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How about a little politics?

By Brian | March 17, 2007 | Share on Facebook

It’s been a while, so what the heck…

First up, Global Warming:

Global warming is the hottest story of our time, and it will get even bigger . . . [said] a panel of journalists said last weekend during the American Bar Association’s environmental law conference. The discussion was focused on how the media has covered the story and whether or not public perception of global warming has changed in recent months and years.

“The public debate is lagging way behind scientific consensus, which is as strong as the consensus on the link between smoking and cancer,” said author Eugene Linden. According to Linden and [ABC News correspondent Bill Blakemore], the global warming issue has been the subject of a massive, industry-sponsored disinformation and propaganda campaign aimed at creating the perception that there is still a scientific debate on the basic facts of global warming.

No argument here. But this is the guy that interests me. I think he has it exactly right:

Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Sean Paige, took a contrarian view. Paige, the only panelist who wasn’t prepared to jump wholeheartedly on the global warming bandwagon, said a decade of sensationalistic coverage of environmental issues has resulted in a cry-wolf syndrome. “Maybe the wolf is at the door now,” Paige said, referring to global warming. “But the public has tuned out. We (journalists) haven’t been skeptical enough of the environmental anxiety industry,” he said.

Paige, describing himself as a layered skeptic, said there’s still room for a global warming debate. “What can be done and what will it cost?” Paige asked. Journalists should be asking whether it’s really wise at this point to pour massive resources into prevention when the money might be better spent on adaptive measures. Paige said it’s not clear that capping greenhouse gas emissions, for example, will make a meaningful difference in curbing the warming trend.

Paige also said he sees a form of eco-McCarthyism on the rise, with the fixation on “consensus” leading to a muzzling of dissenting voices. “Let’s silence everybody who doesn’t agree,” Paige said, characterizing the mood as he perceives it and claiming that there are legitimate scientists out there who have valid questions about the state of global warming science. But those voices are not being heard. . .

“Prevention vs. Adaptive Measures.” That’s the phrase I’ve been looking for for over a year now.

Having just gone through DSTY2K7 testing at work, I’ve been reminiscing about the whole Y2K story. Remember what people were saying about Y2K? The power grid was going to fail, the financial markets were going to fail to open, heating & water systems were going to shut down, nuclear missiles would malfunction in their silos, and basically our entire society would be plunged into chaos? Here’s the thing: if no one did anything to fix the Y2K bugs, many of these things, crazy as they seem, probably would have happened. But people didn’t do nothing. They waited until it was an emergency (remember – everyone knew about the Y2K problem as far back as the late ’70s), and then they took steps to avoid those catastrophic results. The whole thing cost billions of dollars, but it got done.

I think the paradigm around global warming is very similar. I’m willing to believe that if nothing is done, highly populated areas will wind up underwater, hunger and disease will spread rapidly, and many people will suffer and die. I’m just not willing to believe that people will do nothing. Even the most dire of predictions talks about how bad life will be in 2050 or 2080. If Y2K is our guide, I think we’ll see a massive campaign to deal with the impact of this problem when the water starts lapping at our shores. And by then, it won’t be about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will be about building levees that work, reinforcing shorelines, finding new ways to prevent beach erosion, etc.

Next, the War in Iraq:

Apparently, U.S. military deaths in Iraq have declined by about 20% since the “surge” began. Regardless of whether you’re pro-surge, anti-surge, pro-Bush, or anti-Bush, I assume we can all agree that this is good news, no? Check out what the New York Times wrote:

The heightened American street presence may already have contributed to an increase in the percentage of American deaths that occur in Baghdad.

Over all, the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq from hostilities since Feb. 14, the start of the new Baghdad security plan, fell to 66, from 87 in the previous four weeks. But with more soldiers in the capital on patrol and in the neighborhood garrisons, a higher proportion of the American deaths have occurred in Baghdad – 36 percent after Feb. 14 compared with 24 percent in the previous four weeks. Also over the past four weeks, a higher proportion of military deaths from roadside bombs have occurred in Baghdad – 45 percent compared with 39 percent.

So let me get this straight: we put more troops in Baghdad, and the percentage of the troops killed or injured in Baghdad went up. That just seems like basic math, no? Why is the Times pointing to it as a mitigating factor against the drop in overall casualties? If only one soldier is killed in the next four weeks, and he/she happens to be in Baghdad, will the Times report a near tripling of the Baghdad U.S. Death Percentage (from 36% to 100%)?

I know there are people who rip on the Times all the time for being a liberal rag. I try to stay away from that because I think one can find their opponent’s political spin in just about any article if they look hard enough for it. But in this case, it feels very much like the Times is just reaching for bad news, lest it need to report something positive about the much-maligned (in its own pages) “Surge” strategy.

Finally, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s stunning confession of his involvement in the 9/11 plot:

WASHINGTON – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed portrayed himself as Al Qaeda’s most ambitious operational planner in a confession to a U.S. military tribunal that said he planned and supported 31 terrorist attacks, topped by Sept. 11, that killed thousands of innocent victims since the early 1990s.

Many plots, including a previously undisclosed plan to kill several former U.S. presidents, were never carried out or were foiled by international counter-terror authorities.

I honestly don’t understand how this suddenly appeared as “big news” yesterday in every major paper in the country. Here’s what the 9/11 Commission Report had to say about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (a.k.a., “KSM”):

No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.

In 1994, KSM accompanied [Ramzi Yousef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing] to the Philippines, and the two of them began planning what is now known as the Manila air or “Bojinka” plot – the intended bombing of 12 U.S. commercial jumbo jets over the Pacific during a two-day span. During this same period, KSM and Yousef also developed plans to assassinate President Clinton during his November 1994 trip to Manila, and to bomb U.S.-bound cargo carriers by smuggling jackets containing nitrocellulose on board.

[In mid-1996,] KSM arranged a meeting with Bin Ladin in Tora Bora, a mountainous redoubt from the Afghan war days. At the meeting, KSM presented the al Qaeda leader with a menu of ideas for terrorist operations [including] a proposal for an operation that would involve training pilots who would crash planes into buildings in the United States. This proposal eventually would become the 9/11 operation.

Bin Ladin . . . finally decided to give KSM the green light for the 9/11 operation sometime in late 1998 or early 1999. KSM then accepted Bin Ladin’s standing invitation to move to Kandahar and work directly with al Qaeda. In addition to supervising the planning and preparations for the 9/11 operation, KSM worked with and eventually led al Qaeda’s media committee.

While the 9/11 project occupied the bulk of KSM’s attention, he continued to consider other possibilities for terrorist attacks. For example, he sent al Qaeda operative Issa al Britani to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to learn about the jihad in Southeast Asia from Hambali. Thereafter, KSM claims, at Bin Ladin’s direction in early 2001, he sent Britani to the United States to case potential economic and “Jewish” targets in New York City. Furthermore, during the summer of 2001, KSM approached Bin Ladin with the idea of recruiting a Saudi Arabian air force pilot to commandeer a Saudi fighter jet and attack the Israeli city of Eilat. Bin Ladin reportedly liked this proposal, but he instructed KSM to concentrate on the 9/11 operation first. Similarly, KSM’s proposals to Atef around this same time for attacks in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Maldives were never executed, although Hambali’s Jemaah Islamiah operatives did some casing of possible targets.

(pages 145-150)

Nice guy, huh? The Commission report explains at the beginning of the chapter that much of this information comes from the confessions of KSM himself, and while the authors weren’t present at the interrogation, they did their best to reconcile information with other documents, interview sources, etc. In cases where they could not corroborate KSM’s stories, they said, they indicated as much in the text of the report (“KSM claims…”)

So what’s the new news here? The 9/11 Commission Report was published back in 2004. Is this just the administration seeking a pat on the back? If so, why now? There’s no election coming up, and none of them are running again anyway. Or maybe someone in the media mistook the release of the transcripts as an indication that their contents were previously unknown, and then everyone else followed suit? It all strikes me as very, very strange…

Anyway, I think that scratched my political itch for now. Back to more interesting topics in the coming days…

Topics: Political Rantings | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “How about a little politics?”

  1. Jeff Porten says at March 19th, 2007 at 2:12 am :
    First, see here for a lengthy reply to your global warming statement.

    Second, I’m unclear where the correlation is proven between “surge in troops” and “changes in American fatalities.” Is it perhaps also possible that other factors might be involved? Hey, you’re the Excel guru, not me — so why don’t you pop over to the Iraq monthly casualties table, and give us a regression analysis of whether a single data point since “surge time” has any statistical meaning whatsoever? My guess is, like hell it does.

    Agreed that percentage numbers from Baghdad is most likely to be ridiculous non-news. But I suspect the body count is likewise — excepting, of course, that 66 more people have died.

  2. Brian says at March 19th, 2007 at 6:07 pm :
    Re: global warming – I’ll leave a comment over on your blog, but suffice to say I think you’ve setup some impressive strawmen and then knocked them down even more impressively.

    Re: the surge – I never suggested the surge was responsible for the change in American fatalities. I said that the drop in the the casualty rate is good news (certainly, a larger drop, say a 100% drop, would be even better).

    As you well know, one of the basic ways to fudge statistics is to strategically pick your starting & ending points to make the data look the way you want it to look. For all I know, if you look at casualties starting the week after the surge started, you might get an increased rate.

    This wasn’t intended to be an argument that the surge is working or not working. I was simply pointing out that The New York Times chose to write an article about the dropping casualty rate of U.S. soldiers and chose to write it as “the rate is dropping, but things still suck because another, meaningless statistic is rising at the same time.” They might as well have said, “The casualty rate is dropping, but they’re out of coffee!”

    Obviously, I hope the surge works, because I’d love to see things over there improve. How the NYTimes chooses to report it is not really that important. What does worry me, though, is this feeling I have that The Times would rather see things deteriorate, so they can continue to advance the notion that everything George W. Bush touches immediately turns to crap. That might feel good from a political perspective right now, but I fear it sets a precedent (like Watergate did), that it’s socially acceptable to root against the President when he’s from an opposing political party. It turns our national debate into a bad reality TV show, where all we want to do is vote the other guy off the island…

    (And re: Excel – I’m good with Excel, but not so good with statistics. the graph you linked to just cries out for a trendline. I tried it, but with mixed results: a linear trendline shows the long term casualty rate increasing for the duration of the war. A polinomial trendline looks like an arc – increaseing through about April, 2006 and then slowly starting to decrease. The latter looks more correct to me based solely on the shape of the graph, but I have no idea which is appropriate in which circumstance, so I’ll avoid having an opinion here…)

  3. Jeff Porten says at March 21st, 2007 at 6:47 pm :
    Talk about setting up straw men. Let me ask you this: how exactly would one set out to falsify your believe that the Times hates Bush and wants to report bad news?

    Personally, I think the article is already in favor of Bush, precisely because saying “the rate is dropping” is more favorable than saying “66 Americans are dead.” Seeing as how we both have things to hate about the article, that’s fairly good evidence that it’s fair.

    I fear it sets a precedent (like Watergate did), that it’s socially acceptable to root against the President when he’s from an opposing political party.

    It’s not socially acceptable, it’s vitally important. And if you haven’t yet figured out that what Bush does is more important to the opposition than his being a Republican, well, I’m not sure what else to point you to. For that matter, check your history if you’ve forgotten that Watergate was a bipartisan reaction to a president who overreached too far.

    It turns our national debate into a bad reality TV show, where all we want to do is vote the other guy off the island…

    Um, okay… let me ask you, on Planet Greenberg, when a president is widely believed to be the worst we’ve had in 150 years or so, how is that debate conducted, and how is it different from the one we have here?

  4. Brian says at March 23rd, 2007 at 1:07 am :
    Personally, I think the article is already in favor of Bush, precisely because saying “the rate is dropping” is more favorable than saying “66 Americans are dead.” Seeing as how we both have things to hate about the article, that’s fairly good evidence that it’s fair.

    You didn’t read the article, did you?

    The title of the article is “Attack on Sadr City Mayor Hinders Antimilitia Effort.” The first six paragraphs describe several horrible situations in Iraq. Graph #7 is a quote from a Major General that says the new strategy is working well, but he expects some challenges. Graph #8 points out that the new strategy is a “repudiation of the military policy of the last two years” and quotes un-named “critics of the White House and the American military” as saying that this success is causing damage in other parts of Iraq. I read the un-named critics to be the NYTimes themselves, but I guess they could be among the small minority of war critics that prefer to criticize anonymously.

    The stat about reduced American death rates is in paragraph #11, and the very next word is “But.”

    If you’re anti-war and you hate this article, the only conclusion I can draw is that you didn’t read it.

    [Rooting against the President when he's from an opposing political party] is not socially acceptable, it’s vitally important. And if you haven’t yet figured out that what Bush does is more important to the opposition than his being a Republican, well, I’m not sure what else to point you to.

    Man, it’s like you’re arguing with someone else and posting it here…

    First of all, publicly disagreeing with the President is vitally important. Advocating a change in policy is vitally important. I’ll even give you that advocating for impeachment is vitally important, if you really believe that’s what ought to be done.

    But rooting against the President is just stupid, since doing so is, by definition, rooting against the United States. The distinction here being that one involves an opinion about something that’s happened in the past, and one involves a desire to see additional things happen badly in the future.

    If what Bush does is so important to the New York Times, then they’d stick to discussing what he’s done, as opposed to offerring basic mathematical facts as evidence that our future efforts in Iraq are doomed to failure.

    On Planet Greenberg, when a president is widely believed to be the worst we’ve had in 150 years or so, how is that debate conducted, and how is it different from the one we have here?

    On Planet Greenberg, criticism of the President (or anyone else for that matter) is constructive, not destructive.

    On Planet Greenberg, people who believe the President is doing poorly work with the President to improve the situation, rather than stand on the side and point with one hand and hold their noses with the other.

    On Planet Greenberg, the President’s policies are analyzed both for what IS working and what is not. The things that are working are lauded and encouraged, and the things that are not working are changed or halted.

    On Planet Greenberg, people charged with being our leaders (be they minority or majority) don’t proudly stand in front of crowds and talk about how horribly America has performed in war without taking a modicum of responsibility for our failures, or their lack of action to correct them as they are happening.

    Also, on Planet Greenberg, everyone gets free ice cream.

    “Planet Greenberg – residents of Planet Porten Welcome Anytime…”

  5. Jeff Porten says at March 23rd, 2007 at 9:28 pm :
    You didn’t read the article, did you?

    Glanced at it, probably not long enough. In any case, I’m guessing a debate about whether the Times is a liberal rag that hates Bush is a fruitless one for us to engage in.

    But rooting against the President is just stupid, since doing so is, by definition, rooting against the United States.

    Only if your president is Louis XIV, and l’etat, c’est moi. Personally, I am rooting for the failure of many of Bush’s initiatives because their success, in my opinion, will be bad for the United States. Cf. the PATRIOT Act and the decision to go to war in the first place.

    Your argument about engaging the president implies that he should still be deemed trustworthy, which he is not, and that he negotiates in good faith with the political opposition, which he does not. I’m not sure how I can be expected to make a constructive critique of such a person. Likewise, I’m not sure how your supposed to work to improve a situation by including the person whose blistering incompetence and pigheadedness caused the situation in the first place.

    Suggestions?

  6. Brian says at March 24th, 2007 at 1:23 am :
    I’m not sure what rooting against the PATRIOT Act means. I’m all for working to revoke and/or change the PATRIOT Act if you believe it to be bad for the US. But, given that it’s current law, I don’t think rooting one way or the other will do much.

    The decision to go to war in the first place, likewise, is also an event that happened in the past. Criticizing that decision (especially in a constructive way) strikes me as a rational, patriotic thing to do. But if you’re saying you’d rather see us lose the war, for fear that winning it would validate a decision you disagree with, then that strikes me as a high price to pay just to prove you’re right about something…

    As to working constructively with someone who is incompetent and/or intellectually dishonest, yes, I have lots of suggestions:

    Most of the world’s constructive criticism goes to people who display some form of incompetence (since a highly competent person needs very little criticism to begin with). If you see incompetence as a barrier toward progress, don’t put yourself in a position to manage people too often – you’re going to get very frustrated very quickly.

    That said, I think the characterization Bush as incompetent is a crock. In your comment above, you cite several of his accomplishments (which you say are bad for the country) and then call him incompetent. I think the term is something that started on the late night talk shows & then stuck, like Gore’s “stiff” title, Quayle’s “stupid” title, or Reagan’s “senile” title. Using it to suggest that working with this President to improve the country is impossible is just a cop-out, IMHO.

    Intellectual dishonesty is a little closer to home. I would agree that Bush has talked himself into a great many corners, especially in his second term. It’s forced him to defend things that really can’t be defended in order to save political face. A skilled politician, though, can easily use these incentives to bring about significant change. If someone were, for instance, to give Bush a way out of the war that didn’t involve political suicide, it might be the fastest way to bring the war to an end.

    But that involves personal and political risk: risk that one’s efforts to bring the war to an end fail and open him/her to critcism similar to what Bush is getting now, and risk that the efforts succeed, and President Bush walks away from the war with a less than awful reputation and/or legacy.

    These are the risks a real leader in the Democratic party would be taking (over the past 6 years, but especially now, when the opportunity to do so is higher). The safe & easy thing is to do, though, is to shout “I can’t possiblly work with this lunatic” and wait out the next two years as the President goes down in flames…

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