Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WWID (What Would Ike Do?)

I missed Jill LePore's Article The Force when it appeared in the January 28, 2013 New Yorker - I recently caught up with it.

The article is about funding for our bloated military, and part of it describes the first of the 2011 House Armed Services Committee hearings on the future of the military.

Dwight Eisenhower famously said in his farewell address:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
and at the hearing Congressman John Garamendi read part of Eisenhower's first major address as president :
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.This is a world in arms. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.... This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Garamendi invited Air Force General Richard Myers to comment on what Eisenhower said.  Myers's response:  "I wonder what President Eisenhower would have done in New York City on 9/12/2001."

Well, I do not wonder.  President Eisenhower, who had been supreme allied commander in World War ll, was well aware of the limits of military power, and the horror of warfare, and the two paragraphs above show his skepticism about the value to the country of its excessive militarization.  I'm fully confident he would have acted as another president did when there was a monstrous and murderous attack on a large building: President Clinton recognized that the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building was a criminal act, and directed the FBI to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.  So too was the attack on the World Trade Center a criminal act (though on a much larger scale), and the appropriate response was to identify who was behind the crime, arrest and try them.

And I believe that is the prudent and sensible course that President Eisenhower would have followed were he president in September 2001.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Talk About Income Inequality

John Oliver had a segment on income inequality, in which he showed President Obama referring to it as "the defining challenge of our time," only to back off when Fox and other right wingers accused him of "waging class warfare."

Yes, there is class warfare - but it is not President Obama and others concerned about the disturbing rise in income (and wealth) inequality who are waging it.  As Warren Buffett has remarked:,“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”  I take it he means the buying of politicians who will act to further the policies that have already resulted in a huge increase in the national income going to a tiny elite of the truly wealthy, and the concomitant increase in their wealth.

John Oliver quotes President Obama as asking a group of historians "to help me find a way to discuss the issue of inequality in our society without being accused of class warfare."  First observation:  why historians? The right people to ask would be those familiar with the arts of persuasion - PR professionals would be an obvious  choice, though if President Obama had asked me, I would have told him to consult the likes of George Lakoff, who has consistently advised Democrats to frame issues in a way that resonates with voters, and not allow the Republicans to set the terms of debate, so that Democrats are left on the defensive and silenced, as in the example of President Obama's unwillingness to pursue "the defining challenge of our time." 

Apparently, President Obama has not heard the old saying: the best defense is a good offense.  Rather than let his opponents accuse him of class warfare, he should forcefully point out that class warfare is being waged against ordinary Americans by the wealthy 1%, and make it clear: reporting on class warfare is not the same as waging class warfare.  The wealthy are waging it, and and bringing attention to it is reporting on it, not waging it.  By failing to go on the offensive, President Obama is allowing right wing hacks to unfairly accuse him of being the one waging class warfare.

A century ago, at a time of similar inequality as we're seeing today  Teddy Roosevelt energized the nation by damning the wealthy who preyed on ordinary Americans with the memorable expression "malefactors of great wealth".  See how the context of that expression resonates today:
..it may well be that the determination of the Government (in which, gentlemen, it will not waver), to punish certain malefactors of great wealth, has been responsible for something of the trouble ; at least to the extent of having caused these men to combine to bring about as much financial stress as possible, in order to discredit the policy of the Government and thereby secure a reversal of that policy, so that they may enjoy unmolested the fruits of their own evil-doing.
 We need another resonant expression today to make clear the pernicious influence on our politics of today's malefactors of great wealth, as they pour huge amounts of money to support the political candidates (mostly Republican) who are only too willing to assist them in their waging of class warfare.  The term I propose: class war mercenaries, and use it regularly to describe the Republican party in general, as well as individual members as they vote against the interest of poor and middle class Americans for the benefit of their wealthy financiers.  And Fox News and its ilk can be called class war propagandists, as they can (accurately) be seen to be defending and cheering on those waging class war.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How to Present Climate Deniers

John Oliver on Last week Tonight pointed out that when broadcasters bring on a scientist and a climate denier for a "debate",  they are skewing the audience's perception of the relative merits of their positions by giving them equal screen space, thus:

When there is a 97% scientific consensus on the reality and seriousness of AGW, and only 3% of scientists disagree, the audience is not well served by  suggesting that there is some kind of parity between the positions by the equal side by side images.  John Oliver humorously suggested that the audience would get a more realistic view of the merits by bringing in to the studio 97 scientists who supported the consensus view, along with 3 who did not.  While that made for good comedy, it's obviously not a workable solution to the problem of how to show where the balance of scientific opinion lies.

I suggest that broadcasters could quite easily demonstrate to their audiences where the weight of evidence lies by simply showing the interviewees in sizes relative to the percentage of scientists who support their positions, thus:

Audiences would be well served by this graphic representation of the weight of scientific opinion.  But would broadcasters do their viewers the favor of informing them well in this manner?  Of course not - they don't have the balls.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


So as the encouraging figures for the number of people previously without health insurance now getting coverage under the Affordable Care Act are reported, there's been a chorus of "cooking the books" from the right.  Which reminds me of the right's reaction to encouraging job numbers back in October 2012 just before the 2012 election - the exact same phrase "cooking the books" was being thrown about by Fox News and others on the right.

I see this as the same dynamic that leads rightwingers to claim that scientists' reports on global warming are somehow falsified.  I haven't seen the same phrase "cooking the books" used in this context, but the claim is the same: that data is being manipulated to serve a political agenda.

So why would rightwingers make these accusations, when it's clear (to most of us) that government bureaucrats are doing a professional and disinterested job of collecting and reporting data, and climate scientists too are collecting and reporting data, and (disinterestedly) telling us the implications for the planet's future they honestly infer from their findings?

I suggest that the right wing mind doesn't comprehend disinterested collection and analysis of data - that the question "What's in it for me?" is the animating consideration for a rightwinger, and that they are ready to bend facts to point to a desired end.  (Remember "unskewing the polls" before the 2012 election?)  So when facts and figures point in a direction they don't like, they assume that those collecting and analysing data are doing what they themselves would do - falsify to gain an end.

Update 5/6/2014.   And sure enough, here are the Republicans cooking the books for partisan purposes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bad Apples

When I see what the Koch brothers are doing to undermine our democracy, I think it's time for President Obama and the Democratic Party to resurrect Theodore Roosevelt's term for such people: "Malefactors of great wealth."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Snowden in Russia

I see the administration is upset that Russia granted Snowden asylum for a year.

Let's imagine a Russian who blew the whistle on Russian domestic intelligence gathering landed in New York requesting asylum, and Russia demanded his return.

Would we send him back?

Sauce for the gander and all that...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Irresponsible Journalism

Imagine if during WWll a newspaper had published a story revealing how our knowledge of German codes had enabled us to avoid a submarine attack.  Would that be considered responsible journalism?  Because of course, the Germans would have changed their codes, meaning that we would not have had warning of another attack.

This week we read that our ability to tap a conference call among Al Qaida leaders alerted us to a new terrorist threat.  Was it responsible journalism to report that fact?  Can't we now anticipate that Al Qaida will find another way to communicate with each other, closing off what could ave been a valuable source of intelligence about future planned attacks?