the usual bad arguments against gun control are still very popular.

Here's some of my past writings in reply to these:

Why guns aren't like knives and arguments to regulate or ban the former don't have to make sense against the latter:
The argument to regulate or ban guns rests on guns being especially amenable to restriction due to their very specialized use cases, and to the high degree of inherent risk to life and limb from any use of them.
Why criminals don't necessarily find it that easy to get guns under stricter gun control laws:
It turns out that many, possibly even most guns used in mass murder events were obtained legally.  One definite problem here is we don't know how many would-be mass murderers couldn't get ahold of guns, and gave up on their schemes.  Japan suffered a rare mass murder event not perpetrated with a gun, and it's worth asking if many more than 8 children would have died that day if the mentally disturbed killer had found it easy to obtain a gun in Japan.
Why "criminals" are not really the sole reason to ban or restrict guns:
You can't neatly segregate people as "criminals" and "law abiding" as if these were immutable attributes that cannot change through a person's life.  It's true that people who earn their incomes legally don't often become "professional" criminals or mobsters, but taxpaying citizens do commit violent crimes.  You also can't forget that the problems with guns do not end with deliberate crime, but also includes accidents and suicide.
Finally, why Switzerland and Canada are really bad examles for pro-gun rights people to cite:
This arrangement is often portrayed as "every Swiss male has a fully automatic weapon at home" which clearly is not the case.  Signficant numbers of Swiss males are excluded for physical (like say having very poor vision which isn't something that even comes up in context of US gun laws but really should - if you can't see well enough to know what you're aiming at, how can you possibly use a gun responsibly?) and more importantly psychological reasons.  You also have to pass a variety of handling and aptitude tests to prove you are able to handle that weapon safely.  Would the NRA ever get behind forcing US would-be gun owners to undergo anything like this?  When they already oppose requiring criminal background checks for guns sold at gun shows, it's hard to imagine them supporting psychological screening and extensive training requirements.
Hoping I can do my small part to put away some of the tiredest canards of the pro-gun position and maybe they can at least surprise us with some fresh material if not some actual fresh thinking.  Hearing yet more "if you ban guns they'll just use knives" stupidity is one of the more depressing feaures of this debate.

Cross Border Gun Tragedies

As both sides of the Canada/US border have been struck (Denver) by large incidents of gun violence (Toronto) within a short time span, I suppose it is natural that many (at least in Canada) are connecting the two events.  There are obvious similarities (large numbers of victims, the pointlessness of it) but important differences too (most of the victims in Toronto were unintentional, the result of cross fire between fighting parties, whereas in Denver we are talking about a lone shooter intent on deliberately killing as many as he could).

But to the extent they are similar, I have two comments for the gun-proponent crowd: 
  • Is there anything that would have been better about either shooting if more people in those crowds had been armed?  Is there any realistic chance an armed "law abiding citizen" could have done anything but add to the mayhem and victim count by drawing yet another weapon and opening fire?  In Toronto you already have multiple (possibly 3 or more) shooters firing at one another.  Who are you going to shoot?  What  In Denver, you're in a crowded and dark movie theatre, and there is some kind of tear gas or smoke grenade making it very difficult to understand what is going on.      
  • Where is the deterrent effect?  In both cases, the shooter(s) had a pretty reasonable expectation that one or more of his targets could or would have a gun to shoot back.  Colorado is not a strong gun control state.  Obtaining a concealed carry permit is easy.  Open carry of handguns is even legal. This was not a school or some place which searches patrons to prevent guns getting in.  Why didn't this dissuade the shooter?  For that matter, where were the armed civilians to save the day?  Where are these supposed anti-crime benefits of lax gun laws?  Gun proponents suggested the Virginia Tech shooting might have stopped if not for a campus rule prohibiting guns, what's the excuse here?   At what point do we start asking when at least one of these mass murder situations will actually be stopped by an armed civilian?  As for Toronto, the (as yet uncomfirmed) rumour is that the shooters were gang affiliated and if so, had every reason to expect their targets were armed.  Which is generally the case for "gang" shootings:  If gangsters are not scared off engaging in gun fights with their fellow "hardened criminals" known to both possess and be willing to use guns, what makes anyone think criminals are much afraid of armed civilians when contemplating crimes?  Where is this supposed deterrence effect of an armed populace?   
If anything, it appears the shooter in Colorado simply accounted for the possibility of return fire from his victims by wearing armour and using some kind of smoke/gas grenade to create confusion.  Is this the "benefit" of an armed populace, simply better armed and prepared mass murderers?

And while it's true Canada's gun controls did not prevent the Toronto shooting, by the numbers there's just no comparison to US gun crime or general violence levels.  Is there any reason to expect that Canada relaxing its gun laws would lead to anything but more such shootings, without any of the promised upsides of widespread civilian gun ownership and carrying?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Global Warming vs Climate Change

Probably the single most trite and inane climate denialist talking point:
Remember how it used to be called "Global Warming" but then the temperature started decreasing after 1998 so they switched to "Climate Change" yuk yuk yuk?
There are variations, but the basic pattern is to claim that there was some great meeting of "they" (the nebulous, rarely defined conspiracy who are orchestrating the world's greatest scientific fraud for reasons that escape any rational understanding) where perhaps some Frank Luntz-like evil marketing genius conviniced the conspirators that "Climate Change" polled better and so everyone should switch. 

NASA has a good history piece on the scientific uses of both terms, and Skeptical Science has a more direct rebuttal piece to the talking point, including an amusing link to a Frank Luntz document where he explicitly advised American right wing politicians to use "climate change" because it's less frightening to average voters.  As is typical of denialist conspiracy theories, the theory that "warmists" changed the terms doesn't even make sense on its own internal merits since it only decreases the urgency for action in the minds of the very people we "alarmists" are trying to alarm.  We're apparently now accused of yelling quietly stating "fire!" "oxidation reaction" in a crowded theatre. 

If anyone is sincerely interested in understanding the real difference, you can read the NASA or Skeptical Science pieces, but basically "global warming" is primarily used in reference to the increasing average global temperatures (particularly surface temperatures) and "climate change" refers to a host of other climatic impacts that are not in themselves "warming" - such as changing wind and ocean current patterns, ocean acidification, changes in precipitation levels (flooding, droughts) and sometimes colder weather in places not used to it.  There really isn't anything complicated here, scientists use warming in reference to warming and change in reference to changes where the primary effect is something other than hotter temperatures.  The hotter global temperatures are generally the cause of these changes, but in many cases the biggest concerns about Global Warming come not from the explicitly warmer temperatures, but the secondary effects (floods will kill more people than a couple extra degrees on the thermostat). 

Really though, anyone making this sort of argument can be understood to be insincere about the whole subject and only worth engaging in so much as other, actual persuadable readers might be helped to understand the mendacity of the denialist set.  Underlying the factual wrongness of the argument as described above is a kind of childish pedantry where the name given to the phenomena is somehow an important point of debate in understanding what consequences it will have and what to do about it.  Who cares what "they" call the changes to the climate caused by increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases?  Call it "worldwide greenhousism" or "international gas traps sunheat and does other stuff too" for all anyone sincere about this issue cares - just get to the imporant parts of the issue, where the fates of potentially billions of lives will be decided. 

I somehow doubt if a climate change denier feels chest pains, they spend a lot of time worrying about whether to call it a "heart attack" or "cardiac arrest" before dialing 911.  But that is about what this sentiment asks us to do when dealing with the Earth's growing warning signs of a major biosphere health event. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dust Bowl was Human Induced Global Warming Too

I mentioned this briefly in a recent post, but climate deniers have been heavily using the Dust Bowl induced heat waves of the 30s as proof that the current high temperatures and North America-wide drought just can't be global warming because it was hotter back then!  Naturally they mostly get this from denialist HQ, Anthony Watts' site (and he does have a post up about how darn hot it was in the 30s, and other denialist sites either link to it, or riff off the same theme that it was hotter in the 30s).  Watts:
The other take-home is that one has to be very careful about attributing the recent extreme temperatures to dreaded global warming. As noted above, there are surprisingly few all-time state records in recent years.
See, as long as the daily temperatures aren't all time highs you just can't call it global warming!

The great flaw in this typically specious reasoning is that the Dust Bowl was itself an example of human induced global warming.  The mechanism wasn't greenhouse gases, but, well, dust.  But our activities (agriculture) changed the surface of North America enough and allowed enough surface soil wind erosion that a natural drought dried the land right out, killed off whatever little plant life remained to hold down the powder dry soil, and the wind did the rest.  It took a few decades of poor mass agricultural practice (no crop rotation, monoculture, no wind breaks) and despite a lower population, and much less technology involved (still lots of manual farming technique back then) we managed to severely modify the climate of certainly North America (if not the whole world, albeit less markedly) for several years.  The Dust Bowl was a major climate event, an unmitigated catastrophe poured on a nation that was already deeply suffering a different sort of malady in the Great Depression.  Now that our "routine" heat waves are even comparable to the Dust Bowl ones should really be cause for concern, not comfort in any sane accounting. 

Luckily for our 1930s predecessors, dust just doesn't stay up in the lower atmosphere that long, and the climate was able to more or less right itself within a decade.  Unfortunately for us, rain doesn't really wash carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere very well, it stays up there a long time.  What exactly is going to end Dust Bowl 2?

As for deniers, it shows the emptiness of their case that to refute human induced climate change today, they cite...human induced climate change of a different sort from the past.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

News for conservatives: Obama has been President for Four Years

I see via Twitter that conservatives are freaking out over these comments from Obama:
When some people question why I would challenge his Bain record, the point I’ve made there in the past is, if you’re a head of a large private equity firm or hedge fund, your job is to make money. It’s not to create jobs. It’s not even to create a successful business – it’s to make sure that you’re maximizing returns for your investor. Now that’s appropriate. That’s part of the American way. That’s part of the system. But that doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to think about the economy as a whole, because as president, my job is to think about the workers. My job is to think about communities, where jobs have been outsourced.
The common theme appears to be that Obama is resting his case for re-election on his past as a Community Organizer and Romney's experience as a CEO and Governor clearly outstrip that.  Sure.  Ok.  Except it's not 2008 and Obama now has four years of actual experience as President, which really has to count for something in the whole "does his past prepare him for the job" question. 

It's a small bit of stupid in the grand universe of right wing stupidity around Obama, but really, these complaints that he's never had executive experience, never run anything "bigger than a lemonade stand" really fall flat after spending four years actually in the job you're saying he's unqualified to hold.  Fine, argue he's done a shitty job, that's totally fair game, but he clearly has the stronger "job experience" resume for the job, like any incumbent running for re-election would. 

Why don't the rich care more about Climate Change?

William Timberman says he first wrote this post as a comment here, it's entirely appropriate my comment to that thread also spawned a post for me:  That is to address the bizarre lack of urgency on the part of America's Owners over the climate crisis.   Why aren't Bill Gates or Warren Buffet or the hundreds of other billionaires more interested in fixing the climate crisis?

Let's ignore the billionaires who are actually themselves deniers, I'm sure there's a few, but if T. Boone Pickens can face reality, I'm going to guess people as highly informed as billionaires would almost need to be, cannot really be unaware of this nor afford to deny it.  

I can think of a couple possible explanations:
1) They're fools who think they'll just ride above all the problems.
2) They expect the invisible hand or geoengineering to solve it.
3) They're trapped in a prisoner's dilemma

The first explanation is the most obvious and cynical.  I think the ultra-rich suffer some of the same ego effects that Hollywood stars have:  It's only too easy to surround yourself with sycophants and golddiggers who will constantly tell you how great you are.  Then add in the ego boost of tremendous personal wealth, and you can probably fairly easily end up believing that you got super rich all by yourself, and are now indestructable.  Ian Welsh often points out that the super rich live in a different world, staying at $20,000/night hotels, flying in private planes from private terminals to private yachts and so forth.  The problems of little people never affect them.  They could easily massively underestimate the problems of climate change to think it won't ever reach them.  For the older ones this is probably true, but they usually have kids, so must have given some thought to the world their kids will live in.

I also can't ignore the second.  Neoliberalism is by far the dominant viewpoint of elites.  Markets fix things.  Problems arrive, and are somehow solved by someone.  As much as I like the videos at Ted.com, there is an underlying triumphantilism to those events that is almost celebrating the inevitable victory of private genuis over all the world's problems.  Further, even if fusion or cheaper-than-oil solar electricity don't magically appear, or come past the tipping point where Siberia's methane is all being released, geoengineering is plausible and technologically feasible.  We already have enough planes to seed the atmosphere with sulphur.  I'm no fan of geoengineering (except as a very last resort) and fear the huge externalities and unexpected consequences that might stem from any of the schemes, but it does present an easy escape for intellectual cowards to hang their hopes.  

But I also wonder how much role the third plays.  See, I had this thought from another Warming Wednesday piece discussing how a big wealth management/consulting firm has now modified its portfolio recommendation to include hedging against the likely effects of ongoing climate change.  It seems like the rich are quietly going about the business of continuing to maximize returns even as storms, floods and droughts ravage the planet and maybe a rainforest or two dries up.  I mean, if you know things are going to become terrible, and just start hedging by shorting this and that, or buying up the stuff that will become scarce in a new climate world, then you know the problem is real, serious and getting worse.  Why not do something about it?

The answer here has to do with a special kind of prisoner's dilemma where one prisoner is any individual wealthy person, and the other "prisoner" is all the rest of them as a sort of monolithic collective.  If this seems hard to grasp, just think of any situation where you evaluate your own position against the world as a whole - so the dilemma happens that no individual rich person can really move the needle on this alone.  So if they bolt from the pack and start pursuing a climate solution (and backing it with real money) they'll just miss out on all the great economic opportunities that their peers will continue to enjoy (as if they are the other prisoner who still rats out his peer in the other room).  Since they can't make the other prisoner cooperate in solving the crisis, and believe the crisis will happen anyway, they decide they may as well stay on the party boat until it sinks.

A shorter version of this could be "they believe it is inevitable" and it's probably the most depressing of the three.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Libertarians Aren't Potential Allies For Liberals

There was some discussion awhile back which argued that the Koch brothers are libertarians, so liberals should not spend so much effort criticizing them since they supposedly want to legalize gay marriage, end the drug war and so forth.  This sort of talk is frequent and sometimes even fools well meaning liberals (like Kos with his futile 2006 effort to create a liberal-libertarian alliance).

I hate wasting time writing about libertarians, other than to mock their terrible ideas (Exhibit A: Ayn Rand), but since they have billioinaires like the Kochs carrying their banner and we increasingly live in a plutonomy where such individuals matter much much more than millions of others, well it has to be done.  Liberals need to understand libertarians enough to at least write them off as right wingers and stop waiting for the social issue fairy to bring them on board to support us for anything more than the most rote and prosaic single-issue half-hearted support.  The Terri Schiavo mess wasn't enough to drive the libertarians out of the GOP, Obama's opposition to DOMA damn well isn't going to draw them over either.

To start the answer to this, we need to address the widespread misunderstanding of how the ideological map of humanity looks.  You've probably seen something like this (taken from Political Compass for discussion):
This is supposed to be some great improvement on the simple left-right ideological line.  It is worth considering.  We could quibble over the placement of the dots from their examples, but this sort of model does demonstrate there is obviously more complexity to the ideological space than a simple liberal-conservative dichotomy.   I don't particularly love this one, as I note that the Y axis starts at "libertarian" and yet the X axis ends at "neoliberalism" which they equate to "libertarianism" which they somehow distinguish from libertarian.  Huh?  I know libertarians are infamous for having 31 flavours from minarchists to objectivists, but I find this unconvincing and somewhat awkward (if libertarian is different from libertarianism, is liberal different from liberalism?  Conservative from...etc)

I would prefer to draw it like this:

I tried to keep the axes titles value neutral/positive such that people in those quadrants would be comfortable with the terms, but you can substitute other terms if you like.   Likely if you've spent any time on ideology, you've encountered such things before.  This does propose a solution for how to think about libertarians and would seem to account for their general agreement with liberals on social questions, and with conservatives on economic ones.  One serious problem is what to put in that fourth quadrant?  What do we call people who are economically in favour of equality, but socially restrictive or hierarchical? 

The usual answer for this quadrant is to call them "communitarians."  The only group I can think of that might fit are the Amish, and being no expert on them, I could be totally wrong on that.  If you go looking, you can find some evidence that actual communitarians exist, but outside of a political science or philosophy class, I can't think of any time in which they've managed to achieve political relevance in wider society.  

I think this is suggestive of what the problem is for libertarians.  See, they're plenty noisy and it isn't difficult to find people calling themselves libertarians, particularly on the internet, but they remain inconsequential in polling and voting.  There just aren't very many of them and if it weren't for a few of them being very rich and using that money to exert disproportionate influence, I doubt we would ever spend time discussing them.

This is why I still generally favour the simple left-right line for most political analysis.  You can draw a political space in 2 dimensions with 4 quadrants, maybe even one in 3 dimensions with 8 octants.  Great theory.  But what do most actual humans believe in?    My sense is that if you gave a large cross section of adults a detailed political ideology test that would place them on the above chart, you would get something like this (each dot a person):

 Stressing that isn't real data, but what it might look like that would explain what we can plainly see in the absence of communitarians and large disparity in the numbers of liberals and conservatives compared to libertarians.  Yes, there are four equal quadrants but I don't think homo sapiens are equally or even normally (in a statistical sense) distributed across them.  So if we try and draw the line through the bulk of the populace, you might get something like:

I have intentially shifted the line a little bit up from the midpoint of the axes to reflect the possibility that humans are a little biased toward unrestricted economics, but also a little disposed toward social permissiveness.  Naturally this is all just my theory, but it would explain the available data.  It also allows for outliers, those individuals that some theorists like to throw out as proof the simple spectrum-line cannot be correct.  Sure, so Glenn Greenwald isn't a conventional liberal on some issues, or maybe you have an uncle who wants higher taxes on the rich but protests outside abortion clinics.  Such people probably do exist, but still the left-right line would still be able to describe the vast majority of the populace closely enough without needing to get bogged down in the differences between libertarian and "libertarianism" to explain a few exceptional individuals.

I won't go to the wall for the distribution I've proposed, only the general point that I think there is no reason to assume that humans fall uniformly across whatever ideological chart you want to propose.  Some other stuff is going on whether from evolutionary biology or predominant cultural norms that compresses the field into something that can be described pretty well with a line.  

So where does this leave us with libertarians defaulting to support conservatives whenever it comes down to choosing?  

First, it should make it obvious that libertarians who want to influence policy will mostly conclude they have to choose one side or the other, the way most highly liberal people remain with the Democratic party even if they would rather something like the NDP existed as a viable political force.  That said, why would they almost always side with their economic interests over social ones?

One possibility (quite likely) is that economic and social issues are not equally weighted for most voters.  This is another problem with these multi-dimensional ideological graphs, they don't provide any means to portray that voters might value the X axis more than the Y (or Z) if forced to choose.  They imply equal priority.  

The other idea linked to this is that "economic" and "social" isues are not truly independent.  The drive people have to attain status, importance, respect can easily lead them to pursue either social betterment or economic betterment.  If you could straight up buy a Nobel prize, and be equally respected as those who earn one, a great many wealthy people would want to buy one.   As suggested above, it's possible that most people would choose the Nobel prize money over a Nobel prize if they had to choose just one, but then it can't be denied that money buys a lot of respect, even if nothing more than flying first class and the like.  Similarly, the social rules imposed by traditional values almost always work in favour of the already rich and powerful.  The great social deference and respect expected of lower status people to their "betters" under traditional norms can obviously also be of great financial value in any number of situations.  Libertarians are given a lot of credit for typically being pro-legalization of marijuana and pro-same sex marriage equality.  But yet I notice that the last several (at least 3) Libertarian Party USA Presidential nominees have been personally anti-choice.  Further, Ron Paul is hardly in favour of gay social equality seeing that he thinks Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided. 

More to Ideology than Ideas

The last broad idea I want to propose has to do with another aspect that isn't captured on these ideological graphs.  I might call it "meta-ideology" - a sort of second order ideology that is not related to the specific political ideas people hold, but how they think and reason.  In this regard I think you find a lot more similarity between libertarians and conservatives.  I have discussed this before obliquely back while explaining why libertarians today should not be confused for the classic liberals of the 19th century even as they advocate very similar ideas:
Now we're ready to arrive at our answer for the libertarians:  Yes, in many ways their policy preferences today map very well to the policies pushed by liberals like John Bright and Richard Cobden in the UK, Jefferson and Madison in the US or William Lyon MacKenzie in Canada.  The classic liberals.  However the difference is that those men did not have the extra 150 years of experience with the reality of capitalism.  Libertarians have stuck to a set of beliefs that liberals abandoned because they weren't serving the true goals of liberalism.  Rather than assume libertarian thinkers are unaware of this history, we must conclude that they either do not share the same goals as liberals, or lack the rational capacity to reach the correct conclusions about the empirical policy record.
 I was kinder to them back then, but we must consider the way in which libertarians actually ape the conservative penchant for deciding on an idea, and supporting it no matter what the empirical record says.  The obvious example here is the very high levels of climate change denial among libertarians (Koch most definitely included).  We could also discuss their support for supply side economics, and baffling love of the gold standard despite many obvious glaring logical and practical flaws with the idea, and many real world failures of it, flying in the face of their claims that it would safeproof us against crashes or inflation. 

There's a famous criticism of communism which went "nice idea, wrong species" and it really applies quite neatly to libertarians too.  Specifically their devotion to the rational actor individual, in contravention to vast reams of psychology, sociology and even common sense.  Just look at modern advertising's reliance on sexual and emotional appeals to move inferior or overpriced products.  People just aren't very rational and a large part of the real economy relies on the ways they aren't.  The market itself has decided that people are irrational and has developed a whole industry devoted to profiting from that!  The book title "Predictably Irrational"  (which I have keep meaning to read) perfectly captures this idea.  Yet libertarians persist in the belief that perfect information and rationality will allow reputation to adequately regulate bad actors and socially harmful yet privately profitable behaviour in the absence of government action. 

Returning to Climate Change, there's nothing about on-paper libertarian theory that should make one prone to deny that the planet has environmental limits, and our activity breaching those limits has deleterious consequences for the living things that rely on the environmental status quo (which includes us).  A good theoretical libertarian should be as amenable to the evidence record as any liberal, yet simply favour different policy responses (well, maybe not, seeing as pricing carbon is about as pro-market as you can get, and if we talk about relying on "voluntary action" we're back into libertarian reliance on fantasy humans rather than real humans, where things like free rider problems evaporate and everyone voluntarily does the right thing without any coordinating mechanism via government).  Yet libertarians broadly are climate deniers just like conservatives.  Why?  It's how they think, how they approach information that matters, not their ideology, and in this regard they're evidently just like conservatives because they reach the same conclusions (hoax, Al Gore fat etc).

Obviously libertarians aren't going to be particularly fond of how I'm characterizing them, but this bull headed devotion to an empirically dubious theory of human behaviour and motivations is something they really share with conservatives, who have a different theory but it's equally wrong and they're at least as devoted to it.

I'm a big fan of multi-factor explanations so I won't try and pick just one of the possibilities I've offered here.  All of them play a role, but the sum total is that libertarians will reliably fall on the right side of the left-right spectrum most every time they're required to choose.  Maybe we can postulate some alternate reality where liberalism is vanquished and the primary political debate is between libertarians and conservatives over drug laws and abortion choice, and maybe there the bizzarro-Koch brothers are devoting tens of millions of dollars to their drug legalization think tanks because there's already a mega low flat tax and no social safety net.  That isn't the reality we have and so the two groups very rarely divide in politically salient ways so long as there are liberals under the bed waiting to leap out with nightmare policies like taxes on second yachts or limiting amount of mercury that can be added to baby products.

Preventing Gun Deaths on Two-Dimensions

In the first part (below), I argued against the simplistic notion that banning guns merely results in "law abiding" honest people giving up their guns, while criminal scum-bags all find it as easy as ever to get the guns, and run rampant in the now unarmed society of easy prey, as is implied in the line that "only criminals will have guns."

Toward the end I noted the knife crime problem that gets so much coverage in Britain.  While gun rights proponents sometimes cite this as proof of the futility of banning guns ("they'll just use knives!") in fact the prevalance of knife crime is proof that British gun control is having a useful effect in keeping a bad problem (lots of angry gang affiliated youths) from becomming much worse (lots of angry gang affiliated youths with guns).  Let's put this into visual terms because I think it is an important way to think about gun violence once you get past a simplistic binary view of society being criminals versus citizens and all gun problems coming from the former.

A Societal Model

To express this in a crude graphic grouping people into four categeories:

For clarity, by "willing to kill" I mean someone with a general intent or willingness to kill a human, including suicidal people, but not someone who knows they might kill under self-defence or some other justifiable circumstance, but would rather avoid it if possible. 

A gun control advocate should want that at least most people be in box 4, with no desire to kill anyone, and no easy means to do so.  Box 1 is red for obvious reasons, everyone agrees such people are the biggest danger.   Last, they're both yellow but the people in Box 2 (no gun, desire to kill) are of course a bigger concern than those in Box 3 (have gun, no desire to kill), as one can't deny that people with intent to kill will sometimes do so with means other than a gun.  People in Box 3 aren't free of problems though, given the greater propensity for lethal accidents in gun-households and of course, many legal guns are stolen from them and then used by people in box 1 to kill with.

The main point here is to say some people will move between boxes in their lifetimes.  This is why it makes sense to not only combat the causes of violent crime (move box 1 people to box 3, and box 2 people to box 4) but to reduce the availability of the most lethal means for committing it.  People in Boxes 3 and 4 are equally prone to becomming depressed, or being borderline violent personality types that get pushed over some mental limit by a bad divorce or economic distress.  In fact, there's some evidence that people with violent tendencies like spouse-abusers will tend to gravitate to Box 3 anyway, but even assuming such people are no more likely than non-abusers to own guns legally, the fact is that a spouse abuser in box 4 who loses his temper completely is much less easily able to murder his wife in a moment of irrational rage.  You can't grab your gun and shoot that person you're so red hot angry at if you don't have one.  Yes, you can grab a knife or blunt object, but for reasons previously discussed the victim's chances of survival are usually better with any weapon other than a gun. 

Gun rights proponents like to draw a bright line between criminals and "law abiding" people, but that's really not how life works.   Serious violent crimes are sometimes committed by people who had never previously put a foot wrong.  Many gun restrictions may not be as effective when it comes to hardened criminals in Box 1, but that's where a second set of measures designed to keep people out of such life paths would help.  As for "responsible gun owners," the research shows they often don't really understand the law that well themselves, and a lot of what they believe are self defensive gun uses turn out to be illegal:
Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.
How many people get guns pointed at them on the highway, or brandished in mall parking space disputes, and the gun owner walks away thinking they've done nothing wrong?  If you doubt that, ask yourself if you've ever been cut off in traffic, honked and been given the finger by someone clearly oblivious to the fact that they were in the wrong.  People are well known to often judge their own behaviour in the best possible light and it's pretty easy to imagine a gun owner using a gun in a situation that did not legally permit that level of threatened or actual force yet feeling completely justified and in the right.  They "felt" threatened, and thus felt justified in what was done to deter that threat, but the subjective feeling of being threatened is not sufficient when it comes to the legal standards required for a violent act of self-defence (which is of course why "Stand Your Ground" laws are popular with gun rights types, a very convenient way to stay "law abiding" is to change the laws to make your unjustified use of force legal).  A paranoid person who assumes everyone is about to kill them and responds accordingly would be locked up even through they legitimately and honestly feel their life to be in danger.  The perception of threat has to be based on reasonable grounds, which is a nebulous concept, but unfortunately it's what we have. 

The stories that came out of the Katrina aftermath were much worse than merely mistaking unthreatening people for threatening.  There are evidently some "law abiding gun owners" seemingly waiting for Mad Max to come true so they can set up armed camps and shoot anyone (or anyone not the right skin colour as was sadly the case in Katrina) that approaches the gates.  Do these people think of themselves as "criminals"?  No, but they became such once they felt order had broken down. 

You can't neatly segregate people as "criminals" and "law abiding" as if these were immutable attributes that cannot change through a person's life.  It's true that people who earn their incomes legally don't often become "professional" criminals or mobsters, but taxpaying citizens do commit violent crimes.  You also can't forget that the problems with guns do not end with deliberate crime, but also includes accidents and suicide.  In a trivial way the gun slogan at the top is true, if guns are illegal everyone who has one is de jure a criminal, but it's a trite and glib way to ignore the vast potential upside that comes from a substantial reduction in gun ownership.  Keeping guns out of the hands of people in boxes 1 and 2 is vital, but the people in boxes 3 and 4 can move to boxes 1 and 2.  I would rather they only moved to box 2 if possible, and so would any gun proponent if you told them the person in question is someone who had a grudge against them personally. 

I'm not ignoring the whole issue of legitimate self-defence uses, but that benefit of gun ownership has to be measured against the risks, which gun rights types are generally too willing to ignore.  Yes, in boxes 4 and 2 you are at risk of someone in box 1 or 3 using a gun on you and being unable to meet force with force, but your risk of that drops significantly if such people find it more difficult to acquire guns.  Meanwhile just because you have a gun doesn't immunize you to gun crime, it only helps if you see it coming and have time to get or pull out your gun.  I don't know if any of the victims of the DC Sniper had guns, but it wouldn't have helped any of them if they did.  If you're walking down a dark alley and a teenage male is approaching, you might rather be in box 3 at that moment, but you'd rather they were in box 2 or 4.  Best for all if you're both in 2 or 4 since you'll both walk away.  It's not hypothetical either, Trayvon Martin was in box 4, and if George Zimmerman had been there too, Martin would be alive and none of us would have heard of either person.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guns: Not Like Knives, Also Not Ubiquitous

I recently took on why banning guns doesn't mean you have to ban knives, bleach, chainsaws or dirty looks.  Here's another familiar refrain from gun rights proponents:
"If you ban guns, then only criminals will have guns."
 This one works on several levels, but aside from the slightly clever word-play truism where banning guns makes criminals out of previously legal gun owners, the more serious point behind this sentiment is that gun regulation simply won't work, and any effort to ban guns will only be effective on those who respect the law, and simply choose not to obtain guns legally.  You'll often see Prohibition cited in the same breath, because widespread disobedience of the laws banning alcohol somehow means that all laws that prohibit anything are therefore useless. 

Guns, Booze; Not the Same Thing

The first thing to say about Prohibition is that alcohol is a lot easier to manufacture than guns.  Archeological evidence suggests humans were making alcohol back in the Stone Age.  We didn't figure out how to use explosive propellents to launch projectiles with reasonable accuracy and effectiveness until the 1100s.  It simply doesn't follow that everyone capable of making a still or brewing beer in a bathtub would also be capable of producing usable guns.  In fact, of the few people with the skills to make a gun, it's quite likely they would make guns that were considerably less sophisticated, accurate, and effective than those made in major arms producers' high end factories.  Making an automatic weapon that can maintain a high rate of accurate fire with few jams and that doesn't explode isn't a trivial undertaking.  In fact, historically even the weapons made in factories have had major problems.  Meanwhile the dangers of bathtub beer and backwoods moonshine isn't that it's less effective, but that it's too effective and kills its users by poisoning them. 

The second thing is that Prohibition actually did succeed at substantially reducing overall alcohol consumption while it was in effect and even for a few years after it was lifted.  Yes, lots of people still drank, but many did not, and even of people who still drank, they typically drank less than they did before Prohibition.  Does that mean Prohibition was a policy success?  Well no, but the case against prohibition of alcohol doesn't rest totally on the ban being ineffective, but in the side-effects like the growth of organized crime, and in the deeper philisophical questions about whether it can be justified to ban alcohol in a free society.  In a universe where Prohibition saw widespread adherence, it would still be plausible to argue against it.

Supply and Demand Law Works With Guns Too

As relates to guns, the reduction in alcohol consumption levels most clearly points to the increased cost, and reduced availability of booze while it was illegal.  Some of the reduction would come from people afraid or unwilling to break the law, but given the widespread perception that many if not most people disobeyed prohibition, it's pretty reasonable to see that making alcohol considerably more expensive meant many people drank a lot less of it.  There's every reason to believe the same thing happens with guns where they are more heavily restricted.  For example
Although the street price for the handgun in Russia is between 500 to 700 U.S. dollars, the Sankei reports a seller willing to take the risk can command nearly 10 times those figures in Japan —- from 500,000 to 600,000 yen.
And closer to home, the RCMP reported in 2007 that '“[h]igh end” handguns are presently selling on the street for three times the retail price.'

The simple economic reality is that even with modern automation in manufacturing bringing down the production cost, guns aren't "cheap" - and multiplying the legal retail price (which a quick search shows starts at about $250 for the smallest handguns) will easily put guns out of the economic range of a lot of people.  When you restrict guns, in economic terms you increase the costs associated with connecting buyers and sellers - in the Japanese case, Russians smuggling them into Japan must certainly demand a fair mark up, and in Canada, those who drive over to the US to buy them "legally" do so as well.

Then there is the real problem of locating a seller.  If guns are illegal this isn't a trivial challenge either.  An important example:
The Norwegian man who has admitted to going on a shooting spree and being behind a bomb attack which killed more than 90 people, Anders Behring Breivik, came to Prague in search of an AK-47 and semi-automatic pistol. Breivik had a picture of the Czech capital as a dangerous place where he could make a weapons deal with drugs dealers in sleazy bars and brothels. He left the city after having sex with two women — likely prostitutes — but with no weapons.
An anecdote, no doubt, but a revealing one given that it involves a man highly motivated to procure guns, and found himself unable to do so even in a city famed for organized crime.  Breivik would go on to get his guns legally in Norway (though it took him longer).

It turns out that many, possibly even most guns used in mass murder events were obtained legally.  One definite problem here is we don't know how many would-be mass murderers couldn't get ahold of guns, and gave up on their schemes.  Japan suffered a rare mass murder event not perpetrated with a gun, and it's worth asking if many more than 8 children would have died that day if the mentally disturbed killer had found it easy to obtain a gun in Japan.

We also shouldn't pretend that mass murderers are the only people of concern when it comes to obtaining guns.  Violent spouses and depressed people who become suicidal may also buy a gun on impulse and kill someone.  When it comes to criminals, even if you assume every mobster will still have the ability to get guns, there are a lot of criminals who aren't high level mobsters or other professionals living a life of crime.  It's quite reasonable to argue that Britain has such a problem with stabbings because they have a) a big, poor, quasi-permanent underclass and b) it's damn hard/expensive/risky to get a gun there.   I'm not a fan of Britain's massive wealth disparity and calcified class system, but is there anything about the stabbing problem that would be better if those same kids had easy access to inexpensive firearms?

I'm going to break here, and take this up further in another post.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

For the last time, guns aren't much like knives

Stop me if you've heard this one before:
Even if you managed somehow to ban all guns, are you going to ban knives too?  And axes?  And baseball bats?   If people can't get guns, they'll just use whatever they can get to kill with.
Not quoting anyone specifically here, but this general sentiment is repeated ad-nauseum in every gun control debate by gun-rights proponents.

Ok, listen up gun people.  There are two big things wrong with this general idea of equating guns with almost anything else that could be used as a weapon:

1) Guns are a lot more lethal than all those other things. 

Sometimes differences in scale are big enough to be differences in kind, and this is one of those times.  Guns in particular have the advantage of lethal at range, and requiring next to no physical strength and little skill to remain lethal.  The tragedy of a toddler killing someone with a gun is hardly unheard of, but do we ever hear of a bat going off in the hands of a toddler and killing a sibling?  Is there such a thing as a "drive by stabbing"?  I can only think of one mass murder which was carried out with a knife, and the victims were two women and a bunch of primary school aged children.  Meanwhile multi-murder events using guns are almost a monthly occurrence. 

There is a reason that guns are the primary weapon of every military's ground forces, and it's this.  There's only a few things generally more lethal than guns and that category has items like explosives and WMDs in it, which actually often makes them too lethal for most practical use (since they're hard to use without also killing yourself).  This category of "more lethal than guns" is also coincidentally comprised of items more heavily restricted, banned and/or regulated than firearms, and as far as I know, not even the most extreme members of the NRA argue that Stinger missiles, anthrax or hand grenades should be available for ordinary civilian use.  I know I'm belabouring the point here, but I really can't understand why anyone making the sort of point above could do so while being conscious of the vast disparity in lethal capacity between guns and nearly anything else an average person can get ahold of. 

2) Guns don't have uses other than as weapons.

The second thing wrong with this gun talking point is that it forgets the singular nature of guns as weapons.  That's all they are.  The only way to use them without killing anything is target practice, which is just practicing to be better at using them as weapons (and still requires elaborate care and safety procedures to ensure no one is harmed by mistake).  Obviously not everyone who target shoots will shoot some living thing with a gun, but that's still the point of target shooting.  Not everyone who practices martial arts gets into real fights, but no one disputes becoming effective at physical combat is an essential goal of martial arts.

Knives and those other objects have other non-weapons uses.  Knives in particular are indispensible as kitchen implements, in carpentry, surgery, camping and a host of other places where one needs something sharp to do something other than violence to a living being.  This is true of all the other objects generally named in this argument.  What's also true is many of them are so commonplace as to be effectively unregulatable.  How could we ban "blunt objects" even if we wanted to?  Sure, high security places like prisons or airplanes manage it, but in everyday life the host of objects that can double as clubs is innumerate.  It's reasonable to say "you can't take a crowbar onto a flight" but not to ban them from everyday use, where they're often useful. 

Guns are uniquely regulatable in this because they don't have other uses and there aren't hundreds of everyday objects that can be easily used as guns in a pinch.  You can build a gun if you're some kind of metalsmith or machinist with a set of specialized tools, but it's not something any ordinary object is easily converted into.  Prisoners often craft knives (or at least stabbing shanks) out of things as common as toothbrushes.  Prisons have good reason to go the lengths necessary to restrict even knives and things that could plausibly be turned into knives, but we could not run the wider world under such rules (even so, we do place some restrictions on knives, such as the length of knife one can carry concealed).  Effective restrictions on guns require no such lengths and burden on everyday life.

The argument to regulate or ban guns rests on guns being especially amenable to restriction due to their very specialized use cases, and to the high degree of inherent risk to life and limb from any use of them.   If knives or baseball bats met those criteria, then liberals would be talking about banning or regulating them too.  If there was something as lethal as guns but was also an indispensible daily-use household item or easily crafted from common indispensible items, we would probably just have to accept the downsides of these lethal weapons as part of life, focusing solely on every other social factor that would cause someone to use this item to do harm to themself or others.  Guns are not such a necessary evil, because they're simply not necessary and they enable great evil.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Last 12 Months Hottest Year in US Records

NOAA reports that the last 12 months was the hottest year in the US on their instrumental record going back to 1895:
The last year in the continental US has been the country's hottest since modern record-keeping began in 1895, say government scientists.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also said the US had broken its record for the hottest six months in a calendar year.
This is obviously bad news, but the silver lining is that maybe it will help put one of the most irritating climate denial talking points into its well deserved grave.  The claim that "global warming stopped in 1998" (or sometimes 2005) has been one of their go-to favourites for several years now.  I realize that talking point is talking about global average temperatures, and NOAA is just talking about the US, but the political impetus behind that talking point in North America evaporates in the face of persistent historically hot temperatures.  Of course, I've frequently seen denialists cynically confuse US local measurements with global measurements in order to falsely create an impression of falling average temperatures, so I won't shed any tears if anyone reads articles like the above and confuses this for a global measurement.  1998 was exceptionally warm because of a giant El Niño cycle, and of course any measurement of global temperature that uses multi year averages will still find the temperature increasing.  Here's NASA:

Has Global Warming Slowed in the Past Decade?

Figure 7 helps us examine the issue of whether global warming has "stopped" in the past decade or at least slowed down from the rate of the prior two decades. Global temperature in 2011 was lower than in 1998. However, global temperature has a strong interannual variability tied to the Southern Oscillation (El Niño-La Niña cycle), as is apparent in Fig. 7.
Line plots of surface temperature anomaly and of Niño phase
Figure 7. Global monthly and 12-month running mean surface temperature anomalies relative to 1951-1980 base period, and 12-month running mean of the Niño 3.4 index.

And those multi-year averages graphed (right graph, blue line is best, click to enlarge):

Line plots of global temperature anomaly 1880-2011 
I suspect a lot of people really wish global warming would just "go away" on its own somehow, and when wingnuts confidently assert (with links to climate denial sites with science-y names) that climate change has "stopped" they're only too happy to believe this.  It's a pretty natural reaction to wish away bad news and believe those who tell you what you want to hear.  But it really falls flat in the face of weather like this.  And that NOAA report has other worrisome news:
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of July 3, 56.0 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions, marking the largest percentage of the nation experiencing drought conditions in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Drought conditions improved across Florida, due to the rains from Tropical Storm Debby. Drought conditions worsened across much of the West, Central Plains, and the Ohio Valley, causing significant impacts on agriculture in those regions. 
I saw some denialists today taking comfort that this recent heat wave hasn't been as severe as some of the ones in the 1930s.  Of course, those heat waves were caused by the Dust Bowl, which was itself caused by human agricultural practices, so ironically they're citing a human caused climate event as proof against the notion that we're warming the planet today.  But if droughts become the norm, another Dust Bowl could be on the way too.  We really are replaying the Great Depression in slow motion.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Does DLC Style Centrism Push Conservatives Further Right?

My friend Paul Rosenberg has a really interesting theory:
While neoliberals saw their moves to the centre as inherently conflict-reducing, conservatives saw those moves as deeply threatening. After all, if Clinton or Obama were willing to work with them, there had to be something rotten going on. However, there was no obvious reality-based way to articulate this, since Clinton and Obama actually were quite close to conservative thinking in major ways.
Instead, Clinton and Obama's rightward moves gave rise to two types of conservative reaction. First was an intense explosion of conspiracism, which allowed for the interpolation of vast imaginary political space into a highly compressed political spectrum where no such actual space exists. The militia movement under Clinton and the Tea Party under Obama both traffic heavily in this sort of imaginary, often deeply paranoid politics. (Birth certificates, anyone?)
(I would add the persistent gun control conspiracy fantasies to that last item)  This is a compelling explanation for the phenomenon.  I would like to see more evidence for it, but I'm glad to see at least an idea that attempts to explain the bizarre spectacle of the vast bulk of US conservativism running around claiming their own ideas from just a few years ago are tantamount to Soviet gulags and Nazi health experiments.   Rosenberg doesn't mention it, but I think this is pretty compatible with what I remember of Robert Altemeyer's research on Authoritarians - I don't think authoritarians react well to logically similar ideas coming from sources not blessed by their existing authorities.  Reacting by moving yet further away from whatever hated group outsider is now endorsing ideas the in-group recently supported is pretty plausible.

It's also productive in that it hints that if Democrats move left, it's possible Republicans will return to something closer to world norms for political conservative movements among industrialized nations.  At least, they might not move yet further right than they already are.  No reason to assume that this would work both ways, but at least if it's true, Democrats should certainly stop pushing the right, right.

Billionaire Donors: Both Sides Not The Same

Rolling Stone has done us a nice service in providing 16 profiles of ultra wealthy backers of Mitt Romney.  While a few of them are apparently under the 10 figure net worth mark, the majority are north of it:
THE WASTE BARON: Harold Simmons
Position Traffics in toxic chemicals and hazardous waste as head of Contran; owns one of the world's largest producers of titanium. A former corporate raider nicknamed "Ice Man," he pioneered the leveraged-buyout tactics that decimated American industry.

What He Wants Plans to store radioactive waste from 36 states in an underground dump in Texas; has been sued repeatedly by the Justice Department for failing to clean up contaminated Superfund sites. Calls Obama "the most dangerous American alive, because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."
I'm always struck by how often the name Soros is invoked by right wingers to justify their fantasy of some global cabal of leftists trying to bring down society and form the New World Order or whatever.   The reason Soros' name comes up so much is there's practically no one else on the list of "left leaning billionaires aggressively funding left wing politics."  I guess Oprah probably gave some money to Obama's campaign, and Democrats have their set of millionaires who will attend a $30,000/plate dinner for the DNC, but all that pales in comparison to the way big old money has regularly and strongly funded the right.  All the people on RS' list have given at least $1M to Mitt (or his PACs) this cycle.  Some in the tens of millions. That $1M from Bill Maher barely even registers in comparison.

RS' list doesn't even include the more famous 2 Koch brothers, nor Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson or Richard Mellon Scaife, people much more famous for actually funding the machinery of the right the way Soros is frequently alleged to do on the left. 

As for RS' list, I was shocked how few names I recognized.  I shouldn't feel bad; there are a couple thousand billionaires out there, it's hard to really know all of them.  I guess they'd best keep working on becoming the world's first trillionaire.  It seems ludicrous now, but the way things are going we should have a pool going.  How does 2025 sound as the year of the first trillionaire?

Conservatves Never Wanted Health Care Reform

The collective conservative/Republican conniption over the US Supreme Court's ratification of most of the Affordable Care Act has brought a fresh round of confused liberals eager to remind everyone that "Obamacare" is essentially the same as "Romneycare" (enacted by Governor Romney in 2006) and that plan was itself based on a plan devised by the very conservative Heritage foundation back in 1994. 

That's fine, I'm all for reminding people that this ridiculous tantrum is not only hypocritical but completely fake on the part of the movement's leaders who used to be all for mandates before they declared conservatives have always been at war with East-Asia some time in 2009.  That said, what's happening here is not so much that they're just mad Obama stole their idea and don't want him to get credit for bi-partisan centrism in implementing the right's own health care reform proposal, what it really says to me is that they were never serious about those proposals.  They needed a health care plan in the 90s to counter Clinton's proposals, but never had any real intention of implementing such a thing.  It all goes back to the infamous Bill Kristol strategy memo from 1993, on how and why to defeat Health Care reform entirely:
But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse--much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for "security" on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.
It's just not in their interests politically.  They've set themselves up to win power on a certain critique of government, and solving the health care coverage crisis completely undercuts that.  Kristol specifies the Clinton health care bill, but I don't see the logic being much different for any bill that ends up with universal or near universal health coverage. 

It's hardly theoretical either.  We can't know whether Dole would have actually tried to implement a version of the Heritage '94 plan if he had won in '96 (with Dole there's reason to think he may have been sincere about wanting to expand health coverage, but even so I'm really skeptical the rest of the Republican/movement Conservative establishment would have gone along) but we can skip ahead to 2000, where we have Gore with some serious proposals to greatly increase coverage (though he shied away from running on UHC), and Bush who waved his hands at various tax cuts and tax credits that might marginally help a few people but would in no way address America's health care coverage crisis.  Then of course Bush took office, and despite having a Republican run Congress for most of his Presidency and plenty of Democrats fully willing to play ball on expanding health care coverage, somehow never got around to Health Care Reform.  If you recall, the 2001 tax cuts were partly premised on Fed Chair Greenspan's warnings that the US debt might get paid off too quickly, well that sounds like a fantastic opportunity to putting some of that surplus into funding health care for the uninsured, but instead it all had to go to tax cuts.

I read some of the most ardent left wing critics of the ACA, like Ian Welsh and I certainly can't dismiss the things they say will go wrong with the plan (like the possibility of Insurance companies just jacking up rates to consume the subsidies) but to the extent I can maintain hope it will be better than the status quo, the ongoing right wing freak out over it makes me think it has a good shot of doing so.  It's costing the right a lot to abandon their own idea and in particular having to cover for Mitt Romney who was in favour of such ideas as late as 2007 can't be part of some long term plan.  Yes, they can usually paper over whatever flip flops or hypocrisy they want to in their stars, but Palin proved there's a limit to their powers of media manipulation in a campaign.  Romney's reputation for flip-flops, inconsistency and so forth is approaching Palin levels of absurd.  It's costing them to deal with this (even if rank and file conservative authoritarians have no problem with the cognitive dissonance, they need another 20-30% of the population to win the election), and I have a hard time believing they're secretly thrilled about the ACA but staging a multi-year fit of apoplexy against it just to sweep in 2012 and then somehow fail to repeal it.  I'll eat my words if I'm proved wrong, but all I see is a plan they proposed back when the American people demanded they have a plan, one they intended to ignore when in office, as they did under Bush.  Whatever local circumstances led Romney to support health reform in Massachusetts aren't replicated nationally.