Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Torn between outrage and mere disappointment on the Al-Awlaki assassination

I was going to write a scathing post about the Obama-backed assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki today.  Fact is, the accusations against him amount to saying a lot of bad things (protected speech) and plotting a number of failed terrorist attacks.  Even accepting the government’s claims, Awlaki has never successfully killed anyone, except maybe with his opinion.

That being said, upon researching it a bit further, it appears that Awlaki was very involved in some failed terrorism attempts that may have killed many people if they succeeded.  The biggest one is the almost-successful underwear bomber, who, according to a news source, allegedly told the FBI that Awlaki directed him to carry out the attack.  There’s a lot of hearsay in there, of course, but if it’s true, the guy would seem to be effectively leading a terror cell, which would provide some justification for the attack.  It would clearly be very difficult to simply go to Yemen and arrest him, so not going through a trial has some justification.

At the same time, I’m still concerned because it seems a bit convenient that this anti-American preacher that the US has been worried about for a while is suddenly being accused of doing more than just preaching.  Worse, the sources all seem to be anonymous, and the details of what exactly happened are very hazy.  Awlaki is accused of being involved in other failed plots as well, but the allegations seem very weak, and some are literally people watching his sermons on youtube, which is clearly protected speech (keep in mind Awlaki is a citizen).  On balance, I’m not convinced by anonymous government sources, and wonder if maybe his supposed planning involvement in the attempted underwear bombing will go the way of the claims that Saddam Hussein tried to purchase yellow cake or met with an Al Qaeda operative.  A momentary self-illusion created by an overzealous system looking for the right excuse, perhaps.

In the big picture, I don’t think these questions should matter.  What we should really look at is our overall “preventive killing” approach to fighting terrorism, in which we try to kill someone before an attack, rather than after.  If anything, Iraq should have taught us the error of such a policy.  Instead, it seems to have only become a bigger part of our policy since then.  And yet, the biggest blow Al Qaeda has suffered in recent years has not been any of the assassinations that we have spent untold billions of dollars on and killed hundreds or thousands of very questionably guilty people, but the Arab Spring, which provided an alternative to terrorism throughout the Arab region.

The point is, we can’t kill terrorism away, and we can’t force the Arab world to like us at the point of a missile.  What we can do – and should be doing – is encouraging them to be like us by example.  Al-Awlaki can be replaced in a snap.  But after we supported freedom in Libya and Egypt, the Al Qaeda narrative of Western oppression through Arab dictators is in shambles.  I worry that targeted assassinations like these, however, will create a new narrative of Western direct domination, one that is much more true in today’s world.

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Gold below $1600/ounce – and I look smart. Kinda.

Hey, remember this? It’s probably my second most popular post (after my Adobe Flash license agreement rant, which seems to have really struck a nerve), I’m guessing because it’s the top Google result for “gold ridiculously overpriced.”

Yes, gold fell below $1600 on Monday, then went up for a bit Tuesday, and fell slightly further today.  Which means – I was right about something!  Great, now everyone can start paying me a billion dollars for investment advice.  Where’s my show on CNBC?

Ok fine, there was about two months where gold went even higher, above $1900, even though I said it was totally overpriced at $1600.  And gold is only a little under $1600 now – it could very easily spike again, especially if the Greece debt talks fail.  So, I’m not out of the woods yet.  But let’s face it – once a bubble is popped, it doesn’t get unpopped all that easily.  My next prediction?  Gold under $1000 by the end of the year.

By the way, I have no economic credentials whatsoever and really have no clue what I’m talking about.  Then again, neither does anyone else.

Obama bends over and starts slurping Rick Perry’s jagon on Palestinian UN bid

Sorry for the language, but this upsets me greatly.  What happened is the Palestinians requested UN membership.  That’s right – the Palestinians didn’t bomb anyone, they didn’t shoot anyone, they made a peaceful request for their right to be  recognized as a state.

Rick Perry took the opportunity to blame Obama for this without any basis in a blatant pander to AIPAC.

So faced with Palenstinians finally embracing peaceful action for their liberation and ridiculous partisan attacks from Perry, what does Obama do?  Of course, he caves to the ridiculous partisan attacks.  He went to the UN and told the Palestinians that the solution to their land-theft issues lies solely in negotiating with Israel, and that he will veto anything that says otherwise (the only thing he’s ever willing to veto).  That’s the same Israel that happens to be taking Palestinian land and holding them under indefinite occupation, has admitted that it blockaded the Gaza strip to destroy their economy, and has retaliated recklessly to terrorist attacks with minimal concern over the loss of Palestinian civilians.

This action by Obama not only betrays the Palestinians, but it completely undermines the careful efforts the US had been making to change its image in the middle east.  It threatens to destroy the rejection of terrorism that was displayed in the Arab spring.  In short, it is directly adverse to US interests in the region.   If someone from the middle east says the US government is the lapdog of Israel, I can no longer argue with them.  Actually, I would argue with them – the US government is not the lapdog of all of Israel, but only the Israeli right-wing.

If I can speak for myself as an American citizen, without Obama speaking for me, I would say that the Palestinians are right to seek UN recognition.  The UN promised both the Palestinians and Israelis their own states decades ago.  Since that time, the Palestinian portion of that land has shrunk, and continues to shrink to this day, due to Israeli unilateral actions.  The Palestinians should look to other oppressed people for lessons – if they react like the Native Americans with acts of terrorism, they will be massacred and their remnants will be forced to settle on tiny unwanted plots, and given casinos as a consolation.  If they react with a disobedient but peaceful assertion of their rights like the Indians did with Britain, they will be much more likely to gain meaningful independence from Israel.

Please, members of the world community and other veto-holders, give our president and the Israeli right-wing the finger by approving the Palestinian community, and threaten to veto anything the US wants if they veto this.

Yeah, I’m still here

I’ve not posted for a while, I know.  I’m working on a personal, non-politics related project that I’ve become quite interested in.  But I’m still going to post once in a while.  There’s a fascinating criminal justice topic that is surprisingly little-discussed that I’ve been wanting to write a post on for a while now, it’s coming up soon.

Why is everyone getting fatter? Why the typical explanations are insufficient.

I try not to mix my personal life with this blog, but I’ve been looking for a girlfriend lately.  Problem is, I live in a midwestern area and the options are…well let’s just say, discouraging.  Specifically, the women I’ve come across in real life and on dating sites tend to be a bit on the heavy side.  Hey, I may be a liberal, but that doesn’t mean I want to date everybody.

And I don’t want to make it sound like it’s just women, because men are getting fatter too.  Everyone is, and the obesity epidemic has been getting quite a bit of press lately.  But what hasn’t been getting as much attention as the rise itself is why it’s happening.  Usually there’s some expert that will give some slightly educated guess like our sedentary lifestyle or the availability of fast food.

But does that explain it?  Take a look at the graph to the right (from the CDC).  As you can see, obesity was relatively flat until the late 1970s – then it suddenly shifted to a much higher rate of increase.  What that suggests, of course, is that something happened in the 70s. In fact, the childhood obesity rate began it’s rise in the early 70s, and since children are more prone to fast weight changes, that may mark the beginning of what that “something” is.

Of course, if this were due to our sedentary lifestyle, there shouldn’t be a sudden shift in the 70s, because the transition to a sedentary lifestyle has been going on much, much, longer than that.  Moreover, children should not have had obesity rates rise at the same rates as adults, since they would be less effected by changes in the workforce and use of automobiles (although they would remain effected by things like TV, which reduce exercise activity).  Fast food eating, likewise, has been increasing as long as automobile use has been increasing – long before the 1970s.

But state-by-state, there’s a very odd trend: the rise in obesity has been far worse in red states in recent years.  I’m not joking.  Take a look at this animated gif on Wikipedia.  At first, there is no noticeable difference between red and blue states.  However, starting in the 90s, red states start to become noticeably worse.  It doesn’t seem to the South because Alaska seems to have been affected too.  Meanwhile, the most stable state is Hawaii, probably the most liberal other than DC.   West Virginia is an interesting outlier as it is not much of a red state but seems to have done quite poorly.

Now I can’t help but make a downright silly connection here.  What has been increasing since the 1970s and especially in red states?  Reagan-era, small-government Republicanism.   But that’s obviously not it.  What else could explain it?  One thing comes to mind: stricter environmental controls in blue states.

So following the admittedly somewhat dubious assumption that a regulated chemical is to blame, it would make sense that the culprit is a chemical that was regulated more heavily by blue states since at least the mid-90s, and has been increasingly prevalent in the environment starting suddenly in the 1970s.

When I try to go beyond this point and actually figure out what chemical that could be, I get lost in the massive array of chemicals that have entered our lives in the last few years.   I’d imagine that drinking water – which can be subject to state regulation and where chemicals can build up – would be a potential culprit.  However, trying to comb through the huge list of contaminants that might appear in drinking water is a hopeless cause. Of course, air pollutants could just as easily be a factor.  If I was a chemist that knew about these chemicals offhand, I’d try it, but I’m not, so I won’t.

The simple fact is, since the end of World War II, we’ve started putting all sorts of shit into our environment, and there’s no way to keep them out of our bodies.  I would be greatly surprised if there are no health effects as a result, and it makes sense that the obesity epidemic could be one such effect.

NOTE (3/5/12): It seems like the possibility of a chemical cause of obesity is not exactly news in the scientific world.  I’ve found at least a few articles suggesting that toxin exposure, particularly “endocrine disruptors,” might be to blame.  This article, for example, points out that prenatal chemical exposure in particular may be responsible, which would explain the fact that the obesity epidemic seemed to start with children as explained above.  Also, as many pesticides contain endocrine disruptors, it may explain some of the red-state connection, due to the farming-based economies and lax environmental regulations.  In fact, red states with non-farming economies in the Southwest don’t have nearly as much of an obesity problem.  To wildly speculate even further, perhaps concentration toxins flowing down the Mississippi river may play a role, and might explain why the fattest state by a substantial margin is…Mississippi.  See also this more recent article, which makes similar connections between endocrine disruptors and obesity.  However, despite the media’s tendency to report on virtually any “intriguing” study with reckless abandon, mentions of this sort of thing seems limited to a minor papers and blogs.  However, there seems to be a rising amount of attention to this topic in recent months.  No thanks to me though, this article’s gotten like 5 hits.

ANOTHER NOTE (5/1/12): I recently stumbled across a very informative wikipedia article about Obesogens, which are basically what they sound like: chemicals that make you fat.   Judging from the history it looks like it expanded heavily a couple of months after I wrote this post, so that probably explains why I didn’t find it earlier. It just reemphasizes what I said in the note above: when I wrote this post I thought it was just some crazy-sounding theory I had that chemicals are making us fat, but it turns out the scientific community has been researching this for a number of years.  Unfortunately the media mostly continues to discuss obesity as if its a motivational crisis rather than an environmental one.

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