Saturday, December 05, 2009

In-Flight Safety

In-Flight Safety isn't all that well-known outside Canadian indie rock circles, but they deserve to have a much wider audience than they have now.

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia -- which endears them to me, given my deep ties to the Maritimes -- they've released two full-length albums so far, The Coast is Clear (2006) and the very fine We are an Empire, My Dear (2009). They sound a lot like Coldplay at times (which, from me, is a compliment), and I encourage you to get to know them.

Here are videos for "Actors" and "Model Homes," both off We are an Empire. The former is my favourite IFS song. For more, see their YouTube channel.)


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Happy Birthday, Carl!

Okay, one day late.

Carl, one of the mainstays of this blog (and one of my favourite bloggers period, which is why I'm so happy to have him blog here, as well as to have him on our editorial staff), turned 52 yesterday.

A very happy birthday from all of us at The Reaction.

-- Michael


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'Tis the season

By Capt. Fogg

Yes, they're still pushing the "Obama is a Muslim" thing and one of the reasons must be that a central theme of the last presidential contest was that he was not only "the most liberal senator in American History," but a Marxist, a concept that is getting harder and harder to pin on our rather deliberate, frustratingly centrist and sometimes rather too conservative president. After all, an absurd claim is harder to counter and outrageous fabrications draw followings in inverse proportion to evidentiary support.

Legalizing "drugs" or prostitution is out of the question as a spur to the economy said President Obama to a student in Allentown, Pennsylvania yesterday. Regardless of his reasons for the statement, it's not the opinion of a "far left socialist radical" trying to make us just like European Socialists. Better to rave about conspiracies to pass a Kenyan off as a native born American because the evidence is, that Obama is at best a centrist on social issues like allowing gays to serve in the military and no more of a Marxist than anyone at Goldman Sachs.

If only the knuckle draggers behind the Muslim libel wouldn't try to give evidence for it! The idiot mayor of some two-bit suburb of Memphis is blogging that the President's speech on Tuesday announcing 30,000 extra troops to fight Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan deliberately was scheduled to preempt that night's broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas , with its "Christian message" because as a Muslim, he hates our holiday "traditions." After all, Jesus himself watched the program as a child, didn't he? That's not of course, even contorted logic, it's bullshit. I would love to ask Mayor Russell Wiseman if Franklin Roosevelt was a closet Shinto supporter for choosing the Christmas season to ask Congress to declare war on Japan.

Ok, so, this is total crap, we sit the kids down to watch 'The Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and our muslim president is there, what a load.....try to convince me that wasn't done on purpose. Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will give you a 10 minute disertation [sic] about it....w...hen the answer should simply be 'yes'....

said the ironically named Wiseman. Sorry, Russ, the answer is none of your damned business and none of the government's business as concerns what any of us think about God, Christmas, Charlie Brown, the Son of God or the Son of Sam. The question is whether we consider you as a traitor for giving aid and comfort to the Taliban by calling Obama one of them, or for misrepresenting the Constitution and advocating that we replace it with your infantile and ignorant beliefs.

If this is conservative thought in America, then all our asylums are filled with Republicans.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Rudy Giuliani to be security consultant for 2016 Rio Olympics

According to the Daily News, Rudy Giuliani has signed on as a "security consultant" for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

"He's going to help us in day-to-day security and, especially, with an eye toward... the Olympic Games," said Sergio Cabral, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, after eating lunch with Giuliani [on Thursday].

This reminded me of a post by Suzy Khimm I read at TNR's The Plank a while ago: "Could the Olympics Mean More Misery for Rio's Poor?"

The answer, clearly, is yes:

Security crackdowns in Rio de Janeiro have often amounted to police raids on the sprawling shantytowns, home to a third of the city's population, where drug traffickers have ensconced themselves. The resulting gun battles have killed scores of innocent bystanders -- predominately poor and working-class residents of the favelas -- thus contributing to the stunning 2,069 murders that happened in Rio last year. Yes, the traffickers themselves are ruthless, exerting a mafia-like control over the shantytowns they occupy and burning buses full of civilians to retaliate against police pushback. But Brazilian police have fed the cycle of violence by acting outside the law, committing extrajudicial killings and massacres that human rights groups and the U.N. itself have denounced. (Off-duty police officers have even taken to forming their own gang-like militias, which now control some 15 percent of Rio's slums.) It's a legacy of Brazil's oft-forgotten military dictatorship, whose worst atrocities were often carried out by the country's division of "military police" and who were never held accountable for their crimes. As a result, certain divisions of the military police have continued to act with impunity in an otherwise burgeoning democracy -- and the favela crackdowns bring out their worst instincts.

Such police "occupations" -- as Brazilian authorities call them -- have continued under Rio's new mayor, Eduardo Paes, a centrist elected on a law-and-order platform. Having clinched the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Paes will likely have carte blanche to do what he wants on the security front.

Any surprise Rudy took the job? Aside from the money for him and his firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, he'll fit right in, what with his preference for police crackdowns at the expense of the poor and other undesirables. At least he was held accountable in New York -- or at least what he did was generally known. (It's true that crime rates dropped during Giuliani's terms as mayor, but it's not clear that they did so because of Giuliani -- rates were dropping nationally already. Regardless, with the police unleashed, Giuliani certainly put security before civil rights, and he'll bring that to Rio.) There'll be no such transparency in Rio, where he'll be able to get away with advocating however much brutality he likes.

More misery for Rio's poor? You betcha.

And with Rudy there, what with his penchant for fascist thuggery, it'll only be worse.

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Mad McCain

Appearing on Don Imus's radio show yesterday, failed Republican presidential nominee John McCain said that, with respect to the economy, he's "madder than [he's] ever been," much like those at the tea parties.

From the sounds of it, I'd say McCain is losing it -- or, rather, continuing to lose it, yet another reminder of how irresponsible he was to pick Palin as his running mate. Imagine McCain going mad and her taking over. Yes, go ahead and imagine it.

Even if he's not losing it, though, who cares what McCain thinks about anything at this point? Yes, the media still love him, but what does he offer these days that is even remotely constructive?


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Friday, December 04, 2009

Social tolerance and immigration

It's an ethical dilemma that I don't find easy to solve. Are the Swiss wrong to forbid the building of mosques? Are Londoners only being racist or xenophobic in opposing the Abby Mills Mosque or are they legitimately protecting themselves from the strife, turmoil, noise and sometimes the violence said to be growing in formerly calm, ecumenical and liberal countries? Is the curtailment of religious freedom justified in some cases? Yes, in the U.S., we have to fight for the idea that the free exercise of Christianity does not convey the right to push non-Christians around, but just how far do our own laws concerning religious freedom extend and how far should we let them extend?

Like many people, I'm uneasy when a Swiss party leader calls for the banning of Muslim and Jewish cemeteries and we all know the horrible history of sectarian strife in Europe such measures evoke. Yet I see how the liberal Netherlands has to deal with what appears to many of them as a growing population opposed to the secular, liberal and highly permissive culture they are so proud of and I can sympathize. By sympathizing however, with people whose hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy by a growing sub-culture, am I able to disassociate myself from groups who want to close the American borders to anyone who might not look Anglo-Saxon or be Protestant? How much of the Dutch, Swiss, and American fear of a large Muslim presence is real and how much is misguided? When is ethnic cleansing not ethnic cleansing? Most importantly, can we even discuss these things over the snarling of the trolls?

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Craziest Republican of the Day: Tom Coburn

For saying this:

We need to start over. We need to fix what's really wrong in health care and we need to protect what's really great. What's really great is if you're really sick anywhere in the world, this is the best place to be sick, it just costs too much.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who have no insurance at all, or who are denied treatment by their HMOs, or who are drowning in debt because of those high costs of care, or who have to make choices between health care and, say, food.

If you're poor and sick, and even if you have somewhat decent coverage, it's not so "great" to be sick in America.

Or, Senator, are these people -- millions and millions of your fellow Americans, all so far beneath you on the socio-economic scale -- supposed to take comfort in the excellent care that you and the privileged oligarchy are able to access whenever you need? Is this supposed to make them proud of their country, a country that has largely abandoned them, with a political class, your class, that doesn't give a shit?

You know what? Fuck you, Tom Coburn. Fuck... you.

I lived in the U.S. for many years and I was one of the privileged. When I needed care, I got maybe the best care in the world. I saw it up close. When I was in high school, I had a fairly serious operation, and then also a follow-up one. My doctor was exceptional. There were no waiting times. And it was all quite amazing. But how did I come to receive such care? Because my family, though my father's work, had incredible coverage. And I don't for a second take that for granted.

I now live in Canada, where we have excellent care through a government-run single-payer system (but with private insurance as well, for many).

But should I oppose health-care reform in the U.S. just because my own experiences were so positive? That seems to be what Coburn is saying: The system is great, the care is great, we just need to bring costs down a bit.

And how do you propose to do that, Senator, if all you want is to reinforce the status quo by keeping health care in the hands of private insurers and profiteering drug companies?

It "just" costs too much? That's it? That's the only problem? Not the fact that millions and millions hardly have any access to decent care at all, and certainly not to the sort of quality care you and your fellow congressmen get?

Fuck you.

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Dump Bernanke

By Creature

Like many on the Internets I was ambivalent towards Bernanke getting another whirl as Fed chief. Being in charge and ignoring the mess Wall Street was making leading up to the crash should have been enough to disqualify him. On the other hand, the actions taken to prevent a collapse have been bold and necessary (however, one sided). In the end, if it wasn't Bernanke, another Wall Street tool would be put in his place. At least Bernanke was a tool with experience having dealt with the mess.

All that being said, after his performance yesterday in front of the Senate Banking Committee (bastard wants to gut Social Security and Medicare while leaving his rich buddies alone), I am fully on board the dump Bernanke express. Now I can only hope the Senate gets on board too. Dumping Bernanke would send a strong signal that the Senate is on the side of the people and not the bankers (and as I typed that I realized how futile that hope is).

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Palin and the Birthers

Would it surprise you to learn that Sarah Palin is a Birther, or is at least sympathetic to the Birthers? (If only we could send the whole Birther movement before one of her mythical Death Panels.)

Her stupidity is apparently a bottomless well. But is she really that stupid? Does she actually believe that there is truth to what the Birthers allege, namely, that Obama was not born in the U.S.? Or is she just a cynical liar, one who knows full well that she's spewing bullshit for partisan purposes?

I don't think she can tell the difference anymore, if she ever could, between truth and spin, nad between reality and propaganda, and so she probably does think that the Birthers are on to something. Even if it isn't true, she believes it to be true, and wants it to be true, and so, for her, it is.

One is tempted to call her an extremist, but is she? A majority of Republicans buy the Birther lie at least in part, after all, and so she's fully in the mainstream of her own party. But, then, the GOP is fully the party of right-wing extremism, and so, yes, she fits right in, stupidity and all.

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Words, words, words

By Carl

It strikes me the solution here is a lot simpler than the administration is making it out to be:

President Obama shifts his focus to the double digit unemployment rate on Thursday, teaming up with members of his administration for a White House jobs summit. The event will be held on the eve of the monthly report on job losses, which in last month’s study showed an October rate of 10.2 percent unemployment.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak at the opening of the summit, then moderate a discussion at the closing session. In between, a who’s who of the executive branch will lead their own talks — among others, Energy Secretary Steven Chu on green jobs, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on small businesses and the combo of Treasury Secretary Ray LaHood and Peter Orszag of the Office of Management and Budget on creating jobs through infrastructure projects.

As The Times’s Jackie Calmes reports, the summit comes as the White House is considering dipping into funds earmarked to bail out banks to aid those seeking jobs. The administration’s discussions with lawmakers, Ms. Calmes writes, “reflect the Democrats’ effort to balance concerns for the high federal budget deficit and a costly, crowded domestic agenda, including an effort for further economic stimulus measures that is likely to exceed $100 billion.”

That initial step, dipping into the bailout fund to support job-seekers, is a good one, but it's not going to be enough, even if Bank of America makes good on today's promise.

The slippage in jobs
seems to be slowing down, which is great news. Obama seems to have put a halt to the horrendously bad Bush administration's attitude towards jobs, which apparently was, let them eat grass. However, turning that around into job growth is going to be a moumental task, one for which the US economy is badly situated right now. We've doubled, tripled, even quadrupled down on debt. We'll have a hard enough time paying all that back in any short order.

But spend more, we must. We simply must, because simply put, taxes pay debt, and the more people we have paying taxes, the lower we can keep the tax rates.

So, short of all-out war, which we really can't afford anyway, how to grow jobs? Tax cuts, the past thirty years' data tells us, won't work. If anything, job growth has
accelerated in eras of higher tax rates.

The knee-jerk solution, then, would be to raise taxes. That's going to happen pretty much automatically next year, as the Bush tax cuts begin to expire, and indeed, forecasts from all around the country seem to predict job growth expanding in the Spring of 2010.

Look, here's the real answer: we have infrastructure problems. We have idle hands. Let's marry the two together. It's what FDR did in the 1930s, when unemployment was really a problem. Obama should do it and do it now.

It's good to see that he's included this in his seminars and panels, as well as green jobs, but those two items pretty much go hand in hand. Green jobs are good jobs and will help with the infrastructure problem, particularly in terms of the energy grid and old wiring in urban areas.

We'll need short term...I think the term of art here is "shovel ready", but we also need to keep an eye out on the future and that means starting to put in place permanent job creation mechanisms. Yes, targeted tax credits are all fine and dandy, but we've had them and renewable energy distribution is still in its infancy, despite higher oil prices. We've had highway planning for decades, but all we've ended up with is the Bud Shuster Thruway in Western PA.

We've nibbled around the edges of a national railway program, but it's time President Obama started to pony up some ideas about that. It seems silly that a car can drive hundreds of miles on a straight highway thru the desert or high plains, but we can't come up with a competitively priced option of sticking that car on a train, saving the driver and car wear and tear.

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Out and about, with thoughts on the NFL in Toronto

Alas, it's been a quiet day here at The Reaction. I was out pretty much the entire day and then came home and watched some of the Bills-Jets game from... Toronto?

Yup, the game was right here in T.O., at the Rogers Centre, and it was both a miserable game and, from what I could tell, a miserable atmosphere, and I feel sorry for Bills fans, and for the Bills themselves, that they have to put up with one regular-season home game a year away home as part of this stupid "Bills in Toronto" series, all so that Ralph Wilson can pocket some extra cash. Toronto would probably make a decent NFL city, for its own team, but these Bills games are just trendy events for some and a forgettable shows for others. It was sellout, I think, but I heard that tickets were on sale on the secondary market for less than face value, and the whole thing just smacked of corporate phoniness, just like last year. Most people I know either didn't know the game was in Toronto or didn't care, and I think it's fair to say that most people in the city just ignored it. (The Leafs played tonight, after all, and that's of much greater interest than a heavily marketed and overhyped game with Buffalo as the "home" team.)

It's bad for the Bills, bad for the NFL, and bad for this great city, and, honestly, I'm embarrased by it.


We'll be back tomorrow with new posts. As always, stay tuned.

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Don't blame Al Franken

By Creature

If Republicans didn't want to be perceived as pro-rape they should have thought about that before they voted. Now they whine (something they do best) that they can't work with Franken. Like they ever would have worked with him in the first place.

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New York Senate rejects same-sex marriage

Well, yes, this is a bad defeat for the forces of good:

The New York State Senate decisively rejected a bill on Wednesday that would have allowed gay couples to wed, providing a major victory for those who oppose same-sex marriage and underscoring the deep and passionate divisions surrounding the issue.

The 38-to-24 vote startled proponents of the bill and signaled that political momentum, at least right now, had shifted against same-sex marriage, even in heavily Democratic New York. It followed more than a year of lobbying by gay rights organizations, who steered close to $1 million into New York legislative races to boost support for the measure.

Senators who voted against the measure said the public was gripped by economic anxiety and remained uneasy about changing the state's definition of marriage.

"Certainly this is an emotional issue and an important issue for many New Yorkers," said Senator Tom Libous, the deputy Republican leader. "I just don't think the majority care too much about it at this time because they're out of work, they want to see the state reduce spending, and they are having a hard time making ends meet. And I don't mean to sound callous, but that's true."

The defeat, which followed a stirring, tearful and at times very personal debate, all but ensures that the issue is dead in New York until at least 2011, when a new Legislature will be installed.

The issue may be dead in New York for now, with "political momentum" seemingly against change, but there's a silver lining here, which is that the vote may simply have been a sign of the economically depressed moment. Not that a high-ranking Republican interpreted the result as a vote against change at "a hard time." Of course, that may just be an easy excuse for those who oppose same-sex marriage generally, but it must be noted that supporters of the bill thought they had enough votes for passage, which means that some of those who voted against it may indeed have done so for reasons other than opposition to same-sex marriage. Republicans were unanimously against it, but eight Democrats voted no as well. Move those Democrats to the other side and the measure passes 32-30. In other words... maybe, just maybe, a vote at a different time -- say, shortly after the 2011 elections -- will yield a different result.

Besides, as Think Progress notes, "[a] recent Marist poll found that 51 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing same-sex marriage and just 42 percent oppose it." That's pretty decisive, even if, for the time being, the momentum in the Legislature seems to be pointing the other way.

This is a disappointing setback, but the fight for marriage equality ain't over, and it's pretty clear, I think, that New York will eventually legalize same-sex marriage, and probably in the not-too-distant future. The momentum in American society, after all, both in New York and elsewhere, is heading in that direction, and, while there will continue to be setbacks, along with fierce opposition from the other side, change is coming.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Who cares? We do, apparently!

By Carl

I've been thinking about
this story a little this week:

Tiger Woods received a traffic citation for careless driving that will cost him $164 and four points on his Florida license, but the Florida Highway Patrol said during a news conference Tuesday it had no evidence to pursue any criminal charges in connection with Woods's single-car crash outside his Windermere, Fla., mansion Thanksgiving night.

"With the issuance of this citation, the Florida Highway Patrol has concluded the investigation," FHP troop commander Cindy Williams said without taking any questions.

Which is as it should be. No one was injured, not even Woods, really, and it amounts to a little property damage that Woods' insurance company will have to pay for.

It's the
other half of the equation that disturbed me:

A second woman has stepped into the spotlight in the Tiger Woods controversy – and this one whole-heartedly claims that she and the champion golfer had an affair.

Jamie Grubbs, a cocktail waitress who appeared on the VH1 show Tool Academy, tells the British tabloid the Sun that she and the pro golfer had a 31-month fling that included around 20 sexual encounters, the first just days before Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, gave birth to the married couple's first child.

"He told me just last month, 'Quietly and secretly we will always be together,' " Grubbs, 24, says.

Next article:

Life & Style reports that Kalika Moquin, a Las Vegas marketing manager, is the latest woman to be connected to Tiger Woods. Reports of Moquin follow rumors about Rachel Uchitel and Jaimee Grubbs, both of whom have been linked to Woods romantically in the past week.

First off, is Tool Academy not THE perfect place for the first tool, even assuming she's lying through her teeth? But I digress...

No, what's more distressing about this whole sordid affair is that it's even on our radar.

There's a cult of hero worship in this culture that's pretty sick and twisted. We set someone up as a godsend of perfection, only to tear him to shreds the minute his feet of clay are revealed.
Even if Woods has been completely faithful to his wife Elin, his reputation has been tarnished, possibly beyond repair.

Admittedly, that possibility, that's he's completely faithful, seems miniscule. This doesn't change my larger point, which is why do we continually set ourselves and these "celebrities" up like this?

He's an athlete (barely, considering the game he plays). He's not in a surgery or behind the controls of a jet fighter. He's not saving lives except through whatever charitable works he's done. He's not educating our kids, or building houses. He is, by any measure, extremely talented at the one thing we know he does exceedingly well: play golf.

But he's human, as human as you or I. An object of fascination, to be sure, but that fascination should be limited to marvelling at his ability to sink his putts, and should in no way be extended to disdain over how he sinks his putz.

PERIOD. That it goes beyond this is a testament to the sickly nature of American and now world culture that America has infected with its glib anything-for-a-buck mentality of selling newspapers and magazines.

(Yes, I'm aware that British tabloids put ours to shame, but the culture in the UK allows for a lot more important stories to filter through, like Afghanistan, and not be stonewalled behind trappings of "importance". For example, at the
Times of London website, the mistrial of a minor New York City mob boss ranks far higher than the Woods' story.)

Worse, this same convoluted thinking affects our politics, which after the last ten to fifteen years, you'd think we'd outgrow. First came the sex scandals, highlighted but certainly not limited to the Monica Lewinski affair, then came eight years of an administration that bullied, badgered and bluffed its way to destroying the greatest nation ever to arise on the face of the planet.

In eight short years! Compassionate conservatism, indeed! Nero couldn't have fiddled any faster!

And now, Barack Obama has to suffer the same misfortune. Having run without dismantling the perception that he was an agent of change, leaving the unfair and fantastical impression that somehow he had a plan that would get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan, out of the Bush Depression, and into national health care, all within his first year, his image has suffered from slings and arrows from both sides of the aisle.

He asked to bite off more than he could chew, knowing full well he'd never be able to swallow it all inside such a short period.

But what's the worst part of this is, we allowed ourselves that delusion. Obama was very straightforward on the campaign trail about timetables for Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly as the election drew near, and yet a significant percentage of Americans elected him with the thought that he could work miracles.

And now they're shocked to find out he's not Jesus.

Or even Tiger Woods.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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God hates freedom of religion

By Capt. Fogg

He hates yours anyway, you heretic.

I don't know if the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but the road to Heaven is once again being resurfaced with fresh slime. The Family Research Council, which purports to be a Christian organization having something to do with families, is really a lie factory with the objective of fomenting a civil war pitting fundamentalists against our religiously neutral constitution. They've now launched yet another campaign against the rest of us, claiming that the President plans to "silence Christianity" and "Impose homosexuality." It's the kind of thing that requires dementia, stupidity and ignorance to believe but in 21st century America, the very air stinks of it.

I really don't wonder that such people are obsessed to the point of mania about homosexuality or that for them, the purpose of what they call Christianity is to bring about a fundamentalist state that will enforce their sexual and social taboos. It's not so much that people hiding behind a false name are at war with secular democracy or at war with religious freedom or at war with private consensual sex, these are people at war with their own wet dreams.

"It's hard to make this stuff up" says Stephen Webster at Raw Story. Not for them it isn't. Their four-page letter, available here howls, shrieks and lies like the Devil himself about Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would guarantee gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans the right to work just like other Americans without fear of reprisal by the employers due solely to their sexual orientation or appearance. No, it does not force churches and their businesses and their schools to hire anyone they don't want to but FRC lies and says it does. No, limiting the free exercise of religion does not extend to giving any group the right to force their practices on anyone, but they say it does. The FRC has been lying about a lot of things for a long time and the rest of us have let them do it no matter how many people have to suffer. America gets weak and spineless every time some one crosses two sticks and pretends to speak for God.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Howard Dean isn't helping

According to Ezra Klein, Howard Dean, once thought to be a leading health-care guru in the Democratic Party, thinks that "this bill is worthless and should be defeated" -- if it doesn't include a public option.

Like Ezra, and as I've written here many times, I'm a supporter of the public option and want Democrats to push for its inclusion, preferably in a robust form. But Dean's comment is just plain stupid. Klein:

The strongest public option on the table -- the House's version -- would serve a couple million folks and cost a bit more than private insurance. It's worth having, for reasons I've argued over and over again. But a lot of things are worth having. It isn't decisive, or even obviously relevant, to the bill's success or failure. If the bill is "worthless," then it's worthless in the presence of the public option. And if it's not worthless, it's not worthless in the absence of the public option.

Which leaves us arguing over the meaning of the word "worthless," I guess. This is a bill that cuts premiums costs. That extends insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans. That cuts the deficit. That establishes an expectation for near-universal health-care coverage. That really digs into delivery-system reforms. That takes the first, halting steps away from the fee-for-service system. That makes better insurance cheaper for the poorest Americans. If passed, it will be, without doubt or competition, the largest piece of progressive social policy since Lyndon Johnson established Medicare and Medicaid. If this isn't worthwhile, then progressives should pack up and go home, because nothing Congress passes in the foreseeable future will even come close.

I think that's exactly right. This doesn't mean dropping the public option, just recognizing that the public option (and especially the decidedly non-robust variations that Congress is considering) isn't the be-all and end-all of health-care reform and that there could be significant and even historic reform even without it.

I appreciate and even admire Dean's firm commitment to the public option -- it's just the sort of passion and determination we need from Democrats -- but he isn't helping. Ultimately, Democrats may vote for, and need to defend, because it may be all they can achieve given Republican opposition and their own internal divisions, a bill that either does not include a public option or that includes a severely weakened public option -- or that includes a trigger of some kind. This would be a less-than-desirable bill, to be sure, but also one that results in genuine reform. It would be better for a prominent figure like Dean not to be sniping from the sidelines, calling such a bill "worthless" even when it's actually worth a great deal in terms of changing America's dysfunctional, costly, and unjust health-care system for the better.

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Thoughts on Obama's Afghanistan speech at West Point

I'll be adding to this throughout the night. Stay tuned for updates.


As expected, it was an admirable speech (transcript), regardless of the questionable content, but, then, we've come to expect such lofty rhetorical flights from Obama. The tone was serious, which it had to be, and, on the whole, the president made his case effectively, I thought.

But do we buy the case? I do not.

In making the case for war, Obama sounded at times a lot like Bush. Yes, there was good reason (a solid, defensible rationale) to go to war, and the war, early on, may have been legitimate (in other words, the U.S. was justified in going to war to confront an enemy that had attacked it), but the war now is not the war then. Back then, it was about removing the Taliban from power and denying al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan. That was accomplished, quickly, even if Karzai's government doesn't really run the country in any meaningful way. It is not clear what it is about now. Rebuilding the country? Propping up the government? Holding back the Taliban?

In the absence of a clear purpose, or rationale, for the continuing conduct of the war, there is an astonishing lack of legitimacy for the war. And even if the rationale for the war is to hold back the Taliban, as well as to maintain some semblance of stability in neighbouring Pakistan (which may descend into chaos even if the U.S. remains engaged militarily in Afghanistan), it isn't clear that continuing to wage the war, let alone escalating it, is worth the cost, both monetary and human.

I was following Andrew Sullivan's live-blogging throughout the speech. These are some of his better points, with my comments:

-- "The argument for staying on offense is pure Giuliani. If you thought you were voting for a peacenik last year, you weren't paying attention, were you? The notion that we do not face a popular insurgency as in Vietnam is also unconvincing."

I wouldn't call Obama a warmonger, but his resemblance to Bush, Cheney, and Giuliani, among others, is troubling. At least he's trying to be responsible.

-- "A reprise of liberal internationalism, and a Niebuhrian mix of military realism and global hope. 'We do not seek to occupy other nations.' And yet we do. And we will."

This is where liberal internationalism resembles neoconservatism. Obama is firmly committed to the pursuit of American hegemony, if less aggressively. I will continue to support him, given the alternatives, but there will be no radical transformation of American foreign policy during his presidency. It will be more of the same, just different, which means that the overall decline of the American Empire will continue. What has gotten the U.S. in trouble will continue to be the focus of foreign policy going forward. This isn't change I can believe in. Not even close. Better than Bush, of course, but that's flimsy praise.

Okay, more later.


More Sullivan:

I confess I do not feel those highest hopes. I do not share his confidence in American military and civilian power to turn the roiling region of Afghanistan and Pakistan into something less threatening. I see no reason after the last eight years to see how this can happen, even with these new resources. But if you rule out withdrawal right away, then this seems to me to be about the smartest strategy ahead. But I see absolutely no reason to believe that it will mean withdrawal of any significant amount in Obama's first term.

Yeah, I guess so -- if you rule out withdrawal right away.

But why rule it out? Because the problem is, this isn't going to work. Afghanistan isn't Iraq. It doesn't have a history of modern governance, nor of the sort of infrastructure one finds in modern societies, nor a reservoir of human resources, including of the intellectual kind. It isn't possible to rebuild the country sufficiently within the limited timeframe Obama envisions. He wants to "[start] to withdraw forces from the country in July 2011," but, honestly, what will have been accomplished by then? Will the government be stable? Will it actually be governing? Will it be providing services? Will the Taliban have successfully been beaten back? And what about Pakistan? Will it be any more stable then than it is now? Even if the Afghan government and security forces are more secure, and more effective, than they are now, will conditions on the ground be such that the U.S. can actually leave? Isn't it far more likely that Afghanistan a few years from now won't be all that much better than it is now, and that lives and money will have been wasted?


I can't believe I'm saying this, but Thomas Friedman made a great point on The Daily Show tonight. The key to getting from the Afghanistan of today to a relatively stable, peaceful Afghanistan is the Afghan government. The problem is that the government is a kleptocracy and is in no position to do what is needed to be done. I paraphrase, but that was the gist of it.


Again, an additional 30,000 troops won't be nearly enough. That's not to say more troops should be sent, of course, because it would require a massive troop increase to stabilize Afghanistan, and there is neither the desire nor the capacity for such an increase. Even if the new troops are focused on Kabul and specific parts of the country that need to be pacified through counterinsurgency, and even if there is an exit plan, the chance of success, even limited success, is small.

Here's how Fred Kaplan put it the other day:

So here's what it comes down to: This option might be a good idea if it worked, but the chances of its working are slim (though not zero); all the other options seem to be bad ideas, but they might cost less money and get fewer American soldiers killed (though not necessarily).

And here's how I put it, responding to Kaplan:

No, one doesn't envy Obama, who inherited this war, a war that was mismanaged and then neglected entirely, or so it seemed, by his predecessor. Whatever he chooses to do won't be good enough and will be criticized by armchair presidents around the world, including by his critics on both the left and the right. My own views place me to his left, but I remain realistic enough to know that the war can't, and won't, end anytime soon. It's now a matter of finding a way out while not giving up and pulling out until sufficient progress has been made or until some sustainable level of peace, security, and stability has been achieved in divided and war-torn country with no history of peace, security, or stability.

Obama is clearly looking ahead to the way out, but I'm pessimistic that sufficient progress will be made and that some sustainable level of peace, security, and stability will be achieved. I understand that, assuming that withdrawal was off the table, this is probably the least bad option that was available to Obama, not least for political reasons. But so what? Does that mean it's worth the risk? The right will continue to hammer him, the left will distance itself further from him, and it's not clear that those in the middle will credit him with taking the middle path, especially as it becomes clearer that that path may well lead to more of the same with even more casualties.

Obama is basically taking one last shot at "winning," broadly defined, the Afghan War. I'm just not sure it's a shot he should be taking.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When countries go bust

By Carl

I'll have more to
say on this after the quote:
Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Dubai World began talks with banks to restructure $26 billion of debt, including $3.5 billion owed by property unit Nakheel, and said the remainder of its liabilities are on “a stable financial footing.”
Debt from subsidiaries including Infinity World Holding, Istithmar World and Ports & Free Zone World will be excluded from the negotiations, Dubai World, one of the emirate’s three main state-related holding companies, said in a statement. The cost to protect Dubai debt against default fell to the lowest since Nov. 25. Dubai’s main equity index dropped 6.6 percent.
Dubai is seeking to delay payments on less than half its $59 billion of liabilities, easing the potential damage to banks recovering from $1.7 trillion of losses and writedowns from the global crisis. Shares worldwide recovered some of the losses suffered since Dubai announced it would seek a “standstill” agreement on all of Dubai World’s debt as the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 600 gained 1.2 percent and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index showed the first back-to-back gains in two weeks.

Per capita, Dubai is the wealthiest nation on the planet and is 12th in GDP.

Digest that for a second.

Dubai, you may recall, put in a bid to
run the ports of the United States back in 2006, and it was only a strong public outcry that scuttled the deal, at least in the form it would have taken.

However, anyone with a lick of sense could have seen this development coming from 240,000 miles away.
Literally. When you sink tens of billions of dollars into inviting people to the desert and your GDP is only $37 billion per annum, you are likely going to go bust, Las Vegas notwithstanding.

They gambled, they lost, and while the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a large part, will help clean up the mess, this development almost certainly commits the United States, in the middle of negotiations with the UAE for a free trade zone, to yet another defense posture in the Middle East, particularly as the UAE has the seventh largest oil reserve and the United States isn't even in the top five importers of UAE oil (China is number do you get the picture?). In fact, it may commit us without invitation to be the defense partner of the UAE, and I'm not so sure we want to be there.

The UAE and Dubai specifically, because of its no-tax, "100% foreign ownership welcome" economy, is a haven for all kinds of illicit activities, from drug running (despite zero tolerance policies for possession) to money laundering. Too, the human rights record of Dubai is pretty spotty, even to the point of refusing to prosecute three Dubai men for raping a Swiss teen, giving him HIV.

Still, if a country as wealthy as Dubai, its profligacy with money aside, can go bankrupt, then how easy would it be for a nation with a far heavier debt-to-income load to fold?

I'm thinking about China. And I'm thinking THAT would be a disaster.

(crossposted to
Simply Left Behind)

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There are simply no good answers in Afghanistan

One of my favourite writers on national security and military policy is Slate's Fred Kaplan, who had a great piece up yesterday on his ambivalance with respect to the Afghan War. (Obama is set to announce his plan tonight. It will likely involve sending tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan and shifting the strategy to counterinsurgency, "which emphasizes protecting the population more than chasing terrorists.")

Like Kaplan, I am generally ambivalent about the war. While I am opposed to any escalation of the war, not least in the absence of a firm understanding of what the point is, that is, of what the objectives are and of what would constitute success (if not victory), I recognize that a full withdrawal is simply not a viable, or desirable, option at this point, not with the need for the U.S. to remain firmly engaged in the region and with the risk that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban, not to mention that the region would further destabilize, threatening what remains a delicate political situation in Pakistan.

So what to do? At this point, as Kaplan writes, it's a matter of choosing the lesser of undesirable choices, with counterinsurgency in a complex place like Afghanistan likely not to succeed all that well, or not at all, and with the other options perhaps even worse.

No, one doesn't envy Obama, who inherited this war, a war that was mismanaged and then neglected entirely, or so it seemed, by his predecessor. Whatever he chooses to do won't be good enough and will be criticized by armchair presidents around the world, including by his critics on both the left and the right. My own views place me to his left, but I remain realistic enough to know that the war can't, and won't, end anytime soon. It's now a matter of finding a way out while not giving up and pulling out until sufficient progress has been made or until some sustainable level of peace, security, and stability has been achieved in divided and war-torn country with no history of peace, security, or stability.

Good luck with that, Mr. President.

(Read Kaplan's piece. It should get you thinking.)

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Sometimes I long for the Bush days

By Creature

Back then it was so much easier to scream bloody murder when the guy doing the escalating wasn't the one I voted for.

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President Obama's trip to China -- what still hasn't been said

Guest post by Michael S. Chase 

Michael S. Chase is a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project and an Assistant Professor at the United States Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense. 

Ed. note: While it has been some time since Obama's trip to the Far East, this piece, Michael's first guest spot here at The Reaction, provides a valuable look at some of the key issues facing U.S.-China relations, including climate change and regional security, as well as at where those relations may go from here. -- MJWS


In the two weeks since President Obama's return from his first official visit to China – it does feel like an eternity already – there has been no shortage of reasoned analysis and speculative naval gazing about the meaning of the presidential journey. Journalists, politicians, and bloggers across the political spectrum have debated issues ranging from currency exchange rates to human rights, while Saturday Night Live weighed in by offering a comedic interpretation of how leaders in Beijing might feel about the economic relationship between China and the United States.

Yet in spite of all this talking there's a lot that still hasn't been said. Although the consequences are still coming into focus, President Obama's visit highlighted the changes that are reshaping the U.S.-China relationship. Indeed, the China trip came at a time that could be considered the beginning of a new stage in the history of the U.S.-China relations, one replete with opportunities for cooperation, as well as a number of challenges associated with China's emergence as a major power.

The wide range of topics discussed during President Obama's trip to China underscored the increasing complexity and diversity of the U.S.-China relationship. Compared to past meetings of U.S. and Chinese leaders, President Obama's China visit reflected a much broader agenda. One of the most contentious issues over the past fifty years – Taiwan – seemed noticeably less central, highlighting the extent to which cross-Strait relations have improved since the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan's president last year.

The issue of human rights also appeared to figure less prominently than in the past, although President Obama's answer to a question about Internet censorship in China provided a powerful reminder that the free flow of information is an indispensable pillar of accountable and responsive government. President Obama's response, which emphasized that the freedom to criticize "makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear," undoubtedly resonated with millions of Chinese citizens.

The trip also underscored the notion that the major challenges facing individual nations are, in reality, global challenges that can only be solved through international cooperation. As President Obama said during his joint press statement with President Hu Jintao, "The major challenges of the 21st century... are challenges that touch both our nations, and challenges that neither of our nations can solve by acting alone." Among the most prominent of the major challenges were economic recovery, climate change, and regional security.

Promoting sustainable growth and economic recovery was clearly one of the top items discussed, reflecting China's growing role in the global economy and the need for U.S.-China coordination in responding to the global financial crisis. Another hot-button topic was global warming and the need for clean energy. The U.S. and China agreed that efforts to combat climate change should include "emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries." They also announced a number of other energy agreements, including the establishment of a joint clean energy research center.

Regional security challenges – including the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues and efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan – were of course high on the agenda. But perhaps more interesting was the U.S.-China Joint Statement, which addressed a wide range of issues beyond the core challenges of economic recovery, energy, and regional security. Among the many issues highlighted: cooperation in counter-terrorism, law enforcement, civil aviation, transportation infrastructure, space science, agriculture, public health, military-to-military relations, human rights, and cultural and educational exchanges.

Officials from both sides will undoubtedly seek further progress on many of these issues between now and President Hu Jintao's planned visit to the United States next year. The prospects for cooperation in many of these areas are good, but several deeper challenges are likely to remain on the table for many years to come as the United States seeks to develop a "positive, cooperative, and comprehensive" relationship with China.

Perhaps most fundamentally, the two sides still face a need to build strategic trust in order to avoid misunderstanding or miscalculation. The United States expects China to assume a level of responsibility commensurate with its growing power and influence, but many in the United States are concerned about the uncertainty surrounding how a more powerful and confident China will behave on the world stage.

For China's part, despite assurances that the United States welcomes a stable and prosperous China, many in China suspect that the United States seeks to delay or frustrate China's emergence as a great power. Consequently, much hard work will be required to maximize the opportunities for cooperation in areas where U.S. and Chinese interests converge, and to handle the challenges that reside in areas of continued disagreement.

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Going rogue with quotations: Sarah Palin, John Wooden (Legs), and land redistribution for Native Americans

This. Is. Hilarious. Allow me to post extensively from Geoffrey Dunn's HuffPo post on one of the more awful errors in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue:

There have been so many lies and distortions pointed out in Sarah Palin's Going Rogue since it was released last week that her memoir has already become something of a gag line.

But perhaps the most embarrassing gaffe so far is her mis-attributed quote to UCLA basketball legend John Wooden.

As the epigram to Chapter Three, "Drill, Baby, Drill," Palin assigns the following remarks to the Hall of Fame hoops coach:

Our land is everything to us... I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it -- with their lives.

Only the quote wasn't by John Wooden. It was written by a Native American activist named John Wooden Legs in an essay entitled "Back on the War Ponies," which appeared in a left-wing anthology, We Are the People: Voices from the Other Side of American History, edited by Nathaniel May, Clint Willis, and James W. Loewen.

Here's the full quote:

Our land is everything to us. It is the only place in the world where Cheyennes talk the Cheyenne language to each other. It is the only place where Cheyennes remember the same things together. I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember our grandfathers paid for it -- with their life. My people and the Sioux defeated General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Oops! That's not quite the sentiment that Sister Sarah was trying to convey as she guzzled down sugar-free Red Bull and cranked up Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now?" while jumping on her patriotic high horse at the opening of the third chapter.

There's also no small amount of irony in the quote, given Palin's abysmal record on Alaska Native issues during her truncated term as governor.

I was a huge UCLA basketball fan as a kid. Whenever the Bruins came to the Bay Area, I did whatever I could do to snag a ticket. I loved to watch Wooden coach. But I never figured the Wizard of Westwood as an advocate for radical land distribution.

Obviously this one slipped by Sister Sarah and her crack team of investigative journalists Lynn Vincent, Meg Stapleton and Ivy Frye, as well as all those dutiful fact checkers at HarperCollins. Obviously, they didn't get the quote from anything Wooden ever wrote, but from a cute little web site called The Quote Garden. Isn't that sweet?

Okay, I was a little leery reading Palin's book and wondering if she really had read Aristotle and Plato. Somehow I didn't think so. But I thought, maybe, just maybe, she might have read Sir John. Apparently not.

No, she probably didn't read Aristotle or Plato, or any of the other authors "she" quotes -- "she" because she didn't write the book, a ghostwriter did -- and what's embarrassing here is that "she" evidently took this quote from one of many online quotation sites. (I did a quick check of some of them yesterday, initially by doing a Google search for the truncated version of the quote "she" uses in her book, and at some sites the quote, with the references to Cheyennes removed, is indeed attributed to John Wooden, not John Wooden Legs. So we are left to conclude that "she" probably didn't know what she was doing, that "she" didn't intentionally remove the Native American context, and yet that "she" got what she deserved, which is a quote that, taken in its true context, hardly means what "she" meant it to say and in fact undermines the point "she" was trying to make by directly opposing that point.

And, come on, it's really funny that her book, a reflection of her own arrogant yet clueless self-righteousness, includes a quote advocating land distribution by a Native American activist published in a left-wing anthology.

Sarah Palin, a fraud? Yeah, that's about right. The evidence keeps piling up.

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More Cheney

By Creature

Dick Cheney cherry-picks reporters even better than he cherry-picks intelligence.

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Quote of the Day: Andrew Sullivan on Rick Warren and Uganda's anti-gay legislation

I posted yesterday on the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" currently working its way through Uganda's Parliament. It's a despicable piece of legislation that, if enacted, would impose life imprisonment and even capital punishment for gays.

The legislator who intoduced the bill, David Bahati, is a member of "The Family," an American right-wing theocratic group closely connected to some high-ranking Republicans in Washington, while another man behind the bill is Martin Ssempa, a minister who wants to "kick sodomy out of Uganda" and who is closely connected to popular American evangelist Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, among other books, and the man who, much to the chagrin of many of us, gave the invocation at Obama's inauguration.

Warren is refusing to take a position on the Ugandan legislation -- "As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides." -- but it's pretty clear where he stands, which is firmly against not just same-sex marriage but even basic human and civil rights for homosexuals, and his non-interference dodge here is simply disgusting. Here's Andrew Sullivan rightly tearing him to shreds:

This is an act of terror and murder against an already beleaguered minority, and Warren is an accessory to it. As a powerful figure in distributing AIDS funding in Uganda, he cannot bring himself to oppose a law that would condemn someone in a gay relationship to death, and imprison him or her for touching another human being, and inciting a wave of informing on family members and friends and acquaintances in order to terrify a sexual minority. This alleged man of God cannot speak out on this - except to protect his own p.r. His schtick of actually being the nice evangelical -- a schtick that got him to Obama's inauguration -- is a lie. If he cannot condemn this fascist act of violence against a tiny minority of vulnerable human beings, then his position in this struggle is clear enough.


He lies. He has taken sides, whenever possible, to stigmatize, demonize and now physically threaten the lives of gay people in his own country and abroad. And his silence on this issue means the deaths of others. Warren needs to come out and condemn this law as evil, which it is. And to stop hiding his own enmeshment with the most virulent forms of fundamentalist hatred under the veil of media-savvy benevolence.

Yes, this bestselling author, this hugely popular public figure, this "alleged man of God," is essentially a bigoted thug out to protect his clean image, off which he profits mightily, while fighting his battles through surrogates at home and abroad. This whole episode tells you pretty much all you need to know about him.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Stop the presses! Sarah Palin is really popular with people you think would really like her!

Our Headline of the Day comes from the geniuses at The Washington Post, who apparently couldn't pass up an opportunity to state the obvious:

Hey, you know what, I bet she's real popular among fans of Hannity and Coulter, too, and maybe even of O'Reilly and Van Susteren. Oh, and among readers of The Weekly Standard, and with all those fans who show up for her book signings.

And First Dude Todd no doubt thinks she's just grand. I'm sure he likes her more than he likes Romney or Huckabee. Could WaPo do a poll of just Todd? That'd be Balz-worthy news, too, no?

Someone give Pulitzer a call.

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Taking the heat

By Carl

Kudos to the University of East Anglia for
snuffing out a phony crisis quickly:

The reverberations continue from what the University of East Anglia says was the illegal dissemination of thousands of files from its Climatic Research Unit (CRU). Over the weekend university officials put out an update saying 95 percent of the raw land-surface temperature data in question have been available to scientists and skeptics for several years, although Roger A. Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado, Boulder, said he was told differently as recently as August. ( posted the locations of various data sets.) He credited the university and climate center for moving now to be clearer about the data archives and to provide more access. “When the data is available in its original form those skeptical of climate science can then do the temperature math themselves out in the open where everyone can see their work,” Dr. Pielke wrote on Sunday. “If the global numbers come out as CRU has presented over the years, then it will strike a blow to skepticism about global temperature trend records produced by CRU and restore a good deal of credibility to this area of climate science.”

Global climate change is real, undeniable, indisputable (except in niggling details), and the single biggest threat to United States security as well as the security of the world.

Far greater than terrorism. Far greater than thermonuclear weapons in the hands of Iran. Far greater than the economic threat posed by China.

And yet, the
goo-sucking morons among us cling to this thin reed of a tempest-in-a-teacup as the smoking gun to overturn the enormous data supporting climate change, as if somehow a crowbar could move a mountain. Fortunately, those voices have withered in the hot wind of real information and sunshine transparency.

To recap this middling-to-nothing contretemps, a hacker busted into the email of UEA and stole thousands of files and e-mails which were basically works in progress, carefully sifting through the data to cherry pick only those bits that either distorted or disputed conventional wisdom with regards to climate change.

None of the stolen data was ever in any way, shape or form cleared by the standard peer review process, a dynamic the yo-yos on the right might consider employing in their own attempts to debunk what they perceive as a threat to their lazy greedy livelihoods.

"Peer review." The scientific method, where before a paper is published in an acknolwedged academic publication, it has to be examined, defended, and then approved by a panel of the peers of the author. Dissenting opinions are noted (usually in an addended article), and rebutted if possible.

None of this rigorous thinking or advocacy exists on the right, which has ceded thinking to those of us in the reality-based dimension.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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