Category: politics

Documenting the voting restriction effort

Boulder County DA Stan Garnett clears all 17 suspected illegal voters

Last month, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler gave Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett a list of 17 names, all suspected of voting in the November election despite being non-citizens.

Those names were among 155 people identified statewide as possible illegal voters.

But an investigation by Garnett’s office found that all 17 people were citizens and were able to easily verify their status, the district attorney said Wednesday.

Related: Common Cause page on Voter Supression and Secretary Scott Gessler

How is the US economy doing?

GDP: the US is doing better than Europe or Japan:
GDP, US vs the rest of the West

Unemployment: the US doing much better than Europe:
Unemployment, US vs Europe

Different economic policies, different outcomes. Europe and Britain have run austerity programs, cutting spending while the US increased spending and cut taxes.

Not unexpected, given what happened during the Great Depression, with the US economy quickly improving as New Deal spending programs kicked in, then falling back into recession after federal spending was cut in 1937 when the economy was still weak:

Obama has done better than any other world leader during the financial crisis and the recession it caused. Not that he’s done super–unemployment is still at 8%. An extra $500 billion of Fed spending until the unemployment rate drops below 6% would be a much better policy than the current US policy to cut spending.

How many liberal newspapers are left?

Saw in the news that the Seattle Times endorsed for Congress a Repub with ties to the militia/patriot movement–violent right wing nuts. I liberal Seattle has a hard right newspaper, how many cities have a Dem leaning paper left? I realize that Seattle has a big Defense industry economy, but that was my question.

newspaper political measure
from Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2010

I found this graph listing newspapers and giving them a score. I don’t follow enough papers to have a feel for how good a measure this is. I would place the Washington Post on the conservative side of the line, the NYT in the middle (painfully in the middle). Which doesn’t leave many liberal (or even Democratic) big city newspapers–the LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle. I don’t know enough about the Atlanta Constitution, Boston Globe, or Philedelphia Inquirer to have a feel for their content.

The creepy imagery of Beck’s book

Shakepeare’s Sister posted on the very cover of The Overton Window, a thriller by Glenn Beck. I haven’t read it, but the plot is described as weak Randianism dumped in a Mixmaster with a thrillerish suppression of conservatives by the establishment and counterrevolution story.

Cover of The Overton Window

He points out the the Statue of Liberty has been turned into a man. But it gets odder than that!

Statue of Liberty

The other really strange thing is the viewpoint. It’s the back of the statue. And it’s been turned to face Manhattan. Why? I did a search of pictures of the Statue of Liberty and none of the first hundred were a back view. All showed the face, either full on or from the side to include Manhattan. I don’t know what to make of it, but it creeps me out!

The missing city of Marjeh

This is odd and sort of funny. And a little old. In Afghanistan, the US military has been conducting an offensive in Helmand Province. Apparently the propaganda push got a head of the facts. The official accounts had the US battling to clear the Taliban out of the Marjeh, a moderate size city of 80,000 to 125,000 people.

I ran across articles saying that the city didn’t exist. BAGnewsNotes had a picture of an isolated farm in Marjah, ostensibly showing that the place wasn’t a city.
farm in Marjah, Afghanistan

BAGnewsNotes linked to a story on the site. But this article didn’t have any pictures at all. Now this a story that really needs a picture, and there are easy sources, Google Maps for one. Here’s the farming village of Marjeh (or Marjah, or Marja, the name can be written different ways in english):

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Just a collection of farms, no city at all.

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Marjeh, Arghanistan

Zooming out further shows that it is the biggest town in the area, so it makes sense that news of a big military operation in the area would talk about it happening in Marjeh, but it’s certainly no city.

There’s nothing to intelligent design creationism

flagellum electron micrograph
Composite electron micrograph of the flagellum basal body and hook, produced by rotational averaging (Francis et al., 1994).

Stephen M. Barr has an article in First Things, The End of Intelligent Design?. Unfortunately, Barr is looking to rescue something from intelligent design (ID) so his criticisms are muted. His main interest is whether ID has been useful in advancing religion and theology. In a faux even-handed approach he criticizes ID for not proving it’s claims but then tosses in criticism of scientists for unspecified excesses. He also tries to win favor with a religious audience by claiming that “the ID movement has been treated atrociously and that it has been lied about by many scientists”, a judgment he doesn’t substantiate.

The readership of First Things is a strange group, many of the comments go off in philosophical directions but no one is talks about the central issue–whether ID is true or false. Is there good evidence for it? Is it likely to be true? Could it be true? Or is it known to be false?

Barr’s article starts well, it is true that there’s “not a single phenomenon that we understand better today” through ID. To restate that, there is no evidence at all for ID and that is the reason ID has been dismissed by biologists.

When the idea that certain biological structures are “irreducibly complex” was proposed several examples were given: the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, the blood clotting cascade, the vertebrate eye, the Krebs cycle, etc. In fact, biologists have evolutionary models and physical evidence of how each of these things has evolved. No “irreducibly complex” structures were proposed and then proven to be so. In truth, none of the proposed examples are even open questions, things that puzzle biologists that could possibly be shown to be “irreducibly complex” in the future.

And the case for ID is really worse that what I’ve described. It’s not that ID theorists proposed structures that biologists didn’t have good evolutionary models for, structures that could have turned out to be “irreducibly complex”. When these examples were given, there was already published research explaining the evolutionary origins of each example. For example, biologists reviewing Behe’s book were able to look up and reference the research discounting his examples. No better “irreducibly complex” examples have come to light since then.

Scientific consensus

In a meta discussion about AGW, Eric Raymond writes about how the term scientific consensus is used in public science debates. He seems to misunderstand it, and think it is an ‘appeal to authority’ type of argument and thus a sign that the party that raises it has no more convincing arguments.

It certainly can be that sort of poor argument, but typically when raised by scientists it is something different. The scientific consensus on a topic is mentioned as a shorthand way of communicating what’s understood by scientists working the field to the public. Scientists are trying to communicate that certain things are known, and that contrary arguments that pick one or two studies and argue that the contrary opinion is *really* true or at least that no consensus exists are misleading. Either the study is part of a technical debate in the field among researchers who all understand and believe the consensus that is being misconstrued or too much weight is being given to the opinion of a rare contrarian.

The contrarians can be further divided into 1) cranks of various sorts and 2) scientists working on a contrary idea who understand that the evidence still favors the consensus but hope to make discoveries that will eventually tip the balance of evidence in favor of their idea. The second scientist will happily talk up his idea if asked about it, but if asked about the consensus will acknowledge that it is currently overall the best explanation.

So scientists will mention the scientific consensus on an issue to the public to ground the discussion with the fundamentals of what is known. With the fundamentals set down, scientists can then explain the details of how things are known, what discussions within the field are about, or discuss contrarians.

Strange land

The typical Republican answers yes to four of the questions in this survey* (or four out ten answer yes to all these questions, or some mix of the two). And people in the US used to worry about Russians slipping LSD in the water supply.

Question Yes No Not Sure
Should Barack Obama be impeached? 39 32 29
Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States? 42 36 22
Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist? 63 21 16
Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win? 24 43 33
Do you believe ACORN stole the2008 election? 21 24 55
Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Barack Obama? 53 14 33
Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates white people? 31 36 33
Do you believe your state should secede from the United States? 23 58 19
Should openly gay men and women be allowed to teach in public schools? 8 73 19
Should contraceptive use be outlawed? 31 56 13
Do you believe the birth control pill is abortion? 34 48 18

*Flipping yes/no for the gay teacher question.

Survey details here.

The GOP fiscal plan

Or rather the lack of one. One after another, GOP statements on what they want in a budget hit the same points again and again. Republicans have decided this year that the federal budget deficit is terrible and must be curbed immediately. Ignore for a moment the Hooverism–that cutting federal spending today will prolong the recession and increase unemployment.

Look at the Republican plan–balance the budget by cutting taxes, increasing defense spending, and leaving Social Security and Medicare intact, and cutting other unspecified programs. The remaining budget, discretionary spending excluding defense only totals $5-600 billion and includes everything from road construction to federal courts to food stamps. With the permanent budget deficit about $600 billion (the 2008-9 bank bailouts and stimulus are one time costs), balancing the budget under the Republican plan doesn’t add up. Adding tax cuts and increased defense spending just make it extra impossible.

Sometimes the impossible can be done in small steps. The Senate voted this week on PAYGO, the deficit reduction measure that allowed Clinton to balance the federal budget in the 90’s. But no, every Republican voted against it.

Stan Collender sums it up in a blog post collecting GOP statements on the federal budget . Here are the bits:

Item 2. All Senate Republicans voted against re-establishing the pay-as-you go rules, which would have required that, with certain exceptions, any new mandatory spending or revenue legislation not increase the deficit. The rules were adopted with only Democratic support.

Item 4. Republican Chairman Michael Steele is saying so often that Republicans are against cuts in Medicare that it’s starting to sound like a mantra. Add to that their stated opposition to revenue increases (see #1 above), military spending reductions, homeland security reductions, and the extremely low possibility that, if Medicare is too hot to handle, they’ll go anywhere near Social Security, and the deficit reduction math becomes totally impossible.

There have been recent fantasy GOP budget proposals along these lines. See Tim Pawlenty’s (Gov. of MN and 2012 Presidential candidate) editorial in Politico. Or the budget proposal by Rep. Paul Ryan, ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee.

Even conservative economist Bruce Bartlett is unimpressed:

Like all Republicans these days, Pawlenty wants to have it every possible way: complain about the deficit while ignoring everything his party did to create it (Medicare Part D, two unfunded wars, TARP, earmarks galore, tax cuts up the wazoo, irresponsible regulatory and monetary policies that created the recession that created the deficit, etc.), illogically insisting that tax cuts are a necessary part of deficit reduction, and never proposing any specific spending cuts.

It would hardly be fair for me to fail the Republican proposals without offering my own. So here it is:
1) The federal government should spend an additional $600 billion a year until unemployment is down under 6%. Send at least half of it directly to states where it can be spent quickly, spend the rest on unemployment, food stamps, long neglected infrastructure, and a massive New Deal class jobs program.

2) Raise taxes. First, let the Bush tax cuts on income over $200K, capital gains, and large inheritances expire. Second, make the banks pay for their bailout with a combination of financial transaction taxes, an end the hedge fund income tax special treatment, etc, to total $150 billion a year. Third, add progressive tax brackets at the high end, and extra 1% for income over $1 million, $5 million, and $10 million. End a few of the large corporation tax breaks that leave many of them paying essentially no taxes. These modest tax increases are enough to put the budget in the green.

3) Cut total war/security/defense spending back so it equals what the entire rest of the world spends, about $500 billion a year–that would be a cut of $150 billion a year. End the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, saving $150 billion a year.

4) Whoa, now the federal budget has a $200 billion surplus!

End the US occupation of Afghanistan today

At the beginning of October, it was reported that eight US soldiers were killed in Nuristan province in Afghanistan. Hearing it at the time, I thought nothing in Nuristan can be worth the life of an American soldier, yet eight of them fought and died there. Afghanistan is literally half way around the world from the US, and Nuristan is the middle of nowhere even for Afghanistan. The US has occupied Afghanistan for eight years already and the current plan is for an ongoing, pointless occupation for at least another five or ten years. President Obama is even considering pouring more US troops into the country, a truly feckless plan.

Then this November the US installed ruler of Afghanistan, ‘President’ Karzai, finished stealing the national election and declared himself President. It was also reported that his brother runs a big piece of the heroin trade and has immunity from US anti-drug efforts because he works for the CIA. Why are US soldiers fighting and dying to support the Karzai family dictatorship?

And the US war effort is still febrile. Eight years into the occupation of Afghanistan, the Pentagon is still talking about ‘ramping up’ the training of translators. US translators who speak Dari or Pashto, the major languages of the country, are so few in number that the translators at NATO headquarters in Kabul are all Afghans. Translators are thin on the ground and the US relies mainly on Afghan locals. How is the US going to run a counterinsurgency and nation-building campaign in country where almost no US troops speak the language?

What is the US doing in Afghanistan? The few thousand Al Qaeda fighters that were in Afghanistan in 2001 were killed by the US or fled to Pakistan. Even the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan don’t want them back.

Nothing is accomplished by continuing the US occupation of Afghanistan. It’s costing the US the lives of our soldiers and $100-200 billion a year. End the US occupation today!

Update: President Obama announced today he will escalate the war in Afghanistan, sending an additional 30,000 troops, for a total escalation of 51,000 troops since he took office. What an incredibly foolhardy and poor decision, one that will kill thousands of people and waste hundreds of billions of dollars. In related news, Middle East scholar Juan Cole provides a thumbnail portrait of the corrupt and fragmentary nature of the Afghan government to which the US has pinned its plans.