Afghanistan Planning To Resume Public Stoning As Punishment For Adultery

Attacking Afghanistan made far more sense than to attack Iraq as George Bush did following the 9/11 attack. * I could see an attack to disrupt al Qaeda and was happy to see bin Laden killed, but questioned if we would see any long-term benefits from installing a government there. This somewhat confirms my skepticism–Afghanistan is now planning to restore the Taliban policy of stoning women for adultery:

Afghanistan is planning to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery 12 years after the Taliban was ousted from power, according to a new draft penal code.

The move has shocked human rights campaigners and will dismay donors who have poured billions of pounds into the country for reconstruction.

It will be viewed as another backwards step at the end of a year that has seen women’s rights undermined, with a slew of legislation and murders of prominent women.

Human Rights Watch called for international donors to withhold funding if the government goes ahead with the plan.

“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW…

As repulsive as both groups are, stoning is far worse than the forced vaginal probes and restrictions on reproductive rights which are supported by the American Taliban.

(* I would hope that by now the whole Truther line that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration instead of a terrorist act by al Qaeda has been forgotten. In case anyone is still interested in that nonsense, Noam Chomsky has recently joined many others in debunking that conspiracy theory. Chomsky mocked “people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics.” On the other hand, that is how the Internet works. How many other people on the far right with no knowledge of biology or climate science are coming up with arguments against evolution and global warming?)

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Polls Show Saner Republicans Unhappy With Nuttier Tea Party Wing

Polls are showing that an increasing number of Republicans  now dislike the Republican Party, along with once again showing that the Tea Party represents the lunatic fringe. First from Washington Wire:

October was clearly a cruel month for both President Barack Obama and the Republicans, both of whom saw their images slump to new lows in Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling.

But hidden within the data is a more disturbing reality for the Republican Party. Put simply, Democrats are largely content with their own party, while distaste among Republicans for the GOP has grown exponentially this year.

First Read believes it is the non-Tea Party Republicans who are breaking away from the Republican Party:

Non-Tea Party Republicans are breaking from the GOP: Our NBC/WSJ poll has shown that fewer respondents are identifying as Republicans. So who is leaving? Well, one set of numbers gives us a big clue. In a three-way generic congressional contest, the Democrat gets 35%, the third-party/independent candidate gets 30%, and the Republican candidate gets 28%. You might think that it’s Tea Party Republicans who are siding with the third-party/independent candidate. But you’d be wrong. The third-party support is coming mostly from self-identified independents and NON-Tea Party Republicans. In other words, it’s the NON-Tea Party folks who are splitting from the GOP. Here’s the data:

Among Democrats: 73% back the Dem candidate, 2% support a GOP candidate, 19% third party/indie
Among Republicans: 65% GOP candidate, 2% Dem, 28% third party/indie
Among Tea Party Republicans: 72% GOP candidate, 0% Dem, 25% third party/indie
Among NON-Tea Party Republicans: 58% GOP candidate, 5% Dem, 32% third party/indie
Independents: 13% GOP candidate, 12% Dem, 61% third party/indie

And if you dig even deeper into the demographics, you see that a lot of groups that usually lean GOP (but ONLY lean) are the ones most intrigued about bolting to a third-party candidate. A year ago, many Republican Party leaders were concerned about Tea Partiers leaving the party (it’s something Erick Erickson has threatened from time to time). But according to this polling data, the threat is from SOFTER more moderate Republicans.

A Pew Research Center survey shows just one example of how the Tea Party represents the bat-shit crazy wing of the GOP:

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades, a figure that has changed little in the past few years. While partisan differences over climate change remain substantial, Republicans face greater internal divisions over this issue than do Democrats.

Just 25% of Tea Party Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, compared with 61%of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Greg Sargent added further information on the breakdown:

Ron Brownstein has suggested that climate change — along with social issues — is one of a handful of priorities that is increasingly important to the very voter groups that could well give the Democratic Party a demographic edge over the GOP into the future. That “coalition of the ascendant” includes young voters, minorities, and college educated whites, especially women. I asked Pew for the percentages among these groups who believe there is solid evidence of global warming, and the theory is borne out:

* 73% of those aged 18-29 believe it’s happening.

* 76 percent of nonwhites believe it’s happening.

* 67 percent of college educated whites believe its happening.

The correspondence between social conservatives, who wish to use government to impose their religious views on others, and those who deny science is no surprise. I suspect that it is the views on social issues held by the Republican base which will do more to marginalize the Republican Party as their views become to be seen as increasingly repugnant by growing numbers of people.

Sargent also points out that Republicans not only disagree with the scientific consensus, but many are unaware of what the scientific consensus is: “Most Democrats say there is scientific consensus on global warming (71%). Only 41% of Republicans say that scientists generally agree, while 48% say they do not.” Again, this ignorance on the part of anti-science Republicans comes as no surprise.

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Quick Guide To The New Climate Report: Five Minutes Before Midnight

The Atlantic gave a quick summary of the climate report with a post on What Leading Scientists Want You to Know About Today’s Frightening Climate Report. For those who don’t want to read even this much, here are the key points:

The polar icecaps are melting faster than we thought they would; seas are rising faster than we thought they would; extreme weather events are increasing. Have a nice day! That’s a less than scientifically rigorous summary of the findings of the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released this morning in Stockholm.

Appearing exhausted after a nearly two sleepless days fine-tuning the language of the report, co-chair Thomas Stocker called climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” adding that “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than the past,” and that this trend is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Pledging further action to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “This isn’t a run of the mill report to be dumped in a filing cabinet. This isn’t a political document produced by politicians… It’s science.”

When I asked him for his headline, Michael Mann, the Director of the Earth Systems Science Center at Penn State (a former IPCC author himself) suggested: “Jury In: Climate Change Real, Caused by Us, and a Threat We Must Deal With.”

It is now 95 percent likely that human spewed heat-trapping gases — rather than natural variability — are the main cause of climate change, according to today’s report. In 2007 the IPCC’s confidence level was 90 percent, and in 2001 it was 66 percent, and just over 50 percent in 1995.

What’s more, things are getting worse more quickly than almost anyone thought would happen a few years back.

“If you look at the early IPCC predictions back from 1990 and what has taken place since, climate change is proceeding faster than we expected,” Mann told me by email. Mann helped develop the famous hockey-stick graph, which Al Gore used in his film “An Inconvenient Truth” to dramatize the sharp rise in temperatures in recent times.

Mann cites the decline of Arctic sea ice to explain : “Given the current trajectory, we’re on track for ice-free summer conditions in the Arctic in a matter of a decade or two… There is a similar story with the continental ice sheets, which are losing ice — and contributing to sea level rise — at a faster rate than the [earlier IPCC] models had predicted.”

But there is a lot that we still don’t understand. Reuters noted in a sneak preview of IPCC draft which was leaked in August that, while the broad global trends are clear, climate scientists were “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.”

There are some possibilities that are deliberately left out of the IPCC projections, because we simply don’t have enough data yet to model them. Jason Box, a visiting scholar at the Byrd Polar Research Center told me in an email interview that: “The scary elephant in the closet is terrestrial and oceanic methane release triggered by warming.” The IPCC projections don’t include the possibility — some scientists say likelihood — that huge quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas thirty times as potent as CO2) will eventually be released from thawing permafrost and undersea methane hydrate reserves. Box said that the threshhold “when humans lose control of potential management of the problem, may be sooner than expected.”

Box, whose work has been instrumental in documenting the rapid deterioration of the Greenland ice sheet, also believes that the latest IPCC predictions (of a maximum just under three foot ocean rise by the end of the century) may turn out to be wildly optimistic, if the Greenland ice sheet breaks up. “We are heading into uncharted territory” he said. “We are creating a different climate than the Earth has ever seen.”

The head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, speaks for the scientific consensus when he says that time is fast running out to avoid the catastrophic collapse of the natural systems on which human life depends. What he recently told a group of climate scientist could be the most chilling headline of all for the U.N. report:

“We have five minutes before midnight.”

Andrew Sullivan has further reactions to the report.

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SciFi Weekend: Star Wars at Disney World; Lost Doctor Who Stories; Game of Thrones; Obama Cut From One Genre Show And Influenced Another; Emma Watson; Mad Men; True Blood; Dexter; Hannibal; Man of Steel

star-wars-theme-park

Disney makes it profits by using each of its holdings to promote its business. The theme parks promote the television shows, movies, and merchandise and vice versa. Disney has long  had an arrangement with Lucasfilms  with Star Tours at the Walt Disney Studios at Walt Disney World. Now that Disney owns the rights to the upcoming Star Wars movies, it is likely that there will be even more promotion in the parks. The latest rumors are of the addition of a Star Wars Land:

The logical places for that expansion would be on either side of the existing Star Tours ride. From what I’ve heard, it appears that the expansion would take out the area between Star Tours and the auto stunt show stadium, including the Muppet theater and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area. But I’ve also heard of consideration of going in the opposite direction, which would place the new land on the site of the Backlot Express restaurant and Indiana Jones stunt show theater. Given that the Indy theater’s used for several other events throughout the year, and that both the Muppets and Honey I Shrunk the Kids attractions long ago passed the height of their popularity, I’m hearing more forceful arguments for the first option.

This appears to be a five-year project, putting completion in 2018, though Disney could choose to throw money at it and accelerate it by a year.

I wonder if they will really disrupt much of what is already there as opposed to mixing more Star Wars throughout the park. It is common for Disney to mix up different things from different movies throughout their parks. Will they really get rid of Muppet Vision 3D and the Honey I Shrunk the Kids park? While perhaps not as major as The Great Movie Ride or Tower of Terror, I’ve always seen Muppet Vision 3D as one of the icons of the park. Besides, Disney still has plans for those Muppets, such as a live stage show. We are long past the prime for the movie version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids and I could see them remove this exhibit, but it is the best item at the Walt Disney Studios Park for small children.

A Star Wars Cantina would probably be the major addition, but this could be added at various places if there is not room near Star Tours. Increased character involvement in parades and character meets would not require removal of older attractions.  Increased use of Star Wars might not even be limited to Disney Studios.  I wouldn’t put it past Disney to create an exhibit at Animal Kingdom with creatures from the Star Wars Universe or turn Spaceship Earth at Epcot into a replica of the Death Star in time for the release of Star Wars VII. There’s little doubt that the monorail will be used to promote the movies.

In case you are wondering why characters from the Marvel movies are not flooding the Disney theme parks, Universal still owns the theme park rights to these characters. In addition, the movie rights to some Marvel comic characters, such as Spiderman, are owned by other studios. Of course we sort of got to see Iron Man at Epcot in Iron Man 2. The Stark Expo was clearly built in the image of Epcot and the film of Tony’s father looked considerably like old footage of Walt Disney discussing his idea for Epcot.

Joss Whedon isn’t “going Nolan” with Avengers 2.

Bleeding Cool reports on rumors of more lost Doctor Who stories which have been found–an added surprise for the 50th anniversary. This might include the lost first regeneration story. (Update: This may be a hoax. Awaiting further information).

Den of Geek gives a round up of this week Matt Smith replacement rumors.

Jaime Graphic

Now that Game of Thrones has concluded its third season, here are some amusing info-graphics to help explain what is going on. One example above.

Here’s an update to the relationship chart from Person of Interest. While I was initially fearful the show would just use the Machine as a gimmick for a crime of the week show, they have certainly developed a complicated mythology over time.

UNDER THE DOME

An adaptation of Steven King’s novel, Under the Dome, sounds like it might be the biggest genre television show of the summer. Barack Obama was initially heard on the first episode but the scene was cut. They had used a clip from Obama’s speech following Hurricane Sandy but decided against using real life events:

President Obama has been left on the cutting room floor of CBS’ new summer series “Under the Dome.”

An audio clip of the president that was in the first hour of the series that CBS sent to critics earlier this month will be cut from the episode that will ultimately air, a CBS spokesman said. The show, based on a Stephen King book, is about a small town that for mysterious reasons becomes enclosed under a huge transparent dome.

In the scene, which comes at the end of the first hour, Obama is heard amid a slew of fake reports talking about what is going in the town. The audio of the president is actually from his remarks following Hurricane Sandy when he said the nation feels “profoundly for all the families whose lives have been upended. The most important message I have for them is that America is with you. We are standing behind you and we are going to do everything we can…”

Although the standards and practices department at CBS had approved the use, a decision was made to cut it anyway on Thursday. While use of audio from actual news events for a fictional TV show is not unusual, the network and producer Amblin Television decided that having these remarks from a real tragedy inserted in an entertainment show was inappropriate.

Emma Watson at the premiere of The Bling Ring in Los Angeles

 Emma Watson returns to fantasy movies, and Barack Obama’s name comes up once again:

Harry Potter star Emma Watson is returning to fantasy cinema after signing on to play the lead in “Game of Thrones-style” saga Queen of the Tearling, reports Variety.

Watson will play 19-year-old idealistic princess Kelsea Glynn, created by Erika Johansen after the author heard a 2007 speech by a pre-presidential Barack Obama. Johansen signed a seven-book deal in February and the first novel in the series is due next year. It is set three centuries after an environmental catastrophe, when a malevolent Red Queen reigns over the kingdom of the Tearling. Glynn must defeat the monarch to reclaim her deceased mother’s crown, and publishers have compared the tone of the series with that of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which is being adapted by US network HBO as Game of Thrones.

Despite the comparisons between Megan Draper and Sharon Tate, Matthew Weiner says that Megan will not die this season. After last week’s episode, the question has now become whether/when Megan will find out what Sally saw and how she will react.

True Blood returns tonight with a new show runner. This might be better because the show really needed a change in direction. On the other hand, we might wind up with the same show but with a show runner who isn’t as good as Alan Ball and have an even worse show.

Dexter returns June 30 and we meet the woman who helped Harry develop The Code. Will bringing in someone who could figure out what Dexter has been up to lead to his end?

Just one more episode to go this season on Hannibal. Lase week we saw how a comb could be turned into a murder weapon, and the murder of another recurring character looks likely. For those who haven’t been watching from the start, it was a very good show for binge watching and highly recommended.

Da Vinci’s Demons is less compelling but I have now made it through the second from last episode and will try to catch the finale this week. I might give up on Defiance after four episodes. Even though SyFy had hoped this would be the next big thing after Battlestar Galactica,  there is little in the show so far to promote any long term interest in what happens to the new town. Moving beyond genre, I just finished the first season of Mr. Selfridge from ITV, also broadcast by PBS on Masterpiece Classic. It is more soap opera than serious historical fiction and fans of Downton Abbey should enjoy it. The show was light and entertaining to watch, and did an excellent job of utilizing plot threads from throughout the season to set up its finale.

I couldn’t make it to Man of Steel this weekend and will limit coverage to this link on the movie (which also gets back to Chris Nolan’s Batman, as in one of the links above).

Have a Happy Captain Picard Day

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Conservative Bloggers Can’t Handle The Truth About The Effects Of Climate Change

The headline at The Daily Caller: Democratic senator uses Okla. tornado for anti-GOP rant over global warming

Well, not exactly. At least it isn’t as bad as the original title: Democratic Sen. Whitehouse Blames Republicans for Tornado. On the one hand, global warming is causing warmer, wetter weather which is fueling the catastrophic weather changes we are seeing. On the other hand, we could imagine inappropriate statements which might sound inappropriate this soon after the Oklahoma tornado. Let’s look behind the headline at what Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said:

“So, you may have a question for me,” Whitehouse said. “Why do you care? Why do you, Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, care if we Republicans run off the climate cliff like a bunch of proverbial lemmings and disgrace ourselves? I’ll tell you why. We’re stuck in this together. We are stuck in this together. When cyclones tear up Oklahoma and hurricanes swamp Alabama and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover. And the damage that your polluters and deniers are doing doesn’t just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas. It hits Rhode Island with floods and storms. It hits Oregon with acidified seas, it hits Montana with dying forests. So, like it or not, we’re in this together.”

Whitehouse went on to condemn the current Republican position on global warming, citing economic, environmental and diplomatic damages.

“You drag America with you to your fate,” he continued. “So, I want this future: I want a Republican Party that has returned to its senses and is strong and a worthy adversary in a strong America that has done right by its people and the world. That’s what I want. I don’t want this future. I don’t want a Republican Party disgraced, that let its extremists run off the cliff, and an America suffering from grave economic and environmental and diplomatic damage because we failed, because we didn’t wake up and do our duty to our people, and because we didn’t lead the world. I do not want that future. But that’s where we’re headed. So I will keep reaching out and calling out, ever hopeful that you will wake up before it is too late.”

This was widely quoted on conservative blogs but unfortunately they won’t learn from this. There is nothing inappropriate here. It is an accurate assessment of the political divide in this country over science and its effects, placing the Oklahoma tornado in context. It is probably premature to say with certainty whether any one event is caused by climate change, but overall there is no doubt about the role that climate change has in more volatile weather conditions. Conservatives might not be able to handle the truth, but their denial of science does cost lives. If they don’t care about this, their policies are also causing considerable economic damage. This is reactionary extremism, not conservatism in the traditional sense.

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Republican Congressman Cites Biblical Flood To Deny Climate Science

I have often complained of the tendency of conservatives to use government to impose their religious beliefs upon others. A similarly dangerous problem is the tendency of conservatives to ignore science based upon their religious beliefs. Today Texas Representative Joe Barton used the Biblical story of the flood to argue that climate change isn’t caused by actions of humans:

I think you can have an honest difference of opinion of what’s causing that change without automatically being either all in that’s all because of mankind or it’s all just natural.

I think there’s a divergence of evidence. I would point out that if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.

There might have been a major flood in the distant past which inspired Biblical stories, but this certainly has no bearing on the science of climate change. Unfortunately many conservatives don’t care about facts and science  as much as they care about what the read in the Bible.

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Polling Belief In Conspiracy Theories

Public Policy Polling found that a substantial number of Americans believe in some conspiracy theories, but fortunately not many believe that lizard people are secretly taking power. The most significant finding related to current public policy is that a large majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax. A significant number of Republicans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Here is a summary of their findings:

-          37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at  41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

-          6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

-          21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup

-          28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.  A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t

-          28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.  36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not

-          20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

-          7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

-          13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

-          Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so

-          29% of voters believe aliens exist

-          14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

-          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

-          4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

-          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

-          14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

-          15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

-          5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

-          15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

-          Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

-          11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

Most of these beliefs are ridiculous, but a few do not really relate to conspiracy theories. Question 10 is “Do you believe aliens exist, or not?” The  question is regarding their existence (not whether they are visiting our planet) and, while we don’t know for certain, most likely there is life on some other planets, and therefore there aliens probably do exist.

Question 18 depends upon how it is interpreted: “Do you believe that the pharmaceutical  industry is in league with the medical industry
to ‘invent’ new diseases in order to make money, or not?” If you consider the marketing tactics used by drug companies. the National Institute of Health is promoting this “conspiracy theory.”

Question 9 is “Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War, or not?” The Bush administration was making statements which were blatantly untrue and which knowledgeable people at the time realized were false.  This leaves two possibilities. Either George Bush and people in his administration were utterly incompetent or they were lying. There is also good reason, based upon his actual statements and actions, that Bush had desired to invade Iraq even before 9/11, and used 9/11 as justification.  Granted there is no way to know for sure which is the explanation, but it is hardly believing in a conspiracy theory to believe that dishonesty is a more likely explanation for what occurred than the degree of incompetence necessary to rule out dishonesty. (This is not the same as believing that the Bush administration faked or was behind the 9/11 attack.)

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Barack Obama’s Second Inauguration

Today Barack Obama joined a small group of people who have taken the oath of office more than twice. The oath was repeated in 2008 to avoid giving right wingers another reason to deny Obama’s legitimacy after John Roberts made an error when first administering the oath. (I note Roberts did use a note card today). He was sworn in for his second inauguration in a private ceremony on January 20, with the public event postponed to Monday. Only FDR and Obama have taken the oath of office four times. Bill Clinton is the only other president to my knowledge to have been sworn in more than twice as one of his inaugurations also occurred on a Sunday.

With Obama being sworn in, dogs everywhere gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now that Obama has been sworn in two more times Karl Rove is willing to give up hope for a Romney victory and concede defeat. Tea Partiers and Mitch McConnell swear to oppose Obama’s agenda and make him a two-term president. (Surprisingly some commentators do not realize how the Republicans really did decide to oppose everything Obama did on the day of his first inauguration.) All the living former presidents were in attendance except for George H. W. Bush, for health reasons, and George W. Bush, because everyone in Washington hates his guts.

Getting serious, Obama gave a liberal speech to mark the start of his second term (full text here and video above). He sounded neither like the socialist Republicans claim he is or the conservative a handful on the far left claim he is. James Fallows found this to be a startling progressive speech. Think  Progress called this a landmark moment for LGBT equality. Obama made a strong push for taking action on climate change.

While Obama has learned he cannot compromise with the extremism and intransigence of Congressional Republicans, I do like see Obama continue to try to explain how the real world works to conservatives in the hopes that there are some who will listen. Radical conservatives and libertarians believe a mythology that the free market is something which exists in nature, and that any government action is an abomination. In reality, markets are a creation of men and require government regulation to exist. Rothbardian anarch0-capitalism provides a fun background for some science fiction stories, but cannot exist in the real world. Obama explained:

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

He did learn it is politically dangerous to point out the truth that businessmen did not build the infrastructure they depend upon after the Republicans themed their convention around misquoting Obama, claiming Obama was saying businessmen did not build their businesses.

Obama’s record is not perfect. No president’s record is. Even if he did not do everything hoped for by the left, in a two party system, and with the constraints on presidential power, Obama did have a strong first term. Even his frequent critic Paul Krugman has been acknowledging this in recent columns, such as yesterday’s column, calling Obama’s record a Big Deal:

Health reform is, as Mr. Biden suggested, the centerpiece of the Big Deal. Progressives have been trying to get some form of universal health insurance since the days of Harry Truman; they’ve finally succeeded.

True, this wasn’t the health reform many were looking for. Rather than simply providing health insurance to everyone by extending Medicare to cover the whole population, we’ve constructed a Rube Goldberg device of regulations and subsidies that will cost more than single-payer and have many more cracks for people to fall through.

But this was what was possible given the political reality — the power of the insurance industry, the general reluctance of voters with good insurance to accept change. And experience with Romneycare in Massachusetts — hey, this is a great age for irony — shows that such a system is indeed workable, and it can provide Americans with a huge improvement in medical and financial security.

What about inequality? On that front, sad to say, the Big Deal falls very far short of the New Deal. Like F.D.R., Mr. Obama took office in a nation marked by huge disparities in income and wealth. But where the New Deal had a revolutionary impact, empowering workers and creating a middle-class society that lasted for 40 years, the Big Deal has been limited to equalizing policies at the margin.

That said, health reform will provide substantial aid to the bottom half of the income distribution, paid for largely through new taxes targeted on the top 1 percent, and the “fiscal cliff” deal further raises taxes on the affluent. Over all, 1-percenters will see their after-tax income fall around 6 percent; for the top tenth of a percent, the hit rises to around 9 percent. This will reverse only a fraction of the huge upward redistribution that has taken place since 1980, but it’s not trivial.

Finally, there’s financial reform. The Dodd-Frank reform bill is often disparaged as toothless, and it’s certainly not the kind of dramatic regime change one might have hoped for after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees.

Still, if plutocratic rage is any indication, the reform isn’t as toothless as all that. And Wall Street put its money where its mouth is. For example, hedge funds strongly favored Mr. Obama in 2008 — but in 2012 they gave three-quarters of their money to Republicans (and lost).

All in all, then, the Big Deal has been, well, a pretty big deal

While Obama’s record was not perfect, there is no problem which would be handled better if the Republicans had taken the White House. Just think of the executive orders which were not issued today because Mitt Romney did not have the opportunity. Romney, like Republicans before him, would have probably immediately reinstated the Global Gag Rule, limiting access to abortions world wide. While it would probably take more than a quick executive order, he would probably have made an effort to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He may have immediately put an end to federal funding of stem cell research. Who know what else what he would have done to accommodate the far right on his first day alone.

Seeing Barack Obama sworn in to be president for the next four years is a Big Deal.

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2012 Warmest Year On Record In United States

It is getting harder and harder to deny climate change, but we can be certain that the dupes of the petroleum industry propaganda will continue to try. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s  annual “State of the Climate” report found that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the contiguous United States and the second most extreme year on record for the nation:

2012 was a historic year for extreme weather that included drought, wildfires, hurricanes and storms; however, tornado activity was below average

2012 marked the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States with the year consisting of a record warm spring, second warmest summer, fourth warmest winter and a warmer-than-average autumn. The average temperature for 2012 was 55.3°F, 3.2°F above the 20th century average, and 1.0°F above 1998, the previous warmest year.

The average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below average, making it the 15th driest year on record for the nation. At its peak in July, the drought of 2012 engulfed 61 percent of the nation with the Mountain West, Great Plains, and Midwest experiencing the most intense drought conditions. The dry conditions proved ideal for wildfires in the West, charring 9.2 million acres — the third highest on record.

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index indicated that 2012 was the second most extreme year on record for the nation. The index, which evaluates extremes in temperature and precipitation, as well as landfalling tropical cyclones, was nearly twice the average value and second only to 1998. To date, 2012 has seen 11 disasters that have reached the $1 billion threshold in losses, to include Sandy, Isaac, and tornado outbreaks experienced in the Great Plains, Texas and Southeast/Ohio Valley.

Hat tip to Talking Points Memo

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Right Wing Paranoia

It may be a new year, but we have the same old right wing paranoia, as is seen in several stories today. First there is the warning in an email from the American Family Association (via Think Progress)  that within 50 years Christians will be treated like African Americans during the Jim Crow era:

What will religion look like in the year 2060?

Conservative Christians will be treated as second class citizens, much like African Americans were prior to civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Family as we know it will be drastically changed with the state taking charge of the children beginning at birth.

Marriage will include two, three, four or any number of participants. Marriage will not be important, with individuals moving in and out of a “family” group at will.

Churchbuildings will be little used, with many sold to secular buyers and the money received going to the government.

Churches will not be allowed to discuss any political issues, even if it affects the church directly.

Tax credit given to churches and non-profit organizations will cease.

Christian broadcasting will be declared illegal based on the separation of church and state. The airwaves belong to the government, therefore they cannot be used for any religious purpose.

We will have, or have had, a Muslim president.

Cities with a name from the Bible such as St. Petersburg, Bethlehem, etc. will be forced to change their name due to separation of church and state.

Groups connected to any religious affiliation will be forced out of health care. Health centers get tax money from the state, making it a violation of church and state.

Get involved! Sign THE STATEMENT.

Sincerely,

Donald E. Wildmon

Think Progress pointed out that such extremism has been common among the AFA:

As absurd as they may be, these 2060 predictions may not even rank among the AFA’s most extreme ideas. The group’s spokesman has called for kidnapping the children of same-sex couples through a modern-day “Underground Railroad” system. When one man heeded this advice and aided a woman in kidnapping the daughter of a lesbian woman, the group advised him to flout American laws and flee the country. AFA also organizes against any individual or company that shows the slightest tolerance for LGBT people, including Office Depot, Urban Outfitters, Home Depot, JC Penney, and Google.

Some additional examples of right wing paranoia in the news and blogs:

Wisconsin state Senator Glenn Grothman has issued a press release waging a War on Kwanzaa, which he describes as a fake holiday aimed at dividing blacks and whites. He also says

“Of course, almost no black people today care about Kwanzaa — just white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people’s throats in an effort to divide Americans,” Grothman said. “Irresponsible public school districts such as Green Bay and Madison … try to tell a new generation that blacks have a separate holiday than Christians.”

Grothman adds Karenga “didn’t like the idea that Christ died for all of our sins, so he felt blacks should have their own holiday — hence, Kwanzaa.”

Conor Friderersdorf described the conservative interest in Second Amendment solutions:

In the National Review, Kevin Williamson argues that nearly everyone calling for gun control either doesn’t understand or refuses to address the actual purpose of the 2nd Amendment. They talk, he says, as if there’s no legitimate reason for an American to have military grade weapons, as if the 2nd Amendment protects mere hunting and home security. “The purpose of having citizens armed with paramilitary weapons is to allow them to engage in paramilitary actions,” Williamson writes. “There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose enemies foreign and domestic, a guarantee against disorder and tyranny.”

Walter E. Williams makes a similar argument in a Townhall column. “There have been people who’ve ridiculed the protections afforded by the Second Amendment, asking what chance would citizens have against the military might of the U.S. government,” he writes. “Military might isn’t always the deciding factor. Our 1776 War of Independence was against the mightiest nation on the face of the earth — Great Britain. In Syria, the rebels are making life uncomfortable for the much-better-equipped Syrian regime. Today’s Americans are vastly better-armed than our founders, Warsaw Ghetto Jews and Syrian rebels. There are about 300 million privately held firearms owned by Americans. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And notice that the people who support gun control are the very people who want to control and dictate our lives.”

I note that this is occurring during a time of record gun sales.

Beyond the absurdity of thinking they can, or should, take on the United States militarily, Conor pointed out the conservative inconsistency in backing Second Amendment solutions while they “actively oppose so many other important attempts to safeguard liberty.”

Finally (for the purposes of this post–conservative paranoia extends much further), Amanda Marcotte links the belief of many conservatives that Hillary Clinton faked her concussion to avoiding testimony with other forms of wingnuttery and conspiracy theories:

It’s worth noting that most conspiracy theorists identify as “skeptics”, but of course they’re doing the opposite of skepticism, which requires evidence to support extraordinary and implausible claims, such as the claim that hundreds of people could come together to help Secretary Clinton fake a series of illnesses without a single person blowing the whistle. Remember: Bill Clinton couldn’t even keep the lid on an affair that had only two witnesses to the actual acts of it. Althouse may feel entitled to full information on demand of any Clinton body part she desires, but that doesn’t actually mean doctors have to violate federal law to give it to her.

Of course, wingnuttery nowadays is entirely dependent on the asinine belief that widespread conspiracies are a daily occurrence. These folks believe that thousands of scientists worldwide have been in cahoots for decades to perpetuate the false claim that global warming is real for no other reason than a vague hatred of capitalism, and that not one has ever thought to blow the whistle on this evil scheme. Marshaling the State Department and the staff of a major hospital into a conspiracy theory seems like tiddlywinks compared to that.

But riddle me this, wingnuts: If Secretary Clinton is such an evil mastermind that she can repeatedly bend so many people to her will with full confidence that not a one will ever blow the whistle, why couldn’t she just get up and say whatever the hell she wants under oath if she did testify? Seems like a conspiracy of one would be easier to pull off than repeated faked hospitalizations. Why do you believe someone who would supposedly create one elaborate scheme after another to avoid testifying would suddenly start spilling truths only she knows under oath? Do you believe that taking an oath is like a magic spell that causes the person who did it to be incapable of lying? (Not that I think she has anything to lie about, honestly, just curious what the fuck they think is going on here.) If that’s so, why did you demand that Bill Clinton be impeached for perjury?

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