Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Footnote to the preceding

This is more just for fun, because it made me smile.

Last week, the Washington Post ran a story about public opinion on health care reform which cited several polls. The authors, Ceci Connolly and Jon Cohen, made some efforts at making support for change seem thin or weak. As a prime example, they said this:
In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept [of a government-sponsored health insurance option], but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.
Some other sources have already pointed out Connolly's history of anti-journalism, but that's not the part I enjoyed.

The actual question was
21. Would you support or oppose having the government create a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans?

21a. (IF SUPPORT) What if having the government create a new health insurance plan made many private health insurers go out of business because they could not compete? In that case would you support or oppose creating a government-run health insurance plan?
Some 62% supported the option of government insurance and 56% of those continued to support it in the event proposed in the follow-up. Overall, including those who oppose a public option, 37% supported a government-run plan in the face of such an outcome.

Now, note first that the poll didn't ask the people who opposed the idea if they would still oppose it if it afforded them better care at a lower cost. And note second that the article referred to "some" private insurers going out of business but the actual question said "many," which has quite a different flavor.

Ah, but still that's not the part that amused me. No, it was the fact that by the Post's own poll, by its own numbers, 37% of the American public doesn't give a flying damn if the whole freaking private health insurance industry goes down the toilet if there's a government plan in place.

That's how fed up we are with our health insurance system. And if that's not a mandate for real change, I can't imagine what would be.

I don't feel well

Back in November, I expressed in very quick outline my vision of what I wanted to see come out of the debate about access to health care in the US:
I want to see a national health care system, layered from neighborhood-level clinics through community hospitals and regional health centers up to a small number of national district hospitals for special, rare, or unusually complex treatments. The workers in all those facilities are federal employees. Ethical and financial oversight is exercised by committees of the public and health care workers at each level. The system is primarily financed through taxes with payment, if any, for services based strictly on ability to pay.

If alongside that a private system persists for those who can afford the luxury, fine. In fact, good, because those people will still be paying their full share of taxes to support the system (no tax deductions for private insurance) while reducing the demands on it.

My wife is a registered nurse who often laments the idea that the health care industry is becoming ever-more "industry" and ever-less "health care." She continues to cling to the ideal that the needs of the patient, not the needs of accountants or investors, should be the focus of health care workers. Ultimately, a not-for-profit national health care system is the only way to get there.
I have come to despair of ever seeing anything approaching that in my lifetime. A good part of the reason is the utter failure of the progressive community to live up to its name. The fact that most progressives have fallen in line behind the "public option" shows why we keep getting kicked around on expanding health care.

What happens is that someone, generally someone within the Democratic hierarchy or connected to it, comes up with what they think "will pass Congress" - in this case, the public option - and that becomes the basis of their plan. Not what's good, what will pass. They think.

Instead of saying "it's better than what we have but it's not good enough, we want a national health care system" (or even "we want single-payer") progressives meekly accept that such ideas are off the table and rally 'round the "what will pass" flag.

Then comes the legislating and the sausage-making and the proposal is hacked and sliced and trimmed and nitpicked and "redirected" and "re-focused" and we wind up with something that is barely worth passing - and sometimes not worth passing at all. In the present case, we have what appears to be turning into what will be at best little more than a slightly-expanded Medicaid that may still leave scores of millions with no or (again at best) inadequate access to health care.

I predicted as much a couple of weeks ago, when I said the "public option"
increasingly looks like it will be consciously designed to be no better than existing private plans - in which case, exactly what is the point?
Admittedly, that came as no real surprise to me; two months ago I said that Obama's stands on a number of issues, including health care,
have one thing in common: He is trying to resolve the crises and shore up the institutions while changing as little as possible about the logic or principles on which they're based. It's not about changing the social and economic systems, it's about maintaining them.
That Obama has wound up where he has on this, a place where even the loss of the public option is not a deal-breaker, according to Senior White House adviser David Axelrod, is not a big surprise; he is, after all, a centrist corporatist Democrat. But we're not Obamabots - or at least we're not supposed to be. We're supposed to be leftists, we're supposed to be the counterweight to the reactionaries. If you're on a seesaw, you don't overcome the weight on the other side by moving toward the center. So why do we keep doing it?

Yes, there will always be negotiating to be done and yes, in the real world you can't have everything you want for the asking no matter how much justice there is in it. But goddam it, in any political confrontation, you never start out by proposing what you will settle for! You start out by demanding for what you want and then you, if necessary, negotiate back to what you'll settle for. Start out with what you'll settle for and you will invariably wind up with less. That should be painfully obvious but it is a truism that we on the left, so eager are we to show our concern with "pragmatism" and "practicality," with not being "short sighted," repeatedly ignore.

It is insanely frustrating and now it appears we've done it again, and again it looks like we're about to be schooled by people who know what they want and aren't afraid to go for it.

Footnote: One of the ways the proposal is being attacked and tamed is by looking to "cut costs" in order to bring the price down to under $1 trillion over ten years.

Well, fuck that. I don't want to hear one single goddam word about the cost from any GOPper, any Blue Dog, anybody who voted for money for the Iraq War. Not. One. Single. Word.

They were prepared to spend, in fact they demanded we spend, well over $100 billion a year on the war in Iraq (as well as scores of billions more for the war in Afghanistan). You were an un-American terrorist-lover if you objected. At no point during those years, at no point in the face of the repeated off-the-budget "supplemental appropriations," at no point as the costs spiraled higher with no end in sight, not once did they go around gnashing their teeth and wailing "Oh dear God, the cost! How are we ever going to find the money?" No, it was just the money had to be found. Somehow.

Well, dammit, if they can demand somehow finding the money to spend $100 billion a year to kill people in Iraq, they fucking well can accept somehow finding the money to spend that same amount to keep people alive here. And if they can't, I'd say they were un-American.

Friday, June 26, 2009


For various reasons I may or may not explain - I haven't decided yet - I've been what is for me oddly silent on Iran. "Oddly" at least partly because I devoted a good deal of attention to the February 2004 elections (nine posts between late January and early March 2004). One reason, however, has been the difficulty of keeping up with the pace of events enough to say something intelligent that won't be obsolesced by the next news cycle - something which I have to say has been true of a fair amount of the commentary I've seen.

Still, this last weeks have contained a remarkable series of events, with ample cases of courage and cruelty, bravery and bloodshed, resistance and repression. I won't try to recap all that has happened; there are more than enough sources for day-to-day, even moment-to-moment, accounts. Rather, I want to offer a few observations on what I think the events have meant and will mean.

Start with the obvious: The election count was rigged. Period. There is no room here for rational dispute. For one thing, as some such as Robert Fisk have pointed out,
on the election night, if the count was correct it meant that they would have had to have counted five million votes in two hours.
And a total of 40 million in a few more. (And remember, these are paper ballots.) In fact, an analysis by the Chatham House think tank in London and the Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland "makes a compelling case for wide-spread fraud in the vote," in the words of the Christian Science Monitor.
[T]he researchers found a pattern of voting widely at odds from past Iranian elections, including a surge in support for [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad in rural areas where conservative candidates were deeply unpopular in Iran’s 1997, 2001, and 2005 elections. ...

They also find that for Ahmadinejad’s support to be legitimate, in a third of Iran’s provinces he would have had to win over not only all of his former supporters, but all formerly centrist voters, all new voters, and “up to 44 percent of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups.” ...

The paper also finds that while in past elections there were considerable differences in turnout from province to province, these regional differences declined sharply in the latest election. “The data seems to suggest that regional variations in participation have suddenly disappeared," the authors wrote.
In fact, according to Ali Ansari, a professor at the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews and one of the authors of the study, “I don’t think they actually counted the votes, though that’s hard to prove.”

The question whether Ahmadinejad would have won a fair election outright or after a runoff remains. Perhaps he would have: Most polls leading up to the election had him with a healthy lead. However, I don't recall any that had him with the majority he would need to avoid a runoff. Facing the possibility of a united opposition in that event, a runoff would be very risky for Ahmadinejad, a risk magnified by the fact that Iranian voters have showed clear preferences for reformers in recent elections: As is often forgotten, that's how Ahmadinejad won, by campaigning on a promise to crack down on corruption, and it was his failure on that score, along with (something else often forgotten) Iran's severe economic struggles, that have left him damaged goods.

One more important consideration here is that the very occurrence of a runoff would be a slap in the face to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who was known to back the incumbent president.

Be all of that as it may, the real question of if this was a fair election has been answered: No.

This also means that the statement I made in another context not that long ago that despite its shortcomings - the necessity of candidates to be approved by a council of mullahs being the most obvious - "Iran remains within hailing distance of a democracy" is no longer true. Fraudulent elections enforced by clubs and guns is the hallmark of a dictatorship.

Next, it appears to me that the authorities were caught off guard by the intensity of the reaction, as they did not resort to the usual thug tactics in the face of dissent until after the crowds of demonstrators had grown to at least hundreds of thousands. Robert Fisk noted last week that even
the actual government newspapers reported at one point that Sunday's march was not provocative by the marchers. They carried a very powerful statement by the Chancellor of the Tehran University, condemning the police and Basij, who broke into university dormitories on Sunday night and killed seven students.

They've even carried reports of the seven dead after the march on Sunday....
What's more, he reported having just witnessed a confrontation between "about 15,000 supporters of Ahmadinejad" and "about 10,000 Mousavi men and women" - during which the local police kept the groups apart and were even "beginning to smile towards the demonstrators of Mr Mousavi."
You've got to realise that what's happening at the moment is that the actual authorities are losing control of what's happening on the streets and that's very dangerous and damaging to them[, he said].
Indeed it was. Speaking with Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" last Tuesday, Nahid Siamdoust, "Time" magazine correspondent in Tehran, said that in his acceptance speech, Ahmadinejad described the protestors as "brushwood and motes" or "weeds and grass," that is, just unimportant trash, not to be taken seriously. But by the weekend
the state had understood that these claims and grievances over election fraud weren’t just coming from a small group within Iranian society. ... But certainly yesterday, with that demonstration of more than one million people and the helicopters hovering above and just sizing up the crowd, I think they’ve got a notion of this being a much, much bigger movement and much bigger claim.
That those present represented "a much bigger movement" was echoed in the report of a participant, who wrote in a piece that appeared in The New Yorker that
the demonstrators around me represented an impressive cross-section of Iranian society. The crowd in Azadi Street was dominated by young people, and many of the girls wore the regulation black maghna’eh, or hooded cloak, that they wear in class. There were also elderly men and women, and families whose dress and appearance suggested that they had come from modest precincts of Tehran or the provinces. I saw a friend who has a government job. She had left work early, along with ten of her colleagues, and with the permission of her supervisor. We passed a government office building where employees were leaning out the windows, waving.
As oppressors usually do when they feel their power threatened, the government combined threats with attempts to buy off the opposition cheap, in this case by having the Guardian Council "investigate" claims of election fraud. And - golly gee whiz waddaya know - it found there were irregularities affecting three million votes ("See, we address your concerns seriously and admit error."), a large number but not enough to affect the outcome ("So shut up and go home.").

When the opposition was neither dissuaded nor bought off with bullshit, the threats turned to open repression, the sheer viciousness of which showed how worried, even fearful, the state was. One thing I found revealing is that security for Baghdad was largely removed from local forces - some of who, remember, had "begun to smile towards the demonstrators" - and turned over to the basijis and special units of the Revolutionary Guard. It appears the government was worried it couldn't trust the locals, a notion given added support by a writer claiming to be writing from inside Iran who said that
[t]oday the commander of the Tehran Police refused to implement the suppression orders sent down to him by the Government.
(It was hard to tell from the text, which was undated, just what day "today" was.)

In the government's eyes, it wasn't enough, it developed, to simply break up demonstrations, it was felt necessary to even prevent them from starting. Even being in the vicinity of an area targeted for a demonstration was enough to get you beaten, and groups even of two or three were separated, often enough violently. A number of protesters were killed and authorities arrested hundreds more, along with some prominent reform leaders.

Still, defiance remained and protests continued although they consisted of thousands, then hundreds, no longer hundreds of thousands. As of this writing, it does appear the oppressors are regaining a grip on the control that very nearly slipped from their fingers - but they remain worried, and for good cause.

The fact is that it's not over and likely won't be for some time. Neither side looks ready to back down. The government certainly isn't, in fact it may be preparing to escalate the political repression. The opposition, while it has been pushed back, isn't ready to give up. Despite the government's tightening grip,
there were also signs of continued resistance. A few conservatives have expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on Tuesday, newspapers reported Thursday. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking. ...

To avoid violent suppression of street protests, people are turning to other ways of expressing dissent. Echoing a symbol of defiance to the shah, the ritual of 10 p.m. rooftop shouts of “God is great” and new chants of “Death to the dictator” has been growing stronger by the day.

Some people have begun to identify and embarrass plainclothes agents by circulating photographs of those who infiltrated protests and beat demonstrators. And protesters have pledged to release thousands of green and black balloons on Friday in memory of those killed in the clashes.
There are also darker protests, riskier, more violent, but more silent resistance, as well, if an email from Iraq can be believed. It was posted by Steve Clemons at The Washington Note. It was forwarded from a friend who got it from one of that friend's contacts in Iran.
[A]s the general crowds spread into their homes militia style Mousavi supporters were out on the streets 'Basiji hunting'.

Their resolve is no less than these thugs - they after [sic] hunting them down. They use their phones, their childhood friends, their intimate knowledge of their districts and neighbours to plan their attacks - they're organised and they're supported by their community so they have little fear. They create the havoc they're after, ambush the thugs, use their Cocktail Molotovs, disperse and re-assemble elsewhere and then start again - and the door of every house is open to them as safe harbour - they're community-connected.

The Basiji's are not.

These are not the students in the dorms, they're the street young - they know the ways better than most thugs - and these young, a surprising number of them girls, are becoming more agile in their ways as each night passes on.
Perhaps more significantly, the outburst of resistance brought cracks in the ruling elites into sharp focus. For one thing,
a number of influential clerics have spoken out about the election results and the subsequent crackdowns.

Ayatollah Mehdi Hadavi Tehrani called on Thursday for Interior Minister Sadeq Mahouli to be impeached.
Some other
senior clerics have protested, with varying degrees of severity, at the manner in which the elections were conducted and the violence that followed. Ayatollah Montazeri, the former heir to Khomeini, who was pushed aside following political disputes, has been the most explicit in his condemnation of the elections.
Montazeri, one of architects of the 1979 revolution, also said that "Resisting people’s demand is religiously prohibited.”

There is a report that representatives of the Guardian Council went to the clerics at the holy city of Qom to get their public endorsement of the legitimacy of the election. The clerics refused and instead told the government to look for a compromise.

There are political voices, too, significant ones, among the dissidents: Former President Mohammed Khatami, for one. Mehdi Karroubi, one of the losing candidates, took part in some of the demonstrations. He is an ex-Speaker of the Iranian Parliament. Hashemi Rafsanjani, another pillar of the revolution, is a former president and a Mousavi supporter who now chairs the Assembly of Experts, which chooses the supreme Ayatollah - and which has to power to dismiss Khamenei. Mir Hossein Mousavi himself is a former Prime Minister. The separations are not just between the demonstrators and the governing elite - they're within the governing elite itself.

There have been attempts to intimidate these dissenting elites: Five members of Rafsanjani's family were arrested over the weekend and then released. The head of parliament's judiciary committee hinted that Mousavi could be charged with "criminal acts" such as "calling for illegal protests and issuing provocative statements," leading to "unrest." Mousavi has been largely silenced, limited pretty much to statements through his website and today it emerged that Iran's National Security Council threatened him, telling him his opposition to the vote count was "illogical and unethical." But even now, even in these circumstances, these are men sufficiently powerful that the government has not dared to move against them directly and openly, at least not yet.

In fact there's a third faction emerging, centered around Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and some relatives. Larijani has gotten some press lately because he said a majority of Iranians contest the official results of the election and "the opinion of this majority should be respected." However, Larijani and those around them are not supporters of the dissidents; rather, they are conservatives who regard the protests as a threat to the system and appear to be trying to position themselves as the, if you will, "moderate" alternative to the protestors with the potential influence such a position can afford.

That, however, brings up yet another point, one important to mention: The dissidents such as Mousavi and Rafsanjani are not progressives and they are not liberals. Rather, they are moderates - more exactly, they are moderates within the context of Iran. They believe in the revolution, they believe in the Islamic Republic, they have no desire at all to overthrow the system of which they are part. While it's reasonable to believe that were they in power that they would loosen certain existing theocratic restrictions somewhat and would be more interested in better ties with Europe and the US - you can decide for yourself if you think that would be a good or a bad thing - there is no reason to think they would bring any fundamental change to Iranian society or Iranian foreign policy.

So our support for the protests must not be based on support for the particular candidates but on the idea of free and fair elections and the idea of basic political freedoms - as well as on the general moral principle of supporting resistance to illegitimate authority, which the Iranian government surely has become if it was not already.

In light of that, it's good to realize that while the politicians - particularly Mousavi - may provide a focus for the resistance, they are not the driving force behind it. They are not the cause. Note well that the people that gather on the rooftops night after night to call out their protest and show others that they are not alone, are not just calling out "Allahu Akhbar," they are calling out "marg bar dictator" - death to the dictator. While it would be easy to think the "dictator" they mean is Ahmadinejad, too many Iranians are too politically aware to think of him as the real power. I am convinced that the "dictator" is Khamenei. The demonstrators, I strongly suspect, are desirous of a considerably greater change than their supposed leaders. The well-known fact that the majority of the population of Iran is under 27 so the 1979 revolution is just words to them, only strengthens that impression. Even if this outbreak is suppressed, change will come to Iran.

Which raises one last point: The government of Iran, it's said often enough to make your ears ache, doesn't care what the world thinks. Doesn't care what anyone thinks.


If Iran doesn't care what the world thinks, why did it expel Western reporters? Why did it interfere with cell phone signals and satellite TV signals? Why did it try to interfere with internet communications? If it doesn't care what the world thinks, why is it trying so hard to keep that world from knowing what's going on?

Why has it tried so hard in the international press to discredit the story of the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan? Why did it ban her family from holding a memorial service at their local mosque?

Damn straight they care what the world thinks. And even if you want to say they don't care much what the US or Europe thinks, they damn well care about what the rest of the Middle East thinks. And neighboring Arab Muslim governments are not happy.

One obvious reason, of course, is fear that the model of "street power" which gave the protests their strength, could spill across borders, threatening their own often-despotic rules.
"I think that most of these governments would be concerned about the images of popular demonstrations against the government because it, in a way, reminds them of their own vulnerability," says political scientist Thomas Mattair.... "Whereas for the Arab public it would be encouraging."
That, however, would seem to push those states into supporting the repression, the better to maintain "order" in Iran and thus "order" at home. But that's not all there is to it. There's the fact that historically Iran has been, and continues to see itself as, a regional superpower. It has even made thinly-veiled threats toward external opponents of the regime.
Al Dar, a Kuwaiti newsportal, on Sunday quoted senior Iranian sources, without naming them, as saying that the Iranians would take action against those who meddled in Iran's domestic affairs.

"The Iranian leadership is now focused on achieving stability in the country. However, after it finishes the legal and constitutional tackling of the internal movements, Iranian leaders will not remain silent towards those who interfered in Iran's domestic affairs by pouring in huge amounts of dollars or by expanding conflicts to undermine the system," the sources said.
The other regional governments are wary of Iran's attempts to assert itself. From that perspective, internal turmoil in Iran benefits those other states by forcing Iran to focus inwardly, at least for a time.

But even beyond that, a number of states in the region for their own reasons desire a less-confrontational Iran pursuing a less-radical course internationally.
Dr Mohammad Al Naqabi, Head of the Negotiation Centre, Abu Dhabi, said that the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] has always refrained from interfering in Iran's internal politics including the right of Iranian people to elect their president.

"However, the GCC prefers to see a president in Iran who is less hostile to the west and who has a clear vision about how to establish constructive relations with its neighbours in the GCC.
So while those other nations are worried about the possibility of spillover,
the possibility that a more accommodating and friendly Iran could emerge is ... on the positive side of the ledger.
On the other hand,
Essam El Erian, who heads the political affairs section of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular opposition movement ... points out that if a moderate who is more open to dialogue with the West replaces President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the regional balance of power may shift at Arabs' expense
by actually increasing the regional influence of Iran.

there is a great level of disagreement among member states about their assessment....

The disagreement among Arabs about the Iranian issue has reached a stage that some Arab countries including Egypt has criticised Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa, for sending a congratulatory cable to Ahmadinejad after the second announcement of the election.
Toby Jones, a historian of the Middle East at Rutgers University, concluded that
I don't think the Arab governments know what they want out of this situation.... In some they have to be worried about another revolution being exported, but if there's real change they might have a more democratic government to deal with as opposed to this whacko regime that everyone says can't be trusted.
While the description of the regime as "whacko" and "can't be trusted" is surely overdrawn - they clearly are not nuts and the government can be trusted in the same way every other government can be "trusted," which is to do what it thinks is in its own best interests - the point about the conflicting desires of those Arab governments to on the one hand protect their own interests and on the other to have an Iran more accommodating to regional considerations and plans, remains.

And, bluntly, despite its bluster, its threats, and its sense of self-importance, there is only so far Iran can go in ignoring those concerns and only so long it can go without addressing them.

So here we are. What happens now? What do we, can we, do?

My answer to the first question is simple: I don't know. I do expect the regime will survive and I do expect Ahmadinejad to be sworn in. I expect the repression to continue, even increase, because I also expect the resistance to continue. It will be small-scale, almost if you will guerrilla resistance, but enough to show that the opposition, the resentment, remains alive; enough to demonstrate the truth of John Morely's famous quote, “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”

I also expect that after a "decent interval," that is, a time long enough to claim the two events are not related and so avoid admitting it was forced into it, the regime will make some proposals looking in the general direction of the opposition, for example, proposals to tighten up voting and vote-counting procedures, measures intended to sap strength from the opposition without changing anything basic.

Finally, I expect that in the longer term, the demographic time bomb that is the population of Iran will produce some of the basic changes which the current regime will resist. During the long-ago and long-forgotten (except by locals) fight over People's Park, a University of California San Francisco chancellor said "In the long run of history, flowers will always win against fences and students will always win against old men." So I expect it will be here.

Which leaves the other question: What do we do?

First, I think President Obama has for the most part done well on this, offering support for political rights while avoiding giving the regime any easy targets for claiming the US is behind the protests. (The usual flakes will claim it anyway, of course.) There are already sanctions against Iran of various sorts, and admittedly there is not a lot of room for more.

But "not a lot of room" is not the same as "no room." There is room for further sanctions against Iran. And they should be imposed. In fact, I think it's time for what might be called secondary sanctions. In labor disputes, boycotts, which are surely a form of sanctions, can be directed against the employer. "Secondary boycotts" are those directed against those who do business with the employer. Although such boycotts are illegal in most cases for unions covered by the National Labor Relations Act, they were an effective weapon for the United Farm Workers.

The point here is that while they may be illegal for most unions, they are assuredly not illegal for governments. I say it is time for the US, the EU, and the UN to stop putting sanctions on Iran over a likely-non-existent nuclear weapons program, put them on over the issue of political repression, fraudulent elections, and thuggish violence directed against nonviolent protestors, and extend them to those who do business with Iran.

No, we can't change everything, everywhere; no, we can't solve every issue; yes, Iran is probably not the worst; yes, you can toss out a big pile of "what about...?" None of that does mean, none of that can be allowed to mean, that we should ignore the case being pushed in our collective face. To do so is to argue ourselves into complete moral paralysis. And we're seen enough of that.

Footnote: I heard a report but which I can't locate now that said Iranian authorities were calling on people to turn in neighbors who took part in the nightly shouts of "Allahu Ahkbar." If that report was correct, the government was truly afraid: Imagine a Muslim government proposing to punish people for saying "God is great."

One Other Footnote: An additional outcome of this is that I learned a new word: Schrecklichkeit.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Footnote to the preceding, Four

A couple of months ago, in the wake of the Gaza War, in an exchange at another blog, I was asked by a pro-Israel commenter what I thought would be a "reasonable" course of action for the Israelis. So I listed a few proposals, quoted here:

- Stop trying to claim the role of innocent victim. ("And before you jump," I told my interlocutor, "I didn’t say you were making that claim, I said the Israelis - or, to be more exact, the various Israeli governments - have done so.")

- End the blockade of Gaza, which has even included things like cement, steel, glass, spare parts for water and sewage treatment plants, medical equipment, and spare parts for hospitals, the latter two of which somehow did not meet Israel’s definition of humanitarian aid. Stop engaging in collective punishment, which is both immoral and contrary to international law (and counterproductive to boot).

- Abandon the fantasy that Hamas now could (any more than in the past Fatah could) simply snap its fingers and all terrorist, including rocket, attacks would immediately stop. Hamas can control rocket attacks, as it did during the summer 2008 ceasefire: During the period July-October, a total of 11 rockets were fired out of Gaza. But it can’t eliminate them, as it is not the only group firing them. In fact, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center says that the rocket attacks in November 2008 were the first with evidence of the direct involvement of Hamas.

- Specifically and clearly avow a commitment to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and mean it. No, Israel has never done that except in a vague philosophical sense and always with a string of preconditions. Offer to meet without preconditions with a joint Hamas-Fatah delegation to discuss how to achieve that end. Publicly accept that matters such as security guarantees will come as part of such an agreement, not as precursors to it.

- Pledge to accept the results of elections among the Palestinians - even if you don’t like the outcome.

- Prosecute Israelis who committed war crimes in Gaza.

- Tear down the sections of the so-called “separation fence” that extend beyond the Green Line. (I actually think the whole thing should be torn down, but the right of Israel to build it inside the Green Line can’t be reasonably denied.) Dismantle the apartheid imposed on the West Bank and put an end to the routine humiliation of Palestinians at border checkpoints, humiliation which has nothing to do with security and everything to do with bigotry. Discipline soldiers who engage in such humiliation.

- Stop expropriating Palestinian lands, especially in and around Jerusalem.

- Stop being the side to break a ceasefire the vast majority of the time.

As I said then, I expect I could think of more. In fact, right now I could add stop making bogus "offers," stop all settlement construction, accept "in principle" a Palestinian right of return, and stop threatening the civil liberties of Arabs and Palestinians.

Footnote to the preceding, Three

The private group mentioned in connection with the project to develop heritage sites to strengthen Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem is Ir David, or City of David, a pro-settler group.
Daniel Seidemann, the founder of Ir Amim, or City of Nations, an Israeli association dedicated to sharing Jerusalem, noted that strategically located Palestinian properties bought by Ir David and other settler groups were to be linked by the new state parks, creating a belt around the Old City that will make it harder than ever to divide Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution. ...

A spokeswoman for the parks authority, Osnat Eitan, was unable to explain how some of its sites came to be contracted out to a settler group.
Unable? I strongly suspect that "unwilling" is a more accurate description.

Footnote the the Footnote: Archaeologists have expressed dismay
about Ir David’s role because of its strong Jewish focus, which many view as a politicized betrayal of the neutral role of scholarship.

Raphael Greenberg of Tel Aviv University, for example, wrote in the February issue of Public Archaeology that the Ir David site at Silwan was promoting a selective history.

“The sanctity of the City of David is newly manufactured and is a crude amalgam of history, nationalism and quasi-religious pilgrimage,” he wrote. He asserted that “the past is used to disenfranchise and displace people in the present.”
Despite that, the same New York Times article said this:
[T]here is a battle for historical legitimacy. As part of the effort, archaeologists are finding indisputable evidence of ancient Jewish life here. Yet Palestinian officials and institutions tend to dismiss the finds as part of an effort to build a Zionist history here.

In other words, while the Israeli narrative that guides the government plan focuses largely - although not exclusively - on Jewish history and links to the land, the Palestinian narrative heightens tensions, pushing the Israelis into a greater confrontational stance.
In other other words, if there's any problem, it's all the fault of those damn, truth-hating Palestinians. Or so says our "paper of record."

Footnote to the preceding, Two

One other "fact" may be in the process of being created: that Israeli independence is universally celebrated with the country.
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a preliminary proposal which would make it illegal to hold events or ceremonies marking Israel's Independence Day as a "nakba," or catastrophe.

Rather than holding barbecues and parades on Independence Day, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians usually take the day to commemorate the dispersal of Palestinians during the 1948 War of Independence. ...

Nakba Day is often observed by the Arab population in Israel with marches through destroyed villages.
If the bill passes - and I feel compelled to note again that it has only received preliminary approval - taking part in such a march or any similar activity, no matter how peaceful, could be punished by up to three years in prison.

Footnote to the preceding, One

There was another goodie in Netanyahu's statement, another "gotcha."
I call on you, our Palestinian neighbors, and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority: Let us begin peace negotiations immediately, without preconditions.
Notice anything missing there? Like any mention of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip? Apparently, "no preconditions" includes conditions - such as Israel getting to decide who will speak for all Palestinians.

Israel's empty words

This is a few days late - it seems I'm always a few days late with things these days - but I could not let it pass unnoticed here.

This past Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went through the motions of pretending to seek peace with the Palestinians by re-running the by now standard Israeli line of "I'm gonna make you an offer you can't accept." As always, the headline of his statement is about supposed "concessions" and "outreach" and "negotiations" and such - but the text of the statement lays down conditions he had to know in advance would be rejected.

Specifically, he supposedly "reversed himself" and declared for the first time that he would accept the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Except that it would be "demilitarized" - that is, it would have no armed forces. While Palestinian authorities have in the past accepted the idea of a demilitarized Palestine, in the wake of the bloody and brutal attack on Gaza, there was no basis for expecting them to accept that now.

Oh, and except that the Israeli settlements in the West Bank will remain - and will continue to grow.

Oh, and except that Jerusalem will remain "united" as the capital of Israel.

Oh, and except for one more thing: The Palestinians must not only recognize Israel (which they have already done), the must recognize it as a Jewish state - which would mean surrendering for all time the Palestinians' "right of return" to homes and lands they occupied in Israel before fleeing or being expelled in 1948. It's hard to understand how important that principle is to Palestinians - that is, unless you recall the meaning of the phrase "next year in Jerusalem." Or, as one Palestinian of my acquaintance said to me, "The Jews didn't forget their home in 2,000 years and they expect us to forget ours in (as it was at the time) 40?" The Israelis knew at least five years ago that the Palestinians could accept a "very limited implementation" of a right of return, but no Palestinian leader would or could accept abandonment of the principle.

Bluntly and simply put, the Israelis knew, they knew, in making such an "offer" that it would not, could not, be accepted. It was all crap, just another in a string of PR stunts intended in this case not so much for domestic consumption as for US consumption.

All going on while Israel continues an active campaign to create "facts on the ground" sufficient to set its occupation and dominance in stone. I already mentioned the settlements, but more specifically,
“[n]ormal life” will be allowed in settlements in the occupied West Bank, government spokesman Mark Regev said, using a euphemism for continuing construction to accommodate population growth.

The fate of settlements “will be determined in final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and in the interim, normal life must be allowed to continue in those communities,” he said.
And of course the longer a final agreement can be put off, the more that population of occupiers (now 280,000) grows, the more construction there is, and the more of a "fact" the settlements - which are illegal under international law and in the eyes of the international community - become.

That's not the only thing going on toward creating "facts," though. For another,
Israel is quietly carrying out a $100 million, multiyear development plan in some of the most significant religious and national heritage sites just outside the walled Old City here as part of an effort to strengthen the status of Jerusalem as its capital.

The plan, parts of which have been outsourced to a private group that is simultaneously buying up Palestinian property for Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, has drawn almost no public or international scrutiny. However, certain elements related to it - the threatened destruction of unauthorized Palestinian housing in the redevelopment areas, for example - have brought widespread condemnation. ...

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, however, that it will push ahead. Interior Minister Eli Yishai said last week of the activity in one core area: “I intend to act on this issue with full strength. This is the land of our sovereignty. Jewish settlement there is our right.”
Again, the intention is to create a "fact" of a unified, Jewish, Jerusalem as "the eternal capital of the Jewish people." And the longer a settlement can be put off by bullshit offers designed to appease the US government and enable finger-pointing at the Palestinians, the more of a "fact" that becomes.

At this point, there is only one decent course open to the US: an end to all aid to Israel. Military, economic, "security support," all of it. Until Israel decides to rejoin the community of nations.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Speaking of science stuff...

...how long do you think it will be before the nanny-nanny naysayers on global warming are pointing to the fact that the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina
constantly grows even as it spawns icebergs the size of apartment buildings into a frigid lake, maintaining a nearly perfect equilibrium since measurements began more than a century ago. ...

Every few years, Perito Moreno expands enough to touch a point of land across Lake Argentina, cutting the nation's largest freshwater lake in half and forming an ice dam as it presses against the shore.

The water on one side of the dam surges against the glacier, up to 200 feet (60 meters) above lake level, until it breaks the ice wall with a thunderous crash, drowning the applause of hundreds of tourists.
"The glacier is growing! Where's your precious global warming now, huh? Huh?"

[Insert: As MAD magazine used to say, "Speak and ye shall find." In looking for something else, I discovered that a naysayer has already used this exact article to make the exact inane claim I predicted.]

They will of course ignore the statement in the very first sentence of the story that Perito Moreno is one of "only a few ice fields worldwide that have withstood rising global temperatures." They will also ignore the quoted statement of Andres Rivera, a glacialist with the Center for Scientific Studies in Valdivia, Chile, who said "not all glaciers respond equally to climate change."

Because that's the way they argue. They nit-pick at details, pluck out isolated findings, claim any single variation from expectations is total disproof. They try to claim that the inability to precisely predict the climate decades in advance is proof that the models used are worthless and rely on people's ignorance of how models work to push their agenda. They even try to score points off whether you call it "global warming" or "climate change." Either ignoramuses or liars, they repeatedly confuse weather with climate. Either ignoramuses or liars, they persistently misstate the predictions that are made by global warming science (such as pointing to sea ice levels around Antarctica when the prediction is about global sea ice levels).

The ignoramuses are those who have soaked up the talking points and spit them out, talking about science that they clearly don't understand. The liars are those who pretend expertise that they use to focus either on tiny details (such as precisely how fast the pH of the oceans are dropping) or the astonishingly irrelevant (CO2 levels in the Cretaceous) - and even beyond that are the fossil fuel industry flacks of the Global Climate Coalition, who continue to push junk anti-global warming "science" even though their own experts told them over 10 years ago that "the scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied." (Well, not exactly: It could be denied, just not honestly. Which was no barrier to these folks.)

But no matter how hard the dolts and deceivers try, the facts just keep smacking them upside the head. The effects of global warming are not hypothetical, they are real and they are not somewhere off in the future, they are being seen now. And it will only get worse barring truly dramatic action.

In March, a meeting in Copenhagen of 2500 researchers and economists heard scientists, citing latest research, say that
[t]he worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised.
As they surely are. For example, besides the well-known loss and thinning of sea ice in the Arctic, there is the fact that
[t]he world's most important coral region is in danger of being wiped out by the end of this century unless fast action is taken, says a new report.

The international conservation group WWF warns that 40% of reefs in the Coral Triangle have already been lost.
The area contains 1/3 of the world's coral and 3/4 of its coral species and supports an entire ecosystem that could collapse if the coral dies off.

At that Copenhagen meeting, new data was presented that said the estimates of sea level rise made two years ago by the IPCC were already "woefully out of date" and the actual average rise could be more than a meter. It was also reported that 75% of the tree cover of the Amazon rainforest could be lost if temperatures rise more than three degrees Celsius - which, it develops, is an increasingly likely outcome of the failure of dramatic action in the near term. In fact,
[a]bout three-quarters of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left unused if society is to avoid dangerous climate change, scientists warn.

More than 100 nations support the goal of keeping temperature rise below 2C.

But the scientists say that without major curbs on fossil fuel use, 2C will probably be reached by 2050.
Writing in Nature, this group of scientists said that the UN's goal of a "safe" level of annual emissions of greenhouse gases is flawed.
Some greenhouse gases, such as methane, have a definable lifetime in the atmosphere, meaning that stabilising emissions makes sense; but, said Dr [Myles] Allen [of Oxford University], CO2 "doesn't behave like that".

"There are multiple levers acting on its concentration and it does tend to accumulate; also models have to represent the possibility of some feedback between rising temperatures and emissions, such as parts of the land turning from carbon sinks into sources, for example."
Because of that, they said, what needs to be addressed is the total of emissions, not the annual level. The focus of current international agreements is to keep the global rise in temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C. (It has already risen 0.7C over the last century.) But
Dr Allen's analysis suggests that if humanity's CO2 emissions total more than about one trillion tonnes of carbon, the 2C threshold is likely to be breached; and that could come within a lifetime.

"It took us 250 years to burn the first half trillion," he said, "and on current projections we'll burn the next half trillion in less than 40 years."

Inherent uncertainties in the modelling mean the temperature rise from the trillion tonnes could be between 1.3C and 3.9C, Dr Allen's team calculates, although the most likely value would be 2C.
That is, if these researchers are correct, the 2C limit would be breached by 2050 and any use of fossil fuels beyond that time would simply add to the warming - even if the annual release of carbon was considerably below current levels, even if the G8 goal of emissions at only 50% of 1990 levels by that time was to be met.

Not that we're doing great even on that basis: In 2007, the total emissions from industrialized countries rose by about 1%. The future for the coral, many shorelines, Arctic ice levels, and the Amazon rainforest does not look good.

And then, of course, there are the people.

Three weeks ago, the Global Humanitarian Forum released the first comprehensive report into the human cost of climate change. It said
the world is in the throes of a "silent crisis" that is killing 300,000 people each year.

More than 300 million people are already seriously affected by the gradual warming of the earth and that number is set to double by 2030....

"For the first time we are trying to get the world's attention to the fact that climate change is not something waiting to happen. It is impacting seriously the lives of many people around the world," the forum's president, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told CNN. ...

Of the 300,000 lives being lost each year due to climate change, the report finds nine out of 10 are related to "gradual environmental degradation," and that deaths caused by climate-related malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria outnumber direct fatalities from weather-related disasters.

The vast majority of deaths - 99 percent - are in developing countries which are estimated to have contributed less than one percent of the world's total carbon emissions.
An estimated 45 million people are chronically hungry due to climate change, hungry now due to climate change, and that number is expected to double in 20 years.

Those who deny the existing effects, the existing damage, of global warming are dangerously deluded if not despicable deceivers. Even the federal government has to agree:
Rising sea levels, sweltering temperatures, deeper droughts, and heavier downpours - global warming's serious effects are already here and getting worse, the Obama administration warned on Tuesday in the grimmest, most urgent language on climate change ever to come out of any White House. ...

A point of emphasis of the report, which is just under 200 pages, is what has already happened in the United States. That includes rapidly retreating glaciers in the American West and Alaska, altered stream flows, trouble with the water supply, health problems, changes in agriculture, and energy and transportation worries.

"There are in some cases already serious consequences," report co-author Anthony Janetos of the University of Maryland told The Associated Press. "This is not a theoretical thing that will happen 50 years from now. Things are happening now."
At the Copenhagen conference, scientists said there is a increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts. The White House report was softened from an earlier draft which said various "tipping points" have already been reached, but even so,
Tom Karl of the National Climatic Data Center said that at least one tipping point - irreversible sea level rise - has been passed.
We here in the US, as a modern industrialized nation, are in a much better position to withstand the worst effects of global warming that might hit us. But even with our resources, we face dramatic changes - including, if the prediction of a one meter rise in ocean levels proves accurate, the loss of New Orleans and serious impacts on other parts of the coast - particularly including the northeast, where sea levels are expected to rise eight inches more than the worldwide average, which not only inundates sections of coastline but puts the rest at increased risk from storms.

But again, we're the lucky ones. Consider the Coral Triangle. The area is shared between Indonesia and five other Southeast Asia nations and its ecological collapse could lead to mass hunger as fish stocks dry up.
By the end of the century, 100 million people across South East Asia could be on the march, looking for something to eat. Communities might be breaking down and economies destroyed. ...

"Up until now we haven't realized how quickly this system is changing," says Professor [Ove] Hoegh-Guldberg.

"In the last 40 years in the Coral Triangle, we've lost 40% of coral reefs and mangroves - and that's probably an underestimate. We've fundamentally changed the way the planet works in terms of currents and this is only with a 0.7 degree change in terms of temperature."
It's reasons like that which prompted famed medical journal The Lancet in May to call climate change "the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century."
Climate change will exacerbate the divide between rich and poor, hitting the poorest communities first and hardest.

Population growth, primarily in least developed regions, will combine with climatic effects to cause instability of food and water supplies. That in turn will drive mass migrations and create civil unrest, they say.

"The Indian government has nearly completed plans for seven-foot-high double-thickness razor wire and steel fence 4500 kilometres long along the entire border with Bangladesh and it's there to keep out the climate migrants," said Institute for Health and Human Performance professor Hugh Montgomery.
Increased hunger, mass migrations of millions of refugees, resource wars, water wars, ecological destruction, that's the future we're laying out for ourselves - or, more exactly, laying out for those millions who, again, contributed less than 1% of the problem. All so that we don't have to be a little inconvenienced.

Inconvenienced? Yes, surely. We will have to change the way we live, our expectations about technological goodies and our "more is better" attitude about life. Even with the genuine benefits of a "green economy," we will have to give up some things, some conveniences, live more simply and learn again how to find pleasure in less energy-intensive pasttimes. I'm not talking about being the little house on the prairie, so don't lay that on me. But I am talking about sacrifice.

But for those of you old enough, just think back, think back to say the 1960s and tell me: Was your standard of living, your way of living, really so bad, so much less, worse, than today, that you'd sacrifice a world to avoid returning to it?

Footnote: By their fruits shall you know them. Scott Segal, a Washington lobbyist for the coal industry, responded to the White House report by saying
Fast action without sufficient planning is a route to potential economic catastrophe with little environmental gain.
In other words, do nothing - otherwise, you'll hurt our profits.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Geek Files

Okay, I think most everyone would agree: It'd be hard to get geekier than this.
A small purple microbe that spent more than 120,000 years in hibernation deep beneath a Greenland ice sheet is alive again. Scientists at Pennsylvania State University revived the bug in a lab by warming it in an incubator over the course of 11 months, Scientific American reported.

The bacterium, which was found under nearly two miles of ice, began producing fresh colonies when it was reawakened.
How cool is that? And does anyone else remember that one of the underlying premises of The X-Files' running "alien invasion" theme involved an alien bacteria (or virus, I forget which) that thawed out after umpteen thousand years frozen in ice?

But there's another reason for interest beyond simply pinning the cool-meter, which is that such extremely cold Earth environments are thought to be our best available analogues to alien environments. Thus, Scientific American reported,
[s]pace scientists are excited by the find because it suggests alien creatures might be resurrected on other frozen worlds - especially the Red Planet.

NASA revealed in January that plumes of methane on Mars could be from living organisms. Some scientists believe that any microbes are lying dormant beneath thick underground ice on the Red Planet. A future space mission could dig them up and bring them back to life.

A European orbiting spacecraft, Mars Express, has identified other regions that may have sheltered primitive forms of alien life.
Other microbes and nucleic acids have been found intact in ice 750,000 years old and permafrost up to several million years old. But they were thoroughly dead. The oldest frozen bugs previously revived were 30,000 years old. These are thus four times older.

Although the possibility that was raised a few years ago of very recent - like within the past decade - water flow on the surface of Mars has been brought into serious question, the possible existence of underground liquid water sources has been strengthened by the recent determination that under Martian conditions, it could be possible to have liquid water even if the planet's surface temperature was well below freezing. The more likely liquid water is, the more likely the development of some sort of life is; and the more recently that water might have been liquid, the younger any remaining bugs frozen in ice would have to be, and so the greater the chance of reviving them.

The newly-discovered Earth bug has been named Herminiimonas glaciei, or H. glaciei. It
belongs to a rare family of 'ultramicro' bacteria that live in extreme environments.

It is tiny even for bacteria, being 10 to 50 times smaller than the food bug Escherichia coli (E. coli). ...

Dr. Jennifer Loveland-Curtze, who led the US team at Pennsylvania State University ... stressed that H. glaciei was not harmful to humans - which was just as well since it can pass straight through safety filters commonly used in laboratories and hospitals.
So I guess Mulder and Scully can stay retired.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

I could not let today pass without noting that it is the 27th anniversary of the largest peace demonstration in US history, when somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people gathered in Central Park in New York City to call for an end to the nuclear arms race.

No, the movement did not achieve its goal; the danger of nuclear weapons is still with us, only now it's tucked away out of our awareness except when a little fear-mongering about Iran and/or North Korea seems useful. But still, this was a campaign that did more than move mountains, it moved nations, altered the policies of governments, and changed forever the image of nukes from "protection" to "risk."

Looking back on it, I'm struck by two things: One is the energy, the verve, the yes excitement that stands in such contrast to the jacket-and-tie mien of so many of the leading voices of the "movement" (the quotes are deliberate) today, who seem to regard such hairy, chaotic, "still crazy after all these years" actions as pointless and icky even though they are precisely the kinds of things that pried open the gates to the halls of power through which they have passed to exert their supposed but largely symbolic influence.

The other is the real sense of hope that drove the whole thing. Sure, there was a fear of nuclear war involved, but fear is a paralyzing emotion, not an energizing one. I remember the story of a teacher at the time who asked a class if they were afraid of a nuclear war. Every student raised their hand except one girl. When the teacher asked her why she wasn't afraid, she said "Because my mommy and daddy go to meetings to keep it from happening." The hope drives out the fear.

The rediscovery of hope, more than anything else, was the engine of the Obama campaign. The re-awakened sense not only that things should be better, but could be better. But this is an unfortunate hope, for it's a hope that lies not in ideas, but in slogans; not in what we can do but in what someone else can do; not in ourselves but in a man - worse, in a political party. The hope becomes restricted by what the Democratic Party thinks will get it the most votes and is not looking to what is right or just but merely to what is immediately "practical." A perfect example of that is the debate on healthcare, with the "movement" focused on "supporting Obama's program" for a "public option," one that increasingly looks like it will be consciously designed to be no better than existing private plans - in which case, exactly what is the point?

The worst part of such unfortunate hope, the part that concerns me, is that it easily can become (and to be blunt I can see it becoming) failed hope. And failed hope is the primary cause of discouragement and despair - which are every bit as paralyzing as fear.

In my very first post here, over 51/2 years ago, I quoted myself as having told a friend "The truth is, my hope is nearly gone. My anger is the only thing that keeps me going." In the intervening time, I've realized that's not entirely true. The anger feeds the awareness of injustice and fuels the wording, but it's the hope that keeps the flame alive, generates the heat in which righteous anger can dwell, and it's the times when the hope is at a low ebb that the fire is coolest and thus the drive is the weakest.

So today, I'd like everyone to look back (or, for the grayer among us, think back) twenty-seven years and take some pleasure and some encouragement in seeing and sensing what hope - hope based in ideas and ideals, not merely elections - looks and feels like.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Footnote to the preceding

Updated A column this past Friday by Bill O'Reilly, the man with the perfect initials, will serve as an example of what I just described. He writes, supposedly, to defend himself against charges that he is in some way morally responsible for Dr. Tiller's murder. I wanted to see how many rules BO invokes in just over 500 words.

Well, there's Rule #1 right at the top: According to O'Reilly, accused killer Scott Roeder is not an anti-abortion activist with proven connections to Operation Rescue, oh no. He's "an anti-government militant."

Rule #2 makes a quick appearance: He refers to "60,000 fetuses" that were "destroyed" by Dr. Tiller. He again refers to "Tiller the baby killer" and Tiller's "deadly practice." Then there are the references to "far-left loons" and "the uber-liberal New York Times," the latter of which always cracks me up.

Rule #3 is in there: "That's the same tactic in play on gay marriage: Oppose it and you're a homophobe." Actually, that's true. But it's also irrelevant to O'Reilly's enabling of Dr. Tiller's murder.

The example of Rule #4 is a bit of a variant, but still clear enough: "The Times opinion also did not mention" a whole series of completely irrelevant things and "as usual ... failed to tell its readers the whole story." As opposed, of course, to Bill O'Reilly.

Then there's Rule #8: He declares as fact that "aborted fetuses after 21 weeks ... could live outside the mother's womb." The youngest fetus ever to survive outside the womb - and that only by virtue of modern medical intervention - was barely under 22 weeks old. What's more, the date is controversial, with some insisting that by the usual method of calculation, it would be two weeks older. Even with the most advanced intervention, only 10% of fetuses born at 22 weeks survive a year and most of those have serious health problems.

Rule #10 gets invoked several times: BO claims Tiller is being "glorified." He declares "the far left is seeking to silence Americans" who are anti-choice. He says he is being "demonized." The left is "trying to inhibit dissent," according to him.

And then there is the ever-useful Rule #13: "Behind all the bluster," he says, "was a well thought out, coordinated campaign" typical of "the hateful, dishonest tactics of the far left."

Hmmm.... Perhaps there should be another rule for the first half of that last one, one that stipulates giving free rein to your paranoid persecution fantasies. Leaving that aside, that's still seven rules in 500 words. A decent effort, although I'm pretty sure than most anything by Charles Krauthammer would have that beat.

This, however, still leaves us with the question of his moral responsibility for Dr. Tiller's murder. The only rational answer is that of course he has some moral responsibility. He helped set the stage. He helped create the atmosphere. He provided the justification: Remember, BO was the man who said "allowing" Tiller to "continue" would mean "we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody."

Simply put, the man who regularly brags about the size of his audience and the sales of his books does not now get to claim that his words have no effect whatsoever on anyone. And doing so marks him as a spineless, lying, hypocritical, worm.

Updated with a correction: Since I added something to the list of Rules, what had been Rule #12 ("lie") is now Rule #13, and that correction was made in the above.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Over and done

Updated Updated Again At the top, an observation and a distinction. First, the observation: Every one of us, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, has a worldview, a way of perceiving the world and how it operates; a view, if you will, of the structure of physical and social reality. That worldview significantly shapes our views on matters of philosophy and morality and it informs our positions on issues of public policy. Even those who have no concern with the latter still have a worldview shaping the former. What that worldview consists of can vary wildly from person to person, but every sane, sentient being has one; you can't function without it.

Next, the distinction: There are two kinds of people populating the right-hand reaches of the American political spectrum. One is conservatives, here understood as people who have an ideology in which they believe but with who it is possible to have intelligent disagreement. I have had numerous exchanges with conservatives which were, most commonly, unproductive in the sense of either of us being convinced by the other or of finding significant agreement - but which nonetheless remained civil.

The other is the right-wing flakes, the right-wing nutcases, the wingnuts, or as I commonly abbreviate it, the wingers. (Those wingers directly connected to the Republican Party are those I call GOPpers.) They are the subject here.

For some time I have observed with varying degrees of annoyance and bemusement the predictable tactics of the wingers in debates - or rather, their tactics in avoiding actual debates. I put together a list of such tactics; actually, there were several versions of the list because, again, it was originally done rather light-heartedly or snarkily.

But no more. Not any more. I have had it. I have had it with the evasions, the dodges, the schemes and slime that make up winger discussions. This is my most comprehensive (but not necessarily all-inclusive) list of winger tactics, their rules of engagement, if you will - and I will guarantee you that you have run up against every single one of these tactics, probably multiple times and often more than one in any encounter. This is no longer a light-hearted list or a flip recital, but an indictment of deceit and philosophical bankruptcy on the part of a significant part of the American right.

Rule #1: Deny, deny, deny.

Rule #2: Attack, attack, attack.

Rule #3: When facts are undeniable, change the subject. This can be done in various ways, for example:
- Introduce irrelevant details on a tangential point.
- Pluck out from what your opponent said an individual phrase you think you can attack, even if it’s one that was just tossed off quickly, and treat that as if it’s the focus of the entire discussion.
- More subtly, try to tie your opponent up in piles of minutia to the point where everyone, including your opponent, loses track of the thrust of their argument.
- Apply Rule #4.
Whenever possible, insist that your changed subject is the "real" one under discussion.

Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of “the left” of the form “What about...,” being sure to include the words “hypocrites” and/or “hypocrisy,” thereby arguing that the left can’t legitimately criticize the right, while by using this tactic insisting that the right can continue to criticize the left. (Note: Where possible, include the phrase “you liberals.”)

Rule #5: Make the particular stand for the whole. Find something offensive or silly some liberal or leftist, somewhere, sometime, said or did and declare it as identifying the entire left half of the American political spectrum. Demand that your opponent spend their time denouncing that example rather than discussing the original topic.

Rule #6: Never answer a question. When faced with one, ignore it and respond with a question, preferably on a different point. If possible, the question should be accusatory. (See Rule #4.) If you do not get an answer, repeat the question and loudly demand it be answered while continuing to ignore the original question you were asked. If you do get an answer, ignore it. If necessary, drop the matter without acknowledging having gotten a reply; if possible, repeat the question, insisting it has not been answered, even if it has.

Rule #7: Demand every remotely questionable assertion by your opponent be proved in every conceivable detail, right down to dates, times, and places, complete with signed affidavits. Refer to all factual assertions by your opponents as "just your opinion" even if the demanded level of proof is supplied.

Rule #8: Assert unsourced statistics and facts with great assurance. Reply to requests for proof by saying some version of "You can look it up." You thereby demand that your opponents do the work of proving your argument for you.

Rule #9: Frame the debate in false choices; for example, by responding to a call for withdrawal from Iraq with "Do you want to win or lose in Iraq?"

Rule #10: Accuse the accuser. As appropriate, use "You're being intolerant!" or "You're the real racist!" If something you said is challenged as bigoted or otherwise wrongful, decry the "suppression" of your "free speech."

Rule #11: When a claim of yours has been debunked, continue to use it nonetheless. When it has been debunked so thoroughly and completely that continuing to use it is counterproductive, stop claiming it for a time, perhaps a few months, after which assert it again as if the debunking had never happened.

Rule #12: Whenever faced with the evil resulting from some other winger following or acting on your arguments, accuse those who point out that fact of "politicizing a tragedy." Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words.

Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.

It was the application of those last two rules to the terrorist murder of Dr. George Tiller that was my breaking point. Tiller - who performed entirely-legal late-term abortions - was subjected to a decades-long campaign of demonization and vilification. He was compared to a Mafia hit man, to Hitler, to Stalin, to al-Qaeda, to the Taliban. He was called "Tiller the Killer" and his clinic was labeled a "barbaric" "abortion mill." He had already been shot once - in 1993 - and unsuccessfully pursued and persecuted by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, the same anti-choice asshole who a few years ago sought the complete medical records of 90 women and girls as part of a fishing expedition about "underage sex" and "illegal" abortions.

"If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue," Bill O'Reilly declared, "we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad."

He was, that is, the ultimate evil. The evil by which all other evils were to be judged. The one who if "allowed" to "continue," would make the very concept of moral judgment invalid.

Yet when he was shot down in cold blood by a right-wing fanatic - another in the unbroken string of white male Christians who have murdered abortion providers - almost with exception those same voices were shocked, shocked, that such violence occurred and
they scurried away like cockroaches and hid. "Oh no no no, I didn't mean that! You can't blame me for that! That has nothing to do with me! Oh no no no!" The sniveling cowards, hiding behind the brutality of others, too low, too craven even to take responsibility for the meaning of their own words.
So I have had it. Once and for all. I have had it with these weasels, these cretinous buffoons, these whining crybabies, these lying, self-interested, selfish, contemptible, slime-eaters swimming in their own mental vomit while thinking it champagne.

I am sick of the fundamental immorality of winger positions. I am sick of the fundamental intellectual cowardice of their attitudes. And most of all I am sick to death of the fundamental dishonesty of their arguments.

Wingers do not know how to argue honestly. They do not want to know how to argue honestly. They just want to screech their memorized lines of hatred and contempt for anything and anyone they don't see as of immediate benefit to them, without regard to context or truth.

I will play their game no longer. The next time I see some smarmy jackass proclaiming they only want "reasonable discussion" only to take any disagreement with their bullshit as proof of your being "unreasonable," they will find just how "unreasonable" I can be. As Jon Stewart said in a different but related context, I'm not gonna be your monkey.

Footnote: Tangentially related but worthy of mention is the news that Dr. Tiller's memorial service was moved to a bigger church because his own church couldn't hold the crowd and
[t]he funeral was protected by 50 American Legion Riders who roared up on motorcycles and formed a shield around Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita to honor Tiller's Navy service.
I don't have a lot of use for the American Legion but that, I think, was cool.

Another Footnote: KTK at LeanLeft had a good rant on much the same point a few days ago:
What is worth noting is the constant, continued, and utterly indifferent approach to intellectual responsibility on the part of the right that pervades these kinds of discussions. ...

It is simply impossible to debate right-wingers productively because they will not, and do not seem to be able to, address the actual issues at hand, or offer arguments that are relevant, logically coherent, grounded on fact, and responsibly aimed at illuminating the issue.
I hope I can be added to his list of people who "get it." :-)

Updated because I forgot to include an important rule. It has been placed as Rule #11; the old Rule #11 and Rule #12 have been renumbered as Rule #12 and Rule #13.

Updated Again to note the addition of
Rule #14
Rule #15
Rules #16 and 17

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Irrelevant sidebar

Apropos of nothing, I recently did one of those online psych test things about what sort of career would be good for me. And what it showed (assuming, of course, its accuracy) is why my career path has been, let's call it, neither straight nor, um, rich-making.
Best Occupational Category
You're a CREATOR
Key Words: Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic, Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional
These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently, being creative, using their imagination, and constantly learning something new. Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas.

2nd Best Occupational Category
Key Words: Self-Control, Practical, Self-Contained, Orderly, Systematic, Precise, and Accurate
These conservative appearing, plotting-types enjoy organizing, data systems, accounting, detail, and accuracy. They often enjoy mathematics and data management activities such as accounting and investment management. Persistence and patience allows them to do detailed paperwork, operate office machines, write business reports, and make charts and graphs.
So apparently what I'm best suited for is, what, independently using office machines to produce self-expressive but highly-accurate pie charts? Not a lot of call for that....
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