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Iraq gives us another opportunity to confront our mistakes, and learn from them

27 June 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

System Failure


  1. The big picture of US foreign interventions
  2. How we got into Iraq
  3. The long results of Iraq
  4. 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.

Read more…

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Congress did a great thing 50 years ago, but rot from it has spread and taken root

26 June 2014

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

Barry Goldwater button


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.

Read more…

Looks like yet another false alarm. Probably no super monster El Niño coming this year

25 June 2014

Summary: as we pass the Spring prediction “barrier”, the models become more accurate. The confident predictions of a “super” “monster” El Niño appear less likely, yet another in the endless series of false alarms by the Left’s alarmists. This is why people no longer listen, except for those who get enjoy disaster porn as entertainment. It’s the boy who cried wolf: people no longer listen to repeated false alarms, so that the eventual accurate warning is ignored.

From a broader perspective, our gullibility is a great weakness. Until we become more savvy, more skeptical, reform in America might be impossible. If we’re unlucky, even survival might be difficult.

This is a follow-up to About the warnings of a monster super El Niño coming to you this year, 2 May 2014, which provides detailed information about these cycles and their effects. And the 16 June 2014 update: Learning about – and from – the super monster El Niño coming this year.

The World in our Hands


  1. Searching for El Niño: the climate giant
  2. Will there be a super monster in 2014-15?
  3. Why do climate scientists speak in terms of probabilities?
  4. Other posts about this event
  5. For More Information about El Niño
  6. Other posts about weather & climate

(1)  Searching for El Niño: the climate giant

Now that we’re coming through the Spring prediction “barrier”, forecasts for the next six months become more accurate. Here’s what the models say, from the National Weather Service’s Weekly ENSO Update, 23 June 2014.

(a)  An El Niño is likely in 2014 – 2015. The columns show the odds of each event. The lines are the average historical probability for each quarter.

Weekly ENSO Update

NWS, 23 June 2014


(b) IRI/NWS Pacific Niño 3.4 SST Model Outlook

“Most models favor El Niño (greater or equal to +0.5ºC) to develop in the next several months and persist through Northern Hemisphere winter 2014. Model of the NWS and International Research Institute (IRI).” But with a peak of only 1.5, no “super” “monster” El Niño.

Read more…

Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation

24 June 2014

Summary: We have magnitudes greater access to information and analysis than any previous generation. Yet a look at the comments section of any website quickly shows that the information highway runs in vain. A reader asks how can we do better?

“Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1988)

“News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”
— attributed to Alfred C. Harmsworth (1865–1922), British newspaper magnate

Data man


  1. A serious problem of our time
  2. Don’t listen to amateur analysis
  3. Start with the views of major institutions
  4. About government agencies & NGOs
  5. There is always another side
  6. Check the history of the experts you rely upon
  7. How to follow an issue
  8. The big challenge
  9. What can you do to make a difference?

(1)  Email from a reader about a serious problem of our time

I have been spending the past few days reading posts as well as comments, and cannot help but feel jaded from the divide I see between your strong opposing forces.

I am disillusioned and not sure what to believe now of the scientific community. I always thought there was a dignified but unified dialogue between educated individuals. I can see now that even the peer reviewed journals that I trusted can be interpreted any which way. My question is – how do I, as a concerned American and student, cut through the noise to the raw data?

I’m not sure what to believe anymore.

It’s a serious problem. Gallup’s annual poll of our Confidence in Institutions shows a long collapse in confidence in everything but the military and police.

For good reason. Our ruling elites have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations: we are gullible. We love lies. Slowly this knowledge spreads, and more people learn that lies work — and the truth becomes a disposable commodity. As a result Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.

So what can we do to see through the flak to the truth?


(2)  Don’t listen to amateur analysis

It might be correct, but you and I — as laypeople — cannot tell fact from fiction. Journalism differs from amateur analysis; it reports the analysis of experts (rather than the reporter doing his own).

For an example of this rule’s importance, see Should we listen to amateurs’ analysis of climate science?

(3)  Start with the views of major institutions

You’ll often need to dig, since activists often work to mask more authoritative views. An journalists often highlight activists, with their vivid confident messages, over the grey but solid information from relevant institutions.  The views of institutions is seldom definitive, and often wrong; but these are the sources to base your learning upon.

That’s true in the climate wars. For climate change, we have the work of the IPCC, UK Met Office, NOAA, etc. They’re expanded their outreach programs, becoming both relevant and easy to understand. Unfortunately, both Left and Right have abandoned them as insufficiently alarmist and politically inconvenient. They make guest appearances, like the Pope, as useful; but both tend to rely on other sources for analysis and prediction.

Examples of climate activists ignoring the IPCC:

Read more…

Techno-utopians keep us ignorant of the past so we cannot see the future

23 June 2014

Summary: A new industrial revolution has begun. Knowledge of previous ones can guide us, preparing us for its likely dynamics and showing us the political actions necessary to distribute it’s benefits. But the 1% are working against us, seeking to return us to the pre-New Deal era of inequality and profitable (for them) instability. Keeping us passive is the key to their success; keeping us ignorant is one way to do that.

Comet 's office of the future



  1. The past helps us see the future
  2. The world of yesterday
  3. The world of tomorrow, emerging today
  4. Jeff Bezos shows us our high-tech future
  5. For More Information


(1)  The past helps us see the future

The previous industrial revolutions produced great new wealth from increased productivity, but distributed only by politics:  collective action producing new public policy.

The future need not resemble the past, but it’s a likely scenario. The technopians, like Marc Andreessen (@pmarca on Twitter) vividly describe the wonders of the future, but actively deny the political action probably necessary to realize it. They’re brilliant, educated people. How could they ignore this history? The simple answer: they’re not stupid; they believe that we are stupid.

(2)  The world of yesterday

“Knowledge itself is power.”
— Thomas Hobbes’ Sacred Meditations (1597)

This works in reverse as well. Our amnesia shifts power from our hands to those of others. A people that have lost their past cannot learn, and so cannot prepare for the future.

The advent of the first two industrial revolutions produced great wealth, but concentrated in few hands — with massive unemployment and poorly paid workers in unsafe conditions. This resulted from policy, not happenstance, as the 1% bitterly fought efforts to change the Gilded Age political system and distribute the bounty of America’s material and technological riches.  This, plus a financial system run by and for the 1% (e.g., creditor-friendly deflation) produced incredible (and unnecessary) hardship accompanied by economic instability.

As a result America’s second industrial revolution started and ended with decade-long depressions (the Long Depression and Great Depression), with frequent use of violence to suppress workers (see this list of private and State violence against unions).

Due to our sanitized children’s history, Americans know little of our history between the Civil War and WW1 (other than the cowboys). We cannot see the sad real history behind our fables (e.g., see “Little Libertarians on the prairie“), let alone learn from it.

Read more…

Learn what few know: how much did we warm in May? how much has the world warmed since 1979?

22 June 2014

Summary: The world has been warming. Seldom mentioned is how much it has warmed, which allows alarmists to more easily sow fear. For the answer we turn to the NASA-funded global temperature data from satellites.  They show the warming since 1979 is small (so far; the future might be quite different). The truth is out there for people willing to see it. Only with it can we prepare for our future.

“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I

Pure alarmist propaganda



  1. Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming?
  2. The long-term history of warming
  3. Who produces this satellite data & analysis?
  4. About The Elusive Absolute Surface Air Temperature (SAT)
  5. For More Information

To the right is a typical over-the-top image to arouse fear, about a world now less than one °F warmer than the 30-year average.

(1) Status report: what do satellites tell us about global warming in May 2014?

Satellites provide the most comprehensive and reliable record of the atmosphere’s warming since 1979.

The May 2014 Global Temperature Report
by the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville
(Blue is cold; red warm}. Click to enlarge.

May 2014 Global Temperature Report

Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville


See the equivalent graph from the surface temperature stations of the Climate Anomaly Monitoring System (CAMS) of the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) at the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).

Key points from the UAH report (prepared under contract for NASA), which show a world that has warmed since 1979, but only slightly (few alarmists know this; even fewer admit it):

  1. It was the 3rd warmest May in the satellite record (since 1979). The global composite temperature in May was +0.33°C (0.59°F) above the average for May during 1981-2010.  {the other satellite record, RSS, has it the 6th warmest}
  2. The warmest May was in 1998, during the “El Niño of the century”, at +0.56°C (about 1.0°F) warmer than average.
  3. May 2010 — also an El Niño month — was 2nd warmest at +0.45°C (0.81°F).

More about the world’s atmosphere temperatures in May:

  1. Global climate trend of temperature starting in 16 November 1978: +0.14°C  (0.3°F) per decade.
  2. Compared to seasonal norms, in May the coolest area on the globe was over the northern Pacific Ocean,
    where temperatures were as much as -2.8°C  (3.7°F) cooler than seasonal norms.
  3. The warmest area was along the western border of Kazakhstan, where tropospheric temperatures were +4.2°C  (7.5°F) warmer than seasonal norms.
  4. Anomalies are computed per the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommended method, comparing the current temperatures vs. a 30 year base period ending with the latest decade.

For more detail see Global Temperature Update Through 2013, James Hansen, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy, 21 January 2014.

(2)  The vital context: a longer-term temperature history

Two decades of cool weather, followed by 15 years of warm weather. Wide swings in temperature; a relatively flat trend since 1998 – 2000. For more about the pause see links to climate research in Section 5.

(a)  From the UAH monthly report,  a graph of the full record of UAH satellite data (started in 1979). Click to enlarge.

Read more…

Gallup warns us to prepare for fascism!

21 June 2014

Summary: The sands on the hourglass slowly run out for America’s Second Republic. Anyone who cares to look can see this in a thousand ways, large and small. Today we review an especially ominous indicator: Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions Poll. The laughter that greets it each year shows the decayed state of the Republic. We don’t need a Nostradamus to see how this trend might end. It’s time for DEFCON 2.

And therefore never ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee — and thy nation.
— Meditation XVII of John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), slightly tweaked.




  1. Confidence in Institutions
  2. Look at the trends
  3. The news media, the new and the old
  4. The bad news: we love the military
  5. For More Information

(1)  Confidence in Institutions

Each year we look at Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions Poll (which they’ve run since 1973). Each year things deteriorate at little more.

Our confidence declines in the Republic’s democratic institutions and in the non-governmental institutions that are the ribs of America’s social fabric. But confidence increases in the authoritarian institutions of society, the police and military. We’re a people at risk for fascism or some other regime in which the few use force and guile to rule the many who lack the confidence to stand together.

One graph shows the problem. Every year Gallup posts this chart; laughter is a common reaction. Or disgust that we don’t have a Congress worthy of our awesomeness. We vote for Congress like we choose which TV show to watch: as consumers, assuming no responsibility for the show. This is how we get such a Congress. This is how the Republic dies a little each year.

Gallup: Confidence in Congress

Gallup: Confidence in Congress, June 2014

Here’s the big picture

Read more…

After 13 years of failed wars, do we know our warmongers?

20 June 2014

Summary:  After 13 years of wars that failed at great cost in money and blood, our hawks urge that we start yet another war — in Syria. But we have learned. Some have found the courage to name our warmongers. This experience has been dearly bought, and might yet prove insufficient. Further lessons might prove even more expensive.

The War on Peace


Don’t Fight in Iraq and Ignore Syria“, Anne-Marie Slaughter, op-ed in the New York Times, 17 June 2014  — That she sings this is unsurprising. That so many still listen is sad, an astonishing Failure To Learn.


For the last two years, many people in the foreign policy community, myself included, have argued repeatedly for the use of force in Syria — to no avail. We have been pilloried as warmongers and targeted, by none other than President Obama, as people who do not understand that force is not the solution to every question. A wiser course, he argued at West Point, is to use force only in defense of America’s vital interests. …

Slaughter is a foreign policy insider , served under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as director of policy planning at the State Department (2009–11), and is now CEO of the New America Foundation (bio here). She was one of the major advocates of our disastrous intervention in Libya.

On the other hand after 13 years of futile war there is progress. Acknowledging the obvious truth is the first step to reconnecting with reality: “A Warmonger By Any Other Name“, Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, 18 June 2014 — Opening:

It’s a little strange that Slaughter opens with these lines.

  1. She has been a consistent supporter of using force in foreign conflicts, which is how she has earned a reputation for always being in favor of military action.
  2. Not only has she supported intervention time after time, but she has been an outspoken and vocal advocate for these views.
  3. She is notable among Syria hawks for having made some of the most outlandish arguments in favor of bombing Syria.

No doubt she has argued for more aggressive policies because she believes them to be preferable to the status quo or any other alternatives, but that is exactly why she doesn’t get to complain when critics point out the problems with her consistent hawkishness and advocacy for military action. Slaughter is one of the liberal hawks that made a point of celebrating the Libyan war as a success and as vindication for their interventionist instincts. As far as I know, she has never faced up to the negative consequences of the Libyan war on Libya or the surrounding region, nor has she applied any of the lessons that might have been learned from the Libyan intervention to her arguments on Syria.

Read more…

“Climate Change: The Need to Act Now”

19 June 2014

Summary: Congressional hearings often bring America’s best to testify, long-form analysis about our greatest problems. Such as what scientists know about the effects of climate change on Earth’s plants and animals. It’s one expert’s perspective, and so more interesting than the blander consensus view of the IPCC. Written for us non-scientists, with lots of detail, for those who like their science straight up. See his bio at the end.



Excerpt from the testimony of Daniel B. Botkin

Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
Climate Change: The Need to Act Now
18 June 2014


(1)  {W}e have been living through a warming trend driven by a variety of influences. However, it is my view that this is not unusual, and contrary to the characterizations by the IPCC and the National Climate Assessment, these environmental changes are neither apocalyptic nor irreversible.

(2)  My biggest concern is that both the reports present a number of speculative, and sometimes incomplete, conclusions embedded in language that gives them more scientific heft than they deserve. The reports are “scientific-sounding” rather than based on clearly settled facts or admitting their lack. Established facts about the global environment exist less often in science than laymen usually think.


Yes, we have been living through a warming trend, no doubt about that. The rate of change we are experiencing is also not unprecedented, and the “mystery” of the warming “plateau” simply indicates the inherent complexity of our global biosphere. Change is normal; life on Earth is inherently risky. It always has been. The two reports, however, makes it seem that environmental change is apocalyptic and irreversible. It is not.


No, it has always undergone changes.


Yes, CO2 rapidly.


Yes, a great deal of it.

Read more…

Examples of blind allegiance to tribal truths, keeping us weak & ignorant

18 June 2014

Summary: Truth has become a tribal thing in America. Scores of posts have documented this on the Right and Left. Today we have two fun examples by the Left, with sublime but blind confidence in their tribe’s truths. Our tribalism divides us, making us weak. Our blinders keep us ignorant. The combination probably makes reform impossible for America.

Spirit Of Truth



  1. Matthew Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama
  2. Tribal truths about climate vs George Will
  3. For More Information


(1)  Yglesias indicts Bush, defends Obama (blindly)

An analysis by Matthew Yglesias  VOX, 16 June 2014 — Excerpt:

The US military is the finest military in the world, the sharp spear of the mightiest empire in human history. But the considerable virtues of America’s fighting forces do not give it any particular expertise in micro-managing Afghanistan politics.

And the fundamentals in Afghanistan have simply never been very good for a peaceful and democratic settlement. The country is not only divided between sectarian groups, but sandwiched between two rival regional powers … and neither power having any particular interest in democracy and pluralism. Throw in the well-known phenomenon of the resource curse and the country’s lack of stable institutions, and you’ve got a recipe for problems, problems that a bunch of heavily armed young people — no matter how well-intentioned or well-led — are not capable of solving.

This is a searing indictment of Obama’s war policy. During the 2008 campaign he advocated boosting the war effort in Afghanistan, despite 7 years of futile but expensive effort. Which he did starting in early 2009. Now our failure is obvious to all who look (although many prefer to see with closed eyes).

Surprise! This was in fact a defense of Obama, and by implication an attack on Bush Jr, titled “The mess in Iraq proves Obama was right to leave“. In this excerpt Afghanistan was swapped for Iraq, and resources for oil. Yglesias writes it with no sign of awareness that his logic defending Obama’s Iraq withdrawal also condemns Obama’s Afghanistan surge.

Read more…


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