An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deja Vu all over again.

The Obama Administration has already begun to intervene in the Syrian Civil War with weapons and with advisors to train the Syrians in their use. The announcement that the Syrian Government's use of chemical warfare agents provides the basis and justification for this intervention. But "[t]he evidence is secret and we have to take it on faith…" -- (Colum Lynch Washington Post U.N. reporter).

Sound familiar? The chain of custody does not have any transparency. From the Washington Post story:  "Western governments have relied on physical evidence smuggled out of the country by rebels or intelligence operatives. Precisely who acquired the evidence and what methods were used to guard against tampering may be unknowable. If you are the opposition and you hear that the White House has drawn a red line on the use of nerve agents, then you have an interest in giving the impression that some chemical weapons have been used."

Rachel Maddow begins her show's report on this question with a description of Spanish police arresting a group of men Al-Qaeda recruited to fight in Syria. The U.S., once again, finds itself fighting on the same side as Al-Qaeda (The Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s evolved into the Taliban and the foreign fighters there evolved into Al-Qaeda. Remember that Osama Bin Laden received his training from the C.I.A. as a matter of public record).

Really? We're doing this again!? How did U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East turn into Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football?

In this segment Rachel Maddow interviews Lynch about the questionable evidence and the already growing U.S. intervention in the Syrian Civil War. As Lynch finishes his explanation of how we may never see a "smoking gun" proving Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, Maddow adds:

Even while recognizing that people's inability to trust assertions from western governments on things like this without actually seeing it proven is an earned distrust because of our history.

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Also, John Stewart's substitute host on the daily show, John Oliver, interviews Fareed Zakaria, during which we hear a far more cogent and informative analysis of the situation in Syria than you could ever hear on the "serious" news shows.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The NSA did not notice this one

In a discussion on another blog about the 2 racist lunatics who tried to build a "death ray" to kill Moslems (I could not make something like this up - I do not have the imagination) someone raised an important point:

Please note, stoopid plot stopped by citizen reporting and good old-fashioned detective work. Yes, phone lines were tapped, but 14 months of surveillance should have been enough to not have to resort to data mining phone and internet records. I am making a big assumption here, but this plot doesn’t feel like it needed a civil liberty spying program to foil. 
I believe it’s important to call these out so we have a chance of getting our Fourth Amendment Rights back and perhaps to not be so terrified, either. (link

Yes. Maybe the two did not e-mail each other or chat or even use the phone to cook up their plot. Whatever the reason, spying on all of us did not accomplish anything in this case.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Asking the right questions, reporting the wrong answers

This sort of commercial self-censorship is a "textbook" example of why I started this blog (actually its pre-cursor web site) in the first place. CNN asks some good questions in its recent poll to measure the approval or disapproval of the Affordable Care Act (i.e.: Obamacare). But the headlines of the various reports about this poll grossly mis-states the results, for example: Most Americans still oppose Health Care Law. Really? But keep reading the CNN's own report on this poll to find out why.

The survey indicates that 35% oppose the health care law because it's too liberal, with 16% saying they oppose the measure because it isn't liberal enough. [emphasis added].

I can even remember the polling data as the administration floated various proposals. At the beginning of 2009 polls ran around 65% in favor of reform, but that number dropped after Obama removed the "public option" (i.e.: the way it works in other countries that have national health care systems). The polling data above remains consistent with that of the recent past. The Rachel Maddow show has this helpful chart to illustrate why this 16% matters so much:

click to enlarge

To be fair, the one question the CNN poll did not ask was of the respondents who support the Health Care Law how many would oppose it if it were more liberal. That said, the polling data from 4 years ago showed the public option with greater than 50% approval. Also, if you put the green bar representing the 16% who want a more "liberal" health care reform on top of the blue bar of the 44% who approve of Obamacare as is, you see the same 65% that polls showed 4 years ago as approving reform before President Obama withdrew the public option from the proposed bill. The chart above comes from a screen capture of the Rachel Maddow Show segment below.

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To paraphrase Strother Martin's character from Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate listen to the voters. Had the Democrats grown a spine and/or had President Obama had any dedication to reform as it actually has proven to work effectively in other countries that tried it, we would not be in this mess now. The Democrats do not find themselves in a very defensible position. What are they going to say? Look! Add the 16% of the people who want more extensive reform and you can see what spineless cowards we were 4 years ago (and now too, by the way).

To make matters worse, the Affordable Care Act only "works" in blue states. In red states the Republicans can obstruct it to death, thereby insulating their constituency from any good effects. This makes criticizing it so much more effective because the Republican voters will have no first hand knowledge of its benefits. State government officials know how popular reform will be if they let it happen.