Photo of the day

Today’s National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of a surfer seen from above at Palm Beach, New South Wales, Australia

Surf and Turf

Photograph by Joe Hsu

A surfer rides a wave as it crashes onto the shore at Palm Beach in New South Wales, Australia, giving the ocean an otherworldly appearance. Palm Beach, a northern suburb of Sydney, is home to two Surf Life Saving clubs—one dating back to 1921.

How the FBI manufactures terrorists

Last night I watched a terrific HBO documentary, “The Newburgh Sting.”  It is basically the story of how the FBI completely manufactured a terrorism case.  The FBI offered four ex-cons $250,000 dollars to blow up a synagogue and parked military planes.  The “terrorists” were quite clear they didn’t want to hurt anybody, but they would gladly take a quarter million dollars and pretend to actually be serious Muslims (they were all nominally Muslim at best) for the money.  Guess what, if the criteria for being a terrorist is a willingness to engage in serious property destruction for $250,000 than there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of terrorists in this country.  Were these guys stupid?  Absolutely.  Amoral?  Sure.  Terrorists?  Not on your life.  Deserving of 25 year prison sentences for a crime the FBI created out of whole cloth to entice them?  No way.  Damn, damn, damn, I hate that our government behaves this way.

And let’s not forget the opportunity cost.  The FBI certainly does not have unlimited resources.  All those resources turning poor, greedy, ex-cons into terrorists would surely be better off trying to catch real terrorists.  Also, as the film points out, how much better off would we be if the FBI would work with mosques, rather than alienating them by having them wonder if every new member isn’t an FBI informant seeking to create “terrorists” from among their members.  Naturally, this is not a one-off case.  First time I heard about the FBI manufacturing terrorism was this excellent This American Life episode.

If you have HBO, watch this.  If not, here’s some good articles I came across.

The Radical GOP

Terrific column from Norm Ornstein (nobody’s liberal) at the Atlantic on the true radicalism of today’s Republican party.  He does a great job placing this in historical context, which you really ought to read, but I’ll skip to a few of his contemporary critiques:

A lot of history to get to the point. What began as a ruthlessly pragmatic, take-no-prisoners parliamentary style opposition to Obama was linked to constant efforts to delegitimize his presidency, first by saying he was not born in the U.S., then by calling him a tyrant trying to turn the country into a Socialist or Communist paradise. These efforts were not condemned vigorously by party leaders in and out of office, but were instead deflected or encouraged, helping to create a monster: a large, vigorous radical movement that now has large numbers of adherents and true believers in office and in state party leadership. This movement has contempt for establishment Republican leaders and the money to go along with its beliefs. Local and national talk radio, blogs, and other social media take their messages and reinforce them for more and more Americans who get their information from these sources. One result is that even today, a Rasmussen survey shows that 23 percent of Americans still believe Obama is not an American, while an additional 17 percent are not sure. Forty percent of Americans! This is no longer a fringe view.

As for the radicals in elected office or in control of party organs, consider a small sampling of comments:

[I'm not going to paste them here, you are familiar with many, but it is something to behold to see the long list of craziness from elected Republicans]

One might argue that these quotes are highly selective—but they are only a tiny sampling (not a single one from Michele Bachmann, only one from Gohmert!). Importantly, almost none were countered by party officials or legislative leaders, nor were the individuals quoted reprimanded in any way. What used to be widely seen as loony is now broadly accepted or tolerated…

It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea. When we see presumably sane figures like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shamelessly pander to the extremists, it tells us where the center of gravity in the GOP primary base, at least, is set…

But when one looks at the state of Republican public opinion (especially among the likely caucus and primary voters), at the consistent and persistent messages coming from the information sources they follow, and at the supine nature of congressional leaders and business leaders in countering extremism, it is not at all likely that what passes for mainstream, problem-solving conservatism will dominate the Republican Party anytime soon.

Yep.  The Republican party of today is not conservative, but deeply radical.  And with it’s nihilistic approach to government, deeply bad for America.  A Republican party that offered a robust intellectual opposition to what the Democrats have to offer, but instead all we are left with is an ideology of: government is bad and tax cuts über alles.  Until the Republican Party turns away from its radicalism, it is the American people that will suffer.  

Photo of the day

I came across this gallery of images from Apalachia via a FB post and I loved this one of this super-tall bridge in West Virginia.  I followed through to the flickr account of the photographer– so many amazing photos.  But I do love the bridge:

Linda Tanner

Tallest Single Span Bridge – West Virginia

This is supposed to be the world’s tallest ‘single-span’ bridge (if I correctly remember the details on the sign at this view point).

It’s in West Virginia somewhere south of West Virginia’s capital of Charleston.

The gray day did not do justice to the lush surrounding green forest.



How we think about poor people

Great post from Thomas Mills.  I think a huge difference between Republicans and Democrats really comes down to our basic conception of what it means to be poor.  Obviously, it is a combination of individual choice and societal circumstance, but Republicans put far more emphasis on the former, the Democrats on the latter.  Personally, I would say Democrats allow for individual choice to play a role more than Republicans allow for societal context, but that’s an empirical question to be settled.  Anyway…

Back in the early 1990s, I went to work as a human resource director for an aluminum die cast company. The company had moved to rural North Carolina from the Midwest because of low wages, low taxes and no unions…

On dispute after dispute, I found myself siding with employees rather than management. 

I believed in the carpal tunnel syndrome that management denied existed. I thought the guy who got his hand permanently disfigured should continue to get workers’ compensation despite the company’s claim that he had received job training and now should be on his own. And when employees walked out after management insisted on leaving garage sized-doors open despite temperatures in the low 20s, I explained that they were not on a “wildcat strike,” as management contended, but that their mamas had taught them a long time ago to have enough sense to shut the door and come in from the cold. 

Needless to say, I didn’t last long. After six months, I quit. In my exit interview, my supervisor, who was gruff but basically a good guy, told me, “You’re just so naive. These people will get away with as much as they can while doing as little work as possible.”

And that, I believe, is a common Republican world view. They think the majority of poor people and working folks aren’t trying to get ahead in life; they are trying to get over on the system. [emphasis mine]…

Like my former bosses, Republicans are probably thinking “What a bunch of naive liberal bunk.” And that’s the difference in the Democrats who ran the state and the Republicans who control it now. 

Nobody ever considered Marc Basnight, Tony Rand or Jim Hunt anti-business. But those Democrats also weren’t anti-poor. They understood that poverty was often caused by circumstances beyond people’s control and they also believed that government had a role in alleviating the impact of hardship on families. Most importantly, though, they believed that children were victims of poverty, not causes of it, and that education and support, from early childhood through college, offered the children of poverty the chance to escape it. 

As long as we have leaders who see our poorest citizens as burdens and grifters, we’re doomed to make poverty harsher and ensure a permanent underclass. The free market may be the vehicle to create jobs, but it does little to soften the blow of poverty. To create the type of society I believe in, we need to do both. [emphasis mine]


Who wants to lower the drinking age?

So, this was a little different in my daily Gallup email.  They looked at support for lowering the drinking age to 18.  It’s held pretty stable at roughly 75% favoring the current age of 21 for the past decade.  What was most interesting was how this breaks down by various groups.  I actually found the lack of variation to be the most interesting part.  For the most part, these are not large gaps:

Favor or Oppose Lowering Drinking Age to 18, by Subgroup

Interestingly, about the biggest gap there is between any clearly opposed groups is the liberal-conservative gap.  The conservatives and weekly church attenders sure do like their 21 drinking age.  The gender gap os 6 points is fairly small.

For me, I hate the moralism that lies behind support for the current drinking age.  Not to mention, it seems crazy to me that you can buy an assault weapon, legally die for your country, buy a house, etc., but not a beer.  That said, given what we know about brain development, I think there’s a decent case to be made for postponing the judgement impairment effects of alcohol until the brain’s judgment centers have developed a little more.

Obamacare has helped nobody! 

Or so believes a striking majority of Republicans.  Via Greg Sargent:

With the political world still pondering what yesterday’s court rulings mean for the future of Obamacare, CNN has published a fascinating new poll that asks a question I haven’t seen before. It asks whether the law has personally helped respondents, but then follows up and asks whether respondents think the law has helped others.

And guess what: A huge majority of Republicans and conservatives don’t think the law has helped anybody in this country…

Crucially, an astonishing 72 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of conservatives, say the law hasn’t helped anyone…

Perhaps these numbers among Republicans and conservatives only capture generalized antipathy towards the law. Or perhaps they reflect the belief that Obamacare can’t be helping anyone, even its beneficiaries, since dependency on Big Gummint can only be self-destructive. Either way, the findings again underscore the degree to which Republicans and conservatives inhabit a separate intellectual universe about it.

Ummm, wow.  Again, I wonder what the response would be with a follow up question of “really?” but Sargent is certainly right that it demonstrates Republicans in a separate universe (I hesitate to call it an intellectual universe :-) ) on this.  Alternatively, many of the big beneficiaries are poor people, so maybe they are just nobody.


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