from physicist & Obama supporter
Sean Carroll - Cosmic Variance:


I’m writing this post to get on the record my annoyance with Obama’s main theme, one beloved of politicians since back in Athens: “Change.” It was, of course, the same theme that Bill Clinton ran on in 1992. And for good reason: after eight years of George W. Bush, almost everyone outside the die-hard 27% wants change of some sort. Including me, that’s for sure.

Still, as a physicist it bugs me. I can’t hear the motto without thinking: change in what direction? The reason why this is such a great political slogan is because anyone can project onto it whatever kind of “change” they most prefer. But it’s highly unlikely that generic change would be a good thing. In the phase space of political configurations, one must imagine that the subspace of “good” configurations (however you want to define them) is one of fairly low-entropy— there are far more ways to have an ineffective or actively dangerous government than to have a good one.

If that’s true, and you just adopt “change” as your motto, you are far more likely to make things worse than to make them better. It’s just the Second Law of Political Dynamics, people.

Of course, reasoning along these lines is just what brings some people to become conservative (in the true and essentially-abandoned meaning of the term)— there are too many ways to make things worse, so let’s keep it as it is so as to not mess stuff up. And it would be a terrible way of thinking if that’s as far as you went, as it would shut off any opportunities for future progress.

The key is that you want to have directed change, not generic change. The way that you change things really does matter! And I think, electioneering slogans notwithstanding, that the kind of change Obama represents is a good one: toward a more sensible diplomacy, a less confrontational politics, and a more compassionate society here at home. It won’t be easy, of course— you can lower the entropy of an open system, but only by doing work.

All of which reminds us why politicians so rarely have physicists in their inner circle of advisors.

- which is a reminder that George W. Bush brought change to America, was transformational, and created a strong sense of unity (at least among the 73% of Americans who see George W. Bush as the worst president in American history). Now- about that word "potential..."

~ glassfrequency


from lambert @ Corrente:

. . . even leaving aside the right wing talking points, what really frosts me about Obama’s language is the vacuous buzzwords—buzzwords that have all the depth of a ringtone and which, when examined, turn out to be either morally corrupt or intellectually dishonest.

Take Unity—please. Unity for what? Yes, we can what? What can Unity possibly mean in practice except continuing to give the same party that turned us into a nation of torturers and is still busily trying to destroy the Constitution veto power over all our policies?

That’s immoral.

What we ought to be hoping for is that Republicans face justice, that their brand is destroyed for a generation. We shouldn’t be re-legitimizing them after they’ve done so much to delegitimize themselves.

Or take Transformational, which seems to be replacing Unity, now that it’s worn out. Transform to what? Is the idea that America’s first woman President wouldn’t be (somehow) transformational? If so, that’s intellectually dishonest.

join the discussion

Barack, Harry & Louise

from Paul Krugman:

The principal policy division between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves health care. It’s a division that can seem technical and obscure— and I’ve read many assertions that only the most wonkish care about the fine print of their proposals.

But as I’ve tried to explain in previous columns, there really is a big difference between the candidates’ approaches. And new research, just released, confirms what I’ve been saying: the difference between the plans could well be the difference between achieving universal health coverage— a key progressive goal— and falling far short.

Specifically, new estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s— at only slightly higher cost.

Let’s talk about how the plans compare. [more]

more-of-the-same McCain

David Olive writes:

"We are winning in Iraq," says McCain, who famously demonstrated the new and safer Baghdad last spring by visiting the downtown Shorja market wearing a Kevlar vest and guarded by more than 100 U.S. soldiers, two Apache gunships, and three Black Hawk helicopters. Within a day of the departure the McCain entourage, 21 merchants and workers in the Shorja market were ambushed and killed.

One needn't venture into the murky realm of psychoanalysis to grasp McCain's worldview. As they say, if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. McCain, described as third-generation navy royalty, is the son of a U.S. admiral who led the U.S. overthrow of a democratically elected government in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and the grandson of a U.S. admiral who helped eradicate local opposition to the American invasion of the Philippines at the turn of the previous century.

McCain's new theme in debates and town-hall meetings is that Americans should expect to retain a military presence in Iraq "for a 100 years," citing the continued U.S. presence in places such as Japan and Korea. McCain misses the point that America is not at war in Okinawa or Korea's 38th parallel, And that even U.S. war hawks are beginning to realize it is the mere presence of U.S. military forces that has inflamed anti-Americanism, not just in war zones but globally. It was, after all, America's military bases in Saudi Arabia that inspired Osama bin Laden to attack U.S. assets around the world.

McCain struggled in naval academy, finishing 894th out of 899 students, and was rejected by the U.S. National War College until his family intervened with the Secretary of the Navy. In active service, McCain was, by his lengthy acknowledgement in a commencement address last year, a "discipline problem" of violent disposition and frequent insubordination who came late to the task of proving himself.
- - - - -
McCain's frequently touted early criticism of the Iraq war, directed at Donald Rumsfeld (but never at Bush, the only man who could fire him), reinforces the probability that McCain is not really running for president. "I'm going to be honest. I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues," he said in a 2005 interview. Which means reviving the economy and delivering universal health care don't top McCain's to-do list. The post McCain seeks is commander-in-chief; he is determined to succeed in Iraq where Bush and Rumsfeld failed.

It isn't McCain's recent statement that an Iran with nuclear ambitions should be threatened with "extinction" that's particularly disturbing. Or his twisted idea of humour at a campaign event last April in singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." It's McCain's utter conviction that, no matter what the sentiment of the American people, he knows better. And that sounds a lot like the last seven years.


via: Informed Comment

as of September 2007

from Reuters

LONDON - More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to research conducted by one of Britain's leading polling groups.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) with 2,414 adults in face-to-face interviews, found that 20 percent of people had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, rather than natural causes.

The last complete census in Iraq conducted in 1997 found 4.05 million households in the country, a figure ORB used to calculate that approximately 1.03 million people had died as a result of the war, the researchers found.

The margin of error in the survey, conducted in August and September 2007, was 1.7 percent, giving a range of deaths of 946,258 to 1.12 million.

via war in context

How do you plan to pay for those tax cuts?

from Media Matters
Jamison Foser writes:

. . . fewer than four percent of U.S. households have annual incomes of $200,000 or more. The median household income is less than $50,000, and the mean is $65,000.
- - - - -
Charlie Gibson reportedly makes $8 million a year and is paid less than his counterparts at CBS and NBC. Might that have something to do with his lack of perspective? How could it not?

Charlie Gibson would see his taxes go up under the Democrats' plan. So would Wolf Blitzer. And, coincidentally, they suggest that their viewers' taxes would go up, too-- even though for the vast majority of viewers, that isn't true.

When the Republicans debate and promise to make Bush's tax cuts permanent and cut various other taxes, the star reporters who moderate those debates rarely ask the GOP candidates a simple question: What government services would you cut to pay for those tax cuts?

The double standard is so glaring, it's hard not to wonder if it has something to do with the fact that, while Charlie Gibson would likely see his taxes go up under the Democrats' plans and down under the Republicans', he probably already has health insurance. Whatever programs the Republicans would cut to pay for tax cuts for rich people like Charlie Gibson probably won't directly affect rich people like Charlie Gibson.

Over the past year, as journalists mocked John Edwards for getting an expensive haircut and having a big house, they constantly justified their behavior by claiming Edwards is a "hypocrite" for being rich while pursuing policies that would help those who aren't. This is total nonsense, of course. As an Altercation reader noted this week, asking how Edwards can care about the poor while being rich is like asking a doctor: "How can you care about sick people when you're so healthy?"

And yet, again and again, journalists justified their relentless focus on Edwards' wealth by pointing to his policy positions.

And they ignore-- absolutely ignore-- the personal wealth of conservative candidates who pursue policies that would line their own pockets.

For all the news reports you saw about Edwards' supposed hypocrisy, how many have you seen that tell you how big a tax cut Mitt Romney or John McCain or Rudy Giuliani-- wealthy men all-- would get if their policies became law? Probably somewhere around "none."

This is not merely an obvious double-standard; it's a completely backwards double-standard: one that rewards politicians who pursue policies that are consistent with their narrow self-interest at the expense of the greater good; one that penalizes politicians who act out of concern for the greater good rather than narrow self-interest.

It's a media double-standard that greatly undermined Edwards' presidential campaign. And it continues to undermine progressive economic policies. It continues to play out in debates and interviews and news reports. Conservative proponents of tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich are not asked how they would pay for those tax cuts. Progressive proponents of universal health care are accused of planning to raise taxes broadly, even after they specifically say that they would only repeal tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 or $250,000.

When media coverage of economic issues is so skewed in favor of conservative candidates and policies that favor the wealthy, it's hard not to wonder how much someone like Charlie Gibson would benefit from those policies.



In order for cyberspace to be policed, Internet activity will have to be closely monitored-- that would mean giving the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer, or Web search. [more]

via: Threat Level

... authorities have stepped up their surveillance of the Internet since the beginning of the month, pressuring Internet cafe owners to register personal details of all users and to program screen captures every five minutes on each computer. [more]

via: The Left Coaster

A 23-year-old student journalist has been sentenced to death for downloading and distributing a report that is critical of the treatment of women. Arrested after someone filed a complaint against him, he is accused of blasphemy for distributing the report to other students and teachers at his school. [more]

via: Threat Level