Perry and Galileo

Talking about climate change last night, Rick Perry argued that the science was unsettled: "Just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact — Galileo got outvoted for a spell." James Fallows explains why Perry is all wet:

Until this evening's debate, the only reason anyone would use the example of Galileo-vs-the-Vatican was to show that for reasons of dogma, close-mindedness, and "faith-based" limits on inquiry, the findings of real science were too often ignored or ruled out of consideration. And Perry applies that analogy to his argument that we shouldn't listen to today's climate scientists? There are a million good examples of scientific or other expert consensus that turned out to be wrong, which is the point Perry wanted to make.

Sure, Perry could have used any of those other examples. But how many people have heard of Alfred Wegener's critics?

If you hang around in crackpot chat rooms occasionally, you'll notice that a common trope is the one about the lonely scientist who was mocked for years but then turned out to be right. Why, just look at Einstein! It doesn't really matter if Einstein really was mocked or not. It just matters that there have indeed been scientists whose work wasn't initially appreciated by the mainstream establishment.

This is also, it turns out, a common trope in the climate denial community. Basically, Perry was saying that Ross McKitrick is a modern-day Galileo. Richard Lindzen is a modern-day Galileo. Lord Monckton is a modern-day Galileo. And Andrew Montford is their prophet. No matter that Perry almost certainly doesn't recognize a single one of these names. They exist, and his fans know them. So while Perry's analogy may seem misguided to you and me, my guess is that he got his point across just fine to the only audience he cares about: potential Republican primary voters. They think of themselves as lonely and oppressed fighters for the truth, just like Galileo. Who better for Perry to invoke?

Casey Mulligan notes that among workers aged 25-55, hours worked during the recession has declined about 10%. But for older workers, the decline has been far less. For those over 62, hours worked has actually gone up. Why?

[One] possibility is that the labor market distinguishes, at least in a rough way, among workers according to their willingness to work, and that the stock market and housing market crashes have especially stimulated older people to work more. (Young people, on the other hand, had fewer assets before the recession, so a decline in asset prices has little direct impact on them.) This effect tends to increase with age because the propensity to own assets for current needs and future retirement also increases with age.

If you were thinking about early retirement at age 55, you're going to think again if your 401(k) has tanked, your house has lost 30% of its value, and your kids are still living at home because they can't find a job. You also might be motivated to work harder than before because you've seen what's happened to your friends who have lost their jobs and are now, for all practical purposes, unemployed forever because no one wants to hire a 58-year-old who's been out of work for two years.

Which is just to say, this makes sense to me. Older people are highly motivated to keep working, and that means fewer jobs are opening up for younger people. Welcome to the recession.

Sallie Krawcheck recently left her job as president of the Global Wealth and Investment Management division of Bank of America. Nathaniel Popper of the LA Times tells the broader story:

The financial industry, long known for its boys-club environment, has only a small fraction of women as top executives. And that small cadre has been thinning out in recent years, with the most recent example Krawcheck's departure as BofA's president of global wealth management. Her departure is part of a broader trend in the financial industry in recent years: Female employees are losing their jobs at a faster clip than men. From 2007 to 2010, 12.5% of women in the financial industry lost their jobs, compared with 8.8% of men, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Economic Policy Institute. By comparison, in the overall economy during the same period, it was men who lost jobs at a higher rate.

....The finance industry has not historically been known as a welcoming place for women. The cigar and strip-club reputation was confirmed by a lawsuit against Smith Barney in the 1990s, which accused it of turning a blind eye to raunchy, sexist behavior. The lawsuit later became the subject of a book called "Tales From the Boom-Boom Room."

The attention brought by the suit spurred wide-scale changes that helped stamp out overt discrimination and open up hiring. A decade ago, the number of women in finance was rising.

Well, that was nice while it lasted, I suppose. The irony here, of course, is that you can make a pretty good case that the entire credit bubble of the aughts — and the subsequent massive recession caused by its bursting — was basically a product of male testosterone run amok. So what's the answer during the cleanup stage? Get rid of the women!

Yes, our world is insane. Why do you ask?

I just finished writing a column about our insane post-9/11 security apparatus, so I can hardly believe I'm about to say what I'm about to say. But here's Matt Yglesias on airport security:

One question I always have when I go through airport security is exactly how many planes the relevant authorities think al-Qaeda would be blowing up if planes were no better secured than an intercity bus. My experience of intercity bus travel is that there’s absolutely nothing stopping a person from bringing a bomb onto a bus. And yet, over the past ten years exactly zero buses have been exploded by terrorists. A person with the means and inclination to blow up an airplane, who finds himself stymied by tight airline security, could just go blow up a bus instead. But nobody does this. So my baseline assumption is that approximately zero airplane detonations have been prevented by airline security screening, since were screening preventing suicide bombers from blowing up planes we’d see bomb-displacement onto other transportation segments.

Matt goes on to admit that "terrorists do seem to have a unique fascination with planes," but that only increases his estimate to one saved plane.

And hell, I can't prove him wrong. But seriously? Given everything we know about terrorist attempts to bring down airplanes — the 1995 Bojinka plot, 9/11 itself, Richard Reid, the British plot to blow up 10 airplanes using liquid explosives, the underwear bomber, the cargo plane plot — do we really think terrorists wouldn't have blown up a helluva lot of planes if doing so didn't require a ton of planning and secrecy, but instead was as easy as packing a couple of kilos of C4 into your carry-on luggage and strolling on board? Common sense suggests that most bombing plots never get very far precisely because they have to be carefully planned to evade airport security, something that makes it hard to pack enough punch to do any serious damage. But if getting on a plane were really as easy as boarding a bus, the evidence of the past decade warns us that airplanes would be dropping out of the sky with alarming frequency.

It's worth asking whether the fantastic amount of additional post-9/11 airline security has made air travel much safer. That's a lot harder to say. But Cuban hijackers ended the era of boarding planes like buses. We've all been standing in line at airport security checkpoints since the 70s, and even the pre-9/11 security routine was enough to prevent most airline bombings. Given al-Qaeda's obvious fascination with air travel, it's hard to imagine that any of us would feel especially safe boarding a plane if there were no security at all.

From Rick Perry, riffing on the Obama presidency:

The other thing this president's done, he has proven for once and for all that government spending will not create one job. Keynesian policy and Keynesian theory is now done. We'll never have to have that experiment on America again.

The sad thing is that he's mostly right. Through a combination of Republican truculence and Democratic timidity, pretty much nobody believes any more in the government's ability to stimulate the economy. And why should they? If Republicans keep saying it doesn't work, and in response Democrats sort of shuffle around looking embarrassed, why would anyone doubt that it's a completely discredited theory?

From David Leonhardt, wondering whether the economy is headed back into recession:

Perhaps the best sign of how difficult it is to know the economy’s direction is that, as a group, the nation’s professional forecasters have failed to predict all the recessions since the 1970s, according to data kept by the Philadelphia Fed. In the last 30 years, the average probability they put on the economy lapsing into recession has never risen above 50 percent — until the economy was already in a recession.

Not to keep you in suspense, but Leonhardt concludes that the odds of a double-dip recession are now pretty good. I think he's right.

Man, I just don't have anything to say after that debate. Was it just my mood, or was the crazy really amped up to 11 this time around? I could barely pay attention to most of the raving coming from my TV.

I guess Perry is naturally the big news. My take is, I suspect, the conventional one: he didn't do so well. He didn't hurt himself really badly or anything, but he stumbled a lot. I mean, Social Security just isn't a Ponzi scheme. Period. Taxpayers pay taxes, and those taxes get sent to retirees. End of story. It's pretty much the same way we fund the Pentagon, the courts, the FBI, and everything else. Taxes come in, benefits go out. It'll keep working forever with only minor tweaks.

On climate change he was weirdly hesitant. I mean, he must have known this was coming, right? But he couldn't get a grip on himself and give a coherent answer. He just repeated over and over that lots of scientists weren't sure about global warming, which is just flatly wrong, and then flailed around a bit on Galileo — which didn't exactly illustrate his case the way he thought it did — before shifting into some completely irrelevant story about how Texas reduced air pollution. "That's the way you need to do it, not by some scientist somewhere saying, 'Here is what we think is happening out there.'" WTF?

Other than that, Perry just seemed generally unprepared and unwilling to really engage with the issues. I guess now we know why he's been afraid to give any interviews since he announced his candidacy. He's afraid he'll look like a kid who got called on in class after failing to study the night before. He needs to raise his game.

UPDATE: David Frum says Perry seemed "nervous and irritable." Will Wilkinson: "Perry came off halting, slightly confused, and peevish." I thought so too. I'm a little surprised that so many people thought Perry showed off his alpha male qualities tonight. Sure, he was generally aggressive and refused to back down from anything he'd said before, but his overall demeanor seemed a little twitchy and high-strung to me. But then, I'm not exactly the target audience here.

Hey, did you know that Adam Serwer now writes for Mother Jones? Now you do! He's blogging over at the mothership MoJo blog, and today he highlights a new Brookings/PRRI survey of American attitudes toward—how to put this? The official title is "Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America Ten Years after 9/11," but the blunter version is "attitudes toward people who aren't like me."

Adam focuses on the retrograde attitudes of Fox News viewers, but before we get to that, I think the most interesting part of the survey is that it explicitly breaks out the views of self-described tea partiers. Here's a sampling of attitudes among tea party followers:

  • 63 percent believes that discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against minority groups.
  • 66 percent believes that the values of Islam are at odds with American values.
  • 54 percent believes that American Muslims are trying to establish Sharia law in the U.S.
  • 56 percent believes that newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values.
  • 72 percent believes we should deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries.

This is apropos because there's been a wee bit of discussion lately about whether tea partiers are a bunch of stone racists hiding behind the Constitution, or whether that's just another offensive "race card" canard dreamed up by the usual suspects on the left. This survey probably won't change any minds, and I happen to think the term "racist" conceals more than it explains anyway. Still, what this survey does show is that tea partiers clearly harbor a pretty strong set of racial resentments. That doesn't make them all racists, but it is a simple descriptive fact, and it's something that's perfectly kosher to discuss openly as it relates to public policy.

As for Fox News, I think it's safe to say that Fox considers tea partiers to be its core audience. And so its programming needs to appeal to that audience. This explains why Fox put Jeremiah Wright on virtually 24/7 rotation during the 2008 campaign, and why, over the past year or so, they've spent so much air time on Shirley Sherrod, anchor babies, Common's invitation to the White House, birtherism, the Ground Zero mosque, Glenn Beck and "liberation theology," Van Jones, the New Black Panthers, various reverse discrimination outrages, the D'Souza/Gingrich/Huckabee "anti-colonialism" meme, minority preferences from the CRA as the cause of the housing bubble, the general panic over Shariah law, and much, much more. Any one or two of those could be a coincidence. Put them all together and you'd have to be pretty gullible to believe that they were just randomly chosen topics.

Fox News is America's headquarters for festering racial resentments. The Brookings/PRRI survey is just one more piece of evidence on this score.

Brad Plumer points us to a new survey from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, and the news is grim. As usual, plenty of people don't believe in global warming, and tea partiers really, really don't believe in global warming. But in a way, that's not the most appalling result of the survey. This is:

Holy cow. This is a straightforward factual question, and the correct answer is something in the neighborhood of 98%.1 But even among Democrats, only 42% think that most climate scientists believe global warming is happening. It's even worse among the other groups.

Hell, if it were really true that 60% of climate scientists believed in global warming and 40% didn't, I probably wouldn't believe in it either. But nationally, that's what a large majority of Americans think. They think that within the scientific community, there's roughly an even split among believers and deniers.

If this were limited to the far right, we could blame it on Fox and Drudge and Limbaugh and all the other usual suspects who peddle climate absurdities just because they conveniently buttress their worldview. Chris Mooney describes here how this kind of "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal.

But it's not just a phenomenon of the right. It's a phenomenon of everybody, including those who get their news from the mainstream media. It's what happens when reporters insist that every story about climate change has to include a quote from at least one or two skeptics to "balance out" the other scientists. Is it any wonder that the public is so wildly misinformed?

1I wasn't going to bother with this, but a reader emails to point out that, actually, 100% of climate scientists believe global warming is happening. Something like 98% of them believe that it's mostly caused by humans. But I'm giving our survey respondents a break, since I suspect most people automatically think "human-caused global warming" whenever they hear "global warming."

Glenn Greenwald calls our attention to the ACLU's ten-year commemoration of 9/11. It's a little different from most of the others hitting the news stands this week. No pictures of the twin towers falling, no touching paeans about how we all came together as a nation for a brief shining moment, no photo spreads of exhausted firefighters or grieving relatives. In fact, no pictures at all. It's just plain, sober text about what's happened to our civil liberties over the past decade. Here are a few excerpts:

Torture: Just as the public debate over the legality, morality, and efficacy of torture was warped by fabrication and evasion, so, too, were the legal and political debates about the consequences of the Bush administration’s lawbreaking. Apart from the token prosecutions of Abu Ghraib’s “bad apples,” virtually every individual with any involvement in the torture program was able to deflect responsibility elsewhere. The military and intelligence officials who carried out the torture were simply following orders; the high government officials who authorized the torture were relying on the advice of lawyers; the lawyers were “only lawyers,” not policymakers. This had been the aim of the conspiracy: to create an impenetrable circle of impunity, with everyone culpable but no one accountable.

Indefinite detainment: President Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo was undermined by his own May 2009 announcement of a policy enshrining at Guantanamo the principle of indefinite military detention without charge or trial....The real danger of the Guantanamo indefinite detention principle is that its underlying rationale has no definable limits.

Targeted assassinations: No national security policy raises a graver threat to human rights and the international rule of law than targeted killing....Under the targeted killing program begun by the Bush administration and vastly expanded by the Obama administration, the government now compiles secret “kill lists” of its targets, and at least some of those targets remain on those lists for months at a time.

Surveillance: The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has used excessive secrecy to hide possibly unconstitutional surveillance....Hobbled by executive claims of secrecy, Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have nevertheless warned their colleagues that the government is operating under a “reinterpretation” of the Patriot Act that is so broad that the public will be stunned and angered by its scope, and that the executive branch is engaging in dragnet surveillance in which “innocent Americans are getting swept up.”

Profiling: No area of American Muslim civil society was left untouched by discriminatory and illegitimate government action during the Bush years....To an alarming extent, the Obama administration has continued to embrace profiling as official government policy....There are increasing reports that the FBI is using Attorney General Ashcroft’s loosened profiling standards, together with broader authority to use paid informants, to conduct surveillance of American Muslims in case they might engage in wrongdoing.

Data mining: Nothing exemplifies the risks our national surveillance society poses to our privacy rights better than government “data mining.”....The range and number of these programs is breathtaking and their names Orwellian. Programs such as eGuardian, “Eagle Eyes,” “Patriot Reports,” and “See Something, Say Something” are now run by agencies including the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security....Without effective oversight, security agencies are now also engaged in a “land grab,” rushing into the legal vacuum to expand their monitoring powers far beyond anything seen in our history. Each of the over 300 million cell phones in the United States, for example, reveals its lcation to the mobile network carrier with ever-increasing accuracy, whenever it is turned on, and the Justice Department is aggressively using cell phones to monitor people’s location, claiming that it does not need a warrant.

But hey, it's just the ACLU. So serious! And such party poopers too. Anyway, aren't they the guys who hate America? I'm pretty sure they are. There's really no need to pay attention to all their tedious whining. Please carry on.

UPDATE: A few moments after I wrote this, I turned on the TV and found myself watching Time managing editor Richard Stengel intone the banal conventional wisdom that the lesson of 9/11 ten years later is that "we've recovered, we've moved on."

God no. Just no. I don't care how many people say this, or how many times they repeat it. It isn't true. Just yesterday we declared ourselves thrilled by the news that maybe someday in the future we'll be able to board a plane without first taking off our shoes. Thrilled! Listen to the ACLU. We haven't even come close to moving on.