Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Investigating Bush and the political valence of retribution

One of my few shifts to the political right in recent years came from accepting retribution as an appropriate purpose for criminal punishment. I don't accept it as a way of achieving justice, but as a way of making the victims of crime feel better, whether the victims are specific individuals or society as a whole.

So the political valence of investigating Bush Administration members for crimes is interesting when it comes to retribution. Conservatives would normally think retribution is a fine reason to go after someone, while liberals might not. Now though, conservatives shrink at the idea that people would want revenge for the crimes committed in our name and with our tax dollars. They might want to think about how strongly retribution should influence punishment in all crimes then, not just for rich people drunk on political power. I suppose liberals might consider the same question for other crimes, too.

Finally, conservatives might argue that no retribution is needed, because the crimes weren't "wrong." That would be the most shameful reasoning, I think.

(A side note - if it's true that the Bushies ordered the forgery of evidence of WMDs and Al Qaeda in Iraq to keep the war going, we can likely add another war crime, a war of aggression, to Bush's list. Forging evidence seems to me to be a different category from simply withholding evidence that cuts against their argument for continuing the war.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

10% of Earth scientists don't think temps have risen since 1800?

(Aside - what James said.)

So Eos published a summary of two climate questions in an opinion poll, and it's the second question that's received the most attention: Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures? They found 97% of climatologists actively publishing on climate (75 of 77 responding) said "yes," with the percentages decreasing as one moves away from direct knowledge of climate science. No big surprise there, along with Tim's speculation that the two dissenters are Spencer and Lindzen.

But 10% of Earth scientists disagreed with this question: When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant? Here's my follow-up question - who the hell are these 10%? I'm sure less than 10% of the genuine climate skeptics would say that, and I doubt even 10% of lying denialists (Milloy, Singer etc.) would make the claim.

It would be interesting to see the breakdown of answers by profession, showing the level of ignorance about a basic climate fact by each category of Earth scientist.

(Bonus climate blogging - Greenfyre's post on debating climate, with my gentle disagreement in the comments)

(Second bonus - reducing transit funding in the stimulus is insane, especially when you don't even need to construct transit but just stop planned cutbacks.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Non-believers, Obama, and Kennedy

Like some others, I was glad to see Obama's shout-out to atheists and us agnostics:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers.

It's not completely new for a president:

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice;

Although it might be the first since Kennedy said that, nearly fifty years ago (admittedly before he was elected).

Baby steps forward....

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Crank-Theory-PhD Thesis

Someone beat me to it:
No matter how wacky the idea is, you can usually find a handful of cranks with Ph.D.s to back you up!

The corrections I'd make is that it's not "usually," it's "always, if the idea is well-known" and that the Ph.D.'s will even be in the academic field that's most relevant to the crank theory. I'm sure someone could create an equation that as a theory approaches pure wackiness, the number of Ph.D. holders willing to support the theory approaches but never reaches zero.

I used to think that creationism is the one exception, but I've since heard of one or two people with biology Ph.D.s from real universities, not the fake religious ones, that will openly advocate it.

Global warming skeptics hate to be compared to creationists (except for the ones who are also creationists, like Roy Spencer), but having a few experts in a field back an idea rejected by the broad consensus doesn't give the idea much credibility.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Set your betting and expectations on the last Bush pardons

TPM points out the pardon clock is really ticking now for the Bushies. If no political pardons are announced, I'll be surprised and will have to slightly raise my estimation of the failed presidency. If they only pardon Scooter and maybe some nobodies, that fits the terrible estimation I have of them. If they issue broad pardons of many individuals or even sweeping pardon statements that are designed to protect everybody, including Bush and Cheney, it will show how that presidency will be remembered for the ages.

Here's their last chance to do something, anything, better than Clinton did. We'll see in a few days.

UPDATE Jan. 19: Atrios has a good point, "Pardoning the people below him would remove any 5th amendment reasons to not testify," although subordinates also lose the incentive to inform on others. Looks unlikely to happen now other than two small bones thrown to the right wingers. Bush has slightly exceeded my expectations on this issue, but not enough to matter much.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mashey on Lomborg, and virtual Mashey

Via Rabett, John Mashey's guest post deconstructing Lomborg as someone arguing with sophisticated political tactics, where the truth of the matter is secondary to the goal of stopping governmental regulation. Lomborg and his guest pals claim all sorts of other things are more beneficial worked on than fighting climate change, but since no one will do much to resolve those things, action on climate is effectively stopped, and their real goal achieved.

I especially liked this point:

Finally, as a thought question, consider another spending item that *might* have appeared [to be prioritized]:

- eradicate cigarette smoking
See about WHO report, 2008.

These days, smoking is growing in low-income countries, and WHO thinks a billion people will die of it in this century. After all, this is a business that depends on teenage addiction during brain-wiring time. That would seem an obvious win, right at the top of the list…

One could pay for a lot of those (good) things on the list.

but it’s not mentioned, is it? I wonder why :-)

I'd add fighting the introduction of junk food into middle income countries as another possibility whose prioritization wouldn't fit well with the glib ideology that Lomborg represents.

By the way, John Mashey can run but he can't hide any more. Here's a Google search for his stuff on blogs, and I'm adding his virtual blog to my list of climate blogs on the left of the page.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Review: 1.5 original things to say about Slumdog Millionaire

Like everyone else, I really enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire. Good date movie, even a good family movie for older kids who can tolerate some violence. Like some critics, I think it should have ended ten minutes earlier before dealing with the final contest question, but it's okay anyway (and end credits were excellent).

So I hope I have something original to say about it. The half-original musing is thinking it might not be well-received in India when it opens there this month - the hero is a Muslim whose family suffered from violent Hindu attacks, and it doesn't show India's downtrodden as being well treated. Should be interesting to see that reaction.

More original, maybe, is thinking there's a resemblance between this story and the Ramayana. Maybe it's just due to the fact that there's only so many ways to tell the "boy loses girl" plot, but that both stories take place over many years and that the hero is assisted by his brother seems interesting.

Anyway, definitely worth watching.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Sea level rise - I'd love to bet over it

Thanks to Steve Bloom for pointing towards a rather confident "skeptic" claiming he wants to bet over sea level rise for the next five years. Digging through we get this:

Pierre Gosselin (08:35:38) :

And what the heck,
I just e-mailed the following to MS EILPERIN:

Dear Ms Eilperin,
- Al Gore says: 20 ft sea level rise in about 100 years (i.e. 12 inches every 5 years).
- Prof Stefan Ramstorf (sic) of the Potsdamer Institute in Germany says: 4ft 8in by 2100. (i.e. 2.5 inches every 5 years).

I say that the average annual sea level will not increase more than 1.25 inches in the next 5 years. Far below what you and the two above mentioned gentlemen are warning.

So, being the generous guy I am, I’m asking you to bet $1,500.00. If the average sea level is more than 1.25″ higher in 5 years (2013) than it is in 2008, then I’ll pay you $1500. If it is less, then you pay me $1500.

What are you waiting for? The overwhelming consensus says you will win the bet!

Anyone think she’ll respond?
Bet she doesn’t.

Gore said nothing of the sort, first of all. I watched the movie and have the book, no time frame for the 20 foot rise was given, but it is right in the long run. (I have, fwiw, mildly criticized Gore's omission of a time frame.)

Rahmstorf also didn't say 1.2 meters by 2100, he said between .5 and 1.2 meters by 2100. Gosselin's proposed bet "against" Rahmstorf's position actually works out to be .6 meters, so Gosselin would win even if Rahmstorf had been proven right. Gosselin's bet is even worse though, because the predictions assume that the rise would accelerate later in the century with increased warming, while Gosselin simply allocates the entire warming proportionately, an equal amount each year.

So what's a fair bet? From the viewpoint of those who are under the impression that temperatures have fallen over the last 11 years, I would guess they anticipate random change in sea level over the next five years. From a position based in reality, which is this:

I'd expect the current rate of 3.1mm/yr to continue (not much acceleration should be noticeable in just five years). Half way between delusion and reality is 1.55 mm/yr for five years, and that should be a fair bet. Of course, temperatures haven't really fallen in the last 11 years, but that's what the other side wants to argue.

I could lose this bet simply due to random noise, but it's unlikely. I'll add it to my list of proposed bets, and we'll see if Gosselin or anyone else is interested.

For some more info on sea level rise, see Deltoid.

UPDATE: edited for politeness.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Proportionality in response to violence should be more specific for an occupying power

Just war theory requires the defender to be proportionate in response to provocation, although what exactly is proportionate hasn't been well defined. I think in the case of an occupying power acting in self defense such as responding to terrorist acts, it should be possible to define proportionality more specifically: the occupier has no right to inflict more deaths upon the civilian occupied population than the occupier itself has suffered.

A number of reasons support this argument - the occupier has the moral obligation to protect the innocent in the occupied region instead of making the innocent suffer in order to protect a smaller number of people elsewhere. The occupation itself may be a contributing factor for the attacks on the occupier, and the length of time of the occupation gives increasing responsibility to the occupier for the conditions that created the problem.

These reasons boil down to the occupier having the most power of anyone involved, including the power to leave. The occupier might deny that the choice to leave is feasible, but to a large extent, that's a problem that the occupier has either created or maintained over time.

This idea was inspired by the Gaza mess, where the Israelis have killed hundreds of innocents so far in response to a dozen or two killed by terrorists, but it only partially applies to the partial occupation Israel had in partially controlling Gaza's borders. Even under the traditional ambiguity of proportionality, though, I think Israel's gone too far.

I wish I knew a complete answer to the problem there. I feel like Israel has done its utmost to turn the Palestinian population into monsters, and it has succeeded to a tragic extent.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The climate treaty won't be the international agreement with teeth

Jonathan Zasloff, a friend/law prof/Same Facts blogger, is publishing a proposal in the Northwestern University Law Review suggesting that the US Trade Representative rather than the State Department should take the lead in negotiation a new international climate agreement. (Abstract here, you should also be able to download the full text.) His argument that USTR is better suited than State to coordinate positions of many US governmental agencies makes sense to me. He also argues that the climate agreement could include trade concessions.

This argument reminds me of one I've made for several years, that trade agreements instead of treaties should provide the real teeth for international climate agreements. The main reason is that treaties need 67 votes in the Senate while trade agreements only need 60 to overcome an initial filibuster.

I've thought I've been making a lonely argument, but maybe not. I corresponded with Jonathan, and he goes even further. Relevant parts of his email, with his permission to blog them:

I suppose that I disagree with your position because it's not clear to me why climate change agreements need to be submitted as treaties. The Third Restatement of US Foreign Relations Law endorses a pretty broad interchangeability argument.

To be sure, there are those scholars who argue against interchangeability, but it may prove too much. Laurence Tribe has at least suggested quite strongly that all agreements must be submitted as treaties, and so I think he rejects the trade/climate distinction. That could throw out more than 90% of America's international agreements! John Yoo says that something must be submitted as a treaty if it is outside Congress' Article I power, which makes sense, but then he lists a whole lot of things outside that power, which doesn't....

The most recent scholarly statement on the matter is Oona Hathaway's piece in Yale, where she basically says that outside very narrow limitations (not relevant to climate), everything can and should be submitted as an executive-legislative agreement. Her argument is basically policy-based, saying that it makes more sense to do agreements through executive-legislative agreements, and saves the treaty clause from superfluity by these very narrow limitations.

My very tentative approach is what might be called the Meat Loaf principle, i.e. two out of three ain't bad. The Treaty Clause makes sense because it essentially says that if you're going to ignore the House, you've got to get 2/3 of the Senate; if you're going to override a Presidential veto of a law implementing an international agreement, then you've got to get 2/3 of both Houses. (Interesting and subtle questions of whether an "executive-legislative agreement" can be passed over a Presidential veto, i.e. what's the difference between an executive-legislative agreement and a normal law?). It's a political issue--the way in which an agreement should be submitted depends upon the political context, i.e. whether you can get it through the House or not.

I think Jonathan is disagreeing with my exclusive reference to trade agreements, and I think he's right that any executive-legislative climate agreement would be constitutional. Doing it as a trade agreement makes political sense, though.

The other argument for why treaties shouldn't and don't need to be used was in yesterday's New York Times. Johns Yoo and Bolton argue that treaties must be used for a next climate agreement. Anything written by those two johns, particularly by them together, is guaranteed to be both wrong and evil. In particular I don't seen a logical reason why trade agreements under their own argument shouldn't be subject to two-thirds vote. I'm sure Yoo has his nonsensical reason for excluding them, but meshing a climate agreement into a trade agreement would help tie their arguments even further up in knots.

Here's hoping that Obama listens to the johns and does the opposite.

(One additional note - this isn't to say there should be no treaty at all. A treaty in addition to some other agreement would be fine, but the teeth should be elsewhere.)

UPDATE: Just checked, and Jonathan wrote about this issue yesterday.