Obama has secret evidence of Iranian plot

There has been widespread scoffing at the claims by the Obama administration that they had uncovered an Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the US. Justin Raimondo rounds up some of the views of analysts who find the story, in which the key plotter turns out to be a bumbling, alcoholic, used-car salesman, quite incredible. Much of the skepticism centers around the fact that the alleged mastermind seems to be hardly competent to get through a normal day, let alone plan and execute a complex operation. Juan Cole thinks that he may well be clinically insane.

Julian Borger of The Guardian raises many unanswered questions about the allegations, of which one is key:

The key evidence that the alleged plot was serious was the $100,000 wire transfer. It came from a foreign bank account, but that cannot be an Iranian account because such transfers are impossible under US law. The money must have come from a third country, but which? And how can the US authorities be so sure the foreign accounts were under the control of the Quds force?

In a blog post, the editorial page editor of the LA Times asks a question that is rarely asked in the corporate media:

But wait a minute. Two weeks ago, the United States assassinated one of its enemies in Yemen, on Yemeni soil. If the U.S. believes it has the right to assassinate enemies like Anwar Awlaki anywhere in the world in the name of a “war on terror” that has no geographical limitation, how can it then argue that other nations don’t have a similar right to track down their enemies and kill them wherever they’re found?

It’s true that the assassination of Awlaki was carried out with the cooperation of the government of Yemen. That makes a difference. But would the U.S. have hesitated to kill him if Yemen had not approved? Remember: There was no cooperation from the Pakistani government when Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

It’s also true that there’s a big difference between an Al Qaeda operative who, according to U.S. officials, had been deeply involved in planning terrorist activities, and a duly credited ambassador of a sovereign country. Still, the fact remains that all nations ought to think long and hard before gunning down their enemies in other countries.

As the United States continues down the path of state-sponsored assassination far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, all sorts of tricky moral questions are likely to arise. But this much is clear: The world is unlikely to accept that the United States has a right to behave as it wishes without accountability all around the globe and that other nations do not.

Glenn Greenwald reminds us that it is extremely rare that anyone in the mainstream media points out the obvious double standards that are at play in US foreign policy.

So if the plot turns out to be yet another case of the US government using money and arms to lure some loser into agreeing to a plot that would be unmasked with great fanfare, what is the point? What is the goal of publicizing this? Stephen Walt is puzzled. Patrick Cockburn suggests a ‘wag the dog’ strategy now that Obama is seeking to rally support for his re-election campaign.

The most likely motive for the Obama administration’s vigorously expressed belief in the plot is that it is preparing the ground for the 2012 presidential election. Mr Obama’s economic and social policies are failing and his only undiluted successes have been the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. By dramatising how he frustrated the fiendish plots of the Iranians, Mr Obama can present himself as the president who kept America safe, or at least protect his national security political flank from criticism by the Republicans.

Many of the mysteries of American foreign policy make perfect sense when related to the overriding need of those in power in Washington to get re-elected.

But all these skeptics need not worry! Obama says that he can prove that it is all true and is pushing ahead with plans to plans for more sanctions against Iran, if not outright war. But, of course, the evidence must be kept secret and we simply have to take his word for it. Now that he has taken upon himself the right to order the murder of anyone he deems to be a terrorist, this seems like a small thing to ask, no?

What was that outfit?

Bachmann.jpgI usually avoid commenting on the looks, clothing, and general appearance of politicians but I must say that I was startled to see photos this morning of Michele Bachmann’s outfit at yesterday’s debate. What with the gold buttons, Nehru jacket collar, and epaulets, she looked like she was auditioning to be the commander of the spaceship in the next film in the Star Trek series.

I am curious if people who are knowledgeable about such matters think it was a good choice for a presidential debate.

Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan under fire

This chart from the Tax Policy Center shows that Herman Cain’s much publicized 9-9-9 plan will raise taxes on those earning less than $200,000 per year while lowering taxes for those above, with a huge windfall for the millionaire class. Matt Yglesias puts the numbers into a chart that show how incredibly regressive it is.

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Cain’s plan got him attention because of its catchy title. But because it is his only concrete proposal, it is going to hurt badly as the reality of its impact sinks in. He can stave off the inevitable for a while by claiming that all his critics are wrong or have misunderstood it or by weirdly repeating the phrase ‘apples and oranges’, but when even rabid anti-tax nutcases like Rick Santorum says that this plan will raise taxes on 84% of the people, he is in trouble. There is no way that this turkey is going to fly.

I was amused by Cain in yesterday’s debate urging people to ignore all the analysts and do the math themselves. He must be depending on the poor math skills of the general public to save his plan.

Update: jpmeyer in the comments gives an even better graph by Jared Bernstein of the impact of Herman Cain’s plan.

Relativity-6: Measuring time and space more precisely

(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

In the previous post in this series, I said that Einstein’s claim that the speed of light must be the same when measured by all observers irrespective of how they were moving led to the conclusion that the rate at which time elapsed must depend on the state of motion of the observer. But if time is not an invariant entity, then we need to be more precise about how we measure it for observers in relative motion to one another so that we can better determine how their measurements are related.

What we now postulate is that associated with each observer is a grid of rulers that spreads out into all space in all directions. At each point in space are also a clock and a recorder. It is assumed that all the rulers and clocks of all the observers are constructed to be identical to each other, the clocks are properly synchronized, and the recorders never make errors. When an event occurs anywhere at any time, the location and time of that event are those noted by that recorder who happens to be exactly at the location of the event and who notes the ruler and clock readings located at the place at the instant when the event occurred. This rules out the need to make corrections for the time that elapses for the light to travel from the location of the event to the recorder.

If there is another observer who is moving with respect to the first, that person too will have her own set of rulers and clocks and recorders spread out through all space, and the location and time of an event will be that noted by her recorder using her rulers and clocks at the location where the event occurs. This set up seems rather extravagant in its requirement of infinite numbers of rulers and clocks and recorders but of course all these rulers and clocks and recorders are merely hypothetical except for the ones we actually need in any given experiment. The key point to bear in mind is that the location and time of an event for any observer is now unambiguously defined to be that given by that observer’s ruler and clock readings at the location of the event, as noted by the observer’s recorder located right there.

What ‘Einstein causality’ says is that if event A causes event B, then event A must have occurred before event B and this must be true for all observers. If one observer said that one event caused another and thus the two events had a particular ordering in time, all observers would agree on that ordering. Thus causality was assumed to be a universal property.

What we mean by ’causes’ is that event B occurs because of some signal sent by A that reaches B. So when the person at B is shot by the person at A, the signal that caused the event is the bullet that traveled from A to B. Hence the clock reading at event A must be earlier than the clock reading at event B, and this muust be true for every observer’s clocks, irrespective of how that observer is moving, as long as (according to Einsteinian relativity) the observer is moving at a speed less than that of light. The magnitude of the time difference between the two events will vary according to the state of motion of the observer, but the sign will never be reversed. In other words, it will never be the case that any observer’s clocks will say that event B occurred at a clock reading that is earlier than the clock reading of event A.

But according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, this holds only if the signal that causally connects event A to B travels at speeds less than that of light. If event B is caused by a signal that is sent from A at a speed V that is greater than that of light c (as was claimed to be the case with the neutrinos in the CERN-Gran Sasso experiment) then it can be shown (though I will not do so here) that an observer traveling at a speed of c2/V or greater (but still less than the speed of light) will find that the clock reading of when the signal reached B would actually be earlier than the clock reading of when the signal left A. This would be a true case of the effect preceding the cause. The idea that different observers would not be able to agree on the temporal ordering of events that some observers see as causally connected would violate Einstein causality and this is what the faster-than-light neutrino reports, if confirmed, would imply.

Note that this violation of Einstein causality occurs even though the observer is moving at speeds less than that of light. All it requires is that the signal that was sent from A to B to be traveling faster than light.

(If the observer herself can travel faster than the speed of light (which is far less likely to occur in reality than having an elementary particle like a neutrino doing so), then one can have other odd results. For example, if the speed of light is 1 m/s and I could travel at 2 m/s, then one can imagine the following scenario. I could (say) dance for five seconds. The light signals from the beginning of my dance would have traveled 5 meters away by the time my dance ended. If at the end of my five-second dance, I traveled at 2 m/s for 5 seconds, then I would reach a point 10 meters away at the same time as the light that was emitted at the beginning of my dance. So if I look back to where I came from, I could see me doing my own dance as the light from it reaches me. So I would be observing my own past in real time. This would be weird, no doubt, but in some sense would not be that much different from watching home movies of something I did before. It would not be, by itself, a violation of Einstein causality since there is no sense in which the time ordering of causal events has been reversed.)

So the violation of Einstein causality, not the theory of relativity itself, is really what is at stake in the claims that neutrinos traveling at speeds faster than light have been observed. This is still undoubtedly a major development, which is why the community is abuzz and somewhat wary of immediately accepting it is true.

Next: What could be other reasons for the CERN-Gran Sasso results?

Throwable panoramic ball camera

A ball containing 36 cameras is programmed to take simultaneous photos when it reaches the highest point in its trajectory, providing an instantaneous panoramic view. This not only looks like it would be fun to use, it could have many practical uses, such as seeing over high barriers.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Scientific responsibility

Science has a unique role in the growing recognition that it is the source of authoritative and reliable knowledge. But that carries with it a great burden to make sure that the public’s trust is not abused. Via Machines Like Us, I learned about the General Assembly of the International Council for Science (ICSU) issuing a statement last month on “The Principle of Universality (freedom and responsibility) of Science” that spelled out what the responsibilities of scientists are.

The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognising its benefits and possible harms.

This followed up on the second World Conference on Research Integrity held in Singapore in July 2010 that issued a statement that “emphasizes the need for honesty in all aspects of research, accountability in the conduct of scientific research, professional courtesy and fairness in working with others, and good stewardship of research on behalf of others.”

Scientists have to be vigilant in maintaining these standards.

What Occupy Wall Street has achieved

There are those who criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, complaining that they don’t have concrete demands and have not proposed any solutions to the problems. I disagree with that criticism. It seems to me a bit much to expect an unorganized group of people scattered over the globe to come up with solutions to big problems at a time when the US government is so dysfunctional, when it lurches from one crisis to another and is not even able to carry out its minimal function of passing a budget, and when the global economy seems to be so shaky that world leaders seem to be at a loss as to what to do.

What is important is that the movement has highlighted the fact that the problem is with the system itself, not with specific policies that the system creates. As Glenn Greenwald says:

Anyone who expressed difficulty seeing or understanding what motivates these protests revealed many things about themselves. None is flattering. The only thing that’s surprising is that these protests didn’t happen sooner and that they’re not more widespread and intense. I think it’s become increasingly clear that that is likely to change, and soon. Like the Arab Spring, the rapid growth of these protests should be a permanent antidote against defeatism. It’s unclear what these protests will accomplish — that still depends on how many people join them and what they cause it to be — but, already, they prove that the possibility always exists for subverting even the most seemingly invulnerable power factions. That hasn’t happened yet, but the possibility that these protests are only in their incipient stages is one of the more exciting and positive political developments in some time. It’s been clear for quite awhile that unrest and disruptions — and the fear which they alone can put in the hearts and minds of those responsible for widespread ills — are absolute prerequisites for meaningful reform (our fundamentally corrupted electoral process certainly can’t and won’t accomplish that). These protests at least reflect the possibility, the template, for that to happen. And anyone expressing confusion about why these protests are erupting is almost certainly someone invested in keeping things exactly the way they are.

What I am surprised at is how much the movement has achieved. It has spread across the country and the globe. The Guardian has an interactive map of the 951 protests in 82 cities. It has galvanized people who had thought things were hopeless. From being largely ignored or viewed with scorn and derision, it is now being taken seriously by the ruling elites. It is dominating the news with even the corporate media being forced to give respectful coverage. It has changed the conversation, with the focus now aimed squarely at the income and wealth gaps between the oligarchy and the rest of us, and the excessive power of the global financial elites. The slogan “We are the 99%” has caught on and brought scrutiny to bear on the 1%.

The movement has also forced politicians to tread gingerly, to avoid being seen as on the wrong side. President Obama and the Democratic party leadership, although friends and protectors of the oligarchy, have taken pains to try and act as if they sympathize with the movement. Even Eric Cantor, the Republican party leader who initially condemned the movement as a ‘mob’, now says he can understand their frustration. The bankers on Wall Street are complaining that the politicians that they bought are not publicly siding with them against the protestors. But even they have been forced to grumble privately because to attack the protestors publicly is too hot politically.

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(Cartoonist is Drew Sheneman. See also Tom Tomorrow.)

The general public is also warming up to the movement with significant majorities agreeing with the main points being made. Even Karl Denninger, one of the founders of the Tea Party, expresses sympathy with the Occupy Wall Street movement and says that the strategy of having a permanent occupation and avoiding calls for a single set of demands is a good one. “The problem with protests and the political process is that it is very easy, no matter how big the protests is, for the politicians to simply wait for the people to go home. Then they can ignore you…. One of the things that the Occupy movement seems to have going for it is it has not turned around and issued a set of formal demands. This is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

As Matt Taibbi points out, the Occupy Wall Street movement transcends the tired left-right, liberal-conservative, Democrat-Republican narrative that the oligarchy and its media like because once you do that, partisans respond to the bugle call and line up accordingly and fight with each other. They do not like to see a critique of the system as fundamentally corrupt because that is a unifying message that will work against them.

All this must be causing some concern to the oligarchy. Will the political allies of the oligarchy try and disperse the movement by force? There have been attempts at this but the use of seemingly excessive force by some NYPD officers has backfired and now there are investigations of two senior officers. Nowadays almost everyone has mobile recording devices and I am surprised that the police seem oblivious that the days are gone when they could randomly attack peaceful demonstrators and escape repercussions because they could not be identified.

It is only when the oligarchy is fearful that they have overplayed their hand and are losing control of the discussion that any meaningful change will occur. The Occupy Wall Street movement is starting to create that fear. That is why it must be supported.

Disgusting behavior by religious people

Some time ago I wrote about ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel raining big gobs of spit on a reporter because she was using a tape recorder on the Sabbath and thus violating one of the numerous rules prohibiting work on that day.

Now we have another disgusting story of Ultra-Orthodox Jews throwing eggs and feces at young girls on their way to and from their school, accusing them of sluttishness. What makes this even more noteworthy is that the targets of this abuse, the girls and their families, are themselves Orthodox Jews but they are considered not conservative enough for these god-fearing people.

I am sure that the people indulging in this appalling behavior are convinced that they are doing the will of god. This is what religious devotion can lead to. Deeply religious people can act like jerks or criminals or thugs or even murderers and actually feel virtuous about doing so, because they think that god commanded them to act in this way.

No atheists allowed

Richard Dawkins was due to speak at a function hosted by the Center for Inquiry that was to be held at the Wyndgate Country Club in the Detroit area. But some official of the club saw Dawkins interviewed by Bill O’Reilly and decided that he/she did not want to have an atheist soiling their premises so the club canceled the event at the last minute forcing the organizers to find an alternative venue for the sold-out event. The CFI is considering suing the country club for its actions.

Of course, what the country club achieved is to give a huge amount of publicity to an event that otherwise only CFI members and supporters would have known about.