Summary: Films must resonate with our hopes, fears, and visions to gain an audience . “Transformers: Age of Extinction” does this effectively, and terrifyingly. Film reviewers hated it with good reason, since it’s schlock. A ramshackle plot moved by stilted dialog. But the big opening box office proves that it mirrors things in our minds. Some things too disturbing to discuss, but can be seen in fiction. SPOILERS.
“What is too dangerous to say in words can be sung in music.”
— attributed to Pierre Beaumarchais, French playwright (1732 – 1799)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is a horror film. I refer not to the endless jumbled scenes of giant robots boxing and shooting one another, but to overall context of the film’s events. It shows us a world in some ways like our own, exaggerating aspects of America we prefer not to see. Michael Bay plays America’s court jester, saying for entertainment what serious people dare not mention.
The the battles in Chicago and Hong Kong created thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilian casualties. Dead and injured unremarked by the characters (who reacted afterwards as they would have to a great roller-coaster ride). No ambulances, no rows of corpses.
This mirrors our awareness that our lives mean nothing to our leaders. As we see in the daily news, from GM’s long history of massive recalls for safety defects — to Obama’s extending the Afghanistan War for 8 more years on the flimsiest of reasons (probably his real reason being to look tough and strong).
Also, there was no mention (or even hint) of investigations, arrests, or justice for the powerful billionaire and CIA agents responsible for the carnage. Especially by the Chinese government, who would want to know why these American-made robots fought against the Autobots — wrecking their city. Michael Bay understands the American worldview. Our actions lead to destruction overseas; we assume that we will not be held accountable for the death and destruction. We meant well!
Update: For a deeper analysis of this see Bluestocking’s comment here.
The US government’s treachery
Summary: On 4 July 2006 I posted Forecast: Death of the American Constitution. Shocking then, but these past 8 years have made the Republic’s peril obvious to all who care. So we can skip through to the last section, reposted below. What does the future hold for America?
“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
— Marcus Aurelius, in the movie “Gladiator” (2000)
The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity. How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died? Reform, rebellion, or resignation?
The coming years might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. America might lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our vast wealth, and our role as global hegemon. This transition will be like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules break – beyond which we cannot see.
Such trials appear throughout history. Consider Russia in 1942. Ruled by a madman. Their government had betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions of their own people, and reduced the nation to poverty. Most of their generals were dead, their armies were in full retreat, and vast areas were controlled by a ruthless invader. The mark of a great people is the ability to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people’s behavior in WWII.
I doubt we will fall into such peril. But no matter what happens, we need not despair.
Summary: How do myths get entrenched in conservatives’ minds, exerting a pull to the right on American politics? We can understand the process — and perhaps fight it — by studying specific cases. Like the one happening right now, about the secret conspiracy of government scientists manipulating the US climate data to exaggerate global warming. These myths take hold in part because most people, including journalists, consider them too daft to bother with. Like a small infection. In the coming months we’ll see how well the skeptics — and America — fight this off.
BENGHAZI: the model for debates in our mad age
I saw the first sparks of the Benghazi BENGHAZI myth as they flew through the right-wing blogosphere. I remember a Sergeant (having an impressive bio) explain how the decisions that night could only have been made by the President as he watched events in real-time on the giant monitors in the War Room. I laughed at this fantasy by someone who probably spent too much time watching TV, and too little studying the vast-beyond-imagining but slow-moving US government apparatus. Many Congressional investigations — and thousands of articles and Fox TV shows — later, it’s not so funny.
Right now a similar social virus spreads through the political right of America. This post briefly describes it, puts it in a broader context, and discusses the possible effects. For details about the story see:
- Did NASA and NOAA dramatically alter US climate history to exaggerate global warming?
- Comment threads about global warming show the American mind at work, like a reality-TV horror show., 29 June 2014
- The climate wars get exciting. Government conspiracy! Shattered warming records! Global cooling!
This story has a second dimension. Movements have life cycles, and are subject to “illnesses”. One of these is “jumping the shark“, a decline in quality following an over-the-top moment in the plot. I saw this happen in the Peak Oil Movement at the 2008 US Conference of the Assn for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (also see posts at The Oil Drum from that period). People competed to have the most dire forecasts, the most authoritative conspiracy theory — with a complete collapse of intellectual integrity by the group, and failure of its leaders to maintain discipline. (As with Benghazi, I saw this but did not appreciate its significance)
The result: growing irrelevance, and loss of members and influence. This is unrelated to the issue of peak oil, which not only remains serious but also intersects with the potentially equally serious challenge of climate change. It’s also unrelated to the work of scientists, which mostly works on a separate plane.
“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”
— attributed to French politician Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin (1807-1874)
Summary: Let’s look at the small and large implications of the auto loan boom. It’s an example of our inability to learn, resulting in our credit-driven business cycles. Corporations profit from more sales and interest charges. People suffer from excessive debt burdens, and bankruptcies. Governments run deficits from the eventual busts. So it goes cycle after cycle since the New Deal era regulations were removed. Perhaps eventually we’ll learn, and a new era will begin.
- Auto lending
- Larger lessons
- For More Information
(1) Auto Lending
Madness is the failure of bankers and regulators to learn from the bankers’ imprudent greed that caused the housing bubble — and bust. With results we see today in auto lending.
… average automotive loan term reached an all-time high of 66 months … loans with terms 73-84 months grew to 25% of all loans originated during the quarter. …
The average amount financed for a new vehicle loan also reached an all-time high of $27,612 in Q1 2014, up $964 from the previous year. In addition, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle loan reached its highest point on record at $474 in Q1 2014, up from $459 in Q1 2013.
… Market share for nonprime, subprime and deep subprime new vehicle loans in Q1 2014 rose to 34%.
— Experian Automotive, 2 June 2014
A seven year car loan! Long-life loans to subprime borrowers is a recipe for defaults. Fortunately lenders have another line of defense: the equity of the collateral — because the Loan to Value (LTV) ratio of the car is well below 100%. That’s just common sense. Except in mad 21st century America, as seen in this data from the Semiannual Risk Perspective, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Spring 2014 (red emphasis added):
Across the industry, auto lenders are pursuing growth by lengthening terms, increasing advance rates, and originating loans to borrowers with lower credit scores. Loan marketing has become increasingly monthly-payment driven, with loan terms and LTV advance rates easing to make financing more broadly available. … Average LTV rates for both new and used vehicles are above 100% for all major lender categories, reflecting rising car prices and a greater bundling of add-on products such as extended warranties, credit life insurance, and aftermarket accessories into the financing.
Long new car loans to subprime borrowers, made with loan/value ratios over 1. The car is deeply under water as it rolls off the lot, and for many years following. At least subprime mortgage bankers expected home prices to rise; these lenders cannot even hope for that. So what happens when these loans go bad?
Summary: Today’s post shows how the climate wars about the public policy response to global warming, grow more interesting as both sides abandon science. Unfortunately the public remains apathetic. For good reason, after a decade of constant barrages of misinformation by Left and Right. Especially considering our history, with so much that we knew eventually proven to be false. The climate wars a powerful example of our broken observation-orientation-decision-action (OODA) loop. Let’s hope that the challenges of the 21st century don’t require America to act in a smart or effective way.
- May’s temperature shattered the records!
- Government scientists conspire to fake climate data!
- About global cooling
- For More Information
(1) May’s temperature shattered the records!
“NASA Shows May Global High Temperature Record Shattered as Climate Policy Staggers Forward“, Robert Marston Fanney (fantasy writer; bio here), at his blog RobertScribbler, 18 June 2014. The facts disagree with “shattered”. The datasets differ about the highest May. On the two that show May as a record, the differences are not statistically significant (the opposite of “shattered”).
- NASA GISS dataset: the highest May on record. The anomaly was 0.76°C (1.37°F) above the 1951-1980 average, and 0.06°C (0.11°F) higher than May 2012 and May 2010 (tied)
- NOAA’s NCDC: the warmest May on record. The anomaly was 0.74°C (1.33°F) higher than the 20th century average, and 0.02°C (0.03°F) higher than May 2010 (the second highest).
- HADCRUT4 — “Taking central estimates, May 2014 was globally the warmest May on record. Factoring in uncertainty, we can say it was a top 10 May.” (per Tweet by John Kennedy, UK Met Office)
- RSS satellite record: 6th warmest May
- UAH satellite: 3rd warmest May (details here)
But who cares about the facts when a fantasy writer spins an alarmist story! It has truthiness. Those who believe the alarmist accept each new story. Skeptics don’t believe the alarmists (even when they’re right), but too often believe equally exaggerated stories from activists on their side. For example …
Begun in November 2007, today the FM website hit five million page views (95 thousand in May). People have read 2,750 posts (average 1,000 words each), on which they made over 33 thousand comments. Today is the time for you, the readers, to speak. In the comments please explain what we have done right — and wrong. Has it been worth the massive investment of time and energy? What should we do differently in the future?
Thoughts about this project
What’s the bottom line for such a project, the proof of skill? In terms of the analysis, perhaps its the ability to forecast. My co-authors and I have made many predictions. Of those predictions that have been resolved, most have proven correct. Inevitably some were wrong, some embarrassingly so (most often from excessive optimism).
As for our politics, we’ve been pegged by the Left as being extremely conservative. And by the Right as being radicals. That’s natural, as today there is no reality-based community in America for us to join. Sites like ours attempt to build one, but so far it’s sowing seeds on rocky soil.
The goal of the FM website remains what it was when first opened, what it says on the masthead: to help re-ignite the spirit of a nation grown cold. Over the years I have tried many approaches to strike sparks in the minds of readers. So far with uniformly negative results. Any suggestions for new approaches will be appreciated!
Born in opposition to our mad 9-11 wars, since then we’ve covered a wide range of subjects.The #1 series of posts — by far — was about the TV show Castle, with 74 thousand hits. The posts about “Ender’s Game” (books and film) got 30 thousand hits. We should be writing about popular culture, and doing reviews of hot films and books. Vox populi, vox Dei. Coming soon, an analysis on the cultural significance of “Barbarella” (1968), a mirror of our soul.
The most requested subject, by far: how to reform America. I wrote 51 posts, discussing this from several perspectives. Low traffic posts, which nicely illustrates the problem: we just don’t care.
You can find the posts for any subject discussed here by looking at the reference pages on the right-side menu. Or access them by the category dropdown box (top right), or the tag cloud (bottom right). Here’s a listing of topics covered, with the number of posts in each.
Summary: Belief in a secret conspiracy of government scientists manipulating US climate data to exaggerate global warming might join Benghazi BENGHAZI in the right-wing canon. See this happen in real time in the comment threads at Prof Curry’s website, showing the American mind at work on one of our most important public policy issues. It’s a sad spectacle, deserving your attention. We can do better, if only we would try. (updated July 2)
This is second in a series about this fascinating story. It is one of a series of posts using popular media as a mirror in which we can more clearly see who we are, and what we’re becoming.
I strongly recommend reading the comments to “Skeptical of skeptics: is Steve Goddard right?“ by Judith Curry (Prof, GA Inst Tech) at her website, Climate Etc. (update: and to her follow-up post here). It’s a typical discussion about politicized science in America, with comments by scientists, talented amateurs, and extremist partisans. The latter dominate, with anti-science their primary theme.
If you step back from the specific issue, this thread reads like countless others in recent years by the Right (e.g. about evolution, the extreme example) — and by the Left (e.g., genetically-modified food and nuclear power). And by both the Left and Right about climate and economics. A common element is people who have little or no understanding of the subject, but confidently proclaim the relevant scientists to be fools, crooks, or charlatans (this is a defining characteristic of the public climate wars, with activists on both sides so condemning scientists on the “other side”).
Political leaders cherish such followers, their vanguard of high-energy “useful idiots” (an essential concept for political engineers, origin unknown). They’re easily directed and immune to rebuttal by fact or logic (they don’t listen to their opponents, who are misguided if not evil). As a chorus they entertain the faithful and can often shout down saner voices.
“Then the sheep broke out into a tremendous bleating of `Four legs good, two legs bad!’ which went on for nearly a quarter of an hour and put an end to any chance of discussion.”
This is a manifestation of an deeper ill in American life, anti-intellectualism. The best-known descriptions of this are two works by Richard Hofstadter. The comment thread at Climate Etc shows both of these traits proudly displayed.
(1) Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963). It includes the belief that everyman can understand technical matters as well as experts, without bothering with years of study. It’s as or more serious now than in 1963.
Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.” … The American mind is swimming in icy waters …
— “America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism“, David Masciotra (journalist), The Daily Beast, 9 March 2014
(2) “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“, Harpers Magazine, November 1964 — To the Right-wing climate scientists are not just wrong, but in an active conspiracy to deceive us — they “fake”, fiddle”, and “rig” the data. Excerpt:
Summary: A layman writing under the pseudonym of “Steve Goddard” accused the US government of fabricating temperature data. Sadly it quickly went viral. Fortunately in this case some conservatives are criticizing their own when they make outlandish statements, something rarely seen in US political debates — where truth is purely tribal. As we saw in the peak oil movement, which applauded all kinds of nonsense so long as it supported their narrative. Unfortunately this reduced this important research and public awareness campaign into a carnival of doomsters (examples in May 2008, August 2010).
So this internal criticism among climate skeptics is no small thing. This behavior should be encouraged by both Left and Right. Our gullibility to pleasing stories — confirmation bias — makes us weak, and this is a step towards a cure.
This post will be updated as more analysis becomes available. See the follow-up posts below.
- Conservatives love tribal truths…
- Rebuttals come quickly
- Scientists weigh in — updated
- Why are we still having these debates?
- Science moves on
- Follow-up posts on this story
- For More Information
(1) Conservatives love tribal truths…
…no matter how absurd. As do the Left. The climate wars show this in mad fashion, as both sides exploit this vital issue for political gain. Both, to varying extents, abandoning mainstream climate science for more vivid forecasts by laypeople (as documented here in so many posts). The world is cooling! No, the world is burning!
For today’s example, Tony Heller (aka “Steve Goddard”; bio here) makes a wild claim at his high-traffic website Real Science: “NOAA/NASA Dramatically Altered US Temperatures After The Year 2000“, 23 June 2014.
The reactions show politics at work, with science in the back seat. Also note the casual acceptance by so many people that the scientists involved are running a conspiracy, more evidence of the decline of confidence in institutions tracked by Gallup. “Scandal.” “Rigged”. “Fabricated.” “Fudged numbers.” No matter how this is resolved, these accusations will remain valid in the minds of conservatives. Perhaps millions of them.
(a) “The scandal of fiddled global warming data“, Christopher Booker, The Telegraph, 21 June 2014 — “The US has actually been cooling since the Thirties, the hottest decade on record”. It’s not just an America problem; The Telegraph is a UK paper, circulation over 500 thousand.
(b) “Rigged ‘science’“, op-ed in The Washington Times, 23 June 2014
(c) “Global Warming ‘Fabricated’ by NASA and NOAA“, Breitbart, 23 June 2014 — “Scientists at two of the world’s leading climate centres – NASA and NOAA – have been caught out manipulating temperature data to overstate the extent of the 20th century ‘global warming’.”
(d) “NASA scientists fudged the numbers to make 1998 the hottest year to overstate the extent of global warming.” — Steve Doocy on “Fox and Friends“, 24 June 2014 — The MediaMatters page below has the video.
(e) “On Climate Change, Who Are the Real ‘Deniers’?“, RealClearPolitics, Cal Thomas, 26 June 2014
(2) Rebuttals come quickly
No surprise that the Left responds to these specious claims. But, unusually, a prominent climate skeptic and conservative speaks out.
Rebuttal from the liberals:
- Hard analysis: “Fox News Cites Birther To Claim NASA ‘Faked’ Global Warming“, Media Matters, 24 June 2014
- Kicking sand into the air: “Global warming conspiracy theorist zombies devour Telegraph and Fox News brains“, The Guardian, 25 June 2014 — “A long-debunked myth is amplified by the conservative media echo chamber from a fringe science-denying blog to The Telegraph and Fox News”
Rebuttals from conservative Anthony Watts (meteorologist, runs one of the highest-traffic climate websites):
- Posted at a Libertarians: “Did NASA/NOAA Dramatically Alter U.S. Temperatures After 2000?“, Ronald Bailey, Reason, 23 June 2014 — Brief rebuttal by Watts
- “On ‘denying’ Hockey Sticks, USHCN data, and all that“, Anthony Watts at his website, 25 June 2014
- Backing away in a confused way from Goddard’s claims: “The scientific method is at work on the USHCN temperature data set“, Anthony Watts at his website, 28 June 2014
(3) Scientists weigh in — updated
(a) Scientists slowly respond. It’s an important dynamic in these discussions that the laypeople — on both sides — tend to respond much faster than do the experts.
- “How not to calculate temperature”, Zeke Hausfather (Senior Researcher, Berkeley Earth), The Blackboard, 25 June 2014 — Also Part II, Part III — He is also on the International Surface Temperature Initiative’s Benchmarking and Assessment group
- From Politifact, 25 June 2014 — “All of the experts we reached or whose work we read rejected Goddard’s conclusions.”
John Nielsen-Gammon is a researcher at Texas A&M University and is the Texas state climatologist:
“It is reasonable to expect the adjusted data record to change over time as the technology for identifying and removing artificial changes improves. If there are any biases, they are caused by the quality of the underlying data, not by any biases intentionally introduced into the adjustment process.”
Mark C. Serreze (Prof geography, U CO-Boulder): “Goddard’s results stem from an erroneous analysis of the data.”
- “Skeptical of skeptics: is Steve Goddard right?“, Judith Curry (Prof, GA Inst Tech), 28 June 2014 — A concise review of the discussion, with pointers to others’ analysis.
(b) Another round of rebuttals to Goddard/Heller accusations
(i) From Politifact, 1 July 2014
Zeke Hausfather, a data scientist, is a member of the group known as Berkeley Earth. “Despite using different methods, and using about 8 times more raw station data, we ended up with nearly identical results,” Hausfather said. Hausfather provided PunditFact the following graphic. NCDC refers to the National Climatic Data Center, the agency home for the temperature readings. The blue line is Hausfather’s data, the red line is the NCDC’s.
(ii) A response from the National Climatic Data Center
Anthony Watts says “The NCDC press office sent an official response to Politifact, which is below.”
A. Are the examples in Texas and Kansas prompting a deeper look at how the algorithms change the raw data?
No – our algorithm is working as designed. NCDC provides estimates for temperature values when:
- data were originally missing, and
- when a shift (error) is detected for a period that is too short to reliably correct. These estimates are used in applications that require a complete set of data values.
B. Watts wrote that NCDC and USHCN are looking into this and will issue some sort of statement. Is that accurate?
Although all estimated values are identified in the USHCN dataset, NCDC’s intent was to use a flagging system that distinguishes between the two types of estimates mentioned above. NCDC intends to fix this issue in the near future.
C. Did the point Heller raised, and the examples provided for Texas and Kansas, suggest that the problems are larger than government scientists expected?
No, refer to question 1.
(iii) Additional comments from Judith Curry (Prof, GA Instit Tech) at her website, Climate Etc.
(iv) A definitive response to these allegations by Zeke Hausfather (Senior Researcher, Berkeley Earth), posted at Judith Curry’s Climate Etc: “Understanding adjustments to temperature data“, 7 July 2014.
(4) Why are we still having these debates?
As I wrote back in January 2009: The collection of US data is not even remotely close to the claimed “high quality” (except in a relative sense to that of the global data). Data from the rest of the world is far worse in coverage, comparability (both geographically and temporally), and accuracy. These systems are grossly underfunded vs the seriousness of the public policy issues.
The global surface temperature network is a shambles. Much of the past record poorly documented, the current record published with minimal quality control. The satellites are aging, with key replacements uncertain. NY Times articles describing the peril to the world alternate with reports about underfunding of climate research (“U.S. Satellite Plans Falter“). Much of the key data, such as ice cores, lie in storage due to lack of funding for analysis. Key systems are failing, such as the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array.
Scientists do what they can with what we give them; it’s not an issue in which penny-pinching is rational. This is the big lesson we refuse to learn. The activists want no more discussion of the science, no matter how weak its foundation. The skeptics are driven by conservatives who often wish to defund the science. So we lurch forward in ignorance to whatever lies ahead.
Update: a comment by Philbert from the thread about Goddard’s (Heller’s) post at Climate Etc:
The COOP network was established in 1891 mostly for agricultural. Yes, it has undergone changes in instrumentation, data collection procedures, observation times, station movement, etc. but it is one of the few long-term terrestrial national networks we can use to assess climate.
It is managed by the NWS, not NCDC, and it is chronically underfunded. It was never designed to detect climate change over 100 years ago.
If we keep complaining about the way the data are handled, then congress will be pleased to take away all the funding and we can use climate generators to create the climate we want to verify any model we create.
If some of those who spend hours and hours on the Climate Etc. blog would write to their representatives about data network funding problems, that would be time well spent.
(5) Science moves on
To deliver climate services for the benefit of society we need to develop and deliver a suite of monitoring products from hourly to century timescales and from location specific to the global mean. Society expects openness and transparency in the process and to have a greater understanding of the certainty regarding how climate has changed and how it will continue to change. Necessary steps to deliver on these requirements for observed land surface temperatures were discussed at a meeting held at the UK Met Office in September 2010 attended by climate scientists, measurement scientists, statisticians, economists and software / IT specialists.
The meeting followed a submission to the WMO Commission for Climatology from the UK Met Office which was expanded upon in an invited opinion piece for Nature. Meeting discussions were based upon white papers solicited from authors with specialist knowledge in the relevant areas which were open for public comment for over a month. The meeting initiated an envisaged multi-year project which this website constitutes the focal point for.
For more details see: “Guiding the Creation of A Comprehensive Surface Temperature Resource for Twenty-First-Century Climate Science“, Peter W. Thorne et al, Bulletin American Meteorological Society, Noember 2011.
(6) Follow-up posts
- 2. Comment threads about global warming show the American mind at work, like a reality-TV horror show
- 3. The climate wars get exciting. Government conspiracy! Shattered warming records! Global cooling!
- 4. Have the climate skeptics jumped the shark, taking the path to irrelevance?, 3 July 2014
(6) For More Information
(a) Posts about climate change:
- Posts about climate change
- Science & nature – studies & reports
- The important things to know about global warming
(b) Some posts about our confusion:
- Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 Oct 2011
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
- Who lies to us the most? Left or Right?, 25 February 2013
- Facts are the enemy of both Left and Right in our America, 12 May 2014
(c) Posts about the public debate on climate change:
- Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
- Climate science: the debate, the eventual solution, and the best cheap seats from which to watch the action., 19 August 2010
- What does the American public want done to fight climate change?, 2 February 2014
- A key to understanding the climate wars (about one of our big weaknesses), 15 March 2014
(d) Posts about climate change as seen by the Right:
- About those headlines of the past century about global cooling…, 2 November 2009
- The facts about the 1970′s Global Cooling scare, 7 December 2009
- Start of another swing of the media narrative – to global cooling?, 11 September 2013
- Global Cooling returns to the news, another instructive lesson about America, 25 January 2014
- A look into the GOP mind: untethered from reality and drifting in the wind, 3 March 2014
Summary: The Iraq War begins a new phase, perhaps with US involvement. But we’ve not admitted, let along learned from, the massive institutional failures of the public policy machinery that produced it. Departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council, military, the President, NGOs, the press — all failed. Instead we focus on pretend solutions, and the Dreamland of what-ifs. Here is some material to help start the process. How well we learn might determine our results during the next generation.
“My first company commander told me that there’s two ways to learn: blunt trauma and mindless repetition.”
— Mike Few, from the comments
- The big picture of US foreign interventions
- How we got into Iraq
- The long results of Iraq
- For More Information
(1) The big picture of US foreign interventions
“Iraq delivers bloody lesson on blowback“
Stephen Kinzer (Visiting Fellow, Boston U), Boston Globe, 22 June 2014
After many decades in the covert-action business, Americans have come to learn what “blowback” means. Often our foreign interventions produce quick victory. Then things go bad. Short-term success dissolves into long-term failure. Many of our interventions have not only thrown target countries into violent upheaval, but weakened our own security.
The recent explosion of militant power in Iraq is a new example of how serious this blowback can be.
… Bombing Khadafy out of power may have briefly felt good, but it has thrown Libya into chaos and strengthened some of North Africa’s most brutal terrorist armies.
This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most ill-conceived of all American interventions. At the end of June 1954, the CIA deposed the elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. “Operation Success,” as the Guatemala project was brightly code-named, did seem successful at the time. We deposed a leader we didn’t like and replaced him with one who would do our bidding. Yet within a few years, tensions set off by this intervention cast Guatemala into civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Mayan peasants, died violently over the next 30 years. Today Guatemala is poor and backward, a weak state penetrated by drug gangs and plagued by unremitting violence.
Last year was the 60th anniversary of an equally disastrous intervention, the one that brought down Iran’s last democratic government in 1953. The CIA code-named it “Operation Ajax,” supposedly after the household cleanser. Its premise was that if we could return the shah to his Peacock Throne, he would wipe away Iranian nationalism and Iran would become pro-American forever. The opposite happened.
Summary: 19 June 1964. I believe on this day America took a wrong turn. It was the day we took a large step to closure on the wound opened by the Civil War, another step to atoning for and overcoming the legacy of slavery. The Senate voted to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. But one of the opponents saw this as an opportunity, and we live with the dark results today
Reflecting the parties geographical, not ideological, foundations, the vote passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act was mixed.
- Democratic Party: 46–21 (69–31%)
- Republican Party: 27–06 (82–18%)
But one of those “no” votes was by the GOP candidate for the Presidency, who saw an opportunity to redraw America’s political map and end the dominant position the Democratic Party had held since the Great Depression. The price was betrayal of the Republican Party’s legacy.
Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) lost the 1964 presidential election, but his campaign reforged a Republican Party with racism as a core element — burned into an alliance with the right-wing social and economic ideologies. The poison took time to spread through the GOP, but by 1980 — amplified by Nixon and Reagan — it helped make conservatism become the dominant political force in America (affecting both parties).
That day 50 years ago could have begun a break with our past. Instead we’re still grappling with our racist legacy from slavery.
Here’s the speech Goldwater gave justifying his betrayal. Brad DeLong (Prof Economics, Berkeley) decodes the key phrases he uses to disguise his political logic.
- “Demagogue” = “Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington”
- “Calm environment” = “an end to sit-ins and Freedom Rides”
- “Special appeals for special welfare” = “desire by African-Americans to eat at lunch counters and stay at hotels open to others”
The text, from DeLong’s post:
There have been few, if any, occasions when the searching of my conscience and the re-examination of my views of our constitutional system have played a greater part in the determination of my vote than they have on this occasion.
I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color, or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard.
This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never by cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help — laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.
For example, throughout my 12 years as a member of the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee, I have repeatedly offered amendments to bills pertaining to labor that would end discrimination in unions, and repeatedly those amendments have been turned down by the very members of both parties who now so vociferously support the present approach to the solution of our problem. Talk is one thing, action is another, and until the members of this body and the people of this country realize this, there will be no real solution to the problem we fact.