Global Warming

In the aggregate the American public can sure be stupid, but this is ridiculous.  From the Monkey Cage (which I really ought to link to more often).


 This is one of the coolest — I mean, hottest — findings I’ve seen in a while:

For each three degrees that local temperature rises
above normal, Americans become one percentage point more likely to
agree that there is “solid evidence” that the earth is getting warmer.

The paper is by Patrick Egan and Megan Mullin,
and their money graph is above. They linked Pew survey data to the
local temperatures in each respondent’s zip code in the week before the

That's right.  When thinking about global warming, apparently some people just think about the recent temperature.  I wonder if it makes any difference whether you ask in winter or summer.

Obama = “Stalin without the bloodshed”

Just your typical commentary from Fox News.  Nicely compiled by Media Matters.  Enjoy.

Gun Control

In his rehabilitation as a columnist, Elliot Spitzer has been contributing interesting pieces about improving various public policies.  His latest on gun control makes a lot of sense and may actually be politically feasible since it does not require Congressional action.  The details:

Political reality makes even a modest gun law a difficult legislative
sell. But if the Obama administration really cares about limiting gun
violence, it could pursue a different strategy, one that doesn't
involve Congress and isn't likely to provoke a storm of opposition…

Modern government is not only a lawmaker. Indeed, the most effective
executive powers may not derive from statutes at all. The government
that President Obama oversees is also a gigantic, well-funded
procurement agent. And it can—and should—use that power to change
American gun policies. Specifically, the government buys lots of guns,
for sheriffs, patrol officers, and detectives; for FBI agents, DEA
agents, IRS agents, Postal Inspectors, immigration agents, and park
rangers; and for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and spies. The
government buys guns by the crate.

What is striking is that the government buys guns from manufacturers
who also sell them to criminals—either knowingly or by willfully
overlooking the behavior of the retail outlets that the gun companies
use as their distribution system…

If we can use a capital infusion to a bank as an opportunity to
control executive compensation and to limit use of private planes, why
can't the government use its weight as the largest purchaser of guns
from major manufacturers to reward companies that work to keep their
products out of criminals' hands? Put another way, if it is too
difficult to outlaw bad conduct through statutes, why not pay for good
conduct? Why not require vendors to change their behavior if they want
our tax dollars?

Just as we now "purchase" good corporate behavior in the financial industry, let it be so with guns…

More fundamentally, companies could be told to stop selling certain
types of weapons to the general public. If a manufacturer did not
comply with any of the limitations, then it would be excluded from the
list of companies with which the government would do business…

If President Obama wants to devise a creative way to limit gun
violence, he will use his power as the world's largest consumer to
require the cooperation of gun manufacturers. If government cannot
legislate the conduct it wants, then it can use market power to buy it.
For the money we are spending, we should buy not only guns but some
peace from gun violence.

Sounds like a great plan to me.  Not that that means much for its chances of becoming policy.


The Specter switch

I was going to write a post explaining the logic of Specter's switch to the Dems.  Turns out TPM's Eric Kleefeld has already done the job for me.

So why exactly has Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA D-PA) switched parties?

It really comes down to electability — specifically electability as a Republican. Specter's own statement acknowledged that his support for the stimulus bill has made his position untenable with the GOP…

Probably the most important point is here is the demographic changes
going on in Specter's home state. Pennsylvania is a closed-primary
state, and the ranks of registered Republicans, the folks eligible to
vote in the GOP primary, shrunk last year.
In 2008, between 150,000 and 200,000 registered GOPers switched to the
Democratic Party in order to vote in the contentious primary between
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama…

Those people tended to be moderate voters — Specter's people
— and without them he cannot win a primary. But with them staying as
Democrats, he could actually start with a leg-up as a Democrat, just in
case any liberal challenger might try to take him on in the Dem primary.

And the other side of this coin is that the folks who remain as
registered Republicans are now proportionally much more conservative
than the state GOP was before.

Remember that Specter only won his 2004 primary against conservative
challenger Toomey by a 51%-49% margin — and that was with the full
backing of the Bush White House. So if we just made that demographic
adjustment, Pat Toomey would have probably won the 2004 primary with
all other issues being the same. And the stimulus is the final nail.
The stimulus vote, and the lack of a powerful Republican establishment
these days, made a defeat in the primary seemingly inevitable.

As for the Democratic primary, my strong suspicion is that the DSCC and the national Democratic forces will do their very best to clear the field of strong opposition so long as Specter is a reasonably reliable vote for Obama's policies.  That's his only hope of staying in the Senate past 2010, which he clearly wants to do, and was just not going to happen as a Republican.


We executed Japanese soldiers for waterboarding

I just came across this post from Paul Begala that explains that we actually hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding following WWII.  

On November 29, 2007, Sen. McCain, while campaigning in St.
Petersburg, Florida, said, "Following World War II war crime trials
were convened. The Japanese were tried and convicted and hung for war
crimes committed against American POWs. Among those charges for which
they were convicted was waterboarding."

Sen. McCain was right and the National Review Online is wrong. Politifact, the St. Petersburg Times'
truth-testing project (which this week was awarded a Pulitzer Prize),
scrutinized Sen. McCain's statement and found it to be true. Here's the
money quote from Politifact:

"McCain is referencing the Tokyo Trials,
officially known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far
East. After World War II, an international coalition convened to
prosecute Japanese soldiers charged with torture. At the top of the
list of techniques was water-based interrogation, known variously then
as 'water cure,' 'water torture' and 'waterboarding,' according to the
charging documents. It simulates drowning." Politifact went on to
report, "A number of the Japanese soldiers convicted by American judges
were hanged, while others received lengthy prison sentences or time in
labor camps."

This is such an amazing powerful argument.  I just don't see how people can go around defending waterboarding as not torture when we executed people for doing it.  Case closed.  The fact that so many Republicans (admittedly not all, but far too many) are defending waterboarding is both intellectually and morally indefensible.  The Republican party has so lost its way.


Teenage virginity and social psychology

How about a little break from torture with a quick look at the social psychology of teenage virginity.  From Balkinization:

why I’m concerned (and what it means for public service messages with
regard not only to abstinence but a host of other issues).

In my last post, I argued that (the truly excellent show) Friday Night Lights
might unwittingly be exacerbating the mistaken idea that the vast
majority of high-schoolers have sex. I worried that this discrepancy
between what adolescents believe (virgins are rare) and the truth
(high-school virgins are the norm) is a dangerous combination…

Robert Cialdini has shown time and again that people like to conform their behavior to that of others. His new book, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, is chock full of examples. Want to get hotel guests to forego daily towel cleaning? Include a message telling them that most other guests reuse their towels. Want them to recycle even more? Tell them that most people using their very room recycle…

I’m not calling for the writers of Friday Night Lights
to change the story arc. But Cialdini’s simple idea is that public
service messages would do well to implicitly tell high-schoolers: “Be
like most of your peers — don’t have sex while you’re in high school.”…

Indeed, Cialdini has me thinking that all those “Above the Influence” commercials are seriously off base:

These commercials
implicitly suggest that most of your peers are going to be using drugs
and that you have to gird yourself to be above their influence. They
are too close to the signs in the Petrified Forest. Instead of saying
“Don’t do what most kids your age do,” they might say “Do what most
kids your age do: just say no.”

 You should read the whole post for some great examples of Cialdini's experiments.

The elite consensus on torture

Yes, I am a little torture-focused lately, and I think the last post explained exactly why I think this is such an important issue. One of the most disturbing features of all this is how the elite Washington press is all into the "just move on" angle.  Naturally, Glenn Greenwald hits this hard.  I'm just going to copy the end of his long post on the subject (which is basically from some others):

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates posts video of the Peggy Noonan comments and writes

job of journalists is to challenge the government and to challenge
their readers and viewers. What sort of journalist tells his readers
that some things must be mysterious?  What sort of writer tells her
readers, and viewers, essentially, to not ask too many questions? We
have a fine era, when otherwise respected, intelligent, and well-read
people step on a national stage and endorse national ignorance.

There's nothing unusual about Noonan's mentality; it's the dominant mindset of our political and media class.  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer notes a column from The New York Times' Roger Cohen today arguing against prosecutions (of course) and observes:

Cohen's argument simply reflects the consensus among certain journalistic and political elites that the powerful simply shouldn't be held accountable
when they make mistakes, because, after all, we all make mistakes. This
compassionate attitude naturally doesn't extend beyond this small
group. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, fully 1
percent of the population. I'm sure there are millions of people
currently incarcerated who would like it if Cohen's policy of
absolution for crimes was extended to them.

elite-protecting consensus is the central affliction of America's
political culture.  It explains not only how we continuously shield our
elites from the consequences of their crimes, but also explains the
reason such crimes keep happening.  If you constantly announce to a
small group of people that they will be able to break the law with
impunity, you are rendering inevitable future rampant criminality.
That's just obvious.

I actually had to make this argument in class the other day.  Its pretty obviously the case with my 3-year old and even more so with grown-ups.  You tell people they cannot do something, you watch them do it and then just say, oh well, it's alright, you can be pretty sure what will happen in the future.



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