July 21, 2012

Good-bye, Alexander Cockburn

The left-liberal long-time editor of Counterpunch magazine died earlier this week. In today's world of opinion magazines, where The Nation refuses to look outside the two-party fold for endorsing candidates, and even Truthout and Alternet don't do a lot of that explicitly, Counterpunch was and is a refreshingly different voice.

Not that Cockburn bought every modern alleged progressive idea. Just 10 days or so ago, I read a great column of his where he expressed a fair amount of the same skepticism about Occupy Wall Street, including the disorganization of its alleged leaderlessness and more, than I first did several months ago.

(And, he had this delicious skewering of Christopher Hitchens as an "obituary" for Hitchens last year,  which I somehow missed at the time. Coming from the left, it's even better than Glenn Greenwald's more famous takedown.)

That said, he wasn't always perfect. Sometimes, his anti-Zionism at least flirted with the edges of anti-Semitism, or so it seemed here.

And, per his Wikipedia bio, he was arguably an elitist himself, having gone to Oxford and having noble roots. And, being a global warming "skeptic"/denialist-lite (at best) is a definite black eye.
In April 2007 Cockburn wrote that "there is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely entirely on unverified, crudely oversimplified computer models to finger mankind's sinful contribution."
Quote is at Sourcewatch's Cockburn page.

WHY Cockburn had that stance, especially when his longtime Counterpunch co-editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, is a HUGE environmentalist, I don't know.

But, that said, he didn't pull punches. And he didn't suck up to the Democratic party line.

As the Democratic hierarchy drifts further and further down the road of neoliberalism, those two things are important indeed.

I hope St. Clair, his Counterpunch co-editor for several years, finds a new voice to help him carry on the editorial oversight of the magazine with that same drive.

British Open — 16 for 16

Can Adam Scott do it?/Wikipedia photo
While Tiger Woods is certainly in the running, and Graeme McDowell not too far off, they're the only two golfers in reasonable position to keep this year's British Open from producing the 16th different consecutive winner of one of golf's four majors. Indeed, they're the only two within nine shots of the lead (and in the top 27 after two rounds, although 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and this year's Masters' winner, Bubba Watson, are just one stroke further back, tied for 28th).

It all depends on Saturday's rounds, I think. Weather Saturday is supposed to be at least as good as Thursday and Friday, which means low scoring is there for the taking.

UPDATE, July 21: Looks like my guesses below, made after Friday's second round, were right, at least No. 1 and No. 3, who (Scott and McDowell) will be in the final twosome. The only thing "wrong" is that it's not Scott and Woods as the final twosome, with Scott's current caddy, former Woods bagman Steve Williams, and tension as thick as a British fog.


But ... winds are supposed to be up on Sunday. Now, not gale force, like at some Opens, but 15 mph is definitely in the forecast. Add that to any tricky Sunday pin placements, and greens drying out, and, while there may be plenty of "backward" motion by golfers who struggle, don't look for major low numbers on Sunday.


Beyond that observation in general, I'll expect the winner to come from one of the last two pairings on Sunday. And, in keeping with form, for Tiger not to win if he's only in the second-last pairing.


I'll go out on a limb, without saying any of these will win, and make some guesstimates:
1. Adam Scott. Being close in a major, and Stevie Williams on the bag, could be enough.
2. Paul Lawrie. Sentimental favorite, and certainly he'd like to "earn" an Open on his own, but at 43, he may be a bit long in the golfing tooth. Flip side is that he knows the conditions,  if weather gets bad.
3. McDowell. Ditto on the weather knowledge, and he's been in other "hunts" besides his 2010 U.S. Open win.
4. Ernie Els. He would be the most sentimental non-British crowd favorite, I think. But, can he "close"? That's been part of the question mark on him for a few years. Still, he may know this could be his last, best shot at Major No. 4.
5. Brant Snedeker. "All" he has to do is stay steady. If he can't do that well on Saturday, he certainly won't on Sunday.
6. Luke Donald. Even more sentimental than Els, but, a stroke further back.
7. Woods. I think he needs a strong, intimidating start Saturday. If he gets that, it could be him. However, with the Sunday weather forecast, he could hold the Saturday lead and still lose it; his bad-weather track record at the British has been somewhat iffy.


Also, half of those first six, by winning, would also make us 10 straight in different first-time majors winners.


Stay tuned!

Sidebar — Woods won't get to No. 1 in the world rankings, but he will finish ahead of Donald here, I predict, and close enough ground to have a good shot by the PGA Championship. At the least, he's almost guaranteed to pass Lee Westwood into third and quite likely to pass Rory McElroy into second.

UPDATE 2, July 21: If Scott wins, he had better enjoy it now; the USGA and R&A are looking at making "anchoring" of a long putter, at least, illegal.

July 20, 2012

#Drought — Obama should call red states out on climate change

He's got leverage in this huge drought, which has led the federal government to declare one-third of the nation's counties disaster areas and therefore eligible for relief of some sort.

We've already gotten statistical research indicating global warming made last year's Texas drought more likely, and we're learning more and more about details of climatic tipping points.

Add in that much of the area affected by drought is at least "reddish" in American political terms, and President Barack Obama has his opportunity.

No big federal disaster relief for all these counties until red-state Congressmen and Senators get real about global warming.

Of course, even if this weren't an election year, Dear Leader wouldn't do that. But, he should.

Because, as Bill McKibben has noted in his hard-hitting new piece in Rolling Stone, the clock is REALLY ticking. The 2-degree Celsius change that climate scientists were hoping to avoid? Sorry, that's already cooked in the bag. Even 3C probably is. The worry now is that we might have a 5-6 degree change, or 10 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.

That said, McKibben notes that, especially since the midterm elections, Dear Leader has been more of the problem than the solution.

This would be a golden opportunity for a truly liberal president to have some cojones, and do the political equivalent of a Thomas Kuhn scientific paradigm change. There's so much to fight — fossil fuels, A/C electric use feedback from the heat, and more.

And, it's not being fought.

Meanwhile, can "nudges" work to change people's thinking, and inertia? Possibly, argues one columnist, though we should note this only applies to people with some inertia on the issue, not denialists.

David Leonhardt, meanwhile, says we should be optimistic about not just the U.S., but the world, adequately addressing these issues. I often agree with his columns, but, to be honest, I think he's smoking something this time.

The amount of electric power to get us using more full electric vehicles, or at least plug-in hybrids, is going to be massive. Even more so for China and India as more people want cars. And, while that cuts down on oil drilling, it increases mining for materials for the batteries.

More thoughts of mine on red-state farmers, drought and global warming here.

#GnuAtheist fail — civics

Ron Lindsay
In a previous blog post, I chided Center for Inquiry CEO Ron Lindsay for insinuating that many non-rich people's reaction toward wealth, and wealth based on growing income disparity in America, was "irrational."

Along with that, I critiqued him for seeming to hold the idea that we could narrowly address the issue of campaign finance money and the rich, and not address income inequality and larger social issues. So far, after my last comment on his blog post, he has yet to address it, and he's indicated he doesn't plan to speak further in general on the issue.

Well, Lindsay as a lawyer knows that when you present a case for something you marshal evidence for it. He knows as a philosopher thta when you make quasi-propositional extended statements, that could be construed as an argument in the philosophical sense, you offer warrants for it/them.

So, what is "irrational" about many Americans' attitude toward not just the wealthy in general, but more specifically, growing income inequality? (Lindsay, by the way, also never tackles the issue of income inequality.) Anyway, can you present specific examples of such "irrational" beliefs? I can surely present rational counterexamples. And, we can offer them to the "jury" of the broad skeptical community.

Also, how can you appear to believe that money's influence on political campaigns can be disaggregated from larger social issues? And now we're going to get to the "civics" behind this post's title.

If one looks at the Gini coefficient, a common measure for income inequality (the U.S. is as bad as Mexico, by the way), and compares it to a list of countries based on how free they are (the Wikipedia one, based on Freedom House, is good but not great), the two track fairly closely. Now, there's no way to prove causal correlation, there's enough tracking closeness, with enough "subjects," of individual countries, involved to make a reasonable, a rational, Mr. Lindsay, assumption that there is causal correlation.

And, it's probably both ways. Less free governments tend to enrich their own members and close cronies (the old USSR a prime example). Richer countries tend to have the wealthy work to bend economic, tax and other policies to their ends. The power they gain can intimidate the press into not risking losing ads, or now, trying to control Net content, or work with the government to send it private information, and much more.

For Lindsay not to take into account any of that is an eyebrow raiser. Because, if wealth isn't an issue for humanism, if even the unmentioned issue of income inequality isn't an issue for his brand of humanism, isn't broader issues of freedom and equality before the de jure law as well as the de facto one?

And, in a note to libertarians in general, whether Gnu Atheists or not, that's another reason for progressive taxation and worrying about the influence of concentrated wealth.

Update, July 20:  This blog post of mine, about Bastille Day, reminds me of something else related to Lindsay's stance. I say there that the U.S. has often tended to emphasize liberty to the point of downplaying equality and fraternity. And, greater income inequality certainly undercuts ideas of fraternity, and makes claims of equality before the law ring hollow. I think also of FDR's Four Freedoms.

July 17, 2012

Why the media and pundit silence on Geithner?

Mitt Romney's alleged misstatement to the Securities and Exchange Commission about when he left Bain Capital (1999 or 2002? or maybe later?) is getting plenty of airplay, including his own fun attempts to explain it away.

But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's alleged blind eye to Barclays' manipulation of interest rates from 2005-2009 while he was president of the New York Federal Reserve, which I blogged about last week? Almost crickets, relatively.

And, I have a theory about that.

Republicans, and conservative pundits, haven't attacked Geithner for a specific reason. They know he helped their rich, bankster-type allies, very, very much over those years. They know that he was in their corner.

And, they know that to bring attention to any of this would bring that dirty, messy corner back to light.

Now, that means Obama, other top Democrats and Geithner himself are getting a bit of a pass from conservative flaks right now. (For example, Rush Limbaugh could attack Geithner, but all he can do is say Obama hates America and similar nonsense.)

Now, what about the liberal punditry side? Naked Capitalism has talked about the Barclays-Libor issue somewhat, but with a broader focus than just Geithner.

To name a name, who is knowledgeable about economic issues and a heavyweight among mainstream liberals, what will Paul Krugman write and when?

July 15, 2012

Your Romney-Obama criminality photo of the day

I saw another version of this photo on Facebook, and I fixed the second caption so it's correct.


Just a friendly reminder, in this blog post, of just what that second caption, on Geithner, is all about.

Coming up: Worst presidential election since 1924

At least concerning the two major candidates, the GOP's Mitt "Bain of the working class" Romney and Barack "Dear Leader" Obama, this is quite arguably the worst presidential election since that of 1924.

And, I'm not joking. Obama-Romney is worse than W. Bush-Kerry, or Poppy Bush-Dukakis. I really have to look back decades for a race this bad, in my opinion, between the two "major" candidates. Both are tools of the rich to some degree. Romney may have perjured himself on an SEC filing statement about Bain Capital. Obama's Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, arguably was an accessory to fraud for four years as president of the New York Federal Reserve.

The 1924 campaign was the last time we had a clearly Wall Street-loving Republican running against a me-too (conservative in 1924, neoliberal today) Democrat. The only difference was that Republican Calvin Coolidge was the incumbent while me-too Democrat John W. Davis was the challenger. 


As the Wikipedia article notes, this was one time when a third party was not just viable enough, but had enough of an "opening" for its candidate to win electoral as well as popular votes. Progressive Robert La Follette won more than 16 percent of the popular vote and the state of Wisconsin.


Ahh, if Green Party candidate Jill Stein could only hit that level, and force the Commission on Presidential Debates, the group so secretive it has NO contact information on its website, to let her into debates.


And, it's not just me that thinks this is a turkey.


A recent Gallup poll said youth turnout, by the age range of 18-29, could be down 10 percentage points from 2008. Yep, that Obamiac young people's enthusiasm of four years ago is dead as a doorknob.


Gay rights? Reluctant change. But, the banksters, regulation, civil liberties, the economy and other things, not so much. The book is out still on many aspects of business-friendly neoliberal Obamacare.